Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Uncooked cherry tomato sauce

This will be the last time I mention fresh garden tomatoes this year.

I promise.

Thing is, this uncooked sauce gets overlooked all the time. And it shouldn't. It's got great flavor and only requires an ability to cook, well, a pot of water. For the pasta.

The three main ingredients are tomatoes (I use cherry tomatoes but any kind will do), garlic and fresh basil leaves.

Just slice the tomatoes, tear apart the basil leaves and dice a garlic clove (go easy here, as raw garlic is pretty potent stuff), then season with salt and pepper and douse with a good dose of extra virgin olive oil.

Mix in some cooked pasta (strozzapreti here), then top with grated cheese.

That's it.

Until next summer.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Pasta with caramelized onion

And you thought I only ate Red Sauce.

C'mon. Even I know that caramelized onion is one of the great flavor profiles.

It might just be the simplest pasta sauce ever, too. We're talking onion, oil, salt and pepper. That's it.

Make this, would you.

Think of it as your White Album. Just without "Revolution 9."

You take a couple onions (like these just-picked specimens from my garden) and slice them all up.

Season with salt and pepper and slowly caramelize in extra virgin olive oil (and a little butter if you like).

Toss in the cooked pasta of your choice, along with some of the pasta water, mix thoroughly and serve.

I like a little grated cheese on top, but that's a matter of personal preference.

Then again, what isn't?

Some people like "R9."

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Grilled radicchio & mozzarella

Here's a quickie for a summer Sunday.

Cut some radicchio heads in half, douse them with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Toss them on the grill and cook until tender, maybe fifteen minutes or so, and turning a couple times.

Remove from the grill and transfer to a baking tray. Top with slices of fresh mozzarella and return to the grill for a minute or two, or until the cheese is nicely melted.

I said it was a quickie, didn't I?

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Fresh garden tomato risotto

I can't keep up with my tomatoes this year. A dozen plants have produced hundreds of tomatoes, and the season isn't over yet

They're everywhere, I swear.

These red and yellow things are also inside my head, and in a big way. Just the other night, as I stuffed a lamb leg and sipped on a sparkling rosato, the mountain of just-picked Big Beefs and Sungolds seemed to command me to rethink the evening's dinner plans.

"Maybe you ought to do something with us tonight," is about the gist of what I thought I had heard voices saying. "Fer chrissakes, Meatball. Lamb? Really?"

"Okay, okay, pipe down," I said (aloud, yeah; I get that way around ripe fruit sometimes). "You look like you'd make a real nice risotto. Some of you do anyway."

And they did.

In fact, I encourage all of you fresh summer tomato lovers out there (you know who you are) to get on this risotto while there's still time. It is not my recipe. (My hands were full with the lamb course, remember?) The risotto was crafted by a very able associate of mine, and be assured that it (like the person who prepared it) is top notch.

Trust me on this.

Fresh tomato risotto

6 Tbsp. butter, divided
1 Tbsp olive oil
4 shallots, sliced
1-1/2 cups Carnoroli or Arborio rice
1 cup white wine
2 medium-size ripe tomatoes, chopped
4 cups chicken stock, or as needed
Salt and pepper, to taste
A handful of cherry tomatoes, preferably a mix of yellow and red, halved
A few mint leaves, torn into small pieces

Heat 4 Tbsp. of butter and the olive oil in a deep saute pan, and add the shallot; saute over medium-high heat until wilted and gently brown, about 5 minutes.

Add the rice and toss to coat in the oil and onions; continue cooking over medium-high heat until the outer coating of the rice becomes slightly transparent, about 4-5 minutes.

Turn up the heat slightly and add the wine; cook for a few minutes until the wine is absorbed. Add the tomatoes, chopping and tossing with a wooden spoon, until they are pulpy.

Reduce the heat to medium and begin adding the stock, about 3/4 cup at a time, and cook, stirring, until the rice absorbs almost all of the stock. Continue adding stock and stirring, until the rice is almost al dente, about 18-20 minutes. Regulate the heat so that the stock is absorbed, rather than cooking off.

Taste the rice for seasoning and add salt and pepper to taste. Turn off the heat, stir in the cherry tomatoes and mint, then add the final 2 Tbsp. of butter and stir vigorously to incorporate the butter throughout the rice.

Serves 4-6

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

How to make carpaccio

When the first-ever plate of carpaccio emerged from the kitchen at Harry's Bar in Venice in 1950, it consisted of only two ingredients: thinly sliced raw beef and a sauce drizzled on top.

Since then the name carpaccio has come to mean virtually any type of thinly sliced meat or even fish. And the original recipe (named for the Venetian painter Vittore Carpaccio) has been adapted many times over.

I prefer the old Harry's Bar beef carpaccio over other versions, but with one addition: very fresh, undressed arugula.

I know that this may turn the dish into more summer salad than red-meat appetizer, but is that really such a bad thing? In August? 

Anybody with decent knife skills and an ability to mix a few standard ingredients into a sauce can make a pretty respectable carpaccio, by the way. Not a single thing here requires cooking.

Of course, it helps if you enjoy eating raw beef.

Which I do.

This is three-quarters of a pound of beef sirloin fillet, enough for four very generous portions. Other cuts can also be used; just make sure to trim off as much fat and gristle as you can (like on the lower portion of the fillet here). Also, the meat must be very cold in order to slice properly, so let it rest in the freezer for maybe 20 minutes before working.

Carpaccio must be very thinly sliced, but I think that pounding is even better. First cut the fillet into thin slices, season with salt and freshly ground pepper, then place them in between two sheets of plastic wrap and pound even thinner. Make sure to leave plenty of space between the slices when lining them in the plastic, as they will widen when pounded.

You're shooting for paper-thin slices, but don't worry if they are not literally so. Overworking can easily tear the slices. The main thing is to make them thin, and keep them in one piece.

If you imagine this without the arugula you would be looking at the classic version of carpaccio, simply dressed with a sauce made largely of mayonnaise and Worcestershire sauce.

Either way works for me.

Carpaccio sauce
Adapted from The Harry's Bar Cookbook by Harry Cipriani

Makes about 1 cup

3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 to 2 tsp Worcestershire sauce, to taste
1 tsp fresh lemon juice
2 to 3 tsp milk
white pepper

In a bowl whisk together the mayonnaise, Worcestershire sauce and lemon juice.
Whisk in enough milk to make the sauce thin enough to coat the back of a wooden spoon.
Taste and adjust with salt, pepper, Worcestershire and lemon.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The 7-minute tomato sauce

Of course I timed it!

I was flying solo last night and so this is a single serving. It relies heavily on a just-picked summer tomato, but when desperate for a fix store-bought on-the-vine types are an acceptable alternative.

Let's have at it, shall we.

While you are heating olive oil (for one minute at medium high heat) in a small pan, dice the tomato and one or two garlic cloves.

The garlic goes into the pan first, and should saute for a minute and a half at medium heat.

Then the tomato and three or four fresh basil leaves go in, plus salt and pepper to taste. At this point bring the heat back up, nearly to high.

And four and a half minutes later this is what you have got.

Hell, the farfalle took 12 minutes.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

String bean & potato salad

The first time I saw a bowl of potato salad, at a summer barbecue in my Uncle Chick's backyard, I looked straight into My Sainted Mother's eyes and demanded an explanation.

"Why is it white?" I whined. "And what happened to the string beans?"

"This is different," mom said scooping a bit of the colorless mass onto my plate, the plate that was filled with bright roasted red peppers and charred fatty Italian sweet sausages hot off the grill. "Try some, it's good."

And so another favorite food was discovered. I like potato salad a lot, eat it alongside burgers all the time. Hell, give me a bowl of the German style, a loaf of pumpernickel bread, and a quiet spot where I can be alone and I am all set, thank you very much.

But the "potato salad" that I first knew as a boy, the one that my Italian-American mother prepared beautifully (and regularly), is still the best, I think. Not that the comparison makes the slightest bit of sense, mind you. After all, we are talking about a string bean salad.

You following me here?

Good. Because it's a perfect summer salad, especially welcome at outdoor cooking events. Oh, and it's a total no-brainer to prepare.

You get yourself a mess of string beans. (These are from my garden but store bought work just fine.)

Boil the beans, and a couple of diced potatoes, until tender. After they've cooled a bit put them in a mixing bowl and add some sliced red onion, a diced garlic clove, olive oil, red wine vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. Then just mix it all up and you are done.

Some people like string bean & potato salad cold from the fridge, others at room temperature. I like it either way.

No matter what it's called.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

How the artichoke grows

This is the first artichoke harvested from my garden this year. It is in very good shape; so is the plant that it came from.

Whenever I slap a picture of an artichoke plant on my Facebook page, the Like button gets a pretty good workout. It's not your typical plant for a home garden, and so most of us don't get a chance to see it grow.

These next few pictures were taken in my garden here in Maine. I hope you enjoy watching the artichokes grow as much as I do.

I used to start from seed (in the dead of winter and using heated grow boxes that I built myself) but never had the slightest bit of luck doing that. And so I switched to buying plants from local farmers and getting them in the ground sometime in May.

It usually takes until midsummer for the first artichoke to appear. I always get a big kick out this.

Once the artichoke appears it tends to grow rather quickly. It's always a single artichoke that pushes out first, and in a straight-up direction.

Once the first artichoke is established, others follow. You can see here, underneath and to the left of the larger artichoke, that another one has started pushing out as well, just at an angle.

And so it goes. New artichokes, on new stalks, growing until the plant winds things up in late summer or early fall.

You never know how many artichokes a plant will produce. Some that I've grown have pushed out around 10, others only a half dozen.

To me, the best thing about growing your own artichokes is being able to harvest the entire stalk. The stalks are normally removed when sold commercially, but they can be just as good to eat as the heart.

Well, that about does it, I guess. See you next week.