Dinner for four: Italian-inspired recipes

An elegant dinner party menu for post-pandemic entertaining: low on effort, but with lip-smacking deliciousness.

Reading Time: 5 minutes


After a thankfully uneventful – yet somehow exhausting – lockdown, it’s been a relief and a pleasure to finally have friends and family over.

And so the holiday season has been filled with cooking, which I love just as much as entertaining. While I am usually known to embrace a high-effort style of entertaining, the past few weeks have seen me tone it down a few notches to the simpler pleasures. (A natural consequence of the pandemic? Who knows!)

My no-fuss entertaining menu involves a selection of entrees for everyone to snack on followed by one main dish. I usually do a selection of nuts, dips with crudites and a hot starter (such as tandoori vegetables/paneer), a main dish of pulao or biryani with a raita, and a showstopper of a dessert.

Here’s one such meal I planned recently, including an assortment of bruschetta for entrée, followed by my cheat’s version of a classic Italian risotto with baked pumpkin and home-made pesto, and a cool and playful affogato for dessert.

ENTRÉE:  Pesto, tomato, cheese toast platter

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Serving size: 4 (entrée size)
Difficulty: easy


Cherry Tomato, Bocconcini and Pesto Bruschetta

  • 2 slices sourdough bread
  • 200 grams cherry tomatoes, cut into two
  • 120 grams cherry bocconcini, cut into two
  • 1/4 cup pesto (recipe facing page)
  • Salt and pepper to taste.

Toast the sourdough slices.

Once toasted, spread an even layer of pesto.

In a bowl, mix the tomatoes and bocconcini. Season with salt and pepper.

(Note: Go easy on the salt as the pesto will have its own seasoning)

Top the bread slices with the tomato and cheese mixture.

Vine Tomato, Mozzarella and Pesto Bruschetta

  • 2 slices sourdough bread
  • 16-20 small vine tomatoes, with vine intact
  • 120 grams fresh mozzarella
  • 1/4 cup pesto
  • 1 tbsp olive oil

Preheat oven to 180 degrees C.

Place the tomatoes (with the vine) on a baking tray and evenly coat in oil. Place in the oven for 7-10 minutes or until the tomatoes are slightly bruised.

At the same time, place the bread slices on a baking tray and put them in the oven for the same amount of time.

Remove the tomatoes and bread from the oven.

Spread the pesto evenly on the bread.

Top with torn up mozzarella and place the bread back in the oven for 5 minutes until the cheese has melted.

Remove from the oven and gently place the tomatoes on top.

Serve warm.

Sundried Tomatoes, Cheddar Cheese and Pesto Bruschetta

  • 4 slices of a bread of your choice
  • 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
  • 1/3 cup sundried tomatoes
  • 1/4 cup pesto
  • A small amount of melted butter for greasing

Preheat sandwich grill for 5 minutes.

Layer pesto, sundried tomato and cheese onto the bread slices (should make 2 sandwiches).

Brush the top and bottom of the sandwiches with melted butter.

Grill for 5 minutes until golden.

Cut into halves and serve warm.

Oven baked risotto with roasted pumpkin

MAIN COURSE: Oven baked risotto with roasted pumpkin

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes
Serving size: 4 (main dish)
Difficulty: easy

Ingredients: Risotto

  • 1 ½ cups arborio rice
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 5 1/2 cups hot water
  • 2 vegetable stock cubes (I use Massel stock cubes)
  • 1 medium brown onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp garlic, grated
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese, grated
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2-3 tbsp pesto
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Ingredients: Baked Pumpkin

  • 3 cups pumpkin, cut into 1-2 cm pieces
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven 190 degrees C (fan forced).

Heat the oil in an oven proof pan on a medium heat stove or Dutch oven.

Add onion and garlic and sauté for 2-3 minutes or until the onions turn translucent.

Add rice and stir again for 1-2 minutes, until the rice is well coated with oil.

Add 4 cups of hot water and the stock cubes, and cover the pan tightly with a lid or with foil.

Bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes until most of the liquid has been absorbed by the rice.

Once removed from the oven, stir through parmesan, butter, 1 ½ cups hot water, and salt and pepper to taste.

Stir in 2-3 tablespoons of pesto.

Top with baked pumpkin and serve immediately.

Method: Baked Pumpkin

Place the pumpkin pieces on a greased baking tray.

Coat in oil, salt and pepper.

Mix thoroughly and bake in the oven at 190 degrees C (fan forced) for 30-35 minutes till roasted and golden at the edges.

(Note: You can put the risotto and pumpkin together in the oven as it cooks at the same temperature and takes approximately the same amount of time.)

Homemade Pesto

Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 5 minutes
Serving size: 1 cup
Difficulty: easy

  • 2 cups basil leaves, washed
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • 1/3 cup pine nuts
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup parmesan cheese
  • Salt and black pepper to taste

Roast pine nuts on a medium heat till lightly toasted. Make sure they do not burn.

Once toasted, cool slightly and then place in a food processor with the rest of the ingredients and blend until smooth

Taste to adjust seasoning.

(Note: Go easy on the salt as the parmesan adds salt to the pesto already)

READ ALSO: Tea-licious semifreddo recipe for the summer


DESSERT: Affogato

Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: None
Serving size: 4
Difficulty: easy

  • 4 scoops vanilla bean ice-cream
  • 200ml freshly brewed strong espresso coffee (4 shots, 50 ml each). If you don’t have a coffee machine you can use strong espresso instant coffee powder to make this.
  • Optional: 180ml Frangelico hazelnut liqueur or Amaretto almond liqueur (4 shots, 30 ml each)

Pour a shot of espresso into 4 individual shot glasses.

Pour a shot your choice of liqueur (if using) into 4 individual shot glasses.

Place a scoop of ice-cream in each individual glass.

Serve the ice-cream, coffee and liqueur to each guest. Let the guest pour the hot coffee and liqueur onto the ice-cream.

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