When my friend Shannen came to visit me last weekend, we had already spent months talking about what we would cook. The gamut ran from the aforementioned croissants, to another round of homemade pasta, to a particular fried chicken recipe we’ve both wanted to try for a long time. However, when she actually showed up, it was with an early birthday present in tow: Jamie’s Italy. Suddenly, all other cooking plans dissipated and we found ourself building a menu for an Italian five course dinner. Being certifiable, we crafted the menu around noon, spent the afternoon shopping for ingredients, started cooking around 4:30, and actually managed to start eating at 7:30. We were very impressed with ourselves.

The food was fabulous, the wine was plentiful, and the company was amazing. What more can you ask of from an impromptu dinner party? In the next week, I will slowly unfold our menu, course by course. First up was the antipasti course, which involved two dishes. The first was a meat platter, which we crafted from the bountiful selection of Star Provisions. We built the platter around three meats: hot sopressata, bresaola, and pancetta. With the help of the cheese monger, we paired the sopressata and the bresaola with very different pecorinos, and we had our first dish. I believe that the pecorino we used with the sopressata was a pecorino sardo, it was mild and creamy and played well off of the spiciness of the sopressata. With the bresaola we used a classic pecorino romano, sharp and salty, shaved over the meat.

Our second antipasti dish was limoni di amalfi cotti al forno or amalfi baked lemons. We all agreed that this dish was one of the best of the evening. The cheese really picks up a strong lemon flavor and the anchovies melt away, leaving only a feint nuttiness. I had some trepidations about using the anchovies, having had a bad experience in the past. But apparently the key is getting jarred instead of canned, and splurging on higher quality anchovies doesn’t hurt either. Basil, picked fresh from my garden, and organic cherry tomatoes from my CSA finished off the dish nicely.

limoni di amalfi cotti al forno (from Jamie’s Italy)

Jamie says this serves 4, I think it more accurately serves 2. I would make sure each person has a lemon.

2 large unwaxed lemons
1 or 2 5 oz. balls of buffalo mozzarella sliced into 1/4 inch thick pieces
4 fresh basil leaves
2 anchovy fillets
2 ripe cherry tomatoes, halved
salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
2. Remove the ends of the lemons and discard, then cut the lemon in half crossways, giving you 4 1-inch circles.
3. Using a sharp knife, cut the flesh of the lemon out of each slice, leaving a hollow circle.
4. Place a square of waxed paper under each lemon ring (or a lemon leaf, if possible).
5. Cut a piece of mozzarella to fit in your lemon ring, then lay a basil leaf, half an anchovy fillet, and half a cherry tomato on top with a small pinch of salt and pepper. Put another slice of mozzarella on top.
6. Repeat with each of the other rings.
7. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes until golden and bubbling.
8. Remove from oven and serve with rice crackers (or grilled crostini), simply scoop the mozzarella out of the ring, and eat. If you have crostini, be sure to mop up the juices.