Flora Shedden believes food should be friendly, undaunting and, above all, sociable.
And the word ‘gathering’ sums that up. “A gathering is an easy way of hosting: it means there is no pressure, no code of conduct and everyone – cook included – can enjoy themselves.”
It’s a gentle and calm approach to food exemplified in Gatherings, a celebration of those leisurely meals enjoyed with friends and family, times when, as Flora says, ‘you can have people over, lay on a spread without sliding into full-on panic mode.
‘I wanted to reflect this relaxed style of eating in a collection of easy and accessible recipes that are not daunting but enticing and encouraging. What’s more, I wanted to show how this is all possible after a long day at work, after a weekend spent out and about or even after decking the halls.’
Although it was Flora’s baking that caught our attention on the 2015 series of GBBO, Gatherings is full of recipes of every kind, from soup to soda bread, broth to brunch and delicious snacks to wholesome meals.
These are dishes that anyone can make, gorgeous dishes that are deceptively simple but won’t fail to impress on your table.
Flora’s favourites dishes are those that are: “nothing overly fussy or complicated, just tasty and pretty plates of food”. It’s a bit of a latterday Nigella approach – you like the idea of being Flora’s friend and popping over for supper.
With a guide to the perfectly informal table settings, Gatherings also acts as your secret weapon to create a beautifully relaxed atmosphere at your next lunch or dinner. There are lovely pictures of gorgeous summery gatherings with pitchers of Pimm’s and perfect cakes adorned with summery flowers.
Ever the country-girl, Flora delights in weaving natural ingredients into her recipes, and relishes flavours that evoke the lush essence of a country garden – from fresh herbs to the fittingly floral hibiscus and rose petals. She also provides some helpful pointers on how you can inject some garden freshness into your kitchen with pots of herbs stored close at hand to lift your recipes, which, she promises, ‘will give both your food and your kitchen a vibrant kick of colour’.
But that’s not to say Flora’s recipes are treat-free: the book unashamedly bucks the trend of clean eating and revels in sweet and savoury indulgence and classic dishes passed down by Flora’s own family.
“I can promise common-sense food’, she says, ‘proper and honest ingredients that will both fuel and satisfy you.’ Gatherings luxuriates in food throughout, from the simple act of cooking to the eating and enjoying, be it a quick breakfast or a slow dinner.
“Food is as much about fuelling as it is about good hearty laughs. Cooking is the rewarding route you take to get there.’
We’ve been inspired by Flora’s Spring Ladies Lunch, with its refreshing blood orange vodka blush and the subtle, healthy and satisfying flavours of her beef with quinoa, lentils and radishes.
Whether you’re hosting an Easter lunch, Mother’s Day meal or just a girly gathering we think it’s an inspiring offering. Can we come?
Gatherings: recipes for feasts great and small by Flora Shedden, published by Mitchell Beazley, £25; octopusbooks.co.uk
BEEF WITH QUINOA, LENTILS, RADISHES AND A PARSLEY DRESSING
This is one of the first recipes I thought of when I sat down to write this book. It very much embodies the style of eating and cooking I have adopted and wanted to share – a big platter of good, honest, fuss-free food, for relaxed and easy eating. Fillet of beef is an expensive cut, but this big salad doesn’t call for a huge amount of it. It does really add to the dish, but you can use less or omit it if you’re on a tight budget. Also, I have a flatmate who would eat this beef dish day in, day out and would recommend serving it with nothing else. Feel free to omit the other elements of the dish and simply whack a few slices of the beef in some good bread with plenty of mayo. If it’s good enough for Thomas…
2cm (¾ inch) fresh root ginger, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 teaspoon pink peppercorns
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
500g (1lb 2oz) fillet of beef
150g (5½oz) quinoa (a mix of red and white, if you can get it)
150g (5½oz) Puy lentils
850ml (1½ pints) water
big bunch of flat leaf parsley, leaves picked, stems and half the leaves roughly chopped (reserve the whole leaves to garnish)
100ml (3½fl oz) olive oil, plus extra for the grains
juice of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
1 avocado, peeled, stoned and
200g (7oz) radishes, finely sliced
4 spring onions, finely sliced
salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat the oven to 200ºC (400ºF), Gas Mark 6.
Use a pestle and mortar to bash the ginger, garlic, peppercorns and salt together to form a paste. Add the oil and mix again.
Heat an ovenproof frying pan over a high heat until smoking hot. Rub the beef thoroughly with all the ginger paste. Once the pan is hot, place the beef in the pan and cook for 1 minute on all sides, ensuring the outside is completely sealed. Transfer to the oven to roast for 15–17 minutes for medium-rare meat.
While the beef is cooking, weigh out the quinoa and lentils and water into a deep saucepan and bring to the boil. Cook for roughly 20 minutes or until the lentils are soft. The quinoa will be ready at the same time.
Drain, then mix in a little olive oil to prevent sticking. Season lightly. When the beef is cooked, transfer it to a plate, cover the plate with kitchen foil and leave the beef to rest for 15 minutes at least.
For the parsley dressing, put the chopped stems and leaves in a food processor (or in a jug if using a stick blender). Add the oil, lemon juice, vinegar and avocado. Blitz on a high speed until smooth and a vibrant green in colour.
Toss the radishes and spring onions through the quinoa and lentils with the reserved whole parsley leaves.
Finely slice the beef just before serving and lay the slices on a large platter with the quinoa and lentils. Dollop small amounts of the parsley dressing over the salad and serve the remainder on the side for people to help themselves.
BLOOD ORANGE VODKA BLUSH
This one is dangerously drinkable, particularly when made during the height of the blood orange season. A glass of sunshine to see you through the last of the winter darkness.
MAKES 1 LARGE JUGFUL
250ml (9fl oz) blood orange juice
(juice of approximately 4–5 oranges)
juice of 1 lime
100g (3½oz) caster sugar
plenty of ice cubes
350ml (12fl oz) vodka
700ml–1 litre (1¼–1¾ pints) soda
blood orange slices, to garnish
Pour the orange juice into a saucepan. Squeeze over the pomegranate half to release its juice – the seeds will drop into the pan, but that’s nothing to worry about. Add the lime juice and caster sugar. Bring to the boil over a medium heat for a few moments until all the sugar has dissolved.
Remove from the heat and strain into a sterilized bottle.
To serve, quarter fill a large jug with ice. Pour over your blood orange juice mixture. Add the vodka and top up with soda water – the quantity will depend on how strong you want the drink to be. Finish with a few slices of blood orange.