Gnudi = Nude Morsels?

November 29, 2016

I was there to see beautiful naked women. So was everybody else. It is a common failing.
~Robert Heinlein

Well, it appears the title says all because gnudi are simply translated from the Italian language into nudity. (The word means just how it sounds in English — naked “pasta.”) Really, need one say more as you cavort about in nakedness together and then prep, serve, and gorge on fine fodder and perhaps have some quaff alongside. Sounds like a sublime day/evening.

Unlike their dumpling cousins gnocchi, gnudi are not made with potatoes, but with ricotta and semolina fused/buried overnight to create a more silky dish.

Ingenious, shrewd, perhaps sublimely lewd (thanks to The Spotted Pig, a gastropub in the West Village, NYC).

Gnudi

1 C fresh ricotta cheese
1 C parmigiano-reggiano, grated+
2 eggs plus 1 egg yolks, local
1 t nutmeg, grated
2 T fresh chives, minced

1/2 C all purpose flour
4 C semolina flour
3 T unsalted butter

12+ sage leaves
Parmgiano-Reggiano, grated
Black pepper, freshly ground
Capers, drained (optional)

Combine the first five (5) ingredients in a glass bowl and whisk vigorously to combine. The mixture should be airy, fluffy.

Fold in the 1/2 C of flour until it is combined with the ricotta mixture, adding more flour by the tablespoon if needed so that the mixture is not too sticky to roll into 1″-2″ or so oblong balls.

Roll the ricotta mixture into balls (dumpling shaped) and place in a glass dish that has 1/4″ of the semolina sprinkled on the bottom. When there is a layer, cover the balls completely with flour and begin another layer by way of wax or parchment paper. Finish by completely burying the ricotta balls in an even layer and transfer to the fridge and leave overnight, so the ricotta fuses with the semolina to form a delicate skin, leaving about 1″ or so between each.

Allow the gnudi to come to room temperature, and prepare the brown butter (otherwise known as beurre noisette). In a heavy skillet, melt the butter over medium high heat. When the butter solids begin to brown and the butter is foamy, add the sage leaves until the mix turns a nutty brown color.

Meanwhile, bring a well salted heavy pot of water to boil. Gently plop the gnudi into the boiling water. Cook for about 1-2 minutes or so. They do not need long to boil at all, then drain with a slotted spoon.

Place a heavy skillet over medium high heat and cook, shaking the pan and gently stirring the gnudi until the butter and pasta water emulsify into a creamy sauce, about 1 minute. Season to taste with salt.

Transfer gnudi and brown butter to deep bowls. Top with fried sage leaves and drizzle with browned butter. Sprinkle with grated parmigiano-reggiano, ground black pepper and strewn capers. Serve promptly.

Braised Duck + The Series

October 25, 2016

Be like a duck. Calm on the surface, but always paddling like the dickens underneath.
~Michael Caine

The World Series begins tonight — with a connection to the past, the two teams with the longest title droughts in the same game (parenthetically or asterisk laden) the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians. The Cubs have gone over a century without a series win, and the Indians with many decades without winning in unfulfilled seasons. Times of anguish without a taste. One of the most touted series ever — history and the game is here, it waits for no one. By the way, it is the aces, Kluber (Indians) vs. Lester (Cubs) that will take the mound in Game One.

I must admit to adoring the Cubs, as my childhood was suffused with Chicago, and then watching those fans delirious with their team in the field and later in Wrigleyville, tears streaming and beers and shots in hand, after the NCLS game clincher. I was fortunate enough as a grasshopper to meet Billy Williams, now still barely holding on, as well as Ernie Banks (and his no. 14 in diamonds) and Ron Santo, now both gone. I have experienced ivied and bricked Wrigley Field with men fans donned in suits and fedoras and women adored in finery during daytime games as well as Jack Brickhouse who bellowed “Hey, Hey” to signal Cubs’ home runs. As Williams has been quoted, “they’re somewhere celebrating now,” and these legends should be proud given their regular season winning percentage of 103-58.

The Cubs have superb starting pitching, assume a keen approach at the plate, use the field well, value divine defense, and have a sublime bullpen to boot. Sound familiar? — yes, Virginia, I have seen us win. Then again, the Indians also have supreme starting pitching, run the bases well and have a glorious bullpen too.

Nothing against Cleveland, but despite the “old-school look” of upper socks, the Cubs have earned one. Then again, the Indians play at home.

BRAISED DUCK

1 whole duck (around 4 lbs — preferably Pekin), cut into 8 or so pieces, plus liver reserved & trimmings coarsely chopped

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 t dried herbes de provence
1/2 t cloves
1/2 t allspice
1/2 t nutmeg
1/2 t ginger
1/2 t cayenne pepper

Refrigerate well dried, cut, seasoned pieces overnight in a ziploc bag. Turn a couple of times.

2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T unsalted butter
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1 (28 oz) san marzano tomatoes, cut well
1 C dry red wine
4 C chicken broth
1 piece of cinnamon stick
3 pieces star anise
2 bay leaves, dried
4 thyme sprigs

2 lbs small plums, pits removed and halved
1 lb turnips, quartered or more
1 lb parsnips, sliced & halved
1 carrot, peeled and roughly sliced
1-2 T butter

1/2 C Italian parsley leaves, finely chopped
3 T chives, finely chopped
1/2 C walnuts, roughly chopped
1 t lemon zest, grated
1-2 t extra virgin olive oil

Place a heavy, wide skillet with extra virgin olive oil, butter and fresh garlic cloves over medium high heat. When the pan becomes shimmering and hot, add the duck so as not to crowd — likely in a couple of batches — 5 minutes per side. Set aside, tented in foil on a baking dish or platter.

Pour off all but 2 T of duck fat into a ramekin and cover (for a later day). Add tomatoes, stirring well, then add wine and broth and bring to a nice simmer. Add cinnamon stick, star anise, bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Transfer duck to a heavy, large Dutch oven and pour the broth mixture & herbs/spices over the duck.  Cover and simmer for about 40 or so minutes, until duck is quite tender.

Heat butter and duck fat in a heavy skillet over medium high heat. Add reserved plums skin side down as well as turnips and parsnips and sauté for a minute or so, until lightly browned, then turn and cook on skin side for a minute more.

Transfer duck to a warmed platter and spoon over the sauce. Garnish with sautéed plums, turnips and parsnips.  Mix together parsley, chives, walnuts, lemon zest and olive oil. Sprinkle this mixture over the top and serve.

Europe’s the mayonnaise, but America supplies the good old lobster.
~D.H. Lawrence

The sequence goes something like this.  First, lobsters often live in muddy and murky crevices on the sea floor. Then, clawed lobsters (Homarus americanus + Homarus gammarus) are lured into traps offshore ofttimes on the bottom of the chilly northern Atlantic. They frequently stay in the traps baited with dead fish for a couple of days. Once the rancid cages are brought aboard, they are often placed in chilled holding tanks, so when trapped and pulled onto the deck the lobsters will be cold enough to make the return trip.  They are brought into the bay and distributed to trucks, still alive, for transport to local and distant restaurants and stores.  Once bought, they soon meet their maker in the steamer or boiling water.

At first in this country, lobsters were so copious and abundant they were only fed to slaves, indentured servants, prisoners, paupers, lower caste folks, and poor children — much to their chagrin. In contracts, employers went so far as to bar impoverished employees and laws were even passed, from eating this demeaned crustacean more than twice per week. Other than that, these “bugs” were deemed worthy of only being used as fodder, fertilizer, fish bait and fed to goats and pigs.

No longer.  Now, these omnivorous and sometimes cannibalistic sea scavengers which eat bottom food are the grub of the genteel. Moreover, the leggy lobster population is sorely depleted due in large part to the warming and acidification of the oceans which degrades their hard exoskeleton, giving them a form of osteoporosis.  They, along with other shelled animals, are unable to extract calcium carbonate from the water.

A lobster fishermen’s job is quite demanding and rife with risk, darkness, sea swells, fierce body slamming wet sprays and for those unfortunate enough to find themselves overboard, the frigid drink.  As big pharma loves to tout, sometimes this seemingly serene drug can result in death.

LOBSTER WITH FETTUCINE, TAGLIATELLE, OR PAPPARDELLE, GARLIC & CREAM

2 lobsters, 1 1/2 lbs each

2 T butter
1 small carrot, chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
bay leaves
A few thyme sprigs
3 C water

3 T extra virgin olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced
4-6 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 t hot red pepper flakes
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1/2 C white wine
1 1/2 T tomato paste

3/4 C heavy whipping cream
1 lb linguini or pappardelle pasta, fresh or dry (if dry, follow the instructions on the box)
3-4 T chopped parsley or cilantro leaves
2-3 t lemon zest

Steam or boil lobsters for 5-6 minutes. Cool to room temperature under somewhat cool water. Separate claws and tails from lobster heads and remove tail meat from shell. Pull away black vein and discard, then cut meat into 1/2″ slices and set aside. Firmly yet gently hit claws with a wooden or metal mallet, without removing meat, and set aside.

With a heavy blade, split lobster heads in half lengthwise. Remove and discard stomach sacks and tomalley, if wanted, and roughly chop tail shell. Heat butter in a heavy saucepan or skillet over medium high. Add heads and shells, with juices, and sauté for about 1 minute. Add carrot, celery, bay leaves and thyme and cook, stirring, for 1 minute more. Add 3 cups water and simmer rapidly for about 10 minutes to reduce by half. Strain, discarding shells, herbs and vegetables. You should yield 1 1/2 cups rich lobster stock.

Wipe pan with a towel or paper towel and return to stove over medium high heat. Warm the extra virgin olive oil in the saucepan or skillet, then add diced onion, garlic and hot pepper flakes. Season generously with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Cook, stirring, until onions are completely soft, about 12-15 minutes.

Add wine and simmer rapidly for 2 minutes, then add tomato paste and lobster broth. Simmer for about 5 minutes, then add cream and simmer until sauce has thickened somewhat, about 5 minutes more. Turn off heat and adjust seasoning.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of amply salted water to a boil. Once roiling add pasta and cook until al dente. Reheat sauce, add cracked lobster claws and simmer for 2 minutes. Add sliced lobster meat and cook for a minute or less, until just heated through. Drain pasta and add to sauce, tossing to coat noodles with lobster, then transfer to serving bowls. Arrange one claw on top of each serving and sprinkle with parsley or cilantro and lemon zest.

LOBSTER SALAD

2 lobsters, 1 1/2 pound each

1/2 C homemade mayonnaise (see below)
Fresh lemon juice, to taste
2 t thinly sliced chives
1/2 C basil leaves, chiffonaded
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Bring amply salted water to a boil in a large, heavy pot and cook the lobsters for around 6-7 minutes. Remove the lobsters from the water and allow them to reach room temperature by running them under water. Once cooled, remove the claws and knuckles from the lobster, cut the lobsters in half lengthwise and trim off the smaller legs. Remove the lobster meat from the shells, reserving the bodies and cut the meat into 1/2″ pieces.

Accoutre the lobster meat with mayonnaise, lemon juice, chives, basil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve on small salad plates.

Mayonnaise

4 large local egg yolks, room temperature
2 T Dijon mustard
2 t white wine vinegar or fresh lemon juice
1 t sea salt
Tiny pinch of cayenne pepper

1 1/3 C canola or grapeseed oil

Separate egg whites from yolks. Egg yolks contain a natural emulsifier, lecithin, which helps thicken sauces and bind ingredients.

With a balloon whisk, whip together the egg yolks, mustard, wine vinegar or lemon juice, salt, cayenne pepper in a medium glass or metal bowl. Do not use plastic.

Add a few drops of oil while whisking; then pour in the oil slowly, in a very thin stream, while whisking vigorously with the bowl tilted at an angle on a folded towel. The emulsion should become thick enough to hold its shape and appear voluptuously creamy. Be patient because if you add the oil too rapidly the mayonnaise will break and turn soupy.

If the mayonnaise is too thick, it can be thinned by whisking in a little water.

Stored in the refrigerator, the mayonnaise should last 4-5 days.

Homo sapiens are the only species to suffer psychological exile.
~E.O. Wilson, myrmecologist

Perhaps, let us not eat mammals (or even fishes) today, this evening, tonight or perhaps tomorrow and well, likely even later. Our lands, seas and oceans deserve better. Moderation is always the byword.

I may be misinformed, but it seems like ants and humans are the only species that conduct warfare, even enduring certain death. Of course, it does not hurt to have the dismal trio of George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald H. Rumsfeld at the helm with their bellicose rhetoric. Guaranteed war in foreign lands — there is nothing like that careless and doddering blend of arrogance and ignorance. Just ask W’s dutiful own dad.

This is simple, and yet so delectable, fare.

POTATOES, ONCE AGAIN

2 lbs or so, Yukon Golds or golden butts (an intriguing irony)
Cold water, to cover
Sea salt

1/4 C or less extra virgin olive oil
3-4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, minced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1-2 sprigs fresh rosemary leaves, stems discarded
1-2 sprigs fresh thyme leaves, stems discarded

Chives, chopped

Bring a large pot of generously salted water place in potatoes and boil. Cook until barely fork tender, then drain through a colander.

Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a heavy skillet until shimmering, add minced garlic and rosemary and thyme, sea salt and freshly ground pepper.

When the garlic is barely cooked, add drained potatoes to the olive oil and smash.

Serve sprinkled with chopped fresh chives.

A potato expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.
~Victor Hugo

Dill (Anethum graveolens) is a faintly anise flavored herb in the family Umbelliferae which includes carraway, cumin, and fennel, et al. Growing annually from 16″-24″ it has hollow stems and delicate, wispy leaves, demanding hot summers and lofty sunshine with well drained fertile soil.

Containing no cholesterol and low in calories, dill is rich in volatile oils as well as folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin A, ß carotene, and vitamin C. This is not to mention that dill contains minerals like copper, potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, and magnesium. Dill’s benefits also come from two types of healing components — monoterpenes, such as carvone, limonene, and anethofuran and flavonoids, such as kaempferol and vicenin. Needless to say, dill herb is one of the most healthy, functional foods in the chain.

Too bad dill is not consumed for these reasons in this house — scents and sapidity rule — apparently though, the benefits come from the back side. Nevertheless, both “recipes” are darlings of our kitchen…simple starch staples yet glorious (good) grub.

BOILED NEW POTATOES + DILL

1 lb various hued small, new potatoes (“B” size)
1 T sea salt

4 T (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, minced

Dill leaves, fresh and chopped, in amounts to your liking (or rosemary leaves)
Truffle and salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a medium to large heavy pot, combine hand culled potatoes. Add enough cold water to cover the potatoes by about 1″ and set the pot over high heat. Bring to a boil, add salt, then reduce to a vigorous simmer. Cook potatoes just until fork tender, about 20 minutes, depending upon size.

Add butter and garlic to the pot and set over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cook, swirling the pan and basting as needed so that the until the potatoes are well glazed, about 5 minutes.

Tear the dill leaves, and with the pot off the heat, stir them gently into the potatoes. Add truffle and sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste and serve next to resting grilled or roasted meats, greens of choice and some more unsalted butter on the table in a ramekin.

BAKED RUSSET POTATOES

4 large baking potatoes, such as russets

4 T unsalted butter
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Chives
Sour cream or crème fraîche

Gruyère cheese (optional)
Dill leaves, fresh and chopped (optional)
Lardons (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 F

Scrub potatoes with a brush under running, cold water, then dry well. So they do not explode in the oven, pierce the skin of each in three places with a fork.

Place the potatoes in the oven, and roast for about 1 hour, depending on the size of the potatoes, until they are fork tender.

Remove from the oven taking care not to burn fingers, slice them open down the middle, and slather with butter and season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Again, put some more unsalted butter on the table for those who wish to partake.

SCALLOP PANCAKES, CREME FRAICHE & CAVIAR

1/4 lb. scallops, chopped
1 T fresh chives, minced

2 large organic, free range eggs
1/2 C all purpose flour
1/4 t baking powder
1/2 C club soda
1/2 t sea salt
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper

2 T peanut oil

Fresh chives, sliced lengthwise
Crème fraîche
Caviar or salmon roe

Whisk eggs in medium bowl. Add the flour, baking powder, club soda, salt, and pepper and stir until a batter forms. Stir in the scallops and chives.

Heat enough peanut oil to cover a large nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Spoon enough batter into the pan to form a 3-4″ diameter pancakes. Cook until lightly browned and then turn and cook the other side.

Serve garnished with a dollop of crème fraîche, a spoonful of caviar and chives; or serve or over a fresh frisée salad which has been tossed with a champagne vinaigrette.

CREME FRAICHE

2 C heavy whipping cream
4 T buttermilk

In a medium heavy saucepan over low heat, warm the cream, but do not simmer or boil. Remove from heat and stir in the buttermilk. Transfer the to a large bowl and allow to stand covered with plastic wrap until thickened but still of pouring consistency. Stir every 6 hours for one day. The crème fraîche is ready when it is thick with a slightly nutty sour taste. Chill in the refrigerator for several hours before using. Crème fraîche may be made and stored in a jar the refrigerator for up to one week.

Scrambled Eggs — An Art?

February 14, 2009

A hen is only an egg’s way of making another egg.
~Samuel Butler

So often we see abused plates of scrambled eggs—overcooked, hard, lumpy, devoid of life. Mastering simple scrambled eggs is more difficult than it may seem. I have even heard some chefs remark that they occasionally test new cooks by watching them prepare a plate of scrambled eggs. The perfect scrambled egg is a rare dish demanding a gentle, slow and low cooking process. The end product is all about texture.

Do not overwhip, but you must impart air to the eggs so they will be fluffy. The air bubbles in the liquid become coated with protein and the molecules uncoil (denature). When whisking, tilt the bowl so the whisk moves diagonally across the plane—the eggs should be well mixed, but not overly frothy. Overwhipping can unravel the protein molecules in the eggs.

According the venerable James Beard, using liberal amounts of butter is crucial. Also lodged somewhere in the recesses of my hippocampus is a chef’s hint that a very, very small pinch of cayenne pepper can “wake up” the eggs. As with such obscured memories, I do not remember the source of that truc.

It is essential to use low, gentle heat when cooking eggs, as egg protein begins to thicken at only 144°F, which allows them to toughen rapidly.  So, create tiny curds.

When the eggs are soft and shiny, remove from heat before they are too set as they will continue cooking. Remember the adage…“when eggs are done in the pan, they are overdone on the plate.”

SCRAMBLED EGGS

3-4 T butter
3 T cream cheese
6 fresh, organic, free range eggs, meaning the hens are raised on pastureland
1 T crème fraîche or heavy whipping cream
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Small pinch of cayenne pepper, dried
Small pinch of white pepper, dried
Small pinches of herbes de provence and thyme, dried

Melt the butter and cream cheese in a heavy non-stick skillet. Combine the eggs, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, white pepper, herbes de provence and thyme and a dollop of crème fraîche or heavy whipping cream in a glass bowl and whisk briskly — just until the yolks and whites are combined.

Pour into the non-stick skillet, with the heat on low. With a wooden spatula, gently stir the egg mixture, lifting it up and over from the bottom as it thickens. Stir away from the sides and bottom of the pan toward the middle. Continue to stir until the desired texture (a mass of soft curds) is achieved. They thicken, dry out and toughen very quickly toward the end, so if you like them soft, fluffy and moist, remove them from the heat a little before they reach the desired texture—they will continue to cook after being removed from both the stovetop and the pan.

Pourboires:
Also known as the egg white, albumen accounts for about 2/3 of an egg’s liquid weight. It contains more than half the egg’s total protein, niacin, riboflavin, chlorine, magnesium, potassium, sodium and sulfur. The albumen consists of 4 alternating layers of differing consistencies. Egg white tends to thin out as an egg ages because its protein changes in character which is why fresh eggs sit up tall and firm in the pan while older ones tend to spread out.

Scrambled eggs have many faces, allowing for a variety of permutations and combinations with other ingredients. Consider adding cooked proscuitto, serrano ham or pancetta, chives, sliced sauteed mushrooms, diced sauteed chicken livers, ricotta cheese, goat cheese, barely wilted spinach, fresh tarragon or other herbs…the possibilities seem endless.

Finally, for an even creamier version, try 5 whole eggs coupled with 2 egg yolks.