P.O.P. Pošip, Oysters & Pelješac. Pop go the tastebuds! I probably would have fallen in love with Pošip (pronounced POH-ship) whether I first encountered it at a dinner party in Los Angeles or in one of the wine tasting rooms we visited on Croatia’s Pelješac Peninsula. It’s a remarkably sippable wine, thirst-quenching, citrusy, and fragrant. It goes perfectly with summer.
But it didn’t happen that way.
As it turns out the head-spinning moment of Pošip passion for me came last week as Ken and I sailed the Adriatic with friends. Boatlife is laid out at a leisurely pace. We often found ourselves lazily, blissfully, quietly sailing past islands with rolling hills and pocket-sized harbors keeping one eye on the shimmering sea and the other eye on the horizon. Both the same glorious shade of true blue.
I didn’t think I could possibly need anything else. Then came the wine, from a grape variety with which I was only vaguely familiar. Not only did this wine have historic importance as an indigenous grape to the island of Korčula (it still grows on its own rootstock since it was planted long ago in sandy soils of Smokvica village). But it’s also versatile. If you like a dry white wine, you’ll almost certainly find a Pošip to love while you’re in Croatia. The Pošips we tasted varied from juicy, Sauvignon Blanc-style wines to more mineral Chablis-styles. Which got me thinking about oysters.
The Oysters of the Pelješac Peninsula
When the time came to leave the boat and our friends behind in Split we rented a car and drove down to the Pelješac Peninsula. It’s an area known for shellfish. After a week of sailing to a different city every day we decided a little time on dry land was how we wanted to end our Croatian adventure.
So here we are, idly stopping into any winery or random konaba that strikes our fancy. We don’t have much of an agenda so it’s turned out that Pošip and oysters are giving our days all the structure we need.
Like wine, oysters exhibit a discernible terroir. Maybe it’s because they’re still alive when you eat them but for me, no other food carries its provenance in quite the same way. This is what I’m thinking about as I sit here sipping wine and eating oysters steps from the 14th-century oyster bed where my meal was born.
After all, there’s an expression used by chefs and wine lovers. “What grows together, goes together.” I try to remember that phrase when I travel because it means that the traditional foods from a particular region pair extremely well with the wines native to that same area. So it’s no wonder that Pošip shows itself in no place better than in a glass next to a plate of freshly shucked oysters from the Pelješac Peninsula. GREG
For more info see this video from Skoljka Ledinic, one of the oyster farms we visited.
Live from the Gulet Maske: I’ve been in Croatia now for several days. Most of them spent in the Medieval city of Dubrovnik. It’s a magical place and has been for centuries. I suppose that’s how it found itself with a starring role in Game of Thrones. I’ve been to Dubrovnik before. In fact, I went way before HBO ever got here! So I can honestly comment on how much it’s changed in just a few years. Dubrovnik is one of those notable places, like Machu Picchu, whose popularity may be its undoing.
Dubrovnik is heaving with visitors. From Italian school boys jumping from cliffs, to serious history buffs who explore the back alleys. It may no longer be anyone’s best-kept secret, but Dubrovnik is a Venetian Gothic marvel. A walled seaside town of orange-and-red-tiled roofs jutting out on a peninsula. A walk along its exterior wall will bring breathtaking views of the porticoes and loggias that rim marble-paved Renaissance squares and tiny alleys that, in true Venice style, seem to go nowhere. The whole impression of gleaming streets and artistically placed turrets make the whole city look like a sculpture.
Its nightlife has changed a lot since I was last here too. The summer crowds still flock to Dubrovnik, but they can now find restaurants serving quality Dalmatian fare, crowded coffee shops pouring world-class java, and serious cocktail bars shaking up inventive creations. We even spent a bit of a Dubrovnik evening swooning to the crooning of an Italian tenor whose mastery of Volare brought the crowd to dancing in the marble streets.
Dubrovnik’s reputation may precede itself, however, it’s not the sole reason for our trip. There are many Dubrovnik-style fortress cities scattered along this coast and throughout these islands. So we’re sailing off to explore the Dalmatian Islands of Croatia with Captain Marko and crew on the GuletMaske.
Gulet Maske: Croatia 2019
It’s the first morning of an eight-day trip aboard the Croatian GuletMaske. Our first night on the boat (if you can call a 27-meter two-masted sailing vessel a “boat”) was spent on the Island of Mljet just off the mainland of Croatia near Dubrovnik. The thrill of the experience was, of course, brand new and our first night’s meal turned out to be celebratory so I’m moving slowly on that first morning.
It’s not yet 6am and most of my companions have not awakened as I settle into the front of the boat with my tea and a book as dawn brightens the sky with a swirl of orange and magenta. The solitude is short-lived and soon I’m joined by a solitary tern dive-bombing for his breakfast. Other yachts bob nearby and I can see the neighboring sailors starting their day in much the same way I have chosen.
Suddenly my attention turns from the colors of the sky to the silver-streaked Adriatic. A sea turtle splashes to the surface just a few feet away. I swear he smiles and winks before submerging again, leaving me alone with my book.
Captain Marko tells me it’s rare to see a turtle here and I see he doubts my story. So I find myself looking up from the pages of my book every few words, playing a sort of I-Spy game hoping to see the friendly Cheloniidae again. Eventually, other creatures do appear, as does the sun and I give up on my book with no regrets. It’s not every day Ken and I go sailing off the coast of Croatia. And on this day we plan a bike ride on Mljet before sailing off to Korcula.
Our plan is to sail from Dubrovnik to Split. It’s an area known as the Dalmatian Coast and it’s spotted, like the dog, with small islands floating on the blue, sun-blasted Adriatic Sea. There are 1,244 of these islands and we plan to make port in 6 or 7 of them over the next week.
“Why Dalmatia?” you may ask. Part of the appeal is perfect weather combined with natural beauty. Dalmatia has blue skies and near constant sunshine beaming down on rolling, Aleppo pine-scented hillsides cobbled between olive groves, vineyards, and silvery-purple lavender fields. Not to mention excellent beaches that range from smooth sun-bleached stone to white sand.
But its also got history frozen in the stones of its many walled cities. The purpose of these walls may have been defensive, but the results are splendid. The sight of these stone citadels rising from the sea is one of the most memorable impressions of the Adriatic coast. Limestone and marble streets have been polished to gleaming over several centuries by millions upon millions of footsteps. Many of these cities with their graceful Renaissance churches bear the veneer of the Venetians who funded these port towns to assist in their old-world trade ambitions. It’s a mark of true beauty.
But Italy is not the only architectural influence among these islands. Some cities still carry the stamp of the carefully plotted Neoclassic civic centers in the Hapsburg tradition of stoic Austro-Hungarian bureaucracy.
In the hills of these islands, farmers built thick-walled stone houses in hopes of keeping out the chill as well as the constant stream of invaders. Today these farms, especially on Korčula, Hvar, and along the Pelješac Peninsula often house wineries, and/or traditional restaurants and taverns known as konoba.
When I was last here in 2006, less than a decade after a bloody civil war devastated much of Croatia, the Dalmatian coast had the lingering whiff of socialism and the no-frills vibe of the Yugoslav era. Now the islands of southern Croatia welcome me as one of the premier destinations in the Mediterranean region. They glimmer enough to attract the trendy, yet cling to their complicated history just enough to elicit blank stares or raised eyebrows from many travelers.
Just my kind of place. GREG
The video and some photos appear courtesy of Gulet Maske. Other photos may be attributed to my fellow crew members.
Does a Croatian Food and Wine Guide seem a bit of a random subject for this blog? Well, maybe it’s not so random. I’ll give you one guess why. Yep. I’m going to Croatia. I’ve been there before (in 2006) and I promised myself that I’d definitely, positively, absolutely go back.
But you know how those kinds of promises go. It’s a big world. It’s taken me quite some time to stay true to my word.
Ken and I (plus 4 other friends) have chartered a 27-meter sailboat to cruise around the Southern Dalmatian islands off the coast of Croatia. Which means we’ll be off-the-beaten-track discovering the villages, beaches, and everything else most tourists never get to see. It also means we’ll be eating in small family-owned tavernas (known as konoba) where traditional Croatian food and wine may be the only offering. So it’s best to know what to look for once I’m faced with those menus.
Croatian Food and Wine
Croatia has a rich diversity of culinary choices. It’s situated at the crossroads between Eastern and Western Europe and is influenced by both regions. In the north of Croatia, Istrian cuisine has graceful Northern Italian roots, but as you move inland you’ll find more robust menus, with Hungarian, Viennese and Turkish influences. Along the coast, where we’ll be, Croatia is known to have some of the finest seafood in the world.
Our itinerary follows a path through Southern Dalmatia from Dubrovnik up to Split so I will be concentrating here on the Croatian food and wine of this area.
A lot has changed since I was last on the Dalmatian coast. As you may know, Game of Thrones has transformed the area into an incredibly popular destination. In the process, Dalmatia has garnered a well-deserved reputation for seafood. Adriatic specialties like squid, turbot, John Dory (called Saint Pierre in Croatia), zubatac (snapper) and škarpina (scorpionfish) are the fish to look for. However, Croatia also prides itself on the quality of its sardines and anchovies (I’ve read that Croatia has some of the best grilled sardines you will ever try).
However, shellfish lovers must pay a visit to the villages of Ston and Mali Ston on the Pelješac Peninsula which has been renowned for its oysters since Roman times. In fact, some of these oyster beds have been in constant harvest since then, resulting in a uniquely meaty oyster unlike any I’ve had.
The seafood dishes I’m looking forward to this trip include: squid ink risotto, steamed mussels (na buzara), and a bouillabaisse-style fish stew (brudet). The island of Hvar serves its own version of brudet called gregada. With a name like that, how can I not try it? Since we’re stopping on the island of Vis I hope we’ll enjoy the peaceful silence of this remote island while indulging in the traditional smoked fish soup. But first on my list is peka, an iconic dish of octopus cooked in a ceramic dish with a bell-like lid.
Aside from the seafood you’ll also find simply prepared vegetables. Swiss chard is especially popular I’ve read, and every restaurant seems to have some version of blitva – a homey side dish made from potatoes, Swiss chard, garlic, and local olive oil.
There’s plenty more to eat. Meals often start with a platter of paški sir (sheep’s cheese from the island of Pag) and thinly sliced pršut (cured ham). This platter might be accompanied by a strong spirit for sippingknown as rakija. A term which covers all the local herb and/or fruit-derived liqueursincluding plum brandy (šljivovica), pear brandy (vilijamovka), juniper-flavored spirit (pelinkovac), and a blueberry liqueur (borovnica). In the wine country where we’ll be sailing, we’ll probably be served travarica, the grape-based spirit infused with wild herbs.
The food list goes on. Soparnik – is a peasant’s pie made with Swiss chard and borek is a hand-pie that can be filled with almost anything. Dalmatia is also famous for a traditional beef stew called pašticada. The preparation sounds complicated but delicious. The meat is stuffed with garlic, cloves, carrot, and bacon, then roasted with onions, prunes, and handfuls of herbs and spices. It’s traditionally served with gnocchi.
The island of Brač, (one of our stops) is known throughout the country for lamb. It’s usually roasted and is often served whole to large groups at special events. While on Brač I also hope to try vitalac – a hard-to-find dish made of lamb offal wrapped in caul and roasted on a spit set over an open fire. However, I’m worried that my fellow sailors won’t let me back on the boat if I subject them to lamb guts!
There’s dessert too. Rožata, inspired by the Spanish crema Catalana, is probably the most popular sweet on the Adriatic. Or if you’re looking for something elegant how about the Austrian-inspired paradižet – fluffy white clouds of meringue floating in a custardy sea? I particularly remember enjoying a rustic cake called Stonska torta at an outdoor cafe in Mali Ston in 2006. It’s an unusual combination of pasta, sugar, cinnamon, and walnuts bound together with beaten eggs then wrapped in pastry. Some say it’s too strange a combination of savory and sweet, but Ken and I ate every bite and marveled at its structure. GREG
… and Wine
As is often the case, Croatian wines perfectly complement Croatian cuisine. Seafood is abundant, fresh and irresistible, so you might suppose that Croatian wines are mostly of the white variety. Well, you’re right! I’d like to fill you in on four whites and a not-to-be-missed red that will surely be filling us up while we’re island hopping.
First a few words about the history of wine in Croatia. It’s a long one. Viticulture was well established when the Ancient Greeks settled Dalmatia over 2,500 years ago. Several of the original indigenous varietals are still widely produced and wildly popular. We’ll be visiting, Vis, Hvar and Korčula and sampling (maybe too mild a word) Vugava, Bogdanuša, and Grk respectively.
Vugava is similar in taste to Viognier, the delicious Rhône varietal. In fact, it might even be one of Viognier’s offspring from about 2,000 years back. This lush, savory white is best with savory dishes like fish in a cream sauce or chicken.
Bogdanuša, on the other hand, is green-yellow in color and more acidic. This refreshing 12% alcohol wine would (will) pair nicely with oysters, grilled fish or octopus. Interestingly, its name means “godsend” and it is served in Croatia’s religious festivals. Looking forward to this religious experience!
Grk, pronounced “grk”, is a somewhat bitter, high-acid, aromatic white wine. While melon and herbal flavors predominate, you might even get a pine note on the palate. Not sure what food goes with pine, but pršut (prosciutto) sure works with melon!
This discussion wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Croatia’s most famous wines, Pošip, and Plavac Mali. Both varietals have been popularized by Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, the Croatian-born winemaker that produced the wine that won the Judgement of Paris in 1976. Pošip can now be found throughout Dalmatia and the Pelješac peninsula. Crisp and dry, Pošip presents a balance of acid (citrus) and round mouthfeel (apple) with a hint of almond on the finish. Pairing? Just about anything. Plavac Mali is the most popular red wine in Croatia. Its rich, high alcohol, high tannin flavor profile delivers berries, cherries, spice, and chocolate shavings to complement your lamb dish when you need a break from seafood. KEN
As we have not left on the trip yet the Croatian Food and Wine photos are from our 2006 trip and the Croatian squid shot at the top comes via Shutterstock.
Do you have a strong opinion about grits? I mean aside from the very obvious fact that you can never have too much cheese in your grits. But what about other stuff? What else can you add to grits. How about sweet potato grits? Is that breaking any of your rules?
And there are rules. Lots of people have them. Paula Deen cooks hers in half-and-half and butter. That’s her rule. But another Southern chef, Amber Huffman, uses chicken stock. Chef Sarah Mastracco goes for equal parts of chicken stock and milk. The Joy of Cooking and Virginia Willis, a self-proclaimed grits evangelist and the author of an entire book on grits, prefer water alone. A lot of purists will tell that you should only cook grits in water with a little salt. But I use a 1-to-1 ratio of water and milk most times for both polenta and grits.
Oh, and today I’m adding sweet potatoes. Sweet Potato Grits with Apples and Leeks.
Sweet Potato Grits with Apples and Leeks
Grits are a Southern thing. Leeks are a French thing. And sweet potatoes, seem to be my thing lately. I honestly believe you can make the world a better place by eating more sweet potatoes. So why not combine three of my favorite things with some apples for a little tartness and crunch!
Maybe I’m breaking the rules, but I don’t think you’ll mind. GREG
2 large leeks(white and light green parts, halved lengthwise then sliced crosswise into ½-inch pieces, and well rinsed)
3 tablespoonunsalted butter
2 tart apples(such as granny smith, peeled, cored and cut into ½-inch chunks)
2 tablespoonfresh thyme leaves(divided)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Prepare the grits: Peel and halve the sweet potatoes lengthwise. Place them in a parchment-lined shallow baking dish along with about 1 tablespoon of water. Cover tightly with foil and bake in the oven until soft, about 30 minutes. Let the potatoes cool somewhat then mash them with a fork and add them to a blender along with ¼-cup milk. Puree until smooth. Set aside.
Meanwhile, bring the remaining 1 ½-cup milk, 1 ½-cup water, and a big pinch or two of salt to a boil in a large pot with a lid set over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and pour in the grits in a slow steady stream, whisking the whole time. Continue to whisk often until the grits thicken, about 10-12 minutes. Add the pureed sweet potatoes, Cheddar, Gouda, cream cheese, and a couple of big pinches of salt. Whisk until well-combined. Turn the heat off and cover the pot.
Prepare the apples and leeks: Heat 2 tablespoon butter in a large skillet with a lid over medium heat until melted and foaming. Stir in the sliced leeks and season with salt. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally until the leeks are wilted, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the lid and stir in the apple chunks along with about half of the thyme leaves. Cook stirring often until the apples have softened somewhat but are not mushy about 3 minutes.
To serve: Spoon the gits into a serving bowl, add the apple and leeks. Garnish with remaining thyme leaves and serve immediately.
Swordfish Pasta with Shishito Peppers and Fresh Corn. The shishito and corn give this pasta a global flair but as any Italian will tell you, the combination of pasta and swordfish marks this dish with Sicilian roots.
Pasta is still one of my “go-to” meals. With a little practice you can make the sauce in the time it takes for you to bring the water to a boil – precise measurements hardly matter at all. I find I can be creative as long as I stick to a few tried and true cooking techniques that ensure beautiful results with pasta.
Good pasta relies on much more than slopping a terrific sauce on top of quality noodles. The key to success relies on knowing how to bring the sauce and the noodles together with a little of the pasta cooking liquid to create a finished pasta dish that transcends the sum of its parts.
Prepare a large skillet to accept the cooked noodles. It should contain the basics of your sauce or perhaps the sauce in its entirety. At the very least it should contain a couple of tablespoons melted butter and/or olive oil. It just depends on the recipe. See the swordfish pasta recipe below for an example.
Boil 4 quarts of water over high heat and stir in enough kosher salt to make the water taste like the sea (about 1/4-cup).
Stir in the pasta and keep it moving around the pot for a few seconds so that it doesn’t stick together. Quickly bring the water back to a boil and then allow the pasta to cook until very al dente. The package directions will not be accurate. You want the pasta slightly undercooked. The exact amount of time will depend on your pasta. Use your best judgment. When the pasta is ready, use tongs or a spider to transfer it to the prepared skillet. Save the pasta water on the stove.
Once the pasta hits the skillet keep it moving by stirring and tossing with any other ingredients in the pan. Now is the time to add about a half cup of pasta water.
Bring the pasta and sauce mixture to a boil, adding more water as needed to keep the noodles in about 1/2-inch of silky sauce. Depending on the recipe this is also the time to add more ingredients as in the swordfish pasta recipe below.
Which brings us to the home stretch. As the sauce and noodles simmer continue to shake the pan until the sauce becomes creamy and emulsified, clinging to the noddles.
All that’s left is plating, garnishing, and serving.
3 tablespooncolatura(Italian fish sauce, may subsitute with Asian)
¼ cupchopped flat leaf parsley
1 tablespoonfresh lemon juice
freshly cracked black pepper(to taste)
Brine the swordfish: Brine the fish in a mixture of ⅓ cup kosher salt and 1-quart icy water. After about an hour remove the fish from the brine, rinse it and pat it dry with paper towels, then place it in the refrigerator uncovered for at least two hours or up to overnight. This step is optional but recommended (once it has thoroughly air-dried you may cover it). Remove skin and bloodline from fish; cut fish into ½-inch cubes. Toss with 2 tablespoons oil and garlic. (Let fish cubes stand at room temperature 20 minutes before cooking continuing.)
Prepare the shishito peppers: Heat a large cast-iron skillet over high until smoking. Toss peppers with 2 tablespoons oil; working in 2 or 3 batches, cook until blistered on all sides, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel-lined baking sheet. Let cool 10 minutes. Cut peppers into ½-inch rings; discard stems. Using your hands, toss peppers to remove as many seeds as possible. Transfer peppers to a medium bowl, and toss with 2 tablespoons oil and ½ teaspoon kosher salt.
Boil the pasta: Bring remaining 4 quarts water to a boil in a large pot over high. Stir in about ¼-cup kosher salt. Add pasta, and cook, stirring occasionally, until almost al dente, about 9 minutes (depending on the pasta).
Assemble the dish: Meanwhile, return the large cast-iron skillet to medium heat; add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add half of the fish pieces in a single layer; cook, stirring occasionally until lightly browned and cooked through 3 to 4 minutes. Set aside. Repeat with 2 tablespoons oil and remaining fish. Return all fish to the skillet, then using tongs or a spider move the barely cooked pasta to the skillet along with 2/3 cup pasta cooking water.
Finish the dish: Using a wide flat spoon, lift and stir pasta gently until liquid thickens, about 2 minutes, adding another ⅓ cup reserved cooking liquid if needed. Remove from heat; gently stir in cooked and sliced shishito peppers, corn kernels, colatura, parsley, lemon juice, ¼ cup oil, and ½ teaspoon salt; toss gently to coat. Transfer pasta to a serving dish; season with black pepper.
When you read this recipe you’ll see that this isn’t a tart in any traditional sense of the word. Still, I think you’ll want to thank me for it anyway. You can go ahead and thank me now or you can wait until you’ve tried it for yourself. However, one look at this Apricot Tart recipe and I think you’ll see its potential – so it might make sense to thank me now.
Because there’s no standard “crust” in this recipe I figured I could make it in either a tart pan or a cake pan. It might be great in a pie tin or a cast iron skillet too. Maybe better… I bet I could even flop it on its face by putting the fruit on the bottom and serving it “upside-down style”.
Like you, when I first looked this recipe from Guy Mirabella I thought, “how versatile”. It’s not unlike many one-pan cakes that utilize a little nut flour in the mix. Though this one has a grated apple in the batter which (in my mind) gave this cake its tart potential.
I thought all of these things upon reading the recipe, and so did you. So you’re welcome.
As I said I made this tart as a tart in a tart pan. I could have made it as a cake in a cake pan as we discussed earlier, but I chose to make it a tart.
I also chose apricots. Just so you know the only reason it’s an Apricot Tart is that we’re on the cusp of the stone fruit season. Later in the summer peaches, plums or nectarines would be just as delightful. Same goes for berries and of course figs. Of course figs.
Set oven rack in the center position and preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Butter and flour the bottom and sides of a 4¼ x 14-inch rectangular tart pan with a removable bottom.
Place the first 8 ingredients in a mixing bowl. Use an electric mixer (or vigorous hand beating) to beat the mixture together until it becomes pale and fluffy. Scrape and spread the mixture into the prepared tart pan. It should go almost all the way to the top but don’t overfill it, leave about ¼-inch of space to accommodate the apricots. Take extra care to get it into all the corners and crevices and then smooth the top. Snuggle in the apricot halves on top, cut side up. Sprinkle with demerara sugar (if using).
Bake in the oven until puffed and golden brown, about 45 to 50 minutes. Use a cake tester to see for sure.
Cool the tart in the pan then carefully remove it before serving. Serve with whipped cream, if using).
Fried eggplant. Baked eggplant. Marinated eggplant. Baba ganoush. Parmigiano. Moussaka. Ratatouille. I’ve always loved eggplant. I’ve also always considered eggplant a pain in the patootie. Who needs thin slices of salted eggplant lined up on paper towels across every flat surface in the kitchen? You see I’ve always read that eggplant MUST be salted before cooking to bring out its best qualities.
But does it really?
I know from experience that the idea of soaking dried beans overnight isn’t really a necessary step (necessarily). It’s a step I confidently skip plenty of times. Sure, I’ve heard the extra step makes the beans more sweet and creamy.
But does it really?
“Yeah but…” you might be thinking. Beans aren’t really bitter. Eggplant is bitter.
But is it really?
I recently read that the bitterness was bred out of eggplant decades ago so the need to draw out the juices before cooking is a moot point.
But is it really?
I don’t know. So I turned to some of my favorite experts.
Ada Boni, in her 1969 Italian Regional Cooking, salts for an hour, as does her successor queen of Italian food, Marcella Hazan. Nancy Silverton and Judy Rodgers use salt, but as more of a seasoning. Modern cooks like Yotam Ottolenghi and Rachel Roddy tend not to salt. Hmmm…
The LA Times’ recipe for Honey & Vinegar Marinated Eggplant called for salting – so I salted. One taste proved that I must have done something right…
1 tablespoonfine sea salt(plus more as needed for seasoning)
1 ½ cupextra-virgin olive oil(plus more as needed)
2 large shallots(peeled and thinly sliced)
2 clovegarlic(peeled and chopped)
1 ½ teaspoonsweet paprika
⅓ cupbalsamic vinegar
⅓ cupsherry vinegar
3 sprigs fresh thyme
1 lemon(juice only)
¼ cupchopped parsley(optional)
2 teaspoontoasted sesame seeds(optional)
Trim 1 inch off the top and bottom of each eggplant. Halve each eggplant crosswise, then stand each half on one end and cut each into 8 wedges, for 32 pieces total. Toss the wedges with 1 tablespoon salt in a large bowl, then arrange them with one cut side down on a paper towel-lined baking sheet. Drain for 2 to 4 hours. Pat the eggplant dry with paper towels.
Heat a heavy-bottomed large skillet over medium-high heat. Add half cup olive oil, then arrange half the eggplant with one cut side down until the bottoms are golden brown, 5 to 6 minutes. Add an additional quarter cup oil, flip the eggplant and fry until the other side is golden brown, about 6 minutes more. Transfer to a plate to cool and repeat with the remaining eggplant and an additional three-quarters cup olive oil.
Reduce the heat to medium-low and pour any oil left in the pan into a bowl. Return 2 tablespoons oil to the skillet, or add more fresh oil to make 2 tablespoons. Add the shallots and cook, stirring, until translucent, 2 to 3 minutes. Add the garlic and paprika and sprinkle with salt. Cook, stirring, until fragrant and caramelized, about 2 minutes. Add both kinds of vinegar, the thyme, and 2 tablespoons water. Swirl the liquids and scrape any browned bits from the pan. Raise the heat to medium-high and cook until the liquid is reduced by half, 5 to 6 minutes.
Remove from the heat and stir in the honey. Return the pan to medium-high heat and add the browned eggplant and gently stir to coat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and cook until the eggplant softens but is not mushy, about 5 minutes. Cover and cook until the eggplant softens further and one-eighth inch of liquid remains in the skillet, about 5 minutes more. Taste and add more honey and salt, if desired.
Transfer to a nonreactive bowl and cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Cover with plastic wrap, transfer to the refrigerator and chill completely, at least 4 hours and up to 5 days.
When ready to serve, remove the eggplant from the refrigerator and let come to room temperature. Remove and discard the thyme sprigs. Stir in the lemon juice, then garnish with the parsley and sesame seeds (if using).
Summer starts on June 21st! But before I start jumping through the sprinkler I’ve decided to line-up a few go-to recipes. Simple dishes that can stand alone or sit nicely beside something from the grill. I’m looking for food I can make a day ahead in the cool of the evening and turn to again and again. Juicy stuffed tomatoes in the Roman style are first on the list.
Stuffed vegetables appear on just about every antipasti table in Italy, but Pomodori con riso (tomatoes with rice) are especially beloved during the heat of a Roman summer. Of course firm but ripe summer tomatoes make the perfect little vessel and can be stuffed with just about anything. But it’s the simple Roman rice-stuffed version that grabs my attention because they are best served at room temperature, or even cold from the refrigerator.
When it’s hot outside there’s nothing better than eating cold food.
These stuffed tomatoes are so simple I make them at home well before I plan to serve them. But in Rome, you’re just as likely to see great trays of them in the windows of a bakery or a rosticceria where they’re baked in the bread oven until the rice gets tender and the tomatoes just begin to slump. People pick them up on their way home from work or on their way to a cool countryside picnic.
It’s potatoes that make this dish different from most of the stuffed tomatoes you’ve eaten in your life. Typically Roman-style stuffed tomatoes are surrounded by chunks of golden potatoes – crisp on the top and sticky from tomato juice on the bottom. That’s Roman-style. GREG
3/4 cupextra-virgin olive oil(divided), plus more for drizzling
freshly cracked black pepper(for seasoning)
½ cuparborio rice
1 poundrusset poatoes(peeled and cut into ¾'' chunks
Cut off the tops of the tomatoes and reserve them for later. Trim about ¾” from stem-end of each one and set ends aside. Working over a medium bowl, use a small spoon or melon baller to carefully scoop out inner pulp without puncturing the walls of the tomatoes. Sprinkle the insides of the empty tomatoes with some salt and turn upside down on a paper towel-lined plate to drain.
Meanwhile, add the fresh basil, shallots, garlic, and ½ cup olive oil to the tomato flesh and season with salt and black pepper. Use a hand blender or food processor to puree the mixture. Add the rice, stir well and set aside for at least 45 minutes so that the rice can absorb the flavorful liquid.
Position oven rack in the top third of oven, then preheat oven to 350°.
Toss the potato chunks with the remaining ¼-cup olive oil, sprinkle with salt and arrange them along the bottom of a shallow casserole dish or baking tray large enough to fit all the tomatoes.
Scoop a generous ¼-cup of the saucy rice filling into the hollowed out tomatoes (there may be a little filling left over), and place a reserved tomato end on top of each stuffed tomato as a cap then nestle the tomatoes on top of the potatoes. Drizzle a little oil over tomatoes, and bake until the rice is tender and the tomatoes are wrinkled and beginning to brown but still holding their shape, about one hour and fifteen minutes. Begin checking on the tomatoes after 30 minutes, adding a splash of water only if needed to keep the bottom from burning.
Remove from oven, and set aside to cool to room temperature. Serve with a generous drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil at room temperature or, on a hot day, chilled.
It’s been a while since I posted here at Sippity Sup, sorry! In the meantime I’ve been on social media, covering events like the 2019 Tre Bicchieri tasting and a recent Loire Valley Wines seminar. I’ve also been on the couch, watching Frazier reruns with my mom. Speaking of family, my dear cousin Sarah generously gave me some wine to take home during my recent trip to Seattle (note: Alaska Airlines lets you check up to a case of wine free). Sarah is the events director at JM Cellars, a “family-owned, craft winery in Woodinville, Washington focused on producing handcrafted, limited-release wine since 1998.”
I had to quote their website since I haven’t been there myself, but I sure would like to visit next time I’m in the Pacific Northwest. JM Cellars hits my wine trifecta– small production, Bordeaux and Rhône varietals, sustainably hand-crafted. I’m especially motivated after having sampled some of John Bigelow’s impeccable wines.
JM Cellars 2016 Syrah
To honor Doris Day, we’ll focus on JM’s Syrah, Syrah. The winery makes two different Syrahs every year. I’d like to share my thoughts on JM Cellars 2016 Syrah from the Columbia Valley. Pour yourself a taste and you’ll observe a glass-staining, royal purple hue. Take a sniff to discover powerful dark fruit aromatics with a hint of minerality. On the palate you’ll find luscious blackberry fruit and damson plum with a touch of menthol delivered by silky smooth (yet definitely there) tannins. There’s a slight sweetness in the long finish, perhaps from oak, which brought raspberry coulis to mind. The tannic structure and herbal notes banish any thoughts of a jammy Syrah.
The wine’s balance and complexity cry out for the classic lamb with mint pairing. Greg obliged by grilling up some lamb, accompanied by a minted Israeli couscous. Classic combos work: the juicy lamb loin meshed nicely with the round, full-bodied texture of the wine, the mint was mirrored marvelously and the slight char from the grill complemented the fruity finish. A touch of pickled onions added a sour note, in a good way. JM Cellars, while known for its cool climate reds also offers crisp whites and a rosé made with 100% Cinsaut. Many more reasons to visit! KEN
¼ teaspoonfreshly cracked black pepper(plus more as needed)
1 tablespoonfinely grated lemon zest
4 (6 oz) boneless lamb loin steaks or chops
¼ cupfresh squeezed lemon juice
½ red onion(peeled and thinly sliced into rings)
¼ cupextra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoonwhite wine
1 bunchmint(leaves only)
8 ounceIsraeli couscous
3/4 cupfrozen baby peas(thawed)
4 lemon wedges
Marinate the lamb: Place the anchovies with their oil and chopped garlic in a mini-food processor. Pulse the machine 4 or 5 times then run it until a rough paste has formed. Scrape the paste in a small bowl and stir in red pepper flakes, black pepper, and lemon zest.
Place the lamb steaks in a shallow bowl. Rub them all over with the anchovy-garlic paste until thoroughly coated on all sides. Cover the bowl and refrigerate at least one hour.
Make the pickled onions and vinaigrette: Meanwhile, place the lemon juice, sliced onions, and a pinch of salt in a small bowl. Let them sit on the counter, tossing them often until the juice turns pink and the onion slices wilt; about 15 minutes.
Transfer the onion slices to a separate small bowl leaving as much of the pink lemon juice behind as possible. To this juice add olive oil, wine, and a pinch each salt and pepper. Whisk until emulsified. Set the onions and vinaigrette aside separately at room temperature until serving time.
Make the couscous: Set aside a few of the prettiest mint leaves to use as an optional garnish then roughly chopped the rest of the leaves.
Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the Israeli couscous and cook until al dente, about 4 minutes. Drain the Israeli couscous and return it to the warm pan along with the thawed peas, add the chopped mint and vinaigrette; stir to combine. Season with salt and pepper; set aside and allow the couscous to come to room temperature.
Grill the lamb: Set up a charcoal grill for direct heat or heat a gas grill over high. (Alternatively, heat a large skillet or grill pan over high heat.) Place the marinated lamb on the grill and cook undisturbed for 4 minutes. Flip the lamb and cook for another 3 to 4 minutes for medium-rare. Remove the steaks from the grill and transfer to a platter. Loosely tent the platter with foil and let rest for 8 minutes.
Serve the lamb on a pile of the minted couscous. Garnish each plate with reserved mint leaves (if using) and pickled onions. Serve with lemon wedges on the side for spritzing.
I’ve been at it again. I made Chorizo and Shrimp Tacos. Why not? Everyone likes tacos, right? But this isn’t a Chorizo and Shrimp Taco post. I just couldn’t bring myself to do two shrimp taco posts in a row. So this is a salsa post. A Raw Tomatillo and Avocado Salsa post.
1 poundmedium shrimp(peeled and deveined with tails removed)
freshly cracked black pepper(as needed)
6 corn tortillas(warmed)
raw tomatillo and avocado salsa(see recipe)
Place a large cast iron skillet over medium-high heat. Add the chorizo and a pinch of salt. Cook, breaking up the chunks until the fat has rendered and the meat is browned and nearly cooked through about 4 minutes. Add the shrimp and let brown, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and let them begin to blister about 2 more minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Divide the shrimp and chorizo mixture evenly among the tortillas. Top with a big drizzle of salsa. Serve immediately.
2 serrano chiles(stem removed, and roughly chopped)
4 clovegarlic(peeled and roughly chopped)
4 limes(juice only)
1 pinchkosher salt
In a food processor, combine the tomatillos, avocado, serranos, garlic, cilantro, lime juice and a big pinch of salt. Cover and pulse 3 or 4 times to combine ingredients, then let it blend until you can see the seeds. It should be fairly (but not completely) smooth. Taste and season with more salt if needed.