Friday night I went into Boston for a late visit to Eataly. I’ve been looking forward to visiting the store again. They have excellent fresh produce and fish, and a superb array of specialties in jars and pasta in packages. I came home with a fine selection, but limited quantities, since I might be cooking just for me for the next two days.
Fortunately, it turned out that our friends, Laura and Molly, could come for dinner, so I had a grand time yesterday afternoon preparing and serving dinner when they arrived. Here is the menu, plus a few of the best photos. A full slide show is to be found at the end of this post.
Here is a one-minutes slideshow of the whole story:
One of the hazards of making great wines is that your delighted customers are prone to writing to you with the consumption of each miraculous bottle.
Such was my experience tonight with 2011 Charbono. This is just the second night this summer I can be alone at home after parking my wife comfortably at our summer home. She loves the beach, but I don’t.
When on my own, I love cooking the way I like best, without constraints (“not so much olive, too much salt, no Aleppo pepper, serve everything hot, I don’t like beets or vinegar”). So dinner tonight was pan-fried Halloumi cheese with beets and red wine vinegar plus Lucque olives, a baked Greek vegetable dish (Briami), toasted flatbread, and the Charbono.
I was transported. The match was perfect, and the fruit in the wine was so alive, it seemed as if it were still fermenting. I loved it all. Here are the photos.
Flavorful ingredients, no matter how disparate, can make for an excellent meal, if you are creative…and lucky.
Today’s lunch is a case in point. The origins of this meal can be attributed to such distant places as Greece (leftover Briami — baked vegetables), Cyprus (Halloumi cheese), Japan (Shishito peppers), and the Punjab region in Central Asia (recipe used for Urad Dal – split black lentils). Naturally, an Italian wine brought things all together — Aliseo, from the Amalfi Coast.
Now I know you are thinking: how in the world does he come up with such a cockamamie group of ingredients? The answer is: one at a time. Two days ago I found a small jar of Urad Dal in a cabinet above the refrigerator. At the time, I was getting a rarely-used coffee grinder down for a meeting Barbara had planned with friends. I had cooked this Dal before, and it takes nicely to sautéeing, so I was thinking of how to combine it with something. Then, yesterday I went to Whole Foods and bought a new brand of Halloumi (Aphrodite – how could anyone pass up a cheese selected by Will Studd?), as well as a small package of Shishito peppers (my go-to frying peppers when I can’t find Padron peppers).
Of course, there are usually plenty of leftovers to choose from as well, such as the Greek vegetables, and some Jacob’s cattle beans, which I had cooked yesterday, and which always go nicely with legumes. The meal was easy:
- prepare the Dal, per recipe below
- sautée a few slices of halloumi
- sautée the Shishitos, and sprinkle them with sea salt
- heat up the leftover vegetables in the remaining heat of the sautée pan
- plate, pour, and serve
Ten years earlier I had made a very similar trip alone, so I felt well-prepared to share the experience with Barbara this time around. We stayed at the Hotel Santa Caterina in Amalfi, one of the Leading Hotels of the World (literally and figuratively). From there, we explored:
- Ravello (went to two music recitals there)
- Positano (round trip by ferry from Amalfi, a little shopping and an excellent lunch)
- Amalfi (shopping for Barbara, a haircut for me with Gerardo — my personal Italian barber, and another fine lunch for us both)
- visits to two different organic wineries (Le Vigne di Raito in Vietri sul Mare, and Reale in Tramonti) These included tours of the vineyards, tasting the wines, and being served fantastic lunches by each of the proprietors. These were arranged for us by my friend and wine importer, Nick Mucci, of Mucci Imports in Boston. Thank you, Nick!
- all of this was greatly facilitated by the superb staff at the Santa Caterina (Pino, Gennaro, Simone, and Matteo) and…
- by Salvatore Lucibello and his marvelous drivers at Amalfi Car Service, who transported us safely and comfortably along the tortuous roads that hug the coast and up into the steep hillsides. I’ve been driving cars for 60 years, and have driven before in several parts of Italy, but the city of Naples and the Costa d’Amalfi I leave in the hands of true professionals, like Salvatore and his team.
Overall, this is world-class scenery, food, and wine, with warm, delightful people. It was a wonderful week.
With my barber, Gerardo, in Amalfi
In mid-April Barbara and I took a trip to Campania — Naples and the Amalfi Coast. Thanks to Joe Brancatelli and his travel newsletter that I subscribe to, I had been able to buy some terrific business class tickets on Aer Lingus. They enabled us to fly from Boston to Naples, via Dublin, so we stayed one night in Dublin as a bonus en route.
Here are a few of the highlights in Dublin and Naples during Easter weekend.
It was a cold and overcast Good Friday morning when we landed in Dublin. Fortunately we had booked a room at what may be the best hotel in the city, The Merrion. It’s a beautiful hotel with superb, gracious service. We were able to spend time in the spa and indoor swimming pool, sipping fresh squeezed orange juice and hot tea, while our room was being cleaned. Once in the room we unpacked and went to a small and comfortable dining area in the hotel for lunch — smoked salmon and brown bread, and a fine draft of Guinness. The warmth of the fireplace quickly dispelled the chill of the day.
Despite the rain showers, we walked around the city center to explore a little in the afternoon. A lovely park and an old cemetery provided quiet beauty and respite from the city traffic.
The biggest surprise in Dublin was the fact that the law forbade the sale of alcohol on Good Friday in public houses. In other words, bars and restaurants were closed (unusual for Ireland). However, as guests of the hotel, we could be served in their restaurant and pub, so we had dinner in the hotel and went to sleep early.
Saturday in Napoli was dedicated to walking around the narrow streets of Centro Storico and finding the best traditional Neapolitan pizza. The major event on Easter Sunday was a visit to the archeological museum and its marvels, along with further exploration of outstanding food, including pasta, seafood, and vegan meals. A parade right next to hotel Sunday morning was an added treat.
Now let’s see, where were we….
I have not posted anything except for a little music since March. That may be because I haven’t spent two straight weeks at home since the end of January. Traveling and teaching have consumed my energies, but I have only two more trips to make, and I can begin to catch up now. I’ll start with last night’s simple dinner with wonderful wine.
For Saturday’s night’s meal, I made a simple Porcini Risotto. It was very good, and we had some leftovers which provided last night’s meal:
- braised cabbage and carrots
- braised, then roasted, fingerling potatoes
Barbara does an amazing job with the arancini. She makes small balls with the leftover risotto, pokes a small hole into the center and stuffs a little steamed zucchini into the hole, seals it up, rolls each ball in bread crumbs, and deep fries it in virgin olive oil. Perfetto!
The wine was a marvelous Cesanese Riserva, from Damiano Cioli, imported by Jan D’Amore. This is far and away the best Cesanese I’ve had. It’s produced by a young couple who have transformed the family vineyards to a stunning, natural boutique wine. Sold by Eataly Vino in New York.