Month: February 2019

coppa, arugula; baked cod, potatoes tomato; frizzy mustard

Like many nights, dinner at home was also a night at the opera.

A note on the subject of our dinner music: During our evening meals we often listen to a recording of an entire opera (or a large section of one, continuing it later that night or the next day). I could call it our version of the little-mourned 1970s ‘dinner theater’ vogue, a cringeworthy form of entertainment that is now fortunately just about defunct, but I’m not going to.

Yet I do think our arrangements of dinner with classical music theater, even without the visuals, beats any other way of enjoying the operatic art form, except for the right seats at a good live performance. I have to point out that one thing in its favor not available to audience members at a live performance is the pleasure of exchanging reactions to the work, either silent or spoken, while sitting across from the perfect dinner (and opera) companion. Also, being able to talk freely during the performance, and and to call for – and get – an “encore” of a particularly good aria or section from the piece. Oh, also, always some good wine at your seat.

Still, the food is always the evening’s raison d’être. Last night, while we listened to [most of] a great recording of Vivaldi’s ‘Il Farnace’, we were also enjoying a very good dinner.

The first course, although dominated by a meat, was uncharacteristically lighter than the main course of fish (noting that, had the order been the other way around, a heavy seafood dish followed by a light one of meat, it would not have been nearly as satisfactory).

  • a little more than 2 ounces of Giorgio’s coppa dolce from Flatiron Eataly, drizzled with a bit of Trader Joe’s unfiltered Italian Reserve extra virgin olive oil
  • a small spray of arugula from Norwich Meadows Farm, also drizzled with olive oil, and sprinkled with Malden salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • slices of the excellent ‘table bread’ (half organic bread flour, half fresh milled whole grain
    wheat, spelt, rye, malted barley, plus water and salt) of Philadelphia’s Lost Bread Co.

The main course was commissioned by Barry, who requested an entrée of a firm white fish roasted on the top of sliced baked potatoes, for a cold February evening.

For what it’s worth, there were 11 potatoes left in the farmers’ basket on Monday. I bought them all. They weighted exactly one pound. Every one of them was perfect. Nice.

  • two 7-and-a-half-ounce cod fillets from American Seafood Company in the Union Square greenmarket, cooked using at least the basics of a recipe from Mark Bittman which I had come across many years ago, the cod washed and rinsed, placed in a platter on a bed of coarse sea salt, with more salt added on top until the pieces were completely covered, then set aside while a bed was prepared for them composed of a pound of la ratte potatoes from Phillips Farms, each sliced lengthwise by hand into 4 or 5  sections to a thickness of roughly 1/4″, then tossing them in a large bowl with olive oil, salt, black pepper, and a pinch of a dried smoked Scotch bonnet pepper from Eckerton Hill Farm, arranging the potatoes, overlapping, inside a rectangular glazed ceramic oven pan and cooking them for 25 minutes or so in a 400º oven, or until they were tender when pierced but not fully cooked, and then, the cod having already been thoroughly immersed in many fresh changes of water to bring down the saltiness, the fillets drained, dried, and placed inside the pan on top of the potatoes, drizzled with a little olive oil and sprinkled with black pepper, blanketed with thin slices of 3 Backyard Farms Maine ‘cocktail tomatoes’ from Chelsea Whole Foods Market, the tomatoes seasoned, lightly, with salt and pepper, the pan returned to the oven for about 8 or 9 minutes (the exact time depends on the thickness of the fillets), the cod removed with a spatula (or, better, 2 spatulas), along with as much of the potatoes as can be brought along with each piece, arranging everything as intact if possible onto the plates, returning to the pan for the remainder of the vegetables

[the image at the top, a still from the 1935 Marx Brothers comedy, ‘A night at the Opera‘, is from Film Forum, but the link is not loading right now]

bay scallops, lemon/cress; sunflower greens; purple potato

Something of a study in contrasts, with a green theme running through it, but it was also a late-winter dinner with a balance of two very different elements entertained by herbs that are normally associated with warmer seasons.

We liked it a lot.

  • one tablespoon of olive oil and 2 tablespoons of butter heated in a large enameled cast iron skillet over medium-high heat, one medium clove of a ‘music’ garlic aka ‘strong neck’ garlic from Windfall Farms, sliced, slipped in and cooked, stirring occasionally, until it was pale golden, after which 30 washed and thoroughly-dried Peconic bay scallops [that link is to a discussion of Wareham Bay scallops] from P.E. & D.D. Seafood in the Union Square Greenmarket added and quickly sautéed, without moving, until seared (about 30 seconds), then flipped and seared on the other side (tough to do quickly and completely, no matter how handy the cook may be) for about 30 seconds more, the scallops then removed from the pan and placed on warm plates while the flame was reduced to medium and almost 2 more tablespoons of butter added, the butter allowed to turn a light brown color (although pans with black inside surfaces, like the one I used this time, make this difficult to determine), the heat turned off and about a tablespoon of Whole Foods Market organic lemon juice and a few tablespoons of chopped parsley from Trader Joe’s added and pushed around for a few seconds before the sauce was seasoned with sea salt and freshly-ground black pepper and poured over the scallops on the plates
  • about a pound of ‘Magic Molly‘ fingerling potatoes from Race Farm, washed, scrubbed, left unpeeled, dried, sliced lengthwise, mixed inside a bowl with a little olive oil, salt, freshly-ground black pepper, a piece of crushed dried light-colored habanada pepper, and several stems of fresh rosemary leaves from Phillips Farms, roasted at 375º [the oven could have been set a little higher] for about 25 minutes, garnished with some fresh chives, also from Phillips Farms
  • a handful of sunflower sprouts from Windfall Farms, drizzled with a little olive oil
  • the wine was a French (Loire) white, Sancerre, Sommet Doré 2017, from Astor Wines


A little aside about bay scalloping:

Jan, who is a member of the P.E. & D.E. Seafood family, told me on Monday at their Union Square Greenmarket stand that bay scallops cannot be harvested on Sundays. When I asked whether that was part of seafood conservation rules, she said, no, that it was a “wives’ rule”, and that it goes way back.

I love the people and culture of the littoral Northeast, including the fact that, at least years ago, virtually everyone occasionally goes clamming, and, where it’s possible, scalloping, including bay scalloping. I pictured generations of wives and girlfriends putting their feet down, telling their husbands, and sons and daughters, that they have to be around the house at least one day of the week, and Sunday would have been an obvious choice (maybe it was at least partly a go-to-church thing as well).

The next day, doing a little research on line, I learned that there may also be a legal basis for the our local paralians’ rule about not harvesting bay scallops on Sundays, although the relevant statute may originate in the same rationale for the wives’ rule described by Jan: Under, “Gear restrictions” in the section of the rules for harvesting the scallops in Peconic bays and other waters in the area, the second of two clauses reads “Bay scallops shall not be taken on Sundays by use of a dredge or other device operated by power.”

So maybe Sunday could be both a day together and a scalloping day, the whole family wading into the water with hand rakes, foraging for dinner, not for the market.


[the second image, an Illustration of Bizet’s opera Carmen published in Journal Amusant, 1875, is from the Wikipedia entry for the opera]

the extraordinary event of the loaves and the bivalves

Only 5 clams per serving.

I was surprised, even with the help of some good bread and the somewhat creative recipe I found on line, that I could transform 10 small clams into a delicious meal for the 2 of us on Saturday night, .

I want to call it the extraordinary event of the loaves and the bivalves.

I had originally planned to serve the clams raw, on the half shell, as a small first course the day before, but my unsuccessful first try at opening them (well, I only tried one of them) had scared me off. I could have tried heating them in the oven, and then chilling them again, but that sounded too fussy, and it would have confirmed the fact of my earlier failure, so I decided to incorporate them into one of my favorite pasta dishes, spaghetti alla vongole. The only problem was going to be their small number, so I looked round the internet for ideas for expanding their impact in a full 8 ounces of dried pasta.

The bon appétit recipe I ended up using still asked for more clams than I had, but it added ingredients I would not normally have included in a clam pasta, so it actually worked out perfectly, and it was perfectly delicious.

The clams even ended up cooked à point.

The recipe itself seems far more complicated than it should be, or at least more prolix, even after I had edited it down a little, but I can’t complain about the result.

  • two cloves of ‘music’ garlic from Windfall Farms chopped up inside a counter blender I’ve had for decades (I don’t have a real food processor, other than myself) before adding about 3 ounces of a loaf of 12 Grain & Seed bread from Bread Alone, crusts removed and cut into half-inch pieces, pulsed several times until reduced to fine crumbs, tossed into a large enameled cast iron pot in which a tablespoon or two of olive oil had been heated over a medium-high flame, the crumbs cooked, stirring often, until they had turned golden and fairly crisp (5 to 7 minutes), then transferred to a bowl, adding 1 or 2 teaspoons of zest from an organic Chelsea Whole Foods Market lemon, seasoned with sea salt, tossed to combine everything then set aside, the pot wiped out with paper toweling, a third of a cup of oil poured into it and heated over a medium flame, and 6 more garlic cloves, sliced very thinly, tossed in and cooked, stirring often, until golden around the edges, joined by 2 Sicilian anchovies packed in salt, from Buon Italia, rinsed and filleted, along with half a teaspoon of crushed Calabrian peperoncino, also from Buon Italia, all cooked, stirring, until the garlic was totally softened and golden, and the anchovies dissolved, then one fourth of a cup of white wine poured in, quickly stirred and simmered until only a couple of tablespoons of liquid were left in the pot, 10 small washed littleneck clams from Pura Vida Seafood in the Union Square Greenmarket tossed in and stirred, the pot covered and the clams cooked until they had opened, which was approximately 7 or 8 minutes, the pot uncovered and the clams transferred to a medium bowl, leaving the liquid in the pot, the bowl tented with foil, while adding to the pot exactly 8 ounces of Neapolitan Afeltra Pasta di Gragnano I.G.P. Spaghetti chitarra from Flatiron Eataly, which had already been cooking inside a large pot of boiling water for only 5 minutes, but not before 2 cups of the pasta cooking liquid had been scooped out, and half to 3 quarters of it added with the pasta and brought to a boil, cooked, tossing constantly, adding still more liquid as needed, until the spaghetti was al dente and the liquid emulsified, or, more specifically, glossy and thick enough to cling to the pasta, or for about 5 minutes, the pot removed from the heat and a quarter of a cup of chopped parsley from Trader Joe’s and a couple tablespoons of butter added, the pasta stirred until the butter had melted, after which roughly a third of the reserved breadcrumbs were tossed in and combined with the rest of the pot’s contents, the entrée served by arranging most of it in shallow bowls (avoiding filling them up, which is always a good idea when serving pasta, for both its appearance and the taste, the remainder reserved on the top of the range to follow as a second helping), topped with the reserved clams, more breadcrumbs, more peperoncino, more parsley, and drizzled with a little olive oil (note: there were no actual clams in the second helpings)
  • the wine was a French (Savoie) white, Jean Perrier et Fils, Vin de Savoie Abymes Gastronomie 2017, from Flatiron Wines 
  • the music was Purcell’s 1689 opera, ‘Dido and Aeneas’ (I’ve said it before, but it’s one of my favorite operas from any period, even after having played my single LP of excerpts over and over in the 50s and 60s, often on weed, until I had worn out the grooves), in a performance  with René Jacobs conducting the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment

bacon & eggs, purple lettuce, smoked scotch bonnet, other

Bacon and eggs, with the traditional diner ‘salad’, only here the lettuce is dark purple.

In another break from counter custom, the freshly ground black pepper was supplemented this morning with a bit of a freshly crushed smoked chili pepper.

seared duck, lemon; roasted tomato; chili-roasted squash

There were no clams on the half shell last night.

I had scrubbed them an hour or so earlier, and returned them to the refrigerator, but when I was ready to shuck them they were apparently still traumatized, and – surprise! – they’d totally ‘clammed up’. Maybe I was actually the one who was stressed out, but I couldn’t get my knife between the shells. It was embarrassing, because I’ve done the routine so often. I left them inside the refrigerator to try another day and I went on to the main course.

  • one small duck breast (barely 10 ounces) from Hudson River Duck Farm [the tenderloin, seen at the right front of the breast itself in the image above, removed before the duck was marinated, but seasoned like the rest of it, then fried very briefly near the end of the time the larger section was cooking], the fatty side scored in tight cross hatching with a very sharp knife, the entire breast rubbed, top and bottom, with a mixture of sea salt, freshly-ground black pepper, and a little turbinado sugar, then left standing on the counter for about 45 minutes altogether before being pan-fried, fatty side down first, inside a small oval enameled cast iron pan over medium heat for a total of about 9 minutes, turning once, draining the oil after the first few minutes (the fat strained van be used in cooking at another time, if desired), the breast removed when medium rare, cut crosswise into 2 portions and checked for the right doneness in the center, which means definitely no more than medium rare, and maybe even a bit less, left sitting for several minutes before it was finished with a drizzle of juice from an organic Whole Foods Market lemon, drizzled with some good Trader Joe’s Italian Reserve extra virgin olive oil and garnished with micro purple radish from Windfall Farms
  • six Maine cherry ‘cocktail’ tomatoes from Whole Foods, slow-roasted inside a small antique tin rolled-edge oven pan with a little olive oil, a generous amount of dried Sicilian oregano from Buon Italia (sold on their stems), and 4 slightly-smashed cloves of music garlic from Windfall Farms

  • two mini kabocha squash from Lani’s Farm scrubbed, halved, the seeds and pith removed, cut into narrow wedges and mixed by hand inside a large bowl with a relatively small amount of olive oil, sea salt, freshly-ground black pepper, and a pinch from a gorgeous (dried) hickory smoked Jamaican Scotch bonnet pepper from Eckerton Hill Farm, purchased in the Greenmarket last December, arranged on a large, unglazed, well-seasoned ceramic pan and roasted in the 425º oven for 20 or 25 minutes, removed from the oven and transferred to a large heavy copper pot in which 3 crushed cloves of music garlic and half a dozen large sage leaves from Whole Foods Market had been gently heated  in a bit of olive oil
  • the wine was a French (Saint-Emilion) red, Belregard-Figeac, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2015 from Flatiron Wines
  • the music was a really wonderful performance of a gorgeous ‘pre-reform‘ (1750, revised 1763) Gluck opera, ‘EzioAndreas Stoehr conducting the Neue Düsseldorfer Hofmusik