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Women with Fish

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In my mind, I’m all cooped up, but in my soul I’m riding high.

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Still Life with Tuna, by Sunshine Art.

Recipe below: Cavatappi with Tuna, Black Olives, and Arugula

I assume that most of my readers are, like me, getting through this period of isolation with the help of cooking. In normal times I wake up thinking about what I’ll make for dinner. Now I think about that constantly. I know that many cooks are reaching back into their childhoods and pulling out dishes from memories, both good and bad. I certainly am.

There’s no dish that reminds me more of my mother than pasta with canned tuna. It showed up on the table when she was angry, or at least that’s how it seemed to me. If I recall correctly, she served a version of this the night she hurled a piece of fruit at me, an apple, I believe, missing me but hitting my friend Scott in the head so hard that the barrel chair he was sitting on went spinning. Yes, I believe that was one of our pasta with canned tuna nights.

My mother made various versions of the dish, most often a sort of puttanesca with capers and olives and canned tomatoes, and also a pasta with tuna and peas, with or without tomatoes. I loved all the various takes. I haven’t made it in a while, but today I realized that though my Italian pantry was getting low, I still had all the fixings for this perfect one-dish meal. Maybe my sister will throw a wine bottle at me. I kind of hope so. Just to liven things up.

Get good tuna in olive oil. I like Flott and Agostino Recco, both from Sicily, and Ortiz, from Spain.  Prolonged heating messes up the delicate taste of the fish, so you’ll want to add it at the last minute and just warm it through. I understand that it’s not easy to find good stuff at the markets these days. I don’t usually buy Barilla pasta or Cento tomatoes, but that was all they had, and I feel lucky I got it. Do the best you can. It’s a very forgiving dish.

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Isolation era provisions.

Cavatappi with Tuna, Black Olives, and Arugula

(Serves 4 as a piatto unico)

Salt
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 shallot or small onion, chopped
1 or 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
A splash of sweet vermouth
1 28-ounce can Italian tomatoes, well chopped, with the juice
Aleppo pepper
1 pound cavatappi, fusilli, or penne pasta
A palmful of shriveled Moroccan olives, pitted
2 7-ounce jars or cans good tuna packed in olive oil, drained
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 or 6 big sprigs marjoram or oregano, the leaves lightly chopped
A big handful of baby arugula
Grana Padano cheese for the table.

Set up a big pot of pasta cooking water, add a lot of salt, and bring it to a boil.

While the water is heating, get out a large skillet, and drizzle in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot or onion, and sauté until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, and cook until fragrant, about a minute longer. Add the vermouth, and let it bubble out. Add the tomatoes, season with salt and some Aleppo, and cook at a lively bubble for about 5 minutes.

Drop the pasta into the boiling water.

Turn the heat off under the tomato sauce. Add the tuna, the olives, the marjoram or oregano, and the butter, and stir everything around.

When the pasta is al dente, pour it into a big serving bowl, saving a little of the cooking water.

Pour on the tomato and tuna sauce, and toss, adding a little cooking water if needed. Check for seasoning. Add the arugula, and toss again quickly.  Bring the grana Padano to the table for those who want it. I like cheese with this tuna dish.

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Recipe below: Focaccia with Tomato, Rosemary, and Pancetta

Last night all the restaurants and bars in New York City were ordered closed. This creates an especially strange feeling, since food places are the soul of the city, at least for me. No more hanging out. While I try to wrap my head around that development, I’ve decided it’s time to make dough, with a long, slow rise to turn suffocation into coziness.

It seems I’ve almost always got on hand canned tomatoes, and pancetta, and garlic, and smatterings of fresh supermarket herbs. I might not have milk (or Windex, for that matter), but at least I can usually make a pizza, or, as I decided this time, a focaccia. I like focaccia less spongy, more pizza-like than they make it in central Italy. Mine is similar to a New Haven tomato pie. No cheese; very sparse but highly flavored condimento on top. If we were still allowed to congregate, I could feed a crowd with it.

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Focaccia with Tomato, Rosemary, and Pancetta

For the dough:

3 cups unbleached flour
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 package instant yeast
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup warm water (around 115 degrees Fahrenheit)

For the top:

1 26-ounce can chopped tomatoes, very well drained (I used a 26-ounce box of Pomi chopped Italian tomatoes. I find that if I drain them really well and scatter them over the focaccia, it’s almost like using fresh. Really good taste.)
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 thick slice pancetta, chopped into little cubes
1 long sprig rosemary, the leaves chopped
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
¼ teaspoon allspice
A little piment d’Espelette pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
A few drops of Spanish sherry wine vinegar

To make the dough, put the flour in the bowl of a food processor. Add the sugar, salt, and yeast, and pulse a few times, just to mix everything. Add the olive oil and the water, and pulse until it all comes together in a ball.

Dump the dough out onto a floured work surface, and knead it until it’s smooth, about 5 minutes.

Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover it with a towel, and let it sit until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

Punch down the dough, and then flatten it and press it out onto an oiled baking sheet. It should pretty much cover the entire pan, but it doesn’t need to go to the ends. Press down with your fingertips over the surface of the dough to form little indentations everywhere. Let it sit for about 45 minutes so it can rise a bit.

In the meantime, mix all the ingredients for the topping together in a small bowl, seasoning well with the salt and black pepper and Espelette.

When the dough has risen again, smear the tomato mixture over the top. Bake until the rim has browned, about 12 minutes or so. Serve hot or warm, cut into small squares,

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Still Life with Artichokes, by Toni Silber-Delerive.

Recipe below: Scialatielli with Artichokes, Lemon, Tarragon, and Parsley

At a time like this, one of the best things to do is cook. Being semi-housebound in fear of a raging virus is an excellent opportunity to expand your culinary horizons by tackling something that has always made you nervous, like skinning live eels or boiling up a whole beef tongue—or dealing with a pile of thorn-covered artichokes.

One of the problems most people have with artichokes is confronting the waste. If you want to prep our big globe type to eat, not with drawn butter but in a pasta dish, you have to throw out almost everything except the most tender leaves and a snip of the stem. I have a hard time coping with that myself. And all the work it takes to get to that tender little edible pile can be discouraging. The solution is baby artichokes. I’m now finding them in my markets again. What a gift. So easy to clean, and quick, too. No chokes. Excellent flavor. The little ones are from the same plant as our globes. They’re just miniatures that pop out lower down on the stalk. A bonus. For me, unless I’m making my grandmother’s humongous sausage-stuffed artichokes (a meal in itself, although it never was for her), I go for the babies.

This time, for pasta for four, I used about two dozen. I sat in front of the TV watching the latest coronavirus news and had the whole batch cleaned in about 15 minutes. I set up my usual (for artichokes) big bowl of lemony water (even though these are small, they still oxidize quickly when cut). With each artichoke I pulled off two or three layers of tough leaves, trimmed the top down about ½ inch, scraped the stem a bit, trimming it if the end looked tough, and them cut it in half or quarters lengthwise, depending on its size (I went for the really small ones). That’s it. Now they were ready to braise or to roast. I love these babies with pasta. Here I made a gentle springtime sauce using soft herbs, wine, and Parmigiano.

Don’t ignore spring artichokes. Just find yourself the runts. They provide a delicious shortcut.

And just a word about the pasta I used here. Scialatielli was originally a fresh pasta from along the Amalfi coast, sometimes with milk in its dough. It’s often served with seafood sauces. To me it’s like a much thicker, shorter, chewier linguini. I’ve never made it fresh, but the dried Setaro brand I used was delicious. You can substitute pasta alla chitarra or fettuccine, but keep an eye out for the real thing.

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Scialatielli with Artichokes, Lemon, Tarragon, and Parsley

(Serves 4)

About 2 dozen baby artichokes
2 large lemons
Sea salt
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 shallots, cut into small dice
Black pepper
A few grinds of fresh nutmeg (about ½ teaspoon)
A big splash of dry white wine
¾ cup light chicken broth or vegetable broth (or just use water)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
A handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves, very lightly chopped
About 6 or 7 large tarragon sprigs, the leaves chopped
1 pound scialatielli or pasta alla chitarra or fettuccine or bucatini
A chunk of Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Halve one of the lemons, and squeeze its juice into a big bowl of cold water.

Sharpen your knife (dealing with any type of artichoke is easier with a good sharp blade, as the vegetable can be slippery). Grab an artichoke, and pull off and discard its tough outer leaves until you get to the tender lighter green ones. Slice off the top about ½ inch from the top, and discard that. If the stem looks tough, give it a light peel, and trim the bottom if you think it will be chewy (often it’s tender all the way down). Now halve or quarter the thing lengthwise, and drop the pieces in the water. Do the same with all the rest.

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

In the meantime, get out a big skillet, and set in over medium heat. Add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and let it heat through. Drain the artichokes well, and add them to the skillet. Scatter the shallots on top, seasoning everything with salt, some black pepper, and the nutmeg. Sauté until the vegetables have softened a bit, about 3 or 4 minutes. Grate the zest of the remaining lemon over the top, and squeeze on about a tablespoon of its juice. Add the white wine, and let it bubble for a few seconds. Now add the broth or a little water, partially cover the skillet, and simmer until the artichokes are just tender, about another 6 minutes. Turn off the heat, and let the sauce rest.

Drop the pasta into the water, and cook it until it’s al dente. When it’s done, drain it, and pour it into a big serving bowl. Add the butter and a drizzle of fresh olive oil, and give it a toss. Add the artichoke sauce, the parsley, the tarragon, and a few big gratings of the Parmigiano.  Season with a little more salt and black pepper, and toss. Serve hot, bringing the chunk of Parmigiano to the table for grating.

 

 

 

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Women with Fish

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How did you know where to find me?

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Here’s a simple quickly thrown together treat I made with odds and ends I found in the fridge. Sometimes the most wonderful dishes emerge from the need to clean house.

What you’ll need for a salad for two is two celery stalks, chopped, with their leaves; a fennel bulb, chopped, including some of the fronds; a piece of good salami, cut into small dice; a piece of caciocavallo or another not-too-hard cheese such as provolone, chopped; a handful of olives; and some fresh herbs. I had parsley. Fresh marjoram would have been great instead or in addition. A little pickled pepper or cauliflower would also have been nice. If you add any of those, just see that everything is about the same size. For some reason that makes it taste best.

Put everything in a pretty bowl. Make a vinaigrette with a smashed garlic clove, a little vinegar, salt, black pepper, and your best olive oil. Toss, and serve with good bread.

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Winter, by Anselm Kiefer.

Recipe below: Dead of Winter Salad, with Celery, Fennel, Raw Cremini, and Moliterno

February in New York can feel stagnant. White gray hangs in the air. Depending on how you look at it, it can be creepy or contemplative. I work on contemplative, but I don’t always succeed. Staring at paint color charts and drinking too much red wine is usually how I get through. But this time around I’ve found that eating raw food helps, too.

Anything I can get down raw, I do. Wet, crunchy, bare, for flavor and for beauty, a life force when most things are at rest. Raw mushrooms, for the most part, have pretty good flavor. Sometimes the button types taste a bit like toothpaste to me, but not in an altogether bad way. Cremini and portobello, blown up versions of the button variety, can taste that way, but they’re good with a simple vinaigrette. Unfortunately most of their nutrients emerge only with cooking, so I eat them infrequently.

I really wanted raw the other night, and I remembered the classic Italian salad of celery, raw mushrooms—often porcini—and Parmigiano, sliced thin and dressed with a little olive oil and vinegar. Treat yourself to an excellent olive oil this winter. It’ll help, I know this for a fact. I just got a new bottle of Ravidá.

So this salad got made, with the addition of fennel and Moliterno cheese (see note below). It tastes like a crisp, sunny winter day, which we haven’t had much of around here lately.

A note on cheese for this salad: Moliterno is an aged pecorino laced with truffles. I bought myself a chunk as a special treat, and it wound up in this salad. It certainly adds another dimension, but any not-too-sharp pecorino should work, such as a cacio Toscano or a manchego. Maybe not Romano, as most of that that we get here is harsh.

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Dead of Winter Salad, with Celery, Fennel, Raw Cremini, and Moliterno

(Serves 4)

4 tender celery stalks, thinly sliced on an angle, plus the leaves from a whole bunch
2 fennel bulbs, thinly sliced, plus a handful of fronds
About 10 cremini mushrooms, very thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, peeled and lightly smashed
1 teaspoon soy sauce
2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Black pepper
A chunk of Moliterno or another not-too-sharp pecorino

Choose a good-looking, relatively wide, and not so deep salad bowl. Put in it the celery, fennel, mushrooms, fennel fronds and celery leaves.

Whisk the garlic, rice wine vinegar, olive oil, and soy sauce together, adding a little salt.

Pour the dressing over the salad, grind on some black pepper, and toss gently. Pull out the garlic. Shave the Moliterno or another pecorino over the top. Serve it forth.

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