Sally is a longtime friend who goes back to the early post-high school days, and since she lives in Nashville nowadays we don't get to see her as often as we'd like. But on those visits, we attempt to make the most of our time as possible, and this time was no exception. After a viewing of the new Star Trek film on opening day, we headed back to Paul's place to get ready for the rest of the festivities. (Short review of the movie: it's the single best thing with the word Trek attached to it that's ever been made. And I've seen and read a lot of Trek.)
We started out with a round of Pegu Club cocktails, and once everyone arrived, I unloaded the appetizer course: roasted dates with garlic and almonds, pickled herring, and pictured here, white asparagus with Hollandaise and prosciutto. Right now it's Spargelzeit in Germany, and I thought it would be fun to do a traditional white asparagus dish. It's got a milder flavor than green asparagus, and it's fun to mix things up once in a while.
The primary wine for the evening, as the ladies mostly enjoyed cocktails, was the 2005 Clos du Val Chardonnay from the Carneros AVA of Napa. $22, 13.5% abv. Little toasted marshmallow aroma, hint of vanilla, balanced acidity, mild yellow apple flavor, low oak. All in all a pleasantly restrained California Chardonnay. This one has been sitting in the cellar for a couple of years. I wasn't avoiding it or saving it for a special occasion, but it had become almost like a Shakespeare compilation sitting on the shelf: admired, respected, occasionally referenced, but not savored often.
Inspired by an escarole salad I had at Fredric's, I blended that with another trend that was popular a few years ago: the green salad with strawberries and balsamic vinegar. I combined escarole and watercress, both bitter and heavily flavored, with sliced ripe strawberries and green onions. I made a vinaigrette from balsamic vinegar, olive oil, Dijon mustard, honey, and a dash of pepper. I think my kitchen mojo was in fine form that night, because I created a perfect balance between bitter and sweet. Really quite good, and afterwards I wanted to take a head of iceberg and just kick it down the street. Has there ever been a better time to be a lover of flavorful greens in this country?
The main course looks, admittedly, mundane. Noodles and red sauce with a bit of meat? Let me break it down for y'all...
I used good small-batch rigatoni, cooked to perfection. For the sauce, I made my own using canned organic San Marzano tomatoes, garlic, and a little oregano and thyme. Nothing else. And the meat was the big hit of the evening. The day before, I'd loaded up an enameled Dutch oven with four pounds of short ribs, a can of tomato sauce, and a bottle of beer. It cooked on low heat for a full eight hours, after which I removed the bones and let it cool. In the morning, I removed most of the fat, and that evening reheated it for dinner along with some sautéed cremini mushrooms. (Short ribs are almost always better the next day.) I only put a couple of ounces on each plate, yet everyone was full and on the verge of groaning afterwards. Heavily concentrated flavor, rich, silky mouthfeel, mmmmmmm....
I made dessert for the first time in ages, and for theatrical effect I did a batch of Bananas Foster. We turned out all the lights and I lit the rum to the wonder of all around. It's not the kind of thing you'd want to eat every day, but once in a while it's a fun and delicious treat. My twist on the recipe: after it cools a bit and you spoon it over the ice cream, add a few big crystals of sea salt. You get that nice salty-caramel flavor combination that tickles all the right parts of the tongue.
A good time was had by all. We sat around the living room with full bellies and additional glasses of wine, and reveled in the fellowship that comes after such a meal. Thanks to all who participated, and we gotta do this again soon.