Super Simple Italian Feast



Charcuterie Plate with Marinated Mozzarella
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Mushroom Risotto with Gremolata
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White Chocolate Pots with Poached Rhubarb


Last weekend T and I had a couple of friends over for dinner and wanted a simple, modestly priced, menu that would be comforting in this horrible weather and also remind us of sunnier climes! To start we chose a really simple charcuterie platter with various cured meats, sun dried tomatoes, cornichons and little stuffed peppers, and some marinated mozzarella using an Ottolenghi recipe. The charcuterie platter can be laid out in advance and stored in the fridge and you can marinate the mozzarella a couple of hours ahead and leave in the fridge. Just remember to take both out of the fridge about 15 minutes before serving to bring up to room temp.

For main we went for mixed mushroom risotto as we were really craving some comfort food. Risotto isn't normally the easiest thing in the world to do for a dinner party as it requires you to stand over the hob and stir for at least half an hour, unless you go for an oven baked version. I decided to go for the more traditional stove top method but used the old restaurant trick to make it until it was 75% cooked in the afternoon and then finished it off just before we were ready to eat. I made this risotto extra special with some mascarpone to make it super creamy, and some Gremolata to jazz it up.

For desert I veered off a little bit from the Italian theme and made these white chocolate pots with beautiful pink poached rhubarb. These are really easy to make ahead, I made mine on Thursday night, and so make the perfect end to an easy dinner.

Keep reading for the marinated mozzarella recipe and follow the links for the risotto and chocolate pots.


Marinated Mozzarella

Adapted from Plenty by Yotam Ottolenghi
Serves 4 as part of antipasti

Ingredients


250g Buffalo Mozzarella

Marinade
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
grated zest of 1 lemon
15 basil leaves, shredded
2 tsp choped oregano or marjoram
2 tsp best quality extra virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, crushed
1/2 tsp Maldon sea salt
black pepper


Method


Dry roast the fennel seeds in a small frying pan over a medium heat until they begin to pop. Roughly crush in a pestle and mortar and add to the remaining marinade ingredients. Roughly break up the mozzarella and gently mix with the marinade, leave to infuse in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.


Mushroom Risotto with Gremolata

Serves 4

Try to use a mix of fairly robust mushrooms here, portabello, porcini/ceps, chestnut etc. I would steer clear of very fragile small mushrooms such as chanterelle as they will break down too much during the cooking process. If you'd like to use these I would cook them separately in some butter and then add as a garnish at the end.

Ingredients


2 litres vegetable stock
1 small handful dried porcini mushrooms, soaked in boiling water
100g butter
1 onion, chopped finely
400g mixed mushrooms, roughly chopped to bite sized pieces
2 garlic cloves, crushed
400g arborio risotto rice
1 small glass white wine or vermouth
1tbsp Mascarpone cheese
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

For the Gremolata
Grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
1 garlic clove, crushed
Small bunch of parsley, finely chopped

Method


Put the stock on the heat and bring up to the boil. Once the dried mushrooms have soaked for 10 minutes or so, drain them reserving the soaking liquid and adding this to the heated stock. Finely chop the dried mushrooms.

Melt 50g of the butter in a large shallowish pan with a splash of olive oil over a medium heat and cook the onion slowly until it is translucent, careful not to let it brown, adding a pinch of salt helps. Add the fresh and dried mushrooms and turn up the heat slightly, cook until the mushrooms have given off all their liquid, add the crushed garlic and cook 1-2 minutes more.

Whilst the onions and mushrooms are cooking prepare the gremolata by mixing all the ingredients together with a good splash of olive oil and a sprinkling of salt.

Add the rice and cook stirring all the time for 1-2 minutes until the rice is gently toasted. Pour in the wine or vermouth and bubble away until you can smell the alcohol has cooked off - remember to keep on stirring!

Now its time to start adding the stock. Add one ladle at a time, just enough to cover the rice, and give it all a good stir. The aim is to keep the mixture runny at all times, not letting it dry out, and to stir to release the starch from the rice. Keep the heat at a medium level so you can just see bubbles on the surface. You'll need to keep tasting to check the consistency of the rice, it will be ready after about 20-30 minutes, and when the rice is plump and tender but still has bite in the middle. You may not need all the stock or you might need to top it up slightly with hot water, it all depends on how thirsty your rice is!

For a dinner party, stop cooking when you have added about 3/4 of the stock and when the rice is still very al dente. Turn the heat off and add another ladle of stock as it will continue cooking/absorbing the stock with the residual heat in the pan. About ten minutes before you are ready to eat gently heat the risotto and keep adding the stock until the rice is done.

Once the rice is cooked to your liking, turn off the heat, add the marscapone, the remaining 50g butter, a grating of parmesan cheese and plenty of black pepper to taste. Put a lid on a leave for 5 minutes for the butter and cheese to melt and then give everything a good stir. Your risotto should be creamy with a slightly runny texture, check your seasoning and serve with a dollop of gremolata on top.


White chocolate pots with poached rhubarb


Adapted from Sainsburys magazine, April 2013
Serves 4

For what had been a relatively Italian inspired evening we went a little bit off piste with this rather English dessert!

Ingredients


300ml single cream
60g caster sugar
1 vanilla pod, split
1 leaf of gelatine
50g white chocolate, broken into pieces
125ml freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 tbsp finely grated ginger
1 sprig thyme
250g rhubarb, trimmed and cut into short lengths

Method


Gently hear the cream in a saucepan with 40g sugar and the vanilla pod until just below boiling point. Soak the gelatine in cold water for 5 minutes. 

Remove the cream from the heat and whisk in the white chocolate, a piece at a time, until all melted. Squeeze out the water from the gelatine and add mix into the cream. Leave aside to cool for 20 minutes then remove the vanilla pod and give the mixture a good stir. Pour into four small glasses and chill for at least 4 hours until set.

To poach the rhubarb put the orange juice, ginger, thyme and the remaining sugar in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Turn down the heat and add the rhubarb, poach on a low heat for about 5 minutes until it is cooked through but still holds its shape. Leave the rhubarb to cool. When ready to serve top the chocolate pots with the rhubarb and some of its syrup.