Chard & Serrano Tartines

October 7, 2014

Life is short, break the rules. Forgive quickly, kiss slowly and love truly. Laugh uncontrollably and never regret anything. That makes you smile.
~Mark Twain

Thanks for the break — it was sorely needed.

The time away did bring to mind when my then wife suffered a dreadful case of jet lag upon arrival in Paris. After leaving the airport, we taxied directly to the hotel to register and check our luggage. Since it was a little after lunch, we promptly headed to a cozy bar à vin (wine bar) for a brief bite. After one glass and ordering some morsels, I noted one of her eyes began drooping and the other was half shut. As much effort as she mustered, and even with donning her glasses, she simply could not correct those big brown peepers. So, we had to eat and drink hastily in order to get her back to our room for a nap. It was truly comical, especially in retrospect. For whatever reason, I have yet to endure the same malady. Then again, time will tell.

Although not requested, I did note that this rather small, yet stylish, wine bar with undoubtedly a tiny kitchen had a savory tartine on the menu. Donc, voilà un petit quelque

SWISS CHARD AND SERRANO TARTINES

2 T extra virgin olive oil (divided in two)
1 C swiss chard, washed
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

3/4 to 1 C serrano ham, sliced a tad thicker than the usual paper thin

4 thick slices artisanal, rustic bread, such as ciabatta or pain au levain
Aioli or homemade mayonnaise
Dijon mustard

Gruyère or Taleggio cheese slices, to cover

Drizzle olive oil in a skillet over medium high heat until just simmering. Add chard, season with salt and pepper, and cook until just wilted, about a minute or so. Drain and cool somewhat on paper towels and then rinse and wipe out the pan.

Now, in the same lightly oiled skillet cook the serrano over medium high heat until barely crisped, again for a minute or so. Remove and drain on paper towel.

Lay the bread slices on a sheet pan and toast lightly on both sides under broiler. Then, brush lightly with aioli or mayonnaise and dijon mustard. Divide greens among the four toasts and lay out the serrano on each slice.

Neatly top each toast with slices of gruyère or taleggio and broil for a few more minutes, until just nicely browned.

Pourboire: Tartines can be topped with other grubbery, such as spinach, baby bok choy, collard greens, mustard greens, kale as well as other types of ham or bacon such as proscuitto or fine bacon lardons and a variety of melting cheeses such as fontina, brie harvarti or some cheddars and perhaps some sliced and sautéed mushrooms, or smoked salmon, or even a poached egg. Space does not permit, so just use the best judgment rule and take a peek at the fridge.

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Gnocchi Mañana

September 6, 2011

Language is the dress of thought.
~Samuel Johnson

Those ethereal pillows, gnocchi, derive from the Italian word nocchio, (a knot in wood or gnarl) or even perhaps from nocca (knuckle). In the Venetian dialect, nocchio became gnoco and from there it transitioned to gnocco and its plural gnocchi.

The phonetics are sometimes mistreated. The palatal nasal “gn” phoneme which introduces the word, is transcribed as ɲ and does not really exist in English. It more approximates the Spanish sound ñ as in cañon or mañana. The consonantal sound ɲ can be produced by obstructing airflow in the vocal tract and articulated with the middle or back part of the tongue raised against the hard palate. Air is allowed to escape from the nose while vibrating the vocal cords during delivery.

The International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA) symbol for this “gn” phoneme is ɲ with a notably leftward directed tail protruding from the bottom of the left stem of the letter. Cf n and ɲ. This symbol ɲ should also not be confused with ɳ, the symbol for the retroflex nasal sound, which has a rightward directed hook extending from the bottom of the right stem or with ŋ, the symbol for the velar nasal sound, which has a leftward directed hook extending from the bottom of the right stem.

The open-mid back rounded IPA vowel symbol ɔ sounds similar to the English vowels in “thought.” The ch sounds like k and the i is pronounced like a long e.

So just say it aloud, gnocchi [‘ɲɔkki], cook with aplomb, and savor these airy gems.

GNOCCHI WITH LEEKS & SERRANO

3 lbs. russet potatoes

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1 extra large egg or 2 medium eggs
1-2 C all-purpose flour, as needed

1/2 lb. leeks, greens discarded, halved lengthwise, cut thinly into half moons
8 T (1 stick) unsalted butter
2 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and smashed
1 C chicken stock
1/2 T fennel seeds, toasted then finely ground

1/4 C serrano ham, diced
3 t fresh parsley leaves, chopped

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 C parmigiano-reggiano cheese, grated

Put the potatoes a large pot or saucepan of water. Bring to a boil and cook until tender, about 35-40 minutes. Drain well. When still warm yet cool enough to handle, peel. Pass the flesh through a ricer or food mill and then spread onto a work surface.

Meanwhile, bring water to a boil in a large pot, then season liberally with salt.

Season the cooled potatoes with salt and pepper. On the work surface, form the potatoes into a mound and make a well in the center. Sprinkle with the flour. Put the egg(s) into the well and use your fingers to blend into the potato until well incorporated. Using your hands, gently and gradually knead until the mixture forms a dough. Overkneading may make the dough tougher, so keep it to the minimum needed to obtain a uniform consistency, dusting extra flour to prevent the dough from sticking to the surface. Gather the dough into a ball. Do not overwork the dough or the end result will be tough. It should be firm and fairly dry to the touch.

Divide the dough into six balls, then roll each orb into long cylinders, each about 3/4″ in diameter. Use a paring knife to cut the ropes into 1″ pieces. Roll each piece along the back of a fork using the tines to form ridges in whose nooks and crannies the sauce finds refuge.

Ready an ice bath.

Drop gnocchi into the boiling water and cook until they float to the surface, about 1-2 minutes. Use a slotted spoon and fish them out to the waiting ice bath. Drain well and transfer to a bowl for later.

In a large, heavy skillet, melt a half stick of the butter over low heat. Add the leeks and garlic and cook until translucent, about 2 minutes. Remove and discard the garlic. Stir in the chicken stock, fennel, and the remaining butter. Cook over medium heat until reduced by half, about 7-9 minutes. Stir in the leeks, serrano, and parsley.

Add the gnocchi to sillet and coalesce with the remaining ingredients. Season with salt, pepper, and grated parmigiano-reggiano. Serve promptly.

GNOCCHI WITH GORGONZOLA & WALNUTS (GNOCCHI GORGONZOLA e NOCI)

3 T gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
3 T butter
6 T heavy whipping cream
Freshly ground black pepper
Grating of nutmeg
1/2 C walnuts, toasted roughly chopped

1 T fresh oregano leaves, julienned
Parmigiano-reggiano cheese, grated
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat a large, heavy skillet over medium heat. Add gorgonzola, butter, cream and walnuts with a pinch of black pepper and nutmeg. Mix together until the cheese is melted and the sauce becomes silky. Then add the walnuts and toss some further.

Cook gnocchi as above and toss into the gorgonzola sauce.

Sprinkle with parmigiano-reggiano and oregano.

I wasn’t kissing her, I was whispering in her mouth.
~Chico Marx

As a late teen first visiting Paris, I was struck (even smitten) by the provocative public displays of affection on the streets, in parks and cafés. Passionate and intimate — open mouthed, deep kisses, with cuddles and caresses. Face dwellers. Blissfully awesome came to mind then and now. In the puritanical States though, you are ridiculed, derided for such shameless ardor. Frowned upon here, public kissers are brusquely advised to “get a room.” I mean, God forbid you be so deeply enamored with each other that you really do not give a damn about those leering, envious “get a life” voyeurs. Just that kind of “refulgent” act that no doubt makes Sarah Palin feel “squirmish” (sp?). Maybe she should stick to more basic, monosyllabic words, like “dolt.”

Thankfully, face whiffing and canoodling in public venues have now become national pasttimes in Mexico. In 2009, nearly 40,000 people gathered at Zocalo Square in Mexico City to break the tally for the most people kissing at one moment. This Valentine’s Day simultaneous smooching was dubbed Besame Mucho or “Kiss Me A Lot”. The intense, overt sensuality of young and old has continued forward with lovers inveterately kissing and ardently embracing in and near squares and promenades in Mexico’s most populus city.

Ah, to create a culture of sweet, tender mercies with those ever expressive, soft yet hot kisses…panochitas.

While my preference would be fresh tomatoes or tomatillos or both, the earthy sundried ones are a luscious substitute in the off season. Then, fast forward to late summer and replace the sundried ones with home grown or farmers’ market beauties—even heirlooms. A third option is to boil about a half dozen fresh, husked and washed, medium tomatillos in salted water until soft, about 10 minutes. Drain well and zip in a blender or food processor.

GUACAMOLE & SUNDRIED TOMATOES

1/2 medium white onion, peeled and finely chopped
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 serrano chile, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1 jalapeño chile, stemmed, seeded and finely chopped
1/3 C sundried tomatoes, chopped
1/2 C loosely packed, chopped fresh cilantro leaves

4 medium large ripe avocados
Sea salt
Fresh lime juice

Queso fresco crumbled, for garnish
Cilantro leaves, for garnish
Radishes, halved and thinly sliced, for garnish

In a medium bowl, mix the onion, garlic and chiles with the sundried tomatoes and cilantro.

Close to when you are going to serve, halve the avocados lengthwise by cutting from stem to stern and back again, then twist the two halves apart. Dislodge the pit with the blade and scoop the avocado flesh into a bowl with a spoon. Roughly mash the avocados into a coarsely textured, thick mash. You probably want some chunk.

Taste and season with salt and lime juice to suit your personal preferences.

Cover with plastic wrap directly on the surface of the guacamole and refrigerate until ready to serve. Mound the guacamole in a serving dish, and serve with queso fresco, cilantro and radishes.

A Return to Paninis

May 28, 2009

A touch of closure. This post is meant to partially deliver on an earlier promise from A Word About Paninis & Sandwiches that “recipes will follow on a subsequent entry.” Because many sandwiches, including paninis, are built in a rather similar fashion, these recipes are grouped in a communal manner. So, the common ingredients and basics are described first, followed by individual suggested fillings. But, the possibilities are nearly endless.

PANINIS

Ingredients:

Rustic bread, such as Ciabetta or baguette, sliced
Extra virgin olive oil
Imaginative “fillings” (see below)

Basics:

Brush the outside of the each piece of bread with olive oil. Fill with whatever combination or permutation soothes your soul—or simply build with your usual suspects. Again, when constructing paninis keep the quantities within reason. With paninis, you are not creating thick, fat sandwichs.

Heat the panini grill and press sandwiches until golden brown.

If you do not possess a panini grill, heat a ridged grill pan and place another surface, such as a small cutting board or another pan on top of the panini as they cook. Place a weight on the board or pan to press down the panini, causing those signature ridges and thinning the sandwiches overall. Turn and repeat. The panini should be cooked to golden brown with pronounced grill marks and the insides pressed narrowly with slightly oozing luscious cheese.

Fillings:

Thinly sliced, roasted pancetta, arugula and mozzarella
Coppa, pesto, and provolone
Sauteed mushrooms, arugula, caramelized red onions and fontina
Soppressata, basil pesto, and mozzarella
Tapenade, arugula and fontina
Portabello, goat cheese, spinach, and truffle oil
Serrano, arugula, caramelized red onions and manchego
Coppa, sundried tomatoes and taleggio
Proscuitto, spinach and gruyere
Finocchiona, pesto, fontina and truffle oil
Proscuitto, tomato pesto and camembert
Soppressata, tapenade and asiago
Serrano, watercress, and brie
Proscuitto, fig jam and fontina
Proscuitto, roasted peppers, caramelized onions and gruyere
Serrano, sundried tomatoes, spinach and mozzarella
Fresh tomatoes, basil and mozzarella

Buon appetito!

When you make his sandwiches, put a sexy or loving note in his lunch box.
~Anne Rice

PANINI

Maybe with the current economic woes and ever expanding disparities in this country’s burgeoning two class chasm, it may be timely to discuss just a simple two ply sandwich…or even a panino. They share an affinity.

Before my panini palaver persists, I have to preface. Even though they are often dissed as nothing more than a portable meal, making a really damn good sandwich or panini demands every bit the same nurturing that many other fine dishes deserve. Unless you fail to thoughtfully coddle them, sandwiches do not merit that “lunch bucket–not cuisine label,” something to be gobbled hurriedly at your desk or in the car. Au contraire! Rather, choice sandwiches are memorable art forms, both inside and out…

A panino is a sandwich made from a small loaf of rustic bread which is cut horizontally on the bias and customarily filled with cured meat, cheeses and greens. The literal translation of panino is “roll” or “stuffed bread,” with the plural being panini.

As with much of food history or gastronomic anthropology (as those phrases are loosely used here and elsewhere), the story of the sandwich is muddled. Such an abundance of cultural variance, criss crossing civilizations, endless definitional nuances, and often bewildering oral traditions…humanity’s comings and goings. The concept of bread as a focal point to the eating experience has been present for eons, so historical precision is elusive (see Pizza & Calzone Dough).

The first recorded sandwich was purportedly assembled by the scholarly rabbi, Hillel the Elder, circa 100 B.C. He introduced the Passover custom of sandwiching a mixture of chopped nuts, apples, spices, and wine between matzohs eaten with bitter herbs…a sandwich which is the fond of the Seder and bears his name.

During the Middle Ages, thick slices of coarse stale bread called trenchers were used instead of plates. Derived from the French verb trancher, which means “to slice or cut,” meats and other victuals were piled on these bread platters, eaten with fingers and sometimes with knives as forks had yet to find prevalence. The thick trenchers absorbed the juices, the greases, and rather primitive sauces, and afterwards the soaked breads were thrown to the dogs or offered as alms to the poor. With the advent of the fork, finger food became impolite which rendered the trencher outmoded.

The first Italian recipe that vaguely resembled a panino was that for panunto (greased bread) described by Domenico Ramoli at the end of the 16th century—he even got nicknamed by his dish.

While references to “bread and meat” or “bread and cheese” are found throughout English drama from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a delay in the evolution of the sandwich ensued. Thankfully, the concept was finally revived in the 18th century by John Montague, the Fourth Earl of Sandwich, who was First Lord of the Admiralty and patron to Capt. James Cook who explored New Zealand, Australia, Hawaii, and Polynesia; he even designated the Hawaiian Islands as the Sandwich Islands. Rumor holds that Montague was so addicted to gambling that he steadfastly refused to pause for meals and instead ordered his valet to bring him meat tucked between two pieces of bread. While legends vary, it remains beyond quarrel that the word “sandwich” bears the name of John Montague, the Earl of Sandwich.

The sandwich was introduced to the states by the English import Elizabeth Leslie in the 19th century. In her cookbook, Directions for Cookery, she authored a recipe for ham sandwiches, which have evolved into an American tradition in many sizes, shapes and forms.

With the demand for haste emerging in the last century, sandwiches—from simple to elegant–have risen to become a staple of western civilization, for both rich and poor. Panini have slowly evolved from being basic worker’s fare to become trendy morsels on the food scene.

On panini preparation: brush the outside of the panini with extra virgin olive oil and fill it with whatever whets your palate—cheeses, cured meats, herbs, etc. As with pizzas and pasta, do not overload the sandwiches as the bread should be allowed a place at the table too. Proportions = “perfection.”

Should you own a panini grill, by all means use it. If not, use a ridged grill pan and place another surface, such as a small cutting board or another pan on top of the panini as they cook. Place a weight on the board or pan to press down the panini, causing those signature ridges and thinning the sandwiches overall. Turn and repeat. The panini should be cooked to golden brown with grill marks and the innards pressed narrowly…usually slightly oozing with luscious cheese.

Recipes will follow on a subsequent entry, as I may have already overstayed my welcome with these ramblings. In the meantime, consider:

pesto, arugula, watercress, roasted peppers, sun dried tomatoes, garlic, tapenade, mozzarella, brie, gruyere, talleggio, fontina, pecorino, goat cheese, proscuitto, serrano, coppa, soppresatta, and pancetta, arugula, chard, basil, radicchio, baby spinach, extra virgin olive oil, truffle oil or salt, garlic oil, ciabatta, pain au levain, or baguette artisanal breads.

P.S. Use your imagination, as the possibilities prove endless.

Paella

February 13, 2009

A morsel eaten selfishly does not gain a friend.
~Spanish proverb

Too long overlooked by a broader audience, Spanish gastronomy is at the forefront of the Western food cosmos. With its broad range of dishes, flavors and ingredients from the simple and rustic to the refined, artful and elegant, Spain is becoming the food destination. This “newly discovered” and somewhat overdue appreciation is likely due to the influx of tapas and paella restaurants as well as the famed chefs such as Ferran Adrià at El Bulli with his outside the box techniques. Like maestro Adrià, several of his countrymen also covet the prestigious three star designation awarded by the Michelin Guide.

Historically, paella was born from the fusion of Roman and Arab culinary heritages. Despite systematic, and often brutal, efforts by Christian clergy to systematically quash Moorish history and identity, much of the Iberian cuisine and culture has been heavily influenced by the Muslim conquest and a several century rule of Spain. Beginning in the 8th Century, the Moors developed a highly civilized land they called Al Andalus.

Outside some of the more obvious Moorish contributions—magnificent architecture, spendid landscaping and fountains, the introduction of paper, music, advanced academics, mathematics and sophisticated astronomy—the marked influence on cuisine is also indisputable. The Moors cultivated olives and oranges and also brought rice, cumin, saffron, almonds, peppers and other spices to Spain.

Now perhaps the most widely known dish in traditional Spanish cuisine, paella is often cooked over an open wood and vine fire in a broad round two handed paella pan. Paella pans of several sizes are available at cooking stores (one of my favored haunts), but it also can also be made in a large sauté pan. The dish is served right out of the pan at the table, family style, sharing the bounty with all.

Controlling the fire—the heat intensity—is paramount. The dish should not be disturbed during the process or you will cause the rice to cook unevenly. The idea is to cook the rice underneath to form the classic crust called soccorat on the bottom.

Several versions of paella exist often depending on region and available meat, game, fish and seasonal produce. The one constant, the leading lady, is the rice which should be the short grain variety, preferably Valencia, Bomba or Calasparra…even Arborio. Long grain rice simply is a “no no”.

PAELLA

4 chicken leg thighs, cut into small pieces
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons pimenton or sweet paprika
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 C extra virgin olive oil

Spanish chorizo sausage, sliced

4 jumbo shrimp, peeled, but with heads and tails on
2 lobster tails, cut into medallions
Several squid, cleaned and rinsed
12 mussels, cleaned and scrubbed

4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 medium onion, diced
1 (16-ounce) can whole tomatoes, drained and hand crushed
1 t sea salt
1 t sugar

1 cup valencia or arborio rice
1 teaspoon saffron threads
2 bay leafs
1/4 C dry white wine
3 cups stock
1/2 cup sweet peas, frozen and thawed
Fresh cilantro

Rinse the chicken pieces and pat them dry. Mix the oregano and paprika with some salt and pepper in a small bowl. Rub the spice mixture all over the pieces of chicken and marinate for 30 minutes or more.

Heat the olive oil in a paella pan or wide shallow skillet over medium high heat. Place the chicken in the pan, until brown on all sides, about 8 minutes total. Add the chorizo and continue to cook until the oil is a vibrant red color. Temporarily remove the chicken and sausage to a platter.

Sear the lobster tails and shrimp for one minute over high heat. Add the squid to the pan and sear for 15-20 seconds. Set aside.

Make a sofrito—saute the garlic, onion, and tomatoes sprinkled with some salt, pepper and sugar; cook until the mixture caramelizes a bit and the flavors meld. Remove and set aside.

Return the chicken and sausage to the pan and lower the heat to medium. Pour in the white wine and cook until it is reduced by half, about 1-2 minutes. Add the sofrito and cook 3 minutes. Pour in the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Crush the saffron and add to the pan along with the bay leaf. Season with salt.

Fold in the rice, carefully spreading it evenly around the pan. Cook for 5 minutes on high, stirring and gently moving the pan around so the rice cooks evenly and absorbs the liquid. The rice will float about in the pan.

Nestle in the reserved shrimp, lobster, and mussels. Reduce the heat to low and cook at a slow boil for 10 minutes. Near the last couple of minutes of this cooking process, scatter the squid and peas on top. During this entire stage, do not cover, disturb or stir or the rice will cook unevenly.

The stock should be absorbed by the now fluffy rice and there should be a nice shimmer to the top of the paella. Remember, the ideal paella has a toasted, caramelized rice “bottom crust” called socarrat. Allow to rest off the heat for 3-5 minutes, garnish with cilantro, then serve.

Pourboires: mix it up with other ingredients to change the character of the paella, including green beans, broad beans, zucchini, eggplant, cauliflower, mushrooms, serrano ham, chicken livers, rabbit, clams, snails