On Saturday, James and I threw our (now) annual Christmas party. We made a traditional Italian dinner of Manicotti and Meatballs. Does anyone remember Saturday night? It snowed…a lot. And there were a gaggle of Manhattanites that braved the G train to come to our Brooklyn winter wonderland.
It was also our friend Brian’s birthday. For this occasion I thought I would make him a croquembouche (he has an affinity for French pastry – I guess, who doesn’t?). I’d been wanting to do this for some time…we had one at our wedding that was scrumdiddlyumptious. I’ll post a picture but the recipe will come on Thursday.
So we opened our tiny table and put two leaves in to fit 10. It basically took over our whole apartment but we sat down to a formal dinner complete with Christmas crackers, crowns and some inappropriate conversations and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. We even sang a carol or four (after a couple Kir’s each) in three-part harmony…I love having talented friends (aka, nerds). We finished the night with a Hall and Oats sitting dance party. Those two are REAL hit-makers! (direct quote from Melissa).
What we served:
Kir, Cannelloni Bean Bruschetta with homemade bread, Arugula Salad with Cherry Tomatoes and Parmesean, Manicotti with Meatballs, Brussel Sprouts (again!…I know, I just can’t get enough), Croquembouche with Chocolate Brandy Sauce and Sugar Cookies
What you’ll need for the Kir:
A dry white wine such as Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc, Crème de Cassis and a lemon peel.
- Pour about 2 inches of Cassis in wine glass.
- Add white wine over cassis.
- Drop in lemon peel and serve.
What you’ll need for the Cannelloni Bean Bruschetta:
Recipe for homemade bread, 2 cans of cannelloni beans, 2 cloves of coarsely chopped garlic, 3 teaspoons of fresh rosemary, 1 teaspoon of thyme, 1 teaspoon of olive paste, salt & pepper, 1 teaspoon of balsamic vinaigrette, ½ cup of olive oil (good peppery stuff if you’ve got it).
- Wash and strain Cannelloni beans.
- In a medium sized mixing bowl add beans, garlic, rosemary, thyme, olive paste, salt & pepper, balsamic vinaigrette and olive oil. Let stand for 30 minutes or more.
- Toast bread slices in oven until tops are golden brown.
- Place about a tablespoon of beans on top of bread and serve with some nice coarse sea salt (if you have it, otherwise normal salt will do).
What you’ll need for the Arugula Salad (I can’t remember where I got this from!):
2 bushels of Arugula, rinsed and dried, 2 cartons of cherry tomatoes cut in halves, 1/3 cup of toasted pignoli nuts, olive oil, balsamic vinaigrette, juice of one lemon, salt & pepper and ½ cup of shredded Parmesan cheese.
- Put salad in bowl and toss with all ingredients.
What you’ll need for the Manicotti: (this is my mother’s recipe)
Red Sauce, 12 eggs (at room temperature, 2 ½ cups of flour, ½ teaspoon salt, 2 cups of water, 4 lbs of ricotta, 16 oz. of diced mozzarella cheese, ½ cup of grated Parmesan cheese, 2 tsp. salt, ½ tsp. pepper, 3 tbsp. chopped parsley, grated Parmesan cheese for sprinkling on top of the manicotti, olive oil.
- In medium bowl, combine 12 eggs, the flour, salt, and water.
- With electric mixer, beat just until smooth.
- Let stand ½ hour or longer.
- Slowly heat an 8-inch skillet. Wipe the pan with a paper towel and olive oil [Don’t burn yourself, though.]
- Pour in 3 tablespoon batter, rotating the skillet quickly to spread the batter evenly over the bottom of the pan.
- Cook over medium heat until top is dry but is NOT brown.
- Turn out on a wire rack to cook.
- Continue cooking until all of the batter is used. As the Manicotti cool, stack them with waxed paper between them.
- In a large bowl, combine ricotta, mozzarella, Parmesan cheese, 3 eggs, salt & pepper and parsley.
- Beat with wooden spoon to blend well.
- Spread about ¼ c filling down the center of each Manicotti, and roll up.
- Preheat oven to 350°.
- To assemble: Spoon sauce into a baking dish. Place rolled manicotti, seam side down, in single layer. Top the manicotti with sauce. Sprinkle with the Parmesan cheese.
- Bake, uncovered, ½ hour, or until bubbly.
What you’ll need for the Meatballs (from James):
When I was 4 years old I asked my Mom if I could help her make dinner one Sunday night. The result is a picture she has of me in full on chef hat forming meatballs in my hands with an expression of pure bliss on my face. I have perfected the recipe since then and even added a new element to it. Taking a cue from my Mom, I precooked the onion and garlic until it was soft before adding it to the mixture. This sweetens the onions and takes some of the sharpness out of it. The following is a combination of The New McCall’s Cook Book (a Vanderberg family standard), my Mom’s recipe and years of practice. The recipe bellow has been doubled to feed approximately 10 people.
1 lb. Ground Chuck, 1 lb. Ground Pork (cook’s note: My Grandmother uses ground veal which is fantastic and any good Italian butcher or grocer will have a three pack of 1/3 chuck, pork and veal. I don’t use it for personal reasons but when I eat them, I question all morals), ½ cup give or take dry breadcrumbs, 4 cloves garlic minced, 6-8 tablespoons minced onion, 1 teaspoon salt, ½ teaspoon fresh ground pepper, 2 tablespoons fresh basil (1 tablespoon if using dry), 2 – 3 teaspoons fresh parsley (1-2 if using dry), 6-8 tablespoons grated Parmigianino Reggiano cheese and 3 eggs beaten.
- In a small bowl beat the eggs lightly with a fork and set aside.
- In a skillet cook onion down until translucent about 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook until just soft, about 2 minutes.
- In a large bowl add all the ingredients in no particular order, add the eggs and mush all together.
- Add bread crumbs if the mixture is too wet. The consistency should be like…well…meatballs. Form into balls, or football shapes like my Grandmother does.
- I used to fry my meatballs half way through and then add them to my sauce like any good Italian would, but I found that the meatballs ended up soaking in the sauce and just tasted like heavy sauce balls (can I write that?). Now I bake them on 375 degrees for about 20-25 minutes in a sheet pan turning them over once to brown both sides. Baking the meatballs keeps the integrity of the beef and pork flavor.
- Pour some sauce over them at the last minute to keep them warm.