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.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset Country Cooking of Greece Ikarian Soufico Soufico part 2

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.


Chopped Salad

The Lunch Bowl:

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The Wine:

Lascaux rose

The Verdict:



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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.

cabbage Satina potatoes skillet Processed with VSCOcam with k2 preset

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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Labor Day Feast with Friends

A long weekend is always an invitation for us to cook.  This time Barbara was particularly inspired by the Oct/Nov 2014 issue of Fine Cooking, a magazine we had discontinued some time back but to which we recently re-subscribed.  So we invited five of our very good friends over for dinner on Labor Day to share the food and wine.  Here’s the menu:

2014 dinner with Close Friends - Labor Day

We split the cooking, but Barbara outdid herself, choosing four of the recipes from the magazine, all new to her.  I, on the other hand, did the other half of the dishes, all of which I had made before, and many which could be prepared ahead of time.  Everything was ready when the guests arrived, so we could schmooze with mezze and wine first.

before dinner discussion

before dinner discussion


roasted mushroom, radishes, and Jerusalem artichokes

Castelvetrano, Gaeta, Kalamata Processed with VSCOcam with f1 preset sautéed beet greens mixed olives incl Botija

Here are some of the main dishes and ingredients in prep.

marintated tomatoes

marinated heirloom tomatoes

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Yu Choy with Preserved Lemon and Shoyu

carrots walnuts and capers roast cauliflower head



I did not take photos of all the wines, but here were two.  There was also a 2002 Italian white wine, uncovered in the cellar reorganization, but unfortunately that had gone by, so we poured it out.  The Villa Creek Rousanne was marvelous, as was the the 2005 Sancerre Rouge from Lucien Crochet.

Villa Creek 2012 Rousanne Villa Creek 2012 Rousanne-2

Rousanne back label - only 50 cases


Lastly, I attach for your reading pleasure the recipes from Fine Cooking.  Barbara made adjustments, of course, some for vegan reasons and some for artistic ones.  We’ll let you make your own versions, as desired.  Buon appetito!

Apple Beet and Walnut Salad Carrots and nut butter recipe dog-earred carrot dish from mag Roasted Cauliflower recipe Chard-Potato Frittata recipe

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Last two meals in August: Pasta with Vegetables, and Potato, Red Onion and Pecorino Pizza

With Farmers Markets on both Saturday and Sunday, the end of August was an opportunity to indulge in our favorite adventures — a meal replete with pasta and great vegetables one day, and Sarah and the family the next day for homemade pizzas.  I won’t bury you with details.  The pasta dish contained fresh green beans and zucchini, onions and garlic, cherry tomatoes and black olives, a top-notch Italian spaghetti, and a bottle of 2011 Michele Chiarlo Barbera d’Asti Le Orme, which was featured at a very good price at Panzano Market in Southboro.  This is a wine which I had once before, three years ago, on a visit to see Connie in Connecticut (see my blog for July 2011).  That one was vintage 2006, and I thought it was an exceptional value and quite delightful, so I had been on the lookout for it since then.

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We had a good visit here with Sarah and the whole family, doing the usual pizza dinner with the oven at full blast.  What was notable, though, for me was the pizza I made for myself.  No tomato sauce.  Instead, I chose to make one with:

  • Satina potatoes from the West Acton Market (Hungry Bear Farm), partially boiled, then sliced, placed on top of shredded mozzarella cheese
  • topped with small pieces of eggplant, pre-roasted in the hot oven, and
  • partially roasted red onion slices, and
  • Barbara’s caramelized onions, and
  • finished with grated fresh Pecorino cheese

I loved it!

potato, red onion and pecorino pizza

potato, red onion and pecorino pizza

potato, red onion and pecorino closeup

closeup of pizza topping


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