In the run-up Christmas there’s not much time for time-consuming dinner parties so this tasting and light supper is a fun and indulgent way to entertain good friends. Ask each of them to bring a chilled* bottle of bubbly - Champagne or otherwise - provide a couple of your own, cover up the bottles and taste them ‘blind’. Great fun for a start to see who can spot the ‘real’ Champagne (don’t worry if you can’t - many professionals are fooled by these kind of exercises) and a delicious way to get into festive mood.
I’d include a well known brand such as Moet et Chandon or Veuve Clicquot, a ‘grower’s’ Champagne (I like Serge Mathieu in the Aube), a supermarket own brand Champagne, a good quality Californian sparkling wine such as Roederer Quartet (Anderson Valley Brut in the US) and a quality Australian sparkler such as Green Point but there’s no reason why you shouldn’t pop an easier-to-spot Prosecco or a Cava into the line-up.
Follow your tasting with a Russian-style smoked salmon and ‘caviar’ feast followed by a light grape and lemon tiramisu tart. Totally simple but none the less impressive for that.
* sparkling wine should always be chilled prior to opening otherwise the pressure in the bottle can create an explosive release of the cork
For eight people you will need:
About 1 kg good quality finely sliced smoked salmon
3-4 x 50g jars of a caviar substitute such as Onuga (or, of course, caviar if you’re feeling wildly extravagant!)
1 x 284ml carton sour cream
1 mild, sweet white onion, peeled and finely chopped
4 large hard boiled eggs, peeled and finely chopped
3 lemons, cut into wedges
A selection of breads and crispbreads such as Irish brown soda bread, light rye bread or rye crackers and/or some blinis
All you need do is lay out the smoked salmon and put all the accompaniments in bowls or on serving dishes for people to help themselves. It really couldn’t be easier.
Recommended wine match: Champagne or dry Champagne-style sparkling wine (see above)
230g pack of ready rolled puff pastry or 225g home made puff pastry rolled thinly into a 28cm (11 in) circle
2 large eggs, separated
2 level tbsp caster sugar + 1 tsp for sprinkling on the pastry
1 x 250g tub of mascarpone
2 1/2 tbsp Limoncello liqueur
250g/ 9 oz white seedless or halved and seeded grapes, rinsed and dried
250g/9 oz red seedless or halved and seeded grapes, rinsed and dried
1 level tsp icing sugar
You will need a large square baking sheet (about 31 x 33cm), lightly greased
Preheat the oven to 200°C/400°F/Gas 6. Take the pastry out of the fridge and let it rest for 10 minutes before you use it. Unroll it carefully onto the baking sheet, removing the greaseproof paper and cut about a 1 1/2 cm strip off round the edge to leave you with a 28cm circle. Lightly whisk the egg whites and brush a thin layer onto the pastry. Sprinkle with 1 tsp of sugar then prick the base all over with the prongs of a fork and bake for 10-12 minutes until puffy and brown. Leave on one side to cool while you make the topping. Tip the mascarpone into a bowl and gradually work in the Limoncello. Whisk the egg yolks with the remaining caster sugar until pale, thick and creamy. Gently fold the mascarpone mix into the eggs until thoroughly blended. When the pastry base is cool transfer it to a large serving plate or tray and spread over the creamed mascarpone with a spatula, taking it almost up to the edges. Scatter the grapes randomly over the surface so you get a nice mix of colours. Sift the icing sugar over the top and serve straight away or chill the tart for a couple of hours then sprinkle with icing sugar.
Note: this recipe contains raw eggs
Recommended wine match: great with a gently sparkling, sweet Moscato d’Asti or Asti