Recipes for a River Café Christmas

10 recipes for a perfect Italian Christmas


Black olive crostini

Serves 6

200g black olives in brine, drained and de-stoned
2 dried red chillies, crumbled
2tbsp thyme leaves, washed
Black pepper
Extra virgin olive oil
6 thick slices ciabatta bread
1 clove garlic

Place the olives, chilli and thyme in a food processor and pulse chop to a rough paste. Stir in 2 tablespoons of olive oil and black pepper. The mixture should be stiff. Toast the ciabatta slices on both sides. Rub one side with the garlic; spread the olive paste over.

Chicken liver crostini

Serves 6

200g free-range organic chicken livers, cleared of any membrane, finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, peeled, 2 finely chopped
4 anchovy fillets, roughly chopped
8 sage leaves, washed and chopped
200g unsalted butter
A splash of brandy
250ml Chianti Classico
6 thick slices ciabatta bread
Extra virgin olive oil

Heat half the butter in a thick-bottomed frying pan. Add the chopped garlic and sage. Cook briefly and then add the anchovies. Stir to combine before adding the livers. Turn up the heat and cook until the livers are beginning to brown. Add a splash of brandy, let it be absorbed, then add more butter. Continue to cook, adding a small amount of wine. As soon as it has been absorbed, add more butter and then wine. Keep repeating this process until the wine has been absorbed. The texture should be crumbly, the colour dark.

Toast the ciabatta slices on both sides. Rub one side with the whole clove of garlic, then spread with the chicken livers. Drizzle with olive oil and serve warm.

Mushroom crostini

Serves 6

500g flat field mushrooms
50g dried porcini
3 cloves garlic, peeled (2 of them finely chopped)
1 dried red chilli, crumbled
Extra virgin olive oil
6 thick slices ciabatta bread

Remove stems from the field mushrooms and finely slice. Soak the porcini in warm water for 10 minutes, then remove from the water and rinse. Strain the soaking water and reserve.

In a small saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the porcini and cook gently for 5 minutes, adding some of the soaking water to keep them moist. Season with salt and pepper.

In a frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil until very hot. Add the field mushrooms and cook until soft. Remove from pan and place in a strainer, pressing down to extract the juice.

Add 1 tsp olive oil to the pan. Add the chopped garlic and drained field mushrooms. Add chilli; stir to combine. Transfer all to a chopping board and chop roughly. Toast the ciabatta slices on both sides. Rub one side with the whole garlic clove and drizzle with olive oil. Place the mushrooms on top.

Prosecco, mandarin and Campari cocktail

Serves 6-8

10 ripe mandarins, kept cold
200ml Campari
1 bottle cold non-vintage Prosecco

Cut the mandarins in half and squeeze the juice using an orange juicer.

Fill a champagne flute one-third full with the mandarin juice, then add an equal quantity of Prosecco when the fizz has died down. Top up with the campari and serve immediately as the colour changes from pale orange to deep orange.

Roasted veal shin

Serves 4

1 whole veal shin, with both ends of the veal shin bone cut off to reveal the marrow
12 cloves of garlic, peeled
8 anchovy fillets
2tbsp extra virgin olive oil
200g unsalted butter
4 branches rosemary, washed; leaves pulled from the stalks of 3, and 1 kept whole
250ml white wine
1 x 400g tin peeled plum tomatoes, strained of juices
Sea salt
Black pepper

Pre-heat the oven to 220C/gas mark 7.

Season the shin generously with sea salt and black pepper.

Heat the olive oil in a thick-bottomed casserole or saucepan. Place in the veal shin and brown on all sides. Remove the shin and put aside. Wipe clean the casserole with kitchen paper.

Turn the heat down and add half the butter. When it has melted, add the garlic and fry briefly just to colour, then add the anchovies. Push the anchovies around to melt them into the butter. Chop the rosemary leaves finely and add to the pan, stirring to combine.

Place the veal shin in the pan, place the rosemary branch on top with 1 tablespoon of butter. Turn the heat up a little and add half the white wine and the drained tomatoes. Cook until the wine begins to bubble. Cover the veal shin with a piece of parchment paper and then place the lid on the pan.

Put the veal in the pre-heated oven and roast for half an hour. Turn the temperature down to 180C, add the remaining butter and wine and return, covered, to the oven to roast for a further 2 hours, or until the meat is falling off the bone. Serve by breaking the meat into pieces, with the bone marrow tapped out of the bone on top, and plenty of juices from the pan.

Spaghetti vongole with tomato and porcini mushrooms

Serves 4

320g dried spaghetti
2kg fresh clams, washed
50g dried porcini, soaked in 100ml of hot water for 15 minutes, then drained (keep back a little of the liquid), rinsed and chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
1tbsp dried oregano
1 x 450g tin peeled plum tomatoes, drained of their juices
150ml white wine
2 small dried red chillies, crushed
1/2 tsp fennel seeds, crushed
3tbsp extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Black pepper

Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a thick bottomed pan. Add 2/3 of the garlic and cook briefly to colour. Add the chilli, fennel seeds, clams and wine, cover and cook over a high heat to open the clams, about 2-3 minutes. Discard any unopened clams and leave to cool in the cooking juices.

When cool, remove the clams from their shells and put into a bowl. Pass the cooking liquid through a fine sieve. Add enough of the cooking liquid to cover the clams. Return the rest to the saucepan and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down and simmer to reduce the liquid by half. Check for seasoning.

In a separate small thick-bottomed saucepan, heat the remaining olive oil, add the remaining garlic and cook until brown. Add the porcini and oregano, fry briefly to coat with the oil, then add half the porcini soaking liquid. Cook gently until the liquid is absorbed. Add the remaining liquid and cook until the porcini are soft and most of the liquid has been absorbed. Add the tomatoes and break them up into the porcini. Cook, stirring for 10 minutes or until you have a thick sauce. Season.

Cook the spaghetti in boiling salted water until al dente and drain. While the spaghetti is cooking, heat the reduced clam juice in a separate pan. Add the clams when the juice is hot, then stir in the porcini and tomato sauce.

Add the spaghetti and toss in the saucepan to coat each strand. Finally, add the parsley and 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil. Serve in warm bowls.

Savoy cabbage soup, ricotta crostini

Serves 4

Half a Savoy cabbage
1 garlic clove
50g Parmesan
100g ricotta cheese
Extra virgin olive oil
4 ciabatta slices
3 chicken stock cubes

Remove the outer cabbage leaves and core. Slice the cabbage and wash. Peel the garlic, and grate the Parmesan. Dissolve the stock cubes in a litre of boiling water. Mix the ricotta with salt and pepper and 1 tablespoon olive oil. Season. Bring the stock to the boil, add the cabbage, and cook until very tender.

Grill the crostini and lightly rub with garlic. Drizzle with oil and put a spoonful of ricotta on top, pressing gently into the surface. Place one of the crostini in each soup bowl. Spoon over the cabbage, then ladle in the stock. Drizzle with oil; sprinkle with Parmesan.

Chestnut sorbet

Serves 4-6

330g fresh chestnuts
1 vanilla pod
150g caster sugar
400ml milk

Cut a slit in the flat side of the chestnuts. Put in a saucepan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil, cook for 20 minutes, or until soft, then drain and peel when cool enough to handle.

Put the chestnuts in a small saucepan with the vanilla pod and the sugar. Add 100ml water and simmer until the liquid becomes syrupy.

Scrape out the seeds from the vanilla pod into the syrup and chestnuts. Purée in a blender to a fine paste, then slowly add the milk.

Churn in an ice-cream machine or freeze in a shallow container, stirring every half hour or so to break up the ice crystals until solid and smooth.

Cantucci biscuits

500g plain flour
250g caster sugar
2 tbsp baking powder
3 eggs
1 vanilla pod, seeds scraped
50g butter
350g whole hazelnuts
2 tbsp liqueur (Amaretto or Frangelico hazelnut liqueur)

Pre-heat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4.

Lay the nuts out on a baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes or until lightly browned. Rub off the skins while still warm. Leave to cool. Roughly chop.

Mix the flour in a bowl with the baking powder, sugar and vanilla seeds. Beat the eggs together, add the liqueur. Pour this mixture into the flour and stir to combine into a soft dough. Add the nuts and mix well.

Flour a surface. Divide the dough into two. Shape each into flattish logs, approximately 8-10cm wide and 25cm long. Line a baking tray with parchment paper, rub with butter, place the logs on and and bake in the pre-heated oven for 20 minutes. Remove and cool. When cool enough to touch, use a bread knife to cut the logs crosswise into 1.5cm pieces, at a slight angle. Lay the pieces cut-side down on the baking sheet and return to the oven to bake for a further 15 minutes, or until the cantucci are lightly browned. Cool and store in an airtight container.

Dada's Christmas cake

250g unsalted butter, softened
350g candied mixed lemon and orange peel, coarsely chopped
350ml dark rum
200g hazelnuts roasted (see previous recipe), coarsely chopped
300g blanched whole almonds, roasted and coarsely chopped
100g ground almonds
100g caster sugar
200g plain flour
3 organic eggs
The chopped peel of 3 lemons
200g honey
100g apricot jam
150g raisins
500g chocolate (with 70 per cent cocoa content), chopped

Pre-heat oven to 150C/gas mark 1. Line a 23cm cake tin with greaseproof paper and grease with extra butter. Marinate the candied orange and lemon peel into the rum for at least one hour. Cream the butter and sugar together until pale and light. Add the eggs one at a time, then fold in the flour and ground almonds. Drain the marinated dried fruit, reserving the rum and add to the mixture, then add the lemon peel, honey and apricot jam.

Finally, fold in the roasted nuts and the chocolate and the reserved rum. Pour into the prepared tin and cook in the pre-heated oven for 45 minutes.

'The River Café Pocket Books' by Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers, are published by Ebury Press, priced £8.99 each. To order the books at a special price, including free p&p, call Independent Books on 08700 798 897

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