Last night I hosted the dinner party I alluded to here on Melbourne Gastronome earlier in the week, when I was trying to plan an easy-to-prepare yet hopefully somewhat fancy three course meal for some lovely friends of mine, two of whom had certain dietary restrictions. Lacking inspiration, I asked my readers for suggestions - my sincerest thanks to all of you who wrote with ideas, they have been duly noted and will all hopefully be trotted out at some stage in the future...
My favourite idea was that of Jack, who suggested a bright beetroot risotto, serving poached salmon (or steamed asparagus, for the vegetarian) on top. Thanks heaps Jack for writing that second post giving tips and pointers - I'd never cooked with fresh beetroot before, and was mighty glad to have your advice!
I had a lovely day on Saturday, soaking up the sun and preparing for the dinner. I planned to have the whole thing al fresco (seven people wouldn't have fit around my little white kitchen table indoors), so that meant giving the back courtyard the first bit of attention it'd had in months... I swept up all the winter leaves and pulled out all the weeds, including one which had grown so tall I'd given it a name...
Albert the weed, moments before his gruesome slaughter. The chair gives you some sense of scale. If he'd grown any bigger he'd have turned into a bloody triffid.
We started with a big jug of Year of the Rat, our house's signature cocktail, then over the course of the night worked our way though K's champagne, A&G's rosé and white, my Soave, A&G's pinot noir, my Moscato, San Pellegrino frizzante and cups of peppermint tea.
I'm really mad at myself for forgetting to take a photo of the first course! The company was too much fun for me to remember to pull out the camera. Basically I did a big antipasto spread - a platter of insalata caprese, a plate of sliced prosciutto, bresaola and pâté for us onmivores, mixed olives, caramelised onion pâté, balls of labna and a pumpkin and pepitas dip, served with warmed olive toscano bread and rice crackers. I believe it was F&M who brought the nuts.
I'm afraid the only photo I have is of the leftover remnants...
I was really happy with the way the risotto turned out. I'd roasted the beetroot wrapped in foil like Jack had instructed (they were big, so it took ages until they were soft enough), then peeled them (wearing rubber gloves, natch) and pureed them. Because K can't eat onion or spring onion or leek, I simply used a couple of chopped cloves of garlic as the base of the risotto, then gradually added the vege stock. Adding some fresh beetroot juice at the end really did bring the colour up again in a fabulously vivid fashion.
I decided to roast the salmon in the oven (just a thin slice each because we already had so much damn food), and G helped out by steaming the asparagus for me (thanks G!). Both were served with a dollop of mayo (to which I'd added fresh dill and pickled lilliput capers).
Frau F brought a gorgeous salad containing croutons that were made from gluten-free bread. Danke, Schatzi! :-)
K brought some magnificent Jindi Triple Cream Brie, which had been out of the fridge for a while and was oozing like anything. I still have some leftover, might dig it out of the cheese box later this week... thanks K!
The dessert I served was the semifreddo I'd made that afternoon. I'd chosen to make a double chocolate and hazelnut semifreddo (inspired by a recipe in an old Donna Hay magazine), topped with the dried cranberries I had leftover from last Saturday's dinner party. My recipe is as follows:
DOUBLE CHOCOLATE HAZELNUT SEMIFREDDO
250g dark chocolate, chopped
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 extra egg yolks
3/4 cup caster sugar
1 and 3/4 cups cream
1 Milky Bar and 1 Cadbury Dream Bar, finely chopped (couldn't decide between them, so got one of each)
50g hazelnuts, chopped roughly
Place the chocolate and cocoa in a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and stir until smooth. Set aside.
Place the eggs, egg yolks and sugar in another heatproof bowl. Place over a saucepan of simmering water and whisk the mixture for 4-5 minutes or until heated through and frothy. Remove from the heat and beat with an electric mixer for 5-6 minutes or until pale and thick. Gently fold through the melted chocolate mixture and set aside.
Beat the cream in the bowl of an electric mixer until very soft peaks form. Gently fold the egg mixture half of the white chocolate and half of the hazelnuts through the cream until just combined.
Line the base of a 8x26 cm loaf tin with non-stick baking paper. Arrange the remaining white chocolate pieces and hazelnuts in the base of the tin, the pour in the rest of the semifreddo mixture. Cover with foil and freeze for 4-6 hours. To serve, remove from tin and upend.
Again, I was very happy with the way the semifreddo worked out, and am determined to try making a range of semifreddo flavours all summer long. We ended the night with Ferrero Rochers that S had brought. Everyone was in fine form, and I had an absolute ball. Thanks once again to my guests for their valuable dinner party contributions, and my readers for their menu ideas!