Monday: Guacamole, Shepherd’s Salad – Pan con Tomate y Anchoas
Tuesday: Margherita Pizza, Salad
Wednesday: The Commoner (Hotel Monaco)
Thursday: Cream of Celery Soup
Friday: Branzino steamed with ginger, scallions and cilantro Congee, Sauce of sesame oil, pepper and scallions
Saturday: Ricotta with toast and crudités, and toasted Speck,Provençale Lemon Chicken with potatoes and carrots, Salad, Prantl’s Chocolate (!) Burnt Almond Torte courtesy of Ann Donahue. Caymus2101 Anniversay Cabernet Sauvignon, courtesy of Chris.
Sunday: Steeler’s brunch: Bacon, Spinach Frittata with tomato scumble
Dinner: Hanna Suite party at the Steelers Game, courtesy of Hoddy
We’ll get back on track with massive, multi-day, menus that require collaboration between farm, table, grain merchants in the Ukraine and 4 chefs next week. As for this week, enjoy the holiday – don’t sweat the small stuff or the food. I hope a light shines in your home as it did on our world about 2000 years ago (and be nice to your mother-in-law, if you still have one – you may not believe this, but you will miss her some day).
We had some great food last week and, most importantly, the Steelers won a great come-from-behind-then-nearly-give-it-back-but-finally-win-out game over the Denver Broncos. I will write about the shepherd’s salad (pictured above) someday –but since this week will be dominated by family holiday traditions from which you deviate only at the risk of inflaming crazy Aunt Sally (does anybody else cook “The Seven Squashes” for Christmas Eve?), I thought I’d tell you about some unassuming side-dishes you can use with leftovers to create grazing buffets for the hordes of children, relatives, and Syrian refugees you will be entertaining over the holidays:
Grilled Bread: We use grilled bread a lot with our dinners. Typically, we just brush the bread with olive oil, toast it in the oven or grill it over charcoal or in a grill pan, and then sprinkle some sea salt on the finished product. Here is a way to take it a step further. Preheat a cast-iron grill, brush some good bread (a sliced baguette, your own home-baked boule, Whole Foods “Farm Bread,”etc.) with olive oil and grill until bread is firm and has grill marks. Then cut a ripe tomato in half (those tomatoes they sell on the vine are the only ones that work this time of year) and rub it onto one side of the bread. Rub and sort of bang it – you need to handle that tomato the way that James Harrison would handle Tom Brady, if he ever got his hands on him – you want to get a nice amount of juice and just a little pulp onto the bread. Sprinkle some sea salt on this and you have a fine accompaniment to Mary’s Stewart’s baked scampi, or a good salad, or serve it by itself as an appetizer. The Spanish call this Pan con Tomate – I like mine with a little bit of anchovy (‘anchoa’ to you, Jose). Note: Good bread is, clearly, a sine qua non for this dish. Whole foods makes a good loaf they call “Farm Bread,” as well as a very rustic “Italian” (not that crusty stuff with the cotton candy interior that passes for Italian bread at most groceries). Actual bakeries do the best and I would highly recommend Jean-Marc Chatellier’s place in Millvale. Better yet, bake your own. A few bakers have figured out how to cook a good loaf in a conventional oven. For my money, the best recipes are the ones Jim Leahy has written up in his book, My Bread. His basic “No-Knead Bread” is perfect. We also bake his “Stecca” (thin, Italian-style baguettes) a lot.
Crostini with Crudités: Cut up some red onion, halve some cherry tomatoes, divellicate (look it up) a Belgian endive, and slice a cucumber into discs for your crudités (or create your own line-up – I always toss in some pickles and some toasted prosciutto or speck for the anti-vegans in the crowd). Then slice up a baguette or any good piece of bread and toast in the oven at 425 until just firm (you don’t need to oil this bread – though you can – since it’s going to be slathered with ricotta). As for the ricotta – you can use the standard stuff, but you should mix in a little heavy cream to loosen it up. Whole Foods sells a “Maplebrook” brand that is very good. Best is making your own – call me, if you don’t know how. (It takes about an hour). If you’ve made your own, you’re good to go. If not, you’ll want to doctor the brand you have with salt, pepper and thyme or oregano (I use both). I like a little olive oil mixed in, but SWMBO has forbidden this, on penalty of severe scowling. Now just spread some of the ricotta on the bread and top with whatever you like but, for heaven’s sake, use at least a small piece of red onion (it makes the dish). If you any ricotta or bread left after the meal, you’ll want to check into an eating-disorders clinic.
Seared Zucchini: This dish is a bit of a pain but is good enough to be worth even more. It goes well as another topping for the bread and ricotta (above) or as a side dish to any protein, or chop it up and mix it into pasta. Get small zucchinis, if you can – the large ones will work, however – and slice into 1/8” discs. Heat some butter and olive oil in a sauté pan over Medium and then turn up the heat to make it a little hotter and add the zucchini, disc by disc – you want them all to sit flat in the pan. Season with salt, pepper, a little crushed dried thyme and dried oregano (and some red pepper flakes, if you are from a country where men love women). When they begin to brown and blister, flip them with some tongs (this is the painful part – but it is worth it) and cook till the other side gets browned, then drain on a paper towel and serve. These babies are great just by themselves.