After the serialisation of my new British seasonal food book over the past two weeks, some of you may be wishing that I could give the British theme a bit of a rest. With that in mind, here are some ideas for a simple Italian dinner party that was inspired by a recent research trip to Milan and Turin with Ewan Venters from Selfridges.

We were lucky to have the company of Ninai Zarach who has a great Italian food company called Machiavelli (, which specialises in food and products from selected Italian producers for both domestic and commercial use. She introduced us to some fascinating small producers, including Guido Gobino, an artisan chocolate maker who came up with some really interesting creations.

There's something so inspiring about Italian food. We had a good look round the famous Peck, which is Milan's best food shop, followed by a visit to the relatively newly opened Eataly in Turin next to the old Fiat factory. Eataly is owned by Oscar Farinetti, a close friend of Carlos Petrini, Mr Slow Food in Italy, and it's a fantastic gastrodome of artisan food from high-quality, non-intensive producers around Europe. Why aren't there more of these places around?

Roasted autumn squash with buffalo ricotta, chestnuts and vincotto

Serves 4-6

I will never forget eating buffalo ricotta about 15 years ago in Sardinia; it was so fresh that it was still steaming. I've never really eaten much ricotta since, as I knew that I would probably be disappointed. In Turin we tasted something from one of the local cheese producers that came pretty close. There are plenty of different types of squashes in the shops at the moment, so you can pick and choose which ones you want to use. Vincotto or grape must is a thick and sweet vinegar made from fermented grapes, which tastes rather like aged balsamic. You can find it at specialist delis or Italian shops.

1 squash weighing about 1kg or a selection
A few sprigs of thyme or oregano
4-6tbsp olive oil
1-2tbsp pumpkin seeds, lightly toasted
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
150-200g good quality ricotta at room temperature
16-20 chestnuts
2tbsp vincotto or grape must

Pre-heat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Prepare the squashes by peeling the ones with tougher skins, halving and de-seeding them (leave the skin on the tender ones). Cut them into even-sized pieces and transfer to a roasting tray. Season and scatter the thyme over, then spoon over a couple of tablespoons of olive oil. Roast for about 30-40 minutes, turning every so often, then transfer to a clean dish.

Meanwhile, score the chestnuts at the pointed end with a small, sharp knife and cook on a separate tray in the oven with the squash for about 15 minutes. Be careful, sometimes they "pop", which means they are ready to come out. Leave them to cool a little and then carefully peel away the outer shell. Remove any burnt bits of skin and halve them.

To serve, arrange the squashes on a serving dish or plate with the warm chestnuts. Spoon over some olive oil from the pan and drizzle a little vincotto and scatter with pumpkin seeds.

Risotto with pancetta and autumn greens

Serves 4

Autumn greens go fantastically well with rice, and for this particular recipe you can really use any greens or cabbages, such as chard, curly kale, green and black cabbage, etc. You could even include salads that might otherwise end up going to waste.

200g carnaroli rice
1-1.5litre vegetable stock (a good cube will do)
300-400g autumn greens
2tbsp chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
90g Italian butter or unsalted butter mixed with 1tbsp double cream
1tbsp freshly grated Parmesan

Cook the greens in boiling, salted water until tender; drain. Meanwhile, make the risotto. Take a thick-bottomed pan and melt 30g of the butter in a heavy-based saucepan, add the rice and stir for a minute on a low heat with a wooden spoon. Gradually add the stock a little at a time, stirring constantly and ensuring that each addition of liquid has been fully absorbed by the rice before adding the next. Season to taste. When the rice is almost cooked, add the rest of the butter, the cream, the greens, Parmesan and parsley; check the seasoning and correct if necessary. As always, the risotto should be moist but not stodgy. Serve at once.

Veal chop with borlotti beans and offal

Serves 4

British rose veal is well worth a try; it's certainly more ethically reared than the Dutch variety and has a hell of a lot more flavour and texture. Veal is used extensively in Italian cooking and it's not uncommon to see half a dozen veal dishes on some Italian menus, including offal.

4 veal cutlets weighing about 300g each
200-250g veal offal like liver, kidney, heart, sweetbreads, cut into even-sized 1cm chunks
4 shallots, peeled, halved and finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
3-4tbsp olive oil
100ml white wine
150-200g borlotti beans, fresh or canned
A couple of good knobs of butter
2tbsp chopped parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Heat a ribbed griddle or heavy-based frying pan. Season the veal chops and brush with oil, then grill for 5 minutes on each side, keeping them nice and pink.

Meanwhile, heat a little olive oil in a heavy-based frying pan, season and quickly fry the pieces of offal for 2-3 minutes on a high heat, giving them a nice colour but keeping them pink. Remove from the pan and put to one side. Add the shallots and garlic to the pan with the rest of the olive oil and gently cook for a couple of minutes on a low heat. Add the borlotti beans and wine and simmer gently for about 5 minutes, then add the offal, butter and parsley to the pan and simmer for another minute. Season if necessary then spoon on to warmed plates and place the veal on top.

Chocolate mousse with hazelnuts

Serves 4

In between Eataly and a lunch at our hotel we squeezed in a visit to Guido Gobino's chocolate shop. Well, it's a bit more than a chocolate shop – more a temple to the stuff. Chocolate makers can create flavours for the sake of it but here the fillings and flavours are well thought out. One of the most impressive of the chocolates at Guido's was a one-kilo slab of chocolate with lightly roasted whole hazelnuts in it.

250g good quality dark chocolate, broken into small pieces
80g shelled hazelnuts, lightly roasted, and roughly chopped
50g unsalted butter, softened
9 very fresh egg whites
6 egg yolks, beaten
125g caster sugar

Put the chocolate in a heat-proof bowl over a pan of simmering water, stirring every so often until melted. Make sure you don't get any water near the chocolate. Remove from the heat and beat the butter into the chocolate with a whisk, or spoon until smooth.

In a really clean bowl – preferably washed in boiling water to remove any grease, and dried – whisk the egg whites until frothy but not stiff, using a mixer or an electric whisk on a medium high speed. Add half the sugar to the egg white and continue whisking on a low setting until the egg whites are stiff. Add the rest of the sugar and continue beating until the egg whites stiffen up even more, then mix in the egg yolks with a metal spoon.

Carefully stir half the egg mixture into the chocolate mixture – a whisk helps – then stir the hazelnuts and the rest of the egg mixture with a large spoon until well mixed in. Pour into a large serving dish and leave to set for a couple of hours, or overnight. Serve in glasses, coffee cups or just a large bowl.

Mark will be cooking a Winter Warmers lunch at his next 'Kitchen Table' cooking demonstration at Hix Oyster & Fish House, Lyme Regis, on 13 October – more details at