Monthly Archives: October 2012

CLAM, MUSHROOM AND SPINACH STUFFED CONCHIGLIONI

Pasta shaped like great big shells (conchiglioni) has always intrigued me, because those shells are just begging to be stuffed with something. The little ones are good, too, because they hold sauce in a hot dish or dressing in a pasta salad. But the big ones can hold any kind of stuffing you can think of.

Conchiglioni

A box of conchiglioni caught my eye in the grocery aisle the other day, so I bought one without having a clear idea of what I wanted to make from them. Over several days I flipped through a mental catalog: shrimp, cheese, ham, chicken, ground beef. Nothing seemed exactly right, and then I remembered a can of minced clams that had been sitting in the pantry just waiting for me to make one of my favorites, pasta with clams and white sauce.

Stuffed shells ready for sauce

That seemed like a good beginning, but I was trying to think of something a little different. At last I came up with a plan and decided to make a stuffing of clams, mushrooms, and spinach.

Ready for the oven

Ingredients

  • 12 giant conchiglioni
  • 3 quarts salted water
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 bunch fresh spinach, washed, trimmed of stems, and chopped coarsely
  • 1 pound crimini mushrooms, washed and sliced
  • 6.5 ounces canned minced clams, drained (Reserve clam juice)
  • ½ teaspoon Pernod
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • ½ cup whipping cream
  • ¾ cup grated Swiss cheese
  • ½ cupgrated Parmesan cheese
  • butter for dotting the top of the casserole

Baked

Method

  • Boil the pasta shells in the boiling salted water until al dente, about 12 to 15 minutes. Drain and set aside for stuffing.
  • In a large skillet over medium-high heat,  heat the olive oil until shimmering. Then add the chopped spinach and heat, covered, until wilted.
  • Add the mushrooms and continue to sauté until the mushrooms are cooked through.
  • Then add the clams, Pernod, salt and pepper. Be careful with the Pernod, as too much can be overwhelming.  Reduce the heat to low until ready for stuffing.
  • In a saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter and then add the flour. Stir until thoroughly mixed and cook for 5 minutes to remove the raw taste of the flour. Stir in the clam juice and enough cream to make a thick sauce. Adjust the seasonings with salt and pepper. Add water if the sauce is too thick.
  • Arrange the cooked pasta shells in a well-buttered baking dish.
  • Divide the stuffing evenly among the pasta shells. Then top with the sauce, sprinkle with Swiss  and Parmesan cheeses. Dot with butter, and place in the middle of an oven pre-heated to 350°F. Bake for 50 minutes or until the top of the casserole is well-browned.  Remove from the oven, let rest for 5 minutes, then serve.

Ready to serve

Closeup view of the finished dish

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RICH TABLE – VERDICT IN; THE CRITICS APPROVE

Rich Table in the Hayes Valley section of San Francisco has only been open for a little over 2 months, but already the food and service have impressed the local critics. Michael Bauer in the San Francisco Chronicle has said, “It was ironic and symbolic that my first visit to Rich Table was the night of the blue moon, because only once in a blue moon does a restaurant like this come along.” ( 3½ stars, September 30, 2012) In San Francisco magazine, Josh Sens says, “Elements of surprise…Rich Table might sound like every other joint in town, but it’s not.” (3 stars, October, 2012)   7×7 San Francisco has selected Sarah and Evan as the chef representatives in their annual “The Hot 30”. (October, 2012)

With all that publicity, it may not be a surprise that the reservation book is filled for the next three months, but even if you can’t get a reservation, don’t despair. There are a few seats at the communal table deliberately left open for walk-ins. The bar is always humming, so you may need to sit on an outside bench to wait your turn.

How did a new restaurant get up and running so smoothly in such a short time? Only part of the answer is the talent of the chef-owners, Sarah and Evan Rich. The other part is the professional staff who work together comfortably, more like a family than a restaurant crew.

Maz has taken on responsibility for running the front of the house after working in the wait staff and as beverage manager for years at Coi. He has put together a menu of creative cocktails and an excellent choice of wines and beers that complement the food.

James and Nick have worked as cooks with Sarah and Evan for years, and so watching them in action is like watching a well-practiced athletic team. They have been joined by Bayoni, Miles, and Andrew. How all these folks fit in the tiny open kitchen is a mystery, but without a misstep they work with one another to turn out the orders beautifully composed and on cue.

Michael and Charles left good, long-time positions in high-end restaurants to join the team. Rachel and Jamie, the runner, have also become team members. This makes a first-class, friendly, helpful, and knowledgeable front-of-the-house crew.

We visited San Francisco a few days ago with plans to eat at Rich Table. As parents of one of the chefs, Sarah, we thought that would not be a problem, but in a text message, Sarah gently reminded my wife that we need to let her know our plans , otherwise she could not guarantee a space.

We wound up sitting at the communal table with a party of five from France. They were making the “Great Circle Tour” of the American West. Even with limited English on their part and non-existent French on ours, we enjoyed a chat and wound up sharing some food.  They cleaned their plates and enjoyed the restaurant. I heard  one  say, “Magnifique.”

We spent three hours eating everything that Sarah sent out to us. Here’s what we ate:

SPANISH CAVA WITH BEAU SOLEIL OYSTERS FROM NEW BRUNSWICK, CANADA

Canadian oysters in California! Delicious and ocean salty. Still, the highlight is the crushed squash blossom mignonette. The sauce is beautiful with green and yellow-orange confetti. It is also tasty with an acidic base that complements the salty oysters.

SARDINE CHIPS WITH HORSERADISH ANCHO CRESS

This is rapidly becoming a signature dish of Rich Table. Big, crisp potato chips have a slender sardine fillet woven in the middle raising the question, “How do they do that?” The horseradish sauce is a perfect foil.   CAUTION: you can’t eat just one!

WINTER SQUASH FRITTER WITH PRESERVED LEMON AND ARUGULA SALSA VERDE

Another signature dish, corn fritters, has been transformed for the fall season into winter squash fritters with the sweet, creamy filling, crispy crust, and salty toasted squash seeds as a garnish.

HOUSE-MADE BLACK GARLIC MORTADELLA WITH HOT MUSTARD

This in no way resembles the usual bologna-like mortadella. The sausage is a silky mousse of pork laced with lardons of pork fat and bits of black garlic, a smoked and aged garlic that has a nutty, woodsy flavor.

RAW KING SALMON WITH CUCUMBER AND DOUGLAS FIR TOPPED WITH SALTINE TUILE DOTTED WITH YOGURT AND FORAGED PURSLANE

Almost too beautiful to eat – well, almost! The salmon hides below a paper-thin tuile of saltine decorated with polka dots of yogurt and “bows” of foraged purslane. The decorations are delicious. The salmon and cucumber are superb.

HEIRLOOM TOMATO SALAD WITH BURRATA AND TOASTED SEAWEED

Sort of a sophisticated caprese. The tomatoes multi-hued, each with its own synthesis of sweet and tart. The burrata is creamy and a notch above the usual mozzarella, even the house-made, fresh variety. Seaweed  for basil? So Japanese and so different.

PLANCHA BREAD, RABBIT SAUSAGE, CORN, AND RED FRILL MUSTARD

Toppings for the plancha bread, done on one of the flat-top stoves, change frequently For our visit, rabbit sausage and corn were a perfect balance. Mustard served as both greens and sauce.

GARGANELLI WITH LAMB SAUSAGE AND ARUGULA

This unusual and beautiful pasta originated in Romagna and was rolled on a weaving comb to produce indentations before it was formed into cylinders resembling the breathing tubes of chickens (hence the name). Here it is topped with a light brown sauce faintly seasoned with tomato and the juices from lamb sausage. The sauce is perfect for dipping with bread.

WILD FENNEL LEVAIN AND HOUSE-CULTURED BUTTER

The perfect bread for dipping – but also for eating by itself or with the house-made cultured butter. There are lots of excellent, famous bakeries in San Francisco – Acme, Grace, and Tartine to name a few – but this house-made bread has become another signature dish. The bread is made with a sourdough starter that has been maintained for years. The scent and subtle taste of foraged wild fennel pollen makes it unique. The butter is made from milk and culture that have been aged together for two days. Then the mix is churned. The butter is pressed and aged for another several days while the pungent buttermilk is saved for other uses. (You’ll see more about that later.)

TAJARIN WITH CUITLACOCHE

The pasta originated in the Italian Piedmont. It is thicker than capellini but thinner than spaghetti. In Alba, a traditional dish is tajarin served with a sauce of black truffles. Thus, it is appropriate with cuitlacoche (corn smut, maize mushroom), a fungus that sometimes develops on ripening ears of corn. In Mexico it is a great delicacy and has been called “Mexican truffle”. Small wonder because it brings a chestnut color to the sauce along with a complex earthy aroma and taste which are clearly reminiscent of fresh truffles at the peak of the season.

RABBIT CANNELLONI, NASTURTIUM, SUNGOLD TOMATOES

An elegant pasta roll filled with tender rabbit and bathed with an herbal, slightly sweet sauce that makes you want more. The nasturtiums with their delicate blossoms and showy tiger stripes look too beautiful to eat, but they’re not. An elegant dish.

KING SALMON, BOK CHOY, TOASTED BUCKWHEAT, YOUNG GINGER

The bok choy and subtle ginger set an Asian note while the crunchy toasted buckwheat kernels offer an interesting contrast to the tender salmon fillets.

SWEET GLAZED PORK DUMPLINGS, BRAISED ESCAROLE, RADICCHIO

Delicate  rolls if pasta stuffed with a fluffy farce of pork augmented with airy egg whites and unctuous pork fat. The sweet glaze is caramelized so that the dish becomes a sophisticated pot sticker.

That’s it – only thirteen savouries, and we finished all of them. Then came dessert.

MUSKMELON GRANITÉ

The dish came to the table resembling a drift of melon-colored snowflakes, and the first spoonfuls added to the image. Then the surprise: buried in the bottom were perfect cubes of ripe melon and a ball of melon-flavored cream made with a siphon.

PANNA COTTA WITH PLUMS AND ALMOND CRUMBLE

So good that Susan started eating before I could take a picture, so here is an image of the fresh peach version from earlier in the season. This has become another signature offering.

PLUM CAKE WITH BUTTERMILK ICE CREAM

The cake oozes moisture and flavor. Not too sweet, but sweet enough with the subtle flavor of seasonal plums and a poached plum on the side along with a quenelle of buttermilk ice cream, tangy and smooth as silk. The buttermilk comes as a by-product of the house-churned butter. Some by-product!

That was it! No more, though no more was needed. Clearly a tour de force of creative American cooking with overtones of French, Italian, and Japanese. Can’t wait to visit again.

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CRABMEAT TECHE

Bayou Teche is one of the most important waterways in Louisiana. It is an ancient riverbed of the Mississippi River before it changed its flow several thousand years ago. Bayou Teche runs over a hundred miles before it empties into the Atchafalaya River, another former route of the Mississippi. The bayou served as the watery route of entry for the Acadians from Canada during their forced migration into Louisiana. The bayou flows through the heart of Cajun country, including some of its most famous towns and cities. Breaux Bridge is well-known for its zydeco, dance halls, and crawfish. St. Martinville is quaint and home to great Cajun food. New Iberia is close by Avery Island, the home of the famous Tabasco Sauce.  So, with a name like “Crabmeat Teche,” this dish must be pure Cajun.

The original recipe comes from the classic, “River Road Recipes” first published by the Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Junior League in 1959 and self-described as “The Textbook of Louisiana Cuisine”. Many of the recipes reflect the times, calling for canned mushroom soup, flavored gelatin, and lots of convenience foods. At the same time the book is a trove of honest-to-goodness Louisiana recipes, and for that reason you can usually find a copy of the cookbook in most Louisiana homes you visit.

The recipe for Crabmeat Teche was contributed  by Mrs. Roy Dabadie. I guess she lived in Baton Rouge at the time, but with a name like that, I shouldn’t be surprised if she originally hailed from someplace along the Bayou Teche. The  recipe used some of the convenience foods of the time, so I have made some small revisions. Nonetheless crabmeat Teche is still a 1950s casserole, but it tastes a lot better than tuna noodle bake.

Baked crabmeat Teche casserole

You’ll need a fresh vegetable to complement the casserole. I made a simple salad to go with it: sliced seasonal tomatoes, sprinkled with chopped fresh basil, coarsely-grated mozzarella cheese and your favorite vinaigrette.  It seemed to be an ideal foil for the rich casserole.

Caprese salad

RECIPE

Crabmeat Teche

Ingredients

  • 1 large bell pepper, chopped
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 3 ribs celery, chopped
  • 8 ounces crimini mushrooms, cleaned and sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 4 tablespoons bacon drippings
  • 4 slices very dry toast (dry enough to crumble easily)
  • 3 cups fish stock or chicken stock, divided
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ½ teaspoon celery salt
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano, pulverized between your hands
  • Louisiana hot sauce, to taste
  • ¾ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 1 pound can crabmeat, picked over for shells
  • ¾ cup cracker crumbs
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • paprika

Crabmeat Teche

Method

  • In a medium skillet over medium-high heat, sauté pepper, onions, celery, mushrooms, and garlic in bacon drippings until tender, about 10 minutes.
  • In a small bowl, crumble the dry toast in 1½ cups of fish stock. When the stock is completely absorbed and the toast crumbs have softened, add them to the skillet along with Worcestershire sauce, salt, pepper, celery salt, and oregano. Continue to simmer, stirring frequently until well combined. Adjust flavoring with hot sauce to taste.
  • Add the parsley and remaining 1½ cups of fish stock, stirring until well combined.
  • Add crabmeat, and mix thoroughly. Then pour the mixture into a well-buttered casserole.
  • Sprinkle the  top with cracker crumbs, dot with butter, and sprinkle with paprika.
  • Bake  for 20-30 minutes at 350° in the middle of a pre-heated oven. IF casserole is made ahead and refrigerated, increase baking time to 45-60 minutes.

Serving of crabmeate Teche with caprese salad

Serves 4 to 8, depending upon serving size

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