Prosciutto, Purple Daikon, and a Wine Experiment

Sometimes even the simplest meal is an opportunity to learn. Such was the case with my very limited lunch yesterday. I pan fried the last slices of my sourdough bread loaf, spread a little butter on the toast, covered each piece with thinly-sliced Tuscan Prosciutto, added very thin, mandoline-cut slices of Purple Daikon Radish, and sprinkled lightly with sea salt crystals from the Grenadines. So far, so good…

Now, for the dilemma….I had two open bottles of wine, both from Jan d’Amore. Do I want the white wine (Chicca, from Pantaleone, Passerina grapes) or the red wine (Il Purgatorio, from Federico Curtaz, Nerello Mascalese)?

Side-by-side, these candidates offered their best to me in my comparisons. My conclusions: both were good, neither was a slam-dunk choice, and I felt the Etna Rosso was just a bit better match. Too bad I had no friends with me to join the experiment. My guess is that each would have had his/her own opinions, and so we could have had a lively discussion as a result. Perhaps next time…

The Winner! (this time)
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My Shortest Blog Post, Ever

There is nothing better than a good Negroni.

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Fingerlings: New Coin of the Realm

One of the many foods I like, and my wife does not, is Fingerling Potatoes. Therefore, I don’t make them often, but when I do, I make enough for a couple of days. One night last week I was reheating leftovers for us for dinner. Barbara had a small bowl of steamed Yukon Gold potatoes, so I served those with her plate of leftovers, and I made one of Alice Waters’ simplest and most ingenious recipes: Fingerling Potato Coins, from her book, Chez Panisse Vegetables, to go on mine.

They were very good, and there was a large bowl of very small potato coins left over for the next day. Lunch is one of my best times for culinary invention: fewer time pressures, no one else to please, and a storehouse of this and that which can be combined or re-imagined. Thus was born the Gratin of Fingerling Potato Coins.

I took out one of my favorites — a hammered steel pan from Smithey Ironware Co. in North Charleston, SC, purchased through Food52 (I get no remuneration for any of the products I discuss here. I do this for fun, not money.). After rubbing the pan with a tablespoon of olive oil, I distributed the coins all around, added a little salt and pepper, then generously sprinkled grated cheese on top. I don’t actually remember which cheeses I used. It may have been Montasio and Aged Provolone, leftover from the Lemon Pizzas, or it could have been the Sardinian Pecorino I adore. Or all three. In any case, I mixed in some dried breadcrumbs, too, and then drizzled with olive oil on top. The pan was put in the top third of my oven and broiled until the cheese was melting and browned. Garnished with freshly-snipped Spring chives from our herb garden, and accompanied by a glass of one of my favorite Muscadets, my lunch was complete.

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Never Too Many Pastas

Homemade, Fresh, Campania

The title is one of my philosophies of life. And it explains why I chose to make fresh pasta with vegetables in the style (and wine) of Campania for dinner one night and a different dish with packaged pasta from Sardinia for lunch the next day.

Making fresh pasta has become easy and satisfying, so I do it as often as possible. The elements are the same: 100 g. specialty flour, one large or extra large egg, a good pinch of salt, and 1-2 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil. This is the perfect amount for the two of us.

Variety is introduced two ways — the shape of the pasta and the accompanying sauce. I do fool around a bit with the flour combinations, but those changes are subtle. On this particular night, I chose to combine 50 g. Molino Grassi “00” soft wheat pasta flour with 50 g. of Gustiamo’s Rimacinata Cuore flour. The taste, texture, and dough “feel” was just right.

My hand-cranked pasta machine has three different attachments for cutting the pasta sheets I roll out into three shapes: spaghetti, tagliatelle, and fettuccine. Since my sauce was made of chunky southern Italian vegetables (zucchini, Japanese eggplant, and San Marzano tomatoes), I initially thought that spaghetti would work nicely. However, after cutting the first half of the dough, I decided the spaghetti was a bit too fine for our taste, so I did the second half as fettuccine. The combination was a testament to free thinking.

It all came together (vegetables, pasta, pasta cooking water, Barbara’s homemade breadcrumbs, and grated Pecorino) very nicely. Remembering that San Marzano tomatoes are from that region, I chose a Mastroberardino Irpinia Aglianico for the wine. Molto bene!

Packaged, Dry, Sardinia

I had been reviewing some old photographic files of previous food triumphs, and I came across this one, and the recipe I originally used to make the dish. These renewed my interest in the iconic Sardinian pasta — known variously as fregola, fregula, or fregole.

Fregola Sarda Pasta with Olives & Tomatoes, January 2015

I was in the mood for pasta for lunch; we had Taggiasca olives in the refrigerator; and I recalled a leftover half-package of the dried Fregula from sometime in the last decade, hiding in the bottom of our pasta drawer in the kitchen. The rest was easy, and lunch was good. The Aglianico worked well with this dish, too.

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Wood-Fired Lemon Pizza

Good food inspires all kinds of creative activity for me. Recently, I was looking over new Instagram posts from a few of the people I follow, and I was immediately struck by this one, from Chris Bianco, the founder of Pizzeria Bianco in Phoenix. Our good friends, Pat and Pete, introduced us to this place almost 20 years ago, and in my opinion this is still the best pizzeria in the country.

Instagram post from Chris Bianco

I noticed that this unorthodox pie is similar in some ways to the sliced oranges and oil-cured black olive pizza we learned from Caleb Barber and now make frequently in our own oven. I was intrigued by the cheeses (Montasio and Aged Provolone vs. Mozzarella) and by the absence of tomato sauce. From that point on, I was in motion. The next week scheduled a trip to Eataly Boston to obtain the cheeses and best-quality spring onions, and we carved out a day on the weekend to invite Laura and Michael over for the first wood-fired pizzas of the Spring.

It turned out to be a letter-perfect day for the event. Temperature in the low 70’s, no bugs or humidity, the firewood was dry from lack of rain, and I was already in a good mood. Barbara made a bunch of her best pizza dough balls, and we cranked out and shared 5 pizzas among us.

Really hot fire
Lemon pizza on the peel, ready for the oven
Finished lemon and orange pizzas
Orange and Black Olive Pizza — still the best
Montepulciano d’Abuzzo | Lemon, spring onions, oregano, chili oil | Orange, black olives | Zucchini, onion |

Thank you, Chris Bianco! And friends.

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Recurring Vegetable Leftovers

I have difficulty discarding perfectly good leftovers, even after having had them several times in different forms. Early in April I made two favorite French recipes for a dinner, Zucchini Tomato Gratin and Roast Provençal Tomatoes. We finished the tomatoes the next day, but the gratin lingered for a week, no matter how many times I reheated and ate them. Finally, I settled on a way to re-create the dish and make it still exciting. Here’s the story.

Original dishes

Leftover #1 — spruced up with Pipérade and Ricotta Salata

Leftover #2 – Squash, Pipérade, breadcrumbs, Pecorino — new gratin in a hammered-steel pan

Leftover #3 – Jazzed-up with Prosciutto, Asparagus, and Parmesan Cheese

Leftover #4 – Reprise the Prosciutto, Asparagus, Parmesan

Drink More French Wine with a slice of My Tartine-Style Sourdough Country Loaf

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The Versatility of Salads

As I’ve written before, traditional salads don’t interest me much. On the other hand, there are occasions and ways in which I take full advantage of how versatile and easy to prepare salads can be. Here are three examples this month.

Spicy Guacamole

One day at lunch I prepared a version of my Spicy Guacamole, inspired by a visit three years ago to abc cocina in NYC. This month’s lunch used a whole avocado, diced jalapeño pepper, diced raw red onion and garlic, lime and lemon juice, and diced fresh San Marzano plum tomatoes. Generous quantities of Maldon salt and freshly-ground black pepper added to the zestiness of the dish, served on my pan-fried sourdough.

glass of Spanish Verdejo — Vevi

Chickpeas and Vegetable Salad with Feta

Another simple meal was created when I needed to use extra chickpeas I had cooked earlier in the week. I simply diced cucumber, plum tomato, celery, black olives, jicama, and red onion. Then I added cubes of Feta cheese, several glugs of Greek olive oil, red wine vinegar, salt and pepper, and grabbed a fork to eat it all right from the bowl. The wine choice was a delightful organic Mourvedre, Grenache, Carignan blend from Southwestern France, je cherche le ciel (“I search for the sun”).

Springtime, and Black-Eyed Peas (or Beans)

Somehow, I have recently associated black-eyed peas with the advent of Spring. That image is mostly from what I read online, since I have no links to the southern US, where these are popular. In any event I recently opened a box of Indian cooking ingredients I had saved, and among the goodies was a bag of Peruvian black-eyed peas (or beans, whichever your prefer). They were small and had been in the box for years, but they looked good, so I cooked them and tried them out in a recipe that appealed to me, Wild Rice & Black-eyed Pea Pilaf, alongside grilled Japanese eggplant with an Asian soy-sesame oil sauce. The results were terrific, and I catalogued this loosely as a “salad”.

The wine was a spectacularly good choice for the dish, a Birichino Cinsault, a floral, medium-bodied French grape from a California producer.

Happy Springtime!

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Pasta alla Norma (inspired by Stanley Tucci in Sicily)

Like many lovers of Italian food, wine, and culture, I enjoyed watching Stanley Tucci’s CNN series recently, “Searching for Italy”. I have also always been a fan of Tucci’s acting and style. In the last episode he visits Sicily. In Catania he goes to Ristorante Me Cumpari Turiddu, and there enjoys one of my favorite dishes, Pasta all Norma.

This Sicilian classic is traditionally made with tomato sauce, eggplants, ricotta salata cheese, and fresh basil. The dish is said to be named in honor of La Norma, the famous opera composed by Vincenzo Bellini in 1831. I was fascinated by the way the chef prepared the dish, so I decided to try it his way, using passata and long, slow cooking of small eggplant chunks. The result was great, so I am sharing it with you.

Simmering the sauce…
In the pasta bowl with Ricotta Salata
When the sauce is concentrated…
grated Ricotta Salata
Which wine to choose?

Sometimes I suffer a surfeit of riches. This particular night was such an occasion. I had three very good Etna Rosso wines from which to choose, so I contacted my good friend and wine importer/distributor, Jan d’Amore, for his advice. Here’s what he said: “You’ve got 3 great wines. I’d go for the passopisciaro, a little more fleshy than the others, should go well with the fried eggplant and ricotta salata“. He was absolutely right! Fleshy was the key word, and I was transported.

I think Bellini would have been proud. And we now have a preferred recipe for this wonderful dish. Buon appetito!

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Three Meals

Over the many years of my fascination with food, I’ve subscribed to numerous magazines. These included Gourmet, Food & Wine, Saveur, Bon Appétit, Cook’s Magazine, and Cook’s Illustrated. In fact, one of the first uses I had for a personal computer (25 years ago) was scanning and cataloging recipes I wanted to save. This activity preceded the Internet, but since those days, the explosion of food-related websites provided me and my fellow-foodies a limitless supply of valuable resources — recipes, techniques, video clips, equipment reviews, sources of supply, and much more. About a week ago I was browsing and came across the sites for America’s Test Kitchen and Cook’s Illustrated. A few of the recipes intrigued me enough, so I decided to subscribe. The next day I made Eggs Pipérade for breakfast, and it was the first of three superb meals I cooked just for myself on March 30th.

Breakfast

Eggs Pipérade

The recipe PDF is available in the link above.

It was a much more extensive breakfast than my usual fruit smoothie, fruit, or slice of toast with hummus, but the flavors were rich and delicious, and altogether delightful.

Lunch

When lunchtime came along, I was browsing the refrigerator and came across a head of romaine lettuce that needed to be used immediately. That led to a meal of:

  • grilled romaine salad with chickpeas
  • grilled sourdough bread with Sicilian anchovy
  • a glass of Etna Bianco, Sicilian white wine

grilled romaine

Dinner

It was my night to cook dinner, so I invented a vegetarian dish we could enjoy (and it would be vegan if you left off the Parmesan cheese). Here’s the recipe:

and what the dish looked like in the cazuela and on our plates. It also did a fine job using up leftover vegetables, such as the butternut squash, some broccoli florets, sweet red pepper, and Shiitake mushrooms. One big pleasant surprise was how well the chopped sun-dried tomatoes provided rich flavor and integration for it all.

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Pasta and Clam Sauce for Lunch

Since our trip to the fish market on Friday, I am still reveling in the superb seafood treats which began with the Spanish octopus and the Baked Orata over the weekend. Today’s lunch continued the hot streak, with a version of Spaghetti and Clam Sauce. This recipe was adapted from Bill Buford’s book, Heat, which details his experiences as a cook at Babbo’s Restaurant in NYC. Since it was just for me, I made half a recipe.

A glass of Vinho Verde would have been perfect, but since I had a bottle of Portuguese white wine already open, I drank that instead.

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