30 November 2020
30 November 2020
Late spring often signals an uptick in social dining – more meals out, dinners parties in, coffee catchups, lazy brunches and long lunches in the sun.
So far, almost nothing in 2020 has gone to schedule, but as pandemic lockdown restrictions ease, opportunities to ring in spring are beginning to open up.
With ample caution and an eye to local restrictions, organising an intimate spring-themed soiree could be just the ticket to shake off the chagrin of recent months, eminent foodie and author Julia Busuttil Nishimura says.
Julia’s first cookbook, Ostro, established her as an authority on simple foods prepared slowly and with great care. Her latest, A Year of Simple Family Food, features seasonally inspired examples of her signature style of home cooking.
Despite the absence of many of the larger social occasions that have been cancelled or postponed because of the pandemic, Julia says spring is still a wonderful time to harness an abundance of fresh and flavour-packed produce for smaller groups.
“Spring has that feeling of regeneration that’s really quite appropriate at the moment as things start to open up,” she says.
Preparation for any occasion should start with the source. “When you start with really good quality ingredients you have to do less to them to make the dishes really tasty,” Julia says.
“I like to shop at small delis and fishmongers and nice butchers. Sometimes I go without a shopping list and see what looks good on the day, or I might ask the person behind the counter what they recommend.
“Buy seasonally, try to buy locally, and try to be clever. Buy things that are half-prepared, for example. There’s a prawn salad in my book where I buy the prawns already cooked to save time.”
Julia is always on the lookout for opportunities to showcase seasonal produce in her dishes. In spring, that might mean a starring role for fresh-picked broad beans or raspberries.
“Ingredients like that really put you in the moment. Especially emerging from lockdown when we feel like the year’s been a bit of a blur, buying those seasonal things really puts you in the present. Spring is on, it’s still happening, even if we haven’t been able to do the things we normally do.
“One of the recipes I’m featuring from my new book is like a broad bean dip, served on crostini with some ricotta and mint, and feels really fresh and spring-like.”
When it comes to hosting a spring social gathering, Julia recommends choosing dishes and ingredients that can be mostly prepared ahead of time and quickly assembled prior to serving. “You can even ask your guests for a bit of help, and they feel like they’re part of the making as well as the eating, without much effort,” she says.
“It’s about time management. You don’t want to be making a cake as guests walk through the door and having that in the oven – that’s going to be really stressful.
“Have things [on your menu] that you know will keep well – you could make the dip beforehand or if you’re making chicken sandwiches, you could make the mix beforehand and assemble them when your guests are there.”
“A dessert is something I always like to have ready to go. Once you’ve been eating with your guests and having some champagne, you don’t really want to be back in the kitchen whipping up a dessert. Having that ready to go takes the pressure off.”
Creating a fresh, energetic atmosphere to celebrate the change in seasons doesn’t stop at the food on the table. Julia advises taking inspiration from late spring and early summer blooms for your centrepiece and decorations to set the scene.
“I’m really into linen, so having some linen napkins, and some beautiful ceramics and coloured glassware is a nice way to make it feel quite lively.”
When it comes to matching drinks to your menu, common sense will apply. “We’re coming into warmer weather so things that are chilled are really nice. At the moment I’m really enjoying Lambrusco, there’s a lot of new winemakers popping up from Italy,” she says.
“Chilled light reds are really good, too, and Champagne or sparkling to start is always a winner. Keep it light, have some different offerings and you can’t go wrong.”
Wondering what to dish up at your next spring soiree? Try some of Julia’s favourite spring recipes from A Year of Simple Family Food.
A Year of Simple Family Food by Julia Busuttil Nishimura is published by Plum, RRP $39.99.
By Steve Colquhoun