From Susan: Parties at our friends’ Fortunato and Shelly Nicotra,are always a wonderful blend of incredible food and interesting, dynamic people. Sunday’s get-together was no exception. The kids splashed in the pool while the grown-ups sipped an assortment of terrific wines brought to the party by Alex and Smadar Berlingeri of Wine Sources and Marc and Susan Davis of Domaine Select, while nibbling on Fortunato’s enticing array of antipasti: seafood salad, mozzarella burrata with black heirloom tomatoes, cured venison with cherries, zucchini in a mint vinaigrette, eggplant caponata. In addition to the other fun guests, I was delighted to meet well-known food writer Marge Perry and her husband, writer and recipe developer David Bonom.
The first course, eaten casually indoors while a rain shower passed through, was one of the chef’s inventive risotti – the broth was soft-shell crab “jus” infused with ginger and the finished risotto was studded with plump pieces of calamari and shrimp.
The “main” part of the meal was perfectly simple. Grilled filet of beef and Argentine sausages, a “mash” of fava beans, peas, asparagus and mint and a salad of lettuces from the Nicotra’s garden.
I was honored that Fortunato had asked me to bring the dessert, and embarking on Chapter Two of my cherry saga (read Chapter One here), made the classic French dessert clafouti. Simple and easy to make, it can be prepared with any fruit, but dark sweet cherries are traditional, and especially luscious. Oh, and everyone loved the Sour/Bing cherry pie, too!
At least an hour later, Fortunato was back at the stove – the side burner on the grill, actually – cooking up, of all things, beignets. Some had brought a box of Cafe du Monde beignet mix and he was intrigued. We all agreed that taken out of the context of New Orleans and unaccompanied by cafe au lait, they were really just like Italian zeppole – a delicious guilty pleasure.
3 cups pitted black cherries, any juice drained
1 1/4 cups whole milk
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 tbsp. vanilla extract (not a misprint!)
1/8 tsp. salt
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
Preheat the oven to 350. Butter a 7-8 cup fireproof baking dish or Pyrex pie plate about 1 1/2 inches deep.
Place the ingredients in a blender jar in the order in which they are listed. Cover and blend at top speed for 1 minute.
Pour a 1/4 inch layer of batter on the bottom of the baking dish and set over moderate heat for a minute or two until a film of batter has formed. Remove from heat and spread the cherries evenly over the batter and sprinkle 1/3 cup sugar over them. Pour on the rest of the batter and smooth the surface with the back of a spoon.
Bake for about an hour, until clafouti has puffed and browned and a knife stuck into its center comes out clean. Allow to cool before serving warm or at room temperature; sprinkle with powdered sugar before serving.
Recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle and Simone Beck