Bed Socks, Gold Shoes and Pancetta Salad

If you were to stop by my house at around 6 o’clock each morning, you’d regret it. I’ve perfected an efficient but hideous early-morning outfit to take my daft spaniel for a walk. Pyjamas, dressing gown, woolly scarf, gloves, bed socks and my teenage son’s giant-sized school shoes (the only footwear large enough to accommodate the super-thick red socks). They’re the kind of leather monstrosities that Pippi Longstocking would have worn – ‘black shoes that were exactly twice the length of her feet.’

Clearly this is an outfit I try to avoid being seen in. But just in case you’ve ever spotted me in those coal-skuttle shoes, can I just point out that these are the shoes I’d rather be known for…..

I had friends to supper last night all of whom have, for one reason or another, had a miserable week. I’m a great believer that in these circumstances, good food, good company and good shoes can sometimes help. We dressed up to the nines and although the food was frugal everyone felt better by pudding.

We ate pancetta and chestnuts – one of those recipes that looks and tastes as though it took more time and trouble than it did – always a good thing. But it has one special ingredient that involves a trip to Ikea – often not a good thing at all, unless you’re in the mood.

Pancetta and Chestnuts With Pea Shoots and Herbs

Serves 6

350g cooked chestnuts

250g thinly sliced pancetta

Soft salad leaves such as pea shoots, rocket, lamb’s lettuce and herbs – nothing that’s frilly or rasps the throat

2 tablespoons gravlaxsas, the sweet mustard and dill sauce that accompanies gravadlax and can be bought from Ikea. I know that sounds a little odd, so if you don’t trust me or if you can’t or won’t go to Ikea, you can make it yourself by whisking together 2 tablespoons of Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon caster sugar, 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar and 1 egg yolk. Drip 150ml of groundnut oil into the mixture to form an emulsion and then add 1 tablespoon of chopped dill and some seasoning.

4 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons best balsamic vinegar

Squeeze of lemon juice and a little lemon zest


Break up the chestnuts and fry them in a little olive oil for a couple of minutes until sizzling. Stir in the gravlaxsas and put to one side. Add the pancetta to the pan and fry until crisp. Again put to one side. Dress the leaves in olive oil, balsamic, lemon juice and a little zest. Season the leaves and then tip the pancetta and chestnuts over the top. Serve warm with a loaf of good sourdough bread.

When I first joined the BBC I was shocked to discover that TV news-readers wore posh jackets and ties above the desk but jeans below. In an inversion of news-reader style, we ate our pancetta and chestnuts with thick coats above the table (my boiler is up the creek yet again) and, in my case, a frothy net skirt and the divine gold shoes underneath.

Celeriac Soup with Apple and Chestnut

Reading Paul Auster’s novel The Brooklyn Follies, I collided with a disturbing idea. According to Auster’s thwarted character Tom, we’ve entered a new era, an era of the ‘post-past age.’ Tom elaborates that the ‘post-past’ means ‘The now. And also the later. But no more dwelling on the then.’

Could that be true? Are we so dislocated from anything that’s gone before that we have no choice but to stare fixedly ahead and wait for what’s coming? What kind of cynic do you think I am? Of course I don’t agree with that notion and neither, I suspect, do you. At this time of year you need only go to a child’s nativity play, or flick through an old cookery book to find the recipe that your mother swore by for Christmas turkey, or attend a Remembrance Day service, or go to a Thanksgiving party, as I did last week. And then you will know that the post-past is a fiction dreamed up by people who favour the smart remark above the truth.

And just in case you need a little more persuading, here is my recipe for celeriac and chestnut soup, a divinely fragrant concoction that I first ate when I was a child. As far as I’m concerned, the post-past is dead. Long live the pre-present….

Celeriac Soup With Apple and Chestnut

Serves 6

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 floury potato

1 medium onion

1 garlic clove

I whole celeriac, peeled and cut into chunks

I litre vegetable stock

100 ml double cream

100 ml full cream milk

100 g vacuum packed cooked chestnuts

2 Granny Smith apples

Truffle oil

Cut the potato, onion, 1 apple and celeriac into chunks and slice the garlic. Soften the onion gently in the olive oil for five minutes, and then add the potato, garlic, apple and celeriac. Don’t allow the vegetables to brown. Season and continue to cook gently for another five minutes and then add the hot vegetable stock and simmer for twenty minutes. Puree with a stick blender before stirring in the cream and milk. Reheat the soup, but don’t let it boil. Adjust the seasoning. Break the chestnuts into smallish pieces and saute briefly in a little olive oil. Cut the second apple into the finest julienne – (don’t peel the apple – the flash of green at one end is good). Serve the soup with a scattering of chestnuts, a sprinkling of apple and a circular drizzle of truffle oil. Eat your soup like the Roman god Janus, facing backwards and forwards at the same time. And let’s have no more talk of the post-past.