12/23/12 7:59am

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Peconic Bay scallops seviche.

The North Fork is a beautiful peninsula of land surrounded by Peconic Bay, Long Island Sound and the Atlantic Ocean. The wetlands, varying salinity, tides and temperatures have created a seascape unique in the world. And the well-drained sandy soil and long growing season have favored agriculture for centuries. As the crush of population moves east, many of our long-developed resources have dwindled, but their traditions hang on. I have enjoyed being a professional chef on the North Fork for the past 40 years, year in, year out and year round. The foods that keep appearing over and over again are ducks, oysters, scallops, clams, finfish and myriad plant foods — including the wine.

As time moves on into the 21st century we sometimes forget that duck farming was a major industry, with production peaking at six million ducks in 1968 from over 30 producers. Greenport was once the oyster capital of the East Coast, with production peaking at about 25 million pounds of oyster meats in the 1930s. Commercial fishing has changed as aquaculture replaces the dwindling supply of wild fish. And the large crops of wholesale potatoes, cauliflower and cabbage have been gradually replaced by specialty farms that seek to compete in a changed marketplace.

But our cuisine, or the art of cookery using the foods and traditions of our area, has evolved into a distinct art form based on these wonderful ingredients. This Christmas dinner is a celebration of some of these special foods. The recipes are intended to serve eight people.

First Course

Peconic Bay Scallop Seviche

Combine in a bowl the juice of 3 limes and 1 teaspoon lime zest. Toss 1 pound of fresh bay scallops in this mixture and add 1/2 cup diced red onion, 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, 1 tablespoon minced jalapeno pepper, 1 teaspoon minced garlic, 1/2 teaspoon sea salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Cover the bowl with plastic film and refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours before serving.

At service time, remove the flesh from 2 avocados and cut into half-inch cubes. Lightly toss these in a bowl with the juice of 1 lime. Remove the leaves from 1 bunch of fresh watercress. Cut 1 cup of cherry tomatoes in half.

Place watercress in the bottoms of 8 martini glasses. Add the avocado next and place the scallops and tomatoes on top, pouring the sauce over all. Garnish with a little chopped cilantro.

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | A cup of oyster stew is ready to serve on a plate covered in hand painted insects.

Soup Course

Oyster Stew

Purchase 1 pint of fresh shucked oysters. Spray a sauté pan with no-stick and cook 1/4 pound of pancetta at medium heat. Remove to a paper towel, chop coarsely and set aside.

Add to the saucepan 1 tablespoon butter, 2 chopped leeks (white part), 2 minced scallions and 1 cup chopped celery. Season with 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning, 1 bay leaf, 1 teaspoon sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Cook covered at low heat until vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes.

Add 1 tablespoon flour and stir it into the mixture, continuing to cook another 2 minutes. Stir in 2 cups milk and 1 cup heavy cream and bring to a simmer.

Add the pint of oysters with their juices and gradually bring back to a simmer. Add the reserved pancetta and check for seasoning. Remove from the heat and stir in 1 cup crushed pilot crackers. Garnish with pilot crackers and serve.

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Putting the garnishes on the Long Island duck.

Entrée

Brined/Steamed/Roasted Duck

Purchase a fresh 6-pound Long Island duck from a local retailer. Remove the giblets and neck from the cavity and remove the surrounding fat. Trim the wing tips, the tail and the flap of skin near the neck. Save these for another use and rinse the duck under cold water.

Prepare a brine by combining 2 cups orange juice with 2 cups water. Add 1/2 cup coarse salt, 12 bruised peppercorns, 1 bunch fresh thyme, 1 bunch fresh rosemary, 1 tablespoon minced garlic and 1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger. Heat this mixture just enough to dissolve the salt. Add a cup of ice cubes to cool.

Place the duck in a glass or plastic container and pour the brine over it. Refrigerate for 4 to 6 hours.

Make a glaze by adding to a small saucepan 1/2 cup honey, 1/4 cup cider vinegar, 1 tablespoon soy sauce and 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard. Bring this mixture to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

Remove the duck from the brine and dry with paper towels. Place it on a V-rack in a roasting pan, breast side up. With a sharp pointed knife, cut a diamond pattern of shallow cuts in the skin. Place in the cavity of the duck 1 quartered orange, 1 bunch of thyme and 1 bunch of rosemary. Tie the legs and wings close to the body with butcher’s twine.

Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil and pour it over the duck, letting the water end up in the bottom of the roasting pan. Cover the roasting pan tightly with foil and place in a 400-degree oven. Cook for 45 minutes and remove the duck from the oven.

Pour off the water and fat and replace the duck in the roasting pan on its rack. Brush the duck all over with the glaze and put it back in the oven, turning down the heat to 375. Let it cook, brushing it with glaze every half-hour, for 1 1/2 hours. If it begins to get too dark, place a loose piece of foil over the breast area. When finished, the duck should be a dark mahogany color and the legs should move easily when squeezed.

Remove duck from the oven and let it rest, covered with foil, for 20 minutes. Cut off the string and remove the herbs and orange from the cavity. Carve the duck at the table or cut it into eighths and partially debone.

Orange Sauce

Purchase 6 navel oranges and squeeze the juice from 4 of them. Remove the zest from 1 orange and set aside. Peel remaining 2 oranges and cut the sections from the membranes.

In a small saucepan, bring to a boil 1/4 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons water. Cook until it begins to caramelize and turns golden. Add the reserved orange juice, 2 tablespoons sherry vinegar, 1/4 cup minced shallots and 1 cup chicken stock. Simmer until reduced by one-third and swirl in 2 tablespoons cold butter. Add back the orange sections and the zest along with 1 tablespoon orange liqueur, such as triple sec or Grand Marnier.

KATHARINE SCHROEDER PHOTO | Raspberry trifle for dessert.

Dessert

Raspberry Trifle

Begin by making a plain pound cake. Cream 1/2 pound butter with 2 cups sugar for 5 minutes, using a paddle and a mixer at medium speed. Beat in 5 large eggs, one at a time.

Place 3 cups flour, 1/2 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda and 1 teaspoon salt in a bowl and combine with a whisk.

Combine 3/4 cup buttermilk and 1 teaspoon vanilla extract in a small bowl.

Turn the mixer on to slow speed and alternately add the flour mixture and buttermilk mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.

Spray 2 loaf pans with no-stick and divide the batter between them. Bake in a 350-degree oven for 55 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Remove from oven, cool slightly and turn out cakes on a rack to cool. Wrap and refrigerate.

To make the trifle, make a syrup by bringing to a boil 1/2 cup sugar, 1/4 cup water, 1/4 cup lemon juice and 2 tablespoons raspberry liqueur (Chambord, framboise). Remove syrup from heat and let cool.

In a bowl, place 1 cup raspberry jam, 2 tablespoons Chambord and 4 cups fresh raspberries. Combine them gently and set aside.

In a mixer, whip 2 cups heavy cream to stiff peaks and fold in 2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar.

Slice the chilled pound cake into 3/4-inch-thick slices. Cut the slices in half to make squares. Fill the bottom of a trifle dish with pound cake (some pieces of cake will have to be trimmed) and brush with syrup. Spread the raspberry mixture over this and then a layer of whipped cream. Repeat with two more layers. Garnish the top with 1 cup fresh raspberries and chill for 2 hours.

(The pound cake recipe was adapted from Ina Garten and the trifle was adapted from Martha Stewart.)

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: johncross@optonline.net.

 

10/14/12 8:00am

John Ross (center) with two Coast Guard chiefs at his 1967 graduation from the Coast Guard Commissary School.

As I stood on the dock in Greenport watching the U.S. Coast Guard barque Eagle come into port for the recent Maritime Festival, I was suddenly full of memories of a time 45 years ago when I was a cook in the U.S. Coast Guard.

My very first assignment out of boot camp was the 311-foot Coast Guard cutter Mackinac. It was based out of New York Harbor and patrolled the Atlantic from Greenland to Cuba. On my first patrol, in September 1966, we were headed to Guantanamo Bay for training with the Navy when we received an SOS from a ship that had lost power in a raging storm off the Florida Keys.

The storm was Hurricane Inez, one of the most destructive storms on record, causing over 1,000 deaths in the Caribbean. To rescue the ship we headed into giant 30-foot swells and withstood 80 mph winds. The screws of our ship were coming out of the water as the bow was buried in the waves.

In the galley, it was too dangerous to cook hot food, so the crew ate cold cuts and bread. This voyage ended safely and we were able to reach the disabled ship and restore its power. But our ship rarely sailed in calm water, as our mission was to man weather stations and be nearby to help ships and airplanes in distress.

Cooking in this environment required holding on with one hand and cooking with the other. Knives and utensils were always placed on a wet towel to prevent sliding. The galley of the Mackinac was located on the main deck, extending the entire width of the ship, with doors on either side to enhance ventilation. It was equipped with a six-burner stove, a large flat-top griddle, a stack oven, two steam jacketed (trunnion) kettles and a deep fryer with a 12-inch rim around it to prevent splashing. All our equipment was electric, as is common on most ships.

Mr. Ross served on the USS Mackinac in the early 1960s.

Surprisingly, much of our cooking was done from scratch. We made cakes and bread and used fresh produce as long as it lasted into the five-week patrols. In rough seas we would have to make some recipe adjustments, such as reducing the liquid called for in chocolate cake to keep it from rolling out of the pan in the oven. At breakfast we often had to turn the griddle up to 450 degrees so that when we cooked eggs over easy the whites would set immediately, allowing the yolk to roll back and forth while it cooked.

But we cooked some very good food, mostly following the recipe cards developed for the Navy and Marines in 1963. The crew ate meals on the mess deck located below the galley, where tables with benches were bolted to the floor and the food was sent down in a dumbwaiter. Our walk-in freezer and dry stores were located in the hold three decks below and required treacherous trips up and down the ladders.

After a year aboard ship I went to the Coast Guard Commissary School for 16 weeks and was then assigned to the Short Beach lifeboat station near Jones Beach. The station had 21 men and three rescue boats. It was very different from the ship in that I was able to write my own menus and purchase ingredients from local sources.

On weekends during the boating season we had many Coast Guard auxiliary officers on hand to help with law enforcement and rescue operations. These people would often have clambakes on the beach and it introduced me to Long Island’s wonderful bounty of seafood.

After a year at this station I was transferred to Governor’s Island, where I became a food service instructor at the Commissary School. This school consisted of intense four-week segments including classroom theory, meat handling, baking and production, which had us serving meals to the other schools on the island. I was able to teach all four segments and discovered later in my career as a chef that these lessons in the fundamentals of cooking were a great asset. At the time it was just another duty station, although a beautiful one, as my wife and I actually lived on Governor’s Island during the last year of my enlistment.

Here are some updated, small-quantity versions of Coast Guard and Navy classics.

Creamed Beef (‘S.O.S.’)

Spray a large sauté pan with no-stick and place it on medium high heat. Add 1 pound of ground chuck and break it up with a spoon as it cooks. While it is still pink, add 1 chopped onion, 1 teaspoon coarse salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg. As the onions cook, add 1/4 cup flour and stir it into the meat to form a roux. Slowly add 2 cups milk, reduce the heat and let it simmer for 15 minutes. Taste for seasoning.

This dish can be served over toast or buttermilk biscuits.

Serves 4-6.

Stuffed Peppers (‘S.I.S.’)

Begin by making a stewed tomato sauce. Trim the ends off of 6 plum tomatoes and cut them into 1/4-inch dice. Place them in a saucepan along with 1/2 cup chopped celery, 1/2 cup chopped onion and 1/2 cup finely chopped green pepper. Season with 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil, 1 tablespoon fresh oregano, 1 tablespoon sugar, 1 teaspoon coarse salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Let the mixture simmer for 20 minutes and add 1 small can of tomato sauce.

Cut the tops off of 6 bell peppers. For appearance, use 2 green, 2 red and 2 yellow peppers. Cut out the insides and cut the bottoms so that they stand up. Combine in a large bowl 1 pound of ground meatloaf meat (beef, pork, veal) and 2 chopped chorizo sausages. Add to this 1 cup chopped onion, 2 tablespoons catsup, 1 tablespoon chopped oregano, 2 teaspoons salt and 1 teaspoon pepper.

Blanch 1 cup brown rice in boiling water for 15 minutes, drain and add to the meat mixture. Stuff this mixture into the peppers and place them in a deep casserole. Pour the sauce over them, cover and bake in a 350-degree oven for 1 1/2 hours.

Serves 6.

Old-Fashioned Navy Bean Soup 

Purchase 1 pound of dried navy beans and rinse them under cold water. Place them in a soup pot and cover with 2 quarts water. Bring them to a boil and turn off the heat. Cover the pot and let rest for 1 hour.

Meanwhile, dice 4 ounces of salt pork and cook at medium heat in a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed soup pot. When it has turned brown and released its fat, add 1 chopped onion, 2 chopped ribs of celery and 2 chopped carrots. Continue cooking and add 2 tablespoons fresh chopped oregano and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme.

Drain the navy beans, saving 2 cups of the cooking liquid. Add the beans to the soup pot along with 4 cups chicken stock and bring to a boil. Add 1 bay leaf, 1 can (15 ounces) of chopped tomatoes and a smoked ham hock. Season with 1 teaspoon black pepper and 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Cook uncovered at simmering temperature until beans are tender, adding the reserved liquid as the broth evaporates. Total cooking time should be about 1 1/2 hours.

Remove the ham hock, cut off the meat and add it to the soup. Add 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar and a little salt to taste. Garnish with chopped parsley.

Serves 6-8.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: johncross@optonline.net.

08/11/12 11:00pm

Said the mushroom to the oak, “You’re very slow!
I dare say it’s ’most a year
That you’ve been growing here —
And I began not quite two days ago!”

Said the oak tree, rustling gently, “That is true,
Through many a winter’s snow,
And many a summer’s glow,
I’ve watched the growth of tiny things like you.”
‘The Mushroom and the Oak’ by G.K.

Unlike the tree, mushrooms grow very fast and can be cultivated in as little as two months. But also unlike the tree, mushrooms are not even plants, but fungi. Plants (and trees) develop through photosynthesis, with sunlight providing energy and the plants converting carbon dioxide into carbohydrates such as cellulose. Mushrooms have no roots, leaves, flowers or seeds. They survive and grow on decaying organic matter such as dead trees and manure.
Their unique nature enables mushrooms too add a delicious earthy element to cooking that enhances many foods. Mushrooms are also a good source of dietary fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals. They contain almost no fat or cholesterol. The most popular kind are the agaricus bisphorus varieties such as button, cremini and portobello.

These mushrooms differ mostly in maturity, with the portobello being the oldest. Other varieties that are commonly farmed are shiitake and oyster mushrooms. Dried varieties such as porcini are a very good source of intense flavor when hydrated in hot liquid.

Mushroom Sauce
Purchase 2 portobellos, 8 ounces cremini, 8 ounces button, 4 ounces shiitake and 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms. Remove the stems from the portobellos and scrape the gills from the underside with a teaspoon. Dice into half-inch pieces and place in a bowl. Wipe any dirt from the creminis and quarter them along with the button mushrooms. Add to the bowl. Trim the stems off the shiitakes and cut them in half before adding to the bowl.

Bring 1 cup chicken broth to a boil and pour it over the dried porcini mushrooms. Let sit for 20 minutes.
Heat a large, heavy sauté pan and add 2 tablespoons butter. When butter is frothy, add the mushrooms from the bowl and cook, undisturbed, for about 5 minutes. Stir them around and add 1 cup chopped shallots and 2 tablespoons minced garlic. Season with 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage and 1 teaspoon ground pepper.

Strain the porcinis, saving the liquid. Chop the porcinis coarsely and add to the pan. Let all of the liquid from the mushrooms evaporate and add another tablespoon of butter. Stir in 1/4 cup flour to make a roux. Add the reserved mushroom liquid along with 1 cup white wine and bring to a boil. When it thickens, add 1/4 cup chopped parsley and check for seasoning.

With pasta: Boil 2 quarts water and add a 12-ounce package of whole-wheat bow-tie pasta. When cooked al dente, reserve a little of the boiling liquid and drain. Toss the mushroom sauce and pasta together, adding a little cooking liquid to thin it out. Grate fresh pecorino romano cheese over it and serve.  Serves 4.

With whole wheat spaetzle: Whisk together 2 eggs, 1 cup milk and 1/2 teaspoon salt. In a separate bowl, combine 1 3/4 cups whole wheat flour with 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg and 2 tablespoons chopped parsley. Using a wooden spoon, add the dry ingredients to the milk mixture. Stir to form a thick batter. Cover and let it rest for 30 minutes.
At service time, bring 2 quarts water to a boil and add 1 teaspoon salt. Place the batter near the boiling water. Using a box grater, scoop out some of the batter with a rubber spatula and rub it through the large holes, holding the grater over the boiling water. Repeat until half of the batter is used. Let the spaetzle cook until it rises to the surface plus 2 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon or skimmer and drain in a colander. Repeat the process with the rest of the batter.

Heat a large sauté pan and spray it with no-stick. Melt 2 tablespoons butter and add the drained spaetzle. Cook until lightly browned and toss with the above mushroom sauce. Serves 4.

Stuffed Portobello with Barley Risotto
Remove the stems from 4 large portobello caps and scrape out the gills with a spoon. Mix together 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon soy sauce and 2 tablespoons canola oil. Brush this mixture on the inside and outside of the portobellos and place them on a foil-lined sheet pan with the inside facing up. Roast for 5 minutes at 400 degrees and turn them over, letting them cook another 5 minutes. Remove, drain any liquid out of them and set aside.

Bring 2 cups chicken stock to a boil and add a 1-ounce package of dried porcini mushrooms. Remove from the heat and let it rest for 20 minutes.

Heat a large, shallow saucepan and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Stir in 1/2 cup chopped shallots and let them cook for 3 minutes before adding 1/2 cup barley. Stir the barley until it is coated with oil and add 1 cup red wine. Leave the heat on medium high and let the wine reduce. Strain the porcini mushrooms over a bowl, squeezing out all of the liquid. Begin adding this liquid to the barley in 1/2 cup ladles, letting it boil away after each addition. Keep stirring the mixture with a wooden spoon and adding the stock until it is gone. Check the barley for tenderness. It should be cooked but still have a firm texture.

Chop 1 package of shiitake mushrooms and 1 package of cremini mushrooms. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a sauté pan and add the mushrooms along with the soaked porcinis. Season with 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary and 1 teaspoon ground pepper. When the mushrooms are cooked, add them to the barley risotto.

Place the cooked portobellos on a sheet pan and fill the cavities with the risotto. Heat in a 400-degree oven at service time and serve any leftover risotto on the side.
Serves 4.

Duxelles-Stuffed Mussels
To make the duxelles, coarsely chop 1 pound white button mushrooms. Peel and finely chop 1 cup shallots. Melt 3 tablespoons butter in a large, heavy sauté pan and add the mushrooms and shallots. Let them cook at medium heat until all liquid has evaporated, about 15 minutes. Add 1/2 cup white wine and continue to cook until it is entirely evaporated. Stir in 1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley and remove from the heat.

In a soup pot, melt 2 tablespoons butter and add 1/2 cup minced shallots and 1 tablespoon minced garlic. Rinse 2 pounds of mussels and add them to the pot along with 2 bay leaves and 1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes. Pour 1 cup white wine over the mussels, cover and bring to a boil. Simmer until all mussels open and remove from the heat.
Remove the mussels from the broth and strain the broth into a saucepan. Bring the broth to a boil and let it reduce a little. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a small pan and add 1/4 cup flour to make a roux. Whisk the roux into the mussel liquid and let it simmer to thicken.

Remove the mussels from their shells and set aside. Break the shells apart and rinse. Stuff the mussel shells with the duxelles, placing a mussel on top of each shell. Put the stuffed shells on a sheet pan and sprinkle with 1/2 cup of panko bread crumbs. At service time, heat the stuffed mussels in a 400-degree oven for about 5 minutes and place them in the bottom of shallow soup bowls. Ladle some of the sauce over each bowl and sprinkle with chopped parsley.
Serves 4-6.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: johncross@optonline.net.

07/27/12 3:15pm

Once upon a time on the coast of Turkey
there lived a woman who could cook eggplant 99 ways.
She could slice eggplant thin as paper.
She could write poems on it and batter-fry it.
She could bake eggplant and broil it.
She could even roll the seeds in banana-
flavored cigarette papers
and get her husband high on eggplant.
But he was not pleased.
He went to her father and demanded his bride-price back.
He said he’d been cheated.
He wanted back two goats, twelve chickens
and a camel as reparation.
His wife wept and wept.
Her father raved …
from “The Eggplant Epithalamion” by Erica Jong

A fruit of the solanaceae family (nightshades), the eggplant has a long history beginning in India and Southeast Asia. It is closely related to the tomato and potato but has a unique texture and complex flavor all its own. Eggplant has a wide international reputation with many countries contributing signature recipes: In India, baingan bharta is a roasted eggplant dish seasoned with curry, cumin, garlic, and ginger; in the Middle East, baba ghanoush is also roasted eggplant mashed with tahini, garlic, lemon juice, and cumin; in France, the famous ratatouille is eggplant mixed with zucchini, tomato, peppers and other vegetables; in Greece, moussaka has slices of eggplant, ground lamb and bechamel sauce; in Italy, caponata served as an antipasto and eggplant rollatine as an entrée; and in the United States, every pizza restaurant serves eggplant parmigiana, with its mozzarella and marinara sauce

Here on the North Fork, eggplant is at its best in August and September and is available in many sizes and colors. It is fat-free and a good source of fiber, potassium and minerals, but its culinary value is in its chewy texture and ability to absorb many flavors. Eggplant by itself is very low in calories, but when sauteed or deep fried (without purging) it absorbs large amounts of oil, making it very high in calories.

Purging (or salting) Eggplant
I used to think that salting the eggplant before using it in a recipe was a waste of time, but now I realize that it contributes to a much better taste and texture. The exception is young eggplant and the thin Asian eggplant. For a large, purple eggplant, purging is when you slice or dice the eggplant, sprinkle it liberally with coarse salt and let it sit for 30 minutes on a rack or in a colander so that it can drain. You then rinse the eggplant under cold water and dry it with paper towels. This will make the eggplant less bitter and also less absorbent. It is well worth the time.

Eggplant Parmesan with Goat Cheese
Purchase 2 purple eggplants, trim the ends off and peel them in alternating strips so as to leave some of the skin on. Slice them into 1/2” slices and purge them using the above instructions above. Break 2 eggs into a bowl and whisk in 2 tbsp. water. Place 2 cups of breadcrumbs in a shallow pan and season them with 2 tbsp. chopped fresh oregano, 1 tbsp. minced garlic, 1 tsp. coarse salt, and 1 tsp. pepper.

Line a sheet pan with foil and spray it with no-stick. Dip the slices of eggplant in the eggs and put them into the breadcrumb mixture, coating both sides. Put the breaded slices on the lined sheet pan and bake at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, turning them once. They will come out golden brown, crisp on the outside and creamy in the center.

Prepare a cheese filling by combining 8 oz. of local goat cheese with 1/4 cup of grated parmigiano-reggiano. Let the cheeses come to room temperature and add 1 beaten egg, 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil, 1 tsp. coarse salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper. Stir this mixture with a wooden spoon and set aside. Slice 1 large beefsteak tomato into 1/4” slices and slice 8 oz. of fresh mozzarella into 1/4” slices.

Assemble this dish either in individual ramekins or in a casserole. Place one slice of eggplant in the bottom of the ramekin and cover it with goat cheese filling. Place another slice of eggplant on top and a slice of tomato on top of the eggplant. Put a slice of mozzarella on top of the tomato and sprinkle some grated parmigiano-reggiano over it. Repeat until the ingredients are gone. At service time, place the ramekins in a 400-degree oven until the cheese is bubbling hot, about 15 minutes. Garnish with chopped fresh basil and serve with tomato sauce if desired. (Serves 4-6)

Moussaka
Purchase 3 eggplants, trim off the ends and peel off strips as in the above recipe. Cut the eggplant into 1/2” slices and purge them using the instructions above. Bread them and bake for 30 minutes exactly as in the above recipe for eggplant parmesan and set them aside. Heat a large sauté pan and place 1 1/2 lbs. of ground lamb (or beef) in it to cook. As the meat begins to brown, add 2 cups of chopped onion and 1 tbsp. minced garlic.

Continue cooking until meat is cooked through and add 1/2 cup of red wine. Let this simmer for 5 minutes and add 1 cup of crushed canned tomato and 2 tbsp. tomato paste. Season with 1/4 cup chopped parsley, 2 tsp. sugar, 2 tsp. ground cinnamon, 1/2 tsp. allspice, 2 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. pepper. Simmer until thick, about 20 minutes.

Make a roux by melting 1 stick of butter in a small saucepan and stirring in 2/3 cup of flour. Let cook for 5 minutes at low heat. Separately, heat 1 quart of milk in a saucepan and season with 1/2 tsp. ground fresh nutmeg, 1 tsp. salt, and 1/2 tsp. pepper. Add the roux to the milk and cook at medium heat, whisking the sauce until it becomes thick. Boil 6 new potatoes in their skins until just cooked, about 15 minutes. Run them under cold water, drain and slice into 1/4” slices.

Assemble the moussaka by sprinkling bread crumbs in the bottom of a large casserole and placing a layer of the sliced potatoes on top. Lay slices of breaded eggplant on top of the potatoes and spread the meat sauce on top of all.  Sprinkle 1/4 cup of grated parmesan cheese over the meat and top with more eggplant slices. Pour the bechamel sauce over everything and sprinkle another 1/4 cup of grated cheese on top. Place in a 350-degree oven for 45 minutes and serve. (Serves 6-8)

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: johncross@optonline.net.

07/13/12 1:03pm

The lady of this house is in love
with the peach. How gently she places it
on the sill to catch the shaft of sun.
How many times she passes it under her nose
and breathes. So careful she is
not to bruise it, squeezing between finger and thumb,
coaxing ripeness …

While I who am all firm flesh
and smooth skin languish in the vegetable bin,
sandwiched between the stiff carrot and atrocious
onion. I shrivel and grow soft and must be peeled
and chopped, my seeds cast off,
and am tossed in a pot for sauce, beaten
and most horribly mashed with wooden spoon …
‘The Tomato Envies the Peach’  by Diane Lockward

Peaches and tomatoes are the fruits of summer on the North Fork. We don’t usually think of a tomato as a fruit because it is handled like a vegetable in cookery, but peaches and tomatoes have a lot in common: They are delicious whether served raw or cooked; when in season, locally grown and at their peak, they have a pure flavor that needs very little enhancement; and they are both very good for you.

No-Cook Tomato Sauce
Cut out the cores from 2 pounds of ripe tomatoes. Plunge the tomatoes into 2 quarts of boiling water for 1 minute and remove. When cool, peel the tomatoes and cut them into quarter-inch dice, reserving any juice or seeds. Place the diced tomatoes and the juice in a bowl and add 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1 teaspoon coarse salt, 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper and 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil. Let sit for 30 minutes and serve with hot pasta such as farfalle or orecchiette. Grate fresh parmigiano-reggiano cheese over it and serve.
Serves 4.

Cooked Tomato Sauce
This recipe, taken from Marcella Hazan’s classic cookbook “Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking,” is the simplest of all tomato sauces. When the tomatoes are very fresh and flavorful, it is great to show off the delicious tomato flavor without the traditional Italian seasonings. If possible, serve this sauce over potato gnocchi or fresh homemade pasta.

Cut out the cores from 2 pounds of ripe tomatoes. Plunge the tomatoes into boiling water for 1 minute and remove. When cool, peel the tomatoes and chop them, saving any juices. Place the chopped tomatoes and juice in a saucepan along with 5 tablespoons unsalted butter.

Peel a medium-sized, full-flavored onion (such as a local one) and cut it in half. Add this to the saucepan and season the sauce with 1 teaspoon sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Bring the sauce to a boil, uncovered, and let it simmer at low heat for 1 hour.

Gnocchi: While the sauce is cooking, boil 4 Yukon gold potatoes in their skins until fully cooked. When cool, peel them and press through a potato ricer as for mashed potatoes. Stir in 1 cup flour and 1 egg. Season with 2 teaspoons sea salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Dump this mixture onto a floured cutting board and knead into a dough. Cut the dough in half and roll out into 2 long “snakes” about 1 inch in diameter. Cut these rolls into 1-inch pieces and make the gnocchi by pressing them against a dinner fork with your finger and rolling them off of the end of the fork. The little potato dumplings will have indentations in them that help to hold the sauce.

Boil 2 quarts of water and add the gnocchi to cook like pasta. When they rise to the surface and cook for about 2 minutes, they are ready to remove and eat. Place them in shallow bowls and ladle the above sauce over them. Grate fresh parmigiano-reggiano cheese over them and serve.
Serves 4.

Peach Salsa
Plunge 6 peaches into 2 quarts of boiling water for 1 minute. Remove and cool before peeling. Dice the peeled peaches into half-inch pieces and set aside.

Heat a sauté pan and add 2 tablespoons canola oil. When hot, add 2 cups chopped onion, 1 minced jalapeño pepper, 1/4 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger. Cook for 5 minutes and add the peaches along with the juice and zest of 1 lemon. Season with 1/2 teaspoon sea salt and 1/4 cup chopped cilantro.

This salsa is really good with char-grilled salmon.
Serves 6-8.

Peach Barbecue Sauce
Plunge 4 peaches into boiling water for 1 minute. Remove, cool and peel. Chop coarsely and set aside.

Heat a sauté pan and add 1 tablespoon canola oil. When hot, add 1 cup chopped onion, 1 tablespoon minced garlic and 1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger. Cook 3 minutes and add 1 cup catsup, 1/4 cup peach preserves and the chopped peaches. Simmer, uncovered, for about 30 minutes and add 2 tablespoons cider vinegar, 1 teaspoon sea salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper and a few drops of Tabasco.

Brush over grilled pork chops and serve some on the side.
Serves 6-8.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: johncross@optonline.net.

06/01/12 1:07pm

“A lobster from the water came,
And saw another, just the same
In form and size, but gaily clad
In scarlet clothing, while she had
No other raiment to her back,
Than her old suit of greenish black.

“Will you be boiled,” the owner said,
“To be arrayed in glowing red?
Come here, my discontented Miss,
And hear the scalding kettle hiss!
Will you go in, and there be boiled
To have your dress so old and soiled,
Exchanged for one of scarlet hue?”

“Yes!” cried the lobster, “that I’ll do,
And thrice as much, if needs must be
To be as gaily clad as she!”
Then, in she made a fatal dive
And never more was seen alive.
excerpt from ‘The Envious Lobster,” a Fable by Miss Gould,
Parley’s Magazine, 1834

Many years ago I organized a surprise birthday party for my wife, at which I prepared a big pot of lobster stew based on a newspaper recipe for corn chowder that she had given me. As it was in early June, I wanted to include as many fresh North Fork ingredients as I could and I wanted something to easily serve a crowd. That version of lobster stew, containing leeks, fresh thyme, red and green peppers, corn off the cob (not quite local yet), new potatoes and sugar snap peas (or green beans) became a signature dish during the summer at Ross’ restaurant in Southold for many years.

As my wife’s birthday approaches again, I would like to do an updated version of this delicious way to serve lobster and spring vegetables. This version requires making a rich lobster broth, which takes some extra time, but you will find your efforts well rewarded in a rich, complex sauce that brings all the ingredients together. I have also included a recipe for lobster risotto that uses the same broth and most of the same vegetables.

Lobster Stew, 2012 version
Purchase four 1.25-pound live lobsters. Bring about 4 quarts of water to a boil in a large stock pot and plunge the lobsters into the pot. Cover and let them cook at high heat for only 5 minutes from start to finish. (They will not be fully cooked.) Remove the lobsters, reserving the simmering water.

Break off the claws and tails and place them back in the lobster water. Simmer until just cooked, about 10 minutes. Remove and set aside to cool. Pour off all but 2 quarts of the water and keep it simmering on the stove.
Meanwhile, split the bodies down the middle with a large chef’s knife and remove the head sac under the eyes. Scrape out the tomalley (liver) into a small bowl and refrigerate. Heat a large sauté pan and add 1 tablespoon canola oil. Add the split lobster bodies shell side down and cook at high heat until the shells turn bright red, about 5 minutes. Pour 1/4 cup brandy over the lobster bodies and ignite with a match (don’t stand too close).

Add 1 chopped onion, 1 chopped carrot and 1 chopped stalk of celery to the lobster bodies. Pour enough lobster water into the sauté pan to cover the bodies and vegetables. Season with 2 bay leaves, 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning and 1 chopped tomato. Simmer at low heat for 30 minutes and strain.

Remove the meat from the cooled tails and claws, cut into bite-sized portions and refrigerate.

In a clean saucepan melt 4 tablespoons butter and add 2 chopped leeks and 4 thinly sliced carrots. Cook at low heat until leeks are soft and add 2 chopped fresh tomatoes and 6 sliced new potatoes (leave skin on). Add 1 quart of the strained broth to the leek mixture. Bring to a boil and simmer gently until potatoes are cooked, about 15 minutes. Add 1/2 pound of sugar snap peas and the lobster meat along with 1 cup heavy cream and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh tarragon. Simmer for 5 minutes and season with 1 teaspoon sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.

Cut rounds of bread from a baguette and brush them with olive oil. Chop the reserved tomalley and spread it over the bread rounds and place them on a sheet pan in a 400-degree oven for 10 minutes. Serve on the side as croutons.

For extra flavor and eye appeal, add 12 littleneck clams to the stew when you add the broth. As they open, remove them to a warm place before placing them around the bowl at serving time.

Serves 4-6.

Lobster Risotto
Prepare four 1.25-pound live lobsters exactly as in the above recipe for lobster stew. You will end up with about 2 quarts of rich broth and the cut-up lobster meat.

In a saucepan, add 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1/2 cup finely chopped shallots. Cook for 3 minutes and add 1 1/2 cups of arborio rice. Stir the rice to coat it with oil, turn up the heat and add 1 cup dry rosé wine. When most of the wine evaporates, leave the heat at medium high and begin adding ladles of the lobster broth, stirring it in and letting most of it evaporate before adding another. Keep this up until the rice becomes tender, about 25 minutes. (It will use most or all of the broth.)

Chop one red bell pepper and steam until blanched, about 3 minutes. Blanch 1/2 pound of sugar snap peas and 1 bunch of asparagus in the same manner. Stir these vegetables into the risotto along with 1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives. Now stir in the reserved chunks of lobster meat, leaving the heat very low. Season with 2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon and coarse salt and pepper to taste. (As the season progresses, substitute green beans and corn for the peas and asparagus.)

Serves 4-6.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: johncross@optonline.net.

05/21/12 2:16pm

The smells of bourbon, sirloin steak on live coals, hash browns and strawberries conjure up America’s heartland to me, especially around Memorial Day.

My very first cooking position in a serious restaurant was in 1965 at Trentino’s, an Italian steakhouse in Omaha, Neb. The restaurant was downtown, near the Union Pacific Railroad station and just a few blocks from the stockyards, which at one time were the largest in the country for beef cattle. Right in the middle of the stockyards was a famous fine dining restaurant called Johnny’s Cafe, which I think is still there. (Johnny’s was featured in the movie “About Schmidt” starring Jack Nicholson.)

At the time, all the steakhouses in Omaha used the restaurant cut — top butt sirloin — for their steaks. The top butt is not the most sought-after cut of the hindquarter of beef compared to the strip sirloin from which we make the famous “New York” strip steak. But I learned that all the strips were sent east to the lucrative New York market and the less desirable top butts were left for the locals. I grew to really like steaks cut from the top butt. They’re very lean and lack the rich marbling of the pricier cuts, but they make up for it in flavor and lack of fat.

One of my favorite recipes for these cuts is to marinate the meat in bourbon, chili sauce, a little brown sugar and some Dijon mustard, grill it on the barbecue and glaze it with the marinade. The perfect side dish is Omaha-style hash browns or cottage-fried potatoes. These recipes follow. Top butt sirloin can be found in the market under various names, but all include the word “sirloin.” The perfect dessert for this meal is strawberry shortcake. The version below is adapted from the excellent cookbook “Rustic Fruit Desserts” by Cory Schreiber and Julie Richardson.

Bourbon Steak
Purchase about 2 pounds of sirloin steak (one piece or individual steaks). In a small bowl, combine 2 tablespoons each brown sugar, chili sauce and minced shallots; 1 tablespoon each Worcestershire sauce, minced garlic, red wine vinegar and canola oil; 1 teaspoon coarse salt; 1/2 teaspoon pepper; and 1/4 cup of Jack Daniels
Place the steak in a shallow pan and pour the marinade over all. Refrigerate for 4-8 hours. At service time, remove the meat from the marinade and wipe it off with a paper towel. Brush with oil (or spray with no-stick) and cook on a hot charcoal or gas grill. After turning once, spoon some of the marinade over the steak and finish cooking to desired doneness.
Serves 4.

Pan Seared Sirloin with Bourbon Sauce
Season 2 pounds of sirloin steak with coarse salt and pepper and let it come to room temperature. Heat a cast iron skillet to high and add 1 tablespoon canola oil. Add the steak(s), being careful to not crowd the pan. Cook for about 3 minutes per side or to desired doneness. Remove to a warm plate. Lower the heat and add 1/2 cup chopped shallots and 1 tablespoon butter to the pan. Then add 1/4 cup of Jack Daniels and let it come to a boil before adding 1/4 cup of beef broth. When this reduces a little, add 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard and swirl in 2 tablespoons cold butter. Strain over the steaks and serve.
Serves 4.

Hash Browns
Place 4 medium Yukon Gold potatoes, skins on, in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer until just tender, about 20 minutes. Remove and cool in the refrigerator. When cool, peel off the skins and grate the potatoes into a bowl with the coarse side of a box grater. Toss gently into the potatoes 2 teaspoons coarse salt, 1 teaspoon pepper, and 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary.

Lay out 4 squares of double tin foil about 12 inches on a side. Spray them with no-stick and divide the potatoes in piles on the foil squares. Place a pat of butter on top of each pile and fold the foil to make a package. Punch a couple of holes in the foil to let out steam and place the packets on the grill, but not directly over the flame. Cook, covered, about 30 minutes. The bottom side will be golden brown, so flip them to serve.
Serves 4.

Cottage Fried Potatoes
Purchase 2 pounds small new potatoes — white, red, purple or a mixture of all three. Wash and slice them into 1/4 inch slices, leaving the skin on. Slice a red onion as thinly as possible and set aside. Mince 2 tablespoons garlic. Heat a cast iron skillet and add 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon canola oil. When the butter is about to turn brown, place all the potatoes in the pan. Turn down the heat to medium and let them turn golden brown before turning them over and adding the onions and garlic. Add 2 teaspoons coarse salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Shake the pan, turn down the heat to low and cover. Let the potatoes cook another 15 minutes and serve.
Serves 4.

Strawberry Shortcake
Hull and slice 6 cups of strawberries into a large bowl. Add 2 tablespoons sugar, 1/4 cup amaretto and 1 tablespoons lemon juice. Place mixture in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes so the berries can release their juices. Meanwhile combine 2 1/2 cups flour, 1/2 cup cornmeal, 2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder, 2/3 cup sugar and 1 teaspoon salt. Stir in the zest of 1 orange and 1 lemon before pouring in 1 1/2 cups heavy cream. Using a dinner knife, combine this mixture into a loose dough as you would for a pie crust — do not overmix. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead into a ball. When it holds together, flatten it into a thick round and cut it into 8 pieces. Dust the pieces with a little flour, roll them into balls and set aside. Melt 3 tablespoons butter and place in a shallow bowl. Add 1/3 cup sugar to another shallow bowl. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line a sheet pan with parchment paper (or foil). Dip the balls of dough into the butter, rolling them to coat. Then dip them into the sugar, coating only one half. Place the dough sugar side up on the sheet pan, bake for 25 minutes and cool on a rack. At service time, cut the shortcakes in half, placing the bottom on a dessert plate. Spoon the berries and juice over the shortcake and place the lid on top. Serve with whipped cream if desired.
Serves 8.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: johncross@optonline.net.

01/29/12 12:00pm

Give me my scallop shell of quiet,
My staff of faith to walk upon,
My scrip of joy, immoral diet,
My bottle of salvation,
My gown of glory, hope’s true gage,
And thus I’ll take my pilgrimage.
—Sir Walter Raleigh

The harvesting of wild sea scallops is a huge industry in the United States. In fact, they are the most important shellfish fishery in the U.S., with 53.5 million pounds of sea scallop meats harvested in 2008. The capital of this harvest is New Bedford, Mass., but Atlantic sea scallops are found from Newfoundland to North Carolina.

The only part of the scallop marketed in the U.S. is the adductor muscle, so scallop fishermen clean them at sea, placing 40 pounds of the meats in muslin bags and throwing the remainder overboard. In Europe and Asia the entire scallop is eaten, including the coral and roe. The adductor muscle of the sea scallop becomes large and strong because, unlike clams or mussels, the sea scallop is an active swimmer, clapping its shell to move through the water.

Sea scallops are found in deepwater habitats along the continental shelf of the Atlantic Ocean, especially on Georges Bank, the Gulf of Maine and the mid-Atlantic area. They can live as long as 20 years, while the bay scallop has a maximum life of two to three years. Although previously on the endangered list, sea scallops have made a remarkable recovery due to proper regulation and management techniques.

Consumers are often confused about the terminology relating to sea scallops. Gourmet restaurants describe “diver” scallops or “day-boat scallops” while chefs order “dry seas” or “wet sea scallops.” Finally, “processed” or “previously frozen” scallops appear in some markets.

Dry sea scallops are harvested close to shore, cleaned, placed in bags on ice and marketed the same day. Sometimes they are picked off the bottom by divers and sometimes dragged off the bottom by a small boat — thus the terms diver and day-boat. These scallops have a briny taste of the sea, a sticky texture and a translucent appearance. Chefs love them because of their flavor and the fact that when sautéed in butter or olive oil, they caramelize on the outside and remain moist on the inside. Wet sea scallops are treated, after shucking, in sodium tripolyphosphate (STP), which inhibits the loss of natural fluids and creates a longer shelf life. STP is a safe additive, producing a whiter scallop with a firmer texture, but when cooked it throws off moisture, preventing that delicious caramelized exterior.
Frozen sea scallops are usually blast-frozen in large chunks when received, then thawed in water with STP and refrozen individually so that they can be marketed as “IQF” (individually quick frozen) scallops. We are lucky on the North Fork to be close enough to the scallop grounds to have a wide availability of dry seas year-round.

Chefs love to cook scallops because they can be grilled, broiled, roasted, poached, sautéed and fried — and because they are very flavorful by themselves, but also absorb many flavors from herbs, spices and seasonings. Just sautéing scallops in butter with a little lemon is perhaps most popular, but here are a few more simple recipes:

Sea Scallop Skewers with Rosemary
Purchase 24 large dry sea scallops (about 2 pounds) and a large bunch of rosemary. Strip half the leaves off of each rosemary sprig and soak them in water. Place the scallops in a bowl along with 2 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons chopped rosemary, 1 tablespoon minced garlic and the zest and juice of 1 lemon. Season with 1 teaspoon sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and refrigerate.

Trim 4 small red-skinned potatoes of any blemishes and boil them until just tender. Remove, cool and slice into quarter-inch rounds. Hold a rosemary sprig along the length of a metal skewer and alternate potatoes and scallops on the skewer until all are used. At service time spray a grill pan (or an outdoor charcoal grill) with no-stick and grill the scallops about 3 minutes per side. Place on a bed of wilted spinach and serve.

Serves 4.

Sea Scallops and Shrimp au Gratin
In a small bowl, soften 8 tablespoons unsalted butter. Stir into it the juice and zest from 1 lemon. Add 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 2 tablespoons minced shallots and 1/4 cup chopped parsley. Season with 1 teaspoon lemon pepper seasoning and 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt. Fold in 1/2 cup panko bread crumbs. Peel and devein 16 shrimp, cutting them almost in half butterfly style. Place the shrimp and 16 scallops in ramekins, divided equally. Sprinkle 2 tablespoons of white vermouth over each ramekin and divide the butter mixture between them, spreading it evenly over the surface of each. Cook in a 425-degree oven for about 15 minutes and serve garnished with chopped parsley and accompanied by brown rice.

Sea Scallops and Bacon Appetizer
Combine 1/4 cup honey, 1/4 cup soy sauce and 1/4 cup lemon juice. Marinate 1 pound of dry sea scallops in this mixture for 30 minutes. Cut 8 slices of applewood-smoked bacon in half and place them on a paper towel-lined dinner plate. Microwave the bacon for 3 minutes.

Remove the scallops from the marinade and dry with paper towels. Wrap each scallop in bacon and skewer with a long toothpick. Place a grape tomato on the end of the skewer. Repeat with all the scallops and bacon. Cook the skewers in a 425-degree oven for about 5 minutes and serve as a passed appetizer.

The information and recipes above were adapted from an excellent new cookbook called “Scallops” by Elaine and Karin Tammi.

John Ross, a chef and author, has been an active part of the North Fork food and wine community for more than 35 years. Email: johncross@optonline.net.