Sunday, July 28, 2013

Shrimp & sausage scampi

This is just one of maybe six or seven dishes plowed through last evening, by a mere four humans. Not to mention the seven bottles of, uh, grape-based beverages consumed.

It was the only food item prepared by yours truly.

After shelling and deveining a pound and a half of large shrimp I made a stock with the shells, a carrot, onion, celery stalk, bay leaf and some peppercorns. Of course, any old stock you have around the house would be fine.

Using some of the stock and a little wine I sauteed a pound and a quarter of Italian sweet sausage meat, then set it aside for later.

This is two heads' worth of garlic sauteing in olive oil, and they came directly from the garden.

The shrimp and a bunch of the stock went in with the garlic.

Then came the cooked sausage meat.

And a pound of spaghetti alla chitarra.

Some fresh parsley on top and there you go.

I gotta go walk this off.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Pasta with fresh fig and pistachio

When life hands you fresh, sweet summer figs ...

These are the first of the season, and they came from a fig tree that I have been nursing back to health for more than two years.

I was only cooking for myself last night (Mets and Braves game) and so all I sliced was one of the (very large) figs. The handful of unsalted raw pistachios came from a stash that's always on hand in the freezer.

First I sauteed the pistachios in a mixture of butter and olive oil, but quickly and only to lightly toast the nuts.

Then the figs went in. (I should probably mention that this concoction was not planned and that the ingredients came together on a whim, and on the fly.)

The figs only cooked for about a minute at medium-high heat.

As soon as the pasta was cooked I tossed it in a bowl with some of the (well-salted) pasta water, more butter and a whole lot of Romano cheese.

Then mixed in the figs and pistachios, and added more cheese and some freshly ground pepper.

A little on the quirky side, but not bad.

And I'm pretty sure it'd have tasted even better had my Mets not gotten clobbered by the Braves whilst I was chewing.

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Thursday, July 18, 2013

The good butcher

I once had a butcher in Portland. His name was Jarrod. The man made my life better.

A few days ago, while on a road trip through Maine's lake regions, I noticed a message from Jarrod in the email box. This surprised me as we had never communicated in this manner before. We talk at his counter, sometimes in the walk-in when he wants to show me something special. Never like this.

"I am no longer at the Rosemont Market," Jarrod My Butcher wrote. "I'd love to catch up and chat. Here's my number."

Six hours in the saddle of a vibrating motorcycle had wrecked havoc on an already aching back, but the pain that shot through me at this moment had a far more profound impact.

A man needs a good butcher in his life. And I no longer had one.

I'd only seen Jarrod a week ago. I had asked if he had a pork shoulder that I could prepare in the wood oven. He said that he did, but not the kind that I like. A good butcher knows what you like. Mine knew that a good pork shoulder — to me — had the bone in and the skin still attached. Jarrod had a bone-in shoulder, but its skin had already been removed.

"I think I can fix you up," he said with the kind of enthusiasm a man must possess in order to be a good butcher. "Come back later."

Just as promised, Jarrod My Butcher fixed me up. By carefully tying a slab of pork skin to a beautiful nine-pound, bone-in shoulder.

Which I seasoned with salt, pepper, and a touch of fennel pollen.

And stuffed with fresh herbs from the garden.

Scoring the skin every couple inches is the way to go, I think. Better for basting, and the cooked skin is easier to cut up and eat.

In a deep roasting pan went celery, whole (slightly crushed) garlic cloves, bay leaves, some thyme, like that.

The pork sits on top of all that and then two cups each of white wine and chicken stock are added. Cover in aluminum foil before placing in the oven.

Speaking of which, this is a slow-roasted deal we're talking about here, and so the oven temperature should be around 200 to 250 degrees F.

Every 20 minutes or so be sure to baste the roast.

You can see that there's a lot of liquid in the pan, even after more than six hours.

At around the six hour mark remove the foil. Then, when the roast is pretty much done to your liking, crank up the temperature to around 450 degrees so that the skin has an opportunity to crisp. This should only take half an hour, if that.

This baby was in the oven around 8 hours total.

And was one of the moistest, tenderest pieces of meat that I ever ate.

Grazie Jarrod!

My Butcher.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The great scape

If you are the type found loitering at outdoor farmers markets this time of year, or perhaps wandering the righteous aisles of locally bent organic produce shops, then it is impossible that you have not been seeing a ton of these beauties lately.


Of course, they won't be attached to the plant, as here in the field.

Rather, they will look like so, chopped from the mother ship for the purpose of both utility and pleasure.

We're talking garlic scapes here, an above-the-ground part of the garlic plant that rises in early summer. Scapes are removed so that the garlic bulb (or head, as we say in the meatball trade) can develop more fully.

I'm not going to name names here, but there are people, good and decent ones even, who toss their garlic scapes in the compost pile, or even into the trash. I have had a good long talk with several of these muttonheads over the years. In all cases I have been assured that such behavior would be halted going forward.

Last fall I myself planted one hell of a lot of garlic for this year's crop. (Here's the link with instructions, if you're interested.) And so the garden is overrun with scapes. I've harvested all of them (an entire crisper drawer in the fridge is filled with scapes) and will likely have many a fine meal resulting from their use. (Here's a pasta dish recipe where I used scapes instead of garlic cloves, for example.)

However, my favorite way to enjoy garlic scapes doesn't require a recipe at all.

Just throw a bunch of them in a roasting dish, season with salt and pepper, and douse with a good olive oil. Toss into a 350 degree oven for around 45 minutes, stirring occasionally to keep moistened by the oil.

And you've got yourself one very respectable side dish.

Well worth loitering at your local farmers market right now while the scapes are around.