New Twist on an Old Dish
Wednesday, June 10, 2015
One of the vendors we religiously shop at Headhouse Market is Shore Catch. Shopping there as much as we do, we inevitably repeat some recipes once we bring the fish and shellfish home. So, there is a perpetual urge to find new recipes.
This one, taken from the indispensable River Cottage Fish, gave me two twists on something I thought I knew inside out: spaghetti and clams. Growing up Italian-American in South Jersey, it was impossible not to see this at Sunday dinners and Seven Fishes. Therefore, I was surprised to see a version use actual cream (completely new to me) with clams that were fresh but removed from their shells - I was accustomed to thinking of either fresh clams in their shells or canned clams. Most importantly, it called for fresh pasta. In retrospect the fresh pasta makes perfect sense - being, as it is, ideally suited to richer, cream or butter-based sauces, but for someone raised on spaghetti and clams in white sauce, this was a revelation.
Discoveries aside, the dinner still needs refinement. Not having any white wine at hand (i.e., my stock of Galen Glen Gruner Veltliner having long run dry), I resorted to a bit of pasta water. The resulting sauce was a little too light and simple. A glass of white wine may have added the depth and viscosity it needed. However, in a nod to my favorite dish from Bistro La Minette, I would also be tempted to add some fresh tarragon to the sauce as well. Either way, from now on if it’s clams in white sauce, it’s going to be fresh pasta.
Four-Minute Squid (or Less)
Wednesday, May 27, 2015
The River Cottage’s seafood cookbook, titled The River Cottage Fish Book strangely enough, continues to be my favorite on the subject. Not only does it advocate for sustainable, local seafood, it provides an abundance of information regarding species, recipe substitutions, and some general cooking guidelines that are endlessly useful. If you are intent on buying seasonally, locally, and sustainably, this flexibility is crucial.
My latest favorite is a quick squid recipe. As he does elsewhere, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall states that this is more a suggestion than a recipe, but I would call it a technique. The bodies of the cleaned squid, which we purchase from Shore Catch at the Headhouse Market, are butterflied (basically cut open so that they lay flat), scored on each side in a diamond pattern, and then tossed with something for flavor. The original recipe calls for olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, and finely chopped garlic, but this is infinitely adaptable. To cook, set to maximum heat under your cast-iron pan, griddle, or grill and cook one minute or so per side, turning them twice. Two cautions here, though: one, make sure the pan or grill is thoroughly preheated; two, if you go beyond four minutes, you will have overcooked them. They will curl up, which is good, and they will also char, which is even better.
More from In Search of the Perfect Loaf
Sunday, February 15, 2015
Having already recommended Samuel Fromartz’s In Search of the Perfect Loaf, I will refer you to my earlier comments as to why. However, I can already identify two benefits from reading Fromartz. One, it has given me the confidence to experiment with recipes and tailor results. Two, should those experiments fail - or, more accurately, fail to meet expectations - I now have a better sense of why. Both applied in this instance.
The first time I made this loaf, Jim Lahey’s. There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with that; it’s just not my preference. This time, I felt confident enough in my baking to use a different temperature and cooking time, based on Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s Modena Mountain Bread. This involved not only a lower temperature, but also retaining steam in the oven. This variation was, unquestionably, a success.
Unfortunately, as you can see here, the crumb is anything but light and airy. It’s dense and chewy, which is fine, but that wasn’t what I was going for. What went wrong? Fromartz’s recipe calls for letting the dough rise in a pantry that’s roughly 55 degrees. Given the absurdly low temperatures last night, I am guessing our pantry was significantly lower than 55. However, that wasn’t the real mistake; the real mistake was not trusting my instincts when I pulled the dough out this morning. I was following the recipe exactly, but I should have known it needed a longer rise.
Having written that, I now realize a third benefit of reading ...The Perfect Loaf: rather than discouraged by this disappointment, I will simply try again.
Humble and Lazy Beans
Sunday, November 02, 2014
Each year, I am amazed at the diversity and output of our little garden plot. Even when the success rate of our three-sisters experiment was 66% (no squash), we still came away with delicious corn and an unusual pole bean called Lazy Housewife.
I thought the Lazy Housewife was just amusingly named, but there’s a metaphor buried in that imaginative moniker: there was little effort in harvesting the dried beans. To be honest, we picked the beans, plopped them in the vegetable bin in the fridge, and completely forgot about them. Weeks later, we remembered, peeled them open, and out popped dried beans.
Since these were special to us, I wanted a simple preparation - no stews or soups here. So, I opted for this recipe from Jamie Oliver. The Lazy Housewife may have been used in “Humble Home-cooked Beans,” but don’t let the underwhelming adjectives deceive you. They were absolutely delicious. Apart from the (apparent) simplicity of the dish, I was interested in the technique: simmering the beans with vegetables and spices to impart flavor. I had done so with garlic and herbs, but never this many ingredients. The results were beans that didn’t taste like the vegetables, but a more interesting, complex version of themselves. Just a word of warning: a long, slow simmer is best. In fact, simmer these the way you would simmer a slow-cooking shoulder-cut of meat.
In Search of the Perfect Potato Salad
Thursday, July 24, 2014
Anyone who grew up near Vineland in South Jersey will surely know Joe’s Poultry. Our parents would never consider fast food appropriate for dinner, but a stop at Joe’s little shop for a rotisserie chicken was a different case altogether. But it wasn’t the chicken that was my favorite - it was the potato salad. Almost creamy, with bits of shredded carrot and diced pickle and never too much mayo, the potato salad deservedly became the standard by which all others were compared in my family. (Joe’s Poultry is still going strong, by the way, and if the reviews on Yelp are any indication, we’re not alone.)
A few years ago I tried my hand at potato salad, thinking I could definitely come up with something delicious with all the wonderful local potatoes at hand. Nope. I used Tom Culton’s lovely fingerlings, which according to many recipes should have been the perfect texture, and left the skin on. The result was more like like pieces of potatoes dressed in mayonnaise - not at all the moist and flavorful texture of Joe’s. While the skins were delicious, there was way too little potato exposed, so nothing cohered. I tried again, this time choosing young potatoes with thin skins, but big enough to allow for pieces with plenty of exposed potato. I also mashed the potatoes slightly with a fork and added tiny diced bits of pickles and chives. My family wholeheartedly approved.
So why is the potato salad pictured purple, you ask? We picked up a massive jar of naturally fermented pickles made by Amanda of Phickle at the food swap the week before and they had a fantastic half sour taste that was perfect for potato salad. The only potatoes we had on hand were from Savoie Organic Farm and just happened to be purple. Prettiest batch I ever made.
2 pound potatoes, skin on is fine if they are new potatoes, cut into pieces of 1 1/2 to 2 inches
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons mayonnaise, or more, depending on your preference
1 bunch of chives, chopped
1 dill pickle, diced
Put potatoes in a pot and cover with water. Add 1 tbsp salt and bring to boil. Boil potatoes until fully cooked - usually no more than 10 minutes, but test with fork. Drain and allow to steam dry.
Transfer potatoes to a bowl and roughly mash some with a fork to desired consistency. Toss potatoes with mayonnaise, chives and pickle. Add 1 tsp salt and taste to adjust salt or mayonnaise. Serves 4-6.
Marc Vetri’s Rigatoni with Swordfish and Eggplant “Fries”
Wednesday, July 23, 2014
It was partly because yesterday’s weather - warm but breezy, comfortable in the shade - reminded me so much of our biannual trips to Italy. It was partly because I was looking for something to eat with a particular, local wine. And it was partly because these ingredients were available concurrently at Headhouse Market. At long last, I was ready to make Marc Vetri’s rigatoni with swordfish and eggplant fries.
This has been on my “must-make” list ever since I first opened my copy of Rustic Italian Food. However, I never seemed to have either the time to make it (and, it must be said, this dish is rather time- and labor-intensive) or all of the necessary ingredients.
And, while this may have taken two people and ninety minutes from start to finish, it was worth every second. The combination of flavors is wonderfully evocative of summer, and the ingredients are perfectly proportioned. Moreover, as with Vetri’s fava bean and pecorino pasta, it takes very little to make a sauce: in this case, eight ounces of cherry tomatoes, garlic, onion, some olive oil, and a few tablespoons of the pasta cooking water. That’s it. But, trust me, once the tomatoes exude their liquid, and you see it coat the rigatoni, you will understand.
We don’t normally drink wine with lunch unless we are out or have company, but since this dish was so redolent of Italy, what could be more Italian than a long pranzo outside with a glass of wine? In Rustic Italian Food, Jeff Benjamin recommends a Calabrian Ciro Rosso. Not having any in my wine cellar (aka our unheated basement pantry), I used this as excuse to open this Sangiovese from Turdo Vineyards in Cape May, NJ (one of our local favorites). Sangiovese is best-known as the primary (but not necessarily sole) grape in Chianti. However, the typical aroma (sometimes described, affectionately, as similar to a “barnyard”) and tannins are not apparent in this one. Coupled with the soft tannins are aromas of black fruit and spices. The medium body balanced nicely with the mild flavor of the swordfish.
It is a measure of the quality of this recipe that I would, without hesitation, make it again despite the work involved. The only modifications I would offer are:
1) Make the eggplant fries early on and have them warming in the oven. The rest of the dish comes together very quickly if you measure and prep everything else and, especially, if you are using dried pasta (as we did). We let the eggplant drain on an upside-down drying rack on top of newspaper. Then, we discarded the oil-soaked newspaper, and put the rack in the oven until we were ready.
2) Add the eggplant fries to your dish as you eat. Start off by topping the dish with a few, and then stir in more as you eat. This will keep them from getting soft.
3) Cut the eggplant “fries” to match the length of the rigatoni.
4) Either chiffonade the basil or, even better, use minette basil leaves. Still waiting on our abysmally slow-growing basil plants in the garden, we plucked the leaves of a couple of minette basil plants in our window boxes. The flavor is fantastic, and the small leaves were more evenly distributed.
5) Regardless of whether you scale this recipe up or down, be sure to keep to the proportions Vetri dictates. The balance of flavors and textures, in the correct proportions, is what makes this greater than the sum of its parts.
A New Way with Carrots
Tuesday, July 15, 2014
When I pulled an actual bunch of carrots from our garden last week, it was cause for a (minor) celebration. After years of trying and failing with Scarlet Nantes, I’d found a new variety perfectly suited for our plot. To celebrate, then, I wanted something special. Thanks to Yotam Ottolenghi, I found it.
What’s particularly impressive about this dish, and Ottolenghi in general, is how he uses spices and small quantities of exotic ingredients to create vibrant, unique vegetable dishes. Many other chefs would resort to slabs of bacon - not that there is anything wrong with bacon. Here, however, Ottolenghi creates a curried flavor that relies on olive oil and yogurt for its fat content. It certainly showcases the carrots, but it is also worlds away from the roasted carrot salad I normally make in summer. I made only a few minor changes: omitting the preserved lemon and cilantro (not by choice, only by circumstance); altering the cut and, therefore, cooking time of the carrots; omitting green chiles; and substituting chives for green onions and adding them to the yogurt. Ottolenghi suggests this as a side to a fried fish, but it was perfectly satisfying as a part of a light summer lunch along with an omelette and a green bean salad.
So, should you find yourself in possession of a fresh bunch of carrots, think twice before adding bacon.
P.S. Unlike Smitten Kitchen, I do not ever doubt Yotam Ottolenghi’s sanity.
Sunday, April 06, 2014
When I first started eating seasonally and locally, I thought that the short, dark days of winter would be the hardest to abide. I quickly learned, however, that the early, longer days of Spring were much more difficult. The temperature surpasses sixty degrees, and you immediately start looking for ramps, asparagus, and new potatoes. This, of course, is contrary to all reason and experience - even if you yourself just planted your spring crops - but it doesn’t stop you.
Perhaps that’s why this dish was such a welcome harbinger. It was an authentic spring vegetable, arugula, from this, the last month of Farm to City’s Winter Harvest.
This arugula pesto came from the my ongoing purge. Desperate for something springlike but also rather exhausted from the workday, I found the minimal effort involved in the dish was perfect. I substituted almonds for pine nuts simply because that’s what I had, and I used all pecorino rather than half pecorino and half parmesan. This was partly because I didn’t have any parmesan, but I think the pecorino’s smoother flavor is more appropriate and helps distinguish this from classic pesto. Also, I didn’t use anything like a full cup of olive oil. I add a little oil as I start the food processor, drizzle in more while it purees, but only as needed. This way, I get exactly the texture I want and as little oil as necessary.
It went very well with some whole-grain gemelli, but I think long pasta would work well also. It would also serve as a nice condiment to fish. The bright, lemony flavor would really cut through an oily fish, but it is delicate enough for white-flesh fillet as well.
Tattie Scones: What Your Mashed Potatoes Want To Be
Saturday, March 08, 2014
I love the flexibility of latkes or similarly made potato pancakes - they can be served with breakfast, as an appetizer with any number of delicious things on top, or as a dinner side. I’ve tried to do similar things with pancakes made from leftover mashed potatoes, but they always seemed to come out with a bit of a crust that sticks to the pan and tasting mostly of - well, warmed leftover mashed potatoes. Last week I came across a recipe for a tattie scone, which adds just enough flour and leavening agent to create a pancake that stays together, browns beautifully and tastes of potato, but slightly chewy and springy.
1 1/2 cups leftover mashed potatoes
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Combine mashed potatoes, flour and baking powder thoroughly, forming a dough. (If your mashed potatoes had no butter or salt in them initially, melt a tablespoon of butter and add to mixture along with a generous pinch of salt). Form four or five balls and dust with flour. Heat a large cast iron skillet or nonstick pan on medium and add a teaspoon or so of butter. Flatten each ball of dough in the skillet to a thickness of about half an inch. Cook for a few minutes on each side until browned.
Polenta for the Third Time, But This Time My Own
Wednesday, February 19, 2014
I am not sure if I have always associated polenta with winter or whether that came with eating locally. Regardless, at a recent - and utterly fantastic - meal at High Street on Market, I was reminded of how satisfying polenta can be. Since neither the dinner itself nor the leftovers for lunch the next today were enough to satisfy a polenta craving, I had to make more.
I have tried myriad techniques for polenta, and while some worked better than others, the better methods demonstrated that good polenta can’t be cooked quickly (in my opinion). This recipe, adapted from Nigella Lawson’s How to Eat, is the best combination of oven- and range-cooking polenta that I have come across. As Nigella offers, you could use stock instead of water, but I don’t ever feel polenta needs it - especially if you cook the polenta with a parmigiano rind as I do.
The mushroom ragout, also taken from How to Eat, was satisfying without being exactly what I was looking for. I would add some bacon or pancetta in the next version and probably some tomato paste as well. Additionally, the ragout did not thicken or cohere as it should - even with the addition of flour.
None of this, of course, stopped me from eating it twice; the second time, as breakfast with a poached egg, was even better than the first.
What’s best about this meal, and most important about this post, is that it highlights two excellent products from Winter Harvest: a mix of cremini, shiitake, oyster, and trumpet mushrooms from Oley Valley Mushrooms and, of course, the polenta.
Vegetarian Mapo Tofu
Sunday, February 16, 2014
I’ve yet to meet an Asian noodle dish I didn’t like. My favorites lately, particularly on cold days, are those dishes with a lovely gravy-like sauce such as dan dan noodles or especially mapo tofu. Since we have such wonderful locally produced tofu, I thought this might be a good dish to try at home where I could also use local pork or even go vegetarian.
While I’ve made this recipe in the traditional manner, with ground pork and small cubes of tofu, and it was delicious, here I decided to use all tofu and crumble it, adding small, diced delicata squash that had been sitting around. Any winter squash would likely work, but delicata is particularly useful since it peels easily and cooks quickly, remaining slightly firm. The recipe below is adapted from Epicurious. In addition to swapping out the pork for squash, I also make the sauce on its own rather than adding the components to the dish, as I’ve found simmering the sauce separately and incorporating at the end creates sauce that’s nicely thickened without overcooking the squash. This dish comes together remarkably quickly.
1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3 scallions, sliced, with whites and green separated
1 tablespoon minced peeled ginger
1 delicata squash, peeled and diced in ½” cubes
1 pound tofu
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
2 tablespoons bean paste
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 2 tbsp water
Combine bean paste, soy sauce and chicken broth. Heat in small saucepan over medium heat, adding cornstarch dissolved in water. Simmer until sauce thickens slightly. Set aside.
Heat sesame oil over medium heat in a wok or saucepan. Add garlic, the whites of the scallions and ginger and cook for one minute. Add delicata squash and stir fry until squash cooks to desired texture. Add crumbled tofu and sauce. Cook together for one minute or until sauce thickens to desired consistency and add greens of scallions and parsley. Serve over rice or noodles of your choice.
Review, Learn Anew: Improving My Braise
Monday, February 03, 2014
My favorite cookbook series is River Cottage by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, et. al., and from that series, my favorite single book is (the imaginatively titled) Meat. The range of recipes - from Asian pork belly to turkey mole - is as impressive as the resulting food. Even better, Fearnley-Whittingstall devotes pages to specific techniques for cooking meat: grilling, slow roasting, braising, etc. Before attempting my chicken and dumplings this year, I reviewed Fearnley-Whittingstall’s comments on braising, gleaning some important lessons. The results were my best by far.
Lesson 1: The Importance of Pork Fat
Whether it is simply fatback or something more flavorful like the PorcSalt smoked bacon I used here, the underpinning of flavor and textural contribution of the fat are essential.
Lesson 2: Pay Attention to the Vegetables
I have always thought of leeks as supplanting onions in recipes. It turns out that this view is rather simplistic. They can, in fact, compliment onions beautifully. A similar thing can be said for celeriac (celery root) and parsnips. Celeriac also makes a lighter and less starchy substitute for potato.
Lesson 3: Searing Meat Separately
Essential to a flavorful braise is soundly caramelized meat. Fearnley-Whittingstall’s suggestion is to sear the meat separately in a lightly oiled pan, add to the braise, then deglaze the pan with wine and then add that to the braise. Brilliant.
Lesson 4: Simmer Does Not Mean Boil
In a lengthy explanation that I won’t reproduce here, Fearnley-Whittingstall explains the importance of a very slow simmer in cooking the meat correctly. The meat cooks long enough to dissolve tough connective tissue without the tenderer pieces becoming. He even quotes Elizabeth David. What’s not to love?
Bubble and Squeak
Thursday, January 30, 2014
I’m sure they don’t eat bubble and squeak like this in Singapore, but in theory they could, and given how awful the weather has been since around Thanksgiving, pretending to be in Singapore is highly appealing at the moment.
The “Singaporean” element in this version of the traditional British use for leftover vegetables is a curry-esque spice blend, which brightens up the potatoes and works nicely with the poached egg that makes this a meal instead of a side dish. It could be replaced with the regular curry powder of your choice. Although I prefer this with brussels sprouts, you can use cabbage or any other leafy green you can find in the markets for the next however many months this winter’s going to last.
Singaporean Bubble and Squeak with Poached Eggs
(Adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, River Cottage Veg, 2011)
2-3 potatoes, peeled and cut into large chunks
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 pint brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered
2 tablespoons vegetable stock
1 medium onion, halved and thinly sliced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons Penzeys Singapore Seasoning, or 1 teaspoon curry powder
2 large eggs
Salt and pepper to taste
Boil the potatoes in salted water until tender, then drain and set aside while preparing the brussels sprouts.
Heat two tablespoons of oil in a nonstick pan over medium heat and add the sprouts, cut-side down, leaving them untouched long enough to brown nicely. Add the stock and cover the pan for a few more minutes until the liquid has been absorbed and the sprouts are cooked but not mushy. Remove from the pan.
Add the remaining oil to the pan and cook the onions until soft and golden but not browning, then add the garlic and Singapore seasoning and cook two more minutes. Tumble in the potatoes and lightly break up and mash them with the spatula to encourage more browning as you periodically stir the vegetables. When the potatoes are brown and crispy enough for you, add the brussels sprouts and cook a few more minutes while poaching the eggs.
Bring a few inches of water and a splash of white vinegar to a strong simmer in a small sauce pan. Crack each egg into a teacup for easier transfer, and using a slotted spoon, create a quick whirlpool before slipping the eggs from their cups into the water. Simmer gently for 3 minutes, lift them quickly out with the slotted spoon, and gently turn them onto a plate lined with paper towels to finish draining them. Snip away any stray wisps of egg white to make them prettier if you like, though I don’t bother.
Divide the bubble and squeak between two shallow bowls, and top each mound with a poached egg. Gently break open the membrane over the yolks just enough to let you salt and pepper to taste, and serve immediately.
Monday, January 20, 2014
I find quince to be utterly perplexing. Superficially, they are quite unappealing: they look like gnarled fuzzy pears and are completely inedible raw. Yet, they have a heady aroma uncooked and scented my fridge for weeks. Moreover, once cooked, they can undergo a miraculous transformation into a brightly colored godsend called membrillo (quince paste). How does this happen?
Despite these contradictions, which might ward off a more reasonable person, I purchase them at least once a year before the Headhouse Market closes up, and, hopefully, find something to make before its too late. Last year, it was an English-style christmas pudding from Nigel Slater. This year, I decided to delve into one of my Christmas presents: Yottam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem.
At first glance, one would not think that a recipe from Jerusalem would have a place on a blog about local food. However, most items were easily sourced at the local level: Tom Culton’s quince purchased from the Headhouse Market; local lamb purchased from Green Aisle Grocery; and the other vegetables were purchased through Winter Harvest. There were a few imported ingredients here, but they were dry goods or specialty items simply unavailable locally. We use items like these as an opportunity to support small growers elsewhere just as we support small growers here.
And so, we were easily able to enjoy a small piece of warm Jerusalem in cold Philadelphia.
New Year’s Brunch 2014
Sunday, January 12, 2014
I would like to pretend that the healthy tilt of our New Year’s Brunch represents an earnest start to the new year, a healthier beginning to a healthier year. More likely, it is a too-little-too-late compensation for the indulgences of the night before, when we had too much wine and too many rich foods. The previous night, we indulged in Supper’s special New Year’s Eve menu. It was fantastic (as always), but as the name implies, a special meal for a special occasion. One can’t eat like that everyday.
So here we have buckwheat crepes, omelettes, yogurt, and home-cured salmon as a counterweight to the gluttony that closed 2013. The buckwheat flour was locally grown and milled and purchased from the Fair Food Farmstand. The eggs, yogurt, and scallions are courtesy of Winter Harvest. Though the salmon was not local, it was sustainably raised, and the good people of Ippolito’s were able to recommend the best particular fillet for curing.
Salt-curing fish is surprisingly easy - as long as you have some suitably sized containers and fridge space. I follow Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s method from Fish. Though the original recipe is for trout, as he notes, it can be applied to most any oily fish. In the past, I would flavor it as Hugh does, with fresh dill. However, that didn’t seem the right flavor for January 1st, so I mixed rye berries into the curing mix instead. Unfortunately, the rye flavor was barely discernible. I suppose that I need to treat the rye berries before adding them to the curing mix (salt and sugar) - perhaps grinding them in a mortar and pestle or soaking them. Even without the rye flavor, the fish was well worth it and gave me the illusion of having made up for my decadent New Year’s Eve meal. And that’s all the excuse I need.