Probably one of the most private things in the world is an egg until it is broken.
~M.F.K. Fisher

Vice unbound on a plate, again. My openly lascivious affairs with both Egg and Pig reappear. Is it coincidence that I lustily deify these worldly beings both of which irreverently boast three letter names? Egg and Pig are gluttonous, addictive, more than venial sins with no hint of repentant shame…maybe less like the Seven Deadly and more like food as Providence.

Essentials of this dish are handcrafted and dreamily aromatic artisanal bread, preferably a ciabatta loaf, and premium bacon. Think heirloom swine, too. Artisanal bread (or should I say authentic bread) simply means the loaves are traditionally handcrafted, rather than mechanically mass produced. Superior ingredients are blended, slowly fermented, hand shaped, and baked in small batches in masonry ovens with an acute eye on vivid flavors and textures. The core ingredients are fewer (organic flour, water, salt, fermentation agent) than the industrial variety, and the bread is crafted without enhancers or chemical additives—as bread has been artfully baked for centuries. Like finding trusted butchers and fishmongers, discovering a skilled baker is blissful.

Ciabatta is the Italian word for “slipper” which roughly depicts the shape of this loaf. With a light, airy structure this bread is ideal for bruschetta, crostini, and panini.

A protean dish, this serves well at any meal—day or night. Consider tabling it after that mayhem of unwrapping gifts ceases this month. In lieu of the parmiggiano-reggiano, a ladling of hollandaise or bearnaise or a light drizzle of white truffle oil (with the parmiggiano-reggiano) brings elegant touches. (See Sauces Mères, Hollandaise & Bearnaise, August 16, 2009).

POACHED EGG BRUSCHETTA WITH WILTED SPINACH & BACON

4 T extra virgin olive oil
3 plump, fresh garlic cloves, peeled and crushed
1 T fresh thyme, chopped
1 t dried crushed red pepper

4 1 1/2″ thick slices of ciabatta, cut on the bias

1 lb thick bacon

3 T extra virgin olive oil
2 T shallot, peeled and finely minced
1 lb fresh baby spinach
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper

1-2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
8 local, fresh, free range organic eggs,* room temperature

Parmiggiano-reggianno, freshly grated or shaven

For the bacon: cook in large skillet until crisp and transfer to paper towels to drain. Set aside.

For the bread: heat olive oil in heavy large skillet over medium high heat. Add garlic, thyme and crushed pepper and cook until the garlic is light brown. Remove and discard garlics. Add bread slices to the skilled and cook until golden browned and well infused with the garlic oil. Set aside.

For the spinach, add olive oil over heavy skillet and heat over medium heat. Add shallot and sauté 2 minutes, then add spinach and stir until just wilted. Set aside.

Meanwhile, strew spinach over bread slices, top with bacon slices in half to fit. You may wish to place in oven until heated through before you drop the poached egg on top.

For the eggs: fill a large heavy based skillet deep enough to cover the eggs with water; bring it to a boil, and add the white wine vinegar The vinegar helps to strengthen the albumin in the egg white which will help to retain shape. Reduce the heat until the water is at a simmer. If the water is too cool, the egg will separate before cooking; if the water is boiling too rapidly, the whites will be tough and the yolks over cooked.

Crack each egg into a shallow bowl to assure the yolks are not broken.

Then, using a slotted spoon, spin the boiling water into a sort of vortex. Once the water is spinning rapidly, gently drop the egg from the bowl in the center of the whirlpool, where it will spin around and coat the yolk in a ball of egg white. Cook until the eggs are barely set, about 3 minutes. They should goo out with a fork when served. Remove the eggs, draining well with a slotted spoon and dab the bottom with paper towels to dry them off.

To build: strew spinach over bread slices, top with bacon slices. (You may wish to place in oven under low heat) while the eggs are poaching. Place 2 poached egg atop each. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve topped with parmiggiano-reggiano.

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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!

Truffle Toast

May 14, 2009

Does Anthony Bourdain have an Egg Slut Club? You know, where we wenches would dine on eggs prepared anyway, anytime, anywhere, anyhow, anyday. How do you join?

This dish, which I first savored at ‘inoteca in New York, hits for the cycle in my culinary league—bread, eggs, cheeses and truffle oil. Rapture, pure and simple.

TRUFFLE TOAST

4 thick slices of ciabatta or brioche
8-12 organic, free range egg yolks, room temperature
10 oz fontina or gruyere cheese, coarsely grated
Parmigiano reggiano, grated
White truffle oil

Preheat oven to broil. Lightly toast bottom side of bread and set aside, then modify oven temperature to 450.

Brush a baking sheet with olive oil.

Hollow out an indentation in untoasted side of each bread slice large enough to hold 2-3 egg yolks. Take care to leave a sufficient amount of bread surrounding the depression to avoid leakage. Place bread slices on the oiled baking sheet.

Carefully drop 2-3 egg yolks into individual saucers and then gently pour into the bread hollows carefully trying to retain the yolks intact. Liberally strew grated cheese over egg filled slices of bread, all the way to the outer edges.

Place the bread in the oven and bake for 12 minutes. During the last 2 minutes of baking, grate parmigiano reggiano over the top of each toast. Remove from oven and lightly drizzle with truffle oil in a diagonal stream.

Take care not to overcook as you want that luscious yolk slowly oozing out as the bread is opened.

If you are in an edgy mood, try this over a parabolic wood grill.

Potato Purée

May 8, 2009

I have made a lot of mistakes falling in love, and regretted most of them, but never the potatoes that went with them.
~Nora Ephron

This method is indeed a labor of love, but—elegant and silky, this homey dish will awe your table. The ratios and amounts of butter and milk may vary some according to the potato, time of year, and your tastes.

POTATO PUREE

3 lbs Russet potatoes, washed and scrubbed
1 1/2 to 2 C whole milk
3 to 4 (24-32 T) sticks unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pads
Sea salt
Freshly ground white pepper
White truffle oil (optional)

Place the potatoes in a large heavy pot of salted water. Simmer over medium high heat until a fork easily pierces them, around 30 minutes. Drain in a colander.

In a heavy saucepan, heat milk until just about to boil. Remove from stove.

Peel the potatoes, then pass them through a finely gridded food mill. Place the potatoes in a large, heavy saucepan over low heat. With a wooden spoon, stir the potatoes thoroughly in order to dry them some. Add the butter, a couple of tablespoons at a time, still stirring vigorously, until butter is entirely incorporated. Slowly add most of the milk while stirring, reserving some for later if needed.

Again pass through the finest grid of the food mill into another large, heavy saucepan. Stir vigorously throughout, adjust the amounts of milk and butter to your preferrence. The texture should be smooth and creamy. Add salt, freshly ground white pepper and a moderate drizzle of truffle oil. Stir vigorously and serve immediately. Truffle oil can be quite potent, so a light hand is recommended.

Papa, potatoes, poultry, prunes and prism, are all very good words for the lips…
~Charles Dickens

An ultimate comfort food.

Potatoes are starchy, tuberous herbaceous perennials from the Solanum tuberosum of the Solanaceae family. Peru has been recognized as the birthplace of this highly nutritious culinary staple which has been cultivated for as many as 10,000 years. The potato was introduced to Europe in the 16th century and spread by sailors throughout the world’s ports, eventually finding its place in fields across the continents.

The English “potato” derives from the Spanish “patata.”

Smashed potatoes, a rustic version of mashed potatoes, are ample proof that lumps are not evil—rather they impart an intensely rich potato flavor. This does not imply that the satiny, silky version of mashed potatoes are in any way inferior, just different. It just presents a sweet dilemna and depends on the evening’s mood whether they are mashed buttery smooth or left with a luscious, lumpy texture. Leaving skins on (at least in part) gives the potatoes a deep earthiness, and if you love that soil soul shun the peeler and leave them fully clothed.

SMASHED POTATOES WITH TRUFFLE OIL

3 lbs russet or yukon gold potatoes, halfway peeled and quartered

2 T sea salt
2 T freshly ground pepper
1 t cayenne pepper
2 t white pepper
1 t dried thyme, crumbled by fingers
3/4 C heavy cream
1 stick+ (8 T) butter, room temperature
1/2 C milk

Truffle oil

Warm cream and milk either in microwave or in a pan on the stove.

Put potatoes into a pot with liberally salted cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat some and gently boil about 15-20 minutes, or until tender—a fork should easily pierce the kids. Undercooked potatoes do not mash properly. Drain water from potatoes in a colander and return to still warm pot. The additional time in the pot dries them a bit so they absorb the fats better.

In stages (not all at once) add cream, butter, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, white pepper, and thyme. Use a potato masher to smash the potatoes, and then a strong spoon or dough hook to beat further, adding milk to achieve a coarse consistency, being careful to leave in some lumps. Whether coarsely smashed or mashed smooth, do not overzealously beat the potatoes or they will morph into glue or library paste. Add a few drops of truffle oil and continue to beat some. Salt and pepper to taste…I prefer them somewhat peppery. Tasting throughout the process is crucial to attaining the preferred flavors and textures.