An Italian feast via California

feast finish

I love having dinner parties. To cook big meals for friends and gather around the table, eating, drinking and talking for hours. Having been in the Bay Area for nearly 20 years, we had made a community of friends who were truly more like family. Since starting over in Seattle, it has been difficult to meet people and make friends. Maybe it’s our age and the fact that we are busy with small children so are not necessarily whooping it up on the town all the time. In any case, I am increasingly craving those gatherings with people who I know and love so well. So when I convinced my best friend to drive up last minute from Portland for the night, I excitedly jumped into the kitchen. I’m feeling homesick so my inspiration for our meal was from my favorite restaurant in Oakland, Pizzaiolo, which I went to for the first time with this friend of mine.

Pizzaiolo is the epitome of a community building, farm to table California restaurant. Charlie Hallowell started his career at Chez Panisse and has a commitment to using and respecting only the best ingredients, the farmers who grow them and the customers who eat them. Everything is so simple yet always so interesting and delicious. They have the best pizza and bread in the bay (well next to Tartine)…..and the meatballs….those damn meatballs. I never got the recipe for them but I’ve managed to come up with something close. The salads here are my interpretation of ones I’ve had at Pizzaiolo and reflect the transition we’re seeing from winter to spring (first sign of asparagus guys!)  The bread is mine. Though I will not begin to try to explain how to make it here. It’s the recipe from Tartine for their basic country bread and it took me 2 years to perfect.

The dessert I came up with because rhubarb showed up at the market and I bought way too much because rhubarb means SPRING IS COMING, which also means WINTER IS ALMOST OVER. One of my favorite things ever is using bay leaf in creamy desserts and combining it with a tart fruit…bay leaf ice cream with white currents, bay leaf panna cotta with pomegranates. So I thought why not use bay in whipped cream to top a rhubarb shortcake. It was pretty much perfect and I woke up wishing I had some leftover for breakfast.

So here’s to 2016 and having more dinner parties. Besides, good cooks never lack friends, right?

feast veg

meatballs

makes 30 

  • 1lb ground beef
  • 1lb ground pork
  • 4oz prosciutto
  • 2 teaspoons fennel seed
  • 2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flake
  • 2 Tablespoons
  • 1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/4 cup fresh basil, chopped
  • 2oz parmesan, finely grated, plus more for garnish
  • 8oz fresh bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup pine nuts
  • 3/4 cup ricotta
  • 4 eggs
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 2 (28oz) cans whole san marzano tomatoes
  • extra virgin olive oil for finishing

meatballs finish

Heat oven to 45oºF.  In a small bowl whisk together the ricotta, eggs and milk and set aside. In a large bowl combine ground meats, fennel seed, oregano, chili flake,  tablespoon salt, parsley, basil, parmesan, bread crumbs and pine nuts. In a food processor, chop prosciutto fine and add it to a the bowl. Mix everything with your hands until it’s just combined then add the ricotta mixture and evenly mix it all together being careful not to over mix or it will become pasty.

Line 2 sheet pans with parchment paper and roll meat mixture into 2oz balls; measured out it’s a scant 1/4 cup each. Space them an inch apart on the sheets and bake in the oven until lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, put the tomatoes in a large dutch oven pot and crush them with your hands into small pieces. If you want a smoother sauce you can run them through the food processor or blender. Season with the remaining 1 tablespoon of salt and bring to a simmer. When meatballs are browned, remove them from the oven and gently nestle them into the tomato sauce. Reduce the oven temperature to 300ºF, cover the pot and bake in the oven for 1 1/2 hours.

To serve, pile into a bowl with the sauce, top with parmesan, basil and a big drizzle of olive oil.


 

burrata with asparagus, radish and mint

serves 6

burrata

  • 8oz burrata mozzarella
  • 1/3lb asparagus
  • 6 radishes
  • handful of mint leaves
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
  • sea salt & fresh ground black pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil

Thinly slice asparagus and radish. Arrange burrata and veggies on a platter, sprinkle with mint, lemon zest and juice. Season with salt and pepper and finish with a big glug of olive oil.


 

salad of orange, fennel, beets, avocado & olives

serves 6

salad

  • 3 oranges, I use a combination of blood oranges and cara caras
  • 1 avocado
  • 1 bulb of fennel
  • 3 beets
  • a handful of oil cured black olives
  • sea salt & fresh ground black pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil

Heat oven to 400ºF. Scrub the beets and put them in a small baking dish with a little water, a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt & pepper. Cover tightly with foil and bake for about an hour, or until tender and let cool. Peel by rubbing with a paper towel and the skins should slide right off. Cut them in half and slice thinly. Remove the core from the fennel bulb and slice paper thin then set aside. Slice avocado and set aside. Cut off orange peels and piths being careful not to cut too much into the flesh. Then cut oranges in half and slice halves into 1/4″ slices. Remove pits from olives if necessary then coarsely chop. Arrange all ingredients on a platter sort of layering them all together. Drizzle olive oil all over and sprinkle with sea salt and a good crack of black pepper.


 

roasted rhubarb shortcake with bay whipped cream

serves 8

for the rhubarb:

  • 2lb rhubarb stalks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • large pinch of kosher salt

for the biscuits:

  • 2 cups pastry flour
  • 1 Tablespoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 1/4 cups heavy cream
  • 2 Tablespoons butter

for the whipped cream:

  • 1 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 2 Tablespoons sugar
  • 2 bay leaves

Heat the oven to 425°.  In a large bowl, whisk the flour with the baking powder and salt. Add the cream and stir until a dough forms. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface and briefly knead until smooth. Using a rolling pin, flatten the dough until 1/2″ thick. Using a 3″round cookie cutter, cut out circles of dough, re-rolling scraps as needed to get 8-10 biscuits. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and arrange the biscuits 2″ apart. Divide the butter into pieces and top each biscuit with a bit. Bake, rotating the sheets halfway through cooking, until golden brown, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let cool for at least 5 minutes.

Cut the rhubarb into 2″ pieces and toss with sugar in a bowl and let sit for 30 minutes. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and arrange rhubarb pieces about an inch apart. Sprinkle remaining sugar mixture evenly over rhubarb and bake at 350ºF for about 10 minutes. Until rhubarb is super tender and sugar is bubbling into a nice syrup. Set it aside to cool slightly.

In a small saucepan heat the cream with the bay leaves until just barely to a simmer. Transfer to a large bowl and refrigerate until cold. When you are ready to whip it, remove bay leaves, sprinkle sugar over the cream and whisk until soft peaks form.

To arrange everything, cut a biscuit in half, top with a pile of roasted rhubarb & a spoonful of the syrup and top with a giant dollop of cream.

One thought on “An Italian feast via California

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