We are in the midst of planning a trip to the South of France. In our research, food and wine keep popping up frequently. So much so that JuanCarlos has taken to buying only French wines at the moment. Getting his palate ready, I guess.
I'm getting mine ready by dreaming of Mediterranean flavors. So with plans to host a Saturday night dinner party for our friends, Donna and Jeff, it made total sense to devise the menu around that theme. It's easy to cook for them. They are food lovers, too, and enjoy a wide variety of food. Well, except that Jeff isn't quite that fond of spinach or squash, which believe or not, were both on my original plan. I had my heart set on making fish en papillote using carrots, zucchini and spinach. But no biggie, there are so many other ways to go. I could still make fish en papillote, but minus those two ingredients. Thinking cap on, I would spiritually fly myself to the Mediterranean and envision some ingredients. I had capers, olives, tomatoes which all fell right in line with that theme. It seemed even more fitting since Jeff and Donna have been to France numerous times, plus they are planning a trip to Italy in June. Yet another cosmic nudge toward a Mediterranean mood. So, mind made up. Plan in place. A celebration was in order, not just the flavors of the region but the style, too.
Starting with the table setting.
I pulled out a tablecloth that had olives, sunflowers and tones of green, all of which are reminiscent of the Provence region of France. I added deep olive green, velvet placemats and playing off the yellow tones, I used gold rimmed dishes and draped a triple pointed folded napkin slightly askew. Simple, elegant but not too fussy.
Table setting with a Provencal tablecloth
Keep appetizers to a few simple bites in the bistro style
Main course featuring fish with Mediterranean flavors, potatoes and salad
Dessert: true European style - Cheese platter
For appetizers, I thought a fun intro to the meal would be small pressed sandwiches accompanied by marcona almonds, olives marinated with herbs de Provence and cornichons. The mini sandwiches were made with a combination of cured meats/cheese and leftover pork loin & onion jam.
Plus a little twist on an old classic; Pigs in a Blanket, served up by using mini spicy Spanish chorizo wrapped in puff pastry and a side of whole grain and dijon mustard mix.
Lastly, a bite from the sea provided by marinated boquerones served on a crisp, cool slice of English cucumber.
These offerings were just the right amount to get us started.
All appetizers were prepared ahead of time and kept in the fridge till right before serving. I made the sandwiches and wrapped them in plastic wrap. Then pressed them when our guests arrived. The boquerones were assembled and plated earlier in the day. So all I needed to do was place them on the table. My adult version of Pigs in Blanket were cooked right before they were due to arrive, so those were warm and ready to go. These small bites created a relaxing, no fuss vibe giving us a chance to sit, chat and catch up before the main meal. Many a moon ago, Donna and I had blood orange cosmos at the Royalton NYC. It seemed only fitting that we serve up a similar cocktail to start... just for old times' sake. As we nibbled, we sipped on Blood Orange Martinis made by the deft hand of my hubby, who lovingly squeezed all the citrus and mixed this drink to perfection.
Dinner was also prepped ahead of time, stored in the fridge and then pulled together before serving. The real nod to the Mediterranean came in the flavors used for the cod. I like using the en papillote method (cooked and served in paper wrapping) because it cooks beautifully. It's easy to prep, and each guest gets their own portion. I have made fish this way numerous times using different vegetable combinations. Not going with my original plan of zucchini and spinach, I needed some inspiration and found a recipe using grouper with capers, red pepper, tomatoes, kalamata olives and lemon. I immediately knew that combo was the perfect way to go since I had most of the items save for the red pepper. I took my cues from the recipe photo but used my own amounts. I also used cod because it was the freshest at the market. I swapped the red onion for yellow, and eliminated the garlic and red pepper flakes. Although, I made modifications, this isn't my own, so if you want to follow the recipe to a tee, click here.
I place the parchment paper right on the baking sheet and built up the flavors. Then folded the paper into a packet and built the next packet. I put two on each pan, then placed the whole baking pan in the refrigerator. Once we were done eating our appetizers, I placed the pans in the oven to bake for 20 minutes.
For side dishes, I made Potatoes Anna turned Potatoes Dana, crispy kale/caramelized onions and Baby Arugula salad with oranges, tangerines, red onion, chopped marcona almonds with a orange/lemon vinagrette.
We had a wonderful time together with friends with love, savoring food that paid homage to places we all love. Pick a country or a region and honor it by creating a menu to share with those who love it too. We're glad we did.