Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Dinner With Friends

With K and D coming for dinner (one for the first time) I thought it best to rely on the tried and true -- our recipe standards. To start I whipped up a plate of our "house specialty appetizers." "We have to come up with a name for those," James says.
I spread fresh ricotta on rosemary sea salt flat breads (we like Margaret's Artisan Bakery brand), lay on a thin slice of prosciutto, a section (a half or quarter) of a very ripe fresh fig, and drizzle with olive oil and a good quantity of balsamic vinegar. Sprinkled with chopped fresh mint and flaky sea salt these are probably our easiest and most popular (James loves them) little treat to serve before dinner or with drinks.
I love having a few vegetable dishes that are equally good warm or at room temperature. It gives me a chance to prepare for guests without a lot of last minutes fuss. I quickly roasted asparagus (20 minutes at 400º) as a side dish. Those are beautiful, edible borage flowers on top. They have a very light almost cucumbery flavor.
My go-to summer squash recipe is a quick sauté in olive oil flavored with garlic, chiles and herbs. When the oil is hot but not smoking I add in the garlic and the squash and toss until the vegetable is nicely coated with the oil. I sprinkle in dried chilies, cover the pan and let the dish cook over medium low heat for about 5 minutes until the squash is tender and just a bit browned on the edges. After a few minutes cooking uncovered the liquid is reduced and the squash is tender and flavorful. Off the heat I mix in chopped herbs, usually chopped fresh mint but tonight I decided on basil and parsley since our starter was flavored with mint. Summer squash cooked this way are equally good mixed into hot pasta, spread on crostini, or served as a side dish.
I usually don't fry for guests. It can be messy and has to be done at the last minute. But, I had two birds left from our poultry CSA in the freezer, James loves fried chicken (although since we have our own flock he has shied away from eating chicken in general) and this lemon marinated Italian style chicken is unusual, easy and the taste is hard to beat. It's always a hit. I served a bit of this summer's favorite sauce -- arugula hazelnut pesto -- on the side.
As strange as it may seem, "Fridge Pie" is a regular dessert around here. When the fruit at the Farmer's Market is really beautiful I tend to buy too much. I get excited when the seasons change and the winter of eating apples and citrus gives way to baskets overflowing with plums, peaches, nectarines, apricots. Sometimes those stone fruits, along with whatever else might be inching towards the jam pot in the fridge come together between flaky pastry for a "fridge pie." Humble beginnings but still delicious enough for company.
Tonight I chopped a variety of stone fruits and a couple wayward apples and tossed them with sugar -- I used about 3/4 cup. I let the fruit sit for about an hour so the juices would come out then I drained the fruit reserving about 1/4 cup of liquid which I mixed with 3 TB of cornstarch to make sure my filling wasn't runny. I mixed the cornstarch back into the drained fruit along with a sprinkle of nutmeg and a dash of Lillet liquor for a mildly citrus, slightly floral accent. The fruit was laid in my prepared crust. I fashioned a lattice top, brushed the crust with egg wash, sprinkled with sugar and baked for 40 minutes at 400º and another 40 minutes at 350º. I tented the top with foil halfway through baking to keep the crust from turning too dark. The pie was fruity, not too sweet, and just right with a scoop of creme fraiche ice cream.
"Fridge Pie" is always a little different, but always make a great dessert.

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