Eating with Wimbledon

I’m so used to rustling up last-minute, speedy suppers that I’m almost luxuriating in making meals early in the day, dishes that can be heated up later or twiddled at the last moment. This regime took hold during Lock Down but is particularly apposite this week because I’m up stunningly early and supper isn’t required until late in the evening due to my barrister boyfriend working American hours. It is also the start of Wimbledon and I like to watch as much as I possibly can. Unusually for me, I’ve given meal planning a bit of advance thought unlike my usual last minute whip round the fridge. Roast chicken leftovers are endlessly inspiring, so decide to cook a chicken for Saturday supper so I have cold cuts for lunchtime salads and another hot meal, the bones for stock. I’ve defrosted sausages and mince and have a decently stocked fridge, with a cauliflower, leeks and green beans, eggs and crème fraiche. I have crab meat and prawns in the freezer and plenty of tomatoes, cherry and vine, plus onions and Cornish early new potatoes. It just so happens that I have two jars of Spanish chickpeas in my store cupboard so that prompts a variation on a favourite theme, a Spanish-inspired stew with spicy chorizo, onion, garlic and tomato, the dregs of a bottle of red wine and freshly made chicken stock. A jar of marmalade (thank you Jonathan Bouquet who writes the brilliant May I Have A Word, Observer column) is out on the work surface waiting for my second breakfast toast as I cook the stew. A spoonful added with the chickpeas is a triumph, its bitter marmalade flavor instantly insinuating itself into the copious juices, transforming what I’m calling Chorizo, Sausage and Chickpeas with Seville Marmalade. It doesn’t really need anything else, maybe some crusty bread and butter but as I’m on a Cornish earlies jag, I can’t resist these divine new potatoes to mash into the juices, cooking fine green beans too. Leftover roast chicken often ends up in a gratin. This time I also have sufficient lemony white wine gravy saved from the roast chicken dinner to buck up the flavours of the sauce. Bay leaves freshly cut from my prolific tree add another dimension of flavor and so too does a gratinee topping of pearly white creamed cauliflower. This lovely puree can be enriched with cheese but a couple of scoops of lemony crème fraiche, judicious seasoning with salt, pepper and nutmeg, result in a sloppy mashed potato-style texture, which is good with fish and chicken. Chicken Gratin with Cauliflower Cream is set to become a favourite. The cauli I bought made more than I needed for the gratin topping so leftovers were stashed in a plastic box in the fridge and turned into a lovely cream of cauliflower soup by blitzing with the cauli cooking water (which I’d kept specially), a little chicken stock and a spoonful of crème fraiche; a sort of cauliflower Vichysoisse. Lovely hot or cold. Tonight I’m being picked up late afternoon by one of the west London Blondes. The plan is to speed our way up to Highgate (thank you Waze), to park as close as we possibly can to the distinctively gabled huge corner pub, The Gatehouse. We are meeting up with the other two Blondes plus friends and friends of friends to see (Blonde) Jennifer Selway’s latest play at the upstairs theatre ( Our little gang has seen all Jen’s plays here and the latest, Margaret: Rebel Royal, tackles what we now know as an intriguing four-way relationship between Princess Margaret, her dresser from birth, Antony Armstrong-Jones and The Queen Mother. M&A were the rock ‘n roll royals, living it large in Swinging London and Mustique, sniping and admiring each other in equal measure, living fast and loose. Before we settled down (or should I say, up) for the read through, five of us chose from a tempting tapas menu while others went for the 3 course theatre menu. We had the best table, large and abutting the spacious garden. I was very happy with a salad choice, of roast cauliflower florets and pistachio piled high in the bowl and signed off with squiggles of a lively harissa and yoghurt dressing over slightly too many green leaves, hiding bulgur and a few pomegranate seeds. It was the perfect snack-cum-appetiser with chips (nice and crusty but many with off-putting black bruising, so half the portion wasted) and stingingly garlicky aioli. The read through was faultless and the machinations of the play fascinating with a racy and at times hilarious script. Another triumph for Jen (whose daughter, Amelia Bouquet, has just won a silver medal at the Hampton Court Flower Show). I’m hoping to drag The B up to Highgate to see the final cut with costumes and body language ( for programme dates) when it finally opens. I got home just in time to see the end of the penultimate Andy Murray match and cut myself a wedge of the Burgundy Quiche Lorraine and salad I’d made for the two late arrivals (The B and me). My, it was good. A real treat in fact and leftovers passed the night happily, ready to be boxed up for The B’s al desko. My up early routine means I am down at the fishmonger soon after 8am to discover Johnny has been told by the his fisherman in Newlyn, that it’s a bad time for spider crab. Consequently, I get my money back on the beautiful looking but disappointing crab he’d sold me last week. I immediately spend the refund on a couple of huge cod fillets and two thick slices of tuna. I buy a little pot of pesto and loaf of Hedone brown sourdough from next door Bayley&Sage, before heading for home for tennis. Supper tonight is all prepped in advance, the cod smeared with olive oil and lined up in a small, shallow roasting tin with half a lemon and a clingfilm covering before it goes back in the fridge. I have masses of cherry tomatoes in a basket on the window ledge, so decide to roast them with slivers of new season garlic, pitted black olives, a splash of balsamico and a bigger splash of olive oil. I roast them now, just long enough for the pierced toms (to avoid bursting) to ooze juices and turn squashy, leaving the salad to go cold. I’ll serve it with the roast cod topped with a scoop of pesto with more Cornish earlies, scraped now before I settle down to an afternoon of tennis. A quick nip later to turn on the oven, another to pop the fish in the hot oven and turn on the potatoes and hey preso, it’s Roast Cod with Pesto and Provencal Tomatoes in front of the tennis. Tomorrow I’m very pleased to say, it’s the last night of living by the American clock. Combined with 6am starts, this has been an exhausting week for The B and not great for me either. The sun is shining and we are invited to a drinks party (a drinks party; what’s that?) in the lovely garden of friends. What a treat to have an hour or so of almost normal life. We rush back to see what turns out to be Andy Murray’s last Wimbledon match – a very sad outcome and his chat to camera almost made me cry – then Salade Nicoise with Fresh Tuna. I’d done all the prepping in advance; boiled eggs, quickly griddled the tuna, washed the salad etc but my new innovation is pickling the cucumber. This is a tiny job that really brings extra zing to the flavours, particularly against the creamy tuna. Tomorrow it’s England v Germany and we’re having a Lebanese takeaway; work that one out. So far, no strawberries and cream but they turn up every day – sometimes from the plants flourishing in pots in the sunny front garden – in the breakfast fruit salad.