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There’s only one month to go now, until lots of us get around lots of tables to share lots of food. My plan this Christmas is to make up for how little travel has been possible with a feast of flavours from around the globe: Italian parmesan, Japanese sake, African cassava, Greek feta, Middle Eastern date syrup, French brie and a Creole turkey, all bringing into question the whole notion of there being just one “traditional” way of doing things. The chairs around the table will be equally various and many, and the toasts will be to the whole big, wide, wonderful – and connected – world.
Caraway, parmesan and aleppo chilli grissini (pictured above)
These crunchy, cheesy and slightly salty grissini are very moreish. They’re a great accompaniment to dips, or just to snack on with a cocktail; a bundle would also make a great present. Once shaped, the grissini can be frozen and baked straight from the freezer.
Prep 15 min
Prove 1 hr+
Cook 1 hr 15 min
2 tsp (7g) fast-action yeast
½ tsp caster sugar
250g ‘00’ pasta flour
100g spelt flour
1½ tbsp caraway seeds, toasted and lightly ground, plus ¾ tbsp extra whole seeds for the topping
100g parmesan, finely grated
Flaked sea salt
90ml olive oil
¾ tsp aleppo chilli
Mix the yeast and sugar with 220ml warm water in a small bowl and set aside for five minutes, until the mix is frothy on top. Put both flours, the crushed caraway, half the parmesan and a teaspoon and three-quarters of flaked salt in a stand mixer with the dough hook in place, and mix on low speed for a minute, to combine. Add the yeast mix and two tablespoons of olive oil, turn the speed to medium-high and knead for seven minutes, until the dough is smooth, elastic and a bit sticky.
Cover the mixer bowl with a damp tea towel and leave the dough in a warm place for one to two hours, or until risen and doubled in size. Alternatively, cover it tightly (ideally with reusable kitchen wrap), refrigerate and leave to prove overnight (if you do this, make sure you give the dough time to come back to room temperature before shaping into grissini).
Heat the oven to 170C (150C fan)/325F/gas 3. Line a large oven tray with greaseproof paper and brush it all over with a tablespoon of olive oil.
Put the risen dough on a work surface, knead it into a smooth ball, then divide into three equal pieces. Lightly flour a work surface and roll out one piece of dough into a 3-4mm-thick rectangle. Brush with a tablespoon of olive oil, then sprinkle over a third each of the chilli, whole caraway seeds and remaining parmesan. Press down gently on the toppings, so they stick to the dough, then, using a sharp knife, cut the dough into 1cm-wide strips. With a finger on each end of one strip, turn it in opposite directions so the pastry strip turns into a twist, then put on the lined tray. Do the same with the remaining strips, keeping the twists ½cm apart on the tray, then repeat with the remaining dough and toppings.
Bake for 35 minutes, turning the tray around once halfway, until crisp and lightly golden, then remove, gently transfer the grissini to a rack and leave to cool while you repeat with the other two balls of dough and the remaining oil, chilli caraway and parmesan. (If you like, by all means bake them two trays at a time) Once cool, store in an airtight container or a tall spaghetti jar for up to a week.
Fiona Beckett’s drinks match Anything crisp and cheesy goes well with sparkling wine, whether it’s cava, crémant or champagne. Lidl’s stylish Crémant de Loire (£8.49, 12%) is a good all-rounder.
Three-cheese dip with spiced date syrup and pine nuts
This is the perfect accompaniment to the grissini above, or to crudites such as radicchio and radishes. If you want to get ahead, make the cheese mix, date syrup and the pine nuts the day before.And take the dip out of the fridge about an hour before you want to serve, because it tastes best at room temperature.
Prep 20 min
Cook 5 min
Serves 6 as a starter
50g full-fat cream cheese
150g brie (strong or mild, to taste), rind removed
1½ tsp finely grated lemon zest
15g chives, finely chopped, plus 1 tsp extra to finish
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp (20g) pine nuts
⅛ tsp cracked black pepper
For the spiced date syrup
45ml date syrup
¾ tsp chilli flakes
Put all the cheeses in the bowl of a large food processor and pulse three or four times, scraping down the bowl as you go, until broken down into a coarse paste. Scrape the cheese mixture into a bowl, stir in the lemon zest and chives, and set aside.
Put the oil in a small frying pan on a medium heat. Once it’s hot, add the pine nuts and fry, stirring regularly, for two to three minutes, until golden all over, then set aside to cool.
Put the date syrup in a small saucepan with the chilli flakes and one and a half tablespoons of cold water, bring up to a simmer, stirring occasionally, then take off the heat and leave to cool.
To assemble the dip, spread the cheese mixture over the base of a shallow bowl, then use the spoon to make a groove in the middle. Pour the date syrup into the hollow, then spoon the pine nuts and their oil all around the edges. Sprinkle over the remaining teaspoon of chives and the black pepper, and serve at room temperature with plenty of crackers and/or crudites.
Fiona Beckett’s drinks match A perfumed, peachy viognier could handle the creamy cheese and sweet the date syrup: try Chilean winery Emiliana’s well-priced Elemental Organic Gran Reserva Viognier 2020 (£8.99 on mix-six at Majestic, 14%).
Sake-cured salmon with sesame sprinkles and pickles
Every element of this dish can be prepared in advance, so it’s a great one to kick off a celebration. Ask the fishmonger for a good-quality fillet, ideally from the thickest part of the fish. Once cured, the unsliced fish keeps well in a sealed container in the fridge for up to five days.
Prep 15 min
Cure 6 hr+
Cook 5 min
Serves 6-8 as a starter
500g piece salmon fillet, skinned and boned
100ml good-quality sake
150g rock salt
150g demerara sugar
1 tbsp finely grated lime zest (ie, from 3-4 limes)
30g dill, roughly chopped
For the sesame sprinkle
2 tbsp white sesame seeds, toasted
1 tbsp black sesame seeds, toasted
1 tsp coriander seeds, toasted
1½ tsp aleppo chilli
¼ tsp sugar
Flaked sea salt
For the glaze
30ml runny honey
1½ tbsp good-quality sake
1 tbsp lime juice (from the zested limes above)
For the pickles
100ml rice vinegar
50g ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
100g baby or Lebanese cucumbers, cut into 2mm-thick slices
Put the salmon and 100ml sake in a large bowl and leave to soak for 15 minutes on one side. Turn over the fillet, soak for another 15 minutes, then drain (discard the sake), pat the fish dry and lay on a tray.
Meanwhile, make the cure. Put the salt, sugar, lime zest and dill in a large food processor and blitz until the dill is completely completely broken down and the salt is green and in very small crystals. Pat the cure all over the salmon, then cover with reusable kitchen wrap or a piece of greaseproof paper. Weigh down the salmon by placing a second tray filled with a couple of tins on top, then refrigerate for six hours (or overnight, though if you opt for the longer cure, you won’t need to weigh down the second tray with tins).
Put all the ingredients for the sesame sprinkle and a half-teaspoon of flaked salt in a mortar, grind until the seeds are slightly broken down, then transfer to a small bowl and set aside.
Put all the glaze ingredients in a small saucepan on a medium-high heat, cook, stirring once or twice, for five minutes, until thick and syrupy, then take off the heat and leave to cool.
Put the vinegar and honey for the pickle in a small saucepan with a quarter-teaspoon of salt and bring up to a simmer. Once simmering, take off the heat, add the ginger and leave to steep while the liquid cools.
Five minutes before serving, lift the ginger out of its pickling liquid and pile on to a large serving board. Add the cucumber slices to the pickling liquor, and leave to quick pickle for just five minutes. Drain the cucumbers (discard the liquid), and pile alongside the ginger.
Scrape the cure off the fish, then run it under the cold tap to wash off any last bits. Pat dry and lay it neatest side up on the board. Using a pastry brush, generously brush the upper side of the salmon with the glaze, then sprinkle over half the sesame mix. Thinly slice the fish as you need it, and serve at room temperature, perhaps with some buttered rye bread alongside.
Fiona Beckett’s drinks match A tricky dish to match, but given there’s a touch of sweetness, I’m plumping for an off-dry riesling in the form of Gunderloch Red Stone Riesling 2020 (£8 Co-op, 11.5%), a modern German take with a zesty streak of lime.