SAUTEED FILLET OF SOLE ON BASIL TOMATOES

This dish was taught to me by my friend Sally Darr, former chef/owner with her husband of the famous La Tulipe restaurant that closed several years ago.

The only time I make this wonderful dish is during the summer months, when my beef steak tomatoes are ripe and full of flavor. The time is now! I like to use a variety of colorful tomatoes for this dish. 

Ingredients:

         1 cup milk

         4 small fillets of sole (about 1 pound)

         4 tablespoons olive oil

         4tablespoons butter

         3 large tomatoes, ends and stem discarded, cut into 1/2-inch-thick slices (about 3 pounds) 

         1/4 teaspoon salt

         1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper plus more to taste

         2 teaspoons minced garlic

         1/2 cup chopped basil

         1/2 cup flour

         1 tablespoon minced basil

Directions:

Pour the milk into a shallow bowl and soak the sole for 5 to 10 minutes.  Meanwhile, put 3 tablespoons olive oil in a non-stick 12-inch skillet.  

Place the flour in a pie plate or shallow plate and mix with 1/4 teaspoon pepper and pinch of salt.  Dust the fillets lightly on both sides with the flour, shaking off any excess.  Carefully lay the fish in the hot oil and sauté, over high heat, for about 1 1/2 minutes each side, or until delicately brown. Arrange the fillets attractively on a large, heated platter.

Rinse out the skillet, and add the remaining 1tablespoon oil and butter to the skillet.  Set the skillet over high heat. When the oil butter is hot, add the tomato slices and sprinkle them with the salt and pepper to taste and the minced garlic.  Sauté over high heat, about 2 minutes. With a spatula flip the tomatoes over for a few minutes. They should be just a little brown and caramelized.  Immediately place them over the sole, garnish with fresh basil.

Makes 2 servings. 

Fig and Chile

This is one of my favorite decadent pasta dishes I make with figs from my trees. If you are not fortunate to have your own fig trees, you can buy them at your local grocery store this time of year. It is a recipe from the London River Café cookbook Italian Easy.

Sweet ripe figs seasoned with chile gives this lemony pasta an unusual spiciness.

 Ingredients:

                        16 ounces of egg tagiatelle (I used my homemade pappardelle)

                        8 black figs

                        2 dried chilles

                        2 lemons

                        2 ounces Parmesan cheese

                        2 tablespoons Extra Virgin olive oil (I used butter)

                        ½ cup heavy cream

Directions:

Cut each fig into 4 pieces. Crumble the chilies. Grate the peel of both lemons and squeeze the juice of one.

 Bring a large pan of salted water to a boil and cook the pasta until al dente.

While the pasta is cooking, heat a skillet large enough for the figs in one layer.

 Add the oil or butter and, when smocking carefully place the figs in the pan, turning them immediately to caramelize. Season with a touch of salt and add the crushed chilies. 

 Drain the pasta. Stir the lemon zest and juice into the pasta. Add the figs and serve with the Parmesan.

 Serves 2 as a main course or 4 as an appetizer.           

Ricotta al Forno

(Baked ricotta cake)

Ingredients:

            2/3 cup sugar
            3 eggs, beaten
            4 level tablespoons of cornstarch, sifted
            450 grams fresh ricotta, one container, drained
            1/4 cup cream (I used light)
            2 lemons, zest & juice

Directions:

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Butter and line a 9- inch cake pan with parchment paper.

In a bowl, combine the sugar, eggs and cornstarch.

Using a hand mixer beat ingredients until smooth and lump-free.

Add the ricotta and mix on low speed until well combined. Add cream then lemon zest and juice, mix until smooth. Pour the batter into the cake pan.

Bake 45-50 minutes or until slightly golden brown on top. Test with a knife for doneness.

Mexican Lobster Salad

Serves 4

Ingredients:

            I pound cooked lobster meat, cut into bite size chunks

            Juice of ½ lime

            ¼ cup mayonnaise

            1 jalapeno or red chili pepper, minced

            1 stalk celery, finely chopped

            1 ½ tablespoon fresh minced cilantro

            1 hardboiled egg, chopped

            Freshly ground pepper and pinch of salt

            Assorted greens

Directions:

In a medium bowl toss the lobster meat with the lime juice. Mix in the mayonnaise, chili pepper, celery, cilantro and boiled egg. Add pepper and salt if needed to taste. Mix well to combine.

Refrigerate, keep chilled until ready to serve.

Bagna Cauda

Bagna cauda means, literally, “hot bath.” It is one of the most flavorful savory peasant dishes from the Piedmont region of Italy.  And it is quick and easy to prepare and can be served either as an appetizer or as a full meal, in the same dish or pot in which it is made.

Suggestion for presentation

Use a chafing dish, cast-iron pot, or flameproof earthenware casserole to heat the ingredients, than keep the dip hot over a candle warmer or spirit lamp.

To eat bagna cauda, hold a piece of bread in one hand and a piece of vegetable in the other.  Dip the vegetable into the sauce, hold it over the bread, and eat it.

The best vegetables to eat with your Bagna cauda are celery, savoy cabbage, fennel, cucumbers, radishes, red and green peppers but you can substitute any raw vegetable you like.

Cut the vegetables into a variety of shapes and soak them in a bowl of ice cubs and water for an hour to crisp them.  Dry them will and arrange them on a large platter or tray.  Serve them with the sauce a loaf of fresh Italian bread and a bottle of rough red wine, such as Barbera,

This savory dish can be a chic finger-food food treat for your next casual dinner with friends or family.

            1-cup extra virgin olive oil

            ¼ cup unsalted butter

            1 ½  tablespoon garlic, finely minced

            1 (2-ounce) can rolled anchovy fillets with capers

            3 tablespoons parsley, finely chopped

            2 teaspoons capers

Combine the olive oil, butter and garlic in a chafing dish, cash-iron pan, or enamel or earthenware casserole.  Simmer the ingredients for a few minutes over low heat.  Do not let the garlic turn brown.  Add the anchovies, parsley and capers.  Simmer, the mixture for 15 minutes, or until the flavors are will integrated.  The anchovies will dissolve.)  Remove the pot from the strove and place it over the candle warmer or spirit lamp. 

Serve it with assorted crisp vegetables like the ones mentioned above and warm Italian bread.   

 

Bergamot Sorbetto (Sorbet)

Yield: about 3 cups

This makes the perfect intermezzo or dessert for that summer meal on the back deck. Bergamot is a citrus fruit, the tree is a cross between an orange and lemon. Eighty percent is grown commercially in a 60-mile acre along the coast in Calabria. We know its flavor from the scent in Earl Gray Tea.

Photo, Francine Zaslow

Ingredients:

2 ½ cups water
1 cup sugar
Zest from one lemon and one orange
¼ cup each of freshly squeezed lemon juice and orange juice
1 teaspoon bergamot extract *

Directions:

  1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat combine ½ cup water and sugar. Add the lemon and orange zests and heat, stirring frequently, until the sugar is completely dissolved.
  2. Remove from the heat and add the remaining 2 cups water and the bergamot. Chill thoroughly in the refrigerator.
  3. Stir the lemon and orange juices into the sugar syrup, then put the mixture in a stainless bowl or in an ice cream maker following manufacturer’s directions. When it is frozen, remove from freezer or ice cream maker and with an electric hand beater beat the mixture to incorporate air into the sorbetto. Refreeze and repeat this 2 more times and again just before serving. This will give the sorbetto a white creamy consistency.
  4. The Cook Shop in Brewster carries the extract.

Making friends with the cheesemakers

Food has a way of bringing people together in a myriad of ways. As the Guarascios’ guest, I was invited and included into their home and their family and enjoyed a lovely, homemade meal. I also experienced the togetherness of a family that lives and works together.

For years I have visited and written about the culture and cuisine of northern Italy, especially the areas in and around Bologna, Modena and Ferrara. Last February, I found myself headed south to where the Apennines Mountains, the 750-mile mountain range that continues through the spine of Italy, end – at the “toe” in Reggio di Calabria, the largest city in Calabria.

This is a region I have always been interested in visiting, and using this as my home base I was able to explore this exciting, rustic region of Italy.

One of my first adventures was to the quaint town of Scilla, north of Reggio Calabria in the Costa Viola, a stretch of beautiful coastline looking out towards the Aeolian Islands. Here I visited with Rocco Galletta, whose vineyard grew on shelved terraces on the steep slopes. Rocco took me for a ride through the vineyard on a rickety device called a “monorack,” something like an old carnival train, which broke down at the half-way mark. This monorack (when it’s working) carries freshly picked grapes through the vineyards for making wine.

From here I headed to the ancient castle of Scilla, perched high on a cliff, to marvel at the breathtaking views of the sea below and beyond.

My next excursion took me out of the city to sample an array of Calabresi specialties at Sirianni.

This factory/store is owned and operated by Angela Zappia and makes specialty products. I tasted the typical hot peppers of Calabria, chopped and packed in oil; the famous Tropea onions, cooked and turned into a condiment; a marmalade made from the bergamot fruit; and the region’s famous enduja (pronounced en-DOO- ya), a spicy, spreadable pork salami that has become a unique food item here in the states. I sampled them all! And I was able to pack a few of the specialties in my suitcase and take them home with me.

A few days later I ventured up the coast to Cosenza, a cultural hub with museums, theaters and the University of Calabria. Here I roamed the town’s ancient buildings and landmarks and explored the “open air museum,” a street stretching several blocks through the center of the town. This “museum” boasts a wide range of modern art sculptures. One that especially caught my eye was a sculpture of St. George and the Dragon by Salvador Dali, .

As I ate in restaurants and tasted a variety of wines I was served a sampling of delicious mountain cheeses made with goat and sheep’s milk. I needed to learn more about these wonderful cheeses. I made a few inquiries and heard of a four-generation family of cheesemakers high in the mountains outside of Reggio.

I decided to pay them a visit.

In the morning when I left my hotel in it was clear and sunny, with the temperature in the 60s. I threw on a light jacket, got in the car, and headed up a winding road filled with hairpin turns and speeding cars. Two hours later, when I arrived in the village of San Giovanni in Fiore, high in the mountains, it was snowing, sleeting, and miserably cold.

But when I got out of the car I was greeted by the friendly, smiling faces of the Cuarascio family of cheesemakers I’d come to visit. They escorted me into a small and even colder room where they made their specialty cheeses. From here we went to the barn, where there were hundreds of sheep and goats with different colored streaks on their backs signifying their age. It was several weeks before Easter, and I was told many would be slaughtered and sold for the holiday and only 100 would be kept for making cheese.

Then it was back out into the sleet and snow and up a flight of stairs into the main house. I was immediately drawn to the roaring fire in the fireplace to warm up. As I warmed, I looked around and saw what you would typically expect to see in an Italian home: There was a picture of the Virgin Mary, a crucifix on the wall, a wreath of artificial flowers over the fireplace, and a large table down the center of the room covered with a plastic table cloth

I was introduced to Filomena, the mother, who immediately covered the table with a fancy embroidered tablecloth.

Then came the food: a plate of the family’s special formaggio stagionato, a hard cheese made by blending equal parts sheep and goat’s milk and aged for at least 10 months (similar to the Parmesan of the north); formaggio semi sragianato, a semi-hard cheese, made the same way but aged for only two months; a platter of head cheese. This delicacy is made from the meat of pig’s head and something I remember my grandparents made regularly in the fall; a fancy platter of homemade sausages, marinated olives and slabs of ½-inch thick prosciutto; a basket of bread and — of course– a bottle of homemade red wine. I felt right at home!

Food has a way of bringing people together in a myriad of ways. As the Guarascios’ guest, I was invited and included into their home and their family and enjoyed a lovely, homemade meal. I also experienced the togetherness of a family that lives and works together. I know the Guarascio’s sensed my appreciation and love for what they were sharing with me, a validation of their love for food and family.

Connecting with these, hardworking families with their customs and traditions, is where I find my passion and pleasure and experience my biggest joys in life.

When I arrived back at my hotel in Reggio, the weather was warm and sunny. I thought about my trip to the mountains and meeting the large Guarascio family. It reminded me of my warm, family bonds I once had as a small child in Sagamore.

Ricotta Pesto Spread for Crostini

Serves 6 to 8 as as appetizer

Calabria is famous for its ricotta cheese. I had it several times and it is one of the best I have ever tasted. Here is a version made with fresh pesto for use as a spread. It can also be tossed into fresh warm pasta.

Ingredients:

1 cup of whole milk ricotta cheese
3 to 4 tablespoons fresh pesto (recipe below)

Directions:

Squeeze of lemon juice
Salt and pepper, to taste
12 to 14 (1-inch) wide slices of toasted bread from a French baguette
In a medium bowl mix the ricotta with the pesto. Spread on toasted bread and serve.

Fresh Basil Pesto

Makes about 1 1/4 cup

If I am not pressed for time I like to make my pesto the old-fashioned way, in the marble mortar and pestle I bought in Italy. If I am pressed for time I use the food blender.

Instructions for blender or food processor method.

Ingredients:

1 pinch coarse salt
2 cups fresh basil leaves, cleaned and with spines removed
2 large garlic cloves, peeled, with the green heart removed
¼ cup toasted pine nuts
2 tablespoons each finely grated Parmesan and Romano cheese*
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil, approximately
A dollop of soft butter
Salt to taste, if needed

Directions:

In a blender or food processor fitted with a steel blade combine the basil and garlic and blend into a fine paste, scraping down the sides of the bowl when necessary. Add the pine nuts and cheeses and process until smooth. With the machine running, add the olive oil in a steady stream and mix until smooth and creamy, then stir in the butter. If sauce is too thick, a little warm water poured through the tube while the machine is running will smooth it out.

To keep the pesto, place it in small containers 90 percent full and pour a thin layer of olive oil over the top, cover and refrigerate will keep for several days. *If you choose to freeze the pesto, eliminate the cheeses until ready to use. I use a small ice tray to freeze pesto. Portions are perfect for using in sauces or for a serving of fresh pasta.

‘Nduja with Pasta

Makes 2 servings

Nduja is one of Calabria’s most famous exports. This sausage mix packs a lot of heat thanks to blend of local chili peppers. In this dish it is paired with another of Calabria’s well-known culinary stars. This recipe many be doubled to make 4 servings.

Ingredients:

9 ounces fileja pasta (for a substitute, casarecce or collizione pasta from Brella)
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons ’Nduja*
1 ½ cup plum tomatoes
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Pinch of salt to taste
1/4 cup red wine
4 to 5 shredded fresh basil leaves
¼ cup shredded ricotta salata*

Directions:

  1. Heat olive oil in a large pot on medium high heat. Add garlic and sauté until it softens. Then mix in ’nduja. When it begins to incorporate in the oil, pour in the red wine and cook until the sauce reduces by half. In the meantime, use either a hand or regular blender to puree plum tomatoes.
  2. Add the puree mixture to the saucepan and cook on medium heat for about 20 to 30 minutes.
  3. Add in fresh basil in the last few minutes for extra aroma and flavor.
  4. While the sauce is cooking, place fileja pasta in salted boiling water. Cook for about 8 to 10 minutes or until done. Strain pasta and add it into sauce so flavors integrate well.
  5. Place in individual warm bowls topped with the grated cheese and serve.
  6. *Ricotta Salata is an Italian cheese made from the whey part of sheep milk, which is pressed, salted and aged for at least 90 days. It is milky white in color with firm texture and salty taste.
  7. The cheese is often used in salads and ideal for slicing, crumbling and grating.

Celery Root Soup (Also known as celeriac)

Serves 8 to 10

This is a delicious soup I had in a restaurant Calabria. It was served with freshly sliced truffles on top. Since fresh truffles are hard to come by I suggest a drizzle of truffle oil on the top.

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 leeks, cleaned and chopped
1 or 2 garlic cloves
1 large or 2 small celery root (about 3 pounds) peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 small Yukon Gold potato, peeled and cut into 2-in cubes
1 cup dry white wine
5 cups chicken broth
1 cup water
Salt and freshly-ground pepper to taste
½ cup heavy cream

Directions:

  1. In a large saucepan melt the butter with the oil.
  2. Add the leeks and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring frequently. If leeks start to brown, add a little more oil or butter.
  3. Stir in the garlic, and cook for a few minutes, Add the celery root, potato and white wine. Cook until wine evaporates. Add the chicken broth and water. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a medium simmer and cook with the lid to the pot ajar on top, until the celery root and potato pieces are fairly soft (about 45 to 50 minutes). Add the salt and pepper and cream.
  4. Place in a blender and puree until smooth. Adjust seasoning. If soup is to thick, thin it with a little stock or water.
  5. To serve, rewarm in saucepan and ladle into warm bowls. Drizzle with a little truffle oil.

Cassoulet

(Allow at least 1½ days, including a final baking period of 3 hours.) Cassoulet gets its name from the casserole, the large earthenware pot it is cooked in. I was first introduced to it when I was invited to a party by my friend Sally Darr, former chef/owner, with her husband John, of La Tulipe in New York City (1979-1991). Out of her kitchen she came carrying a large clay pot, one she had bought in France, especially made for cooking cassoulet. It was bubbling around the edges and topped with several pieces of crispy confit of duck on a bed of toasted, seasoned breadcrumbs. As the aromas of garlic and braised meats filled the room, I was hooked. There are many variations of this French classic. This is mine.

Preparation

To prepare lamb: Season the lamb liberally with salt and pepper and dust with flour. Melt fat in heavy saucepan and brown lamb in batches. Remove from pan, set aside.

In same pan, add a little more fat. Add the onion, carrot and celery. Sauté until vegetables wilt and start to color. Add the garlic; cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in wine and tomato puree. Simmer for another minute or two. Add stock, tomatoes, bay leaves and rosemary, and simmer, covered, for 1½ hours. Cool and refrigerate until ready to use in cassoulet the next day.

To prepare beans: Soak the beans overnight in cold water or use quick-soaking method. Drain the beans and place in a large 8-quart pan with 4 quarts water. Add bouquet garni, bacon and garlic sausage and bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer. Remove sausage after 30 minutes, cool, remove casing and cut into ½–inch slices. Continue cooking the beans until tender, about 45 to 60 minutes longer. Drain beans, reserving liquid.

To finish cassoulet: While beans are cooking, brown pork belly in rendered fat. Remove from skillet.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Put lamb mixture and pork belly into the pot in which beans were cooked. Heat just until soft enough to break apart.

Season 4-quart casserole by rubbing it with garlic. To assemble the dish, begin by spreading half the beans in the bottom of the casserole dish. Top with half the sausage slices, then half of the lamb-pork mixture. Repeat with remaining beans, sausage, and lamb-pork mixture. Add about one-half cup of bean liquor (or as much as needed) to moisten. Top with one-third of breadcrumbs, and drizzle with more rendered fat.

Bake for one hour, or until crumb topping is golden and crusty. Stir crumbs into dish. Add another third of breadcrumbs, drizzling with more fat. Bake another hour, or until this topping is also golden and crusty. Stir topping back into dish and add last third of breadcrumbs, drizzling with fat. Bake for final hour.