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

 

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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.

Pique-Nique I – Chicken Rillettes with Preserved Lemon and Summer Savory

 

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Fat.  Let’s not beat around the bush, shall we?  Fat’s probably the best place to begin a discussion of Chicken Rillettes with Preserved Lemon and Summer Savory.  Au debut, as the French say, in the beginning, rillettes meant one thing – pork.  Or rather, pork and fat.  Rillettes was pork that had been salted, cooked slowly in pork fat, shredded, then preserved in the same fat, and served at room temperature, usually spread on toast.  Rillettes* are now found all over France, and while pork is still popular, in the Southwest, the Midi-Pyrenees, extending down to the Spanish border, the technique is more often seen with duck or rabbit.  Today rillettes of salmon, tuna or other fatty fish, or even mushrooms are not uncommon on pricey menus.  It’s hard to argue with that–what doesn’t taste good when cooked slowly in fat and salt?

Tenzin’s Sha Momos with Sepen (Beef Momos with Chili Dipping Sauce)

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As the work-at-home dad, I used to pick up our son Oliver from preschool.  We discovered a Tibetan restaurant a short walk away, and you know what they say, If you give a mouse a Tibetan restaurant… he’s gonna want a momo to go with it.  Momos are exquisite little dumplings, the go-to item on a Tibetan menu.  You may order other things, but you will always order momos.  For Oliver and I, and later our daughter Roxanne, momos became a regular Friday treat.

Fast forward, ten years.  We continue eating momos, when we find them, but have never tried making them.  Then I met Tenzin Conechok Samdo, a new bartender at my wife’s restaurant, TRADE.  I thought I’d get an insider’s view on on who made the best momos locally.  After I photographed a series of his remarkable cocktails he began asking, “Hey, when are you going to invite me over to make momos?”  He knew about The Garum Factory.  Make momos?  At our house?  Um, how about this Friday?  Herewith, Tenzin’s Sha Momos with Sepen.  Beef Momos with Chili Dipping Sauce.

Grilled Sardines with Ramps and Rhubarb Agrodolce

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When our son Oliver was seven or eight and we lived within shouting distance of East Cambridge I used to take him with me to visit Courthouse Fish Market on Thursday afternoons to pick up seafood for dinner.  Courthouse is an old-school establishment.  Glass cases filled with ice and gleaming fresh fish–sardines, tilefish, snapper, salmon, flunder, bluefish, squid, swordfish and several varieties of clams, including the large razor clams you’ve seen here before.  Opposite the fresh fish display a freezer holds frozen octopus, Alaskan king crab legs, squid and fava beans and wooden cases stacked nearby contain salt cod.  On Thursdays Moray eels came in from Portugal.  One of these arm-sized monsters, dark gray with brilliant yellow spots and a ferocious set of teeth in its gaping jaws usually occupied pride of place in the front window.  We stood in front of the window and stared.  People ate that?  We no longer live within hailing distance of this venerable Cambridge institution, but when I pass through the neighborhood I try to stop by.  For this week’s Sardines with Ramps and Rhubarb Agrodolce I made a special trip.

Asparagus with Horseradish Cream, Chervil and Honey

Asparagus with Horseradish Cream-1869-2   When did asparagus start to look like it grew up down creek from the leaky nuke plant?  Once upon a time all bundles of asparagus resembled packs of Ticonderoga #2’s, except they were green instead of school bus yellow, and tipped with terminal buds instead of pink erasers.  And thin.  Thinner than pencils.  Not these Asparagus with Horseradish Cream, Chervil and Honey.  These guys are hefty, but by today’s standards they’re mid-size.  Larger examples abound, at least at our local WFM.  Blame France–they started it.   A handful of Februaries ago, in a more innocent age of asparagus, I was strolling through the open air market near Bastille with a Parisian friend when she paused before a box of giant asparagus, not yet widespread in the US.  Gargantuan and lavender.   She pincered a particularly fat one with two fingers, cocked an eyebrow upward as she examined it and then said, “C’est genial, ceci.”  Nice, this one.  Nice embraces a variety of meanings, but for purposes of this post I’m going to take it to mean delicious.  After eating some I had to agree and since then, I’ve grown to prefer big asparagus.  Once you get past the, uh, big factor there’s more there there, more asparagus flavor.  Thin asparagus are the vegetable analog to spare ribs.  Crazy delicious, but you need to eat a wheelbarrow of them before you cry, “Enough!”  With the new Schwarzenegger stalks the crazy delicious remains, but embodied in fewer stalks to snap and peel (if you’re the snapping-peeling type) and, since asparagus are finger food, sigh, less opportunity to dribble sauce down your front.

Panelle

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Last month I attended a special dinner at Rialto featuring dishes from Fabrizia Lanza’s wonderful 2012 COMING HOME TO SICILY.   Everything was cooked by the Rialto Team, under Fabrizia’s direction, whom Jody had met years ago on a biking adventure in Italy.  You may know Fabrizia as the daughter of Anna Tasca Lanza, founder of the famed Sicilian cooking school Case Vecchie.  Art historian turned passionate cook and cultural advocate for her native land, Fabrizia now leads Case Vecchie, writes about Sicilian food and is building a video archive of Sicilians engaged in culinary traditions increasingly imperiled as the outside world seeps into island life.  

As usual, I got held up, arrived late for the dinner, and slid into my chair with a longing glance toward everyone else’s empty appetizer plates.  At that moment Fabrizia, a slender patrician woman who looked as though she might have as easily discussed the subtleties of Botticelli’s brush technique as she did the culinary pleasures of wild fennel, was  giving the room a brief introduction to Sicilian cuisine and I didn’t want to cause a stir by asking anyone to explain what I’d missed.  The menu card next to my plate simply identified the course as Panelle.  A waiter took pity on me and few moments later set a saucer with two triangles of something in front of me.  Without my glasses I might have mistaken them for shortbread.  I took a bite.  A rich toasty flavor at once comforting and tantalizing elusive filled my mouth.  The triangles had thin crispy edges and a bit of creaminess in their thickest part, the center. “What are these?” I asked Jody, who said hi on her way back into the kitchen with Fabrizia.  “Chickpea flour,” she said.  “And water and salt.”  “That’s it?”  “That’s it,” she said, “Amazing, aren’t they?”  And that is how I had my first taste of the subject of this week’s post, Panelle.

Something Wicked This Way Comes – Fried Stuffed Olives

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Two kinds of cooks entertain at home: those who want guests in their kitchen, and those who don’t.  Fried Stuffed Olives are definitely for the former.  Filled with pork, salami, mortadella and cheese, these little bits of indulgence are best while still warm.  Out of the pan and into the mouth, with only a minute or two in between.  That means people nearby, glass of wine in hand, paper towel at the ready.  Cook, drain, eat.  Fun all round.

Tomato and Burrata Salad with Basil, Olives and Capers

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We’re obsessing over peeled tomatoes.  Jody has even made a convert of me, Mr. No-Fuss-No-Muss.  Tomato and Burrata Salad with Basil, Olives and Capers might well have begun Peeled Tomato…  By the end of the summer you’ll either be slipping tomatoes out of their skins quicker than a fast-change artist in a costume shop. . . or you’ll be reading another food blog that doesn’t ask so much of you.  But if you do, you’ll miss the supple sensation that is a tomato without its skin, as well as a remarkable esthetic experience.  I, for one, had no idea how ordinary tomatoes metamorphosed into the Betty Grables of the garden without their skins.   They’re gorgeous.

And nothing makes it worth the effort – trifling as it is – of removing a few tomato skins than pairing the tomatoes with burrata, the really hot cousin of bufala mozzarella.