Wednesday, April 24, 2013

black pepper tagliatelle

This was an easy one: When mixing up the pasta, you just add a copious amount of black pepper. I'm a fan of black pepper, so I was totally on board.

Other than that, it was just about sautéing some parsnips and pancetta. 

OK, so I cured my own pancetta. But not specifically for this dish. It was just in the fridge. Its a benefit of being obsessive.

Boil the pasta, toss with the pancetta and parsnips, and it's all over.

I found this recipe on Cooking Channel's website. It doesn't call for the black pepper in the basic pasta. Weird. I'll tell you a secret: Add 2 tablespoons fresh ground black pepper to the eggs in the pasta part of the recipe. That may be the way it all goes down in the book.

Also, fresh pasta dishes? We have reached the point where I preface posts about them by saying, "This was an easy one." Uh huh. That's right.

Up next: Warm lamb's tongue salad.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

marinated baccala; black and white strichetti

I will admit here: I had this chunk of salt cod sitting in my refrigerator for more than a year. In fact, I had had it so long that more than one refrigerator was involved. When I started, I saw how much I needed for the three salt cod dishes in the book, and I just bought that much.

One of the dishes, the Baccala Mezzalune, got made pretty quick. But I didn't love that dish, so my urgency to finish the other two waned. The always seemed like dishes I could knock out whenever, then whenever started to slip to almost never.

Then the cod managed to slip to the back of the fridge. And you know how that goes. Then it got moved, which, frankly, is sort of insane.

Luckily, the salting is a preservation technique, so it could wait forever. Then one day, I was cleaning out the fridge, saw the white chuck of dried fish, and decided to check this one off the list. 

The Marinated Baccala was a breeze. After soaking the cod for a couple of days, it marinates in some oil.

It goes with some baby fennel, which reminds me that one of the reasons I held off making this dishes in the first place was that I wanted to grow the fennel myself. And as I recall, I tried. It never went well. So I bought fennel. Shrug. 

The next night I made the Black and White Strichetti, which involved making a sauce of the cod and tossing it in big bowtie pasta, half of which is colored with squid ink. 

It was funny looking at our dishes after Pam and I were done. She had picked through and mostly eaten the white pasta, I had picked through and mostly eaten the black pasta. Mainly, I wanted to see if I could discern a difference. Maybe a little. Maybe. Not really, though. It just looks neat.

Both dishes were much better than than my first attempt at working with it. And I am happy to report there is no longer any salt cod in my refrigerator.

Up next: black pepper tagliatelle

Monday, April 15, 2013

veal breast (with bonus brussels sprouts)

I have two butchers that I deal with with some degree of regularity. And while I felt confident that both of them could get me a veal breast, I knew that I shouldn't just walk in to either and expect to walk out with one, so i called the one that's closer to where I live. It was a Friday morning, and I wanted to make this dish on Sunday.

"We can get it, but you have to order it in advance. We put in our order for the weekend on Thursday nights,"

Doh. That was close.

So I called Stachowski's Market in Georgetown. Friends have had luck with specialty cuts there, and I've had some of it, and it's always fairly amazing.

"We can get it, but we have to order it," guy on the phone tells me. "Hold on. Let me go look to make sure."

(Taps fingers on the desk for about five minutes.)

"I was wrong. We have one. It's about 10 pounds and I can't break it. That OK?"


At this point, I realized that I didn't know how much that piece of meat was going to cost. But I once watched Jeremy buy a piece of meat there that cost more than either of my first two cars, so I was prepared to be shocked.

My anxiety lasted until I went to pick it up the next day. When I walked in and asked for it, I was immediately tagged as "that guy who wanted the veal breast." That's fine. So that guy I talked to on the phone, which is how I immediately tagged him, went to the walk-in and brought back the vacuum-sealed piece of meat. It was gorgeous. It looked just like a brisket, which is what it would have grown up to be, but the meat was snowy white.

I took the bag to the counter, and there was some discussion among the employees about how much the veal breast cost per pound. The numbers swung rather wildly, and each number set off calculations in my head. But when it was all said and done, the total price came out to be less than half the price of either of my first two cars, so I consider it a win.

In conversation, it came up that I barely needed half of this for the recipe I was doing. So he offered to split it and just sell me what I needed, which made me scratch my head, since he pretty much told me on the phone that that wouldn't happen. But by then, I wasn't afraid of the price, and figured I'd find a second dish to do with the rest of the meat.

The dish itself was easy. Just rolls the veal roast up with pancetta then cook it low and slow with a ton of onions.

So many onions. The stack started like this:

And ended up like this:

I've been looking forward to this dish, because it looks so delicious in the photo in the book. A nice piece of rolled meat, with a ton of onions in a red sauce.

Mine was not red, at all. I looked again at the recipe, and there is nothing in it that would make it red. So I'm not sure what to think about that. But it was delicious. It tasted a lot like French onion soup, with a big hunk of meat in it.

I like French onion soup. And big hunks of meat. So all good.

Made the Brussels sprouts with pancetta to go along with it. My reasoning was that the pancetta in the sprouts would go well with the pancetta in the veal. My secondary reasoning was that something with pancetta in it always goes with anything else, whether the other thing has pancetta or no. So it seemed destined for success.

Up next: hey, is that salt cod in the fridge?

Sunday, April 14, 2013

duck brasaola

I was really looking forward to this dish.

I like duck. A lot. I like cured meats. A lot. I like curing meats. A lot. Even though it sort of scares me. Maybe because it scares me?

Anyway, the photo of this dish in the book is gorgeous. The meat looks all jewel-toned and beautiful. It looks like salmon, really. So it was with great anticipation that I made a spice rub, bathed a duck breast, tied it up and hung it in the refrigerator. All I had to do was wait three weeks, and I would be having jewel-toned duck.

I looked at the duck breast after about a week, then after two weeks, and I was worried. It looked like it was turning black. I sort of shrugged and accepted I couldn't know what it looked like inside yet. Jewel-toned, probably.

When I took it out of the fridge, it looked like this: 

Not optimistic.

I made the beans, and the red onion jam that go with it. Then I sliced the duck.

There were really no jewel tones. It sort of looked like raw duck in the middle. I tasted it. It tasted a little like nicely spiced raw duck. With an unfortunate dry, black crust.

We'll file this one under "learning experience."

The beans and the red onion jam were delicious. Actually, so was the spice rub. I used all those with other dishes.

Up next: An unmitigated success story.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

brasato al barolo with pumpkin orzo

Brasato al Barolo was actually the first dish that I cooked out of this book. I made it in 2006, when I was cooking for a big birthday party for my friend Lawrence. About 100 people were going to be there. Lawrence is Italian, by the grace of God, and I knew a Mario recipe would go over well. I was looking for something I could use to stuff into small peppers, to make some sort of take on jalapeño poppers. I saw this recipe, and decided to make it, shred the meat, mix it with the sauce, stuff it into the mini peppers (some went into jalapeños, some into sweet peppers that were the same size as jalapeño), then roast them.

That worked out pretty well. And as many photos as I have from that party, there are none of that dish. Weird. But here is a gratuitous photo from that party, in which the bresato stuffed peppers are nowhere to be seen:

When I went to cook it that time, I really knew nothing about wine. Unlike now, when I know enough to know that I don't know very much, but know the right questions to ask the right people. In fact, cooking this dish back then was probably how I learned that.

The dish called for a wine called Barolo, and I presumed that must be pretty important, because there it was, right there in the name of the dish. I went to Mazarro's in St. Petersburg, went to the wine rack, and saw two kinds of Barolo. One was $45 and the other was $65. Given that my budget for the whole party was about $300, this was a problem. So I went to the wine guy at the store, and told him what I was making. It's been six years now, so I don't know if I'm quoting him correctly, but suffice to say he said something like, "No, you don't want to cook with that." He implied he would consider not even selling me a bottle of Barolo if he thought I was going to cook with it.

The thing was, I did want to cook with it. I just knew that I couldn't rationally afford to. So he pointed me to a bottle of Something Or Other 2001, which was a very good year for Something Or Other, and told me that it had a lot of the same characteristics of the Barolo, but would not be a sin to dump into a braise and put in the oven for 2 hours. He seemed adamant.

And that time, it turned out great.

So this time, I never even considered looking for a bottle of Barolo. I used a bottle of pinot noir I had at hand, because, as I learned by reading the book Heat, that's what they use to braise the short ribs at Babbo in the first place. So I was achieving and added level of authenticity by not following the recipe. Woo-hoo!

When I made this dish in 2006, I'm sure I used whatever tiny short rib remnants I was able to find at Publix, and I was probably pretty grateful to find them at all. But this time, I had every intention of getting that long rib bone with the shrunken braised meat cube on the middle. So I went down to Eastern Market, where they had a bunch of the tiny short rib remnants in the case. I got the attention of one of the butchers behind the counter and asked if they had any that were uncut.

He smiled and said he'd be right back.

He brought out a container full of 10- to 12-inch long ribs. They really have no business even being called short ribs. The ones in the case were probably these cut into four pieces.

"Want me to cut these in half?" he asked.

"I don't want you to cut those at all," I said.

He smiled. "Ohhhhhh, you want to cook them right."

Yes. Yes. That is my plan.

He seemed very pleased. He pointed down at the little bitty quartered short, short ribs in the case.

"Most people tell me they want those cut again. They say those are too big," he said, with the clear subtext that most people are total morons.

"Those?" I asked, incredulously. "Those are tiny."

"I know!"

And that's how I made a butcher friend.

This dish was never, ever going to be bad. I love braising meat for a long time and getting the fall-apart chunk of meat and the amazing sauce that happens while I pretty much sit around and watch football. It's the best kind of magic.

The pumpkin orzo is the contorni that is prescribed in the book to go with this, and it was good. (I multitasked this dish: I made the pumpkin puree for the orzo at the same time that I made the filling for the pumpkin lune. That way, I killed fewer pumpkins)

Usually I'm cooking for two, so often when a recipe serves 4 or more, I halve it. Not this one. The only thing better than braised short ribs are leftover braised short ribs. I shredded the ribs we didn't eat, and they will soon be a sandwich, or on top of pasta.

Or maybe stuff some little peppers.

(Here is the recipe, if you have some short ribs to braise.)

Up next: duck brasaola

Monday, February 4, 2013

Catching up

It's not always easy to find drama in ingredient acquisition. Because sometimes getting the ingredient is so easy. And if the ingredient was easy to get, maybe there was some issue in the cooking. But maybe there wasn't. So here are a few pretty pictures of dishes that didn't require any significant sourcing and caused no headaches:

Penne and zucca (top): I got Mario's branded penne and a butternut squash from the farmer's market. I'm a fan of the toasted breadcrumbs on top of pasta.

Pumpkin lune: This pasta gets garnished with a shaved amaretti cookie. I was going to make this dish last December when I made all the cookies in the book, but then I got busy and moved. So I threw a couple in the freezer. They moved with me. Then I thought, "Wait, these have been in the freezer for like a year. I have to make new ones." Then I pulled them out of the freezer and tasted one. They were still perfect. So I didn't make new ones.

 Walnut-date delize: In the book, these look like cool little pucks. Mine looked like muffins. I suspect I used too much batter. I started to cut the tops off, but that seemed to be mangling the cakes. So I turned them upside-down on the plate. Leftovers were breakfast for the next several days.

Goat cheese tortelloni: I was committed to make this dish one Sunday afternoon. On Saturday, when I was making the tortelloni, I went to grab the fennel pollen out of the cabinet. I knew it was there. But I couldn't find it. The headnote in the recipe suggests fennel pollen is now, or was in 2002, ubiquitous. The only time I've ever found it was at a spice market in Napa, Calif., and it cost like $20 and ounce. I bought some fraction of an ounce. I've used it a couple times, and the more I think about it, the more I think I finished it off at some point, thinking I might as well. And apparently forgetting I needed it for this dish. I called around and couldn't find it readily available in the D.C. area anywhere. The recipe suggests ground fennel seed as an alternative. That did fine. And I have some of the tortelloni leftover in the freezer. If I see fennel pollen anywhere, I can remake it in a heartbeat.

Gorgonzola with cherries: Get good gorgonzola, get good cherries. Mix the cheese with nuts and mint to make little truffles. Cook the cherries with some sugar. Serve. Succeed.

Up next: Bresato al Barolo

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

two cardoons

One of the first dishes I made in this project was a gratin of cardoons. It seemed rather exotic to me at the time. (Two years ago? Really?) I had never had a cardoon at that point, and was excited to try it. It looked like a big head of celery, and word was that it tasted like artichoke, with which it shares lineage in some way.

The cool thing was that it was a fairly exotic ingredient that I had pretty easy access to. There was a little mom-and-pop vegetable stand in Clearwater that I frequented that I knew carried it. When I went to buy cardoons to make that dish, they only had one head of them, and it was sort of grayish-brown. Deep down, I suspected it should be green, but I was excited at that point. So I bought it and made the dish. It came out fine, but didn't really blow me away. I always sort of wondered if it was because I needed better cardoons.

Fast-forward to the present. I'm not in Florida anymore, and I can't get to the little produce stand in Clearwater. Since moving to D.C., I've found that the farmers markets and specialty stores are far superior to what we had in Florida. But I've also found that that's a good thing, because the typical, everyday supermarkets here kind of suck. One of the criteria that we used in picking our apartment was it's proximity to a Safeway, which is right across the street. But I don't love it. The store brands I've had there are terrible and the state of the meat case makes me sad. Produce is OK, and I'll buy national-brand staples. So, basically it's good in a pinch, but makes me wish I had a Publix.

The closest thing we have to a Publix is Wegman's, which actually might be better than Publix. But the closest one is in Landover, Md., 10 miles away. And here, 10 miles is a long ways away. But sometimes I go out there when I want to remember what a decent supermarket is like, and on one such trip, I found cardoons. This was a big deal, because I knew they were in season, but I didn't know where or when I might find them, and I knew I had two dishes left that called for them.

The first dish is perciatelli with cardoons, garlic and pecorino. The great thing was that the initial cooking of the cardoon was the same for each dish. (Actually, it was also the same in the gratin. If I had been smart, I just would have done all three dishes at the same time back then.)

While I was at Wegman's, I went over to the pasta aisle to pick up some perciatelli. Perciatelli is a long, thin, tubular pasta which looks like this … 

... and which Wegman's doesn't carry (just as we were starting to get along so well). But it had bucatini, which is exactly the same thing until someone tells me differently. So I bought it.

Then I felt guilty. What if it is different, and i just totally messed up the dish? Not really, but I went to A. Litteri, an Italian specialty store in the warehouse district of D.C. They had perciatelli. Controversy averted.

The other dish with cardoons was a contorni of cardoons and lemon. Here's what that looked like:

The dominant flavor here was the preserved lemon. We had it as a side dish with a steak. Good stuff. 

Up next: Catching up