Vegan, by happenstance. And also very good.
As with most meals, and especially the most simple, it’s absolutely essential to have great ingredients. Here that meant ‘artisanal’ (although, in fact, not made by hand), bronze die pasta from Southern Italy, the kind whose surface looks like it’s been very roughly sanded. There were also the Japanese eggplant, the best I’ve ever had, and I was introduced to them by Nevia, of Bodhitree Farm. The garlic was so fresh it was actually somewhat juicy. Finally, I had forgotten to pick up mint at the Greenmarket, but Eataly’s vegetables are generally pretty super, often pretty local, and one of the best things about that food and restaurant emporium.
The first paragraph below is long, and heavy with my usual running sentence instructions (here, for a change, using two running sentences), but the cooking process is actually pretty simple.
- three medium Japanese eggplant from Bodhitree Farm, hand-sliced to about 1/4 inch in thickness, coated with olive oil and grilled on top of a cast iron, double-burner pan, seasoned with salt and black pepper, cut into smaller portions (I used a good kitchen shears this time), and set aside in a bowl while the rest of the sauce was prepared: Two sliced fresh garlic cloves from Lucky Dog Organic introduced into a deep enameled pan, cooking them in olive oil over low-to-medium heat until golden, adding some good crushed chile peppers and the bowl of eggplant which had been set aside, mixing everything, still over a flame, checking the seasoning, then 12 ounces from a package of Setaro Penne Rigate from Buon Italia which had been cooked al dente (some of the water reserved near the end) and drained, tossed into the pan, before about a tablespoon of lemon zest and a tablespoon of lemon juice were added, and some of the reserved pasta water as well (enough to keep everything moist), the pasta mix finally removed from the heat and nearly half of a cup of mint from Eataly, torn into pieces, stirred in
- the wine was a white Italian, Le Salse Verdicchio di Matelica 2014
- the music was Giovanni Paisiello’s, ‘Le finte contesse’
I decided to splurge, but I felt it would be okay to do so. The average cost at the Greenmarket of each portion of fish included in our last two meals had worked out to less than $2.50, so now I would be comfortable about spending almost $10 per portion for a special treat.
And besides, Barry was returning from a campout with his coworkers in the Catskills wilderness that afternoon.
After putting two swordfish steaks (thick, and a little larger than I would normally have picked) into my insulated shoulder bag, along with some ice, the only question was which of the several attractive vegetables I also bought would accompany them. My considerations were basically, what would be the most compatible, the most colorful, and, to be practical, the least likely to survive well for another day or two. When I remembered that I had some black olive tapenade on hand, remaining from an earlier meal, I decided to introduce it to the pan-grilled fish, and also I also chose to include some of the tomatoes which had been ripening on the north windowsill for a few days.
Finally, I thought that the minutina I had picked up that day, even if these lacy, toothed greens are actually less delicate than they appear, and might have lasted a few more, would be an excellent foil for everything else.
- two thick swordfish steaks from Pura Vida, rinsed, dried, brushed with olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper, pan-grilled for about 5 minutes per side, removed to two plates, a bit of lemon squeezed over them, along with a bit of oil, then finished with a tapenade composed of black olives, anchovy, capers, garlic, olive oil, thyme, and ground black pepper
- a primitive salsa of cut cherry tomatoes (fully-ripe Maine ‘cocktail’ tomatoes from Whole Foods, and a smaller number of equally ripe tiny golden tomatoes from Norwich Meadows Farm), tossed with torn leaves of some extraordinarily beautiful tarragon from Stokes Farm, a bit of oil, and a pinch of Malden salt, then left standing for a few minutes while the fish cooked
- minutina from Norwich Meadows Farm, washed, drained, then wilted slightly in medium-hot olive oil in which a little sliced fresh garlic from Lucky Dog Organic had started to brown
We enjoyed some half-wild strawberries from Berried Treasures (in the refrigerator since Wednesday, as I had forgotten then until I began preparing the entrée, but still tasting fantastic), with a dollop [I love that word; use it as often as I dare] of Madagascar Vanilla Ciao Bello gelato, topped with a bit of strawberry ‘self sauce’.
It was like a special birthday treat, but without the [short]cake.
Three butterfish, their fins removed in this picture, but still waiting to be cleaned, resting next to the sink on a sheet of parchment.
They were beautiful, and they were delicious, but, note to self: I’m not likely to prepare them again. It’s about those bones.
But now, as I continue working on this post the next afternoon, I’m thinking: They really were beautiful, and very tasty; maybe if I had a little more patience, and took a little more time with the fillet knife…?
This picture shows what the butterfish looked like when they reached our ancient dining table.
And this one includes, at the lower right of the second basket/tray from the bottom, the one-pound heirloom tomato which became a salsa all by itself.
Barry was going to be in a Catskills wilderness from Wednesday through Friday, ‘camping out’ with his Artsy coworkers. I would have gone to the Union Square Greenmarket yesterday out of habit alone, but I also still wanted to eat well. More and more, for us, ‘eating well’ has come to mean seafood, so seafood it would be. Since I was going to be the only guest at the table, I decided to try to find something I hadn’t cooked before, something with which I might take a chance, exposing only myself to the possibility of failure.
Blue Moon Fish had a few butterfish left when I got there at 11:30, a very few – one more than the two visible, in fact, once Margo had scooped through the ice to find the third. I had never cooked butterfish, but I was so excited with their simple beauty that I didn’t even think about the fact that they weren’t yet cleaned, and I also had no idea what I was going to do with them.
There was also a certain amount of pride in buying my dinner, 11 ounces of whole fish, for only $2.25 ($3.50/lb) when some popular, premium species might sell for, . . . yup, up to seven times that price. Then there are those bones.
I cut off their fins (not quite deeply enough, it turned out, in the case of the dorsal and ventral rows), gutted them (I was surprised at how tiny was the pocket occupied by the innards), keeping heads and tails intact with the bodies, washed them and returned them to the refrigerator, to turn to assembling a recipe I might use.
I knew I might spend some time removing the fillets from the bone, so whatever vegetable accompaniment I selected would have to be happy sitting around for a while. The decision to use a tomato salsa was more or less determined for me by the ripeness of a single large heirloom which had been sitting on our table for a few days.
- three whole butterfish, cleaned, brought to room temperature, rinsed, dried, brushed with olive oil, seasoned inside with salt, pepper, and a couple of sprigs of thyme from Keith’s Farm, rolled in homemade breadcrumbs seasoned with salt, pepper, and more thyme now chopped, sautéed over a medium-high flame for a total of 6 minutes in olive oil and butter (turning once) in an enameled cast iron pan, removed, placed on a small, oval, antique ironstone platter, a bit of lemon then squeezed over the top, some clippings of chives from Stokes Farm added, and olive oil drizzled over all
- one large (one pound) ‘grotesque’ heirloom tomato from Norwich Meadows Farm, chopped, placed in a small bowl with two small fresh garlic cloves from Lucky Dog Organic, slightly crushed (and removed later), two tablespoons of olive oil, and a third of a cup of herbs, meaning a mix of most of what I had on hand (other than the thyme or chives), salt, and pepper, then allowed to sit on the counter for about half an hour before being drained and placed in a jolly black Fiesta bowl
- slices of whole wheat (‘Integrale’) bread from Eataly, to absorb the salsa juinces
- the wine was an Italian white,from the Marche, Falerio dei Colli Ascolani 2013, from Saladini Pilastri
- the music was John Adams’s Los Angeles symphony, ‘City Noir’, performed by the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, David Robertson conducting
Note to self: The fish was astoundingly good, in both taste and texture, and the vegetables, which actually happened to be what I had on hand, excellent accompaniments.
There really are other fish in the sea. And some of them are scrumptious.
Please do not tell anyone about the ‘sea robin’, or ‘gurnard’, who might not discover this post on their own; its impecunious devotees might become very angry with me if the news of its virtues were broadcast too widely. This delicious, yet widely and unfairly disparaged fish, is incredibly tasty, very inexpensive, and, in our experience on this occasion at least, without bones. Found in abundance in seas from Southern New England and New York to Cape Hatteras, the species is among the least expensive, and apparently least endangered, of any of those harvested from our local waters; I can attest to their numbers anecdotally, having actually gone out into local coastal waters to pull in some cousins of theirs who are generally regarded as a far more desirable catch.
Now I can also attest to their toothsomeness.
The price of Sea Robin reflects its demand (pretty weak) and its supply (a seeming abundance). $5.45 was enough to bring home the six fillets, which weighed a total of about .82 pounds, an amount which worked out perfectly as portion for two.
I found almost no information on their cooking (even Mark Bittman is silent on this species, in his book and anywhere else on line), but since our Sea Robin is related to the Mediterranean Rascasse, I searched under that name and came up with this recipe, for Rascasse à la tapenade. Since deciding to use it, I’ve come across a couple more, and I expect to take advantage of my new, small inspirational ‘index card’ recipe bounty following future visits to my local fish mongers.
- six small fillets of sea robin, aka ‘gurnard’, from P.E. & D.D. Seafood, rinsed, pat dry, then placed in a pan of sizzling olive oil and sautéed over medium-high heat for barely 2 minutes on each side, transferred to two plates, a little lemon squeezed on top and a bit of a tapenade sauce* spread over the fillets, which were garnished with fresh basil off of a plant from Full Bloom Market Garden in Whately, Massachusetts, purchased at Whole Foods and currently happy in one of our south windows
- a few purple okra from Lani’s Farm, remaining from the batch we enjoyed yesterday, again sautéed in olive oil with crushed dried chiles in an iron pan over a high flame, seasoned with salt and pepper
- a salad of tiny golden cherry tomatoes from Eckerton Hill Farm and two very ripe Maine cherry ‘cocktail’ tomatoes from Whole Foods, dressed with a good olive oil, salt. pepper, a few drops of balsamic vinegar, and chopped fresh oregano from Lani’s Farm
- the wine was a Spanish white, Naia D.O. Rueda 2014, from Verdejo old vines
- the music was Giovanni Paisiello’s 1782 ‘Il Barbiere di Siviglia‘ (one of the composer’s 94 operas), conducted by Adam Fisher
* see this recipe for details (in which I incorporated Gaeta olives, salted capers, and one salted anchovy, all from Buon Italia, and some chopped fresh thyme from Keith’s Farm)
Note to self: This entire meal was a tasty delight, presumably as much for the quality of the ingredients as for the simple preparation, and accolades go to the modest cheese course as well (small portions of three cheeses, and some whole wheat toasts), which is not described here.
At the Greenmarket on Saturday I tried to think of something with which the beautiful purple okra I had picked up earlier would be a good match. Then I was happily reminded that 3-Corner Field Farm was a part of the Union Square Greenmarket on that day. I bought a package of four thick loin chops, which were frozen. When I got home, I let them defrost just enough to separate the sections, so that I could place two chops in the freezer, and also two in the refrigerator, where they would defrost overnight.
The entrée I put together the next day represented the fairly rare appearance of red meat on our table, especially in the summer, but this particular appearance was a very good one.
- two thick loin lamb chops from 3-Corner Field Farm, cooked on a very hot grill pan for about 4 minutes on each side, finished with one small sliced shallot from John C. Madura Farms, a squeeze of lemon, a spreading of wood sorrel butter (the sorrel from Bodhitree Farm), and a drizzle of olive oil
- purple okra from Lani’s Farm, sautéed with crushed dried chiles in an iron pan over a high flame, seasoned with salt and pepper
- sliced red and yellow heirloom tomatoes from Stokes Farm, dressed with some good olive oil, salt, pepper, and a small amount of balsamic vinegar
- the wine was an Italian red, a very good Poliziano Rosso di Montepulciano 2012
- the music was an incredibly exciting performance of St. John Cage’s ‘Credo in Us’, by the Amadinda Percussion Group
The first course, of rillettes, with a condiment, was the fruit of an impulse purchase.
- pork rillette (pastured pork, quatre épices, bay, garlic, vinegar, and brandy) from Hudson & Charles, served with a Bergamot marmalade from Westside Market, and slices of whole wheat bread (formerly labeled ‘Integrale’) from Eataly
The hake appeared on the table on Saturday because we hadn’t enjoyed that noble fish in three months, and because I had spotted some very fresh-looking fillets at the Greenmarket earlier in the day. As I had once before, again trying to avoid turning on the oven on a summer evening, I used a recipe originally calling for cod, merluzzo dorato, I substituted hake (making it nasello dorato), as the two fish are very similar. It’s the late Kyle Phillips‘s terrific recipe.
- hake fillets from Seatuck Fish Company, dredged in seasoned flour and dipped in a beaten egg from Millport Dairy, sautéed in butter, along with a handful of chopped fresh oregano from Lani’s Farm, then sprinkled with lemon juice and the pan juices that remained
- their outer petals peeled off and discarded, stems and tips trimmed, baby artichokes from S. & S.O. Produce Farms, quartered lengthwise (each placed in a bowl of water and lemon juice while being processed) and drained when all were ready to cook, added to a layer of olive oil over a medium flame in a large non-reactive pan (in this case, enameled cast iron), seasoned with salt and pepper, stirred 5 to 7 minutes until slightly browned, some red pepper flakes, two finely-chopped fresh garlic cloves from Lucky Dog Organic, and a couple tablespoons of chopped parsley from Keith’s Farm added to the pan, the vegetables finally transferred to plates and sprinkled with a few drops of a chianti wine vinegar
This meal was really tossed together in minutes. We had returned relatively late from an evening of David Moss and Harry Partch because afterward we visited with friends who were also in the audiences. Also, it was a ‘school night’, so we couldn’t eat as late as we might otherwise.
- fresh Rana spinach-and-ricotta-filled ravioli from Eataly, cooked and drained, mixed with a handful of fairly small garlic scapes from Lucky Dog Organic which had been sautéed in olive oil until almost tender, then sections of a ripe heirloom tomato from Norwich Meadows Farm gently stirred into the mix, and chopped fresh oregano from Lani’s Farm tossed on top
- the wine was a white Italian, Le Salse Verdicchio di Matelica 2014
- the music was Barbara Benary’s ‘Aural Shoehorning’
I’ve lost my paper ‘skate file’, at least temporarily, but with the help of earlier entries on this food blog, last night I was able to reconstruct my favorite ray recipe pretty much in the form I had used several times in the past. This is, after all, the original purpose of this site, and it probably shows that it really can be used as a recipe source, at least for anyone who has more than a passing acquaintance with a kitchen.
- four skate wing sections from Blue Moon Fish NYC, coated with a coarse polenta and seasoned with salt and pepper, then sautéed in olive oil for a few minutes, removed from the pan, and butter, chopped shallots from John D. Madura Farm, sliced fresh garlic from Lucky Dog Organic, and segments of garlic scapes from Lucky Dog Organic, previously softened in warm olive oil, introduced into the pan and stirred over a heat now lowered, followed by the addition of chopped parsley from Keith’s Farm and a little more butter
- boiled ‘Augusta’ new potatoes from Norwich Meadows Farm, drained, dried in the warm pot in which they had been cooked, halved, then rolled in olive oil, cut chives from Stokes Farm, salt, and pepper
- fava beans (about 1.4 lbs, in their pods, for these two servings) from Berried Treasures, removed from their pods and their skins removed, briefly cooked in olive oil, then tossed with spearmint from Phillips Farm, salt, and pepper
- the wine was a German white, a Pfalz, Friedrich Becker Family Pinot Blanc 2013, ordered fromAppellation Wines
- the music was the wind sextet in E flat major by Ignaz Josef Pleyel
(now everyone knows that I remove my ring and my watch while working in the kitchen)
The vegetables were beginning to pile up, and I had a little prosciutto on hand, so I decided to make a dinner of antipasti alone. A bonus: whatever cooking would be involved could be done in advance, plus, because nothing was going to have to be warm on the table, we could linger as long as we wished, as we do with our regular ‘picnics‘. This time it was with Monteverdi.
- Colameco’s prosciutto from Whole Foods; pan-grilled baby yellow squash from Berried Treasures, finished with spearmint from Phillips Farm; one pan-grilled quartered spring red onion from Tamarack Hollow Farm; pan-grilled baby fennel from Eckerton Hill Farm, finished with the fennel fronds, chopped; Tuscan kale, braised with crushed fennel seed and dried chile pepper; Korean cucumbers from Bodhitree Farm, sliced thinly and tossed with olive oil, Chianti wine vinegar, crushed red pepper, and a bit of sugar; heirloom tomatoes from Norwich Meadows Farm and Bodhitree Farm, along with two tiny golden cherry tomatoes from Eckerton Hill Farm, dresssed with good olive oil and tossed with chopped fresh oregano; and slices of Balthazar’s ‘Potato-Onion Fendu’, purchased at Whole Foods
- the wine was a French rosé, Château Soucherie, Rosé de Loire, Cuvée L’Astrée 2014
- the music was Claudio Monteverdi’s ‘Orfeo’, led by Jordi Savall
This one was totally improvised. I had some very small yellow summer squash on hand, the nucleus of a head of radicchio, some mint, a lemon, and some great olives which I pitted two days earlier but then decided not to use, and of course I had a great artisanal pasta.
- twelve ounces of Afeltra spaghetti from Eataly, tossed with about half a dozen small yellow squash from Berried Treasures, thinly-sliced, seasoned and pan grilled, some torn radicchio leaves from Tamarack Hollow Farm, olive oil, both lemon zest and lemon juice, and torn spearmint leaves from Phillips Farm
- the wine was a Sicilian white, Corvo Insolia 2013 from Philippe Wine in Chelsea, on our corner
- the music was Jordi Saval’s album, ‘Mare Nostrum‘