Winter is party season for us, as July and August are jam-packed with friends' and family members' birthdays. It happens to be Jeremy's today.
When hosting celebrations for a large group, I prefer a stand-up do with substantial finger food for guests. It cuts out the hassle of finding enough chairs, tables and cutlery to go around, and the the host can relax, knowing their guests can mingle with whoever they please. Serving a selection of warm, hearty canapes is a great way to satisfy the crowd, especially in winter.
The texture of crisp, fried croquettes with molten insides makes you instantly feel a little cosier. Fried polenta ''gnocchi'' topped with a rich, slightly sweet tomato sauce can be passed around on a platter. Or serve them in small bowls with more sauce (they are easily eaten with a glass of pinot noir tucked into the crook of your arm). This dish can also be served as a warming starter at a sit-down dinner.
And who can resist a sausage roll or party pie on a cold night? I've given a spicy Moroccan version for extra heat.
Smoked salmon and dill croquettes
Make sure you use hot-smoked salmon, not cold, as the texture is quite different.
100g onion, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
150g hot-smoked salmon, skin removed, flesh flaked
1/4 cup chopped dill
1/2 cup chopped parsley
90g parmesan cheese, grated
2 tbsp capers, chopped
Vegetable oil for frying
1 cup breadcrumbs
2 eggs beaten with a little milk
Melt butter in a heavy-based saucepan. Add onion and season with salt and pepper. Cook until soft, without allowing onion to colour, about 15 minutes. Add 85 grams flour and cook, stirring continuously, for 20 minutes. Gradually add milk then cook for a further 10 minutes or until mixture boils. Sift in cornflour and mix well. Stir through salmon, dill, parsley, cheese and capers. Check seasoning, then allow to cool. Preheat a fryer to 180C or heat oil in a saucepan. Roll into balls and coat in remaining flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs. Deep-fry croquettes until golden. Serve with lemon wedges.
Makes about 15
Tip The mixture can be made the day before, then rolled into balls, coated and fried when needed.
Moroccan lamb sausage rolls
The spicy lamb filling and zesty dipping sauce elevate this sausage roll above the average.
50ml olive oil
2 Spanish onions, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 knob ginger, peeled and grated
Salt and pepper
1 small carrot, peeled and grated
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp smoked paprika
1/2 tsp ground turmeric
750g lamb mince
50g bread crumbs
1 cup parsley leaves, finely chopped
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3 sheets puff pastry, preferably butter puff
1 cup natural yoghurt
1 tbsp grated orange rind
1 cup mint leaves, finely chopped
Preheat oven to 190C. Heat oil in a frying pan over a medium heat. Add onion, garlic, ginger and season. Fry until soft, about 10 minutes. Add carrot and spices. Fry a further five minutes. Add to mince with bread crumbs, parsley and one egg. Season and mix thoroughly.
Divide into six equal portions. Cut puff pastry sheets in half. Roll mince mix into logs the same length as the pastry. Place in the middle of the puff pastry rectangle and roll up to enclose filling. Cut into six pieces each and place on a baking tray seam-side down. Brush with remaining egg and bake until golden and cooked through, about 30 minutes. Mix together remaining ingredients and serve as a dipping sauce on the side.
Semolina gnocchi saltimbocca
The gnocchi are lovely and soft wrapped in the prosciutto. If you have extra sage leaves, fry them until crisp and use as a garnish.
2 bay leaves
175g fine semolina
Salt and pepper
3 egg yolks
50g butter, plus extra for greasing
10 sage leaves, finely chopped
150g grated parmesan
50ml olive oil, plus extra for frying
1 large brown onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 x 400g tinned whole peeled tomatoes
1 tbsp brown sugar
8 slices prosciutto
For gnocchi, place milk and bay leaves in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Pour in semolina in a steady stream, whisking constantly. Season with salt and pepper. Lower heat and cook for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally, until mix thickens and starts to come away from the pan. Remove bay leaves and discard. Remove semolina from heat and beat in yolks, butter, sage and half the parmesan. Grease a one-centimetre-deep tray with plenty of butter. Spoon semolina mixture into tray and spread out evenly. Chill in the fridge for two hours or until set.
Heat olive oil in a saucepan and add onion and garlic. Season with salt and pepper and fry until soft and starting to colour, about 10 minutes. Add tomatoes and sugar and simmer until thick and shiny, about 30 minutes. Remove gnocchi from fridge and cut into five-centimetre rounds with a biscuit cutter. Wrap each gnocchi with a strip of prosciutto (or, if preferred, use more prosciutto and wrap the whole gnocchi). Heat extra olive oil in a non-stick frying pan and fry gnocchi on both sides until golden and crisp. Serve with a spoonful of the tomato sauce on top and sprinkle with the remaining parmesan.
Makes about 16 gnocchi