Tuesday, October 5, 2010

How to properly celebrate your mother's birthday

Yesterday was my mom's birthday.
I spent the weekend at home in Vermont, enjoying the gorgeous fall weather, relaxing, cooking and spoiling her with cards and little gifts. The highlight of my weekend was yesterday afternoon when I trapped myself in the kitchen with tons of little projects with the hope of creating a very special birthday dinner. I decided that I would make her an Italian dinner using recipes I acquired in Italy as well as some newer ones I had found grazie alla Food Network.
Here's the menu:

Grilled rustic bread rubbed with fresh garlic and topped with cannellini beans and sauteed kale
Homemade tuna-stuffed cherry peppers
Primo Piatto:
Champagne risotto with asparagus and crispy prosciutto 
Baby arugula salad with onions and goat cheese tossed in a homemade mock Caesar dressing
Traditional Castagnaccio (chestnut flour torte) 

I started out by making the castagnaccio. What a disaster! First of all, let me start out by explaining this dolce to you. It is made purely with chestnut flour, water and olive oil. That's it. Nothing to make it rise, nothing to make it sweet. As perhaps you can imagine, the end result is a dense, gummy, chewy "cake" if you will, that might even bounce were you to throw it on the ground. Some argue that it traditionally contains some raisins and orange zest and is topped with either pine nuts or almonds, and fresh rosemary. I chose to make it this traditional way in hopes that there might at least be some interesting flavors to enhance the bounciness. Now unfortunately, I accidentally added one liter of water instead of one half of a liter. Hence the disaster. At this point I decided to add some cake flour until it became a more pleasant, less liquid-y consistency, figuring that  worst case scenario, it would be less bouncy and more floury. Turns out, it was perfect! Just the right gumminess, the correct smell, the correct color, and actually quite flavorful. For a gummy, bouncy chestnut cake that is! 

Next I prepared the aperitivi, or appetizers. Although I was hesitant, after trying tuna-stuffed peppers in Italy, I was hooked! They are so tangy and spicy and salty and delicious - just the right amount of salt counteracted by the sharp zip of the cherry peppers. Unfortunately (or perhaps not), preprepared stuffed peppers are hard to come by in the United States so I made them from scratch. I purchased a jar of Italian cherry peppers, Italian tuna, Italian anchovies and then grabbed a lemon, some capers and a dash of olive oil. After slicing the top off the pepper and scooping out the inside, I prepared the tuna (mixed with minced capers and anchovies, a bit of lemon juice and a bit of olive oil to hold it all together), and I stuffed the peppers. I let them sit so the flavors could come together and let me tell you, one hour later, I had some INCREDIBLE, very spicy, perfectly salty Italian tuna-stuffed cherry peppers. Definitely a success. 

For a second aperitivo, I toasted some Vermont-made rustic farm bread, rubbed it with fresh garlic cloves, and topped it with some warm cannellini beans, finishing with a pinch of salt and a drizzle of olive oil. Given that my mom doesn't even like beans, this was risky, but she loved it! The warm beans atop hot garlic toast with just that hint of salt and olive oil makes for a very comforting and cozy snack! I had planned on using kale to create a second topping for the garlic infused bread, but after going through the entire kale cleaning process and sautéing it in garlic, oil and hot red pepper flakes, we found that we were just a bit too full and decided to save the kale for omelettes and lunch on another day. It was still pretty tasty though! 

While we were digesting our delicious aperitivo, we ("we" being my  mom, dad and I, by the way!) shared a bottle of cava from Spain. We had tried to buy some Italian prosecco, but the cava was on sale and I'm not one to turn down a great bottle of bubbly when its on sale! 

Next came the fun, and most delicious, part - the risotto. Perusing the Food Network website, I had stumbled across this incredible recipe for Champagne risotto. I had to try it. Other than your usual risotto-making process, this recipe called for crispy prosciutto. I figured that would be pretty simple. Lightly oil a baking sheet, lay the prosciutto down, bake at 450 degrees F for 6-8 minutes. If only it were that simple! In order for that to work, one has to remember that when the timer goes off, it means that you need to REMOVE the baking sheet from the oven, not leave it until wafts of smoke start to fill the kitchen and you are left with  a pile of black, unidentifiable objects on an aluminum baking sheet. Ooops! Dad promptly left to buy more prosciutto. The second time around I achieved the proper result - perfectly crispy, warm, incredible-smelling prosciutto to be crumbled on top of the creamy risotto mixed with blanched asparagus. Note: I can never EVER follow a recipe without changing at least one small thing, and unfortunately, once I've done it once, I never remember what I changed ever again! This time, I will tell you that I added about a tablespoon of lemon juice just for some extra kick. It was an excellent choice! The risotto was creamy, rich, subtle yet flavorful and just all-around delectable! 

Finally, I threw together a very simple, no-fail yet still exciting baby arugula salad with onions, goat cheese and mock Caesar dressing (lemon juice, olive oil, garlic, salt, fresh ground pepper and Dijon mustard whisked together and set aside for an hour or so). There's nothing like a crisp, green, fresh salad to soothe your palate and end a creamy meal! 

Now, that is what I call a birthday dinner! 

Much love from the kitchen!
Sera Jane

1 comment:

  1. sounds fantastic! mind if i pilfer the risotto recipe for friedman usage? :))