Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Best Cookbooks of 2014

‘Tis the season to share my Best Of list for this year’s cookbooks.  I wanted to publish this list back in November, but one sluggardly publisher kept pushing back its release of a sure-to-contend cookbook. But now, with this excellent book finally released, I offer up, in alphabetical order, my choices for the top five cookbooks of the year.

Bar Tartine: Techniques & Recipes by Nicolaus Balla and Cortney Burns. Chronicle Books.

A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus: Menus and Stories by Renee Erickson with Jess Thomson. Sasquatch Books.

Bread, Cake, Doughnut, Pudding: Sweet and Savoury Recipes from Britain’s Best Baker by Justin Gellatly. Fig Tree, an imprint of Penguin Books.

Heritage by Sean Brock. Artisan, a division of Workman Publishing Company.

The Pizza Bible: The World's Favorite Pizza Styles, from Neapolitan, Deep-Dish, Wood-Fired, Sicilian, Calzones and Focaccia to New York, New Haven, Detroit, and More by Tony Gemignani with Susie Heller and Steve Siegelman. Ten Speed Press.

So why, you ask, did I pick these books? I’ll tell you why.

As its title suggests, Bar Tartine: Techniques & Recipes divides its content into two main parts: how to make ingredients like dried powders, cheeses, vinegars, pickles, pastes and stocks (Part One of the book), and how to employ these ingredients in (mostly) simple recipes (Part Two). The techniques used to make the ingredients include drying, fermenting, sprouting & soaking, and preserving. In the Recipes section, the salads really stand out as outstanding. Here’s a partial list: Chicory Salad with Anchovy Dressing; Wedge Salad with Buttermilk, Barley and Sprouts; Kale Salad with Rye Bread, Seeds and Yogurt; Tomato & Pickled Green Bean Salad with Whipped Feta; Beet and Blue Cheese Salad; and Cauliflower Salad with Yogurt & Chickpeas. Bar Tartine will appeal to an audience that wants to make ingredients from scratch and that enjoys straightforward, flavorful food. Highly recommended.

A Boat, a Whale & a Walrus offers sophisticated yet simple and comforting dishes rooted in the Pacific Northwest, but with a French sensibility. Organized by season, you’ll find a lot of lovely seafood recipes for oysters, mussels, Dungeness crab, Pacific octopus, salmon, spot prawns, and scallops. I find the salad and dessert recipes particularly tempting.

Bread, Cake, Doughnut, Pudding highlights the ample talents of Justin Gellatly, who spent 13 years at Fergus Henderson’s St. John’s restaurant.  If you already own the Nose to Tail books and Margot Henderson’s You’re All Invited, you’ll note a lot of overlap among these works and Bread, Cake, Doughnut, Pudding. No matter. Gellatly has penned an outstanding British cookbook in its own right. You’ll find recipes for Steamed Marmalade Sponge and Whisky Custard; Apple and Rhubarb Suet Pudding; Treacle and Walnut Tart; and Doughnuts stuffed with Carmel Custard and Salted Honeycomb Sprinkle. Although published in the UK, this great British cookbook deserves a large audience on this side of the Atlantic.

Sean Brock’s Heritage takes the prize for the best cookbook of 2014. Brock includes recipes for simple dishes (Cornmeal Hoecakes; Lowcountry Hoppin’ John; Fried Chicken and Gravy) and for fancy chef fare (Grilled Lamb Hearts with Butter Bean Puree, Vadouvan, and Corn and Sweet Potato Leaves; Crispy Sweetbreads with Spicy Red Pepper Glaze, Egg, Broccoli, and Puffed Rice). Really! This book should sate both home cooks and the food professionals. Brock clearly loves the Southern table and garden. Heritage celebrates the traditional and the new with a focus on the ingredients of the region. And you get Brock’s recipe for Pimento Cheese! What a great cookbook!

In 2007, Tony Gemignani traveled to Naples, Italy and became the first American to win the World Pizza Cup in the Neapolitan pizza category. His San Francisco restaurant, Tony’s Pizza Nepoletana, ranks among the best pizza venues in the United States. The Pizza Bible takes Gemignani’s great pizza-making talent, knowledge and experience and packs them into a 300-plus-page book. He’s a great and generous teacher and I cannot imagine a better manual for anyone interested in making different styles of pizza.

So, will 2015’s cookbooks offer us the same riches as 2014’s? Let’s hope so. Happy New Year everybody!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Spelt Pasta

I have friends and family that, for various health reasons, avoid eating wheat. No one in this group has Celiac disease, but all try to avoid gluten with different levels of vigor. Some found that they reasonably tolerate spelt, a subspecies of common wheat, even though spelt contains gluten. So in order to share a plate of homemade pasta with these loved ones, I began experimenting with white spelt flour that I ordered from Keith Giusto’s Central Milling (here). I found that this flour makes excellent fresh pasta.

I started my inquiry by making spelt spaghetti for 2 extruded from my torchio pasta press. I used a standing mixer fitted with a paddle to create a dough made of 150 grams of white spelt flour, 72 grams of an egg mixture consisting of a large whole egg and a large egg yolk, and a pinch of salt. The spelt flour seemed to need less liquid to achieve the texture that I look for in an extruded dough for a torchio. I formed the dough into a log and wrapped it in plastic to rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes. After popping the dough into the torchio, I set the piston and turned the handle. I needed a significant amount of force to extrude the pasta, but the finished spelt spaghetti looked beautiful and felt dry, dense and heavy. I read that spelt pasta cooks more quickly than conventional wheat pasta, but this wasn’t my experience in this instance. I added the pasta to 2.5 liters of salted, boiling water and cooked the noodles for 3 minutes after the water returned to a boil. After draining, I finished the pasta by cooking it in a sauce for 2 minutes or so. Even then, the pasta had a very firm bite and fine flavor that surpassed the store-bought spelt pasta that I sampled.

I next made spelt fettuccini using my Imperia R220 pasta machine. I followed the same dough recipe as above, except that I added 75 instead of 72 grams of my egg mixture. Again, the dough worked great—dry but not too much so—but it was on the hard side; I had to use a rolling pin to flatten the dough before feeding the dough through the first few settings of my Imperia. I rolled the pasta out to the R220’s number 2 setting, which makes a 1mm thick sheet. The finished fettuccini noodle, like the spaghetti, had a firm bite and excellent flavor.

I tried one last experiment with the spelt flour: I increased the amount of the egg mixture to 80 grams and made another batch of fettuccini. The dough felt softer, but not sticky. The pasta easily traveled through the R220. The finished noodle tasted fine, but I missed the firm bite of the noodle made with 75 grams of my egg mixture.

Overall, I highly recommend Central Milling’s Organic White Spelt Flour for making fresh pasta. The next step in my spelt experiments: create a whole-grain spelt/white spelt flour blend. Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Flour + Water Pasta

In the summer of 2011, I attended a series of pasta making classes taught by Thomas McNaughton at his San Francisco restaurant, Flour + Water. The first class covered how to make flat noodles and a simple shape (garganelli). The second and third classes introduced stuffed pasta (cappelletti and agnolotti dal plin) and more complex shapes (cappellacci dei briganti and scarpinocc). McNaughton taught the sessions in his Dough Room, a pasta workshop adjacent to the restaurant. After each class, we cleared the large butcher-block worktables and McNaughton cooked a delicious dinner for the group. It was a pretty sweet deal, and I picked up a number of great pasta making tips. I also learned that McNaughton had a cookbook in the works. And now, three years later, the book has arrived: Flour + Water Pasta by Thomas McNaughton with Paolo Lucchesi and photographs by Eric Wolfinger. If you want to hone and expand your pasta making skills, buy this book.

McNaughton and Lucchesi divide Flour + Water Pasta into two parts. Part One, entitled The Dough, covers how to make different types of pasta dough, how to cook pasta, and how to use the recipes in the book. The authors divide Part Two, entitled The Recipes, by season: Summer, Autumn, Winter and Spring. These recipes reflect McNaughton and his restaurant’s mission: “to explore the complexity of pasta and use it to showcase the bounty of Northern California ingredients.” McNaughton masterfully combines traditional shapes and techniques with a regional and modern approach to ingredients. Under Summer, you’ll find recipes for Corn and Crescenza Cappelletti with Bitter Honey and for Bigoli with Fresh Shelling Beans, Tomato, and Pancetta. Under Autumn, McNaughton shares his recipe for Spaghetti with Black Trumpet, Poached Egg, and Cured Yolk. Scattered among contemporary dishes such as Cocoa Tajarin with Brown Butter-Braised Giblets, Butternut Squash, and Sage, you find classic, traditional dishes like Tortellini in Brodo, Agnolotti dal Plin, and Tagliatelle Bolognese.

As much as I enjoy and appreciate how McNaughton pairs the old and new, to my mind Flour + Water Pasta shines when it shares what McNaughton knows about making fresh pasta. McNaughton has impressive credentials, including working under Chef Michael Tusk at San Francisco’s Quince and making pasta at a laboratorio in Bologna. Flour + Water Pasta works as a primer for those who want to learn the basics of how to make fresh pasta, but in my opinion, the book better suits the more experienced pasta maker interested in different pasta dough recipes and complex shaping techniques. McNaughton’s standard egg dough, which makes 644 grams of dough, calls for 360 grams 00 flour, 1¼ teaspoons kosher salt, 18 to 20 egg yolks—he wants 300 grams of yolks—and 1½ teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil: a tricky dough to cut one’s teeth on as a beginner.

But for the cook interested in expanding his or her pasta making repertoire, Flour + Water Pasta is the book for you. McNaughton teaches you how to make pasta shapes both common and obscure: spaghetti and caramelle; farfalle and casonsei; pappardelle and stradette. McNaughton and Lucchesi also cover topics like making pasta by hand with a rolling pin, and the importance of pork in Emillia-Romagna cuisine.  I particularly enjoyed McNaughton’s and Lucchesi’s shout out to Emilio Mitidieri. If you want to explore the world of making fresh pasta here in the states, you need to know about Emilio and his company (here).

When I enrolled in McNaughton’s pasta classes, I wanted to learn the finer points of making fresh pasta from a working chef and, with luck, score a dough recipe for my relatively new torchio pasta press. (I accomplished the former, but, sadly, not the latter.) Now with the debut of Flour + Water Pasta, readers have the benefit of McNaughton’s vast pasta-making knowledge without having to travel to Flour + Water’s Dough Room in San Francisco. 

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Pesce spada alla ghiotta

I try to be open-minded when I visit my favorite local fish market. Although I might walk in with a plan of buying Manila clams to make a pasta sauce or of picking up a piece of black cod to marinate in miso, I remind myself to take a careful look at what else is in the case and to be flexible.  That’s why a couple of weeks ago I set out for the Monterey Fish Market in Berkeley to buy some scallops, but came home with a beautiful piece of swordfish.

Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 1960’s, it seemed to me that every grocery store and seafood restaurant sold swordfish. Then the fish disappeared. I remember hearing about high mercury levels in local catches. Or was it overfished? Whatever the reason(s) swordfish vanished, you can buy it now, but with this caveat: the EPA cautions “women who might become pregnant; women who are pregnant; nursing mothers; (and) young children” against eating swordfish, shark, king mackerel or tilefish, because they contain high levels of mercury.  The EPA writes that “nearly all fish and shellfish contain traces of methylmercury. However, larger fish that have lived longer have the highest levels...because they’ve had more time to accumulate it.”

Noting the EPA’s warning (but more than reasonably satisfied that I do not fall in any high-risk group), I arrived home with my swordfish steak.

When I think swordfish, I think Sicily. I pulled an armful of Sicilian cookbooks off my library shelf. I wanted a dish with with tomatoes, olives and capers.  After looking at all of the variations on this theme, I decided to go with a recipe entitled Pesce spada alla ghiotta (translated as Tasty swordfish) from an Italian/English language cookbook called Sicilia in cucina – The flavours of Sicily (2013) from SIME Books. I like this recipe’s absolute simplicity. It takes very little time to make—maybe 30 minutes, tops—and tastes absolutely fantastic: bold yet fresh. Here’s the English version of Pesce spada alla ghiotta, which serves 4.

300 g (10½ oz) swordfish, sliced
200 g (7 oz) potatoes
200 g (7 oz) canned peeled tomatoes
½ onion
green olives, pitted
1 tablespoon desalinated capers
chilli (sic) pepper
extra virgin olive oil

Sauté the chopped onion in plenty of oil and add the olives, desalinated capers, peeled tomatoes, chilli (sic) pepper, salt and pepper.

Cook for 20 minutes.

Add the swordfish and cook for a further 5 minutes.

Boil the potatoes separately. Peel and slice them, then add to the fish. Sprinkle with chopped basil.

I’ll add a few notes to the above. I like to cube the swordfish because I think this helps to keep the fish from getting overcooked and dry. I use about 10 large castelvetrano olives and red-skinned potatoes. If you want to skip the potatoes, I think the swordfish and its sauce work very well with rigatoni. The book’s editor pairs the dish with a 2009 Italian frapatto and nero d’avola blend from Arianna Occhipinti called “SP 68”. Fantastic choice. Paul Marcus Wines in Berkeley often has this hard-to-find red wine, but the shop was currently out of its stock when I dropped in to pick up a bottle (or two…or three). But the shop did have Occhipinti’s frappato, which costs more, but goes wonderfully with Pesce spada alla ghiotta.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Bread and Butter Pudding

I like Simon Hopkinson’s Roast Chicken and Other Stories (1994) and Second Helpings of Roast Chicken (2001) very much indeed. (See here and here.) Hopkinson penned his first Roast Chicken offering with Lindsey Bareham, a food writer with more than a few cookbooks under her belt. While Hopkinson and Bareham worked on Roast Chicken and Other Stories, they “began to reminisce about the hotel and restaurant dishes they had grown up with and always loved….” Think Chicken Kiev, Duck à l’Orange, Boeuf à la Bourguignonne, Trout with Almonds, Crêpes Suzette and Pêche Flambee. This reverie led to The Prawn Cocktail Years, a collection of winsome dishes that have fallen out of favor due to the ever-shifting sands of food trends. If you are over a certain age, you’ll recognize these dishes from a bygone era of dining. It is as you’ve picked up a vintage issue of the now defunct Gourmet Magazine.

But the thing is, these dishes can taste delicious! Yes, many an ambivalent kitchen wreaked havoc upon these foods, but that doesn’t mean the dish itself was bad in the first place. Thus, the stated purpose of The Prawn Cocktail Years: “…to redefine the Great British Meal and rescue other similarly maligned classic dishes from years of abuse, restoring them to their former status.” I dare say that when Bareham and Hopkinson wrote these words in 1997, they were ahead of the culinary curve: Deviled Eggs and Angels on Horseback are hot again.

Flipping through The Prawn Cocktail Years, I came across a number of recipes I wanted to try, including Bareham and Hopkinson’s take on Bread and Butter Pudding. Topped with orange marmalade, the dessert is easy to make and tastes outstanding. Fine ingredients will produce the best results, so go for the good stuff with this recipe.

Serves 4-6

400ml milk
1 vanilla pod
2 tbsp caster sugar
approximately 75g soft butter
125g white bread, medium sliced, crusts removed
75g sultanas
3 large eggs
freshly grated nutmeg
350g good quality marmalade
200ml whipping cream.

Pre-heat the oven to 325ºF/160ºC/gas mark 3.

Bring the milk slowly to the boil with the vanilla pod, giving it a good bashing to release the tiny seeds, and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the sugar until it dissolves, and cover with a lid to infuse while you deal with the bread.

Butter a 1-litre shallow ovenproof dish. Spread the bread with butter, cut it in half diagonally, then into quarters. Arrange the slices in the dish and distribute the sultanas between them.

Whisk the eggs in a bowl. Remove the vanilla pod (which can be saved and re-used) and whisk in the milk and whipping cream. Pour the eggy milk over the bread, making sure that all the sultanas remain covered. Dust the surface with grated nutmeg and dot with any remaining butter. Leave the dish to stand for 20 minutes.

Heat the marmalade in a small pan until it turns liquid. Pour through a sieve to catch the peel. Using a pastry brush or spoon, smear the top of the pudding with a generous glaze of marmalade. Bake for 35-40 minutes until the custard has set and the top has billowed and turned golden with crunchy bits where the bread has poked through the custard. Allow it to settle and cool slightly. Serve the remaining strained marmalade in a jug to be spooned over each helping, along with cold, thick cream.

Note: You could, if you wish, chop the strained peel and add it to the pudding with the sultanas; alternatively the sultanas could be soaked in hot rum or whisky—or either alcohol could be added to the marmalade sauce.

Some things to consider when making this dish: If you use the sultanas (or chopped, thick-cut orange peel), do make sure that they are well tucked in and buried between the slices of bread. Otherwise you risk a dish topped with burnt and bitter bits of fruit.

If your marmalade is chock-full of heavy, thick-cut peel, you will want to liquefy more than 350 grams; you want enough liquid jam to coat the soaked bread. And speaking of bread, cut the crust off before weighting out 125 grams.

Sunday, June 22, 2014


This is the last post in my recent series on comfort food recipes. I wrote this series to memorialize, share and celebrate a handful of worthy recipes from family and friends. The first post features a simple American chicken braise (here); the second explores an Italian spinach gnocco (here). Today’s recipe makes an Armenian fermented cabbage, wheat berry and beef stew called tutoo (sometimes spelled tutu and tatoo). The recipe comes from my paternal grandmother who was the only member of my family that made this dish because, I’m guessing, the fermentation process scared away anyone else in my family interested in making it. In truth, once you get comfortable with fermenting the cabbage, the recipe is a snap. Hopefully, this post demystifies the process and encourages you to make this unique and comforting Armenian stew.

Tutoo means sour in Armenian, and the stew can live up to its name. The dish includes both fermented cabbage and the brine used to pickle the cabbage. Most Armenian cookbooks and on-line recipes call for a 10-day fermentation period. This duration might be perfectly fine depending upon one’s taste, but my family likes its tutoo really sour. My dad will sometimes squeeze lemon juice into his stew if it doesn’t meet his sour threshold. To keep the lemons at bay, I let the cabbage ferment for around 21 days.

My grandmother made her tutoo without a written recipe. My grandfather adored the stew, so she knew the recipe by heart.  In order to learn how to make it, I filmed my grandmother while she prepared the cabbage to ferment and again when she cooked the stew. During the filming, she patiently waited as I measured out all the ingredients. Since that time—over 20 years past as I write this post—I have converted the amounts of the brining ingredients from volumes to metric weights, which I think produces more consistent results.

For the Fermented Cabbage

90 grams sea salt
3 kilograms water
45 grams hard red wheat berries
5 grams sugar
55 grams champagne vinegar
3 heads small-sized cabbage, cored and cut into 1/8-inch wedges

1) In a large pot, add the salt and water and bring to a boil. Cool the brine to 120ºF.

2) While the brine cools, rinse the wheat berries and put them into a wide-mouth 1-gallon glass jar. Add the sugar and vinegar. Tightly pack the cabbage wedges into the jar. As you work your way to the top of the jar you may need to cut the wedges into smaller pieces. Don’t worry if you cannot fit all three heads of cabbage into the jar; tightly pack in as much of the cabbage as possible.

 3) Pour the brine into the jar to cover the cabbage. Insert a small plate or bowl into the jar’s mouth to help keep the cabbage submerged in the brine. Loosely cap the jar. Retain 1 cup of brine to add to the jar during fermentation to keep the cabbage covered with liquid.

4) Place the jar on a plate (in case your fermentation bubbles over) and store out of direct sunlight in your kitchen.  Ferment the cabbage for 21 days (or to taste) at room temperature. Check on the cabbage every day or so to make sure it is submerged in brine. Use the retained brine to top off the jar as necessary.

For the Stew

2 pounds bone-in beef short ribs, each rib cut into 3-inch pieces
beef bone(s) [optional]
½ cup hard red wheat berries
2 medium onions, halved and sliced
fermented cabbage, cut into 2-inch pieces
8 ounces tomato sauce
1 tablespoon dried sweet basil
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1) Remove any excess fat from the beef ribs. Place the ribs (and beef bone(s), if using) in a heavy enameled 7-quart pot. Strain the brine from the fermented cabbage into the pot. Rinse and add the ½ cup wheat berries to the pot. (Do not use the spent berries from the fermentation jar; throw these berries out). Bring the pot to a boil, reduce to a gentle simmer and cook for 1 hour. Skim off any impurities.

2) After 1 hour, remove the beef bone(s), if using. Add the sliced onions, fermented cabbage, tomato sauce, dried sweet basil and cayenne pepper. Bring pot back to a gentle simmer, cover and cook for approximately 2 hours until the beef becomes tender.

I imagine that everyone has a food that, upon taking in its smell or the first bite, magically transports one back to childhood. So it is for me with this dish. When I smell it cooking, it is like when the food critic Anton Ego in Pixar’s Ratatouille first samples Remy’s version of the film’s titular dish. I am back at my grandmother’s table, surrounded with family, sharing a special meal that, yes, takes weeks to make, but tastes so delicious and comforting. Its rarity made it all the more special. How can I let such a glorious food fade away with time and the passing of a generation of Armenian grandmothers? I cannot, so I happily share this family recipe.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Strangolapreti alla Trentina

This post is the second installment in a short series on comfort food recipes. In my first post, I shared a recipe for Vermouth-braised Chicken (here) from my wife's maternal grandmother who lived in Nashota, Wisconsin. Now we travel to Italy’s Trentino-Alto Adige region to cook Strangolapreti alla Trentina. The recipe for this delicious spinach and ricotta gnocchi comes from the Satori family, who live in the village of Levico Terme. Michele Satori, the newly elected mayor of Levico, graciously agreed to transcribe and translate his mother’s dumpling recipe into English. I want to extend a heartfelt grazie mille to Michele and his mother, Michelina, for sharing their wonderful family recipe and showing us how to make Strangolapreti alla Trentina.

Ingredients yield 4 to 5 servings

For the gnocchi:

1 kilogram of spinach
3 eggs
150 grams of ricotta cheese
approximately 100 to 150 grams of tipo 00 flour
freshly grated Parmesan cheese
nutmeg, salt and pepper

For the sauce:


Boil the spinach in a large pot filled with lightly salted water, then strain and press the spinach to eliminate any water. Finely mince the spinach and place in a large bowl.

Now add the eggs, some nutmeg powder, the ricotta cheese, 100 grams of flour, some spoons of grated Parmesan, salt and pepper into the spinach. Mix it all well.

Now, with a spoon, build a gnocco about the size of a nut, and put it in the boiling water in which you cooked the spinach. See if the gnocco holds together or if it melts in the water. If the dumpling dissolves, add some more flour to the green mixture.

When the spinach mixture is at the correct consistency, start to make the gnocchi one at a time and put them into the boiling water. When they come to surface—it should take about 4 to 5 minutes—they are ready. Now strain them and lay them in a casserole dish.

Meanwhile you have prepared the brown butter with sage (that is, a good piece of butter, melted and cooked to become a little brown with some sage leaves). Pour the melted butter over the gnocchi, sprinkle Parmesan cheese over them and BUON APPETITO !!!

These photographs show Nonna Michelina making Strangolapreti alla Trentina.

A few notes. The recipe calls for 1 kilogram of spinach, which is an untrimmed weight (i.e., the spinach’s weight with stems). Stem and clean the spinach before adding it to the boiling water. Nonna Michelina minces the cooked spinach by hand. I tried this method, but I couldn’t duplicate her fine knife skills. I default to using a food processor to purée the spinach.

If you live in the US, use large eggs; you want to find eggs that weigh about 60 grams each in shell.

The amount of flour that you need to add to the spinach mixture depends upon a number of factors (e.g., the amount of / moisture in the spinach, the size of the eggs, and moisture of the ricotta). Start with 100 grams of flour and adjust as necessary.

And speaking of ricotta, you will note from Michele’s photographs that the Italian ricotta that Nonna Michelina uses looks drier than most of the ricotta available here in the US. To address this difference, I use a fine sieve to drain the 150 grams of ricotta in the refrigerator overnight.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Vermouth-braised Chicken

Over the course of this year I plan to explore a number of comfort food recipes graciously supplied by my family and friends. Most of these recipes memorialize beloved dishes made by grandmothers and great-grandmothers. We’ll travel to Trentino-Alto Adige in Northern Italy to cook Strangolapreti, a delicious spinach and ricotta gnocchi. We’ll make an Armenian beef and fermented cabbage stew called Tutoo. But first, let’s start this new series of posts with a braised chicken recipe mentioned in passing here, that my wife’s family affectionately refers to as Grandma’s Chicken. This dish embodies the type of simple comfort food that I look forward to sharing with you in the months to come.

The grandma of Grandma’s Chicken-fame was born in 1890 and lived on a dairy farm located about 30 miles west of Milwaukee. Clara Lucinda Dreyer Solveson raised three beautiful daughters, and the youngest, Joy, brought the recipe with her to the West Coast. Clara’s recipe epitomizes straightforward homey fare. Accomplished cooks can likely approximate this family favorite dish based solely upon these instructions: dust a sectioned chicken in flour; brown; add vermouth, herbs and spices; braise until tender. But why leave something that tastes so good to chance? Here’s the family’s recipe.

½ cup all-purpose flour
3 to 4 pound chicken, sectioned into 10 pieces
3 tablespoons canola oil
½ to ¾ cup dry vermouth
3 tablespoons freshly chopped Italian parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
Cayenne (or paprika)

1. Put ½ cup flour into a bowl and dredge the chicken pieces, with skin on, in flour to lightly coat. The chicken skin adds fat, and thus flavor, to the dish; the flour thickens the sauce.

2. Warm a heavy 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat for a minute or two. Add 3 tablespoons of canola oil to the skillet. When the oil is hot (but not smoking), add the chicken pieces to the skillet skin-side down. Do not crowd the pan otherwise the chicken will steam and not brown. You may need to brown the chicken in batches. Take care not to scorch the chicken; your goal is to create a golden, light brown chicken skin.

3. When the skin is browned, turn the pieces over and brown the other side. Don’t worry if flour (or even bits of the chicken) sticks to the skillet. These will help to flavor your sauce. Rotate and turn the chicken around the pan to uniformly brown the pieces.

4. After browning the chicken, add ½ to ¾ cup of dry vermouth to the skillet and cook for about 2 minutes or so. The amount of liquid at this stage in the cooking process determines if the final sauce is thick or thin. Use a wooden spoon to carefully mix the vermouth into the browned chicken. Scrape any browned bits to incorporate this flavoring into your sauce. Once done, reduce the heat to achieve a gentle simmer. Add the parsley and season the chicken with salt, freshly ground pepper and a pinch of cayenne (or paprika).

5. Cover and cook at a gentle simmer until the chicken is tender. This should take approximately 45 minutes to 1 hour. Occasionally check in on the braise to make sure that the heat is just right and that the sauce is neither too thick nor too thin. If too thick for your taste, add a splash of water or stock.

Once the chicken is tender, serve with rice or buttered noodles. You should have enough chicken to feed 6 people (or 2 to 3 hungry nephews).

Friday, March 28, 2014

Pasta Dough No. 3 (for a Torchio)

A recent profile of Oakland’s Ramen Shop in The Art of Eating (Issue No. 92) inspired the following dough recipe for a torchio pasta press. According to the article, Ramen Shop makes its noodle dough with a blend of Central Milling type 00 and malted all-purpose flour, gluten, and kansui, a mixture of sodium carbonate and potassium carbonate. The Art of Eating author pronounced Ramen Shop’s noodles “exceptional”; I agree, having slurped my fair share of the restaurant’s noodles. What would happen, I wondered, if I used a similar flour blend but replaced the gluten, kansui and water with an egg and water mixture tailored to a torchio pasta press? The results tasted amazing.

When you read the following recipe, you’ll see that I list precise weights for the flour and for each component of the egg mixture. I stumbled upon these weights when I used a 58-gram egg, which produced 52 grams of egg sans shell, and a 56-gram egg, which contained a 20-gram yolk. I liked the results so much that I stayed with these amounts. Using precise weights allows you to achieve extremely consistent dough from batch to batch. It also helps when scaling the recipe up or down. The following produces approximately 240 grams of dough.

110 grams Central Milling organic type 00 normal pizza flour (11.2%)
50 grams Central Milling organic Beehive malted all-purpose flour (10.5%)
2 grams kosher salt
82 grams of the following egg mixture: 52 grams whole egg, beaten; 20 grams egg yolk; and 10 grams cold water
 1. Sift the flours into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the salt. Using a paddle attachment, mix together the flours and salt. In a glass, beat the egg mixture.
 2. With the mixer running on low speed, slowly pour the egg mixture into the mixing bowl in small batches. Mix the dough for about 2 to 3 minutes. The dough should be clumpy and slightly damp but shouldn’t come together into a ball. It should, however, hold together if tightly squeezed.

 3. Remove the bowl from the mixer and add any dough on the paddle to the mixing bowl. Using your hand, bring the dough together into a large ball in the mixing bowl. Knead the dough in the bowl or on a work surface for approximately 30 seconds. Form the dough into a log that can slide into the torchio’s chamber. Tightly wrap the dough in plastic and leave it to rest at room temperature for 1 hour.
I tested the above recipe, which makes enough pasta to serve 2 to 3 people, using a Bottene No. 5 spaghetti (1.75mm) die from Emiliomiti. (I also ran the dough through a bronze bigoli die with excellent results.) Once extruded, I cut the spaghetti into approximately 12-inch long pieces that I lightly dusted with semolina flour and placed on a dishtowel-lined baking tray.

To cook the pasta, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add the fresh spaghetti, stir the pasta and when the water returns to a boil, cook for approximately 1 to 1.5 minutes. Taste to determine if the pasta is ready. If so, drain and add the spaghetti to your ready sauce, mix the two together and cook the pasta and sauce for 1 to 2 minutes.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Americano Cocchi Classico

Any fan of the Spritz (here) must try an Americano Cocchi Classico. Here’s how to make one: take a small tumbler and fill it with 3 ice cubes; add 2 ounces of Americano Cocchi, a lovely aperitif wine from Italy’s Piedmonte region; splash in 1 ounce of soda water; gently stir. If you happen to have an orange lying about, slice it up and garnish your drink. If your fruit bowl is sans orange, don’t fret; the drink will taste fine without the garnish.

The star of this amazing aperitivo is Americano Cocchi, a Moscato-based wine infused with a secret blend of herbs, fruit and spices.  The wine tastes both pleasantly bitter and just a bit sweet. Its recipe dates back to 1891 when Giulio Cocchi began making aromatic-infused wine and bottle-fermented sparkling wines. If you poke around the Internet, you’ll come across numerous articles lamenting how difficult it is to find Americano Cocchi here in the United States. Well, no more it seems. Good wine shops such as K&L Wine Merchants will ship Americano Cocchi where the law permits. Even my local Whole Foods claims the aperitivo will soon arrive on its shelves. Hurray!

Let me close by sharing my own (Spritz-ish) variation of the Americano Cocchi Classico. After pouring the Americano Cocchi over the rocks and before adding the soda, I tip in a kiss of Aperol. Gently stir and smile at the beautiful, light salmon-colored beverage that you will soon enjoy.