grilled octopus; boiled potatoes, sorrel; tomato/cannellini

There’s no way can I properly describe this meal. To begin, there’s the miracle that I am even able to obtain octopus on a coast so rich in seafood but where this cephalopod mollusk is not found, and then actually cook it to the point of our shared satisfaction; these things already exceed my talent for expressing an appreciation of the superb dinner we enjoyed last night.

I have no idea why, unless it was for its perceived oddness, but for decades, even before I had ever actually tasted it, octopus had been my culinary ‘grail’. I went on to enjoy it many times, including in meals I prepared myself; this dinner more than succeeded in confirming and continuing my devotion.

My choice of vegetables was actually barely a choice. I thought potatoes would make sense, but I didn’t have enough of one variety for a side, so I combined 2 kinds.  I had no green vegetable other than some large Brussels sprouts, which didn’t seem right. I did have some tomatoes sitting on the windowsill, which felt like a natural. Then I thought of the little bowl of cannellini beans and their juices that remained from a can I had opened for an earlier meal, but including 3 vegetables seemed like it would be a little excessive until I thought of combining tomatoes and beans; it was getting pretty late now, so I rushed to the laptop and almost immediately found this recipe, which turned out to be perfect.

  • *two 6-ounce baby Italian (Sicilian?) previously-frozen octopuses from Buon Italia, marinated in the refrigerator and then on the kitchen counter for about an hour in a mixture of 1/4 cup olive oil; one teaspoon of dried Italian oregano from the Madonie Mountains in Sicily; the zest and juice of half of an organic Whole Foods lemon; 1/4 teaspoon of crushed dried Sicilian  pepperoncino from Buon Italia; 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt; and one finely-chopped large Rocambole garlic clove from Keith’s Farm, the octopus removed from the mix, drained a bit and pan-grilled on high heat for 10 or 12 minutes mouth/beak side down first, then placed on 2 of its sides, with a piece of aluminum foil loosely covering the grill pan throughout because of the thickness of these octopuses, served with a squeeze of the same lemon and some olive oil, and garnished with chopped parsley from Westside Market
  • *eight potatoes, half of them Nicola from Hawthorne Valley Farm and the other half German Butterball, from Norwich Meadows Farm, scrubbed and boiled, with their skins, 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 sorrel from Two Guys from Woodbridge
  • *a tablespoon of olive oil heated inside a vintage medium size heavy high-sided tin-lined copper pot, one clove of Rocambole garlic from Keith’s Farm added and stirred in the oil until beginning to brown, then adding 6 or 8 halved Backyard Farms Maine ‘cocktail tomatoes’ from Whole Foods Market and a small sprig of rosemary from Stokes Farm, cooking them, while stirring, for about one minute, adding 2 tablespoons of a Loire sparkling wine left from service as an aperitif with a guest the night before, the mix brought to a simmer before half a can of Italian cannellini beans that had not used in a meal we enjoyed a few days earlier was added, plus about a fourth of a teaspoon of sea salt and some freshly-ground black pepper, the contents of the pot cooked for about another minute, to heat the beans through, poured into 2 oval side dishes and garnished with micro mint from Two Guys from Woodbridge
  • *the wine was an Italian (Sicily) white, Valle dell Acate, Grillo ‘Zagra’, 2016, from Flatiron Wines & Spirits
  • *the music was Bellini’s 1831 opera semiseria, ‘La sonnambula’, in a great recording which featured Cecilia Bartoli ,owning the role of the sleepwalker, which was written for soprano sfogato, the other leading roles performed by Juan Diego Flórez and Ildebrando D’Arcangelo, Alessandro De Marchi conducting the Orchestra La Scintilla

smoked pork chops, scallion; braised cabbage; potatoes

For a number of reasons, both of cause and effect, it wasn’t quite a German meal, but it had its pretensions.

  • a small amount of a mix of lard and duck fat, stained, which had been kept in the freezer after 2 previous meals, heated over a low flame inside a heavy vintage oval tin-lined copper pan, the sliced white portions of 2 scallions from Phillips Farms, their green parts reserved after also having been sliced, swirled around in it until softened, at which time 2 smoked loin pork chops from Schaller & Weber were added, the pan covered with tin foil and kept above a very low flame (just enough to warm the chops through, as they were already fully-cooked), turning the meat once, and near the end of their cooking time the green scallion sections set aside earlier were sprinkled on top of the chops, the pork was then removed to the plates, their pan juices drizzled on top, some already-softened local garlic oregano jelly from Berkshire Berries brushed on top, and both the white and green sections of the leeks sections divided between them
  • German Butterball potatoes from Norwich Meadows Farm, scrubbed, boiled whole and unpeeled in heavily-salted water until barely cooked through, drained, halved, dried in the still-warm vintage Corning Pyrex Flameware blue-glass pot in which they had cooked, a couple tablespoons of  Organic Valley ‘Cultured Pasture Butter’  [with 12 grams of total fat; American butter almost always has only 11 grams, which makes a surprising difference in both taste and texture], seasoned with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper, after which the potatoes were arranged on the plates next to the chops and the sauerkraut and sprinkled with homemade breadcrumbs made from the heel of a loaf of Orwasher’s ‘Righteous Corn Rye’ which had first been browned in a little butter with a pinch of salt
  • a little more of the lard and duck fat used with the chops heated above a medium-high flame inside a large vintage high-sided tin-lined copper pan, then one small red cabbage added, supplemented by some leaves from a white Savoy cabbage, both cored and thinly chopped, and 2 medium roughly-chopped shallots, all 3 vegetables from Norwich Meadows Farm, cooked, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage had softened slightly (less than 10 minutes), water added as necessary, after which some sea salt was added and a tablespoon each of juice from a little Whole Foods Market organic lemon and local apple cider vinegar from Race Farm in the Union Square Greenmarket, followed by a sprinkling of freshly-ground black pepper, the heat then reduced and the mixture cooked for another 5 or 1 minutes, or until the cabbage was wilted and the shallots softened, the cabbage finished with a few tablespoons of a mix of different raisins and some local gooseberry jam, also from Berkshire Berries, all stirred into the pan
  • the wine was a German (Rheinhessen) sparkling white, Fritz Müller Perlwein
  • the music was

monkfish inguazato; grilled leeks finished with micro mint

This is an extraordinarily good dish, and I’ve prepared it many times. I discovered the recipe long ago, in David Pasternack’s book, ‘The Young Man & the Sea‘, but I find it odd that to this day I’ve never been able to locate any mention of ‘inguazato‘ anywhere else on line (my own food posts discussing the dinners I’ve prepared using the recipe totally dominate the field).

Couscous is a pasta form that, if it didn’t actually originate in the Maghreb, until recently was a tradition almost nowhere else, except, in a small way, in Sicily (which makes perfect sense, considering that island’s history), and Egypt.  In the last half century however it has become popular all around the Mediterranean, from Portugal and Spain, through France, Italy, Greece, Israel, and well beyond.  Pasternack’s experience with it in Rome, which he alludes to in discussing his recipe,  ‘Inguazato‘ in his book, may represent a modern novelty rather than a traditional dish, but I’d like to  know more about it.

There was a vegetable accompaniment as well. Alternatively, I could have begun with an antipasto, letting the fish and the couscous stand alone in a second course, but each time I’ve prepared this dish I’ve always wanted to include a fresh and green element on the plate with the inguazato. For a while yesterday I was at a loss to come up with something I had that might work, but then I remembered the leeks I’d bought a while back that I had carefully stored in the crisper inside a plastic bag, with a damp paper towel around their roots.

  • two 9-ounce monkfish tails from P.E. & D.D. Seafood, prepared using a reduced David Pasternick recipe using two thirds of a cup of M’hamsa Couscous from Tunisia (purchased at Whole Foods), olive oil, sliced Rocambole garlic Keith’s Farm, one and a half 400-gram cans of really good Afeltra canned pomodorini from Eataly Flatiron and several kinds of cracked green olives I had on hand (ideally, they would be large green Sicilian olives) and 2 whole dried peperoncino Calabresi secchi from Buon Italia (rather than the fresh pepper indicated in the recipe)
  • four medium leeks from Hawthorne Valley Farm, trimmed of their darkest green ends, cut in half lengthwise, washed vigorously in cold water to remove any earth while carefully holding the white ends together to keep them from falling apart (after I had started, I realized this could have been done more easily had I cut only part of the way down through their length, making ting them much easier), dried, then tied in 2 places along their length with kitchen string, rolled in a little olive oil, sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper, pan-grilled over a medium-hot flame for a few minutes, turning until all sides had been scored with grill marks and the leeks softened all the way through, arranged on the plates, the strings cut off with a kitchen shears, garnished with micro mint from Two Guys from Woodbridge
  • the wine was an Italian (Tuscan) white, Fattoria Sardi Vermentino 2016, from Garnet Wines & Liquors
  • the music was a magnificent performance of the 1774 Paris, French language, version of Gluck’s 1762 azione teatrale, ‘Orphée et Eurydice’, Jesús López-Cobos conducting the Coro y Orquesta Sinfónica de Madrid, with Juan Diego Florez, Ainhoa Garmendia, and Alessandra Marianelli

duck, rosemary; roasted sweet potatoes; rainbow chard

The idea of roasted Japanese sweet potatoes came first, shown here on the oven pan shortly before they had finished cooking,

and then it only made sense that at the center of the meal there would be duck breast, if only because I had recently bought one, and had not yet moved it into the freezer. When I got to the Greenmarket, the second vegetable almost jumped into my arms: local rainbow chard, remarkably available here in the first days of February!

It was all good, very good.

  • *one fresh, unfrozen 13-ounce duck breast from Hudson River Duck Farm, the fatty side scored in tight cross hatching with a very sharp knife, the entire breast then sprinkled top and bottom with a mixture of sea salt, freshly-ground black pepper, and a little turbinado sugar, left standing for about 45 minutes before it was pan-fried, the fatty side down first, inside a dry small oval enameled cast iron pan over medium heat for a total of 8 or 9 minutes, turning once, draining the oil after the first few minutes [to be strained and used in cooking later, if desired], removed when medium rare (cut into 2 portions to check that the center was of the right doneness, which means no more than medium rare), left to sit for several minutes before finishing it with a drizzle of juice from an organic lemon from Whole Foods Market, some chopped rosemary from Stokes Farm and a drizzle of olive oil
  • *Japanese sweet potatoes, less than one pound, from Samascott Orchards, unpeeled, but scrubbed thoroughly, halved and sliced into one quarter to one half-inch crescents, tossed in a bowl with olive oil, sea salt, freshly-ground black pepper, 4 large unpeeled Rocambole garlic cloves from Keith’s  Farm, at least a tablespoon of small dried sage leaves from Philipps Farm; and a bit of crushed dark dried habanada pepper, originally fresh from Norwich Meadows Farm, spread onto a large well-seasoned Pampered Chef unglazed ceramic oven pan, roasted at 400º for about 30 minutes, garnished with purple micro radish from Two Guys from Woodbridge
  • one bunch of beautiful rainbow chard from Eckerton Hill Farm, purchased from their stall in the Union Square Greenmarket, wilted in a little olive oil in which 2 halved Rocambole garlic cloves from Keith’s Farm had first been heated and slightly softened, seasoned with sea salt and freshly-froun black pepper, and finished with a drizzle of olive oil
  • the wine was a Washington (Columbia Valley) red, Michaud Merlot Columbia Valley 2015, from Naked Wines
  • *the music was Mathias Spahlinger’s 1979/1980 work for violin and piano, ‘Extension’, performed by Hildegard Kleeb and Dimitris Polisoidis

bacon, eggs, fenugreek, sorrel, pangrattato, tomato, toasts

The headline just about says it all.

  • there were 6 Americauna chicken eggs fried inside the heavy 13 1/2″ well-seasoned cast iron pan in which 4 slices of very juicy, unusually thick bacon had been fried gently, both bacon and eggs from Millport Dairy Farm; a pinch or 2 of fenugreek, purchased from Nirmala Gupta’s ‘Bombay Emerald Chutney Company‘ at Chelsea’s Down to Earth Farmers Market on 23rd Street last summer; the eggs accompanied by some sorrel from Two Guys from Woodbridge; also 2 very sweet Backyard Farms Maine ‘cocktail tomatoes’ from Whole Foods Market heated in a little olive oil and seasoned, like the eggs, with Maldon salt and freshly-ground black pepper; and topped with a dab of pangrattato (there be garlic and anchovy in those crumbs) on the cooked eggs, not fully utilized in the dinner the night before; and, on the side, toast from slices of the excellent ’12 Grain & Seed bread’ from Bread Alone in the Union Square Greenmarket
  • the gorgeous Sunday music was by the Italian Baroque composer and Kapellmeister, Pietro-Paolo Bencini, his ‘Ave Maria’, and ‘Missa de Oliveria’, performed by Bernard Fabre-Garrus and A Sei Voci