Category Archives: Foods of the World

Dinner in Florence: Crema di Ceci con Farro e Funghi Porcini (Puréed Chickpea Soup with Farro and Porcini Mushrooms)

Deep, flavorful, tomato-rich, mushroomy goodness.

Continuing on last week’s theme of Florentine cuisine I have followed up this week with a delicious chickpea purée, farro, and porcini mushroom soup. The soup’s flavor is deep and delicious, simply elegant and timelessly balanced…just like Florence itself. Enjoy with a nice glass of chianti and a crusty, rustic Italian loaf of bread.

Ingredients:

For the Purée

1 can of cooked chickpeas

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 yellow onion, chopped

2 cloves of garlic, smashed and roughly chopped

1 small, fresh rosemary sprig

1 tablespoon of tomato paste or one cup of prepared tomato bruscetta (from Trader Joe’s or a similar purveyor)

salt and freshly cracked black pepper

4 cups of vegetable stock or water

1/3 cup of farro

For the Mushrooms

1 1/2 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil

4 ounces of dried porcini mushrooms

1 clove of garlic, smashed and roughly chopped

2 tablespoons of dry white wine

1 cup of water

1 fresh thyme sprig

salt and freshly cracked black pepper

1 1/2 teaspoons of butter

Preparation:

In a large sauté heat the olive oil to just under smoking, add the onion, garlic, and whole rosemary spring and brown over medium/medium-high heat for about 6 minutes.

Add the tomato paste or bruscetta.

Stir thoroughly to comine

Add the canned chickpeas and their cooking juices

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and simmer for about three minutes.

Add the water or stock and return to a simmer, simmer until the flavors have melded over medium heat...about 30 minutes.

Transfer the chickpea mixture to a blender

Purée in the blender until completely liquified and smooth.

Return the purée to a large saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add the farro and stir in. Simmer over medium heat for about 25 minutes, stirring often.

Meanwhile prepare the mushrooms. Heat the olive oil in a large pan to just under smoking over medium/medium-high heat. Add the dried mushrooms and sauté for a few minutes until slightly browned.

Deglaze the pan by adding the cup of water, taking care to scrape all the flavorful brown bits off the pan. Simmer the water away over medium heat until the water is absorbed by the mushrooms

add the white wine and continue to cook over medium heat until...

The mushrooms are softened and smell very good.

Add the mushrooms to the simmering soup and farro

At the end of 25 minutes the farro should be al dente and the mushrooms should be diffusing their flavor into the tomato/chickpea purée. Serve at once.

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Dinner in Florence: Risotto al Salto alla Parmigiana in Salsa di Zafferano

Risotto cooked al dente, parmigiano that will make your knees buckle, a deceptively light cream sauce with a decadent pinch of saffron. These are the innately superior components that make Florentine cuisine just…somehow better. I can think of no dish that better represents the simple, elegant cuisine of Florence better than these Parmesan risotto cakes with saffron sauce. A bite invokes the super-human grandeur of the Duomo, the silky finish of the saffron-laden sauce will haunt you like the gaze of the David. I’ve loved many cities but Florence is the only place that has truly stolen my heart, and her cuisine did not exempt me in that theft. Situated in the heart of Tuscany, Florence is the meeting place of all manner of inhumanly good produce, grains, and meat. Her cuisine is the earnest, elegant, and straightforward manifestation of these spectacular raw ingredients. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

For the Risotto

4 cups chicken stock

2 tablespoons of butter

1/2 white onion

1 cup Carnaroli rice

1/4 cp freshly-grated parmigiano reggiano

Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

For the Sauce

2/3 cup half and half

1 tablespoon of butter

2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour

Large pinch of saffron

salt

For finishing the dish

2 tablespoons of butter

1 tablespoon of olive oil

12 fresh shavings of parmigiano reggiano

2 tablespoons of coarsely chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley

Preparation

1. Prep the risotto cakes

Take your diced onion and run your knife rapidly over the mass a few more times to get a fine mince

Heat the butter in a heavy-bottom pan over medium heat until melted and the butter has just subsided

Add the onion to the hot butter and...

add the rice and...

...sauté for about 4 minutes or until golden

deglaze the pan with the white wine

meanwhile heat the chicken stock to just under simmering over medium-high heat

add one ladel-ful of stock and...

stir over medium heat until completely absorbed by the rice...

once completely absorbed by the rice add another ladel-ful and...

stir over medium heat until...

completely absorbed by the rice.

Repeat the process ladel-ful but ladel-ful taking care that the rice completely absorbes the stock after each addition. SO MANY chefs bastardize risotto by adding the stock all at one making a sort of foie gras risotto-style...which is to say they force feed stock into the rice until it explodes. Risotto is a delicate, elegant grain that needs to have the liquid coaxed into it ever-so-gently. In other words, risotto is a lady, don't rush her. At the final addition add the remaining stock and...

...stir over medium heat until...

...keep stirring...

...until the stock is completely absorbed. The total time of the additions and absorbtions is about 15 minutes but do it until your rice looks like mine. Be gentle, remember...risotto is a lady.

 

Add the freshly grated parmigiano reggiano

Stir to combine and add salt and pepper to taste

Transfer to a bowl and add the remaining butter, stir to combine completely and let cool, stirring occasionally until cool and congealed enough to handle when forming into cakes.

2. Meanwhile Prepare the sauce

Over medium heat bring the half and half to just under a boil

Meanwhile in a separate saucepan melt the butter and...

...sprinkle the flour over the butter

stir vigorously to for a roux. The roux will be finished when it is brown and has a faint nutty aroma. For more on preparing roux check out http://reclaimingthegoodnameoftheepicurean.com/2011/10/10/back-to-basics-blonde-and-brown-roux/

Pour the hot half and half over the roux whisking vigorously so that no clumps form. Clumps form easily so WHISK VIGOROUSLY

Add a very healthy pinch of saffron...come on, treat yourself!

Stir again to release the saffron's color. Season to taste with salt and keep warm to serve with the risotto cakes.

Form the Risotto Cakes and Chill

When the risotto is cool enough to handle form 4 equally sized balls. Place on a parchment-lined sheet pan and press into 4 equally-sized cakes. Chill in the refrigerator for about two hours or until totally solid.

Sauté the Risotto Cakes and Serve

Heat the butter and olive oil over medium/medium-high heat until the bubbles have just subsided

Place the chilled risotto cakes in the hot butter and oil and sauté for 4-5 minutes on the first side, taking care to get a crispy, fully-caramelized face on the first side before turning.

Carefully turn the risotto cakes over and sauté the other side for another 4-5 minutes.

While you sauté the second side prepare your plates. Take your plate and your hot saffron-cream sauce. Pour about 1/8 cup of the sauce into a disc onto the plate

Place a finished risotto cake onto the sauce on the plate

Pour a little more of the sauce over the cake

Garnish with chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley

Finish with 3-4 fresh shavings of parmigiano reggiano

 

 

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Dinner in London: Fish and Chips

To quote Constance (Lady Trentham) from Gosford Park "yummy yummy yummy."

Although it’s been the better part of a decade since I was in London I can vividly remember the first time I had really authentic fish and chips. It was one of those light-filled 9-at-nights peculiar to London in July. It was balmy, the sky was white, and I was having the time of my life. We had just left Madame Tussads and were walking along the Thames and the smell of hot, fresh french fries wofted from little stands that seemed straight out of Dickens. It was a magical moment as I handed my pound over to the woman and was handed back a newspaper cone (yes, mine actually came in newspaper) filled with hot and fresh fried fish and chips. The savory aroma coupled with the tart smell of the sauce and the sourness of the malt vinegar was somehow much different than the smell of the fish and chips I had been accustomed to at home.

I grew up eating beer-battered fish almost every weekend on the northern California coast. The fish was fresh, it woke up in the sea and was on my plate by dinner, but it was nothing like what I got in that newspaper cone that lovely evening. The fish I bit into in London was insanely good. The crisp breadcrumb exterior crunched apart to let loose brilliantly white cod, moist and succulent. The chips were so hot they nearly burned my mouth but provided the perfect contrast to the sea-salt sweetness of the fish. It was one of those rare moments when the cliché cuisine of a place is actually as good as everyone claims it is. As I gazed at parliament and the grotesquely beautiful streetlamps that line the river slowly replaced the evening light of the sky the chimes of Big Ben rang out and I was eating fish and chips in London and the scene was complete. I can’t imagine a more cliché moment but would trade this memory for nothing in the world.

My homemade rendition is just as good as the version I ate that night, though there’s something to be said for eating it in an apartment in Los Angeles rather than under the lights of the London night. Well, until I return again this recipe will certainly hold me over. Enjoy!

Ingredients:

For the Chips

4 large russet potatoes

Sunflower or corn oil for frying

Fine sea salt

For the Fish

2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour

Fine sea salt

Freshly ground black pepper

2 cups dried white breadcrumbs

1 large egg

about 20 weighted ounces of cod, skin removed

sunflower or corn oil for deep frying

Tartar sauce and malt vinegar

Directions:

1. Prepare the French Fries following the directions found in my Back to Basics post: http://reclaimingthegoodnameoftheepicurean.com/2011/10/03/back-to-basics-the-batonnet/

2. Prepare the fish for frying

Lay out two small plates and one shallow bowl.

Pour the breadcrumbs onto one of the plates, pour the flour onto the other and season with salt and pepper. Crack the egg into the bowl and break up by whipping it lightly with a fork.

Your cod fillets will look like this when you bring them home from the market.

Cut the cod fillets into 4-5 even pieces.

Add a dinner plate to your breading workstation and bring the fish over to the station.

Begin by dredging each fillet in the seasoned flour taking care to completely cover each side with the flour mixture.

Coat the floured cod with the egg making sure the entire piece is covered

Dip the cod egg-covered cod fillet in the breadcrumbs making sure to evenly coat all the surfaces of the fillet. Move the breaded fillet to the dinner plate and repeat the process for all of the cod fillets.

Your breaded cod fillets will look like this when they are done. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator until ready to use.

3. Fry the chips the first time.

Drain the batonnet of potato in a colander

Heat the oil in your pan until it is very hot, just barely smoking. Add the batonnets of potato one small batch at a time and fry for about 4 minutes. Take care not to overcrowd the pan, if you put too many batonnets in the oil it will reduce the temperature of the oil and they will not fry properly. Note: I use a wok for frying because it is a rapid and even conductor of heat, however any like-sized pan in your cupboard will work...the key is to get the oil very hot and keep it very hot.

The fries are not finished after this round of frying so don't be alarmed, after 5 minutes they will be limp and barely colored. This batch pre-cooks them, you will give them a final fry just before serving. As the batches finish transfer them to a pan lined with paper towels in a 200-degree oven.

4. Fry the fish

Heat enough oil to generously cover the bottom of a frying pan to just barely smoking over high heat.

Fry the cod fillets a couple at a time. Fry over high heat about 2-3 minutes per side or just until they are golden brown.

Turn with a pair of cooking tongs to make sure the fillets don't break apart.

Transfer each batch to a paper-towl-lined pan as they finish

5. Give the chips their final fry

Get the oil very hot over high heat again, just barely smoking. Add the pre-fried chips and dry for a minute or two until they are colored the way you like them. I like my chips dark so I fry them longer, but if you like yours lighter you'll only need to fry them for about 30 seconds to a minute.

As the batches finish drain off the oil by setting the fries over paper towels. When all the chips are refried transfer to a bowl and toss with sea salt to season.

6. Plate and serve

Enjoy with tarter sauce, lemon wedges, and malt vinegar. Play 'Hail Britannia,' 'God Save the Queen,' or 'Zadok the Priest' if you feel so inclined

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Dinner in Havana: Colombo (Shrimp and Coconut Curry with Sweet Potato Fries)

Dig in!

It’s a hot night, very hot. The balmy air is heavy and the sweat seeps through your linen suit. A music somehow hotter than the night emmenates from a little restaurant and the rhythms make you feel suddenly cooler. You settle in and the pretty woman behind the bar sets a little bowl of shrimp in front of you accompanied by some sweet potato fries. The aroma is musky like curry and smells sweet like coconut. The fries smell savory and substantial. You take a bite and the sharp bite of the pepper and the sublimely cool shrimps circulate in your mouth as the warm spices soften the edges. You take a bite of the fries and its like curling your toes into the rich soil. The endorphins rush and suddenly you’re one with the music, the night, the island.

Colombo summons up something dark and ancient. Something which came about through the confluence of the spices on traders’ ships, the bounty of the crystal-blue waters, and the produce of the islands themselves. It is unlike anything you’ve ever had, and on a night just hot enough to conjur up whatever means Havana to you the combination of this simple curry, the crisp sweet potato fries, and a perfectly chilled mojito has magically transformative properties. You’ve been warned. Enjoy.

Ingredients

2 sweet potatoes

canola oil

2 pounds of shrimp

2 cloves of garlic

1 red bell pepper

1 scotch bonnet chile, or one habanero chile if a scotch bonnet is unavailable

1 tablespoon of mild curry powder

2 cups of coconut milk

1 small bunch of cilantro

salt and pepper

1/4 cup olive oil

1. Begin by peeling and deveining the shrimps

First take the whole shrimp, in-peel, into both hands

gently pull the tail off

then pull off the rest of the peel

check the shrimp to make sure all of the peel has been removed

with a paring knife (or a bird's beak knife as I'm using here, if you have one) cut a slit along the length of the back of the shrimp

pull the vein out with the tip of your knife. For those unfamiliar with this process the "vein" is actually the shrimp's digestive track and the vein itself actually contains the shrimp's feces. An empty vein is an indicator that the shrimp was not fed properly before being harvested, a full vein is a sign of the good health and good farming practices of the shrimp producer.

Clean your knife off on a paper towel. You don't want shrimp refuse on your porous cutting surface.

Turn the shrimp over and cut another slit along the length of the inside of the shrimp. There is another major vein in this side to remove.

Pull the second vein out and discard on your paper towel as you did with the first vein.

As you work retain your shrimps in a bowl and keep chilled in the refrigerator (you'll need to serve the curry immediately after cooking). Reserve the shrimp peels in a storage container and keep in the freezer for a later use. Shrimp tails are used in an infinite number of dishes, namely shrimp bisque, which I will demonstrate in a later post.

2. Prepare the sweet potatoes for frying.

Peel both sweet potatoes, taking care to remove all signs of peel

True the edge of your knife with a steel by holding the knife at a 10-12 degree angle and running the edge of the knife against the steel alternately about 5 times each side for a total of 10 strokes. This process does not sharpen the knife but removes small inconsistencies in the sharpened edge and makes for safer, more accurate cutting. For the purpose of cutting starchy vegetables a Santoku knife is the ideal took, the thin, very sharp blade lends greater accuracy in cutting. If you do not own one a standard 10-12 inch French knife works perfectly well.

Begin by cutting the sweet potato into 3 to 3 1/2-inch segments

Taking care to tuck your fingertips and thumb in begin trimming the edges of the 3 to 3 1/2 inch segments into rectangles with sharp 90-degree angles

From your larger rectangles cut smaller, 1/4-inch thick rectangles. Be vigilant about keeping all angles at a tight 90-degree angle. This will be difficult at first but in time you will gain easy precision and easy precision is the hallmark of any good cook and definitely any professional chef.

From the 1/4-inch thick rectangles cut 1/4-inch by 1/4-inch by 3 - 3 1/2-inch sticks. This is a classical cut known as the "batonnet" and it is typically used to make pommes frites (french fried potatoes)

Fabricate all of your sweet potato into perfect batonnets, like so, and set aside.

3. Prepare the rest of the vegetables

Mince the garlic by first crushing each clove with the face of your knife and your fist

Remove and discard the garlic peel from the crushed garlic cloves

Chop the garlic finely by first slicing the crushed cloves, regathering the sliced crushed garlic, and running the knife rapidly over the garlic over and over again until...

...it looks like this. Set aside.

Slice the top and bottom of the red bell pepper off and remove the pulpy inside and seeds. Discard the tip and tail as well as the pulpy interior and seeds, reserve the rest.

Slice the bell pepper into 1/8-inch thick slices as for the julienne (see back to basics post)

Cut the 1/8-inch slices into 1/8-inch by 1/8-inch by 1/8-inch cubes, the "brunoise" from my back-to-basics post. Brunoise all of the bell pepper and set aside.

Fabricate the Scotch Bonnet or Habanero pepper in the same fashion as the bell pepper. Wear latex gloves while doing this, the pepper's oil will burn you badly and will hurt for hours if you have any little nicks or cuts in your skin.

Rinse and dry your cilantro with paper towels. Begin by slicing the mass into thin slices, regather the mass and run your knife over it rapidly until...

...the entire mass of cilantro is finely diced like so. Set aside with the rest of the vegetables.

4. When you’re ready to eat begin by preparing the Sweet Potato Fries.

Toss the batonnet of sweet potato with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper in a bowl.

Preheat oven to 200 degrees farenheit, heat a few cups of oil in a pan over high heat. I use a wok on account of its effective conduction of heat, but any sort of pan will work. The key is to get the oil very, very hot (just barely under smoking) before adding the batonnet of sweet potato. Very hot oil will seal in the moisture and make a crisp outside while under-heater oil will quickly absorb into the sweet potato and make a limp, sad, little monstrosity out of what should be a crisp and tasty fry.

When the oil is hot enough add the batonnet of sweet potato a little at a time.

Fry each batch until golden, about 2-3 minutes depending upon the size of the batch

As each batch of fries finishes transfer to a large pan in the 200-degree oven outfitted with several paper towels to absorb the extra oil. The fries will only stay crisp if there are paper towels to absorb the extra oil and moisture in the dry, hot oven. Repeat process until all the batonnet of sweet potato are turned into delicious sweet potato fries

5. Prepare the curry

Over medium-high heat heat the olive oil to just under smoking

Add the prepared shrimps

Add the habanero, bell pepper, and garlic

Saute together for about 4-5 minutes over medium-high heat

Add the curry powder and saute for another minute

Turn the heat up to high and add the coconut milk. Stir constantly over the course of about 10 minutes or until the sauce has reduced to a thickened, sauce-like consistency

After 5 minutes it should look like this...

After 10 minutes it should look like this. It is ready to serve at this point.

6. Plate and serve

After the curry is ready toss the hot french fries with kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper to taste.

I plated the curry in bowls set on top of a dinner plate with the sweet potato fries served on it.

Sprinkle a generous amount of the chopped cilantro on top. Mix yourself a third mojito and you're in business! Enjoy!

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A Night in Roma: Petti Di Pollo in Padella

It’s Tuesday night, and that means I’m reaching out for the foods of the world. For dinner tonight I prepared panfried chicken breasts with herbs in the Roman fashion. Characteristic of Roman cuisine in general this dish is light, simple, and earnest. As my partner and I sat down to dinner and took our first bites I remarked on the chicken’s flavorful quality yet overall understatement. Nonplussed by the simplicity I was at first unsure how I felt about the dish. There is a hint of the musky rosemary, a wiff of bay leaf, and the succulent freshness of chicken breast itself. Upon further rumination it occurs to me that this dish is representative of not just the cooking in Rome but of the architecture of the city itself. The forum was never flamboyant and the pantheon doesn’t overwhelm the senses with Rococo curls. The structure of Rome is simple, orderly, dignified, and beyond all else refined. The eternal city’s residents reflect that same air. It stands to reason the cuisine, a symbol of the soul of Roman culture, would embody those same understated virtues of balance, order, and refinement.

Ingredients:

4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, tenders removed and reserved for another use

2 chicken wings

1 carrot

1 small celery stalk

1 small yellow onion

Salt and freshly cracked black pepper

1/4 cut extra-virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

1 bay leaf, crumpled

Preperation

1. Fabricate and marinate the chicken breast

Take the chicken breasts and cut them in half lengthwise so that from one plump chicken breast you yield two thin chicken breast pieces

Place the 8 chicken breast pieces in a shallow glass dish

Chop the rosemary and mix it in a bowl with the olive oil, balsamic vinegar, a healthy pinch on salt, and a few grinds of black pepper

Drizzle the marinade over the chicken breast

Toss the chicken breasts around in the pan and ensure all surfaces of the chicken breast pieces are coated with marinade. Marinate in the refrigerator for about two hours, turning the breasts over every fifteen minutes or so.

2. While the chicken marinates, prepare a quick chicken stock

Clean the carrot and cut into rough, inch-sized pieces

Clean the celery stalk and cut into rough inch-sized pieces

Peel the onion and chop it into rough, inch-sized pieces

Put the two chicken wings, chopped vegetables, 2 cups of water, a healthy pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper into a medium saucepan

Bring to a boil over high heat and skim the scum off the top of the stock.

Reduce heat to medium and reduce the stock demi sec (by half). It's ready when it looks like this.

Strain the stock through a fine mesh sieve and chill in the refrigertor

3. Sauté the chicken breasts

Put about a tablespoon of the marinade in a large sauté pan and heat to just under smoking over medium-high heat

Sauté the first side until dark and golden, about 5 minutes

With kitchen tongs turn the breasts over carefully and sauté the other side of the breast pieces until dark and golden...about five minutes

When finished remove the chicken breast pieces to a cutting board and let rest at least 5 minutes before cutting. If you cut too soon the hot juices in the chicken will all run out and your chicken will be left bone dry. By letting the chicken rest the juices cool and settle in the fibers of the chicken and when cut they remain in the pieces.

4. Prepare the sauce

Keeping the juices in the pan leftover from the sauté still hot over medium-high heat, deglaze the pan by pouring the cold chicken stock over the sautéing juices. There will be furious boiling and steam at first but this will soon subside.

Over medium-high heat simmer the sauce and scrape the flavorful dark pieces from the bottom of the pan. The sauce is finished when it has reduced demi sec (by half).

5. Cut the chicken, plate, and sauce

After the breasts have rested on the board for at least 5 minutes, slice them cross-wise into about 1-inch by 2-inch pieces

Carefully place the sliced chicken breast pieces on the plate retaining the general shape of the chicken pre-slicing. Generously drizzle the sauce over the chicken and serve.

Since my partner and I are currently abstaining from wheat, sugar, and alcohol I served the chicken with a simple Italian-inspired salad of greens (red and green oak, red and green romaine, Lollo Rosa, red and green chard, tatsoi, mizuna, red mustard, redina, frise), fresh Buffalo mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, Kalamata olives, green onions, toasted pine nuts, and black pepper with a simple balsamic vinaigrette. Under normal circumstances I would have served this chicken with a truffled risotto and sauteed asparagus. Enjoy!

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