When I invited Minty and Trevor, a newly-wed couple from Walla Walla, over for dinner, I knew to expect extravagance. Whether I prepare for it or not, the kitchen seems to come alive with the delight of delicacies whenever we entertain each other. They are more excited about food and wine than perhaps any else I know. Though each can be appreciated on its own, food and wine are practically inseparable in Minty and Trevor's approach to life.
This philosophy isn't articulated so much as emanated. Their pleasure is simply apparent in the way they eat. Though married, meal and bottle provide a counterpoint one another, creating not just a meal but a a complex experience. The names of wine blends and the remembrances of recipes are never just notes or name-dropping, but the photographs through which we capture an evening spent together. I love exploring and discussing the sensations of cuisine with the two of them, and some of my most memorable meals over the past year have been shared with this wonderful couple. I was rich with anticipation as another dinner date approached.
I mentioned extravagance earlier, but I have to admit I chose about the least extravagant subject for study. I made pizza. We did however find a way to add as much class as can fit on a crust: truffle oil. Drizzled in the thinnest stream, a steady spiral of opulence, it brought out the earthiness of mushrooms, the gamey pungency of the prosciutto, the sweetness of the tomato sauce and the saltiness of the cheese. I think I'll name it The Anointed Pie and recreate it the next time I get a hankering for the cheesy cuisine. We made two pies and I must admit that this, the second, kicked the first one's ass.
Minty and Trevor arrived at my new apartment with their darling former roommate Kris, who had made cheesecake cookies for the occasion. Trevor bore a bottle of wine in each hand: Yellowhawk Cellar's 2005 Sangiovese from Walla Wallas and Nipozzan's 2005 Riserva Chianti Rufina, also at least 80% Sangiovese by legal requirement. I ushered them into the kitchen, the location of the evening's festivities, and from there the evening stretched out in a leisurely series of topping discussions, cooking experiments and wine tasting.
Shopping for ingredients at Trader Joe's a few days previously, I had been staring at the cheese section for a while, clearly entranced, when an employee asked me if I needed help. Using him as a sounding board for my indecision, I asked for his mozzarella recommendations. For pizza, he approved of the whole-fat chunk I held in my hand, but said he preferred a fresh mozzarella log, sliced in rounds and suspended in water. I bought both. The fresh mozzarella graced the first pizza, along with a slightly spicy homemade tomato sauce, the mushroom medley, roasted garlic and slivered fresh basil. I followed the Joy of Cooking's pizza dough recipe, which produces a deliciously chewy crust. I was only disappointed that it didn't brown as well in my new oven as it has in the past.
When I checked on the pizza after 12 minutes, a ghastly pool of liquid was forming in the center! Cooking the mushrooms had apparently prepped them to release liquid and the wetness of the fresh mozzarella only made the problem worse. I mopped it up with some paper towels and popped the pizza stone back in the oven for a few minutes, a successful salvage. We agreed that pie #1 was tasty, but the weighted-down center required fork and knife for eating and we each had only one piece and then held our appetites in check while the second pizza cooked.
The second time around, I baked the olive-oil-brushed crust for a few minutes before adding sauce and toppings, a step that produced a sturdier pie. Though I love generous portions of tomato sauce, I spread my layer a little thinner than usual, then covered it with generous handfuls of the shredded whole-fat mozzarella. Next I added uncooked slices of portobello and crimini mushrooms, a sprinkling of pine nuts, thinly sliced prosciutto and, atop it all, a snowy grating of parmesan. The cheese melty, the meat crisp, the mushrooms dry and just-beginning to brown, I pulled it from the oven about 15 minutes later, added slivered fresh basil and ran a thin slow stream of truffle oil around the the circumference of the pizza, spiraling inward toward the center.
Yes, you can slice up heaven with a pizza cutter.
While on the first tasting I didn't exactly love the Yellow Hawk, it blew me away when paired with our Anointed Pie. We tasted the two wines back and forth, agreeing the Italian paired better with the garlicky pizza and the Washington wine with the truffled one.
Satiated, the four of us sat at my little kitchen table, transformed from its usual window-side quietude into a suddenly uproarious cove for company, and we opened the third bottle of wine. We caught up on med school applications, law school accomplishments, sibling weddings and career-paths, restaurant reservations and my newest hobby, burlesque. They were coming back to Capitol Hill the following night to watch my burlesque recital, the crowning performance of a 6-week dance series and the opening act in a night of boylesque strip tease. I was girlish and giddy, to say the very least.
If gastronomy and lust seem to be steering my direction in life, can I just say I'm in gastrolust? It's all energy, fueled and expended, over and over again in infinitely endless menus and dances. I've been glad to try some new hobbies lately, make some new friends, experiment with new toppings so to say, and glad to fall back on the friends familiar enough to be family. My cozy new apartment is proving itself well-suited for friends and food. Nothing else seems more essential in my life right now, and I'm so excited for the shared meals and stages yet to come.