Lunch Today – Tasting Five Regions in Southern Italy

I love the boisterous flavors of Southern Italy!  Today I was able to prepare a delicious lunch with ingredients from the five southernmost regions (Puglia, Sicily, Calabria, Campania and Basilicata).

Ingredienti.  As is often the case, the meal was driven by the choice of exciting ingredients.  In this case the trigger was a beautiful (and inexpensive) bunch of Broccoli Rabe, which I bought at Russo’s in Watertown on Wednesday.  A quick search of a few favorite cookbooks led me to two similar recipes, which seemed to be more satisfying than my usual preparation for this vegetable.  The prime recipe was from Mario Batali – Broccoli Rabe alla Pugliese.  It was also very similar to one from Arthur Schwartz, from his book about the food of Naples (Campania).

  • 1 bunch of Broccoli Rabe
  • 4 good sized cloves of garlic (peeled)
  • 1/2 dried Calabrian red chili pepper
  • 10 Gaeta olives, peeled and chopped (from Campania)
  • 1-2 Sicilian salted anchovies, rinsed, filleted and chopped fine (leave out for vegan)
  • 1/4 cup Pugliese olive oil
  • 1 cup Kite Hill almond milk ricotta
  • 1/4 cup of Spanish oil for the ricotta purée
  • 3 slices of Tuscan pane

Technique.  Prep and cook the Rabe.  Prepare the ricotta purée.  Grill the bread.  Assemble and serve.

  • Wash the Rabe well.  Trim the stems.  Cut in 1″ slices.  Blanch for 3-4 minutes in boiling, salted water.  Remove and drain.
  • Take a large pot with a lid.  Put 1/4 cup of Pugliese olive oil, the garlic, and pieces of chili in the pot.  Heat over moderate flame until the garlic is tender — about 7-10 minutes.
  • Add the blanched Broccoli Rabe and anchovy, cover, and cook over low heat for 20-30 minutes, until the Rabe is very tender.  Add the chopped olives, mix, and keep warm.
  • In the meantime, make the whipped ricotta.  Put the ricotta into the bowl of a small food processor, and make a coarse purée.  With the motor running, add enough of the Spanish olive oil to make a fluffy, light purée.  Season to taste with salt and pepper, and blend again.  (Can you use more Puglia oil?  Of course!  Even Greek, if you like.)
  • Slice and grill (or toast) the bread.  I used Tuscan pane.   It’s a white bread and a bit too refined for this dish, but it’s what we have, and it tastes good.  A more rustic, whole-grained loaf would be more authentic.
  • Spread the purée on the grilled bread.  Cover with the reserved Broccoli Rabe.
  • Serve with a robust, earthy Southern red wine.  My choice was Antelio, an Aglianico from the volcanic soil around Mount Vulture in Basilicata.  Could not have been better, but a good Negroamaro or Amalfi Coast blend of Aglianico and Piedirosso would work well too.

Buon appetito!

Posted in Almost-Vegan, Food, Travels, Vegetarian, Wine | 6 Comments

Natural Vermont Wines, Good Friends, and Small Plates at a Great Restaurant — an Evening in Providence, RI

Another online notice — this one on Instagram — alerted me a few weeks ago to an event on a Monday night in Providence, RI.  If you don’t know the geography of New England, you might think that another state is some distance away.  But it’s no big deal; in this case, 60 miles, about an hour’s drive.  So I chose to go down there for dinner and stay overnight, since I had a meeting the next day close to Providence with a graduate student advisee, who was making a final presentation to her management on the Capstone project to complete her Master’s degree in Engineering Management.

The evening event featured Deirdre Heekin and her husband, Caleb Barber.  This remarkable couple have a farm in central Vermont, and they make some of the most amazing and unusual natural wines — mostly from Alpine grapes — in an area of New England where the winter temperatures drop to -30º F.   The farm and winery are called la garagista.  Also see here.

They had an excellent restaurant in Woodstock, VT, for 20 years, which they recently closed, so they could concentrate on their other endeavors.  Barbara and I had a 50th anniversary dinner there two years ago, which we enjoyed immensely.  That was also where we learned about Caleb’s thinly-sliced orange and black olive pizzas — but that’s another story.

Dinner and the tasting was at Oberlin, a small but dynamic place in the heart of the city.  The menu features a number of inventive small plates (which I usually adore), and they were a great match for the wines, which included three pre-release labels —  a real treat.

I got a warm greeting from my friends, tasted everything, and reveled in four dishes:

  • Scup Crudo (also named Porgy outside of RI)
  • Grilled Shishito Peppers with tofu and chili
  • House-made Local Grain Sourdough Bread, Roasted Garlic, Olive Oil
  • Chitarra Cacio e Pepe (no photo)

For the wine, I settled on the 2016 Harlots and Ruffians white blend – yet to be released.  Delicious!

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Old New England Seaport, Great New Restaurant, and New Orleans Jazz at its Best

Let me explain the headline: it all began with an email from my favorite jazz band, the New Black Eagle Jazz Band, announcing a concert last Saturday in Newburyport, about 60 miles from our home.

I’ve been an avid fan of the group for at least 35 years, and I try to catch a performance whenever I have the opportunity.  In recent years, the band has had fewer and fewer gigs, so I grabbed this one, and I was delighted when my wife agreed to join me for an afternoon of walking around a charming seaport village, window (and other) shopping, eating dinner, and going to the show.

A little research led me to choose a relatively new restaurant, Brine.  Featuring oysters and crudo, it felt just right for that kind of a day, so I made a reservation for an early table.  We had to ask for a custom side dish for the vegetables, but it worked out beautifully.  I had four Maine oysters and the Tuna crudo (terrific flavors, great presentation).  Barbara chose the Salmon crudo, and we split an heirloom tomato salad with a little avocado.  The chef obliged our vegetables request by poaching some bok choy in butter, and combining it with turnips and onion (creative and delicious).  I actually had a draft beer with the meal and was very happy.

Waterlogue 1.3.1 (72)
Heirloom Tomato Salad

It was a lovely summer evening so we walked around town until it was time for the music.  The Black Eagles played two sets, much to the delight of a packed house, and we drove home two and a half hours later, relaxed and happy.

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Sailboat in the Harbor: a short exploration in photo editing

Last week as I departed Nantucket on the ferry, it was a gray, dreary day.  I spotted a two-masted sailboat in the harbor, so I quickly snapped a photo on my phone, through the water-splatted window of the ferry.  Here was the picture:

Not very inspiring.

However, when I had some time a few days later, I decided to see what I could do to make it more attractive.  The first step was to crop the photo to my main subject, and then to improve the lighting.

Still, I had the feeling that the fundamental beauty of this design was not yet apparent, so I tried some filters to see how they might enhance the view.  One of my favorite tools is an iPhone app named Waterlogue, which provides filters to turn an image into a watercolor painting.  I can’t draw or paint at all, but I can express my artistic sense with this device.  Here’s what I was able to do, using Waterlogue and another app, CameraBag.

Waterlogue 1.3.1 (72)
Preset Style = Natural
Format = 6″ (Medium)
Format Margin = None
Format Border = Straight
Drawing = #2 Pencil
Drawing Weight = Medium
Drawing Detail = Medium
Paint = Natural
Paint Lightness = Auto
Paint Intensity = Normal
Water = Tap Water
Water Edges = Medium
Water Bleed = Average
Brush = Natural Detail
Brush Focus = Everything
Brush Spacing = Narrow
Paper = Watercolor
Paper Texture = Medium
Paper Shading = Light
Options Faces = Enhance Faces

As a Polaroid instant film photo

You can pick the effects you like best.  I prefer the last one.  What’s yours?

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Delicious Vegetable Combo — Step-by-Step

As a vegan/vegetarian, I sometimes think that all I need is high quality fresh vegetables, olive oil, salt and pepper, and a good sauté pan.  Plus bread and wine.

The other night, it was late and I wanted to do something delicious and not too complicated.   Here is the step-by-step story of what came out.

Cut up 1/2 small onion into large dice.  Do the same with one large carrot and one zucchine (remember, this is just for me).  Add Portuguese olive oil (extra virgin always) to a sauté pan and cook until almost tender.

diced onion, carrot, and zucchine

Add fresh peas, chopped Italian parsley, dried oregano, salt and pepper, and chopped garlic.  Continue to sauté until slightly browned.

add peas and herbs

Take some thinly-sliced radicchio, add to the pan, and cook another few minutes.  Then add a few slices of pickled banana peppers (from Portuguese market in this case).   Stir to brown a little more and combine.

In the meantime, since you already had some radicchio in the refrigerator, I will assume there was 1/2 a head of frisée there, too.   Cut that up into 1/2″ wide strips, and sauté it until crispy/tender in a separate pan.  Or you can move the vegetables to a plate and use the original pan, if you wish.  Then add the cooked frisée to serving bowl, atop the other vegetables.

Slice some some homemade whole grain bread, and fry/toast the slices in olive oil in the already-used sauté pan.   Plate the vegetables with the bread, and pick your wine.  In this case I chose an Alvarinho Vinho Verde from the same Portuguese supplier, the Portugalia store in Fall River, MA, a short drive from Providence, RI.

Great, colorful, simple meal, Portuguese theme, but you can adapt the recipe to any style you like, using any vegetables available.

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Pan-Roasted Cod with Cannellini and Vegetables

To complete the weekend’s food adventures, I chose a small piece of fish — 0.3 lbs. of cod fillet.   The meal has its origins in the foods of the Catalan and Basque regions of Spain.  Ever since I first tasted baked bacalao in Barcelona, I have had a new appreciation for the delicacies of cod — both fresh and dried.  Barbara won’t eat it normally, so since she is still vacationing, it was a good time to indulge my preferences.

Preparing the fish is a little tricky, but not that hard.  I simply coat the fillet with Spanish olive oil, dust liberally with sea salt and black pepper, and then add smoked Spanish pimenton on top.  Fortunately, I have a heavy carbon steel skillet which is well-seasoned, so it was easy to sear the top of the fillet until browned (without it sticking), then turn it over, turn the heat down, and cook until flaking and tender, but not overdone.  The last few minutes was assisted by my adding some of my ever-present cannellini beans this weekend, along with their broth, to keep the fish moist and succulent.

The rest of the plate was filled by reheating the Greek vegetables from yesterday, and grilling a piece of my Triticale bread, on which I had spread a roasted peppers and almond milk ricotta purée.  For the wine, I chose the easy (perhaps not optimal) route of the i Clivi Friulano, which I opened at lunch with the risotto.  It was an attractive and satisfying meal.

purée of roasted peppers and almond milk ricotta

cod with vegetables and grilled bread

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Risotto con Fagioli for Lunch

I returned from the island with half a package of dried cannellini beans, so I decided to cook them on Saturday.  It was a sizeable amount, perhaps 300 gm, so I decided to do an experiment.  Most of the time I’ve been using a clay Spanish bean pot for cooking dried beans, on the theory that the Basque region favors these vessels for superior taste and texture.  Since I also have a Staub enameled cast iron cocotte I like very much, I chose to split the beans in half and do a side-by-side comparison with the two pots.

Naturally, I got distracted yesterday, so instead of cooking the beans for about 2 hours, they were actually going for over 3 hours when I remembered about them.  No problem, they were fine.  A taste test surprised me.  The clay pot beans were slightly firmer, and the texture not as smooth as the cast iron batch, and they did not cook as quickly.  So now I have two methods, and will prefer the Staub, I think.

Turn the page to Sunday (today).  I had a LOT of cooked beans.  I wondered if they would make a good risotto, and I was immediately rewarded with a recipe from Judith Barrett’s Risotto book.  So I decided to do Risotto con Fagioli for a full-fledged lunch, accompanied by some leftover Greek baked vegetables and steamed beets as a side dish, all accompanied by a 2013 i Clivi Friulano.

side dish of vegetables

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