Monday, March 27, 2006

Food and meta-food

Mildly jet-lagged still, and neither of us having had proper meat in a while, we were both in need of some serious animal protein. I bought two tenderloin steaks at Whole Foods - naturally fed beasts, no hormones or antibiotics, not organic because the grass they ate was not pesticide-free, but still, gleaming enough. I also bought attractive organic mustard greens, which I parboiled in nearly boiling salted water before sauteeing in olio aglio peperoncino, and then covering and letting stew with a little of the cooking water. The thick, round, gorgeous steaks were browned on both sides on a high flame - on a non-stick pan, without any fats - along with our fresh rosemary and thyme in abundance, some fresh oregano, some sel de Guérande, and very coarsely ground black pepper, in abundance too. They then waited on a plate while I déglacéd the pan with some Marsala, before returning them to the pan, on a lower flame, for a few minutes more than planned, having realized that, thick as they were, they were not only rare, as wished, but still cold and raw inside. Meanwhile, I uncovered the mustard greens to let the remaining liquid evaporate.
The steak turned out positively melting, a luxurious, sensuous dish and a magnificent piece of meat, well paired with the slightly bitter greens. To match the quality of the animal we were eating, I opened a bottle that had been given us, a Chateau Beychevelle 1999 - already mellow, profound, precise and powerful but subtly layered, medium-bodied but tannic, long en bouche but without insistence, dark with a discreet and almost jocular brightness. I had also bought some organic - Canadian-made - sopressata, which we had as aperitivo while we waited for everything to be ready, and again after the main course, with the usual arugula and fennel salad, seasoned with olive oil, lemon and a little salt, this time with Manchego sliced in rather than parmesan. The wine had matched the steak in mellowness but accompanied the slightly sharp, mildly sweet cheeses and the crunchy salad too. It also rose up to the level of Handel's Dixit dominus, which we listened to as we finished the bottle, munching on a little parmesan in order to match the composer in counterpoint. Sensorial heaven, metaphysical joys only achieved with the best of material things.
Noga - 27 March 2006

Thursday, March 09, 2006

A winter dinner - to recollect before spring

Spring is approaching, so I would like to record a dinner we had in New York a few weeks ago, before the winteriness of it becomes unsavory. The guests were writers, none vegetarian. Lamb was decidedly to be a central feature. We began with fennel, thinly sliced, sauteed in olive oil and a little salt, then cooked until soft and nearly melting in good chicken stock - transferred it to an oven pan, covered with sliced parmiggiano and grilled until golden for ten minutes or so. Patricia Wells's Provençal recipe, excellent and never fails. Then, the lamb: from Ada Boni, "alla cacciatora" or "alla romana" - cubed, browned in oil, then cooked further with garlic, sage, rosemary, to which I then added a spoonful of flour for thickness. It then cooked in vinegar diluted in water, covered, for a good 45 mn. Meanwhile, I had sliced lengthwise carrots and fingerling potatoes and put them in the oven, with olive oil, rosemary, garlic. I had also chopped and sauteed some celeriac, then cooked it in chicken stock (not unlike the fennel) with garlic, chili pepper and rosemary, until soft - then grossly mashed it with a fork; that recipe from the River Café Cookbook I. The lamb was good, albeit acidic - the (Sherry) vinegar I used was too young. But it went beautifully with the rather hot celeriac mash, and the potatoes and carrots completed it all very well, in terms of taste, texture and colour. The wines: a chaotic evening to which friends brought some forgetable labels, although I did open a 1996 Cos d'Estournel (I think). I forget the dessert - might have been the vanilla ice-cream with hot chocolate sauce again, and blood oranges and clementines on the table. A good evening that was. The next menu will definitely be less wintery.


Monday, March 06, 2006

Penne lisce al radicchio e ginger

Dopo anni di tentativi e aggiustamenti, ho trovato la ricetta ideale per la pasta al radicchio. Spesso troppo amaro, o troppo acquoso, il radicchio, così congeniale al risotto, è più difficile da utilizzare come condimento della pasta.

Ho tagliato il radicchio a fettine sottili (4 radicchi per 1 kilo di pasta, ossia 8 persone), l'ho messo in una padella dove avevo preparato un soffritto di scalogno, ginger e un po' di rosmarino tritato. Ho cotto il radicchio per circa venti minuti, fino a renderlo morbido. Ho alzato la fiamma e aggiunto un po' di vino bianco che ho poi fatto ridurre. Durante la cottura ho aggiunto anche un mezzo cucchiaino di zucchero. L'ho assaggiato e mi sembrava ancora amaro.

Allora ho messo un po' d'olio nella mia teglia di alluminio per le verdure al forno, un po' di scorza di limone grattuggiata, ho disposto il radicchio e l'ho lasciato in forno per ancora venti minuti (forno molto caldo, termostato 7, 230°)

Intanto ho cotto le penne lisce, ideali per questo tipo di condimento, di cui esaltano la testura liscia e lievemente vischiosa.

Le ho scolate e versate nella teglia, aggiunto un po' d'olio crudo, abbondante parmigiano e un po' di basilico tritato (ma sarebbe stato meglio un po' di prezzemolo, che non avevo in casa, dato il retrogusto amaro del radicchio)

Squisito e molto apprezzato dagli ospiti vegetariani.