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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Recent Food Highlights

This is truffle season.  We have a restaurant about 20 minutes away that gets white truffles from Alba this time of year, so I almost always run down there for a meal when possible.  Two weeks ago I had a meeting with a student doing his final presentation on the Capstone Project at the company where he works.  It was only a mile from Tomasso’s, the restaurant, so I went there for a simple lunch of Tagliatelle with Truffles, and a glass of one of my favorite Italian wines, Kajanero, by Vestini Campagnano, from Campania.

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The lunch, and the student’s presentation, were big successes.

Experimenting at Home

In the past few days, I’ve had time to play in the kitchen, to experiment with new techniques as well as return to old standbys.

As vegan/vegetarian/pescatarian eaters (depending on day of the week and month), we virtually never have meat, so there are few reasons to use sous vide techniques.  However, the technology has improved and gotten easier to do, and I could see some use for fish (which I sometimes poach in olive oil in the oven), so I decided to try it.

Barbara was out at a meeting one night, so I pulled out the Joule device I just bought, and gave it a try.  I had some very good carrots and turnips from our CSA; they were a good place to start.  The biggest challenge was finding a deep enough pot in our collection that was not stainless steel-lined, so the magnetic base of the device would adhere to the bottom.   I did find a Le Creuset pot that worked, and 55 minutes later I had perfectly cooked, very flavorful vegetables.  I refrigerated them overnight as served them the next night for dinner, as an appetizer with pan-roasted baby brussels sprouts, before one of our favorite old pasta dishes — Bucatini with Caramelized Onions, Walnuts, and Rosemary.  This recipe was from Molly O’Neill in the NY Times, twenty years ago.  Barbara and I enjoyed both dishes.

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One last indulgence occurred the next night.  Looking for some late nourishment before bed, I went up to the kitchen, looking for a piece of toast with almond milk ricotta cheese.  No such luck.  My dear wife had converted the rest of the Tuscan Pane to croutons.  Next best choice was the Sea Salt flatbread crackers.  I added Pugliese olive oil, salt and pepper to some almond ricotta, then spread it on some crackers, but it needed a little something more.  Cruising through the pantry shelves I discovered a small jar of French Summer Truffles, preserved in olive oil, and thinly sliced.   They must have been there for 5 years, or maybe 10, who know?  Gingerly, i pried off the top.  Smelled fine, albeit subtle.  Tasted one, and decided to proceed, topping the cheese with truffle slices.  But what to drink?

This required serious thought.  Fortunately, I found a fine bottle of a 1985 Bordeaux, Château Chasse-Spleen, and decided that night was the night to open it up.  Good choice.

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Vegetarian Polenta with Butternut Squash and Sage Leaves

Barbara got inspired tonight.  She found a recipe in the Nantucket Inquirer Mirror newspaper and adapted it to her needs.  Usually, I am not thrilled with butternut squash, but WOW, was this ever different and better than I ever had.

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I chose a California Nebbiolo by Bryan Harrington, that went well with my two large helpings.

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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.

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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:

recipe

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!

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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.

Vegetables

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.

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savories

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.

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Spigariello, washed

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Cooking

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).

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stuffed zucchini boats

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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.

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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:

PREP

  • 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.

LAYER

  • 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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