Tuesday, July 21, 2009

a little rustic, a little summery, just right

Since starting this site, and way before then, I've thrown a lot of dinner parties. I've never made a meal that was a complete failure (although the night my oven failed comes close) but some are just better than others. Sometimes I make a little too much food, sometimes too little. Sometimes a menu is better in my mind than it actually is on the table. And sometimes, while cleaning up the debris of a party around midnight, I look at all the dirty dishes and think that everything could have been better. (Usually at this point I've had a little too much to drink, which can lead to maudlin thoughts about leftovers.)

But not last weekend. Our friends E, Lara, and Jon came over for dinner Saturday night and the stars aligned. Not to brag, but dinner was really good. I wanted to make a rustic Italian menu that also used the great produce that's available right now. So we nibbled on squares of onion-topped flatbread and drank Gordon's Cups to start, then ate savory stuffed chicken legs, a summery tomato salad, and spinach sauteed with garlic and lemon. Dessert was a reproduction of my favorite cake from one of the best restaurants in our neighborhood (more on that later) and it was almost identical to the restaurant's version. I didn't burn anything. There was just enough food. Everything was tasty, colorful, and satisfying.

Sometimes you just get in a comfortable cooking groove and everything comes out the way you've imagined it. Saturday was my night. Maybe it's just practice, maybe it's just choosing good recipes, maybe it's having friends whom you are happy to cook for. Either way, hitting the right note every so often feels great.

Rustic Italian-y dinner
Gordon's Cups
Flatbread with caramelized onions
Stuffed chicken legs
Simple tomato salad
Sauteed spinach with garlic, lemon, and red pepper flakes
Chocolate-pear cake

Simple tomato salad
This recipe is so simple it's not even a recipe--it's just assembly.
(Serves about 4 people)

3 beefsteak tomatoes, sliced into 1 inch round slices, then cut in half lengthwise
1 pint mixed cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
1 handful tarragon leaves (or basil, or oregano, or thyme)
1 shallot, sliced thinly
Red wine vinegar
Olive oil
salt and pepper

Layer the beefsteak tomatoes on a platter. Scatter the cherry tomatoes on top. Top with a layer of tarragon. Drizzle with vinegar and olive oil, and season well. Serve immediately.

Stuffed chicken legs
Adapted from Mario Batali's Molto Italiano. I am not the most adept at following directions, but sometimes I think Mario's recipes can be a little confusing or overly difficult. Case in point: these stuffed chicken legs are supposed to be boneless, yet he writes that they can be eaten with one hand. Wha? I kept the bones in (which adds extra flavor anyway) and filled them with his stuffing, a salty-herby-lemony mix that flavored the chicken so well. He also instructs you to tie the legs with twine, which I did not have. I used toothpicks, as you can see, which made them look like voodoo chickens, but whatever--it worked!
(Serves 6, generously)

4 oz. prosciutto, sliced into 1/4-inch wide ribbons
1 1/2 cups bread crumbs
1 1/2 cups grated parmesan
1/2 cup grated provolone (I omitted this)
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup finely chopped Italian parsley
1 bunch basil, leaves only, chopped
1 Tbsp. rosemary
Zest of 3 lemons
12 whole chicken legs (look for small legs, unless your guests have huge appetites)
salt and pepper

Preheat your oven to 450 degrees. In a medium bowl, combine the prosciutto, bread crumbs, cheese, eggs, herbs, and lemon zest until mixed. Lay the chicken legs skin side down on a cutting board and season all over with salt and pepper. Place 2 Tbsp. of the filling into the cavity of each leg (I used kitchen shears to cut a small pocket, which helped), spreading it into the thigh and upper part of the leg. Roll each leg up starting from a long side, and tie tightly with butcher's twine. (Or use toothpicks. Lots of them.) Season the thighs with salt and pepper and place in a roasting pan. Roast the chicken for 35 to40 minutes until it is crisp and golden (the internal temperature should read 160 degrees on an instant-read thermometer). Remove from the oven and let rest 10 minutes.


The Single Gal said...

Yay! You've gotta love when it just works...

That tomato salad is gorgeous... my friends are def. getting one of those next week :)

Laura said...

I totally relate to the varying success of the dinner party! Glad this one was a success...I fully intend to give the voodoo chicken legs a try.

Lisa said...

TSG: I do! And yes, make that salad. I think it would be right up your alley.

Laura: Thank you! A fancy person like yourself would probably have butcher's twine, right? At least I imagine so.

Daniel said...

You think Mario needs a bone handle to eat a chicken leg with one hand? Ha!

Lisa said...

Yeah, probably not. What was I thinking?


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