By Adam Parker
So here’s my take on Friday nights:
- I love hosting and being hosted
You can eat at the fanciest restaurant in the world but it just does not compare to the Michelin-star “Shabbatmosphere” you get at someone’s house on a Friday night. Inevitably you put a lot of effort in to making amazing food, but it’s the conversation and breaking down of formalities and barriers that does it for me.
I don’t know why it happens, but I find that every Shabbat dinner I host or go to we end up talking about these worldly topics, arguing about politics or justice or whether robots will one day outsmart the human race. Maybe it’s because your mind just soaks up so many random things on the news and in your work place during the week and then it needs the company of friends to make sense of it. You couldn’t have debates that big every day – it would drive you crazy – but it’s nice to do it once a week. To really think about why we are here and what this crazy life is all about.
- Shabbat breaks down barriers
It doesn’t matter how well you know the people you have invited. In fact, sometimes it’s more fun to invite people you don’t know. There’s something magical about just getting to know people over dinner with no smartphones interrupting things, no TV, no loud music at a bar, just you and them. I’ve only had 1 or 2 really awkward Friday night experiences, but let’s not go there…
- Cheating is OK
I normally try to go all out in terms of my cooking, using my guests as guinea-pigs for the latest bonkers gastronomic idea I have had (that includes testing out an Ottolenghi dish with 30 different ingredients with no photo to go by…), but sometimes I come home from work and I just cheat. I have a few signature dishes that I know I can whip out in an hour with no-stress but that everyone will always love – salmon, chicken, slow-cooked brisket, tomato soup etc.
- Do the Jewish bits
I find ritual resonates with all of my guests even if they are not religious. Saying the blessings over the candles and the wine and the bread just mark the evening out as special. Some of my guests are not Jewish, others are Jewish but totally secular – but I find it’s always best to mark the ritual boldly and unapologetically as it sets the tone for the rest of the evening. It says to everyone involved “tonight is going to be special; let’s go beyond the ordinary and live our lives like if the world was perfect and we had no worries in the world.”
- Shabbat is supposed to be fun
It’s a festival. Think of it like Christmas every week if that helps (or Christmas is Shabbat only once a year…how depressing that would be!)….If you have kids, make it fun!! Give them a fun silly blessing at the beginning. Make them play with the food e.g. “using only your facial muscles move the After Eight chocolate from your forehead to your mouth..” .
Play board games. Make new traditions. Sing songs. Talk about the funniest / most embarrassing thing that happened this week.
Adam’s Swiss Creamy Chestnut Soup
The taste of Autumn/Winter Shabbat in Geneva.
Goes well with wine from the Lavaux region of Switzerland.
- Knob of butter
- 3 onions, chopped
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 1.25 litres (4 fl oz) parve Chicken stock or vegetable stock
- 1 bay leaf
- 400g (14oz) vacuum-packed chestnuts – chopped into smaller pieces
- 1 tablespoon fresh rosemary
- As much wine as you feel like
- Or 2 tablespoons of sherry or vermouth
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Single cream to serve
In a saucepan, melt the butter and fry the onion, garlic and bay leaf till soft but not coloured (5-10 minutes). Add the chestnuts and continue to fry for a few minutes, but be careful that they don’t stick to the pan and burn. Add the stock, rosemary and wine/ sherry and bring to the boil. Reduce temperature and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove the bay leaf and then blend the soup with a hand-blender. Add water if needed to get the right consistency – a thin, silky, smooth soup. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with a dash of cream if you feel like a little treat.
See also Who’s coming to dinner?
And a fun article about Friday nights from Emma Freud