Of all the small nations of this earth, perhaps only the ancient Greeks surpass the Scots in their contribution to mankind.
~Sir Winston Churchill

Admittedly, my ancestry is prodigally open minded (or should the word “mindless” be used) — Scottish as well as other genetic variants.  A mutt, of sorts.  So, perhaps a native dish were posted here, at least one that swaddles an egg in meat and then is topped with this heavenly “mole.”  This proves to be a slight twist on a gastropub meal, one that appears disparate with both Scot and Mexican fare.  Not really.

The eggs seem self evident to someone Scottish, but the pipián verde sauce may be unknown or elusive to some home cooks.   Sometimes called pumpkin seed mole, the finished sauce is often spooned over fish, chicken, enchiladas, or rice and the like, but when used judiciously the sauce can be sublime with eggs (especially with sausage). Chiles de árbol are those smaller, potent red chiles occasionally known as a bird beak or rat’s tail chiles. They can be found in most groceries, so there is little need to pull any trades.

One has to adore giddy caresses which are not merely iconic, but ageless — heart theft food.

SCOTCH EGGS

6 large local, pastured or free range eggs

1 C hearty, good quality, artisanal sausage

1 C all purpose flour
1 C  fresh breadcrumbs
3 beaten local eggs

Extra virgin olive + canola oils in equal parts, several inches deep, for frying
Sea salt, freshly ground black pepper

Place eggs in a saucepan and add cold water to cover. Bring to a boil, cover for some 6-7 minutes, and remove from heat, so they are sort of medium boiled, somewhat soft and not hard at all. Carefully drain, then place in a bowl with ice water to cool. Gently crack shells and carefully peel under cold running water. Place eggs to dry on a tea towel or paper towels.

Place flour in a wide glass bowl, beat eggs in another and then place crushed breadcrumbs in another wide shallow glass bowl. Divide sausage into 6 equal portions. Pat a portion of sausage into a thin patty over the length of the palm. Lay a boiled egg on top of sausage and gently wrap the sausage around egg, sealing to envelop.  Gently shape and coddle the meat around the eggs with your fingers. Repeat with remaining sausage and eggs.  Season with salt and pepper.

Then, roll the sausage encased eggs first in flour, shaking off any excess, then carefully drop into the beaten eggs and finally the breadcrumbs to batter them lightly and set aside to rest for a moment before frying.

Carefully fry in olive and canola oils which are heated to about 300 F for just a few minutes (about 4), to get the sausage lightly golden and crispy. Cool the sausage & egg mix on paper towels.

Serve with pipián verde sauce which could be prepared a day or two ahead of time (see below).

Pipián Verde 
8 chiles de árbol (“tree chili” tr. from Spanish), fresh

3 fresh smaller heirloom or plum tomatoes
1 small onion, peeled and sliced
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1/2 C raw, unsalted pumpkin seeds
1/3 C unsalted peanuts
1/3 C sesame seeds
1/2 t ground cinnamon
1/4 t ground cloves
1/4 t ground allspice

1 small canned chipotle peppers
1-2 bay leaves
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 C chicken broth
1 T sea salt
1 T light brown sugar
1 T apple cider vinegar

Cilantro leaves, fresh

Remove the stems and seeds from the chiles de árbol, and set a naked skillet over high heat for 5 minutes, then toast the chiles until they are fragrant, approximately 4-5 minutes.

Return the skillet to medium high heat. Add the tomatoes, onion and garlic, and cook, turning occasionally, until slightly charred. Set aside the mix to cool.

Again, return the skillet to medium low heat. Place the pumpkin seeds, peanuts and sesame seeds in a heavy skillet, and sear until they are toasted and fragrant, approximately 2-3 minutes. Put the seeds and nuts in a bowl, and stir in the cinnamon, cloves and allspice.

Put the chiles and some liquid in a blender with the tomatoes, onion, garlic, the nut seed mixture and the chipotle.  Purée until smooth.

Add the extra virgin olive oil to a large, heavy bottomed skillet, and heat over medium high heat until shimmering. Add the purée and lower the heat, and stir, cooking the mixture down to a thick paste. Add the broth and bay leaf to the paste, and stir, then season with the salt, sugar and vinegar, and reduce for another 15 minutes or so, until it becomes creamy. Lower heat to a bare simmer and discard bay leaf.

Slather the sauce in a very distinct moderation over halved eggs + sausages, top with fresh cilantro, and serve with tequila drinks.

Pleb Grub — Bean Stew

December 22, 2011

We may have democracy, or we may have wealth concentrated in the hands of a few, but we cannot have both.
~Hon. Louis Dembitz Brandeis, United States Supreme Court Justice

Given the season, a mirthful post seemed more in order, like prattling about some trendy or classic dish to grace the family’s holiday table. But, for the last few decades I have sadly read about and observed the parallel surges of excessive wealth and abject poverty which threaten to inexorably still this already declining young republic. America has allowed profligate inequality to flourish, and I felt an urge to disgorge and then stew.

America has become a blatantly entrenched plutocracy: 1% of the people take home nearly one quarter of the nation’s income, and 1% of the people control nearly 40% of the nation’s wealth.

Somber socio-economic stats, and there are more. From 1980 to 2005, more than 80% of the total increase in American income was allotted to the richest 1 percent. The ratio of the average income of the nation’s “upper crust” to the median household income has skyrocketed since The Gipper took office. The richest 1% of Americans’ household income rose 275% between 1979 and 2007, while the income of the poorest one-fifth grew 18% over the same period.

In 1965, the average CEO earned 24 times more than the average worker. Just forty years later, the average CEO in the United States receives 262 times the pay of the average worker. Starkly reduced to dollars and cents, Walmart’s CEO will earn more in the next hour than a new hourly employee will earn over the next year. Toward the end of GW’s reign, careless executives who selfishly brought our economy to brink of ruin, even those who presided over failed corporations, demanded prompt bailouts from the citizenry while continuing to gorge on obscene compensation packages including embarassingly lavish, undeserved “performance” bonuses. The financial arena, ie., Wall Street, has been particularly blameworthy. My father used to mutter that “no person is worth $1M per year.” While that sum may be a tad understated in today’s market, financial house and other CEO salaries and bonuses seem to bespeak of nothing more than bloated egos.

One third or more of Americans exist at or are precipitously close to the federal poverty level which is a paltry $22,350 for a family of four. That’s called plenty of nothing for no one. And on any given night, some 750,000 men, women, and children are homeless in this land.

When compared, income inequality in this country borders on downright shameful. The United States continues to outpace other developed economies with one of the greatest divides between rich and poor on earth. Our nation ranks near the bottom feeder end of the inequality scale keeping company with the likes of Cameroon, Madagascar, Rwanda, Uganda, and Ecuador. Income levels here are more unequal than those in Russia, which in the last century alone has endured three popular revolutions to overthrow dreaded oligarchies, a devastating world war, and lengthy bread lines throughout. A more unequal distribution of wealth exists here than in those traditional banana republics we have so maligned in the past like Nicaragua or Venezuela. Simply put, income inequality is more severe in this country than in nearly all of West Africa, North Africa, Europe, and Asia.

To worsen matters, while the income and wealth gaps grow here, this country continues to fall further behind other industrialized countries in education, research, health care, child well-being, technology and infrastructure investment. Lagging in these vitals, these fundamentals, while suffering from wealth disparity are ominous signs of a declining society.

The vexing schism between the ultra rich and the rest of the nation has undeniably broadened. An unsavory me-first mentality has emerged with short or no shrift given to notions of fairness and the social contract. Alex de Toqueville once observed that the genius of American society was founded upon “self interest properly understood.” This collective national empathy with an eye toward the common welfare has rapidly waned while wealth has been steadily concentrating in upper echelons. The sense of national identity in which fair play, equality of opportunity, and a sense of community is on the verge of being lost. It has been replaced by a sense of inequity, sometimes even iniquity. As Nobel Laureate Kenneth Arrow remarked, “Vast inequalities of income weakens a society’s sense of mutual concern…The sense that we are all members of the social order is vital to the meaning of civilization.”

There is precedent, as wealth inequalities existed in civilizations long since in ruin. Yet even the Roman Empire, a class structured society of haves and have nots (including slaves), had a more equitable distribution of income than current America. Historians Walter Schiedel and Steven Friesen poured over papyri ledgers, previous scholarly estimates, imperial edicts, and Biblical passages to assess income distribution in the Roman Empire. Much like this country, a story of two ancient Romes emerged, one hoarding substantial wealth and the other subsiding on meager wages or facing poverty. Those who barely got by were paid just enough to survive daily but never enough to prosper. Others starved.

Professors Schiedel and Friesen concluded that when the empire was at its population zenith (about 150 CE), the top 1% of Roman society controlled 16 percent of the wealth, contrasted with the top 1% of Americans controlling 40 percent. An imperial ancient empire ruled by an emperor and elite few, based upon conquests overseas, conceived of an expected inequality of income between classes and requiring a robust slave population had less wealth disparity than today’s United States.

The recent income and wealth disparities in this country were not happenstance. In 1971, a corporate lawyer named Lewis Powell, a board member of the tobacco giant Philip Morris and soon a United States Supreme Court Justice, sent a confidential memorandum to his friends at the U. S. Chamber of Commerce. In it, he railed against the “attack on the American free enterprise system” not just from a few “extremists of the left,” but also from “perfectly respectable elements of society.” He urged the Chamber to place the media under surveillance and also advocated that political power must be “assiduously cultivated; and that when necessary, it must be used aggressively and with determination” and “without embarrassment.”

Powell envisaged new think tanks and legal foundations which when united with the Chamber and corporate America could wield immense political power. Once circulated amongst nation’s boardrooms, there was a call to arms and the Chamber arranged a task force of businesses whose charge was to coordinate this corporate crusade. The Chamber soon tripled its budget, aggressive conservative think tanks and foundations mushroomed, right-wing lobbying efforts were magnified, and political power was brandished to discourage economic equality and shared prosperity. The Repbulican Party would now begin to take a decidedly rightward lurch.

William Simon, who had served as Nixon’s secretary of the treasury, later published a manifesto entitled A Time for Truth argued that “funds generated by business” must “rush by multimillions” into conservative causes to uproot the institutions and “the heretical strategy” of the New Deal. He asked “men of action in the capitalist world” to mount “a veritable crusade” against progressives. With nearly limitless funds, they embarked on a jihad to embellish corporate rights, purchase candidates, curry legislative favor, procure lobbyists, garner power, espouse rightist ideologies, sway public opinion, amass the country’s wealth, etc. Imperiously, they have proclaimed “it worked!” But, truly did it or will it?

Economic studies suggest that rapacious income inequality leads to more financial distress. Stated otherwise, greater income equality positively correlates with stronger economic growth. An economy like America’s where each year commoners are doing worse, not better, will not succeed in the long run. This country’s income distribution has grown decidedly lopsided, and growing inequality has tranlated to shrinking opportunities. Discouragingly, the fundamental idea of upward mobility has faded, causing the proverbial American dream to disappear.

To suggest that such extreme financial inequity was neither contrived by the wealthy nor exists in today’s America are both opinions that range between naïveté and arrogant ignorance. These egregious inequalities are not only economically inimical but morally repulsive. Rapacious greed is not good—it is plunder. And please do not crassly slough fiscal inequality off as simply lower caste “envy” like a myopic, flip-flopping oligarch has. Yes, you Willard. The indigent should be take umbrage at and be righteously indignant about such haughty, heartless rhetoric.

Unless compromises are reached to explore and secure reforms to assuage this dire problem, I fear that our republic will be reduced to rubble too. Economic injustice tends to sire revolt. Equanimity and empathy, not egocentric upper class partisanship, are in desperate need.

Food calls. This is a divine winter stew that works in a pinch.

CHICKEN, SAUSAGE & BEAN STEW

2-3 Italian sausages, sliced 3/4″ thick, diagonally

5 lbs chicken parts (wings, backs, necks, gizzards, hearts)
1 1/2 lbs navy or white beans, picked over and rinsed
2 medium yellow onion, peeled and cut in halves
2 celery stalks, peeled and chopped in halves
2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped in halves
1 small turnip, peeled and chopped in quarters
1 medium parsnip, peeled and chopped in half
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
3 sprigs thyme
3 bay leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 C chicken stock
8 C cold water

Fresh parsley leaves, chopped

Heat olive oil in a large, heavy stockpot or Dutch oven over medium high. Add the sausage and brown, about 5 minutes. Do not overcook as they will be reheated later. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel. Set aside. Wipe the pot out with a towel.

Put the chicken in same large pot, and add beans, onions, celery, carrots, turnip, parsnip, garlic, thyme, bay leaves, salt and pepper, stock and water. Bring to a boil, then skim the foam off the surface. Cover, reduce the heat to a lively simmer and cook about 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. With tongs, remove the chicken pieces from pot and place in a bowl to cool some. With a slotted spoon, remove the vegetables, garlic and herbs. Discard the garlic and herbs only. Reserve the vegetables in a bowl too.

When the chicken is cool enough to handle, pull off the meat and discard the skin and bones. There should be about 2 1/2 cups of meat. Coarsely chop the onions, celery, carrots, turnip, and parsnip. Slice the gizzards and hearts. Add the vegetables, chicken and sausage to the pot and carefully mix with the cooked beans. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook until heated, about 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat.

Serve in bowls garnished with fresh parsley.

Erotica is using a feather, pornography is using the whole chicken.
~Isabel Allende

Bouillabaisse is an iconic, magical Provençal fish stew which is derived from the Occitan compound word bolhabaissa, consisting of the the verbs bolhir (to boil) and abaissar (to simmer). While Greek and Italian culinary historians also lay claim to bouillabaisse, the simplicity of regional poached fish in an aromatic broth make a true origin difficult to pinpoint. Made in so many quaint port villages in Provence and laden with local Meditteranean fish, citrus, saffron and aromatic Provençal spices and herbs, bouillabaisse is both kitchen and fresh catch variant.

Admittedly, this is a fish soup guised in fowl clothing. But, this is no loss as many of the same robust, sublime scents and flavors linger. This recipe benefits from being made one day in advance…allow to spoon.

CHICKEN BOUILLABAISSE WITH ROUILLE

1 3 lb. chicken, cut into 8 pieces*
Sea salt and fresh ground black pepper

3 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T fresh garlic, finely minced
1/2 C yellow onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
1/4 C fennel, coarsely chopped
1/4 C carrot, coarsely chopped

1 can (14 ozs) San Marzano tomatoes, drained and chopped
1 1/2 C dry white wine
2 C chicken stock
Splash of anise liquer–Ricard or Pernod
1 t saffron threads
1 t grated lemon zest
1 t orange zest
1/2 t fennel seeds, crushed
1 1/2 t herbes de Provence
1 bay leaf
4 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and quartered

2 kielbasa sausages, roughly sliced into 1/2″ pieces

Chopped tarragon leaves

Season chicken with salt and pepper. Set aside.

Add olive oil in a large, heavy Dutch oven over medium high heat. Add onion, fennel, garlic and carrot, and stirring often, sauté until onions are tender and translucent, about 8 minutes.

Add the chicken, tomatoes, wine, stock, Ricard, saffron, lemon & orange zests, fennel, herbes de Provence, bay leaf and potatoes. There should be enough liquid to just cover the meat. Cover and bring to a gentle boil over high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer gently until chicken is tender, about 25-30 minutes. Add the kielbasa and cook some 5 minutes longer. Remove bay leaf and correct seasoning.

Serve the bouillabaisse in warm soup plates over steamed rice with a spoonful of rouille drizzled over and tarragon strewn atop. Pass the rest of the rouille and cooking liquid separately.

Rouille

1/4 C chopped red bell pepper
1 red chile pepper

1 medium potato, cooked (see above)
4 large, plump fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
Pinch of cayenne pepper
2 egg yolks
1 t dried thyme

1 C extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Simmer red bell and chile peppers in salted water for several minutes until tender. Drain well. With a mortar and pestle, pound simmered chiles, cooked potato, garlic, cayenne, egg yolks and thyme to form a smooth paste. While whisking, drizzle in olive oil until the rouille reaches a mayonnaise consistency. Season to taste.

*Pourboire: There are a couple of schools about the chicken prep. One espouses leaving the skin intact on a cut whole chicken and sautéeing the chicken to a light, crispy brown in olive oil and butter prior to poaching. Another suggests using leg-thigh quarters and simply skinning them before the poaching process sans sauté. A third says leave the skin on period. Rarely do Hobson’s choices inhabit a home kitchen.

White Bean & Sausage Soup

December 6, 2010

We’re having a heat wave,
A tropical heat wave,
The temperature’s rising,
It isn’t surprising,…

~Irving Berlin

The longest night and shortest day of the year, winter solstice, nears. It occurs when the Earth’s axial tilt is furtherest from the sun, signalling a reversal of the gradual lengthening of nights and shortening of days.

In Norse mythology, winter solstice was sacred to Frigga, goddess of marriage, childbirth and motherhood. (Ironically, rumors swirled that she was unfaithful to her husband, the chief deity Odin.) This night, Frigga toiled at her spinning wheel, weaving clouds and the world’s fates. So, the winter solstice is often called “Mother Night” for it was in darkness of night that Frigga tirelessly labored at her loom to bring exalted light to birth once again.

From the solstice, a celebration ensued which was dubbed Yule, from the Norse word Jul, meaning wheel. The ubiquitous christmas wreath, a symbol adapted from Frigga’s spinning wheel, reminds us of the cycle of the seasons and the continuity of life.

Here, it goes from chilly to the teens when the southerly, low-angled sun prematurely spills over the edge. I have yet to acclimate. So, time to bring on the winter comfort, and bean soup always fits the bill. These white beans are small, round, ivory legumes with a nutty, earthy flavor and chocked full of fiber and protein. A medley of vegetables, fresh herbs and mellow Italian sausages with distinctive scents of pork and anise make beloved pot, then bowl mates.

WHITE BEAN & SAUSAGE SOUP

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 lbs Italian sausage, sliced diagonally about 3/4″ thick

2 medium carrots, peeled and diced
2 celery stalks, diced
1 turnip, peeled and diced
1 parsnip, peeled and diced
1 onion, peeled and diced
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1/2 T tomato paste
1 t ground dried cumin
1 t dried oregano

1 1/2 lbs dried Great Northern or Cannellini beans, picked over and rinsed
6 C chicken stock
4 C cold water
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 fresh thyme sprigs
2 fresh rosemary sprigs
2 fresh sage sprigs
1 bay leaf
1 T balsamic vinegar

Balsamic vinegar
Extra virgin olive oil

Heat olive oil in a large, heavy stockpot or Dutch oven over medium high. Add the sausage and brown, about 5-7 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate lined with a paper towel. Set aside.

Return stockpot to medium high heat and add the carrots, celery, turnip, parsnip, onion, and garlic. Season with salt and pepper and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste, cumin and oregano and cook another 2 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stir in the beans, stock, water, salt, pepper, thyme, rosemary, sage, bay leaf and balsamic vinegar. Turn the heat to high and bring to just a boil and then reduce heat to low or medium low and simmer gently until the beans are tender, about 2 hours. If necessary, add more stock and water to assure the beans remain submerged.

When the beans are al dente, return the sausage to the pot and simmer for another 5 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking. Ladle into bowls and serve lightly drizzled with additional balsamic vinegar and olive oil.

My mouth is a happy place.
~Pat Conroy

Galettes are flat, round, rather freeform traditional French cakes. They may be savory or sweet, and are crafted from pastry, cereals, potatoes, nuts, etc. Galettes vary regionally, so those from Bretagne will differ from those in Lyon or Franche-Comté, and there are even some cakes made for special occasions such as the Galette des Rois eaten on the holiday of Epiphany.

Crispy potato galettes are savory potato cakes which can be simply made as below, but they also lend themselves to fecund imaginations. Sometimes they are grated and other times sliced; sometimes they are skillet sautéed and other times oven-roasted. Mix it up with personal zeal—add differing herbs (rosemary, tarragon, herbes de provence), eggs, ham, sausages, onions, leeks, shallots, mushrooms, and cheeses (gruyère, emmental, chèvre, parmigiano-reggiano and friends), just to name a few. Try topping with seared scallops, salmon, duck and drizzle with their luscious pan juices.

Creative minglings can be exalting to body and soul…even epiphanic.

POTATO GALETTES

3 large (but not oversized) russet potatoes
2 t chopped fresh thyme leaves
Sea salt and freshly ground black and/or white pepper
2 T extra virgin olive oil
3 T unsalted butter

In a heavy pot, steam or boil the potatoes until almost but just not cooked. They should be slightly underdone so a paring knife or sharp fork should just piece the potatoes. But, the core of the potatoes should not be raw.

Let thoroughly cool in the refrigerator before grating. Then, peel the chilled potatoes and hand grate into a large bowl. Combine and toss the grated potatoes, thyme, salt, and pepper.

In a heavy large skillet, heat the oil and butter over medium high heat. Reduce to medium heat and carefully form the potatoes into rounds and slip into the pan, pressing the them down gently with a flat spatula. Cook until the bottoms brown and become crusty, and the galette pulls away from the skillet. If the heat is too high, the potatoes will not cook in the middle, and if too low, the potatoes will stick to the pan.

Using a wide spatula, flip the galette. Cook until golden brown on the second side.

Penne “Risotto(s)”

December 9, 2009

Quill, n. An implement of torture yielded by a goose and commonly wielded by an ass; this use of the quill is now obsolete, but its modern equivalent, the steel pen, is wielded by the same everlasting Presence.
~Ambrose Bierce

Penne, the plural form of the Italian word for “quill,” are produced in two main variants, penne lisce (smooth) and penne rigate (furrowed), the latter having ridges on each noodle which tends to capture sauce more readily. In these incarnations, cylinder shaped penne is cooked risotto style in lieu of the conventional boiled in salted water method. Rather, these pastas are browned lightly in olive oil, then cooked leisurely and gradually in ladlefuls—gently stirring and tossing the penne throughout the process until just al dente and luxuriantly veiled with aromatic sauce. You may just as easily substitute other similar pastas, such as fusilli or gemelli.

PENNE RISOTTO WITH CHICKEN, MUSHROOMS & TARRAGON

4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Herbes de Provence
3 T extra virgin olive oil

8-10 C chicken stock

3 C crimini and shiitake (stemmed) mushrooms, cleaned, trimmed and sliced
2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T unsalted butter
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 T fresh tarragon, minced

1 lb penne rigate
3/4 C dry white wine
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 t white truffle oil

Chopped fresh tarragon
Capers, rinsed and drained
Freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano

Season the chicken thighs with salt, pepper and herbes de provence. Heat a heavy skillet over medium high heat with olive oil. When hot, add chicken thighs and cook until done, about 4 minutes per side. Do not overcook as they will be heated again some at the end. Remove chicken, slice 1/4″ thick, tent and set aside.

In a large heavy saucepan, heat the stock and keep at a constant simmer.

Heat the oil and butter in a large deep skillet or Dutch oven over moderate heat until hot, but not smoking. Add the mushrooms, season lightly with salt and pepper, and sauté until browned and the juices begin to exude, around 4-5 minutes. Sprinkle the mushrooms with minced tarragon, toss and set aside. Wipe out the skillet with paper towels.

Pour the remaining olive oil into the skillet over medium high heat. When hot and shimmering, add pasta to the skillet and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is glossy and begins to just slightly brown on the edges, about 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Add the wine and simmer until the wine has almost completely evaporated, about 1 minute. Then in a slow, continuous risotto-reminiscent process, slowly ladle hot stock into the skillet a ladle at a time, stirring after each addition. When the stock is just about to evaporate, add another ladle and so on…until the pasta is al dente, about 16-18 minutes.

When pasta is about 1-2 minutes away from being done, add chicken, mushrooms and truffle oil; stir to heat and combine. If necessary, adjust seasoning with salt and pepper to your liking. Serve in shallow soup bowls garnished with tarragon, capers and parmigiano-reggiano.

PENNE RISOTTO WITH TOMATO & SAUSAGE

1 C good quality italian sausage, casings removed
1 T extra virgin olive oil

8 -10 C chicken stock

1/4 C extra-virgin olive oil
4 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and smashed slightly

1 lb dried penne rigate

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 T tomato paste
2 T finely chopped fresh rosemary leaves

Red peppers flakes, to taste
2 T red wine vinegar

Freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano
Fresh basil, cut into ribbons

Heat olive oil in 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Stir in the sausage and cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until barely no longer pink, about 4 minutes. Do not overcook as it will briefly cook some at the end. Remove with slotted spoon, drain on paper towels and set aside.

In a large heavy saucepan, heat the stock and keep at a constant simmer.

In a large, deep heavy skillet heat the olive oil over moderately high heat. When it is hot and shimmering but not smoking, add the garlic and heat until only golden brown, pressing the cloves all over the surface to subtly flavor and perfume the oil. Do not burn or you will have a restart on your hands. Remove and discard the garlic.

Then, add the pasta, stirring occasionally until the pasta begins to brown lightly around the edges, about 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Add the tomato paste and the rosemary, stirring constantly until the pasta is evenly coated. Slowly add a ladleful of stock, stirring until most of the liquid is absorbed. Adjust the heat as necessary to maintain a gentle simmer. The pasta should cook slowly and should always be covered in at least a light film of stock. Continue adding ladlefuls of stock, stirring frequently and tasting regularly, until the pasta is tender and al dente, about 16-18 minutes.

Add the already cooked sausage, red pepper, red wine vinegar, and toss gently for a minute or so. Serve in bowls, generously sprinkle with freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano and garnish with basil ribbons.

Fried Sage Leaves

December 1, 2009

Let a fool hold his tongue and he will pass for a sage.
~Publilius Syrus

Fried sage. Rings like that series of ads in the late ’80s that depicted a sizzling fried egg and droned on: “this is your brain on drugs.”

This post seems simple to the point of naive, but the uses for fried sage are manifold and often forgotten: gracing appetizers…adorning pastas, rice, risotto, polenta, gnocchi, pizza, soups, fish, meats, poultry. They possess a fine textural finish. To me, even naked in a bowl as chip-like finger food is heaven enough.

FRIED SAGE

Extra virgin olive oil, for frying
30 or so whole sage leaves, cleaned and patted dry
Sea salt

Heat about 1″ of olive oil in a heavy medium saucepan over medium high heat, and when small drops of water sizzle when sprinkled into the oil, add half the sage leaves (to assure decent spacing) and fry until just crisped, about 10-15 seconds. Gently remove them to paper towels to drain with a spider or slotted spoon. Do not let the leaves turn a deep brown. Fry the remaining sage leaves and sprinkle them all lightly with salt. They will crisp as they cool.

Pourboire: another version of fried sage entails first dipping them in whisked eggs, then lightly coating them in flour, shaking off the excess. Follow the remainder of the recipe.

FETTUCINE WITH MUSHROOMS, SAUSAGE & FRIED SAGE

24-30 fried sage leaves (see above)

2 C crimini mushrooms, roughly cut in thirds
3 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T unsalted butter

4 fine Italian sausages
Water and chicken stock
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1 lb. fettuccine
Water
Sea salt

1 C heavy whipping cream
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Parmigiano-reggiano, grated

In a heavy skillet, sauté the mushrooms in olive oil and butter until just softened. Set aside in a bowl.

In a different pan, simmer the sausages in equal parts of stock and water, covered, for about 10 minutes. Turn the sausages a few times. Remove them from the pan and allow to cool.

Slice the poached sausages into 1″+ chunks and sauté them in the oil until browned, adding the garlic toward the end so that it turns golden but not burned. Discard the garlic, remove the sausage from the pan and set aside.

Meanwhile, in a large pot, bring water to a boil and salt generously. Then, cook the fettucine until al dente. Drain in a colander.

Pour off the fat from the skillet. Add the cream and bring to a boil, scrape up cooking bits, and return the mushrooms and sausage to heat through. Toss in the fettucine to coat, turning gently with tongs and season with salt and pepper to your liking.

Serve in bowls sprinkled with grated parmigiano-reggiano and fried sage leaves.