Friday, March 31, 2006

En todas las casas cuecen habas

Here you have some "habas" or "fave" or "feves" or fava beans. This Spanish saying, "in every house, they cook fava beans" loosely translates to "everyone has a skeleton in their closet". The idea is that fava beans were considered food for the poor and despite one's pretension of wealth, one still went home and ate fava beans, not steak. Now, I certainly don't mind a good steak every once in a while but fava beans are pretty good too. They are, however so work-intensive to prepare that they might these days imply you have servants in the kitchen! What you see here are fava beans that have been divested of their pods, then boiled for 3-4 minutes and then squeezed out of their tough skins. For 1 kilo (2.2 pounds) of whole fava beans with pods, I ended up with 3 cups of edible favas. Evidently there are fresher, younger fava beans that don't require that last step of squeezing since the outer skin is still tender. I haven't seen favas like that around here, though. Here is a lovely spring dish you can make for 4 people as a main dish.

Spaghettini with fresh favas, pancetta and sun-dried tomatoes

1 lb spaghettini
3 cups shelled, boiled, peeled favas
1/4 cup olive oil
1 small, yellow onion
1 clove garlic
4 ozs pancetta/bacon, diced
1/4 cup diced sun-dried tomatoes
shaved Parmesan to taste

Heat the olive oil in a wide frying pan, add the onion and brown; this takes several minutes. Once the onion is light brown, add the garlic and saute for 1 minute. Remove to a plate. Set a large pot of salted water to boil. In the same frying pan, now add the pancetta/bacon and fry over medium-low heat, about halfway through remove the accumulated bacon grease. Continue cooking until it is brown and thoroughly crispy. This will take several minutes. Remove to the plate. Once the water is boiling add the pasta and add the reserved onion, garlic and pancetta/bacon back to the frying pan along with the favas and the sun-dried tomatoes. Saute and warm the sauce while the pasta cooks. Once the pasta is just a bit harder than al dente, add 1/4 cup of the cooking water to the frying pan, drain the pasta and add it. In the pan, the pasta will cook to a perfect al dente and will absorb some of the flavors of the sauce. Once most of the water is absorbed, take the pan off the heat and serve immediately with Parmesan shavings on top.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Yuck! What is this?!

Gabriel found a few of these itty-bitty 1.5 mm bugs crawling in the dirt among my arugula seedlings. I don't know much about vegetable garden pests so I don't know if this is a problem or not. After looking in the blogosphere for information about this, I came up with nothing more than general talk about pests that already have names and what to do about them. If I knew what this was, I'd be set. Does anybody have an idea about what this is or about who I could ask to find out?

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

So, ok, this isn't sauce aurore. After the grocery stores were all closed, I realized we had no tomato paste. So you're seeing sauce velout� all around the cabbage, so sue me! The Aurore would have been better though, I admit it. Posted by Picasa

Stuffed Cabbage – Kicked Up a Notch

Otherwise known as “Savoy cabbage leaves stuffed with wild rice, porcini mushrooms and Italian aromatic vegetables in a Sauce Aurore.” Snooty, no? In January I made my first Polish stuffed cabbage and it was very tasty but this time I wanted to try something a little more elegant.

Here’s the recipe:
10 large outer cabbage leaves
1 cup Minnesota wild rice (boiled in 3 cups salted water for 50 minutes) Why not do this the day ahead?
1 cup dried porcini mushrooms not packed at all: just whatever roughly fits in.
2 cups hot tap water
2 tbsps fresh rosemary
10 fresh sage leaves
2 carrots peeled
2 ribs celery plus leaves
1 large yellow onion
1 large garlic clove
4 ozs pancetta or bacon (semi frozen)
1 tbsp olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
2 eggs
2 tbsp butter
2-3 tbsps flour
1 tbsp tomato paste
1 tbsp extra butter for dotting the top of the cabbage parcels

Prep the cabbage and porcini mushrooms: Pre-heat the oven to 350F. Cover the dried porcinis with the hot water and set aside for 30 minutes to soak and soften. Meanwhile, blanch the cabbage leaves in boiling water for about 10 minutes until they are just soft and pliable. Remove from the pot, let cool, cut out the thick center rib and set aside.

Make the “battuto” (combo of aromatic veggies finely chopped): Place the rosemary, sage, onion, carrots, celery, garlic and pancetta/bacon in a food processor, and process to a rough battuto, that is, not a smooth paste but teeny-tiny pieces. It helps if the pancetta/bacon is semi frozen – it will be more easily cut up. Cook the paste in the olive oil over medium heat for about 7 minutes until it has released its moisture and begins to genuinely fry (the rendering bacon fat helps this out). While this is cooking, remove the porcinis from their soaking liquid being careful to rub off any sand and add them to the vegetable battuto. Strain the soaking liquid (which at this point should be a beautiful dark brown) through a strainer lined with paper toweling. Add the cooked, cooled wild rice to the vegetables and salt and pepper to taste. Add the eggs and mix to incorporate. Separate the vegetable-rice mixture into 10 equal portions. Place each portion into each cabbage leaf and roll like a burrito. Place them snugly together in one layer in an ovenproof dish.

Now make the Sauce Aurore: First make a roux with the butter and flour: Melt the butter in a small saucepan then add the flour. Fry the mixture for several minutes stirring until it is a bubbly, yellow-tan paste. (It will be a liquidy paste if you choose to add 2 tbsps of flour and a crumbly paste if you choose to add 3) Now you have a roux. Then add the porcini soaking liquid and whisk like crazy to incorporate the roux with the liquid. Make sure to scrape the inner edges of the pan to get all the roux incorporated. Bring the sauce back to the boil and cook for another 2 minutes. When it thickens to the consistency of custard sauce you have a sauce velouté. Add the tomato paste and voilá, you’ve got sauce aurore. It should be nice and pinkish. Pour this around the cabbage parcels so that you have green islands floating in a pink sea. Dot tops of cabbage parcels with bits of butter (to keep them moist while in the oven) and bake for 45 minutes.

Becks & Posh: Puntarelle

Becks & Posh: Puntarelle

Monday, March 27, 2006

Spring Vegetables are so Beautiful!

This is some of what was at the market today. Coming from Chicago where spring-like weather lasts about 2 weeks I revel in the luxury of all things spring. These vegetables are: pre-cleaned artichokes, red "green" onions (I think they're called ramps), fresh fava beans in the pod, Roman puntarelle and Sicilian lemons. Well, o.k. the lemons are not strictly a spring thing. Reading the Becks and Posh blog, I found that the seemingly exotic puntarelle are actually available in California! So check out your grocery stores everybody, you might have something like this coming your way!

This is a bunch of puntarelle picked in its prime and ready to be pulled apart into its finger-like sections, each sliced really thin, submerged in ice water so they curl in to C-shapes and dressed with a garlic, anchovy, olive oil dressing. This New York Times article lays out a lot of the traditional cuisine of Rome including puntarelle. If you want to see what it looks like curled and in a salad, check out the Audio Slide Show.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

30 Minute Bagna Cauda

Is My Blog Burning? has challenged the culinary blogosphere to produce a home-made dinner in 30 minutes or less. My first thought was Bagna Cauda with all raw vegetables. (A more time-consuming version would include boiled potatoes, cardoons, broccoli, artichokes, etc.) You slice the veggies into spears then you prepare the garlic, anchovy, olive oil sauce. Quick, delicious and really beautiful with all the contrasting colors of the veggies arrayed on a plate. This recipe serves 4.

8 whole, peeled cloves of garlic
1/3 cup whole milk
2 tbsp unsalted butter
6 anchovy fillets with 1 tsp of their oil
1 cup extra virgin olive oil

Vegetable suggestions:
2 raw carrots
2 ribs celery
1 large red bell pepper
1 raw fennel bulb
1 head of long, thin radicchio di Treviso

Cut all vegetables into long, thin spears. Place the garlic, anchovies, their oil and milk into a small food processor and reduce to a paste. Place this mixture into a small sauce pan along with the oil and cook stirring for about 15 minutes. The sauce will be a separated thing, with oil on top and garlic/anchovy sediment on the bottom. That's o.k. anybody who tells you they get an amalgamated mayonnaise-y consistency is a liar! Place in a fondue pot or flameproof pot held over a sterno flame and serve with the vegetables and lots of crusty bread to soak up any dripped sauce from the fondue pot to the plate.

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Saturday, March 25, 2006

"Latino Noticias" on Piu Blu - Que Chevere!

Gabriel and I were having our prosciutto ravioli in bolognese sauce in the living room this afternoon while channel surfing. Same old goofy 1960s Italian movie re-runs and variety shows with bevys of bikini-clad "velline" but when we flipped to the channel "Piu Blu", suddenly somebody was speaking Spanish! We got news reports about Peruvian election participation, Ecuadoran anti-NAFTA activists,glaciers melting into the sea in the south of Argentina, Cuban doctors in Afghanistan, and even a Latin jazz musical interlude. Univision, it ain't, but you have no idea how happy this makes me! Before moving to Italy, I spoke Spanish fluently. I spoke it every day. Now maybe once every couple months if I'm lucky and my Spanish has morphed into an Italian/Spanish hybrid. I hope Piu Blu keeps up the "Latino Noticias" (despite the funky grammar of the title). Les prometo de ver el programa todos los dias!

Friday, March 24, 2006

Tea Guy Speaks: George Bush Sips Darjeeling

Tea Guy Speaks: George Bush Sips Darjeeling

My Chai: Spiced Tea

When it’s cold outside, I love to sip tea and curl up with a good book. This winter in Milan was colder than usual (yeah, I know all you Chicagoans and Minnesotans are pulling out your violins for me!) and so I drank a lot of tea. Its warmth and caffeine kick hit the spot when it’s chilly and rainy. Funny but weather changes have no effect on my cravings for hot, caffeinated coffee. It’s the same all year round.
I had bought a pound of Indian Kalmi/Gulabi (whole-leaf Assam) back in Chicago on Devon Ave. I got a bum pack of tea, though (not Devon Ave’s fault; usually the Indian food there is top notch!) The tea’s not all that tasty alone, so over this cold winter, I devised my own version of spiced tea, chai masala. This is NOT the creamy sugary spiced tea you get at Indian sweet shops, it’s simpler and more straightforward than that. I don’t like to boil tea leaves so I get the flavor of the spices going by steeping them for a while before adding the tea.

Here's the recipe:
4 cracked green cardamom pods (going clockwise on the photo)
2 broken cloves
1 small bay leaf
¼ inch piece of cinnamon, broken
1 heaping tablespoon of
whole-leaf Assam tea
12 ozs water

Put the water over the lowest heat setting and collect the spices. Toss them in and stir, allow them to slowly heat and steep for 5 minutes then turn up the heat to bring the water to a boil. As soon as the bubbles start moving, take the pan off the heat, toss in the tea, stir and cover. Wait 3-5 minutes, depending on how strong you like your tea. Pour through a strainer into an oversized mug. Enjoy!

Thursday, March 23, 2006

You Grow Girl

One of my favorite things about is that they make gardening hip. When I got interested in cooking and gardening, I thought it was the beginning of the end for me. Soon, I'd completely lose touch with my inner hipster and end up sipping tea and swapping seeds with other grey-headed, wrinkly old farts. But along comes You Grow Girl and it becomes possible to take on an indie-rock, alterna-chick gardening persona!

Their site offers gardening tips, recipes, gardeners' journals, and merchandise like that "Garden Hoe" t-shirt (hee hee) but my favorite part are the entries from the Adequate Gardener, Jane Eaton Hamilton. Judging by what she writes, she's more than adequate but she doesn't drive herself crazy trying to reach perfection. Hamilton is the logical heiress in the Post-Martha Stewart world of gardening. You know, now that Martha's building houses and all.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Make Your Spaghetti “Untouchable”: Anti-Mafia Pasta

I was grocery shopping recently and found packages of anti-mafia pasta. In Italy, not only can you choose organic food for your health and fair-trade food for the good of 3rd-world farmers but you can also choose food that fights the mob.
Italy has a recent history of anti-mob movements and laws that have had more or less success. A young man called “Peppino” Impastato, Sicilian son of a mobster started a pirate radio transmission where he and friends called spades spades and named names. He was killed for his efforts but became a symbol of the struggle to wrest Sicily from the economic/social/legal stranglehold of the mafia.
The early 1990s “Mani Pulite” (Clean Hands) corruption investigation that implicated Italian politicians, the Vatican Bank and the organized crime led to reprisals. In 1992, two anti-mafia judges, (this is the kind of judicial “activism” I can really get behind!) Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino, were killed in car bombs. A year later Sicilian mafiosi, Salvatore Riina and Giovanni Brusca were convicted of the murders and sent to prison. Today, “Peppino” Impastato, Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino are inspirations to Italians who want to see their country free from this crippling corruption.
The latest anti-mafia movement now comes in the form of agricultural co-ops this pasta and other good things. In the same way police auction off flashy drug-dealer BMW’s the Italian government hands over mafia-controlled land to cooperatives who produce durham wheat for pasta, tomatoes for their signature sauce, chick peas, olive oil and a lot of other things. Its all organic. I hope their project goes well. They sell their products under the brand “Libera Terra” (Free or Liberated Land).

Sunday, March 19, 2006

The cabbage, potatoes and carrots look very nationalistic in this Bacon and Cabbage Posted by Picasa

St. Joseph's Day

Happy Ethnic-American Saint's Day! Today is St. Joseph's Day (and my brother, Brian's birthday) but we're celebrating with a St. Patrick's Day dinner. I found and altered an online recipe for "Pickled Tongue" (blech!) to create what I think should be the closest thing possible to the Irish American Corned Beef but using the more traditional Irish pork "bacon". In a website I can no longer find, somebody states that in Ireland what we think of as bacon would be called "rashers" whereas any cut of pork that isn't ham could be called "bacon". So pork shoulder must be o.k. for a Bacon and Cabbage recipe. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

Three days ago, I started brining my 4lb bone-in pork shoulder. That is I started marinating it in a salt water and spice mixture. Here is the recipe for that:
5 cups water
1 cup salt
2 tsps coriander
½ tsp coarsely ground black pepper
½ tsp ground allspice (I'd have used whole allspice but I only have ground)
1 big bay leaf
2 tsps bruised mustard seeds
3 whole cloves garlic
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
Combine all ingredients and bring to the boil. Simmer until all the salt has dissolved. Let cool and place in a strong plastic bag along with the pork. Make sure all the pork is covered, close bag. Refrigerate at least over night or up to 72 hours.

Today I'm going to drain the meat from the salt water and reserve the spices for boiling. I'll fill a large pot up with water to cover the meat by 3 inches. Then I'll take the meat out, put the spices in and get the water boiling before I add the meat again. Why, you ask? ***If you set a pot of cold water to boil with the meat in from the beginning, the meat will lose a lot of flavor to the water. This is how you make a good meat stock (and a flavorless piece of meat to be thrown away). If you want to make a flavorful piece of boiled meat (and throw the liquid away), boil the water first, season it, and then add the meat. Boil for at least 30 minutes per pound, that's at least 2 hours for me. In the last half hour of cooking, you will add your vegetables to the pot. Below you'll see my vegetable SUGGESTIONS. Put more of what you like, less of what you don't. You could substitute anything for brussels sprouts, turnips, rutabagas or any other wintery vegetable you like.

5 carrots, peeled and roughly cut into 3-inch pieces
5 large potatoes, peeled and quartered
1/2 small savoy cabbage sliced into 4 thinnish wedges with the center core intact (otherwise they'll fall apart in the pot)
Optional: 3 scorzanera roots, peeled and roughly cut into 3-inch pieces

With 30 minutes to go on the meat's cooking time, add the carrots and if using, the scorzanera. With 20 minutes to go, add the potatoes and with 15 minutes to go, add the cabbage. I prefer cabbage "al dente" rather than overcooked and for me, 15 minutes of boiling is enough.

Remove the meat to a large serving tray being careful to scrape off any of the whole spices from the cooking liquid. Remove the vegetables and arrange around the meat. Strain 1 cup of cooking liquid from the pot and pour over the meat and vegetables to keep them moist and hot. Serve immediately with some Irish brown bread, mustard and horseradish.

**After Dinner Results: Everything was perfectly seasoned and very tasty. I'd definitely try the brining technique again. The 4lb piece of meat was good but barely tender at 9pm after boiling lightly for 2.5 hours. I would have left it in for another 30 minutes to make it fall off the bone. The scorzanera, which looks like extremely long white carrots, was (as it's supposed to be) very bitter. I'd leave it out next time.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Arugula seedlings almost look like 4-leafed clover, no? Posted by Picasa

St. Patrick's Day/St. Joseph's Day

O.K., it's Saturday and I decided to go to a party last night rather than having people over for St. Patrick's Day. I had a blast drinking and dancing at a friend of a friend's birthday party complete with a disco ball and a cake the size of New Jersey. The pork for "Bacon and Cabbage" is still corning in the fridge which is just as well since recipes often mention you can marinate it for about 3 days refrigerated. We'll have our Italian St. Patrick's Day tomorrow, St. Joseph's Day which is actually more perfect than perfect since that was always a big Italian-American holiday back in Chicago.

When I was a Catholic school kid, I wore a uniform every day except on particular holidays. If March 17th was a school day, I and the other Irish-American kids took advantage of the relaxed dress code to wear green t-shirts. If March 19th was a school day, the Polish- and Italian-American kids took the same opportunity and wore red t-shirts. In the ethnically divided working-class suburbs of Chicago these little heritage celebrations often ended up in name-calling and schoolyard brawls. Let's hope tomorrow's dinner turns out more peacefully.

P.S. My cuor di bue tomatoes are sprouting!!

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Garden Progress/Spring Is Here!

I now have my little 2nd grade science project going in our living room window. Every year for about a decade now I've put little plastic yogurt cups filled with dirt and eventually seedlings on the windowsill. Well so far I have 3 basils, 2 cilantros, 4 poblano peppers, 1 cuor di bue tomato, 1 dinosaur kale and 1 celery indoors by the window. Outside I have 2 big rectangular planters, 1 with parsley and 1 with a mixture of arugula and mache. So far only 1 thing has sprouted, the arugula. You wouldn't believe how exciting it is, though. I wake up in the morning and water everything and look at the sprouts and smile. I seem not to be the only one so easily amused. The book, "365 Days of Gardening" by Christine Allison contains almost 365 quotes about gardening, most of them attributed to famous writers and most of them about the wonderful feeling gardening can give you. My favorite is this: "A famous philosopher said that whenever he talked to another savant, he became convinced happiness was not possible for humans; when he talked to his gardener, he was sure it was".

Monday, March 13, 2006

Planning St. Patrick's Day Dinner

I was looking at the CBS news video clips yesterday and found that Chicago has already held its St. Patrick's Day Parade! It was yesterday afternoon! I guess it was the closest Sunday before the event. I used to love heading down there and watching the parade and then going to an overcrowded Irish pub for an Irish coffee (I'm not a beer fan) surrounded by crazy people with green face paint and green glitter shamrock antennae on their heads. Yeah, we have no shame but we have a lot of fun! My clearest memory (there are a lot of fuzzy ones!) of the Chicago St. Patrick's Day parade was when I actually turned my back to an Irish pro-life float while everyone around me cheered like mad.
Anyway, it started me thinking that this is yet another occasion to have an (Irish) American dinner for my Italian friends who don't even know March 17th is a holiday. I looked on and found that they are featuring a meal that "goes beyond corned beef and cabbage". I expected something more Irish like Bacon and Cabbage and less Irish-American like beef stew, which is what they suggest. Beef has not traditionally been a very common food in Ireland and that makes sense if you've ever seen the Irish countryside with all those tiny plots of land separated by those beautiful rock walls. Not cattle ranch material. Anyway, they have traditionally raised animals like pigs and sheep that require less or no grazing land. Hence the bacon of Bacon and Cabbage. Irish beef is a recent phenomenon (like post British Mad Cow) and it now sells all over Europe, so I guess Corned Beef and Cabbage could start being popular in Ireland itself. Anyway, this Friday, I have no access to "corned beef" so I'm going with the real-deal Irish Bacon and Cabbage.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Squid Ink Pasta

Would you eat tagliatelle black as midnight? No? With white calamari rings, lemon, garlic and parsley? How about in a white wine sauce? We did tonight and it was very tasty. Only problem is the pasta wasn't exactly black. It was charcoal grey. I can do black but grey is a very unappetizing color for food, so most of tonight's dinner went to Gabriel who doesn't seem to be bothered by these things. I should have put only 2 eggs into the pasta dough instead of 3, then the squid ink to everything else ratio would have been higher and thus the result, blacker.
Here's what I'd do next time:

Homemade Squid Ink Pasta

2 eggs
1 package of concentrated squid ink
1 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup semolina flour
1 cup all purpose flour plus extra for dusting

Mix the first 4 ingredients in a cup very well making sure that all of the squid ink is incorporated. In a medium bowl combine the flours and make a well in the center. Pour in the egg mixture and slowly incorporate the flour by mixing with a fork. Once you have incorporated all the egg mixture into the flour, knead it for a couple minutes to reach a smooth, uniform texture. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes then cut it into 4 equal pieces and proceed to roll them through a pasta machine. You will create 4 very long and rather wide lasagne sheets. Hang them to dry slightly (I put mine over the backs of my kitchen chairs)for a couple minutes. Then roll your sheets through the wider, tagliatelle setting and arrange in "nests" on a plate. Put a large stock pot of water on to boil then start the sauce. A big pot of water takes a long time to boil, so I like to start that first when I do a quick sauce.

Squid-lemon-parsley sauce:

1 clove garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup white wine
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/2 lb calamari rings or 3/4 lb of whole squid sliced into rings
salt, fresh lemon and cayenne pepper to taste

Mince the garlic. Heat the oil over medium in a large frying pan. Add the garlic and fry for 1 minute. Add the white wine and boil for another minute. Turn off the heat under the oil, garlic and white wine if the big pot of water isn't boiling yet. Timing is very important here. You want al dente pasta and tender calamari at the same time so don't get yourself stuck overcooking the calamari while you're waiting for the pasta water to boil. Once the water is boiling, add the calamari and most of the parsley and sautee for maximum 3 minutes. Just after you have added the calamari to the frying pan, add the pasta to the pot. After 2.5-3 minutes drain the pasta and add it to the pan and the sauce. Flip the pan a couple times or stir thoroughly to coat all the pasta. Serve immediately.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Calling All Recipes

So, at dinner on Tuesday night, 2 of our guests, Concetta and Claudio, said they would offer some of their favorite regional Italian recipes for the blog. Claudio is from Turin and Concetta is from Molise by way of Pisa, so I'm really looking forward to this. So guys, where are you?? I heard rumors of ravioli stuffed with escarole and a new way of doing bagna cauda.

Also a student of mine's mom, Mrs Busnelli makes the wickedest cookies and sends them along to the lab to feed the starving grad students. They're knot-shaped butter cookies and they're fabulous! The only thing is that her husband, Mr. Busnelli is a heart patient so it turns out these incredibly tasty butter cookies are low in cholesterol! I would have never known if Marco hadn't told me. I've been promised the recipe for these babies for weeks now and half suspect that Mrs. Busnelli is on her way to a patent with the Italian government instead. If she doesn't end up giving me the recipe, I hope she makes a million bucks selling them herself!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Bacalao a la Vizcaina

So yesterday we had a dinner party. It was another sign of our cooking and entertaining fanaticism that we pulled off a pull-out-the-stops dinner on a Tuesday where I got home from work at 8pm. I was a crabby, stressy mess before the guests got here rolling my pre-boiled chard leaves over scoops of my pre-prepared salt cod and bechamel and thinking, "Why am I putting myself through this?. Once the guests arrived, though, all thoughts of, "how am I going to get my classes organized for tomorrow?" And "How much sleep will I actually get" melted when our friends arrived. Being with friends (o.k. and having a before-dinner drink) is a tonic for stress. The evening was a lot of fun.

Gabriel made a delicious Greek lemon chicken which could be part of this blog if Gabriel would agree to write his recipe down. You all can petition if you like. I made the first course: a pretty, restaurant-y take on the traditional Basque Spanish dish, "Bacalao a la Vizcaina" that's salt cod in Biscayne (medium hot pepper/tomato) sauce, except that rather than the traditional pieces of salt cod smothered in sauce, I made a "creme" with the fish and wrapped it in swiss chard and layed that over a bed of ruddy, terra-cotta colored sauce. It was really pretty if I do say so myself.

Here's the recipe: Serves 6
Bacalao packets:
1 lb salt cod that has already been soaked in water for 2 days in the fridge with the water being changed several times.
2 tbsp butter
2 tbsp (or more) flour
salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste
12 large swiss chard leaves

Boil the pieces of cod for 5-10 minutes, depending on their thickness, until they flake. Drain, cool and remove any skin and bones. Place in a food processor and process into tiny flakes, reserve. In a 2 quart stock pot, melt the butter over medium heat, add flour and cook stirring constantly for 1 minute. You should have something between a thick cream consistency to an almost solid paste (your choice here but I prefer to add more flour and get the paste). Add 2 cups of milk and whisk like hell until all the lumps have disappeared. Continue stirring and cooking until you have a thick paste. Add the salt cod, salt, pepper and nutmeg and take off the heat. Let cool. Blanch (boil very briefly) the swiss chard leaves in boiling water just until they are pliable, less than 1 minute. Reserve** These steps can be made the day before you serve; the fish ain't fresh anyway.

Biscayne sauce:

I adapted this recipe from "The Basque Table" by Teresa Barrenechea
5 ancho chili peppers soaked in the fridge over night then simmered for 10 minutes in their soaking liquid.
1 cup of said soaking liquid
1/2 cup olive oil
1 large yellow onion diced
1 large red onion diced
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 cup canned tomatoes or fresh if they are in season
salt to taste

Cut off chili pepper stems and extract seeds. No need to be meticulous here since you will strain the sauce later. Roughly chop the peppers, reserve.
Add the oil to a large frying pan over medium heat. Add the onions and fry for 5 minutes until they are soft. Add the chopped garlic and cook for another minute. Add the peppers and the soaking liquid and cook for approximately 20 minutes until you have a thick, chunky sauce. Place the cold canned tomatoes in a food processor then add the hot onion/pepper sauce. Process until you have a smooth, uniform sauce, 1-2 minures. Strain the sauce through a medium mesh strainer. Taste and adjust for salt. **These steps can also be done up to 3 days ahead.

Showtime dinner presentation:

Lay out the swiss chard leaves flat and add about 5 tablespoons of the salt cod mixture to each. Roll like a burrito and place seam down on a Chinese bamboo steamer. Steam for 5 minutes. Reheat the sauce then pour about 5 tablespoons of sauce onto 6 small salad plates. Swirl the plates to spread the sauce. Gently take the bacalao packets out of the steamer and place 2 on each plate. Serve with extra sauce in a separate bowl.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Tarte au Fromage & The Sex Pistols

Aaahh Sunday...What could be better than spending a relaxing weekend afternoon making a tarte au fromage (cheese pie) while listening to late '70s British punk rock as your husband shoves in the ear plugs? Well, I suppose having the tarte au fromage come out edible. I seem to have committed one too many improvisations on Julia Child's original recipe. I wrote the following text earlier today:
"A while back I more or less (actually less) followed Julia Child's recipe for Leek Tart which was pretty good but was lacking spice. So what's up now? Curry Leek Tart? Chipotle-Cilantro Leek Tart? No, that's probably not a good idea. But I've got the other half of the pie crust thawing in the fridge and not too much of an idea of what else to make today, so Tarte au Fromage it is! Anyway, Gabriel loves the stuff and eats it any time he's back home in Geneva. It's like "Italian Beef" from Novi's for me. Every time I go back to Chicago, I have to eat it at least once.
But the heavy French food thing is kinda weighing on me. Yesterday, I ate a plate of cabbage pierogi with butter sauce (o.k. it's Polish, not French but still, it's heavy!) and I'm feeling a little slow right now. We have to have a gigantic green salad with this otherwise I won't be able to get off the couch today. Julia's idea is that you fill a pie crust with melty cheese like Gruyere or in my case, Fontina, eggs, cream or milk (hey, Julia's going light this time! So will I) nutmeg, salt and pepper. Bake in a 375F oven for half an hour and voila'!" Yeah. That was then, this is now. Voila' came before we tasted it. First of all, my oven temp was floating around 400F, not 375F and still at the half hour mark, the pie filling was jiggly, so I left it in for another 10 minutes. I had frozen the pie crust in the pie tin after rolling it out, should I have just refrigerated it? Maybe, but I'll re-think the all milk, no cream thing the mext time I make this. The result was soggy, not creamy and custardy. Oh, I also foolishly/frugally cut up the remaining quarter of a cheese-arugula fritatta into tiny pieces (note how photo reflects "cheese pie" with little squares in it) and sprinkled said pieces into the as yet uncooked pie. Why did I not just eat the fritatta by itself? Because I had salted the hell out of it when I made it the other day and couldn't bear the thought of downing something like that straight again. Basically I am too cheap to throw away even inedible food. SO there we were today eating our soggy tarte and wishing we could just do like my punk rock heroes and order, "Two pints of lager and a packet of crisps, please!" (Splodgenessabounds).

Thursday, March 02, 2006

It's Gardening Time Again!

Hi Everybody! I'm excited to say that I seeded two long-bed pots today. One with "organic baby field green"-type lettuce (arugula and mache) and the other with parsley. It's not warm but the lettuce should germinate soon anyway. Gabriel suggested that we grow only things that we can eat before we go to Greece in August so that we don't have to worry about watering while on vacation. Problem is all I can think of that fits that bill is lettuce. I want poblano peppers and tomatillos! So once again we find ourselves with the (I know, very enviable by American standards!) dilemma of how to get our garden taken care of while we're on vacation for 3 weeks. I'm going to plunge ahead and plant all kinds of things for the balcony victory garden and figure out what to do about the vacation watering later. Aside from the parsley and lettuces, we'll have basil and cilantro (both from a Chia Pet Herb Garden kit I got for Christmas one year), dinosaur kale (the darkest green I've ever seen!), a "cuor di bue tomato" (the best Italy offers, i.e the best the world offers!), some leaf celery (an herb that tastes like celery but looks like parsley which is why I accidentally bought it in the first place), and the aforementioned tomatillos and poblano peppers that come from the heirloom company "Seed Savers" in Decorah, IA.

Last year, our garden dilemma was mostly solved when the one tomatillo plant to survive germination and incubation keeled over and I realized the beautiful, sturdy pepper plants full of flowers, NEVER bore any fruit! The flowers would just drop off. So, I hacked all the pepper plants into bits and stuffed them into the compost bin, handed the herb pots over to the kind and generous Paola and skipped off to Greece. This year, though, I have a plan: Ahna, an expert gardener from Minnesota and a friend of mine suggested I pollinate the flowers, you know pull one flower off and rub its stamens onto the stamens of the other flowers. That's what I'll try this year. For the tomatillos, I don't know yet. I wonder if Seed Savers does consultations.

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