A “Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” Potato Pie

My wife reads a lot of books.  She enjoys watching British movies and period pieces.  And she is a very good cook.  Last night those elements all came together in a terrific dinner.

Several months ago, she read The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Not long after that, we watched the movie on Netflix.  It’s a fascinating story of how the residents of this small location in the British Channel Islands managed to cope with the bitter German occupation during WW II.   The stories inspired Barbara to invent a vegetarian dish which we named after the title of the book.  It’s actually similar to some layered potato casseroles or Strata, characteristic of Liguria, and it tastes extremely good.

We’ve had it twice now, and I want to share it with you.  The main ingredients are potatoes, chopped greens (any combination of spinach, Swiss Chard, and kale), Parmesan cheese, and homemade dried breadcrumbs.  Here’s the finished product after we had two servings each for dinner:

For my wine I chose a medium-bodied Spanish red from Montsant, 2018 La Selección.  It’s a delicious blend of Garnacha Tinta,  Macabeo,  Cariñena,  and Garnacha Blanca grapes.

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Pasta Trenette

This post is about Pasta Trenette from Liguria, Italy — a delicious vegetarian linguini-like dish with pesto, potatoes and green beans.  Why?  The reason is that I found a box of Trenette pasta in a far corner of my pantry.  And why was I in that far corner?  I was searching for some accessories to my espresso machine, because my old one was not working, and I was giving it to my friend, Gemma, on Sunday, in hopes that she would be able to get it fixed at a reasonable cost and then use it as happily as I did for 13 years.  That’s why I made the dish yesterday for dinner.

The recipe I liked best from several that were similar was from a blog by Tori Avey.

Here’s the link to her recipe.  What I found intriguing about it is that the potatoes and green beans are cooked together in a pot.  Then they are removed, and I use the same pot to cook the pasta.  The dish is finally assembled in a serving bowl, in which the pesto sauce was made by mixing an Italian pesto (preferably with Ligurian basil as its main constituent), with hot pasta water.

It was easy and delicious.  For me, they key to its success was the quality of the Pesto Genovese, supplied by Gustiamo.

The wine was an old favorite, Minutolo from Polvanera.  It’s from Puglia, a long way from Liguria, but a good match nonetheless.

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Inspiration and Necessities: The Development of a New Recipe

Last night it was my turn to cook.  We had not made pasta for a week, so it was a no-brainer for me.  I would make pasta.  But which one?

When choosing what to cook, I get my inspiration from 3 primary sources: (1) ingredients, (2) cookbooks, and (3) online blogs and articles.  Another dimension of the decision process is constraints, or “Necessities”.  These might include ingredients that must be used tonight, ingredients we can not get in time, and ingredients one of us can’t or won’t eat (peppers, spicy, milk products, etc.).

I think you might enjoy walking through that process with me now, as an illustration about developing a new recipe for a pasta dish.  However, not all of my readers have the patience or an interest in this long-winded tutorial (my wife for one; “just put dinner on the table by 6:30”).  If you are among this latter cohort, go straight to the bottom of the post to find the resultant recipe.

I began thinking about dinner in the early afternoon.  Three thoughts came quickly to mind:

  • Fettuccine all’Abruzzese — a fine dish I had made twice before, from Diane Darrow’s blog, Another Year in Recipes.
  • Penne with Roasted Shiitakes, Eggplant, and Sambal — from another favorite blog, Lemons and Anchovies.
  • Melanzane in Potacchio — a vegetable dish from the March region.  Not a pasta, but could be paired with one.  This was from Our Italian Table.

These all sounded good to me, but filtering them with “Necessities” was a required next step.  One specific requirement was the need to use the small Italian eggplant that was getting soft in the refrigerator.

There were two marks against the Fettuccine.   One: too much time and work required to make fresh pasta,  Two: it was not that long ago that I made it previously; variety is important.  It could be accompanied by an eggplant side dish, but not a great match.

I could not make the Penne with Shiitakes as it was written, because the Sambal is too spicy for Barbara, and it seemed to be integral to the flavors of the dish.

The Melanzane was very appealing, but insufficient by itself.  How do I get my pasta?

My solution was to borrow from all three recipes, and to combine them into a new, integrated pasta dish featuring the best of each of the elements.  I decided to use the Melazane dish in its entirety, as a major component of the finished pasta dish.  I liked the simplicity and elegance of the approach.  I borrowed the Penne and the roasted Shiitakes (including the white Balsamic), plus some onions and shallots, to get more flavors into the final product.  And I took the pancetta, onions, and basil from the Fettuccine recipe because I like them so much, and they seemed to complement the rest of the meal.

Here’s what we got:

By happy circumstance, my open bottle of red wine (2012 Damiano Ciolli’s Cesanese Riserva) is from the Marche region (like the Potacchio).  It is one of my favorites, imported by Jan D’Amore.

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Cianfotta (A Neapolitan Version of Ratatouille)

Summer is coming soon (at least in this hemisphere).  That means the arrival of great fresh vegetables, which for me, often get celebrated by making one of the amazing European roasted vegetable dishes.  Among my favorites are:

France: Tian/Ratatouille.  https://dgourmac.wordpress.com/2013/09/05/from-the-sublime-to-the-ridiculous/

Italy: Cianfotta   https://www.splendidtable.org/recipes/cianfotta-neapolitan-style-ratatouille

Greece: Briam/Tourlouhttp://thegreekvegan.com/tourlou-tourlou-briam/

Spain: Escalivada:  https://food52.com/recipes/31025-escalivada-catalan-roasted-vegetables

In anticipation of this season, I decided to make Cianfotta last night, as a way to utilize the eggplant in the refrigerator which was beginning to show its age.  I’ve tried two or three versions over the years, and you can find them in previous posts by entering “Cianfotta” in the search box on the top right side of any of my blog pages.   The one I made yesterday was a recipe from Katie Parla’s book, Food of the Italian South (see link above).

This dish braises the vegetables (added sequentially, based on their cooking times) very slowly in their own juices, so they are tender and easily digestible when done.  I usually accompany it with a nice, crusty country-style bread.  A slice or two of my Tartine bread, toasted, did the trick.  Katie’s version is similar to the others I know (Viana LaPlace, Verdure, and Arthur Schwartz, Naples at Table), only a bit simpler and quicker to prepare.  Note that ingredients can be modified from time-to-time, depending on preferences and availability.

For wine, I normally choose a rosé or red wine from the country matching the dish.

Wishing you a marvelous, tasty, healthy summer.

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Bruschetta, Newschetta

As much as I enjoy the cooking and baking, I get that much pleasure and more from the eating.  Here are a few highlights with my sourdough bread and remaining octopus.

This particular bread has been a thrill, the best I’ve made yet in 9 years.  It was baked only two days ago, and the two of us have already eaten almost all of the 884 g in the finished boule.  In spite of the fact it could have benefited from a little longer in the oven during the browning phase, the taste and texture are great, especially when toasted.  Last night for dinner, I ate three pieces, just toasted and drizzled with a little olive oil, alongside an octopus salad, containing grilled tentacles, celery, red onion, leftover potatoes, salt-packed capers, cannellini beans, arugula, red wine vinegar, and olive oil.

You already know I often make bruschetta, one of my favorite meals or snacks.  This bread was perfectly suited to both old and new versions — hence, “new”schetta (my apologies).  Since I had just made the bread yesterday, I soaked Ranch Gordo’s Marcella cannellini beans, so they could be cooked today.  The goal was to make a coarse white bean purée to serve with grilled bread.  We had a little leftover Swiss Chard from Small Farm, which was wilted and chopped, ready to go atop the purée.  That consumed three more thick slices and made a fine lunch.

In the meantime Barbara had gone shopping and found our favorite goat Brie cheese at Trader Joe’s, so the end of that meal was goat Brie on grilled bread.  Superb.

The good news is that we have a second loaf available for the next few days.  And “no”, I don’t gain weight on my own bread — ever.

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Tartine Bread Again — with Improved Techniques

As many people are doing during this pandemic, I am baking bread more often now.  Three weeks ago I wrote about returning to Tartine breads, and I am continuing further down that path.  My breads are good now, most of the time, but the quality and taste have “plateaued” in my opinion.  Since I have the time now, I’ve decided to “up my game” in a couple of critical areas where I see room for improvement.

Fortunately, I’ve found a number of superb blogs and articles about artisan bread-making on the internet.  They helped me identify two skills I need to improve: (1) achieve a more vigorous bread starter and (2) learn how to stretch, fold, and shape the dough more effectively.  Here are just a few of the resources I’ve found to be helpful:

If you are a bread maker — novice, intermediate or expert — you should explore on your own and do what you find most comfortable.  There are a thousand good ways to do most of this, so just develop yours.  Practice and experience and plenty of mistakes — these will provide the learning.

This week I put two changes into practice.

Starter. I fed my starter twice a day, on a regular schedule (vs. once a day usually mornings —  but not consistently), and I played with another starter, too.  My main starter is fed 50/50 percent white bread flour and whole wheat.  The new one started with the seed of my original, but is fed with a mix of all-purpose and rye flours instead.

Folding.  I watched several good videos online for folding technique, and a used what I saw to adapt how I handled the dough.

The results were impressive and encouraging.  Here are the visual results.  The tastes are even better, especially when toasted.  I should have left the loaves in the oven 5-10 minutes longer to cook more thoroughly.

 

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Braised Halibut with Leeks and Dijon Mustard

It’s been an exciting and busy week for cooking.  Barbara came home with a lovely piece of halibut from the market, so last night I tried a new recipe to make good use of the fish and available vegetables.  I’ve always liked how braising makes halibut so delicious and preserves its tender texture.  I didn’t have any fish stock available for the braising liquid, so I was delighted to find this recipe which makes its own liquid very elegantly.

To accompany the fish, I chose to lightly poach asparagus we needed to use up, along with a simple southern Italian potato recipe from Lidia Bastianich — one I have used before successfully.

This recipe was harder to find in my computer files because I had mistakenly titled the file as “Potatoes with Pepperoncino” when I saved it five years ago.  Now I know that the chili flakes should NOT have two pp‘s together — instead it is “peperoncino”.

The other adjustment required was to save those little flakes separately, just for my plate, since Barbara can’t tolerate peppers or hot stuff.  The dish came together beautifully, and we had a little fish and sauce leftover for another day.

The wine was already open from a few days earlier, a fine Greco di Tufo from Campania.

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Octopus, Revisited — or Harold McGee, I Love You.

I’ve written about Octopus 18 times in the past 8 years.  I think that’s some indication of its importance to me in a culinary sense.  Two years ago, I wrote that I Finally Learned How to Cook Octopus.   Within a year, I discovered Chef Jessie Schenker’s approach, and found it to be my preferred way of cooking octopi.  His method produces excellent results, but it’s complex and time-consuming, so the few times a year I actually buy and cook one, I am usually open to an alternative solution.  Especially one that’s easier and quicker.

To the rescue this week came the well-known food scientist, Harold McGee.  I have read his book, On Food and Cooking, as well as many of the articles that have been published.  He is a wealth of information, and his research is thorough and well-documented.

So when I defrosted the octopus I had in the freezer over the weekend, I was preparing to cook it Tuesday.  Recalling that I had seen and saved a copy of a blog post he write on Octopus, I looked it up in my Dropbox recipe files and found it quickly.  In addition to the article detailing his testing, I found a very short recipe in his conclusion.  Entitled (probably by me when I filed it) “Essence of McGee on Octopus”, here is what it said:

This was so concise, and radically different from almost everything I had read, I thought “I must try this.  If it works, Huzzah!  If not, I’ll throw it out and try again later.”

It was stunningly easy, mostly hands-off.   My only real task was checking my oven to see if the temperature was really accurate.  It wasn’t, so I adjusted to 215° F. to keep it at 200. About 3.5 hours later, it was all done!  Cooked perfectly.  Full of flavor.  No added salt.  All I needed to do was to place it (still warm from the pot) in a bowl of olive oil with some lemon juice and a little salt, and let it sit overnight in the refrigerator to absorb the flavors.  After that, I get to enjoy one of my favorite foods.  It’s an unusual fast-food, in that I can take a couple of tentacles out of the oil when I want to eat, and just slice them or grill them, add some accompaniment, and I have a meal.

The photos show it in the pot after cooking, then in the olive oil bath, followed by a lunch plate of grilled octopus with chickpeas, garlic, onions, and sweet peppers (yesterday), and a small plate today of Pulpo A La Gallega (thank you, Eric Ripert) with two slices of my Tartine bread, fresh out of the oven.

All I can say is, “Huzzah!!

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Tartine Bread Redux

Redux: from Latin, from reducere ‘bring back’.

I started making sourdough bread in 2011.  As I’ve described in previous posts, Chad Robertson’s book, Tartine, was my bible for the first few years.  It was also a favorite since I had often been to Tartine Bakery when I visited San Francisco.

Now that I have explored and made good use of Ken Forkish’s book and bread-making techniques, I’ve been looking for ways to improve the breads I bake.   A week ago I pulled Chad’s book off the shelf and re-read the key sections.  I also examined my bread log notes from that era, to see what I liked best.  One item stood out: the day after Christmas in 2011, I made an Olive-Walnut bread, per instructions in Tartine, page 88 (albeit with half the quantities specified for olives and walnuts).  My bread log noted that this was a Star.

I decided to try to do it again yesterday (actually beginning last night, making the levain), finishing the baking today.  Like all of the breads in the book, the recipes are pure levains, with no additional dried yeast.  Last time the two loaves for this recipe were made with 800 g KAF bread flour and 200 g whole wheat.  This time I had only 126 g of the Turkey Red Flour already milled for my whole grain.  Not wanting to open a new package of the Turkey Red Wheat Berries for just 74 g, I changed the formulation to 874/126, with the same 750 g of water.  I was a bit worried that my sourdough starter was not vigorous enough, but it was too late to do anything about now.

Below are the two loaves that resulted.  Pretty good lift, structure, and taste.  I’m planning to use some for dinner to accompany Roasted Red Pepper and Eggplant Soup.

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Antipasto for Lunch, Herbed Artichoke Galette for Dinner, and Black Peppercorns for Everything

Antipasto

I had defrosted the second loaf from my last batch of 40% Whole Wheat Bread, so it was time for Bruschetta at lunch.  One recipe that caught my eye recently was Bruschetta Bianca from the Union Square Cafe cookbook.  It featured white truffle oil, good balsamic vinegar, and thick, grilled bread with some Parmesan cheese shavings on top.  I had the ingredients, except for the Parmesan, so I substituted shaved Sardinian Pecorino instead.

That part was easy, but — as always when I start cooking — complications arose.  One was my need to attend to two small cooked beets that were about to expire.  In fact, the weird white spots growing on their surfaces made me worry that they already had.  I washed and wiped them off vigorously, and I smelled them carefully.  There were no further indications of decay, so I proceeded.  Since the grill was heating up for the bruschetta, I sliced the beets vertically, added olive oil and Alaea Sea Salt from Hawaii, and seared them on both sides.  The next step turned out to be a huge success.  I topped each beet slice with the whipped feta cheese I’ve been putting on everything I can, plus some toasted chopped walnuts, leftover from the recent fresh pasta dish.  Magnifique!

The other addition was some grilled zucchini, since I needed to use an older one, as Barbara was putting three new ones in the refrigerator this afternoon.  Three lengthwise slices gave me the right thickness for grilling, and olive oil and balsamic vinegar provided the flavor enhancers.  Antipasto for one, just to my specifications.

Jan D’Amore’s Masseria del Pino Sicilian Nerello Mascalese was just right for the meal.

Artichoke Galette

Three months earlier Barbara had made this Galette for our Public Library’s cookbook club get-together.  She did it again this week, and it was even better.  Here is the finished product, and the recipe from Fine Cooking.

Black Peppercorns

One more thing I have to share with you.  We are back in stock with Black Peppercorns, and these continue to be the very finest we have ever used.

Several years ago my brother and his partner were in Costa Rica for fun and education, and they brought me back a small package of organic peppercorns from Orchard del Sol.  They were the most fragrant and balanced peppers we ever encountered.  Carole and Joanne, the ladies who run this little business live in Saskatchewan, Canada, and they work with growers in Costa Rica.  It’s a big contribution to sustainability, a tribute to the global economy, and it has made us happy and healthy for years.

The only challenge has been re-ordering.  For those of us spoiled by the high touch, constant-contact online firms like Amazon, La Tienda, and the like, we are used to easy, quick, well-informed, package-tracked transactions, 24 x 7.  Though their products are peerless, the ordering process was not. Now they have a new website, and I think that will work much better.

For those interested, here is the package:

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