an Italian feast

by Jasper on April 25, 2009

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Yesterday, Kristen came over in the mid afternoon. She was bummed out about some work related thing. We talked for a while over a bottle of valpolicella classico that Jasmine brought back from her most recent trip to Italy (read Jasmine’s experiences with valpolicella here). Soon it became clear that the only thing that would pull Kristen out of her funk was to do a marathon cooking and eating extravaganza. We’d just gotten this month’s Saveur magazine (May 2009). The cover featured this absolutely gorgeous focaccia with cherry tomatoes and black olives. The magazine called the thing “focaccia al pomodorini.” Why not make this?

our focaccia al pomodorini

our focaccia al pomodorini

Well, I didn’t quite have the right amount of wheat flour so we ended up adding some finely ground corn flour that was lying around. This gave the final product a distinctly corny flavor. We liked it though it was not exactly classic. The recipe was easy to make but turned out to be incredibly time consuming! The dough had to rise for two hours then another hour in the pan before baking for about 30 minutes. So don’t try this at home unless you have a lot of time and a lot of wine to sip during the whole process. Aside from the timing issue, the only other little difficulty was Kristen’s persistent criticism of my dough kneeding skills. I prefer the heel-of-the-hand method; she rather likes the fist method. She claims that “real Italians” use her technique. Maybe so, but I live in California, where things are a little more loose. So all I can say is, “whatever, girl.”
Kristen's clams with fettucini

Kristen's clams with fettucini

Anyway, we finally got the dough in shape for the first rising, so it was time to go to Whole Foods (see post on samplling Whole Foods here) for those last minute ingredients for this amazing five course dinner. The meal included a pasta course of manila clams with fettucini in white wine sauce, steamed broccoli rabe in lemon and olive oil, focaccia al pomodorini, arugula salad with mozzarella and finally homemade biscotti di pignoli (pine nut cookies) with almond paste instead of butter. Mmm mmm mmm! We served the cookies with fresh strawberries and blackberries, coffee and this unusual passion fruit liquor from the Azores called maracuja do Ezequiel.
pine nut cookies

pine nut cookies

The cookie recipe comes from the Martha Stewart site. They were very easy to make and turned out incredibly! Say what you want about Martha, she really knows what she’s doing in the kitchen.

The wines were mostly red though again Kristen pointed out that “real Italians” would drink white, at least with the seafood course. Silly Italians! We at weirdcombos are particularly fond of red wine and refuse to be biased by outdated ideas of food and wine pairing. Aside from the valpolicella which K and I quaffed before the other guests arrived, we opened a bottle of 2006 Querciabella chianti classico, an ’06 Cecile Chassagne “IDS-Image du Sud” chateauneuf du pape, an ’06 Domaine de Mayran lirac and for the one red wine contrarian in the party, a 2007 Contadino pinot grigio which was slightly bubbly (that’s the wine that K used in the clams, too). I struggle with Tuscan wines but found that the Querciabella grew on me after it was given some time to open up. It had a strong earthy flavor, tending to almost bitter with a long finish. The CdP was surprisingly light and fruity. The lirac was more full bodied, with a dark cherry red color and a long fruity finish.

broccoli rabe

broccoli rabe

It was a huge meal for only four people and pretty starch heavy. To cut down on that, you could forget the pasta and just serve the clams in the sauce. It’s so good though that you’ll definitely want some rustic bread for dipping. We had Acme olive bread and chiabatta. Yep, like I said, a starch fest.

Kristen’s manila clams in white wine sauce

3 lbs manila clams, washed and picked through
3 tbs. extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
3 pepperoncini, lightly crushed (use crushed red pepper as alternate)
1 cup dry white wine
salt to taste
1 tbs. finely chopped Italian parsley

Heat olive oil in pan on high. Add garlic and pepperoncini. Cook for about a minute. Add clams. Toss in oil. Add wine and salt. Cover and steam until clams open. Mix in parsley. Test for salt. Serve in large bowl alone or toss with pasta. Enjoy!

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Xanthe Asher April 25, 2009 at 9:45 pm

I love the story of the bread making process, it is very zen and Euro to wait for it to rise and drink nice wine in the meantime. The whole meal was delicious sounding along with all the wine to go with. The “whatever girl I’m in California,” made me laugh, because sometimes you just have to go with the flow and not do exactly what the “real Italians” would do and modify your dough making!
Overall it came out lovely, it made me hungry reading about the courses and then full after finishing it with those Martha cookies!

Kevin Gibbs May 4, 2009 at 11:20 pm

Kiki’s Pine Nut/Frosted Flake biscotti were amazingly yummy. She technically served these up at the Sunday MexiBrunch at my pad a couple weeks after the ItalianFesta of this blog post….but she had experimented with the recipe and come up with amazingly yummy, super crispy, nutty biscotti. We gobbled them up in minutes!! More please.

Tammy May 12, 2009 at 9:53 pm

Your food pictures are making me so hungry!

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