Recipes for Things I Love

Til Now

August 5, 2018

Bologna on a plate….

I landed at Marconi airport a couple of weeks ago – which is, incidentally, a very good place to go through passport control.  Nancy and Michael were there to meet me, and we drove right off to Osteria Bottega.  “Jonathan says its his favorite restaurant in Bologna,” they explained.

It was a hot night, and inside the restaurant it seemed like a thousand degrees.  Or did it seem so hot because they’d said, the minute we sat down, “We have to tell you something”?   While I was flying Jonathan had been admitted to the hospital, and things did not look good.

We ate then, with a kind of desperation. This time last year we were all together – Laurie, Jonathan, Izzy, Leon, Margy, Robert, Nancy – eighteen of us.  We had been so carefree.  Death had seemed so far away. And now we ate, thinking how much Jonathan would enjoy this meal.

Raw pork meatballs.

Taleggio – the best I’ve ever had – with a thick fig jam.

Truly extraordinary artichokes in oil.

Pasta with hare.

And fat, floppy tortelloni, a perfect balance of slightly tangy ricotta, sage and butter.

It was wonderful food, extraordinary food, but like everything I ate that week, it tasted mostly of the past.  Every bite reminded me of some dish I’d eaten somewhere with Jonathan.

The next day we drove to the little walled town of Bevagna.  First we found the most extraordinary fruit shop, the air filled with the fragrance of ripe peaches, apricots, strawberries. I kept adding more to my basket.  Moving on we came to the Maccelleria Cariani; with its air redolent of hanging culatello, salamis and prosciutto it looked like something from the middle ages.  Jonathan would have wanted everything; we bought too much.

The word was beginning to leak out that Jonathan was not just ill, but seriously so, and the gruesome business of obituaries began.  Knowing that Nancy was a friend and that I’d worked with Jonathan on and off for more than thirty years we were both fielding phone calls from all over the world. I don’t think I’ll ever forget what it was like, walking through the faux-medieval market they were setting up in Bevagna’s town square while answering questions about Jonathan.  It consoled me that he would have appreciated the image.  And when a man came over, to admonish me to stop leaning on a fake wood pillar, he would have laughed out loud.

We had dinner that night at Villa Roncalli in Foligno. “It’s my favorite restaurant in Umbria,” Nancy said, “but it’s going to be the most leisurely meal you’ve ever had.  There’s only one woman in the kitchen, and she takes her time.”

This was the most astonishing frittata I’ve ever encountered. So tender it trembled, the powerful herbal flavor a lovely contrast to the delicate texture.  Jonathan, who hates eggs, would have shuddered.

The chef, Maria Luisa Scolastra, grows her own vegetables, bakes her own bread, pasta and vinegar. This simple pasta with pesto shows you why her food is worth the wait: there’s nothing to it.  Just pasta, olive oil, herbs.  And yet it makes you want to forget every other version of the dish you’ve ever tasted. It’s a delicate dance of texture and flavor.

We’d been at the table three hours before the pasta showed up.  And then, while we waited for grilled Chianina beef and pork we kept on drinking.  We sat down to eat at 7:30, but it must have been 11 PM when Pete Wells called and the main course still had not shown up. Struggling to talk about Jonathan and how much he meant to me, I thought how he would have laughed to hear how deeply inarticulate I’d become.

We cooked the next day; Nancy had sold a home-cooked meal for charity.  By then we knew that Jonathan had only hours to live, and while I helped Nancy make a dozen different vegetable dishes – grilled fennel, roasted eggplant, gorgeous white beans, roasted tomatoes, onions in balsamic vinegar, ricotta-stuffed squash blossoms, tiny potatoes – I constructed an apricot tart.

Once it went into the oven (the secret to all pies, I now believe, is to cook them more than you think you should),  I went out to the garden and wrote about Jonathan.  He would, I think, have liked the fact that I was cooking while I wrote. You can read it here.

Tomorrow, all about Modena and the Basque Culinary World Prize.  We passed this car along the way.  Would any other country have Lamborghini cop cars?

 

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Burnt

August 2, 2018

It’s been a hard time.  Jonathan Gold’s death has been so shocking and terrible, I haven’t been able to think about much else.  It’s a huge loss, not only to those of us who knew and loved him, but to the entire world of food.

I was in Italy when he went into the hospital.  When I told Massimo Bottura, he burst into tears. And then he fed me the dish at the top.  Could anything be more appropriate?

It’s fish two ways: the black biscuit is a smush of raw sardine. The liquid is the most intense, most delicious broth.  Jonathan would have loved it.

Other dishes I wished Jonathan had been there to share with me:

Eel swimming up the Po River: we shared this dish last year, when we were in Modena together. The eel is flanked on one side by polenta, on the other by a wonderfully acetic apple reduction.

The yin to the yang of Burnt: Sole.

Five ages of Parmesan in different textures and temperatures.

 

A new dish: tortelloni of snails, hare and herbs.  I cried eating this because Jonathan will never get to taste it.

Zuppa Inglese

 

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Gooey and Chewy

June 2, 2018

Reading Jonathan Gold’s description of a Sichuan dish in today’s LA Times made me really hungry.  Partly because it’s such a lovely description; partly because yama imo – Japanese mountain potato – is one of my favorite foods.

Yama imo looks like daikon, and it begins with a crunch.  But it quickly transforms itself into a creamy paste and as you chew it keeps changing – a little circus of the mouth – until its become liquid.  It’s a transformation that always delights me.  I often eat it for breakfast, rolled up in sheets of nori with a bit of umeboshi, the pickled plum-like apricots of Japan.

But I don’t have any yama imo on hand at the moment, and I’m now desperate for some Asian flavors.  A quick search through the refrigerator reveals the squid I bought yesterday, some chiles, a bottle of Shaoxing wine and a package of Chinese noodles; that, I decide will be lunch.

 

This recipe is based on the one in Bruce Cost’s Big Bowl Cookbook.

Slightly Spicy Chinese Noodles with Squid

1/2 pound cleaned squid

8 ounces Chinese noodles

1/2 teaspoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon neutral oil

Knob of ginger, shredded

5 scallions, sliced

1 jalapeno, thinly sliced

1 clove garlic

2 teaspoons Chinese black beans, rinsed

1/2 cup chicken stock

1 teaspoon sugar

2 tablespoons oyster sauce

1 tablespoon soy sauce

2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine

Bring a pot of water to a boil.

Cut the squid into 1/2 inch wide strips, and if the tentacles are very large, cut them in half.  Throw the squid into the  boiling water, let it come back to a boil and cook for about half a minute.  Drain and immediately run under cold water to stop the cooking.  Set aside.

Cook the noodles according to package directions; Chinese noodles take about 3 minutes.  Drain, rinse under cold water and toss with the sesame oil to keep them from sticking. Set aside.

Prep the other ingredients: shred the ginger, slice the scallions, slice the jalapeño, mince the garlic and rinse the black beans.

Mix the chicken stock with the sugar, oyster sauce and soy sauce.

Heat a wok or heavy skillet over high heat.  When it’s hot, add the neutral oil, allow it to get hot and add the ginger, scallions, jalapeno, garlic and black beans; toss and stir until the aroma floats over the pan.  Add the chicken stock and cook for a minute or so, until it boils.  Add the cooked noodles and toss for another minute.  Add the squid and the wine and cook for another minute or two, until it’s all heated through.

Serves 2-3 people.

The Chinese black beans are really necessary for this; they cost very little, you can get them at any Chinese grocery store and they last virtually forever.  They’re a classic umami ingredient (they’re what soy sauce is made out of), and a great pantry item.

Shaoxing is harder to find, but it’s flavor adds a lot to Chinese dishes.  In a pinch, substitute dry sherry.

If you don’t have fresh chiles, you can substitute dried chile flakes. Or simply forego the bite of heat and leave them out.

If you don’t have scallions, a small diced onion will do.

And if you don’t have Chinese noodles, you can substitute any other kind of noodle.

 

 

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Things I Love: Terrific Tahini

June 1, 2018

I call it the “Ottolenghi effect,” this newfound passion for the flavors of the Middle East.  And if you’re one of the people who’s been affected by this cooking craze, you need to know about Seed+Mill tahini.  It tastes nothing like the nasty stuff you find in most supermarkets: this is the essence of sesame.  Before long you’ll find yourself using it in all sorts of other ways – added to brownies, for sesame noodles, or as an ingredient in salad dressing.  Sometimes you might just eat it by the spoonful.

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Simple Scallop Ceviche

May 2, 2018

My friend Serge, chef/owner of Serevan, likes to fly.  About once a week he rents a small plane and flies to Provincetown to pick up oysters, clams, scallops and mussels for his restaurant.  Our house is on his way home and he sometimes stops in to let us share the bounty.

He came by last night when a few friends were here, and we stood around the kitchen opening the oysters (they were Chathams), eating them with nothing more than lemon.  Just out of the water, they were fresh, briny, brimming with juice, each a joyful shot of energy.

Then Serge decided to make ceviche.  The scallops were so fresh – just hours out of the water – that he simply sliced them.  Then he took a dive into went my refrigerator and pulled out some jalapenos which he shredded into slivers, along with chives and bits of blood orange.  Grating orange rind across the top, he added a bit of salt and showered the scallops with blood orange juice, which lent them a slightly exotic flavor.  A splash of lime and a few glugs of olive oil.

I have to say, it was one of the best things I’ve ever eaten.

Incidentally, we both agree that the common practice of discarding the adductor muscle is a big mistake; not only is it sadly wasteful, but that bit of chew is a fine contrast to the silky texture of the scallops.

And here is the end of the oysters…..

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