For Fans of Marcella and Victor Hazan

If you are passionate about good food, you probably are familiar with Marcella Hazan. And if you really care about Italian cooking, Marcella has directly or indirectly already played a role in your appreciation and approach.

I’ve been a devotee for about 40 years, and I am writing tonight to solicit your support for a project I just learned about today.

Message I received today from Peter Miller, documentary film-maker:

As you may have heard, I’m making a documentary about Marcella Hazan, my food hero. I saw your post to Victor’s Facebook page and suspect that we are kindred spirits in our esteem for the work of Marcella and Victor. My goal is to make a documentary for wide audiences that will bring Marcella’s story to the world. We are in the final week of a Kickstarter for the documentary, which will help make it possible for us to complete filming. I wonder if you might consider sharing news about the campaign on your blog, or with anyone you think might be interested.

If so, here’s the link: http://bit.ly/marcellakickstarter

I’ve signed up, and I do hope this project is a success. We will all benefit.

I’ve been writing this blog now for 12 years. There have been more than 600 posts, and Marcella is featured in 29 of them. Victor, too, has an important role for me in food and wine.

Thanks for considering a timely contribution.

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Grilled Manchego Cheese and Wild Mushroom Crostini

My favorite simple lunch these days is made with nothing more than bread, wild mushrooms, and sheep milk cheese. Sometimes I embellish it slightly, in this case with a few cherry tomatoes.

Sometimes I use a slice or two of my sourdough bread; when I want to feel luxurious, I slice some of the Tuscan pane my wife buys (essentially an Italian white bread). Then I spread an assortment of cooked wild mushrooms (shiitake, oyster, and chestnut mushrooms) on the bread, cover with slices of Manchego or other sheep milk cheese, and grill under the broiler until the cheese gets bubbly and slightly crisp.

Here’s what it looks like.

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Homemade Spinach Tagliatelle and Ikarian Soufico

Ever since I read this article in the New York Times 10 years ago, I have been interested in the Greek island of Ikaria. The lifestyle and food habits seemed perfectly suited to my own values, so I am always looking for recipes from Ikaria to incorporate into my life.

If you don’t have a subscription to the Times, here is a PDF version of the article:

Last week I made some homemade spinach tagliatelle, and I needed a vegetable side dish. I found a perfect choice in the cookbook, The Blue Zones Kitchen, written by Dan Buettner — the author of the NYT article. The dish was Springtime Soufico, an unassuming but perfectly delicious little vegetable stew. Naturally, I had to eliminate the green pepper for my wife’s benefit, but the rest was as designed.

I had made the tagliatelle two days earlier, using a batch of fresh spinach that needed to be cooked just then. I left the noodles to dry out in the refrigerator, and then decided to pair them with roasted garlic and little cubes of pancetta, as the pasta dish for the night.

A bottle of 2017 Agiorgitiko provided a lovely medium-bodied red wine from Greece to pull together all the flavors very nicely.

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Late, Quick Lunch

It was close to 2 PM, and I hadn’t even thought about lunch. My go-to meal in this situation is normally a pasta dish, so I searched the cabinets for a small bag of dried pasta, leftover from a previous larger meal. Success; I found a single portion of Penne pasta. Next step was to concoct some sort of a quick sauce, preferably something unusual — not the prosaic tomato sauce or pesto, which were handy but not interesting. I started with anchovies. One salt-packed Cetara anchovy from Campania was rinsed, desalted, and boned, producing two beautiful fillets, and I was off and running:

Ingredients

  • Penne pasta
  • anchovies, filleted and chopped
  • 1 clove garlic, chopped
  • 1 tbs. butter
  • 1 tbs. olive oil
  • 1/2 large tomato. diced
  • 1 tbs. Tartufata
  • Preserved lemon paste
  • Breadcrumbs
  • Upland Cress
  • Pecorino cheese

Step number one was to start of large pot of water and bring it to a boil. When it reached the rolling boil stage, I added a handful of Kosher salt and then the Penne. This would cook for 14-15 minutes, while I prepared the sauce.

In my favorite sauté pan, I melted the butter, then added the garlic. When the garlic began to get some color, I added anchovies, followed by the olive oil and tomato pieces. When the tomato was fairly tender, I slipped in the Tartufata (mixture of finely chopped mushrooms and truffle), followed by a tsp. of Preserved Lemon Paste. When the pasta was cooked al dente, I added it to the sauté pan, along with 1/2 cup of hot pasta water. A handful or two or homemade breadcrumbs and a small bowl of Upland Cress leaves added texture and flavor. I sprinkled on a handful grated Pecorino and a gratuitous glug of Moroccan olive oil. The pasta was served with a 2017 Pretiosa, Albanello from Sicily. Molto bene!

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Salad of Chioggia Beets, Daikon Radish, and Sorrel

One of the joys of being in New England during the last 10 years had been the explosion of high quality, local farmers who are providing fresh fruits and vegetables to passionate cooks like us. This month I’ve written a few times about the Vermont-based company, Farmers to You, and the excellent produce I’ve been buying from them. This blog is an example of the reason I recommend their service so highly.

Last week I purchased Chioggia Beets, Purple Daikon Radishes, and fresh Sorrel, which I was able to turn into a marvelous salad, with the help of my favorite radicchios — Treviso and Castelfranco.

A medium-bodied red wine from Northeastern Portugal, Arribas Wine Company’s Raiolo, provided a superb pairing.

The quality of the beets, radish and sorrel was excellent. It was so good that I want to make a brief sales pitch to any of you in Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire who might be in a position to take advantage of Farmers to You and their service. As you know, I have no financial interest in any of the recommendations I make, but since their business is trying to expand, I will share the information they made available this week.

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Fresh Porcini, Finally Cooked Right

If you love mushrooms, as I do, at some point you will have the pleasure of eating fresh Porcinis. I have found that the ones from Italy are far better than any others I’ve tried (US Northwest, Slovenia, etc.) Fortunately, Eataly in Boston often carries Italian fresh Porcinis. After a number of marginally successful attempts, I finally cooked them properly. This coincided with my sourdough bread-making in March, and it provided some superb meals.

After several months of Ken Forkish-style breads, I switched back to Tartine Bakery for this effort. I did not get as much oven-spring with these loaves as I had hoped, but they tasted good nonetheless.

I cooked the thin slices of Porcini in olive oil until they started to brown. Then I added some white wine to the pan, and sweet butter and chopped garlic, and cooked the mushrooms until they were rich with flavor. Two slices of toasted sourdough, spread with a mixture of whipped feta cheese and almond milk ricotta, were topped with the mushrooms and consumed with gusto. A glass of 2015 Odoardi Savuto Calabrian wine was the perfect accompaniment.

A pasta dish the next night used the rest of the mushrooms, and it was enhanced with zucchini, beans, Parmesan cheese, and homemade, toasted breadcrumbs. Savuto prevailed again.

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Raving About Radicchio

I have always loved bitter greens, and most of all, Radicchio di Treviso. One of my best meals in March was a salad made with Tuna Fish, Radicchio, and Cannellini Beans.

Thinly-sliced Castelfranco Radicchio and chopped Gaeta olives were all I needed to make the dish complete, along with the requisite oil and vinegar.

Another highlight of this lunch was the bottle of 2020 Oddity Wine Collective Changeling, an Arizona white wine blend, made by my son. His first white wine was a 2015 Changeling, made with Riesling and Viogner. The new Changeling was a blend of Riesling, Rousanne, and Vidal Blanc, and it is worthy of the best white Rhône wines I have tried.

Two other meals of note should be recorded with this blog. One was a simple lunch dish of soup, made with tomatoes, white beans, ditallini pasta, Parmesan and chopped parsley.

Dinner that night was Barbara’s successful Corn and Basil Tart from a recent food magazine, preceded with an appetizer of shrimp, garlic, and parsley. The same wine went with this beautifully.

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Polenta with Pzazz!

Lately I’ve become a big fan of Polenta. It’s a great alternative to pasta and rice, and it matches well with all kinds of vegetables. My wife makes the best polenta dishes I have had, so I’ve been trying to learn from her technique. The most important element, she insists, is keeping a high ratio of water to cornmeal in the mix. Her recommendations are a minimum of 4:1 or 5:1 in favor of water.

Further research online and in my cookbooks revealed another technique that looked intriguing. Instead of slowly drizzling cornmeal into the pot of boiling water, this approach described soaking the cornmeal in a pot of water overnight, and then cooking it all with more water the next day. The advantages suggested were twofold: (1) less likelihood of “clumping” which often occurs when trying to add the meal steadily with the water boiling, and (2) the soaked cornmeal makes for a smoother, less grainy end product.

And finally, I had one more motivation for this meal: a recently-re-tinned and polished copper pot. This pot was made in France for Williams-Sonoma many years ago. It is 9.5 inches in diameter and weighs more than 6 lbs., so it is ideal for a vigorously-stirred polenta.

Now for the ingredients; I wanted to make something with lots of flavor and rich in colors. Here are the elements: (note: Matbucha is a Moroccan/Middle Eastern spicy sauce made with peppers and tomatoes.)

  • 1 cup of medium-grain cornmeal
  • 5 cups of water
  • 1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano
  • 1/3 cup rice milk
  • 1 large sweet potato
  • 4 Tbs. sweet butter, half for the sweet potatoes, and half for the polenta
  • 1/2 cup of Matbucha from New York Shuk
  • two handfuls of fresh black trumpet mushrooms

I must tell you that one of the stars of this show was a Butter-Roasted Sweet Potatoes recipe from the food blog, Kitchn. It has color and flavor that make any dish pop! It was the first thing to cook.

Next task was making the polenta. That took about 45 minutes, stirring often but not continuously. As a last step in the process, I added the cheese, 2 Tbs. butter, and the rice milk, stirring vigorously.

The final steps were quick sautéeing of the trumpet mushrooms, spooning the Matbucha sauce onto the plates, and pouring the wines. Happily, the excitement of the whole experience matched my inflated expectations.

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Pasta Plenty

We always have a group of pasta dishes in any given week, and this one was no different. The comfort food for one dinner was pasta shells baked with mushrooms and cheeses, crispy and full of flavor, but not too rich. I threw in a side order of pan-roasted snap beans, to use them before it was too late. The wine was a very good Valpolicella from Bertani, a label I remember from the old days — 40 years ago, when the availability of Italian wines in America was just a tiny fraction of what we enjoy today.

I was alone for lunch one day, so I made Capellini with onion, garlic, chopped Gaeta olives, pine nuts and lemon zest — organized on the fly and quite enjoyable. A little Caponata on the side provided some requisite vegetables.

Each week I’ve been trying various offerings from Farmers to You, as I described recently (March 5). Here’s a snapshot of a lunch plate featuring their Braising Mix of Mustard Greens, plump Cherry Tomatoes (grown in soil), and Chestnut Mushrooms — all nicely matched with sautéed slices of my sourdough bread. A Portuguese wine I bought recently from Portugalia went very well with the meal. It was a 2016 Luis Pato blend of two grapes, Baga and Touriga Nacional, beautifully-made and able to cope felicitously with the bitter edge of the sautéed mustard greens.

There’s not much else to say, so I will close by sharing another visual treat — a stunning orchid in full blossom, flowering again two years after we first received it as a gift from our friend, Chris.

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A Few Old Favorites

Last week was a good time to prepare a few old favorites, some with a new twist.

For example, I bought some Countneck clams and tried an approach from Al Forno (both the restaurant and the cookbook). This variation called for cooking the clams and accompanying vegetables in a very hot oven, 500° F. It took longer than expected, but the flavors were good and the colors were appealing.

Another lunch featured a few of my favorite radicchios in a salad, washed down with a glass of Birichino Vin Gris, a good match.

To fill out that meal I also made a small recipe of Caponata (Romagnolis-style), which is always delicious and healthy.

Barbara made a lovely diverse salad for dinner another night, with lettuces, carrots, hard-boiled eggs, avocado, scallions, celery, parsley, and steamed artichokes. No photos here, but it felt French enough for me to open a 2016 bottle of Saumur Rouge — always a delightful treat in a Parisian bistro.

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