Susannah Selby Bennett

Susannah Hubert, Dorset Opera Festival Board Director

Susannah worked as a Lloyd’s broker in the City for 15 years before children demanded a more flexible work schedule and she swapped the pinstripes for life as a photographer and artist. She now runs the Lloyd’s Art Group which holds an exhibition in the Lloyd’s building each autumn (in doing so raises money for the Coombe Trust) and is a director of the Dorset Opera Festival.

Dorset Opera Festival is an international summer opera festival held over five days in July near Blandford Forum. The festival encompasses six performances of two fully-staged operas, in original language with full orchestra and professional soloists. The operas are performed in the Coade Theatre in the magnificent 400-acre grounds at Bryanston School where picnics or a formal dinner and Pol Roger Champagne can be enjoyed before the opera and during the long interval. This year a sell-out festival included Donizetti’s L’elisir d’amore, Verdi’s Un ballo in maschera and Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle. 2016 will include Tchaikovsky’ Eugene Onegin sung in Russian. For further information visit dorsetopera.com

Dorset Opera Festival Historic Sausages paired with Staglin Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

In my role as Dorset Opera Board Director, I host a series of ‘Bluffers’ Lunches’ throughout the year. A lot of our supporters felt they would like to know more about opera so the concept of Bluffer’s Lunches was born. We have an hour lecture with a variety of colourful speakers followed by a home-cooked lunch. This being a fundraiser (Dorset Opera is a registered charity), hiring an expensive caterer is out of the question, so I’ve had to teach myself to cook regularly for between 50 – 60 people. I served up this recipe on a cold day last winter and it was a huge success has since had to be repeated by popular demand.  The Dorset Opera Festival Chairman liked it so very much that he renamed it ‘Historic Sausages’.

For 4 people (for 60 people in brackets)

  • 12 (180) venison sausages or other high quality sausages. A mixture of types is nice.
  • 1tbsp (225ml) sunflower oil
  • 30g (450g) butter
  • 115g (1750g) button onions
  • 1 clove (15 cloves) garlic
  • 115g (1750g) button mushrooms
  • 1tsp (50g) plain flour
  • 150ml (2.25 litres) beef Oxo stock
  • 1 tbsp (350g) cranberry jelly
  • 50g (750g) fresh or frozen cranberries
  • 15g (225g) sugar
  • 115g (1725g) whole cooked chestnuts
  • Flat leaf parsley to garnish

For the marinade:

  • 75ml (1125ml) sunflower oil
  • 1 (15) Onions, sliced
  • 1 stick (15 sticks) celery
  • 1 (15) carrot
  • 1 clove (15 cloves) garlic
  • 6 berries (90 berries) juniper
  • 1 slice (2 whole) lemons
  • 2 (30) bay leaves
  • 300ml (4.5 litres) red wine
  • 30ml (450ml) red wine vinegar
  • 6 (90) black pepper corns
  1. Combine the ingredients for the marinade in non-corrosive bowls or large plastic tubs and add the sausages. Cover and leave to marinate overnight.
  2. Heat the oven to 170ºC/325ºF/gas mark 3 or smile fondly at your Aga.
  3. Remove the sausages from the marinade and arrange on baking trays. Strain the marinade and reserve.
  4. Grill the sausages quickly, turning once, just to brown them a little. No need to cook through.
  5. Melt the butter in a casserole dish and fry the onions until golden. Add the garlic and cook for a further minute. Add the mushrooms and continue cooking for 2 minutes.
  6. Stir in the flour and cook for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and stir in the stock and a mugful of the strained marinade. Return to the heat and stir until boiling. Remove from the heat.
  7. Add the cranberry jelly to the sauce. Season, and then put all the sausages in.
  8. Cover the casserole and cook for about an hour and a half.
  9. Meanwhile, cook the cranberries briefly with the sugar in 2–3 tablespoons water until just soft but not crushed. Strain off and discard the liquid.
  10. Using a slotted spoon, lift out the sausages, mushrooms and onions.
  11. Boil the sauce fast until reduced by about a third.
  12. Add the cranberries and chestnuts and simmer very gently for 5 minutes.
  13. Replace the sausages, mushrooms and onions and serve garnished with chopped parsley and accompanied by mashed potato.

This is adapted from a Leith’s recipe that was originally written for venison.

Notes if cooking for 60:  Clear the decks – you are going to need all your work surfaces. To cook in such large quantities takes far more time than you first imagine so it’s imperative to cook the day before you will serve the dish, reheating on the day. If possible, prepare as much as you can two days in advance e.g. peel the button onions, weigh out your quantities. Cook in batches of size appropriate to the casserole dishes you have available. Invest in a food processor – you will regularly congratulate yourself for having made such a perspicacious decision whilst whistling through the chopping, which would otherwise take hours. Wear very comfortable shoes – in fact walking boots are perfect – you’re going to be on your feet for a long time! Reward yourself a lovely glass off Staglin Family Vineayard Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 along the way and perhaps listen to a CD of Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin to acquaint yourself with it before next year’s Dorset Opera Festival!

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