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Women with Fish

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The Fish

 I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
He didn’t fight.
He hadn’t fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
and infested
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in
the terrible oxygen
the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly
I thought of the coarse white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,
and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony.
I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.
I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
if you could call it a lip
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
A green line, frayed at the end
where he broke it, two heavier lines,
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap
when it broke and he got away.
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnelsuntil everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go.

Elizabeth Bishop

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Recipe: Israeli Couscous with Calamari, Spring Peas, and Saffron

When The da Fiore Cookbook came out, in 2003, I was eager to get a copy. I’ve still never managed to eat at the now very famous restaurant, in Venice, one of Marcella Hazan’s favorites, but I liked the idea of it from word one. Venice, water, a lady chef, plus gentle flavors for fish, pasta, risotto, and vegetables, all quite different from the Southern Italian palate I was then exclusively working with. I especially liked the way Mara Martin, the chef and owner, treated pasta. A little butter, leeks, white wine, carrots, an occasional drizzle of cream, saffron, sweet spices like nutmeg and cinnamon, Parmigiano Reggiano with seafoodjust a sprinkling. No hot chilies, barely a tomato, no oregano, rosemary used as a gentle undertone.

Venetian cooking, especially when offered by da Fiore, is complex but remains gentle to both eye and palate. It’s about both the sea and seasonal vegetables. Like Southern Italian, my hometown cooking, it never gets tired for me. I’ll always love anchovies, garlic, and pecorino, but I also welcome lightness. Da Fiore’s food seems to me a touch angelic.

Here’s a recipe inspired by Signora Martin’s “Fusilli with Squid and Peas.” She adds pancetta, a bit of cinnamon, thyme, and Parmigiano. I chose saffron, another favorite spice of hers but not one she used in her fusilli recipe. Saffron and butter make an amazing pairing, sweet, opulent, but weightless on the tongue. And butter with peas you really can’t beat.

I make a little spice broth with saffron and a few other things, and add it at the end, gently coaxing all the ingredients together. No cheese in my version. It didn’t blend well with the saffron.

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Israeli Couscous with Calamari, Spring Peas, and Saffron

(Serves 4 as a first course)

1 cup chicken broth
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
A pinch of ground cinnamon
A large pinch of saffron threads, dried and ground
Salt
A big pinch of sugar
1½ cups Israeli couscous
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 small white onion, finely chopped
1 stem young garlic, chopped
5 sprigs thyme, the leaves chopped
1 cup freshly shucked peas, briefly blanched, then cooled under cold water, then drained
A splash of semi-dry white wine
1 pound small calamari, sliced into rings
Black pepper
A handful of flat-leaf parsley, the leaves lightly chopped

Pour the chicken broth into a small pot. Add the cinnamon, allspice, sugar, and saffron. Turn on the heat, and let boil gently for about 4 minutes. Add a pinch of salt, and turn off the heat. Let sit.

Set up a medium pot with water, add salt, and bring it to a boil. Add the couscous.

In a large sauté pan, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter. Sauté the onion over medium heat until softened. Add the garlic and the thyme. Add the blanched peas and a bit of salt, and sauté about a minute. Add a splash of wine, and let it boil off. Add the spice broth, and simmer about 4 minutes, just until the peas are tender. Turn off the heat.

When the couscous is al dente, drain it, and place it in a large serving bowl. Add a drizzle of olive oil and a few turns of black pepper. Toss.

Dry off the calamari. Put a large skillet on high heat. Add the remaining butter and a drizzle of olive oil. When hot, add the calamari, seasoning with salt and black pepper, and sauté very quickly, just until it loses its transparency. Tip the calamari into the couscous. Add the peas with all their broth. Add the parsley. Toss. Taste for seasoning.

photo 3Photo by Lisa Silvestri

Here’s my April column for MyCurves. It’s for gently poached chicken with asparagus, watercress, and sweet spices. Very light. Very Spring. For the ladies who lunch, or for anyone who’d like to shed a few pounds.

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Recipe: Artichokes à la Barigoule with Ras el Hanout

The artichoke looks complicated, like an elaborate multitiered dress that might take some time getting into but would ultimately be worth the trouble. Plus it’s got spikes. Can’t beat that. And its taste is like . . . what is it like? It’s both subtle and assertive, a strange combination. That’s another part of its allure.

Weird weather patterns in the western U.S. have proven beneficial for artichokes this year. There are lots of the big globes around, a glut, I guess, but I’m also seeing those sometimes hard to find “babies.” They aren’t really babies; they’re actually more like midgets. They’re full-grown, just small incidental growths that pop up lower on the stalk. A few days ago I found really nice ones, heavy for their size, solid, cute. And so easy to prep. No chokes. Hardly any waste. I just pulled off a few tough outer leaves, trimmed the tops, and cooked them whole. So pretty.

Artichokes à la barigoule is a dish that has always fascinated me. I like slow-cooked vegetables that soak up flavors as they soften. This preparation turns up in many of the Provençal cookbooks I ownOlney, of course, but over and over in many others. It’s a classic in French Mediterranean cooking but not often found in bistros around here. I’m not sure why. It’s delicious, gentle but deeply satisfying, like the artichoke itself. Barigoule is essentially a braise, with wine and stock, often finished with a splash of acid, such as a good vinegar. Most recipes contain carrots and fennel and spring herbs. Chervil, parsley, dill, fennel tops.

I love ras el hanout, the North African spice mix that’s used often in couscous dishes. It varies from region to region and from shop to shop. You can find it premixed at Middle Eastern food shops, such as Kalustyan’s here in Manhattan. I like to make my own, and that often varies too. Right now I’m using a mix of anise, fennel, allspice, cardamom (I love cardamom), clove, black pepper, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, and ginger. Some versions contain rose petal, dried thyme, or bay leaf. I use ras le hanout as a dry rub for lamb and chicken and in some tagines. Lately I’ve been adding it to vegetables. It’s excellent with eggplant and tomatoes, as well with as artichokes. I do restrain myself, though, including just a hint, so it slips into my Italian and French Mediterranean dishes without tipping the balance to out and out North African cooking.

Artichokes à la Barigoule with Ras el Hanout

 (Serves 4 as a first course)

The juice from 1 lemon
2 dozen or so baby artichokes
Extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon piment d’Espelette or another medium hot paprika
½ teaspoon ras el hanout
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
2 carrots, peeled and cut into rounds on an angle
1 tender inner celery stalk, thinly sliced, plus the leaves from a few stalks
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
The leaves from 4 big sprigs of thyme
Salt
A splash of dry vermouth
1½ cups or so light chicken broth
A few drops of Spanish sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
A handful of chervil

Set up a bowl of cold water, and add the lemon juice. Trim the tough outer leaves off of the artichokes until you get down to the lighter green ones. Trim the tops and bottoms off of the artichokes. Drop the artichokes into the water.

In a skillet, heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the artichokes, piment d’Espellete, ras el hanout, shallot, carrots, and celery (but not the leaves), seasoning with a little salt. Sauté until the artichokes take on a little color and everything is just starting to soften, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and the thyme leaves, sautéing just to release their fragrances, about a minute. Add the vermouth, and let it bubble for a minute. Add the chicken broth, turn the heat down a drop, and simmer at a low bubble, uncovered, until the artichokes are just fork tender, about 12 to 15 minutes (you’ll want to turn them around in the broth from time to time so they cook evenly). There should still be a fair amount of slightly thickened liquid in the skillet.

Add a few drops of the vinegar, the butter, and the celery leaves, and give it all a stir. Scatter the chervil over the top. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Women with Fish

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This is  Barb Troiano. She lives upstairs from me. She’s a fish hoarder. When I took this shot, she was going through a mackerel phase, but there’s been other stuff, believe me. Scallops in their shells,  shad roe, eels. I’m not completely sure where she gets this fish, but I sense she’s got a connection to the Fulton Fish Market, I think a mob guy she used to date. She’s spoken fondly of Eddie, and  I’ve seen him,  or some older guy, hobbling up to her apartment with wooden boxes. He looks to be about five foot two, maybe Irish. Not bad looking. Old flames die hard.

Needless to say, her apartment stinks. About four times a year the social services send a group of men in hazmat suits to clean through all this  misery (she doesn’t even eat fish, so this compulsion is truly wasteful). They often resort to hanging a thick plastic tube out her window that leads to a dumpster, which quickly gets filled. Then for a week or two I’ll see social workers marching in and out of her place with clipboards. I can hear Barb crying that she’ll never do it again. She’s reformed. But then she’ll start screaming that she hasn’t had a paint job in 16 years and she’s due one, as if these social workers had any say over that. She’s got a complicated mind.  On two occasions she’s dropped typing books off at my apartment. Barb seems to think they’ll help with my career.

The eviction notices build up, but it’s hard to evict anyone in this welcoming city, especially an older person. And the thing is, Barb is nice. She does an amazing Billie Holiday interpretation. That’s probably one of the reasons Eddie fell for her. I wonder what she looked like when she was young.

It’s now early spring and I’m sensing it’s about time for another hazmat show upstairs. It smells, but it has been worse. At the moment, I’m thinking slightly over the hill mussels. Poor Barb. She’s a tormented soul. Maybe a good candidate for Lexapro, not that she’d ever see a psychiatrist. I don’t want her evicted. Where would she go? I just want her to stop what she’s doing.

My Antipasto Salad

Norcia Italy 1328957418(www.brodyaga.com)A good place to shop for your antipasto table, in Norcia, Italy.

Recipe: Antipasto Salad with Soppressata, Roasted Chickpeas and Tomatoes

You know how it is. After throwing a big dinner, you’ve got leftover bits of mortadella, pecorino, a lump of mozzarella, roasted peppers, some sliced fennel, perhaps a few olives, the stuff that made up your antipasto platter. Some of it is still on platters, some worked into the rug, along with a shattered wine glass (a terrible conundrum for cats). I just assume most of my readers can relate to this. I wrap all the food nuggets separately and shove them in the fridge, usually not including the stuff on the rug. Often they make it into a pasta sauce, everybody’s standby dish for odds and ends. But lately my favorite use for enticing refrigerator finds is in a salad. I know this isn’t exactly a mind-blowing concept, but some of the antipasto- inspired salads I’ve come up with have really moved me.

Flavors from the antipasto table tend toward the rich, the salty, and the vinegary, qualities that to my palate work best with winter greens, especially chicories. Escarole, curly chicory, radicchio, frisée, endive, in combination or alone, all make a good base. For me such a sturdy salad is a nice change from winter’s heavy-duty “comfort food.” I mean, how much baked macaroni can one body stand?

My antipasto offerings change according to my meal plans, of course, and thus the salads that come later vary, too. When I make an all-out traditional meal, with fresh anchovies, preserved tuna or cacciatorini, roasted peppers, cannellini beans, pecorino, those leftovers will produce one type of salad. If, on the other hand, I use lots of roasted vegetables, that’s an altogether different situation. I keep an open mind.

The antipasto salad is essentially improvisational, but if I’m in the mood, I’ll go out and buy stuff especially for it, maybe just to round out what I’ve got in the fridge (a chunk of sliced prosciutto, for instance). The key to success here, no matter if I use leftovers or head to the store on a mission, is what I choose to include and, even more important, leave out. Overkill doesn’t work.

Here’s a recent version. I had leftover roasted chickpeas and tomatoes on hand. They’re both easy enough to make, but please feel free to substitute something you’ve already got and feel would blend nicely.

By the way, if you ever get to Norcia, the pork shop in the above photo is an amazing place. You can’t miss it. The last time I was there, it had blown up pig’s bladders hanging all over the place like party balloons. I certainly hope that tradition continues.

Antipasto Salad with Soppressata, Roasted Chickpeas and Tomatoes

(Serves 4 as lunch or a light supper)

2 cans chickpeas, well rinsed and dried
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 pints grape tomatoes
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Aleppo pepper
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
About 6 sage leaves, chopped
4 small rosemary sprigs, leaves chopped
A medium head of escarole, torn into bits
2 endives, cut into long, thin slices
A very small shallot, thinly sliced
A chunk of soppressata, cut into matchsticks
A small chunk of aged pecorino Toscano cheese, broken into small pieces
2 inner celery stalks, thinly sliced, plus a handful of celery leaves, left whole
A teaspoon or so of red wine vinegar
A tablespoon of chicken broth
A pinch of ground allspice
Salt

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Set out two sheet pans. Spread the chickpeas out on one and the tomatoes on the other. Toss them both with olive oil. Season the chickpeas with salt and the Aleppo (or another medium hot dried chili), and sprinkle the tomatoes with salt and black pepper. Bake until the chickpeas are crisp but still soft in the center, about 20 minutes, and the tomatoes have burst and are starting to brown at the edges, about 15 minutes. Take them from the oven, and scatter garlic over both. Scatter the rosemary on the tomatoes, and the sage on the chickpeas. Let cool a bit.

In a large salad bowl, combine the escarole, endive, shallot, soppressata, pecorino, and the celery and its leaves. Add as much of the tomatoes and chickpeas as you like (save leftovers for pasta or soup or another salad (you see, it’s a continuing cycle)).

Whisk together the vinegar, chicken broth, allspice, a pinch of salt, and about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Pour this over the salad and toss well.

Here are the main ingredients for a few other antipasto salads I’ve recently made and really liked:

Arugula
Roasted endive
prosciutto
Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Frisée lettuce
Raw fennel
Toasted almonds
Baby artichokes cooked in oil and white wine
Roasted potatoes with fennel seeds
Tarragon

Kale
Mortadella
Mozzarella
Roasted red peppers
Black olives
Marjoram and parsley

photo[6]Photo by Lisa Silvestri

Here’s my March column for MyCurves magazine. It’s another 400 calorie per serving dinner. It looks extravagant, and I guess in some ways it is, but it’s quick and really fresh tasting.  And almost no carbs.

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