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26th Dinner Club: Sicily Summary


When I selected Sicily as our theme for this month it was with the idea that thoughts and food of a Mediterranean island would bring a little sunshine into what is normally a dreary Northwest winter.  Well, our winter has been anything but dreary with several snow days which have been followed by many days of sun – sometimes starting with a little fog but definitely not rainy and gray as our January days are prone to be.   So Friday was actually a pretty nice day but that just enhanced our Sicilian feast. 
Little note:  Every time I think of Sicily I remember my Italian Grandfather teaching me the rhyme, "Austria got Hungary ate a little Turkey dipped in Greece, something in the middle and Big Boot Italy kicked little Sicily into the Mediterranean Sea.  Or something like that – doing a web search turned up all kinds of variations! 
Everyone arrived at almost the same time.  M2 had cocktails and appetizers and planned to finish both once she arrived.  We started heating the oil for the Arancini with Peas and Mozzarella – little balls of risotto stuffed with mozzarella and one! pea, rolled in bread crumbs and then fried until crispy on the outside and the cheese was melted on the inside. 
While the oil was heating she made up a batch of Strega-Nators – a new name but based on old Sicilian liquor, Strega.  Strega, like many other spirits from France and Italy, is flavored from a mixture of herbs and was first created by monks way back in the late 1800s.  The name, Strega means witch and is tied to a legend that witches gathered in the town where the liqueur was created.  As with all things like this there is overlap between truth, fiction, history and myth but who really cares what the truth is when the final product  is such a lovely ingredient?   The mix of this fragrant liquor with citrus juice was really refreshing and tasty.  I think we were all a little surprised – not that we expected something bad but we just weren’t sure what to expect – this is what makes dinner club so fun!   
While we were sipping M2 was frying away and soon we had a big batch of Arancini ready to consume.  We made our way into the living room to start a long and languid evening of eating! 
I’ve mentioned that early on we had some trouble with everyone bringing too much food as we sometimes even made two of our assigned dished when we couldn’t decide between options.  Over the years we’ve gotten much better at portion control but every now and then we hit a night where we could have fed 2 or 3 times the number of people at the table. This was going to be one of those nights!
This time it was related to the chosen recipes and the amounts each made.  M2’s Arancini recipe made a good 16 to 18 little balls of fried risotto.  And they were so good!  A little salty, crispy but not greasy, soft and gooey on the inside.  The recipe she used called for just one pea to be placed in the center of each ball and we spent quite some time discussing why this might be the case, and then searching for our precious pea to make sure we didn’t accidentally ingest it without appreciating the little treasure it represented. 
M2 had served two per person with a plate of extras and if there wasn’t a full dinner following I would definitely have had more!  In fact, I could easily have made my meal of these.  I had a one for breakfast the next day and even cold – right out of the fridge – it was tasty, smooth and satisfying. 
After we had rested a bit we decided to go with a pasta course, following the more traditional Italian lineup.  K had responsibility for this course and chose Pasta con Acciughe e Pomodoro from Jamie Oliver’s new cookbook.  She had a hard time selecting her final recipe, she told us, and had wavered back and forth and finally settled on this one based on anchovies.  Good job, K! 
Made with raisins, pinenuts, breadcrumbs and lots of wine we will soon see these ingredients echoed in another part of the menu. The anchovies themselves melt into the sauce becoming a salty influence more than anything else.  The sweet raisins were such a nice surprise in the mostly savory dish.  This recipe made enough pasta for us to have as a main course.  Or actually as our only course!  But we managed to keep our servings down a bit in consideration of the rest of the meal to come.  We had moved to the dining table at this point and we lingered and savored, sipping wine and preparing for the next round of Sicilian treasure.
While the others let the first two courses mellow I moved back to the kitchen to finish the main course, Involtini all Siciliana – or veal roulades stuffed with cheese, breadcrumbs, currants and pinenuts.  Do those ingredients seem familiar?  As we’ve discovered with some other regional meals sometimes common ingredients seem to weave a common thread throughout our selections.  
I had stuffed and rolled the veal a bit earlier and the rolls were held in place with long sprigs of rosemary.  There were really rather beautiful!  I had a bit of a challenging time getting them cooked evenly through though.  With the sprigs sticking out two sides the rolls could not be completely seared on all sides.  I have a few idea on how to make this work better next time but I have to test them before I recommend them.  The smaller rolls cooked fine but a couple of the larger rolls were a bit undercooked in the middle.
Along with the Involtini, R served Caponata a lovely mixture of sautéed eggplant, onions, and celery with olives, tomatoes and capers.  When making the recipe she felt there were too many onions but I thought the final product was nicely balanced.  There were a lot of onions but their sweet structure pulled all the other pieces together.
Again we took a bit of a break after this course.  I should mention that I’d selected three wines to have with our meal.  All based on the Nero d’Avola grape of Sicily I thought it would be fun to do a little taste test to see which we liked best.  The first was all Nero d’Avola and was called Lamuri -which apparently means heart, one was a Nero d’Avola and Cabernet Sauvignon blend and the third was a Nero d’Avola, Merlot, Syrah blend.  The table favorite was the Lamuri although I also really liked the Cab blend.  They were all nice wines. And I had no problem finishing the last glass or two over the next couple days!  
We ended with a beautiful, palest green, creamy dessert, Pistachio Gelato.  Fresh from the ice-cream maker just a couple hours earlier it was nutty, a bit sweet and fragrant with a bit of lemon. Made with milk and egg yolks but no heavy cream it was smooth and silky without being overbearing.  It was a very lovely finish to a very lovely meal.  As a little extra treat I also pulled out a bottle of Limoncello that I had made this summer.  I have to say the Limoncello has really mellowed into a wonderful way to finish a meal.  Although it is sweet, the clean lemon taste and high liquor percent keep this liqueur our of the candy column. 
We started and finished a few more topics of conversation and finally wound down about 11:30.  A four and a half hour meal – now that is dining as it’s meant to be done.  With focus on friends and conversation along with the food.
You can see more photos here and see the menu with links to recipes here.       

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