spaghetti, oil, spring garlic, peperoncino, garlic mustard

We had been to the theater, a stunning performance of Sam Shepard’s ‘Curse of the Starving Class’, and, both stimulated and disturbed, we’d decided to head for the comfort of our home table rather than eat out (food, and eating both feature large in the play).

We didn’t arrive home until about 10:30. Dinner would have to be assembled quickly, but it waned it to be very satisfying. ‘Two bachelors pasta’ to the rescue (my appellation, my improvisation).

I put water in the pot and set it above a high flame as soon as we got into the apartment; the rest of the cooking operation was almost as easy.

duck, lovage; roasted squash/celery/radish, thyme; spinach

While the photograph above is my favorite image of this meal, this one may really describe it better:

On Monday afternoon, the same day I had picked up the swordfish belly that I prepared that night, I had also bought one fresh duck breast. At the time I was thinking of it as a small ‘speculative’ investment: Because we had enjoyed a meal of meat only a few days before, it was unlikely that we we’d be eating more soon. I thought I’d freeze it until an occasion presented itself, but before I did, it was Tuesday, and the occasion had arrived.

It was the cool weather, but mostly it was the vegetables.

I had suddenly remembered that I had a couple of small yummy-type squash in the refrigerator, which, together with some luscious spinach I had bought the day before, almost demanded something like duck.

Forgotten however, since they had been there almost a month, was the just how small these kabocha squash actually were (they were the runts of the bucket, and the last 2 cleft in the farmer’s stall, which is pretty much why I had bought them), especially since they had become just a little desiccated over that time, and I still had to hollow out and remove the seeds and stringy pulp. I realized the inadequacy of their size only once I had begun preparing dinner, so necessity was the mother of inspiration. They had almost disappeared, but I still had sufficient warning of the problem, and I managed to find a small supporting cast: I added a little celery and a few small very spicy radishes, roughly chopped, then continued, improvising a bit, with a recipe I would have used if it had been the squash alone that I was cooking.

It was delicious, more than just a good complement to the duck and the spinach.

The spinach cooked down fast, seemed to be trying to disappear, but I put a brake on it just before it did, and its sweetness made up for the smallness of its final portion.

The duck itself was pretty small, but it’s a very intense, sturdy meat; it came with no surprises, presented absolutely no difficulties; it helps that I could almost do this recipe in my sleep; and it was superb, as always.

  • one 14-ounce duck breast from Hudson River Duck Farm, the fatty side scored in tight cross hatching with a very sharp knife, after which the entire breast rubbed, top and bottom, with a mixture of sea salt, freshly-ground black pepper, and a little turbinado sugar, left standing on the counter for about 45 minutes to an hour before being pan-fried, fatty side down first, inside a small oval enameled cast iron pan over medium heat for a total of about 9 or 10 minutes, turning once, draining the oil after the first few minutes (the fat strained can be used in cooking at another time, if desired), the breast removed when medium rare, cut crosswise into 2 portions and checked for the right doneness in the center, which means definitely no more than medium rare, and maybe even a bit less, drizzled with a little juice from an organic Whole Foods Market lemon and some olive oil, the halves transferred to warm plates sitting on top of the oven

  • two mini kabocha squash from Lani’s Farm scrubbed, halved, the seeds and pith removed, cut into narrow wedges, plus an equal amount each of celery from Chelsea Whole Foods Market and Korean green Mu radishes from Norwich Meadows Farm, all roughly cut into the same size as the squash, mixed by hand inside a large bowl with a relatively small amount of olive oil, sea salt, freshly-ground black pepper, and a pinch from a gorgeous (dried) hickory smoked Jamaican Scotch bonnet pepper from Eckerton Hill Farm, purchased in the Greenmarket last December, arranged on a large, unglazed, well-seasoned ceramic pan and roasted at 425º for 20 or 25 minutes, the vegetables removed from the oven and transferred to a large heavy antique copper pot in which 3 sliced bulbs of ‘Music’ spring garlic from Windfall Farms and a generous amount of fresh thyme leaves from Phillips Farms had been gently heated in a bit of olive oil

  • a few ounces of loose spinach from Alewife Farm. washed in several changes of water, drained, very gently wilted (that is, trying not reduce it too far) inside a large, heavy, antique high-sided tin-lined copper pot in a little olive oil in which 3 quartered cloves of ‘music garlic’ from Windfall Farms had first been allowed to sweat, seasoned with salt, pepper, and a bit of crushed dried Calabrian peperoncini secchia from Buon Italia, finished on the plates with a little more olive oil
  • the wine was  French (Languedoc-Roussillon/Corbieres) red, Domaine de Fontsainte Rouge AOC Corbières [unfortunately I didn’t document the vintage, and we don’t remember from whom we acquired it]

swordfish belly, garlic, tomato; potato, garlic mustard; kale

It’s not tofu.

It’s swordfish belly, and, inexplicably it’s still almost invisible on the internet. This is the second time I’ve prepared it at home, improvising a separate recipe each time. This one seemed even better than the first one.

What it’s also not, is swordfish ‘bacon’, so just ignore the people describing it that way:  It won’t help in its cooking or its enjoyment.

Another factoid: The word “garlic” appears in the description of each of the 3 segments of this meal, although in one case there is no actual garlic and none of them resembles any of the others.

More interesting is the meal’s locavore slant: Although there had once been an even more local sea salt available here, the enterprise called Urban Sproule (it seems to have now disappeared), with its remarkable product drawn from neighbor Brooklyn, last night was the first time I ever blesssed a meal with a local salt; it was also one of a relatively few number of meals posted here that have featured a local citrus fruit. I’m now looking forward to the next breakthrough: local black pepper and local olive oil (just kidding).

Finally, this meal was more of a collaborative than most, as it was assembled largely through exchanges between Barry and myself (I must have felt more tentative than usual in the kitchen last night).

  • one 1½-inch-thick (there’s significant shrinkage as it cooks) belly steak from a local (Long Island) waters swordfish (16 ounces) from P.E. & D.D. Seafood, brought to kitchen/room temperature, cut into 1½-inch-wide segments and the skin sliced off (although I’m still not sure that would have been necessary), briefly seared, 30 seconds on the first side, 15 on the second, inside a totally dry (no oil or butter whatsoever) large enameled cast iron pan which had been pre-heated above a high flame until very hot, the fish removed and arranged on warm plates, the heat under the pan reduced to a medium flame, a tablespoon or so of olive oil added, and 3 small chopped spring ‘Magic’ garlic bulbs from Windfall Farms introduced, along with 4 halved Backyard Farms Maine ‘cocktail tomatoes’ from Chelsea Whole Foods, the vegetables pushed around inside the pan until they had softened, then arranged on and around the swordfish, everything seasoned with local Long Island sea salt, also from P.E. & D.D. Seafood, finished with a squeeze of a small local Persian lime that had been raised by David Tifford of Fantastic Gardens of Long Island, a farmer (mostly of decorative plants, which he sells in the Union Square Greenmarket, garnished with roughly chopped fresh oregano from Phillips farms
  • just under a pound of pinto potatoes from Norwich Meadows Farm in the Union Square Greenmarket, scrubbed, boiled whole and unpeeled in heavily-salted water until barely cooked through, drained, dried in the still-warm large vintage Corning Pyrex Flameware blue-glass pot in which they had cooked, then halved, and a tablespoon or so of olive oil added, the potatoes tossed with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, arranged on the plates, sprinkled with chopped fresh garlic mustard from Norwich Meadows Farm
  • the second half of the bunch of baby cavolo nero, lacinato kaleor black kale, from from Migliorelli Farm, remaining from a meal on Friday, briefly wilted with olive oil and 4 smallish garlic cloves from Mexico via Whole Foods Market, the garlic first having been heated in the oil until almost beginning to brown, the greens finished with salt, freshly-ground black pepper, a squeeze of lemon juice, and a drizzle of olive oil
  • the wine was a wonderful surprise, a French (Corsica) rosé using the native Sciaccarellu grape, Domaine Eric Poli Sciaccarellu Rose Île de Beauté, from Foragers Wines
  • the music was a new, absolutely gorgeous album, ‘La Morte della Ragione‘ (The Death of Reason), in which the brilliant Italian ensemble Il Giardino Armonico performs 15th through the 17th-century instrumental music

grilled buffalo steak; tomato, wild fennel; asparagus, thyme

I wasn’t sure what to do. I knew it would taste great, for one thing, because it was water buffalo, but also because it was a chuck steak. What I wasn’t sure was how I should cook it.

Buffalo is leaner than beef, and so it needs less time and lower heat on the grill pan. Also, the color is and remains a lot redder than beef, so when it looks like an almost rare beef steak buffalo is actually medium-rare.

Then there was the fact that chuck steak, while really delicious, can be pretty tough if not cooked properly, and knowing what that means is key. I’m definitely not an expert, but I do know that the chuck comes from the large muscles of the shoulder, which do a lot of work, meaning they have a lot of connective tissue. This means that normally these cuts do best with slow, moist heat, like braising in the oven, or, if steaks, with a very quick cooking, like broiling, pan-frying, or pan-grilling.

It was a warm and humid evening, so I had decided against doing a reverse sear, which would seem to have been another possibility.

In the end, perhaps too optimistically, I chose to treat it more or less as I would usually cook a steak. That by itself may not have been a mistake, but I think I did make a mistake in not slicing it into sections once it had been cooked, to at least suggest a tenderness it was not expected to possess, but also for an aesthetic reason, since the steak, while delicious, did look just a little irregular on the plates.

  • one 14-ounce water buffalo chuck steak from Riverine Ranch, washed, dried, covered in olive oil, sea salt, freshly ground black pepper, covered loosely in wax paper, allowed to rest on the counter for 2 hours, then dried, pan grilled above a medium-high flame, loosely covered with foil, for 2 and a half or 3 minutes, turned over, cooked for another 2 and a half minutes, removed with a finger test and an instant read thermometer suggested it was rare to medium rare, halved, visually checking for doneness, and a little thawed gorgonzola/fennel butter remaining from a previous meal spread on top, the steaks allowed to rest for 6 to 8 minutes, garnished with chopped garlic mustard from Norwich Meadows Farm

  • seventeen thick asparagus spears (just under 22 ounces before heavy trimming) from John D. Madura Farms, their tough stem ends snapped off and most of the length of their stems peeled with a vegetable tool, rolled in a couple tablespoons of olive oil, a little salt, ground black pepper, and a large handful of thyme branches from Phillips Farms inside a large rectangular enameled cast iron pan, sautéed over medium high heat while continuing to frequently roll or turn them until they were beginning to brown (about 15 minutes), finished on the plates with a drizzle of Chelsea Whole Foods Market organic lemon

  • three Backyard Farms Maine ‘cocktail tomatoes’ from Whole Foods Market, halved, seasoned with salt and pepper, placed inside a small tin-lined copper pan in a little olive oil above a medium flame until they had softened,, turning once, arranged on beds of olive oil-drizzled fresh lovage [image above], the last in the bucket at Norwich Meadows Farm a few day before, next to the steaks, the tomatoes sprinkled with slightly crushed, incredibly fragrant dried Semi di Finocchietto Ibleo [wild Sicilian fennel seed] from Flatiron Eataly
  • the wine was a Portuguese (Bairrada) red, Sidonio De Sousa, Bairrada 2015, from Astor Wines
  • the music was the album, ‘Johann David Heinichen: Dresden Concerti

pasta, spring garlic, chili, tomato, anchovy, crumb, parsley

The meal was supposed to be little more that a “knee play” (Philip Glass defines a knee play as an interlude between acts, as “the ‘knee’ or joining function that humans’ anatomical knees perform), but it turned out to be a pretty sophisticated savory dish on its own. I normally think of these modest pasta dishes as both links and breathing spaces between conventional entrées likely to incorporate seafood or meat more prominently, but sometimes the pastas end up as standouts.

Although I think that if you’ve included 7 large salted anchovies in a recipe, it pretty much becomes a seafood dish itself.

  • three fairly thinly sliced bulbous spring garlic stems from Lani’s Farm, placed inside a large antique copper pot over medium heat, along with some crushed dried Calabresi peperoncino secchia from Buon Italia in the Chelsea Market and cooked until the garlic was somewhat tender, after which 7 tinned salted Sicilian anchovies from Buon Italia, filleted, were added and heated until the indispensable engraulidae had fallen apart, followed by over a cup of halved Backyard Farms Maine ‘cocktail tomatoes’ from Chelsea Whole Foods Market, plus many of the chopped green sections of the fresh garlic that began in the pain earlier, everything cooked until the mix had become ‘saucy’ (about 5 minutes), sea salt and freshly ground pepper added, that mix tossed with 8 ounces that remained from a one kilogram package of Afeltra 100% Pasta di Gragnano I.G.P. rigatone from Flatiron Eataly that had just finished being cooked al dente and drained, the sauced pasta served with sautéed homemade bread crumbs toasted in a little olive oil, and some chopped parsley from Phillips Farms [the preparation was inspired by a Mark Bittman recipe]
  • the wine was an Italian (Campania/Sannio) white, Aia dei Colombi, Falanghina del Sannio DOC ‘Guardis Sanframondi’ 2018, from Flatiron Wines 
  • the music was the Schubert/Berio symphony (also discussed here), performed by Christoph König conducting the Solistes Européens, Luxembourg