For the Expensive Tastes 4th Annual Dinner Party, I attempted an Italian-inspired menu. It is normal for me to attempt something new each year that I do these things, but this was definitely the first time I was making an entirely unpractised menu. Some were manipulations of the recipes of Delia Smith and Russell Norman, and some were taken from ideas and notes I had made over the years.
The main difference this year was the addition of a fish course. With the absence of our usual guest Aaron Hayes, I was able to include fish on the selection, albeit in this instance as one of the two starters I presented. Last year, four courses and four dishes; this year, three courses but five dishes.
The menu was as follows:
Polpette alla Bloody Mary
A trio of Beef Meatballs served with a Bloody Mary sauce
Smoked Salmon wrapped around a creamy Ricotta cheese and Dill filling
Lasagne alla Rossana
Served with a Tomato and Mozzarella salad
Dolci – Amaretto Floats
An Italian-American creation
Served with Pesto Verdi
I’ll start this article by going over what went wrong. Only one thing, really – the Savoury Dessert. The original menu stipulated Parmesan and Sun-dried Tomato Scones, a manipulation of a Feta, Olive and Sun-dried Tomato Scone recipe by Delia Smith. As recipes go, it’s quite easy to follow and so when making the scones I didn’t expect any problems. The only issue we had was the fact that they didn’t rise in the oven. They tasted exactly as they ought to have done, but they resembled mini-pizzas rather than scones (see pictured). To that effect, I renamed them pizzettes, as mini-pizzas didn’t sound very elegant.
My other manipulation of an already-published recipe was the earlier-mentioned fish dish – Smoked Salmon and Ricotta Canapés (see pictured alongside the Meatballs). This was taken from a magazine cutting from 2012, reviewing Russell Norman’s cookbook Polpo – featuring all sorts of Venetian cuisine. Three years later, I still had the recipe, and the time had presented itself to me. The dish in the recipe is actually a canapé – a thin slice of smoked salmon wrapped around a lemon, dill and ricotta cheese mixture, fastened with a cocktail stick. So to make it slightly more substantial, as well as easier to present and serve, I decided to give them a ciabatta base. Preparation of this dish seems fiddly but the cocktail sticks help an awful lot – I was reluctant to use them at first but I’m ever so glad I did in retrospect.
One of the more popular parts of the starters was the Bloody Mary Sauce (see pictured) I served the meatballs with. This was an original recipe – I totally made it up as I went along. The only difficulty here was getting the right balance of sweet and spicy – I tried quite hard not to overdo both the vodka, as people were driving, and the Tabasco sauce, in case it wasn’t to my guests’ liking. One of my guests, Dale Hall, who also pretty much served as my sous-chef for the evening, told me the sauce had the right amount of kick – a success for me. And of course, you don’t have to have vodka in it (though you cannot taste it at all), and just call that a Virgin Mary Sauce instead.
Now, the main dish – the entrée – was also quite special this year, as it was put together through notes I had taken years ago while speaking to Rossana Morelli, an Italian former colleague of mine at The Wessex, who, if I may say so, was probably more qualified in the kitchen than all of our chefs combined. Her job? A waitress. I was very privileged in being given her lasagne recipe, which I treated as the most authentic I was ever going to hear, and in view of that fact, I named it after her: Lasagne alla Rossana (see pictured). I must confess that I haven’t made many lasagne in my time in the kitchen, but it is definitely one for beginners to try out because it’s really so easy. Once you’ve made the ragú sauce, you are pretty much done.
Every year I do these dinner parties, I do try to use a different meat each time around and this year I had opted for beef. However, with the end of Ramadan occurring sooner than I thought, I was able to invite a couple of my Muslim friends (though only one – Shahan Ahmed – could turn up). This meant the meat had to be Halal, of course, and the only mince I could find was lamb – so this was a lamb lasagne. And I served that with a simple Tricolore Salad manipulation, using rocket instead of avocados for the green, and the leftover mozzarella and tomatoes for the rest. A simple dressing made up of olive oil, lemon juice and pesto verdi added a little extra flavour. Signora Morelli’s recipe is a trade secret in my eyes, however, so do not expect to find the recipe on here in the next few weeks.
The final “dish” of the evening that needed preparing was the Amaretto Floats (see pictured), though these are more of a drink than a dish, in my opinion. A surprisingly beautiful dish when you’ve no idea how they’re going to turn out. I personally thought they only consisted of a shot or so of the Amaretto liqueur, or whatever drink you’re using, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top, as a sort of digestif dessert. They actually involve Coca-Cola as well. To Dale Hall’s surprise as much as my own, you put the ice cream in first, at the bottom of the glass, then the alcohol (or not, in Shahan’s case) and top with the coke. The reaction causes the froth to rise and remain there – that’s the float!
My guests scored me out of 10, keeping in with the Come Dine With Me style of these dinner parties. To my delight, I was awarded a very decent 30½/40 (better than they score on the TV program, that’s for sure!)