Po’s Easy Pots de Crème

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For your consideration: Po’s Easy Pots de Crème.  Po is my mother-in-law and she is a master of complicated dinner party timing.  None of the slatternly boozing it up with the help in the kitchen that characterizes entertaining chez nous.  She’s all guests-in-one-place, cooks-in-another, and the brevity of a host’s absence from her guests only redounds to her reputation for efficient culinary management.  Ninety-percent of this recipe is “Place all of the ingredients… in a blender.”  Not that you’d know it from the taste and texture.  Remember how the genie in Disney’s ALADDIN describes his life?  “ALL THE POWER OF THE UNIVERSE… in a teeny little space.”  That’s this dessert.

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.

Sea Scallops, Peas and Chervil

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If I ever leave New England, it will be the taste of a freshly seared Atlantic sea scallop that brings me back.  Big, meaty, packed with marine flavor.  When people talk about regional American cuisine and they trot out Texas or North Carolina barbecue or Virginia hams or Alaskan salmon, I always ask if they’ve ever tasted a genuine New England sea scallop.  Most haven’t.  This week: Sea Scallops, Peas and Chervil.  The sea scallops are large, they take a thin edge of delicious sear while remaining moist and rare in the center, and they hold a delicious court with butter, peas and chervil.

Coconut Panna Cotta with Spicy Mango

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I know people who organize their restaurant meals around dessert.  Pas moi.  The light in my brain, my desire for dessert, flickers in fits and starts, dependent on context and the availability of something inclined to my retrograde tastes.   A slice of fruit tart is never amiss at the end of a picnic: if I know that a master of crème caramel, flying in the face of fashion, resides in the house, I can be tempted.  As I can be with homemade panna cotta, that exquisitely delicate Italian wobbler.  When Sara Cravedi, the pastry chef at Trade, introduced a coconut panna cotta onto the dessert menu, my dessert light began flashing an SOS.  Sara’s dessert includes a scoop of avocado ice cream, crumbled peanut brittle and a mango macerated with lime and habanero pepper.  It come together in an interplacy of heat, fat, sweetness, delicacy and unctuousness.  Jody’s Coconut Panna Cotta with Spicy Mango pares things down to just a pair of flavors–coconut and mango–just in case you don’t have an ice cream machine and pastry kitchen standing in readiness for the next dessert launch.  To make it even easier, there’s no need to un-mold this panna cotta–it’s served in its glass, topped with a spoonful of spicy mango.  Think of the panna cotta and mango as a couple that wandered off the terrace party to do a little dance by themselves down on the beach.

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.

Lasagna with Pistachio Pesto and Prosciutto

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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

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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.

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.