Archive for the ‘Skinny Guinea’ Category

Tomato skin dress by Sung Yeonju, 2010.

Recipe: Summer Tomato Sauce with Thyme, Parsley, and Butter

This elegant and labor-intensive dress made from tomato skins got me thinking about how amazing the skins of many things are, including our own skins, of course (at least on some people). These bright red skins, used to fashion this adorable cocktail ensemble, made me want to go and blanch a few summer tomatoes, just so I could slip off the skins and feel them with my own hands, marveling at their translucent beauty and delicacy. I did that, and it was damned great. But now I had a bunch of nude tomatoes to deal with, dripping all over my counter and giving off a faint, alluring whiff of the sea (it’s odd how tomatoes can have that aroma, even when they weren’t  grown anywhere near the sea). In any case, we all know that one of the best things to do with perfect, just skinned summer tomatoes is make a tomato sauce. This sometimes scares people. And I know why. It’s all the liquid. How are you supposed to get rid of all that liquid?

Well, you can use plum tomatoes. They throw off less water than the round ones, and they have a concentrated flavor that produces a rich, tight sauce that’s a classic in Southern Italian cooking. But many people tell me they have trouble finding fresh plums at their markets, so I’ve devised a technique for using the big juicy round tomatoes, a variety that makes an altogether different sauce, one with lightness, bright red color, and a refreshing pure summer flavor.

Here are a few tricks: First, you’ll want to seed and drain your tomatoes. Then chop them, salt them lightly, and stick them in a colander with a bowl underneath to catch the tomato water (which you actually might need  if you’ve drained them too much). When you get to cooking them, chose a wide skillet and high heat. The more surface area you have for spreading out your tomatoes, the quicker you’ll get them heating, which means being able to boil away excess liquid rapidly without their overcooking and turning acidy. High heat and fast cooking also allows the tomatoes to retain their color and clarity of flavor.

I chose to flavor my sauce with thyme, Italian parsley, and a little butter, swirled in at the end. This is a genteel approach, excellent on tagliatelle or a delicate durum wheat pasta shape such as farfalle. I also like to spoon the sauce over stuffed summer vegetables or meatloaf. You might want to go bolder by substituting marjoram or fresh oregano and adding a few anchovies, olives, and capers. Then you’d have a fresh summer puttanesca. I like both approaches.

Summer Tomato Sauce with Thyme, Parsley, and Butter

(Makes about 2 cups of sauce, more than enough for a pound of pasta)

6 medium-size round summer tomatoes
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large shallot, minced
2 fresh summer garlic cloves, thinly sliced
¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
10 thyme sprigs, leaves chopped
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
A handful of Italian parsley, leaves lightly chopped
Freshly ground black pepper

Set up a large pot of water, and bring it to a boil. Drop in the tomatoes, and blanch them until you notice that their skins are just starting to crack, about 3 minutes. Lift the tomatoes from the water with a large strainer, and run cold water over them. Now you can easily slip off their beautiful skins (and perhaps save them for a hat).

Cut the tomatoes in half, and squeeze out the seeds. Then chop them into small dice. Place them in a colander over a bowl, and sprinkle them lightly with salt. Let them drain for about an hour. Save the juice, though, just in case you might want it to loosen the sauce.

Choose a wide skillet, and heat it over a medium flame. When its surface is hot, add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the shallot. Sauté until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic, nutmeg, and the thyme, and sauté a minute longer, just to release their fragrances (you don’t want the garlic to darken, though). Turn the heat to high, and add the tomatoes, spreading them out. Cook over a lively bubble, uncovered, for about 4 or 5 minutes, stirring occasionally (not constantly, which could make your sauce watery by lowering the skillet temperature). When the sauce has some body but is still a bright red, it’s done. If it seems too thick, add a bit of the reserved tomato water.

Turn off the heat. Stir in the butter, add the parsley, and give it a few big turns of fresh black pepper. Taste the sauce to see if it needs additional salt. I find a fresh sauce like this is best used right away, before it loses any vibrancy.

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Monna Pomano, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1864.

Recipe: Apple Torta with Grappa and Cinnamon

The snooty pout and wealth-drenched appeal of the woman in this painting, who happens to be clutching an apple, inspired me to proceed in a more formal way than usual when constructing my first apple tart of the season. Cutting lots of uniformly thin slices of fruit didn’t really feel like me at first, but the results were pretty (prettier, in fact, than this woman, who, I think, actually looks like a guy—a pre-Raphaelite trans, perhaps?). As fancy looking as this torta is, it’s not hard to put together. Seriously. I didn’t even blind-bake the crust, which is a fussy and somewhat annoying step that often turns me off to tart making (messing with all those beans and that aluminum foil, and half the time the thing comes out just as soggy as if I hadn’t gone to all the bother).

Take a trip to the farmer’s market now and get yourself a bunch of firm, slightly tart baking apples (I used Cortlands). The aroma of the seasonal apples alone will provoke you into apple cooking mode, I promise you.

I’ve been into spices this summer, so I chose to flavor this tart with cinnamon and coriander seed. I used the slightly more bitter and stronger Ceylon cinnamon instead of the usual, sweeter Mexican kind, because I wanted an unexpected result, cinnamon and apple being such a standard combination, and mixed with the coriander the apples became almost savory. In fact, with this tart’s absence of cream and eggs, the entire thing takes on a feel of breakfast, which is when my husband has been eating it. But if you serve it with the a dollop of whipped cream and a glass of grappa, it’s a pretty nice dessert offering as well. Judge the amount of sugar you use in it by the sweetness of your apples.

Apple Torta with Grappa and Cinnamon

You’ll want a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom for this.

For the crust:

1¾ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon ground coriander seed
1 stick cold, unsalted butter, cut into small dice
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus a little extra to oil the tart pan
About 3 tablespoons cold white wine (you might need a touch more)

For the applesauce:

3 or 4 large, firm, slightly tart apples, peeled, cored, and cut into cubes
2 tablespoons grappa
About ¼ cup sugar
½ teaspoon ground Ceylon cinnamon

For the top:

3 large apples (the same type you used for the applesauce), peeled, cored, and cut into very thin rounds
3 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon ground Ceylon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground coriander seed
2 tablespoons melted butter

To make the dough: Place the flour, salt, sugar, and ground coriander in the bowl of a food processor, and give it a few pulses. Add the butter and the olive oil, and pulse quickly a few more times, just until the butter is broken up into pea-size bits. Add the white wine, and pulse quickly again, until you have a slightly moist but still crumbly mess. Don’t go so far that the dough forms a ball. Dump the dough out onto a counter, and gather it into a ball by pressing it together with your hands. Wrap it in plastic, and stick it in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours.

To make the applesauce: Put all the applesauce ingredients into a medium sauce pan, add a splash of water, and cook over medium heat, partially covered, until the apples are very soft, adding a little more water if it all gets too dry. Now whisk the sauce until it’s smooth (you can instead do this in a food processor, if you don’t mind an extra bowl to clean). The sauce should be quite thick. If it seems too loose, cook it down a bit. Stick the applesauce in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes, to cool it slightly.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Grease the tart pan with a little olive oil, and place it on a sheet pan. Roll the dough out on a lightly floured work space, and drape it into the pan, cutting off the overhang. Pour in the applesauce, and smooth it down.

Now lay the apple slices on top of the applesauce in a circular pattern. Mix the sugar with the cinnamon and coriander, and sprinkle it over the top. Drizzle on the melted butter.

Bake until the top is lightly browned, about 35 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Recipe: Caprese with Roasted Tomatoes, Mozzarella, and Summer Savory

As perfect as the classic tomato, mozzarella, and basil Caprese salad is, especially now in high summer, professional cooks like me feel the need to mess with it. Why? Well, because we’re an easily bored and restless bunch, and a bored cook with a sharp knife is a potential menace. It’s not that I don’t make this Southern Italian classic straight much of the time, but summer is an exciting season for a cook, so if I’m going go succumb to tinker anxiety, I’m especially going to do it now. And the best thing about summer food play is that changes can be subtle. A few minor adjustments and I can conceivably create an entirely new feel for an established dish. I think I’ve succeeding in doing that here.

Savory is not well known in Italy, not like in France, where it’s used in hearty bean dishes and stews, but I always find it at the Greenmarket in the summer. It smells good to me, so I buy it. Even though savory is pungent (more pungent than oregano), I like it with tomatoes, as long as I roast the two together. This mellows out the herb’s sharpness while intensifying the flavor of the tomatoes, creating a more natural balance (I can’t think of an occasion where I’d use raw savory on raw tomatoes). I’ve added black olives to this dish for the same reason, to push the flavor depth. This is a richer dish than the light-on-the-palate classic Caprese, but it’s good to indulge in some culinary heft in the summer. Oh, and by the way, I designed it as a preamble to a grilled beefsteak.

Caprese with Roasted Tomatoes, Mozzarella,  and Summer Savory

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

10  good-size summer plum tomatoes, halved lengthwise
Extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon sugar
1 large summer garlic clove, very thinly sliced
5 large sprigs summer savory, the leaves lightly chopped
1 pound cow’s milk mozzarella, thinly sliced
A handful of Nicoise olives

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

Place the cut tomatoes in a medium bowl. Drizzle on enough olive oil to coat them well. Season with salt, black pepper, the allspice, and the sugar, and give them a good toss. Lay the tomatoes out on a sheet pan, and roast them until they’re just browning around the edges and starting to shrink down a bit, about 15 minutes or so. You want to keep them juicy in the center, so don’t let them shrivel down to the sun-dried tomato stage. In the last 5 minutes of cooking, scatter on the garlic and the savory.

Pull the sheet pan from the oven, and let the tomatoes cool off a bit (you want them warm).

Choose a pretty platter, and arrange the tomatoes with alternating slices of mozzarella. Scatter on the olives, and finish the dish with a drizzle of fresh olive oil, a sprinkling of salt, and a few grindings of black pepper.

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The Rabbit’s Meal, Henri Rousseau, 1908.

Recipe: Braised Carrots with Marsala and Basil

I have to admit something culinarily weird about me. I sometimes can’t tell the difference between certain local, seasonal vegetables and the ones I get at my supermarket in the middle of winter (am I being duped?). I mean just about all fruit, including tomatoes of course, and fresh garlic, those are exceptions. But most root vegetables, like onions, beets, parsnips, and things like cabbages, celery, some lettuces, chicories, or cauliflower taste about the same to my finely tuned palate (and dammit I do have a finely tuned palate). The smell of the seasonal stuff is stronger, but once it’s cooked I often can’t tell. Anyone else out there harboring this secret?

Carrots are a different matter. Supermarket carrots are often bitter, with a soapy aftertaste. You know when you cook up a puréed carrot soup in the winter and you give it a taste and you say to yourself, what exactly did I create here? It could be anything—butternut squash, vichyssoise. That’s so depressing. Try making that same soup right now, with sweet, crisp farmer’s market carrots. It will actually taste like carrots, I promise you. Oh, and the colors I can find them in, red, dark pink, yellow, rust, deep orange. It’s startling, and pretty glorious.

Carrots as a main event are not popular in Italy. They usually wind up in a soffrito, part of a savory underpinning for a sauce or a braise. One of the few dishes I’ve come across that highlight this vegetable is a Sicilian one, where carrots are cooked in the island’s Marsala wine. The carrots become infused with the wine’s musky flavor. I included a recipe for this dish, one that also contained capers, in my book The Flavors of Southern Italy, because I once saw something similar offered on an antipasti table in Trapani. It’s very good, but I’ve since decided I prefer a more mellow treatment. Now I often leave the capers out and finish the thing with a little basil. That makes a lovely summer offering, but one that delivers surprisingly deep flavor for something with so few ingredients. The quality of the carrots is paramount. But the other key is Marsala, a fortified wine like sherry or port. (Go for the best you can find. Florio is widely available and pretty decent, but if your wine seller suggests something she thinks is better, I don’t see any reason not to use it in cooking.) I’ve tried this dish with both sweet and dry Marsala, and even though I add a little sugar while cooking, I’ve found that the dry provides a more sophisticated flavor. I love this with an herby barbecued chicken.

Multicolored carrots at the Abingdon Square market in the West Village.

Braised Carrots with Marsala and Basil

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

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
About 10 medium-thick carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch batons about ½ inch thick
1 teaspoon sugar
5 big scrapings nutmeg
⅓ cup dry Marsala
A drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
A handful of small basil leaves, left whole

Choose a wide skillet with a lid that will more or less hold the carrots in one layer. Melt the butter over medium heat. Add the carrots, sugar, nutmeg, and salt. Sauté about a minute or so, to lightly caramelize the sugar. Add the Marsala, and let it bubble for a few seconds. Reduce the heat to medium low, cover the skillet, and simmer until the carrots are just tender, about 5 minutes or so.

When the carrots are about a minute away from done, uncover the skillet, and cook to let the liquid evaporate to a moist glaze. Add a drizzle of olive oil, and season with black pepper and a little more salt, if needed. Transfer to a serving dish, add the basil, and give it all a quick toss. Serve hot.

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Mackerel Arriganate

Mackerel and Pillow, Michiko Kon, 1979.

Recipe: Mackerel Arriganate

Last night I dreamt that mackerel were playing with my head. When I woke I saw that mackerel were, indeed, tumbling around in my bed. But I acted fast, turning a potentially treacherous situation, optimist that I am, into something fine. I cooked them.

And since it’s summer I cooked them in high summer fashion (summer in Naples fashion, actually). “Arriganate” means with oregano. Oreganata is the more familiar Italian-American spelling, but I would guess most of my blog readers will know both terms.

It’s interesting that I’m posting a recipe for arriganate since, I have to admit, I don’t really like oregano, either dried or fresh. What kind of Southern Italian doesn’t like oregano? First off, they put it in everything, and being so strong it gets tired-tasting fast. And to me the dried kind (which they prefer to fresh in Southern Italy), even when it’s imported and still attached to its rustico branches, tastes a little like pencil shavings. The flavor of fresh oregano depends on its variety and how played out the plant is. Often it’s harsh, and  can become more so when its oils are released in cooking. But I’ve come up with a fix. Now what I do when I want that arriganate feeling, I blend fresh marjoram, a sweeter more floral cousin to oregano, with fresh thyme, in about equal parts. I’ve found that this produces the spirit of oregano but without the rough edges. Try it. See what you think.

Mackerel Arriganate

(Serves 2)

3 medium summer tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and cut into small dice (and lightly drained if really watery)
1 tablespoon Spanish sherry vinegar
5 large marjoram sprigs, the leaves chopped
5 large thyme sprigs, the leaves chopped
2 summer garlic cloves, thinly sliced
A palmful of salt-packed capers, soaked and then drained
The grated zest of 1 large orange
Freshly ground black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 small (single serving) Spanish mackerel, gutted but with the heads left on

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

In a medium bowl, combine the tomatoes, vinegar, herbs, garlic, capers, and orange zest. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle in about ¼ cup of olive oil, give it all a good stir, and let it sit for a few minutes so the flavors can mingle.

Choose a baking dish large enough to hold the fish and all the sauce with some breathing room (the tomatoes should spread out nicely all around the fish).

Drizzle a little olive oil into the dish. Season the mackerel with salt and black pepper, and then lay them in the dish. Pour the tomato sauce over the fish.

Drizzle a bit of olive oil over the top, and bake, uncovered, until the fish is just tender, about 15 minutes or so, depending on the size of your fish. Check by sticking a knife in at the backbone; the flesh should be just starting to pull away from the bone, but you should still feel a bit of resistance. Take the dish from the oven, and let it sit for about 5 minutes before serving (fish always continues to cook a bit as it sits, and this also gives the flavors a chance to settle). This dish goes well with a simple potato salad, maybe just tossed with olive oil, shallots, and a little parsley, and a glass of lightly chilled Chianti.

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Vegetable dress by Sara Illenberger.

Recipe: Savoy Cabbage Slaw with Golden Raisins, Pine Nuts, and Thai Basil

Beautiful dress, no? I’d love to wear that. I’ll bet it’s comfortable, too, and the string bean waistline makes it look potentially quite slimming. This beautiful piece of couture got me thinking about a dish I do a variation on each summer when I start seeing cabbages at the market. It’s a kind of Sicilian-inspired coleslaw. Each year I choose different add-ins. This one includes pine nuts, golden raisins, a touch of anchovy, some fresh red chili, Thai basil (you can, of course, use regular basil, but Thai gives it that important hint of exotica you’ll need if you’ll be eating it while wearing this gorgeous dress), all held together by silky extra-virgin olive oil. It’s the best side to serve with a sausage and pepper barbecue.

Savoy Cabbage Slaw with Golden Raisins, Pine Nuts, and Thai Basil

(Serves 4 as a side dish)

1 small savoy cabbage, trimmed, cored, and very thinly sliced
1 small red onion, very thinly sliced
A large palmful of pine nuts, lightly toasted
A large palmful of golden raisins, tossed in a tablespoon of dry white wine
2 oil-packed anchovies, minced
1 small fresh red peperoncino chili, seeded and minced
2 teaspoons Spanish sherry vinegar
½ teaspoon sugar
A few big gratings of nutmeg
⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
A handful of Thai basil leaves, very lightly chopped

In a pretty serving bowl, combine the cabbage, onion, pine nuts, raisins (with their soaking wine), anchovies, and peperoncino.

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, the sugar, a little salt, the nutmeg, and the olive oil. Pour this over the cabbage, and toss well. Add the Thai basil, and toss gently. Serve at room temperature.

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Still Life with Watermelon, Piotr Alberti, 1913–1994.

Recipe: Watermelon and Tomato Salad with Mozzarella, Thai Basil, and Lemon Verbena

Savory Watermelon salads have been kicking around the New York restaurant scene for years now, and for the most part I really like them. The only time I don’t like them is when they’re not savory enough. Some places add sugar, which really misses the point. Last summer I made a few watermelon salads that I was pretty happy with. One that included ricotta salata, pine nuts, shallot, and purslane (I love purslane) was my favorite. It was sweet, salty, lemony, and full of texture.

A few nights ago my friend Jane mentioned a watermelon and feta salad she had loved at some Manhattan restaurant (I can’t remember where). Feta seems to be a popular ingredient in these things, its tartness and saltiness playing nicely against the sweetness of the fruit. Good idea (sort of the same thinking that went into my use of ricotta salata). I also recently had a watermelon salad at Peekamoose Restaurant in Big Indian, New York, that was distinguished by their having dehydrated the watermelon slightly, giving it a concentrated sweetness and firmness. That was a really good idea.

When I went about creating a watermelon salad this summer, I wanted to include tomatoes and mozzarella, ingredients I thought would produce a very savory result with a touch of acidity. But those are also ingredients that, like watermelon, can give off a lot of liquid, diluting flavor and messing up any type of vinaigrette you might want to dress the salad with. I didn’t have a way to dehydrate my watermelon, as they did at Peekamoose, but I lightly salted the watermelon, the tomatoes, and the mozzarella and let them all drain, and that did give me a richer final flavor.

Any perfumey or minty herb goes really well with watermelon. I’d avoid strong flavors such as rosemary, oregano, sage, and maybe even thyme (actually I can see thyme working, but it would really depend on the all-over balance of ingredients). In my apartment building’s stoop pots I’m now producing some amazingly healthy Thai basil and lemon verbena. I’ve tried growing both of those herbs in the past, either on my windowsill or in the two big twin pots on either side of the building’s entrance, but they just kind of fizzled out. I’m not sure what I’m doing differently this time around, but they’re bursting forth (we did just have a fabulously dramatic hailstorm last week, so maybe that had something to do with it). These two exotic and very special herbs not only go well together but, I’ve found, are amazing with both watermelon and tomato. If you can’t get your hands on them, use fresh basil and a bit of grated lemon zest instead. You’ll achieve a similar level of beauty.

To underline the salad’s savoriness, I finish it off with red summer onion and Olio Verde, a lush Southern Italian olive oil produced by Gianfranco Becchina, in Sicily. It’s mellow and less bitter than Tuscan, qualities that, to my palate, allow it to blend more naturally with sweet fruit.

My stoop pot, with Thai basil and lemon verbena.

Watermelon and Tomato Salad with Mozzarella, Thai Basil, and Lemon Verbena

(Serves 4 as a first course)

About 2 cups watermelon, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 pint summer cherry tomatoes, cut in half
½ pound mozzarella (not buffalo, which is too watery for this), cut into ½-inch cubes
½ red summer onion, very thinly sliced
About 8 big sprigs each of lemon verbena and Thai basil, the leaves very lightly chopped
2 tablespoons mellow, high quality extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Place the watermelon in a small colander. Sprinkle it with a little salt, and let it drain for about an hour. Do the same thing with the tomatoes (use the watermelon and tomato juices to make yourself a bloody Mary, a little treat for the cook). If your mozzarella seems watery, you can drain that too.

Now transfer the watermelon, tomatoes, and mozzarella into a pretty serving bowl. Add the onion and the herbs. Drizzle on the olive oil, and give it a few good grindings of black pepper. Toss gently. Taste for salt (you probably won’t need more). This is best served right away and at room temperature.

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Recipe: Swordfish Spiedini with Farro Strozzapreti, Tomato, and Mint

In my first book, Pasta Improvvisata, I had a recipe for grilled calamari spiedini served over a bowl of herb-tossed pasta, a vibrant yet easy summer dish (vibrant yet easy is best accomplished in the summer, don’t you think?). I made the pasta a bit ahead, to serve just warm, threw the spiedini on the grill, and arranged one over each bowl of pasta. I love this type of concoction, a real piatto unico. Possibly it’s not classically Italian, but I’ve certainly seen dishes like it in Southern Italy, at some of the more creative restaurants. It makes a lot of sense to me. The flavors stay separate and clean, and you get that good grilled flavor. I’ve made the spiedini with shrimp and scallops, too, and various kinds of sturdy fish. Fish seem to work better than most meats. You want something easy to cut, so you can eat it along with bites of pasta without needing a steak knife, which is alarmingly inappropriate for pasta and would certainly have the Italian food police all agitated.

I tried this theme again last night with swordfish and sweet pepper spiedini over a cherry tomato and mint-dressed farro pasta. Finished with a sprinkling of slightly salty, crisp breadcrumbs, the dish felt summery but solid and boldly flavored, partly because I marinated the fish in assertive spices and then set it over a pasta loaded with fresh herbs.

You can really get creative with this two-piece assemble. Any sort of summer tomato sauce can be your pasta condimento. Or try just tossing a pasta with fresh herbs, garlic, and olive oil. I like playing around with pesto, too. Arugula makes a great pesto, so does a mix of parsley and mint, or parsley and marjoram, or basil and mint, or basil and a little tarragon. And any type of seafood that will stay put on a skewer can work here. Try oysters, big shrimp, tuna, or chunks of monkfish. Delicate whitefish like flounder are really out of the question. You’ll just wind up with a big mess and all the fish lying around on the sizzling coals.

Give this recipe a try, and if you like it, then go for broke. It’s what I consider summer cooking at its most freewheeling and happiest.

Swordfish Spiedini with Farro Strozzapreti, Tomatoes, and Mint

(Serves 2 as a main course)

½ cup homemade breadcrumbs, lightly toasted
Extra-virgin olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon sugar
1 pound swordfish, about 1½ inches thick, skinned and cut into approximately 1½-inch chunks (have four short shish kebab skewers ready)
½ teaspoon each of cumin and fennel seeds, lightly toasted and ground
1 large sweet red pepper, cut into chunks
About 6 scallions, chopped into large pieces
½ pound farro or whole wheat strozzapreti or penne
2 pints sweet grape tomatoes
2 summer garlic cloves, very thinly sliced
A splash of sweet Marsala
A large handful of both basil and fresh spearmint, lightly chopped, plus a few sprigs of mint for garnish

Mix the toasted breadcrumbs with a drizzle of olive oil, salt, a few grindings of black pepper, and the sugar, and set it aside.

Put the swordfish chunks in a bowl, and sprinkle on the ground spices. Season with salt and black pepper, and give it a good toss to coat the fish well.

Skewer the swordfish, alternating with pieces of red pepper and scallion (you’ll have 2 skewers per person).

Set up a pot of pasta cooking water, and bring it to a boil. Season with a good amount of salt.

Drop in the pasta, and give it a quick stir.

In a large sauté pan, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium-high flame. When hot, add the tomatoes, and shake them around for a few minutes. When they just start to burst, add the garlic, and season them with salt and black pepper. Keep shaking the tomatoes until they’ve all burst and started to give off some juice. Add the Marsala, and let it bubble for a minute or so. Press down on the tomatoes to extract more juice.

When al dente, drain the pasta, and place it in a serving bowl. Pour on the tomatoes with all their juice, and add the basil and mint. Add a drizzle of fresh olive oil, and toss well. Check for seasoning. Keep warm.

You can use an outdoor grill or a stove-top grill pan next. I used a grill pan, which I let heat up for a few minutes to get really hot.

Drizzle a little olive oil over the spiedini, and give them an extra sprinkle of salt and black pepper. Grill briefly on two sides, just until grill marks appear and the fish is tender, about 4 minutes total.

Arrange the spiedini over the pasta, and scatter some of the breadcrumbs over them. Garnish with the mint sprigs.

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Women with Fish

Woman Loves Fish, Maggie Taylor, 2003.

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Still Life with Tomatoes, Artichokes, and Green Beans, Luis Egidio Melendez, 1716-1780.

Recipe: Romano Beans Braised with Tomatoes, Sweet Vermouth, and Marjoram

Long, flat, and fuzzy, that’s how I like my green beans. Romano beans, a happy memory of my dad’s little backyard garden and a vegetable that oddly creeped out a few of my non-Italian girlfriends when I was a kid. Was it the fuzz? Yes, I think it was the fuzz, but these things are really delicious, especially prepared the way my grandmother and mother always made them, slow simmered, a braise really, with garlic, summer tomatoes, sometimes basil, sometimes dried oregano, occasionally a mix of both. The flavor was deep, the texture soft, amazing with pork chops straight off the grill.

I found Romano beans at Migliorelli’s farm stand at the Union Square market this week, so I went right ahead and prepared them in this old mezzogiorno style, very Campanian (my grandparents came from a sad little town on the border of Campania and Puglia, so their cooking had elements from both regions). These string beans were vital to their summer table. Sometimes my family threw in little cubes of potato. That was good too. Sometimes bacon was added (not even pancetta!), but I thought that was too much and kind of ruined the all around vegetableness of the dish. A little pancetta can be nice, but the smoky flavor of American bacon is, sorry Nanny, overwhelming here.

I play around with this dish every summer, and this year I’m including onion, garlic, a splash of sweet vermouth, and the season’s first tomatoes, and then finishing it off with a scattering of fresh marjoram, which is much better, in my opinion, than dried oregano. I know the dried version of this herb is almost ubiquitous in Southern Italian cooking, but it can be harsh, and why be harsh in high produce season? I’d rather be fresh.

Romano Beans Braised with Tomatoes, Sweet Vermouth, and Marjoram

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

1½ pounds Romano beans, the ends trimmed
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium summer onion, cut into small dice
1 large fresh summer garlic clove, thinly sliced
⅛ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup sweet red vermouth
3 medium summer tomatoes, skinned, seeded, and cut into medium dice (don’t drain them; you’ll want their juice for this)
About 6 or 7  large sprigs of marjoram, the leaves very lightly chopped
1 tablespoon grated grana Padano cheese

Set up a medium sized pot of water, and bring it to a boil. Drop in the Romano beans, and blanch them for about 3 minutes. Drain them into a colander, and run cold water over them to bring up their green color. Drain well.

In a large sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium flame. Add the onion, and sauté until just starting to soften, about a minute or so. Now add the garlic and the Romano beans, seasoning them with a little salt, the nutmeg, and a few grindings of black pepper. Sauté the beans about a minute, just to infuse them with flavor. Add the vermouth, and let it bubble for a minute.

Now add the tomatoes, and simmer, uncovered, until the beans are very tender, about 5 or 6 minutes. The tomatoes should stay a bit wet, so if they’re too dry, add a little hot water. You might want to turn the heat down a notch if it starts to move into a high boil.

Turn off the heat, add a generous drizzle of fresh olive oil and a few more grindings of black pepper, and let the pan sit on the stove for a minute or so. This well help the flavors develop. Now taste to see if it needs more salt. Add the marjoram, and give everything a stir. Pour the beans, with all their sauce, into a serving bowl, and scatter on the grana Padano. Serve warm.

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