I have a confession to make. Once a week, usually on Friday, I take the night off from cooking. I love to cook, it's my passion, and the feeling of achievement I get when an idea I have comes together as a delicious meal is immense. But on Fridays, we either go out to eat or pick something up to eat in. I personally prefer eating out because that also eliminates any clean-up, the bane of any cook's existence. This past Friday, wanting to try somewhere new, my husband and I turned to Trip Advisor, where some 302 restaurants in St. John's are rated and commented on by people who've eaten there. We were looking for somewhere casual but not too casual, and certainly weren't looking to break the bank either. We decided on Piatto Pizzeria and Enoteca, a pizza and wine bar downtown.
To start, my husband and I ordered Peroni beer and the Tagliere di Salutti, which is a platter of cured meats including prosciutto, assorted cheeses, olives, roasted red peppers and garlic flatbread. I've never had Italian beer before and I'm not really a beer drinker but sometimes, when you plan on having pizza, beer is the way to go and Peroni was certainly a great choice to accompany the exceptional Tagliere di Salutti. Our 11 year old daughter, Mackenzie, had the Pacchi di Prosciutto, which is fresh fior de latte mozzarella balls wrapped in prosciutto and baked in San Marzano tomato sauce. It too was exceptional. Underestimating the size of the pizzas, we each ordered a pizza and had plenty to take home. I had the Siciliana, which is a delicious traditional-style pizza. Being a lover of banana peppers, my husband ordered the Amanti Delta Carne Speziata, and Mackenzie had one of the pizza bianche, The Stephanie, with goat cheese, prosciutto and carmelized pears on Grana Padano, one of the most popular cheeses of Italy, all drizzled with a balsamic reduction. The food was spectacular, ambience was casual yet classy, and the prices were very reasonable. Piatto doesn't take reservations but we were fortunate enough to be seated right away at a table downstairs right by the window, which was opened to the ceiling due to the beautiful weather on Friday. It almost felt like we were in Italy and not only were we very pleased at our choice, we can't wait to go back!
As good as our meal was, while eating my pizza, my eyes fell on this beautiful salad that the waitress was bringing to the table next to us. It was a Caprese Salad and instantly I knew that I was going to make a Caprese Salad on Saturday night for 'Date Night At Home' with my husband. Every Saturday, we have a late dinner. I try to make something a little more exotic than the regular weekight fare and attempt to pair it with a nice bottle of wine for us to share. Saturday night is our time to relax, reconnect and regroup over a beautiful meal, sipping on a new wine, listening to 'our' music, which is pretty much any genre that's pre 1980, and perhaps play a friendly game or two (or more likely a mini-tournament), of cards while we chat, laugh, sing and sometimes dance.
Caprese Salad has to be the easiest salad to make, hands down. A traditional Caprese has mozzarella, plum tomatoes, fresh basil, sliced and layered, drizzled only with extra virgin olive oil. I wanted to jazz my Caprese Salad up a bit so I added capers, (simply because I love them), and a balsamic vinegar reduction. To make the balsamic reduction, simply pour about 1/2 cup or more balsamic into a small saucepan and bring it to a gentle boil over medium low heat, letting it simmer away until it reduces to a slightly syrupy consistency. You have to keep an eye on the pot just to make sure it doesn't come to a rolling boil and reduce too much, but that's about the extent of labour involved. To compose the salad, slice plum tomatoes into 1/2 inch slices, mozza into 1/4 inch slices and, on a platter, layer one slice tomato, one leaf basil, one slice mozza, repeat. I only season with freshly ground black pepper, drizzle with olive oil and balsamic reduction. Caprese Salad is proof positive that simple is sometimes best!
As wonderful as the Caprese Salad was, and it was really, really wonderful, I wanted something more to offer for our Date Night meal. I wanted it to be light, delicious, Italian and healthy. Shellfish Linguini in a white wine broth was what I decided on making. First I sauteed my shrimp, just until pink, in garlic butter, then I placed them on a plate to add back to the pan later. Next I sauteed onion, mushrooms and cherry tomatoes in the same pan, and then placed them on the same dish as the shrimp, not wanting to steam them with the mussels. I then added the mussels, some minced garlic and white wine to the pan, covered it and let the mussels cook util they were open. After discarding any unopened mussels, I added the cooked shrimp, mushrooms, cherry tomatoes and onion, and tossed in cooked and drained fresh pasta. I opted for fresh pasta, which my local grocery store carries in the deli department, over dry simply so that I could time the meal better. Fresh pasta only takes about 8 minutes to cook when placed in boiling water, so by adding the pasta to the boiling water and then started with the shrimp, everything was ready at the same time, and from pan to plate in under 10 minutes. I sprinkled a little chopped fresh Italian parsley and served the Shellfish Linguini with the Caprese Salad and some crusty Ciabatta bread to sop up all the beautiful broth.
I paired this meal with Bartali Centalto Toscana Bianco, approximately $12.95 at my local liquor store. This dry white wine made from a blend of Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes is from Toscana in the central west region of Italy. It has a lovely fruity floral scent with a fruity taste and good finish. (Look at me, sounding all wine officianado!). I also used it in the making of my Shellfish Linguini. I can honestly say that the marriage of all the flavours in this dish was absolutely fantastic. Every taste bud in my mouth was alive, aware, involved and in heaven! Just thinking about it now makes me wonder how my husband would feel about me replicating this dish again this week for 'Date Night At Home'.
By using extra virgin olive oil, drastically reducing the salt and eliminating the fat from a cream sauce, this past week's 'Date Night At Home' of Caprese Salad and Shellfish Linguini was a healthied-up a meal that will reaffirm your status as rock star and make your partner swoon! Caprese Salad with Shellfish Linguini....easy, healthied-up, inexpensive AND delicious!