Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Meals with Marcella [one]: Kicking Off in Coeur d'Alene

Garlic-Scented Tomato Salad
Roasted Eggplant with Peppers and Cucumber
[Whole Wheat Penne with] Prosciutto and Cream Sauce
Roast Chicken with Lemons

*Bum buh duh bum!* Meal number one! That was supposed to be a trumpet fanfare-ish noise, if you didn't get that. It worked really well in my head. In any case, let's get started with this new project already. These posts will be longer, but hopefully just as, or more, interesting and fulfilling.

I decided to kick off this project at the end of September at my friend's lake house in Coeur d'Alene. With 3L year looming just around the corner, I felt that if I was going to start this thing, I needed to start it here. In addition, I thought cooking a nice meal for my friend's parents would be a great way to thank them for letting me enjoy some time there.

Lake Coeur d'Alene is amazing. Especially during the summer. The water is pristine, the skies are blue, and the lake is surrounded by a stunning range of hills. While some might say that the view and lake would make cooking the last thing on their to-do list, the serene environment only encouraged and inspired me to cook some delicious food. Especially after an early afternoon of enjoying a few beers and taking a nap on a boat in the middle of the lake.

First things first. Get those eggplants on the grill. It doesn't hurt to have a grill on an outdoor patio overlooking a giant lake.

Next, get working on that garlic-scented dressing for the tomato salad. Crush the garlic.

Get them in a bowl.

And stir and steep them in some red wine vinegar and salt. Leave these alone for as long as you want. Naturally, the longer you leave them in there, the more garlicky the tomato salad dressing gets. And if you're anything like me, too much garlic is nearly impossible.

While I was waiting for the eggplant to thoroughly grill, I chiffonaded the prosciutto for the pasta.

If your eggplants look anything like these guys, then they're probably done. The skin should be loose and blistered and the flesh should feel soft. Let these rest until cool. At this point, quickly prep the Roast Chicken with Lemons and throw it in the oven.

After some help from my friend with separating out the prosciutto chiffonade, I threw in some butter and set the sauce pan aside until I was ready to cook the sauce.

Because the eggplant was still too hot for my sensitive fingers, I prepped the mix of bell peppers, cucumber, parsley, and garlic, for the roasted eggplant dish.

By the time I finished dicing up the veggies, the eggplant was cool enough to get stripped of its skin. It's kind of amazing how easily the skin comes off.

The eggplants open up to charcoal black seeds. Kind of creepy, actually.

After deseeding the eggplants and cutting them into strips, let them sit in a colander long enough to drain any excess water.

In the meantime, skin the tomatoes for the salad.

As the recipe suggests, a standard swivel-blade peeler is perfect for this.

Cut them into somewhat thin slices, but don't worry about cutting them too thick. At this point, all the salad needs is the garlic-scented red wine vinegar, some olive oil, and ripped basil.

With the salad pretty much done, and the chicken well on its way, start cooking your pasta and the quick prosciutto and cream sauce.

Dice the eggplant from the colander, and combine everything with olive oil, lemon juice, black pepper, and salt.

Once you've drained your pasta, toss it with the prosciutto and cream sauce in the sauce pan and add a nice helping of parmagiano-reggiano. All you have to do now is take out the chicken from the oven, drizzle some olive oil and the garlic-scented vinegar through a strainer and rip some basil over the tomato salad, and transfer everything to the dining table. Some bread and butter doesn't hurt, and crack open a bottle of wine, of course.

Time to eat.

The Garlic-Scented Tomato Salad was beautiful. The subtle taste of garlic accented a sweetness that I never thought casually-bought tomatoes could have, and the fresh basil and olive oil balanced perfectly to tone down the red wine vinegar. When all the slices of tomato were gone, the plate was drooling with a tomato-basil-garlic-vinegar-oil juice. I nabbed several spoonfuls of the stuff. Next time, I'm going to have to remind myself to save some bread to mop it all up.

The Roasted Eggplant with Peppers and Cucumber was a hearty play of flavors, colors, and textures. The bright and fresh cucumber woke up the heavy flavor of the roasted eggplant, and the bell peppers added a nice crunch against the slimy bits of eggplant. The parsley, garlic, and olive oil connected the mix back to its Italian roots and the lemon juice added some needed acidity. As suggested in the recipe, I tried the dish by itself and on a piece of bread. Both were delicious.

The [Whole Wheat Penne with] Prosciutto and Cream Sauce was a dream. If you need a way to convince a person who doesn't eat whole wheat pasta to eat whole wheat pasta, use this recipe. The silky, creamy, parmagiano-reggiano-laden sauce drapes itself around the ridges of the penne and sufficiently masks the typical grainy texture of whole wheat pasta, while the heavy hand of prosciutto balances out any reservations that person might have about the healthiness of whole wheat pasta. This might be the easiest, and most delicious, pasta I've ever made.

Well, hello again. I included the Roast Chicken with Lemons in this menu because I wanted to have a main dish that I knew would taste good, just in case everything else was a bust. Luckily, but also not surprisingly, everything tasted amazing. You probably don't need to read another paragraph about how I feel about this chicken. But in a sentence? Always a mind-blowing experience.

The acidity of the tomato salad and the roasted eggplant balanced well with the meaty and starchy duo of chicken and pasta. The chicken, tomatoes, and eggplant made eating a plate of prosciutto, butter, and pasta feel great, though the whole wheat penne helped, too. The easiness of eating chicken with tomatoes, tomatoes with pasta, pasta with chicken, chicken with eggplant, and eggplant with tomatoes made the menu feel seamlessly cohesive.

After we all scarfed our way through our personal favorites, we continued to sit around the table and enjoy each other's company, talking, laughing, and enjoying a humungous bowl of seasonal berries. Eventually, my friend's parents unofficially adopted me as their second son, packed some leftovers, and said goodnight.

The smell of Italian food lingered in the air and I found comfort in the possibility that this project might not be so impossible. More to come, sooner than later.

Until next time, Coeur d'Alene.


  1. Awesome! I like the idea of eating all fresh ingredients not processed products. Even freshly peeled garlic..I hope. : ) Lucky the people with you!! By the way I am Jean Hong's friend, Eunju.

  2. Oh my! You are so talented! Beautiful and well done! Looks great and I bet it tastes even better. Love your blog. Filled with beautiful pictures and great information. Thanks for sharing your good stuff! I'm also a friend of Jean, Jihye :)

  3. Thank you Eunju and Jihye! I hope both of you continue to enjoy this blog!

    Say hi to Jean for me.

  4. It was one of the most beautiful evening we spent at the cabin with good friends, laughs and conversation. I told all my frineds about my 5 star fine dining experience at our cabin. You are truely a gifted chef, lawyer to be and athlete.
    Thank you for being a good friend and a brother to Kenny,

    Best wishes to you and come visit us soon,

    Jean H.

  5. Thanks, Mrs. Hong! I'm really glad you enjoyed the meal. It's the least I could do. I hope to see you soon. In the meantime, have a great Thanksgiving!


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