Saturday Dinner Party - A Nod to the Mediterranean

A nod to the Mediterranean using a Provencal tablecloth. Simple. No fuss.

A nod to the Mediterranean using a Provencal tablecloth. Simple. No fuss.

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.

All keeping in the same tones. Greens play off the yellows and reds. Even the water glass is green and gold.

All keeping in the same tones. Greens play off the yellows and reds. Even the water glass is green and gold.

The Plan:

  • 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.

A panini press gives a nice warm crispness to the bread and melts the cheese.

A panini press gives a nice warm crispness to the bread and melts the cheese.

Cut strips of puff pastry

Cut strips of puff pastry

Roll 'em up in their blankets

Roll 'em up in their blankets

The puff pastry adds a buttery flavor that complements the spice of the chorizo. These are a more grown up way of serving Pigs in a Blanket. Adding a nod to France, I mixed up whole grain mustard with dijon for dipping. Marcona almonds and cornichons for crunchy, salty bites.

The puff pastry adds a buttery flavor that complements the spice of the chorizo. These are a more grown up way of serving Pigs in a Blanket. Adding a nod to France, I mixed up whole grain mustard with dijon for dipping. Marcona almonds and cornichons for crunchy, salty bites.

Boquerones  are fresh anchovies. I marinated them in crushed garlic, olive oil and parsley. Then placed them atop an English cucumber slice.

Boquerones are fresh anchovies. I marinated them in crushed garlic, olive oil and parsley. Then placed them atop an English cucumber slice.

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.  

A mix of blood orange, lemons, limes, vodka and simple syrup.

A mix of blood orange, lemons, limes, vodka and simple syrup.

Squeeze them all into a bowl and include some of the pulp.

Squeeze them all into a bowl and include some of the pulp.

I love the bright color and flavor of this drink. So fresh. So delicious. Goes down so easy. Now that's AMORE!

I love the bright color and flavor of this drink. So fresh. So delicious. Goes down so easy. Now that's AMORE!

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.

Using the mise en place method of cutting all ingredients, and getting everything ready makes assembly much easier.

Using the mise en place method of cutting all ingredients, and getting everything ready makes assembly much easier.

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.

Fresh, clean and ready to make a pocket full of Mediterranean yum.

Fresh, clean and ready to make a pocket full of Mediterranean yum.

Simply fold the edges around to create the pocket.

Simply fold the edges around to create the pocket.

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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.

Slices and slices is what creates layers of potato for this dish.

Slices and slices is what creates layers of potato for this dish.

A slice of layered potato goodness.

A slice of layered potato goodness.

Peppery bite of arugula is balanced by the sweetness of the orange with the crunch of the almond.

Peppery bite of arugula is balanced by the sweetness of the orange with the crunch of the almond.

Baking en papillote allows all the juices to delicately poach the fish and vegetables together. A harmony of Mediterrean flavors.

Baking en papillote allows all the juices to delicately poach the fish and vegetables together. A harmony of Mediterrean flavors.

Of course, French wine was served. Beaujolais Blanc and Chateau Saint Roc Cotes du Rhone.

Of course, French wine was served. Beaujolais Blanc and Chateau Saint Roc Cotes du Rhone.

Finishing off the meal with savory flavors of a full cheese board was perfect way to end the evening.  Cheese selection of Époisses, Sofia, Majorero Pimenton surrounded by fruit and sweet condiments all enjoyed in front of a roaring fire.  

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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.

 
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Sausage, Pepper & Onion Tart

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Oh the beauty of puff pastry.  Let me NOT count the ways, because that would be boring. But let me continue to find uses for you to try.  This one doesn't need a whole lot of intro.  This recipe is similar methodology as when making the Tarts of Summer.  Only difference, swap out the topping for this hearty, earthy and caramelized sweet combo.

I made this because I wanted something quick for an outdoor party. This is combo of sausage, peppers and onions is classic, and when also combined with cheese is a topping I love for pizza.  But I didn't want to make pizza.  I was already going to make a zucchini tart, and needed something a bit more filling for some of our guests.  Enter the sausage.  

Ingredients

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4-5 Italian sausage links (sweet or spicy, your choice)
3 Italian red peppers, sliced
2 medium yellow onions, sliced
1-1.5 c cheese of choice (Fontina, Goat, Mozzarella...)
Magic 3 (salt, pepper, oil)
1 Puff Pastry sheet

 

Instructions

Defrost the puff pastry sheet.  Once defrosted, roll out to approximately 12" x 17".  Transfer onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.  Dot the entire pastry with a fork leaving a 1" border all the way around. Place in refrigerator while you sauté the onions and peppers in a pan with oil, season with salt and pepper.   

Slowly sauté to release the natural sugars and let them caramelize.

Slowly sauté to release the natural sugars and let them caramelize.

While that is cooking, grate the cheese and remove the sausage from the casings .  If you want to save time, use another pan to cook the sausage.  If time is no issue, then after the peppers/onion have cooked, use the same pan. Remove the pastry from the fridge and sprinkle enough cheese to cover the forked part of the pastry.  Then add the sausage, pepper and onion.  Bake in a 425 degrees oven until pastry edges puff up and become golden brown.

Puff Pastry
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On pizza, on pasta, on an Italian roll, or puff pastry, the combo of sausage, peppers and onions is a winning one.  Add this version whenever you are making the Tarts of Summer.  The meat eaters at your party will be glad you did.

 
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Apple Butter Spicy Sausage Sandwich + Roasted Tomato Soup

As some of you may know, I consult as a project manager for Despaña, a wholesale, distributor and retailer of Spanish food products.  From time to time my posts contain links to some the amazing products they offer.  With so many wonderful items in the store (and online) I find tons of inspiration and ways to incorporate them into a few of my recipes. 

However, this recipe harkens back to a few years back, when at the store, we were looking for ways to help promote some apple marmalade.  It was autumn in New York and apples were ripe for the picking.  I thought the perfect combination would be to highlight apples two ways; preserved  and crisp fresh. Since it would be used for a special promotion, the offering of a small sandwich featuring the marmalade along with fresh apples, some smoky cheese and Despaña’s own brand of spicy sausage called Chistorra seemed like a good union. The sandwich was popular at the time and served the purpose of showcasing the apple marmalade.

Well, it is again autumn in New York, a spectacular time of year with trees flaming bursts of color that make rainbows seems dull.  Take a moment of Ahhh here.

Given the season, I thought I would revive and recreate my original sandwich but swap out a few items.  Apples are in full glory now and hopefully you had the chance to go pick a few or just grab some at the market so you can try this recipe out.  

Photo credit: John Lifrieri

Photo credit: John Lifrieri

Photo credit: John Lifrieri

Photo credit: John Lifrieri

Photo credit: John Lifrieri

Photo credit: John Lifrieri

Behold, the sandwich featuring apples both cooked and fresh. When served along with a roasted tomato soup, it's perfect for a chilly Saturday afternoon... or any afternoon. 

APPLE BUTTER SPICY SAUSAGE  SANDWICH

INGREDIENTS

Chistorra*, or a spicy chorizo or even a salami  
Smoky Cheese of your choice like Smoked Gouda
(originally I used Ahumado de Pria*, a Spanish smoky cow's milk cheese.  A sharp Cheddar would also work nicely)
Apple Butter** (or Apple Marmalade)
Apple slices (I like the sourness of a green apple, but use what you like)
Baguette

**Apple butter recipe is at the bottom of this post.

INSTRUCTIONS

This is an assembly and grilling of a panino style sandwich than more anything else. Grill the Chistorra sausage and cut them lengthwise so they lay nicely in the sandwich.  Spread some apple butter on both sides of the bread. 

Layer the cheese, apple slices and sausage.  Close ‘er up and grill in a Panini press or as I do, use a cast iron pan and put something heavy on top.

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Getting crispy in a cast iron skillet

Getting crispy in a cast iron skillet

This combination has sweet and tart, spicy and smoky, crunchy and gooey.  Seriously, how can you not love all those adjectives.   And for the vegetarians, just remove the sausage, add more apples and more cheese.  Now, that can't be bad!

Apple Butter Spicy Sausage Sandwich, beautifully toasted on both sides

Apple Butter Spicy Sausage Sandwich, beautifully toasted on both sides

Now to take this to the ultimate pairing level, you'll want to add the roasted tomato soup.  I know you are going to say, “what’s your fascination with tomatoes?”  But if you have tried roasting them as I have suggested you will understand why there is no need to answer that question.  Plus, given that I suggested you make a boat load of roasted tomatoes, it's in my best interest to continue finding ways to use them.  This round -  Make soup! 

TOMATO SOUP - OVEN ROASTED OF COURSE

Drizzled with the oil from the roasting pan and chunks of cheese dropped in the middle.

Drizzled with the oil from the roasting pan and chunks of cheese dropped in the middle.

16-18 roasted tomatoes
1 carrot, diced
¼ c diced onion
2 cloves of garlic, smashed
1  quart vegetable or chicken stock, or water
cream, optional

Sauté the carrots, garlic and onion until tender.  Add the liquid and let warm through.  If you have just made the roasted tomatoes then you can add those once the liquid is warm ensuring that you pour in the oil from the pan. (Reserve a little to drizzle on the top for serving.)  If you are defrosting them from your frozen stock (He he) then put those in with the liquid and then let everything warm through together.   

Using an emulsion blender, or a regular blender, puree it all up until you get the consistency you like.  Now if you want a little decadence, before blending it up, lower the heat and stir in some cream and warm through. Although, I don't think it needs it.  I much prefer drizzling a  little of the roasting oil and adding a few chunks of cheese. Serve up a bowl with your sandwich and peer through your window and listen to the rustle of the leaves. 
Enjoy autumn.

APPLE BUTTER

This flavored butter is made simply by cutting apples into small pieces and stewing them with some honey and a squeeze of lemon. Slowly cook until they are super soft.   Let cool and work into a whole stick of room temperature, softened butter.  Put in an airtight container and store in fridge until ready to use.

   2 cups of chopped apples

 2 cups of chopped apples

Add apples to saucepan with 1 T honey, and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Add apples to saucepan with 1 T honey, and a squeeze of lemon juice.

Final Apple Butter using 3/4 of cooked apple mixture

Final Apple Butter using 3/4 of cooked apple mixture

 *Please note: If you are interested in buying Chistorra and Ahumado de Pria from Despaña order by phone  at 888.779.8617.  After Nov. 11, you will be able to order online at www.despanabrandfoods.com