Monday: Beez’s Birthday – Blue Fish Mantecato on toasts (Ricotta with cherry tomatoes and Belgian Endive for Beez), Braised Escarole and Cannellini Beans, Torta Barozzi (Chocolate Cake)
Tuesday: Leftover Ragu with Penne Rigate and salad
Wednesday: St. Scho’s On Mission presentation – Dinner at Cornerstone
Thursday: Father John Sirica speech at the Duquesne Club
Friday: Grilled Oysters / Tuna with wine-bottle Sauce / Green Salad / Severely left-over Cake with chocolate ganache
Saturday: Dinner with Rick and Annie at Andora
Sunday: Cheese Board / Grilled Strip Steak with Fried Herb Salsa Verde / Tomato and Zucchini Gratin
Some things do not sound appetizing when put together. But I can assure you that, with a little ingenuity and some good cooking, beans, cake and blue fish are not only delicious in their own, insular, rather stand-offish ways, but rather spectacular when put together. Which is what we did for the homey, but happy birthday dinner for Beez last Monday.
Now, unless you’re retired, there are some weeks when the sheer rush of appointments and schedules defeats any attempt to plan a leisurely, let’s-get-all-our-ducks-in-a-row cooking schedule. And, outside of New York City or some other megalopolis, there is always the issue of finding the ingredients you want. So that, when you want to stuff a carp with, say, a Cajun take on a Bulgarian recipe, it’s not surprising that you may not be able to track down all of the essential pieces of that cooking puzzle in the ‘burgh.
And this is what led to a lot of left-over blue fish (not carp) on Beez’s birthday, and that got me to thinking about mantecato. If you can whip cod (a meaty fish) into a delicious mousse, why not try a bluefish? But that act of creative and transgressive cooking must have sapped my energy – and if you’d offered a penny for my thoughts on what else we would cook for SWMBO, I would have gone penniless, so that, at the last second, we had to make do with what was in the pantry for Beez’s birthday, a brothy concoction featuring greens and cannellini. Part of my flagging creativity was due to baking a cake for my beautiful but demanding honey – something which scared me and ate up vast amounts of time. Somehow, all of this came together for a memorable birthday dinner for SWMBO – though she eschewed the Bluefish Mantecato (on insufficiently rational grounds, Billy and I thought).
What the, you may be asking, hell is a mantecato? Well, if you’ve been in Venice you may have had this ethereal fish mousse (dip) on crackers or baguette as an appetizer. It is hard to believe that such a firm piece of fish (classic Baccalá mantecato is made from dried salt cod) can be coaxed into a near megingue-like airyness. But it can, and you should, and, in addition to cod, which has a light, neutral taste, you can do this with almost any fish, including the notoriously fishy blue. And I’ll show you how, below.
If you don’t know about escarole and how well it goes with chicken broth and cannellini beans, don’t tell anybody – just go and do it. You don’t really need a recipe – but call me if you find yourself in the weeds.
Finally, there is nothing to fear about baking a cake. Though I’d have a backup dessert on hand, if your first 15 attempts don’t work. Just kidding – this recipe is nearly fool-proof and the result is good enough to display on one of those desert carts with which upscale restaurants tempt their patrons.
Note: The Steak on Sunday was troglodytic – 2″thick. And the gratin, using Jacques Pépin’s method which calls for a chunky mix of baguette and Gruyère, was amazing. But we’ll talk about those some other time.
Cheese Board from Sunday – I don’t have a picture of the Mantecato, but I’ve pictured the ingredient list below
(Whipped Salt Cod)
Traditionally, this is made with salt cod which requires at least one night and several soaks in water to reconstitute. See traditional recipes – all over the net – for this. What we did involved using about 20 oz.of cooked blue fish.* Here’s how we did it – and you can use any white-fleshed fish, add a small boiled potato for more lightness . . . .
Any amount of cooked fish
One clove of garlic (for about 20-30 oz. – less, if you are using less fish)
Olive oil (about 1/2 cup for 20 oz. of fish)
Salt and Pepper (if you are using salt cod, you may want to skip the salt, unless you’ve really soaked your fish in several changes of water over 2 or 3 days)
This is purely home-made approach. Traditionally, it seems, the Venetians whip the cod with wooden spoons. You could do this in a food processor by pulsing (don’t run the machine for long stretches or it will heat the fish and the oil and make the taste heavier), but I used a deep pot (pasta cooker) and an immersion blender and it worked well, and nobody got spattered.
Make sure to remove all skin (and bones from fish) and break the fish into pieces and put t in whatever vessel you are using. Pour a little of the oil over the fish and begin to break up with the blender. After the fish is broken down, add salt and pepper to taste. Keep adding oil and blending until you have a light, creamy texture. Correct the seasoning and serve on toast or toasted baguette or cooked polenta (the hard, not the creamy kind).
*Bluefish, I am told, is an acquired taste. If so, I acquired it very early – I don’t remember not liking this semi-oily fish which my Father would bring home from fishing trips in New Jersey. [My early taste for blue fish raises, in an oblique way, the Medieval philosophical question of whether we are born with innate knowledge – let me know your thoughts]
Torta Barozzi (flourless chocolate cake from Vignola)
Special Equipment – 8 inch Springform Pan (I have 9 inch and it worked fine)
Ahead of Time – Get 8 tablespoons of unsalted butter to room temperature – about 2 hours.
Time: 90 minutes
½ cup blanched almonds, toasted in sauté pan
2 ½ tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
¼ cup cocoa (not Dutch process)
1 ½ tablespoons unsalted butter + 8 tablespoons unsalted butter at room temperature
3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
4 oz. granulated sugar + 2 tablespoons
4 1⁄2 tablespoons smooth peanut butter or 4 1⁄2 tablespoons almond butter
4 large eggs, separated into yolks and whites
4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, melted and cooled
2 oz. milk chocolate, melted and cooled (Note: a classic Barozzi uses 6 oz. of bittersweet and no milk chocolate, it is not at all sweet)
½ oz. unsweetened chocolate, melted and cooled
Note: – I melted and cooled all of the chocolate together. Put it in a glass bowl set over some simmering water.
2 tablespoons instant espresso granules, dissolved in 1 tablespoon of boiling water
2 teaspoons dark rum
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
For sifting onto finished cake: 1 tablespoon of cocoa, ½ tablespoon confectioners’ sugar
- Making Almond Powder: Combine the almonds, the 2-1/2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar and the 1/4 cup cocoa in a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Process until the almonds are a fine powder.
- Blending the Batter: Butter the bottom and sides of an 8-inch springform pan with the 1 tablespoon of butter. Cut a circle of parchment paper to cover the bottom of the pan. Butter the paper with 1/2 tablespoon butter and line the pan with it, butter side up. Use the 3 to 4 tablespoons flour to coat the entire interior of the springform, shaking out any excess. Preheat the oven to 375 F, and set a rack in the center of the oven. Using an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or a hand-held electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar at medium speed 8 to 10 minutes, or until almost white and very fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl several times during beating. Beating the butter and sugar to absolute airiness ensures the torta’s fine grain and melting lightness. Still at medium speed, beat in the peanut butter. Then beat in the egg yolks, two at a time, until smooth. Reduce the speed to medium-low, and beat in the melted chocolates, the dissolved coffee, and the rum and vanilla. Then use a big spatula to fold in the almond powder by hand, keeping the batter light.
- Whip the egg white to stiff peaks. Lighten the chocolate batter by folding a quarter of the whites into it. Then fold in the rest, keeping the mixture light but without leaving any streaks of white.
- Baking: Turn the batter into the baking pan, gently smoothing the top. Bake 15 minutes. Then reduce the oven heat to 325 F and bake another 15 to 20 minutes, or until a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out with a few streaks of thick batter. The cake will have puffed about two thirds of the way up the sides of the pan. Cool the cake 10 minutes in the pan set on a rack. The cake will settle slightly but will remain level. Spread a kitchen towel on a large plate, and turn the cake out onto it. Peel off the parchment paper and cool the cake completely. Then place a round cake plate on top of the cake and hold the two plates together as you flip them over so the torta is right side up on the cake plate.
Serving: Torta Barozzi is moist and fudgy. Just before serving, sift the tablespoon of cocoa over the cake. Then top it with a sifting of the confectioner’s sugar. (Or for a whimsical decoration, cut a large stencil of the letter “B” out of stiff paper or cardboard. Set it in the center of the cake before dusting the entire top with the confectioner’s sugar. Carefully lift off the stencil once the sugar has settled.) Serve the Barozzi at room temperature, slicing it in small wedges
Note: Several days later we served the cake again after dressing it with a glossy chocolate ganache. I might try this for the first serving next time.