Summertime Frugal Feasts - on a boat!

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As the summer officially draws to a close, I couldn’t let the season end without giving proper due to the great Frugal Feasts we enjoyed. Our July Feast was hosted by my friend, Scott, who graciously offered us his home with the caveat that someone else had to cook!  So yours truly took up the role of head chef, with Scott and the lovely Hitomi as my sous-chefs. 

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One of the core principles I’ve always felt was at the center of our little experiment with Frugal Feasts—healthy, responsibly-sourced meals prepared for no more than $5 bucks a person—was that cooking shouldn’t be intimidating. Unlike Francesca, our August hostess who grew up in Sicily steeped in a tradition of daily cooking from fresh ingredients brought in from surrounding towns, I grew up in Queens happily eating my mother’s cooking but rarely venturing into the kitchen myself (more on Francesca’s Feast in a bit). Somewhere along the way, I cobbled together a comfort level in the kitchen, but I still rarely make dishes that consist of more than a handful of ingredients. To me, simplicity is a virtue.

So for our July Feast, I went with bruschetta topped with sauteed chickpeas and sweet corn (a summer favorite), a simple pasta primavera with shelled green peas, minced hot chilli, swiss chard and fresh mint, and an assortment of stone fruits roasted with ground black pepper and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar for dessert. 

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No dish had more than five main ingredients or took longer than roughly 30 minutes to prepare. And the taste? Well the smiles of satisfied Feasters don't lie:

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Now our August Feast was something of a first: it was held on a boat! Francesca and her husband Sam, having sailed down to Manhattan from Rhode Island, had the brilliant idea of hosting a Frugal Feast on their sailboat, the Dolce Vita (the "Sweet Life" in Italian). Not surprisingly, we jumped at the opportunity (as much for the novelty as for Francesca's homemade pesto). 

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Now, as you might imagine, kitchen space on a sailboat is fairly limited, so prep was a team affair. 

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Here is Francesca's full menu and recipes, equally simple and even more beautiful:

Three types of bruschetta:

1. Toasted bread (over a grill) with chopped fresh tomatoes, basil, finely chopped garlic, drizzled with olive oil and finished with a little bit of sea salt and fresh pepper.

2. Toasted bread with grilled yellow and red peppers, finely chopped garlic and parsley, chickpeas and/or crumbled goat cheese, drizzled with olive oil and finished with a little bit of sea salt.

3. Toasted bread with sauté mushrooms in olive oil and finely chopped garlic, fresh chopped parsley and fresh cherry tomatoes (from my garden!)

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Pasta with pesto:

In a food processor, mix basil, garlic, pinenuts, olive oil, and a bit of pecorino cheese until it becomes creamy. Boil water, add sea salt and a box of Barilla fettuccine, cook for 12 minutes or until "al dente", add pesto right the way (or olive oil) so that the pasta doesn't stick together!

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Dessert: grilled peaches with blackberry honey sauce:

Grill peaches on both sides over the grill for a couple of minutes. In a separate bowl, mix together blackberries, a teaspoon of brown sugar and three teaspoons of orange blossoms honey. Warm in a pot or the microwave and pour over peaches.

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And here's Fran describing the amazing honey she used (pictured above):

"The honey comes from the countryside of Catania. The guy who makes it is my childhood best friend's grandfather, and he has been making different types of honey for his entire life. It's pretty much the only thing that I can't get here and that I ask my mom to bring when she comes to visit. (I could maybe find other local types but I have too many delicious memories attached to this honey!)"

Not surprisingly, the meal wasn't just delicious but visually stunning. And you can't beat feasting outside on a warm summer night. 

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I’m sad to see summer and all its bounty go, but excited for what our second year of Fall Frugal Feasts has in store!