I’ve made this dish from Mario Batali’s Babbo book several times over the years but I’ve never posted about it. Here’s the post to rectify that because this simple antipasto is so worth it. It never disappoints in the effort to result factor. Guests love the look and the flavor while the effort involved in making them is pretty low.
The most time consuming part of this whole dish is the peperonata. That’s just a fancy Italian word for marinated peppers. In the book, Batali just sautees the peppers and seasons with sherry vinegar, salt and pepper. I’ve done them like that and they work fine but I prefer to use roasted peppers. So, I broiled the peppers until they are charred and then peeled them. These were then briefly sauteed to heat them through and tossed with sherry vinegar, salt and pepper.
I have tried many ways to “roast” and peel sweet bell peppers but I use two methods primarily depending on what I need to use them for. My go-to method is to broil them in my oven (or on the grill if I have it going), put them in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap to let them steam and cool a bit. I never wash them as some recipes suggest you do to get the peel off. I feel that is not necessary and causes some flavor loss. I can live with a few bits of charred pepper skin on my bell peppers. Another method that I use sometimes is to char the skin all over with a torch. This is good when you want peppers that are pretty much still raw but can also be peeled easily. I also let them rest in a bowl after charring with a torch. These semi-raw peppers work great if you want to stuff them or in any way cook them a bit more.
The “truffles” are made by mixing the goat cheese with a bit of Parmesan cheese and sometimes a small sprinkle of pepper. The mixture then is formed into small balls resembling truffles and rolled in a variety of seasonings. The typical trio of seasonings I have here is poppy seed, ground up fennel (or fennel pollen if you have it) and paprika. Anything could work though, but you do want something a bit robust to stand up to the sharp cheese and tart peperonata. To plate it I put a layer of arugula and top with the peperonata then on top goes the truffles with alternating colors. I served them family style here for our guests but another elegant presentation is to serve three truffles per person on a plate on top of the greens and peppers. Serve them with toasted rustic bread rubbed with garlic and you have a perfect and beautiful antipasto.
Recently I cooked a nice fish dinner for Diana and I. The first course/appetizer was supposed to be some sort of shellfish (oysters maybe) and the main is a lovely halibut recipe from Le Bernardin taken from Eric Ripert’s book On the Line (post about that is coming up soon). However, as soon as I walked past the fish counter at Whole Foods and saw the brilliantly fresh monkfish that they had just gotten in, the oysters went out the window. I had no idea what I would do with the fillet I bought at the time and certainly was not planning on posting about it. When all was said and done and this first course was plated, it looked so nice and was so tasty that I knew it would get its own post.
The only other item I had bought with the monkfish is a bunch of watercress. When I got home, I flipped through On The Line since I was already cooking the halibut from it to see if there is anything that would be quick and work for monkfish. Unfortunately the recipe in there, while sounding fantastic, was pretty complicated. I would love to make it some other time with its red wine sauce and truffled potato foam but for an impromptu first course it was not going to happen. I did borrow the cooking technique he uses though. More on that in a minute.
Mario Batali in his The Babbo Cookbook has a recipe for monkfish where he treats it like chicken or veal and makes a piccata. The fish is cut into scaloppine and pan-fried. The dish is finished like a traditional piccata with white wine, lemon and caper berries. That sounded like a perfect first course for our dinner especially served with a nice bunch of light watercress.
Even though the recipe is based on the Batali version, I really liked how the version in Ripert’s book treats the fish – almost like a pork or beef loin. Like no other fish, monkfish can take some longer cooking without drying out. The texture is firm and very pleasant which explains why it is sometimes called “poor man’s lobster”. That’s why Ripert served his with accompaniments normally reserved for red meat (red wine sauce, potatoes, mushrooms,…). So instead of cutting the fish fillet into medallions I left the “loin” whole and rolled it in lightly seasoned Wondra flour (both Ripert and Batali use that). I love using Wondra to get perfectly crispy thin crusts on all kinds of meat, especially fish. Then I cooked the fish in a pan in some olive oil and butter basting it all the time. After that, just like a small roast, it went into a hot oven to finish cooking through.
For the sauce, I deglazed the pan with white wine while the fish rested. Then I added turmeric, parsley, chopped preserved lemon, lemon juice, parsley and a good healthy dose of olive oil. This made for a delicious dressing of sorts. I would’ve liked some caper berries in there or small capers, but Diana hates those. So, no capers. The fish was then sliced into medallions. Any other fish would’ve flaked apart. This was juicy and perfectly firm, really very much like lobster tail. I dressed the cress with some of the pan sauce and put a handful on top of the fanned monkfish medallions. More of the sauce was drizzled on and around the fish to finish it up. I really loved the non-traditional addition of the preserved lemon in the sauce as opposed to just lemon juice. It gave the dish a unique and slightly exotic flavor and some more texture.
I forgot I had these nice eggplants I got from the farmers’ market until I saw them in my crisper drawer a week later. So, I needed to use them right away. For a quick weekday dinner, straight from Mario Batali’s “Molto Italiano“, I made this addictive dish (I had tomato sauce on hand from another dinner).
Thinly slice eggplant.
Spread slices with a mixture of ricotta, Parmesan, egg and scallions and roll them.
Layer in a baking dish with tomato sauce and bake.
Sunday, June 15, 2008
I love a good steak or pork chop (or chicken or ribs for that matter) cooked over natural wood charcoal as much as the next guy. Let’s face it, the reason we light up our grills is to cook meat. It is the ultimate pleasure that hot charcoal can provide. However, with some creativity and little effort one can make a very tasty vegetarian meal on the grill.
This Sunday, in addition to putting a few chicken legs on the grill for the kids, I prepared a few dishes for Diana and I with no meat. From Mario Batali’s “Italian Grill” I made the marinated zucchini with homemade ricotta. The vegetable is sliced thin on a mandolin and marinated it with some herbs, oil and vinegar. After grilling, some more marinade is poured on top, in addition to chopped mint leaves. It is served with ricotta mixed with olive oil and with slices of grilled rustic bread. This a delicious mix of flavors and textures.
Another dish was something improvised, a sort of potato and green bean salad. I ‘steamed’ the green beans in aluminum foil with lemon slices and a bit of white wine. The packet was placed right on the grill. I grilled the potatoes directly on the grill and I also wrapped a few garlic cloves in foil and put them straight on the coals to roast. I made a dressing using those garlic cloves after mashing them. I mixed them with olive oil and lemon juice. I sliced the potatoes and tossed everything together. Not bad at all.
Last but not least was a cherry tomato and basil salad. Nothing more than tasty tomatoes, olive oil, torn basil, salt and pepper.