In an effort to master Italian cooking (we're thinking every month will have a different cultural influence... we may try to master Greek or Spanish in April... hmmm) we created a fabulous feast for our most recent dinner.
Cocktail - Amaretto Sour with Prosecco
Wow. Don't change a thing. I joked with Jennifer that the drink reminded me of being underage (cough cough) and not knowing what to order in bars so amaretto sours were always my failsafe. With an arch of the eyebrow, she promised me and the rest of the group that this was no teeny-bopper amaretto sour - and she was right. The prosecco was amazing, and I think it was the complete lack of "sour mix" and using fresh fruit and juices that put it over the top. Hands down one of the best cocktails yet. (And a fantastic way to use up leftover champagne, prosecco or sparkling wine that may be laying around the house.)
Appetizer - Lobster Ravioli with Crabmeat Cream Sauce
So for this week's Italian themed meal, our friend Mike jumped at the opportunity to combine his cooking passion with ours and even offered up using his pasta maker to make some homemade raviolis. (Who's going to say no to that?!?! FYI - Santa, I want a pasta dough maker for Christmas.) So after two trial runs (lamb ravioli and butternut squash ravioli) Mike knew his machine was ready to create some magic.
And magic it was. The recipe was followed to the T, and came out absolutely delicious. The filling, the dough, and the sauce was made in advance and brought over for prep. Just let the sauce hang out on a stove burner, and start rolling out the dough and boom, you're done. So good, and so excited to start experimenting with fresh pastas.
Side Dish Necessity - Bread
While I don't have the recipe, Mike (our new official Culinary Sundays baking expert) also brought over some amazing Italian bread that had a hint of rosemary. So perfect for sopping up that amazing sauce.
Appetizer Wine - 2009 Cascina Ballarin Langhe Bianco
Wine Spectator - 88/100
This Italian white paired beautifully with the creamy sauce and decadent lobster. It was initially fruity on the tongue but had a great acidic bite that kept it from being too sweet. There were tastes of grapefruit and lemon and had a lingering finish. For those white wine drinkers that prefer a sweeter wine, but not an oaky taste (like a Chardonnay) - this is a good choice for you.
Entree - Veal Chops Stuffed with Mascarpone, Pancetta, and Caramelized Onions
For you critics out there - yes, Emeril is from New Orleans, not Italy. But you don't get any more Italian than veal, pancetta, and mascarpone... so group vote - this is considered Italian.
Fantastic. Make the stuffing earlier and let it sit. (I would highly recommend increasing the pancetta.) And they are so quick to cook (25 mins), that once we finished our appetizer, we simply just started the cooking process and we were sitting for dinner in 30 minutes. The only deviation from the recipe was that we used 1/2 veal demi-glace and 1/2 veal stock. (Not sure if it made a difference, but it was yummy.) Side note for those of you who cannot find veal stock to save your lives (like myself)... check out the organic/fancy pants section of your grocery store. Jennifer was able to find in the organic section of a Shop Rite.
Side Dish - Artichokes with Warm Pancetta Dressing
Fantastic and fresh side dish that complemented the chops beautifully. However, we used 5 fresh artichokes and it barely produced enough to eat, so we actually added a bottle of jarred artichoke hearts. (Couldn't taste a difference - save yourself some time and energy.) Also, one of those recipes you can put together early and just let hang out on a countertop while everything else is going on.
Entree Wine 1 - 2006 Ca' del Baio Barbaresco Pora
Avg. 92 points
This wine started with a fruit taste and continued with lingering tastes of tar and tobacco. It had an earthy quality to it, but a nice black cherry taste on the tongue. The finish was long and had an almost chalky taste.
Entree Wine 2 - 2007 Colpetrone Sagrantino di Montefalco
Wine Advocate - 92/100
The great people at Harry's wine have really gotten us on a kick of tasting different wines with our meal so we can learn to see (and taste) the differences and refine our palates. This full bodied red also had great scents and flavors of strong red berries with hints of spices of vanilla.
The Verdict - Both were good, but most people preferred the Colpetrone. However, the first wine was notably "young" and still needs some time to mature and really develop its flavors. Both wines were big and bold, and the Barbaresco paired better with the meat, but the Colpetrone paired just as well and was more drinkable after the meal was over. However, open the Barbaresco five or ten years from now, and we'll have a completely different story.
Dessert - Limoncello Panna Cotta with Black Cherry Sauce
Okay, this post is already giving me anxiety. Panna cotta was extremely new to us until we fell upon a little tapas restaurant in Norwalk (La Paella, for this interested) and had a vanilla bean panna cotta that changed my life. So when we planned on Italian night, we knew we wanted to master this Italian dessert. However, when its your first time making something completely new, it doesn't always go smoothly. So let's begin...
The first mistake was not making these early enough. I cooked them at my house around 11am on Sunday, thinking they'd be solidified by 5pm when I leave for John and Jenn's house. Not so much. I'm thinking I didn't let the cream/milk mixture thicken enough on the stove, and I'm thinking these definitely need to made the day before and stay overnight in the fridge. So after careful driving to their house (and half of the slightly gelatenous dessert all over the front seat of my car - side note: it is impossible to transport martini glasses without spilling) we decided to toss them in the freezer for a hail mary. We brought them out about 15 minutes before serving and started on the sauce. Save yourself some time, everyone, and just microwave your favorite fruit jelly/jam/preserves/etc. We microwaved the black cherry jam, topped it with some kirsch macerated dried cherries and served. Okay, it looks pretty! However, our hail mary freezing attempt also kind of froze the dessert so it got rather icy in some spots.
Regardless, the flavor was delicious. (And the side of limoncello was spot on.) Future attempts will include cooking the day before, refrigerating overnight, and not serving in stemmed glasses.
Next Week - Steak Frites