Monday, February 23, 2009

A Foray into Spicy...and Baby Octopi/Octopodes/Octopuses!....

Betcha didn't know all 3 forms of plural "octopus" was correct!! (insert suleyman and...progeny joke here). Here's what I made on Fri for dinner: slow simmered baby octopuses in a spicy tomato reduction with asparagus, scallops, shrimp, and squid.

back story! :) all day Friday @ work I had this major fixation with making seared scallops again, but with the porcini risotto i had posted about--and maybe some baked asparagus b/c I was feenin' some greens and baked produce. And when I went to Whole Foods I saw baby octopuses, mussels, shrimp, bass, mexican scallops in addition to the jumbo Cape Cod ones my head kind of exploded!
...and after seeing all these pictures of my friend's crawfish extravaganza and all these clam bakes on Man vs. Food in Boston and Seattle...I had all these ideas running thru my head--and remembering my flight on JetBlue a while back wherein Mark Bittman showed u how to cook octopus around the time I discovered grilled octopus (period) @ Kefi...

I paced back % forth at the seafood counter for like a good half hour and the guy at the counter thought i was nuts b/c i bought half a pound of everything :P I wisely left back the mussels for another day.
Strangely...NO FISH SAUCE in this one!! But I think in some other incarnation of this (which will resemble my mom's shrimp in a tomato/garlic's's like casserole level thickness in sauce).

I also decided that since the octopus/seafood orgy was going to take like at least 45 min to slow simmer, I'd bake myself a version of the asparagus I used to do--but this time with shaved pecorino, lemon, and this Borsari citrus salt I got @ Whole Foods that was particularly intriguing!
I also decided to go with white asparagus to try to break down the difference for my own palate...and with manchego cheese slivers of course. And for shiz and giggles--threw some fresh pecans in there to roast as well!! Def helped calm the flavor :)

I grossly underestimated the flavor reduction in the prosciutto (AGAIN) with the "reduced" pecorino shavings too, so the drippings mixed with the Borsari citrus salt (pretty light hand this time around) with the lemon juice was WAY intense but SO FRICKIN' AMAZING. I mean it felt like I was scrounging around for things to sop up the drippings and was a pretty big hit w/ my roomies too. The manchego melted well and balanced out the strong tart savory flavor with a little musky, "creamy" taste. Maybe a little smokey? I can't pin point the descriptor!

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...not giving it the long sexy foodie fetish name :P...

1/2 pound baby octopus in a sauce pan with 1/4 cup olive oil, 2-3 bay leaves, lightly sauteed shallots/garlic (just personal preference to have both--and I like to put in like half a bulb or more of garlic!!) :) season as u will...dump 2 cups of halved grape tomatoes in there (I ended up throwing in about 4 roma-sized tomatoes diced in there too b/c i like my reduction really thick and tomato-y esp since I don't wanna use tomato paste).

1/2 pound shrimp (maybe less is better), 1/2 pound scallops (the baby/mexican scallops are probaby a better choice), 1/2 pound squid sliced. I seared these lightly b/f dumping them all into the pot to slow simmer for ~45 min on REALLY low heat, stirring occasionally. I tried to add in chili pepper (i usually don't cook spicy) but couldn't taste anything and was worried so I put in pepper flakes...and then cayenne pepper eventually :) It was of adequate heat, suffice to say--even for a chili n00b like me :)...

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wrap thin slices of prosciutto--I think stripping the normal slice into 3 long strips would be ideal. Don't be fooled that it doesn't look pretty or whatever proportional when wrapping it around the thin strips of manchego around the asparagus stalks. Shave some pecorino or parmesan or whatever other cheese u wanna play with. I squeezed half a good sized lemon over it all with a nice sprinkle of the Borsari salt. Bake @ 350-375 for about 15 min. YAY.

Cafe Euro in Balestrate...

Down the st. from Scott & Ange's place in Balestrate--one of the better pasticcerie in all of *ITALY* that we got a chance to go to...I guess...we wanted more of a panificio (bakery) than a sweets shop--but even still...most of them didn't deliver in terms of the breads, pastries, etc in texture etc. Their cornetto/croissants are pretty is most their...carbs we thought =/ Or the pastry cream was wack! Either way...

...lotsa ricotta in these...a bit overwhelming at times but I mean...these things are massssive! TEEHEE!!!!! Their sfoglias and croissants and other stuff are far from flakey either.

The tarts were rather good--the wild strawberries--MAN the fruit toppings/fruit themselves make such a HUGE diff when abroad!! The pastry cream here is also one of the better ones I've tasted in my life too....and look they wrap everything up so prettily!...
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It's also really interesting the diff in bread rise and airy qualities the farther down south you go. Mostly plain jane breads--they serve their purpose =/ But...these from Cafe Euro we thought had the right amount of sweetness and compromise in airiness/bready...whatever it is.

We had what looked like 2 massive cakey/doughey things overflowing with Ricotta--but actually one is like a bombolone (italian donut/beignet) and the other is more...brioche-like.
As u can tell the Italians (esp Sicily) love their almond cookies and pistachio or pine nuts! I can't complain. I think I prefer ricotta over marscapone as well!...SUPER CLOSE-UP OF PISTACHIO COATING!!...:) it was so ...deliciously green and coloured!! And almond-y!


I think this is one of the most fun/funny shots I've taken b/c u can clearly see Karen smiling w/ glee in the background over the foods hehe...

It was perfect weather, perfect lighting, perfect mostly everything in Sicily after so much rain and some ish in Bologna and Florence when we first came in! :) Except for the slow ass non-existent trains that take longer than the bus to get from outside the city into Palermo hehe...SUPER ZOOM on the pistachio topped almond cake!!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Pasticceria Maria Grammatico!...

I was google-ing Pasticceria Maria Grammatico for the address and to freshen up my memory of the 5 diff pastries I had there. Surprise surprise! They have a website (an oddity for many Italian businesses)....AND apparenty Maria Grammatico had released her own biography a while back called Bitter Almonds/Mandorle Amare.

Long story short--born 1940, after the war was sent to orphanage ~11, taught by nuns how to make Sicilian sweets to sell in town, left convent @ 20 to open her own stuffs. I didn't see Maria @ the shop when we were there, just some youngin'.

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This is what most of Erice looked like--narrow cobblestoned alleyways up and down some crazy hills and nooks and winding and...super medieval. Made me wanna gallop on a horse!! and maybe knock over some plebeian dragging a cart of dirty produce! :) more on this later...
A random purchase was a sfoglia with nutella--ur general phylo dough/puff pastry w. chocolate hazelnut-y goodness! Plus we hadn't really eaten brunch yet :P So...i figured I wanted some such a healthy form! ;) didn't want to ruin my appetite for late lunch :P
I wanted to get the 12 or 24 pack of assorted Sicilian sweets but 1--this sh*t is EXTREMELY almost intolerably sweet if ingested in such volume. That and I didn't wanna hafta carry it all back and have it disintegrate on the train ride back to Balestrate! That up there would be the Paradiso cake, the Sospiri, pignola/pine nut almond cake, and pistacchio...marzipan? thingie. Felt like mochi!

There was this...specialty to the region...marzipan with jello and...almond cake i think? We weren't big fans of any major ingredient in there so...we effed it and skipped out. And sat on some mini-porch in the alley by the Cyclopean walls and ate away :) I'm reading all this stuff about how the walls, the convents, church, and castles are dated 1600, 800 B.C. CRAAAAAZY! ^_^

A little bit about the town of Erice--TEENY TINY as HELL. I'd say maybe as big as...what comprises the Lower East Side or maybe....tinier? IT IS TEENY!! But it is the awesomest speck of a town entirely unperturbed by development and commercial tourism. Must post scenic pics later...giant archive...tired...yar! :)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Dinner in Balestrate!...

We're starting w/ Sicily in my....way overdue postings from the Italy trip! Why? b/c I lurved Del Capo market, the sweets in Balestrate & when Angela and Scott (and Karen) made some fantasmic fish and risotto and arancini! and...then the pics from Erice/Trapani! woohoo! and Palermo pizza!

A little..."preview" if u will...(of artsier shots i might not be able to make work in the rest of the entry :P...
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We'll start this all with the dinner in Balestrate complete with my silly "chocolate" tasting with the stash I bought in Pisa. That'll be saved for another post b/c this one is just massive, hehehehe. Now...from the beginning...

We had lovely fennel w/ grated orange zest plus half anorange but u just can't see it in the pics. Fennel fennel fennel...kind of have an odd relationship with fennel--didn't like them grilled in a salad @ Olive's in Soho, kinda really enjoyed them raw and shaved with the diluted fish sauce aka nuoc cham aka dipping sauce (which btw totally makes badass salad dressing)...

...but here, we sauteed with some stock (if i remember correctly?) with the lemons and orange and pomegranates totally rocked and had a new depth of flavor....which i can't rightly describe since it's been so long :) but it was great with the risotto too :P
Getting out the pomegranate seeds for the fennel! Easiest way to get it all out tho--is to cut the pomegranate in half and then pat the back of it with a spoon and all the seeds come flying out :) Okay so you can see all that orange half and other stuff here... :)
The ladies workin' hard stirring away @ the fennel & risotto...
We also had a artisanal porcini risotto from one of the vendors (?) that works with Scott's company (yummers! I took home a pack and Karen took home a pack of saffron risotto!). Here are innumerable pics of that going down too :) Simmer simmering away!
In the meanwhile...Scott preps the fishy fish with capers, then salt & pepper--olive oil, then garlic! So...I forget what kind of fish we got at the market that day, but it was large and bootiful! Angela broke down the whole thing and descaled it and all!Beautiful fish no? Shame we couldn't figure out what kinda fish it was but it sure was ginormous when it locked eyes with us and the fish-man :P
...and we even tried to go buy tweezers to remove the little bones but all i could remember to say was "Stiamo cercando per una pincetta per a prendere l'osso nelle pesce"...but i couldn't remember how to say "take out" or "remove" and kept making pinching motions and saying "sopraciglia" for eyebrows. Needless to say, my Italian has gotten supremely rusty! Anyhoo--so tons of pics of Scott drizzling the fish in olive oil after patting in some lemon slices, capers, garlic, and sea salt.
WEEE!! All packed up and ready to go...but see we actually forgot the garlic for a minute so...back open it goes :D...NUMMY NUM NUM...So that was a final "before" look @ our pesce...and....AFTER roasting in the oven! :D So many little space hehe.
WOOHOO! so purty...and yummy! Note this is actually ish "other" people make but i'm still super jazzed eh? :P...seriously even putting all these photos back in sequence makes me a little giddy. In the midst of all this, I did a whole chocolate tasting set-up on the table as well and went back and forth stalking everybody in the kitchen and having them re-stage taking things out of the oven etc... :P
...and this!! yes that's STEAM...lots of it! bootiful bootiful steam! (and not a dirty wall hehe) ^_^
Scott gave us each some risotto from his co. to bring home. VERY VERY excited to crack it open! Anyhoo...back to dinner. Some of these are out of sequence back to the table with just the plates set up! :) To the table! But first some vino!...

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Yes i'm a little crooked with this but I thought it kinda quirky and fun. When i rotated .75 degrees counterclockwise it just kinda looked generic. At least that's the story I'm sticking to anyway :) That and angela looks like a ghost! (do you know how impossible it is for me to keep still sans gorillapod with a b-shot?!)
This is the bottle of olive oil that Scott and Angela had freshly pressed the week prior, using olives from Scott's boss's orchard and pressed in the neighboring town. Apparently...everybody around there does it. WEEEE!! Look how thick it looks and almost opaque! That's how it's *supposed* to be. Nom nom nom...
We also had some fresh mozzarella (just from the supermarket--yeh SUPERMARKET, not the market market...but OMG infinitely better than anything @ the markets here, except maybe Murray's cheeses! or Odika? whatever it is...

AAAAaaaaannnnd done. :) I usuually don't post pictures with people in them on the blog...but Scott and Angela were pretty effin' awesome hosts and fun to hang around in Balestrate and Palermo they are!! Thanks so much guys!! We sure licked the plates clean ;)

YAY SICILIA!!....oh hell one last look at that fantastic fish :D...