Parisian Pot, Italian Chef, Pugliese Olive Oil, Great Fish

This is about last night’s dinner, but first, a story:

Twenty four years ago I was in Paris on a business trip.  My daughter came along with me on this one because she was only 14 and on her Winter Break from high school.  My client, the CEO of a growing French retail clothing chain, had a daughter of similar age and invited mine to stay with them for several days.

As you know I often do foodie things when I travel.  This time it was a visit to Dehilleran, the ne plus ultra cookware store, between the Hotel de Ville and Le Palais Royal part of Paris.  I was in heaven, shopping for pots, pans, and accessories.   One of the items I bought was a very small, relatively heavy (weighs 2.2 lbs.) copper pot with a lid — one which remains one of my favorite pots to this day.

copper-pot copper-pot-2 magasin-06

As an aside, when I went to the store counter to check out, I saw another sales slip in progress, and the name “Patricia Wells” on the slip.  Turning around, I looked and saw her (one of my favorite food writers, even then).  She was with her good friend, Johanne Killeen, co-owner of Al Forno, a great restaurant in Providence, RI, and that is how I met them both.

But I digress.  Last night I took the greatest advantage of this well-made pot to make one of the best fish dishes I ever had.  Barbara had said she wanted fish for dinner last night, so I stopped at The Quarterdeck to buy a small piece for her.  They also had some perfectly lovely small halibut steaks, so I bought 1/3 lb. piece for me.  When I got home, I researched for recipes for poaching halibut in olive oil, and I found this one by Mario Batali:


Many years ago I had tried a Mark Bittman recipe from the NY Times for poaching a chunk of tuna and aromatic vegetables in olive oil, and it was marvelous — though I hadn’t done it since then.  So last night I sliced a lemon, rinsed and chopped some salted capers, and pulled out my 5-liter tin of virgin olive oil, purchased in Puglia last Spring.  The recipe is amazingly simple, and it only took an hour in a 250º oven.

That provided me plenty of time for the rest of the meal:

  • cut carrots and celery into batons, then poach with sliced onion and parsley until tender
  • thinly slice a large leek in long strips, and cook slowly with olive oil, salt and pepper in a covered copper sautéuse until extremely tender
  • chop and fry Shiitake mushrooms, then added diced onion and garlic, continuing to sauté; add leftover cooked Italian barley and leftover brown rice; cook with some stock until nice and tender
  • spread the mushroom-grain mixture in a gratin pan and bake in the oven, right next to the copper pot with the halibut
  • steam a bunch of golden beets, then clean and peel them
  • finally, take out the salmon fillet, slat and pepper lightly, and braise atop the carrots and celery, in their final stages of cooking.
  • remove the halibut with lemons, capers and parsley, from the pot and plate.  A taste confirmed incredibly delicate, smooth texture and flavors
  • finish the mushroom/grain gratin under the broiler, to crisp it a bit
  • serve the fishes with accompaniments and a glass of Sorriso di Cielo, a Malvasia from Italy — perfetto!

poached-halibut-with-olive-oil-lemons-and-capers vegs-and-grains my-dinner-plate

sorriso-di-cielo-2 sorriso-di-cielo

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Highlights of Summer Meals

Summertime is a great time for food and wine: bountiful farmers markets, travel and visits with family and friends, different grapes and wines for the warm weather and lighter fare. I was not at all disciplined with my blogging this summer, but I thought I might give you some highlights from our corner of the world.


Our terrific CSA (Crooked Row Fields) continues to deliver superb, organic, clean, fresh vegetables in great variety.  New to our palettes so far are Dragon Tongue Beans, Komatsuna (a Japanese green), and all kinds and shapes of eggplants.  The heirloom tomatoes have been spectacular, as are green beans, beets, lettuces, spinach, garlic, pickling cucumbers, and potatoes.

heirloom-tomato-and-shiso-leaves grilled-eggplant-and-patty-pan-squash eye-of-the-goat-beans-komatsuna-dragons-tongue-heans salad-with-microgreens



New York City

In August I did a three-day trip to NY, for food, wine and friends.  Fun on all three counts.  Found a great airbnb apartment in the Gramercy area; explored the Union Square Greenmarket, returning with a new and exciting green (Spigariello); had a lovely meal at a new restaurant in Brooklyn (LaRina Pastificio e Vino) with my friend, Jan; had a terrific thin crust pizza at Marta; and reveled in several wines stores with goodies I can not find at home.


Spigariello, washed

jan-at-larina 2016-08-22-21-07-21 2016-08-22-21-11-52 2016-08-22-21-47-09 2016-08-23-13-20-19 2016-08-23-13-36-09 2016-08-24-00-34-17 2016-08-24-10-03-50 2016-08-24-09-20-28 2016-08-24-08-57-26 2016-08-24-08-41-16 2016-08-24-19-36-14 2016-08-24-19-36-01 2016-08-24-19-35-45 2016-08-24-19-29-20 2016-08-24-08-40-54

bianchetta dolcdacqua-2 dolcdacqua ciro-from-eatlay ciro-from-eatlay-2


Of course, with all these great ingredients, we had to do some intensive cooking when we were home.  Barbara has perfected the art of making Calabrian eggplant polpette, which she served with spaghetti and tomato sauce.  She also has been making wonderful cinnamon buns, adapting her recipe for challah dough, like her grandmother did.

I found an old Food & Wine article about Marcella Hazan’s take on Crazy Water and made a small amount of Hake poached in Acqua Pazza, topped with heirloom tomato and Shiso leaves.  And I also did several meals with interesting dried beans, such as Rancho Gordo’s Eye of the Goat beans, which go very well with premium Portuguese canned tuna (Ventresca).


stuffed zucchini boats

eggplant-polpette-with-spaghetti-and-sauce eggplant-polpette-with-spaghetti-and-sauce-2 ventresca-with-beans-celery-red-onion-and-tomato eye-of-the-goat-beans-komatsuna-dragons-tongue-heans fish-in-crazy-water-food-wine-recipe acqua-pazza-after-use poached-hake-with-bean-puree-and-heirloom-tomato st-joseph-blanc-dard-ribo golden-elixir-st-joseph

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Vegetable Soup with Farro and Barley

Barbara and I each had dental work in the past week and are currently sporting temporary crowns (not the Regal kind).  This situation cries out for a good soup, so I invented one.

I have always enjoyed good, organic Farro, so I combined some with Italian Barley and four different kinds of greens from Asian and local markets, to make this soup.


leftover soup in a container

It was great for dinner last night, and for lunch this afternoon.  We devoured it so quickly, there were no photos of the serving bowls, so we are left with the photo above of what remains.

From my cellar I had chosen a 2008 Cornalin, which on previous tastings did not impress very much.  However, this grape apparently needs ageing, and it was an ideal match for the soup, which was especially enhanced by the addition of some Slovenian fleur de sel, which I had been saving for awhile.

wine-and-salt piranske-soline



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Dinner Surprise

Sometimes when I start cooking, I have no clear idea what the dish will be.  Last night I surprised myself.  I took out of the refrigerator most of the items I bought this weekend at the farmer’s market, Whole Foods, and elsewhere, and I quickly focused on the items that would spoil in a day or two.  The lead candidates were two bunches of Cavolo Nero and several paper bags of fresh, “wild” mushrooms.

I had such good success with the slow-cooked Cavolo Nero a few days ago that I started down that path first.  Bringing a large pot of water to a boil, salting the water generously, and then blanching the kale for about three minutes, I was getting ready to duplicate the dish.  I drained the greens and let them cool in a bowl.

Meanwhile,  I went to work on the mushrooms.  I had one lovely large Portobello, a stack of Oyster Mushrooms, and two sets of Shiitakes.  I sliced them and began sautéing in about 4 Tbs. of olive oil from Puglia.  I used my large sauteuse, but still needed to cook them in batches, so as not to overcrowd the pan.

At this point I was considering the options of how to use them.  Would it be with pasta?  Penne or spaghetti?  What else in the sauce?  I still had a large pot of salted water on the stove, so I went to my stash and decided to try a Wild Mushroom Lasagne, using rectangular sheets of dried pasta from Italy just for that purpose.  The rest of the filling would be the Cavolo Nero, partially caramelized slices of onions, my favorite almond milk Ricotta and a little tomato sauce from a jar.  Cooking two sheets at a time in the re-boiled water, I removed them after 2-3 minutes and lay them out on towels.

We have a small ceramic Italian lasagne baking dish, just the right size for dinner for one.   Here are the steps:


  • mix all the cooked mushrooms together
  • chop the Cavolo Nero (I used the Cuisinart processor for that)
  • mix a few tablespoons of olive oil into the ricotta to make it spreadable
  • grate cheese for the topping (I used a P’tit Basque sheep’s milk from France)
  • preheat the oven to 400 or 425º F.


  • drizzle a little olive oil and spread a thin layer of tomato sauce in the pan
  • cover the bottom with a pasta sheet
  • spread the ricotta cheese on the pasta sheet thinly, add chopped kale, then the sliced, cooked mushrooms
  • add some of the caramelized onions distributed across the layer
  • lightly salt and pepper that layer
  • repeat with one or two more layers
  • cover your last layer with more pasta, mix tomato sauce with olive oil and spread thinly all over the top, then add the sheep’s milk cheese, and
  • bake in oven until lightly browned and cooked through

Serve with a simple green salad and one or more of several good wines.  I tried three different wines: first, the orange wine from Italy (Ciuri di lava) that I was drinking while cooking (it was just OK as a match).  Next was the Sangiovese from two night previously.  That wine picked up the meaty earthiness of the mushrooms, so I finished what was left).  Last was the Rossese di Dolceacqua from Liguria, and it was my favorite.  This delightful wine had a light and lovely touch, complementing and enhancing the flavors of the vegetables and cheeses perfectly.

1 out of oven 2 simple salad 3 colorful meal 4 closup layers 5 closup layers 6 Rossese front 7 Rossese back - Le Du's

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Yu Choy Stir Fry

When my mother was a teenager, she went to a gypsy fortune teller, who promised that she would have three sons (which she did!) and that one of them would travel often (that would be me!).  In the last 60 days, I have spent nearly three weeks in Italy (Puglia, Calabria and Rome), two weeks on Long Island, NY, finishing up a course I was teaching, two weeks on Nantucket for vacation, five days in San Francisco for the wedding of our son’s best friend, and a few days at home in MA, to refuel and do laundry.

Now I am home for almost three weeks in a row, and I am enjoying the chance to shop for good ingredients and to cook again.  Today I went to the farmer’s market in Acton and got some marvelous Asian greens from the Hmong gardeners who sell there.  Thus, tonight’s meal and blog are about Yu Choy — one of the best of those greens.

Barbara is the stir-fry expert, so I called to get a few tips from her (she’s back at our summer home at the beach).  The recipe is my own.  I was very pleased with the dish.

in the bowl Yu Choy Stir Fry Recipe

mushrooms and jalapeño pressed tofu Yu Choi stems Yu Choi leaves scallion burnt lemons in the wok

I wasn’t sure about the wine, so I pulled a beer out of the refrigerator.  Before I opened it, I tried the wine I had for lunch, Le Fief du Breil — one of my favorite Muscadets.  It turned out to be a perfect match.

Fief du Breil

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Whole Wheat Orzo with Vegetables

Has it really been two months since my last post?  Indeed!  My apologies.  Much travel, discoveries and hard work.  I will resume now with tonght’s dinner and will fill in the rest when I have time.

This is one of my favorite periods — home alone for a few weeks, with fresh produce to play with.  Tonight’s invention was a dish made with whole wheat orzo (very good! from Whole Foods) and a plethora of vegetables.  What made it so good was the freshness and quality of the vegetables.

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whole wheat orzo with vegetables

WW Orzo recipe

The wine was a delicious Sangiovese (2012 Ancarini Romagna Sangiovese Oriolo) from Jan D’Amore.  I would also consider a good Gaglioppo from Calabria for this dish.

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il pranzo

Schoolwork is over for awhile, chores are mostly done for the weekend; therefore, time to cook/play in the kitchen.  As you may know, I especially enjoy lunch — il pranzo.  This is the last chance I’ll have before leaving Monday for southern Italy for almost three weeks.

three plates

The whole meal (just for me) fit nicely on three plates.  The middle one is the fresh, salted and pickled vegetables plate.  Included Armenian cucumber, radishes, julienned raw beet, last week’s home pickled ramps and beets, Swiss chard ribs I had pickled last Fall, Spanish pickled Piparras peppers, plus olives from Italy — Castelvetrano and Gaeta.

pickled & salty

Today’s cooking was dedicated to pan-roasting two sweet peppers, one red, the other, orange.  These were done in my favorite sautéuse, one at a time, in olive oil and finished with just a little red wine vinegar.  The next step was slowly pan roasting one small radicchio di Treviso (elongated version, not the round one), cut in half lengthwise and sautéed in olive oil, salt and pepper.

While those were cooking, I opened a package of Kite Hill Ricotta, whose praises I have sung on these pages before.  I put the cheese in a bowl, added olive oil, salt and pepper, and some freshly cut chives which reappear each Spring in our herb bed, much to my delight.  These were beaten together with a fork until well blended.  An artful blob of the cheese rested nicely atop the peppers and radicchio while I pan-grilled the bread.

pan-roasted sweet peppers, radicchio, and almond milk ricotta pan-grilled homemade rye bread with caraway

These were among the few remaining slices from my homemade rye bread with caraway seeds, baked almost two weeks earlier.  It astonishes me how these levain breads stay fresh, cut side down on the counter, without packaging.  Often, after 7 or 8 days, I’ll take out my machine slicer and cut perfectly thin slices of the remaining loaf for toasting and grilling, protected by wrapping them in aluminum foil.  They come to life in a ridged grill pan, with a little olive oil, rubbed with a sliced garlic clove when bread has crisped.

So one slice had all three vegetables on it after spreading the bread with cheese.  Two others were consumed with just cheese and either the peppers or the radicchio, but not together.  They photograph well when accompanied by the bone handled, French steel dinner knives we bought years ago in San Francisco.

bruschetta with peppers and ricotta and chives bruschetta with radicchio, and almond milk ricotta

All that was remaining was the choice of wines.  There was a small amount of Cris Cherry’s 2014 Fiano in the refrigerator, so I started there.  The red was a little trickier.  I was sorely tempted to open a Sancerre Rouge I bought recently, but I finally decided I wanted something with a little more of an edge and acidity.  The 2011 Michele Chiarlo Barbera d’Asti was absolutely the perfect selection.

2014 Fiano - 94 cases 2011 Barbera d'Asti

If anyone tells you it’s hard to get good, richly-flavored, colorful meals as a vegan, show them this.  Here is all the food that was left over for snack tomorrow:

all that's left

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