Sunday, April 21, 2013

On the Homefront: Wisteria and Sunshine Table

What? No Dalmatians on the table?
Somehow they just didn't seem appropriate this time
(but they will be back)!

Oh, lovely, lovely wisteria!  It is wisteria season in our part of Georgia right now, one of the many reasons spring is such a beautiful season here.  At this time of year you just can't miss it -- the intense fragrance, the luxurious abundance, the lovely pale purple flowers cascading down from the roadside trees.  These wisteria vines may be considered invasive pests, but what gorgeous pests they are!

I've mentioned my favorite movie, "Enchanted April" (1992), in a recent post.  One of the memorable lines in the movie is from an advertisement for the Italian castle available for rent which the four protagonists decide to share.  "Wisteria and sunshine" are promised to the renters, and this they find in abundance.  I decided these harbingers of spring would be a wonderful basis for a tablescape, especially since at the moment we too have a profusion of wisteria (and sometimes even sunshine!).  I chose a yellow and subtle purple color scheme, with some earthy brown to hint at a garden theme.  The yellow items on the table (placemats, dishes, and a couple of the candles) are round to represent the sun, while the floral tablecloth, napkins, and of course the flower arrangement bring wisteria to the mix.  In reality, wisteria on the dining table is not such a good idea, as the fragrance is overwhelming, but for a fantasy table it is quite lovely!

Portmeirion Botanic Garden tablecloth from HomeGoods; my favorite dark brown wooden bead placemat from Target (they are almost always on our table); round yellow woven paper placemat from Tuesday Morning; floral chintz napkin from a local flea market; yellow dinner plate and salad bowl (Block Basics by Cerind of Portugal); purple bread plate (Calvin Klein The Khaki Collection Cargo in Plum) from Tuesday Morning; wine glass inherited from my husband's mother; I can't remember where I got the water glass, wooden napkin ring, or faux wood-handled flatware.  The wisteria was harvested from vines growing in our roadside trees.

The menu for this meal was also inspired by a scene from my favorite movie, when the ladies, unaccustomed to eating long strands of pasta, attempt to figure out how to consume spaghetti with some semblance of grace.  Although not very authentically Italian, this menu is such an old-fashioned comfort meal.  It was served on almost every occasion I can remember as a child when groups of people came together for a shared dinner, whether as a fundraiser event, a girl scout outing, or just a casual gathering of friends.

Since I am allergic to beef I serve my spaghetti with nontraditional turkey meatballs, but of course ground beef can be used.  Any marinara sauce will do, from jarred storebought to a secret family recipe -- click here for a quick and easy homemade sauce, or here for a spaghetti recipe complete with turkey meatballs and a mushroom marinara sauce (you can leave out the meatballs, mushrooms, or even both if you like).  Back in the day, the salad would be served with Italian dressing, but for more modern times balsamic vinaigrette is more likely to be offered.  Italian bread can either be sliced, spread with garlic butter, and heated in the oven until warm, or simply warmed, sliced, and served with flavored olive oil for dipping, which seems to be popular now (although apparently this practice is not endorsed by Italians!).  In my youth these spaghetti dinners almost always ended with ice cream, but nowadays you might try gelato or Italian ice (or get all fancy and make a tiramisu!).

Wisteria and Sunshine Italian Dinner menu:

Chianti or Pinot Grigio
Spaghetti with Marinara Sauce, Meatballs, and Grated Parmesan
Green Salad/Italian Dressing or Balsamic Vinaigrette
Garlic Bread* or Italian Bread with Dipping Oil**
Ice Cream or Gelato/Italian Ice

*Garlic Bread

1 loaf Italian bread
1 large clove garlic, finely minced
1/2 C. butter, softened

Cut the loaf into 1 1/2-inch slices, almost but not quite all the way through.  Combine the garlic with the butter.  Let the mixture stand for a few minutes, then spread on both sides of each bread slice.  Wrap the loaf in foil.  Bake at 400 degrees for 12-15 minutes.

Note:  If you are fresh out of garlic, substitute 1/4 tsp. garlic powder (this is the way we always made it when I was growing up during the processed food years, because we never had fresh garlic).  You can gussy up this recipe with fresh parsley or other Italian herbs, paprika, or even cheeses, but I like to stick with the plain basic garlic bread myself.

**Italian Bread with Dipping Oil

1 loaf Italian bread
1/2 C. extra virgin olive oil
1 T. dark aged balsamic vinegar
fresh basil chiffonade for garnish (optional)

Warm the loaf and cut into slices.  Pour the olive oil into a shallow bowl or small rimmed plate.  Drizzle or swirl the balsamic vinegar over the top and garnish with basil.  Serve with the bread.

Note:  Again, the possibilities are endless when it comes to additions for this recipe -- fresh or dried herbs, Parmesan cheese, salt and/or pepper, even minced sun-dried tomatoes -- use your imagination, or keep it simple, which is the way I prefer.

Of course there is the usual bowl of chocolates, which could also serve as dessert  -- Lindt Lindor truffles again, this time in almond and hazelnut flavors.  We even have Amaretto and Frangelico as after dinner liqueurs, should anyone wish to indulge.

Wisteria, sunshine, and a simple Italian meal -- I almost feel as if I've been whisked away to a seaside villa on the coast of Italy!  Maybe some day I will experience the real thing, but for now I am enjoying my own version right at home.

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