Tempting springtime party food to prepare in advance

I’ve been testing recipes for a birthday party that I’m going to cook for myself in a couple of weeks. Full of spring, a bit Garden of England (cherries, broad beans and cucumber) and quite a bit of Italian.

My dream is that I’ll prepare all of this in advance and leave platters around the place along with bowls of roasted nuts and chipsticks. It will, of course, be sunny and I’ll receive our guests into our tidy house, perfectly relaxed, having done all the work in advance. Revellers will spill outside enjoying beer from the local brewery and boxes of cheap wine. The kids will behave impeccably throughout and I’ll be ready to embark on the second half of my life. This may be fanciful, but I hope someone (hint, hint) will also bake me a cake so I’ll have candles to blow out.

Broad bean and almond pesto

This is a great, fresh, pasta sauce but can also be served on grilled polenta, on toast, in a sandwich, through boiled rice or steamed spinach. Serves 4. Ready in 15 minutes

blanched almonds 30g
broad beans 150g shelled (about 500g in pods)
garlic ½ clove, peeled
basil ½ small bunch
pecorino or parmesan (or half and half) 40g, grated
olive oil

Bring a pot of water to the boil with the almonds in it, to soften them a little. Into this, blanch the broad beans for 2 minutes, then fish them out, along with the almonds, and drop them into a bowl of cold water. Double pod the beans, by squeezing out the more vivid kernel, and place them in a bowl with the almonds. In a food processor or a large mortar and pestle, blitz or pound the garlic and basil and a pinch of salt until a fine paste. Add the beans and almonds and process again. Lastly, stir in the cheese and 5 tbsp of olive oil. Use this sauce with a short pasta shape, like fusilli. Serve with more cheese.

Grilled duck, cucumbers and mint

Dishy: grilled duck, cucumbers and mint. Photograph: Romas Foord/The Observer

Should you decide to cook this outside on a barbecue in place of the grill pan, make sure it’s over indirect heat, with charcoal placed off to one side and a pan underneath to catch rendered fat. Serves 4. Ready in 30 minutes

duck breasts 2, roughly 280g each
garlic 1 clove
sherry or red wine vinegar 3 tbsp
olive oil 3 tbsp, plus a little extra
black pepper
cucumbers 2, medium
mint 2 sprigs
tarragon 2 sprigs
sugar 1 tsp

Score the duck in stripes through the skin, but try to avoid cutting too deeply into the flesh. Salt both sides.

Make a dressing by crushing a garlic clove and mixing with 3 tbsp of sherry or red wine vinegar, 3 tbsp of olive oil and 1 tsp of sugar. Add to this many grinds of freshly cracked black pepper.

Using a peeler, remove stripes of cucumber skin so that it looks like a stick of rock. Cut into rounds about 1cm thick. Lightly salt these, too, and set aside while you heat a grill pan over a medium heat.

Ever so lightly grease the skin of the duck breasts with the scantest amount of olive oil and set them in the middle of the grill, skin side down. The pan should be hot enough so that they don’t stick, but not so hot that they scorch. Grill, lifting them and replacing them every so often. They will release a lot of fat. After about 5 minutes, pour this off and, once it’s cold, keep it in the fridge for future roast potatoes.

At the 10 minute mark, the skin will be golden and crisp. Turn the duck breasts over and cook for another 2 minutes, then place on one side for 90 seconds, then the other side for a further 90 seconds. Finally, cook for 3 more minutes with the skin side still facing up. Set aside on a plate to rest while you tackle the cucumbers. Drain any more excess fat and grill the cucumbers for 2 minutes on each side, placing them with the duck once ready. Slice the duck crosswise into thin strips and arrange on a serving plate with the cucumbers, herb leaves torn over and dressed with the strong vinegar sauce.

Sweet cherry focaccia

‘I cannot let the cherry season slide without making this at least once’: sweet cherry focaccia. Photograph: Romas Foord/The Observer

I cannot let the cherry season slide without making this at least once. The warm yeasty bread is delicious on its own or, as I prefer, with a fresh spring goat’s cheese. Over and above the active time, there are long pauses in this recipe while the dough proves. This gives the focaccia a deeper, more complex flavour and is well worth the wait. This is a forgiving bread and the times can be extended to suit your day.
Serves 6. Ready in 9 hours

wholemeal rye flour 100g
00 flour 400g
dried instant yeast 7g
sea salt 10g
sugar 20g
cherries 400g
olive oil 25g, plus more for drizzling

Make a starter dough by mixing the rye flour with 100g of the 00 flour and 200g of water and 2g of the dried yeast. Mix well, cover and set aside for 4 to 5 hours until much risen and sweet smelling.

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When this is ready mix the remaining flour and yeast with the salt, half of the sugar, 25g of olive oil, 150g of water and the starter dough. Set aside for 30 minutes, then knead the dough in a stand mixer with the hook attachment for 10 minutes. Cover and leave somewhere warm to rise for 2 hours.

Oil an oven sheet – mine is 35cm by 25cm. Turn out the now well-risen dough on to the sheet and shape into a round in the middle of the sheet. Rest for 20 minutes, then, with wet hands, gently and evenly press the dough out from the middle to fill the pan.

Halve the cherries and remove the stones. Press each half cut side up into the dough. Sprinkle with the rest of the sugar, a good pinch of salt and drizzle even more olive oil over them. Heat the oven to 240C/gas mark 9 without the fan on, or as hot as your oven will allow. After 30 minutes, press each cherry half back into the pillowy dough before baking for 18 minutes turning the pan once, so that it cooks evenly, three-quarters of the way through. Serve fresh, preferably still warm.

Coffee and chocolate granita

‘Use de-caffeinated coffee if you are serving this at night’: coffee and chocolate granita. Photograph: Romas Foord/The Observer

You can churn this in an ice-cream machine if you have one and prefer a smoother result. My advice is to use de-caffeinated coffee if you are serving this at night. Serves 6. Preparation 10 minutes, plus 4 hours to cool and freeze

sugar 100g
cocoa powder 50g
dark chocolate 100g, broken into pieces
water 225ml
vanilla extract 1 capful
espresso coffee 150ml
salt small pinch
whipping cream 300ml

Heat a saucepan filled with 225ml water, the sugar and a pinch of salt over a high heat. As soon as the sugar dissolves, add the cocoa and whisk in. Continue to whisk while it simmers for 1 minute, then move the pan from the heat and stir in the chocolate until it melts. Next, add vanilla extract and coffee and pour into a shallow container to cool – mine measures 25cm by 25cm.

Set aside for 30 minutes, after which it will be cool enough to put into the freezer. Leave it there for 90 minutes; by then it will have frozen a little on the top and around the edges. Break up the frozen parts with a table fork and stir them in. Repeat this forking every 30 minutes for the next 2 hours to achieve a smooth frozen consistency scattered with ice crystals.

When it’s time to serve, whisk the cream to firm peaks. Serve the granita in water glasses, topped with 2 heaped tbsp of whipped cream each.

If left to go solid, remove from the freezer a few minutes ahead and mash with a fork again before serving, or very quickly pulse in a food processor.

Joe Trivelli is joint head chef of London’s River Café (rivercafe.co.uk)

Food styling by Henrietta Clancy

The Guardian