Wine & Food

    Image: The Gladwin Brothers

    Everything you need for a New Year’s feast

    27 December 2020

    I’ve always eschewed New Year’s Eve parties: so busy and so noisy and you have to stay out so late because such is the nature of New Year’s Eve that if you’re not there when the clock strikes midnight, what is even the point? I am the Scrooge of New Year’s Eve. Truly, the year they started doing 24 hour tubes to get revellers home, I lost my primary excuse for ducking out of the celebrations, and I’ve never resented accessible public transport more.

    Anyway, naturally, this year, the one year when I absolutely can’t go to any kind of New Year’s Eve party, the year when I have to stay put in my own home, with my husband with whom I’ve spent 24 hours a day for the last 10 months, I am furious about the fact that I can’t go to one of those dreadful parties that I’ve put such energy into avoiding over the past decade. What I wouldn’t give to be in a sweaty, steamy room on the opposite end of the Victoria line to my house, drinking a glass of warm white wine, talking to someone I don’t really like very much, and only see at parties like these.

    In any event, I think we’re all ready to see the back of 2020, and for once, I’ll be staying up to midnight to see it off once and for all.

    So how to make the most of a New Year’s Eve spent at home? How you begin your celebrations sets the tone for the rest of the evening, so even if you plan to continue the night with pizza in your pyjamas before sloping off to bed at half eight (no judgement; this is how most of my New Years Eves go), you must start fancy. And by fancy, I mean a glass of something cold and fizzy and a plate of something nibbly, salty and compulsively delicious – cheese straws, or smoked salmon blini – you could even cure your own salmon for the purpose and make your own gravlax.

    Blinis are the ideal NYE canapé

    If I’ve consumed enough cheese straws (and I usually have), I’m happy to jump straight into the main event, but a starter does connote a certain sense of ceremony, doesn’t it? And given the fact we’re stuck at home, I’m tempted to make the most of the day leading up to my small celebrations with a little slow-cooking: French onion soup isn’t hard to make, but to do it properly does require attention and time. Put the radio on, and make the most of it. Similarly retro to a bowl of cheesy crouton-topped soup, but with a lot less effort is the prawn cocktail – my husband would have this every day for the rest of his life, if I let him.

    Prawn cocktail is an easy starter (Image: Samuel Pollen)

    If you rarely find yourself in on New Year’s Eve, and fancy something of a celebration, can there be a greater project-cook than beef wellington? A labour of love, for sure, but a show-stopping one, which doesn’t fall short on the flavour-front. If you’re looking for an involving dish that can be made ahead of time and doesn’t have the associated anxiety of overcooking an expensive piece of meat, then a proper lasagne, with beautiful layers of homemade bechamel and slow-cooked ragu is impossible to beat.

    For something indulgent without the faff – and a dish that might almost make you believe that you’re in the Alps, rather than the same dining room in which you’ve spent most of this year – it has to be tartiflette. Ridiculously rich, oozy and requiring nothing alongside it but a crisp green salad and some good bread, it is the ultimate in New Year’s Eve decadence.

    A crowd-pleaser: Tartiflette

    As the resident cook, I’ve always favoured a make-ahead pudding so that once I sit down to dinner, I can enjoy myself, and have a glass of wine. A zippy lemon posset that I can just take straight from the fridge, or a wibbly panna cotta I can turn out onto a plate. I will maybe go as far as sprinkling some sugar on a crème brûlée and torching it, but no further. For all their make-ahead ease, these are all rather elegant puddings, which are fitting for a romantic dinner à deux – but after the year we’ve all had, there’s no such thing as too much comfort, and if it’s comfort I require, it has to be sticky toffee pudding

    A true winter indulgence: Creme brûlée

    And to lubricate the proceedings? Melanie McDonagh has some ideas for festive drinks which will keep your or follow Jonathan Ray’s recommendations for the best December wines.