Saturday, December 18, 2010

Dionysus is a woman.

It was the inexplicable sort of depression that led Marlon Brando to eat ice cream by the gallon, me to read, prone, the upside-down sole-stamped brand name of an unhappy Philadelphia police officer's boots between a choir of stars--more than once.


For any kitchen nut educated on food blogs--so many of us are these days, Smitten Kitchen is required reading. Deb's pornographic journal of rich productions provides all the enticement a novice could ever require to venture into the wilderness of the kitchen. As well, her recipes contain a consistent pedagogical element. For every dish a lesson--often disguised in self-effacing anecdote. She is the Pitchfork Media generation's Paula Deen; she could hide a stick of butter in a glass of water.

After my good friend, Shmuel, turned me on to her, by way of this tomato sauce recipe, I not only became an ardent reader I took that recipe as my own. I'll likely never make red sauce any other way. The essence as you'll see lies in butter.

I try never to mistake consolation for the advent of happiness, but when the conciliatory agent is butter I find it difficult to differentiate. This concoction, which relies on Deb's tomato sauce recipe as a technical reference point, was born of an early December depression. There are evenings in which the dearth of light and the record on the turntable whisper in your ear: put a stick of butter to good use.

Chicken thighs braised in butter, chilies and spinach

5-6 chicken thighs
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1 medium yellow onion
3 cloves garlic
three small sprigs rosemary
1 lg can San Marzano tomatoes, crushed
3/4 lb roasted Hatch chilies, skins removed, seeds if necessary, chopped*
1 tbsp white vinegar
three fistfuls of raw spinach, cleaned

Add olive oil to a hot dutch oven and brown chicken. Upon flipping the parts add aromatics and butter. As the butter melts and the aromatics soften slowly add crushed tomatoes, vinegar and chilies. Cover, simmer.

Stir every ten minutes.

After about half an hour the chicken will begin to pull easily from the bone. At this point cut the heat on the stove, add spinach and cover. With about five minutes of steaming the spinach can be turned into the chicken stew.

Serve with baguette or rice.

* I use Hatch chilies since our beloved Reyna Foods imports them from New Mexico--a wild luxury. They vary in degrees of heat. If you prefer a milder stew remove seeds after roasting. Naturally, you can select different chilies or peppers to suit your taste.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Beans and greens, Sunday morning.

It's odd that Michael Haneke's nauseating 'Funny Games' is what got me out of bed and down the street to Donatellis for groceries this morning, but it's true. From that ominous moment when the young man appears at the unsuspecting family's vacation house to borrow eggs for a neighbor--a simple task that eventually leads to a night of playful terror, I knew I'd have to have an omelet or some scrambled eggs.

Well, as impressionable as I was watching Haneke's squirmy indictment of voyeurism and identity politics unfold I was as much so with the eggs in my hand at the store. I passed the escarole, yes; romano beans, yes; purple garlic, sure. There would be no omelet.

This is far too easy and I'm way too still-asleep to write a recipe. Make sure the escarole is clean before it goes in the skillet, but don't over-wring the leaves after they soak--it'll give you a little broth for your bread. Oh yeah, multi-grain ciabatta roll, yes.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Wyeth colors.

Roasted tomato and eggplant soup with sumac; Mafalda, black-eyed peas, toasted walnuts and escarole in brown mustard vinaigrette.

At Brillobox we roll out a spectacular half pound Wyoming free-range chuck whallop, which for my money is useless without bacon, pimento cheese and avocado. However, given my own dietary reforms and philosophical consideration it is frequently back to those meatless dishes that my thoughts travel. Mind you, there is no end of satisfaction to be found from blackening beef and gilding with bronzed pork. But some of the surest flavors lie in ascetic application, in dishes so conservatively conceived that there is little room for the overwhelming bluster of pork fat, of crisped chicken skin, of blood.

In another lifetime I was shown a way to make soups, one a day, without meat or the crutch of a prepared stock. The merciless and heedlessly articulate proprietor of La Cucina Flegrea in Squirrel Hill, Anna Fevola, swept together the wilted remainders of her pantry each day around lunchtime using the same unassuming motions one might expect from a janitor dusting the floor. Until you've tasted the clarity of a broth begun on carrot ends, onion skins and mushroom stems, having watched it culminate in a pale copper bullion that managed to--against the tide of a malnourished cynic's doubt, bear out the delicate accent flavor of field greens no longer crisp enough for the salad plate then its all just hot air. But the truth is there, it is anxious in basic things. And it is quite good.

Our Sundays can be problematic. The week draws to an end, the pantry is bare. We're all thrashed from the weekend crowd. To make matters worse Brillobox closes it all out with a Sunday Night Starving Artist Dinner. Five bucks gets you a respectably portioned and dutifully tasty platter of usually vegan, always vegetarian, eats.


Implicit in the aforementioned gripe is that people come out for this thing. In numbers. Cooking ravioli on Valentine's Day is nice. Blowin' minds on Christmas morning by bringing a dozen homemade dinner rolls is pretty smart too. Provided the number of hungry mouths is relatively low--I'd say below five, it's pure meticulous nerd-out joy. But go above that humble number, go to, say, 20 or even 30 and the fundamentals change.

What I learned in time was to work in broad strokes--multiplying recipe measurements to suit larger crowds has always met me with mixed results. So each week--try as I might to
streamline and work ahead, airs of fuss and uncertainty cloud the kitchen.

Last week everything came off beautifully--even if I don't remember the exact recipes.

Soup and salad
(Imprecisely pared down for 2--with some leftovers)

Salad--make ahead

1 lb. Mafalda pasta--any shapes will do, cooked and cooled.
1/2 c. walnuts, pan-toasted
3/4 cooked black-eyed peas
2 sm. heads escarole, thoroughly washed, wilted in a saute pan, shocked.


1 1/2 tbsp. whole grain mustard in white wine
1 lemon, juiced
1 tsp honey
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
1/3-1/2 c. good green olive oil

Combine the salad ingredients in a large bowl, set aside. For the vinaigrette mix the first four ingredients throughly with a whisk or fork. Continue to whisk, adding the olive oil in a thin, steady drizzle. Once the dressing has emulsified--the mustard will assist greatly, taste. Add salt, cracked black pepper and honey as needed. Coat the salad.

The Soup

The aromatics:

1 med carrot, chopped
1 stalk celery, chopped
1 white onion, chopped
1 small bunch sage leaves
1 stem rosemary leaves
2 cloves garlic, smashed to paste
3-5 tbsp olive oil

The vegetables:

1 medium Italian eggplant
5 ripe vine tomatoes or one 28 oz. can domestic San Marzano tomatoes, diced
1 lb. leftover home fries or 1 shredded Russet potato
2 tbsp honey

Begin by roasting the eggplant til skin is uniformly charred--open flame grilling is ideal as it is fastest. Remove to stainless steel bowl, cover with plastic to steam for ten minutes. Cut away cap and end, then skin eggplant--it should peel easily. Leave minor bits of the charred flesh as they'll infuse into the final puree with a smoky flavor. Pretty crucial, actually. Chop into loose cubes--by this point the outer flesh will be quite soft.

Add the first three ingredients to a hot stock pot with olive oil. Once signs of browning appear add the remaining "soft" aromatics. Once full fragrance is released add eggplant (include juices accumulated in steaming bowl) potato and tomatoes. Stir in honey. Stew til aroma reemerges, add water to increase volume; season in accordance: salt, dried chilies, pepper.

Remove herbs stems and pulse with either a hand masher or an immersion blender til the soup mixture appears 3:1 puree to chunky vegetables.

Serve together, dusting the soup with ground sumac. Fresh yogurt accompanies nicely as well.

Monday, August 30, 2010

At brillobox.

Pulled pork tacos with chipotle crema and avocado corn salsa

As long as we're clear this isn't just a porn forum for my hangover cures I thought it was best to begin introducing the dishes I've been working on at my neighborhood's smart haunt, Brillobox.

Headaches and recursive anxiety attacks aside it has been a slender miracle putting a menu of dishes out. Ideas that seemed from the outset fully formed and precise took to wild growth spurts and contentious trial and error efforts. All for the best mind you, the food just gets better every day.

Unquestionably the white whale in this undertaking has been the perfection of macaroni and cheese--specifically the besting of our local fave made by the exalted Kelly's Bar and Lounge in East Liberty. Nothing against the folks--truth be told I'm kinda warm on their kitchen magic myself. But, you know, I want to be better.

I began with a cream reduction and a fifty-fifty mixture of Gruyere and Beemser Vlaskaas--a pedigree combo that bore out responses of continental hauteur and, well, lack of being impressed.

Change came.

Up went the Gruyere--the melty string section. I introduced a bright yellow cheddar for flavor and visual appeal. The eyes that eat while the palate eats demand gold in their dishes, so I obliged.

Next came the issue of the crust, which my predecessor adressed in a rather sharply biblical manner by dusting his dish with fried shallots reminiscent of dehydrated locusts. They had to go.

I went with grainy breadcrumbs, grated Pecorino Pepata and finely chopped fried sage leaves. The oil those leaves hold onto is more than ample along with what is exuded from the Pecorino for creating a browned exterior in the oven--a point of prowess in fact. There is a conjugal moment when, mouth hovering, the individual pierces the crust with a creme brulee-like K sound and the term of astonishment is at hand.

Perhaps--in regard to perfection, it remains a periodical thing, something requiring more adaptation and more forward movement. For now it's just grand. Every time someone mentions Kelly's in the same mouthful of it--for better or worse, I inch closer to that grail. It is well within reach.

Caprese Panini--nationalist Italian salad relegated to poor divine grilled cheese sammich status. The humanity.

Thursday, August 26, 2010


It has been too sultry to write new recipes til now, so a few are on the way, rest assured.

Yesterday morning with fecundity common these days to my bewilderments at dawn I gave birth to another silly sandwich. Seen above is a panini of oil-poached chicken, fried egg, tomato, chili aoili and kyori zuke pickles. Convert this into a shot and I'll have a child with you.

The race is on.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The fez.

Got home at 5am and all I wanted was a sandwich and to hear Steely Dan's "The Fez". I came up with this gallant device: Egg still runny, yellow cheese, mortadella with pistachios and chipotle mayo on a Mancini's jalapeno roll. My asshole is gonna sue me.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Dawn, late summer.

The aperture of summer tightens still: The lifeguards at the Polish Hill pool stopped blowing the whistle when we sneak in flips and dangerous dives. Each day I walk up the Bloomfield Bridge and am met by a haunting breeze; it is coming.

Seen here is a cocoa raspberry custard with dulce de leche, vanilla hazelnut granola and a cinnamon toast cone. Calories, friends. This summer we burns em, this summer we east em...

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Little nothing.

I wonder if I shouldn't burn my anthology of Chinese poetry and the lp of Wild Nothing's Gemini when this summer ends. Mind you, I'm too economical these days to follow through even if quixotic concensus should prevail. Nevertheless, exiting this summer in a mild August I'm already turning back on it and asking myself if with plaster, government funding and a second imagination to assist, could I ever replicate this thing we are leaving?

Seen above is one Pittsburgh blue beef slider eaten from atop Mencken's Chrestomathy at approximately 6:30AM sometime last week. Miss Ella was asleep and, for posterity, the news of the previous day was good.

Bruce Foster of Lawrenceville provided the Wyoming Black Angus, there's a Martin's roll, Heinz pickle and ketchup, minced onion and a bit of the furious Mr. Mustard brand mustard. It takes the crippling of families and their generations to achieve the most recognizable kinds of wealth. Others we wake up to in destined preparedness.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Everything is euphoric.

In search of a word.

There was one moment when Miri, Dan and me were eating egg yolk tacos at 4 AM, listening to Jorge Ben and I figured it was as grand as food or feelings could ever get. Miri's idea was that there should be no pictures because how could that possibly compare to what was really happening: Let's just rely on the heat of memory; Burping, farting, eating, listing and being ideal.


for the sake of posterity:

Pate of avocado, tomatoes, garlic and jalapeno. It rained tacos.

A simulation involving skirt, peas, cabbage relish, sweet corn, goat cheese, pineapple rundown, jalapeno, avocado pate and rice.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

June potluck.

Roasted beets and white onions with sprouts, toasted cashews and goat cheese.

Garlic scapes and cauliflower in habanero honey mayo--yes, the same as from the breakfast post a few days back.

Miss Ella in post-feast repose.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Good morning.

My pal, Quint, caught the perch seen here on Lake Erie some time back; and the eggs come from Lucinda's goat farm. Yes, this precious eat local bug bit my ass good.

Also pictured are roasted radishes and celery. With the fish there is a bit of habanero honey aioli--egg yolks whisked with honey roasted chilies and grapeseed oil til it forms a loose yellow mayonnaise.

Excuse me.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

The patina of the cold immemorial.

Being invincible is largely a matter of convenient timing and clever diet. Avoid sick people and eat only what you like. This winter--now that it's over we can finally talk about it, taxed the senses more than most. More snow fell in February than in any other month in recorded history. Love lives involved neighbors, a triumphally sad piano dirge called 'I Wonder' by an unknown balladeer named Big Ceasar (sic), and a thoughtful, indeed thorough, rethinking and remapping of the notion "the silent treatment." Some weeks I deep fried balls of gelato in duck fat and chased them with foie gras and mayo, others I don't think I even looked at food. I distinctly recall cutting into the vividly colored concentric design in a watermelon radish--the one I used for the salade Nicoise piece probably, and thinking it was astonishing that something so beautiful could live so comfortably in the natural order with no discernible purpose. It was only later, lying in bed, no doubt fucked off about the aftertaste of PBR and love gone bad, that I realized with a perfectly startled air of discovery that the radish is in fact a tuber, and by the parameters of our archeological reckoning a food stuff with a decided purpose.

Again, there were days when I did eat. And days when I surprised myself.

Maybe because JJ knocked one out of the park at Dinette or just the rote banality of making them I found this season populated heavily with pizzas. JJ's involved anchovies and thinly sliced serrano chilies. It was, to say nothing of its godfatherly standing among other pies, one of the finest foods I've ever eaten. So too did I find it behooved me to make a few myself.

Running the cheese counter at the store presented me with a rather novel challenge. How do I get people to try something they regard as over-priced continental elitist garbage? I could shave wafers of Societe Roquefort off for people wearing Dale Earnhardt t-shirts all I liked. In the end it's just shwag. It dawned on me that the only way to effectively convince people that cheese is in fact the culmination of our worldly initiative with the Earth was to dislocate it, give a fresh context: Everybody loves pizza. So I made pies for people to sample, pies with Beemster's goudas, with Sini Fulvi Pecorino Romano, with homemade ricotta-stuffed burratas, anything I could get my hands on. I still only sell about five bucks worth of cheese a day but when Dale Earnhardt's flock tastes those pies every Saturday morning they are, if only momentarily and of course unwittingly, transformed into les becs fin.

History clings exclusively to those particles of our discovery and invention that provoke the senses.

The pie pictured above was made with Hodgson Mill-brand yeast, and honey where the recipe's author, Mario Batali, employed wine. For a conventional oven you must resign yourself to a slightly inferior crust--yes even with a pizza stone. The heat is insufficient to achieve that ideal crisp edge and pillowy streak in the interior. Sorry Charlie.

Oh yeah, fair warning, if in the course of our co-habitation you should discover me building a wood-burning pizza oven in your back yard it's a fair signal of my intention to marry you.

With a handicap on the crust the emphasis shifts even further to the cheese melted over-top. On this occasion I chose a buttery stinky Taleggio. Previously I hung the contrastive balance on tomatoes and salty Pecorino Pepata, so as a foil for the rich flabbiness of the cheese I went with roasted endive and radicchio. In general I prefer a sauce rich with olive oil. There are several reasons: first, it's a very flavor-friendly element and showcases your aromatics dutifully, but in terms of simple mechanics I have found that loose fresh tomato purees tend to sog the crust down. The solution is to treat the sauce like a vinaigrette: emulsify chopped tomatoes with olive oil and whatever herbs you like. In the mortar of the cheese you will find it becomes veneer-like.

The final accent, crucial in the lightless winter months is a handful of loosely chopped green herbs--in this instance I had parsley basil and thyme. Dress the herbs in a mixture of olive oil lemon juice salt and pepper then add to the finished pie--it should look like an afterthought. The effect is pretty invigorating and momentarily winter abates.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Alright, I'm awake.

Ashley makes a formidable coconut flan, tries on a fried eggplant taco.

"There is no malice in him; he is as trustful as a child. In point of fact, his childishness is more prominent than his creator intended it to be. When...he suggests performing "mad things" as a penance--additional deliberate "mad things" on top of his normal madness--so to speak, he shows a rather limited schoolboyish imagination in the way of his pranks."
-from V. Nabokov's lectures on Cervantes' Don Quixote, Harvard Univ., 1951.

"America don't want to see us work, they want to see us LIVE. Tron is livin' for the ci-TAY!"

Ask Ashley for the flan recipe--annihilating business, forcing shameful predawn trips down the stairs to scoop it out of the fridge between gulps of Brunton's 2% milk--I remember ribbons of raspberry sugar syrup running from my tipping spoon, evidentiary only to the moon and my own fatigued sense of place and time.

My life as an educator has yet to begin so it would be egregiously premature to make lessons of my poverty, my secular self searching and the like as if a bare shred of enlightenment grew in either anyway. Now, Lent and Siddharthan confrontations set aside, purposefully and to the enrichment of color and flavor alike, we must, you and I, go back to fucking around in the kitchen, flower petals and cashews on the floor. With whiskey.

Eggplant tacos with chili mascarpone crema and pickled cabbage.

The one in the middle looks like Willie Nelson.

Feeds 3.

18 corn tortillas
1 medium eggplant
1/4 c. all purpose flour
1 c. fresh bread crumbs
1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp water

2 medium tomatoes, chopped
1 c. pinto beans
1 sm. yellow onion chopped

1/2 sm. head green cabbage
1 sprig cilantro, chopped
1 lime, juiced
1 clove garlic, pulverized
1 bunch scallions, chopped--greens and all. DO NOT WASTE THE GREENS!
2 heaping tbsp. white vinegar

1/4 c. mascarpone--I recommend the tasty, cloudy Vermont Creamery brand--they're sustainable too!
3 chipotle chilies in adobo, chopped
1 tsp milk
a pinch of annato seeds steeped in 1 tbsp. grapeseed oil--seeds discarded once a deep blood orange oil color is achieved.

salsa--see note.

The tacos, since meat was out of the question were amply substituted with fried eggplant. I sliced one medium eggplant into disks the thickness of an average magazine--quite thin. Salt them and leave them for a half an hour or so to dry. The salt will cause moisture to bead on the surface: pat the disks dry of any pooling water with a dry towel. Add to a paper bag with flour, shake to coat. Dredge in egg then coat in bread crumbs. Allow the disks of eggplant to air dry while you prepare the accompaniments.

Saute the beans and tomatoes, beginning with the aromatics--I think this time I had some leftover fennel greens which I added to the garlic and onions. Celery is always welcome too. As you add the beans and tomatoes adjust the liquid level--water is fine, but stock or tomato juice is even better. I also like to secret in a squeeze of anchovy paste. Allow this to simmer, moving right along.

For the cabbage you will simply slice it in the fashion of a slaw, adding the cilantro, aromatics and acids, adjusting to taste. A pinch of sugar will take the sharp edge off if you notice one--or simply sub in orange juice for the lime. In the end this element is primarily added for textural contrast. The flavor, though supportive, should at least be pleasing.

The crema is, too, purely a matter of consistency. As long as you can rely on the quality of the two fundamentals, the mascarpone and the chipotles, the flavor is an unspoken promise. Start the mixture with the colored oil, mixing the mascarpone and chilies in, adding the milk later, only if needed. It should be the consistency of sour cream, the color of cantaloupe.

At this point time management should be a consideration: The tortillas will take about about twenty minutes to griddle to pliability--you'll want them to appear at once darkened in spots and slightly puffed with steam. So too you'll want to watch the beans and tomatoes. With your final season, mash the beans--keep the consistency of refried beans or loose mashed potatoes in mind.

Meanwhile fry the eggplant in neutral oil set to 350 degrees. It will brown, then float. Season, then allow the crisped pieces to air dry briefly. This will ensure the eggplant will provide an inner meatiness and an exterior crunch so you don't feel like such a loser ass vegetarian--not that you should necessarily.

As the last of eggplant emerges from the fry and the tortillas rest under a warm damp towel you might want to consider a salsa. Frankly at this point it's all salsa anyhow, but if you have an avocado, a bit of corn and a pinch of broccoli sprouts lying around, it's fair game: mash em up. Otherwise anything, prepared or easily assembled on the spot is fine. I don't like particularizing salsa--or anything truthfully, as it really does encumber our availability to surprise. On a hurried lunch between shifts days after making these tacos I added a sliced pear to mine in the place of guacamole and found it jarringly appropriate. In fact, I recommend it.

In the order best suited to your already taxed post-lenten sense of ritual you will want to construct and consume the tacos, then and there, or later as you like, evidentiary only to your own moral compass and the moon.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


Salade Nicoise always struck me as one of those things, alternately haughty and boring, that could stir up debate among the indifferent without ever compelling their hunger. I grew up thinking a salad, plainly, was a dewy green phone book gathered in a wooden bowl from the underbelly of a push mower as gustatory scapegoat for whatever Frito Lay product had been last--and more shamefully, partaken. I was nearly right.

Whatever the debate or ennui this salade seems to inspire in others I jumped for it. Long before frat bars piled French fries on landfills of iceberg lettuce, jerk chicken and shredded cheddar (don't knock it it ain't half bad) the salade Nicoise added potatoes to greens--or so I thought; it had blanched string beans, lending a gardeny crunch--or so I thought; and of course the tuna itself meant the pious water-canned albacore--or so I feared (and kinda hoped).

Then I came across this. No potatoes, no lettuce, no beans, no jerk chicken. Hell, no dressing really, just the olive oil from the tuna. And don't ask, no, no albacore in spring water. Turns out the Europeans have built an industry of exquisite oil-cured tuna.

Salade Nicoise
(for 2)

1 poblano pepper--try to select a mild one , or simply forgo the chilies.
1 long stalk celery--stripped of floss
1 red onion
1/3 medium daikon, shaved

1 bunch scallions, finely chopped at the white bottoms, then lankier the further and greener up
1 tbsp capers
2 tbsp roughly chopped cornichons--keep the brine handy.
chopped parsley.
crushed chilies
a few additional splashes of very decent olive oil.

1 watermelon radish or 2 red radishes, slice across into wafers

7oz. jar of Flott oil-preserved tuna
2 hard-boiled eggs, shelled, quartered.
1 grilled half of lemon--well-concealed from Nicoise purists!

1. Arrange radishes in a circular fashion along the perimeters of two medium plates.

2. Chop the first four ingredients into stubby match sticks, add to the radish-lined centers of the plates.

3. With the final of the six, a good olive oil, scud the ensuing six ingredients in a mixing bowl. Toss and muddle-infusing the ingredients. Add salt and cracked black pepper to assist and taste. Spoon over raw vegetables, coat by tossing gingerly between your fingers.

4. Add the tuna to the salad plates. Combining leftover oil with any oil-scud leftover in the mixing bowl, drizzle on tuna and salad. Place eggs.

5. Dress by adding salt, cracked pepper and juice from grilled lemon. Shave Piave Vecchio over it if you like...

Saturday, February 20, 2010

No food, no whiskey.


A few weeks ago some friends introduced me to their (mostly) secular versions of Lent--they set aside something dear to themselves--crutches as one succinctly put it.

This year it was time I tried it out for myself. After all, that's masochism! And if a masochist lives in me I should know. I have forty days to discover him, study him and prepare him for the hedonist secret sharer he'll meet sometime in early April--provided that Bacchanalian-on-hiatus is still breathing by then.

This is only week two, not even halfway through, and already my sacrifices of alcohol, red meat and the other white meat are producing vibrant disciplinary and spiritual symptoms.
My experiment began with a 48 hour fast, followed by 24 hours of raw vegetables and fruit juices. At night long, fearsome dreams of shitty jobs from long ago, messed-up romances and estranged life plans greeted me. Each morning I awoke tired and puzzled. It is a fitting detail of one's psyche to know contentment not by what colors dreams, but by what fails to discolor nightmares. When all one does in the waking hours is fuss over food and drink it is reassuring to know he doesn't dream of starvation--it would confirm all the worst neuroses of life in the first world--not to say comparable evidence of that kind of cultivated depravity doesn't exist elsewhere. Anyhow some narrative device operating in my sleep juggled my oldest troubles: Having enough to eat was not among them. Nor was having enough to drink, sufficed to say.

All moral fine tuning aside, with a tightened budget the narrative turn into frugality and creative restriction only made sense. As I dream up innovations for pantry dearth feasts enjoy this one last snack food combo that sustained me for well over a week--basically til the first hints of sourness visited the eggplant.

Warm tomato salad and baba ghanouj

Celebrity chefs love to encourage you to take chances and work with what you like, to make your own creative variations on their instructions. That's fine, but for such a simplistic pair of flavor complements I couldn't imagine changing a thing. Add Rice Krispies or guanciale at your own risk...

The salad

1/2 lb. soaked and simmered white cannellini beans, with several tbsp. reserved cooking liquid.
1 lg. can San Marzano tomatoes
1 med. sweet onion, grated, juices reserved.
1/2 lg. bulb fennel, finely diced
1 1/2 tbsp raw honey
1 sm. tin anchovy fillets, finely chopped (since this recipe is very nearly vegan you could substitute 1/3 c. mashed picholine olives for anchovies and get a comparable salinity)

4-5 cloves of garlic
1 sprig fresh rosemary (or 1 tsp. dried)
1 lg. lemon, halved, plus 1 sm. lemon, halved (reserved for baba ghanouj).

As far as a few days but no later than a half an hour in advance preheat oven to 350 and roast garlic, rosemary and lemon in olive oil--use a small enough vessel that the ingredients sit fully submersed in oil. Depending on the oven this could take up to 40 minutes--keep an eye on it.

Remove garlic cloves to a small mixing bowl and mash-they should succumb easily to the back of a fork. Strain in olive oil, pressing firmly on the lemon halves to extract all juices. Discard solids, then whisk juice and oil to a loose emulsion.

In a saute pan over medium high heat add 2 tbsp. of prepared oil emulsion. As this comes to near smoking temperature add anchovies and grated onion, cooking til juices evaporate and the onion flesh begins to brown. Add an additional tbsp. of oil followed by the fennel. Repeat this process with the beans and finally the tomatoes, allowing each phase to cook til the pan is nearly free of simmering liquid. Whisking vigorously add the remaining oil along with the mashed garlic paste. Stir in honey, season with salt and pepper, cover and reduce heat to low.

The baba ghanouj

1 lg. eggplant, quartered lengthwise
3-4 tbsp. olive oil
3/4 to 1c. tahini paste
1 bunch of med. chopped Italian parsley
juice of 1 med. roasted lemon, reserved from salad preparation
2 raw cloves of garlic, mashed to paste
1 tsp chili flakes

Under a broiler roast eggplant til skin is singed and peels easily from the softened interior. Transfer to a large mixing bowl, cover with plastic wrap to steam. Once cooled to touch strip the eggplant of burned skin, rinsing hands in a bowl of cool water as you go--the skin will stick. Some residue of the blackened skin will adhere to the eggplant, but shouldn't be picked over as it will add a crucial smokiness. In a large clean mixing bowl add skinned eggplant and any collected roasting juices. Mash eggplant, adding all additional ingredients one by one, beginning with the tahini. With each addition season with salt and pepper to taste. In the end you may need to add a few tablespoons of olive oil or water to thin the paste to your desired consistency.

Lightly char pita over direct stove flame until spotted black. Top. Finish with black sesame seeds and more olive oil.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The baguette in winter.

Snow clouds the senses.

The baguette.

Fond, if you've watched any two consecutive minutes of food tv is the browned-on junk at the bottom of a pan after you've cooked in it. Last night I made some farfalle with olives and Zamorano, and consistent with my character did not wash up afterward. There was fond. Mind you for health reasons I should caution against leaving pans sit unwashed for so long as rumors of illness and foul taste follow them. Personally I find it all perfectly false and unduly worrisome.

Bring the fond-stained skillet back to a medium heat, scudding in olive oil to loosen the remnants. Once you've made a rough sludge of it add some aromatics; I chose sweet onions, shallots and fennel. Season the mixture shortly into the saute as the salt will speed the softening. Add diced tomatoes and all juices. As the liquid cooks out continue to season and moisten--my pal, Crystal, brought a grand Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon to dinner last night: It was on hand and did the trick nicely. Once incorporated the red sauce will take on a rusty caramel color. Add a liberal pinch of sugar and let simmer til the solids have largely been broken down. As the last of the dousings dry in the pan stir in a healthy soak of olive oil. Whisk. Once emulsified it will both fortify the body of the sauce and tame the color a bit.

This too provides an essential boost in substance. Matching the dimension of the oil with the caviar-like richness of the eggplant will prove among the most satisfying elements of the dish--not to mention a subtle unifying factor.

Slice the eggplant into discs and salt, leaving them to sit for 15 minutes--this will remove moisture that might otherwise prevent bread crumbs from adhering. Pat dry with paper towels. Dredge and fry the eggplant in batches: Lightly flour (I toss them into a brown bag with a half cup of all purpose flour and shake). Next into egg wash then into a mixture of fresh bread crumbs, plane-grated Parmigiano Reggiano and parsley. Fry and transfer to a newspaper to dry.

In the halved, still-warm baguette begin with a layer of sliced Taleggio, topping with overlapping eggplant discs. Spoon the reduced red sauce overtop along with thinly cut fresh buffalo mozzarella. Finish with parsley, chile flakes Parmigiano and one last splash of olive oil.

It goes under the broiler til the bread is nearly blackened and all visible cheese bubbles.