Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Happy Holidays!

Dearest family, friends, and loyal readers,

I'm hoping you'll extend your patience with me until January. I haven't forgotten you! I know I've been silent for an unforgivable amount of time, but November and December have taken their toll as per usual. I can't complain, there have been Anniversaries, Birthdays, Holidays, house guests, parties and now traveling. Lots of fun, some pretty great eating, but zero time to leisurely document any of it. Sorry!

I'll be back in early January a new girl in a brand New Year. Until then I wish you and yours the happiest of Holidays and lots of love.



Thursday, November 10, 2011

New Mexican Green Chile Stew

A grey gloom is stretching outside my window. There was rain and there's more to come. Autumn is finally here, and the now-working heating is on. I've been drinking cup after cup of tea, and I've found that the only way to truly warm up is from the inside out.

If you're feeling even a hint of this kind of chill, I have a suggestion for you.

New Mexican Green Chile Stew.

I have this one issue of Saveur Magazine (September/October 2001) that is the most dog-earred, crumpled, wreck of a magazine. It is the issue that keeps on giving. I've made Pork Roast with Mustard and Herbes de Provence countless times. It is phenomenal. The Arroz con Pollo is the epitome of comfort food. I've whipped up the classic Clafoutis aux Pommes and now I can say that I've prepared the Green Chile Stew. It won't be the last time.

The recipe for green chile stew is a quintessential New Mexican recipe with a twist. It uses beef instead of pork. The humble chuck roast to be exact. The beef has a satisfying chew and its bath with the onions and garlic in slowly bubbling water produces a richly flavorful broth. Being a passionate soup-lover, this stew appealed to me on an intrinsic level. The soupiness is just what you need to cure a rotten case of the shivers.

This is not a complicated recipe. The hardest part is charring and peeling the anaheim chiles. This type of task used to scare me off when I was younger, but I've gotten the hang of it, and once you get in a groove, you can make quick work of it. Using the broiler is a breeze, but you can also char them on your stove-top if you suffer from broiler-phobia as I used to.

The recipe is in fact so simple, verging on minimal, that I was concerned that it might be a flop. Chiles, chuck roast, onion, garlic, potatoes, tomatoes, cumin. Sounds so basic. I swear when the meat was simmering away, I was the most skeptical of all. Boiled meat and onions, hmm. I really wasn't turned on. The pot looked so grey. But it is amazing what a simmer, some chiles and onion, garlic, tomatoes, and cumin can do.

The flavor is actually quite huge. Although this green chile stew is not very spicy. There is a faint notion of heat, but that is it. The robust beefy broth is soothing and verging on addictive.

I do have an important reminder, which I foolishly did not listen to when I said the same thing to myself. Do not crowd the pot, when you are browning the chunks of beef. I doubled the recipe. As I was throwing all the beef into the pot to brown, I knew I was making a big mistake. Your meat will boil not brown if the pot is too crowded. I know this. You know this. Listen! It makes such a difference.

The enticing aroma will fill your house. The windows will steam up. You will feel like your are doing right by the season. To my mind hot buttered tortillas are a necessary accompaniment and perhaps a crisp salad to finish it off.

New Mexican Green Chile Stew

8 medium-hot fresh green chiles, such as anaheim or new mexico
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 pound boneless beef chuck, in 1-inch pieces
1 medium yellow onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
5 new potatoes, peeled (I didn't bother peeling) and halved
2 medium tomatoes, cored and diced
1 teaspoon ground cumin

Set oven rack in top third of the oven and preheat the broiler. Arrange chiles in a single layer on a large baking sheet and broil on each side just until their skin blisters and chars, about 5 minutes per side. Transfer chiles to a medium bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside until cool enough to handle. Using your fingers, peel off skins and remove and discard stems and seeds. Coarsely chop chiles and set aside.

Heat oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat. Generously season beef with salt, then add meat to pot and cook, stirring often with a wooden spoon, until well browned on all sides, about 5 minutes. Add onions and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until onions are soft, 5 minutes. Add 3 cups water, scraping any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pot. Reduce heat to medium, partially cover pot, and simmer until meat is tender when pierced with a fork, about 30 minutes.

Add potatoes to pot, reduce heat to medium-low, and continue cooking, partially covered, until potatoes are soft, about 20 minutes. Add tomatoes, cumin, reserved chiles, and salt to taste and simmer, completely covered, until meat is very tender when pierced with a fork, about 30 minutes more. Adjust seasonings. Serve with warm flour tortillas, if you like.

Serves 6

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Mother Dough

I wouldn't have guessed that the Los Feliz, Silver Lake, Echo Park environs needed another pizza joint. The area seems quite over-run by pizzerias and vegan cafés. But it turns out that I was wrong. What we actually desperately needed was a Neapolitan pizzeria.

As is often the case these days, I am a little late to the game. Mother Dough on Hollywood Boulevard in Los Feliz has been open since last February. I read about it when Jonathan Gold wondered, "am I the last person to discover the pizza at Mother Dough," in August. Well here it is November and I can finally say that I have eaten the Neapolitan goods at Mother Dough.

I'm not sure how I survived without Mother Dough. I want to be eating this kind of pizza in this atmosphere a lot more often. It was so cold out last Saturday night, but inside Mother Dough it was cozy as can be, the lighting warm from exposed filament bulbs and the room glowing from the 850 degree wood-burning oven in the back. I like the spare decor and brick walls.

Mother Dough is a no-reservation kind of place. This tends to get on my nerves, because it's usually impossible to wait around for a table when I'm eating out with Fe. And as Fe. (turning 3 this month!) gets older, it is more and more fun to dine out with him. In any event, we showed up at six o'clock p.m. on Saturday night, just as the restaurant was opening and there was no problem getting a table. Hurrah!

The menu is succinct and focused with only a handful of starters and five pizzas. The place mats offer a rundown of what to expect. Why is the crust charred? How long does it take to cook the pizza in the 850 degree oven (60 seconds!)? Why use only buffalo mozzarella? Why have our pizzas arrived at different times? What is the significance of Mother Dough? Apparently the Mother Dough folks have been asked some of these questions many times.

There were four of us. I was dining with A., Mo., and Fe. We opted to start with the mixed olives, always a nice beginning and a sure-fire hit with Fe. We followed with the burrata salad, which was surprisingly generous. An unruly tangle of arugula dressed in a fairly spicy vinaigrette made a vibrant bed for a hefty portion of exquisite burrata. Typically when I have to share a burrata appetizer, I'm wishing there were fewer people at the table. In this case, there was plenty to go around. Sliced heirloom tomatoes and two crostini rounded out the dish. With more than enough to share, this is a very tasty and satisfying way to begin your meal.

We ordered three of the twelve-inch pizzas. The best way to judge a pizzeria is to sample its Margherita, pizza at its purest. So that was at the top of our order along with a white pie strewn with an abundance of julienned zucchini and fragrant thyme. We couldn't deny ourselves the house-made sausage pizza either.

I'll start by saying that A. was pining for these pizzas the very next night. And just this morning I was ruing the fact that Mother Dough is not open for lunch. I need to get my hands on this pizza again really soon. I'm positively craving it.

These pizzas were extraordinarily good. The crust is chewy with lightly crisp edges and bits of char; the flavor salty and yeasty. The red sauce is pure tomato, acidic and sweet (but not overly so). At first you might actually miss it on the zucchini pie, but you'll recover as you continue to tear into the delicious garlicky and herbaceous ode to summer squash. The trick is to order several pizzas with sauce and perhaps one without. Thus you'll find the perfect balance.

The sausage pizza is also terrific, but for my taste I prefer crumbly mounds to the slices of sausage at Mother Dough. I believe the sausage pie was A.'s favorite, and Fe. kept snatching rounds of it off others' slices. Naughty boy! So there is no denying the success of this choice. I personally was thrilled to have another cheesy and saucy pizza in our midst.

I'll admit that my absolute favorite was the Margherita. It was perfection in its simplicity. Lightly sauced and sparingly topped with buffalo mozzarella and fresh basil leaves, this is the pizza that is calling me back.

I have to tell you that this is not cheap pizza. The pizzas themselves run about fifteen bucks a piece. Our meal as detailed above plus two beers, two glasses of wine and a pop cost approximately $100 before tax and tip. So yeah, not cheap, but I found that our dinner was absolutely worth it. The setting is lovely and the food it turns out is exactly what the neighborhood needed.

Mother Dough
4648 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90027

Monday, October 24, 2011

Spaghetti alla Bottarga

Do you ever do this thing, where you take really small bites just to make a scrumptious dish you're eating last just a little longer?

I only eat like that when I am deeply in love with a dish. Last night I shoved a big bite of the spaghetti with bottarga that I had whipped up for dinner into my mouth. And I was all, YES, INDEED!!! Every bite after that was tiny.

Folks, I've consumed and loved many pastas with bottarga, but this dish just knocked my socks off.

Clear off.

I recently made a glorious steak with bottarga butter, and I managed to squirrel away about four ounces of the pressed and dried grey mullet roe for another night. This was the night! An easy-peasy Sunday night dinner that you'd pay big money for in a fancy-pants Italian restaurant.

I'm dead serious about the ease of this dish. You only need spaghetti, olive oil, garlic, crushed red pepper, parsley, lemon and bottarga. You can knock it out in about the amount of time it takes to boil the pasta. The garlic needs slicing, the parsley chopping, the lemon zesting, and the bottarga grating or shaving. Cinchy. Halving the recipe for two is no problem.

I snagged the recipe on the internet. A Mario Batali number. He is a good man. A really good man. I've always been a fan, but now I may be a stalker.

When I first read the recipe, I was actually worried that there were too many ingredients, because I remember enjoying similar dishes with just the olive oil, bottarga and possibly garlic. I worried that the lemon zest, parsley, and crushed red pepper would be gilding the lily.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

For me this spaghetti with bottarga was perfection, the most harmonious balance of flavors. It isn't lemony, because you only use the zest. You do experience the perfume of the lemon, but it is just a sparkle of citrus that brightens up the dish. It isn't spicy, but there is a warmth. The ratio of olive oil to spaghetti is spot-on, the strands slipperily slicked. It is garlicky, but you do not suffer from an allium assault.

And then you have the bottarga itself, a funny looking orange slab of fish roe that is encased in wax when you buy it. It isn't cheap (between $30 and $80 on Amazon) and you can't buy it at the supermarket, but you can find it and you definitely should splurge on this delicacy. I've found it on the internet and in local cheese shops and specialty stores.

It is not fishy and weird. Bottarga has a subtle fish flavor. It is a little bit briny, but it possesses sweetness as well. To me the flavor of bottarga might best be categorized as umami. Bottarga is incredibly delicious and it adds body and depth to whatever you're using it in.

I can tell I'm failing a little bit here. It's just so difficult to really capture the flavor of this unique ingredient in words that I'm familiar with. Argh! Suffice it to say, I was sighing and moaning throughout the meal. I almost skipped out on watching Game of Thrones with A. so I could share this recipe with you last night. I woke in the night itching to get to my computer. I'll also confess to scraping up every remaining crumb of the bottarga from my counter like a jittery coke-head hoping for one last high. Oh you know what I mean. Plate of pasta!

There's only enough for me. No sharing this time. So someday this week, when A. is at work and Fe. is sound asleep, lunch is going to be quietly off the hook.

Mario Batali's Spaghetti alla Bottarga

8 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon crushed red pepper
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 pound spaghetti
2 bunches Italian parsley, finely chopped, to yield 1/2 cup
6 ounces bottarga, tuna or grey mullet
Zest of 2 lemons

Bring a large pot of water to boil and add 3 tablespoons salt.

In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil, crushed red pepper and garlic over low heat until fragrant, approximately 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat. Cook the spaghetti, per the package instructions until al dente. Drain the pasta and add it to the oil mixture and add the parsley. Mix well over medium heat and pour into a warm serving bowl. Shave or grate the bottarga over the bowl and sprinkle with the lemon zest. Serve immediately.

Serves 4

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Smashed Green Olive & Grapefruit Salad with Pomegranate & Avocado

Since I had Hassan M'Souli's Moroccan Modern out on the counter to make charmoula, I figured I'd search for an intriguing new vegetable dish as well. It was serendipitous that I actually had grapefruits, green olives, parsley, hazelnuts, avocado and pomegranate in my kitchen. The only ingredient I needed to purchase was watercress, and then I'd be set to whip up M'Souli's Smashed Green Olive and Ruby Grapefruit Salad.

Pomegranate season is in full force right now, and I for one am always looking for a convincing way to use the finger-staining seeds. They're fun to eat on their own for awhile, but I bore of that rather quickly. It's so messy! In Santa Cruz we used to make a solid salad of frisée, roasted butternut squash, goat cheese and pomegranate seeds, but still I search for something new.

M'Souli's salad is a riot of textures. There's the crunch of the toasted hazelnut, the pop of the pomegranate, the squish of green olive, and the buttery smoosh of avocado. Undeniably there is a lot going on flavor-wise as well. The saltiness of the olives, the zing of the grapefruit, the vegetal bitterness of parsley and watercress, and the sweetness of pomegranate make for a whole lot of stimulation for your mouth.

I've never tried anything quite like this salad before. I really liked it. I didn't love it. I'd make a couple of changes and I think it would be right up my alley. I feel like one other contrasting flavor would be necessary to truly bring the salad together. That is to say that the recipe is sorely missing shallot or perhaps garlic. There isn't much of a dressing, beyond two tablespoons of olive oil and the juice of half a lemon. I'd either mix the two together with a tablespoon of chopped shallot or I'd mix the lemon and olive oil together with a clove or two of smashed garlic and let that sit for about fifteen minutes before drizzling over the rest of the ingredients.

I'd also cut back just a bit on the green olives. I was suffering from olive fatigue by the end. Instead of eight ounces, perhaps five would suffice. With those few easy changes, I think this salad would be spot on.

The beauty of the recipe is that it is a snap, aside from segmenting the grapefruits and pitting the olives, which once you get into the rhythm of it is really no big thing. M'Souli suggests placing the olives between paper towels and hitting them with a mallet or rolling pin to release the pits. I recommend squashing each one with your thumb and removing the pit. It's more straightforward.

Plus, this salad is amazingly healthy and fresh, and perfect for the season, not to mention easy on the eyes.

Hassan M'Souli's Smashed Green Olive & Ruby Grapefruit Salad

8 ounces green olives
2 ruby grapefruits, peeled and segmented
1/4 cup flat-leaf parsely
3 1/2 ounce snowpea sprouts, if available, or watercress
1/2 cup roasted hazelnuts
1 avocado, chopped
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
2 tablespoons olive oil
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Place the olives between layers of paper towels and hit each olive with a mallet or rolling pin to release the stones.

Place the olives, grapefruit, parsley, watercress, hazelnuts, and avocado onto a serving plate. Mix pomegranate seeds, oil, lemon juice, and pepper, and pour over salad. Allow to stand for 10-15 minutes prior to serving, for the flavors to mix and enhance.

Serves 4

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Charmoula with Preserved Lemon

So speaking of jazzing up fish...

Last week I had two plump halibut fillets ready to go for dinner, but I was fearful of falling into the same old rut of serving the fish with a vinaigrette. A couple weeks ago I was successful at avoiding the vicious-vinaigrette-cycle, trying my hand at a yuzu-kosho butter sauce. I wanted to continue in a similar vein, attempting something new.

I randomly grabbed an enticing cookbook off the shelf that I haven't used nearly as much as I should, Moroccan Modern by Hassan M'Souli. Within moments I had my solution. Not only had I figured out what to do with the halibut, I had also found a fantastic way to take advantage of my new batch of preserved lemons.

Charmoula with preserved lemons was the answer. Charmoula is a common North African marinade or garnish made with herbs, oil, preserved lemons and spices. This particular charmoula also relies heavily on chopped raw onion. I'll confess that this made me a wee bit nervous, but I soldiered on and can report no ill effects.

All this recipe requires is a dash of chopping and a smidgen of stirring and the result is a symphony for your olfactory system. And then when you finally taste the charmoula?


This charmoula possesses powerful flavor. The onion and garlic give a kick. The chiles lend heat. Extraordinary freshness comes from the cilantro and parsley. The cumin seeds and paprika introduce a seductive exoticism, while the real mystery is created by the saffron threads and the use of an entire preserved lemon.

I can vouch for M'Souli's assertion that this charmoula works wonderfully with baked fish. I'd also like to test it out on roast chicken and I'm certain it would shine on a simple carrot soup. It keeps for a few days in the refrigerator, but I liked it best the evening it was made.

Charmoula with Preserved Lemon

1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 red onions, diced
4 large garlic cloves crushed
1 cup cilantro, finely chopped
1 cup flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped
2 red birds-eye chiles, finely chopped
1 preserved lemon, diced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1 teaspoon ground paprika
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt
Extra-virgin olive oil, to cover

Combine all the ingredients thoroughly. Spoon into a jar and cover with a film of olive oil. Keep in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.

Makes approximately 4 cups

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Bottarga Butter

With every action there is a reaction.

Last night there was a big reaction to Meat-Free Monday. The Beet-Green Pasta was swell, but I was lusting for flesh. I stopped by McCall's Meat & Fish, yesterday on the way to pick Fe. up from preschool. I can't begin to tell you how quickly I was seduced by a superbly marbled one-pound rib-eye.

I showed no restraint. I continued in that vein when I decided to cream up a batch of bottarga butter to anoint the bloody steak. Sheer decadence.

Bottarga -- for those of you not familiar with this orangey hued slab of bliss -- is dried, pressed grey mullet or tuna roe. It is used shaved, sliced or grated. My most frequent run-ins with the salty and pleasantly fishy delicacy is in Italian pasta preparations (look for a post on this soon!). Bottarga adds umami body to whatever dish it is enhancing.

When I purchased the bottarga initially, I was not thinking steak. However after thumbing through the latest Canal House Cooking release An Italian Summer, my eyes were opened to new bottarga possibilities. I was intrigued by the idea of a deluxe compound butter that used fish and citrus flavors.

The bottarga butter uses just three ingredients, butter, lemon zest, and grated bottarga. Simplicity and luxury. I figured I'd impress my husband and have something exciting to share with you, dear readers. I was not mistaken.

Wow! Bottarga butter is fantastic. There should be nothing keeping you from making this for your next dinner party (except the fact that bottarga is a little spendy -- a special occasion ingredient). You will impress for sure.

The citrus flavor is bright and zesty, and butter melting over charred steak should always be encouraged. The grated bottarga adds a full-body flavor without tasty fishy or funky. It's almost difficult to pinpoint exactly how it tastes. It is subtle and marvelous.

Will you trust me on this?

Again, this is a cinchy three ingredient recipe. You soften the butter, zest a lemon, grate the bottarga and smash it all together. That is it. Compellingly simple, right?

You can find bottarga at specialty food shops or on-line at Amazon. Hop to it! I promise, you won't be sorry.

Bottarga Butter

8 ounces butter softened
Zest of one lemon
1 ounce grated bottarga

Mix the ingredients together with a wooden spoon until well combined. Serve over just grilled steak or perhaps you could try it on hot pasta.

Enough for 6 steaks

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Alice Waters' Beet-Green Pasta

I picked up our fantastic Silver Lake Farms C.S.A. (now taking new shareholders! you should sign up now!) bounty on Friday afternoon. The friendly volunteer asked if I wanted Chioggia or Golden beets. I opted for Chioggia (pretty pink and white candy stripes!). Then she asked if I wanted the greens or if she should toss them in the compost heap. I let her know that I'd happily part with my carrot-tops, but no way, no how was I giving up my beet greens.

I love beet greens almost as much as the beets themselves. That being said, just sautéing them in olive oil (with or without garlic) can begin to bore a bit. When I need to spice up my vegetable repertoire, I tend to turn to Alice Waters' marvelous, Chez Panisse Vegetables. She is a gentle master when it comes to fruits and vegetables.

I was actually looking for something to do with the three massive chioggia beets I received, when I stumbled across a recipe with the unassuming name, Beet-Green Pasta. All the ingredients were present and accounted for in my kitchen and it was Meat-Free Monday, so Beet-Green Pasta was decisively on the menu.

I felt excited to try something new, especially a recipe that would take advantage of the pot of mint growing outside my kitchen. The use of currants (or in my case golden raisins) was sure to please. I'm a sucker for that bit of sweet paired with onions and garlic and really any greens at all. At the same time, I felt a little skeptical. Would this be just another semi-flat vegetarian pasta dish with greens and onions and garlic (snooze) that just cried out for some sort of cheese or meat to bring it to life?

Who do I think I am doubting Alice Waters? Silly girl. She hadn't failed me previously, and she certainly did not this time. This is a simple pasta dish comprised of the aforementioned, beet greens, onions, garlic, and olive oil. The innovation comes from the clever use of a bay leaf, a bunch of mint and currants. Still I was doubtful. I thought I'd definitely have to put her advice for a more piquant dish to use, by adding a splash of vinegar and a dash of cayenne.

Didn't have to.

The pasta is pretty fantastic on its own. It's a rather new flavor profile for me, combining the mint and beet greens. The mint provides a haunting burst of freshness that keeps surprising bite after bite, and the bay leaf adds a pleasing dusty depth to the sautéed onions and garlic.

Just a word of advice. The cooking time really is just ten minutes. Five minutes to sauté the onion and garlic and then five more to cook the greens and stems. Don't start this dish well before you want to serve it. Don't start it and then after the vegetables are just beautifully cooked through, turn off the flame and leave the cover on waiting for your husband to finally get home from work. My brain knows better. I swear. But it apparently got distracted by someone's Breaking Bad spoiler (argh!) on Facebook. In my fury, I left the cover on and the greens cooked a little longer than ideal. It wasn't a calamity, but it wasn't perfection either. The brighter vegetal flavor was a tiny bit cooked away.

Try this! I halved the recipe and used linguine in lieu of fedelini with no problems at all. The mint is unexpected and fantastic with the greens and the sweet currants (golden raisins). I served it with a hunk of pecorino romano for grating over. Fe. and I shared the rest for lunch today, cold and straight out of the fridge. It was verging on sublime.

Alice Waters' Beet-Green Pasta

1/2 cup currants
3 to 4 bunches beet greens (about 2 pounds)
1 small bunch fresh mint (about 1/8 pound)
2 medium red onions
2 to 3 cloves garlic
1 bay leaf
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound dried fedelini pasta
Salt and pepper

Cover the currants with boiling water, let soak for 15 minutes, and then drain. While they are soaking, wash the beet greens, strip the leaves from the stems, and cut the leaves into chiffonade. Chop the stems into 2-inch pieces. Remove the mint leaves from the stems, wash them and then chop them into chiffonade.

Put on a pot of salted water for the pasta. Peel the onions and the garlic and chop them both finely. Sauté them with the bay leaf over medium heat in 1/4 cup of the olive oil for about 5 minutes or until they are translucent. Add the beet leaves and stems and the currants and cook 5 minutes more, covered. Meanwhile, when the water has come to a boil, add the pasta. Uncover the beet greens, season with salt and pepper, and add the mint leaves. When the pasta is cooked, drain it and toss well with the sauce, moistening it with a ladle of the pasta water and the rest of the olive oil. Serve immediately.

Serves 4 to 5

Note: For a slightly more piquant dish, add a splash of vinegar and a pinch of cayenne.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Enhance Your Fish -- Yuzu Kosho Butter Sauce

I recently wrote about my new found fondness for Yuzu Kosho, a Japanese yuzu pepper paste. I'd been spreading it on just about everything with abandon. Even baby carrots got a smear. I mentioned that beef was my favorite beneficiary of the Yuzu Kosho, but that was at the beginning of my tryst with the condiment.

Now that we've been together for a while and our relationship has matured, I've had a chance to do some experimenting. Yuzu Kosho doesn't need to be left to its own devices. You can give it a role in something greater.

I had been puzzling over what to do with some swordfish I had picked up at the fish market, when I realized that just spreading the yuzu pepper paste on the fish or adding it to a vinaigrette was perhaps too simplistic. I wanted something to enrich the paste. I felt it could benefit from a more balanced roundness. And what gives body and enriches better than butter?

Nothing, I tell you. Nothing.

But too much butter can be flat or greasy. Lemon and something sharp would add further harmony. I needed something with a kick that wasn't spicy, since I had the heat front covered. I settled upon chives or shallots. The final flavor front would need to be tomato. I love tomatoes with fish. The sweetness and acidity from the tomatoes were perfect with the rich butter, spicy and salty pepper paste, and zingy alliums.

This ultra-simple butter sauce was divine on the swordfish. I made it with chives that night. I decided to mess with the recipe again last night, so I could pin it down for you folks. I used shallots and they might work even better than the chives. We gobbled it up on striped-bass. Again a big hit.

There is a complexity to the sauce that is hard to pinpoint thanks to the yuzu pepper paste. The sauce seems slightly exotic, but not specifically Japanese. I served it in a completely non-asian context both times. This recipe is also not one that you need to save for your friends who can't get enough heat. I don't use much Yuzu Kosho here, just a teaspoonful. There is a pleasing peppery quality, but the sauce is not spicy.

Yuzu Kosho Butter Sauce

5 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons shallots (or chives), minced
1 teaspoon Yuzu Kosho
Juice of half a lemon, or more to taste
15-20 cherry tomatoes, halved
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Melt the butter in a small sauté pan over medium heat. Add the shallots and cook for 2 minutes. Add the Yuzu Kosho and stir to combine. Add the lemon juice and cherry tomatoes and heat until the tomatoes just begin to wilt a bit. Season to taste with salt (you shouldn't need much) and freshly ground pepper. Serve over fish like swordfish or striped bass.

Enough for 3 portions of fish

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Nancy Silverton's Spaghetti Alla Gricia

The Mozza Cookbook arrived last Friday afternoon (insert giant jump for joy).

I unwrapped it, carried it upstairs, curled up on my bed and started reading passages from the introduction. Within minutes, tears had started to run down my face. I'm not kidding or exaggerating. I was moved that quickly. I'm pretty sure this is the cookbook that I've been waiting for to provide the inspiration that has been sorely lacking in my life lately. The Mozza Cookbook may be exactly what I need to get back on track.

I have, literally, been waiting for its release. Impatiently, I might add. I can tell that this book is going to stoke the cooking fires within me. The last couple of months my energy, focus, and interest have been waning. It's been such a challenge to simply make it to the market and to then get the food on the table that I've been more than a little lax about posting.

And then the guilt. A. says that with any writing project comes a bucket-load of guilt. I had no idea how right he was. I'll wake up at 4 a.m. absolutely wracked with it.

Needless to say, I have high hopes that The Mozza Cookbook will indeed jump-start my lazy-blogging-bones. It has a good chance, because if there is one woman I love, it is Nancy Silverton. She is a hero of mine. I used to be a big fan of Campanile (sadly, not so much anymore). I've eaten more than a reasonable amount of La Brea Bakery bread and goodies. I own a number of her fantastic cookbooks (Nancy Silverton's Sandwich Book, A Twist of the Wrist, The Food of Campanile), and I am obsessed to the point of distraction by her Los Angeles restaurants, Pizzeria Mozza, Osteria Mozza, Mozza2Go, and the utterly marvelous family-style meals held at the Scuola Di Pizza.

So, yes, a book replete with all the most compelling recipes from the Pizzeria and the Osteria is a thrilling tome, to be sure. You won't be disappointed with the selection. You'll find the recipe for the coveted Butterscotch Budino, the pristine Grilled Octopus with Potatoes, Celery and Lemon, the sinfully rich Fresh Ricotta and Egg Ravioli with Brown Butter, and the recipe for one of my favorite pasta dishes ever, Linguine with Clams, Pancetta, and Spicy Fresno Chiles.

Of course, I wanted to dive right in. Of course, I had hardly any time to devote to cooking, and some of the recipes are quite long. Silverton even suggests that you, "think of them as roadmaps of the Italian countryside -- detailed, long, and sometimes winding -- but they will get you where you want to go." She is very thorough in her instructions and explanations. It's as if she is by your side, in your kitchen, coaching you through the process. Very comforting.

I did dive right in. I found one of the less challenging recipes that Silverton actually recommends as a weeknight supper and managed, all the same, to fall head over heels for Silverton once again. I chose the Spaghetti Alla Gricia, because I could head down the street to Cookbook to pick up a red onion and a hunk of guanciale and I'd be all set.

Spaghetti Alla Gricia is, as Silverton explains, a white, tomatoless version of the classic Amatriciana. This essentially means that you are making a pasta dish featuring guanciale (an Italian pork, bacon-like, delicacy made of dried, unsmoked pigs' cheeks) and perhaps onions.

In Silverton's recipe the pasta is loaded with red onion petals, guanciale, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and pecorino romano. She is very firm about the necessity of guanciale. No substitutions, not even pancetta will do. Just wait until you've got the goods, before even considering this recipe, she instructs.

While her instructions are exceedingly thorough, some of her more poetic language had me scratching my head. Onion petals? Guanciale batons? Am I insane? Because when she instructs that the guanciale should be cut into 1/4-inch-thick, 2-inch-long batons, I'm wondering about the width and the thickness. My portions were about 2 inches long, and 1/4-inch wide and deep, and I think this was a little too chunky. My batons did not crisp up in 3 minutes. Not even close, so my feeling is that the batons need to be thinner. Perhaps 2-inches-long, 1/4-inch-across, and 1/8-inch thick.

Does that make any sense?

Regarding the petals, Silverton has us cutting the onion in half and then separating the layers, then cutting each layer into petals an inch wide at the middle. If I am understanding what she is ultimately seeking, I found it easier to cut the onion in half and then into 1-inch wedges, and at that point to separate the layers.

Other than my inability to fully grasp those two concepts, the recipe is a breeze and does make for a decidedly decadent weeknight meal. I was feeling rather wicked for consuming so much pork fat in one sitting. But goodness, what a deeply pleasurable way to debauch.

It's amazing that a recipe as simple as this, with as few complicated ingredients can produce such a deeply complex flavor. The ingredients include the red onion, the guanciale, extra-virgin olive oil, red pepper flakes, black pepper, whole Italian parsley leaves, Parmigiano-Reggiano, pecorino romano, and water. I was surprised and impressed by the abundant use of water. The onions are cooked in a cup of water (smart not to add more oil unnecessarily). Please note that on my stove it took twice the amount of time for the water to evaporate. Another cup of water is added to the cooked guanciale and onions to essentially create the sauce that the hot pasta will ultimately be tumbled into.

The flavor is enormous. It's porky and peppery with a hint of sweetness from the onion. The cheeses add another layer of robustness, while the parsley contributes just a bit of fresh. I really dig the generous use of whole parsley leaves. Next time I might add a handful more.

Not surprisingly, I am champing at the bit waiting to have a go at another recipe. I'm hugely intimidated, but I want to try my hand at one of her life-changing pizzas. She shows you how! What a spectacular treat it is to have Nancy at home with me.

Nancy Silverton's Spaghetti Alla Gricia

Kosher salt
1 large red onion
6 ounces guanciale, cut into 1/4-inch-thick, 2-inch-long batons
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon fresh coarsely ground black pepper
12 ounces spaghetti
1 cup whole fresh Italian parsley leaves
2 tablespoons freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 tablespoons freshly grated pecorino romano, plus a wedge for grating

Fill a pasta pot or a large stockpot with 6 quarts of water, add 6 tablespoons of salt, and bring the water to a boil over high heat. If you are not using a pasta pot, put a colander in the sink or have a pair of tongs handy for lifting the pasta out of the water. (See what I mean? Detailed.)

Cut the onion in half, separate the layers, and cut each layer into petals that are 1 inch wide across the middle. Put the onion petals in a large sauté pan with 1 cup of water and a big pinch of salt and cook the onion over high heat until the water evaporates, about 5 minutes. Add the guanciale and olive oil and cook over medium-high heat until the guanciale is crisp about 3 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and add another cup of water, the red pepper flakes, and black pepper. Turn off the heat while you cook the spaghetti.

Drop the spaghetti into the boiling water, stir to prevent the strands from sticking together, partially cover the pot so the water returns to a boil quickly and continues boiling, and cook the pasta, using the time indicated on the package as a guide, until it's al dente (whew!). About 1 minute before the pasta is done, place the sauce over high heat. Lift the pasta out of the cooking water, or reserve 1 cup of the water and drain the pasta, and immediately add it to the pan with the sauce. Cook the pasta with the sauce for 2 minutes, stirring with a rubber spatula or tongs, to coat the pasta with the sauce, adding some of the reserved pasta water if the pasta is dry and sticky instead of slippery and glistening. Turn off the heat and stir in the parsley. Add the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and pecorino romano and stir to combine.

Use the tongs to lift the spaghetti out of the pan and onto the center of each of four plates, dividing the pasta evenly, and twirling it as it falls onto the plate to form a tight mound. Spoon any sauce left in the pan over the pasta and use a microplane or another fine grater to grate a light layer of pecorino romano over each plate, and serve.

Serves 4