Italian Nights

I love when an unassuming event turns into a badass experience.  Like, say you are camping, and you decide to take a stroll through the woods. You marvel at nature, look at bird, look at squirrel, and wave at chippymunk….then all of a sudden you see Sasquatch 2-foot donkey kick a bear to the face!  Then like you look over your shoulder and a Mountain Lion hands you a beer and says, “Take a seat, it’s just getting started, homie.”  That is the kind of thing I am talking about.  And that is exactly the kind of evening we had a few months back when we joined our neighbors for a gathering at the Hawaiian Host’s home. 

You gotta understand that my boy J, the “Hawaiian Host,” is the closest thing to a TV chef that I have seen.  I mean, I think I’m good, but this dude can throw down on another level.  When we hang out with him, he has the homemade ginger beers with flavors like Mango and Papaya, he has the catering pans laid out with the DIY set-in buffet/gazebo, he uses that cold cooking wand thingy called WhooWee or SooVee, or however you say it, and it makes them steaks you only see on cable cooking shows.  Plus, he has the wine knowledge of a somolier.  I can’t even say somlier…Somolia? Somefollywhaa?  I mean, he has the legit knowledge.  No joke, he knows the Vinters by name, he has been to the winery and can tell you the tale of the grapes from that specific AVA.  He even knows the story behind how the label was designed.  Me?  I open a bottle and be like “Here, is red! Drink drink!”   So, when I found out he wanted all of us to party, I was like hells yes!   

The plan was simple.  We had a former neighbor flying in from SD to visit and the idea was for each of us to bring something over to share.  One couple would do appetizers, while another would provide salad and dessert, another couple would create the main dishes and sides, and two sets of couples would take care of the drinks. You can see that the drinks were a priority!

I was kind of unsure about what to cook because I guess the Wifey signed us up for the main course and sides, and our choices kind of determined the theme for the night…so it had to be cool and different.  That is when I enlisted the help of the Wifey and she helped came up with the format and the dishes.  And man, just like the mailman, Karl Malone, she delivered…slam dunk, lights out, MVP status.  What followed was art, Italian Nights y’all!  Gnocchi is her favorite, so that made the list, along with Italian Dinner Soup and Beef Barciole. From the food, to the presentation, to the wine, to the time with our friends.  It was all 100% Sasquatch vs Bear with Mountain Lion drinking buddy!

Potato Pillows of Love – Gnocchi Pomodorro

  • Olive oil
  • Fresh herbs (Rosemary, Oregano, Basil, Thyme)
  • 1/2 Yellow Onion (chopped)
  • 2 tablespoons of Garlic (minced)
  • 1 28-ounce can of San Marzano tomatoes
  • Kosher salt and coarse ground pepper
  • Red pepper flakes
  • Heavy cream
  • 2 packages of potato gnocchi
  • Mozarella balls or Ricotta Cheese formed in balls
  • Grated Parmesan

In a large skillet (you may want a skillet that can go into the oven), gently infuse the oil with the herbs and heat the oil to a medium temp.  Add onion and garlic and sautee in the infused oil until soft. Add tomatoes and crush in the pan with a potato masher, or similar utensil (forks work), to create handmade, uneven chunks.  Add salt, pepper, and red pepper flakes to taste then simmer on low heat for 20 minutes, or until sauce thickens. While simmering, add gnocchi in a pot of boiling water until the potato pillows float to the top. Once done, remove from heat, drain into a strainer and set aside. Finally, add about a 1/4 cup of heavy cream to the Pomodoro sauce in the skillet to add texture (feel free to add more or less to your liking). Mix the cooked gnocchi into the creamy Pomodoro sauce Add the mozzarella or ricotta cheese in various locations around the dish Sprinkle the grated parmesan cheese over the entire dish. If you like, place the skillet in the oven under broiling temperature, heat until a crispy crust forms on top.

Beef Braciole

  • ½ cup bread crumbs
  • 1 cup shredded pecorino romano cheese, plus more for serving
  • ½ cup fresh basil, chopped
  • ⅓ cup shredded provolone cheese
  • ½ cup fresh italian parsley, chopped
  • 8 cloves garlic, minced, divided
  • kosher salt, to taste
  • freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 1 lb flank steak
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 medium carrot, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 stalk celery, chopped1 cup dry white wine
  • 28 oz crushed tomato, 1 can
  • 2 dried bay leaves
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 lb orecchiette pasta, or polenta, cooked, for serving, optional
  • ¼ cup fresh basil, cut into ribbons, for serving

Get ready for a small book! This one is very involved, but if you take the time to do it, you will be a dinner party hero! In a medium bowl, combine the bread crumbs, pecorino Romano, ½ cup chopped basil, provolone, parsley, 5 minced cloves of garlic, salt, pepper, and olive oil. Mix it all together and set aside. Next, lay the flank steak on a cutting board and season both sides with salt and pepper. Cover the the meat with a sheet of parchment paper and sing a meat mallet (flat side, not the Iron Maiden spikey side) or rolling pin, pound the steak until it’s ¼ inch (6 mm) thick. Remove the parchment and sprinkle the bread crumb mixture evenly over the top side of the steak. Now, starting from the bottom, roll the meat into a log. Using butcher’s twine, tie up the roll so it holds its shape while cooking. I found it easiest to have 6 pieces of twine cut and just tie in 6 sections. Season with salt and pepper. Heat canola oil in a large Dutch oven over high heat. When the oil is hot, add the steak roll and, without moving it, cook until a dark brown crust forms on one side, about 3 minutes. Turn the roll and repeat until all sides and the ends have been seared. Remove the meat from the pan and set it aside on a plate. Preheat the oven to 350°F. While the oven is heating up, add the butter, carrot, onion, celery, remaining 3 cloves of garlic, salt, and pepper to the pan you just cooked the meat in and cook on medium-high heat until caramelized, about 5 minutes. Add the white wine and stir to loosen any brown bits from the bottom of the pot. Cook until the wine reduces by about half. Add the tomatoes, bay leaves, oregano, and red pepper flakes and stir it all together. Return the beef roll to the pot. Cover and bake for 1 hour, flipping the roll halfway through and cook until the beef is tender. When Slice the Braciole and arrange on a serving platter with the sauce. Serve the Braciole on a bed of orecchiette or orzo. Garnish with grated pecorino Romano and fresh basil.

Soup’s On! – Italian Dinner Soup

  • 1 pound uncooked Italian sausage links, casings removed (about 4)
  • 4 cups chicken stock or broth
  • 4 cups beef stock or broth
  • 1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes with basil, garlic and oregano
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato paste
  • 1 9-ounce package of refrigerated tortellini
  • 2 cups baby spinach leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 1/4 cup of fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped
  • 2 ounces Parmesan cheese, grated

In a large skillet, cook sausage over medium heat, stirring occasionally until no pink remains, drain and set aside. Now get a Dutch oven, or a deep pot, combine chicken and beef stock, diced tomatoes (include juice) and tomato paste, bring to a boil. Add tortellini into Dutch oven (or pot) and cook for 7 minutes. Add sausage and return to boiling. Next, Stir in spinach to wilt (feel free to add more water and/or broth as desired). Lastly, add basil and parmesan cheese, pour into bowls and enjoy!

At the end of the night, I was like “damn, that was fun!” I had enough wine that walking home I think I did see a talking Mountain Lion although it could have been a fire hydrant with a hat on it, not sure. But I did give it a high 5 just in case. Its rude to ignore people. Ok, y’all, this was a long one but I hope you get to experience something like this sooner than later, or just invite yourself to my house, just bring the booze, I’ll bring the wildlife!

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