Feasting With Friends


Recently, a couple of friends and I were treated to a five-course feast by Mario and Stephanie Belvedere of Pine.

Mario teaches Italian for Gila Community College in Payson and Stephanie works at Payson Regional Medical Center. A while back, Mario and his good friend, Gerardo Moceri of Gerardo's Italian Bistro, put on a Sicilian Festival as a fund-raiser for the Isabelle Hunt Memorial Library in Pine.

He was expecting maybe 55 people to come to the Rimside Grille in Pine for the event. They served more than 200.

Anyway, at the time I did the story promoting the festival, Mario invited me to dinner. When my friend and co-editor of The Rim Review, Carol La Valley, did a story on his Italian language classes, he invited her to dinner, too.

It took us about a year-and-a-half to find a space in our schedules, but we finally had our long-planned dinner with Mario and Stephanie.

It was terrific! We started with champagne and appetizers of cheese and bread, then had a fabulous soup of ceci beans and mushrooms, followed by homemade pasta with sausage and sauce. The main dish was thin-cut lamb with a light sauce and thinly sliced potatoes, with eggplant and stuffed mushroom side dishes, plus a salad. It was all topped off with Tres Leches Cake with fresh fruit and whipped cream. In addition to the champagne, we had two kinds of wine with dinner, a walnut liqueur and espresso -- to which Carol and I both added the liqueur.

Stephanie was good enough to share a couple of the recipes with me, plus one for preparing vegetables, and I found the cake recipe with an Internet search.

The soup recipe, as presented, is somewhat time-consuming, but the time can be cut some by using canned garbanzo beans. Whether using canned or prepared dried beans, this soup is well worth the effort. It is rich and spicy and would make a great meal on its own with a loaf of nice, warm, crusty bread.

Ceci Bean Soup with Mushrooms

1-1/2 cups dried chickpeas (garbanzo beans)


Garbanzos, dried or canned are key to Ceci Bean Soup.

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 yellow onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 small sprig fresh rosemary

1 tablespoon tomato paste

salt and freshly ground pepper

4 cups vegetable stock or water

1/3 cup pearled farro (emmer wheat - pearled barley would make a nice substitution if you are having trouble finding farro)


1/2 pound fresh porcino or cremino mushrooms, brushed clean

1-1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 clove garlic, crushed

2 tablespoons dry white wine

1 sprig fresh thyme or calamint

salt and freshly ground pepper


Mushrooms prepared for the Ceci Bean Soup absorb a wonderful flavor from the garlic, thyme and white wine.

1-1/2 teaspoons butter

Place chickpeas in a large bowl and add cold water to cover generously. Let soak overnight.

Drain the chickpeas, then rinse well and transfer to a large saucepan. Add 8 cups of cold water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, uncovered, until the chickpeas are tender, about two hours. Set aside.

In a soup pot, over medium-low heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onion, garlic and rosemary and sauté until the onion is softened and translucent, but not browned (about six minutes).

In a small bowl, dissolve the tomato paste in 1 cup of warm water and add to the pot.

Stir in the chickpeas and their cooking liquid and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Bring to a simmer over medium heat and cook for three minutes. Add the stock, return to a simmer and cook, uncovered, until the flavors have melded, about 30 minutes longer.

Remove and discard the rosemary sprig.

Blend the soup with an immersion or stand blender until smooth and creamy (or pass through a fine-mesh sieve for the smoothest consistency and return to the pot). Return soup to a simmer over medium heat, add the farro and cook until the farro is tender, but still firm, about 25 minutes.

To prepare the mushrooms, cut away the tips of the mushroom stems. Thinly slice the mushrooms lengthwise. In a large, heavy-bottomed frying pan, over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the garlic and sauté until golden and fragrant, about two minutes. Remove and discard the garlic. Add the mushrooms and sauté, stirring with a wooden spoon, until they begin to soften, three to four minutes (they might stick to the pan for a moment before beginning to release their juices, but it is not necessary to add more oil). Raise the heat to high, add the wine and thyme and cook, stirring constantly, until the alcohol from the wine has evaporated, about three minutes. Reduce heat to low, season to taste with salt and pepper and continue to cook, stirring often, until the mushrooms are cooked through and their juices have evaporated, about 15 minutes longer. Remove from the heat and stir in the butter. Discard the thyme sprig.

Add the mushrooms to the soup and stir to combine. Ladle the soup into warmed individual bowls and serve.

Thin-cut Lamb Shoulder Chops with Sauce

4 lamb shoulder chops, 1/2 inch thick or less

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (plus more as needed)

2 tablespoons butter

4 large cloves of garlic, sliced

1 to 2 teaspoons finely chopped anchovies (1 or 2 small fillets)

1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes (or to taste)

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons Dijon-style mustard

1 cup or more of vegetable or turkey broth or water

Trim the fat from the outside edges of the chops. Lightly salt them on both sides. Spread the flour on a plate or on a piece of foil and dredge chops in it on both sides, coating lightly, shaking off the excess.

Put oil and butter in a 14-inch skillet and set over medium-high heat. As the butter foams, lay the chops in the pan. Fry them on the first side for two minutes, then flip and fry for another two minutes. The meat should only be light brown, if it is darker, the chops are cooking too fast and heat should be lowered.

Scatter the garlic in the pan (not on the meat) and cook for a minute, stirring the slices until they're sizzling. Drop in anchovy bits, avoiding meat, and stir as they melt away. Shake the skillet and sprinkle in the hot pepper flakes and give them a minute of sizzling.

Turn the meat over again and fry for another two minutes, shaking pan a couple of times. Turn chops again - there should be some nice caramelization on the meat by now.

Add the vinegar into the pan, shake to distribute, then cover all with 1/4 teaspoon of salt.

Turn meat, add mustard, stir into other ingredients and cook for about a minute.

Turn meat again and add broth. It should be up around the sides of the meat, but not covering it. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to a simmering bubble. Cook for another four to five minutes until sauce is syrupy. Turn meat again and remove from heat.

Serve on warmed plates, first placing a chop, then drizzling sauce over the top.

Brussels Sprouts with Lemon Sauce

1-1/2 pounds fresh, firm Brussels sprouts

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

4 large cloves garlic, peeled and sliced (about 3 tablespoons)

1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

1/4 teaspoon salt

Lemon Sauce

2 lemons

4 or 5 large cloves garlic, peeled

2 medium onions, peeled and cut in wedges of big chunks (about 3 cups)

1/2 teaspoons salt, or more to taste

1/4 teaspoons hot red pepper flakes

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1-1/2 cups water

Undo the Brussels sprouts

Rinse and drain the sprouts. Using a big bowl and a sharp paring knife, cut off and discard 1/4 inch or so of the base of each sprout. Stick the point of the knife into the remaining base and remove the core (just as you would remove the core of a cabbage or cauliflower) and discard.

Separate the leaves of the Brussels sprouts into the bowl. Discard any leaves that are wilted or blemished. Continue to separate until reaching the tiny ones that can't be pulled apart, cut this bundle into slivers.

Skillet-Cook the Brussels sprouts

Put oil in a 12-inch skillet, add garlic and set over medium heat. Cook garlic to caramelize for about four minutes or so. Shaking the pan occasionally.

Add the Brussels sprout leaves, shaking pan to spread, the season with salt and hot red pepper flakes.

Cover the skillet and let sprout leaves cook and wilt for four to five minutes, shaking pan occasionally.

Uncover, turn leaves with spoon or tongs. Leaves should be sizzling, not browning - if browning, lower heat - return cover and cook another four to five minutes. The leaves should be soft and reduced in volume, but still green and glistening.

Lemon sauce

Rinse and dry lemons. With a sharp paring knife or vegetable peeler, shave off the outer yellow zest in strips without taking any of the bitter, white pith. You will need about 1/4 cup of the strips, packed together.

Juice the lemon, straining out the seeds and pulp, to get about 1/3 cup of juice.

Put lemon juice, zest, garlic, onion, hot pepper flakes and salt in a two-quart saucepan, add water and 1 tablespoon of the oil. Bring to a boil, cover and cook for about 20 minutes at a gentle boil. Remove cover and cook rapidly for 20 to 30 minutes more or until volume is reduced by half and the onion pieces are barely covered in liquid.

Purée the warm sauce in a blender or food processor, adding the remaining olive oil while processing, making sure oil is fully incorporated into other ingredients.

Taste and add more salt if needed. Serve warm. May be stored in the refrigerator, makes 1-1/2 cups of sauce.

To serve Brussels sprouts with Lemon Sauce, spread a half-cup of warm sauce in bottom of warm platter and pile Brussels sprouts on top. Scoop a little sauce with each serving of the leaves.

The sauce is also good with sautéed eggplant, asparagus, broccoli, zucchini, green beans or poached carrots.

Tres Leches Cake

1 can sweetened condensed milk

1 can evaporated milk

1 cup whole milk

1 white cake mix

1, 16-ounce contained whipped topping

Sliced bananas, sliced, whole or crushed strawberries, any other fresh or canned fruit or canned pie filling

Prepare cake according to package directions. Let cool in pan.

Combine the milks.

Poke holes in the cake with a fork and pour combined milk over cake.

Chill several hours before serving. To serve, top cake with fruit and cover with whipped topping.

I think this cake would be good with my family's favorite fruit salad, which we call "Orange Stuff." It is made with a combination of whipped topping and cottage cheese as the base, add drained, crushed pineapple and mandarin oranges and sugar-free orange Jell-O, plus pecans.

Serving it with the Tres Leches Cake, I am going to try making it with twice the whipped topping and no cottage cheese.

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