Over the weekend I ate at one of my favourite Soho restaurants Polpo, a fabulous place that serves some fantastic Venetian street food such as Arancini, Baccala mantecato crostini and Linguine vongole – all served in small sharing style portions. It got me thinking about just how widespread this style of eating has become and how much it is infiltrating the majority of cuisines in the UK.
Another Italian favourite of mine, Prezzo also launched a section of small main courses in their menu this year, with a focus on sharing. And it’s not just Italian cuisine, in London we’re spoilt for choice with new innovative restaurants that have adopted the small plate sharing style, such as Lardo and Brawn opening in the East, and old favourites such as Opera Tavern and Le Cercle in the West. Unexpected places like TGI Fridays, and in America even Starbucks are getting in on the action with a sharing section being launched on their menus.
As a chef, what I love most about this style of eating is the freedom and opportunity it provides. With little limitation on presentation, rustic wood, chalk boards, slates even tiered platforms can be used to frame a variety of bite sized colours and textures to wow the diner; creating layers of complementary and complex flavours for taste. For a restaurateur, the low costs of the high margin dishes that encourages customers to order more and ultimately spend more is always a winner! For the diners it’s the freedom of menu choice, size of meal and overall cost that excites them. Perhaps most importantly food envy is kept to a minimum, with no need to ask politely for a bite from a fellow diner, sharing dishes mean fair game to just tuck right in and have a taste of it all!
Here’s one of my favourite recipes that I think is king of the sharing / small plate world….
Pumpkin and feta arancini
Prep Time: 25 minutes, plus 90 minutes cooking time
- 250g butternut pumpkin, peeled, seeded, cut into 1cm pieces
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- 3 cups (750ml) chicken stock
- 1 small white onion, finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 1 cup (220g) Merchant Gourmet arborio rice
- 1/2 cup (125ml) dry white wine
- 100g Chefs Brigade® feta, crumbled
- 2 tbsp finely shredded sage
- 1/2 cup (75g) plain flour
- 20ml of Chefs Brigade® liquid egg whisked
- 1 cup (90g) dried (packaged) breadcrumbs
- Vegetable oil, to deep-fry
- Preheat oven to 180°C. Place the pumpkin on an oven tray and drizzle with 1 teaspoon of the oil. Bake in oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown and tender.
- Meanwhile, bring the stock to a simmer in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Reduce heat to very low and keep at a gentle simmer.
- Heat the remaining oil in a heavy-based saucepan over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes or until soft. Add the rice and stir for 2 minutes or until grains appear slightly glassy. Add the wine and cook, stirring, until completely absorbed. Add 1/2 cup (125ml) of the stock to the rice and stir continuously until stock is completely absorbed. Continue adding stock, a ladleful at a time, stirring continuously, allowing the liquid to be absorbed before adding more. Cook for 15 minutes or until the rice is tender yet firm to the bite and risotto is creamy. Remove from heat. Set aside for 1 hour to cool completely.
- Combine, line & roll. Add the pumpkin, feta and sage to the cold risotto and stir to combine. Line an oven tray with baking paper. Roll 1 tablespoonful of risotto mixture into a ball. Repeat with remaining mixture.
- Place the flour, egg and breadcrumbs in separate bowls. Dip a risotto ball into the flour to lightly coat, then dip in egg. Coat in breadcrumbs, shaking off excess. Place on lined tray. Continue with remaining risotto balls. Repeat, dipping each ball in egg then breadcrumbs so they are coated twice. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 30 minutes to set.
- Add enough oil to a medium saucepan to reach a depth of 6cm and place over high heat to 180°C (to test when oil is ready, a cube of bread turns golden brown in 15 seconds). Place one-third of the arancini in the hot oil and cook for 3-4 minutes or until golden brown all over and heated through. Use a slotted spoon to transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel. Repeat in 2 more batches with remaining balls, reheating oil between batches. Place on a serving platter and serve immediately.