That famous photograph, Ron Galella in pursuit
I've always admired Jacqueline Kennedy's taste, especially in antiques, pictures and books. The Sotheby's catalogue (The Estate of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, April 23-26, 1996) was a revelation; proving that she had an excellent, understated eye (from memory as the catalogue's currently in storage) for: old master drawings, charming hand-coloured Regency and Biedermeier prints, John Singer Sargent sketches, creamware Corinthian candlesticks, Louis XVI furniture, natural history engravings by Audubon. Everything was slightly tatty, too. I liked that: her books had been well thumbed, and well-read; the antithesis of the immaculate coffee table books you see piled up in interior design magazines.
Then trawling the internet one day, I came across "Cooking for Madam, Recipes & Reminiscences from the Home of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis", by Martha Sgubin (with Nancy Nicholas). Martha Sgubin was Mrs Onassis's cook, or private chef.
To be honest, initially I thought the book was going to be a bit of a joke. Cringy title. A slightly embarrasing buy, not quite at the brown paper bag stage, but you will get the drift. How wrong I was! It was a terrific buy, and it's now got pride of place on that shelf of cookery books I'd rescue if the house caught fire (which is more than likely with the full-scale renovations currently in progress); alongside The Harry's Bar Cookbook, The Prawn Cocktail Years, Lindsey Bareham's Just One Pot and Arabella Boxer's English Food.
Martha Sgubin cooks the sort of food I know I'd love if- and when- we ever get round to employing a private chef. Simple but relatively sophisticated; unpretentious, Anglo-American with a French and Italian influence. Honest food cooked extremely well- and with style. Flicking through at random, we have: Mussel Salad, Shepherd's Pie, Frozen Lemon Soufflé, Pear Sorbet, Green Risotto, Tarragon Chicken, Warm Lobster Salad with Basil Viniagrette, Truffle Soup and Strawberry Shortcake.
I now have something shocking to admit to you. I have declared this house "A Mashed Potato Free Zone". For some reason, I loathe mashed potato. It's weird, I know. I can quite happily tuck into waxy new potatoes; sautéed potatoes are good, chips are divine. But mashed potato is the Mark of the Beast. It may be something to do with the floury texture. It may be something to do with school (antique Irish cooks at Dotheboy's Hall, fags dangling from their pursed lips, blue nylon housecoats) or those robotic alien creatures which peddled instant mashed potatoes for Cadbury's back in the 70's. Mash Get Smash. But for today only, I'm going to lift my ban, and actually recommend a dish which includes the evil substance. I'm quite happy to serve this up to our guests. Just bear in mind that I won't touch it. But if it's good enough for Mrs Onassis...
Here's the recipe for Jackie Kennedy's Shepherd's Pie, as cooked by Martha Sgubin, and adapted by The Greasy Spoon:
4 cups chopped cooked lamb or roast beef (the meat must be rare)
2 large cloves of garlic
1 large onion, chopped
1 teaspoon of fresh rosemary leaves
8 Tablespoons (1 stick) butter, divided
3 Tablespoons flour
1 cup beef stock
Salt and Pepper
4 cups mashed potatoes
Preheat your oven to 350°. Combine the lamb, garlic, onion and rosemary and put them through a meat grinder twice. It does need to be a meat grinder.
Melt six tablespoons of the butter in a large pan, and stir in the flour. Stir constantly on a low heat to form a roux. You'll need to do this for a few minutes so that the flour cooks.
Add the ground lamb mixture and stir it in. Add sea salt flakes and pepper to taste. Pour the combined mixture into an oven-proof oval casserole dish. Spread the mashed potatoes over the top. Make sure the lamb mixture is completey covered and that the potato is spread evenly, touching the rim of the dish. Take a fork and rake a design across the potato. Long grooves across the width could be a good plan. Dot with butter. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes until the filling is hot and the potato has browned.
Cooking For Madam, Recipes and Reminiscences from the Home of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis by Marta Sgubin (and Nancy Nicholas), published by Scribner, New York, 1998.