Sunday, July 12, 2009
Saturday Night In
The day started off cool enough to open the house up to the cool breezes, chirping Carolina wrens, buzz saw cicadas, squawking crows and the hum of far off traffic. Today adds the ring of church bells. I love this sound, as it reminds me of summers spent with my grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles in Cleveland's Little Italy. I especially like it when my mother would take us through the old Rockefeller estate, now called MLK Boulevard. The old sandstone bridges came from another time, and when I was very young, reminded me of castles. The church bells at Mema and Bempa's were Holy Rosary's. I don't recall ever attending Sunday Mass there, but we did go inside for a wedding or two, and we played games of chance in its churchyard every August during the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, which was always shortened to "The Feast".
My favorite things to eat during the Feast were the French waffles -- two-inch tall deep fried batter coated with powdered sugar. I also loved the Italian sausage sandwiches that used a square slice of cold pizza as the bread. And the cavatellis --pronouced ca-va-dales -- like skinny Gnocchi made from semolina flour, served with a delicate tennis ball-sized meatball in a mouth-watering tomato sauce. Oh yeah.
My mother learned how to make spaghetti sauce, which we called "Sunday sauce" since she always made it Sundays, from Mema, and I learned how from both of them. I'm sure that my version lacks something from theirs, but that's okay, it's still delicious. I'd pass along the recipe, but I don't have permission, so it's going to have to stay in the family for now. I will tell you that it involved browning several meats that would then be put into the sauce for several hours, and that dipping soft slices of Italian bread into the sauce while it's simmering brings enormous joy. Just the aroma of the sauce prompts my mouth to water every time.
Last night we stayed in and had our friend Elizabeth over. I made a half batch of Blue Ginger Gimlets for cocktail hour. Even though I screwed up when I made the Sweet and Sour Mix by not reading the recipe all the way through first, it still turned out okay. Now, you might think that making your own sweet and sour mix and your own ginger syrup might be a bit too much to do just for a cocktail, but the reason that I chose to make them is because I had all of the ingredients on hand. This is the reason many things are made in our home. What do we need to use up? I enter the main ingredients into the search field on Epicurious, search through my options, making sure that I either have all of the ingredients or an acceptable substitute, and that's what we have. If I'd had to run to the store to get all those ingredients, it would take a lot more time out of my day, and can be frustrating when a main ingredient isn't available (I learned long ago not to expect ripe avocados waiting for me in the produce section). The gimlets were sweet-tart refreshing. As Elizabeth commented, the mix held up to the vodka. We did alter the recipe a titch by changing the ratio of vodka to mix so that there was slightly more vodka instead of 1:1. Next time, I may also use unchilled vodka to get those lovely little chips of ice that you get when you make martinis.
Another ingredient we needed to use up were the tomatoes from the garden. I've made pie crust using only butter as the fat a few times now, so I knew I could whip that up in no time. I figured Paula Deen would have a good recipe for tomato pie, so I checked the Food Network's website, but her recipe used a double crust and the photo didn't appeal to me, so I checked through one of my go-to cookbooks for a recipe. I decided to adapt the one that I found in Make It Easy, Make It Quick by Laurie Burrows Grad. It's out of print, but you can find it if you look for it. I used a 10" pie plate, so I needed several more sliced tomatoes than the recipe called for, which wasn't an issue. I used two varieties for flavor complexity. Her recipe called for five tomatoes, but didn't say what type, so I assumed she meant the beefsteak variety and compensated for that since I was using Romas, which are smaller. The larger pie plate also meant that I had to double the amount of grated cheddar to two cups and the amount of mayonnaise to a half cup.
After layering the sliced tomatoes, which I'd cut into 1/4" slices on a guess since she didn't specify, then cut in half since she did, I neglected to sprinkle them with the salt, pepper, and bit of dried oregano that the recipe called for, so I added them to the topping after I'd already put it in the oven. I did remember to sprinkle the tomatoes with 3/4 teaspoon of chopped fresh basil, which I grow right outside the kitchen door, and the 1/4 cup of chopped chives, which grow in the nearest garden bed. I baked the pie crust, to which I'd added a bit of dried oregano before chilling and rolling out, for 5 minutes on 425 degrees, then baked the pie for 35 minutes on 400. The topping of cheddar cheese and mayo browned nicely. It was supposed to seal in the tomatoes, but I didn't have enough to do that completely and it still turned out to be Elizabeth's favorite tomato pie. And she's a Southern girl, so I trust her on such things. I whipped up salad dressing using pesto that I had in the fridge and some red wine vinegar which I tossed with salad greens, chopped persimmon tomatoes, and grated Parmesan.