I’m a big fan of soup any time of year, but there’s nothing like a light, brothy bowl of springtime veggies to take the chill off an early May evening. I tossed this together mostly from odds and ends: first, a lone leek which had been lingering in the crisper drawer, then some thinly sliced fennel stalks, both cooked with a sprinkling of salt and a knob of butter until soft. Next I added some cooked flageolet beans and their cooking liquid, plus a few additional cups of water, some sweet young carrots, and a half cup or so of carnaroli rice. While the broth bubbled and the rice plumped, I thawed some leftover cooked asparagus and peas from the freezer, adding them to the pot to just warm through. I tasted the soup for seasoning and added a few finishing touches, in the form of fresh spinach, chopped fresh tarragon, and shards of Pecorino Romano. A little toasted bread on the side (with more of that Pecorino), and we were good to go.
We got back to Providence on Sunday evening, but since I had made a point to use up most of our fresh food before our trip, and since we weren’t around for Saturday’s farmers’ market, we had to make a quick trip to Whole Foods for provisions. I’ve gotten so used to buying the majority of our food at the farmers’ market that I was a little frazzled when we got to the store, but the seafood counter saved the day. I grabbed some sardines for Sunday night’s dinner, and a beautiful whole trout for Monday.
We had hoped to grill the sardines on Sunday night but it was a bit too chilly out, so after Mike cleaned them, I dipped them in a little bit of seasoned flour and fried them. I made a quick stew of fennel and tomatoes, one of my favorite partners for fish of any kind, and our Sunday supper was complete.
Monday’s trout dinner was equally simple: our butterflied trout went into a grill basket rubbed with salt and a bit of olive oil, and Mike took care of cooking it while I worked on sides.
I had spotted some Massachusetts fiddleheads at the store, which I snapped up along with a few gorgeous chanterelles. I sauteed them in butter with thinly sliced spring onion until the mushrooms were a bit caramelized and the fiddleheads were tender, then I spooned them onto our plates with the grilled trout and some boiled, smashed new potatoes. I finished the fish with a spritz of fresh lemon juice and some thin slices of the bright green onion tips, and simple as that, dinner was served.
I think Mother Nature missed the memo. I mean, according to the calendar, Spring has sprung. The flowers know it – the trees, too. I just don’t get why it’s still so darned COLD outside. She’s a stubborn old broad, that Mother Nature.
The persistent chill in the air has made it a bit difficult for me to move beyond hearty wintertime dishes when planning meals for the week, so I come to you today with another gratin. I suppose I could use the excuse that, since we now have a wonderful source of delicious local cream at our farmers’ market, I was duty-bound to show them some love, but honestly? My belly demanded creamy, crusty comfort.
Though the cream is really, really good.
As with most gratins, this was a breeze to throw together: I made a few layers of thinly sliced fennel and a few small red-skinned potatoes (also thinly sliced) in a buttered baking dish, seasoned them with salt, and bathed them in some of that luscious cream. I had whisked a good amount of sharp dijon into the cream before pouring it over the vegetables – a quarter cup or so – which added a nice tang.
I wrapped the dish tightly with foil and baked it in a 400 degree oven for just about half an hour, then removed the foil, grated on some Parmigiano Reggiano, and added some fresh soft breadcrumbs to the top. I dotted on a little butter before returning it to the oven for a final bake – another 15 minutes or so.
We ate this with delicious pork chops from Stoney Hill Cattle, but I think it would be great on its own, too.
One of the reasons I’m so happy that Mike is as big a fan of seafood as I am is because it’s so darned quick and easy to prepare, and this week, quick and easy is about all I’ve had in me. I’ve been anxious to get back to the cutest fish market ever, and on Tuesday, the weather was finally (sorta) warm enough for me to make the walk up to the North End and pick up a few provisions.
I came home with two beautiful filets, one cod and one wild striped bass. I cooked the bass on Tuesday, portioning out a couple of pieces for our dinner and packaging the remainder to freeze. I stewed half of a fennel bulb, thinly sliced, along with some sliced onion, canned San Marzano tomatoes, a glug each of white wine and olive oil, and some Herbes de Provence, and when the mixture had cooked down, I sauteed the striper in a little olive oil until the skin was crisp and the flesh just cooked through. I spooned the fennel and tomato mixture into shallow bowls, placed a filet on top of each portion, and finished with a few fennel fronds, sprigs of flat leaf parsley, and lemon zest.
Wednesday night’s cod was even easier: I used this recipe as a jumping off point, but added my own spin by tossing the potatoes with a bit of smoked Spanish paprika before putting them in the oven to roast. After about 40 minutes, I added the cod (again, I portioned out two pieces and froze the rest), turning it on the baking sheet to coat it with paprika oil and sprinkling a little salt over it, and placed it back in the oven until the cod was just cooked through, about 15-20 minutes or so. I served the cod and potatoes on a bed of picked flat leaf parsley leaves, and sprinkled a little Sherry vinegar, snipped chives, and Basque herbed salt over each serving.
Both of these seafood suppers were incredibly simple and incredibly good, allowing the flavors of the super-fresh fish to shine through. We’re lucky to have access to such great seafood around here, and as the weather warms up and we crave lighter fare, you can bet we’ll be taking full advantage of it.
I am officially sick of Winter. I’ve been trying to be a good sport, keep a positive attitude, enjoy the license to eat rich, rib-sticking food, but darn it, I’m so over it. I’m sick of cold hands, perpetual sniffles, and racking my brain to come up with new and creative ways of cooking root vegetables.
So I can’t tell you how nice it was to see fresh little green things around the market last Saturday. I just about burst into song when we got to the table at Ledge Ends Produce and saw not just beautiful microgreens and mesclun, but radishes, bundles of tiny fresh herbs, and sorrel – tiny young leaves, which I knew would be just perfect in our Valentine’s Day salad course. I’ve been plucking random left-over leaves from the bag in the days since and eating them unadorned, but I wanted to find a better way of using the remainder.
We had a piece of Arctic Char in the freezer, and fish is always a good bet for a light and quick weeknight dinner, so I decided to use the rest of that pretty sorrel in a sauce for the fish. I put the leaves in the food processor with a bit of salt and Meyer lemon juice, then whizzed it until smooth, drizzling in a bit of olive oil. The sauce was a little thinner than I wanted, so I added a dollop of plain yogurt from Narragansett Creamery and pulsed the mixture again. It was just the thing to give the sauce a bit more body while keeping it light, and the bright, tangy flavors were a great counterpoint to the silky fish.
Okay, I promise this post will be significantly less mopey than the last one. You know why? This weekend was positively restorative. Really. The last week was a hard one, but I got through it. I had another roast chicken waiting when I got home on Friday evening (thanks, honey), and you just can’t go wrong with that. And then we went to the farmers’ market on Saturday, Jen greeted me with a big warm hug, and Matt Jennings gave us bites of grilled cheese. AND we brought all these goodies home. I’d say that’s all WIN.
As much as we’d like, we can’t live by farmers’ market alone, so after a stop at Whole Foods for a few other staples, we headed home with our bounty, which included my latest obsession, Maine shrimp.
I can’t get over how good these little guys (actually, gals) are, and they’re crazy cheap (I paid $3.00 for half a pound), which means I’m probably going to overload on them while they’re available. We had them in last weekend’s seafood stew, with some of Perry’s amazing littlenecks and cod from the cutest fish market ever, and enjoyed them again in this Saturday’s dinner, a super easy but totally sexy risotto.
I made a stock from the shrimp shells, simmering them with water, sea salt, and shallot and fennel trimmings, which I set aside to add to the risotto later. I used my usual risotto method, sautéing a couple of chopped shallots in a mix of butter and olive oil, and I added some thinly sliced fennel to the mix as well.
The rice went in next, and when it was translucent, I started adding the liquids: a splash of white vermouth, 1/3 cup or so of the juice from a can of San Marzano tomatoes, the juice of half a lemon, and that shrimp stock, a little at a time, finishing when the rice was al dente.
I turned off the heat and added the shrimp, gently stirring them through – all they needed was a minute or two to get perfectly done. I stirred a in a little creme fraiche for richness, and garnished our servings with feathery fennel fronds. This was some seriously good stuff – we finished it all.
Sunday morning. Our heat was back after a brief outage overnight, the cats let us sleep until 7, and we had pork to look forward to, in the form of this sausage, fennel and potato hash. With Wishing Stone absent from the farmers’ market, we’re tasting our way through the other eggs that are available, and these beauties from Harmony Hill were terrific.
We didn’t watch the game, but I couldn’t resist putting together a midday snack of nachos, with leftover Freedom Bean Farm beans, chile-braised pork from the freezer, Poblano Farm salsa, and of course, plenty of cheese. There may have been some ice cold beer involved as well. And then there was dinner.
We brought home a 4 lb. top round roast from Simmons Farm on Saturday, which I seasoned really simply – salt, pepper and dried marjoram – and let cook for hours with some carrots and potatoes. I removed the meat to let it rest, pulled out the veggies and strained the bits and juices that remained. I whisked in a little more water, scraping up all of the fond from the bottom and sides of the pan, and adding a dab of tomato paste, then tipped in some pearl onions and green beans from the freezer. I also mixed up a little horseradish and mustard creme fraiche to go alongside.
I haven’t cooked a pot roast in years, and unfortunately I let this one get a little more done than I would have liked, but it’s a testament to the meat that it was still moist and juicy, and that the flavor was really, really good. As I had hoped, we have ample leftovers for sandwiches and to incorporate into another dinner later in the week.
You’ve probably figured out by now that my Big Food Project for this week was to make homemade pasta. Now, this isn’t entirely new for me – in another time and place, I made pasta from scratch often, using a hand-crank pasta roller (one of the first kitchen gadgets I ever bought for myself). But as I got older, developed some issues with my hand and arm strength, and moved into a series of progressively tinier kitchens, that old hand-crank pasta roller did little more than gather dust. At our last apartment, there wasn’t a single patch of countertop or piece of furniture we could have attached it to to use it, so we ended up donating it in one of our mass culls before the move.
But I missed making pasta from scratch. I read with envy as bloggers near and far worked with varying proportions of flour and eggs and sometimes other things added to the mix, and kneaded and rolled and made gorgeous, silken sheets of dough. I missed the smell of it, the texture, and the satisfying feeling of sitting down to a meal that was truly a labor of love.
I yearned to make fresh pasta again, and my parents knew this, so a few years ago they gifted me with a shiny red Kitchen Aid mixer, my first ever, complete with pasta making attachments. I was so thrilled to receive yet another thoughtful gift from them, but there was one problem: we had nowhere. to. put. it. We had nowhere near enough counter space for it, but even worse, adding another box of stuff to our already cluttered apartment was just too much. So “Big Red,” as we had dubbed her, sat, unopened, under my desk at my old job until my last week there. As I neared my last day, I made arrangements to have her shipped, and she was waiting at our new place when we arrived. Big Red was the very first appliance I unpacked and set up in our new kitchen.
So I was here, and Big Red was here with her lovely attachments, and why it has taken me this long to get to the pasta making I have NO idea, but I finally did it, and the first batch was so quick, so easy, and so satisfying that I immediately made a second batch, varying the recipe just a bit.
There are probably as many ways to make fresh pasta as there are Italian grandmothers, but I decided to keep things straightforward to start, consulting my trusted Marcella Hazan for guidance. The proportions were simple: 1.5 cups flour (I did veer from her recipe by using “00” flour rather than unbleached all-purpose) plus 2 whole eggs. That’s it. No salt, no milk, no olive oil, no water, just flour and eggs and 8 minutes of kneading before I would have my dough.
This first batch didn’t take the whole amount of flour, but it still looked and felt right as I kneaded it, shaped it into a disc, wrapped it in plastic and left it to rest for a bit. I divided it into six pieces, removed one, wrapped the remainder tightly and held my breath as I turned on Big Red and began to roll out my dough. And in just minutes I had this:
I rolled out my remaining pieces of dough, amazed at the speed and ease of which it was all happening, and after they dried just a bit, I cut them by hand into wide, pappardelle-like ribbons. They were, shall we say, “rustic.” But I was so pleased.
We had them for dinner that very night, dressed with an earthy chicken liver ragu. They cooked up beautifully, the pasta tender and delicate but still with a nice bite.
For my second batch of dough, I varied the recipe by using two whole eggs plus two egg yolks, to 1.5 cups of my “00” flour. This did take the entire amount of flour as I kneaded, and at 8 minutes the dough was definitely tighter than my first batch. Again, I let it rest for a bit before rolling it out into sheets, and I decided to break out the spaghetti cutter attachment. I let the ribbons of spaghetti dry before placing them into a zip-top bag and placing them into the freezer, where they remained until they became part of last night’s dinner.
The sauce was inspired by the linguine with sardines and fennel we love so much, a mixture of caramelized fennel and onions, lemon juice and zest, a few chile flakes for heat, and some beautiful marinated anchovies we picked up at Venda Ravioli recently. The finished dish got a sprinkling of fennel fronds, toasted breadcrumbs and more lemon zest. I was a bit worried about how the thin strands of spaghetti would do when they hit the boiling water – they looked so delicate – but they cooked up beautifully, and they had this great springiness to them which made them really fun to twirl around our forks and bite into.
Mike and I both agreed that this first foray into pasta making with the help of our turbocharged assistant was a big success. I can’t wait to do it again.
(You can view my Flickr photoset here.)
Life is flying by right now, with plans being finalized, dates being nailed down, reservations made and notices given. It’s a really exciting time for us, and looking at the photos of what will be our new home, thinking about furnishing it, decorating it, and taking our new kitchen for a spin puts the biggest smile on my face, but I have to admit that at times, it’s a bit overwhelming. I mean, there’s still our life here to consider – work and errands and keeping up with friends, trying to cull and pack and still find time to do the things we want to do before we say goodbye to New York City for a while. I’ve fallen behind on email and blog reading, and this week I have even had a heck of a time getting up the energy to deal with dinner. I mean, we shopped, I wrote up a meal plan, it’s all mapped out but honestly, what I’ve wanted to do more than anything is to just sit out on the stoop or in the back yard with a glass of wine, breathing in the early spring air, absorbing the sights and sounds and smells of what has been our home for the last three and a half years.
The March issue of Gourmet sat unread on the sofa for days before I finally tossed it into my tote bag in frustration, vowing that I would make time to crack it open on my commute home from work. When I finally did I found about 15 things that I wanted to cook pretty much immediately, but the recipe I couldn’t wait to show Mike was for an Onion Tart With Mustard and Fennel.
Teamwork meals have been working well for us lately, and this was no exception. Mike prepared the tart dough according to the recipe and I riffed on the filling, caramelizing three baseball-sized red onions and one large bulb of fennel, all sliced thinly, in a mixture of butter and olive oil. I added some fennel seeds that I had ground in a mortar and pestle, as well as a teaspoon of dried Herbes de Provence. I did spread a layer of Dijon mustard over the tart dough as in the Gourmet recipe, and when the tart came out of the oven after baking for half an hour I sprinkled some fennel fronds on top.
The crust was spectacular – it cooked beautifully and evenly, and it was light and buttery. Mike was delighted at how well it turned out and how easy it was to put together, and he’s already thinking of variations on the theme. I was pleased with the filling, too. I loved the bite of mustard under the caramelized onion and fennel mixture, though I think I might use a soft goat cheese next time instead of the parmesan – the flavor got a little buried under the layers of fennel-y goodness. But overall, this was a win, and the crust is definitely something we’ll pull out again and use with whatever is in season.
We usually have wine with dinner, and when I’m planning out the pairings, the food usually comes first. But as I was putting together a grocery order last week and browsing the bottles available through Best Cellars, I was surprised to see a white wine listed among their “Big” selections. The bottle in question was a 2004 Oriel “Dylan” Russian River Valley Chardonnay, and while I’m not usually a fan of big Chardonnays, and the bottle was a bit more spendy than we usually go for weeknight dinners, the description of the wine had me intrigued. I added it to our cart and began thinking about building a meal around it.
I like pairing scallops with Chardonnay, so I decided on that as my protein – simply seared, with a little vermouth-enriched brown butter. The side was a bit more challenging; since scallops are so mild, I tend to match them with something more aggressively flavored or seasoned, but I didn’t want to make anything overpowering. As luck or serendipity would have it, I happened upon a few recipes for celery root remoulade over the weekend, and decided to go with a variation on that theme. I added fennel and apple to the mix, and ended up with a wonderful combination of crunchy, creamy, tart, sweet and tangy – a great foil for both the scallops and our delicious bottle of wine.
Celeriac, Fennel and Apple Remoulade
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Juice of one lemon
1 teaspoon extra-hot Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons mayonnaise
4 oz. crème fraiche
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
1 not-too-tart green apple
1 small bulb fennel
1 small celery root (celeriac)
Place kosher salt in a bowl, add lemon juice and whisk until salt is dissolved. Add mustard, mayo, crème fraiche and tarragon, and whisk again until well combined.
Core the apple, slice into matchsticks and add to dressing. Core the fennel bulb and slice as thinly as possible. Peel celery root and slice into matchsticks. Blanch the fennel and celery root briefly in unsalted water. Remove the vegetables using a spider or slotted spoon and shock them in an ice bath. Drain them well, pat dry, and add to the dressing. Toss until the mixture is well-combined, cover, and chill before serving.
I spun out another one of our old standbys last night – crispy fillets of white fleshed fish (this time, black sea bass) over tomato-fennel broth. This is so easy to prepare, and I love how well it works in the heat of summer or on a chilly fall evening.
Wine Pairing: Our friends at Thirst recommended the 2005 Olivier Savary Chablis Vieilles Vignes to go with this dish, and we both agreed it was a really gorgeous wine – a beautiful gold color, very crisp and flinty, with an almost toasted-buttery aroma.