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An Evening of Film & Pasta at Pallotti’s Italian Social Club

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‘I’m out with the Italians tonight,’ I told my son and daughter. They knew what I meant. It was a night out with the brilliant London Italian Language Meetup Group. Lucia had arranged an evening of film and a simple pasta meal at Pallotti’s Italian Social Club in Clerkenwell.

I walked from Waterloo station to the venue – about 40 minutes. I had plenty of time and wanted to explore a little. The area is in many ways very familiar to me: I worked in nearby New Fetter Lane, just off Fleet Street, in the late 1970s/early 80s and lived in Islington, so passing through Clerkenwell was on my route home; shopping in Leather Lane market something I did at lunchtime. I pass by that way still on my way to meet friends in Islington, or maybe to eat at Exmouth Market where there are wonderful restaurants like Moro. I was in Clerkenwell for another Meetup Lucia arranged at .IT Wine Bar & Cafe last year. Yet somehow I had failed to make the connection that the area was known as Little Italy.

It was early in the 19th century that a community of Italians settled in the Clerkenwell area of London. These were largely skilled craftsmen. Later in the century many more Italians arrived, fleeing the terrible conditions back home following the Napoleonic Wars. These were largely unskilled workers and one of the ways of earning a living was to turn to something Italians know best – food. They opened cafés and restaurants and introduced great coffee, pasta and ice cream to London. By 1850 there were 1,000 Italians in the area; by 1895 there were more than 12,000 – and 900 ice-cream sellers! The migration continued into the 20th century and as the Italian population swelled, some moved further west into Soho where, amongst other Italian places, Bar Italia opened in 1949 – a café that has become a kind of mecca for anyone who loves coffee and is interested in its history.

Pallotti’s Italian Social Club is situated between Terroni – said to be the oldest Italian delicatessen in London, which opened in 1878 – and the Italian church – Chiesa Italiana di San Pietro. The church was established in 1863 and became a focus for the Italian community, including being a labour exchange after Mass on Sunday. The Pallotti club opened in 1960 to provide a meeting place for Italians in London, a centre for Italian culture and sports events. Last night’s film event was arranged by Arrivederci Films. We were to have a simple Italian meal of pasta first with a glass of wine and then watch the film Queen of Hearts (1989). All for an amazing £10.

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I arrived early and spoke to Nicola Gallani from Arrivederci Films. A Meetup table of 12 was allocated but there would be plenty more people. Also there, setting up a table of antipasti, was Lydia from Dialogue Agency representing Parmigiano Reggiano and Prosciutto di Parma, who had offered to supply us some cheese and Parma Ham to begin our meal. Parma Ham is a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) product and can only be produced in the traditional way near Parma in Emilia Romagna.

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Its unique flavour is the result of processes that have passed down from Roman times. I talked to Lydia as she lay slices of Parma Ham for us to eat on a plate. It was wonderful ham. There was also a huge chunk of Parmigiano Reggiano. Lydia used a special cheese knife to cut small, bite-sized chunks for people to eat. It was very delicious and quite a young Parmigiano so still creamy and moist so good to eat on its own.

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Although we tend to use the generic term Parmesan so often, any Italian will tell you that the true and best kind is called Parmigiano Reggiano. It is also a PDO which ensures that the name can only be used for cheese produced in designated areas of Parma, Reggio Emilia, Modena, Bologna and Mantua. The history of this king of cheeses goes back to at least 1200 and Parmigiano Reggiano is still handmade in small artisan dairies with the same care as 800 years ago. Remember when buying the cheese that if the packet says ‘Parmesan’ then it mostly likely isn’t Parmigiano Reggiano but made in a different region. Of course it might still be nice, but it won’t be the real thing!

Once more people started arriving we were invited to take a small plate each of the cheese and ham to our tables. Soon the room was packed with a lively crowd of mainly Italians. Our main course was a simple affair of penne with a tomato sauce, but of course the penne was cooked to al dente perfection, the sauce delicious, and it came with a glass of either white or red wine.

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Then it was time for the film. First we were introduced to Tony Grisoni the screenwriter of the film who said a few words.

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Queen of Hearts was made in 1989 and directed by Jon Amiel who made the famous The Singing Detective for BBC TV. I’d spent the day imagining that I was going to watch a film in Italian – with no subtitles since I was with Italians. As it turned out, it was in English with the occasional bit of Italian. The film was critically acclaimed when it was released and became something of a cult. It tells the story of an Italian couple who elope and flee to London where they open a café and have four children. This is the story of Little Italy and life in Clerkenwell from the 1920s through to the 1960s. It has all the dramatic elements of romance, revenge, humour and fantasy. I wouldn’t say it’s a great film but I enjoyed it and thought it charming and a good way of understanding the history of the Italians in London better.

As I left the club, someone was coming in at the entrance with an armful of takeaway pizzas – obviously for another group of people in one of the many rooms. it was a fun evening and I know I’d like to go back to the area again soon and find out a little more about the history of the Italians in London.

DFDS 2015 Travel Blogger of the Year Award – Shortlist Nomination

thesinglegourmetandtraveller:

Just a week left before closing date to vote in these awards (by 24 April). I know many of you have voted for me already and many thanks – but if you haven’t, I’d be very grateful if you would now! :)

Originally posted on thesinglegourmetandtraveller:

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I’m very excited to have been shortlisted for a DFDS Seaways 2015 Travel Blogger of the Year Award.

DFDS Seaways is a leading ferry company operating ferries across the Channel to France and Holland – see: www.dfdsseaways.co.uk for more information. There are five categories in the awards – Travel, Culture & History, Food & Drink, Newcomer, and Travel Photos. I’ve been nominated in the Food & Drink category and if you follow this link: http://www.dfdsseaways.co.uk/Documents/dfds-blogger/categories/index.html – you’ll find me listed there under ‘Kay Gale’. I really hope that you enjoy my blog enough to vote for me and many thanks to all of you for following me and hopefully casting that important vote! :) Voting is open until 24 April. And, of course, the link will put you in touch with a number of great food and travel blogs that you may enjoy taking a look at.

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Carluccio’s Caffe Launches New Sharing Plates

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I spend quite a lot of time in various Carluccio’s Caffes – though mainly my local Richmond branch. I buy most of my pasta there (especially my favourite orecchiette), polenta, olives, panettone at Christmas, colomba at Easter and wonderful baci di dama biscuits (to which I am seriously addicted). I probably meet friends there for lunch more than any other place and am often found in the Covent Garden and Bloomsbury branches as well as local Richmond, but Kingston and Cobham too. I’ve even been to an opera evening – live singing – while you eat a set menu at Wimbledon. What I like – apart from the fact that they’re Italian and serve lovely Italian food – is that Carluccio’s Caffe fits the bill for any time of day. I love their croissants for breakfast and although I normally eat croissants on their own, I can’t resist asking for some of their fabulous fig jam to go with them. And, of course, a morning kick-start of punchy Napoli coffee (although there’s always the option of the softer Milano blend). For lunch or supper there are various salads or you could go the whole way with a plate of pasta (I often choose their lasagna with a side of rocket and Parmesan salad) or a Secondi of branzino – sea bass – or maybe Veal Saltimbocca. One of my favourite things to do at lunchtime is share an Antipasti plate with a friend and some of their excellent focaccia. But now with these gorgeous new sharing plates there are more options for a light meal – lunchtime or early evening with a drink – and so maybe I’ll have to go to Carluccio’s even more often!!

Well, OK. I think I’ve made the point that I’m a bit of a Carluccio’s fan. But now you can see that I was truly very excited to be invited by them to an event to launch their new Sharing Plates at the Covent Garden (one of my favourites) restaurant last night. It was a perfect evening to go for cocktails and sharing plates. It had been the warmest April day for 4 years and felt like summer. The Covent Garden Carluccio’s is quite a big one and I was directed upstairs to the nicest room with its bright, airy ceiling, big windows and pretty frescoes on the walls.

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The room was full of other foodie people and I was immediately welcomed and offered a glass of a simple cocktail of prosecco and limoncello. It was delightfully refreshing.

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A table in the middle was filled with large plates of the new ‘sharing plates':

Focaccia

Focaccia

Caponata

Caponata

Antipasti selection

Antipasti selection

A large ham was being sliced in front of us for the antipasti to be regularly replenished.

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All dishes were regularly replenished. We weren’t going to run out of food! When a new dish of little red peppers filled with tuna was brought, we were told they were quite spicy.

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They were – I love chilli and these had quite a hit but were really delicious. There were delicious Polpette – meatballs with tomato sauce:

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And lovely Bruschettine topped with either tomatoes & peppers or goats’ cheese & onion jam:

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And irresistible grilled prawns:

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There was a cheese board full of different Italian cheeses, a whole Parmesan in the centre to cut into and take chunks, wonderful arancini oozing with melted mozzarella, skewers of mozzarella and cherry tomatoes. As for drink, there was plenty of wine or more prosecco but I was drawn to the far end of the room where Federico was mixing some Peroni cocktails. Try one, he urged, as he put a Peroni La Piazza before me.

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I’m so glad he did. It was wonderful and perfect for the warm evening: ice-cold Peroni with some bitterness from Angostura balanced with lime juice and ginger spices. I was at the party for quite some time and talked to some lovely bloggers and other people interested in food. When I decided to leave and make my way home, I was given a goody bag by Abbey – part of the team who’d arranged the evening. Then on the train home I saw on Twitter that I’d missed dessert! Shock! Too late to go back but I obviously need to go back to a Carluccio’s soon to make up for it!

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However, opening my goody bag at home almost made up for it:

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And anyway, I’m back at Carluccio’s Richmond on Monday lunchtime to meet a friend to celebrate my birthday … and since a birthday definitely means a treat then I’ll have to have dessert!!

Carluccio's Covent Garden on Urbanspoon

te te I’m

Freekeh Salad with Courgettes, Pistachios & Lemon Dressing

IMG_8484 There’s been a lot of gardening going on. My own garden is quite small but it’s surprising how much time it takes to tidy it after winter and plant some new shrubs and replant pots. I’ve also been helping Jonathan in their much bigger garden over the past two weekends. The young family are still a bit sleep deprived so gardening is one way to help, with the added bonus that I get Baby Gale cuddles and stay on for supper. Jonathan was going to make Mechoui Lamb. The shoulder of lamb could be smothered in spices and butter, covered in foil and put in the oven for 3 hours or more; no attention needed other than the foil to be removed for the last half hour. Perfect gardening food. I was to take a salad and so I decided to use freekeh. It has a nice middle eastern touch to go the the lamb, is full of goodness and wonderfully tasty. I was going to use it in much the same way I might use couscous or bulgur wheat and just add some vegetables and herbs. It’s nice to have some texture so I thought I’d add some toasted pistachios too. It was similar to the dish I first made when I found some freekeh in my local Revital store – for that recipe and more information on freekeh, click here. But while that was a warm dish, this new one was definitely a cold salad. I cooked the freekeh first as I wanted it to cool before adding the other ingredients. IMG_8464 I put a cup into a small pan, followed by 2 cups of water and some salt. I brought it to the boil and then left to simmer with a lid on. It’s similar to cooking rice and the freekeh does look a bit like brown rice with a green tinge. The freekeh should be cooked in about 10-15 minutes. If there’s still some liquid drain it and then leave to cool. IMG_8469 Meanwhile, cut two courgettes into cubes and fry gently in some olive oil until starting to brown. You don’t want to cook them too much because it’s best to retain some bite and not let the courgette become mushy. Remove from pan and put on a plate with some kitchen towel and allow to drain and cool. IMG_8467 Now dry roast a handful of pistachios in a small pan. Again, just a little bit – don’t let them burn and become bitter. Then chop them roughly and set aside. IMG_8470 Next I chopped some tomatoes into much the same size as the courgettes pieces. You want some really sweet and tasty tomatoes. I used small – but not cherry – Pome die Moro tomatoes which have a deep, good flavour but are quite firm for chopping. IMG_8471 Also, chop about 3 or 4 spring onions into small slices. IMG_8474 Now add the courgettes, tomatoes, spring onion and pistachios to the cooled freekeh and fold in carefully. IMG_8473 Next chop some fresh herbs. I used flat-leaf parsley, basil and mint. IMG_8475 You want quite a bit. Chop them roughly and add to the freekeh and mix well, but gently. IMG_8477 For the dressing, squeeze the juice from 1 lemon and then add twice the amount of olive oil with some salt, pepper and a teaspoon of honey. Mix well and then add to the freekeh and gently fold in. IMG_8482 I made this fairly early in the day and then put in the fridge before taking it round to Jonathan’s – and into their fridge while we gardened! IMG_8484 It made a brilliant accompaniment to the lamb – which was delicious, the lamb falling off the bone, full of the flavour of the spices and beautifully moist and tender. It was just what we needed after all that weeding and pruning. As for the salad, I’m sure I’ll be making it – or similar versions – many times over the summer and it’s so full of goodness that it could be a simple meal on its own.

A Sunday Morning Walk in Kew Gardens: April

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A lot has been happening in Kew Gardens since my March visit. Three weeks ago I was in Kew with my friend Elsa and saw a big change from when I’d written my March post just two weeks’ earlier. The magnolias were in blossom: their big majestic flowers ranging from white, through pale pink to deep magenta are one of the glories of spring.

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Today, they were already on their way out: showers of discarded petals carpeting the ground beneath them.

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The tulips were looking fabulous and there was a wonderful display outside the Palm House; one of the first things you’ll see if you enter at Victoria Gate and bear right.

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There were gorgeous carpets of ground cover flowers, especially in the Woodland Garden near the Princess of Wales Conservatory, like these pretty Erythroniums.

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I’d gone there in search of Fritillaries – those beautiful, delicate, bell-shaped bulbs that push through the ground in spring. I didn’t see any there but found some Snake’s Head Fritillary in the Davis Alpine House.

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In the rock garden outside I found clumps of lovely Pulsatilla.

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Walking round the gardens, the Orangery Restaurant is always a good place to sit with coffee or a snack with its large terraced area allowing you to enjoy a view of the gardens at the same time.

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I can never resist a walk down to the lake, where there are a number of benches by the edge providing a peaceful place to sit for a time.

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Walking back towards Victoria Gate I passed some glorious prunus in bloom.

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Like the Magnolia trees, their blossom is a short-lived thing so all the more reason to go and enjoy it while you can. One of the great things about doing this year-long record of Kew Gardens, visiting each month, is that I’m much more aware of the changes; of what’s in blossom when. And planning to visit at least once a month ensures that I don’t miss out on anything.

If you want to know more about visiting Kew Gardens go to: www.kew.org

A Taste of Greece in Bloomsbury, London

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I’ve been looking forward to the British Museum’s Defining Beauty: the body in ancient Greek art exhibition since first reading about it some months ago. It was watching Alastair Sooke’s brilliant Treasures of Ancient Greece on BBC4 last night that reminded me that the exhibition must have opened. With another of my ‘days off between freelance jobs’ I decided to head into central London. I was slightly uncertain whether it was a good idea. With the current school holidays, perhaps the British Museum would be heaving. But setting off early, I could be there soon after the museum opened and so avoid the worst of the crowds.

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Of course the Single Gourmet Traveller cannot venture too far into a new day without a good coffee, so on the Tube into central London from Richmond, I contemplated whether to get off at Embankment or Temple, thinking first coffee houses rather than museum. I decided on Embankment and to try coffee at Villiers (in Villiers Street), which I’ve passed many times and thought looked good, but had never been near at the right time for coffee. It seemed like the kind of place I’d like – artisan coffee house; later in the day a wine bar. The cakes in the window had always looked fantastic. It’s run by the younger generation of the famous Gordon’s Wine Bar further down Villiers Street so comes with a good pedigree. It was quite busy and I found a table at the back and ordered a small flat white and plain croissant.

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As my order was taken, I asked about wifi and was given a password. It didn’t work. I was told to try all caps. That didn’t work. A woman at the next table was having the same problem. The waitress wasn’t helpful and neither I nor my neighbour did get to sign in. The coffee was OK, though not up to the standard of other coffee houses I frequent and I wished I stuck to my original idea of going to Monmouth Coffee. The croissant was soggy on the bottom and oily. I was given no paper napkin and there were none on the table which meant that once I’d finished, I had to go to the toilets to wash my hands. The bill was a rather outrageous £6.08 (including a 12½% service charge for a not great service). At my usual haunts I’d pay only somewhere between £3.55 to £4 for the same – and I do mean sitting down and not takeaway.

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Still, one can’t be too down over a disappointing coffee on such a gloriously sunny day, so I headed back outside and onwards, walking through a still quite empty Covent Garden, cutting up Neal Street and into Bloomsbury and to the British Museum.IMG_0250

I wondered if I’d find large crowds but although it was busy, I was able to go in straight away. Just entering the British Museum is something of a wonder. The Great Court is magnificent.

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So too was the exhibition, although I couldn’t take photos of that, of course. There were some wonderful Greek sculptures and exquisite pots dating from around 500BC, plus some Roman copies of missing Greek originals. And inevitably, the exhibition included some of the controversial Elgin marbles. I won’t involve myself in that argument, but I will say that one of the ‘Elgin’ sculptures, of the river god Illissos by Pheidias (480-430BC), was incredible; so beautiful, and it was wonderful to see it.

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In Greek mode it seemed a Greek lunch was a good plan before going home. I had a quick search on the internet to find Greek restaurants in the Bloomsbury area and thought Konaki in Coptic Street sounded just the place to go. I went in quite early – at about 12.30 – and there were only a handful of people. It was a very friendly welcome and I was asked where I wanted to sit – near the front, further back or in the garden. I thought it probably wasn’t warm enough for me in the garden (though others went out there later) but liked the idea of being close to the door and looking out.

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They had a good lunchtime set menu for £10.95 for 2 courses with a wide choice, but I opted for just a main course from the à la carte: Kolokythakia – courgettes stuffed with minced lamb, rice and spices, served with an egg and lemon sauce. While I waited for that, the waiter brought a small glass of house white wine (pleasant and a good price at £3.90) with a dish of very good olives.

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Nearby another waiter was talking in Greek to a couple sitting at another table. With the sun shining through from the garden, the ambience like a Greek taverna, I could almost be in Greece and it enhanced my ‘day’s holiday’ mood. My main course came with ‘Greek pasta’ – which was much like Italian orzo – and some pitta bread I’d ordered.

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The food was OK but nothing outstanding. The courgettes were overcooked; the mince stuffing tightly packed so a bit solid. The avgolemono – egg and lemon – sauce was very delicious though. I finished with just an espresso. It was the kind of restaurant that’s handy to know about if you’re in the area and fancy Greek food; it’s not somewhere to make a special trip for.

I made my way back through Covent Garden, this time to Waterloo station for a fast mainline train home. It was still fairly early but I’d done a lot and wanted to miss the rush hour. Home and a lie in the sun in the garden beckoned me. Tomorrow work arrives …

Konaki on Urbanspoon Villiers All Day Dining Room on Urbanspoon

 

Chicken Roasted with Lemon & Thyme and French-style Peas

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Lamb is perhaps a more traditional roast for Easter Sunday but I fancied a nice roast chicken so bought one in the farmers’ market yesterday. I didn’t want to do anything very fancy with it so decided to flavour it simply with just some lemon and thyme and add a dash of cream to the gravy at the end. I bought sweet potatoes to roast along with the ‘ordinary’ potatoes as an accompaniment but the organic vegetable shelves were surprisingly bare when I was buying most of my shopping in Waitrose early morning, so I decided to cook some French-style peas.

Well, what I had in mind was Petit Pois à la Française remembering gorgeous examples in France, slightly sweet, cooked in stock with mild onions and some bacon. As often happens when I’m cooking something ‘classic’ for the blog, it didn’t turn out to be quite as straightforward as I’d anticipated. Amongst my large cookbook collection I had trouble finding a recipe; there wasn’t even one in my three Raymond Blanc books. I found two in old books – I mean old … both were books I commissioned and edited back in the late 1970s! The recipes were similar but one called the dish Petit Pois à la Française while the other, Peas Bonne Femme. Both had spring onions, shredded lettuce and stock but no bacon. I definitely remembered bacon. I’d bought bacon. I went online. I found a Gordon Ramsay YouTube video for making Peas Bonne Femme. Yes he used bacon, little white onions and frozen peas … but no stock, no lettuce. So … I threw all the ideas into a proverbial culinary hat and came up with my own version.  I chopped 4 rashes of streaky bacon and sliced – in quite thick slices – a bunch of spring onions, using only the white parts. I browned these in a little olive oil. I also added a little sugar to help with the caramelisation I wanted to deepen the flavour.

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Meanwhile I heated a few frozen homemade chicken stock cubes ready to add later. Next I shredded half a Little Gem lettuce and a few fresh mint leaves.

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I stirred them in and then added 500g frozen petit pois, stirred and added the stock – not quite enough to cover. I seasoned well with salt (but check because of the bacon and stock) and freshly ground black pepper and then brought to a boil and allowed to simmer gently for about 10 minutes. I didn’t want the peas to lose their freshness and colour but I still wanted to give them enough time to take up some of the flavours from the other ingredients. And they did taste very delicious!

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The chicken had, of course, gone into the oven earlier. I smothered it in olive oil, grated over the zest of 1 lemon and a good sprinkling of dried thyme, and salt and pepper.

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I cut away the remaining pith from the lemon and put the lemon in the cavity of the chicken.

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I like to cover my chicken for the first half of roasting with some greaseproof paper smothered with butter to keep the breast moist.

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I put the chicken into a 200C/180 Fan oven for about an hour and 15 minutes. I basted it quite often to help the flavours develop and keep moist, taking off the greaseproof paper about halfway through so the skin could brown. When it was cooked, I lifted the chicken on to a carving board and skimmed excess fat off the juices. The juice from the lemon had run into the pan which would add to the flavour of the gravy. I added a tablespoon of plain flour, mixed well and then added some chicken stock until I got the consistency I wanted. I squeezed in more lemon juice, tasting until I got the lemon flavour I was looking for. I checked seasoning, adding plenty of black pepper, then poured in a little single cream. Violà! One gorgeous lemon sauce to accompany the chicken. I have to say by this time things had got slightly hectic. Jonathan and Lyndsey had arrived with Baby Gale and Lyndsey’s mum, Julie. The baby started crying and I offered to take him for a while (because I can’t resist cuddling him at every opportunity), leaving Jonathan to carve. I didn’t take a photo of the whole roast chicken! But I did remember in time to get one of the chicken nicely cut into portions (the way I like to serve it) and put onto a warm serving plate.

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I’d roasted the mix of white and sweet potatoes. I’d cut them into fairly small (about 2cm) cubes and had very briefly blanched in boiling salted water before draining and laying in a roasting dish. I poured over some extra virgin olive oil and turned the potato pieces with my hands to coat them. Then I chopped 1 medium red onion and added that with a few garlic cloves, leaving their skins on, and 2 large sprigs of fresh rosemary from the garden. They joined the chicken in the oven to cook for about 45 minutes.

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I just love the mix of potatoes and when you roast the garlic cloves whole, you can open them and scrape out a lovely gooey garlic paste to put on the potatoes when you eat them. The meal was always going to be slightly flexible in timing to fit in with Baby Gale. We sat down a little later than expected but everything kept warm OK. We tucked into some prosecco and some fresh foccacia that I’d bought in the Duck Pond Market in Richmond this morning (I’d been quite – but happily – surprised to find them open on Easter Sunday) with some olives and roast almonds.

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While Baby Gale slept, we ate the main course. It was all quite simple but gorgeous flavours. It seemed an appropriate meal for Easter Sunday. There was another little gap when Baby Gale woke up but it gave us time to make room for our dessert.  I’d bought a selection of wonderful cakes in Paul Bakery in the morning. This was a cheat perhaps – except this is exactly what the French do … buy patisserie from the expert. And really, it’s such a treat to go in and choose from all the wonderful cakes on offer. I’d bought 4 and cut them into quarters, making a kind of instant Café Gourmand with the cafetière of coffee I made to go with them.

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The meal stretched leisurely over a couple of hours, which is such a nice way to eat on a Sunday lunchtime. We all ate well, Baby Gale got some cuddles, Zeph the Yorkie got his favourite treat because he was so well behaved – some pieces of roast chicken! A very Happy Easter to you all!!!

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