As her new cookbook, A Table for Friends: the Art of Cooking for Two or Twenty, hits bookstores everywhere, the doyenne of simple yet oh-so-stylish cooking shares her culinary secrets

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A Table for Friends cover 768x768 1 - Recipes – Italian inspiration by Skye McAlpine

“I love the Italian attitude to food: it’s so convivial and relaxed and inclusive. Everyone here has such a passion for food!” exclaims Skye MacAlpine, who divides her time between Venice, where she grew up, and London, where other culinary delights await. “I love the British tradition of puddings and baking: I have such a sweet tooth!”

The inspiration for her latest book — her award-winning debut A Table in Venice wowed foodies across the world — came about after realising how many people found it so stressful to cook for others. “One of my greatest joys in life is having friends over and sitting down together to enjoy a good meal, but I noticed that, for a lot of people, the idea of inviting someone over to eat is often stressful,” she says.

“I wanted to find a way of helping others cook for their friends in a way that allows them to enjoy that process — and to hopefully inspire them to do it more often.” And with chapters organised into “Throw together”, “On the hob” and “In the oven”, she really has covered all kinds of cooks and every size of kitchen.

But for Skye, cooking and sharing food comes second nature and she is unfazed by those gatherings that take on a life of their own. “Last year, I cooked a dinner to celebrate my mother’s birthday,” she says. “Somehow we ended up being 24 at our old, pretty small kitchen in our then London flat. We were all squeezed in round one long table, which I had fashioned out of trestles, and it was such a hot night in June. It was chaos and there was barely space to breathe, but it was an evening full of so much joy. I’ll never forget it.”

Her advice for any gathering, whatever the size, is to “skip starters, just focus your energies on a nice big star dish for the main course, along with a side dish or two and perhaps a nice fresh salad. Then make (or buy) a really indulgent pudding. That’s the recipe for the perfect dinner party.

“I kept it simple for my mother’s birthday — we had cold roast beef, new potatoes with lemon and samphire and huge bowls of salad, with coffee walnut cake for pudding.

“But really, it’s all about the people — and then creating a welcoming and relaxed setting for everyone to kick back and enjoy themselves.”

Skye has inspired many to take up the challenges of the kitchen, but she is herself hugely inspired by her own foodie heroine, the legendary Ruth Rogers. “I love her passion for simple, beautiful food. Her work at the River Café has, in so many ways, shaped the way we think about food in the UK today. I also find the way she lifts others up with her — particularly women in the industry —so inspiring. She is such a champion of those of us still just starting out.”

Skye McAlpine’s A Table for Friends: The Art of Cooking for Two or Twenty is published by Bloomsbury. For more information:

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15 minutes

25–30 minutes (15 of which you’re busy doing other things)
F O R 4 – 6

200g wild long-grain rice, rinsed and drained
1 litre water
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for seasoning
120g Puy lentils, rinsed and drained
500ml vegetable stock
1 onion, finely sliced
120g pomegranate seeds A small bunch of mint, leaves picked
Sea salt flakes

Loosely adapted from Charlotte Wood’s brilliant book Love and Hunger, this light, nutty recipe works equally well as a centrepiece or a side dish. I like
it best with wild rice, which you often find sold as part of a mix with basmati or brown rice and that works too, just adjust the cooking times accordingly.

You can cook the components – rice, lentils and crisp fried onion – ahead of time in stages, if that makes life easier, then simply assemble everything on the day you want to eat it. Once assembled, it will sit happily in the fridge for a day or two. Better still, you can buy the lentils (and rice, if you like)

in sachets ready-cooked, so all you need do is toss it all together and dress.

Toss the wild rice into a saucepan. Cover with the measured water and add 1⁄2 tsp salt. Bring to the boil over a high heat. When the water begins to gallop, reduce to a simmer, cover and cook over a gentle heat for 25–30 minutes. The rice should be chewy and some grains may burst open like exotic flowers in bloom. Drain off any liquid, then tip into a large bowl, seasoning generously with olive oil and a little salt while the rice is warm.

While the rice cooks, toss the lentils into a separate saucepan. Cover with the stock and bring to the boil over a high heat. Reduce the heat, cover and simmer gently for 25–30 minutes until just cooked: you want them to hold their shape nicely and have a little bite to them. Drain away any liquid and add to the bowl with the rice. Fluff together with a fork and season with a little more olive oil.

Lastly, cook the onion: heat the 2 tbsp of olive oil in a saucepan over a medium heat, add the onion and fry until very crisp and dark. Combine the onion and pomegranate in a serving dish with the grains and pulses.

Before serving, tear in the mint leaves, toss, check for seasoning and serve.

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25 minutes

1 hour baking
1 hour cooling
FOR 8–10

Flavourless oil, for the trays
6 egg whites
300g caster sugar, plus 2 tbsp
2 tsp cornflour
1 tsp white wine vinegar
850ml double cream
150g blackberries
300g raspberries
300g blueberries
30g flaked almonds
Thyme sprigs, redcurrants and flowers, for decoration (optional)

An ode to the fruits of British summer. If you are catering for friends with dairy intolerance, you can also make this with whipped chilled coconut cream, which is every bit as good.

Heat the oven to 150 ̊C/fan 130 ̊C/Gas 2. Oil 3 baking trays and line with baking parchment. Draw a circle on each roughly 23cm in diameter (I trace around a cake tin).

In a clean mixing bowl, whisk the egg whites until they begin to peak, then add the sugar a spoonful at a time, whisking all the while.When all the sugar has been added and the mixture is glossy, gently fold in the cornflour and the vinegar. Spoon the meringue on to the baking trays, spreading it out to make 3 discs. Bake for 1 hour, then switch the oven
off and leave the meringues in there to harden for another hour.You want the meringue to be crisp so that it can support the weight of the cream.

You can make the meringue up to 3 days in advance and store it in an airtight container.


To make the filling, whip the cream with an electric whisk until peaks form, but take care not to over-whip it, or it will lose that silky quality.

Take the first meringue disc and spoon roughly one-third of the cream on top, then sprinkle with one-third of the berries, half the flaked almonds and 1 tbsp caster sugar. Top with the second layer of meringue and repeat. Top with the third meringue, spoon on the last one-third of the cream and decorate with berries, thyme sprigs and flowers (just make sure they’re not noxious), if you like.

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15–20 minutes

350g tagliatelle
80ml single cream
450g Gorgonzola cheese, chopped
1 large or 2 small pears A handful of whole walnuts
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper (optional)

If the Spaghetti with Creamy Lemon Sauce on the previous page is innately summery, this is its warming winter counterpart: an indulgently rich balm to soothe body and soul in the bitter cold.The pear and walnut are by no means essential, in fact a plate of tagliatelle drenched in just the creamy, peppery cheese sauce is pure joy. However, the chunks of fruit add a delicate sweetness that cuts through the intense richness of the sauce and it’s little extra effort to throw them in.

This dish breaks all my rules of stress-free cooking for friends, as it can in no way be prepared in advance. But it’s so simple to make that I feel comfortable and happy serving it to company, though I would baulk at cooking it for more than six, because the delicate timings of the pasta become too unwieldy for my peace of mind.

Fill a large saucepan with water, add a generous pinch of salt and bring to the boil.When the water is galloping, add the pasta and cook until al dente according to the packet instructions.

Meanwhile, pour the cream into a small saucepan and add the cheese, then set over a medium-low heat and stir occasionally until the cheese has almost completely melted. Core the pear(s) and slice finely, then roughly chop the nuts.

Drain the pasta in a colander, reserving a little of the cooking water (roughly 1⁄4 cup), toss in the cheese sauce and reserved cooking water, then, just before serving, toss through the pear and walnut pieces. Add a little black pepper, if you like, and serve immediately.