Friday, January 4, 2013

New Year's Eve with Jamie's Italy

One New Year's Eve some years ago, Bailey and I were half-heartedly on our way to a standard below average, overpriced and overhyped New Year's Eve night out and happened to stroll past a house where through the window we could see that the most lovely dinner party in a cosy dining room was taking place. There was food, booze, friends and festive cheer - perfect. We both looked into the house wistfully and said to eachother "I wish we were going there instead..." Ever since that night we were dying to host a New Year's Eve dinner party of our own.

Well this year it all seemed to fall into place as quite a few of our friends had also decided that New Year's Eve nights out are kind of rubbish. So seeing as our new dining room is now big enough for us to make use of our extending dining table, we were sorted for inviting 6 lovely guests!

I can't remember when it was during the many years of New Year's Eve dinner party planning that Bailey and I had decided that the food would be Italian (I guess Italian seems kind of New Yearsy?) We are both very big fans of the Jamie's Italy book and his recipes are really user-friendly, simple to use and are made with readily available ingredients so we decided to make all, yes ALL, of the food out of there! This was the perfect option and we made it easier for ourselves by specifically choosing recipes that could be prepped in advance - after all there would have been nothing worse than hosting our dream dinner party and not having any time to enjoy it ourselves.

We started the evening off with a few Negroni cocktails (a firm favourite in our house since Bailey shook some up at Christmas. I love the way they taste like delicious marmalade), before getting onto the food.

We started off with some Antipasti of griddled garlic ciabatta, olives, roasted peppers and cured meats accompanied by Jamie's recipes for Caponata, Fritto di Salvia e Alici (sage and anchovy fritters), Funghi al Forno Ripieni di Ricotta (baked mushrooms which were stuffed with ricotta, parmesan, chilli and lemon). I think our favourite thing here was the fritters - encased in a light, crispy batter with a delicate mix of interesting flavours. Anchovy-hating Bailey couldn't believe how much he liked them. Nice one Jamie.

Next up we served Risotto ai Carciofi (artichoke risotto). Now I have been making risottos ever since I lovingly made my first one using Jamie's book but over time I have evolved his risotto methods to suit a more waistline friendly lifestyle. Well this time I followed Jamie's recipe to the letter... well, suffice to say Bailey couldn't believe his eyes at the size of the knob of butter that went into the pan but I have to say it did make a difference to the flavour! I also liked the subtle combination of lemon, mint and artichoke, and Hannah said it was better than a restaurant risotto! Yay! Again, cheers Jamie...

Next we had a short break allowing Bailey to fry his pizza bases for the Pizza Fritta topped with basil and mozzarella. Although probably a much more calorific way of achieving a crisp pizza base, this was very yummy and everyone was very impressed with Bailey's tomato sauce (Jamie's seemed a little boring and Bailey always does such a good one!)

Course number four was Gnocchi Al Pesto (pesto recipe taken from Jamie's Risotto Bianco con Pesto)  and I do have to confess that for the aforementioned reasons, and the fact that I am rubbish at it, I did not make the gnocchi! Terrible I know - it's my new year's resolution to learn to make gnocchi!!!

I did try to make up for this by taking extra care over the pesto, tasting as I went along and making sure it was well seasoned and nicely cheesed up (I actually think it's quite important to do this anyway with Jamie's Italy as he can be quite vague with his quantities). We also toasted some pine nuts to go on top of the dish and I really enjoyed these.

The final savoury course after a failed Prosecco Sorbet (not Jamie's recipe, that'll teach me) was jettisoned down the sink was Sogliola (roasted dover sole - Jamie offers a choice of three toppings - we topped ours with cherry tomatoes and basil). This dish was really light and fresh which I think quite a few people were relieved about due to the volume of food we had consumed up to this point! I actually preferred the accompanying potatoes to the fish - I do find sole can be very bony which can be a challenge when you have consumed a fair few cocktails. I also have to blame the cocktails for the fact I completely forgot to take a photo of this dish!

Finally for dessert we served the good old Italian favourite and party pleaser Tiramisรน Veloce, although I couldn't resist serving them in teacups and sticking sparklers in them. This is one of my favourite recipes out of Jamie's book, I have lost count of how many times I have made it and it is so easy to do.  I was surprised to hear that more than one of our guests confessed to not liking tiramisu but that this one was actually to their liking! Jamie strikes again.

After this Bailey and I breathed a huge sigh of relief, we had completed the dinner party with around 15 minutes to spare before the clock struck midnight - phew! I really enjoyed doing all the cooking and had such a lovely New Year's Eve (although I do admit I had to pay the price for all those cocktails the following day) and wanted to thank my friends for sharing the night with us.

Late-night clapping competition
I have said it before and I will say it again, I don't care what you think of the man, Jamie's Italy really is a fantastic home cookery book. In the past when I have posted a recipe it, I have had comments from readers saying that they have owned it for years and had forgotten all about it - well if this is the case I really suggest you dust your copy off and get cooking! Every time I revisit its pages I find something else I want to try. If you don't already have this book, I am pretty sure you can walk into any charity book shop and pick up an inexpensive second hand copy - my dad only paid 99p for his! 

I am hoping that in the next few years Bailey and I will be able to visit Italy ourselves and learn some cooking techniques first hand but until then Jamie's book will keep me occupied!

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