In honor of a far-flung Contrarian in town for the weekend, we whipped up a Tuscan feast last night, culled in its entirety from Paula Wolfert's brilliant Slow Mediterranean Kitchen. Compliment of the Night award went to the guest of honor, for his proclamation that "If you can get this here, no need to go to Tuscany."
Appetizers: Fresh grilled semolina triangles for two dips: a dandelion herb jam and evoo-simmered melted leeks. The herb jam is a staple here at CQ HQ. Steam an assortment of bitter greens and herbs - dandelion with cilantro, celery leaves and parsley - with a few skinned garlic cloves at the basket's bottom. Saute til dry with sweet smoked paprika, ground cumin, a pinch of cayenne, a rough chop of black olives and the smashed steamed garlic. Keeps for a week - mix with S&P and lemon to serve. The leeks we hadn't made before but all were quite happy with the result. The bread could have been neither simpler nor tastier: fresh vermont butter and semolina pasta flour kneaded a while. The grilling however did improve the thinner we pounded the rounds.
Poor Man's Bread, Kale and Black Pepper Soup. Madam Wolfert says this recipe comes from Siena and in the book it looks quite simple. Would have been a cinch too, but of course we decided to make it yet much slower by doing a broth instead of using water. Roasted aromatics and root vegetables enrich broths with a smokiness to which we've grown quite partial; they also helped compensate for the pancetta we couldn't use in this dish once we discovered that one attendee didn't eat pork, poor fellow. We've also taken to cribbing an idea or two from Daniel Boulud's Cafe Cookbook: his veg stock calls for equal parts whole white peppercorns, whole coriander seeds and whole juniper berries. We used Swiss Chard instead of Kale, alluding to rather than embracing the rampant phenomena of ingredient fetishism: at 28 cents more the bushel, who's to complain? Melt some onion and garlic, saute the chard a few minutes; add the broth, bring to boil then simmer a while. To assemble: place grilled bread at the bottom of the bowl, ladel hot soup over and top with grated cheese. We let the Parmigiano melt a spell before serving, and must say that the soup looked fantastic. Wolfert shares a very interesting trick in this recipe: add a Parmigiano-Regg rind to the soup while it's cooking; remove and rinse when done and save to reuse!
Pork Shoulder Coddled in Olive Oil with Tuscan Beans and Arugula. This dish hails from Arezzo, where people have at times been so poor as to have to kill piggies for lack of pig food. A recipe akin to Sicily's olive-oil poached tuna, we've long wanted to give this a go and last night proved just the occasion. Now of course, first our minds raced to Berkshire Kurubota pork shoulder, so over to Lobels we ventured. $28 a pound sure seemed steep for shoulder, but it wouldn't break us, and anyway one of the land's fiercest eminence gris was expected at the table. However, apparently Lobel's online and the shop itself share only the most tenuous of associations. Lobel's does not for instance keep shoulder in stock and will only order a one for you if you take the whole thing - which they said would weigh in at 8 pounds! As an alternative, the kindly butchers suggested that they could carve up some Kurubota loin. 'Really, loin? But we want shoulder.' 'It'll work just as well,' they promised. 'Um, ok. What will it run us?" $78. $78? We smiled, thanked them and hightailed it down to Faicco's on Bleeker where the exact size shoulder cut we wanted, 2.5 lbs, came in at $11, ka-ching.
Which is where the fun started. It's always charming when recipes say things that sound short and sweet in a single phrase - and that phrase then ends up costing a couple hours labor. Such was the case with Wolfert's direction #1: "Trim away all the fat, sinew and membrane from the pork. Cut the meat into 2-inch chunks." Seriously, two hours. However at that point, Thursday night, we were still earnestly enthsiastic about the Slow aspect of Slow Food, tra la. Set the chunks up in a fennel & thyme rub overnight and the next day, after 30 minutes lightly bubbling in 2 cups of evoo on the stovetop, you coddle the chunks in the oven at 250 for two and a half hours. That you can leave in the fridge up to five days before you serve it. Meanwhile the cannellini beans were soaking and the broth and dips done.
Which raises another aspect of this particular feast: though prepared all but entirely in one NYC studio apartment kitchen, it had to then be transported to another apartment (one with a proper dining room) to serve. So it was: with two sandwich ziplocks of cooked beans; a big ziplock with the olive oil-preserved pork; yogurt containers of leeks, dandelions and two of soup; as well as a plate of semolina rounds - we caught the bus cross town. So last night upon arrival, all that was left to do really (doesn't this sound easy!?) was slowly reheat the pork in the oil, drain that; scoop off the oil and add the reserved meat juice to the beans. Serve on a big colorful ceramic plate from Tuscany: pile high the beans, sprinkle with red wine vineager-marinated red onion, top with the meat and surround with arugula.
Cheeses for dessert.
To drink, 7 wines:
Whites: Verdejo, Chablis & Scheurebe
1. We drank a lemony but well-balanced white 2002 Basa from Rueda, Spain - just west of Ribera del Duero - as the cooking wine: wine to drink while cooking. Pinot Gris-y, cheap n' tasty.
2. 1993 Raveneau Chablis "les Clos" Gorgeous. Sea air, minerals and subtle lemons; stones as seductive as they were reserved. And yet, butter. Why is American wine never so well balanced? Though opened early on, we finished this with the cheese course a few hours later and it had only improved. A case, please.
3. 2001 Muller Catoir Haardter Scheurebe Spatlese. Far, far too sweet for the likes of the CQ palate. Pineapple and honey sans adequate acidity and contour. Obscene, as in cheap lingerie.
4. 1976 Misserey Romanee Saint-Vivant, from Wine of the Evening here. Burgundian elegance with huge body and verve. Muscular, flexing and meaty but not at all aggressive.
5. 1994 Saint Innocent, 7 Springs. Can't say this holds a candle to our preferred Oregon Pinot Noir, Domain Serene. Kind of brutal but not half bad: cinnamon and clove but craggy.
6. 1983 Guigal Hermitage. Wonderfully developed; we guessed this was a Bordeaux.
7. 1983 Gentaz Derivieux Cote Rotie, Cote Brune. Bretty, which is to say has some stink to it: rustic, barny, just what one seeks in Cote Rotie, with the chocolate-bacon nose, body and length.
These last two, 6 & 7, both northern Rhone red and hugely enjoyable, had been decanted for a couple hours by the time we tucked in. Exxxtra funky, developed and possessed of pointedly changing noses, the both.