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Posts Tagged ‘onion’

Summer is officially here at last! One happy concomitant of that is the increasing abundance of local fruits and vegetables at my Greenmarket. We’d invited a pair of friends to a dinner to celebrate the season, and when I did the shopping for it, a few days ahead, I went way overboard on my purchases: inescapable rapture of the season.

Not everything shown here was for that one meal, but it all looked so good I couldn’t resist. And good it all was, too.

 

Our Italian-themed dinner party began simply, with a few Castelvetrano olives, cheddar cheese sticks (homemade), and cubes of country terrine (not homemade) to go with glasses of aperitif wine in the living room.

 

At the dinner table, we started with that quintessential summer antipasto, prosciutto and melon. It was pushing the season, but I had managed to find a single cantaloupe in the grocery store’s bin that actually smelled like a melon. Its texture was a little too stiff for full ripeness, but the flavor was right.

 

We went on to a primo of risi e bisi, another seasonal classic. This Venetian dish of rice and peas is a close relative of risotto. My version, from Tom’s and my cookbook The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen, includes pancetta in addition to the usual onion, parsley, broth, butter, and parmesan cheese. Quite a substantial dish, and just lovely with young, sweet English peas.

 

Our secondo, also from that cookbook, featured a dish we call Summertime Lamb Stew. It’s lamb lightly braised with tomatoes, pancetta, and chopped aromatic vegetables. Normally it uses fresh plum tomatoes, but in June all we get are greenhouse-grown, so we made it with canned San Marzanos. Sautéed early zucchini and spring onions, lightly scented with mint, made fresh, flavorful companions to the lamb.

 

After a cheese course (which I failed to photograph), we finished with a dessert of raspberries, strawberries, and blueberries in grappa – a recipe from Tom’s and my first cookbook, La Tavola Italiana – and hazelnut biscotti baked and brought to us by our guest Joan.

This was as light and refreshing as you can imagine – a perfect palate cleanser of a dessert.

 

I can’t conclude this post without mentioning the array of bottles that Tom chose from his wine closet to accompany the meal. Here they are at the end of the evening:

They were:

  • 2015 Paumanok (Long Island) Festival Chardonnay as aperitifs
  • 2016 Abbazia di Novacella Gruner Veltliner with the prosciutto and melon
  • 2016 Pra Soave Classico Otto with the risi e bisi
  • 2001 Tor Calvano Vino Nobile di Montepulciano with the lamb
  • 2004 Villa Cafaggio Chianti Classico Riserva with the cheese
  • 2011 Dogliatti Moscato d’Asti with dessert

I hasten to point out that the four of us did not finish all six wines that evening. In fact, we didn’t finish any of them – just enjoyed the pleasure of tasting the differences from one to the next with each course.  They were still fine the next day, as Tom and I feasted on the leftovers.

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I’m not mad about cream sauces for pasta. Too often I find them either insipid or cloying; sometimes, in restaurants, even faked up with floury white sauce. But one of the first recipes Tom and I ever developed for our first cookbook, La Tavola Italiana, is a pasta sauce with cream that we still love whenever we make it for ourselves.

In Italian, the recipe is called alla contadina – peasant-style. Preparations of that name can vary greatly in different regions of Italy. This version is from the north, because of the cream and the fresh egg-based pappardelle (which, if you don’t know them, are a little like fettucine on steroids). But cream is not what you principally notice as you eat. The robust main flavor is from crumbled Italian-style hot sausages, sautéed with chopped onions in butter and olive oil. Thinly sliced mushrooms provide a gentle foil, and the cream (and more butter) is just a soft, silky medium for their meeting.

The published recipe calls for homemade sausages as a preference, as well as homemade pappardelle. Tom and I did actually make our own sausages some years back, but we can get such good ones in stores now we rarely go to the trouble. But homemade pasta is an essential part of the dish for me, even though it’s also easy to buy now – and in fact, any fairly sturdy commercial egg noodles will do, as well. If you make your own pasta often enough, the process stops seeming like a lot of work and is just one of the things you do in the kitchen. This time I made just enough for two servings of pasta.

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The sauce is also easy to make. Rather than describe the steps, I’ve taken a photo of the recipe’s page in our book – complete with one of the food stains that adorn so many pages of my frequently used cookbooks!

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And here’s the result – just waiting to receive a topping of grated parmigiano and freshly ground pepper on our individual servings.

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If you try the recipe, first taste it just as is; you might find it spicy enough from the sausage. But the cheese and pepper gives it a little extra oomph. And, as Julia Child might have said if Paul had taken her to Rome rather than Paris, Buon appetito!

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