Careful what you wish for

Cynthia
Cynthia Stone
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So we're popping open the sixth or seventh bottle of wine - I think it was to go with the pasta course - when my fellow book club members decide they want to be in the paper and this space should be devoted to a recent Saturday night gathering at my house.
I told them they might regret my sharing our agreed moniker - The Book Bags seemed like a good idea at the time, but as I'm writing this in the cold light of morning I'm wondering how they'll react to seeing it in print. On the other hand, the menu was definitely worth sharing and I think you'll enjoy these recipes as much as we did.
I had nine really happy women wallowing into this first heavenly mixture, but it was one of seven courses. As a main meal, this amount serves about six. Pancetta is Italian-style unsmoked bacon and I see it lately in the all the grocery stores, but you can substitute regular bacon. Bocconcini are small balls of fresh mozzarella in water, but you can substitute 8 oz. mozzarella. The balsamic glaze is a couple of extra steps but adds a sweet, sharp zing to the dish. The flavour combination is bold, but what I like best is the surprising mixture of textures and temperatures - something between pasta casserole and salad.

Pasta Platter with Sage Butter
1/2 lb. pancetta, diced
1/3 cup unsalted butter
2 tbsp. olive oil
2 cloves garlic, smashed but left whole
handful fresh sage
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tsp. lemon juice
1 tsp. sugar
1 can or jar (about 14 oz.) artichoke hearts in water, well drained and coarsely chopped
2 tubs bocconcini, diced
8 to 10 oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes with 1 tbsp. of the oil
1/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
500g fusili, rotini or penne pasta, cooked according to package instructions
1/2 cup pine nuts, toasted in a dry pan until lightly browned
1/2 cup minced red onion
1/2 cup shaved Asiago cheese (or Parmesan)
salt and pepper to taste
Fry pancetta over medium-low heat until cooked through; set aside. Discard all but 1 tbsp. of fat in the pan and add butter, olive oil, garlic and sage to pan. Cook 5 minutes, until butter has taken on the green colour of the sage. Remove and discard garlic; retain a few crisp sage leaves for garnish and discard the rest; keep butter mixture warm. Put balsamic vinegar, lemon juice and sugar in a small pot and boil until reduced to a syrup. Combine pancetta, artichoke hearts, bocconcini, sun-dried tomatoes with oil, and parsley in a large serving dish. Add hot pasta and warm butter mixture. Toss to coat pasta thoroughly and adjust the seasoning - I like lots of pepper. Top with pine nuts, onion and Asiago and drizzle balsamic glaze over all.

Goan-style Curried Pork
I wanted two different mains that both go well with rice. Tamarind is the distinctive flavour in this dramatic pork curry, but you might not be able to find it, so I am including a good substitute with common ingredients. This quantity serves eight.
2 kg pork shoulder, well trimmed of fat
vegetable oil for frying
1 tsp. each salt and coarsely ground black pepper
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 thumb-sized piece fresh gingerroot, peeled and grated
1 tbsp. hot curry powder
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 cup tamarind paste or the substitute below
1/2 cup plain yogurt - low fat is fine
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1 green chili such as jalapeno, minced (deseeded for less heat)
2 bay leaves
Tamarind Substitute:
1 heaping tbsp. each finely chopped dried apricots, prunes and dates
1 tsp. lemon juice
Cut pork into 1-inch cubes and season with about half the salt and pepper. Brown in oil in small batches and set aside in a baking dish. Add onion to pan and fry until starting to colour. Add garlic, ginger, curry powder and cinnamon and cook another minute. To make the tamarind substitute, cover the fruit in boiling water and allow to sit a few minutes. Drain and puree in a food processor or blender with lemon juice - it's easier if you make three or four times the quantity and refrigerate or freeze the unused portion. Add tamarind or substitute to onion mixture. Add yogurt and remaining salt and pepper and heat through. Pour over pork in baking dish and stir in cilantro and chili. Add bay leaves and bake at 300 F for about 2 hours or until pork is tender.

Lamb Kaftas in a Moroccan Tagine

The flavour base here is similar to that of the curried pork, but the final products are quite different. If you don't want to fuss with ground lamb then use cubed lamb or even beef instead of the kaftas. These meatballs are, however, spectacular in flavour and well worth the effort. They freeze well, so next time you come across ground lamb in the store this is what you should do with it. This is a large main course, serving about eight people, but leftovers develop even more flavour.
2 lb. ground lamb or 1 lb. each ground beef and ground lamb
1 large onion, grated
1 thumb-sized piece fresh gingerroot, grated
1/2 cup chopped fresh Italian flat-leaf parsley
2 tsp. ground cumin
1 tsp. each salt, pepper and ground coriander
1/2 tsp. each ground cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 cup plain yogurt - fat-free is fine
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
Tagine:
1 medium carrot, cubed
2 cups chopped onions
2 tsp. vegetable oil
1 bulb garlic, cloves peeled and minced
1 red pepper, cubed
1 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. each salt, coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 tsp. each ground allspice, ginger and turmeric
1/4 tsp. each cinnamon and cayenne pepper
1 cup chicken broth or water
1 each medium eggplant and zucchini, cubed
1/2 cup each diced dried apricots and dates
6 to 8 figs, diced (optional)
salt and pepper to taste
For the kaftas, combine all ingredients and form into small logs about the size of those little canned sausages. Meatballs are fine if you prefer. They are soft and an hour in the fridge makes them easier to handle. Brown well in vegetable oil and set aside. For the tagine, fry carrot and onions in vegetable oil until starting to brown. Add garlic, red pepper, cumin, salt, black pepper, allspice, ginger, turmeric, cinnamon, and cayenne and cook together until pan is dry and spices are toasted. Stir in broth and add eggplant, zucchini, apricots, dates and figs. Pour into a baking dish and top with kaftas. Cover and bake at 300 F about 2 hours, until everything is tender.

Cynthia Stone is a writer, editor and teacher in St. John's. Questions may be sent to her c-o The Telegram, P.O. Box 86, St. John's, NL, A1E 4N1.

Organizations: The Telegram

Geographic location: Goan, St. John's

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