December Cucina

Now that the Fall course I’ve been teaching has ended successfully, I’ve had more time to play in the kitchen. This Post is an Omnibus collection of our best efforts.

Breakfasts

Many of my breakfasts feature a couple of slices of my sourdough bread. This one shows Organic Hummus from Trader Joe’s, sprinkled with Lebanese Za’atar from Sheffield Spices. Flavor (and color) enhancers are home-pickled jalapeños and quail eggs colored with turmeric.

Another favorite is smoked salmon. This time it was on excellent toasted bagels (with everything) from Mameleh’s in Cambridge. Instead of cream cheese, the bread is smeared with Kite Hill Whipped Ricotta (made from almond milk). The smoked salmon is from Whole Foods house brand, which we find is lower in sodium than many others. Thinly-sliced red onion and Santorini capers are all that’s need to make a rich, satisfying breakfast.

Lunches

My wife often has meetings or errands outside the house at mid-day, so lunchtime is my preferred window for experimentation and cooking foods she won’t eat. Two such examples are illustrated below.

I love beans, and this time of year, I often have the time to soak dried beans overnight and cook them the next day. Here are three different bean salads in the past two weeks.

Another special food that only I eat is octopus. Normally, I’ve been making dishes with 3-4 lb. Spanish frozen octopus. One time when I was at Portugalia, I also bought a package of frozen “baby” octopus. I believe they were from Indonesia. My understanding is that these are not actually babies, but they are fully-mature versions of a different variety.

In any case I took the package out of the refrigerator the night before, and the next day experimented with two different cooking techniques. One approach was what I learned 12 years ago from Mike Anthony, the chef at Gramercy Tavern in New York.

After braising the octopus I cooked them on the gas grill, rather than cranking up the pizza oven just for a few minutes of searing.

The other method was to try a Sous Vide recipe I found on the internet.

Both batches were good, but the SousVide version took only about one hour, vs. two hours for the slow-oven approach. My conclusion is that sous vide is preferred with baby octopus. They were all good when turned into a salad with beans and peppers.

Dinners

The one dinner I want to tell you about was a Christmas Eve meal, just for the two of us — Lobster and Corn Risotto. I first made this last year, after a trip to Maine, using the fresh lobsters we bought there. This time I was able to get some lovely lobster meat on sale from Sven Fish, an excellent supplier in our area, who also delivers. Served the risotto with a Vermentino from California. Delicious.

My best wishes to you all for happy holidays and a very good New Year 2023.

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Eating Out at Pammy’s, then Back Home for Pasta

As you may remember, Pammy’s in Cambridge has been my #1 Restaurant in Greater Boston for several years. This week I went out with friends to introduce them to this treasure, and it was excellent, as always. Here was the menu; note that it is Prix Fixe. My three dishes were Cod Cheeks, Veal Sweetbreads, and Kale Gnudi. Two of the three are shown below.

The next night was an opportunity to cook at home. I had some sushi-grade yellowfin tuna from Sven’s Fish and I wanted to use it in a pasta dish with minimal cooking. I got inspiration from another website — La Cucina Italiana — so I made Chitarra with Raw Tuna and Zucchini. My wife is not a fan of capellini or spaghettini, so I used chitarra instead. It was just right, and also a good match with the wine, 2018 Terre del Principe, Le Sèrole — a Pallagrello Bianco.

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Winter Salad with Radicchio and Cauliflower

One of the blogs I follow is Our Italian Table. I love their motto, along with their recipes.

As you may already know, radicchio is one of my favorite ingredients, so when my wife made a supper featuring chicken (which I rarely eat now), it gave me an opportunity to make my own dinner and to try out this recipe:

We call such evenings YO-YO meals, meaning “You’re on Your own”. It worked well that night because she hates radicchio AND raw cauliflower, among other things.

My Radicchio di Treviso was perfect for this dish, as were the pine nuts and shallots. I did not have any golden raisins, so I substituted Greek sun dried currants from Corinth. They added another dimension to the dish, and the combination — including the anchovies and red wine vinegar — was fabulous. Somehow the sweetness counteracted the bitterness of the chicory, and it was superb.

To fill out the rest of the meal, I took out a small eggplant that needed to be used right away, and I roasted it with some wild mushrooms, olive oil, salt, and pepper.

All I could say is “Everything was copacetic”. If you are reading this, and you are under the age of 60, I imagine you will need to look up “copacetic” or “copasetic”. That can be your vocabulary word for the week. Buon Appetito.

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Shrimp Pancakes

Shrimp are so versatile. They go well with so many foods, and they can be made as appetizers, lunches or dinner dishes, They can be found in all kinds of cuisines, and they are featured prominently in the cooking of France, Italy, Spain, and America — all of my favorites.

Last month I was perusing through a Spanish cookbook, a 2-inch thick magnum opus by Penelope Casas: 1,000 Spanish Recipes. One of the recipes that intrigued me was Shrimp Pancakes, so I decided to make them for a light supper.

I made several pancakes and served them with sautéed Cavolo Nero for an easy and tasty supper.

For a historical perspective I remember a similar recipe we used to make 20 years ago, so I looked it up in my electronic archive. It was a Chinese recipe — a delightful appetizer — called EUGENIA’S MOTHER-IN-LAW’S SOOCHOW SHRIMP CAKES. Eugenia was a friend of ours and a terrific cook. Best of all, she gave Chinese cooking lessons to a group of friends, and we were the happy beneficiaries of her generosity. Here is her mother-in-law’s dish; the pieces were much smaller, thus better suited as an appetizer:

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The Staff of Life

It’s a good thing that I’ve always been on good terms with gluten and carbohydrates. So many of my favorite foods come from wheat berries. As I look over the material I have about cooking and the foods for this blog, I am struck by the significance of bread and pasta in the crowd. Fortunately, this is balanced by vegetables, fruit and seafood which we have in abundance. This post illustrates some of the month’s highlights on our tables.

Sourdough Again

Two batards and a good-sized boule came out of baking Tartine-style country loaves again this month.

Toasted or fried, the thin slices of this bread (90% bread flour, 10% whole wheat) have been the basis for breakfasts and lunches regularly. Hummus, smoked salmon, Basque sheep-milk cheeses, just plain unsalted butter — each has graced and enhanced this marvel of the fermentation process.

In the brief period between finishing the last batch of sourdough and the completion of this one, I also baked a couple of small loaves of peasant white bread from Alexandra’s Kitchen.

Marcella’s Genius

I keep re-discovering the meticulous magic of Marcella Hazan’s cooking. Here are two examples, each of which includes pasta or bread neatly integrated into the meal.

Ligurian-Style Pasta.

Over the years I have occasionally made a pasta dish from Liguria, which features zucchini and carrots, usually cut into small julienned pieces. It has been a good dish, but not over-the-top marvelous. This month I was re-reading my Marcella Cucina cookbook (1997), and I found and tried her version.

Her attention to all the little details, including removing the core of each carrot prior to the julienne process and the steps of successive salting in small amounts, made all the difference. The result was clearly superior. I have only one photo, because we gobbled up the rest of the dish with gusto.

Marcella’s Escarole, Sautéed Apulian-Style

Another example of Marcella’s ability to make a simple dish supremely good is this recipe for sautéed escarole. I had purchased a very attractive, large head of escarole at the market, and I was looking for a new way to cook it when I found this recipe. Normally, I would blanch the greens and then sauté with olive oil and garlic. The other usual option was escarole and rice soup. Each of these choices has just a few steps in the instructions and is easy to prepare.

Marcella, on the other hand, takes two pages of detailed instructions to describe a terrific dish, using just escarole, bread, garlic and anchovies. It also turned out to be a great way to finish the remaining loaf of white peasant bread I mentioned earlier.

Simple, rustic, traditional, and delicious. Grazie, Marcella.

I close with this insight from another great chef:

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Talented Lady

My wife has a great many talents. With this short post, I will celebrate two of them:

  1. makes flowers bloom magnificently
  2. cooks with creativity and finesse

FLOWERS

Most of you are probably familiar with Christmas Cactus, a common houseplant. Well, ours are actually Thanksgiving Cacti, and they are in their glory right now. Barbara manages them with great skill. They are placed outside on our deck all Spring and Summer. Then she washes and trims them, brings the plants into the little greenhouse adjacent to our living room, and they pop into bloom in a variety of colors.

She also manages a small crew of helpers, who keep and eye on everything…


FOOD

Five years ago we visited Campania for a week. There were many highlights of the trip. One of them was a simple vegetable soup served at the restaurant in the Hotel Santa Caterina, where we stayed in Amalfi. We enjoyed the soup so much that Barbara duplicated it in our kitchen when we returned, and she’s been serving ever since. Including tonight, which triggered this post.

Sometimes she improvises. Tonight’s surprise — which made it a complete and delicious supper — were perfect biscuits, hot out of the oven. Simple, and superb.

I will save the remaining list of talents for future posts, so as not to overwhelm my readers tonight.

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Little Whale Oyster Bar

Like its sister restaurant, Select Oyster, Little Whale is an attractive, focused eatery with some very fine seafood, and located in Back Bay, Boston. I tried it out this past week — just for variety — and I liked it.

Three small plates of my favorite things were more than enough for dinner: (1) oysters on the half shell (see lineup below), (2) Hamachi Crudo with golden watermelon, vinegar, Aleppo pepper and mint, and (3) Roasted Cauliflower with toasted almonds, golden raisins and harissa labneh. This last was also a generous portion — more than enough.

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Tourlou

As the summer drew to a close with the warm days we had in November, it seemed appropriate to have one more of the wonderful baked vegetable dishes we enjoy with nature’s bounty. This one is called “Tourlou”, and it could be Greek or Turkish in origin. Its principal ingredients are eggplant, zucchini, potatoes, onions, and tomatoes — like so many of the ratatouille-style dishes of the Mediterranean. A large cazuela or tian is the perfect vessel to use, and we had a good one.

You can see that I threw in some sautéed mushrooms too. You can almost smell the warmth of the thinly-sliced onions, swimming in the thick tomato sauce, nicely-browned in the hot oven.

Of course, this calls for a rich, red wine. It was a superb match with a recently-discovered gem from the Rhône valley, a 2019 Terres de Mandrin Syrah by Jeanne Gaillard. Magnifique!

The leftovers the next day went very well with Kent Callaghan’s Arizona wine, a 2015 blend of Grenache, Mourvedre, Petit Verdot, and Tannat (all good friends of mine).

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Porcini-Infused Pasta with Vegetables

Recently, I have had success with my homemade pastas. Some of the more creative ventures involved adding flavors, using porcini powder or unsweetened cocoa to the flour mixture. Here is a short story of the second time I tried the porcini pasta, this version with some of my favorite summer vegetables.

I made two different doughs for small quantities of finished product. One was a simple mix with 75 g. of Double-Zero “00” flour, 17 g. of freshly-milled Durum wheat, and one extra large egg. I let it dry and saved it for a dinner on another day.

For the second batch, I made Porcini Tonarelli, with 88g. of “00” flour, 37 g. of hard Durum flour. 1 extra large whole egg plus one egg yolk, and the magical ingredient — only 5 g. of Porcini powder.

I had already prepared the sauce, containing sautéed eggplant, zucchini, leeks, and tomato, PLUS a few high-quality dried Porcini — reconstituted, chopped and sautéed, including the strained soaking liquid. The dish was delicious, accompanied by a salad of beets with pickled cauliflower and Kalamata olives.

All of this was topped off with one of my favorite Italian white wines, a single-vineyard NovaSerra Greco di Tufo from Mastroberardino.

Buon appetito.

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Autumn Leaves

This has been a particularly beautiful Autumn season. The colors are spectacular and enduring. I just want to share some of it with you, my readers.

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