This past Sunday was our wedding anniversary (six great years!). We held our wedding at a charming Italian restaurant in downtown Raleigh, NC, called Caffe Luna. The main reason we chose Caffe Luna was because we love their food. They feature simple but delicious Italian cuisine that changes according to the seasons. I’ve always had a great meal there.
For my challenge last weekend, my husband wanted me to make some food we might have had at our wedding. You see, we didn’t actually get to eat much of the lavish buffet Caffe Luna put on for us. We were too busy being bride and groom that we barely sat down. But we heard from everyone else how great the food was, and it certainly looked good.
The problem with this challenge was that I couldn’t recall any specific dishes that were on the buffet. I remembered vaguely a few things — mixed vegetables, smoked salmon, poached salmon — but nothing more specific came to mind. Unfortunately, Caffe Luna’s website is not a big help. While they do have a catering menu online, it’s pretty bare bones: cheese and crackers; marinated chicken; marinated flank steak. That’s as much description as you get. To tell you the truth, I don’t think the menu is set in stone, but is rather based on what’s in season and available, which is how it should be. I remember that the buffet table was groaning with food. There certainly was a lot more than seems to be listed on the website menu.
So I turned to my mainstay for Italian cooking, Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking by Marcella Hazan. If you like Italian food and you don’t have this cookbook, you are not cooking the best Italian dishes you could be. Every recipe I have made out of this book has been molto squisito. These recipes are very simple, as good Italian cooking should be. They let the ingredients shine and highlight the flavors with restrained additions, such as olive oil, fresh herbs, wine, salt and pepper.
Unfortunately, because these dishes are so simple, my husband thought I cheated in last weekend’s challenge when I presented him chicken in white wine and lemon and a platter of baked vegetables. But even though the dishes weren’t a challenge to cook, they are a model of restraint, and the results were mouth-watering. They also reflected what I remember of Caffe Luna’s food at our wedding: good food and lots of it, simply prepared, wonderful to eat.
First up, the vegetables. Nothing could be easier. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Select an assortment of seasonal vegetables. I chose Yukon gold potatoes, red peppers, tomatoes and onions, but almost any vegetables will work. Peel the potatoes, peppers and onion. Cut everything into wedges (discarding the seeds and ribs from the peppers). Arrange on a large, oven-proof platter. Drizzle all over with very good olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Toss gently to make sure everything is well coated. Roast for 25-30 minutes, until the potatoes are browned on the edges and tender. The oil and juices from the vegetables combine in the bottom of the platter to make a delicious sauce, so don’t forget to drizzle the juices over the vegetables before serving.
While the vegetables are cooking, prepare the chicken. You can use bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces or boneless chicken breasts for this recipe, although bone-in chicken will take longer to cook. In a large pan, heat some olive oil and butter over medium-high. Brown the chicken pieces on both sides, about 2-3 minutes per side. Reduce the heat to medium-low. Add to the pan 3 peeled garlic cloves, the minced leaves from one rosemary stalk, salt and pepper. Pour in about ½ cup dry white wine. Partially cover and let cook, turning the chicken pieces once or twice, until the chicken is cooked through. Remove the chicken to a serving pan. The juices remaining in the bottom of the pan should be thickened and browned. Add the juice and zest of 1 lemon. Stir and scrape up any browned bits. Spoon this sauce over the chicken to serve.
Nothing could be simpler. But serve with good, crusty Italian bread, and you’ll have a meal fit for an anniversary celebration.