Earlier this week my friend Nora filmed a movie at my house for a school project. She is using black and white film and wanted to film me doing something with squid ink. After a little research, I found this incredible recipe for calamari cracklings at one of my favorite food blogs, Ideas In Food. Here's what my own squid chips looked like
I haven't seen the footage yet, but Nora says it's very "dramatic." She'll have a digital version in a week or two. I'll be sure to post it here."
After the shoot I had plenty of squid ink left over, so I just had to make something else black. I made tofu. I've been wanting to recreate store-bought baked tofu at home for a long time, and this seemed like a good opportunity. The texture turned out just like I wanted. I'm quite pleased. To make the tofu, I began by compressing the block in between two plates weighed with a cast-iron frying pan. Be sure to purchase extra-firm tofu for this task, otherwise, it will collapse under the weight. After about an hour the tofu firmed up significantly. I made a marinade of squid ink, fish sauce, lime juice and brown sugar, then sealed the tofu in a ziplock bag overnight. The next day, I baked the tofu on a wire rack at 260 degrees for about four hours. Meanwhile I reduced the marinade, and thickened it with a little cornstarch, then laquered the tofu every 30 minutes or so. Here's what the end product looked like:
Pretty cool, huh? Oh! Oh! And here is a picture of that Lamb Sandwich with the Fava Beans Puree: Ok folks – see you next time!
Fava beans, also known as broad beans, are my favorite springtime treat. They are delicious and also a total pain to prepare – painful because the beans must be shelled twice, first to extrude the beans from their pods and then again, after blanching, to remove their tough outer skin.
Truth be told, I actually love peeling fava beans. There is something therapeutic about it – you just zone out and do your thing. And if you can convince your friends to help, it's a great way to spend an afternoon. If anyone out there has never brought home a bag of favas I've illustrated the process above, along with some pictures of a puree I made with homemade ricotta, mint, and olive oil.
Homemade ricotta? Why yes. It turns out that making ricotta at home is actually very easy and yields superior results to the store bought variety. It might also be cheaper, but I'll have to do some more research to say so definitively.
Ricotta, literally "recooked", in Italian is traditionally made by recooking the whey leftover after curdling milk in cheesemaking. I've made ricotta like this before, while making fresh mozzarella and it's absolutely incredible, but the method has a disappointing yield, maybe 4-5 tablespoons of ricotta from a quart a milk. For the puree above, I used a a simpler, higher yield alternative.
All you need is:
Half a teaspoon of cirtric acid disolved in 1/4 cup of water (I found mine at the Damascus bakery in Park Slope, adjacent to Sahadi's)
A quart of the best, least pasturized, unhomogenized milk you can find (I like Ronnybrook)
To make the ricotta:
Slowly heat the milk and a pinch of salt in a saucepan, stirring constantly to avoid scorching.
Once the milk reaches 190 degrees F, stir in the citric acid
Remove the milk from the heat, let it sit for about half an hour, during which time the milk will separate into curds and whey. If the milk doesn't separate, add a little more citric acid and wait it out.
Finally, Line a colander with cheesecloth, then strain the contents of the pan, tie the four corners of the cheese cloth together and hang for another half hour
It's that easy. If you're feeling ambitious, you can also get an even higher yield and make some legitimate ricotta by recooking your leftover whey. Simply repeat the recipe, but omit the citric acid.
To make my Ricotta-Fava Bean puree:
Combine 1 cup of ricotta, 3 cups fava beans (about 3lbs before shelling), and about 20 mint leaves in a food processor.
Turn the machine on and slowly drizzle about 1/2 cup of extra virgin olive oil, to emulsify the the puree (I used Olave).
Season with salt, lemon.
If necessary, thin the puree with warm water, keeping in mind that the puree will thicken significantly as it cools in the fridge.
If you put too much cheese or olive oil in the mixture, it may break and turn in to an oily mess that resembles green spackle. If this happens to you, as it has happened to me – fear not! It'll be a pain but you can save your puree with another handful or two of beans. Just empty the food processor, puree the new beans and slowly add broken puree back in – just like you would fix broken mayonnaise. The puree is great on toast. In the picture above, put some extra fava beans and mint on top and grated some Parmesan. Stay tuned for a lamb sandwich later this week.
Alright. I'm back, after an inappropriate month-long hiatus. Since we last spoke, ramp season has pretty much run it's course. We've only got a week or two, max.
The good news is that you can enjoy your ramps year-round if you act now and preserve them. One popular, delicious option is to pickle your ramps. Another, less commonly suggested, is to make a compound ramp-butter. I like this second option. A few ramps go a long way, and while pickled ramps taste great, this butter gives me the same flavor I crave when I think of spring.
The process was simple: I separated the leaves from the root ends of my ramps, then blanched the two parts separately in salty boiling water, leaving the larger root-ends to cook for just a few seconds longer. Afterwards, I dried the ramps as much as I could and pureed them in my food processor. I wanted the butter to have a smooth texture and a bright green color, so afterwards I pushed the puree, with a ladle, through a fine mesh strainer, ensuring a smooth consistency. Finally I folded the puree into a pound of butter at room temperature, seasoned aggressively, and rolled the butter into torchons.
I've found that this ramp butter will hold in the fridge for a couple of weeks, and almost indefinitely in the freezer.
As for what to do with the butter, there are plenty of options. Of course, it's really, really good on toast. Eggs, slowly scrambled with parmesan and lots of ramp butter is heavenly. Pasta is good too. Ramps and pasta are always good. In the picture below, I combined pecorino, ramp butter and parsley.
Quick side note on the pasta: I've been using this brand lately which has totally changed my pasta life. It's called Rustichella d’Abruzzo. It's the same brand that Franny's uses for all of their pasta dishes. It's a family run business, which has been producing superior dried goods since 1924. Their pasta is slowly dried at a low temperature and extruded using a bronze mold which produces coarser, starchier pasta that absorbs sauce better and has a wonderful, dense flavor.
Is it pricey? Yes it's pricey – about 6 bucks a pound at Whole Foods. I like to think of it as an affordable luxury. Sure, it's expensive for pasta, but it's not, say, expensive for dinner.
Ok that's it folks. Tune in later this week for fava beans, and maybe some bone marrow or celery soda.
After letting my pickled pork shoulder sit for four days, I was ready to cook up the beans for Sunday's sunny BBQ. The method I used here is the one I like use for all beans: slowly saute all the aromatics, then transfer everything into a deep pan. Cover with salted water and braise at a low temperature in the oven.
For 1.5 lbs Red Kidney Beans, I used:
2 large onions
3 stalks celery
1 bell pepper
4 cloves garlic
4-5 sprigs fresh oregeno
4-5 springs fresh thyme
1 tbps cayenne
1.5 lbs pickled pork
About beans and salt: I like to season my beans aggressively from the outset. There is an old adage which warns against seasoning your beans too soon, because the salt allegedly toughens the beans. I have never found this to be true. On the contrary, I have found that beans seasoned early are plump and delicious. Also, by seasoning early, the beans have a chance to absorb the salt as they cook. If they are seasoned after the braise, they won't have the same opportunity – imagine cooking an unseasoned steak, then sprinkling some salt on at the end.
Also, I chose not to soak my beans. My reasoning was to give the pork adequate time to braise along with the beans. Red Kidney Beans take a relatively short amount of time before they become tender, about 3 hours. If I had soaked the beans, they would have turned to mush by the time the pork had become tender.
This was probably the best batch of beans I have ever cooked up. My only regret was that I used too little pork. I discovered half-way through the pickling process that the pickled shoulder meat was delicious sliced thinly and seared on a smoking-hot cast-iron pan or grill. By the time it came time to cook the beans, I had already gone through a third of my pickle.
On the east coast, for the next couple of weeks, we get a treat: ramps, the first green vegetable of the growing season are the temperamental, wild member of the allium family (garlic, onions, shallots), usually described as a cross between leeks and garlic. Before moving to New York, I never ate a ramp. They only grow on the east coast, and unfortunately, they're an endangered species in Quebec, where I went to college. east coast delicacy
I'm glad I'm eating them now. They're beautiful, and delicious – much more so than the garlic-leek comparison can express. They also come quite dirty and are relatively expensive thanks to excessive demand, a short growing season, and the inevitable mania that signals the end of winter. Look for Rick Bishop from Mountain Sweet Berry Farm at the Union Square Greenmarket. He's the the go-to guy for ramps, usually standing in front of a wooden placard signed, with recipes, from celebrated chefs from around the city.
To clean your ramp, first give it a preliminary bath in cold water to wash away the majority of the dirt. Then, cut off the root-end with a pairing knife, like you would a scallion. Slide off the slimy outer layer that surrounds the bottom of the stock, and finally submerse the whole plant in cold water again, taking care not to leave any dirt in the folds of the top leafs.
At this point, depending on how you want to cook your ramps, you may want to section off the leafy green top from the root end, reserving for use like you would a spring onion. I used my ramps this way for a pasta dish: Linguine with Ramps, Cockles and Calabrian Chiles
I sauteed the ramp roots with with the cockles and chiles in white wine, then added the pasta and folded in the leafs off the heat.
Alternatively you can leave the plant intact and saute, or ever better, grill them whole, like I did here. Charred Ramps and Pickled Pork
Incidentally, the pork shoulder I pickled turned out to be unexpectedly delicious sliced thinly across the grain and charred on a white-hot grill.