Monday, October 19, 2009

Finding an ally, a technique and a meal

A-16 came very close, very close to being put in the “nice but not a keeper” pile. It was facing its classic test: Being thumbed through as I’m finishing my second cup of coffee, looking for what to make that night for dinner. Ideally, I find a meal that won’t require a trip to the store; next best case, a quick stop on the way home.
So, thumb, thumb, thumb, and all I see are the recipes for a Rabbit Mixed Grill: Loins, Ribs, Legs and Belly Marinated with Black Olives, Preserved Lemon, Parsley and Chilies. For Braised Goat with Tomatoes, Rosemary, Cinnamon and White Wine. For Short Ribs all Genovese.
It’s a Friday. I want a good meal, indeed have been fantasizing about unwinding by making a great meal, but time is time and short ribs aren’t going to make it. Nor rabbit belly.
Mmm-hmm – A-16 was turning into one of those cookbooks, after all. A few recipes, but ultimately impractical on a daily basis.
But I said I’d give the book a month, and I’m a cook of my word, even if it’s to an inanimate object.
I kept coming back to a recipe that had a great photo – Braised Halibut with Pistachios, Preserved Meyer Lemon and Capers. Then there was the gnocchi dish, Ricotta Gnocchi in Brodo with Peas and Spicy Pork Meatballs. This recipe especially intrigued me because the Brodo was a broth made by simmering leftover ends of hard cheese – the parmesans, romanos or pecorinos – that you keep stashed in the freezer. Long ago, I learned that a cheese rind thrown into a soup was subtly transformational, if that’s not a contradiction. The flavor gets deeper. It’s really good.
I’d also vowed to try making ricotta gnocchi ever since I had them at Lucia’s restaurant in Uptown. One of my top 10 dishes, seriously.
So things were shaping up: A quick pass through the store would get me the fish and ricotta. I remembered I had a bag of those little sweet multicolored papers from Costco that were on the verge of going south, so why not make a batch of pepperonata to have on bread? I had everything but the fennel. Add that to the list.
And then things changed.
What ended up on the table later that night was not quite the meal I’d imagined making. But the experience of what started in the book and landed on the plates actually ended up making A-16 seem like more of an ally in the kitchen. Here’s why:
I wanted the gnocchi, but not the peas or pork meatballs, and I had some leftover fresh tomato sauce from the garden, so sauced gnocchi would be fine. Except, I couldn’t let go of that brodo idea. So I ended up dropping a cheese rind into the water in which the gnocchi cooked and, while perhaps not Lucia-like transformational, it lent these little bits of ricotta, flour and eggs a cheesy undertone. Delicious. Adding a cheese rind to cooking liquid is a terrific technique. So noted.
Grocery lists also are a terrific technique. Had I made one, I would have known I had no capers on hand, which ended up being needed for both the halibut and the pepperonata. So I exchanged briny for spicy in the pepper dish, adding a squirt from that tube of Italian chilies (see previous post.) I opted out of the capers for the fish, combining toasted chopped pistachios with chopped parsley and grating in fresh lemon rind instead of buying preserved lemons. Maybe added a pinch more salt.
In his head notes for the recipe, Nate Appleman says that one of his favorite simple ways to prepare firm-fleshed fish is with a mixture of nuts and herbs. To which I say, one of my favorite simple ways to prepare firm-fleshed fish is with a mixture of nuts and herbs. Or, ditto. Seriously, the salmon/almond/basil and now the halibut/pistachio/parsley. Two for two. Great stuff.
Anyway, here’s the deal. I didn’t follow the recipes religiously, but still felt led by them. Appleman didn’t so much inspire, as fall in step with me as I marched through his ideas. I got to spend a Friday night unwinding by cooking, and ended up eating food I’d never made before, and will again.
Oh, and I roasted some Brussels sprouts, just because one can never walk past really good looking Brussels sprouts in October without buying some.
If you hate them, that’s more for me.


  1. I have A-16 and made the pork meatballs. They were wonderful, but getting the ingredients together was a little time consuming. I keep meaning to go back to it to make something else, but when I think about the book, I think of it as something I will go back to when I have more time, which is like, never. I admire that you are persevering.

  2. Debora, yes, it's the time thing, which immediately sorts out a lot of recipes. But I've been surprised by how quickly some of the recipes go together. The gnocchi, actually, could have gone from start to finish in a half hour -- if that's all I was doing, and therein lies the tale!