Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Wine Club ... An Evening at Frank Stitt's Bottega

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Both Clare and I will be hosting our first wine dinner this month.  One couple cooks a four course meal, another couple pairs wines for each course, and everyone gets to enjoy the food and wine.  For this month, we get to play host.  The first question we faced was what will we cook?

The answer was easy ... an Italian meal.  I immediately began scouring my cookbooks and the Internet, looking to make a meal based upon the cuisine of a particular Italian region.  Tuscany, Abruzzo, Sicily, Emilia-Romagna, Sardinia ....  While I found a lot of recipes, I could not decide upon four courses from any of the regions.

Clare and I then turned our attention to where we have had some great Italian food.  One such place was Frank Stitt's Bottega Restaurant, which is located in the Magic City of Birmingham, Alabama. Frank Stitt decided to become a chef after meeting Alice Waters (of Chez Panisse fame).  Stitt opened Bottega in an Italian-style mansion in Birmingham with the goal of experimenting with the flavors of Italy, as well as Spain and Greece. 

I remember our dinner at Bottega very well.  We went there on my first trip to Birmingham, when, while Clare and I were dating, I met Clare's parents for the first time.   Her parents knew that I loved to cook and that my focus was Italian cuisine. We had an amazing meal that night and, as a wedding shower gift, we received Frank Stitt's cookbook, Bottega Favorita.

For this months wine club, Clare and I will be recreating some of Frank Stitt's dishes from that cookbook.   Typically, the structure of an Italian meal typically consists of five courses: the antipasta, prima, secondo, contorno and dolce.  We have created a four course dinner, beginning with the antipasta, followed by the prima and secondo, and concluding with the dolce.

Antipasta: Parmesan Soufflé.  
The antipasta, or appetizer, will be Parmesan Soufflé, which draws its inspiration from the Italian region of Emilia-Romagna. Frank Stitt describes his soufflé dish is a "cloud-like pudding," which is made with eggs, cream and one of the region's most iconic foods, Parmigiano Reggiano.  After the soufflé is baked in a mold, we will garnish the dish with another icon of the region's cooking -- prosciutto -- along with mushrooms and, of course, a lot more grated Parmigiano Reggiano.   

Prima: Gnocchi with Prosciutto and Sage
The prima or first course of an Italian meal is usually a soup, salad or pasta.  We have chosen to make Gnocchi with Prosciutto and Sage.  While the use of prosciutto ties the prima with the antipasta, this dish draws its inspiration from the Italian regions of Lazio and Abruzzo.  We intend to prepare the gnocchi or potato dumplings by hand.  The gnocchi will be served with a brown butter sauce, garnished with the prosciutto and sage.  

Secondo: Lamb Spiedini with Sicilian Couscous and Yogurt Sauce.
The secondo or second dish is usually a heavier dish consisting of meat or lamb.  We have selected Lamb Spiedini and, with the couscous, this dish draws its inspiration from Sicily.  The lamb will be marinated overnight in olive oil, basil, rosemary, salt and black pepper.  Threaded on skewers, the lamb will be cooked to medium and served over couscous prepared in a Sicilian style with a mint yogurt sauce.

Dolce: Warm Cream Cheese Tart with Cinnamon and Almonds.
For our final course, the dolce or dessert, we draw inspiration from northern Italy with a Warm Cream Cheese Tart with Cinnamon and Almonds.  Frank Stitt describes this dish as having the "right balance" of a buttery crust, creamy filling, and a sweet and spicy topping.  We will garnish the dessert with sliced almonds.

We hope that everyone will enjoy this meal. Until then ...


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