Sunday supper, calm in a storm

On Sunday evening - a thunderstorm brewing - the water for the pasta goes in the pot, and some salt.

So our supper begins. It hasn't begun so humbly in days, various feasts and celebrations having spirited us to finer tables, in one case concluding in the take-home gift of a hollow dark-chocolate pig commemorating the birthday of a friend born in the Year of the Pig.

One sprawling dinner in an Old City bistro included a passed hors d'oeuvre of tiny potato blinis topped with a bud of house-cured salmon, exquisite and sweet.

Another, in a cozy townhouse dining room, was an homage to spring foraging - a mince of wild ramps beneath the pecorino in tender ravioli; and baby fava beans slick beside spongy morels in the rabbit dish.

It wasn't an ordinary week, that's for sure.

Now the sky flashes, X-raying the bony black walnut tree out back; in the saute pan, olive oil and onions, garlic and grilled yellow peppers left over from the night before start their sizzle.

There were, as the days marched on, spontaneous encounters: At the granite counter of an oyster bar on Sansom Street, a thimble of homemade aquavit was offered, redolent of earthy caraway and citrus peel. (It was auditioning for a role - for which it was well-suited - in a Bloody Mary, or, noting its Scandinavian roots, the bartender suggested, a "Bloody Viking.")

At the Korean dry cleaner in the suburbs, the aroma from the back triggered a visit beyond the counter and a sample of the lunch from the tubs the staff had brought from home. The stewy greens were flavored with fish; the cucumbers snapped at the bite, salted and tangy and tinged with red chile paste.

At home, the rain has begun drumming on the roof. At the stove, a can of tomatoes is added to the saute pan, and three of the meatballs (sliced) that they make at the market in our borough, half a grated carrot, and a splash of red wine.

Steam is blowing out the ears of the pasta pot; the fettuccine is cracked in half, and tossed in to boil.

Each weekday brought another dispatch from the field.

A Japanese sushi master was butchering a 250-pound bluefin tuna, raised sustainably, for customers on Rittenhouse Square.

A Latino chef was importing fresh, not just cured, rare Iberico pork for his Basque restaurant.

An Italian wine bar at 13th and Sansom was putting Lancaster County baby spring lamb on the menu, and installing a stone in the basement to tan the hide.

After sundown, the storm outside is in full throat. The pasta is drained and sauced, and dusted with - because the parmesan is nowhere to be found - a grating of a nutty Spanish sheep's-milk cheese called Idiazabel.

The Schug pinot noir is poured.

In the wooden bowl is a salad of ripped-up romaine and ripe avocado, tossed with a light mustard vinaigrette, shaken in an old apple butter jar.

And somehow, though they'd been purchased only hours before, the blackberries and whipped cream are overlooked for dessert.

Instead, as the wind whips and the rain slices, we retreat to the back room this Sunday night, cracking the chocolate pig, piece by piece, on the surface of the coffee table.

 


Contact columnist Rick Nichols at 215-854-2715 or rnichols@phillynews.com. Read his recent work at http://go.philly.com/ricknichols.