11/27/11 9:00am
11/27/2011 9:00 AM

“It was always linguine between us … it was never spaghetti between us, not cappellini, nor farfalle, vermicelli, pappardelle, fettuccine, perciatelli, or even tagliarini. Linguine was stabbed, pitched, and twirled on forks, spun round and round on silver spoons. Long, smooth, and always al dente. In dark trattorias, we broke crusty panera, toasted each other — La Dolce Vita! — and sipped amarone, wrapped ourselves in linguini, briskly boiled, lightly oiled, salted, and lavished with sauce … ”
— excerpt from “Linguine”
by Diane Lockward

On a recent visit to New York City, I had dinner at Alfredo of Rome restaurant on 49th Street near Fifth Avenue. The signature dish of fettuccine alfredo was a replica of the original invented by Alfredo Di Lelio in Rome in 1914. The owner of the New York Alfredo’s, Guido Bellanca, has carried on the tradition of this great dish in New York. I enjoyed the simplicity of the recipe and the quality of the ingredients in this original version. It contained only house-made fettuccine, butter and cheese — no cream or other sauce. It inspired me to go home and make my own version of this famous dish. In doing so I found great satisfaction in recreating such a delicious recipe that required almost no equipment and really not all that much time. Gently stirring the eggs into the flour on the wooden cutting board was an exercise in patience. Then, as it formed into a resilient dough, the physical exercise of kneading for 10 full minutes made me feel as if I had just finished an exercise class.

As the dough rested and I cleaned up the mess, I thought about how the ingredients and method for making pasta haven’t changed in a thousand years. We are surrounded by every high-tech piece of kitchen equipment imaginable and here I was mixing the dough with a dinner fork and kneading it by hand.

Here are some recipes for you to try, and even though there are many ready-made pasta choices at the supermarket, the pasta you make from scratch will taste unlike anything you have ever had, besides making you feel better about life.

Fresh Pasta
Place 3 cups all-purpose flour in the center of a large wooden cutting board. Add a pinch of sea salt and create a large well in the middle of the flour. Crack 4 large eggs into a bowl and pour them into the well, making sure the well is large enough to prevent the eggs from leaking out. Using a dinner fork, break the egg yolks and begin gently stirring the eggs, gradually incorporating the flour around the edges. Keep pushing the flour up to prevent leakage as you continue to stir. After about 5 minutes you will have incorporated all of the flour and formed a coarse dough. Set this ball of dough aside and scrape the board clean.

Wash your hands and sprinkle a little flour on the clean board. Set a kitchen timer to 10 minutes and begin kneading the dough with the palm of your hand. If the dough sticks to your hand, sprinkle a little more flour on it and continue kneading. It is important to knead for the whole 10 minutes in order to develop the gluten and make a smooth, elastic dough. When finished, wrap the dough in plastic film and let it rest for at least 30 minutes. (If leaving it for a longer time, it is best to refrigerate it.)

If you want whole-grain pasta, substitute whole wheat flour for half of the all-purpose flour and add a teaspoon of olive oil to the dough.

Fettuccine Alfredo
Take the ball of dough from above and slice it into four pieces. Dust each piece with flour and flatten it out on the wooden cutting board with a rolling pin. Continue to roll out the pasta into a thin sheet using a back-and-forth motion, making sure to dust the board to prevent sticking. Set each thin piece aside for a few minutes to dry before folding it into a loose roll and cutting into quarter-inch-wide strips. Wrap the strips into a ball around your wrist and place on a sheet pan lined with a towel. Do not cover or refrigerate and it will dry before cooking. Or if desired, cook it right away.

Place the pasta in 4 quarts of lightly salted boiling water and cook at high heat until al dente, about 5 minutes or less for fresh pasta. Save 3/4 cup of pasta water before draining the fettuccine. Cut 2 sticks unsalted butter into small pieces and set aside. Grate 2 cups Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese and set aside. Place a large sauté pan on high heat and add the pasta water along with the cold butter. When the water comes to a boil and the butter melts, shut off the heat and add the drained pasta. Sprinkle the grated cheese over the pasta along with 1 teaspoon sea salt. Toss together and serve.

Serves up to 4.

Note: If you have a hand-crank pasta machine, use it to roll out the pasta after cutting the dough into 4 pieces, and use the fettuccine cutter to make the fettuccine. Just remember to dry the pasta sheets for a few minutes before cutting.

Spinach and Mushroom Ravioli
Make the ball of pasta dough as in the above recipe. To make the filling, heat a large sauté pan and add a rinsed bag of baby spinach. Cover and cook until just wilted, about 2 minutes. Drain the spinach, cool, squeeze out all the water that you can, and chop. Place the same pan back on the heat and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Slice an 8-ounce package of cremini mushrooms and add to the hot oil. Season the mushrooms with 1 teaspoon chopped rosemary and 1 teaspoon each coarse salt and pepper. When the mushroom liquid has evaporated, add the spinach to the pan and cook briefly.

Place the mixture in a food processor and pulse until you get a coarse texture. Place in a bowl and stir in 1/4 cup mascarpone cheese and 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Taste for seasoning and refrigerate.
Make a tomato sauce by heating 2 tablespoons olive oil in a saucepan and adding 1 cup chopped onion. Cook for 2 minutes and add 1/2 cup chopped celery, 1/2 cup chopped carrot and 2 tablespoons minced garlic. When soft, add 1 large can crushed tomatoes, 2 bay leaves, 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Simmer 30 minutes and stir in 1 cup coarsely chopped basil.

Cut the ball of pasta dough into 4 pieces as above. Roll each piece into long strips about 3 inches wide (use the pasta machine if possible). Lay the strips on a cutting board and place tablespoon-size dollops of filling along the dough spaced 1 inch apart. Whisk an egg and a little water together and brush this egg wash on the pasta around and between the dollops of filling. Place another sheet on top and, using a fork, press the dough together, making sure the parts between the filling are firmly stuck together. Cut the ravioli into squares and place on a plastic film-lined sheet pan. If not cooking right away, put these ravioli into the freezer; they will be easy to separate and cook.

At service time, heat 4 quarts water to a boil and add the ravioli, being careful not to crowd them. When they rise to the surface, remove them with a slotted spoon. Check for tenderness and set aside in a warm place. Serve with the hot tomato sauce and grated cheese.

Serves 4.

Linguine with Clam Sauce
Using a pasta machine, cut linguine from the pasta dough above and roll it into loose balls to dry.
Heat a shallow saucepan and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add to this 1 cup chopped scallion and 2 tablespoons minced garlic. When those are soft, add 1/2 cup white wine and bring to a boil. Add 2 dozen scrubbed littleneck clams and cover. As the clams open, remove them with tongs and set aside. Add to the broth 2 cups diced fresh plum tomatoes and 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes. Dissolve 2 tablespoons cornstarch in 1/4 cup cold water and stir into boiling sauce. When lightly thickened, stir in 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil and check for seasoning.
Cook the linguine, drain and stir the sauce into the pasta. Serve in shallow bowls and garnish with the littleneck clams.
Serves 4.

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.

11/16/11 3:00am
11/16/2011 3:00 AM

JOHN ROSS PHOTO | Ingredients for a classic Thanksgiving dinner.

A fresh capon weighs about 8 pounds and produces an abundance of tender white meat and flavorful dark meat. A naturally raised capon can be purchased locally at Miloski’s Farm in Riverhead. The capon provides a good alternative to turkey for a smaller family gathering of 4 to 6 people. Caponization is the process of turning a young rooster into a capon by surgically desexing it, much like turning a bull into a steer in beef. The result is meat that is more moist, tender and flavorful than that of a hen or rooster. The locally raised capon grows slowly to about 8 pounds, taking 16 weeks to reach processing age rather than the five or six weeks for an industrially raised broiler/fryer.

It continues to amaze me that we have such a bounty of fresh ingredients on the North Fork. Late November sort of signals the end of the growing season, but we are still able to assemble turnips, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, potatoes, leeks, onions, cabbage, kohlrabi and many more vegetables. We can also purchase clams, oysters and Peconic Bay scallops in addition to our local capon. The whole meal ends with Mutsu, Braeburn and Ida Red apples — some of the best in the country. Here are some simple recipes for enjoying the treasures in our backyard.

Bay Scallop, Oyster and Clam Soup
Purchase 1 dozen littleneck clams, 1 dozen oysters and 1/2 pound of Peconic Bay scallops. Scrub the clams and oysters with a brush and set aside. Melt 4 tablespoons butter in a saucepan and add 1 cup chopped leeks, 1/2 cup chopped shallots and 1 tablespoon minced garlic. Cook at low heat for 5 minutes and add 1 cup chardonnay and 1/4 cup chopped Italian parsley. Bring to a boil and add the clams. Cover and cook at high heat until clams open. Remove the clams with tongs and set aside. Add the oysters (in their shells) and continue cooking until they just begin to open. Remove and set aside.

Lower the heat and add 2 cups heavy cream along with the scallops. Simmer until scallops are just cooked, about 3 minutes. Remove the clams and oysters from their shells and add to the soup. Season with 1 teaspoon ground pepper and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt. Stir in 1/4 cup chopped parsley and serve with oyster crackers.

Roast Capon
Remove the giblets and extra fat from a fresh capon of about 8 pounds. Prepare a brine solution by combining 1 gallon cold water with 1 cup salt and 1 cup sugar. Place the capon in this solution and refrigerate for 1 hour. Remove the capon, drain and dry with paper towels. Place the capon on a V rack in a shallow roasting pan.
Soften 1 stick of unsalted butter and fold in the zest and juice of 1 lemon, 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. With your fingers, carefully loosen the skin of the capon starting at the neck end. With a teaspoon, slip as much of the butter mixture as possible under the skin. Rub the outside of the capon to distribute the butter.

Place in the cavity 6 sprigs of thyme, 2 sprigs of rosemary and 2 lemon halves. Tie the legs together with string and melt the remaining butter mixture so that you can brush it over the outside of the bird. Place the capon in a 425-degree oven and roast for 30 minutes, basting once with the juices.

Remove the pan from the oven and reduce the heat to 325 degrees. Peel and cut into large pieces 4 carrots and place them in the pan. Peel 6 large shallots (or cippolini onions) and add to pan. Coarsely chop 2 stalks of celery and add them to the pan. Toss the vegetables in the pan drippings and place the pan back in the oven. Continue cooking about 2 hours or until internal temperature in the thigh area reaches 170 degrees. Remove the bird from the pan and set aside to rest with a foil covering for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, remove the vegetables from the pan and keep warm. Pour the drippings into a saucepan and deglaze the roasting pan with 1 cup water on the stove. Pour these drippings into the saucepan along with 2 cups chicken broth. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a small sauté pan and add 1/4 cup flour. Cook for 3 minutes and add to the simmering broth to make a gravy. Check for seasoning and serve.

Carve the capon at the table or bone it in the kitchen. It will serve up to 8 people. (In addition to the above roasted vegetables, the meal should include some local potatoes, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts and turnips.)

Bread Stuffing
Make small cubes from 1 loaf of country white and 1 loaf of whole wheat sandwich bread. Cut half of each loaf into 1/2-inch pieces to equal about 1 1/2 pounds. Place the cubes of bread on a sheet pan and cook in a 325-degree oven for 30 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl.

Melt 6 tablespoons butter in a sauté pan and add 1 cup chopped celery and 2 cups chopped onion. Cook until onion is soft and add 2 tablespoons chopped fresh sage, 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme and 1 teaspoon each of salt and pepper. In a separate bowl, beat 2 eggs and add 3 cups chicken broth. Add the vegetables and the egg mixture to the toasted bread cubes and combine.

Place in a roasting pan, cover with foil, and put into the oven with the capon. Cook for 30 minutes, remove the foil and cook another 30 minutes.

Apple Brown Betty
Cut 2 slices of country white bread and 2 slices of whole wheat sandwich bread into cubes. Place them into a food processor along with 1 cup walnuts, 3 tablespoons cold butter and 3 tablespoons brown sugar. Pulse this mixture until coarsely ground.

Spray a sauté pan with no-stick and place it on medium heat. Add the bread crumb mixture and cook, stirring, until lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Set aside.

Dice 3 pounds of peeled and cored apples into 1/2-inch cubes. (I used a mixture of Mutsu, Braeburn and Ida Red, but any cooking apples will do.) Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large sauté pan and add the apples. Add 1 cup dried cranberries and sprinkle them with 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger. Cook 3 minutes and add 1 cup fresh apple cider. Bring to a boil and cook until apples are tender, but not mushy. Add the crumb mixture and 1 tablespoon lemon juice. Place in individual crocks or in a casserole and serve with ice cream or whipped cream.

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.

11/02/11 7:00am
11/02/2011 7:00 AM

JOHN ROSS PHOTO Russell McCall and several of his Charolais beef cattle at McCall Ranch in Cutchogue.

Most every kind and role of modern victuals have I tried,
Including roasted, fricasseed, broiled, toasted, stewed, and fried,
Your canvasbacks and papa-bottes and mutton-chops subese,
Your patties à la Turkey and your doughnuts à la grease;
I’ve whiled away dyspeptic hours with crabs in marble halls,
And in the lowly cottage I’ve experienced codfish balls;
But I’ve never found a viand that could so allay all grief
And soothe the cockles of the heart as rare roast beef.
excerpt from “Rare Roast Beef”
by Eugene Field (1850-1895)

The McCall Ranch in Cutchogue brings a new dimension in local food to the North Fork. Russell McCall and his family own 108 acres of vineyard and farmland on Main Road. Twenty-one acres are planted in pinot noir and merlot grapes and much of the rest is devoted to pasture, alfalfa fields, woods and a small barn/tasting room. Currently there are 26 Charolais beef cattle grazing on this land.

The Charolais breed originated in France, where Russ McCall visited many times when he was an importer of French wines. He noticed that when he dined at famous Guide Michelin restaurants, they always seemed to feature Charolais beef on the menu. This inspired Russ to consider raising these big, white-haired cattle. His herd of Charolais is grass fed, free range and has never been given antibiotics, steroids or hormones. Because the cows are grass fed, the meat is lean with a richer flavor than most beef. It is also higher in Omega-3 fatty acids and conjugated linoleic acid, and it has more vitamin E, vitamin A and beta-carotene than commercial beef.

Perhaps most importantly, Russell McCall is raising his cattle in a truly organic cycle, with the cattle feeding on pasture grass that is naturally fertilized and hay that is grown for the winter. The production is very small right now, but that will change as calves are born from the existing cattle.

Recently, I had the opportunity to cook a rib-eye roast from one of his steers. The result was a delicious meal full of flavor, with lean meat and an excellent natural sauce. I purchased a five-pound boneless rib-eye that was rolled and tied with butcher twine. I decided to coat it in a salt crust to preserve as much juice as possible in this extra-lean meat. Here is the recipe:

Salt Encrusted Rib-eye of Beef
Bring a rib-eye roast to room temperature and season it with 1 tablespoon butcher grind cracked black pepper. Pour one 3-pound box of kosher salt into a bowl and stir in 1 1/4 cups cold water. Stir the salt solution to form a thick paste. Line a sheet pan with foil and spread about one quarter of the salt solution in a rectangle the same size as the roast and 1/2 inch thick. Place the roast on this rectangle of salt and coat the entire roast with a 1/2-inch layer of salt. It will stick like cement.

Put the roast in a 300-degree oven and cook until the internal temperature reaches 115 degrees on an instant read thermometer (about 1 1/2 hours). Remove and let the roast sit at room temperature for a few minutes. Crack the salt crust with the back of a knife and it will break loose. Brush off all excess salt and throw it away. Turn the oven up to 425 degrees and brush 1 tablespoon butter over the roast. Place the roast back in the oven and let it brown for 15 minutes. It will develop a rich, dark color and the temperature will rise a little to about 125 degrees, or medium rare.
Cover the meat with foil and let it rest before serving. When the roast is very lean, cut thin slices with a sharp knife.

This same method of using coarse salt to hold in the juices can be applied to other cuts. I did a test using a 2 1/2-pound piece of eye of round, a very lean but not very tender cut. I placed 2 pounds of kosher salt in a bowl with 3/4 cup water. I mixed this slurry with a fork and spread a 1/4-inch-thick layer on a foil-lined sheet pan. After placing the beef on the salt, I coated the whole piece with the salt mixture. I then roasted it at 250 degrees for 2 hours. When sliced thin, it came out pretty tender and juicy.

To make it more palatable I sautéed 12 ounces of mushrooms in 2 tablespoons canola oil and added half of a sweet onion, sliced. When the onion became soft, I folded in 1 cup sour cream and 2 tablespoons fresh horseradish. I then sliced the eye of round and cut the slices into thin strips, folding them into the mushroom mixture. The result was a Russian style stroganoff dish that was delicious.
Serves 6.

Sauces and Relishes for Rib-eye

Sauce Espagnole: Chop 1 cup onion, 1/2 cup celery and 1/2 cup carrots to make a mirepoix. Sweat the mirepoix in 3 tablespoons butter until soft. Stir in 1/4 cup flour and raise the heat. Cook until flour begins to brown and stir in 1 tablespoon tomato paste. Continue to cook and whisk in 1/2 cup red wine and 4 cups good quality beef broth. Add 1 bay leaf and 2 sprigs of thyme along with six cracked peppercorns and simmer for 1 hour. Strain through a mesh sieve and check for seasoning. (A homemade beef stock is far superior to the commercial broth because of its gelatin content and subtle flavor.)

Creamy Horseradish Sauce with Watercress: Purchase a root of horseradish and cut off a 3-inch piece. Peel and cut into 1/2-inch dice. Place the diced horseradish in a food processor along with 1 tablespoon vinegar. Process until smooth and add 1 bunch of watercress with the stems removed. Add 1/2 teaspoon sugar and 1/2 teaspoon salt and process until smooth. Remove to a bowl and stir in 1 tablespoon mayonnaise and 1/2 cup sour cream. Taste for seasoning. Makes 1 cup.

Beet Relish with Horseradish: Trim and peel 2 medium beets. Grate using the large holes of a box grater into a bowl. Trim and grate 3 radishes into the bowl. Stir in 1/2 cup horseradish (as in previous recipe) or use prepared horseradish. Stir in 1 tablespoon red vinegar and 2 tablespoons canola oil. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon sugar and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Serve as is or purée in food processor if desired. Makes 1 cup.

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.

10/14/11 5:00pm
10/14/2011 5:00 PM
John Ross Chef Column

JOHN ROSS PHOTO | Duck Breast Roulades with Wild Rice Stuffing.

I seek a canoe
birch bark
still on the silk shore
of some broad Minnesota lake
in autumn
spice on the air
red-gold bittersweet twining
high among lakeside pines
water more green than blue
stiff/supple grasses parting
as we nose our silent way
to that center to which ancestors were led…

My paddle enters the lake
noiseless as sharpest knife
as my partner thrashes grasses
they bend to right/to left
filling his sweet lap
then our entire canoe
with brown black heads of rices
that have never been anything
but wild.
“But Wild”
by Carolyn Foote Edelmann

Wild rice is not rice but the grain of a reed-like aquatic plant of the grass family. Northern wild rice grows in shallow water in small lakes and streams surrounding the Great Lakes region of the United States and Canada. In northern Minnesota the Chippewa call it “manomin” (the good berry) and have been harvesting it for centuries. The Chippewa and other tribes consider it a “gift from the great spirit.”

To harvest wild rice, a canoe is pushed through rice beds with a pole while a “knocker” sits in the rear bending the stalks over the boat and tapping off the rice kernels. Later, the kernels are roasted in a cast-iron kettle to dry them out. The hulls are then tread on with the feet to loosen the kernels. Finally, they are tossed in the air to let the chaff blow away from the kernels.

Today, this kind of wild rice is called “organic” while other wild rice is cultivated in paddies and sometimes genetically modified to create uniform kernels. All wild rice is pretty expensive but very nutritious. It is high in protein, amino acid and dietary fiber. It is low in fat and contains no gluten. It also has a hearty, nutty flavor that seems the very essence of fall. Here are some recipes:

Duck Breast Roulades
with Wild Rice Stuffing

Remove the skin from a duck breast (2 pieces, about 1 pound total). Separate the halves and cut each half into two pieces horizontally. Place each piece between plastic wrap and pound them out with a cast iron skillet or meat mallet. You will end up with 4 thin cutlets of duck breast. Set aside and refrigerate.

Cook 1/4 cup wild rice in 2 cups boiling water for about 45 minutes. Drain and return to pan, cover and let stand. Chop 1/2 cup shallots and cut 2 carrots into 3-inch sticks. Add 2 tablespoons butter to a sauté pan and heat until the butter foams. Add the shallots and carrots and sauté until soft, about 4 minutes. Cut 6 sweet gherkin pickles into thin strips. Combine the cooked wild rice and the sautéed shallots.

Place the duck breast cutlets on a cutting board and spread 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard on each one. Sprinkle each with sea salt and pepper and place 1 tablespoon of the wild rice mixture in the middle. Place the carrot strips and gherkin strips on top of the wild rice. Roll up the duck breast into a cylinder and wrap in 2 thin pieces of bacon. Skewer with 2 toothpicks for each roulade.

Heat a sauté pan and add 1 tablespoon canola oil. Brown the bacon-wrapped roulades on each side and remove. Pour off excess fat, leaving a coating in the pan. Add 1 cup chopped onion, 1/2 cup chopped celery and 1/2 cup chopped carrot to the drippings and cook until soft. Stir in 1 tablespoon tomato paste and raise the heat. Add 2 cups red wine and bring to a boil. Season with 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice, 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves and 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme.

Place the roulades in a small casserole and pour the sauce over them. Cover and place in a 350-degree oven. Cook for 30 minutes and remove. Remove the toothpicks and place the roulades on a small bed of wild rice (there should be some left). Strain the sauce and check for seasoning before pouring it over the roulades.
Serves 4.

Wild Rice Pancakes
with Mushrooms

Boil 1 1/2 cups water and add 1 teaspoon salt and 1/2 cup wild rice. Simmer, covered, until tender, about 45 minutes. Drain and cool.

Sauté 1/2 cup onion and 1/2 cup celery in 2 tablespoons butter. Stir in 1/2 cup sliced scallions and season with 1 tablespoon chopped parsley, 1 teaspoon fresh thyme, 1/2 teaspoon chopped rosemary and 3 chopped sage leaves. Combine the rice with the vegetables and set aside. In a small bowl, beat 1 egg with 1/2 cup milk and stir into rice mixture. In another bowl whisk 1/2 cup flour and 1 teaspoon baking powder and fold into rice mixture.

In a large sauté pan heat 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon canola oil and drop in pancakes with a 1/4-cup measure. Brown on both sides and remove to a warm oven. Add to the pan 2 more tablespoons butter and 1 cup each of sliced shiitake, cremini and oyster mushrooms. Sauté until brown and they have released their liquid, then add 1/4 cup Madeira wine.

Place the pancakes on a serving plate and pour the mushrooms over them. Season with ground pepper and coarse sea salt.
Serves 4.

Russian Golubtsy
(stuffed cabbage)
with Wild Rice Stuffing

With a sharp knife, remove the core of a head of cabbage. Boil 2 quarts water in a large soup pot and add the whole cabbage. Cover and let it cook for 3 minutes and remove to a colander in a sink. Carefully remove the loose outer leaves and set aside to drain. Place the remaining cabbage back in the boiling water and cook another 2 minutes. Remove and repeat the above process until most of the large leaves are removed intact. Chop the remaining core of cabbage and place in a casserole.

In separate saucepans, cook 1/2 cup wild rice and 1/2 cup brown rice until tender. (When cooking rice it is better to use lots of water, as with pasta, and cook until tender, then drain, than to measure exact amounts of water.)

Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large sauté pan and add 1 cup chopped shallots. Sauté until soft and add 1 cup dried cranberries and 1 cup chopped prunes. Mix the wild and brown rice into this mixture and season with 1 teaspoon sea salt and 1 teaspoon pepper.

Stuff the cooked cabbage leaves by laying them flat on a cutting board and placing 1/2 cup of rice mixture on each leaf. Fold in the edges and roll as tightly as possible. Place the cabbage rolls in the casserole on top of the chopped cabbage. It is OK to place cabbage rolls on top of each other.

Meanwhile, make a sauce by sautéing 1 cup chopped onion in 2 tablespoons butter until soft. Stir in 6 chopped fresh plum tomatoes and season with 2 teaspoons sea salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Separately, beat 2 tablespoons flour into 1 cup sour cream and stir into the sauce.

Pour the sauce over the cabbage in the casserole, cover and bake in a 325-degree oven for 45 minutes. Remove, sprinkle with chopped fresh dill and serve.
Makes 4-6 portions.

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.

08/20/11 4:12am
08/20/2011 4:12 AM

Steam-cleaned, so groundless you’d believe
Them exhaled from some passing cloud,
The Idahoes and Maines arrive
Same-sized, tied in their plastic shroud.

Their British kindred, unconfined,
Differ in breeding, taste, and size.
They come with stones you mustn’t mind.
You have to dredge their claypit eyes.

Their brows look wrinkled with unease
Like chilblain-sufferers in March.
No sanitized machines are these
For changing sunlight into starch —

Yet the new world’s impatient taint
Sticks to my bones. I can’t resist
Cursing my mucked-up sink. I want
Unreal meals risen from sheer mist.

“Dirty English Potatoes” from “Spud Songs” by X.J. Kennedy

Traditionally, the Eastern white potato has been the mainstay of Long Island potato production. It is an all-purpose potato with relatively high moisture and sugar content. At the other end of the scale is the russet potato, grown most successfully in Idaho. It is very high in starch content and is excellent for baking, frying and mashing. In between is the Yukon gold potato with its yellow flesh, light skin and medium starch content. It is increasingly becoming the premium potato on the North Fork and can be used in a wide variety of recipes. The Yukon gold is a cross between a North American white potato and a wild South American yellow-fleshed one. After years of research, it was released in 1980 by two Canadians, G.R. Johnston of Agriculture Canada and R.G. Rowberry of the University of Guelph. It seems to grow especially well on the North Fork and is a good source of vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber.

When purchasing these potatoes, don’t pick any that show splotches of green color; this is solanine, a bitter, mildly poisonous alkaloid that is produced by too much exposure to light. Store them in a cool, dry place away from the light and not near any onions, as onions release a gas that interacts with the potato and speeds up spoilage.

Here are some Yukon gold recipes:

Yukon Gold Hash
Cut 2 pounds of Yukon gold potatoes into half-inch dice, leaving skin on. Place them in boiling water and blanch for 10 minutes. Drain and set aside. Heat 2 tablespoons canola oil in large sauté pan and add the leaves of 1 bunch of fresh sage. When the sage is brown, remove and add to the hot oil 1 diced onion, 2 diced zucchini, 1 diced summer squash and 1 diced red pepper. Cook for 3 minutes and add the diced potatoes. Season with 1 tablespoon sea salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Add 1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley. When the potatoes are fully cooked and browning, remove and serve with 1 poached egg for each serving.
Serves 4-6.

Yukon Gold Potato Gnocchi with Pesto
Bring 3 pounds of potatoes in their skins to a boil and simmer until fully cooked, about 25 minutes. Remove, cool, peel and put through a potato ricer while they are still warm.
Mix 2 eggs and 1/4 cup heavy cream in a small bowl and season with 1 tablespoon sea salt and 1 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg. Add this to the riced potatoes along with 2 cups flour. Stir ingredients together lightly with a wooden spoon and turn out onto a floured surface. Knead the mixture lightly with your hands to form a smooth dough. Cut into 6 equal pieces and form each into a round disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate.
Meanwhile, place 2 cups coarsely chopped basil and 1 cup coarsely chopped Italian parsley in the bowl of a food processor. Add 1/2 cup chopped walnuts and 2 tablespoons minced garlic. Start the processor and drizzle in 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil. When the mixture is smooth add 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese and 1/2 teaspoon sea salt. Remove and set aside.
Place a disk of gnocchi dough on a floured surface and roll out 3/4 inches thick. Cut into 4 strips and roll the strips with your hands to make cylinders about 1/2 inch thick. Cut these strips into 1-inch pieces and repeat until all are rolled and cut. Take each little piece and place it on the side of a wire whisk, pushing a dent in it with your finger. Let it roll off the whisk to make a round, grooved gnocchi with a indentation in it to hold the sauce. (This is often done on the back of a fork, but I think it works better with a whisk.) Place all of the finished gnocchi on a wax-paper-lined sheet pan.
If cooking them right away, bring 6 quarts of water to a boil and add the gnocchi carefully. When they rise to the surface they are done. Remove with a slotted spoon and place in serving dishes. Spoon the pesto over them and serve. (If not serving at once, freeze the gnocchi on the sheet pan, loosen them and place in a ziplock bag. They can be cooked equally well from the frozen state.)

Yukon Gold Roasted French Fries
Place 2 pounds of Yukon gold potatoes in their skins in boiling water and blanch until just tender, about 15 minutes. When cool enough to handle, cut them lengthwise into wedges. Whip 2 egg whites until frothy and add 1 tablespoon sea salt, 1 teaspoon onion powder and 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder. Toss the potato wedges with the egg white mixture in a large bowl until potatoes are coated. Spray a sheet pan with no-stick and spread the potatoes out in a single layer. Put into a 400-degree oven and cook for 10 minutes before turning the potatoes with a spatula. Cook another 10 minutes and serve.
These “french fries” will come out pretty crispy considering they were made with no fat or oil.
Serves 4.

Yukon Gold Pancakes
Peel and shred 6 medium-sized Yukon gold potatoes on the coarse side of a box grater. Squeeze out the moisture by wrapping them in a cloth cook’s towel and twisting the top until the juice comes out. Place the potatoes in a bowl. Whisk 1 egg, 2 tablespoons flour and 1/4 teaspoon baking powder together in a small bowl and add to the potatoes along with 1/2 cup minced shallots. Season with 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, 1 teaspoon sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Add this mixture to the potatoes and combine with a wooden spoon.
Heat a cast iron skillet and spray with no-stick. Add 2 tablespoons canola oil and when shimmering, place 1/4-cup batches of potato mixture in the hot oil. Press each down with a spatula and cook until golden, about 2 minutes. Turn and continue cooking for another 3 minutes. Remove the pancakes and place on a paper towel in a warm oven. Serve with applesauce.
Serves 4.

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.

08/11/11 12:17am
08/11/2011 12:17 AM

JOHN ROSS COURTESY PHOTO

“Poaching: A moist-heat cooking method that uses convection to transfer heat from a hot (160-180 F) liquid to the food submerged in it.”
Webster’s Dictionary of
Culinary Arts

On restaurant menus it is common to list ingredients and describe the cooking method. Thus we see “pan seared,” “roasted,” “grilled,” “braised,” “sautéed” and many more. It is important to remember that there are only two basic cooking methods: dry heat and moist heat. Heat is transferred to the food directly, as in placing a cutlet in a hot skillet (conduction), or indirectly by the currents caused by the movement of molecules in a liquid (convection).
Dry heat cooking methods include broiling, sautéeing, roasting and deep frying. They work best for tender cuts of meat, poultry and fish. A high quality steak is grilled at high temperature to make it palatable and flavorful, not to tenderize it. Moist heat methods include boiling, simmering and poaching. Braising is a combination method that requires browning at high temperature first and then adding liquid for long, slow cooking to tenderize. Simmering liquid such as water, stock or wine breaks down connective tissue in less tender cuts of meat, poultry and fish.
Poaching is a moist-heat cooking method that is unique in that small, tender portions of food are simmered gently below the boiling point to make them palatable, while retaining their innate flavor and texture. Fish and eggs are the most common foods that are poached, but fruit, vegetables and poultry can also be cooked using this method.
In classic French cuisine a “court bouillon” is used as the poaching liquid. Court bouillon is water simmered with vegetables, seasonings and an acid ingredient such as wine, vinegar or lemon juice. But aromatic liquids such as water with herbs or intense liquids such as red wine reductions are also good for poaching. When cooked properly, poached foods retain the delicate flavors of the food without adding fat. Here are some recipes for poached foods:

Tea-Poached Salmon with Curried Peanut Butter Broccoli Rabe
Purchase four 6-ounce salmon fillets and place them on a sheet pan. Sprinkle the contents of 2 tea bags (I used lemon tea) over the salmon and refrigerate while preparing the meal.
Heat a sauté pan and add 1 tablespoon canola oil. Add 1 cup chopped onion along with 2 tablespoons curry powder. Combine 1/4 cup creamy peanut butter with 1 cup soy milk and add to the cooked onion mixture. Cut one bunch of broccoli rabe into small pieces (both leaves and stems) and add them to the sauté pan. Toss the broccoli rabe with the peanut butter sauce, cover and simmer until just tender, about 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, spray a shallow pan with no-stick and place the tea-covered salmon fillets in the bottom. Bring 4 cups water to a boil in a separate pan and pour it gently over the salmon. Place the salmon on medium heat and bring up almost to the boiling point. Remove the salmon fillets and serve over the broccoli rabe.
If desired, mix 1 cup Greek yogurt with 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill and 1 teaspoon lemon juice to use as a garnish on the salmon.
Serves 4.

Poached Flounder in
Red Wine Reduction with Beets
Combine 1 bottle of merlot and 1 cup chicken stock in a saucepan. Add 3 peeled and quartered beets (reserve the beet greens and stalks), 1 chopped carrot, 1 peeled and quartered onion and 1 stalk of chopped celery. Season with 3 whole cloves of garlic, 1 bay leaf and 3 sprigs of thyme. Simmer until wine is reduced by half. Strain out the vegetables and reserve the beets. Reserve the reduced wine as a poaching liquid.
Heat a sauté pan and add 1 tablespoon canola oil. When very hot, add one onion cut in long strips and cook until brown and caramelized. Add the chopped beet greens and beet stalks along with 1 tablespoon minced garlic. Add the reserved beets and season with sea salt and pepper. Moisten this mixture with 2 tablespoons of the poaching liquid and simmer for 5 minutes.
Cut 1 1/2 pounds of flounder into small fillets, cutting the large fillets down the lateral line. Season lightly with salt and pepper and roll into small paupiettes. Stick a toothpick through the rolls to hold them together. Place the flounder in a shallow pan and pour the red wine poaching liquid over them. Press a piece of foil down over the fish and bring to a simmer on the stove. Remove the flounder after about 4 minutes to avoid overcooking. Place the fish on top of the beet mixture and pour some of the poaching liquid over all.
Serves 4.

Poached Striped Bass
in Court Bouillon
Prepare a court bouillon by adding 4 cups water and 1 cup white wine to a saucepan. Tie together 1 stalk of celery, 6 parsley stems, 2 sprigs of thyme and 1 bay leaf with butcher’s twine or string. Place this bundle in the liquid with half of a peeled onion stuck with 2 whole cloves. Season with 1 teaspoon sea salt and 8 peppercorns. Simmer 30 minutes and strain.
Cut 1 1/2 pounds of boned and skinned striped bass into 4-ounce chunks and place them in a shallow pan. Pour the court bouillon over them and bring to a simmer. Cook until the fish is opaque, about 10 minutes (do not overcook). Serve over fresh green beans or sautéed fresh corn. Garnish with parsley and lemon.
Serves 4.

Poached Fresh Peaches
in Rosé Wine
In a saucepan, combine 2 cups of North Fork rosé wine with 1/4 cup sugar and 3 strips of lemon rind. Bring to a boil and stir until sugar dissolves. Add 4 peaches (leave skin on) and cook slowly until tender, turning occasionally, about 20 minutes. Remove the peaches and cool. Slip off the skin and cut into wedges. Reduce the poaching liquid to a thin syrup and pour over the peaches. Let mixture cool. If desired, add 1/2 pint of fresh blackberries before serving with vanilla ice cream.
Serves 4.

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.

07/11/11 8:15am
07/11/2011 8:15 AM

JOHN ROSS PHOTO | Flat-iron steak, right off the grill.

I surely never hope to view
A steak as luscious as a stew.
The latter is the tasty goal
Of elements in perfect whole,
A mad assemblage of legumes
Exuding warm ambrosial fumes,
Each seasoning of proper length,
Proving in Union there is strength.
A steak is grander, it is true,
Yet needs no special skill to brew.
It is an art a stew to make,
But anyone can broil a steak.
Author unknown, 1880

There was a time when we only wanted the luxury cuts of beef for our steaks — those very tender cuts from the “muscles of suspension” such as the rib, the loin, the tenderloin and part of the sirloin. The ribeye, the New York strip and the filet mignon are examples of these cuts. They all come from the center section of the animal along the backbone, an area that doesn’t get a lot of exercise. We also tended to judge the steak by its thickness and weight. Thus a 16-ounce, bone-in shell steak was a great cut of meat. And all you had to do was fire up the grill, season it with some salt and pepper and throw it on. Add a baked potato, sour cream and a tossed salad, and you had the ultimate summer meal.

But now, as we learn more about the anatomy of the steer, we find that some of the cuts in the less tender areas, known as the “muscles of locomotion,” can be very tasty and surprisingly tender. These muscles in the shoulder, legs and diaphragm do get a lot of exercise, which develops flavor in the muscles but also develops connective tissue. It just takes a little knowledge and a little work to make these cuts palatable.

We also discover that marinades, rubs and some creative sauces transform these funny-looking (and funny-sounding) cuts of beef into a gourmet meal. The amount of meat consumed is smaller and so is the price. Here are some examples to try on the barbecue:

Flat Iron Steak
People are just beginning to learn about this delicious steak. It comes from the wholesale chuck or shoulder of beef, a less tender area usually used for ground beef, stew and pot roast. But the area just under the shoulder blade, listed in the North American Meat Processors guide as the “Top Blade Steak,” is actually the second most tender cut of beef next to the filet mignon. The only problem is that it has a tough streak of connective tissue running through the middle that needs to be removed.
Removing this connective tissue and trimming it into two rectangular steaks — each resembling an old-fashioned “flat iron” — was the work of two teams of researchers at the University of Nebraska and the University of Florida. It has since become very popular among restaurateurs and is becoming available at supermarkets and meat shops. If you purchase an untrimmed top blade roast, you only need to split it in half lengthwise and remove the connective tissue with a sharp boning knife. The result will be two flat iron steaks that will weigh about one pound each and be enough to serve four people.
Preparation: Remove the line of gristle that runs through the center of a top blade roast (about 2 1/2 pounds). Cut the steaks in half to make 4 flat iron steaks. Make a simple rub by combining 2 tablespoons coarse sea salt, 1 tablespoon ground black pepper, 2 tablespoons sweet paprika, 1 teaspoon onion powder, 1 teaspoon garlic powder, 1 tablespoon dried oregano, 2 teaspoons ground cumin and 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper. Rub this mixture into the steak and bring the steaks to room temperature. Spray them with no-stick and place them on a hot charcoal or gas grill. Cook about 3 minutes per side, or until rare or medium rare, and remove. Let the steak rest for about 5 minutes and slice on the bias against the grain.

Hanger Steak
The wholesale cut called the plate is located under the rib section of beef. Within this cut a muscle literally “hangs” from the diaphragm. This striated muscle is called the hanger steak; it weighs about 1 1/2 pounds and is very flavorful but not quite as tender as the flat iron steak. It also contains a long inedible membrane going down the center that has to be removed. The result will be two small V-shaped muscles.
These steaks are best marinated first and then grilled over hot coals to a rare or medium-rare doneness. Cutting them against the grain is essential. I found that slow cooking hanger steak over hickory chips in a smoker grill created a delicious, easy to eat steak.
Preparation: Carefully cut a hanger steak lengthwise along the seam. You will expose the silvery connective tissue; slip a sharp boning knife under the gristle and cut away from you to remove it safely. If desired, tie the pieces together to make one thick piece of meat. This will work best if you decide to slow-cook the steak in a smoker.
Prepare a marinade by combining 1/2 cup red wine, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary, 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt and 1 teaspoon black pepper. Place the marinade and the steak in a large zip-lock bag or a shallow pan for 2 hours or more.
For slow cooking, place charcoal in the bottom of the smoker and heat until it begins to turn white. Wrap 2 cups of hickory chips in heavy foil and poke holes in the foil. Place this package on top of the hot coals. Then place a stainless steel bowl of water on the grate above the coals and put the top grate over the water. Put the marinated steak on this grate and cover tightly with the lid. It should cook at about 250 degrees for 2 to 2 1/2 hours. The meat will still be medium-rare after this time, but it will be very tender due to the slow cooking.
Alternatively, cook the hanger steaks (separated) on a hot grill for about 10 minutes to produce a rare steak. Slice against the grain into small, thin slices.
Serves 4.

Skirt Steak
This classic steak is most famous for its use in preparing fajitas. It is located opposite the hanger steak in the diaphragm; it’s a little tougher than the hanger but a little easier to handle. It should be all trimmed and ready to cook when you purchase it.
Preparation: Make the following marinade for 1 1/2 pounds of skirt steak: Combine the juice from 3 limes with 1/4 cup tequila, 1 teaspoon ground cumin, 2 teaspoons coarse sea salt and 1 teaspoon pepper. Marinate the steaks for 2 hours in the refrigerator.
Cut a green pepper, red pepper and yellow pepper into slices and place in a bowl. Add 1 thinly sliced red onion, 1 minced jalapeno pepper, 1 tablespoon minced garlic, 1/4 cup chopped cilantro, 2 teaspoons sea salt, 1 teaspoon pepper and 2 tablespoons olive oil. Prepare a charcoal grill and wait until the coals are white. Cook the vegetable mixture in a perforated grill pan placed over the coals with the lid on top. Stir and cook until just beginning to brown, about 10 minutes.
Remove and cook the marinated steaks until browned and rare, about 5 minutes. Slice the steaks into thin pieces across the grain and serve with the cooked pepper mixture. Serve with 8-inch corn tortillas, guacamole, tomato salsa and sour cream.
Serves 4 to 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.

04/05/11 12:14pm
04/05/2011 12:14 PM
Ice cream made with Tahitian vanilla beans.

JOHN ROSS PHOTO | Ice cream made with Tahitian vanilla beans.

Karen Wells was born in Greenport in 1953, the daughter of a bunker fisherman by the name of Mason Wells. After graduating from Southold High School in 1972, she and a couple of friends went backpacking around Europe for a couple of years. In 1981 she took a trip to the Caribbean island of St. Thomas and ended up signing on the locally famous schooner Rachel and Ebenezer as the cook for the return trip to Greenport. Thus began a career as a seagoing chef that lasted the next 27 years.

Former seagoing chef Karen Wells.

JOHN ROSS PHOTO | Former seagoing chef Karen Wells.

Karen cooked on a number of private luxury yachts and traveled the world. She has crossed the Atlantic, the Pacific, the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea, the Mediterranean and the Caribbean. She has passed through the Suez and Panama canals. Most recently, she just returned from Tahiti and its surrounding Society Islands. It was on one of these islands, Tahaa, that she visited the famous vanilla plantation that produces some of the world’s finest vanilla beans. And it was from this island that she brought me a package of those aromatic beans as a gift. This article and its recipes emanated from those beans.

Vanilla is one of the most desirable flavors in the culinary world. It is an essence that comes from vanilla orchids native to Mesoamerica. The Aztecs are thought to be the first people to use the essence of vanilla as a flavoring for their cocoa drinks. Today, Madagascar is the world’s largest producer, but Indonesia, Mexico and Tahiti also export vanilla. Tahitian vanilla is the most aromatic and has a soft, flowery aroma reminiscent of root beer.

Vanilla is the second most expensive spice, behind saffron. This is because vanilla has to be hand pollinated during a very short window of time, as the flower only lasts one day. The seed pod that develops takes nine months to mature. After harvest, the pods have to be heated to stop further growth. Then they have to be cured for the next five months, using a very labor-intensive process. Finally, they are placed in chests to cure like a fine wine.

I used to believe that vanilla was vanilla, and it didn’t make much difference whether you used beans, pure extract or even imitation vanilla. What I have discovered is that vanilla is indeed like wine; a cheap jug wine has a coarse taste and no aroma while a fine hand-crafted vintage wine has a delicious bouquet and many subtle nuances of flavor to follow.

One of the purest ways to enjoy the vanilla bean is to make homemade vanilla ice cream.

Vanilla Ice Cream
Combine 2 cups heavy cream, 1 cup whole milk, 3/4 cup sugar and 1/8 teaspoon salt in a saucepan. Cut a vanilla bean in half and split each half lengthwise. Using a small knife, scrape out the seeds into the cream mixture and toss the pods in as well. Bring slowly to a boil, stirring with a wooden spoon.

In a separate bowl, whisk two large eggs and gradually whisk 1/2 cup of the hot cream into the eggs. Now pour the egg mixture slowly back into the saucepan, whisking constantly. Cook on medium heat until the custard thickens lightly and reaches a temperature of 175 degrees. Strain the custard through a sieve and refrigerate overnight. (Do not throw out the used vanilla pods, as they make great vanilla sugar when dried and placed in a sealed jar of sugar.) Also be sure to place the bowl of your ice cream maker in the freezer overnight. The next day, start the ice cream maker with its frozen insulated bowl and pour in the chilled custard. Allow it to run for 20 minutes, as it will thicken to a desirable consistency. Serve immediately or place in an airtight container for freezer storage.

Makes about 1 1/2 quarts.

Caramel Rum Pineapple Sauce
Cut a whole fresh pineapple into bite-sized chunks. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a large sauté pan and stir in 1/4 cup dark brown sugar. When sugar dissolves, add 1/4 cup dark Myers’s rum and a vanilla bean that has been split and scraped. Add the pineapple chunks and place over high heat, stirring occasionally. The pineapple will throw off a fair amount of liquid and the high heat will evaporate the liquid and caramelize the sugar. When the mixture is almost dry, remove it from the heat and cool. Serve over vanilla ice cream.

Coconut Vanilla Sea Scallops
Purchase 1 pound of fresh sea scallops. If they are large, split them in half horizontally. Season them with 1 teaspoon sea salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Heat a large sauté pan over high heat and add 2 tablespoons canola oil. When it shimmers, add the scallops one at a time and do not crowd them. Turn them quickly and remove as soon as they are golden brown on one side. Do not overcook.

Reduce the heat, pour off any excess oil and add 1/2 cup dark rum to the pan along with 1 split vanilla pod. Reduce by half and stir in 1 cup heavy cream and 1/2 cup coconut milk. Reduce again by half and remove the vanilla pods. Add back the sea scallops and check for seasoning. Serve over rice.

Serves 4.

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.

Vanilla beans curing in the sun on the island of Tahaa, one of the many islands surrounding Tahiti, and the primary source of Tahitian vanilla.

KAREN WELLS PHOTO | Vanilla beans curing in the sun on the island of Tahaa, one of the many islands surrounding Tahiti, and the primary source of Tahitian vanilla.