So I planned a series of eight meals, two per season, that I promised to prepare for them, including first course and dessert. On Friday the first of these took place:
Fresh Country Bread with herbed Dipping Oil - there are two keys to good dipping oil for bread: the first is good oil, the second is using a noteworthy amount of good grated cheese or at least a healthy pinch of salt to help bring out the flavors. As a first course, it went over almost too well, as the folks had to drag themselves away to avoid filling up.
Roadmap for dipping oil: Start with a good, flavorful extra-virgin olive oil, about a cup or so. Separate two tablespoons and warm these over low heat in a small skillet. Add two cloves crushed garlic and a pinch of red pepper flakes to the warmed oil, let sizzle for a few seconds, then remove from the heat. Let cool and stir this back into the rest of the oil. If you really love garlic, add another small, crushed, raw clove. Add a generous amount of grated hard cheese (Romano, that kind of thing). Stir in up to two tbsp dried (twice as much fresh) mixed herbs. Almost anything will do (beware of rosemary and sage, they are more potent than you think), but check dried herbs for flavor before using. Crush a bit in your fingers and sniff, if they smell nice and herbal, go for it, if they lack aroma, toss 'em. Stir in up to one tsp salt, adding a little, tasting, adding a little. The salt is very, very helpful in bringing out the other flavors, but be cautious as a lot of saltiness can accompany some Italian hard cheeses. Add several grinds of cracked black pepper. Whisk, stir, or cover and shake well. Allow to sit overnight before serving if possible.
Otter's Caser Salad - Nothing more than a romaine salad with a traditional caesar dressing (coddled egg, olive oil, lemon juice, anchovies, grated cheese, garlic, salt & pepper, Worcestershire) with some extra zip from some dijon mustard. I also use the dark green leaves of the romaine and not just the hearts and add tomato, cucumber, shaved Romano cheese, and Kalmatta olives. grey_twolf made fresh garlic croutons for me. Yum.
Chicken Saltimbocca and Angel Hair pasta with Oil, Lemon, and Garlic - I have been wanting to make this ever since a certain surprise party. Remarkably easy, although I still don't find prosciutto to be the sublime experience that many do. I made my chicken cutlets more than a little too thick, resulting in longer cooking time and a smokey kitchen, but it was very worth it in the end. Lonnie enjoyed the smoke detectors.
It really is a lucious combination: salty pork, tender chicken, sage, and lemon all enhanced with a simple white-wine pan sauce. I'm not posting a recipe, there are lots of good one's out there. I followed the Cook's Illustrated recipe myself (well, mostly). For one pound of pasta I mixed up about one cup of extra virgin olive oil, a lot of grated Romano, a healthy dose of chopped flat leaf parsley, about two or three tables spoons of minced fresh oregano, four big cloves of crushed garlic, and the grated zest of one lemon. I passed extra lemon wedges and a cheese hunk for grating at the table.
Cinnamon Tiramisu - *sigh* heaven. The cinnamon stood in for the more traditional cocoa powder, but I was hoping to make it more palatable for my wolf. Alas, the taint of coffee was too much for even his favorite spice to cure. Nonetheless, it was delectable, and it was good to rediscover how easy this excellent dessert is to make.
I was the only one interested in any wine, but for the record the pan sauce and I split a bottle of a basic California Sauvingnon Blanc. I know, I know, most of you are thinking, "What about Pinot Grigio" but I just plain don't like PG. My first choice would have been a Soave or an Orvieto or another lesser known Italian White, but I only had time to stop at one of the smaller state stores, so this was the best I could do.
Next up: Roast Chicken Dinner. I don't remember what else I planned, but that's the lynchpin. I'm thinking pan-roasted asparagus...