Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Artichokes Poached in Olive Oil with Lemon Anchovy Sauce - a Recipe

I'm tinkering. My kitchen is packed with quinces, baby leeks, and the last of the plums. In the meantime, here's a treat I've been setting out with drinks at the end of the day since the baby artichokes arrived, complete with my favorite tale of culinary revenge.

There is a wonderful story my friend and former boss tells about her exceedingly genteel Provençal mother-in-law and World War II. That side of her family lives still in a large country mas or farmhouse near Arles, and during the war, their home was occupied by the Nazis. This French family and a number of German officers lived side by side for over a year in strained civility. And it fell to my friend’s mother-in-law, then a very young bride, to cook meals for the enemy.

Once the war was over, one of the officers was ordered to stay behind and repair any damage to the family’s home, and one night, our heroine served up a platter of large globe artichokes. It soon became clear that the houseguest had never eaten an artichoke before. He picked up his knife and fork and managed to spear a few of the tough outer leaves – thorns and all – before bringing them to his lips and chewing for what must have been a very long and painful time.

Of course, my friend’s mother-in-law maintains to this day that not one member of the family corrected him, because it would have been unthinkably rude to embarrass a guest. But when we learn that they sat in cordial silence and watched the officer eat every leaf in this manner and then the choke, it may occur to some of us that the family – and perhaps in particular the young girl who’d prepared the man’s meals those many months – may have taken some modicum of satisfaction from such a discrete yet publicly drawn out revenge.

History does not relate how the artichokes had been prepared that night over 60 years ago, but this is a recipe from Provence that’s almost as old as time itself. Whether you use the large globe variety, or the small, nutty violets or poivrades of the region, this method brings out the delicate flavor of artichokes better than any other I’ve found. I’ve used some of the cooking oil to make a warm dipping sauce – not quite as traditional, but deliciously saline and tangy when scooped up in the little hollows of the artichoke halves.

If you use small artichokes (these lovelies came from Norwich Meadows Farm), cut your largest one in half before you begin. If the choke has formed, you’ll need to halve and clean the artichokes before you cook them. Otherwise you can just trim the outer leaves and keep them whole – in which case they’ll bloom like the little flowers they are as they cook in the hot olive oil. Large globe artichokes need to cook for much longer. You may quarter them and then clean them as I describe for the smaller specimens, but, if you’re serving them at the table rather than as hors’deuvres, you can leave them whole and skip the cleaning altogether. Vive la Résistance!

Serves 4 as an appetizer

Special equipment: a splatter screen

5 lemons
10 small artichokes or 4 globe artichokes
extra virgin olive oil
6 anchovy fillets, roughly chopped
good sea salt

Fill a small bowl halfway with cold water and squeeze in the juice of 1 of the lemons. Cut 2 more lemons in half and keep next to your work surface.

Clean an artichoke by first trimming the stem and cutting off the top 1 – 3 inches of leaves, just until you’ve removed the tough, fibrous portion. Rub the cut surfaces with lemon juice. Now pull off the tough base leaves and rub the base of the artichoke with lemon juice. Now cut the artichoke in half lengthwise and rub the newly exposed portion with lemon juice. Use a small spoon to scoop out the choke, and rub the area with lemon juice. Place the artichoke halves in the acidulated water to prevent browning, and continue with the rest of the artichokes (see photo below).

When your artichokes are clean, arrange them in a pot, cut sides facing up. Pour in olive oil until it comes halfway up the artichokes, and then pour in water to just cover them completely. Place the pot over high heat, cover with the splatter screen, and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil small artichokes for 15 – 25 minutes and larger ones for up to 45 minutes until all the splattering has stopped and the water has evaporated. The outer leaves of the artichokes should be lightly golden.

Using a slotted spoon, remove the artichokes to paper towels to drain. Measure 6 tablespoons of the cooking oil into a small saucepan and add the chopped anchovies. Sizzle over medium heat until the anchovies have dissolved. Remove from the heat and add the juice of a lemon.

When ready to serve, arrange the artichokes on a serving board or platter, shower with the juice of the remaining lemon, and sprinkle with sea salt. Decant the warm anchovy and lemon mixture into a small bowl, and serve immediately.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Toad in the Hole

Something about all the wind and rain we've had lately makes me long for comfort, warmth, and the food of my youth. Here's another of the pieces I wrote as part of a feature on British food for my friends Kelly and Katie over at PixiesDidIt!

Bubble and squeak. Spotted dick. Girdle sponges. It occurs to me that British food may have acquired its undeserved, unfortunate reputation thanks to some of its more regrettable recipe titles. Personally though I happen to like the colorful names.

Take toad in the hole, one of the most comforting and crave-able classic nursery food dishes the world has ever known. Savory British “bangers” are sizzled over heat until golden, then baked in a blanket of Yorkshire pudding batter. The batter rises and browns around the sausages, leaving them peaking out from the various pockets that form. Like toads peering out of their holes even. The Yorkshire pudding soaks up the flavor of the sausages, which keep it soft and aromatic within, but crusty on the outside. The sausages crisp and dry a little where they are exposed but stay moist and plump underneath the batter. It’s utterly simple, the best of both worlds, and consummately reassuring.

The trick to Yorkshire pudding, whether for toad in the hole or otherwise, is to start with very hot fat. That’s why you preheat the casserole dish and its oil along with the oven - otherwise the batter won’t puff. The dish is best eaten at home on a chill evening, when your bones are weary. Preferably after some grueling physical activity, field hockey practice in the rain, say, and a subsequent hot shower, and just before sliding your heavy limbs between cool, clean sheets for sleep.

Serves 3 - 4

olive oil
8 medium sized, banger-style sausages
7/8 cup flour
1 tsp kosher salt
½ cup milk
½ cup water
2 eggs
optional for serving: onion gravy (I come from a long line of purists and prefer this without, but you can click on the link for a good recipe).

Pour a generous amount of olive oil (about 1/8 inch or ½ cm deep) into a fairly deep 8 – 9 inch casserole dish. Place the dish in the center of a cold oven and preheat to 450 F (230 C, gas mark 8).

Use a sharp knife to prick the sausages in several places. Heat a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add a good glug of olive oil and then the sausages. Allow to brown deeply before turning and browning on the other side.

Meanwhile, whisk together the flour and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the milk, water, and eggs and whisk again until just combined. Do not overmix. Set aside to rest.

When the oven is preheated, remove the casserole dish from the oven and arrange the sausages in the hot oil. Working quickly to keep the oil hot, pour over the batter and immediately place back in the center of the oven. Bake until the batter is puffed and golden brown – about 25 – 35 minutes, but this can vary based on your oven.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Venetian Tagliatelle with Roasted Chicken, Fennel & Pine Nuts

This is rainy day food. Bitterly damp, cold day food. What after all could provoke the desire to hunker, batten, and huddle more than the off-season in Venice, when the best days find the whole city shrouded in chill and mist? When you can circle, lost for hours in some remote corner of one of the comunes you hadn’t known existed before, knowing that at any turn, you might find yourself adrift in fog, or ankle-deep in water, or, rarest of all, at the edge of some tiny piazza lightly dusted with snow.

And this tagliatelle dish is classically Venetian, known as “frisinsal de tagiadele” in the local dialect and traditionally served on Friday nights for the Sabbath in the Jewish ghetto there. Though there are versions from Jewish communities all over Italy, the Venetian version with its roasted chicken and sauce made from the pan drippings is the one that I find particularly warming and crave-able. I like roast chicken more than just about anything, and this is essentially a celebration of what a glorious thing a well-seasoned, well-roasted chicken really is.

I learned from Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food that sage is traditionally used, but I’ve never had it that way, even in Venice, and I prefer it without. Then again, the fennel isn’t traditional either, and nor is the wine or the lemon juice, but I’ve added them over the years and love the dish all the more ever since. And fennel’s just coming into season, so it’s the perfect time to try the recipe out, especially as the weather cools.

This is one of those dishes, like risotto or bouillabaisse, where the quality of the stock makes a vast difference. Not like some chef telling you it’s better to always use homemade stock and to keep batches on hand in your freezer just like they do, but an actual, huge difference. If you’re out of homemade stock and want the full experience, roast the chicken earlier in the day, deglaze and reserve the cooking juices, remove the meat from the bones, and then use the carcass to make stock before proceeding. But then again, don’t let the absence of homemade stock or the will to make it stop you from trying this dish. I have friends who repeatedly request this dish for their birthdays, though I gladly make it for them on any other day too, just so I can have it, just so I can bear witness to their delight.

This dish is ultimately about intensifying the most soul-nourishing of flavors at every turn, with every opportunity. I’ve even, in moments of utter hedonism, taken the chicken’s skin and sizzled it in olive oil until crisp, to adorn the pasta with just before serving. There is no need to rinse the chicken – that just spreads bacteria to other parts of the kitchen. Make several slices in the thigh and leg meat though, to ensure it roasts at the same speed as the breast meat.

Serves 4 - 6

2 fennel bulbs, with fronds attached if possible
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 chicken, neck reserved if possible
3 lemons
2 stalks fresh rosemary, plus 1 tsp minced fresh rosemary leaves
½ cup golden raisins
½ cup pine nuts
2 glasses white wine
2 cups (plus extra) good chicken stock, preferably homemade
1 lb tagliatelle or pappardelle (I prefer non-egg pasta here, but it's just personal taste)
a good handful of flat parsley leaves if your fennel didn't have its fronds attached

Preheat the oven to 425 F (220 C, gas mark 7)

Remove the fronds from the fennel stalks and reserve. Trim the stalks from the fennel bulbs and reserve. Trim the root ends from the fennel bulbs and then slice the bulbs in half. Using the center of the bulbs to keep the segments intact, slice into thin wedges – you’ll want them to be thin enough to caramelize and then toss with the pasta later. Place the fennel in a good sized, heavy-bottomed roasting tin (stove top safe), along with the chicken neck if they’ve included it with your chicken, and toss with a generous glug of olive oil and plenty of salt and pepper.

Clear an area in the center of the pan for the chicken. Pat dry the chicken with paper towels and use a sharp knife to slice through the thigh and leg meat in 3 – 4 places on each side. Season the cavity generously with salt and pepper. Quarter one on the lemons and place in the cavity along with the fennel stalks and 2 stalks of rosemary. Rub the skin with olive oil and season with plenty of salt and pepper, being sure to rub some into the cuts you’ve made in the thighs and legs.

Place the pan in the center of the oven. After 15 minutes, reduce the heat to 350 F (180 C, gas mark 4) and roast for an hour and 15 minutes more or until the legs move freely in their joints and the juices run clear.

Meanwhile, boil some water and pour it over the raisins. Allow them to soak for 30 minutes. Place a small sauté pan over very low heat and toast the pine nuts, stirring often. They burn very easily, so don’t walk away, and remove them from the metal pan as soon as they’re lightly golden and fragrant.

Lift the chicken from the pan and allow to rest and cool at least 15 minutes on a plate to catch the juices. Use a slotted spoon to lift the fennel out and reserve in a bowl. Leave the chicken neck in the pan and set it on the stove top. Add the wine, and turn the heat to high. Allow the wine to reduce by half, using a spoon or metal spatula to help loosen the fond – all those caramelized juices are where the best flavor is. Drain the raisins and add along with the minced rosemary, along with any juices that have collected in the plate the chicken is resting on. Then add 2 cups of best quality chicken stock. Reduce the heat to medium-low and allow to reduce by half again. Remove the chicken neck and discard. Check the seasoning with more salt and pepper. Then remove from the heat and reserve.

Meanwhile, use your hands, two forks, whatever works, to shred all of the chicken flesh and skin into bite-sized pieces. Be sure not to let any of the juices escape. Add to the juices in the pan. You can hold the sauce like this up to 3 days. Remember meat braises tend to develop better flavor overnight, and this is no bad thing.

When you’re ready to serve, bring a large pot of water to the boil and salt generously. Heat the chicken sauce in a large pan if it’s cooled. Be careful not to bubble too long and lose too much liquid. You can always top it up with more hot chicken stock if the sauce gets too dry (the pasta can soak up quite a bit of sauce) – just be sure to recheck the seasoning. Add the pasta to the water and cook until just al dente and then drain.

Meanwhile mince the fennel fronds or parsley.

When the pasta is done, add the juice of a lemon to the chicken, check the seasoning one more time with more salt, pepper, or lemon juice if necessary, and add the pasta to the chicken, tossing to combine. Add half the pine nuts and most of the minced herbs. Plate immediately (if the sauce sits too long on the pasta, too much will be absorbed and the pasta will dry out, though you can always freshen it with more stock). Garnish with the remaining pine nuts and herbs and serve immediately.

Monday, October 3, 2011

The October Harvest Calendar

The seasons are finally shifting. The mornings have gone crisp. And the first of the chestnuts came in this week.

The grape harvest is in full swing.

And winter squash have arrived in gnarled, multicolored heaps.

It's hard to believe right now that most of these crops will be gone by next month. Especially when late summer treats like my favorite string beans are still in abundance.

There's eggplant.



And corn.

The cauliflower is peaking.

The potatoes are in their last month.

And there are even a few plums still to be found.

But it's the prunes and tiny seckel pears that I've been buying up by the pound.

And quinces. Positively nothing says autumn like the fresh, earthy-floral perfume of ripe quinces hanging in the air. Put out a bowl of them in your house and see.

Just don't wait too long. All the damage from Hurricane Irene means the harvest of these and so many other crops is going to be more fleeting than usual. Many of the farmers have had to cut back the number of days they come to market this fall. It makes what they bring in all the more precious.

The River Garden's rosehips - something I look forward to all year - can only be bought on Fridays and Saturdays now. The farm lost about 85% of its crops in the storm. To support farmers as they continue to recover, keep shopping the greenmarkets whenever you can and click on the link for information on the Greenmarket's Hurricane Irene Relief Fund.

Crop notes are available in the sidebar harvest calendar over there on the right all month. The information comes from a guide published by the CENYC, which runs the Greenmarket & New Farmer Development Project. To familiarize yourself with what's in season where you live, I advise a visit to your own farmer's markets at least every couple of weeks. And ask lots of questions – no one knows which crops are at their peak quite like the people who grow them. To locate markets near you in the US, check the Zip or City Quick Search at Local Harvest.

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