Summer night. Gentle, soft air caresses bare arms. Stars in the sky (presumably: it’s hard to tell for sure with the sodium light of our urban cityscape – but no matter). Fairy lights line the inside of the sun umbrella over the table. They bring ironic light to the table instead of shading it. Candles in small hurricane lamps surround the base of the umbrella.
And friends. People we have known and grown with for decades. Good conversation: food and wine, of course, but also Paris and travel and medicine and children and grandchildren and … politics! But darn little gossip.
The only thing to complete the evening, Fellow FoodBeest: good food from the kitchen and wine.
But Anne and James are here so of course food and wine are part of the evening. Two of us cook (me and James) and all of us are FoodBeests.
James, a wonderful inventive chef brings an enormous antipasti platter mounded with grilled red and yellow peppers, cherry tomatoes, fennel, pearl onions, and zucchini, dressed with basil leaves and extra virgin olive oil. The vegetables tell the main story, but they are punctuated and italicized with olives, thin-sliced Italian salumi and goat cheese.
In his generosity, James left the leftovers with us, so the next day they morphed into both a morning fritatta and a pasta salad. Just saying. Thanks, James.
We nibble casually, chatting and sipping a rosé wine.
We are ready to begin the formal sit-down part of this outdoor feast on the urban deck.
A risotto, request of Mr. FB. “Mushroom,” is what he asks for. He likes it and it’s familiar. I had a yen for blueberry risotto, for it’s uniqueness, its surprising tang, and its purpleness, but mushroom risotto it is.
Risotto is not the best choice for entertaining, Fellow FoodBeest. It requires a good half-hour’s attention before serving while it slowly absorbs the wine and the broth you stir in. But with Anne taking photos in the kitchen with me, it’s a pleasure.
This morning’s farmers market provided us with wild mushrooms: oyster, shitake and forest. Don’t overcook this. Risotto likes to be creamy with a nice bite just at the end. Half the mushrooms are mixed in along with some finely chopped flat-leaf parsley for the greenness. The rest of the mushrooms topped off the small portions we served to keep room for what’s next.
What is next, you ask, Fellow FoodBeest?
La pièce de résistance.
Pork chops (from an organic farm in Iowa) based on one of Jamie Oliver’s Italian recipes. I cut a horizontal pocket into each chop and filled it with a masceration of prosciuitto, dried apricots and fresh sage (1 slice prosciutto, one dried apricot, several sages leaves and about a tablespoon of butter per chop whipped around in the food processor or blender). Sweet. Salty. Savory. The chops got sautéed until crispy with one or two of those sage leaves adhered to the outside and then they were finished in a 400o oven. I wanted to lick the plate to ensure that none of that stuffing escaped.
We served the pork chops with zucchini. Zucchini? Boring. No, Fellow FoodBeest, not boring when they are slowly heated and softened in olive oil with dried red pepper flakes, garlic scapes (sweeter and gentler than any clove), and anchovy that manages to dissolve in the heat of the pan and give a rich, slightly salty hint of the sea to the whole dish.
Dessert was simple. Red, blue and yellow. Wild strawberries – not the steroid-inflated supermarket berries that have only a recollection of berryness, but the real deal that wake up your mouth, and raspberries that grew on canes in James and Anne’s yard and blueberries and mango.
It past midnight before the evening is over and it was a shame to see it end, but sleep is now beckoning and tomorrow, as they say, is another day.
Photos by Anne (who as you can see, is getting to be a really impressive photographer with a very good eye).
Now it’s your turn, Fellow FoodBeest. Tell us how you celebrate friends and the joys of seasonal food. Use the Comments section below.