When we discussed the catering for God Daughter 3's baptism party a few weeks back, Neil and I were probably more than a little blasé about the scale of the problem in hand. Twenty-five adults and loads of kiddies? No problem! Let's do porchetta as the main event – that will be nice and easy. We might need two, of course. Oh and a whole salmon. And some savoury tarts. Jersey Royals... Asparagus... Langoustines... Cheesecake... The list kept getting longer and no ideas were being scratched. The wine was flowing freely by then, and anything seemed possible.
Last Friday brought us all a little closer to reality. I had skilfully persuaded Neil's sister, Sarah, to foot the C-charge and meet me at Borough Market for the main purchases. I was using Gennaro Contaldo's version of porchetta from the Passione cookbook, which suggested a 5Kg slab of belly (no suckling pig this time) would feed 10 to 12, so I'd ordered two such cuts from Ginger Pig a couple of weeks earlier. We popped in to check the meat was there (it was!) and scooted round picking up the other necessaries. More asparagus and Jersey Royals than you could shake a big bag of sticks at, a scary looking bag of langoustines, three dozen quails eggs (because obviously we didn't have enough food), lots of soft fruit for dressing cheesecakes and bunches and bunches of fresh herbs.
Borough Market at about noon on a Friday, incidentally, is an absolute joy: most of the Saturday stalls but non of the tourists – you can actually walk around unimpeded. I may take the day off every week...
Finally we came to pick up the pork, and they really had done me proud. Not only did the belly pieces look fabulous – not so fatty the outer later would have dominated, but with plenty of dense layers to keep things juicy – I was also rewarded with an unanticipated byproduct of the boning process: two perfect racks of spare ribs. These, needless to say, were put to very good use on the barbecue that evening...
Having delivered all the goodies to Notting Hill I schlepped back across town via Oxford Street (complete with spare ribs!) while the fairies got to work scrubbing potatoes and poaching a salmon far too big for the fish kettle. This just left the porchetta and the tarts for morning of the party.
The porchetta was brilliant. A daunting quantity of fresh herbs (I went for sage, lemon thyme, rosemary, young fennel, wild garlic and some incredibly zingy fresh young garlic too) were spread all over the inside surface of the well seasoned pork bellies which were then rolled up and tied as tightly as I dared (I cursed myself for not asking for some fit-for-purpose butcher's string from GP). A bit of oil and some more seasoning over the top and these were given a fierce half-hour blast before about three hours roasting at a far more sedate pace. We hazarded a final blast on full at the end, too, which did amazing things for the crackling.
While the pig was doing its thing we drank tea, boiled tiny eggs, mixed salad dressing, boiled potatoes (served with butter and leftover herbs from the pork – fantastic!), dressed Sarah's fabulous baked cheesecakes and made the tarts. One of these was based on Rick Stein's langoustine and clotted cream effort. I can only imagine he gets far bigger crustacea than I could find because we were a long way short on quantity and had to top up with some less than ideal king prawns hastily purchased from the supermarket round the corner. The result was tasty enough, though, especially as I managed to bag a langoustine-only slice! Stray vegetarians were treated to a lovely cheese and asparagus tart made by Neil's mum.
Without exception, the results were spot on. We had fed the masses, stuck to our deadline (more or less) and I, for one, enjoyed every minute of it. I don't know whether it was the general joy of Isabelle's big day, the fabulous weather or maybe the ribs I'd had the night before, but in the middle of a hectic weekend the four hours or so I spent in the kitchen on Saturday morning were some of the most relaxing and rewarding I can recall. Looking forward to the next one guys!