"There's a saying in the writer's world ... 'finishing a story is like putting an octopus to bed.'
In other words, there will always be loose pieces - meaning:
You MUST avert your eyes from the stubborn loose appendages to see the glory of the work.
Press on. Your blog is a sight for sore eyes! We need you.
Put the need for perfection to sleep."
Those stubborn loose appendages really do get in the way of my writing. It takes me forever to get a blog post started because I want it to be creative, funny, interesting, and ... perfect. I don't like just posting a recipe and photos - I want to be able to tell a story and share a little piece of my life with each post. It's easier to do that with these Concert in the Park posts because our intimate group of friends and family look forward to the summer season when we can all gather at the park and share the fruits of our labor in the kitchen while we visit, eat, drink wine and listen to music. I try to take as many photos as possible and hope the photos help tell the story - although I didn't do a very good job this week and need to get more people and band shots next time! What a great way to end the weekend!
I can't believe we are embarking on our 6th summer season of culinary-themed Concerts in the Park! I never know how many people are going to show up each Sunday, but we've definitely grown and it's always exciting to see new faces. Jim and Holli have become very close friends of mine over the past year. Holli could hardly restrain her enthusiasm for the first concert, so we met at the park extra early to set up the tables, relax in the sun, sip on margaritas, and take it all in.
If you've followed our group, you know we choose a particular ingredient, country, region, or something inspired by the band as our theme. Holli chose Campania because they travel to the region often to visit some of Jim's family. I was all for it because I love Italian food and have been wanting to make a marinated seafood salad with octopus.
|Insalata di Mare - Marinated Seafood Salad|
I've never prepared octopus before, but I've enjoyed it lately in a few salads at local restaurants. There are several variations of insalata di mare, using various combinations of seafood, vegetables and herbs, all simply marinated in olive oil and lemon juice. I found Bobby Flay's Marinated Seafood Salad to be most appealing, but I made a few changes. I liked that the seafood was simmered in a pot of water, white wine, lemon juice, peppercorns, garlic cloves, and bay leaves. Bobby uses octopus, shrimp, calamari and lump crab. I used octopus, shrimp, calamari, scallops and mussels. I stayed with julienned carrots, onions and celery (I've also seen bell peppers and fennel). Bobby uses orange juice and orange segments, but I wanted more lemon and used half orange juice and half lemon juice and thinly sliced lemon for garnish. I added a bit more chopped parsley and garlic and a few tablespoons of red wine vinegar.
I felt Bobby's instructions about preparing the octopus were a bit lacking, so I consulted a few other recipes and watched a few videos to figure out how to prepare it. I bought a whole, cleaned octopus which was about 2 lbs. They come frozen, but thaw quickly by placing the bag in a sink full of cold water. The octopus simmers for about an hour and then the pan is removed from the heat and the octopus is allowed to cool in the broth. After it cooled, I cut off the tentacles and discarded the head (you can cut up the head and use that too, but I just wanted the tentacles for the salad). Bobby didn't mention anything about the head. Some recipes tell you to cut off the purple skin and suckers from the tentacles, but I think that is a matter of personal preference. I did remove most of the skin, which I understand adds a bit more chewiness, and I sliced off some of the larger suckers. I marinated the tentacles in olive oil, chopped garlic and parsley, grilled them in a grill pan for about 10 minutes, sliced them, and tossed in with the rest of the seafood and marinade. Although the octopus is a little bit chewy, I loved the texture, flavor and color it added to this beautiful summer salad.
Also, I cooked the shrimp and calamari together in the broth for about 3 minutes, but I did not let them cool in the broth because I felt they would be overcooked. I transferred some of the broth to another pan to steam the mussels.
Cherries as Olives are from Jose Andres' Made in Spain cookbook and I've made them before, but couldn't resist making some for concert since it's cherry season.
|Cherries as Olives|
Holli went all out with three of Jim's cherished family recipes: Braciole, simmered in and served with top secret DeLauro Three-Day Sauce, and Pasta e Fagioli.
|Braciole Preparation (photos by Holli)|
For the braciole, Holli stuffed and rolled beautiful flank steak with garlic, parsley, red pepper flakes, grated Romano, pancetta, pignoli nuts, and baby spinach. The rolls are tied, browned in a skillet, and simmered in sauce for about four hours. This was heavenly...and the sauce, OMG! She warned me not to even try asking for the recipe; she had to date Jim for three years before he shared it.
While the pasta e fagioli was warming up on the portable stove, we dug into Kai's selection of pizzas - Pizza Margherita, Mushroom & Truffle Oil, and Artichoke. I recently made some Neopolitan pizzas featured in Saveur, here.
|Kai's Pizza Margherita|
Carmen is always able to find the most interesting recipes, like this Molded Tomato Bread Salad. Slicing it reveals layers of bread, red and yellow tomatoes, and arugula - dressed with a garlic and herb vinaigrette - all molded together in a loaf pan weighted down by a brick overnight.
|Carmen's Molded Tomato Bread Salad|
As the sun went down and the park became quite chilly, we were all happy to have a bowl of hot pasta e fagioli!
|Jim refilling the Pasta e Fagioli bowl|
Another winning DeLauro recipe, this version of "pasta and beans" also includes new potatoes and prosciutto (you can find the recipe on Holli's friend's blog, here).
|Pasta e Fagioli|
Pammy, also known as our "salad queen" departed from her norm and shared this Neapolitan Potato Pie, which paired nicely as a side to the braciole. Inside, you'll find creamy mashed potatoes, diced ham, parsley, and four cheeses!
|Gatto di Patate (Neapolitan Potato Pie)|
In addition to all of the above, we nibbled on Kelley and Bryan's Tomato Bruschetta and Caprese on a Stick, and Sandra's Italian Sandwiches. For dessert, mom suggested and I made Lidia Bastianich's Tiramisu al Limoncello (Limoncello Tiramisu). I added a thin layer of limoncello whipped cream to the top and garnished with fresh strawberries, raspberries and a drizzle of Strawberry Pomegranate Sauce featured on the cover of this month's Fine Cooking.
|Sparks & Kellee|
|Ma che vuoi?|
Holli made a batch of homemade limoncello last month, but I drank most of mine and had to buy another bottle to have enough for the tiramisu ;-)
|Holli's Homemade Limoncello|
|Marina Grande, Capri, Campania (photo by Holli)|
What a fabulous kick-off to the 2103 Concert in the Park season! Thank you to Jim & Holli for choosing the first theme and generously contributing incredible and authentic family dishes!
The Hollywood Stones, a Rolling Stones tribute band, perform this Sunday and our theme is anything inspired by the name Rolling Stones (rolled, stone fruit,... ?) or something inspired by one of their songs. Can't wait to see what everyone comes up with on this one!