Monday, January 02, 2006

New Year’s Eve – 2005

I have thought a lot about what to write for New Year’s. Several past experiences came to mind as images of dancing to Latin American music until 3 in the morning, dancing on the tables in Naples singing folkloristic songs from southern Italy and the concert of New Year’s day in Vienna came to mind. I decided to write about our New Year’s Eve party here in Dallas. Italy is a way of life as much as a geographical location. Thousands of years of culture, being conquered and conquering has led to extreme diversity and a general concept of what is important in life that seems to be very different than my perception of what is important to people here in the US.

In life, good things happen and bad things happen, but in the end the only things that remain a constant are true friends. Difficult to find but invaluable to a fulfilling life, friends can be identified if you understand their motivation for spending time with you. Friends are the people that understand who you are and appreciate you for your qualities and your defects. I believe that Italian culture has reinforced this concept. Business, political and religious fads come and go over time. Enough time passes and what was generally accepted as a quality becomes a defect and what was a defect becomes a quality. To find true friends it is imperative that you isolate the noise generated from what the masses are shouting all around you and concentrate on whether or not you like to spend time with your friends.

It is not necessary that you like everything they say, think or do but, it is important that they make you think. Can they give you a different perspective on life or some specific problem? Is it stimulating to discuss things with them or do you simply repeat the same things being careful to avoid confrontation? Think a moment, how long would you like to be with someone who says the exact same things you do?

Raffaella had just finished work, a few minutes to clean up and change and we were off. Through the door and a loud cheer of Happy New Year. The others were already well into the bottles of white wine and some appetizers were hot and on the counter. The gentlemen had their jackets off and were busy preparing various things. A tuxedo is probably not the best attire to cook dinner but this is our tradition. Each person has their own smock to limit the damages.

John, the individual designated with the responsibilities of sommelier, has opened a couple of whites from the 3 boxes of wine and port destined for our festivities. We barely have time to set down the bread, cannelloni and pumpkin soup before we have our glasses filled and all are toasting a Happy and Prosperous New Year.

While heating the pumpkin soup, Raffaella toasts some of the Tuscany bread, and I talk to Al about publishing his Lamb recipe on the blog. Shortly we are ready to begin, the jacket back on and quickly to the table. Again our cheer to great friends and the new year as I prepare the plates of pumpkin soup. Very small portions and patience are the key to a successful feast. Wally comments that although he likes the soup he would never have thought it was made with Pumpkin. Smooth and creamy with a hint of pepper is the trick to this warm delight.

Al has been thinking all week about the salad. Instead of the traditional greens with some salad dressing he wanted to prepare a something with an Italian appetizer flair. His creation was truly a work of art. A scallop, floured and fried, red peppers, Sicilian olives and Cacio Romano and slightly aged Goat cheeses on a bed of salad greens sprinkled with vinaigrette. A burst of flavors, balanced and complimentary, worthy of the master chef he has become. The warm scallop and the sweet red pepper were marvelous. Toasted garlic bread added a crunchy balance. The conversation continued with a quick critique of the plate and, unusual for this group, no suggestions were offered on how to improve the next time. To all of our amazement Raffaella returns for a second plate. This is a compliment without precedent, except in the case of Oysters en Brouchette where an entire night’s production can disappear in the first five minutes after Raffaella’s arrival.

A break, as the cannelloni go into the oven for twenty minutes. Groups split between the kitchen and the dining room. Conversations about the housing market, the next wine on the agenda, skiing trips in Salt Lake and travel plans for the upcoming year make the time pass quickly and soon we are back at the table. Raffaella prepares the plates as Al and Wally sprinkle some Italian parsley for presentation and to the table. The cannelloni were a bit more difficult to prepare than usual. The fresh pasta base was prepared on a day with 15% humidity. The pasta would dry on the outside before it could be rolled requiring several attempts to get the proper shape and consistency in the rolled pasta. The filling was a mixture of beef and pork. The beef was cooked in the red sauce spread over the cannelloni. Finished with besciamella, cooked for 20 minutes at 350 degrees, this is a savory first course.

Again, few comments, other than, “oh man,” “how can we order cannelloni at a restaurant after this,” and “can I have seconds?” The last comment was mine, of course. This led to comments about the gnocchi as Dede commented that she had found, at a restaurant in New York, gnocchi as good as the gnocchi makes fresh for our dinners. Wally has prepared a between course digestive of sorbet with raspberry, lemon and lime. It was perfect. He was not happy with the lime, indicating that it was a bit sweet, but we were all in agreement that it was “just right.”

It is about 23:00, that is 11 pm, and we break for the festivities in New York. As the ball falls, the cameras scan the crowd. Comments on “how it must be a fantastic party” to “you know, no alcohol, no potties, no food, how can that be a party?” Al begins preparing the main course and John is busy decanting the red wine.

At this time the conversation picks up on Dick Clark and whether or not it was appropriate for him to present this year. Mixed opinions expressed about the presentation but the concept of how we wanted to be remembered was in unison. As the television moved on to some of the side parties in New York, with some young entertainer performing a song with 10 words and jumping around trying to be sexy, we reminisced about the entertainers of our respective eras. We arrived at the conclusion that the words may have changed but the content is about the same.

The midnight hour is quickly approaching, Al is preparing the rosemary and wine sauce for the lamb, as John breaks out the champagne. The final seconds counted down, a glass of champagne in hand as the clock strikes midnight. As our custom, Raffaella and are embraced in a passionate kiss with various comments from others in the room. Toasts to the New Year, best wishes and the customary hugs and kisses as we share together the beginning of this new adventure that is 2006.

We have a saying, “Cio’ che fai a capodanno, fai tutto l’anno!” In rhyme this translates to “What you do the beginning of the year you continue all year long.” What is better than sharing food, wine and thoughts with close friends.

Al’s wine sauce has just about reduced, so jackets back on, a new bottle of wine and off to the table. As we prepare the plates to be served at the table, I reflect on how fortunate I am, and not just for the great food. Al directs Wally and myself regarding the proper presentation of the dish. A lamb chop center pointing slightly northwest, 5 fried beans fanning out to the right, a stuffed tomato northeast and the wine sauce on the lamb. The lamb, although savory, is delicate and surprisingly light. John has opened a robust red wine, which quickly disappears. It must be the very low humidity that causes evaporation!

American coffee for some, while others prefer a good espresso as Wally brings in light and creamy desert. Dede indicates that the recipe called this a Bananas Foster and some discussion arises. Whether or not a Bananas Foster, it was marvelous. Most just took a small bite from a common desert dish but Deanne made quick work of what was left. Another serving appears and mysteriously disappears, as we all indicated that we were pleasantly full. But our feast has not yet been completed.

John has been on port kick and has been experimenting with different combinations of cheese and port. Out comes the port. Produced in California by a small vineyard this port is full-bodied and not too sweet. As the discussion about how port is made and what the national versions of port may be John serves a plate of pears, apples, Parmesan and Stilson cheeses. John, of Italian decent, must have known of the saying in Northern Italy, “Non dire al contadino quanto e’ buono il Parmigiano con le pere,” or for our Italian language impaired friends “do not tell the farmer how good Parmesan cheese with pears is.”

A night, an experience, a perfect occasion with great food, great wine and great friends; an Italian experience in Dallas!

Best wishes to all for a Happy and Prosperous 2006.


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Blogger Beau said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

1:33 PM

Blogger Beau said...

Buon Anno! IMHO your articles really come alive when you combine the dining festivities, and recipes with the human interest elements (history of the cuisine, time with friends etc.)Enjoyed your New Years Eve post.

Right now I'm working on an auto-biographical story for the blog. My wife, and I used to enjoy the Vegas high life, and probably still would, but events transpired in life, such that I no longer have any kind of interest in that kind of financial risk taking. I'm not sure if the story will generate much interest, but there is a certain catharsis in writing it. I've decided to filter some of the gaming ads generated by the story, because the story is a cautionary tale about the gaming life. At the same time, I avoid moralizing about anyone elses involvement in gambling as that would certainly be hypocritical in my case. Anyway, I'm certainly not going to rationalize my story to other readers, or bloggers, but you have been a supporter of my blog, and I wanted to "fill you in" so to speak as the story is in progress. On my part, please feel free to delete this comment as it is more of a personal communication than a comment per se.


1:43 PM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

Beau - Actually I think the comment is pertinent to what I am trying to say. As you know I follow your site on a regular basis and think that the book would most likely be interesting.

Good luck with the book. I will be following the story.

3:24 PM

Blogger Leigh said...

Sounds like a great evening with fabulous food! We'll will have to give the pumpkin soup a try - I can almost smell it cooking!

3:30 PM

Blogger Travel Italy said...

Lady Divas - It is always a pleasure when you stop by. The soup is really good.

Good food, Good Wine and Good friends, the secret to a great life.

3:56 PM


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