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.

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Chicken + Tomatoes + …

December 26, 2015

If I didn’t start painting, I would have raised chickens.
~Grandma Moses

If you can, wait for heirloom tomato season.

This is just basic fodder and should become a seminal staple — thrifty yet damned delish. It all may seem primitive, unadorned, but this dish, although humble, is not meager in the least.

4-6 local (unfrozen) chicken thighs with skin on and bone-in
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2-3 T dried tarragon

3 T extra virgin olive oil
3 T unsalted butter
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

6 T peeled and finely sliced shallots
3 T plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
1 28 oz canned tomatoes, drained and chopped (or better yet, a glass container of heirloom tomatoes from a recent harvest)

1/4 C red wine vinegar (aceto di vino rossa)
1/4 C fine capers, drained or unsalted, depending how prepared
1/4 C chicken broth
2 bay leaves

1 C dry white wine, like Gavi, Orvieto or Verdicchio
1-2 T good tomato paste

1/4 C fresh tarragon leaves

Pat thighs dry well with paper towels.  Allow to reach room temperature and gently dredge the chicken thighs with sea salt, black pepper and dried tarragon. Drop the smashed garlic into the olive oil and butter in a large heavy pan over medium high. As the oil and butter begin to shimmer, discard the smashed garlic and sauté the chicken thighs, skin side down, until lightly browned. Turn and cook for about 5 minutes per side. Remove and tent the bird pieces with foil.

Then, make a sauce with the shallots and garlic, cooking briefly, for a couple of minutes. Add the tomatoes, vinegar, wine, tomato paste, bay leaves and stock until it all cooks down some, stirring with a wooden spatula to dissolve the pieces in the bottom of the pan. Bring to a boil, reduce, and return the chicken to the skillet, then cover with a lid bringing the mix to a simmer for about 18-20 minutes or so. Discard the bay leaves.

To serve, strew with fresh tarragon leaves and place over pasta, orzo, rice, you name it — grain or green.

Pourboire:  if desired, add dijon mustard and/or crème fraîche or heavy whipping cream to the sauce or use differing seasonings on the chicken.

We all like chicken.
~Malcolm X

Shortly after my fetching daughter’s glorious wedding in a mountain field, I felt compelled to write about rabbit cacciatore (July 24, 2013).

Today’s cacciatore recipe goes to show (as with coq au vin) just how many myriad versions exist of this rustic braise, so many of which are luscious. Really, what are “authentic” kitchens and “classic” recipes anyways — especially when your lands or regions have been invaded, conquered, occupied or colonized by other culture(s) over time?

For instance, tomatoes (pommodori) are often traced from origins in Peru, where they were domesticated by the Mayans and later cultivated by the Incas. These divine fruits likely entered Europe by way of Spain, after conquistador Hernán Cortés‘ early 16th century conquest of the flourishing Aztec city-state of Tenochtitlán, on a swampy island on the coast of Lake Texcoco in the valley of Mexico. When these globular red (often yellow) berries arrived on Italian shores, they were strictly a curiosity for those who merely studied or ruminated about plants, but not anything anyone would ever consider eating. Tomatls (an Aztec term) were considered “strange and horrible things” — aberrant mutants, even feared as poisonous. It was not until later that tomatoes finally were embraced in Italy as pomi d’oro, or “golden apples.” Imported tomatoes assimilated easily to the Mediterranean rim climate and finally became a vital part of Italian cuisine in the 17th & 18th centuries and beyond — over two millennia after they were first domesticated in South and Mesoamerica. The sometimes tortured path of food.

The notion of pollo alla cacciatore seems a rather amusing take on hunters who utterly fail to nab anything while pocketing hearty fare from home. Gentle souls, they must be.

And yes, Malcolm, chicken is unforgettably irresistible.

CHICKEN CACCIATORE (POLLO ALLA CACCIATORE)

4-5 leg thigh quarters
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
1 T fresh rosemary, chopped
2 C all purpose flour

1 1/2 lbs heirloom tomatoes, cored, seeded and chopped
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and chopped
1 medium carrot, peeled and chopped
2 T extra virgin olive oil

3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 t rosemary leaves, chopped
1 t oregano leaves, chopped
1 T fresh Italian parsley leaves, chopped
Sea salt

1/2 C dry red wine
1 C chicken broth
2 T apple cider vinegar
1 14 1/2 oz canned tomatoes in juice, diced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

1 1/2 C crimini and/or shittake mushrooms, trimmed and thickly sliced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Rosemary sprigs, for serving
1/2 C basil, ribboned, for serving
2-3 T capers, drained, for serving

Penne, rice, risotto or other pastas, cooked according to instructions

Heat 1 tablespoon of the olive oil over medium high in a large, heavy skillet until shimmering. Meanwhile, season the chicken with rosemary, salt and pepper and then dredge in flour, shaking off excess, so the leg-thighs are just slightly coated. Brown, in batches if necessary, for about 4-5 minutes on each side. Transfer the chicken pieces to a bowl as they are done and loosely tent. Discard the olive oil and chicken fat from the pan.

Next, turn to a Dutch oven, place on medium heat, add the 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil and the onion, heirloom tomatoes, and carrot, as well as a pinch of sea salt. Cook and stir, until the vegetables just begin to soften, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, rosemary, oregano, parsley and sea salt to taste. Cover, turn the heat to medium low and cook, stirring often, until the mixture is barely soft and the garlic not brown.

Turn the heat back up to medium, stir in the mushrooms, salt and pepper and cook while stirring, until the mushrooms are just tender.

Stir in the wine, vinegar and stock and bring to a boil. Cook for a few minutes, until the wine-vinegar-stock mix has reduced by about a third. Add the canned tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes have cooked down.

Return the chicken pieces to the pan, so they are well submerged in the tomato mixture. Cover and braise over medium heat for about 30 minutes, until the juices run pale yellow from the chicken.

Place pasta, rice or a simple risotto in large shallow bowls and place over a chicken quarter and ladle with sauce. Strew the rosemary sprigs, chiffonaded basil, and capers over the top and serve with a Sangiovese.

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.

L’Italia è fatta. Restano da fare gli italiani. (We have made Italy. Now we must make Italians).
~Massimo d’Azeglio

Unification (Risorgimento) was a 19th century political, and socio-cultural movement that aggregated a patchwork of unique states of the peninsula into a single kingdom of Italy. Although many scholars dispute the dates, it is likely that conservatively the process began with the downfall of Napoléon Bonaparte followed by the 1815 Congress of Vienna and ended in 1871 when the country’s capital moved from Florence to Rome…except for the Vatican which became an independent state inside the city. In between that half century, much happened throughout Italy. (I could not begin to discuss the entirety of the movement here.)

For centuries, the Italian peninsula was a politically, culturally and linguistically fragmented conglomeration of neighboring states. Local dialects and regional power conflicts abounded. Although Italy still remained splintered through the mid 19th century, the concept of a united country then really began to take root. With nationalist fervor ignited, pervasive arisings occurred in several cities, mostly advanced by adherents such as professionals and students and often directed at Austrian rule. Giuseppi Garibaldi, a native of Piedmont-Sardinia, also cobbled together the then southern peninsular states into the unification process. With French resources appropriated to the Franco-Prussian War (1870-71), Napoléon III ordered his troops out of Italy. Then, the final thrust for unification was orchestrated by an adroit diplomat, Piedmont-Sardinia’s Prime Minister, Count Camillo di Cavour. Through many struggles — regions, nations, leaders, peoples, wars, revolts, skirmishes, and strifes — Italian risorgimento was finally achieved in 1871.

Italy celebrates the anniversary of risorgimento each semicentennial (every 50 years).

The risotto rendition below is a tad tardy for this farmers’ market season, but likely there still will be some heirloom tomatoes making their final curtain call. Certainly, though, the same recipe can be used during next year’s iteration (and afterwards) when fresh corn ears, ripe heirlooms and basil leaves together grace the stalls. Thanks, locals.

RISOTTO WITH CORN, TOMATOES & BASIL

2 medium to large, local sweet corn ears

8 C chicken stock, seasoned

2 T extra virgin olive oil
1/2 C yellow onion, minced
3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 1/2 C arborio rice
1 lb heirloom tomatoes, cored, peeled, seeded and diced
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1/2 C dry white wine, e.g., sauvignon blanc
3-4 T unsalted butter, cut into tabs
Freshly grated Parmigiano-reggiano cheese

3 T fresh Italian basil, cut into chiffonade

Remove corn kernels from cobs and set aside the kernels in a bowl. Simmer the cobs in stock for 20 minutes. Remove from stock and discard. Bring back to a gentle simmer over low heat, with a ladle at hand.

Heat olive oil over medium heat in a wide, heavy skillet or Dutch oven until shimmering and not smoking. Add onion and a pinch of salt, and cook gently until tender, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and arborio rice and cook, stirring, until grains of rice separate and begin to slightly crackle, a minute or so. Stir in heirloom tomatoes, and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring, until tomatoes have reduced slightly, about 5 to 10 minutes.

Add wine and stir until it has evaporated and has been absorbed by the arborio rice. Begin adding simmering stock, a couple of ladlefuls at a time. Stock should just cover the rice and should be simmering, not too slowly but not too aggressively. Cook, stirring often, until just nearly absorbed. Add another ladleful or two of the stock and continue to cook in this mode, adding more stock and stirring when rice appears to dry. You do not have to stir continually, but often and vigorously. After 10 minutes, add corn and continue for another 10 minutes. When the process is complete, the arborio rice will be just tender but al dente (chewy to the teeth), which is about in 20 minutes. Adjust seasoning to taste, if necessary.

Add another partial ladleful of stock to the arborio rice. Stir in butter and parmiggino-reggiano for about a half minute and remove from heat. The admix should be creamy. Top with basil and serve somewhat promptly in shallow soup bowls with spoons.

Egg Curries

July 12, 2012

Selfishness is not living as one wishes to live, it is asking others to live as one wishes to live.
~Oscar Wilde

Given India’s eloquent history, vivid traditions, varied cultures, diverse and burgeoning populace and potent economic position, it often seems baffling, if not disconcerting, that news from there rarely travels here. Well, unless the info is perceived to somehow affect Joe the plumber. Of course, sadly the same can be said of most all Asian and African lands — as if these places are outmoded artifacts. To our detriment we have been, and will remain, profoundly ethnocentric. What follows is civic and social ignorance. Sometimes it seems food is the only refuge from the depths of this self-inflicted punishment.

Ranging by region, this dish is far from standard across the subcontinent, but supposedly originates from Northern India, particularly Punjab. It is sometimes known as Anda Bhaji, Punjabi or Mughlai Curry there, while in south India it sometimes bears the names Andhra, Chettinad Mutta, Mangalore or Kerala egg curry depending on locale, cuisine and ingredients. Within those subsets there are even more species which differ from kitchen to kitchen, cook to cook. No doubt, the varieties have been given short shrift here.

Captivatingly aromatic, there is a nuanced burst of spice with each chew.

EGG CURRY

9 eggs
Water, to cover

2-3 T grapeseed oil
1 T fresh ginger, peeled and minced
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 T serrano chiles, stemmed, seeded and minced
1 T honey

1 T garam masala
1 T turmeric
1 T pimentón agridulce (Spanish paprika)
1 T cumin seeds, roasted and finely ground
1 T coriander seeds, toasted and finely ground
1 T cardamom seeds, toasted and finely ground
1 T fennel seeds, toasted and finely ground
1 t fenugreek, toasted and finely ground
Pinch of sea salt

1 C fresh tomatoes, cored, seeded and chopped
1 C chicken broth

1 C Greek yogurt
2 T chickpea flour

Cilantro leaves, chopped

Gently place the eggs in a saucepan and add enough cold water to liberally cover the eggs. Bring to a boil over high and then immediately remove from heat and cover until done, about 12 minutes. Uncover and flush with cool running water and then briefly place in an ice bath to cease cooking. Dry promptly on paper towels, peel and reserve.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy pan over medium high and add the ginger, chiles and garlic. Cook for about a minute and then add the honey, and cook about a minute more. First mix, then add the garam masala, turmeric, pimentón, cumin, coriander, cardamom, fennel, fenugreek, and sea salt to the pan, and again cook until fragrant, about a minute or two. Add the tomatoes and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add the chicken broth, bring to a quiet but steady simmer and reduce, about 5 minutes.

In a separate bowl, whisk the yogurt and chick pea flour together and then slowly stir into the tomato sauce. Bring to a gentle boil and then reduce heat to low and continue to cook, stirring gently, for about 15 minutes. Slice the reserved boiled eggs in half lengthwise and gently place them in the sauce, cut side up, to reheat spooning the sauce on top.

Finish with a light sprinkling of chopped cilantro and serve alongside basmati rice, paratha or naan.

My mother never breast fed me. She told me she liked me as a friend.
~Rodney Dangerfield

Please consider that these words are uttered by an avowed chicken addict. While lamb, pork, beef, offal and friends often beckon in this kitchen, chicken invariably rules. However, boneless, skinless chicken breasts can be the bane of a cook’s existence. They are insipidly dry, tough, tasteless, often stringy and uninspiring — often sapping the very passion to cook. Yawners on a good day, a cook’s torment on others. One renowned chef questions whether these bland and skinned boring bosoms should even be considered a valid part of a chicken’s anatomy. So, a word to the wise: nestle up to succulent, dark meat like thighs, legs, backs, as they are ever sublime.

POLLO AL PIMENTON

4 chicken leg thigh quarters
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/2 T pimentón agridulce
2 T extra virgin olive oil
1 T duck fat
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

1 red pepper, stemmed, seeded and sliced lengthwise
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and sliced
1/2 medium fennel bulb, cored and thinly sliced
1 T pimentón agridulce
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and minced

1/2 C Spanish fino sherry
1/2 C chicken stock
2 medium tomatoes, cored, seeded and roughly chopped
1 bay leaf
3 sprigs fresh thyme
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Splash of high quality sherry vinegar
1/4 C crème fraîche

Season the chicken with salt, pepper and pimentón. Heat the olive oil and duck fat with the smashed garlic cloves in a large, heavy sauté pan to medium high and brown the chicken, skin side down until browned, about 4-5 minutes. Turn and brown the other side for another 4-5 minutes. Remove chicken, tent with foil in a dish and drain off all but a tablespoon of the fat from the pan.

Lower the heat and add the red pepper, onion, fennel and pimentón. Cook until soft, but not browned, about 10-12 minutes, adding the garlic for the final minute. Deglaze the pan with the sherry and then add the stock, tomatoes, bay leaf and thyme. Season with salt and pepper and return the chicken to the skillet. Cover the pan, and cook, turning the chicken once or twice, until tender, about 25 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaf and thyme sprigs.

Remove the chicken to a serving platter and tent with foil. Turn up the heat and boil liquids down to a sauce consistency, adding the sherry vinegar toward the end. Cook further for a couple of minutes, then reduce the heat to low, whisk in the crème fraîche until the sauce thickens, adjusting the seasonings to your liking. Plate, then ladle the sauce over the chicken and serve.