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Pollo in Pepitoria

Do you know what makes a good husband? Here’s one clue: not liking chicken much himself, he’ll say “Diane, isn’t it a long time since we’ve had chicken for dinner?” Gee, what a nice fella!

Thus authorized recently, I spent an enjoyable time browsing through my cookbooks for a new chicken recipe to try. From four finalists in The Cooking of Spain and Portugal volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series, I finally settled on Pollo in Pepitoria. Though its English name is Chicken Braised in White Wine with Almonds and Garlic, the ingredients that intrigued me most were hard-boiled egg yolks and saffron.

The recipe calls for a 4- to 5-pound roasting chicken. From the nearly inaccessible freezer depths of the unsatisfactory new refrigerator I’ve anathematized here before, I excavated half of a very large free-range chicken, just the right size for half a recipe.
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I cut the bird in pieces; salted, peppered, and floured them; browned them quickly in olive oil over high heat, and moved them to a heavy casserole.
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In the frying pan I softened a cup of chopped onions, spread them over the chicken pieces, added chopped parsley, a small bay leaf, half a cup of white wine, and a cup of water. All fairly routine handling so far.
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Now I entered for-me uncharted territory. While the chicken simmered, covered, for 20 minutes, I prepared the remaining flavorings of blanched almonds, saffron threads, garlic, and a hard-boiled egg yolk, to be pounded together in a mortar and pestle.

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It was supposed to become a smooth paste, but I’m not a good pounder. Best I could do was a sort of sticky crumble.
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That was OK, though, because when I added a little of the chicken’s braising liquid, the mixture became pourable. I stirred it into the casserole liquid and simmered for about 15 more minutes, until the chicken was tender. The last step was to remove the chicken pieces to a deep platter and keep them warm while boiling down the liquid to thicken and reduce it by half. Pour the sauce over the chicken and serve.
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This was a very good dish, with an interestingly subtle sauce. The overall effect was creamy, but somehow not in the manner of sauces made with cream or butter. We couldn’t distinguish any individual flavors of egg yolk, garlic, onion, saffron, or almonds: they’d blended into something tasting lightly exotic, an excellent complement for the bird.

The non-chicken-lover across the dinner table from me gallantly declared that he liked it. (Little does he realize there are three more interesting looking chicken recipes from that Spanish cookbook awaiting his next bout of gallantry!)

Fresh Peach Cobbler

Where did the summer go? One of the farm stands at my Greenmarket just announced it was their last week for peaches. The end of local peaches – oh, no! I hadn’t even made my peach jam for the year yet. And hardly any of my usual summer peach desserts. Time to play catch-up before it’s too late.

The first thing I made was a cobbler, using four large ripe peaches.
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Cobblers have almost all the virtues of pies and are easier to make. You can:

  • Simply put prepared fruit in a baking dish and top it with dollops of sweet biscuit dough (so the baked dish looks paved in cobblestones – possibly hence the name).
  • Or lay an extra-large sheet of rolled out pastry dough on a large baking pan, put the fruit in the center, and fold the dough roughly over the filling, for a casual, rustic look. (Here’s one I’ve done that way. )
  • Or put the fruit in a buttered dish, lay on a sheet of pastry rolled and cut to fit it, and bake it like a pot pie.
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That last is the version I just made, working with a recipe from the Fruits volume of the Time-Life Good Cook series. The recipe is attributed to The Old-Fashioned Cookbook, an unknown-to-me 1975 anthology of popular American folk dishes. I’d been meaning to try the recipe for some time because of its unusual approach to slightly sweetened short-crust pastry.

As pie makers all “know,” the butter that’s cut into flour when making a pastry dough has to be hard and cold. This recipe wants its butter to be soft. Moreover, it wants you to mush the butter together with a beaten egg, using your fingers, before combining it with the dry ingredients. The gooeyness of that didn’t appeal to me, so I gave my Kitchen-Aid mixer the task.
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Which it did very neatly, producing an even, crumbly texture . . .
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. . . that needed only the tiniest bit of water to gather itself into a smooth dough, ready to be wrapped and rested in the refrigerator.

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While the dough chilled, I peeled, halved, pitted, and sliced the peaches.
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I gently mixed the slices in a bowl with lemon juice, sugar, flour, salt, and cinnamon. The peaches were so sweet, I cut the recipe’s full cup of sugar to ¾ cup. And they were already juicing up so much, I slightly increased the recipe’s 3 tablespoons of flour, to encourage thickening when baked.
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Into a baking dish went the fruit, to be dotted with a tablespoon of butter bits.
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My dish was deep rather than broad, with relatively little surface on which to lay the sheet of dough. Very curious about the unusual crust, I’d cut the piece quite large, so there’d be a generous amount to taste, and tucked up the edges all around. As directed, I brushed the surface with cream. Not as directed, I forgot to cut steam vents in it. Tsk!
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The recipe expected the dish to need 25 minutes of baking at 425° to firm and lightly brown the crust. Mine took all of 45 minutes. Perhaps I hadn’t rolled the dough thin enough. Again, tsk!
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The peaches didn’t mind, though. And aside from being a little lopsided, the cobbler looked all right. Very folksy. When we tasted it, the pastry was fine: the texture was a bit like soft shortbread.
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The peaches were meltingly sweet and luscious. So much so that I could have reduced the sugar even more – but that’s hard to judge with a first-time recipe, and it also depends on the particular fruits’ natural sweetness. Still, it was a nice, simple, down-home summer treat, a creditable late celebration of the season’s fruit.

Menudo Estilo Norteño

Menudo is a Mexican tripe soup-stew, often served for hearty breakfasts and especially recommended as a hangover cure. The idea to make it came to me from my pandemic-time reading of a mystery novel series set in New Mexico. Whenever the heroine-detective is baffled and discouraged, her family always comforts her with a big pot of homemade menudo. It seemed like a good nostrum for our current troubled times.

My Mexican cookbooks have recipes for two basic kinds of menudo: one from the northern regions, which uses hominy (pozole), and one from the south, which doesn’t. I chose a northern style (estilo norteño) from Diana Kennedy’s The Cuisines of Mexico. Conveniently, I had a pound of partially cooked tripe in the freezer, enough for half a recipe’s worth, and also a quartered pig’s foot, two of whose chunks made a reasonable substitute for the recipe’s requested calf’s foot.

My only challenge then was finding pozole. After some searching, I succeeded at Kalustyan, which, though principally an Indian grocery store, carries an enormous range of international foodstuffs. (It came only in a very large can, so in the near future you may see me writing here about other recipes for hominy!) 

The first step was to assemble the tripe, cut in small squares, the pig’s foot quarters, onion, garlic, salt, black peppercorns, and red chile powder in a large earthenware pot.
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I poured on two quarts of water, and while the pot was coming to a boil, I took two roasted Hatch green chilis from the freezer, peeled and seeded them, cut them into strips, and added them to the pot.

Here I’ll confess to two further substitutions. The green chile was supposed to have been a fresh poblano pepper, and the red chile powder was supposed to have been made fresh from toasted and ground dried anchos. I used a combination of hot arbol and medium-hot anaheim chile powders from my pantry.

After about two hours of cooking uncovered, with additional boiling water as needed, the pig’s foot pieces were softened enough to be taken out and deconstructed. Minus skin and bones, there wasn’t as much meat as there would have been with a calf’s foot, but I chopped up what there was and returned it to the pot.

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I also stirred in three-quarters of a cup of rinsed and drained hominy and let the pot go on cooking for another two hours – mostly covered, this time.
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For serving, Kennedy recommends condiments of oregano, chopped chile serrano, chopped onion, and lime wedges, plus a green tomatillo sauce to put on tortillas. I chose to do some streamlining there, using only tortillas and limes.
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The menudo had a very unusual flavor profile for Tom’s and my palates. It took a little getting used to, but it grew on us very quickly: each bite tasted better than the last. Big squeezes of lime juice brightened it all up beautifully. It needed salt, too. I could see that it would have liked the additional condiments also, and I’ll definitely use them in future versions, of which I’m sure there will be some.

Finally, my menudo was really not as picante as it should have been. Tasted after the first two hours of cooking, it had been extremely spicy, but as the hominy cooked, it must have absorbed a lot of that heat. Apparently I was too stingy with my red chile powders. Well, I’ll know better next time. I’ll also use a fresh poblano and the right kind of toasted and dried hot peppers. (Don’t think I’ll spring for a whole calf’s foot, though.) Meanwhile, a dose of Cholula sauce in each bowl helped pep things up.
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Stuffed summer vegetables are quintessential warm-weather food. Eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, and zucchini make fine receptacles for all manner of appetizing fillings – as well as, in many cases, delicious filling ingredients themselves. Stuffed vegetables do require having the oven on, alas, but that’s a trade-off I can accept: I’ll bear the heat to get the treat.
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Above are my two latest stuffed vegetable discoveries, one for eggplants and one for Bell peppers. The recipes, both from Le Ricette della mia Cucina Romana, call for quite simple, meatless fillings. Here are the ingredients:
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(Please ignore that onion. There’s no onion in these recipes. I must have been thinking of something else when I assembled the veg.)

For making the cases, the peppers are just halved and seeded. The eggplants take a little additional preparation: the flesh is carved out and set aside, the shells are salted and left to give up some of their moisture.
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The stuffing for the peppers is a mixture of tuna, dry breadcrumbs, chopped olives, salt, pepper, and olive oil. For the eggplants, their pulp is first chopped and sautéed briefly in olive oil, then mixed with diced fontina, salt, and pepper.
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The fontina was one thing that sparked my interest in this recipe. In my experience, this cheese from the Alps in Italy’s Val’Aosta is extremely unusual in Roman cooking. Mozzarella or caciocavallo is what one would expect. And that wasn’t the only oddity in the recipe. The ingredient list includes pomodori maturi – ripe tomatoes – but the cooking directions say not a word about tomatoes. What was I to do with them? Well, in another Roman cookbook I found a stuffed eggplant recipe in which tomatoes are turned into a sauce and spooned onto the stuffing. I had some fresh tomato sauce in the refrigerator, so I used that.
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The baking dish went into a 400° oven until the vegetable cases were tender, which took about 40 minutes. The eggplants were actually done sooner, but it didn’t harm them to stay in there long enough for the peppers to soften.

Here they are again, cooked. Note that there isn’t a lot of stuffing. In the past whenever I’ve baked vegetables like these, I’ve packed in the stuffing and heaped it high. I was a little dubious about the modest amounts here, but they worked very well, though we felt that a little more good ventresca tuna would have been welcome in the peppers.
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When the filling dominates, the effect is that the base vegetable is merely an edible container. Here, pepper and eggplant were the main components, with each one’s stuffing being mostly a flavorful condiment. They were quite rich and filling, too. We had them hot, as a main dinner course, and found they got even better as they cooled. That being the case, they could very well be cooked in the cool of the morning and served later in the day. They’d also make good lunches and dinner antipasti.

Champagne. Oysters Rockefeller. Ham Pithiviers. That’s the eccentric dinner I just made to celebrate the eccentric digital publication of an eccentric scholarly book by my admirably eccentric spouse.

Many of my readers know Tom from his wine blog, as well as his wine and food books. He was also a university professor, with four scholarly books published before he retired. His magnum opus on allegory, on which he spent many years, unfortunately never found an academic press. Now, with all the extra time at home that we’ve had during the pandemic, we’ve taken matters into our own hands and created it ourselves as a digital book. Please take a peek at The Strangeness of Allegory.

For a tiny two-person celebration of its publication, we wanted a bottle of champagne and some interesting foods to enjoy it with. After much cookbook research and many tempting items to choose from, we settled on the two mentioned above.
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Oysters Rockefeller

Invented at Antoine’s restaurant in New Orleans in 1889, Oysters Rockefeller is a warhorse of old-style elegance in American cooking, and a dish neither of us happen ever to have tasted. No better time than this! My cookbook collection yielded nine different recipes for it. I chose one of the simpler ones, from The Grand Central Oyster Bar Restaurant Seafood Cookbook.

It calls for raw oysters in their half shells to be covered with a thick green topping made by blending sautéed parsley, shallots, celery, chervil, and spinach with fresh breadcrumbs, softened butter, salt, pepper, cayenne, Worcestershire sauce, and Pernod. Then the oysters are bedded down in hot rock salt on metal pans and briefly baked in a very hot oven.

The topping was easy to put together (though I skipped the chervil and substituted Italian white vermouth for the Pernod). But hot rock salt was beyond my capacity. The closest I could come was to ease my dozen filled Wellfleet oyster shells into the dimples in four escargot tins and give them a longer time in the oven.

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Definitely not as picturesque as a bed of rock salt, but it served just as well. Other recipes call for larger amounts of breadcrumbs, so that the oyster topping turns brown and crisp. This one left them a soft, beautiful intense green, which we found very pleasing. The dish is clearly a close relative of the French escargots à la bourguignonne, but the absence of garlic and the medley of aromatic vegetables made for an unusual and piquant presentation.
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The Wellfleets were beautifully saline and loved their buttery green robes. We slowly savored every one of the rich little creatures, and wiped up their extra sauce with bits of crusty bread. They went very well with the champagne.
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Ham Pithiviers

It was the mouthwatering picture of this pithiviers in Julia Child & Company that induced us to want it as the entire second course of our festivity. Years ago, when I was young and enterprising, I had moderate success with a dessert pithiviers, filled with almond cream, from Julia’s Mastering, II. I even made the puff pastry from scratch. I’m not so ambitious any more, but excellent, buttery, frozen puff pastry is available now in stores, so I bravely ventured again with this savory version.

I’m not going to show you the book’s picture, because it’ll make mine look like a big girl scout cookie, but I have to say I was nevertheless pretty pleased with the way it came out. It was only a little lopsided.
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Impressive looking as the dish is, it’s actually easy to make once you have the dough. The filling is humble, everyday boiled ham gently cooked in butter with shallots, then off heat mixed with egg yolk, heavy cream, Worcestershire sauce, hot pepper sauce, and grated Parmesan cheese.

You put a round of dough onto a dampened baking dish, mound the filling in the center, lay a second round of dough on top, and seal all the edges well. Paint the top with egg glaze twice, and then scratch a decorative pattern into it. (Julia gives detailed directions for patterns.) Bake in a very hot oven for about an hour.

And very tasty indeed it was. The pastry had actually risen as it should (my puff pastries don’t always do so) and was beautifully crisp and flaky. The filling was rich and good, though we felt a little more of it would have made a better balance with all the pastry.
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Still, a definitely worthwhile experiment for an eccentric celebratory meal. The champagne liked it too.

That champagne, by the way, was also slightly eccentric, a Grand Cru Bouzy brut by Baron Dauvergne called Oeil de Perdrix – eye of the partridge, which accurately describes its color.  Bouzy is the Pinot noir capital of the Champagne zone, and this largely Pinot noir wine was big and robust as well as polished and deep, and it played wonderfully well with both the evening’s dishes. Tom considered it a perfect book-launching bottle.

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P.S. Don’t forget to check out the allegory book. There’s a lot to look at on the opening screen.

My plan to make this year’s posts about previously untried recipes from cookbooks I already own is proving interesting in many ways. The recipe I chose for this week could be a textbook example of the difference between French and Italian cooking approaches.

Basically, the dish is squid braised in tomato. There are innumerable ways that this can be done. Here the seasonings include onion, herbs, and white wine – common enough in both France and Italy. But Italian approaches are typically straightforward: sauté the squid briefly in olive oil; add liquid and other flavorings; cook covered, long and slowly; serve. Not so fuss-free is this procedure from The French Menu Cookbook by Richard Olney.

Olney, an American expat painter and writer living in Paris and Provence, was one of the English-speaking world’s most influential proponents of French food in the 1970s, along with such luminaries as Elizabeth David, MFK Fisher, Julia Child, and Alice Waters. He was as noted for his imperious temperament* as for his culinary skills, both of which are on display in his writing. For example, the headnote to this recipe testily informs us that the dish is incorrectly named – but “useless to rebaptize” – and then delivers a short lecture on à l’americaine versus à l’armoricaine dishes.
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But let’s get on to the squid. Here’s ¾ pound of it that I bought from the fish store, already cleaned.

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That’s about half the recipe’s amount, which was to serve six in the book’s elaborate, multi-course menu. Even as our only main course, it seemed like a lot for the two of us. Tom cut the bodies into 1½ inch sections and halved the tentacles while I dealt with half an onion (size unspecified): finely chopped, softened in olive oil in a small pan by itself, and set aside.
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Continuing our cooperative work, we also peeled and seeded half a pound of fresh plum tomatoes, chopped a garlic clove, and readied the rest of the recipe’s ingredients.

Then I had to heat fresh olive oil in a large pan, toss in the squid, salt, and stir over a high flame until the pieces firmed a bit. (An Italian cook would have precooked the onion first in that same pan, possibly but not necessarily taking it out before adding the squid.)
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Next was to pour in and reduce the alcohol: white wine, to be sure, as any Italian might use here, but first, cognac – flamed. Not at all Italian, in my experience. Those additions made the squid seriously start to tighten and shrink in size.
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The final flavorings to add were the onions, tomatoes, garlic, thyme, bay leaf, salt, pepper, and Cayenne. While our author provides no quantities for the last five items, he kindly condescends to our frailties by suggesting we combine everything in a bowl ahead of time: “If one is unfamiliar with a recipe, the process is tremendously simplified by having 1 rather than 8 items to add at a given time.” I can’t say I regard that as a particularly onerous task, but for this occasion I did as directed.
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(Which in one sense makes for double work: scraping them all into the bowl, then scraping them all into the pan with the squid.)
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At this point I brought the pan to a boil, reduced to a simmer, covered it, and cooked it gently for almost an hour and a half, stirring periodically to be sure nothing was sticking. That was even longer than the recipe indicated would be necessary, but I was prepared for it. I knew that, if you don’t cook squid very fast – as in a sauté – and get it off the heat before it has a chance to turn rubbery, you’re in for a very long period of very slow cooking before that rubberiness relaxes.

Which my squid did, at last. But look how much it had shrunk!
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Then there was one last step in the recipe. After removing the squid and reducing the sauce somewhat, I had to swirl two tablespoons of softened butter into the pan. Even in Bologna, I don’t think an Italian would do that with an olive oil-based seafood dish.
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But, you know what? Different as it was from the Italian style, this dish was delicious – fat and luscious rather than lean and acidic, which is what Italian cookery would have given. Way more sophisticated from the brandy and the butter – and oh, that butter! It made an amazing difference to the flavors. Julia Child would have loved it. And we did too, even though we’d equally have loved the dish in the simpler Italian manner. Whatever it was, we finished it all. With gusto.
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* “Mr. Olney had a notably prickly personality that grated on some people, like Mrs. Child. ‘I think he enjoyed being difficult,’ she said. ‘But on the other hand, he could be absolutely charming if you treated him like the genius he considered himself to be.’” – R.W. Apple in The New York Times.

Uova alla contadina is the oddest little recipe I may ever have come across – but a good one. While it translates as farm-style eggs, a more descriptive name would be eggs poached in molten mozzarella.

The recipe is from Le Ricette della mia Cucina Romana, one of a series of small cookbooks on the regions of Italy that I’ve acquired on trips there. I’ve found all the books useful and reliable, but this dish just didn’t seem Roman to me. However, checking in my other Roman cookbooks, I found one had essentially the same recipe made with provatura, which is a traditional cheese of Lazio, Rome’s province, and is similar to mozzarella but a bit stronger. Then, looking under the name uova alla provatura, I found many recipes for it on the Web. I’m sure this is real home and country cooking: I’ve never seen it on a restaurant menu anywhere.

It’s a simple enough preparation. For a small lunch for two it took only 2 eggs, 3½ ounces of mozzarella, 3 tablespoons of butter, and 1 ounce of freshly grated parmigiano.

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And simple cooking, too. The first step was to melt the butter in a skillet.
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Next, add the mozzarella, diced, and stir constantly to melt it too.
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As soon as the combination is fully liquid, scrape two shallow depressions in the cheese puddle and slip in the eggs.
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Sprinkle the grated parmigiano on and around the egg whites, along with salt and pepper.
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All this bubbled gently along over low heat while I kept nudging the edges of the mixture to be sure the cheese wasn’t sticking. In fact, enough of the melted butter coated the bottom of the pan to keep everything moving freely. When the whites had firmed up and become opaque, I slid half of the pan contents onto each of two plates and served them.
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While that lunch was small in quantity, it was rich and filling. All those butterfats! The texture of the egg white and cheese blend seemed a little strange – and you had to eat quickly before the mozzarella began to resolidify – but the yolks made a perfect sauce.

We could see that, especially if you had a farm with chickens and cows (or better, water buffalo!), this would be a very handy dish for a quick bite to eat. It would also be fine served with or on a thick slice of country bread. I’d love to try the recipe with provatura, but I can’t remember ever seeing that cheese in this country. The inventiveness of Italian cooks with few and simple ingredients is just amazing.

The new recipe I tried this week came about because, a few days earlier, we’d opened the wrong bottle of wine. I’ll spare you the story of how that happened – suffice it to say it was dumb. But there we were, with an open bottle of a prestigious white Burgundy, Beaune Clos des Mouches 2008. We’d have to drink it, and soon. A real hardship, eh?
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We’d need a dinner dish rich enough to accompany this luscious wine, but I wasn’t feeling up to any elaborate cooking just then. Many of the great white-wine dishes are big production numbers for the kitchen. I found a few simple possibilities in the Shellfish volume of the Time-Life Good Cook series. After consultation with my personal master sommelier, I settled on an interestingly minimal preparation for baked scallops. It’s a recipe attributed to John Clancy, who, back in the ‘80s, ran a renowned restaurant in New York’s Greenwich Village that specialized in seafood.

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So off I went to my local fish store to buy scallops. It had its usual good-looking sea scallops, at their usual exorbitant price. But there, nestling in the shaved ice of the next compartment, were containers of jumbo lump blue claw crabmeat, at pretty much the same price. I couldn’t resist: I brought home half a pound of crabmeat, confident that the sommelier would approve. Five years in Baltimore, long ago, left him with an abiding love of these crabs in all forms.
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I wasn’t worried about adapting the scallop recipe to crabmeat. There was nothing in its few ingredients that could hurt. I sprinkled the chunks of crab with salt, pepper, lemon juice, and white wine; transferred the mixture to a buttered gratin dish; poured in a little heavy cream; added a light coating of fresh breadcrumbs; and moistened the crumbs with melted butter.

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The dish went into a 400° oven for about 20 minutes, until the crumbs had turned a pale gold. That was a little longer than the scallops were to have taken, but the big crabmeat pieces were thicker than the recipe’s quartered scallops would have been.

While the crabmeat cooked, we drank our first glasses of the Clos des Mouches while further indulging ourselves with a platter of oysters, opened for us by the fish store. They were a special treat in themselves, and the wine went beautifully with them. The great white Burgundies match well with almost every kind of seafood, and they especially love shellfish.
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The crab was delicious. Its simple flavorings only heightened its own lush elegance, which was counterpointed by the accompanying plain baked potato and steamed broccoli. To our taste, the meat of the Atlantic blue claw crab beats that of lobster.
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And the wine? At 12 years old, it was just entering its maturity, beautifully golden, deeply scented of dried fruits (quinces and pears), with a flavor dancing between mineral and those fruits. It loved the sweetness of the crab, and the crab returned the compliment. It was a perfect match – not to mention a nice rescue of a bottle inadvertently opened days earlier.

This year, Independence Day was not our usual American-style festive occasion. After a masked morning walk in the very quiet neighborhood (hopefully looking for local corn in the Greenmarket; but no, none yet), Tom and I came home, turned on the air conditioners, and resumed our now-inevitable cloistered activities – which, of course, always include cooking.

Toward evening, I took out two nice big veal scallops for our dinner.
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I’d chosen a new-to-me Spanish recipe to try with them. Tom declared that would make a fine patriotic dish for the holiday, to commemorate how the Spanish Armada helped George Washington defeat Cornwallis at Yorktown, effectively ending the Revolutionary War.

So we made Tenera alla Extremeña, or Veal with Chorizo and Green Peppers, from Penelope Casas’s The Foods and Wines of Spain. Preparing the ingredients provided plenty of knife work for my creative historian, starting with cutting both veal scallops in half for ease of handling. While he continued chopping vegetables, I salted and browned the veal pieces quickly in olive oil, in two batches.
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The pieces of veal came out to a plate, and in the same pan I sautéed finely chopped green pepper, red onion, and garlic, for five minutes.
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Next went in thinly sliced dry-cured chorizo, for two minutes.
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Then, very small amounts of a good manzanilla sherry, chicken broth and tomato sauce, along with dried thyme, bay leaf, salt, and freshly ground black pepper.
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Back went the veal scallops into the pan, where they cooked slowly, covered, for 15 minutes. being turned and basted in the sauce twice.
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This was a very good dish – an unmistakably Spanish one, thanks to the chorizo spices and the sherry. Though the green pepper had almost disappeared, it had flavored the sauce very pleasantly, as had the onion and garlic, more lightly.
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A slight disappointment was that the veal wasn’t as fully tender as we’d have liked. That can be a problem about veal: If you don’t get it into and out of a pan very quickly, the muscle clenches, and it then needs long cooking to make it relax again.

In any event, we had a very nice dinner. It started with sardine fillets on baguette toasts, with extra-virgin olive oil. This was our last can of the excellent sardines we’d brought back from last year’s trip to Portugal.
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Dinner ended, finally, on a July Fourth-ish note, with strawberry shortcake. My historian informed me that this dessert had become a festive tradition because George Washington served it to the Spanish admirals Pulaski and Kosciuszko at the Yorktown victory dinner.

 

I knew it was summer when zucchini appeared in my greenmarket. The first ones I saw, in the first stand I came to, I instantly bought two. Normally I check all the market’s produce before buying anything, but with the first of this season, I couldn’t resist. Outsmarted myself, I did. Because as I moved on through the market, I saw not only more of the common zucchini but also one stand with the vastly superior Costata Romanesco variety. Oh, what to do?! I bought two of them too, of course.

After eating the delicious, small, heirloom zucchini that very evening, I had to think of what to make with their bulbous lesser cousins.

 

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There was no point letting them sit around in the refrigerator, because I could pick up fresh ones any day now. In the past, my usual solution to drive-by zucchini drops from friends’ over-ebullient vegetable patches has been zucchini bread – the sweet, quick-bread type, raised by baking powder and usually including walnuts. I have several good recipes for it, but I thought I’d look for one that would be a little different.

In the Breads volume of the Time-Life Good Cook series I found a very different one: not a quick bread at all but a yeast bread, totally unsweetened and, except for the zucchini, made with nothing but flour, yeast, water, and salt. This was intriguing. What would it be like – a French baguette dotted with the vegetable? I’d give it a try.

I grated both zucchini coarsely on my Kitchen-Aid mixer, stirred two tablespoons of salt into the shreds, and left them in a bowl for half an hour to give up their excess water.

 

They did that, copiously. When I squeezed them fairly dry, they came to two cups’ worth, which would have been exactly what the recipe wanted for a very large cylindrical loaf. In a spirit of caution, I decided to make half a recipe’s worth for this experiment.
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So, into a cup of the grated zucchini I stirred 2½ cups of flour mixed with ¾ teaspoon of instant yeast. It was a dry crumbly mass, not coming together at all. For that I had to knead in “enough tepid water to make a smooth but fairly firm dough.” Half the recipe’s suggested amount of water was ¾ cup, which at first didn’t seem nearly enough, so I gave it more. But as the kneading progressed, the dough softened and got all sticky. I had to add quite a bit more flour to achieve the right texture. I should have trusted my source.

Eventually I had a properly firm dough, which I shaped into a round and set to rise – skeptically wondering if it would ever do so, with all that vegetable material holding it down. But it doubled in bulk very promptly, raising my hopes.
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And when I shaped it into a loaf and left it for a second rise, it behaved very well again.
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Just before baking, for 45 minutes at 425°, I had to brush the bread with olive oil “to prevent the pieces of pieces of zucchini on the surface from burning.” Not that there were very many of them, and they seemed to have shrunk quite a bit in the kneading. The loaf didn’t rise much more in the baking, but it came out with a rich brown crust and a pleasantly loose, airy crumb.
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It was excellent: more subtly flavorful than I’d have thought possible in a dough with no butter or oil, no egg, no milk. How the zucchini accomplished that I can only wonder, because there was only the faintest ghost of its own flavor in the bread – if you thought very hard about it.

We ate that loaf as a dinner bread, as breakfast toast, and for lunch sandwiches. It was delicious in all those roles. I wish I’d used all the grated zucchini to make a whole recipe’s worth, in two loaves like this, one for the freezer. Well, next time for sure!

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P.S.  What I did with the rest of the grated zucchini was make a traditional sweet quick bread, using a recipe given to me long ago by my friend Jennifer. As always, it was very good of its kind too: delicious toasted for breakfast, and a very nice afternoon snack.