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Archive for the ‘Meat’ Category

For our two days in Bordeaux after our recent cruise, we had, weeks earlier, scanned the city’s restaurant websites, searching for one local specialty we hadn’t tasted for 40 years: lamprey à la bordelaise. It’s an ancient dish of the region, impossible to get in the USA and available almost nowhere else even in France. We finally found it listed at Brasserie Bordelaise, which appeared to be a handsome update on traditional French eating places of centuries past.
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The restaurant’s entire online menu looked so interesting, I immediately made dinner reservations for both of our evenings in the city. It was a very good decision.

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On the first evening we were given a nice little window table, located almost at the viewpoint of the photo above. Tom and I could speak enough French to be taken as serious clients, and our waiter could speak enough English to make everything comfortable. Both languages were helpful when the bottle of Château Lafon-Rochet Saint-Estèphe we’d ordered turned out to be corked. (Tom’s blog has that story.) No matter, we wound up with a fine bottle of Domaine de la Solitude Pessac-Léognan, with relief and good will all around.

To start, we shared a generous plate of charcuterie, with five kinds of cured meats, local butter, good bread, and wicked little hot peppers. The peppers surprised us: The French don’t often go in for hot spices. But their flavor worked very well with the essentially rustic flavors of the charcuterie.
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For our main course – naturellement – we both ordered the lamproie à la bordelaise. Lamprey is not food for the faint-hearted. It is an ugly, eel-shaped, boneless, parasitic fish, which migrates from the sea into the Garonne and Dordogne rivers to spawn. Our only previous encounter with the dish was in 1981, in the city of Saint-Emilion. In my notes on that dinner I called it “astonishing and wonderful. A whole different form of protein, not like eel at all and not like anything else. It came with logs of leek in a dense, dark sauce of red wine.”

Now at last, 40 years later, we had it again. It came with a similar wine-rich sauce (thickened with blood, as we learned), the traditional garnish of chunks of leek, and slices of toasted country bread. The lamprey itself was just amazingly good, and still a unique flavor for us. It came with a salad of several lettuces and excellent mashed potatoes.
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This was a truly sumptuous meal. We crowned it by sharing a small dessert, all we had room for: a sort of deconstructed profiterole.
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Our second day’s dinner at Brasserie Bordelaise wasn’t quite as significant an occasion as the first, there being no other long-looked-for, rare regional specialty on the menu. But we ate very well that evening too. Evidently we’d become clients, because we were presented with complimentary glasses of champagne when we arrived.

This time we decided to forgo a starter, to save our appetites for a selection from the good-looking cheese cart we’d noticed at the side of the room. I chose a main course of roasted chicken: a large, succulent breast-and-wing quarter au jus, with crisp browned skin and a square of stuffing. With it were fried potatoes and the same good salad as yesterday’s.
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Tom’s main course was, like the lamprey, listed on the “local dishes” section of the menu: joue de bœuf confite au vin de Bordeaux. Normally, calling a food confit means it has been preserved for storage by lengthy cooking submerged in fat. This beef cheek was preserved by cooking in the red wine of the region – for hours, apparently, until it was meltingly tender. It was served with roasted carrots and mashed potatoes.
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It was another remarkable dish. The cheek’s flavor was an immediately pleasing blend of meat sweetness and slight gaminess. Both elements merged beautifully with the wine-rich sauce, which cried out to be sopped up with mashed potatoes and country bread. I knew at once that I’d have to try making it at home. Fortunately, beef cheek is not as impossible to find in New York as lamprey, and I already have a cheek in my freezer, waiting for a suitable day.

The fine Château de Pez Saint-Estèphe we’d been enjoying with our main courses ratcheted itself up another level as we moved on to a plate of cheeses: brie, chèvre, tomme de savoie, and cantal.
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This was a splendid final meal in Bordeaux, and after glasses of old Armagnac and fond farewells to the restaurant staff, two very happy people strolled back to their hotel for a peaceful night’s sleep, with blissful memories of that fabulous lamprey dish.
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The recipe for today’s dish is from one of a series of cheerful little spiral-bound Italian cookbooks I used to buy in Rome for about $3, back in the 1980s.

This volume’s title, L’Insolita Fettina, translates as “the unusual slice.” It’s devoted to small cuts of meat and poultry – scallops, medallions, chops, cutlets – with recipes attributed to the famed 20th century chef, gastronome, and cookbook author Luigi Carnacina.

Not all the book’s recipes are Italian, and many are nothing we’d consider unusual today. This one, however, Costolette di vitello alla casalinga, struck me as very unusual: thin veal cutlets cooked in butter with carrots, tomato sauce, and Madeira wine. Hmm: two strong sweetnesses from carrot and wine, two doses of acidity from wine and tomato. How would they get along with each other and with the mild, gentle veal? I had to find out.
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The first thing to do was acquire cutlets. As is the case with many recipes in Italian, the instructions gave no inkling of the desired size or weight. At a guess, then, for two portions (half the recipe), I asked the butcher for two ¼-inch thick slices of veal cutlet. At six ounces apiece, they were long and narrow, so I cut them in half for ease of handling.
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I’d also bought a bunch of freshly dug carrots from my Greenmarket. I washed, peeled, and thinly sliced four ounces worth.
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The carrot rounds went into a large pan with two tablespoons of butter and stewed very gently, covered, for half an hour, until they were tender. A tiny sample of the buttery little nuggets made me want to gobble them up then and there! But I refrained.
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I lifted the carrots out of the pan with a slotted spoon, leaving all the butter; added two more tablespoons of butter and a dribble of olive oil to the pan; raised the heat; and browned my floured, salted, and peppered cutlets in the carrot-flavored butter.
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The next step was to add the Madeira, a bottle of which we’ve long had in our wine closet. In a way, I hated having to open it, because it’s a very fine one: a ten-year-old H&H Verdelho – really too good for cooking. But the recipe needed only ¼ cup, and even opened, it’s said to keep “indefinitely” in a cool place. So I poured the Madeira over the cutlets and cooked until the wine had almost completely evaporated, enjoying the rich aroma as the wine reduced.
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Then in went ¼ cup of simple tomato sauce (with me worrying whether that was a sacrilege against the Madeira).
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In a minute or two I returned the carrots to the pan, cooked everything gently again for a few more minutes to heat it through and blend the flavors. Then, the crucial test: serve the dish and taste.
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So, was it a success? Sadly, it was not.

All those ingredients, each so good in itself, clashed in the cooked dish. The sweet carrot and Madeira flavors had permeated the butter but didn’t do anything for each other. They nearly smothered the delicate veal. The tomato bravely tried to pull everything together, but its acidity just got lost in the sweetness. Maybe someone with a strong sweet tooth would enjoy cutlets done this way, but we found it almost cloying.

I really don’t know how anyone could call this awkward combination “home-style.” Too bad: this was the first disappointment I’ve had from the entire series of little books. I haven’t cooked much else from this volume, and now I’m wondering if the eminent Carnacina gave it anything more than his name.

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“You have to have grown up in Jersey City to understand veal and peppers.” So says my husband, semiseriously (I think!) – who did and does. Heaps of ripe peppers on our favorite Greenmarket farmstand this week reminded Tom that it had been a while since he’d made his long-loved Italian-American dish for us. There was no objection from me!
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Normally, the meat he uses is veal shoulder. In the freezer we had two pounds of boneless veal breast: extras trimmed off a large piece that I’d recently stuffed and roasted for a small dinner party. Would those do? The answer was yes.

“I never knew what cut they used for veal and peppers at the stevedores’ bar where I always ate lunch, that summer when I worked the loading platforms in Port Newark, but it was always delicious. I see no reason our veal breast shouldn’t do just as well.”
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The thin slabs of meat had a large amount of fat, fell, and connective tissue. In long roasting, such excrescences soften or melt on their own. Here, they’d have to be painstakingly stripped away. But Tom has admirable patience for close, delicate work like this, and he managed to produce a bit more than a pound of relatively clean strips of veal.
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He set the pieces to brown in a pan with olive oil, softened some chopped onion with it for five minutes, then added fresh sage leaves, dried oregano, salt, and pepper.
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After stirring everything together for a few minutes he poured in a cup of his homemade mixed-meat-and-vegetable broth and a generous quarter cup of red wine. At that point he’d usually add a few tablespoons of tomato sauce too, but this day he decided to substitute a chopped San Marzano plum tomato, since we had some nice ripe ones on hand.
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Covered, the pan simmered for about two hours. I was deputized to stir it occasionally, to make sure it wasn’t cooking too fast or not at all. Meanwhile, Tom cleaned and cut up three big frying peppers. He likes red ones when they’re available, because they’re sweeter and less acidic than the greens. But greens can be OK too.

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Once the peppers were in the pan, it had a final half hour of simmering and sending out tantalizing aromas. By then, both the veal and the peppers were meltingly tender, and our dinner was ready.
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The only other thing we needed at the table was a big crusty loaf of bread, to sop up the delicious sauce. And wine, of course: Tom chose a 2020 Lacrima Christi from Mastroberardino, the red version rather than the white, for parallel-to-the-peppers reasons: The soft fruit of the red Piedirosso grapes would match the dish better than the acidity of white grapes would have – though he admits that on another day, or if he had used more green peppers, his choice might have gone the other way. “Both wines, red and white, are great with simple, savory dishes like veal and peppers,” he says.

The evening’s dish, by the way, was great, and we did full justice to it. The delicate flavors of the veal and the vegetal sweetness of the peppers came together beautifully from their long simmering in broth, tomato, and red wine. I – who didn’t grow up in New Jersey – was just as happy with it as Tom was.

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Just enough left for a hero sandwich for the next day’s lunch

 

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Tom and I are just back from a trip to France. We spent the first three days in Paris, staying in a small hotel on the left bank, near the Sorbonne. I’d made two advance dinner reservations at long-favorite restaurants, and for our first evening we wanted to try finding someplace simple in the neighborhood.

We absolutely lucked in.

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This is Au Père Louis – an old-fashioned (in the best sense) bistrot and wine bar just a block from our hotel, and a little gem. The friendly but properly serious young staff greeted us with courtesy, albeit mild amusement at my so-careful French. Asked for une table tranquille, they gave us a virtually private one in a low balcony room, overlooking the active bar area. Most of the clientele seemed local.
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The menu was everything we’d hoped for, with classically simple traditional fare, at very reasonable prices. We each started with os à moelle – roasted marrow bones topped with fleur de sel sea salt from the Guérande and served with lightly grilled bread. The marrow was so fragrant and luscious that I forgot to take a photo until we’d almost finished our portions.

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Having the bones sawn lengthwise as these were makes extracting the marrow much easier than digging it out of the round hole in a cross-cut section of bone. I was tickled by the menu’s picturesquely calling that technique en gouttière, which means gutter-style.
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My main course was magret de canard grillé, avec purée maison. The large, rare duck breast came with a red wine sauce that had an intriguing hint of cherries, and with very flavorful mashed potatoes.
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Tom had saucisse au couteau d’Auvergne – a hefty piece of spicy pork sausage, served with the same good mashed potatoes. Preparing sausage au couteau means coarsely chopping the meat with a knife, not putting it through a grinder. It’s said to preserve more flavor.
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These were two very rich, filling dishes, so for dessert we shared a slice of a rich, filling (!) apple tarte tatin, which came accompanied by whipped cream so thick it was almost butter.

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Our dinner wine was a 2020 Chinon from Marc Brédif. Here are Tom’s comments on the wine.

Marc Bredif is a century-and-a-quarter old Loire winery, with fabled deep aging cellars – really caves – cut into the hillsides. It was taken over in 1980 by Baron de Ladoucette, one of the most esteemed producers of Loire wines, and has since grown in stature as a specialist in Vouvray and Chinon. Our bottle was a classically lovely Loire red, rich with soft Cabernet franc flavors.

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Finally, for digestifs, Tom had a glass of clear eau de vie distilled from Normandy apple cider, and I a glass of Louis Roque’s La Vieille Prune Reserve, a fine plum brandy. Both were excellent, and both did their digestive work quite efficiently.

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This supremely satisfying meal – pure perfection for a first evening in Paris – cost only €146, which is $154. In Manhattan, it could easily have been twice that, and we’d have been hard put to find a restaurant that actually had a quiet table. When we stopped back two days later for a light lunch, we were recognized and warmly greeted. That’s part of the charm of Paris – not just international éclat but also neighborhood warmth.

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Even for the enthusiastic seeker out of new recipes, it’s comforting occasionally to return to long-time familiar dishes, especially when planning a dinner for long-time familiar friends. So it was that I recently turned to my own cookbook La Tavola Italiana and its recipe for Osso Buco all’Antica.

I used to have to buy whole veal shanks for the dish, having the butcher cut them into pieces of necessarily varying sizes, but now it’s easy to buy individual serving-size pieces. Here’s a main course for four.
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My “old-style” version of this northern Italian preparation is different in a few ways from the better-known Milanese version. One is that mine includes mushrooms. My recipe begins by having you soak dried porcini mushrooms in hot water, clean and chop them, and strain and save the soaking water. This time I skipped that step, because I had excellent, strong homemade broth available, and plenty of fresh mushrooms.

So I started by flouring and browning the pieces of veal shank in olive oil.
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I took the browned veal pieces out of the pot and in it sauteed chopped celery, onion, and garlic; a double dose of sliced cremini mushrooms, fresh sage leaves, and rosemary sprigs.
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Next I added white wine and reduced it to half, stirring and scraping brown bits from the bottom of the pan. At this point, most recipes also add chopped canned plum tomatoes and/or tomato paste. Mine uses no tomato at all – only the mushroom soaking liquid or, as this time, my flavorful homemade broth. Last, I stirred in salt, pepper, chopped parsley, and strips of fresh lemon peel, and returned the shanks to the pot.
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Now they had to cook long and gently until they were tender. It’s important to discourage the marrow from oozing out of the bones, so I didn’t turn the pieces at all during their braise – only checked them every 20 minutes or so, made sure they weren’t sticking, and basted the tops with a little of their liquid.
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This batch took longer than usual to get tender – more than two hours of simmering. At the end, I picked out the bits of lemon peel and rosemary stems – because of the mushrooms, the gravy can’t be strained – and served the osso buco over fresh egg pasta.
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Other than its long cooking time, this is a straightforward dish to prepare. The succulent veal and its unctuous marrow blend beautifully with the rich mushroom sauce. It all makes a good, hearty, companionable dish to share with good-hearted companions.

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Certain dishes we enjoy in our house are Tom’s own specialties: dishes he makes not by following a recipe (as I mostly do) but by instinct, based on recollections of ones he’s had in the past. One of his best is choucroute garnie, that hearty Alsace dish of sauerkraut braised with fresh and smoked pork products.

No two of Tom’s choucroutes are ever quite the same, but all are well worth eating. His most recent one was made to showcase a special bottle of Alsace Pinot gris he’d be writing up for his blog. On that occasion, I joined him in the kitchen with pencil, pad, and camera to immortalize the event.

From our excellent local Ukrainian butcher shop he’d bought a quart of sauerkraut fresh from the barrel and a selection of meats – which, this time, were spareribs, kielbasa, slab bacon, and knackwurst.
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He started by soaking the kraut in a strainer set in a large bowl of cold water for about 45 minutes.
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While it was soaking, and without measuring, he chopped about ¾ cup onion, ½ cup celery and ⅓ cup carrot.
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In a large ovenproof casserole, he melted a few tablespoons of bacon fat and browned the spareribs in it.
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Removing them to a plate, he also very lightly browned and removed the chunk of bacon, put in all the vegetables, sprinkled on salt and pepper, and added a slosh of olive oil, since he felt he’d been too sparing of the bacon fat.
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After a minute of stirring, he covered the pot and cooked it gently until the vegetables were softened. Then I stepped into the role of chef’s assistant. I lifted the sauerkraut-filled strainer out of the bowl, dumped out the water, and, a small handful at a time, squeezed the kraut as dry as I could.
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Tom took the kraut and mixed it into the pot with the vegetables, separating all the little lumps to get as much of the kraut as possible in touch with the fats.
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He then added (prosaically measured by his assistant) ½ cup of white wine, 2 tablespoons of Worcestershire sauce, and 2 cups of his homemade broth; and nestled the bacon into the kraut.
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He covered the pot and baked it in a 325° oven for half an hour. Added the spareribs, reduced the heat to 300°, and cooked for an hour and a half. Added the piece of kielbasa and cooked for half an hour. Added the knackwursts and cooked for 10 minutes, just to heat them through. And served.
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The choucroute was luscious, as always, the kraut moist and flavorful, the meat falling off the rib bones, the bacon soft and enticing, the knacks (though they’d split open) and the kielbasa plump and appealing. The whole ensemble also matched beautifully with the evening’s special bottle of wine: a 2001 Trimbach Pinot Gris Reserve Personelle. You can read about the wine in Tom’s blog.

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One day this week, I felt like a change from our usual everyday dinner format of a small first course followed by a larger main course. Aiming for variety and simultaneity, I put together a modest spread of Spanish-style tapas that Tom and I could graze on while enjoying a good bottle of Rioja wine.
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To anchor the meal, I made two new-to-me recipes from Penelope Casas’s Tapas: The Little Dishes of Spain. There’s a revised and expanded edition of this excellent book, but my large, well-thumbed, original 1985 paperback still provides plenty of scope for trying out new dishes, as well as revisiting favorites.
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Chickpeas in Onion Sauce
Garbanzos con Cebolla

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This was a simple, very tasty concoction. I soaked four ounces of dried chickpeas overnight, and the next day put them in fresh water with a clove of garlic, a slice of onion, and a bay leaf and simmered until the peas were tender. They must have been from a very fresh batch of chickpeas, for they took only an hour.

Separately I briefly sauteed a chopped onion in olive oil, stirred in two tablespoons of chopped tomato, covered the pan, and cooked gently until the onions were very soft. (Happily, this winter my grocery stores are carrying truly ripe tomatoes from Mexico.) I stirred this mixture into the cooked chickpeas and left them at the back of the stove, to be rewarmed at dinner time. Excellent! Really, chickpeas are an undervalued resource.
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Chorizo with Pimientos
Chorizo Café San Martin

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This dish wasn’t as good as the first, but I can’t blame the recipe. I had two fresh chorizos in my freezer that it was time to use. The recipe wanted firm, cured chorizo, to be cut in ¼-inch slices for an initial browning. My sausages were uncured and too soft to slice, so I crumbled them into a pan with olive oil. When the meat was fully cooked, I deglazed the pan with red wine and stirred in strips of a roasted red pepper (also from my freezer), a tablespoon of chopped parsley, and a minced clove of garlic.

For the final cooking, I put the mixture in an oiled earthenware dish, covered it tightly with foil, and baked it at 350° for 15 minutes. (That was a simplification of the recipe’s saying to encase the food in foil, bake the packet in the dish, and open the foil only at table.) It was pleasant enough, but not as lively as it would have been with the right kind of chorizos. I should have at least seasoned the meat with more pimentón.
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Toasted Bread with Garlic, Olive Oil, and Fresh Tomato
Pan con Tomate

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Pan con Tomate
is a much-loved tapa everywhere in Spain. Most often it’s served as slices of toast thickly spread with a puree of tomatoes seasoned with garlic, sea salt, and the best available olive oil. I prefer a lighter version, which is also simpler to make.

I toast split lengths of crusty bread; rub them well, first with the cut face of a clove of garlic, then with the cut face of a tomato, so the bread captures a bit of the flesh and absorbs juice; and finish with a sprinkle of salt and a generous drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil. The crunch makes a good textural companion with softer tapas, while the simple, direct flavors work happily with everything.
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Raw Fennel with Spicy Mayonnaise

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I don’t know whether this is an actual Spanish tapa, but I think it qualifies as Spanish-style, at least. I flavored mayonnaise with lemon juice and pimentón and served it as a dip for spears of raw fennel. In Spain the mayonnaise would have been aioli, of course. But my smoked paprika gave the Hellman’s a Hispanic touch, and the fennel spears were crisp and refreshing.
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“Hispanified” Barbecued Spareribs

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This is definitely not an actual Spanish tapa. The evening before, Tom and I had dined at a neighborhood restaurant and brought home the uneaten half of an enormous portion of barbecued spareribs. Because the barbecue sauce had been quite sweet, he slathered the ribs with a mixture of mustard, Worcestershire, and Cholula, wrapped them in foil, and reheated them in the oven. Though there was nothing notably Spanish about the result, the ribs made a useful contribution to our eclectic dinner of tapas.
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The Evening’s Wine

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I asked Tom to add a few words about our bottle of Rioja.

A dinner like this, of varied flavors, will work best with a wine of some complexity that can play catch with all those different accents. I thought a fine Rioja with a bit of bottle age would do the job, and 2008 Viña Tondonia proved us right. At age 13 it was just entering adulthood and showed a nice medley of fresh fruit and mature vinous flavors. Riojas are great, adaptable wines, and Tondonia is one of the finest.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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