Trying Something Different

I want to try out a new approach for some of my blog posts. Rather than attempt to tell a story along with our cooking, I will just post one or more dishes with a short description and, perhaps, a recipe. With the accompanying photos, these may just be enough to inspire something you want to make or search out for yourself.

Spinach Radiatori, with Spinach, Prosciutto, and Ricotta Salata

This was a simple pasta dinner a few weeks ago. A package of La Dolda dried pasta

Baby Spinach Radiatori

Cooked the pasta, steamed some fresh spinach and mixed with the pasta. Topped with fried pieces of the last two prosciutto slices left in the refrigerator, and then grated Ricotta Salata.

On the side was simple salad of Romaine lettuce with croutons and a few remaining fragments of prosciutto.

Speaking of leftovers, I finished an open bottle of Bourgueil with the meal, and it paired very well.

Waterlogue version of the label

That’s it. Please let me know if you like this new short form for food ideas, or if you prefer my normal verbose style. Thanks.

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Seafood Season

It must be seafood season; these days and nights, I find myself attracted to so many foods that I am eager to combine with my favorite vegetables and grains. As a result you will find my sharing a number of these dishes in my newest blogs.

Mussels with Chorizo

We’ll start with a day in mid-June, for a lunch featuring Portuguese-style Mussels with Chorizo. First, I sautéed chopped onions, shallots, green garlic and chorizo in olive oil. Aliums have an affinity for seafood.

Next, I added the mussels and some white wine, covered, and cooked until the mussels were open.

Then, I shelled the mussels and added the broth, chopped fresh basil, and the cooked seafood and chorizo to a soup bowl.

Served with sourdough bread to mop up the sauce, and Dinamica — an Atlantic coast Portuguese white wine to enhance the salinity — and I was transported to another world.

Acqua Pazza Black Sea Bass

Ever since I first learned about Black Sea Bass, from a recipe by Pierre Franey many years ago, I have always considered it to be one of the tastiest and charming fish we eat. Therefore, when I came across a beautiful example in the case at New Deal Fish Market the day before, dinner that next night was based on Marcella Hazan’s Acqua Pazza (Crazy Water) recipe. Of course, with typical Italian flair, we have a name that’s much more intriguing than “fish cooked in tomato water”.

Black Sea Bass
Acqua Pazza in process
Black Sea Bass fillet in Acqua Pazza

 

Accompanied by grilled Japanese eggplant and steamed rice

 

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Anniversary Dinner at Pammy’s

My wife and I have been married for 56 years. One of our favorite ways of celebrating this event has often been dining out at a great restaurant. Of course, we both appreciate the chance to have superb food, and to escape the cooking and cleanup that comes with our fine dinners at home. But not just any restaurant. We ARE picky. So, for that reason, we chose to go to Pammy’s in Cambridge, where we have had several excellent meals before — but not since the pandemic.

Fortunately, we were able to get a reservation close to the anniversary date, and the changes the restaurant has made for social distancing made it all the more attractive and private.

The food was fantastic, and the service, excellent. I will simply share the highlights with you here.

my Negroni (on draft!)
Garganega from Italy

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Revelation: How to Cook Oyster Mushrooms

Mushrooms are among my most favorite foods, even more so in the past 11 years, with a mostly plant-based diet. I’ve been cooking oyster mushrooms for 15-20 years, in a variety of ways — sautéed, roasted, grilled, etc. The results have been acceptable, but not great. That all changed recently, when I discovered a new approach from one of my old (published 1986) cookbooks: Uncommon Fruits and Vegetables, by Elizabeth Schneider.

I have referred to this book occasionally over the many years it has been on my shelf. It was invaluable with how to cook chayote squash, celeriac, collards, jicama, mustard greens, and other obscure ingredients I come up with. Then, one day about 12 years ago, I tried her simple directions for cooking chanterelles, another mushroom with which I had much difficulty. That was a game-changer, and a technique I used ever since.

A few weeks ago I cooked chanterelles again this way. However, I also had some very fresh oyster mushrooms, and I thought, “I wonder what she has to say about oyster mushrooms.” The recipe was right there on page 334, and it was even easier than the one for chanterelles.

I cooked them as described, then tossed the mushrooms with pasta, and enjoyed the dish very much. Yesterday, I had an opportunity to try it again, this time with some homemade linguine from my new pasta machine. I had more mushrooms this time, so I doubled the recipe. There was no stock defrosted, so I put a vegan bouillon cube in water and brought it to boiling, then added the butter and the mushrooms. No more salt or pepper was needed; the bouillon supplied enough.

After the liquid had boiled off, I added some olive oil, and the mushrooms started to brown, much to my delight. When they had good color, I added the cooked pasta, stirred it up, and sat down with a full bowl. It was superb. The wine was a Graciano from Sans Liege (Groundwork label) in Paso Robles, CA, a most satisfactory accompaniment.

I had picked our first small eggplant from the pots on the railing along our deck. This was sliced, sautéed, and sprinkled lightly with Portuguese white wine vinegar, for the evening’s vegetable.

Earlier I made a cucumber/grape tomato/purple daikon and red radish/black olive salad for the mid-afternoon snack.

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Tuna Salad Extraordinaire, Discovering a New Grape, plus Homemade Fettuccine Alfredo

Recently, we’ve been eating fish and seafood more often. One of my mainstays is a tuna salad lunch, made with Portuguese tinned ventresca tuna from Luças.

The salad is made with these delicious tuna fillets, jazzed up with whatever is handy, cut in small dice:

  • red onion
  • celery
  • plum tomato
  • beans
  • black olives
  • radishes
  • homemade pickles
  • Spanish Piparras peppers
  • Portuguese olive oil and red wine vinegar

The wine was amazing. It’s a Spanish red wine from Ribeira Sacra region, Abadia Da Cova, made with Caiño, a grape varietal I did not know of previously. Fortunately, I was able to track some of it down at Winestone, a superb boutique wine shop in the Chestnut Hill area of Brookline.

That night, I decided to inaugurate my new Imperia pasta machine (with motorized rollers), to make fresh fettuccine with broccoli and shrimp, Alfredo style.

Shrimp and Roasted Broccoli Fettuccine Alfredo

 

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Sourdough, Mushrooms, Polenta, Scylla

Sourdough is always handy. One or two slices can be breakfast or lunch, a snack or a dinner component. This post features sourdough toast with “wild mushrooms” (Chanterelles), followed by a polenta dish that evening.

The polenta was made into crostini, from leftovers the night before. Cut into bite-sized pieces, it was flavored with Pecorino, tapenade, and herbs, drizzled with olive oil, and crisped under the broiler. Paired with a California red wine, Scylla, from Birichino, it was a delicious appetizer — with flavors as explosive as the bouquet of flowers given to us from a friend’s garden.

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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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Arancini

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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