An Italian Summertime Lunch Party
As regular readers will know, every summer I throw a big dinner party for my old school friends and our other halves. Over the years parents have crept in and the tradition has become that it always happens on a Saturday towards the end of the summer, and that we all go out for brunch together in Canterbury – our hometown where we all went to school the next day. I usually pick a theme for the occasion; in the past we’ve been to Provence, Rio, had an Ottolenghi Medley in the conservatory at my parents old house, and done a fancy Christmas dinner party. This year we gathered at lunchtime for a sort-of traditional, five course Italian feast.
While we’d switched to lunchtime, yet again for about the 7th year in the row the British weather struck again so we ate around the kitchen table. However, we made the most of my parent’s beautiful new kitchen by throwing open the doors to the garden. I was catering for nine and the table only sat six, but covered in this beautiful Oka Dinard Tablecloth no one noticed we’d extended the table with a big piece of MDF construction board we had hanging around the house as part of the renovation works – soon destined to be part of a wardrobe!
As I was serving up five courses to a lot of people by myself, I put clean cutlery for everyone in big white jugs around the table so everyone could help themselves between courses. I find paper tissues help with the washing up for a party so while Oka do matching Dinard cloth napkins, we ordered some of their pretty paper napkins instead. Most of the place settings (we were one short!) were done in Sophie Allport swallow table mats – that design is out of print, but do check out some of her other designs as they really are lovely. Sadly, our beautiful blue wine and water glasses are years old, and saved for entertaining!
To start I’d planned on a jug of Campari spritz so everyone could help themselves (a little different from Aperol!) but one of my guests recommended Punt e Mes, a lovely, deep red, bitter Vermouth she’d had in Venice that make a beautiful Apero. I mixed the spritz in the same proportions to the aforementioned: 1 part soda water, 2 parts Punt e Mes, 3 parts Prosecco. Any of the above benefit from lots of orange slices in the glass!
To make the apero – my first course – as hands off as possible I put together some antipasti for everyone to pick at: mozzarella pearls, Sicilian Nocellara olives, sunblush tomatoes (I adore the ones from Waitrose and always have a jar on hand), fennel biscuits, antipasti meats and proscuttio wrapped around crisp breadsticks.
Next, I made some homemade ravioli with a truffle-enriched mushroom filling, served in parsley butter with lots of freshly grated parmesan. Tasty, but while I’m okay with small batches, the pasta came our a bit thick – won’t be doing it again without a pasta machine to get it wafer thin for a crowd!
The day before I’d made a classic Italian slow cooked pepper beef cooked in an insane amount of garlic, Chianti and black pepper (I used the recipe from Jamie Oliver’s original Jamie’s Italy book), served over rosemary toast with gremolata (the recipe is from Student Eats) and extra virgin olive oil. I brought the meat to the table in casserole dishes, and served the gremolata and the toast separately so everyone could help themselves.
To cleanse the palette before dessert came the salad course, seasonal leaves tossed with a lemon vinaigrette with toast walnuts, grapes and pecorino shavings. Inspired by, but not entirely from Claudia Roden’s The Food of Italy.
To finish, a little something my mother and I pulled together, peaches lightly poached in masala before being chilled from a recipe she’s had for years, and served with a whipped mascarpone cream and crumbled amaretti.
A little something to go with coffee, served up on our beautiful Anthropology Glass Cake Stand (this is what happens when my mother and I are left unattended online shopping!) we made Dark Chocolate Ricciarelli. They went down a storm, and were rather unusual to make. Give them a go, the next time you have people over!