'What year is it again?' I know, I know, I said I would do this long ago. 'Is the delay because you have been writing the first draft of your first ever short story, for public rendition by you on Tuesday at The Good Ship?' Yes, actually. 'Will there be sexy mermaids?' I certainly originally planned that there would be. Is that the same thing? 'Not quite, but fair enough. It's your story after all, so long as there will be sexy mermaids in a story eventually.' There will. 'Ok. Did you have a Christmas Tree?' Yes.
'Did you eventually decorate it?' Yes. 'Can I see a picture of that?' Who are you, the queen?
Anyway, because of vegetarians, I often have to eat food with no meat in. For this year's Christmas dinner of friends from my year at college (this is what people from Oxford and Cambridge say to avoid saying 'Oxford or Cambridge', because they are idiots who think it sounds modest and lesser and ambiguous. It doesn't. People who went to other universities say 'When I was at university'. It's a habit I got into some time, and I am going to get out of it) the menu was turkey and pork meatballs (with bread, pepper, softened onions, a bit of milk and so finely chopped prunes, all baked) and then caponata and spicy lentils in a marrow. The caponata is via Steve-the-vegetarian and Jamie Oliver. The other was via a page I pulled out of I think the Observer Food Monthly, but I wouldn't bet money on it.
First cut up three aubergines and fry them in a generous dusting of dried oregano until the chunks are golden. This takes a little while, because you need to fry them in lots of oil and without crowding them in the pan.
While one of your guests is doing this, get another of them to chop up about a thousand tomatoes. (Twenty medium tomatoes.)
I find that guests enjoy being made part of the evening in this way.
Now, chop some parsley. (The size of bunch you would lay on the grave of a dead acquaintance you genuinely liked who genuinely liked parsley. Or four-five normal supermarket packets.) If your guests haven't had enough to drink they might start saying, 'Too much parsley! What kind of dish could ever need that much parsley!' This picture gives an idea if you accept that there was more to come, and it is a big board.
So far, you have only been making caponata. We're never going to get to the marrows in this IPE. Carry on by washing the salt off a jar and a bit of salted capers. (Again guests will say, 'Too many capers.')
Fry a finely chopped red onion (big), three cloves of garlic sliced but not chopped too fine and some finely chopped parsley stalks. Ignore the incessant cries of 'Too much parsley!' which are, quite reasonably, now getting on your wick.
After two-three minutes, add the capers, a big jar of stoneless green olives ('Too many olives!' someone will say, indicating once and for all that your guests have no comprehension of relative scale) and about 4 tablespoons of vinegar. I use red wine vinegar, usually. You might choose another, and I wouldn't be able to stop you. Evaporate the vinegar for a couple of minutes, then add the tomato and simmer for quarter of an hour.*
Finish by checking whether the whole needs salt or pepper, a bit of olive oil or some more parsley. Even if it doesn't need more parsley, a bit more parsley won't hurt it, and will tease your stupid guests, so put it in.
Then, wait until the next day (probably) for instructions on how to make the marrow, which is similarly delicious.
(If someone has bought a Christmas gift of a Ukrainian model you can dress in magnetic clothes, you can play with that.)
*Incidentally, you get best results by stirring with one of these spoons. Aren't they great!