Archive for July, 2009

A New Show in Town

Pizza Romana

I wonder how many people out there are like me: when my birthday comes around (or within 4 months…) my mind immediately turns to restaurants.  Rather than thinking about holes in my summer wardrobe or dropping hints about my need for a new iPod, I go online and search for the location of my birthday dinner.  This year, while I was well underway with making my June 22nd reservation, my husband pre-empted me with a surprise the week before — a dinner and birthday gift rolled up into one.

He took me, and two friends, to Stir — Barbara Lynch’s new venture in the South End.  Not only did we eat a great meal, but we watched it being cooked in front of us by two of Ms. Lynch’s skilled chefs.  The concept is straightforward and brilliant: each class is based on a different cookbook, selected from one of the many stacked on the bookshelves on one wall of the cozy kitchen.  Two talents from the Barbara Lynch Gruppo choose 3 or more recipes from the cookbook to demonstrate and serve to the guests, who number no greater than nine.  My birthday dinner, based on The River Cottage Meat Book, consisted of french fries, charcuterie (cured meats, salami, and pork rillettes), sweetbreads with bacon and fava beans, and crispy pork belly with apple sauce.  It was not to be believed.  Of course, the entire meal is paired with excellent wines by the course, and a copy of the cookbook is yours to keep.  I left Stir that night with a smile from ear to ear and a book called Meat under my arm.

Kale

My mother’s birthday followed closely behind mine, and I borrowed RJ’s wonderful idea.  For Mom, the cookbook du jour was A16: Food + Wine, named for the famed San Francisco restaurant.  Nate Appleman, the chef/owner of A16, was recently named Rising Star Chef of the Year by the James Beard Foundation and ranked as one of Food and Wine Magazine’s Best New Chefs 2009.  The featured recipes included pizzas (bianco – with green olives, parmesan and chili oil; Romana – with tomatoes, anchovies and oregano; and margherita – with mozzarella, basil and tomatoes); halibut with a preserved meyer lemon, caper and pistachio crust and a side of delicious kale; and chocolate budino, the most heavenly chocolate-on-chocolate tart I’ve ever tasted, topped with olive oil and sea salt.

Halibut

What is so lovely about Stir is that it feels like a dinner party among friends.  They only allow 8-9 people at a time, and the chefs encourage questions and dialogue as they cook their way through the menu.  Of the people around the table at my mom’s birthday dinner, half were repeat attendees (one guy was on his fourth visit) and the rest was my family.  It felt very familiar and casual, despite the decadent food and wine.

There’s also a tactile element I really enjoy – at my first Stir experience they passed around raw pork belly so we could feel the skin before the cooking process made it crunchy like candy, and the other night we handled pizza dough at different stages of rise so we could understand the results of proofing and kneading.

IMG_0024Best of all, however, is the staff.  In June, we met Molly, the executive sous chef at Stir, and Jericha, one of the butchers at the Butcher Shop.  This month, Molly was again regaling us with her fun tales of culinary school but stationed just to my left was none other than Barbara Lynch!   I can’t tell you what a treat it was to watch and learn from this master chef.  She forced the elastic pizza dough into submission, loosed handfuls of kosher salt with abandon, and divulged some of her favorite places to eat in Boston/Cambridge: Oleana, Hungry Mother, and Sel de la Terre (plus Cambridge One and Upper Crust for pizza).  Personally, I must confess that my favorite place to eat in Boston is Stir.  The experience is unique, unpredictable, and fun – it would be perfect for a first date if it weren’t so gosh darn expensive.  While you’re saving up, however, consider buying the book, due out in the fall, to tide you over: STIR: Mixing It Up in the Italian Tradition.  While I haven’t seen it, I would bet the farm that it is fabulous, and will be appearing soon on the shelves at my house.

Chocolate Budino

July 23, 2009 at 1:10 pm 2 comments

Summer Lovin’ Crostata

crostataBefore I ever started writing a food blog, I was reading food blogs.  Many, many of them.  My favorites are listed on the right-hand side of this page — those are the ones I wholeheartedly endorse.  I do so because I can count on each of them, albeit for different things.  When I need to know what to cook for RJ (and am unconcerned about calorie intake), I visit the Pioneer Woman.  When I am feeling healthy and adventurous, I’ll often check in with Molly.  And when I’m in the mood to dream of Paris, I click into Clothilde’s site.  Other blogs I read daily, because they post frequently and because they provide not only recipes but also reviews, interesting links, and unique perspectives.  One of these is Adam’s Amateur Gourmet site.

Adam is a reliable and lovable source, especially because he is so straightforward about his ‘amateur’ status.  His pictures aren’t pristine like Deb’s, and he doesn’t have pastry chef credentials like David.  But he’s witty (see his comic strip posts) and unpretentious (he did a post about the books in the Momofuku Ko bathroom) and he makes a mean pork roast.  What else could you want in a daily pick-me-up read?

Anyway, I mention Adam because he hasn’t steered me wrong yet (though I’ll admit I haven’t gone up every alley he recommends: Janet Jackson Breast Cupcakes, anyone?).  His roasted broccoli (via Ina Garten) is a life-changer, and he has given me many a fine cookbook recommendation, thus feeding my addiction.  So when he suggested, nay, ordered me to go Crostata Crazy, I did.  I cut up some nectarines and pitted some cherries and while I intended to cheat on the pie crust and use Pillsbury, circumstances (read: Whole Foods is not actually a supermarket) forced me to make my own and I’m glad I did.  All the work was done by my Cuisinart — all I had to do was measure 4 or 5 pantry ingredients, pulse, then roll out the dough after a half hour in the fridge.  The results?  Impressive, to say the least, and bursting with summer flavors.  A quarter of the recipe below makes a crostata for two.  Make the whole batch to have pie dough on hand for the next time and a dessert for six on the table in an hour.

crostata with summer cherriesCherry and Nectarine Crostata, adapted from Napa Style’s Michael Chiarello via Amateur Gourmet

(Serves 6)

Tart Dough:
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup (1/2 pound) chilled unsalted butter, cut into tablespoon-size pieces
1/4 cup ice water, or more if needed
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Filling:
4 cups of fruit of your favorite combination: pitted fresh cherries, sliced nectarines, berries, apples, diced rhubarb, etc.
1/4 cup granulated sugar (adjust to your taste and the type of fruits used)
1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt

1 egg yolk beaten for egg wash
2 teaspoons coarse sugar (like Sugar in the Raw)
Directions
Make the tart dough: Combine the flour, sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse to blend. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture forms coarse crumbs. Stir together the 1/4 cup ice water and the vanilla; sprinkle the water over the mixture in the processor and pulse just until a dough forms, adding a little extra ice water if necessary. Divide the dough in half, and shape each half into a 1-inch-thick round. Wrap 1 disk tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour; freeze the other for a future use.

Put a pizza stone in the oven and preheat the oven to 425ºF for 45 minutes. Remove the dough from the refrigerator about 15 minutes before rolling to soften it slightly.

Place the dough round between 2 sheets of parchment paper and roll into a 13-inch round, flouring the round lightly as needed to keep the dough from sticking. Remove the top sheet of parchment. Slide a pizza peel or rimless baking sheet under the bottom sheet of parchment.

Make the filling: Combine the fruit, sugar, flour, cinnamon, and salt in a bowl and toss well. Fill the center of the dough round with the fruit in an even layer, leaving a border of about 1 1/2 inches. Fold the border up and over the fruit to make a rim. Brush the rim with egg wash, then sprinkle with coarse sugar. Trim the excess parchment with scissors.

Use the pizza peel or baking sheet to transfer the crostata, still with parchment underneath, to the oven, sliding it, with the paper, directly onto the pizza stone. Bake until the crust is nicely browned and the cherries are bubbling, about 40 minutes. Remove from the oven with the peel or baking sheet and let cool on a rack for 15 minutes before serving. Serve warm.

July 22, 2009 at 7:09 am 3 comments

Duck Lasagna Strapazatta

Duck Lasagna

The final recipe I tested for my Cookbook Challenge review of the Sweet Basil Cookbook was Duck Lasagna Strapazatta.  I picture many readers saying to themselves: “Duck – check.  Lasagna – check.  Strapa-wha?”  In general, I try not to go into long, pedantic descriptions of certain foods, as both the well-informed and the uninterested among us might yawn at a recounting of the conflicts over the definitive elements of cassoulet or the supposed aphrodisiacal properties of oysters. Yet strapazatta is not a term you come across frequently, and even my Google searches neglected to produce a consensus on the definition.

From what I gather, strapazatta literally translates to “bungled” in Italian and is used in cooking to refer to ‘free-form’ dishes.  I am copying the spelling directly from the cookbook, though online another recipe title often pops up: uova strapazzate, or scrambled eggs.  It seems likely that strapazatta is an Americanization of the word strapazzate and that the general concept is a stirred-up, rustic preparation — here, of lasagna (also known as lasagne: further proof of my theory).

So much for avoiding long-winded explanations…  To keep the rest brief: I liked this, I didn’t love it.  I think the best translation based on what I put on the table was the first: “bungled”.  The port made the sauce quite sweet, and it neglected the strong savory component (oregano? more fontina?) to counter it.  In addition, the noodles refused to cooperate — the short lasagna pieces didn’t separate well and I ended up having to place them in the dish in rows, much as I would have with whole lasagna noodles.  The texture was phenomenal, however, with the pleasing contrast of rough shredded duck, sheets of smooth pasta, and crusty cheese topping.  If I hadn’t been following the recipe so closely, for the purposes of a proper review of the cookbook, I might have thinned out the sauce with some beef stock and added a couple of savory herbs to finish.  All told, however, the ragu had real merit as a concept — it just needed a few tweaks and a different pasta to top.

Duck Lasagna Strapazatta, from the Sweet Basil Cookbook [Printable Recipe]
(serves 4 to 6)

4 duck confit legs

mirepoix2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 carrot, peeled and diced (about 1 cup)
1 Spanish onion, diced (about 1 cup)
2 stalks celery, diced (about 1 cup)
2 cloves garlic, minced (about 2 Tbs.)
10 white mushrooms, quartered (about 2 cups)
2 large portobello mushrooms, stemmed and sliced into 1/2 inch wide strips
1 Tbs. dried porcini mushrooms
2 cups port wine
1 bay leaf
1 tsp. chopped fresh sage
2 Tbs. Worcestershire sauce
1 cup red sauce (use your favorite marinara sauce or follow the recipe below)

Fresh pasta sheets, cut into 3-inch wide strips
2 cups grated fontina cheese

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil over moderate heat. Add the carrot, onion and celery. Saute the mixture for 5 to 10 minutes, until the ingredients begin to brown. Add the garlic and the white and portobello mushrooms. Continue sauteing for 5 more minutes, until the ingredients begin to caramelize. Add the dried porcini mushrooms, port, bay leaf, and sage. Bring the mixture to a boil, and then add the Worcestershire sauce and the red sauce. Decrease the heat and allow the sauce to stew for 8 to 10 minutes, until all of the flavors have had a chance to get acquainted. Stir the duck in with the sauce and remove from the heat.

Duck_RaguMeanwhile, in a large pot, bring 6 quarts of water to a boil. Add a pinch of salt and the pasta, stirring it to keep from sticking. Cook for 1 minute, or until al dente [I used no-boil lasagna noodles and 2 minutes of boiling softened them up, though I would recommend serving this over penne rigate or rigatoni or even pappardelle — adjust cook time accodingly]. Drain thoroughly.

Duck_pastaStir the cooked pasta in with the sauce. Transfer the pasta and sauce to a large casserole dish, sprinkle with the fontina, and bake in the oven [at 350 degrees] until the cheese is bubbling. Serve garnished with parsley.

P.S. — the cookbook also suggests that subbing in sliced eggplant for the duck would make a lovely vegetarian version.

duck lasagna

July 16, 2009 at 10:58 pm 2 comments

Panzanella Salad

panzanella

When I wrote my recent post about my “Hearty and Refreshing” Arugula Salad, I definitely struggled over the title.  Are “hearty” and “refreshing” oxymoronic?  And if so, how better to describe a salad which is at once light, zesty and supremely satisfying?  And now, I give you another data point to consider: a hearty salad with a cornucopia of flavors, all harmonizing beautifully, which both sates and invigorates.

Panzanella is a wonderful concept — using day-old or even stale bread to make a fantastic and substantial salad — and can be endlessly varied.  A former classmate of mine from Needham (another Sweet Basil adherent, perhaps?) offers both a traditional recipe and some ideas for variants on her blog, Two Blue Lemons.  As for me, I don’t see much need for tweaking with this recipe, which combines savory roasted garlic, tangy marinated onions, sweet mozzarella and lots of fresh herbs.  While both the garlic and the onions take their own time and instructions to make, I recommend making the full batches outlined below and saving any extras for future creations.

Panzanella, from The Sweet Basil Cookbook – [Printable Recipe]
(serves 4-6)

1 recipe balsamic vinaigrette


6 generous handfuls mixed greens
1 cup roasted garlic

2 (8 oz) balls fresh mozzarella cheese, diced
1 Tbs. marinated onions

2 vine-ripened tomatoes, wedged [I used cherry tomatoes]
2 roasted red peppers, sliced in 1/4 inch strips
1 c. kalamata olives, pitted
1 c. croutons

Fresh basil, chiffonade, for garnish
Fresh parsley, chiffonade, for garnish
Shaved cheese (such as Asiago or Parmesan) for garnish

Follow the instructions to prepare the balsamic vinaigrette. In a large bowl, toss the greens with one-half of the balsamic vinaigrette. Then, in a separate bowl, toss the remaining vinaigrette with the roasted garlic, mozzarella, marinated onions, tomatoes, roasted red peppers, olives and croutons. Add this mixture to the mixed greens, tossing to combine.

Evenly distribute the dressed greens among serving plates, and then garnish with the basil, parsley, and cheese. Serve immediately.

Balsamic Vinaigrette
In a mixing bowl, whisk together 2 Tbs. Dijon mustard and 1/3 c. balsamic vinegar. Once they are well combined, slowly whisk in 2/3 c. olive oil until it is incorporated. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Roasted GarlicRoasted Garlic
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Place 4 garlic bulbs [each bulb yields approximately 1/2 cup roasted garlic] with their tops trimmed off by 1/2 inch, cut-side-up, in a casserole dish just big enough to hold the bulbs comfortably. Cover the garlic with 4 cups olive oil, cover the dish with aluminum foil, and then roast in the oven for 45 minutes, or until the garlic is soft. Remove the dish from the oven and allow the garlic to cool for 20 minutes. Remove the garlic from the oil, and then squeeze the garlic cloves out of the skin, reserving the oil for cooking.

Marinated onionsMarinated Onions
Combine 1 red onion, as thinly sliced as possible, 1 clove of garlic, minced (about 1 Tbs.), 1 1/2 Tbs. olive oil, 1 Tbs. fresh basil chiffonade, 1 Tbs. fresh parsley chiffonade, kosher salt and pepper in a large bowl. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to an airtight container.

Croutons
Preheat the oven to 275 degrees. Arrange 1 pound bread, cut into 1/2 inch cubes, on a baking sheet, drizzle with some olive oil, and then top with a few pinches of butter and a couple sprinkles of salt and pepper. Roast in the oven for 20 minutes, or until the bread is brown and crispy, flipping periodically to avoid burning.panz-bread
If serving the croutons immediately, sprinkle them with a bit of grated parmesan cheese; if saving the croutons for later, transfer them to an airtight container and store in a cool, dry place for up to 1 week.

Panzanella Salad

July 8, 2009 at 8:47 am 1 comment

Best Ever Chicken Scallopine

Scallopine

It seems I am not the only one lax in my blogging duties.  Some of my favorite sites are on indefinite breaks.  Granted, I don’t have a truly good excuse, as I am not in the middle of opening my own restaurant, mourning the loss of my pet, or recovering from a difficult break-up.  I’m more in the same league with Katie of Chaos in the Kitchen, who just wants to hang out with her kids, since my reason is that I’m pouty about not having my own kitchen.  This, however, is all about to change!  Starting July 6th, my table — of “From My Table to Yours” fame — will be relocated to Beacon Hill in Boston, MA.  From those heights overlooking the historic city, the dirty river Charles, and the ivory towers of Cambridge, I hope to bring my cooking to a whole new level.  Think: exotic cheeses from Formaggio Kitchen, game meats from Savenor’s, and guess what — a Whole Foods only a couple blocks from my front door!  If I can just manage to keep my graduate student homework to a minimum, I can really get something accomplished here!

So, unlike my compatriots listed above I am not on a break from posting, I simply need another week to gather myself together and get back into the swing of things.  To tide you over, I have a great recipe to share though I do need to make a confession.  While my Cookbook Challenge was conceived with the absolute best intentions, I always suspected it might come back to bite me in the arse.  The mission was to work my way through the massive collection of cookbooks I own so that I could at least say that I had tried several recipes from each one (and thus justify their purchase).  Yet deep down I knew that I had a dark secret — I buy books faster than I can cook from them.  Since the start of the challenge at the end of April, I have added five cookbooks to my collection, or seven if you count Ratio and The Flavor Bible in the count!  No matter — I won’t let my own weakness for shiny hardcovers and glossy photographs lessen my dedication to (or enjoyment of) the Sisyphean task of the Cookbook Challenge!

Next up: Sweet Basil by David Becker.  This book is particularly close to my heart since the restaurant Sweet Basil is located in my hometown of Needham, MA and is a favorite of mine.  Inside the small establishment, corrugated tin walls flank an open kitchen from which steam clouds billow and giant white bowls of pasta emerge.  Outside, crowds gather to await their tables, each couple sharing the burden of a mysterious brown paper bag.  Those in the know, of course, are aware that the bags contain wine and beer, since part of the charm of Sweet Basil is their BYOB policy.  And as Dave Becker confesses in the book, he’s seen wine harvested during the Reagan administration sitting on one table, with Schlitz in a can holding court at the adjacent one.  It’s just that kind of place.

What I loved most about this first recipe is that it came out tasting just like it does at the restaurant.  The characteristic flavors of bright lemon juice, pungent garlic and, yes, sweet basil, were all present and accounted for.  Each bite came alive in my mouth – and each tastebud was singing in chorus: salt! sweet! sour! umami!  (it’s true – it’s from the parmesan cheese).  I would not call this recipe the “Best” unless it really was extremely good and the best I’ve tasted.  Please make this.  Go.  Now.  Cook!  Or if you don’t cook, get yourself over to Sweet Basil on Great Plain Ave in Needham.

Chicken Scallopini with Lemon, Capers, and Tomatoes, from Sweet Basil the Cookbook [Printable Recipe]
(Serves 4)

4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
All-purpose flour
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
3 Tbs. olive oil
3 Tbs. unsalted butter
8 cloves garlic, minced (about 1/2 cup – don’t skimp too much!)
1/2 c. white wine
Juice of 2 lemons
2 c. chicken stock
2 plum tomatoes, diced (about 1 cup)
2 Tbs. salted capers, rinsed (I used the capers in brine)
1/4 c. chopped fresh parsley
1/4 c. chopped fresh basil
1/2 c. grated Parmigiano-reggiano cheese

Cooked angel hair pasta for serving

scallopine-chickenPlace the chicken breasts, two at a time, between 2 sheets of plastic wrap [or in a gallon-size Ziploc bag]. Use the smooth side of a meat mallet [or a rolling pin] to pound them to about 1/2 inch thickness. Arrange the flour in a shallow bowl. Season the chicken with a pinch each of salt and pepper, and then dredge generously with flour, coating both sides. Shake off the excess and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add 1 Tbs. of the butter. When the butter melts, place the chicken in the skillet. Cook for 4-5 minutes, until golden brown on the bottom. Turn over and cook for 2 more minutes. Transfer the chicken to a plate (it is not cooked through at this point).

chicken scallopini sauceAdd the garlic to the pan and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add the white wine and the lemon juice. Simmer, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan for a few minutes until almost all the liquid is gone. Add the chicken stock, tomatoes, and capers. Increase the heat to high, and bring the liquid to a boil. Simmer for 6 minutes, or until the liquid is decreased by about one-third.

Stir in the remaining 2 Tbs. of butter. Return the chicken to the pan and simmer for 2 minutes, or until the sauce thickens slightly and the chicken is cooked through. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with the herbs [and cheese] and serve immediately.

July 2, 2009 at 7:08 pm Leave a comment


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