WOTY + Sprouts & Chickpeas

January 4, 2017

Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.
~Rudyard Kipling

A seduction of souls? After rather ardent discussion and debate, the Oxford Dictionaries bestowed upon us the Word of the Year 2016: post-truth, an adjective which loosely translated means “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” Post-truth beat out alt-right, glass cliff, hygge, chat bot, adulting, etc.

Not surprisingly, the recent United States’ presidential election and the EU referendum (Brexit — meaning British Exit) in the United Kingdom, spiking from peripheral usage to becoming a mainstay in elemental political commentary. Some words really seem as puny as the Orange Clown’s fingers and his again long haired, scruffy and far right Breitbart cohort — a news website which serves as a “platform” for the alt right.

Here are some hors d’oeuvres for famished guests.  But, beware of this bar grub — it may overwhelm them before the main course.

BRUSSELS SPROUTS WITH OLIVE OIL & FISH SAUCE

Water + Sea salt
Brussels sprouts, trimmed at ends
High quality extra virgin olive oil
High quality Vietnamese fish sauce (nước mắm Phú Quốc)

Bring a large, heavy pot of water to a roiling boil, then add sea salt until it smells and tastes like the middle of the sea.

Add the brussels sprouts and cook for about 10 minutes, until just cooked through, and still fairly firm.

Drain the sprouts over the sink, then onto a shallow bowl and while hot lightly immerse them in high quality olive oil and high quality fish sauce — nước mắm Phú Quốc. Allow the sprouts to cool to room temperature for about an hour or so (much like olives). Serve promptly.

CHICKPEAS WITH OLIVE OIL & ZA’ATAR

2 C chickpeas, rinsed
1 T high quality extra virgin olive oil
2 T homemade za’atar
1 t sea salt

Make za’atar (for now and later, unless you already have some on hand):

2 1/2 T sesame seeds, toasted

3 T dried sumac leaves
2 T dried thyme leaves
1 T dried oregano leaves
1 t sea salt, coarse

Add raw sesame seeds to a dry, heavy skillet over medium low heat. Shake the pan back and forth until fragrant, but not taking on color. Immediately pour the toasted sesame seeds from the pan into a bowl to prevent them from scorching.

Once the sesame seeds have cooled, add all of the ingredients to a spice blender, food processor fitted with a blade, or mortar and pestle. Pulse several times to blend and slightly break up, but not obliterate, the herbs and salt. Be able to recognize the sesame seeds in the blend. Transfer to a jar with an airtight lid and store in a cool, dark place.

Now, drain and spread chickpeas on a paper towel, and allow to dry for an hour or so. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 400 F.

Line a heavy rimmed baking pan with parchment paper, and spread chickpeas evenly. Bake in the center of the oven until crunchy, about 30 minutes, stirring and rotating every 10 minutes with a wooden spatula.

Place hot chickpeas in a shallow bowl, and drizzle with fine olive oil, za’atar and sea salt.  Allow to cool some to room temp, and then serve promptly also.

We are like travelers using the cinders of a volcano to roast their eggs.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Now, as is the French inkling, I started by doing claufoutis with cherries and blueberries, so they would become desserts.  This time, they tend to go more poignant.  Apparently, I adore eggs in most forms.

I began reading (unlike the Donald claims to actually does read, but really does not) The Barbarian Nurseries by Héctor Tobar just the other day in part because Trump has assaulted Mexicans so many times in the past, calling them without any knowledge whatsoever “rapists, drug dealers, murderers, criminals.” Sometimes, we are goaded by others to look at someone who feigns to read, and yet who continues to make outlandish, deplorable, and unfounded statements about other cultures.

The Barbarian Nurseries is a rare, inspiring and sprawling novel that brings the city of Los Angeles (and even Earth) to life through the eyes, flesh, dreams, reveries, solitude, ambitions of a Mexican immigrant maid, by the name of Araceli.  The first chapter is called The Succulent Garden about how a lawn mower would not start for the angry and frustrated landowner, Scott the techi, whose maid watched from the window, apart — but Pepe, an earlier magician of gardeners, now since fired, had no problem with the same mower starting ever so sweetly with a wily, deft touch, sweaty and brown, sinewy and glistening biceps.

SAVORY CLAFOUTI, FLAN, CUSTARD (YOU NAME IT…)

3/4 C whole milk
3/4 C crème fraîche
4 large or 5 medium farm fresh, local eggs, preferably laid by hens raised on pastureland
2 1/2 T all purpose flour
2 T fresh parsley leaves, chopped
2 T fresh dill leaves, chopped
Sea salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 C Gruyère cheese, grated

2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 fresh leeks, white and light green parts (cut off ends and leaves)
2 C fresh corn kernels
1-2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, minced
1 fresh bunch Swiss chard leaves, stems removed, coarsely chopped
1/4 C Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated

Honey, a dollop
Cayenne pepper, dried
Thyme, dried

Heat oven to 375 F

In a large bowl, whisk together milk, crème fraîche, eggs, flour, chopped parsley & dill, sea salt and pepper until smooth. Whisk in 3/4 cup Gruyère cheese.

Heat olive oil in a heavy oven safe skillet over medium heat. Add leeks and sauté until soft and golden, about 10 minutes. Stir in corn, garlic and a pinch of salt and cook until garlic is fragrant and corn is tender, about 2-3 minutes. Add chard leaves and cook until they are wilted and tender, about 4 minutes. Season the mixture with sea salt and black pepper.

Pour crème fraîche admix over the corn and chard mixture, and then sprinkle the remaining Gruyère and the Parmigiano-Reggiano on top. Transfer skillet to oven and bake until the “egg custard” is lightly set, about 40 minutes.

Serve sparsely topped with a dollop of honey and a pinch of cayenne pepper and thyme.

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.

Life itself is the proper binge.
~Julia Child

So, the conservative (J)ustices who reverently, or perhaps irreverently, have hailed their Catholic heritage were conspicuously absent for Pope Francis — Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito — should be wearing their usual political cloaks of shame with heads bowed. Please do not tell anyone, dear (J)ustices, that you had other commitments, as you were wholly transparent “no shows” to make an intentional, childish statement.

Are you that politically pugnacious, gentlemen? Will you, as does the House, not branch compromise? Will you value theatrical protest over governance, even as the “judiciary branch?” Will you seriously take a pass on this opportunity to hear words from the leader of your church?

Apparently, this was a “let-them-eat cake obliviousness to the needs of others” moment to quote Justice Scalia. Whatever his old man palaver means.

Even as an agnostic or atheist, you should feel utterly disgraced.

A simple, yet resplendent, meal — thank goodness, we can gracefully slide home.

MISO CHICKEN (TORI MISOYAKI — 味噌チキン)

4 T unsalted butter (1/2 stick), softened to room temperature
1/2 C red or white miso
2 T local honey
1 T “plain” rice vinegar (hon mirin)
1 T sake
2 t sesame oil
2 t ginger, peeled and finely chopped
2 t garlic, peeled and finely chopped
Freshly ground black pepper

8 skin on, bone in chicken thighs

Peanuts or walnuts, chopped
Cilantro leaves

Bok Choy (optional?)

Preheat oven to 425 F

Combine butter, miso, honey, rice vinegar, sesame oil, ginger, garlic and black pepper in a large glass bowl and mix well.

Add bird to the bowl and carefully massage the miso, et al., blend into it. Marinate in a large ziploc bag for a couple of hours or overnight, turning occasionally.

Place the chicken in a single layer in a roasting pan and genteelly slip (skin side up) into the preheated oven. Roast for about 40 minutes or so, turning the chicken pieces over twice with tongs, until the skin is golden brown and crisp, and when pricked the juices run pale from the thighs. Serve over rice or rice noodles and top with chopped peanuts or walnuts and cilantro with baby bok choy as a side.

After all these years, I see that I was mistaken about Eve in the beginning; it is better to live outside the Garden with her than inside it without her.
~Mark Twain

Contrary to the usual, I will make a comment or so about my world. This past weekend, our ever comely daughter was betrothed to her long time mate near a cabin in a tranquil alpine meadow. The young groom was handsome no denying that — but that once girl was a ravishing, resplendent bride handling all with winsome white grace. No doubt I am partial, yet she was still flat stunning.

Families and singles of all ilks, kinds and ages (including our divine year old grandchild) trekked up the mountain, donned in their finest, milling about and conversing often with elbows cocked and drink in hand. My oldest son presided over a solemn, yet joyful, ceremony which united the two. Well, they were already connubial partners of sorts, so my middle son offered a prayer. Faces beamed with pride in the crowd. As the wedding party gathered near twilight, does and fawns even flocked to frolic and forage in nearby fields, intrigued by the evening’s happenings.

Pastoral, idyllic…and then the reception began.

Given that American Pikas (Ochotona princeps), closely related to rabbits and hares, are one of the more common species inhabiting the talus fields of the Rockies, and since last night’s committee meeting chat turned to rabbits, coniglio alla cacciatora came to mind. Densely furred, minute pikas have curious vegetal gathering techniques, devoting a sizeable portion of every day to garnering grasses, leaves, flowers, thistles, and the like. They maniacally dash out into their talus fields and gather mouthfuls of vegetation and pile it into tiny little hay bales to dry in the sun. Once dried, they bring it into their underground burrows for storage and eats during the lengthy alpine winter seasons.

(This rabbit chatter is not meant to foment any immediate procreative notions, you two.)

CONIGLIO ALLA CACCIATORA (RABBIT CACCIATORE)

8 T extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 lb crimini and/or shiitake mushrooms, trimmed and quartered
3-4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and gently smashed

1 medium yellow onion, peeled and thinly sliced
1 celery stalk, thinly julienned
1 medium carrot, thinly julienned

1 – 3 to 3 1/2 lb rabbit, cut into 8 pieces
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 C dry white wine
1/2 C fine tomato purée or seeded fresh heirloom purée
1/2 C chicken broth
1 T red wine vinegar
1 bouquet garni of fresh rosemary, oregano, and thyme sprigs

Chopped flat leaf parsley or basil chiffonade

If shiitakes are used, they will need to be stemmed and sliced. In a large heavy skillet, heat 3 tablespoons olive oil and smashed garlic over medium high heat. Once simmering add mushrooms, remove and discard the mushrooms then cook, stirring sometimes, until mushrooms are lightly browned and tender, about 5 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside in a bowl.

In a large deep heavy skillet or heavy Dutch oven, heat remaining 3 tablespoons oil over medium high heat. Add onion, carrot and celery and cook, stirring occassionally, until vegetables are softened, about 7 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside in a bowl. Discard garlics and wipe out the skillet or Dutch oven.

Season rabbit pieces with salt and pepper. Add more olive oil until heated to a simmer, add rabbit pieces and cook in batches, turning pieces several times until lightly browned, about 4-5 minutes per side. Set rabbit pieces aside and lightly tent.

Add reserved mushrooms to the pan, and then add the wine. Increase heat to high and cook until liquid is reduced some, about 10-12 minutes. Add tomato purée and stir to combine. Add the broth, red wine vinegar, reserved vegetables, rabbit, bouquet garni and salt and pepper to taste. Reduce heat to medium-medium low and briskly simmer, covered, stirring occasionally. Cook until rabbit is very tender, about 30 minutes. If necessary, remove the rabbit to a lightly tented platter or dish and increase heat the thicken the sauce.

Serve the rabbit on a festive platter or in separate shallow soup bowls over fresh pasta, then top with the sauce and finish with chopped parsley or basil chiffonade.

Pourboire: Some call for dredging the meat in seasoned flour (salt, pepper, paprika) before browning and braising. As usual, if rabbit does not suit your palate you can easily substitute a free range chicken.

Roundabouts & Roots

September 29, 2011

…You got me goin’ in circles
Oh, ’round and ’round I go
Goin’ in circles
Oh, ’round and ’round I go
I’m strung out over you…

~Luther Vandross

It makes me sad to utter this. But, something has run amiss, almost amok here.

In an ever dumbed down America, now even the most simple ideas are often illogically, even rabidly, rejected and then find trouble gaining traction. Our populace has strayed from critical analysis, from free thought, from historical cognizance, from educational enlightenment…rejecting sound reason in favor of wicked demogoguery. Faith, and not knowledge, reigns. Most good ideas “foreign” are blindly rejected without humility as if this land remains some divinely touched insular utopia. You often hear the herd-like anger: while this may work there, it will never work here. Words voiced by a few perturbed by fear and suspicious of change, evoking little but gossip, gripes and poor judgment.

Take roundabouts—those ring intersections through which traffic flows in a counterclockwise circuit, simply yielding to those already inside. First appearing in Great Britain in the early 60’s, there are over 30,000 in France alone (an area slightly smaller than Texas) and only some 2,000 in this entire country. In study after engineering study, roundabouts have been proven to reduce harmful emissions, allow smoother traffic flow, reduce lights and signs, and decrease severe collisions. Yet in the states, whenever some communities are faced with the specter of a roundabout, irrational wrath soon becomes seething apathy, sometimes even squelching the proposal. Then, despite all engineering logic, the collective psyche insists upon the status quo of traffic signals and signs, halted traffic, enhanced CO2 emissions, and grisly wrecks. Allo?

Thankfully, roundabouts are experiencing a slight upsurge here…and where fear ebbs and they are finally constructed, public opinion invariably soars in favor of these sometimes unwelcome circles.

Knobby and gnarly, celeriac is not smoothly round, orb-like in a natural state. But, like root cousins turnips, parsnips, beets, carrots and potatoes, it makes one simple yet exquisite soup.

CELERIAC SOUP

3 T unsalted butter
1 T extra virgin olive oil
2 medium leeks, cleaned, peeled and chopped
2 plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 t dried cumin, roasted and ground
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 lbs celery root, peeled and cut into 1 1/2″ cubes
6 C chicken stock

1 C heavy whipping cream

Fresh tarragon leaves, for garnish

Place the butter and oil in a heavy large pot or Dutch oven over medium high heat until melted. Add the leeks and garlic and cook until soft and translucent, about 4-6 minutes. Add the cumin, season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. If the pot begins to brown too much on the bottom as they cook, add another pat of butter or pour of olive oil.

Add the celery root and stir to coat, then add the stock and briefly bring the mixture to a boil. Lower the heat so that the stock simmers gently and cook, stirring occasionally, until the celery root until soft and easily pierced with a paring knife, about 20 minutes more.

Allow to cool slightly off the heat, then purée in batches in a food processor fitted with a metal blade or a blender. Strain through a fine mesh strainer into a sauce pan, whisk in the cream and reheat over medium low. Adjust seasonings to taste, and serve in shallow soup bowls garnished with tarragon.

The lion and the calf will lay down together, but the calf won’t get much sleep.
~Woody Allen

Veal is the meat of a young calf. A calf is defined as a young bovine of either sex that has not reached puberty (circa 9 months), and has a maximum weight of 750 pounds. Before slaughter, a veal calf–usually a male–is raised until about 16-18 weeks old and weighing up to 450 pounds.

Now, should I really weigh in on this blood feud between veal supporters and foes? Makes you just exhale, much like when trying to calmly suggest to a clueless, raving Sarah Palin that the combined effects of a decade of unfunded tax cuts ($2.5 trillion), two prolonged regional wars ($1.3 trillion) and the worst economic slump since the Great Depression (up to $1 trillion in bailout funds) explain virtually the entire deficit over the next ten years. And God forbid that you remind her that almost all of this inglorious work took place on princeling W’s watch or dare divulge dark Dick’s dictum that “Reagan proved deficits don’t matter.”

Today’s Word for the Day struck Sarah’s speaking and ghost written skills right between her bespectacled eyes: anacoluthia (n.) the lack of grammatical sequence or coherence, esp. in a sentence. A syntactic construction in which an element is followed by another that does not agree properly. That wolf shootin’ moose eatin’ basketball playin’ governor quittin’ mama, Sarah Anacoluthia. Atta girl! Whew.

I could go on, but back to food. Not a meat without controversy, veal consumption was resoundingly boycotted in markets nationwide decades ago. And this, no less, was in the pre-internet world. Gruesome photographs of formula-fed veal calves tethered in crates where they could not turn or rotate appeared across the country. Sales plummeted and really never fully recovered. This fiscal slump did sometimes correlate with changes in the way veal was raised, pastured, housed and slaughtered. More humane and less objectionable methods were adopted. Some farmers allowed calves to roam pastures with their mothers while chemical, antibiotic and steroid free. Other producers disposed of those bad pub crates, raising them in barn pens where they mingle with other calves, feeding them a mix of milk replacement and grain.

Doubtfully and naturally, these changes will not placate vegans or vegetarians who find the eating of meat simply abhorrent. To some, human carnivores are unrepentant sinners, pure and simple. To those, I might humbly suggest you skip the veal and drizzle the vinaigrette(s) over vegetables. To me, hell awaits.

“Veal” is a word derived from the Middle English veel, from Old French, from Latin vitellus, the diminutive of vitulus, or “calf.”

It should go without saying that either or both of the tomato and olive vinaigrettes can lissomely grace other meats, poultry, fish or greens. As always, please let your kitchen mind wander.

GRILLED VEAL & TWO VINAIGRETTES (OLIVE & TOMATO)

4 – 1 3/4″ thick bone-in veal loin chops
Extra virgin olive oil
1 T fresh rosemary, stemmed and finely chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Olive Vinaigrette

1 1/2 C Kalamata and Cerignola olives, pitted and finely chopped
1 T medium shallot, peeled and finely minced
1/2 T garlic, peeled and finely minced
1 t anchovies, rinsed, dried and finely minced
1 T Dijon mustard
1/4 C sherry vinegar

1 C extra virgin olive oil

Stir together the olives, shallot, garlic, anchovies, mustard, and sherry vinegar. Then slowly drizzle in olive oil while vigorously whisking until smooth and emulsed.

Tomato Vinaigrette

1 1/2 C heirloom cherry or grape tomatoes, chopped
1 medium shallot, peeled and thinly sliced
1 T capers, rinsed and drained
1/4 C sherry vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 C extra virgin olive oil

2-3 T basil leaves, cut into ribbons

Stir together the tomatoes, shallot, capers and sherry vinegar. Then slowly drizzle in olive oil while vigorously whisking until smooth and emulsed. Stir in the basil.

While stoking the grill, prepare the vinaigrettes and allow the veal to reach room temperature. Also, mix the olive oil with the rosemary. Season the veal chops with salt and black pepper and drizzle generously with the rosemary olive oil.

Once the vinaigrettes are prepared, assess the grill which should reach medium high. Hold your open hand about three inches above the hot grate with the coals already spread and count how long you can keep it there before the pain demands you retract it in around 3 seconds.

Grill the veal chops for 5-6 minutes or so on each side for medium rare. Cooking time will vary depending on the thickness of the veal chops and the heat of the grill. Let the chops rest for at least 5 minutes, then spoon a base of the olive vinaigrette on each plate. Rest the veal chops on the olive vinaigrette and spoon the tomato vinaigrette atop of the meat.

Cauliflower is nothing but a cabbage with a college education.
~Mark Twain

Another inexplicable food bias. Why does cauliflower so often cop attitudes ranging somewhere between ambivalence and disdain?

Cauliflower can rarely find a date for prom which, as always, is a waste of fine material. This somewhat nutty flavored cruciferous vegetable is whitish as it lacks green chlorophyll in the head (“curd”) because the leaves shield the florets from sunlight. The orange and purple varieties are particularly fetching. Cauliflower possesses a high nutritional density with a profile low in fat, high in dietary fiber, folate, water and vitamin C. Ironically, when coupled with turmeric (see below), cauliflower has been found to reduce the risk of aggressive prostate cancer. So, please take her to the dance whether raw, roasted or sautéed.

Gobi Masala is a scrumptious Andhra cauliflower dish. Andhra Pradesh is a state located on the southeastern coast of India, baring the second longest coastline on this subcontinent—often monsoon ridden and occasionally battered. Two major rivers, the Godavari and the Krishna, course across this climatically and historically diverse region. The state is often called “India’s rice bowl” as over three quarters of the crops are rice, and it also happens to be a brisk producer of chile peppers.

The cuisine in Andhra kitchens is varied and regionally dependent, but naturally includes rice, peppers and a wide array of curries and spices.

As with all provincial cooking, versions of gobi masala abound. Some cooks suggest parboiling, even frying, the cauliflower first…some incorporate more indigenous Indian spices and curry leaves…some add a wondrous paste of poppy seeds and cashews…and so on and so forth.

ROASTED CAULIFLOWER CURRY

1 cauliflower head, cut into florets
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and quartered

2 t coriander seeds
2 t cumin seeds

1/2 C canola or extra virgin olive oil
1/4 C sherry wine vinegar
1 T curry powder
1/2 t garam masala
1/2 t turmeric
1 t red chile powder
2 t sea salt

Fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Stir coriander seeds and cumin seeds in small skillet over medium-low heat until essences are released, about 2 minutes. Allow to cool then grind in mortar with pestle or spice grinder. Place ground seeds in medium bowl and whisk in olive oil, wine vinegar, curry powder, garam masala, turmeric, chile powder, and salt.

Pull apart onion quarters into separate layers and add to cauliflower in a large glass bowl. Pour spice mixture over florets and onions and toss well to coat. Spread cauliflower and onions in a single layer in a large baking dish or heavy roasting pan.

Roast vegetables, stirring occasionally, until just fork tender, about 25 minutes. Garnish with fresh cilantro.

GOBI MASALA

1 medium cauliflower, cut into florets

1/2 C canola or extra virgin olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, peeled and finely chopped
2-3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
2 serrano peppers, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped

2 tomatoes, cored, seeded and finely chopped

2 t coriander seeds
2 t mustard seeds
2 t cumin seeds
2 t turmeric
1/2 t garam masala
1 t red chile powder
Liberal pinch of sea salt

1/2 C plain yogurt
2 t cashews, ground

Fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

Stir coriander, mustard and cumin seeds in small skillet over medium low heat until essences are released, about 2 minutes. Allow to cool then grind in mortar with pestle or spice grinder. Add turmeric, garam masala and red chile powder. Set aside.

Heat oil in a heavy, deep skillet and add the chopped onions, garlic and serrano peppers and sauté until onions are light brown.

Add the chopped tomatoes and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the spice mix and salt and cook until the onion-tomato-garlic-pepper mix fully absorbs the flavors.

Add the yogurt and cashews and gently sauté until well blended. Now, add the cauliflower florets and sauté turning occasionally to coat for 2-3 minutes. Cover and cook until just tender, about 5 more minutes.

Garnish with fresh cilantro.

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.

(The radish is) a vulgar article of the diet…that has a…remarkable power of causing flatulence and eructation.
~Pliny the Elder

Native to Asia, radishes (Raphanus sativus) are more than edible root vegetables of the Brassicaceae family. They have a lengthy culinary history, even serving as a staple to ancient Egytian slaves. The common name derives from the the Latin word radix which means “root.” Displaying an array of shapes and colors—red, pink, black, yellow, purple, white—they are related to broccoli, cauliflower, mustard, and brussels sprouts. That distinctive tangy radish flavor results from the mustard oil found in these cruciferous vegetables.

Radishes are rich in ascorbic acid (vitamin C), which is a cancer preventing antioxidant. They are also a significant source of folic acid, potassium, riboflavin, iron, and calcium.

Sometimes we fall short in the kitchen by failing to recognize a food’s mutability. While they are so often relegated to life in a raw state, radishes are radiant when braised, sautéed, seared or roasted. So, liberate them. As with most roots, this often overlooked and forgotten vegetable becomes kind, even mellow, when cooked.

BRAISED RADISHES

2 bunches icicle or red radishes, washed, tops and tails trimmed
3 T unsalted butter
2 medium shallots, peeled and diced
2 thyme sprigs
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 T honey
Water, to cover

1 T unsalted butter
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

So they are all nearly uniform in size and cook evenly, cut larger red radishes lengthwise.

In a heavy pan melt butter over medium high heat. Add shallots and thyme, and sauté, occasionally stirring, until softened, about 2 minutes. Add radishes, salt and pepper, honey and just enough water to cover radishes. Cover, bring to a simmer, and cook until tender when pierced by a paring knife, about 15 minutes.

Remove radishes to a serving dish and discard thyme sprigs. Increase heat and boil braising liquid down until reduced to about 1/4 cup. Whisk in remaining butter, season to taste with salt and pepper, and pour over radishes.

SAUTEED RADISHES

2 bunches red radishes, washed, tops and tails trimmed
2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T unsalted butter
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

4 T unsalted butter
4 high quality anchovy fillets, finely chopped
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 T balsamic vinegar
Pinch or two red pepper flakes

Artisanal bread, sliced on the diagonal, brushed with extra virgin olive oil and toasted, sautéed or grilled
Chopped herbs, such as tarragon, parsley, rosemary, or thyme

So they are all nearly uniform in size and cook evenly, cut larger radishes lengthwise.

Heat olive oil and butter in large skillet over medium high heat until hot but not smoking or browning. Add radishes in a single, uncrowded layer and season with salt and pepper. Cook radishes, without moving them, until they are lightly colored on the underbelly, about 3 minutes. Stir with a spatula and continue cooking until tender when pierced by a paring knife, about 3 more minutes.

In a medium heavy skillet or sauce pan, melt butter over medium heat. Stir in anchovies, garlic, balsamic vinegar, and red pepper flakes. Reduce heat and simmer until coalesced into a sauce, about 5 minutes.

Top each slice of bread with several radishes. Spoon sauce on top, sprinkle with herbs and serve.