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.

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.

Salad Daze – Summer Squash Salad with Purple Basil

Summer squash salad-7852

A phrase you will never see: Big bold summer squash flavor!  Nope.  Which is why I’ll take my warm weather squash raw, as in this Summer Squash Salad with Purple Basil Vinaigrette.  Very thinly sliced, please, so I can appreciate the mild flavor and crunchy texture, ideally accented by a summery dressing, like the basil vinaigrette that tops this preparation.  Throw in a few slices of good parmiggiano and I’m in heaven.  And nobody even turned on the oven.

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.

Dutch Babies with Blood Oranges

Dutch Babies with Blood Oranges-1339

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.

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

Salted Butterscotch Custard-27

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.

Sweet Potato and Gruyère Pie with Pecans

Sweet Potato and Gruyère Pie with Pecans-13163

Who doesn’t love sweet potatoes?  Culinary gravity inexorably pulls them toward brown sugar or molasses or something candied, even with bacon (candied bacon).  But don’t do it, at least not this time.  I never encountered a sweet potato during my year abroad in the Swiss canton of Fribourg, a stone’s throw from the town of Gruyères (town, plural: cheese, singular), but I can guarantee that that if there were ever a culinary match made in heaven it’s sweet potato and that most hazelnut and butter flavored of all cheeses, aged Gruyère.  Some cheeses should never be melted (sorry, brie en croute is ghastly) but Gruyère is just the opposite.  Quiche, the poster child of boring French food from the ’70’s, is redeemed by the addition of aged Gruyère.  Fondue without Gruyère is but a pale revenant of the real deal.  Gruyère is expensive (around $20/lb.) but the recipe only calls for a cup and half of the stuff, grated, about 3 ounces.  Unfortunately, I only found out about the Gruyère after the ingredients photograph had been taken.  Jody announced that she’d added Gruyère–I couldn’t even photograph it being stirred into the bowl.  I growled and stomped around.  I should have waited until I tasted the finished pie.  Gruyère and sweet potatoes rule.

Eggs Baked in Avocado

Eggs Baked in Avocado-1

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.

Eggplant, Pepper and Tomato Gratin

Eggplant, Pepper and Tomato Gratin-1

Gratin typically brings to mind a rich and cheesy dish of root vegetables (pronounced by all American children to rhyme with “all rotten”).  Nutritional guilt over this fat fest drives food bloggers to frantic rearrangements of their refrigerator poetry magnets into epithets like “a holiday indulgence” and a “once in awhile treat.”  But in the Adams-Rivard kitchen we scoff at a such reservations.  We eat gratins when we feel like it, whether Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny is joining us for dinner or not. Thank God for bicycles.  Which offers me a segue into this week’s dish, Eggplant, Pepper and Tomato Gratin.  While pedaling through Provence a month ago we couldn’t help but notice how much lighter a Provencal gratin is than its Gerard Depardieu-like cousins to the north.  The cream had vanished, along with much of the cheese, both supplanted by olive oil, bread crumbs, and fistfuls of crushed herbs.  Olive oil, we were reminded, transforms the flesh of vegetables into something unctuous.  Caramelization is the gilding on the lily.