Open Faced Mia Bella

February 9, 2016

The need of the immaterial is the most deeply rooted of all needs. One must have bread; but before bread, one must have the ideal. 
~Victor Hugo

In some senses, one can concur with Hugo’s immaterial ideals, but what about an artisan’s bread, eggs, Italian cheese and salted and cured ham together?  They tend to belong en masse and are fetchingly archetypal.  And before bread, paradigms? Doubtful.

Sleep — humans spend some 35%-38% of each day slumbering.  It just does not seem congruent, or even affable, to have so few studies over the years that delve into the subconscious or sleep habits with some 50-70 Americans having been affected by disorders of some type. Some 80% of workers suffer from some form of sleep deprivation, likely not taking into account sometimes falsely alleged criminals, prisoners or spies.  The first thing that is wrested from someone by the “correctional and rehabilitation” institution is sleep.  Then, with sleeplessness a person often confesses, whether the act was committed or not.

These are not merely dormant times of our daily, passive lives spent too frequently as consensual slaves at cubicles and/or before screens and shift work, often relationless and without any conception of life. Instead, these are somnolent times that rend habits which can profoundly alter our physical, physiological, electrical and mental health.

Now, some studies have been published in the journal Science by the Nedergaard lab which proposed that the daily waste produced by the brain (which uses about 20% of the body’s energy) was cleansed and recycled toxic byproducts by sleep alone.  The noxious trash, the junk is cleared of our so-called “glymphatic” systems of our brains by merely reaching deep sleep.  The brain, it seems, clears itself of neurological waste while we slumber.  It seems the interstitial spaces, the fluid area between tissue cells, are mainly dedicated to removing our neural rubbish accumulated when awake, while we naturally sleep — uninterrupted.  (Interstitial derives from the Latin interstitium meaning “interstice” or “an intervening space.”) Without good sleeping tendencies, these toxins remain in the brain, and one logically posits will produce significant cerebral damage in the future.

So, let your body unwind, release tension with latent exercise toes to head focusing upon relaxation, darken the bedroom, keep bed mates or others informed, manage caffeine and alcohol intake, adjust temperatures to a cooler level, and simply cultivate good sleeping habits.

Sleep well and tight.

A Simple Egg Sandwich

2 ciabatta slices, about 1 1/2″ thick, with, after smearing with softened butter, the top side is also slathered in guanciale or pancetta juice

2-3 T unsalted butter, softened

Guanciale or pancetta sliced somewhat thin, but not paper thin, and barely cooked in a skillet to cover bread.

4 local eggs, poached or fried, so the yolk runs
Tallegio cheese, thinly sliced, to cover bread

Fresh basil leaves, chiffonaded, to complete

Cut the fresh ciabatta and cook on both sides in the broiler, one buttered on the top side (to melt) after cooking the bottom.  Later, slather the slices on the top side in guanciale (preferably) or pancetta juices after cooking one of the two in another heavy skillet.  Then, place the gently cooked guanciale or pancetta on the ciabatta bread because they will be broiled in the next step.

Poach or fry the eggs, softly, then drain them, while you arrange the tallegio cheese atop the meat and bread and broil briefly until just melted.  Put the eggs on, and finally finish with fresh chiffonaded (thin ribbons) basil leaves.

So, to review the arrangement:  1) toast ciabatta –> 2) melt butter atop –> 3) guanciale juices –> 4) guanciale slices to cover –> 5) tallegio to cover –> 6) eggs –> and 7) basil ribbons.

Pourboire:   You may also consider using 4 thinner slices of ciabatta and create a panini with the same or similar ingredients without the toasting and buttering steps and with full basil leaves (not chiffonaded) or arugula leaves.  Then, olive oil and cook on a sandwich press or grill pan.

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What’s done cannot be undone.
~William Shakespeare, Macbeth

Eggs “up, sunny side up, with a skirt, basted, over easy, over light, flipped, dippy, runny, broken, over medium, stepped on, medium well, over hard, hard, done, over well, over cooked, nuked, dead“…an expectant diner’s heaven, but often a server’s and line cook’s hell. So many chefs and home cooks have dabbled with, have pondered and toiled over, have been bewildered and bullied by, and have sometimes finally mastered the divine fried egg.

The lipid of choice tends to set the stage whether unsalted butter, olive oil, canola oil, chicken fat, duck fat, goose fat, bacon fat or some other shared friend(s). But, the chosen mixes and methods for eggs, fat, heat, and timing tend to rule in the end.

While some consider them prosaic, when done right and softly savored, fried eggs are flat deific.

For me? Try frying one or two eggs at a time so your attention is focused on those brief moments that it takes to transform the critters. Melt a couple tablespoons of “fat” in a heavy, medium skillet over medium heat until it is gently foaming or just lightly shimmering. While the fat melts, crack fresh, local eggs into a glass cup or saucer then slide them into the foaming butter or shimmering oil. Cover with a clear domed lid and adjust the heat so that the butter does not brown, but is just hot enough that the white begins to set. Begin spooning the hot butter or oil over the eggs until the runny whites turn opaque and the yolks begin to set ever so slightly, but remain rather runny. (The white no longer clear and the yolk still loose.) Remove to a plate by simply sliding them out of the pan or use a slotted spatula. Season promptly with salt and pepper, and dine barefooted with a knowing smile.

Still, some disagree on the perfect technique. So because a fried eggs are rather personal by nature, a loosely wound decet (in no order of preference) follows.

FRIED EGG

1 fine egg, fresh and locally raised with a robust orangish yolk, at room temperature
Fat (unsalted butter, extra virgin olive or canola oil, poultry or pork fat)
Sea/kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Herbs, if desired

(1) In a small, nonstick skillet, melt unsalted butter over moderate heat. Add the egg and fry, turning once, until crisp around the edges, about 4 minutes total. The yolk should just begin to set, but still be in a runny state. Cook longer should you so desire. Remove to a plate with a slotted spatula or spoon and season with salt and pepper.

(2) Bring 1/4 cup of olive oil to medium high heat in a heavy, sided, smaller sauté pan. Tip the pan at a steep angle, so that the oil collects in a small bath, and slide the egg into the hot oil from a glass cup. Spoon the oil over the egg. After about 30 seconds or so of cooking, the egg white forms a protective coating around the yolk without becoming attached to it. Once the egg develops a golden hue from the oil, remove to a plate with a slotted spoon and season with salt only.

(3) In a small skillet, heat olive oil over medium low heat. Meanwhile, crack the egg into a glass cup or saucer, and then add the egg and cook gently in the heated oil. Even consider cracking the egg into a cool pan, and allowing it to heat with the oil until soft and silky. Remove to a plate with a slotted spatula or spoon and season with salt and pepper.

(4) Crack the egg into a glass cup or saucer. Gently slip the egg into a well buttered medium, heavy pan which is on low heat. Fry the egg over low heat, with the butter allowed to foam rather than simply melt. Cover the pan for the duration of the cooking process, which results in a soft, but firm white, and a runny yolk. Remove to a plate with a slotted spatula or spoon and season with salt and pepper.

(5) Place a smaller, heavy nonstick frying pan over the lowest possible heat. Add unsalted butter and allow to slowly melt. When all the butter has melted but has yet to foam, swirl the pan to coat the skillet and then crack the egg into a small glass bowl or saucer. Gently slide the egg off the dish into the frying pan and cover with a lid. Continue cooking approximately 4-5 minutes until the egg white solidifies from transparency into snow white cream; the yolk will thicken slightly as it heats.

(6) Crack the egg into a glass cup or saucer and set aside. Heat unsalted butter in a heavy, smaller skillet over low heat. Once the butter has melted, but has yet begun to foam, swirl it around the pan to coat, then slide in the egg. Cover with a domed lid and cook until the white is set, about 3 1/2 minutes. Remove to a plate with a slotted spoon and season with salt and pepper.

(7) Heat unsalted butter in a heavy skillet over medium high heat. When foam subsides, reduce heat to low and break the egg into a glass cup or saucer. Slip in the egg and then add a sprinkling of water to the pan (not the eggs themselves). Cover and cook slowly until done. The steam will cook the whites over and around the yolks.

(8) Break the egg into a glass cup or saucer. Meanwhile, heat poultry fat (chicken, duck, or goose) in a heavy skillet over low heat. Once melted and before shimmering, slide in the egg. Cover with a lid and cook until the white is set, occasionally basting with the melted fat, about 3-4 minutes. Remove to a plate with a slotted spoon or spatula and season with salt and pepper.

(9) Heat canola oil in a heavy, smaller skillet over medium heat. Meanwhile, crack the egg into a glass cup or saucer. Once the oil is hot, slide in the egg. As it cooks, spoon hot oil over the egg whites. Towards the end of cooking, carefully pour a couple of spoonfuls of oil over the yolks. Cook to desired doneness. Remove to a plate and serve.

(10) Put a few bacon strips in a skillet. Start with the heat at medium high, but as the bacon begins to cook, reduce it to medium so the bacon does not burn. Cook the bacon slowly until it is slightly crisped on one side and then turn to cook slowly on the other side. When the bacon is done, remove the pan from the heat and transfer the bacon to a paper towel lined plate and tent loosely with foil. Allow the skillet to cool for several minutes before cooking the eggs. Pour off any excess bacon fat.

Break each egg into a small glass cup or saucer and then slip the egg into the warm bacon grease. Place the pan back over low heat and allow the eggs to cook slowly. When the egg whites begin to set, tip the pan and baste with some hot bacon fat to cook the yolks. Remove to a plate and serve.

The pen was put to rest for due cause. The delay since my last posting has been far from a case of writer’s cramp. Instead, my eldest, the bona fide chef of the family, was found to have a pernicious and rare lung carcinoid which necessitated a harrowing open surgery followed by a rather lengthy and agonizing hospital stay in LA. The tumor had been insidiously residing within him for several years before becoming symptomatic. As much as he tried to avoid it, the surgeon had to get medieval on his ass, leaving him with a shark bite sized incision emblazoned on his chest. Excruciating pain became a way of life for him. And now, recuperation is ongoing and long term. But, I have faith that with time his inertia will be restored, regained and will not wane.

While there is no need to belabor the details, suffice it to say the entire process has been an ordeal for all and a living nightmare for him. As parents, these somber, reflective times have been a tumult of chaotic ideas and sensations…the stuff that makes your fingernails and toenails ache.

Above all—and I mean above all—thank you dear friends and family for your benevolent, unflagging support.

The only silver lining in these dark skies was fortuitously tripping across a recently opened local LA trattoria (or perhaps osteria), Della Terra Restaurant. Affable and urbane, Della Terra also exudes that rustic but often elusive Tuscan simplicity. I already miss the preamble olives, oranges and flatbread, to make no mention of the scrumptious brick oven grilled pizza. Della Terra will no doubt soon make it on “must go” lists in sprawling tinseltown. Thank you Franco, Michael, Gerry, Renato (and the back of the house) for your gracious hospitality and eloquent eats during troubled times. To say your service was accommodating would be a gross understatement. Never once did I enter the door without a warm handshake and hearing—“How is your son?”

As you will be serving Sunday brunch in the near future, I humbly offer this radicchio with eggs & proscuitto fare as a thought and a means of thanks.

GRILLED RADICCHIO WITH EGGS & PROSCUITTO (RADICCHIO CON UOVA E PROSCUITTO)

3 heads radicchio, any imperfect outer leaves removed and quartered
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil
1/2 T fresh rosemary leaves, minced
1/2 T fresh thyme leaves, minced
Freshly ground black pepper

1 T unsalted butter
4 large eggs
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1/4 lb. (Parma or San Daniele), cut into thin julienne
1/4 lb. shelled walnuts, roughly chopped
3 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T balsamic vinegar

4 large eggs, hard boiled and finely chopped
Parmigiano-reggiano, grated

Whisk together olive oil, herbs and pepper.

Prepare barbeque grill to medium high heat or use grill pan heated to medium high on stove top. Brush radicchio quarters with herbed olive oil, then arrange on grill or grill pan. Cook on each side for approximately 2-3 minutes per side. You are looking to achieve slightly wilted edges. Once cooled to room temperature, roughly cut into strips.

In a large bowl, combine the radicchio, prosciutto, walnuts, olive oil, sherry vinegar, and salt and pepper, to taste, and toss well to coat.

Then, in a large heavy non stick pan, heat 1 tablespoon of butter over high heat until it foams and subsides. Crack 2 egg into the pan and cook, sunny side up, seasoning with salt and pepper and removing to a plate as they finish cooking. Repeat this process with the remaining 2 eggs and butter.

Divide the salad evenly among plates and top each serving with a sunny side up egg and a hard boiled, finely chopped egg and a light grating of parmigiano-reggiano.