Last weekend I was lucky enough to visit my good friends Becca and Kiki at their new (ADORABLE) apartment for a dinner party with some of their friends. Kiki made a fantastic ratatouille, though she forgot the tomatoes–so we thought maybe she could call it a “deconstruction,” a la Top-Chef-contestant-speak. A tomato-less ratatouille, perhaps?
Any opportunity to get together with these girls is special. We’re all super-busy and they’re both involved with theater in one way or another, so they’ve got wacky night schedules; combined with my homework and frisbee game schedules, it’s almost impossible to find a time with less than 4 weeks notice that we’ll all be able to make a date. So when I e-mailed earlier this week about having dinner tonight and they both could make it, I was thrilled, to say the least!
Of course I enlisted Mike’s help developing the menu. Kiki is a vegetarian, and Becca claims to only eat things encrusted with diamonds, so it’s a difficult crowd. We ended up with three Italian-inspired courses: a grilled asparagus with lemonette and tomato dressing; panko-crusted eggplant medallions with zucchini-squash marinara, and banana scallops with caramel-praline ice cream and grated chocolate.
(I just noticed all the hyphenated titles in that menu and you know what? I feel like a real cook for it.)
All in all, it was utterly fantastic. I’m a little short on photos because I was so distracted by the joy of prepping this meal (slash, I was really pressed for time because I had planned on 4 hours to leisurely prep then realized I had a meeting right in the middle and thus only had 2).
I’ll post the rest of this menu in the next few days, but for now, here’s Mike’s recipe for the appetizer. I made the dressing and tomato marinade, plus blanched the asparagus, all about 8 hours before serving, and I think you could get by on up to 24 hours of storing in the fridge. It’s a great way to kick off a small party with friends, but it also works well if you have a few minutes to refrigerate everything so the flavors meld well.
Grilled Asparagus with Lemonette Dressing and Marinated Tomatoes
Serves 2-3 as appetizer
1 bunch asparagus (approx. 1 lb)
1 large tomato, preferably golden, 1/2-inch dice
3-4 Tbsp olive oil, divided
2-3 cloves of garlic, grated fine
Salt and pepper, to taste
Juice of one lemon
In a small bowl, whisk together about 1 Tbsp olive oil, grated garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Add diced tomatoes, lightly toss, and refrigerate for at least a half hour.
In a blender, combine equal parts lemon juice and olive oil (probably about 2 Tbsp each) with salt and pepper. Pulse for a few seconds and then slowly drizzle in more oil until mixture emulsifies. You’ll notice it changes color and consistency; that’s when it’s done. This should take another tablespoon or so of olive oil. Refrigerate this mixture for at least a half hour; whisk with a fork when you take it out to use it.
For the asparagus: Set a large pot of water on the stove to boil. Set up a large bowl filled with ice water nearby, probably in the sink. When you’re preparing asparagus, you need to take off the tough bottoms. The easiest and most effective way is to simply snap the end off–the point where it naturally breaks is the point between the good part and the tough part. After removing the ends from all of your asparagus, cut them all in half so you have approximately 3-inch pieces. When water is boiling, quickly add all of the asparagus and cook for about 2 minutes. VERY QUICKLY remove the asparagus from the boiling water and plunge into cold water (I used a pasta spatula for this) to stop the cooking process–this is blanching it! After asparagus is cool to the touch (about 5 minutes), drain and refrigerate for as long as you need to (up to 24 hours).
When you’re about ready to serve, grill the asparagus for about 1 1/2 minutes per side in a cast iron grill pan. Immediately after plating the asparagus, spoon approximately 1 Tbsp of lemonette on top of each serving, then about 2 Tbsp tomato mixture. Serve while asparagus is still warm.
I *love* my cast-iron grill pan so much–it’s one of our most-used kitchen tools. I HIGHLY recommend the $20 investment!
Yum yum yum. You could probably double the asparagus and serve 4-6 with this recipe–we had leftover tomatoes and lemonette after plating everything.