This feels like a bit of a cheater post, but hey, every blogger needs an easy post now and then. As it happens, I’ve already blogged about the pasta recipe I served at my Italian dinner party last Saturday, and the second dish for today’s post is a simple salad. And, to top it off, I didn’t take any photos of either dish. Somehow, it didn’t even cross my mind to snap a couple of quick pics with my phone before sending the plates off to the table. I suppose the good thing is that this means I was more focused on my guests than on my blog, and really, isn’t that how it should be when you have company over?
As I mentioned in my last post, one of the secrets to serving a multi-course meal is to have some dishes that are quite simple. You’ll see that both of these qualify in that department, but still score high on flavour. I think they also did well on presentation, but since I don’t have the pictures to prove it, you’ll just have to accept my word on that.
Pasta with Garlic, Red Chili Pepper and Lime
The primo course for my meal was a quick and easy pasta, with both spicy and citrusy flavour. It hardly takes longer to make than it will take me to write this paragraph. (Well, maybe a bit longer). While the pasta is cooking, in this case spaghettini, warm minced garlic, red chili pepper in a few tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet. After the pasta is cooked, add about a third cup of pasta water to the skillet and then the drained pasta. It’s at this point that it’s time to add the lime zest. (I’ve found through trial and error that if I cook it along with the garlic and chile pepper its beautiful green colour fades.) Spritz on the lime juice, grind over some pepper, and toss until the various aromatic seasonings are incorporated throughout the strands of pasta.
Remember, this is a starter course and quantities are not supposed to be large. I used not quite three-quarters of a packet of spaghettini, or about 300 g, for six adults. To serve, twist onto small heated plates with tongs, then grate parmesan over top to garnish along with a light grinding of pepper.
Confession time: I was over-zealous with the red chile pepper and the heat far exceeded my expectations. It wasn’t intolerable, but definitely at the upper level of my spiciness limit. Let’s just say that if any of my guests were feeling sleepy, this dish had enough zing to wake them up for the rest of the evening.
To give you an idea of what the pasta looked like, here’s a photo from the post I wrote about it in March. I’m pleased to see how far my food photography has come since I took this picture (and even sorrier now that I didn’t get a few shots of Saturday’s version!).
Romaine, Radicchio and Tomato Salad with Lemon Dressing
The last course of the meal before dessert was the salad, or insalata. I’ve long had the idea that the salad is traditionally served after the main course in Italian dinners, but I just did a bit of research and wasn’t able to confirm it. I’m hoping that my go-to expert on Italian cuisine, Chicago John from the follow-worthy blog From the Bartolini Kitchens will be able to advise on that point (no pressure, John!). Regardless, I like serving the salad after the main course, as a palate cleanser before dessert.
The salad for Saturday’s meal was light and refreshing. The greens were a simple combination of romaine and radicchio, accompanied by small yellow tomatoes cut into wedges and red grape tomatoes sliced in half lengthwise. The dressing was freshly squeezed lemon juice and olive oil, with a pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. I didn’t measure anything, but just mixed the dressing in a bowl until it tasted the way I wanted it to. As a final touch, shaved slices of parmesan added some richness and garnish. I wish I had taken a picture of the salad – the combination of green and red lettuces, plus the bright red and yellow of the tomatoes made this course a contrast in colour, as well as flavour and texture, to the secondo or entrée course of the pork stew and white bean mash. (More about that in my next post!)
To make up for not having a picture of Saturday’s salad, I’m including a sneak preview of the salad I made for my lunch yesterday, which will be the star of an upcoming post. Until then, it will remain a mystery …..