Dinner Party: Italian Night! Carbonara and a Twist

Stevie has mentioned a few times that she was interested in learning Italian (she comes from Italian stock), so we finally decided to do our first cena italiana this past week. The idea was simple: cook an Italian meal, drink Italian wine, and speak as much Italian as we could, pointing and miming our way through it. I enlisted Toni to join us to keep the conversation going and to be an additional teacher in the room. Lesson #1 went well, with Stevie learning and recording a few key terms and present tense verbs in a little notebook I gave her, while assuming her usual duties of chef/sous-chef combo when we cook together.

And what did we eat? We decided a simple carbonara dish would be fun and easy, allowing us to focus on the language without having to worry about too much prep work. Since her butcher didn’t have any pancetta available, Stevie picked up some thickly-sliced coppa, the muscle of the pork right behind the back of the head, at the top of the shoulder. It was an interesting, meaty alternative to the usual fatty taste of the pancetta (whose closest cousin in American is bacon).

Stevie diced the meat into little cubes and threw it in a pan with a bit of butter. In the meantime, we put some spaghetti on to boil. I had previously bought some elegant pasta from Marlow & Daughters for a dinner party a few months back but never ended up using it — this seemed like the perfect time for it. I opened up the package to find that each spaghetto was slightly curled at one end: a handmade pasta that had been hung to dry and later cut. I was ecstatic… life really is in the details. While the sea salted water boiled, I began to separate the eggs. We’d consulted several carbonara recipes and ultimately decided we only wanted to use the yolks (no worries, I saved the whites for a yummy omelette).

We put Toni to work, grating the parmigiano. Everything had to be ready for the moment when the pasta came out of the water, since the heat of the noodles is what would cook the egg and create the cheesy “sauce.”

Everything came together in the pot, lightly coating each and every spaghetto. We noshed happily on way too much pasta with a bottle of Orvieto, a white wine from the eponymous town made from Trebbiano and Grechetto grapes. A slightly fruity and weighty white that is balanced with the acidity from the Trebbiano juice, it was an excellent complement to the eggy, meaty pasta we were consuming.

At this point, you might be wondering what the twist was. Toni buys melons almost by the dozen, and since one was reaching a high level of ripeness, I figured it was best to try something new with it, a change from fruit salad. Summertime screams prosciutto e melone to me — the perfect, light combination of salty and sweet — but as a result of the hot days we’ve been having, I’ve been eating it all the time. So why not take the traditional antipasto dish and make it into a dessert? In preparation for the meal, I made a canteloupe sorbetto a few days before:

I had Stevie pick up a few of the thinnest slices of prosciutto she could get. I proceeded to dry the meat in the oven to give it a harder consistency:

Then, once we’d begun to digest the pasta, I served the sorbet with pieces of prosciutto sprinkled on top. The same salty-sweetness that I love in the antipasto shone through in the dessert version. Ta da! A meal in reverse!

Sorbetto di Melone

  • 1 medium-sized canteloupe, diced
  • The juice of one lemon, freshly-squeezes
  • 2 tablespoons vodka
  • 1/2 cup sugar (shouldn’t need more if the melon is in season!)

Place the melon in the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth. Add the lemon juice, vodka, and sugar and process briefly, until blended. Place the mixture into the refrigerator until the mixture cools. Pour the chilled mixture into the bowl of an ice cream maker and churn for 20 minutes. Transfer the sorbet to an airtight container and place in the freezer for 3 to 4 hours before serving.

Adapted from Alton Brown.