Tag Archives: celery

Lemony Octopus Salad

Octopus scares most cooks. Not because of its tentacles, or its slipperiness, or its often unwieldy size. It scares most cooks because  preparing it successfully (until it’s tender rather than rubbery) seems unlikely.

Why this should be the case is a mystery. Think of octopus as you would a tough cut of meat meant for braising: beef chuck, oxtail, pork shoulder, lamb shanks… You get the idea. All it needs is slow, gentle cooking to render it tender and soft, rather than chewy and tough. Forget all you have read about triple-dunking in boiling liquid, beating against the side of a rock (or the inside of your sink), whacking it with a meat mallet, or adding a cork to the boiling liquid. Just cook the octopus for hours, until a fork easily punctures it, and you’re done.

The recipe below is for poached octopus, which certainly doesn’t sound very sexy, but it is succulent, the ideal starter for a holiday seafood dinner. The first step is making what the French call court bouillon, which means short stock: a flavorful, often wine-spiked cooking liquid in which to poach fish and seafood (or anything else you wish to cook). Making a  court bouillon takes minutes of work, and you can add whatever aromatics you want to the pot: below are my favorites, but improvise as you like.

Once the court bouillon is strained, lower the octopus into it and cook it at a happy simmer for 2 or 3 hours, then serve it straight away, as below, or cool it in a bit of its cooking liquid and grill it later (a simple smoked paprika, parsley, and garlic dressing is my favorite post-grilling). You can also press the cooked octopus into a terrine mold (or loaf pan) lined with plastic wrap overnight, refrigerate it under the weight of a few cans, and when you take it out, you can slice it into a most impressive-looking octopus soppressata:  the gelatin in the octopus sets the layers so it looks like a gorgeous octopus mosaic.

Keep in mind that octopus shrinks tremendously when it is cooked, so even if it seems like a 3-pound octopus is overkill, it will be about one-third of its original weight after cooking.

Serves 2 as a main course, 4 to 6 as an appetizer

For the court bouillon:

  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 celery stalk, chopped
  • 1 carrot, chopped
  • tops and fronds from 1 bunch fennel
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 6 black peppercorns
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • cool water to cover

For the octopus and to serve:

  • 1 large octopus (ideally about 3 pounds)
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • juice of 1 large lemon
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili flakes
  • 1 garlic clove, grated on a microplane
  • 2 tablespoons minced Italian parsley

Make the court bouillon: Combine all the ingredients except the water  in a deep pot (preferably one with a built-in strainer). Add enough water to come as high as you think is safe, considering that you will later be adding the octopus to the pot.

Bring to a  boil and simmer 30 minutes. Strain to discard the solids and return to a  boil.

Lower the octopus into the simmering liquid. Cover and cook until the octopus is very tender over medium-low heat, about 2 to 3 hours. Don’t rush the process; octopus takes time to become tender. Add more water as needed to keep the octopus submerged throughout the cooking.

Remove the octopus from the liquid and place on a large platter. Cool until you can handle it easily with your hands. Slip off the slimy purple skin (but leave the suction cups attached to the tentacles). Discard the head (I find it tough, although you might want to try it in case you disagree).  Cut the tentacles into bite-size chunks.

In a small bowl, combine the olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, chili flakes, garlic, and parsley. Pour over the octopus and toss well; taste the seasoning and adjust as needed. Serve warm or at room temperature. We enjoy octopus with steamed baby potatoes, green beans, and kale sprouts (as pictured below) dressed simply with olive oil, salt, and pepper, but you can serve it atop baby greens, peppery arugula, or a shaved fennel salad.

 

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Tagliatelle with Beef Braciole in Red Wine and Tomato Sauce

This is Sunday food: beef is pounded thin and rolled around Pancetta, parsley, garlic, and grated Pecorino, then braised with red wine, aromatic vegetables, and tomatoes until succulent. The Pecorino melts inside the bundles, making the sauce even richer and ensuring the bundles hold together. In typical Italian fashion, the stuffed beef bundles (known as braciole in southern Italy, involtini in northern Italy) should be served as a second course, their rich cooking juices tossed with pasta as a first course.

Serves 4

For the bundles:

  • 1 and ½ pounds beef round tip steak, cut into 4 pieces and pounded thin with a mallet (about ¼-inch thick)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ pound Pancetta, finely minced
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely minced
  • ¼ cup coarsely chopped Italian parsley
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano


For the sauce:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large yellow onion, minced
  • 1 carrot, minced
  • 1 celery stalk, minced
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon minced Italian parsley
  • ¼ teaspoon chili flakes
  • 1 cup dry red wine
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 cups chopped San Marzano canned tomatoes
  • 1 cup cool water, plus extra as needed

To serve:

  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 1 pound fresh tagliatelle pasta
  • 1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano, plus extra for passing at the table
  • 1 tablespoon minced Italian parsley

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Make the bundles: Line a counter with a sheet of aluminum foil or parchment paper and place the two slices of steak on the foil or parchment in a single layer. Season evenly with the salt and pepper. In a bowl, combine the Pancetta, garlic, parsley, and Pecorino. Following the natural grain of the meat, and roll into tight bundles. The meat will be more tender once cooked if you roll with the grain instead of against the grain, so that when you slice the braciole later, it will be against the grain.

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Make the sauce: Warm the olive oil in a deep, wide saucepan large enough to accommodate the pasta later. Add the bundles and cook over medium heat, turning as needed, until the bundles brown evenly on all sides, about 10 minutes. (Don’t worry if a bit of the stuffing pops out while searing; it will add richness to the sauce.)

Stir in the onion, carrot, celery, garlic, parsley, and chili, and cook until the vegetables are translucent and lightly golden, about 5 minutes.

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Deglaze with the wine and cook until it almost fully evaporates, about 3 minutes, scraping the bottom of the pan to release any bits and pieces that have stuck. Add the salt and pepper and stir in the tomatoes and water. Bring to a gentle boil. Cover and cook over low heat for 1 to 2 hours, or until the bundles feel tender when poked with a fork, adding a bit of water as needed to prevent scorching and to keep the sauce pleasantly moist and turning the bundles once in a while to promote even cooking. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasoning. Keep warm.

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When you are ready to serve, make the pasta: Bring 5 quarts of water to a boil. Add the salt and the tagliatelle, and cook until al dente. Drain, reserving 2 cups of the pasta cooking water.

Remove the bundles from the sauce, and place the bundles on a platter; to serve the bundles as a second course, spoon on some of the sauce and tent with aluminum foil to keep warm.

To serve: Thin out the braciole sauce in the pan with enough of the reserved pasta cooking water to obtain a flowing consistency; taste again and adjust the seasoning if needed. Add the tagliatelle to the sauce, sprinkle with the Pecorino, and toss vigorously to coat. Serve the pasta hot, sprinkled with the parsley. Serve the braciole as a second course.

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Tuscan Cannellini Bean Soup with Spinach and Potatoes

This recipe takes me back to Lucca, a medieval walled city in Tuscany where my husband and I always stop to eat a lunch of thick, hearty soups. I say soups because frankly we skip the main course and order three soups instead: a farro soup; a lentil or bean soup such as this one; and a vegetable soup. Last week, craving the flavors of the soups we have savored in Lucca over the years, I came up with this simple, soothing recipe for lunch. A drizzle of raw olive oil just before serving and a sprinkling of freshly ground black pepper bring all the flavors in perfect balance.

You can use dried cannellini beans if you prefer, but in that case, you will need to allow for overnight soaking and longer cooking. Use 1/4 cup dried cannellini beans, soak overnight in cool water to cover, drain, and cook in fresh water to cover until tender, then proceed with the recipe below.

To make this soup the starter to a perfect meal, serve with thick slices of garlic-rubbed grilled bread for dipping. Follow the soup with a simple salad of greens tossed with grated carrots, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, and pepper, and the crazy delicious wild rice fritters above.

Serves 2

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 small yellow onion, minced
  • 1 small carrot, minced
  • 1 small celery stalk, minced
  • 1 medium Yukon Gold potato, peel on, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 2 cups water or chicken broth, plus extra as needed
  • 1 cup canned cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra for serving
  • 1/2 pound fresh spinach leaves, washed and dried

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In a heavy-bottomed 2-quart pot, place 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, the onion, carrot, celery, potato, and garlic. Set over medium-low heat and cover with a tight-fitting lid. Cook about 10 minutes, stirring once in a while and adding a tablespoon or so of water as needed to prevent scorching, until the vegetables are starting to soften and the potato has lost its raw look.

Add the drained beans and season with the salt and pepper. Pour in the water or broth and cover again. Bring to a gentle boil and cook until the potato is completely tender and the beans have started to break down a bit, about 15 minutes. Using a fork, crush some of the beans against the side of the pot to thicken the soup.

Stir in the spinach, cover again, and cook 10 more minutes, or until the spinach is very silky. Taste for salt and adjust as needed. Serve hot, drizzled with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkled with freshly ground black pepper.

Cannellini-soup

Creamy Cauliflower Soup with White Truffle Oil & Crispy Bacon

This amazing soup takes little active work, is very low in fat and calories, but delivers incredible depth of flavor. The trick: sweating the vegetables in a covered pot slowly, then adding just a bit of flour to thicken up the base for a velvety mouth-feel. While an immersion blender may be easier to use than a blender, I prefer the latter to obtain a rich, creamy texture.

Feel free to omit the bacon for a completely vegetarian dish;  garnish with a few roasted cauliflower florets instead in this case, to provide visual contrast.

Serves 4

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, minced
  • 1 celery stalk, minced
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon thyme leaves
  • 4 cups (1 medium head) cauliflower florets, tough stems removed
  • 2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra to serve
  • 3 cups 2% or whole milk
  • 1 cup water, plus extra as needed
  • 2 slices bacon, cut into tiny dice
  • 2 tablespoons white truffle oil

Place the olive oil, onion, celery, garlic, and thyme in a 3-quart pot with a tight-fitting lid. Cover and set over medium-low heat. Cook until the vegetables soften, about 10 minutes, stirring once in a while as needed to prevent scorching.

Uncover, add the cauliflower, stir well, and cover again. Cook until the cauliflower softens, about 10 minutes, stirring once in a while and adding water if needed to prevent scorching.

Uncover, stir in the flour, and cook for 3 minutes, stirring often; the flour should lose its raw smell and the cauliflower and vegetables should become coated with the flour. It is fine if the cauliflower and vegetables take on a little color; this will only deepen the flavor of the soup.

Season with the salt and pepper. Pour in the milk, stirring to avoid lumps forming. Add the water and cover. Bring to a gentle boil. Simmer for 30 minutes, or until the cauliflower is very soft (it should fall apart when poked with a spoon) and the flavors have melded. Be sure not to cook the soup over too high a flame, as the milk may curdle (even if it does, the soup will be blended later, so it is fine).

Transfer to a blender, being careful as the soup is quite hot. Cover the blender lid with a towel to prevent splashing and puree the soup  until thick and smooth, about 2 minutes. If the soup is too thick for your taste, add as much water as needed to dilute to a consistency you like; the soup should be thick enough to coat the back of a spoon.

Return to the pot and keep warm. Adjust the seasoning as needed.

When you are ready to serve, place the diced bacon in a skillet and cook over medium heat until golden and crispy. Drain on paper towels.

Serve the soup hot, drizzled with the truffle oil, garnished with the crispy bacon, and sprinkled with freshly ground black pepper.