Monday, July 20, 2009


When inspiration knocks, invite your friends to supper! Roasted lemons are my inspiration centerpiece for an al fresco dinner party menu, created especially for my pals, Jim and Barbara. These guys know their Italian dishes and fresh ingredients. I have devoured their signature dish - a baked, stuffed artichoke cooked in rich marinara sauce that will make you sing like Sinatra. I’ve sampled their tomato mozzarella salad, and had not one, but two helpings of Jim’s famous meatballs! Joining them are my dear pals, Mindy and Lee. He’s known for his perfectly grilled beef filet (he orders from Lobels), she, for her yummy desserts. The party guest list is rounded out by my BFF (Best Foodie Friend) Diana and her hubby, Steve. Steve and my hubby bond over their mutual love of dessert. And I quote from Steve, “If it ain’t frozen, it ain’t dessert!”

In addition to the lovely lemons, artisanal goat cheese from my local farmer’s market inspires the menu; it’s flavored with lavender, herbs da Provence and other worldly spices. The cheese is not only fragrant, but smooth and velvety, and is the perfect ingredient to use as in appy course. I create a goat cheese tart using puff pastry, sautéed wild mushrooms and roasted red peppers. My first course salad is akin to Jim’s favorite. My version of Caprese includes grilled eggplant, enhanced with a gremolata (using the zest of my lemons) knock-off garnish. For the main course, I brine a pork roast and stuff it with spinach and sun-dried tomato pesto. A simple sauce created from roasted lemons and fresh thyme adds a sparkle. The flavors merge for a just perfect, “uh huh, that’s what I’m talkin’ about” in the mouth. The veggie sides are simply sautéed zucchini, topped with roasted tomatoes and pine nuts, and roasted potatoes and whole shallots seasoned with olive oil and sea salt. For the dessert lovers in the crowd, I offer cherry/berry puffs with silky mascarpone and a scoop of lemon sorbet (because if it’s not frozen ……)

The beauty of the meal is that every dish is prepared in advance and only a bit of finishing is required before serving. So the next time life gives you lemons, and the markets give you artisanal cheese, and the garden gives you heirloom tomatoes, and the vines give you cherries …. Invite your best pals and serve them …. This alfresco supper!

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