Saturday, March 28, 2009

Ouch


The bresaola was, well, disastrous. My results do not indicate the art of the cure on any level. Not a big deal, but so much time, down the drain. Alas.

Bresaola is an Italian (Lombardy) wine-and-salt cured preparation. After a couple of months in its bath and subsequent air drying, the beef - sometimes a fillet, if one is luxurious, but more often top round - emerges supple, ruby red, and ready for a loaf of bread, olive oil and lemon drizzle.

Mine turned out all salt. I followed the recipe strictly, figuring I had enough unpredictable elements to deal with already in curing my own raw beef. What resulted was not soft and succulent; rather, lunar in its appearance, rock-like to the touch, and salty enough to survive a century. I'm considering powdering it and adding pepper, for my own beefy seasoning mix. There's enough salt here to melt the polar caps.

Basically, I have about two pounds of jerky on my hands.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Tomato sauce


We eat pasta about once every six days in our house. About half that time, it takes the form of tomato sauce. I always start with a foundation of olive oil, onion and garlic and build from there - fresh herbs, some cured pork product, maybe some breadcrumbs (as shown) but more often grated cheese (Parma, Romano, or another of the fine granas that are out there, or sometimes a goat or a sheep's milk blue. Take your pick.)

As for the tomatoes, here's what I've learned over the years: Screw fresh. A fresh tomato is like mana. The day they start falling from heaven, have at it. Otherwise, don't expect a miracle.

Even in season, they're insulting. Yes, you can grow them yourself, or find a friend, or visit a farmer's market. And this will last about a month, two if it doesn't rain at the wrong time. But in the supermarket stalls, where beauty is only skin deep, leave the tomatoes where they lay and head for the canned aisles.

The other day, I saw that my usual brand, Cento, now came in a San Marzano selection. These are the famed, elongated fruits that grow beneath Vesuvius in southern Italia, in the province of Naples (home of pizza) and in the shadow of Pompeii. Tomatoes ooze here like hot lava.

The flavor of San Marzano: richer, tangier, meatier more intense. At least the can of them I bought at Judy Allen's Brookside shop.

But even Hunt's kicks king hell out of the so-called fresh tomatoes. To my taste, anyway.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Attic door



The bresaola is a week out. Due to a sudden surge in temperature, I had to remove it to the garage closet that leads to the attic. That's the attic door above. So far, nothing has come from within those dark rafters to invade my stash, but we've still days to go. The smell has dissipated, the acidic, salty, meaty aroma. Let's hope it didn't take the flavor with it.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Ginger

Whenever I get sick — Thursday, with a sinus infection that had me shaking beneath covers — my wife feeds me ginger. That night, she brewed up a delicious carrot puree soup studded with ginger, bacon and cilantro. When a sinus attack hit me in France, she made me slice up some garlic (the hard, juicy rose du Tarn garlic) and ginger, bring the batch to simmer in a sauce pan, and stick my face over it to suck up the fumes.

There’s something soothing in ginger, despite the odd knob look of it. Garlic, too. When I’m sick, I like getting back to my roots.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Onion soup

I don’t have a picture of it: It’s in my head.

There are a couple of secrets to onion soup that I think are worth hammering home. You can fudge your way through it otherwise, but there a two things you can’t skimp on. Wine and cheese.

When you buy your onions, buy the sweetest there are. Not purple. Slice them thinly and caramelize in butter, but don’t sear the edges. Oh, maybe a little. When they’re good and jellified, deglaze with a quarter-cupful of very drinkable white wine. (For a twist, you might even deglaze with an ale, but make it a good one, too.) Stir up the sticky bits and wait for the liquid to all but evaporate.

You don’t have to use home-made stock for a foundation, but if you don’t, mind the salt. Stir the onions into a batch of stock, enough to keep them floating. Cook it for a bit to let it mingle and share skin. Now’s a good time to toss in some thyme — only fresh leaves — if you have them growing out back, or chilling in the fridge.

Assuming you’ve made your crouton (from a baguette, oven-crisped and salt-and-peppered, now lying wait in the bottom of a soup bowl), grate your cheese. I recommend the following: a cave-aged Gruyere. One, it’s available, and not terribly precious. Two, it’s glorious, rich and fruity, a perfect balance to the sweet onion. (Number two choice: an aged Gouda. And I mean aged, hard to the touch, not doughy.)

Some like to stir a bit of flour into the onions as they near the end of cooking, before the wine. That’s old school. Let the crouton manage this end. There is a risk you’ll add too much flour and get a pasty taste. Awful.

To the crouton in the bowl, add enough onion to nearly fill, then wet with enough stock to make the onions swim, then grate onto them a liberal batch of cheese. When you broil, look for coloring, but only slightly. Unless you like a well-burnt cheese, which is no horrible thing. I’d pull it either way, though, if it starts to bubble and squeak.

To drink: More of the white, if you have ample. In fact, make sure you do. A good red is in order, but something about the white — a dry one — makes this soup come to life.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Pint

About this time every year I pine for a Guinness. Anybody know where I can get a good one?

Cellar temp, inch of cream, proud of the rim, in an actual pint glass?

Anybody?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Suits me fine

I’ve decided to begin wearing a suit of clothes a least once a week, having bought one for the first time in a decade, the previous 10 years being not suited to suits, a la mode.

Alongside it, I’m thinking I’ll shake martinis twice — probably Tuesday and Friday, like my man Denny Byrne, but I’m not going to hold myself to it. The two days, yes, the Tuesday and Friday, not so sure. I like a bit of spontaneity, still. And then there’s Thursday, when Lou and the crew do Zig Zag in Seattle, where Murray Stenson pulls magic from bottles. So, Thursday and ... Sunday.

One thing I need, though, is shoes. I have to get a new pair of shoes. I did it with my olives — settling once and for all, for now, on Santa Barbara — and now I shall turn my attention to shoes. I like the pair Matthew Goode wore to the London premiere of “Watchmen.” Them are shoes, I’m tellin’ ye.