Last weekend we had what was probably the best lunch party I've ever been to. Maybe some of this is because lunch is not generally the time for party, but still. I know I've certainly had/been to plenty of brunchy things, but none of them have been as good as this.
Anyway, we went to my friend Joann's to admire her new house and shower her with champagne for getting her PhD. OK, actually to drink the champagne and cook and eat and wander around her neighborhood feeling astonished that there is actually some part of the bay area that we'd actually want to live in.
pistachios, pears, cheese, and bread
kabocha squash salad
sweet potato gnocchi again
mozzarella, tomato, and basil panini
lots of red wine
It was the falliest lunch ever as well.
Joann was really excited about making her squash salad. It was a recipe from Sunday Suppers at Lucques, a cookbook I had heard of but never had the chance to see before. Perhaps one of these days I will have to borrow it and see what else is as delicious as this, because this was perhaps the best salad ever. We did have to modify the dressing, because it was all about lardons of bacon and two out of the five people eating were vegetarian. Seriously, the recipe text went into great detail about exactly what constitutes a lardon. It's just cut up bacon! Anyway, even though I'm not sure what that dressing would be like (although probably good, because hot bacon dressing on dark greens? The answer is yes), I can tell you our sub dressing was fantastic.
Kabocha squash salad from memory
a kabocha squash
some whole pecans
dressing: shallot, butter, bottled raspberry mesquite sauce
First, roast the pecans: put them in a pan and put them in the oven for a few minutes. Since nuts are liable to scorch and burn, I'd put them on at a lower temperature and watch them closely. Ten minutes at 200F sounds about right. When they are clearly fragrant and awesome, take them out and let them cool.
The hardest part of this is cutting up the squash. While the nuts are roasting, take a whole kabocha and whack it in half with a knife. Scoop out the seeds; Joann had an old ice cream scoop that worked really well for this. Cut off the stem and blossom scars. Now we come to the most annoying part: peeling. Since winter squash is too hard for any junky vegtetable peeler, we used a knife and painstakingly cut all the skin off the outside of the squash. It took a while. Then we cut the peeled squash into inch-thick slices and Joann put them in the oven to roast. She might have tossed them with olive oil to do this; it seems likely, but I'm not sure. Roast your squash in the 350F range until soft and starting to brown. This will take about a half hour, from what I recall. Take them out and let them cool as well.
While the squash is roasting, make dressing. We just chopped up a shallot finely, sautéed it in butter, and added some commercial sauce. Joann had chosen that sauce since it had mesquite, and so would taste smoky without actually being made of bacon. All we did was warm it up with the shallot, and it was ready.
To assemble: fill a bowl with mesclun mix and roasted squash; toss with some dressing. Add pecans and strips of shaved parmesan. Add more dressing if you want. That is it.
We also had panini. Joann was disappointed in the panini since they weren't as crispy as she wanted. I was not at all disappointed because I prefer softer sandwiches and these are damned delicious. I did nothing to prepare these but take a couple pictures, but they seemed pretty easy. They were an excellent way to break in her new panini pan. I'm going to call them panini caprese since the filling combination was exactly the same as the ingredients for a caprese salad.
probably salt and pepper
Cut up the bread into good inch-thick slices. Rub both sides of each slice with olive oil.
Cut up tomato and mozzarella and layer the slices on the bread. Wash basil, rip leaves off stems, and layer them in as well. Add some salt and pepper if you want. Top with another piece of bread.
Then get a panini or grill pan and heat it up. The too soft texture was clearly caused by insufficiently high heat, so get it good and hot if you are bothered by such a thing. Then set your sandwiches in the pan. The panini pan had a heavy weight to put on top and smash the sandwiches good and hard. You could create a reasonable facsimile of this with a heavy cast-iron pan or a big pot filled with water. If you don't care about bar marks on your sandwich, you could even do the whole process in a regular frying pan.
Cook, weighted, until first side is browned and delicious. Then flip and do the same to the other side.
We also got to show off our gnocchi-making prowess. Everybody helped roll the dough out. There is nothing like communal dough activity to make people like cooking and food.
Now go to the table and eat as much as possible of everything. Have red wine. Talk a lot.
You won't be able to eat as much as you want.
I was particularly enamored of the salad and kept sneaking bits out of the serving dish later.