Sometimes, when people arrive for a secret supper and they’re first through the door, the best way to welcome them is to get something on the table pretty pronto. They should of course be thanked – celebrated, even – for having survived the trials of our waiting list and for turning up at a stranger’s door on what is invariably, these days, a cold night. And while these aren’t exactly hot, they do go a long way towards breaking the inevitable ice of settling in at the table with a first drink. Having voulunteered to take the helm at Christmas this year, these may well be on the menu for a pre-supper starter with my family. They scale up easily if you’re cooking for large numbers, and are beautiful to look at.
Cut a baguette into thin widthway slices and grill on both sides until golden. Spread generously with ricotta, top with fine, fine slices of serrano ham, torn basil and a little drizzle of homemade fig vinegar if you’re lucky enough to have it. Mine was a gift from my godmother and it’s so good I can nearly drink it. If you don’t have anything along its lines, try a shot of balsamic, a squeeze of lemon and a spoon of maple syrup whisked up in a mug. Keep mixing until you have a sticky- sweet/tart combination that’s mellowed by the basil on the bruschetta. We replaced the serrano with halved figs for an elegant vegetarian alternative: