A Wedding Feast in Wales
It’s two years and a couple of months since John and I got married on an island off the coast of Anglesey half way out to sea.
The day started with a sea mist, my Dad drove me to the edge of the sea in his old BMW 3 series, we’d planned to have the roof down, it wasn’t the weather for it. I walked across the stones on the path to the island at low tide (the only time you can get to the island). John’s oldest friend Jamie held a white umbrella over my head. It was like a gothic novel. My heart was beating so fast as I walked up the stone steps carved into the side of the island. I changed from my wellies into my wedding shoes on the grass outside, surrounded by friends under umbrellas that couldn’t make it into the tiny church. There started one of the very very best days of my life.
As we left the island married and beaming the sun came out, and the skies were the bluest i’ve seen – a blazing summer day. We feasted and danced and cried and laughed and felt lifted up by those around us. But mostly we feasted.
We’d decided what to eat a few months before with Sarah and Stuart the amazing chefs and friends who cooked for us. We spent an afternoon in their herb garden which surrounds their little cottage on a green, wandering Wiltshire lane. We sat and drank bubbly wine and tasted endless brilliant vegetable creations. The table was perched on a little patio right in the middle of the herb garden, between the nasturtiums and the lemon verbena, just up from the nigella and the baby chard.
As platters of joyfully cooked vegetables made their way out of the little kitchen and down the garden path, the chefs reached into the borders and picked fronds of bronzed fennel to adorn them or darted off to the top of the garden for a scattering of allium flowers. These herbs really made the plates of food we ate, anointing them with a summery greenness.
On the day, we ate tomato tart tatin, with roasted feta, capers, crispy black olives and summer herbs with bowls of purple and green bean salad with toasted almonds and orange blossom. There were runner beans with mustard seeds, creamy braised borlotti beans with spinach, chilli and crispy garlic, herbs salads from Sarah and Stuart’s garden with preserved lemon vinaigrette and slow roasted new potatoes with smoked garlic, lemon and oregano flowers.
For pudding there were brown sugar meringues with chantilly cream, fresh lemon curd, cherries and petals. There was cake too – made by my incredible friends Georgina Hayden and Christina McKenzie, as light as air with lemon and elderflower, crowned with dahilas and summer blooms. So many friends making so much incredible food.
Here are two recipes for things we ate that day. For me, I know nothing will ever taste quite as sweet as it did on the day, but these recipes come pretty darn close. Thanks to the wonderful Bubble and Squeak Food for sharing the tomato tart recipe.
A WEDDING-WORTHY TOMATO TART
Roasting the tomatoes takes a few hours but requires very little effort, so don’t be put off. I find it easier to cook the tomatoes overnight: I roast them at 100C/210F/gas very low for an hour then turn off the oven and leave them until the morning. This tart can be assembled ahead of time and kept in the fridge.
800g of good ripe tomatoes (I use a mixture of different coloured ones, both big and cherry)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 red onions, peeled and finely sliced
1 tbsp red wine vinegar
1 tsp brown sugar or honey
A small bunch of thyme or oregano, leaves picked
Butter, for greasing
A 200g pack of all-butter puff pastry
1 egg, beaten
50g of baby capers, drained
Butter a cast-iron or heavy frying pan about 24cm in diameter and lay the tomatoes cut-side down in a kind of mosaic, fitting them all together. Once they are all squeezed in, scatter the onion over the top.
Roll out the pastry until it’s about 1cm thick and cut out a circle just bigger than your pan. Lay it over the onion mixture and tuck in the sides. You can stop here and put the tart into the fridge if you like.
Once you are ready to cook, preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6. Brush the pastry with a little beaten egg and put it into the oven for 25‑30 minutes until golden all over and bubbling around the edges.
While the tart is cooking, heat a little olive oil in a frying pan. Have a plate lined with some kitchen paper and a slotted spoon to hand. Once the oil is hot, add the capers. They will bloom into little flowers and crisp in just 30 seconds or so. Lift them out and quickly drain them on kitchen paper.
Once the tart is golden and bubbling, take it out of the oven and allow it to sit for 5 minutes before running a knife around the edge and carefully turning out on to a plate. Scatter the capers over the tart before serving.
CELEBRATION BROWN SUGAR MERINGUES WITH CHERRIES
I found it hard to choose what we might eat on the day, especially as the end of the meal, the pudding, has always been my favourite part. It happened that we got married in mid-July – prime cherry season – so we decided on this: caramelly brown sugar meringues topped with a lemon-curd spiked Chantilly, crème anglaise and cherries three different ways, as well as a syrup made from fresh myrtle, a symbol of everlasting love, a very sweet touch from the wonderful people who cooked for us.
This is a simplified version, no myrtle syrup and only a few simple processes, but well, well worth the bother. A very precious pudding.
FOR THE BROWN SUGAR MERINGUES
100g soft light brown sugar 100g golden caster sugar
4 medium organic egg whites
FOR THE TOPPING
400g cherries, pitted, 8 left whole for serving
2 tablespoons runny honey
1 unwaxed lemon
the seeds from 1 vanilla pod or 2 tablespoons vanilla paste
150ml Greek yoghurt
4 tablespoons lemon curd (shop-bought is fine)
Preheat the oven to 150°C/130°C fan/gas 2 and line a baking tray.
Put the brown sugar into a bowl, break up any lumps, then add the golden caster sugar and mix them together.
Whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Gradually add the sugar while mixing on a high speed until the mixture is thick and glossy. It’s ready when you can pinch it and not feel any granules of sugar.
Spoon the meringue mix into 8 mounds on the baking tray and bake for 11⁄2–2 hours (depending on how chewy you like your meringues – less time means chewier middles). The meringues are ready when they are set and light to pick up. Put to one side to cool.
While the meringues are cooking put a handful of the pitted cherries into a pan with the honey, the lemon juice and half the vanilla seeds or paste, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for a few minutes before turning off the heat and letting the cherries macerate.
Mix the rest of the cherries with a little lemon zest – you only want a touch. Mix the yoghurt with the remaining vanilla and ripple through the curd.
To serve, I like to make a huge tower for sharing on a big plate but individual plates work just as well. Layer the meringues with the yoghurt and fresh cherries and finish with a whole cherry.
IMAGES: Emma Case except the meringue picture, which was taken by Ana Cuba.