My dad was back in town again this weekend, but this time all for pleasure, rather than mostly work like last time. And this time, my mom came along too. My Aunt Carol and Uncle Gary (Cousin Joe’s parents) drove over from Cincinnati also. And we all met up on Friday night for a big pasta dinner at our place.
As the out-of-towners made their way up the four flights of stairs to our too-high dwelling at the top of the building, they were led by the warm aroma of fresh baked bread and pungent rosemary wafting from the hot oven. Timed just perfectly, the first flatbread pizzas was lifted from the oven just as our guests made it to our door, piping hot and filling the room with its thick, alluring fragrance. The crust - delicate and crisp, with golden edges and a blistery bottom. The crumbled gorgonzola - molten and oozing, melted into a delicious oblivion. The sliced grapes – hot and sugary, like tiny neon pink coins. And the rosemary infused olive oil, sharp and floral, an intoxicating elixir. With all this goodness mixed together, we had on our hands a totally delicious, completely sensational pizza. What a start to the night!
Following such a tough act, the mixed green salad more than held its own. Chock full of all sorts of everything – thin crunchy slices of celery, licoricey fennel, warmly toasted walnuts, chewy dried currants, fresh parsley, tender tarragon, sweet apple slices, spicy red onion, translucent ribbons of nutty parmesan – every single bit yielded something delicious.
This pasta was just so amazingly tasty, I really can’t say enough about it. One thing I can definitively say though is that it was just filled with shrimp. My dad is a total shrimp freak, and so I boosted the shrimp factor as a treat for him. But it’s not surprise that the extra heaps of shrimp meant a big treat for all of us. And I’m not kidding about lots of shrimp. The noodle to shrimp ratio was nearly one to one!
All extreme shrimpiness aside, these saucy noodles alone were unbelievably good. Springy tubes of noodles in a buttery brew of mellow garlic, with meltingly tender white beans, fresh specks of green parsley, gooey hints of melted parmesan, spicy kicks of crushed black pepper, briny undertones of clam juice and bright overtones of white wine and lemon. All around the kitchen table, this was a fantastic hit. I forgot to ask, but I’m pretty sure each and every one of us gave this dish a perfect ten.
Speaking of perfect tens… these whoopie pies are definitely deserving of that exalted distinction too. The intensely chocolaty, cake-like cookies (which are, I suppose, at least in this instance, officially pies – cake-like, cookie-looking pies) were so tender and unbelievably moist, just on the edge of gooey, with deep cocoa flavor and a soft, rich crumb, studded with bright, sugary flecks of candied orange. All alone, they’re just about the best all in one cookie-cake-pie imaginable. But take two of them, and stick them together with a fluffy vanilla bean cream in between, and they are, I do believe, just about the best whoopie pies in the world. Suffice it to say, Whoopie!
Before I sign off today, I just want to wax sentimental a bit on candied orange peels, one of my absolute most favorite things in the world. My love of this sparkling, sweet-tart treat stretches all the way back to my childhood. In fact, the very first recipe I ever tried on my own was for candied orange peels. (A bit of a dud, to tell the truth, as was my second cooking attempt, homemade ketchup. It was my third try at cooking, a pie of wild black raspberries picked in my back yard, that sealed my future fate as a chef. It’s to this day, the best thing I’ve ever made.) Anyways, I’d seen the recipe for candied citrus in one of my mom’s cooking magazines, and to my eight year old eyes, these glittering strips of citrus looked like a homemade version of Sour Patch Kids. I just had to try them for myself. Well, I can’t remember what went wrong exactly, but I do remember being pretty disappointed with the results. And maybe nothing went wrong at all. Maybe they turned out just how they were supposed to, just not enough like Sour Patches to satisfy my eager hopes. But even with this disappointing first experience, my fascination with these shimmering citrus confections never waned. Years later, I think it was in college, I finally came face to face with some true candied orange peels. And they were everything I always knew they would be - sweet and sour and just a touch bitter, bursting with bright orange flavor, tender and a little chewy, with a rough, sticky coat of granulated sugar. My faithful wait was finally over, and I’ve ever since been completely head over heels.