Roasted Sweet Potato and Black Bean Risotto

One photo tells the whole story….

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Octopus, Again?

Some of my loyal readers are repelled by the idea of eating octopus, and others may simply be tired of the many times I post about it. If you are in either category, my apologies. Please just move on to the next posting.

The methodology this time was the same as my entry, Octopus 5.0, described here two years ago. It’s a combination of food-scientist-writer, Harold McGee’s simple poaching process, followed by Jesse Schenker’s overnight marinating bath in citrus-infused olive oil with herbs. Below are some of the prep steps, showing the oil bath, chopped herbs and garlic, Sicilian sea salt, and Calabrian chili peppers.

This was a 4.5 lb. Spanish octopus, purchased frozen from Portugalia. One of the joys of this food is the number of delicious meals I can make from it. This week’s list included:

  • Pulpo alla Gallega
  • grilled octopus with roasted Portobello mushrooms
  • octopus with grilled radicchio
  • grilled octopus with King City Pinks beans (Ranch Gordo) and more Radicchio di Treviso
  • octopus with potatoes and arugula
  • octopus with sweet onions and potatoes

You can quickly browse through the dishes shown below. The one new technique that I learned was McGee’s description of concentrating the juices released in the poaching process. There was a quart of intensely-rich flavored juice in the pot when it was done cooking for 5 hours at 200° F., all of it from the octopus which started in a dry pot. Those juices were boiled down considerably to produce an even more intense sauce, which greatly enhanced the octopus and beans dish, enough so that a full-bodied red wine was the right accompaniment.

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Tartine-Style Country Loaf Sourdough

I’ve been making Tartine sourdough breads for 12 years, but it’s only in the last 9 months that the quality and consistency has been what I hoped to achieve. The main reason for this success is a guy named Charlie Anderson, whose web name is The Regular Chef.

It was his YouTube video that helped me identify and correct the defects in my bread-making process. This 15-minute gem has made a world of difference for me:

My most recent experience was less than a week ago. The two loaves came out great.

For the record, I made a couple of small adjustments to his recipe, as a matter of personal taste. He uses 900 grams of white bread flour and 100 grams of whole wheat flour. My tweak adds 50 grams of freshly-milled rye flour and reduces the bread flour to 850 grams.

Charlie also prefers making three smaller loaves. I did it that way several times. Though that approach has its benefits, I prefer making two larger loaves. It’s up to you.

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I was shopping at Trader Joe’s last week, and I stumbled on a new and attractive box of dried pasta, Italian-made Organic Lemon Torchietti.

It was appealing enough to buy it and try it the next night. I had also purchased a small bag of Meyer Lemons there. I love them because they are less acidic, taste great, and have deep orangey-yellow skin for zesting. I read a Meyer Lemon Sauce recipe on the internet. It was too complicated for this pasta, but I did use Meyer lemon zest and juice, one chopped shallot, plus unsalted butter, as part of the sauce.

Unlike my usual extravaganzas, this meal involved boiling the pasta, placing it in a bowl with frozen green peas and some leftover broccoli rabe, adding Meyer lemon flavorings, grated Pecorino cheese, and a splash of olive oil. It was easy, colorful and delicious. I can definitely recommend this pasta.

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Guanciale and Pasta alla Gricia

Another very Italian dish in this mini-series is Pasta alla Gricia. The name rolls tripplingly off the tongue in Italian, less so in English as “pasta gray”. I was led to research and then make this dish because of “guanciale” (cured pork jowl). I had finally tried guanciale properly about a month ago, when making an authentic version of Pasta Amatricana, and I decided I really do like it at least as much as pancetta.

The recipe for alla Gricia is pretty simple:

Rather than duplicate the details here, I refer you to an excellent article by Sasha Marx on Serious Eats.

Here’s what the dish looked like when done. Quite delicious. A Godello from Spain was a good match.

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Zucchini Leeks Shrimp Morels Risottto

Usually when I cook, I start with a recipe, either something I’ve made before, or a new one I want to try. Yesterday was different. I decided to create a new risotto dish from some items I had in mind, thinking that they might make an especially good meal in combination together. The specific ingredients were:

  • zucchini – I had 3 available, but one in particular was beginning to shrivel and had to be used immediately
  • leeks – I had two large ones and two small segments, so I grabbed the small ones to use
  • shrimp – We always have a bag of EZ-Peel small shrimp in the freezer. They are frozen individually, so it’s easy to defrost precisely the number I want. I decided on 8 for a balanced dish with the vegetables, BUT when I left the kitchen for a few minutes, the other chef (my wife) decided that was too skimpy, so she doubled the quantity while I wasn’t looking.
  • morel mushrooms – shopping Sunday at Eataly Boston, I found some gorgeous fresh mushrooms (chanterelles and morels). Since I had never cooked morels, I bought just two of them, to give them a try with this dish.

I had an image in my mind of a umami-rich bowl of rice cooked gently over an extended time period with these ingredients, all merged together with the broth and the fats of risotto. Remarkably, it worked.

You’ll notice a few whole shrimp on top, which is how I dealt with the surfeit of shrimp which came my say suddenly.

Here are all the details, should you be tempted to try it. It was one of the best risotti I ever had.

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Southern Italian Lunch

If I could be anywhere in the world right now, I would be in Campania, Italy, along the Amalfi Coast. Since that’s a pipe dream at the moment, I decided instead to make myself what I imagine would be a creative Southern Italian lunch. In fact, this entry will be the first of four successive food and wine posts with an Italian flavor, starting with the most recent (today).

It begins with a single salt-packed anchovy from Cetara. It was removed from the briny jar, carefully rinsed and de-salted, made into two small fillets, and then placed gently in a skillet with olive oil and hot pepper flakes, on a very low flame. After about 5 minutes in the warm oil, the anchovy dissolved, and it provided a flavorful base for the dish. Mostly made from leftovers, here were the ingredients.

The rapini, (a/k/a) broccoli rabe, had been trimmed, blanched, and chopped a few days ago, when I was using the rapini blanching liquid to make a light broth for risotto. The torchietti was a new find, at Trader Joe’s last week during a shopping trip. Roasted garlic? Cooked in the oven last week and preserved in olive oil. Salami and Castelvetrano olives? Bought yesteday at Eataly Boston. Plum tomato? About to go bad, sitting on the kitchen counter, so it had to be quickly blanched, skinned and seeded for whatever was looking for a little acid. And the Falanghina was a wine from the Mucci brothers, imported from one of their producers in Campania, purchased yesterday at Social Wines. The olive oil was from Sardinia, a full flavored recent vintage from Gustiamo, a favorite supplier of all things Italian.

It came together beautifully, and I finished all in three portions for my lunch.

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Soufiko, Again

When I find that I have a handsome eggplant and attractive zucchini, I am moved to make Ikarian Springtime Soufiko, a marvelous (as well as quick and easy) vegan dish for dinner. Technically, it might be Spring here, but we just had 6 inches of fresh snow today, and this dish never disappoints.

Here is the basic recipe:

As with most recipes, I considered this to be a guideline, not prescription. We had no butternut squash, but I added leeks, grape tomatoes, and yellow summer squash instead. I also had 5 large scallops available, so I pan-seared them in a very hot skillet with coarse Sicilian sea salt, as a side dish. One of the intriguing aspects of this dish is the way the vegetables stew in their own juices at the start of the process, before any olive oil is added to sautée. The vegetables cut up were large enough to require my 7.5-qt. Le Creuset Bouillabaisse pot, which performed the job beautifully.

Another fortuitous aspect of the dinner was that I had a bottle of a Greek Xinomavro wine, ideal for cooking and drinking with our Soufiko.

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Gnocchi with Spinach, Feta & Walnuts

Today was a great day for cooking. I had one activity on my calendar — my weekly Body Movement training session — and the rest of the time was available for culinary adventures.

It was my turn to make dinner. I wrestled the previous night with what to make, since pasta and rice dishes were off the list, according to my wife. Finally, I asked the ingredients question — what do we have that we need to use, and do we have other foods that are well-matched? That was the breakthrough, at about 4 AM. The key ingredients were a 1 lb. package of fresh spinach that we had for several days, to be paired with Feta cheese, which we had in abundance.

After searching the web, as well as my own master file of recipes, I chose a Greek dish from Diane Kochilas —

With that issued settled and planned for quick assembly in the late afternoon, I went on to freelance with some other foods that interested me. There were 3.

  • a Peasant Bread Sandwich loaf — a variation of Ali Stafford’s popular Peasant Bread
  • Sweet Onions with Curry and Parsley Coulis — a dish by Alain Passard from Food & Wine, July, 2001.
  • Marinated Sliced Heirloom Tomatoes

I decided to make the bread in the morning and to prepare the other two to accompany Gnocchi in the afternoon.

The bread went smoothly, taking only 4.5 hours elapsed time from start to finish. The dough rose nicely in the Utility Room, near the furnace, and ideal warm environment. I put the loaf pan in the oven at 1:00 PM, so I had to ask my wife to take it out of the oven when ready, since I was still working on my body mobility, balance, and strength. The fresh bread was very handy for part of our lunch.

Next item to pull together was the Coulis. After a quick trip to our greengrocer for Peruvian sweet onions and more parsley, I was ready to cook.

For the gnocchi dish, the spinach preparation required several washings and careful removal of dead leaves and thick stems. That was the most time-consuming and fidgety part of the whole process, but it was well worth the trouble. I had enough frozen gnocchi from a meal a few months ago, so I did not have to open a new package. To my amazement, I did find the pink peppercorns in one of my spice drawers, so I did not have to cut any corners to deliver an authentic version of the recipe.

The last step was almost trivial, slicing the tomatoes, arranging them on two plates, and adding seasonings to mine (my wife likes them unadorned).

The final event was colorful and delicious, accompanied gracefully by a natural Spanish orange wine, made with the Garnatxa Blanca grape.

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Beluga Lentils? Black Mushrooms? Roasted Leeks?

Who would put together a dinner featuring these ingredients? You guessed it.

Beluga Lentils with Black Mushrooms and Mirepoix — note: the green beans was a last-minute add.

Roasted Leeks with Beet Horseradish Cream

This lovely California Carignane/Grenache blend was perfect with the earthiness of the Black Lentils.


Since this is an eclectic post anyway, I will take this opportunity to share two more photos. They are two examples of recent cooking that came out better than I had hoped, and they don’t fit anywhere else…

This was a mostly vegetarian Paella with Shrimp highlights. I cooked most of it outside in a covered gas grill, trying to get the rice a bit crispy.

Another of my beet salads, this time with Cannellini beans, Radicchio di Treviso, raw red onions, sweet peppers, and watermelon radish.

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