Have I told you that I recently catered a wedding for 70 in Oxford, together with my friend Martina? Well, now the cat's out of the bag. Although (or maybe because) we started the preparations 3 days before the event, it was a lot less stressful than I had thought, but then her experienced hands make everything seem like a walk in the park!
Even the shopping trip was a source of amusement to us and bystanders alike: imagine the gaping jaws of fellow shoppers at the supermarket checkout as we shoved the contents of two big trolleys onto the conveyor belt: our list included items such as 22 red and 20 yellow peppers, 3 kilos of coffee, 600 ladyfingers, 4 litres of whipping cream, 15 packs of parma ham, 1 kilo of parmesan, 2 litres of olive oil, 16 aubergines, 6 kilos of mini-potatoes, 6 kilos of noodles - not to count the 15 kilos of pork tenderloin or 2 massive crates of salad plus other vegetables and herbs which we had ordered from the butcher's and greengrocer's respectively...
The bride and groom had chosen an Italian Summer Feast as their theme, so we prepared individual plates of antipasti (caponata, peperonata with fresh pesto and salami), a rosemary & garlic-infused roast pork with crackling with a massive buffet of various salads (potato salad with watercress & radishes, young leaf spinach with peas & feta in a lemon dressing, haricot beans with crispy bacon, pasta salad with sunblush tomatoes, olives & pine nuts and a simple green leaf salad) as well as vast amounts of tiramisu and fresh strawberries to round it all off.
It goes without saying that we also prepared some elaborate fingerfood to go with the Pimm's that greeted guests upon their arrival: spinach rolls with cream cheese & smoked salmon, tortilla wraps with goats cheese, rocket & roast red peppers, chicken pieces with sage wrapped in parma ham and skewers of marinated tortellini with basil & sundried tomatoes.
As with every catering, there was a fair amount of special requests, one of which could have easily ended in tears: we had one person with a nut allergy, so we prepared a special pot of pesto for the antipasti plate for her, omitting the pine nuts. We also prepared her plate first, so we could mix the pine nuts into the caponata only after her portion was dished up. But I broke out into a sweat when we talked to her minutes before serving the starter and had to find out that she also couldn't have any dairy, so the pesto, as well intended as it may have been, was definitely a no-go even without the nuts... so her food went into the bin and the plate was thoroughly scrubbed but with the remaining caponata now containing pine kernels, we ended up giving her a plate of peperonata without the pesto and loads of salami to compensate for the loss of the caponata. Having read numerous stories of people who suffer from an allergic reaction to nuts even after just kissing someone who's had nuts the day before, I kept peeking into the marquis to see whether the poor girl was breaking out in convulsions... to my great relief, she survived the event completely unharmed and the newly-weds came to enjoy their wedding reception without someone being rushed off to A&E. (We also managed to keep the couple blissfully unaware of the fact that a hot water pipe had burst two hours before they left to consummate their marriage... ah, the joys of a wedding held at your parents' place - there are always unexpected surprises to deal with around midnight!!!)
For the vegetarians among the wedding party we prepared single dishes of aubergine parmigiana - as I was too busy to take any pictures on the day, I recreated this dish for my family last weekend... and they absolutely loved it. This is also perfect for a dinner party as you can easily prepare it a day in advance.
It's a suprisingly light dish, despite the pan-fried aubergine slices and oodles of cheese, I guess that the freshness of the tomatoes just provides the perfect balance. With some fresh basil pesto on top, this is an excellent summer dish: and if you want to try this at home, remember to mop up all the juices thoroughly with a crusty ciabatta...
Aubergine (eggplant) parmigiana
2 medium aubergines
2 cloves garlic (peeled)
2 cans chopped tomatoes (440 g each)
2 tbsp balsamic vinegar
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp thyme leaves (fresh or dried)
2 handfuls fresh basil
3 mozzarella (cut into thin slices)
200 g parmesan (freshly grated)
2 tbsp fresh pesto (optional)
Preheat oven to 200 C.
Cut the aubergines (aka melanzane or eggplants) into 1-2 cm slices. In a heavy-based skillet or griddle pan, fry the augergine slices on both sides in a little bit of olive oil until they are soft and very brown. This might take a good 20 minutes. Set aside.
Prepare the tomato sauce. Crush the garlic and fry in 1 tbsp of olive oil. Add the chopped tomatoes and reduce until most of the juice is evaporated. Add the sugar and cook until completely dissolved. Season with the balsamic vinegar, thyme and chopped basil. Set aside.
To assemble, spread a thin layer of tomatoes onto the bottom of an oven-proof dish. I used an oval Schott glass dish, roughly 30 by 20 cm.
Arrange a layer of aubergine slices on top, then a layer of mozzarella. Repeat the layers until you have used up all the aubergines and mozzarella. You should finish with a think layer of tomato sauce.
Sprinkle evenly with the grated parmesan and dollops of pesto, if using. You can prepare this a day in advance up to this point.
Bake in the pre-heated oven for 30 minutes.
The parmigiana tastes equally good served piping hot or luke-warm, it can even be cooled down completely and be used as part of an antipasti plate.
Serve with green leaf salad and crusty bread to mop up the juices.