Italian food and the rolling hills of Tuscany
One of the most common themes I’m seeing is Italian cuisine coming through in our menu briefings. Italian food is such a timeless classic and lends itself so well to social occasions and celebrations. We may need to avoid tomato-based spaghetti and white dresses, but we do want our guests saying they are: “sono pieno come un uovo” (full as an egg!)
The words ‘Italian food’ is all it takes for me to envisage rolling Tuscan hills, bathed in sunlight, or narrow streets running a maze through a city centre. Every time I think of Italy I’m full of a sense of romance over the food. There’s nothing I’d enjoy more than to be sat in the Italian sunshine grazing over antipasti, breads and oils, light pasta dishes, vibrant, fresh salads and a bottle of wine or two….bliss!
Focus on two or three ingredients to make the dish sing!
One of my tips for getting Italian food right is to not overcomplicate the dishes. It’s about focussing on two or three quality ingredients and letting them sing (Italian opera style!) I thought I could take a look at the family style approach to eating, some classic antipasti, pasta starters, main courses and desserts, and, in the spirit of Veganuary, all of these dishes will be either vegan or vegetarian….if there’s one style of cuisine that can happily stick to the vegetables, it’s Italian!
Our guests are asking more frequently for pasta starters recently, and I’ve written a fair few different styles on menus over the last few months. From Ravioli, to Tortelloni, Raviolos and Ragus, there are so many options to choose from it was difficult to narrow it down to just a few!
THE STARTER COURSE
Served with Spinach, Chilli, Sauce Vierge & Smoked Garlic
Tortelloni are slightly larger than the more common Tortellini, and closed up slightly differently, with these housing a wonderfully light globe artichoke filling, lifted with lemon zest and herbs. To garnish, some lightly-heated spinach finished with nutmeg and a little Jerusalem artichoke purée. The Tortelloni are sat atop before being draped with delicious Sauce Vierge – a chunky vinaigrette of cherry tomatoes, basil, olive oil, lemon & shallots. In this version I’ve added some smoked garlic to bring another dimension to the dish, as well as some rubbed over warm, wafer thin ciabatta croutes to bring some texture to the dish.
Basil & Ricotta Ravioloni
Served with Marinated Tomato, Basil & Rocket Pesto, Garlic Crisps
A very classic Italian combination here – tomato, basil and cheese. The Ravioloni – a larger version of Ravioli – is stuffed with a ricotta and basil mix that is heavy on the herbs and with a touch of lemon for levity. Typically Ravioloni would be served alongside a pasta sauce, but in this case I’ve decided to lighten the garnish for a starter. Heirloom tomatoes are marinaded in red wine vinegar, sea salt, olive oil and black pepper, before being added to the bowl. These are topped with a basil & rocket pesto, using the rocket to lighten the herb flavour and add a peppery touch. Finally the Ravioloni is added and topped with herbs and the crispy slices of Garlic.
Pea & Mint Ravioli
Served with Pea Velouté, Feta, Crispy Shallots & Lemon Dressing
This flavour combination is one for late Spring / early Summer, making a light, fresh filling of minted peas into small Ravioli – no, not the square ones from a tin that I remember having as a child! A light, velvety pea velouté acts as the sauce, working for a starter due to its being so light. This is finished by crumbling some salty feta over the top, adding rings of crispy shallots for bite and texture, and lifting everything with a mellow lemon dressing. Slightly British in terms of its core ingredients but nonetheless a light, vibrant pasta dish to kick off your wedding breakfast.
Making the Italian family style gazing come to life, you can pair any of these starters with a sharing antipasti element for the table, so that guests can pick and choose. I find this is a really effective way of bringing people together, starting conversation and accentuating the social aspect of the starter course.
Charred Peppers & Courgette, Grilled Artichokes, Tomato & Basil Salsa, Carta di Musica, Nocellara Olives & Sun-dried Tomatoes, Garlic & Rosemary Focaccia, Balsamic Vinegar & Olive Oil
Carta di Musica has always been a favourite of mine, lighter than air and wonderfully crisp. Scooping generous amounts of tomato salsa on top, finished with parmesan and I’m one happy Chef, so I’ve no doubt your guests will be too!
However, if you prefer a more formal feel, perhaps plated starters are the ones for you – a way to engage in the feel of an Italian summer, whilst retaining that more formal structure to your dining room.
Stuffed Courgette Flower
Served with Courgette Carpaccio & Mint Dressing
The very short seasonal window for courgette flowers is one part of my year that I always have to seize advantage of. The delicate delights are deep fried quite a lot, but here I’ve simply stuffed and roasted it. The stuffing is comprised of cream cheese, oregano, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic and black olives. This is piped into the flower before slicing the stem and roasting. To garnish, I’ve simply thinly sliced both green and yellow courgettes and marinaded them in a fresh palm sugar and rice wine vinegar marinade. This is used for the dressing as well. It just doesn’t get any more summery than this. We served this dish at a beautiful wedding in Warwickshire one summer and it was a big hit on the menu.
Asparagus & Fig Bruschetta
Served with Ricotta, Honey & Thyme
Bruschetta is another classic Italian dish, often used as a canapé at weddings. The flavour combinations here are endless – from tomato & basil, wild mushroom & truffle, caprese, panzanella, the list really does go on. Here I’ve gone with something that is both light and indulgent, savoury and a little sweet. The asparagus is both roasted and shaved raw, in order to provide different flavours and textures from a single ingredient. I’ve also added slices of roasted Fig for depth and a fruity contrast to the asparagus. The croute is rubbed in herb oil before being baked until crisp. Once the thyme-infused ricotta has been spread over the top, the centre will begin to soften creating a fantastic mix of textures while eating. This is topped with the fig and asparagus, before being finished with a drizzle of honey – you could always use truffle honey for a luxurious addition too!
THE MAIN COURSE
Now to the main course! Continuing down a more family style way of eating, as seems to be the trend based on talking to our guests, I’ve chosen some larger, shareable mains along with some classic Italian Salads.
Aubergine & Courgette Parmigiana
Served alongside Sharing Sides of:
Herb Gnocchi, Red Pepper Salsa & Bitter Leaves
Garlic & Rosemary Focaccia, Balsamic Vinegar & Olive Oil
There are few dishes that bring more eating joy than a Parmigiana. This vegetarian one is comprised of layers of roasted aubergine and courgette, amidst a rich, thick tomato sauce, and layered with mozzarella and one of my all time favourite Italian cheeses, Taleggio. The bake is topped with a parmesan & herb crust, providing texture and a salty, herby hit as guests dig in. I know guest will just love digging a serving spoon into the dish, having to wrestle with the stringy, elastic cheese that just doesn’t want to let go….its a beautiful thing!
The garnishes are classics, simple as that! Everyone knows a Caprese Salad, this one featuring torn buffalo mozzarella, marinated Heirloom tomatoes, basil pesto & fresh torn basil. The acidity of the tomatoes, balanced against the creamy, silky mozzarella, with the herby, nutty pesto bringing them together and working almost as a seasoning….divine!
Panzanella is my all time favourite Salad. Heritage tomatoes and vine-ripened cherry tomatoes, marinaded in red wine vinegar & balsamic, with shallots, capers, garlic, oregano and basil. Into this I add chunky pieces of toasted bread that begin to soak up the salad’s juices, making them go chewy as well as crisp. If you haven’t tried one before I suggest you do so almost immediately! Our Exec Chef, Jonathan Carter-Morris is here preparing a Panzanella Salad at a food festival we demonstrated at in Birmingham last year.
Of course, this is a family style grazing affair, and so your guests may need something a little more hearty than a Salad. Gnocchi is a staple of Italian cuisine, and here I’ve tried to make it into a bowl serving that everyone can get stuck in to. The herb gnocchi is made with baked potato for the base, combined with tarragon, chives, parsley and oregano – there’s enough basil in this meal but you could always add it in if you can’t get enough! The gnocchi mix is then poached, before being cut and pan fried to give a crisp, golden brown exterior. They are transferred to a serving bowl, before being dressed with salsa. Roast red peppers, red onions, red wine vinegar, spring onion, garlic & herbs create a simple yet tasty accompaniment. The bowl is finished with a selection of bitter leaves – rocket, raddichio, chicory & frissee – to add another dimension to the flavour profile.
Finally, warm Garlic & Rosemary Focaccia is a must for a grazing course, with ample aged Balsamic Vinegar and Olive Oil so that guests can dip away!
I’ve added a Pre-Dessert here of, in true Italian style, Limoncello. A zingy, lemony alcohol that drinks easily, allowing maybe a second of third if so inclined!
For dessert, another Italian staple, Tiramisu. Large sharing bowls containing this layered dessert will have guests clambering to dig in. The dish is made up of coffee-soaked sponge, mascarpone cream flavoured with marsala and topped with cocoa powder. Here, however, I’ve added shaved dark chocolate to each layer, and a thick, heady coffee syrup to prevent everything becoming too sweet. There really is no need to mess too much with this dessert, after all it’s a classic!
So there you have it. A few new ideas that you can add to your wedding catering plans with an Italian twist. Don’t forget that we have lots of ideas, tips and suggestions for planning your wedding menu. Take a look through some of our other blogs or head over to our sample menus with many more menu suggestions to whet your appetite! Ciao!