finocchiona, arugula; chitarra, garlic, chili, anchovy, parsley

It was a return to a pretty simple, pretty authentically (mostly southern) Italian meal last night, something that has been missing from our table for a while. No fancy extras anywhere in sight.

I knew it would be a pasta night, sitting between fish and meat-dominated dinners, and I had decided to include a first course of some form of salumi. and Barry suggested something really simple to follow it. What we came up with could have been more simple, but could hardly have been more Italian.

We began with an antipasto that was entirely local, except for the olive oil and the black pepper.

  • two ounces, thinly sliced, of a luscious local finocchiona-style sausage, ‘Finochiona’ (pork, salt, red wine, spices, garlic, evaporated cane juice, celer extract, lactic acid starter culture) from Rico and Jill of Walnut Hill Farm in Pawlet, Rutland County, Vermont, which now sells at the Union Square Greenmarket on Fridays (the sausage is made in collaboration with Jacuterie, an artisanal charcuterie company south of them, in Ancramdale, Columbia County, New York
  • handfuls of baby arugula from TransGenerational Farm, dressed with good olive oil, Renieris Estate ‘Divina’ (a Koroneiki varietal), Hania, from Crete, purchased at the Chelsea Whole Foods Market, a bit of white balsamic vinegar, local sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper
  • slices of some extraordinary bread, ‘Homadama’ (wheat , corn, water, maple syrup, salt, slaked lime), from Lost Bread Co.

  • nine ounces of Afeltra spaghetti chitarra from Eataly Flatiron, boiled, but only until still pretty firmly al dente, then tossed with a sauce made of 2 large plump and still a bit juicy ‘Nootka rose’ garlic cloves from TransGenerational Farm, roughly chopped, cooked in less than a quarter of a cup of olive oil over low-to-medium heat until softened and only beginning to brown, after which 2 well-rinsed salted Sicilian anchovies from Buon Italia in the Chelsea Market were mashed into the oil and a very judicial pinch of crushed dried and quite hot ‘Diavvoletti Rossi’ Calabresi peperoncino secchia from Buon Italia added, along with several tablespoons of chopped parsley from Phillips Farms, and a few tablespoons of the pasta water, everything simmered for a few minutes, reducing the liquid slightly, and once the pasta was added to the pot, the heat turned up slightly and the entire mix stirred together for a couple of minutes, or until the pasta was done to taste and most of the liquid emulsified, when it was placed in shallow bowls and sprinkled with another few tablespoons of parsley
  • the wine was an Italian (Tuscany/Maremma) white, Santa Margherita Vermentino 2017, from Philippe Wines
  • the music was an album of works for small ensembles by Leopold Anton Kozeluch, performed by Consortium Classicum 

shishito; roasted squid, baby corn on the cob with epazote

I love corn, in almost any form. While that goes for corn on the cob as well, I hate the messy process involved in eating it (I put it in the same category as boiled lobster: best consumed while sitting on sand, preferably rocks, on the ocean, preferably Aquidneck Island).

And then there’s corn where the entire cob can be eaten at the table with a knife and fork, since it’s only about 4 inches long, and completely tender.

But before we got to that treat last night I sautéed a different green vegetable, which also, incidentally, from the same young farmers as the corn.

  • two large handfuls of shishito peppers from Alewife Farm, washed, drained, dried, then sautéed over medium high heat in a broad 13″ cast iron pan for a few minutes, stirring and turning, seasoned with Phil Karlin’s P.E. & D.D. Seafood Long Island Sound local sea salt, arranged on plates, with more salt added to taste
  • slices of a She Wolf Bakery ‘miche’

I was able to do most of the preparation for the main course before we sat down to the peppers.

  • after the oven had been heated to 400º (while it was a warm humid night, I would only have to use it for 5 minutes, and our new AC system is able to cope with that), exactly one pound of very fresh cleaned squid from Pura Vida Seafood Company, bodies and tentacles, rinsed and very carefully dried, were quickly arranged inside a large rectangular enameled cast iron pan that had been heated on top of the stove until hot, the cooking surface brushed with olive oil, and once the oil itself had become quite hot, the mollusks were immediately sprinkled with a heaping teaspoon of super-pungent dried Sicilian oregano from Buon Italia, a small crushed section of a small ‘Diavvoletti RossiCalabresi peperoncino secchia from Buon Italia in the Chelsea Market, and a pinch of the now powdered remains of some light-colored home-dried habanada pepper I had purchased fresh from Norwich Meadows Farm back in 2017 (and it’s still awesome), sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, followed by 3 full tablespoons of juice from an organic Chelsea Whole Foods Market Mexican lemon and a splash of olive oil, the pan placed inside the hot oven and the squid roasted for just 5 minutes, by which time their bodies had ballooned somewhat, after which they were removed and arranged on 2 plates and ladled with the cooking juices from a footed glass sauce boat
  • some micro ‘Hong Vit‘ Asian radish greens from Windfall Farms arranged next to the squid

 

herb-roasted striped bass; grilled tomato, dill; green beans

For a while at least, this may become my favorite recipe for a very favorite fish. Lately I’ve wanted to prepare it on top of the range, and when it works, it ends up with an attractive and delicious crispy skin, but until I can manage to do it well each time, and without the anxiety, I’m going to feel better about putting the bass in the oven, after first dressing it a bit at leisure, and then just forgetting about it until they need a quick finish, one that requires absolutely no skill.

Last night it was also totally luscious.

Going this route will be particularly handy with guests, as I’ve already learned.

one thick Striped Bass fillet (a total of 13 ounces) from American Seafood Company, washed, drained, brought to room temperature, divided into 2 sections by cutting down the middle, arranged skin side down on the bottom of a small glazed terra cotta pan resting on a coating of about 2 teaspoons of olive oil, scattered with a mixture of chopped fresh herbs, specifically, ‘za’atar’, or, technically, origanum syriacum, from TransGenerational Farm; thyme and spearmint from Stokes Farm; and lovage from Keith’s Farm, plus one partially-crumbled bay leaf purchased while fresh, from Westside Market [alternatively almost any fresh herb or combination of herbs could be used in this recipe], seasoned with Phil Karlin’s P.E. & D.D. Seafood Long Island Sound sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, sprinkled with some of my homemade dry bread crumbs and drizzled with a little olive oil, placed inside a 425º oven for approximately 25 minutes, removed when done, sprinkled with a bit of the chopped heavenly herb, epazote, also from TransGenerational Farm, and arranged on the plates, squeezed with the juice of a small organic Mexican lemon from Whole Foods and drizzled with olive oil

three beautiful yellow plum tomatoes from Stokes Farm, halved, dried, and rubbed cut side down on a plate scattered with some sea salt and black pepper, pan grilled inside a medium size enameled cast iron ribbed pan until slightly softened and marked by the pan, arranged on the plates, drizzled with a tiny bit of white balsamic vinegar, then some olive oil, and garnished with scissored dill flowers from Willow Wisp Farm

a few ounces of hand-picked haricots verts from Samascott Orchards in Kinderhook, NY, left whole, blanched until barely tender, drained, and dried in the same large antique Pyrex Flameware pot in which they had cooked, now over a low flame, shaking, then set aside inside until the rest of the entrée was just about finished, when they were reheated in a little oil inside a heavy well-seasoned cast iron pan, finished with salt and black pepper

the wine was an Oregon (Willamette Valley) white, Chris Baker Willamette Pinot Gris 2018, from Naked Wines

the music was Lully’s 1684 opera, ‘Amadis’, with an interesting libretto involving “chivalric romance and the doings of gods and goddesses” on an obscure subject suggested by his patron, Louis le Grand, performed by Christophe Rousset leading Van Wanroij, Tauran, Perruche, 
Bennani; Auvity, Arnould, Crossley-Mercer; Chamber Chorus of Namur, Les Talens Lyriques, Rousset

whole wheat reginetti, garlic, bay, chili, anchovy, cabbage

..and marjoram.

[note; the picture doesn’t include any of the green herb mentioned in the description below; until we’d begun to eat, I hadn’t remembered to add it, but I then quickly and – mostly – corrected the error]

It could have been a wintry meal, mostly because of the cabbage part, that it didn’t have any problem showing off in August. It also felt a little Alpine, and the excellent Germanic wine Barry chose to accompany it with turned out to be an inspired choice. 

We awaited the meal with some breadsticks and a Portuguese (Douro/Duriense) white wine, glasses from a bottle of Quevedo Family Alvarinho 2018, from Naked Wines

  • two tablespoons of olive oil; 2 large chopped cloves of still-juicy-in-August, ‘Nootka Rose’ garlic from Jayne, of TransGenerational Farm in the Union Square Greenmarket, 3 salted Sicilian anchovies, thoroughly rinsed and filleted, from Buon Italia in Chelsea Market; 2 very small quite hot Calabrian ‘diavoletti rossi‘ peppers, also from Buon Italia, and 2 medium bay leaves, dry, but fresh when purchased, from Westside Market, heated together inside an antique copper pot above a medium flame until the garlic had colored, then 8 ounces of shredded green ‘personal size” cabbage from Campo Rosso Farm added and cooked, with the heat raised to high, with the addition of a quarter cup of the same Douro white we were enjoying while I cooked, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage was tender (only a few minutes), a pinch or so of smoked dried chipotle peppers from from Eckerton Hill Farm added, the sauce then tossed with 8 ounces of a Hudson Valley pasta, Sfoglini’s whole grain reginetti (organic stone milled hard red flour from the Hudson Valley, organic durum semolina, water) that had just been cooked al dente, and stirred over a high flame with a cup of reserved pasta water until the liquid had emulsified, some freshly ground black pepper then added, a teaspoon of chopped marjoram from Quarton Farm mixed in, and the mix arranged inside 2 shallow bowls, with more marjoram sprinkled on top
  • the wine was a German (Franken/Main) white, Weingut May Silvaner Trocken Gutswein 2016, from Copake Wine Works 
  • the music was Georg Philipp Telemann’s 1726 opera, ‘Orpheus’, René Jacobs conducting the Academy for Ancient Music Berlin and the Berlin RIAS Chamber Chorus; the album liner notes describe the work as “..a successful synthesis of national operatic forms from Italy, France and Germany.” (another good pairing with the entrée)

seared porgy, shallot, lemon, 4 herbs; tomatoes; broccolini

I’ll be honest. I really stumbled in preparing this meal. It was basically pretty simple in conception, and it should have been simple to execute. It didn’t happen that way, but I managed to recover from several stupid slips, and while it looks a little messy in the picture, it tasted great, and the music was super!

I had all the time in the world to assemble things before actually starting, and that’s exactly what I did, or at least what I thought I had done. Maybe I was too relaxed, because when it came time to do the actual cooking it seemed like I had forgotten how to do anything. Just before preparing the porgy I made the mistake of putting the garlic scapes that were to precede it in its pan into the pot in which the broccolini was to be sautéed, so, having totally forgotten to prepare some garlic for the vegetable, there was now nothing for the fish. A minute later I realized I hadn’t seasoned the fillets, and moments after that I noticed that the hot plate on which I was going to heat up the small heirloom tomatoes hadn’t gotten, well, hot.

Suddenly I was really busy, in fact I almost panicked. I found myself almost simultaneously peeling and chopping some shallots, seasoning the fish – on both sides, and tracing the problem with the hot plate wiring. In the process I ended up losing more or less 2 minutes of the total of only 5 that should have been enough to cook the porgy, but by now I was guessing about when the fish would be ready (it ended done perfectly, although even with the cosmetic dill garnish, as I said, it looks pretty sloppy on the plate, which might at least be partly a function of the delicate size of the fillets).  All this while I also had to keep some focus, and my eye, on the 2 vegetables.

But I made it.

  • [the description related here is more the ideal than the reality of the actual process last night] six small (2-ounces+) Porgy fillets from P.E. & D.D. Seafood, rinsed, dried, seasoned with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, pan-seared, along with 3 small thinly-sliced Japanese shallots from Norwich Meadows Farm, over medium heat inside an ancient 13″-round shallow antique copper pan in a bit of butter and a little olive oil (a total amount of fat of barely 2 tablespoons), the fish basted with the contents of the pan more or less continually for about 2 minutes, using a small brush, then carefully turned over, and the heat reduced to low, a cover placed on the pan (I used a new, tempered-glass universal lid that almost fit snugly between its handles), the filets cooked for about about another 2 minutes before the cover was removed and a mix of 2 or 3 tablespoons of 3 fresh herbs thrown in (this time I used lovage from S. & S.O. Produce Farms, marjoram from Quarton Farm, and spearmint from Stokes Farm) after which the basting was continued for about minute, or until the fish was cooked through, and the fillets arranged on 2 plates with their pan juices and shallot fragments, finished with the juice of one small organic Whole Foods Market Mexican lemon poured over the top, and scissored dill flowers scattered over everything
  • three halved small heirloom tomatoes from Norwich Meadows Farm warmed in a little olive oil inside a small copper skillet, seasoned with salt and pepper
  • at least a couple handfuls of broccolini (a modern hybrid cross between broccoli and Gai Lan, aka Chinese broccoli) from Quarton Farm in the Union Square Greenmarket, washed and drained in fresh cold water, chopped very roughly, sautéed/wilted over a low flame by being gradually added to a large enameled cast iron pot in which cut pieces of 4 garlic scapes from Norwich Meadows Farm had first been softened in some olive oil over a moderate flame
  • the wine, ordered directly from the winery, was an Oregon (Williamette Valley) white, Erath Oregon Pinot Gris 2016
  • the music was a 1971 recording of Michael Gielen conducting the Southwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra in an absolutely wonderful performance of Mahler’s 6th Symphony, and then we continued the evening listening to other Gielen/Mahler recordings