February 4, 2016 – February 7, 2016
Monday: Faglioni Bolognese (Green Beans Bolognese )
Pollo al Forno con Aceto Balsamico (Balsamic Roasted Chicken)
Tuesday: Shepherd’s Salad
Wednesday: Vegetarian Chili
Thursday: Dunnings Meeting
Friday: Cheese, Salumi, Crudités, Crackers
Mussels in spicy tomato broth
Baguette from Jean-Marc Chatelier
Saturday: Lemon-Basil Pizza, Sausage-Mushroom Pizza, Arugula
Sunday: Antipasta platter (olives, salumi, Santa Theresa cheese, crudités)
Avocado Toasts with Fatoush (pictured at top of posting)
Ragu Contadina with Fetticine (pictured at bottom of posting)
Arugula with blueberries and feta
Roasted pears with grape syrup
Lidia Bastianich’s Mussels in Spicy Tomato Broth
I cringe at phrases like “flavor bomb,” “off the hook,” or, to get more homey, “deelish.” But my sophistication leaves me wondering how to describe the hybrid avocado toast we created this weekend. “Knock you down tasty,” doesn’t sound correct. “Holy Mother of . . .” sounds right – but doesn’t work in print since you can’t get the emphases in . Let me just say that we were lucky to have those toasts. And Lidia Bastianich’s mussels were pretty close – in fact, with a great baguette and a nice wine, they were clearly the keeper of the week.
What, shell fish again?
If you have a problem with that my advice is to let others enjoy their shell fish and don’t be selfish (leave that to me). We (Beez, Billy, Andrew, Julia and I) are as happy as clams when we are eating them, or mussels, or crab, shrimp, or scallops. As we were saying before you ostraconophobes interrupted, we love shellfish and, like most Americans, have a romantic ideal of dinner at a rustic wooden table in a garden with a large bowl of mussels and shattered baguettes and Nebuchadnezzars of wine and . . . But last Friday night there were a few obstacles to achieving this romantic ideal. It was too cold to eat outdoors, for one. And the thought of cleaning a pot-load of mussels at the end of a long week, after a good workout, was daunting. But, daunted as we were, we pushed on, inspired by a recipe we had seen in Gretchen McKay’s article in the PPG about Lidia Bastianich’s Mastering the Art of Italian Cooking. If the classic French preparation of mussels (wine, garlic, basil) is perfect for that outdoor dinner, this version, in a spicy tomato broth, is perfect for eating in front of a fire on a chilly Friday evening. For you Catholics, with Lent bearing down – you should make this your “one substantial meal” for Fridays. For non-Catholics, lapsed Catholics, agnostics, atheists, animists and Sikhs – you have no excuse for missing out on this delicious, satisfying and (if you can get hold of some good baguettes*) romantic meal.
*Here is how to nail a good baguette In Pittsburgh: on Friday mornings at 8:00, haul your carcass to Jean-Marc Chatelier’s bakery in Millvale where you will find baguettes that will remind you of France (oddly enough, even if you’ve never been there – a strange, but common psychic phenomenon which might be called ‘pretentious memory’) – perfect crusts which shatter a bit when you break the baguette into pieces, leaving a satisfying trail of golden crumbs to show you the way back to the table, if you have to get up for any reason. And while you’re at Jean-Marc’s buy one of his regular loaves – fantastic bread – and a couple of croissants. He specializes in pastry – not my thing, but if it is yours, have at it.
The secret of Lidia’s preparation is to take your time with the tomato base – it doesn’t take long, but don’t hurry this part – and to be generous with the red pepper flakes. They soften and cook down to a still spicy, but manageable heat.
Oh – what about the obstacle of cleaning the mussels? Well, nothing good comes without a price. Although you might get lucky, as I did last Friday. Some mussel farmers have found a way to clean the sand off the mussel shells. My bag from Whole Foods needed a quick rinse and one or two beards stripped off, but it made for a virtually fast-food meal. (If you’re not sure how to handle mussels or oysters or clams – call me – for $2,500 and airfare, I will come and clean them personally.)
The Recipe for mussels – you will make it many times, believe me – is just below the “Extra” for this week.
Extra – Avocado Toasts with Fatoush
On Sunday, in addition to enjoying a great Super Bowl game, we had the inimitable experience of inventing Avocado Toasts with Fatoush. “Fatoush” is a middle-Eastern salad of tomato, onion, and sumac with toasted pita bits. The idea for this came from a neat little book Billy gave to me for Christmas entitled simply “Toast.” The premise of the book is that you can make an entire meal out of a piece of toast. I don’t buy that and, being married to a carbophobe, I’m unwilling to try it. Nor did I have the ingredients or the inclination to make this toast the way they suggested. Instead of an avocado shmear, I used a dynamite guacamole recipe that incorporates tomatillos and green peppercorns to achieve a cool, creamy punch of flavor that we love with chips or on toast. Mixing our guacamole with some of the “Toast” ideas we created what may have been the single tastiest thing we have eaten all year (and all last year). Not being able to find Sumac – a North African spice that is described as lemony and salty – I mixed a little salt with lemon zest (which we use in lots of dishes) and created a spice which would go well with fish, salads – you name it. Here are some suggestions as to how to make this splendid appetizer or accompaniment to soup – substitute whatever you like, leave out what you don’t, but don’t skimp on the spices and you will have an absolute flavor explosion on your hands:
Avocado Toast with Fatoush
(Preheat oven to 425 F)
Smooth Guacamole (We also like chunkier versions, but you can’t get quite the flavor kick without processing the avocados)
6 Avocados (Buy firm avocados 3 days before you want to use them and you should have avocados good for eating by game day).
3 Cloves of garlic (4 if you will not see other humans for the next week)
1 Tablespoon of pickled green peppercorns*
3 serrano peppers, stemmed, seeded and rough chopped (Just 2 if you enjoy knitting)
3 tomatillos, stemmed and cored
The juice of two limes
Cilantro or Parsley (a couple of tablespoons)
*If you can’t find these, use a teaspoon full of pickled jalapenos
Put the peppercorns, garlic and serranos into a food processor and pulse.
Add sliced up avocados, tomatillos and process until smooth.
For the Toast
Brush some good sliced bread with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt, then toast in the oven for about 5 minutes (however long you like)
Meanwhile, slice a radish or two very thin, dice some cherry tomatoes, get out your jar of sumac or mix some salt with lemon zest. Find that Za’atar (most grocery stores carry this Moroccan spice) that is hiding in the closet with the other spices.
Spread a generous layer of the guacamole on each slice of toasted bread. Cover with 3 or 4 slices of radish and a few pieces each of the tomato, cucumber and red onion. Sprinkle with the sumac or the lemon-zest salt and some Za’atar. Cut into halves or quarters and serve.
The Fettucine on Sunday was almost as good as the football game, but the baked pears with grape sauce, actually, the grape sauce alone, was better. We’ll tell you about it some day.