As much as I love book club, I love hosting it even more. Because hosting means I get to leave work early and do my favorite thing in the whole world – spend the late afternoon in my kitchen. I’m rarely at home at that time of day, when something wonderful happens to the light in our apartment as the sun begins to peek out from behind the tall apartment towers just south of us, and pours into my kitchen. Add in NPR or a good book on tape and I’m in heaven.
The evening promised good weather, so we planned to meet on the roof. I took my cue for the menu from the book we were discussing – “My Brilliant Friend”, set in Naples – and went for a Mediterranean theme. (Plus I had a whole mess of amazing, pitted Castelvetanos olives and a jar of fig preserves.)
In an amazing feat of pre-planning, something highly unusual for me, I actually decided on the menu and bought all my ingredients the day before, so I was able to head straight home and got to work around 4 pm. Luckily, Mr TBTAM was home early as well, and I put him to work weeding the rooftop garden, which we had ignored for most of the summer. Somehow I managed to pull it all together by the time the group arrived at 6:30, with a little help from my friends who arrived first.
The discussion was as always, interesting and spirited, and we went till dark. This is one great bunch of women, and I’m thrilled to be a part of the group.
Book Club Appetizer Menu
- Fig & Blue Cheese Savories
- Olive all’Ascolana
- Manchego cheese with Firehook Za’Atar flatbreads
- Nectarine segments and dried apricots
- Wine; Mint lemonade
- Cappucino almonds (Thanks, Amy!)
- Sunflowers for the table (Thanks Stacy!)
FIG AND BLUE CHEESE SAVORIES
These delicious babies come from The Runaway Spoon, found via Food 52. I used a wonderfully pungent Roquefort style sheep cheese (Ewe’s Blue) from Nancy & Tom Clark’s Old Chatham Sheepherding Company. I did not have a one inch round cookie cutter, so I used a floured 1 inch soda bottle cap. You may be tempted to make these bigger, but do not. The small size is perfect. They can be made ahead and kept in layers separated by waxed paper. They freeze beautifully.
- 1 cup flour
- 1/2 cup butter, room temperature, cut into four pieces
- 4 ounces blue cheese, cut into several chunks
- Ground black pepper
- Fig preserves (about 1/4 cup total)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Process the butter, blue cheese, flour and a few grinds of black pepper in the food processor until the dough starts to form a ball. Dump onto a lightly floured surface, knead a few times to pull the dough together and roll out to 1/8 inch thick with a floured rolling pin. Cut rounds out of the dough with a floured 1-inch cutter and transfer to the parchment-lined baking sheet. Using the back of a round half-teaspoon measure or your knuckle, make an indentation in the top of each dough round. Spoon about ¼ teaspoon of fig preserves into each indentation. Bake the savories for 10 – 14 minutes, until the preserves are bubbling and the pastry is light golden on the bottom. Let cool on the baking sheet for at least 10 minutes, the remove to a wire rack to cool.
Can be made ahead or frozen in an airtight container in layers separated by waxed paper.
OLIVE ALL’ASCOLANA – Vegetarian Version
This recipe comes from Arielle Clementine via Food 52. It’s inspired by the classic Italian stuffed olives, which have a spicy meat stuffing and use olives from the Ascoli region of Italy. (Here’s a wonderful video on how to make the real thing, which I must try one of these days.) I made some fresh breadcrumbs for this recipe, but did not toast the crumbs as I usually do, since they would get crisped as they fried. I had no mustard seeds, so used a pinch of dried mustard instead. I fried them in my electric fryer, a kitchen appliance I only use otherwise for latkes, and it worked beautifully.
- 24 large green olives, pitted
- 1/2 cup goat cheese
- 1 teaspoon whole mustard seeds
- 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary, chopped fine
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 1 cup all purpose flour
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 cup breadcrumbs (fresh or panko)
- 1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 cup vegetable oil (I used canola oil)
- parmigiano reggiano, for sprinkling
- zest and juice from one lemon, for sprinkling
Mix the goat cheese, mustard seed, rosemary, chile flakes, and garlic in a small bowl. Stuff the olives with the cheese mixture (I used my fingers, rolling the filling like a small cigar and sliding it into the pitted olive.) Put the stuffed olives on a plate and refrigerate for 20 minutes. While the olives are chilling, heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan to 375 degrees. Set up three plates for your breading station (Flour, beaten egg, breadcrumbs+grated Parmesan) When the olives have chilled, roll half of them in the flour, then in the egg, then in the bread crumb/Parmesan and carefully drop them into the heated oil. Fry until golden brown, about one minute per side. Transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to drain, and repeat with the remaining olives. Pile on a plate and finish with a shower of freshly grated cheese and lemon zest and a spritz of lemon.