Christopher Hirst selects his favourite cook books of 2017
5. Dinner & Party by Rose Prince
My review of Rose Prince’s latest book Dinner & Party (Seven Dials, £25), as full of confident good sense as her previous works, requires an admission of association with the author. As a friend of Rose, I have frequently benefitted from the generosity of her hospitality. We have since both moved from south London to diametrically opposite parts of England – Dorset (her) and North Yorkshire (me) – but I have glowing memories of many of the recipes gathered in this book. Dishes like slow-cooked lamb shoulder, creamed butter beans (a hummus-like dip), roasted beetroot, tomato and mustard tart, pork, duck and pistachio terrine, aioli platter (the dipping ’soldiers’ include potatoes, egg yolks, lettuce leaves and cod) and, a particular favourite, potted crab with Melba toast are not only the best party food I’ve ever had but some of the best food ever. The odd thing is that when you arrived in Rose’s kitchen on Battersea Bridge Road, she would still be preparing the lunch or supper. This was always without the slightest suggestion of panic or distraction. With deft expertise, she would compound roasted mushrooms on sourdough toast or put the finishing touches to a guinea fowl, chicken and leek pie (‘much easier to prepare than it perhaps looks’). All the while she would continue her animated chat as if she were a guest herself rather than the hostess. The key to this cool savour faire is to be found in her injunction to ‘Do less.’ She explains that this is ‘such a welcome thought and yet oddly hard to pull off at first… The only time I am irritated as a guest is when people do too much.’ The right ingredients are, however, a vital element. ‘Seasonal ingredients, locally sourced, cooked simply and presented with a drop of style, outrank every fussy meal ever offered.’ She cites the example of asparagus with olive oil, butter or hollandaise, which, come to think, I have often sampled (‘gorged on’ is more accurate) at Rose’s table.
Her desserts do not lodge in my memory as immovably as the wonderful flow of starters and main courses (one exception is a sensational clafoutis with pears). Possibly the reason for this lacuna is her husband Dominic’s generosity with the wine bottle. As with food, Rose’s wine policy blows a raspberry in the direction of pretension. ‘It is wonderful for well made modest wine to be served with food – in fact this is the most stylish pairing of all.’ She spills the beans on the favourite wines in the Prince household. Both £10 or under, they are Tariquet from Gascony and a claret from Chateau Vircoulon. Packed with recipes for memorable, angst-free meals feeding from six to 80 (her recipe for slow roasted duck legs requires 45 of them), this wise book will inspire newcomers and old hands alike. I’m looking forward to the dishes I missed at Rose’s table like lemon risotto or tomato and mustard tart. Though we’re now 300 miles apart, I can still enjoy Rose’s princely entertaining.