April 17, 2015
At Home with Friends

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Weeknight Sit-in-the-Kitchen Dinner

It was a weeknight and my friend Maria was coming over for dinner. I’ve known Maria for 30 years. (Is it really that long?). Maria doesn’t cook but she eats real food, so it’s always fun to make dinner for her. She doesn’t eat mushrooms, loves artichokes and will try anything I prepare.

This was the perfect time to try my version of Polpettone (Italian meatloaf). I read Mark Bittman’s recipe for Polpettone Stuffed with Eggplant and Provolone in the New York Times and was totally inspired.

This is basically a meatloaf stuffed with an eggplant filling.

Growing up, I was never a fan of meatloaf. Although I have many wonderful childhood food associations, meatloaf is not one of them. My mom’s meatloaf consisted of mildly seasoned ground beef stuffed with a row of hardboiled eggs. She liked the way it looked when it was sliced. I did too, I just didn’t like the taste. It was too bland, too boring and pretty flavorless.

When I read Mark Bittman’s recipe, I thought, “Now here’s a meatloaf I’d like to create and try.” Of course, I tweaked the recipe to make it my own, and I invite you to do the same.

I remembered that one of Maria’s favorite pasta dishes is Pasta alla Norma with eggplant and smoked mozzarella cheese. So I thought it would make a perfect substitute for smoked provolone. Since I’m always trying to make things gluten free, I also swapped the breadcrumbs for almond meal. The milk soaked breadcrumbs might make it lighter and more fluffy but my version got rave reviews.

This is perfect for a weeknight, the preparation is not difficult and you can make it the day before. The recipe serves 8, which might seem like a large quantity for you. You can reduce the recipe, and I give instructions; or you can do what I did and invite a different friend for dinner the next night. So Act I was with Maria and Act II was with Brent.

The first night I served it with Sautéed Spinach, rapidly sauteed with garlic slivers. The next night I served it with Roasted Asparagus and Zucchini.

I assembled a stunning antipasto type platter on a bed of baby arugula for us to nibble on before dinner. This included Marinated Butter Beans, Marinated Artichoke Hearts with Tarragon, Mozzarella Balls with Basil and Red Pepper Flakes, roasted tomatoes with garlic, roasted garlic, olives, Italian salami and prosciutto, tiny tomatoes and Baked Wild Shrimp with Ajvar and Feta. It was all served on a bed of baby arugula. Some of these items came straight from Bristol Farms and some I prepared the day before.

For Act II, I took the few leftover Marinated Butter Beans, Marinated Artichokes, Mozzarella Balls and roasted tomatoes and tossed them with a fresh bag of baby arugula, dressed with olive oil and lemon juice. The leftover prosciutto and salami became a salumi platter with olives and crusty bread.

The first night, dessert was an effortless Gratin of Pears, Blueberries and Mascarpone Cheese, and Coconut Oatmeal Ginger Cookies. The second night — just cookies.

A foolproof meal for a dinner in the kitchen, with close friends, Act I AND Act II!

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