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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Winter Vegetable Soup

We made a superb vegetable soup that was symbolic of the wintry weather recently. Actually, my wife created the soup. My role was much smaller: just preparing the Cavolo Nero and the Cannellini Beans, and adding a little color with slow-roasted grape tomatoes.

For a first course I put together a sort of a la carte Beet Salad. This permitted my wife to choose the accompaniments she likes, and avoids the spicier stuff that I prefer.

Using the steamed beets as the foundation, the accessories included:

  • goat cheese
  • toasted walnuts
  • beet greens
  • pistachios
  • slow-roasted grape tomatoes
  • grated lemon zest
  • olive oil
  • bittersweet Basque vinegar
  • and the piece de resistance — Holy Schmitt’s Beet Flavored Horseradish Sauce

Here’s a close-up…

I think next time I should add some crystallized ginger. What do you think?

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Flowers in Winter

New England winter weather can be pretty bleak at times, so when my wife is able to show off her skills with blossoming flowers this time of year, it is a special treat. Here are two examples of brilliant colors from plants she brings back to life, year in and year out — Orchids and Amaryllis.

Waterlogue 1.4.7 (132) Preset Style = Vibrant Lightness = Auto-Exposure Size = Large Border = Border
Waterlogue 1.4.7 (132) Preset Style = Vibrant Lightness = Auto-Exposure Size = Large Border = Border

This Amaryllis just went wild this year, producing 6 blossoms on each of 2 stalks.

What a show-off! We loved it.

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Italian Flag for Breakfast

My breakfasts are fairly simple. I usually toast or pan-fry a slice or two of my sourdough bread and then smear some Trader Joe’s organic hummus on it. With a few sprinkles of Lebanese Za’atar, the toast is complete. I wash it all down, along with supplements and medication, with a glass of juice or a fruit smoothie. The final touch every morning is a single shot of fresh-brewed espresso (ristretto).

For variety I sometimes mix a batch of whipped cheeses (Feta and almond milk Ricotta) as an alternative to the hummus. At other times I make white bean purée to spread on the bread, adding chopped greens such as Swiss Chard, Spinach or Cavolo Nero.

One day recently I felt like making one piece each of these alternative toppings. Since I wanted to use up some Peruvian Piquillo Peppers, I added them to the whipped Feta cheese spread — for both taste and color. When I took my photo of the breakfast plate, I was suddenly struck by the configuration.

Buona coincidenza!

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Two Suppers: one ad hoc, the other, more elaborate

Sometimes when I start cooking, I have no idea where I am going with it. Last night’s supper is the perfect example. It was an “off” night. Each of us was going to a separate event in the evening, and we had no desire to plan and execute one of our normal dinners. The usual selection of good leftovers was not available, so I had to do something for my meal. I knew my wife would take care of her own.

As I often do, I started with ingredients. One at a time I picked them out of the refrigerator, to create a one-dish medley. First was white mushrooms, wiped clean and cut into 4-6 segments each. These were dry-roasted in a cast iron skillet until they gave up their extra moisture. In sequence, I added salt and pepper, then sweet butter, and finally a splash of white wine. When the wine had evaporated I put the mushrooms in a bowl and looked for the next ingredient.

Radicchio di Treviso. Sliced crosswise into 3/4-inch pieces and put on a large salad plate.

Red onion, sliced very thinly with a mandolin, then lightly pickled with red wine vinegar and water.

Peruvian Piquillo Peppers Removed from the package, oil wiped off, seeds scraped, warmed in a pan.

Cooked Cannellini Beans. Removed from the refrigerator, cooked yesterday.

Caper Leaves. Removed from the jar in the refrigerator.

Feta cheese. Taken out, diced small.

Olive oil, Salt and Pepper. Generously applied as I mixed everything (except the radicchio) in a warm skillet, and then plated and tossed with the roasted mushrooms and the bitter “greens”. Since each and every element was something I love to eat, not surprisingly, the whole dish was excellent. Weird, unconventional, but delicious. A small glass of I Clivi Friulano tasted good with it all.

Tonight was different. I had much more time to cook. I won’t bore you with all the details, but the meal featured Sven Fish Cod Cheeks (a real delicacy), a medley of vegetables (zucchini, carrots, and cauliflower), and a mixture of wild rice and paella white rice.

Cod Cheeks. Dusted with flour, salt, and pepper, then sautéed in safflower oil and mushrooms.

Vegetable Medley. Individually poached until just tender. Then sautéed together in olive oil and saffron water.

Rices. Cooked separately until almost done, then combined until tender.

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Homemade Fettuccine with Lobster Meat

My recipe for the pasta dough was 1 large egg, 75 grams of “00” Caputo Double-Zero flour, and 16 grams of Durum flour, freshly-milled from Durum wheat berries.

My fish supplier (Sven Fish) had a special price last week with 1 lb. of beautifully cleaned, cooked, and trimmed lobster meat. All I needed to add was 2/3 of a stick of unsalted butter and one skinned, seeded and filleted plum tomato, all gently warmed. Luscious, served with a glass of Lugana wine from the area near Lake Garda in Northern Italy.

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The Bread Gets Better and Better

Ever since I studied the techniques of The Regular Chef for making Tartine-style sourdough, making bread has become most gratifying. Small tweaks to the method in the last two batches have produced the best results ever.

This time I added an extra 25 grams of fresh-milled rye flour and removed an equal amount of white bread flour. Two other changes: (1) went back up to 22 grams of Kosher salt (from 20 grams), and (2) cut the dough into just two loaves instead of three smaller ones and made them both boules.

Also, I did a small experiment, chilling the dough in the refrigerator for 4 hours before baking the first loaf and retarding the second loaf for 8 hours before baking that one. The Chef’s guidance was that a longer proofing time in the refrigerator contributes to more sour flavor. Both were great, but I think I liked the second loaf better. Here are the details.

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