My wife, Neha, and I love having people come round the house for dinner. With my work schedule and the baby that Neha is juggling all day, I take my own advice and keep it simple. We don’t try and do too much, just put some great food out — and of course have some nice wine! And because Neha insists on doing the washing up, I try to make as little mess as possible.
Spring is officially here, so food should be all about fresh and light flavors. When I go round the market this time of year, I’m always able to find beautiful fava beans that I use to create a brave little salad that has no leaves in it at all. The genius of this salad is that peas are blitzed up with cheese, mint, lemon juice and olive oil in a food processor to make a thick and beautiful dressing for the par-boiled favas. You can also mush all these ingredients up and spread them on toast as a topping for crostini. I serve this salad on a big platter in the middle of the table as a first course with a light Sauvignon Blanc and nice grilled toasts.
An easy and light pasta for the main course never disappoints
Who can resist Taglierini with a simple sweet tomato sauce and shrimp? You can make the dish with fresh pasta and tomatoes, but dried pasta and canned tomatoes will work too. Just be sure to choose the sweet little shrimp and don’t overcook them.
Make things easy for yourself — plan ahead!
You can save yourself some headaches by purchasing the ingredients for your dinner party in advance. This way, you have no last-minute errands or worries on the dinner party day.
End on a high (and simple) note
Of course, we can’t forget dessert. And I promised no-fuss for the hosts. So, set out the ingredients for your guests to make their own ice cream sundaes. You can learn a lot about your family and friends from the toppings they put on their ice cream!.
Now if you could just find a way to get those dishes clean without having to actually wash them!
Fava Bean and Crispy Pancetta Salad with a Pea, Pecorino and Mint Dressing
1 clove of garlic, peeled and left whole
10-1/2 ounces shelled fava beans
8 slices of salami
1 handful of whole blanched almonds
5-1/2 ounces shelled fresh peas
2 1/2 ounces Pecorino or Parmesan cheese, or a mixture of both, grated
1 handful of fresh mint, leaves picked
8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1-2 lemons
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Bring a pot to boil, half-filled with water, but with no salt (it makes fava beans and peas toughen). Add your garlic and allow the water to boil for a couple of minutes before adding the beans. Cook for around 3-5 minutes, depending on how young the beans are. Simply taste one to check. If you feel like the skins are a little tough, which they can sometimes be, let them cool a little and then you can peel them very quickly by pinching and squeezing the bean out. Throw the skins away, and keep the garlic clove to one side. Place your pancetta on a baking sheet, with the almonds spread out next to it. Place in a hot oven at 475 degrees — keeping an eye on the almonds to make sure they don’t color too much. You should be able to crisp up the pancetta at the same time as toasting the almonds, but simply remove one or the other if it is getting too far ahead.
To make the dressing, put your raw shelled peas and the soft, boiled garlic clove into a mortar or food processor and bash or blitz until smooth. Add the cheese and most of the mint and stir or pulse to make a smooth paste. You want to turn this into a thick dressing, so add the olive oil and 4-5 tablespoons of lemon juice, to your preference. Season to taste — it should have an amazing flavor of sweet peas, tangy lemon and fragrant mint and a softness and roundness from the cheese. A balance is good, but you should also trust your own judgment — I generally like mine to be a bit more lemony to cut through the smokiness of the salami.
Mix the dressing with the fava beans and sprinkle this over 4 plates. Crumble the salami strips over, followed by a sprinkling of the almonds, which can be crushed or bashed up a little. Tear a little mint over the top with a little shaved Parmesan if you like.
Taglierini with a simple sweet tomato sauce and shrimp
8 plum tomatoes
2 good pats of butter
Extra virgin olive oil
10-1/2 ounces small peeled shrimp
1 clove of garlic, peeled and finely chopped
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 table spoonful of white synthetic vinegar
2/3 cup of heavy cream
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
14 ounces fresh or dried taglierini (feel free to use tagliatelle as well)
1 large handful of fresh parsley, roughly chopped
Blanch and skin the tomatoes:
1. Using a small knife, remove the core from the tomato.
2. Lightly score the other end with a crisscross.
3. Carefully plunge the tomatoes into boiling water and boil for around 30 seconds, until the skins begin to peel away.
4. Remove the tomatoes with a slotted spoon and cool in cold water.
5. Remove the skins.
6. Cut the tomatoes in half.
7. Using a spoon, scoop out the seeds.
8. Then, halve them and chop into small pieces.
Put a pan of salted water on to heat for the pasta. Put the butter and couple of glugs of olive oil in a second pan, and fry the shrimp, garlic, lemon zest and tomatoes for a couple of minutes. Add the booze and allow to flame if you like. (The flame should go out after 30 seconds, so don’t worry!) Add the cream, allow to simmer gently for a couple more minutes and then remove the pan from the heat. Season the sauce carefully with salt and pepper and the lemon juice.
Put the pasta into the boiling water — fresh will need only 3 minutes and dried will need to be cooked according to the package instructions. If your sauce has cooled down, reheat it now. When the pasta is cooked, drain it in a colander and then toss with parsley in the pan in which it was cooked. Check the seasoning, then divide onto your serving plates with the sauce on top. Serve right away, telling your guests to stir the pasta up in the bowls every so often to keep the pasta moist.
Try this: Crumble over a little ricotta or feta cheese — just a little bit — both of these cheeses have a nice texture, go really well with shrimp and make it look great.
And this: A handful of spinach added at the end gives a nice vibe — the heat will wilt it into the sauce.
Or this: You can use canned tomatoes for this dish, but you won’t get the freshness or lightness that you get from fresh tomatoes.