Sunday, 28 March 2010

Dinner-Date! OR, How to Make aThree Course Dinner in Sixty Minutes!

I have a friend who pines for romantic home-cooked dinner dates. He says he likes restaurants just fine, but they are a drain on his strained budget, and anyway there's nothing more fun (well, maybe some things...) than going food shopping together, hand-picking your meat and produce, getting home, rolling up your sleeves, pouring yourselves a glass of wine, putting on some music, and getting down to making a dinner from scratch. Now, I say there's far too many variables in his equation for perfect happiness, and while I can't provide the love, if I don't make a romance-starved buddy at least a decent home-cooked dinner (wine and music et al), what sort of a friend would I be?

So we went out and shopped ourselves silly--well, by end-of-the month standards, anyway--at Trader Joe's and the local friendly Foodmaster, just to show that we're not supermarket snobs. We planned on an antipasto platter, a non-tomato pasta dish, and a simple home-made dessert. As it turned out, however, he also wanted a salad, so I chucked the antipasto idea and put most of the cured meats we had bought into a basic garden salad. I'll do a lot for my friends, but I will not slave in a kitchen for more than sixty bloody minutes for a meal that'll be wolfed down in less than half that time [Why do Americans eat so quickly? What's the damn rush?] 

First, put water to boil on a saucepan. We needed a little less than half the entire pan, but you'll need to measure according to the amount of pasta being cooked. While the water's coming to a boil, make the salad.

So, salad:
Tomatoes, sliced.
Sweet red onion, sliced (optional)
Lettuce, torn by hand or chopped.
Proscuitto, ham ends, salami--cut into strips.
Sardines--de-boned (yuck. I picked mine out).
Cheese--cut in thick strips.

For the dressing:
Vinegar, water, oil.
Salt, pepper.
Crushed raw garlic, onion powder (optional).

Put all of the above in a glass bottle with a non-leaky, snug cap/top, liquids first. Put the top back on firmly, and shake the bottle vigorously to mix all ingredients together.

Note: this dressing is easy, light, delicious, and can be kept in the fridge for months in a well-sealed glass bottle. And it's *much* better than buying ready-made dressings with preservatives and what not, cheap though they might be. Make your own food, it's fun! And will likely save you some medical bills.

Pour the dresing liberally on the lettuce and tomatoes (and onions, if using). Mix it up. Now, ladle the basic salad into little wooden bowls (or any bowl, really), and top up with slices of cheese and meat. This can be done in the bigger wooden bowl, of course. I've no idea why we did this individually. Perhaps to make sure everyone gets enough meat and cheese, and not just lettuce and tomatoes. Top with a little oregano. 

Pasta Fiorenara:
The pasta should be done by now. Keep checking with a fork all the while you're making the salad. If it is, pour it off into a strainer and hold the strainer under a cold tap for a few seconds, before letting the paste drip dry.

While it's drying, take the anchovies out of their tins, and pour off their preserving oil in one glass or plastic bowl. Now, crush a clove of garlic for each person eating, and add it to the oil. Mix well with a fork. By this time you should have transferred the salads to small individual bowls, leaving the large salad-mixing bowl empty. Don't wash it.

Pour the dried pasta straight into this bowl. Pour the garlic-flavoured anchovy oil on top of the pasta. Open a small bag/bottle of pine nuts and add them too. Now, using whatever your use to mix pasta with sauce (I use a spatula and a large fork, 'cause what the hell. My tastebuds and digestive system ask no questions), mix the pasta with the anchovy oil and pine nuts. If the anchovy oil isn't sufficient, and it usually is, add a little olive oil. Now, lay out the anchovies on each plate. They, and the pine nuts, will give the required bite and kick to this otherwise bland dish. Now, top with grated parmesan, and since my friend likes it so much, a little more oregano. Serve.

This recipe, btw, is from the current flame, who says he ate it at a small restaurant on his tour of Italy, and it was so utterly delicious he begged the chef for the recipe, saying he would soon go back to America and never return. We're not sure if this is exactly the accurate recipe, but it does brilliantly for us.

And now, dessert:
Fresh fruit in a honey yougurt sauce. It's delicious, and one can use just about any fruit (except maybe melons). I used an orange a handful of strawberries bought off the sale at Trader Joe's. The fruit part is easy, you chop 'em up and put 'em in a bowl.

Now, for the sauce, you take some Greek yogurt (vanilla flavoured, in our case) and beat it till smooth. Take some yogurt water (whey?) along with it, since a tight, semi-solid sauce isn't on the menu. Now, add about a teaspoon of geraldine syrup. Beat it into the yogurt. Add a dash of honey. Fold it in. Pour the thick, creamy sauce over the fruits, and mix well. One can also add chopped walnuts as a garnish, but by the time I got to dessert I wanted to do NO extra work whatsoever.

Keep this in the fridge for a little while before serving. In fact, I made my dessert while I was making the salad, and cooled it in the fridge while we ate.


Diviani said...

just how many times a month do you go food shopping? =P
i find i tend to overstock my fridge, and then i get anxious about all the fresh food because they start to look like they're wilting pretty soon.
i dislike pasta and anchovies and fruits and yoghurt immensely, but the salad sounds delicious. all my dressings so far have been slapdash efforts made of sour cream/ mayo, lemon pepper, and sometimes extra virgin olive oil.

Dea-chan said...

Aside from the anchovies, that looks delicious! And funnily enough, that is exactly how my mother always made fruit salad. Well, she just used regular french vanilla yogurt, and DID use walnuts. But she also always used apples, which I always just found too tart for it. Pears, grapes and bananas work best for me!

Also -- I tried to get together Saturday! Did you not get my VM?


Nayantara said...

Anchovies eh? I have to acquire their taste, I's a bit of a learning curve...

Rimi said...

Div--I used to do exactly that, because the old supermarket was uphill, downhill, and slightly uphill again from my place, and while it's a pleasant walk down there, coming back with armfuls of stuff was hardly fun. These days, however, the Shaw's and Foodmaster and a Trader Joe's AND a Whole Foods is on the bus route to where I live (albeit infrequent buses. But better than walking uphill with arms laden with produce) so I shop about thrice or four times a month.

Ironically, of course, since I go this often, I don't actually have large bags of shopping anymore. Two bags, at most. Such is life :P

Tegan--I know! I dislike apples in desserts because, A. I'm not fond of them and B. they're too tart, compared to the other fruit. I'd love ripe but firm pears in this, and most certainly grapes, but maybe not bananas. Bananas go better with cereal and cold milk. Zero-effort breakfast :-)

Nayantara--I dislike anchovies completely, and consequently don't recommend acquiring the taste. My friend insisted on anchovies simply because the Italian restaurant had used them (or some fish that tasted like anchovies), but I ended up giving him all my little fishies. And since I hate wasting food, I made sure he ate every little one of them.

That's what one gets for twisting my arms into trying fish I don't like :D