Tomato Consommé

August 22, 2010

Life itself is a quotation.
~Jorge Luis Borges

The heirloom tomato season remains at full bore. So, gormandize thyself. To subtly alter this lush soup, lightly sprinkle with citrus zest or vary the herb mixes.

CHILLED HEIRLOOM TOMATO CONSOMME

8 large, ripe heirloom tomatoes, cored, seeded, diced and roughly chopped
1/2 fresh shallot, peeled and minced
1 plump fresh garlic clove, peeled and minced
1/2 C basil leaves, roughly chopped
1/2 T champagne wine vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 C red and yellow heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 T extra virgin olive oil
Fresh tarragon leaves

Place the tomatoes, shallot, garlic, basil leaves, pepper and sea salt into a blender or food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse until smooth. Pour the mixture into a strainer lined with double layered cheesecloth perched over a large bowl and then tie the bundle closed. Suspend the purée over the bowl and let sit in the refrigerator until completely drained and chilled overnight.

Season the cherry tomatoes with salt and black pepper and divide the tomatoes between 4 shallow bowls. Drizzle the olive oil over the cherry tomatoes and garnish with tarragon. Pour the chilled tomato consommé over and serve immediately.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…
~U.S. Constitution, First Amendment

Pasta al Cacio e Pepe…sophisticated simplicity yet not without soulful debate.

It is an understatement to say that basic debate skills are sorely lacking these days. Arguments are repeatedly uncivil, perforated with bumper sticker slogans, artless language, disingenous positions and inapt analogies. Sadly, these spats are bereft of intellectual or philosophical capital. Discussions devolve into rancor, rants and raves.

A recent example is the hysteria whipped up about banning a proposed cultural center/mosque near Ground Zero. Newt Gingrich, who markets himself as an intellect-historian-philosopher, entered the fray, offering this profoundly odd analogy: “Nazis don’t have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington.” Bizarre stuff. Just think of the syllogisms that could be crafted from this delusional reasoning. The scary part is that Newt sincerely expects his audience to find his inane comparison to be sagacious. To carry out his logic, Catholic churches could not be erected anywhere near an elementary school and Jews would be prohibited from donning yamakas on Christmas. By the way, Newt, Nazism was not a religion and there are already two mosques in the vicinity of the Ground Zero site. Shinto shrines are near Pearl Harbor and Christian churches have been built in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. His demagogic inference that an Islamic mosque should be banned falsely presupposes that all Muslims are malevolent and that Islam is the “enemy.” He assumes that abjuring revered 1st Amendment principles in lower Manhattan would ultimately reward rogue extremists. He assumes guilt by religious choice. He directly correlates Muslims with Nazis.

An unfounded, prejudiced and illogical analogy clearly meant to engender irrational fears here all the while serving up a propaganda feast for extremists here and there. Newt’s islamophobic rhetoric sadly makes fanatics almost sound prescient.

“We are just going to have to agree to disagree” is one other phrase that resounds much too often. It is a check-out line merely meant to halt discourse ab initio and truncate critical thought. Despite my disdain for that overwrought phrase, here are two subtly disparate versions of pasta al cacio e pepe without revealing my preferences. Actually, they are both worth the trip.

The polemic? Some purists assert that this classic Roman dish should only be made from pasta, cheese, and black pepper. Others claim that the addition of olive oil and butter adds a sumptuous touch and is equally authentic. In either case, it is all about the right ratios which create a silky, creamy pasta flecked with coarsely ground black pepper. On the last point, everyone agrees.

LINGUINI AL CACIO E PEPE (LINGUINI WITH CHEESE & PEPPER)

1 lb. linguini
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
2 T unsalted butter
Freshly ground black pepper
1 C pecorino romano, finely grated
3⁄4 C cacio de roma, finely grated

Bring a large, heavy pot of cold water and/or chicken stock to a boil and liberally add salt.

Heat oil in a heavy skillet over medium high heat until shimmering, but not smoking.

Add pasta to the boiling water (and/or stock) and cook until al dente, about 8–10 minutes. Drain pasta, reserving about 1+ cup of pasta water. Add cooked pasta to the skillet with the olive oil, adding some of the reserved pasta water and/or stock. (Take care, it may spatter.) Stir with tongs some and add butter, tossing over heat for 1 minute or so.

Add generous gratings of cheeses and ample coarse grindings of black pepper over pasta. Thoroughly toss with tongs until pasta is creamy and clings without clumping. If necessary add additional reserved pasta water and/or stock.

Transfer to serving plates and sprinkle with a touch more grated pecorino romano and a little more pepper.

Pourboire: If cacio de roma is inaccessible, simply substitute with more pecorino romano.

SPAGHETTI AL CACIO E PEPE (SPAGHETTI WITH CHEESE & PEPPER)

1 lb. spaghetti
1 C pecorino romano
Freshly ground black pepper

Bring a large, heavy pot of cold water and/or chicken stock to a boil and liberally add salt. Add pasta to the boiling water and/or stock, and cook until al dente, about 8–10 minutes. Drain pasta and place into a large, warm, glass bowl, reserving about 1+ cup of pasta water and/or stock.

Add generous gratings of cheese and then ample coarse grindings of black pepper over pasta. Thoroughly toss with tongs, adding reserved pasta water and/or stock by small ladles at a time until pasta is creamy and clings without clumping. The key to perfection is to attain the proper ratio of cheese and water/stock to form a creamy pasta. So, slowly add additional reserved pasta water if the pasta is too dry and more cheese if the pasta is too wet.

What you see before you, my friend, is the result of a lifetime of chocolate.
~Katherine Hepburn

While brownies may be considered undersexed in technique, when eaten they can be almost lewd.

Some sources trace the origin of the iconic brownie to the 1896 The Boston Cooking School Cook Book, written by the esteemed Fannie Farmer—but that was more of a cookie/confection that was flavored with molasses and made in fluted molds. Then in an 1897 Sears, Roebuck and Co. Catalog there was a recipe for a molasses candy dubbed “brownies” which were named after the legendary, magical elves that had become the rage in pop culture then. Brownies were those rarely seen, occasionally mischievous, creatures that lived in houses or barns and finished undone housework in return for food favors.

About a decade later, the first cake brownie recipe appeared in the 1906 edition of The Boston Cooking School Cook Book which proved less rich and chocolate laden than today’s brownies. The following year, along came a recipe for “Bangor Brownies” in Lowney’s Cook Book, authored by Maria Howard which added extra eggs and chocolate, creating a more luscious chocolate brownie. Since the early decades of last century, brownies have held a prominent place in America’s kitchens with myriad versions on the same theme.

Intensely chocolate and chewy in texture, this edition demands a scoop or two of fine vanilla ice cream. As always, the key is exquisite chocolate.

BROWNIES

1 C all purpose flour
1/2 t salt

5 ozs gourmet dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa), chopped
1/2 C (1 stick) unsalted butter, cut into pieces

1 T fine cocoa powder
1 1/2 C granulated sugar
1 t pure vanilla extract
3 large eggs
1/2 C walnuts, chopped (sort of, optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F

Butter an 8″ square baking pan.

In a small bowl, mix together the flour and salt and set aside.

Melt the chocolate and butter in a large bowl placed over a heavy saucepan of simmering water, stirring frequently. Remove from heat and allow to cool some. Then stir in the cocoa powder, sugar, vanilla extract and eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition. Finally, stir in the flour mixture and walnuts.

Spread evenly in the prepared pan and bake until an inserted toothpick comes out almost clean, about 30-40 minutes. Do not overcook. If anything, undercook them lightly so they remain chewy. Allow to rest before slicing.

Pleasure is divided into six classes: food, drink, clothes, sex, scent and sound.
Of these, the noblest and most consequential is food…the pleasure of eating is above all pleasures.

~Al-Baghdadi

From the word tagliare, meaning “to cut,” tagliatelle is a traditional pasta from Emilia-Romagna, a poetic region in central northern Italy between the fertile Po River and the gentle Apennines and bordered on the east by the Adriatic. A culinary constellation, Emilia-Romagna is home to such rustic cornerstones as prosciutto di Parma, culatello, mortadella di Bologna, zampone, Parmigiano-Reggiano, aceto balsamico

Tagliatelle are long, flat, thick ribbons with a porous texture that are similar in shape to but a little wider than fettuccine. Legend has it that a talented Renaissance court chef was so enamored by the noblewoman Lucrezia d’Estes’ beautiful blonde tresses, that he dedicated this new pasta to her on the occasion of her nuptials to the Duke of Ferrara. The wedding dish was called talgiatelle all amaniera di Zafiran, which means in the manner of Zafiran or saffron. However, this tale may be born of more questionable food lore. The actual nascense of tagliatelle may have been much earlier, as it was depicted in texts well over a century before the wedding.

Eggplants of all shapes, sizes, colors and varieties are ubiquitous this time of year at our local farmers’ market. So, I am regaling in those dark, suave ones.

Buon appetito!

TAGLIATELLE E MELANZANE (TAGLIATELLE & EGGPLANT)

2 medium eggplants, cut in half lengthwise and then into 1/4″ slices
Extra virgin olive oil
Canola oil
Red wine vinegar
1 C fresh basil leaves, ribboned
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 superior anchovy filets, rinsed, dried and chopped
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
3 T extra virgin olive oil
2 C arugula

1 lb. tagliatelle, preferably fresh

Parmigiano reggiano, grated

Pour equal amounts of olive oil and canola oil into a deep, heavy pan until about 2 1/2″ deep. Heat oil until hot and fry eggplant slices one layer at a time until browned on both sides. Remove and drain on paper towels, then cut the cooked slices into thirds. Place on a platter and sprinkle lightly with red wine vinegar. Then toss with basil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Allow the eggplant to marinate for about an hour.

In a deep, heavy skillet, heat the anchovies and garlic in olive oil heated to medium high. Gently sauté for a few minutes, then add the eggplant. In a heavy pot filled with liberally salted water, cook the pasta until al dente. Drain and add to the skillet. Season again with pepper, add arugula, toss and serve with freshly grated parmigiano reggiano.

Pesto Rosso

August 9, 2010

Colors, like features, follow the changes of the emotions.
~Pablo Picasso

We are born voyeurs of sorts. We unabashedly crave the look-see.

Although the nervous system works as a wholly (though less than flawless) integrated entity, some cerebral areas are more focused on certain functions. So, researchers can distinguish the centers responsible for vision, hearing, touch, olfaction, taste and so forth.

The human cerebral cortex is notorious for its depth, irregularity and variability from one individual to the next. Anatomically minute, the cerebral cortex is only about 3-4 mm thick. Yet, it plays a pivotal role in memory, attention, perceptual awareness, thought, language, and consciousness.

Part of the cerebral cortex, the occipital lobe is located behind the parietal area, separated from the cerebellum right at the back of the skull. The smallest of all lobes, the primary business of this gray matter is visual perception and processing—differentiating colors, shapes, images. In particular, the Peristriate region of the occipital lobe is involved in visual and spatial processing, demarcation of movement and color discrimination.

Human color sensitivity is tripartite. Along with closely related primates and marsupials, we possess three independent channels for conveying color information, derived from three different optic cone types. There are three primary colors: red, yellow, and blue. They are the three pigment colors that cannot be made by mixing other hues and are mixed to create all other colors and tints. The number derives from the three types of color-discriminating receptor cells, called cone cells, in the human retina. The three cone varities have broadly overlapping ranges of sensitivity, and are designated according to the location of their peak sensitivities in the long, medium and short wavelengths of the color spectrum.

According to the subtractive theory of color, color is produced by pigment or combinations of pigment. Secondary colors are made by mixing two primary colors together, e.g., red and yellow to get orange. Tertiary colors are combinations of primary and secondary colors.

There are seven colors defining wavelengths of visible light: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. The color red is evoked by light consisting predominantly of the longest wavelengths of light discernible by the human eye and brain.

Red — a color that connotes anger, blood, embarassment, stop, ardor, shame, ferocity, courage, danger, frustration guilt, fire, hate, eroticism, hell, passion, sex, sin, debt.

Some plants, like tomatoes, are often colored by forms of carotenoids which are red pigments that were originally developed to assist photosynthesis.

SUNDRIED TOMATO PESTO

4 fresh, plump garlic cloves, chopped
6 T olive oil

1 C oil packed dried tomatoes, drained well
1/4 C parmigiano reggiano, grated
1/4 C pine nuts, roughly chopped
1/3 C fresh basil leaves
1 t balsamic vinegar

In a medium heavy saucepan sauté garlic in olive oil over meduim heat, stirring, until softened. Do not brown. Set aside and allow to cool. By pulsing, purée sun dried tomatoes, parmigiano reggiano, pine nuts, basil, vinegar, garlic and oil in a food processor fitted with the knife blade until pesto becomes a smooth paste.

OVEN ROASTED TOMATO PESTO

2 1/2 lbs cherry tomatoes (preferably heirloom), halved
1-2 T extra virgin olive oil

1/2 C pine nuts
6 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped
1 T extra virgin olive oil

1 C total fresh basil leaves, chopped
4 T extra virgin olive oil divided
1/2 C parmigiano reggiano, grated
1 T balsamic vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 250 F

Drizzle tomatoes with olive oil and place on an aluminum foil covered baking sheet, cut side up. Roast until slightly shriveled and wrinkly on the outside and juicy on the inside, about 2 1/2-3 hours. The time will vary depending on tomato size and ripeness. Set aside and allow to cool.

Meanwhile in a small dry skillet, toast the pine nuts until fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Set aside to cool. Using the same skillet, sauté the garlic in olive oil until golden.

In a food processor fitted with a metal knife, add the oven roasted tomatoes, pine nuts, garlic, basil and olive oil. Pulse a few times until mixture is well combined. Scrape down the sides and then add the parmigiano reggiano and balsamic vinegar. Season with salt and pepper and pulse the mixture to a paste.

Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.
~ Mark Twain

It is brutally hot here…again. At noon, the car’s thermometer registered a paltry 103 and tomorrow will be even warmer with a hefty dose of humidity. A scorcher. Seems a good time for a chilled cup of ceviche and a crisp glass of cold white. These heat spells are also a sad reminder of climate change. So, before we move on to blithe culinary noise, please allow me a brief harangue about our precious oceans.

Over recent decades, numerous studies have documented the deterioration of ocean systems and predicted not a gradual, but a potentially catastrophic, decline in significant fish species. Simply put, we are facing fish population collapses. The vanishing of sea life. As one scientist voiced, “our children will see a world without seafood if we don’t change things.” One of the culprits is global warming, now more accurately, yet euphemistically referred to as climate change.

Please be patient with my digressive diatribe, but this subject is as serious as psychotic depression or a newly discovered melanoma. To some, a food site is no place to discuss climate change. To me, it seems ever so apposite to deliberate here about global warming’s effects on oceans.

Climate change results from an increase in the temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere and surfaces, especially a sustained increase causing significant variations in global climate conditions. Despite misconceptions, climate is not weather. Weather is what conditions of the atmosphere are over a short period of time, and climate is how the atmosphere behaves over relatively long periods of time.

An overwhelming consensus of the scientific community has firmly concluded that climate change is a clear and present danger that, if left unchecked, will likely produce dire consequences for Mother Earth for this and generations to follow. Global warming poses extraordinary challenges—the kind that are difficult to put our heads around. Leading atmospheric experts have warned that a gradual heating of our climate is underway and will continue apace. This warming trend poses even greater risks to poorer regions that are far less able to cope with a changing climate…communities that largely rely upon fish for food or are already strained from water shortages.

The mechanisms of climate change follow some from the phenomenon known as the “greenhouse effect.” First proposed in 1824 by Jean Baptiste Joseph Fourier, a French mathematician and physicist, the greenhouse effect is a process by which the atmosphere warms the planet’s surface. Inside an artificial greenhouse filled with plants, the surrounding glass traps the sun’s energy, making it warm inside, even while outside it may be frigid. This modus operandi allows the plants to flourish. The same effect occurs every day on the earth when gases within the atmosphere act like that glass, trapping the sun’s heat. Solar radiation passes through the earth’s atmosphere, most of which is absorbed by the earth’s surface and some of which reflects off the surface back towards space.

The atmosphere is partly composed of several greenhouse gases (including water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide) which regulate the planet’s climate by absorbing and trapping some of the sun’s outgoing energy, retaining heat somewhat like the glass panels of a greenhouse. Without this natural “greenhouse effect,” temperatures would be much lower; indeed, the earth’s average temperature is 60 F higher than it would be without the greenhouse effect.

Particularly in the recent past, atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases have been steadily and remarkably elevating. Notably, carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide concentrations all have increased dramatically. These additional accumulations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are causing marked warming of land and water surfaces resulting in climatic changes across the world. A group of leading climate researchers, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), saw a greater than 90% likelihood that most warming over the last 50 years has occurred due to anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. This study synthesized the life’s work of hundreds of climatologists from around the world, and called evidence for global warming “unequivocal.” High scientific agreement exists that global greenhouse gases will continue to grow over the next few decades through this century. This continued warming has and will transform how societies currently function, as coastal cities, water, agricultural and food supplies are threatened.

Projections of future warming suggest a global surface temperature increase of by 2100 of 3.2—7.2 F, with warming in certain regions of the United States expected to be even higher. Global mean surface temperatures have increased 0.5-1.0°F since the late 19th century. Our last century’s final two decades were the hottest in 400 years and perhaps the warmest in several millennia. In a recent report published by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), scientists concluded that global warming is “undeniable.” Climate change indicators pointing to global warming included:

–Declining Arctic sea ice, glaciers and spring snow cover
–Rising air temperatures over land and sea
–Increased ocean surface temperatures, sea levels, ocean heat, humidity and troposphere temperatures
–Reduced numbers of record low nighttime temperatures

According to the report, each of the past three decades has been hotter than the decade before. At one time the 80’s was the hottest decade on record, but in the 90’s temperatures increased every year and the pattern continued into 2000. The NOAA found that temperatures were the hottest between 2000 and 2009, and the first six months of 2010 were the warmest on record.

This warming has grave implications for the environment: increased sea levels and temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, more frequent floods and droughts, water shortages and more frequent heat extremes. Ecosystem disruption, human migration, species reduction and loss are givens.

A word to the less than wise…Mme. Palin and your fellow global warming deniers, who decry climate change as a hoax and are proudly bigoted non-believers (as if it were some evangelical sect), please read and heed the word of true scientists. You know, those erudite ones that gather global data from satellites, weather balloons, weather stations, ships, buoys and field surveys. But why listen to experts in the field? You do have your own self-annointed PhD in Palin political theater…aka a buffoon’s conspicuous bullshit. If only your absurd, cerebrally bankrupt face-tweets were benign. But, our children and children’s children cannot abide by your drearily predictable and unreasoned hubris, Sarah. Your prattle harms humanity. Refugnant.

SHRIMP CEVICHE

2 lbs. small (41-50 count/lb.) fresh shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 shallots, peeled and finely minced
3 jalapenos, stemmed, seeded and thinly sliced
1/3 C fresh lime juice
1/3 C fresh lemon juice
1/3 C fresh orange juice
1/2 T fresh oregano, stemmed and chopped
Zest from 2 fresh limes

2 ripe heirloom tomatoes, cored, seeded and chopped

1 avocado, peeled and diced
Sea salt
Fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

Parboil the shrimp—In a heavy, deep pot, bring cold water to a vigorous boil. Scoop the shrimp in, allow to cook for a moment or two and then promptly dump into a colander to strain. Immediately plunge the seafood into a large bowl filled with ice water to cease the cooking process, and then spread them on a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Allow to cool completely.

In a medium large glass dish, toss the cooled shrimp, shallot, lime juice, lemon juice, orange juice, oregano and zest together. Cover well and refrigerate for at least four hours. Mix well from time to time.

During the last hour of chilling before serving, add the chopped tomatoes and toss. Remove from refrigerator and pour into a large bowl. Then, just before serving, add in the avocado, toss and season to taste with sea salt. Serve in chilled glasses or cups/bowls, garnished with cilantro.

Pourboire: If you are confident that your shrimp are decidedly fresh, you can skip the parboiling step.