Author: james

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

fennel/chili grilled tuna, fennel/tomato/olive mix, lacinato

The best part of this meal was the company (and the food itself was really good). We had invited an American friend visiting New York from his home in Berlin, along with his non-Berlin brother, who was staying with him while he was here.

I’d been at the Union Square Greenmarket earlier in the day of course, and my idea was to bring home seafood and vegetables whose preparation would distract me as little as possible from a conversation I was really looking forward to. The two last tuna steaks lying on ice under the glass top of the fish monger’s display case would be perfect, and I quickly found a special green. The concept for a second vegetable began with 4 baby fennel bulbs, but it soon became more complicated. I thought it would still require little concentration, which turned out to be only half true.

But it was all great fun, and it went on for hours.

The main course took more time to assemble than I had expected (the distractions were great).

  • two thick 12-ounce tuna steaks from Pura Vida Seafood Company, rinsed, dried, and each of them halved to form 4 long pieces (because of their topography), tops and bottoms seasoned with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, then rubbed with a mixture of almost 2 tablespoons of a mix of some incredibly wonderful dried Semi di Finocchietto Ibleo [wild Sicilian fennel seed], harvested in the Iblei Mountains, from Eataly Flatiron and a little dried peperoncino Calabresi secchi from Buon Italia, in the Chelsea Market, both first crushed together in a porcelain mortar and pestle, the steaks pan-grilled above a medium-high flame for little more than a minute or so on each side (when the cook can remember to watch the time), finished on the plates with a good squeeze of the juice of an organic lemon from Chelsea Whole Foods Market and a drizzle of Trader Joe’s Sicilian Selezione olive oil

  • a vegetable compote, inspired by Marc Bittman, of four small spring fennel bulbs from Central Valley Farm, most of the stems and fronds removed (the remaining stems and most of the fronds kept for another use, some of the more tender stems and some of the fronds set aside, sliced crosswise about one half to one quarter of an inch thick, added to a medium heavy antique high sided copper pot in which a few tablespoons of olive oil had been heated over a medium flame, salt and black pepper added, sautéed until quite soft, ideally without burning (I burnt some edges this time), more than a teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves from Phillips Farms and 5 or so thinly sliced ramp bulbs from Lucky Dog Organic Farm added and stirred for about a minutes, then 10 ounces of halved Village Farms mini San Marzano baby plum tomatoes from Canada (the grower’s headquarters are in British Columbia) via Trader Joe’s, half a cup of pitted kalamata olives from Whole Foods Market, and almost a fourth of a cup of thoroughly rinsed large Mongetto Salinas salted capers from the Eolian Islands, via Eataly, added, the flame raised a little the all cooked until the mixture was virtually ‘saucy’, served with a garnish of some chopped reserved fennel fronds and thinly sliced ramp leaves

ragù of braised goat, fresh pappardelle, pecorino, parsley

I don’t think I would ever cook a ragout (ragù/ragoute) from scratch in order to create a pasta sauce (I’m not sure anyone does, because of the nature of the thing), but after cooking and serving a goat leg last week, I thought that, with all the leftovers, the makings for one had fallen into my lap.

Apparently there is such a thing as too rich when it comes to food, as there is in just about anything else.

I had well over half a pound of some intensely aromatic slow-cooked meat, but there was no physical sign of the vegetables that had contributed to its flavor during the 4 and a half hours it had spent in the oven on Sunday. A ragout is expected to include vegetables, and maybe only vegetables, since the meat with which they are cooked is sometimes removed and reserved for another use once the sauce has been prepared.

On Tueday I was dealing with the opposite scenario. To make it work, I could have ‘built back in’ some vegetables, so that it would at least be some form of Italian ragù, but since this dinner was supposed to be simple and quickly-assembled, I just ‘built it out’ with some interesting fats and liquids, in order to adjust the flavor and create a sauce for my supply of dry chunks and ‘pulled’ pieces of goat.

In the end I felt it wasn’t totally satisfactory, perhaps because, in the absence of vegetables, the ragù was too concentrated, too rich, too, well, ..’meaty’.

Also, on reflection today, I realize that if I had taken a few minutes to cook and add a vegetable or two the goat leftovers could have been incorporated in still a third meal, and that would have saved cooking time, at least on a different day.

  • ten ounces of boned braised leg of goat, plus some defrosted fat and stock remaining from a meal of pork belly, a pinch of crushed dried smoked seranno pepper from Eckerton Hill Farm, a freshly-ground mix of black pepper and other seeds or spices that had been accidentally been combined when I was preparing a dry marinade for that same pork belly meal and then decided to hold onto for future use (black pepper, fennel seeds cumin seeds, coriander seeds, star anise, white peppercorns, and whole clove), sea salt, tomato paste, water from the pasta pot, and a little olive oil, mixed inside a large antique copper pot into which 12 ounces of fresh papardelle from Luca Donofrio‘s fresh pasta shop inside Eataly’s Flatiron store, boiled carefully for little more than 2 minutes, or until barely cooked through, in a large amount of well-salted water, drained, some of the pasta water retained and added to the pan, everything stirred over a medium-high flame until the liquid had emulsified, then arranged inside shallow bowls, garnished with chopped parsley from Phillips Farms, some freshly shredded Sini Fulvi Pecorino Romano D.O.C. from Chelsea Whole Foods Market sprinkled on top, and some olive oil drizzled around the edges
  • the wine was a Portuguese (Douro) red, Mateus Nicolau de Almeida, Trans Douro Express ‘Baixo Corgo’ 2015, from Flatiron Wines
  • the music was Karl Nielsen’ 1906 comic opera, ‘Maskarade’, Denmark’s ‘national opera’ virtually from its premier,  Ulf Schirmer conducting the Danish Radio Symphony Orchestra, the Danish National Radio Choir and the Danish Boys Choir, with Boje Skovus, Aage Haugland, Susanne Resmark, Gert Henning-Jensen, Michael Kristensen, Kurt Ravn, Johan Reuter, Bo Giles Nandfred, Marianne Rorholm, Bo Anker Hansen, Peter Fog, Susse Lillesoe, Hanna Hjort, Anette Simonsen, Henrietta Bonde Hansen, Flemming Jensen, Lars Pederson, and Poul Emborg