Archive for the ‘salad’Category

Stretching black truffles with alioli

chicken salad with black truffle alioil
The good and bad side of fresh truffles is that you have to eat them up right away because they only keep for a week or two in the refrigerator, even if you let them breathe every day when you change the absorbent paper in the container. In the process of eating them up, it’s easy to have a lot of truffle “crumbs” or extra shavings. The solution to that problem is truffle alioli, the Catalan answer to mayonnaise. We made a pretty big batch (nearly 2 cups) and used it to make potato salad (with sliced boiled potatoes, minced onion, chopped boiled egg, and minced celery) and to make a delicious chicken salad. The secret to great alioli is to store the eggs in a sealed container with a truffle for a few days.

BLACK TRUFFLE ALIOLI


4 large cloves garlic, peeled and grated
20 grams grated black truffle
2 egg yolks
1 whole egg
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 cups extra virgin olive oil

Place all ingredients except the oil in a food processor fitted with steel blade and process to mix. Add olive oil in a slow drizzle with processor running. The alioli will have the texture of thick mayonnaise. Add extra lemon juice or salt to taste. Store overnight, as garlic will mellow and truffle will permeate the alioli.

TRUFFLE ALIOLI CHICKEN SALAD


This is the dish pictured at the top of this post.

1 large chicken breast, roasted in wood oven (or on charcoal grill via indirect heat)
3 stalks celery
6-8 fresh figs
1 shallot, minced
3/4 cup alioli (see above)
black truffle shavings

Remove skin and cut chicken off bone. Dice into 1/2-inch pieces. Cut celery stalks into 1/2-inch wide strips, then cut very thin slices on the diagonal. Destem figs and dice. Combine chicken, celery, and figs with minced shallot and mix together. Add alioli. Serve on lettuce with fresh tomato, topped with a few shavings of black truffle.

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20

07 2015

Recognizing real balsamic vinegar of Modena

La Vecchia Dispensa tasting bottles

La Vecchia Dispensa tasting bottles

Few culinary terms have been so abused in recent years as “balsamic vinegar.” A generation ago, the only people who knew true balsamic vinegar were either wealthy gastronomes or members of old-fashioned families in the Modena and Reggio Emilia districts of Italy’s region of Emilia Romagna — best known even then for Parmigiano Reggiano cheese and prosciutto di Parma.

Simone Tintori of La Vecchia Dispensa in Castelvetro, Modena “It was a traditional family product,” explains Simone Tintori (left) of La Vecchia Dispensa in Castelvetro di Modena (Piazza Roma 3, +39 059-790-401, www.lavecchiadispensa.it), a fourth-generation commercial producer of the two controlled types of Balsamic Vinegar of Modena (aceto balsamico di Modena). “And everything you have been told about it is probably wrong.”

The two categories of protected Modena vinegar are IGP and DOP, and it’s helpful to understand the differences so you get what you pay for. The Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena DOP must be made from wine vinegar and grape must (from any of seven grapes, but usually Trebbiano) and must be aged in wood in the province of Modena and bottled there. Furthermore, it has to pass taste tests by the consortium of traditional producers and must be sold in a traditionally styled 100ml bottle that cannot have any reference to age on the label.

The other protected type is Aceto Balsamico de Modena IGP (without the “Tradizionale”). The IGP is a geographic designation under European Union law. The permitted ingredients are wine vinegar and grape must, but the producer is also allowed to use grape must concentrate and to add caramel coloring. The vinegar also must be aged and bottled in the province of Modena and pass a set of laboratory tests before it can be bottled with the IGP label.

modena 1 The mechanics of making balsamic vinegar are not particularly complicated. Grape must and wine vinegar are combined. The most expensive products may have as much as 70 percent grape must with just 30 percent vinegar, while the cheapest could have as little as 20 percent grape must. The mixture is aged in wooden barrels—usually a sequence of increasingly smaller barrels for the DOP product and usually in large wooden casks for the IGP. Over time, some vinegar evaporates, concentrating the vinegar that remains behind. The barrels are used repeatedly over decades, so little flavor of the wood is imparted to the vinegar. The best of the products become almost syrupy in their viscosity, as the sugars from the original grapes become more and more concentrated.

While Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena DOP tends to be fairly consistent from producer to producer (and generally costs $75-$200 for a 100 ml bottle), Aceto Balsamico de Modena IGP bottlings vary a lot in both quality and price. The least expensive use grape must concentrate, which is a little like making a marinara sauce using tomato paste but no fresh tomatoes. It’s tomato-y, but not the real sugo. That said, it can be a tasty and useful vinegar—just not the gustatory powerhouse of a DOP or a better IGP vinegar.

With a deeply concentrated mix of fruitiness and complex spice, the DOP vinegar is principally for use as a drop or two on a steak, roast, or hunk of incredible cheese. For salads and cooking, most of us are happy with the modestly sweet and tangy IGP product—if we can get a good one.

Modena 4 After visiting La Vecchia Dispensa in Castelvetro (old castle), I went a few kilometers down the road to visit Antichi Colli in Castelnuovo, or “new castle” (Via Rio dei Gamberi, 2, +39 059 533 1332, www.antichicolli.it). A complex of vast stainless steel tanks with an attic of aging barrels, this large firm mostly produces IGP vinegars. Interestingly, they only use concentrated grape must in the lowest grade, which retails at about $10 per 250ml bottle. Their IGP vinegars go up in price to around $120 per 250ml bottle.

So what should you look for? First, look for the IGP insignia or the DOP seal. Second, reject any product stamped with the number of years it has been aged (if it has the seal and a claim of years of aging, it’s a fraud). Third, if you’re looking for flavor complexity, skip any vinegar that lists “concentrated must” or caramel coloring as an ingredient. They are legitimate, but usually lower-quality. Finally, taste it if you can. For salad dressing and the like, we use a Whole Foods-branded IGP Balsamic Vinegar of Modena that’s both reasonably priced and versatile in the kitchen (and is made with concentrated must). We keep the DOP for drizzling on really old Parmigiano Reggiano cheese….

Aging barrels at Antichi Colli, Castelnuovo, Modena

Aging barrels at Antichi Colli

25

03 2015

Celebrating great dining in Dublin

New Year in Dublin We just returned from Dublin’s New Year’s Festival, celebrated over three days from December 30 through January 1. This was the fourth year of the festival, and the biggest yet. Along with the raucous parade (above), it featured live rock concerts, a Spoken Word Festival of poetry and rap, other music that drew on traditional and classical genres, special museum and gallery shows, and a whole lot of fun.

The Irish know how to celebrate, and it turns out that they have a lot to celebrate year-round with the new Irish cuisine. Ireland has always had the makings of great food — from the sweet vegetables to the succulent meat from animals grazed on its rich green grass to the fish and shellfish from its coastal waters. Now classically trained chefs are embracing their Irish roots and that great Irish provender.

Dining room at Cleaver East in Dublin A case in point is chef Oliver Dunne, who followed up on his Michelin-starred Bon Appétit in Malahide (north of Dublin city center) with Cleaver East (6-8 East Essex Street, Dublin, +353 1 531 3500, cleavereast.ie). It’s inside the Clarence Hotel, just off Wellington Quay on the south bank of the River Liffey in the Temple Bar entertainment district. The hotel is partly owned by Bono and The Edge from the band U2, but to our way of thinking, Dunne is the greater star. He was schooled the old-fashioned way–by cooking in the kitchens of great chefs, including Gordon Ramsay.

Salmon with apple fennel salad at Cleaver East in Dublin When he came home to Ireland to open his own restaurants, Dunne chose to serve simple dishes based on local ingredients in an informal environment. Cleaver East is an Irish interpretation of a bistro. The bar dominates the middle of the room and it’s surrounded on three sides by dining tables, with a few more tables on an upstairs balcony. As big as the bar is, the plates are a far cry from bar food. Dunne is something of a magician. He drew on Irish salmon, crisp apples, and crunchy fennel for a starter that used a touch of lemon and grapefruit to cut the unctuousness of the salmon and give a little bite to the apple-fennel salad.

Great steak at Cleaver East in Dublin He also presented one of the best cuts of beef we’ve enjoyed in a long time — a 7-ounce filet mignon of local beef that had been hung to dry-age for 21 days. It was cooked to a perfect medium rare (as ordered), topped with broiled cherry tomatoes, and accompanied by a cluster of maché. You couldn’t ask for a simpler dish, but it was fit for an Irish king. In keeping with the bistro tradition, he also served a bowl of perfect deep-fried potatoes (“chips” in Ireland, as they are in England).

This being Ireland, after all, you’ll be hearing more about potatoes in future posts.

07

01 2015

French chefs, Spanish ham & summer fruits

ile de re
During a recent visit to Île de Ré and Île d’Aix, the unspoiled islands off the west coast of France not far from Cognac, I also enjoyed a taste of Spain. In early September, swimmers and bicyclists were making the most of the warm, summer weather and chefs were looking for ways to highlight the last of the ripe tomatoes and melons. Several turned to Spain’s jamón serrano, an air-dried mountain ham, to add salt and umami to balance the sweetness of the luscious, ripe fruit.

jamon dishAt Le Grenier à Sel (www.grenierasel.fr/) in the town Ars en Ré on Île de Ré, a perfect starter consisted of a tartare of tomato mixed with the chopped ham. The next day, I encountered a slightly different version at Chez Joséphine (www.hotel-ile-aix.com/restaurant-josephine/) on the lovely, but much smaller Île d’ Aix, where Napoleon spent his last days in France. For a starter, the chefs paired a tartare of melon with crisp lettuce and even crisper jamón serrano for a lovely contrast of taste and texture. The dishes are simple and relaxed, yet they capture the elegance of the French table that even vacationers expect.

They also offer some good ideas about what we can do at home with the last bounty of summer.

19

09 2014

What to bring home from a British grocery store

British groceries Whenever I visit a British grocery store I scour the shelves for the most unusual items. But it’s really the comfort foods that define a cuisine — or at least taste like home. That’s the lesson I learned from a lovely woman in Leeds who had lived and worked in Taiwan for 15 years. When I asked her what I might want to buy in the city’s big Sainsbury grocery store, she immediately rattled off the items that she had most craved during her years abroad.

At the end of every visit home, she would pack herself a big care package for her return trip to Taiwan. Here are the foods she couldn’t do without:

Heinz Tomato Soup. It’s ultimate comfort food.

Heinz Baked Beanz. Brits consider this version superior to the American version.

Heinz Salad Cream. This tangy dressing has a consistency like mayonnaise. Dubbed “pourable sunshine,” it’s as popular on sandwiches or baked potatoes as it is on salads.

Marmite. This yeast extract with a strong, salty flavor is equally loved and hated, even in Great Britain. The dark brown paste is usually spread on toast, with or without a little butter.

Walkers Salt & Vinegar Crisps (potato chips, to Americans). Walkers is the favorite brand in the UK and the salt and vinegar variation has a tangy, salty flavor that is quite addictive.

Cadbury Dairy Milk Whole Nut Bars. Introduced in 1933, this bar pairs Cadbury’s creamy, high milk content chocolate with whole hazelnuts.

And here are a few more items that I like to throw into my grocery cart:

HP Sauce. This secret-recipe brown sauce has been manufactured since 1899 and is a favored accompaniment for beef. The original version is available in many U.S. grocery stores, but it’s worth seeking out some of the other flavor options, including the blend of HP and Guinness.

Branston Rich & Fruity Sauce. This mix of tomatoes, apples, and dates is blended with herbs, spices, sugar, vinegar, and molasses to make a sweet but tangy brown sauce. It’s good on scrambled eggs.

Cadbury Flake. The crumbly bar of thin sheets of milk chocolate is the classic adornment to a scoop of ice cream.

Remembering Italy #2 with pear and prosciutto salad

The Legends from Europe folks passed along a packet of prosciutto di Parma, the most familiar of the Italian raw hams seen in the U.S. and the one most imitated by American and South American producers. To qualify for the PDO label as prosciutto di Parma, the ham must come from pigs fed a special diet and raised in a defined north-central region of Italy. Additionally, the ham must be cured in the countryside near Parma in Emilia-Romagna. Much of the intense flavor comes from applying just enough salt to keep the ham “sweet” and then aging it at least 400 days. (The photo above shows whole hams hanging in a chilled aging room in Italy.)

Parma prosciutto is the most intense of the Italian raw hams and stands up well to other strong flavors. It is often paired with melon and even combined with Gorgonzola cheese on pizzas. But melon is out of season, so I decided to try the prosciutto di Parma with some gorgeous but firm Anjou pears. I peeled the pears, cut them in eighths, wrapped prosciutto around each wedge, and roasted them for four minutes under a broiler.

Once they cooled, I arranged them on some local red-leaf lettuce tossed with a light vinaigrette and sprinkled on some toasted walnuts and a few crumbles of mountain Gorgonzola. The saltiness of the ham was a perfect foil to the Gorgonzola, and the slight crunch of the lettuce highlighted the crisp edges of the warm prosciutto. In fact, lightly roasting the prosciutto retains the flavor of the raw ham but adds a bacon overtone.

It made a great lunch.

06

12 2012

Tomato glut #3: Heirloom tomato and melon salad

Executive chef Jeff Van Geest of Mirodoro (see Tomato glut #2) also gave us a really good idea for a salad that is so simple that we have been making it ever since. He combines several kinds of ripe heirloom tomatoes with chunks of cantaloupe, some house-made ricotta (we buy a good ricotta salata), a few leaves of mint, a few drops of balsamic vinegar, and some extra-virgin olive oil. The combination of the tangy tomato with the cool, sweet melon really pops.

We enjoyed it with Tinhorn Creek’s pinot gris, which has great citrus notes and crisp acidity, thanks to fermentation on the lees in stainless steel. Winemaker Sandra Oldfield stirred the lees twice a week for two months, giving the finished wine just a hint of toast.

17

09 2012

Tomato glut #1: Mission Hill’s cherry tomato salad

It’s that season of mixed emotions as the garden starts shutting down and we’re swamped in a sea of wonderfully ripe produce. No matter how we stagger the plantings and the ripening season of different varietals, we’re faced with a tomato embarrassment of riches at the end of August and early September.

We just returned from one of the great agricultural regions of North America, the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia, where the explosion in grape-growing and fine wineries in recent years has also led to an explosion in great dining options and in boutique agriculture to support the chefs.

Mission Hill Family Estate, the leading winery of the region, showcases the Okanagan cuisine at a stupendous fine-dining restaurant called, simply enough, the Terrace Restaurant. It’s an all-outdoors spot under a classical loggia with sweeping views of the lake and vineyards. Executive chef Matthew Batey oversees the entire dining program at the winery (there are lots of private dinners and catered events), while Chris Stewart oversees the Terrace.

Chris’s answer to a glut of great cherry tomatoes is to make this exquisite salad of peeled cherry tomatoes, paper-thin toasts, prosciutto, Parmagiano Reggiano cheese, and a dribble of aged balsamic vinegar. He peels the tomatoes by cutting an X on the bottom, then extending the cuts to the stem. Using a surgically sharp blade, he then cuts an equator on the tomatoes, dipping them for a few seconds in boiling water before plunging them into an icewater bath. The skins peel up toward the stem in a beautiful way.

Even if we don’t have the time or ingredients for such a fine dish, we find that taking a few minutes to prepare the cherry tomatoes and setting them out for guests next to a plate dusted with sea salt for dipping makes a nice presentation for finger food.

03

09 2012