Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Local Luxury Dinner Party: Antipasti
The next installment in the Local Luxury Dinner Party series is the first course, antipasti! My trip to Atlas Farm’s booth at the Copley Farmers Market yielded some beautiful heirloom tomatoes. These were some of the last of the season and helped preserve the feeling of summer just a little longer. I’ve shopped at Atlas Farm regularly over the past two years, so this year I decided to buy a share. They offer a great share program – prepay at the beginning of market season and shop all season until you use up your share (for $90 you get a $100 credit for the season). This lets you buy what you want and you never have to worry about bringing cash to the market. Whether it’s a farmers market, local food shop, or grocery store you can save a lot of time and headache knowing you have a reliable place to find your ingredients. Now back to the antipasti…
Since I was planning a four course meal I knew that the first course couldn’t be heavy or I would be left with a lot of leftovers. My first thought was caprese salad, but when I looked at make-your-own mozzarella recipes I quickly changed my mind. I remembered that my friend Katie over at Once Upon a Small Boston Kitchen had recently made homemade ricotta with a recipe from Barbara Lynch. I pulled up the recipe and headed out for some local milk. With just three simple ingredients, this was about keeping an eye on the thermometer and getting the texture right. The end result was a creamy fresh tasting cheese that paired wonderfully with the tomatoes.
It wouldn’t be a meal in our house without bread! To make sure I had a reliable recipe, I surfed over to the King Arthur Flour website and did a search for Italian bread. I decided on the Italian Sesame bread. Planning your time wisely is important in being a successful party host. The bread, cheese, and basil infused olive oil were items that I could make a few days in advance of the party. I started the bread dough first and made the cheese while the bread was rising. I love this bread recipe – no fussy proofing needed. Just measure, dump, and turn on the KitchenAid mixer to do its magic. It does take a few hours start to finish for the dough to rise, so plan to start early enough in the day. The loaf gets braided like a challah and then generously covered in sesame seeds. After a quick bake the loaf was light, airy and a perfect addition to the meal.
I wanted to incorporate my homegrown basil into the tomato salad, but just sprinkling it on top seemed boring. After about 20 minutes of harvesting my basil I added it to a jar and started to heat up some extra virgin olive oil. I poured the warm oil over the basil and let it infuse overnight. I strained out the basil the next day leaving lightly flavored oil.
To make preparations easier on party night, I sliced the tomatoes the night before. I also cheated on the local/homemade theme by picking up some olives and marinated beans and artichokes from the antipasto bar at Whole Foods. I wanted to have some snacks on hand for the guests in case something went horribly wrong and I needed extra time to get the meal on the table (you’ve got to prepare for anything when entertaining!)
A few minutes before the guests were due to arrive, I set up my ingredients and laid out the salad plates. As you can see, multi-tasking is also an essential skill to have for entertaining. I’ve got a few different things going at the same time. I like to get the messy stuff out of the way before the party starts and be able to spend time with my guests. So if you come over for dinner at our house, don’t be offended if I refuse to let you help in the kitchen. I like guests to come enjoy – and for you and me not to work too hard while you’re here!
After the tomatoes and cheese were arranged on the plates and drizzled with the basil olive oil, I switched to my party apron (café style, instead of a full apron) and preset the salads while the hubby chatted with the guests in the living room. My mom gave me pearls and Mastering the Art of French Cooking for my birthday this year, so I feel it is appropriate to always wear the pearls when cooking and entertaining. And yes, I did arrange the tomatoes like a traffic light (red, yellow, green). Presentation is an important part of the meal! After a few twists of the peppermill and sprinkles of kosher salt, and we were ready to start the eating.
The verdict? Delicious! Each tomato had a slightly different flavor. The cheese was fresh and creamy. The oil added a subtle basil flavor into each bite. I think we all wiped our plates clean with the bread, which the hubby expertly sliced.
As we finished up the first course, I headed back into the kitchen to finish the second course. Stay tuned for the next installment: fall squash ravioli with brown butter sauce. It was an adventure!