Feast of the Seven Fishes

 

img_1737

The Feast of the Seven Fishes or Festa dei Sette Pesce is traditionally associated with southern Italy and celebrated on Christmas Eve. Also known as La Vigilia della Natale, it is a day in the calendar where abstinance of certain foods allowed the participant to prepare for the birth of Jesus. I encountered it a few years ago whilst working in Boston’s Italian neighbourhood, the North End. As a cook, I was fascinated by the various details involved in such a menu. I kicked off mine with Donegal oysters from the north-west coast of Ireland. I prefer mine plain.

 

img_0814

Grilled Sardines on fennel confit with grilled focaccia. The abstinance of meat, meat products and dairy on Christmas Eve is a general theme throughout southern Europe.

img_1879

Sauteed monfish with green olives, garlic, capers, tomato and herbs.

img_1759_1

A warm salad with garlicky shrimps, carrots and radicchio.

cataplana-with-monkfish-and-baby-squid

This is one version of many of Caldereirada, the Portuguese fisherman’s stew. I used squid in my rendition.

dsc_0852

Lightly cured, oven baked mackerel with thyme, scallion and Aleppo pepper, dressed with pomegranate-balsamic vinaigrette.

dsc_0543

Roasted cod with onions, olives and lemon. Eat like

 

 

Advertisements

Feast of the Seven Fishes.

IMG_2505

The origins of the Feast of the Seven Fishes (or Festa dei Sette Pesci, in Italian)can be traced back to early Roman times in Sicily. It was celebrated on Christmas Eve as an act of purification or cleansing to prepare for the birth. The feast can also be can also be called “La Vigilia di Natale” or the vigil. The Feast required people to abstain from meat and dairy.

IMG_2534

This is smoked mackerel, parsnip and leek soup in a porcini mushroom base, accented with thyme and bay leave. This was a great way to use up the end of the leeks from my garden.

IMG_2516

The notion of abstinance and anchovy’s together can seem like punishment to some people.

IMG_2518

But there is a school of thought which contends that the feast has its origins in ancient Egypt and the Nile. In which case, the feast is regarded as a festival of abundance. I think I prefer that particular aspect.

IMG_2526

This flatbread or focaccia is based on a traditional Apulian recipe using onion, anchovy, olives and rosemary. I used scallions instead  to brighten up the flatbread. The absence of dairy or cheese reminds me of the original Neapolitan pizzas. Though I try to use only New England fish species, these anchovies from Italy are the exception this year. The baby Jesus wept!

IMG_2609

Venice is well known for its seafood risotti. On this occasion, I traded in the butter that I would normally use to make a risotto and used grapeseed oil in its place. This crabmeat risotto includes carrot and both red and green chiles. The chiles are mild so as not to dominate and the carrot adds a sweet element. Because there is no egg employed to bind the rice cakes, they are very light and need an even lighter touch when it comes down to their handling.

IMG_2627

I like to carmelize a slice of lemon. I like the stronger, more robust lemony flavor added by keeping the lemon rind attached. Preserved lemon would also make an an attractive, simple garnish to accompany.

IMG_2454

Salting cod to preserve is a seasonal activity at this time of year. I like to make my own salted cod . I prefer it over what it available commercially. In fact, there is no comparison with the flavor. I like to use thyme from my garden, lemon zest and thinly sliced, whole dried cayenne pepper in the cure. I cure or dry the codfish for  up to four days.

IMG_2570

Polenta is another mainstay from the Veneto region in Italy. This is peasant food at it’s most simplest. Essentially, it is coarse cornmeal and water stirred together. I like to fry the polenta in grape seed oil. In my opinion, fried food never really tastes oily or greasy when using grape seed oil.

IMG_2604

Combining polenta and salt cod in tomato sauce is a classic pairing. It is even better when the tomatoes are ones that have been preserved from the summer. It is fair to say that I use a lot of extra virgin olive oil. All of the plates will be enhanced by drizzling, nay, pouring generously ……..lots of good quality oil over each plate  one to finish.

IMG_2538

One of the things I like to try to do for this menu is to try to include as much vegetables from my garden as possible. I saved the peas in the freezer and that’s why they get to be used. Berbere is a spice mix from Ethiopia.  It gets its color from ground up hot dried peppers and paprika.

IMG_2544

Seared sea scallops with pea puree, Ethiopian spices, lemon zest and extra virgin olive oil.

IMG_2560

The nice thing about this menu is that you get to eat your favourite items. I love to combine fish and potatoes in any permutation. Add fennel and that leaves room for garlic and rosemary. The fish is scup, or porgie. It is a member of the sea bream family and  is fast becoming one of my favorite fishes to eat. For me, the advantages are that it is small/large enough to be cooked whole and it is relatively inexpensive. The fish can also yield two nice sized filets plus the bones to make fish stock. With this fish, you have options. Best of all, there are still lots of this fish left in the ocean and it is what we should be eating. It’s not farmed either.

 

IMG_2566

Pan fried potato crusted scup with fennel “confit”. If the number seven is regarded as the most perfect number, then at least I’m consistent in my imperfections. I cooked six courses. There is always next year again and plenty of fish to be cooked in the meantime. Thanks for reading and eat like a peasant.

Trattoria Venezia by the sea

IMG_1734

Venice is the regional capital of Veneto. It lies at the head of the Adriatic Sea and the entire coastal area is famous for it’s abundance of fresh seafood and market gardening. The fishing village of Chioggia lent its name to the candy striped beets of the same name.

IMG_2165

This is Maine shrimp stock simmering for the foundation of a simple shrimp sauce. I used the shrimp shells, a smashed clove of garlic, carrot, black peppercorns, parsley stems and a thyme sprig. For the amount of shells that I have, I can yield about one cup or less of stock. This will be reduced further afterwards to about one quarter of a cup for my purposes. Shrimp are expensive and I think it is an easy way to maximise flavour for the shrimp as well as re-enforce the shrimp flavour in the sauce. The shrimp shells are delicate so this is a quick stock needing no more than twenty minutes.

IMG_2153

Characteristic to coastal Venetian cooking is the partnering of polenta with seafood. Polenta is derived from the Latin word “polmentum” and refers to a husked or crushed grain. Here it is coarse cornmeal. It is boiled like porridge and eaten directly or fried, baked and grilled. I make mine with water only though some cooks add dairy for a richer texture. I used white cornmeal from Rhode Island and added freshly shucked corn during the last minutes of cooking to complement the corn experience.

IMG_2155

My little kitchen garden was able to supply the Swiss chard for the occasion.

IMG_2166

I got the shrimp at RedsBest Seafood at Government Centre farmers market in Boston. Each of the shrimp are about an inch and a half long. They will cook quickly in my sauce of garlic, white wine, thyme,shrimp stock, tomato juice and chopped tomato. The trick here is not over-cooking. That’s when they become dried out, tough and rubbery.

IMG_2168

They’re done! And I have concentrated all the shrimp essence into that little amount of sauce. Looks are deceiving. This punches way above its weight category for flavor. A trick of the trattoria.

IMG_2169

Long story short……..fried polenta, garlicky sauteed garden Swiss chard and Maine titty shrimp in tomato sauce.

IMG_1802

Thank you for reading. Eat like a peasant.

IMG_2158

Trattoria Tuscana by the Sea

IMG_2132

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.

IMG_2135

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.

IMG_2139

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.

IMG_2137

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.

IMG_2138

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.

IMG_2145

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.

IMG_2141

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.

IMG_2142

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

IMG_2148

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.

IMG_2130

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.

How to go Organic.

IMG_1581

I imagine my little kitchen garden. And I work with nature. I want lots of bees smothered in pollen, drunk on it. Yee-haw!

IMG_1600

How to go organic…….there are lot of ways……….start with compost and earthworms. And thank busy soil organisms hard at work for you in your space.

IMG_1587

Take care of your seed. Bless it when you sow. Observe the weather. Keep a garden journal. Know the cycles of the moon.

IMG_1601

Weed early and often. Enjoy the gifts of the season. Save your seeds.

IMG_1598

And while you are doing all of that and more besides, try to learn how to make polenta. Four Star Farms are on my blogroll. Give them a turn.

IMG_1599

Polenta is the widow-maker of northern Italian cooking. Organically speaking, who feels it, knows it.

IMG_1608

Most of all, going organic is the right thing to do. And everything that you grow always tastes better anyway

IMG_1607

And everything you make and cook will taste better.

IMG_1580

From my little space…….cauliflower, pole beans and garlic.

IMG_1609

Going organic means celebrating the seasons. I love striped bass caught in New England. For me, it is the best of summer with lots of vegetables. Credit to RedsBest Seafood at Dewey Square Farmers Market in Boston for this immaculate striped bass. I braised the fish in a version of Ratattouille with Poblano peppers and ate it with lots of basil from my garden. Eat like a peasant.

A Spring Supper

IMG_1233

Now is the time to make arugula pesto and that will be amongst the items for to-night’s plan of work. I have lots of arugula to pick and I can’t pick it fast enough. I’m hoping to be able to freeze and preserve some pesto for later use in sauces, soups or pizza for example. And fish too.

IMG_1243

I’ll have a bowl of strawberries for dessert, maybe.

IMG_1253

The base ingredients for risotto this evening. Garden scallions, parsley and peas. the peas are not this years crop. You can see the condensation rising. I pulled them from the back of the freezer…..my bad. The jist is that risotto made with peas in the springtime is a classic dish in the northern Italian kitchen. Risi e Pisi or rice and peas.

IMG_1261

Now this is what I’m talking about. Simple peasant style cooking requires minimal screwing around with fish before you get it. Here we have transparency. Not only can you see the fish in it’s sealed security wrap but there are certain details that are pertinent here. You can see the name of the vendor, Red’s Best. And they are selling large monkfish tails.You also get the name of the boat that caught the fish, their home port and the kind of gear they employed. A perfect storm of detail, so to speak. But they also have one of those smart phone doodads. The next generation of responsible fishmongers. Diggit! It helps that my friend Jason is a big part of this. It is also the freshest fish in Boston.

IMG_1265

Monkfish tails in garden spun wild arugula pesto. For this pesto, I used no nuts, capers or cheese. Really, just some scallion greens, lemon zest and arugula. Later, I seasoned the fish with sea salt, cracked black pepper and some of last summers spicy red pepper flakes. Just in case.

IMG_1266

Monkfish working on the grill. Because the fish is so fresh and has such a high moisture content, you need a high flame to sear the fish, to color it. And don’t poke the fish either once it is on your grill. Let it sear. After it is seared properly, it will be a whole lot easier to manipulate and move the pieces around. For these pieces, I’m looking at a short cooking time of perhaps no more than 7-9 minutes. The side that hits the grill first will have more colorisation than the part that you see facing you in the photo. And the last thing you want to do is overcook this delicious Massachussets fish.

IMG_1269

Here we go.

IMG_1274

Grilled monkfish, sauteed golden beets and swiss chard, arugula pesto and garden herbs.

IMG_1259

Spring risotto with garden peas.

IMG_1263

This grilled wholewheat flatbread is going to be dipped in arugula pesto.

IMG_1251

Seed potato. I got these as a surprise.I’m told they are called “Goldrush” but they do not look too yellow fleshed to me. But being Irish, of course I love potatoes. I’ll give these a chance and see if they live up to their name. Thanks for reading. Eat like a peasant.

 

 

Radicchio, Finocchio and Pinocchio.

IMG_1101

A healthy garden is going to have lots of earthworms or nightcrawlers. This one reminds me of the science fiction movie, Dune, with the giant worms coasting through the desert. This one measures roughly nine inches which is nowhere near the size of the worms in Sting’s world.

IMG_1109

Thyme in bloom. This is one that comes back every year.

IMG_1111

I cut off the old growth radicchio and now have these fresh shoots. But it looks like it is spreading its roots under the ground. And that could be a problem later. I just don’t have the room. I want radicchio but not an overgrowth. It will have to relocated to live elsewhere. Or I could just dig it up and plant new seeds.

IMG_1138


What’s the story, morning glory?  Just germinated morning glorys. Hopefully, they will be colored blue.

IMG_1116

These pole beans are pioneers in a new experimental plot. They are called “Meraviglia di Venezia”. They are a yellow Romano type bean and I want them to grow at least 10 foot tall. This is my first time trying this variety out so I am very excited. But the reality is that I most likely will not see a pickable pole bean until the second half of July.

IMG_1119

These are little bright and shiny baby spinaches.

IMG_1136

At last, the onions are beginning to look like onions. In the meantime, there are scallions everyday and soon enough, garlic scapes.

IMG_1122

This is baby Florence fennel. Finnochio. It seems to be settling in nicely. The fennel fronds are developing nicely. Fingers crossed because they are company for the pole beans in the experimental plot along with kale and radicchio. I am not going to be the one who explains the Italian slang word “finocchio”.

IMG_1132

This is wild mountain fennel from Sicily. It just explodes out of the ground. I think it will grow to about 5 foot, maybe more, in my little garden. This one does not produce a bulb but rather it attracts the honey bees. In fact, I try to gather the pollen for my own use in the kitchen at home. And afterwards, I gather up all the seeds. The fennel pollen flavors up my fish cooking at home. It is an essential ingredient in the classic Roman porchetta. I like to grind the fennel seed and combine it with sea salt for fennel salt for use as a table condiment or seasoning. And that’s just for starters.

IMG_1137

I am not too sure what this is. It could be a melon, a zucchini or courgette or a pumpkin. We’ll have to wait and see. It’s a surprise and if it does not grow, well, then that’s the surprise. Let’s go have supper.

IMG_1139

These Massachussets sea scallops are whats for supper. They will sit in a quick marinade while the grill gets hot. I got them from Red’s Best at South Station farmers market in Boston. In my humble opinion, Red’s Best sells, arguably, the freshest fish in town. This is what makes fish cooking exciting. I was able to use rosemary from my garden in the marinade.

 

IMG_1141

About the only way these scallops could taste better would be if they had been threaded onto a rosemary skewer. Thanks for reading and looking. Eat like a peasant.

Grill Interupted.

IMG_1060

Who does’nt like grilled potatoes?

IMG_1061

I have never grilled cauliflower before but I like the look of it already. I tossed it with extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and black pepper. After finishing grilling, I will pour more olive oil over it.

IMG_1063

This piece of bread dough weighs one pound. I’ve stretched it out to about a 10-inch round. My little grill is only so big and I do not want to smother the flame. Let’s throw this on the fire.

IMG_1065

I enjoy grilling because the technique is so elemental. But it is a skill that requires attention. This grill has no bells or whistles, no knobs or temperature gauges. You are on your own. All it needs is a match and some paper to get the lump charcoal lit. Fire and air to keep it going. The attention to detail is really what matters, from getting the bread onto the grill to not burning it.

IMG_1066

The bread is beginning to bubble. That’s good. There is some heat underneath. The zen balance is the size of your grill, your fire and your bread. I own a small grill which means I build a smaller fire. With a smaller grill, the bread is going to be closer to the fire. The temperature of the heat is important. You do not want to incinerate the bread. And last but not least, don’t be screwing around taking photographs. I can smell the bread burning.

IMG_1067

That was close. Maybe a hair on the dark side but still looking good. And now the underside.

IMG_1068

This looks good enough.

IMG_1070

Spiedini di gamberi marinato alle erbe. Shrimp skewers marinated with garden herbs. I used parsley and rosemary. Garlic and lemon too.

IMG_1073

Shrimps over fire. Thanks for reading and looking. Eat like a peasant.

More Ass Than A Toilet Seat……..the garden.

IMG_0908

I have been eating chives for weeks here in New England. Soon, these chives will flower and I will eat them too. You can see where they will burst open, those little brown pointy things at the top. These yield tasty chive blossoms. Chives are low maintenance and come back every year………..no matter what!

IMG_0921

Desiring a kitchen garden is one thing, putting it together is another. I have a small space and my goal is to have something growing in all seasons, even in the tough New England winter. I planted this garlic back in late November. They look good so far but I won’t see a garlic scape until June. These lived under a weight of snow for months.

IMG_0918

Now this is what I am talking about…….90% of what I grow in my little space are heirloom seeds and plants. This is the original radicchio. Obviously, it is going to taste different from what you would experience in it’s original turf, but it is grown in my back yard with the best intentions and spirit. And it looks very pretty too. The best thing is that it is a perennial. I love low maintenance.

IMG_0924

The low maintenance gardening theme continues with mustard which re-seeds itself somehow every year. I don’t plan for it but it all becomes part of my garden foraged salad mix in the spring. I have lots of free wild edible plants in my back yard from dandelion to chickweed to purslane.

IMG_0922

What spring garden is not complete without radishes. In amongst them are re-seeded wild mountain fennel from Sicily.

IMG_0925

This is an Italian variety of lettuce called “Regina di Maggio” or Queen of May. I’m thinking good luck, see you in June. It has been a cold spring here, a dry spring here but usually around this time I expect to see bigger baby lettuces. Cue to me….more weeding and thinning of plants. I have some Romaine lettuce someplace else but not today. These need to be thinned out.

IMG_0926

Blueberry blossoms………the race is on between me and the local squirrel population.

IMG_0927

Rhubarb…….another perennial and low maintenance too. This is heirloom rhubarb too. Good stuff!

IMG_0928

I have struggled with peas this year or peas have given me a hard time. Either way there is a 3 week difference between the good looking one with pea tendrils and the line of peas emerging behind it. Give peas a chance. They are one of the first things I plant in the spring. This heirloom pea is called “Telefono” and Italian in origin.

IMG_0930

Strawberries…….more perennials and more low maintenance. These are Alpine strawberries. The squirrels can eat these but not the blueberries.

IMG_0931

Black raspberries………old growth and new growth.

IMG_0932

Parsley……my favorite kitchen herb. These are transplants but I know I threw down some parsley seed somewhere……a whole bag scattered…………ferns in the background………..no fiddleheads.

IMG_0938

Preserved lemon. No, I did not grow the lemon but it is a handy kitchen pantry item. But I did make these from scratch.

IMG_0941

After a gruelling day in the garden, I want something to ease the muscle ache, tease the brain and taste good. This is a blend of chopped unsalted pistachios, salted capers, preserved lemon and chile flakes. This is down home Sicilian Arab cooking. Baby, I love you so.

IMG_0949

Baked cod with lots of stuff not from the garden………..it takes time to grow the food. In New England, it can still get down to 40 degrees at night. Thats too cold for tomatoes yet. Three more weeks, fingers crossed. Maybe next time, I can show you leeks, kale, brussels sprouts and cauliflower. Way to soon for any mention of tomatoes.

A Garden Runs Through It.

IMG_0623

At this point in late winter/early spring, there really are not too many outdoor garden tasks. But, we can always go take a sneak-in peek and check out what’s going on.

IMG_0616

These are the first of the season chives. They need a few more weeks before I can snip them. This is one the ways how  know spring has arrived.

IMG_0617

Garlic is already pushing it’s way up despite the lingering snow. I planted the garlic back in November. If all goes well, it won’t be pulled until July.

IMG_0622

And it looks like my heirloom Radicchio di Treviso survived the winter. Apparently, it comes back again and again. I did not know that until recently. In my little kitchen garden, it has competition for space. I want to grow heirloom peas in that spot. I wonder if the radicchio will survive this grim reaper’s cut.

IMG_0624

After a gruelling look-see….and speaking of peas……..a classic spring dish, rice and peas, for supper. These are the last of the peas that I held onto since last summer. I have to kiss them good-bye. Now, I have to grow more. And remember to clear my pantry for spring. I’m still hungry.

IMG_0632

This is supper. Anytime I get to use something I have grown in my garden, it makes me happy. I rubbed the striped bass with fennel seed. No ordinary fennel seed either, but Sicilian wild mountain fennel from my sea-level garden in the city. Everything else followed the fennel’s lead. I also used in the fish marinade microplaned garlic and lemon zest, Aleppo pepper, scallion and thyme. With chunks of lemon. I toasted the fennel seed and ground it before rubbing the bass with it.

IMG_0630

This really is clear the fridge out………..these are the last of my garden carrots. Kiss those good-bye too. I roasted these carrots with cumin. Toasting and grinding your own spices is the way to go. I’m going to miss these carrots.

IMG_0634

Eat like a peasant. Thanks for reading.