Way back at the beginning of the year, some of our friends approached us to ask if we'd donate a dinner to the school fundraiser. The non-profit association that raised money threw a party every year, and one of the highlights was always the auction. People donated a week at a cabin they had, or tickets from their season pass that they weren't going to use. One local orthodontist always donates a complete braces workup. That's worth lots of $$, and always draws in a good set of bids.
Some of us have fewer things to offer, but we're always up for a good meal. And so when asked, we suggested a couple of different menus that might be fun for a dinner party. We suggested a Filipino meal might be fun - a la the tasting menu we had done last fall for some friends. Or, since we do love the charcuterie, I sketched out a literal 'farm-to-table-and-the-farm-is-about-200-feet-from-this-table' menu, drawing on both the meaty-experiments we had going in the cellar, and my Southern roots.
We called it "Coppa & Collards"
The committee selected the latter, and my Bride and I had fun fleshing out the menu.
For the auction, we sat back in awe and watched the bidding start. Fortunately for us, it was stacked in the back half of the auction, when people had gotten into the rhythm of the event. (and after the wine had been flowing). It got some good interest. And then suddenly, the bids took off. A group of our friends had taken up a collection, and started bidding in earnest.
I think in the end it went for nearly $2,000.
It wasn't the meal. It was the cause that our friends were giving money to. The school, and some badly needed technology and other things that would make the next generation smarter, more prepared, better dressed. I don't know. I was flabbergasted by the amount of money that was just raised. I was overwhelmed by the expectations that came with preparing a meal for ten at a price a top restaurant could command. From the things (and animals) we grew in our backyard.
I leaned over to one of our friends and said, "You know, you could just come over to our house and we'll cook for you pretty much anytime you want. Right?"
"It's for a good cause," she said.
Good cause, sure. But now I felt a new level of pressure. This meal had to be epic.
We had specified in the description that the meal would be arranged at mutual convenience, sometime in the late summer. We'd host the meal at our home, and we wanted to take advantage of the harvest & the weather, and the abundant bounty coming out of the garden in August.
We didn't know it at the time, of course, but a) we'd be in for a beautiful summer in Massachusetts, and b) I was going to decide to take a new job in a new state just about this time. This was the last party we'd throw in our Massachusetts home. In fact, we ended up scheduling this party for the evening before I was to start my new job outside of Portland, Maine.
Hey. What's a little pressure between friends?
I brought the dining table and our chairs out to the backyard. What the hell. The packers were coming a couple of days later. We figured we'd pull out all the stops for this one.
It was later in the summer, so I strung vintage-style lights through the yard to provide lighting for the evening, and we started working up the menu.
We wanted to highlight the lovely flavors and combinations of some of our favorite treats. This was going to be a tasting menu. But we planned enough different tastes that we knew no one was going to walk away hungry.
We welcomed our guests with a cup of peach gazpacho made from fruit that had ripened about 15 feet from the table. (I've shared the recipe previously here)
I had been curing several different cuts for varying lengths of time, and I was excited to share this with our friends.
From left to right, that's lardo di colannata (rich, pure pork fat cured in a marble box), a classic prosciutto, two coppa and a lamb prosciutto. The prosciutto had been curing for two years in my cellar.
Maybe it was better that this was a meal for friends. You tend to feel pretty emotional about any piece of meat that's been hanging for that long in your basement.
The coppa is made from a cut from the top of the shoulder - it's a fantastic part of the pig, with a beautiful marbling throughout. I had never made this before, but Mike & Maureen, my butchers, had gushed that I had to when they finished processing last year's peanut-raised pigs. The fat was rich and sweet, and slicing into these, I was super glad I followed their advice.
Our first course was a sampling of charcuterie, served along side some fresh pickled vegetables from our garden - beets, okra & green beans - and a boiled peanut & tahini edamame.
It was a great start. We served these on slate tiles - everyone got their own, and they came back clean.
Comparing the gamey lamb prosciutto to the sweetness of the pork, and balancing with the vinegar bite of pickled veg. I could have made a meal of just this.
But we moved on. We had balanced the menu to alternate our traditional Italian favorites with our more Southern dishes.
Next up was an arugula salad with fresh radish & a pimento cheese dressing, a cup of shrimp & grits & fried green tomatoes. Both the salad and the grits were tossed with a scattering of home-cured pancetta, fried crispy.
Frying green tomatoes up in cornmeal is such a perfect way to use up the surplus tomato crop towards the end of the season (or in my case, a great way to get some value out of the tomato plants that were struggling to recover from the attacks of the local deer population). And the eggs, of course, had come from our hens, and had that bright, golden yolk of chickens raised on good food and allowed to range freely.
As an interlude, we had prepared another one of our favorite treats - roast beef bone marrow. served alongside a bright, citrusy gremolata and roast cauliflower - it's something that I order pretty much anytime I find it on a menu.
We hadn't been able to source bones sliced lengthways (that requires a pretty good bandsaw at a butcher, and Mike's had broken down), but even served this way, along with a little spoon to scoop the lovely marrow out as a spread for the toast, it was a hit.
As our main, we had set aside a crown roast of pork from our backyard-raised pigs (it was Honeydew, to be specific). It was lovely and rich, and set off by collard greens harvest from our garden, and apple sauce we made from the last batch of apples we'd pick from our house in Massachusetts.
There's something about pork & apples that work so well. And we served our collards along with a bottle of white vinegar we had marinated our crop of peppers in for a spicy kick, for the more adventurous. Our daughter, the Critter (who had helped us plate all of these dishes for our guests and was a perfect server through the night) won't eat collards without that fiery vinegar.
That girl has good taste.
We finished the evening with a simple desert of peach cobbler (again - the last we'd pick from our little Massachusetts orchard) and fresh, homemade buttermilk ice cream.
My Bride and I (and the Critter) had acted as servers all night - for the money our friends had raised for the evening & the school, we wanted them to have the perfect experience, and enjoyed plating and serving each course, along with the explanation of what they were eating and where it had come from.
All of our friends who know us well know how much we enjoy sharing our passions of good food & good conversation, and this let us combine them into an absolutely lovely evening.
For desert, we pulled up chairs of our own and joined the group to share some final bites and laughs for the evening.
As a last party in the home that we had loved and invited so many of our friends to enjoy over the years, it was a picture-perfect, blissful evening that will stand out in our memory as a favorite.
And we'd do it all over again without charging a penny.