“Dispersed over five continents, the Roma are in fact one people united by their common roots, identity, cultural aspects and language, Romanes, with its many different dialects. The Roma have traveled the world since leaving their ancestral home of India about 1,000 years ago. Influenced by each culture whose path they have crossed, the Roma have, in turn, often inspired those with whom they have come into contact, partly through their unflagging love of freedom and their music, often central to their existence.”
– The Gypsy Chronicles
While I had no intention of creating confusion, apparently I did. The International Day of the Roma is the annual April 8 celebration of the Roma, or Romani people, those that the rest of the world often terms gypsies, not a festival for the capital city of Italy. For us, interestingly, it was also the fifth anniversary of our first Casa SaltShaker dinner – actually not even an official one, we hadn’t named it yet, it wasn’t even a full blown concept, it was a trial dinner with invited guests. It truly doesn’t seem like only five years since we posed the idea – and it will be another month before we get to our “official” anniversary – it often seems like we’ve been doing this far longer – in fact when people ask how long we’ve been open I usually say 5½ or 6 years without thinking about it, when in reality, it’ll be another 2½ months until my 6th anniversary of living here, and we didn’t start up right away. Though in a sense, I have been doing this far longer – since I began these sorts of dinners on a once a month basis with invited guests back on May 28, 1994 with what came to be known in the NYC underground circle as The Second Sunday Supper Circle.
But, back to this weekend – I decided to return to that menu of five years ago and play around with it a bit… given that as noted, the Roma have dispersed throughout the world, there is little that could be called a specific Romani cuisine, and to be honest, other than some dishes that were specifically called Romani or Gypsy or Gitano, and quite possibly had little or nothing to do with their culture but were just fanciful names, I don’t recall how I went about selecting dishes for that menu. Still, my recollection was that we enjoyed it all, so why not build from there?
I’m going to just refer you back to the linked post on the original dinner for the recipes for the most part, since they’re laid out in detail. I took the Romany Style Mussels – no idea where that one came from originally and in fact my writeup appears pretty much at the top of the google search for it – beefed up the sauce with a little bit of fresh chili and red onion, but other than that left it alone. Spooned over pizza dough, topped with mussels and a grating of pecorino cheese. I love that touch of the anise liqueur in the sauce.
The Olla Gitana, or Gypsy Pot, remains unchanged from that first version (I’ve also made this dish a couple of times for different vegetarian meals, it’s a great one!), with the exception of not finding French green beans in the market so I used the Italian flat variety.
Needing another course, I decided on Smoked Trout Risotto. It just occurred to me and since I have five continents worth of food to work with, why not? The risotto is made with a fish stock. The additions at the end, shallots that were caramelized in a little butter and chestnut puree, fresh goats’ milk cheese, and slivers of smoked trout. My favorite dish of the eve.
The Ternera Gitano, or Gypsy Veal, got a complete makeover. The recipe isn’t far off of what I did this time other than making a fresh beef stock rather than using bouillon as I did on that first dinner, and adding a good amount of hot paprika to the mix. The veal scallops are breaded with panko crumbs. On the side, polenta studded with sauteed zucchini and a dollop of horseradish. That worked.
And obviously the baked apple got a makeover as well. In this case I had piononos on my mind from the week’s earlier dinners. I made the cake roll using brown sugar in place of white and adding in a little Chinese five-spice. For the filling, I decided to make a pastry cream, but not with milk as it would typically be made, I wanted the flavor of apple to be really prominent, so I made pastry “cream” using pure apple juice. I also sauteed up some finely diced apples, chopped walnuts and yellow raisins in a little butter with some more brown sugar and spread that over the “cream”. Rolled it all up, chilled it, topped it with whipped cream and made us all very happy campers indeed!
And, on that note, it’s time for a “travelin’ show” as Cher put it, and I head out on the road for the next couple of weeks. Posts coming up from New York City and Louisville….