We had a guest, almost a last-minute guest, last night. I did however have enough notice to be able to purchase 3 servings of fish at the Union Square Greenmarket earlier in the day, and also one beautiful head of radicchio larger than one I would normally bring home.
It all went swell.
It was also one of the most relaxed and pleasant small dinner parties either of us can remember, especially considering the fact that we had only met Andrew a few days earlier. Maybe I’m finally getting the hang of this thing.
Or maybe it was just our affable Australian artist, Andrew Nicholls.
We sat down to a salad whose elements seem to have been waiting for just this occasion. Barry had brought home a soft Spanish goat cheese a few days before, to enjoy with the tomatoes which were only now fully ripened.
- one knob of a Spanish goat goat milk cheese, ‘Capricho de Cabra‘, from Whole Foods Market, brought to room temperature and arranged on the plates with sliced ripe heirloom tomatoes in 3 different colors from Berried Treasures Farm which were seasoned with sea salt and freshly-ground back pepper, everything sprinkled with chopped lovage from Keith’s Farm, and drizzled with an excellent Puglian olive oil, Alce Nero DOP ‘Terra di Bari Bitonto, from the Flatiron Eataly Market
- slices of an Eric Kayser ‘baguette monge’ [missing in the picture above]
- the wine was an Italian (Sicily) white, Corvo Bianco 2015, from Philippe Liquors and Wine, once we had finished the aperitif wine, a New Mexican (Sierra County) sparkling white, Gruet Brut NV, from Astor Wines & Spirits
The main course was also very Mediterranean, although (like the first, with the exception of that Spanish cheese) the ingredients were almost entirely local.
- three 8-ounce Yellowfin tuna steaks from Pura Vida Seafood, rubbed, tops and bottoms, with a mixture of a dry Sicilian fennel seed from Buon Italia that had been crushed in a mortar and pestle along with a little dried peperoncino Calabresi secchi from Buon Italia, then seasoned with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, pan-grilled above a medium-high flame (for only a little more than a minute or so on each side), finished on the plates with a good squeeze of the juice of an organic lemon from Trader Joe’s Market and some olive oil, served with bronze micro fennel from Windfall Farm
- one large (exactly one pound) head of Treviso radicchio from Campo Rosso Farm, washed, the liquid drained and wiped off, cut lengthwise into four sections, one of them wrapped and returned to the crisper for another day, arranged one cut side up on a medium Pampered Chef unglazed ceramic oven pan (after securing the leaves by wrapping each with string), covered with lots of thyme branches from Phillips Farm, seasoned generously with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, drizzled with 2 tablespoons of olive oil, baked in a pre-heated 400º oven for 12 minutes or so, turned to the other cut side and returned to the oven for 8 or 9 minutes, then turned uncut side up and drizzled with one more tablespoon of oil, baked for about 2 minutes more, arranged on the plates, garnished with a few fresh thyme branches
- half a dozen ripe Sun Gold tomatoes from Franca Tantillo’s Berried Treasures Farm, rolled around for a minute or so, with a bit of olive oil inside a 200-year-old enameled cast iron porringer (I love using that thing), seasoned with sea salt and ground black pepper, sprinkled with a bit of lovage that remained from that which had been chopped for the first course [the tomatoes were introduced largely for the color they could add to the plate]
- the wine was a Spanish (Rias Baixas) white, Martin Codax Albarino 2016, from Philippe Liquors and Wines
There was a dessert, imagined and executed pretty much on the spot, since I found no berries at the Greenmarket that day, and I had not prepared for anything else.
- a small scoop of some terrific, very rich Riverine Ranch Water Buffalo Sweet Cream Ice Cream from the farmer’s stall in the Union Square Greenmarket, topped by a small scoop of Talenti Vanilla Bean Gelato from Whole Foods Market, drizzled with some Toschi Orzata Orgeat syrup, finished with some chopped candied ginger sprinkled on top
- the music through much of the meal was from the recordings included in the book, ‘Lead Kindly Light‘, described as a “176-page hardcover, clothbound book with 2 CDs featuring recordings of Rural Southern Music: Old Time, String Band Music from Appalachia, extremely rare Country Blues and African American gospel singing from 1924-1939”; we had pulled out the book and the compact discs during dinner after we learned of our guest’s interest in the culture and music of that era, and area
I was crossing a few borders when I put together this meal tonight. There was Spanish chorizo from a New York German Metzgerei, a very Italian quince confiture, Italian rapini from a local Yankee farm, and German boiled salt potatoes from an Italian American farmer, mixed with a very English herb.
- Four 3-ounce links of a wonderful spicy chorizo sausage from Schaller & Weber, pan grilled for a few minutes over a medium flame until heated through, served with an Italian quince confiture from Westside Market, Lazzaris’ Salsa di Mele Cotogne [the confiture appeared on the plate after the photograph was taken].
- three medium-size unpeeled Red Norland potatoes from Berried Treasures farm, boiled with a generous amount of salt until barely cooked through, drained, halved, dried while still inside the large still-warm vintage Corning Pyrex Flameware blue-glass pot in which they had cooked, tossed with a tablespoon or so of olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt, freshly-ground black pepper, and a generous amount of lovage from Keith’s Farm
- one bunch of very tender early fall broccoli rabe from Willow Wisp Farm, washed and drained several times, trimmed and very roughly chopped, and with much of the water still clinging to the greens, wilted with olive oil inside a large enameld cast iron pot in which one large, lightly-crushed and quartered Rocambole garlic clove from Keith’s Farm had been heated in a little olive oil until beginning to color, finished with sea salt, freshly-ground pepper, and a small amount of a finely-chopped Calabrian medium-hot cherry pepper from Alewife Farm, arranged on the plates and drizzled with more olive oil
- the wine was a California (grapes from two districts) red, Tom Shula California Malbec 2015, from Naked Wines
- the music was the album, ‘Camerata Roman Plays Baroque – Purcell, Roman, Handel‘
I looked for mackerel when I arrived at the fishmonger’s on Wednesday, since I was hoping to introduce some to the cherry tomatoes I’d been husbanding in our kitchen.
I had bought the tomatoes one week earlier, when they were less red, less ripe, less sweet, and I had kept them on a north window sill until they were perfect.
Here’e what they looked like while in the Union Square Greenmarket, still looking more orange than red.
The turnips, which I had purchased the same day I cooked them, were already very sweet. Turnips may not have been the perfect complement for this fish, but it was an interesting conversation.
- fifteen ounces of Spanish mackerel (4 fillets) from Blue Moon Fish, washed, dried, brushed lightly with olive oil and seasoned with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, pan grilled over high heat for 6 or 7 minutes, first skin side down, turned half way through, removed and arranged on the plates with a salsa consisting of 8 ounces or so of gorgeous, perfectly ripe cherry tomatoes from Stokes Farm, halved, that had been tossed with 3 teaspoons of olive oil, a little more than a teaspoon of Sicilian salted capers (first rinsed and drained), half a tablespoon of juice from a Trader Joe’s organic lemon, sea salt, freshly-ground black pepper, and some chopped oregano from Keith’s Farm, garnished with a little more oregano
- a handful of Hakurei turnips (or ‘ Japanese turnips’) from Willow Wisp Farm, separated from their beautiful greens, leaving a bit of stem on each, scrubbed and halved vertically, sautéed inside a heavy medium-size tin-lined high-sided copper pan in a little olive oil, in which one thickly-sliced garlic clove from Keith’s Farm had been softened, until the vegetables had begun to color, then removed and set aside while the washed and very roughly cut greens were introduced to the pan and heated until barely wilted, the turnips returned to the pan and everything seasoned with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper
- the wine was an Italian (Tuscany) rosé, Il Rose di Casanova, Casanova della Spinetta, from Philippe Wines
- the music was a great classic recording of Mozart’s ‘Le nozze di Figaro’, Georg Solti conducting the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the London Opera Chorus, with Thomas Allen, Kiri Te Kanawa, Lucia Popp, Samuel Ramey, Frederica von Stade, Jane Berbié, Kurt Moll, Robert Tear, Philip Langridge, Yvonne Kenny, and Giorgio Tadeo, with Jeffrey Tate, continuo
We often eat so late that I haven’t wanted to extend meals later than they already run with just one course. Still, I’ve been trying to fit in an appetizer course again, and on Tuesday it finally happened.
I realize only as I write this, probably because there was so much else going on in this meal, that both courses were dominated by ‘smoky’ ingredients.
- four ounces of smoked monkfish from Blue Moon Fish, brought to our dining room temperature, sliced thinly and arranged on 2 plates with a mound of red dandelion from Paffenroth Farms which had been drizzled with a very good olive oil, sprinkled with a pinch of Maldon salt and some freshly-ground black pepper; served with a sauce composed of Sir Kensington’s plain, Classic Mayonnaise (which is made by some ex-Brown students; their headquarters are in SoHo), lemon zest and juice from an organic Trader Joe’s lemon, chopped lovage from Keith’s Farm, the very last of the fresh fennel seed from Berried Treasures, sea salt, freshly-ground black pepper, and micro sorrel from Two Guys from Woodbridge
- slices of Elio’s Bakery Portuguese whole wheat bread from West Side Market
The main course was a rich pasta dish, featuring a dried, artisanal form we enjoyed for the first time.
- three thickly-sliced ‘scarlet’ or Japanese scallions and one half of a small chopped red onion, both from Norwich Meadows Farm, sautéed in a little olive oil side a large, high-sided tin-lined copper pot until they had begun to color, half of a small bright red Calabrian medium hot cherry pepper from Alewife Farm stirred in near the end, followed by most of one fresh habanada pepper, chopped, also from Norwich Meadows Farm, and one fennel bulb from Hawthorne Valley Farm, its wedges, sliced radiating from the core, having just been pan grilled, that mix then joined by 6 ounces (dry weight) of a package of a smoky Agricola del Sole ‘Orecchiette di Grano Arsopasta‘ [Eng. ‘burnt grain’], from Eataly, cooked al dente, along with some of reserved pasta water, the ‘little ears’ moved about on the surface of the pot over a medium flame until the liquid had emulsified into a decent sauce, which was combined, after the flame under the pot was turned off, with thin slices of one perfectly-ripe mahogany-colored heirloom tomato from Berried Treasures Farm that had been slipped into the mix and then barely moved about, the finished pasta scooped into 2 shallow bowls, finished with a drizzle of olive oil and some more chopped fennel fronds
There was fruit for a finish, shown here on the table of the farmer’s stall.
It was beautiful, lying inside a tub on the ice. I had almost no idea what it was, or at least I didn’t know what if would taste like, or how I should cook it, but when I saw it at the fisherman’s stand in Union Square on Monday I wasn’t going to pass up a chance to find out.
I immediately began to look everywhere on line, but I found almost nothing, which really surprised me. Most of what I did come across, and almost all of the images, was connected to the doings of high-end chefs and restaurants (as in, dainty and very pretty little appetizers). One writer wrote that he or she had decided to try it because, well, pork belly, and tuna belly, both of which had become quite a thing in recent years, so why not swordfish belly?
I did do a paper search as well, but there was absolutely nothing in any of my own files or cookbooks on the subject.
By that time I had gathered that at least I wasn’t coming in at the tail end of a new food fad.
I did manage to put together a recipe myself, informed a little by what I had seen, and entirely from ingredients I had on hand. The basic idea was to arrange some good flavors, and to avoid masking the subtlety of that which I expected from the swordfish itself.
The steak was delicious. We were fortunate to be able to share it and its juices with 2 very congenial vegetables and their own juices. That usually calls for a good crusty bread, and I had one ready.
- one swordfish belly steak (13 ounces) from P.E. & D.D. Seafood, brought to room temperature, skinned (although I’m not sure that it would have been inedible, as it is with regular swordfish steaks), cut into 1½ to 2-inch-wide sections that were not too thick (say, less than one inch), briefly seared, 30 seconds on the first side, 15 on the second, inside a totally dry (no oil or butter) enameled cast iron pan which had been pre-heated above a high flame until very it was very hot, the fish removed and arranged on the plates, the heat under the pan turned down a bit and one chopped fresh habanada pepper and 6 or 8 pitted and halved black oil-cured olives from Buon Italia pushed around inside of it until they had warmed, these then arranged on the swordfish, everything seasoned with Maldon salt and drizzled with a little organic lemon from Trader Joe’s, finished with a garnish of micro fennel from Windfall Farm
- one very-thinly-sliced medium shallot from Norwich Meadows Farm heated in 2 tablespoons of olive oil inside a heavy, high-sided tin-lined copper pan until softened, then one broadly/roughly-chopped Radicchio Variegato di Castelfranco from Campo Rosso Farm introduced into the pan, some salt and pepper added, the chicory stirred until it had barely wilted, finished with a small splash of balsamic vinegar and arranged on the plates
- two bright heirloom tomatoes from Berried Treasures Farm, sliced, gently heated inside a smaller tin-lined copper pan, seasoned with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, some chopped oregano from Keith’s Farm stirred in, arranged on the plates, sprinkled with more oregano, and drizzled with a little olive oil
- slices of a Bien Cuit ‘Campagne’ traditional sour dough from Foragers Market
- the wine was an Italian (Campania) white, Feudi di San Gregorio Falanghina 2015, from Garnet Wines
- the music was Vivaldi’s 1723 opera, ‘Ercole’, Fabio Biondi directing the ensemble, Europa Galante