Deep, Dark, Delicious — Bruschetta for Lunch

One of my go-to lunches this time of year is Bruschetta.  Simple, colorful, satisfying, and Vegan, this dish has all the basic food groups:

  • Vegetables (roasted red peppers, capers)
  • Grains (my homemade Seeded Rye Levain Bread)
  • Fruit (olives in Pate Nere from Puglia)
  • Nuts (Kite Hill Almond Milk Ricotta)
  • Chocolate (especially if you include some of Barbara’s Avocado Chocolate Mousse)
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Bruschetta on the plate

Lots of variations are possible, depending on what you like and what you have.  Here are the basic steps I used:

  • Bread.  I had baked two loaves of my seeded rye bread in December, eating one at the time and freezing the other. Two days ago I defrosted the second one, and today there was half the loaf left.  Toast, grill or pan-fry two slices of the bread; I fried mine with olive oil in a skillet.
  • Toppings.  The first layer was almond milk Ricotta, made more spreadable by mashing it with olive oil.  Next came the Pate Nere, right from the jar.  This one is just organic olives and oil — no capers, anchovies, parsley, or Cognac.  Finally, I had roasted some wonderful and inexpensive Israeli sweet red peppers from the market several days ago.   They had been peeled, sliced and marinating in oil and capers in the refrigerator since.  They were warmed up in the skillet after the bread was done, and slid on top of the other layers.  Notice the presence of organic olive oil in everything.  I believe it has contributed greatly to my health; it has had NO effect on my weight; and it’s responsible for the shimmering umami you see in the closeup photos, below.
  • Dessert.  I rarely do desserts, but this avocado mousse is outstanding.  And it is vegan.  The recipe is at the bottom of the posting.

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I chose not to drink wine at lunch.  I don’t want to fall asleep while grading papers this afternoon.  Almost any red wine will be perfect with this.

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just a little avocado chocolate mousse left

Chocolate Avocado Mousse Recipe

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Other January Highlights

The previous post began my attempt to play catch up with this month’s food and wine.  Here are a few more highlights, mostly visual.

Greek Islands — Briami Me Maratho

One of the stars is an easy baked vegetable dish from the island of Kea, in Greece.  The recipe, and the cookbook it comes from, are in the photos below.  It is marvelous the day it’s baked, and the versatile leftovers are even better the next day or two.

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The Foods of the Greek Islands

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Briami recipe

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out of the oven

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leftovers with toasted bread and olive pate, side of beets

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feta too

Soups

January is great for soups.  It’s one of the best ways to survice the biting New England winters.  Ligurian soups, whether almost all cabbage, or cabbage with a bunch of other vegetables and croutons, are delicious.  I made both.

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in the pot

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on the table

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Breads and Spreads, Clams and Pasta, Wines Galore

Country Italian breads are among my favorites, and I have several good suppliers for them.  We use them sliced and toasted, fried, or grilled.  Often they are topped with purées I make from grilled or roasted vegetables, such as sweet red peppers or eggplants.  For taste and texture, we add homemade white bean purée, black olive pate from Puglia (no capers or anchovies, just wonderful olives and the oil), and/or the almond milk ricotta, fluffed up with olive oil, salt, and pepper.

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grilled bread with olive pate, red pepper purée, and dehydrated onions

img_20170120_134852 img_20170120_134934 Here was a plate of Little Neck Clams, cooked with white wine and hot peppers, atop some leftover pasta noodles.

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clams and pasta

Wine and Flowers

The kitchen and dining room are always cheered up with the colors and aromas of good wine and fresh flowers.

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And One More — Poached, Grilled Spanish Octopus

Our friend Chris came last week for food and wine with us, and he was kind enough to bring some crabmeat (which Barbara made into crab cakes).  A few days later I stopped by his fish market, and he was preparing a small frozen Spanish octopus.  He offered me one of the legs, and I had great success following his guidance for cooking it.

The first step was making a Court Bouillon.  That was easy, once I decided which of Craig Claiborne’s versions I liked better, and of course, I consulted Julia Child on the topic as well.  After straining out the vegetables, I inserted a small wooden skewed inside the octopus leg, to keep it from curling up.  Then, it was poached in simmering liquid (Bouillon).  Chris had suggested about an hour, but it was rubbery at that point, so I kept going.  After a total of 90 minutes, it was just right.  The last step was letting it cool, removing the skewer, and tossing it with olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Placed on a very hot gas grill for a few minutes on each side, it developed a lovely char.  Sliced, more olive oil, some squirts of lemon juice, and I had the real thing.  As good as any restaurant in my memory.

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slices of octopus from the grill

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served with chopped red onion, white beans, oil and vinegar, tomato wedges, and grilled bread with olive paste

Waterlogue 1.3.1 (72) Preset Style = Vibrant 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 = More 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

The artistic version Waterlogue 1.3.1 (72)

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Oops!

Oops! as an exclamation is appropriate for the fact that it has been over a month since my last post.  However, I’m also increasingly aware that it is an acronym that represents almost everything I cook (with the exception of fruit smoothies for breakfast):

O =  olive, o = oil, P = pepper, and S = salt

In fact, I have just made a shortcut for my keyboard typing:  ” oops” converts this text for recipes, emails, whatever, to — “olive oil, salt, and pepper”.

Anyway, January is almost over, and so is my first course this Spring.  In the meantime I’ve been cooking and eating without sharing with my loyal fans.  Here are some of the month’s highlights, starting with the latest meal.

Spaghetti with Wild Mushrooms and Caramelized Cherry Tomatoes

This dish was today’s lunch.  I had some wild mushrooms in a paper bag in the refrigerator.  They were there long enough to be almost dried — but not quite.  Here is the recipe, along with photos in the process.

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recipe

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sautéed mushrooms

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caramelized cherry tomatoes

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pasta bowl, ready to devour

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closeup

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Verdeca — perfect white wine accompaniment

 

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Baked Mixed Vegetables a la Marcella (Misto di Verdure al Forno)

As many of you know from my blog, I have been an ardent fan of Marcella Hazan’s cooking for many years.  Tonight, however, my admiration reached new heights, with a relatively simple dish of baked vegetables.  Only Marcella could coax so much flavor and delightful textures with such ease and grace.

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Barbara was with our grandsons tonight, so I had license to make my own stuff.  Today was one of those with breakfast at 11 AM, lunch at 3 PM, and dinner at 8 PM days — totally decadent, but fun.

I started with a salad.  This was a riff on a long-popular Italian dish with white beans and chopped red onions.  However, I happen to adore beets and other pickled vegetables along with the beans, so I raided the refrigerator and put a bunch of these together from available items, mostly homemade.  Here are the ingredients:

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Choosing a lettuce leaf from our season finale from our CSA for background (color and flavor), I ate two plates worth to begin the meal.

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Since we became mostly vegan/vegetarian over 5 years ago, baked and roasted vegetables have held a prominent place in our cooking, especially in Fall and Winter.  I’ve particularly enjoyed a variety of Greek dishes, along with some French and Italian, but nothing was as good as this one.  The main course was the Misto di Verdure al Forno.  Here’s her marvelous recipe from Marcella Cucina, with perfect instructions and insight:

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Interestingly, the title on the page includes Mozzarella, but there was none in the recipe — nor should there be, in my opinion.  I had a superb Pecorino from Calabria, from my last visit to Whole Foods, and that was the perfect cheese for this.  The process was straightforward and absolutely delicious, just enough of each flavor and texture for a perfect balance.  I hope you can almost taste the crispiness of the potatoes.

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For wine I already had a bottle of Lamezia from Calabria open, so it was an easy, and appropriate, choice.  And it looks great next to the cookbook!

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For Want of Some Hellman’s….

You know the old adage about “for want of a nail, etc.”  Today’s post is all about the unintended consequences (mostly good ones) of the fact that Barbara ran out of mayonnaise in the house.  She wanted to make a chicken salad sandwich but was unwilling to go to the store for another jar.  (Stores with mayonnaise are all at least 15 miles round trip from our house.)

What do we do when that happens?  We go to our cookbooks, and make our own, of course.  She found a good recipe and did her usual, very effective job making 2 cups of homemade mayonnaise.  I’m told it was good with the chicken and celery in her sandwich.

Now is where my brain kicks into gear.  I want to make an Aioli sauce with that mayonnaise, and to use it with some vegetables I have in mind for dinner.  Eggplant and beets are the two I’m thinking of, specifically.  I researched Provençal  and Catalan versions, and adjusted by using lightly cooked garlic to save Barbara from indigestion with the raw ingredient.  To that I added some Maras pepper, and I had the flavor and texture I wanted.

Eggplant.  Cut 1/2-inch slices, brush with olive oil, and roast in the oven at 375-400º F. Turn a few times to cook evenly.  Top each slice with Aioli and broil briefly when it starts to color.

Sweet Red Peppers.  Cut in half, remove stem and seeds.  Bake in the oven with breadcrumbs, garlic and olive oil, plus a little vegetable stock — covered for 20 minutes, until tender.  Remove cover and cook until crumbs start to brown.

Beets.  Take one large beet, already steamed or roasted, and slice 1/2-inch thick.  Brush with olive oil, salt, and pepper.  Grill in a pan or over charcoal or gas, ensuring the sides caramelize a bit and have those lovely cross-hatch patterns in them, to show how meticulous you are.  Top with a blob of Aioli.

Carrots, Celery, Leek.  Cut them up, along with 1/4 of a sliced onion, and braise with olive oil and 1/4 cup of stock until tender.  Place in a casserole, add fine bread crumbs and a little olive oil, salt and pepper, and roast until bread crumbs brown a bit.

Plate.  Now use a large chop plate, find a spot for each vegetable, use more Aiolo if you wish, and serve with a bottle of Calabrian wine (in this case Lamezia DOC from Statti, a mix of Gaglioppo, Greco Nero, and Magliocco grapes) — or any red wine you choose.

I don’t think I will buy any more mayonnaise soon.

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Friday Was Bread Day

With classes over for the week, I was able to do errands and house stuff on Thursday and begin to bake bread on Friday.  I’ve been missing my whole grain breads and had used the last one in the freezer a couple of weeks earlier.

The process begins by making a levain from my own bread starter, plus flour and water, at about 10 AM and letting it ferment in the container for about 6 hours.  At that point I decide the mixture of flours I will use, mill or scoop the flours into a large container, mix them together dry, and then add water — stirring it all by hand.  After the autolysed flour sits for about 1/2 hour, I add Kosher salt, a scant 1/2 teaspoon of dry yeast, the specified amount of the developed levain, and mix the wet dough by hand just until it is a mass.  Every half hour, I put a wet hand into the dough and give it a few turns, to build its cohesiveness.  That goes on for about 2-3 hours.

Late in the night (between 11 PM and 1 AM) the dough has developed enough to cut and shape it into two “loaves”.  “Lumps” would be a more accurate representation.  These are dusted with flour, put into wicker bannetons (proofing baskets), placed in plastic bags, and put into the refrigerator to develop slowly for the next 10-13 hours.

So mid-day Saturday I take the baskets out of the refrigerator, drop each loaf into a Dutch oven preheated to 475º F, and then bake it for 30 minutes covered, and the final 15-20 minutes with the cover off.  The process is not glamorous; the fermentation beasties do almost all of the work; and the results are very satisfying.

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By late afternoon I can cut a few fresh slices and serve them with butter or olive oil and a little salt.  Yummm.  All of this is an adaptation from Ken Forkish’s book, Flour Water Salt Yeast, which I started using 3 1/2 years ago.  Most of the time I’m making my own versions of his 75% Whole Wheat Levain (Page 144).  The specific combination THIS time is one of the best so far.  Here is the entry for December 9th in my bread log:

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Perfect Pairing

It was nearly four years ago when I created a dish with baked eggplant, zucchini, tomato and rice.  Tonight I decided to make it again, and to try two different wines with it.  The dish itself came out beautifully:

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My first wine choice was what was left of a marvelous wine from the Monsant region of Spain, Dido La Universal 2014.  I had bought this wine in a store in Barcelona in 2006, and subsequently consumed a case back home of the 2004 vintage.  Much to my delight, a store in New York offered some of the 2014 vintage, so I snapped it up.  It was great with this dish.

With my second helping, however, I needed more wine, so I turned to my son’s 2015 Unsanctioned wine, an Arizona blend of Petite Sirah and Sangiovese.  It went very well, too, much to my delight.

But I was not done yet.  Barbara was out for choir practice tonight, so she could not object to the smell of my cooking peppers.  I cut up three sweet red bell peppers, and I used the same cazuela (or cassola in Catalan dialect) to cook them slowly on the stovetop.

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The peppers were then finished with garlic, sherry vinegar, and Sicilian anchovies.

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Last night I had whipped up some almond milk ricotta (Kite Hill brand), and I also pulled out a jar of Olive Patè Nere (black olive paste) from Puglia.  I toasted a slice of Tuscan Pane (fancy name for white bread with no salt) in olive oil in the same cazuela.  A layer of paté, followed by the ricotta, and topped with the peppers completed the dish.

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Another glass or two of the Unsanctioned wine, and I was transported to another world.  Never had a better match.

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