Tuesday, 8 December 2009

There can never be too much food

    I am having dinner-party angst. Again. It must be that I am back to my old self then. Already. Three months spent trying to learn to let go, to ignore social conventions, to focus on the bigger things in life and here I am again, gripping the steering wheel, worrying about whether I should rush to the supermarket for extra duck breasts in case there isn't enough food.
    It sounds innocuous, doesn't it, the topic of how much food to serve one's guests? But as the subject of the longest trench war between the Neapolitan and myself over the past seven years (yes, longer even than the battle over how many pairs of shoes I could possibly need or why he is physically incapable of putting his morning cereal bowl in the dishwasher), it's actually a pretty major issue. To be perfectly accurate, however, I should probably rectify and say it's only been a prominent source of conflict between us for the past five years, because when we were still students we only served one dish: penne with vodka.

    Then we moved back to Europe. We got our own place. We got married. We bought china. We had our first grown-up dinner parties. And all of a sudden it happened. There wasn't enough food.
    I didn't get it at first. For several years I didn't get it. What on earth did he mean there wasn't enough food? Appetizer, main, dessert, sometimes even a salad squeezed in. That's plenty of food by my family's standards. I mean, that's like a Christmas meal in the house I grew up in. For my mom, a successful dinner party is one without leftovers. In the Neapolitan's family, an empty plate is the ultimate insult, a spit in the face of your guests. There should always, ALWAYS, be food left, he told me again and again. Even after second helpings I peeped? Yes. Even then.
    I still didn't get it. I fought him tooth and nail over it. Then I went to my first Neapolitan Christmas. There, between the seventh and eighth antipasto, I had the epiphany. There could never be enough food. I shamed my husband for years, it dawned on me. I'm still trying to make it up to him.

    Now I could tell you about the antipasto I made for that dinner party I was talking about earlier, the one for which I worried about getting extra duck breasts. On paper it sounded very good: round zucchini stuffed with fresh ricotta, amaretti and parmesan cheese. But the truth is it took quite a bit of effort and I wasn't impressed with the results. I can't tell whether it was because my zucchini weren't right (too bitter) or whether the slightly sweet stuffing didn't quite work in that case, but it would be a shame to share a recipe with you that I wouldn't make again in my own kitchen.
    So instead I decided to tell about something more seasonal: an original Brussels sprouts recipe. It would go marvellously with the Christmas turkey.

Brussels sprouts with chestnut and pancetta (serves 4)

500g trimmed and cleaned Brussels sprouts
100g pancetta (streaky bacon will do if you can't find pancetta)
40g butter
a dozen chestnuts

    Put a small saucepan filled with water on the stove and wait for it to simmer. In the meantime, make a small incision at the flat end of each chestnut (If you don't, they will explode). Then  cook your chestnuts in the boiling water for around 10 minutes. 
    While the chestnuts are cooking slice your Brussels sprouts very thinly, as for a cold slaw. If your pancetta comes in slices, cut it into matchsticks. Once your chestnuts have cooled enough to be handled but while they're still warm, peel them, taking out both the tough shell and the thin brown papery skin. Chop them up as you would walnuts.
    Put the butter in a pan and warm it, throw in the pancetta and let it sizzle for a few minutes on relatively high heat so it gets a bit crispy. Turn down the heat slightly and add the sprouts. Add a good grinding of salt and pepper and finally the chestnuts. Cook for about 10 minutes. You want the sprouts to retain a slight bite.

No comments:

Post a Comment