Monday: Rice and Poblano Rajas Casserole
Tuesday: Goat Cheese and Leek Galette with pistachio dough.
Wednesday: Altius with John O’Brien and a group of his admirers
Thursday: Pasta with Prosciutto and Mushrooms
Friday: Sweet Pea Guacamole / Barbecued Salmon with crispy skin and horseradish sauce
Saturday: Red Wine Chicken with Cabernet Sauvignon Barbecue Sauce / Semolina Cake with oranges / starter of Celery Toasts (NYT Magazine 10/23)
Sunday: Roasted celery and radishes / Pasta with mushrooms and prosciutto
A spectacular week, highlighted by the visit of Dick Greenbaum and Johnny O (John O’Brien) to the Duquesne Club where John Spoke about his amazing life, after which we, they, the Slavishes and the Donahues had dinner at Altius on Mount Washington. The view from the restaurant is as spectacular and ‘Altius’ as the prices. (To learn about John and the Milton Hershey School, you need to get and read his memoir, Semi-Sweet.)
Back on planet earth, our pasta-heavy meals for the last two weeks came about because I have learned a superior technique for cooking the stuff. A technique, you will recall, being a way of carrying out a particular task. For example, it used to be my technique to take girls on a second or third date to see Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman in ‘Casablanca’ (always playing somewhere in Squirrel Hill in those days). I found this to be a wonderfully satisfying technique . . . . hold on, where was I?
Oh yes, in the last few weeks I have learned the best way to cook pasta.* The essence of it is to finish cooking the pasta in a sauce for the last few minutes, marrying the pasta and the sauce, letting the starch from the pasta water thicken the whole deal and finishing it with (hold on to your size 2 dresses) a knob of butter. Once you’ve mastered this, you’ll be able to earn a living cooking for Italians.
*Well, of course, the oven-baked stuff like Lasagna or Manicotti cannot be cooked in this manner – but please don’t interrupt me with details when I’m in full rhetorical stride.
To change directions entirely, let’s talk for a minute about the 1950s. I know, it was the decade of the company man, the boring President, and t.v. dinners. But for me it was, along with the 60s, a magic time. The world was new (I was 1 year old in 1950), my parents were loving and took care of everything, I dominated my class of 9 students (4 boys and 5 girls) at Regent Square Grade School, and I won several yo-yo tournaments in front of Sidehammer’s Drug Store in Regent Square. The prize for this was a Duncan Imperial. . . .Darn! I seem to have lost my place again.
Oh yes, we were reminiscing about the 1950s. In the NY Times Magazine, I found an appetizer which reminded me of the sort of things our parents handed out at cocktail parties back in the 50s.** Although a lot of their canapès and horse-doovers involved jars of processed cheese and cocktail olives, as I remember, the Celery Toast recipe below uses a creamy and pungent Cambazola cheese along with juicy, bitter shaved celery and a dressing of lemon juice to take you back to the 50s, but with a care-package of better food.
**There are few things better than sitting on the upstairs landing and listening to you parents and their friends partying. Off hand, I can only think of playing baseball, roasting marshmallows over a bonfire, the last day of school, and Christmas morning. (This is not true, if you are over 12 years of age.)
Extra – During last week’s fine, mid-Autumn weather we kept grilling, and cooked a long-time favorite – a side of salmon along with its skin on the grill. Nothing is easier or tastier and, if you learn to do this now, you’ll be ready in case any Fridays in Lent turn warm and rainless. If you have an urgent need to know how – let me know. If not, I’ll try to remember to tell you about it next Spring
PASTA WITH MUSHROOMS AND PROSCIUTTO<
(Adapted from a recipe in Bon Appétit, October, 2016)
Note: The technique involved here can be used for any wet-sauced pasta, including Spaghetti and Meatballs. Learn this and you’ll always have a quick, go-to dinner when unexpected guests or family drop by.
Time: About 30 minutes total
Ingredients: For 4 or 5
12 oz. fettuccine, if you like noodles, or penne, if you like shells*
About 6 slices of prosciutto (thin, of course)
1 lb. of mushrooms chopped into bite-sized pieces (we used a mixture of baby bella and white muschrooms – both come pre-washed and chopped in 8 0z. containers in most grocery stores. WE chopped them a bit smaller)
2 Shallots, finely chopped (we used 3)
Teaspoon of thyme leaves, plus more for serving
Cup of chicken stock
1/3 Cup of Heavy Cream
2 Tablespoons of butter
¼ Cup Olive Oil plus 2 more Tablespoons
Kosher salt and ground pepper
Chop the shallots and mushrooms and pick the thyme leaves. Measure out the cream and chicken stock. Do not take the prosciutto out of the refrigerator until you’re ready to cook or it will become, though you may think this impossible, even more difficult to separate slice from slice.
Get a large pot of heavily salted water hot and ready to bring to a boil.
Heat the ¼ Cup of Olive Oil in a Dutch oven over medium and lay the prosciutto in a single layer and cook until crisp – about 5 minutes – turn them once. Remove to a paper-towel lined plate.
Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in the same pot over medium-high to high and cook the mushrooms, tossing from time to time, until browned and soft – about 6 minutes.
Reduce heat to medium-low and add shallots and teaspoon of thyme leaves and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring, until softened – about 2 minutes.
Add the stock and cook until just a thin layer of stock coats the bottom of the pot.
Meanwhile, you will have been cooking the pasta, stirring occasionally, until very al dente – say 3 minutes short of the recommended cooking time. Using tongs (for noodles) or a slotted spoon (for shells) transfer pasta to the mushroom sauce and add about a cup of the pasta cooking water (about 2 regular ladles). Crumble half of the prosciutto into the pot, increase the heat to medium to bring to a simmer and cook, tossing continuously until the past is al dente and the liquid is thickened – 2-3 minutes. You may need to add more pasta water.
Add the cream, return to a simmer and cook, tossing, until pasta is well coated – about another minute.
Off the heat, add the butter and toss, then correct seasoning (you’ll probably need more salt).
Serve pasta in bowls topped with more thyme leaves and crumbling more prosciutto over it and seasoning with ground pepper.
(adapted from NY Times Magazine, Oct 23, 2016)
Ahead of time: Get butter out of refrigerator at least 1 hour before assembling. Get cheese out 20 minutes before assembling.
Time: 15 minutes
Ingredients: Enough canapés for 4, Easily Doubles
1 Cup shaved celery – inner stalks – we used chopped up leaves from the inner stalks as well. (What is shaved celery? Even a mandolin is going to give you slightly thicker celery than you want here. You can either slice the celery very thin yourself, or grate it on the second coarsest side of a box grate – the coarsest side being that with 4 or 6 half-moon openings)
4 oz. Cambozola sliced fairly thin – it’s two creamy to slice really thin (Cambozola is a triple-cream blue – there may be a substitute, but I’m not sure what it would be)
2 slices of white bread (we used the sourdough from Whole Foods – it was perfect)
2 scallions thinly sliced on the bias (use both the white and green parts)
1 large clove of garlic
Kosher salt and ground pepper
Toast the bread to golden and butter generously right out to the crust.
Lay slices of the cheese evenly across the toast.
In a small bowl, stir the celery and scallions and micro-plane the garlic clove into it.
Dress the celery with olive oil and lemon juice (start with just a bit) then stir in salt until dressed evenly, almost wet.
Mound the celery mixture on top of the cheese and grind black pepper over the top.
Divide into 4 or more serving pieces.