Sting Came Back For Seconds. These are the words I want printed on a T- Shirt (and possibly my grave). Due to a bizarre set of circumstances last fall, I found myself cooking for Sting (yes, THAT Sting!). My friends were hosting a dinner party but were stuck in traffic coming back from a wedding in Baltimore and called to see if I could help which I was only too happy to do.
With no time to spare, I decided we should go with some very easy starters; a platter of mozzarella and tomatoes as well as one of Bresaola and Fennel. Then, I decided on a classic pasta that always goes down well; orecchiette with homemade pesto, green beans and ricotta. As a side note, it has always astounded me that I have never been able to find a good pesto in the city. How is this possible when all the ingredients are so readily available and can be whizzed up in a blender in no time at all. Budding artisans take note!
While my friends’ was one of the most beautiful of New York apartments, it was pretty clear no one had ever cooked a meal in it. So with 15 minutes to go before guests arrived, my friend and I found ourselves raiding their neighbor’s apartment, prying open shelves, digging through the pantry, and basically grabbing anything we could get our hands on. Everything from plates to chairs to pots and pans was pilfered and later returned (I hope). My accomplice then busied herself tidying while I started slicing the tomatoes and finding a pot big enough to boil pasta for 12 people. We were still running around when suddenly, out of nowhere, Sting appeared in the kitchen. He came right over and kissed me on the cheek and introduced himself. The furthest thing from a cool New Yorker, I tried desperately to remain calm and chat casually while slicing tomatoes. In reality, I was terrified that I would slice off a finger or that he would somehow inherently know that I had a poster of him on my wall throughout my teenage years.
Before I knew it though, with all my digits intact, the other guests had arrived and everyone was eating, chatting and having a wonderful evening thanks to the relaxed charm of our hosts. I have always believed that you can put on a dinner with minimal effort and time if you just have a few good ingredients. To paraphrase another of my heroes, Nigel Slater, the focus of a dinner should not be on the food but the people. The key to a successful evening is to stick a big vat of something delicious and unpretentious in the middle of a table and let everyone dig in. Serve plates that are impressively complicated culinary works of art and all anyone will be thinking is “how can I possibly have these people over to dinner and top this?”
I think Nigel would have been proud as large bowls of pasta were passed around the table never deterring from the chatter. But of course MY proudest moment was when Sting took a break from talking to a glamorous playwright to get up and serve himself a second bowl and declared the pasta delicious! So here’s a recipe for orecchiette with pesto, green beans and ricotta – if it’s good enough for Sting…
Orecchiette with Pesto and Green Beans
Serves 4 (as a starter)
1lb of Orecchiette
¼ green beans (trimmed)
1 tablespoon ricotta
2 cups of fresh basil leaves
½ cup of extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons of pine nuts
1 clove of garlic (peeled and lightly crushed)
½ teaspoon of salt
¼ cup of grated pecorino
½ cup of grated parmesan
2 tablespoons of butter (softened)
1. Put a large pot of salted water on to boil.
2. Blend the basil, pine nuts, oil, garlic and salt in a blender until smooth.
3. Transfer to a bowl and fold in the 2 cheeses and butter.
4. Add the orecchiette to the boiling water.
5. 5 minutes before the pasta is ready, add the green beans to the water.
6. Remove a cup of water from the pasta before draining.
7. Drain the pasta and beans and return to the pan.
8. Add the pesto and the ricotta and mix well.
9. You may need to add some of the reserved water if it feels to dry and bring to the table to rehydrate for seconds (if there are any!)