Sunday, February 27, 2011

Mangiare In Famiglia at Mozza - Tuscan Beef

We did not feel like dying after the Tuscan Beef dinner at Mozza three Fridays ago.

In fact, when I woke up the next morning I was ready to do it all over again. That morning.

They've really nailed it over there. And by they, I mean Chad Colby and his crew. The six course dinner featuring beef in the style of Tuscany was -- of the three Mangiare In Famiglia I have attended, so far -- the best.

The not dying part was actually a really big deal. Because after our Heritage Pork dinner, things were not looking so good for A. and me. We way over did it. Colby has managed to keep the family style dining experience in tact, while reining in the portions. It's a lot harder to gorge yourself like a pig now. You won't be helping yourself to thirds of the second course when all the heaviest fare is yet to come.

And thank goodness. While you might want another crostoni topped with beef tartare, you'll be glad you couldn't go down that path when you're staring at the glorious oxtail on your plate.

The Manzo Toscano (Tuscan beef) dinner at Mozza was exquisite. From the first bite of focaccia to the last slurp of ice cream sundae, we were all besides ourselves.

A. and I had booked the reservation almost two months prior, so there was plenty of time for the anticipation to build. By the week of our dinner, I was racing about my life, positively buzzing with excitement. I knew we would be having a stellar evening.

I had no doubts at all.

If I hadn't had such a wonderful time, my photos might be better. I apologize.

I was tickled when Chad Colby greeted me with a hello and a the last time I saw you, you were eating pig's blood soup. Yep, I bumped into him and Mozza's terrific bespectacled server -- whose name I regrettably don't know -- at Sapp Coffee Shop some months back. That soup is not to be missed.

We were again enthusiastically welcomed with a glass of Prosecco and a wedge of focaccia. That focaccia is exceptional. There was sage and onion, olive, and another round that featured peppers. This chewy, oily, crispy beauty is a must. The good news is that you don't have to sign up for a five or six course meal to enjoy it. You can simply pop into Mozza2Go after 2 p.m. and order a slice.

Don't even wait. Stop over there on the way home tonight. You will not regret it. Even if it takes you an hour out of your way.

The tables were laid with platters of raw baby vegetables and bowls of bagna cauda. Bagna cauda in general -- and this one in particular -- is divine. We joyously dipped the raw beets, butter radishes, baby carrots, slices of fennel, and treviso into the warm bath of garlic, anchovy, olive oil, and butter. I was going nuts over this course. I didn't want to stop. I need to make this at home post-haste.

The first beef course was one of my favorites of the night. Carne Cruda - carciofi e Parmigiano-Reggiano. This was essentially a steak tartare on a lengthy crostoni topped with shaved raw artichoke and Parmigiano-Reggiano. The beef is cut in much thicker chunks than your usual tartare, thus delivering a more interactive experience in the mouth. The beef is doused in olive oil that gushes into your mouth with every bite. The flavor is the most refined essence of beef --raw, minerally -- pure cow.

The Breve Costoletta Alla Griglia with salsa verde is a whole new experience in grilled short ribs. Think Korean barbeque style cut, flat and thin. These ribs are building a reputation of their own, being prominently featured in the December 21st 2010 Dining and Wine section of the New York Times. A kiwi marinade! A porcini rub! The accompanying salsa verde seems to be a standard at these Mangiare In Famiglia. We've happily lapped up the emerald-green condiment at every one so far.

I couldn't help myself. I whispered to a friendly server that perhaps the extra slab at the end of the table was available. He smiled and assured me he'd be right back. And he was, ribs in hand.

The Coda Alla Vaccinara - brasati sedano or braised oxtails served with braised celery was next. Colby reminded us not to forget to try the celery. It's delicious, too, he quipped. These luscious oxtails rested on a heap of braised celery, and the whole affair was showered with a celery leaf garnish. A bowl of the braising liquid was passed around to ladle over. How thoughtful! This was my other favorite of the night.

I have never had oxtails cooked this perfectly. They were impossibly meaty and tender. I am a big fan of celery. The humble vegetable sadly gets very little recognition, but all the naysayers would change their tune after one bite of these supple melting stalks.

At the end of meal, I managed to extract the recipe for the oxtails out of Chad Colby (thank you, Chef!), so stay tuned. There is a mess of oxtails in the refrigerator as we speak.

The final beef course of the evening was Bistecca Fiorentina - fagioli et swiss chard, cippolini al forno. These gigantic porterhouse steaks greeted us from their perch on the cooking island at the start of dinner, challenging us to save room for them.

And we did! Plenty of room for a sliver of New York and a rosette of fillet. And who could say no to the comfortingly soupy beans and swiss chard, and the gorgeous roasted onions with their caramelized edges?

Not I.

When I noticed that Sundaes were the dessert of the evening, I was a little disappointed. I don't really dig dessert all that much to begin with, and ice cream with toppings sort of seemed like a cop-out.


Sundaes for dessert was a dynamite idea. It brought back all the excitement of making them with my grandpa. I felt like a silly kid again. The vanilla, gianduia, and banana gelati were all stand-out. The ultra-salty peanuts and Luxardo maraschino cherries were magic atop a very healthy drizzle of chocolate sauce.

I can't help but sing the praises of the Mangiare In Famiglia. There just isn't a better deal or dining experience to be had in town right now. Strangers seated around the table that night were nearly moved to tears, discussing the virtues of this dining experience. And there's so much more to come. This month features seeds and grains, and April will welcome in the spring harvest. Chad Colby also mentioned a dinner focused on chiles.

Sign me up!

Mozza2Go/Scuola Di Pizza
6610 Melrose Avenue
Los Angeles, CA 90036


Thursday, February 24, 2011

Roasted Scallops with Tomatoes, Onions, and Paprika

Mark Bittman has saved me twice this week.

I love that about him. He has the ability to make everything better when I am exhausted and at a complete loss as to what to do for dinner. I can bring home any ingredient and if I am uninspired or unmoved, I can turn to Bittman and he will illuminate a path.

On Tuesday, while Fe. napped at my parent's house, I raced over to Santa Monica Seafood to find something piscine for dinner. I came away with plump, glistening sea scallops.

It seems like everyone I know had scallops for Valentine's Day. Not us. We supped on tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches. A's choice all the way. We tend to do things a bit backwards. So scallops on a run-of-the-mill Tuesday, instead!

And why not? They take no time to cook, which makes them a perfect weeknight dinner... Except that they're not cheap. So maybe they're a splurgy weeknight dinner, but definitely something to keep in mind.

It turns out that you don't always have to make a fancy pan sauce or super rich beurre-blanc to showcase sea scallops properly.

Mark Bittman, in his always handy, How to Cook Everything, turned me on to something entirely new. Granted, this may not be new to all of you, but for me it was verging on revelatory.

You can roast scallops!

Okay, so maybe it isn't headline news, but it definitely is good news.

Bittman's roasted sea scallops have a bit of a mediterranean slant thanks to the tomato, onion, parsley, and olive oil. The onion brings additional sweetness to the scallop's own. The tomatoes add tang and zip, and the paprika lends warm depth. You don't have to strew the suggested breadcrumbs over the top, but I really liked the bit of crisp.

These scallops are not only snip-snap and tasty, they're rather healthy. That is as long as you don't use too heavy of a hand during the final drizzle of olive oil.

I had almost all the ingredients on hand. You probably do too!

I did not have a medium tomato in the house, so I used halved cherry tomatoes. While the dish will be a bit soupier if you use canned tomatoes, the flavors should be just as satisfying. I wouldn't hesitate to turn to San Marzano for help here.

My stash of homemade bread crumbs in the freezer had been depleted, but I did have half a baguette patiently waiting for a new life. I tore it into chunks and whizzed it in the food processor. Bread crumbs in two minutes. If possible, always make your own.

All in, this shouldn't take you more than thirty minutes. The vegetables and parsley get a chop-chop and are tossed in the baking dish with the olive oil and paprika. They're thrown in the oven for about ten minutes until the juices are flowing and bubbling. The scallops are nestled into the mix and the bread crumbs sprinkled over. The extra-virgin olive oil is drizzled and in ten more minutes, dinner should be ready.

The only addition I'd make is to serve this with lemon or perhaps add a wee bit of preserved lemon rind to the tomato mixture. I know. I know. Enough already.

Mark Bittman's Roasted Sea Scallops

1 medium tomato, peeled if you have time, cored and roughly chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley leaves, plus parsley for garnish
1 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil,plus more for drizzling
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
About 1 1/2 pounds sea scallops
1/2 cup bread crumbs, preferably fresh (optional)

Heat the oven to 450 degrees.

Combine the tomato, onion, parsle, paprika, oil, and some salt and pepper in a baking dish that will just hold the scallops in one layer.

Bake until the juices begin to bubble and flow, approximately 10 minutes. Tuck the scallops into the vegetables, and sprinkle the bread crumbs over. drizzle with a bit of olive oil. Return the pan to the oven and roast until the scallops are just opaque about halfway through, approximately 10 minutes. Serve with the tomato mixture along side.

Serves 4

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

What to Do With Those Preserved Lemons

So what do you do with the preserved lemons?

You can definitely get complicated and make beautiful braises with chicken. A pan-sauce with butter for fillet of sole is lovely. Or how about to finish lamb chops with artichoke hearts and feta?

Preserved lemons can do wonders for all kinds of meat, but today I am thinking vegetables.

Perhaps the simplest way to capitalize on your lemon stash immediately, is to use them in sautéed vegetables. Spinach is my preference.

Chop the rind of a quarter or half of a preserved lemon. Sauté some chopped garlic briefly and add the chopped lemon. Add the spinach a handful or two at a time and stir. Cook until wilted and taste. You should already feel like a much sharper cook. The preserved lemon absolutely elevates what might be just another rather mundane batch of greens.

The ladies over at Canal House are every bit as enamored with preserved lemons as I am. I was perusing their third volume when I bumped into inspiration for a great side with steaks. They suggest making a purée with lima beans, garlic, and olive oil for topping toasts. The toasts are to be garnished with plenty of chopped preserved lemon rind. That would be a perfect start to a casual party.

Since I was making steak for dinner for A. and myself, I went a slightly different direction. Using frozen lima beans is completely acceptable here. Cook the lima beans according to the package instructions, but until just shy of done. Sauté a clove or two of chopped garlic in some olive oil. Add the chopped rind of half of a preserved lemon, stirring. Add the cooked lima beans and stir for a minute or two, until the flavors meld. Serve with freshly grated or shaved parmigiano reggiano.

I have always been nuts for steamed limas drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and cloaked with a healthy grating of parmigiano reggiano, but this preparation seriously ups the ante.

And finally, I'll turn to the Canal House folks again. They have a superb recipe for Winter Salad in the aforementioned Volume 3 - Winter & Spring. It features a few of my most beloved ingredients -- lemon, anchovy, preserved lemons, fennel, and mint. The salad has a compelling crunch and freshness -- almost reminiscent of tabouleh, thanks to the parsley and mint -- that keeps you foraging into the bowl even though you are way past full.

The preserved lemons in the vinaigrette add body and saltiness. I've started making a habit of adding preserved lemon to most of my lemon vinaigrettes. The dressings develop more complexity and dare I say, mystery.

To me the mint, parsley, scallions, preserved lemon, and anchovy are vital in this recipe. Please don't omit those. And if there happen to be leftovers, don't toss them out! The salad tastes quite great the next day too.

Canal House Winter Salad

Rind from 1/4 preserved lemon, finely chopped
2-3 anchovy fillets, chopped
Salt and pepper
Juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup great extra-virgin olive oil
4-5 ribs celery with leaves, sliced
1 fennel bulb, quartered and sliced
1 bunch radishes, sliced
1/2 head radicchio, sliced
1 Belgian endive, thickly sliced
3-4 scallions, sliced
1 handful fresh mint leaves, chopped
1 handful fresh parsley leaves, chopped

In a small bowl mix together the preserved lemon, anchovies, a pinch of salt and a generous amount of freshly ground pepper, and the lemon juice. Slowly stir in the olive oil.

In a large bowl mix together the celery, fennel, radishes, radicchio, endive, scallions, mint, and parsley. Stir in the dressing. Mix well. Cover and refrigerate for an hour to allow the flavors to meld. Toss and taste for seasoning.

Serves 4

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Risi e Bisi

Risotto is very good, but risi e bisi is better.

At least to me it is. I'm a big sucker for the soupiness.

Risi e bisi is a classic Venetian dish that typically celebrates spring and with it the arrival of fresh peas. Now, I do love fresh peas. I do. However I am pretty much on board with #21 of the last Saveur 100 issue. Frozen peas. Fergus Henderson quips: a wise old man once told me: Wait till peas are in season, and then use frozen.

Oh, the convenience! There is always a bag or two in my freezer, ready to add to Fe's dinner or to toss into pasta or to simmer with mint, olive oil, and thinly sliced onions (thank you, Nigel Slater!). They easily cook up in five minutes. And for the parents of toddlers reading this, I'll pass on a tip that my dear friend Sharmon shared with me. Give the frozen peas to your kiddos as a healthy snack. Yes, frozen. Taste them. They're good and the kids love to munch on them!

It's February. Why bother waiting until the spring, when I can enjoy a soothing supper of risi e bisi now, using perfectly delicious frozen peas?

Risi e bisi is basically a casual souped up version of risotto. There is none of the heavy duty stirring involved. And it takes much less time to prepare. You'll need to use short-grain rice like arborio or carnaroli, and naturally the better your parmigiano-reggiano and stock are the more divine your results will be.

I made risi e bisi on Tuesday night. I was pleased because A. really seemed to like it, judging by his comment that he never expected beige food to taste so good. Ah, a girl could really get used to praise like that.

We're not socked in by winter snows here in Los Angeles, but the nights do get cool -- by our standards -- and this dish provides perfect comfort for taking the chill off. It is a little bit sweet from the peas and onions and just the right bit salty thanks to the parmigiano-reggiano. I love a healthy grinding of pepper over the top.

Risi e Bisi

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons butter
1 large onion, chopped
2 cups frozen peas, mostly defrosted if possible
Salt & freshly ground pepper
6 cups chicken stock or vegetable if you prefer
1 1/2 cups arborio or carnaroli rice
1 cup freshly grated parmigiano-reggiano

Heat the stock in a pan, and keep at the ready.

Heat the olive oil and 2 tablespoons of butter in a heavy medium-sized pot over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook stirring occasionally until soft and faintly starting to color. Season with salt.

Add the rice, stirring until coated with the olive oil and onions. Then add 5 cups of the hot stock. Stir and cover, lowering the heat so the stock is gently bubbling. Cook the rice, stirring every so often, for approximately 15 minutes. Tip in the peas and stir. Cook for about 5 more minutes, until peas and rice are just tender.

Remove the pot from the heat. Add the remaining stock. Stir in the butter and half of the parmigiano-reggiano. Season with salt and pepper, as needed. Serve with the remaining cheese sprinkled over the top.

Serves 6

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Preserved Lemons

Having a huge batch of duck confit tucked into the back of my refrigerator for six or so months gave a me a feeling of deep satisfaction and pride. It also caused my foot to start tapping anxiously, with me itching to crack into the solid white fat.

Having a large vat of preserved lemons always at the ready in your fridge will fill you with a similar sense of accomplishment without any of the niggling impatience. The most you'll be waiting is one little month, and if done right you might be flush with preserved lemons for a year.

Preserved lemons add a decidedly Moroccan flavor to any dish. You've probably encountered recipes for lamb shanks with prunes and preserved lemons, or chicken with olives and preserved lemons. Those dishes are fantastic, but you needn't always work that hard to enjoy the flavor of these beauties.

They add a wonderful salty tanginess to sautéed vegetables like spinach. They quickly add depth of character to a simple lemon vinaigrette. The lemons lend an exotic perfume when paired with capers on roasted fish. I've even read of people adding them to lemon ice cream!

I find preserved lemons to be endlessly useful in the kitchen. When I discover that my planned meal seems a bit humdrum, I turn to these lemons and everything -- the flavors and my spirits -- begins to perk up.

When your batch of preserved lemons is young, in its first few months, you might try using the flesh in your dishes. Some even say the juice from the fruit adds a bracing kick to a Bloody Mary. I can't vouch for this, but it does sound exciting. As they mature, you'll want to use the rind exclusively, discarding the flesh, and thinly slicing or finely chopping the rind.

There is no point in making a piddling batch of just four or five lemons. Do it right, and make an ample jug full of lemons. They should last up to a year. They'll keep in your pantry, but somehow I feel more confident with them in the refrigerator.

All you need is a heap of lemons, preferably the sweeter, thinner-skinned Meyers, but any lemons will do (all I've used is the common Eureka lemon, and I am definitely not complaining), a substantial amount of kosher salt, and a large wide-mouthed canning-type jar with a tight-fitting lid.

Some folks sterilize the jars. Will you forever doubt me, if I confess that sterilizing has me confounded? Probably. But no matter. Alice Waters, whom I trust on almost all topics, doesn't seem to bother sterilizing and neither did I. It's not just Waters. I'd say about fifty percent of the conversations and recipes that I researched were for sterilizing with the other half not. There's no debate about it. Some do and some don't. That's all. At the very least wash with lots of soap and very very hot water.

The process is really quite simple. You essentially tamp lemons full of salt, stuff them in a jar until they are as snug and cozy as possible, and make sure after a few days they are drowning in juice. You wait for a month or so and then enjoy.

To help in the motivation department, I'll be posting a few great recipes using your preserved lemons over the next week or so.

And by the way, these homemade preserved lemons are worlds better than the jarred ones that you might find at your local fancy-pants cheese shop. Just saying.

Preserved Lemons

Lemons (enough to fill a big jar)
Kosher salt
Wide-mouth jar with tight lid

Scrub the lemons thoroughly. Cut them in quarters, without cutting all the way through the stem end. Pack each lemon full of kosher salt. Pour a thin layer of salt in the bottom of the jar and then layer in the salt-packed lemons, pouring in some extra salt after each layer. Press down on the lemons with a metal spoon to help release some of the juices. When the jar is stuffed with lemons, add a final layer of salt and seal the jar. Leave on the counter for a few days to allow the lemon juices to release. You may turn the jar on its sides to help moisten all the lemons. If after 3 or 4 days, the lemons are not submerged, add additional lemon juice to cover. Store in the refrigerator or the pantry for a month or longer and then enjoy.

The lemons should keep for up to 1 year.

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Terroni Peperoncini Piccanti

I am bogged down in the muck and mire of applying to preschools. Can I please just say that it is so much worse than applying to college?! And good grief that is not all. No, that is not all. Potty training! Colds! Bleary-eyed fatigue!

Believe me, folks. I am trying to shake it all off. My full-force comeback of 2011 is a little on the weak side.


While I am slogging it out, I thought I'd share something that is really not to be missed. Here in Los Angeles and apparently in Toronto (3 locations!), there is an Italian restaurant called Terroni. I am not going to give you a review here. I haven't dined there in ages, and the couple times that I did were only okay. However, they do produce (or maybe just import) something really swell that you can just run in and buy to take home and cherish.

It's their peperoncini piccanti that have me swooning. Big time. I had a jar of these gems a few years ago and they went fast. Somehow I managed to forget all about them, which is really odd indeed, since I am usually hyper-focused on all hot hot heat within the city limits.

I was struck by my absent-mindedness when I drove by Terroni a couple weeks ago. I flipped a u-turn and pulled into the loading zone. I was in and out in two minutes and for about $20 I had a rather large jar of red hot peppers in my possession.

The peperoncini are chopped and drenched in sunflower oil. The aromi naturali must include some garlic because the flavor is far more complex than just chiles and oil. It is hot and savory, even a little salty. Did I mention addictive?

That is an almost 40 ounce jar of peppers. Do you see how much is already missing? It's been only two weeks! My sister and I cannot control ourselves when it comes to fiery food.

The peperoncini piccanti are fantastic on pizza, stirred into pasta, or smashed with hazelnuts, almonds, parsley, cilantro and preserved lemon to make a pseudo-romesco.

Perhaps the simplest and most satisfying way to enjoy these devils is heaped on top of a crostini slathered with fresh ricotta cheese. The sweet and mild creaminess is the perfect foil for the oily heat of the chiles.

I cannot stop. I should, but I just can't.

7605 Beverly Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036