Marc Vetri’s Rigatoni with Swordfish and Eggplant “Fries”

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

It was partly because yesterday’s weather - warm but breezy, comfortable in the shade - reminded me so much of our biannual trips to Italy.  It was partly because I was looking for something to eat with a particular, local wine.  And it was partly because these ingredients were available concurrently at Headhouse Market.  At long last, I was ready to make Marc Vetri’s rigatoni with swordfish and eggplant fries.

This has been on my “must-make” list ever since I first opened my copy of Rustic Italian Food.  However, I never seemed to have either the time to make it (and, it must be said, this dish is rather time- and labor-intensive) or all of the necessary ingredients. 

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And, while this may have taken two people and ninety minutes from start to finish, it was worth every second.  The combination of flavors is wonderfully evocative of summer, and the ingredients are perfectly proportioned.  Moreover, as with Vetri’s fava bean and pecorino pasta, it takes very little to make a sauce: in this case, eight ounces of cherry tomatoes, garlic, onion, some olive oil, and a few tablespoons of the pasta cooking water.  That’s it.  But, trust me, once the tomatoes exude their liquid, and you see it coat the rigatoni, you will understand. 

 

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We don’t normally drink wine with lunch unless we are out or have company, but since this dish was so redolent of Italy, what could be more Italian than a long pranzo outside with a glass of wine?  In Rustic Italian Food, Jeff Benjamin recommends a Calabrian Ciro Rosso.  Not having any in my wine cellar (aka our unheated basement pantry), I used this as excuse to open this Sangiovese from Turdo Vineyards in Cape May, NJ (one of our local favorites). Sangiovese is best-known as the primary (but not necessarily sole) grape in Chianti.  However, the typical aroma (sometimes described, affectionately, as similar to a “barnyard”) and tannins are not apparent in this one.  Coupled with the soft tannins are aromas of black fruit and spices.  The medium body balanced nicely with the mild flavor of the swordfish. 

 

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It is a measure of the quality of this recipe that I would, without hesitation, make it again despite the work involved.  The only modifications I would offer are:
1) Make the eggplant fries early on and have them warming in the oven.  The rest of the dish comes together very quickly if you measure and prep everything else and, especially, if you are using dried pasta (as we did).  We let the eggplant drain on an upside-down drying rack on top of newspaper.  Then, we discarded the oil-soaked newspaper, and put the rack in the oven until we were ready.
2) Add the eggplant fries to your dish as you eat.  Start off by topping the dish with a few, and then stir in more as you eat.  This will keep them from getting soft. 
3) Cut the eggplant “fries” to match the length of the rigatoni. 
4) Either chiffonade the basil or, even better, use minette basil leaves.  Still waiting on our abysmally slow-growing basil plants in the garden, we plucked the leaves of a couple of minette basil plants in our window boxes.  The flavor is fantastic, and the small leaves were more evenly distributed. 
5) Regardless of whether you scale this recipe up or down, be sure to keep to the proportions Vetri dictates.  The balance of flavors and textures, in the correct proportions, is what makes this greater than the sum of its parts.

Posted by Kevin on 07/23 at 06:53 PM


A New Way with Carrots

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

When I pulled an actual bunch of carrots from our garden last week, it was cause for a (minor) celebration.  After years of trying and failing with Scarlet Nantes, I’d found a new variety perfectly suited for our plot.  To celebrate, then, I wanted something special.  Thanks to Yotam Ottolenghi, I found it.

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What’s particularly impressive about this dish, and Ottolenghi in general, is how he uses spices and small quantities of exotic ingredients to create vibrant, unique vegetable dishes.  Many other chefs would resort to slabs of bacon - not that there is anything wrong with bacon.  Here, however, Ottolenghi creates a curried flavor that relies on olive oil and yogurt for its fat content.  It certainly showcases the carrots, but it is also worlds away from the roasted carrot salad I normally make in summer.  I made only a few minor changes: omitting the preserved lemon and cilantro (not by choice, only by circumstance); altering the cut and, therefore, cooking time of the carrots; omitting green chiles; and substituting chives for green onions and adding them to the yogurt.  Ottolenghi suggests this as a side to a fried fish, but it was perfectly satisfying as a part of a light summer lunch along with an omelette and a green bean salad.

So, should you find yourself in possession of a fresh bunch of carrots, think twice before adding bacon.

P.S.  Unlike Smitten Kitchen, I do not ever doubt Yotam Ottolenghi’s sanity.

Posted by Kevin on 07/15 at 04:45 AM


Another Season, Another Swap

Sunday, July 13, 2014

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On Tuesday night, we participated in our sixth food swap sponsored by Philly Swappers, who host four swaps a year.  The summer and fall swaps are by far our favorites, as the range of local produce available makes for endless preserving and baking possibilities.  With each swap, we learn a bit more about what makes for a popular swap item. 

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For Tuesday’s swap, we brought Momofuku pickles, a simple quick pickle we’ve brought to every summer or fall swap, kale pesto, and giant meringues based on Yotam Ottolenghi’s recipe.  The kale came from our garden, and the pesto recipe was unique in that it didn’t require any type of nuts, a great option to offer at a swap to those with nut allergies.  The meringues - by far the most popular item we brought this swap - were essentially a byproduct of the gelato we’d made, as they were little more than egg whites and sugar flavored with a walnut liqueur.  I’d been making meringue since our first swap, but was never happy with the tiny, deflated bits my recipe turned out.  Then we went to Borough Market in London last summer and saw giant, fluffy scoops of meringue dusted with nuts or dried fruit.  Turns out these and dozens of others were imitations of Ottolenghi’s, who adapts a traditional recipe with the simple process of heating the sugar before adding to the egg whites.

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The swaps are always delightfully full of creative and novel foods, and this one was no exception.  At least two swappers offerd kimchi, one with cabbage and one with zucchini.  A few other swappers offered a either quick or naturally fermented pickle like we did, which I love for their mellow, half-sour taste.  We’ve seen kombucha at several swaps, but finally took a lovely blueberry ginger flavor this time.  We used the zucchini butter, recommended for crostini, tossed in pasta the next night and it was delicious.  The tahini cookies barely made it home. 

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Looking forward to the next swap in October

Posted by Donna on 07/13 at 05:50 AM


    A Day In The Garden By The River

    Monday, June 30, 2014

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    Last weekend we attended the Community River Fest, held at the beautiful Bartram’s Garden in Southwest Philadelphia.  We missed out on samples of Little Baby’s oyster ice cream, doled out on a floating parlor to those participating in the Schuylkill Boat Parade or lucky enough to snag one of the free kayaks, but we did get to see something new since our last visit: a thriving community garden

    In addition to education programs and plots tended by nearby residents, the garden holds a weekly farmstand from 3:30 to 6:30 every Thursday through October 30th.

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    Posted by Donna on 06/30 at 05:43 PM


      Next Philly Food Swap July 8th at the Wyck House

      Thursday, June 19, 2014

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      We’ve written about our participation in food swaps sponsored by Philly Swappers before, but this time we’d like to encourage anyone who might still be hesitant about attending to try it out.  The upcoming event is the perfect time for a first swap, and both my favorite location and time of year.  The Wyck House grounds and gardens are beautiful and a completely fitting setting for a summer swap.  And while I love bringing a pile of homemade bread to a winter swap, nothing beats being able to can and pickle all sorts of fresh produce for one, not to mention what we get to take home.  The event is free, the people are friendly, and the food is amazing.  Hope to see you there.

      Posted by Donna on 06/19 at 07:50 PM


        Asparagus for the Colder Days of Spring

        Thursday, June 12, 2014

        I know there are many vegetables that signal spring has come, and I suppose Dan Barber should have shamed me into looking for other crops, but he didn’t it.  Asparagus has always served as the harbinger of spring.  So thrilled to have fresh green vegetables again, I find asparagus at its most satisfying when it is most simply prepared: grilled, roasted, or blanched with some citrus and spices.  Nonetheless, I gorge on asparagus so fully that I occasionally need a richer preparation - if only for variety.  In this case, a recent Nigel Slater column prompted me to dig out an old Mario Batali recipe. Although Goop claims this was an exclusive for them, my version dates to his immutable Simple Italian Food.  I made a few changes to the ingredients, but the essentials remain.

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        There isn’t much to it, really.  First, I should note that I made polenta in the way that I usually make it (which is Nigella Lawson’s) with my addition of a parmesan rind.  As the polenta cooks, render fat from some pancetta cubes and then toss in onions and garlic (green garlic would have been fine as well).  Pour in some white wine, and once it has reduced, add some blanched asparagus and toss.  Then, serve over the steaming polenta.  For a little more substance to the dish, I topped it with a poached egg. 

        It isn’t really a dish to celebrate warmer days, but it’s a dish for those lingering cold nights in early May that require both comfort food and a reminder that spring has, in fact, arrived.

        Posted by Kevin on 06/12 at 07:41 PM


          Strawberry Jam and Philly Muffins

          Monday, June 09, 2014

          The strawberries are here.  After buying an early pint at the farmer’s market, we got a brimming bowlful from our own community garden plot on Saturday.  We eat these weekday mornings over granola, but by the weekend I wanted some jam.  The problem with traditional jam is that it takes quite a bit of time and to me loses that lovely fresh taste that we all love about strawberries every spring.  Thanks to this recipe from Nigel Slater, I can make warm jam with decidedly less sugar and a vibrant strawberry taste before the cappuccino’s made.  Don’t be afraid to scale down to whatever amount of fruit you’ve got - I made this batch from no more than a handful. 

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          Good jam needs good bread, and we ate ours with whole wheat Philly Muffins from Philly Bread

          Posted by Donna on 06/09 at 05:43 PM


            Shore Catch Flounder

            Thursday, June 05, 2014

            Flounder was probably the first fish I ever had.  My father was an avid fisherman and would bring them home regularly, so much so that my mother still refuses to eat them or any other whitefish.  Once I started cooking for myself, there always seemed to be more exciting choices - tuna to sear or swordfish to grill.  This recipe from the New York Times for Egg Battered Pan Fried Flounder was such an appealing combination I had to try it, especially when Shore Catch started offering local flounder regularly through both Winter Harvest and Headhouse Farmers Market.  We had it with shaved fennel tossed with olive oil, parsley and spring onions. 

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            Posted by Donna on 06/05 at 05:36 PM


              Market Highlights: Headhouse Market June 1st

              Sunday, June 01, 2014

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              The first market in June still had plenty of early spring favorites such as asparagus, various greens and pea shoots, along with tunnel grown cucumbers and zucchini, fennel, radishes, mushrooms, scallions, green garlic and lots of herbs.  Many vendors are still carrying seedlings for your late spring planting.  And the strawberries are here - last week only Savoie Organic Farm brought a limited amount, but this week at least three other farmers had them.  Hillacres Pride again has the wonderful Puddle Duck, which will make one happy lunch this week along with Ric’s Bread’s whole wheat crackers.  And for the second week in a row, we couldn’t leave without sandwiches from Heart Food Truck - Country Time pork roll and cheddar with a fried egg and smoked salmon with watercress, creme fraiche and capers. 

              Posted by Donna on 06/01 at 03:19 PM


                Cayuga Organics To Offer Local Rolled Oats

                Monday, May 26, 2014

                We love oatmeal.  And granola.  And crumbles and muffins made with oats.  All of these things are healthy and can use a variety of local ingredients, but the oats themselves are decidedly not among them.  Believe me, we’ve looked everywhere, but no one seemed to be producing oats in the area or the greater region.  That will change soon when Cayuga Organics completes its new beanery and starts processing local organic rolled oats.  This recipe from Smitten Kitchen is a perfect showcase for them and really any seasonal fruit - I’ve made it here using maple sugar instead of light brown sugar and the first of our rhubarb from the garden.

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                Posted by Donna on 05/26 at 03:01 PM


                  Mother’s Day at Coda Rossa Winery

                  Sunday, May 11, 2014

                  Last year, I thought I had the highly original idea of taking our mothers to a local winery for Mother’s Day.  We would taste everything, buy a bottle to open and sip outside, and bring a picnic lunch.  While it was a good idea, it was not that original.  In fact, it wasn’t original at all: the Garden State Wine Growers Association has thrown a lot into making Mother’s Day the perfect day for visiting a local winery; events even begin on Saturday.  So much for originality. 

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                  This year, it was Coda Rossa’s turn, which we learned of from our East Coast Wine Class.  While the winery does make wines using California grapes, they also make many wines with New Jersey grapes grown primarily at the winery with some brought in from nearby farms.  There were the requisite fruit wines, yes, but Coda Rossa also makes some very interesting reds.  My favorite, and the one I took home, was a Cabernet Franc. 

                   

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                  After a thorough and comprehensive tasting (all in the name of research), we unpacked a picnic of flatbreads from Wild Flour Bakery, dips from Talula’s Table, and “savory eclairs” from Market Day Canele (all purchased in a rush to the Headhouse Market this morning); we opened a bottle of Pinot Grigio on the patio; and we looked out over the vineyard and enjoyed a warm Spring afternoon in the sun. 

                   

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                  Happy Mother’s Day.

                  Posted by Kevin on 05/11 at 06:12 PM


                    Market Highlights: Headhouse Market May 5th

                    Sunday, May 04, 2014

                    The Headhouse Farmers Market was back for the season today, with nearly complete attendance of regular vendors.  Some farmers had a range of spring produce already, such as Tom Culton (asparagus, watercress, spinach), and Blooming Glen (various greens, green garlic), while Savoie Organic Farm brought a huge variety of beautiful tomato and pepper seedlings. 

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                    Longview Farms had a selection of both popular and unusual herbs as well as succulents, and Weavers Way had lovely cut tulips, along with produce and compost fresh from W.B. Saul High School.  New this year is one of our favorite contributors to Winter Harvest - Shore Catch, with Jersey Shore caught tuna, clams, scallops, squid and more.  Also new among the food trucks is Poi Dog, who serves a mean Mochi Nori Fried Chicken.  We didn’t know what to eat, buy or plant first.

                    Posted by Donna on 05/04 at 06:44 PM


                      A Bad Dye Job

                      Sunday, April 20, 2014

                      So I decided that I was going to dye Easter eggs naturally, making dyes from the likes of onion skins, turmeric and frozen blueberries.  We had a dozen eggs from last week’s food swap I wanted to break into and heaps of onion skins from yesterday’s early Easter dinner.  I opened the carton and found ..... the eggs were not white.  Why this didn’t occur to me before I have no idea, as we’ve been delighted by the various shades of brown and blue the eggs we buy from local purveyors come in.  While there was no way the delicate color of a natural dye was going to show up on brown or blue eggs, these were lovely just as they were.   

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                      I did come across a nearly foolproof method of hard boiling eggs that minimizes the risk of cracking and results in vibrant orange yolks with no green cast or chalky texture.  The resulting egg salad was delicious.

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                      Happy Easter.

                      Posted by Donna on 04/20 at 02:06 PM


                      East Coast Wines with The Wine School of Philadelphia

                      Wednesday, April 16, 2014

                      On Thursday, April 10th we attended a class at the Wine School of Philadelphia devoted to East Coast wine.  As excited as I was to do this, I was surprised (and disappointed) when our knowledgeable, passionate instructor (Zach) told us that in years past, the Wine School has had difficulty filling seats for this class.  The reason?  People, it seems, are very skeptical about the idea of quality wine made on the East Coast.  Zach was intent on changing that, and I suspect he succeeded with just about everyone in the room.  I actually heard someone say, “California wine is dead.”

                      We covered most of the East Coast wine regions - Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York (the Finger Lakes), and New York (the North Fork of Long Island).  In all, we tasted nine wines, four of which were from the immediate area:

                      1) Galen Glen Gruner Veltliner - I had tasted this wine years ago at the fantastic farm-to-table restaurant John J. Jeffries in the Lancaster Arts Hotel.  I was impressed then, and even more so this time.  The nose on this wine was incredibly delicious, and the acidity begged for grilled fish.  This is something I could linger over with a leisurely summer dinner.
                      2) Va La Prima Donna - I have written about Va La before, and the more I learn of Anthony Vietri and this winery, the more impressed I am.  Quite simply, I love everything they produce and I love the way they produce it. 
                      3) Heritage BDX 2010 and BDX 2012 - These were the “biggest” wines of the evening, with complex aromas, tannins, and a long finish.  For a special occasion, I wouldn’t hesitate to offer one of these, but they wouldn’t do for most meals.  That is, unless you eat like royalty at every meal.

                      Of the remaining East Coast Wines, we tried a Keuka Lake 2012 Riesling and a Damiani 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon.  Both of which were excellent, but neither of which I would seek out - simply a matter of personal taste.There was also another North Fork wine, a 2010 “Taste” Red Blend from Bedell, that was lovely, but with which I had a similar issue as I did with the Heritage wines and the Barboursville 2010 Petit Verdot.  Again, I can’t fault any of them, but they simply weren’t my preference. 

                      Of the non-local wines, the one I most enjoyed most was the Black Ankle 2011 Syrah.  It was softer and more subtle than any of the other wines - far more so than the other reds.  It wouldn’t dominate any food it might be served with - though you would have to take care not to dominate it with food.  Regardless, this sustainable winery is only 132 miles from Philadelphia.  I think there is a road trip in the near future.

                      This was my first time at the Wine School, and I was impressed with the quality of the wines Zach had procured for us.  In fact, the only complaint I have - and I am not even sure if this would qualify as a complaint - is that the Wine School was so intent on convincing us that the East Coast makes great wine that we wound up drinking great wines - few of which I would drink on a daily, or even weekly, basis.  So, here’s hoping the Wine School ceases to have any trouble filling those seats.  With wines like this, it is hard to imagine how.

                      Posted by Kevin on 04/16 at 07:51 PM


                      Philly Farm and Food Fest

                      Sunday, April 13, 2014

                      Today was the third annual Philly Farm and Food Fest.  Sponsored by Fair Food and the Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture, it gets bigger and better every year.  I’ll post separately on a few particularly exciting finds this year, but in general the Fest brings together over 100 local food purveyors offering their products for sampling and sale as well as free DIY and cooking demonstrations, a “Local Libations Lounge” featuring locally produced spirits and a “Shellfish Salon” with guided tastings of local oysters and clams.  It’s impossible to leave hungry or empty handed. 

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                      Posted by Donna on 04/13 at 07:59 PM


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