Sunday, January 24, 2010

Supper Club a'la Stitts

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January is the month I dread. Not because I have to strip the boughs of holly and the house is suddenly empty and quiet, but because it is my month to come up with a supper club menu. That, is pressure. We have 20 regular members in the club, and we rotate monthly so you eat dinner with a different group every month. The steering committee each takes a month to plan the menu. I pour over cookbooks, I spend hours on, I envision my neighbors reading my directions and serving my meal and wonder what they will think.

Of course I also have to consider what we have already had in the fall. But seriously, would it be a tragedy if we ate beef at supper club again? Did we have green beans or beets in November? Was dessert fruit based or cake? Really? Does anyone care but me? I doubt it. Everyone in the group loves to cook, but the real draw is the night of good wine, good food and most importantly good neighbors. The bonus this month is that I think the menu is darn good, we did a trial run with friends from outside the neighborhood last weekend, and loved it. It was a good opportunity to get into a cookbook that needed using, Bottega Favorita by Frank Stitts, the Italian theme was easy to round out, and it is a rare person who doesn't like the comfort of an Italian meal.

So, I wrote this blog ahead of time so I could toss in photos after the dinner and hit publish and I'd be done. Not so fast. My memory gets foggy after a glass or 2 of wine, and I forgot to take photos...except this one. And truthfully it isn't very appetizing. Something about peas. But trust me. It really was delicious. And the company stayed past midnight, so you know it was fun! I also shot a pic of Grandma's china before dinner, because it makes a beautiful table.

The other important factor of the menu is what needs to be done last minute. The menu is divided so the hostess makes the main dish and the guests do appetizer, dessert and side. The items need to have a minimal amount of last minute prep so everyone can enjoy themselves.

Our appetizer is Roasted Pepper Artichoke Puffs. It is a recipe from the WIndward Women's Club Cookbook in Alpharetta, GA. I lived there for about 5 years and loved it and I was the chairperson for this cookbook The recipes are tried and true favorites from many old friends. The appetizer is easy to make ahead, the peppers are pre-roasted and the filling is mixed and chilled and can be broiled as your guests arrive.

Roasted Pepper Atichoke Puffs

6 peppers, red and yellow, cleaned and sectioned to about 5 or 6 pieces each pepper
2T olive oil
2T balsamic vinegar

Put cut pepper pieces on shallow pan drizzle with oil and vinegar. Roast at 400° for about 15 minutes, stirring frequently. They should no longer be crunchy, but have a little shape to them. Remove from oven and cool thoroughly. Set Aside.

1 bunch scallions, trimmed and chopped
2 gloves garlic, minced
1 can artichoke hearts, drained and diced to ¼”
5 slices prosciutto, minced
3 T basil leaves, finely shredded
½ cup fresh grated Parmesan
½ cup shredded Jarlsburg or Gruyere cheese
1 T lemon juice
Black pepper to taste
½ cup mayonnaise

In a small saute pan heat 2 T oil, saute scallions and garlic until soft. Remove from heat and place in small mixing bowl. Add other ingredients except peppers, and mix well. Place in fridge for at least an hour and up to 2 days.
When ready to serve. Preheat broiler. Place peppers on shallow baking sheet and top with a few teaspoons of the cheese mixture. Broil close to the heat source until bubbly. Cool slightly before serving.

Dinner is chicken. I know, not very fancy, but trust me on this, it really is delicious. The chicken can be stuffed ahead, then browned as the guests arrive and have wine and artichoke puffs. This way as it bakes to finish, everyone is socializing and getting the table ready. The peas are made ahead and the sauce is made as the cappellini rests, and everything is ready to roll.

Chicken Saltimbocca
adapted from Bottega Favorita by Frank Stitt

8 bone-in, skin-on chicken breasts, nice size, rinsed and patted dry
salt and pepper
8 large fresh sage leaves or 16 small leaves
8 thin slices of fresh mozzarella
8 thin slices prosciutto (I use four and cut them in half)

Slip a finger under the skin of the breast, careful not to tear it, and fold it back. Season meat with s&p. Place a sage leaf on the meat and cover with mozzarella slice and a slice of prosciutto. It is easier to stack the leaves, the cheese and prosciutto and slip it in as one piece. Carefully stretch the skin back over the stuffing. Chicken can be prepared to this point ahead. Cover and chill.

Preheat oven to 425°. Heat a large or two large oven proof skillets over medium heat. A heavy roasting pan would also work over 2 burners. Add 2-4T olive oil to hot pans and place chicken breasts skin side down into hot pan. Cook for 15-20 minutes. The skin should brown nicely, do not turn the breasts over.

Transfer pan or pans into hot oven and continue to roast chicken for 30-45 minutes or until the thickest part of the breast is cooked. Internal temp should be 165°.

2 Shallots, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves minced
½ cup dry vermouth
2 T fresh lemon juice
8T unsalted butter
1 bag frozen sweet peas, cooked in boiling salted water, drained and chilled

Remove chicken from pan and tent on platter to keep warm. Pour off any excess fat from pan or pans and place on medium heat. Saute shallot and garlic until translucent. Remove pan from heat and add vermouth, scraping up crusty bits on the bottom. Place back on heat simmer to reduce liquid by half. Add lemon juice and whisk in the butter a chunk at a time. Add peas and serve with chicken. Spoon sauce on chicken.

The Cappellini Gratin is a different twist on pasta. Having it baked in a shallow pan gives you a crunchy top and a little creamier inside. As a person who always eats the outside of a baked pasta where the crunchy noodles are, this pasta is right up my alley.

Capellini Gratin
Adapted from Bottega Favorita by Frank Stitt

½ T unsalted butter
1 pound capellini
½ cup heavy cream
1½ cups fresh grated parmesan, divided
Salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425° (same as the chicken). Grease a 12x17 baking sheet with the butter.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, generously salt water before adding pasta. Cook until al dente. Drain pasta, but reserve about ½cup of the pasta cooking water.
Place cream and ¾cup of parmesan in large bowl. Add the pasta and season pasta with salt and pepper. Combine well. Add pasta water as needed to loosen the consistency. Spread pasta out on baking sheet and top with remaining parmesan. Can be made ahead to this point. If making ahead, use most all of the pasta water in the mix as the pasta will absorb a fair amount while sitting.

Bake pasta uncovered until golden and crisp around the edges, about 14-20 minutes. Convection bake works great and making it crispy. Let gratin cool for about 5-10 minutes and then cut into serving pieces.

As an Italian myself, I felt the dinner needed a simple salad. Dessert used to be my favorite part of the meal. Not so much anymore. Don't get me wrong, I love it all, but I feel after a great meal that dessert is sometimes too much. I chose a Pistachio Semifreddo for dessert because it is a little lighter. It gives you that sweet finale without making you miserable. The recipe is here is a great site to get recipes. As a member you can make a recipe box and stash all the ones you like in one place. Also, members review recipes so you can read the reviews, hints and variations that home cooks have made.

So, dinner is served. Go on, get in there and cook!

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