With a ‘Little’ help from my friends
It seems that the older I get, the lazier I am in the kitchen. But after unofficially celebrating our first anniversary in Palm Springs, I decided that for our true anniversary date, I would make an extravagant dinner for my husband at home. What was I thinking?!
Luckily, Little Italy was minutes from the house, and within a few blocks I had collected all the ingredients for a gourmet meal that would require almost no effort on my part. Lazy like me? Here’s the checklist for a fabulous, two-person dinner around $40:
Assenti’s – is the headquarters for fresh pasta. Silver trays of fettuccine and penne met me at eye level with their savory, carb-filled rows and like a child at a dessert case, I felt overwhelmed when trying to choose one treat. It wasn't easy. Besides the endless assortment of shapes and sizes, they specialized in unique options like black pasta (with squid ink) and even included seasonal options like chocolate pasta around Valentine’s day. Plus, they offer an eggless variety for those vegan types ($5-7 for a lb. of pasta).
Besides pasta, they made their own sauces (i.e. sage butter, gorgonzola cream). I was going elsewhere for that, but I did need some meatballs. These babies must be baked because they opened like “delicate flower” with the gentlest prodding. I have to admit, I like mine a bit stiffer, but they won me over because extra garlicy = extra tasty.
Pete’s Quality Meats - how do you know when you’re getting fresh sausage?
1)when it’s one of three items on the menu
2)when they grind it right in front of you
This reminded me of the deli where they hung out in The Sopranos. It’s a grungy, tight space with only a few seats and even fewer menu items. Eggplant parm, meatballs and sausage are the only options, all as sandwiches, but only the sausage was available to-go* and we’re talking about some serious meat magic happening right before your eyes. Sweet or hot, you can taste the love in each link (5 links for around $8.)
*Maybe because you can buy the sausage uncooked and they only sell meatballs in sandwiches? Still, next time I’m going to figure out a way to get a tub of meatballs.
Buon Appetito Market – The best part about this place is that they have my favorite items from their expensive restaurant next door, but here, it’s affordable. Thick, clingy balsamic vinaigrette ($3.50) could breathe life into any lettuce and the creamy marinara ($4.50) was subtle enough to still showcase the fresh pasta. Then there’s the heroin infused tomato/basil dip ($4.50) - I’m assuming there’s heroin in it because I crave it constantly – and a loaf of crusty bread ($2) for appetizers.
Mona Lisa – Quality cold cuts from a cold faced woman. I needed a bit of salami and provolone for my crispy, cheesey-meat bread and Mona Lisa was the lady to see (¼ lb. of each - $6).
Jersey rides again: The Scone Pony – Any Jersey Shore local understands this witty pun taken from the Asbury Park institution and bar, The Stone Pony, where Springsteen became a legend and still surprises crowds by popping in for a jam session now and then. Spring Lake bakery, The Scone Pony rocks out with strong flavors and inventive concepts, one being the cupcake tower of multiple varieties (red velvet, German chocolate, chocolate with chocolate, vanilla with vanilla and vice versa) at our wedding as a fun twist on the traditional cake. But we did need something for the ceremonial cutting of the cake, so they baked a perfect gnache covered, chocolate round and topped it with detailed flowers of sugar that matched my bouquet.
Now we needed it for the traditional “first anniversary bite”, but we had left it back in my mom’s freezer in NJ (where we were married). She shipped it and even though it arrived a day late, we still had it in time to celebrate. I don’t know if it’s a testament to the bakery or to how gross my husband and I are, but we ate our entire year-old, day late, cross-country, wedding cake.
I had clearly found my soul(food) mate.