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Archive for the ‘2004’ Category

Trout on the Grill

Recipes:

New York State Trout Wrapped in Pancetta and Filled with Sage
Grilled Asparagus and Scallions with Capers
Green Salad with Sorrel
Pecorino with Wildflower Honey

New York State Trout Wrapped in Pancetta and Filled with Sage

You’ll want four whole trout, not more than a pound apiece, gutted but with their heads and tails left on. Season them inside and out with salt and black pepper and stuff the inside of each with a few large sprigs of fresh sage and a roughly chopped scallion. Drizzle the trout inside and out with olive oil, and drape four very thin slices of pancetta around each trout (just press them into the fish; the heat of the grill will almost immediately cause the pancetta to adhere to the skin). Grill over a medium heat about 4 inches from the coals, about 4 to 5 minutes per side. The skin should be browned and the pancetta crisp and stuck to the trout. Scatter a bit of chopped sage over each fish, and serve with lemon wedges. I’ve always like a very lightly chilled Beaujolais with trout, and that is what I would serve here.

Grilled Asparagus and Scallions with Capers

For four people, take about 20 medium spears of asparagus and trim their bottoms. Poke a few tiny holes in a large piece of aluminum foil, and lay the asparagus on top of it. Trim about 5 scallions and place them on top of the asparagus. Drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt and black pepper. Add a generous squeeze of lemon juice. Close up the foil to make a little package, and grill over medium heat about 4 inches from the coals until the asparagus is tender and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Unwrap, and slide the asparagus onto a serving platter. Sprinkle with a generous amount of capers and a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.

Green Salad with Sorrel

I always find sorrel at farmer’s markets in upstate New York in early summer. A straight sorrel salad is too sour for me, but if I mix a handful of the leaves, cut into thin strips, with mild, ruffly green-leaf or red-leaf lettuce, I get a good balance of mild and tangy. To that blend add a few thinly sliced radishes and a sliced shallot, if you have them. Dress the salad with extra-virgin olive oil, sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper (I find I don’t want lemon or vinegar with sorrel).

Pecorino with Wildflower Honey

Choose a young Pecorino cheese such as a Fior di Sardegna or a Cacio di Roma. Cut it into thick slices, and arrange it on a plate. Drizzle with acacia or mixed-wildflower honey. Garnish with a few chopped lavender sprigs.

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A Jumbo Shrimp Barbecue

Recipes:

Raw Cremini, Pecorino, and Celery Salad
Grilled Jumbo Shrimp with Sea Salt, Orange Zext, and Mint
Blackberries with Sweet Wine and Basil

Raw Cremini, Pecorino, and Celery Salad

This is a raw mushroom salad I first learned about in Sicily. It’s very simple and surprisingly flavorful. If you happen to have a few wild mushrooms such as porcini on hand, they’ll do wonderfully in it, but cremini will work fine too. All you need to do is thinly slice more or less equal amounts of mushrooms and celery and put them in a bowl. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add a handful of lightly chopped celery leaves. Shave a bit of aged Pecorino cheese on top. Drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil and a tiny squeeze of lemon juice, and toss gently. Eat right away. Fresh bulb fennel is a good substitute for the celery, if you like.

Grilled Jumbo Shrimp with Sea Salt, Orange Zest, and Mint

Get about 2 pounds of the biggest shrimp you can find. If you find ones with the heads still attached, all the better. Leave the shells and tails on. Thread the shrimp onto long metal skewers. Drizzle them with enough olive oil to coat them well. Grill over a medium flame at least 3 inches from the heat for about 2 to 3 minutes per side (a little less if the shrimp are smaller), seasoning each side with sea salt as you turn them. Place the skewers on a serving dish. Season the shrimp with the zest from a large orange, a few turns of fresh black pepper, and a few large sprigs of chopped mint. Halve the orange and squeeze a generous amount of its juice over the shrimp. Serve hot. In my experience, a dry but fruity rosé wine, such as a Tavel, is a perfect match for this dish.

Blackberries with Sweet Wine and Basil

Summer blackberries can be tart, but here’s an elegant way to sweeten them up. Place about a pint or so of ripe blackberries in a serving bowl. Sprinkle on about a tablespoon of sugar, and pour on about 1/2 cup of a sweet white wine such as a Muscat de Beaume de Venise. Toss and let sit for about 10 minutes, so the flavors can blend. Right before serving, tear a few basil leaves into bits and scatter them on top.

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For the past several summers, my husband and I (and usually a friend or two) have been spending occasional weekends in Ulster County in Upstate New York, renting small rooms at a simple inn that happens to be on green, open land with a large pond at one end of the property and a lively stream near the house. There’s no kitchen in our rooms, but my determination to cook summer meals and eat outside drives me into high-gear improvisation mode, using a small Weber charcoal grill, mostly local ingredients, and a few fancy bottles of Italian condiments I bring up from the city, mainly good olive oil, capers, anchovies, and olives. And my need to rise above the primitive has led to some beautiful meals (and also, at least in the beginning, to a few out-of-control evenings full of flames, drunkenness, and not much edible food). Grilling is, for the most part, something I’ve realized I need to really focus on when I’m doing it.Even when you concentrate, grilling is never a sure thing. There are always variables that prevent you from having complete control over your heat. You need to just accept this, and be flexible when surprises occur. I spend a lot of time moving pieces of meat or fish from a hot flame area to a low-heat part of the grill and back, or tempering grease flare-ups with a spray bottle of water, or covering the grill for a few moments. One thing I’ve begun to learn from my bare-bones streamside grilling is patience. Waiting for the fire to burn down to a nice glow is highly recommended. Roaring flames can be exciting, but they’re actually useless for cooking. I do get anxious waiting for the coals to settle, especially if I realize it’s getting dark and soon I’ll be unable to see what I’m doing (the area is usually lit with only a few bug candles), but if I can occupy myself with a little wine, or by identifying bird songs, or waiting for the bats to start coming out and swooping down near the grill, I can pleasantly pass the time until the coals are ready. With beautifully orange-blue coals, you have a much better chance of avoiding the charred-black-but-raw grill syndrome, which can be infuriating.

For me the most important ingredient in grill cooking is olive oil. Everything, meat, fish, vegetables, and even fruit, gets bathed in it. I use two types, a supermarket oil for whatever gets thrown on the grill, and an estate-bottled extra-virgin oil, often one of my favorite Sicilian brands like Ravida, for salads and for drizzling raw over cooked food. I also keep on hand Sicilian sea salt, a good pepper grinder, lemons, and an assortment of fresh herbs, which can elevate a simple grilled fish or chicken into a dish with the aroma and aura of romantic Mediterranean al fresco dining, which is really what my grill fantasy is all about.

The only real drawback I’ve experienced to this lovely streamside idyll is that last summer during one of my lethargic attempts at out-of-city jogging, I got chased down a quiet country road, for quite a long, isolated stretch, by a black bear. I was truly horrified and later discovered that I’d been clenching my jaw so tightly during what seemed like the race for my life that I had shattered two back teeth. I spat them out into a wineglass at the bar my husband took me to to try and calm my nerves. A five-minute bear chase seems like an eternity (although it’s an excellent workout), and with no cars or people in sight, I really wasn’t sure how or when the episode would end. I knew there was a house coming up, and when I thought I was just about to approach it, I turned to check on the bear, and to my amazement he was suddenly plopped down in the middle of the road just staring at me. A few seconds later I saw him lumbering back into the woods. Jesus. Aside from the bear, the only other problem with this summer arrangement has been having to wash all the dishes in a bathtub.

The recipes here are a bit more freewheeling than my usual, since that seems to be the nature of barbecue cooking. I’ve left ingredient amounts loose, though I have given specific weights for fish and meat. All the dishes feed four.

Happy summer cooking!

See the following menus and their accompanying recipes, posted on the days following this essay:

A Jumbo Shrimp Barbecue

Raw Cremini, Pecorino, and Celery Salad
Grilled Jumbo Shrimp with Sea Salt, Orange Zest, and Mint
Blackberries with Sweet Wine and Basil

Trout on the Grill

New York State Trout Wrapped in Pancetta and Filled with Sage
Grilled Asparagus and Scallions with Capers
Green Salad with Sorrel
Pecorino with Wildflower Honey

A Dinner of Skillet-Grilled Mussels and Sweet Strawberries

Ricotta with Black Olives and Thyme
Bruschetta
Avocado, Tomato, and Red Onion Salad with Anchovies
Skillet-Grilled Mussels with White Wine, Tarragon, and Shallots
Strawberries with White Wine and Vanilla

A Grilled Calamari and Couscous Dinner

Grill-Roasted Black Olives with Garlic and Thyme
Grilled Calamari with Pomodoro Crudo and Couscous
Grilled Figs with Caciocavallo

Tuna Spiedini and Corn on the Grill

Tuna Spiedini with a Fennel Marinade
Green Tomato Salad with Mozzarella, Pine Nuts and Basil
Grilled Corn on the Cob
Peaches with Red Wine

A Dinner of Grilled Lamb and Eggplant

Lamb Spiedini with Peppers, Savory, and Ricotta Salata on Herb Salad
Grilled Eggplant Salad
Grilled Plums with Grappa and Mascarpone

Grilled Sausages and Summer Cantaloupe

Italian Sausages with Grilled Grapes and Rosemary
Grilled Zucchini a Scapece
Potato Salad with Summer Garlic
Cantaloupe with Sweet Marsala

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Asparagus Season

Recipes:

Asparagus Soup with Basil-Almond Pesto
Asparagus with Tarragon-Caper Oil
Asparagus, Fennel, and Spring Onion Salad
Roasted Asparagus with Tomatoes and Gaeta Olives
Spaghetti with Asparagus, Leeks, Prosciutto, and Thyme
Asparagus with Parmigiano, Lemon, and Cream
Asparagus with Scallops, Pine Nuts, and Tomato Saffron Vinaigrette

In the spring, when asparagus is in season in Italy, everybody eats it in every way imaginable, constantly, at every meal, in restaurants, at home, until they’re sick to death of looking at it and smelling it. With their inborn respect for the flow of the seasons, Italian cooks feel a frantic rush to have seasonal produce as often and in as many ways as possible. This philosophy is, I believe, one of the reasons Italian cooking is so direct, so driven. It’s the working and reworking of a theme that leads Italian cooks to create.

In Italy you find cultivated asparagus like we have here, but the wild variety, dark green and skinny as reeds, is a springtime delicacy I’ve especially liked in Sicily. With its spicy taste, it makes an intense, elegant soup, and it’s heaven tossed with pasta. I’ve found that if I use my really fresh local asparagus and add a bit of lemon zest and a few sprigs of thyme, I taste a hint of the wild asparagus I remember from Sicily.

Many years ago I rented a house out in Riverhead, Long Island, with a bunch of friends. It was an old duck farm with dilapidated barns and a large vegetable garden tended by a caretaker we inherited from the owner. The caretaker was getting old, and after a few years we needed to deal with the garden ourselves. It quickly turned into an unruly mess, since we were more interested in drinking and trying on the old landlady’s clothes than in harvesting corn. But the asparagus patch reawoke every spring, despite our neglect, and it produced, I suppose because of our neglect, asparagus of wildly varied thicknesses and lengths, some squat and thick as a thumb, others long and reedy, reminiscent of the wild variety. What asparagus we were able to gather was not really presentable as a table vegetable, but it made a beautiful puréed soup, with a taste and color somewhat like that of wild asparagus. The patch got progressively more out of hand, and no one had a clue what to do about it. If I had been forty instead of in my twenties when I rented that house, the asparagus might have had a chance. I hope whoever’s there now has a more mature attitude toward their asparagus patch and has returned it to its former glory.

In New York our local asparagus becomes available around early May and lasts for about two months. A few months before that I start seeing very good California asparagus in the supermarket, and I always serve it at Easter dinner. (Most of the uniform-looking asparagus you find in winter is from Peru. I never buy it, not only because it has little taste, but because I don’t even start to think about asparagus until around April.) I go a little wild, in true Italian spirit, when the first local asparagus appears, reaching into my bag of Southern Italian flavors for inspiration. I have found, after cooking the vegetable every which way, that I’m starting to like a bolder approach to its flavoring, something I previously rejected, having viewed it as essentially delicate. In fact asparagus has a pronounced flavor. You know that from the way it surges through your body and dramatically releases its aroma as it exits.

I’m no longer averse to pairing asparagus with acidy tomatoes, black olives, capers, lemon zest, and strong herbs like marjoram, tarragon, and thyme. When I was a kid my family always put aside the olive oil and dressed asparagus with melted butter, thinking it deserved something finer than their everyday olive oil, but asparagus is a robust vegetable with a slight bitter edge, a flavor well loved in Italy and a perfect match for a fruity olive oil.

A note about peeling asparagus: Thick spears can have tough skins, and I’m lately in the habit of peeling them. I however never peel them completely, since doing so leaves them too floppy after cooking; I instead stripe them with three or four long scrapes of a vegetable peeler, leaving lines of dark green that look pretty and leave the stalks firm.

Here are a number of asparagus recipes I’ve been working on recently, ones that reflect my new approach to seasoning. (There are also other asparagus recipes on this Web site’s archives: Asparagus and Burrata Salad with Dandelions (Easter 2004). Asparagus with Poached Eggs and Olivata (Spring 2002). Cavatelli with Shrimp and Asparagus Purée; Asparagus Gratin with Parmigiano and Orange; Toasted Panini with Asparagus, Prosciutto, and Mozzarella (Spring 2001). Tagliatelle with Asparagus, Orange Zest, and Ramps; Spaghetti with Asparagus, Zucchini Blossoms, and Eggs (Spring 2000).)

Asparagus Soup with Basil-Almond Pesto

Basil is a perfect herb to go with asparagus. Both taste a little spicy and just a touch bitter. I love the way the cool pesto melts into the hot soup, blending the two flavors.

(Serves 4)

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 small Vidalia onion, thinly sliced
1 medium all-purpose potato, peeled and cut into small chunks
A pinch of cayenne
A pinch of sugar
3 dozen medium-size asparagus spears, the tough ends removed, the stalks peeled and roughly chopped
3 small thyme sprigs, the leaves chopped
Salt
A splash of dry vermouth
Zest of 1/2 lemon

For the pesto:

About a cup of loosely packed basil leaves
3 small thyme sprigs, the leaves only
1 small garlic clove, peeled
1/2 cup whole, blanched almonds
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Salt

First, make the soup. In a large soup pot, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium flame. Add the onion, potato, and a pinch each of cayenne and sugar. Sauté until the onion is soft and fragrant, about 6 minutes. Add the asparagus, thyme, and a little salt. Sauté a few minutes more, just until the asparagus is coated with flavor and is starting to loose its rawness. Add the splash of vermouth and let it boil away. Add 3 cups of warm water, and bring the soup to a boil. Continue to cook at a medium boil until both the asparagus and potato are tender, about 10 to 12 minutes. Add the lemon zest.

Purée the soup in a food processor and pour it back into a pot. Stir in a tablespoon of fresh olive oil. If the soup is too thick, add a little more water.

Next make the pesto. Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add the basil and thyme and blanch for about 30 seconds. Scoop the herbs from the pot and run them under cold water. This will set their color so the pesto doesn’t turn murky as it sits. Squeeze as much water from the herbs as you can. Put the almonds and garlic in the bowl of a food processor and grind to a rough chop. Add the herbs and the olive oil and a generous pinch of salt and pulse several times, just until you have a not-too-smooth paste. Transfer to a small bowl.

When you’re ready to serve, reheat the soup gently, if necessary, and ladle it into soup bowls. Top each bowl with a small dollop of pesto.

Asparagus with Tarragon-Caper Oil

I often boil or steam asparagus and dress it with an oil I’ve flavored. Here I mix orange zest (a good flavor marriage for asparagus), capers, and tarragon into one of my best olive oils, and then I gently heat everything together until the oil is infused with flavor.

(Serves 4 as a first course or side dish)

2 dozen thick asparagus spears, the tough ends trimmed and the stalks peeled
1/3 cup fruity extra-virgin olive oil (such as Ravida)
1 garlic clove, very thinly sliced
Zest of 1 small orange
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
A handful of salt-packed capers, soaked in cool water for about 1/2 hour, rinsed, and drained
5 small tarragon sprigs, the leaves lightly chopped

Bring a large pot of water to a boil, and blanch the asparagus in the boiling water until tender, about 3 to 4 minutes depending on its thickness. Scoop it out with a large strainer spoon and drain it on paper towels. Lay it out on a serving platter and sprinkle it lightly with salt and black pepper.

Pour the olive oil into a small saucepan. Add the garlic and orange zest. Turn the heat to low and gently warm the olive oil until it just starts to boil at the edges, about 4 minutes.

Turn the heat off under the olive oil and add the capers, the tarragon, and a pinch of salt. Spoon the hot oil over the asparagus. Serve right away.

Asparagus, Fennel, and Spring Onion Salad

Asparagus and bulb fennel, as I only recently discovered, go very well together. I first improvised this salad in early April this year, before local asparagus was available in New York. I had a yearning for spring tastes, so I made this with California asparagus and a juicy spring onion I found at my supermarket. It raised my spirits.

(Serves 4)

A dozen thick asparagus spears, trimmed and peeled
2 small fennel bulbs, trimmed and very thinly sliced
1 small spring onion, very thinly sliced (or about 3 scallions, thinly sliced)
A handful of basil leaves, lightly chopped
A medium-size bunch of arugula, stemmed
A small chunk of Pecorino cheese (one that isn’t too sharp and aged is best)

For the dressing:

Zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
About 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil (I use a good estate oil for this)
A pinch of sugar
A pinch of grated nutmeg
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Blanch the asparagus for about 4 minutes, or just until it is tender (when it starts smelling like asparagus, it’s usually cooked enough). Drain it into a colander and run cold water over it to preserve its green color (or, if you really want, put it in a large pot of cold water with ice cubes floating in it, like they do in restaurants). Drain the asparagus and slice it on an angle into approximately 1-inch pieces.

Place the asparagus, sliced fennel, sliced onion, and basil in a medium salad bowl. Set up four salad plates, and arrange a small bunch of arugula leaves on each one.

In a small bowl, mix together all the ingredients for the dressing. Taste for a good balance of lemon and olive oil, adjusting if necessary. Pour the dressing over the asparagus and toss gently. Place the asparagus salad on the arugula on the four plates. Top each salad with a few shavings of Pecorino, and serve right away.

Roasted Asparagus with Tomatoes and Gaeta Olives

When you roast asparagus its flavor intensifies, and it can stand up to a bold sauce like this one, which is made with tomatoes, black olives, and garlic. It’s excellent served with leg of lamb, yielding a Mediterranean take on a classic springtime dinner.

(Serves 4 or 5 as a first course or side dish)

2 dozen fairly thick asparagus spears, the tough ends trimmed and the stalks peeled
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 pint sweet cherry tomatoes, stemmed
1 garlic clove, very thinly sliced
A splash of sweet Marsala wine
A small handful of Gaeta olives, pitted and cut in half
3 small sprigs marjoram, the leaves lightly chopped, plus a few whole sprigs for garnish

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Lay the asparagus out on a sheet pan, and drizzle it with enough olive oil to coat it well. Sprinkle on some salt and black pepper, and toss it with your fingers until all the seasonings are well distributed. Roast the asparagus until it is tender, fragrant, and just starting to brown a bit at the tips, about 15 minutes.

While the asparagus is roasting, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. When the skillet is hot, add the cherry tomatoes and sear them, shaking them around some, until they just start to burst, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and continue cooking about a minute longer. Add the Marsala and let it boil away. Take the skillet from the heat and add the olives, marjoram, a little salt, and a few grindings of black pepper. Toss well.

Place the asparagus on a warmed serving platter and spoon the tomato sauce across the middle of it. Garnish with the marjoram sprigs. Serve hot.

Spaghetti with Asparagus, Leeks, Prosciutto, and Thyme

Asparagus and prosciutto make a beautiful flavor combination. The thyme and leeks round out the dish, and it ends up with surprising depth of flavor for so few ingredients.

(Serves 5 or 6 as a first course or 4 as a main course)

Salt
About 20 thick asparagus spears, trimmed and peeled
1 pound spaghetti
Extra-virgin olive oil
4 leeks, well cleaned, trimmed, and cut into thin rounds, using the white part and only the tenderest green
A tiny pinch of ground allspice
Freshly ground black pepper
4 large sprigs thyme, the leaves lightly chopped
A splash of dry white wine
1/2 cup chicken broth (low-salt canned is fine)
4 thin slices of prosciutto, well chopped
6 large sprigs of flat leaf parsley, the leaves lightly chopped
A chunk of Pecorino cheese for grating (a mild Sardinian one is best; Pecorino Romano is a bit strong for this dish)

Bring a large pot of water, enough to cook the spaghetti in, to a boil. Don’t put in the spaghetti. Add a generous amount of salt and drop in the asparagus. Blanch it for about 2 minutes, just to take the raw edge off it. Scoop it from the water into a colander with a large strainer spoon. Run cold water over it to stop the cooking and to bring up its color. Drain well and then slice it on an angle into approximately 1/4-inch sections.

Bring the water back to a boil.

Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks. Season with the allspice, black pepper, and a pinch of salt, and sauté until the leeks are tender and soft, about 6 minutes.

Put the spaghetti in the boiling water.

Add the asparagus and the thyme to the skillet with the leeks, and sauté a minute longer, just to coat it all with flavor. Add a splash of white wine and let it boil away. Add the chicken broth and simmer, uncovered, for about 5 minutes, to blend all the flavors and to finish cooking the asparagus.

When the spaghetti is al dente, drain it, saving about 1/2 cup of the cooking water. Transfer the spaghetti to a large, warmed serving bowl. Add a generous drizzle of olive oil, the chopped prosciutto, and parsley, and give it a toss. Add the asparagus-and-leeks mixture and toss again, adding a tiny bit of the spaghetti cooking water, if needed to loosen it all up. Taste for seasoning, adding a bit more salt and a few gratings of fresh black pepper. Grate on a tablespoon or so of the Pecorino, give the spaghetti a final toss, and bring it to the table with the remaining chunk of Pecorino for anyone who would like more cheese.

Asparagus with Parmigiano, Lemon, and Cream

This lemon, Parmigiano, and cream sauce was a taste I first encountered several years ago in Rome, where it was served to me tossed with fettuccine; it’s an intense and refreshing sauce that I’ve discovered tastes wonderful drizzled over asparagus.

(Serves 4 as a first course or a side dish)

About 2 dozen asparagus spears, the tough ends trimmed and the stalks peeled
3/4 cup heavy cream
Zest of 2 lemons
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese, plus a tablespoon more
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Blanch the asparagus until it’s just tender, about 3 minutes. Using tongs, pull it from the water, drain it well in a colander, and pat it dry. Lay it out in a shallow baking dish.

In a small saucepan, heat the cream at a medium temperature until it starts to boil. Lower the heat and simmer until it is reduced by about 1/2. Add the lemon zest and simmer about 3 minutes longer.

Turn on the broiler. Turn the heat off under the cream and add the Parmigiano, stirring well to blend it. Add a pinch of salt and freshly ground black pepper. Pour the sauce over the asparagus, and sprinkle the tablespoon of Parmigiano evenly over the top. Broil about 5 inches from the heat source until the top is very lightly browned, about 3 minutes. Serve hot.

Asparagus with Scallops, Pine Nuts, and Tomato Saffron Vinaigrette

Asparagus makes a delicious bed for seafood. Here I lay on it sautéed scallops,but I could have used cooked shrimp, a thin piece of poached salmon, or quick-sautéed calamari sliced into rings. Since the asparagus and seafood both have strong, distinct flavor, I dress the dish with a more complicated vinaigrette than I would choose for a plain green salad.

(Serves 4 as a first course, lunch, or light supper)

20 thin asparagus spears, the tough ends trimmed and the stalks peeled if the skin is tough
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
12 large sea scallops, the side muscle removed
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
A pinch of cayenne
A large bunch of arugula, stemmed, washed, and dried
A handful of basil leaves, cut into thin strips, plus 4 nice-looking whole sprigs for garnish
A large handful of pine nuts, lightly toasted

For the vinaigrette:

A pinch of saffron threads (about 5 threads)
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 canned plum tomatoes, drained
1/4 teaspoon sherry vinegar
A pinch of sugar
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

First make the vinaigrette: If the saffron is moist, place it in a small skillet over very low heat for a few seconds to dry it out. Grind the saffron to a powder in a mortar and pestle. In a small saucepan, reduce the white wine and saffron over medium heat until about two tablespoons of liquid remain. Put the tomatoes in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until almost smooth (still a bit chunky). Add the vinegar, the reduced wine-and-saffron mixture, a pinch of sugar, salt, black pepper, and the olive oil, and pulse a few times to blend well. Set aside (the vinaigrette will thicken slightly as it stands).

Line four salad palates with the arugula leaves.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Drop in the asparagus and blanch it until tender, about 4 minutes (depending on its thickness). Scoop the asparagus out with a large strainer spoon, and place it in a colander. Drain well. Place 5 asparagus spears on top of the arugula on each plate.

Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. Dry the scallops well and season them with salt, black pepper, and a pinch of cayenne. When the skillet is almost smoking, add the scallops, leaving some space between them. Let them sear, without moving them at all, until they’re nicely browned, about 4 minutes. By this time they should be cooked through. If their tops seem raw, turn the heat down and continue cooking without turning until the tops feel firmer but still look slightly translucent, probably about another minute. Place three scallops, brown side up, on the asparagus on each plate. Scatter on the basil and pine nuts and drizzle each plate with some vinaigrette. Garnish with the basil sprigs. Serve right away.

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An Easter Menu

Recipes:

Asparagus and Burrata Salad with Dandelions
Baby Artichokes with New Potatoes and Mint
Calamari Filled with Ricotta and Herbs and Braised with Malvasia Wine
My Mother’s Pastiera

We had a long, cold winter this year in Manhattan, gray with few of those sunny, bracing days that can be so uplifting in the middle of February. But I did manage to soothe my soul in the kitchen through the winter, focusing on oranges, red wine, and really good olive oil, and often using all three together in one dish, such as a beef stew I made twice with Nero d’Avola wine from Sicily, orange zest, and a touch of rosemary. The savory Sicilian orange salads that I love to make every winter became more of a necessity this year. They may be among my favorite dishes of all time, especially when I combine the oranges with raw fennel, black olives, a touch of red onion, sea salt, and Sicilian olive oil. (Ravida is still my favorite Sicilian oil, and you can order it through Zingerman’s.) I even like orange salads sprinkled with chopped anchovies. That may sound peculiar, but it’s a surprisingly delicious combination on the tongue, with its blend of sweet, sour, and salty; try it after a plate of linguine with clam sauce and see how it brightens the meal while extending the sea theme. I give a recipe for this salad in my new book, The Flavors of Southern Italy, which comes out in April.

So here it is almost Easter, and I’m just about ready to leave the oranges behind and move on to springtime fare, though I must admit that Easter in New York is not always spring-like and in fact can be really frustrating, with its wind and chill right when you’re ready to burst loose wearing some frilly dress and toting a basket of strawberries. All the foods you associate with the holiday, like asparagus, peas, and strawberries, aren’t even in season yet, and most of my friends no longer eat lamb for Easter dinner for one reason or another. Easter for me is the symbolic entry into warm weather far more than the solemn religious occasion it is for serious Catholics, but that doesn’t stop me from celebrating it.

Here is an Easter meal that focuses on some of the foods I start to crave after winter: asparagus (unfortunately not local yet, but from California), dandelion greens, mint, artichokes (also from California), and always for me some sort of seafood (here I offer calamari stuffed with ricotta and braised with a sweet wine). I also include in this menu an old Easter recipe from my mother’s family, a sweet baked pasta flavored with cinnamon, rum, and vanilla. This is something her father made long before I could have tasted it. I’ve recreated it from her memories. I think it’s delicious.

Happy Easter!

Asparagus and Burrata Salad with Dandelions

Burrata is a mozzarella-type cheese from Puglia that contains a core of creamy curd. It is luscious and runny. Murray’s cheese shop and Citarella in Manhattan both import it. If you can’t find it, a soft, room-temperature mozzarella will work fine in its place.

(Serves 4)

For the salad:

12 thick asparagus spears, the ends trimmed and the tough stalks peeled
A large bunch of young dandelions, washed and trimmed
2 scallions, cut into thin rounds, using some of the tender green part
1 small fennel bulb, very thinly sliced
3 small sprigs of fresh tarragon, the leaves lightly chopped
1 1-pound ball of burrata or mozzarella
A handful of pine nuts, lightly toasted

For the dressing:

The juice and grated zest from 1/2 a lemon
A splash of Spanish sherry vinegar (about 1/4 teaspoon)
2 or 3 scrapings of fresh nutmeg
A tiny drizzle of honey (about 1/4 teaspoon)
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Blanch the asparagus in a large pot of boiling water until just tender, about 4 minutes. Lift it from the water and run it under cold water to stop the cooking and to bring up its green color. Drain. Slice the spears into thirds on an angle.

In a small bowl, whisk all the ingredients for the dressing together. There should be a nice balance between sweet, acid, and olive oil (I prefer less acid and more olive oil with the gentle flavors of asparagus and mozzarella).

When you’re ready to serve, set up four salad plates. In a large bowl, combine the dandelions, scallion, fennel, tarragon, and the sliced asparagus. Add the vinaigrette, saving about a tablespoon, and toss gently. Divide the salad up onto the plates. Slice the burrata or mozzarella into four thick slices and lay a piece on each salad. Give each slice a drizzle of vinaigrette and garnish with toasted pine nuts.

Baby Artichokes with New Potatoes and Mint

Tender, chokeless artichokes and tiny new potatoes are best for this vegetable dish, which is designed to celebrate the Spring harvest and is an Easter classic in many parts of Southern Italy.

A note on trimming baby artichokes: Since these small vegetables have not developed their chokes yet, you need only pull off the tough outer leaves, until you get to the tender, light-green ones. Trim the top and trim and peel the stem. Place the trimmed artichokes in a big bowl of cold water with the juice of a large lemon until you’re ready to cook them.

(Serves 4)

Extra-virgin olive oil
2 thin slices pancetta, well chopped
2 dozen baby artichokes, trimmed (see above) and placed in a bowl of cold water with the juice of 1 large lemon
4 garlic cloves, peeled and lightly smashed
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
A dozen small red potatoes, cut in half
A splash of dry white wine
A squeeze of lemon juice
A few large sprigs of fresh mint, the leaves chopped
Shavings of young Pecorino cheese

In a large skillet, heat 3 or 4 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the pancetta and sauté it until it’s just starting to crisp. Drain the artichokes well and add them to the skillet. Sauté, uncovered, until lightly golden, about 8 to 10 minutes. Add the garlic about halfway through the sautéing, so it doesn’t burn. Season with salt and black pepper, cover the pan, lower the heat, and cook, stirring frequently, until the artichokes are just fork tender (you should be able to do this without adding liquid, but if the artichokes start to stick or burn, add a splash of white wine).

While the artichokes are cooking, blanch the potatoes in boiling salted water until just tender, about 5 minutes. Drain well.

When the artichokes are almost tender, uncover the pan, add the potatoes, and cook both vegetables together for a few minutes to blend their flavors and to lightly brown the potatoes. Add a splash of white wine and let it boil away. Add a generous squeeze of lemon juice, and reseason with a touch of salt and a few fresh grindings of black pepper. Scatter on the mint and give everything a gentle toss. Place in a serving bowl and shave the Pecorino over the top.

Calamari Filled with Ricotta and Herbs and Braised in Malvasia Wine

Squid isn’t a traditional Italian Easter dish, but it’s sweet and tender in the spring, and I find it makes a great stand-in for the lamb that most of my friends (though not me) seem to feel sad about eating nowadays. Sweet wine does wonders for squid, underscoring the fish’s own sweetness and providing a luscious sauce. A Sicilian Moscato from Pantelleria or a Muscat Beaumes de Venise from France are both excellent choices, but any type of fruity white dessert wine will taste fine. Plain rice or couscous is a good accompaniment too.

(Serves 4 as a main course)

Salt
2 pounds relatively large squid (larger ones are easier to stuff), cleaned and the body and tentacles left whole
1 cup whole-milk ricotta, sheep’s-milk if available, drained in a colander for about 20 minutes (you want to get rid of excess liquid for this recipe so it doesn’t ooze out of the squid during cooking)
1 large egg
A handful of flat-leaf parsley, the leaves chopped, plus a handful of whole leaves for garnish
A few sprigs of marjoram, the leaves chopped
1 tablespoon grated Grana Padano or Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
Freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
A handful of toothpicks
2 garlic cloves, unpeeled but lightly smashed with the side of a knife
A large wineglass of Malvasia, or another sweet wine such as a Muscat Beaumes de Venise
A strip of lemon peel
A small handful of green olives (I used Picholines, from France)

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add a generous amount of salt. Add the squid and blanch it for about a minute. Scoop it out of the water with a large strainer and into a colander. Run the squid under cold water and then let it drain on paper towels. (Blanching firms up the squid, making it much easily to fill.)

In a small bowl, combine the ricotta, egg, parsley, marjoram, Grana Padano or Parmigiano, salt, and ground black pepper. Mix everything together. Fill the squid about halfway with the ricotta mixture (using a small spoon makes this easier). Close each piece with toothpicks. Wipe any ricotta off the outside of the squid.

In a large skillet, heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the stuffed squid and tentacles and the garlic cloves, and season with salt and pepper. Sauté until the squid is golden on one side. Turn the squid to sauté on the other side. Add the sweet wine and the lemon peel, lower the heat, cover the skillet, and simmer until the squid is very tender, about 35 minutes, turning the pieces occasionally.

When the squid is tender remove it from the skillet to a serving platter. Scatter the olives around it. Boil the skillet’s cooking liquid down for about a minute, just to intensify its flavor. You want to wind up with about 1/2 cup of liquid. Pour the sauce over the squid through a fine-mesh strainer. Garnish with the whole parsley leaves. Serve hot.

My Mother’s Pastiera

Pastiera, the classic Southern Italian Easter cake make with ricotta and whole wheat berries, was something that nobody in my family ever actually baked but that we always had on Easter. We bought it at a Neapolitan bakery in Glen Cove, Long Island, near where we lived. I loved this cake when I was a kid. I found its texture fascinating, and I was crazy about its hint of orange-flower water. My mother recently told me that her father’s family, from Sicily, made a sweet baked pasta every year for Easter, and they called that pastiera (traditional pastiera is associated with the cooking of Naples, but it is made in several areas in the south). I’d never heard her mention this before, but it sounded delicious. Since she had never learned how to make it, my sister and I had never tasted it, even though it was, it turns out, one of my mother’s fondest childhood food memories. I went about recreating it myself from her description. The results were pretty much as she remembered , though when I told her what I included in the recipe, she insisted that certain elements, like rum and cinnamon, hadn’t been in the original. They just made sense to me to round out the flavors.

My mother says the type of pasta you use is important. It should be short and sturdy, with a hole in the middle; you want to see a mass of little holes when you slice into it. Ditalini and tubettini are good choices.

(Serves 6 or 7 as a dessert or a midafternoon snack)

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Salt
3/4 pound ditalini pasta
3/4 cup heavy cream
1 cup milk
3 large eggs, plus 1 egg yolk
1/2 cup sugar, plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons rum
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract (Madagascar vanilla, if you can find it)
A generous pinch of ground cinnamon
A generous pinch of ground nutmeg
The zest from 1 small lemon
1/4 cup of homemade, dry breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.

Set up a large pot of pasta cooking water and bring it to a boil. Add a generous amount of salt (even though this is a sweet dish, the salt for the pasta is important to bring out all the flavors in the finished dish). When the water comes to a boil, start cooking the ditalini.

Use about a tablespoon of the butter to grease a large baking dish (I used an 8-by-12-inch one, and an equivalent-size oval dish looks pretty too).

Pour the cream and milk into a small saucepan and bring it to a low boil over medium heat.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk the eggs together with the sugar until well mixed. Slowly pour the milk mixture into the eggs, whisking the entire time. Add the rum, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, and lemon zest, and whisk to blend all the flavors.

When the ditalini is al dente (a bit firmer than usual, since it will cook again in the oven), drain it well in a colander. Pour the ditalini into the baking dish. Pour the cream and egg mixture over it.

Bake until the edges are starting to bubble and the middle is just set, about 45 minutes (the top will not have browned much).

Mix the breadcrumbs, the remaining tablespoon of butter, and the remaining tablespoon of sugar together in a small bowl. Scatter this over the top of the pastiera and place under a broiler about 4 inches from the heat source until very lightly golden, about a minute. Let the pastiera cool for at least an hour before serving, so it can firm up. Serve slightly warm or at room temperature, cut into squares.

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Recipes:

Bruschetta with Artichoke Pesto
Braised Beef with Primitivo Wine
Carrots with Sicilian Capers
Caciocavallo with Rosemary Honey and Pine Nuts

Braciole stuffed with Pecorino, garlic, and parsley; hunks of pork; sausages: All those things floating together for hours in a big pot of burnished red sauce make up a taste memory from my childhood that I will never forget. My mother made such a complicated dish only in winter, when its almost overwhelming aroma would fill the kitchen with joy. In summer, when you wanted to be racing around outside uninhibited, it would have filled the kitchen with familial oppression. Probably one of the ways Neapolitan mamas got their reputation for being overbearing was from cooking such a meal in 90-degree Neapolitan heat. In 20-degree New York winters it actually makes sense.

I occasionally make a really traditional Sunday sauce like it myself, but it’s best for a large group. When I’m serving four or fewer, which is usually the case, I simplify, cooking only one cut of meat, such as the beef shoulder roast I’ve chosen here (it’s the same cut used for traditional American pot roast). I slow-simmer the meat with red wine, tomato paste, and garlic, that traditional Southern Italian triumvirate, creating all the big Sunday sauce aromas with a lot less work. And I wind up with a much more contemporary look on the plate.

Winter eating, if you want to get romantic about it, is all about coaxing tenderness out of things that are hard or tough, like big winter carrots and shoulder roasts of meat. The glory lies in the execution, since usually the raw ingredients don’t shine on their own as they do in summer months. To accompany the roast I’ve chosen to simmer carrots in Marsala wine and then finish the dish with a scattering of the Sicilian salt-packed capers that I love so much (you can purchase them on-line from BuonItalia, in New York). Their sharpness breaks through the starchiness and almost indiscernible taste carrots can have this time of year. I suggest also including in this meal a bowl of sturdy pasta, like penne or rigatoni, dressed with olive oil, grated Pecorino or Parmigiano cheese, and a ladle of the beef cooking broth to carry over the winey beef taste. A big bowl of roasted potatoes flavored with rosemary and garlic is another possible accompaniment.

For an appetizer I like to bring out an artichoke pesto on crostini. It’s light and fluffy; a good start to a rich meal. It does not, however, go well with the Primitivo wine I suggest to accompany the meal, so you might want to start with a Prosecco or a still white like a Greco di Tufo (Mastroberardino is a fine producer of that Campanian wine). If you don’t want to bother with the artichokes, you can make a really simple crostini by topping toasted bread rounds with a dollop of ricotta and then a marinated fresh anchovy (which you can find in an Italian or Spanish specialty store). The creamy blandness of the ricotta and the sharp fishiness of the anchovy combine in a lovely marriage of flavors.

I keep the flow of a meal like this traditional, presenting it more or less the way it progressed at my mother’s or grandmother’s house. I bring out a big green salad after the main course. My mother almost always served a mix of chicory and escarole, two good sturdy and pleasantly bitter winter greens. I suggest arugula and watercress, but endive or frisée can be included (I crave something slightly bitter after a rich meat dish). Cheese came next, then a bowl of fruit, and then Amaretto cookies, or even Twinkies, which of course were the highlight of the meal for me as a small child. No dinner like this would ever have been complete without a bottle of Sambuca being brought to the table, along with coffee beans to float in the glasses. Then came the espresso pot, the stove-top kind made by Bialetti that’s shaped like a mature Italian lady, which I more than once plopped directly down on the table without a trivet, burning a black octagonal hole into the wood finish.

That’s the way it went in my house. It was an enjoyable ritual (except for burning the table) that I’ve updated only in subtle ways, keeping the spirit of the meal but streamlining the food a bit. If you’d like to try a dish other than the Beef in Primitivo for the centerpiece of a Sunday supper, Braised Lamb Shoulder with Tomatoes, Marsala, and Cinnamon; Short Ribs with Chianti and Celery Gremolata; Pork Braciole with Provolone, Parsley, and Capers; and Sausages and Italian Frying Peppers with Sage and Fennel Seed are all good alternatives (use this site’s search window, at the top of the page, to find them).

Winter cooking is for me a little trickier to pull off than the breezier, improvisational meals I put together in warmer months, when the Greenmarket is bursting with tender vegetables and there’s the grill to throw fish and meat on. I’m always looking for Mediterranean flavor, even in January in New York, and I’ve found it’s not that hard to keep a Southern Italian style going strong. My savior in winter months is the Italian pantry. I stock up on salt-packed anchovies and capers from Sicily, bottles of fruity estate olive oil, canned tomatoes, and chunks of strong Pecorino cheese. Hothouse supermarket herbs are a must for me; I scatter flat leaf parsley and basil over finished dishes just for their green aromas, and I make easy herb pestos, usually just a mix of olive oil and herbs, to spoon over fish or toss onto pasta for a hit of freshness. Wine finds its way into much of my winter cooking, adding a gentle acidity to long-simmered dishes like the beef I present here, and underpinning quick skillet sauces for sautés. Lemons and oranges are at their best in winter and add sunny flavor to salads, stews, fish, and desserts. I keep a bottle of Limoncello liqueur from Campania, lemon brought to its apex, in my refrigerator to drizzle over ice cream or to drink in icy cold shots. It really refreshes my spirit.

If you have any questions about how to revitalize your Italian winter cooking, especially if you cook in a Southern Italian style like I do, please don’t be shy about contacting me.

Happy 2004.

Bruschetta with Artichoke Pesto

You can buy little jars of artichoke pesto in food shops in many places in Southern Italy. They’re often very good, but they’re never as good as when you make it yourself. Since everything in it gets puréed, you don’t even have to do a real tidy job cleaning the artichokes, so the cooking is easy. Some artichoke pestos I’ve sampled have contained green olives, which I like, but here I’ve gone for a lusher approach, adding Pecorino, mascarpone, and a splash of vermouth.

This pesto also makes a great pasta sauce for two. To use it that way, simply cook about 1/2 pound of penne or ziti, saving a little of the cooking water; drain the pasta; and toss it with the artichoke pesto, thinning it out with a little of the cooking water. Garnish with chopped mint leaves.

(Serves 4 or 5 as an appetizer)

4 large artichokes
The juice of 2 lemons
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
A splash of dry vermouth
A small chunk of young Pecorino cheese
A tablespoon of mascarpone cheese
A few large sprigs of fresh spearmint, lightly chopped
1 baguette, cut into thin rounds

Set up a bowl of cold water and add the juice from one of the lemons. Peel the artichokes down to their tender light-green leaves. Trim the bottoms off the stems, leaving as much tender stem as possible. Peel the stems of tough outer skin. Slice off about 1 inch from the top. Quarter the artichokes lengthwise and cut out the chokes and any prickly purple inner leaves. Drop each piece into the water as you finish working on it.

In a large skillet (avoid cast iron, which might turn the artichokes slightly gray), heat about 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and the artichoke pieces, season with salt and black pepper, and sauté just until they start turning golden. Add the vermouth and let it boil away. Add a generous splash of warm water, turn the heat down a bit, and simmer, covered, until the pieces are very tender, adding little splashes of water if the pan dries up. This should take about 15 minutes.

Place the artichokes with any pan juices in a food processor. Add about a tablespoon or so of grated Pecorino, a generous drizzle of fresh olive oil, a squeeze of lemon juice, the mascarpone, and the mint. Pulse briefly, just until you have a rough but slightly fluffy paste. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt and black pepper if needed.

Toast the baguette slices and brush them lightly with olive oil. Spoon a generous amount of the artichoke pesto on top and garnish with a few shavings of Pecorino.

Braised Beef with Primitivo Wine

In most of Southern Italy a good-sized chunk of braising beef is inevitably cooked by being slow-simmered in wine and aromatics, with maybe a touch of tomato. Here’s a Southern Italian pot roast that I’ve simmered in Primitivo di Manduria, a strong red wine from Puglia. The wine has a characteristic prunish flavor that works well with strongly flavored red meat. The orange peel and anchovy I’ve added cook down, blending with the rich wine to add only a subtle layer of flavor. Vinicola Savese is a good Primitivo producer to look for.

I always use any leftover meat for a pasta sauce. If you’d like to try doing that, shred with your fingers any meat you have left (for a half a pound of pasta, enough for two large servings, you’ll need about a cup or so). Warm the shredded meat with all the leftover wine sauce in a small skillet. Add a handful of freshly chopped parsley and a drizzle of olive oil, and check the seasoning, adding a little fresh black pepper to wake up the flavors. Cook a half a pound of ziti or penne al dente, drain it well, and add it to the skillet. Toss over medium heat for a minute or two, adding a handful of grated Pecorino. Serve hot.

(Serves 4 or 5)

Extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup all-purpose flour for dredging the meat
An approximately 3 1/2-pound boneless beef chuck shoulder roast (sometimes labeled “shoulder pot roast” in the supermarket), tied in 3 or 4 places
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 large onion, cut into large chunks
2 carrots, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, lightly crushed with the side of a knife
1 bay leaf
A few marjoram sprigs
A pinch of ground clove
2 long pieces of orange peel
2 anchovy fillets
A heaping tablespoon of tomato paste
A bottle of Primitivo wine (or another strong, dry red, a Cabernet for instance)
A handful of flat-leaf parsley, lightly chopped

Choose a large casserole fitted with a lid. Add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high heat. Coat the meat lightly in flour, and when the oil is hot add the meat to the casserole. Season with salt and black pepper and brown the meat leisurely on all sides. Take your time doing this; the browning will add great flavor to the sauce. Add the onion, carrots, and garlic, and sauté a few minutes so they can release their flavors. Add the bay leaf, marjoram, ground clove, orange peel, anchovy, and tomato paste, and sauté for about a minute, so all their flavors can be released. Pour in the bottle of wine and bring it to a boil. The meat should be just about covered with liquid, poking out only a little (if not, add warm water). Lower the heat to a simmer, cover the casserole, and cook slowly, turning the meat once or twice and basting it occasionally, until it is very tender, about 2 1/2 hours. If the liquid gets too low, add warm water.

Lift the meat from the casserole and cover it with aluminum foil to keep it warm.

Skim excess fat from the surface of the sauce, if necessary. Pour the sauce through a mesh strainer into a clean saucepan, pushing on the vegetables so that some of their juice can incorporate into the sauce. Boil the sauce over high heat for a few minutes to concentrate its flavor (it should be loose but with a good sheen and just on the verge of looking syrupy). Slice the meat thickly (it will naturally be very tender and start to fall apart a bit, but that’s the nature of a pot roast, so don’t worry about it). Place the meat on a large serving platter. Scatter on the parsley and spoon on a few tablespoons of the sauce. Bring the remaining sauce to the table in a small sauce boat.

Carrots with Sicilian Capers

Carrots are not a vegetable that I get great inspiration from. Raw, I find them soapy tasting. But here’s a treatment that plays up their sweetness and tones down that soapiness, using the excellent Sicilian salt-packed capers that come from the islands of Lipari and Pantelleria, which have a special floral sweetness and no sharp edges. This dish is not, to my knowledge, a traditional Southern Italian one; it’s something I came up with one night as an Italianate accompaniment to a pork-chop dinner. Try and find Sicilian salt-packed capers for it (you can order them on-line from BuonItalia in New York). Their sweet, floral taste marries perfectly with the carrots. Brine soaked capers are a bit too acidic.

(Serves 4, or 5 as a side dish)

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
A large bunch of carrots (about 5), peeled and cut into not-too-thin rounds (I like rounds here because they echo the roundness of the capers)
A generous pinch of sugar
A few scrapings of nutmeg
Salt
A splash of dry Marsala
A palmful of salt-packed capers, soaked in several changes of cool water for about 1/2 hour, rinsed, and drained
Freshly ground black pepper
A small handful of parsley leaves, lightly chopped

Choose a wide skillet with a lid that will hold the sliced carrots in more or less one layer for easy cooking (they can overlap, but don’t pile them inches deep). Over medium heat, add the butter and let it get foamy and hot. Add the carrots, the sugar, the nutmeg, and a pinch of salt (not too much, since you’ll be adding capers later on), and sauté for about a minute or so to lightly caramelize the sugar and coat the carrots with flavor. Add a splash of dry Marsala and let it bubble until the skillet is dry. Add a generous splash of hot water, cover the skillet, and simmer on medium low heat until the carrots are tender but still holding their shape. This should take about 5 minutes. Check the skillet frequently to make sure there is still a little water left, and add a splash if needed. When the carrots are about a minute away from being tender, uncover the skillet to let the liquid evaporate. You want a moist glaze on the carrots but no water left in the skillet. Add the capers and a few gratings of fresh black pepper. Taste for seasoning, adding more salt if needed. Add the parsley and serve right way.

Caciocavallo with Rosemary Honey and Pine Nuts

I bought a jar of rosemary-flavored honey in the town of Lecce on my last trip to Puglia and was surprised by its beautiful aroma and taste, having expected to find the herb harsh in that context. When I finished the jar it occurred to me that I could easily make my own rosemary honey, and now I do. It’s a perfect match for a soft but somewhat assertive cheese like caciocavallo.

(Serves 4 or 5)

1 cup acacia or orange-flower honey
3 small sprigs rosemary
A 3/4-pound chunk of caciocavallo cheese at room temperature (chose a good imported one; I especially like caciocavallo Ragusano from Sicily)
Freshly ground black pepper
A handful of pine nuts, lightly toasted

Pour the honey into a small saucepan and drop in the rosemary sprigs. Turn the heat to low and heat the honey just long enough to make it liquid and warm to the touch, about 4 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the saucepan sit on the turned-off burner for about 15 minutes (this will allow the oil from the rosemary to be released). Remove the rosemary sprigs if you like; I usually leave them in for a gently rustic look.

When you’re ready to serve the dish, cut the caciocavallo into not-too-thin slices and place a few on each serving plate. Grate on a little black pepper, drizzle with the honey (which should still be slightly warm; you can reheat in gently if it isn’t), and garnish each serving with pine nuts.

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