party at my place. a friend’s big birthday. cooking for 10. coming up with the right menu. making sure things work together and that i’m not making too much. too little. too complicated.
but before i go on i’ve just got to make a local mention. because if anyone from nashville is reading, what’s VERY good news around here is ‘lazzaroli‘. and i mean VERY good news. nashville finally has a real live italian market stocked with real live italian made-on-the-premises fresh pastas in all shapes and flavors along with many interesting raviolis and great cheeses, oils, olives, vinegars, sausages, salamis and yes, even my beloved cannolis. plus the owner is a real live italian american from: not-from-here. and that right there, that totally matters bigtime. the wannabes screw it all up…
i decided to go with one of my favorite italian dinners – the trio of pastas. i’ve encountered this in italy on a few different occasions and it seemed like a fine idea for this gathering. the inspiration was from a new book that arrived in my mail box last week. i’d heard about ‘pasta fresca‘ by viana la place and evan kleiman, on some blog, somewhere, awhile back. after reading through it this past weekend, i immediately ordered another copy for a friend. (amazon used books – love it.) it’s the kind of cookbook i can relate to and really use. italian food needs to never be complicated. few ingredients but the very best quality. it’s so my kinda thing.
so last night when cary got home and before our friends arrived i said, “smell that? that’s pure italian.” the oregano, thyme, garlic, lemon, shrimp, veal – add some heat and the mix is absolutely intoxicating. it’s like walking into your favorite restaurant and wanting to order whatever it is that’s wafting through the air. but it’s not any one dish – it’s everything.
we started with some beautiful heirlooms, sliced and then rebuilt with basil leaves and buffalo mozarella placed inbetween the layers. scattered around the three tomato towers were some chunked yellow heirlooms, jalepeno stuffed green olives, and a wonderful chianti sausage from ‘volpi‘ in st.louis that tom lazzaro recommended. add to that a great bread and some olive oil and this alone would make a perfect dinner.
but it was a party and i was going for the bigger spread. so now i had to choose my trio. i suppose the whole idea is to have them be as different from each other as possible without a serious clash. i decided upon 1/ a fresh fettucine in a lemon and black olive sauce, 2/ a rustic spaghettini from sicily with shrimp, garlic, oregano, chili peppers, breadcrumbs and fennel tops. and lastly, 3/ rotelle – or as we’d call them cartwheels – ground veal combined with onion, fresh thyme sprigs, and lemon zest in a tomato based cream sauce. and i got all three from ‘pasta fresca’. and they were all three just excellent. as good as anything i’ve ever had in italy.
and that right there i know is a big bold statement – and perhaps a bit of selective memory.
(the ‘rustic plum cake‘ making a second appearance – this time made in the right sized 9″ pan (cary offered to buy me one and it was his idea and everything – very impressive), the plums were right side up and then the cake was dusted with the obligatory powdered sugar. much nicer. i made two. and once again, i say – go find yourself some plums and get baking. it’s easy and it’s almondy delicious.)