Recipes For a Perfect Country Weekend
8 p.m. The car is loaded down with bags, boxes, toys and random pieces of furniture for my family's trip to our weekend home in the Catskill Mountains of New York. Although we bought the house seven years ago, we have yet to learn how to travel light. I take the wheel with my wife, Maura, who documented our weekend here, beside me; Oona, our seven-year-old daughter, and our slightly senile dachshund are in the back.
In between sessions of a Harry Potter trivia game, I start planning the weekend's menu. My friends Alessandro and Elizabeth Lunardi are coming to visit, which should make our meals especially memorable. Alessandro is a wine expert who works for Robert Mondavi, and I was once the editor of an Italian travel and food magazine, so we have a lot in common. Alessandro is bringing the wine and will also display one of his other talents: making my favorite dessert, crème caramel.
11 p.m. It's pitch-black and starting to snow as we approach our home, a renovated 1865 farmhouse near New Kingston. My half-asleep wife opens an eye and asks: "What's it going to be tonight?" For as long as we've been coming here, my Friday night challenge has been to drum up a fast pasta made with staples from the larder. Before I even take off my coat, I put a pot of salted water on the stove, then search for ingredients. There's always garlic (this year we grew enough to last us until next summer), as well as pancetta in the fridge, frozen vegetables and canned seafood. I make spicy spaghetti with tuna, chopped spinach and plenty of garlic.
11 a.m. Since Alessandro and Elizabeth won't arrive until the afternoon, there's time to shop for dinner. It used to be difficult to find good produce in the Catskills, but now there are well-stocked supermarkets and a great farmers' market in Roxbury—we snack around the stands there for lunch. A neighbor has started raising organically fed pigs, so for dinner I decide to purchase a pork loin from him. I'll wrap it in bacon and rosemary, then roast it so the meat is juicy and the bacon is crisp.
7 p.m. After a bracing cross-country ski run, I put Alessandro to work on his crème caramel, which he makes in a loaf pan; since the fridge is full, he cools it in the snow. In the meantime, for the first course, I prepare a variation on my mother's gnocchi: a simple combination of spinach, ricotta, flour and egg yolks that's shaped into patties, then boiled and tossed with butter and Parmesan.
By the time our other guests arrive, at 8 o'clock, bruschetta topped with cherry tomatoes, olives and prosciutto are ready to serve with the citrusy 2001 Attems Sauvignon Blanc that Alessandro brought.
9 p.m. The gnocchi are perfect—what a relief they didn't fall apart in the boiling water (which can happen if you don't add enough flour). The bacon-wrapped pork is tender, and the crème caramel is silky, with caramel dripping down the sides.
11 a.m. Everyone goes out for a brisk walk in the snow. I stay in to roast chickens, which guests will use for sandwiches or eat with a crisp fennel and orange salad (I first had it in Sicily made with blood oranges; here, I often substitute navel oranges). Then we'll all head back to the city, and I'll start thinking about what to cook next weekend.
Steven Wagner is an interior designer and freelance writer in Manhattan.