Food: Executive Relief, July 2001

Easy posh dinners for people who value their time. This menu from Rita Bruni.

Virginia Hume

Topics Politics

If you love good food and entertaining, but have better things to do than pore over recipe books, make lists, and then spend half a day in the kitchen with cooker, children, and smoke alarm competing for your attention, then you might be in need of Executive Relief.

Executive Relief will feature dinner party menus, with simple recipes designed to take minimal time and effort – while reaching the standard you would expect from a good restaurant.

You are invited to share your own dinner menus with spiked readers. The best, as judged by my dinner guests, will get a bottle of champagne. To take part, see the rules at the end.

This menu comes from Rita Bruni:

Pan Roasted Italian Onions with San Daniele Ham and Shaved Pecorino

Beef in Amarone

Panna Cotta con Frutti di Bosco

Pan Roasted Italian Onions with San Daniele Ham and Shaved Pecorino

Serves 4

‘This recipe is from Le Caprice restaurant. Chefs Mark Hix and Tim Hughes kindly passed it on to Delia Smith, who equally kindly passed it on to me via her Winter Collection. It is very simple and the little bit of cooking involved can be done in advance. It just needs to be warmed and arranged on the plate before serving.’

350g flat Italian onions or shallots, peeled; 175-225g San Daniele ham, thinly sliced; 110g mature Pecorino Romano cheese; 55ml extra virgin olive oil; 1 tspn brown sugar; 1 tspn thyme leaves; 55ml balsamic vinegar; salt; black peppercorns

Heat the olive oil in a thick-based saucepan. Stir in the onions or shallots, cover and cook over a medium heat for 5 minutes. After that add the brown sugar, thyme leaves, some salt and pepper and two tablespoons of water. Cover the pan and cook slowly over a low heat – stirring the onions from time to time to prevent them from sticking to the base of the pan – for about 30-35 minutes, or until the liquid caramelises slightly and the onions are soft, with a little colour.

After that, add the balsamic vinegar to the pan, stir well, then remove it straight away from the heat and allow the onions to cool. Store in an airtight jar in the fridge until you are ready for dinner.

Just before you are ready to serve, pre-heat the oven to gas mark 4 (350F; 180C) and place the onions in a shallow, lidded casserole dish for 15 minutes. Then arrange them on a plate with a little of the balsamic dressing spooned over. Lay the ham over the onions and use a potato peeler to shave the Pecorino over it. Now spoon a little more of the dressing around the plate and sprinkle some crushed black pepper over the cheese. Serve with ciabatta and good butter.

Wine suggestion – Late Harvest Reisling or Auslese Reisling

Beef in Amarone

Serves 4

‘Amarone has a very intense flavour, so it is probably better to serve this dish with the same wine to drink, too (just as well that cheapness is not one of the rules!). You can cook this hours in advance of dinner and just warm it through before you serve it. In Italy it is served with potato puree and plain boiled carrots, but I have found that in Britain everybody loves roast potatoes. Carrots are not everybody’s idea of fun, either, so a green vegetable might be a safer choice.’

2 tbsp chopped pancetta; 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil; 900g silverside beef; 85g onion, finely chopped; 50g celery, finely chopped; 2 cloves garlic, lightly mashed and peeled; salt; black pepper; 400ml Amarone wine

Use a heavy-bottomed lidded pot, large enough to take the whole meat joint. First put in the chopped pancetta and the olive oil, cook on a medium heat for about a minute, stirring once or twice. Put the meat in the pot, brown it all over then take it out of the pot again.

Add the chopped onion to the pot and cook it until it becomes a pale gold colour.

Put the meat back in the pot. Add the celery, garlic, some salt, lots of black pepper and 100ml of the Amarone. Put the lid on the pot and turn the heat down to minimum. Cook for 3 hours on a very low heat. Turn the meat from time to time, and when you do this add a little more of the Amarone until all 400ml has been added. If all the wine evaporates before the meat is cooked, add 2 or 3 tablespoons of tepid water to stop the roast sticking.

To check if the meat is fully cooked, prod it with a fork (it should feel extremely tender). Take the meat out of the pot and let it rest for about 10 minutes. Slice it very thinly, putting the slices into the pot and turning them in the small amount of sauce that will have formed.

You can do all of this hours before dinner. Before serving, warm the meat and sauce in the pan over a very low heat. You may need to add a few tablespoons of tepid water again to prevent sticking.

To serve: When you are ready to serve, arrange the slices on a large, warm platter and pour the juices over the meat. Serve while hot.

Wine suggestion – Amarone

Panna cotta con Frutti di Bosco

Serves 4

‘This is very simple indeed. It needs to be prepared several hours before dinner so that the cream has time to set, and is possibly better made the day before.’

Panna cotta

300ml (10fl.oz.) double cream; 2 tbsp sugar; vanilla pod; 1 tspn powdered gelatine

Put the vanilla pod into the cream as soon as you buy them, and leave them in the fridge until you are ready to cook. Overnight is best, but a few hours will do.

Simmer the cream, vanilla pod and sugar together in a pan for 2-3 minutes. Remove the vanilla pod. Dissolve the gelatine in 2 tablespoons of cold water, and then beat it well into the cream. Do not use more than 1 teaspoon of gelatine or the cream will set too much. Divide the mixture between 4 small metal ramekins and chill for a few hours.

Frutti di Bosco

A mixture of berries (strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, or just one type, whatever is available – frozen is fine); sugar

This is just as simple and is best made the day before. Rinse the fruits in cold water and sprinkle some sugar over them – just a light dusting. Stir and put in the fridge. An hour or so later, stir again and taste. The mixture should be very slightly syrupy. If this is not happening, you may have to add a tablespoon of water and stir again. Add a little more sugar if needed, but the fruit should be slightly on the tart side as the panna cotta is sweet.

To serve: Fill a bowl with hot water, dip each ramekin into the water (for a few seconds only) to soften the outsides a little, and then turn the panna cotta out on to individual plates. Spoon some frutti di bosco on to each plate around the panna cotta.

Do not be tempted to put the fruit on the plate first, then the panna cotta on top. This makes for a very messy plate.

Wine suggestion – Marsala or Vin Santo

Shopping List

350g flat Italian onions or shallots

175-225g San Daniele ham

110g mature Pecorino Romano cheese

55ml extra virgin olive oil

brown sugar

small bunch fresh thyme

balsamic vinegar


black peppercorns


extra virgin olive oil

900g silverside beef




300ml double cream


vanilla pod

powdered gelatine

punnet of berries (frozen is fine)



Marsala or Vin Santo

Late harvest Reisling or Auslese Reisling

Executive Relief: The rules

You are invited to share your dinner menus with spiked readers. The recipes do not have to be original – they just have to be good. Simply follow the rules below, and send your recipes to:

1) There should be at least three courses, only one of which needs to be cooked on the day of the dinner.

2) It should not be too fiddly or difficult – nothing that requires balloons, spun sugar or blowtorches.

3) You should suggest a wine for each course.

To enquire about republishing spiked’s content, a right to reply or to request a correction, please contact the managing editor, Viv Regan.

Topics Politics


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