Guess who’s coming to dinner
A menu of lobster, crostini and clam fritters sets the course for smooth sailing when (yikes!) an old love meets a new one.
My guests at this dinner will be my ex-wife, who left several years ago, and my current partner of thirteen years. This will be their first meeting. So, what do I serve at such a “civilized” occasion? Uncharted territory. I check my trusty Amy Vanderbilt. No suggestions. I’m on my own.
My former wife, Marci, who lives happily in Cincinnati with her husband and a menagerie of pets, is coming to the Cape for a physiotherapy conference. She has asked if we can get together for supper one night. Rather than going out, my partner and I have decided to host her for dinner here, in the house she hasn’t seen since she left all those years ago.
I extend the invitation via e-mail. She accepts. She requests clam fritters, a recipe I have not thought of since we were a couple. This is a problem. I’ve already planned the menu. Clam fritters are not part of it. The thought of interjecting clam fritters into my perfectly planned menu throws me into a little tailspin, not just because of the culinary discord the thought creates, but also because of the memories the recipe evokes. Interesting, how certain foods can trigger memories of happy and pleasant times in one’s life. But she asked; I can do it. I want to do it.
The day arrives. The table is set, flowers arranged. A three-layered chocolate cake sits in the middle of the table, piled high with dark chocolate curls and a light dusting of powered sugar. Next to it stands a small blackboard reading, “Welcome Marci.”
The evening begins with my introducing my past to my present.
We sit on the deck over looking the ocean, three very different individuals drinking three cocktails of our individual choice: a margarita for Marci, Sauvignon Blanc for my partner, Campari and soda for me. As we munch on flavorful crostini – garlic-flavored toast rounds, topped with freshly chopped, slightly spicy tomatoes, crumbled Gorgonzola and shredded fresh basil, I sense a common bond building among the three of us, an odd sensation of the past and present merging as one. Is it our shared love of food? I wonder. Or is there something else?
We finish our aperitifs and appetizers and move into the kitchen for clam fritters. Marci confesses that she has felt slightly guilty for suggesting them, and feels even guiltier when I tell her I harvested the clams myself. I add that while clam fritters didn’t fit into my planned menu, once she requested them, it felt perfectly natural to include them. Where would she get authentic clam fritters in the Midwest? And after all, this is a special occasion. A one-of-a-kind.
Marci remembers clam fritters being the size of golf balls. She is right, that is the way they should be made. I went a little overboard. These were much bigger. We don’t eat many, but savor the few we do consume.
Our dinner continues with grilled scallop-stuffed lobsters served with a New Zealand Tohu Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2002, a delicate wine, one with a distinct, pleasing quality. It is a perfect match for grilled lobsters and is also enjoyable as a cocktail wine.
Next, I serve a crispy salad of mixed greens tossed with a light oil and lemon. This definitely aids in the digestion of this rich meal.
The perfect ending is a small wedge of chocolate cake topped with a dollop of whipped cream, accompanied by soothing chamomile tea.
Later that evening I look back over the meal’s eclectic menu, the different personalities involved, and the experience of bringing the past and present together.
The food was fun, the energy high, new friendships were made, and once again I was reminded of how food brings people together, no matter what the occasion or situation might be.
Following is a letter I received from Marci after our dinner:
I’m still thinking about the wonderful time I had with the two of you last week. I was touched by the magnificent meal of grilled stuffed lobster, crostini, wonderful chocolate cake and of course the clam fritters, all topped off by the “Welcome Marci” sign, wine and roses. Really I will never forget it.
When I asked you to make me clam fritters, John, and you did, it was like when my mother would ask me what special thing could she cook for me. It has to do with memories, I think? It was so sweet of you to do it.
I am giving the recipe for one lobster. You can double the ingredients for two.
If you prefer baking the lobsters instead of grilling them, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cover the lobster stuffing with a lettuce leaf for the first 10 minutes to keep the stuffing moist and prevent it from overcooking. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.
Grilled Lobster With Scallop Stuffing
1 (1 1/2 to 2 pound) lobster
6 tablespoons melted butter
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/4 cup chopped scallops
3 tablespoons dry sherry
1 teaspoon fresh chopped thyme
1/2 cup Ritz cracker crumbs, crushed
1/4 cup potato chips, crushed
Fresh ground pepper to taste
Prepare lobster according to instructions in box.
Combine melted butter and lemon juice: set aside. In a bowl mix the scallops, sherry, thyme, three tablespoons of the butter and pepper. With your hands, lightly toss in the cracker crumbs and potato chips. Keep the mixture light.
Placing the lobsters on their back on a baking sheet, sprinkle the lobster cavity with fresh ground pepper and drizzle with two tablespoons of lemon butter. Fill the cavity with the stuffing. Do not pack it. Drizzle with remaining lemon butter. Take a small skewer and push it through the tail to hold the tail down. This will prevent the tail from curling when cooking.
Place (each) lobster on its back on a well-heated grill 5 to 6 inches from the heat source. Cover the grill and cook 25 to 30 minutes. Check the lobster frequently and move it around the grill to insure that the lobsters cook evenly.
This is a treat in the summer when tomatoes are ripe and juicy and basil is fragrant.
Crostini With Tomatoes And Gongonzola
1 (23-inch) baguette, cut diagonally into 1/2-inch slices (it should make about 26 to 28 slices, 3-by-2-inches)
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup olive oil
6 plum tomatoes, seeded and finely chopped
1 bunch fresh basil, slice into strips
Red pepper flakes to taste
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix garlic with the olive oil and generously brush each slice of bread. Place on a baking sheet and grill or broil until light brown.
Mix the tomatoes with red pepper, salt and pepper in a medium bowl.
Place about 1 heaping tablespoon of the tomato mixture on each piece of bread.
Top each with about 1/2 teaspoon crumbled gorgonzola. Place on the baking sheet, and put under the broiler until slightly melted.
Remove from baking sheet, place on a platter and scatter the basil leaves over the Crostini. Serve immediately. Serves 8 to 10 as hors d’oeuvres.
I suggest serving either the Crostini with Gorgonzola or these fritters as hors d’oeuvres. Each is a rich starter on its own. Clam fritters are terrific on their own, served with a salad and a nice chilled glass of the New Zealand Tohu Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc.
2 eggs, separated
1 cup minced clams (sea clams or quahogs*) seasoned with salt and pepper
1/2 cup clam juice
1/4 cup milk
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
Vegetable oil for frying
Beat the egg whites until light. Add clam juice and milk. Sift the flour with the baking powder, salt, and cayenne pepper. Add to the wet ingredients. Stir in the seasoned clams. If the batter is too thick add a little milk. Drop by spoonfuls into hot oil, turning once, until golden brown. Makes about 20 fritters.
*If you do not wish to buy and steam the clams yourself (about seven pounds of quahogs will average about one cup), it is also possible to use 2 (61/2-ounce) cans of clams and the clam juice for this recipe.
(Published: August 6, 2003)