RICOTTA, CINNAMON, HONEY, ORANGE

Ricotta Cinnamon Honey Orange-1163-2

After a week of biking through Sardinia with Ciclismo Classico, I have to say the island resists being pinned down.  Rural Sardinia puts on a deceptively simple face – sleepy villages, delicious basic cuisine, agriculture based around sheep, friendly people.  But once you start to look closely things don’t appear quite Italian.  The ghost of one culture appears and lingers just long enough for a sense of certainty to develop – oh, Sardinia is really Spanish – when it disappears, replaced by a different revenant – oh, no, it really is Italian… or Phoenician, or Roman or Greek.  Signage often appears in multiple languages–Italian, variants of Sardu, the Sardinian language, and sometimes another local language, like the Catalan dialect spoken in one part of the island. Welcome signs outside of villages typically greet visitors in French, German and English, as well as Italian and Sardu. Sometimes all you can do is take experience in, ask questions, and hope you get back.  It’s unusual for Jody and me to encounter so many new culinary treats in one place. Local ingredients we thought we knew were often combined in unexpected ways. Like this dessert of Ricotta, Cinnamon, Honey and Orange, a dish we enjoyed at Trattoria da Riccardo, a Magomadas restaurant owned by the cyclist/chef Riccardo Cadoni and his family.  It’s so good, so simple, that unless you roll with a much more travelled cabal of culinary sophisticates than I do, it will be a delightful surprise to whomever you serve it.  You can pretty much do everything at table.  Simple, delicious, and a bit surprising, a description that might sum up Sardinia itself.  Enjoy.  Ken

BUCATINI WITH RED AND GREEN TOMATOES

Bucatini with Red and Green Tomatoes-0374

 

Every pasta shape is lovable, if only it finds the right sauce.  But deep down inside, we know whom we love best.  For me it’s bucatini.  Bucatini is what spaghetti would be if it had a gym membership, and the will to pump iron until it got the girl.  I’d slurp up a bowl of bucatini slicked with WD40 just to experiences its chewy satisfactions.  While bucatini is no match for sauces that require crampons and carabiners to hold them in place, ending up with leftover sauce in the bottom of the bowl hardly seems like the end of the world.  (Pass the bread, please.)  No fear of that this week.  New England tomatoes are gasping their last, with only a few red diehards and lots of green wannnabees still about.  Together they make a great sauce that tastes of the season.  Bucatini with Red and Green Tomatoes is the pasta to eat at the gate of fall.  Blink, and even the green tomatoes will be gone.

HIGH ON THE HOG – PAN-SEARED PORK CHOPS WITH GRAPES AND LEMON

Pan-seared pork chops with grapes-0153

Last week we ate low on the hog, flavoring a polenta and squash dish with a bit of pancetta.  This week we’re stepping up our pork game, way up, with Pan-Seared Pork Chops with Grapes and Lemon. Fatty pork is once again becoming available for those without restaurants or the price of airfare to Italy.  Real pork chops–as versus the pink things wrapped in plastic in most supermarkets–are uncomplicated to cook, and delicious to eat.  Personally speaking, this recipe marks a turning point for me, a return to cooking chops at home after a 20-year hiatus.  Somebody cast a spell on this country’s pigs a couple of decades ago, morphing their chops and loins into a tough, flavorless substance called “the other white meat.”  If your experience with pork has been barbecue or bacon, then you owe it to yourself to get down to a farmers market to suss out some chops from heritage breeds of pork and taste the real deal.

Easy Antipasto – Peaches and Prosciutto with Fresh Mozzarella and Mint Pesto

 

Peach prosciuto antipasto-9637

 

Local Massachusetts peaches seem increasingly old-fashioned to me, meaning that you make a mess when you eat one (unless a nearby vendor gives you slices) and while they taste sweet they also have a faint counterpoint of tartness.  This makes them the ideal companion for salty prosciutto.  I suppose we could have left it at that, but we also had a raft of mint and some pistachios, so Jody upped the ante with a pistachio-mint pesto that doesn’t require much more than a quick buzz in the food processor.  Fresh mozzarella makes it a sumptuous enough to stand in for lunch, if that’s where’s you want to go.  You’ll also be relieved to know that local cherry tomatoes, now at their spectacular peak, don’t require peeling. This is the easiest antipasto you’ll even encounter, especially on a hot day when instead of cooking all you want to do is savor the last days of summer.

Dorie Greenspan’s Gâteau Basque turned into Plum Cookies

Plum Cookies-9583-2

When September rolls around in New England home cooks can look a little grim at the prospect of dealing with too much.  Too much zucchini, too many tomatoes, too much corn.  Your CSA, your friends, or your own garden runs amok, filling your fridge and kitchen counter with ever more too much of a good thing.  This year a new offender for us, prune plums.  And a time crunch.  Too little time + too much fruit = Plum Cookies.  In more relaxed times we’ve made jam, or a plum cake.  We might finally get to Sophie James’s Sautéed Plums with Dark Chocolate Pudding and Crushed Amaretti Cookies, but not today.  Nope.  Just these buttery little flying saucers hoving into view with sugary purple pilots.

Bluefish with Dukkah, Tomatoes and Garlic Yogurt

Bluefish with Dukkah, Tomatoes and Garlic Yogurt-1

Three or four summers ago I was standing in water up to my knees on a sandbar known as Horseshoe Shoal in the middle of Barnstable Harbor, that long shark-shaped body of water that swims between the shores of Sandy Neck to the north and the town of Barnstable to the south on Cape Cod.  As I watched, a flock of seabirds raced down the channel that passes between the sandbar and Sandy Neck.  The birds swooped and cried, strafing a line across the water with their beaks as precise as a squadron of P-51 Mustangs.  Then I saw it, a deep slate discoloration below the channel surface, an undulating gray movement that fragmented into hundreds of individual fish as it flashed by me.  I wasn’t the only one to take notice.  Small boats stopped in the channel, people rising to stand, hands shading eyes.  “Blues!” a man cried, waving and pointing.  It was August and the bluefish were running.  For anglers and eaters on Cape Cod, only striped bass equal the pleasures of bluefish.  Stripers taste more delicate, but bluefish fight harder.  This week’s dish: Bluefish with Dukkah, Tomatoes and Garlic Yogurt.

Summer Berries and Sabayon

Summer Berries and Sabayon-1

Making Summer Berries with Sabayon is about as easy as dessert gets.  The only thing easier would be to eat the berries with nothing, or just whipped cream.  But then you wouldn’t get the texture of sabayon, one of the cooking world’s great miracles–cooked eggs that have been prevented from forming curds.  Sabayon is foamy, yet substantive.   It can stand on its own as a dessert and offers a great medium for sweet or fortified wine, which is why it’s often made with Marsala.  Plus, if you’re feeling Italian, rather than French, you can say you just whipped up a batch of zabaglione (s/zaa-bal-YOH-nee), which to my ear sounds like something Willy Wonka eats for breakfast on holidays.

Tomato Salad with Tuna Tapenade

Tomato Salad with Tuna Tapenade-8639

I had to bite my tongue while Jody prepared this week’s Tomato Salad with Tuna Tapenade.  The photographer in me was dying to speak up: Don’t you want to sneak a little preserved lemon into that?  Some extra visual pop?   Truth be told, my wife has always been a member of the “flavor first ” camp, with visual appeal a distant second.  And we use preserved lemons in everything, so this week we’re giving tomatoes a turn, and tapenade.  Is anything more summery than the crazy quilt of tomatoes just ripening in New England, along with an herby tapenade, basil and olive oil?  If you’ve never sat down at a table with tapenade because you’re afraid it might once have dated an anchovy, then fear not.  As Jody explains in her notes, this tuna tapenade’s for you.

Duck, Duck, Peach!

 

Grilled Duck Breast with Peaches-8494

 

Menus from proximate restaurants in rural France can seem eerily similar, as though all aligned along the same invisible lines of culinary force emanating from the specialties of the region. This restaurant has fois gras; that restaurant has fois gras. This restaurant offers grilled duck breast; that restaurant offers grilled duck breast. Whether you find this state of affairs delightful or vexing depends on your perspective.  If I were living in the same village for several months then menu similarity might start to get tedious, but in the Sud-Ouest, that lower left corner of France heading toward Spain, I had no problem with encountering a familiar selection of fois gras, duck and rabbit, accompanied by eggplant and tomatoes, not to mention the incredible local dessert pastry, Pastis de Quercy, the subject of a future post.  I enjoy fois gras, but I love duck.  For me, duck has more there there than any other animal protein.  I’d give up beef in two quacks if I had to choose between it and duck.  Legs, breast, liver – no matter.  It’s all great to me.  You can make up your own mind with our Grilled Duck with Peaches entrée this week.  You can also eliminate the potentially irksome challenge of cooking duck inside, dealing with the fat.  We cook it outside.  On the grill.