Saturday, October 19, 2019

Arista, Patate Rosse Arrostite, Cavolo Nero

It was Florence, Tuscany. The year was 1430.  The Byzantine patriarch, Bessarion, was visiting the city, which was the center of an oligarchic republic at time.  The visit of the patriarch was an occasion to celebrate. Accordingly, along with the other bishops and cardinals, Bessarion was treated to a feast that included a roasted pork dish.  After eating some of that roast pork, the Bessarion exclaimed, "aristos!" His Tuscan hosts looked at him and then at each other.  After all, what the Byzantine patriarch said was Greek (literally). The Tuscan hosts thought Bessarion was shouting the Greek word for pork; instead, he was really saying "best" or "excellent." 

This is a great story, but it is most likely a culinary myth. "Arista" goes back at least one century before Bessarion set foot in Florence.  Records apparently include references to the roast pork dish going back to the 1200s.  Regardless of when it first appeared, the dish has become one of the culinary cornerstones of Tuscan cuisine.

Indeed, arista is in many ways the porcine equivalent to Bistecca alla Fiorentina, another Tuscan culinary classic.  Like bistecca, arista combines garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper into a crust that infuses those flavors into the meat.  Arista can also be made using a crown roast or a rib roast, which are probably as close to a bone-in cut like a porterhouse.  However, most recipes for arista focus more on cuts like the pork tenderloin than roasts.  Moreover, unlike bistecca, arista works best when it is roasted slow rather than with a sear over extremely hot coals.  

Most arista recipes are relatively the same.  This recipe is a Chef Bolek original insofar that I have taken what I liked from dfferent arista recipes, including some of my own additional ingredients, like the crushed red pepper. 

For this dish, I decide to pair the roasted pork with side dishes of roasted red potatoes (patate rosse arrostite) and sauteed black kale (cavolo nero).  The red potato recipe is rather basic, drawing upon the fundamental ingredients of the rub for the pork roast (rosemary, garlic, salt and black pepper) to underscore the complementary nature of the roasted potatoes.  As for the kale, I am not a big fan of the leafy cabbage.  Still, I am a big fan of balsamic vinegar, which provides some sweetness to balance out the bitterness of the kale. 

In the end, I was just cooking for myself, not a feast for bishops and cardinals.  Yet, as the picture shows, it was nevertheless a personal feast.  Just a couple of bites of the roasted pork is all the explanation one needs for why this recipe has survived over at least 800 years. 

A Chef Bolek Original
Serves 6-8

Ingredients (for the pork loin):
1 boneless pork loin roast (about 3 pounds)
4 springs of fresh rosemary, chopped finely
4 cloves of garlic, minced finely
1 tablespoon sea salt (or more if desired)
1 tablespoon of freshly ground black pepper (or more if desired)
Pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
3 or 4 tablespoons of olive oil (or more if desired)
1 cup of water or white wine

Ingredients (for the red potatoes):
2 pounds of red potatoes, washed, cut into large pieces
1 tablespoon of fresh rosemary, chopped finely
1 tablespoon of garlic, minced finely
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 tablespoons of olive oil

Ingredients (for the kale):
1 bunch of Tuscan kale (or kale), 
     leaves and stems roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced finely
1 shallot, minced finely
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Balsamic vinegar 

1.  Prepare the pork loin.  Brush the pork loin with the olive oil.  Salt and pepper the pork loin generously on all sides.  Then add the minced garlic and rosemary on all sides.  Allow the pork loin to rest for 30 minutes or overnight in the refrigerator.  

2.  Prepare the red potatoes.  In a large bowl add the potatoes, olive oil, garlic and rosemary.  Salt and pepper the potatoes.  

3. Roast the pork.  Heat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.  Place the pork loin roast in the center of a lightly oiled roasting pan.  Add the potatoes around the pork loin roast.  Cook uncovered for 45 minutes.  Check the loin roast and the potatoes. Raise the heat to 450 degrees and cook for another 30 minutes to brown well.  Remove the roast when the internal temperature reaches around 150 degrees Fahrenheit.  Allow the roast to rest for 10 minutes before carving. 

4.  Prepare the kale. Heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the stems, garlic and shallots.  Season with salt and pepper.  Reduce heart to low and cook, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes or until the stems soften.  Add the kale leaves and increase the heat to high.  Cook, stirring the leaves until they have wilted, about two to three minutes.

5.  Finish the dish. Carve the roast into thin slices and serve with the potatoes and kale.


Friday, October 11, 2019

Chesapeake Paella

Recently, as I get myself back into cooking, I have been wanting to make dishes for which I have a strong affinity.  It may be a particular dish, or, particular ingredients.  The problem is trying to find a recipe from which I could work to bring those beloved components together.  I often spend a lot of time looking at recipes, thinking about the preparation set forth therein, and how I could change it or adapt it to something that I want to make and eat.

That is the process that I used when I came across a recipe for a simple shellfish paella.  I love paella, and, I have made that dish a couple of times in the past.  Those efforts were more "earthy," with the use of turkey, artichokes and green beans.  The thought of cooking a shellfish paella was intriguing to me.  But, the thought did not end there.  I went on to think about how I could change the recipe to incorporate some of the flavors and ingredients that I like.  My thoughts turned to familiar shellfish and seafood, such as crab, clams and oysters, all of which can be found in my beloved Chesapeake Bay.

And, the result of my thinking process is a Chesapeake Paella. There are certain ingredients that play a central role in the culinary history of the Chesapeake Bay: crabs, clams and oysters. That triumvirate of seafood would be the center of my paella.  The Chesapeake Paella was ready, at least in concept.

Making that concept a reality, required the solution to a big problem.  Each of the  main three ingredients is that they have wildly different cooking times.  Unshucked oysters become plump morsels in a couple of minutes.  Clams take several minutes longer, depending upon the size.  Soft shell crabs ordinarily take a few minutes in a saute pan, but they would take much longer in the paella pan.  So, I decided on a particular order and process.  The clams would go in first and be covered to allow the heat to start the cooking process.  When the clams started to open, then I would add the oysters and cover again to cook both at the same time.  While the clams and oysters were cooking, I would prepare the soft shells in a separate skillet, adding them to the paella when the crabs were almost finished.

The end result of this effort was a very good paella that drew its essence from the Chesapeake Bay.  I really liked this paella, but, with practice, I think that this could become a really good paella.

Recipe adapted from Simple Shellfish Paella 
by Andrew Zimmern
Serves 6-8
2 cups of paella rice
2 teaspoons pimenton (hot smoky paprika)
1 minced onion
2 tablespoons minced parsley
3 minced garlic cloves
2 pinches saffron
4 cups seafood stock
2 cups of clam juice
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon of white wine
1 cup of clam juice
8 ounces jumbo lump crab meat
8 ounces of little neck clams
8 ounces of raw oysters
2 soft shell crabs
1 tablespoon butter or olive oil
6 ounces of Spanish chorizo sliced thin

1. Begin the paella.  Place a paella pan (12 inch or 16 inch) over medium heat for 2 minutes.  Add the olive oil.  Immediately add the onion, garlic, saffron, pimenton, rice and stir, cooking until all of the ingredients become toasty and aromatic.  Keep scraping the bottom of the pan to avoid scorching or burning of the ingredients, but still working toward carmelization of the ingredients.  

2.  Add the liquid.  First, add the wine and stir as you go.  Then add the clam stock and stir as you go.  Finish by adding the seafood stock, continuing to stir as the liquids simmer and start to be absorbed into the rice.  Lower the heat and continue to cook for about 10 minutes.

3.  Add the seafood. Add the crab meat and stir gently so as to not break up the lumps . Add the clams and asparagus, cover for a few minutes, until the clams begin to open. Remove the cover.  Add the oysters and cover again for only a few more minutes, until the oysters begin to firm.  Remove the cover.  Continue to cook for about 5 minutes.  

4.  Cook the soft shell crabs.  While you are adding the seafood to the paella, heat the 1 tablespoon of white wine and butter in a separate small pan.  Saute the soft shell crabs until cooked through, about 3 to 4 minutes on each side. 

5.  Finish the dish.  Once the rice is just past "toothy" but not mushy, and the remaining liquid is like a sauce, remove the paella from the heat.  Season with salt to taste and sprinkle with the parsley.


Thursday, October 3, 2019

Chesapeake Bay Oysters with Green Mignonette Sauce

It is common to serve a mignonette sauce with raw oysters.  It is a sauce typically made with minced shallots, vinegar and and freshly cracked black pepper. Personally, I think a mignonette sauce is boring.  I almost never use it when I order raw oysters at a restaurant; and, at home, I usually don't bother making it.  

Occasionally, I look for a way to take a boring mignonette sauce and make it into something that I would actually want to grace a raw oyster that is sitting in its shell.  On rare occasions, I try to come up with my own mignonette sauce.  In the end, I more often than not just use a little Tabasco Sauce or grated horseradish with my oysters.  No sauces.

A while back, I came across a recipe for a green mignonette sauce.  The recipe actually looked interesting and, if I dare say so, it looked tasty.  While shallots are used in the recipe, rice wine vinegar and mirin are used as substitutes for vinegar.   The addition of jalapeno and fresh parsley give the mignonette sauce a little character and kick.  Blended together, with a little lemon juice, the result is a sauce that was worth putting on an oyster. 

Recipe adapted from from Veryvera
Serves 2-3

1 dozen Chesapeake Bay oysters, rinsed and shucked
1/4 cup rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup mirin
1 tablespoon minced jalapeno
1 tablespoon chopped shallots
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
Juice from 1 lemon

1.  Prepare the sauce.  Blend all of the ingredients in a blender.  Pour into ramekins to serve with the oysters.  

2.  Finish the dish.  Provide each guest with a ramekin of the sauce.  Spoon a little of the sauce over each oyster.