Big Stuff

sardines, fennel, tomato

I don’t know what to say.

It’s well into February and I haven’t posted here in what feels like forever. We’ve been cooking up a storm, working on projects in the kitchen, eating some truly wonderful things, but I just haven’t had it in me to post.

There’s so much to tell you. But I can’t talk about it just yet.

Dinner: January 22, 2011

I do want to talk about this pasta, though. It seems like every time I talk about this dish, something big happens. I last posted about it here in 2007, to an enthusiastic response.

Almost a year later, with Mike in New Orleans for Tales of the Cocktail and me at home in Providence, I watched wide-eyed as my site meter shot skyward, topping out at 12,127 hits – twelve thousand, one hundred twenty seven hits – thanks to a post on a Yahoo! Shine blog which linked out to that old Linguine con Sarde post.

And now my recipe for this dish, this humble pantry supper I’ve been making for us for years, is the latest addition to the second food52 cookbook.

As in book one’s scallop competition, I was up against the incredibly talented cook melissav, and today, I learned that my Linguine with Sardines, Fennel and Tomato came out on top in the voting. Sardines with pasta! People are cooking this, and enjoying it, people are eating sardines, and that’s not just big, it’s huge. I couldn’t be happier, or more proud.

To all of you who voted, who commented, who are a constant source of support and inspiration, THANK YOU.

Cool and Composed

Crespone

Temps reached record highs in Little Rhody yesterday, and as I sat in my air-conditioned office in Boston, I knew there was no freaking way our planned Wednesday night dinner was going to happen in our not-yet-air conditioned carriage house kitchen.

quick-pickled cauliflower and carrots

I wasn’t inclined to cook at all, in fact, and began a mental inventory of fridge and pantry to try to figure out my game plan. I love a big salad for dinner on a sweltering night, and it wasn’t long before I had a few good candidates in mind.

fennel

We’ve always got the ingredients for what we call an “indoor picnic” on hand – good cheeses and cured meats, tinned fish, olives and other brined and pickled things, but our fresh vegetable options were somewhat scarce, and a special trip to the store was out of the question. I did have a big bulb of fennel in the crisper, and decided to use it as my base and go from there.

Dinner:  May 26, 2010

In the end I went with something that was a little bit like an antipasto salad, with shades of giardiniera and panzanella thrown in for good measure, a crisp-crunchy-tart-tender-tangy melange of shaved fennel and red onion, lightly pickled cauliflower and carrots, roasted red peppers, capers, chunks of Crespone salami and Parmagiano Reggiano, and garlicky homemade croutons, all in a zippy red wine vinaigrette.

This salad was surprisingly hearty, but the crunchy texture and the brightness of the flavors kept it from feeling heavy. Best of all, I got it on the table without breaking a sweat.

Garbage Soup

Dinner: February 26, 2010

The doldrums drag on. Work has been busy, the weather in New England has been damp and grey, and I’ve been struggling with a nasty bug that kept me home and in bed on Thursday under a pile of blankets and slumbering kitties. I made it to work on Friday, hacking and coughing through the day, and when I came home all I could think about was soup. Small problem: we were fresh out of stock, and I absolutely didn’t have it in me to make more. I could have made that old standby Potage Parmentier, but we were also out of potatoes, so I took a page from my dear Grandma’s playbook and made a version of a little thing we like to call “Garbage Soup.” It’s a clean-out-the-fridge-freezer-and-cupboards kind of soup, endlessly adaptable, and better than it has any right to be.

This batch was built on the last three links of Hill Farm sweet Italian sausage I had in the fridge, crumbled and cooked until deeply browned, then lots of onion, carrot, celery, garlic, a can of San Marzanos with their juice, a parmesan rind, and plenty of thyme and parsley. I added some cooked red beans to the mix, as well as corn, peas, and green beans from the freezer, and several big handfuls of torn kale. With a hunk of bread from Olga’s and some sea salted butter, this soup made for a humble but totally satisfying meal.

Ducks in a Row

sizzling

There’s no question that duck is one of our favorite proteins to work with, but I will admit that we tend to rely on the same preparations for it: the breasts are usually grilled or simply seared in our iron skillet, and the legs and wings (and fat) generally make their way into confit. So when I spotted Mark Bittman’s recipe for a Vietnamese-style duck with green beans a little while back, I was intrigued: it had flavors that we love and don’t play with enough at home, and it looked like a good bet for a weeknight dinner, using things we already had on hand.

Dinner:  April 15, 2009

Mike volunteered to make it for our Wednesday night dinner, and while he would like to make a few tweaks to the recipe, we were both pretty pleased with the result. In particular, the method of putting the duck pieces in a dry pan and letting them cook in their own rendered fat was brilliant – the whole house smelled amazing, and the duck was intensely flavorful. We’re planning a do-over soon.

anchos y arboles

Thursday night’s duck dinner was a spur-of-the-moment kind of thing: some friends started tweeting about burritos in the morning, which led to Mike and I both developing a massive craving for Mexican food, which led me to start desperately thinking of what I could put together with the stuff we had in our fridge and pantry that night. Which takes us to our ever-present tub of duck confit. It really is one of the best “convenience” foods I can think of, but as I said above, we tend to prepare it the same way. And while there’s nothing wrong with a crackly-skinned, seared confit leg, with potatoes fried in the duck fat and a salad with sharp vinaigrette served alongside, I planned to go in a very different direction.

I started by putting together a quick sort of mole sauce: shallots and garlic softened in a bit of duck fat, some toasted spices (whole cumin, coriander and cloves), toasted almonds and pumpkin seeds, reconstituted dried chiles, a couple of chipotles in adobo, and a bit of thawed, reheated roasted tomato sauce and stock (a chicken and duck blend) from the freezer. This all went into a blender, along with a blob of sesame tahini (we were out of the traditional sesame seeds, so I figured, why not), a bit of tomato paste, some sherry vinegar, salt, canela, Mexican oregano, and unsweetened cocoa powder, and I blended it to a creamy puree. I adjusted the salt and acid until it tasted right to me, and added a little of the liquid left over from soaking the chiles to thin it out a bit.

shreddy

With the mole done, I set my attention to the duck, shredding off the meat from a leg and a couple of wings, cooking it in the little bits of fat that clung to the meat until the edges were a bit crispy. I softened up some tortillas in a little more duck fat, stuffed each of them with a bit of the duck, then put them in a baking dish and spooned some of the mole all around. I added a mixture of grated cheeses (Smith’s cheddar and Divine Providence) to the top, and baked the enchiladas for about 25 minutes in a 375 degree oven.

I made a sort of lime crema by whisking a little fresh lime juice into the last of a container of crème fraiche, which I drizzled over the tops of the finished enchiladas, sprinkling some minced scallion and lime zest on for garnish, and spooned some slow-cooked Rancho Gordo beans onto our plates as well.

Dinner:  April 16, 2009

The rich, flavorful duck was a wonderful match with the flavors in the mole sauce – we liked these enchiladas so much, in fact, we ate the entire batch. I made enough mole to feed an army, and I plan to portion out the remainder and freeze it, so we’ll definitely be doing this version of enchiladas again.

Last-Minute Substitution

Dinner:  November 10, 2008
We had a busy weekend, but I still took time to sketch out a menu for this week. Since I knew we wouldn’t make it to the farmers’ market last Saturday, we had loaded up on hardier produce on our last visit which we hoped would get us through to the weekend ahead, and I planned out meals accordingly. But you know how it is, sometimes you have something planned and it just isn’t sending you. That was the case when I got home from work Monday night – all I wanted was to sit and chat with Mike and play with Kirby; standing at the counter chopping ingredients for Plan A was the furthest thing from my mind.

So again I will sing the praises of the well-stocked pantry. I pulled out a package of sun-dried tomatoes, a container of dried mixed wild mushrooms, some sherry vinegar, some dry pappardelle, and I set a big pot of salted water to boil. I let the mushrooms soak in hot water until they were soft, then pulled them out and gave them a rough chop, reserving the liquid. I diced up about 5 of the tomatoes and added them to a sauté pan, where a half-cup or so of chopped shallots had been softening in a mixture of butter and olive oil, then added the mushrooms as well. Sage and thyme went in next, then a splash of sherry vinegar, a glug of red wine, and the mushroom soaking liquid, strained through a coffee filter to remove the grit.

The pasta went into the now-boiling water and cooked while the mushroom sauce perked away. I added a small ladleful of pasta water to the sauce and stirred it through, then splashed in a little heavy cream. I pulled the pasta out of the pot when it was just barely tender and finished cooking it in the mushroom sauce, adding a splash more starchy pasta water to loosen it, then I grated in some Parm off the heat. A little fresh parsley, more cheese on top, and dinner was served. I never get tired of pasta dinners and it’s a good thing – they’re the best pinch-hitter around.

Out of season

Dinner:  June 5, 2008

Where did our June weather go? After a stretch of mostly sunny, beautiful and warm days, we woke to grey, gloomy and COLD. How am I supposed to play with light, bright springtime flavors when all I want to do is curl up under blankets with a mug of tea to get the chill out of my bones? I really must protest.

My crankiness about the weather aside, soup is often the first thing I think of making on damp, rainy days, and I suppose I could have gone with an elegant, light puree of peas or asparagus, but I wanted something a little heartier. Not winter-strength hearty, but a soup with a little more heft.

I rummaged through the fridge and pantry and came up with a pound of chicken and red pepper sausage, roasted red pepper strips with garlic and herbs in olive oil, some of my homemade chicken stock, canned tomatoes and a box of Puy lentils. I removed the sausage from its casings and crumbled it into my soup pot with a little bit of olive oil to brown while I chopped up an onion and a couple of cloves of garlic. Those went into the pot next, along with the roasted peppers and a generous dollop of harissa paste for some heat. Once everything was nicely toasty, I added the tomatoes (half of a large can, plus juices), stock, and a cup of the lentils, lidded up the pan and let it cook away until the lentils were tender. I adjusted the seasoning and tossed in a couple of handfuls of another kitchen staple – some frozen chopped spinach.

While the soup cooked I sliced a couple of thick pieces of the sourdough loaf Mike baked yesterday and re-warmed them in the oven. (I’ll let him go into more depth about the bread if he wants to – but trust me when I say it’s pretty awesome to come home from work and walk directly into a kitchen filled with the smell of bread baking, and sharing the first slice still warm from the oven is pretty freaking amazing. I think we’ve eaten half of the loaf already. It’s delicious and I am, as ever, a lucky girl.)

This soup was a winner with its light and savory broth, the lentils and spinach providing a little earthiness, and the sausage lending a satisfying meatiness. The heat of the harissa was definitely present, but it was more of an overall warmth in each spoonful rather than a knock-you-over-the-head pepperiness. This was not the most seasonal dinner, but I can see us coming back to this in September and October, when autumn’s chill is in the air and we’ve got an abundance of late-season, home-roasted peppers.