Open Faced Mia Bella

February 9, 2016

The need of the immaterial is the most deeply rooted of all needs. One must have bread; but before bread, one must have the ideal. 
~Victor Hugo

In some senses, one can concur with Hugo’s immaterial ideals, but what about an artisan’s bread, eggs, Italian cheese and salted and cured ham together?  They tend to belong en masse and are fetchingly archetypal.  And before bread, paradigms? Doubtful.

Sleep — humans spend some 35%-38% of each day slumbering.  It just does not seem congruent, or even affable, to have so few studies over the years that delve into the subconscious or sleep habits with some 50-70 Americans having been affected by disorders of some type. Some 80% of workers suffer from some form of sleep deprivation, likely not taking into account sometimes falsely alleged criminals, prisoners or spies.  The first thing that is wrested from someone by the “correctional and rehabilitation” institution is sleep.  Then, with sleeplessness a person often confesses, whether the act was committed or not.

These are not merely dormant times of our daily, passive lives spent too frequently as consensual slaves at cubicles and/or before screens and shift work, often relationless and without any conception of life. Instead, these are somnolent times that rend habits which can profoundly alter our physical, physiological, electrical and mental health.

Now, some studies have been published in the journal Science by the Nedergaard lab which proposed that the daily waste produced by the brain (which uses about 20% of the body’s energy) was cleansed and recycled toxic byproducts by sleep alone.  The noxious trash, the junk is cleared of our so-called “glymphatic” systems of our brains by merely reaching deep sleep.  The brain, it seems, clears itself of neurological waste while we slumber.  It seems the interstitial spaces, the fluid area between tissue cells, are mainly dedicated to removing our neural rubbish accumulated when awake, while we naturally sleep — uninterrupted.  (Interstitial derives from the Latin interstitium meaning “interstice” or “an intervening space.”) Without good sleeping tendencies, these toxins remain in the brain, and one logically posits will produce significant cerebral damage in the future.

So, let your body unwind, release tension with latent exercise toes to head focusing upon relaxation, darken the bedroom, keep bed mates or others informed, manage caffeine and alcohol intake, adjust temperatures to a cooler level, and simply cultivate good sleeping habits.

Sleep well and tight.

A Simple Egg Sandwich

2 ciabatta slices, about 1 1/2″ thick, with, after smearing with softened butter, the top side is also slathered in guanciale or pancetta juice

2-3 T unsalted butter, softened

Guanciale or pancetta sliced somewhat thin, but not paper thin, and barely cooked in a skillet to cover bread.

4 local eggs, poached or fried, so the yolk runs
Tallegio cheese, thinly sliced, to cover bread

Fresh basil leaves, chiffonaded, to complete

Cut the fresh ciabatta and cook on both sides in the broiler, one buttered on the top side (to melt) after cooking the bottom.  Later, slather the slices on the top side in guanciale (preferably) or pancetta juices after cooking one of the two in another heavy skillet.  Then, place the gently cooked guanciale or pancetta on the ciabatta bread because they will be broiled in the next step.

Poach or fry the eggs, softly, then drain them, while you arrange the tallegio cheese atop the meat and bread and broil briefly until just melted.  Put the eggs on, and finally finish with fresh chiffonaded (thin ribbons) basil leaves.

So, to review the arrangement:  1) toast ciabatta –> 2) melt butter atop –> 3) guanciale juices –> 4) guanciale slices to cover –> 5) tallegio to cover –> 6) eggs –> and 7) basil ribbons.

Pourboire:   You may also consider using 4 thinner slices of ciabatta and create a panini with the same or similar ingredients without the toasting and buttering steps and with full basil leaves (not chiffonaded) or arugula leaves.  Then, olive oil and cook on a sandwich press or grill pan.

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To perceive is to suffer.
~Aristotle

This is not meant to be some hefty harangue or diatribe on writing. To the utter contrary. But, it does seem like the revered trait for writers is not will, bravado or grit, but rather vibrant prose, empathetic and fluid storytelling, rich and beloved character creation.

A blank screen or paper alone can be daunting (have been there and done that), leading to lengthy stares, dire anxiety and idle fingers. Then comes disjointed prose, inapt words or topics, insipid imagery, worthless metaphors, and feeble punctuation. Writing, as with many art forms, is just really arduous labor; a brutal, almost crippling, job.

So, a poetic lilt, even just an enlightened brief passage or paragraph, lifts souls and so often makes us return to re-read, even aloud. Think of Toni Morrison, Saul Bellow, Isabel Allende, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Mario Vargas Llosa, William Shakespeare, James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Samuel Beckett, John Barth, Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner, David Mitchell, Joseph Conrad, Leo Tolstoy, Umberto Eco, Jane Austen, Vladimir Nabokov, Victor Hugo, T.S. Eliot, Gustave Flaubert, John Updike, Kingsley Amis, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Stendahl, Günter Grass, Heinrich Böll, André Gide, Jorge Luis Borges, et al. — this is just a smattering of prose writers and does not even mention the magical creations of preeminent poets. But, their words and perceptive imagery can flat illuminate your universe. By arranging selective words, creating characters, telling stories, and placing punctuation or not on a page, skilled novelists, poets and playwrights reveal their minds and extend ours. Even when disruptive to our psyches, their heedful art has unearthed and unveiled human nature, the bare bones of our biology, our anthropology. Alexithymia untethered, so thank you all so much.

So, why do I write about food and stuff? Well, repasts and convo are damned pleasing, and one of our primary hobbies happens to be cooking. The ruminations just came along for the ride. So, the blog seemed a fit, a natural, making little mention of Mom’s Joy of Cooking with her handwritten notes staring at me. Besides being a logophile, my mother gave me a sense of ardor, one of passion, even a feeling of the absurd. Enough of that, as I am not worthy.

Rapturous fare below.

ROASTED ROOT VEGETABLES WITH EGGS & HERBS

3 lbs root vegetables, cut into rough wedges (local multi-hued carrots, rainbow beets, new potatoes, turnips, white and red radishes, fennel bulb(s), zucchini, celery root — some peeled, other’s not)
1-2 plump, fresh garlic heads, cut transversely
Extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2-3 bay leaves, dried

Local eggs
Extra virgin olive oil

Fresh herb leaves (rosemary, basil, thyme, lavender) torn and chopped
Capers, drained

Heat oven to 400-425 F.

Toss local vegetables with olive oil, garlic(s), sea salt, black pepper, and bay leaves in a heavy pan. Let stand at room temperature. Then roast, stirring thrice or so until slightly browned, about an hour. Discard the bay leaves.

Serve with fried eggs just sautéed in olive oil and partially cover the roasted vegetables, with egg spaces here and there, ground black pepper, then strew with fresh herbs and capers atop.

A vivid and savory tapestry.

A potato expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.
~Victor Hugo

Dill (Anethum graveolens) is a faintly anise flavored herb in the family Umbelliferae which includes carraway, cumin, and fennel, et al. Growing annually from 16″-24″ it has hollow stems and delicate, wispy leaves, demanding hot summers and lofty sunshine with well drained fertile soil.

Containing no cholesterol and low in calories, dill is rich in volatile oils as well as folic acid, riboflavin, niacin, vitamin A, ß carotene, and vitamin C. This is not to mention that dill contains minerals like copper, potassium, calcium, manganese, iron, and magnesium. Dill’s benefits also come from two types of healing components — monoterpenes, such as carvone, limonene, and anethofuran and flavonoids, such as kaempferol and vicenin. Needless to say, dill herb is one of the most healthy, functional foods in the chain.

Too bad dill is not consumed for these reasons in this house — scents and sapidity rule — apparently though, the benefits come from the back side. Nevertheless, both “recipes” are darlings of our kitchen…simple starch staples yet glorious (good) grub.

BOILED NEW POTATOES + DILL

1 lb various hued small, new potatoes (“B” size)
1 T sea salt

4 T (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 8 pieces
2 plump, fresh garlic cloves, minced

Dill leaves, fresh and chopped, in amounts to your liking (or rosemary leaves)
Truffle and salt and freshly ground black pepper

In a medium to large heavy pot, combine hand culled potatoes. Add enough cold water to cover the potatoes by about 1″ and set the pot over high heat. Bring to a boil, add salt, then reduce to a vigorous simmer. Cook potatoes just until fork tender, about 20 minutes, depending upon size.

Add butter and garlic to the pot and set over medium heat. Bring to a simmer and cook, swirling the pan and basting as needed so that the until the potatoes are well glazed, about 5 minutes.

Tear the dill leaves, and with the pot off the heat, stir them gently into the potatoes. Add truffle and sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste and serve next to resting grilled or roasted meats, greens of choice and some more unsalted butter on the table in a ramekin.

BAKED RUSSET POTATOES

4 large baking potatoes, such as russets

4 T unsalted butter
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Chives
Sour cream or crème fraîche

Gruyère cheese (optional)
Dill leaves, fresh and chopped (optional)
Lardons (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 F

Scrub potatoes with a brush under running, cold water, then dry well. So they do not explode in the oven, pierce the skin of each in three places with a fork.

Place the potatoes in the oven, and roast for about 1 hour, depending on the size of the potatoes, until they are fork tender.

Remove from the oven taking care not to burn fingers, slice them open down the middle, and slather with butter and season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper. Again, put some more unsalted butter on the table for those who wish to partake.

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.

Gratin Dauphinois Revived

March 21, 2011

Winter is on my head, but eternal spring is in my heart.
~Victor Hugo

They say spring sprang yesterday.

Equinox is derived from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night). The vernal equinox officially occurs when the center of the sun crosses the equator. But, be not dissuaded by the tale that on the vernal equinox the length of day is exactly equal to the length of night. Daytime to nighttime equality actually falls before the vernal equinox and likewise after the autumnal equinox.

For most venues on earth, there are two distinct days per year when the length of day and night are closest to being equal; those days are referred to as equiluxes, not to be confused with equinoxes. In a nutshell, equinoxes are points in time, but equiluxes are full days. An equinox happens each year at two precise moments in time—rather than two whole days—when there is a location on the earth’s equator and the center of the sun is observed vertically overhead.

To complicate matters, the earth’s atmosphere bends sunlight when approaching the horizon, so the sun appears to be above the horizon a few minutes earlier than actuality. Therefore, on the vernal equinox, the daylight hours are actually longer than the length of time between when the sun crosses the horizon at dawn and when the sun crosses the horizon at sunset. Those factors all combine to make the day of the equinox not the day when we have twelve hours each of light and darkness.

The vernal equinox also brings spring leeks to mind. Always, maybe too often, thinking food. Those sweet, green and white alliums that are planted in the fall and left in the frigid soil until the first thaw. Because farmers usually mound soil and mulch over leeks to protect them against cold temperatures, they tend to be grittier than their summer cousins. So, take care to clean them assiduously. Trim the roots, peel away the translucent outer layers and slice the leeks in half lengthwise. Wash well under cold running water.

GRATIN DAUPHINOIS WITH MUSHROOMS & LEEKS

1 plump, fresh garlic clove, peeled and lightly crushed
Butter, unsalted

2 large leeks, cut lengthwise, cleaned thoroughly, then sliced thinly crosswise
8 oz crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced
4 T unsalted butter, divided
2 t dried thyme
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 lbs baking potatoes, preferably russets, peeled and very thinly sliced

2+ C grated gruyère cheese
1+ C heavy cream

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Freshly grated nutmeg

Preheat the oven to 375 F

Melt butter 2 tablespoons butter in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add sliced leeks, thyme, salt and pepper. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until leeks are tender and golden, about 5-7 minutes. Set leeks aside in a bowl. Wipe skillet with a paper towel.

Melt an additional 2 tablespoons butter in the same skillet over medium high heat. Add sliced mushrooms, salt and pepper. Sauté, stirring occasionally, until mushrooms are tender, about 8 minutes. Set mushrooms aside in a bowl.

Thoroughly rub a shallow gratin/baking dish with a crushed garlic clove, and then lightly butter the dish with the end of a stick of butter. Arrange one half of the sliced potatoes slightly overlapped in a single layer. Strew cooked leeks and mushrooms over the potatoes. Sprinkle with half of the cheese and then half of the cream. Season with salt and pepper. Add a second layer of potatoes with cheese, cream and season again with salt and pepper. Lightly grate some fresh nutmeg on the top layer to finish.

Place the baking dish in the center of the oven and bake until crisp and golden, about 1 hour. Should the top begin to brown too rapidly, simply cover with aluminum foil. Remove from oven, let rest for at least 10 minutes, and then serve.

Change your opinions, keep to your principles; change your leaves, keep intact your roots.
~Victor Hugo

Attributed to a 14th century English friar, William of Ockham, Occam’s razor is the heuristic principle that entities must not be multiplied beyond necessity (entia non sunt multiplicanda praeter necessitatem). So, it follows that the simplest solution is usually the correct one.

As the esteemed Stephen Hawking noted in A Brief History of Time:

“We could still imagine that there is a set of laws that determines events completely for some supernatural being, who could observe the present state of the universe without disturbing it. However, such models of the universe are not of much interest to us mortals. It seems better to employ the principle known as Occam’s razor and cut out all the features of the theory that cannot be observed.”

In the kitchen and on the table, the same principle of parsimony often reigns. Slowly cooked root vegetables are a culinary epitome of this theory…agrestic simplicity.

Just cut the turnips and celeriac in roughly the same sizes as the other roots so they cook fairly evenly. Please do not fret — the perfection of imperfection should be the goal.

BRAISED ROOT VEGETABLES

1 T extra virgin olive oil
3 T unsalted butter
1 lb parsnips, trimmed, peeled and quartered lengthwise
1 lb smaller carrots, peeled and tops trimmed
1 lb turnips, trimmed, peeled and cut thickly lengthwise
1 lb celeriac, trimmed, peeled and cut thickly lengthwise
4 large shallots, trimmed, peeled and halved lengthwise
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 C chicken stock
2 fresh thyme sprigs
1 bay leaf
2 T unsalted butter, chilled and chopped into bits

1/2 C parsley and thyme, chopped
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put the olive oil and butter into a large pot over medium high heat. Add the vegetables, toss to coat well and season with salt and pepper. Add chicken stock, thyme sprigs, bay leaf and bring to a gentle boil. Lower the heat to a simmer, cover the pot, and cook until the vegetables are tender, about 20 minutes. Add butter and toss well. Season with salt and pepper and sprinkle with mixed herbs.