recipes: crostini (pear/gorgonzola & pesto/tomato), asparagus with crisp prosciutto, ragu bolognese
This has been a terrific day. For starters (and for me, the most important thing), today is Easter. I am grateful, for so much. And what else? We opened up our home to some college students who are in my division at work (and who also go to our church), for an Easter Sunday lunch. I figured not all students get to go home and be with their families, so we put the invite out there and we’re so glad we did. There were six of them, two of us (the husband and I), lots of food and soda, conversation and laughter. A pretty good formula for a successful gathering, I think! Thankful for a house and resources that we can share with others.
I’ve cooked for semi-large gatherings before (I think 8 people has been my maximum), and usually with some help (i.e. one or two other people helping with food). But I am more used to cooking for just my husband and I, so I have to admit I still get nervous preparing food for a “large” crowd. How do I know I’ll make enough food? When should I make appetizers? What about drinks? Are three 2-litre bottles enough? Etc, etc, etc. I’ll give myself a break, though. Dinner (or lunch in this case) parties are quite new to me – it’s expected that I’ll make a mistake or two. I’m all about learning. Most important thing, though? That we eat edible (and hopefully tasty) food and that we have fun!
The lunch menu was:
- sourdough bread that we could dip in regular pesto, sun-dried tomato pesto & olive oil)
- 2 different kinds of crostini (toasted slices of sourdough bread with 1 – pesto, tomato & freshly grated parmesan and 2 – pear, gorgonzola cheese, walnut & honey)
- asparagus with crisp prosciutto
- mixed green salad with 2 different kinds of dressing (olive oil & garlic and raspberry vinaigrette) and toppings like strawberries, walnuts, parmesan & croutons (though we forgot to open the bag and no one touched it!)
- ragu bolognese over egg fettucine noodles
How did I do all of this? First, I made the ragu yesterday. I’m a firm believer that things like ragu or soup taste much better the next day, after the flavors have had time to meld together. Plus, the ragu was the main course and I wanted enough time to make it right, without rushing. I cut up all my aromatics, cooked the meat with it, seasoned it to my preference (and the husband’s too) and let it simmer on the stove for several hours.
This morning, a couple of hours before our guests were due to arrive, I set out all the plates, cutlery, cups and napkins. I went fancy here (haha) and used heavy duty Chinet plates and thick napkins (instead of the cheapo ones we use on a normal basis, you know the kind that is almost see-through?). I was old school with the drinks – red plastic cups and a sharpie marker handy so everyone could write their names on it. We had four bottles of soda and water. Next, I prepped for the appetizers and salad. Cut up the strawberries, pear and tomato – set those aside. Horizontally sliced the prosciutto in half after I realized there were only 6 slices and I needed more than that (besides, the saltiness of the prosciutto can be a bit overpowering). Sliced the two sourdough baguettes and set those aside, by my little pesto and dip bowls. Sounds like a lot and I guess it was, but I made sure I had plenty of time to do everything and in the end, my timing was dead on. About 20 minutes before our first guest arrived, I started boiling a big pot of water for the fettucine, heated the oven for the crostini and wrapped the asparagus in prosciutto. (Where was the husband during all of this? Don’t worry, he offered to help but I felt like I had a good handle on things. So, he went outside and worked in our backyard, doing all kinds of manly backyard-y stuff that I don’t particularly like to do, like cut up excess branches and using the weed whacker.)
And how did everything turn out? Pretty good, I think (I hope!). I’m not sure if these students had eaten this kind of stuff before, but if they didn’t enjoy the food, I never could tell (thanks, guys, hehe). After everyone had left, I made more of the pear & gorgonzola crostini and asparagus (hence the not-so-good food pictures), which we inhaled in a matter of minutes and the husband also had a second helping of the ragu and pasta (he said he loved it). I’ll stop right here and say this – if you have never had pear & gorgonzola crostini, you MUST try it. It will change your life. Okay, maybe not but it’s just super good.
After today’s lunch, I feel a little more prepared to tackle future large gatherings. I’m all about community and food so why not combine two of my favorite things? Happy Easter, everyone!
RECIPE: pear & gorgonzola crostini (slightly adapted from here)
- 8-10 slices of sourdough baguette
- 1/2 a pear, sliced thinly into 1 inch long pieces (you can eyeball it to fit each slice of bread)
- gorgonzola cheese
- walnut halves
- cooking spray
1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F and spray baking sheet with cooking spray. Place the baguette slices on the sheet. Put a slice of pear on each baguette, then sprinkle with gorgonzola cheese. Add a walnut half to each baguette, then drizzle with honey.
2. Cook for 3-5 minutes, until bread is toasted and cheese is melted.
RECIPE: pesto & tomato crostini
- 6-8 slices of sourdough baguette
- 1 roma tomato, sliced thinly
- freshly grated parmesan
- cooking spray
1. Preheat oven to 450degrees F and spray baking sheet with cooking spray. Place the baguette slices on the sheet. Put 1/2 tsp of pesto on each baguette slice, then top with tomato slice and parmesan.
2. Cook for 3-5 minutes, or until bread is toasted and cheese has melted.
*This can be cooked in the same pan as the pear & gorgonzola crostini.
RECIPE: asparagus with crisp prosciutto (slightly adapted from Saveur)
- 12 thin asparagus stalks, ends trimmed
- 1/4 cup of water
- 12 slices of prosciutto
1. Put the asparagus in a bowl with water and microwave for 1 minute. As soon as it is done, put the asparagus in a cold water bath to stop it from cooking.
2. Dry the asparagus and wrap each stalk with prosciutto.
3. Heat a non-stick pan to medium and cook the asparagus there for about 5 minutes or until the prosciutto is crisp.
RECIPE: ragu bolognese (slightly adapted from Bon Apetit)
serves 8-10 people
- 4 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 1/2 cups finely chopped white onion
- 2 cups finely chopped celery (about 4 celery stalks)
- 1 1/2 cups finely chopped carrot (about 3 large carrots)
- 1.27 lb ground round beef (85% lean)
- 1.26 lb ground beef (75% lean)
- 8 oz cubed pancetta
- 1 cup red wine (I used Pepperwood Grove cabernet sauvignon)
- 6 cups beef broth
- 6 tbsp tomato paste (I ended up using 14 tbsp total, because I felt like it needed more)
- one 14 oz can crushed tomatoes
- kosher salt & freshly ground pepper
- 2 cups whole milk
1. In a deep heavy stock pot, heat oil on medium-high and cook the onions, celery and carrots for about 8-10 minutes. Take care not to burn the vegetables as you saute.
2. In a saucepan, cook the beef until just browned (for about 3 minutes or so), then transfer to the stock pot, adding the pancetta to the mixture. Mix and cook for 10-12 minutes.
3. Add the wine and stir the beef mixture well, scraping up any browned bits stuck at the bottom of the pot. Boil for 1 minute. Then add 5 1/2 cups of beef broth and 6 tbsp of tomato paste. Mix well, reduce to heat to low and simmer for 1 1/2 hours. Season to taste with salt & pepper and stir occasionally.
4. Bring the milk to a simmer in a separate sauce pan, then gradually add to the sauce until incorporated. Cover the stock pot, with the lid slightly ajar, and simmer for another hour, stirring occasionally. (As I let the sauce simmer this second time, I added more tomato paste and a can of crushed tomatoes. The Bon Apetit recipe doesn’t call for the extra paste & tomatoes, but feel free do follow your taste buds. I also added some oregano and a bit of ground nutmeg, to taste.)
5. Serve with fettucine noodles.