I’d like to introduce you to Lady de Beauvoir. That’s not her real name - though Vanessa’s elevation to the peerage for services to the general jollity of the masses must surely be imminent? In the meantime, we all call her that because it’s the name of the part of London where she lives and because, while all around her are track suits and tower blocks, she negotiates those mean streets with velvet ballet slippers on her feet and a French market basket swinging from her arm. Her house sparkles with antique chandeliers and lovingly waxed floorboards.
At one point, Vanessa and I considered setting up our own business. We both spend an inordinate amount of time advising our many gay friends about the decoration and furnishing of their homes, obsessing over every detail, whether it’s what they should put on their perfect Matthew Hilton dining table or pour into their Jasper Conran wine glasses. We thought we could offer a one-stop queenly lifestyle advice service, everything from decorating and gardening to food, wine and flowers – the concept of GayCare was born. This wasn’t our only business idea – but given that our other flash of entrepreneurial brilliance was running a catering company out of the back of a vintage Bentley, we’re hardly beating a path to the Dragons' Den.
Vanessa can throw a party for anything – a new job or new season’s asparagus, a good haircut or a surfeit of raspberries. So the sun coming out is definitely cause for celebration.
Yesterday, Vanessa held the inaugural barbecue of the season. Five of us sat amid pots of brightly coloured primulas and anemones on her pretty terrace, sipping the year’s first glasses of rosé and feasting on lamb chops, smoky baba ganoush and a mouth watering salad of crunchy cucumbers, hot, hot, hot red chillies and soothing dollops of mascarpone and crème fraîche. All definitely delicious, but by far the most spectacular dish of the day was a mountain of grilled prawns in a perky marinade. Lady de B says she based it on a Marcella Hazan recipe. She’s a braver woman than I to tinker with a recipe from that marvellous, and marvellously dictatorial, Italian food writer, but the results were addictively, messily wonderful.
3-4 tbsps extra-virgin olive oil
3-4 tbsps vegetable oil
80g fine, dry breadcrumbs
1 small clove of garlic, finely chopped
3-4 tbsps finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
A good few pinches of sea salt
Plenty of freshly ground black pepper
1kg large prawns, unshelled but cut along the spine and the dark vein of intestines removed
Whisk together all of the marinade ingredients in a large bowl then add the prawns, mixing everything well with your hands and making sure you rub plenty of the tasty sauce into the cut part of the prawns. Marinate for about an hour in a cool place, ideally not the fridge.
Heat the barbecue until the coals glow red and are covered by a coating of white ash. Place the prawns on the grill in batches (use tongs – but you knew that, right?), turning after a couple of minutes and cooking until the prawns have taken on some colour and are just opaque in the middle. Don’t overcook – an overcooked prawn is a horrible thing, unless fish-flavoured chewing gum is something you crave. Make sure you have a mountain of napkins – they don’t have to be pretty little patches of Provençal linen like Lady de B’s, for the rest of us mere mortals, paper ones will do.