Party paupers

Twenty quid cuisine by Silvena Rowe
All recipes feed four

Seared sardines with tomato, avocado and lime salsa

Sardines are wonderful small fish - they are delicious, with a strong flavour, and excellent value. When buying, look for a skin that is fresh, shiny and silver-blue, firm to the touch, and bright in the eye. Get your fishmonger to scale and fillet them for you.

8 sardines
1 tbsp plain flour
5 tbsp olive oil
3 large tomatoes
1 large avocado, stoned and peeled
1 red onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, minced
1 small red chilli, seeded and chopped
5 tbsp chopped coriander
4 tbsp green olives, pitted and chopped
juice of 1 lime
salt and pepper

Make the salsa first. Pour boiling water over the tomatoes and leave for a minute or so. Take out and when cool, peel, cut in half and remove the seeds by holding the tomato halves cut-side down and squeezing to remove seeds and water. Dice the flesh of the tomatoes and avocado into small squares. Place in a bowl and add the onion, garlic, chilli, coriander, olives and lime juice. Season and add more lime juice if required. Mix well and set aside.

To prepare the fish, you can have a go at filleting them yourself: remove the heads from the sardines, then remove the backbone from each fish by making cuts along both sides of the backbone, all along its length. Carefully take out the main bone and as many of the fine bones as you can as well.

Dust each sardine fillet with flour and pan fry in very hot oil, for no longer than 30 seconds each side. Blot well.

Divide the tomato and avocado salsa between four plates and top with four sardine fillets.

Cost: £ 4.80

Basil risotto with yellow pepper sauce

A delicious risotto to remind us of what flavours are to come with spring and summer. Try to find the best-quality basil; preferably visit a farmers' market, where it will be freshly picked.

30g butter
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
180g arborio rice
1 litre chicken stock, simmering
2 tbsp freshly grated Parmesan
2 large bunches basil, leaves only
salt and pepper
Yellow pepper sauce
2 large yellow peppers
2 tbsp olive oil

Preheat the oven to 200 C/400 F/Gas 6. To prepare the yellow pepper sauce, roast the peppers in the preheated oven until their skins have browned and are coming off, about 25 minutes. Peel them completely, seed and core them, and place the flesh in a food processor with the olive oil. Blend to a puree, and keep warm.

Melt the butter in a heavy-based saucepan, and cook the onion and garlic until soft but not brown. Add the rice and stir to coat with the butter. Start adding ladlefuls of hot chicken stock to the rice and keep doing so until all is absorbed and all the stock has been used. The rice should be cooked but still have a bit of bite to it - al dente.

Add the Parmesan and gently mix in the basil leaves, without bruising them. Season to taste. Serve the risotto with yellow pepper sauce around it.

Cost: £6.70

Lavender and almond pannacotta, with berry sauce

If you have made the previous Party Paupers pannacotta recipes, you will know that this is an easy and impressive dessert. The lavender, with its regal flavour, complements the creamy and velvety-textured pannacotta.

2 sheets gelatine
300ml double cream
100g shelled whole almonds, toasted
50g caster sugar
2 tbsp fresh lavender leaves and flowers
Berry sauce
100g berries (frozen are fine)
2 tbsp caster sugar

Soak the gelatine in cold water to soften. Place the cream, almonds and sugar in a saucepan, and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the lavender, and leave to infuse for an hour.

Reheat the cream gently. Add the softened and drained gelatine to the cream, and stir in well until dissolved. Pass through a fine sieve, discarding the almonds and lavender, and pour into four pannacotta moulds. Place in the refrigerator to set for at least five hours or preferably overnight.

To make the berry sauce, place the berries in a small saucepan and add 2 tbsp water. Simmer for 5-7 minutes, then add the sugar and leave to cool. When ready to use, pass the sauce through a fine sieve.

Unmould each pannacotta into the middle of a serving plate (dip the bottom of the pannacotta mould for 15 seconds in a bowl of hot water, and run a knife round the sides to loosen. Put the serving dish on top of the mould, and flip upside down). Drizzle the berry sauce around the pannacotta.

Cost: £4.80

Ten(-plus) quid tipples by Malcolm Gluck

I know the perfect wines to go with these dishes. One problem. Each wine is expensive and completely bankrupts the principles of this column. But there it is: perfection must be given its due.

For the sardines, then, we go for Villa Maria Private Bin Riesling 2002/3 (16 points, around £7, Booths, Budgens, Morrisons, Thresher, Majestic, Sainsbury's, Tesco, Waitrose) from New Zealand. The 2002 has delightful thick melon fruit with lively lemon (plus a touch of gooseberry about it). It is still perky, still babyish. It is a screwcapped wine, so it can be stored in a cool dark spot for up to 10 years (at which time 18.5 points should be attained). The 2003 is also excellent, perhaps a touch livelier (and it will develop more quickly in bottle). That saucy salsa, not to mention the oiliness of the fish, requires a wine with a cutting edge to it.

A basil risotto with yellow pepper sauce, especially with parmesan cheese, requires a red wine. So I suggest Torres Manso de Velasco 2000 (18.5 points, £16.50 approx, retailer details below). This Chilean cabernet sauvignon blows my budget sky-high but it is as satisfying as a Mozart piano sonata: seemingly straightforward but really bewilderingly complex.

As for that lavender and almond panacotta, something sweeter is required of course and here we come down to earth and spend less than £4 on any of the major supermarkets' Moscatel de Valencia.

Its honeyed richness, with a hint of marmalade, is perfect.

· Malcolm Gluck is open for crits and questions at

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