I think it all started outside ballet class. My buddy Lad and I would kill the hour between the stampedes of tutu-clad children talking about food. We’d chat about his background as a restaurant manager, I would talk about my time in culinary school, and we would trade bon mots about the merits of good cheese or good wine or poor meat cutting. We started trading recipes, then food magazines, then obscure equipment catalogs, and eventually we organized playdates where we would selectively ignore the children as we spent important hours discussing KitchenAid mixer attachments and contemplating the next big meal. A few years ago, our talk of a metaphorical big meal evolved into an actual, physical big meal, and thanks to our pent up culinary energy, the final menu that night included seven courses, six appetizers, two different varieties of pizza, and lovely 10-inch chocolate ganache and candied kumquat tart, all to serve our party of four. It was grand. It was feastish. It was gluttony at its best. And that night we made an oath that we had to do it again sometime, just as soon as we could find more eaters.
Fortunately for us, we met our friends Heather and Chris outside of the following year’s ballet class. They are foodies and wine drinkers and excellent fun, and we now have a regular Friday play date and solid table of six who will pretty much cook and/or eat anything. When we can get it on the schedule, we have a proper Saturday night supper club, where we hire a sitter, show up at someone’s house with buckets of mise en place, and then get rippingly drunk and try to out do each other in the kitchen.
Each of us has our preferred roles in this little suburban kitchen gun show: Lad is the grill man, Heather and Chris do excellent Latin American dishes, and Lad’s wife Melissa and I trade off on hostess duties and dessert. Although he doesn’t cook, my husband’s role is to show up and eat, critique the dishes (he has excellent taste), and put on amusing music when we’ve killed our sixth bottle of wine. To keep things semi-cohesive, we pick a culinary theme to base our menu around, and so far, we’ve done tapas night (winner: Chris’s empandas), pork night (winner: bacon wrapped Tater Tots with sweet chili sauce), and various things on the grill (Lad’s marinated beef tenderloin is a favorite). This round, it was birthday boy Chris’s choice, so we settled on Italian.
So here’s the problem.
There are five of us who like to cook, and all of us are looking to do a pull out all the stops, use-the-good-balsamic-vinegar type dish. I was lucky enough to get the pasta course, but with the 19 appetizers that are already coming and a giant Sunday-gravy-stewed braciole as the main, there’s no way I can do anything nearly as interesting as I’d like without busting our guts like a wafer thin mint. Out goes my homemade orecchiette with broccoli rabe and sausage (thank you, Martha), out goes my pistachio pesto spaghetti with Stella Fontinalla cheese (from the Splendid Table cookbook How to Eat Supper, thank you, Lynne), and out goes my ravioli stuffed with herbs and homemade ricotta that would be absolutely perfect to celebrate spring. The right thing to contribute, of course, is polenta – rich, hearty, earthy polenta that will soak up the sauce from the braciole – which I’ve decided to make using stone ground corn meal from a north Georgia mill and loads of Parmigiano-Reggiano and black pepper. My dish is going to be more sturdy than sexy, so I don’t think I’ll “win” this time per se, but I do have one little trick up my sleeve. If I can find the produce, I have a recipe for honey-drenched roasted figs dotted with fresh goat cheese that I can sneak in as a late-in-the-game cheese course before dessert. Now THAT is some sexy s$%t.
Is it wrong that I’m trying to figure out a way to add in more food to this already over-burdened meal? Is it wrong that I feel the need to buy the big bottle of limoncello and the big bottle of Frangelico to have for our post-prandial sipping? Is it wrong that I considered ordering 00 flour off the internet weeks ago in preparation for this event?
Of course it’s wrong. Of course it is.
Because clearly we need more eaters.
Hi. I'm Amanda Dobbs.