Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?

No, not Amanda Hesser, nor Judith Jones.

The Naughty Table! Before I explain who the Naughty Table is I need to backtrack even further. This has been an exceptionally tasty and educational summer! It all began when my friend the Kurdish Nomad, or K.N., and I started going to the Talking Taste series at The Institute of Contemporary Art. TheTalking Tastes were a lecture series where members of the restaurant community spoke and cooked. And they fed us, not an entire meal, but just enough to get our taste buds watering and our stomachs looking forward to dinner. The first guest speaker was my favorite chef from my favorite restaurant, Ana Sortun from Oleana (and Sofra Baker). K.N. and I left the museum totally blissed out (not without a tour of the Shepard Fairey exhibition) and drove straight to Oleana. That set a precedent. After each talk, we went to one or more of the restaurants belonging to the speaker. Or to Oleana, if the restaurant wasn't in the area; Pane e Salute sounds lovely, but a drive to Vermont wouldn't have been very practical.

Since then, we've been unabashed members of the Ana Sortun fan club. I think we've been to Oleana at least another 4 times between us, and to Sofra Bakery (just a fifteen minute walk from my house) too many times to mention. I think we went like, three Sundays in a row or something crazy like that. I can't really explain the menu. . . just look at their Web site.

A few weeks ago we went to a Dutch beer and food pairing at the Peabody Essex Museum as a tie in to the dutch seascapes exhibition. I had the best shared table experience ever - everyone at the table was interesting and funny and likes talking about food as much as I do. We had so much fun talking that we ignored the less than stellar lecturers, resulting in the group tag "the Naughty Table". We exchanged email addresses and vowed to share especially good information and to hopefully meet again

I took the commuter rail back to Boston with the two of the women who are about my age. It was spooky how much we had in common, spooky in an exciting way that made me feel happy that I'd found some of "my people". We all like visiting museums, traveling, (eating and cooking obviously), going on culturally edifying (read nerdy) field trips, and Mad Men (but who doesn't, right?) Upon further chatting, we discovered that their third musketeer is none other than my long lost fellow camp counselor from 1989! (I'd always wondered what had happened to him.)

Last Sunday, after a beer tasting at Formaggio, the Naughty Table AND my long lost camp friend came to my house for dinner. K.N. and I decided to make a selection of recipes from the Talking Tastes and from Ana Sortun's cookbook, Spice. We had a test run a couple weekends before, so we knew pretty much what we were dealing with. The goal was to have a light and fresh dinner that took advantage of the great late summer produce. Light was key, since we'd have just come from a beer and cheese tasting. We made:

Haloumi with Spiced Dates and Pears (from Ana Sortun's Spice): This is always a crowd pleaser, at least to those who aren't grossed out by haloumi, the cheese that squeaks when you bite it! Halloumi has a high melting point, so it can be fried to a lovely golden brown crisp on the outside but not melty on the inside because it doesn't really melt. When it's paired with sauteed pears and dates spiced with cardomom, cumin & coriander cooked in lemon juice, olive oil & brown sugar it's a winner.

Spoon Salad with Sorrel Granite (from ana Sortun's ICA lecture): spoon salad is a cucumber, grape, mint, dill & onion salad atop a dollop of sorrel flavored labne, embellished with a spoonful of sorrel granita. Before Ana's talk, I'd never had sorrel. It's a green with a light, fresh, almost lemony green apple flavor. It can be very difficult to find - it had a definite season, and it's not very in demand. It's work seeking out.

Heirloom Tomato Soup with Succotash: (from Frank McClelland of L'Espalier & Selle de Terre): Despite the tomato blight, the giant heirloom tomatoes were spectacular.

Nectarine and Lemon Verbena PaoPaos. (Ana Sortun's Spice, served regularly at Oleana): A few tablespoons of pureed nectarines and lemon verbena infused sugar syrup topped off with prosecco. We made the pear cardamom version a couple weeks ago, and I have to say that despite my unfailing love of nectarines, I prefered the pear cardamom

I didn't take photos of any of the finished products, but here are some of the works in progress:

Here's a blanched nectarine. I learned an awful lot about blanching!

Here's the sorrel on the way to being granite. It's such a spectacular color! It tastes just like it looks:

Heirloom tomato puree- not as pretty as the others: