Sunday, January 27, 2008

Pranzo Domenica In Astoria!

Old school Italy by way of Astoria. What could be better?


This meal was built around three dishes I have made before and loved, another dish I made before and kind of fucked up, and yet another dish that I ate once, dreamed about for the next four years, and never attempted to prepare until Saturday night. With most dishes like the latter, the longer you dream of cooking it without actually doing so, the more mythologized the dish becomes in your sense-memory.

Sometimes revisiting the Ghost Of Cuisine Past can be a terrible downer -- it turns out that the thing haunting your waking hours is nowhere near as good as you remembered. This was not the case with the "Grilled Onion Salad with Anchovies and Lemons."

I swear to God, I could eat this dish every day of the week, and I just might.

So simple. It's just grilled green onions (the sweet and the char are the hooks,) olive oil, little hunks of lemon, and whole cured anchovies.

The salt, the sweet, the bitter tang of the citrus, the char of the onions... I am telling you, it's BLISS. The last time I ate it was at my friend Victoria's Sicilian Family Christmas 4 years ago. I housed it. I was unable to attend their Christmas for 2 years, and then this year, the only thing I wanted to eat was that damned salad. When I got there, I saw the traditional Bacalao, Bacon-wrapped Scallops, Stuffed Shrimp, Scungili Salad... But, where were the fucking onions and anchovies? Zia Tina (Aunt Tina) had run out of time to assemble it so there the salad sat, deconstructed, in the fridge.

I quickly remembered that it was more than a little rude to obsess over what wasn't there so I shut up. But don't think it didn't kill me a little inside not to ask for it, because it did. So here I am, a month later, making the salad. Thank god Victoria was there to run kitchen interference, because in my memory, the anchovies constituted the bulk of the dish, but in fact, its the exact opposite.

The green onions comprise the majority and the anchovies twinkle on the top like salty little principessi. Deelicious.

We started out with a gorgeous Crudité platter with Hot Bagna Cauda. Again, anchovies took a starring role, this time in a hot bath of butter, garlic, olive oil and lemon. Crazy good.

Then we moved on to cockles, cooked in white wine, olive oil, garlic, chicken stock and a little chili flake.

Added the lardons (BACON!!!) at the end for good measure and served in a bowl with a piece of good farm bread at the bottom. It went quickly.

Next course was the dish that I made and fucked up once before. After my second go around with Two Minute Calamari, Sicilian Style, I have decided that, even though I did not exactly "follow" the directions last time, Mario's recipe, as written, is just plain wrong. I discovered a similar problem with his published Beef Cheek Ravioli recipe a couple of years ago. Now, it helps that I worked for him and know what it his dishes are supposed to taste and look like, so I let memory be my guide this time, and it worked out very well. It is an unbelievably easy recipe, but multilayered.

First you make sauce,

then you sauté currants, pine nuts, chili flake and parsley in olive oil, then you add the sauce and Israeli Couscous that was previously par cooked for 2 minutes,

bring it to a boil, and add the calamari.

Cook for 2 more minutes, add the caperberries and you are set to serve.

We thinned it down with a little water, and used a lot more tomato sauce than the recipe called for. Fine enough. Even after the pasta course, people were still clamoring for more of this! The little 2 minute dish that could...

The pasta was a Buccatini with Walnuts, Chili Flake, Caciocavallo and Bread Crumbs.

Guest prep chef Michelle busts up the walnuts...

Again, simple and ridiculously good. There was a general criticism that it needed a little more cheese, which I agree with. Next time!

Next was Broccoli Rabe with Roasted Shallots, tossed with a touch of balsamic and olive oil,

along with Victoria's Sicilian Orange salad.

This dish is also ridiculously good. Orange segments, (we used regular juice oranges and blood oranges), oregano (dried) and red onion.

The juice of the oranges and a little olive oil make the dressing. Sweet and tart and spicy...everything you could ever want!

Saffron Panna Cotta with Little Red Grapefruit Segments for dessert. Uhh, yeah.

Many thanks to all the helpers I had in the kitchen-- (Victoria and Michelle-- two authentic Italian Ladies!), and of course, my long suffering but always game husband Karl. We had new peeps, old peeps and I think everyone will return.

I guess there is a reason that five million Italian restaurants can survive in this great metropolis!

No comments: