Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Mid-spring Moroccan dinner

Hesitant spring, sun and warmth mixed in with rain and fresh winds. The weather calls for some light middle-eastern fare - something Moroccan. Good friends for dinner last night, all good cooks, so some effort needed in the kitchen - but in the 8th month of pregnancy, one can't stand on one's feet for too long.

I decide to make a lamb tagine with a tomato "jam" and string beans, which are awaiting their fate in the fridge. Paula Wolfert's recipe. Easy enough, and rather quick. Garlic and ginger, and ras-al-khanout which I add, saffron; add the cubed meat, get it to colour all over, add grated onion and tomato juice (I used Pomì), and salt. Simmer, covered, for about 1 hour. Once enough juice is made, use a cup of it in which to simmer the green beans, in a different saucepan, with chopped parsley and coriander. Once the meat is tender, take it out of the pan, add a big can of tomatoes (pelati) - in the summer one would use ripe fresh ones -with a little sugar and cinnamon, crush the tomatoes, boil down to about 1-2 cups, then put the meat back in, add chopped parsley and coriander, and it's done. Meanwhile, I soaked the Basmati rice, with which I served the tagine - colouring the rice, as ever, with curcuma and a little saffron.

I was going to serve this also with carrots cooked Moroccan-style - boiled whole, then chopped in roundels, seasoned with lemon, olive oil, ground cumin, coriander and parsley. Instead I served those carrots as a starter - and with tahina, which I hadn't made in years because it's so calorific. Old home recipe, as my father used to make it: buy a jar of sesame paste (preferably with the oil already separated so one can discard it, to reduce the fat a little). Mix in the juice of 3 or 4 lemons, depending on the lemons and how much paste you are using, until you get the right acidity (tahini is very alkaline). Add enough water to have a manageable, not overly thick nor overly liquid, cream-like mixture. Add lots of finely chopped parsley, salt, and half a garlic clove, crushed (I boiled it beforehand to avoid garlicky pungency). Delicious with the carrots, and some Gaeta olives. Wines: first a St-Joseph brought by one set of friends, then a Cote du Rhone by Texier.

Then, simple rucola salad and cheese, then unapologetically not home-made ice-cream. Boisterous, fun dinner-party that was. Lots of dishes tonight for some reason, but everyone helped out, and husband managed to get them all done in two machine loads. Another friend appeared at around 11:00pm and we had lemon verbena tisane over wonderful anecdotes and much laughter.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Lemony dinner in early autumn

A golden, early October day, last days of summer waving goodbye, a touch of warmth left over, fragile and precious. A day for lemons, to secure the sun for the months to come. Dinner for six, mostly light appetites: it would be my lemon and rucola risotto; flounder, with chopped parsley, coriander, capers, lemon; sorrel. Everything except for the arborio rice, but including the butter, from our local farmers' market, still replete with gorgeous produce these days. I decided to serve everything together: the lemon and rucola risotto tastes a bit like sorrel, and I thought it would be good as an accompaniment to the fish - and vice versa.

Lemon and rucola risotto: melt the onion in butter and oil, add the grated rind of two unwaxed, washed lemons; add the rice, salt it, and make the risotto as normal (I used a vegetable stock, but a chicken stock is fine), progressively adding the juice of both lemons as well as the stock, and handfuls of chopped rucola. I stopped the risotto before it was finished, to make the fish at the last minute once the guests arrived. To finish the risotto, turn off the flame, add a good dollop of butter and some oil, salt and pepper to taste, and cover. I normally add parmigiano but not this time, since it was to be eaten with fish.

In the meantime, I had marinated the fish for a half hour or so with lemon and a mixture of finely chopped parsley, coriander and salted, rinsed capers. Some of that mix I put in a small bowl with lemon juice and olive oil, to serve as a salsa verde. Then I melted butter in a pan, added the washed, coarsely chopped sorrel, and added the fish. I cooked it over a low flame, and finished the risotto. Once the fish was ready, I plated it, catching the sorrel, and reduced the sauce with some prosecco which everyone was drinking, added some pepper and salt, and poured it over the fish on each plate. I served the rice on the same plate, and à table people helped themselves to the salsa verde. The dishes complemented each other in colour - white, yellow, green - and taste. The combination of all these herbs - rucola, parsley, coriander, sorrel - was lovely, and the resulting meal rather sophisticated, light and satisfying. No one wanted anything else after - just ice cream.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A light dinner for the first hot summer night of 2009

Long absence from Tuttipiatti - we had no kitchen of our own for about a year, what with the return to New York from Italy first, then a nine-month wait for the renovation of our new apartment to be finished, requiring far too many restaurant meals. Now we are happily settled at home - and cooking.

This June there have been weeks of rainstorms and thunderstorms, much cloud and humidity - then some sunshine, but the equinox is now just behind us, and the New York heat is on. Parents in town, many meals at home. And a few days ago, we were eight for dinner, including a refined 92-year old lady who likes her meals light and elegant.

So we started with my cold avocado and cucumber soup, a favourite for hot weather, and very easy to make. I quite unexpectedly found the recipe some years ago in the free "AM New York" paper they give outside the subway (haven't found anything as good in there since):

Mash two or three long cucumbers, or 5-7 short ones, along with two avocados. Transfer to the serving bowl, add a cup or so of tomato puree, a whole pint of good, plain, full-fat yogurt, stir. Pour in the juice of a lime or two, a good handful of chopped coriander, and about a teaspoon of freshly powdered cumin. Salt to taste, add black pepper. Put in the fridge. If time is short and the ingredients weren't very cold, throw in a few ice cubes.

Then, some simple tilapia fillets, cooked with shiitake mushrooms, tamari (soja sauce), ginger, and fresh lemongrass:

First, sauté the sliced shiitake with a bit of olive oil in a wok, and once they start to sweat, add the tamari and chopped ginger. Continue to cook on a medium-low flame, add a piece or two of fresh lemongrass, and a little white pepper. Add some water - the combination of mushroom and soja naturally form a thick sauce, which requires some dilution. Once the liquid is of a good consistency, throw in the fish fillets. Keep the flame on for about two minutes, then turn it off, grind some black pepper over the fish, scatter some chopped coriander, a little bit of salt, and a pinch of espelette pepper. Cover the pan tightly.

Meanwhile, chop some courgettes into roundels, and cook them in olive oil and garlic in another pan, over a high flame.

Cook some jasmine rice with chopped coriander.

Once you are ready to eat the main course, uncover the fish pan: the steam should have finished cooking it through to tender perfection. Transfer the fillets to the serving dish, or to the plates if you are plating individually. Turn the flame back on - high - add some water, and reduce the sauce just enough - it should be quite thick. Pour over the fish, dispersing the shiitake mushrooms carefully. This is the umami dish par excellence. Serve along with the rice and courgettes. All very healthy, fresh, light, and virtually fat-free.

Dessert was straightforward Haagen Dasz ice cream - vanilla and strawberry - served in little pots with raspberries and blueberries scattered on top.

Wines: whites. After the excellent Bison Prosecco, we drank first the Brunier brothers' "Le Pigeoulet en Provence" - Roussanne, Grenache blanc, Clairette - vin de pays du Vaucluse, 2008, fabulous; then a substantial Vin de pays du jardin de la France by the Couillaud brothers - pure Chardonnay, "Domaine Petit Chateau" at La Regripière, 2006.

Friday, January 09, 2009

31st December Dinner in Paris

For the last day of 2008 I had 8 people at dinner at the Passage, among whom some very serious gourmets, so I decided to try something new.

In honor of my friend Pasquale, the first entrée was a sautée des coques. I have learned to do this quickly during my summer in Bretagne, where we spent long afternoons collecting coques on the beach and cooking them for the dinner. The best and quickest way to prepare a delicious sautée, is the following:

In a pan, put some olive oil, chopped garlic and ginger. Fry for two minutes, than add some fresh chopped tomatos and a little bit of curry. Then the coques, that you have previously washed many times in salted water to eliminate the sand. You raise the fire, add some white wine, let it absorb and then cook the whole stuff for ten minutes at low temperature. It must be a kind of soup, the liquid is a mixture of the sea water contained in the coques and the one left by the tomatoes. Delicious. You serve it in small cups with fresh pepper and olive oil. Do not overcook the tomatoes: the broth shouldn't resemble to a tomato sauce, it must be much more transparent and light.

Then, I decided for a second entrée, a brand new invention: A carpaccio of coquilles St. Jacques slightly cooked in a fry pan just for 10 seconds with butter and lemon and served on a hot trevisana salad, cooked in a pan with oil, garlic, soja sauce, sugar and balsamic vinegar. I've added some sesame seeds on the coquilles in the end and decorated with a leaf of peppermint. Very good.

The I went on with a more traditional veal tajine with apricots, but you have plenty of tajine recepies on Tuttipiatti so I stop here.

The dessert was a selection of Berthillon's colorful sorbet cubes brought by Davide and Anna (Davide suggests to buy Berthillon's sorbets only on the Ile-St-Louis' original shop, and it is not just a snobbery: he's right, they are much better). They were beautifully served on two long trays and children enjoyed them a lot.

Davide and Anna brought a nice Chianti 2004 Castello di Ama and Pasquale an intresting bottle of syrah, but I have to ask him the details.

Happy 2009.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Riso ai cranberries ispirato da Ottolenghi e tajine di pesce ai kumquat

Di ritorno da Londra, dove Alba mi ha fatto scoprire il meraviglioso Ottolenghi, ristorante, traiteur, bistrot per la prima colazione (i croissants sono migliori di quelli parigini) ho deciso di fare una cena non italiana per circa 40/50 invitati a casa di Ariel. La cucina italiana mi ha stufata, e che i parigini si aspettino da me paste e risotti alla milanese mi ha stufata ugualmente. Insomma, l'identità italiana mi ha stufata, e non mi piacciono quei piatti che trasudano con orgoglio olio d'oliva (è da tanto tempo che cerco di ribellarmi all'autorità dell'olio d'oliva, ma i mei amici italiani si indignano alla sola idea di metterne in questione i meriti).

Dunque, si cambia: il risotto è sempre risotto, ma ai cranberries e pistacchi. Ho cominciato il soffritto come al solito, olio, cipolla tagliata fine e ginger (ma candito, non fresco: effetto molto migliore e aggiunge un che di caramellato ai piatti davvero delizioso). Poi ho aggiunto i pistacchi (non salati, ovviamente!) e una parte dei cranberries, che avevo fatto gonfiare in una mistura di acqua tiepida e vino rosso, un po' come si fa per l'uva passa. Ho aggiunto zafferano e un po' di quei fagiolini piatti, le tàccole credo si chiamino in italiano, tagliati a pezzetti. Il riso era basmati, e il brodo vegetale. Tirato a cottura come al solito, verso la fine ho aggiunto il resto dei cranberries.
Voilà, squisito e originale.

Poi il secondo: avevo voglia di fare marinare del pesce negli agrumi e poi cuocerlo, una sorta di tajine agli agrumi che in realtà mescolava reminiscenze di piatti diversi (carpaccio di pesce agli agrumi imperante nei ristoranti italiani e tajines varie che avevo assaggiato in questi anni). Così ho fatto: ho comperato un grosso pesce bianco che mi sono fatta tagliare a pezzettoni (colin in francese, credo sia il nasello, o il merluzzo, insomma un pesce bianco dalla carne ferma e fresca) e l'ho lasciato marinare in una marinata di succo d'arancio, limone, limone verde, olio d'oliva, pepe, sale e un po' di erbe (origano che avevo riportato dalla Sicilia e verbena). Poi l'ho messo in un grande tegame di ghisa dal fondo spesso dove avevo giusto riscaldato un po' d'olio. Ho aggiunto degli squisiti kumquat che avevo trovato al mercato e ho lasciato cuocere una ventina di minuti senza coperchio, perché il liquido della marinata si riassorbesse. Ho verificato pepe e sale e ho servito così. Questi piatti sono l'ideale per un gran numero di invitati, perché una volta pronti, resistono a lungo nel tegame, anzi, migliorano senza scuocere.

Per dessert: crumble di mango e mele: ho fatto saltare le mele in padella con limone, zucchero e cardamomo, le ho disposte delicatamente sul fondo di una teglia in ceramica imburrata, ho aggiunto le fette di mango sopra e le briciole di impasto per il crumble (ricetta classica: 200g di farina, 200g di burro e 200g di zucchero di canna).

Buona cena, ma la gente era troppa, le voci confuse, le facce sconosciute, e sono crollata a letto alle dieci e mezza, dopo aver finito di servire tutti quanti, e ho dormito profondamente mentre in salotto la festa impazzava.....

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Indian risotto!

Cold-ridden again and sneezing away on this suddenly chilly April evening, and what with the two of us afflicted with a slight belly ache, we wanted something light healthy and simple. I suddenly craved the tomato rice I make occasionally, with more ginger even than usual. Husband suitably shared the craving. There was no basmati rice in the house, though, for the usual method - only some vialone nano for risotto.

Well, why not make an Indian risotto? I began the usual way, a soffritto of one small shallot and lots of chopped fresh ginger, but added a few fresh curry leaves (from India by way of New York - I keep them in the freezer), a dried red Calabrian chili, and the tiniest super hot green chili I could find in the fridge. Then I added a good amount of quartered tomatoes - a mixture of the local, rounded type and the fabulously sweet "datterini" one finds here, already ripe, either from southern sun or from well appointed greenhouses, I still haven't determined. Then, the rice, salt, curcuma, and cold water. I brought the whole thing to a boil, added a mixture of cumin, coriander seeds and yellow mustard seeds, all ground together in the mortar; one clove, two whole peppercorns. Stirred as one does with risotto; added some fresh chopped ginger; needed more water, so boiled some in the kettle and added it, together with a little more salt, and a few pinches more of the ground spice mix. Took out all the curry leaves but one. Switched off the flame, added some ground black pepper.

Well: here is an avowedly strange dish that, what with the ginger, chili and specific spices, delivered all the medical properties required for our little ailments. But the result, I must confess, was excellent.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

A simple, warm salad - potatoes and more

A few vegetables in the fridge, a desire for something simple - no spices, just straightforward, healthy ingredients. I thought up a novel combination (novel for me at least) to create a warm salad as a "piatto unico", one main dish: cavolo nero just about to go but still good enough; lovely, organic new potatoes; crunchy organic carrots. There were black Gaeta olives; the old Sicilian capers faithfully sitting in the big glass jar; and untreated lemons from Sorrento, deformed and beautiful, with the leaves still on.

And so: I put some water to boil, grossly chopped and washed the cavolo nero, sauteed it in the wok in olio-aglio-peperoncino (oil-garlic-chili), salted the boiling water and threw in the halved or quartered potatoes along with the peeled, whole carrots; as these all cooked, I added some of the cooking water to the cavolo nero, which continued shrinking but preserved its agreeably deep green colour. I took a large fistful of capers, another of olives, rinsed all of those in cold water to shake off some of the intense saltiness; chopped them. Wok flame off. Exeunt the carrots, sliced into half cm roundels, deposited in the wok; exeunt the potatoes, from the saucepan into the wok to join green and orange, stirred gently; capers and olives stirred in turn. The mix thrown into a large bowl, lemon juice and Sicilian olive oil poured over it; and I added some rind off the gorgeous Sorrento lemons, along with freshly ground black pepper.

I thought of adding a touch of Moroccan preserved lemon, to add extra bite; next time. Tonight the dish worked as it was - it is pretty, satisfying, balanced, healthy, simple and rather delicious. We also had a bit of cheese - a fresh Sardinian pecorino, a creamy Emilian cow's milk cheese - and a pleasant though overall mediocre Salento wine. Rustic homey meal to end a spring-like day in Bologna.