Thursday, May 31, 2012

Fava-less Fava Dip 4-Evah

I love the look and flavor of fava beans, but the amount of work required to extract them from their pods inspires me to leave them off my shopping list, every time.  Fortunately I discovered a few years ago that pre-shelled frozen edamame beans make a great substitute, and bring much the same happy spring feeling to dishes and dips -- especially in this Mediterranean-inspired dip recipe, which has become a household staple.  If you're lazy AND cheap, rest assured that frozen edamame is also very inexpensive -- just slightly over $2 per 12-ounce bag at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods.

Edamame dip photo by Aida Mollenkamp on flickr.  I don't top my edamame dip
with sesame seeds, but I do enjoy it with whole wheat & flax pita chips like these.

I love to eat this lemony, garlicky dip while it's still warm, but the flavors actually improve if you can save some to eat the next day -- a big if, if you have friends like mine.  It's great with pretty much any kind of cheese, but my favorite combo is to top it with thin shavings of sheep cheese or truffle cheese (TJ's truffle cheese is a great option, if you're there).  You could also drizzle extra virgin olive oil over the top, for another classic Mediterranean presentation.  Use it on sandwiches, crostini, crackers, or just your fingers. 

Edamame "Fava" Dip

1 12-oz bag frozen shelled edamame (already removed from the pod)
2 medium lemons
1 medium garlic clove
2-3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, or more to taste (I prefer a grassier style for this recipe)
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
fresh ground pepper

1. Set a pot of water large enough to hold the entire bag of edamame on the stove, and bring to a rapid boil.
2.  While the water heats, zest the lemons (if desired), and extract their juice.
3.  Using the side of your chef's knife, mash the garlic clove with a pinch of coarse salt and grind it into a paste.
4.  Once the water is boiling, throw in the edamame.  Cover the pot, bring the water back to the boil, and cook for a few minutes until soft (usually about 4 minutes total from time you put in the edamame).  Drain edamame in a colander, then place them in a food processor.
5.  Add the lemon juice, lemon zest (if using), garlic paste, some freshly ground pepper and the salt, and process to a coarse paste, scraping down the sides with a spatula as necessary.
6.  Add the olive oil while the machine is running, stopping periodically to scrape down the sides and taste for texture and seasoning.  Add more olive oil if you want a creamier texture, and adjust salt and pepper levels to your taste.
7.  Feast.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Home Is Where The Pork Is

My brother's pulled pork changes lives.

People who claim not to like pork will put away half a pound before coming up for air.  Lifelong pork aficionados have to recalibrate their rankings to accommodate this new upstart.  Even severe sensory integration afflictions are powerless before the slow-smoked succulence that my brother creates.  And they all back for more.

This is why my brother has taken to smoking two seven-pound pork shoulders at a time, even if the expected crowd is relatively small and the pork is preceded by a sausage sampler course and several marinated tri-tips.  Though no one thought they had room after the onslaught of the first two meat rounds (and their accompanying sides), the revelers assembled at our family's house last weekend still pounced on the pork bowl like starving vultures the instant it appeared.

The ravening beasts descend.

My only claim to fame associated with this miraculous porcine power (other than my relation to its creator) is that my Vietnamese cabbage slaw recipe has become the condiment of choice.  Whether in a pulled pork taco, slider, or full blown sandwich, this slaw provides just the right amount of crunch, tang, freshness, and redeeming nutritional value to help you put away that extra helping of pig.  It is, in a word, indispensable.

Like the pork, this slaw must be made in vast quantities to appease the hungering hordes -- but unlike the pork, I'm authorized to share the recipe.  And it doubles easily.

Vietnamese Cabbage Salad

1. Combine the dressing ingredients in a mixing bowl big enough to whisk, and whisk together:
  • 1 medium size garlic clove, smashed and minced as small as possible
  • 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 2-3 tablespoons of sugar, depending on your taste
  • 3 tablespoons fish sauce, or according to your taste
  • 3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • a generous showering of freshly ground black pepper
  • (optional) a pinch or two of minced chili pepper, or a dash of hot red pepper flakes, or sriracha, or... whatever spicy goodness you've got.
The dressing ideally should sit for a bit (30 minutes or more) before you dress the salad to let the flavors blend, but it's not essential.  If you're just eating this salad on its own, without something outrageously rich and fabulous to flesh it out, add a couple of tablespoons of neutral oil to the dressing to compensate.

2. Mix the salad ingredients in your serving bowl:
  • 4 cups (approx 1 10-oz bag)"angel hair" shredded green cabbage 
  • 1 cup (about half a bag) julienned carrots
  • 1/4 cup julienned red bell pepper
  • 1/4 cup julienned fennel
  • 1/4 cup fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
  • 12-20 fresh mint leaves, torn or chopped
3. Toss the salad thoroughly with the dressing, et voilà.


Friday, May 4, 2012

More Italian Magic

Last week I had dinner at Alex Italian Restaurant in Rutherford's Rancho Caymus Inn (the original La Toque space).  The name pretty much says it all -- owned by husband and wife Italians Alessandro and Alessia, and a quintessential Italian establishment in a land full of Cal-Ital.  Chic, sleek decor and luxurious leather seating, lots of Italian wines, and of course a menu full of the regional specialties of Liguria and Emilia-Romagna set this place apart in Napa Valley.

The dish of the night for us (and this was a tough race with many worthy contenders) was the octopus salad with shaved celery, olives, red onions, fingerling potatoes, and Ligurian salsa verde.  Ecco la:

Never in my life have I eaten octopus more tender -- and I've eaten a lot of great octopods in my life.  Check that awesome sear on the tentacles!  Between the crusty char on the outside and the supple, almost creamy meat inside, this thing was divine even before it encountered the fresh crunch of celery and the brightness of the herb pesto.  I see this becoming an automatic order every time I visit. 

Alex's executive chef Nick Ritchie helped Michael Chiarello open Bottega, but left Yountville to open Alex with the two Alexes last year.  You can watch him preparing his octopus salad in this video from the Napa Valley Register.

What to drink with this thing of beauty? We had a remarkable Grechetto from Sergio Mottura's porcupine-ridden Poggio Della Costa vineyard in Civitella d'Agliano, and la vita was very dolce indeed.

Sexy candelabra! And porcupine label.