November 27, 2009 Thanksgiving Weekend
Yesterday was a glorious day at our friend Richard’s house, where we began with his cranberry martinis (cranberries and sugar are cooked together then added to vodka and allowed to sit for a few days, then strained and stored in freezer). They are potent! A heritage turkey, cornbread dressing (I’m pretty sure if you go to the last two years’ November blogs, you’ll find the recipe), giblet gravy, baked beets, greens, Spiced Peaches (see July 21), sweet potato rolls, and the surprisingly delicious Mama Sandberg’s Cranberry Relish, the recipe for which is posted here on the NPR site. I made fruitcake and Richard made two pies. I’m still stuffed and we’re headed to have dinner with friends. I made a minestrone-like soup and a marjoram sauce to serve with it. I had been saving a (city) hambone to make a bean soup, but midstream decided to make more of a vegetable soup, with a marjoram sauce. I’ve been trying to grow marjoram unsuccessfully for years and it’s not only one of my favorite herbs, but also it’s a major foundation of the cooking of Liguria, where I lived many moons ago.
I did not follow a recipe for the sauce, which was a sort of combination of two classic Italian sauces — pesto and salsa verde. I pounded several tablespoons of just-picked marjoram leaves and a few parsley leaves in the mortar with a rinsed and drained salted anchovy and rinsed and drained capers. I added lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, an egg yolk, and a small, peeled, cooked potato. No garlic because one of our diners tonight cannot eat raw garlic and no cheese because after the debauchery of the past 24 hours (including a breakfast of truffled, scrambled eggs and a lunch of turkey sandwiches), I am trying to rein it in a bit!
2 cups dried canellini beans
1 hambone, city or country
2 cloves garlic, unpeeled
extra virgin olive oil
1-1/2 cups chopped celery, 4 to 6 ribs
1-1/2 cups chopped carrots, about 3
2 cups chopped onions, about 2
1 bunch turnips with their greens, about 1 pound,
tough ribs removed from the greens and cut into strips and the
turnip roots pared and cut into chunks
hot red pepper flakes (optional)
2 average red potatoes, peeled and diced
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons hot pepper vinegar (optional)
freshly ground black pepper
The night before, soak the beans in water that covers them by at least an inch. Drain, rinse, then place in a large, heavy pot with the hambone and the garlic. Cover with 10 to 12 cups of water, bring to a boil, reduce the heat to a bare simmer, and allow to cook until the beans are tender, but slightly al dente. It will take anywhere from
Cover the bottom of a large, heavy pot such as an enameled cast iron French oven (I use my 7 quart Le Creuset pot), with a film of olive oil, slip the garlic from the bean pot out of its papery skin and add it, then, over medium high heat, add the celery, carrots, and onions, sautéing the soffrito until the vegetables are limp. Work quickly, stirring constantly, but don’t allow the vegetables to brown. Grab handfuls of the turnip greens and add them to the pot, continuing to sauté over medium high heat. Add the water that clings to the greens as well as you stir-fry the vegetables until the greens wilt. Continue adding handfuls of turnip greens and stirring, adding more olive oil and a pinch of salt with each handful, if desired. (If you used a country ham bone, you probably won’t need any more salt. If you want your soup spicy, you can add some hot red pepper flakes along with the greens (or you can add hot pepper vinegar later).
When all of the greens are wilted and glistening with oil, add the potatoes and and the turnips, stir well, then add the reserved stock. Bring the mixture to a boil, reduce the heat, add the reserved beans and vinegars, and simmer until the potatoes, turnips, and greens are done to your liking. In the meantime, you can pick any meat from the bone and add it, if you desire. I didn’t.
Check the seasoning of the pot and correct with salt and pepper, or whatever else you desire – soy sauce, Worcestershire, Asian fish sauce, you name it. I served mine with the marjoram sauce that I described above. Do serve hot with crusty bread. If you don’t serve a sauce with the soup, you may want to include some Parmesan rinds in the soup when you’re cooking it, or pass some Parmesan at the table.
November 23, 2009 Old and New Friends
We had Betsey Apple and Nancy Harmon Jenkins and Ken Abala over for dinner on Saturday night and we began with raw Chincoteague oysters outdoors with a lovely Muscadet. The grape, also known as melon de Bourgogne, is not Mikel’s favorite, but when you find one of these light white wines from the mouth of the Loire Valley that is good, not only will it perfectly complement oysters, but also you’ll see why they’re called melons. Years ago at the experimental vineyards at Davis in California, the varietal they thought was Pinot Blanc turned out to be Melon de Bourgogne. Nevertheless, the wines rarely show much fruit. As one of the hardest wines to pinpoint in blind-tastings, Muscadet can be insipid and flat, or slightly fizzy and salty. One good thing is that its alcohol content is never allowed to be over 12%, so at least you won’t get drunk if you begin your festivities with a glass of the wine. We were pleasantly surprised with the inexpensive Muscadet Sèvre et Maine (sur lie) 2007 from Clos de la Fontaine’s old vines. Muscadet is one of the most highly regulated denominations in all of wine-making — only one allowed grape, one allowed root stock, one allowed planting technique (about 7000 root stocks per hectare), and only one allowed training technique (single guyot with only 8 to 12 buds on the fruit bearing cane). It’s amazing how widely varied the wines can be. Only when the grapes are allowed to ripen fully do the wines taste of honeydew, the way this bottle did. It wasn’t until the next day that I carefully examined the bottle, where I saw that the independent winemaker (most Muscadet producers are members of cooperatives) is a member of Terra Vitis, a consortium of conscientious winemakers dedicated to high quality. What a find, especially for $18!
After the raw oysters, we moved indoors for my Rockefeller Turnovers and a bottle of Vintage Reserve 1995 Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin from Betsey’s cellar. The wine had oxidized a bit and had lost most of its fizz, but its big, fruity, sherry-like character was nonetheless charming. We drank it and moved on to a bottle of
L. Aubry, my personal favorite, about which I’ve blogged several times. The turnovers are always a hit. The recipe appeared on December 20, 2007.
I got some of the last of the season’s shrimp caught off the North Carolina coast – heads-on — and made gumbo with a stock made from the heads and shells and a roux made of duck fat (I keep both shrimp stock and roux on hand in my freezer, just in case!). Cornbread alongside and a simple salad afterward. I had wanted to serve a a Marsanne Blanc (which I couldn’t find) or a Barbera d’Alba with the gumbo, but the Barberas I did find were either too young and insipid to stand up to gumbo or they had way too much alcohol, the way so many wines do in these days of hotter summers. (Anyone who wants to argue climate change should talk to a vintner.) Nancy brilliantly arrived on the scene with a 2004 Gigondas from Chapelle-St-Arnoux, which perfectly fit the bill. Mikel and I love wines from the Southern Rhône — in fact, they are our house wines — and Gigondas, with its big, fruity, sun-roasted grenache dominating, is perhaps our favorite. It has just the right amount of acidity to bring up the duck fat notes in the gumbo and just enough syrah sassiness to complement the shrimp. The Easy Shrimp Gumbo recipe from The New Southern Cook appeared on the blog in August 2007. Ken, who lives in Stockton, California, admitted that he, too, was down on the California in-your-face style of winemaking before he moved there, but he brought us a bottle of Lodi Old Vine Seven Deadly Zins 2007 Zinfandel to try to win us over. At 14.5% alcohol, the wine calls for rich, spicy fare, so I’ll be making my classic, spicy Eastern North Carolina-style barbecue soon (for a recipe, see March 17, 2008, when I also wrote about the L. Aubry Champage mentioned above.)
I had yet to make Betsey the birthday dinner I had promised her, but I knew that she had had her heart set on my gumbo for ages and I also knew that she adores Concord grapes. When I found what surely must be the last of them, I bought them and made her a pie. The recipe follows.
Concord Grape Pie
This is just like the pies I make with the other American slip-skin grapes – Scuppernongs, Muscadines, and Catawbas – but the foxy flavor of Concords is hard to beat. (Though I prefer scuppernongs and muscadines for sorbets. See May 7, 2008.) I usually add the juice of a lemon and the zest of an orange to this pie made with intensely sweet Concords.
For the crust:
1 pound flour, about 4 cups, all-purpose flour
pinch of salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 pound chilled lard (or any combination of lard, shortening, and butter)
1/2 cup water, plus ice cubes
Sift the flour with the salt and the sugar into a large mixing bowl. Add a few ice cubes to the measured water and set aside. Cut the lard into the flour with a pastry blender, a large fork, or two knives, until the mixture is uniform and, as the old cookbooks say, it resembles small peas (though BBs are more like it). Do not touch the dough with your hands. Place a wet towel under the bowl so that it will not slide around on the counter. Working deftly, scoop up large spoonfuls of the mixture from the bottom of the bowl with a metal slotted spoon while sprinkling water into the mixture a little at a time. Work quickly as you “lift in” the water, stopping before all the water is in. You should stop the second you feel the dough will hold together without more water. Now grab the entire mass of dough up in your hands and push it all together into a ball. If the pie filling is ready, wrap the dough in some wax paper or plastic wrap and put it in the freezer for ten minutes; otherwise put the wrapped dough in the refrigerator to chill while you prepare the fruit.
For the filling:
6 cups of Concord Grapes, about 2 pounds
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon rice flour
grated zest of one orange plus the juice of one lemon (optional)
Pulp the grapes by squeezing them over a pot. Reserve the skins. Cook the pulp for about five minutes, just enough to loosen the seeds. Press the pulp through a colander to remove the seeds. Combine the pulp with the skins, the sugar, and the rice flour.
For the pie:
reserved pastry dough and filling
chilled butter, about 2 teaspoons (optional)
milk or half-and-half
Preheat the oven to 450º. Remove the pastry dough from the freezer or refrigerator and place on a large, lightly floured surface. Try not to touch it with your hands. Roll it out evenly to a thickness of 1/8″. Place a 9″ pie plate on top of the dough and, with a blunt knife, cut across the dough so that an area large enough to fill the pie plate is marked off as one large piece. Set the pie plate off to the side. Place the rolling pin on one edge of this large piece of dough, and gently roll it up off the surface and onto the pin. Lay the dough down in the pie plate, allowing it to roll off the pin, and always avoiding handling the dough. Press it lightly into place, allowing any excess dough to hang over the sides. Fill with the fruit. If you want a richer filling, cut the butter into tiny bits and distribute them evenly on the filling.
Cut the remaining dough into long strips and gently make a lattice top on the pie. Run a sharp knife blade at an angle around the rim of the pie plate, trimming excess dough off. Brush the top of the pie crust lightly with milk or half-and-half, then crimp the edge of the pie crust down with a large fork. Sprinkle the pie lightly all over with a little sugar and place in the middle of the preheated oven and bake for ten minutes, lower the heat to 350º and bake for another 20 or 30 minutes, or until the crust is nicely browned all over. You don’t want to let the crimped edge to get too dark, but you want to be sure to bake the pie well so that the crust will not be soggy. You can fashion a collar of aluminum foil to cover the rim as soon as it’s browned or you can buy a pie crust shield online at any number of sites. If you have clear glass pie plates, you can leave the pie in until the bottom has begun to brown. Don’t worry about the timing. All ovens and batches of flour bake differently. Bake the pie until it is a rich golden brown and it will be delicious. Allow the pie to cool to lukewarm before serving. Do NOT serve this pie with cream, or you will mask the distinctive grape flavor.
November 19, 2009 Ashok Bajaj does it again!
As most of you know, I am no longer a restaurant critic. I left that thankless job 25 years ago. And Mikel and I rarely eat out. But last night we were doing some shopping downtown and ate at Ashok Bajaj’s recently opened Italian Osteria/Enoteca (tavern/winebar) Bibiana. Mikel had already been wowed at lunch (the location is about a block from his office), and our friend Tom Sietsema, who is the Post’s restaurant critic, had rhapsodized about the spot’s auspicious opening back in September. What’s Bajaj (one of Washington’s best restaurateurs) doing opening an Italian restaurant?
Though known as an expert on southern foods, I’m foremost an Italian cook. If ever there were an artfulness in the kitchen, it’s in keeping food preparation simple and true to the ingredients. Italians, I think, do it best. Chef Nicholas Stefanelli has worked in some temples of haute cuisine — most recently in the highly-lauded but short-lived Maestro in McLean, Virginia. He’s really reined himself in at Bibiana and the subtleties are sublime.
When I called late yesterday afternoon and asked for a table that same evening at 6:30, I honestly never expected to get one, since the restaurant is already very popular. The gentleman — and let me stress gentleman here — who took my reservation could not have been nicer. When we showed up a half hour early, he introduced himself as Christian Pendleton, the General Manager, and joked with us a bit and made us feel immediately at home in the sleek, intimate space. A smiling young woman in a coat check area in the foyer had already noticed our shopping bags and offered to take them for us. It’s amazing how far a smile goes.
It’s no wonder they’re smiling. At our table, Pendleton told us that they already have weekends booked two months in advance. In any case, I doubt that their frowning would have mattered much, the food was so delicious. And — shock the house! — it was very reasonably priced. [An aside: we also dined at the even newer Againn (pronounced Ah GWEN, it's Gaelic for "Are you going?" or "Are you with us?") just last week, where the pub food and service were both good, but exorbitantly priced for what it was. One of the least expensive bottles of wine on the menu was a $51 Côtes du Rhône!]
At Bibiana, we ordered very simply. Mikel began with a beet salad and I ordered raw Fanny Bay oysters with a lemon sauce. Elegant and true to the ingredients in both cases. We both ordered the fresh, house-made squid ink pasta with lump crab meat, tossed lightly with the classic “Aglio, Olio, Pepperoncino” sauce of olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes. I could taste each element of the dish. The crab was in hunks. The pasta was lightly coated with oil, with just the perfect hint of both garlic and red pepper. Washed down with a slightly spritzy Arneis (if I recall, it was the Valdinera Roero 2007 for less than $40), one of my favorite white wines. Also known as Nebbiolo Blanco, Arneis in Piedmont dialect means “a difficult and demanding person” and it’s a tricky grape to grow. Bone dry, light, and fruity (pears or honeyed peaches), it also has hints of clay and its mineral-laden soil.
I highly recommend Bibiana. Tell Christian Hoppin’ John sent you. (I lifted the photo from their website. I hope it’s okay.)
November 18, 2009 A Fire and Thanksgiving
It’s been exactly a year ago today since a house on our one-block-long, one-way street burned, and I’m thrilled to see that there are workers there fixing it up. I got an email from Jimmy Carbone, who owns several restaurants in New York, including Jimmy’s No. 43, where he serves my grits, asking me about the “oil-less fryer” I mentioned on my Facebook page. It’s called The Big Easy by Char-Broil. I wrote about it this time last year. We’re going to my friend Richard’s on Thanksgiving this year, so I won’t be cooking. On this coming Satruday, however, I’m having Betsey Apple, R. W. “Johnny” Apple, Jr’s widow, and Nancy Harmon Jenkins, who will be in town speaking on Mediterranean foods at the Smithsonian, over for dinner. Nancy won’t want any Italian breads, olive oils, cured meats, or pasta, so I’ll look and see what the weather’s like and what’s available at the markets and serve her something distinctly southern. I’m sure oysters will be involved. Stay tuned!
November 17, 2009 Autumn’s Bounty
I’ve been really enjoying fall’s cornucopia – apples, winter squashes, greens, nuts, and chanterelles (which I found at Costco!). Last night I cubed some delicata squash with the mushrooms, salted and peppered them, tossed them with a bit of walnut oil, and baked them in a medium oven, covered, for about a half hour. I then uncovered them, raised the heat, and allowed the juices to reduce and the chanterelles to brown a bit. I then tossed them with meat-filled ravioli and a tab of butter.
I didn’t have salad greens, but when I opened the crisper drawer I found a cucumber, a small wedge of cabbage, and a handful of radishes. I cut them up and tossed them with salt and left them to drain in a colander, then, just before serving, wiped the vegetables of excess salt and water, and tossed them with yogurt and fresh dill. When an unexpected dinner guest arrived, I julienned a carrot and added it to the unusual salad, which my friend called “Bulgarian.” The meal certainly had an Eastern European feel to it. It was delicious.
For dessert, we nibbled on fruit jellies from Cacao in
November 12, 2009 A wonderful new wine shop
I visited the wonderful new Weygandt Wines in Cleveland Park yesterday and was blown away by their selections. You won’t find a single Bordeaux amongst the cases of mostly French wines that are stacked in the shiny new space that formerly housed a Blockbuster. Wine tastings are offered most from 4 to 8pm … and since my favorite restaurant, Palena, is next door and doesn’t take reservations for their casual café up front (where you can order off the fancy menu from the rear dining room), I can see me eating at Palena and shopping at Weygandt more often now. I’ll just walk into Palena, ask them to call me when my table’s ready, and head next door to peruse the great selections from Burgundy, Beaujolais, the Rhône, and points south. It’s as though I chose the wines myself, with little from the New World (I think I saw one bottle from Australia, but no American wines) and everything from small, artisanal producers (Austria, Germany, Italy, and Spain are represented as well).
Weygandt is the brainchild of the importer Peter Weygandt, the highly respected importer, and Todd Ross, as affable and unpretentious (in spite of his knowledge) a wine merchant as I have found anywhere — and I have been buying wines all over the world for 40 years. The staff is rounded out with Tim O’Rourke (a former Citronelle chef) and Matthew Stintz (who cooked at Terra in the heart of Napa Valley).
They sell stellar $300 bottles from Burgundy, but the store is also stocked with plenty of bottles in the $15 range. Most run $20 to $30.
Todd is thinking about writing a book about pairing food with wine. These guys know their stuff but their selling style is about listening to their customers. Go in, tell them what you usually drink, how much money you want to spend, and what you’re having for dinner. I have no doubt you will walk out of the store charmed, and, when you open the wines you’ve purchased, that you will be pleased. Tell them I sent you.
Welcome, Weygandt Wines!
I love to make soups and stews that slowly simmer as their flavors mingle and the house warms with their heady fragrances. I usually add oxtails to chili and other beefy concoctions to bolster both flavor and texture, but, as an experiment, I used duck legs this time. The duck’s flavor is perhaps obfuscated in this hearty – and otherwise classically prepared – stew, but the duck fat melds perfectly with the beef and vegetables and provides a roundness that isn’t as strong-tasting as that rendered from oxtails. You can cook this on top of the stove at a bare simmer or in an oven preheated to 300º. You want the stew to simmer slowly. You may have to lower the heat in the oven if you find that it’s cooking too quickly.
½ ounce dried porcini
2 cups dry red wine, such as Corbières
4 duck legs with lots of skin
salt and freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup flour
3 pounds cubed beef stew meat, preferably nicely marbled chuck
olive oil, duck fat, or bacon grease (optional)
½ cup vinegar (I used apple cider vinegar with the mother)
1 large onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
1 celery rib, chopped
2 cups tomato puree
bouquet garni (I used sage, parsley, thyme, and marjoram from my garden, tied around a
6 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
6 medium potatoes, cut into chunks
½ head cauliflower, cut into florets
Soak the porcini in the wine and set aside. Pat the duck legs dry and season them with salt and pepper. Over medium low heat in a large heavy pot (I use a big enameled cast iron pot made by Le Creuset) with a lid, place the duck legs and allow to cook until three tablespoons of fat have rendered out. Turn the legs occasionally and don’t allow them to stick or burn. When the bottom of the pan is coated well with fat, remove the duck and set aside on a platter. Turn up the heat to medium or medium high. Salt and pepper the beef. Place the flour in a large bowl and add about 5 pieces of the meat at a time to the bowl, tossing it around to coat it. Shake off the excess flour and add the meat to the pot, not crowding it. Work in batches, browing the meat well all over, and removing the pieces to the platter with the duck until the meat is all browned. If you don’t have enough fat from the duck legs to brown all the meat, you can add a little oil, duck fat, or bacon grease to the pan to finish browning the meat. There should be lots of crunchy brown bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. Add the vinegar and deglaze the pan, scraping up all those bits with a wooden spatula. Allow the vinegar to reduce until it is thick.
Add the onion, garlic, and celery all at once and stir well, coating the vegetables with the vinegar solution. Cook for about ten minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions begin to become translucent. Pour the mushroom soaking wine through a strainer and add the wine to the pot. Rinse the mushrooms under running water to remove any grit, squeeze them dry and add them to the pot. Add the tomato puree, the duck legs, the browned meat, and any meat drippings. There should be just enough liquid to cover the meats. Allow the stew to come to a simmer, covered, and let it cook slowly for about 3 hours, or until the meat is tender. Do not allow the stew to boil, or the meat will become tough. Carefully remove the duck legs and set aside. Remove the bouquet garni and discard. Add the carrots and potatoes to the pot. Check the seasoning and correct if necessary. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until the carrots and potatoes are tender but not quite cooked. In the meantime, slip the skin and bones from the duck meat and discard, then add the duck meat to the pot. Add the cauliflower and continue to cook until all the vegetables are soft but not mushy.
Serve hot in large bowls with crusty bread and a bottle of hearty, dry red wine, preferably the same one you used in the stew.
I got an email from Anne Ritchings in New Mexico today, saying that my condiment recipes had been winning ribbons at fairs there. Here’s her blog about my grits today.