It doesn’t get much better than having dear friends over for the weekend – especially when said friends are as enthusiastic about food as we are about cooking it. Definitely a friendship made in heaven!

Ann and Julie drove down from Rochester, taking a couple of days and meandering through Lancaster and the environs… Bird-in-Hand, Intercourse, Blue Ball… all the places with names that can get junior high school kids – or senior citizens – all in a twitter with double entendres.

Maturity is so overrated…

They arrived for dinner and the food-fest began!

Prosecco, of course, because… Prosecco. And a simple seafood dinner. Haddock with an Italian Salsa Verde, Potatoes and Savoy Cabbage, and Roasted Rainbow Carrots – and homemade bread, of course…

I picked up the haddock at Reading Terminal Market. I set it on lemon slices in a pan, added a bit of white wine, and put it in a 375°F oven for about 10 minutes.

It was topped with a fresh herb sauce:

Salsa Verde

  • 1 cup parsley
  • 6 sprigs thyme
  • 1/2 tsp dried oregano
  • 8 leaves basil
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • 3 anchovy fillets
  • 2 tbsp capers
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 tsp crushed red pepper flakes
  • salt and pepper, to taste – if desired
  • 1 cup olive oil

Place everything but olive oil into food processor and process until reasonably smooth. Slowly add olive oil.

Taste for seasoning and add salt and/or pepper, if desired.

It is really refreshing! Lots and lots of flavor going on.

The potatoes were cooked and mashed with savoy cabbage. This was Victor’s idea. He generally dislikes cabbage, so when he suggested it, I ran with it! I love cabbage and just don’t seem to get it often enough.

It was not unlike a Colcannon, but with an olive oil twist.

Mashed Potatoes with Savoy Cabbage

  • 2 lbs russet potatoes
  • 1/4 head savoy cabbage
  • butter
  • olive oil
  • S&P

Peel and cube the potatoes. Chop the cabbage. Place both in a pot and cover with salted water.

Boil until the potatoes are tender. Drain.

Return to pan and mash with butter and a healthy drizzle of olive oil.

Season with salt and pepper and top with chives, if desired.

Really simple and they played well with the fish.

Another thing that played well was little rainbow carrots. Roasted in the oven with olive oil and thyme sprigs, and a pinch of salt and pepper.

Really simple. Nothing overpowered anything. The flavors all spoke for themselves.

And a loaf of bread. Also simple.

Dessert was Panna Cotta topped with Blackberries in Sweet Marsala.

I didn’t get a picture of it because I served it just as Lawrence Welk was starting. Lawrence Welk, you say?!? Yes… Lawrence Welk. We’ve had a long-standing tradition of watching Lawrence with Ann and Julie – us in Pennsylvania and them in New York. Texts flying back and forth with “My gawd, can you believe what she’s wearing?”or “Rose must have been on drugs to come up with that outfit.” It is a total hoot to watch a totally campy show with friends long-distance. I highly recommend it.

This is the most basic of recipes – and easier than easy to prepare.

Panna Cotta

  • 1 envelope unflavored gelatin
  • 2 tbsp cold water
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 tbsp vanilla extract

Soften gelatin in the 2 tbsp water in a small saucepan. Heat to dissolve. remove from heat.

Bring heavy cream, half & half, and sugar to a boil. Remove from heat, stir in gelatin and vanilla. Mix well.

Pour into 6 6oz ramekins. Chill until completely set.

To unmold:

Dip ramekin in hot water for a few seconds. Run a sharp knofe around the ramekin and unmold onto a small plate.

Top with your favorite topping.

Blackberry Marsala Sauce

  • 8 oz blackberries
  • 1/2 cup sweet Marsala

Rinse berries. Pour Marsala on top, and mash a few of the berries. Let macerate an hour. Spoon over panna cotta.

More fun, laughter, and Pistachio Liqueur, it was time to call it a night.

We started off Sunday with Brunch – a fritatta. It’s simple to make. Mushrooms, leeks, eggs, asparagus, herbes d’Provence… It was served with Blackberries in Prosecco – because we had leftover blackberries and leftover prosecco. It’s great when things work out like that. We also had roasted potatoes with thyme and fresh squeezed blood orange juice with seltzer. Yum.

Of course, I forgot to photograph all of that when it was being served. Oh well. here’s what was left.

We sat around talking and laughing and all the tomfoolery that friends seem to do, when I noticed it was getting into the middle of the afternoon, so I headed off into the kitchen and whipped up a loaf of bread and a torta di mele – an  Italian Apple Torte – while the kids were all occupied.

The bread is straight James Beard. I have been making it for years and years. It is a one-rise-into-a-cold-oven loaf. It never disappoints.

James Beard French-Style Bread

  • 1 pk active dry yeast
  • 1  tbsp  sugar
  • 1 cup  warm water
  • 1 tbsp  salt
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 3 tbsp  Yellow cornmeal
  • 1 egg white mixed with 1 tbsp cold water

Combine the yeast with sugar and warm water in a large bowl and allow to proof. Mix the salt with the flour and add to the yeast mixture, a cup at a time, until you have a stiff dough.

Remove to a lightly floured board and knead until no longer sticky, about 10 minutes, adding flour as necessary.

Place in a buttered bowl and turn to coat the surface with butter.  Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk..1 1/2-2 hrs.

Punch down the dough. Turn out on a floured board and shape into a long, French bread-style loaf. Place on a baking sheet that has been sprinkled with the cornmeal, but NOT buttered.

Slash the tops of the loaf diagonally in two or three places with a single edge razor blade or sharp knife, brush the loaves with the egg white wash.

Place in a COLD oven, set the temperature at 400° and bake 35 minutes, or until well browned and hollow sounding when the tops are tapped.

I use the microwave as my proofing box, nowadays. I boil a 2 cup measure with water, place it in the corner, add the bowl of dough and close the door. It drives Victor crazy because inevitably he wants or needs to nuke something, but the concept works great.

And then dessert… a Torta di Mele.

This is another simple dessert – but it looks impressive as hell.

Torta di Mele

  • 4 apples – I used an assortment
  • 2 1/2 cups flour
  • 7 tbsp butter
  • 2/3 sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1/8 cup Calvados
  • 1 lemon – zest
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • salt

Heat the oven to 390°F.

Cream sugar with butter until light and fluffy. Add eggs and egg yolk. Add Lemon zest. Add milk and Calvados.

Stir in flour, baking powder, and salt.

Peel and core apples. Slice half into wedges and chop half.

Stir the chopped apples into the batter.

Spread into a 10″ springform pan that has been buttered and floured.

Arrange apple wedges around torta.

Bake about 30 minutes or until tester comes out clean.

I vacated the kitchen and Victor came in to make a baked pasta. Pasta with sausages, ricotta, five cheeses, and homemade sauce… Be still my beating heart. It was delicious. Even Nonna licked her plate clean.

There is something so comforting about ooey-gooey-cheesy pasta that is only made better when shared with friends. Then again, I think Italian food, in general, evokes family and friendship. There’s just something about it that makes you want to eat, laugh, share, and talk for hours upon hours.

We never left the house. We simply moved from kitchen to living room to kitchen to living room.

So invite friends over for the weekend and just sit around and cook and eat. I highly recommend it!