Sunday Family Dinner

We eat our salad last

13th of February, 2011 - First Sunday

First installment and already a challenge. My man was spinning records later this evening, so our Sunday Family Dinner needed to be a little bit on the lighter side. Being the inaugural dinner, I decided to go a bit above and beyond and did a four-course meal. Dessert not included. I know I’m a failure.

                                                                MENU

                                                       Basic Bruschetta

                                                               pg 73

                       

The saying “The grass is always greener on the other side” is so true it’s sickening. The whole time I lived in New York, all I could dream of was fluffy loaves of New Orleans French Bread. Now that I’m back, all I can think about is the abundance of bread I’m missing out on in New York. Shopping at 4 different stores isn’t such a bad thing when you pop in and out of store fronts in a two mile stretch. Driving all over east Jesus, not as much fun. So I went with a big fluffy loaf of Ciabatta (Giada, is that you I hear?) to attack this simple kick off to tonight’s dinner. As far as American dining is concerned, we all think Bruschetta involves tomatoes on grilled bread. Guess what? All this bread has on it is Olive Oil, Salt, Pepper and the rubbings of some fresh garlic. The garlic was like that drunk girl on the dance floor grinding all over some helpless white boy (white boy being the bread). It’s quick, easy and perfect. The only thing spilling here is a few crumbs, unless you’re the civilized type that keeps a napkin or plate close by. That doesn’t happen here.

                                       Fettuccine with Butter and Sage Sauce

                                                              pg 192

                       

Too soon to take on the task of making pasta, we went store bought. However, the book does recommend that a sauce this simple is best paired with fresh pasta. And she is right. We chose a high quality dried pasta from the market. If you’re lucky enough to find fresh pasta, go for it. And if you have the time to make it yourself, dive in! The dish also calls for the “choicest quality butter”.

Reading this makes me think of Ferris Buehler -  “It is so choice. If you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”.

But she’s right. When your two flavor elements are Butter and Sage, you’re butter better be top notch and your Sage, fresh! I’ve constantly been looking for an excuse to pick up Smith Creamery’s $10 roll of butter. Sadly, they were out of it at the grocery. I know. Of all days.

In addition to delicious butter, you get to enjoy the joy of fried Sage leaves. If you have never done this, you’re missing out on one of life’s true pleasures.

                                    Sauteed Green Beans with Parmesan Cheese

                                                              pg 472

                        

This dish all begins at the market. Whether it’s the grocery or farmer’s, finding beans in a uniform green color (can be light or dark) is the most important step in this dish. Like a little army on display, the beans should be uniformed in size and give back a sharp snap when tested. When it comes to vegetables, usually I do a quick boil to get them soft, throw some olive oil and salt and done. Ms. Hazan’s method involves a cold soak, boiling til firm and tender, draining, getting a quick stir in a pan with butter and finally a sprinkle of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese . Simply perfect.

                          Fricasseed Chicken with Rosemary and Lemon Juice

                                                              pg 334

                   

This chicken is a medium on the labor-intensive scale but completely worth it. You start off with a whole chicken and cut it into eight pieces. Once again, shamefully admitting no clue how to properly cut a chicken. Quick Google search provided me perfectly illustrated directions.  Simple in ingredients (chicken, butter, rosemary, garlic, white wine and lemon), you can hardly believe this is Italian as each morsel melts in your mouth.

The best part of this whole meal, no one felt like they needed to loosen the top button of their pants.

I need to teach my family to become the photographers. Trying to turn out four separate dishes (that are all cooking and finishing at the same time) is no easy feat and I filled the roll of the perfect Italian cook (feed everyone else, then yourself) perfectly. But once I sat down, the wine that touched my lips was as cleansing as any bath. My family surrounding a candle-lit table, eating the food I prepared, was a wonderful feeling and a confirmation that this, was one of my best ideas yet.

An Education

The biggest reason for taking on this product is the education. I’ll be the first to claim my Italian heritage and can very easily work my way around a kitchen, but there is SO MUCH I do not know. Which means I bet you know even less than me. Just kidding. For some.

When you say “I want Italian tonight” what does that mean to you? Just as BBQ has its variety in different parts of this country and only proper Creole cuisine can be found in the New Orleans region, Italian cooking doesn’t really exist. Cooking in Italy is regional and can vary greatly between even the closest of cities. As is quoted in The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, “…there are unbridgeable differences between Bologna and Florence, which are only sixty miles apart…Bologna will stuff veal with succulent Parma ham, coat it with aged Parmesan, saute it in butter and conceal it all under an extravagant blanket of shaved white truffles. Florence takes a T-bone steak of noble size, grills it quickly over the incandescent embers of a wood fire, adding nothing but the aroma of olive oil and a grinding of pepper. Both can be triumphs.”

Without further delay…let eat!

Is This Thing On?

I’m Italian. Backwards, forwards, upside down and rightside up. My hair is dark and curly, my skin is olive, my eyes are brown and my stare is lethal. I’m loud and excitable. I live in my kitchen, but I don’t need your help. Go sit over there while I do all of the work and sometimes complain about how much I have to do.

Growing up, I was extremely fortunate to have a bounty of amazing cooks around me. I firmly believe my Mamaw’s hands were blessed by Jesus himself. She is the ultimate Iron Chef. Give her 3 ingredients and somehow she makes it look like ten. When she cooks, the WHOLE house is immediately filled with the scent of heaven. A bottle of perfume, every time the door opens we spritz the world with our scent of love. My mother too. God bless her, I didn’t even know that other families went out to dinner on a regular basis. She always had a meal ready and waiting and it was divine. My palate is forever spoiled by my youth. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Fiercely independent, I too wanted to be an amazing cook. But I also had a very short attention span, so unlike other stories of chefs and cooks who patiently waited by their mother’s side, watching her every move, I was off somewhere else getting into something until “DINNER” was called. My job was to taste the food and let her know if anything was missing. If it was, my suggestion was always dead on.

I’ll never forget the first time I made Shrimp Etouffee. I didn’t need help. Just show me the recipe I can do it myself. It tasted amazing (I think I was 10 or 11) but hell if I know to this day, it was GREEN! I mean electric. I was so upset but everyone reassured me it tasted perfect. I brushed it off, but never forgot.

A few meals were made here and there and I could always be counted on for help, but it wasn’t until I officially finished college and out on my own, that I really started to hone in on my skills. People always complement my cooking and I honestly believe it’s genetic. Don’t get me wrong, I have made some royal experimental messes (portobello mushrooms and chardonnay…don’t get me started) but 99.9% of the time, my food is good. Great! Enough to keep you coming back for more.

Finding myself unemployed and REALLY not wanting to slave away for someone else (again) I’ve been spending a lot of time going through my creative outlets. I picked up my copy of The Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. This book lived in my mothers kitchen and she gave me my own copy for Christmas a few years ago. Picking it up on occasion, never a bad meal has come out of this book. The other day, I started intently reading it, absorbing every word with each turn of the page. Much to my surprise, I didn’t know the BASIC rules of proper Italian cooking. It shames me to admit this, but I ALWAYS put garlic in the pan before onion. Don’t ask me why and I slap myself upon the face for never knowing any better. Things like this…and I call myself Italian.

With that I decided, every Sunday, my Italian family and I will work our way through this cookbook and know classic Italian fare and I, in turn, will learn proper Italian cooking. (Side note: Not every recipe will be cooked. The section on Variety Meats…some of those are better off just left in the book.)

Please, join us at the table. It’s always going to be delicious.

Why Sunday?

It is the one day of the week where all bottoms are guaranteed to be available to sit down and eat.

You don’t have Spaghetti Thursday.

I was in a cooking rut and needed commitment.

I have all these cookbooks sitting on a shelf.

I wanted to get back in touch with my roots.

All of these are excellent reasons why my family should have Sunday dinner. My family is a fun one. It currently consists of my boyfriend and I sharing a house with my younger sister and her dog and my brother popping over for food. This is the first time in 11 years that all of my siblings and I have lived in the same city. And we’re all adults…sort of.