May is a celebratory month, with a number of birthdays and Mother’s Day. We opted to host this family affair at our house, and since it was all about family, we took inspiration from the Italians. With our new-found love affair with Italian cooking and their serving style, this was an exciting party to prepare for.
At first, we were going to prepare orecchiette and cavatelli, but we decided it would be more interesting to demonstrate a greater contrast. We opted to have one egg pasta (spaghetti), and the eggless cavatelli. And since the cavatelli would be served with a beautiful tomato sauce, we’d serve the spaghetti with carbonara.
One thing I do not enjoy about hosting dinner parties is having to rush on the day of to get everything done. To prevent this from happening, the dough for the spaghetti was made the night before and refrigerated. We also made the cavatelli the night before. After a quick dinner, I set out to work. If you’re wondering why the step ladder – it makes the kneading process so much easier!
Hubs had spent the afternoon braising the nine lamb shanks (frozen, from Loblaws). He made a few changes to his test batch, using less tomato and adding some balsamic. He nailed it.
After making two balls of dough (that’s 12 eggs later), it was time to make the cavatelli. There is something so peaceful about sitting there with your spouse, making short pasta. We have developed this great rhythm that happens every time we do this. We messed up the storage part of this project. You can imagine how full our fridge was, and when I suggested freezing the pasta on a baking sheet and putting them into a Ziplock, hubs wasn’t keen (turns out he just didn’t know this was the way). He wanted to layer the pieces in containers, divided by parchment paper. We did this, but the next morning, we discovered the pasta were crushed. So, we ended up gently reshaping and laying them out flat on a baking sheet, and placing the whole tray into the chest freezer. Everything worked out.
The morning of the party: After the cavatelli transfer, hubs had to start on his baguette dough because it needs time to rise. He told me that he used a little too much water this time, but the final outcome did not give anything away. The taste and texture were divine!
While the dough was proofing, we ran our only errand – pick up items for our antipasto board. I love the Cheese Boutique, but that place is not cheap! We left with empty pockets, but with some excellent things that we hoped our families would enjoy. Much to my surprise, the parents actually ate the cheese, olives, and Serrano ham. We weren’t sure it would be to their taste, or maybe they were just hungry. The Country Sausage was not part of the antipasto. That morning, I had texted my sister who confirmed that she would not eat lamb in any form.
I need a moment to talk about the Serrano Ham. This stuff is so much better than the pre-packaged stuff you can get at the grocery store. It’s flavourful without the excess saltiness. The Cerignola olives (from Puglia) are my favourite because they are so meaty and not heavily brined. We sampled a few different cheeses before settling on Prima Donna from Holland. We started with some Italian cheeses; however, they had a more pronounced salt flavour. Then we sampled a lower salt cheese, but that ended up being too bland for both our palettes. But Prima Donna, a pasteurized cow’s milk, hard cheese, was perfect. It wasn’t too salty, with a unique flavour. What surprised me was that at the end of the night when I was cleaning up after the guests had left, there was hardly any of this cheese left! The medium Gouda from Loblaws looked almost untouched.
Anyway, after we returned from Cheese Boutique, the bread dough that had been proofing was twice the size and ready to be shaped.
With the baguettes completed, hubs started reheating the lamb shanks while I set to work prepping the ingredients for the carbonara. I was so relieved that hubs was able to find fresh peas at Longo’s.
After I was done, hubs took over and chopped up his mushrooms for the mushroom soup while I started pulling plates, bowls, and cutlery. In a small kitchen, it’s best to figure out how best to coordinate tasks so that you don’t get in the way of each other. When the mushroom soup task was coming to an end, I had to start my pasta cutting. I looked at the clock and started to feel the pressure mounting. It was 1.5 hours until our guests were arriving!
I have not had to make this much spaghetti before. Storage was the biggest issue, since we would not be dropping the pasta until the guests all arrived. You don’t want your spaghetti strands sticking together. I don’t have a pasta rack, so I decided to try flouring the bundles and creating nests. Unlike my first test, I ran the dough through the sheeter until setting 4 (instead of setting 3). The storage method worked out beautifully. The addition of the the bits of red pepper added a nice pop of colour to the dish.
And the cavatelli – nobody noticed that they were slightly flattened.
I love both types of pasta, but it seemed like some of our guests really liked the spaghetti carbonara. We pre-plated each of the pasta dishes because we weren’t sure our parents would understand that they shouldn’t fill themselves on pasta (despite the menus provided). We did put the excess pasta into serving bowls in case people did want more. At the end of the night, the spaghetti bowl was empty.
Everyone loved the the tender lamb shanks, especially me. We served it with the arugula and mushroom salad. I also had to hold back from eating all the bread. It truly was fantastic with the organic olive oil we picked up from The Olive Pit (Spice Trader).
For dessert, both families brought identical cakes! It was funny, but luckily they were Chinese cakes, so easy to eat because they are light and only mildly sweet. We were only able to consume one cake. The issue of storage of the second cake was easily solved. The beauty of working in a kitchen is that I have access to a walk-in fridge. It was close to midnight when I dropped off the cake – I’m sure my co-workers will be able to polish off the cake in no time.
How did you celebrate Mother’s Day?