3.25.2013

Prosciutto e Melone

I was going through some old photos today and came across this delightful looking one that I took of my lunch last summer. Prosciutto and melon is a pretty classic pairing even stateside these days, it was a part of the curriculum in my International class in culinary school and I'm fairly certain I even remember eating it at a wedding in the late nineties. It is one of my favorite summertime treats, the sweet juicy cantaloupe and the dry salty prosciutto make for a delicious and light pairing. 

It also reminds me a lot of my first summer in Bologna; making more new memories quicker than I would ever be able to remember, meeting new friends, and of all things, gelato. Some things you just never forget. I'll never forget sitting in wonderment at a table full of Italian musicians laughing and teasing each other, while I ate prosciutto e melone.  

Today, I'm dreaming of summer in Italy. And gelato.


As long as you're buying the good stuff, that being Prosciutto di Parma, a little prosciutto goes a long way. A quarter pound usually ends up somewhere between six and eight slices depending how thinly sliced it is, and where it's being sliced from on the leg. That's plenty for three people as a light lunch with two generous slices each of ripe cantaloupe. Buon appetito! 

3.21.2013

Egg-cellence

I sort of have an obsession with eggs. And it’s sort of gotten worse over the last year or so, but there’s a qualifier involved, I can’t stand an over cooked egg. Things such as frittatas, quiches, scrambled eggs, all are questionable unless made by myself or a deeply trusted cook. It’s a texture thing. When it comes to whole eggs (boiled, poached, fried) it must be a medium yolk, which surprisingly, takes love and attention to one's egg. Whites set but not browned or rubbery, yolk still a deep orangey color and thickened like a sauce but not too runny and certainly not pale and chalky. I’ve come to truly love eating eggs for breakfast as well as for lunch or dinner, something I never really thought about doing until an Italian friend served us sautéed onions and potatoes that he had cracked eggs over and cooked until the yolks were barely set, and just like that called it dinner! I loved it and made it often with fresh herbs, and sometimes tomatoes while we lived in Italy. Then two autumns ago, while I was out visiting in California, my friend Andrew took me to an amazing Israeli restaurant for shashuka (eggs poached in a spicy Mediterranean tomato sauce) and my egg obsession really started to grow. I make a riff on the tomatoes with bacon, parmigiano-reggiano and good olive oil almost weekly. I’m known, famous even, for adding a poached egg to pretty much anything and calling it good; salad, soba and other Asian inspired noodles, pasta. You name it, and I’ve probably got an instagrammed photo of it.

This afternoon, I made a late lunch out of garlic, sausage, potatoes, and a can of tomatoes. Then cracked a few eggs into them and delighted in the outcome. I used breakfast sausage because most of the premade sausages don’t appeal to me. Sweet Italian sausage links aren’t at all similar to what we ate in Bologna, and I don’t particularly care for the abundance of fennel seed. If they or any other type of sausages appeal to you, please, use them to your taste. I also normally use red potatoes but had a lot of leftover brown russet potatoes left over from St. Patrick’s day, so threw those in instead. Versatility is the heart of this recipe, and that means it will always be delicious. Accompany this one dish delight with sliced baguette and lots of freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. 

    
 Rustic Sausage and Tomato Stew
Serves three hungry people

Ingredients
3 cloves of garlic, sliced thinly
2 medium sized red or brown russet potatoes, medium dice
1 28 oz can of diced tomatoes
16 oz Breakfast style pork sausage
6 large eggs
2 large sprigs fresh thyme
about 4 handfuls of fresh arugula

Method:
Warm about two tablespoons olive oil in a large, deep sauté pan over medium high heat, add garlic and stir until fragrant. Add sausage and brown about five minutes stirring occasionally. In the meantime dice potatoes and add to the pan along with the can of tomatoes plus one canful of water and fresh thyme. Cook until potatoes are tender 15-20 minutes on medium low heat. Reduce heat to low. 

One at a time crack each egg into a small bowl and arrange over the tomato mixture. Cover and cook until eggs are just set about 8 minutes or so, whites will be completely set and yolks will be slightly firm to touch.

Serve in shallow pasta dishes and garnish with a few handfuls of torn arugula and sea salt. 

Buon appetito!

3.13.2013

Unexpected Nostalgia

This morning I was online perusing The New York Times Dining & Wine section, it’s my weekly hump day highlight, and an article called Treasures of the Alps caught my eye. I clicked on it and it turned out to be about featured wines from one of my favorite regions in Italy; Valle D’Aosta. I didn’t even finish reading it because I started to reminisce about the last time I was there. In June 2009, I was fortunate enough to be a part of a week long road trip to Switzerland. From Bologna we drove through Valle D’Aosta, where we spent the night in Aosta before moving on, and had a lovely experience in this little known region of Italy. 


Valle D’Aosta is Italy’s smallest region tucked right under the alpine borders of France and Switzerland. Being in the Italian Alps it’s attractive for the many ski resorts and even has a national park. Other than that it’s almost all sparsely populated rural towns and villages with the capital city being Aosta. It’s a small city with a clear Roman heritage and culturally a sweet mix of French and Italian, from the street names to the cuisine. We experienced a delicious Valdostana meal of roasted rabbit, local cheeses and a baked dish of crespelle (Italian crepes) and fontina paired with a local Gewurztraminer. We walked the cobblestone streets admiring the small specialty shops and enjoyed drinks in Piazza Chanoux. I adored Aosta for its culture and history, and like most Italian cities, a major perk was how easy the city center was to navigate by foot. What made me fall in love with it, however, was its pure untouched and lush beauty. How it was nestled in the Italian Alps, hidden from the rest of Italy and the surrounding borders. It’s a place I consistently dream about returning to and one of the first places I recommend going to when people ask about Europe.



If you decide to travel to Valle D’Aosta, I highly recommend staying at a small agriturismo called La Reina outside the center of Aosta. We stayed in the green room twice, and absolutely loved it for the quality, good food and fantastic people. It’s a family run operation on a small plot of land with a small garden and livestock. For breakfast they set out an assortment of fruit preserves and bread for us, as well as some amazing charcuterie, everything made in house. The concept of an agriturismo is similar to that of a bed and breakfast, usually a family run farmhouse inn with breakfast included but made with ingredients produced or grown on the farm or from other local farms. Sometimes agriturismi also feature live music on the weekends and a farm to table dinner menu. It’s meant to be a way to combine agriculture and tourism, hence the name agriturismo. These days we are learning how important it is to support small businesses and local economies, so it is a great way to help a community that you’re visiting while abroad. It is also an excellent opportunity to experience the locals. It’s one of my many culinary dreams to have a similar concept here in the U.S. some day.

Sometimes I forget how fortunate I am to have experienced living and traveling in Europe. I take it for granted but then am somehow reminded of the places I’ve seen and I can’t believe that I’ve seen them. Photos of places I had never heard of until a few years ago are sitting in folders on my computer, and I’m amazed all over again when I look at them. It reignites my passion for travel, for culture, and for learning. While I miss Bologna and Europe, I look forward to my future traveling and eating endeavors across other continents and can’t wait to share them with you. 


3.11.2013

Springing Forward

With March upon us, spring is starting to approach ever so slightly. The temperature is already noticeably warmer and the air is even starting to smell spring like; I’m thriving! The lovely warm and clear weather from the past few days put me in a mood for something light, something fresh and palate cleansing. Initially, I thought about making a meal out of bread and cheese but I was craving something green, too. I looked around the cheese shop, searching for inspiration as I closed for the evening. My eye caught a bottle of Monmarte, a French sparkling white wine, and my mind started to think Parisian. I remembered a delicious starter salad with fried goat cheese that I tasted while in Paris a few years ago. The two seemed like a logical pairing and so I decided on dinner.


I have a deep affinity for sparkling white wines, Prosecco being my favorite for its crisp clean taste and small bubbles. This Monmarte is quite comparable; clean with small bubbles but with distinctive fruit and a lovely dry finish. As you might already know from my post on Midnight Moon, I also have a deep affection for goat cheese. It’s most often my preferred choice so when I remembered that delicious goat cheese salad, I figured it would make for the quick and light dinner I coveted. When I got home I raided my pantry and fridge and pulled out any enticing ingredients as I went along. From the fridge I pulled out a cucumber, an egg, mixed greens, some leftover cooked bacon, roasted walnut oil and some garlic stuffed green olives. The pantry selection included a can of artichoke hearts, a shallot, and bread crumbs. I snacked on the garlic stuffed olives while I prepare dinner and in less than twenty minutes I sat down to a delightful salad with a refreshing glass of wine.


Parisian Inspired Green Salad with Fried Chèvre
Two light servings

 Ingredients
4 large handfuls of mixed greens, torn
½ cucumber, peeled and thinly sliced
½ shallot, thinly sliced
5 canned artichoke hearts, quartered
4 slices of bacon, chopped
Roasted walnut oil
1 small log of Vermont Creamery fresh chèvre
1 large egg, beaten
About 4 TBSP of bread crumbs
Flaky sea salt (such as Maldon) and freshly cracked pepper, to taste

Method:
In a large bowl combine mixed greens, cucumber, shallot, artichoke hearts, and bacon. Set aside.

In a cast iron or nonstick pan heat about four tablespoons pure olive oil. To maintain a clean cut use a thread or unwaxed dental floss cut chèvre log into quarters. Dip the chèvre quarters into the beaten egg and then into the salted and peppered breadcrumbs until fully coated. Add breaded chèvre to hot pan and cook until golden brown, two to three minutes per side. Set on a paper towl.

Drizzle salad with roasted walnut oil and toss until fully coated, split between two pasta bowls and top with with warm fried chèvre and sea salt. Garnish with two garlic stuffed olives if desired. 


I typically only dress my salads with a good extra virigin olive oil and some sea salt or crushed red pepper so I found the roasted walnut oil to be a delicious and light dressing for this salad. If you prefer a heavier dressed salad feel free to make a vinaigrette of your choice instead. I recommend staying away from dairy based dressings and keeping with a classic French vinaigrette or a lemon citronette.

3.06.2013

Middle School Memories

I hadn’t planned on writing today but my dinner ended up being so quick and so comforting that I wanted to share it. I made egg flower soup, in Chinese restaurants a similar version is often called egg drop soup but this is slightly different. The base of this recipe is one I’ve been making since I was about thirteen, I learned it from my middle school home ec. teacher, Mrs. Ikkanda. It was one of my favorite classes because it involved cooking and that has always come naturally to me, it's just always been about the food with me. My most vivid memory from that class was the way she showed us to drizzle the egg into the hot broth to give it the strand like appearance then a few classes later she warned us about tempering our cold egg into the hot mixture that would become chocolate pudding, saying she didn’t want to see any egg flower puddings. The memory still makes me laugh, and I still think of her when I make pudding from scratch.  

The basic recipe as I recall it was essentially a can of chicken broth, a few whisked eggs, and scallions. I haven’t deterred too much from the recipe over the years since its basic three ingredient method has always been simple and adored, but tonight inspiration struck and this hybrid has been my best rendition of it yet. I added a leek that’s been sitting in my fridge, patiently waiting to be turned into something yummy, some white miso to enrich and finished it with sesame oil. There's just an indescribable quality about leeks that is so fantastic, it added depth to the soup and also an elegance that I can't quite pin. The soup was simple, filling and warmed the soul on a dreary day. 


Mrs. Ikkanda’s Egg Flower Soup 2.0 
2 meal size servings or 4 appetizer servings 

Ingredients
1 leek sliced, white and pale green part only 
3 eggs, beaten 
3ish TBSP white miso
1 can of chicken broth plus two cups of water
Toasted sesame oil
Scallions to garnish (optional)

Method:
In a pot sauté leeks in about one tablespoon sesame oil on medium heat until wilted, about five minutes. Add chicken broth and water and bring to a simmer, cover and cook 10 minutes or until leeks are soft. Bring broth up to a boil and slowly drizzle in eggs, gently stir in long circular motions with chopsticks or a fork until egg “flowers” set up, you're looking for long stands of eggs rather than small scrambled egg curds. Take soup off heat. 

Add miso to a small bowl and ladle some broth into it, mix with the back of a spoon or a small whisk until dissolved and add back into pot. Keep warm on a low flame but do not boil again, it will cause the miso to become grainy.

Ladle soup into bowls and garnish with scallions finish with a light drizzle of toasted sesame seed oil. For those who like a little spice, I stirred a few spoonfuls of Sambal into my bowl and it was heavenly. 

I apologize for the half eaten bowl, it didn't occur to me to take a picture of it until I after I had already gotten most of the way through it. Let's just call it my artistic vision.

3.04.2013

Turophilia

I spend the majority of my days steaming milk, pulling shots and slinging lattes in a coffee shop; and I love it. I also usually spend about two days a week working as a cheese monger, where I often get to sample cheese with French ingénues. Okay, the French ingénue cheese tasting only happened once. Today, in fact, and it was rather thrilling. Usually the cheese sampling is with my boss and that’s pretty exciting, too, since we usually speak with French accents amongst ourselves anyway.  

The beauty of working in a gourmet food shop is the exposure to hard to find specialty products, wine, charcuterie and cheese. In the (almost) two years I’ve been with Butter's, I’ve had the opportunity to expand my wine and cheese knowledge tremendously. One thing I’ve learned on a personal basis is that I blatantly favor goat’s milk cheeses, from soft lemony fresh chevres to the beautiful wrinkled domes of Coupole from Vermont Creamery. It’s what makes my inner turophile sigh with contentment.  

One of my favorite creameries is Cypress Grove, located in Arcata, California. Cypress Grove exclusively makes goat’s milk cheeses, the most well-known being Humboldt Fog. A medium sized wheel of a soft ripened brie-like goat cheese, when cut into, it exposes a fine line of vegetable ash across the middle for an aesthetically pleasing paste. 

While I love most of the cheeses that Cypress Grove produces, what I hand sell the most in the shop is one called Midnight Moon, a nutty and slightly salty goat Gouda. I love it for its clean, subtle goaty taste; and it’s a great beginner cheese for nervous goat cheese eaters. My favorite way to eat it is straight up, maybe with a slice or two of baguette. It’s always the first cheese I pick for a cheese platter, its bright white color and distinct flavor profile makes it a great addition and its salty nuttiness pairs well with sweet accompaniments such as fig jam. It's also a fantastic cheese to stir into risotto, top on pizza or shave onto bruschetta, whatever you like, really. Go grab some and enjoy!  
 

Midnight Moon is available in specialty food stores such as Whole Foods nationwide, if you're in the Concord, NH area Butter's Fine Food and Wine carries it regularly, as well as other cheeses from Cypress Grove.