I had all this spring stuff, and I thought I shouldn’t really let it just lie around any longer, so I found a way to put it all together with some great pasta.
- six or 7 ounces of fiddlehead ferns from Tamarack Hollow Farm, washed vigorously in several changes of water until the brown chaff had been removed [this entertaining, slightly droll video, ‘How to quickly clean fiddleheads‘, could be pretty useful useful if you have a lot of fiddleheads – and more outdoor space than indoor running water], blanched for 2 or 3 minutes, drained, dried, added to a large antique high-sided copper pot in which 3 stems of thin spring ‘Magic’ garlic from Windfall Farms had been heated in a couple tablespoons of olive oil, the fiddleheads sautéed briefly before 6 ounces of sliced chestnut mushrooms from the Union Square Greenmarket stand of Gail’s Farm in Vineland, New Jersey were added and themselves sautéed until they were tender (3-5 minutes), a bit of both crushed dried habanada pepper and dried smoked serrano pepper from Eckerton Hill Farm added along with some sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, before 10 ounces of pasta from a one kilogram package of Afeltra 100% Pasta di Gragnano I.G.P. rigatone from Flatiron Eataly, cooked al dente and drained, were added and stirred in along with some reserved pasta water, over high heat, until the liquid had emulsifeid, arranged in shallow bowls and topped with some shaved Parmigiano Reggiano (aged 24 months) from Chelsea Whole Foods Market
- the wine was an Italian (Piedmont) red, Oddero, Barbera d’Alba Superiore, 2015, form Flatiron Wines
- the music was Handel’s more-or-less-1732 opera- ‘Acis and Galatea’, performed by The Sixteen
I’m still not used to my forays with some of the finer kinds of white fish ending up as splendidly as lately they sometimes have. This was one of the very best.
It all started in the Union Square Greenmarket, as always.
That image is of only one of the 3 or 4 reservoirs of iced seafood that I faced when I arrived.
I through up my hands looking in frustration looking at the huge variety, so I texted Barry a list of just some of what was at the fish monger’s stall that morning, and asked, “skatefish, monkfish, tuna, swordfish, small bluefish, scallops, pollock, cod, black sea bass, squid, lemon sole, or flounder?”
He decided on the bass.
I also picked up some of the most beautiful mushrooms and kale I had ever seen.
- two 8-ounce Black Sea Bass fillets from Pura Vida Seafood Company, washed, dried, seasoned on both sides with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, sautéed for 2 to 3 minutes over a fairly brisk flame with butter and a little olive oil inside a large, vintage thick-copper oval long-handled pan, skin side down, then turned over and the other side cooked for about the same length of time, removed when done and arranged on 2 warm plates (I had them inside the oven, set to its lowest temperature), otherwise covered at least a little to retain their warmth, then, with 2 tablespoons of butter added to the pan, 4 ounces of chestnut mushrooms [“Chestnut mushrooms are the mushroom everyone wants, they just don’t know it yet.“] from Ramble Creek Farm‘s stall in the Union Square Greenmarket, that had been cut up, mostly just into 2 pieces (just detaching the lobes from the stems), sautéed, stirring, until lightly cooked, seasoned with sea salt, freshly-ground black pepper, adding a pinch each of 2 crushed dried peppers, one hot and one with no heat whatsoever (hickory smoked Jamaican Scotch bonnet from Eckerton Hill Farm, and home dried habanada pepper), a couple tablespoons of chopped parsley from Phillips Farms, and a tablespoon and a half of the juice of an organic Whole Foods Market lemon, the mushrooms stirred some more, everything in the pan then spooned onto the plates at one end of the fish (the skin of the bass is too beautiful to cover up)
- some 5 ounces of purple winterbor kale from from Central Valley Farm, the leaves stripped from their stems, washed in several changes of water, chopped roughly, wilted in a little with olive oil in which 2 garlic cloves from Chelsea’s 8th Avenue Foragers Market, flattened then sliced in half, were allowed to heat until pungent, the greens seasoned with salt, black pepper, and a drizzle of fresh olive oil
- there was otherwise no reason to include bread in this meal, but near the end of the meal the juices, mostly from the mushrooms, that hadn’t been soaked up by the fish, were asking for it, and I don’t need any excuse for the chance to enjoy a slice of my current favorite bread, ‘Pane da Tavola’, from Lost Bread Co.
- the wine was a French (Burgundy/Macon) white, Domaine Michel Barraud, Macon-Villages ‘Les Pierres’ 2016, from Flatiron Wines
- the music was the album, ‘Night Songs’, by Helen Grimes
It was Barry‘s birthday, so the meal would have to be special (for me, they’re all special, if only for the wonderful company, but some ingredients may be more special than others). Because it was a Saturday night, when so many New Yorkers are searching for the right dinner table, we thought ‘special’ and right would mean dinner at home. Because we would be coming home from the opera, I wouldn’t be able to begin preparations until it was nearly ten o’clock in the evening (late even for us). Because it would take so little time, and because culotte steak is always special, the night before I had defrosted one we had on hand in the freezer.
Because it was his birthday, and because the kitchen boasted so many choices, I asked Barry to decide on which we’d have.
There was still time for snacks (breadsticks from Buon Italia) and a celebratory sort-of-sparkling (well, a little fizzy maybe, and delicious) wine before the main course.
And then to a main course, which is as far as we got that night.
- a picanha/culotte steak from Sun Fed Beef in the Union Square Greenmarket, defrosted, brought to room temperature, halved, seasoned on all sides with sea salt and a generous amount of freshly-ground black pepper, seared for less than a minute on the top, thick, fat-covered side inside a dry oval heavy enameled cast iron pan, then the 2 long sides cooked for 3 or 4 minutes each and the ends briefly seared, removed from the pan at the moment they had become perfectly medium-rare (checking with an instant-read thermometer), arranged on plates that were at least not cold, a bit of juice from an organic Chelsea Whole Foods Market lemon squeezed on top, a little bit of thinly sliced red spring onions from Mountain Sweet Berry Farm that had been heated in an antique enameled cast iron porringer to soften them, then scattered with chopped fresh winter savory from Keith’s Farm, drizzled with a bit of olive oil, and allowed to rest for about 4 more minutes before being served
- just before the steaks went into the pan, 4 ounces of small nutty and much-more-delicious-than-you-can-imagine ‘chestnut mushrooms’ from Josh Carnes of Ramble Creek Farm in Washington County, purchased in the Union Square Greenmarket, were tossed (the larger stems cut in half) into a broad heavy copper skillet in which 2 or 3 tablespoons of Whole Foods Market house Portuguese olive oil had been heated over a high flame, the fungi seared until they had begun to brown, a little more oil added if necessary, a pinch or so of dried habanada pepper and 3 small sliced fresh green, or spring, garlic cloves from Lani’s Farm stirred in, the mushrooms now salted as they cooked a bit more, and when they were ready, some foraged spruce tips from Violet Hill Farm tossed in and combined with the mushrooms, the mix then distributed between the 2 plates next to the steak, with more tips tossed on top
- a generous bag of broccolini (a hybrid cross between broccoli and gai lan (aka Chinese broccoli) from Alewife Farm, washed and drained a couple of times in fresh cold water, chopped roughly, sautéed/wilted over a low flame until the stems had softened by gradually being added to a heavy medium size antique copper pot in which 6 ramp bulbs (they last longer than you’d expect) had first been heated until they had softened themselves and become fragrant, seasoned with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper ad drizzled with a little olive oil
- the wine was a Spanish (Castilla Y Leon) red, Ribera del Duero ‘LosCntos’, Finca Torremilanos, from Foragers Market Wine
- the music was David Lang’s album, ‘The Woodmans’, because we can’t get enough of David Lang
I’m a fan.
Fish. At this point, I think I can say that for me the only remaining problematic thing about cooking fish may be the part when you have to turn it over inside a pan. I did pretty well this time, in spite of the size of the skate wings, thanks to the availability of a perfectly suitable large pan, and the small collection of various kinds of spatulas I’ve been assembling.
But the exciting bits about this meal, aside from the very fresh skate (‘raie‘ in French, ‘ray’ in British English), were the chestnut mushrooms, and the extremely rare appearance (here, or almost anywhere for that matter) of the spruce tips I’d found at the Greenmarket a few days before. They worked together beautifully, even though the fungi, in spite of their appearance, were cultivated, and not wild.
The recipe that inspired my own efforts Wednesday night was this one by Jacques Pepin.
- two skate wings (aka raie or ray), or exactly one pound altogether, from American Seafood Company, seasoned with salt and pepper, dredged in whole wheat flour from The Blew family of Oak Grove Plantation in Pittstown, N.J., added to a heavy round 13″ antique French copper pan, and sautéed in a little olive oil and butter (2 tablespoons combined) over a medium-high flame for less than 4 minutes on one side, turned and cooked for the same amount of time on the other, or just until the skate was cooked through, arranged on the plates and 4 ounces of small ‘chestnut mushrooms’ from from Gail’s Farm in Vineland, Herkimer County, New Jersey, most not sliced at all, other than separating the stems from the tops, added to the drippings in the pan and cooked for just about a minute (they should still be firm), while adding a little butter and oil, since the pan was pretty dry, seasoned with salt and pepper and scattered on the top or edges of the skate, then, after half a tablespoon of organic Whole Food Market lemon had been squeezed over all, and a tablespoon or so of butter that had been melted in a small antique iron porringer until foamy and brown poured on top, the dish garnished with a generous amount of chopped fresh spruce tops that had been foraged by Violet Hill Farm
- one bag of spinach from Tamarack Hollow 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 spring garlic cloves from Lani’s Farm had first been allowed to soften, seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, finished on the plates with a little more olive oil
- the was was a French (Burgundy/Chablis) white, Jean-Marc Brocard – Chablis Domaine Sainte Claire 2018, from 67Wine
- the music was an album including 8 decades of music by women composers, ‘Zeitgeist: If Tigers Were Clouds’
The antipasto included the lamb that remained from an earlier meal, now at room temperature, more mellow and sweet than when it had just been cooked and still warm (for what it is worth, the little roast was too small to allow me to make neat thin slices, so it looks rather chopped up here).
- lamb, from a roast prepared the previous Sunday, here served at room temperature, sliced as thinly as I could manage, leaning on a simple salad of romaine lettuce from Shushan Hydroponic and small arugula leaves from Alewife Farm, the greens dressed with a good Umbrian olive oil, Luciana Cerbini Casa Gola from Buon Italia (which was also drizzled over the lamb), a white balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper, accompanied by slices of pane di comune from Sullivan Street Bakery
The primi was not followed by a secundi, but on its own it was certainly up to the challenge presented by the salad which preceded it. It was a pretty sturdy chestnut pasta which was sauced with mushrooms and, in an homage to the lamb in the salad, a bit of the intense gravy that had been produced by its preparation earlier in the week.
- eight ounces of Sfoglini chestnut fusilli (organic semolina flour, chestnut flour, water) cooked until al dente, served with a mushroom sauce composed of chopped golden oyster mushrooms from Blue Oyster Cultivation, cooked until soft in a large tin-lined heavy copper pan with a little bit of rich ‘Kerrygold Pure Irish Butter‘, minced ’Picasso’ (very strong) shallots from Mountain Sweet Berry Farm and minced garlic from John D. Madura Farm and some chopped thyme from Stokes Farm added to the mushrooms and cooked until fragrant and soft, at which time another tablespoon or two of butter was added, and, once melted, a tablespoon of coarse stone-ground flour introduced and stirred to make something of a paste, before a third of a cup of white wine slowly poured into the pan while being slowly stirred with a rubber whisk, cooked until the mix thickens, chopped parsley from Eataly and chopped lovage from Windfall Farms stirred in, before adding a little more than a tablespoon of concentrated genuinely-spicy self-sauce (gravy) rendered from a lamb roast cooked days before, the whole mix seasoned with salt and pepper before the cooked pasta was turned into the pan and mixed with the sauce, the completed dish served in 2 bowls, with grated ‘Parmigiano Reggiano Bonat 3’ from Buon Italia sprinkled over the top, before adding some micro fennel greens from Alewife Farm
(fennel micro greens, the final touch)