Now that picnic season is upon us, I get nostalgic over classic summertime fare. There is nothing quite like a family reunion over fried chicken and a potluck dinner, tables threatening to buckle under the weight of all the CorningWare and Pyrex.
Of course, there are the old favorites: green bean casserole, scalloped potatoes, pea salad with bacon and mayonnaise, three bean salad, and most certainly a mustardy potato salad — and, if luck is with me, an old-fashioned custard pie sprinkled with a little nutmeg. I love all these foods — but this year, I want something new. Continue reading Three Bean Salad, Redux→
If my extended family’s eating habits are an indication as to what the preferred meat was on my grandparents and great grandparents farm then it is obvious to me I come from a long line of pork eaters. It’s not as if this matters or that I need some sort of familial approval for my love of the beast because I don’t. I claim it as my heritage after all but I’ll just say it anyway for clarity, I…love…pork.
I love pork for its possibilities, its versatility, and most importantly, it’s flavor. From snout to hocks or bacon to ham there are more uses for the pig then any other animal I know and one of my favorite uses is as a seasoning. My definition and what I mean by seasoning is not simply tossing a couple of strips of bacon in with the green beans and calling it a day. No, the pork isn’t there for a cameo but instead has an important supporting role, one in which it could be nominated for an award.
Don’t get me wrong I enjoy a good pork dinner, something like Edna Lewis’s Boiled Pork (think Pot eu Feu) really floats my boat but as I try to reduce the amount of animal protein I consume I often look to the example of Italian ragus or Asian dishes where animal protein, quite literally, plays second fiddle to the grains or noodles on the platter. The pork is there to enhance and flavor the dish. Sure this is done for economy, just like adding bread or oats to meatloaf, and who doesn’t like save a few bucks or at the very least feed more mouths for the same price. Not only that but if you buy less quantity then you can afford better quality, at least this has always been my way of thinking.
When it comes to pork quality matters. If you buy pork that is enhanced with sodium triphosphate, a common practice at big box stores, it won’t caramelize very well and honestly the pork tastes bland. It is done to help the meat retain moisture but they add it because the producers have made pork to lean. If you buy pork with a little higher fat content you don’t need the moisture retainer. Not only that but when pork is raised in a more sustainable fashion it just taste better. It taste better because of what the animals eat. It is about the animals diet after all. I am all about how my food taste and if sustainability happens to be a byproduct then, wonderful. I mean when I bite into good pork it immediately transports me to my grandparents farm, sitting outside under a shade tree eating a farm dinner on a beautiful summer’s eve and it reminds me exactly how pork is supposed to taste.
Over the years I have had different fascinations with different types of cured pork. I mean the list of possibilities is big, you have bacon, ham, Tasso, Serrano, prosciutto, pancetta, guanciale all on top of any number of sausages. All used as seasonings and all just a few of the options that can confront you. The wonderful thing is there are many books that will teach you how to cure many of these products at home (Michael Ruhlman’s Charcuterie comes to mind) and many of the processes are surprisingly simple. In fact no special equipment is required other then a good sharp knife(which I don’t consider special equipment).
1. Lay your pork out onto a large cutting board. Cut the pork and pancetta into thin strips then into cubes. Spread the pork out so it is flat instead of in one big pile. It’s ok if it isn’t in one single layer you just don’t want a big pile. Place the palm of you hand, as shown in the picture, across the blade of the knife making sure to keep your fingers up and you hand flat. This will keep you from cutting your hand if the knife slips. So fingers up! What you are doing is creating a hinge of sorts because you want to keep the tip of the knife on the board and in doing so it lets you apply more cutting force. Run the knife through the pork several times and until you have minced it to a coarse mince.
2. Add the garlic cloves, parsley, a teaspoon of salt, a few grinds of pepper and the nutmeg. Mince the seasonings into the pork until you have a fine mince. Add the red wine vinegar and knead it into the sausage. Ball up the sausage, put it in a bowl and let it get funky in the fridge for an hour or two.
3. Start the polenta. I let my polenta cook for almost three hours. I was using an heirloom corn I grew last year called Henry Moore. It took a long time to cook but it was creamy beyond my wildest expectations. So take your time with the polenta, cook any bitterness out of it and let it do its thing.
4. When the polenta is close to being finished start the sauce by placing a large 12 inch saute pan over medium high heat. When it is hot add a glug or two of oil to coat the bottom of the pan. Brown the sausage. Once the sausage is brown remove it to a plate. Be careful not to burn the fond on the bottom of the pan. Add the onions and carrots and cook them gently until they just begin to wilt.
5. Add the tomato paste, dried thyme, rosemary, garlic and bay leaf. Stir until fragrant then add the white wine. Let the wine burn off the alcohol and then add the stock. Season and taste. Bring it to a boil and reduce it by half. Taste again and adjust the seasoning.
6. Add the sausage and peas. Heat until the peas are warmed through. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Add a tablespoon of chopped chives and parsley. Stir.
7. Spread the polenta on a platter, top with the peas and sausage, and serve.
Paella to me is the ultimate one pot meal. It also is the time of year where I am not ready for a stew but want something more substantial than the usual summer fare. Paella is a great answer. Although paella is considered Spanish I think this one is more Mediterranean. I use Italian sausages but fresh chorizo would be good, the important part is that the sausage isn’t dry cured or it would just be drier in this case. I also use arborio rice, but you could use the Spanish version of this as well.
2 bell peppers
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 chicken legs, seasoned with salt and pepper
2 Italian sausages
2 chicken thighs, seasoned with salt and pepper
1 onion, julienned
1 fennel bulb, tops trimmed, core removed and sliced very thinly
1/4 cup garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
2 bay leaves
3 1/2 cups warm water
pinch of saffron, crumbled
3 Roma tomatoes, cut in half from top to bottom, and grated, large whole of a box grater, leaving the skin behind
1/4 cup dry white wine
2 cups arborio rice
1 1/2 teaspoon aleppo pepper
1 tablespoon flat leaf parsley, minced
2 tablespoons green onions, sliced into thin rings
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
Sometime during the day or when ever you have time, turn a gas burner to high. If you don’t have a gas burner turn your oven to broil and place a rack at the highest level you can. Char the peppers, top, bottom and all on sides. The idea is to char or blacken the skin without cooking the pepper through.
Place the peppers into a container with a lid. Set aside for at least 20 minutes. Crumble the saffron into the warm water.
If you roasted them properly the skins will easily peel right off with out running them under water.
Peel, seed and core the peppers and then julienne them into thick strips.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Place a 16 inch paella pan or a 14 inch saute pan over medium high heat. Add the olive oil and once it is hot add the chicken, skin side down, and then the sausages. Brown them thoroughly and then remove them to a plate. You do not want them to cook all the way through. They will finish cooking in the oven so you just want to brown them.
Turn the heat to medium and add the onion and fennel. Season them with healthy pinch of salt and pepper. Cook until they start to soften. Add the garlic, aleppo pepper and bay leaves, once fragrant add the white wine and grated tomatoes and cook for a minute or two letting the alcohol burn off. Add the saffron water and rice. Season again with a healthy pinch salt and pepper. Gently shake the pan to level out the rice. Place the chicken into the pan and arrange the red peppers around the chicken.
Bring to a boil, place the pan into the oven and set the timer for 15 minutes. Cut the sausages in half. Once the timer goes off add the sausages and place the pan back into the oven. Set the timer for 10 minutes.
Once the timer goes off remove the pan from the oven and place a clean towel over the top. Let the dish rest for five minutes, remove the towel and garnish with parsley and green onions, then serve.
This dish has a history that is connected to two other dishes. The two dishes were last summer favorites and they were a pesto recipe from Saveur magazine, Trofie al Pesto, that called for green beans and potatoes. It is, and still is, by far my favorite Italian pesto dish. The second dish comes from Momofuku, a favorite cookbook, and it is a recipe called Scallion Noodles.
What both dishes do is chop or process the pesto ingredients fine enough that when tossed with hot noodles they cook. One of the things I don’t like about most pesto dishes is the raw garlic taste that you carry with you the rest of the meal and maybe even the rest of the day. These two recipes have solved that problem.
The pesto created here carries on with the finely chopped tradition but is also packed with a little more unami by its use of the traditional Thai flavors of fish sauce and lime.
There are so many different kinds of bread. You could make sourdough where you feed a starter flour to grow it and keep it alive, you can retard loaves in the refrigerator overnight, there are paté fermentes, bigas and all kinds of other preferments and sure it is great to have knowledge of all these breads but at the same time it is nice to have a tried and true everyday bread. A bread with some shelf life, a bread that little kids like and one that is good with which to make a variety of sandwiches.
For me this is that loaf. It debunked the idea that my two girls would only eat white bread. They love it. It fits into my notion that I won’t make bread that isn’t at least 75 percent whole wheat. It makes two loaves that will be around just long enough that you won’t need to throw it out because it is old.
Be sure to buy a fine grind whole wheat flour and make sure to buy it at a store with high turnover of its whole wheat. Countless times I have brought a bag home only to open it and it is rancid. Whole wheat flour should smell like a wheat field not rancid oil or some other off smell.
I like to braid this loaf for two reasons. One it looks pretty and two, when I make this loaf on a Sunday it is nice to bake it about two hour before dinner, remove it from the oven to cool a little, then serve it warm and let people tear off a hunk. It will tear at the braids like dinner rolls would. Continue reading Farmhouse Whole Wheat→
White beans and tuna have always been combined in salads and pasta and have long been purveyor’s of pantry dinners in Italy. I have taken up the habit of pantry pasta myself and while I don’t keep many canned goods I do keep tomato sauce, tuna in olive oil, dried beans and pasta on hand.
The cheese rind is imperative here. It is to the broth what bones are to stock. Besides you know it makes you mad to have to pay for this usually unusable part. So here is your opportunity. I Always try to have at least one cheese rind on hand and just store it in the fridge amongst the other cheeses.
This is not a skillet pasta but a long simmering sauce because it takes some time to build the flavors in the beans. As with all beans everyone has their own method to their bean madness. I have tried many and the one I use yields a tender beans with tooth. That is not to say it is crunchy or undercooked but what it means is it holds its shape while being tenders. I want to know I am eating a bean when I bite into one.
I also don’t make home made pasta for this dish because this is one time were store bought spaghetti noodles are the right choice.
I served this with a green side vegetable and after the pasta served a salad, as the Italians would.
Serves 6 to 8
2 heads of garlic, the top 1/4 inch of which has been sliced off
1/2 pound white beans
4 whole cloves of garlic, peeled and trimmed
10 sun dried tomatoes (dried, not in olive oil)
1/2 cup yellow onion, small dice
1/4 cup carrot, small dice
1/4 cup celery, small dice
1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seed, ground
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 bay leaves
1/2 cup strained tomatoes or tomato sauce
1 each 2 x 2 inch parmesan cheese rind
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
1/3 cup bread crumbs, toasted in olive oil then seasoned with salt and pepper then mixed
with 1 tablespoon of minced parsley
12 oz. tuna in olive oil
1 pound spaghetti, cooked according to the instructions on the box
Preheat the oven to 300˚F. Place the heads of garlic in a small ovenproof dish and drizzle each with olive oil then season them with salt and pepper.
Cover the dish with foil and bake the garlic for 1 hour. At the end of the hour make sure they have taken on alight tobacco color and are tender. Cook them another 15 minutes if you need to. Once they are done remove them from the oven and set them aside.
Place the beans, garlic cloves and the sun dried tomatoes into a sauce pan and cover by at least 2 inches of water. Place the pan over high heat and bring it to a boil and let it boil for 2 minutes. Cover and remove the pan from the heat and let it sit covered for two hours or longer.
At the end of two hours drain the beans. Rinse out the pot. Remove the sun dried tomatoes and chop them. Place the pot over medium heat and add a good 2 tablespoons of olive oil. When it is hot add the onion, carrots and celery and let them saute until they begin to become tender. Add the fennel, bay leaves and red pepper and saute until fragrant. Add the beans, sun dried tomatoes and garlic back into the pot. Cover the beans with water by 1 inch. Add the tomato sauce and cheese rind.
Bring the pot to a boil then reduce the heat so the liquid is at a lazy bubble. Season them with pepper. Stir occasionally to keep anything from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
Near the end of the cooking season the beans with salt to taste and take the roasted garlic and squeeze out the garlic paste then add the paste to the beans. Stir it all in and taste. Adjust the seasoning.
When the beans are tender cook the pasta. Once the pasta is done drain it and immediately toss the pasta with some of the oil from the tuna. Toss the beans and pasta together.
Put the pasta into a serving bowl, top with tuna crumbles and then the bread crumbs. Serve immediately.
Hippy food has long been a bastion of vegetarian eats for many reasons. Some political, some personal but in all honesty mostly because it is cheap and often utilizes every last morsel sharing some of the same philosophy as head to tail eating, ironic?, well, yes. Never mind the reasons though because that doesn’t mean it doesn’t taste great and utilizing every part means new tastes and textures from veggies you have long grown tired of.
There is nothing better than to take a bite of something and not only have it taste good but when it feels good, or nutritious, as you eat it it is all the better. Having said it time and time again there are certain dishes that hit that button and, man, there is no better eating. This salad hits that button.
So get out your tie dies and put on your birks, crank up the Dead and get in touch with your inner vegetarian, oh, and make extra because the nice thing about this salad is it is no worse for the wear the next day.
The soy ginger vinaigrette in this recipe was adapted from Jean-Georges Vongericthen’s Simple Cuisine. Learn this recipe you because will find yourself using it on everything. It is a genius recipe.
Makes 4 servings
For the vinaigrette:
2 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon ginger, finely minced
1/3 cup canola or unflavored oil
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons water
Put all the ingredients into a pint mason jar and screw the lid on tightly. Shake the hell out of it. Set the dressing aside.
For the salad:
1 to 1 1/2 cups blanched broccoli stems, 1/4 inch dice
1/2 cup carrots, grated
3 cups cooked brown rice
1/4 cup sesame seeds
1 1/2 tablespoon chives, minced
soy ginger vinaigrette
kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
1. Place all the ingredients, except the dressing in a large bowl and toss to combine. Add 1/3 of a cup of the dressing and combine everything. Taste, adjust the salt and pepper and add more dressing if you like.