Wednesday, February 08, 2006

A Football Feast

Posted by Picasa June was in the shower when the tree cut the house in half, and George was just getting ready to leave for work. The result of “Hurricane Elvis” that struck in the summer of 2003 turned out, for the Owens’, to be almost a blessing.
The kitchen, pre-storm, had been a galley type kitchen, with barely room for two people to pass, much less cook together. Now when you walk into their renovated home, there is no doubt what goes on in that area: cooking, eating, and plenty of it!

George, having taken the early-retirement offer from Fedex, had the time to do a lot of the finish work himself, allowing for wonderful results with the money they received from their insurance. They pushed the back wall out to include the former patio, and knocked out the wall between the kitchen and former dining room. The result is something they call a “keeping room.” The first thing that strikes your eye is the 16-foot long granite topped island, with five-burner cook-top, dishwasher, big double sink and trash compactor. Plenty of drawers and cabinets underneath hold almost everything needed to cook close at hand.

Another counter, which held the cooktop in its former life, now boasts a marble top for June to use when making the breads and pastries for which her friends are very appreciative.

At the far end is a large homey, inviting seating area, with a big-screen TV, and overstuffed chairs and a sofa that seem to just envelope you when you sit. You might never want to get up.
But you will, because on the far side of the island from the cooking area are a row of comfy stools that encourage you to watch as June works her magic on the evening’s dinner.

This weekend George and June Owens invited a group of friends to watch the Super Bowl. As we were gathering, June served a variation on the chip-dip theme: toasted pita wedges with store-bought hummus. The platter was strewn with an assortment of olives, peperoncini and cherry tomatoes.

When it came time for dinner, June brought out a rustic casserole of pasta, sausage, potatoes, cabbage and cheese. I loved it! Her recipe was written in general terms on a tattered recipe card, but I convinced her to give me measurements so you can make it, too. She got the recipe from an Italian friend who lives in Rome, but the combination of ingredients bring to mind the cooking of northeast Italy.

A green salad with dried cherries, goat cheese crumbles and a vinaigrette made of 1/4 cup tequila-lime vinegar (available at gourmet markets), a couple of tablespoons of Dijon mustard, and 3/4 cup olive oil made a wonderful accompaniment. A loaf of her excellent bread went well, too.

Dessert was a purchased rum-cake topped with dollops of clotted cream. Whipped cream would be an excellent alternate. Invite a few friends and try it all. You’ll all be so happy you might not even care if your team loses!

June’s Baked Pasta Casserole

1 lb smoked sausage, sliced 1/4” thick
2 lb red skin potatoes, peeled, in 3/4” cubes, rinsed and drained
2 tbsp olive oil
2 tbsp fresh rosemary leaves
1 small cabbage, shredded
1 lb penne pasta, preferably imported
8 oz butter
3 cloves garlic
20 fresh sage leaves, chopped
12 oz gruy?re, cubed
1/4 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Preheat oven to 350. Sauté sausage in heavy skillet over medium heat until lightly browned and set aside. Toss the potatoes with 2 tablespoons olive oil and the rosemary on a baking sheet and roast for 20 minutes. Sprinkle lightly with salt.

Cook the cabbage for 10 minutes in boiling salted water. Drain well.

Melt the butter in a skillet over medium-low heat, add the garlic and sage and cook 2-3 minutes, stirring a couple of times. Pour over the hot, cooked and drained pasta and toss well.

Now, in a large buttered casserole, layer the ingredients in this order: pasta, potatoes, cabbage, cheeses and sausages. Make at least two layers of each, three if you casserole is deep enough. Salt and pepper each layer to taste. Cover with foil and bake for 20-25 minutes, until heated through. Remove foil and bake another 5 minutes or so, until cheese is melted and lightly browned. Serves 8-10.

NOTE: This looks like a lot of work, but it’s not, and can be done ahead and refrigerated. Remove from the refrigerator about an hour before baking.

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