Saturday, February 24, 2007

A large Indian meal vaguely described

A large dinner for eleven of us tonight - good friends, new friends, and friends-t0-be. The cold outside called for warming curries. For once, I made a variety of them - not just meat but also vegetables.
First, the alu ki sabzi - potatoes cooked (uncovered) with thickened yogurt and spices - from Smita and Sanjeev Chandra's lovely, historically deep Cuisines of India: The Art and Tradition of Reginal Indian Cooking. Boil potatoes until tender, then cool them and dice them; heat grated ginger and whole cumin, add a mixture of ground cumin and coriander seeds, turmeric and cayenne, then pour in thickened yoghurt (I used the labneh we buy at Fairway and usually have at breakfast), then add some garam masala some salt, some water, and the diced potatoes; boil briefly, reduce heat, cook 20 mn,m add garam masala and coriander at the end.
While the potatoes were first boiling, I sauteed onion for gajar mutteer, peas and carrots with cumin, from my bible of Indian cuisine, Camellia Panjabi's 50 Great Curries of India. Once brown (ish), I added to them green chilli, garlic and ginger, then coriander and cumin seeds, and red chili power (forgot cumin seeds), then some tomato; then peas (frozen) and diced carrots. The whole thing cooked a while, covered.
And the simplest curry of all, also from Panjabi, cabbage with mustard seeds: pop mustard seeds, add chilli, ginger and curry leaves, then shredded cabbage (in the length), some salt, a tiny bit of sugar - cook uncovered. The mustard seeds and curry leaves - even though they were no longer fresh, indeed had dried - conferred on the cabbage an earthy, smoky taste.
It took about two hours to make these three curries. Last, I made the kaalee mirch cha mutton, lamb with herbs and black pepper, not the first time I cooked that. Came out exquisite tonight, partly because I used fresh coconut, which Marcello opened with a large hammer. There are dozens of ingredients, and the recipe is too long and too precise to write out now and here. But in fact it is easy enough to make, and only took an hour to prepare.
While it cooked, and after I'd changed, I soaked the rice - with a bit of turmeric and saffron - and made two raitas, one with cucumber and one with spinach.
To drink: too many different wines, rhough all excellent (from a Cotes du Rhone at aperitivo, to a Brunello di Montalcino, a Pic Saint Loup, and a Costieres de Nimes).
A fun, pleasant evening - and, yes, rather delicious.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Evviva la cucina povera

"Valentine's Day", they say. Well, it was cold and snowy tonight, and no great romantic plans were made in the name of a saint I'm not sure I know very well, or of a market that pounces upon punters with all those pink hearts. Tonight, while all New York was probably dining in the best restaurants, the less lucky or grand assigned to oddly-timed tables at 6:40 or 10:20, we stayed put. And realized we had nothing, or virtually nothing left in the house to eat. No desire to step out to shop, even in our beloved Fairway, just three blocks away. What to do? Go out? No, all decent places would be jammed. And it was too cold anyway. Order in? Certainly not. Not tonight: not on Valentine's!

Thank goodness for the reliable standbys, those that I sometimes fantasize, in my more pessimistic moments, we should hoard in vast quantities in case of war or natural disaster: dried pasta (pastasciutta); capers (sotto sale - in salt, not, God forbid, vinegar); feta cheese (miraculously long-lived, until the vacuum plastic pack is opened, and even then, it does rather well); dried pepperoncino, the whole, tiny, fiery ones; olive oil; and garlic - probably less of a shelf life than the feta, but tonight this was not the issue, and we had a few cloves left, more than enough, given the interdict on excessive garlic promulgated by one's Italian husband. (Canned tomatoes, canned tuna and olives would feature on the hoarding list, but actually not tonight.) And the key to it all for our purposes: the remnants of broccoli-rabe, not much of it, but enough (of course one could freeze that, in case of war or natural disaster: and be fine, so long as the electricity grid held up).

So, what to do with these paltry, but excellent ingredients? We did have running water, and saucepans. Simple: a pasta with broccoli-rabe, rinsed and chopped, sauteed in a base of olio-aglio-peperoncino - olive oil in which a clove of garlic, sliced in half, and two crumbled peperoncini cook long enough to infuse it. The green vegetable quickly wilted. I added a handful of rinsed and chopped capers, those magnificent, whole buds from the Eolie Islands I usually travel with, but which a Neapolitan friend brought along in November, proud to have fooled the dogs at customs (not such a feat, given how low on the A-drug list capers are, but I am grateful all the same). And since the broccoli-rabe was not plentiful enough for a whole dish, I crumbled in the packed-long-ago-in-Greece but still-fresh-in-New York feta cheese, that ever reliable, extraordinary, ancient, and banal cheese that can give such an edge to dishes, and that I dare love so much. For it to become creamy and serve its purpose of stretching the broccoli, I slowly stirred in the water in which the pasta was cooking (not overly salted, since the sauce, what with the capers and feta, would be salty on its own). Gradually, the texture of the melted feta became creamy, liquid but dense, perfectly toned, so to speak. I added some olive oil, white pepper, and some black pepper too, then a little more water. The pasta - linguine - was finished off "in padella", cooking the last 30 seconds in the mixture, with a bit more water. The result: refined, satisfying and even admirable, the deep flavour of the broccoli rabe bouncing off the heat of the chili, and the creamy cheese and capers serving as the basso continuo. (Some anchovy paste might have been in order, but I forgot I had a tube of that, another staple one might want to hoard, however much I dislike anchovies themselves; well, no matter.) The wine: simply Los Vascos 2005, always reliable, and meaningful - it is the wine we used to drink at Ashton. Those days are over, but tonight, we had a perfectly happy little "Valentine". All hail to poor food.