Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries in Richmond, Surrey - she is also an established food writer and has has just written her third book called How I Cook. I caught up with her to talk about food, families and the secret of a perfect evening at home.
You've agreed to provide us with some recipes from your book - please can you talk me through the ingredients?
Because the kitchen at Petersham is heavily reliant on its garden, my menu and style of cooking is always very seasonal. I love the sense of nostalgia when a new crop harvests and I find the wait exciting.
I've chosen to start with rabbit for this menu because it is great at this time of year. If you are a bit cautious of cooking it then I would suggest starting off with a farmed one because tastes a lot milder than if it's wild. Rabbit can taste too gamey if it's cooked for too long but if you do it right should taste like a good, sweet succulent chicken. Of course, if you are really not convinced then the recipe will work perfectly well with chicken.
I've chosen girolles and parsnips to compliment the meat, both are wonderfully earthy wholesome flavours and encapsulate the feeling of autumn. The ice cream will provide a velvety but refreshing end to the meal and will give your palate a bit of a sharpener.
What is your ideal dinner party?
Eating at home is one of the nicest things you can do, it's always fun to go to restaurants and experience some fine dining but actually I believe that the best meals are enjoyed at home. Homemade food has more of a heart because you've put yourself into it.
I like my dinner parties to be comfortable noisy affairs; there should be a big bowl in the middle of the table where people have to lean over and touch each other. If my guests want to stick their spoon in the bowl and eat from it then it's fine with me!
Do you decorate the table?
People appreciate a table where a little bit of consideration gone into it, which isn't to say that it should be a formal thing - throw a bit of your personality in and just decorate with some of your things. I like to have lots of candles in odd holders and mix and match crockery and flowers.
What do you listen to?
It depends with what feels right, possibly some gentle Vivaldi or Van Morrison played quietly in the background - the main noise should come from the guests.
What wine will we drink with our meal? And if I were to bring you a bottle as a present what would be your favourite?
Well wine should always vaguely match the region, but for this dinner party a good Burgundy would work. I don't actually drink myself but there are loads of fantastic cordials out there (and in fact they are very simple to make at home - try quince, it's delicious). Failing that I always have a big jug of mint and still water on the table.
What are the essential five ingredients everyone should have in their cupboards?
- The best olive oil you can afford. Spend a little more than you usually would and use sparingly. Good olive oil is like good wine and tastes different depending on its region.
- Maldon sea salt. It has a fabulous crunchy texture.
- Good vinegar. Spend as much as you can because it's worth it. A really good balsamic vinegar should be from Tuscany and properly aged in oak. It tastes a million times better than the cheap stuff on the high street.
- Unwaxed lemons from the south coast of Italy. They are much creamier than other lemons and much more delicious.
- Honey. There are so many interesting types of honey, so experiment!
What is the secret meal you enjoy when there is no one else around?
I love eating porridge with maple syrup because it feels like you're getting a hug from the inside.
Describe you last meal.
Without a doubt it would be toast with unsalted butter and jam. Toast is the taste of love and comfort, the smell of it cooking fills the whole house and is reminiscent of childhood. I like nourishing food, food that makes you feel loved and homey and comforted - and toast does that perfectly.
If I were to return the favour and have you round for dinner what could I cook you as a treat?
People are scared of inviting cooks round for dinner because they think we'll sit there and judge, so just to be asked is a treat in itself. I would be happy with a big bowl of pasta or a lovely bowl of soup with bread and Parma ham. The important thing when cooking for others is to enjoy it because your guests will taste it in the food.
Skye's recipes for a delicious autumnal Sunday lunch at home
Rabbit with endive and pancetta | Puree of parsnips | Pan-fried girolles | Date and sherry ice cream
These recipes were taken from Skye Gyngell's How I Cook which is published by Quadrille.