Saturday, April 30, 2011

The dinner

The dinner with friends at my house, last night, was a lovely evening and a culinary success (I thought so, too, but they were nice enough to say so...and seemed sincere, not just formal!). First step? Always fresh ingredients (local, if possible, to avoid not only unnecessary expense, but also worsening the environment by supporting unnecessarily long transportation)...More......

...Besides, the Italian "NAS," the national service that controls food safety standards, is very strict, so that's reassuring.

What was the menu?

Appetizers: spumante, Sanbitter (non-alcoholic slightly bitter-sweet drink), crudité (red and yellow pepperoni, carrots, fennel, green onions) and...

...cacik (the refreshing yogurt-based dip with mint, dill and a hint of garlic found variations in middle eastern and Indian restaurants...the recipe was given to me eons ago by an Italo-Turk with whom I used to work)

First course: tagliatelle with a thick tomato and eggplant-based sauce with baked ham cubes, fresh yellow onion, fresh garlic, fresh basil, fresh Italian parsley and good extra virgin olive oil, created while preparing the second course (killing two birds with one stone, yeah!)

And the wine?

Since the dish comes from the south of Italy, where they tend to put more herbs together versus the way I was taught Milanese cooking (one herb at a time, so you can taste the freshness of THAT herb in balance with the rest of the fresh ingredients), it has a very "structured" and complex taste, so I decided to go with a Sicilian wine "structured" enough to hold its own: Nero d'Avola (which I've tried before; it's yummy. I had wanted Cerasuolo because it's supposed to have a fruity taste towards cherries...should be fantastic...but couldn't find it, and didn't have time to go wine hunting).

Second course (which we skipped because we already were too full...and a special dessert was headed our way): chicken thighs simmered in the aforementioned sauce, to have been accompanied by a delicate salad with soncino lettuce, rucola, cucumber slices, cherry tomatoes, origano and a spritz of good extra virgin olive oil with a spritz of good red wine vinegar (HINT: buy the good stuff, then use it makes all the difference in the world, in fact, get a chianti flask, empty it in the best way you know how--grin!--, then put in some good quality red wine vinegar, and each time you don't manage to finish a bottle of good red wine after it's been open for a couple of days--it won't be at its peak for drinking--funnel it into the red wine vinegar bottle, let it mature for a day before using, again, and just keep repeating this...over the years, you'll have a red wine vinegar that is out of this world, and--with a spritz of it and a great extra virgin olive oil--you will not need to buy those costly and fatty salad dressings which hide the yummy taste of the salad ingredients...P.S., don't use iceberg's tasteless...that's why you need the strong dressings in the first place).

Dessert: homemade American style cheesecake made with real Philadelphia cream cheese, which finally is available here in Italy by now. They used to (and probably still do) make it with ricotta, but it just doesn't have the tangy bite that Phillie has (another soft fresh Italian cheese, Certosa, has a bit of the tangy bite, but has a gelatinously sticky consistency---perfectly yummy, but not suited for this recipe). Had to find an alternative for graham crackers, though. I haven't been able to find the Honey Maid brand--oh, so good. The one brand I have found here is less crunchy, less tasty, and goes to paste in the mouth, quickly. Yuck. (Just a reminder: I get no perks for mentioning name brands!) It worked out O.K., but I need to keep hunting. By the way, I don't have an electric beater, so had to fluff the whites with one of those old-fashioned hand-turned beaters; my arms were exhausted...just think if I had had to do it all with a whisk! (I think an electric beater will be on next Christmas' list.)

And we brought the spumante back out.

Fruit: well...fruit...the Italians like to finish off the meal--even after a sweet dessert--with a bit of fruit that lightens the stomach and cleans the palate. There also were fresh green grapes and tangerines, but the strawberries stole the day.

Followed by coffee for those partaking. No one wanted tea (of course), or a "digestive" liquor (one had a long drive back home). And lots of fun chatting, in honor of the special occasion (Happy Birthday, dear M.!) and about the photos the guests had brought back from their most recent vacation.

A fun time was had by all...even the maid-less chef...and the evening whizzed by. We finally said "goodnight" just in time to get Cinderella into her carriage, and cleaning up the aftermath was pretty quick, too, because I rinse and stick into the dishwasher as I go.

Heck of a lot of work though. Between getting the groceries, preparing everything, putting my feet up literally for ten minutes, then back at it, it took all day. And thank the Cosmos they were fashionably a bit late. If it weren't so fun and intimate to host people at home, where one can choose the background music (classical, of course, the radio treated us to Pavarotti in "Tosca"), maybe I'd prefer hosting a dinner at a restaurant.


Leftovers, of course.

That's another bane and boon of cooking special dinners at home. Already sent half of the cheesecake home with one of last night's guests, some already has gone into the now stuffed freezer and fridge, and today another dear friend is coming to help me with those, too.

Cosmos bless her.


Anonymous said...

I am astounded at what you have accomplished in the culinary world! And amazed, as well. So happy you have found it fun to put together a meal of this magnitude, and I know the people who were your guests are also happy with what you provided! Jim says we are very sorry we weren't there to help you with the leftovers! Mom

Unknown said...

che bello leggere i tuoi racconti :) thank you! elisa

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