As I was saying…
It’s taken me a while to pull myself from the pages of October’s chosen cookbook, A16 Food + Wine, and remember to write. This comes as some surprise because A16 is one of those restaurant books, which made me first flip through its pages with the same attitude I bring to perusing Shape magazine in the grocery checkout: Mmm-hmm, impressive -- commendable, even. Must be nice to have four hours a day to dilly-dally about the gym.
A16 is a San Francisco restaurant – it’s no doubt been called an eatery by one critic or another – that supposed to be very good and very famous. Chef Nate Appleman is a protein guy, curing his own salumi and slow-cooking his meats. The book’s co-author is the wine director, Shelley Lindgren, whom, I’m sure, has all sort of valuable advice to pass along about pairings and varietals and terroir. But so do those little tags that hang off the shelves at the wine store, so…
Anyway, my point is that I didn’t expect to get sucked into this book, but, well, Roasted Butternut Squash with Pancetta and Chiles, Ricotta Gnocchi in Brodo with Peas and Spicy Pork Meatballs, Rib Roast of Beef with Rosemary and Mosto – this is my kind of cooking.
Granted, I’m fresh out of mosto, wouldn’t you know, but I’ll bet it’s available locally.
So I dove in, making the butternut squash dish and Roasted Asparagus with Walnut Crema and Pecorino Tartufo. In the squash recipe, Appleman raves about Calabrian chilies, even as he adds that they’re not readily available. I’ll check the specialty stores here someday, and there’s always – sigh -- ordering online. But he also said I could substitute ¼ to ½ tsp, dried chile flakes. I like a chef who acknowledges the need to make substitutions.
As it was, I happened on a tube of pureed chiles in the store, next to the tubes of garlic and pesto. I’ve always shied away from them, thinking they’re leftovers from NASA getting out ahead of itself and envisioning what to serve in first-class moon flight. But the tube read “Made in Italy,” and they were chiles, so in the cart it went. And – not bad. I could have used more in the finished dish, but the resulting flavor had more warmth than heat, in a good way. I’ll keep experimenting with it.
At any rate, the combo of bacony, chile-ey roasted squash was terrific – and came together in the half –hour it took to peel, slice and roast the squash.
The asparagus recipe caught my eye because I’d bought a stalk of Brussels sprouts at the farmers market and was trying to finish it up. There are more sprouts than you might think on a two-foot bludgeon. So I thought sprouts could stand in for asparagus. I’d always wanted to try a walnut cream sauce – OK, not always, but ever since I’d heard of one.
Again, a quick dish to assemble – the sauce is blanched walnuts thrown in the blender with some sautéed red onions and olive oil. Very rich and earthy-tasting, which was great with the sweetly bitter (you know what I mean) roasted sprouts. I’d even sought out the recommended pecorino tartufo – pecorino with bits of black truffle – to shave over each serving. I’d bought the smallest wedge I could, and glad I did because I just am not a truffle person. Its aroma always seems to be written up as erotic, but it smells to me, like a farm. And I know farms. Hog farms.
So I wrapped the remaining wedge in aluminum foil, sealed it in a freezer bag, so as to have it handy for … well, I couldn’t just throw it out.
Oh! Almost forgot the Braised Salmon with Basil, Almonds and Lemon. Again, a simple preparation, but the dish was unexpectedly elevated by the sprinkling of correctly-toasted almonds. Appleman actually spends a few paragraphs talking about toasting nuts, the goal being to achieve an even caramel color throughout the almond. The key is a low temp, 300 degrees, and plenty of time, 15-20 minutes.
So, was this book opener’s luck? More meals ahead.