Sunday, January 18, 2009

Two Recipes for Bagna Càuda (Δύο Συνταγές για Μπάνια Καούντα)

Last night, we had a hot olive oil bath and went to bed happy. We didn’t dive into olive oil; our dinner did.

Bagna Càuda, a specialty of Italy’s
Piedmont Region, combines oil with anchovies and garlic to make a hot dip for vegetables and bread. Cooked over low heat, anchovies melt into oil and garlic’s strength turns smooth and mild.

I was first introduced to Bagna Càuda by the proprietors of
Genoa Restaurant in Portland, Oregon (now closed). It was love at first taste. Genoa’s Bagna Càuda was rich and luxurious, creamy and indefinably delicious. I wanted more.

After I discovered Genoa’s recipe in a cookware store handout, its Bagna Càuda regularly showed up on the tables of me and my friends. Unlike the Bagna Càuda I make now, Genoa’s recipe doesn’t contain a speck of olive oil; its richness comes exclusively from butter and cream.

In the Portland years, I was young and undeterred by buckets of cream and butter. As time passed, I lost my enthusiasm for both. I used to cook with butter, using olive oil mostly for salad dressings. Now, I rarely use butter; olive oil has replaced it in my kitchens. I stopped making Bagna Càuda.

Even so, when my husband and I travelled to Italy’s Piedmont Region in 1997, I was eager to try Bagna Càuda in its homeland. We found it in a tiny lakeside restaurant in
La Morra, where we were the only customers. The television was blaring, the florescent lights blazing, and our expectations for the food low.

When the Bagna Càuda arrived at our table, it was a revelation. It didn’t contain cream or butter. Instead, garlic and anchovies were melted in olive oil and served in a roasted red pepper half. Every bite was a pleasure.

As with Genoa’s Bagna Càuda so many years ago, the taste and aroma of this new-to-me version lingered in my memory. Back in Alaska, I developed a simple recipe incorporating its flavors, using only olive oil, garlic, and anchovies.
Last Thursday, my regular
CSA box of vegetables arrived from Full Circle Farm. The refrigerator was overflowing; I couldn’t find space for an extra-large bunch of broccoli. Bagna Càuda (my version) was the solution. While the anchovy and garlic sauce simmered, I steamed broccoli and roasted a couple red peppers over a gas burner.

When the Bagna Càuda was done, we dipped our vegetables and bread in the hot savory bath, ate our fill, and licked our fingers clean.

Bagna CaudaLaurie's Bagna Càuda (Μπάνια Καούντα)
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
Though the recipe contains a lot of garlic and anchovies, their pungency disappears after simmering in hot oil. For a group, serve Bagna Càuda in a fondue dish or other pot which keeps the sauce hot. For quick weekday meals, serve the sauce in individual unheated dishes for dipping, or even just spooned, straight from the stove, over the vegetables.

1/4 cup chopped anchovy fillets (2 ounces/24 cleaned fillets)
(see Note below)
1/3 cup chopped fresh garlic
1 1/4 cups olive oil

Selection of Vegetables: Raw or roasted red peppers, raw or lightly steamed broccoli or cauliflower, celery, carrots, zucchini, cardoons, radishes, green onions, radicchio, fennel, cherry tomatoes, boiled potatoes

Selection of Bread: artisan-style bread, foccacia, breadsticks

Put the anchovy fillets, garlic, and olive oil in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook, stirring from time to time, until the oil starts to bubble. Cook for 20 – 30 minutes, until the anchovies melt into the oil and the garlic is very soft. Don’t let the garlic brown; if the oil is cooking hard enough to brown the garlic, immediately turn down the heat.

While the sauce is cooking, cut the vegetables and bread into shapes appropriate for dipping. When the sauce is done, dip the cold vegetables in the hot sauce.

Anchovies preserved in salt have much more flavor than anchovies canned in olive oil. In dishes like Bagna Càuda, where anchovies are a central ingredient, I prefer the salt-cured variety (the dish is delicious even when made with oil-canned anchovies). Some places, you can buy salted anchovies by the ounce from the deli counter; in Alaska, this isn’t possible. Instead, I buy large cans of salt-preserved anchovies in Greece or when I travel outside the state (Big John’s PFI in Seattle carries them, as does Anchovies packed in salt keep in the refrigerator for up to a year. To clean salt-cured anchovies, carefully rinse off all the salt. Starting from the head end, peel each fillet off the backbone, and then remove as many of the fine bones from the fillet as possible. Dry the cleaned fillets on paper towels before using in recipes.

Genoa's Bagna Càuda (Μπάνια Καούντα)
Makes about 1 1/2 cups
Adapted from Genoa Restaurant recipe, Portland, Oregon
Genoa’s Bagna Càuda must be kept warm over a burner at all times; the reduced cream stiffens up when it cools. The anonymous author of Genoa’s recipe explains how to eat it: “[This] is a dish to be enjoyed without ceremony – pick up vegetable or bread stick with fingers, dip it in the sauce until well covered, and consume. If butter and cream separate, pour in a bit of cold cream and whisk hard. The sauce will return to its former velvet-like texture.”

2 cups heavy cream
8 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
1 2-ounce can anchovy fillets, drained of oil
Dash of cayenne
1/4 cup unsalted butter

Selection of Vegetables: Raw or roasted red peppers, raw or lightly steamed broccoli or cauliflower, celery, carrots, zucchini, cardoons, radishes, green onions, radicchio, fennel, cherry tomatoes, boiled potatoes

Selection of Bread: artisan-style bread, foccacia, breadsticks

In a heavy saucepan, simmer cream with garlic until the cream is thick and reduced to 1 cup. Watch the cream carefully as it cooks; don't let it boil over. Put the reduced cream, anchovies, and cayenne into a blender and purée until the mixture is very smooth. (The recipe may be made ahead to this point.)

Return the mixture to the pan and bring to a very slow simmer. Stir in the butter until it melts. While the dip simmers, cut the vegetables and bread into shapes appropriate for dipping.

Serve in a fondue dish or other pot which can keep the dip hot. Dip the cold vegetables in the hot sauce.

This is my entry for Foodie Films: Big Night - Italian! created and hosted by Joelen's Culinary Adventures.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Recipes for Spinach Skordalia & Crispy Salmon Fingers (Σκορδαλιά με Σπανάκι & Σολομός Τηγανητός)

Skordalia, a classic Greek garlic spread, is often served with fried fish. Here I’ve enhanced traditional skordalia with earthy spinach to create a luscious, garlicky, colorful partner for crispy, pan-fried salmon fingers.

Spinach Skordalia and Crispy Salmon Fingers are quick and easy recipes that are also healthy and full-flavored. For dinner tonight I paired them with
Sweet Potato Oven Fries and Tomato Salad.

Spinach SkordaliaSpinach Skordalia (Greek Garlic Spread) (Σκορδαλιά με Σπανάκι)
Serves 4 with fried fish or a group as an appetizer

Air-dried heels of homemade or artisan-style bread are just right for skordalia. When we have leftover heels or chunks of bread, I leave them out on the counter to air-dry. After the bread is completely dried out, I store it in an airtight container to use when it’s time to make skordalia (or breadcrumbs).

3 cups chopped and tightly packed fresh spinach leaves
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3 - 5 cloves garlic
1 tsp. salt
1 cup soggy bread (see Note below)
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
1/3 cup best quality olive oil

Sauté the spinach in olive oil just until it wilts, about 30 seconds. Purée 3 cloves garlic by mashing them into the salt (a mortar and pestle works great for this task). Put the spinach, garlic purée, soggy bread, freshly ground black pepper, and lemon juice in a food processor (or blender). Purée the ingredients, making sure to scrape down the sides of the processor bowl, until the mixture is smooth. While the machine is running, slowly pour in the olive oil. You should end up with a mixture that has the consistency of thick mayonnaise. If it is too thick, mix in more olive oil until it reaches the proper consistency. Taste and add the remaining garlic (puréed in salt), lemon juice, or salt, as needed.

Serve with fried fish or as an appetizer with fresh raw vegetables.

Note: To make soggy bread, immerse dry, stale bread in cold water. When the bread has soaked up the water and is soft all the way through, drain the bread and, using your hands, squeeze out all the water until you have a solid ball of bread. The bread is then ready to measure and use in the recipe.

Spinach Skordalia with Salmon FingersCrispy Salmon Fingers (Σολομός Τηγανητός)
Serves 4

Salmon tastes better if you salt and pepper it at least 1/2 hour before flouring and cooking. Season the salmon and then make Spinach Skordalia; the salmon will be ready to cook as soon as the skordalia is done. Semolina flour makes a crispier coating than white flour, although white flour may also be used in this recipe.

1 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless salmon fillets
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup semolina flour
1/4 cup olive oil

Wash the salmon and dry it well. Using needle-nosed pliers, remove as many pin-bones from the salmon as possible. Cut the salmon into long, narrow, lengthwise strips. Cut each strip into fingers approximately 3” long. Season the fingers with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Put the semolina flour in a bag; shake the salmon fingers in the bag until they are thoroughly coated with flour. Heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in each of 2 frying pans until the oil is hot, but not smoking. Divide the salmon fingers between the 2 pans and cook for 2 minutes, or until the pan side of the salmon is lightly browned. Turn over and cook for 1 – 2 minutes, or until the salmon is cooked through. The exact cooking time depends on the salmon’s thickness; keep in mind that salmon tastes better slightly underdone than overdone.

Serve immediately with Spinach Skordalia.
This is my entry for
Weekend Herb Blogging hosted this week by Rachel from The Crispy Cook.

Ice Art in Anchorage AlaskaMasque at sunset, part of the FREEZE frozen-ice art installations in Anchorage, Alaska.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

About Pancetta with Recipes for Pasta with Squash, Arugula, and Pancetta & Pasta with Pork in Garlic-Wine Sauce (Ιταλική Πανσέτα με Ζυμαρικά)

Alaska has been having a cold snap.

I imagine many of you thinking, “So what else is new?” Even though Alaskans expect and are used to cold weather, the last couple weeks really have been colder than usual. To see what cold weather looks like, check out Marc Lester's
lovely photo-essay showing Southcentral Alaska’s chilly wonderland.

Hearty food, including pasta, is a good antidote for cold weather blues. One of my favorite ways to boost the flavor of winter pasta sauces is adding pancetta (cured Italian pork belly). Only a small amount of pancetta is needed improve the taste of savory sauces (a corollary to the principle that everything tastes better with bacon).

Salumi's hand-crafted pancetta

Pancetta is often sold in packages of very thinly cut pre-sliced meat. Although I use pre-sliced pancetta in a pinch, I mostly buy pancetta direct from the deli counter. I ask for either a chunk of pancetta, which I hand slice and dice at home, or have the deli staff cut the pancetta into slices the thickness of regular bacon. With thicker slices, eaters enjoy bursts of pancetta flavor when devouring the sauce; thinner slices tend to melt into the other flavors.

I was recently at Seattle’s
Metropolitan Market where I bought several pounds of hand-crafted pancetta from Salumi Artisan-Cured Meats. This is far and away the best pancetta I’ve ever eaten; Salumi’s hand-rolled pancetta is meaty, with superior texture and flavor. Although more expensive than pre-sliced pancetta, Salumi’s product is well worth the price, and may be ordered online.

Two delicious pasta sauces that benefit from pancetta are Pasta with Squash, Arugula, and Pancetta and Pasta with Pork in Garlic-Wine Sauce. Either is just right for even the coldest winter day.

Pasta with Squash, Arugula, and Pancetta
Serves 4

Inspired by Cookthink
If using artisan-cured pancetta, it may be quite salty, so be careful not to over-salt the other components of the dish.

1 small Kabocha, butternut, or other winter squash, peeled and cut into 3/4” chunks (4 cups)
1/4 cup olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Pancetta and Onions:
3 thick slices pancetta, cut in 1/2” dice (1/2 cup)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 cups diced onion, 1/2” dice
Freshly ground black pepper
1 Tbsp. minced fresh garlic
2 Tbsp. minced fresh sage

1/2 pound casarecci or similarly shaped pasta
4 cups arugula, cleaned and roughly chopped
1 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Make the Squash: Preheat the oven to 515°F. On a baking sheet with rims, toss the squash cubes with olive oil, salt, and freshly ground black pepper. Put the squash in the oven and immediately turn the heat down to 475°F. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, turning the squash cubes halfway though, until the squash is cooked through and lightly browned.

Put a large pot of salted water on a burner over high heat.

Make the Onions and Pancetta: Sauté the pancetta in olive oil until it begins to brown. Stir in the onions and freshly ground black pepper, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan, and sauté until the onions soften. If the onions start sticking to the bottom of the pan, add 1/4 – 1/2 cup water. When the onions are lightly browned, stir in the garlic and sage and keep warm over very low heat.

Make the Pasta: Add the pasta to the boiling salted water and cook until it is al dente. While the pasta is cooking, put the arugula in a large bowl. When the pasta is done, remove 1 cup of pasta cooking water, drain the pasta well, and put the drained pasta on top of the arugula in the bowl. Add the roasted squash and cooked onions to the bowl and toss all the ingredients well. If the dish is too dry, add as much of the pasta cooking water as necessary (usually 1/4 - 1/2 cup). Taste and add freshly ground black pepper or salt, as needed.

Serve sprinkled with freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Pasta with Pork in Garlic-Wine Sauce
Serves 4
Spruce vinegar and salt-cured spruce buds add interesting highlights to the sauce, but aren’t necessary to the success of the dish. If you’re among the 99.99% of people who don’t have either ingredient, red wine vinegar and capers work equally well. For capers, I prefer the taste of salt-cured; when I can’t find salt-cured, I use capers in brine. If using artisan-cured pancetta or salt-cured capers, they may be quite salty, so be careful not to over-salt. Bacon may be substituted for pancetta; it adds a pleasant smoky flavor.

1 pork tenderloin (about 1 pound), cut in 3/4” dice
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1/2 tsp. black peppercorns, crushed
1 Tbsp. spruce vinegar or red wine vinegar
3 thick slices pancetta, cut in 1/4” dice (1/2 cup)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 cup finely diced onion, 1/8” dice
1/4 cup sun-dried or regular tomato paste
1 Tbsp. salt-cured spruce buds or capers, well-rinsed and minced
3/4 cup dry red wine
2 cups chicken stock

1/2 pound
gemelli or similarly shaped pasta
1/2 cup freshly grated parmesan cheese

Mix the pork, garlic, peppercorns, and vinegar and let marinate at least 1 hour (overnight is fine).

Sauté the pancetta in olive oil until it begins to brown. Add the pork mixture and cook until the pork is browned on all sides. Stir in the onion, using the moisture in the onions to scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Continue cooking until the onions soften and begin to turn golden. Stir in the tomato paste until it is thoroughly combined. Mix in the wine and cook until it is reduced by half. Stir in the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for 40 - 45 minutes, until the sauce slightly thickens. Taste and add salt or freshly ground black pepper, as needed.

Cook the pasta in boiling salted water until it is al dente. Drain the pasta and toss it with the pork sauce. Serve sprinkled with freshly grated parmesan cheese.

The road we live on

Friday, January 9, 2009

Recipe for Leek Mousaka (Μουσακάς με Πράσα)

Happy New Year to one and all!

I’m back from recent travels and recovered from holidays full of family, parties, and baking. You heard it here first: I’m never eating cookies or candy again. Ever. Or at least until memories of the last month fade into nothingness.

It’s hard to decide what to write about because I have a giant backlog of recipes and photographs. So instead of actually making a decision, I jumbled my stack of notes, and randomly drew out the recipe for Leek Mousaka.

When we arrive in Greece from Alaska, the first thing we do is go to an airport newsstand for newspapers and at least one cooking magazine. Properly armed, we head for our hotel to read and relax from the long trip.

Lately, my favorite Greek magazine is
Olive (a spin-off of BBC Olive). Sprightly Greek food personality Ilias Mamalakis first drew me to Olive, but I continue reading it for updates on the Greek food world and interesting recipes. Sadly, Olive isn’t available in Alaska, even by subscription.

LeeksAs a leek lover and someone with a healthy supply of homemade Greek egg noodles (hilopites), Olive’s recipe for Leek Mousaka was intriguing. Out of curiosity, I googled “Μουσακάς + Πράσα” (Mousaka + Leeks) to see if Olive’s recipe was unique. A number of websites had identical Leek Mousaka recipes, but only one credited the magazine. None credited Georgia Kofinas (Γεωργία Κοφινάς), who Olive identifies as the recipe’s creator.

There’s no way for me to know whether the recipe actually originated with Kofinas or someone else. However, the issue of copying recipes without attribution is one that, sooner or later, all food writers must confront. It’s infuriating when others appropriate recipes without permission or attribution. On the other hand, it’s easy to give credit to those whose work contributed to your creation.

Here's my practice and, if I could wave a magic wand, it’s one all food bloggers and writers would follow:

1. If I use a recipe exactly as written (which I rarely do), under the name of the recipe I write “recipe by” and identify the author and source of the recipe. My article about the recipe also includes a review of the source book, magazine, or blog and applicable permalinks.

2. If I make only minor changes to a recipe, under the name of the recipe I write “recipe adapted from” and identify the author and source of the original recipe.

3. If I make major changes to someone else’s recipe, under the name of the recipe I write “recipe inspired by” and identify the author and source of the inspirational recipe.

4. If I don’t designate “recipe by,” “recipe adapted from,” or “recipe inspired by,” the recipe is my creation.

Of course, there are simple dishes that many cooks discover or invent on their own, without ever having seen a similar recipe. Oven-roasted vegetables, vinaigrettes, risottos, soups, and eggs are only a few examples of such recipes. Any similarities in recipes like this are, more likely than not, coincidental.

In the case of Leek Mousaka, I significantly changed the original recipe. I cooked the leeks without water to boost their flavor, used a personal recipe for tomato-meat sauce, enhanced the topping with cream and cheese, and adapted the recipe so it can be made with ingredients available in the United States. Even though I made major changes to the original recipe, I wouldn’t’ve made it without Olive’s inspiration, so included a credit for both the magazine and the recipe’s creator.

Leek Mousaka is quite different from the
typical Mousaka found in Greek restaurants around the world, and is wonderfully delicious. The sweetness of sautéed leeks enhances the minty tomato-meat sauce and contrasts with the tart yogurt. Noodles play harmony to Leek Mousaka’s aromatic flavors, and form a pleasurably crispy top crust. The resulting dish is attractive, delectable, and suitable for any occasion.

Leek MousakaLeek Mousaka (Μουσακάς με Πράσα)
Serves 6 – 9
Inspired by Μουσακάς με Πράσα, <<Φθινοπωρινή συμφωνία>> by Γεωργία Κοφινάς in BBC Olive (Greek version),
Issue 19, October 2008
Leek Mousaka can be made for vegetarians by using my recipe for
Tomato Sauce with Celery and Mint (and simmering it until it’s thick) instead of the meat sauce described below. Although Leek Mousaka has many steps, it goes together quickly once the component parts are done. The meat sauce may be made days ahead (or months ahead if you freeze it). The yogurt may also be made well ahead (or purchased, if strained Greek yogurt is available where you live). Because I prefer strained yogurt for all purposes, I usually strain yogurt right after I bring it home from the market so it’s ready when I want it. Leeks can hold dirt between their layers, so must be carefully cleaned. After removing the dark green portions and the root ends (both of which can be saved for vegetable stock), cut the leeks in half. Under running water, rinse out any dirt trapped between the leeks’ layers, using your fingers to help remove any stubborn clumps of dirt. Every layer of Leek Mousaka is separately salted (doing so brings out the full flavor of each ingredient), so be careful not to over-salt any one layer or the finished dish will be too salty.

Yogurt Filling:
2 cups plain yogurt, preferably whole-milk (or 1 1/4 cup strained yogurt, see Note above)
2 medium-sized garlic cloves
1/4 tsp. salt

Meat and Tomato Sauce with Celery and Mint:
1 pound ground beef
Freshly ground black pepper
2 cups diced onions, 1/4” dice
1 cup diced celery, 1/4” dice (2 – 3 stalks)
1 Tbsp. minced garlic
1 tsp. Aleppo pepper or 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper
1 14.5-ounce can, or 2 cups fresh, crushed tomatoes
3/4 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup minced fresh mint

1/2 pound
thin egg noodles, vermicelli, fides, broken-up angel hair pasta, or any other similarly-shaped pasta

8 cups diced leeks, white and light green parts only, 1/2” dice (4-5 leeks)
3 Tbsp. olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

2 eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream
Freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil for coating the baking pan
1 cup freshly grated kefalotyri, parmesan, or Romano cheese, divided

Straining YogurtMake the Yogurt Filling: Line a strainer with a paper towel and dump in the yogurt. Let the yogurt drain for at least 1 hour (straining for 2 hours is better if you have time). Purée garlic by mashing it into the salt with the flat of a knife or in a mortar and pestle. Mix the puréed garlic into the strained yogurt.

Make the Meat and Tomato Sauce with Celery and Mint: Sauté the ground meat, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground pepper, until it is nicely browned. Add the diced onions and celery and sauté until the onions begin to brown. Stir in the garlic and Aleppo pepper and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the crushed tomatoes and white wine and bring to a boil. Cook rapidly for five minutes, stirring constantly. Turn the heat down to medium, and simmer for 15 – 20 minutes or until most of the liquid in the sauce has evaporated. Taste and add salt and freshly ground black pepper, as needed. Stir in the mint and take the sauce off the burner.

Cook the Noodles: Add the noodles to boiling salted water and cook until they’re half done. (Because the noodles are small, they cook quickly.) Drain and set aside.

Make the Leeks: Sauté the diced leeks in olive oil, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, until the leeks are soft.

Make the Topping: Whisk together the eggs, cream, a little salt, freshly ground black pepper, and 1/3 cup of grated cheese.

Assemble the Mousaka: Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Thoroughly oil a 10” x 10” baking pan. Spread half the noodles over the bottom of the pan. Evenly sprinkle 1/3 cup grated cheese over the noodles. Evenly spread the leeks over the grated cheese, the yogurt filling over the leeks, the meat sauce over the yogurt, 1/3 cup grated cheese over the meat sauce, the remaining noodles over the grated cheese, and the egg/cream topping over the noodles.

Bake for 50 to 55 minutes. Let cool for at least 10 minutes before cutting into pieces with a very sharp or serrated knife.

Serve with a crisp green salad, Kalamata olives, and crusty bread.
This is my entry for
Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Pam from The Backyard Pizzeria.