Little Italy: Mark Hix serves up a feast of bite-sized venetian snacks

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

I know I wrote about tapas a few weeks ago, but what's really catching on these days is serving small plates of Italian food. These delicious cicchetti, as they are known, are served during the early evening in the bars of Venice – with a glass of wine, naturally.

My friend Russell Norman opened his new restaurant Polpo around the corner from me in Beak Street in Soho at about the same time as I opened Hix; and he is packing in the customers with his snack-sized portions of Venetian fare. The atmosphere is relaxed and non-pretentious and just goes to show how people really want to eat these days.

You could have a lot of fun serving these up for an informal dinner party with a few glasses of prosecco.

Calf's tongue Milanese

Serves 4-6

Whether it's served hot or cold, tongue is one of those great under-used cuts of meat – and I reckon that even the kids might consider eating this dish.

1 calf's tongue weighing about 500g
Flour for dusting
1 egg, beaten
50-60g fresh white breadcrumbs mixed with 1tbsp freshly grated parmesan
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2-3tbsp vegetable or corn oil
60g butter

For the tomato sauce

3tbsp olive oil
1 small red onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1tsp fresh oregano leaves
1 x 227g can of good-quality chopped tomatoes

Put the calf's tongue in a saucepan and cover with water, add a tablespoon of salt, bring to the boil and simmer gently for about 2 hours or until tender. You may need to top up the water during cooking. Either leave the tongue in the liquid to cool or remove from the liquid. Once cool enough to handle, remove the tough outer skin and cut into cm slices and put to one side. Any extra tongue can be refrigerated and used cold.

Meanwhile, make the tomato sauce: heat the olive oil in a saucepan and gently cook the onion, garlic and oregano for 2-3 minutes until soft, add the chopped tomatoes, season, bring to the boil and simmer gently for 30 minutes, stirring every so often.

While the sauce is cooking, have 3 bowls ready, one with the flour, one with the beaten egg and the third with the breadcrumbs. Season the slices of tongue then pass through the flour, shaking off any excess; then put them through the beaten egg and finally the breadcrumbs.

Heat some of the vegetable oil in a heavy or non-stick frying pan and cook the slices of tongue for 2-3 minutes on each side, adding a couple of good knobs of butter halfway through cooking. You will probably need to cook the tongue in a couple of batches. Drain the tongue on some kitchen paper, then spoon the sauce on to a warmed serving dish and arrange the tongue on top. Serve with wedges of lemon if you wish.

Pork and fennel meatballs with agretti

Serves 4-6

Meatballs make such great sharing food. You can make these with pork or beef or even veal, and if you can't get hold of agretti (or monk's beard) – which is a succulent, salty variety of marsh grass – then just serve the meatballs as they are.

A handful or so of agretti, trimmed of roots and washed
1-2tbsp vegetable or corn oil for frying

For the sauce

2 shallots, peeled, halved and finely chopped
1 clove of garlic, peeled and crushed
A good knob of butter
tbsp flour
1tsp tomato purée
100ml red wine
400ml beef stock

For the meatballs

1 small onion, peeled, halved and finely chopped
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
2tsp fennel seeds crushed
1tbsp olive oil
350g minced pork
4-5tbsp fresh white breadcrumbs
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

First, make the sauce. Gently cook the shallots and garlic in the butter for a couple of minutes until they are soft, stir in the flour and tomato purée, and then slowly add the red wine and beef stock, stirring to avoid lumps forming. Bring to the boil, season and simmer gently for 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the meatballs. Gently cook the onion, garlic and fennel seeds in the olive oil for a couple of minutes until soft, then remove from the heat and leave to cool. Mix the onion mixture with the minced pork and breadcrumbs and season well. Mould into about 10 pence-sized balls, then refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Heat the vegetable oil in a heavy frying pan, lightly flour the meatballs and brown them evenly in the oil; you'll need to do this in a few batches. Drain on kitchen paper; add them to the sauce and continue simmering for about 5 minutes, topping up with water if the sauce is getting dry.

Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and blanch the agretti for 20 seconds and drain. Serve the meatballs on a warmed serving dish scattered with the agretti.

Pizzetta with Taleggio and red onion

Makes about 10 pizzettas

I always use my rye sourdough starter for pizza dough, but you may well not have one knocking around, so I'm giving you a yeast pizza dough alternative. You can use whatever topping you wish but I rather like the simplicity of just one or two ingredients for this light snack.

For the dough

4tsp dried yeast
About 250ml warm water
500g strong bread flour
1tsp sea salt
4tbsp extra virgin olive oil

For the topping

200-250g Taleggio cheese, cut into thin slices
1 medium red onion, peeled, halved, root removed and thinly sliced
Extra virgin olive oil to drizzle

Mix about 2-3 tablespoons of the warm water with the dried yeast in a bowl until dissolved; then cover and leave in a warm place such as on a radiator or in an airing cupboard for about 30 minutes or until it starts to ferment.

Put the yeast mixture in a mixing machine bowl with the flour, salt and olive oil, mix with the dough hook attachment on a low speed and gradually add enough warm water to form a smooth dough; keep mixing for 4-5 minutes (or you can knead it by hand which will take about 10-15 minutes).

Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel and leave in a warm place for up to 2 hours until it has risen and doubled in size. Knead the dough again for a few minutes (you may need to add a little more flour if it's looking sticky), then cover again and leave to rise again for another 40 minutes or so.

Preheat the oven to 220/gas mark 7 preferably with a pizza stone, if you have one, or a heavy baking tray. Divide the dough into 10-12 pieces and roll each piece into a ball. Flour a work surface and roll out each ball with a floured rolling pin to about 18-20cms. You will need to cook the pizzettas in batches or if you don't need them all you can freeze them on a tray until required.

Lightly oil your hot baking tray and lay the Taleggio on the dough (allowing space for it to spread as it melts) and scatter a few red onions over. Add some ground black pepper, drizzle with a little olive oil and bake for about 10 minutes until the dough is crisp; serve immediately.

Puntarelle and treviso with blood oranges and pecorino

Serves 4

Puntarelle is a member of the chicory family and it can be quite bitter. But it makes a great salad– just soak it in iced water and it will lose some of its bitterness.

1 head of treviso, trimmed and washed
8-10 florets of puntarelle, soaked in iced water for 30 minutes
1 blood orange, segmented and juice reserved
2-3tbsp olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
60g pecorino

Thinly slice the heads of puntarelle with a sharp knife or on a mandolin. Whisk the orange juice and olive oil together and season. Toss the puntarelle, treviso and orange segments with the dressing, season and arrange on a serving dish. Thinly shave the pecorino with a knife or peeler and scatter on top.

Roasted artichokes with caper and anchovy sauce

Serves 4-6

Small violet and baby artichokes from Italy and France are starting to appear around now; and they don't need any preparation, apart from just cooking. When they are really young and tender you can even slice them thinly and eat them raw.

6-8 baby artichokes
3-4tbsp olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
A few sprigs of rosemary

For the sauce

8-10 anchovy fillets chopped
2tbsp capers, rinsed
2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
2tbsp olive oil
The juice of half a lemon

Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Trim a layer of the outer leaves from the artichokes and any discoloured stem but leave the rest of the stem on. Bring a pan of boiling salted water to the boil and cook the artichokes for 6-7 minutes, then drain in a colander. Leave to cool a little then halve them, place them in a roasting tray with the sprigs of rosemary and spoon over the olive oil. Season and roast in the oven for about 30 minutes, turning every so often until they are just crisp but not coloured too much.

Meanwhile, in a mortar and pestle, pound up the anchovies, capers and garlic or blend in a food processor to a coarse purée, then whisk in the olive oil and lemon and make a smooth sauce. Serve the artichokes with the sauce separately.

News
people
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Sport
Radamel Falcao was forced to withdraw from the World Cup after undergoing surgery
premier leagueExclusive: Reds have agreement with Monaco
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Food & Drink

    IT Administrator - Graduate

    £18000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: ***EXCELLENT OPPORTUNITY FO...

    USA/Florida Travel Consultants £30-50k OTE Essex

    Basic of £18,000 + commission, realistic OTE of £30-£50k : Ocean Holidays: Le...

    Marketing Executive / Member Services Exec

    £20 - 26k + Benefits: Guru Careers: A Marketing Executive / Member Services Ex...

    Sales Account Manager

    £15,000 - £25,000: Recruitment Genius: A fantastic opportunity has arisen for ...

    Day In a Page

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam