Thursday, January 28, 2010

I Heart this Tableware

Lisa Neimeth makes irresistibly beautiful things. Witness my gushing from last Valentine's. Her tableware is all hand formed from California clays.  We use her sweet mini crocks for salt & olive oil, her baby rounds for bread, her raised quirky platforms for pastries at our restaurant.  I have a fantasy about our next place, the clay-pot cooking only restaurant all completely decked out in Neimeth-ware. Here's another Valentine's Day trove:

The only Sweetheart mantra missed
 is "tweet me"
You can find Neimeth at the Gardener (Berkeley & the Ferry Building too) and Horne among other places.  
Check her on Design Sponge too.
XO those bitsy plates

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Paula Wolfert's Poached Swordfish in the Style of Izmir

Note: While it was once a safe and prized fish, Sword is now in danger of extinction from overfishing and tainted with pollution. So Wolfert says you can substitute Sea Bass.  I also got beautiful results with our local Monterey Opah.    

I’ve tweeted the glories of Paula Wolfert’s new Mediterranean Clay Pot Cooking, and now I'm postin' it. I'm a longtime Wolfert groupie. She's the first food writer I ever turned to for authority. Her Couscous and Other Good Food of Morocco (1973) got me to Tangier, briefly, in my early 20's to slurp Harira, crack Bisteeya, and sip crazy-sweet mint tea in the Medina.  She travels.  She lives places.  She cooks. Her books are revelations. Clay Pot Cooking sources recipes from all over the Mediterranean, and proves again that her cooking is always true and close to the bone, a guaranteed thing of authenticity and beauty. So when Wolfert says of a dish that it's “one of the best (she’s) ever eaten,” your ears should shoot straight up on your head. And said dish, Poached Swordfish in the Style of Izmir, is exquisite. Why?

The VesselWolfert's thesis is that cooking in clay pots (hand made preferably) simply produces better tasting food.  All Mediterranean food was once cooked in clay, she reminds us, so that its dishes particularly shine cooked this way. Unglazed pieces especially impart natural flavor; hold and transmit an accumulation of all the flavors ever cooked in the pot. I love this painterly notion of pentimento applied to cooking, the idea of uncovering delicious ghosts in food. Isn't that what we, in truth, hope for when exploring the food of other cultures/times?  To taste ghosts?  Anyway, I know this fish blossoms in the slow even heat of its mojo pot.      

The Tomato

The tomato grating in the recipe is a wicked technique. Forget the French and their 10-minute minimum concasser. This is instant, economical and brilliant. Cut the tomato in half and run it on a grater right down to the skin (which you toss or use for stock). I love how it fluffs the tomato, how that resulting fluff itself is so fresh, not partially cooked by blanching, love that all my favorite bits - the seeds and juice - are put to use. I mean, I suppose if you wanted to be fussy for a recipe you could squeeze them out before grating. But I almost never get this. It is tossing the gold. This is the very source of le “tomato water” you pay dearly for in fancy pants places...

(NB:  While I’d usually turn to a good preserved/canned tomato in winter, I happened to have a few heirlooms my grocer had slipped me [who knows? maybe he was trying to move his tomatoes along]. I also wanted to be true to Wolfert’s recipe. I wanted to taste what she meant by it. And boy did they come through.  So just imagine the dish with summer tomatoes.)

The Poaching Method
What I’ll call “sauce immersion poaching” is also the bomb. Rather than poaching in just water or broth - in which flavor is diluted and often discarded - you poach in the very brew you’re serving so that flavor is intensified and fused into the dish. Our fish is slow cooked in a pool of sharp vegetal richness. This Black Sea style of cooking is called bugulama, and you should memorize it. It renders succulent food.

It's probably starting to dawn on you, rightly, that is this is one outrageous dish, and not just because of the perky peppers, tomato, garlic, black pepper, vinegar, and herb - but because of the cooking vessel and technique. And, to me, this is at the heart of Wolfert's brilliance. Who, that you know, was using tagines before her? Layering grated onions and other raw lovely things into clay pots with curiosities like preserved lemon and head spinning spices for long tender cooking?  Who was digging into other cultures, joyously, through food, as her very life's work? 

Nobody. And nobody does it better still.  

(A warning about reading this book: you will become obsessed with clay pots.  Luckily Wolfert gives many sources for them.  Also, where to begin with the recipes?  In my first go-through I instantly marked Moroccan Chicken with Pumpkin, Sweet-and-Sour Plums, and Almonds;  Gratin of Pig's Foot with Vin Jaune and Comte Cheese; Kadide: Tunisian Spiced and Preserved Lamb; Crema Catalana as Prepared in the Nineteenth Century... It's a book to grapple with for years)  

See Wolfert in conversation with Patricia Unterman this Saturday, January 23 at SF's own, most wonderful, Omnivore Books.

Poached Swordfish in the Style of Izmir 
   (recipe printed courtesy/permission of Paula Wolfert)

Preferred Clay Pot:
A 9-inch cazuela
If using an electric or ceramic stovetop, be sure to use a heat diffuser with the clay pot.

1 pound juicy ripe tomatoes, halved
1 pound swordfish (substitute a firm white fish like Sea Bass or Opah),
   cut 1 inch thick
4 small garlic cloves, lightly bruised
1 Anaheim pepper, seeded, deribbed
   and finely chopped
2 tablespoons heavy cream
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3/4 teaspoon finely ground black pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon red wine vinegar
Pinch of Greek oregano

1  Use the large holes on a 4-sided grater to shred the tomatoes into the cazuela.  Discard the skins and stem.

2  Add the swordfish, garlic, Anaheim pepper, cream, butter, half the black pepper, the salt, and about 2/3 cup water, or enough to just cover the fish.  Cover the cazuela with a sheet of aluminum foil and set it over medium heat.  Slowly cook for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the swordfish is just opaque in the center but still juicy.

3.  Remove from heat, place the covered cazuela on a folded cloth napkin on the table, and let stand for a few minutes. Uncover, divide the fish into 4 serving pieces, and sprinkle with the remaining black pepper, vinegar, and oregano.  Serve in shallow soup bowls, making sure everyone gets some of the tasty sauce.

NOTE TO THE COOK:  Many people avoid swordfish these days, because of both pollution and overfishing.  If you prefer, you can substitute sea bass, in which case the fish will probably take about 5 minutes less to cook.  

(I tried this dish with local Opah from Monterey, a kind of cross between swordfish and bass, and I substituted my window marjoram for oregano. Marjoram is related to oregano but is sweeter and milder. The dish was gorgeous.)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Grilled Opah with Shaved Apple-Fennel Salad, Fingerling Potatoes and Caper-Balsamic-Brown Butter

Ok, this is the one everyone's asking for, so here goes: We are getting incredible local Opah from Monterey Bay right now and bitter winter chicories are all over the place, as are apples (and fennel skinched from late Fall). What else were we to do with the bounty? All of it drizzled with sweet, salty, caramel-ee butter. Stop it.

Grilled Opah with Shaved Apple-Fennel Salad, Fingerling Potatoes and Caper-Balsamic-Brown Butter

Roasted Fingerling Potatoes

1 pound fingerling potatoes (French, Banana, Rose Finn...), washed and dried

olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat oven to 375. Toss potatoes with a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper. Place on a sheet pan and roast until just tender, 15 to 25 minutes, depending on their size. Keep warm.

Caper-Balsamic Brown Butter

1/4 cup salt-cured capers

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Freshly ground pepper

1/3 # butter (1-1/3 stick)

Soak capers in water for ten minutes. Strain. Place Dijon in a medium metal bowl and whisk in balsamic and pepper. Add capers. In a medium sauce pan melt and then simmer butter until golden brown, 6 to 10 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit 5 minutes. Slowly whisk into Dijon-balsamic mixture. Taste for salt. Add more if necessary. Cover immediately with foil. Keep warm.

Shaved Apple-Fennel-Soft Herb Salad

1 medium hard crisp apple like Pink Lady, Braeburn or Sierra Beauty

1 medium head fennel

2 small stalks celery from the center of the bunch and cut into 1/8-inch diagonals

A handful of celery leaves from the center of the bunch

A handful of picked parsley leaves, with some stem attached

1/4 cup chives, cut into 1 inch strips

2 small heads chicory: radicchio, escarole and/or endive

Shave apples (skin on) and fennel thinly on a mandolin into a medium metal bowl. Add herbs and chicories. Set aside.

To Assemble

Sea salt and freshly ground pepper

6 Opah filets, preferably local

Olive oil

Caper-balsamic brown butter

The apple-fennel salad

If grilling, fire up your grill. Brush the opah filets with olive oil and lightly salt and pepper both sides. When hot, grill the fish about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Don’t overcook. Alternatively, place 1 large or 2 medium saut√© pans over medium-high heat. Add the olive oil, and when it is hot but not smoking add the filets and cook until they are lightly golden, about 2 to 3 minutes per side. Keep warm.

Dress the apple-fennel salad with a tablespoon of the caper-balsamic brown butter and divide the salad onto your plates. Surround the salad with a few warm potatoes per plate. Top salads with a piece of opah and drizzle each filet with a good spoonful of the brown butter.

Did you know Opah is polka-dotted?

Friday, January 1, 2010

Peace of Cake: Citrus Cake with Cranberry Compote

Photo by Christina Weber

Thought it might be good juju to get a post in the first day of the year. Ha! The peace-full tea towel is courtesy of my pal Chris and her studiopatró. Here's to abundant peace in the new year...

Citrus Cake with Cranberry Compote

This cake was inspired by the “Bitter Orange Cake” in Paul Bertolli’s brilliant Cooking by Hand. The moment I saw that it called for whole oranges (bloods), skin and all, it was over. I’m a fool for citrus, and much of its flavor - its oil - resides in its skin. I add it in wide peels to meat braises, stewed vegetables and poached fruit; shave it thinly into vinaigrettes, panna cotta and anglaise; chop it roughly for pestos and salsas. In this case, the whole citrus adds moist, bitter chewiness. It is, needless to say, sublime.

I have experimented with all kinds of citrus in the cake: tangerines, grapefruit, Meyer lemons. I’ve even mixed the fruit up for lovely results. I also like citrus with spice, so I add cinnamon, cloves and/or nutmeg. And the amount of sugar I use varies. Some fruit is more bitter/astringent than others, so Meyer lemon or grapefruit will probably take more, while sweet tangerines will require less. I also like different nuts with different fruit: lemon & almonds, grapefruit & hazelnuts, oranges & walnuts or pecans. I also add cranberries to the compote.

Cooking by Hand - which came out in 2003 - is still one of the most original food books I know. Bertolli cites Pablo Neruda and Thom Gunn, for goodness sake. It's not packed with recipes; doesn't have endless glossy full-page photo inserts (but little sumptuous muted black & white snaps instead); is as much about Bertolli's lucid writing as it is anything else. Twenty-four pages on the lovely tomato alone (!), with a "Conserva" recipe that will ruin you forever for store bought tomato paste. And his sections on pasta and charcuterie are little master classes themselves.

I included my altered recipe when I posted yesterday, and while I do feel that I have made the cake my own, I woke up this morning thinking the frame/idea/spark of the thing is ultimately Bertolli's, and I don't want to infringe on his copyright. So crack the book if you have it, buy the book if you don't, or stop by the Garden for some uber-tweaked variations. Meyer lemon-almond's on tonight...