"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, April 22, 2011

Ron’s Recipes, Tuscany, and the Great Brasseries of Paris


A few years ago, my daughter gave me one of the best birthday gifts I have ever received – a blank book.  She said in the inscription: “This book is for recording your tasty recipes and special creations.  Maybe one day you’ll write a Parlato cookbook…”

The blank book is almost filled, so I thought I would start transcribing them, and giving some thoughts about each one.  I will do 4-5 per posting.  An important NOTE – these recipes are for people who know a bit about cooking.  The proportions are approximate, and in all cases, feel free to add or subtract.  My idea in the recipes is to give you the idea of a dish and the ingredients that go in it.  I have tried to be as accurate as possible on the amount of ingredients, but don’t slavishly follow the directions.

There are over 100 recipes; so I will simply begin at the beginning, noting those that are my particular favorites.

Papardelle with Sausage, Mushrooms, and Rosemary

The combination of Italian sausage, mushrooms, and rosemary is a classic.  It is Tuscan in inspiration, but the rosemary is Mediterranean.  The papardelle (very thick ribbon pasta) is perfect with the meat sauce.  Tuscan cooking is heavier than Mediterranean, lots of meat and beans…and all served with unsalted, crunchy crust whole wheat Tuscan bread.  Pasta fagioli  or pasta with beans (in Napolitan dialect “pasta fazool” ) is a delicious blend of garlic, celery, bacon, and canneloni beans; and I have always thought close to Tuscan meals.  This recipe, without beans, is delicious:

* Italian sausage (3 links)

* 2-3 cups porcini mushrooms (any dark mushrooms will do), cut in half

* 1/2 cup sherry (Amontillado is best – not too dry, not too sweet)

* 1-2 Tbsp. dried rosemary, crumbled lightly

* 1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil

* 1/2 cup freshly grated Italian parmesan cheese

* freshly-ground pepper and salt

* 1/2 lb. papardelle

- Sautee sausage in the olive oil , remove, and cut into 1” pieces, reserve.

- In the same frying pan, add the rosemary and mushrooms; sautee over high heat until the mushrooms start to get soft.  Add the sherry, keep at high heat, and cook until the mushrooms are done (there should be no liquid at the bottom of the frying pan).  Taste near the end of the cooking to adjust for more rosemary, sherry.  Add salt and freshly ground pepper

- Combine the sausage and the mushrooms and let simmer for about 10 minutes to blend the flavors.

- Boil the papardelle to al dente

- Plate the papardelle and add the sausage/mushroom mix; sprinkle with parmesan cheese.  Serve

Papardelle with Four Kinds of Mushrooms

This is a wonderful variation of the above recipe.  The difference is that you use four kinds of mushrooms rather than one, you leave out the rosemary, and you add cream.  The cream makes all the difference,and gives the sauce a particular richness and a bit of a French touch. You can use your imagination with the mushrooms.  I have suggested shiitake as one of the mushrooms because of its particularly earthy flavor; and I recommend a dried Chinese mushroom because these have a very intense mushroom flavor.  You can add others as well.  The Dupont Circle Market on Sundays in the summer has an impressive array of mushrooms, and  I am sure most Farmers Markets do as well.  You want to choose the woodier, darker, more flavorful mushrooms for this dish.

* 4 kinds of mushrooms (porcini, chanterelle, oyster, shiitake etc., as above), cut in half

* 1 dried Chinese mushroom, hydrated, chopped

* 1 Tbsp. butter

* 1 Tbsp. olive oil

* 3 Italian sausage

* 1/2 cup sherry

* 1 cup of half-and-half

* 1 cup grated Italian parmesan

* 1/2 lb. papardelle

Same directions as above; except once the sausages and mushrooms are well combined, add the cream, stir until the mixture gets to a nice brownish hue, season with salt and pepper, serve over papardelle, sprinkle with parmesan and add a few grindings of pepper.

Crab Cakes

I am told these are the best crab cakes anyone has ever eaten, and I am not sure what the secret is, except lots of crab, and a few non-traditional ingredients like flatbreads and red pepper. 

* 1 can/container crab meat.  I used to buy the pasteurized variety from Indonesia,Thailand and available from local supermarkets like Superfresh or Giant.  While this is very good, it is nothing like the fresh crab available from Whole Foods or Farmers Markets.

* 2 medium eggs, beaten

* 1/2 red pepper diced

* bunch parsley , moderately chopped

* 1/2 red onion, moderately chopped

* 1 lg. Tbsp. Mayo (I prefer Hellman’s to the more foodie types with lots of olive oil)

* 1 lg. Tsp. Maille mustard (or other spice French mustard)

* 5 liberal shakes Bay Spice

* freshly ground black pepper

* 5 liberal shakes Tabasco

* 3 “Everything” flatbreads (should have lots of seeds), crushed moderately in blender

* 1 English muffin or other white bread, also crushed in blender.  The bread crumbs should not be very fine

* 1 tsp. baking powder

* 2 Tbsp. flour

* 2 Tbsp. unsalted European style butter

-  Put all ingredients into a large mixing bowl and mix well

-  Let sit in refrigerator for 3-4 hours

- Make 2-3” patties (cakes) and place on waxed paper on dish; sprinkle lightly with flour on one side

- Heat the butter in a cast iron skillet on high heat until almost brown; add crab cakes, side down with the flour; cook for about 5 minutes or until brown

- Flour the other side while in the skillet; and flip when first side is brown; cook over high heat until brown

- Turn down heat to medium, and cook for about 10 minutes or until done.  The crab cakes should be moist inside – not runny or well done, but moist.  This is a key to a good crab cake.


Alsatian Sauerkraut

This is a variation of the classic Paris brasserie choucroute.  The Parisian version is served with ham, smoked pork, and sausage, and is marvelous. When Peggy and I were in Paris for her two month sabbatical a few years ago, we ate in all the great brasseries.  Let me digress a bit, and list of some of the best:

* Brasserie du Terminus du Nord – this place is right across from the Gare du Nord in a slightly sketchy area of Paris serving the northern suburbs, the scene of a lot of the racial violence in the past.  This should not put you off however, because the Metro goes right to the Gare, and the restaurant is across the street.  It is a classic brasserie – Victorian décor, tuxedoed waiters with white towels over their arms, white tablecloths, proper silver.  My favorites in all these places are oysters, briny Fines de Claires and Belons; but the filet of sole, the cold seafood platter (heaped with oysters, mussels, shrimp, araignees de mer, and more), the tourteau (a kind of Dungeness crab), the sauteed liver, and the steak are perfect.  And of course, the Choucroute Alsatienne.

* Brasserie Flo – this restaurant is up towards the periphery of Paris, and to get there you have to walk along the chemin des putains, and the garment district.  A real landmark, and well worth the trip.  Brasserie Julien is similar, but not in such a cool area.

* Le Boeuf Couronne -  You go there for meat, and it is much simpler in design without the Victorian glitz, but the oysters and the meat are superb.  You can combine it with a walk along the Canal St. Martin which is one of the new hipster areas of the city.

La Coupole – this brasserie in Montparnasse used to be THE place to go in the 70s after midnight (and may still be, but now past my bedtime).  The scene was incomparable – a cross between the Bois de Boulogne transvestite scene, the Castro, Andy Warhol.  Everything went down there, everybody was looking for something and usually found it. It is old Victorian and actually has a grand cupola.  After many years going there after midnight, I happened to go there with my sister and very Republican brother-in-law and children for lunch, entirely different scene entirely.  We were with my very Francophile sister-in-law, resident advisor to what one must do and see in Paris.  The brother-in-law ordered curry; and the sister-in-law uttered the now famous and oft-repeated: “Oh, no-no-no-no-NO.  You don’t want to order that”; and the stubborn very American Malcolm of course did eat curry while we winced.

* Le Dome – right next to La Coupole, but very, very different.  I had the best meal ever at Le Dome.  We sat in a glass-enclosed section of the restaurant, right on the sidewalk, bright and sunny, had an exquisite Pouligny-Montrachet grand cru (I can remember the delicate fragrance after seven years as if it were yesterday), and three or four courses of fish and fowl (I think I had game hen). 

* Bofinger, Wepler – these are the over-the-top brasseries where you will for sure get great food, but you go there for the Baroque décor

* Lutetia, Petit Lutetia – both of these brasseries are close to each other, one in the 6th and the other in the 7th.  The Petit Lutetia was my hangout, because it was at the top of the street where we were staying.  It was not done in the grand style (nor the Lutetia, which was famous for housing Nazis during the war).  In both you get the standard brasserie fare – liver, brains, steak frites, oysters, sweetbreads, etc., and I love offal!

* Vagenende – a very unpretentious hangout for the locals of the Latin Quarter.  Wonderful food.

OK, here is my choucroute alsatienne recipe without the big meat:

* 1 lg. head of cabbage, dense (some heads of cabbage are lighter, and so tightly packed), chopped coarsely

* l Vegan bouillon cube (any salt-free vegan or chicken will do)

* 2 cups water

* 1/2 bottle Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre, Pinot Grigio

* 2-3 cups gin

* 2 Tbsp. carroway seeds, lightly pounded in a mortar

* 1/8 lb. bacon whole

* 3-4 bay leaves

* 10 coriander seeds

* 10 peppercorns

* 1 lg. onion, chopped coarsely

* 4 medium carrots, peeled, chopped into 2” pieces

* 4 Tbsp. olive oil

-  Pour water, wine, olive oil, and gin into large pot; add spices; bring to a boil.  Throw in cabbage, onion, carrots.

-  Let simmer for about 1 1/2 hrs. covered and 1/2 hr. covered until there is a scant 1/2 inch liquid on the bottom of the pan.

-  Taste for salt, pepper.  SERVE

If you want to serve with meat, serve with ham and sausage (weisswurst is best) that have been boiled.

Pasta with Porchetta pieces and fresh tomatoes

We spent five glorious 5-week  family vacations in Tuscany.  My children say that whenever they want to relax before going to sleep, they run the tape of the Tuscany vacations – the 400 year old farmhouse in the middle of sunflower fields, breakfasts under the cypress with big bowls of coffee and Tuscan bread with local butter and jam; walks through the Medieval and Renaissance towns close by, and buying the ingredients for a civilized lunch; swims at Lake Trasimeno and drinks under the shade trees watching the vaporettos dock.  It was wonderful.

One of the most special occasions was going for porchetta at the local butchers on Sunday.  The whole suckling pig was roasted all night; and in the early morning carved and served.  My son and I arrived the very first, and the butcher always gave my son the tasty prized morsels – bits of liver, head parts, and snout all in a spicy oregano, thyme, etc. paste.  Ahhh….We ate the luscious slices of roast pork for lunch with good Tuscan bread.

For dinner, I made farfalle with porchetta bits and fresh tomatoes:

* Remainders of the porchetta – bits of whatever was left over, and all the scraps of spices and fat

* Fresh summer tomatoes, chopped

* Handfuls of fresh basil, chopped

* Olive oild

* Salt and pepper

I sauteed the porchetta bits in olive oil until they were very lightly browned.  I added the tomatoes and basil and simmered for about an hour.  Served over farfalle, sprinkled with fresh grated parmesan.

For the porchetta bits, I would substitute roast pork leftovers, especially the salty, seasoned bits by the bone. 



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