Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers’s Roasted Sardines

from Italian Easy: Recipes from the London River Cafe, p. 138.

When I see something fresh and unusual at the market, I am confident that one of my cookbooks will tell me what to do with it. A few days ago, I saw fresh, whole sardines in the seafood case. In this case, I was certain I had a recipe in Rose Gray’s Easy Italian Cooking, which I have used only occasionally. The recipe is drop-dead simple. Eating the first without ingesting small bones turns out to be a touch trickier — but not so tricky that it would discourage me from making them again.

I have to confess that I broke the Law According to Michael Pollan (LAMP): I bought cherry tomatoes at Costco in January. Printed on the container was the claim that they had been grown in the United States. This year? Where in this country was it hot enough in the last month to grow cherry tomatoes? My conscience vibrated with alarm for a few seconds. However, despite my moral qualms, I bought them. I have to say, they weren’t horrible. That’s the best I can say. The sardines were tasty and distinctly sardine-y in flavor. The saltiness of the olives complemented the flavor of the sea. The lemon brightened the whole dish like a ray of sun. Removing the head and lift the spinal column of bones from between the facing fillets of flesh were simple.

So, when you see fresh sardines in your market…

24 sardines

18 oz cherry tomatoes

2 oz black olives

4 lemons

extra virgin olive oil

Shadowcook: About the ingredients, 24 sardines seems like a lot for even four people, but perfect for eight. I bought two for myself and it was plenty. Judge for yourself how many cherry tomatoes and olives you want.

Heat the oven to 400 F.

Pierce the tomatoes with a fork. Toss with olive oil, season and bake for 15 minutes.

Pit the olives and grate the peel of 2 lemons.

Use a baking dish large enough to hold the sardines in one layer, and drizzle with olive oil. Place the sardines in the dish, side by side, and season. Sprinkle over the lemon zest, olives, and tomatoes and drizzle with olive oil. Bake for 10 minutes. Serve with lemon.

Shadowcook: It really is that simple.

Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso: Seafood Salad with Creamy Tarragon-Mustard Dressing

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The Silver Palate, p. 223-24.

I know only two homecooks of my generation who learned how to cook from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking (MAFC) back in the 70s. Julia belonged to the women of my mother’s and aunt’s generations. I think I have known all my life practically how to recognize Child’s volumes on the shelf. It wasn’t until I was in my 30s, however, that I first started making recipes in MAFC, but I never went very deep until the last ten years. The Joy of Cooking was another cookbook that I remember always being in any household I lived in. Looking now at my shelves, I see my mother’s copy of volume one of MAFC right next to my old copy of the Silver Palate Cookbook.

The first cookbook that made an impression on me was not The Silver Palate, but Craig Claiborne’s collections of recipes. Claiborne deserves several posts of his own. Lukins and Rosso took my interest in cooking to higher level. They took practically everyone to another level. Who has not made their Chicken Marbella? That recipe is the culinary equivalent of the Beatles’ White Album. However well you thought you cooked or thought you liked the Beatles’ music, Chicken Marbella and the White Album impressed a standard of euphoria in our minds against which we unconsciously measured all that we made or heard afterwards.

So, when I heard last week that Lukins had passed away, I felt a slight of anxiety that I really must be getting old if one of the authors of the still joyful and therefore Peter-Pan-ish collections of recipes had passed away.  I decided to pull out my old copy and, it being hot, settled on a seafood salad.

Which, of course, I revised according to what I had in the fridge:

The salad

1 pound medium-size raw shrimp, shelled and deveined

1 pound fresh bay scallops, rinsed thoroughly

1/2 pound lobster meat (about 1 1/2 cups meat, the equivalent of a 3 1/4-to-4-pound lobster), or a similar amount of frozen lobster meat, defrosted overnight in the refrigerator

1 cup uncooked tiny peas, fresh or frozen

2 scallions (green onions), trimmed, cleaned and cut diagonally into 1/2-inch pieces

salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 cup Creamy Tarragon-Mustard Dressing (recipe follows)

2 cups coarsely shredded raw spinach leaves, thoroughly cleaned and dried

Shadowcook: I was not about to buy lobster meat, so I chose two kinds of seafood: a pound of shrimp and a pound of squid. Since the squid came cleaned, I simply sliced the sheathes into rings. Instead of spinach, I used lettuce as the bed for the seafood.

1. Bring 4 quarts salted water to a boil in a pot. Drop in the shrimp, wait 1 minute, and drop in the scallops. Just before the water returns to a full boil, pour the contents of the pot through a strainer set in the sink. Cool seafood to room temperature.

Shadowcook: Stick to the time called for. You can taste a world of difference between sufficiently cooked, tender shrimp and overcooked shrimp. Shrimp retains more of its flavor when just slightly undercooked and loses it when cooked too long.

2. Drain the lobster (if frozen) and sort through it carefully to remove any bits of shell. Reserve several large pieces of lobster meat (particularly claw meat) for garnish and cut the rest into chunks.

3. Reserve 3 or 4 shrimp and scallops for garnish and combine the rest with the lobster meat in a mixing bowl.

4. Add peas and scallions, season lightly with salt and pepper to taste, and pour in the tarragon-mustard dressing. Toss salad gently and add more dressing if you like.

Shadowcook: In my humble opinion, one cup of the dressing is a hell of a lot. The trick to dressing salad properly — which I admit sometimes I’m too impatient to follow every time — is toss the lettuce leaves well at each stage as you gradually add more and more dressing. Add a quarter cup of dressing to the salad and toss well to coat it thoroughly. Only then decide how much more to add. Don’t overdress the salad! Dress it gradually!

5. Arrange spinach in a border around a shallow serving bowl. Spoon the seafood salad into the center of the bowl and arrange the reserved seafood garnish on top.

6. Serve immediately, offering additional dressing on the side if you like.

6 portions as a first course, 4 portions as a main course.

Creamy Tarragon-Mustard Dressing

1 whole egg

2 egg yolks

1/3 cup prepared tarragon mustard, or Dijon-style mustard

1/4 cup tarragon vinegar

1 teaspoon crumbled dried tarragon

salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

1 cup best-quality olive oil

1 cup corn or other light vegetable oil

Shadowcook: I used fresh tarragon leaves, which I am sure works better than dried ones. Grey Poupon mustard works well if you don’t have the tarragon mustard. And instead of corn oil, I used canola oil for the first time ever. I’m still making up my mind if I like it.

1. In a blender, or in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a steel blade, combine whole egg, egg yolks, mustard, vinegar and tarragon. Season to taste with salt and pepper and process for 1 minute.

2. Measure out the oil and with the motor still running, dribble the oil into the processor or blender in a slow, steady stream. Shut off the motor, scrape down sides, taste, and correct seasoning.

3. Transfer to a storage container, cover, and refrigerate.

About 3 cups.

Shadowcook: Definitely chose a blender over the food processor. The  dressing swirling around in the blender jar  thickened so much that it seemed to stall. I had to stop the blender and stir the dressing around to make it move again.

Food Alone: Pasta with Sautéed Gulf Shrimp and Radicchio

dsc04365I wasn’t sure this would work. In fact, I’m never sure anything I cook will work, especially the food I make up on the spur of the moment. For this reason, I almost never make up dishes for guests. Call me chicken, but I’ve produced for friends enough dismal food on a whim to make me hesitant to impose the fruits of my creativity on anyone but me. You may recall the rout I experienced in Bordeaux.

Last night, I decided to experiment in the safety and privacy of my culinary sanctuary otherwise known as “at home.” It worked! Not only did it work, but I thought the result turned out far more interesting than I anticipated. I bought about a third of a pound of fresh wild Gulf shrimp and a small head of radicchio with the intention of only of making a salad to accompany whatever it was that I would do with the shrimp. Once in the kitchen, my early evening laziness became the midwife of a new pasta dish.

Here’s what I did:

Two cloves of garlic

Olive oil

2 tablespoons good sweet butter

one small head of radicchio or half a medium-sized one

1/3 pound fresh wild shrimp

1/4 cup dry white wine

4 oz pasta, preferably penne, fusilli, or another dried pasta that will become entagled around the wilted radicchio

salt and freshly ground pepper

I prepped all the ingrediants initially: minced the garlic, shelled and cut the shrimp in two, sliced the radicchio into thin ribbons, and put a pot of salted water on the stove.

After turning on the flame under the water, I put about 1 tablespoon of the butter and a good slug of olive oil in a skillet over medium-low heat. When the butter and olive oil were melted and hot, I add the garlic, which I sauteed for about 2 mins, taking care not to allow the garlic to become golden. Something told me that bitter garlic would kill this dish. Then I added the ribboned radicchio. Stirring to coat the ribbons in the butter and oil, I let it cook for a few minutes until it was well wilted.

I tossed in the shrimp, making sure that they were in contact with the surface of the skillet. Then I turned up the heat. Once they have change color, I poured in the white wine and reduced the heat again.

Leaving the shrimp to sauté in the wine and radicchio, I looked to the pasta. Dumped the pasta in when it came to a boil and waited until it was almost done. I scooped out a quarter cup of pasta water, in case the shrimp and radicchio were too dry, but in the end they weren’t. I drained the pasta.

As soon as the pasta was drained, I added the extra tablespoon of butter — maybe a little less — to the shimp and radicchio. Without shaking the pasta free of excess water, I dumped it all into the skillet. Stirred to coat.

The result smelled briny like the ocean, tasted sweet like butter, and the bitterness of the radicchio snuck up behind the first two. The combination was subtler than I expected, given how pronounced the aroma of the ocean was. A very nice combination of flavors. NO CHEESE.

Next time…

To maximize the flavor of the sea, I might fool around with tying up the shrimp shells in cheesecloth and boiling it with the pasta. It might be a good way to infuse the pasta with the flavor of the shrimp.