Monday, June 29, 2009

North African Dry Rub


Americans are notoriously poor at geography, a fact that should scare any parent whose child is thinking of joining the military. Why? Wouldn't you like to know something about where you might die? So how about North Africa? The last time anybody in the U.S. military died in North Africa was in WW II; and they died for a very good cause: the defeat of the Nazis. It's the western part of the southern Mediterranean littoral and comprises the countries of Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia. In geography it's known as the Maghrib. It's a nice place to know. So what's a "North African Dry Rub?" This is an American term referring to the kinds of spices used in one of these countries to rub into meat before baking or grilling. In the Magrib there is no such thing as a "North African dry rub." In all the Mediterranean the heaviest use of spices is found in these three countries. The most common North African spices are cumin, caraway, coriander, turmeric, paprika, chile, cinnamon, black pepper, saffron, cubeb, aniseed, and fenugreek. Many others are used.

[Photo: Clifford A. Wright]

Friday, June 26, 2009

Soup


My newest book THE BEST SOUPS IN THE WORLD will be published by Wiley at the end of the year. It was fun writing and although I've always loved soups I became even more enamored and excited from the opportunity to test so many more soup recipes than one would normally. Don't ask me for a favorite: that's impossible. But a minestra di fave e dente de leone, fava and dandelion soup, is a soul-satisfying soup made with olive oil, tomato, onions, celery and carrot in chicken broth.

[Photo: Clifford A. Wright]

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Tunisian Food


If you love spicy you'll love Tunisian food. Tunisia is an arid

[photo is of the Tunisian maqruna bi'l mirqaz (sea shell pasta with merguez sausage]

sun-drenched country on the Mediterranean in North Africa. It is rich in Carthaginian, Roman, and Islamic history and its food reflects both its history and what the land bears. The famous chile paste called harisa comes from Tunisia and is used as a condiment. The staple food of Tunisia is couscous but they also eat lots of pasta. One exciting dish is macaroni with lamb and chickpeas, macaroni being the generic term for dried pasta of any shape. A nice recipe to try is nawasar mufawwra, steamed pasta squares with lamb and chickpeas in spicy sauce.

[Photo: Clifford A. Wright]

Monday, June 22, 2009

Pan-roast


One of my favorite pans is my much used carbon steel pan bought in Gourdon in the Lot in France about 20 years ago. I use it mostly for pan-roasting (or pan-searing). Carbon steel reacts to acidic fruits and vegetables and that's why one can never use tomatoes, lemons, or wine when cooking with it. I often do something very simple with the pan, namely, a nicely charred ribeye steak with a dollop of maitre d'hotel butter on top. Maitre d'hotel butter was a very popular compound butter about forty years ago, but it should be known by every competent cook. Blend together butter, parsley, and lemon juice and place a good-size dollop of it at room temperature on top of the steak.

[Photo: Clifford A. Wright]

Friday, June 19, 2009

Raw Sauce


Come the summer many Italian cooks forego the hot stove and make pasta with a variety of raw sauces or salsa crudo. All this means is that the hot pasta is tossed with uncooked vegetables, herbs, or other condiments and it's served. [Photo: Fine Cooking, of a Clifford A. Wright dish]

A very nice recipe is here.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

What do I do with Kale?


In the Mediterranean kale cries out for soup. In northern Italy a very nice black kale soup is called minestra di cavolo nero e fagioli. It uses a dark leafed kale, a hearty leafy vegetable in the cabbage family, called black kale, Russian kale, or Tuscan kale. I like it with blood sausage. Cook some chopped onions, carrots, garlic, pork belly pieces or pancetta and a four-inch-square piece of pork skin in some olive oil until soft. Add some red kidney beans, maybe 1/2 cup, and about a pound of kale cut into thin strips, and cover with 6 cups of chicken broth. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to very low and simmer until everything is very tender, about 4 to 5 hours. An hour before serving you can add 1/4 cup of soup pasta such as semi di melone. Season with salt and pepper at the end. Cook the blood sausage separately in barely simmering water.

[Photo: Clifford A. Wright]

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Is Polenta the Same Thing as Grits?


No. Grits is made from ground hominy with the germ removed (germ is the embryo with the scutellum of a cereal grain that is separated from the starchy endosperm during milling). Hominy is made by soaking corn kernals in a caustic solution (lye) that removes the hull. Polenta can be made from a variety of grains such sorghum, wheat, or millet, but typically refers to that made from cornmeal, "meal" meaning coarsely ground grain.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Tapas


Tapas can be grouped into three main categories, according to how easy they are to eat: cosas de picar, pinchos, and cazuelas. Cosas de picar (meaning “things to nibble”)

[Photo: Tapas bar in Seville]

basically refer to finger food, the most famous being the olive-the quintessential Spanish and, in fact, Mediterranean finger food. If a utensil (like banderillas, decorated toothpicks that get their name because they look like the darts used in a bullfight) is required to eat the food, the tapa is called pinchos. Cazuelas (little dishes) are tapas that usually come in sauce, for example, alb├│ndigas (meatballs) or shrimp fried in garlic. All regions of Spain have tapas, although Catalonians have not traditionally eaten tapas and do so now only because of the unification of modern Spain. The Catalans were gastronomically closer to the French and Italians than to the Spanish. The Basques call their tapas pintxos from the Spanish word pinchar, to prick because they were once always served with toothpicks to pick them up. The Spanish proverb comiendo, comiendo el apetito se va abriendo--appetite increases with constant eating, might give you a better idea of what lies behind the culinary experience of Spain.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Laguna Beach Eating


Orange County, California is renowned for being a culinary wasteland. Sure, you might find rave reviews

[photo: Mark Abel]

of some restaurant on the plebian tripadvisor.com web site and even the foodie web sites. But my favorite knowledgeable account of restaurants in Orange County was the person who wrote the following answer to someone's query about where to eat in Orange County: "you don't go to Orange County to eat."

Now, that being said, what you can eke out are the names of acceptable places to eat that provide decent or adequate food in a nice environment, but nothing to write home about. I ate at Ocean Brewing in Laguna Beach, California and it was a very fine experience. A nice brew pub producing their own fresh beer and a menu they called Mediterranean-Italian which was, in fact, Italian. A lovely greeting, nice attentive but not overbearing service, and an almost imperceptible transformation from a restaurant to a DJ-run music blasting dance venue around 9:30 pm.

Laguna Beach is an old California beach town with a real artist's colony and a most delightful location. Today it's a heavy tourist destination and has a somewhat crowded and unreal feeling, but still pleasant as a rendezvous. It's filled with restaurants nearly all of which are unmemorable except for locations (many overlook the sea) and sometimes expertly made drinks.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Molecular or Deconstructive?


The latest by-word in the culinary world is the so-called molecular gastronomy of chefs such as the Catalan Ferran Adria. But did you know that Adria specifically says there is no such thing as molecular gastronomy and that he does not call his cooking molecular? A better--and more accurate--description is deconstructive gastronomy. You can read more in-depth analysis and commentary about deconstructive gastronomy and all the cooking of the Mediterranean by becoming a member of www.cliffordawright.com

What you read here is like the display dessert at a restaurant. Step through the link to the rest of the kitchen, and the pantry, and the field, and the culture that lies behind the food you eat. Visit www.cliffordawright.com and you can see why a blog is only a baby step. Come visit a world of Mediterranean food.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Arugula Simplicity


In this day and age of Ferran Adria-inspired culinary alchemy we can easily forget the sublime joy of the simplicity of so much Mediterranean food. I went to my local farmers market this morning and purely by coincidence one farmer had his leafy bunches of crisp arugula next to a bin of nicely ripe beefsteak tomatoes and it immediately reminded me of a dish I hadn't made in a while.

Arugula is a popular vegetable in Apulia, the province that is the heel of the Italian boot, and it is used as often in stews and pasta dishes as Americans use it in salads. Cavatieddi con la Ruca is a simple dish of cavatelli, a pasta shaped like a cowrie shell, made by throwing the arugula into the boiling water with the cavatelli, draining and then tossing the pasta with tomato sauce and pecorino cheese. That's all it is.

Cavatelli is the pasta Vinny Mancini (Andy Garcia) instructs Mary Corleone (Sofia Coppola) to make, standing behind her in an erotically charged scene from GODFATHER III. Delicious on both counts.

[Photo: Clifford A. Wright]

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Rotolo


Several regions of Italy claim the rotolo di spinach e ricotta, a large leaf of fresh pasta stuffed with spinach and ricotta cheese and rolled into a cylinder. The rotolo from Sardinia is a delightful and easy dish. There is time and labor involved of course, but all in all nothing is too difficult. It's also a crowd pleaser.

One starts by making the fresh pasta, using only flour, water, and salt. While the pasta ball rests one can make the stuffing. I put two pounds of spinach with only the water adhering to it from its last rinsing into a large pot and wilt it over high heat for 5 minutes. I let the spinach drain and cool and once it has, I'll pick up softball sized pieces of the spinach and squeeze all remaining water out. Then we chop the spinach and mix it with a pound of fresh ricotta cheese and 3 eggs.

The ricotta must really be fresh and not from a container in a supermarket. As of this writing supermarkets do not sell fresh ricotta so you need to make it yourself or visit an Italian market. The pasta is rolled out into a thin sheet about 24 inches by 14 inches. The spinach and ricotta stuffing is spread over the pasta sheet and rolled up tightly. Then ends are secured and the whole stuffed rotolo is wrapped in cheesecloth and tied off with twine.

Boil it for 20 minutes in salted water and serve with tomato sauce. It's very nice, very pretty.

[Photo: Clifford A. Wright]

Monday, June 1, 2009

In the Beginning...


Mediterranean cuisine is called one of the world's healthiest diets, but very few people will be able to tell you what Mediterranean cuisine is. This blog will hopefully get you started once it's up and running fully.

Specifically, I will be blogging about cooking and the food used in Mediterranean cooking. For the full range of the Mediterranean culinary experience and in the meantime, please visit my web site at www.cliffordawright.com to find your introduction to what the cuisines of the Mediterranean are all about. If you become a member you will have access to a thousand fully kitchen-tested heirloom Mediterranean recipes as well as a monthly and weekly newsletter. I call them newsletters rather than blogs because they are formatted differently, written differently, and have a different purpose than this blog will have.

If you are interested in travel information and restaurant recommendations in the Mediterranean you will do best by Googling the respective places you want to visit. If you want to know more about what might appear on a menu once there or what you should be ordering and eating...then stick around...this is the place.