An evening of rich red Italian wines and food is never a bad thing. In fact it is exactly the kind of cozy candlelight evening and comfort foods needed on a cold winter’s night; and when paired with good friends, conversation and laughter is always a winning combination. For this cozy vini d’Italia (Italian wines) tasting, friends where asked to each bring a good Italian red and small bite.
THE CHEESE COURSE
Cold Friday evenings often remind me of those Friday night high school football games where I either sat shivering in the stands or jumped around on the field as a cheerleader. When the game was over, win or lose, a group of friends gathered at the local pizza parlor where the warm toasty pizza ovens and a crackling fireplace immediately embraced us upon opening the door and the chill of the night slowly eased away. As we settled into red vinyl booths, looking over the menus, those comforting aromas of pizza dough blistering in the oven while slowly melting delicious gooey cheese seduced our senses.
On this cold winter Saturday night, I wanted to create a similar environment for my guests with a delicious warming melted cheese course. I had recently watched a rerun of Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network and when I saw Ina re-create this restaurant version of melted Italian fontina cheese, seasoned with garlic and herbs I knew it was exactly what I was looking for. The small cast iron skillet with bubbling cheese beneath the broiler was just what I had in mind. I headed to the store in search of the small 6 inch cast iron skillets (that have since made many appearances at other parties). Each couple shared a skillet of the prepared herb fontina served with toasted crusty bread and apple slices for dipping and scooping.
Two truths and a lie: This particular wine meeting was held in the first two years of our established group. Not all of the friends I invited knew one another. So I worked to create activities that would help us get to know one another, but also serve as entertainment and topics of conversation.
Along with the invitation, I asked each of my guests to write down two truths and a lie about themselves to bring to the party. Later in the evening, during the dessert course I asked each guest to read their list and the others were challenged to guess which was the lie. This activity resulted in informative truths for each of my guests to discover about each out and lots of laughter for the lies.
Another fun activity would be to create a trivial pursuit game about wines with the weekly “Wine Quiz” from Karen MacNeil’s “Winespeed” website.
You can subscribe @ https://winespeed.com/quiz/wine/
THE SMALL BITES:
As always my guests are asked to bring a small bite. this evening the offerings were Italian inspired and everything was delizioso!
There were so many wonderful options for an Italian dessert that I decided to create a dessert sampler that would be shared by each couple. The trio included a tiramisu cookie, semifreddo and zabaglione with Amarena cherries. My guests enjoyed everything, but the stand out hit of the trio was the zabaglione with Amarena cherries.
Before there was Pinterest, I used to tear out the pages of cooking magazines with recipes I would like to use at some point and organize them in three ring binders. I had saved the zabaglione recipe from an issue of Food and Wine magazine years ago that I also found online and worked out perfectly. https://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/vanilla-zabaglione-with-raspberries
The recipe used raspberries, but I had recently discovered Italian Amarena cherries (cherries in brandy) that are unbelievably delicious, and decided to use cherries in lieu of raspberries. It was the perfect choice, because my guests could not stop talking about how delicious the cherries were. I’ve since used them in cocktails and other desserts.
Amarena Fabbri Cherries typically come in a blue and white opaline jar that I purchased online (but they can also be found in specialty wine or food stores). The cherries were without a stem. Over time I found stemmed Amarena cherries for about $5 a jar at Trader Joes, and was advised they are stocked on a seasonal basis. Other options are Dark Morello Cherries (also purchased at Trader Joes), or Griottines from France. For this night – Italian Amarena was the appropriate choice.
The food was delicious and comforting, the wine rich and smooth and the company filled with good friends, lots of laughter and stimulating conversation. There’s no better way to make a cold winter’s night warmer.