by Nancy Caivano
Time to work up an appetite—and get back to our gourmet meal plan. Last month I introduced a six-month tour of progressive courses for a sublime meal, starting with appetizers. This month we continue the feast with the first course, including a rosy red risotto for Valentine's Day.
While I was preparing this edition, someone asked me what the difference was between appetizers and first courses. She thought that appetizers were the first course. After explaining it to her, I thought I should also try and explain it here.
Appetizers can be a first course. It all depends on the amount of courses you are planning to have, and what you are serving. The best example of this can be a wedding. For example, you have the cocktail hour, where appetizers or hors d'oeuvres are served. Then you go into the dinner and there is, say a fruit cup waiting for you. That is a first course. There can also be, depending on the service, a pasta course which can be interpreted one of two ways. First, that the cocktail hour can be its own separate entity, and the fruit is the appetizer, the pasta is the first course; or the fruit is the first course, then a separate pasta course, salad course and even perhaps a fish course before the main entree. Who knew coursing a meal could have so many choices?
Well, my friends please don't fret. I'll break it down for you in what I think is the easiest way. The first course, like the appetizer course, should be on the light side. This doesn't mean that the actual food must be light, but if the food is a pasta or rice dish (or even a hearty soup) the portion should be small. The function of the appetizer and first course is to prepare for the main entree, so they should be more appetite enhancers rather than a filling dish. I have two suggestions for you that fit the bill perfectly.
The pasta suggestion, Pasta with Sausage and Peas uses homemade pappardelle, which are broad ribbons. You can always substitute dried pasta. It's combined with sausage, peas, cream and Romano cheese. This is a great example of a hearty dish that can be used as a first course in a small portion. Use a small plate, such as a dessert plate, and you will have the ideal size—you aren't too full for the entree, but enjoy enough for a tantalizing taste.
My risotto suggestion is pretty as well as delicious and will also come in handy for this month's Valentine holiday. Risotto with Roasted Beets and Romano is full of flavors and vibrant colors. The beets are roasted, which really brings out their sweetness and makes the risotto a brilliant ruby red. The Romano is not only grated and added but also shaved so that it melts on top of the risotto. It beautifully "announces" that the entree is on its way.
Both of these dishes have make ahead components. The beets can be roasted a couple of days before, and the Romano can be grated and shaved ahead of time. The pasta can be made ahead, rolled into the pappardelle and frozen, ready to pop into the boiling water, making the dish easy to get from stove to table.
I think that your guests will enjoy these first courses as part of a grand meal, or even an intimate meal for two. I hope that you try them and find them as successful as I have. Have a wonderful Valentine's Day and I will see you again in March when we talk about entrees.
This page created February 2001
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