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Archive for the ‘Vegetable’ Category

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 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.

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Surprisingly, the stands at my Greenmarket last weekend were still offering corn on the cob. I couldn’t resist one final end-of-season batch, though the ears all looked a bit dry and weather-battered. I felt they needed something to liven them up, so I went on a recipe hunt in my cookbooks.

Not much luck at first. Even in American regional cookbooks, the recipes were for rather heavy puddings or fritters, and books of most other countries had none at all. Then I hit gold in an unexpected place. At Home with Madhur Jaffrey, my newest Indian cookbook, has “Corn with Aromatic Seasonings”: a stir-fry, billed as working well with most Indian meals and also Western-style roasted or grilled meats.
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Preparing the ingredients is always the most work in making Indian dishes. Three ears of corn, shucked, made two cups of kernels – just the right amount for half the recipe.

 

Here are all the measured aromatics. Clockwise from the top, a bay leaf, whole mustard seeds, chopped fresh ginger, chopped fresh jalapeño pepper, a piece of cinnamon stick, two whole cloves, and two cardamom pods.
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The actual cooking went like a breeze. I heated olive oil in a frying pan and tossed in the whole spices.
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In a few seconds, when the mustard seeds began to pop, I added the ginger and jalapeño.
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A few quick stirs, and in went the corn.
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After about two minutes, I added half a teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of heavy cream.
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Then about three more minutes of stirring, until the corn had absorbed all the cream, and the dish was done. I served it alongside simply grilled pork spareribs.
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And very good the corn was. None of the individual spices dominated in it; all blended to make it a lightly piquant, full-flavored dinner vegetable. Jaffrey says the dish can be made with frozen corn too. It went very well alongside the spareribs, and I can see it working equally well with a steak. This dish could be starting a long career with us.

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You couldn’t tell from reading my blog that Tom does a lot of cooking in our house. He does, though. Not big on following recipes, he’s a versatile utility cook. Soups, stews, steaks, chops, pasta, frittata, vegetables – let him look in the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry, and he’ll put together something good for a meal.

One of his big talents is hash. Tom sees hash as the perfect way to use leftovers to make another, different meal. No two of his versions are ever exactly the same, and he never measures ingredients, but all are a simple pleasure to eat. This week I watched with my camera while he made his latest concoction. Here’s what would be going into it:
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In the front, a few formerly fried potatoes, the last chunk of a good smoked ham, raw celery, and remnants of a roasted duck. In the back, two eggs, an apple, red onion, carrot, and raw potatoes. (The apple isn’t chopped yet, to keep it from turning brown.) As you see, he doesn’t feel hash needs to be overly heavy on meat.

The condiments, lined up in readiness, were Mexican hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper.

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And so, to work. He started by parboiling the raw potatoes and carrots for 10 minutes.

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Drained, they went into a frying pan with the onion and celery, and gently sauteed in olive oil for about 10 to 15 minutes. No browning yet wanted.

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Next, he stirred in the ham, duck, and already fried potatoes, cooking the mixture slightly more briskly for another 10 minutes. Generous salt and pepper, plus splashes of Cholula sauce and Worcestershire went in at this point, and everything was vigorously stirred together.

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Finally came the apple and another vigorous stirring, followed by gentle cooking together for 10 to 20 minutes, until the mixture began browning on the bottom and forming a slight crust. The hash was ready.
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Then it was my turn to step in, to poach eggs to top the hash. You need very fresh eggs for poaching, to keep the whites neatly surrounding the yolks. On this day the eggs I had were pretty old, so as an experiment I put a pair of English muffin rings into the pan of simmering water and eased an egg into each one.
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I can’t say it worked completely well. Even though most of the whites stayed contained within the rings, some escaped and floated around wispily in the water. But it didn’t seem to hurt the eggs any.

So here is a plate of the day’s hash, crowned with its egg. The hash itself was richly flavorful, as always. The apple, which he’d never used in a hash before as far as I remember, gave  a nice little touch of sweetness to the succulence of the meats and vegetables. And the liquid egg yolk made its usual perfect sauce.
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Hail to the chef!

 

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Many years ago, when I started being interested in Indian cooking, basmati rice intimidated me. The first Indian cookbook I bought had a whole page on preparing it for cooking, then 2½ more pages on cooking it. Were they serious? Picking out foreign particles, washing in 9 waters, soaking 30 minutes? Too much work! I simply used American long-grain rice in Indian recipes and was happy enough with it.

Over time, several things converged: I became a more expansive cook, basmati rice packaging became cleaner, and recipe directions became more relaxed. (Now they typically say to rinse basmati in a few waters, or four waters, or until the water runs clear.) Gradually, I’ve come to appreciate the uniqueness of basmati’s long, slender, nutty grains.

My newest Indian cookbook is At Home with Madhur Jaffrey. I bought it after my friend Joan, who does a lot of Indian cooking, sent me an email saying, “I love this book. The recipes are homey, relatively simple, pretty foolproof, and delicious enough to serve to guests. (No standing at the stove brown-frying sliced onions for 30 minutes.)”

I can certainly agree about one of the first recipes I’ve made from the book: a pilaf of basmati rice. A half recipe’s worth was lovely in an everyday supper for two. There were only a few other ingredients: sliced onions, slivered almonds, golden raisins, a piece of cinnamon stick, and chicken stock from a bouillon cube.
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Of course, I did have to prepare the rice properly. My latest batch was perfectly clean, but it had a lot of starch that needed to be rinsed away. My system is to put the rice in a sieve, lower it into a bowl of cold water, stir the rice around gently, lift out the sieve, change the water, and repeat as often as necessary.
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That arrangement takes a few more rinses than pouring the rice directly into a lot of water and swirling it around lengthily, but I find the rice in the sieve easier to retrieve.

While my rice was having its 30-minute soak, still in the sieve in the final bowl of water, I began cooking the other ingredients. Here, the onions and the cinnamon stick are sauteeing over fairly high heat in olive oil – which Jaffrey accepts as a substitute for ghee.
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When the onions began to brown, I added the almonds; browned them, added the raisins and then the drained rice. I meant to take a picture of that stage, but I had to move fast just then and couldn’t get to the camera until the chicken broth went into the pot.
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I added just a little salt, because the chicken stock was pretty salty; brought the pot to a boil; covered it tightly; and cooked it undisturbed on the lowest possible simmer for 25 minutes. It was perfectly ready, and fluffed beautifully.
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That started as one cup of rice, which the recipe indicated would serve two or three people. Since rice triples in volume, I knew it would be too much, and it certainly was: It looked ample for four. But I’d planned to make the pilaf the centerpiece of the meal, along with only small leftovers of a braised chicken dish. So we ate as much as we could of the delicious pilaf, and I froze the rest for future enjoyment.

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Police inspector Salvo Montalbano, hero of Andrea Camilleri’s Sicilian mystery novels, is an impassioned consumer of local foods, eating his way through dishes often fully described in the books. The latest volume gives Montalbano a role reversal: he goes undercover as the cook aboard a mega-yacht cruise that will be hosting an international criminal summit.

Readers, please note: If you haven’t read The Cook of the Halcyon but intend to, you might want to skip this post. I won’t be able to avoid spoilers.

Between the yacht’s crew and the guests, Montalbano will have to make meals for 12 people. To prepare for the role, he gathers recipes from his housekeeper, Adelina, and his restaurateur friend, Enzo. And he manages the cooking well, once on the ship – a fact that devoted Montalbano fans may find hard to credit, as he has never before been known to cook anything whatsoever. But so we are told.

On a critical day in the cruise, Montalbano makes a potato gâteau for the dinner’s first course. (In the book’s original Italian, the word may have been gattò.) He uses a big sack of potatoes, a dozen eggs, two kinds of cheese, ham, olives, and one very special item. The combination sounded interesting, so I thought I’d try to create a tiny version. Here are my ingredients.
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In the front are two ounces of chopped Castelvetrano olives, two ounces of chopped fontina cheese, and two ounces of chopped ham. Behind them are one egg white, one whole egg, and some grated Parmigiano. On the right, one pound of potatoes, mashed.

I beat the whole egg into the potatoes, spread half of them in a small buttered casserole dish, laid on the three chopped ingredients, and topped with grated cheese.

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I covered the filling with the remaining potatoes and spread the extra egg white over the top, as Montalbano did. My only divergence from his procedure was omission of the “very special item.” Verb. sap. sat.
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Montalbano baked his gâteau for half an hour, and his egg white topping became a brown glaze. We aren’t given an oven temperature, so I tried 350°. Not hot enough: after an extra 10 minutes, I raised the heat to 400°, and though my gâteau eventually firmed up well and even puffed a little, the glaze had spread unevenly and hardly colored at all.
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Nevertheless, it was a very tasty dish. On the plate, the potatoes and filling made a nicely varied flavor blend – piqued by the excellent Castelvetrano olives. The gâteau could certainly have stood alone as a first course, though it went very well alongside our sauteed fillets of sea bass.
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The only part of it we didn’t care for was the glaze, which was mostly a dry skin. Next time, instead of the egg whites, I’ll dot butter over the top layer of potatoes. This is a versatile dish that I can imagine pairing with almost any dry-cooked fish, fowl, or flesh. One could easily vary the filling ingredients, too.

P.S.  As readers of the book well know, Montalbano’s own gâteau was a truly memorable dish for the guests and crew of the Halcyon.

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If this summer’s Olympics had had an event for Dumb Cooking Mistakes, I’d have gotten a gold. It was by pure luck that I was able to salvage the very promising Italian vegetable dish on which I had committed the idiocy.

But let me tell it from the beginning.

From the collection of summer vegetables I’d written about here last week, there was one left of the small eggplants, still firm, plump, and shiny.
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I’d saved it to use for a recipe simply called Eggplant with Mozzarella, which I’d noticed for the first time while browsing the vegetable section of this little Neapolitan cookbook – another book I’ve had for years, where I can still discover treasures.

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Basically, you fry eggplant slices, sandwich a slice of mozzarella between each pair, and bake them in the oven with tomato sauce, beaten egg, and grated parmigiano for just 15 minutes. Seemed easy enough. I peeled and sliced my eggplant, salted the slices, and left them in a colander for half an hour to drain off some of their liquid.

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Then I pressed them dry in a cloth, floured them, and browned them well in olive oil.
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Here are half the slices, placed in the baking dish, topped with mozzarella, and awaiting the upper halves of the sandwiches. The sauce ingredients are sitting behind them. All well so far.
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But then I made my ridiculous blooper. This is what the recipe says:

Cospargere le melanzane ripiene con due uova battute con sale e pepe, qualche cucchiaiata di salsa di pomodoro e una spolverata di parmigiano grattugiato.

Now, in a well written English recipe, that might be given as “Beat two eggs with salt, pepper, a few tablespoons of tomato sauce and a sprinkling of grated parmigiano. Pour the mixture over the stuffed eggplant.”

But the phrasing of the Italian is, “Spread over the stuffed eggplant two eggs beaten with salt and pepper, a few tablespoons of tomato sauce and a sprinkling of grated parmigiano.” So what I did was add the three things one after the other. I somehow had the idea that they’d all blend together in the oven.
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Anyone with half a brain would have realized that wouldn’t happen. When I looked in after the dish was in the oven for a little while, everything still sat right where I’d put it and the egg was already firming up on its own. Aarrgh!

I pulled out the dish and quickly tried to scrape the tomato sauce and cheese off the eggplant, mix them into the half-scrambled puddle of egg, and spoon some of it back over the eggplant. Didn’t work all that well, but I put the dish back into the oven to finish its 15 minutes of baking.

It came out pretty sad looking.

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But the gods who take care of culinary idiots were on the job that day, because those little “sandwiches” were fabulous. Yes, you could see that the egg and tomato hadn’t come together properly, but in the mouth their flavors blended brilliantly. It was one of those magical “whole is better than the sum of the parts” creations. And it got even better as it cooled.

Tom had initially raised an eyebrow, but then we both scarfed down every bit. I was so relieved!

 

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What would we do without the summer’s bounty of fresh tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants? Alone and in combinations, these vegetables are fundamental to many of the world’s cuisines, and – IMO – none more simple, savory, and ingenious than Italy’s. I’ve been trying some new recipes for that vegetable trinity from my little Italian regional cookbooks. This one, for eggplant-stuffed peppers, is from Rome.
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The filling for these peppers starts in a very traditional way, with garlic, parsley, and anchovy sauteed in a little olive oil.
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Then you add the eggplant, which, in the typical nonchalance of Italian recipe writers, are said to be cut in pezzetti ­– pieces; no size given. My talented knife man has his own views about cutting vegetables, and he patiently created charming little cubes for me.
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I stirred the eggplant long enough to insaporire – i.e., flavor it with the seasoned oil. (Actually, it absorbed the oil so fast I had to add more to keep the cubes from sticking, but only a little: There’s almost no limit to the amount of oil that eggplant will suck up. That’s why, in one version of the famous Turkish eggplant dish legend, the imam fainted.) Then I added chopped tomatoes, capers, salt, and pepper, and cooked it all gently for 20 minutes.
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Next was to prepare the peppers: I washed and halved them lengthwise, cut out the seeds and interior membrane, sprinkled them with salt, and set them in an oiled baking dish. When the eggplant filling was ready, I filled the pepper cases with it.
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The peppers were to bake in a hot oven for about 25 minutes. Mine were quite thick-walled, and I thought they might take longer than that to soften. So I gave each one a little drizzle of extra olive oil in case of need and baked them at 400°. Indeed, they took about 10 minutes more.
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They came out looking a little wizened, but they certainly smelled good. (Next time I’ll brush the cut pepper edges with oil, too.) Knowing that many baked Italian dishes are better if not served immediately out of the oven, I let them cool just a little while. Then we ate them alongside roast duck and a potato gallette.
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They were excellent. The eggplant, now lusciously soft, had taken in and harmonized all the flavors of its accompaniments, while the peppers retained just enough freshness and crunch for a textural and flavor contrast.

The two stuffed pepper halves we didn’t eat that evening held until the next day, when I gratineed them with a topping of mozzarella. They were even better! The eggplant had become as rich as meat; both it and the peppers loved the melted cheese. The combination was good enough to serve as a primary recipe in its own right: It could make a fine lunch or a first course at dinner.

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