Tuesday, December 22, 2009

On the Menu: Porcini, Chestnut, Leek, Farro Soup

I had a grainy mushroom soup revelation in the Marche years ago that I’ve never shaken, so this is a little praiseful bow to that moment. I’ve added chestnuts to the brew, which fell on our heads all throughout that late fall trip. I don’t know if we worship chestnuts as properly as the Italians - who finagle cakes, puddings, polenta, creams and pastes from the stuff - but I am completely besotted with their sweet addictive back notes.

I like my grain chewy, so add it at the very end of the cooking. I also crave brothy soups so serve this straight-up. Too, a splash of cream really gussies up the bowl... makes it festive enough for a holiday.

Porcini, Chestnut, Leek, Farro Soup

1-1/2 pounds chestnuts
1 cup of dried porcinis
1-1/2 cups hot water
3/4 cup farro
3 Tablespoons olive oil
2 medium leeks, cleaned and cut in half moons, light green part too
1 red onion, sliced in half lengthwise, then in 1/4-inch slices lengthwise
2 ribs celery, sliced on the diagonal, 1/4-inch (save inner leaves for garnish)
1 medium waxy potato, like Yukon Golds, peeled and cut 1/2-inch dice
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
4 cloves garlic, sliced
4 sprigs thyme, leaves plucked
5 to 6 cups stock or water
Cream (optional)
Small hunk of Parmesan
Virgin olive oil
Handful of celery leaves (optional)

Preheat oven to 375. Lightly score an x into chestnut shells on the flat side, trying not to cut into the nut meat too much. Spread them on a sheet pan and roast 20 to 30 minutes until the shells curl away from the nut. Cool, peel and roughly slice. Set aside.

Soak the porcinis in hot water until tender, at least 15 minutes. Squeeze the water out of the mushrooms over a bowl and save the liquid. Chop the mushrooms roughly. Set aside.

Place the farro in a small pot and cover with water by 2 inches. Bring to the boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 20 minutes until al dente. Strain and spread out on a plate to cool.

In a large, lined pot big enough to hold the soup heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add leek, onion, celery and a good pinch of salt and pepper and sauté until tender, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and thyme and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the chestnuts and potatoes, sauté 2 minutes. Pour over the porcini liquid being careful not to add any grit lingering at the bottom, and reduce until almost dry. Cover with stock or water by about 1-inch (add more liquid if necessary). Simmer about 20 minutes until the potato is tender and the flavors meld. Taste and season as necessary. Add a splash of cream if desired. Add the farro right before you serve the soup (otherwise it can suck up all the wonderful broth!) and finish with a shaving of parmesan, a drizzle of virgin oil and the celery leaves.

For a creamier soup: Before you’ve added the farro you may purée a cup or two of the soup - with a splash of cream if desired - and then pour it back into the pot. Add farro right before you serve.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Rickie Lee Jones Plays "Wild Girl" Live on Soundcheck

For those of us with daughters. For all of us. Thank you Candy for sending me this gorgeous thing.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Arrivederci Maiale

We finally polished off the last of our gorgeous pig.

Our Greek grocer friend Bobby, from Haight Street Market, lent us his mega spit (something like this), which he uses to turn whole lambs on. He sews lemon and herb bunches into them then stabs them with garlic.

We had one huge pig haunch left... the last scrap of our Devil's Gulch side.

We scored, oiled, herbed, poked, screwed, rammed and bolted the thing, then hefted it onto its glowing alter to slow-turn/smoke for seven hours.

It was dwarfed by the spit, but we just kept scooping little red coal dust mountains around it.

Don't ever let anyone ever tell you there's a better way to cook meat.

Our next dream restaurant has seating under sun & stars and about ten of these babies turning in tandem.

The gifts of one single pork side (nothing left untouched):

Spit-Roast Leg
Slow Low Eight-Hour Pork Butt
Braised Fresh Bacon
Head Cheese (foot, head, tongue)
"Party Roasts" (unidentifiable wedges)
Pozole Verde
Grilled Giant Porterhouse
Fried Tail/Ear (thank you F. Henderson and H. Fearnley-Whittingstall)
Cracklins and, by extention...
Luscious Lard

Very, very grateful.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

From the Menu: Persimmon Pomegranate Madness

This looks so polished and all, but really it's just one big seed party. Toasted pepitas (which sound so much more natty than just pumpkin seeds), and pomegranate jewels are the sweet little pips that the whole salad is built around.

I love using pomegranate and persimmons together when their short seasons overlap. I mean, the sheer color riot alone...

And just what is it about pomegranate molasses anyway? All that astringent vanilla-tinged goodness. Insanely addictive. It is the perfect tart counterpoint to fuyu/fresh ricotta creaminess. Also its hugely copacetic with citrus, dates, pine nuts, mint, salmon, rice, yogurt... definitely a pantry stalwart.

Persimmon Salad with Pomegranate, Fresh Ricotta, Pepitas and Pomegranate Molasses (for 6)

1/2 cup pepitas

Sea salt

2 tablespoons regular olive oil

2 teaspoons aged sherry vinegar

Virgin olive oil

Pepper, freshly ground

3 cups watercress, about 1 large bunch, cleaned

3 Belgian endives, cleaned and separated into spears

2 cups fresh ricotta, like Bellwether Farms

3 Fuyu persimmons, washed and cut into 1/4-inch slices widthwise

1 pomegranate, seeded for about 1 cup of seeds

1/4 cup pomegranate molasses

Put the pepitas in a medium sauté pan with a pinch of salt and toast over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes until they start to get fragrant and golden. Set aside to cool. In a medium bowl whisk the sherry vinegar with a pinch of salt and pepper. Whisk in a tablespoon of virgin oil. Add the watercress and the endive to the bowl and gently toss. Use about three persimmon rounds (half rounds if large) per plate, laid down in a triangle shape. Place endive spears between the persimmons, then a good handful of the watercress in the center of the plates. Dot dollops of ricotta around the cress, and sprinkle with pepitas and pomegranate seeds. Drizzle with pomegranate molasses and finish with a drizzle of virgin olive oil and a grinding of pepper. You can also arrange this all on one big beautiful platter, family-style.

Notes: You can grill the persimmon for added smokiness. And this salad is just as beautiful with roasted squash substituted for the persimmon.