Yesterday's Island Today's Nantucket
Volume 38 Issue 3, - May 8 - 22, 2008
now in our 38th season

A Glass of Wine and Friends

by Maryjane Mojer
Executive Chef, Bartlett's Ocean View Farm

I like big meals. Oh, heck, I like all meals. Big, small, impromptu or well planned. Any time I share food or a table, picnic blanket or Partridge Family lunch box with anyone, it’s a good day.  The pure enjoyment of anything from a five course meal to splitting a cupcake with a friend is only made bigger and better by the company.

If I had to choose my favorite type of meal, it would certainly involve a bottle of wine. The wine festival is almost here, with its opportunites to share great food and learn about great wine. The festival is a great place to learn to pair food and wine and to thoroughly enjoy both. In many of the wine shops on the island, people are more than willing to chat with you about their favorites and to offer suggestions. Make Wine Festival weekend a kickoff for your education and enjoyment. Ask, drink, & share.

While a wonderful multi-course meal with wines to compliment each dish is a treat and an adventure itself, an evening with friends sharing a favorite bottle and a sampling of small bites to savor can be a treasure.  Having your food and all of the cooking done when your guests walk in the door and actually having the time to simply sit and enjoy their company….wow…what a concept. We are on the verge of the season, and for many of us the easy, unrushed relaxed evenings are becoming fewer and further between.  Memorial day is closing in. Make the time now, before you’re all too busy to relax with friends and family.

For an evening with friends, I love to make an antipasto platter. It can be made a day in advance and finished just before they walk in the door.

I’ve seen many recipes for antipasto platters that call for a layer of lettuce on the bottom, almost like a composed salad.  I tend to shy away from that myself, and will indeed have a green lettuce on the side. The lettuce tends to get soggy, and, for something that you pick at through the evening, it becomes unappealing.  I use one large platter and layer the ingredients, though keeping them separate and filling your table with beautiful bowls of olives, peppers, tomatoes and cheeses can be quite appetizing. 

Antipasto Platter
For six to eight people I use the following:

  • One half to three quarters pound of prosciutto
  • One half to three quarters pound of salami
  • One half pound hot capicola
  • One half pound sopressata
  • One half pound provolone, cut into wedges
  • One half pound fresh mozzarella (I like to use the small balls of fresh mozzarella, called ciliengini, usually about one third of an ounce each. You can find them plain or marinated. Either would be fine.)

Rolling the meats will give you a lovely, polished look to your finished platter, and if you have the time and the inkling to do so, have at it. If not, simply separating them from each other and layering them on your platter will be just fine. The prosciutto will be (or should be) sliced very thinly, so take your time to separate the slices and layer them together. The same with the cheeses, covering your platter. To top your platter off, there are so many delicious items to choose from. I love roasted red peppers, so I always use them.

There are a couple of options for roasting peppers. If you are grilling outside, toss a couple of lightly oiled peppers onto the grill, rolling them round until they are charred. You could also put them in a preheated five hundred degree oven until they are charred, or, my favorite, right on my stove top. (Only if you have a gas stove.) I don’t oil the peppers when I cook them on the stove top. I turn my flame up and put the pepper directly into the flame. Keep your eye on them and turn them constantly. either in a paper bag, a sealed plastic bag or a tightly covered bowl. The residual heat from the cooking process will help to steam the charred skins, making them easy to peel. After a half an hour or so, run them under cool, running water to remove the skins. Roasted peppers will keep in your refrigerator (if they are not gobbled up first!) for three or four days.

Once you’ve roasted your peppers, slice them into strips and add them to the layers of meats and cheeses. Marinated mushrooms, artichoke hearts, stuffed cherry peppers and, of course, olives will complete the feast. I like to douse the platter with a bit of a good, extra virgin olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar. Put out small plates and a loaf of great bread and you’re done.

A cheese spread is another easy and delicious appetizer and can be done up to three or four days ahead. In fact, a few days will give all of the flavors a chance to really blend together.

Blue Cheese Spread

  • 1 pound softened cream cheese
  • 4 ounces (one stick) softened butter
  • 8 ounces blue cheese, crumbled
  • One half teaspoon Worcestershire Sauce
  • 1 tsp fresh rosemary, finely chopped
  • half cup toasted walnuts, rough chopped

Simply mix all of the ingredients together either in a mixing bowl or with a food processor.

Fresh, home made crackers are really surprisingly easy and so delicious. The following recipe will make approximately 24 crackers.

I would recommend making the dough up to a week in advance and freezing it. The day you’ll be serving it, preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Slice the dough into rounds one-eighth of an inch thick, and bake until very lightly browned. The crackers will crisp up as they cool.

A food processor makes this very quick and easy. If you don’t have one, a mixer with a paddle attachment will work well.

Cheddar Cheese Crackers

  • One half pound softened butter (unsalted)
  • One half pound grated cheddar cheese
  • One half teaspoon dried mustard
  • One quarter teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Two cups all purpose flour

Blend together the butter and cheese.  Combine all of the dried ingredients, and slowly add to the butter until combined.  Divide the dough into two pieces and roll into logs.  Wrap each log in plastic and freeze until ready to use.

Bowls of nuts, great chips, a crudite platter or simple assortment of cheeses and crackers; grazing with a glass of wine and a table full of friends; that’s the best kind of meal.

Recently, I had the absolute joy of sharing an incredible meal with four wonderful and talented culinary students, who represented Nantucket High School in it’s first foray into Culinary Competition. As a team, they created a meal that wowed the judges and won them recognition and scholarships, along with a piece of my heart. The meal that we shared the night before the competition was made so wonderful not just because of the food, but because of the company. There are some moments of breaking bread with someone, especially someone who is just beginning the great adventure that is food and cooking when you see that spark of passion about food, when they can see the potential of a dish, or the potential in themselves. This was that kind of meal. Such a pleasure and a privilege to share a table with each of them, and I would be honored to share a kitchen with any one of them any time.

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