Sorry readers, if I’ve been a little derelict in keeping up with this blog in the last month. But between a nasty bout with bronchitis and the last minute onslaught of Christmas preparations, updating the blog has taken a back seat. But I’m back and hoping to catch up with all of you.
I hope you all had wonderful holidays surrounded by family and friends, with good food in abundance. If you’re like most people, you ate way too many cookies, cheeses, meats and other fattening foods. Are you starting to make resolutions to eat a little lighter in the new year ahead?
The excessive holiday eating leaves me craving healthier foods, although I don’t get serious until after New Year’s eve and New Year’s day — one final hurrah before the Christmas indulgence is truly over.
But as soon as the holidays are past, I plan to eat less pasta, pizza and pastries and consume more fish, vegetables and fruit. This swordfish dish is a good way to start. It’s easy to make and delicious too. Just remember not to overcook the swordfish, which can taste dry if left too long in the broiler or on the grill. I use the same technique in cooking a swordfish steak as I do in cooking a beefsteak — that is, the finger test. Press the center of the fish after a few minutes in the broiler. It should have some “give” to it. If you cook it too long, it will feel hard and won’t “spring” back when you touch it.
Thank you dear readers, for not clicking off this post when you saw the word “octopus.” Now I know many of you have eaten octopus, but wouldn’t think of cooking it any sooner than you’d think of jumping into the Atlantic Ocean in January.
But wait! It’s easier to cook than you think and tastes infinitely better than anything you could buy already prepared. With Christmas eve coming up, I thought I’d revisit this recipe that I posted when I first started blogging in 2008. The hardest part is getting over the squeamish feeling you might have about handling this unwieldy cephalopod.
But if you think this is unwieldy, try hoisting a live, squiggly octopus into a boat, as I once did off the coast of Sardinia – an activity I hope to duplicate again next summer.
I can buy octopus fresh at my fish store in the Christmas season, but it also comes frozen at the grocery store. The frozen ones (from Mediterranean countries) are quite good, and the freezing process actually helps to tenderize them. Buy the biggest one you can because it shrinks a lot, and the bigger the octopus, the larger and more “meaty” your slices will be. This one weighed about three pounds.
Maybe you’re still reading this, but I bet you’re still not on board with me, are you? I know, it is slippery and ungainly. But hey, you can check it off your bucket list! What? “Cooking an octopus” isn’t on your bucket list? Come on, where are your priorities?
Alright then, for those of you intrepid folks still with me, you probably know there are many thoughts on the best way to cook an octopus to make it tender, some of them involve thrashing the octopus on rocks, and some involve cooking with a cork or dipping it into boiling water three times before immersing it completely.
I don’t do any of those and I am here to tell you that I’ve been cooking octopus for years and my technique ALWAYS produces a tender result. You start out by placing the whole octopus into a sturdy pot where you’ve placed a bit of olive oil on the bottom. It cooks, in its own juices, over low heat on the range, covered, for about 20 minutes. After that time, it will have shrunk a lot and turned a purple-y color. Transfer it to a glass or pyrex or ceramic baking dish, cover and bake in a 300 degree oven for one hour.
It will shrink a little bit more after baking for an hour. Let it cool in its own juices.
Now this next part is messy, I’m the first to admit. But big whoop – you have a sink with running water, right? So you just wash your hands afterwards.
OK, let’s get down to business. After the octopus has cooled enough to handle, cut off the head from the rest of the body. See that grey-ish opaque thing-y at the juncture where the legs meet the head? That little “beak” feels like hard plastic, so remove it with a paring knife. Throw it out, along with the head (although some people do eat the head).
Now take a sharp knife and separate the legs (tentacles) from each other.
Many people (and restaurants) serve the octopus with the suckers still attached, but in larger octopi especially, I think the suckers and surrounding skin taste gelatinous, and I prefer to remove them. Besides, removing the suckers leaves you with white flesh, which is more appealing to me visually in this salad. But if you like the suckers, by all means, leave them on.
One of the best octopus dishes I’ve ever eaten – at Porta in Asbury Park, N.J., is served with its suckers on. It’s dripping in butter, which may have something to do with why it’s so good – along with the capers and fennel and parley salad it’s served with.
If you want to remove the suckers however, a quick way is to hold each tentacle under cold running water, and use your fingers to “scrape” along the length of the leg. Pat dry.
Slice the octopus and place in a bowl.
Add the potatoes and the rest of the ingredients and mix well.
Caveat emptor, octopus is not inexpensive. Octopus for a salad of this size (serving four as a salad, or eight as an appetizer) will cost from $35 to $50 at the fish store. But for a once a year special event, like Christmas eve, it’s worth it. Serve it as an appetizer with crusty slices of bread, or as a side salad.
Now have I convinced you to cook octopus? Spero di si. Buon Natale tutti.
One of my favorite fish is halibut. It’s got a delicate, sweet taste, firm white flesh, and marries well with all kinds of flavors. Even people who claim to hate fish may be won over once they try this largest of all the flat fish.
Did you know that halibut can grow to more than 8 feet long and weigh as much as 700 pounds? Take a look at the largest Alaskan halibut ever caught by sport fishermen, weighing in at 459 pounds. Imagine cleaning that whopper.
Most of the halibut we eat here in North America comes from the Gulf of Alaska. While on a trip there several years ago, I ate a lot of halibut, but here in New Jersey, the price keeps me from enjoying it as much as I’d like. If I see it on a restaurant menu, it’s likely what I’ll order, or if it’s on sale at the market, I can’t resist.
This recipe is a one-dish meal that’s simple to make, tastes great and is low-cal too. If you can’t find fresh halibut, or want something less expensive, codfish can easily be substituted. The recipe is for two portions, although the accompanying photo shows just one portion served in a small casserole.
1 can cannellini beans (about 15 ounce can), drained and rinsed
1 can chopped tomatoes (about 15 ounce can)
1/4 cup dry white wine
salt, pepper to taste
Saute the scallions and onions in the olive oil until softened. Add the tomatoes and liquid from the can and cook for a few minutes, smashing the tomatoes a bit with a fork. Add the white wine, the cannellini beans, salt, pepper and shredded fresh basil. Simmer for about five minutes, then add the fish. Put a lid on the skillet, then let everything cook together for about five more minutes. That will be long enough to cook the fish. Garnish with more fresh basil and serve.
It’s Spring, it’s Spring. Finally, it’s Spring. OK, it’s drizzly and grey and ugly this morning here in central N.J., but a girl can dream, can’t she?
Daffodils, warmer weather and lighter dinner fare are a few of the things that come to mind when I think of Spring. Not to mention bathing suit season will be here before you know it. So with that horrid thought in mind, it’s time for me to start thinking lighter dinner fare, in particular seafood. While I was cruising the fish department at the supermarket the other day, the sole looked particularly fresh. I bought three pieces that weighed slightly less than 3/4 pound, more than enough for the two of us, especially considering they were stuffed with a shrimp and bread filling.
This would make a good recipe for company too, since it could easily be assembled ahead of time and placed in the refrigerator until ready to bake in the oven. Just adjust the amounts of ingredients according to the number of guests.
Fillet of Sole stuffed with shrimp
3 sole fillets – total weight about 3/4 pound
3 large shrimp
1 T. butter
3 T. roasted red, yellow or green pepper, chopped
a splash of dry white wine
1/2 cup fresh white bread crumbs
2 T. chopped parsley
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 T. butter
1/4 cup panko bread crumbs
Pat dry the sole fillets and sprinkle with salt and pepper.
Place the butter in a pan and saute the shallot and celery until limp. Add the chopped pepper and shrimp and saute a few more minutes over medium heat. Add the splash of white wine and cook for another minute or so. Take the pan off the heat and add the bread crumbs, parsley, salt and pepper. Mix everything together. It should hold together loosely in a ball. To make the bread crumbs, I trimmed the crusts from three slices of stale Italian bread and put them in the food processor for a couple of minutes. You can use purchased bread crumbs if you prefer, but the texture will be different. Place a handful of stuffing over the center of the fish fillet.
Roll up both ends over the stuffing.
Place the folded side down in a buttered casserole. Pour the 1/2 cup wine around the rolled-up fillets.
Melt the 1 T. butter in a saucepan and add the panko crumbs. Divide the panko mixture over the fish and sprinkle with paprika. Bake in a 400 degree oven for 15 minutes.
Everyone in my family looks forward to our Christmas eve dinner – a traditional meal of many fish in lots of Italian households. When I was younger, my mother would spend countless hours preparing and frying all manner of fish – from smelts to whitings to eel. One particular episode branded in my memory involves eels and my grandfather, who lived with my parents. He brought the eels home from the market on Christmas eve, still alive and squiggling, and set about to end their lives in my parents’ kitchen sink — right there beneath the pristine, lacy white curtains. The eels didn’t give up without a struggle and splattered their blood all over those curtains as a result. Of course my mother wasn’t happy, to put it mildly.
Since my mother died more than 20 years ago, and my mother-in-law only a year later, the mantle passed to me to maintain the tradition. I have shifted away from the fried fish that used to be the mainstay of the meal, but can’t give up the squid. My mother used to prepare it as the centerpiece of her meal, delicately simmering the rings in tomato sauce and serving it over pasta. It was always a favorite. But my husband is partial to this stuffed squid recipe which his mother always made, and which my son now makes every year, as part of our multi-fish dinner. It’s also a great complement to the seafood risotto I prepare, with the tomato sauce from the squid spilling onto the saffron-flavored rice in the risotto. I’ll be sharing that recipe with you too shortly. Although it’s too late to cook these dishes for this year’s Christmas eve, maybe you can start your own tradition next year.
15 – 20 squid, medium size – cleaned
6 cups of diced, sturdy white bread, trimmed of crusts
1/3 cup chopped parsley
1/2 cup white raisins, soaked in water for about 1/2 hour
1/2 cup toasted pine nuts
3 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 cup milk, or more if needed
salt and pepper to taste
Buy the squid already cleaned, but rinse them under water and remove any cartilage that still might be left in the body. It will pull out easily and look like a strip of milky, translucent plastic. If you want, trim the wide end of the squid for a more even look.
Place all the filling ingredients in a bowl and mix until you have a moist consistency. Stuff the bodies of the squid, but don’t fill them completely since the squid will shrink during cooking.
Place a layer of tomato sauce on the bottom of a casserole and lay the squid on the sauce. Cover squid with more sauce.
Bake at 350 for about 20-25 minutes. If you make this ahead of time and refrigerate, be sure to take out of the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before baking. If you bake these much longer than 1/2 hour, the squid will be tough and chewy.
Use your own recipe, or follow mine, which is about double what you’ll need for the squid recipe. Use the rest another time – for pasta, or pizza or whatever you like.
1 large can (28 oz) San Marzano tomatoes
1 large can (28 oz.) tomato puree
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 large onion, chopped
1 carrot, finely minced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup red or white wine
1 T. dried basil
1 t. red pepper flakes (or more, if you like your sauce spicy)
Place the olive oil in a large pot, and add the onions and carrots. Saute until soft, then add the garlic and saute a couple more minutes. Break up the whole tomatoes with your fingers, or using a food processor, but leave some texture. Do not break them up so much that the sauce becomes smooth. We like it with some tomato lumps in it. Add the tomatoes and tomato puree to the pot, along with the wine, salt, pepper, basil and red pepper flakes. Simmer on low heat for about one hour.