There are times when work and play collide so perfectly that the result is pure fun. Last Thursday, on a gorgeous summer evening in Mayville, N.D., that happened to us.
Tony and I had been invited to the home of Brent and Bonnie Freeland to prepare a dinner for eight guests, in support of Mayville State University. For the past several years, the Freelands, along with five other couples-Brent and Jennifer Kohls, Corey and Tracy McGillis, Shannon and Denise Bergstrom, Scott and Leah Larson and Brett and Laura Brudvik-have produced this dinner as their contribution to the Farmers Bowl auction, an annual fall event that raises money in support of Mayville State. This was the first time they'd brought in a guest chef to help with the meal.
We met with several of the hosts the week before the event, to get a feel for the kitchen and an idea of what the evening was all about. We toured the home and shared our plans to feature a North Dakota-inspired menu, including a tasting of North Dakota wines from Bear Creek Vineyard in Fargo.
With its spacious layout and sprawling backyard, Bonnie's home is ideal for entertaining, and we wanted to showcase it as best we could by bringing our guests into different rooms of the house and even outdoors.
The evening began in the kitchen, where our guests (including MSU president Gary Hagen and his wife, Debbie) sat comfortably around the large, center island, sipping Prosecco and enjoying Tuscan bean salad, walleye cakes and edamame spoons, all the while my Lost Italian gave a cooking demonstration.
For the next three courses, our guests moved into the dining room, where the elegant table echoed our North Dakota theme, complete with a rustic burlap and farm motif fabric, custom-made menus and place cards, gold water glasses and an abundance of fresh sunflowers.
Our guests dined on Tony's Gnocchi alla Funghi (little handmade pillows of potato pasta with an assortment of wild mushrooms), paired with Bear Creek's La Crescent and Frontenac Gris white wines, followed by an intermezzo course of watermelon garnished with fresh lime juice and mint, to cleanse the palate.
Next up was the main event: Carved bison tenderloin with blackberry sauce, bleu cheese whipped potatoes and grilled vegetables, paired with Bear Creek's Petite Pearl and Marquette red wines. To our surprise, no one there had ever tasted bison before, and Tony did not relax until that bison came out of the oven a perfect medium-rare.
Tony joined our guests before each course to talk about the wines and guide them through the tasting, and everyone was impressed by this new generation of North Dakota winemaking.
For dessert, we moved outside, where our guests sat fireside and enjoyed fresh berry galettes with homemade honey ice cream, North Dakota sunflower brittle and limoncello. Nearly every dish we served has been featured in our column, but the honey ice cream, inspired by a recipe I found in the New York Times, was new to our repertoire, and it was so good I don't think I can ever buy ice cream again.
Our host couples were the rock stars of the night. Not only were they extremely welcoming to us and their guests, but they helped out wherever they could, assisting in food preparation and serving tables with such attention to detail that they'd hold their own in any fine dining restaurant.
Three years ago, Tony, our son Gio, and I spent the entire summer visiting a different part of North Dakota every weekend, but somehow we missed Mayville. Maybe that was divine intervention, because I don't think we'd have ever left.
Honey Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
Makes: approximately 1½ pints
2 cups heavy cream
1 cup milk
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup honey
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
6 large egg yolks
2 vanilla beans
In a small pot over medium-low heat, bring the cream, milk, sugar, honey and salt to a gentle simmer, just until sugar completely dissolves, about 5 minutes. Remove pot from heat.In a separate bowl, whisk egg yolks. Keep whisking, and slowly add 2 cups of the hot cream into the yolks, then whisk the yolk mixture back into the pot with the cream.
Slice the vanilla beans lengthwise and scrape the seeds out; add the beans and the seeds to the cream. Return pot to medium-low heat and cook at a gentle simmer, stirring often, until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of a spoon. Let steep for 30 minutes.
Strain mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into a bowl and cool to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight. Churn in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer's instructions. Freeze overnight and serve.
Adapted from The Master Ice Cream Recipe by Melissa Clark
"Home With the Lost Italian" is a weekly column written by Sarah Nasello featuring recipes by her husband, Tony Nasello. The couple owns Sarello's restaurant in Moorhead and lives in Fargo with their 10-year-old son, Giovanni. Readers can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org. All previous recipes can be found at www.thelostitalian.areavoices.com.