Thursday, February 12, 2009

Dinner Party Chez Hitch

The second day of our weekend trip upstate to Ithaca and Trumansberg was spent idly. The three of us were a bit hung-over from the debaucheries of the night before fueled by the fine wine, grappa, and food. Nick, Valerie, and I welcomed the calm of the countryside with its beautiful landscape and white snowy view on display outside the warm living room at my uncle Hitch’s farmhouse. They had reading to do and I spent the afternoon chatting with Hitch and listening to opera casually in front of the fireplace. He had invited a couple of friends from town to join us for dinner and in the late afternoon sent us for a few last minute things. The three of us drove into town for oysters and wine, a lovely drive in the crystal clear winter dusk. I was enticed by the prosecco on sale at the wine merchant and decided to whip up a couple of cocktails upon return to the house for an impromptu aperatif. I made a classic Italian Belini with mashed white peaches and a little brown sugar plopped in the bottom of a glass topped with a healthy dose of bubbly. The second round of drinks was a blood orange coup of prosecco and freshly squeezed juice that lent a gorgeous color to the glass.

Hitch calmly prepared dinner in the large rustic kitchen the other guests and I sat in front of the fire immediately adjacent the stove, able to converse with him as he chopped, fried, and baked up a storm. The first course was a lush looking pasta dubbed penne a l’aspergi which Hitch picked up on one of his sojourns to Italy. The dish was made of penne, chopped asparagus, olive oil, and a blend of five or six cheese including parmesan, cantal, and pecorino. The nuttiness and gooey texture of the cheese went well with the fresh earthy crunch of the asparagus which had been lightly sautéed. The first course paired excellently with Hitch’s favorite; Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region of New Zealand.

The second course was a recipe that dates back to my great great grandmother. Hitch fondly remembers these delicacies from his youth and prides himself on making them exactly as he witnessed to preserve the family tradition. Fried oysters are a delicious thing indeed but I have problems with cooked oysters period. I don’t mean to offend anybody its just that I like my oysters chilled and freshly shucked with a twist of lemon and some brown bread with butter on the side. Call me old fashioned, conservative, close-minded, or a snob but that’s about the only way I will eat them. I must admit that Hitch’s fried oysters were good and I ate my share happily. He simply dredged shucked Blue Points in finely crushed saltine crackers and then pan-fried them in two cast iron skillets with vegetable oil. The “breading” added a great crunch and saltiness to the creamy oysters that literally popped in your mouth. I highly recommend trying these at home if you are into that sort of thing.

The third and final course was a beautiful citrus tart Hitch seemed to just throw together and serve out of nowhere. The recipe came from a British pastry book, which sounds scary but the tarts and custards photographed on the pages looked really tasty. I don’t know exactly what went into this particular tart essentially a custard with eggs, butter, and sugar mixed with orange and lemon juice. The deep beigeish orange color of the tart leads me to believe there was blood orange involved. The eggy citrus custard was set against a crisp salty crust and was truly an amazing thing to eat. Hitch was batting a hundred, two for two on the meal front and I was so glad that he invited us for back-to-back dinners at his beautiful farmhouse in Trumansberg. It was a wonderful experience that we all shared and Valerie and I definitely look forward to the next one. As always, I encourage you to enjoy and share delicious food and home cooked meals with yourself and others!