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.

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There is nothing better than picking up sun warmed tomatoes and smelling them, scrutinizing their shiny skins for imperfections, thinking of ways to serve them.
~José Ramón Andrés Puerta(a/k/a José Andrés)

So little to be said about this sublime salad from the Island of Capri, found in the Tyrrhenian sea off the Sorrentine peninsula, on the south side of the gulf of Naples — a timeless tricolored culinary classic (sometimes).

INSALATA CAPRESE (CAPRESE SALAD)

2 lbs heirloom tomatoes, sliced 1/4″ thick
1 lb fresh mozzarella (di bufala if possible), sliced 1/4″ thick
1/4 C packed fresh basil leaves

3-4 T extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

On a platter, alternately arrange fine quality tomato + mozzarella slices + basil leaves, overlapping them. Drizzle with extra virgin olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Pourboire: subtly shower with aged balsamic vinegar in lieu of extra virgin olive oil or better yet with the EVOO even though the two will not meld. Then again, add a few slices of fresh avocado or eggplant or try substituting arugula (with fresh oregano), kale, swiss chard, pesto, or watercress for your green.

TOMATO COULIS

1 lb red & yellow heirloom tomatoes, peeled, seeded and sliced
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and cut
Sea salt, to taste

1-2 TB extra virgin olive oil
Apple cider vinegar
Raw sugar (turbinado)

Peel, seed, and slice the tomatoes into 2-3″ wedges, and drop in a food processor fitted with a steel blend or simply a blender. Process or blend on high speed with cut garlic until smooth. Pulse the food processor or turn the blender to low, and slowly drizzle in the olive oil. Add salt, wine vinegar and raw sugar in dribbles as needed and pulse or blend low. Do not strain and refrigerate, if necessary, until ready to serve.

Commonly, tomato coulis is served underneath grilled, roasted or sautéed meats, fish or vegetables or even used as a dip for fritters, sandwiches or other finger fodder. Just a slightly subtle divergence from an earlier post.

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.

One can resist the invasion of an army but one cannot resist the invasion of ideas.
~Victor Hugo

Disorientation can occur in even the most precise of places. Just a few years ago, the Swiss army mistakenly invaded Lichenstein—a principality which has been without an army for well over a century. Not only has Switzerland been famously neutral for some 500 years, a sizeable minority once suggested in a national plebiscite that the country no longer even needed a military. While the invaders were armed with assault rifles, they had no ammunition. Once the misdirected recruits realized their error, they sheepishly tiptoed back to the homeland before anybody noticed. The next day, a formal apology was issued.

Just my kind of military incursion…delightfully comical, no shots exchanged, with all diplomatically forgiven and forgotten.

That lissom, leafy green known as Swiss chard really is not an authentic Swiss piece. Actually, the first varieties have been traced to the Mediterranean basin, likely Sicily. Some posit that seed cataloguers tried to distinguish chard from varieties of French spinach by using the neighborly word “Swiss.” Others claim that chard got its common name from another local green, cardoon, a celery-like plant with thick stalks. French cooks began calling them both carde, and confusion reigned which may have lead to the Swiss modifier.

The roasted, ground fennel seeds are a must.

RISOTTO & SWISS CHARD (RISOTTO e BIETOLE)

7-8 C chicken or vegetable stock

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 C yellow onion, chopped

1 1/2 C arborio rice
1 C dry white wine

1 lb swiss chard, washed well, stemmed, cut into strips
2 t fennel seeds, roasted then ground
4 T unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1 C parmigiano reggiano, grated
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a medium heavy sauce pan, heat stock on low until hot, almost simmering.

Heat the oil in a heavy pot, add the onions, and sauté over moderately high heat until the onion softens and becomes translucent. Add the rice and stir until coated and opaque, about another 2-3 minutes.

Then, begin the process. Add a ladleful of hot stock, and cook, until liquid is absorbed. Continue adding stock a ladleful at a time, waiting until the liquid is absorbed each time before adding more. The rice will become tender and creamy but still al dente after about 18 minutes.

Add the wine and cook until the alcohol has evaporated, about 2-3 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the chard, fennel, butter and parmigiano reggiano and stir well for about a half minute or so. The chard should be wilted and the rice tender and firm. Season with salt and pepper, divide among shallow serving bowls and serve.

Lamb, Chard & Ricotta Lasagna

December 28, 2010

Language is the archives of history.
~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Admittedly, it’s been much too long since pen has touched paper here. But, fear not—there are plenty of contrivances in the kitchen to unleash. The hearty number below is for those hunkering down in the white chills back east and across the pond.

Lasagna (pl. lasagne) is somewhat dual faced—both a form of pasta and the actual casserole made with that noodle. The pasta is broad, long and well suited to supine layering. The American version is usually rippled lengthwise on the edges while the true Italian noodle is customarily flat.

Not unlike ourselves, lasagna has a slightly fractured history. One school asserts that lasagna derives from the Greek word λάγανον (laganon), a flat sheet of pasta dough cut into strips, a word that still describes a Greek unleavened bread. Other linguists focus on the vessel itself and posit that the word lasagna comes from λάσανον (lasanon) meaning “chamber pot.” It follows, they say, that lasanum which is the Latin word for “cooking pot” became the precursor to today’s lasagna concept.

Seemed like a fairly benign etymology, until about a decade ago when the English laid claim to lasagna’s origins. You can only imagine the profound insult felt in the streets of Rome…that arms waving vitriol. Apparently, researchers claim that the court of Richard II was savoring lasagna as early as the 14th century. When pouring over the Forme of Curry, one of the first written cookbooks, they found a recipe for loseyn, pronounced “lasan.” In Middle English it reads something like this: Take a gode broth and do i an erthen pot, and do payndemayn and make pof paft with wat, and make pof thynne foyles as pap with a roller, drye it harde and feepe it i broth take Chefe ruayn and lay it in dish with powdo douce. and lay pon lofeyns ifode as hoole as poo mizt and above powdo and chefe, and fo thwyfe or thryfe, & sue it forth.

Did not the Romans occupy the English Isles for several centuries a millenium before Forme of Curry was compiled?

Back to the boot. It goes with saying that lasagna is a distinctly regional dish in Italy—a traditional Ligurian rendition differs from that found in Rome. Varying versions abound throughout home kitchens and restaurants here, there and elsewhere. For instance, this recipe does have some meat but does not have tomato sauce. So, beware those who use the phrase “authentic lasagna.” Just craft one with innards to your liking.

As with pizzas, paninis, and pasta, please avoid overburdening the lasagna between layers as the noodle should still play the leading role.

LAMB, CHARD & RICOTTA LASAGNA

1 lb lamb, freshly ground
1 T extra virgin olive oil
2 plump, fresh garlics, peeled and smashed
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 t dried oregano, crumbled between fingers and thumb

2 1/2 C whole milk
1 bay leaf
2 small sprigs thyme

6 T unsalted butter
5 T flour

Small grating of nutmeg
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

3/4 lb red-ribbed chard, stemmed and rinsed
3/4 lb green chard, stemmed and rinsed

2 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T unsalted butter
1 C shallots, peeled and chopped
4 plump, fresh garlic cloves
3/4 lb fresh crimini mushrooms, sliced
3/4 lb fresh shitake mushrooms, stems removed and sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 lb dried lasagna noodles
Sea salt

8 oz semi soft cheese, such as Italian Fontina, Gruyère or Comté, freshly shredded
3/4 C parmigiano reggiano, freshly grated

16 oz whole milk ricotta

Preheat oven to 375 F

Drain the ricotta in a sieve positioned over a bowl about one hour. Discard liquid and set ricotta aside.

Lamb
Heat a heavy medium skillet over medium high heat and add olive oil and smashed garlics. Stirring occasionally sauté lamb until medium rare, about 3-5 minutes. Remove and discard garlics. Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of oregano to taste. Allow to cool to room temperature and set aside.

Sauce Béchamel
Bring milk, bay leaf and thyme to a quiet simmer in a heavy, medium sauce pan.

In another heavy, medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium low heat. Add the flour and whisk constantly with a for 3-5 minutes to make a blond roux. Do not allow the roux to brown. Remove bay leaf and thyme from milk, gradually add to the flour and butter mixture, whisking until smooth. Then add a grating of nutmeg, salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook gently until it coats a spoon, whisking throughout, about another 8-10 minutes. Set aside on a very low burner and keep gently warm for assembly later.

Chards & Mushrooms
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch chard for one minute, then drain, pressing out the water in a towel as you would with spinach. Chop coarsely. Heat olive oil and butter in heavy medium skillet. Sauté first the shallots and garlic for a few minutes, and then mushrooms for a few minutes more, until shallots and garlic are softened and the mushrooms are just tender. Add blanched, chopped chard and season to taste with salt and pepper. Stir again, allow to cool to room temperature and set aside.

Assembly
In a large pot of boiling and generously salted water, cook the lasagna until al dente. Drain well and dry, then layer the sheets carefully between clean paper towels for later.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix together the chard and mushroom mixture with the lamb.

(1) Spread one third of the béchamel on the bottom of a 13″ x 9″ baking dish. Arrange the lasagne side by side, slightly overlapping, completely covering the bottom of the dish. Spread half of the chard-mushroom-lamb mixture over the pasta. Then spread some ricotta in an even layer atop. Strew half of the shredded cheese and grated parmigiano reggiano over the ricotta.

(2) Repeat layers by arranging in an overlapping layer of lasagne in the pan. Then, add the remaining chard-mushroom-lamb mixture. Again, spread ricotta evenly over that layer. Then, add the shredded cheese and grated parmigiano reggiano. Spread another one third of béchamel sauce over the cheeses.

(3) Arrange the final layer of pasta sheets in a slightly overlapping fashion on top and spread with béchamel sauce once again.

Cover lasagna with aluminum foil, place dish on a large baking sheet, and bake until top is bubbling, about 30 minutes. Remove cover and continue to bake until golden brown, about 20-25 minutes. Let stand at least 20 minutes before serving.

To him she seemed so beautiful, so seductive, so different from ordinary people, that he could not understand why no one was as disturbed as he by the clicking of her heels on the paving stones, why no one else’s heart was wild with the breeze stirred by the sighs of her veils, why everyone did not go mad with the movements of her braid, the flight of her hands, the gold of her laughter. He had not missed a single one of her gestures, not one of the indications of her character, but he did not dare approach her for fear of destroying the spell.
~Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Love in the Time of Cholera

EGG NOODLES WITH SWISS CHARD, MUSTARD & COLLARD GREENS

So often, things you learn to cherish have been so long overlooked—yet they often hovered right under your nose. For me, Amish country noodles are one of the new found delicacies that fall squarely into that category. Where had you been all these years? My passion for these hearty durum wheat and egg noodles almost went unrequited, but finally has been stirred. Now, I feel an obligation to share the love for this side thang.

To make this beloved tryst complete, sautéed chard, mustard and collard greens are commingled, mated with the noodles. Introduce succulent braised lamb shanks or fleshy coq au vin for nestling, candlelit chiaroscuro, some sonorous Luther V. serenades and voila!…you have a perfectly seductive “cooking Amish au naturel” meal. Unless, of course, you are one of those lingerie fanatics in which case a seductive silk chemise may be your apron du jour. Some food for the mood.

1 lb thick Amish country egg noodles
3 C water
4 C chicken broth
2 T sea salt

1 small bunch collard greens (about 3/4 lb) rinsed & drained, stems removed, sliced crosswise into 1/2″ ribbons
1 small bunch mustard greens (about 3/4 lb) rinsed & drained, stems removed, sliced crosswise into 1/2″ ribbons
1 small bunch swiss chard (about 3/4 lb) rinsed & drained, stems removed, sliced crosswise into 1/2″ ribbons

3-4 T extra virgin olive oil
3 T fresh garlic, peeled and minced
1 t hot red pepper flakes
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Parmigiano-reggiano, fresh grated

In a large, heavy pot over high heat, bring water and broth to a boil. Add sea salt, noodles and return to boil. Cook until just al dente, about 10-15 minutes, depending on noodle size.

Bring large stockpot of water to a boil; add greens. Cook for 15 minutes and drain well. Then in a large, heavy skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Add the greens and the red pepper flakes and cook, stirring, until they begin to soften and become wilted and tender, about 10-15 minutes. During the cooking process, season with the salt and pepper to taste. They should be peppery.

Drain the noodles well and add to the greens, tossing until they are married. Serve, lightly topped with freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano.

The plan is to soon discuss that heralded yet often untold and misdirected story called Thanksgiving. Some mental notes have even been collected. As if you truly care. This culinary holiday has been historically butchered ever since Abraham Lincoln proclaimed turkey day a national holiday in October, 1863—the birthplace of and starting point for “surviving the holidays?” It has always been mystifying how Thanksgiving could be established right during the chaos of the Civil War…sandwiched between the battles of Chickamauga and Chattanooga and during the siege of Knoxville. A siege and a feast do not seem overly compatible.

I would surmise that Hallmark and other marketing and retailer wunderkinder played a central role in that ill conceived nexus between this week and Xmas. “Black Friday” 3 days henceforth? Sounds like a dark pilgrimage which is rather faux.

Before I launch into the Plymouth Rock conquistadors of 1621 A.D., this hasty side dish will have to suffice.

SWISS CHARD & SHALLOTS, ET. AL.

3 T extra virgin olive oil
2 shallots, peeled and finely chopped
1 plump fresh garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1 t red pepper flakes

3 bunches Swiss chard, rinsed well and dried
3 T apple cider vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Cut off and discard chard stems and any tough center ribs. Thinly slice leaves into ribbons.

Heat olive oil in a heavy, large skillet over medium high heat. Add shallot, garlic and pepper flakes and cook, stirring often, until softened but not browned, about 2 minutes. Add chard, vinegar, salt and pepper, then continue cooking, tossing often, until wilted and softened, about 3-4 minutes.