Everything Old Is New Again

Back before the great flood when I was in grammar school, Meatless Monday was actually Meatless Friday. While my classmates were all eating tuna salad sandwiches, my very (as it turns out) forward thinking mother would make us sardine (from a tin) sandwiches with slice a slice of onion on white toast. Needless to say, not everyone was a fan of sardines, plus they looked so weird and had their own, shall we say, fragrance. Didn’t matter to me, I loved them.

Fast forward to current times. One cannot swing a yoga mat today without seeing a story in food magazines, on TV or on line about the huge plusses of sustainable seafood. Guess what? “Tinned fish” are in and in a huge way and fall into that very category. According to an article I just read, those tins that carry products from Spain and Portugal are packed right out of the water and the contents are among the healthiest fast foods to consume. The packaging is irrestible, almost centerpiece worthy for a casual tapas dinner. Finally, you are doing your part to partake of items that won’t destroy the oceans. So here are some ideas to use those products in some cool and delicious (and easy to prepare) ways and still feel virtuous in their consumption.

Some of what I have in my pantry. Back a bit, I posted a recipe for Sardine butter, puree a tin of sardines with a stick of butter and spread on toast or crackers. The same can be done with mackerel. These two fish are not only delicious, but also good for you (hello Omega 3). The tinned octopus and or squid can just be served on a pretty plate with a toothpick inserted for easy eating. Squeeze a bit of lemon juice on top because, why not? My new favorite is that cod liver stuff. Nobu served monkfish liver and the world craved it. This is much cheaper and easier to find and work with. It is almost like a pate. I serve it with a simple salsa verde (parsley leaf, capers, lemon zest, chopped olives if you like, a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste). Spread on a plain cracker. A quick, easy, and fancy bite.

If you want something more substantial, open a tin of your choosing, chop the contents and toss all with pasta. Instant sauce. Want to dress up a salad? Same thing, and the dressing is already made for you, just a squeeze of lemon juice or a splash of vinegar to cut some of the richness.

So where do you find this magical stuff? Pretty much at any supermarket. Check the international aisles not for the products from Spain or Portugal because those countries provide the best of these items. WWW.tienda.com carries many more specialty items from Spain which might not be available at the supermarket. Uber Chef Jose Andres has a line of products as well. Check the web, and you will come up with more purveyors. Search specialty markets in Europe if you happen to be there, you will find these goodies in their aisles as well. I was fortunate enough to have friends bring back a few items for me just recently, God bless them.

At the end of the day, keep a few tins around, and the next time Meatless Monday (or any day) rolls around and you are hungry, break out a two slices of bread, toast them, add a slice of onion and thank my mom. Like I said at the outset, everything old is new again.

Too many onions.

So you finished the holidays, everything put away, and now you have too much of everything including the onions you forgot to use. You could make onion soup, but if you are married to a man who doesn’t really care for it, you have to think of something else before they go bad.

Simple and easy way to use them up that doesn’t include kimchi or pickling. Slice them as thinly as possible and put into a pot with about a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of a neutral oil. Add about 1/2 cup water and a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. Wait on the salt and pepper, their time will come later. Put the pot on a medium low heat and let the water melt the onions without browning them. Eventually all the water will dissipate (thank you for this great trick Jacques Pepin), and the onions will begin to caramelize a bit. Don’t let them brown. Taste for salt and pepper at this point and season to your liking.

Let them cool, put them in a jar, and serve with sandwiches (for the pesky, non onion soup liking hubby) or on toast with or without avocado, on eggs, on burgers, or however you want. Chop and mix with sour cream and make a grown up version of onion dip to serve with chips (Super Bowl coming!). Takes all of 15-20 minutes to make and works with any color onion. Freeze for later works too!

LAZY LINGUINE VONGOLE

Unbeknownst to me, my fish market closed for good and I promised Linguine Vongole for dinner. So no vongole to be had. What to do? Buy the best canned clams you can find and make the recipe without the shells. Here is what you need for two people: 1/2 pound linguine; 2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced; pinch red pepper; 1-2 cans best chopped clams you can find-drain the juices and reserve; 1-2 tablespoons white wine; handful of arugula; 2 tablespoons butter to finish the sauce.

Set a large pot of water on high heat and when it comes to a boil salt to bring taste of the water to the taste of seawater. Meanwhile, thinly slice the garlic, drain the clams (reserving the juices) and rinse them thoroughly to remove any tinny taste. 2 minutes before the pasta is done, in a separate pan, heat a tablespoon or two of olive oil over medium heat and add the sliced garlic. Add a bit of the reserved clam juices (or water if not using the clams, more on that later) to the pan and allow the garlic to steep a bit. This process slows the cooking of the garlic and ensures that it will not burn while you are preparing the rest of the sauce. When the water comes to a boil, add the linguine and cook it to within 2 minutes of the recommended cooking time. Back to the pan for the sauce, add a pinch of red pepper flakes (or to your taste for heat) and stir. When the pasta is done, drain it reserving a cup of the pasta water for use if needed. Add the white wine to the sauce pan and and cook for a few seconds to remove the alcohol taste. Add the clams and their reserved juices to the sauce pan and warm through, no more than a minute, you don’t want to overcook the clams. Toss in the pasta and give everything a good stir. If the sauce looks dry, add a bit of the pasta water. Finish cooking everything together, about another minute or so and taste for seasoning. Add a handful of arugula and the butter and stir, emulsifying the sauce and melting the arugula.

If you don’t eat clams, you can make the sauce the same way just omit the clams. You will need to use more of the pasta water to create the sauce but it will taste just as good. Instead of Linguine Vongole, you will have made Linguine Aglio. If you add a splash of oil to the finished Linguine Aglio, you will have Linguine Aglio ed Olio.

Pour into a warm bowl. Serve with some good bread to soak up the juices. That’s it. It took longer to type this up than it will take to cook! 10 minutes start to finish. Not even enough time to finish a glass of wine! And you won’t miss the clam shells.

Love Apple Confit

Did you know that tomatoes are called love apples in some circles? What better day for this great recipe that is a riff on something I saw in Milk Street Magazine, and it comes together in under an hour. It is perfect for your pre Valentine’s Day dinner aperitivi. It utilizes those pint sized containers of grape or cherry tomatoes that are always around and gives them an elevated status beyond a toss in for a salad. For one pint of tomatoes (a container), you will need 2 cloves of peeled and smashed garlic, 4 Tablespoons of olive oil, a pinch of salt, 1/4 teaspoon sugar, a bay leaf, and 1/2 cup of water. In a heavy duty pot, heat the olive oil over medium high heat and add the garlic. Cook until the garlic is golden, about a minute. Add the remainder of the ingredients and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until all the tomatoes have burst, about 15-20 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent the tomatoes from sticking. After all have burst, reduce heat and continue to cook another 15-20 minutes until the mixture resembles a thick sauce. The oil will come to the top and at that point the mixture is cooked. Set aside to cool. It will continue to thicken. Serve on a slice of good toasted bread for a take on bruschetta with a bit of basil and there you have it. Gluten Free? Just use your favorite gluten free loaf. Or add to an endive leaf. Don’t forget the champagne and a kiss. Happy Valentine’s Day!


This is a great recipe for a spread or something more exotic (that comes later). When I a make my weekly visits to Chinatown, I always end up buying more mushrooms than I need. So there are always packages clogging up the veggie drawer in the fridge. Here is a really tasty and easy way to use them. The finished product can either be used immediately or can be frozen to reuse at a future date. MUSHROOM DUXELLES. What you need for 1 cup of duxelles are 8 ounces of mushrooms of any type or a combination thereof. An aside here–mushrooms generally come in 5 ounce packages so a couple of packages will suffice with a bit left over. Just use the whole package. You won’t go to Duxelles Jail, I promise. Also you will need 2-3 Tablespoons butter, a garlic clove, minced, 2 large shallots, minced (about 3 Tablespoons) and a Tablespoon of chopped parsley. Shallots are the traditional ingredient, but if you don’t have shallots, a small white onion or a few chopped scallions will work to the same quantity. See above comment re Duxelles jail. Now on to how to make. First, chop the mushrooms. I generally do this in the food processor with a few pulses, much easier. You need a fine chop, don’t go overboard and make mush, see photo below. Remove and set aside. Next, also in the food processor, chop the garlic and shallots. You want as fine a mince as you can get, again , see below. At medium heat, melt the butter in a skillet large enough to hold your ingredients, add the garlic and shallots and sweat, don’t brown. The best way to do this is to add some water to the pan with the butter and the garlic/shallot mixture. The water will boil away and while it does that, it will sweat the vegetables. Listen for a sizzle, the louder the sizzle, the closer you are to the right stage. Now add the mushrooms, another pinch of salt and pepper and cook down for about 10 minutes. The mushrooms have alot of water, you need to cook all that out. You want a dried finished product. Stir occasionally and scrape the bottom of pan to avoid burning the mushrooms. After 10 minutes or when mushrooms are dried (see below), add the parsley. Stir through and take off heat. Set aside to cool. At this point, the duxelles can be frozen if not used right away. I generally store in 2 Tablespoon servings in a freezer bag. Here are some great ways to eat. Idea 1: Mushroom crostini are a very popular snack to go with aperitivi in Tuscan cuisine. Just toast some baguette slices and top with duxelles. Idea 2: Seve to your vegetarian friends as mushroom fried rice. Why not, cauliflower fried rice is all the rage, and this is soooo much better! Idea 3: use as a filling for Sunday brunch omelets. Idea 4: thicken gravy to use with roast chicken or for whatever you may be making gravy (that Thanksgiving turkey comes to mind). And now for the mother of all uses. At the beginning of this post I promised you something exotic. As a topping for beef. But not just any beef, easy Beef Wellington. Remember those sheets of puff pastry we used to make straws the other day? Here is another use for them. Traditional Beef Wellington utilizes a large and costly cut of meat. Rather than buying the “chateaubriand”, buy individual filet mignons, one per serving. Cook in your traditional manner until the steaks are 1/2 done. Allow steaks to cool completely. You can do this hours even a day before serving. You need the beef cool because it will help the puff pastry puff and you don’t want to over cook the beef when it goes into the oven a second time. When ready to serve, preheat oven to 350. Melt some butter to top the Wellingtons. Lightly roll out a one of your squares, one for each serving. Place a tablespoon of duxelles on top of each steak and lay a square of pastry on top of all. You can fuss with wrapping if you like, but I promised easy. Place each Wellington on a parchment or silpat lined baking sheet and top with melted butter. If you are artsy, you can slice a design on top of the pastry but DO NOT CUT ALL THE WAY THROUGH! Also, if you have cooked your steak for different degrees of doneness for your guests, you can mark the Wellingtons with either their initials or R for rare, M for medium, or, God forgive me, W for well. Cook for about 20-25 minutes or until pastry is golden and cooked through. Pour yourself a glass of Gigondas, Chateauneuf-de-Pape, Cabernet, whatever you like. You’ve earned it. Your dinner will be gorgeous, easy to prepare, and you will look like a rock star. Bon Appetit!

This is for the carnivores out there, and the idea comes from the grillmaster Steve Raichlen. Steak with board sauce. What you need is your favorite cut of beef, a rimmed wooden cutting board, and for the board sauce, a handful of chopped sage leaves, a handful of chopped rosemary, a handful of fresh oregano, some chopped chives, two or three chopped scallions, a chopped Serrano and a chopped jalenpeno pepper for some heat (omit if you don’t want heat), arugula leaves (optional, or add another green of your choice), and some olive oil. Grill the steak in your own way and to your desired doneness and while it rests after cooking (10 minutes or so) make the sauce on the cutting board. Combine all the herbs and the salad greens if using and add the olive oil. Mix and taste for seasoning. Remember if you have salted your beef not to over salt the sauce. Slice the steak and mix with the sauce on the board and serve. It looks beautiful and it tastes great. Company coming? This meal takes the amount of time you need to cook your steak and rest it. Dinner can be on the table in under 30 minutes. The bonus? Takes seconds to clean up. Not necessarily a nibble, but what a meal. And as shown in the photo, don’t expect any leftovers.

Taking a time out from posting nibbles to give you a recipe for all those end of season tomatoes that are still available. Most vendors now will bag the round or sometimes Roma tomatoes and sell in bulk. Really cheaply. At my market, 4 pounds for 5 dollars. So this is a fool proof idea for tomato sauce that can be made in bulk and frozen in baggies for the winter when the tomatoes are not really good and the jarred sauce is just too expensive. For this recipe which uses 4 pounds and will make roughly 6 cups of puree, you will need tomatoes, freezer quart sized baggies, a covered pot large enough to hold the raw tomatoes, a big bowl, a food mill, some wax or parchment paper (or a silpat if you have), and a cookie sheet. You really do need a food mill for this. You can use a blender, but the seeds will be incorporated into the finished product and make the puree bitter. No one likes bitter tomato sauce (or soup or Bloody Marys). No seasoning whatsoever, you will do that later when you actually put the puree to use. Quarter the tomatoes and put into the pot. The tomatoes will give off enough water as they steam so you do not need any additional liquid which would only dilute the puree. Cover and put on medium heat. Stir occasionally to make sure the tomatoes don’t stick to the bottom of the pot. They will melt down into kind of mush as shown. When done, place your food mill over the large bowl and mill the tomatoes in batches. Include the tomato water. Allow the puree to cool and put 2 cups into each baggie. Lay a piece of wax paper on a cookie sheet (so the baggies don’t stick) and then lay the baggies flat on top. Add another sheet of wax paper and repeat until all the puree is used. Place sheet into freezer. When the sauce has frozen, remove from the cookie sheet and place upright to store (doesn’t take up much freezer space that way). For extra protection, if you want, you can place the bags into a larger baggie. This puree can be used to make your favorite sauce, as a base for tomato soup, and for those boozy brunch Sundays, Bloody Mary mix. It keeps well and the taste of fresh tomatoes in January, when summer seems to be an eternity away, is bliss.