There are two other couples, Kathryn & David and Jim & Neal, who we get together with monthly for cooking, eating, drinking good wine, and socializing. One of us hosts and usually does all or most of the food and wine. This month, we decided to all make recipes from Ina Garten’s cookbooks, putting them together in a grand meal. We were not disappointed.
We’ve been inspired by, riffed off of, or outright copied too many of Ina’s recipes to count. One of the things we love is their relative simplicity while maintaining a high level of quality. The idea to do this with the gang was born straight out of a discussion with them over those very facts. Gretchyn and I had discussed it previously, so when someone else piped up with “we should do an Ina night!” we knew we had a plan.
We decided to host, but I think that was mostly because it was simply our turn. We laid out a plan where Jim & Neal would do an amuse bouche and first course, Kathryn & David would do a small salad and dessert, and we’d do the main course, with everyone responsible for their own wine pairings. Then we made it happen. It felt a little weird not having to do all the prep and all the cooking for a meal, but we really liked the way it turned out—a real team effort.
The recipe comes from “How Easy is That?” Jim said he had seen Ina make it on one of her shows and had wanted to make it for quite some time. Although it was well larger than an amuse, it was a great start, especially paired with Contadi Castaldi Franciacorta Rosé. Neal said that they had originally considered a classic French Champagne, but wanted something with a little more Pinot character in it to pick up tuna. The tapenade itself was tasty, but the pairing really took it over the top.
Taken from “Barefoot Contessa at Home,” the bisque was the kind of soup I like—deep and rich without being heavy. It had a sweetness to it that had David asking if there was also some crab in it (which there wasn’t). Neal mentioned that some bread would have been good with it. I would have agreed if the bisque was a major part of a nice lunch, but as part of a 6-course meal, you don’t want too much bread filling you up. They paired it with 2010 Circadia Chardonnay, which they selected because of its minimal oak. It picked up the bisque reasonably well. As a minor niggle, I would have liked it to be just a little more buttery (strangely enough that I’m not a buttery Chard fan) to grab onto the delicious creaminess of the bisque. A second triumph in a row.
Kathryn said they got this recipe from Barefoot Contessa Parties, one of the older books. They made a slight modification, using chopped pistachios to crust the cheese instead of bread crumbs, much to the approval of all. It was spectacular, and the perfect size to fit into the middle of the meal. If the salad was textbook, the pairing was anything but. They served this course with a “Rose Garden,” which is two parts Hoegaarden Witbier and one part Lindeman’s Lambic Framboise. Beer in the middle of a wine dinner wasn’t what I was expecting, but it was superb. The drink was light enough to seem like wine anyway, reminding me a bit of an earthier and less sweet Kir Royale. I might have to make this combo a regular drink.
Intermezzo: Blood Orange and Basil Sorbet
This was just a little palate-cleanser that David & Kathryn put together unscripted. In Kathryn’s own words, they “…tried to make one that we felt was in the spirit of what Ina might prepare.” It was another winner.
The only recipe not actually from one of the books, this was taken off the Food Network site, having been featured on the episode “Stress Free Dinner Party.” It was the truth. This was one of the easiest dishes we’ve ever made. All I had to do was stuff slices of basil and herbed goat cheese under the skin of the breasts, then oil, salt, and pepper them. It’s all the fancy without any of the work, exactly the kind of thing we like to discover. The goat cheese and herbs melted into the meat, keeping it beautifully tender, juicy, and richly flavorful. I was pleasantly surprised at how well the cheese stayed under the skin of the breast; I had worried that it would just leak out once it melted, but that wasn’t the case at all.
When I was considering pairing for this course, I headed straight for Bordeaux and nowhere else. I knew that the aromatics in the wine would have to match the aromatics in the dish, so I initially thought of a Merlot-dominated (and thereby lower-tannin) Right Bank offering because of the chicken, but remembered having a few bottles of 2003 Château d’Armailhac, a rich but still just-chewy-enough product of Pauillac. A blend of 65% Cab, 20% Merlot, 13% Cab Franc, and 2% Petit Verdot, it fit just right, with notes of licorice, coffee, and kir in the midst of muscular fruit. I was extremely happy with the pairing.
Our initial starch consideration had been a celery root and potato puree, but that seemed too heavy. The chive risotto cakes were just what the doctor ordered, both in avoiding that potato weight and in being awesomely delicious. The recipe says to cook them on medium. The next time we do them, I think we’ll go to medium-high, since the Arborio is already cooked, and I think we can get a crisper outside to the cake. It’s a platform that I wouldn’t mind experimenting with in the future. And if I had it to do all over again, I would have added a little dollop of crème fraîche to them. We added a little roasted asparagus, which I assume she has in a book somewhere, and the plate was complete.
Kathryn and David got creative with the dessert. They made the profiteroles and chocolate sauce directly from the Barefoot in Paris book, but used the Crème Brulee recipe on the following page to make the Ice Cream. It turned out as the perfect exclamation point to the meal. They went outside the box again with the pairing, to great success. The obvious choice here is a nice Port with caramel-and-toffee notes. They served 2011 Belle Glos Pinot Noir Las Alturas Vineyard, a big fruit bomb of a wine that might be too sweet to drink with most foods. With dessert, it was amazing.
Espresso and coffee followed dessert, and suddenly the hour had grown quite late. We had spent just under five hours eating, drinking, talking, and enjoying the amazing recipes we had culled from Ina’s books, so some thanks go to her as well. It was a brilliant idea that we had come up with and implemented together, which made it that much more special. We talked about having further themes for our monthly get-togethers, but for the moment, we’re still basking in the success of this one, which I’m sure we’ll remember for the longest time.