Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The entree course at the Albert Court Progressive Dinner

We had our first annual progressive dinner for our small cul de sac on Sunday. Twenty-four adults took part, and each of four courses (appetizer, salad, entree, dessert) were hosted at a different house. I celebrated having the use of both hands by cooking up a storm of Italian food. Many people asked for the recipes, so this blog documents it all, including links to online recipes when present, or to the cookbook. And I used some of my favorite cookbooks for this. In fact, these two cooks and their Food Network shows are what turned me into the Italian cook I am today. Yes, I do some fancier dishes than these from Mario's more advanced books, but I was cooking for quantity, not cuisine, this weekend. A number of people thought I was crazy for preparing five dishes at once. I revel in the challenge. I knew a project manager in Chicago who told me that he cooked Thanksgiving dinner for 45 people because he loved planning all the courses to be ready at once. I now understand that challenge and was happy to have pulled it off on Sunday.
The first two recipes come from Giada's Everyday Pasta. The dish on the left is Rigatoni with Sausage, Peppers and Onions. It was the hit of the night: all that we had left in the dish were some pasta bits, as all the sausage and vegetables had been devoured. And note that I was even a bit generous with the sausage, buying 30% more than the recipe called for. The secret to the dish is copious amounts of Marsala wine. The other dish was Spicy Baked Macaroni, from Giada's same pasta cookbook. The recipe is simple and easy. Don't be scared off by the "spicy" is from crush red pepper flakes. You can easily moderate the amount, and it would take triple the amount of red pepper before I would consider it spicy.
The third pasta recipe is from Giada's first cookbook, Everyday Italian: 125 Simple and Delicious Recipes. Pasta Primavera is one of my favorites. For those of you who don't know, Primavera is the Italian word for Spring. It's about a light and fresh dish with the best of vegetables. Everyone has their own way of doing this dish. Mine adds asparagus. The center of the dish is the fresh vegetables, chopped to uniform sizes almost like you would prepare for Chinese cooking. You can see them in the prep bowls in the picture on the left. Then, once you add the cooked pasta, you add copious amounts of pasta water to the combined pasta and vegetables. I add over a cup of water (sometimes more) for a pound of pasta. I had doubled the recipe, so I was very glad that I had the le creuset 7-1/2 quart bouillabaisse pot. I served it on the table in the cooking pot.
The three dishes above, even with the massive amount of vegetables in the Primavera, still left a feeling of imbalance. Pure vegetable dishes were needed. My current favorite cookbook is Batali's Molto Gusto: Easy Italian Cooking. I have tried dozens of recipes from this and they have all been easy and wonderful. I chose two recipes. The first, Broccoli with Pecorino Romano, presented itself at the Los Gatos public market. Two different vendors were selling "Italian Broccoli," which was actually broccoli rabe florets. This made for a wonderful dish which vanished rapidly... I should have made more. The other was green beans with charred onions, where the onions are sweet vidalia onions. That, in a dressing of balsamic vinegar, orange juice and olive oil makes for a very tasty dish. And yes, I do wish that I had young thing green beans, but I had to settle for very fresh beans from the West Valley market that Saturday.

The recipes can be found in the following books. The three of them have become my goto normal cookbooks.