Last Supper

Alas, A La Table du Curé is coming to an end. It has been for me a wonderful experience. The table has been filled by parties from Canada to the Cayman Islands; from Australia to Antibes. I have shared with them, learned from them, and liked them enormously. What a friendly and interesting constituency we are!

Guests have eaten their way through food familiar and adventurous. We have enjoyed both drinks in the garden and blazing coal fires. Together, you, the winers and diners of New Directions, have made a significant contribution to the on-going restoration of what a local authority pagan once described as a ‘major heritage site in South London’. (Well, I ask you!) We thank you for that.

Easter 2004 sees the enterprise drawing to its close with two celebrations of the sixtieth birthday of one of the Churchwardens who welcomed me to this incumbency twenty-four years ago (when we were both protesting our extreme youth). Rather appropriately, three of the guests at the first dinner were octogenarians.

David will not object to my sharing the menu with you:

Hors d’oeuvres of roasted vegetables
Smoked haddock and cardamom consommé
Lamb cutlets Reform, with a puree of parsnip
Cheeses: Blue Vinney, Blue Shropshire, Vignotte, Brie fermier, Lincolnshire Poacher
Fruit salad

This is how you do it.

For the vegetables:

Thinly slice three decent sized aubergines. Interleave layers of aubergine with leaves of fresh sage in an oven proof dish, sprinkling with olive oil on each layer and generous oil to finish, salting and papering as you go. Set aside.

Slice the fennel bulbs into thin wedges, lengthways, and pack into an ovenproof dish. Add olive oil generously and a small quantity of good chicken stock and about ten cardamom pods opened by beating in a pestle. Set aside.

Slice the red and yellow peppers lengthways, de-seed and place skinside up in an ovenproof dish. Slice two or three hot Spanish Rosario sausages obliquely and scatter over the peppers. Sprinkle generously with olive oil. Set aside.

Put the asparagus into slated boiling water. Return to the boil, drain and refresh. Set aside.

Repeat the same process with the fine beans. Brown about 200g of pine kernels in a dry frying pan, watching carefully.

Bake all the vegetables in a brisk oven until brown (the aubergine at the top – you want it suitably crusted). Dress the asparagus with olive oil and good balsamic vinegar. Add the pine kernels to the beans and dress with oil and lemon juice. Serve with good crusty bread.

For the soup:

Make a strong fish stock from off-cut pieces bought from the fish-monger (not too much salmon, please!). Add the cardamom pods (about fifteen) and simmer. Slice the smoked haddock roughly (about 300g per person). Put into the stock with a lemon quartered. Simmer until the fish is just cooked. Set aside. Reheat for serving with a good handful of freshly chopped parsley.

For the lamb:

Choose small chops. Remove excess fat to taste. Coat in egg and breadcrumbs mixed with finely chopped fresh rosemary and grated parmesan. Set aside. Make a strong lamb stock well flavoured with onion and rosemary. Stir into a brown roux, and simmer for two hours, removing scum as you go. At the end add port and redcurrant jelly to taste. Slice julienne strips of ham, tongue, gerkin and white of hard-boiled egg. Arrange around a large dish. Deep fry the chops in sunflower oil. Drain well, pat dry and arrange on the dish serve the sauce separately.

For the accompanying vegetable:

Purple sprouting broccoli. Trim the broccoli appropriately. In a heavy saucepan place four or five fillets of anchovy and plenty of olive oil. Heat the oil and stir until the oil ‘dissolves’ the anchovies. Add a small quantity of water, bring to the boil, replace the lid firmly and allow to simmer/steam until the broccoli is al dente.

For the cheese:

Blue Vinney (or Dorset Blue) is a cheese which tastes of the cow. Friends bring it form the country – though Paxton & Whitfield, Jermyn Street will provide. Tesco do an excellent Shropshire Blue, and the Brie, Vignotte and Lincolnshire Poacher are theirs. Disregard the whimsical name of the latter, which is in reality a toothsome mature cheddar.

For the fruit salad:

Hull the strawberries, slice the mangoes, add the physalis, quarter and add the fresh figs. Sprinkle with caster sugar and lemon juice. Set aside. Just before serving sprinkle liberally with Lemoncello, or some other Italian citrus-based liqueur. Serve with Cantuccini biscuits.

For the wines:

David began with the Tesco Premier Cru, which we all agreed was nowhere near so good as the M&S Green Label. We went on to a Montagny with the vegetables and soup, and a Leoville-Barton with the Lamb. I do not myself serve a pudding wine with fruit salad; but a Barsac would be pleasant if you wished to push the boat out.

The Last Supper will be another table of eight. Menu:

Cherry tomato Tatin
Wild Mushroom consommé
Beef larded with anchovies in a port sauce
Savoy cabbage with lardoons, dried mushrooms and crème fraiche
Tart of crystallized fruit

Why, I wonder, are so many catholic priests enthusiastic cooks? And do evangelicals have similar interests? I am afraid my prejudices lead me to suppose that they subsist mainly on cottage pie and bridge rolls. The posh ones with public school voices probably like a steamed pudding of an evening, and relish a bowl of steaming tapioca. Was ‘Spotted Dick’ the originator of the Alpha Course? Did his career come to a sticky end when he involved himself in the ‘Nine O’Clock Service? Probably we will never know.

Geoffrey Kirk cooks in South London and lives in the Diocese of Southwark