27 June, 2009

Delightful Friday Evening and Congratulations to Tony

Last night after work I went to a delightful dinner hosted by a friend to celebrate a very prestigious award that he received. Antonino, Tony to his friends, and his charming wife Samantha arranged for the dinner for 15 people to be held at a very posh shop (Sopra Sotto) that sells fancy Italian tableware, stemware, etc. The fun part was that the dinner was really a cooking lesson from an Italian chef, Antonio Cecconi, who is based in the Twin Cities (Minneapolis and St Paul for those of you not familiar with Minnesota). The evening was marvelous with especially selected wines to accompany the dinner courses. We started with a capresse salad served on a piece of cracker bread that had been drizzled with extra virgin olive oil; so simple and so simply alive with taste. As we ate the salad, Antonio told us about cooking in various regions of Italy. I can’t remember the exact order of all that followed (the wine was very good -- ;-)), but as the evening progressed we watched and learned how to make a fresh dressing for a green salad (the key is absolutely fresh herbs) and a marinade for fresh fish. We watched Antonio make linguine from scratch by hand using durum wheat flour, eggs, and a little water. The nice thing about watching someone who knows how to cook and knows how to teach is all the little hints that can make such a difference, like taking a small handful (1 serving) of linguine to form a little nest that can be frozen and used later just like fresh made pasta. Somehow the thought of making pasta from scratch is no longer as intimidating as it once was. Antonio also made an amazing sauce for the linguine using halved cherry tomatoes, garlic, fresh herbs. To this he added shrimp and jumbo fresh scallops. Once the scallops were nearly done, he added fresh tomato sauce and then let the flavors meld for a bit before pouring the entire pan of sauce over the huge serving bowl nearly filled with the fresh cooked linguine. At the same time the tuna and swordfish steaks, which had been marinating for a while, were placed in the sauté pan and cooked to just barely done before being served up alongside the pasta. Oh wait -- I forgot about the most marvelous mussels! The mussels were cooked in wine and served on another kind of wafer thin bread. The trick he showed us with mussels is that you can break apart the 2 shells and use one to scoop out the mussel from the other half and deliver it safely to your mouth. You can also scoop up some of the sauce with the shell. Then the bread below has soaked up the remaining sauce so you can savor every last drop by eating the bread. We ate the mussels after the capresse salad and before the spinach salad. At some point during the preparations and the eating, Antonio showed us a large platter of luscious strawberries that had been cored earlier. To the platter he added a very generous amount of Marsala wine so the berries could soak as we finished the main courses. For dessert, Antonio made a Zabaione sauce to pour over the Marsala-marinated strawberries. And Samantha had prepared lemoncello to accompany the dessert. All of this, along with interesting conversation, good company, surrounded by the lovely shop items made for a delightful and memorable evening. So - congratulations to you, Tony! And thank you for letting me join in the celebration.

Inspired by Antonio’s cooking, Dennis and I decided to try a recipe from his cookbook – polenta with sautéed spinach and pine nuts. We put a Belize spin on it, though. A number of years ago when visiting Tortola, BVI, we had a similar dish of polenta with local greens. They call the polenta "funghi" in the BVI. I had bought a bunch of fresh greens at the Thursday Street Fair Market in downtown Rochester. It looked to me like the greens were amaranth, although the Asian vendor didn’t know what it was called in English. In Belize you can grow amaranth, although there it is called callaloo. He did assure me that Americans do not like it, and he mostly sells it to Asians and Europeans. The massive bunch was $1.00. I also got a large bunch of what he called Thai bok choy. So we used those instead of the spinach and used toasted sesame seeds and sunflower seeds instead of pine nuts. Otherwise, we followed the recipe pretty closely (didn’t have quite enough basil on hand). We paired it with a nice red wine from Tuscany, and it was a delicious meal. I foolishly forgot to take pictures of it, so you will have to take my word for how nicely the dark green amaranth set off the golden polenta. We can add this to our growing repertoire of dishes we will be able to adapt to ingredients easily available in Belize.

Earlier in the day, I took more photos of our garden. Here is a montage of some of them. I added them to the album you can see at http://picasaweb.google.com/lulalaney/MinnesotaGardenInMidJune02#


  1. Wilma, it's Nick's wife, Sian, here. He said I must read this post on your blog, as I am as passionate about food as he is about wildlife and photography. It's sounds like a great evening - not something I've heard of over here, but I can almost smell the fresh herbs and taste the strawberries. There are various day and weekend cookery courses you can sign up to that are run by celebrated (but not necessarily celebrity) chefs; but to have an expert cook for you, and have him there to question and probe for tips must have been enlightening! I'll have to set up a Shadoxhurst Kitchen blog!!

  2. Hello Sian,

    thanks for visiting and posting a comment. It really was enlightening and loads of fun. If you start a Shadoxhurst Kitchen blog, but sure that Nick puts a link to it on his blog so I can find it!



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