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.

Full Contact Independence Day Cooking.

IMG_1495

Tonight’s mis-en-place or plan of work……….just picked garden peas, little onions, beautiful garlic and a handful of herbs. My flavah!

IMG_1496

If you taste this garlic raw right now, you will never ever look at garlic quite the same way ever again. In its just picked raw state all of the sugars are still running so that when you taste it like that, it is not at all what you expect garlic to be. I think that is like…….wicked awesome! Plus I get braggers rights about its color. As well as a notable abscence of any psychic vampires.

IMG_1498

Let’s see………..garden pea risotto. I prefer to use carnarioli rice for my risotti. This is a classic Spring dish in some locations and a great way for me to celebrate Independence Day here in New England. I used my own garden onions, those little ones as well as a spray of parsley and basil to accent the peas. I could have picked the peas a day earlier. C’est la vie>

IMG_1500

I had a couple of kohl rabes. I peeled them, grated them, added olive oil, salt, pepper and herbs from my little garden. At 94 degrees, you really do not want your stove on for too long or at all. Risotto takes less than twenty minutes. The rest of the cooking is outside.

IMG_1505

I am certainly a subscriber to the notion that great grill/roast cooks are borne, not made. All of dinner is made and is waiting for grilled chicken parts. How American is that.That’s all I have to do…..not screw up the chicken. I marinated these legs and thighs with garden rosemary and garlic. I was lazy in the heat, I marinated them for an hour or so. But still, no matter what you do, the point of the exercise is not to burn the meat. Have fun grilling. Thanks for reading. 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.

 

 

My Dinner with Bugs Bunny and John Lennon.

IMG_0034

This is where supper begins tonight. I’m lucky I get to have an almost year round kitchen garden. Even for the size of my little space, it takes a yard of planning to have a little something for the dregs of Winter. Something that really makes it worthwhile to cook

 

IMG_0036

Carrots….and lots of them. I like how they are not all uniform. They don’t look like prize-winners but they have a certain Bugs Bunny factor. What’s up, Doc?
I planted the carrots last August. And I’m happy that they went this late into the season. Now is a good time to pick them. From a gardening point of view, the moon is waxing and next week it is going to freeze. They won’t go the distance being left in the ground to over-winter. So, I guess it’s time to PULL…….sorry, Bugs, did’nt mean to scare you. I meant pull the carrots, not the trigger.

IMG_0048

I really gave little thought as to how I wanted to prepare these carrots. I knew that it was going to be risotto…………carrot risotto, plain and simple. Rabbit friendly too. But still the risotto needed something more.

IMG_0052

All I can say is bring on Winter Farmers Markets. I added locally grown organic radicchio. Green radicchio, no less.
The bitterness of the radicchio was softened by the sweetness of the carrots. The risotto or rice was in the background and acted as a bridge between the two star players. When I make risotto or any kind of rice dish, let’s be honest, rice is boring by itself. Munch, chew, keep munching. Boring, my risotto’s always have more of the good stuff, like the carrots and radicchio. Then it’s fun to chew and munch away.
One idea that intrigued me as a young aspiring chef was the idea of imagining you are making music when you cook. Or singing, high notes and low notes coming together into a rhythm. Balance and harmony. And this is reflected by what hit’s the plate. Either a plate of jumble or a mighty fine bass-line for those carrots.

IMG_0050

Split pea soup is a good winter warmer. I made this with potato, parsnip, carrot, onion, garlic, smoked prosciutto, sage and bay leaf and water. While this soup simmered away, I made the risotto….with water also. Easy peasy so far. All I am saying is give peas a chance.

IMG_0060

Lemony, garlicky, hot and spicy broccoli as a side dish.

IMG_0062

This is Irish brown soda bread pre-oven. Somebody did ask me for a recipe, However, I have largely stayed from providing recipes. Recipes are just guidelines. And there are lots of recipes out there. Indeed, every Irish family would somehow make it just a little differently. There does not seem to be a grand master recipe. See my earlier posting on Traditional Irish Brown Soda Bread.

IMG_0063

But if you really, really want my “recipe” or technique, more than one person is going to have to ask. I have no problem sharing, especially with Saint Patrick’s Day around the corner. In fact, I’m delighted to share…….a photo tutorial. It’s not neuroscience or urban engineering. It’s only bread. Eat simple.

IMG_0066

Traditionally, Irish soda bread is made with wheat flour. In this instance, I swapped out the wheat for farro. I have’nt done this before and I am here alone. I bet it is going to taste great. Seriously, it is all about the crust.