Friday, January 09, 2009

Splendid Table: Artusi's Delight

I admit that I'm partial to the clean shave, but ponder for a moment all the creative opportunities lost with the disappearance of the mutton chop, the fu manchu, the walrus. Such lemmings we are.

Pictured above is Pellegrino Artusi, author of a legendary 19th-century Italian cookbook from which Lynne Rossetto Kasper borrowed the very fine meatball recipe I made last night. I always cook meatballs (and patties, which is technically what these are, but I love the word "meatball") too fast and they acquire a rough, dark crust. (It's a temperament problem.) But even with their unfortunate crust, Artusi's Delight were tender and rich inside -- full of pancetta, pine nuts, spices. Kasper suggests finishing them with a quick sauce of broth and balsamic vinegar, and so I did. The excellent dish was consumed with enthusiasm and pleasure by all.

On the side, I served Parma-style asparagus (blanched, sauteed, topped with Parmesan, pretty good) and  oven-roasted potatoes. which were too crispy to absorb the delicious Artusi's Delight gravy. Didn't strategize properly on the always-crucial food pairing.

Dessert: Nonna's jam tart, in which a sweet shortbread crust is filled with an exceedingly tangy apricot "jam" that you make with dried apricots and wine. 

My latticework could use some help. 

I used to wonder why all crusts weren't sweet. Why make a pie crust when you could make a cookie crust? With age comes wisdom, though apparently not to Nonna. I now understand that you (generally*) want a bland crust to serve as a noncompetitive foil to your filling. Nonna's crust was too delicious, and it was tempting to scrape off the distracting jam and eat only shortbread, which is precisely what some of us did.
This unusually grand meal was cooked in honor of Mark's aunt, Nancy Smoyer, who is visiting from Fairbanks, Alaska, making a quick stop on her way to Bolivia. 

Having spent a week in Fairbanks last February, I understand why she chose the southern hemisphere for her winter holiday. 

*Cookie crumb crusts work because they are usually paired with super-sweet, creamy fillings (chocolate, key lime.) But I have started wondering within the last few minutes if a graham cracker crust might not be amazing with a baked peach filling. Or apple. Much to think about. I might be wrong about all of this. 


  1. The asparagus was way better than "pretty good," albeit it had a lot of competition with the rest of the goodies. I'd been anticipating coming to Jennifer's table to indulge in whatever country might be the specialty of the month. She didn't disappoint!

    However, she did have a lot of competition with the traditional Smoyer family dinner I served when they were in Fairbanks in late June.


  2. I am trying to locate Nancy Smoyer, a Donut Dolly. If your Nancy used to be a camp councelor at the Orme Ranch in Arizona in the 60's, please have her email me! Thank you.

    Gail Thompson Mosley
    Minnetonka, Minnesota

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