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.