Sunday, July 19, 2009

The Real Deal

What shall I do to make tonight's party truly enjoyable?
I asked myself yesterday morning.

I was preparing a dinner for a cherished friend and her family who will be moving to another state next month. Her son-in-law, who I would meet for the first time, loves to cook, so he would be arriving early to be my sous chef and learn some cooking techniques.

As I was setting the table I noticed I was becoming a bit obsessed, wanting it all to be "perfect," an impossible goal, so I paused.

Asking a question then waiting in a state of openness for an Aha! or insight, has become a trusted process. Soon I sensed the answer: Relax, be present, be real. Focus on creating good feelings and it will be perfect no matter how it turns out.

My confusion cleared. Remembering a huge chunk of Parmesan cheese on hand, I decided the appetizer should be Fricos, those crispy cheese appetizer wafers made by simply spreading small circles of grated cheese and topping with fresh herb leaves on a parchment paper covered baking sheet, then baking at 350 degrees until lightly browned and bubbling. When they have completely cooled they become crisp and crunchy. Everyone loves them and loves getting involved in gathering herb flowers in my garden to create their own.

Or, I could simply demonstrate wrapping some proscuitto around grissini breadsticks to serve next to the cheese.

My parmesan of choice is Parmigiano-Reggiano, the very best, and most imitated imported brand named after the areas of Parma and Reggio Emilia in Emilia-Romagna, Italy where it is produced. Its name is stamped on the rind and its slightly salty, piquant flavor, makes it one of the best cheeses for enjoying alone and for seasoning recipes.

Ever noticed those tiny crunchy crystals in the hard, strong-flavored grating cheeses classified in Italy as grana? The word refers to those tiny crystals suspended in the cheese. Those are not salt crystals but crystals of the enzyme tyrosine that occur due to long maturation, a quality imitation Parmesan just doesn't have. Since true Parmigiano-Reggiano is available almost everywhere, even at Costco--No faux parmesan for me!

Among the most astonishing recipes from one of my books, and one I decided to add to the menu is a Parsley Salad enthusiastically shared with me by the late James Beard when I attended his classes in his home town of Seaside, Oregon, many years ago. Guests never stop raving about it and it stands up well without wilting. Thank you, James Beard! (He was the real deal too.)

The salad was a big hit. I served a Halibut Saltimbocca that I have yet to share with you, and the amazing Raspberry Chocolate Souffles from an earlier blog. The menu was simple and seasonal and sensational.

Best of all were all the good feelings of a relaxed hostess and her friends having fun preparing and sharing a delicious meal.



For 5 or 6 servings

This salad that doesn’t sound special but it is—very!

Serve it in very small portions on overlapping thin slices of ripe heirloom tomatoes as a first course. Made in larger quantities and heaped in a bowl on a buffet, it will create a sensation!

4 cups curly parsley, leaves only, washed and dried (depending on size, 1 to 2 bunches)

1 clove garlic, peeled

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

3 tablespoons finest quality red wine vinegar

1/2 cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

Note: I use a food processor, either large or mini, to "grate" Parmesan just before I add it to a recipe. Cut the cheese into ½ inch cubes and chop them finely with the steel blade rather than with the grating disc, which will break when a hard cheese is pressed too vigorously against it.

Place the parsley leaves in a bowl. Combine the garlic, olive oil and vinegar in a blender container, and process until garlic is pureed. Pour enough of the dressing over the parsley to coat it evenly and toss lightly. Sprinkle the grated cheese over and toss well to distribute the cheese evenly and coat every leaf with dressing and cheese. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To prepare in advance: This is best freshly made at room temperature, but keeps quite well in the refrigerator for up to two days.


  1. Fascinating, I never would've thought to have parsley the focus of a salad. You know I'll have to try it!
    What you say is true about relaxing when entertaining. I used to drive my self crazy with "details" until I realized I could relax and have a much better time with my guests.
    :-) Robyn
    Looking forward to the travel blog....

  2. The salad does look really good!