Lobster in a pot

Last year when it was time to make the lobster, we left a note on the windshield of Henry’s truck in the evening, and the next afternoon, he came to our door with a pile of soft shells that he had caught–somewhere close to Boothbay Harbor I imagine, as that’s where we were–and we steamed them in a giant pot of salted water, 12 minutes to the pound. It was delicious.  Along with we had potatoes, corn on the cob and I can’t remember what else, and this year we went back to the old system of using a lobster table on the beach.  Build a fire under the table, and then load the table up with seaweed, then the lobsters, the corn, the potatoes and they say an egg, which is cooked when everything is ready.  The lobsters went in, the corn went in, and they used a watch–it is an awful lot of lobster to trust an egg with.  Same sides of big chunks of new potatoes from the farm stand(boiled til al dente and then roasted in a hot oven), corn on the cob, ripe tomatoes drizzled with olive oil and salt, and pan biscuits.  For dessert we had a wild blueberry cobbler.  It was all so delicous I wish I could have it all again, but the best part were Helen, Suzie, Tom, Cindy, Gayle, Gail, Sparkles and Pat.  I miss them already and it hasn’t even been a day.

Broken noodle

Everything is broke. My bank, my brain, my bones. Who can remember if nobody sends a notice. My dentist could have at least scratched it in under “we do big beautiful smiles.”
“You’re 44; go to bed.” Or not as good, but probably more effective:
“You are 44; get out of bed.”
I am relying on fruits, vegetables, and the promise of going to the beach.
None of that is helping my broke bank. I feel like I must have spent at least $14.00 on a small bag of cherries and maybe even more for my onions. My backyard is looking more and more promising as a small farm venture for other members of my family to pursue. For God’s sake, I know times are tight, but we can’t give up fruits and vegetables.
As a matter of fact, remember that the success of a vegetable noodle dish is in plenty of vegetables. For 9 ounces of long thin noodles, cooked in plenty of salted water until right before you think they are done, add 1st, a few tablespoons of unsalted butter. You heard me right. In another hot, hot, little heavy saute pan you want to sear off a few slabs of extra firm tofu in a spill of olive oil. Season them on one side with salt. Don’t mess with them until they are completely brown and gorgeous one side. Flip. Give each a few drops of good soy sauce. In that same saute pan, once the tofu is done, add another spill of oil, and get going 3 scallions and about 10 leaves of fresh mint. Season with salt and a little pepper. Toast and crush about 1/2 teaspoon each of cumin and fennel. Add that. Finely dice 1 zucchini. Add that and let it go until barely cooked through and a little browned. Taste for delicious. Wash and dry well, some baby leaves of arugula. Drizzle with a tiny bit of sesame or olive oil, a dash of white vinegar (or rice vinegar) and a sprinkle of salt. Cube the tofu with a sharp knife, and toss everything you got in with the pasta. You should barely see the noodles for the veg. Taste again. If you like, sprinkle with a few toasted sesame seeds. Can you believe it? No garlic. I know. I ran out and I was too cheap to pay for more at the deli.

Spinach Pie

I know what you are going to say already: “What the hell are you doing turning on the oven in 90 degree heat with no air conditioning?” People pay big money to sit in a sauna. I just wait until it’s summer and start my baking. Plus I had a hankering for spinach pies. Everybody has their opinions about pies, just like everybody has their opinions about everything else. I like spinach and ricotta baked under a tender shell or creamed spinach set on top of a crust firm enough to hold in your hand. I like spinach with bits of sausage wedged in a circle of piadina. But what I wanted was an empanada. A flaky crust with the crisp of cornmeal, and a filling of slowly cooked slivers of garlic and parsley, flash cooked fresh greens, little bits of hard boiled egg and shavings of parmesan. Do the garlic first, and when the slivers are golden, add the spinach. Season with salt and a little black pepper and let the greens cook just long enough to wilt. Set them over a colander to drain and then press them a little with the back of a spoon. Boil one egg for 10 ounces of spinach. Bring the water to the boil with the egg in it, turn the flame off, cover and let sit for 15 minutes. Grate a little parmesan. Chop the spinach well, and stir everything together. For the crust, combine one cup of flour, 1/4 cup of cornmeal, a pinch of salt, and 2 pinches of sugar. Cut 7 tablespoons of cold unsalted butter into tiny bits and rub into the dry ingredients until combined, but not completely even. Add 2 and a 1/2 tablespoons of yogurt and a few drops of ice water. Freeze for 30 minutes and then take the dough out and let it sit for a few minutes until workable. Roll out into small circles. On one half of each circle, heap a spoonful of filling, and then lift the other half of dough over to meet the edges of the other side. Lift the bottom edge of dough to fold over the top, about a half inch in from the outside of the curved edge, crimping as you go. It should look like a little half moon. Bake at 425 until golden brown.

In the raw

My friend C. is on a healing quest. I consider her to be already among the healed; if I ate as purely as she eats I think I would float and maybe even flutter occassionally.
I eat chocolate with a commitment on par with life long wedding vows; I am a slave to the processed flour in my baguette. I love wine. Coffee is my tatoo.
Can you imagine 75% of what you eat, raw? I went through my regular day and realized I am prone to cook everything. I look at a carrot and my hand starts shaking until I can blanch it in boiling water seasoned with salt and a drizzle of beautiful olive oil and cover it with bits of slowly cooked onion, garlic and toasted fennel seed. Apples are so good caramelized and stuffed into a tart. And who doesn’t love celery that has been slowly baked in a spill of heavy cream with garlic and thyme?
A. Being married to an Englishman doesn’t make it any easier. B. Being me doesn’t help.
The other day though, I tried to go as raw as possible. The party was for my friend C.; it was only right.
I made a salad of raw zucchini, sliced lengthwise and as thinly as possible, tossed with olive oil, a little lemon juice, salt, freshly ground black pepper, a teeny weeny bit of finely minced raw shallot, shredded fresh basil topped with a French feta and (cooked, couldn’t help it) toasted croutons. We had fresh fennel with lemon juice, salt, and fresh parsley. String beans (cooked, couldn’t help it) with whole cloves of raw garlic. Cannellini (cooked, couldn’t help it) with lemon, olive oil, garlic–cooked, balsamic and fresh marjoram and thyme, set in the middle of a plate, surrounded by raw baby arugula and shavings of Parmigiano Reggiano (you can’t make cheese without cooking it). A dish of ripe tomatoes, I only sauted for one minute in olive oil that had been infused with slivers of fresh garlic and more of my basil, as crisp as paper from sizzling in the olive oil on their own until they were dark green. In another little bowl I mixed marinated artichoke hearts with tiny black olives, fresh oregano, a squeeze of (raw) lemon juice and sauted red onions. The last little bowl was a raw cucumber salad with yogurt, garlic, lemon, salt, toasted coriander and mint. For dessert, fresh cantaloupe and sweet green plums with a Sicilian Passita wine poured over the top.
Only a few chocolates to finish it off. Afterwards and much eating later, I was still lively and light–it could have been all the raw food–or it could have easily been just because I love my girlfriend.

Big elbows know where the good stuff is

The best seafood truck in the market at Camucia, just below Cortona, is just past the live poultry on the right. You know it’s the best, because there are ladies that might appear to be easily tired by stirring the sugar into their coffee or tentative about crossing a street unassisted even with the light, that shove their way through the crowds with a strength and focus reserved for super heros, in order to make their way to the counter. Lately the fish monger has introduced a small red machine that offers the opportunity of first come, first serve. The determination of certain customers has no patience for modern technology and so I waited what felt like generations for my fish. There is no other option. With what kind of morals can you whiz through the grocery store coming out with mediocre when fabulous is two blocks and a few bruises away?
For lunch, once we were all rounded up, Shirley made us the most amazing bruschetta with hand sliced prosciutto and mozzarella di bufala, with a garnish of fried fresh sage. We went on to a roasted cherry tomato risotto with fresh basil and garlic and finished with a little bit of seafood spectacular. I know there is somebody out there that is going to say my technique is all wrong, but I have little patience for someone that assumes what is right for them is right for me.
I start with a can of San Marzano tomatoes, and I remove them from their juice. I heat up the pan glazed with olive oil with half a head of garlic, a sprig of fresh marjoram, and a sprig of parsley. I add finely chopped and peeled potatoes until they have begun to color and stick to the pan, and then just enough water to barely come to the top of the potatoes. I cook that with no lid, a whole peperoncino and a little salt until the potatoes are barely tender. I add a cup of dry and delicious white wine and squeeze of lemon. Remove the peperoncino. I let that cook for another five minutes, and then add my tomatoes that I have squished with my hand. Another ten minutes over a low flame. Potatoes do not like to be rushed.
In ANOTHER pan I get my olive going with finely chopped fresh garlic, a little chopped fresh parsley and a swirl of butter. When the garlic is nearly golden, I add a half cup of white wine, let it simmer for a few minutes, and then add tiny little mussels, covered, just until they open. I remove them, and do the same with shrimp still wearing their shells as I did with the mussels. As soon as they begin to curl, and I give them a sprinkle of salt, and set them in the bowl. Lastly a tender white fish, chopped into three inch long pieces, cleaned, but bone and skin on, seared in olive oil with a pinch of salt right at the end. The fish is cooked only until no longer pink and not a second more. I combine all the seafood and give everything a swirl of the best olive oil in the house and a squeeze of fresh lemon. Another swirl of olive oil for the tomatoes and potatoes, and tiny bit of fresh parsley, and then I ladle some into everyone’s dish, and then a pile of fruits of the sea. Fantastic. It’s worth it to be pushy even when you are old, for good fish. I can’t argue that.

My love for Mascarpone

Mascarpone is my friend. Caramelizing apricots and want your people to refer to you in casual conversation as the goddess of apricots? Put a little dollop of mascarpone on the side. Chicken got you down? Season some chicken breasts (bone in, skin on and Frenched–we’ll talk about that some other time) and then sear them in a heavy frying pan with a little olive oil until a gorgeous deep golden brown. Let them cool a bit, and then make a slit along the top side of the skin with a sharp knife so that you can stuff in a mixture of mascarpone, finely minced raw garlic, fresh lemon zest (no pith), a little fresh parsley and a little fresh rosemary. Finish the breasts in the oven at 400 degrees until just done, which should be between 155 and 160 degrees. I even stop at 150.
We had those last night. We started with a mushroom risotto that Ms. Esther stirred her heart and soul into, all saved up from breathing in the Italian country side. Then the chicken with mascarpone–pouring the pan juices over the chicken and serving it alongside braised carrots finished in a pan of the earth’s best olive oil, a little garlic and parsely. On the side we had bruschetta with nothing more than olive oil and salt. For dessert, we put the caramelized apricots (and peaches) on top of a shortbread crust.
Today half the group was off to Florence, and the other half to Siena, and tonight to the Villa behind the stone wall.