Saturday, April 30, 2016

Conchiglie, red sauce

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Eastside Road, April 29, 2016—

VERY UNUSUAL : not penne tonight, but conchiglie, shells. To my taste they're even better at holding the sauce, and this sauce is worth holding: Last summer's tomatoes, made into sauce and canned by my marvelous Cook; and of course the soffritto of onion and garlic; and bay leaves from the tree in our dooryard, and salt and black pepper, and that whiter-than-innocence heap of grated parmagiano. Yes: let's promote pasta with tomato sauce to the Hundred Plates.

Green salad; then a tangerine.

Salice Salentino, 2012

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Gnocchi alla romana

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Eastside Road, April 28, 2016—

EITHER BECAUSE AGE brings with it increased tolerance, or more likely because cuisine in general really has improved in recent years, gnocchi don't seem to be as problematic as they used to be. There was a time when you could count on restaurant gnocchi being rubbery at best, hard and gritty at worst. Now we order them fairly often, in "Italian" restaurants from here to Los Angeles, and are rarely reminded of the bad old days.

But those are almost invariably potato gnocchi, and sometimes probably from a commercial kitchen, ordered in quantity, frozen. What about the genuine Roman article, semolina gnocchi?

We'd invited a couple of friends to dinner who do not eat meat, and Cook decided this was the perfect time to try her hand at gnocchi alla romana. She found a recipe in Carla Bardi's Flavvours of Italy: Rome and the Provinces of Lazio (Florence: McRae Books, 2000)— an interesting recipe, I think, and disarmingly simple: you scald milk, slowly dissolve semolina into it, add butter, egg yolks, grated parmesan and gruyère; then spread the mixture out on a board, cut discs from it using a water glass, layer these into a baking dish, sprinkle with grated parmesan, pour melted butter over, and bake.

Let's look at the etymology of gnocchi:

derivato dal veneto gnòco, "protuberanza", "gnocco" di possibile derivazione dal longobardo knohhil , "nodo nel legno"
Clearly this semolina dish has an affinity with the potato version, and perhaps derives from it: soft, dumpling-like paste, manipulated, then cooked. Butter and cheese (and don't forget the pepper: Bardi stipulates white pepper, fresh-ground).

In any case, absolutely delicious, light as a feather, yet filling. With the gnocchi, slow-cooked (oven-roasted) broccoli and cippollini; afterward, green salad. And dessert! Vanilla ice cream with sweet and sour cherries and black currants!

Timorasso: Derthona, Vigneti Massa, Monleale (Piemonte), 2012: complex, forthcoming, fragrant, floral, rather weighty, marvelous

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Thursday, April 28, 2016

Ground lamb

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Eastside Road, April 27, 2016—

TWO GASTRONOMICAL REMINDERS of long long ago today. First, on my walk in to town this morning, I noticed the ornamental dark-leaved plum trees along Old Redwood Highway were dropping fruit, just as they did in the 1950s in Berkeley. These trees are often planted as ornamentals, and I think they are supposed to be sterile, but now and then you just can't suppress Dame Nature.

I don't like these trees. They're nice-looking a week or so of the year, when they're in bloom. Otherwise they're dark and gloomy, with their sullen reddish-brown foliage. And to tell the truth the fruit isn't really very good, though biting into one this morning had a refreshing astringency.

But when we were first married, and poor as churchmice, we picked these fruits from the Berkeley sidewalk trees. We didn't eat them raw, of course; they're far too sour for that. We cooked them into a sort of fruit soup, with a few raisins and maybe some rice, and enough sugar to overcome their inherent unfriendliness.

Then tonight what should Cook put before me but this lamburger. Sixty years ago we ate a fair amount of ground lamb. It cost twenty-five cents a pound at the Blue and Gold Market, on Shattuck Avenue in downtown Berkeley. We couldn't affort it more than a couple of times a month, but when we could we feasted on it, usually doctoring it with cumin, as I recall.

I think Cook remembered the cumin jar tonight. There was that vaguely North African taste. Sonoma County Meat Company doesn't fatten their lamb sufficiently, in my opinion; this ground lamb was pretty dense between the teeth. But it tasted good, and who can resist succotash ?

Green salad ; delicious cardomom-coconut tea cake from Little Bee in San Francisco ; apple.

Salice Salentino, as before

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Unusual eating day

Eastside Road, April 26, 2016—

IT WAS A BEAUTIFUL spring day, just right for a drive in the country with a couple of good friends, exploring the wild mountains above Lake Sonoma and visiting a couple of wineries along the way.

Lunch was picnic-style, out of a cooler and paper bags, and delicious: finnocchiona, mortadella, and rousette de Lyon; bread from Downtown Bakery and Creamery and Preston Farms and Winery; guacamole from Big John's; a bottle of Lou Preston's Rosé. You could spend the whole day at Lou's winery, relaxing with the cats and the bottles, but we had a tour to take.

After which, why not stop off in Healdsburg for a supper? I settled for half a dozen oysters on the half shell — only a few more days until May! — and a share of Lindsey's hord-cooked eggs with salsa verde and those marvelous pickled peppers. And, after a day of wine-tasting,


•Campo Fina, 330 Healdsburg Avenue, Healdsburg; 707-395-4640

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Monday, April 25, 2016


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Eastside Road, April 24, 2016—
ANOTHER ONE-DISH meal: Harira, a Moroccan soup whose recipe seems to have been clipped from a magazine. It involves chickpeas, canned tomatoes, an onion, celery, butter (!), turmerick, pepper, cinnamon, cilantro, lentils, broken-up pasta, and chopped parsley, all in a chicken or vegetable broth.

Sticks to the ribs, it does, and satisfies, even after an eight-mile hike involving a couple of thousand feet of elevation change.

Salice Salentino, Epicuro, 2012: serviceable

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Eastside Road, April 23, 2016—

WE USED TO PLAY a game at the dinner table, forty years ago, when the children were small: what five foods would you choose if you could only choose five? Of course a certain amount of cheating went on. Onions and garlic, for example, were immediately declared to be "wild," available outside the strictures of the game. Ditto such things as salt.

I generally settled on Sheep, Olives, Grapes, Figs, Wheat. But after tonight's dinner I wonder if we don't have to increase the magic number to a half dozen, so that Cod may be included.

I've prattled on before, here on this site, on the glories of salt cod. When we travel we generally manage to be in salt cod countries, and enjoy bacalau, baccalà, brandade de morue, stockfish, and the like. But fresh cod is almost as great a pleasure and as sustaining a nourishment. Even when in fact it is not fresh but frozen.

Cook prepared it simply, sautéing it with just a bit of, well, salt, in the black iron skillet. And she served it with her new invention: Romanesco (or was it simply broccoli) cooked fairly slow with potatoes and cipollini. (Cipollini are also to be found wild, like stawberries.) Green salad afterward, and fruit.

Cheap Pinot grigio

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Saturday, April 23, 2016

Bread, cheese, and succotash

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Eastside Road, April 22, 2016—

LIFE IS NOT all beer and skittles, and not every dinner is hand-crafted to perfection. Some nights we prefer speed and simplicity.

Tonight, after a day in the city (where we had delicious savory tarts at a friend's bakery), and after an excellent Martini at home, we settled for a simple supper: Gorgonzola and Brie on toast; succotash from, yes, the freezer; a green salad; fruit.

It's a good life.

Cheap Pinot noir
Little Bee Bakery, 521 Cortland Ave, San Francisco; (415) 595-4744

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