As summer winds down, it's a good time to host an elegant dinner party at home.
It is hard to believe summer is drawing to a close. Even though it hasn't been the best summer in recent history it can still be difficult to kiss the warmth goodbye. Personally, autumn is my favourite season with lovely crisp mornings and clear days. (Plus, it's time to buy new clothes and get the boots out.)
Flavours become richer at this time of the year and it is a good excuse - not that one should ever be needed - to create more of an opulent menu and entertain at home. These dinner party recipes are written to serve four but the ingredient quantities can easily be increased to serve six or eight.
There are plenty of pastry case tins in different shapes and sizes to make these stylish tartlets yourself with either home-made pastry or bought. Also, ready-made pastry cases have come a long way since the vol-au-vent. Round, rectangular or square, gluten-free or not ... take your pick. Warm the cases in the oven and warm the filling then combine and serve straight away because heaven forbid you serve a tartlet with a soggy bottom.
Shallots are delicious cooked slowly with a little balsamic, garlic and thyme. Topped with soft, fresh goat cheese they look and taste divine.
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For the autumn vegetable salad choose whichever vegetables look the best - whether pumpkin, leeks, brussels sprouts, silverbeet or parsnips. Combine with parmesan - which is baked until crispy - and a smattering of toasted sourdough crumbs and you have a hearty salad with plenty of flavour and texture.
Remember to think of contrasting colours when choosing the vegetables for this dish and for the dressing use the best oil you can find.
Dessert is a simple but refined affair served in crystal glasses. Blueberries are steeped in a little cognac then spooned into glasses and topped with cream. I was lucky enough to be gifted the freshest vanilla pods from a cafe customer who has just returned from Tahiti - so soft and plump, bursting with seeds - which I scraped into the cream before whipping. A sprinkle of crushed amaretti biscuits adds a sublime finishing touch.
Chevre can be substituted with a creamy cow feta if you don't fancy the flavour of goat cheese. Buy the best balsamic vinegar you can afford. You'll only need a little of the best - a drizzle will add so much more flavour than spoonfuls of a poor substitute.