Midnight Snack: Bruschetta with Friends

Sometimes I need a midnight snack.   Peanut butter or Cheez-Its don’t do the trick.  Tonight was one of the more elaborate versions — satisfying my hunger, desire for favorite foods, and restoring delightful flavors to my mouth before bedtime.  It also helps that I had a nap for almost two hours this afternoon.

What I often do for this situation relies on bread.  Fortunately, I had a portion of a loaf made last week –a  Tartine-style Levain Sourdough bread, made from 80% bread flour, 15% home-milled Whole Wheat, and 5% home-milled Triticale.  As it had aged a bit on the counter, I sliced it very thinly with the electric slicer and froze the remaining 1/2 loaf.  These slices were no more than 1/8″ thick, and they could be defrosted and toasted directly in our electric toaster.

Now I had the plan.  Bruschetta with olive paste, roasted sweet peppers, and almond milk  ricotta cheese.   The other friend I needed to complete the pleasure was Victor Hazan, author of Italian Wine, my first bible on the topic.  The olive paste was Pate Olive Nere from Azienda Taurino in Puglia, where I had visited two years ago.  The peppers were in a jar, from Turkey, but they were thick and flavorful — perfect for the job.

I had a bottle of a Portuguese red wine open, but this called for something Italian, so I went to the cellar and returned with a 2012 Guidobuono Barbera d’Alba, from Jan D’Amore.  I don’t know Barberas that well, so I needed an introduction from Victor, and he provided a beauty.

“Although I had had a bottle of it now and then, I had never had much enthusiasm for Barbera, nor really understood the wine until my first trip to Piedmont.  I had arrived in the evening, late in November.  It was foggy; the streets of Asti were dark and empty; I was cold.  This was the hard, silent, impenetrable Piedmont I had always imagined and had long put off visiting.

It was nearly 10 P.M., and I asked to be directed to a trattoria.  Only one was still open.  I thought of balmy Rome which I had left in the morning and where at that very moment restaurants were beginning to fill up.  As I sat down, I was asked what I would be drinking.  In small Italian restaurants one usually talks wine before talking food.  Asti is Barbera country, so ‘Barbera” I told the man, but “bring me one of your best bottles.”

The food was sturdy and extraordinarily good — bagna cauda to start with …. and bolitto misto.  But the star of the evening was the Barbera, a five-year-old from the village of Rocchetta Tanaro.  The color was flashing garnet; the fragrance intense, of crushed flowers and concentrated fruit.  It was a mouthfilling, chewy wine, brawny, but without any hard edges.  The sense of comfort was immediate, chasing the chill, the loneliness, the oppressive awareness of the fog waiting at the door.  This is what Barbara is all about.”

I have no photos of the assembled bruschetta, but they were rich and delicious.  My Barbera was 6 years old, and I can not improve on Victor’s description in any way.  I can only add that I was very happy that I decided to save the Portuguese wine for another night.  And the yelping of coyotes down in our woods didn’t phase me at all.

 

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Spaghetti alla Chitarrra con Vongole

Pasta with clam sauce, if you will.  Today’s lunch, and one of my most frequent meals over time.  Just a dozen of the smallest littleneck clams, a handful of pasta, olive oil, sliced garlic, a little Calabrian hot pepper, chopped parsley, and white wine.  The dish almost makes itself, although there is a little art in getting the clams to steam themselves open and finishing the pasta in the sauce without overcooking the clams.

The choice of wines can vary tremendously.  Today I chose what was open, a Paso Robles white wine with Rhône Valley grapes, a bit richer than I’d like, but still very good.

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Japanese Herb Tofu and American Vegetables

Barbara tends to like a traditional-style American meal, with three things on the plate: protein, starch and vegetable.  Since we don’t eat meat anymore, and fish is infrequent,  I had to ad-lib the other day, but it worked out well.

First step was two cook two baked potatoes.  Preheat the oven to 425º F.   Wash and scrub two russet potatoes, and rub the skins with a little softened butter.  Bake in the oven while you do other things.

The protein was provided by an interesting food blog about healthy Japanese home cooking.  She provided a nice PDF with visual instructions on how to make cubes of tofu, flavored with a variety of herbs.  I had no dried dill, so I used 1 tsp. dried marjoram.  Here is how it looked in my nonstick pan.

We had some superb organic green beans, so that made the vegetable choice easy and colorful.  Cooked in salted boiling water, then drained.  Finally, they were finished with a little butter or olive oil, and some packaged dried onions.

The baked potatoes were opened and stuffed with butter or olive oil, plus chopped scallions and watercress.  And, for variety and interest, I heated up a bunch of Gaeta olives in olive oil, with herbs, as a side dish.

So traditional, and not so much at the same time.

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Barbara’s Culinary Artistry — revised on February 9th

I actually do about half or less of the cooking.  Barbara is a superb and prolific cook in her own right.  Tonight was all hers.

I went to an afternoon movie (Tuesday is special pricing – $6), so I was out of the way and she could unleash her creativity.  She had recently sorted through years of recipes ripped out of magazines, newspapers, and other sources, and she had assembled a large collection of recipes that appealed to her.  These are still in the process of being indexed, but she was inspired by two of the recipes which she modified for dinner tonight.

The first dish was a Zucchini and Fresh Goat Cheese Tart.  [Please note that the wrong recipe was provided when initially posted.]  The dish was amazing!

Although inspired by this recipe for the salad, she made one that was a lot better, and quite different.  Hers featured Watercress, Endive, Shaved Fennel, Orange segments, Radishes, and an orange-olive oil dressing.

Visually, texturally, healthwise and for flavor, the meal was a huge winner.  I did get to make one choice — the wine.  I went to the white wine open at the time, a Famoso Ravenna, imported by Nick Mucci, and it was a perfect match, with both the tart and the salad, and especially with the goat cheese.  At least one department is still mine alone.

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Assorted Mouthfuls

During the past week I’ve been lax in the food photo department, so this entry is less organized and attractive than full meals I would normally document.  I’ve been as active and exploratory as ever, but I will ask you to use your imagination to picture the results more than usual.

For example, I found a package of Rancho Gordo  Yellow Indian Woman heirloom beans in my pantry, and I decided to cook up a batch.

Normally, I soak beans overnight and then simmer them with only an onion and bay leaf the next day.  However, these are such rich, creamy beans, I decided to try a more full-bodied flavor approach.  Using a recipe for Yellow Eye Bean Soup from the New York Times Cooking archives, I prepared the beans as below, in Step 1 portion of the recipe.

They were wonderful, as was the rich broth, too.  Having plenty of time that afternoon, I did some more research and settled on this Peasant-Style Risotto recipe in the book Fagioli, by Judith Barrett, a gem of a used book purchased from Amazon last year.

Borlotti are similar beans in color and texture, so I knew I was on the right track.  We had about 1/2 cabbage in the back of the refrigerator, so that was a good choice, and a little pancetta always warms the winter heart (and stomach) of this almost-vegan diner.  This risotto was perfect on a cold night for the two of us, and leftovers provided lunch for me today — although I felt the need from some crostini, as well.

I had baked two loaves of Tartine’s Country Style Bread this morning, so two slices with some heirloom tomato, diced and marinated with salt, pepper, olive oil, a little red wine vinegar, and dried Greek oregano was the perfect accompaniment.

While we’re on the subject of crostini, I have to tell you about two packaged products that gave me similar pleasure a few days earlier.  Another lunchtime, and I drew out of a carefully-wrapped package some rustic Italian bread, and some baguette slices — leftovers from Clear Flour bakery last week.  I had also made a white bean purée from cannellini beans, onion, garlic, and salt.  Just a little of the purée was still left, so I spread it on a slice of bread, topped it with a piece of roasted red pepper (Divina brand, from Turkey), and added a pickled caper leaf from Santorini.  Mouth-watering, and very fine with whatever white wine was open on that day.  Plus one large Puglian green Bella di Cerignola olive.

Yesterday was Barbara’s turn, and she rose to the occasion.  It was Super Bowl day of course, so she made an excellent vegan black bean chili with blue corn chips for our meal before the start of the game.  Two glasses of Pallagrello Nero (Silva Nigra from Cantine Rao) rounded out the mouthfuls.

Moral of these vignettes: one can do some marvelous culinary things with beans!

Game Day Vegan Black Bean Chili on Blue Corn Chips

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Baked Zucchini and Vegetables with Brown Rice

One of the most appealing dishes I have is an oval ceramic plate with handles, made in Portugal and bought on sale at Williams-Sonoma several years ago.   The dish was the inspiration for tonight’s dinner.

The recipe was my own and pretty straightforward.

Prep was pretty easy in three stages: aromatic vegetables, rice, and the zucchini.

Putting it together was simple, and baking it in a pre-heated 350º F. oven was easy.  A brief broiling at the end ensured proper browning.  Adding some fresh basil leaves and a drizzle of olive oil was a good finishing touch.  Served with a 2012 Bovale (Bobal grapes from Spain), it was a delightful dish.

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Tagliolini with Swiss Chard, Baby Artichokes, and Pomodorini

Sometimes when I make dinner, it comes out not just close to what I imagined, but actually better!  Tonight was one of those rare nights.

As usual the meal began a few days earlier, with the gathering of ingredients.  On Wednesday I was going into Boston for a celebratory dinner with my good friend, Steve.  En route I stopped at Donelan’s, my local supermarket, for a few items.  The organic Swiss Chard looked fresh and tender, so I bought a bunch there.

Then in Boston, I stopped at Eataly before the dinner to get some of my favorite things there.  I bought 6-7 baby artichokes, young enough to trim and cook whole; a 500 ml. bottle of Ligurian olive oil; a can of cherry tomatoes (pomodorini) on sale for $1.99; a small amount of fresh pasta — tagliolini — which was just enough for the two of us; and several of my favorite pecorino cheeses, including one from Calabria.

Tonight was my turn to cook, so I put it all together to make Tagliolini with Swiss Chard, Baby Artichokes, and Pomodorini.  I made up the recipe as I went.  Using 5 of my favorite stainless steel prep bowls, I proceeded as follows:

  • wash the Swiss Chard very well, trim away the ribs, and slice leaves in 1″ strips
  • finely mince one very large garlic clove
  • dice one medium sized shallot
  • dice a small piece of leftover leek
  • open the tomato can and put the contents in a prep bowl
  • trim the baby artichokes and cut them in half vertically
  • start a full pasta pot with water to a boil
  • using 2 Tbs. of the Ligurian olive oil, heat a nonstick skilled on medium heat
  • add the garlic and cook a few minutes until just tender
  • add the chopped Swiss Chard, plus a little water, cover and turn the heat to medium low, cooking until the chard is tender
  • add 2 Tbs. olive oil to my sautéuse, and sauté the artichoke halves until lightly browned
  • remove the artichokes to a bowl
  • add more olive oil, and cook shallot-leek mixture for 5 minutes; add a little water if it is cooking too fast
  • add some more water (2-3 Tbs.) along with the artichokes, and cook until tender; this is a braise, not pure sauté
  • add the tagliolini to the pasta water, and cook for 3-4 minutes
  • when the artichokes are tender, add all the tomatoes and sauce to the sauté pan
  • after the tomato sauce has thickened a bit, add the pasta to the sauté pan, then add the chard; mix all together and place in a serving bowl from Ravello, on the Amalfi Coast
  • top with grated Calabrian Pecorino, finish with more Ligurian olive oil
  • serve with a 2014 Savuto, my favorite Calabrian wine

What I loved most was how the textures of each vegetable came through clearly in the final dish.  Buon appetito!

 

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