It was a holiday.
And there was game. Although venison is hardly what comes to mind on the day when the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. is especially abroad in the land, last night we celebrated the birthday of the great man partly with this very good meal.
It was especially good, especially on an extremely cold day.
- one venison steak (1.26 lbs/20 ounces) from Schaller & Weber, rinsed, brought to room temperature, dried, rubbed with olive oil and a very generous coating of freshly-cracked black peppercorns, set aside on the counter for more than 45 minutes, then placed over moderately high heat in 1 to 2 tablespoons of a combination of butter and olive oil inside a heavy oval 11-inch enameled cast iron pan, cooked rare to medium rare, which meant little more than 2 minutes on one side, or until juices had begun accumulating on the top, turned and cooked for another 2 minutes, cut into 2 pieces and transferred to warm plates, the bottom of the pan scraped with a wooden spatula to collect the juices, 2 tablespoons of a decent brandy (Courvoisier V.O. last night) added to the pan and cooked over high heat briefly, or until almost a syrup, the sauce poured over the meat, which was then garnished with thyme
- thirteen ounces of ruby crescent potatoes from Mountain Sweet Berry Farm, halved lengthwise, tossed with a little olive oil, salt, pepper, the leaves from some stems of rosemary from Whole Foods Market, and a small amount of crushed golden home-dried habanada pepper, arranged cut side down on a medium Pampered Chef unglazed ceramic pan, with half of a fresh sage leaf from Chelsea Whole Foods Market perched on the top of each, roasted at about 400º for about 20 minutes
- a little duck fat heated above a medium-high flame inside a large antique high-sided copper pot, adding one finely-sliced 17-ounce red cabbage from Race Farm and several small roughly-chopped ‘yellow shallots’ from Norwich Meadows Farm, stirring regularly until the cabbage had softened slightly (about 15 minutes), after that 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, less than 2 tablespoons of whole Foods Market lemon juice, and almost 2 teaspoons of local apple cider vinegar, also from Race Farm, were added, plus a sprinkling of freshly-ground black pepper, the heat reduced and the mixture cooked about 10 minutes more, or until the cabbage was wilted and the shallots softened, a teaspoon of turbinado sugar and a third of a cup of some excellent juicy mixed raisons from Chelsea Trader Joe’s added and mixed in, finished by stirring in some red current jelly
The cheese was German, picked to complement both the entrée and the weather. Tilsit is one of my favorite German cheeses, with a complicated history of its own, reflecting at least some of the vicissitudes of its birthplace.
- bits of a really good German Tilsit cheese from Schaller & Weber
- thin slices of a She Wolf Bakery miche
Sunday pasta, winter variant.
Thanks to the radish.
- six or seven ounces of French breakfast radishes from Eckerton Hill Farms cooked inside a large antique copper pot in a little butter and olive oil over a medium-high flame until they were tender but still retained some bite, removed and reserved, then 6 or 7 sliced tiny Rocambole garlic cloves from Keith’s Farm added and heated until fragrant and mostly softened, along with a small amount of dried peperoncino Calabresi secchi, the washed and drained tender radish greens stirred in (where they wilted almost immediately), followed by 8 ounces of a really great local pasta, Sfoglini’s whole grain reginetti, cooked until only barely al dente, along with much of a cup of reserved pasta cooking water, the mix stirred constantly until the liquid had emulsified, the radishes returned to the pot, and a tablespoon or more of juice from an organic Chelsea Whole Foods lemon and a fairly generous amount of freshly-ground black pepper tossed in, the pasta arranged inside 2 shallow bowls, sprinkled with toasted fresh breadcrumbs (half a cup of Philadelphia’s Lost Bread Company’s ‘table bread’, which is available at the Union Square Greenmarket on Wednesdays, toasted until golden in 3 tablespoons of olive oil, with a teaspoon of lemon zest and half a teaspoon of red pepper flakes mixed in after)
- the wine was an Italian (Sardinia/Ogliastra), white, Cardedu, Vermentino di Sardegna ‘Nuo’ 2016, from Flatiron Wines [more about the wine here]
- the music was Verdi’s 1859 tragic opera, ‘Un Ballo In Maschera’, Georg Solti conducting the National Philharmonic Orchestra, with a cast including Luciano Pavarotti, Kathleen Battle, Margaret Price, and Christa Ludwig
The quail may have been domesticated, but it still tastes wild, which is a very good thing.
It’s one of our favorite entrées, even if it doesn’t appear on our table very often. It only showed up this time because, while looking for something else inside the packaged meat case in La Macelleria at Eataly Flatiron, I spotted a bag with 4 unfrozen partially-deboned quail.
- four partially-boned (a tweak which is always a treat for cooks and diners) farmed quail, weighing just over one pound together, from Pat Lafrieda, via Eataly’s La Macelleria, rinsed, dried on paper towels and rubbed with sea salt and a judicious amount of crumbled dried peperoncino Calabresi secchi from Buon Italia in the Chelsea Market, placed breast-side-down over medium-high flames on top of a heavy 2-burner seasoned cast iron ribbed pan, a number of sprigs of fresh local Goodness Gardens thyme from Chelsea Whole Foods Market scattered over each, grilled for about 5 minutes, then turned over and, ensuring that they were now resting on top of the thyme, grilled for another 5 or 6 minutes, served on the plates with a squeeze of a local lemon, a very sweet small fruit from one of the greenhouses of Fantastic Gardens of Long Island in the Union Square Greenmarket, and a drizzle of olive oil
- one 5-inch white pumpkin squash from Norwich Meadows Farm, scrubbed, halved vertically, the seeds and pith removed, cut into wedges averaging a half inch thick on the outside end and mixed by hand inside a large bowl with a relatively small amount of olive oil, sea salt, freshly-ground black pepper, and pieces of crushed dried habanada pepper, arranged in one layer on a large, unglazed, well-seasoned Pampered Chef ceramic pan and roasted at 425º for 25 minutes or so, removed from the oven and transferred to a large heavy high-sided copper pot in which 6 or 7 very small crushed cloves of Keith’s Farm rocambole garlic and more than a dozen sage leaves from Whole Foods Market Chelsea had been gently heated in a bit of olive oil, the squash gently mixed in with a wooden spatula
- a portion of one Savoy cabbage from Norwich Meadows Farm (a remainder from the 2 heads used in the previous day’s meal), sliced into one-half-inch ribbons, sautéed in a scant tablespoon of olive oil inside a heavy medium-size tin-lined copper pot until wilted but still a little crunchy, stirring occasionally, seasoned with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, 5 or 6 slightly smashed juniper berries mixed in, a few tiny drops of balsamic vinegar added and the mix stirred over the heat for only a moment, arranged on the plates and finished with a drizzle of olive oil
- the wine was a super – if the phrase can be excused in this context – Italian (Tuscany) red, something of a maverick, Argiano Non Confunditur 2015, the gift of a Berlin friend who had been a guest for dinner on an earlier occasion
- the music was the extraordinarily beautiful 2014 ECM album, ‘Harrison Birtwistle: Chamber Music’
We were entertaining guests from Berlin, one of whom hadn’t been to our apartment for dinner before, at least while we were there (we had exchanged apartments for a month). Neither meat nor pasta could be on the menu. I wanted to serve something which we would all appreciate, and which also would allow me to be a part of the conversation even as I was cooking.
The monkfish looked terrific at the market that afternoon, and I had a great Mark Bittman recipe which by this point I could process blindfolded. Unfortunately the ‘tails’ (the term almost always used to describe monkfish bodies, probably because their heads are disproportionately huge and pretty horrific in appearance), were larger, and, more importantly, much thicker than any I had worked with before, their cooking time was way longer than what I had anticipated. Luckily the potatoes were very forgiving about having to endure a longer stay in the oven, and the meal actually turned out well.
I did end up learning a couple of useful lessons because of the delay: Consider carefully the surprising mathematics of ingredient sizes, and buy smaller monkfish the next time.
We hung out in the breakfast room (the dining room that evening) nibbling on our archetypal small spread of breadsticks, roasted chick peas, and Fiori di Puglia Taralli al Peperoncino, all from Buon Italia.
There was a bit of an interval before we sat down for the main course, for the reason recounted above.
- an overflowing cup of a mix of black oil-cured olives from Buon Italia and a few kalamata olives from Chelsea Whole Foods Market, all pits removed, spread on top of a bed of 3 large (8-ounce) scrubbed and thinly-sliced Kennebec potatoes from Mountain Sweet Berry Farm, the slices slightly overlapping inside an enameled cast iron oven pan after the potatoes had first been seasoned with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, sprinkled with a bit of crushed dried orange/gold habanada pepper, and topped with 17 dry Italian bay leaves, roasted in a very generous amount of olive oil (a third to half of a cup) inside a 400º oven for about 20 or 25 minutes, depending on the potato variety and their thickness, reversing the direction of the pan inside the oven halfway through, then 2 monkfish tails, each weighing a full pound, from Pura Vida Seafood Company in the Union Square Greenmarket, rinsed, halved, seasoned with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, placed on top of the potatoes, roasted at the same temperature for, maybe, 20 minutes [I lost track of how long the monkfish cooked this time, so I couldn’t include the precise timing in this text], arranged on 2 plates and garnished with micro red chard from two Guys from Woodbridge
- most of 2 beautiful small-to-medium Savoy cabbages from Norwich Meadows Farm, washed, quartered, cored, sliced into one-half-inch ribbons, sautéed in a scant tablespoon of olive oil inside a large enameled cast iron pot until wilted but still crunchy, stirring occasionally, seasoned with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, a teaspoon and a half of just-toasted cumin seed mixed in, finished with a third to half of a teaspoon of Columela Rioja 30 Year Reserva sherry vinegar, the mix stirred and cooked another couple of minutes (the cabbage was also patient about the delay in cooking the monkfish)
- the wine was a really wonderful Spanish (Priorat) white, Priorat Blanco, Mas La Mola 2016, the generous gift of our guests
The cheese course, unusually, had a little bit of everything: In addition to the 4 cheeses, there was bread, dried and fresh fruit, a micro green, and a good wine, so we lingered, also maybe a bit longer than usual.
- four cheeses: an unnamed washed rind buffalo milk cheese, like a Munster or havarti, a new cheese from Riverine Ranch, now in the process of development; Manchester goat cheese, Danby goat cheese, and Bardem Blue cow cheese all from Consider Bardwell Farm
- a garnish of micro chervil from Two Guys from Woodbridge
- thin slices of an excellent crusty ‘table bread’ from Philadelphia’s Lost Bread Company
- bosc and bartlett pears from Locust Grove Fruit Farm
- dried Calabrian (Amantea) figs from Buon Italia in the Chelsea Market
- the wine was a Spanish (Galicia) white, Bodegas Avancia, Godello ‘Cuvee De O’ 2016, from Flatiron Wines
I’ve found it impossible to serve anything but a delicious meal when I use one of Sfoglini‘s local artisanal pastas.
While they each have great individual flavors of their own, they can also be canvases inviting a cook to be as creative as possible with whatever might be in the kitchen, and sometimes the smallest additions can be the most effective.
These packages (half of a box is enough for an entrée serving 2 people) are also among the easiest and least expensive entrées of any kind to prepare, although, especially with the simplest additions, in smaller portions, they are also perfect as appetizers.
- eight ounces of Sfoglini emmer reginetti (organic emmer flour, organic durum semolina flour, water), also known as mafaldine, or ‘little queens’, from the Greenmarket Regional Grains Project in the Union Square Greenmarket, cooked barely al dente, some of the water reserved, drained, added to a large high-sided antique copper pot in which a sliced medium Camelot shallot from Quarton Farm and the chopped stem sections of a few small celery stalks from Philipps Farms had been heated in a little olive oil over a medium flame until they had softened and become fragrant, a dozen or so pitted and halved Gaeta olives from Buon Italia in the Chelsea Market and a pinch of gorgeous (dried) hickory smoked Jamaican Scotch bonnet peppers from Eckerton Hill Farm added, generously seasoned with freshly-ground black pepper, the mix stirred over high heat, along with almost 3 quarters of a cup of reserved pasta water, for a minute or so, or until the liquid had emulsified, some of the roughly-chopped celery leaves mixed in, arranged inside shallow bowls, sprinkled with some lightly-toasted pine nuts, also from Buon Italia, garnished with purple micro radish from Two Guys from Woodbridge, a little olive oil drizzled around the edges
There was a small cheese course with a big cheese.
- another excellent new cheese from Riverine Ranch: lightly-washed-rind buffalo milk semi soft cheese, without a name, described by Brian, the cheesemaker, as like a Munster or havarti, and in development, which probably means this particular wheel is a one-off
- thin slices of a great treat from an interesting Philadelphia bakery new to the Union Square Greenmarket, and to us, ‘Table Bread’ from Lost Bread Company