From Inventory to Dinner II: Scallops, Peas, Beans and Pasta

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By Edward Schneider 

As I said the other day when a menu board outside a raucous saloon provided the magic word (“chowder”) that defined that evening’s dinner, we turned out to have bought more than one meal’s worth of scallops. There were also plenty more peas and herbs, and we didn’t use the fava beans at all. 

So we needed a dish that was the same but different: some of the same core ingredients, but new flavors and textures, and a new staple to replace the potatoes. The same options as the day before remained open: risotto or other rice variations, for instance. But on my contemplative walk home I remembered that in the freezer was a pint container of egg-pasta disks: a while before, we’d made some kind of ravioli/tortelli/dumplings, and the filling had run out before the pasta, so we’d laid the extra disks out on a paper-lined tray, froze them and stored them in the container. Never again would they work for ravioli (once defrosted they would probably get gummy), but thrown, frozen, into boiling water they’d be kind of like Ligurian corzetti, except eggier than most and without the stamped decoration. Continue reading

Posted in Produce, Seafood

A Cheeseburger in a Nearly Cheese-Free Environment

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By Edward Schneider

I just had a hamburger, and I like sautéed onions and cheese on mine. Sometimes bacon too, and tomato. And ketchup. So, hamburger purists, sue me.  

There wasn’t any cheeseburger cheese, i.e., something other than grating cheeses, something like gruyère or cheddar. So when I’d cooked my sliced onion in butter, until tender and blond, I added some grated parmesan, which, bingo, made a cheese/onion sauce. It tasted good on or off the hamburger, and it could be the basis for something more elaborate now that I know it works.

Posted in American

From Inventory to Dinner: Scallops and Peas

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by Edward Schneider

In another place, Mark recently wrote about the genesis of a dish. In some of my stories here and elsewhere, I try to describe this too, though not explicitly, and when Jackie and I are together in the kitchen I’ve been doing my best to tell her what goes through my mind as dinner is prepared. Her contribution turns our meals into real collaborations – and it palpably improves them. 

Mark describes opening the refrigerator, pondering its contents and starting to cook. For me, a dish starts to come together – for good or for ill – before that, on my six-minute walk home from the office. I may not know exactly what the fridge and the pantry hold, but I have some idea of the staples and the more recent accessions – and of the scraps and leftovers that should be eaten before they need to be cast aside. 

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Posted in American, Seafood

Fondant Fennel

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by Edward Schneider

A while ago, elsewhere, I wrote about fondant potatoes: cooked slowly in clarified butter so that they become golden-crisp on the outside and creamy inside. Just recently, I was staring at a bulb of fennel, trying to decide whether to slice it thin and serve it raw or to quarter it and braise it. 

Another element of the same meal was to be potatoes of some sort, and it occurred to me that by using the fondant technique I might cook both in the same way, and indeed in the same pan. So I did, quartering the fennel and cooking it cut sides down, for just as long as the potatoes – more than an hour. See the linked post for instructions. 

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Posted in American

Getting to the Root of the Matter

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By Edward Schneider

Saturday’s quick scoot through the Union Square Greenmarket – Jackie and I were in haste to beat the afternoon thunderstorms that never came – yielded a pint of half-and-half and three bunches: tiny turnips, elongated white radishes and the skinniest little red scallions you can imagine. It was tempting to shred or paper-thin-slice the turnips and radishes (closely related botanically, incidentally) and make them into some kind of salad, but I’d faced down a salad the night before and was still unsettled by the encounter. 

So I cut the scallions into one-and-a-half-inch lengths, stir fried them in peanut oil (I’d have used ginger too if I hadn’t made it all into lemon-ginger syrup the day before) and turned them into fried rice, adding a couple of scrambled eggs seasoned with salt, white pepper and sesame oil. Great rice: there’s nothing like salty, slightly caramelized members of the onion family in fried rice.  Continue reading

Posted in Produce

Risotto as Sauce

By Edward Schneider

Last year some time, Jackie and I had the most wonderful risotto assembly at our friend Angela Hartnett’s London restaurant Murano: a layer of shredded braised oxtail, sauce and all, topped with a delicate leek risotto. Cottage pie meets Milan, with the creamy risotto acting simultaneously as a second sauce and as an integral element of the dish. (With a bit of imagination, you can see an antecedent in the custom of serving osso buco with saffron-scented risotto.)

I thought of this a while ago, when we were just starting to get tired of the leftovers of a braised pork butt we’d been pecking away at for several days. Also in the refrigerator I had some cooked peppers – sweet red peppers and a poblano – julienned and slowly melted in olive oil until the flavor intensified. As I reheated the pork yet again, I used a half cup of this pepper mixture to start a risotto: not the typical elegant kind, but something gutsier – a kind of in-your-face risotto that is becoming a habit in our house. This one was flavored only with that pepper “sofrito,” white wine and chicken stock, with plenty of black pepper. Continue reading

Posted in Italian

An Endive Experiment by Way of Spain

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By Edward Schneider

Jackie and I hadn’t had a Spanish-type rice dish (I daren’t say paella lest it be pointed out that I am misusing the word) in a while, and when I was thinking about one on the way home it occurred to me that whole heads of Belgian endive might cook nicely if nestled into the rice and other ingredients. So I bought a couple. In addition to rice, the ingredients into which I slipped them were previously cooked pork shoulder, red bell peppers, vegetable stock and the usual p**lla aromatics: strongish flavors, all, especially with the sprig of rosemary I tossed in.

From a technical standpoint, the endive worked beautifully. It was cooked but not at all mushy – still slightly crisp in fact. Nice and juicy, with good bitterness down at the stem end and that almost-sweet mildness toward the tip. Fun to eat, too.  Continue reading

Posted in Spanish

A Business-Class Trifle

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By Edward Schneider

On a recent transatlantic trip, Jackie and I spent some long-earned British Airways frequent flier miles on a ride in business class. There was good wine, friendly, attentive service (with the women among the cabin crew wearing smart retro hats!) and, on this 32-passenger flight to London City Airport, surprisingly wide, long and comfortable flat beds: we could hardly have asked for much more. On the way to the UK, we slept and so didn’t have to think about airplane food; on the way back, we didn’t want to think about airplane food and before going to the airport had a fine quick lunch of potted shrimps, a sort of smoked haddock Welsh rarebit and fried monkfish cheeks here.

We still took a look at the menu, however, and some of the options would have been tempting if we hadn’t already eaten, though I can’t vouch for how they tasted. But there was one thing we couldn’t resist: sherry trifle. Layers of fruit and/or fruit gelatin, sherry-soaked lady fingers or cake, thick custard and whipped cream, maybe with some nuts for crunch: trifle really is the perfect dessert, touching all the cream/fruit bases and pushing all the booze/cake buttons – or nearly all: there’s no caramel and only incidental salt. But I’d trade a gallon of butterscotch praline ice cream for a bowl of good trifle any day. (Well, maybe not any day.)  Continue reading

Posted in Travel

Enjoying and (Sort of) Preserving the First Strawberries

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By Edward Schneider

Not only was a favorite grower/vendor – Maxwell’s Farm, from Warren County, New Jersey – back at our local farmers’ market for the first time since last year, but they had brought strawberries with them. So had another vendor, but Jackie and I could smell Maxwell’s berries from yards away. We bought two quarts. Were these May strawberries as good as the ones we’ll get a little later in the season? Of course not. But they gave us a little thrill.

Rinsed, immediately drained, and hulled, they served two purposes: that day’s dessert (about a third of them, lightly sprinkled with sugar and eaten with cream) and future desserts, in the form of a quick, liquidy kind of jam that Jackie tells me Russians call varenye.   Continue reading

Posted in Produce

Smokin’ Hot White Pizza

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By Edward Schneider

Saturday was pizza night at our house. One regular Margherita (we even had basil in the house), and one not so regular, but delicious if you like smoky flavors. Onto a semi-baked crust (I find that this initial pre-baking is necessary in a regular oven with a maximum temperature of 500 or even 550 degrees F), I spread a mixture of about 1/4 nice fluffy, not watery, ricotta and 3/4 smoked mozzarella cut into little pieces, into which was mixed a generous ounce of chopped speck (smoked dry-cured ham, in this instance from Italy), a few slivered leaves of sage, some olive oil and salt and pepper. Watch out for the salt – there’s no predicting how much will be in your mozzarella.

The only danger with this – as, come to think of it, with any pizza – is that, for safety’s sake, it needs to cool a bit before the first bite. So pour a glass of wine, eat an olive or some of that mozzarella and be patient.

Posted in Italian, Recipes