Cooking with friends is more enjoyable

Published 11:59 pm Friday, March 20, 2009

My husband gave me my favorite Alabama chef’s new cookbook for Christmas—Frank Stitt’s Botegga Favorita (A Southern Chef’s Love Affair with Italian Food). I love his first cookbook Frank Stitt’s Southern Table and my friend Alice and I have been cooking from it separately for the last few years. Recently my husband thought Alice and I should restart our old habit of cooking together. I’ve told you that we spent several years cooking through my favorite French chef’s book Roger Verge’s Entertaining in the French Style. Maybe since we both like Stitt, we could do menus from his new cookbook. I gave her a call. She went and bought the book and we planned the following menu.

The men do the drinks and since this meal was at our house, my husband chose the drink—from Stitt’s cookbook, of course. An apertivo is appropriate for our Southern chef’s Italian meal. The Italian café would find patrons drinking a glass of bubbly prosecco, a Campari-soda, a dry vermouth, or a Bellini —- with some olives, almonds, or salty chips—salty nibbles that are a perfect match for apertivi.

Stitt likes the limoncello but my husband thought that too summery and chose the classic Negroni. In the 1920s Gasparé Campari invented a cocktail of sweet vermouth, soda, and Campari—his own trademarked alcoholic blend of 60-plus bitter herbs and aromatics. It was so popular with the American patrons that it became known as an Americano. Legend has it that an Italian count named Camillo Negroni asked a Florentine bartender to substitute a splash of gin for the soda.


1 ounce Campari

1 ounce gin

1 ounce sweet vermouth

Twist of orange peel

Fill an old-fashioned glass with ice. Add all ingredients except the orange peel. Stir. Garnish with the orange twist. Cin Cin!—Cheers!

We chose as a primo piatto the Parmesan Soufflé that is a popular dish that we have enjoyed at Botegga in Birmingham.

Parmesan Soufflé

For the Soufflés:

8 large eggs

3 cups heavy cream

½ teaspoon roasted garlic puree

Pinch of freshly grated nutmeg

¾ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

½ teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste

¼ teaspoon white pepper, or to taste

Dash of Tabasco or pinch of cayenne

½ recipe White Butter Sauce (given below)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 cups quartered or thickly sliced cremini, oyster, or button mushrooms (I just used button mushrooms since the others are hard to find)

1 shallot, minced

2 thyme sprigs, leaves only (if you haven’t already, go buy some thyme plants at a nursery and put them in pots near your kitchen door.)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

4 very thin slices prosciutto di Parma, cut into ¼-inch julienne (thin strips)

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Butter six 6-ounce ramekins (or cups) and place them in a large shallow baking dish or pan.

Combine all the soufflé ingredients in a bowl and whisk until combined. Fill the ramekins almost to the top (use 5 ½ ounces of the mixture per ramekin). Pour enough hot water into the baking dish to come three-quarters of the way up the sides of the molds.

Cover the pan with foil and bake for one hour. Uncover and bake until the soufflés are slightly puffed, set, and golden, about 15 minutes more.

Meanwhile, before the soufflés are done, prepare the butter sauce. Keep the sauce warm while you sauté the mushrooms.

Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat, and add the butter. When it is melted, add the mushrooms and sauté until the edges are golden, about three minutes. Add the shallot and sauté for one minute. Season with the thyme leaves and the salt and pepper and toss for about 30 seconds more. Set aside, covered to keep warm.

Unmold the soufflés onto warm plates, and ladle the butter sauce around. Scatter some of the sautéed mushrooms and sliced prosciutto around each one and serve.

White Wine Butter Sauce

This is an all-purpose sauce which can be used on poached, sautéed, or grilled fish. But it is essential for the Parmesan Soufflés.

¾ cup dry white wine

¾ cup white wine vinegar (or 6 tablespoons each sherry vinegar and white wine vinegar), or more to taste

1 shallot, finely minced

1 thyme sprig

1 ½ teaspoons heavy cream

½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

Kosher salt and freshly ground white pepper

Fresh lemon juice to taste

Hot sauce, such as Tabasco

Combine the wine, vinegar, shallot, and thyme in a small heavy non-reactive saucepan, bring to a boil over high heat, and reduce to a syrupy glaze, about 12 minutes.

Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in the cream. Bring to a simmer and simmer for about 1 minute. Reduce the heat to low and whisk in the butter bit by bit, adding more only after each previous addition has been incorporated. Regulate the heat so the sauce is warm—not too hot, or it will separate. Add the salt and pepper, lemon juice, and hot sauce. Taste and add a little more vinegar and/or lemon juice as needed. Strain and serve, or cover to keep warm and use as soon as possible.

Alice, my friend, did the main course, which was a wonderful salmon with orzo. I am doing a salmon article next week and will give that one out then. (Or you could go buy Stitt’s book. I highly recommend it.)

Our dessert, which I did, was panna cotta. It was smooth and melted in your mouth. You can infuse panna cotta with so many flavors such as lemon verbana, grappa, or calvados. This one has the taste of lemon and cinnamon.

Panna Cotta

Serves 8

2 cups whole milk

2 envelopes unflavored gelatin

4 cups heavy cream

1 cup sugar

Grated zest of one lemon

1 cinnamon stick

Raspberries, blueberries, or strawberries (for garnish)

Biscotti or other crisp cookies (Stitt has a recipe for biscotti as well, which he has made at Bottega weekly since 1988.)

Pour the milk into a bowl and spread the gelatin over the surface. Let stand for five minutes, or until the gelatin has softened.

Combine the cream, sugar, lemon zest, and cinnamon stick in a large heavy saucepan and bring to a simmer. Remove the pan from the heat, cover, and let stand for five minutes to infuse the cream with the lemon and cinnamon, then strain into a medium bowl.

Stir the gelatin mixture into the infused cream until incorporated. Divide the mixture among eight 6-ounce ramekins, then transfer them to a baking sheet. Place the pan in the refrigerator and let chill and set overnight.

To serve, run a knife around the edges of each ramekin, place into a shallow pan of warm water for a few seconds to loosen the panna cotta, and then invert a plate over the ramekin and shake to release the pudding from the mold. Garnish with berries and add a few cookies.

Buon apetitto! (That’s Italian for “dig in!”)