November 4 – November 10, 2019
Monday: Leftover Lasagna with Squash and Radicchio Salad with Pecans
Tuesday: Dinner at SOBA with Paul and Al
Wednesday: Pittsburgh Botanic Garden Dinner with Daniel Boulud
Thursday: We can’t remember
Friday: Pantry Pasta with DeLallo’s Marinara Sauce
Saturday: Dinner at Julie’s with Tim and Hilda and Kate
Sunday: Beez’s Hash with Julie’s Roast Pork, Poblanos, Potatoes and Onions
We were entertained, last week, by the greatest chefs in the Pittsburgh area. One of them is a good friend of ours and does not own or cook in a restaurant. You’ll meet her below.
On Monday night, I joined CCHS classmates Paul and Al at SOBA, the Big Burrito Group’s Asian fusion restaurant in Shadyside. It was a typical reunion dinner, with lots of stories about the glories of our youth and our subsequent, fairly gentle decline and the subsequent arrival of various infirmities. What was not typical, was the food. Paul had chosen the restaurant, a great one, and let me urge you, if you have never been to SOBA, or, if it’s been a while, to get your behind over to Ellsworth Avenue and enjoy. I had a perfect tuna tartare and a Korean-Style Miso Black Cod that I would take over my mother’s Friday night flounder (which is saying something). I don’t know who the chef was – but give him my compliments, if you do. (Note: Sister restaurant, UMI, a fine sushi and sashimi joint, is upstairs at the same location.)
Then, on Wednesday night, Daniel Boulud – a world-class chef – was the guest of honor at the Pittsburgh Botanical Garden fund raiser, where Executive Chef Keith Coughenour and his talented staff at the Duquesne Club cooked in Boulud’s style, giving a crowd of I’d guess over three hundred an astounding, sophisticated and delicious meal, served impeccably. After the dinner, as we gathered for dessert and an auction, Boulud surprised us by inviting all the chefs, sous chefs, gardes managers, etc. into the ballroom. It took a small army of them to feed what was, after all, a small army of us. Of course, in addition to the cooks and kitchen staff, there was a larger army of servers and let’s not forget the bartenders and waiters and waitresses who passed around the wonderful hors d’oeuvres. (A picture of the menu for that meal appears at the end of this post – not on a par with the picture of Sophia Loren that appeared last week, but alluring in its own way.)
Surely, you might be thinking, that should have held us for the week. Well, I’m tempted to tell you, “don’t call me Shirley,” but let me tell you, instead, about the other great chef who, working without any staff, gave us a marvelous meal: On Saturday, we ate at Julie’s house – the best hors d’oeuvres of the week, by the way – a feast of roast pork, a sweet and white potato puree and one of Julie’s beautiful pear tarts. Tim and Hilda and Kate were also there, as was Julie’s new puppy Maisie, for whom the term ‘energetic’ is not nearly strong enough. ‘Ballistic’ might do.
To get an idea of what a fine cook Julie is, you’ll have to become her friend and wait for an invitation. But here’s a little sample of Daniel Boulud, from his own writing:
In Letters to a Young Chef, Boulud writes that André Soltner (legendary chef and owner of Lutèce) interviewed staff by asking them to cook an omelet. He was looking for perfection in this uncomplicated, but demanding task. Here’s Boulud’s own method for achieving that –
“Heat [a black steel pan] until it is very hot, hit it with some clarified butter or a touch of oil, then pour the eggs into the pan and stir very fast so that they do not curdle. Mix rapidly with the fork as you stir, moving the pan back and forth in opposite circular motions until the eggs are cooked to a runny consistency. Then a crisp tap of the pan against the burner will even out the eggs into a smooth, unwrinkled blanket. Seconds later, lift the handle of the pan and roll the omelet. Give a tap on the handle to flip the rolled omelet, then flip neatly onto the plate. The whole process takes mere minutes, comprises many steps, and in observing them you can instantly assess the level of skill and confidence of any candidate.”
I don’t know about you, but after hearing those specifications, no one will be allowed into our kitchen while we’re cooking omelets.
[Note: the full scrutiny for the prospective employee involves: “When the chef beats the eggs, I observe if he uses a fork so that the eggs are aerated, but not foamed. Then I look to see if he has a sure hand with the seasoning. Next, does he work little bits of cold butter into the egg mixture? Does [he] pick any pan that comes to hand, or does he know that only one pan in a kitchen is used for omelets, and that it will be a well-seasoned black steel pan? – it goes on, but if you want more, you’ll have to buy the book.]
Clearly, we cannot compete with Julie, SOBA, and the Duquesne Club. But on Thursday we had a fine salad that allowed us to detox for the rich food we had been eating and feel lean and mean, going into the weekend. This salad features, among other items, one of my favorite fall vegetables – squash. The more delicate squashes – the kind you don’t need to peel – when roasted in the oven, develop a nutty sweetness that is addictive. Add some greens, some toasted pecans, some thin slices of pear and a good dressing, and you will not miss the chicken, or pork, or beef, in which, like us, you may have over-indulged last week.
Note: Beez’s hash on Sunday, based on the leftover pork that Julie sent us home with and fried up with with potatoes, onions and peppers to create a hearty meal for Uncle Rick and me after the Steelers game, was equal to or better than the salad below. She has a dab hand with seasoning and whatever ingredients are lying around.
SQUASH AND RADICCHIO SALAD WITH PECANS
(adapted from bon appétit, November, 2019)
Timing: 40 minutes
Ingredients: Serves 8 or 9, can be easily halved
For Roasting the Squash:
3 honeynut or delicata squash (we used delicata), halved, seeded and sliced into 1” thick half-moons
2 Tablespoons of Extra-virgin olive oil
For the Vinaigrette:
1 cup pecans
½ cup Extra-virgin olive oil, plus one more teaspoon
½ shallot, finely chopped
¼ cup fresh lemon juice plus another teaspoon (for tossing with the pear)
A separate ½ lemon to squeeze over the salad just before serving.
2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
4 teaspoons maple syrup
2 small heads of radicchio, leaves separated and (the larger leaves) torn into forkable pieces
½ Asian pear, thinly sliced (we used a red anjou pear which tastes and looks better, in our opinion)
3 oz. Piave or Parmesan cheese, shaved
¼ cup parsley leaves
Cook the Squash:
Place racks in middle and lower third of oven and set a rimmed baking sheet on each, then preheat the oven to 450 F.
Toss the squash with the olive oil in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper.
Divide the squash between the pre-heated baking sheets, arranging in a single layer, and roast in the oven, rotating halfway through, until browned and tender. This will take about 20 minutes – but check it at 15 minutes and let it roast longer, if needed, to achieve good browning. The flavor here, is in that caramalization contrasting with the salt and pepper.
Set the squash aside, reduce the oven to 350.
Make the Vinaigrette
Toss the pecans with that extra teaspoon of olive oil in a bowl. Season with salt and turn onto a rimmed baking sheet, spread out in a single layer and roast in the oven for about 8 minutes. Let them cool and then coarsely chop. Set ½ cup aside for serving the salad.
With the remaining pecans, in a blender, mix the shallot lemon and orange juices, mustard and maple syrup until smooth. Then, with the motor running, slowly stream in the ½ cup of olive oil until very smooth. Season with salt and pepper. TASTE THE DRESSING – add salt, little by little, until the taste pops out at you.
Finish and Serve:
Toss the radicchio with half of the dressing in a large bowl until well coated. Season with salt and pepper and taste again. Arrange the radicchio on a large platter.
Toss the squash with the remaining dressing in the same bowl to coat and season it with salt and pepper. Arrange the squash over the radicchio.
Toss the Asian pear with lemon juice and top the salad with the pear, the cheese shavings, the parsley and the reserved pecans. Now squeeze the juice from the lemon half over the salad and drizzle with a little more oil and season with salt and pepper. Bring the whole platter to the table to serve – it’s a pretty salad and folks deserve to take a look before digging in.