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Winter is barely started, and I’m already pining for summer vegetables. Many of the standard grocery-store vegetables available this season seem to be limp, tired, and nearly tasteless. Pandemic-related supply chain delays, perhaps, but very disappointing. So I was pleased to come across a recipe based on two vegetables, plentiful now, that don’t wilt easily.

The recipe is in a cookbook recently passed along to me by a friend. The Greens Cook Book presents dishes from a “celebrated” San Francisco vegetarian restaurant called Greens. I confess I hadn’t known of it: It didn’t exist in the long-ago years when I lived in California. Several of its recipes interested me, beginning with one for Fennel, Mushroom, and Parmesan Salad, which its headnote calls a good first course for a winter dinner. I proceeded to make half a recipe’s worth.
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My fennel bulb was bright and crisp, with a good spray of feathery leaves. The recipe didn’t specify a kind of mushroom, so I used cremini. The recipe did urge using a very good extra virgin olive oil and a good piece of young parmigiano reggiano cheese, to which I certainly couldn’t object.

The first thing to do was make a vinaigrette. This was quite a production number, involving mincing lemon peel, mashing garlic, and crushing fennel seed. It was also heavily lemony, using a two-to-one proportion of olive oil to lemon juice. My scaled-down quantities made only a scant quarter-cup of dressing, which didn’t look to be anywhere near enough for a whole salad, but I did as directed.

Then I had to slice my mushrooms thin and marinate them in some of the vinaigrette. But how much of it? The whole recipe said a few tablespoons, but even halving that, I’d have to leave enough for two other doses of dressing. I stingily sprinkled the mushrooms with some of it, which was instantly absorbed by the slices that touched it. So I tossed and turned them, hoping to make them share, and added freshly ground black pepper, hoping it might draw out some moisture.

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I left the mushrooms to marinate for a few hours, covered closely with plastic wrap to keep them from browning, and went on to prepare the fennel. It had to be sliced very thinly and dressed with “most of the remaining vinaigrette,” plus chopped fennel greens, chopped parsley, salt, and pepper.
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Now, after sprinkling additional fennel greens and parsley on the mushrooms – which had softened a bit but were still fairly dry – I could compose the salad. The recipe called for layering the ingredients on individual plates, with mushrooms on the bottom, thin shavings of parmigiano next, fennel on top of that, and the remaining vinaigrette spooned over it all.

I didn’t like the way that arrangement would look, with the fennel hiding the mushrooms and the parmigiano flakes squeezed between them. Instead, I tossed the mushrooms and fennel together on a serving plate, shaved the cheese over them, and trickled on the last of the dressing.
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(If you look very closely, you may see the dressing – about two large drops of it.)

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Knowing Tom’s very limited enthusiasm for most salads, I gave us each a small plateful to start.

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I liked it well enough, and I ate quite a bit of it. (Tom not so much.) The three main ingredients all tasted like their own good selves, and they didn’t clash. But neither did they do anything for each other. Nor did the fussy little flavorings in that dressing do anything to pull the dish together.

With all its components and processes, this is clearly a restaurant dish: I would say a characteristically overelaborated California one. (I’m surprised there were no bean sprouts in it!) For me, the salad would have been just as good with a generous dose of plain olive-oil-and-lemon-juice vinaigrette. I may make it that way myself for some future winter appetizer course.

If you’re going to start a year with leftovers in your refrigerator, caviar is a mighty nice one to have. For some years, Tom’s and my Christmas gifts to each other have not been those that can be wrapped and put under the Tree to await the magical gift opening time. Mostly, we indulge ourselves collectively with special things to eat – like foie gras and caviar.

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Some of this good American transmontanus caviar was left over from our Christmas Eve indulgence. It would’ve been a sin to let it get stale. Months ago, I’d marked a recipe in Faith Willinger’s Red, White, and Green cookbook for Tuscan-style white beans and caviar. She calls it a terrific combination, declaring that beans are “a far better match for caviar than tasteless white bread toast,” and extra virgin olive oil is “a more sophisticated match than butter.” Really? Here was my chance to find out.

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The white beans I currently have in my pantry are alubia blanca, a small, delicate, creamy variety that I get from Rancho Gordo. I gave half a cup of them an overnight soak in cold water. By morning, they’d swelled to triple their bulk, as usual. Following the recipe, I drained them, put them in a pot with three cups of fresh cold water, and added a sage leaf, a piece of bay leaf, and a tiny clove of unpeeled garlic.

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As they came to a boil, I skimmed the white scum that arose, then covered the pot tightly, simmered it until the beans were tender – only about 40 minutes, because they were so fresh – and moved the pot to the back of the stove.

In the evening I reheated the beans, drained them and tossed them gently with salt, pepper, and a good extra virgin olive oil. There were more of them than we’d be able to eat for an antipasto course, but I knew the extras would keep. I distributed modest portions of beans on two small plates and topped them with all the remaining caviar – a couple of big tablespoons each. Tom opened a small bottle of champagne to go with them, as appropriate for caviar and a new year.
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The combination really was very good! I wouldn’t quite call it a far better match – the white bread I make is definitely not tasteless – but an interesting and different one. The beans and caviar set each other off very nicely, making an intriguing blend of homeliness and elegance. This is a dish that I can see gracing many future holiday meals.

Christmas Baking

I started my Christmas baking promptly this year, making three kinds of cookies without which the holidays are unthinkable at our house: peanut butter, Toll House, and hazelnut kourabiedes.
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A few days later, I added a non-traditional variety: ciambellini al vino. These crunchy, sugar-dipped rings made with olive oil, red wine, and anise flavoring come out rustic looking, but they’re delicious, and they somehow feel positively nourishing – almost savory but still with a pleasing sweet edge.
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Finally, with the baking urge still strong upon me, I decided to try a festive sweet bread of some kind. Hubris, this was, since twice in past Decembers I’d attempted to make panettone, without notable success (e.g., here). The doughs just wouldn’t rise for me. Still hopeful, though, I chose a recipe for a Norwegian Christmas bread from Bernard Clayton’s Complete Book of Breads. The recipe is attributed to a family in Indiana whose maternal forebears had been making it since 1870. I figured it must have risen for them.

The filling ingredients for a half recipe’s worth, which was to provide one large loaf, were half a cup each of dates, walnuts, glacé cherries, and mixed candied fruit.
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As you see here, I substituted hazelnuts for walnuts. I had dates and candied citron and orange peel, but not glacé cherries. I couldn’t find them anywhere. So I made some myself, from a recipe I found online, using jarred maraschino cherries. Unfortunately, the candying got away from me, so they came out like dark sticky little gemstones. Well, they’d have to do. My holiday breadmaking jinx loomed.

Making the dough itself went smoothly enough. The first stage was actually a batter. I beat together a cup of flour, a cup of milk, and a package of yeast; covered the bowl and let it stand on the kitchen counter for two hours, while the yeast did its bubbly thing.
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Next, I added half a beaten egg, ¼ cup of sugar, ½ teaspoon of salt, and a whole stick of softened butter; beat that well in the heavy-duty mixer; slowly added 2½ cups more flour; and kneaded it until smooth.
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Now came the tricky part. The instructions were to press the dough flat and work the fruits and nuts into it. Neither my cut-up dates nor my halved cherries were at all willing to separate from each other. I had to sprinkle on some flour to make them un-glom even a little. And I had to knead the dough very lengthily to get the additions distributed. It already looked like a lot to go into one 5 X 9 loaf pan, and it hadn’t even risen yet.
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I returned the dough to the bowl for its first rising – one hour, the recipe said. Hah! In 2½ hours, it still hadn’t quite doubled in bulk – but the day was moving on, so I did too. As I’d expected, that amount of dough would have filled a single pan right up to the brim, and I could imagine what a mess it would be if I let it rise like that. I deflated it and divided it over two pans.
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The second rise was due to take 45 minutes. Hah again! Here’s what mine looked like after two hours: definitely not doubled.
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With a very feeble hope that the loaves would rise further as they baked, I put them in a 350° oven for 45 minutes. They browned nicely. They didn’t rise at all. AARRGGHH! This is what happens to me more often than not with filled or flavored breads, and I don’t know why. It’s not the fault of my yeast; my normal good white bread rises perfectly.
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Adding insult to injury, the next morning when I sliced a loaf for our breakfast, it was clear that the dates and cherries had never really separated, but had somehow gathered themselves back into big messy globs. It was an embarrassment to look at.
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But there’s a happy ending to this otherwise frustrating story. Despite its sloppy appearance, the bread was really good. It had a light, delicate crumb, and the chunky interspersions of fruit and nut were interesting and tasty. I decided I wouldn’t have to run out and buy a panettone from a store after all.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

I didn’t have high hopes for the recipe I tried this week. We’d be broiling a handsome fillet of John Dory for dinner, and I felt like making something new with shrimp for an appetizer. Looking through the Shellfish volume of the Time-Life Good Cook series, my eye was caught by a recipe called Shrimp Panned with Corn. An odd pairing, I thought: I’ve never regarded shrimp and corn as having much to say to each other.

But the recipe looked easy and quick. My freezer usually holds a small bag or two of shrimp, and in winter it has several bags of kernels cut from four-minutes-boiled ears of corn, fresh enough to use as if raw. The only other ingredients in the recipe were fridge and pantry staples. I’d take a chance on it. At worst, the shrimp and corn could just ignore each other.

The full recipe called for 1½ pounds of shrimp to serve 4, as a main course. I wanted small appetizer portions for 2, using only 10 medium shrimp.
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I had major scaling down to do for the other components. Lest I confuse myself (easily done!), I first penciled in calculated reductions for each ingredient, right on the book’s page, and got to work. In a sauté pan I cooked half a cup of the defrosted corn in a little butter and olive oil, for about two minutes.
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Then I added the peeled, raw shrimp.
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When the shrimp had firmed a bit and turned pink, about another two minutes, I stirred in a small clove of finely chopped garlic and poured on 1½ tablespoons of white wine and 2 teaspoons of lemon juice. This was supposed to cook for “a few moments” until the liquid bubbled up around the shrimp and glazed them. Actually, they didn’t glaze, even after a few further minutes. Fearing that longer cooking might toughen the shrimp, I just sprinkled them with salt, pepper, and two teaspoons of finely chopped parsley, and stirred it all together.
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Well, to my surprise, it had become quite an interesting little dish. The different sweetnesses of corn and shrimp were made very compatible by the blend of wine, lemon juice, garlic, and parsley, producing a sort of umami savoriness. This was truly a serendipitous find.
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During Tom’s and my recent trip to Rome, our hotel’s former broad, open breakfast buffet was displayed within glass cases and dispensed by gloved staff members. (Thanks, covid.) Among the generous array of breads, cakes, pastries, fruits, meats, and cheeses were slices of what looked like pound cake, which the servers encouraged us to have: “amor di polenta – very good – polenta cake.” I’d never heard of it, but we tried it, and indeed it was very good: a sweet, light, golden cornbread, unlike any I’d tasted before. It became a breakfast staple of our stay in Rome.

Back home, I wanted to learn to make this hitherto unknown treat, so I googled the name. Egad: Amor polenta recipes were all over the Web, in both Italian and English. Well! Time to make its acquaintance.
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I discovered that amor polenta is a specialty of Varese, a province in northern Lombardy. It’s much like a pound cake, made with only flour, butter, sugar, and egg: no other liquid. The intriguing flavor comes from a mixture of white flour, almond flour, and fine cornmeal.

I downloaded a few recipes for comparison and settled on this one to take as my model. Being in Italian, it lists ingredients in grams, so I began by measuring out the three flours on my kitchen scale: 100 grams (3.5 oz) of cornmeal, 80 grams (2.8 oz) of white flour, and 70 grams (2.5 oz) of almond flour.
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Then I took out my heavy-duty mixer – an appliance that the recipe calls a planetaria. Not a name I’d known. I imagine it must be because the beaters simultaneously rotate and orbit, like planets. I love the idea of having a planetarium in my kitchen! But I digress.

In the machine I whomped 100 grams (3½ oz) of softened butter with 120 grams (4.2 oz) of sugar, added two eggs, one at a time, and beat it all into a smooth cream. At this point, the recipe asked for the seeds of a vanilla bean to be stirred in. Instead, I used ½ teaspoon of vanilla extract.
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Next, I had to mix in the dry ingredients. The recipe insisted on their being added in sequence, with the mixer running: first, the cornmeal; second, the white flour; third, the almond flour. I can’t think why; maybe it’s something folkloric. But I did as prescribed. And ended with ½ teaspoon of baking powder. Finally, the recipe wanted 10 grams of rum stirred in. We don’t keep rum in the house, so I used a teaspoon of grappa.
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There is a special baking pan for amor polenta, which gives the traditional domed, ribbed slices visible in many of the google images above. Since I didn’t have one, I scraped my very dense batter into a buttered 10″x4″ loaf pan.
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The loaf baked for 45 minutes at 350° and developed a typical pound cake crack down the middle. (You wouldn’t see that if you used the amor polenta pan, since the loaf is turned out onto the plate upside down.) It was attractively golden and fragrant, but it hadn’t risen very high. (The recipe hadn’t indicated a size for the pan, so I guess mine was a little too large.)
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It had the fine taste and texture we remembered from Rome, confirming its seductive aroma. Lovely for breakfast, and no doubt will be excellent too with afternoon tea or coffee. The recipe suggested dusting the top with powdered sugar, but it was already sweet enough for us. I might even try a small adjustment next time: a slightly larger proportion of polenta flour and a small reduction in the sugar. No great matter: Even with no further tinkering, amor polenta could easily become a breakfast staple for us here at home.

As chilly late-fall weather is settling in, I’m again looking forward to hefty, long-cooked, stick-to-the-ribs dishes. A recipe that I’ve been saving for just this season is a peasant dish of pork chops baked with cabbage, a specialty of France’s wild, mountainous Auvergne region and a preparation with some unusual aspects.

The recipe for Côtes de Porc à l’Auvergnate is in the Cooking of Provincial France volume of the venerable Time-Life Foods of the World series. Written by M.F.K. Fisher, with consultants Julia Child and Michael Field (how’s that for a culinary trinity?), it was one of my earliest cooking bibles.

The amount of cabbage called for seemed enormous: three pounds for four servings. Half a big head of Savoy cabbage was just enough for two portions. Chopped up, it looked like a bushel’s worth!
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I usually give Savoy minimal cooking to preserve its sweetness, but this cabbage had to get a lot of cooking. To begin, I boiled it for five minutes, then drained and sauteed it in butter with a little onion, garlic, salt, and pepper for another five.
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With the cabbage transferred to a bowl, I used the same pan to brown two big pork chops, in more butter and oil. These were quite a bit thicker than the recipe called for, but since there were two hours of oven cooking ahead, I hoped that wouldn’t be a problem.
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After removing the chops to a plate, I deglazed the pan with ¼ cup of white wine, cooked until it reduced by half, and poured the liquid into the bowl of cabbage. And here I did something wicked.

I was supposed to have discarded most of the fat in the pan before adding the wine. I did draw off the fats, but I couldn’t bear to lose all those good pork and butterfat flavors. Also, my cabbage had instantly absorbed the entire wine reduction, so I just stirred in all the excess fats as well. Cabbage loves fats.

Now I was ready to assemble the dish for baking. That needed a small, deep, heavy casserole. The procedure was to lay in one-third of the cabbage, then a chop, another third of the cabbage, the other chop, and then the last of the cabbage. I was sorry not to have had a still smaller casserole, because a lot of my cabbage went into the space around the chops, rather than making generous layers between them and over the top one.
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Next was to scald half a cup of heavy cream and pour it into the pot. Sweet cream and cabbage are a combination I’d never have thought of. Seemed bizarre, but I did it; then brought the pot to a simmer, covered it tightly, and put it in a 350° oven. It was to bake for 1½ hours, but because my chops were so thick, I gave it an extra 15 minutes. It was perfuming the kitchen with a rich, savory aroma.

And we weren’t done yet. The last stage was to sprinkle the top layer with a small mixture of dried bread crumbs and grated parmigiano, and return the pot to the oven, uncovered, for another half hour or until the top was crusty and browned. Again, after testing the chops with a fork for tenderness, I kept the pot in the oven for an extra 15 minutes.
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When I disentangled the meat from the cabbage, it was clear the two chops had had very different experiences in the oven, the one dark and crusted, the other pale and soft. My fault, I guess, since I couldn’t get the upper chop sufficiently covered with cabbage. But putting them on the cutting board allowed me to carve us each some of each chop.
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The cabbage, happily, hadn’t turned into a mass of mush. Though the cream had clotted into it a bit, it had absorbed all the good cooking flavors, to taste almost like a meat-sweet sauerkraut. The chops themselves were a bit disappointing. I just don’t have good luck with pork – it tightens up, no matter how I try to keep it moist and tender. The taste of the chops was fine, but their texture distinctly chewy.
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However, with the addition of little boiled German butterball potatoes, the dish made a satisfying peasanty sort of supper, with the lush, fragrant cabbage actually the star of the show.

I normally don’t keep canned vegetables in my pantry. Fresh or frozen veg (and if the latter, frozen fresh by me) is what we eat. But my newest Indian cookbook, At Home with Madhur Jaffrey, which I’ve posted about here before, has some very interesting looking chickpea recipes that specifically call for canned chickpeas. I tried one this week.

In the book, Jaffrey says she’s made all her recipes simple and straightforward. And so they are, in the sense that there’s nothing difficult to do or components that are hard to find. But it’s Indian cooking, and that means a lot of ingredients. Here’s what it takes for two portions of her Chickpeas with Mushrooms:
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The spices in the back row are salt, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cayenne, turmeric, and cinnamon stick. In the middle, the chickpeas, part of an heirloom tomato, and cremini mushrooms. In front, fresh ginger, garlic, and shallot (my substitute for red onion).

Almost everything happens fast in Indian cooking, so the first thing I did was prep those ingredients and set them up on the stove next to the pan they’d be cooked in, in the order they had to be used.
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Everything then went very quickly. When the oil in the pan was hot, I put in the cinnamon stick and cumin seeds.
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They sizzled for just a few seconds before I added the onions.
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As soon as the onions started browning, I stirred in the ginger and garlic.
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Next, almost immediately, came the mushrooms, to cook for about five minutes.
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Semi-finally, I added the ground coriander, cumin, turmeric and cayenne; the tomatoes; and half a cup of water.
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At this point, I covered the pan, turned the heat to low, and cooked for 10 minutes. After that, the drained chickpeas finally entered the pan, along with another cup of water. I must say, these canned chickpeas were very plump and fresh-looking, with a mild, pleasant scent, not at all smelling of the can. They were as appealing as I’d expect if I’d boiled up good dried chickpeas of my own.
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When that fragrant mixture came to a simmer, I covered the pan again and cooked it gently for 15 minutes, stirring a few times, until the chickpeas were perfectly tender.
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Jaffrey says the dish can be served as a meal in itself, possibly rolled inside flatbreads, with or without a chutney or, alternatively, with chopped fresh tomatoes, onions, and cilantro. I felt there already was a bountiful supply of flavors in that pan, so I served the chickpeas just as they were, alongside plain baked spareribs.
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That was a good combination. The lively, spicy chickpeas and mushrooms played well against the sweet, succulent pork. No single spice was dominant: all had blended into a complex, pleasing flavor that was a recognizable hallmark of Indian cuisine. I’ll be trying more of Jaffrey’s chickpea recipes.

I’m just back from 10 days in Rome. Much about the trip was lovely, some was stressful, but from the gastronomic viewpoint it was a pure delight. Tom and I ate wonderfully well at old favorite restaurants and a few new ones, mostly choosing traditional Roman specialties. I already long to taste those dishes again!

Our last dinner on the trip was at La Matricianella, an almost aggressively traditional Roman restaurant in the city’s historic center, which we’ve patronized with pleasure for more than a decade. This time, after a carciofo alla giudia (deep-fried artichoke) for me and two fiori fritti (batter-fried cheese-stuffed squash flowers) for Tom, we both ordered trippa alla romana: tripe Roman-style.

Here is a poor photo of my dish – the room’s lighting confounded my simple camera – but take my word, it was ambrosia. We thought it was the best trippa all romana we’d ever had.
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As soon as we began planning meals at home, I knew I wanted to try recreating that dish. I’d never made tripe in that style before, but there are recipes for it in every Roman cookbook. The main problem is, we can’t get the right kind of tripe here in the USA. We have only honeycomb – one of the four kinds of beef tripe used in the dish in Italy. All are just different enough in flavor and texture to make the true dish inimitable. Still, I’d do my best.

I picked up a pound of tripe from the butcher, and Tom cut it for me in bite-size chunks.

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For the cooking, I adapted steps from several cookbook recipes. First, I boiled the tripe in plain salted water until it was tender. That took all of three hours. Fortunately, I’d expected as much and had started very early. When the tripe was ready, I sauteed a mince of carrot, celery, and onion in olive oil for five minutes.
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I added the drained tripe, stirred it around in the pan, and poured on a quarter cup of red wine – which the tripe just sucked up immediately.
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Next came a cup of my own tomato sauce, preserved from the summer’s San Marzano tomatoes, salt, black pepper, and a pinch of ground clove. All that simmered, covered, for half an hour, to blend the flavors, and the dish was done.
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The pan sat at the back of the stove until I reheated it at dinner time. I served the tripe topped with freshly grated pecorino Romano cheese. (The cheese should have been mixed with chopped mentuccia, the special Roman mint, but I have only ordinary domestic mint, a flavor so different, I didn’t want to chance it.)
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So: This was a perfectly good plate of food. Tripe tender and flavorful, sauce very tasty too. Unquestionably pleasing for innard lovers. But overall, it didn’t rise to the character of true trippa alla Romana. It was a bit monotone from the single variety of tripe, and it lacked zing, somehow. Probably I should have added a peperoncino, that tiny dried red pepper that perks up so many Italian tomato sauces. But we still wouldn’t have had the Ur-Roman ambiance of La Matricianella.
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Image from matricianella.it

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Sigh. When will we ever get back to Rome again?

Wild Boar Stew

For a special dinner recently, Tom placed an online order for foie gras from d’Artagnan, and then, on an impulse, he included a package of wild boar stew meat. I’ve only ever cooked boar a few times in my life, but I was game to try working it into the menu for his special dinner.

A truly wild boar, from which this meat was asserted to come, is a tough, muscular animal. It requires long cooking, traditionally preceded by long marination to break down the fibers and tenderize it. Evidently, all that marination actually does is enhance flavor, but I don’t see anything wrong with enhancing flavor, so I was willing to marinate my boar anyway.

Most recipes for boar are extremely complicated, but I found a relatively easy one for stufato di cinghiale, wild boar stew, in Wilma Pezzini’s Tuscan Cookbook. This modest book has produced consistently excellent results for me, so I happily adopted its approach. It called for two pounds of wild boar shoulder meat, which would be perfect for a dinner for four.

 

The marinade was a lively mixture of red wine, wine vinegar, cinnamon, cloves, salt, black pepper, and three fresh herbs: basil, sage, and thyme. The pieces of boar soaked in it for two days: in the refrigerator at night and on the kitchen counter during the day. I turned the pieces a few times, when I remembered to do so.

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When it was time to cook the stew – one day before the dinner party, because stews are always better the second day – I drained the meat, rinsed it in warm water, and dried each piece individually.
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Then came flouring, salting, and peppering the pieces before putting them in a casserole, where they browned in olive oil along with chopped garlic and fresh rosemary.

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I must admit they didn’t brown very much, having taken on a purplish hue from the marination. But the surfaces sealed, which was the point. Next, I added two skinned and chopped plum tomatoes, a cup of mixed broth, and half a cup of red wine, stirring well to deglaze the casserole.
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Covered, the stew simmered over low flame for an hour to start. At that point it had to receive another cup of broth and half cup of wine. I also added an ingredient not in the recipe: half a pound of small cremini mushrooms. It just seemed like a good idea. (It was.)
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After a second hour and part of a third, the boar had become nicely tender. I turned off the heat and left the pot on a windowsill, covered, for the rest of the day; then refrigerated it overnight. The next day, as dinner time approached, I slowly reheated the casserole – uncovered, to thicken the sauce.

The meat had turned a rich, warm golden brown, as had the gravy. And the stew was superb – mushrooms included. Luscious! Everything you could ask for in a dish of wild game. We at the table were very happy indeed.
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Here’s a little background about that special dinner. It arose because Tom needed a post for his blog about his October cellar selection wine, which was a 1989 Trimbach Riesling Cuvée Frédéric Émile, vendange tardive. The foie gras was ordered to match with that extraordinary late-harvest wine. Which it did, splendidly. You can read about it here.

It would have been a sin not to share that experience with other food and wine lovers, so we’d invited two good friends to dine with us. The rest of the dinner took shape around that match.

We had aperitifs in the living room, with champagne. The foie gras and a dab of fig compote, with the Riesling. The boar, with fresh egg noodles and roasted green beans, with a 2006 La Millière Châteauneuf du Pape. A cheese platter, with a 2004 Château Léoville Poyferré Saint-Julien. And for dessert (without wine), a silky panna cotta with a compote of fresh peaches.
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That was a dinner to remember! It’s too bad we have no more of that gorgeous old Riesling to serve as an excuse for another such indulgence.

Chicken with peppers is a favorite dish of mine. I like to prepare it Roman-style, usually from my own recipe in La Tavola Italiana. This time I made a Piedmont-style version from Faith Willinger’s cookbook Red, White & Greens, which my friend Betty recently gave me. The recipe is very different from the Roman approach.

The difference is characteristically regional: southern Italian simplicity vs. northern Italian complexity. The Roman dish uses very few other ingredients: tomatoes, white wine, salt, and pepper. The Piedmontese dish calls for a bevy of additional items, including pork, aromatic vegetables, sweet spices, and vinegar. I was intrigued by the number of flavors, and also by some small procedural matters.

Willinger says the recipe is primarily used for rabbit but can be made with chicken to accommodate squeamish persons. She urges skinning the chicken, for rabbit-like leanness. I like rabbit, but Tom doesn’t (too many tiny bones). We don’t mind chicken skin, but I did skin my cut-up half chicken, just for appearance.
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Tom minced onion, celery, carrot, garlic, pancetta, and rosemary for me, which was to be cooked slowly in olive oil for 10 to 15 minutes. Normally I’d warm the oil in the pot and then add those ingredients. Willinger’s way is to put them in a cold pot, pour on the oil, stir it around, then turn on the heat. OK, I did that, and it worked all right.
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While the vegetables were softening, I salted and peppered the chicken pieces, tossed them with a little olive oil, and browned them lightly in a nonstick frying pan. Again, Willinger’s way was just the opposite of mine: I’d have heated the olive oil in the pan, then put in the chicken pieces. But again, I did it her way.
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Meanwhile, I assembled the next batch of ingredients: sliced peppers, chopped tomatoes, cinnamon, cloves, and ½ cup of red wine. Willinger suggested peeling the raw peppers, for digestibility, but we’ve never had any such trouble with peppers, so I didn’t.
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Next, the chicken and all those accompaniments were to be mixed in with the vegetables and the pot simmered, uncovered, for 30 to 40 minutes; with ¼ cup more wine added if necessary. There I felt I had to diverge from the instructions. Perhaps I’d taken too large a pot, but cooking it uncovered for that long would have reduced the liquid so fast, it’d have needed far more wine to keep the chicken from frying. I covered the pot. And that worked all right too.
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When the chicken was tender, I transferred the pieces to a serving dish to keep warm and stirred the final condiments into the peppers and sauce: a tablespoon of red wine vinegar and a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg. After five more minutes, I poured peppers and sauce over the chicken and served.
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This was a very good dish. All the varied seasonings had blended into a rich, mellow sauce with just a touch of sweet spice. The peppers had absorbed and basked in the flavor, which gave a nice balance to their natural acidity. The chicken, oddly, hadn’t. With all the time it had simmered in that sauce, the bird still tasted only of itself. A bit of a mystery there, but the peppers and sauce were so good, they overrode the plainness of the chicken. But next time maybe I’ll try a rabbit.