Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Back to Brunch

Did anyone else try to make the Judith Jones' potato recipe from this Sunday's NY Times magazine section? Jones, the original editor of Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking" dedicates her recipe to the late, great Julia. The recipe itself looked simple and delicious. Sliced potatoes are layered in a skillet and cooked in butter till crispy. I love to make a big late morning breakfast on weekends and this seemed like a perfect complement to my scrambled eggs with chives. I decided to forgo the garlic (it seemed too early in the morning), but that was the only substitution I made, other than NOT peeling the potatoes and adding some fresh thyme.

So the fun began when it was time to flip the potatoes. Jones says cook them on one side for eight minutes, then carefully flip onto a plate and slide back into the pan. This is something I have done before with, for example, fritattas, so I was not fazed. Jones warned that the potatoes would not stick together and she was not kidding. I flipped the potatoes and several slices managed to escape, flying across the kitchen. Hey! And then to my dismay I saw that the potatoes were not cooked enough on the flipped side. They were neither brown, nor crispy. Darn. I didn't want to end up flipping again, but, well, argh.

So I let the second side cook a little longer than the recommended five minutes and then with a spatula lifted up the edges to take a peek, duh. Good! Brown and crispy. Ok, now I'm flipping again to get the first side a little more cooked. Again potato slices went flying. Geez. It must have been too early in the day for me to be trying these maneuvers.

Out of the pan and onto the plate and into our mouths without incident, I can now say “YUM” and well worth the effort. The hard part is really the flipping and if I had been a bit more humble about my skills I would probably have MASTERED THE ART the first time. I will definitely make this recipe again. The only change I might make is to use less butter and add some olive oil. I have gotten out of the habit of eating a lot of butter and this dish tastes BUTTERY!  Potatoes and butter are a happy combination so I’m not complaining. This dish would be great on a brunch table and I can’t get enough of Prosecco as a brunch treat to go with it, but Amanda may have some other ideas.

Thanks Judith, for everything!
At the beginning, all is well
After eight minutes of cooking, flipped, but underdone
Flipped and flopped and happily on the plate.

Judith Jone's A Potato Dish For Julia
Ingredients:Serves 1

2 new potatoes (about 6 ounces)
1 small clove garlic
4 tsp. butter
Freshly ground pepper
Peel potatoes, and slice them very thin. Peel and mince garlic, then mash it, along with a generous pinch of salt, with the flat side of a large knife until it is a paste. Work about 1/2 teaspoon butter into it.

Heat 2 teaspoons butter in a small pan over medium-low heat; lay in half of potato slices, overlapping slightly, to fill the bottom. Lightly salt and pepper, and smear garlic paste on top. Add rest of potatoes to make a second layer, again overlapping.

Cook, setting a small cover askew on top of pan. After about 8 minutes, turn potatoes, which should be brown on the bottom, by setting a sturdy plate on top of pan and flipping them over onto it. Heat rest of butter in pan, then slide potatoes back in and arrange them as neatly as you can. Cook semicovered for 5 minutes, and uncovered for a couple more minutes, at which point they should be done and browned, both top and bottom. Slide them onto a plate; season with salt and pepper.

Looks great! I can definitely see how the flipping of all the potatoes could be tricky, especially for a novice like myself! Before I comment on the Prosecco, I want to mention how delicious the spinach and mushroom strata turned out! Unbelievable! I plated it with a pretty fall salad, as I mentioned I would (I will provide the recipe in a later post). It looks so beautiful on a dish, though it is a pretty simple meal to prepare. Loved it and will cook it again, and again, and again! And, I must admit, it was a huge hit with my friends! Actually, I brought the leftovers to my brother's "break-the-fast" dinner on Yom Kippur. Once again, everyone loved it!

You mentioned Prosecco for this current recipe. This frizzante, refreshing sparkler is Italy's answer to Champagne. So affordable and delicious, it is the perfect wine to have at all family get-togethers, either as an aperitif, or complement to a meal. I can drink it anytime, anyplace. It is so affordable that it's perfect for large crowds as well, alone or mixed with orange juice (mimosa), or even a touch of peach nectar (bellini). The grape used for this crowd-pleaser is actually called Prosecco, and is grown in Italy's Veneto region. One of our best-selling Prosecco's in the shop is made by Riondo. They also make a Rose which is equally delicious.  Both sell for $9.99. Bisol also makes outstanding Prosecco, more towards the $20 price range. And, Sorelle Bronca is a newcomer to our Prosecco line-up. It's elegant and crisp and makes a wonderful alternative to the higher priced Champagnes. Sorelle Bronca sells for $17.99. The range of Prosecco's in the $20 and under price range is tremendous - there is really no need to spend more than that. My favorite selections are actually all under $15. This pleasing bubbly is a must-have for any Brunch! But I always bring a bottle (or two) whenever I am invited to someone's house for an occasion, be it dinner...or just because!

Friday, September 25, 2009

You Don't Have to be French to Love Leeks

As the shadows lengthen into this fall season one particular crop is greeted with great joy in my kitchen. Leeks! I think of them as onions only better. Sweeter, more sophisticated, and milder than onions they are a real treat, but a total pain to deal with because they are so laborious to clean. The sandy layers require plenty of soaking before you can do any cooking.

I had my first leeks in a restaurant in France in the form of leeks vinaigrette. It seemed so audacious to my young 20 year old soul to have a salad made from what looked like a giant scallion. I still love this dish, but it is hard to come by outside of French menus. I guess it hasn’t quite crossed over yet.

As a member of the allium (onion) family leeks are supposed to be easy to grow. I will have to ask the Hook mountain Growers about this. When we get closer to Thanksgiving I will share my time honored recipe of baked leeks in a mustardy cream sauce, first encountered in an issue of Gourmet magazine back in the 90’s.

So with leek season upon us it was a happy discovery when I happened upon this recipe for leek fritters on a web site called Serious Eats. This recipe is right up my alley. Having tried it I have only made the smallest adjustment which is to cut the amount of eggs in half. I also added a few tablespoons of chopped fresh herbs. I am posting the original recipe here with my slight tweaks.

To accompany the fritters I made my own recipe of cardamom scented applesauce. I like to use a combination of different apples in my sauces to create some complexity in the flavor. Any combo will do. This morning I used macintosh and gala apples. I also like to season the applesauce to make it resemble the flavor more of a chutney than a traditional applesauce. This sauce is super easy to make. I like to leave the skins on the apples to add some color. I drop all the ingredients into a pot and cook slowly until nice and thick. If you want it a little fancy put the cooked sauce through a strainer or food mill to create a smooth texture and to remove the skins.

This delicious pair disappeared quickly once I made it. Really good with tons of fall flavor, it would be perfect for the holidays or, well, any time.

Micheal Natkins's Keftes De Prasa (Leek Fritters)
- serves 4 to 6 as an appetizer (about 16 fritters) -
2 tablespoons olive oil

2 large leeks, white and light green parts only (about 12 ounces), halved lengthwise, sliced thinly and washed in 3 changes of water

3/4 teaspoon salt

2 large eggs, beaten

1/2 cup fresh breadcrumbs (for Passover, use matzo meal)

2 Tbs fresh chopped herbs (parsley, sage, chives, tarragon) (optional)
3/4 teaspoon allspice (optional)

3/4 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)

1/4 teaspoon chili flakes (optional)

vegetable oil for shallow frying

1. Heat the olive oil in a medium skillet over a medium-high flame. (You can use the same skillet to finish the fritters.) Add the leeks and salt and saute for about 5 minutes, until quite wilted.
2. In a bowl, combine the sauteed leeks, salt, eggs, breadcrumbs and the Syrian spices if you are using them. Mix thoroughly. You should have a rather wet batter, not something that you could form into a ball, but with some body. If it is too thin, add a bit more breadcrumbs; or if it is too dry, add another beaten egg. If you are in doubt, fry a test fritter in step 3, then adjust.
3. Add about 1/4 inch of oil to the same skillet and again heat over a medium-high flame. When it is sizzling hot, drop in the batter about two tablespoons at a time, and flatten a bit to form small pancakes. Don't crowd the pan, just do a few at a time. Fry about 1 minute until golden brown on the first side, then flip and cook until the second side is done. Remove the fritters to paper towels and season with sea salt. Serve immediately.

Cardamom Scented Applesauce

3 apples, chopped
½ cup water
½ cup brown sugar
Juice and jest from ½ lemon
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cardamom
½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
3 slices of fresh ginger

Combine all ingredients in a sauce pan and simmer for 20 minutes until apples break down and the sauce thickens up.
serve warm or cold with fritters

Deb, the pictures are beautiful! Everything looks great - no wonder they disappeared quickly! My husband eats apple sauce with everything - literally. His plate is always sure to have a heaping mound of Mott's Apple Sauce, no matter what the meal. Perhaps I'll surprise him with the "real deal" with this recipe!
 I love leeks too, but I have always had a difficult time cleaning them. So, let me get this straight - they should be sliced up first, and then washed? I think this dish would make a wonderful "side" or starter for Yom Kippur "break the fast"!  As for wine, my first inclination would be to go for a crisp, dry, lively Riesling. Definitely a white for this one. The flavors and complexity of the different apples, along with all of the various Middle-Eastern seasonings would pair perfectly with the apple, pear and spice flavors of the wine. For those of you unfamiliar with Riesling, it is an extremely accomodating wine for spices and foods with challenging flavor profiles (an important tip to be aware of!).  Riesling is so versatile, and is made in a variety of styles that you can most definitely find one to match any type of cuisine, be it Mexican, Indian, Chinese, or Moroccan. This grape can produce wines ranging from dry to very sweet, and light to medium-bodied. For this particular recipe, I would choose a dry, light-bodied style. Look for a "Kabinett" from Germany, or a dry Riesling from Alsace, France.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Let's Do Lunch

So, lately I've been in the mood to entertain. Not to a huge group, but rather a very small group, perhaps at the table outside on the patio. A beautiful, crisp Fall day calls for it. I'm in the mood. And, I've come up with a plan. My five and a half year old son started Kindergarten two weeks ago. So far, so good. He loves it! But, he is longing for his pre-K friends of days gone by. They, too, have embarked on their journeys through the education system. I have decided to plan a "reunion" for him and his pre-K friends, so they can "discuss" their kindergarten experiences thus far, two weeks into it. It is going to be a "How is Your Kindergarten Going?" party. (mom's included). For lunch, kids will dine on pizza from a local pizzeria. But I am thinking of the moms. I love preparing meals for my girlfriends. The party is on Sunday, and I am looking to do something "brunch-ish". Just one course, with a pretty, tasty Fall salad. I will have some greens with a little blue cheese, cranberries and pear, topped with a vinegarette made with walnut oil. I've made it before and it is delicious. Deb, what do you think would be a good dish to serve my girlfriends? Something straightforward yet impressive, that will be nice plated with this side salad? Perhaps, we might open a bottle or two of Prosecco, if the ladies are up to it!

Ooooohh, that salad sounds delicious! What a nice idea for a party. An early fall brunch makes me think of Strata, which is basically a savory bread pudding meets quiche. And like quiche you can add any number of ingredients to make it your own. The classic combination of spinach and mushrooms is great this time of year.

I first encountered Strata a few years ago when a client asked me to make one for a weekend brunch she was hosting. It was the perfect dish for me to prepare a day in advance and then have the hostess bake off on the day of the party. A satisfying dish, it can be really easy to prepare. Or complicated, depending on how ambitious you are feeling. I like to add lots of flavor to this casserole so I add a few extra steps sautéing different ingredients to build flavor and complexity. I try to simplify a bit by using the same pan for all the sauteing, removing one cooked ingredient and adding the next with out washing the pan in between. 

The easy part comes the next day when all you have to do is throw the cassarole into the oven. A fruit salad goes great with this dish. A simple green salad would also work really well. Combining fruit and greens as you are doing with the cranberries, pears and greens in your salad is perfect! Are you going to share the recipe?

Spinach Mushroom Strata
3 Tbs butter (plus 1 Tbs to butter baking dish)
3 Tbs. olive oil
2 large onions finely chopped
10 oz. Baby Bella Mushrooms, sliced
3 cloves garlic finely minced
2 lbs fresh spinach, washed and stems trimmed and finely chopped or 2 (10-oz) package frozen spinach, thawed, squeezed dry and finely chopped
8 cups cubed (1 inch) Sourdough, Hallah or whole grain bread (1/2 lb)
6 oz grated Gruyère (2 cups)
2 1/2 cups milk
9 large eggs
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
In a large sauté pan melt 1 Tbs butter and 1tbs olive oil. When the fats are warm and bubbly, add the chopped onion and cook for 10 minutes until onion is translucent and golden, as the onion cooks add salt and pepper to taste. Remove onions from pan and set aside.

Melt another 1 Tbs butter and 1tbs olive oil in the same pan (no need to wipe it out). When the fats are warm and bubbly, add the sliced mushrooms. As the mushrooms cook add salt and pepper to taste. Let mushrooms cook in pan with out tossing around, for 3 minutes until they start to brown and caramelize. Turn gently and cook on the other side for another 5 minutes. Remove mushrooms from pan and add them to the onions.

Melt another 1 Tbs butter and 1tbs olive oil into the same (dirty!) pan. When the fats are warm and bubbly, add the chopped garlic. Cook garlic till it is golden, about 3 minutes. Add the spinach, and s & p to taste and cook till spinach is wilted and soft, about 5 more minutes. Remove from pan and add spinach to the onions and mushrooms. Mix well to combine.

In a large bowl whisk the eggs, milk and nutmeg together.
In a shallow buttered baking dish spread one third of the bread, then one third of the spinach mixture, then one third of the grated cheese. Repeat two more times ending with cheese. Carefully pour the egg mixture on top of the bread in an even layer and let egg custard soak into the bread. Tightly wrap baking dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate over night.

prereheat oven to 350°F. Take strata out of the fridge and allow to come to room temp. Unwrap and bake in oven for 50-60 minutes till golden and puffy.

Monday, September 21, 2009

How do we eat now?

“Vegetarian doesn’t have to suck!”
-Anthony Bourdain

He should know. An avowed carnivore, Bourdain became swayed on a recent episode of No Reservations by an Indian vegetarian meal served in a Hindu temple in a Queens basement, no less. The variety of dishes and flavors convinced Bourdain that given the right attention vegetables can hold their own and satisfy a hardcore meat eater.

There are so many ways we are being encouraged to eat these days. Local, organic, gluten-free, dairy-free, grass-fed, hormone-free, sustainable, natural; these are terms swirling around the markets. But at this point they are just words, some with good ideas behind them, some still meaningless. I believe that proper food labeling is the next crucial step towards clarity in the marketplace. We need real information on packaging and store signs which allow us to make our own healthy choices, not the ones the food industry decides for us.

To minimize confusion I like to stick to some basic food guidelines that work for me:

•Seasonal ingredients- Yes, no fresh strawberries for me in January, ever. There is no point. They wont taste good, they will cost too much and they just don't belong on a winter menu in the North East.

•Variety of flavors-I could never be a true locavore.  Give up olive oil and coffee? No way. Certain things are perfect for exporting and I still have to satisfy my global palate. Organic coffee is delicious and follows Fair Trade practices. Herbs and spices travel really well and give you a glimpse of world cuisine (I've always had a thing for Marco Polo). Variety can come from the colors of food, the texture, the sweetness vs. savory. Not too much of any one thing. A balance is what I am always seeking.

• A basic interest in knowing where my ingredients are coming from- It is not always easy to tell. I read a lot of labels, and I look for a lot of labels and don't always find them. Other times I just don't bother or don't have time. But when I do look I always find something of interest.  During a recent purchase of heads of garlic in a supermarket I glanced at the label to see they came from China! Well, that is plain silly. Whole Foods does a good job of labeling their fish and I really appreciate that. Not so good on labeling their produce. At my local supermarket in early May I saw corn on the cob labeled "local". I knew this was not possible and asked the produce manager who responded to me "It's just a sign".
Garlic on drying racks at Hook Mountain Growers, Nyack, NY August '09

•Skepticism of anything that comes pre-made in a package - Convenience is great, but it comes at a price. I make as much as is practical from scratch. Not everything is practical. I compromise. My kids would flip out if I stopped bringing home Gatorade and frozen pizzas (%#*!@).

The question then becomes how does one shop?

Fantastic Plastic Tree by Megumi Tomomitsu at Socrates Sculpture Park, August 30, 2009

This blog features among other things, my passion for farmer’s markets. I love to see what is fresh and growing in any area I visit. Stopping at farm stands has been a lifelong pursuit. I was exposed to this early on as a child summering every year on the East End of long Island. My family feasted every summer on corn, tomatoes, potatoes and cantaloupes from the local farms, anticipating the harvest of each crop. It is a passion I can't resist.
Falkowski's Farm Stand, Scuttle Hole Road, Bridgehampton, NY,  August '09

But farm stands can be expensive and they are not the only game in town. NYC has many ethnic markets that carry all kinds of wonderful produce. Bodegas are great for plantains, yams, limes and chayote. Mexican markets always have cilantro, mangoes and avocados. The Indian markets in Jackson Heights, Queens are regularly plundered by my cooking enthusiast friends and me for the freshest garlic and ginger. Chinatown always has fresh greens for sauteing.

Traditional supermarkets are also on my radar. Any produce the supermarket may feature at a good price can be counted on to be seasonal and probably local. I also am not above checking out the “quick sale” section for produce. I often find excellent buys of items placed there not because they are spoiled but because they are perfectly ripe and must be used right away. I always look there for apples to make pies or apple sauce, and tomatoes to cook down and freeze for winter stews and soups. Lemons and limes can also be a great bargain when slightly soft or starting to turn brown. And softened, wrinkled bell peppers are the best ones to roast according to Marcella Hazen.

Fresh herbs come out of my backyard garden. I grow thyme, sage, dill, mints, tarragon, chives, basil, you name it. A small pot on a window sill can offer a bit of herbal cheer, but the quantities you need to add to a recipe will pretty much leave the plant for bare. If you have any access to outdoor growing space herbs are a very easy and rewarding crop.
Basil growing in my Queens, NY backyard,  July '09

Labels are just labels, unless they contain real information. I am a true omnivore with an inclination towards fresh, seasonal and local. I eat organic chicken, eggs and coffee. When I can, I buy all organic ingredients,  but it is not an imperative for me. Flavor, value and integrity of ingredients guides me more. And yeah Tony, vegetarian doesn’t have to suck. Vegetables are a wonderful and healthy way to eat. The more we eat them the better. We don’t need the experts to tell us that. If something comes from a package in a supermarket we have to be prepared to read the fine print or accept that there will be things in it we don’t need or want. Eating low on the food chain makes sense for our health and the environment. Until our food industry gets straightened out we need to do the best we can to make the choices that we decide are right for us.

If you are interested in other voices from the sustainable food movement, check out this Newsletter from Roxbury Farm and this wonderfully passionate case for humane farming practices by Pamela Yee of Hook Mountain Growers.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Not Your Grandmother's Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year being celebrated this weekend, has been explained to me as an occasion to consume things sweet and round to represent good luck and sweetness in the coming year. Two recipes come to mind that suit this criteria perfectly. One is a roasted acorn squash where thick slices of squash are roasted in a balsamic honey glaze. The naturally scalloped edges of the squash are so pretty and the golden amber color of the squash-flesh screams Autumn. I don't peel the squash which adds more color and simplifies preparation. The glaze is super easy and the dish is prepared in a flash. I will bring this dish to my dearest Mother-in-law's house for Rosh Hashanah dinner. Her name is Honey so I think this is the perfect homage to her wonderful cooking!

The other dish I am thinking of is a brown rice pilaf with toasted nuts, sauteed nectarines and dried cranberries. There are so many enticing new brown rice blends on the market these days, featuring different types of rice; red, black, brown, short grain, basmati. In addition to brown rice this blend contains black rice, buckwheat, millet, barley and oat.

This is a great way to move into the fall season, sampling some of these nutty, earthy flavors as pilaf dishes. The nectarines and dried cranberries bring some tartness along with their sweet fruitiness and will create the balance of flavors I am looking for. Firm, unripened nectarines will hold their shape and add color and flavor to the dish

This dish is a little more time consuming. I cook the rice separately from the other ingredients and mix it all together at the end. That way I can control the texture of the dish. I think a good kosher wine (Amanda?) is all that is needed to toast the New Year.

Happy New Year!

Acorn Squash in Balsamic Honey Glaze
2 acorn squashes
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
4 Tbs. Honey
1 Tbs. vegetable oil

Heat oven to 400 degrees F.
Cut the squash in half and with a large spoon carve out the seeds. Slice each half into 1 1/2 inch slices. Mix the vinegar and honey together in a small bowl. Grease a baking sheet large enough to hold all the squash in a single layer. Dip each slice of squash in the glaze to cover on all sides (don't worry about the skin side). Arrange squash on baking sheet and bake in oven for 15 minutes. Turn squash over and bake another 10- 15 minutes until squash is tender.

serves 8 as a side dish

Brown Rice Pilaf with Nectarines and Dried Cranberries
1 cup of brown rice or a brown rice blend cooked according to package directions
1 Tbs Vegetable oil
1 shallot finely minced
2 firm nectarines unpeeled, cut into 1 " cubes(use fruit that is still a little firm so that it will hold up to a saute)
1 celery stalk chopped
1/4 cup of *nuts (cashews, pecans walnuts)
1/3 cup of dried cranberries, soaked in hot water for 15 minutes and drained
3 Tbs. chopped parsley

*I have read that some families avoid nuts at this holiday, so feel free to leave them out or add sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds as a substitute

Heat oil in a small pan. Add shallots and cook until they begin to brown and get a bit crispy. Add the nectarines and the celery and toss in pan till they begin to brown and soften at the edges about 10 minutes.

In a separate pan, toast the nuts on medium heat for a few minutes till you start to smell them and the color just barley begins to darken, then remove from heat. Add the nuts, the fruit mixture, the parsley and the drained cranberries to the cooked rice and toss well to combine. Serve immediately or transfer to a baking dish and heat in a hot oven for 15 minutes before serving.

There are so many wonderful Kosher wines in today's marketplace that would beautifully complement these dishes. Kosher wine, in the past, has had a not-so-great reputation. Today you can find very impressive Kosher wines from all over the world, made from all different varietals. At the wine shop, we even have a Kosher Pinotage from South Africa, made by Backsberg Vineyards. There are some wonderful Riojas available as well, and a wide variety of delicious Kosher Italian wines too.
For these recipes, I would go with some straightforward, always reliable wine from Baron Herzog. Herzog makes a very approachable Cabernet Sauvignon from California's Central Coast. The wine is light to medium bodied, with lots of berry and plum flavors - ideal for the pilaf. Herzog also makes a Chardonnay, made with grapes from the Central Coast as well as the Russian River Valley. The Russian River fruit is barrel fermented, which gives the wine its roundness. With tropical fruit flavors on the palate, the wine is a good match for the squash, and will also complement the pilaf. Herzog wines should be available in most shops that carry Kosher wines. So, these wines should not be hard to find. To those who will be celebrating this weekend, Happy New Year!

Monday, September 14, 2009

All for some and some for all

Cradling a huge bunch of broccoli rabe in my arms I begin to anticipate my favorite dinner. Slow cooked with white kidney beans and a little white wine, laced with Romano cheese and served over pasta, please.

So good, so yummy. My daughter shares this passion with me. We can dive into a huge bowl of these greens with pasta and polish it right off. My husband thinks we are mad and says a polite "no thanks". Broccoli rabe isn't for everyone I suppose. The bitter green takes some getting used to . It is featured in Italian cooking and I for one can't get enough of it. Bitter greens are said to be the secret to longevity for many cultures. I'm thinking of Greeks and Italians, and what is known as the Mediterranean diet. Beans, dark leafy vegetables and wine are all part of what is believed to be the best defence against certain diseases. Well, the jury may still be out on that, but it sounds good to me.
The Chinese know their greens too and broccoli rabe can easily be found in Chinese markets year round. The batch I am about to prepare came from the farmers market at Atlas Park, here in Queens. It's a tiny market with only two produce stands, but at this time of year everything is in abundance and as usual I come home with my bags stuffed.
The broccoli rabe, like spinach and other greens, cooks down very quickly, so if you are feeding a big group be sure to buy a lot. One pound for two people is not excessive, once you trim the stems and chop it up it can cook down to just over a cup. And for this dish, unless I am thinking well in advance (which I am not) I will use canned cannelloni beans.

Amanda, this dish is hearty and robust, with an earthy creaminess from the beans. Think rustic Italian. What do you suggest for a wine?

Broccoli Rabe & White Beans with Fusilli
1 large bunch of Broccoli Rabe, stems trimmed off and leaves coarsely chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
4 garlic cloves minced
1/2 teas. red pepper flakes
1 shallot minced
1 teas. salt
1 can Cannelloni Beans (white kidney beans) drained and rinsed
1/2 cup white wine
1/2 lb dry fussili (or penne, if you prefer)
1/4 cup grated Romano (my daughter and I prefer Romano cheese to Parmesan, or when we can afford it Parmigiano-Reggiano, but any of those will do)
3 Tbs. chopped basil
2 Tbs. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Soak chopped Broccoli Rabe leaves in a bowl of cold water to rinse , then drain in a colander and set aside. Heat the Olive oil in a pan and add the garlic, red pepper flakes and shallot. Cook about 7 minutes till the garlic and shallot begin to soften and turn golden. Add the broccoli rabe (it can still be damp from the rinse water) and salt and allow the leaves to wilt down, about 5 minutes. Add the beans and the white wine and stir to combine. Simmer for about 15 minutes on low heat to allow flavors to blend. The beans should start to break down a bit and the wine will begin to be absorbed. Don't let the pan get too dry. In a separate pot cook the fussili as directed until al dente. I like to add the hot pasta water into the broccoli rabe pan as it is cooking a quarter cup or so at a time to keep the greens moist. You want the sauce to be loose, but not watered down. Add the cooked drained pasta to the greens and add cheese to taste. Add the basil and toss so that the pasta is coated with the sauce. Finish with some good quality olive oil drizzled on top.

This dish traditionally calls for white beans, but pink beans taste pretty great too!

Mange bien!

I am a huge fan of Broccoli Rabe! But, as is usually the case, I have just one or two ways I prepare it. Now I can add a third! Two wines, a red and white, from the same producer immediately come to mind. Last May, I was fortunate enough to have an authentic Sicilian food and wine pairing with Guiseppe Tasca d'Almerita, from the estate of the same name. He led us through a "typical" lunch at a Sicilian restaurant in Wyckoff, NJ. This "typical" lunch spanned the course three hours of intense eating and drinking. It was probably the best food/wine experience I have had to date. Tasca d'Almerita is currently one of Sicily's leading wineries. While they have some higher-priced, incredible wines, they also produce some inexpensive gems as well. One of the wines we enjoyed was the 2007 Leone, a white made from a blend of 85% Catarratto and 15% Chardonnay. While Catarratto is only grown in Sicily, it is Italy's most cultivated varietal. This wine is full of depth and elegance. It offers beautiful aromatics, and a rich, round palate. While the Leone offers plenty of fruit, there is also minerality and earthiness to it. The Chardonnay gives a creaminess to the wine which works well with the beans. The Leone retails for about $15.
myself, Giuseppe, and Chuck Russo

For the red, I was thinking Nero d'Avola. It is the most important red grape in Sicily. Tasca d'Almerita makes Lamuri, which is made from this varietal. You mentioned "think Rustic Italian" and I think this wine fits that description. It is incredibly rich with lots of spice, vanilla and coffee aromas. It is medium in body, and should pair particularly well with Mediterranean fare. Nero d'Avola is often compared to Syrah in that it typically produces "bigger" wines with sweet fruit and peppery flavors. The Tasca d'Almerita Lamuri retails for about $17. Both wines present a terrific bang for the buck.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Something Familiar

Sometimes I go back to the most obvious recipes because, well, they work! Time tested old favorites get tweaked over the years, but the basic classic combinations survive for a reason. I am thinking about salads right now. There is still some time left to enjoy the best of the farmer's markets and to eat it raw!

A cucumber grows at Hook Mountain

Cucumber salad is one of those dishes that doesn't get people too excited. And yet, and yet... the fresh clean crisp flavor definitely has a place at the table. I particularly like to serve it as a side with heavier dishes, anything with BBQ sauce for example. The cucumber becomes a great palate cleanser and counter point to thick spicy sauces in the summer. I am thinking of serving this with my friend, great cook and fellow blogger Katie Hoffman's Austin Baked Bean dish. I think she would approve. Her beans are another classic and familiar dish that maybe sounds old hat. But, when you make these dishes yourself from scratch you add your own preferences and flair. AND they are satisfying crowd pleasers. Now, who doesn't like to please a crowd?

I like to add feta cheese or ricotta salata to the cucumber salad for some tart creaminess. Onions and dill give the cukes a little backbone. This predictable dish still makes an impression and it wouldn't be (end of!) summer with out it.

Amanda, what would you serve with baked beans and cucumber salad? Now, there is a challenge! The beans are sweet and smoky and the cukes are cool and tart. I am imaging a late summer backyard party where the cooler air is starting to be felt.

Cucumber, Ricotta Salata and Dill Salad

2 Cucumbers
1/2 small white onion thinly sliced

2 Tbs chopped dill, plus a few sprigs for garnish
1 clove garlic finely minced
1 teas salt
1 Tbs red wine vinegar
3 Tbs extra virgin olive oil

4 oz *Ricotta Salata or feta cheese (use a block of feta cheese, not crumbled)
Ground pepper to taste

*Epicurious describes Ricotta Salata as "...a firm cheese with a mildly salty flavor. It's available at some supermarkets and specialty foods stores, and at Italian markets."

Peel the cukes lenghtwise in stripes so that some color from the skin is left on. Thinly slice the peeled cukes, using a mandolin if you have one, then set aside. Place the sliced onion in a bowl of cold water and allow them to soak for 10 minutes. This will keep the onions from completely wilting and will help remove some of the sharp flavor (I use this method whenever I am putting raw onions in a salad). Drain the onions and add them to the cucumbers.

Make the vinaigrette: In a small bowl whisk together the dill, garlic, salt and vinegar. Slowly drizzle in the Olive oil as you continue to whisk. Pour vinaigrette over cumbers and toss to combine. Arrange on a serving plate and allow flavors to blend for half an hour. Before serving take a vegetable peeler and shave the cheese on top of the salad. Add a little freshly ground pepper to taste and garnish with the dill sprigs (fronds?).

Well, I have to say you could not have provided this recipe at a better time. Tomorrow is my neighborhood block party. The street is closed off, and our close-knit block spends the day barbequing in the street while the children ride their scooters, jump in a bouncy house, and run wild and barefoot through the neighborhood. Hot weather is predicted. Everyone brings something. Of course, I have volunteered to provide the adult libations. But I have been conflicted about what side dish to make. Now I have my answer! This is perfect! What's even better, I have the ideal wine in mind. Today I am in wine shop, working. Not my usual day. But momentarily we will be joined by winemaker Alexandra Schmedes of Bodega Mas Que Vino Ercavio to present her wines for our Saturday in-store tasting. I first met Alexandra in June, when I accompanied my friend and importer Katell Pleven (of Ibanez Pleven Offerings) to Spain. Alexandra makes ouststanding wines at everyday prices. One of the wines in today's in-store tasting is the Ercavio Blanco, a blend of Airen and a small percentage of Sauvignon Blanc. Airen is the dominant white grape grown in La Mancha and across Spain. Her wine is clean, fresh and crisp. Truly refreshing. The fruity aromas and bright acidity are a perfect match for the cucumber dish. And the pineapple and peach flavors can stand up to the bolder flavors of the beans. As for wanting to please a crowd - this is the perfect wine. I love to recommend it for large gatherings since its price tag is rather low at $11.99 a bottle. Alexandra makes a great Rose as well, which is meaty and substantial on the palate - also perfect for an (end of) summer barbeque and certainly can hold up to a variety of foods.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Pizza Heaven

I have pizza on my mind. It might just be my favorite food in the world. I made another trip to the Blooming Hill Farm in NY this past weekend. And again, I went crazy over the grilled pizza with the smoky tomato flavors. My stomach is growling and my mouth is watering just thinking about it. There's nothing like that crispy crust, and the exquisite blended flavors of the sauce, cheese and fresh toppings! And the best and most rewarding part of pizza is that the sky's the limit. There is no end to the vast world of combinations one can concoct! Pizza heaven!

remember this beauty from Blooming Hill Farm?

Which brings me to my friend and neighbor, Beth. We have been talking all summer about having a pizza party. I've had her pizza and it's wonderful. Now, she has added grilling as her m.o. for cooking it. I need help! We have finally picked a date to put our pizza skills to the test. I'm thinking something with a thin, crispy crust and grilled vegetables - maybe mushrooms? I am open to any and all suggestions! I plan to pair it with a light-medium Italian red, probably Sangiovese. Sangiovese from Chianti would be a no-brainer, with its bright fruit and floral flavors. Something young. But, a Rioja would work beautifully as well. Rioja is associated with pronounced vanilla flavors as a result of oak aging. Rioja has an elegant flavor and is typically more fruity when young. The woody flavors would meld wonderfully with the smoky flavors from the grill. I'm getting famished! Deb -what are your thoughts?

That pizza we shared at Blooming Hill Farm was truly delicious. I asked the cook at their cafe if they made their own sauce from their own tomatoes and indeed they do. That would be a great place to start with your pizza party. The beauty of the farm pizza was its simplicity. My guess is that fresh tomatoes were slow cooked, possibly roasted, then simmered in a pot until very reduced and then put through a food mill to remove skin and seeds. They used a very thin layer of this almost tomato paste like sauce and then just a hint of cheese. Italian chefs always take a minimalist approach to pizza, quite the opposite of our heavily cheese loaded slices here in most NY pizzerias.

For toppings other than sauce and cheese I would consider some of the seasonal vegetables that take well to grilling, like zucchini, eggplant, peppers and mushrooms. Slice them into manageable pieces, grill briefly to give them some color and then layer on your pizza as desired. I would even suggest wilting some greens like broclorabi, spinach, escarole or chard and draping them over your pie. Wilting can be simply achieved by briefly sauteing your clean, still wet greens in some hot olive oil and garlic until softened.

Have a great party!

Slow Cooked Tomato Sauce
10 large Plum Tomatoes cut in half
1 teasp salt
1 teasp sugar
1 Tbs olive oil
a few basil leaves
1 clove garlic

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Arrange tomatoes cut side up on a baking sheet and sprinkle w/ sugar and salt. Drizzle with the olive oil and bake for 45 minutes till very soft. Remove from baking sheet and place tomatoes in a sauce pan. Add the garlic clove and basil and simmer on a low flame for 20 minutes until most of the liquid is evaporated. Watch the pot and don't let the tomatoes burn.
Remove garlic and basil and put the tomatoes through a food mill. You will (hopefully) have about a cup of very rich intensely flavored sauce, enough to cover eight individual sized pizzas.

Monday, September 7, 2009

follow up...on the road

Labor day weekend has brought me back to Saratoga Springs. Saturday at the race track was exhilarating as we watched the girl wonder-horse Rachel Alexandra beat the boys by a nose in The Woodward Stakes race. The crowd was electrified by the narrow win and I felt like I had witnessed racing history, seeing the the first filly to ever clinch this classic race.

Fresh lemonade at the Saratoga Fairgrounds

My other goal this weekend was to dine at Chez Sophie, a landmark Saratoga Springs restaurant that will be closing at the end of this month after 15 years in the area. The chef owned restaurant has consistently served imaginative and delicious meals while championing and supporting the wonderful local farmers in the area.

Friday night's menu at the restaurant featured an appetizer of seared scallops with cantaloupe and heirloom tomatoes. I HAD to try it! The blog post about my Tomato,cantaloupe, and sweet onion salad back in August had caused many comments from readers about the unusual and to some, improbable combination of ingredients. I decided to make the salad for a potluck party I was invited to last week and got several requests for the recipe. It was exciting to share this dish and turn my friends on to this unexpected combination that all agreed was surprisingly just right.

Chez Sophie chef Paul Parker pureed his cantaloupe and made it the base of a vinaigrette with olive oil and chives that filled the bottom of a bowl. The golden cherry tomatoes carefully peeled and arranged around the scallops sat on top. Yummy! I had a glass of sparkling wine to go with it as per Amanda's blog post suggestion and it was perfect!
Incidentally, amid the extensive and impressive wine list the restaurant has La Vieille Ferme listed as their house table wine.

I will miss Chez Sophie. Chef Paul Parker and his wife Cheryl Clark are off to France with their two small children to run a vineyard/bed and breakfast/cooking school. It all sounds wonderful. I will even miss Cheryl's weekly email newsletter describing changing diapers, dealing with customers and managing a restaurant during floods, blizzards and electrical failures.

Bon Chance Parker-Clark family!

On another note:
This edition of the newsletter from The Roxbury Farm, a Community Sustained Farm  (CSA) in NY, does an excellent job of highlighting the concerns with the current American food systems as seen in the film Food, Inc. The newsletter provides excellent links to many of the organizations working hard to create better food standards for our country. It is well worth looking at, and see the film if you can!

Deb, sounds like you had a great weekend as well as a wonderful dining experience! My Labor Day weekend was chockful of barbeques and screaming kids. It was one of the most enjoyable weekends I have had all year! But the one thing I wanted to share with you was my fabulous day yesterday. Chuck and Maria Russo, owners of Wine and Spirit World had a birthday get together for their son, who is turning 13 next weekend. Among a fine assortment of delectable treats was your grilled vegetable ratatouille, which was simply superb. I had told Maria about it, and she went right to our blog and printed it out. It was perfect. The one addition Maria included was portobello mushroom. I took a nice big piece of crusty bread, and spooned a heaping mound of ratatouille right on top of it. I was drinking Pinot Noir at the time, and it made a fine companion to the dish. Delish!!

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Music to my ears

Waiting all year for a particular harvest is like waiting for your favorite rock band to come to town. Once they are here you have to act fast, because it will be quite a while before you have a chance see them again.
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart at South Street Seaport July '09, just one of the many fantastic outdoor concerts we saw this summer! Photo:Alan Mann

So it is with corn. Yes, you can get it all year round, but when it is fresh and in season and coming from a local farm, there is nothing like it. I wondered if Amanda had any thoughts about wine pairing with corn. Light, sweet, grassy, a little nutty perhaps, are the flavors I would associate with corn. Two corn dishes I love to make are a simple saute of corn with peppers and a curried corn fritter. The fritters are light and airy with just a hint of curry to add some depth and interest. Eat them hot hot hot out of the frying pan and the fresh corn kernels will burst in your mouth with sweetness. I like to serve these fritters with peach salsa. There are still some nice peaches out there and this salsa tastes great with everything.

The Southwestern style corn saute is a really quick dish with a tiny bite coming from the addition of chili powder and finely minced jalapenos to add some color and crunch. I make this dish all year round, but when the corn is fresh and tender it delightfully melts in your mouth. Sublime!

I wonder who else is in town this weekend?

Curried Corn Fritters with Peach Salsa
2 ears of corn, kernels removed from cob
1 egg, beaten
1/2 cup milk
2 scallions minced
1/3 cup of yellow cornmeal
3 Tbs flour
1 tsp curry powder
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
3 Tbs canola oil
Mix corn kernels with the egg, milk, and scallions. Add the dry ingredients and stir to blend. Heat oil in shallow pan till hot and nearly smoking.
Drop 1 large tablespoon of corn batter into hot oil for each fritter.
Cook till golden, about 2 minutes and then flip and cook 2 more minutes. Drain on paper towel and salt to taste while still hot.

serve immediately with salsa

Peach Salsa
2 large peaches peeled and chopped into small cubes
1/2 red onion finely chopped
1 jalapeno finely chopped
2 Tbs chopped cilantro
1/2 tsp salt
Juice of one lime
Mix all ingredients and allow to sit for 15 minutes for flavors to combine.

Southwest Pan Sauteed Corn
2 Tbs canola oil
1 jalapeno pepper finely minced
1/2 red bell pepper finely minced
4 ears of corn, kernels removed from cob
1 tsp chili powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 Tbs butter
Heat oil in saute pan add jalapeno and peppers and cook about five minutes till they begin to soften. Add the corn and continue to cook till corn takes on a bright color, about 5 more minutes. Add the chili powder, salt and butter and cook another minute or two till flavors are blended and the butter is completely melted. serves 4
Both recipes sound fabulous. And, since my husband is an avid corn fan, I may just have to surprise him with these this weekend! I have perfect wines in mind for both. I think a Pinot Blanc from Alsace, France would be a super hit with the corn fritters, especially given the addition of curry powder. The wonderful fruit flavors of the wine are traditionally a great combination with Indian spices. And, the wine is perfectly suited to the peach salsa as well. Pinot Blanc from this region in France typically displays terrific aromas and flavors of peaches and pears, and is usually rich and round on the palate. One of my favorite whites, the wine will display different characteristics dependent upon where it is produced. In California, the wine can be more Chardonnay-like. But I think one from Alsace, a bit more delicate in style, really would be so perfect with these fritters!
And, I have a great match for the Corn Sautee! Last night I was at a wine dinner with winemaker Nick Goldschmidt, who produces fabulous wines from New Zealand, Australia and California. He is incredibly knowledgable as well has extremely funny. At the event, I sampled his Forefathers Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand. The wine has a lot of stone fruit and pear characteristics, and is a bit "bigger" than a typical Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough. The delicious flavors of passion fruit on the finish will surely stand up to, and subdue, the spicy kick from the jalapeno peppers. The slightly sweet, grassy flavors of the corn that Deborah described above will also perfectly complement any New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc!