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This is the chicken version of the Piedmontese dish, vitello tonnato. It’s less trouble to make, less expensive, and some would say equally delicious. It’s best made with poached chicken breasts which are then thinly sliced and layered in a mayonnaise-like tuna sauce. In a pinch you can use a store-bought roasted chicken or – as I often do here in France –  a smoked chicken, readily available at supermarkets. With a green or tomato salad and some crusty bread, it’s perfect for a summer lunch or light supper. For a larger gathering or festive occasion, it can even be made a day ahead of time, knowing that the flavors will only improve with time. In fact I think that, like vitello tonnato, it’s at its best if allowed to sit for a while so that the chicken absorbs the flavors of the sauce.

Serves 4

 Ingredients:

 4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts, 5-6 oz. each

2 cups chicken stock, salted

For the tonnato sauce:

1 – 6 oz. good quality canned tuna

6 anchovy filets

1/2 cup mayonnaise, preferably homemade

1/2 cup light olive oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice

For the garnish:

2 – 3 tablespoons capers

Lemon slces

Remove any fat or unpleasant bits from the chicken breasts.  Heat the chicken stock to boiling point in a shallow pan that will just accommodate the chicken breasts. Add the chicken and when it comes back to the boil, turn down the heat and simmer the chicken very gently for two minutes.  Turn the chicken breasts over, turn off the heat, cover the pan and let the chicken rest for a further 5 minutes.  Check that it’s cooked by cutting into a piece or by pressing it with your finger tips.  If it doesn’t give at all, it’s cooked.  Drain the chicken, saving the stock. Slice the chicken crosswise into thin slices (5-6 to each breast).  It doesn’t matter if the slices aren’t perfect – no one will know when you layer it.

Make the tonnato sauce:

Put the tuna and anchovies in a food processor and reduce to a thick puree. You can add the oil from the tuna can if it’s good quality. Add the mayonnaise, then the oil and the lemon juice. You want it to be a thick but pourable sauce; so you’ll need to thin it with a couple of tablespoons of the chicken stock. Taste for seasoning – you can add some pepper, but won’t need much salt (maybe even none) because of the anchovies.

Assemble the dish:

On a deep platter that will take all the chicken, spoon a few tablespoons of the sauce and spread it around.  Cover with a layer of chicken.  Spread enough tonnato on the chicken to cover it.  Sprinkle with some of the capers.  Continue to layer the chicken and tonnato, ending up with a layer of tonnato.  Sprinkle with the rest of the capers and decorate with lemon slices. Refrigerate the dish for at least 3 hours, preferably overnight, making sure you remove it from the fridge at least an hour before consuming it. You may have some tonnato left over — it’s especially delicious with hard-boiled eggs or sliced tomatoes.

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We first had scoglio on a ferry from Genoa to Sicily several years ago. We noticed immediately that the ship was filled with a horde of unruly teenagers and, as the trip took 27 hours, we were greatly relieved that we had booked a sleeping berth so that we could at least escape them at bedtime. As the dinner hour approached, we also noticed that they had taken over the cafeteria, so we made our way to the upscale “restaurant” where we were the only occupants. With wine in hand, we asked the waiter what scoglio was and he said it was spaghetti with fruitti di mare. We figured that, even though meals on ferries don’t usually rate a Michelin star, this might be a good bet on a ferry in the Meditteranean on its way to Sicily. And indeed it was.

Since then, we always order scoglio when we see it on a menu and make it ourselves when tomatoes are at their best and we have on hand mussels, clams, shrimp, squid, and possibly a scampi or two.  Scampi are also known as Dublin Bay prawns, langoustines, and in America as shrimp scampi which has always seemed to me like calling them shrimp-shrimp. But back to scoglio (pronounced sko-lee-o): The dictionary gives many translations including “rock” and “stumbling block”, none of which make much sense but it has such a pure rich flavor of shellfish and tomato that I would eat it no matter what it was called. You can make it with any kind of shellfish as long as you have at least 3-4 varieties.

I have always thought that its success was due to the combination of fresh shellfish and barely cooked, peak-of-season tomatoes, but last week when we were in Italy it was on the menu at one of our favorite restaurants on the coast and the sauce was a rich, dark, long-cooked essence of tomato and shellfish, totally different from any scoglio we’d had before – but just as delicious. So I’m going to give both recipes in case you’re still waiting for the perfect tomato to arrive.

SPAGHETTI ALLO SCOGLIO

Serves 4

Ingredients (Both recipes):

1/2 cup dry white wine

16  mussels

16 Manila clams 

12 uncooked prawns or shrimps (heads on if you can find them)

8 small calamari, cleaned and thawed if frozen

All of the above are approximate.  If you can only find mussels, or clams, substitute double of one for the other.

There are so many varieties of prawns and shrimp available now that you should go with whatever suits you, including frozen. Fresh calamari may also be hard to find.  I use the small frozen shells or rings (in the US from Trader Joe’s).   

 

Recipe A (rich tomato sauce):

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 medium garlic clove, finely chopped

1 cup canned tomatoes, chopped, or 1 cup Italian passata

Salt

A pinch of cayenne

1. Make the tomato sauce: In a heavy-bottomed casserole, cook the onion over low heat in the olive oil until soft (about 5 minutes).  Add the garlic, the tomatoes or passata and the salt and cayenne (go easy on the salt as the mussel liquid may be very salty).  Let it cook slowly for about twenty minutes until it is reduced slightly and thickened.

2.The shellfish: If your shrimp have heads, peel them and make shrimp stock by just covering the heads and shells with water, and simmering for about 20 minutes.  (I always try to buy shrimp with their heads on and, no matter what dish I’m cooking, I make shrimp stock and freeze it for future use.)

3. In the meantime, steam the mussels in the wine over high heat until they open (about 4 minutes, do not overcook). As soon as they open, drain them, saving the liquid, and remove to a bowl.  Steam the clams in the same liquid until they open, adding them to the saved mussels. Turn down the heat and poach the shrimp, 1-2 minutes, depending on size and add them to the other shellfish.

4. Cut the squid into rings, if they don’t come that way.  Dry them well and saute them in a little olive oil over high heat for 1-2 minutes.  Cook them more and they will toughen and be like little rubber bands.  Add them to the other shellfish.

5. Strain the liquid into the tomato sauce being sure to leave behind any debris from the mussels and clams.  If you are lucky enough to have shrimp stock, add it to the pot at the same time. Continue to cook the sauce until it is further reduced – you want to end up with about one to one and a half cups of rich sauce, total.  Check for seasoning – your probably won’t need  salt because of the mussel liquid.

6. Cook the spaghetti or linguine according to the package directions until just al dente.  Drain well and add to the sauce.  Toss for a minute to absord some of the sauce and then add all the shellfish to heat through.  Serve immediately.

Recipe B (with fresh tomatoes):

In addition to the shellfish ingredients above:

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 ripe tomatoes, peeled and roughly chopped

1 tablespoon chopped basil or basil and parsley mixed   

Follow instructions for 2, 3, and 4 above. 

Then saute the tomatoes and the garlic in the olive oil for a couple of minutes to combine.  Reduce the strained liquid in which you cooked the shellfish (along with the shrimp stock if you have it)  to about a cup.  Add it to the chopped tomatoes and cook for about 2 minutes.  Check for salt. Then cook your spaghetti as in 6. and add it to the tomato mixture, along with all the shellfish.  Toss until the pasta has absorbed most of the liquid and the shellfish is heated through. Sprinkle with the basil, and serve at once.  

This probably all sounds quite complicated (I can hear Brenda saying, “I didn’t think it was complicated”) but if you assemble all your ingredients and take it step by step, both dishes really are worth the trouble.

Note from Brad:  For Recipe A, I think it’s important to brown a half cup of breadcrumbs in olive oil and sprinkle them over the dish at the last minute.

Note from Sam: Hello! I am still participating in the blog (light editing, as well as actually taking Jake’s text and putting it into blog format), yet Jake is now taking all the photos on her own. (She emails them to me, and I merely fine tune them). I mention this because some of the photos lately have been quite good, and I thought our esteemed readers might be confused as to who is actually taking the photos.  Is it Jake? Surely it couldn’t be Brad? Could Sam be in France at the moment? Here’s a handy rule of thumb if ever in doubt as to who the photographer is: check the edges of the white plate.  If it appears as though a small, possibly angry, insect has dragged itself through the inner plunges of the dish and then wiped itself clean on the perimeter of the plate before nary a bite has been taken, chances are very high that Jake took the photo.  Other than that, our photos are virtually interchangeable now!

(Photos by Jake)

Soon after I met Brad thirty-six and a half years ago, I cooked him osso buco for his birthday and he remarked,”This is the best thing I’ve ever eaten.” So I’ve continued to make it for him every birthday since, and he still reports that there is no better dish in the world. Then, when I had Fête Accomplie, my gourmet carry-out and catering business in Washington D.C. in the 80’s, a woman in the line of 30 customers declared loudly, “I’m Italian and I’ve never had better osso buco,” to which the other customers said, “What’s osso buco? I want it!”  From then on there was a constant demand. I do think it’s a wonderful dish and that simple cooking is best: No onion, no carrots, no celery in the sauce. Just the pure flavor of tomatoes and white wine and the incredible essences that pour out of the veal and the marrow. You must have the right cut of veal shank: Not those 3″ high solid bones with little marrow and less meat, but slices about 1 to1-1/2 inches thick with large marrow-filled bones and plenty of tender pale meat that falls off the bone and becomes slightly gelatinous when cooked. Osso buco means hollow bone and within the hollow bone is marrow and without it the purpose and perfection of the dish is sadly reduced. So, If the idea of eating this succulent morsel turns you off, then osso buco is probably not for you.

I like to serve it with the traditional risotto Milanese and gremolata, a chopped up mixture of lemon, garlic and parsley.

Steamed or sauteed zucchini is a nice accompaniment. It’s certainly a dish worthy of a special occasion.

Osso Buco

Serves 2-3 

Ingredients:

For the veal:

4 1 -1/2 inch meaty slices of veal shank

1 tablespoon butter

1/2 cup dry white wine

1-14 oz. can of the best tomatoes you can find

1 clove garlic, salt and pepper

For the risotto:

1/2 small onion, chopped

1 tablespoon butter

1-1/2 cups chicken stock

a pinch of saffron

3/4 cup arborio rice

For the gremolata:

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1 large garlic clove, chopped fine

Grated rind of 1 lemon

3-4 small zucchini (optional)

Heat the butter in a sturdy pan over fairly high heat and brown the veal on each side for 2 minutes.  Pour over the wine and let it bubble and reduce by half.  Chop the tomatoes finely – I pulse them a few times in the food processor – and add them to the pan.  You may not need the full can, they should barely cover the veal.  Add the chopped clove of garlic and salt and pepper.  When it comes to the boil, turn down the heat, cover the pan, and let the veal simmer gently for 40 minutes.  Carefully turn the slices over, making sure you keep the veal and its marrow intact, cover the pan again, and continue to simmer.   Check after 20 minutes. The meat should show little resistance when pierced with a fork and the sauce should be thick – it may need another ten minutes or so with the lid off to further reduce the sauce.  The meat won’t mind.

For the risotto, cook the onion in the butter until softened, about five minutes.  Add the rice to the pan and stir it around for a good minute or two to make sure the rice is impregnated with the butter. Meantime warm the stock, add the saffron to it with a half-teaspoon of salt (if the stock isn’t salted) and add it to the rice, stirring.  As soon as it comes to the boil, cover the pan tightly, turn it down to the lowest possible heat, and cook for exactly 17 minutes.  Fluff it with a fork – it should be perfectly cooked but can rest, covered, for a few extra minutes.

For the gremolata, combine the parsley, garlic and lemon rind.

For the optional zucchini, cut it into either rounds or batons and steam it until just tender.  Or, if you prefer, you can saute it in a little butter.

Assemble the dish:  Mound the rice in the center of a large oval platter.  Surround it with the veal, placing the zucchini in between.  Spoon over the sauce, sprinkle with the gremolata and be ready to have one of the best things you’ve ever eaten.

Today we had an amazing, simple lunch on the patio.  Even though we’re into November, this is about as close to a perfect Summer day as we get in San Francisco: Blue skies, 70-odd degrees with just a slight hint in the air of Fall to come.

This morning while passing through the UCSF hospital after an appointment  we came upon a Farmer’s Market right there in the lobby  (only in San Francisco, you might say, and apparently only on Wednesdays). Crates of beautiful veggies, all organic and bursting with freshness. We swooped on the heirloom tomatoes, big bunches of basil and coriander, baby new potatoes, green beans and, best of all, ears of corn picked this morning, the vendor assured us.

We raced home to throw the corn on the stove and made some of our favorite coriander butter in the pestle and mortar to douse it with. (It’s very easy to make: Pound 1/4 cup of coriander with a large pinch of salt to form a paste, then add 1 oz. of butter and keep pounding until it’s a lovely green and easy to spread. If you like it spicy, add a few drops of the bright green Chile Habanero sauce which you can find at most supermarkets.) We sliced up a few of the perfectly ripe tomatoes – not squishy as Heirlooms often are – anointed them with basil, a splash of our olive oil from Provence, a smidgeon of balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, and dug out the last of the chevre we’d brought back from France and plopped in the middle of the plate. With some crusty bread to mop up the juices, we toasted the end of summer with a crisp glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

The rest of the basil was of course perfect to make pesto for our favorite pasta dish from Genoa. A local pasta called trenette is mixed with baby new potatoes, either just boiled or par-boiled and fried until a bit crisp in olive oil, cooked green beans, as much pesto as you think you need, and lots of Parmesan. Although it might seem odd to add potatoes to pasta, the different textures work wonderfully. This is a very old dish – it was eaten by Ligurian monks in the 15th century as a Lenten dish – which has become quite popular lately. However, in most recipes I read, the pasta, potatoes and beans are cooked in one pot and I think trying to get everything to come out cooked just right is way too difficult. It’s not much more trouble to cook things separately and better results are assured.

As for the pesto, I love to make it in the pestle and mortar (yes, I’m a P & M freak!) because the flavor and texture are better, but if you don’t have one, the food processor does a perfectly acceptable job. I don’t put pine nuts in this pesto because I don’t think they add to it, but of course you can if you’re so inclined. I also add the parmesan separately, grating it on top of each serving at the table.

Pasta Pesto with New Potatoes and Green Beans

Serves 4

Ingredients:

3/4 lb. linguine, spaghetti, or pasta of your choice

12 baby new potatoes (preferably red) 

1/2 lb. green beans

2 packed cups basil, large stems removed

1 large clove garlic

salt, pepper, olive oil, parmesan

Make the pesto: Either pound the basil, salt and garlic in a pestle and mortar to form a paste and then add enough olive oil (about 6  or 7 tablespoons) to make a thick emulsion, or do the same in the food processor without letting the pesto become too smooth.

Bring a pot of water to the boil, add the potatoes and cook until almost done (about 15 minutes), or until fully cooked if you don’t plan on frying them. Drain. Cut the potatoes in half  and  fry them in olive oil on medium-high heat until brown and crisp.

In a separate pot of boiling water, cook the beans uncovered (to preserve their color). Cooking time will depend on how large and fresh the beans are, but 5-8 minutes should do it. Drain.

In the meantime, cook the pasta in plenty of salted boiling water, according to the package instructions.  (I find that although we like our pasta al dente, packaged pasta instructions generally underestimate the cooking time by about 2 minutes.) Drain well.

Finally, put the beans, potatoes and pasta in your serving dish, add the pesto, and mix together well. Allow each person to grate fresh parmesan and pepper on top as they like.  Enjoy!

Sam adds: I make this dish often because it’s so easy and is the favorite of more than one of us. I always fry the potatoes (never just boil them) and I like to add extra pesto and veggies to the mix. For example, I would add 3/4 lb. of beans, 16 potatoes, and 3 cups of basil.  (Of course if you up the basil to 3 cups, you’ll have to adjust your olive oil and garlic accordingly: 8-10 tbsp. of oil and 1 1/2 cloves of garlic.)