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Menus

Tried and Tested Menus and some Dinner Party Tips

A good few of my frequent guests need to eat gluten free, some are vegetarians and vegans, thankfully nobody is both gluten free and vegetarian so GF menus can work perfectly well also for meat eaters, sadly not many of my friends eat fish

Diners: Gluten Free

Simple continental winter dinner

Diners: Gluten Free

Menu: Goulash, Basmati rice

Wine: strong, dry red - or Beer: Guinness or a strong Belgian dark beer

Italian / Irish dinner

Diners: Gluten Free

Menu: Olives, peanuts and crisps. Braised shoulder of lamb, roasted potatoes

Wine: young, cold and dry white for the starter, and old, strong, deep red for the main course

Formal Italian dinner

Diners: Gluten Free

Menu: Olives, peanuts and crisps. Filetto al pepe verde (beef fillet in a creamy green pepper sauce), roasties, peppers stewed in balsamic vinegar.

Wine: young, cold and dry white for the starter, and old, strong, deep red for the main course

Italian / Irish winter dinner

Diners: Gluten Free

Menu: Braised beef ribs, sformatini di spinaci (baked spinach) with parimsan bechamelle, roasties

Wine: old, strong, deep red

French comfort dinner

Diners: Gluten Free

Menu: Crisps and pringles. Saunternes chicken casserole, mushrooms and cream, basmati rice

Wine: young cold and dry white for the starter, and full bodied, cold white for the main course

Indian comfort dinner

Diners: Gluten Free

Menu: Indian lamb curry and basmati rice.

Wine: old, strong, deep red

Italian complete dinner

Diners: Gluten Free, Pescatarians

Menu: Crisps and olives. Seafood risotto, baked monkfish in parma ham, peas and onions. Strawberries.

Wine: young, cold and dry white for the starter, and cold, full bodied white for the main course

Italian / Irish dinner

Diners: Gluten Free

Menu: Crisps and olives. Stuffed pork fillet (if gluten free, use GF breadcrumbs), roasties, shallots in balsamic vinegar

Wine: young, cold and dry white for the starter, and old, strong, deep red for the main course

Italian complete dinner

Diners: Gluten Free

Menu: aubergine and meat bake, puffed pears

Wine: dry red

Italian family dinner

Diners: Gluten Free

Menu: Involtini al sugo (meat parcels in tomato sauce), boiled potatoes

Wine: young dry red for the main course

Italian dinner

Diners: Gluten free, pescatarian

Menu: Tuna balls with sweet chili sauce. Seafood couscous, baked seabass

Wine: young, cold and dry white for the starter, and stronger cold and dry white wine for the main course

Italian winter dinner

Diners: Gluten Free

Menu: Braised pork shanks, mashed potatoes, steamed sprouts 

Wine: old, dry red

Improvised Italian dinner

Italian winter dinner

Diners: Gluten Free

Menu: Special meat parcels (involtini) with truffled mushrooms, boiled potatoes

Wine: Young, light, dry red

Italian / Irish dinner

Diners: Pescatarian, gluten free

Menu: Olives and crisps. Mussels and clams risotto, baked seabass fillets with ham and courgette, peas and onions, strawberries

Wine: young, cold and dry white for the starter, and stronger cold and dry white wine for the main course

Italian dinner

Diners: Gluten Free

Menu: Olives and crisps. Tuscany rabbit stew with black olives (coniglio in umido), polenta (grits), oyster mushrooms, strawberries

Wine: young cold and dry white for the snacks, old, dry red for the main course

Italian Tuscany winter dinner

Diners: Gluten Free

Menu: Olives. Salsicce in umido (Tuscany sausages in tomato sauce) with potato mash.

Wine: young, cold and dry white for the starter, and old, strong, dry red for the main course

Italian complete dinner

Diners: Gluten Free, hungry!

Menu: Asparagus risotto, turkey slices in capers and fresh green pepper, courgettes oven baked with herbs, budino bicolore (two flavours chilled cream with chocolate and vanilla)

Wine: young, cold and dry white for the starter, and young, light and dry red or older, full bodied, cold white for the main course

Italian / Irish dinner

Diners: Gluten Free

Menu: Olives, peanuts and crisps. Braised beef, steamed broccoli, potato mash

Wine: young, cold and dry white for the starter, and old, strong, deep red for the main course

Italian Tuscany dinner

Diners: Gluten Free

Menu: parmigiana di melanzane (aubergine bake) with puff chicken parcels

Wine: either of young, cold and dry white or a young, dry red

Asian dinner

Diners: Gluten Free

Menu: Crisps and olives. Duck in plum sauce, sesame rice noodles

Wine: young, cold and dry white for the starter, and old, strong, deep red for the main course

November dinner

Diners: Gluten Free

Menu: Crisps and olives. November pheasant, roasties, steamed vegetables

Wine: young, cold and dry white for the starter, and old, strong, deep red for the main course

Italian dinner

Diners: Gluten Free

Menu: Crisps and olives. Mushroom risotto, Chicken tighs in a peppers/black olives and tomato sauce, boiled potatoes

Wine: young, cold and dry white for the main course, and young, dry red for the main course

Italian dinner

Diners: Gluten Free (if using gluten free breadcrumbs); Pescatarian

Menu: Crisps and olives. Baked scallops, plaice fillet "alla Sorrentina", boiled potatoes

Wine: young, cold and dry white for the starter, and stronger, cold, dry white for the main course

Irish / Asian lunch

Diners: Gluten Free

Menu: Carrots and lentils soup, Satay chicken bowl with Basmati or Thai rice

Wine: young, cold and dry white

Diners: Gluten Free

Menu: Mushrooms risotto, cheese platter with GF warm bread, Papa's ricotta dessert

Wine: good, old and dry red

Diners: Pescatarian

Italian / Irish dinner

Diners: Pescatarians

Menu: Garlic and chili prawns with toasted bread. Monkfish fillets with mixed rocket salad

Wine: cold Prosecco for the starter, full bodied, cold white for the main course

Italian / Irish dinner

Diners: Pescatarian

Menu: Tuna balls with sweet chili sauce. Seafood couscous, baked seabass

Wine: young, cold and dry white for the starter, and stronger cold and dry white wine for the main course

Italian lunch

Diners: Pescatarian

Menu: Gnocchi, prawn and chickpeas salad

Wine: young, cold and dry white

Italian dinner

Italian complete dinner

Diners: Gluten Free, Pescatarians

Menu: Crisps and olives. Seafood risotto, baked monkfish in parma ham, peas and onions. Strawberries.

Wine: young, cold and dry white for the starter, and cold, full bodied white for the main course

Italian dinner

Diners: Pescatarian

Menu: Tuscany mussels, stuffed calamari, boiled potatoes

Wine: young, cold and dry white for the starter, and stronger cold and dry white wine for the main course

Italian dinner

Diners: Pescatarian, gluten free

Menu: Olives and crisps. Mussels and clams risotto, baked seabass fillets with ham and courgette, peas and onions, strawberries

Wine: young, cold and dry white for the starter, and stronger cold and dry white wine for the main course

Diners: Pescatarian, gluten free 

Menu: Crisps and olives. Baked scallops, plaice fillet "alla Sorrentina", boiled potatoes

Wine: young, cold and dry white for the starter, and stronger, cold, dry white for the main course

Diners: Vegetarian or Vegan

Vegetarian or Vegan dinner

Diners: Vegetarian, almost Vegan (the lasagne sheets are made with eggs, and there is parmesan in the lasagne)

Menu: Carrots and lentils soup, Winter vegetable lasagne, Pear salad

Wine: young, cold and dry white or young dry red

Italian Vegan dinner

Diners: Vegetarians and Vegans

Menu: Crisps. Home made gnocchi in tomato sauce (origano), stuffed oven baked courgettes

Wine: young, cold and dry white for the starter, and young, light and dry red or older, cold, full bodied white for the main course

Diners: Ok with both meat and gluten

Italian / Irish dinner

Diners: gluten, meat

Menu: Olives, Gnocchi alla Romana, stuffed pork fillet

Wine: young, cold and dry white for the olives, and old, strong, deep red for the main course

Italian traditional dinner

Diners: ok with gluten and meat

Menu: Olives. Lasagne, fresh mixed salad

Wine: young, cold and dry white with the olives, and old, dry red for the main course

Italian / Irish dinner

Diners: ok with gluten and meat

Menu: Canederli, Pollo in Fricassea (chicken fricassee), Potato mash

Wine: young, cold and dry white for the starter, and old, strong, deep red for the main course

Italian traditional dinner

Diners: ok with gluten and meat

Menu: Olives. Gnocchi in mushroom cream, green herb chicken fillets, peas with onions and rashers

Wine: young, cold and dry white with the olives, and young, dry red for the main course

Holiday Dinners

Halloween Dinner @ TheJollyZone

Traditions: Irish (my way)

Diners: ok with gluten and meat

Menu: Pumpkin soup, braised shoulder of lamb with mint sauce, roasties, TheJollyZone Irish Brambrack

Wine: cold and dry white for the first course, old, strong, deep and dry red for the main course, Vecchia Romagna etichetta nera for the the dessert

Christmas Eve @ TheJollyZone

Traditions: This is majorly an Italian dinner, with a Polish starter to honour the memory of my step-grandmother

Diners: can also be gluten free if using gluten free breadcrumbs (but no Pandoro for gluten free guests)

Menu: Baked scallops, Marinated Herring in sour cream, Stuffed calamari in tomato sauce, Mascarpone cream to serve with the traditional Italian Pandoro (traditional Christmas sponge cake)

Wine: cold and dry Prosecco for the starters, stronger, cold, and dry white for the main course, limoncello for the dessert

Christmas Day @ TheJollyZone

Traditions: This is majorly an Irish dinner, with an Italian traditional first course

Diners: can also be gluten free

Menu: Meat based tortellini in brodo (or gluten free short shapes of pasta in meat broth), baked Turkey crown with stuffing (can be made with gluten free breadcrumbs), Roasted Irish ham with horseradish sauce and breadsauce (can be made with gluten free breadcrumbs), Roasties, Potato Mash, Carrots and Parsnips mash, Chestnut Sprouts, Irish Christmas cake (no cake substitution for gluten free diners, could use a fruit salad)

Wine: young dry red for the first course, old and dry red for the main course, Baileys for the dessert

New Year's Eve @ TheJollyZone

Traditions: Italian

Diners: gluten free if choosing the risotto, pescatarian

Menu: Vaul-au-vent with a smoked salmon cream, spaghetti alle vongole (clam spaghetti) or seafood risotto, poached lobster tails with homemade mayonnaise, warm squid salad, Panettone (traditional Italian Christmas and Winter holidays cake) with Zabaione or mascarpone cream (no cake for gluten free guests), Ricciarelli, Amaretti and Baci or Gianduiotti when toasting the New Year

Wine: cold and dry Prosecco for the starter, cold and dry white for the first course, stronger, cold and dry white for the main course, Limoncello and Vecchia Romagna etichetta nera for the the desserts, cold and dry Prosecco when toasting the New Year

New Year's Day @ TheJollyZone

Traditions: Italian

Diners: can be gluten free

Menu: atichokes, porcini mushrooms and peppers preserved in oil together with grissini, tortellini in brodo (or GF short pasta shapes in meat broth for gluten free guests), Cotechino (softer and finer texture, one of the Italian oldest traditions) or Zampone (soft but rougher texture, originated in Modena), green lentils, boiled potatoes, Panettone or Pandoro

Wine: cold and dry Prosecco for the starter, young dry red for the first course, old and dry red for the main course, Limoncello and Vecchia Romagna for the dessert

Easter Eve (Sabato Santo) @ TheJollyZone

Traditions: Italian

Diners: gluten free, pescatarian

Menu: Mussels "alla Toscana", poached salmon with homemade mayonnaise, pan fried garden peas, fruit salad

Wine: cold and dry white for the starter, stronger, cold, and dry white for the main course, limoncello and coffee for the dessert

My birthday @ TheJollyZone - the 2nd of January

Traditions: Italian

Diners: ok with gluten and meat

Menu: home made mushrooms ravioli, bollito misto (mixed boiled meats) with traditional sauces, mashed potatoes, baked fennel and leeks, il Tronco (traditional chocolate New Year's cake from the north-east of Italy, where we have a mountain house and where I celebrated my birthday for decades)

Wine: cold and dry white for the first course, cold and dry white for the first course, stronger, old and dry red for the main course, cold and dry Prosecco for the dessert,  Vecchia Romagna at the end

Easter Dinner @ TheJollyZone

Traditions: Italian

Diners: ok with gluten and meat

Menu: Torta di formaggio (cake with a cheese dough) and coloured hard boiled eggs, Braised shoulder or leg of lamb, Roasties, Caramelized carrots, Red onion salad, Roasties, Pastiera Napoletana

Wine: young and dry red for the first course, old, strong, deep and dry red for the main course, Vecchia Romagna etichetta nera for the Pastiera

Tips for Dinner Parties

Who's coming? Know your guests! Allergies? Intolerances? Is there something they don't like? Do they have a favourite food? What do they like to drink? (yeah, hope they do know what you do drink too!).

Don't repeat yourself: chances are you have friends who come over frequently. It's a good idea to keep a log of what you served before, so that the same person doesn't get the same menu twice (unless they ask for it!).

Plan your menu: just enjoy yourself, make sure that you plan for on-the-spot cooking for no more than 1 dish, everything else should be made or prepped earlier in the day or the day before. Usually I cook the first course while eating little snacks or the starters, and cook the main course and/or the side dishes while eating the first course. The better you plan, the more relaxed you'll be and you'll truly have a good time.

 

Set the table: it seems obvious, but apparently it's not. Set the table in advance, and remember that sometime people do arrive earlier than expected.

 

Clean up: never show the mess in the kitchen, first because it simply isn't nice to look at, and second because if you do want to make a fuss and cook something really cool, you do not want to embarrass your guests by showing the extent of your efforts - you want to always give the impression that it was all effortless.

 

Risotto and Pasta: these cannot be cooked in advance (well, the sauces usually yes, so have them ready). It's a good idea to prepare the fresh ingredients before, chopped, measured, etc. Your friends will keep you company in the kitchen, so having it all cleaned up works perfectly.

 

Roasties: very easy to prepare the potatoes in advance, cut and washed, and leaving them covered in cold water until you're ready to cook them.

 

Wine: ensure you put the white wine in the fridge at least 4 hours before dinner, open the red wine an hour before dinner to let it breathe (if your friends bring some wine, put the white in the freezer and open the red immediately). If we don't get to open a bottle, I store it in a cabinet with a tiny label on top with the name of the person who brought it, so that we can open it next time they come over.

Be ready! Nonna Lu's tip and teaching: the lady of the house must always be ready to host any given number of guests with no notice at all. My aunty Zia Romana was a master at this, and her dinner parties (at times improvised) were legendary! So this is what I always keep in the house for those "just in case" moments, and it served me so very well time and time again!

  • Pasta, most shapes, and gluten free also

  • Risotto rice

  • Basmati rice

  • Olive oil

  • Butter

  • Tomato tins and tomato paste

  • Tuna chunks tins, both in oil and in brine

  • Dry herbs: rosemary, sage, parsley

  • Dry porcini

  • Saffron, nutmeg, black/white pepper, dry chilli flakes

  • Guanciale (this is Italian cured pork, a special part from the cheek) or smoked streaky rashers

  • Eggs

  • Cheese and ricotta (which is also cheese, but different)

  • Red and white wine

  • "Ready to bake" bread, normal and gluten free

  • Grissini and / or crackers

  • Olives

  • In the freezer:

    • Beef, vegetable, and fish broth in 500ml bags

    • Prawns

    • Chicken breast and / or chicken oyster thighs (1 or 2 per bag)

    • Spinach

    • Garlic butter and pepper sauce (in small bags) in case I have steak in the fridge

    • Little boxes of fresh, washed, and chopped parsley, basil, and dill

 

It has to be said I also have a multitude of dishes already cooked and ready ​in the freezer, in bags that serve 2, but this does require some planning, labelling the bags, and, quite important, a log of what's in the freezer!

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