Italian Night.....with Clams

Got side tracked with that last post about 60 Minute Gourmet. Where I initially wanted to head was this past Thursday's version of 60MG, which drew from recipes from Mario Batali. These recipes are all available on Epicurious,

Actually, that last recipe is not Batali, but comes from Gourmet, July 2003. In fact, it's the main disappointment on this menu, despite having 39 mostly rave reviews in Epicurious. Probably the reason for all that support is that it's a simplistic recipe. Red sauce with capers and wine, but it didn't even include base vegetables like onion. It was OK, and easy, but not really a good sauce to return to. Not bad if you're pressed for time.

The Clams were the winner here. Very nice recipe using fresh bread crumbs and fresh oregano. I pre-loosened the clam meat from the shell so the finished product slides right off the shell. Since Margie generally doesn't like clams and definetly doesn't like mussels, it was a nice turn to prepare this dish and find her enjoying it.

The portobello salad is fine. The viniagrette proportions are very good, and include a little touch of anchovy paste. No one wold ever know it's in there, and it adds a little depth and richness. I recommend anchovy paste in a tube - it can keep for several months in the fridge.

60 Minute Gourmet - Fond Memories

The reference to 60 Minute Gourmet last week brought back fond pre-marriage memories of the routine Margie and I had for Wendesday nights when we were dating. The 60MG column ran in the NYT on Wednesday. That night, I'd cook whatever was in the column, whether we thought it appealing or not. Margie would sit on my "folk music star" wooden stool at the doorway to my kitchen, which was too small for me to cook and her to sit at the same time. She would have a glass of wine, usually red and often Marietta Old Vine Red, and prop her feet against the door jamb. I cooked, she did most of the cleanup. It was a great night to look forward to, as it gave us a mid-week connection, despite the commute from Naperville to Oak Park.

Just as we followed a set routine for Wednesday nights, so there was a 60MG system. There were usually two recipes - an entree and a vegetable or rice/pasta dish. Almost all the ingredients were staples that a good cook should have on hand, including fresh staples - shallot, plum tomato, peppers, fresh herbs and so on. So all that one needed to shop for were the entree item and a few perishables - say beans, or fennel. The recipes rarely if ever required a true specialty ingredient, so shopping would be contained to a single grocery, no running all over for exotic stuff. The only problems encountered might be if a recipe called for a cut of meat or a type of fish, and that fish was not available. But often as not, he'd list several equivalent fishes to choose from. It was a very well tuned system, and I'm not sure that many people were aware of how well composed these recipes were on the point of shopping and use of staples.

So if any of this iterests you, here are links to the books created from the NYT columns. Cuisine Rapide is the best book of the bunch, but doesn't follow the format of the columns as orginally published. Also, the CR recipes are not particularly limited to "60 minutes" of prep time. other two books pretty much just publish the columns themselves, in book form. You'll find a few of the recipes a bit dated, and may want to cut back amounts of butter and cream, but for the most part these are classic dishes and are pretty timeless. And, best of all, they definetly meet the criteria for shopping and preparation I described above.

Verdure in Scapece - Marinated Vegetables

I ran across this in an advertisement in Gourmet magazine's May 2008 issue. The technique for sweating out the vegetables is ideal - low maintenance, high effectiveness. The very small quantity of vinegar added (in comparison to the quantity of vegetables) is the second key to this dish.

After making it a few times, I noticed that it's included in Mario Batali's cookbook
Molto Italiano. I share the concept of the recipe here as a convenience only, and encourage you to buy the book - just ordered my copy. If Mario has even just one additional technique as effective as this, the book will be a permanent addition and my admiration for him will climb greatly.

Mostly, though, I want to share the technique and proportions. I've followed this approach with other ingedients, quantities and even just for roasted eggplant.

  1. Sprinkle eggplant and zucchini slices with kosher or sea salt and arrange on a baking sheet. Cover with a second baking sheet and weigh it down with something heavy. Let sit for 2 hours.
  2. Grill or roast eggplant and zucchini after brushing with olive oil.
  3. Brush red and yellow peppers with oil and grill.
  4. Combine vinegar, garlic, olives, anchovies and fresh oregano. Our over other vegetables and let sit overnight.

Gumbo and African Wings for the Swim Team Board

The Minimalist, Proscuitto and Eggplant Wrapped Cod and Chorizo Rice

The Minimalist, Mark Bittman's weekly column in the New York Times, is a worthy source of good, straightforward recipes. His creations are perfect for new cooks or people in a rush.

In my opinion most all his recipes suffer the fate of nearly all "quick cooking" approaches - yes they are better than most people's scratch cooking. Sure they are fast to prepare. In Mark's case, they usually are takes on classic recipes. They're certainly far better than nearly all prepared foods. But they suffer in complexity and depth.

What on earth does that mean?

Great cooking is very often the results of two, three or four flavors or flavor transformations. This requires either multiple techniques or multiple ingredients, each of which contribute to the finished result - which - to use the age old phrase - results in a final dish that is greater than the sum of it's parts.

From the mid-1970's to the mid/late 1990's, Pierre Franey published a weekly column, also in the New York Times. It too addressed the needs of the busy weeknight cook. His creations shared in the The 60-Minute Gourmet met and exceeded all the criteria described above. Since all his dishes were essentially founded in classic French technique, he did no lose the multi-layer flavors, despite simplifiying most techniques.

Further, in his 60 minutes, he provided a two or three course menu, not simply one dish.

The biggest knock on his column/recipes is that one needed to be a fairly proficient cook to really be able to make them in an hour. But - like Rachel Ray (same criticism on 30 Minute Meals - you really need to know what you're doing to meet that time limit) - if you are competent, organized (full mise en place) and undistracted (are there three kids running underfoot?) - if all of these requirements are met - you can make a fabulous meal in right about that one hour window.

I think his book Cuisine Rapide is the best representation of his style. As compared to the original two volumes of collected recipes, these recipes are slightly more up to date. They still include a bit too much cream and butter for our current palate, but those quantities can be easily cut back and the recipes still work. I highly recommend grabbing a copy. Though out of print, it's easily obtained online, even new.

This week, Mark offered Proscuitto wrapped Halibut with Pesto. OK, not a bad dish for a quick effort on a Wednesday night. All I needed to do was to replenish my pine nut supply and find some fish. There were no high quality white fish available (Sea Bass, Halibut, etc) so I settled for cod. It would be a little tougher, but as long as cod is not overcooked it too can be almost buttery (and sublime).

But when I got home, quite late, I didn't really feel like going out in the dark to cut basil from the herb garden, and I knew that a simplistic pesto would just be, well, OK. I happened to scan my fridge and saw a jar of marinated eggplant, flavored with mint and capers, leftover from the last weekend's dinner. I knew I had my improved dish.

  • Prosciutto and Eggplant Wrapped Cod

  • Chorizo and Mushroom Rice

For the fish: Heat oven to 450. On top of the marcal paper used by the deli to separate the proscuitto slices (or waxed paper or saran wrap), lay down three proscuitto slices, overlapping them slightly. Place 3-5 eggplant slices in a line down the the center. Grate a good quality parmesan over the eggplant then center a fish filet across this base. Add a little salt and pepper, then wrap the proscuitto slices around the fish, using the paper to compress the bundle. Melt butter in a small skillet over moderately high heat. Saute for 1 minute, turn fish and turn off heat, while fish packets get 1 more minute in skillet. Place skilled in oven for 4-5 minutes, until fish is cooked through depending on thickness of fish.

For the rice: Saute about 3/4 pound of chorizo in a heavy pot. Remove chorizo and leave 1-2 T of drippings in pot. Saute onion and crimini mushrooms in the chorizo "oil". Add 2-3 T fresh oregano or 1T dry. Add S&P, rice (arborio or short grain is best) and chicken stock. Cover and cook for 17 minutes on lowest heat. Add cooking time if not all liquid has been adsorbed, but don't allow it to get dry. Add reserved chorizo.

Oh - the fish was pretty darn good - worth making again. And re-using that delicious eggplant was an approach worth repeating. The rice? It gets an official AWESOME rating.

Herbal Harvest

It never really is fall in Houston; it gets less hot, fog shows up more often and a couple trees change color and drop leaves. The less hot part is what we really savor around here after 4-6 months of blistering heat. One of the great side effects of our extreme weather is that we end up with pretty robust herbs. Our herb garden is active almost year round, filled with sage, oregano, chives, rosemary, thyme, basil, lavendar, parsely, mint, cilantro and bay. Maybe a couple more are out there I didn't remember.

With the weather breaking, we had this menu last night to celebrate my sister and niece visiting from Chicago.

Most of these recipes came from or were adapted from the July 2008 Gourmet magazine. However some recipes (sangria) do not appear to be online.


  • Goat cheese - simple, obvious, great proportions
  • Eggplant - use the Batali technique of salting then pressing the liquids out of the eggplant slices and it's a winner.
  • Cake was ultra simple and could be modified to many other effects. WAs pleased that I could add a dessert without having to invest any significant time.


  • None. But the chicken could have been more heavily herbed.

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