Today I celebrated my 81st birthday. August 15th was also Julia Child’s birthday. Naturally, food and wine played important roles in the festivities. It was also a good time to adopt the Italian saying shown above. Now I have a very good reason to linger at the table even longer than I usually do.
Breakfast was relatively simple; leftover Caponata plus a slice of toast with Italian sheep milk cheese (Coratina) was sufficient, along with the usual fruit juices.
Lunch was a bit more complex — one medium-sized beet cut into 4 slices, and topped with feta cheese, beet greens sautéed with garlic, slices of heirloom tomato, and Spanish sherry vinegar. Then I had a bowl of leftover cooked farro with chopped grilled vegetables and a light vinaigrette. A glass of Groundwork 2019 Graciano wine went nicely with the lunch.
Dinner was the main event, and my wife treated me royally. She made a superb Asparagus Risotto with Carnaroli rice, and for dessert she created a fresh Strawberry/Peach Mürbeteig (Shortcrust Pastry). They looked and tasted delicious.
A Spanish Rueda white wine from the Verdejo grape was my choice for the risotto dish.
I have no idea what I would do without vinegar and salt. Fortunately, over the years, I have found access to some of the best salt and vinegar products in the world. A great example of the importance of these two ingredients is my lunch today, featuring local beets, as well as mussels from our region.
I’ve learned that beets are very healthy for me, and they are an under-appreciated vegetable, so the local produce is very good, as well as reasonably-priced. However, most beets have all the flavor excitement of white rice, so I have also learned how to enhance those flavors. Vinegars and salt play a significant role in those enhancements.
One example of ingredients you can use to make beets so flavorful is shown in the dinner menu with friends last weekend, where the first course featured a make-your-own beet appetizer, using some of the 11 ingredients supplied from which to choose.
This process was so successful that I decided to dedicate today’s lunch to a new beet dish, with special attention to the wonders of vinegar and salt.
Each slice of cooked beet was topped with whipped feta and almond milk ricotta cheese, followed by pickled slices of shallot, beet greens sautéed with garlic and olive oil, and topped with wasabi-infused flying fish roe, accompanied by Frankie’s crunchy pickled cauliflower florets (which we purchased at a gourmet grocery store in Portland, Maine, last weekend: Onggi.)
I also used Kala Namak Salt from India (which pairs beautifully with beets, if you don’t mind the sulfuric smell from the volcanic salt), and some sea salt from Ibiza, to bring out all the flavors.
Two different vinegars (both Spanish) were involved with the beet dish, and a third with the Mussels Vinaigrette, leftover from yesterday’s lunch.
I have mixed feelings about Portugal. Its record as a global colonial power, a major player in the slave trade, and a rapid follower of the Spanish Inquisition in the persecutions of Jews are all reasons to feel that they have been a “bad actor” over the last 500 years. On the other hand, as an American, I feel that our country’s record on these same issues is not much more meritorious, so we have no right to act “holier than thou”.
With those reservations clearly established, we can move on to the main focus of this blog, namely food and wine. I’ve been to Portugal twice — to the Algarve and Lisbon in 2014, and to Porto and the Douro Valley in 2019. Both trips were extremely gratifying, and they established Portuguese food and wine as one of my favorite ways to celebrate culinary excellence.
Today’s adventure involved Hake, a lovely white fish which is one of the specialties of Portuguese cuisine. I had purchased over a pound from Sven fish, so I had at least 2X what I normally cook, and I decided to share the bounty with good friends. Here’s the recipe:
The full recipe was enough for 4 people. After delivering my friend’s portion, I kept my fish on the counter at room temperature, and I had it ready to eat — after the appetizer. I still had 8 of the 12 Wellfleet oysters remaining from the rest of my Sven fish order. It was a great opportunity to re-create a dish I had enjoyed years ago: Warm Oysters with Fresh Tomato Curry.
It was spectacular — every bit as good as I remembered.
The tomato-flavored Hake dish was enhanced by a Portuguese wine, 2019 Taboadella Alfrocheiro.
The dish was served with roasted potato slices and a mixture of our own green beans and local farms’s wax beans. I would make this all again.
One of my great joys at lunchtime is the ability to select great ingredients and to prepare them as a relaxed meal without time constraints. Today’s roster had three diverse elements:
leftover baked stuffed zucchini
a small head of cauliflower
As you can imagine, these three do not easily merge into a dish, so I treat them as independent mini-meals, with all of the best aspects of each on display. The idea is to prepare each one in a way which highlights the best flavor and texture of each element.
The oysters needed very little preparation, only a good brushing of the shells under running water. I just bought a dozen oysters from Sven Fish, and I decided to shuck 4 of them for my lunch. They were relatively small, fresh, and sweet-smelling. All they needed was a splash of lemon juice.
For the wine I was motivated to open the San Pietro Friulano from i Clivi, a delicious wine imported by Gianonni Selections.
The next section was provided by leftovers from last night’s dinner: remaining pieces of stuffed zucchini, based on a rich tomato sauce, homemade breadcrumbs, and plenty of Greek olive oil.
I cut up and ate one of those zucchini boats, and enjoyed the pimenton-flavored tomato sauce immensely.
Now it was time to deal with a small, partial head of cauliflower that needed attention very soon. It looked pale and flabby in the refrigerator, but I decided to steam it into an edible state immediately. I usually find cauliflower to be insipid, but there is a remedy for that when you are looking for “Essential Elements”. The answer included finely-chopped red serrano chili pepper, a few dashes of Red Boat Fish Sauce, and a smattering of TTantta bittersweet vinegar from the Basque region in Txakolina. The third chapter of this meal was as good as the first two.
Yotam Ottolenghi is an amazing chef and cookbook author. His recipes are unorthodox, and they also make heavy use of dairy and spices which are difficult for my wife to digest, so we are selective about his recipes we choose to make. Last night I took a gamble on one featuring grilled cucumbers, and it was a real winner — for both of us.
Fortunately, we had all the ingredients, so it all came together easily. It was absolutely delicious!
The only adjustment I made was to discard the cardamom shells. I don’t understand the purpose of including them, and they seem indigestible to me.
Incidentally, lunch that day was my own invention. I think it was healthy and unique in many ways. I’ve been eating beets as often as possible, so they were the centerpiece of the lunch. We had some leftover cooked beet greens and avocado, so I added them. Chopped onion, garlic, and several heaping tablespoons of wasabi-infused tobiko (flying fish roe) completed this exciting dish. The flavors were enhanced with sea salt from Ibiza and black Kala Namak, a volcanic salt from the Himalayas — one which has a special affinity for beets.
Amazingly, the wine for this dish was Andrea Fendi’s 2016 Sauvignon Blanc from Umbria. Its crisp acidity was a very good match with the beet salad.
The grilled cucumbers, on the other hand, was paired with a silky-smooth Rosso from Sicily, made by Sonia Gambino, from Gustinella. I recently purchased some of her wines from Eataly NYC, and they are teriffic!
One of the best aspects of a food. wine and travel blog is the fact that all of the threads are interconnected. Today’s example began with a yearning for Provence. Last night I was in the wine cellar, browsing the French section. I was pleasantly surprised to find a bottle of 2018 Mas de Bourgonnier, and I brought it up to the kitchen to make it ready for drinking the next day.
All of this was prelude to deciding what to have for lunch today. The next link in the chain came from examining the refrigerator to see what was available. Happily, I came upon a leftover carrot, spinach, and rice dish with Turkish overtones, and I decided to use that as a basis for lunch. This approach was further enhanced by the presence of some local green peppers which neighbor brought for us this morning.
Since Provence is the center of this expedition, I thought it might be appropriate to add chopped anchovies and garlic to the dish. Therefore, I de-boned and rinsed an Italian anchovy and produced two lovely fillets. These were chopped fine along with a plump clove of garlic. After I sautéed the cut up green pepper, I sautéed the anchovy/garlic flavoring, and then added the carrot/spinach/rice dish to the pan over moderate heat. A couple of deep red Peruvian Piquillo peppers completed the dish, and it was all heated to perfection. Freshly-grated Ricotta Salata melted into the dish, and it was served with the Mas de Bourgonnier wine, a charming blend of Grenache, Syrah, Carignan, and other red grapes. It was a marvelous lunch, even though I was a long way from Provence.
So the moral of this story is: Start anywhere (food, wine, or travel) and let it take you wherever you want to go. Buon appetito!
It’s a relaxed Sunday afternoon, and since I’m making lunch just for myself, it’s a good time to try a new recipe. This one is from Alexandra Stafford (Ali) and her excellent blog, Alexandra’s Kitchen. I love her blog because the recipes are usually superb, the recipes are clearly described and accurate, and her videos enhance the process greatly.
I have cataloged over 7,000 recipes in my digital files. Since I haven’t cooked with cannabis in several decades, none of those recipes can be described as “addictive”. Until now.
Strangely enough, I had all the ingredients handy: black lentils from Rancho Gordo, white balsamic vinegar from Trader Joe’s, a bag of fresh spinach I needed to cook, and a jar of Bulgarian Labneh from my natural foods market.
I loved the dish, so I had two full portions for lunch. The Portuguese red wine I opened last night for the beet salad was also a very good match for the lentils. I will definitely make this again.
I had some cooked beets, so it was time to make a Beet Salad. In my usual fashion, I kept throwing ingredients into the bowl until I thought we had enough flavors. Here’s the list when I finished:
Chioggia beet, julienned
Red beet, julienned
Feta cheese, small dice
Fennel, thinly sliced
Piparra peppers, diced
Chopped Kalamata olives
Salt and pepper
Red wine vinegar
Maldon sea salt
The wine selection turned out to be easy and spectacularly successful. Yesterday, on our way to visit friends in Little Compton, RI, we stopped at Portugalia Marketplace in Fall River, primarily for their superb selection of Portuguese wines. I bought almost two cases of those wines, including one that I never tried before, a 2016 Baga from Sidónio DeSousa. That turned out to be a perfect match for the beet salad.
It’s comforting when you make a good meal and you know the recipe well enough to repeat the performance again at a later date. This post is about three such meals in July:
my wife’s vegetable lasagna
my favorite way with Spanish octopus
my own sourdough bread
Barbara’s standard lasagna features packaged lasagna noodles and multiple layers of vegetables and cheese. Key ingredients were Swiss Chard, lacinato kale (a/k/a cavolo nero), mushrooms, onions, three cheeses (Feta, almond milk ricotta, and mozzarella), and a jar of tomato sauce. She bakes it in a large lasagna pan (13″x 9″x 3″), initially covered with foil for quite awhile (to ensure everything is fully cooked), and then uncovered to melt the cheese on top.
It’s enough to serve 8 to 10 people. We enjoy it for a couple of days (one dinner, next day lunch) and then freeze another section for another occasion.
My routine for a 3.5 lb. Spanish octopus is well-defined now. It is removed from the freezer and defrosted at room temperature overnight. The next day I remove the cap and cut out the beak. After a 30-second dip of the tentacles in a pot of boiling water, I simply place the octopus in an empty Dutch oven, so that it can poach in its own juices in a preheated 200 ° F. oven until it’s tender. That usually takes about 4 hours.
I prepared the marinade, with juices and zest from lemon, orange, and lime, added to a large stainless bowl of extra virgin olive oil. Then add:
lots of Kosher salt, and
dried, ground Calabrian pepper flakes.
The octopus (still quite warm from the pot) is added to the marinade and placed in the refrigerator overnight to absorb the flavors in the bath.
The first prepared dish the next day is almost always Pulpo a la Gallega, the classic Spanish Basque rendition with just sliced octopus, pimenton, olive oil, and sea salt. Various other dishes with grilled octopus are made during the rest of the week. Sautéed potatoes is one good accompaniment. Chopped salad with radicchio and bitter greens is another.
I’ve been making sourdough bread for 14 years, and I’ve worked at improving the process often. That ought to make Repeat Performances relatively easy for me. Much to my amazement in the past few months, I found that my breads were very disappointing. They were dense, relatively flat (very little “oven spring”), and showed a tight crumb structure that was unappealing. I was stumped, and as a result, didn’t bake at all for a few months.
Finally, I did more reading (of course), and I committed myself to researching possible causes and appropriate remedies for this dilemma. Help came swiftly from a baker called “The Regular Chef“. After watching his 15-minute video on how to make Tartine style country bread several times, I came to the realization that my problems were probably caused by at least three factors. One seemed to be that my sourdough starter was not vigorous enough when I made my levain. Solution to try: feed the starter twice a day for two days, and add to the levain near its peak expansion activity.
Another issue I suspected was insufficient dough development. I had been stretching the dough multiple times over a 6-8 hour period, but I never had tried to add “coil folding” to help build structure. Solution to try: add “coil folding”.
The third element was a surprise for me. After completing the dough development and bread shaping, I have been placing the loaves in the refrigerator (“retarding” the dough), and then baking the loaves the next day, 10 to 12 hours later. In his video, The Regular Chef indicated that he felt he achieved the best “oven spring” by baking the loaves 4 to 6 hours later. In effect, I may have been over-proofing my loaves. Solution to try: retard for only 4 hours.
On July 6-7 I tried all of the proposed solutions, and I followed the video carefully as prescribed. Most of the measurements and techniques were the same as I had been using, but with the changes noted, I was able to get a much better product.
For fish fanatics (like me) the arrival of the late Spring catch of fresh herring in Holland is cause for celebration. We have access to it via Russ & Daughters, a fish supplier since 1914. Nowadays, these transactions are done online (Russ’ business was originally from a pushcart).
It appears that there is quite an enthusiastic following in the U.S. for these fish, and the rituals are intriguing. Photos below are from their website.
I have a friend, Dean, who is a fellow seafood lover. Unfortunately, his wife is allergic to all fish and seafood, so he is rarely able to enjoy it. However, I often have occasions when I have seafood and my wife is not interested (e.g. octopus), or her tolerance is small (herring, but only pickled from a jar). Thus, Dean and I have a pact in which he joins me to indulge in my piscatorial excesses, and the new Holland herring was just such an occasion.
I had tried the herring two days before in the manner shown above, where one drops the raw herring in your mouth from above. It’s quite tasty — smooth, rich flavors, full of umami — but I can only eat one or two fillets that way. On the other hand, I find that grilling the fillets with a little olive oil and a touch of fresh basil is supremely delicious, so last week, Dean and I demolished the remaining 10 herring fillets using our preferred methods of imbibing. Here’s what my plate looked like:
Fortunately, Dean also appreciates wine and is curious about different countries and grapes, and I am always happy to oblige. I had three open bottles of white wine in the refrigerator (much more than usual), so we could do a compare and contrast exercise, which was great fun. We tried them in sequence: Landron Muscadet (France), Vermell Xarel-Lo (Spain), and Oddity Wine Collective Riesling/Viognier (AZ). All were good, but the consensus was that the Riesling/Viognier was the best match. Thanks, Aaron!