So recently here in our local paper (the post-gazette, at least until we move next week) they ran an article asking local chefs what their fantasy “last meal” on Earth would be. And that got me thinking ……hmmmm………..what would be *my* last meal?
My fantasy dinner would happen on a sultry, summer afternoon at a Tuscan fattoria – one of those farms where you can stay for the weekend and everything they serve is produced right there – from the wine to the tomatoes to the pork, lamb, and chicken. Why summer? That’s when everything yummy is at its peak, tomatoes especially.
We’d have a huge wooden table set up with benches (much more casual) but lots of other chairs set up under shade trees all around. I’m picturing our view to be the perfect Tuscan hillside – as we eat we can watch the light and colors change as the day travels on from afternoon to twilight. In addition to food, we’d sip on fabulous wine, Belgian beer (hey, it’s my fantasy), Negronis, and limoncello for after dinner.
Guests? I’d bring back all the relatives I love so dear who have passed on and who have taught me how to cook and appreciate food – my mother, my Nana, and my aunt Bert, who had her own grape arbor and who astounded me at age 4 when she stuck mint under my nose and told me, “Smell this – it smells like toothpaste.”
I’d also invite all my family and good girlfriends (we call ourselves “Ya-Ya’s”) and my old friend Scotty Nichols, who I haven’t seen in YEARS. I’d also invite some folks who I *know* would add entertainment and culinary value: Lidia Bastianich (Joe too, he’s in charge of wine) Jacques Pepin, Anthony Bourdain (with Ruhlman tagging along), and John Waters, who is hilarious, and a terrific author (read Crackpot!). Speaking of authors, I’d have to include my favorites – just so we could eventually talk books over after-dinner drinks: Paul Auster, Milan Kundera, Barbara Kingsolver, Elizabeth Gilbert. Margaret Cho and Dave Atell too, just so things don’t get too serious.
Food? We’d start with top-of-the-line fresh sashimi and nigiri sushi, like grade 1++++ toro – all prepared by an 80-year-old chef who’s been perfecting his craft since he was a toddler!
Then everything Italian – pastas, gnocchi, bruschetta, fritto misto, the works! Lots of fresh seafood, lots of cheeses and salumis, tomatoes and mozzarella, fresh basil and arugula, and a big pig roasting in a pit (of course). Perfectly-cooked Florentine beef with basil and tomatoes is also there, drizzled with nuevo olio (the best!). One-hundred-year-old balsamic vinegar is on the table as well, and everything, even the pasta, is handmade on the farm, from grain and flour milled on the farm. Truffles, lots of truffles shaved all over everything.
Dessert? The best tiramisu, cannolli, and mascarpone cheesecake you could ever ask for, handmade by a 90-year-old Sicilian grandmother. My grandmother’s 8-layer coconut cake. And fresh berries grown on the fattoria, drizzled with that exquisite balsamic. All served with homemade limoncello, grappa, and espresso (in my fantasy coffee beans grow on a fattoria). Music? Just the crickets chirping, laughter and conversation, and lots of drunken singing.
That’s my ideal dinner. Everyone would fall asleep stuffed, with a smile on their face. Only to awaken at 2am starving! No worry, because there’s a huge pot of Vietnamese pho simmering on the stove – it’s been simmering for hours and hours, and all the proper sides are there to accompany your soup: Thai basil, bamboo shoots, hot sauce, limes. The smell of this magical elixir is what wakes you up in the first place. People would begin to wander downstairs, pour themselves a heaping bowl, crowd around the table, and the sounds of happy slurping would fill the room. A perfect end to a perfect day.