I have a friend who is turning 40 about now. I don’t know the exact date, but I know she wants to celebrate it! She’s a single girl who loves life, loves people and loves Jesus. She’s confident in the skin that God has given her and she is a joy to be around. Many others would agree.
As far as I can tell she’s not moaning about turning 40. She’s not being overly introspective or in any way depressed about reaching that age. She’s thankful for the years that God has given her.
It’s hard to resist wanting to celebrate that with her. Why would one even want to resist it?! So as part of the celebrations, I offered her my table and a dinner menu cooked from Marcella’s book.
I decided to cook dishes chosen from recommendations that Marcella made for a ‘Classic Menu in the Bolognese Style’. For each of the five courses, there were two or three options. The menu was particularly attractive to me as it feeds 6-8 people (and there will be 7 of us at the table) and a good deal of it is prepared in advance, or slow-cooked on the day itself.
I’m starting this post before the evening itself, in order to record the progress of the meal preparations.
Thursday: In the afternoon I started the preparation of the Bolognese Rice Cake for dessert. Marcella suggests (insists) that it be made 1-3 days in advance to allow the flavours to develop. The preparation is more time consuming than complicated, involving three hours of gentle simmering of rice, milk, sugar and lemon peel. I am normally quite patient when I am cooking and particularly love the slow-cooking process. In this case, my stove top was letting me down in a big way. It is not a gas hob – but rather one that takes ages to heat up and then ages to cool down to a simmer. We were not friends at one very ‘heated’ point. However, we settled into a satisfactory companionship eventually. The ‘pale brown mush’ arrived at after the hours of simmering was so yummy that if it weren’t so very sweet I would have been in danger of eating the whole lot. Imagine a superb version of creamed rice! This is then mixed with chopped almonds, candied lemon peal and beaten eggs. Then baked for an hour. After removing it from the oven, you stab it several times with a skewer and pour a couple of tablespoons of rum over it to soak through. The flavours are developing as I type – I trust.
Friday: After an interesting search for Grappa in the afternoon (which I finally sourced in a takeaway cup from my favourite, local Italian cafe), I came home to begin the slow-cooking of the Bolognese Meat Sauce. I had come from a couple of ‘slow-cooked’ pastoral issues with women that I meet with in my work and I was feeling some of the weight of that. Methodically and finely chopping onion, celery and carrot started to ease some of the burden. Sauteeing the vegetables in oil and butter, adding minced beef, milk, white wine, a grating of fresh nutmeg and some tinned tomatoes, then leaving it simmer for three hours, left me with time to process the day and relax with a cup of tea. The meat sauce is gently simmering as I type.
Saturday (the day itself): In the country market I visited this morning, the man selling the fresh spinach I needed was excited about the dinner – well, maybe just vaguely interested, now that I think about it. In the local butcher shop, the man selling me the boned and rolled shoulder of pork was indeed excited. But only after I’d told him that the pork was to be cooked in a bottle of wine. Perhaps I should have invited him? The accompanying potatoes have been peeled and diced. The spinach has been rinsed. Most importantly, the shoulder of pork has had carrot sticks inserted into it (I know! Who would have thought?), dusted in flour and browned in the pan. Then it was not quite entirely submerged in fine Italian red wine – after an initial and exciting splash of grappa! The drunk roast pork is simmering as I type.
Now for a cup of tea before the final preparations commence…
Post-party: The evening was lovely! The birthday girl kept conversation flowing beautifully. While I admit that I wondered if the menu would prove a little ‘boring’, the flavours all complimented each other wonderfully. Marcella certainly knew what she was talking about. The birthday girl took beautiful photos of the food – which was good because I never remember to take photos. I tried to transplant them here from Facebook where she’d posted them, but couldn’t work out how. Sorry.
Think white tablecloth, crystal wine glasses, candles and simple, slow-cooked food. Think smooth-flowing conversation. Think of a pause before eating to give thanks to God for the food, the company and the inspiring life of the Birthday Girl – and you’ve pictured it.
Last night: #48 ‘Bolognese Meat Sauce’ with Tagliatelle, #49 ‘Drunk Roast Pork’ accompanied by #50 ‘Pan-roasted Diced Potatoes’ and #51 ‘Spinach Sauteed with Olive Oil and Garlic’, ending with #52 ‘Bolognese Rice Cake’ with the Birthday Girl and five of her friends at my table.