If I Had A Sunday Supper Club, It Might Look Like This [Featuring: Fried Zucchini, Kalamata Olive Dip and Fancy French Laundry Lasagna]

Kiss kiss, darling, let me take your coat. It is dreadful outside, isn’t it? Did you have trouble finding the place? Did Carl give you trouble downstairs? Really, good help is so hard to find these days.

Welcome to my black-and-white dream world, a world of drink and jazz and good old-fashioned New York glamour. In this black-and-white dream world, I am a Count–Count Backwardsfromten–and each and every Sunday night I throw a fabulous dinner party, a party for which everyone fights for an invitation. “Were you invited to the Count’s? Oh you weren’t? How terrible, darling.”

That is my dream world. And this is my reality:

IMG_1.JPG

So much for the jazz age. But who needs glamour when you have lasagna? And who needs fancy friends when you have friends in funny t-shirts, friends who bravely knock on neighbors doors to ask for an extra chair as there are only six chairs for seven guests? And who needs masterfully sewn tablecloths when you have multi-colored water glasses, like the ones I bought at MOMA? I may not be a Count, but you can count on me to throw a fun dinner party. Well…fun except for the few glitches…

Glitch #1: I didn’t make dessert. The Barefoot Contessa says, “No one remembers what you served for dinner at a dinner party, but they’ll always remember dessert.” But I didn’t have time! This is all because of…

Glitch #2: I started too late. I went food shopping at 3 with guests arriving at 7. I thought I could make an appetizer, an entree and dessert in this time. [Cue the cuckoo clock.]

Glitch #3: I was way too ambitious. I decided to cook lasagna from the French Laundry cookbook (I made it once before) but this time, instead of cheating with jarred tomato sauce, I decided to follow the recipe’s instructions for making sauce from scratch. From REAL tomatoes. In March. [Cue the cuckoo clock again.]

For this to happen, I had to buy 12 tomatoes. The 12 tomatoes I bought looked innocent enough sitting on the shelf at Whole Foods. “Ah, tomatoes,” I said. “This won’t be a problem. I’ll just buy 12.”

Then at the register, when the man rang them up I saw how much they cost. There’s a reason people say tomatoes are best in summer: they grow in summer. They don’t grow in winter and usually not in spring and when they do, they cost lots of money. I shamefully paid the man who said–“Boy, you must like tomatoes”–and made my way home.

At home, I immediately set to work. First task: peel the 12 tomatoes. I began by washing the tomatoes, a few at a time:

IMG_2.JPG

Then I cut off the stems, peeled off the stickers, and slit an “X” at the bottom of each tomato. Then I plunged the tomatoes into boiling water:

IMG_3.JPG

They boiled for appx. 30 seconds–until the skin began to blister–and then I submerged them in ice water.

IMG_4.JPG

After five minutes in the ice water, they’re ready to be peeled. And I must say, they’re really easy to peel after you do all this: the skin comes right off.

IMG_5.JPG

Then you chop them into little squares (about an inch wide):

IMG_6.JPG

And it’s time to begin your sauce.

This is actually the first time I’ve made tomato sauce with fresh tomatoes. I wasn’t sure it would be worth it after all that blanching and peeling, and I was grateful–finally–to get to the tasks I could do quickly: sauteing onion and garlic in olive oil for a few minutes until translucent.

IMG_7.JPG

After about five minutes, I added half a cup of tomato paste.

IMG_8.JPG

This you stir in and cook for about 8 minutes, until the oil and tomato separates and the oil is a bright orange color. It looks like this:

IMG_9.JPG

At this point, you add your tomatoes. I was worried they all wouldn’t fit into my Le Crueset, but they did:

IMG_10.JPG

You stir it all together and then, supposedly, let it cook at a simmer for an hour and a half and it’ll be done. But after an hour, it was all soupy and wet and I was terrified because it was 6:30 and my guests were coming in 30 minutes and I hadn’t even assembled the lasagna. So I cranked up the heat to a boil and let it reduce quicker (screw Thomas Keller!) Surprisingly, this tactic worked well: the sauce was chunky and ready 30 minutes later.

IMG_11.JPG

As you can see flecked in there, at this point I added fresh chopped basil. And then I gave it a taste. Would this be better than tomato sauce made from a can?

Whoah-ho! It certainly was! I was instantly transported to a beach in Sardinia, the waves lapping over my toes, my Italian wife starting the car behind me. “Apollonia!” I yell. “Don’t!” But it’s too late. The car explodes.

And just then, the doorbell rang. There was Lisa. And soon after, Stella. They set to helping me in the kitchen. We began by boiling the lasagna noodles, mixing the ricotta with the parsley (this should all be in the old lasagna post) and then assembling. First a layer of sauce, then noodles:

IMG_12.JPG

Then ricotta, more noodles, more sauce and so on. The very top layer of sauce is topped with grated mozzarella–grated by Lisa–and seasoned with salt and pepper.

IMG_13.JPG

Into a 350 oven it goes for 45 minutes (“or until browned on top”) and I set to work on my fried zucchini appetizer.

This zucchini appetizer comes to us from Sarah Moulton who I adored in my first years as a Food TV watcher. She was like the soothing mother figure who came along and held my hand and led me bravely into my kitchen. This recipe, one of the earliest I ever cooked, certainly got me on my way.

It’s a little scary, but it’s so easy. Here’s what you do:

Take flour. Take beer. That’s 1 1/2 cups beer and 1 cup flour (or is it the other way around? It doesn’t really matter) and mix that together. Put through a strainer so it comes out looking like pancake batter. Let it sit for an hour.

Meanwhile, cut up zucchini into sticks: about 2 inches long and 1/4 inch wide. Toss the sticks in a flour, salt, pepper mixture:

IMG_14.JPG

Heat vegetable oil to 375. Now line everything up:

IMG_15.JPG

That’s zucchini, batter and the heated oil. Take the zucchini dredged in flour, shake it out in a colander, dip in the batter, shake off and carefully place in the oil. It will look like this:

IMG_16.JPG

Let it get golden brown (about three minutes) and then drain on paper towels.

IMG_17.JPG

Don’t those look delicious? [Make sure to salt them immediately when they come out.]

The best part is the dipping sauce. It’s the easiest and most rewarding dipping sauce you will ever make in your life. Here’s what you do:

Get mayonaisse. Get kalamata olives. Chop up the olives. Add to the mayonaisse (with some olive juices) and that’s your sauce. You can squeeze lemon into it to, but you don’t have to. Here’s the finished product:

IMG_18.JPG

People love this. People go crazy for this. My guests, now arrived (and eagerly awaiting lasagna) gobbled these up with flair. One such guest, “Josh,” agreed to be videoed as he sampled the final bite of fried zucchini:

And just then a bell rang–brrrrring!–the lasagna was ready.

IMG_19.JPG

Who doesn’t want a slice of that? Nobody doesn’t want a slice of that. Look at this slice and tell me you don’t want it:

IMG_20.JPG

And so maybe I didn’t serve dessert. (If I had, it would have been a chocolate hazelnut torte–I had the ingredients, just didn’t have the time.) But what I did serve was highly edible and much appreciated by the guests. “Mmmm,” they said. “This is much appreciated.”

Should this become a ritual Sunday night endeavor–which would be very expensive and very tiresome–I will make sure to plan better. But at least there’s leftover lasagna in the fridge and no leftover dessert to make me fat. Lasagna doesn’t make you fat, right?

14 comments

  1. The lasagna looks absolutely delicious! Homemade sauce is absolutely worth making!

    Also, I love the group shot showing your serving in a bowl on the dinner table. When you only have setting for 6, sometimes you have to improvise

  2. Sunday dinners sound like a worthy endeavor as long as you buy vegetables in season, as I’m sure you’ve figured out already. Nonetheless, the lasagna looks delicious!

  3. oh my gosh, that all looks INCREDIBLE! i am chewing on my screen. no, really.

    i am planning an eggplant ratatouille sauce tonight…i may just have to fry some, too, inspired by your appetizer…

    now, please, please make that chocolate hazelnut torte and tell us about it!

  4. Hey, I made lasagna the other night, too. It’s totally different than yours, but yours looks better. I’ll have to try those zucchini sticks – they look incredibly good.

  5. Sunday dinner is the best… in my group of friend here in Madison, we rotate the cooking. With five or us it keeps the cost down and the fun high! Start a tradition today and I will have to start with those zucchini sticks!

  6. I want to make this entire menu for my friend’s bridal shower.

    *yoink* *runs away, chuckling*

  7. Just a hint about the tomato sauce. The sauce will cook down faster if you seed the tomatoes after peeling them and before you chop them.

    Cut the tomatoes into quarters and over a bowl and run your fingers along the seeded segments, removing the seeds and juice. Chop the resulting dry and seedless tomato quarters. Oh, and if you want to save the juice (and it is worth it!) put a sieve over the bowl to catch the seeds, but let the juice through. The juice can be made used for a nice sauce (in summer!), say with a shrimp timbale or something.

  8. I have been in a similar dessert related quandry and am always saved by my mother’s recipe for flaming bananas. It requires that you have bananas, rum (or similar booze), cinnamon, brown sugar, butter and ice cream on hand but these aren’t uncommon. The beauty of the dessert is that you make it in front of your guests and then light it on fire! The last minuteness is forgotten because their desserts are on FIRE!

  9. Which recipe would you have used if you did make a chocolate hazelnut torte? And for the zucchini sticks – does it matter what kind of beer you use?

  10. You can also save time by not boiling the lasagna noodles. They will cook in the liquid from the sauce as it bakes. It also makes assembly a lot easier becuase you aren’t working with slippery noodles that tear easily.

    Either way – looks awesome!

  11. One more bit of unsolicited advice (that’s it! now you’ll cut off comments!). If it’s not farmstand season, when it’s possible to get bushels of ripe tomatoes cheap, use plum tomatoes. They’re great for cooking and are usually much less expensive. Parboil or roast, and skin and seed (though I don’t bother to seed).

    Does French Laundry specify salad-grade tomatoes? Well, they are in California after all, land of year-round local fresh produce. But it’s not necessary.

    P.S. I sent my husband out for a few items the other day – cat food, milk, half-and-half, and tomatoes. I glanced at the receipt. Almost $50! Say what??? I found the culprit – over $8 for a few stem tomatoes… I’d rather have an exquisite pastry or piece of chocolate for that price!

  12. Longtime lurker here delurking to say that I can so relate to the dinner party glitch.

    Funny post, and it looks like a fabulous meal.

  13. I found your site by googling for a real Sunday Supper Club that I am part of (in Warrenton, VA). I think I will try that Fried Zucchini once they are back in season.

    We don’t dress in black tie or tales, but you are welcome to join us for some good food and political discussion on the second Sunday of each month if you are ever in Warrenton. (Goggle it.)

%d bloggers like this: