Party pieces: What chefs cook when they are entertaining a gang

Paul Flynn shares his favourite meatball recipe and Aoife Noonan makes a fruity iced dessert with boozy chocolate sauce

Paul Flynn’s meatballs with French onion broth, chestnuts and Cavanbert. Photograph: Harry Weir Photography

Paul Flynn’s meatballs with French onion broth, chestnuts and Cavanbert. Photograph: Harry Weir Photography

 

We are winter people. My wife and I have been conditioned over the years to work all the hours that God gives in the summer, then batten down the hatches for the winter when the restaurant is quieter and we can have a life.

Of course, I hate the eternal dark mornings and the incessant rain, but there is nothing I love more than coming home to a roaring fire then cocooning in the house.

I am a lighting obsessive, so before I can properly relax, the lighting must be right. Lights are dimmed, candles are lit, the flickering adds to the atmosphere. There has to be a Scandinavian gene lurking in my depths as my quest for hygge is never ending, and often painful for those watching.

Then there is the food. Slow roasts and bubbling stews rule the roost at this time of year in our house. We make plans to have people over and there is a whole night given over to who will come and what I’ll cook.

I adore meatballs. In my toothless dotage I want to be fed them as often as possible – otherwise my offspring will forfeit my meagre fortune.

The secret to a good meatball is lots of day-old bread soaked in milk or water to bring lightness to the mixture. With pork, beef or veal meatballs, the longer you cook the meat, the tougher they get. Bread always stays tender. I’m using pork and beef mince as it’s very traditional and makes for a more delicate flavour.

I’m making this in a stand mixer to absorb the work. If you don’t have one, a large bowl and clean hands will do. The ingredients are enough for 12 individual generous single portion meatballs. You can half the recipe if you’re serving six. The mixture will be sloppy, but dry enough to work with.

You might also notice that this recipe cheekily crosses borders. I’m making a French onion soup with local Irish cider, then sitting the meatballs in it to bake. The broth will reduce and intensify while mingling with the meat juices. The chestnuts bring a hint of seasonality and finally the beautiful Cavanbert from Silke Cropp replaces the traditional Gruyère and gives a creamy lusciousness. Eat with mash or perhaps some soft polenta, my new favourite.

So, a winter dish that starts life in Italy, then pops over to France for directions, and comes home to Ireland for oodles of comfort.

I can’t wait to have people over into my cosy, recently renovated, perfectly lit shed. Let the party commence. – Paul Flynn.

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Aoife Noonan’s nougat semifreddo with amaretto chocolate sauce. Photograph: Harry Weir Photography
Aoife Noonan’s nougat semifreddo with Amaretto chocolate sauce. Photograph: Harry Weir Photography

This is a beautifully understated dessert. Semifreddo, literally meaning semi-frozen, is a classic Italian iced dessert, easily sliceable or scoopable. It has the perfect set, and even better – there is no churning involved.

This nougat semifreddo was inspired by a recipe Nigella Lawson wrote about 20 years ago for honey semifreddo with pinenuts. The basic recipe has three ingredients – honey, eggs and cream, and cannot be easier to put together. I’ve laced mine with pieces of chopped nougat which is sticky and delicious and such a gorgeous surprise in every mouthful. I’ve also added chopped pistachios, almonds and candied orange, classic nougat ingredients.

Honey is traditional in the making of nougat, and by using it here in the semifreddo, it serves more as a flavour rather than a sweetener. It is surprisingly subtle and floral without being overly sweet.

For a perfect dose of decadence, serve it with my Amaretto chocolate sauce. This recipe makes enough for about 12-15 people and fills two one-litre loaf tins. You can easily half it if making it for a smaller number of guests. But it will also keep in the freezer if you make a larger batch and don’t eat it all. – Aoife Noonan.

PAUL FLYNN’S MEATBALLS WITH FRENCH ONION BROTH, CHESTNUTS AND CAVANBERT
Serves 12
Ingredients
For the meatballs:
300g day-old white bread
200ml milk
600g beef mince
600g pork mince
3 eggs beaten
4 tbsp chopped flat parsley
1 tsp dried oregano
½tsp grated nutmeg
3 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
salt and white pepper
150g Parmesan, grated
A little sunflower oil

For the sauce:
60g butter
4 large onions, peeled and thinly sliced
Generous sprig of fresh thyme
1 tbsp flour
330ml cider
500ml beef stock
Drizzle of honey
1 packet cooked chestnuts, 200g
1 Cavanbert (or camembert), 230g

Method
1
Cut the crusts off the bread, weigh it to get 300g then cut it into cubes and put in a bowl along with the milk.
2 Put the mince, eggs, parsley, oregano, nutmeg, garlic, salt, pepper and Parmesan into a mixing bowl, add the bread paste then mix gently till everything is amalgamated.
3 To test the mix for seasoning, heat a little oil in a pan, scoop out a tablespoon of mixture, press it down into a patty then fry it for a few minutes on each side. Let it cool a little and taste it for seasoning.
4 Put the mixture in the fridge to set a little then begin the French onion broth.
5 Melt the butter in a pot and add the onions and thyme. Cover and cook over a gentle heat for 15 minutes, until the onions start to wilt. Remove the lid then turn up the heat a little, then let the onions caramelise for15 more minutes, then add the flour. Cook the flour in the onions for two minutes then add the cider, beef stock and honey.
6 Bring to a simmer then let it blip gently for 20 minutes.
7 Roughly crumble the chestnuts into the broth, season then ladle into a deep roasting tray or casserole.
8 Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius.
9 Shape the mixture into 12 evenly sized balls and set them into the French onion broth, with a little distance between each ball.
10 Bake for 50 minutes, then remove to intersperse pieces of Cavanbert in among the meatballs. Bake for another 10 minutes until the cheese is oozing and melted.

AOIFE NOONAN’S NOUGAT SEMIFREDDO WITH AMARETTO CHOCOLATE SAUCE
Serves 12-15
Ingredients
For the nougat semifreddo:
4 eggs
6 egg yolks
180g good quality honey
600ml cream
100g nougat, roughly chopped
50g pistachios, roughly chopped
50g whole almonds, roughly chopped
50g candied orange, roughly chopped

For the amaretto chocolate sauce:
100g good quality dark chocolate, roughly chopped
60g unsalted butter
250ml cream
2 tbsp caster sugar
Pinch of salt
3-4 tbsp Amaretto liqueur

Method

For the nougat semifreddo:
1 Line two one-litre loaf tins with clingfilm, leaving a little clingfilm hanging over the edge.
2 Put the eggs, egg yolks and honey into a heatproof bowl over a saucepan of simmering water and whisk until pale and thick, about three to five minutes. Use a large balloon whisk and whisk by hand, or use an electric. You should be able to make a figure of eight when you lift the whisk up out of the bowl. Remove from the heat and continue to whisk for another two to three minutes until cooled slightly.
3 Whisk the cream in a clean separate bowl to soft peak stage. Fold the cream into the cooled egg mix in thirds gently, taking care not to knock the air out.
4 Mix the chopped nougat, pistachios, almonds, and orange together in a small bowl. Add to the semifreddo mix and fold through.
5 Divide the semifreddo mix between the two loaf tins and cover carefully with clingfilm, before placing in the freezer for at least four hours.

For the Amaretto chocolate sauce:
1 Melt the chocolate and butter together in the microwave or in a bowl over a pan of simmering water. Heat the cream with the sugar in a small saucepan just until the sugar has dissolved and the cream is just below simmering point.
2 Pour the cream over the melted chocolate, add the pinch of salt and stir well until smooth and combined. Add three tablespoons of the Amaretto liqueur and taste, add another tablespoon if desired. Serve warm over slices of nougat semifreddo.

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