Wednesday, December 30, 2009
I always look forward to this particular gathering. A great time to see my wife's side of the family, and a great time to enjoy a feast. I usually start thinking about the holiday meal pretty much the day after the previous holiday meal, but in this case, my final decision came a week before it. After the 2008 Holiday Feast, I thought Moroccan might be the choice meal, but then after the year went by, there was just something about Italian that sounded right. I also think watching Under the Tuscan Sun recently had something to do with it!
Anyway, I made a menu...kind of like you see some musicians do a set list the night before a show. It helps me think through the flow of my dishes...when I need to get something in the oven, or when something will be done. I also use it as a reminder for shopping, to make sure I have everything I need. Nothing special, but here it is:
Here's the recipe rundown...
Stuffed Chicken Thighs Stuffed with Prosciutto, Basil and Fontina: I don't know what it is about this dish, but I dream about it often. I imagine this tender, explosively tasty dish oozing with textures and aroma. In my dreams, it's a breast, but I ended up going with thighs. Fact is, I didn't want to risk a dry, gummy mouthful of monotone meat. Boneless, skinless thighs won me over.
Take 6-8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs. Marinate at least 2 hours in orange juice, 5-8 cloves of garlic, chopped onion, parsley, salt and pepper. Before cooking, let the thighs come out to room temperature for at least 3o minutes, and shake dry before cooking.
Heat skillet with a bit of oil, and brown both sides of thigh (1-3 minutes per side). immediately stuff with a slice of prosciutto, basil, and a slice of fontina, mozarella or other cheese. Fold over and close with a toothpick. Set flat in a baking dish (slightly oiled first). Continue for each one and put them in a single layer. When they're all in the dish, douse a little white wine, salt, and pepper on them and put them in a 400 degree oven for at least 30 minutes.
Lamb Ragu: This all came together because I had a dream about Oso Buco...maybe it was prophetic, because this ragu was amazing!! But, with 7-9 people, I didn't have time, the proper dish, or inclination to make oso buco. But, I did happen to have some lamb shanks on hand.
3-4 lamb shanks, salted and peppered. Heat a bit of oil in large oven-proof pot or dutch oven. Brown lamb on both sides (3-4 minutes per side). Remove. Add a bit more oil and 1 chopped onion. Fry for 2-3 minutes, then add 4 carrots chopped and 2 celery stocks chopped. Fry additional 3-4 minutes. Add 5 cloves garlic sent through a press, fry for 30 seconds to 1 minute. Drop in 1 diced vine-ripe tomato. Add 2 bay leaves. Stir and mix well. Add 1/2 small can good chicken broth. I prefer Swansons. Set lamb on top, and pour in red wine to cover - I used a good Pinot, but I'm sure whatever you have on hand will work. Bring to a boil, then put in a 325 degree oven for 2.5 - 3 hours. Remove from oven, pull meat from bones and flake meat into mix, stirring up nicely. Add salt and pepper to taste. Keep on stove on low heat until ready to use.
This sauce will work well on a pasta (probably something like rigatoni), but I had some crisp bread on hand for a side.
Vine-Ripe Tomatoes Stuffed with Orzo, Panchetta and Mushrooms: You must have ripe, vine-ripe tomatoes for this. Don't use those beefstake or whatever they are. This is a savory, sweet side that blasts texture and earthy, natural flavors.
Cut out 1-2" circle around top and core out center with small spoon. I keep the liquid and seeds, but discard the hard internal parts. Cook orzo according to instructions and set aside. Cook chopped crimini mushrooms with white wine, salt, pepper and butter - maybe 5-6 minutes. Set in a bowl. Cook up chopped panchetta, add to bowl. Fry up chopped onion with olive oil and pepper. Add to bowl. Add your tomato inards to the bowl, shave some Asiago cheese into the bowl, and chop some fresh basil as well. Add a little more salt and pepper. Now stir in some orzo, a little at a time, until you have a nice mixture. Spoon it into your tomatoes. Set the tomatoes into a greased baking dish and bake at 400 degrees for at least 50 minutes.
Angel Hair Pasta with Garlic Olive Oil, Parmesan and Capers: With so many hot dishes, I knew we needed something cooler to balance it all out. It hit me pretty quick - it needed to be angel hair, and something that could be room temperature, not exactly cold. Why? Because that's what I thought of...no other reason.
Heat 1/2 olive oil on low heat with 6-8 sliced garlic cloves. You're working on infusing the garlic into the oil, not frying it. Meanwhile, cook your pasta to al dente. Drain, rinse under cold water, drain again, and place in large serving bowl. Add garlic-oil and mix well. Add some chopped sun-dried tomatoes. Shave some Parmigiano-Reggiano into it and mix. Meanwhile, soak some capers in balsamic vinaigrette, and mix those in as well. Top with fresh basil and chopped vine-ripe tomato.
Pan-Fried Mahi Mahi with Brown Butter Garlic Sauce: It's always nice to have some seafood in a full-blown meal like this. I decided on Mahi Mahi, because it has a nice texture, absorbs flavor well, and could be cooked in a small pan.
Take a large mahi mahi steak and slice it down the middle (from end to end). Generously salt, pepper, and add dried basil and marjoram...also some garlic powder. Heat a bit of butter in a small pan until foaming, and add fish. Fry on all sides...maybe 3 minutes first side, then 2, 2, and 2. Depends on how thick your pieces are. You want a nice brown crust. Remove fish to serving plate. Add more butter and reduce heat to medium. Brown the butter to a nice color and aroma without burning it. Add 3 minced cloves of garlic and stir for 30 seconds. Add small grip of chopped parsley and fry a few seconds. Stir well and pour over fish. Squeeze lemon over it all.
Grilled Fennel and Portabello Mushrooms: Pour olive oil in your hands and work it into the fennel and mushrooms. Salt and pepper generously. Add to medium-hot grill for about 14 minutes per side (careful not to burn). Remove, slice and serve.
I had some other things on the side, but don't really remember. We ate too much and talked too much. You also need a good wine or two. I popped a great Bordeaux.