This marvelous pasta dish started for me with a large batch of home-grown Spring arugula that was beginning to go to seed. I pulled off all the good leaves, washed and dried them, and saved them for something I could make that looked appealing.
Enter this recipe from NYT Cooking:
I made a few minor adjustments: frozen corn from last year’s harvest, less butter, no red-pepper flakes, and added green garlic and scallions. It was easy to prepare, quick to cook, and delicious to eat. The wine was a bottle of California 2020 Vermentino from Birichino, my favorite new winery on the Left Coast. This was part of their 6-pack Spring shipment. If my math is right, the two barrels produced totaled only 600 bottles. I was very happy to have one of them.
This pasta dish will definitely be part of my regular repertoire.
This dinner was one of my first experiences with Pollack, a whitefish which I always deemed inferior to flounder, fluke, and sole. However, with the help of my primary fish advisor, Chris — I was able to make a delectable and easy supper with a couple of pollack fillets.
The key element was Chris’ advice to cut off the dark colored layer of fish on the bottom side of the fillet. This “bloodline” has a strong flavor that many do not appreciate, so with a freshly-sharpened filleting knife, I trimmed off that layer and baked the rest — with very good results.
It was a simple dinner. I baked the fish according to this recipe, and my wife roasted potato slices and made her signature coleslaw, and dinner was on the table in 30 minutes.
I recently had a chance to go out to dinner with my good friend and CFO (Chief Fish Officer), Chris. We both agreed that getting a table early at Pammy’s in Cambridge, MA, would once again be a delightful experience. It certainly was.
We were having such a good time that I was only able to remember to take photos of my dishes, but you can be assured that Chris’ choices were equally attractive and delicious.
We shared a bottle of wine from one of my favorite Italian producers, i Clivi in Friuli. The wine was a 2020 i Clivi Friulano, imported by Giannoni Selections. Marvelous wine, excellent accompaniment to the superb food. Here’s how happy two friends can look after such a dinner:
As I get older (and hopefully, a little wiser), I choose more often to eat “Little Meals” instead of full-fledged plates (e.g. meat, starch, and vegetable). They come in many forms, are relatively quick to prepare, can be eaten any time of day, and are satisfying without my feeling “stuffed”.
A simple example of one little meal included:
a freshly-made salad of radicchio di Treviso, chopped tomato and cucumber, diced leftover beets, and goat cheese
Last week I had two excellent dishes featuring grains. The first was made at home, with Pearled Black Barley from Maine Grains. The vegetables in the dish included sweet red peppers, chopped fennel, tomatoes, and onions. Protein was enhanced with chunks of Halloumi cheese. It was colorful and delicious.
Later in the week, I had dinner out with a friend, and we ate at Field & Vine in Somerville, MA. This was my first time at this restaurant, and the food was very good. Here are some photos inside and a copy of the menu that evening.
We shared a few dishes, but the highlight of the evening was the Whole Wheat Cavatelli, circled above. It was one of the best pasta dishes I ever ate — flavor, texture, colors, all superb.
I’m never quite sure what to do with Spring Onions, those smallish onions that look like large scallions with bigger bulbs. I do like the brightness of the flavors, and this past year, I actually grew some of them in my little herb garden. Here’s a good description of how to take an onion which has been too long in your onion basket and has started to sprout:
Here’s what they look like in my herb garden today:
A few days ago I pulled up three of these onions, and I cleaned them and cut them into green sections and bulbs. They sat in the refrigerator until last night, when I decided to try a new recipe with them, using the sea scallops from my weekly Vermont-based provisioner — Farmers to You.
Neither of us likes Tarragon, so as I adapted the recipe to our tastes — rice milk, less flour, cream instead of crème fraiche — I substituted fresh lemon thyme for tarragon. For accompaniment I made some mixed rices and freshly-delivered Swiss Chard leaves, cooked with chopped garlic. The results were terrific.
No, that’s not the name of a new Italian sports car. It’s actually a member of the Broccoli family, but it looks more like Kale, and I just learned how to cook it properly.
Like many of my favorite greens from the South of Italy, this vegetable takes kindly to bold flavors. I found a superb recipe by Mark Peel, chef-owner of Campanile restaurant in Los Angeles.
I decided to make it for lunch today, pairing it with some leftover grilled Spanish Mackerel, coated with a Blackened Fish spice mixture. A drizzle of fresh lemon juice on the fish, a plate of cooked Spigarello, and a glass of white wine from Liguria, and all was right with the world for at least two hours.
When it comes to ethnicity, food, and wine, I encourage vigorous interactions. They usually produce results that are unorthodox, exciting, and very successful. Such was the case with my lunch today. Our local farmers produce excellent vegetables, including greens of all sorts. Yesterday I bought a bunch of their greens, including Broccoli Rabe. It was bright green, very clean, and ready for whatever I wanted to do with it.
Classical treatment suggested 3-4 minutes blanching in well-salted water. Then the greens were chopped coarsely and sautéed in a very hot skillet with olive oil, garlic, and crushed hot peppers from Calabria.
Now comes the invention: we had a few of Barbara’s superb matzo balls leftover from the Seder on Saturday and lunch on Sunday. This afternoon she declared she was done for the season, but they are so good, I could not bring myself to throw them out. After sautéeing the Rabe, I decided to heat up some of the matzo balls and serve them with the greens. Wow!!! Delicious.
To complete the extraordinary blend of cultures, I had a glass of my new favorite Portuguese white wine, a 2020 Taboadella Encruzado from Portugalia. A home run in any language.
I bought my first computer in 1995, for the explicit purpose of scanning recipes from food magazines I had saved. I knew computers were available earlier, but I needed two accessories in addition to accomplish my goal: (1) a high-quality scanner, and (2) software with OCR capability to enable me to search recipes by ingredients.
Since those days we know how much technology has expanded, and we see so many resources available through the internet that the information available to us foodies has exploded exponentially. I have about 7,000 recipes collected in my food files on Dropbox now, so I can access them from computers or smartphones wherever I am able to connect. This collection is curated. I only add dishes I have made and enjoyed, or ones I have found that I think we will like. They come from my cookbooks, food blogs, friends and family, newspapers, YouTube videos, and my own experimentation.
So what? Why this preamble?
Tonight’s dinner — Moroccan Eggplant and Olive Tagine — was relatively straightforward and very successful. It has been in my files since August, 2013, but this was the first time I tried it. I’d like to use this as an example to illustrate how multiple methods of organizing all these data provides a variety of ways to keep your cooking fresh and exciting.
One of those many organizing techniques was the creative gift my wife gave me for my birthday several years ago. She had taken the printed copies of recipes I used often (or had planned to try), sorted them by category, did the three-hole punch routine, placed the paper in plastic sleeves, and filled two large loose-leaf notebooks (each 5-inches thick). These books included some of the photos from the magazine clippings or internet postings, in addition to the ingredients/instructions for many recipes. Each book contained over 200 recipes — numbered and listed in the Index.
As a result I sometimes choose to BROWSE these books for inspiration, and that’s how I selected #21 — tonight’s Tagine. I knew I wanted something different, featuring Eggplant. I could have easily searched my computerized files using that keyword, but there are so many dishes in the files that I might not have focused on this dish. Browsing enabled me to see it, so it’s a supplemental way to search — slower, but more visual, more contemplative. Not unlike leafing through a cookbook, another browsing approach I use to explore.
Ah, yes…the dish.
I must apologize for the photos. We were so enamored with eating that I did not get any of my usual photos showing preparation or the finished results on the plate. As I was putting away the small amount of leftovers, I did get enough to show you the key elements — Tagine, Quinoa, and pan-seared lemon wedge.
The wine was a marvelous new rosé (Grenache and Mourvedre) from Villa Creek in Paso Robles. Another footnote is that we did not have any chickpeas handy, so I substituted beans already cooked and available. They were Alubia Blanca beans, a small, white Spanish bean from Rancho Gordo. I think they were even better.
Most packaged dry pastas cook in about 12 minutes or less. Last week I was able to do a delicious pasta lunch from scratch very quickly.
170 g Penne pasta from La Dolda (or any good short pasta)
chopped fresh Upland Cress (or any leafy green vegetable)
homemade dried breadcrumbs
Parmesan cheese, freshly grated
chili pepper flakes (optional)
1 small tomato, roughly chopped
Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add salt to taste. Pour the Penne into the boiling water and cook until aldente, about 11 minutes.
While the pasta is cooking, add 2-3 tbsp. of olive oil to a skillet or sauté pan. Toast the breadcrumbs on moderate heat, add the green vegetable and cook until wilted, and add the tomatoes and cook until they are a little soft and juicy.
Drain the pasta, saving 1/2 to 1 cup of pasta cooking water to help make a sauce.
Add the pasta to the sauté pan with the vegetables, plus some of the pasta water, cooking for 1-2 minutes over medium heat.
Add salt and pepper to taste (you should not need much). Stir all together, and add chili flakes if desired.
Toss with Parmesan or Pecorino cheese. I always add some flavorful olive oil on top.
The last step has nothing to do with the recipe, but it enhanced the meal for me. If you have a friend (as we do) who gave you an amazing orchid plant two years ago, and if your wife has brought it back to flowering again (with both her green thumbs), walk over to it, take a photo, and SMILE!