A couple of old friends recently tied the knot and headed off to Tuscany for their honeymoon. As ever I was stumped for a wedding present. So I did the only thing I could, and offered to cook a meal for them. Given that they headed off to Italy it seemed only logical to cook Italian, my favourite cuisine, but to use as many local ingredients as possible.
So, it needed to be celebratory and memory provoking, and being Italian in style based around sharing and helping yourself in the company of good friends with good wines flowing.
Olives and Bruschetta to start. Monmouthshire isn’t famous for its Olive production so sadly these had to be bought in, but the bruschetta uses home-made bread and Oven Dried Tomatoes (I hour at 120c), originally purchased from local producers, step forward Ty Mawr Organics in Penpergwm. All this with a Billini –my version of the Bellini - Prosecco and a Mandarin/Sicilian Lemon Cordial.
Then to table and two Antipasto, the first Chargrilled vegetables (Aubergine, Courgette, Fennel, Mushrooms and Artichoke Hearts), the second a wide selection of Trealy Farm Charcuterie (Bresaola, Air dried ham, Salami and Prosciutto). The diners were wowed by the quality of the Trealy Farm meats and they were voted best course by at least one.
Simple Olive Oil rolls were served to accompany (500g Strong Flour, 10g Salt - I used Halen Mon Celery salt- 10 g fresh yeast 80 Olive Oil, 270 g Water).
Mains were Sicilian Meatballs in a Tomato Sauce with fresh Pappardelle pasta made in the Tuscan style just flour and eggs ( 400 g 00 Flour 3-4 eggs, no salt, no Olive Oil),
a Green Salad to follow and then Gnocchi with Cherry Tomatoes, Dolcelatte and Cream Sauce topped with crispy Pancetta. This is a simple recipe but delivers great flavour and a satisfied feeling.
Cook Gnocchi for 3 minutes then remove from the pan and into an ovenproof dish. Whilst the water for the gnocchi is boiling sweat onions or shallots in butter and add to the gnocchi in the ovenproof dish.
Pour in enough double cream to come 2/3 of the way up the gnocchi.
Scatter Cherry tomatoes over the gnocchi – a mix of red and yellow looks good, and cube some Dolcelatte and scatter over.
Lay strips of Pancetta over the top and bake in an oven at 200c until the cheese melds with the cream, the tomatoes split and spill their juices into the sauce and the pancetta is crispy and the fat has rendered into an incredibly unctuous sauce.
Add Grated Parmesan or better still leave that to the diners.
To refresh the palate a simple Insalata Caprese highlighted Mozzarella, rich ripe tomatoes and fresh Basil
Drinks wise ,a Chianti Classico accompanied the Meatballs and a Pinot Grigio the Gnocchi.
Desserts were a Lemon, Ricotta and Poppy Seed cake, recipe adapted from the Hummingbird Bakery, and a Vanilla Gelato. Here the Italian theme slipped marginally as diners were offered a shot of Pedro Ximines Sherry to pour over the ice cream (Amazing effect).
Coffee -Espresso naturally- was served with Chocolate Confetti with a Limoncello centre and a little digestif in the form of Finocchieto (Like Limoncello but made with the flowers of wild Fennel and only made during a two week period when the blossom is at its peak). This warming aniseedy/liquorice liquor at around 40-50% proof is served straight from the freezer and eases any feeling of over indulgence.
Did it evoke memories of Italy for the Happy Couple? Their smiles implied it might, and the cook? He was happy that not a scrap remained uneaten.