Sicilian Flours and Homemade Pasta

I recently received a shipment from my specialty supplier, Gustiamo, in NY, and it contained two different fine flours from Sicily. One was Maiorca, a soft wheat that I had used once or twice in my sourdough breads. The other was Rimacinata Cuore, a very fine hard durum wheat Semola, which I was eager to try for making pasta.

I decided to use 100 grams of each flour, plus 2 extra large eggs, and fine sea salt from Trapani (Sicily), to make enough pasta for one dinner and a couple of small lunches.

The other major component for my pasta that night was the sauce. I had some roasted, peeled sweet red peppers leftover in the refrigerator, plus the remaining tomato sauce from pizza-making a week earlier, so I decided to blend them together. Good choice! The depth of flavor from the peppers, the acidity of the tomatoes, and the verve from the sea salt combined to make a rich and satisfying sauce for me. I made Barbara’s pasta with Lucini tomato sauce from a jar, since she can’t eat peppers.

I rolled the pasta slightly thicker than normal and cut it into tagliolini or tagliatelle shape (not sure which). To accompany the pasta, I decided to broil rather than sautée the vegetables (yellow squash and radishes), and I was happy I did.

tomato-pepper sauce

Once again, Jan D’Amore provided the perfect vino for the occasion, a 2015 Flavio Roddolo Dolcetto d’Alba Superiore.

A bit later in the evening I decided to have a little dessert. A disk of Taza Chocolate Mexican-Style, Stone Ground Salted Almond, paired with a glass of Cappellano Barolo Chinato, completed it all.

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October Snow and Halibut Supper

It’s rare for us to get snow in October, but last Friday (the 30th) we had almost 5″ of heavy wet snow. It was a nasty enough day that I postponed my food shopping trip to the city until Saturday. The photos, both here and in town, featured the snow and were punctuated visually by the bright leaves still on (or recently fallen off) the trees.

fresh snow behind the house
fresh snow and Gingko leaves on Cambridge Street

My last stop in the city was the fish store, for some delicious halibut, which Barbara poached for dinner, accompanied by baked eggplant with tomato sauce and mashed potatoes. It was a superb meal.

tomato sauce, leftover from pizza-making

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Just a few more details…

…are necessary for a complete picture of my October food and wine.

For many years, I have favored Burgundies for my higher-end, longer-term wine purchases. Fortunately, we’ve now reached an age (both mine and the Burgundies) when it’s time to enjoy those investments. One of the high points this Fall was a 1992 bottle of Robert Chevillon’s Nuits-St.-Georges. I also have some of his 1995’s from this vineyard, but the 1992 was so much richer and smoother than the last ’95 I tasted. My only regret is that I did not have any friends available in person with whom I could share this old Burgundy.

While I am filling in the details of recent meals, I realized I left out a surprise plate that I enjoyed for lunch to go along with the Chilean Cinsault in a recent post. The dish was just a plate of Nachos — but with a few flourishes. Blue corn chips and salsa, of course, but these were enhanced by vegan queso (made from cashews), Ranch Gordo heirloom Moro beans, finely-chopped Padron peppers from our deck railing garden, fresh chunks of ripe avocado, and a pretty serving plate.

And, most recently, I can add yesterday’s lunch — another superb bruschetta with leftovers, accompanied by a well-aged wine.

Cavolo nero sautéed with garlic, and roasted red pepper plus Nicoise olives

Buon appetito!

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Once in a While I Go For a Walk…

the conservation land across the street
woods alongside our driveway
Spaghetti with Pancetta and Peas, a variation of Carbonara
Roasted and blistered vegetables for lunch…
and one of my favorite wines, Pinner by Cavallotto, vino bianco from Pinot Nero

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October Food and Wine — More Mini Posts

One night last week I was in the mood for vegetables with a French accent. Mireille’s eggplant with Tomato Sauce, Grilled Zucchini with Balsamic and sautéed shallots, and some brown rice made an unassuming and delicious dinner.

The wine was a charming “sleeper”, a Cinsault from Chile.

It also went well with the dinner Barbara made the next night: comforting Polenta with a rich Ratatouille, supplemented with Mushroom Ragout.

Lunch in-between featured my sourdough bruschetta, one with a roasted eggplant purée, the other with whipped almond milk and feta cheese.

Another night was really good homemade cannelloni, stuffed with a purée of fresh spinach and the whipped cheese mixture, plus Parmesan. These were sauced with tomato and baked with mozzarella.

Another lunch featured a salad with arugula, two kinds of beans, red onion, celery, purple daikon radish, Dijon mustard, and the best oil and vinegar I could find. Of course, some fried sourdough enriched the meal. The wine was Deirdre Heekin’s Harlots and Ruffians, from Vermont, a lovely counterpoint.



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October Food and Wine — Mini Posts

I enjoy blogging, and I’ve plenty of food and wine to share with you. However, my inertia gets in the way: too much setup time. Select episodes. Choose the photos, and edit them. Find room on my desktop to add them to the blog. Copy or create a recipe, then take a photo of it so I can post a jpeg….and on and on. Excuses, excuses.

So, since I want to dedicate these to my friend, Jan, here are my mini-posts for October.

Black Bean Risotto with Grilled Vegetables

This is a recipe from a former chef in Miami, and it features Caribbean flavors. I’ll provide the recipe from Judith Barrett’s Risotto, Risotti, if anyone wants it. Jan’s wine was a great match.

Pizza Night with Friends

Saturday afternoon was a perfect day for the pizza oven. Not hot or humid. Few bugs around. Not windy. Dave and Lynn joined us outside.

Here are some of Lynn’s photos:

As you can see, I didn’t enjoy it much…

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Breads and Bruschette

One of the joys of semi-retirement is the freedom to enjoy the natural rhythms in the world, especially those related to food. Today’s small lunch provides an object lesson.

At first appearances it is a simple meal: several slices of grilled bread, topped with a white bean purée, a fresh basil leaf, and chopped broccoli rabe, accompanied by a glass of an Italian white wine — Vadiaperti’s Coda di Volpe. However, there is a lot more to the story. The fact that this meal was five days in the making will illustrate what I mean by “the natural rhythms”.

This is my first post in two months. Even in semi-retirement, there are periods of intense activity for work. The past six weeks have been very busy, teaching two graduate school courses completely online for the first time. Finally, this week one course was completed, so I’ve had a chance to indulge my passion for cooking. Here’s how the elements came together over a five-day sequence.

Day 1 — mix the levain as the first step in making sourdough bread. Let it sit on the kitchen counter overnight to ferment.

Day 2 — mix the bread dough, incorporating the levain, and let it develop slowly, all day long, stretching it every half hour or so. Retard the development by placing the loaves in the refrigerator overnight.

Day 3 — bake the breads (four loaves this time, instead of the usual two). I hate to throw out unused levain, so I made one recipe of Tartine-style whole wheat, and one recipe of a rye bread with caraway seeds, providing two loaves for each. In the afternoon begin soaking a batch of dried cannellini beans and let them soak overnight.

Day 4 — cook the beans, then make the purée, including slow-cooked, chopped onion and garlic, plus some olive oil, then sautéed with the beans. Trim a bunch of broccoli rabe, parboil it to remove some of the bitterness and tenderize a bit. When the vegetable was cooled and dried, flash fry it with olive oil in a very hot wok. Chop and eat some for lunch, setting the rest in the refrigerator overnight.

Today, Day 5 — slice and grill the bread. Rub raw garlic and a ripe tomato on the toast. Pick the basil from our garden. Top the bread with the purée and the broccoli rabe and basil. Pour the wine, relax and enjoy lunch.

So, what’s all this stuff about “natural rhythms”? Well, my observation is that most of our professional and personal lives involve ways to do things quickly. I could buy pre-made bread, and a container of puréed beans. Or, I could even bake my own bread with instant yeast, slice it and make a meal the same day. I could use a can of pretty good cannellini beans, and it might cost $0.99 and be ready in the 30 seconds required to open the can.

These are all practical options, and they have often given us healthy and convenient meals. But I also have learned that, when I have the time, the breads I make from milling my own flour, using a levain from my own sourdough starter, and allowing the dough to develop over two days before I bake it — those breads have more flavor, satisfying textures, and last on the counter far longer without spoiling than anything I buy or make with instant yeast. To me, the natural rhythms of fermentation and breadmaking can be enjoyed to the fullest, when one has the luxury to do so.

The prosaic white beans tell a similar story. The flavor and texture of Rancho Gordo dry cannellini beans, named “Marcella” in honor of Marcella Hazan, allow me to savor a purée as if I were in the kitchen of my favorite Italian food writer, while I conversed with Victor Hazan about the glories of Coda di Volpe, the grapes from Campania, so named because the grape clusters hang down on the vines as if they were ‘the tail of the wolf’.

Another dividend of this whole, drawn-out process is that I get to enjoy some of the elements in other dishes over the five-day period. Here are the photos along the way.

Four breads, baked in three different custom-made Breadpots by Judith Motzkin, providing delicious, healthy, vegan meals.

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Late Night Snack

Okay, now that we’ve shown in the previous post how to roast and peel sweet peppers, the question is, “what do we do with them?”

Fortunately, I felt a need for a late night snack tonight, and I am happy to share my answer to the question.  Here’s the photo, followed by the narrative.

I was at the tail end of the last sourdough bread loaf from last week, so I trimmed the harder crusts and sliced 4 pieces of bread.  These were sautéed in olive oil on both sides.  When nice and crisp, I topped two of them with slices of Trader Joe’s Goat Milk Brie cheese, and then added the sliced sweet peppers with capers.  Next, I topped the other two slices with a Ligurian olive paste, made from Taggiasche olives, and then added the rest of the sliced peppers.  A generous sprinkling of sea salt crystals from Ibiza and freshly-ground black pepper from Costa Rica completed the dish.

Now for the finale.  The last few weeks have been unusual in that I’ve been drinking less wine, and even enjoying it less when I do drink.  Still, I had an open bottle of a 2016 Saumur Champigny Rouge — a Loire Valley Cab Franc, so I poured some into one of my favorite French glasses.  The results were marvelous.  Just hit the spot.  The only thing missing, I think, was to have rubbed a little raw garlic on the toast, before the toppings.  Next time.   There’s always room for improvement.


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Roasting Sweet Peppers — A Revelation!

I’ve been roasting and peeling sweet peppers for at least 40 years in my cooking career, so I thought I had the methodologies down pat.  They included grilling them until well-charred on the gas grill, roasting them whole or cut in half vertically in a very hot oven, or broiling them on high heat in a similar manner.  In all of these, the peppers are washed and dried and cooked with oil, so the skins will char and peel easily.  Ha!  Think again — there is another way, and I found I really like the results.

I was perusing one of my seldom-used cookbooks the other night (Lidia Bastianich’s Lidia Cooks from the Heart of Italy), and I was intrigued by the Farro and Roasted Pepper Sauce recipe.  Here’s her technique:

“Preheat the oven to 350º F.  Rub the peppers all over with 2 tablespoons olive oil, season with 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and place on the parchment-lined baking sheet.  Roast for 30 minutes or so, turning the peppers occasionally, until their skins are wrinkled and slightly charred.  Let the peppers cool completely…..  Peel the skin off the cooled peppers, and then slice (as desired)”

It worked beautifully.  The peppers peeled much more easily than with other methods.  No small pieces of charred skin on everything.  No wads of paper towels used in the skinning process.  And perfectly tender texture in the finished peppers.

Live, experiment, and learn!

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Moroccan Eggplant-Olive Tagine

I love eggplants.  When done properly, they are extremely satisfying.  We cook them often, so I am always on the lookout for new favorites to add to our repertoire.  Yesterday, I tried a Moroccan Eggplant-Olive Tagine that made the grade.

As I’m sure you know, Tagine is both a clay pot and the name of dishes made in those pots, as well.  We do have a small tagine, which is rarely used.  I found it on a shelf under the stairs in our house, and that inspired me to try this recipe.

After assembling all the ingredients and doing the prep work, I agonized over the question of whether or not to use my tagine, or to make it in another saucepan.  Authenticity suggested the tagine, but its small size and the fact that I was unable to locate the heat diffuser we used to have to ensure that the pot did not crack when placed directly over our gas burner — these drawbacks convinced me not to risk it.  I will not recover the 27 minutes I spent looking for the diffuser all over the house, but c’est la guerre.

It all came together smoothly, and it was ready to eat in less than 45 minutes.  I chose to serve it with quinoa (as recommended above), which I enriched with wild rice I had cooked earlier in the day.  We now have a new favorite eggplant dish.

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