Lasagna with Pistachio Pesto and Prosciutto

Pesto-Prosciutto Lasagna-2091

I eat a tomato lasagna about twice a year.  When it appears in caveman portions, as it usually does, the sight of it fills me with a kind of anticipatory fatigue.  Oh, no…  Am I really up for this?  It doesn’t have to be this way.  A Ligurian lasagna redolent of basil and pine nuts is seductively lighter, a Wilma Flintstone to Fred’s red version.  No need to clean the Augean stables or capture the Cretan bull to work up an appetite before you can eat it.  Ordinary hunger will do just fine for Lasagna with Pistachio Pesto and Prosciutto.

Lemon-Rhubarb Custard Soufflé

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Never schedule a photo shoot with your wife for the day after she disassembles and packs her Seven road bike for a trip.  Not unless you want dessert sharing the frame with epidermal roadkill.  A Photoshop alchemist might be able to redeem the damage, but my skills are more 4th-grade pick-a-card-any-card than digital wizard.  If you catch a gouged finger–and there are ten of them in this post–or a bashed nail, you know why.  But no matter–spring is here.  Somewhere people are riding bicycles.  Tufted titmice are peter-peter-peter-ing. And if this morning you woke up to a dusting of snow, as we did in Boston, you can still make yourself a sweet-tart dessert with a concentrated essence of Spring in it, Lemon-Rhubarb Custard Soufflé.  And a great dessert it is, with two kinds of tartness, and 3 different textures, even if the hands that made it look a bit worse for the wear.

Spaghetti with Bottarga, Preserved Lemon and Chilies

Spaghetti with Bottarga and Preserved Lemon-2667

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.

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.

Layla and Mohammed’s Moroccan Short Ribs of Beef with Prunes and Ras el Hanout

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The little piles of sesame seeds atop the prunes are the traditional way of garnishing the dish.

We’re baaaaaaacccckkkkk….  with a dish that’s great for a winter that refuses to die–Moroccan Short Ribs of Beef with Prunes and Ras el Hanout.  Before we stumbled through an invisible portal into the Gehenna of wiring, longtime Rialto employee Mohammed Karachi and his family spent a morning cooking with us.  Mohammed’s wife Layla walked us through their Moroccan family recipe for braised short ribs, using ras el hanout from Mohammed’s mother.  What a treat!  Layla’s ribs easily earned a place in my personal pantheon of great braised dishes.  The spicy and sweet components are kept separate until the dish is served.  Do you want a forkful of beef with Moroccan seasoning and a bit of prune at the same time?  Or first the spicy, then the sweet?  (My preference.)  It’s comforting either way.

Wiring – Part Deux

[caption id="attachment_8631" align="aligncenter" width="400"]Wiring-0020 The Mother of All Evils[/caption]

Dust.  Dust everywhere.  Dust up the river.  Dust in the counting houses.  Dust atop the rooftops and down the chimneys.  Dust creeping into the collier-brigs, dust settling between the toes of the subway captain, and above in the yards of a great (and dusty) city.  The fortune cookie that accompanied the newsboy’s take-out Beef Chow Fun last night read, EXPECT VACUUMING.  The photographer dreads dust the way vampires (old school) fear garlic.  He glides in across his dusty parquet like a thief and is put in mind of astronauts doing their bouncy-bouncy across the Mare Tranquillitatis, clouds of lunar poussière rising to envelope them to their shins.

An Unfortunate Series of Events

Wiring 3-1-2

Due to an unforeseen and unfortunate series of events we’ve discovered that safety bids us rewire our home.  Gaaaaaaccckkk!  Aside from the inconvenience of having wires dangling everywhere, there is also the attendant problem of dust, bane of cameras and food.

The Ant and the Grasshopper… come for dinner.

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Eating a cricket involves a leap of faith.  I made that leap, along with a hundred and fifty other intrepid eaters at the Little Herds Future Food Salon event at Brazos Hall in Austin, Texas last Wednesday night.  Crickets, it turns out, don’t taste too bad.  In fact, crickets and mealworms, in one form or another, are downright tasty.  Think crunch.  Think hazelnuts.  I’m serious.