Friday, August 7, 2009

Dinner Club: An Italian Feast


For a couple of years now, a few friends and I have been floating the idea that we wanted to started a dinner club. Something small, something intimate, that just a few friends who truly love to cook would be involved in. In July, we finally said, "Enough Waiting!" and got organized. Annie hosted our first "meeting" on Friday, July 31st, in her lovely backyard at the end of one of the worst heat waves our area has seen in many years. She has spent lots of time (lucky girl!) in various parts of Europe, and decided to try and recreate an insane, multi-course meal she had in Italy at some point.


The Menu

  • grilled bruschetta with green olive tapenade, olive oil, and some kind of delicious, homemade tomato stuff
  • oven-roasted eggplant and tomato stacks with fontina cheese
  • casatiellini with rosette de lyon fiore salami and natural, unsmoked provolone
  • caprese salad with red and yellow tomatoes, fresh mozarella and basil, olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper
  • risotto con fagioli--a creamy risotto featuring fresh tomatoes and basil, lots of parmigiano reggiano cheese, and cannellini beans
  • pasta fresca with fresh tomato sauce, basil, and mozarella
  • gnocchi with browned butter and sage
  • basil-mint sorbet made with liquid nitrogen!
  • pork loin stuffed with savory ground pork and fennel
  • poached pears stuffed with sweetened mascarpone cheese and crushed coconut macaroons, served with homemade caramel sauce and cornmeal biscotti
  • Homemade grape juice (I'm not a grape juice fan, but this was so superior to bottled juice!)
If it sounds amazing, it was! We haven't decided what to do for August yet, but I can't wait to find out!

I was in charge of the casatiellini and the risotto. I used Peter Reinhart's recipe for casatiello from The Bread Baker's Apprentice. As many other people have mentioned, this soft, savory brioche is easy and so delicious. My risotto recipe is one I read in Cooking Light (maybe?) many, many years ago and have made lots of times. I was just going to link to the recipe on their website, but I can't find it, so I'm going to go ahead and post it! It is delicious and easy, and actually kind of light and summery. Unfortunately, the party wasn't at my house, and the risotto wasn't the first course, so I felt a little like Jeffrey Saad on The Next Food Network Star serving a gluey, subpar risotto. Oh well! If Jeffrey can do it, so can I!

Risotto Con Fagioli
from Cooking Light, some edition from the late 90's

1 1/2 cups arborio rice (or any medium-grain rice)
2 teaspoons butter
1 Tablespoon olive oil
2 14-oz cans low-sodium chicken broth
1 cup water
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1 cup cooked cannellini beans
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
2 plum tomatoes, diced
2 Tablespoons fresh basil, chopped
2 Tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
dash freshly ground black pepper
salt to taste

Heat oil and butter in a large, heavy-bottomed skillet or Dutch oven. Add onion and cook for 1 to 2 minutes or until just tender. Add rice and cook and stir for 2 minutes more. Bring the broth and water to boiling in a medium saucepan. Add 1/2 cup broth mixture to the rice mixture, stirring constantly over low heat, until rice has absorbed most of the liquid. Continue adding the broth mixture, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until rice is almost tender, but firm to the bite. This should take about 20 to 25 minutes. During the cooking, adjust the heat as necessary to keep broth at a gentle simmer. Stir in beans, tomatoes, cheese, basil, parsley, salt and pepper. Cover and let stand 5 minutes. Serve immediately! The recipe says it serves 4 to 6. These are big servings!!

Thanks Annie!!
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5 comments:

  1. looks fantastic! i do a 'cooking club' here in italy with my american friends! we do ethnic themes each month. indian, japanese, mexican, etc! so fun to cook.... and eat!

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  2. Everything looks delicious! I've always wanted to start a dinner club but can't find anyone to do it with me.

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  3. What a nice idea! This menu looks so good. I love bruschetta and Italian food :)

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  4. Everything looks wonderful, but I especially love the caprese salad. YUM.

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  5. Lulu - this is not really meant as a public post. I work with your cousin Abbi and she showed me your blog because I really enjoy cooking and baking. I tried the brown sugar ice cream and it was a big hit. I look forward to the Strawberry-Ruby Grapefruit Preserves and feel the time is right since it is canning season.

    I saw this and wanted to tell you about my supper club which I hope interests you. For a few years my husband and I tried to start a supper club with poor results. We could get 1 dinner done but could never get the group to agree on dates for a second time. Finally, we decided to try it with only one other couple. We meet the first Saturday of the month and switch of whose house it is at. The person who is hosting makes the main course and sides and the guest couple makes apps and dessert. We usually have company because we have so much food and it is fun to share, but we choose not to rely on anyone else for the cooking.

    Our first month was Turkish because one of our group is from Turkey and his parents were visiting. So mama taught the girls how to make a number of Turkish dishes and it was a really great day. The second time we found that we were looking at Italian and French recipes primarily. So after a number of hours of cooking and drinking wine we decided we should come up with a bunch of different cuisine ideas so we would be trying new things. We wrote down everything we could think of and folded up little pieces of paper and put them in a bag and drew one for the next month. It was Korean.

    We have been going for 2.5 years now and have made things from all over the world. We pick our recipes independently but do some consulting if needed to make sure the apps and main course are not too similar. We keep a journal (need to transfer to my blog) so we know everything we have made. It has been so much fun and only a few things that we truly would not make again. We still have about 2 years of things left. Our only other ground rule is you have to make something you personally have not ever made.

    The only cuisine we totally passed on was Mongolian. They eat fried dumplings and dumplings boiled in tea or water and that is about it. When we discovered one of us picked fried dumplings and the other picked boiled, we decided to go to the mountains have lunch and then a hike.

    One of the best times we had was French when my husband decided he wanted to make casoulet. My father happed to get a goose hunting at the same time so we confited the goose legs and thighs in duck fat (duck fat is the best ever if you have not cooked with it). Since we could not find Toulouse sausage he made his own (which he had been doing) and bought a stuffer so we could have links. The casoulet was good but a lot of work even if you didn't make your own confit or sausage.

    I hope you are able to keep the momentum going with your dinner club.

    I am going to be updating my blog with our supper club information hopefully soon. You may be interested in what is posted currently even though it is date. It is about our last trip to Italy which included a lot of cooking and market going.
    http://eat-drink-live.blogspot.com/

    -Wendy
    wacongleton@yahoo.com

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