Who's the Baketard?

Why Baketard? Love to cook, hate to bake. Despite having gone to cooking school and working in some top kitchens, I never learned the baking side of things. I'm building my baking and photography skills, while sharing recipes that rock my world in the mean time.

Entries in italian (9)

Sunday
Mar102013

Torta Della Nonna

Earlier this year, I talked about my cooking trip to Sichuan and the great friendships I made while studying there. One of my fellow students is a journalist, and he wrote a fantastic article for this morning’s Boston Globe. Another is a retired university professor living in China for a year with his wife (who is teaching at the University), and the third, a retired exec from a large international accounting firm. The latter came to Seattle last weekend to stay with us and meet David for the first time. His only instructions were, “Rather than going out to dinner, let’s cook together. You invite your c*ntiest gays, and I’ll do the same when you come to Florida in March”.

I can do that. Game. ON!

Since we spent two weeks cooking Chinese food together, and have both burned out our respective husbands with Sichuan fare since returning to the US, I decided to cook Italian for him.  With the exception of the appetizer tartlets I mentioned recently, every dish came from Nancy Silverton’s Mozza cookbook, with which I am completely OBSESSED. We have used this book in the past for our cookbook club, where every dish blew our minds.

For this occasion with my friend, we started with the tartlets, moved on to a beautiful take on a caprese salad with burrata, pesto, pine nuts and oven-roasted tomatoes, made a pasta dish with homemade sausage, herbs and fennel pollen, and taking the main stage, a stuffed quail agrodolce dish my friend Becky took over and rocked. (It’s always to have a chef friend over for a dinner party. Especially when they ALSO meet the aforementioned “c*nty gay” requirement). I'll be blogging about the quail dish for sure.  This night was one of those perfect dinner parties for a host, where every dish outshone the last,...culminating in this cheese-filled Torta. This is, for me, the most intricate dessert I’ve ever made successfully to the point I’d call it a “10”, other than that Pastel de Tres Leches cake, which was also a bitch to make.

No weird substitutions or anything here, since it is a dreaded baking recipe. I did find unbleached pastry flour but I had to look for a while to find it. I didn’t find the Italian leavening at either of the Italian delis in town, so I used the baking soda/powder mixture and it worked great. I had to search for honeycomb, but if you have a grocery store with a good cheese selection, they're likely to sell it. (For Seattleites, I got it at the University Village QFC). This dessert looks so impressive with the cheesecake topped with the individual cookies and honeycomb. It’s definitely one I will make again, but there’s a significant time investment here.

Cooling the torta and the cookies

This dinner party involved lots of Negronis, many bottles of red and white wine, and we served the last of my homemade Arancello with dessert. After many jokes, puns and jabs at one another to accompany the food and wine, everyone stumbled their happy asses home. As my friend swerved downstairs to the guest room, he gave the concession I was waiting to hear: “Your friends are WAY c*ntier than mine”.

Well done, people.

Well done.

Torta Della Nonna

From Mozza, by Nancy Silverton and Matt Molina

Ingredients

For the crust:

11/2 cups unbleached pastry flour or unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

3/4 cup confectioners' sugar, plus more for dusting

1/2 cup (1 stick) cold, unsalted butter, cut into cubes

1/4 teaspoon Italian leavening, such as Bench Mate, Pane Angel, or Rebecchi, or 1/8 teaspoon baking soda and 1/8 teaspoon baking powder

Pinch of kosher salt

4 extra- large egg yolks

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract (if not using Italian leavening)

All-purpose flour, for dusting

Unsalted butter, for the pan

1 extra- large egg white

1/3 cup toasted pine nuts

For the filling:

10 ounces Philadelphia style cream cheese

1 cup mild- flavored fresh goat cheese, such as Coach Farms goat cheese

5 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/4 cup mascarpone cheese

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon unbleached pastry flour or unbleached all- purpose

flour

1 teaspoon kosher salt

3 extra- large eggs

1 cup sugar

11/4 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

For serving the tart:

Honeycomb

Two types of single- flower honeys, such as chestnut honey and wildflower honey

Cooking Directions

To make the crust, combine the flour, confectioners' sugar, butter, leavening, and salt in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, and mix on low speed until the butter and dry ingredients form a coarse cornmeal consistency, about 2 minutes. Add the egg yolks and vanilla, if you are using it, and mix on medium speed until the dough is smooth, 2 to 3 minutes. Dust a flat work surface with flour and turn the dough out onto it. Knead the dough for a few minutes until it comes together into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 1 hour and up to three days; or freeze it for up to two months. (Defrost the dough overnight in the refrigerator.)

Remove the dough from the refrigerator. Dust a flat work surface with flour, cut the dough into chunks, and knead the dough on the countertop to soften it, until it is the texture of Play- Doh. Cut off a 1/3 cup portion (about 3.2 ounces) of dough, wrap it in plastic wrap and return it to the refrigerator.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, butter the inside of an 11- inch flan ring, and place the ring on the baking sheet. Remove the remaining dough from the refrigerator. Dust your work surface and rolling pin with flour and roll the dough out to 2 inches larger than the ring, and to a thickness of 1/8 to 1/4 inch. Gently fold the dough in quarters and place it on top of the flan ring, placing the point in the center and gently unfolding the dough so the ends are flopped over the ring. Gently push the dough down to fit inside the ring, pressing into the crease around the inside circumference so the dough fits snugly against the corners and sides. (Don't stretch the dough to fit or it will shrink during baking.) Dip the knuckle of your index finger in flour and use it to press the dough into the crease to create a straight edge, not sloping sides. Roll the rolling pin over the top of the flan ring to cut the dough. Pull off the trimmed dough and discard. Place the tart shell in the refrigerator to chill for at least 30 minutes and up to one day.

Remove the 1/3 cup of dough from the refrigerator and place it between two sheets of parchment paper. Roll it into an 8-inch circle about 1/16 inch thick. Place the dough sandwiched between the parchment paper on a baking sheet and put it in the freezer to chill until it is firm but not frozen, about 30 minutes.

Adjust the oven rack so it is in the lowest position and preheat the oven to 350ºF and line another separate baking sheet with parchment paper.

Remove the sheet of dough that you rolled very thinly from the freezer, lay it on a flat work surface, remove the top sheet of parchment paper, and use the 8-inch ring to cut a circle out of the dough, working quickly so that it stays cold. Pull away and discard the scraps of dough around the circle and cut the circle into eight or ten equal wedges as you would a pie— however many servings you want the tart to make. Still working quickly, use a metal spatula to carefully lift the wedges one at a time and place them on the prepared baking sheet, leaving about 2 inches between each. Brush the wedges with the egg white. Scatter 2 tablespoons of the pine nuts over the wedges, dividing them evenly, and gently press the nuts into the wedges to make sure they adhere; reserve the remaining pine nuts for serving with the tart.

Bake the wedges until they're golden brown, about 8 minutes, rotating the pan in the middle of the baking time so the cookies brown evenly. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and place it on a wire cooling rack until the wedges cool, and dust them lightly with powdered sugar.

To make the filling, combine the cream cheese, goat cheese, butter, and mascarpone in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and mix on low speed until the ingredients are combined and the mixture is smooth and creamy, scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula occasionally, about 2 minutes. Add the flour and salt, mix on low speed to incorporate, and transfer to a large mixing bowl.

Combine the eggs and sugar in the bowl you mixed the cheeses in. (There's no need to wash the bowl.) Exchange the paddle attachment for the whisk attachment on your mixer and beat the eggs and sugar together until the eggs are thick and fluffy and the sugar is dissolved, about 5 minutes. Add the vanilla and beat just to incorporate. Gently fold one- third of the egg mixture into the cheese, using the flat side of a spatula to smash the cheese and break up the density of the cheese with the egg. Add another third of the egg mixture, folding it in with a light hand so the eggs stay light and fluffy. Fold in the remaining egg mixture, mixing until the ingredients are combined but there are still visible lumps of cheese in the mix. (The filling can be made up to four days in advance. Transfer it to an airtight container and refrigerate until you are ready to bake the tart.)

Remove the tart shell from the refrigerator and pour the filling into the shell to fill it 1/8 inch from the top. (You may not use all of it but you don't want to overfill the ring; discard the excess.) Place the baking sheet with the tart on it in the oven to bake for about 40 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through the baking time for even browning, until the filling is set and the top is golden brown. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and set it aside to cool slightly. Cut the tart into the same number of wedges that you cut cookie wedges. You can serve the tart warm, or set it aside to cool to room temperature. (To rewarm the tart, place the whole tart or individual slices on a baking sheet and put it in a 350ºF oven until it is warmed through; about 5 minutes for slices, about 15 minutes for a whole tart.)

Just before serving, place the cookie wedges on the tart with the outside edges of the cookies about 1 inch from the edge of the tart. Lift the flan ring off the tart. Use a large knife to cut between the cookies, creating even slices using the cookies as a guide. Use a metal spatula to carefully transfer each wedge to a dessert plate. Spoon 1 teaspoon of honeycomb on one side of each wedge. Spoon 1 teaspoon of each of the two honeys into circles about the size of silver dollars on either side of each wedge. Scatter a few of the reserved pine nuts in the center of each pool of honey, but not the honeycomb, and serve.

Sunday
Jan202013

Liquore di Anice Arancia (Blood Orange and Star Anise Liqueur)

It’s that time of year when we’re on our New Year Diet Plan, so not a whole lot of food or new dishes to blog about. Who wants to hear about salads, salads and more salads? Salad is what FOOD eats. Lots of stir fries (one with Dan Dan flavors may be worth blogging about later), chicken and seafood dishes. Meh. We have pretty much gone dry in the process too, which has been easier than I thought. With all this healthy crap, I’ve been twitchy on the weekends. Saturdays are usually when I go nuts on the more time-consuming meals, fresh pastas, more interesting sauces,…you know. Fun-cooking!

A couple of weeks ago I was digging through the refrigerator, trying to find something interesting and healthy (oxymoron) to do with broccoli, and stumbled across the last few drops of Liquore di Anice Arancia, an orange and star anise liqueur we brought home from Italy earlier this year.  It was the most amazing thing either of us had ever tasted, but we didn’t bring home much in the way of souvenirs and the bottle we did bring home was quickly shared with friends and gone. I saved the bottle in the freezer, just so I wouldn’t forget about it and in case I could coerce one of my traveling friends to bring back a bottle if ever I ran into anyone going to the Amalfi coast.

Our friend Judy, whose blog Over A Tuscan Stove provides constant inspiration, was helping me with a purchase I was trying to negotiate from here and I mentioned the liquor. When I showed her the label, she clarified that what I loved so much was the faint star anise note in the background of the drink, and that it would be child’s play to make at home. She also advised me to get the purest alcohol I could procure, so I ordered a big jug of Everclear online.

What the hell, right? Another new (to me) website I’m really enjoying is La Tavola Marche, from which the Rosemary and Lavender Cake I mentioned in my last post originated. They have a recipe for a Blood Orange Arancello, so I figured it would be pretty simple to add the star anise, triple the recipe and make it my own…..hoping it would taste like what remember.

We finished the liquor last night, and you know what? It tastes EXACTLY like what we remember! This is most definitely a recipe I'll repeat until they wheel my poor, pickled corpse away. Fortunately, in the meantime we have enough orangy, boozy goodness to last at least a week when we’re off these damned diets.

A few notes about the recipe: You will need to skin the oranges carefully, with a very sharp knife. You don’t want to get the bitter pith in with the peel. It took me about 45 minutes to fully peel 20 blood oranges and remove any last bits of pith. Consider it a labor of love. When storing this mixture, both throughout the process and when you have assembled the simple syrup with the infused alcohol, store it in a cool, dry place. The amount of simple syrup used here makes for a liqueur which goes down pretty smoothly. If you want it a little bit boozier, reduce the syrup mixture at the end.

Liquore di Anice Arancia (Blood Orange and Star Anise Liqueur)

Adapted and shared with permission from the kind folks at La Tavola Marche

The two week boozy peel soak

Ingredients

1.75 liters Everclear, or as close as you can find to pure grain alcohol. In a pinch, use vodka. 1.75 liters is the huge handled jug. (For professional drinkers)

The skin of 20 blood oranges. 

10-12 (about ¼ cup) star anise

1.75 kilo (3.85 lbs) granulated sugar

3 liters (~12 ½ cups) water

Preparation:

In a large jar with a lid, soak the orange-rind peels and star anise in the alcohol and leave in a cool dark place for about 14 days.

After it has sat for 14 days or so, filter the rinds from the alcohol. Boil the water & sugar, making a simple syrup, stirring to dissolve all the sugar in the water. Then add the orange flavored alcohol. Bottle.

Arancello, like limoncello will last a year or more in proper storage.

If the alcohol is too strong, it is also nice to serve it with a drop of heavy cream or dollop of whipped cream atop - then it is referred to as Crema di Arancello.

 

Wednesday
Jan022013

Chicken Crostone with Liver and Pancetta Sauce, and Rosemary Cake with Lavender Glaze

Happy New Year!

It’s the time of year when we all have to sit back, reflect on the past 365 days, cringe at the weight we gained over the holidays and make a bunch of healthy eating resolutions we will keep for precisely 16 days before we say, “Screw it” and go out for Mexican food after a rough day at work.

We just got back from a holiday trip to Mexico with friends where we ate too much, drank too much, and came back bloated and full of self-loathing (Ah, holidays). Fortunately, I convinced our trainer Anna the Horrible to help us with our New Year’s fitness challenge this time, so hopefully we’ll make it past the 16-day mark because this time we have greater incentive.  Here’s the deal: We want a 3-month challenge. There are four of us who train with her, all of whom want to lose some weight before the summer so we don’t have to go swimming in t-shirts, puffy coats and parkas. We will weigh in with her this week and she will set aggressive goals for each of us for the three month period. If/when we succeed in our goals, our reward will be that we get to set up a workout for her to do, including all the most torturous exercises she makes us do—VersaClimber, throwing a goddamned bajillion pound medicine ball at the wall while doing squats, medieval torture positions to be held while doing a Plank, etc. While she does these things, we will sit in the private training room, comfy on padded yoga mats, EATING FRIED CHICKEN. (I thought this was a brilliant incentive, if I do say so myself).  After some negotiation, she agreed. What we don’t know yet is what the penalties will be for those who DON’T make it, other than having to join her in the workout.

David and I are weighing in with her on Friday, which leaves us only a couple of days left to eat real food. With this in mind, I made a New Year’s Day delicious hangover dinner last night from a couple of different sources.  First, from the Mozza Cookbook, we made Chicken Crostone (It’s supposed to be guinea hen, but who has that lying around—HELLO) in a chicken liver and pancetta sauce.  It’s one of those slow braises which takes a while to make, but the active time is pretty minimal. It was rich, delicious and completely comforting on a cold, dark, hung over Seattle night.

Next, I made a recipe I found this weekend while bored-bored-bored on an airplane, surfing the web for Italian chef websites. It’s a rosemary cake, which is pretty typical for northern Italy, with a lavender glaze. Two of my favorite herbs in one dessert? SOLD! The recipe came from a website called La Tavola Marche. (Out of respect for their blog, I won’t post the recipe here, but you can get it by clicking this link).

Both dishes came out great, but were tough to photograph. There was little light left by the time I ran outside to take a photo glazing the cake, and the frosting looked a little bit nasty so I couldn’t help myself. I’m immature. Sue me. 

Bukcake or Cakekkake?

The chicken wasn’t done until it was pitch black outside (which is about 4pm) so by the time we had dinner there was no way to take a natural light photo. Oh, and the chicken, the sauce and the bread on which it rests are all shades of beige or brown.  This is basically my way of saying DON’T JUDGE. The photos are crap but the dishes were both relatively simple, hugely satisfying, and absolutely delicious.

I hope you enjoy this as much as I did, and good luck with your new year’s resolutions. I’ll still be thinking of these recipes next week when we are dining on air with a side of dust and a slice of lemon (all of which are part of a healthy Gluten Free diet).

Guinea Hen Crostone with Liver and Pancetta Sauce

Adapted from the Mozza Cookbook, by Nancy Silverton

4 servings

Ingredients

  • 8 guinea hen thighs* (we used skin-on chicken thighs)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • Flour for dredging
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, more as needed
  • 2 1/2 cups diced pancetta
  • 3 cups diced Spanish onion
  • 12 cloves garlic, sliced thin
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
  • 3 tablespoons chopped fresh sage
  • 4 cups dry white wine
  • 4 cups chicken or guinea hen stock, plus an additional 1 cup for the crostone
  • 1 pound (about 2 1/2 cups) cleaned chicken livers, roughly chopped
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • 1 tablespoon white-wine vinegar
  • 2 lemons, zest removed in long strips, and juiced
  • 4 (2-inch thick) slices peasant bread, such as ciabatta, each slice about 7x3- inches
  • 1/4 cup whole celery heart leaves, for garnish
  • 1/4 cup whole Italian parsley leaves, for garnish

Directions

*Note: You'll probably have to buy guinea hen whole legs rather than thighs. In this case, cut the drumsticks off and make a stock with them, just as you would a chicken stock. Use in the recipe instead of chicken stock.

With a clean kitchen towel or paper towel, pat the guinea thighs dry. Season them with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Dredge in the flour and pat off all excess flour. Meanwhile, heat a large (12-inch) saute pan over medium heat for one minute, and then add the olive oil. It should be hot but not smoking by the time you are done flouring the guinea thighs.

Brown the thighs, skin side down first, adjusting the heat and adding more oil so that the meat sizzles at a nice pace. Cook until golden, 2 to 3 minutes, and then turn the meat and cook another minute or two to color the other side. If your pan is small, cook the thighs in two batches. Transfer the thighs to a plate.

You will now need a 4-quart straight sided saute pan or an enameled cast-iron Dutch oven. This pan should be wide enough to have the thigh pieces fit in single layer and deep enough to hold at least 4 quarts of liquid (a stock pot will work in a pinch). Put this pan over medium-high heat. Add enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Add the pancetta and sweat for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the onions and garlic and sweat for another five minutes or so, so that the onions are soft and translucent. Add the rosemary, sage, and a small pinch of pepper. (The pancetta should add enough salt to the sauce so don't worry about salting yet.) Sweat for one more minute. Add the wine, 4 cups of the stock, livers, capers, vinegar, and lemon juice. Add the reserved guinea thighs and bring the braise to a simmer. There should be well more liquid than is needed to cover the meat. This is a good thing, as this dish is all about having plenty of sauce and it will reduce as you cook it. Simmer until the guinea is fork-tender and the meat pulls away from the bone easily, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Carefully remove the thighs and reserve on a plate.

Turn up the heat and boil the sauce, stirring from time to time to make sure it isn't sticking and burning, until it reduces by half. To thicken it slightly, use a blender to puree 1 cup of the reduced sauce and add it back to the pan. Stir and taste for seasoning. Add a couple drops of lemon juice if needed. Salt is probably not needed, but use your judgment for final seasoning.

The dish can be made up to this point a day ahead.

To finish, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Put the bread slices in a small baking dish that has been generously coated with olive oil. Ladle the remaining 1 cup of stock evenly over all of the bread. Set two thighs on each slice, skin side up. Toast in the oven until the bread has turned a crispy golden brown on the bottom, about 10 minutes; use a spatula to check and be careful as the toast tends to stick. Reheat the sauce.

Remove the thighs from the toasts, and carefully remove the crostones from the pan and turn them over so that the brown side is up.

To plate, set one slice of toast on each plate. Remove the thigh bone from the meat and place the meat from two thighs on each toast. Spoon some of the warmed sauce over each thigh and a little more to run off the crostone. Garnish with celery leaf (inner yellow leaves only), Italian parsley leaf, and long strips of lemon zest.

Sunday
Apr292012

Ramacche (Prosciutto and Cheese Fritters)

I don’t think it’s a mystery to anyone how much of  a Giorgio Locatelli fanboy I am. Of my hoardish cookbook collection, his original book Made in Italy: Food and Stories remains my #1 desert-island book, and the one I most heartily recommend. I love how he writes. I love that the recipes are surprisingly simple for the most part, and convey restaurant-quality results while being targeted to the home cook. He has 8 pages on making the perfect risotto, and after reading it, you will never make risotto the same way again. (I wrote about his stuffed cabbage and nettle risotto last year. That nettle risotto is the first thing we make when the weeds hit the Farmers’ Market in the Spring.)

This past fall, his latest book, Made in Sicily came out. I was so anxious to get it in my greedy hands, I bribed a colleague in the UK (it was released there first) to buy it and shlep it to Spain with her, where we were meeting for a business trip. I could barely remember to greet her cordially before ripping it from her hands.

This book is brilliant.  As with his previous books, the recipes are clear, straightforward and unpretentious. He gives you enough of an overview of the region and ingredients for you to absorb some of the hows and whys behind the cuisine, and builds anticipation where you just have to try making the dish. I thought caponata was a ubiquitous Sicilian staple. I had no idea there were so many seasonal varieties (he provides recipes for 5 different variations, including a Christmas version).

The recipe I decided to try first was his recipe for Ramacche, which are prosciutto and cheese fritters. Giorgio’s balls are crispy on the outside, creamy and salty on the inside. They practically explode with flavor once you pop them into your mouth.

……

What? You guys are sick.

Ramacche

Prosciutto and Cheese Fritters

Serves 4

30g unsalted butter

a small pinch of salt

150g plain flour, plus more as needed

3 large eggs

150g prosciutto crudo, diced

100g caciocavallo or pecorino cheese, grated

2 tsp parsley and garlic*

sunflower oil for deep frying

*For the parsley and garlic, crush 1 clove garlic on a cutting board with the flat of your knife to make a paste. Add about 4 handfuls of flat leaf parsley and chop through the parsley and garlic to intermingle the flavors.

Put the butter and salt into a pan with 220ml of water and bring to the boil, then remove the pan from the heat and stir in the flour with a wooden spoon. Put the pan back on the heat and work the mixture continuously with the spoon until it comes together in a solid ball of dough. Take off the heat again and let it cool, then put the dough into a food mixer with a paddle, add the eggs one by one and mix until they are all incorporated.

Add the prosciutto, cheese and the parsley and garlic, and continue to mix. The dough will be quite soft.

Heat several centimeters of oil in a pan (make sure the oil comes no higher than a third or the way up). It should be 180 degrees Celsius (355 degrees Farenheit). If you don’t have a thermometer, test that the oil is hot enough by dropping in a little bit of the dough. If it sizzles, the dough is ready.

Moisten a dessert spoon with water, then scoop out little mounds of dough, slide them carefully into the oil and let them fry gently for about two minutes, turning them so they are golden on both sides, and reducing the heat if they start to brown too quickly. Remove the ramacche with a slotted spoon, drain on kitchen paper, and serve hot.

 

Thursday
Mar222012

Giorgio Locatelli's Branzino alla Vernaccia in Crosta Di Pomodoro (Sea Bass with Tomato Crust and Vernaccia Wine)

As the two of you who read this blog know, I have a crush on Giorgio Locatelli. His cookbooks completely rock my world. Our first cookbook club we ever hosted? Locatelli. The restaurant I must visit whenever I’m lucky enough to be in London for work or pleasure? Locatelli. My go-to for amazing Italian recipes, stories and inspiration? Locatelli.

Get it?

We had friends over this weekend and made a big Italian dinner for everyone. After obligatory appetizers, we started with a nod to it being St. Patrick’s day--a Corned Beef and Cabbage Strudel with a mustard sauce. It was great, got my Irish obligation out of the way, gave us a reason to switch wines, and had everyone sated enough to provide some cooking time to finish the other plates. (Let me know if you want the recipe and I’ll post it).

My Poodle Becky came over and graciously offered to help with the fish dish. I am a pretty confident cook. But when your friend is the author of a sustainable seafood book (Good Fish: Sustainable Seafood Recipes from the Pacific Coast) AND was just nominated for an International Association of Culinary Professionals cookbook award AND you are trying a dish with fish you haven’t cooked before, you swallow your pride and cry, "uncle." Or at least whimper a bit to get the bitch to help.

Oh, and by the time we got to the fish we were about five bottles in. But I digress…

Becky rocked it. She finished filleting the fish, removed the bones and scales the fishmonger missed, and made this amazing dish while I worked on the next course. (Recipes for that to follow: gnocchi Bolognese; braised fennel with orange, sambuca and chile; and a sweet and sour eggplant dish similar to a caponata). The caramelized onion and artichoke puree is decadent, the tomato crust on the fish provides an indescribably sexy, crunchy tang, and the wine reduction provides the necessary acid. It all comes together seamlessly.

Note: The Branzino was really small so I subbed in a rockfish instead. Any firm, white fish will work but be sure to get a thick fillet so it doesnt overcook when you try to crisp the skin.

This is one of the best fish dishes I’ve ever had, and next time, I’ll do it all on my own.

Sea bass with tomato crust and Vernaccia wine

Branzino alla Vernaccia in Crosta Di Pomodoro

Serves 4

Ingredients:

2 tomatoes

3 tablespoons diced green olives

1 tablespoon sun-dried tomatoes

2 tablespoons bread crumbs

4 thick sea bass fillets(each about 7 ounces)

Juice of 1 lemon

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

160 ml Vernaccia (or other spicy dry white wine)

3 tablespoons fish stock

2 tablespoons chopped parsley

salt and pepper

For the artichoke puree:

2 large globe artichokes

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 white onion (thinly sliced)

160 ml cup white wine

3 tablespoons heavy cream

3 pats of butter

Blanch the tomatoes, skin, quarter and deseed, then cut into dice about the same size as the olive dice.

Put the sun-dried tomatoes into a food processor, process them quickly, then add the bread crumbs and whiz again until the tomato is absorbed into the bread crumbs and it looks a bit like a crumble mixture. Spoon out onto a tray and flatten down. Leave in a warm place in the kitchen for an hour or so to dry out.

Preheat the oven to 200°C (390°F) and take your sea bass out of the fridge so that it can come to room temperature. Squeeze the lemon juice, put half to one side and add the rest to a bowl of water. Have this ready before you start preparing the artichokes for the puree.

To make the puree, snap off the artichoke stalks and discard them. With a small paring knife, starting at the base of each artichoke, trim off all the green leaves and put the artichoke into the bowl of water with lemon juice while you remove the leaves from the next one. Repeat with the remaining artichokes. Using the same paring knife, begin to trim away the white leaves from each artichoke until you are left only with a few tender ones surrounding the heart. Put back into the bowl of water and continue to trim the other artichokes, putting them into the water as soon as they are ready, so that they don't discolour. Cut each artichoke heart in half, scoop out the hairy chokes and discard them. Leave the remaining hearts in the bowl of water until you need them.

Heat a saucepan, add the olive oil and then the sliced onion. Cook for about 10 minutes until the onion is soft but not coloured. Thinly slice the artichoke hearts, add them to the onion and cook for another 5 minutes, the add the white wine. Allow the alcohol to evaporate completely (about 15 to 20 minutes) and then add half a pint of water. Continue to cook for another 20 minutes or so, until the artichokes are soft and all the water has disappeared — keep an eye on the pan and stir as the water evaporates, to avoid the artichokes catching fire and burning.

Transfer the contents of the pan containing the artichokes to a food processor and puree until smooth.

Put the cream in a pan and boil it to reduce it by half. Add the artichoke puree and let it cook for a few minutes. The resulting puree should be soft but firm enough for the sea bass to sit on top; if you feel that it is too wet, let it cook a little longer to dry it out. When it is ready, season to taste, cover and keep to one side.

Take an ovenproof nonstick frying pan big enough to fit all the fillets comfortably and get it hot on the burner. (If you don't have a big enough pan, you will need to cook the fillets in two batches.) Lightly season the fish on the skin side, put a tablespoon of olive oil into the pan (it will heat up instantly) and add the fillets, skin side down. As the heat goes through the fish, it will turn from translucent to white and opaque.

As soon as the fillet has turned white halfway up the fillet, turn it over (the skin should now be crisp and golden) and sprinkle with the dried breadcrumb and tomato mixture. Pour the wine into the pan (around, not over the fish) and transfer to the oven for a couple of minutes. The bread crumbs will crisp up and become darker in colour.

Take the pan from the oven and lift the fish onto a warm plate. Put the pan back on the heat, add the olives, tomatoes and fish stock, and bubble up so that it reduces by half. Then put the sea bass back into the sauce, crust upward, for a minute or so to heat through.

At the same time, put the artichoke puree back on the heat to warm through. Stir in the butter and, when the puree is hot, spoon it onto your plates and put the fish on top.

To the pan in which the fish has been cooked, add the reserved lemon juice, the rest of the olive oil and the parsley, then spoon this mixture around the fish and serve.