Trattoria Tuscana by the Sea

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There is a lot of latitude cooking with simple ingredients. From my “potager” or kitchen garden, I have onions, garlic, carrots, turnip, green bell peppers, cayenne pepper, herbs and potatoes. These unassuming vegetables are going to provide the backbone of tonight’s supper.

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Also in the picture are end of season garden cherry tomatoes and start of season Tuscan black kale. A nice crossover. Trattoria cooking is driven by the use of local and seasonal ingredients. They are informal eating establishments and, generally, a trattoria is your neighborhood restaurant. A “ristorante” is another kettle of fish, higher up the ladder and more expensive.

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These are monkfish cheeks. Monkfish what? Smart trattoria cooks are not known for wasting anything in their kitchens. Every part of the animal is used. Monkfish are known for their tails, but not so much for their cheeks. Nor for their liver which is considered a delicacy in parts of Asia. Before monkfish cheeks were fashionable to be served in high end restaurants, this is what the cooks were eating in the back. Well, it’s just the best part of the fish. You will need to trim off any excess membrane or monkfish “stretch”. The cheeks are good and meaty. I marinated mine with extra virgin olive oil, lemon zest, parsley and garlic. I used salt and black pepper to season the cheeks. This tasty, obscure part of the fish will also cost much less than the more desired and familiar monkfish tails.

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This “soffrito” of onion, garlic, carrot, turnip and green bell pepper will get a lift with the use of cayenne from my garden.. I left the skin on the turnip also. In this base, I also included Prosciutto Toscano, or Tuscan ham. It is saltier than other prosciuttos like San Daniele or Parma so I blanched it for a few minutes (5) to rid it of salt. I just want a suggestion of prosciutto in amongst all the other layers of flavour.

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Tuscans are known as the “mangiafagioli’, or the bean-eaters. I have introduced cannellini beans to this base as well as the cherry tomatoes. As they cook, the cherry tomatoes go pop and release their juice. I am using over ripe or water-saturated cherry tomatoes. Otherwise, I am using filtered water and no stock in order to keep this plate on the lighter side. I also want a neutral background in which to enjoy the clarity of flavour from my garden grown vegetables.

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Though I have no Tuscan olive oil to pad this dish out, I used another. I still say that you all should read my blog on previous postings about extra virgin olive oil. A word to the wise.

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Marinated monkfish roasting in a skillet. Monkfish has many names…..anglerfish, goosefish, headfish and in some parts of italy is known as “coda di rospo” or Toad’s tail. And though there also many ways and styles to cook this fish in, I think that these little pieces would be great threaded onto a skewer over fire.

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Just cooked cannelini beans in an Tuscan Autumn garden style ragu.

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A version or interpretation of coastal Tuscan garden cooking with monkfish, black kale and cannelini beans. Coda de Rospo Arrosto con Cavolo Nero Toscano e Fagioli Cannelini a l’Orto. Thanks for reading and eat like a peasant.

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Great fish cooking needs beautiful fish. This is my friend, Jason, from RedsBest Fish in Boston. Support your local, grizzled, hard-core New England sea-dog. Find him at a farmers market near you.

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