We asked Skye McAlpine to share a few of her Christmas traditions and recipes:
Christmas is something I look forward to every year – but this year most especially so: 2020 has been a strange and challenging year for all of us, and the prospect of being with the people I love most and celebrating together feels more precious to me now than ever before. A big part of our celebrations is, of course, the food: there will be hot chocolate and panettone for breakfast on Christmas morning (a family tradition of ours); there will be Christmas cake, rich with brandy-soaked dried currants, raisins and candied peel and enrobed in a thick layer of sticky, rich marzipan; and there will be roasted chestnuts by the big roaring fire in my mother’s living room (another much loved family tradition). My mother always cooks the big lunch on the big day (turkey with all the trimmings), but I take the lead on the meals surrounding Christmas: dinner on Christmas Eve, lunch on Boxing Day and so forth. For this, I like indulgent recipes, food that feels special and celebratory, but is low effort to cook or can be prepared largely in advance. A particular favourite is roast pork with crisp, golden, salty crackling, served with honey roasted persimmons – deliciously sweet and ever so slightly spiced with the rich, fatty meat. And for pudding: my go to no-bake mascarpone tart, topped with shimmering, festive red berries. I love this one largely because I so love to eat it, but also because it’s so pretty, it doubles as decoration on the table.
ROAST PORK WITH HONEY-ROAST PERSIMMONS
HANDS ON TIME
HANDS OFF TIME
3 hours chilling, 1 hour 40 minutes roasting, 10 minutes resting
1.8kg piece of pork
loin, rolled and tied, skin scored
4 persimmons, halved
2 tbsp clear honey
4 star anise (optional)
Sea salt flakes
In Italy, from late October until Christmas, you will find persimmons on sale: plump and round orange fruits, so full and ripe they look like they’re going to burst out of their fine, translucent skins. They are so sweet and so good that it’s best to eat them as they are, with a spoon. In Britain, I find persimmons, sometimes also called sharon fruit, are quite different. They’re bright orange, yes, but hard to the touch, more like an apple. These cook beautifully in a syrup of honey with just a hint of star anise, if you like, and make a glorious accompaniment to most roast meats, but to roast pork in particular. Think of them as serving the same role as apple sauce, but sweeter, more vibrant in colour and more richly flavoured. I find the cooking method below infallibly gives the very best and crispest crackling.
Rub the scored pork skin with salt and leave it to dry out in the fridge, uncovered, for at least 3 hours, for wonderfully crisp crackling.
Heat the oven to 180˚C/fan 160˚C/Gas 4. Place the pork in a roasting tray and set it in the oven. Roast for 1 hour 10 minutes, then increase the oven temperature to 230˚C/fan 210˚C/Gas 8 for another 30 minutes to crisp up the crackling. The joint is done when the juices run clear when pierced through the thickest part with a knife, and should register 68˚C (154˚F) on a meat thermometer. Leave to rest for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, roast the persimmons. Place them in a second roasting dish, cut sides up. Dissolve the honey in half a cup of boiling water, add the star anise, then pour this light golden syrup over the fruit. Seal the dish with foil and bake for 45 minutes or so, until tender. When you crank the oven temperature up for the crackling, remove the foil, spoon the juices over the fruit and roast for 10–15 minutes until caramelised. Serve with the pork.
WINTER FRUIT & MASCARPONE TART
HANDS ON TIME
FOR THE BASE
80g dark chocolate, chopped
450g chocolate bourbon biscuits
100g salted butter, softened
FOR THE FILLING AND TOPPING
1 egg, separated
80g caster sugar
500g mascarpone, at room temperature
4–5 plums, quartered and pitted
The recipe given here is for a winter tart, but there is no reason why you can’t make it year round. Blood oranges for late winter, peeled and cut into thick rounds, then sprinkled with a smattering of demerara sugar; strawberries at the first sign of warm weather, raspberries later in the season; peaches, cut into juicy chunks, towards high summer, then figs, torn open to reveal their jewel-like insides and topped with a handful of soft green pistachios, come September. It’s a blank canvas for you to play with.
Put the chocolate in a food processor with the biscuits. Blitz until they form a crumb mixture, then add the butter and blitz again until the mix starts to clump together. Press evenly into a deep 28cm fluted pie dish with a removable base and put in the freezer for 10 –15 minutes to harden. You could put it in the fridge if you prefer, just leave it in there a little longer.
Whisk the egg white until stiff, adding half the sugar a little at a time. In a second bowl, beat the yolk with the remaining sugar until thick and lemony pale. Beat the mascarpone into the egg yolk mixture until smooth, then gently fold in the egg white.
Spoon the mascarpone cream into the case and smooth it out with the back of a spoon. Store in the fridge for up to 1 day. Top with the redcurrants and plums just a few hours before serving, so the plums don’t turn brown.
Recipes taken from A Table for Friends: The Art of Cooking for Two or Twenty by Skye McAlpine, £17.99 here.