I'm looking to make a simple, savory, and fairly healthy mean for a friend of mine in town from Italy. Preferably something that would pair nicely with a Sangiovese. Thanks in advance!
Minestrone or wedding soup, Cesar Salad, Ciabatta, cheesecake and espresso for dessert, fruit and cheese plate for after dessert wine.
I'd think about an ingredient driven meal to keep it simple and healthy. What protein can you get? A piece of fish with a roasted tomato and pepper topping would be great with a Sangiovese for me. Even if you can't get the best tomato and peppers any longer this treatment works wonders.
400F oven. Toss peeled quartered roma tomatoes, with strips of pepper (after you blacken and peel them to remove the skin), diced garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. Cover with foil and roast 30 minutes. Can be done ahead and reheated. Mix in capers and parsley or basil. Spoon over cooked fish or steak.
Or you could do something more seasonal and fall like. I wouldn't worry about it being Italian if you do something simple and fresh. I would love to serve someone my local dishes and I'd get spot prawns or dungeness crabs if they were available or whatever is your state's specialty. Or you could do a braised piece of beef in wine and serve with seasonal veg like swiss chard or fresh roasted brussel sprouts. But that would call for heavier wine, ideally. I made this lamb, green bean and vinegar braise from Lydia before that would go with your wine.
You could have some fun and make him some Italian-American faire, you know something that you might not find in Genoa, but will find in a great red sauce restaurant in Brooklyn. Steak Pizziaoli, Shrimp Scampi or the Meatball Shops Spicy Pork Meatballs might be fun!
I have a good friend from Italy who is a local chef. He loves a good bean soup, veal or chicken piccata (very easy), and sautéed spinach with garlic and olive oil.
I'd say that your menu should be dependent on where he is from. There is a big difference in food between Calabria, say, and the Veneto. Do you want to give him something from his region, or from another part of Italy? Right now, bitter greens like Tuscan kale, cicchoria, and rapini are front and center in Italian markets, as are wild mushrooms, particularly porcini. Pumpkin and other winter squashes are also ubiquitous, and are used for soup or pasta. Wild game is also in season, although you would most likely have a hard time finding wild boar or other wild meats.
Whatever you make, use seasonal foods as fresh as you can get. Unless you get really fresh seafood, I would not recommend fish. And when I say fresh, I mean the fish is still jumping when you buy it.
I wouldn't cook Italian at all. The fun of being in another country is experiencing other cuisines. I would cook a specialty of yours that pairs well with the wine using ingredients local to your area and the season.
I agree! I don't want tex-mex in Paris.
I would go with something that is Italian in spirit - meaning something simple that really shows off the best local/seasonal ingredients you can get in your particular area. That might be of more interest to your guest because it's something new and different. Also, and I say this as someone who is Italian herself and couldn't be prouder of that heritage and who has great affection for my many and frequent Italian houseguests, Italians can be EXTREMELY particular about how Italian food is prepared. So trying to prepare an Italian meal in the states where we can't necessarily get the same or the best quality Italian ingredients and aren't as familiar with all the regional preferences and biases about how a particular dish should be prepared, can be a recipe for disappointment. I find I have better luck introducing Italians to New World foods they're not as familiar with and therefore are more open-minded about. That isn't to say you can't serve a nice pasta dish with local ingredients but you might want to steer away from trying to make a classic Italian dish like Bolognese that your guest may have very specific expectations for that you can't ever meet. Now that of course is based on my experience and you know your friend better than anyone so your mileage may vary. But if it were me I'd make something I'd done before and done well with the best the local area has to offer. Good luck!
I adore how you worded this.
Tuscan onion soup (with Parmesan, and good ciabbata bread) goes beautifully with Sangiovese. Some lamb chops, roasted vegetables, fresh fruit for dessert.
I agree with the cautions against making Italian for an Italian. I know when I am abroad and my host serves something they think is American, it is always a disaster and I would be offended if I weren't sure of their good intentions.
Maybe something they would not see in Europe, such as Southern cooking - collards, cornbread, fried catfish, pecan pie - if you feel comfortable cooking those things.
I've lived in Italy off and on for almost 45 years and I would NEVER cook an Italian meal for an Italian in the U.S. Give him/her something they can't get at home. In most places we have access to wonderful seafood, kinds they don't get in Italy (Maine lobster, Dungeness crab just for instance) and we have vegetables and fruits that don't exist in Italy, or are hard to find in quality. Avocadoes are so special in the US compared to Italy, Meyer lemons, Hakurei turnips--I'm just daydreaming, but why not show your Italian friend what's so very special about the part of the U.S. that YOU live in. He'll be grateful, and a lifelong fan.
Just remembered a good story. I studied with a teacher who was a close friend of Juliano Bugiali, the Italian chef and author. Whenever Juliano was in town, he and my friend would go out for good Chinese food, which Juliano couldn't get in Italy. He didn't care for American food and he was insulted by what "so-called Italian restaurants served in the U.S."
Another one - I read somewhere that the author's friend in Valencia thought that true paella could only be made in Valencia. The author assured here that in the US he had access to good arborio rice and proper saffron. His friend replied "Yes, but what could you use for the water?". lol
Great story, Uncle Jess. And so true--Chinese, great New York steakhouse steaks, Mexican--all foods that don't exist in Italy.