Today, I’m sharing a fabulous Italian feast. Italian food is the most cooked cuisine in the world. Their secret is good ingredients, done simply. We begin today with a grazing platter - something the Italians do so well. Bruschetta makes delicious, simple nibbles and looks impressive when laid out on platters. Don’t make this too far in advance, as the bread goes soggy.
Lasagne is delicious and I always think it is better if assembled the day before. The key is good quality Irish beef. Simply Better have very good lasagne sheets (made with free range eggs) that are soft and delicious. This recipe is enough to make two dishes and I always think it is worth having one to eat and one to freeze. The sauce is a classic Bechamel sauce that you can use in a lot of dishes. I also like it with cauliflower cheese.
This buttermilk panna cotta is a delicious, light dessert and makes the perfect ending to a big lasagne dinner. The berry compote is the perfect accompaniment.
Approx 24 slices country bread
1 garlic clove, halved
4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Melted Brie with fig jam:
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
1 red onion, thinly sliced
100g (4oz) ready-to-eat figs, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
75ml (3fl oz) red wine
1 tbsp balsamic vinegar
½ tsp caster sugar
½ tsp chopped fresh thyme
175g (6oz) ripe brie, sliced thinly
Air-dried beef with
beetroot and horseradish:
50g (2oz) creme fraiche
1 tbsp creamed horseradish
2 tsp wholegrain mustard
6 slices air-dried beef, cut in half (at room temperature)
6 tbsp beetroot relish (from jar)
25g (1oz) fresh small watercress sprigs
25g (1oz) toasted walnut halves
15g (½oz) parmesan shavings
75g (3oz) ricotta cheese
1 tbsp basil pesto
8 slices parma ham
25g (1oz) wild rocket, tough stalks removed
1. To prepare the bruschetta, preheat the grill or a griddle pan and use it to toast the bread on both sides. Remove from the heat and immediately rub one side with a piece of garlic, then drizzle over the olive oil.
2. To make the fig jam for the brie topping, heat the oil in a pan over a medium heat and saute the red onion for 10 minutes, until softened. Stir in the figs, garlic, red wine and balsamic vinegar.
3. Simmer for about 10 minutes, until most of the liquid has evaporated, then stir in the sugar and thyme. Season to taste, then blend until smooth and leave to cool. When ready to serve, spread the fig jam over 10 of the bruschetta and cover with the brie. Place under a medium grill for a minute or so, until it’s just beginning to melt. Season with pepper.
4. To make the mustard cream for the air-dried beef topping, place the creme fraiche, horseradish and mustard in a bowl and mix well to combine, then season to taste.
5. When ready to serve, spread a little mustard cream on six pieces of the bruschetta and arrange the air-dried beef on top. Add a spoonful of the beetroot relish and garnish with the watercress sprigs, the rest of the mustard cream, walnuts and parmesan. Finish with a sprinkling of pepper.
6. To make the parma ham and rocket topping, mix the ricotta cheese with the pesto in a bowl and season generously. Cut each slice of parma ham in half across the width and arrange on a work surface. Spread a heaped teaspoon of the ricotta mixture in a thin, even layer over each piece of parma ham and then lay a few sprigs of rocket lengthways across each slice, leaving the sprig ends poking out of the top. Roll up each one to enclose.
7. Arrange the ham and rocket rolls on eight of the bruschetta and put on a large platter with the melted brie and fig jam bruschetta and the air-dried beef bruschetta.
2 tbsp olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely diced
100g (4oz) button mushrooms, trimmed and finely diced
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tbsp chopped fresh thyme
675g (1½lb) lean minced beef
2 tbsp tomato purée
2 x 400g (14oz) tins of chopped tomatoes
100g (4oz) butter
100g (4oz) plain flour
1.75 litres (3 pints) milk
225g (8oz) cheddar cheese, grated
1 tbsp rapeseed oil
14-16 lasagne sheets
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1. To make the bolognese sauce, heat a large pan. Add the oil with the onion, carrot, mushrooms, garlic and thyme. Cook for eight to 10 minutes, until the vegetables have softened and taken on a little colour, stirring occasionally.
1. Add the minced beef and mix until well combined, then saute until well browned, breaking up any lumps with a wooden spoon. Add the tomato puree and continue to cook for another minute or two, stirring.
1. Pour in the tomatoes and season to taste. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat to the lowest setting and simmer for two hours, until the beef is meltingly tender and the sauce has reduced.
1. To make the cheese sauce, melt the butter in a pan. Add the flour and cook for one minute, stirring. Remove from the heat and gradually pour in the milk, whisking until smooth after each addition. Season to taste.
1. Bring the sauce to the boil, whisking constantly, then reduce the heat and simmer gently for five minutes, until smooth and thickened, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and stir in most of the Cheddar cheese until it has melted.
1. To cook the lasagne, preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F/gas mark 4). Brush two 2.25-litre (4 pint) ovenproof dishes with the rapeseed oil, then line with a layer of lasagne sheets, breaking them to fit as necessary.
1. Add half of the bolognese sauce and spread it into an even layer, then spread over half of the cheese sauce. Cover with another layer of the remaining lasagne sheets. Use the rest of the bolognese to make another layer, then pour over the remaining cheese sauce. Scatter the rest of the cheddar on top and bake for one hour, until the lasagnes are bubbling and lightly golden. Serve straight to the table
For the panna cotta
5 gelatine leaves (or a scant 15g)
100g caster sugar
1 vanilla pod, split down the middle with seeds scraped out
Zest of one lemon
For the compote
200ml fresh Irish apple juice
100ml fresh fruit cordial
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 vanilla pod (skin only)
40g caster sugar
200g frozen forest fruits
1 tsp cornflour mixed with 2 tbsp water
Amaretti biscuits (optional)
Mint leaves, for garnish
1. Make the panna cotta: soak the gelatine leaves in cold water for 10 minutes, to soften.
2. Place the cream, buttermilk, caster sugar and the seeds from the vanilla pod in a saucepan and slowly bring up to a boil.
3. Add the lemon zest; stir to combine and to ensure the caster sugar has dissolved.
4. Remove the saucepan from the heat. Remove the gelatine leaves from the cold water and gently squeeze away any excess water from them before adding them to the hot cream mixture.
5. Whisk continuously until the gelatine has completely dissolved into the hot liquid.
6. Divide this mixture between four ramekins, moulds or glasses and leave to set in the fridge for a minimum of three hours (you can leave them for up to two days before serving).
7. Make the compote: in a medium, high-sided pan, add the apple juice, cordial, cinnamon, caster sugar and the skin from the vanilla pod.
8. Bring to a boil and cook for 5-7 minutes, until slightly thickened.
9. Add in the frozen berries, bring to a boil again and continue cooking for a further 5-7 minutes. If the compote is not as thick as you would like, add the cornflour and water slurry and cook for another two minutes, until it has dissolved and thickened.
10. Store the compote in an airtight container and chill until ready to use.
11. When ready to serve, unmould the panna cottas by placing the ramekins in very hot water for about five seconds. Flip the mould over in your hand and the panna cotta should come out easily. Alternately, if you have set the panna cottas in glassware, leave them and serve as is.
12. Plate the panna cotta and top with a generous dollop of berry compote. Crumble some amaretti cookies over the top, if liked, and garnish with fresh mint.