Saturday, October 10, 2009

The Padova Dinner

A while back I told you that some of our wonderful friends and family brought over dinner after I had surgery. What a Godsend that was! Oh my gosh. It wasn’t planned ahead of time, but I can tell you it sure was appreciated.

Kathy & Donald Padova brought dinner on that Saturday evening. By that time I was able to really start tasting food again. And am I glad I was! What an awesome dinner! Let me tell you about it…you’ll be jealous. It was an Italian feast!

It was wonderful weather, so we decided to sit out on the deck and enjoy the beautiful evening. Kathy started us off with sweet ripe melon slices wrapped in salty prosciutto. Classic. And there is a reason why they are classic. It is such a great combination. The prosciutto plays so well against the sweetness of the melon. And the combination just whets your appetite for the delights that lie ahead.

With the melon she served us crusty olive bread that was a perfect foil. Bits of the kalamata olives could be seen throughout the slices. For dipping there was a light olive oil with Italian herbs and Kathy’s very own homemade pesto. I simply could not stay out of the pesto! The balance of ingredients was just right. Holy cow was it good! Kath said she had gotten the recipe from Giada.

The salad course was an Ina Garten recipe. It was a green salad with creamy mustard vinaigrette. Another winner! Champagne vinegar and Dijon mustard combine with garlic and a few other ingredients to make a tasty dressing for the mixed greens. So far I was loving this dinner. Why oh why does it take surgery to get something like this? Why, I think we should just take turns making our friends dinner every weekend….yeah, right. Back to reality.

Now for the piece de resistance, penne pasta with five cheeses. Sweet Mother Mary…words fail me. Okay, not really. I have plenty to say about this dish. Kathy got the recipe from Ina Garten’s “Barefoot Contessa Family Style” cookbook. Ina says it originally comes from George Germon & Johanne Killeen’s cookbook “Cucina Simpatica”. I say it is simply fabulous! This is the kind of dish that just captivates me. When I tasted it, it was so incredibly good that I immediately started thinking about all of the people that we could fix this for; people who would just be as totally wowed with it as we were. The four of us oohed and aahed and moaned and just practically hurt ourselves over this pasta. Except for maybe Donald. I’m not sure he actually came up for air for about 5 -10 minutes. We lost him for a while. The man knows good food and he was certainly enjoying it!

Kathy had made this dish so that we each had our own individual casserole. Good thing, too. ‘Cause if someone had crossed the line into my territory I might have become just a bit ugly. I wanted every last ooey, gooey, delicious, cheesy bite of this dish. The blend of the five cheeses is stupendous, but then add in that bit of tomato goodness and it just puts it over the top. I wanted to just keep eating and eating. I swear it is one of those dishes that when you finish it, it is so darn good you just wish you could start all over!

I love these people. And I love good food. Put the two together and it was an evening made in heaven.

But wait! There was dessert! And O.M.G. it was Jeni’s ice cream. Jeni’s Salty Caramel ice cream and Jeni’s Bourbon Pecan ice cream. Oh good lord Kathy! I think this is illegal!

But wait! There's more! I slipped out of my seat and pulled out a box of my coveted Girl Scout Shortbread cookies. I know! You can hardly believe it, can you? Girl Scout cookies in September? I had a very good hiding place from Bob! (You know you’re special if I pull out Girl Scout cookies for you!) Why not just put the earrings on the elephant? I don’t plan on having any more surgery for a very long time….if ever! So let’s go all out!

But wait! Bob was not to be outdone. He brought out the homemade limoncello with a fresh lemon. Now it was a party!!!

Wow. What an evening. I was such a happy girl.

Thank you, Kathy and Donald. You’re the best!

Giada’s Basil Pesto

2 cups (packed) fresh basil leaves
¼ cup toasted pine nuts
1 garlic clove
½ teaspoon salt, plus more to taste
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
About 2/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

In a blender, pulse the basil, pine nuts, garlic, ½ teaspoon of salt, and ¼ teaspoon of pepper until finely chopped. With the blender still running, gradually add enough oil to form a smooth and thick consistency. Transfer the pesto to a medium bowl and stir in the cheese. Season the pesto with more salt and pepper to taste. (The pesto can be made 2 days ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

Green Salad with Creamy Mustard Vinaigrette
-Ina Garten

3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon minced fresh garlic
1 extra-large egg yolk, at room temperature (see Note)
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ cup good olive oil
Salad greens or mesclun mix for 6 to 8 people

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, garlic, egg yolk, salt, and pepper. While whisking, slowly add the olive oil until the vinaigrette is emulsified.

Toss the greens with enough dressing to moisten and serve immediately.

Note: If you’re worried about raw egg, substitute 1 tablespoon mayonnaise.

When you’re serving a salad for a dinner party, put the vinaigrette in the bottom of a serving bowl and place the greens on top. This can sit for an hour or two until you’re ready to toss and serve it.

Penne with Five Cheeses
-Ina Garten
Serves 6

Kosher salt
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup crushed tomatoes in thick tomato puree
½ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano (1 ½ ounces)
½ cup shredded imported Italian fontina (1 ½ ounces)
¼ cup crumbled Italian Gorgonzola (1 ½ ounces)
2 tablespoons ricotta cheese
¼ pound fresh mozzarella, sliced
6 fresh basil leaves, chopped
1 pound imported penne rigate pasta
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

Bring 5 quarts of salted water to a boil in a stockpot.

Combine all the ingredients except the penne and butter in a large mixing bowl. Mix well.

Drop the penne into the boiling water and parboil for 4 minutes. Drain well in a colander and add to the ingredients in the mixing bowl, tossing to combine.
Divide the pasta mixture among 6 shallow ceramic gratin dishes (1 ½ to 2 cup capacity).
Dot with the butter and bake until bubbly and brown on top, 7 to 10 minutes.

This is a very versatile recipe and can be made with lots of variations. Ina states she likes to double the Gorgonzola and add ½ cup of grated Parmesan cheese.

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