A Christmas table

ELIZABETH LATHAM
Last updated 13:00 30/11/2012
Duck confit
MARION VAN DIJK/FAIRFAX NZ
FESTIVE COLOURS: Duck confit with mashed peas and broad beans.

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At the Table

'Tis the season to be hungry Echoes of the Med Hot from the pot There's no taste like home Land of hops and honey Eating on the street A taste of the tropics Myths and mellow fruitfulness Crustacean craving Oh for onions

The next two stories are about Christmas. This week features the savoury dishes, and next time desserts.

There aren't too many times in the Kiwi culinary calendar like Christmas - a time when everything comes to a stop and families gather from far and near to celebrate.

We need more of these moments. It is a time of feasting and depending on your family traditions that will mean different things. It could be Christmas Eve dinner or Christmas Day lunch or dinner in the evening.

I come from the Christmas lunch tradition or, more correctly, slow continuous eating that starts about 10am and goes on until about 5pm.

I don't have a standard feast menu and some years I am quite rebellious about what gets served.

It is always a day for extended family and often a ring-in friend or two from some part of the globe. My family has a few food foibles and there are three active vegetarians and as I want everyone to be happy I want to cater to all the tastes. I usually start thinking about the menu about now and the mood of the moment prevails.

We start the day about 10 with hot croissants and a strong coffee that is replaced just before noon with the first glass of champagne and the arrival of the first family members who aren't staying. This Christmas the first course will be a tall glass of chilled gazpacho, the clean and cool tastes of tomato and cucumber to stimulate the taste buds.

With good music playing and people spilling out into the garden (weather permitting) and more champagne we will have the next course, crab tarts served on small plates with tangy rocket and for the vegetarians, caramelised onion tarts.

The main course will come about 2pm with everyone seated at the table. This year it is to be duck confit. I can't get far past a bird of some description whether it be turkey or herb stuffed chicken but this year it is duck. The great thing about duck confit is that you can prepare it ahead of time and all but the last details are done at least the day before.

The vegetarians will get spinach and ricotta cannelloni, or maybe ravioli. This year I think I will make brown butter with sage to accompany the cannelloni. I usually like to make at least four vegetable dishes and this year it will be roast kumara, new potatoes, mashed peas and broad beans with mint and a red salad made with roasted red peppers, roasted red onions, cherry tomatoes and probably baby carrots lightly steamed. All tossed together with extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

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I will also have a big bowl of greens from the garden, a range of different lettuces, spinach, mustard green and rocket. The duck will have a red wine glaze and it will all be accompanied with a bottle or two of good burgundy.

By the time all of this has devoured, it will be time for a rest under a tree for a while to make room for the dessert. This year I feel tradition weighing on me. I should have made a plum pudding but I haven't so it will have to be my grandmother's mince pies. I have it marinating already in the fridge. But that is the next story.

GAZPACHO

Serves 6-8 in tall glasses 1 onion
3 cloves garlic
500g ripe tomatoes
3 cups tomato juice
2-3 cups peeled cucumber
1 Tbsp Worcestershire sauce
1 tsp hot sauce such as Tabasco or Kaitaia Fire
Salt and pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
Chopped parsley
Saute the onion and garlic in olive oil for 5 minutes. Blanch the tomatoes in boiling water and remove the skins. Chop into chunks.
Peel and chop the cucumber.
Put all the ingredients into the food processor and process until small chunks. Add the tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce and Tabasco. Season to taste and chill well.
Serve in tall glasses with a swirl of extra virgin olive oil and chopped parsley.

CRAB TARTS

Makes 16 tarts Either make your own short crust pastry or use bought sheets of pastry.
2 cups crab meat - you can use canned crab - Sealord brand crab meat works just fine
2 eggs
2 Tbsp each of fresh chopped chives, parsley and marjoram
cup grated parmigiano reggiano
Preheat the oven to 190 degrees Celsius.
Fill muffin tins with pastry.
Mix the crab meat with lightly beaten eggs, the herbs and the cheese.
Three-quarter fill the pastry cases and bake in the oven until the tarts are puffy and golden. About 15-20 minutes.

DUCK CONFIT WITH MASHED PEAS AND BROAD BEANS AND RED SALAD

Serves 8

To make the confit

8 duck legs
6 cups rendered duck fat - you can buy this in supermarkets that stock duck
3 Tbsp fresh thyme
3 Tbsp juniper berries
4 cloves garlic
2 bay leaves
2 Tbsp sea salt
1 tsp black peppercorns

Pound the thyme, juniper berries, garlic, bay leaves, salt and pepper in a mortar and pestle until it forms a paste. Smear this all over the duck legs, cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Remove from the fridge and bring up to room temperature. Heat the oven to 150°C.

Put the duck legs into an ovenproof dish that holds them snugly. Melt the rendered duck fat and pour over the duck legs to completely immerse them.

Bake for about 2.5 hours. The meat should come away from the bone easily.

You can prepare this several days ahead as the meat will hold in the fat. On the day of serving remove from the fat and wipe clean.

Cook skin-side down in a hot fry pan until golden, turn the meat and either continue cooking on the stove or transfer to the oven for 15 minutes.

Serve with a red wine glaze. I use the Essential Cuisine brand available at Collingwood St Fresh Choice.

PEA AND BROAD BEAN PUREE WITH MINT

2 cups peas
2 cups broad beans
2 Tbsp butter
2 Tbsp chopped fresh mint
Salt and pepper to taste

Cook peas and shelled broad beans until tender. Drain and mash with butter and salt and pepper to taste. Add mint.

RED SALAD

2 red peppers roasted and skin removed
2 red onions cut into quarters
4 tomatoes
8 baby carrots
3 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper to taste

Roast the red onions. Slice the tomatoes. Lightly steam the carrots and then slice longways. Char the peppers and remove the skins. Shred into thin slices.

Toss all the vegetables together with the olive oil and balsamic. Season to taste.

- Nelson

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