Food writer Skye McAlpine’s latest cookbook unravels the art of entertaining.
A Table for Friends: The Art of Cooking for Two or Twenty is a celebration of deliciously, indulgent Italian recipes.
Whether you’re feeding a couple or an entire clan, whatever the season, the book is a bounty of tips, hacks and how tos.
I caught up with Skye to learn more about how to throw the perfect party…
Where do you spend the most of your time?
Home is between London and Venice. I’ve just been in lockdown in London with my family for the past four months, and now we’re in Venice for a little while.
When did you know you wanted to work with food?
I’ve always loved food: I’m very greedy and love eating good food, but I also love how food brings people together. I have dreamed about writing a cookbook for longer than I can remember, but it wasn’t until a few years into writing my blog and my first commissions for magazines came along that I began to believe that I could do it!
What inspired you to write the book?
In many ways it’s the book that I wish I had had on my shelf when I first started to cook: I’ve collected together all the lessons, tricks and tips I’ve learned through years of cooking for more people than ever seemed possible to squeeze into our kitchen. There is a lot of anxiety and stress that surrounds the idea of having people over for dinner, so I wanted to create a helpful and approachable companion that would give readers the confidence to do it more often – and to enjoy doing it!
What ingredient could you not live without?
So tricky… I do love cheese: everything tastes better with a bit of cheese. And good olive oil.
What’s your ultimate cooking hack?
I never bother peeling potatoes. If I’m roasting them, I just chop them up and toss them in there still in their skins.
Your favourite quick midweek, no fuss meal?
The Spinach, Mint and Melted Cheese Syrian Frittata – it’s unbelievably yummy and very quick to throw together (you can also make it a couple of days before and keep in the fridge, then warm in the oven when you like). Then a really good tomato salad to go with it. And for pudding a dish of frozen berries swimming in white chocolate and saffron sauce.
Top 3 favourite restaurants to eat out at?
The River Café is a wonderful classic – it’s such a special place and everything about it is so magical. From the food to the hot pink pizza oven and the inimitable atmosphere.
I love Spring, Skye Gyngell’s restaurant in Somerset House – everything about it there is so elegant and light and airy, but not pretentious or formal in any way. And the food is completely exquisite. I also love Kaosarn, our local Thai restaurant on St Johns Hill – the food is delicious and fresh and all sorts of heavenly recipes I would never be brave enough to try and make at home myself.
What’s your ultimate dinner party dish?
I don’t think you can really beat a really good roast chicken, with a lovely crisp green salad and an outrageously large dish of golden roast potatoes. Everyone loves roast chicken – and it’s such an easy one to pop in the oven and forget about while you have fun with your guests.
For the ‘wow’ moment, I’m a great fan of a lovely pudding: my go to is some kind of meringue cake, three tiers of white meringue layered with whipped cream and summer berries or lemon curd or shavings of chocolate.
Who is exciting you in the world of food right now?
In the past few months I’ve loved rediscovering a lot of the older voices in food – books from the sixties, seventies and eighties. I’m obsessed with Arabella Boxer’s books – most especially her ‘First Slice the Cookbook’ which was a huge source of inspiration for my new book. I also love the works of Claudia Roden, Ambrose Heath and, of course, Marcella Hazan and Anna Del Conte.
Who has influenced you and your approach to food the most?
Probably my mother – she has a wonderful, quasi magical way with food. It’s always a very relaxed business, but also delicious and indulgent and very much about the people you share it with.
What are you most proud of?
A Table for Friends: it’s a book I’ve dreamed of writing since forever; and it’s an incredibly exciting feeling to see it sitting in the flesh on the kitchen table in front of me.
What’s next for you?
I’ve loved working with Anthropologie on a tableware collection over the past couple of years – which just launched this summer, along with my new book. So the next few months are really focused on that!
APHRODITE’S ROAST CHICKEN
HANDS ON TIME: 10–15 minutes
HANDS OFF TIME: 1 hour 10 minutes cooking
10 minutes resting
F O R 4
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 small chicken, about 1.4kg, preferably organic
A large bunch of rosemary
2 garlic cloves
Sea salt flakes
Freshly ground black pepper
This recipe comes from my mother’s friend, Aphrodite, and is to my mind (smallest of puns intended) truly food of the gods. Its charm lies in its simplicity: the bird roasts on a bed of very finely sliced potatoes, which crisp to golden around the edges of the tin, while those directly under the chicken are soft and deliciously imbued with the rich cooking juices. The trick is to make sure that you get a little bit of both kinds of potato on your plate.
You can happily prepare this a few hours before you’re ready to roast the chicken, cover and store in the fridge. Just don’t slice the potatoes more than four hours or so ahead, as they may brown or curl.
Heat the oven to 200 ̊C/fan 180 ̊C/Gas 6. Finely slice the potatoes into rounds 3–5mm thick, using a mandolin if you have one. Arrange in a single layer over the bottom of a large roasting dish, overlapping them. I do this in a round 32cm tarte Tatin dish, but whatever you have to hand will do. Drizzle with 1 tbsp of the olive oil and season generously.
Set the chicken in the dish, nestled over the potatoes. Prick the lemon all over with a fork and stuff it into the cavity along with half the rosemary. Drizzle the remaining oil over the chicken, then rub it into the skin with a very generous dash of salt. Lightly crush the garlic cloves (unpeeled) and scatter them over the potatoes, along with what is left of the rosemary.
Now set the roasting dish in the oven and cook for 60–70 minutes, until the skin is crisp and the juices run clear when you stick a knife into the thickest part of the bird (between the leg and the body).Allow to rest for 10 minutes before carving, then eat with the potatoes.
Extract taken from A Table for Friends: The Art of Cooking for Two or Twenty by Skye McAlpine (£26, Bloomsbury). Buy it here.
Photography © Skye McAlpine