Sophie Dahl: author, passionate home cook, new mum and lover of very buttery mashed potatoes, preferably eaten with a spoon.
Her new cook book, From Season to Season: A Year In Recipes
is part beautifully written memoir, part recipe book, which is only to be expected from a woman who rather modestly describes herself as "a greedy writer who likes to cook and then write about what I've cooked." Just please don't call her "model turned celebrity chef"...
Congratulations on the new book. In it you describe yourself as: "...a greedy writer who likes to cook and then write about what I've cooked, not a chef or a teacher." Can you expand a little on that please?
I guess what I mean is that although I love cooking I'm not trained, and it perhaps belittles people that are to suggest that I am a "chef". I'm not, I'm a passionate home cook, and writing about what I cook and eat is a happy by product of that. People wantonly refer to me as a "model turned celebrity chef" when in fact, neither is correct. I stopped modelling a long time ago, wrote three books in between, the last of which was about food, which was why I was offered a TV series about food. It wasn't like I toppled from a catwalk into the kitchen in a freak accident, presented with an oven for the first time ever....
Each of your recipes has a story or association attached, which you share with the reader. Would you say that this is what makes your cookery books unique?
I'm a long time fan of cook books that tell a story, people like Elizabeth David, Ambrose Heath, Alice B Toklas and more recently, writers like Nigella Lawson and Simon Hopkinson. For me, recipes are so often inspired by stories, nostalgia or trying to recreate a sense memory, so capturing the words are as important as the recipe. I remember through what I ate!
Has your attitude to food changed at all since becoming a mum?
No, I'm just endlessly obsessed with how to make a puree a bit less dreary.
You're having a quiet night in – just you and the remote control – ideally, what are you eating?
Very buttery mashed potatoes with a sharp cheddar grated on top. Eaten ideally with a spoon.
Friends are coming round for dinner – what's your signature menu?
Pan fried chicken with morels and tarragon, and a salted chocolate mousse for pudding.
What's the best meal you've ever eaten and where did you eat it?
The most amazing was a wedding present, dinner for two at El Bulli before it closed. It wasn't eating; it was total theatre. Rose scented brioche stuffed with burrata, an ostrich egg made of gorgonzola served with a sort of cherry granita, it was heaven. We laughed like children throughout the entire meal.
Are there any foods you won't eat?
I hate anchovies. I love them in sauces, but on their own they totally freak me out.
You've pre-empted one of my favourite questions with a section in your book devoted to Hangman's Suppers – I know yours varies, but what would it be today?
It's pissing with rain, so breakfast, kedgeree with lots of butter and parsley. And a big milky sugary coffee.
If you could only ever eat one dessert for the rest of your life, what would it be?
Some sort of moussey chocolate thing made from a great quantity of butter, egg yolk and dark chocolate.
Do you enjoy TV presenting and are there any plans for more cooking series?
I loved the team I worked with and the insular process of making it, but ultimately, when it comes out, it makes me feel a bit like modelling did, kind of exposed and vulnerable. I'd rather be on the opposite side of the camera really, telling other people's stories. But most of all, I'm happiest at home with my family, making up my own.
Sophie's new book, From Season to Season: A Year in Recipes by Sophie Dahl, from which the following recipe is taken, is published today (HarperCollins, £20; also available as an ebook)
Ruby Frais strawberry semifreddo
This recipe is so titled for a young girl named for a future of all things sweet, a Miss Ruby Frais. Her dad calls her 'Pudding' and she, like me, is partial to berries and vanilla ice cream. This then, quite literally, has her name all over it.
450g/1lb strawberries, hulled and halved, plus extra for serving
100g icing sugar
Juice of ½ a small lemon
300ml double cream
30g meringues, bashed up
Put the strawberries in a bowl. Tip the sugar on top and leave to macerate for 1 hour. When they're a lovely, sticky mess, pour into a blender with the lemon juice and puree.
In a large bowl, whip the cream until thick but malleable enough to fall from the spoon. Pour the fruit into the cream and fold through thoroughly.
Put into an old ice-cream container or a loaf tin. Freeze for about 1 hour until crystals form around the edges, then take out and run through the blender. Freeze for 2 hours; blend again, then freeze for around 4 hours.
Take out 20 minutes before serving, slice and scatter over the meringues and some extra strawberries.