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Spiced Lamb Tenderloin with Herb Spaetzle and Radishes

Spiced Lamb Tenderloin with Herb Spaetzle and Radishes

Spiced lamb tenderloin with homemade herb spaetzle and radishes.

I recently spent a few days at a conference in Seattle, and when I could, I escaped to enjoy the incredible food the city has to offer. Whenever I ran into someone and our conversation turned to eating, I was inevitably asked, Have you had oysters? I did. And they were great. And of the varieties I had, each had its own unique character, from sweet to buttery to briny to pleasantly metallic. Oysters, the terroir of the sea, as Jessica Simpson might say. Their different sizes and unique shells also contributed to the aesthetics of the experience, as did the place I was tasting this bounty of oysters, a no pretense shop with tanks in the center of the room and faucets pouring water constantly over the pools of oysters and mussels and scallops and geoducks. Oh, the geoduck chowder I had there was delicious. I devoured it at one of the few high top tables in the place that only had counter space along two walls for additional seating. Like I said, no pretense. When I was in Seattle, I could never remember the place’s name, but I would recommend to hungry people that they walk up the hill from the convention center and that when they hit a triangle of streets to look for a place with a heron on its sign. “The place with a heron on its sign” is Taylor Shellfish Farms. This experience might make me more adventurous with oysters from the gulf here in Texas. I have been enjoying them this past year, but almost exclusively fried. Still, oysters were not the immediate inspiration on my cooking from this Seattle trip. That title goes to a wonderful meal I had at La Bête.

Once again, I owe Eater and the Eater App a big thanks for being clutch when I find myself visiting a city and in a sudden and immediate need of a good place to eat. That’s how a friend and I discovered La Bête. The space is intimate yet energetic, and it’s a great place to eat at the bar and not feel exiled from the  overall experience of the place. The wines are smartly curated, and the well provisioned menu appears stocked with flavor. I had a great meal that started with roasted cauliflower, followed by celery root soup with vegetable fritters, and ending with braised venison served over spaetzle. That entrée was not messing around; it was unambiguously tasty. And it made me think that I’ve been missing out by making so much pasta and never spaetzle. When I got home, I decided to remedy that.

My initial plan was to braise pork shoulder steaks and serve them sliced over a plate of spaetzle. This idea came from a desire to continue experimenting with that cut of pork, which I recently did for a meal of glazed pork shoulder steaks and celery root and blood orange salad.

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Braised pork shoulder steak with a soy-orange-sherry-honey glaze. It is served with a salad of shaved celery root, blood orange, pickled kumquats, cucumber, and arugula, dressed lightly with lemon, Dijon mustard, and olive oil.

 

Unfortunately, my local market didn’t have boneless pork shoulders the day I went; they did, however, have some lamb tenderloins. I decided to make spice-crusted lamb tenderloin with homemade herb spaetzle and radishes. The spice mixture consists of juniper berries, black peppercorns, coriander seeds, cayenne pepper, smoked paprika, kosher salt, and fresh rosemary. The spaetzle has Italian parsley in it, and it was quickly tossed with the radishes sautéed in butter and chopped fresh sage. There are fresh peas and watercress as well. A quick pan sauce was made with sherry vinegar, dry vermouth, whole-grain Dijon mustard, and butter.

Ingredients

Spice Rub for Lamb Tenderloin:

1/2 tsp juniper berries

1/2 tsp black peppercorns

1 tsp coriander seeds

1 tsp smoked paprika

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

2 tbsp, densely packed, fresh rosemary leaves

2 tsp kosher salt

Herb Spaetzle (4 Dinner Servings):

1 cup all purpose flour

2 large eggs

1/3 cup whole milk

2 tsp kosher salt

3 tbsp grated fresh Parmesan

cracked black pepper

2 tbsp fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped

Additional Ingredients:

2 lb lamb tenderloin, so about six tenderloins for four people

1 dozen radishes, trimmed, cleaned, and quartered vertically

1/2 cup shelled peas

2 tbsp fresh sage, chopped

1/2 cup watercress leaves, trimmed and washed

2 tbsp sherry vinegar

2 oz dry vermouth

1 tbsp whole grain Dijon mustard

3 tbsp unsalted butter

Methods

In a large mixing bowl, place the flour, salt, and Parmesan for the spaetzle. Add a few turns from a pepper grinder. Make a well in the dry ingredients and add the two eggs to the center. With a wooden spoon, begin mixing in the eggs and slowly add the milk as you do this. Continue stirring until the doughy batter is smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest in the refrigerator for an hour. Set up a large pot of boiling, salted water to cook the spaetzle. When ready, mix in the parsley to the batter. Using a spaetzle maker, ricer, or a colander with large holes and a spatula (I used the colander insert for my stock pot), press the batter through in batches, so as not to crowd the dumplings, into the boiling water. Cook the spaetzle for about 3-4 minutes, or until the dumplings begin to float. Drain and use immediately, or set aside in the fridge until ready to use.

For the tenderloins, make sure they are properly trimmed and cleaned. Preheat an oven to 400 °F. Place all of the rub ingredients, except the salt, into a grinder or food processor and combined thoroughly. Mix in the salt and rub over the tenderloins. Let rest on the counter for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, have a large cast iron skillet heating over high heat. You want the pan hot enough that when you add one or two tablespoons of grape seed oil to it that it will smoke a little. This will get you a good sear on the outside. Cook the tenderloins in the pan for about 30 seconds to a minute for each side, and then place the skillet into the preheated oven and cook for an additional 3-4 minutes. Remove the tenderloins and let them rest on a carving board. Return the skillet to the stovetop, and over high heat, deglaze the pan with sherry vinegar and the dry vermouth, scraping up the bottom with a wooden spoon. Reduce by half and then add the mustard and butter. Pour into a bowl and set aside.

While the tenderloins are resting, heat 1 tbsp of butter in a sauté pan over medium-high heat. Sauté the radishes for about 5-6 minutes, until just browning. Add the sage, the additional tbsp of butter, and the spaetzle to the pan and stir constantly so as not to burn the spaetzle. Add the peas for the last minute of cooking. The spaetzle will be heated in only a couple minutes. Serve the spaetzle with the tenderloin, spooning over the sauce, and the watercress.

Valentine’s Day Dinner 2014

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It’s become a tradition in our house to celebrate Valentine’s Day with a celebratory meal at home. This year’s dinner focused on elements that would evoke meals we enjoyed over the year, including culinary-life-altering, transformative, turn-you-over-on-your-head trips to Piedmont and Copenhagen, where we ate at René Redzepi’s Noma. 

The main course was a pan-roasted lamb loin and tenderloin crusted with a spice mixture of ground juniper berries and black peppercorns, ginger, smoked paprika, garlic powder, kosher salt, and cayenne pepper. The tenderloin was served with a red wine and lamb stock reduction, and the loin had an herb sauce of thyme, oregano, arugula, carrot tops, and grape seed oil. The accompaniment is a homemade beef and lamb merguez and navy bean ragout with escarole, as well as roasted, glazed carrots.

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The meal started with seared foie gras served with toasted brioche, quick-pickled kumquats, apple, and a Calvados sauce.

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The second course was mushroom agnolotti filled with a purée of sautéed king trumpet, beech, and maitake mushrooms and leeks, with truffle pecorino and a little heavy cream. The sauce is a reduction of a broth made with white wine, leeks, chanterelles, and chicken stock. Garnished with the tops of pea shoots.

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The meal concluded with an apple crostata and homemade red beet ice cream, garnished with candied pecans. The mix of savory and sweet for dessert was something instructive from Noma, and the choice of beets was influenced by a wonderful meal we had at The Pass in Houston. The ice cream recipe is Thomas Keller’s, and I found it on the White on Rice Couple website.

Homemade Pici Pasta with a Mushroom, Tomato, and “Champagne” Sauce

This homemade pici pasta is served with a sauce of crimini mushrooms, San Marzano tomatoes, bacon, and some inexpensive sparkling wine left over from the hoildays.

This homemade pici pasta is served with a sauce of crimini mushrooms, San Marzano tomatoes, bacon, and some inexpensive sparkling wine left over from the hoildays.

While in Piedmont last year, some people on our bike tour talked up an addictive hand-rolled pasta they ate in Tuscany. What the rustic, hand-cut tajarin was to the area we were in, they said, pici was to the region around Montalcino. I had forgotten this conversation until recently when I saw a recipe for pici posted over at Jamie Oliver’s website. With a freak winter chill that descended on Houston this week, keeping us mostly indoors and so not going to the grocery store, I decided to make a hearty, fortifying pasta with what I had around the house and recalled the Oliver recipe. Pastas, like soups, have really become versatile saviors for me when ingredients are slim.

Unlike the egg-rich tajarin, pici is mostly flour and water. Still, its thicker shape gives is it a nice substantial texture, and the channel that forms along the length of the rolled pasta makes a great mechanism for gathering in sauce. I can see why pici is a good pasta for ragù. As a rough guide, I used the recipe from Oliver’s site for making the pasta, a mix of 00 flour and semolina, with water and the addition of an egg, which I read is a common regional variation. The dough is a bit difficult at first when trying to get it to hold together for kneading, feeling like wet sand, and the actual cutting and rolling are time-consuming, but the results are worth it. I didn’t have much to add to the pasta, yet an inexpensive bottle of sparkling wine (left over from the holidays) and a pound of crimini mushrooms were solid lead actors. Bacon, San Marzano tomatoes, and some fresh herbs made a fine supporting cast. I have begun to think of bacon and canned San Marzano tomatoes as essentials in the kitchen, always good to have on hand like a carton of chicken stock.

Ingredients

Pici Pasta:

350 g 00 flour, or unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

150 g semolina flour, plus more for dusting

200 ml cold water

1 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp kosher salt

1 egg

Sauce:

1 lb crimini mushrooms, washed, stems trimmed, and sliced

5 peeled, canned whole San Marzano tomatoes and their sauce

4 thick slices of bacon

1 1/2 cups sparkling wine

1 large shallot, minced

4 garlic gloves, minced

Leaves from 2 rosemary stems, chopped

1 tbsp chopped fresh sage

1 tbsp chopped fresh Italian parsley, plus more for garnish

1 tsp crushed red pepper flakes, or more to taste

1/4 cup grated Parmesan, plus more for garnish

1 cup pasta water

season with kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper

garnish with flake sea salt

Methods

For the pici: To make the pici pasta, combine the flour, semolina, and salt in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the middle and add the egg and olive oil. Mix continuously while adding the cold water. Oliver’s recipe called for 150 ml, but I found I needed 200 ml of water in order to achieve a firm dough I could knead. Knead the dough for about 10 minutes on a lightly floured surface until the dough is smooth and elastic. Cover with plastic wrap and set in the fridge to rest for 30 minutes. Once rested, cut the dough into 5 or 6 equal pieces and cover the ones you are not working with in plastic wrap to keep from drying out. Roll a single piece into a rectangle between 1/4-1/8 cm thick. The rustic nature of this pasta means you don’t need to be worried about being so precise with the shape. Using a sharp knife, cut the dough into about 1/2 cm strips. Then, starting at the middle, gently roll each strip into a long tube. I found it easier to roll if I lightly pinched along the length of the strip of dough first. I also covered the unrolled strips with a sheet of plastic wrap gently draped over them to keep them from drying out too quickly. When rolled, place the uncooked pici on a semolina-dusted tray or parchment-lined sheet pan. Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough.

For the sauce: The sauce can be started after you’ve rolled out all of the pasta, or you can make the sauce up to the addition of the cheese and pasta water, keeping it warm and covered on the stove or refrigerated, then reheating when ready for use. In a dutch oven or large sauté pan or braising pan, cook the bacon. When cooked, remove, chop, and set aside the bacon. Add the sliced mushrooms to pan with the rendered bacon fat, and sauté until tender, about 8 minutes. Add the shallots, and cook until the shallots are softened. Add the red pepper flakes and garlic, stirring until the garlic becomes fragrant. Add the sparkling wine and reduce, scrapping up the brown bits at the bottom of the pan, until the liquid is about a scant 1/2 cup. Add the tomatoes in their sauce, crushing them and breaking them up in the pan with the back of a wooden spoon. Add the herbs. Cook until the flavors have combined and some of the liquid reduced, about 10-15 minutes. At this point, you can start cooking the pasta in boiling, salted water. While the pasta is cooking, stir in the cheese to the sauce. When the pasta starts to float, cook for another 3-4 minutes, then strain, reserving the pasta water you need for the sauce. Add the water to the sauce, reduce, and check the seasoning, adding kosher salt and cracked pepper as needed. Add the pasta, stirring until the pici is well coated and more of the liquid has reduced. Serve the pasta with chopped parsley, fresh grated Parmesan, and flake sea salt. This makes six dinner servings.

Moroccan Lamb and Root Vegetable Stew

Moroccan Lamb and Root Vegetable Stew

Moroccan spiced lamb stew with rutabagas, parsnips, and carrots. Served with a homemade harissa.

Since the cold days are persisting in Houston, hot soups are welcomed fortifications until the next salvo of warm weather drops on the city. I was in the mood for a soup that was hearty and substantial, and one that had the look of it, too. I came up with a Moroccan spiced lamb stew that was ballasted with hunks of braised lamb and earthy root vegetables. The stew needed another component, a brightness to compliment the richness and earthiness, and since I was already running with the Moroccan flavors, harissa seemed like the most appropriate condiment. Pistachios, dried apricots, golden raisins, and Moroccan-styled Beldi olives also contributed to the complexity of flavor and texture.

Ingredients

Soup:

2 tbsp grape seed oil, perhaps additional

3 lb boneless lamb shoulder, trimmed and cut into 1 inch cubes

2 large rutabagas, peeled and cut into 1 inch pieces

2 large parsnips; peeled, halved and cut into 1 inch pieces

2 large carrots; peeled, halved, and cut into 1 inch pieces

1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped

4 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped

1 16 oz can chickpeas, drained and rinsed

1 28 oz can whole peeled tomatoes, preferably San Marzano

4-5 cups chicken stock

Juice and zest of 1 lemon

Spice rub for lamb:

2 tbsp ground cumin

1 tbsp kosher salt + additional for seasoning

1 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp cinnamon

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

1/4 tsp cayenne pepper

Tied in a cheesecloth bag:

8 sprigs of fresh thyme

8 sprigs of fresh oregano

1/2 tsp coriander seeds

Harissa:

1/2 tsp caraway seeds

1/2 tsp coriander seeds

1/2 tsp smoked paprika

1/2 tsp ground cumin

1 dried pequin pepper

1 tsp fresh mint

1 tbsp golden raisins

1 roasted, peeled, and seeded red bell pepper, from a jar or roasted at home

1/4 tsp lemon juice

Kosher salt, to taste

Additional Garnishes:

Chopped pistachios, dried apricots, and golden raisins

Beldi olives

Sour cream

Methods

Combine the spice rub ingredients and then add to the well-trimmed and cubed lamb shoulder. Let the lamb rest coated in the spice rub for an hour in the refrigerator. When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 300 °F. On the stove, heat the grapeseed oil over medium-high heat in a large dutch oven. Brown the lamb, and you can do this in batches to avoid crowding and to get a nice crust on the meat. Set the meat aside. Adjust the oil in the dutch oven, either removing some or adding some to get back to around 2 tbsp. This will all depend on how the lamb was trimmed. Sauté the onion for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, and then add the chopped carrots, parsnips, and rutabagas. Continue cooking for 4 more minutes, stirring occasionally, and then add the garlic. Once the garlic becomes fragrant (not burnt), add the juice and zest of the lemon and reduce. Add the tomatoes in their juice, breaking them up with a spoon in the pot. Add the herb bag and return the meat. Add the stock. Bring to a boil and then cover. Cook covered in the preheated oven for about 3 hours, until the meat and vegetables become tender. When the meat and vegetables are soft, remove the pot from the oven and discard the herb bag. Carefully tilt the dutch oven; then skim off and discard the accumulated oil. There will be a lot. After discarding the oil, remove about two cups of broth and vegetables, being careful not to gather up any pieces of meat, and blend those two cups of the soup. Add the blended soup back to the pot and stir to thicken the stew. Add the chickpeas. Adjust the seasoning with kosher salt and cracked black pepper. Optionally, you can return the pot to the oven and cook uncovered for an additional 30 minutes.

For the harissa, grind all of the dry ingredients together with a mortar and pestle. Add the mint to the mortar and grind into the spices to make a paste. Add the raisins and continue making a paste. Chop the bell pepper and then add it to the mortar, continuing to make the paste. When the pepper has been fully incorporated, season with the kosher salt and lemon juice. You may adjust the seasoning with additional smoked paprika at this point.

Carrot and Parsnip Soup

Carrot and parsnip soup with garnishes of dill oil, smoked paprika seasoned crushed pine nuts, and a Greek yogurt-sour cream-lemon condiment. The bread is homemade rye, following the recipe from Smitten Kitchen.

Carrot and parsnip soup with garnishes of dill oil, smoked paprika seasoned crushed pine nuts, and a Greek yogurt-sour cream-lemon condiment. The bread is homemade rye, following the recipe from Smitten Kitchen.

I’ve been wanting to expand my repertoire of homemade breads, and the recent experiments in smørrebrød had me thinking of rye. I found a helpful recipe over at Smitten Kitchen, and the results were great. Needing something to eat with the bread, and with the first days approximating fall weather here in Houston, I decided to make soup. This carrot and parsnip soup proved to be a great dish for the rye bread to accompany.

Ingredients:

Soup:

1 tbsp  canola oil

2 tbsp unsalted butter

1 large yellow onion, diced

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced

1 Granny Smith apple; peeled, cored, and diced

1 lb carrots; peeled and diced

1 lb parsnips; peeled and diced

8 cups vegetable or chicken stock

2 tbsp cider vinegar

1 tsp ground ginger

1/2 tsp ground white pepper

8 sprigs of fresh thyme, tied

2 tsp kosher salt, or to taste

Condiment:

1/4 cup sour cream

1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt

juice from half of a lemon

1 tbsp heavy whipping cream

1/2 tsp honey

sea salt, to taste

Additional Garnishes:

fresh dill oil

smoked paprika seasoned crushed pine nuts

Methods:

For the soup, heat the oil and butter over medium heat, and then add the diced onion. Sauté for 8 minutes, stirring occasionally, and then add the diced carrots and parsnips. Continue cooking for 4 more minutes, stirring occasionally, and then add the apple and garlic. Once the garlic becomes fragrant (not burnt), add the cider vinegar and reduce. Add the seasonings and herbs. Mix. Add the stock. Bring to boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook covered until the vegetables become tender (about 30 minutes). When the vegetables are soft, remove the tied bunch of thyme stems and blend the soup thoroughly. As I do when making soup, I prefer to use a hand blender.

For the condiment, mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl. For the dill oil, chop the dill leaves, combine with enough of a 50/50 mix of grape seed oil and olive oil to cover the herbs, and season with sea salt to taste. For the pine nuts, toast 2 tbsp of pine nuts and cool. Once cool, crush the pine nuts with 1/2 tsp of smoked paprika. I use a mortar and pestle.

Smørrebrød

My take on the Danish smørrebrød, those artfully presented but unpretentious open-faced sandwiches I saw in Copenhagen. This version uses homemade ciabatta as the base, sliced roasted pork tenderloin in a spice rub, a pickled beet and pickled mustard seed relish, basil pesto, shaved fennel, and baby spinach.

Copenhagen is an eye-opening city for food, and no small part of that is smørrebrød, those eye-catching open-faced sandwiches I saw all over the city. Elevated and elegant, they still retained their utility: slices of bread to convey smoked, cured, and roasted fish and meats. When in display cases, they had all of the decadent appeal of pastries, crowned with inviting textures and colors. Smørrebrød offered smart, small pleasures. Their accouterments could be composed as if for a much more complex dish, instead of burying it all beneath another slab of bread.

Although café and street food was not what brought me to Copenhagen, it has had the most immediate effect on me. Holly was going to Copenhagen for work; I was going for dinner. It was an amazing dinner. A singular experience. Noma was as innovative and crazy good as it is known to be, but my reactions to the meal we had there definitely need time to process. And that makes sense for Noma, which seems to be all about time, with its attention to foraging, and fermenting, and pickling, and slow roasting, and the ecological and culinary history of a region, and the ecological, economic, and political histories—which is to say stories—of all of the producers from whom Noma sources ingredients, including the wines and coffee. My thinking about food has been transformed by Noma, but what form that transformation will manifest as has yet to show itself (although a start may be the jar of pickled Texas quail eggs that I have seasoning in the refrigerator right now). No, the immediate effect of Copenhagen has been on using condiments and garnishes not as afterthoughts but as part of the pleasure of the dish. Smørrebrød embodied that ethos most visibly, but I also ate many smartly composed sausages, which were enhanced by quality bread and additions like fresh herb oils and various pickles.

Pork Tenderloin SmørrebrødThe flavor combinations for my foray into smørrebrød were inspired by a lunch I had at the Statens Museum for Kunst in Copenhagen. The addition of basil pesto to a dish that already had a beet relish seemed unnecessary at first, more visually stunning than functioning for flavor, but once tasted, the combination of the oil with the vinegar and the complimentary earthiness and sweetness of the basil and the beets were revelatory. I also came across this nice, brief article by Lynda Balslev over at NPR on the history of smørrebrød from an American perspective, with included recipes, found here.

The spice rub for the pork is a combination of red chilies, paprika, onion, garlic, oregano, thyme, black pepper, and salt. The pesto is a traditional basil pesto with pine nuts and Parmesan. The beet condiment is made by puréeing homemade pickled beets and adding homemade pickled mustard seeds to that.

Red Bell Pepper and Butternut Squash Soup with Fresh Ginger

This puréed soup has red bell peppers, butternut squash, yellow onion, fresh ginger, a Granny Smith apple, garlic, and vegetable stock. It is seasoned with fresh thyme, dried oregano, cumin, chili powder, white pepper, cayenne pepper, and kosher salt. The garnish is a sour cream, Greek yogurt, and fresh lime juice condiment, along with pepitas and shichimi tōgarashi (a Japanese spice mixture).

This puréed soup has red bell peppers, butternut squash, yellow onion, fresh ginger, tomatoes, a Granny Smith apple, garlic, and vegetable stock. It is seasoned with fresh thyme, oregano, cumin, chili powder, white and cayenne pepper, and kosher salt. The garnish is a sour cream, Greek yogurt, and fresh lime juice condiment, along with pepitas and shichimi tōgarashi (a Japanese spice mixture).

It was just a coincidence that on Monday I made a meatless meal. I have reached a non-critical but still punishing level of pork-fatigue, and this happens to be coinciding with the exhaustion from thinking up ways to utilize the weekly share of vegetables as we enter the waning dog days of our summer CSA program. Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve been receiving butternut squash, red bell peppers, and eggplant in our box, which recently led to roasted butternut squash, roasted eggplant, and glazed home-cured Guanciale served over a Lebanese dish of green lentils, the recipe for which I found in Saveur. This week, however, I wanted something a little easier, a one-pot kind of a meal. Although I traditionally reserve making butternut squash soup for the fall (since it tends to be a heartier dish), the addition of Granny Smith apple, fresh ginger, and red bell peppers lightened up a version of a Moroccan influenced soup I’ve been making for years. Typically, this soup has russet potatoes, acorn squash, and chickpeas. Also, it is usually only partially blended. This summery incarnation was further brightened by a condiment of sour cream, Greek yogurt, fresh lime juice, and whole whipping cream, seasoned with fresh thyme and kosher salt. To add texture and more depth to the pepper flavors of the soup, I used pepitas and shichimi tōgarashi as additional garnishes. The bread is Marc Vetri’s recipe for Rustic Italian loaf.

Ingredients:

Soup:

2 tbsp olive oil

2 tbsp unsalted butter

1 large yellow onion, diced

2 red bell peppers, seeded and diced

2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and minced

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and minced

1 Granny Smith apple; peeled, cored, and diced

1 butternut squash; peeled, seeded, and cut into 1-inch cubes

16 oz can of diced tomatoes

6 cups vegetable stock

1 tbsp ground cumin

1 tsp chili powder

1/4 tsp ground white pepper

1/8 tsp ground cayenne pepper

1 tbsp dried oregano

8 sprigs of fresh thyme, tied

2 tsp kosher salt, or to taste

Condiment:

1/4 cup sour cream

1/4 cup plain Greek yogurt

juice from half of a lime

1 tbsp heavy whipping cream

1/2 tsp honey

kosher salt, to taste

fresh thyme leaves, to taste

Additional Garnishes:

pepitas

shichimi tōgarashi

Methods:

For the soup, heat the oil and butter over medium heat, and then add the diced onion. Sauté for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally, and then add the diced bell peppers. Continue cooking for 4 more minutes and then add the apple, ginger, and garlic. Once the garlic becomes fragrant (not burnt), add the can of tomatoes and the spices and herbs. Mix. Add the butternut squash and stock. Bring to boil and then reduce to a simmer. Cook covered until the squash becomes tender (about 30 minutes). When the squash is cooked, remove the tied bunch of thyme stems and blend the soup thoroughly. I prefer to use a hand blender.

For the condiment, mix all of the ingredients together in a bowl.

Below is a picture of the lentil dish mentioned earlier.

The recipe for these Lebanese lentils comes from Saveur, Issue #132, and it was submitted to them by the poet Carolyn Forché. It can be found here. I adapted the recipe a bit, using a mix of Italian and purple basil instead of mint and substituting roasted for sautéed garlic. I used the lentils as a base for roasted butternut squash, roasted eggplant, and glazed home-cured shortcut Guanciale à la Marc Vetri. The glaze is reduced red wine and honey in the Guanciale roasting pan, along with dried oregano and crushed garlic.

The recipe for these Lebanese lentils comes from Saveur, Issue #132, and it was submitted to them by the poet Carolyn Forché. It can be found here. I adapted the recipe a bit, using a mix of Italian and purple basil instead of mint and substituting roasted for  sautéed garlic. I used the lentils as a base for roasted butternut squash, roasted eggplant, and glazed home-cured shortcut Guanciale à la Marc Vetri. The glaze is reduced red wine and honey in the Guanciale roasting pan, along with dried oregano and crushed garlic.

Rustic Italian Cooking

Shaved Pork with Arugula, Plums, Cherries, and Olives, a variation on a recipe in Marc Vetri's "Rustic Italian Food."

Shaved Pork with Arugula, Plums, Cherries, and Olives, a variation on a recipe in Marc Vetri’s “Rustic Italian Food.”

Given my love of all things Piedmont lately, which is most likely just a sad wish to be back in that landscape of transformative light and palate rocking food and wine, it makes sense I’ve gravitated toward Marc Vetri’s cookbook “Rustic Italian Food.” Yet there is a deeper pattern emerging in my cooking experiments, a tendency that’s perhaps made me receptive to Vetri’s tutelage and cuisine, a trail going back to David Chang’s Momofuku cookbook. It’s not just their elevation of ordinary (and even at times humble) ingredients that excites for its innovation and satisfies emotionally for still being recognizable as the food of everyday life, in the home and out on the street. Though that is compelling. It’s also not just their approachable styles of instruction, the easy knowledge of two masters of their craft who calm anxieties with the depth of their experience and dedication, but without being condescending jerks about it. Yeah, they cook some stuff, and they’re really really great at it, better than I can hope to be, but that doesn’t mean they can’t help me make something extremely tasty at my level if I’m honest about it and just pay attention. Still, there is a connection at the level of the food, a kind of alchemy of salty, sweet, fatty, and fresh, rounded out with a little acidity, which makes everything I’ve tried from these two cookbooks delicious. The methods contribute, too: a lot of braising, pickling, and preserving. They require some time and attention, but the results pay off.

Vetri's recipe for the shaved pork involves brining pork shoulder for two days in the fridge. The brine includes 2 cups hot water, 2 cups cold water, 4 cups ice, 1 cup kosher salt, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 garlic clove, the leaves from 1 sprig of rosemary, and 10 black peppercorns. After brining, drain and roast uncovered in a preheated 300 °F oven until the internal temperature reaches 145 °F. It's on the rarer-side for pork, but you finish in a skillet after shaving. Since my pork shoulder was a little bigger than the recipe (3 1/2 pounds), the cooking time was about 1 1/2 hours.

Vetri’s recipe for shaved pork involves brining pork shoulder for two days in the fridge. The brine includes 2 cups hot water, 2 cups cold water, 4 cups ice, 1 cup kosher salt, 1/2 cup sugar, 1 garlic clove, the leaves from 1 sprig of rosemary, and 10 black peppercorns. After brining, drain and roast uncovered in a preheated 300 °F oven until the internal temperature reaches 145 °F. It’s on the rarer-side for pork, but you finish in a skillet after shaving. Since my pork shoulder was a little bigger than the recipe (3 1/2 pounds), the cooking time was about 1 1/2 hours.

Shaved Pork Shoulder

The pork shoulder is sliced thinly, and from experience, I’d say try to slice as thin as possible to avoid chewy pieces. Here is one of those instances where being a homecook has its drawbacks. Alas, no Hobart meat slicer, and my knives will never have a professional’s edges. The pork slices are dressed in 1 tablespoon whole-grain mustard, 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, 1/2 cup olive oil, 1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, and salt and pepper to taste. The dressed shavings are finished in a skillet until heated through. Vetri’s recipe calls for summer fruit, including plums and cantaloupe, but I was already cantalouped out after recent weeks, so instead used plums, cherries and Beldi olives. The sweet and salty seemed in the spirit of the dish, and with the peppery, fresh arugula, the simple plate came together in a nice and complex way.

There are a lot of great recipes in the book for condiments, as well, such as mostardas, pickles, and jams. Vetri’s quick bell pepper mostarda came in handy, as did his blackberry jam recipe, to make use of the bounty of summer fruits and vegetables here in Texas. The blackberry jam went nicely with Vermont cheddar and southern buttermilk biscuits. I am thankful to my sister-in-law, Heidi, for the jam spoon.

Blackberry Jam and Buttermilk Bisquits

Beet, Sage, and Ricotta Agnolotti

Beet, sage, and ricotta agnolotti in a zucchini crema with asparagus and poppy seeds. Orange zest in the agnolotti filling gives this dish a nice floral and citrus note.

Beet, sage, and ricotta agnolotti in a zucchini crema with asparagus and poppy seeds. Orange zest in the agnolotti filling gives this dish nice floral and citrus notes to go with the subtlety of the sage.

So my affair with agnolotti is apparently not over. A few beets and the remainder of the zucchini from my recent co-op box left me thinking of a way to use them up and use them together, and a ravioli seemed the natural solution. A quick search on Google confirmed that, as multiple hits for beet ravioli came back. While at first I thought I would just slice the zucchini to serve with the agnolotti, I soon remembered Marc Vetri mentioning zucchini as a substitute for the corn in the crema recipe I used for my steelhead trout. It was the perfect sauce for a beet ravioli with poppy seeds that I found on the Food Republic website, a recipe that they got from the CIA’s book “Pasta.” I made a few adjustments and used my own egg pasta recipe, and things turned out pretty well. A decent 2011 Pio Cesare Arneis played nice as a companion.

Beets for the agnolotti

This recipe calls for braising the beets instead of roasting them to get them tender enough to blend. The method is to first sauté a diced medium yellow onion with 4 chopped sage leaves in 2 ounces of unsalted butter. When the onions become tender (about 4 minutes while stirring occasionally), you add 1 1/2 pounds of peeled and diced beets along with 1/2 cup water to the sauté pan, bring to a simmer, cover, and cook until tender. This took longer than the recipe for me, around 40 minutes. But the results were great. I let the vegetables cool a bit before blending, and to prevent having an overly wet pasta filling, I drained the blended mixture in a sieve lined with cheesecloth.

Draining Beet Filling

This step also kept me from having to use bread crumbs to potentially thicken the filling, as the recipe suggests. Another ingredient I left out of the filling was the egg yolks. I just went with the 3/4 cup grated Parmesan, 1/2 cup fresh ricotta, 1/2 tsp  finely grated orange zest, and kosher salt and white pepper to taste. Those ingredients were added to the beet mixture and combined in a bowl with a wooden spoon.

Beet Ravioli filling

I made egg pasta sheets, doubling my recipe. With a batch this size, I used my stand mixer with a paddle and then the dough hook before finishing the kneading by hand. Folding the agnolotti is getting a little easier with practice, but it is still a time consuming process. I set the cut agnolotti on lined baking pans, sprinkle with semolina, and put in the freezer to harden before transferring to ziplock bags to be stored in the freezer for later use.

Beet Agnolotti Drying

For the sauce, I used 3 cups peeled and diced zucchini sautéed with half of a diced onion in 2 tbsp olive oil, stirring often until tender. Next, I added 1 cup water and 1 cup heavy cream to the pan, brought the mixture to a simmer, and cooked covered for 10 minutes. The mixture is blended with a tbsp olive oil and seasoned with sea salt and white pepper. I also prepared asparagus by trimming and blanching it. All of these can be made in advance, storing the sauce and asparagus in the fridge and the agnolotti in the freezer. When ready to cook, get a pot of salted boiling water going for the agnolotti, and put about 1/2 cup (or more if you like) of the sauce per serving in a sauté pan over medium-low heat with asparagus tips (again, use an amount to your liking). Cook the agnolotti until they float, drain, and then add them to the sauce and asparagus, carefully coating them. You don’t want the delicate pasta to tear.  I served the agnolotti sprinkled with poppy seeds, and a little remainder of the pasta filling and freshly chopped sage in olive oil and freshly cracked black pepper as a garnish on the side of the dish with flake sea salt. The addition of the sage oil as a garnish helped to add a little more herbaceousness to this sweet-tending ravioli.

Ingredients:

Agnolotti Filling
2 ounces (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion, diced
4 sage leaves, finely chopped
1 1/2 pounds beets, peeled and diced
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
1/2 cup fresh ricotta, skim or whole milk
1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
Kosher salt and  ground white pepper, to taste
Pasta Sheets
1 1/2 cups “double zero” flour
8 egg yolks
2 tsp kosher salt
2 tsp olive oil
2 tbsp cold water
Zucchini Crema
3 cups zucchini, peeled and diced
1/2 yellow onion, diced
1 cup water
1 cup heavy cream (Or whole milk, or skim, or any combination you want. If you go dairy-less, substitute water and stir in 4 tbsp olive oil after blending.)
1 tbsp olive oil
sea salt and white pepper to taste
Additional Ingredients
poppy seeds, to your liking
1 bunch asparagus, trimmed and blanched and cut to about 1-inch pieces
sage leaves (chopped), olive oil, cracked black pepper, and flake sea salt for garnishing

Cooking Outside the Box with the Co-Op Box

Pan-Seared Steelhead Trout with a parsley-crispy kale-lemon gremolata, crispy sage and kale chips, sautéed zucchini, and sweet corn crema.

Pan-Seared Steelhead Trout with a parsley-crispy kale-lemon gremolata, crispy sage and kale, sautéed zucchini, and sweet corn crema.

We recently became members of an organic produce co-op, and it’s been wonderful having loads of fresh and local fruits and vegetables in the house. It’s also been nice to have the surprise of the weekly share selections, which have forced me to think outside of my normal culinary box. This has been a week of inventive salads with beautiful kale and red leaf lettuce and romaine, using oranges and two kinds of tangerines as components in the salads and incorporated into dressings. Some gorgeous zucchini became the vegetable added to a simple tajarin pasta dish over the weekend, and the tomatoes and cantaloupe I found in this week’s box encouraged me to revisit my cantaloupe-tomatillo gazpacho. When I say cooking outside of the culinary box, I mean my personal habits and tendencies. Needing to do something with the ears of sweet corn from my co-op share and a little exhausted from weeks of heavy and braised meats, I came up with a steelhead trout dish and a modified version of a corn crema from Marc Vetri’s cookbook “Rustic Italian Food.” I rarely cook fish, but I have enjoyed making steelhead trout. The meaty texture and the flavor work well for Holly’s and my carnivorous-tending palates. The corn crema was going to contribute to the dish both as a starch and a kind of sauce, so I went with a simple (and keeping it Italian) gremolata to accompany the trout, using the remainder of my Italian parsley from the co-op box. I also had a lot of kale still to use, and it became a textural addition to the dish by making kale chips and by incorporating a little bitterness and smokiness to the gremolata. The kale by itself seemed weird, so I added crispy sage. More of the week’s zucchini become a base for the fish and something to help gather up the crema. A squeeze of lemon on the pan-seared trout (crispy skin intact) helped to balance out what I found to be a surprisingly complex and tasty dish.

The crema is made with 2 cups of fresh corn kernels, 1/3 of a large onion diced, 1 cup water, 1/4 cup heavy cream, 1/4 cup whole milk, 1 tbsp olive oil, and kosher salt and black pepper to taste.  I started by sautéing the corn and onion in olive oil  for a few minutes to soften, stirring occasionally to keep them from browning. Then I added the water, cream, and milk and brought the mixture to a simmer, letting it do so for about 10 minutes. Once the vegetables were softened, I let the mixture cool slightly before blending it. I strained it to smooth it completely. At this point, I adjusted the seasoning and stirred in the tbsp of olive oil.

The crema is made with 2 cups of fresh corn kernels, 1/3 of a large onion diced, 1 cup water, 1/4 cup heavy cream, 1/4 cup whole milk, 1 tbsp olive oil, and kosher salt and black pepper to taste. I started by sautéing the corn and onion in olive oil for a few minutes to soften, stirring occasionally to keep them from browning. Then I added the water, cream, and milk and brought the mixture to a simmer, letting it do so for about 10 minutes. Once the vegetables were softened, I let the mixture cool slightly before blending it. I strained it to smooth it completely. At this point, I adjusted the seasoning and stirred in the tbsp of olive oil.

Kale and Gremolata

The kale chips and crispy sage were made by coating the leaves in olive oil, seasoning with sea salt, and cooking on a lined baking sheet at 325 °F for 10-15 minutes. The kale leaves will need different amounts of time depending on how large they are, and some may require turning to finish. The gremolata is an easy and fresh tasting condiment of chopped parsley, lemon zest, and garlic. I added a little chopped roasted kale to the mix of 1/2 cup chopped parsley, 1 chopped garlic clove, and the zest of half of a lemon.

Cantaloupe and Tomatillo Gazpacho

With this second batch of the cantaloupe-tomatillo gazpacho (recipe discussed here), I varied what I used as garnishes. In the version pictured above, I used toasted pumpkin seeds, capers, caperberries, heirloom tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, and basil. I also made a version with diced avocado, asparagus tips, toasted pumpkin seeds, heirloom tomatoes, and shaved Parmesan. For the asparagus, I trimmed one bunch and blanched it in salted water for about 5 minutes before shocking it in an ice bath. I removed the tips I needed and reserved what I didn’t use in the refrigerator for later.

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