Spaghetti with Bottarga, Preserved Lemon and Chilies

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For the last two years we’ve posted spring recipes for shad roe, a seasonal reward for surviving winter. We’re still rolling with roe this year, but of a dramatically different kind: Spaghetti with Bottarga, Preserved Lemon and Chilies. Bottarga is the salted dried roe of gray mullet or bluefin tuna. Grated over pasta or served in very thin slices, it may be even more of an umami bomb than garum. Until recently only Americans fortunate enough to travel to Sicily, Sardinia or parts of Calabria were likely to encounter bottarga. But about ten years ago lumps of bottarga began showing up in a few American chefs’ hands. Its rich, funky flavor provokes either love or hate, but at twelve to fifteen dollars an ounce, it’s pricey enough to keep all but the curious or committed from seeking it out and trying it. Two ounces is more than enough for pasta for 4. Be forwarned: the curious have a way of morphing into bottarga zealots after their initial taste experience. Think guanciale of the sea. Armed with a small amount of bottarga and prep so rudimentary it makes bolognese look like a kidney transplant, you can make a pasta dish fit for the gods.

Dutch Babies with Blood Oranges

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Jody cautioned me not to create any titles with “babies” and “blood” in them.  Then she made the tactical error of going to work.  Herewith Dutch Babies with Blood Oranges.  C’mon, like you wouldn’t have done the same thing?  Besides, after last week’s Attack of the Devil Baby* prank on New Yorkers, I figured you could handle it. What’s a little shudder when these “babies” taste so good, when the payoff is having a hot air balloon collapse in front of you, its final gasps scented with vanilla, cinnamon, orange and lemon?  What name would you choose for this wheezy pastry–Dutch baby or German pancake, the main alternative?  Dutch babies sound playful, easy, maybe even good for you.  German pancakes, whatever their other virtues, convey an air of seriousness. “Time for German pancakes!” could be a euphemism for “Let’s build a railroad through the Black Forest.”   So what’s your choice?  Light-cuddly-easy?  Or Heavy-serious-Hans-Henry-was-a-steel-drivin’-man?   Right.  Dutch babies it is. And don’t forget the blood oranges.

The one that got away – Lentil, Pepper and Escarole Soup

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Shouldn’t Prairie Home Companion have a folksy sponsor like the American Soup Council to tout this most comforting of all dishes?  Imagine the catchphrases: “Soup – we’ve got your back,” or “Soup – a mom in every bowl,” or even, “Soup – at least the barn didn’t burn down.”  That’s how I feel about this week’s spicy makeover – Lentil, Pepper and Escarole Soup.  I just had a bowl.  It was all the things soup should be – tasty and warm and reassuring.  It certainly dispelled some of the gloom attendant on my losing this week’s photographs.

That’s right, I lost them.

On a night not fit for man nor beast – Salted Butterscotch Custard

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As I write this (Thursday) the Big Bad Wolf howls about our house, a slavering gale sniffing out chinks, probing for weaknesses.  The temperature is expected to plunge to 5 or 6 above zero by morning, with Boston adrift in over a foot of snow before the blizzard subsides Friday evening.  In our current larder we have bread, sweet potatoes and bitter greens that Jody made tonight, chewy papardelle noodles with smoked goose and tomato sauce–the last hurrah of our Christmas birds–and a few precious survivors of this week’s post, Salted Butterscotch Custards.  We couldn’t be snugger.

Back to meat – Rialto Bolognese

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The good news is you get a great pasta sauce this week.  The bad news is you get the pasta part of the post next week.  We thought asking you to make both the sauce and the fresh pasta would be asking too much, so this week we’re doing Rialto Bolognese, enough sauce for three meals.  Next week we’ll be posting Fresh Tagliatelle.  You can wait until then to bring them together, or simply use a pound of your favorite fresh wide noodle pasta and jump the gun.  In fact, the great thing about a sauce like this is having it on hand, ready to go, for a meal when all you have to do make the pasta.

Tomato and Farro Soup

 

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Back in 2001, when we were working on our cookbook, farro was still rare.  If you went to the right restaurants, if you frequented the vortices of culinary hipness.  Italian delis, in New York or San Francisco maybe.  Specialty food stores, the occasional sighting.  How the world has turned in a dozen years!  Now you can often buy farro in grocery stores, which is a good thing if you want to make this week’s Tomato – Farro Soup.

Eggs Baked in Avocado

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Eggs Baked in Avocado is as easy and foolproof a brunch as you’re likely to find, unless your local patissière delivers bags of warm fresh-baked croissants.  If you happen to come into some warm croissants or decent bread to serve with the eggs and avocados, all the better.  Baked avocadoes are delicious, but it’s hardly surprising most people have never eaten one, not when a ripe avocado is so good with just a squeeze of lime and a bit of salt.  A baked avocado has a rich, deep flavor that loves complimentary fat, like an egg yolk or cream, or the acidic contrast of a salad.  As we were pulling the elements of this post together I suggested topping the eggs with a spoonful of crème fraîche and calling it a day.  Not Jody.  The rule in our house is, once you open an avocado, you eat it–or you make sure someone else does–that same day, so just setting aside the cup of avocado flesh leftover from making a bit of room for the eggs was completely unacceptable.  You’re the lucky beneficiaries – you get eggs baked in avocados, served with a spicy avocado salad and crème fraîche.

Fig, Plum and Hazelnut Tart

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Oh, the things we do, the torments we endure, so you don’t have to.  The week’s Fig, Plum and and Hazelnut Tart didn’t start out as the walk in the park below.  After helping everyone become a tart shell master last week we thought we’d put the technique to good use with a simple fig and mascarpone tart.  However, after half our figs disappeared the night before we were scheduled to blog, we had to rethink our plan.  Nearby Allandale Farm had no figs, but they did have plums.  Voilà fig and plum tart.

Ginny’s Mexican Corn Salad

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Mexican Corn Salad is a riff on the south-of-the-border street food classic – grilled corn served with lime, mayo and cheese.  Except there was no room on our grill, so Jody’s sister Ginny, the creator of the dish,  threw it in the oven just to see what would happen.  It didn’t get smokey or charred, the way it would have on the grill, but it worked out fine nevertheless.  Testing the salad four times in the last two weeks (i.e. fed our kids and their friends), confirmed what we’ve always suspected: whether the corn is local or not is way more important than whether it’s cooked on the grill or in the oven.  We sampled corn from Whole Foods, from a farmers market down on the Cape and from our neighbor outside of Boston, Allandale Farms.  That latter two choices made corn salads that sing – the Whole Foods option was okay (the kids hoovered it up), but not in the same league as the farm stuff.   Don’t cheat yourself.  If you’ve got local corn available, use it–even if you just steam it.  People get a little loopy about corn, perhaps because it shows up so late in the season.  I’ve seen people who would sneer at an out of state tomato pawing through a mound of imported supermarket corn in June, obsessively wrenching apart  the husks to peer into the crown, invariably disappointed.  What are they hoping to find?  Do they really think that the starchy ears trucked in from ten states away will be any good?  Have tomatoes taught them nothing?  If peace, love and happiness aren’t growing in your own back yard–at least when it comes to corn and tomatoes–then they probably aren’t growing anywhere at all.