Remember Cuisine Minceur? Designed to offer slimmed down treatments of classic French dishes, what I remember most of this high end low-cal is that restaurants would serve a beautiful white plate containing the smallest portion of food in the history of hunger. The food was lovely, but many couples complained that they would be forced to stop for a burger on the way home. This idea of restaurants creating food that is so precious that the chefs can’t really stand to share any of it with you was never my style. My style of Italian cooking was learned from my family, so in sharing it at my restaurant the goal was the same as at home — for the food to be an expression of love and togetherness.
Fortunately, the trend has been moving against the idea of sending people home hungry in recent years, with less pretentious comfort food, served in generous portions, gaining popularity. Meatloaf, meatballs, mac ‘n’ cheese, old fashioned deep-dish pies, even less elegant cuts of meat stewed to tenderness and served with luscious reductions — it’s peasant food, and it’s all good!
The larger portions that are common today encourage us to share. When my husband and I go out for dinner we most often order one appetizer and one entree to split. Being older is definitely part of it — we simply don’t need as much food, but larger portions also make this easy to do. My friend Susie and I often split a lunch, for example, a toasted bagel with tons of smoked salmon with lots of capers, a side of salad, a ramekin of cream cheese — a breakfast feature at the newish Beauport Hotel in Gloucester. We just need to remember to get there before 11, when the breakfast menu is retired for the day. A few weeks ago we split a Caesar salad topped with grilled salmon, homemade croutons and a nice Parmesan dressing. We even enjoyed a bread basket that came with honey butter. We love to sit on the porch overlooking the ocean this time of year. If there is a chill in the air, they provide cozy little blankets, which is delightful. As our stomachs shrink so does our ability to endure a breeze off the ocean if the temperature drops a degree or two. I remember a time when gale winds and heavy snow wouldn’t slow us down when a good meal was rumored to be had, but these days we’re more inclined to enjoy the food at home when the weather isn’t just right.
On Friday evening we were hosted by friends for dinner for nine at The Rudder, on Rocky Neck in Gloucester. My dinner companion told me that everything was half price to make sure I wouldn’t be bashful when ordering. Many restaurants offer dollar oysters early in the evening to draw in extra business, but The Rudder and its sister restaurant a few doors down cut their prices in half to pack more people in before and after the season’s peak. They make less on the food, but presumably get people ordering more alcohol, which is more profitable.
After appetizers for the table, which included fried calamari and cod fritters, I ordered a lobster salad while Todd ordered the sirloin with lobster mashed potatoes and grilled asparagus. Quantities were abundant, and we both left with doggie bags. Incidentally, the first time my Italian relatives visited, we took them out for dinner one night so they wouldn’t have to eat every night at Rosalie’s. I asked for a doggie bag for my leftover food. My relatives were fascinated. They could not understand how I was able to take home my uneaten food. “You do not ‘ave a dogga.” The concept did not exist in Italy, nor elsewhere in Europe. One time in France, hosting my daughter Danielle and her boyfriend for dinner at a fancy restaurant, we were passing our dinners around the table to give each other a chance to experience all the wonderful flavors. Suddenly, we noticed the dining room staff, lined up formally against the wall watching over the dining room, staring at us as a group. The casual approach to dinner was something they had never witnessed, apparently, and we had a good laugh over their horror.
Anyway, back to my lobster. For lunch on Saturday, I remembered our doggie bags containing Todd’s steak and my lobster salad. I made sandwiches, one using the lobster salad, the other one with steak (with a pesto mayo that I made quickly) and topped both sandwiches with some fresh arugula. Still, the lobster salad wasn’t gone — I had a little left over for my next creative urge.
Saturday was our grandson’s birthday, the planning of it took most of our day — a trampoline that took up most of their yard had to be assembled. Would I do the prep cooking? Of course — what family has their own in-house chef, prep cook? “It’s just breakfast food for four 13-year-olds, Mom.” I made giant chocolate chip, blueberry and plain pancakes, cooked a pound of bacon, made a basket out of the watermelon, and that was greatly appreciated. All Danielle had to do was heat everything in the oven. At 8:30 Sunday morning the call came. “The boys are hungry.” We are the keepers of the prepped food in our extra fridge in the garage. I had just made a key lime pie, Ethan’s favorite and was waiting for it to chill. We packed the car with the prepped food and some “champagne,” chilled carbonated cider. The boys seemed to have survived their sleepover and appeared ravenous. The key lime pie was placed in the fridge until such time that it would seem appropriate. They apparently have had too much sugar, so far!
Pasta with Leftover Lobster Salad
I happened to have leftover fried Italianelles, the long light green peppers, in the fridge, along with some fresh tomatoes, so I added them into the lobster salad.
To make the peppers, sweat a few cloves of garlic in 3 tbsp. of olive oil and 1 tbsp. butter.
Clean and slice thinly 2 peppers and saute in the pan, stirring to lightly brown all over.
Add a cup of chopped fresh tomatoes, a small sprig of fresh thyme, salt and pepper and simmer for 10 minutes. This is a delicious accompaniment for sandwiches or as a topping for fried fish or chicken. If you need more tomato sauce you can puree 1 cup of tomatoes in food processor and saute in garlic and oil for 15 minutes with a sprig of thyme and rosemary.
Now you have many choices depending on what is in your fridge, waiting to happen.
To the tomato and pepper mixture add a few tbsp. of capers, several olives, Greek or Nicoise or whatever you like and simmer them in the sauce for a few minutes.
In the meantime, boil enough water to cook a half pound of spaghetti (for two), salt the water. Because the lobster salad is already cooked, break up the large pieces and add to the sauce. About a half cup of salad is nice, more or less, add a little chicken broth if you need to thin out the sauce and heat just to make it hot.
Drain pasta and toss with sauce.
Serve with grated Parmesan and some chopped fresh basil. If you would like to use fresh lobster in place of lobster salad, that is fine, too.