Farmers Markets, Whole Grain Rye Levain, Bulgarian Cheese, and Italian Wine

Two weekends ago I was able to delight in fresh vegetables from nearby sustainable farms, bake some fresh breads, and drink favorite wines from Italy.  What could be better than that?

Here is some of my haul from the farmers:

Yellow Zucchine, white turnip, and rare red eggplant (Melanzane Rosse di Rotonda)

For bread I made two loaves of  my Whole Grain Rye Levain.  This went beautifully underneath slices of Kashkaval, a sheep’s milk Bulgarian cheese.  The wine is a Calabrian red, Savuto by Odoardi.

Since I had extra levain to play with, I decided to experiment with a sourdough flatbread a day later.  Man, it was sour!  The sheep cheese smoothed it out a little, and a glass of Sauvignon Blanc from Andrea Fendi did a nice job. as well.

Pan-Grilled Sourdough Flatbread with Kashkaval

 

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Food Conversations with My Body

Some days I wake up with the knowledge that today will not be all vegan or vegetarian.  Fortunately, my body and I have a good relationship after all these years.  Therefore, we have conversations like this:

” How do you feel about a little prosciutto today?”

“Is it the good stuff?”

“Yes, you know me.  Barbara bought a small number of slices from the ends of the prosciutto, but it’s from Parma; none of that domestic product.”

“OK, just keep the quantities small.”

“I think the twinge I felt in my side yesterday was a response to a surfeit of beets recently; am I reading that right?”

“Very likely”

“Great.  I’m planning to make Fettuccine with Prosciutto and Fresh Tomato Sauce.  The tomatoes are from Karl & Elena’s Small-Farm, and they are terrific.  The recipe calls for cooking the prosciutto slowly in 8 Tbs. of butter.  Do you think you can manage if I cut it back to 3 Tbs.?”

“That will work.”

“Cool.  I will make my own fresh Fettuccine.  My master recipe now is 200 gm. flour, 2 eggs, salt, and a little olive oil.  To make it interesting, I am using 135 gm. of Double-Zero flour and I just milled 65 gm. of Triticale for texture and sweetness.  I’ll show you the photos later.  Thanks.”

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I rarely eat meat now, and I almost never cook prosciutto when I do eat it.  However, this particular recipe from Cucina Rustica has been one of my favorites for more than 25 years.  It’s a classical example of simple and great Italian cooking: a small number of excellent ingredients plus simple, straightforward preparation.

My old friend, Atlas, for handmade pasta

Fettuccine, from 65% “00” flour and 35% Triticale

trimming prosciutto into small pieces

Peeled, chopped, and drained farm-fresh tomatoes

Pasta in the bowl

Since I can easily imagine the pasta as a dish from Emiglia-Romagna, I chose the wine from that same region, Tollara — a Malvasia di Candia, from importer Nick Mucci.  It was perfect.

I had the time on Sunday, so I steamed some beets, and I also prepared a large version of a baked vegetable dish for Monday’s meals.  The dish is called Tourlou apparently in Turkey, and it is a version of Briam in Greece.

Tourlou Tourlou

 

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Quick Lunch from Components

When our son was a teenager, he was always hungry (as are most teenagers).   He would stride into the kitchen, day or night, and shuffle the contents around, looking for quick meals (cold pizza, leftover mac ‘n cheese, burgers, etc.).  Usually, he came away empty handed or partially-disappointed.  One day he announced in frustration: “there’s nothing in here but ingredients“, as he stormed out of the kitchen.

That was 20 years ago, and now that he is an accomplished chef, things have changed with him (on rare occasions when he comes home).  The refrigerator, however, is much the same.  The contents are still ingredients, with a fair supply of leftovers as well.  Today I had 25 minutes to make a lunch, and I decided to do something creative with what I could find.  There were a variety of ingredients — some raw, some prepared — plus leftovers I could strip to make an ad hoc salad.  I think I will rename these food elements “components“, since you can configure them flexibly in a variety of ways to make a meal.

Here’s today’s salad concoction:

  • one small raw parsnip, already peeled (and not very crunchy anymore).  I cut it into fine julienne strips.
  • one leftover grilled Portabello mushroom, with roasted Napa Cabbage pieces and garlic slivers on top.  I cut this into 1/2″ cubes.
  • one slice of leftover eggplant in saor, marinated in cooked onions and vinegar, Venetian-style.  This was chopped up and added to the salad bowl.
  • one tablespoon of “sofrito” base for pasta sauce or soup, made from finely-diced onion, carrot, celery, and tomato
  • 3 tablespoons of roasted and peeled, green Hatch (NM) roasted chile peppers.  Usually these come from a can, but Whole Foods had some fresh ones, so several days earlier, I had roasted them on the grill, peeled and chopped them, and covered with olive oil.
  • 2 tablespoons of a Spanish tomato-garlic-cumin vinaigrette I made the previous night
  • olive oil, sea salt and ground pepper

Spanish tomato-garlic-cumin vinaigrette

Quick Lunch from “Components”

This unlikely mélange turned out to be a tasty, healthy, and easy lunch.  Even the parsnip pieces tasted good.

No wine today for lunch.  Had an appointment in the afternoon, so no time for the old-man-with-wine-at lunch nap.

 

 

 

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Short, Sweet, and Delicious…

That describes tonight’s post.  Barbara was inspired and made what is probably the best meal of the summer tonight, a Layered Vegetable Casserole.  I held myself back after only 3 servings (not wanting to overdo it…).

Here’s her hand-written recipe.  One of these days I will re-type it so it’s clearer and less ambiguous, but for now, it’s good exercise for our readers to make the dish as described.

Baked in the oven and then finished briefly under the broiler, it was tender, crispy, fragrant, and sensuous.

The wine was an unusual but very appropriate choice, a 2015 Sachino from the country of Georgia.  It’s a smooth, medium-bodied blend of Saperavi and Rkatsiteli grapes, the first is red, the second, white.  I know relatively little about Georgian wines, except that their wine history is probably the oldest in the world, their indigenous grapes are amazing, and they often age their wines in qvevri — earthenware vessels used for fermentation, ageing, and storage of wines.  This is not a qvervi wine, but it is inexpensive, easy to drink and goes with a wide variety of summer dishes.  It comes from the Kakheti region.

If you are curious and want to know more, Alice Feiring has written an excellent book about Georgia, the culture, the people, and the remarkable wines: For the Love of Wine.  I recommend it highly.

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Soufico

Ever since I read two articles about the longevity and healthy eating on the Greek isle of Ikaria, I have been attracted to their style of life and food.  Over the last six years, I’ve made several of those vegetarian dishes, and I always enjoyed them.  On Sunday I tried another one — Soufico — from the book Country Cooking of Greece, by Diane Kochilas.  Her description of the dish is below the photo of her book.

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Soufico is really an ideal dish for this time of year.  The bounty of fabulous fresh vegetables at local farm stands is all around us.  I made a small version of the recipe, for just the two of us.  Here is the recipe, followed by the photos, including the eggplant which was our own, from a plant we keep on the deck.

Waterlogue version of the Ingredients

I removed the peppers after cooking them with the stew; I then add them to my plate, since Barbara can’t eat them.

For wine, I had the last glass from the 2014 Odoardi Savuto, which was opened a few days before, when I made a richly-flavored Penne Pasta with Italian Summer Vegetables (eggplant, zucchini, onion, leek, tomato, capers and peppers) for myself:

 

 

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July dinner with Friends

We have some very good friends nearby, and we’ve known each other for well over 50 years.   While we share many things in common, pretty high on the list is a love of food and wine.  We had the opportunity to have them as guests for dinner last month.  Here are the highlights:

  • a range of appetizers (or antipasti, tapas, or mezes, as you prefer)
    • black and green olives
    • Iberico jamon and Pipperas pickled peppers
    • golden beets with Manchego cheese
    • walnut paté emulating chopped liver
    • leftover octopus salad
  • salad of avocado, orange segments and pesto
  • grilled salmon, lentils, and red potatoes
  • figs with honey & goat cheese, candied orange peel, and cacao powder
  • wines: Polvanera Spumante (rosé) and Beaux Freres Pinot Noir (red)

It was a great evening.  I must say that Barbara’s creative fig dessert was as spectacular to taste as it was to see on the plate.

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Finally Learned How to Cook Octopus

On those occasions when I vary from a vegetarian lifestyle, the most frequent cause is grilled octopus, a favorite food of mine for many years.  I learned about 6 years ago that one reason may be — besides being delicious — that octopus is one of the foods with highest vitamin B-12 content, one of the few nutrients missing in a vegan diet.

When we first got our pizza oven, I did manage to research and make good grilled baby octopus, thanks to help from Chef Mike Anthony in NYC.  But I have always been intimidated by the idea of cooking a full-sized octopus.  Every time I searched online, a found a bewildering array of techniques and recipes, often with totally contradictory instructions and advice. Two other obstacles also loomed large: (1) Barbara’s aversion to most shellfish, especially scary-looking ones, and (2) no one else in the house would eat it, and I didn’t want to throw a lot of it away.

This month I overcame my fears and was very pleased with the results.  Since Barbara was away for four days, I could cook without offending her and her kitchen.  A year earlier I had purchased a 2+ pound frozen Spanish octopus at Restaurant Depot; it was time to use it soon; and it was small enough that I could consume or freeze what I didn’t use in a couple of days.

My friend and fishmonger, Chris had shared how he had handled creatures about that size, so I could draw upon that guidance.  In addition I read a number of online blogs and articles and then, finally plunged ahead.  I defrosted the package overnight on the kitchen counter, and in the morning took it out of the packaging, cut off the head with its beak, and then let the legs soak with a few changes of cold water for an hour.  From there, it was a three-step process:

  • simmer the octopus in water at about 200º F. until tender
  • remove it from the water, separate each of the legs, and place them (still hot) in a large bowl with olive oil and flavorings, to cool and absorb the tastes
  • when ready to eat, remove as many legs as you wish for your dish, add salt and olive oil, and grill them until they have crispy edges all over

At that point you can use them in whatever dish you want to make.  I ended up with three different dishes, and 2-3 servings of each:

  • salad with potato, white beans, black olives, and capers
  • warm salad with orzo and vegetables
  • chopped salad with greens, radicchio and hot peppers

Poaching the octopus

Marinating the legs before grilling

grilled octopus with potatoes, beans, black olives and capers

same dish in the bowl

Warm Whole Wheat Orzo Salad with vegetables

Thinly-Sliced “Octopus with Chopped Greens, Cucumber, Onion, and Hot Peppers

The key things I learned had to do with “simmer until tender”.  Most important was not to get the water too hot or too cool.  Ideal seems to be between 190º and 200º F.  Food scientist Harold McGee helped me on this.  His article led me to look up some material about cooking octopus sous vide, and now I know I am looking for a final temperature in the meat to be between 175 and 180º F.  I also understand that there is NO WAY to know how long it will take to achieve that temperature.  You will see time estimates in recipes from 30 minutes to 3 hours.  The truth is, we do not know.  You must measure as accurately as possible, and then cut a piece and taste near the end.

I had two digital tools that were useful.  One was the the culinary laser thermometer which I normally use to gauge the pizza oven temperature.  This is quick and versatile, but may not be accurate enough to ensure my water temperature is where I want it.  The other is a simple digital thermometer, which I always use in breadmaking to be certain the water temperature is correct for making the levain.  The latter seems to be the best for gauging water temperature.

In theory one could bring a pot of water to a low boil and then place it in a pre-heated 200º F. oven.  However, oven temperature controls are not that precise, and the actual temperature could be off — higher or lower — by as much as 25º F, so I would not want to take a chance of getting it too hot, which would turn the meat into rubber.

The grilling part is relatively easy, and there are a number of way that can work.  My preference is to put the legs directly on the grate of a very hot gas grill, turning once or twice.  It would also work well a la plancha (Spanish style), in a preheated cast iron skillet, or under a hot broiler.

The final tip from my explorations has to do with flavor and texture.  Online instructions were diametrically opposed — some said simmer in well-salted water, others said absolutely none.  I used none in the water, but I also heeded advice that said to salt aggressively after cooking, both in the marinade and afterward on the grill.  Low-salt octopus will not be appealing from my point of view (and it was the consensus).

In restaurants I often have a glass of red wine with grilled octopus, figuring that the bold grill flavors will complement a robust wine.  However, I may be changing my perspectives on this issue, more toward white wines.  In any case on warm summer days and with the three salads I made, the perfect choice was my favorite Assyrtiko from Santorini, the 2016 Estate Argyros.  A Portuguese Vinho Verde also works well.

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