In last week's cover story about six area food professionals and their fantasy "last suppers," we invited our readers to send us their versions of what they would eat for their last meal on Earth. Here are some of the responses.
My fantasy dinner would happen on a sultry, summer afternoon at a Tuscan fattoria -- one of those farms where you can stay for the weekend and everything they serve is produced right there -- from the wine to the tomatoes to the pork, lamb, and chicken. Why summer? That's when everything yummy is at its peak, tomatoes especially.
We'd have a huge wooden table set up with benches (much more casual) but lots of other chairs set up under shade trees all around. I'm picturing our view to be the perfect Tuscan hillside -- as we eat we can watch the light and colors change as the day travels on from afternoon to twilight. In addition to food, we'd sip on fabulous wine, Belgian beer (hey, it's my fantasy), Negronis, and limoncello for after dinner.
Guests? I'd bring back all the relatives I love so dear who have passed on and who have taught me how to cook and appreciate food -- my mother, my Nana, and my aunt Bert, who had her own grape arbor and who astounded me at age 4 when she stuck mint under my nose and told me, "Smell this -- it smells like toothpaste."
I'd also invite all my family and good girlfriends, as well as some folks who I know would add entertainment and culinary value: Lidia Bastianich (Joe too, he's in charge of wine), Jacques Pepin, Anthony Bourdain (with Ruhlman tagging along), and John Waters, who is hilarious, and a terrific author (read "Crackpot"!). Speaking of authors, I'd have to include my favorites -- just so we could eventually talk books over after-dinner drinks: Paul Auster, Milan Kundera, Barbara Kingsolver, Elizabeth Gilbert. Margaret Cho and Dave Atell, too, just so things don't get too serious.
Food? We'd start with top-of-the-line fresh sashimi and nigiri sushi, like grade 1++++ toro -- all prepared by an 80-year-old chef who's been perfecting his craft since he was a toddler!
Then everything Italian -- pastas, gnocchi, bruschetta, fritto misto, the works! Lots of fresh seafood, lots of cheeses and salumis, tomatoes and mozzarella, fresh basil and arugula, and a big pig roasting in a pit (of course). Perfectly-cooked Florentine beef with basil and tomatoes is also there, drizzled with nuevo olio (the best!). One-hundred-year-old balsamic vinegar is on the table as well, and everything, even the pasta, is handmade on the farm, from grain and flour milled on the farm.
Dessert? The best tiramisu, cannolli, and mascarpone cheesecake you could ever ask for, handmade by a 90-year-old Sicilian grandmother. My grandmother's 8-layer coconut cake. And fresh berries grown on the fattoria, drizzled with that exquisite balsamic. All served with homemade limoncello, grappa, and espresso (in my fantasy coffee beans grow on a fattoria). Music? Just the crickets chirping, laughter and conversation, and lots of drunken singing.
That's my ideal dinner. Everyone would fall asleep stuffed, with a smile on their face. Only to awaken at 2 a.m. starving! No worry, because there's a huge pot of Vietnamese pho simmering on the stove -- it's been simmering for hours and hours, and all the proper sides are there to accompany your soup: Thai basil, bamboo shoots, hot sauce, limes. The smell of this magical elixir is what wakes you up in the first place. People would begin to wander downstairs, pour themselves a heaping bowl, crowd around the table, and the sounds of happy slurping would fill the room. A perfect end to a perfect day.
I've often said, "Forget dinner, just give me dessert." So, it's not surprising to me that my last meal would consist entirely of sweets:
• A perfectly ripe fresh fig
• A sliced juicy mango
• One of Jo's Chocolate Covered Strawberries (Jo is my sister and this is her specialty)
• A slice of Amish oatmeal pie
• One World's Best Cookie
• A hot fudge sundae with sweet cream ice cream and double chocolate hot fudge sauce
• A slice of my friend Linda's Chocolate Truffle Cake with Whipped Cream and Fresh Raspberries
• One dark chocolate covered caramel
• One Godiva chocolate heart
• One piece of almond butter toffee
It would be late afternoon on a warm, sunny September day. I would be with my family, sitting around a table on the deck of a beach house overlooking the ocean on the Eastern Shore. The table would have giant mounds of hot, spicy, extra-jumbo steamed bluefin crabs fresh from the Chesapeake, accompanied with several pounds of equally spicy steamed shrimp and corn on the cob. All washed down with excellent icy cold Penn Brewery weizen beer, as we watch the sun sink into the ocean to the sound of the 1812 Overture. The best Champagne, chocolate, and laughter for the finality.
My father, at the age of 4, and his siblings were orphaned in 1921. Both of their parents met tragic ends: Their father died in 1918 when he was hit by a train while working as a trackwalker for the Pennsylvania Railroad. Three years later their mother was burned to death while lighting the stove. This past summer I learned their identity, and met my cousins for the first time. Along with my cousins, I would like to have my last supper with Carmella and Donato Cirone, both immigrants from Italy.
The meal would take place in their Italian village on Easter just as the sun is rising, and the simple meal would consist of native cheeses, breads and sausages, along with a local red wine. We would discuss everything that we have missed about their lives.
Being an ordinary person with no claim to culinary fame or expertise, my choices will not be exotic. Where? At home. With all my dear ones, friends and family. The menu: garden salad with Newman's Own olive oil and vinegar dressing, spaghetti the way my mother made it, corn on the cob, devil's food cake with my mother's fudge icing (real fudge, you understand), and of course, Champagne.
I would break up my courses as follows.
Appetizer: Late morning with Elvis at Graceland, and my 4-year-old son, Alex (Elvis' littlest fan). We'd dine on pulled pork pizza from Coletta's Pizzeria and Restaurant and combine that with two or three racks of ribs from Corky's. And wash it all down with freezing cold shaved ice Mr. Pibb sodas!
Late afternoon would be in Pittsburgh with my late father and again, my son, who never got to meet each other. We'd be in the gameroom/bar of Dad's Shaler home, setting of many Penguins/Steelers games, for a grilled leg of lamb with garlic, rosemary and olive oil, and of course a HUGE pot of his "famous" whatever-was-in-the-refrigerator beef vegetable soup. That would all be enjoyed with some freezing cold beer.
And my final meal of the night would be in Aruba, on the beach of the Allegro Resort with my beautiful wife. We'd dine on grilled flank steak with a shiitake/button mushrooms and pinot noir reduction and a side of calamari fra diavolo. I'd "ride into the sunset" literally and figuratively as the sun sets on the equator with plenty of just-below-room temperature pinot gris from Elk Grove Vineyard in the Willamette Valley of Oregon and a few sips of Sambuca.
It is twilight on Sept. 30. The warmth of the sun has receded and the lanterns provide a warm glow.
This send-off feast would be on the verandah of my dream house -- a plantation-style house with lots of shutters, vibrant colors and flowing curtains. I can hear the sea from where we are sitting, but I cannot see it.
The menu: A succulent whole snapper steamed in coconut milk with just enough thyme, onion, and Scotch bonnet peppers, accompanied by rice and peas (rice and kidney beans). There are platters of fried plantains and handmade roti, curry chicken and a cool salad of shredded cabbage, carrots and raisins. Dessert is rum and raisin ice cream made with coconut milk instead of cow's milk, black rum cake and rice pudding.
This meal would be accompanied by carrot juice (hand grated and strained, of course) mixed with Dragon Stout (a dark beer) and sweetened with condensed milk with a shaving of nutmeg on top.
My dining companions are my husband, my brothers and sisters, and my friends who are like family and all their children. With all the laughter, the great food, and love I could go quietly and happily into the night.
I would begin with salad -- lots of fresh lettuce, tomatoes, mushrooms, green and red onions, croutons, and a delicious olive oil and vinaigrette dressing with garlic.
Stuffed grape leaves (meatless so I could die without the Karma of a poor lamb on my conscience).
Roasted small red potatoes (roasted with butter, garlic and herbs).
Sweet corn on the cob with tons of butter and homemade bread (white) with honey and butter.
Dessert: Warm homemade peach cobbler with vanilla ice cream OR warm New Orleans bread pudding with rum sauce OR BOTH since it is a last supper.
The day is Sunday afternoon.
The setting is in huge garden filled with flowers and trees and green grass -- like the Garden of Eden must have been.
To drink: First Growth Rothschild cabernet sauvignon 1979. (Nectar of the Gods!)
Companions (if they could be people who have died):
Companions (if they have to be alive):
Pope Benedict XVI
Doug Shields (president of Pittsburgh City Council)
Bill Peduto (City Council)
And many, many others, but I limited myself to eight guests.
As soon as I saw this article, it literally brought a tear to my eye, and I was immediately transported back to my mother's classic holiday meal, which I will call "The Noah's Ark Feast," because there was at least two of everything.
(Since I am a diabetic and have to count carbs, this very WELL could be my last meal!!!!)
The setting is a perfect spring Sunday, 4 in the afternoon at my mother's house, which has magically grown to five times its normal size to accommodate all the food for all the guests. Heck, you are not a guest, you are family.
Grown-ups are seated here around one table, which is magically both big enough to hold everyone yet small enough for everyone to talk to each other.
Over there is the kids' table, which is sitting on the big blue plastic table cloth to catch any spills.
And out there, crying and banging on the patio door, are my two ex-husbands, begging to be let in, but that's not gonna happen.
Aaaah, now the feast begins, and I can feel an artery or two hardening as I just think about what we eat:
Green and black olives
Carrot sticks and celery sticks (some with cream cheese)
Cranberry sauce, that shimmery shivering ruby cylinder right from the can
Cranberry sauce again, but this is the canned whole berry delight
Ham with brown sugar/mustard/honey glaze and maraschino cherries stuck with toothpicks in the center hole of each pineapple slice
Turkey (with 26 drumsticks so there will be no fighting)
Mashed potatoes -- real ones, plenty of butter, with gravy on the side, no giblets (see why further down).
Sweet potato casserole -- the classic recipe, floating in brown sugar and butter, smothered in marshmallows, and even though I hated it, I still have to include it
Corn and peas -- in separate dishes, started out frozen and cooked in real butter
I want to include MY broccoli casserole also.
Stuffing -- one bowl soft and moist direct from inside the turkey, and one pan, slightly crispy (but moist in the middle) baked in the oven.
Mother's cranberry jello salad (recipe available on request)
Apricot Mallo Jell-O (recipe ditto)
And I will make the desserts (Dad said my pie crust was better than Mom's):
Mince pie -- my recipe, not Mom's
Banana cream Pie
Lemon meringue pie
Gotta have chocolate brownies with cream cheese filling
Don't forget our version of the Pittsburgh cookie table -- every one homemade and stored in layers separated by waxed paper squares in coffee cans, but not really for dessert, more for snacking all day and all night.
Beverages? Milk for the young'uns, coffee (must be Breakfast Cheer brand), iced tea and water. We never had wine for dinner.
Who is enjoying this meal? My grandparents, my mother and her sisters, my three children, their wonderful spouses and my 10 grandchildren, to start with; some of my dear friends who may bring only those members of their own families they WANT to be with (hey, might as well fulfill their fantasy as well!); my former Girl Scout leader, Belle Wilhelm; and my high-school sweetheart, with his wife and five children.
The "celebrity" guests would include Isaac Asimov and Michelangelo, Jeff Foxworthy and Phyllis Diller, Susan Butcher (of Iditarod fame) and Lance Armstrong, Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn (fresh from refurbishing "The African Queen") and the young Mickey Rooney, Fred Rogers and Aesop (to entertain the kids), the man (unfound by Google search!) who invented the mammogram hardware (we don't want to hurt him, just talk a little), the Air Force commander of Area 51 and Spock (who will come with Leonard Nimoy), Judas (to get his side of the betrayal) and Mother Teresa, Van Cliburn and Buddy Holly, Mario Andretti and Willie Shoemaker (their respective rides waiting outside), Julia Child and my daughter-in-law Barbara (who does not cook), and I could go on and on.
Prince, Pat and Jeff, the canine members of our family, are dozing in the living room, legs twitching, dreaming undoubtedly of chasing turkeys for more of those delicious giblets (and gravy) recently sprinkled liberally over their dry food.
Wow, those culinary memories were almost as satisfying as the real deal.