This photo makes me incredibly happy. It incorporates all of my favorite things in life:
- dinner parties
- a theme
Not pictured: our pretty friends Kathryn and Leslie, and Leslie's Frenchie puppy, aka Duchess' new boyfriend. I mean:
I'm surprised we managed to get any work done with all of the cuteness going on around us. I can barely finish this post - I can't stop staring at the pups.
But work we did - a massive meal that really should have involved at least 4 other people to help eat. Kathryn came up with a theme of basil and mint, and I went to town menu planning.
Clockwise from top:
Kale Salad with Avocado Basil Dressing
The garden is completely overrun. We're alternating between kale, spinach and lettuce for dinner just to keep up. This salad dressing called for the kale - really assertively tart, but rich from the avocado.
I used to call it Creamy Pesto Pasta, but Pesto Carbonara is more accurate and descriptive. But, a rose by any other name... One of my favorite things on the planet. Made better with homemade pasta.
Shiso-Pork Belly Rice Balls
slightly adapted from Nippon Nin
makes 20 rolls
1 1/2 c. cooked sushi rice
1 lb. thinly sliced pork belly, about 20 2x4-inch strips
10 shiso leaves, halved lengthwise
2 T. soy sauce
2 T. mirin
1 T. rice vinegar
1. Lay half a shiso leaf on a slice of pork belly. Place 1 T. cooked rice at the short end, and roll up. Repeat with all of the pork belly.
2. Heat a non-stick skillet at medium heat. Place the rolled up rice balls seam-side down in the skillet. Brown in batches. about 45 seconds per side.
3. If a lot of fat has rendered, remove the pan from heat, and blot dry with a paper towel.
4. Combine the soy sauce, mirin and rice vinegar in a small bowl. Turn the heat back on then pour in the sauce. Gently roll the meat wrapped rice to coat all over. Cook until the sauce is almost evaporated. Serve immediately.
Although they were beautiful, I'd have to say the rice balls were the most disappointing. My main gripe was the lack of flavor, which is shocking considering that bacon and shiso are so flavorful on their own. However, this was just natural pork belly and not actually delightfully salty bacon, and the soy-mirin sauce couldn't stand up to the ball of rice in the middle. I would suggest seasoning the rice aggressively first, and then just worry about using the sauce to season the outside.
Crostini with Peas, Mint + Burrata
slightly adapted from Epicurious
serves 4-6 as an appetizer
12 slices of baguette bread
1/2 garlic clove
1 c. fresh or frozen peas, thawed
salt to taste
2 T. olive oil
2 balls of burrata
a few drops of balsamic vinegar
1. Toast the bread and rub with garlic clove.
2. Blanch the peas in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until just tender, about 2 minutes for fresh peas and 1 minute for frozen.
3. Drain peas; transfer to the bowl of a food processor. Season with kosher salt and extra-virgin olive oil, and process to a rough puree.
4. Spread about 1 T. of the mixture over each toast. Garnish with burrata, torn mint, and a few drops of balsamic vinegar.
I think we could have all made an entire meal out of this crostini. The peas were so light and fresh, and even though the burrata holds all of the calories in the world, each bite was worth every one of those calories.
Minted Braised Lamb Shanks
slightly adapted from Molly Stevens' All About Braising
4 lamb shanks, about 1 lb. each
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. coarse salt
6-7 oz. fresh mint, about 4 cups packed leaves, plus extra for garnish
7 c. water
2 T. olive oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced
1 c. dry white wine or dry white vermouth
1. If the shanks are covered with a tough, parchment-like outer layer, trim this away by inserting a thin knife under it to loosen and peel back the layer. Remove any excess fat as well, but don’t peel off any of the thin membrance – this holds the shanks together and will melt down during braising. Put the shanks in a non-reactive bowl or deep dish.
2. Pluck the mint leaves and tender stems from the bunches and wash and drain them. Combine the mint, sugar and salt in a food processor. Add ½ cup water and process to a coarse puree. Pour the mint puree over the lamb. Add the remaining 6 ½ cups water to cover the shanks completely. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 days. Give the shanks a stir once during brining to ensure that they brine evenly.
3. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.
4. Remove the shanks from the brine and pat dry on paper towels; never mind if there are bits of mint stuck to the lamb. Strain the brine, reserving the mint puree. Save 1 cup of the brine, discarding the remainder.
5. Heat the oil in a Dutch oven over medium-high heat. When the oil shimmers, add the lamb shanks and brown them on all sides, about 8 minutes total. Add the shallots, and let them brown for 1 minute.
6. Pour in the reserved mint puree, reserved brine and the wine. Stir as best as you can to spread the mint around, and bring to a boil. Cover the pot with parchment paper, pressing down so the paper nearly touches the lamb, and the edges of the paper extend about an inch over the pot. Set the lid in place, slide the pot onto a rack in the lower third of the oven, and braise for an hour. Turn the shanks and continue braising until the shanks are fork-tender and pulling away from the bone, another hour to hour and a half.
7. Remove the shanks to a large platter and cover with foil to keep warm. Strain the braising liquid into a small saucepan, discarding the solids. Skim off the surface fat, and if the liquid is not salty enough, boil to reduce. Serve with shanks.
Matty declared this the best lamb he'd ever had. The meat was incredibly tender, and the mint really balanced the gamey-ness well. Mint is such an expected pairing with lamb, but this version, with the mint braised right in with the meat, was subtle but effective.
We meant to end the night with a mint ice cream pie, but we were all over-stuffed. I only managed to sneak the teeniest spoonful of ice cream after the gals (and Griz) left. (Who am I kidding? I had a whole bowlful. There's always room for ice cream).