Thursday, July 26, 2012

Uncle Dominic

He is the finest gentleman that I have ever known. The highest compliment ever paid me was by way of comparison to him.

"I see so much of Dominic in you when you do a thing like that," was the approximate wording as I recall.

The "thing" that I had done was simply to be exceptionally kind and respectful of another. I cannot consistently be relied upon to do this, but Dominic could be. Always.

My uncle died last night. I am on my way to his funeral just now. This will be a hard one for our family. Dominic was beloved profoundly and by many. He was decent and honorable and funny and able, and we will miss him very badly.

Many of you got to know my uncle a little bit through this blog. He seemed often to be on my mind, and so I wrote about him on several occasions. Like the time we tried to unravel the mystery of his famous Scottish scones or his appreciation for Gallo Hearty Burgundy wine. Once he assisted Laura, his wife of 67 years, as she prepared a batch of her delicious doughnuts one very happy afternoon we all spent together last year.

Mister Meatball will not be nearly as rewarding to author without a subject like Dominic around to inspire.

Several readers, some of them complete strangers, others dear friends, have asked about Dominic these last few months and weeks. I can't possibly describe what that has meant to me, and so I won't begin to try. Thank you all, though. Thanks very much.

In early spring, over a pot roast lunch at one of Dominic's go-to hospital cafeterias, I told my uncle that he had a lot of fans who were asking after him, wishing him well, and from far away places he had never been. He seemed genuinely touched, if a bit bemused by this news, and asked that I convey his deepest appreciation and affection.

I thought that you all should know.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Fresh green almonds

Whilst loitering on the outdoor sidewalk portion of one of my go-to Brooklyn foods shops (that would be Frank & Sal) I came across a box filled with fresh green almonds. They were as inconspicuously displayed as so unusual an item could possibly be, next to the packaged mushrooms in the blue foam boxes, just above a crate of ripe eggplant.

Certain that I was a buyer but not knowing what to do with the furry green things, I went inside and asked some of the guys who run the place what gives.

"The old-timers buy them," I was told. "Most just crack them open with their teeth, eat them raw."

"Where are they from?" I wondered as one of the men escorted me outside to demonstrate the tooth technique.

"California, I think," he said. "Here, give it a try."

And that is how I came to be in possession of about three pounds of fresh green almonds. From California. I think.

Which I cracked using the method taught to me on a Brooklyn sidewalk in early July.

Cool huh?

Okay, so you don't net a lot of almonds out of this exercise, so what.

And, but for a few, I did not eat them raw. These almonds were lightly sauteed in olive oil, fresh rosemary and thyme, then seasoned with sea salt and served with cheeses.

Good stuff.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Not a Maine lobster roll

It only looks like something you'd find in Maine.

Here are the ingredients that I use to make a lobster roll. They are not at all traditional.

I served this to a person with deep New England roots the other day. She was polite, as proper New Englanders are taught to be, but that is all she was.

Want an authentic Maine lobster roll? You came to the wrong place.

Saute a garlic clove or two and some hot pepper in plenty of butter, but not for long, only enough to flavor the butter a bit.

Remove and discard the garlic and pepper.

There's a half pound of cooked lobster meat here, enough for two good sandwiches. Just add the meat to the flavored butter, salt to taste, saute for about a minute, and into the rolls it all goes.

Like I said, you won't find this in Maine. Unless you're headed to my place.

In which case bring along a couple bottles of white, would you.The lobsters I got.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Spain wins!

Last Sunday, July 1, Spain beat the shorts off of Italy in the Euro 2012. We're talking four goals to none here, people. In soccer, that's a drudging.

Three days later, on the Fourth of July, I was made to eat not hamburgers or hot dogs or Italian sausage smothered in peppers and onions off the grill, but paella. It was a damn fine paella, one of the very best I have eaten, including those eaten in Spain.

But still, paella? On the 4th?

It did not occur to me that I was being made to answer for my team's humiliating defeat until later that evening, well after a splendid holiday meal with friends (none of them Spanish, by the way) had ended. A visitor to my Facebook page, viewing the picture you see above, asked (innocently, I think) whether I was celebrating Espana's decisive win over Italia.

"Ouch!" I typed sheepishly. "Hadn't thunk a that." (Proper English is not required in the world of social media, I find, don't you?)

Anyhow, I immediately confronted my associate, the one who had prepared the wonderful paella made of clams and calamari and chicken and sausage and shrimp, and demanded an explanation.

I didn't get one. In fact, I didn't get anything but a knowing smirk, clearly meant to be hurtful and unkind.

Like the team that could not once find the goal days earlier, I too was humiliated. At the hands of another who has not a drop of Italian blood running through their veins.

The recipe? That I got. It's a good one. Just don't gush over it too much, okay.

It's been a rough week. Unless you're Spanish.

My associate's excellent paella

6 small sweet Italian sausages (about 1 lb.)
Salt and pepper to taste
4 bone-in, skin-on chicken thighs
1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, peeled and chopped
6 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2 large pinches saffron, divided
1/2 tsp. cumin, ground
2 cups short-grain rice, such as Bomba or Arborio
6-8 cups chicken stock, as needed
12 small hard-shell clams, scrubbed
3/4 lb. large shrimp, peeled and deveined
3/4 lb. cleaned squid, cut into bite-size pieces
1 cup frozen peas
1/2 cup roasted red peppers, sliced

1. Poach the sausages in water until just cooked through, about five minutes. Drain and cool, then slice.
2. Salt and pepper the chicken thighs generously. Heat the olive oil in a large paella pan or oven-proof saute pan over medium-high heat until the surface ripples. Add the chicken thighs and brown thoroughly, about 5 minutes per side. Remove the chicken to a plate with a slotted spoon or tongs, then add the sliced sausage and quickly brown, about 2-3 minutes. Spoon out the sausage into the same plate as the chicken.
3. With the pan still on medium-high heat, add the onion and cook until golden brown and softened, about 4-5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1-2 minutes. Add 1 pinch saffron  and the cumin and stir.
4. Add the rice and cook, stirring, until it is completely coated with the olive oil and onions. At this point, the paella can be set aside until you are ready to finish cooking it.
5. Preheat the oven to about 425 F. Meanwhile, "bloom" the remaining saffron in the chicken stock by bringing it to a gentle boil and simmering for about 5 minutes.
6. Arrange the chicken and the sausage over the rice, and ladle on 6 cups of stock. Place in the oven and cook about 15 minutes, until most of the stock is absorbed. Arrange the shrimp, squid and clams, hinge side down, on top of the rice, nestling them in with a spoon. If the rice seems excessively dry, add stock as needed and return to the oven for 15 minutes (the rice should not be soup, but if it is starting to "crater" on top, you will need more liquid).
7. Remove the pan from the oven, scatter the peas and roasted pepper on top, add a little more stock if it seems dry and return to the oven for 5 more minutes.
8. Remove the finished paella from the oven and let it settle 10-15 minutes, loosely covered with a clean dish towel, and then serve.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

How to roast peppers

I go through a lot of these things, especially in the summer. Far more sweet peppers get run through the outdoor gas grill than anything else I can think of.  And practically every one of them is whole roasted.

This won't take but a minute, I promise.

All you do is fire up the grill and bring the temperature to around 400 degrees F or so. Then lay the peppers down and close the cover; flip them a couple times so that they cook evenly. (This works just as well in an indoor oven, but use a pan for the peppers to catch any moisture that leaks out.)

Once they're cooked toss the peppers into a brown paper bag and roll the top of the bag closed. This helps the skins to separate and peel off more easily.

Leave the peppers in the bag until they cool to room temperature, then peel them, remove the inner seeds and slice into whichever size pieces you prefer.

Toss the peppers with some garlic and extra virgin olive oil, then season with salt, pepper, and any herbs you might like. (Many people use vinegar as well, but I don't.)

And there you go. You can eat them right away or they'll keep for a while in the fridge.

Around here they don't last more than a day or two, and so pretty soon it's back to the grill for another round.