New Year’s Eve is my favorite food holiday, full stop. We don’t have to follow any specific food traditions, and instead we can make a number of small bites that follow whatever whims we may have in mind that particular year. In reality, the only rules that we do have around the holiday are simple:
- No leaving the apartment, even to do this same thing at someone else’s house, because that never ends well.
- Loungey clothes are necessary, if not required.
- Games will be played
- Wine, especially bubbly wines, will be consumed.
When our friend W asked what our plans were, I explained that we were pretty rigid on the not-leaving-the-apartment thing (seriously, the last time we tried to do this on New Year’s Eve, I ended up with a stomach virus) but that they were welcome to join us. As soon as she said that they would love to come, out came the cookbooks to brainstorm some ideas on what to make. I may have also put the El Bulli episode of No Reservations on while I browsed, and ultimately came up with more ideas for this dinner than I did for the dinners I was supposed to be planning for…because that’s how things tend to go.
Besides: a meal of this scale requires several days of brainstorming, and I ended up finding some fine meals to have on Sunday and Monday shortly thereafter. So there, husband.
When W and M arrived, we had two of the cicchetti assembled (salmon-wrapped ricotta and bresaola-wrapped arugula), and then I quickly laid out all of the meats and cheeses for the charcuterie board after collecting their coats. A bottle of cava was then opened, cheers, made, and there was very little evidence that an hour earlier we were facing a rather annoying Entertaining Emergency.
You see, I had this kind of wacky idea to do a spin on the pork bun: instead of making the buns from scratch, why not stuff either some pork belly or roasted pork and some quick pickles into a popover instead? Yes, they have a crust that comes from baking in the oven, but on the inside they are fluffy and soft from the big steam bubble that forms and gives each roll its shape. And as much as I love the Momofuku cookbook, David Chang even admits that his steamed bun recipe yields about fifty buns at minimum; since we were cooking for four, a batch of six popovers felt much more manageable. Theoretically I could have frozen the rest of the steamed buns had I made them, but our freezer is stuffed with so many other things and there would be no room at the inn.
As it turned out, that very-stuffed freezer ended up being our saving grace when Michael’s slow-roasted pork loin experiment completely and utterly failed. The piece I had gotten from the butcher counter had been far too lean, and despite Michael brining the thing and slow-roasting it for four hours, the roast came out mealy and dry and almost completely flavorless. He thought at first that he was being too harsh a critic, but when I tasted it for myself I couldn’t help but agree. Thankfully, we were able to punt a bit because we had a few packages of ground meat in the freezer and enough ingredients to make at least a close approximation of bánh mì meatballs from Vietnamese Home Cooking. No, the balls didn’t have everything the recipe called for–we were completely out of shallots, for example, and had to make do with red onion–but for a last-minute switch, they ended up being very, very good.
A few things we had in mind never actually made it to service, because by the time we had finished the meatballs and popovers, we were all quite stuffed. A few rounds of Smart Ass (thank you, W&M, for introducing this to us and bringing us a copy!) and Cards Against Humanity helped us all digest, and by the time midnight rolled ’round, we were all ready to enjoy some champagne and toast the new year.
The popovers deserve their own post (especially because they gave me an awesome excuse to tweet a picture of the first batch I ever made to Alton Brown), but in the meantime I’ll share the salmon-ricotta wraps up above. They’re easy to bring together and look almost as good as they taste. The original recipe in Polpo calls for slices of smoked salmon, but I prefer using smoked salmon trimmings, because the trimmings are often in long strips that form really neat little packages that are the perfect size. The measurements here are approximate, but you’ll get enough for four people as part of a lovely spread of snacks.
Smoked Salmon and Ricotta Wraps
adapted from Polpo
- 4 oz of smoked salmon slices or trimmings (if you can only get whole slices, trim them down into strips)
- 3/4 cup of ricotta cheese
- Zest of 1/2 of lemon, along with juice
- A small handful of chopped dill, plus a few pieces for garnish
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
In a bowl, mix the cheese, lemon zest (not the juice), chopped dill, and salt and pepper to taste. Take a small dollop of the mixture and place on one of the smoked salmon strips; gently roll up and secure with a toothpick and place on your serving dish. Repeat until you’ve used up the mixture; garnish with pieces of dill and lemon juice and serve immediately.