Friday, June 8, 2012

Good Friends + Good Wine + Good Food = Great Weekend

This past weekend our great friend Patty hosted a weekend gathering at her families palatial "villa" in the hills up slope of La Selva beach. The theme for the Saturday evening meal was a Tapas stroll with each of the invited couples, and a few pairs of teamed up singles, creating a regional Tapas creation and pairing with an appropriate "adult beverage". When you get a bunch of really bright and creative people together and add excellent wines and other beverages and mix liberally with heavy doses of amazing food you have all the requirements in place for an absolutely spectacular weekend.

Kathy and I led off the evening with her spectacular Arancini. Arancini is a Sicilian dish comprised of a ball of risotto rolled in bread crumbs or cornmeal and usually fried or sometimes baked. The balls are often filled with a ragu, mozzarella or pureed peas. Kathy chose to fill hers with mozzarella.

Medium Saucepan or wok
Bamboo Wok Skimmer (This)
Cookie dough scoop (smaller than an ice cream scoop)

One batch of Risotto Bianco, chilled ( Click Here For Recipe )
1lb Quality Mozzarella cut into 1/2" squares
2-3c Breadcrumbs or Corn / Polenta meal
3-4c Vegetable oil
2-3c Marinara Sauce (for dipping)

Make the risotto the night before and pop it in the fridge to chill.

Begin assembling your Arancini. Use the cookie dough scoop so the quantity of risotto, and thus, required individual cooking time is consistent. Place a scoop of the risotto in your hand and flatten it a bit then place a square of mozzarella square in the center of the wad of risotto and wrap the rice around the mozz' so it's completely covered.

Formed correctly, the Arancini balls will look like so with the cheese completely housed in the risotto:

Then simply roll them in breadcrumbs or polenta meal and deep-fry until golden brown. Serve them with some warm marinara sauce for dipping.

The next dish was my Ossobucco-piccolo. Ossobucco is an Milanese dish of a veal shank braised in white wine, vegetables, tomatoes and stock. It's usually served using slices of the veal shank. I prefer to buy smaller shanks that are simply cut in half. For this presentation though as a Tapas offering I switch it up a bit as you'll see below.

Large Dutch Oven
Stand blender or stick blender

2 Small-Medium veal shanks cut in 1/2
2c Crushed San Marzano tomatoes
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely chopped
1 rib celery, finely chopped
2tbsp diced garlic
2c dry white wine
2c chicken stock
1c flour
1 large sprig of thyme
Salt & Pepper
Olive oil 

For Gremolatta
One head Italian flat-leaf parsley
Zest of two lemons
3-4 cloves of garlic

For Tapas presentation
2 Heads of Radicchio
3-4 cups of polenta
Olive oil

Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees and place your dutch oven over a medium-high flame with a few tbsp of olive oil. Season the shanks with salt & pepper then coat with flour and heavily brown them on all sides. They should look like this:

Then reduce the flame a bit and toss in your onion, celery, carrot and garlic and cook until lightly browned. Make sure you don't over-brown the veg or the garlic will turn bitter. Once your veg is cooked, pour in the tomatoes and white wine along with the sprig of thyme and bring to a boil. Then carefully drop the browned shanks into the liquid. They should be about 3/4 submerged. If not, add a bit of your stock to bring the level up. Put the cover on the dutch oven and pop it into your preheated oven for 2hrs.

Once the 2hrs has elapsed check on them. Ideally you want the meat VERY tender, but not to the point that it falls off the bone when probed with a fork. There should be just a bit of resistance. If they are still on the tough side, cook for another 30min and check again. When done, remove the meat to a platter or the plates that you will serve it on then blend the remaining sauce in a stand blender or with a stick blender until smooth.

To make the gremolatta take just the leaves of the Italian flat-leaf parsley and garlic and chop very finely, combine with the zest of two lemons.

For the Tapas presentation of the Ossobucco take a leaf of the Radicchio and spoon in a tablespoon or so of polenta, drizzle the polenta with a bit of the olive oil, add a thumb sized bit of the meat from the Ossobucco, drizzle a tablespoonful of the blended sauce over the top of the meat, then sprinkle a bit of the gremolatta on top. Kathy and I served our Arancini and Ossobucco-piccolo with a selection of different Prosecco.

It should look like this when you are done:

Kristine's "Tempura Albacore & Awesome-slaw"

It's difficult to describe these things. I was watching Kristine prepare them and as she pulled the ingredients from the bags...Strawberries, Albacore, cabbage, avocado, Jicama...WTF?  They don't even have a name. I made it up. These were by far the best dish of the day.

Bamboo Wok Skimmer
Cake rack & paper towels (for post frying)

2lbs Albacore Tuna cut into 1"x3" strips
1bulb Jicama sliced into thin "tortillas"
1head Cabbage (chopped)
1c Cilantro (finely chopped)
2-3 Limes (juiced)
2 Baskets Strawberries (1/2" dice)
1 Avocado (1/2" dice)
1tsp Balsamic Vinegar
3tbsp Dijon Mustard
1/2c Sour Cream
1c ice water
1c flour
3c veg oil (for frying)

Lightly season the fish with salt & pepper then begin assembling the "Awsome Slaw"; combine the cabbage, cilantro, lime juice, strawberries, avocado, balsamic and sour cream. Toss together and add Cumin & Salt to taste. Then make your tempura batter. This is an intentionally thin batter so soda water is replaced with iced tap water so to make for a thin crispy coating on the fish rather than a thick crunchy crust. Mix the ice water and Dijon then whisk in the flour until you get the consistency right. It should readily coat  a spoon and have some cling to it but it shouldn't be as thick as pancake batter.

Next you'll heat the veg oil in your wok until it shimmers. Dredge the fish in some flour, then dip into the batter. Fry until the batter is crisp and golden. Use the skimmer to remove to a rack to cool and allow excess oil to drip off. Once cooled a bit take a slice of Jicama and add a few tablespoons of "Awesome Slaw" then top with a piece of the fried fish. Squeeze a bit of lime over the top and serve.

Patty & Michael's Lobster Rolls.

Michael is from New England and is a Red Sox fan. That doesn't make him a bad fella though because he does agree that the Dodgers suck plus he works for a beer company...but not the one from Boston with the annoying commercials....he just doesn't realize what an abomination the Designated Hitter is. All kidding aside, the man makes a Lobstah roll that is good enough to make "The Big Dig" seem like a pretty good idea.

Large stockpot (for steaming lobster)
Skillet (for browning buns)

8 ounces chilled, freshly cooked, Clawed Lobster meat cut into 1/2-inch pieces
2 Tbsp minced celery
1/2 tesp minced fresh tarragon leaves
1/8 tsp salt
1/8 tsp ground black pepper
1 tsp lemon juice
2 - 3 Tbsp mayonnaise
4 Genuine New England hot dog buns, lightly toasted
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
Michael's guidance on cooking your whole lobsters:

If the lobster weighs: Boil:
1 pound                           8 min
1 1/4 pounds                    9-10 min
1 1/2 pounds            11-12 min
1 3/4 pounds            12-13 min
2 pounds                      15 min
2 1/2 pounds                 20 min
3 pounds                       25 min
5 pounds                       35-40 min

Steam or boil a single 1 1/2- to 2-pound hard-shell lobster to obtain the meat necessary for this recipe.  Mix lobster, celery, tarragon, salt, pepper, and lemon juice together in a medium bowl. Fold in 2 tablespoons of the mayonnaise, taste, and add one more tablespoon if the mixture seems dry. Brush the inside of each roll with some butter and fill with roughly 1/3 cup lobster mixture. Serve immediately.

Michael & Patty paired the Lobster Rolls with a Hermann J. Wiemer Dry Riesling from the Finger Lakes area of New York. New York? Why yes, and it was quite good.

The only thing wrong with this dish was that Michael made one for each person at the party. After my first bite I turned back to the table looking for 3-4 more and was left sorely disappointed and resolved to mock the Red Sox for the rest of the evening as my only means of childish revenge. 

Rebecca's Spanakopita

Spanakopita is a savory Greek pastry dish with a filling of spinach with feta. It's usually served as a between meal snack. There is a vegan alternative version of spanakopita, that is commonly served during lent and other religious fasts, which is made from spinach, onions and green herbs and a little flour, but without eggs or other dairy; the mixture is baked until crisp. Rebecca's preparation is below:

9"x13" baking dish
Large skillet

3 Tbsp olive oil, preferably Greek, plus more for brushing
6 Leeks, white and light green parts, chopped and well rinsed
4 Garlic cloves, minced
2 1/2 pounds fresh baby spinach, rinsed and dried
1/2 tsp black pepper
2c crumbled firm feta cheese
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh dill
1/2 cup finely chopped fresh mint
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 frozen country-style filo sheets or puff pastry sheets thawed but kept chilled

Preheat your oven to 350deg. Heat the skillet over a medium-high flame and coat with the 3tbsp of oil. When the oil is hazy, add the leeks and garlic; cook and stir until fragrant and very soft, about 4 minutes. Add the spinach in handfuls, folding the leaves under with a spoon as you add each batch. Let the spinach wilt and cook down before adding more. Once all the spinach is in the pan, season with the pepper.

Remove from the heat and transfer the spinach mixture to a colander over the sink. Using the back of a spoon, gently press out all of the excess liquid. Set aside to cool as the filling needs to cool down a bit to prevent the dough from becoming soggy. Once the mixture is cool, add the feta, dill, mint, and eggs. Fold the ingredients together until well combined.

Brush the bottom and sides of a 9x13-inch baking dish with oil. Working with 1 sheet at a time, lay the dough on a lightly floured surface and roll it out slightly to fit the pan. Line the bottom of the dish with the first piece of dough, pressing into the corners. Trim off any excess with a paring knife. Spread the spinach filling evenly over the dough. Cover with the second sheet of dough, trimming around the edges of the dish. Brush the top with oil.

Bake until the top is puffed and golden brown, about 30 to 35 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes before cutting into squares. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Rebecca paired the Spanakopita with  Moscofilero, Asirtiko-Athiri and Xinomavro, all indigenous grapes from Greece....never heard of them...but they were quite good and paired very well.

John's Cheese Steak Bites

This is Cheesesteak. There's nothing fancy here, but these are bloody delicious. The key here is to spend a little extra on the meat. Quality beef makes all the difference...and John too agrees that the Dodgers suck which makes him a good dude as well. 

Two large cookie sheets
Pizza cutter

Thinly shaved rib eye or top sirloin
Yellow onions
White American cheese - split into 2 strips per slice
Sweet mini-bell peppers cut in 1" diameter rings
Pillsbury Crescent rolls
Olive Oil

Roll out crescent rolls onto a greased cookie sheet to make a continuous sheet. Cook according instructions on the package until slightly crispy. Use a pizza cutter to form ~2" squares and separate.

Cut the onions into strips and cook till lightly carmalized in olive oil and butter.  Cook steak by pulling apart into finger nail sized chunks or just slightly bigger. You want the meat just lightly cooked. It'll get rubbery if you overcook it.

On each piece of crisped dough, add warm steak, onions, then place a strip of cheese, and finally add the peppers on top. Pop it back in the oven & heat until cheese is melted, serve, and enjoy the goodness-ness.

...and given that John is from Philly, he paired his offering with an appropriate beverage. A vintage 2012 Rolling Rock from the Latrobe, PA Cuvee. 

1 comment:

  1. I mostly think the Yankees SUCK!