Sunday Family Dinner

We eat our salad last

21st of March, Fourth Sunday (Monday, really)

Yes I know, quite a bit of time has passed. The great thing about living in New Orleans is there’s always a celebration and this year took that to the max. From the previous post of February 27th, Mardi Gras on top of the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day Parade to the actual St. Patrick’s Day and a deadline that had to be met by Monday morning, did not allow me much time to get the family together for Sunday dinner. No need to fret. This is the real world over here, not Martha land. Shit happens. We all know it.

Without further adieu, today I bring you the feast of the Fourth Sunday:

                                        Fried Breaded Mushrooms, Tuscan Style
                                                                  p. 512

                            Braised Pork Chops with Sage and Tomatoes, Modena Style
                                                                  p. 422

                              Celery and Potatoes Braised in Olive Oil and Lemon Juice
                                                                  p. 487

                                                       Shredded Carrot Salad
                                                                 p. 549

I was stuck working on the 20th (Sunday) so we decided no harm in pushing the meal to Monday. It was a celebratory event as my sister had just finished up her 12 week internship at the Audubon Special Species Center. No longer would her days be filled with husbandry, vicious cats and hoofstock. A happy/sad moment for her, but one that calls for eating nonetheless. Taking to the random flipping method, page 422 caught my eye. Not normally the type to choose a fat piece of meat be it red or the other white, the thought of the pork cooking in tomatoes for over an hour seemed to be both a delight to my tastebuds and the scent of the household. In addition, my sage plant is growing out of control and needing pruning. Knowing it was going to be a fat piece of meat (literally, recipe calls for 3/4” thick chops), I wanted to keep everything else pretty light. Well, that and I needed balance to the deliciously gooey loaf of seeded Italian bread.

  

Enter braising potatoes and celery. Only in Asian food have I ever consumed cooked celery as a large chopped vegetable. Every other time I use it, it’s finely chopped, creating the base for the dish. Not sure what to expect, in conjunction with the lemon juice it offered a very light, acidic, almost palate cleansing effect to the meal. This dish also provided escape to the routine of pairing pasta when tomatoes are involved.

Lettuce was already hanging out in the crisper drawer, ready to be chopped, but in keeping true to the theme, I wanted to offer more than just lettuce, but stay away from the symphony of La Grande Insalata Mixta, the idea of shredded carrots for a salad was alluring. I love carrots. But straight up by themselves? Such a surprise! This is the salad you should be serving on a spring afternoon for lunch or for any shower. So simple it’s ridiculous, the lemon juice and carrots blend into a harmonious sensation of crunchy, sweet and sour. Carrots are naturally sweet but simply blending with lemon juice elevates it into a very sophisticated, but simple dish. This would be the perfect bed for a fresh chicken salad. Go crazy and weave it into a birds nest!

I’m starting to grow very fond of appetizers. It’s always important to have a drink nearby while cooking, but you don’t necessarily have the opportunity to snack on everything you’re preparing. Thankfully I had the assistance of my brother who shared the breading duties and took over frying while I prepped the remainder of the meal. The recipe offers no sauce recommendations, so he suggested a quick Aioli, which we whipped up in no time. If you’re not familiar, Aioli is a mayonnaise made of garlic, olive oil and an egg. Many people (myself included) heard the word mayonnaise and shut down. Not today. It provides the perfect contrast to the crunchy exterior of the mushroom.

DSC04263 - Version 2

This meal was not my favorite. I don’t know if it was my mood, but individually, I would do the elements again. However the crowd did not agree with me and thought it all a winner.

See you soon…

27th February, Third Sunday

Oscar Sunday. I told myself I would keep this simple so I could enjoy the red carpet. Scanning the book backwards and forwards and for some reason, I keep going back to page 224, Sliced Pasta Roll with Spinach and Ham filling. For visual purposes, a jelly roll of pasta filled with ricotta, spinach and ham, also known as Rotolo. The problem with this meal…I would have to make my own pasta. I had never done this before.

Reasons this would be a pain in the ass.

  • I don’t own a pasta maker. Which means hand-rolling. But you have to have a thin rolling pin for this, specifically 1 1/2” in diameter and 32” in length. These usually do not exist outside of Emilia-Romagna. Not even the whole country of Italy. But an extremely specific region. Then I realize, my dad is in possession of his grandmothers rolling pin. So I try to bargain. Not so much. But there is a glimmer of hope. Ms. Hazan suggests the possibility of creating your own from a dowel rod at the hardware store. I teeter in consideration. A week goes by. I’m at home depot Saturday afternoon.
  • I don’t have a solid wood countertop. It’s granite, well, I think laminate. It falls under the category of “cold” which makes the dough inelastic and therefore invalid. Options? Dining room table. It is solid wood. It’s also over a rug and home to our “office” and a plethora of other items. Last resort? Breakfast room table. Coming in at a staggering 28 1/2” inches off the ground, I would be preparing myself for backache. Was I ready for this?

Apparently the grand Italian cook inside of me was because before I knew it, I was banking on hand rolling pasta and turning out either a “slap your mamma” meal or…cereal.

So much for watching the red carpet.

Any of you out there avoid white flour? I used to. Whole wheat all the time, even whole wheat pasta. White flour was for special occasions only. Then I started working at a bakery and white flour became my daily diet. Yesterday, was not a wheat flour day.

Early to rise after four and a half hours of sleep, do in part to (possible) anticipation of greatness, but mostly to someone crawling into bed really late, laying on top of me and snoring. I attempted to channel nonnas everywhere with a breakfast of Ciambella (baked the night before) and a latte, hoping to strum up the spirits of those who came before me, successfully plowing into flour and eggs and creating magic.

The same individual who decided to fall asleep on top of me and snore had plans to go to brunch at one of our favorite spots, so I knew I needed to get a head start. Technically, that head start began the night before when, once my headache had ceased, I decided (at 10pm) that simultaneously baking a Ciambulla and Galette’s would be a great idea. C loves his pepper biscuits, they’re in the book and it is noted they make a great apertif. Perfect! Appetizer is done.

                                                                 Menu

                                           Gallette - Salt and Pepper Biscuits

                                                               pg 595

                                  Sliced Pasta Roll with Spinach and Ham Filling

                                                               pg 225

                                                        Finocchio Salad

                                                               pg 549

                                 Mangoes and Strawberries in Sweet White Wine

                                                               pg 607

(You know those obnxious ads on the sides of webpages that say “Ask me how you can lose 10lbs in one week”? Mine would be “Ask me how you can distract yourself for 20 minutes”. I have no clue how I just got up and ended up with costumes and wigs in my  hands.)

Recently purchasing some delicious olive oil and discovering the Gallette recipe calls for oil (not butter) I decided why not. It’s only 10pm. These were also a lesson in dough and the rolling pin. This area is not my strongest. Drop biscuits over rolled and scooped cookies over the cutter kind, for some damn reason, the dough is uneven or over-rolled.

The dough started out really, really sticky and moist and I became concerned. Recipe says “roll to no more than 1/4 inch thick”. 1/4 inch isn’t much at all. So a toss of flour and I dive right in.

     

Gallettes are pretty straightforward and the final product yielded a light little biscuit, full of fragrant olive oil and a snap of black pepper. The only thing I would do differently in the future, is give them a quick sprinkle of cracked pepper over the egg wash.

     

And now…the magic begins.

We begin with our tomato sauce. What you see is what you get. Seriously, the easiest thing there ever was. 45 minutes on the stove and done. Set aside.

      

The recipe calls for two pounds of spinach. Of course I didn’t take the time to weigh the spinach, thinking, this looks like alot. Right? These two together only weighted 12 ounces (yeah kitchen scale…boo return trip to grocery). I used five bunches of spinach in all.
      

All fresh pasta starts with a mound of flour, a well and eggs dropped inside. You mix the eggs like you would for scrambled eggs and slowly incorporate the flour until you can start for form a ball shape with the dough. None of this happened while I was attempting to mix. Maybe the eggs were too big, my well not deep enough, but three people stood around a table, one mixing (well, scrambling) another reading aloud from the book and a third staring. Hot mess would be a good description. My little hands struggling to work the flour in front of me while chasing after egg whites, running loose on the table, a slew of school children off in different directions. While searching for images of a beautiful well and eggs for you

    

                                                      (recipetips.com)

I came across this lovely little video - http://www.povitaly.com/POVitaly/FOOD/Entries/2010/2/3_Aunt_Ritas_Homemade_Pasta.html

Had I only watched Aunt Rita in action, I would have been a little more at ease diving into my foray of what could be that make or break confirmation of how truly Italian I am.

You can stop at the 4:50 mark. Mine wasn’t as pretty, but it is with sheer delight that I can confirm I did it right! The slight puckering of Aunt Ritas dough, which is desired, had me a bit nervous. Now knowing my attempt was correct, I could have gone a little further in rolling the dough and thinning out the outer circle.

The sequence that follows is a series of dough ball, expertly self-timed action shots and a velvety ball of dough. What you miss is the in-between. Rolling the dough out and the filling application. Please accept my sincerest apologies. I’ll make sure C stays by my side next time and plays the roll of photog more than once.

                                                            

What lies below not only includes spinach, ricotta and proscuitto, but an elevated body temp, burning triceps, tension in the lower back and a major sigh of relief. I did it!

    

The rotolo now has to be wrapped in cheesecloth as the next step requires boiling in salted water for 20 minutes.

                          

At this point in the meal, I am absolutely giddy with anticipation. The end result will be great for all around the table, but the beauty of this dish is seen in layers. A flower, closed for the evening, slowly unraveling it’s bloom to the morning sun. So much work (almost five hours start to finish) and so many steps and I have absolutely no clue if it will truly be a success.

So with twenty minutes of boiling time, I sit down with my Negroni to watch a little bit of the red carpet and shed a lemon of its peel for dessert.

Twenty minutes later, I extract the rotolo from boiling water, C picks up the camera (yeah!!) and with fingers burning, I peel away the cheesecloth from the mass.

                     

The tight quarters caused a clean break, but fear not! We are not done yet!!! The process of unwrapping gives way to this thick shell of pasta and looks very much like a tamale freshly unwrapped from the husk.

The next step is almost evil. Slicing the rotolo into 3/4 inch thick slices and layering them, shingle-like, in a baking dish.

      

Ridiculous, I know. Filled to the brim with spinach, I pulled the same move any smart person making slice and bake cookies does. Cut an odd piece off the end. Not having to contain my excitement like Colin Firth, I immediately began dancing around the kitchen! The light is at the end of the tunnel and this meal is going to be AMAZING!!!

     

One last step. The tomato sauce has been mixed with a bechamel, a small amount ladled on the bottom, the remaining on top along with some freshly grated parmiggiano-reggiano and into the oven for ten minutes. TEN MINUTES! It seems like forever but I could wait. I got to work on dessert.

                      

Dinner is served.

The pasta, soft and tender, creates this intense barrier, three sheets thick around an intense mixture. But the sheer amount of spinach keeps this meal in check. Not once do you feel overwhelmed or overstuffed. Your brain is spinning, dizzy from the flavors, so perfect, so seemingly simple. It cries out for more, never wanting this moment to end. But alas…it must.

     

Following that grand display would be difficult for just about any item. Considering the complexity of the main course process, the Finocchio Salad - Sliced fennel bulb, extra virgin olive oil, salt and freshly ground pepper - seemed most appropriate for follow up.

      

Palette cleansing and a digestive aid, the crisp flavor of the fennel paved the way for an equally simple, but delicious dessert.

Not sure what to serve, I came across Mangoes and Strawberries in Sweet White Wine. Having both already in the fridge, it was a no-brainer. Fruit, sugar, lemon peel and Moscato. The recipe did not specify if lemon peel should be left in large pieces to impart flavor or to be finely chopped and included with each bite. I went for the chop. It’s an odd thing to be munching on lemon peel, but the effervescence elevated every bite to perfection and really helped to open up the wine’s fruitful bouquet.

As mangoes do not grow in Italy, peaches are the recommended fruit, but only at the height of their ripeness. Finish the fruit and sip the wine. This one is perfect for a summer day.

                    

Wine served/used:

Palo Alto Sauvignon Blanc - Chile 2009

Castello del Poggio - Moscato

I don’t know how else to end this intense meal other than MANGIA!!!!

Lu

20th February, Second Sunday

This weeks meal was merely a product of flip the page and see where it lands. Last week was a bit exhausting and I needed something that would allow me to enjoy the meal and my family at the same time.

The random flip landed in the Pork section, but the recipe up for consideration is called Pizza Rustica, Abruzzi Style. No sauce, this reconstructed pizza consists of a sweet pastry dough, cheese and cured meats in a souffle dish. This takes deep dish pizza to a whole new level…or thickness.

Keeping the meal simple, I decided to check out my salad options.

Menu

Pizza Rustica - Pork and Cheese Pie, Abruzzi Style

pg 434

La Grande Insalata Mista - Great Mixed Raw Salad

pg 546

Granita - Coffee Ice with Whipped Cream

pg 617

Using fresh ricotta, proscuitto, mortadella, buffalo mozzarella and parmiggiano-reggiano, the interior of the Pizza Rustica is fluffy, sweet and salty. Surprisingly, the mortadella flavor found it’s way to the forefront in most bites. If you are not familiar, mortadella is similar to American bologna, so the flavor itself is milder than prosciutto, but very specific in it’s taste. I wanted to see more of the proscuitto come through. But what I was also craving was herbs. Parsley, possibly some basil, but something to add another flavor dimmension to this dish. The other recommendation I have is to drizzle a good-quality extra-virgin olive oil on the plate before spooning out the pizza or even an herb flavor olive oil. The density of the filling and the sweetness of the crust called out for one other option to take it to another level. Now, in all fairness to the dish, I am still very much a novice when it comes to dough and the rolling pin, so my dough may have been too thick. I decided to get goofy with the remaining dough bits.

Regardless of any future changes I would make to this meal, I was so enthralled with the finished result that I almost forgot to give you a peak of the inside.

I grabbed two different Red Zinfandels for the meal. Zin of Zen (picked merely for it’s random labeling) and Gnarly Head (which I have had before). Zin of Zen was a very mellow flavor not too overpowering for the meal and a really nice pairing. Gnarly Head, in complete contrast had a spicy finish to it, something I would normally compare with a Rioja or Tempranillo. Serving the Zin first was the best decision, the The Gnarly Head woke the palette up in time for salad and dessert.

La Grande Insalata Mista is no joke.

Eleven different items go into this production of a salad. If timed, the salad may have taken as long to make as the pizza! New techniques no considered or known were presented as this salad was composed. Red Onion, sliced oh so thin gets a soak in two to three changes of water and a squeeze, before being tossed into the salad.

Let it be known, I CANNOT cut an onion to save my life. The scene in Julie and Julia, where Paul Child comes home to Julia and a mound of onions on the kitchen island…that is my worst nightmare! I slice into an onion and IMMEDIATELY my eyes start to water and then shut, leaving me, knife in hand, blind and paralyzed. I developed a strategy for over-coming this disability. I thought that if you could keep your tastebuds occupied, the oil and intensity of the onions couldn’t affect me. So I took a big sip of my cocktail, held it on my tongue and sliced away. It works, but you end up getting a little tipsy faster than planned with this method. Turns out, keeping cold water on your hands works just as well. But it’s not as much fun.

With perfectly sliced onions soaking, I moved onto the fennel. Same technique (who knew?). Add in red and yellow sweet bell pepper, carrots, celery heart, Boston lettuce, mache, arugula, artichoke hearts, carrots, lemon, tomatoes, salt, extra virgin olive oil and vinegar. Get this, Italians think Americans do not use enough olive oil in our dressing. The lettuce should be glowing after having a liberal application of oil. Much like our desired skin tone after a day at the beach.

And I’ve been using vinegar wrong all along! First off (and side note) balsamic vinegar should never be sprinkled liberally nor used solely on your salad. It’s meant for a two shake enhancement of other oils in salad.

Liberal olive oil but just a dash of Red Wine Vinegar and a generous sprinkling of salt and you’re done. Lots of chopping, lots of tossing, but this is THE.BEST.SALAD.EVER. No questions asked.

With dinner being on the table a little late and some hard working individuals around my table, serving Granita for dessert was the best idea ever. We all needed a wake up and for some, that was just to be able to get up the stairs and into bed. This dessert is effortless and can be make in excess to enjoy as a perfect afternoon pick-me-up. Make a pot of strong (read: concentrated) espresso and add sugar when finished. Pour into ice cube trays and stick in the freezer. When cubes are frozen, toss into the food processor, give it four or five pulses and done!

Top with whipped cream, stir together and enjoy.

After all this, I still had some of my Negroni left over to act as the perfect digestif to this delicous meal.

Channeling Nonnas Everywhere

I’m getting ahead of myself as I have not finished the post from last week’s dinner. BUT I needed to put the positive vibes out into the universe and what better way to repeat a mantra by writing and publishing.

While searching for dessert, I came across the recipe for Ciambella (pg. 592). Having never had one before, I have nothing to compare my final results against. My first image is an illustration straight from the book.

So naturally, I take it to google to find out more. Wikipedia refers to this as a donut with many variations across the regions. Epicurean.com has an image that looks like something I could be working with, but uses yeast and an almond crust.

After several clicks, I’ve concluded this is one of those desserts whose recipe varies between households and if asked, “Who makes the best Ciambella?” riots would immediately commence in the streets of Italy, each fool screaming “Mamma!!!! Nonna!!!!” until all that was left were bodies strewn across each other and little old ladies coming out of their front doors, brooms in hand, poking and screaming

È sciocco! Guarda cosa hai fatto!” or (thanks to Google Translate) “You Fool! Look what you’ve done!”.

To get a true idea of where this undertaking started, you’ll have to head to my other voice and see the potential mess that could have been made. I’ll give you a moment….

The very least, mine isn’t as pretty as it should be.

      

 But never a failure…it.tastes.AMAZING! The consistency is almost a slightly overbaked scone. Crunchy exterior, super dense interior, fragrant with lemon. Butter rich, its shape holds perfectly when plunged into your cup of coffee or glass of sweet wine, which is (apparently) the old farmers’ tradition at the end of a meal.

The crunchy exterior satisfies just like a cookie and the fact that the recipe calls for melting the butter before mixing makes me wonder, could I substitute olive oil and if yes, would the flavor still be simple and perfect? I smell a challenge.

To be perfectly honest, the main reason I decided to take on this recipe at 10:30pm last night was due in part to the story leading up to the recipe. The author (Marcela Hazan) said her mother (97 years…I can only imagine how cute this woman must be!) still has a slice of Ciambella every morning with her caffelatte. So in an attempt to summon the spirits of Italian ladies everywhere (I’m making my own pasta today - HAND ROLLED!) I am sharing in this delightful breakfast.      

And delightful it is. I should be sitting on my front porch, basking in the sounds of a quiet Sunday instead of talking to you.

My sister’s dog is wondering why I’m taking photos of my breakfast instead of petting her.

Wish me luck.