Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Pasta con le Sarde (Pasta with Sardines)

Pasta con le sarde (pasta with sardines) is a dish that I discovered while visiting Sicily a few years back (Oh, Sicily, a positively stunning, tranquil island that I hope to return to soon).  This dish of fresh sardines, wild fennel, toasted pinenuts, and currants/raisins was an eye-opener, a game changer for me.  This dish transformed the way I think about eating and cooking.

At its essence, pasta con le sarde is wild greens and sardines -- my (blog's) namesake.

In Sicily, pasta con le sarde traditionally includes fennel, actually wild fennel, which you'll find growing wild all over the island.  Of course, if you don't have access to wild fennel, which I do not (in Brooklyn), you'll need a suitable substitute.

In passing, several people have mentioned that I need to get fennel in a can.  Apparently you can find it at Italian markets (at least in NYC).  Have yet to encounter fennel in a can, though am intrigued as to its possible existence.  A web search has also failed to point me in the right direction.

However, I did come across some baby fennel at the farmers' market this past weekend.  Not the same as wild fennel, but sometimes you need to adapt a recipe to what's available.  To give the dish an added punch of fennel, I added some toasted, ground fennel seed.

There are many versions of pasta con le sarde, though a few ingredients are staples: pasta, of course, typically bucatini, a spaghetti-like pasta with a hole in the middle (like a little straw).  You could also use spaghetti or even linguine.  Sardines: fresh if you can come by them (from March through September), but you can also use canned sardines if fresh are not available.  Fennel.

I like to add a few anchovies, toasted pine nuts and raisins, and finish with toasted breadcrumbs.  I've seen versions that incorporate saffron and/or tomatoes, depending on the specific region of Sicily. Some iterations include bottarga, which is salted, cured fish roe (tuna or mullet), thinly sliced and served as a garnish.  I often use salt-cured anchovies to mimic the briny flavor of bottarga (although, I've been known to smuggle a few pieces of bottarga in my suitcase on return trips from Italy, shhh!).

The baby fennel is from the Union Square Green City Market [Lani's Farm, Burlington County, New Jersey].  They have a superb variety of greens and other vegetables on hand.

Gathering my ingredients for pasta con le sarde...

The sweetness of the currants/raisins plays off the saltiness of the anchovies to give a pleasant salty-sweet balance.

This is bucatini (boco means hole in Italian)...

Such cute little fishes they are...

The fish on the left are red mullet.  Red mullet are delicious.  A delicate, mild tasting white fish with a rich sweetness reminiscent of shellfish.

You can have your fishmonger scale and clean your sardines.  When I have the time, I like to clean them myself.  Plus, wanted to shoot a few photos of them while still intact :-)

I made this version with linguine (whole wheat)...

This one  with bucatini...

Serve with a nice crisp [Sicilian] white...

Friday, June 26, 2015

Shiso Furikake

This is a quick post and a follow-up from my last one: smoked salmon onigiri.

These delicious, tasty little snacks -- onigiri...have you tried (making) them?

To lend the onigiri a bit more flavor, I added a dry seasoning mix, furikake, to the rice.

My version of furikake includes toasted sesame seeds (black and white), dried seaweed (nori), bonito flakes/Katsuobushi (dried, fermented, and smoked skip jack tuna), dehydrated shiso leaves, and salt.

In addition to onigiri/rice, furikake makes a great all-around seasoning for vegetables, salads, eggs, noodles, fish, and even popcorn.

Furikake is my new best friend in the spice cabinet.  I like to sprinkle it on just about everything.

There are many commercial/store versions of furikake out there.  Some are made with dried salmon, fish roe, shrimp, egg (tomago), wasabi, etc., and some with, perhaps, unwanted ingredients such as MSG or sugar.

The good news: Furikake is easy to make.  In doing so, you decide what ingredients to add.  You're in control.  You can make it vegetarian by omitting the bonito.

I happen to really like the addition of shiso leaves, which I dehydrated and then crumbled into little pieces.

Shiso is the Japanese name for an annual herb called Perilla, which is a member of the mint family.

Shiso leaves have a unique herbaceous quality to them.  Sometimes described as citrusy, minty, or having notes of basil, anise, or cinnamon, shisho is difficult to pin down as far as a flavor profile is concerned.

Shisho leaves can be reddish-purple or green.  The reddish variety is typically used to color umemboshi (Japanese pickled plums), a common onigiri filling.

Here's a nice link to other ideas (43 of them) regarding how to use shiso.

I found the shiso leaves at the Union Square Green City Market [Lani's Farm, Burlington County, New Jersey].  They have a superb selection of mainstream and hard-to-find greens; I always walk away with something new to experiment with in the kitchen.

A quick dinner of rice, furikake, canned sardines (can't have a food blog called Wild Greens and Sardines without mentioning sardines from time to time), and a side of greens...

Friday, June 19, 2015

Smoked Salmon Onigiri

A few weeks back, I was wandering around Manhattan, starving, and in need of a little something to tide me over until dinner.  Stumbled upon a compact Japanese grocery store in search of a snack. Slowly explored up and down the narrow aisles, trying to figure out to eat.  Then I spotted the onigiri (Japanese stuffed rice balls wrapped with nori).  With various varieties to choose from, and at $1.99 each, I grabbed a couple for the road.

Onigiri might just be the perfect snack.  Easy to consume on the go.  Not too heavy as to spoil your appetite for whatever comes next.  Exactly what I had in mind.  As for the packaging, it's quite ingenious.  The onigiri is wrapped such that there is a layer of cellophane between the nori and the rice, which prevents the nori from getting soggy.  I know, doesn't sound all that complicated or interesting, but for some reason I find it fascinating.  There are a series of origami-like tabs.  You pull the first tab, which splits the packaging.  Then, you pull the second tab, followed by the third tab, which pulls the packaging apart.  

Anyway, ever since then, I've had a craving for onigiri.  I've become a bit of an onigiri addict.  My next thought, no doubt: I need to learn how to make these at home.

My first attempt turned out okay (a little misshapen, not a perfect triangle).  I shaped the onigiri by hand.  But then I discovered this onigiri mold.  Yes, they really make such a thing.  For less then $3, it was worth every penny.  The mold works well (refer to photos below).  Suspect that a metal ring mold would also do the job.

I picked up some spicy, hot smoked salmon to use as a filling for the onigiri.  If salmon isn't your thing, consider these fillings:

Vegetarian: avocado; egg; pickled vegetables; umeboshi (pickled Japanese plum); seaweed; tempura vegetables; kimchi.

Fish/Seafood: eel; tarako (salted cod roe); ikura (salted salmon roe); mentaiko (seasoned cod roe); spicy tuna tartare; soft-shelled crab; katsuo (dried bonito); octopus; shrimp.

Meat: minced chicken; pulled pork; smoked turkey. 

You can keep the rice simple, but I mixed in a Japanese rice seasoning, furikake, that I made from shiso leaves (which I dehydrated and crumbled), toasted sesame seeds, nori, and bonito flakes (post and recipe to follow shortly),

Let's make some onigiri...it's so easy!

In a small bowl, mix water and a little bit of salt.  Use this water to dampen your hands and prevent rice from sticking to your hands.  Scoop some rice and place at the bottom of the mold.

 Add your filling of choice...

Add another layer of rice to cover the filling.  Gently push down...

Flip the mold, press down on the tabs, and release the onigiri...

And there you go.  Very simple.

Wrap in nori...


Or, you can pan-fry the onigiri, crisping the rice on the outside a bit...yaki onigiri (grilled rice balls).

Then, lightly brush with a little soy/tamari sauce...

Made this batch with a 6-grain rice...