Wednesday, August 25, 2010

picnic table pasta dinner.

Last night I hosted an Italian food dinner party. The original inspiration for the get together was a jersey mobster wife dress up party where I would exclusively serve italian american dishes (like baked ziti!), but time constraints forced us to scrap the dress up bit (except sabrina and claire who both get bonus points for coming in costume) and focus on the food. From my experience the best Italian food is always the simple hearty dishes with the freshest ingredients. Dinner time for Italians is never an eat and run kind of affair. In my family, sitting around the table talking and sharing stories long after the plates have been licked clean and no one can breathe is perfectly normal...and that was really my biggest inspiration for the evening. The menu was simple: linguini with homemade tomato sauce, baked tomatoes with parsley, and garlic bread.

I just got a copy of Jamie Oliver's Italy (which I highly recommend!) but the sauce and baked tomatoes are more or less my grandmother's recipes. Unfortunately my grandmother does not measure anything out so sharing this recipe might be a little tricky.

Baked Tomatoes
prep time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 30 minutes
Italian Tomatoes
fresh parsley
fresh basil
garlic cloves
sea salt
olive oil

This is a super easy recipe and a great way to use up garden tomatoes that all seem to turn red at once. I sliced the tomatos in half length wise and placed them on an oiled baking dish. I seasonned with sea salt, ground pepper, garlic, and a ton of fresh parsley and basil on each on.
Preheat the oven at 350 and bake until they start to shrivel up!

Tomato Sauce
cooking time: 4 hours (i had the day off)
2 cans of high quality tomato paste/puree
2 cans of diced tomatoes
1 onion
1 celery
1 carrot
a lot of garlic
olive oil
a glass of red wine
Meat for flavor (I used some spare ribs and pieces of veal but really anything goes as long as the cuts are fresh and good quality)
lots of fresh basil and parsley
a pinch of chili flakes
sea salt and ground pepper
Romano cheese rind and grated Romano

Dice up half the onion and garlic and slow fry on low heat in a large sauce pan with olive oil and chili flakes. Toss in the meat and let it brown for 5 minutes. add the tomato paste and diced tomatoes ( you may need to add some extra water if it's looking too thick). Throw in the celery, carrot, and rest of the onion (all whole) and the Romano rind. Season with salt/pepper and fresh herbs and let it slow cook for hours. The flavor of the meat (which is all in the fat) will slowly seep into the sauce and you can keep seasoning to taste (which is what i do since i dont actually have a written recipe to follow).

After a few hours the sauce is ready to serve. The consistency should be quite liquidy so that it coats the pasta completely instead of just sitting on top like the way curry would sit on rice. Make sure to remove all the pieces of meat and whole vegetables before serving!

As for the pasta make sure to read the cooking time on the packaging. Over cooked pasta is awful!
Another trick my grandmother taught me was to coat the noodles with a few table spoons of butter before adding the sauce.
Finally, garninsh with an unhealthy amount of grated Romano cheese and some fresh basil!
I hope this is somewhat clear. Italian cooking is not very precise.

Garlic Butter
Salted butter
Organic minced garlic
Olive oil
dried oregano

Heat up the butter and add the other three ingredients to taste. This takes a whole 5 minutes and it's way better than bought garlic butter!

For dessert I served a simple cheese platter with a generous chunck of an aged Italian cheese called Bastardo del grappa along side fresh figs and grapes. Sabrina also made an awesome mascarpone cheese and lavender cake but she will have to give you the recipe for that!


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