The Olive Garden
(late august. number 42.)
This meal was kind of a continuation of what could be called Secret Restaurant Portland side projects. Started last year with the biweekly 'Secret Garden Parties,' and entering a new realm earlier this spring with 'Secret Salad Bar,' where we kept it casual, serve-yourself-style, and charged very little.
For this night, all we set out to do was create a similar dining experience to that of silly, suburban staple The Olive Garden, where the salad/breadsticks/pasta flows and flows. Why? I'd just come back from cooking a plated farm-to-table meal for 30 in Maine, our second large scale garden was popping off with tomatoes, we always do Italian food of some kind at this time of year, and we were all in the mood to slam loads of delicious pasta.
• Cheap red wine. Always and forever. Especially in our not-for-profit zone (this meal only cost $5 per guest). When you're eating this much, does it really matter?
• Crisp breadsticks
Some with herbs from S.G., some with black pepper, some with parmesan.
• Soft breadsticks
Pizza-hut style, with garlic flecks and melted mozz and parmesan.
Loads of fresh lettuces (not S.G., but from our friends at the Hungry Gardener backyard farmstead), assorted herbs, edible flowers, whatever we could find.
Dressed in a summery, white-wine based vinaigrette.
• Black Pepper Spaghetti
• Spinach Linguine
Both pastas were Alice Waters style with eggs from the Hungry Gardener chickens.
• Lamb Meatballs
Lamb, garlic, herbs, etc run through the meat grinder (incidentally, this is the 1 year anniversary of the last (and only previous time) Secret Restaurant Portland served meat). Sizzled outside on the grill.
• Grilled Eggplant (S.G.)
Long, slim eggplants in our magic "is it meat?" marinade, grilled before the lamb.
• Fresh Tomato (S.G.) Sauce
Another year, another fresh tomato sauce. A recipe I've been refining for a while now! Featured in previous incarnations in 2010 (roman holiday) and 2012 (last of the nightshades).
In brief: A mix of cleaned/trimmed/chopped tomatoes is poured into a stock pot with translucent onions and garlic sizzling in olive oil, tossed, brought to bubbling, then turned off and and poured into a large sieve, placed over a bowl. By frequently being pushed around, encouraged to drip out its juices.
The pulp is reserved, and juices returned to the stock pot. Boiled, simmered, then reduced over an hour or so. At last, mixed with the pulp. No herbs necessary. A tangy, intensely sharp sweetness.
• Classic Alfredo
With garlic, white pepper, parmesan powder, and a drop of two of white truffle oil.
• Lavender Arugula Pesto
An original Secret Restaurant Portland dish, this pesto first appeared at our first dinner way back in April, 2010. We had to buy arugula, but used S.G. lavender!
• Oregano-heavy Pesto
Oregano and a mixed collection of culinary herbs (S.G.).
• Classic Pesto Genovese
With Genovese basil (S.G.).
• Peach Semifreddo-ed Tiramisu
Fresh peach ice cream (thank you David Tanis), crushed palmier cookies (shop-bought, so sue us!), frozen together, drizzled with bourbon peach caramel. Really tasty but not attractive enough to include a photo of. It happens!