Saturday, January 15, 2011

VPC Sunday "Sicilian" Dinner Recap

When great friend Jeremy Parker asked me to "co-chef" for his weekly Sunday Supper series at Veronica People's Club in Greenpoint, a vision appeared before my very eyes: RICE BALL PYRAMID!

Menu planning ensued at Fat Radish where we ran into some friends, old and new, and invited ourselves to join in their dinner. Duck terrine. Cheese Burger. Celery Root Pot Pie. Some wine. Good wine. Bank account hurting. A little menu talk, but nothing was finalized.
Up to Jeremy's new digs on Orchard, new roommates, terrace, pot.
Sat on a piece of foam/soon to be mattress in Jeremy's just moved into room, then the menu appeared. Nothing was anything I had ever made before and it was going to be beautiful, improvised, tweaky, new, old, and full of surprises.
I pitted the meal as a traditional Sicilian Sunday Supper with a twist, because I knew it would evolve until the moment we packed it all into a taxi and drove it to the bar.
Rice balls! Of course. The filling for the rice balls that I grew up on are stuffed with a meat sauce and some cheese.
But I dream. When the meat ball shop opened, I thought of how cool a rice ball shop would be. So I started dreaming up fillings.
Mushrooms and cheese! And sage and mushrooms are like bread and butter.
Porcini Fontina Rice Balls with Sage Bechamel.
I never made porcini mushrooms before and in fact did not eve know what they tasted like. When we sent out the menu all my veggie friends were like, "isn't porcini pig?" It turns out porcini are the raddest if not the most gosh darn expensive mushrooms out there.
Jeremy's idea was to pair the rice ball with a raw kale salad. Easy, brother kale is NOT Sicilian. Rocco shuns the kale. We compromised with some chard in the mix and a perfect bacon anchovy dressing Jeremy would whirl together in my food processor.

Stew time. We went with the ultimate comfort food. A Rocco stew. Cauliflower and Lentils with Fennel Seeds. Veggie friendly. But it craved to be topped with peppery bacon and brussels sprout chips.
Dessert would not happen without ricotta. Every Sicilian dessert uses ricotta. Ricotta Pie with Fig Compote and Chestnut Honey. We didn't even know what that was and it would just come together on its own, while the taxi impatiently honked its horn.

Lastly, the Bloody Sicilian Cocktail. Simple: campari, soda and blood orange juice.
Menu done in our brains. Now shopping.
Whole Foods is the least cost effective place to stretch your money when planning a big menu for up to forty people. But they do have some of the specialty items we needed. The kale and chard was beautiful, and the dried porcini mushrooms was just the right price or so we thought.
After walking around in circles, wanting to just get all the shopping done in one place, but knowing we could definitely find the same items for so much less in Greenpoint, we finally made it to check out.
Our cashier was not the Lower East Side hipster one would expect, but your favorite most huggable plumpish aunt with the warmest smile and the best New York Jew accent one can find in those parts.
"Oh, honey, this sounds amazing, what you are making! Its going to be delicious."
I secretly needed her encouragement.
I was a little rice ball of excitement, which can feel like anxiety, which can feel like a wound up lunatic is running in a mouse wheel in your stomach and poking you in the brain with a "how the fuck is this going to all get done?"  -- stick! Just look at the nice smiley checkout lady and vibe off her calmness. Listen to the items scan one by one by one. Get into the rhythm. Beep. Beep. Beeeeeeeeeeeeeep.

We looked at the total, in one scan, it jumped $80. What the fuck! She was smiling, had no idea what was going on.
"Wait wait wait, we did not get 2 lbs of porcini mushrooms at $38 per pound. We got shiitake mushrooms!"
Close one. Pay attention.
When you come up with a fancy menu that you have to serve on a budget to a lot of people, you start sounding like a drug dealer.
"So we will get this $6 bucket of dried porcini's then cut it with shiitake."
"Just get one Chestnut Honey for $10 then we cut it with a Clover Honey for $3."
But nothing summed up the inventiveness of the meal planning more than when we were buying fig for the compote.
"Should we just get this jam?"
"Jam? Its compote. We said we were making a compote!"
"What's a compote?"
"I have no idea! I thought you knew what a compote is."
"Should I look up compote on my iphone?"
Oh dear!

Home. Soaked the lentils and fell asleep dead on the couch.
Sunday morning included hoofing it to the guido deli on Graham Ave. for fresh ricotta. No Polly-O would taint our ricotta pies. Or cake. Or whatever they would end up being.
Cooking was on!
And I was a complete crazy Sicilian old lady mess the entire day worrying if there would be enough food. I promise, I am a very chill person ordinarily, but the idea of running out of food is a fear deeply ingrained in this crazy DNA. Thank God Jeremy is one of the only people who can say to me, "Chill dude" and I actually chill.
Everything was going very smoothly.
There was A LOT to do, in NOT a lot of time.
There were a few mishaps.
As Jeremy was pouring the fennel seeds into the hot oil for the stew, I took a whiff of the spice jar.
"Uh, wait, uh, those aren't fennel seeds! FUCK! Those are anise seeds!"
"Chill, dude."
"Sicilian Indian mash-up?"
"Don't tell people that."
"Fuck! What are we going to do?"
"Dude, chill!"
By 3pm, Jeremy decided to go on a pot run. Considering the amount of chopping, roasting, rolling, baking, frying, and freaking out we had to do, I was at first not in support. But when I looked at myself in the mirror, a messy hag covered in grease, and listened to myself speak, franticly hyperactively over the top repeating myself, I took pity on Jeremy's soul. If someone needed to be calm and cool, it would be him. He needed a break from my crazy and in fact deserved it. If he could inject me with a sedative, he would and should have. I was wound up!
All I could do while he was gone was bury my head in rice ball rolling and frying and hope he would make it back in time. Fifty rice balls. The blessed mother touched my little hands that afternoon and divinely intervened in my rolling technique. They were perfect little balls, all the same size, and they all looked like their what their name arancini translates, baby oranges.
My kitchen was becoming a crazy mess of piled plates. For the record a personal kitchen is no place to cater a meal. I most definitely dripped hot oil onto my cat's head while transferring a rice ball to a paper towel lined plate.
"Oh my God! Calogero, are you okay?"
"Meow." Which translates into, "Food please!"
I looked toward Jeremy in terror, then back to the little bright eyed tuxedo cat begging for a rice ball.
"Chill dude, he's fine."
4pm, dessert yet to be seen. The clock was ticking and we had to deliver the food by latest 5:30pm to get set-up for dinner by 6pm.

"Here you go, ricotta, eggs, butter, sugar, vanilla. Get it done!"
It started as a pie, but soon became a cake. A cupcake. A cupcake pudding. Something you wanted to repeatedly scoop into your mouth over and over and lick off your fingers and whatever other surface it dripped onto. Creamy, gooey, sweet, ricotta goodness. With honey.
Let's just say we were scooping gooey ricotta cakes out of muffin trays right up until the car arrived.
It was on!
We spent some time on our presentation, which was so elegant and simple and people started strolling in hungry and excited.
The Bloody Sicilian Cocktail was a hit. The rice ball so beautifully drizzled with the sage bechamel was superb. The sage perfectly balanced the porcini flavor.
The kale chard salad was fresh and crunchy but meaty with the bacon and subtle anchovy dressing.
Since we stewed the lentils and cauliflower all day, the flavors really got married, but there were nice chunks of roasted cauliflower and carrots and the anise was that, "what is that?" flavor. Topped with bacon and brussels sprouts, it was perfect.
Dessert was a favorite. We agreed that the compote was on the sweet side, but over the creamy, not to sweet ricotta it was divine.
By 7pm we were halfway to sold-out. We kicked ass.
I was doing my favorite job: hostessing, shmoozing, even waitressing and bussing tables and Jeremy was extremely focused on his favorite job: plating. The dishes looked gorgeous.
My favorite people came plus a few other's who heard about the event from Joann's post on Greenpointers and on The Skint.
Rocco complained that he only got one rice ball, an offense I could be lynched for in Sicily. Joann took Rocco's side, so I snuck them some more.
The place was glowing and cozy and vibing off of what I had always dreamed of doing: having a Sicilian Sunday Supper. We did it! We sold out! Everyone enjoyed the food and had a great time. Collapse.

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