I set up a group on Facebook to chose a date for our meeting and to keep track of who was making what, so no two people made the same dish. We met at my home because I offered it and I've got a dining table that can sit 18 or 20, if we get cozy, and a large kitchen that would allow people to finish dishes or reheat if necessary. (I was teasingly told that my 4 burner Viking range is not big enough, because we needed 6 burners at one point.)
There were a few guidelines: make the dish exactly as written and only for the number of people indicated. In other words, don't adjust the recipe based on the number of people coming for lunch and don't change the ingredients. (Confession: keeping to Marcella's low garlic quota was difficult for those of us who love garlic.) Keeping the volume of the dish to that in the book (most are for 4-6 people) seemed a little counter-intuitive, but everyone left the table feeling more than satisfied. Even a taste of each dish adds up quickly, and there were a total of 14 recipes made by 12 people. There were even some leftovers because there was so much food.
It is fortunate that so many Italian dishes do not have to be piping hot when eaten, because it is impossible to get that many people to arrive at the same time and get finishing touches on everything. We will have to keep that in mind for future meetings.
I initially thought about setting up the food as a buffet, but I think it worked better for us to sit down and pass a few dishes at a time. The cook was then asked to talk about making the dish and give any suggestions they might have about adjustments. The discussion led us to realize how many of the dishes used sage, which some folks only associate with making turkey. Another ingredient which surprised many people was butter (much more common in the north of Italy where Marcella was from than in the south) and a lot of it was used, but most of us agreed that it could easily be replaced with olive oil to make a vegan dish.
Bread: Focaccia with Fresh Rosemary and Salt (page 618-620) made by yours truly.
Soup Course: Minestrone alla Romagnola (page 84) made by Lisa Klink.
Pasta Course: Spinach and Ricotta Gnocchi (page 262) with Butter and Sage Sauce (page 192) made by Catherine Fleming
Catherine's Gnocchi were pretty much perfect: light and uniformly shaped. The butter sage sauce was wonderful. It is my favorite sauce for butternut squash ravioli. The recipe called for prosciutto, which I knew Catherine used, but the flavor was so mild, it could probably be left out so a vegetarian could eat it.
My sister T's cavatelli were an attempt to recreate a dish we remember our grandmother making on the kitchen table. I always think of my grandmother when I smell flour and eggs. She had a large family (six children, plus a mother-in-law in residence) and there were usually spouses, grandchildren, sisters, brothers, and cousins running in and out of the house on holidays and in the summer. She always seemed to be in the kitchen. T remembered the cavatelli being shaped with the thumb, but I remember three fingers being used to thin and shape the dough. That seemed to work better. While I was sure that the book had a recipe for cavatelli, it did not. Using the basic pasta recipe made for a somewhat heavy dough. I just found a recipe for cavatelli that might make a lighter product.
We questioned the wisdom of steaming the fresh spinach before adding it to the oil and garlic, because it is less time and dish consuming to simply allow the spinach to steam once it is in the oil and garlic. It was a really nice, homey dish.
Fish Course: Baked Fillet of Sole with Tomato, Oregano, and Hot Pepper (page 309) made by me
Mary's artichoke and potato dish was good, but she said that she did not know how to properly trim the artichokes. Everyone agreed that she should just try using the frozen artichokes from Trader Joe's the next time. It was, none-the-less, a really good side dish.
The Poultry Course: Oven-Roasted Chicken with Garlic and Rosemary (page 328) made by Sharon Baker
Mary's chicken livers were so delicious. I might consider making them and throwing them into the food processor to make a spreadable chopped liver. They would probably make a good appetizer that way, spread on bread or toast.
I am a huge eggplant fan, so Maria's eggplant was a big hit with me. She produced a beautiful platter of Milanese-style cutlets and the salsa verde was a lovely touch. I kept a few leftovers for lunch tomorrow.
Salad Course: Orange and Cucumber Salad (page 552) made by Laura Brennan.
Dessert Course: Diplomatico (page 577) made by Nan Cohen.
Liz just reminded me of another rule: chose a recipe without regard to allergies or preferences of other people attending. There will always be food that most people can or will eat and no one has to eat every offering to feel ful. My sister adds that it is important to identify any potential allergens when serving the food (for example peanuts and shellfish) so those with allergies can avoid them. We did try to have signs identifying the recipe for each dish (which is vital in a buffet, less important when dishes are passed at the table but still helpful.)
We are now in the process of choosing our next book, because we were a dozen happy women at the end of the meal.