Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Things I may not necessarily have told a dinner guest

First, our dinner was still wearing its face when I brought it home.

rainbow trout

That's Edwina on the left, and her friend Carl on the right, being shy.

Their heads (and tails) had to come off before they could fit in my skillet, and these were the very first beheadings in the Tiny Banquet Kitchen. I am pleased to announce that it all happened swiftly thanks to Forschner Victorinox, and there was no jeering.

Second, the reason why the potatoes were so good was that I roasted them in duck fat. Quack, quack. According to the people at D'Artagnan it is "nutritionally similar to olive oil," but it sounds like a fattier fat, doesn't it?

roasted potatoes

Fingerling potatoes with a few shreds of sage.

We ate the trout with a hazelnut and mushroom stuffing from Madeleine Kamman's
Savoie: The Land, People, and Food of the French Alps. I was going to hold off on writing about this recipe until autumn because it seems . . . autumnal, but we're still wearing heavy coats and occasionally seeing snow flurries here so I guess now is as good a time as any.

hazelnut-stuffed trout

The stuffing works well with the subtly sweet flavor of the trout, and the crisp skin is so delicious that we ate everything but the wee little fins. If you try the recipe (below), do not be tempted to skip the step of clarifying the butter; you need it for this recipe because regular butter would start to smoke before it got hot enough to sauté the fish, and the flavor of olive oil wouldn't work as well with the hazelnuts. There are good instructions on how to clarify butter here if you need them. The butter will make loud cracking noises while it heats, and as with popcorn, the noise will helpfully slow down all of a sudden to let you know that it's time to take the pan off the heat.

The bread crumbs are easiest to make by chopping a few small chunks of baguette in the food processor, but you only need a couple tablespoons of crumbs so you could instead just tear the bread into very small pieces with your hands.

As for the hazelnuts, the easiest way to remove their skin is to gather them in the center of a clean dish towel as soon as they've finished toasting in the oven. (
350°F for 15 minutes). Rub the little bundle between your hands as briskly as you can. This should remove most of the skin; scoop up the nuts, shake out the towel, and if necessary, repeat the process while the nuts are still warm to remove the rest. If you are a city dweller without a backyard, shake your hazelnut-skinning towel out the bathroom window, into the airshaft; the skins are perfectly biodegradable and might make a nice nest for whatever little creatures live down there.

I've lightly edited the recipe instructions for clarity; the admonition at the end is Kamman's. I made the full quantity of stuffing although I had only 2 trout to stuff; the leftover stuffing can be baked in mushroom caps the next day, or it can be the filling for an omelet.

Hazelnut-stuffed trout
Truite Farcie aux Noiettes

6 trout, cleaned and boned, or 1 larger fish (to serve 6)
2 tablespoons butter
1 shallot, finely chopped
1/2 pound mushrooms, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh bread crumbs
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons chopped parsley
1/3 cup peeled, toasted hazelnuts, finely chopped
2-3 tablespoons heavy cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper
All-purpose flour (enough to flour the fish)
1/2 cup clarified butter

Heat the two tablespoons of butter in a skillet and s
auté the shallot and mushrooms until the mushrooms start to release their liquid. Add the bread crumbs, garlic, parsley, hazelnuts and heavy cream and season to taste with salt and pepper.

Let the stuffing cool in a bowl and wipe the skillet clean. When the stuffing has cooled, use an equal amount to stuff the cavity of each trout, or, if using a large fish, stuff the cavity with all of it. (If you've made the stuffing in advance and refrigerated it, let it come to room temperature before you stuff and fry the fish; otherwise it won't heat all the way through in the brief time it takes to cook the fish).

Lightly flour the fish and panfry it in the clarified butter for approximately 4 minutes per side, or until the skin is brown and crisp. If using a whole fish, broil it for approximately 6 minutes on each side. Serve plain, without any other sauce.

As for the accompanying potatoes, there is an interesting Nigella Lawson recipe involving goose fat and semolina here and a simpler BBC recipe here. It is far easier to find duck fat than goose fat and I've been using it to roast potatoes since I picked up one of those little D'Artagnan tubs; the flavor is very good and the fat seems to keep well in the freezer.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

I hope the bunny left something good
in your basket

Easter 1978

Easter, 1978. That's me on the left and my cousin on the right.

Here is a more-or-less healthy recipe for persons who may have over-indulged in chocolate bunnies, stale jelly beans, and Cadbury mini eggs.

let's eat some greens

Polenta with chickpeas and wilted chicory

medium-coarse polenta
2 small cloves of garlic or 1 large
2-3 shallots or 1 small onion
1 large jalapeño or other spicy chile pepper, seeds removed
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed under cold running water
1 large head of chicory (sometimes called curly endive), washed and torn into pieces
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
freshly grated good-quality parmesan or pecorino romano

Prepare the polenta according to the instructions on the package. (I like this one in the striped bag with the little king on it; it cooks in about 15 minutes).

Mince the garlic, the shallots and the chile pepper.

Heat the olive oil in a medium- to large-size sauté pan until it's hot but not smoking. Add the garlic and the shallots and cook, stirring, until they soften and just begin to brown. Add the chile pepper and cook for another 30 seconds, or until it begins to soften. Add the chickpeas to the pan and cook until they are heated through and beginning to brown, 3 to 5 minutes. Then add the chicory to the pan in batches, stirring, until it's all wilted. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Spoon the mixture over the polenta and top with the grated cheese.

Serves 2 to 3. Leftover greens and chickpeas are good in a toasted pita.

Note: If the chickpea-and-chicory mixure is finished cooking before the polenta, just keep it warm in a covered pan until needed; it doesn't need to be super-hot when you serve it.

Friday, April 06, 2007

mon sac à légumes

It's getting to be that time of year when I will be carrying great big bags of produce home from the farmers' market, so I was happy to find this adorable bag for sale for a very reasonable $13, VAT excluded.

I put it in my cart and voila, shipping to les États-Unis is FORTY NINE DOLLARS AND SEVENTY-FOUR CENTS. Incroyable! Does it come with un petite bag of l'herbe? I don't believe it does.

So, on to Manufactum, where I found a terrific bag woven of steel fibers:

Into my cart it went, along with a few irresistible notebooks just the right size for grocery lists. And then? The drop-down list of countries Manufactum ships to seems to stop at Sweden. No "United . . ." anything. Sigh.

Cute canvas totes are easy enough to find and work as well for men as they do for women — at least, here in Manhattan they're a good look for everyone; I can't speak for whether or not a man-tote would be acceptable in Boise — but they don't ever seem to hold as much as one thinks they might, and they tend to get dirty fast.

I've noticed this sort of cart for sale more and more often; I suppose it might be useful, but if you have that many mouths to feed, might one or two members of your brood be pressed into service to carry your heaviest bag of tomatoes and your most-unwieldy squashes? Your tomatoes would probably be squished in the pricey basket anyhow.

I'm just going to continue frumping up the markets for now with one of my half-dozen hippie string bags. Hopefully I will not continue losing them on a weekly basis, but in my experience they are harder to keep track of than socks or even teaspoons.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Committee stuffs its collective pie-hole with teeny tiny greens

micro celery!

Micro celery from Satur Farms, available at Fresh Direct (along with micro red amaranth, micro cilantro, and mixed micro greens). The world's tiniest celery has a strong and true celery flavor, but what do you do with it?

salmon with gremolata

We had little fluffy piles of it dressed lightly with olive oil and lemon juice alongside salmon with gremolata and mushrooms à la Grecque. If you are not familiar with the former, gremolata is basically a pesto made without cheese or nuts. Most recipes contain parsley and lemon zest and garlic; mint might stand in for part of the parsley and lime might take the place of lemon, and if the cook is unconcerned with tradition for tradition's sake there might also be capers in the mix. Wikipedia notes that gremolata is similar to persillade but only in the persillade entry will you see that both are similar to pistou.

The recipe for the salmon is here (scroll down) and I would happily make it again. I had just two salmon fillets but made the full quantity of gremolata; the left-overs can be put to excellent use, particularly if you reduce the amount of salt by half. You can always salt your salmon to taste at the table, but if you are stirring the remaining gremolata into risotto or scrambled eggs or spreading it on a sandwich or spooning it on top of a bowl of soup you won't want it too salty.

As for the mushrooms à la Grecque, I'd never made them before and when I began comparing recipes I soon realized that there is no definitive version. In all instances this is a dish of mushrooms cooked in olive oil, seasoned with coriander seeds, and served chilled, but the acidity might come from white wine or from lemon juice, and in addition to coriander there might be thyme or maybe some other herbs. There is usually chopped tomato or tomato paste, and possibly onion or shallots.

mushrooms  à la Grecque

I used both this recipe and this one and worked with what I had in the kitchen, which meant that I left out the tomatoes and the substitute tomato paste. My version instead used the following ingredients:

1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup white wine
1 generous teaspoon coriander seeds
1 sprig of thyme
1 fresh bay leaf
1/2 pound of white mushrooms, cleaned and cut in half or in quarters if large
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Bring the olive oil, the wine, the coriander seeds, the thyme and the bay leaf to a boil. Add the mushrooms and simmer for ten minutes, uncovered. Allow the mushrooms to cool in the liquid, season to taste with salt and pepper, and refrigerate both the mushrooms and the liquid in a covered dish until well chilled.

The mushrooms were very, very good and I have a feeling I am going to be making some variation on them every week during the summer, particularly with zucchini in place of the mushrooms. The flavorful liquid shouldn't go to waste; with a squeeze of lemon juice it makes a delicious salad dressing.

The left-over micro celery went into a sandwich, but it was no match for good ham and strong mustard. I think it's far better suited to adorning hors d'oeuvres: a spoonful of shrimp or lobster salad on a tiny round of toasted brioche, or a slice of roasted beet topped with crème fraîche on a square of dark bread, or a deviled egg (in place of the old lady-ish dusting of paprika).

The left-over gremolata, on the other hand, was excellent spread on bread and toasted under the broiler.

the leftover gremolata

With a grilled chicken breast and some normal-sized greens from the deli, and desserts from the falafel take-away, it made for a satisfying indoor cherry blossom-viewing picnic.

it's here, it's here!