Classic Mediterranean Supper….with New England Ingredients

I came home from teaching today, weary from 2 1/4 hours of driving (construction and road repairs, plus several accidents), a long class, high pollen counts, and dreary weather.  Barbara had a Quilt Guild meeting tonight, so I was on my own for dinner.  Comfort food for me is classic Mediterranean, so I jumped right into it:

  • pan-roasted Padron and Shishito peppers, with Taggiasca olive oil
  • a slice of my whole wheat levain, warmed in hot olive oil from frying the peppers
  • roasted baby beets, sliced and topped with sautéed cashew mozzarella-style cheese and hot orange pepper purée
  • sautéed dandelion greens and arugula
  • several glasses of 2013 Argyros Asyrtiko white wine
  • Turkish black olives

And I feel very much better now.  I am sorry the pictures are limited, but I was too hungry and wanted to eat right away.  The beets were from Hungry Bear Farm in NH, roasted in a hot oven for about an hour; the dandelion greens were local and purchased in the Cambridge, MA, Whole Foods River Street market, and the peppers were from local farms, as well.

The Asyrtiko came from Santorini, via Winebow and Social Wines, where I went after class.  Eileen had arranged to order Argyros wines for me.  Unfortunately, the distributor sent the wrong Asyrtiko; Argyros makes three variations: (1) 100% stainless steel aging, (2) 20% oak barrels, 80 % stainless, and (3) all oak barrel aging.   I wanted the middle one, which I found to be the most balanced and delicious in my tasting in Santorini.  I took one for tonight of the simpler version, but sent the rest back to be replaced with the second variety.

The real surprise is the cashew mozzarella.  When compared to creamy, fresh mozzarella as a cold cheese, it is awful.  Amazingly, however, when broiled or sautéed, it turns rich and crispy and is sometimes better than real cheese.  When paired with beets and the red pepper purée, it was a real winner.

Here are the pictures after the fact:

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cashew-based mozzarella cheese

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Quick Trip to the Island and New Creations at Home

It has been a good week.  Last Friday I made an overnight trip to the island, to check in some guests at our summer home.  It was a great excuse to visit my friend, Steve.  That night he and I enjoyed some of his older wine from the cellar and had a fine dinner at Dune Restaurant.  We were even able to bring our own bottle of wine, which worked out marvelously.  The next morning we had a late snack of leftover farinata, Turkish olives, and more wine.  Here are the particulars:

  • 1993 Faiveley Latriciéres Chambertin (on the patio in the late afternoon)
  • 2009 Perticaia Rosso – Sangiovese and Sagrantino from Umbria (at dinner)
  • 2006 Groth Cabernet Sauvignon (part of a mid-morning snack)

Dinner at Dune was excellent, though a bit noisy.  I had the beet salad and a seasonal vegetable risotto.  Steve had the tuna tartare and the soft shelled crab atop a clam chowder.  The Umbrian Rosso was great with everything.

Dunes Beet Salad

Beet Salad

Dunes Tuna tartare

Tuna Tartare

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Saturday afternoon I took the ferry and then drove back home, by way of Chestnut Hill and Urban Grape, where I met my friend David for a tasting with Gaetana Jacono, owner and winemaker at Valle Dell’Acate in Sicily.  I had met her before at a tasting and dinner with another friend Steve, and I loved her Cerasuolo.  This time my favorite was Il Moro, 100% Nero D’Avola.

As I browsed the shelves in the store, one other wine struck my fancy: a SATRAPEZO saperavi_2006 from Georgia.  This country in the Caucasus has a wine-making tradition going back 6,000 years.  It has been intriguing me recently, but I had never found a bottle in a wine store previously.  This one caught my eye because it was 30% off.  That usually means (a) a crappy wine, or (b) a wine no one knows about, or (c) both.  In this case the correct answer is (b), fortunately.  I had the Saperavi with a lunch, consisting of my homemade pickled beets and grilled Tuscan pane topped with a cashew mozzarella-like cheese I had made last weekend, along with a hot yellow grilling pepper purée, also from the weekend cooking activities.  Quite to my surprise, the nut cheese (which was cold and rubbery when uncooked) turned out to be very tasty when broiled.  It was all delicious.

grilled nread lunch plate Processed with VSCOcam with c2 preset Saperavi Processed with VSCOcam with c2 preset Processed with VSCOcam with c2 preset

Cashew Mozzarella Cheese

The final invention for the week was tonight’s pasta for dinner.  I was in a Ligurian sort of mood, and Barbara was off at the grandkids’ house for a couple of hours , so I was free to play around.  Lots of pans, but a relatively simple dish:

  • dice an onion and sauté until quite tender, then add chopped garlic and cook longer
  • drain the onions and garlic, reserving the Taggiasca olive oil for subsequent steps.
  • meanwhile peel and boil 3-4 small white new potatoes until almost done; drain and cool, then cut once lengthwise and then crosswise into 1/4″ slices
  • start a large pasta pot of water to boil
  • cut 2 zucchini in half lengthwise, then cut into 1/4″ slices
  • sautée zucchini in olive oil on medium heat with fresh rosemary until very tender
  • add zucchini to reserved onion and garlic
  • clean and de-stem a small package of baby spinach
  • trim, wash and slice young dandelion leaves
  • use same sauté pan to cook spinach and dandelions together until just tender
  • add olive oil back into the pan, add potato slices and cook until they absorb some oil
  • now add the zucchini, onions and garlic, and chopped greens, along with some chopped pitted Kalamata olives
  • Add salt to the boiling pasta water, then cook about 200 g. of Tagliatelle al dente
  • reserve some pasta water and drain pasta, placing it in a large wide bowl
  • put the vegetables on top, toss the noodles, add olive oil, salt and pepper as needed
  • serve with a 2011 Bisson Marea Cinque Terre for Ligurian authenticity
  • ENJOY!

Ligurian-style pasta-2 Ligurian-style pasta closeup Processed with VSCOcam with k1 preset

 

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Calabria, via Vino, Olio e Pepperoncino

Some weekday pasta dishes are like old Italian houses.  The main ingredients only need a few repairs, more stucco, and a fresh coat of paint to be charming.  Such was supper tonight.  I was a t school most of the day, and Barbara was off early this evening to her quilt guild meeting, so I was on my own.  I decided to use the vegetables she had baked in a pasta-less lasagna dish previously described.  It had eggplant, Swiss chard, grilled onions and eggplant slices, garlic and tomatoes, baked for some time.  I pulled off and discarded the melted mozzarella, which was no longer appealing, chopped up the vegetables a bit, stirred in some red pepper purée made over the weekend from fresh grilling peppers, and warmed it for my sauce.  To add a little zing, I chopped up one small Calabrian chili pepper stirred it into the sauce.

Next step was choosing a small amount of pasta (~120 g.), from several packages partly-used previously.  The winner of this lottery was Pennone, an organic Pasta di Stigliano, in Basilicata, not far from Matera where we visited a few years ago.  At this point, while the pasta was cooking in well-salted water, I was feeling transported to southern Italy.  I decided to complete the trip with wine and olive oil from Calabria, specifically Odoardi Savuto and olive oil, imported by Jan D’Amore, to go with the hot pepper.  It was great.

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Finally, I wanted to show you just a few other treats garnered over the past week:

  • Spanish caper berries, marinated in olive oil with rosemary and fennel seed
  • an orange pepper purée that I made from roasted peppers that turned out to be hot
  • ground cherries, an unusual and delicious find in the farmers market

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Farmers Market Bounty

The farmers market on Sunday is even better than the one on Saturday.  I bought vegetables that looked good to me, brought them home, then figured out what to make after that.  One meal was a simple pan-roasted corn risotto from Todd English.  Great corn, very good Vialone Nano rice, and the remainder of our leftover caramelized onions.

pan-roasted corn risotto with caramelized onions Pan Roasted Corn Risotto

Of course, I used a corn water broth instead of chicken stock, and less than 1/4 cup of cheese, in this case a Pecorino instead of Parmigiano.  Our friend Laura joined us for dinner Saturday night for this meal.  Li Veli Verdeca was the wine for this dish.

Sunday’s dinner was a bit different.  As much as I love Italian cooking, there are times when I long for the comfort food of Greece.  Long, slow cooking of vegetables, beans and grains, rich, thick olive oils, sumptuous dining — even without the lamb I used to enjoy.

Two years ago there was a fascinating article about the island of Ikaria in Greece, where the islanders live remarkably long and healthful lives, and it appears that diet has a great deal to do with it.  We have a cookbook friends gave us a few years ago, The Country Cooking of Greece, and Sunday was a day when I leafed through it to find a dish in that style, using many of the ingredients from the market.  What I found was Ikarian Soufico, which I used as the basis for Sunday supper.

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I varied some of the ingredients — such as fewer zucchini (only had one), added diced Swiss chard ribs and sorrel — and I boiled instead of fried the potatoes and simmered the whole dish a lot longer than specified, but it was excellent.

boiled potatoes chard ribs fresh sorrel salted eggplant slices salting peppers and zucchini sautéed onions-2 tomato tray Ikarian vegetable stew Ikarian vegetable stew-2

The wine was marvelous, a 2011 Le Piane Maggiorina, from Piemonte.  It’s made from Croatina, Uvarara, Vespolina and Nebbiolo grapes, and it is from the Colline Novaresi DOC region.  Superb!

2011 Maggiorina

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Vegetarian Lunch, Farinata for Dinner

I get my food inspirations from many places, chief among them are my cookbooks and food blogs on the Internet.  The past couple of days represent a case in point.

Ligurian Kitchen book cover

Barbara is the arbiter of shelf and table space in the house, and I am limited to only five bookshelves in the living room (which is adjacent to our kitchen).  This is, naturally, a severe restriction, but I live with it.  One of the consequences is that I have other cookbooks in various stashes around the house (there are over 200 books in total, almost all of which I use each year).  One such book is shown above, The Ligurian Kitchen.  In an idle moment the other day downstairs in my office space, I saw the book and started browsing through it.  Two recipes caught my eye almost immediately:

Lemon-Scented Ligurian Olive Paste Ligurian Farinata

Of course, I had to make them both as soon as possible.  The olive paste was first, earlier in the week, and it quickly became my favorite, even better than Lulu’s Provençal version.  I used in in several meals, including my vegetarian lunch yesterday, which featured finely-diced Swiss Chard ribs, sautéed with onion, garlic, carrots, celery, garlic, and green beans, plus pan-fried slices of Halloumi cheese from Cyprus, and Tuscan pane with the olive paste on top.  This all was served with a rosé of Ciliegiolo grapes from Collecapretta in Umbria, similar to but different than the wine from Bisson in Liguria in previous posts.

vegetarian lunch Collecapretta

Now, I’m really excited, so I explore the topic of Farinata online at length.  Farinata is a Ligurian thin cake made of chickpea flour.  I had made “socca”, a thinner pancake-like version from Nice years ago, but was not crazy about it.  Giannatempo’s recipe sounded better, and there was supporting evidence from a number of online sources, too.  After collecting about a half dozen of these recipes, I settled on a hybrid approach, based on her recipe, this YouTube video, and one from my Rose Pistola cookbook:

Rose Pistola book cover Rose Pistola Farinata1 Rose Pistola Farinata2

Strangely, even though I have read this book cover-to-cover several times over the 15 years I’ve owned it, I never considered this recipe before.  In any case I made Farinata for dinner last night — three different versions in terms of toppings, taking advantage of the caramelized onions Barbara had made last weekend when we had pizza.  The results were all superb, although the one with Niçoise olives was a little too salty.  They were served with a pasta-less version of layered vegetable lasagna, topped with mozzarella, which Barbara had made the other night.  Wine choice was just right: the Kajanero again.

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An added benefit for some people is that farinata is totally gluten-free, and it makes no sacrifices to flavor or texture, in my opinion.

Mangia bene, poco e spesso (Eat well, a little, and often.)

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Chopped Salad ???!!

A few days ago, I was using up stuff in the refrigerator and decided to make a chopped salad for lunch.  Initial reaction is, What kind of meal is that??   The answer is, a very good one.  This is a short post.  But I got two delicious lunches out of it.

Ingredients:

Chopped Salad

The Lunch Bowl:

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The Wine:

Lascaux rose

The Verdict:

borat-thumbs-up

 

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Sometimes we need a little salmon…

Being vegan is marvelous — healthy and delicious.  But sometimes we just need a little salmon, especially if it is wild Copper River Sockeye Salmon.  I went to the Quarterdeck seafood market the other day and came home with less than 1/2 lb. of this lovely fish.  It provided the colorful center of a vegetable meal, and Barbara and I both enjoyed it.

I’ve been in a use-up-leftovers mood, and that includes stuff that needs cooking soon, because we buy so many good veggies at farmers markets.  That night I found a sorry looking yellow squash, for example, but when I cut off the bad part and made a small dice of the center, it was perfect for frying.  I also had some pea pods needing to be used.  Remembering how good they are when caramelized a bit in a hot skillet, I added them to the squash and had a nice side dish for starters.

pea pods and yellow squash-2

We had lots of green beans, the regular straight ones and Romano beans, too.  So I cooked them briefly in boiling water until barely done and put them aside, while I cut thin slices of half a small cabbage, to roast at 400º F.  In the meantime I boiled five small Satina waxy potatoes, peeled and cooled them, then sliced them and added to a nonstick pan with olive oil on medium low heat.

The richly-colored salmon fillet needed only to be seared in a hot skillet with a little olive oil (it was first rubbed with a bit of lemon juice, salt, pepper, and ground dried lemon).  I turned the filet over so it was skin-side down, and I put the skillet in the oven to finish cooking, reheating the beans at the same time.  Finger pressure is the only way to test for doneness, so I leave that to my co-chef, since she likes it slightly firmer than I do.  The final plate came together beautifully.

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The biggest surprise of the evening was the wine.  I often like Pinot Noir with salmon, so I pulled three bottles out of the cellar to consider.  The first was a 1995 Lynmar Russian River Valley, which I and obtained many years ago from the winery owner who was a business associate.  It had been in a remote section of the cellar until recently, so I feared it was long past its prime, which is why I picked two other bottles (one California, the other from Burgundy) as backup.  There was no need.  After I mangled the cork, which disintegrated under the corkscrew, I eventually got it opened and strained out the cork pieces.  Much to my astonishment the wine was alive and well, full of charming fruit and elegance.  I enjoyed it and the salmon together.  Compliments to the winemaker.

1995 Lynmar Pinot Noir

 

 

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