Laura Jackson on how to throw the
perfect autumn dinner party
With summer drawing to a close, bring the party indoors and celebrate the start of the new season with an autumnal feast. But skip the hours of stress and prep: just follow broadcaster, author and co-founder of Jackson & Levine Laura Jackson’s tips and tricks for easy entertaining. Take it away…
Round to Ours by Laura Jackson and Alice Levine (Quadrille, £25). Photo: Kristin Perers
Don’t cook anything you haven’t made before
There’s no need for starters if you have the dinner-party fear – just buy some lovely focaccia and serve with olive oil. Keep the main course a one-pot stop: in autumn, I love to cook pulled pork – it’s the perfect dish to slow-cook in the oven all afternoon and fills the house with the most wonderful scent [recipe below]. For pudding, I love roast peaches with honey, pistachios and mascarpone served on a platter so guests can help themselves.
Photo: Kristin Perers
Think Classic-with-a-twist for drinks
I’ve never met a guest who doesn’t love a G&T, but adding your own spin makes it extra special. I serve mine with cloves and sage, however, you could add anything that takes your fancy, from coriander and grapefruit to orange zest and juniper berries.
Mismatching table decorations are charming
I use vintage crockery that don’t match and colourful water glasses. I’m not fussy about wine glasses; stem or no stem, either does the job for me. I love scented candles, but not on the table. Instead, I use tapered ones from Ester & Erik, which come in a variety of shades and give off a glorious light. I finish by adding a few flowers that are in season, such as lilacs and hydrangeas, in little glass jars, and an artichoke tied with a black ribbon on top of each napkin.
Set the mood with a great soundtrack
I have dinner-party playlists which are all northern soul, like Little Richard and Marvin Gaye – they’re great crowd-pleasers. I’m also a huge fan of film soundtracks: my three go-to’s are Call Me by Your Name, The Descendants, and Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?.
Dress to impress (but also for comfort)
I think it’s nice to dress up – most of my friends look forward to planning an outfit when I have a dinner party. I put on a lovely frock and some heels, although the heels are usually replaced with slippers around 11pm…
A dinner party isn’t about being Heston Blumenthal: it’s about sharing food with the ones you love. They’ve come to see you, not watch you stress in the kitchen all night.
Pulled pork with baked sweet potatoes
For the marinade
1 ½ tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp smoked paprika
2 tsp sea salt
½ tsp black pepper
6 garlic cloves, peeled
Juice of 1 lemon
3.5 – 4kg shoulder of pork, bone in, skin on
1 onion, sliced into thick rings
2 celery sticks, quartered
½ garlic bulb, cloves separated and left unpeeled
1 lemon (or the leftover skins from the marinade lemon)
500ml dry white wine
6 medium-sized sweet potatoes
Olive oil for rubbing
Sea salt and black pepper
1) To prepare the marinade, toast the cumin seeds in a deep frying pan on a low heat, shaking the pan occasionally. You should start to smell the aromatics as they toast and, once slightly coloured, take them off the heat. In a pestle and mortar grind the seeds to a fine powder, then add the smoked paprika, salt, pepper, garlic and lemon juice (keep the lemon skins for the pork if you like) and pound into a sticky paste. Massage the marinade into the sides and underside of the pork, keeping the skin side clean. Cover with foil and marinade in the fridge for at least 2 hours, or overnight if possible.
2) Preheat the oven to 220C/gas 7. Take the meat out the fridge half an hour before cooking to bring it to room temperature. Score the skin of the pork in a criss-cross pattern, with the lines around 1 – 2 cm apart, without cutting down into the meat (if unsure, ask your butcher to do this beforehand). Season with a good pinch of salt, making sure you get into the scores.
3) Put the onion, celery and garlic in a large roasting tray. Quarter the lemon (or reserved lemon skins) and add to the vegetables. Sit your pork, skin side up, comfortably on top. Add the wine to the tray, making sure you don’t pour it over the skin, as you want that dry to help the crackling crackle.
4) Pop in the oven on the middle shelf and roast for 30 minutes to allow the skin to start its crackle. Whip the pork out and cover the tray tightly with thick foil (we like to put a few layers over it both length- and width-ways, to keep it tucked in). Reduce the oven temperature to 150C/gas 2 and roast for another 4 ½ hours.
5) Towards the end of the cooking time, prepare your sweet potatoes by rubbing them all over with olive oil. Place on a baking tray and season well.
6) Take the pork out of the oven, remove the foil and baste the meat (avoiding the skin). Put the oven temperature up again to 200C/gas 6 and return it to the oven, along with the sweet potatoes. Roast for 15 – 20 minutes more, to give the crackling a final blast, then take out and allow to rest, leaving the sweet potatoes in the oven for 10 – 15 minutes more, or until soft.
7) To serve, remove the crackling and break it up into pieces. Use a fork to pull the pork into shreds, and serve with the sweet potatoes.
Recipe adapted from ‘Round to Ours’ by Laura Jackson and Alice Levine (Quadrille, £25), available in all major bookshops now
The lowdown on Laura
Personal style in one world?
Favourite thing about autumn?
Jumpers [see her edit below].
Long walks with my dog Barry in Waltham Forest as the autumn leaves fall.
Craziest thing you have done?
Ha – no way I am going to tell you that, I’d have to kill you.
What would be your last meal?
A Mexican feast and a chilli margarita.
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