gate-crashing a Sicilian cocktail party

Liz: Well, hello. Welcome to a Special Travel Edition here at food for fun. I hope you brought your passport, as we’re going International today.

First, you’ll want to meet my friend Saucy of Saucy Gander. She puts my simple and homespun cooking to shame with her out-of-this-world elegant, showstopping fare. Saucy, everybody. Everybody, meet Saucy!

SG: Hi, all! Liz and I have been talking about a cocktail party for a while. Not just any cocktail party, but a stupendous affair that came straight from Sicily. Think the freshest seafood, fabulous cocktails, and sweet, sweet desserts. The only snag? We have to gate-crash that party.

We heard the host likes her food and wine. Liz had the idea of showing up with such beautiful food and drink that we would be the most popular people at the party. We prepared for our dramatic entrance. And then …

*Knock, Knock*

Host: Hello? …oh my goodness, it’s Liz and Saucy! Welcome, ladies! Please come in… And you have food? Bless you! Looks like you brought clams? And red punch? Cake? Liz, is it all as deLizious as it looks? Only the best for this party!

Liz: Saucy asked me to come up with Sicilian fare for your party, so I did what any self-respecting Midwestern cook would do: I googled. Clams casino seemed a lovely appetizer for an outdoor party—Your terrace is breathtaking, by the way. Those orange blossom flowers are stunning!—and they were simple to make. At their most basic, clams casino are clams on the halfshell topped with breadcrumbs and bacon. My recipe had more filling than clams, but the filling made a lovely side on its own.wpid-20140216_124920.jpg

Though an American dish, clams casino was invented by Italian immigrants using ingredients of their home country. Legend attributes the first clams casino recipe to a maître d’hotel at the Little Casino in Narragansett, Rhode Island in 1917, serving a woman of means who wanted something special for her guest. More specifically, Good Housekeeping Great American Classics names Mrs. Paran Stevens and maître d’hôtel Julius Keller. Stevens coined the dish after the hotel, and word and popularity of the dish has since spread.

Here, try them!

SG: How can you go wrong with clams and bacon?

Host: Loving these, thanks. We’ll pass them to guests *hands platter to passing guest* and now I’m hoping you‘ll tell us more about that cocktail. It’s bright red! Any chance it’s a negroni?wpid-20140215_153458.jpgLiz: You know your Sicilian cocktails! It is indeed a negroni. History here is a bit less certain than the clams, but the most widely reported account is that it was invented in Florence, Italy in 1919, at Caffè Casoni. Count Camillo Negroni asked bartender Fosco Scarselli to strengthen his favorite cocktail, the Americano, by replacing soda water with gin. An orange garnish, instead of the typical lemon, set it apart from the Americano as well.

History aside, all you need to know is that it’s a wonderful and bracing appetif—something to kick the appetite into high gear. The bitter Campari cuts the sweet vermouth, so if you like your drinks sugary, you’ll have to look elsewhere. But paired with these clams and the rest of your party fare, we have a good fit. And we’re going to get plenty of sweet from Saucy’s contribution. Prepare to be floored.

*pours negronis for all* Cheers! Now tell us about your cake, Saucy!

SG: The Triumph of Gluttony – a marvellous cake confectionery made in Sicilian convents from secret recipes.

gluttony doesn't have to be sinful

gluttony doesn’t have to be sinful

Host: Gluttony, I like that.

SG: *laughing* Good! There are many version of this cake. According to Sicilian food: Recipes From Italy’s Abundant Isle, one version has five thin layers of pan di spagna (sponge cake) holding a delicate biancomangiare filling. Biancomangiare, by the way, is an old-fashioned ‘custard’ thickened with cornflour. In the filling, there are ‘bright green chips of pistachio and green-gold cubes of glistening zuccata’ looking like ‘so many tesserae from the mosaic wall of an Arab-Norman chapel’. And, ‘the faint suggestion of jasmine gave context to an affirmation of stick cinnamon, crushed in a mortar and sprinkled over every layer.’

Some recipes are more like cassata, with a sweet ricotta filling. Others are covered in pasta reale (marzipan) or pistachio jam.

My version is a mixture of these recipes: pan di spagna, sweet ricotta, chopped pistachios, candied citron (instead of zuccata), and pistachio jam poured down the side. Oh I also sprinkled chocolate crumbs over each layer. Because, chocolate.

Host: Proof of Gluttony is in the eating. I’m going to have a taste. Oh I like this, I’m going to have more.

*a minute or so passes as the host enjoys bite after bite*

gluttony can be beautiful

gluttony can be beautiful

SG: But… You’ve eaten the whole cake?!

Guests: *crowding around* We also saw a cake? Are you bringing that around??

Host: erm..

SG: Liz, time to go mingle with the party guests!

Liz: I can’t wait! Thanks for finding this party, Saucy, and for making this phenomenal (and quick-to-disappear) dessert.

And the rest of the evening was as splendid as we expected…

wpid-mntsdcardPhoto-Editor2014-03-15-22.48.36.jpg.jpgwpid-20140216_124913.jpgClams Casino

  • 2 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 3 strips pancetta or center-cut bacon, each sliced into 6 equal pieces
  • 3 tablespoons finely diced red bell pepper
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup breadcrumbs (from 1 slice stale bread)
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 18 medium-size (about 2 1/2 inches) littleneck clams
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • Lemon wedges

In skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add pancetta; saute until cooked, but not quite crisp. With slotted spoon, transfer pancetta to paper towels to drain. Add bell pepper to skillet; cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add garlic; cook 1 minute longer. Remove from heat; stir in breadcrumbs, cheese, and black pepper.

Add about 2 inches water to Dutch oven or other heavy pot with tight-fitting lid; bring to a rapid boil over high heat. Add clams; cover. Cook 5 minutes or just until shells open. (It’s critical to remove and drain clams as soon as they open.) Cool clams until they can be handled. Twist and pull clam shells apart; remove clam. Place clam back into deeper of 2 shell halves. Set filled clam shells on broiler pan.

Heat broiler to high.

Divide breadcrumb mixture evenly among clams; top each with 1 piece pancetta. Broil about 8 inches from heat until topping is browned and pancetta edges are crisp. Sprinkle with parsley; serve hot with lemon wedges.

wpid-20140215_152825.jpgClassic Negroni

  • 1 1/2 ounces sweet vermouth
  • 1 1/2 ounces Campari
  • 1 1/2 ounces gin

In old-fashioned glass filled with ice, combine all ingredients; stir well. Garnish with orange slice.

Find Saucy’s cake recipe here.

58 thoughts on “gate-crashing a Sicilian cocktail party

  1. I am overseeing an exam for a 4-hour night class and DROOLING over your descriptions. I want clams casino right now. And that dessert? Really? You are killing me!!

    • hey, thanks! A four-hour exam? But you are overseeing so not taking, yes? Love that our party food has you drooling. Am with you on the cake–Saucy goes all out. Wouldn’t you just love a very large piece of that tower o’ gluttony?

  2. I feel the wind in my Pantene hair while I stand on the terrace. It’s like visiting Sicily without the layovers and the pat-downs at security. At first, I thought those were garbanzo beans at the bottom of the Triumph. It looks delicious, as well as the negroni and clams casino. I’ve never had clams in anything but chowder. Sounds deLizious!

    • That’s what this post is all about, K–international travel without the patdowns and carry-on restrictions.

      I thought that, too, about the Triumph garnish. From what I can tell, she improvised the entire cake. Talented and creative baker, that Saucy.

      Have made the negroni a number of times since starting this post (we’ve been at it for a looooong time–life kept getting in the way) and it’s now one of my favorites. Like a sweet little smack in the face, which really is more lovely than it sounds in this case.

      Appreciate you coming over. Always an honor 😀

  3. deLizious indeed! That was so much fun! Thank you for holding my hands through my first joint post too. If I find clams this weekend, I’ll make your recipe for a bunch of friends! 😀

    • It was a pleasure! I appreciate you sticking with me through the months and months and months of waiting for me to act! Looks like we pulled it off–yay! This calls for another round of negronis 🙂 And more of that cake if you have anymore over at your place.

    • Thanks, Seana 🙂 Cocktail queen is a title I like–thanks! Though I have plenty to learn. And having just bought a social media coupon for an online bartending class, I now have my chance to learn more. lol, shopping online is way too easy. One click and it’s yours. I’m going back to school 😉

      The clams were tasty and a first for me. Fun to try new things and I have Saucy to thank for it. Love how we’re all connecting. Appreciate you being here very much.

  4. Feel free to gate crash my house any time! This all looks so wonderful. A trip to Italy would be fabulous, I do so miss it. But at least this way there is no travel hassle!

    • oh, Mama–glad you’re here! This is as close as I’m going to get to Italy for a very long while. Blogging bonus, I guess–armchair travel. I’ll be over to gate-crash eventually, as I hear you pour excellent cocktails 🙂 AND make the best chocolate almonds.

      • Yeah, I don’t think I’ll be traveling overseas much til the kids are older…or after we pay for them all to go to college! Chocolate almonds, well they do go well with cocktails. You fix the drinks and I’ll fix snacks!

  5. I want some of everything, love clams casino, and that cake, wow, amazing. I would love a piece but it sounds like it disappeared as fast as it was put out. Negroni, one of my favorite cocktails. You’re killing me here, it’s like dying and going to Siciliano heaven.

    • nicest comment ever! Thank you, Suzanne 🙂 We aim to please.

      Totally thought of you when I was posting that negroni. Wish I could clink glasses with you. In lieu of the gluttony, we’d have a slice of your tiger cake. Problem solved.

  6. Oh, YUM. This looks wonderful. The food, the drink, the gorgeous, exotic location … all of it! The perfect little lunchtime getaway – a virtual quick trip to Italy is just what I needed to get through today. Thanks Liz (and SG!) 🙂

    • hey, amb 🙂 Glad you came to our Sicilian soiree. Well, technically someone else’s Sicilian soiree, but I guess bringing food and drink opens doors 🙂 Quick trip to Italy, yes, and without the security pat-down as Kerbey pointed out above. Viva l’Italia!

  7. Reading this on a conference call is a mistake…my stomach is growling, I think I’m drooling severely (which only I can hear as well as feel for I have the call on ‘mute’ as I type)…Clams casino is definitely going on the weekend’s menu and yes thank, I think I will have a Negroni…As for the cake — I”m a bit relieved the host scarfed the whole thing down, or I would have..

    • oh how I love that you multitask, Mimi. Though sorry about the tummy growl and severe drool. (If I didn’t know you better, I’d think you need to sign yourself up for professional help what with the growling and drooling and all 😉 ) Let me know if you make the clams and if you like. I had not had before, but they sounded like a fun combination of ingredients, and surprisingly simple for being so sophisticated. And the negroni quickly became one of my fave cocktails. Will need to pick up another bottle of Campari sooner rather than later. And that cake. *sigh* I don’t know how Saucy does it. That woman has a gift. Can you even imagine what it would look like if I tried to make it? bahahahaha. Not saying it wouldn’t taste good, but it would not look so lovely.

      Thanks for coming over, Mimi! Always love to see you.

    • Dear hungry mum. You are hereby invited to any and every party thrown here at food for fun. It would not be the same without you. All the best, Liz

      🙂 Thanks for the fun comment!

  8. oh the negroni — the classic chef cocktail! Always a good choice. That cake and the clams look fabulous as well — if you’re going to crash a party, at least you do it in style! =)

  9. This all looks amazing! And is getting me geared up for a trip to Marsala that my husband and I are going to take. We met in Sicily five years ago but haven’t been back since. This post was such a great reminder of how delicious that little island is. God, I’m gonna get fat.

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