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Savor The Season: One Last Taste of Summer

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By Cal Virgilio

This past Saturday, my wife, Lisa, and I went out to dinner at an Irish Pub in Maplewood, NJ. It was a damp and rainy evening, and as we sat by the fire in this cozy restaurant, it hit us both—another summer was coming to an end.

Just last weekend, we were at Lisa’s Uncle Frank’s house at the Jersey shore, sitting by the pool in 80-degree weather. Frank’s house was built for summer entertaining. The property sits on a lagoon in Brick Township. He has a salt-water pool, fire-pit and ample patio space for relaxing. And if we get tired of sitting by the pool, Frank will start up his boat and we’ll troll out to the bay for cocktail hour. Summer living doesn’t get much better than a weekend at Franks.

So now that there are just a few days of summer left, let’s take advantage of the last of the seasonal offerings we’ll be dreaming of when it’s 30 degrees and snowing in December. Farmer’s markets are still filled with produce such as heirloom tomatoes, and fruits such as peaches and blueberries. And if you want to finish summer with a bang, what better way than to steam some Lobsters and mix in with a rich pasta sauce?

Don’t get me wrong, I am very excited for autumn and comfort food season. Hearty stews, pot pies and just about anything made with pumpkin…what’s not to love? But this weekend, I’ll hold off on slow cooking my food and allow the flavors of summer to do the work.

The Menu

Burrata with Heirloom Tomatoes and Toasted Bread

Spicy Lobster Pasta

Peach & Blueberry Pie

 

Savor The Season: August and Everything After

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For our menu & recipes, see links at the end of the article.

By Suzanne Virgilio

There is nothing better than enjoying food and drink with friends during the month of August. The mid-summer nights are perfect for entertaining in the yard and setting a long communal table for dinner. That was the plan for our first ever “Savor The Season” event We would invite 25 of our good friends, set a table in the grass and light the fire to make paella.

Let me start by saying that our family loves to cook and entertain. Cooking great food for ourselves is always nice, but seeing others enjoy our recipes is what makes entertaining worth the effort. And when you are hosting a dinner party for 25 guests, there is a lot of effort that goes into it.

Gathering recipes for a menu, grocery shopping, prepping the food, setting tables and stocking the bar. Fortunately, we have son our Calvin and our baker and friend Dea to help with the cooking. Calvin’s wife, Lisa, would take care of decorating and setting up the outdoor ambiance.

Since we’d be cooking paella, I wanted the menu to stick with Mediterranean theme. I decided that a crostini with goat cheese, figs, Serrano ham and mint would be a tapas style dish that could be prepped ahead and served quickly. We also made two other appetizers, a salmon and dill ceviche, and warm brie with roasted red peppers, pine nuts, olives and golden raisins. For the salad, I made a Spanish mixed green salad with toasted almonds and a citrus vinaigrette. For dessert, we would finish the evening with a light and simple recipe for a salted caramel panna cotta.

 

This was going to be a lot of work, of course, but cooking to us never feels like work. As soon as we start mincing our aromatics and sautéing them in olive oil, the work ends and the enjoyment begins. We’ll of course be tired by the end of cooking everything, but that is when the party starts and the wine is corked. And all of the sudden, we get our second wind when guests arrive. It’s now Saturday evening, and the sun is shining, the fire is lit and the table is set. We’ve been blessed with a perfect mid-summer night for entertaining, and we’re going to savor every last bit of it before it ends.

 

The Menu & Recipes:

Crostini with Goat cheese,  Serrano Ham, Figs & Mint

Salmon and Dill Ceviche

Warm Brie with Pine Nuts, Olives & Golden Raisins

Spanish Mixed Green Salad with Toasted Almonds and Citrus Vinaigrette

Seafood Paella

Salted Caramel Panna Cotta

 

 

Seafood Paella

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Serves 8-10

When it comes to outdoor summer cooking, burgers, ribs and bbq come to mind. But our personal favorite meal to cook outdoors is paella. Though paella can be cooked any time of year on a stove, the smokiness that comes from cooking over a wood-burning fire will enhance the flavor of the overall dish.  So light the fire pit, grab the paella pan, and invite your friends for a great outdoor meal that everyone will remember.

 

Paella is a dish that originated in Valencia, Spain. Named after the giant pan that it is cooked in, Paella recipes come with many forms and ingredient combinations, but our paella calls for a few essential ingredients.

Medium grain rice, such as bomba or callaspara rice, has the right texture for paella and soaks up all of the flavors of the dish. Saffron threads give the paella a yellow color and distinct flavor that can’t come from any substitute. Spanish chorizo will give the paella a spicy and smoky taste. Hot seafood stock, preferably homemade, is the best liquid base to cook the rice. A licorice-flavored liqueur, such as Pernod, will enhance the seafood flavor of the paella.

The Fire

We recommend building the fire pit with a mix of hard wood and wood-charcoal briquettes. This will give a nice smokiness and consistent heat for the large paella pan. Build the fire and allow it to burn down to hot coals. While the fire burns, prep your ingredients.

Ingredients:

  • 2.5 cups Rice (bomba or callaspara rice preferred)
  • 2 lobsters, halved (ask your fishmonger to do this)
  • 1-2 lbs. medium wild shrimp, peeled and deveined
  • 1 lb. fresh calamari, cleaned and cut into rings
  • 1-2 lbs. chicken breast, cut into one inch pieces
  • 1 lb. Spanish Chorizo, cut into ½ inch thick rounds
  • 7 cups hot seafood stock (homemade stock preferred)
  • ½ cup licorice-flavored liqueur (Pernod is preferred)
  • 3 bell peppers cut into strips
  • 2 cups thawed petite peas
  • 2 cups chopped leaks
  • 2 Tbs. minced garlic
  • 1 Tbs. Smoked Parika
  • 2 tsp. Saffron threads
  • 2 lemons cut into wedges
  • ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup fresh chopped parsley
  • Kosher salt to taste

Making the Paella

  1. After paella pan has become hot over the fire, drizzle the olive oil and begin sautéing your sofrito. The sofrito is the base of aromatic ingredients that is sautéed in olive oil. For our paella, the sofrito is composed of chopped leeks, garlic, and chorizo. Add these ingredients to the olive oil, one by one, layering the flavors.
  2. Once your sofrito is sautéed and fragrant, add the chicken and calamari to the pan and sauté for three to four minutes. Next add your smoked paprika and toss ingredients once more. Then, add your rice and toss until ingredients are combined.
  3. Once the rice has been combined, add hot seafood stock, one cup at a time, and stir as you go. After the stock is added, mix the saffron threads into your paella.
  4. Now that the stock and saffron is mixed in, restrain the urge to stir your paella until the liquid has boiled down and the rice has cooked. Not stirring your paella will allow a toasted, flavorful crust known as the soccarat to form on the bottom of the pan.
  5. After the liquid has boiled down, add your Pernod and stir the Paella to incorporate the liqueur. Next, add your bell peppers, shrimp, lobster and petite peas. We recommend covering the pan with tin foil and allowing the heat to cook your final seafood ingredients.
  6. Once the shrimp is cooked and the lobster has turned red, sprinkle the paella with fresh parsley. Serve paella with lemon wedges, and be sure to scrape some of the soccarat on the bottom of the pan onto each plate. Enjoy!

Recipe By Calvin Virgilio