July 27, 2015

Here’s what we cooked last week:

Monday: Smoked Chicken, roasted tomato pizza, Green Salad – eh – okay. Chicken just doesn’t do much for pizza. Wrong texture, mostly.
Tuesday: Chicken/Mellon Salad – left over pizza app.
Wednesday: Zuppa di Porcini, Green Salad, Crostini with ricotta.
Thursday: Grilled Shrimp and Vegetables over Saffron Orzo – good dish,but I’d kick out the orzo and substitute rice, easier to time with the grilled stuff.
Friday: Pan-seared branzino with tomato-caper sauce, Greens w/ asparagus and parmigiano, avocado toasts. Very good dinner marred by the fishmonger’s mistake of skinning the branzino fillets which allows just a touch too much olive oil into the fish.
Saturday: Fig and Fennel Caponata as an appetizer to take to the Harts dinner   party.

The real keeper from this week was the Fig and fennel caponata. The idea of caponata is to mix sweet and sour tastes in a way that is irresistible, and to serve it with grilled bread. Traditional caponata is made with eggplant as its base ingredient, but unless you have access to fresh, young eggplant (which often means traveling to the strip district or growing them yourself), you can end up with a dish that is marred by mushy eggplant. We’ve made caponata with potatoes, but that’s a little heavy. This combination of fig and fennel (an Ina Garten recipe) is foolproof and truly irresistible. You could easily make a meal out of this with some grilled bread, a good salad and a bottle of wine. DO NOT USE FRESH FIGS. Fresh figs aren’t sweet enough for this recipe and, in any event, are so good in their own right that you don’t want to mix them with so many other things. Whole foods sells containers of large, dried Turkish figs, which fit the bill. As the figs dry out their natural sweetness becomes concentrated.

And then there are John Hart’s grilled lamb chops. Only John or an experienced line-cook can produce 20 delicious grilled lamb chops at the same time.   (I suspect he couldn’t make a caponata to save his life – but don’t tell him.) Pair these with Janice’s corn pudding and a beautiful night on their deck and life is sweet. Add my caponata and you will be in heaven.

Extras: Zuppa di Porcini. I had forgotten how good this rich, most mushroomy of soups is. The key is to use meaty mushrooms – cremini or baby bella – and some dried porcini (if you can get fresh porcini, just use those, but on this side of the Atlantic I’ve never been able to get them, except for one incredibly expensive batch from the Strip). This, served with a green salad, is a good way to eat light but feel satisfied. The recipe is one we’ve made from trial and error by trying to figure out what David Rocco was cooking in an episode of his show. You’ll need chicken broth (vegetable broth if you want to be stick-skinny), one or two fresh herbs and an egg, as well as the mushrooms.

Smoked Chicken / Mellon Salad.  This is a brilliant recipe from a cookbook Billy gave to me (Fire and Smoke). Smoked chicken is not your bland hit-me-with-any-flavor-you-like chicken. This recipe uses a honey, lemon, poppyseed dressing to tame the super savory chicken.  Add musky mellon, scallions and toasted almonds to create a salad that cries out for second and third helpings.  You may need to hang a “Step away from the plate” placard on the wall.