Tomato, Arugula, and Cheese Salad

Every once in awhile, I pull out of the bookshelves one of my older cookbooks, and I find an appropriate dish for the occasion. Today, I was looking for a way to use half of a large heirloom tomato for my lunch, and I found a marvelous little recipe in The Antipasto Table, by Michele Scicolone, published in 1991. Believe or not, salads have not changed much in 30 years.

The recipe is simple: thinly-sliced tomato, arugula (torn into bite-sized pieces), sliced red onion, olive oil, salt, and pepper, and some cheese. It’s written for ricotta salata, but also suggests feta cheese as an alternative. I used some Israeli feta (from Trader Joe’s), along with several cubes of Halloumi, which were dusted in rye flour and sautéed in olive oil. I also added a few splashes of Portuguese red wine vinegar for acid. The results were excellent, especially with the Cotes-du-Coast Rhône-style white wine for accompaniment.

I think I will return to the Antipasto Table often this summer.

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Nettle Risotto

As much as I love pasta in all its forms, I am realizing that some of my most memorable dishes ever have been risotti. Two of those are dishes I created 10 and 20 years ago:

Last night we had a Nettle Risotto with Goat Cheese and Scallions, and a garnish of Lemon Confit. It was so good, I may have to add a 3rd candidate to my list.

My first encounter with stinging nettles was in San Francisco, at Rose Pistola in North Beach, probably in 2003. It was a risotto made by the Chef Armando Maes, known best as “Tiny”. He is a mountain of a man and a creative, passionate, and versatile chef. He also had a version with fettucine and ricotta.

This was a marvelous restaurant founded in 1996 by Reed Hearon, and named after a longtime North Beach resident, originally from Liguria. The restaurant closed in 2017.

After this first experience with nettles, I was fascinated. They are essentially weeds, with painful stickers if you touch them. Shortly after I ate them, I was able to buy packages of nettles at the farmers’ market at the Ferry Terminal in San Francisco, and I then learned how to prepare and cook them myself. Back at home in Massachusetts, I was thrilled to find close friends nearby who harvested them for me from their own woods in the Spring.

Here is a very good description of the process for preparing nettles for culinary purposes. Nettle tea is also a valuable natural remedy for a number of ailments.

How to Harvest and Prepare Nettles

Now for my risotto; I found this recipe online from Il Buco:

I liked the recipe as written, but of course, I needed to add some of my own touches. First, I had been to Small Farm for my seedlings, and I also bought some terrific scallions, which I thought would go well in the dish.

Next, I saved the water used to cool the nettles after blanching them, and I used it instead of another broth to make the risotto.

There are several fine rices for risotto. My preference for this dish was Vialone Nano, rather than the two listed in the recipe.

The final touch was the addition of Lemon Confit, which delivers a jolt of acid and salt as a final touch. Here is the original recipe from Tom Colicchio from his cookbook, Think Like A Chef.

risotto in the making

In these situations, nettles are often described as similar to spinach and Swiss Chard. Yes, they are in some ways, but I find them to be more flavorful and intense, in a satisfying way.  If nettles are new to you, give them a try.  They are available only in the Springtime, I think, so the season is almost over now.  There’s always next year.

Wine? Ah, yes, of course. I had an open bottle in the refrigerator, a California-grown, Rhône-style white wine from Sans Liege, and it went very well with the dish.

But I was curious about other choices, so I opened a bottle of 2016 Clivi Brazan, a Friulano, made by my late friend, Ferdinado Zanusso, and I enjoyed that one, too.  Salut!

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A few weeks ago I made a risotto for dinner. It was a Spinach-Zucchini Risotto I invented back in 2010. Even without the arugula (which I did not have this time), it was almost as good as the original.

There was a little bit left over, but not enough for a meal for one person, so I decided to make Arancini, that signature Sicilian dish — effectively fried rice balls.

One of the advantages of this particular risotto is that it uses mozzarella, in addition to the traditional Parmesan. That makes it ideal for Arancini, because the cheese helps the rice balls to hold together well and not to fall apart. Served with a little Lucini tomato sauce from a jar, and accompanied by a glass of Odoardi’s Terra Damia Calabrian red wine, it was a perfect match.

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Artisan Pasta, Baked Rigatoni

Last month I wrote about an artisan pasta shop in Lexington, MA: La Dolda. Last week I used my second bag of pasta from them — Rigatoni. It worked very well in this dish.

We ate less than half of the complete dish the first evening. I was able to revivify it for additional meals, simply by adding breadcrumbs, grated cheese, a little cream, and olive oil — then cooking under a hot broiler until crispy on the edges.

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Portuguese Tuna Salad

Lunches these days are usually relaxed and very gratifying. As I’ve written in the past, Lucas Ventresca Tuna Fish from Portugalia is one of my favorites, usually in a salad, replete with vegetables in various forms. Here is a concise summary of the most recent version.

The wine, 7 Fuentes, is Spanish — from the Canary Islands. The producer is Suertes del Marqués. The grapes are Listan Negro, with a smokiness that goes well with the pickled ingredients in the salad.

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Toor and Moong Dals

It’s intriguing that I am inspired to cook specific dishes by a wide variety of stimuli. One recent example is a dinner featuring Indian Dals — lentils of various kinds. The impetus came from opening the main cabinet in our kitchen, which we do multiple times a day. Sitting in a prominent place, at eye level, is a jar of Toor Dal, also known as Split Pigeon Peas.

I had used them in a dish perhaps two years ago, but not since. Now they were staring me in the face with regularity. (Fortunately, these have very long shelf lives in their dry form.)

A quick examination of online recipes indicated that these were best when combined with another lentil. Moong Dal. As luck would have it, those were sitting on another shelf — in my wine cellar.

With some adaptations to eliminate certain herbs and spices which my wife wouldn’t like in the original recipe, I was able to put together a nutritious supper fairly easily, adding green beans for color and variety at the same time.

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Sable Fish Reprise

There was one more example of what can be done with Sable fish. This time it was pan roasted with a touch of soy sauce, and combined with wild mushrooms, given a similar treatment and cooked to a deep, dark color. The umami was more similar to lamb shanks than it was to any fish I’ve ever eaten.

In that same “meaty” flavor range, I paired it with a 2014 Callaghan Vineyards Arizona Mourvedre, and it was perfect. The dark color and dusky tannins met happily with the mushrooms and oily fish.

2014 Callaghan Vineyards Arizona Mourvedre

One of the delicious ironies of this wine choice is that my very first bottle of Arizona wine — 10 years before my son started making wines in Arizona — was a 2002 Callaghan Mourvedre. I still have the bottle. It was an “Aha!” moment, when I realized that some very good wines can be found in many locations I did not know about.

2002 Callaghan Mourvedre

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Three Recent Pastas

No episode of new blog posts takes place here without some reference to the latest pasta dishes. Here are three recent ones I wanted to share.

Spaghetti with Broccoli Rabe

Spaghetti with Broccoli Rabe, Ceci, and Pecorino

Barbara won’t eat bitter greens, so I make this just for me. Preparation is straightforward:

  • trim Broccoli Rabe, discarding thickest part of the stems and bad leaves
  • blanch the Rabe in boiling, salted water for just 2-3 minutes, at most
  • heat 3 Tbs. olive oil in a pan. dry and then sauté the greens with some chopped garlic and cooked chickpeas
  • cook the spaghetti to al dente
  • add spaghetti to the pan with the greens, add freshly grated Pecorino, mix well, and serve with more olive oil and a glass of white wine from Campania — in this case, Aliseo from Reale in Tramonti, on the Amalfi Coast. The grapes are Falanghina, Pepella, and Biancolella
imported by Mucci Wines

La Dolda Artisan Pasta

We recently discovered a small but elegant shop in Lexington, MA. The owner is Italian, and he makes excellent artisanal pasta, both fresh and dried. We bought some to take home, and the first one we tried was the Spinach Radiatore, which I made with a simple sauce of zucchini and garlic, finished with Calabrian Pecorino. It was very good, and was nicely matched with a 2018 La Staffa Verdicchio from the Marche.

Whole Wheat Orzo Pasta Salad

Last week I did my Wine 101 Seminar for my alma mater, and it was delivered online successfully. Two of my friends joined me at home for the event that evening, so I made a pasta salad that we could enjoy while tasting. There was no recipe, but I chose to (1) grill onions, zucchini, and eggplant, (2) chop them all up, (3) add them to the cooked pasta, (4) fillet a few peeled plum tomatoes, and (5) mix them all together, along with cubes of Feta cheese for those who wanted it. Olive oil, salt, and pepper completed the dish. The dish paired well with both white and red wines.

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Vegetables as Small Meals

Just a small post, with a few recent examples of vegetables as complete meals for lunch or dinner.

One of the easiest and least expensive ways to enjoy vegetables is to buy a jar of prepared vegetables in your local ethnic markets. In my case that would be a jar of fried Georgian vegetables (mostly eggplant, tomatoes and peppers) from Massis Bakery, an Armenian market in Watertown, MA.

on toasted bread, of course

with a glass of my son’s Arizona Tempranillo — OUTSTANDING!

Here is a combination of vegetables and bruschetta, including Halloumi cheese from Cyprus, pipèrade (homemade from a Basque recipe), golden beets heated on the grill, and fresh arugula for counterpoint to the sweetness of the beets.

How about a plate of red beets with chopped Greek pistachios, red wine vinegar, Israeli Feta cheese and chives; plus delicious oven-roasted Butternut squash leftover from a previous dinner?

Another option is a full plate of different vegetables, each prepared in its own best way, offered for a light supper.

Baby Artichokes | Beets | Brique Brebis | Our Spring onions | Roasted sweet peppers | Asparagus with Shallot-wine sauce |

What these showcase, I think, is the rich flavors and bold colors not normally associated with “vegetables”. We are entering the season now when our selections and choices will be plentiful, and the preparations from many cuisines are not complicated. Buon appetito!

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When you bake bread often, you’ll find that one of the main snacks, appetizers, or small meals that pop up in your kitchen, is centered on Bruschetta:

Merriam-Webster Definition of bruschetta

: thick slices of bread grilled, rubbed with garlic, drizzled with olive oil, often topped with tomatoes and herbs, and usually served as an appetizer

Other than breakfast, lunch, dinner, and in between meals, I don’t eat it that often. Here are some examples over the past few weeks, using either my Sourdough Country Loaf or the Seeded Rye Levain.

Grilled Manchego cheese
Cannellini purée – with spinach or with pipérade
pan-roasted mushroom marinated in lemon juice
mushrooms with toasted bread (actually crostino) and Pecorino with Peperoncino and a glass of Birichino Cinsault

Rye bread with Manchego and our fresh chives from the garden
Bean purée with chopped arugula, along with a glass of Garganega wine

The formula is so simple and delicious:

pane, vino, formaggi = bread, wine, cheese

plus whatever other toppings you wish to use:

e.g. arugula, chard, spinach, hummus, bean purée, tomatoes, grilled onions, zucchini, peppers, mushrooms….almost limitless possibilities.

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