Thursday, August 5, 2010

Summer Pleasures

It’s summertime, and the living is easy. Actually, the living is quite wonderful. I’m enjoying the season for some of the obvious reasons: warm and sunshiny weather, time off from school and work, lots of festivals going on, and, of course, plenty of local in-season fruits and vegetables. This summer is extra-special for me, though. As I have mentioned before, I am getting married, and it’s happening this summer, at the end of August. I am so excited to be tying the knot, and after a year of planning, it’s amazing to think that the big day is only a few weeks away. To plan for this momentous occasion, I came home from Seattle to my lovely Montreal to spend time with the family, and make final arrangements for the wedding. In the middle of all this, there isn’t enough time for me to get a job, so it has been a summer of happy wedding planning, fun days with friends, precious time with family, and lazy hours drinking coffee and reading on the deck.
All of these summer reunions and celebrations seem to revolve around food. I have cooked meals, gone out to eat with loved ones, and spent hours sitting at the dinner table with friends and family, talking and laughing over many a wonderful meal. Cooking together, eating together, tasting together, and experiencing the joy of food together seems to go hand in hand with enjoying other people’s company. It is one of the many reasons why I am looking forward to a life with food.

A recent celebration of the summer was my Mom’s birthday. To mark the occasion, my sister and I cooked dinner for the family. Now, this was the first time my sister and I had ever cooked together. I should also add that my sister is, like me, in culinary school. It could have gone horribly wrong, and ended in an angry storm of broken dishes, ruined food, and hurt egos. It didn’t, though. In fact, things went remarkably well. As it turns out, my sister and I work very well in the kitchen together. We danced gracefully around each other, working individually on some components, and together on others. We agreed on almost everything, lent one another a helping hand when necessary, and had fun doing it. We spent the afternoon shopping at a nearby market for fresh ingredients. We brought them home and created a memorable meal that was elegant, and not too heavy.

We started with a couple of plates of hors d’oeuvres. I made Roasted Figs with Prosciutto and Hazelnut Picada.
Heather made mini Spanish Spinach and Tomato Pizzas.
They were both memorable, and are definitely bound to be repeated. My figs created a wonderful combination of warm, sweet fruit, paired with salty prosciutto, and nutty-salty picada. Heather’s pizzas were refreshing bites of spinach on perfectly crispy crusts, finished off with crunchy pine nuts.

For our main, we collaborated on an Asparagus and Artichoke Salad with Mustard-Shallot Vinaigrette, a Carrot and Parsnip Puree, and Mushroom Ravioles. The ravioles were on the non-traditional side, as we didn’t close the two sheets of pasta that sandwiched the sautéed mushrooms, but rather left them open, so that it looked a little like a loose lasagna. The concept, from Laura Calder of the Canadian Food Network show, French Cooking at Home, made for a fun presentation.
To finish off our meal, Heather made Lemon Mascarpone-Stuffed Crêpes with Fresh Berries and Honey.
It was a perfect end to the meal: though the mascarpone was rich, this was offset by the tartness of the berries, and the drizzle of honey added just the right amount of sweetness.

We lingered over the meal for well over an hour, sipping our wine, and enjoying each other’s company. It was good for the taste buds, the stomach, and the soul. Happy summer, everyone!

Mushroom Ravioles
From French Taste: Elegant Everyday Eating by Laura Calder, p. 110
Serves 4

1 ½ lbs. mushrooms (Heather and I used a medley of portobello, cremini, and oyster mushrooms)
¼ cup butter
A splash olive oil
2 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and pepper
½ cup stock
A generous handful of finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, more for garnish
Fresh lemon juice (optional)
3-4 tbsp. chopped fresh dill or sage (we had neither and used thyme—it was lovely)
8 3”x4” sheets dried pasta
Dill sprigs for garnish (again, we used thyme)

Cut the mushrooms into quarters or eights, depending on their size, and set aside. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium-high heat. Pout a tablespoon of the butter into a sauté pan. Continue heating the remaining butter in the saucepan until it turns light brown. Set aside. Bring a large pot of water to the boil for the pasta.

Add a splash of olive oil to the butter in the sauté pan. Set the pan on high heat and when the oil is hot, add the mushrooms, sautéing until slightly coloured, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, season with salt and pepper, and continue cooking until the mushrooms are soft, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, season with salt and pepper, and continue cooking until the mushrooms are soft, about 4 minutes more. Pour over the stock, and boil to reduce to a couple of tablespoons, a matter of minutes. Stir in the cheese. Taste, check the seasonings, and add a squirt of lemon juice if you think it needs it. Stir in the herbs, and keep the mixture warm while you cook the pasta.

Generously salt the boiling pasta water. Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain the pasta, and return it to the pan, tossing with the reserved brown butter. lay a sheet of pasta on each of four serving plates. Spoon the mushrooms onto the pasta. Top with a second pasta sheet. Drizzle over some brown butter from the pasta pan. Garnish with a dill sprig and serve immediately.