Week of February 1st

960_centanniSince Friday is Arthur Avenue day, Ed always cooks fresh fish for the weekend: a whole black bass, baked with garlic and olive oil, and broiled Maine sardines, which are dressed only with salt, olive oil and lemon juice. And popped under the broiler until golden. These sardines are eaten like corn on the cob: you gently pull the meat off the bones with your lips. You can also fry the sardines and eat them the same way, by dunking them whole in milk, then dredging in flour (I use Wondra), and frying in vegetable oil until golden. The sardines are about 6 inches long, and Edward usually buys about 4 per person. He tends toward the smaller fish, both for flavor and cost. And of course, these smaller fish are more sustainable. So the whiting, mackerel, sardines, small bass, squid, octopus, cuttlefish all get good work outs in his kitchen.

Ed_saladSunday Edward cooks one meal, usually two courses, and they don’t eat dinner—maybe fruit. So this week he made mussels steamed in wine and herbs as an appetizer, and rigatoni Genovese as the pasta course. I have a recipe in The Kitchen Ecosystem for this wonderful meat and vegetable sauce, but Edward cooks it differently. He lays a layer of beef cut in chunks in a Dutch oven, then a layer of onions and garlic, then a layer of carrots, then a pint or two of his home canned tomatoes, salt and pepper and places it, covered, in a 350F oven for a few hours. In the last 15 minutes he adds partially boiled rigatoni and continues baking until the pasta is al dente. It’s garnished with Parmesan cheese. The final course was baked rape and broccoli with garlic and hot pepper. A word about broccoli rape. Broccoli rabe is dialect: broccoletti di rape is the “proper” Italian pronunciation. I say rape (ra-pay) because that’s how I grew up hearing it. When selecting rape, look for solid stems (hollow stems indicate age), and bunches with lots of flowers. I usually blanch rape before cooking. It is often sautéed, but wonderful baked.

A few times a week dad makes a soup. This week, Swiss chard with rice and dandelion greens, and Cranberry bean with dandelion greens. Ed cooks a vegetable stew of some sort with almost every meal—this week, Swiss chard, cabbage, kale and potatoes in various combinations, served with a green salad (at lunch only), bread, cheese, and fruit, lately pears, dried figs, and walnuts. However, midweek Edward’s hip was hurting so he made Oxtail Stew, which is full of natural gelatin that eases his aches and pains, and served it over polenta.

Cranberry Bean and Dandelion Soup

Serves 4

Cranberry beans, also known as barlotti beans, are available fresh in the north-east during the winter. Fresh beans don’t have to cook as long as rehydrated dried beans. They are very tender and sweet. These red spotted beans turn a peachy beige color when cooked.

1/3 chopped guanciale or bacon
1 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon minced garlic
2 cups chopped tomatoes in water
2 cups shelled cranberry beans (about 2 pounds of beans in the shell)
1 ½ cup chicken stock
1 small piece Parmesan cheese rind (optional)
4 cups chopped dandelion greens (about ½ pound)
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
Extra virgin olive oil (for garnish)

  • Add the guanciale and olive oil in the bottom of a heavy soup pot or Dutch oven. Cook over a high heat until the fat is rendered, about 5 minutes. Stir frequently to avoid burning.
  • Turn the heat down to medium and add the onion and garlic. Cook until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and water and cook about 5 minutes, until the tomatoes are boiling. Add the beans , stock, and piece of Parmesan cheese if you have it. Cover and boil gently for 35 minutes, until the beans are tender.
  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add the dandelion greens. Count off 30 seconds, then drain the greens and ad them to the soup. Cover and gently boil the soup for 10 minutes, until the greens are tender.
  • Serve each bowl of the soup with a sprinkle of cheese and a dribble of oil.

Ellie craves meat protein, and Edward has been cooking duck breasts since the new year, this time, broiled duck breasts with wild mushrooms and grape must reduction. In the fall when Ed makes wine he sets aside the must from pressing 40 pounds of grapes. The must is brought to a low boil in a big pot, where the residual juices reduce. The must is strained, and then the juice is reduced further. It makes a gritty reduction that has a wonderful, just sweet grapey flavor. Edward removed the duck fat, chops it into little cubes and fries it. Then he broiled the breasts and served them with the cracklings. He made a sauce of wild mushrooms (honey mushrooms he collects from the same tree trunk every year) and the must, and served it with the duck.

Leftovers are recycled a variety of ways—the cabbage and potato sauté will get some Swiss chard added on day two and so on—but one of his favorite reuses is mussel stock, leftover from steaming Sunday’s mussels. Cooking pasta in stock is a technique well worth mastering as it is a fabulous way to get another meal out of a pot of bones and stems and peels. The pasta absorbs the flavors from the stock and leaches out starch, which thickens the stock to create a savory sauce. You can cook the pasta up saucy or soupy with more stock, or tight and dry with less stock. Both versions are delicious and versatile. It is best to use thin spaghetti (spaghettini) or thin linguini (linguine fini). They will absorb the stock efficiently. Thicker pasta will work, but you will need more stock and the taste will be wheaty. Very thin pasta like fedelini is good, but it absorbs fast, and tends to get knotted and overcooked. I prefer to serve fedelini cooked in stock as a soup.

Cooking pasta in stock

photo: Ben Fink

You will need about 1 pint of stock for every ¼ pound of pasta (I use ¾ pound of pasta to serve 3). Bring the stock to a boil in your pasta pot over a medium high heat. Season the stock to taste. Add the pasta. It will be stiff and stick out of the stock. Be patient. Gently push down the pasta, and after about 5 minutes it will soften and collapse into the stock. Stir often, as the pasta tends to stick together. Cook the pasta in the stock until it is al dente. You will notice the starch from the pasta thickens the stock to create a sauce. Add a little more stock or water if the sauce gets sticky. Do not overcook the pasta. It is best to serve this pasta loose and a bit soupy. Toss in the various flavorings and garnishes.

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