A mission statement

Hello, and welcome to My Kitchen and I. Every year I choose a cuisine to explore. This year, it's the year of the Snake! And I'll be continuing to cook mostly Asian foods, particularly Chinese dishes. Have I finally found the best cuisine in the world? Come explore and cook with me and let's find out. Please feel free to share your stories and comment on anything you see here, and thanks so much for visiting. Hope you enjoy the Year of the Snake in food!


Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Gift of Dinner

Friday night: Time to go out on the town. I landed at my favorite Chinese restaurant, First Wok, with a book about ancient Rome and an appetite for some cashew chicken.

First Wok is owned by a friend who has been helping me learn Mandarin. He was, as it turned out, having some sort of family get together late in the evening. I had long since eaten by the time it transpired, but I somehow ended up leaving with the gift of a lovely orange crab to go with my leftover cashew chicken, as well as some crisp yellow Asian pears.

Now I have never had any Asian pears but this was one of the most delightful fruits I've ever eaten. Crisp like an apple, taste like a juicy pear ... If you've never had one, you simply must try it! You won't be disappointed, they are fit for a king.

And so too the crab …

Saturday afternoon: Gifted as it were, with the makings of a truly fine meal, and getting quite hungry. All I lacked was some little side dish to round things out. Made a little Sangria and went to perusing recipes, looking for something special to accompany such fine gifts ...

Finally latched onto a lovely pasta dish from the ancient Roman recipe collections. In addition to being tasty, this particular dish had a singular advantage. It would use up what remained of a cauliflower purchased last week. Cauliflower is fresh and in season right now, another gift of sorts. Quite fitting for a gifted crab don't you think?

Now I don't know how ancient or truly Roman this pasta dish is. I found it in The Frugal Gourmet Cooks Three Ancient Cuisines: China, Greece, Rome a few months ago. The author puts the origin into the hands of Sicily's greatest grandmothers, the ones supposedly still patient enough to press out little orecchiette pasta ears by hand.

If you can imagine.

I certainly can't.

No one I know would do that these days! So who knows how far back this recipe really goes?

But, having made it before, I can testify in any court of the most ancient kings that it is truly a fine recipe, worthy of your imperial banquet hall. Even if the ingredients seem a bit odd to us today. And yes, it really is served without cheese in the sauce! (And no one will be the wiser.)

I have of course tinkered with the original a bit. There are a few brandied liberties, some other additions — you'll do the same when you make it I'm sure. And I've never prepared crabs like these, so you're on your own with that. But here's my version of this wonderful little pasta dish, for a taste of something that seems old world and a trifle decadent. Yet is entirely healthy and wholesome. You will enjoy it!

Cauliflower Pasta Ears

Roast at about 325 degrees:

1 head or whatever remains of your fresh in season cauliflower
3 or 4 garlic cloves, 6 if you feel adventurous
2 or 3 medium onions depending on how saucy you are

I think about 35 to 45 minutes in an iron skillet is about right. Spritz the vegetables with a little olive oil cooking spray so they don't dry out too much. Meanwhile, boil some orecchiette pasta — the kind that look like small ears — and if you make them by hand, send me some pictures. I will require proof of such a deed before believing it!

When the cauliflower is nearly finished and the onions are soft, remove the pan from the oven and add:
One generous splash of fine brandy 

Cook this down, coating the cauliflower and onions with the reduction and you'll get something that looks a little bit like the picture at right.

Remove the onions and garlic and puree. Add more brandy to the onion puree as needed for a nice smooth mixture. Cut the cauliflower into bite-size pieces and reserve them. Return the puree to the pan. Add

2 tins of anchovies (soak in milk or water for one hour to remove salt)

The anchovies are absolutely required for this sauce. They will melt away during the cooking and you won't smell or taste anything like anchovies when this is all put together, I promise. You will be left with a smooth, savory sauce that is quite amazing. Feeling a bit mellow, I added a half cup skim milk to this as well and reduced it again. Not sure I'd do it that way every time, but it's a reasonable addition. Some mushrooms might also be in order, but I didn't have them on this occasion. Next time perhaps. This particular dish is a work in progress.

When your sauce has been suitably reduced add:

one-half cup Canadian bacon (or if you live in Italy, some authentic old-world diced pancetta!)
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes or more if you like it hot (I do!)
1/2 T butter (optional but delicious)

Add the roasted cauliflower pieces and heat through, then stir this into the orecchiette pasta. Season to taste with a little of your favorite fish sauce, ancient Roman style, of course. The recipe for it is explained in Susan Grainger's book "Cooking Apicius" but its basically a reduction of Vietnamese fish sauce that has been diluted with white grape juice. That lowers the salt content. A bit more in keeping with what they did in ancient Rome, according to Ms. Grainger.

Now this is a meal I think Apicius himself would certainly envy, and it was all a gift. The gift of dinner I think is like no other. It adds savor to a sauce that just can't be prepared alone. So thanks to my friends at First Wok. This was a meal that brightened a dreary grey Saturday. I am blessed to know such wonderful people.


  1. So I am just beginning here and don't really know for sure how all the stuff is supposed to work. If you don't see something you expected to see or wanted to see, please feel free to drop a line here and let me know. I will appreciate any suggestions. Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Looks very tasty Renee! Great job on the presentation of the meal.


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