by Nancy Caivano
I consider March one of the oddest months of the year. You never know what the weather is going to be, and of course, you have to beware of those strange Ides. A bright spot falls in the middle of the month with St. Patrick's Day on March 17, a holiday celebrated mostly by Irish Americans though even some non-Irish mates join in.
This month I continue my six-part "tour of courses" with a focus on the main course and how to balance it with the rest of your meal.
First, you need to set the total number courses to be served, so that you can plan the size of each one. For example, when serving an appetizer, first course, main course, salad and dessert, the size of each should be smaller than if you were omitting maybe the first and salad courses. If you have a lot of courses, avoid a large main course—your guests will be slightly filled by the preceding courses and not be able to have the rest of the courses to come. On the other hand, when serving only one small appetizer and a dessert, then the meal certainly calls for a larger, more filling main course.
Don't think that a smaller main course can't also be a hearty dish. A filling main course, such as a stew over polenta for example, works well with a meal of many courses as long as you serve it in smaller amounts. The key is balance: If you are having all hearty courses, they all need to be small, so that no one fills up on one particular course.
You also need to gauge your guests. If your guests are notoriously light eaters (I don't happen to know any of these people myself, but I have heard rumors), then serve fewer courses or smaller portions. If you have healthy eaters, then also plan accordingly.
In this column I present two main course risotti and one main course pasta to fit any menu. They include a chicken dish, a beef dish and a vegetable dish to suit the tastes of any guest.
First our risotto dishes: Risotto with Chicken, Roasted Fennel and Boursin and Risotto with Grilled Flank Steak and Mixed Mushrooms. The chicken risotto is full of vibrant flavors. Golden sautéed chicken is combined with roasted fennel and aromatic leek and onion, then stirred into the risotto with creamy, herbed Boursin cheese. Roasting mellows the flavor of the fennel and adds a slight smokiness that combines well with the herbs and full milky flavor of the Boursin. In the fabulous steak risotto, steak marinated in apple cider vinaigrette is grilled to medium-rare. It is then sliced over a silky risotto flavored with a variety of mushrooms, aromatic vegetables, rosemary and Romano cheese. Reserved juices from the steak are poured on top to really reinforce the flavors.
This month's pasta is Shrimp and Toasted Corn Ravioli with Corn and Black Peppercorn Cream, a make-ahead dish that leaves you more time to spend with your guests. This dish is bursting with different tastes that blend together in a stunning combination. Fresh, homemade pasta is wrapped around a luscious filling made from toasted corn, fresh shrimp, herbs, spicy red pepper and ricotta, provolone and Romano cheeses. Toasting the corn brings out a spectacular flavor for the filling. The sauce combines cream, white wine, more corn and black peppercorns to really compliment the ravioli.
Any of these dishes makes a solid main course to really impress your guests. Making menus and planning dinner parties is one of my favorite things to do. Matching foods with the people I am inviting, music, and drinks, is almost as much fun as doing the actual cooking and eating.
I hope that you enjoy these dishes. I will see you again in April, when we get a small taste of spring and talk about side dishes. Have a wonderful March—and beware those Ides!
This page created March 2001
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