Tuna Conserva Once Again

Two weeks ago I made Tuna Conserva.   It was so good, I had to try it again.  This time I made it into a salad — sort of Niçoise — but this time with a medley of cooked beans as well.  The resulting luncheon dish was delicious atop a toasted slice of my Overnight Whole Wheat Bread, baked yesterday.  The bread was a typical Ken Forkish affair over a 24-hour period.  This time (unlike the Field Blend #2) there was no levain involved.  Mix the flours (60% white bread flour, 40 % Red Turkey whole wheat), add water and autolyse.  Then add salt and dry yeast.  Mix and stretch, then let it develop for about 8 hours.  Form the two loaves.  Put them in bannetons in the refrigerator overnight.  Bake in 475° F. oven until crispy and brown.

Poached the tuna as before, this time with more herbs: garlic, thyme, rosemary, and sage.  Cooked enough in 7 minutes, then relaxing in a bowl of the poaching olive oil overnight in the refrigerator.  Today at lunchtime all I had to do was flake some of the tuna into a large mixing bowl, add a small bowl of leftover cooked beans from the Farro and Bean soup the other day, and then add 1/2 plum tomato and a few slices of red onion, finely-diced.  Additional ingredients included one diced piquillo pepper, a handful of pitted and chopped Gaeta olives, some chopped Santorini capers, a splash or two of Portuguese red wine vinegar, and several tablespoons of the oil from poaching.  Toast the bread, top with tuna mixture, and serve.  A glass of 2018 Pantaleone Passerina from the March region of Italy was a perfect accompaniment.  This is about as Mediterranean as you can get, with elements from Southwestern France, Spain, Portugal, Italy, and Greece.

I believe it’s one of the best dishes I ever made.  Thank goodness there’s more in a bowl for lunch tomorrow.

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Spanish

My relationship with all things Spanish is decidedly mixed.

On the one hand, we have the benefits today of the great food and wine for which Spain is appropriately famous.  Many of those glories have been the subject of posts in this blog.  For example, none of the meals I’ve made with the Spanish octopus this past week would have been possible without them.

On the other hand, we have a number of lessons from the history of Spain.  Most impactful from my point of view were the actions of the Spanish king and the Catholic Church in 1492.  While Americans are familiar with that date because the explorations of Christopher Columbus, 1492 was important in a different way for all Jews and Muslims in Spain.  Virtually all of those populations were tortured, killed, or forced to convert to Catholicism – and later expelled from the Iberian peninsula.  Jews had lived in Spain for about 1500 years, and they had enjoyed peace and prosperity during the Golden Age of Spain, when the Moors ruled from 711 to the late 1300’s.  That was a period of co-existence and collaboration among the three major religions, and it was a remarkable time of significant scientific, artistic, and economic achievements.

After the “Reconquista” Spain was a great world power, but its colonial success was marred by the brutal ways in which the empire destroyed indigenous peoples all over Latin America, while plundering their resources.  This part of the history was in the forefront of my experiences when I visited Chile in 2001 and Peru a year later – my first trips to South America.

Finally, people my age and a bit older have memories of the Spanish Civil War and the subsequent despotic rule of Generalissimo Franco in the years that followed.

You probably read this blog for food, wine, and travel information, so let me move on to those topics – now that you understand the background of my occasional ambivalence about Spain.  Having visited Barcelona several times, Galicia, the Spanish Basque region, Palma, Ibiza, Grenada, Gilbraltar, Priorat, Montsant, and Tarragona — all in the last 24 years — I do now have an appreciation for Spain and its many good qualities.

All of this is background to the final meal from a fine 3.7 lb. Spanish octopus purchased last week and documented in my last five postings here.

Once again the meal of interest was lunch, since I can make what I want and not disturb Barbara, whose food choices can be quite different than mine.  And — like yesterday — simple preparation was again the theme.   Today the design was Spanish, including side plates and other ingredients.  Yesterday I received an order of Spanish delicacies from La Tienda.  They included Padron Peppers (which you have seen several times here before) and Chorizo (a very non-vegan, non-Kosher treat I eat on rare occasions — like during a pandemic).

After removing the last leg and a half from the olive oil marinade, I charred it on a gas grill, coated it with a garlicky vinaigrette, blistered the Padron Peppers in a cast iron skillet, dusted the peppers with Maldon salt, plated the leftover green salad with radish from last night’s dinner, and thinly sliced some of the Chorizo as a side dish.  Since it was lunch I did not go all-out for Spanish wine.  Instead I chose to finish an open bottle of a orange Calabrian wine — Forse Sono Fiori — by CretaPaglia, one of Nick Mucci’s growers.  It was beautifully-matched to the vinaigrette.

Thank you, octopus.  You were great, all the way.

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The Next-to-Last Meal from the Spanish Octopus — Greek-Style

Lunch on Friday was a simpler affair with my friend, the octopus.  I decided to minimize the cooking, so I did what one might do for lunch in Greece, with these tentacles on hand.  I gathered up typical side dishes for such a meal — a little leftover cole slaw, a chunk of Feta cheese, some olives, a wedge of lemon, slices of grilled country-style bread, Shishito peppers, and a bottle of the best Assyrtiko wine from Santorini.   Then I grilled a large octopus leg, added good Greek olive oil, and sat down to a satisfying lunch.

Thursday (the previous night) was also my night to cook.  Just for the record, I prepared a meal of Linguine with Roasted Butternut Squash, sun-dried tomatoes, Shiitake mushrooms, and a sauce made with mushroom broth and hot water from the cooked pasta.

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Three Eggplant Slices, Two Octopus Tentacles, One Grated Tomato, and Lots of Olive Oil

There’s almost no limit to the range of wonderful recipes using Octopus.  Today’s lunch is the third one I’ve tried in the past three days, and perhaps the most delicious.

This recipe is from The Country Cooking of Greece, by Diane Kochilas.  She describes a dish of Octopus with Eggplant from Epanomi, near Thessaloniki.  I won’t give the full recipe because I already had cooked the octopus, so I’ll just give you the essence of the final dish.

Last weekend we made pizza, so we had some leftover toppings, as usual.  I had cut up a medium eggplant, and had roasted the pieces in the oven so they were tender, but not quite fully-cooked (which would take place on the pizza, when that was in the oven).  We had three slices remaining in that mostly-done condition.

Two days later I cooked a 3.5 lb. Spanish octopus, and that was marinating in the citrus-herb infused olive oil ever since.  All I needed to create a small version of this recipe was a grated fresh tomato, a Greek bay leaf, a baking dish, and a 350° F. oven, all readily available.  The dish encouraged liberal use of olive oil, so I used the marinade freely.

Here’s how it looked in the gratin dish, and then on the plate:

My friend, Dean, had come over briefly yesterday and had left me a gift (at 10 feet away) of a red wine, a Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, which splendidly complemented the rich flavors.  Thank you, Dean!!

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Octopus, Potato, and Green Bean Salad

The novelty of having tender, cooked octopus resting comfortably in a bowl of olive oil in the refrigerator — ready to be turned into a meal in a flash — has not yet worn off.  Today’s version was inspired by this recipe which was in The Sardinian Cookbook I purchased last Fall:

Of all the ways I cook and eat this mollusk, my favorite technique usually involves grilling.  I used the basic idea of the recipe above, after having used my gas grill on two tentacles, before I incorporated the slices into the salad.  Two other modifications: lemon juice instead of white wine vinegar, and served still warm, rather than the cold salad as described.  (I did chill the leftovers, so I’ll sample that tomorrow.)

You will note that I also grilled a slice of my Field Blend #2 bread to accompany the dish.  It is interesting that I had opened a bottle of Argiolas Vermentino from Sardinia last night, and it was perfect with this dish.

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Ode to the Octopus

An octopus is a remarkable creature.  It appears to be one of the most intelligent beings on the planet.  It also happens to be a delicious and very healthy food, which is what initially interested me the most.

I have close friends who won’t eat octopus because they feel it’s wrong to to use them as food, and I have some respect for that point of view.  However, as a vegetarian/pescatarian, I don’t eat that much of it; the fishery appears to be quite sustainable; and it’s my favorite source of Vitamin B-12.  And it tastes great, when prepared properly — which is the subject of today’s post.

Like most of us we are quite constrained on our shopping these days, so I took advantage of an online resource — Browne Trading Co. of Portland, ME — to buy some seafood last week.  I have been to their store when I visited Portland in the past, and I know their products are outstanding.  One item was a frozen 3.5 lb. Spanish octopus, and today was the day I cooked it.  That required taking it out of the freezer yesterday and letting it defrost for 24 hours at refrigerator temperatures.  Fortunately, outdoor temperatures have been in the 35-44 degree range for the last few days, so I was able to leave it out on the porch to defrost (that’s my walk-in refrigerator.)

I’ve learned over the years that there are three major steps in preparing octopus for the table after defrosting:

  • poaching it until tender
  • marinating it while hot, to enhance flavors
  • preparing the finished dish, which could involve cutting, grilling, pairing with other ingredients, and plating

I have had good luck with the first two steps by following this video by Jessie Schenker:

so that was my approach today.  In the past I found it difficult to maintain the 190-200°  poaching temperatures on the stovetop for over an hour, so I tried to be scientific and to use the oven — after properly calibrating the temperatures.  I filled a deep pot with hot water, brought to 195° F. on the stove, set the oven temperature to 200° F., and came back an hour later to see if the target temperature had been maintained.  Nice theory, but no luck.  The water in the pot had dropped to 176°, so clearly the oven was running 20-25° cooler than its setting.

Proud of my detective work, I figured the cure was to increase the set temperature to 220°.  I put the octopus and all the aromatic flavorings in the pot and put it in the oven, confident that it would be close to the 195°-200° target.  When I checked everything 45 minutes later, I was disappointed to find that it was still too cool.  My digital thermometer read 180°, and the octopus was not going to achieve the desired level of heat.  It was still underdone.

At this point the pot was on top of the stove, so I decided to use the burner instead, and to watch it carefully.  Over the next 45-50 minutes, I kept measuring the temperature in the pot, keeping it between 187° and 194°.  That seemed to work.  Removing the octopus from the pot, I checked the tenderness and decided it was done.  Immediately, it went into the bowl with olive oil and flavorings as a marinade and then left to cool the rest of the day.

Cooked Octopus Marinating in Olive Oil and Seasonings

After dinner I started to think about all the dishes I planned to make this week.  After all, there are 8 legs to work with.  One of the approaches I found in my research was this video by Eric Ripert, chef and co-owner of Le Bernadin, the spectacularly good seafood restaurant in New York.

Having marinated the octopus for more than 6 hours, I was ready to try it.  I took it out, cut one leg off, sliced it as Eric described, and followed his seasonings carefully.

Perfectly marvelous!  I felt like I was enjoying a tapa in San Sebastian, accompanied by a very charming Godello.  Merci, gracias, Eric.

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Wood-Fired Homemade Pizza: Signs of Spring

We have been looking for a warmer day in March to crank up the wood-fired pizza oven, as a harbinger of Spring again.  Today was the day, with temperature slowly rising from the mid-40s F. in the morning to mid-50s by 2 PM.  The first use each year is a longer affair, since the oven collects moisture during the winter, so much of the heat generated by the burning wood goes into evaporating that moisture over the first two hours.

It took about three hours to get the fire good and hot.  Once it gets there, the flames can be mesmerizing.  Here’s an example:

Of course, as thrilling as that fire can be, its main purpose is to make great pizza.  Once again, this oven does that very well.  We made 5 pizzas, sharing one for a neighbor.  The best combinations were:

  • thinly-sliced oranges with oil-cured black olives, tomato sauce and cheese
  • oven-roasted eggplant, caramelized onions, pesto, sautéed mushrooms, basil leaves, black olives, tomato sauce and cheese

Orange slices and black olives pizza

pizza with caramelized onions, mushrooms, roasted eggplant, tomatoes and cheese

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