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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.

DSC02848

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.

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.

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

Piedmont Has Hills… Part 2

Savory asparagus flan with a creamy Fontina sauce, Parmesan tuile, and julienned bell peppers. This dish, adapted from a recipe on Epicurious, tries to recapture a little piece of Piedmont.

Savory asparagus flan with a creamy Fontina sauce, Parmesan tuile, and julienned bell peppers. This dish, adapted from a recipe on Epicurious, tries to recapture a little piece of Piedmont.

Biking from Acqui Terme to Monforte d’Alba across the Monferrato and Langhe hills, I experienced subtle shifts in the landscape, the transforming hunks and shades of the vineyards and valleys, which reflected the variations in the Piedmontese wines and cuisine. For instance, how stretching west from Acqui, the soil great for Muscato and Barbera gives way to Barbera and Nebbiolo. How the higher in elevation the hills raised, the more hazelnut groves are passed. I mentioned in my previous post that each place we stopped at had their own salumi and cheese to go with their wines, but there were some constants, each given local and personal flair.

Beyond tajarin, Piedmont is known for its gnocchi, risotto, and agnolotti (or a folded ravioli). As with the tajarin, most preparations of these other pastas were simple but full of flavor. A big takeaway from all of the rustic Piedmontese cuisine I ate was that you shouldn’t mistake complexity with complicated. The dishes were complex in flavor without being unnecessarily complicated. The most involved primo piatto I had was a tajarin with a Bolognese. One of the best dishes I ate was in Turin at a restaurant called Agnolotti & Friends. I tried agnolotti stuffed with potato, mint, and ricotta that melted on the tongue. Seriously. The pasta had almost the same silky texture as the beef Carpaccio I had for an antipasto. The agnolotti was simply prepared with capers, lemon, butter, and Parmesan, and was ridiculously good.  I had to try to recreate it when I got home, and so I did.

Potato, mint, and ricotta agnolotti with capers, lemon, butter, and Parmesan. For the agnolotti, I made pasta dough Piedmontese-style with 4 egg yolks to 3/4 cup of "double zero" flour and a tsp each of kosher salt, water, and olive oil. The filling is three large Yukon Gold potatoes peeled and boiled and mashed, 3/4 cup ricotta, 1.5 tbsp chopped mint, 1 tbsp butter, and enough whole milk to smooth it out. It is seasoned with kosher salt and white pepper. The texture of this dough for the agnolotti is delicate and wonderful.

Potato, mint, and ricotta agnolotti with capers, lemon, butter, and Parmesan. For the agnolotti, I made pasta dough Piedmontese-style with 4 egg yolks to 3/4 cup of “double zero” flour and a tsp each of kosher salt, water, and olive oil. The filling is three large Yukon Gold potatoes peeled and boiled and mashed, 3/4 cup ricotta, 1.5 tbsp chopped mint, 1 tbsp butter, and enough whole milk to smooth it out. It is seasoned with kosher salt and white pepper. The texture of this dough for the agnolotti is delicate and wonderful. For the sauce for one serving, melt 1 tbsp of butter in a pan, add the capers, a tbsp of grated Parmesan or more, a little of the pasta cooking water, a quarter of a lemon squeezed, and kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste. Toss with the cooked agnolotti, which should be done after 2-3 minutes in salted boiling water.

In addition to the braised meats and salumi, we were served generous amounts of beef Carpaccio and dishes of thinly sliced or pounded cutlets of pork or veal that came topped with a mustard sauce, sometimes loaded with tuna brought over the hills from Genoa. Those dishes looked something like this link here to Gianni and Mina’s restaurant. Those meat and mustard-sauce dishes came as an antipasto. Another antipasto constant was a savory flan with a cheese sauce. We usually had either spinach or asparagus flan with a creamy and rich Fontina sauce.  These savory flans were such a novelty I wanted to see if I could recreate one. I found a recipe at Epicurious that is adapted from a dish served at a hotel in Turin. It turned out great. Since even halving the recipe made more flan than we could consume in one go, I used it as a side for a grilled pork collar with a cherry gastrique.

The flan made a nice side for a grilled pork collar. The cherry gastrique is a 1:1 mixture of granulated sugar and vinegar (half cider and half sherry. It is seasoned with fresh pitted cherries, red pepper flakes, and pink peppercorns.

The flan made a nice side for a grilled pork collar. The cherry gastrique is a 1:1 mixture of granulated sugar and vinegar (half cider and half sherry). It is seasoned with fresh pitted cherries, red pepper flakes, and pink peppercorns.

A typical roadside attraction. Here, it's a view in Santo Stefano Belbo.

A typical roadside attraction. Here, it’s a view in Santo Stefano Belbo.

It never hurts to finish with Barolo.

It never hurts to finish with Barolo.

Piedmont Has Hills… and Ridiculously Good Wine and Food.

Homemade tajarin, which is the Piedmontese name for taglierini, with porcini, spinach, and a poached egg. The garnishes are salted capers, caperberries, toasted and chopped pine nuts, and chopped olives. Although the many dishes of tajarin I had were made with fresh pasta, dried "nests" of these noodles where available for sale all over the region. The pasta is an egg dough, but specifically egg yolks, which lends the pasta its color. I experienced it mostly hand-cut to various thin widths.

Homemade tajarin, which is the Piedmontese name for taglierini, served here with porcini, spinach, and a poached egg. The garnishes are salted capers, caperberries, toasted and chopped pine nuts, and chopped olives. Although the many dishes of tajarin I had in Piedmont were made with fresh pasta, dried “nests” of these noodles where available for sale all over the region. The pasta is an egg dough, but specifically egg yolks, which lends the pasta its color. It appeared mostly hand-cut to various thin widths nearing fettuccine. It almost came exclusively as a simple yet richly flavorful dish, served with only butter and Parmesan for a sauce, thinned with a little pasta water (I imagine), and either shavings of black truffles or asparagus or  with wilted spinach. This dish pictured served as the “primo piatto” for my first Piedmont inspired meal. I tried to evoke tajarin’s substance in this homage to the nests of dried pasta.

“Good poets borrow; great poets steal.” That nice morsel of a statement—attributed to T.S. Eliot and continually reanimated by creative writing workshops—has all the roundness of an aphorism that makes it just sound like wisdom. It’s a piece of advice I’ve enlisted on more than one occasion when trying to impress upon my students that it’s okay to have influences; it’s okay to be inspired. And I have to admit that the rhetoric of unapologetic thievery usually has enough rebellion in it to start shifting those self-identified individual geniuses over to the position that our art doesn’t come from some pure internal wellspring. When it comes to art, you get the ideas for your ideas somewhere.

Cooking, for me, is an art like any other. It is one for which I am an amateur, although enthusiastic, practitioner. I am always looking for inspiration, searching for what flavor combination, texture, or technique I can steal. The challenge for home cooks is how to incorporate inspiration into meals that feel natural and effortless for our limitations in skill, ingredients, and equipment. I don’t need to try to recreate the dish coyly but aptly called English Peas I had at Alinea, which was an absolute orgy of textures, temperatures, and techniques. (I found some pictures of what I ate here, and here, and here; it was a three-part dish.) I only have to take what I need, which in the case of English Peas was a lesson in using an ingredient in different ways on the same plate, highlighting various pleasures in mouthfeel.

The meal started with this cantaloupe, tomato, and tomatillo gazpacho. While the flavors are not truly Italian, we did have a chilled spicy tomato soup with pepitas on our last night in Monforte d'Alba that I was conjuring up, yet with a Texas flavor. I used three tomatoes and three tomatillos peeled and seeded. I seeded the tomatoes in a wire strainer over a bowl to catch all of the juices. I used a quarter of a cantaloupe; a quarter each of seeded red, orange, and yellow bell peppers; a quarter of a red onion; the juice of one lime; one jalapeno seeded; one cucumber peeled and seeded; and a tbsp of chopped basil and a tbsp of chopped mint. Those ingredients were blended smooth. I topped the gazpacho with  heirloom tomatoes, toasted pine nuts, salted toasted pumpkin seeds, and mint and basil.

The Piedmont nostalgia meal started with this cantaloupe, tomato, and tomatillo gazpacho. While the flavors are not truly Italian, we did have a chilled spicy tomato soup with pepitas on our last night in Monforte d’Alba that I was conjuring up, yet with a Texas flavor. I used three tomatoes and three tomatillos peeled and seeded. I seeded the tomatoes in a wire strainer over a bowl to catch all of the juices. I used a quarter of a cantaloupe; a quarter each of seeded red, orange, and yellow bell peppers; a quarter of a red onion; the juice of one lime; one jalapeno seeded; one cucumber peeled and seeded; 1/4 cup of olive oil; and a tbsp of chopped basil and a tbsp of chopped mint. Those ingredients were blended smooth and seasoned with kosher salt and white pepper. I topped the gazpacho with heirloom tomatoes, toasted pine nuts, salted toasted pumpkin seeds, and mint and basil.

What T.S. Eliot actually said was this: “Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different. The good poet welds his theft into a whole of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn.” For the amateur, this is all relative. When I make a meal, my only hope is to be inspired enough to challenge myself, to make my cooking exciting to me and those I cook for, and hopefully tastier. I don’t need to take on the whole history of the art. That, unfortunately, is the kind of hubris I reserve for poetry.

This long preamble is all to say Holly and I went to Italy. We went to bike and eat and drink our way through Piedmont. The whole time, I was taking note of what I could steal for my own cooking. That contraband became this meal shown here in the spirit of Piedmont I made when we returned, a meal that was as much a celebration as it was a lament for the fact we were no longer sitting in village restaurants, drinking local Barberas and Barolos, while eating local cheeses and house-made pastas and salumi.

“Local” really was the theme of our gustatory pilgrimage. Many of the incredible wines we drank came from vines we could see out the windows of where we were imbibing them or had only recently passed on our bikes. The food was no different. When we turned down a steep road in the Langhe hills, following our guides to the beautiful and rustic restaurant, La Casa Nel Bosco, ristorante in famiglia of the gracious Gianni and Mina (Gianni serves the wine and food that Mina skillfully prepares) surrounded by gardens and tucked into a forest containing chestnuts, it was no shock to find asparagus and spinach from the garden incorporated into dishes and chestnuts poached in honey smartly garnishing a plate of beef carpaccio that opened the meal. Piedmont, after all, is the epicenter and origin of the Slow Food movement with its locavore ethos. Our guide Arien mischievously joked that to call it a “movement” there is kind of inaccurate, since local is just how things are done. I should add that Arien and our other guide Jimi were incredible, and the cycling trip the DuVine company created for Piedmont is spectacular. I can’t say enough wonderful things about DuVine. We were in excellent hands.

Our meals in Piedmont were always long affairs with many courses and many wines. The porcini tajarin was our second course, accompanied by a nice Arneis, a white wine not in much abundance here in Texas, which is sad. It's a great wine and can drink like a light Chablis. I made the tajarin with four egg yolks to a 3/4 cup of "double zero" flour. The pasta is tossed in butter, a little pasta cooking water, grated Parmesan, cracked black pepper, and chopped porcini mushrooms. I wanted the poached egg to act as an additional layer to the sauce, which would be seasoned by the garnishes.

Our meals in Piedmont were always long affairs with many courses and many wines. The porcini tajarin was our second course, accompanied by a nice Arneis, a white wine not in much abundance here in Texas, which is sad. It’s a great wine and can drink like a light Chablis. I made the tajarin with four egg yolks to a 3/4 cup of “double zero” flour. The pasta is tossed in butter, a little pasta cooking water, grated Parmesan, cracked black pepper, and chopped porcini mushrooms. I wanted the poached egg to act as an additional layer to the sauce, which would be seasoned by the garnishes.

Piedmont is know for braised meats, and we enjoyed many such dishes. One in particular was a braised pork shank I ate in Monforte d'Alba. Most of the second piatti would just be the meat and vegetable. Asparagus was abundant, and we ate family-style many times. This course reflects that.

Piedmont is known for braised meats, and we enjoyed many such dishes. One in particular was a braised pork shank I ate in Monforte d’Alba that had a delicious crust of a glaze. It came with a simple side of perfectly fried cubes of pillowy potatoes.  Most of the second piatti we had would just be the meat and a vegetable. Asparagus was abundant on our trip, and we ate family-style many times. This course reflects that. I couldn’t find pork shank on the day I made this dish, so it is pork shoulder, but a small 3 lb bone-in shoulder. I braised the shoulder at 285 °F for 4.5 hours, and then finished it with the glaze at 450 °F for 10 minutes. The glaze is just a reduced cup of pomegranate juice mixed into a paste with kosher salt, brown sugar, and black pepper.

Piedmont is also known for hazelnuts, and with its hazelnuts, Nutella. A common dessert in the region is a hazelnut cake, and we had the extreme pleasure of eating in a family-run renovated farmhouse restaurant in Acqui, and the sweet and talented chef, Clara, gave us a demonstration on making homemade Nutella and even enlisted me in preparing a hazelnut cake. That night, we ate overlooking the vineyards where Clara's son Guido grows Dolcetto, Barbera, and Muscato, and makes excellent wine, which he served us. I tried to recapture a little flavor of the area by making a chocolate bark with hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, and sea salt.

Piedmont is also known for hazelnuts, and with its hazelnuts, Nutella. A common dessert in the region is a hazelnut cake, and we had the extreme pleasure of eating in a family-run renovated farmhouse restaurant in Acqui, and the sweet and talented chef, Clara, gave us a demonstration on making homemade Nutella and even enlisted me in preparing a hazelnut cake. That night, we ate overlooking the vineyards where Clara’s son Guido grows Dolcetto, Barbera, and Muscato, and makes excellent wine, which he served us. I tried to recapture a little flavor of the area by making a chocolate bark with hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, and sea salt. I got the idea for this bark from the wonderful food and poetry blog, Eat This Poem.

I served the chocolate bark over white chocolate mousse with a cherry compote for an end to the meal. We left Piedmont just at the start of cherry season.

I served the chocolate bark over white chocolate mousse with a cherry compote for an end to the meal. We left Piedmont just at the start of cherry season. I wish we had had more time. To make the mousse, I found a very helpful video on YouTube.

The view from Clara and Guido's restaurant.

The view from Clara and Guido’s restaurant.

Helping Clara with the hazelnut cake. She supplied the hat.

Helping Clara with the hazelnut cake. She supplied the hat and the Muscato. Nice way to cook.

<p style="text-align: center;"><em>And yes, homemade Nutella in Piedmont with local hazelnuts is ridiculously tasty.

And yes, homemade Nutella in Piedmont with local hazelnuts is ridiculously tasty.

Solidarity Pappardelle Ragù alla Bolognese

Black Garlic Pappardelle with Lamb Ragù alla Bolognese, garnished with pea shoots, shaved Parmesan, and ricotta.

Black Garlic Pappardelle with Lamb Ragù alla Bolognese, garnished with pea shoots, shaved Parmesan, and ricotta.

 

Yesterday, Slow Food USA shared a link on its Twitter feed to an article about Slow Food Italy’s creative response to the recent scandal of horsemeat-tainted prepared foods across Europe. Their idea: stuff your own pastas and make your own meat-based sauces in protest. Or in other words, know where your ingredients are coming from and what they are. In my own—not exactly selfless—gesture of solidarity, I made Pappardelle Ragù alla Bolognese. My dish was not traditional. First of all, I used lamb. I also added a mix of herbs with my dry bay leaf: thyme, rosemary, oregano, and parsley. I filled out the conventional Bolognese soffritto (onion, carrot, celery) with diced calabacita italiana, or Italian zucchini. The pappardelle is also a variation: I made it with black garlic. I love the Slow Food attitude that politics can perhaps be palatable.

Like one would do with spinach, I mashed the black garlic into the flour and egg as I was making my dough. I used five cloves, 1 egg, 3/4 cup flour, plus a bit extra, 1 tsp kosher salt, and 1 tsp olive oil.

Like one would do with spinach, I mashed the black garlic into the flour and egg as I was making my dough. I used five cloves, 1 egg, 3/4 cup flour, plus a bit extra, 1 tsp kosher salt, and 1 tsp olive oil.

 

In case the black garlic experiment didn't work, I made a plain batch.

In case the black garlic experiment didn’t work, I made a plain batch.

 

For the ragù, I browned and braised 4 lamb loin chops with diced red onion, carrot, celery, calabacita italiana, and pancetta. The braising liquid is 1 cup red wine (reduced), 1 cup chicken stock, and 1 can San Marzano tomatoes. I tied a few sprigs of rosemary, thyme, parsley, and oregano together and added them with a bay leaf. I braised the meat for 2 hours at 300°. The meat is chopped when finished and added back to the sauce after the fat skimmed.

For the ragù, I browned 4 lamb loin chops and braised them with sautéed diced red onion, carrot, celery, calabacita italiana, and pancetta. The braising liquid is 1 cup red wine (reduced), 1 cup chicken stock, and 1 can San Marzano tomatoes, chopped. I tied a few sprigs of rosemary, thyme, parsley, and oregano together and added them with a bay leaf. I braised the meat for 2 hours at 300 °F. The meat is removed from the bone and chopped when finished, then added back to the sauce after the fat has been skimmed.