Great Dinner Party – Good Food

February 22, 2016 – February 28, 1016

Billy, Beez and Hilda

Billy, Hilda and Beez at last Friday’s Dinner Party

Monday: Stayed in  at Mere and Hoddy’s and cooked Fillet of Sole Riviera and a very good new version of roast chicken featuring our favorite new spice (sumac).
Tuesday: Take-out provided by Billy – Chicken Schwarma and falafel
From Palmyra Restaurant (Smithfield Street)

Sausage Escarole Soup
Wednesday: Sausage and Escarole Soup with Fast Fougasse (bread)

Celery Gratin

Thursday: Soup, ‘Emilia’ burgers, celery gratin

Spaghetti with toasted bread crumbs and oregano

Friday: Dinner party with the Slavishes and Billy
Lemon-Basil Pizza Appetizer
Cheese, Olives, Tomatoes, Cucumber
Mary Stewart’s Baked Shrimp Scampi
Pasta with toasted bread crumbs and oregano
Arugula, blueberry, feta salad
Mini Chocolate Truffles
Saturday: Grazing with Beez – recovering from the night before

Grilled Fish and Vegetables over Saffron Orzo

Sunday: Grilled Tuna, shrimp and vegetables over
saffron orzo

Imagine having to shave three times a day or (ladies) having to dry your hair that many times.* What a pain! Yet we eat three times a day and find it a pleasure! This is why I chose cooking over barbering or hairdressing as an avocation.

*I owe this thought to an observation of Voltaire’s: “Imagine how tiresome it would be to have to eat three times a day if God had not made it a pleasure as well as a necessity.” God, you are thinking? Voltaire didn’t believe in God. Well, he was usually a Deist, except when he was being an atheist. It was Emerson who gave cover, posthumously to Voltaire and prospectively to the rest of us when he wrote that “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of small minds.” But how, you are wondering, will I know if my inconsistency is foolish or the mark of a large mind? Give me a call and I’ll let you know. I am not shy about that.

But food, with the possible exception of breakfast, is also shared with others – an occasion for conversation, reviewing the day, planning the future. You can build a movement with shared meals or lose an army, if you don’t feed them. So please keep in mind that, while we are all about humor and ingredients and recipes, we are engaged in a serious endeavor – feeding God’s children.

And some of God’s finest children – Tim and Hilda, and our son Billy – joined us for conversation, drinks and a substantial feast last Friday evening. And Andrew called on Friday, having cooked the “Family Meal Chicken”  for Julia (see “Keepers” for February 14th). That was my favorite moment of the week and proves to me that this blog thing we have going is worthwhile.

The meal we cooked for Tim, Hilda and Billy is almost perfect for a dinner party, simple and quick. You can put the unusual and unusually pleasing lemon-basil pizza in the oven when your guests arrive, and then cook the shrimp and pasta when you wish, provided you’ve cleaned the shrimp and cooked up the bread crumbs ahead of time. If you’re like us, the center of activity before the meal will be in the kitchen, and the cooking will become a sort of performance art. You’ll be pleased, your guests will be pleased, and by meal’s end you will feel that God’s in his heaven and all’s right with the world. Not bad for one night’s work.

One of the recipes for this meal can be found in previous posts. Just click on the following to find the recipe for ‘Mary Stewart’s Baked Shrimp Scampi.’ Below you’ll find Batali’s Spaghetti with Bread Crumbs modified to our non-garlicky taste and a review lesson in how to create – simply – your own pizza dough and cook it perfectly in a standard home oven. You might want to read this recipe – it has been short-listed for the National Book Award and the Nobel Prize.

Spaghetti with Toasted Bread Crumbs and Oregano – Mario Batali

We modified this by not adding the sliced garlic (six cloves) to the ¼ cup of oil into which we put the drained spaghetti – we just heated the oil slightly.

Note on bread crumbs – make these from good fresh or stale bread. Do not use the sand-like prepackaged breadcrumbs – they will add a heaviness to the pasta you don’t want.

2 ¼ Cup measures of extra virgin olive oil
[6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced – we did not use]
1 Cup fresh breadcrumbs (we used stale pieces of bread from one of the great boules baked by Jean-Marc Chatelier in Millvale)
3 anchovy fillets (our addition – optional)
2 tablespoons fresh oregano or marjoram leaves (we used dried oregano – 1 Tablespoon plus)
1/2 Cup chopped parsley
1.5 lbs. of spaghetti (we used 1 lb)
Hot red pepper flakes for serving
(Note: You can toast the bread crumbs ahead of time and then you’ll simply need to cook the pasta and mix it in the oil and then with the bread crumbs)
Bring 8 quarts of water to a boil in a large pot.
Meanwhile, cook ¼ Cup of the oil with the garlic in a sauté pan over medium-low, until the garlic turns light golden – if you burn the garlic start again. (We eschewed the garlic and simply poured the oil into the pan and waited until the pasta was nearly done to heat it)
In a separate sauté pan, heat the remaining ¼ Cup oil over medium, add the breadcrumbs and cook, stirring constantly, until they are dark golden brown. This will take up to 5 minutes. (We added three oil-packed anchovy filets to the oil and broke them down to nothing before adding the breadcrumbs). Remove from heat and add salt, pepper, oregano and parsley and mix – set aside.
When the water comes to a boil, add salt and then the pasta and cook for about 1 minute less than the package instructions. Meanwhile, heat the pan with the olive oil only and, just before draining the pasta, add a ladle of the pasta water to that pan.
Now drain the pasta and add it to the pan with the oil and water and toss over medium heat for less than a minute, then add about half or all of the breadcrumb mixture and toss to mix. Pour into a warm bowl and serve with black pepper, red pepper flakes and breadcrumbs (if you didn’t use them all like we did) on the side. We would add lemon wedges – a squirt of citrus lightens this pasta nicely. No cheese at all!!

Lemon-Basil Pizza –  Lemon-Basil Pizza

Pizza Dough Recipe

We have spent over a decade learning how to make a good pizza in a conventional home oven. The various failures – crackers with toppings – under-cooked dough made soggy by toppings – the whole catastrophe of under-risen, over-worked, gummy, over-sauced possibilities eventually led to a sure-fire, every time, pizza which makes an easy, good dinner along-side a salad.
Here’s the deal on how to get this done (note: you will have to make this recipe a dozen times in different types of weather to understand how dough should feel after the initial working in the food processor. Sometimes you will have to add water, sometimes flour – but you’ll get it, trust me. And you’ll get lucky a few times early on and nail the dough. (Then, you’ll have to learn when to take the pie from the oven.) This is worth the effort – you’ve got a dynamite appetizer or dinner with a minimum of fuss.

The basic recipe is from Lynn Rosetto Kasper, the notes on the lemon-basil are our own.  We saw a picture of this pizza in Washingtonian Magazine and decided we had to make it.

Preparing the dough – this takes about 3 hours, though you can stretch it out to 4 or even 5. So you’ll want to put the dough together in mid-afternoon or as soon as you get home from work – or call and have your chauffeur prepare the dough (trust me, he has lots of free time and is always getting into complications with the maids and into serious legal problems with the au pair – giving him more to do may save the man’s soul).
The amounts below are for two pizzas – halve them to make just one.
All-purpose flour – 2 C
Salt – 1 Tsp plus more for dusting the edge of the pizzas
1C of hot water (actually – you’ll need ½ C to bloom the yeast, and then another ½ C to lighten the dough)
Quick-rise or Active Dry Yeast (You want the dry because it’s easier to measure and easier to keep) – heaping teaspoon
Sugar – a good pinch
Extra flour – you’ll need 2 teaspoons for blooming the yeast and a bunch more for dusting your work surface and your hands.*
*Flour is infuriating in its ability to stick to bowls, food processors, and kitchen sinks and its general tendency to fly everywhere, sift through the most microscopic holes in bags, etc. Like quick-growing fingernails, whiskers (for men), visits to the dentist and tax preparation, it is one of the trials the Lord sends our way to see if we’re ready for heaven or still need some seasoning in Purgatory. If you find yourself cursing the flour, take a deep breath, say a good Act of Contrition, three Hail Mary’s and a Glory Be – if you’re still angry, a tumbler of scotch will help you to see flour in a more Christian light.
Put 2 C of All-Purpose Flour in the food processor along with a teaspoon of salt and mix by giving it a good whirr.
Run the tap until the water it’s good and hot and into ½ C of the hot water mix a heaping teaspoon of dry yeast, 2 teaspoons of flour and a pinch of sugar. Put a timer on for 8 minutes. By then you’ll see spreading blooms of yeast on the surface of the water. If your yeast has not done this, toss the mixture out and start with yeast from a new package.
Now run the tap water on hot again and pour the yeast mixture into the food processor and then add another ½ C of hot water.
Pulse the food processor about ten times – I usually count seconds off and pulse every 2 seconds. Now process for about 5 seconds more or until the dough comes together into a ball. If this does not happen, you may need to add more water. If the dough is very sticky, add more flour.
Pour some olive oil into a bowl and spread it up the sides, then place dough ball in the bowl. Cover with a tea towel or plastic wrap and put the bowl in a room or corner where there is no draft. A little warmth wouldn’t hurt – in the winter I kick the heater up a degree and put the bowl in the powder room. You need to let the dough rise for 2 hours, but you can let it go for 4 or a bit longer.
When you are ready to remove the dough, turn your oven on to 500° (you will need 30 minutes to bring a conventional oven up to the heat you’ll need).
Now dust your hands with flour and work the dough, which will have risen quite a bit, for about 1 minute. “Working” means to keep folding it in on itself – do this in your hands, not on a surface. Place the dough back in the bowl for about 20 minutes. If you let it rise longer you will get a bit more chew to the crust, which I like – in any event, you don’t have to be exact about the 20 minutes.
Rolling out the dough. Prepare one or two cookie sheets by coating them with a film of olive oil. Dust a large cutting board or work surface with flour, make sure your fingers are floured, divide the dough in half (a simple dinner knife will work for this) and flatten the dough into a disk on the cutting board or work surface. Dust a rolling pin and begin to flatten and roll the dough, turning it after every pass to maintain at least a roughly circular shape. Actually, the shape doesn’t matter – if you have a narrow cookie sheet, roll the dough into an oval. This is going to take a few minutes and you may need to put more flour on the work surface. As you thin the dough, if the surface isn’t floured, it will tear and stick. You will figure out how thin you want the dough from trial and error. We Stewarts are thin-crust folks, but tolerant.
When your pizza is the thickness and shape you want, lift it (carefully) onto a cookie sheet. It’s going to sit there for another 10 minutes before you cook. Roll out the second pizza and put it onto a cookie sheet.
Put the toppings you want on the pizza (Lemon-Basil below) and put it into the oven. Cook for about 8 minutes and check to see if it’s done.
For the Lemon-Basil Pizza you will need mozzarella as well as the key ingredients.

Cut the ends off one lemon and slice the remainder on a mandolin (you might want to have Rick Duffy’s mobile phone on your speed-dial, if you’ve never used this device before). Slice fresh mozzarella – about 1/3 of the large balls you can get at the Giant Eagle – for each pizza into pieces to scatter on the pizza dough (you don’t want to cover the whole pie or all you’ll taste will be the cheese). Gather about 12 large basil leaves for each pizza.

Paint the edges of the rolled-out dough with olive oil and sprinkle a little flaky salt on them. Place 5 large basil leaves on the pizza, top with slices of lemon, scatter the mozzarella over maybe ½ – ¾ of the pizza, add a few more slices of lemon, and cook. Add some more fresh basil leaves when the pizza is finished.

Tim and Bill

The two stiffs at the dinner party

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