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.

Ahi “Niçoise”

May 13, 2010

Sorry, Charlie…Starkist doesn’t want tuna with good taste, Starkist wants tuna that tastes good.
~StarKist, Chicken of the Sea

A highly migratory, fish found in many oceans, tuna are from the family Scombridae, mostly in the genus Thunnus. They are swift swimmers, with some species capable of speeds of over 50 mph. Unlike most flat fish, which have white flesh, the muscle tissue of tuna ranges from pink to dark red hues. The coloration derives from high quantities of myoglobin, an oxygen-binding molecule.

Tuna have a remarkable ability to maintain body core temperatures above that of ambient seawater which enhances their superior swimming speeds while running at reduced energy rates. This endothermy is achieved by conserving the heat generated through normal body metabolism via the action of an intertwined meshwork of veins and arteries, known as the rete mirable (“wonderful net”), located in the body’s periphery.

Whenever your love life has gone south, rethink those urgings from friends that “there are plenty of fish in the sea,” as 90% of the big fish in the world are already gone; and if global fishing trends continue, there will be even fewer wild fish left by mid-century. Love the one you’re with?

Across the seas, tuna fisheries face a number of urgent problems that threaten their continued existence and endanger wider marine ecosystems. There have been alarming tuna stock declines and unfortunately poor conservation strategies have been in the making. Troll and long line tuna fishing techniques have resulted in large bycatch, including threatened or endangered species such as sea turtles, sharks and seabirds.

So, make a sustainable catch at the market and buy tuna nabbed with troll or pole & line gear to avoid the evils of indiscriminate bycatch. Above all, please make tuna a rare treat until populations have had a chance to reload.

SEARED TUNA “NICOISE” WITH TWO VINAIGRETTES & FRISEE

Sherry Vinaigrette
2 T sherry vinegar
2 T red wine vinegar
2 T Dijon mustard
Pinch of herbes de provence
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1-1/2 C extra virgin olive oil

Whisking gently in a bowl, combine sherry and red wine vinegars, mustard, herbes de provence, salt and pepper. Then, whisking more vigorously, slowly add olive oil in a narrow steady stream to create an emulsion. Taste for seasoning and adjust if necessary. May be made a day or two ahead and stored tightly covered in the refrigerator.

Tapenade Vinaigrette
4 T tapenade*
2 t Dijon mustard
2 fresh plump garlics, peeled and crushed gently
1 t sea salt
1 t freshly ground pepper
2 T sherry vinegar
1-1/2 C extra virgin olive oil

Gently whisk together tapenade, mustard, garlic, salt, pepper, and sherry vinegar. Whisking further and much more robustly, slowly add olive oil in a narrow steady stream to form an emulsion. Discard garlic cloves. May be made a day or two ahead and stored tightly covered in the refrigerator.

1 lb haricots verts, ends trimmed
3 T spring onions or scallions, thinly sliced

1 lb fingerling potatoes
Cold water
Sea salt

2 fresh ahi or yellowfin tuna fillets, thickly cut 1 1/2″ to 2″ thick
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 T fresh thyme leaves, chopped

3 T capers, rinsed and dried
1 C cherry tomatoes, halved
1 C yellow cherry tomatoes, halved
2-3 heads frisée, cleaned, cored and torn into bite sized pieces

Put green beans in large pot of boiling salted water. and blanch until just tender and crisp, 3-4 minutes. Drain beans in colander and plunge into ice cold water to halt cooking and retain the green hue. Promptly drain on cloth or paper towel—otherwise, the beans will become soggy. Then, in a bowl toss with the sliced spring onions or scallions and some sherry vinaigrette. Set aside.

In a large pot, bring water to a boil and add liberal amounts of salt. Add potoatoes and cook until fork tender, approximately 20-25 minutes. Remove from the pot and let stand until room temperature. Once cooled, slice and set aside.

Heat a large heavy nonstick sauté skillet over high heat. Brush each tuna liberally with olive oil, and season with salt, pepper and lightly with thyme. Add tuna to pan and sear briefly until rare in the center, about 2 minutes per side depending on thickness. Take care just to sear quickly and not overcook, and do not turn the tuna over repeatedly—just once. When done, it should be rare in the center but not cold. Remove from pan and lightly brush one side with olive oil, and lightly season one side again with salt and pepper. Slice tuna across the grain and on the bias.

Toss the green beans, spring onions, potatoes, capers, cherry tomatoes and frisée with sherry vinaigrette. Arrange the green beans, spring onions, potatoes, capers, cherry tomatoes and frisée in a colorful array on each plate and top with tuna slices. Lightly drizzle some tapenade vinaigrette over the tuna.

*Tapenade
2 C Niçoise olives, pitted
3 fresh plump garlic cloves, peeled and chopped roughly
3 T capers, drained and rinsed
2 high quality anchovy fillets
1/2 t fresh thyme leaves
2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 t Dijon mustard
Dash of brandy or cognac
6 T olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the olives, garlic, capers, anchovies, thyme, lemon juice, mustard, and cognac. Process in bursts to form a thick paste.

With the processor running, add the olive oil in a slow, steady stream until it is thoroughly incorporated into a paste. Season with pepper, then allow the tapenade to stand for an hour or so to allow the flavors to marry.

Pourboire:  apparently, a Dutch study has found that swordfish exude body grease which allows them to swim so rapidly.  While swordfish are the sole members of their family, Xiphidae, and are solitary swimmers, one wonders if the same performance enhancement oil holds true for tuna.

“Fragrant and summer-savory, roasted tomatoes are a sometimes underused sumptuous accompaniment to roasted or grilled meats, in pastas and soups, on pizzas, sandwiches, bruschettas or crostinis. The tomatoes caramelize in both versions to a certain sweetness. To life’s simple pleasures.”

(Shame on me—reached for the can. Was that tra-la-la-la-la or what? What was portrayed in that blurb was not inaccurate, but it seemed to clang like a clumsy TV jingle. A sign of sloth?…a memento to the Heidi-in-the-meadows like palaver found in too many cooking manuals including this one? Probably just a bad habit. Not that the expectations are lofty, literary or poetic. But, in this milieu, sometimes it is difficult to shed triteness when simple food speaks aloud. Food writing is about the interplay, ratios, and balances of the scents, flavors and textures of damn good food…but it is ironically displayed in two dimensional words. Is it more about cultures? history? regions? geography? clans? techniques? Why is the superficial layer chosen too often? Or is just that bone deep comfort which is mired in the sheer simplicity of ingredients, imagination and creation that we crave in cooking which does not demand elegant prose? I have my doubts and insecurities.)

SLOW ROASTED TOMATOES

Fresh local cherry or grape tomatoes, halved horizontally
Plump fresh garlic head, halved horizontallly
Extra virgin olive oil
Dried thyme
Dried oregano
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 250 F

Arrange tomatoes and garlic halves on a parchment or aluminum foil lined baking sheet. Lightly drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with thyme, oregano, salt and pepper. Bake the tomatoes in the oven until slightly shriveled and wrinkly on the outside and juicy on the inside, about three hours. The time will vary depending on tomato size and ripeness.

Serve immediately or let them cool, drizzle with some more olive oil and refrigerate in a shallow covered bowl.

PROVENCAL ROAST TOMATOES

1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
8 firm fresh local heirloom tomatoes, seeded and halved horizontally

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Herbes de Provence
Fresh parsley, chopped finely
4 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and minced

Parmigiano reggiano, grated

Preheat oven to 400 F

In a large heavy skillet, heat the olive oil over moderate heat. When shimmering, add the tomatoes, cut side down. Do not crowd, so you may have to cook in batches. Sear the tomatoes until browned, almost caramelized, about 3 to 4 minutes. Cook remaining tomatoes in the same fashion. Transfer the tomatoes, cooked side up, to a large baking dish. Pour the juices from the skillet over the tomatoes evenly, and season lightly with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the tomatoes with the Herbes de Provence, parsley and garlic.

Place the baking dish in the oven and bake, uncovered, until browned on top and sizzling, about 30 minutes. Sprinkle with grated parmigiano reggiano.