Mussels Marinière, Brittany Style

Barbara has been helping out at our library in town, getting things ready for the annual book sale there.  Sometimes she spots a cookbook I would like, and she brings it home for me.  A few days ago, I was thrilled to receive Heart of the Artichoke, by David Tanis.  It’s a beautiful book, very well-written, and it has some excellent recipes.  Today’s lunch, Mussels Marinière, Brittany Style, was perfect for the pound of mussels I bought at Quarterdeck Sea Foods this morning.


It was easy to follow.  I used only a little butter plus a little olive oil, and I didn’t bother with the parsley because I was too hungry to take the time to find, clean, and chop it.  Twenty five minutes later, I had a delicious lunch and photos to display.  Not even close to vegan, but it was a good source of B-12 vitamins.  And flavor.

in the pot

steamed open

served in the big bowl

second helping, with Rustic Italian bread from Clear Flour, for sopping par excellence

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This weekend I did some experimenting with ingredients.  One effort was built around two artisan flours from Italy, Pane Nero and Maiorca,  from Sicily.   Gustiamo is the source for these in the US.  I decided to try making ravioli, using the leftover filling of almond milk ricotta and cavolo nero from Barbara’s baked Eggplant Parmigiano.  I tried the dough with 20% Pane Nero and 80% Maiorca.

It was a challenge, since I had not used these before.  I tried my standard pasta-making recipe of 200 grams of flour, one large egg, salt, a little olive oil and a little water.  Unfortunately, I probably needed more water, because the dough was very hard and had difficulty staying together.  I persisted, and eventually was able to make 16 hand-cut ravioli.  I cooked them in a wide pan of salted water, and then finished with a sauce of fresh tomato, chopped onion, garlic, and ginger.  The final results were good, served with an outstanding Sauvignon Blanc from Italy.

My other experiment was with seitan — made from vital wheat gluten, whose texture is somewhat akin to that of meat.  Since sautéed veal cutlets and veal tidbits grilled over a wood fire were among my favorite meats in my omnivorous days past, I tried to get a bit of that feel in the dish.  I sliced the seitan like a few cutlets, and also cut some smaller pieces to resemble tidbits.  After dusting them with flour and salt, I sautéed them in olive oil in a good cast iron skillet.  Then I cooked some chopped red onions, and after that, some cubed potatoes.  Finally, they all went back in the pan to heat up and serve.  Results were tolerable.  It’s not veal, but they were close enough to conjure up the images.

Seitan with Red Onions and Potatoes


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Uruguayan Wine Dinner at La Bodega by Salts

One of my favorite dining choices some time ago was a Uruguayan restaurant, Salts, in Cambridge.  They closed that location  a few years back.  Then, the chef, Gabriel, decided to build their own place, and with the help of a Kickstarter campaign and lots of toil and travail, they recently opened La Bodega by Salts in Watertown, MA.  I’d been looking for an opportunity to go, and when they announced a special dinner based on the wines and food of Uruguay, I signed up and enlisted my friend Chris to join me.

The Invitation

Both the food and the wine were wonderful.  There were several highlights, not the least of which was the amazing Vermouth Gabriel made from one of the wines featuring the Tannat grapes of the country.  The crowning touch was the service in lovely etched glasses.

House-made Vermouth

Cerro Chapeu Tannat de Reserva

The bar

Menu and Wine List


Wood Grilled Maine Oysters

Buñuelos de Algas — Seaweed Fritters

Hearts of Palm

Uruguayan Ribeye

Each dish was distinct and beautifully-executed, and Francisco’s discussion of each of the accompanying wines was instructive.  Obviously, I set aside my vegetarian/vegan ways for the night, but the plates were small, and I kept my quantities even smaller, so it worked just fine.

If your travels take you anywhere near La Bodega by Salts, I can highly recommend the food, ambience, and service.  So does the Boston Globe: La Bodega


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Late April Meals — Vegetables and Beans of All Kinds

Asparagus that is good and fresh — even if not local — is an early sign of Spring.  It begins a long procession of long-awaited vegetables, usually accompanied by grains and/or beans.  So it was this late, cold, damp April.

My first batch of asparagus was thick and juicy enough for gratinée under the broiler.

Just out of the broiler in roasting pan

On the plate — with a Calabrian Pecorino

After the asparagus appetizer, we moved on to the Beans.  I love beans of all kinds, especially the more obscure and unusual ones.  Inspired again by Judith Barrett’s book, Fagioli, I spent the next two weeks building meals around them.  Here is a sampling.

Umbrian Lentil Soup with Tomatoes and Escarole

Bean Salad #1

Crostini, with Fava Bean and Black Garlic Puree, Avocado Spread, Radishes, Hard Boiled Egg Yolks, and Corona Beans

Crostini with Fava Bean Puree and Escarole

Bean Salad #2, with Radicchio, Spanish Broad Green Beans, and King Trumpet Mushroom

Pan-Roasted King Trumpet Mushrooms, with Aged Balsamico

Delicious red wine from the Marche, Montepulciano grapes

Closeup — Bean Salad #3 — three kinds of beans plus jalapeños and Serrano peppers

Bean Salad #3 on the plate

Graphic of Rancho Gordo Beans — from a wonderful recent article in the New Yorker about the company and its founder

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Some New/Updated Pages

Featured Gallery — Firenze 1988

Food, Wine and Travel Collage




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April Food and Wine

April has been a good month (for food and wine, anyway), and it’s only half over.  Here is a sprinkling of highlights.

Mucci Winemakers Event

Nick Mucci and his brother, James, import some superb natural Italian wines from small, artisan producers.  I’ve been a fan of their wines since Eileen introduced me to them several years ago.   Two weeks ago they held a special event to celebrate their 5th anniversary of the business, by hosting six of their winemakers at a special dinner at Loyal Nine Restaurant in Cambridge, MA.

I was delighted that my good friend, fishmonger, and great foodie, Chris Basile could join me there.  Together we visited the tables of each winemaker, sampled the wines and the small plates the restaurant made for each, and had a marvelous time.

I had previously purchased wines from Rao (Silva Nigra – Pallagrello Nero grapes) and from La Sabbiona (VIP – Famoso grapes), and I enjoyed then again here.  But the most exciting grower was La Tollara, whose Malvasia di Candia Aromatica was truly captivating.  They also had some excellent wines from Bonarda grapes, as shown in the photos above.

I came away more impressed than ever with Mucci Wines — which was the purpose of the event, I imagine.

Dinner at Terra, Eataly Boston, and Great Road Kitchen in Littleton

The previous week I went to a wine tasting with Sandy Block at Legal Sea Food, featuring Under the Radar (unusual) grapes, which was informative as always.  After the tasting, I went to Eataly Boston to buy a few items and to try their restaurant Terra.  Sitting at the bar, I had a great view of the wood grill station.

I wasn’t that hungry, so I had just two dishes: a grilled artichoke appetizer, and a squid ink pasta with smoked mussels.  The artichoke dish was top-notch.

For punctuation in this post, I am inserting Barbara’s collection of small, porcelain bunnies, which populate our greenhouse for some odd reason.

Next on the April food timeline was dinner with our daughter at Great Road Kitchen in Littleton on Saturday, just prior to a concert in Groton.  Restaurants don’t usually stir me to hyperbole, but they served a fresh (never frozen), line-caught Chilean Sea Bass dish with crabmeat and asparagus, and purportedly a lobster corn sauce that was wonderful.  It was accompanied by a delicious California Pinot Noir-based rosé that was delicious.

At Home over the Weekend

Today being Monday (Patriots Day in New England), we had a three-day weekend.  Even better, Barbara was busy with activities for two of the days, so I had plenty of opportunities to cook.  I had found two packages of Padron peppers at Russo’s last week, so I fried up a pan every day all weekend.  Served with terrific Swedish sea salt from Lynn and Dave’s visit to Sweden last summer, it was a perfect first course to almost any meal.

Whatever white wine was open in the fridge went well with the peppers.

For lunch yesterday I went cuckoo, making a chopped salad with a variety of ingredients left over in the fridge.

  • sliced radicchio and Bibb lettuce
  • chopped cilantro
  • microgreens
  • cooked black eyed peas
  • finely-diced red onion
  • chopped homemade pickled jalapeños
  • slice of portobello mushroom
  • slice of zucchini and garlic with lemon
  • finely julienned kohlrabi
  • grape tomatoes, cut in half
  • sea salt, pepper olive oil and red wine vinegar

It was so good, I ate three plates full and loved every morsel, especially on my favorite Cafe Paris plate.

New Breads

Today was for bread baking.  We had used all our frozen breads, so it was an ideal time to bake more.  And it was a cold, rainy, icy day, so what better way to spend the time?

Yesterday was dedicated to developing the doughs —  one for a Rye Levain with Caraway Seeds, the other for an Olive-Walnut Levain — two loaves of each.  The whole process is 27 hours long, mostly waiting patiently for the 1/2 tsp. of yeast and 100 gm. of my bread starter to do their magic with each batch of flour.

Here is the result:

Rye Levain with Caraway

Whole Grain Levain with Olives and Walnuts


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Cross-Cultural Lunch

One of the concepts we learn early in the process of appreciating wines and their origins is the notion that one should often match with the cuisine from the region in which the grapes are grown.  That process works well as a general guide for pairing wine and food.

However, I also take mischievous pleasure in finding radically different cross-cultural matches, based only on my perceptions of the characteristics of the individual components in which I am interested.

For example, today’s lunch:  Golden Beets and Spicy Guacamole with a Malvasia di Candia Aromatica (from Piacenza, Emilia Romagna region, Italy).

I had some time to play alone in our kitchen today, and it was a good time to invent.  There were two triggers for the creation of the dish.  One was the inspiration of an absolutely delicious spicy guacamole I had at abc cocina in NYC a few weeks ago.  I wanted to replicate it , but my online research provided no definitive recipe, so I had to try out what I thought were the main ingredients.

  • Finely minced raw onion
  • Finely minced serrano pepper
  • Sea salt
  • Lime juice
  • Avocado

Barbara makes guacamole often, and sometimes a good batch of avocado toast.  However, I find these too bland for my palate.  I want a lot of salt, acid, and spice, and her style ranges from little to none (she uses only one – avocado – of the 5 ingredients above).  Today I pulled out my Molcajete (Mexican mortar, made in Thailand), and I made the dish MY way.  Wow, what a difference!

The other trigger was the need to use the beet greens we had saved several days ago from a bunch of golden beets.  I had steamed the beets and eaten all but one of them, but I needed to do something with the greens soon.  These simply needed to be de-stemmed, washed well, and steamed in a non-stick pan with the liquid attached to the leaves, with a little olive oil and salt.  The peppery greens were delicious, so I chopped them and put on a small plate as the base for the dish.

Next, I sliced the beet and got ready to assemble the dish.

Now, for the wine.  I had an open bottle of Soave, but decided it was not acidic enough for this dish.  A few days ago I attended a wine tasting in Cambridge for Mucci Wines’ 5th anniversary.  One of the truly standout wines at that event was the 2016 Tollara Malvasia D.O.C.  I loved meeting the owner and tasting her wines.  A few days later, Jeff Nedeau at Farfalle in Concord put aside two bottles for me, and I picked them up over the weekend.  Everything came together perfectly, and my lunch experiment was a success.

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