Le Nom, Volume I: The Italian Dinner Party

One month after an inaugural meeting filled with friends, appetizers, wine, and …shots?? (how’d that happen??), we had our first official club dinner party.  I named the club “Le Nom,” not to be properly translated as “The Name,” but to be in the vein of “nomnomnomnom.”  As you can tell from my blog titles, I’m not good with names. It’s short, and that’s good enough for me.  Our tagline is “Voulez-vous manger avec moi? Ce soir?” My husband thought that translated as “will you sleep with my food?”  He knows 900 computer languages, but when it comes to the non-geek ones… I love him.

This month was Italian Night, hosted by my stylish friend Kirsten.  Where I normally throw down a plastic tablecloth and put out a bunch of mismatched Solo cups left over from previous parties, she does things like this (yes, that’s a printed menu in each glass):

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So yeah, she’s pretty good at this stuff.

The rules for Le Nom are simple: In our first meeting, we agreed to meet the first Saturday of each month, and discussed what international (or regional) cuisines we wanted to have as future themes.  Once a theme is determined for the month, the person who volunteers to host the event cooks the main dish, and everyone else is responsible for making the appetizers, sides, and dessert(s).  We haven’t quite figured out coordinating the courses, but were able to get all aspects of the meal in for Italian Night.

My personal hope for the club was to get together with my foodie friends to enjoy their good company, eat their food, and challenge myself in the culinary arena by making dishes I’ve never made before.  The night did not disappoint!

Listed below is a breakdown of what we ate, recipes (where provided), a little background on each dish, and a suggested wine pairing, should you decide to try it out for yourself.  I apologize for the lack of photos – I completely forgot to take pictures of everyone’s food, either due to excitement or too much Ecco Domani Pinot Grigio.  I’ll leave it to you to guess which was more likely.

 

Caprese Skewers:

Caprese (translated as “in the style of Capri”) is a delicious and light dish that gained popularity in the Campania region of Italy in the 1950s.  Fresh mozzerella (preferably buffalo moazzarella), tomato and basil on a stick – this is a fantastic hors-d’oeuvre for a party.  It’s colorful, delicious, finger-friendly, and doesn’t require any cooking.  When topped with olive oil and balsamic, they are to die for.  I could have had 10 of them.
Suggested Wine Pairing: Chianti or Sangiovese

 

Crab-Stuffed Mushrooms

Another great hors-d’oeuvre for a party.  Italians love their wild mushrooms – among the most coveted are porcini and of course, tartufi (truffles).  Here’s a cooking tip – never store your mushrooms in plastic – it will make them mushy.  Instead, store them in a paper bag, and refrigerate them for no longer than 2-3 days.
Suggested Wine Pairing: any non-oaked Chardonnay

Ribollita

This was my contribution to the theme.  I had this soup for the first time when I visited Florence, and loved all of the different flavors in the soup as well as its heartiness.  Ribollita began as a peasant dish to reuse existing soup, vegetables and older bread.  I used Giada de Laurentiis’ recipe, which is not only tasty, but takes out a lot of prep time by using a few canned and frozen items.  The soup was so pretty, I took a number of pictures as I cooked it, as you can see here.   I love how it has the colors of Italy – red tomatoes, green spinach and white beans.  The recipe also calls for Herbes de Provence, which smells wonderful as it cooks.  I think it turned out pretty good – so much so, I made another batch the next day!
Suggested Wine Pairing: Sangiovese or Chianti.

Bruschetta

Let me tell you about my friend Steven: he covets his Bon Appetit the way some people covet vintage Playboy magazines (or, I guess, National Geographics, but that just doesn’t seem as appropriate).  He is passionate about all things culinary.  He makes his own bacon, for God’s sake.  He is exactly the kind of person who was born for this sort of event.  He brought two things to the party, the first being his amazing bruschetta.  The flavor of the topping was so rich and fresh, I could have dove into a pool of it and eaten my way out.  Instead of putting it in a pool for me to dive into, he put it atop lightly toasted slices of bread, and topped each piece with some cheese, broiling it just enough for the cheese to melt.  Fantastic.  As far as the history of the dish goes, bruschetta has origins back to the 15th century, and existed as a way to use bread that was going stale.  It comes from the verb “bruscare,” which is translated as “to roast over coals.”
Suggested Wine Pairing: Once again, Sangiovese and Chianti are great, although if you want to go with a white, a Sauvignon Blanc would pair well.

 

Handmade Pasta and Meatballs

This was Steven’s other amazing creation – he made fresh fettuccine (or tagliatelle, I’m not sure what the difference is).  I love fresh pasta – it’s so delicate and soft.  The meatballs were full of flavor and moist.  This made me feel bad for not using my pasta roller yet, even though I’ve had it for over 2 years.
Suggested Wine Pairing: Barbera d’Alba, Zinfandel (real Zin, not that fakey white Zin)

 

Sausage and Gravy with Mostaccioli

This style of Ragu was more in the style of the Campania region – lots of sauce, and large chunks of meat.  Ragu is believed to originate from the French ragout, which appeared after Napoleon’s invasion in Italy.  Where Bruschetta and Ribollita were peasant dishes, Ragu was a dish for nobility.  We were lucky enough to get the leftovers for this, and enjoyed them for dinner the next two nights! Needless to say, this reheats well.
Suggested Wine Pairing: Same as above.

 

Chicken Marsala

Marsala is a fortified wine (like Sherry or Port) from Sicily that dates back to the late 1700s.  It can be drank as an accompaniment, of course, but it is also used as an ingredient in a number of dishes, such as Chicken Marsala, some risotto, and tiramisu.  This was Kirsten’s dish, and she did an amazing job of making this dish for 16 people – the fillets were perfectly browned, and the sauce turned out great!
Suggested Wine Pairing: Pinot Noir

 

Chocolate Hazelnut Gelato

Anything Nutella-ish is A+ in my book! Gelato is essentially an Italian ice cream, however there are a few key differences from regular ice cream – there is significantly less butterfat, and it is typically stored at a slightly higher temperature to remain nice and soft. It is believed the chef for the Medici’s in the 16th century created what we know as modern-day gelato.

There are a lot of gelato places in the U.S. that aren’t that great – I’d recommend avoiding large chains if you want to try it.  If you are in the Phoenix Metro, my favorite is Gelato Dolce Vita.  They also make a mean drinking chocolate and cappuccino.  Check them out!
Suggested Wine Pairing:  I’m not big on pairing wine with this kind of dish, but a Port or sweet Sherry (such as a PX) would be nice.

 

Rum Raisin Tiramisu

There is debate whether Tiramisu (Italian for “pick-me-up,” likely for the caffeine in the dessert) originated in Sienna or Treviso.  Regardless of where it came from, it was a great way to end the evening.  It traditionally uses Marsala, but this recipe calls for dark rum – you can’t go wrong with rum, right?
Suggested Wine Pairing: Like the gelato, I’d go with a Port or sweet Sherry for this as well.

 

 

So that was our wonderful Italian Night for Le Nom!  Next month’s assignment? Polynesian/Chinese (odd mix, but people weren’t thrilled with Polynesian, so we decided to mix it up a bit).

What are some of your favorite Italian Dishes? Post below, I’d love to hear them!