Food Alone


from Riverford Farm: Recipes for Everyday and Sunday, p.

A box of vegetables from Riverford Farm in Devon arrives every week at my home-away-from home in London. In the US, we would call RF a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) company, in other words, a service that delivers organic produce to the homes of subscribers. The smaller scale of the United Kingdom allows Riverford to scale its operations closer to a nationwide enterprise than CSAs can do in the States. At least, people in southwestern, northern and midlands England are within a Riverford Farm’s range (as far as I can tell, only Kent in England is out of luck). The box that arrives with seasonal produce also includes attractively-printed, hole-punched recipes that subscribers can compile over time. After I tried a number of them when I had a chance to cook for myself in London, I knew I wanted their collection of recipes when it came out. The recipes are not particularly fussy, on the homey side, and substantial.

Imagine my pleasure when a copy of the newly published book arrived as a birthday gift not long ago. I dove right into the contents. Numerous dishes jumped right into my line of sight: Cabbage, Bacon, and Potatoes; Sausage Stew with Celeriac and Kale; Roast Saffron Potatoes with Almonds and Bay; Lamb Cooked in Milk and Fennel; Spaghetti with Fresh Tomatoes and Almond Pesto.

One drawback to the book, which is common among cookbook writers who stress seasonal ingredients in their cooking is that Riverford Farm has organized their recipes according to month. Nigel Slater’s wonderful Kitchen Diaries is similarly organized. There is no question that I tend to look through cookbooks in line with the season, but more often the gardener in me wants to thumb a book according to what I have on hand to eat from my garden. After all, seasonal produce here in northern California doesn’t match seasonal produce elsewhere in the U.S. much less in the UK. It seems short-sighted to assume one climate among a cookbook’s readership. But that’s a small cavil.

This recipe for spiced cauliflower was the first recipe I made from the book. Lately, all I desire for dinner is one simple dish and a glass or two of wine. The spices in this recipe gave me an opportunity to use another birthday gift, a brilliantly designed spice grinder that has quickly become an essential tool in my kitchen. The flavor of freshly ground spices surpasses spices already ground when you buy them. I’d never seen a spice mill like this one before a friend gave it to me. It’s made by Kuhn Rikon and available at Sur La Table for about $20. I’ve used it for all sorts of spices. My cooking friends don’t know yet that this Rachet Mill, as it’s called, is in their future. I like supporting companies that offer competition to Williams-Sonoma. Sur La Table may have stores all over the west coast, but I understand it still struggle for survival.

If I had had the energy to make basmati rice to eat with the cauliflower, I would have done so.

Serves 4-6

Shadowcook: HA! Sorry, I can down an entire medium-sized cauliflower. You can, too, no doubt.

1 tablespoon sunflower oil

15g (1/2 oz) unsalted butter

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon ground cumin

Shadowcook: If you buy one of the rachet mills I provided a link to above, then use whole seeds and grind right into the butter in the pan.

Pinch of turmeric

1 teaspoon brown mustard seeds

1 onion, thinly sliced

1 garlic clove, crushed

2cm (1/2 sq inch) piece fresh ginger, finely chopped

1 cauliflower, cut into florets

1 teaspoon caster (superfine, baker’s) sugar

sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon chopped coriander (cilantro) leaves

Heat the oil and butter in a pan large enough to hold the cauliflower in one layer. Add the spices, onion, garlic, and ginger to the pan. When the mustard seeds start to pop quickly add the cauliflower, stirring vigorously. Add the sugar, season well, cover and reduce the heat. Leave for 10 minutes on a gentle simmer. Cover, and check the cauliflower is tender. Stir again, cover, and remove from the heat and leave to finish cooking for 10 minutes in its own steam.

Shadowcook: Don’t overdo the sugar. And you’ll be surprised at the liquid generated by the ingredients. Just watch to make sure the spices don’t burn.

Here’s another pasta and potato dish that suits the summer. No claims to originality here. This combination of ingredients can be found, I’m sure, in many other recipes. But, then again, how many combinations of basic refrigerator staples can there be? I open the door of the fridge, see a cauliflower that demands to be consumed before it grows mold, some pancetta or guanciale in the same condition, and a few fingerling pototoes in the straw larder. My options are limited, but fortunately I love the effect of combining these elements.

1. Preheat oven to 400.

2. Cut either a small whole cauliflower or half a medium-sized one into florets. Then halve or quarter them. Put the cauliflower pieces in a bowl. Pour in a slug of olive oil and stir to coat the pieces. Add salt and pepper. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spread the cauliflower around the baking sheet. Don’t crowd the pieces. Put in oven and roast for 15-20 minutes, or until the edges of the cauliflower turn brown and caramelized.

2. Put on a pot of well-salted water to boil. Measure 3 1/2 oz of orecchiette pasta and set aside.

3. Meanwhile, mince a big clove of garlic. Dice 1 or 2 oz pancetta, a strip of bacon, or guanciale. Cut into small cubes about 4 fingerling potatoes. Scrap the kernels off one ear of corn and set aside.

4. Sauté the garlic in a bit of oil in a medium sized skillet. Add the pancetta or bacon and stir so that the garlic doesn’t turn golden. After a few minutes, add the potato cubes and corn and continue sauteing.

5. When the cauliflower is done, scrap the pieces off the foil into the skillet.

6. Add 3 1/2 oz. orecchiette to the boiling water and cook for the recommended time minus 2 minutes. Scoop out the pasta with a slotted spoon or spider and dump the wet pasta right into the skillet. Turn up the flame. Add a touch of pasta water (not too much) — just to provide moisture to keep the pasta cooking. Attend closely, let the water evaporate, season as necessary.

7. Meanwhile, chop the parsley and cut 1 oz parmesan cheese to have it ready to grate at the end.

8. When the pasta has reached the degree of firmness you like and the water has almost entirely evaporated, tip the contents of the skillet into a pasta bowl, scatter parsley over it, and grate the cheese.

9. Eat.

10. Savor.

Sometimes I’m too tired to cook. But I do it anyway. On the rare occasion when I succumb to lethargy, I feel it’s a defeat. Why should living alone entail a less full life? Why shouldn’t I expect of myself a dinner at table? A life eating on the couch watching TV is a half-life and like all carbon-based things I feel my life seeping out of me when I do it. Reading and listening to music at the table is an ongoing commitment to making my single life as rich as I can. When I feel too tired to prepare a meal, I lower my expectations, but I don’t abandon them. Half the effort an ordinary weekday meal requires comes in figuring out what I want to eat.

So, here is a simple idea. I am enjoying adding diced potatoes the dishes I have always thought would be weighed down by additional starch. A little potato adds umami, another dimension to a dish. This one is a no-brainer.

First…

Dice half a chorizo link and four fingerling potatoes.  Scrape the kernels off one ear of corn. Pour 2 teaspoons of olive oil or lard in a small skillet over a medium-low flame. Add a minced garlic clove or two and a minced shallot. Let them soften in the fat. Then add the chorizo. Spread the chorizo out so that the pieces are not crowded. Leave them be for two or three minutes. Stir and let them be for another couple of minutes. Add the potatoes, stir, and let them brown with the chorizo. Add the corn, mix it all together. Season with salt and pepper. Put in a bowl and have with a small salad.

from Beyond the Great Wall: Recipes and Travels in the Other China, p. 67.

My resolve to go meatless during the week crashed into this recipe like tank into a brick wall. Oh, this recipe hit the spot. The crunch of the lettuce, the sweet and sour of the black vinegar-soy sauce, and the zing of the garlic-ginger-sesame oil notes combined beautifully. It’s a great recipe to throw together at the last moment for yourself. All you have to do is figure out your preferred ratio of lettuce to meat sauce. I urge you to consider 1/4 pound of the ground meat (half the amount that Alford and Duguid call for) with a bowlful of lettuce and the full proportion of sauce ingredients. You’ll find your own balance.

This book just gets better and better.

Here is the complete unadjusted recipe with my suggested adjustments…

Serves 4

About 4 packed cups coarsely torn romaine lettuce

Shadowcook: I used a combination of lettuces. As the authors note, “If you use romaine lettuce, the salad will have good crunch as well as some wilted softer leaves when you first serve it. We love the contrast. If you prefer a softer texture, either let the salad stand for 5 minutes before serving it, to give the greens more time to soften in the warm dressing, or use leaf lettuced instead of romaine.” Or, like I said, use a combination and get it to the table while it’s still very warm.

1 tablespoon minced ginger

1 tablespoon minced garlic

1/2 pound (1 packed cup) ground beef

Shadowcook: I used 1/3 pound ground pork. Next time I’ll use a little less. And I’ll have to try it with beef, but I have a feeling I’m going to prefer the pork.

1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste

1 tablespoon soy sauce, or to taste

1 tablespoon Jinjiang (black rice) vinegar, or to taste

Shadowcook: You can find this at any Asian market.

1/2 cup warm water

2 teaspoons cornstarch

1 tablespoon cold water

1/2 teaspoon roasted sesame oil

 

Place the lettuce in a wide salad bowl or serving dish and set aside.

Place a wok or heavy skillet over medium-high heat. When it is hot, add the oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pan. Toss in the garlic and stir-fry for 10 seconds, then add the ginger. Stir-fry over medium-high to medium heat until slightly softened and starting to turn color. Add the meat and use your spatula to break it up so there are no lumps at all, then add the salt and stir-fry until most of the meat has changed color. Add the soy sauce and vinegar and stir to blend. Add the warm water and stir.

(The dressing can be prepared ahead to this point and set aside for up to 20 minutes. When you are ready to proceed, bring to a boil.)

While the dressing mixture is coming to a boil, place the cornstarch in a small cup or bowl and stir in the cold water to make a smooth paste. Once the liquid is bubbling in the pan, give the cornstarch mixture a final stir, add to the pan, and stir for about 1 minutes: the liquid will thicken and become smoother. Taste for salt, and add a little salt or soy sauce if you wish. Add the sesame oil and stir once, then pour onto the lettuce. Immediately toss the salad to expose all the greens to the hot dressing. Serve immediately.

 

from The Zuni Café Cookbook, pp. 324-26.

I needed some comfort food this past weekend. That meant there was only one place to look. I swore I would not post another Zuni Café Cookbook, but the book is so deep that it’s difficult to judge where fair use ends. I decided I hadn’t reached it yet. And let me once again urge you to buy this book!

It would never have occurred to me to cook salmon with red wine and beans. I’m so glad the idea came to Rodgers. Now that I’ve made it, I’ve been trying to articulate to myself why it worked so well. It must have something to do with the so-called oiliness of the fish. Its richness sunk into the beans and drank up the wine.

I made one portion for myself, so if you’re cooking for two, just double the portion.

Here’s my synthesis of her recipes for the salmon and the beans…

1 cup dried flageolet beans

1/2 carrot, diced (save the other half for below)

1/2 small yellow onion (save the other half for below)

1 tablespoond duck fat

Kosher salt

1/3 lb salmon fillet, preferably Pacific or Alaskan, at least an inch thick.

Salt

1 cup medium-bodied red wine, such as a Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, or a light Merlot

1/2 cup chicken stock

1 thick strip of bacon, preferably unsmoked, cut into 1/4-inch strip

About 2 tablespoons of unsalted butter

1/2 carrot, diced

1 rib celery, diced

1/2 small yellow onion, diced

a few sprigs of fresh thyme

1/2 bay leaf

Seasoning the salmon (for the best flavor, do this several hours in advance): Season the salmon evenly with salt. Cover loosely and refrigerate.

Shadowcook: Rodgers is a proponent of salting all meat, including fish, several hours, sometimes days, in advance of cooking. She urges home cooks to get into the habit of doing this, which means knowing what you’re going to eat well in advance, and promises that the meat will taste better and become more tender. I think she’s right.

First, my interpretation of Rodgers’ recommended method of cooking the beans: Put the cup of dried beans in a pot. Cover with water by about an inch. Bring to a simmer. After skimming the scum off the surface of the water, add the carrot, onion and bay leaf. Partially cover the pot and let simmer until the beans are tender. That could take about an hour, perhaps longer, depending on how old the beans are. Cook them until they still have a bit of bite to them. You don’t want them falling apart, because they have a few minutes of intense cooking under the broiler later in the recipe.

When the beans have reached that point, add salt. As Rodgers points out, it takes a while for the beans to absorb the salt, so judge by tasting the cooking liquid. Then add the tablespoon of duck fat to the beans.

Shadowcook: By now, I hope everyone who reads this blog has acquired the habit of keeping duck fat in the fridge at all times. It just makes life a little bit richer. They also now say duck fat is good for you, but who cares?

Update: Here’s the article about duck fat that reinforced my commitment to have it always on hand.

Remove a cup of beans from the pot. The cooking liquid that comes with the beans is fine. Set aside.

Preheat the broiler. Position the rack about 6 inches from the element.

Place the wine in a small saucepan and reduce to about 1/3-1/4 cup. Add the chicken stock and return to a simmer. Turn off the heat.

Place the bacon in a small ovenproof skillet and lightly brown it in its own fat over medium heat. Reduce the heat slightly and pour off all but a film of the fat. Add about 1/2 tablespoon of butter, the other half of the chopped carrot, the celery, and the other half of the chopped onion, and the sprig of thyme. Cook, stirring, until the vegetables are tender, about 6 minutes.

Add the flageolets, the reduced red wine-stock mixture, the half bay leaf, another sprig of thyme, and more butter. Raise the heat to mediumm and swirl as the liquid comes to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low, add the salmon, and swirl and tilt the pan to baste the top of the fish. Make sure no beans, bacon, or bits of vegetables are perched on top of the fish, where they could burn.

Place the pan under the broiler. Cook for about 6 to 7 minutes; the salmon should be quite rare and the whole surface of the dish should be sizzling and beginning to color. Watch closely; if the fish or beans threaten to char at any point, reduce the oven temperature to 500.

Shadowcook: I thought 6 minutes was plenty. It depends on the thickness of the fillet. My fish came out medium-rare, which was fine.

While the fish is cooking, set a plate in the oven for a minute to heat.

Transfer the pan to the stovetop. Using a spatula and tongs, transfer the salmon to the plate, where it should reach medium-rare as you finish the sauce. Protect from drafts.

Set the pan over medium heat and bring to a simmer. Taste. If the liquid looks or tastes thin, simmer briefly to reduce and allow the starch from the beans to bind the sauce. If it seems winy, add a splash of the reserved bean cooking liquid. Correct the salt, Swirl in more butter.

Spoon the saucy beans over the waiting fish.

Shadowcook: And prepare to gobble it up!

Partially inspired by an old Saveur recipe.

Patricia Wells’s recipe for Penne ‘Risotto’ taught me how to make a rich pasta sauce with little effort by treating the dried pasta like arborio rice. It’s a trick well worth adding to your bag of techniques. Last night, I surveyed the contents of my fridge: half a duck-and-cherry sausage, some homemade chicken broth, and carrots. I put them all together as if I were making risotto.

Et voilà…

around 2 cups chicken broth (you may have some left over)

a little bit of olive oil or a teaspoon or two of duck fat

2 1/2 – 3 oz duck sausage (failing that, use Italian sausage), casing removed

1/2 small onion, diced

1 carrot, diced

3 1/2 oz gemelli pasta

kosher salt

Parmesano reggiano, grated

Warm a pasta bowl in the oven while you prepare the pasta. Bring the chicken broth to a simmer in a saucepan.

Put the oil or fat in a small or medium heavy-bottomed saucepan, one in which you might make a small amount of risotto. When the oil is hot, break up the sausage as you put the pieces in the fat. Sauté until it starts to brown. Add the onion and stirring to prevent sticking to the bottom. If you see there is more than a tablespoon or so fat, pour off excess fat and return to the burner. Add the uncooked pasta and the diced carrots, stirring to coat them in the fat. Sauté until the color of the pasta has deepened as if it has been toasted, 3-4 minutes over a medium-low flame.

When the pasta has thoroughly absorbed the fat, pour in a half cup of the broth, reduce the heat to a simmer, and stir occasionally until the liquid has mostly evaoporated. Think of each additional half cup of broth as adding a layer of flavor. Wwait until each  layer has been absorbed into the pasta before adding more broth. You will probably add 1 1/2 to 2 cups of broth, depending on how quickly the broth evaporates. It will take a bit longer for the pasta to soften than it would if you were boiling it furiously in water. Cook until the sauce is reduced to the consistency you prefer.

When the pasta is nearly ready — firm to the bite, without crunch — add salt and pepper. If you need more moisture, add broth very sparingly. Take your warmed pasta bowl out of the oven and tip the pasta into it. Grate the parmesan and go eat.

Next time:

  • I’ll try it with Italian sausage.
  • I’ll pour in some white wine when I’ve added the pasta and carrots, although it’s liable to slow down the cooking process, but that’s ok. The additional flavor would be worth it.
  • And chopped parsley.

I made this one up myself…

My food co-op now sells hunks of lamb sirloin in less than 1/2 pound servings. Ever since I discovered the delectable joys of overcooked lamb braised in white wine — that’s what it amounts to, frankly — I grab any chance I get to cook lamb in portions that are affordable and sensible for me.

Let me be clear. I adore lamb grilled only so long enough that it takes the intensity off its rare fuschia coloring. The flavor of lamb is really at its best minimally cooked with a minimum of herbs. But the French know what they are doing when they braise a leg of lamb FOREVER in white wine, carrots and leeks. The combination of lamb and white wine is one of the most neglected forms of alchemy I can think of. Lamb braised until the connective tissues dissolve is heaven.

But can one attain heaven on one’s own? That is my perennial dilemma. The availability of chunks of lamb leg means that I can accomplish on a small scale what I’ve only ever achieved with a whole leg.

6-8 oz lamb sirloin

olive oil

Ras el-hanout (spice mixture)

one carrot, diced

one leek, cut in half lengthwise and then sliced crosswise

half a bottle of decent white wine (not a heavy malolactic chardonnay)

one bunch of collard greens, stem removed, chopped

Kosher salt

Preheat oven to 325. Pour a slug of oil into a heavy bottomed pan that is ovenproof and heat over mediu-high heat. Sprinkle 1-2 tsps of the spice mixture, ras el-hanout, and salt over the meat on both side. When the oil is hot, sear the meat in the oil, about 3 mins per side. Remove to a plate. Add the carrots and leeks to the oil in the pot. If needed, add more olive oil. Sauté the vegetables until soft, about 5 to 8 mins. Place the seared lamb on top of the carrots and leeks. Pour in about half a bottle of white wine. The liquid should come about a third to  halfway up the side of the meat. When the wine comes to a boil, cover with aluminum foil and the place the pot in the preheated oven. Set the timer for 45 mins.

Meanwhile, prepare the collard greens. Chop the de-stemmed greens. Put a pot of heavily salted water on to boil. Drop the chopped greens into boiling water and blanch for 5 mins. Drain, put the greens in a single serving dish and place it in the oven until the lamb is done.

Check the liquid in the lamb pot after 45 mins. If the wine is mostly evaporated, add more. When an hour has nearly passed, check the lamb again. The meat should be at the point of falling apart. Remove the pot from the oven, place the meat on a cutting board. Slice or shred with fork. Taste the sauce with vegetables in the pot and adjust the seasoning. Place the lamb on the collard greens and pour the sauce with vegetables over the lamb. Don’t burn yourself as you carry the plate to the table and eat.

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