Big Snows, a Georgian Lunch, and Homemade Tagliatelle

Most of the news for the past two weeks has been the heavy snows.  Three Nor’easter storms delivered over 40 inches (1 meter) of new snow in just 11 days.  We survived, as most New Englanders do.  And we marked our endurance and good fortune by taking artistic photos of our snow-filled landscape, and by cooking.

Snow Scenes

I even found an opportunity to do a Waterlogue version of a Cambridge view of Boston and the Charles River from in front of MIT’s Great Dome:

Waterlogue rendition of my photo

Georgian Lunch

The best lunch of the week was the result of my expedition into Watertown.  I went to buy a specially good Pecan Butter from Fastachi, but I also visited several of my favorite Armenian markets for some of their goodies.  One new item was a jar of “Georgian fried vegetables” which looked enticing.  It turned out to be a terrific mixture of eggplant, garlic, onions, celery, sweet peppers, and olive oil — velvety smooth, unctuous, and delicious.

Another recent purchase were several breads from Clear Flour in Boston, perhaps the best bakery on the East Coast.  Several slices of the Epi bread and a few of the Rustic Spicy Olive bread were perfect foils for the vegetable spread.

Much to my amazement I remembered that I had purchased a bottle of Georgian wine, a red blend named Sachino, so I pulled it out of the cellar and poured several glasses — a most favorable accompaniment.

Homemade Spinach Tagliatelle with Asparagus Sauce

Having successfully made a batch of tagliatelle a couple of weeks ago, I chose to make a green pasta version with fresh spinach puréed into the dough.  Again, the simple proportions of 200 grams of double-zero Italian flour mixed with two whole eggs provided the base.  The spinach was washed and dried, but not cooked (an Alice Waters recipe from Chez Panisse Pasta).  I used less than 1/2 cup of the purée, but it still made the dough wetter than I would have liked, so I compensated by using a good bit of flour when kneading and rolling the dough.

I folded the sheets of dough and hand-cut the tagliatelle to supply my spinach noodles.  The sauce was simple: just a finely diced half of an onion, cooked slowly in 1 Tbs. of butter and another Tbs. of olive oil, plus one bunch of asparagus, trimmed, cut, blanched, and then sautéed with the onion.  All was finished with the noodles stirred with the sauce, some pasta water and almost a cup of grated Parmesan cheese.  The wine was a very good natural Grillo from Sicily, which did an exceptional job pairing successfully with asparagus — not an easy trick.  Thank you, Eileen and Social Wines!

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Late Dinner at SRV Boston

I was in town late yesterday, so when my meetings were over, I went to SRV Boston for a late dinner.  (SRV = Serene Republic of Venice)  This is an intriguing restaurant.  I go there for the pasta, and for the Venetian overtones.  You might enjoy this review from the Boston Globe.

The wine list is appropriately strong with choices from the Italian northeast regions.  Unmoved by the list of selections by the glass, I decided to start with a house specialty, a Negroni.  Very glad I did.  It was terrific.

The server surprised me with a tasty plate of amuse bouche, a gift from the kitchen.  I did not catch all the ingredients when she recited them, so I just ate and enjoyed.

Next was my Piatto — a Potato-Montasio Cheese Frico.  It was outstanding, especially the mouth-filling chunks of kohlrabi brovada (which I later learned is a lightly pickled vegetable preparation from Friuli).

Finally, I chose the pasta course — Tortelli Piacentini (description and photo below).

Not especially attractive visually, these Tortelli reminded me of blintzes ( they were filled with a fresh cheese, reminiscent of Farmer Cheese).  Cardoons and sour oranges have probably never graced blintzes.  The flavors were exotic and pleasurable.  They were also VERY hard to match with wine, so I continued to sip my Negroni (which paired very well)  For fun I also asked for a taste of the Li Veli Malvasia Nera, which I did find complementary (as well as complimentary).  Having visited Masseria Li Veli in Puglia twice before, I was gratified to find the wine from the southern tip of Italy playing well with the food from the most northeastern location.

By the time I drove home, all the traffic had dissipated.   It was a fine evening.

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Tagliatelle with Parsnips and Pancetta

I don’t know if I could function with “Search” tools.  If they did not exist, I would never have been able to find, and then prepare, a great supper last Friday.  A few days earlier, I had purchased some gorgeous parsnips at our greengrocer.  They were clean, nicely tapered, and fresh-looking.  As I often do, I take an ingredient like this, and I search my own files, as well as the Internet, for recipes that feature it.  Thus, I was able to find “Tagliatelle with Parsnips and Pancetta” in my Pasta recipe folder on my Dropbox account.

I had copied that recipe from an issue of Gourmet magazine in October, 2000.  It was adapted from a Babbo recipe by Mario Batali, and it rested peacefully in my folder for 18 years, until I decided to try it out.

Because i always enjoyed tagliatelle, and I had the time on Friday, I decided to make the pasta fresh that afternoon.  Using the last of a small package of Italian double-zero (00) flour, I quickly made the pasta, and then prepared the rest of the dish.  It was easy to prepare, and quite delicious.  The sweetness of the sautéed parsnips and the contrast of the crisp pancetta made a perfect counterpoint to each other.

For the wine, I chose a 2012 Damiano Ciolli Cirsium Cesanese Riserva, imported by Jan D’Amore and purchased at Eataly Vino in NYC, a fortuitous combination, indeed.

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Simple Sunday Supper — Spaghettini Frittata with Black Garlic

Well, it COULD have been a supper; it was actually Sunday lunch, but I like the alliteration the other way.

We had returned from Jamaica late Saturday night, and I had not cooked for a week.  The refrigerator had been emptied when we left.  We were hungry, so I made a late dinner of spaghettini, with a sauce of chopped salted anchovies and garlic sautéed in olive oil, to which I added one plum tomato peeled and diced, finished with salt and pepper, parsley, Parmesan cheese, and more Ligurian olive oil.  Quite tasty, but that’s not what the post is about.

Instead, it’s about the remaining pasta: leftover spaghettini with no sauce.  For a quick lunch on Sunday before going to a concert, I sautéed the pasta in olive oil, beat 4 eggs in a bowl, added grated Parmesan cheese, salt and pepper, and then dropped in the cooked pasta.  All of this was placed in the nonstick pan I used with the spaghettini, and cooked over moderate heat, covered, until it was browned on one side.  Then, I flipped the frittata over, and finished cooking the other side.  The frittata went onto a big serving plate, and I added toppings: chopped parsley, small pieces of black garlic, and more olive oil.  For a wine I went for a Colle Ticchio Cesanese from Lazio.  Altogether delightful.  So was the Prokofiev 5th Symphony at the concert.

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Midnight Snack: Bruschetta with Friends

Sometimes I need a midnight snack.   Peanut butter or Cheez-Its don’t do the trick.  Tonight was one of the more elaborate versions — satisfying my hunger, desire for favorite foods, and restoring delightful flavors to my mouth before bedtime.  It also helps that I had a nap for almost two hours this afternoon.

What I often do for this situation relies on bread.  Fortunately, I had a portion of a loaf made last week –a  Tartine-style Levain Sourdough bread, made from 80% bread flour, 15% home-milled Whole Wheat, and 5% home-milled Triticale.  As it had aged a bit on the counter, I sliced it very thinly with the electric slicer and froze the remaining 1/2 loaf.  These slices were no more than 1/8″ thick, and they could be defrosted and toasted directly in our electric toaster.

Now I had the plan.  Bruschetta with olive paste, roasted sweet peppers, and almond milk  ricotta cheese.   The other friend I needed to complete the pleasure was Victor Hazan, author of Italian Wine, my first bible on the topic.  The olive paste was Pate Olive Nere from Azienda Taurino in Puglia, where I had visited two years ago.  The peppers were in a jar, from Turkey, but they were thick and flavorful — perfect for the job.

I had a bottle of a Portuguese red wine open, but this called for something Italian, so I went to the cellar and returned with a 2012 Guidobuono Barbera d’Alba, from Jan D’Amore.  I don’t know Barberas that well, so I needed an introduction from Victor, and he provided a beauty.

“Although I had had a bottle of it now and then, I had never had much enthusiasm for Barbera, nor really understood the wine until my first trip to Piedmont.  I had arrived in the evening, late in November.  It was foggy; the streets of Asti were dark and empty; I was cold.  This was the hard, silent, impenetrable Piedmont I had always imagined and had long put off visiting.

It was nearly 10 P.M., and I asked to be directed to a trattoria.  Only one was still open.  I thought of balmy Rome which I had left in the morning and where at that very moment restaurants were beginning to fill up.  As I sat down, I was asked what I would be drinking.  In small Italian restaurants one usually talks wine before talking food.  Asti is Barbera country, so ‘Barbera” I told the man, but “bring me one of your best bottles.”

The food was sturdy and extraordinarily good — bagna cauda to start with …. and bolitto misto.  But the star of the evening was the Barbera, a five-year-old from the village of Rocchetta Tanaro.  The color was flashing garnet; the fragrance intense, of crushed flowers and concentrated fruit.  It was a mouthfilling, chewy wine, brawny, but without any hard edges.  The sense of comfort was immediate, chasing the chill, the loneliness, the oppressive awareness of the fog waiting at the door.  This is what Barbara is all about.”

I have no photos of the assembled bruschetta, but they were rich and delicious.  My Barbera was 6 years old, and I can not improve on Victor’s description in any way.  I can only add that I was very happy that I decided to save the Portuguese wine for another night.  And the yelping of coyotes down in our woods didn’t phase me at all.

 

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Spaghetti alla Chitarrra con Vongole

Pasta with clam sauce, if you will.  Today’s lunch, and one of my most frequent meals over time.  Just a dozen of the smallest littleneck clams, a handful of pasta, olive oil, sliced garlic, a little Calabrian hot pepper, chopped parsley, and white wine.  The dish almost makes itself, although there is a little art in getting the clams to steam themselves open and finishing the pasta in the sauce without overcooking the clams.

The choice of wines can vary tremendously.  Today I chose what was open, a Paso Robles white wine with Rhône Valley grapes, a bit richer than I’d like, but still very good.

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Japanese Herb Tofu and American Vegetables

Barbara tends to like a traditional-style American meal, with three things on the plate: protein, starch and vegetable.  Since we don’t eat meat anymore, and fish is infrequent,  I had to ad-lib the other day, but it worked out well.

First step was two cook two baked potatoes.  Preheat the oven to 425º F.   Wash and scrub two russet potatoes, and rub the skins with a little softened butter.  Bake in the oven while you do other things.

The protein was provided by an interesting food blog about healthy Japanese home cooking.  She provided a nice PDF with visual instructions on how to make cubes of tofu, flavored with a variety of herbs.  I had no dried dill, so I used 1 tsp. dried marjoram.  Here is how it looked in my nonstick pan.

We had some superb organic green beans, so that made the vegetable choice easy and colorful.  Cooked in salted boiling water, then drained.  Finally, they were finished with a little butter or olive oil, and some packaged dried onions.

The baked potatoes were opened and stuffed with butter or olive oil, plus chopped scallions and watercress.  And, for variety and interest, I heated up a bunch of Gaeta olives in olive oil, with herbs, as a side dish.

So traditional, and not so much at the same time.

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