26 March 2006

Live & Learn

Since M's on a shoot in New Jersey this past week or so, I've had occasion to do a lot more cooking. She's been coming home late and getting out early, so I've made sure to cook healthy but comforting dinners for her when I could. Last weekend, I made borscht, sort of accidentally. I made roasted beets as a side dish for a ground beef & cabbage stew with potatoes, then decided to chop and throw in the beets at the last minute. It was very good and rich, though I'd have liked to maybe have some potato starch to thicken up the broth a little at the end.

Yesterday, I went to Mario's, the Italian butcher in my neighborhood, and got the ingredients for bucatini all'amatriciana, which is a favorite for M. Pancetta, a couple cans of San Marzano tomatoes, some ground pecorino romano, and, actually, perciatelli, which is smaller in diameter than bucatini (since we'd had a little trouble last time eating the bucatini without spilling sauce all over us). I also got a couple of fresh-made sausages, some rusks and some prosciutto. As usual, it was ridiculously cheap, around $20 for the same stuff I would've paid at least $50 for at Citarella or Dean & Deluca.

I had to get some onions and some cheese for Italian Breakfast, and some broccoli rabe to have as a side dish, so I stopped by the regular supermarket. There, I decided to change things up, and do orecchiette with sausage and broccoli rabe instead. Like Amatriciana, it takes to having pecorino romano sprinkled over rather than parmigiano, so the fact that I'd forgotten to get parmigiano at Mario's wasn't a problem. What was a problem, however, was that I'd underestimated the importance of having the right pasta for the dish I was making. I couldn't find orecchiette, so I didn't get any more pasta at all, remembering that I'd randomly found good orecchiette pugliese at the bodega across the street (which rarely has anything good at all).

I couldn't find the orecchiette, so I just decided to go with the perciatelli, broken in half. Not a terrible mistake, but I did have it demonstrated to me when I cooked the dish just how important having the right pasta is. Had I to do it over again without orecchiette, I would've gone with penne rigate instead, as it has the ridges to pick up and hold the juice which comprises the sauce. The most important thing for this recipe is peeling the broccoli rabe well.

Orecchiette with Sausage, Broccoli Rabe and Roasted Garlic

Serves 4 as a main dish, 6 as a primo

1 head garlic
olive oil
salt

1-2 bunches broccoli rabe (depending on how much you like it)
1 lb Italian pork sausage, removed from its casing (you can use sweet or hot)
pinch red pepper flakes (if using sweet sausage)
1 lb orecchiette

plenty of good extra virgin olive oil
lots of fresh ground black pepper
pecorino romano

  1. Preheat the oven to 400F. Put a large pot of lightly salted water on high heat.
  2. Cut the top half-inch off the head of garlic so you can see the tops of the cloves. Drizzle with a little olive oil, sprinkle with some salt, wrap well in foil and roast for 40 minutes.
  3. While the garlic roasts, trim the broccoli rabe, peeling the stems from the bottom up to the flower. Cut the stalks into 1" pieces. Boil for 4-5 minutes, then drain and plunge into cold water to stop the cooking. Put another fresh pot of water on for the pasta.
  4. In a large skillet, saute the sausage, breaking it up into small pieces with the back of a wooden spoon. Drain the sausage on paper towels. Wipe out the skillet and add a couple tablespoons olive oil.
  5. When the water boils, start cooking the pasta.
  6. When the garlic is done, unwrap and, holding in a dishtowel, squeeze the garlic into the skillet, followed by a pinch of red pepper flakes, the sausage, and the broccoli rabe. Add a little of the pasta cooking water.
  7. Toss the pasta with the sauce, a good amount of olive oil, pepper, and pecorino romano. Serve immediately

13 March 2006

Vegetable Dinner

Dinner was less successful than lunch. I went to the store and got some supplies. We ended up with udon noodles in portobello mushroom soup with grilled chicken breasts, which was fine, but as M pointed out, the noodle soup weather is waning now.

I also made a side dish of chickpeas, brussels sprouts, beet greens, onions, and chorizo (yes, again). It was good but needs improvement.

Made roasted beets, too. Roasted in foil for 2 hours at 350° with a little olive oil and salt. Maybe next time I'll save the foil and just roast them in cast iron. Or maybe even beets en pappillote. The recipe called for simply washing them and leaving the stems on. The peels just slide right off the beets with the outer layer of flesh. Even if they're too hot to handle, you can do this under cold running water and be fine, plus they'll retain enough of their heat, even under the water, to serve immediately. I would have liked a little chopped flat-leaf parsley and maybe some lemon, but they were great just all by themselves. Looking forward to fresh spring veggies!

12 March 2006

A basic lunch

M is down for the whole weekend, so we're enjoying a lazy Sunday this afternoon. Smoothie breakfast (guanabana flavor), reading, hanging out. I had the idea this morning of making a parfait with the white guanabana smoothie and the muesli in layers. Yum!

For lunch, I had a bag of potatoes that needed to be cooked, so I scrubbed and boiled them, figuring they'd be a good raw material for whatever I made later today or later on this week. Well, they actually became the main course for lunch. We had a warm potato salad, vaguely reminiscent of a cobb salad, actually.
  • I started with two bowls and in each crumbled some unbelievably good Valdeon blue cheese (wrapped in oak leaves). Then a dash of red wine vinegar, black pepper, and a shot of olive oil, mixed them together into a chunky paste.
  • I chopped up and smashed a medium boiled potato for each bowl, tossing it with the dressing.
  • While this was going, I fried a diced Goya chorizo and a diced onion in a little more olive oil. I crushed in a clove of garlic and then threw in about a cup of shelled edamame.
  • When the chorizo was browned, the onions soft, the garlic just browning, and the soy peas cooked, I split the mixture between the two bowls, then topped with a quartered hard-boiled egg, and a few more crumbles of cheese.
  • I finished with pepper, a drizzle of good oil, and a sprinkle of red wine vinegar.
The colors were actually the nicest part, with they yellow of the yolk, the red of the chorizo, the green of the soy peas, with the white of the egg whites and potatoes, plus a shot of color from the blue cheese. Really tasty, too, especially warm.

(Editors note: on reflection, maybe some frozen baby peas would've been better than edamame in this.)

03 March 2006

Jack's Luxury Oyster Bar

Just realized I made reference to Jack's Luxury Oyster Bar and haven't logged here what we had there. I'll see if I can reconstruct it in my head and get it down on paper[sic].

M and I waited until the night after Valentine's Day to go out to dinner, which made it much easier to get a table at Jack's. It was a great meal. As I just observed about Hearth, it's pretty easy to blow $75 on a tasting menu in this town, but at Jack's, you get a lot for that.

Here's the rundown:
  • The amuse bouche was a mini lobster panini (pronounced by our Latino waiter meanie puh-neenie, which I suppose was correct, but has since become a running joke). It was buttery and rich, about the size of a matchbox.
  • Next came caramelized scallops with pistachio butter and baby artichokes. This was M's favorite, and really a standout for me. The brown crust on the sea scallops was delicious.
  • A raw bar selection: two oysters, a raw clam, a cooked shrimp, and a piece of toast with egg and parrotfish caviar.
  • Potato leek soup with white truffle oil, poured over 3 kumamoto oysters. Really fantastic, if a little salty. The oysters had some sort of sauce on them before the soup was poured over, but it escapes me. This was a great dish and a great combination.
  • Lobster Newburgh. Creamy, a little spicy from the paprika. Very rich and luxurious.
  • Sauteed monkfish over shallot puree, surrounded by a white port porcini broth.
  • Mint tea sorbet
  • Chocolate sampler for dessert: chocolate-mint cup (a shot glass filled with mint-flavored rich liquid chocolate), mini dark chocolate box with caramel mousse and fleur de sel (salty and chocolate), and a white chocolate tart.
It was all pretty darn good and worth the price of admission. We shared a bottle of New Zealand sauvignon blanc over the meal, and a glass of champagne over dessert. A really fine meal.

Hearth

Had dinner at Hearth on 12th St. and 1st Ave. last night with some friends from Japan and some coworkers. We had the tasting menu. A really nice meal, though for the $75, I'd rather go back to Jack's Luxury Oyster Bar for their tasting menu. I chose the wines... then found out later that one of my Japanese friends was a wine buff and probably could've outselected me with one hand tied behind his back. The wine list was challenging. There weren't any slam dunks and there were lots of bottles over $300, which is just dumb. Anyway, here's what we had:

  • Lobster, blood orange, truffles and m√Ęche. Wine: Josmeyer Le Dragon Alsatian Riesling. This was good, but I still don't get the trend for pairing seafood with strong citrus, like I had at Sushi Samba. It overwhelms the flavor of the fish/shellfish.
  • Striped bass with lentils, fennel and red wine reduction. Wine: Trousseau (can't remember the vineyard, but it was light like a pinot noir, but with more tannin than I would've liked for the food. A very nice merlot like Duckhorn would actually have been better because it would've been softer.) This was very tasty and earthy. A nice blend of flavors.
  • Rack of lamb with lamb osso buco and rappini. Wine: Mr. Riggs Shiraz Voignier, Adelaide, Oz. The wine was strong and stood up to the lamb. Again, not an ideal choice, but a good learning experience. The rack was tasty but fatty. Didn't mention the provenance of the lamb, so probably not Icelandic or New Zealand. The shank (osso buco) was fantastic. Salty, savory, greasy, comforting. The rappini was great, too. The best part of this course was the look on my Japanese friend's face when at my prompting he sucked the marrow out of the bone and got a mouthful of, well, fat. Expensive fat, but fat nonetheless.
  • Two desserts: passion fruit panna cotta with huckleberry compote and almond cookie. Very nice. Coconut souffle with ganache poured into it. Very rich. My dining companions didn't finish theirs. I finished mine.
Overall a very good meal, but again, if I was looking to blow $250 on dinner, I'd go back to Jack's in a heartbeat, and Hearth only if Jack's was booked.