It does not have to be expensive--- but special.
Main ingredient- 4 friends
and me as their Italian life coach in the kitchen
Living in Tuscany, we are truly blessed with ingredients. To me, that is the secret of any great meal. Then what you do to these ingredients can change an everyday meal into something special for guests.
I began doing research on recipes and in my reading came upon the Alice B. Toklas Cookbook.
In Alice's life with Gertrude Stein in Nazi occupied territory, it was fabulous to see how they kept their passion for food even when they were constrained to cook with rations. Probably the most important part of the book for me was this simple example from their maid, Helenè, on how cooking can make any food, like an egg, special.
"To prepare eggs to honour a guest (an omelette soufflé with an elaborate sauce), to show indifference to him (an omelette with mushrooms or fine hérbes) or to insult him outright (fried eggs)."
The importance of fresh local ingredients, beautiful settings and the careful, sensual appreciation of good food.
All this pre-Alice Waters and the Slow Food movement.
The Dinner Party:
I don't have a dining room.
I live like most of my Italian friends in a small home with a tiny kitchen. Dining out is a treat in Italy and often when friends want to meet for a meal together, they go out. So for my dinner party, I used the Villa Poggiolaia where I teach my classes, it makes me feel like a princess when I cook there!
For my meal, I decided to show you what I teach my students; how to take simple Italian recipes and make them a special meal.
My mother-in-law, Tina, taught me to spend more time shopping and less time cooking. With quality ingredients, less time is needed to prepare them. They shine on their own.
From speaking to my students in the USA having the time to shop is a luxury. Sometimes it takes going to three different stores to shop for a special meal.
Here is our menu:
When I teach classes, I teach a full Italian menu for each class and part of the class is shopping and organizing the timing for preparing the dinner with no stress. The shopping inspires the menu, based on seasonal ingredients and we go from there.
The guests wanted a caprese salad, but it is the end of the tomato season. Cherry tomatoes are always fabulous and using them for the with the tiny bocconcini size of the mozzarella make a more elegant presentation instead of huge slices.
buffalo mozzarella is made from water buffalo milk in Naples
a simple flour and water pasta
turns into hand-rolled Pici, a Tuscan specialty
Creating something which is not available locally to me is priceless and what makes the meal special.
Our first course was Pici pasta with a slow-cooked Tuscan beef ragu, called sugo here, served with grated three-year-old parmesan cheese.
The main course was Veal Saltimbocca, a very easy dish to make. Here it is easy to find milk-fed veal. The delicate meat needs very little cooking time so is a perfect main course for a party.
We simply topped the veal with a whole fresh sage leaf and a slice of prosciutto and lightly sauteed in butter. The pan is deglazed with vin santo to create a light sauce and contrast in flavor.
One of my favorite vegetable dishes to teach is my oven roasted vegetables. For a party presentation, I slice my potatoes and leave them in large pieces instead of cubing them as I do for everyday meals.
The Tuscan herb mixture is a classic which I use for roast meats as well. I call it the butcher's blend, often used for porchetta with the addition of fennel seeds and black pepper.
giving a fan-cut to the potatoes before roasting
While the sugo for the pasta was slowly simmering away, we roasted our potatoes, giving them this special "elegant" cut for presentation, using fresh sage, rosemary from the garden with sea salt and garlic. They roast for about an hour. The herbs can be made ahead and tossed on the potatoes right before cooking.
Then it was time to assemble the saltimbocca, which would be cooked and then rewarmed for serving.
each scaloppina is covered with a sage leaf and a slice of prosciutto
Together they made a lovely combination
Together they made a lovely combination
we did a little extra decoration to dress up the crostata
We also created a simple jam pie, crostata, for dessert. We used a local company's fig and almond jam as a filling. The Italian pie crust is almost like a butter cookie and to create one that tastes like someone's mamma made it is a real challenge. I love passing on these old recipes which are mostly found only in homes.
In keeping with our "simple" but luxurious meal, an elegant place setting, linen runners, white china and silver.
In Italy there is a saying for the perfect meal-
Pane del giorno, vino dell'anno con amici di una vita.
Bread of the day, with wine of the year and friends of a lifetime.
That is what is priceless- Take the time to share a meal with friends.
Everyone loves being in the kitchen, so perhaps your next party should include cooking with your friends.
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