Seafood, Soup

Life’s a bisque.

Back in the mid-1980s, I waited tables on and off for several years at the Woolworth’s Coffee Shop in the Brookfield Square Mall. In case you ever hoped for a glimpse into my own special brand of psychopathy, here’s one. I loved waiting tables. The tips were awful, owing to a combination of Wisconsin cheapskate-ness and the fact that the food was inexpensive in the first place. I had to work with this guy named Ernie who was studying accounting at UW-Milwaukee and responded to anything I said by telling me “I don’t play penny-ante,” which meant nothing to me at the time and still doesn’t. The busboys and dishwashers were constantly locking me in the walk-in and harassing me by following me around with frozen hot dogs in their pants until I noticed. I had to make all my own desserts, and invariably a family with six kids would demand milkshakes and banana splits during the busiest part of the Saturday lunch rush. But even so, I cultivated a long-term plan to continue waiting tables, possibly even at the Woolworth’s. I’ll finish med school, I’d tell myself, and then when I’m a surgeon or whatever, I’ll cut back on waiting tables to just weekends. You know, just for fun. Sometimes it’s good to let go of your adolescent dreams.

Waiting tables wasn’t simply a matter of taking orders and bringing them to table. In between, we were constantly busy – filling the ice bins, replacing the syrup concentrate in the soda fountains, cleaning everything, making the hated ice cream desserts, dishing out soup. The soup came from the prep kitchen in deep pots, to be inserted into a steam table and ladled out to order. When fresh, the cream soups were pleasantly creamy and studded with bits of broccoli and the like. As they sat steaming for hours, though, they took on the viscous quality of unadulterated Campbell’s condensed cream of mushroom. I liked to favor my customers by telling them when the soup was fresh, and when to avoid it (I know, pretentious). When I learned to cook during law school, I realized why the soup changed so much during its time in the steam table. The Woolworth’s cream soups, like many such soups, are based on a blond roux thickened with stock and milk. As it sits, the flour in the roux continues to gelatinize, and as the liquid in the soup evaporates, the mixture eventually becomes somewhat gloppy. Boiling, or the addition of more liquid, would have thinned it out again, but back then I didn’t understand much about starch properties.

When I make cream soups now, I generally avoid using roux for textural reasons. In addition to the dreaded gloppiness, roux can leave behind a floury taste and sensation. It’s also highly caloric, being equal parts flour and butter. If you crave that sort of thick quality, vegetable soups made with pectin- or cellulose-rich foods, such as carrots and onion, tomatoes and squash, all will be naturally thick when blended, and any added cream is purely for fat and flavor. Seafood soups, like chowders and bisques, are lighter and enjoyable without the thickness of roux, which obscures the brininess of the shellfish.

Shrimp bisque

The multiple sous vide preps seem like a pain but they make for a seriously intense shrimp fumet, and I really prefer the flavor and texture of the shrimp cooked at the lower temperature. The bisque will not be thick/gloppy like a typical roux-thickened “bisque.”

1 1/2 lbs whole shrimp (heads on would be best but shell is fine), shelled and cleaned
one large onion, about 10 oz, peeled and sliced pole to pole
1 large banana shallot, peeled and sliced pole to pole
1 large or two small stalks celery, peeled and sliced
3 c fish fumet
2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tbsp brandy (I used Torres Jaime I from Spain but cognac also will do nicely)
1/3 c dry white wine
2 fresh bay leaves
several branches thyme
4-6 stems parsley w/leaves
celery salt
piment d’espelette
1 c heavy cream
4 tbsp butter
garniture: pickled ramps, chive, celery leaves, parsley leaves

Season the shrimp lightly with celery salt and seal in a vacuum bag with a sprig of thyme, a bay leaf, and about 2 tbsp butter, divided. Keep cold until about 10 mins before service. [note: you probably won’t use all the shrimp for the bisque; feel free to use it for something else like shrimp & grits, etc].

Seal the remaining butter with the celery and onions, and a little celery salt. Seal the shells with the fumet, parsley, the remaining bay leaf and thyme. Set an immersion circulator to 183F; drop in the two bags. Pull the veg after 40 mins and the shells/fumet after 1 hour. Strain the shells/fumet through a chinois lined in a double thickness of cheesecloth; pressing hard on the shells. Turn off the circulator and add some cold water.

[If you don’t want to cook SV, place a skillet over medium low heat and, when hot, add the butter. Once melted but not browned, sweat the vegetables in the butter. Do not brown. Set aside. In another pot, combine the shells and fumet; cover and bring to a simmer for about 45 mins. Blend the shells and fumet and pass through a chinois lined in a double thickness of cheesecloth. Restrain if necessary.]

Bring the tomato paste and cognac to a simmer and reduce by 2/3. Add the white wine and reduce by half. Return the sweated vegetables to that pan and add the strained shrimp fumet. Blend using an immersion blender or transfer to a vitaprep. Return to the pan and reduce until you are pleased with the intensity of the shrimp taste (I reduced by about 15%). Add the cream and bring back to a simmer. Season to taste with salt/celery salt, and espelette.

Set the immersion circulator to 140F. Drop the shrimp and cook for about 8-10 mins depending on size; the shrimp need only be cooked through. [If you don’t want to cook the shrimp SV you can oil poach instead; try to keep it to around 140F.]

Serve the shrimp and bisque together garnished with pickled ramp (optional), chive, parsley, celery leaf.

Shrimp, pickled ramps, chives.

With shrimp bisque.

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Pork Products, Potatoes, Random Thoughts, Seafood, Soup

Land and sea.

When I was a kid, we ate most family meals at home. My mom worked – like most women today – and, every day upon coming home from the local junior high, she’d pull ingredients from the refrigerator and pantry and start making dinner Some nights, we’d have American classics like roast chicken, beef stew, or spaghetti with meat sauce. Other nights, we’d have favorite Taiwanese dishes like soy braised pork with boiled eggs, or steamed fish with black bean sauce. And once in a while, we went out.

There weren’t a lot of dining options in the western suburbs of Milwaukee in the 70s and 80s, short of pizza, burgers, and family-style restaurants. My favorite place was Marty’s Pizza, which turned out enormous pizzas in rectangular pans, cut into squares. I ate it with friends at birthday parties and after high school football games, and there was something about the shallow-crusted pie, with its sweetish sauce and nuggets of Italian sausage, overlaid with bubbling, browned mozzarella, that was irresistible. Part of the lure of Marty’s was the fact that my parents would never take us there, for reasons they never explained – a family feud, perhaps, or a grudge against Marty? If my family went out for pizza, it would be to Shakey’s – where buffet stations entreated us to “Take all you want, but please eat all you take.” Shakey’s – which no longer survives in Milwaukee but as I understand it can still be found in parts of the South and West, and inexplicably the Philippines – seemed exotic in its own way, as round pans bearing thin, crisp-crusted pies would empty and reappear on the buffet stand, alongside fried chicken and battered Mojo potato rounds. Shakey’s had a sort of Olde English theme going, corrupted by pizza-parlor checked tablecloths and player pianos, and from time to time you would notice a wooden sign on the wall, reading “Ye Olde Notice,” that would inform the customer of its check acceptance policy or the superior quality of the pizza.

Once in a while, my parents’ appetites for lobster and crab took us to Red Lobster. While they cracked open lobster claws to dip in drawn butter with lemon, I invariably dined on the clam chowder. I was a picky kid, and my parents – rather than wasting the $15.99 on a frighteningly large pile of snow crab legs I’d probably just push around the plate – went with the safe bet. Having eaten many a can of Campbell’s New England Clam Chowder, I could be counted on to enjoy a cup of Red Lobster’s chowder and a baked potato, heavy on the sour cream and butter. At some point in the meal, I usually proclaimed the chowder to be “excellent” and called for a second cup, to be eaten with as many cellophane packets of oyster crackers as I could charm off the waiter.

Red Lobster’s chowder was of the roux-thickened variety, practically as thick as béchamel and with a tendency to congeal once it cooled. In fact, I think I used to amuse myself by standing the spoon up in the chowder and counting the seconds before it would fall to the side. And to be honest, I’m not totally sure it contained fresh clams (which in retrospect would be really strange for a seafood restaurant, but it’s Red Lobster, and it was long time ago). I was six years old, though, and it obviously didn’t matter to me. I went crazy for the diced potatoes, the cream, and the little green bits of parsley sprinkled over the top.

Chowders of all kinds – clam, lobster, corn, chicken – are still a favorite, although I let the potato do the thickening these days, and I always add some kind of cured pork product, like bacon or pancetta. As you know, I’m a big fan of the ibérico de bellota pork products from Iberico USA, and I recently got my hands on some panceta, smoked bacon from the belly.

Panceta de ibérico de bellota.

My husband persuaded me to fry up a few slices – “to sample the product in its pure form,” he reasoned. I’ve cured my own ibérico bacon, but this panceta, having been smoked as well as cured, tasted like a superhero version of regular bacon. More crispy fat, more sweet/smoky meat. Of course, as we ate nearly half the package, only a few slices remained. I decided to incorporate them into clam chowder. Unfortunately, the market was nearly out of clams – the dozen manila clams they could offer weren’t enough for chowder – so we went to Plan B. Oyster stew. We’re still in the cold-water months (the so-called “R” months), and the oysters are plump and sweet.

Why seafood and pork products? They’re a classic combination, an age-old way for coastal communities to stretch scarce meat products with plentiful ocean resources. Most fish and nearly all shellfish are low in fat, and the richness of pork not only adds flavor, but provides additional fat to enhance the flavors of the seafood. Think of shrimp and grits, chowder (of course), the many Chinese and Vietnamese dishes that combine seafood and pork, and the Portuguese classic porco à alentejana. Of course, with the passage of time and increasing affluence, the land/sea combination came to epitomize a certain type of rapacious consumption, far from its origins. The surf and turf available at most steakhouses is an exercise in excessive “luxury,” a parody of fine dining; the carpetbagger steak, a favorite of notorious glutton Diamond Jim Brady, is so over the top it terrifies even my husband. There’s no need to make a mockery of the concept, after all.

Oyster stew

It’s worth the effort to use live oysters in the shell, rather than pre-shucked oysters in liquor. Roasting whole oysters in a blazing hot oven will impart a little bit of a smoky taste to the shellfish, and the roasted whole oysters yield far more liquor as well. Besides, once roasted, the oyster is easy to shuck; in fact, you’ll know it’s ready to go when the top shell pops open. Be sure to strain through the finest mesh possible to remove any grit.

The panceta from Iberico USA is luxurious, fatty, and delicious, and as things go, it isn’t crazily expensive. The fat is especially nice for cooking the leeks and celery. You can use any good quality bacon, though; just be sure to buy a thick cut, and reserve the fat for cooking. You want that smoky taste throughout the stew.

about three dozen oysters, scrubbed under cold water and kept on ice
6 fresh or 2 dried bay leaves
about 12 sprigs thyme
1 c dry white wine, like Champagne
2 leeks, white and light green parts only, washed well
2 ribs celery, strings peeled
1/4 lb bacon, preferably of ibérico de bellota
1 c heavy cream
pepper to taste
3 additional sprigs fresh thyme, about 6 chives, and 1/4 c flat leaf parsley

Oven 500F/260C.

Split the leeks in half lengthwise and slice thinly (less than 1/8″). Slice the celery ribs thinly crosswise about 1/8″. Set aside separately.

Arrange the cleaned oysters in a single layer over the bay leaves and thyme in one or more large, heavy pans (like sauté pans or a heavy roasting pan). Divide the wine equally among the pans. Place the pans in the hot oven and roast just until the oyster shells open. Remove immediately from the oven and, with tongs, move the oysters to a plate to cool, pouring the oyster liquor into the roasting pan as you go.

Ready to roast.

Roasted, with bonus oyster crab

Pour the remaining oyster liquor through a fine filter (such as a mesh tea strainer or a chinois). Repeat, lining the chinois/strainer with a triple thickness of butter muslin or cheesecloth. When the oyster shells are just cool enough to handle, pop the top shell open with an oyster knife and cut the oyster free. Keep the oysters in the liquor. If you find oyster crabs (pictured above), eat them!

Dice the bacon about 1/4″. Place a large, heavy saucier over medium heat and, when hot, add the diced bacon to the pan. Saute until crisp and deep golden brown; remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Pour off all but about 1 1/2 tbsp bacon fat (reserving the rest for a future use). Add the leeks and reduce the heat; sweat until tender. Add the celery and cook about 2 minutes more. Remove from the pan.

Mmm, ibérico bacon.

Strain the oyster liquor once more through the chinois into the pan. Bring to a simmer and reduce to 2 c. Return the vegetables to the pan, then the cream. Bring back to the simmer ad add the oysters. Heat through.

Garnish with the diced fried bacon and the minced fresh herbs.

Oyster stew, panceta.

Special thanks to the people at Wagshal’s/Iberico USA for providing the panceta for this dish.

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Pork Products, Quick Meals, Random Thoughts, Seafood, Spain

Uncanny.

I’ll stipulate that, when I travel, I like to buy stuff and bring it home. Some people like T-shirts and liquor; a long-ago secretary collected little souvenir spoons; an attorney on my staff favors novelty socks. When I was younger, I used to memorialize my trips abroad with the typical duty free booty – Hermès eau de cologne: check. Two liters of whisky: check. Giant bar of Toblerone: check. Boring!

Eventually, I realized I was failing to capitalize on foreign markets running out my exemption with discount Glenmorangie and enlarged chocolate bars, and, on a 1995 trip to Madrid and Córdoba, changed things up with a visit to the supermarket in the basement of El Corte Inglés. For those of you who don’t know, I am a great big supermarket junkie. When I travel, I insist on visiting the supermarket. Not that I don’t love the kind of market that’s been taking place once a week in the town square under a bunch of big stripey tents since the seventeenth century, but I’m actually more interested in finding out how people really shop in other countries. Years ago, before my husband and I were married, I dragged him into a Carrefour near Pointe-à-Pitre, Guadeloupe, on our way to catch the local bus to the beach. After an hour inside surveying the goods during peak tanning hours, Nat was justly annoyed. Now, of course, he takes it as a matter of course that a trip abroad means doing time in one or more local supermarkets, preferably with a backpack. See? Marriage is all about flexibility.

Anyway, on returning to Minneapolis, I learned that my luggage had been lost. A day passed, and then a week, at which point I gave up on recovering the sacks of Marcona almonds, maíz gigante, Bomba rice, and packets of squid ink, not to mention certain favored articles of clothing and a list, made poolside and fueled by leisure and cocktails, ranking the best 50 episodes of the Simpsons in order of various criteria. In early June, more than three weeks after my return and by the time my Spanish tan had started to fade, my office phone rang. Northwest had located my bag. Would I prefer to receive it at home or at my office? When it arrived two hours later, the black wheel-aboard showed no signs of its exciting detour to Antananarivo (!), where I imagined it sitting at the end of an outdoor jetway for weeks, warmed by the Madagascar sun, lonely and stuffed with unclaimed Spanish bounty. And when I opened the bag, everything was intact.

On our most recent visit to Spain, last September – just one night in Barcelona transiting between Languedoc and London – we made a quick visit to the supermercado and filled up a backpack with treats like big cans of pimentón, olive oils, tinned pulpo (octopus), berberechos (cockles), navajas (razor clams) and chipirones (baby squid), various Spanish beans. Recently, after a quest for fresh octopus ended in failure, I remembered the tinned product in the pantry. Mostly I eat the tinned souvenirs as a snack in my office, but here was a good time to find out: could cooking make these canned products more, uh, uncanny?

Barcelona shopping haul.

The answer is yes. The pulpo became part of a play on the classic pork and shellfish combination, with house-made chorizo meatballs and sweet pickled green tomato. The chipirones joined other Spanish imports from the trip – Calasparra rice and squid ink – as well as an egg-cooking technique I picked up at the outstanding Hisop a few years ago.

Pulpo.

Octopus, chorizo, sweet tomato pickle

Obviously, if you can find fresh octopus, use that instead. I couldn’t in Baltimore, which surprised me, but I guess it shouldn’t have. Yesterday, I came upon fresh baby octopus at the Whole Foods on P Street in DC, but, you know, too little too late.

Unlike the true Spanish chorizo, a cured sausage that undergoes lactic acid fermentation, this sausage will be made and eaten fresh. To simulate the tang of the fermentation, this chorizo includes a small amount of sherry vinegar. The recipe makes about twice what you will need; freeze the rest, tightly sealed, or use it to stuff casings.

Chorizo:

1 lb fatty pork shoulder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp pimentón de la vera agriculce
1 tsp pimentón de la vera picante
1/2 tsp piment d’espelette
3 cloves garlic
6 cloves garlic confit
1 1/2 tbsp sherry vinegar

Dice the meat about 3/4″.

Combine the salt and all the seasonings. Toss the meat, diced onion, garlic, and garlic confit with all the seasoning except the vinegar, and spread it on a sheet pan (lined with a silpat to reduce sticking) in a single layer (use multiple pans if necessary). Cover with plastic wrap and freeze until half-solid. Also freeze the grinding apparatus – the worm, blade, and die.

Grind the entire meat/garlic/onion combination using the coarse die, into a bowl over a pan or larger bowl of ice to keep it cold. Cook a test piece and taste for seasoning. Add more salt, pepper, seasonings if necessary. Make sure the product remains as cold as possible and toss with the sherry vinegar.

Sweet tomato pickle:

2 lbs (about 3 large) green (unripe) tomatoes
1/2 lb (about 1 medium) yellow onion
1/3 lb (about 1 medium) red bell pepper
1 c cider vinegar
1 c sugar
1 tbsp mustard seeds
2 tsp celery seeds

Dice the tomatoes, peel and dice the onion, and seed, peel, and dice the pepper, all to about 1/4″. Combine with all other ingredients in a saucepan.

Bring to a simmer and stir, dissolving the sugar, and continue to simmer, stirring from time to time, until the vegetables have softened, given up their liquid, and the liquid has reduced to a syrup (the green tomato will be translucent as well). You should have a little less than two pints (4 c). If you like, can the pickle in a sterilized jars in a hot water bath. Otherwise, refrigerate and use within about a month.

Green tomato pickle.

To assemble:
contents of two tins of octopus in olive oil, drained

Put away half the chorizo for another use. Pinch off teaspoon-sized bits of the remaining chorizo and roll into balls. Place a large saute pan over medium heat. When hot, add the chorizo and fry on all sides until brown and crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon. Do not wipe out the pan; increase the heat slightly. Add the octopus and fry quickly on each side. Return the chorizo to the pan and toss to combine. Serve garnished with the green tomato pickle.

[sorry – no photo. The whole thing got eaten before I could get there]

Xipirones, arròs negre

Baby squid with black rice. You wouldn’t believe how tender and delicious the baby squid were in Barcelona. I haven’t been able to find such small squid here – about 1 1/2″ long in the body – nor anything as mild. So I always bring it back in cans. Not the same, but it’s pretty good – the Spanish have a way with canned shellfish.

Xipirones.

The rice, pimentón, and squid ink in this dish also are souvenirs of our last trip to Spain. Choose a Spanish short-grained rice, if you can – I used Calasparra rice, because I had an open bag, but Bomba is even nicer – its grain absorb more liquid and become plumper on cooking. If you can’t, use Arborio – it’s far easier to find. I used a pork stock to cook the rice because I like the savory quality it imparts to the dish – seafood stock is far too fishy, I think, especially once you add the squid ink.

The egg preparation is a straight rip-off of a great component I had at Hisop in Barcelona, and is awesome because frankly, poached egg white is more of a bland nuisance than a welcome addition to any dish. This preparation can be difficult to pull off because the yolk is delicate and breaks easily when poached without the white, so you should have a couple of extra eggs handy. If you don’t want to make the two-part egg component, just poach or fry the egg. You want a runny yolk.

two tins chipirones en su tinta (baby squid in ink), or substitute 1/2 lb squid cut into 1/4″ rings and tentacles
1 small onion, fine dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp pimentón
1 1/2 c Calasparra rice
2/3 c dry white wine
2 packets squid ink
4 c pork stock
3 sprigs thyme
1 bay leaf

4 eggs, separated
2 tbsp panko
olive oil

Place a 12″ skillet (or the largest skillet available) over medium heat and, when hot, add about 2 tbsp oil. Pour the egg white into the pan and tilt quickly to coat the bottom of the pan evenly and thinly. Fry until crisp and golden, reducing heat if necessary to prevent burning. When the egg white is crisp, flip the entire egg white over and cook until golden on the other side. Turn it out onto a cutting board and mince. Return to the hot pan, adding a little extra oil if necessary, and add the panko. Fry until everything is golden brown. Set aside.

Place a saucepot holding the stock over medium heat and bring to a simmer; reduce the heat. Place a sauteuse over medium heat, and when hot add a little olive oil. Add the onions and sweat until translucent. Add the garlic and sauté a minute more. Add the pimentón and the rice and sauté, stirring, until the rice is coated well with oil and barely toasted (it shouldn’t take on any color). Add the thyme and bay. Add the wine and squid ink and stir well, evenly distributing the ink, until the wine is absorbed. Add stock a ladle at a time, stirring until absorbed. Repeat until the rice is cooked al dente. Add the squid to the pot and one final ladle of stock, heating through the squid and leaving the rice moist. Remove the thyme and bay.

Poach the egg yolks and drain on clean kitchen towels (be careful with this step; it is difficult to poach egg yolks without puncturing them).

Plate the arròs negre, top with the egg yolk, and a generous amount of the egg white/panko crumbs. When punctured, the runny yolk makes a great sauce to stir into the rice.

Arròs negre, xipirones.

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Italian, Seafood, Soup, Squash, Vegetables

Summer squash.

Is zucchini anyone’s favorite vegetable? Too often, it’s shredded and disguised in quick bread, sauteed to a limp, soggy mess, steamed with carrots and broccoli as part of the ubiquitous “vegetable medley” that accompanies every protein at second-rate restaurants, or doused with balsamic vinaigrette – that turn of the century abomination – and thrown on the grill.

OK, so it’s not the most exciting vegetable. Zucchini isn’t tomato or sweet corn. People don’t queue outside farm stands hankering after the first ripe zucchini of the season and blog about it afterward. And it isn’t onion or carrot – versatile, indispensable, indestructible. If you overcook it, zucchini degrades into a floppy, tasteless mess. Still, zucchini has merit. It possesses a mild sweetness, with a slightly floral, melony quality when raw. Lemon and fresh green herbs like mint, basil, and oregano bring out its best qualities. A mild, delicate, green vegetable, it pairs perfectly with shellfish. And its blossoms are reason enough to grow a zucchini plant or two in the summer.

Zucchini and yellow summer squash are not identical, but for most purposes, you can use yellow squash in place of zucchini. It tends to be less sweet, with a slightly bitter edge. Don’t overcook these summer squashes – they can go from tender to mushy in a couple of minutes.

Blossoms straight from the garden.

Fiori di Zucca

Grow your own, cut them off the plants, and use immediately. Sometimes you can find blossoms with embryonic fruit (baby zucchini) attached … those are a special treat, and a great way to use up the squash before you wind up with dozens of giant ones.

Note – if you’re pressed for time, you can omit the egg white, but the filling will be heavier. In that case, just beat an egg or two with a little water and use it to coat the blossoms before dredging and frying. You don’t have to separate the eggs.

16 zucchini blossoms, preferably with small zucchini attached
1 c ricotta*
zest of one lemon
small handful flat leaf parsley, minced
6-8 mint leaves, chiffonade
pinch salt
3 eggs, separated (you will only use one yolk so use the other two for mayonnaise or something)
cake flour
olive oil
sea salt

Combine the ricotta, one egg yolk, lemon zest, herbs, and a pinch of salt.

Beat three egg whites to soft peaks. Fold half the egg white into the ricotta mixture and reserve the other half. Spoon in enough ricotta-white mixture to fill each blossom. Seal and twist at top. If you can’t get the filling in without ripping the blossoms, tear a seam down one side (between two petals) and fill. Then twist it to make sure the stuffing stays inside.

Stuffed blossoms.

Turn the remaining egg whites into a dredging pan and fill a second dredging pan with about 1 c flour. Heat a deep sauté pan and add olive oil 1/4″ deep. Dip each blossom completely in the foamed egg whites, shake off excess, dredge quickly in flour, shake off excess, and fry until golden. Turn over and fry on other side. Drain on towels and season with a little sea salt.

*If you’d like to make your own ricotta, stop back later this week for a lesson in making this most basic cheese.

Fiori di zucca.

Chilled Zucchini Soup

Cold soup in the summer is more refreshing than just about anything else you can eat. Don’t omit the lemon zest and yoghurt garniture – it adds brightness to the soup.

1 very large or 2 medium zucchini, ends removed, sliced
1 medium onion, peeled and sliced thinly
4 cloves garlic confit
olive oil
1 large or 2 small bay leaves
4 sprigs thyme
3 stems flat leaf parsley
6-12 leaves basil, 6-8 leaves mint (depending on size, strength)
2 c ice or 1 c cold water
1 lemon, zested and juiced
whole milk yoghurt or sour cream

Sweat the onion, and garlic confit in olive oil with the bouquet garni over very low heat until both are very tender. Add the zucchini, cover the pan, and sweat over the lowest heat until tender. The zucchini will give up a bit of liquid. Do not allow any of the components to take on color at any time, and stop cooking while the zucchini still is green. Remove the bouquet garni. Allow to cool until tepid. Pour zucchini mixture (liquid and all) in a Vitaprep or blender and add basil and mint.

Add about 2 c ice or 1 c cold water, and purée in Vitaprep. Add cold water to desired consistency if necessary. Press through tamis if necessary to achieve a smooth texture. Season with salt, pepper to taste (you will add acid just before serving to preserve the soup’s green color). Chill.

Before serving, add lemon juice and taste again for salt. Serve with lemon zest, basil chiffonade, and a quenelle of yoghurt or sour cream.

Zucchini soup, basil, lemon.

Farmstand salad

Try this one when you’ve just returned from the farmstand on the way home from the beach in summer. I do like to sauté the corn for just a minute, but you can skip that step and enjoy a completely raw salad, if you’re using very fresh corn.

1 medium zucchini
2 ears corn, shucked and scraped
1/4 lb cherry tomatoes (red and yellow if you can)
champagne vinegar (or white wine, or cider, or rice vinegar)
salt, pepper
espelette or cayenne pepper
olive oil

Slice zucchini into very thin rounds (1/16″) using a mandoline or benriner. Arrange in an overlapping layer. Saute the corn in olive oil for just a minute, until barely cooked through, unless you’re serving it raw. Season with salt/pepper, and a pinch of espelette. Arrange the corn beside the zucchini.

Quarter the cherry tomatoes and toss in a little vinegar with a pinch of salt. Arrange the tomatoes beside the corn. Whisk the juice/vinegar that remains in the tomato bowl with some olive oil; drizzle this over all.

Farmstand salad

Zucchini “pasta” with clams

There’s a great Portuguese soup called sopa de amêijoas – literally “clam soup” – in which clams, cooked in their own liquid with white wine and vegetables – are finished with olive oil and sopped up with crusty bread. Sometimes shredded zucchini is incorporated into the soup, thickening it slightly and soaking up the olive oil. This brothy dish of clams with raw zucchini, sliced to resemble linguine, reminds me of that dish.

Salting the zucchini and blotting dry helps to crisp the vegetable by removing some of its water content, and seasons it as well. Don’t go salt crazy – you don’t need much salt to remove moisture, and the clams are pretty salty.

2 medium zucchini, sliced into long, thin strands with mandoline or shaved with a y-shaped vegetable peeler
3 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
lemon zest, removed in 1 long strip
2 sprigs parsley
1 very small bay leaf
1 1/2 c dry white wine
4 lbs clams (cherrystone are best; manila are fine also), cleaned and desanded
1/4 tsp or more crushed red chile flakes
large handful flat leaf parsley, torn
juice and zest of 1 lemon
tiny basil leaves
black pepper
extra virgin olive oil

Very lightly salt the zucchini strands and toss well in a colander. Set over paper towels and leave to drain for about an hour.

Place clams in a large steamer. Set large pot over medium heat. Add olive oil; sweat garlic. Add bay leaves, lemon zest, and parsley; add wine. Place steamer basket over top; cover and steam until clams open. Strain liquid through chinois and return to simmer. Taste and correct with lemon.

Blot water from zucchini. Curl around large fork tines and place zucchini nests in each serving bowl. Add clams in shells (half in shells and half out makes for a great presentaton). Ladle broth over top. Sprinkle with chile flakes, pepper, and lemon zest, and garnish with parsley and basil leaves. Drizzle a little olive oil over top.

Serve with toasted ciabatta, rubbed with garlic and drizzled with olive oil.

Zucchini, clams, basil.

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eggs, Pasta, Seafood

Surf.

The sea urchin, like its relatives the sand dollar and the starfish, has what biologists call “five-fold symmetry,” or pentamerism. Although you’d never know from its spiky round exterior, the sea urchin shares this characteristic with many other living things. Don a pair of thick gloves, cut one open around the middle, and you’ll see – like the petals of a flower, or a star anise, or the seeds of an apple around the core, five gonads, called corals or roe, radiating from the center.

Sea urchin, opened with roe*

The roe, known as uni ウニ in Japan, has a rich, creamy texture and a savory, slightly sweet taste reminiscent of the ocean, butter, and toasted hazelnut. It ranges from ochre to bright orange, depending on the variety of sea urchin, the time of year, and its location home at the time of harvest. How do you know which sea urchins contain the roe? Well, even though sea urchins are either male or female, the roe of both is edible.

I have texture issues with certain foods, and uni is one – I love the flavor but have had problems from time to time with its pillowy, marshmallowy consistency and slick membrane. So I had a thought – why not process uni through a tamis, or drum sieve, to achieve a perfectly smooth purée, and incorporate it into pasta or risotto?

The pasta dish came together pretty intuitively. You wouldn’t want to obscure the flavor of the uni, but you would want to pick up the nutty taste with a little acidity. In sushi, the vinegar in the rice would serve this function. Here, I used lemon juice. To accentuate the creaminess, I added – well, cream.

A little caviar – paddlefish is nicest, but whitefish will do in a pinch and I used it here – finished off the dish, along with smoked salt and chive.

Spaghetti, uni

4 oz spaghetti or linguine (dry, good quality)
two dozen uni
3 tbsp heavy cream
juice of 1/2 lemon or a little more, to taste
sea salt
smoked salt (I like Halen Môn from Wales)
Pondicherry pepper, or freshly ground black pepper
minced chive
2 tsp caviar

Purée the uni by pressing through a tamis with a rubber scraper. Store the resulting purée in the refrigerator until ready to use.

Bring a pot of sea salted water to boil; add the past and drain once just al dente. Reserve a few tbsp pasta water. Perform next steps immediately upon draining.

Add the cream to pan. Bring to simmer and turn off heat. Add uni and a large pinch of salt and whisk just to combine.

Add pasta and toss to coat. Squeeze lemon over all and toss; taste for seasoning. Add additional lemon juice and/or smoked salt. Finish with pepper and chive.

* Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gonadi_Paracentrotus_lividus_riccio_di_mare_adventurediving.it.jpg

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