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It’s party season, which, paradoxically, is when everyone shares their “rules”! Contradiction or otherwise, here are mine: 1. When it comes to party food, embrace the classics. 2. Serve food that can be eaten by hand or put in a vessel that can itself be eaten – washing-up, done! 3. If in doubt, bejewel your food: this is the season pomegranate seeds were made for. 4. Take shortcuts where you can (extracting those pomegranate seeds is not for everyone, after all). 5. Dial up the salty-savoury ingredients – your mulled-wine-drinking guests will thank you. 6. Last, and most crucially, never, ever underestimate the enduring power of a sausage wrapped up in bacon.
Chicory boats with feta, walnut and pomegranate (pictured top)
The filling can be made two or three hours before assembly, if you want to get ahead. Another option is to serve the filling by itself, as a dip, or spoon it into pre-cooked pastry cases (whisper it: vol-au-vents).
Prep 20 min
Cook 15 min
Assembly 10 min
1 tbsp maple syrup
½ tsp olive oil
Flaked sea salt and black pepper
15g coriander leaves
15g dill leaves
15g mint leaves
6 spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped (125g)
100g feta, crumbled
165g cream cheese
100g cucumber, grated and liquid squeezed out
130g pomegranate seeds (ie, from about 1 pomegranate)
4 heads red and white baby chicory, leaves separated
Heat the oven to 190C (170C fan)/375F/gas 5. Mix 65g walnuts in a small bowl with the maple syrup, olive oil and a teaspoon of flaked sea salt, then arrange in a single layer on a lined oven tray and bake for 15 minutes, stirring every five minutes, until deeply golden and sticky. Remove, leave to cool for 10 minutes, then roughly chop.
Put the remaining 100g walnuts in a food processor with all the herbs and spring onions, and pulse until roughly chopped. Tip into a large bowl, add the feta, cream cheese, cucumber, three-quarters of a teaspoon of flaked sea salt and a good grind of pepper, and mix well. Stir in 120g of the pomegranate seeds.
To assemble, divide the filling between the chicory leaves – you’ll need a teaspoon or two of the mix on each leaf – then arrange artfully on a platter. Scatter the chopped walnuts and remaining pomegranate seeds on top, and serve.
Sticky pomegranate and pistachio pigs in blankets
For a quick short cut, use chipolatas ready-wrapped in bacon.
Prep 10 min
Cook 45 min
24 pork chipolatas, each twisted in the middle, then cut in half, to make 2 smaller sausages
24 rashers smoked streaky bacon, cut in half widthways
1 tbsp parsley leaves, finely chopped
1 tbsp dill leaves, finely chopped
80ml maple syrup
70ml pomegranate molasses
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp urfa chilli flakes, or ¼ tsp regular chilli flakes
Heat the oven to 195C (175C fan)/385F/gas 5½. Wrap a piece of bacon around each half-chipolata and put on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper. Put the pistachios on a second, smaller tray, then put both trays in the oven. After 10 minutes, when the pistachios are lightly toasted, remove them and set aside to cool, but leave the chipolatas in the oven for a further 20 minutes, until golden. Once the nuts are cool, chop them roughly, mix with the herbs and set aside.
Meanwhile, put the maple syrup, pomegranate molasses and cinnamon in a small pan. Bring to a boil, cook for a minute or two, then pour into a large bowl and leave to cool and thicken for 10 minutes.
Once the chipolatas are cooked, put them in the molasses bowl, leaving any fat behind on the tray. Mix gently to coat the sausages in the molasses mix, then arrange in a pile on a serving plate. Drizzle over any remaining molasses, scatter the pistachio herb mixture on top and serve sprinkled with chilli flakes.
Mackerel paté with curried onions and lemon
If you want to get ahead, make the onion butter and paté the day before; bring both to room temperature before serving.
Prep 25 min
Cook 35 min
For the curried onion butter
2 large onions (400g), peeled and finely chopped
2 tbsp olive oil
200g unsalted butter
4 tsp hot madras curry powder
Salt and black pepper
For the paté
4 hot smoked peppered mackerel fillets (340g), skinned
120g creme fraiche
2½ tsp creamed horseradish (shop-bought is fine)
1¼ tsp cracked black pepper
4 spring onions (80g), thinly sliced; keep 15g sliced greens separate
1 large lemon, zest grated, to get 1½ tsp, and juiced, to get 1½ tsp
10 x 2cm-thick slices of sourdough, toasted and cut in half at an angle
For the lemon topping
1 red chilli (20g), cut into thin rounds
1 large lemon, peeled, pith, seeds and membranes removed and discarded, flesh finely chopped
1½ tsp olive oil
First, make the curried onion butter. Put the onions, oil, butter, curry powder and a half-teaspoon of salt in a small saute pan and cook, stirring frequently, for 12-15 minutes, until soft and translucent. Leave to cool for five minutes, then put in a bowl and chill for 10-15 minutes, until the onion mix semi-solidifies.
Meanwhile, put the mackerel in a medium bowl with the creme fraiche, horseradish, cracked pepper, spring onions, lemon zest and juice, and a quarter-teaspoon of salt. Mix until just combined – you want some of the fish in chunky pieces – then cover with a plate (or chill, if serving the next day).
Now for the topping: mix the chilli, chopped lemon flesh, olive oil and a quarter-teaspoon of salt in a small bowl.
To assemble, divide the onion butter between the toasts, spreading it on thinly. Spoon mounds of the paté on top, scatter over the reserved spring onion greens, spoon on the chilli and lemon mix, and serve.