The Dream of the '90s

Might be just slightly alive.

I had already planned a lot of this week’s menu before I realized that everything I was cooking was a bit of a throwback.  Everything I had jotted down in my notes was summery, pretty simple, a good use of the proteins I had in the fridge … and the dishes were decidedly, unapologetically, perhaps even slightly misused-ironically straight out of the ‘90s.   

Once I realized that, I had to run with it.

So, this week’s menu ended up a tribute to a certain kind of 1990s dining where Californiaized Italian ruled and it was always summer.  It’s from when shrimp were fancy and White Zin was king of the wedding wines. It’s from the popped collar unconstructed blazer 90s that bled over from the 80s, not really the flannel grunge scene 90s – or did that really ever exist?

Quick Ciabatta – a Rerun

This is a rerun.  Not just because this whole newsletter is a 90s tribute, but also because it’s the right bread for this meal.  I included this recipe in the third edition of this newsletter, way back in September of past year.  Back then I went on about how bread makes a meal and … well, it’s not wrong, but it’s also kinda hard to come up with a new bread recipe every week especially when the best loaf for the job is something you’ve already written about.  This menu, this meal, this … dream of the 90s deserves ciabatta.  So, it’s back.  Not a tribute.  Not a clips show.  Just a rerun.  Because it was pretty good the first time around. 

Makes two loaves

2-3 hours, 30 minutes active

500 g bread flour
435 g lukewarm water
7 g instant yeast
10 g Kosher salt

Add the water, yeast, and roughly half the bread flour to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. 

Mix at low speed until all ingredients are fully incorporated.

Add the remaining flour and salt. 

Mix on high until the dough is shiny, has pulled completely away from the side of the bowl, and the dough starts to wrap up and around the paddle. 

Remove the paddle attachment and scrape the dough free. 

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm place until tripled in volume – 35 minutes to 2 hours depending on temperature.

Preheat your oven to 450°F

Punch down the dough and divide into two even pieces. 

The dough will be very sticky, so flour your hands generously and/or use a bench scraper to handle the dough.

On a lightly-floured surface, shape the dough into two even rectangles, folding the ends under to form low rectangular loaves. 

Carefully lift the loaves onto a sheet pan lined with lightly-greased parchment.

Allow to proof in a warm, moist place for 25 minutes.

Bake at 450°F until browned.

Cool. 

Serve with olive oil scattered with herbs.

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Stone Fruit Salad with Prosciutto

I associate melon and prosciutto with a certain sort of wine and cheese and passed aps kind of party that – to be honest – I’m not sure I’ve ever been to.  The kind where people wear a lot of pastel colored polo shirts.  Also, I don’t eat melon (I’m allergic to it).  This simple, pretty, kind of mostly salad-like thing is my version of melon and prosciutto – though it’s not really a passed appetizer.

Stone fruits – especially those that are just on the firm side of ripe – are a great balance for the salty richness of dried hams.  You can use speck (essentially a smoked prosciutto) or American dried “Country” ham here as well.  

Serves 4 as a salad

2 firm peaches
2 firm plums
2 firm apricots 
¼ lb prosciutto, speck, or other dried ham
4 tbsp crumbled ricotta salada or other dry crumbly cheese
1 clove garlic
2 tsp balsamic vinegar
1 tbsp olive oil
½ tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp ground black pepper

Peel, trim, and crush or microplane the garlic into a non-reactive bowl. 

Add the vinegar and allow to sit 5-15 minutes for the harshness of the garlic to diminish.

Whisk in the olive oil.  

Add the black pepper and half the salt to the dressing.

Cut the fruit into quarters lengthwise, discarding the pits.  

Cut each quarter in half, across the length, so that each piece can stand on its own.

Arrange the fruit pieces on a plate.

Weave the prosciutto or other ham pieces through the fruit.

Scatter crumbled cheese over the fruit and ham.

Drizzle with dressing.

Garnish with fresh herbs (basil flowers are awesome), pop/repop your collar, and loudly complain that the service was better at the club when Reagan was still president. Sarcasm, of course.

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Pasta with Shrimp and Pesto

It’s pesto season.  I know it’s pesto season because approximately one third of our garden is now basil plants.  Or it was until yesterday, when I ripped a lot of it up and made it into pesto.  I did that both because you know, pesto season, and because I needed to do so before it totally took everything over and the garden ceased being a garden and started being “the basil place.” 

Traditional Genovese pesto includes pine nuts.  Pine nuts can be expensive and hard to find – so in a lot of cases I substitute other nuts.  For this recipe, I use slivered almonds, which lend a well, almond, flavor to the dish.  It goes well with fish or chicken, but so does almost any pesto.  Traditional Genovese pesto is also made in a giant mortar and pestle that I don’t have.  I have a tiny little one.  It’s hard to make pesto in a tiny little mortar and pestle.  It’s actually hard to make pesto in a giant mortar and pestle too, which is why I use a stick blender.  I’m not Genovese and using a blender  is not that hard.  Best of all, it’s fast. 

I garnished this with basil flowers and a pinch of Aleppo pepper, pretty much just for color.  I mean for color that wasn’t aggressively green.

Serves 4 as a pasta course

1 lb dried squared spaghetti, angel hair, or other thin pasta
½ lb peeled deveined shrimp
2 cups loosely packed Genovese or other sweet basil leaves
4 cloves garlic
½ cup slivered almonds
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup finely shredded parmesan or Romano cheese
1 tbsp unsalted butter
½ tsp kosher salt
¼ tsp ground black pepper

Prepare a large pot of well salted boiling water.

Optional: Add the pasta to a sheet pan and cover with water. Soak until soft. 

Peel, trim, and coarsely chop the garlic.

Add the garlic, basil leaves, almonds, olive oil, and cheese to a tall container and use a stick blender or food processor to process until smooth. 

Add the pasta to the boiling water and cook according to package directions, or (if you’ve soaked it) cook until just barely al dente – about 2 minutes.

Add the butter to a sauté pan over medium heat.  Once the butter has stopped foaming, add the shrimp, and cook, tossing or stirring frequently, until pink and just firm.

Add the pesto mixture to the pan with the shrimp. 

Add ¼ cup of pasta water and stir or toss to combine well.

Add the pasta to the pan and toss to coat well.

Arrange the pasta on a plate and top with the shrimp. 

Garnish with fresh herbs and ask the person next to you what grunge music is.

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Charred Broccoli Rabe with Honey, Garlic, and Balsamic Vinegar

If you’re a regular reader, and I know you are because there just aren’t that many new subscribers lately, you know my love for bitter things – especially bitter salads.  Since this week’s salad is pretty much the opposite of bitter, I really thought I should include something to balance that anomaly.  Broccoli Rabe is bitter.  Sometimes bracingly, alarmingly so.  It’s also flavorful, crunchy (if prepared well) and a foil for richer, sweeter flavors.  I like it with a little acid (aged vinegar in this case) and a tiny hit of sweetness that almost enhances the bitter nature of the vegetable.  You can, if you don’t want to turn on the broiler or bother with a grill, simply pan sear the rabe, but I like it with a good bit of char, so I’ve gone the old live fire route.

Serves 4 as a side

1 lb Broccoli Rabe
2 cloves Garlic
2 tsp olive oil
2 tsp balsamic vinegar 
2 tsp honey
1 tsp kosher salt

Prepare a large pot of heavily salted boiling water and an ice bath.

Quickly blanch the broccoli rabe in the boiling water for 1 minute, then shock in the ice bath.

Drain well.

Peel, trim, and mince the garlic.

Set your broiler or grill on high, and cook the broccoli rabe until it just begins to char.

Drizzle with olive oil, honey, and balsamic vinegar.

Top with minced garlic and season with kosher salt.

Serve immediately.

Turbot with Fennel and Herb Beurre Blanc 

First, let me say that you can probably make this dish with nearly any flakey white fish – cod, flounder, sole, etc.  I say that because I don’t want you to see “Turbot” and either wonder what this has to do with engines, or think you’ve got to run around finding a fishmonger that has turbot.  I do like saying turbot though.  It’s a fun word.

I also like fennel.  The mild anise flavor is great with fish.  This preparation uses the green stems and the skin of a filet to make a simple but flavorful fish stock that – once we’ve added a lot of butter - we’ll use to poach the fish itself.  While it might seem a little fussy, it’s actually a quick and easy dish, and it feels a lot fancier than it really is.

Serves 4 as a fish course

1 lb turbot filet, skin on
½ cup dry white wine
½ lemon
1 green onion
1 bay leaf
1 stick unsalted butter
1 small fennel bulb
2 tbsp finely minced parsley
2 tsp kosher salt

Carefully slice the skin from the filet.  

Pat the filet dry, and set aside.

Add the skin, the green onion, ½ lemon, 2 fennel stems, and the bay leaf to a pot with 2 cups of water.

Bring to a low simmer and cook for 20 minutes.

Strain and discard the solids.

Cut the butter into cubes.  

Working a little at a time, whisk all the butter into the hot liquid.

Season with salt and return to the stove over low heat.

Thinly slice the fennel bulb – discarding the tough root end - and add the slices to the sauce mixture.

Gently place the fish into the stock and butter mixture.

Poach until cooked through – generally only 3-5 minutes.

Gently remove the fish from the cooking sauce.  

Add the minced parsley and some fennel fronds to the sauce,  stir in well,  and ladle some of the sauce - including the fennel slices - over the fish to serve.  

Garnish with more fennel fronds and parsley.

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Iced Coffee Panna Cotta

After a bit of a stressful morning yesterday, I poured myself an iced coffee.  I filled a glass with some crushed ice, good whole milk from a local dairy, and poured a couple shots of espresso on top of it.  It layered up perfectly, and right then I knew what I was going to make for dessert this week.  A simple, layered, coffee and milk panna cotta.  

It’s pretty, pretty easy – and it’s pretty damned 1990s as well.  

Serves 4

1 cup heavy cream
1 cup whole milk
½ cup granulated sugar
4 oz espresso
5 tsp or five leaves gelatin
½ tsp vanilla extract

Add the milk, cream, sugar, and vanilla to a thick bottomed pan and bring to a low simmer.

Once hot, transfer 1/3 of the mixture to another thick bottomed pan.

Add the hot espresso to the smaller batch.

Divide the gelatin evenly between the two batches, and stir until completely dissolved

Carefully pour the un-coffeed portion into juice glasses, filling approximately halfway.

Place the glasses into the refrigerator to set for at least 1 hour, and up to 3 hours. 

Gently re-heat the coffee infused portion and pour over the firmly set cream portion. 

Return the layered desert to the refrigerator to set for 2-4 hours.

Top with powdered sugar, whipped cream, or a character from Singles not-so-gently informing you that you’ve ordered your coffee incorrectly.