Monday, March 26, 2012

the ramps are up!!!

one of the first signs of spring...a little early if you ask goes...

Maybe it's human nature, but as a chef I am always looking forward to the next season. For example I really enjoy working with the bounty at the end of the summer. And then, I find myself pining for the squashes and fruit and mushrooms of the fall.
You can't wait to get it and as soon as you do you start looking forward to the next thing. Like a kid at Christmas, ripping open the most awesome present. Then throwing it over your shoulder to rip open the next one.

The culinary calender and the traditional calender are a bit different. Most people think in terms of four seasons. A very talented Chef and Restauranteur named Alfred Portale wrote a cook book based on the 12 seasons. The premise being that, with the food we eat, each month brings a batch of new seasonal ingredients.
In May we get local asparagus. For 5-6 weeks I eat asparagus for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Then come June, I don't eat asparagus for another 11 seasons. I move on.
Next up Strawberries. And so on...

I will say that winter is the longest season for me as a chef. After the glow of the holidays wears off and I settle into things, cooking the roots over and over gets a little tiring. Of course there are highlights. The truffles, game and cured meats help us through the cold dark days of winter. But, really and if you ask any Chef, I think we all agree on one thing. We can't wait for spring!
Bright green and fresh. The menu gets a little lighter and more vibrant.

Which brings me to the featured ingredient of the day. Ramps!
The ramp is a wild leek. It grows throughout North America, from the Carolinas to Canada. The aroma and flavor are like a combination of leeks, garlic and chives.
Ramps usually spring up, pardon the pun, in mid April. They are one of the first things to let us know that spring is here. Along with sorrel, and garlic mustard it means that it's time to change the menu.

My friend Kirk Avondoglio, an owner and chef at Perona Farms in Andover, taught me how to locate and harvest ramps. When I told him last week that the ramps in my favorite spot were 4-5 inches high he said "bullshit! It's to early." But, it's true. The weather that we have had has forced everything to start early this year.
Kinda cool from the creative/culinary perspective. It does make me wonder whats in store for our next 11 seasons though.

If you can get your hands on some...

while you are bringing some water to boil to cook linguine...

a little bacon or pancetta over medium heat to render the fat.
add the bottoms of the ramps after they have been cleaned. Saute for a few minutes.
then add the tops, a splash of white wine, some cream and reduce. add a swirl of truffle butter. Check seasoning. Finish with grated cheese, toasted bread crumbs, and some chopped chives or garlic mustard.

I like to enjoy a dish like this with an Italian white like a Greco de Tufo or a nice Albarino from Spain.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012


I consider myself blessed in that I love what I do.
But, every now and then you need to change up the routine.

Please don't take this as a complaint. But, for quite a few weeks now my life has been... sleep, cook, eat... sleep, cook, eat...oh, and there was some drinking in there to.

In any case Rob mentioned the idea of a field trip to NYC to visit Eataly, which is a huge Italian Foodporn-fest from the minds of Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich. Awesome products, great food stands, pizza and pasta, raw fish, cured meats, cheeses, espresso, gelato the list goes on and on. And there's a Beer Garden on the top floor with a retractable glass roof! Gather the girls and hit the road.

So, in regard to changing up the routine I thought I would just remove the "cook" portion of my current regimen.

The mantra for the day was eat, drink, sleep...

With the new addition in tow we had all aspects covered.

I bought some fresh pasta and an imported red sauce as well as some olive oil, hand made ricotta, copa and other goodies for dinner. So if you consider boiling water cooking I guess I didn't stray very far from the routine. But, it was pretty tasty.

As far as the day we spent with Rob and Kate, it brought back memories of Vegas. We had a fantastic day.

As far as Eataly...more than one person that I have sent there has said "this place makes me happy"

I couldn't agree more!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

The Ultimate Sandwich

OK so first a disclaimer, you know the fine print that they usually save till the end.
It is not, nor has it ever been my intention to proclaim that I know better than you. I believe that the variety of individual tastes and preferences is what makes the world an interestining place. There is not and there should never be one ultimate anything. At least not an ultimate anything that you can eat.
That being said the intention here is to offer you my version of the ultimate, because if you read the first post you would know, this is not about you, it’s about me. To do this properly I think it would be prudent to take a look at the components.

The Bread-By far the most important component! Great bread will hide a poor filling but, there is not a protein in sight that can cover up bad bread.

The Spread-Yes it actually has a function. Usually fat based, oil, butter or mayo. It came to the party to protect the bread from getting soggy.

The Filling-Oh where to start?

The Garnish-Spicy, crunchy, and refreshing are the buzz words here the garnishes should be thought of as punctuation. Used sparingly a few, full flavored extras make every bite a little different than the last and elevate the sandwich as a whole.

And now a bit of history. The sandwich takes its name from John Montagu, the 4th Earl of Sandwich. Apparently Sir John fancied himself a gambler and would snack on pieces of cold meat tucked between two slices of bread while sitting at the gaming tables instead of stepping away to enjoy a proper meal. It also happens to be my understanding that sushi has similar origins in that it was a way to take nourishment without being distracted from the matter at hand. That’s right my friends ditch the chopsticks, eat your sushi with your fingers and double down.

I think that now would be as good a time as any for a bite of the classics.

B.L.T.- In my opinion this is one of the greatest. But, It should be made with homemade mayo, Good quality smoked bacon, fresh, crisp romaine or iceberg and a local tomato plucked from the vine at the peak of ripeness. The B.L.T. has a very limited season in my book. And the only addition worth mentioning would be a few slices of ripe avocado.

The Italian- My first job was at a deli in Wayne NJ. I have made my fair share of Italian Subs. I always liked to dress the sub roll with a touch of mayo. Then ham, salami, and provolone, lettuce, tomato, oil and vinegar. I know there is supposed to be raw onion and a sprinkle of dried herbs. To be perfectly honest that ruins it for me. I do however like some hot pickeled peppers.

The Cubano- Roasted pork, ham, cheese, yellow mustard and pickles on buttered cuban bread and cooked in a press. also known as a mixto.

I do believe that by definition I could include both the hamburger and the hot dog. But, I will leave that for another day. Along with the oxymoronic open faced sandwich.
So to produce My Ultimate Sandwich I would like to take a lesson from the Classics and then head off on my own. Here goes…

The bread of choice is a baguette, specifically because of the crust to interior ratio. I love a rustic boule as much as you but for this sandwich I need the crust of the baguette. My spread is a combination of whole grain mustard and homemade mayo. I need to see at least three types of meat and one cheese. I’ll start with duck liver pate, then some fresh, roasted meat like beef sirloin, then a smoked or cured meat (or maybe both) I like a nice smoked pork loin or prosciutto. The go to cheese is aged Gouda. Remember I’m Dutch. Make sure to slice it very thin. The nutty, salty, caramel flavors that it imparts are a haunting element of this ultimate sandwich. For the garnish I’m going with a little spicy vinegar slaw. Keep portions in mind here this is not a three story Dagwood affair. You only need a little of each of the components. The last little trick, to raise the whole affair above and beyond is temperatures. I want the bread warm but not toasted. The pate, prosciutto, and smoked ham cool but not cold. The cheese at room temp. and the sirloin still warm. Make sure that the slaw is ice cold. So I hope this inspires you to go and produce your own version of the " Ultimate Sandwich". Good luck! And pass me a beer!!!