Sunday, February 22, 2009

Carnevale 2009

Carnevale is, without a doubt, one of the best of our family feasts. Part of it owes, I believe, to the fact that we don't compete with the familial obligations some of our "usual suspects" have at other times. While the season of Carnevale is a tradition of the Church, this particular night, this Saturday night before Lent belongs to us. It is always a full house. It owes also to the simple fact that I cram as much butter, cream and eggs into the meal as possible. Carnevale means "farewell, meat" and we are determined to give Meat the happiest of send-offs. And finally, we do have time in the evening to share our Lenten intentions, a time that after 15 years with largely the same group of people, is very intimate. We bare our souls if we need to, laugh and weep as called for, and then promise to pray faithfully for each other in Lent. Commitments bound together by fat and chocolate...makes for a pretty strong bond.

We started with glasses of champagne and some Warmed Olives with Orange Zest which yes, is almost ridiculously predictable but you see, too much food is coming down the pike. I don't want everyone full already when they come to the table).

The amuse bouche of Toasted Cheese Sandwiches & Tomato "Soup" was most amusing. I was just ding-dongily proud of myself for this little smarty pants tribute to a classic comfort food combo. The toasted cheese sandwiches were made in the traditional manner...with lots of butter and mayonaisse. The "soup" was diced sugar plum tomatoes (one tiny tom to a spoon) drowned in Bloody Mary mix with a drizzle of vodka and a sprinkle of salt. (The children had a Virgin Mary version). It was delicious.
The soup course was Roasted Red Pepper Soup with a Jalapeno Cream Float and I ask you, is there anything easier than roasting peppers over a gas flame, peeling them, then setting them to simmer in beef stock? A spin with the immersion blender to puree the peppers, half again as much cream added to the mix and salt and pepper to taste. The float was a seeded and diced jalapeno slowly warmed in cream and then beated just a tiny bit to thicken so it would float on the surface of the red pepper soup. So simple. But in a martini glass it suddenly seems ever so grand.

Celery and Parmesan Salad followed the soup act. I've sung the praises of this Provencal salad before. Crazy sounding combo but it is light, refreshing and delicious.

The entree was a big steaming plate full of Roast Leg of Lamb, Mixed Vegetables with Rouille, and Potato Casserole. The Spouse outdid himself this year...the lamb was a particularly beautiful piece of meat and his judicious use of salt, garlic and rosemary brought it to perfection.
The side dishes were not from scratch and while I do not make a virtue of "semi-homemade", nor do I believe that food only "counts" if everthing was built from the ground up, so to speak. So the veggies were a wonderful frozen melange from Trader Joe's, jazzed up with a rouille - aioli with cayenne and saffron...only I couldn't find the saffron and the potatoes, well, they are only the second best potatoes you'll ever eat. (I reserve the right to find something even more spectacular...I just haven't yet).

Bertie’s Potato Casserole

a 2-pound package frozen cubed (Southern style) hash brown potatoes
1 ½ sticks of butter
1 pint sour cream
1 can cream of chicken soup
1 tsp. garlic salt
1 c. shredded Cheddar cheese
1 c. chopped onion
2 cups crushed corn flakes

Melt butter and reserve ½ cup. Combine this ½ c. butter with the corn flakes and set aside.

Mix all other ingredients together. Place in greased 9 x 13 casserole. Spread corn flakes over the potato mixture.

Bake at 350° for one hour.

Can be made a day ahead and baked before serving.

And the culinary finale was Chocolate Gourmandise, a Patricia Wells' recipe that has become the stock dessert of this feast. Rich, chocolatey and molten and the hardest part of the recipe is buttering and flouring the ramekins.
Now it is Monday morning and we're still cleaning the kitchen but it was, as always, worth it. Round the time we're getting very, very tired of simple Lenten fare we'll remember Carnevale and be content to know that our parting with meat was only temporary. Meat, like spring, will come again.


Willym said...

Well I got my answer as to what was cooking! Sounds wonderful.

I love the idea of the toasted cheese and tomato soup - comfort food par excellence. The soup in a martini glass pure inspiration and you know how I feel about the celery and parmasan salad (its become a standard around our place.)

As to making everything from scratch.. hey if someone else makes it almost a good and you can jazz it up I say go for it.

I serve roast potatos with olive oil and rosemary here - straight out of the frozen food section and guests always rave about them.

I'm sure the guests came away from the table happy with the memory of another great Carnevale.

Lorraine, wishing you and everyone with you observing the season a holy Lent.

Anonymous said...

You did in the last minute what would probably take most people weeks to come up with.

Buck said...

Awwww. Cooking with you in your kitchen has got to be one of my fondest memories EVAH. I can just picture you making all these items. As usual, it all looks incredible.