storione affumicato carpaccio di barbabietola; ‘magic meal’

It was my 80th birthday, and the dinner – including the wines – was as exceptional as the occasion.

I might say that in this latest appearance, our storybook ‘Magic Meal’ was actually upstaged by the first course, but I won’t, out of huge personal sentiment – and loyalty to both a great restaurant (Al Forno, in Providence) and a home kitchen that has seen a lot over the decades.

Still, the sturgeon was a tough act to follow. Some of it may have been the pure novelty, and the fact that the recipe,  in all its simplicity, was entirely mine, but it really was delicious. That I grew up in the midwest, mid-century, where I was surrounded by sturgeon legends, and that Barry comes from Arkansas, one of the homes of the pallid and shovelnose, had almost nothing to do with it.

  • four ounces of sliced smoked American farmed sturgeon from Grace’s Marketplace placed on a bed of almost impossibly-thin slices of 2 small golden beets from Norwich Meadows Farm that had first been sprinkled with small amounts of wild fennel pollen from Buon Italia, a good Puglian olive oil (7Giorni), and Newman’s Own balsamic vinegar, topped with dollops of a Ronnybrook Farm crème fraîche mixed with lemon zest and chopped fresh thyme, garnished with some subtly peppery micro red mizuna from Two Guys from Woodbridge
  • flat bread crisps (Firehook Baked Crackers with rosemary and sea salt)
  • the wine, which we had opened before the meal began and with which we toasted my great age and many great years shared with Barry, was a French (Champagne) sparkling, François Billion, Grand Cru, Brut Millésime 2010, from Astor Wines

The magic part of the meal was Conchiglie al forno (last night it was actually Lumaconi al forno, the pasta this time being Setaro’s ‘snails’, from BuonItalia), a rich pasta course with a very friendly history con noi that goes back 20 years. This pasta is sometimes described as lumache.

It combines a pound of a large Campania artisanal shell shape pasta with roughly half a pound of sliced mushrooms, half a pound of butter, 4 Italian cheeses, lots of double cream, one head of sliced radicchio, and a generous amount of fresh sage.

The recipe can be found on this site.

tip: any earthy mushroom would work (I have access to many, and this time I used chestnut mushrooms

tip: I used one large head of radicchio and it was more than enough

tip: the gorgonzola should not be a dolce

tip: you’ll need one very large bowl (or the emptied pasta pot)

 

dijon mustards and cognac beef stew; white polenta

This was one of the tastiest, most successful winter entrées I’ve ever put together.

Even if Sunday wasn’t actually very wintry.

Earlier in the month, on the first cold day of the season, I had brought home a package of prized beef cubes, frozen, from some of my favorite people in the Union Square Greenmarket, the owners of Riverine Ranch, intending to make a hearty Sunday stew that, with luck, might be enjoyed while it snowed outside.

The weather didn’t cooperate: The temperature was in the 50’s all day, but I hadn’t anticipated that when, a couple days before the planned date, I defrosted it in the refrigerator.

I also didn’t know at the time what recipe I would use. I don’t cook stews often, so I didn’t have much of a file to work with. I considered a couple more conventional recipes I found on line before I focused on this one, mostly because it seemed just a little twisted (plus I had all the ingredients). There was also that seductive introduction from its author, Regina Schrambling.

It was really easy to prepare, there was no stress, its perfumes filled the apartment for hours. It was a huge success, the decision to include polenta making it a perfect meal. We finished it all (yup).

grilled herring fillets, mustard-oregano sauce; boiled potato

oiled and seasoned

grilled and plated

 

We both really like herring in virtually any form. This disposition, grilled fresh fillets, is probably less familiar to most fans of clupea harengus (Atlantic Herring) but it’s one of the most satisfying – and it makes a wonderful entrée.

The dinner we enjoyed this past Saturday almost duplicated this one from three years ago, where I wrote:

Barry and I are very lucky to live in a part of the world where there are an extraordinary number of varieties of seafood in local waters, where most are judged plentiful enough to be harvested by smaller operators, where those fishers want to make them available fresh for retail purchase by ordinary people in a central public market within a short but healthy walking distance, and where I enjoy the time needed to seek them out and prepare them using the best of my skills and some good kitchen tools.

It still works, even during a pandemic, which of course is when it becomes even more important, for everyone engaged in these pleasures and rewards.

  • eight small Atlantic herring fillets (a total of 12 ounces) from P.E. & D.D. Seafood in the Union Square Greenmarket, rinsed under running cold water, drained, dried, brushed with a little olive oil and seasoned lightly with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, arranged on a double cast iron grill pan which had gotten very hot over 2 high burner flames, grilled, skin side down, for l to 2 minutes, turned over and cooked for 1 to 2 minutes more, drizzled with a little olive oil, arranged on 2 plates and served with a sauce which had just been mixed in a small bowl, of mustard (half whole-grain Maille ‘Old Style’ whole grain Dijon, and half Domaines des Vignes ‘extra forte‘ Dijon), the leaves, chopped, of a bunch of fresh oregano from Stokes Farm, a teaspoon of pine blossom honey from Tremblay Apiaries in the Union Square Greenmarket, the zest and juice from one lemon, and a bit of olive oil, garnished with micro red sorrel from Two Guys from Woodbridge one pound of red potatoes from Norwich Meadows 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 garnished with bronze fennel from Windfall Farms, arranged on a small bed of leaves from a small head of purple bibb Rosaine lettuce from Norwich Meadows Farm that had been lightly seasoned with salt, pepper, olive oil, and lemon juice
  • the wine was a South African (Western Cape) white, Babylonstoren Chenin Blanc 2020, from Bottlerocket 
  • the music was Beethoven’s ‘The Creatures of Prometheus’, performed by the Turku Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Leif Segerstam

feta; pasta with smoked steelhead, shallot, capers, cream

Friday night dinner.

Barry found the recipe. I do the cooking, but he’s very, very good at ordering. I don’t mean ordering me, but ordering food in restaurants or at take out, where I, on the other hand, usually freeze up. It turns out he’s also good at spotting recipes. This was a really good one.

I halved the recipe on the delish site, and I made a few changes, substituting mint for the dill I didn’t have; red onion for “onion”, because I love red onion; vesuvio pasta for spaghetti (same); smoked steelhead trout for salmon, because we’ve recently come to love our local steelhead, also because it’s what I had on hand that day; and finally, since I can’t usually leave good enough alone, and to enhance the visuals, I added a garnish, chervil here, one of my favorites.

  • a tablespoon or so of olive oil heated inside a large antique copper pot over medium heat,
    one medium/large chopped shallot cooked until softened, one clove of chopped garlic added and heated until fragrant, 2 tablespoons of white wine [poured in and stirred until it had almost completely, 3 ounces of heavy cream and 3 tablespoons of lemon juice added and stirred until thickened, the sauce seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground  black pepper before 4 ounces of smoked local steelhead trout (farmed by Hudson Valley Fisheries, in Hudson, NY), a few tablespoons of rinsed large Sicilian salted capers and a generous amount of a mint hybrid (spearmint and Peppermint) mixed in and heated briefly, or just only until the salmon had warmed through, then 8 ounces of a Gragnano Campania pasta (Afeltra Vesuvio) cooked al dente added to the pot, along with almost a cup of the pasta cooking water, and tossed together with the sauce, adding more water if desired, before the dish was  arranged inside shallow bowls, scattered with a little more mint, and garnished with chervil from Eckerton Hill Farm

There was a first course.

  • a few ounces of ‘Bulgarian feta” from Moxie Ridge Farm & Creamery sprinkled with a bit of crushed dried aji dulce pepper from Ekerton Hill Farm and some torn basil taken from a live plant purchased from Stokes Farm, drizzled with a bit of Palagio Tuscan olive oil
  • slices of Runner & Stone ‘Bolzano’ whole wheat and rye sourdough miche

 

guanciale, shallot, squash, grenada pepper, sage carbonara

I had some very good winter squash on the window sill, with no plan to use it soon. I was expecting Thursday to be a pasta day. I looked on line for ideas on how to combine both interestingly.

I quickly found three or four promising recipes. None of them seemed quite right however. I composed one myself, using elements from each of them.

  • a tablespoon and a half of olive oil heated inside a large antique tin-lined copper pot over medium-high heat, roughly 3 ounces of medium (half inch) cubed guanciale added and the flame reduced to medium, the pork cooked, stirring occasionally, only until it had softened slightly and colored, then one small chopped green/yellow (that is, not fully ripened) Grenada seasoning pepper from Eckerton Hill farm tossed in and heated only until it had softened and become even more pungent than it already is when raw, a tablespoon or more of roughly chopped fresh sage added and stirred to coat, then, using a slotted wooden spoon, guanciale and sage transferred to a small bowl and set aside while, and ideally kept warm, then 10 or more ounces of cubed winter squash (Jester squash from Bauma’s Market in Bordentown, NJ, and purchased in the Union Square Greenmarket), added to the pot, along with one medium chopped shallot and one clove of chopped garlic, the vegetables seasoned with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, cooked, stirring occasionally, until the onion was translucent, when it was joined by 8 ounces of Setaro Campania penne rigate from Buon Italia in Chelsea Market, cooked al dente, and everything tossed together well, some reserved pasta cooking water added to the mix and stirred over a medium to high flame until the sauce had coated the pasta well, several tablespoons of shredded Pecorino cheese stirred in and the pasta seasoned to taste with salt and pepper, served in shallow bowls topped with the previously reserved guanciale and sage, topped with some shaved Pecorino, and more pepper
  • the wine was an Italian (Piedmont), Dolcetto d’Alba 2019 
  • the music was the album, ‘Dai Fujikura; by ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble), a 2004 release on the label Kairos