On Thursday October 16th, Stellina and the Watertown Adult Education program co-sponsored a special event entitled “Stellina Cooks Italian, Locavore-style”.
Owner Virginia Curcio and Chef Marc Bouchard presented a five course tasting menu designed to highlight some of the local products that Stellina has employed in their kitchen over the years. These ingredients included locally produced cheeses and cured meats, native vegetables, Chatham seafood, New Hampshire mushrooms and some of New England’s famous apples.
Both Ginny and Marc also discussed the long term relationship that Stellina has enjoyed with some of its purveyors, which we consider a key to our success. Stellina believes that the use of locally sourced products of the highest quality contributes to the dynamic of our cuisine and the philosophy of the restaurant.
To provide contrast, Marc also discussed the ingredients that we do not procure locally, the reasons why, and what the alternatives are.
The following are some notes from the event.
Stellina uses a number of purveyors for the raw ingredients that contribute to our menu. The following is a short list of some of the locals whom we rely upon.
Arpeggio and other organic farmstead cheeses: Robinson Farm, Hardwick, Ma. http://www.robinsonfarm.org/
Applewood smoked bacon and other smoked meats: North Country Smokehouse Claremont, NH http://ncsmokehouse.com/
Cultured and wild mushrooms: New Hampshire Mushroom Company, Tamworth, NH http://www.nhmushrooms.com/
Seafood: Captain Mardens, Wellesley, Ma. http://www.captainmardens.com/
Fruits and Vegetables: A. Russo and Sons, Pleasant St, Watertown http://russos.com/
Fresh Long Island Duck: Crescent Duck Farms, Aquebogue, NY http://www.crescentduck.com/
Goat Cheese: Westfield Farm, Hubbardston, Ma http://www.chevre.com/
Several attendees at this event asked about the California tomatoes and olive oil that we use at Stellina, products that are superior (we think) to most comparable imported versions. While these are not currently available for retail purchase, they can be found at restaurant supply stores and sometimes online.
Canned Tomatoes: Stanislaus Foods, Modesto, CA http://www.stanislausfoodproducts.com/
Olive Oil: Corto Olive Co. Lodi, CA http://www.corto-olive.com
Among the dishes offered for sampling were the following:
1. A Seasonal Pizza based on the Alsatian Flammekueche, aka Tarte Flambee. Composed of melted sweet onions, creamy cheese curd, garlic oil, North Country Smoked Bacon and Robinson Farm Arpeggio cheese.
2. Duck Panzerotti: a crispy turnover/empanada filled with ground duck sausage and bechamel.
3. Chatham Bluefish and Faroe Island Salmon baked with a honey mustard glaze. You can fashion a glaze simply by whisking honey, coarse Dijon mustard and lemon juice into some commercially prepared mayonnaise. No, it’s not how we make it, but it works!
One of the dishes served at the Watertown Adult Ed event was a plate of pasta tossed with wild mushrooms. In this particular case we used Oyster mushrooms, which can be purchased locally at A. Russos in Watertown. We also use wild Chanterelles and Hen-of-the-Woods/Maitake mushrooms
But we often make this same dish with a mixture of more readily available domestic mushrooms. The following recipe can be used with almost any form of fungi.
It sounds like an easy dish, but it actually takes hours to prepare. The real secret to success lies in the mushrooms stock.
This is our Mushroom Pasta, our number one most requested recipe. It looks like a simple bowl of sautéed mushrooms and noodles. But is it?
Before we even get to the pasta we have to spend 4 hours making the rich, almost meaty stock which gives the dish its backbone.
Then we add porcini mushrooms to take the flavor up another notch. The mushrooms themselves are prepared separately, then combined in a pan to infuse with herb-and-garlic flavor, while stock and fats emulsify to create the sauce.
Do you have another ½ hour to spare? You can buy fresh pasta, but for the very best you can do what we do and make your own, hand-cut fettucine with imported 00 Italian flour.
We could save money with commercial stocks, dried pasta and pre-sliced white mushrooms. But if we cut even one of the 20 ingredients or 5 hours prep, the dish wouldn’t taste as good.
PASTA WITH EXOTIC OR WILD MUSHROOMS
1 lb whole Portobello mushrooms
1 lb whole shiitake mushrooms
4-5 tb olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
1 small carrot, diced
1 stem celery, diced
1 tsp dried thyme
1 bay leaf
2 tb tomato paste
1 lb whole crimini mushrooms
1 ounce dried Porcini mushrooms
2 tb butter
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp minced fresh rosemary
1 tb chopped fresh parsley
1 lb fresh fettucine
Remove the stems from the Portobellos and Shiitakes. Place them in a medium stock pot, along with 1 tb of oil. Brown over medium-high heat for 10 minutes. Scoop the stems out and set aside. Add another tablespoon of oil and the onion, celery and carrot to the pot. Raise the heat to high and brown the vegetables for 10 minutes. Add the herbs and tomato paste and stir in the pot for another 3-5 minutes, until the paste has darkened. Return the stems to the pot and cover the ingredients with water. Bring to a very gentle simmer and cook for 4 hours, adding additional water as necessary.
Slice the Portobello and Shiitake caps and the whole Criminis. Toss them with 2 tb of oil and lay them in one layer on a cookie sheet. Bake in a 350 oven until they have browned and are no longer releasing any liquid. Time will vary from 20 to 30 minutes.
Soak the porcini mushrooms in enough hot water to cover completely. After 15 minutes remove the reconstituted mushrooms, shaking them in the water to remove any dirt. Chop the mushrooms and set aside. Strain the soaking liquid through a cheesecloth and add it to the stock.
When the stock looks dark and rich, strain it, discarding any solids. You should have about 2-3 cups.
Put a large pot of lightly salted water on to boil.
In a large (12 to 14 inch) skillet combine the roasted mushrooms and chopped porcinis with 2 tablespoons of oil, 2 tablespoons butter, garlic, rosemary, parsley and a pinch each of salt and pepper. Add 1 ½ cups of mushroom stock and bring the contents of the skillet to a vigorous boil. Cook this down until the liquids emulsify into a viscous sauce. Add additional stock, oil or butter if necessary, so that you have enough liquid to coat all of the mushrooms. Taste and adjust for salt and pepper.
Cook the pasta until al dente. Scoop it out and immediately add it to the pan of hot mushrooms. Toss well. If the sauce becomes watery with the addition of the pasta, turn up the heat just long enough to evaporate the excess. The noodles should be coated, but not drowned. Provide parmesan and truffle oil for garnishing. Serves four.
For dessert at the event we served individual mini-crostatas with vanilla ice cream and caramel sauce. Keeping it seasonal, we naturally used local apples in the filling.
But this pie works with absolutely any type of fruit filling. In the summer we use rhubarb with strawberries, in late summer it might be peaches and blueberries, in winter maybe cranberries with walnuts……the possibilities are endless.
The key to this dish is the strong, yet supple, cream cheese pastry. And here is the recipe.
Everyone likes pie, right?
But not everyone likes to make pie, including me. Too much precision, too much measuring and too much mess.
And no, I won’t buy pre-made refrigerated dough made with partially hydrogenated lard, BHT and Xantham Gum! Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure Julia Child never made her puff pastry with Xantham Gum.
If you want pie, without the fuss or the muss, I’ve got two words for you: Crostata and Cream Cheese.
Crostatas are Italian-inspired mini-pies that are perfect for one or two people. And like anything small they are easier to assemble, quicker to bake, and delicious to eat.
You can make them with any time of filling, but I think they taste best with some fresh fruit simply tossed with a little sugar and maybe a few drops of lemon juice. In the fall I use the new-crop apples with a pinch of cinnamon, but as June approaches my preference is for a handful of fresh sliced strawberries.
Whatever filling you prefer, you’re going to need a crust. And that’s where the cream cheese comes in.
Cream cheese gives your pastry a richer flavor, while at the same time making it more pliable and easier to roll out. Where all-butter pastry has a tendency to break or crack, cheese pastry is tough as nails and never tears.
The beauty of this stuff is that you can whip together enough dough for 4 or 5 individual crostatas in just 4 minutes, then freeze whatever you don’t need for later. Thus, whenever you get a hankerin’ just defrost a piece, and in a few minutes it’s pie time!
CREAM CHEESE CROSTATA DOUGH
Place the following in the bowl of a food processor, and pulse until well mixed:
1 ¼ cup all-purpose flour
2 tb sugar
¼ tsp salt
Add the following and pulse on-and-off until incorporated:
4 oz cream cheese, broken into small pieces
4 oz unsalted butter, broken into small pieces
Scoop the rough dough into a large stainless steel bowl and add:
2 tsp lemon juice
2 tsp ice water
Mix with a spatula until smooth. Divide into 4 or 5 pieces, flatten, wrap with plastic and refrigerate overnight before rolling.
Remove a piece of dough from the refrigerator and allow it to rest on the counter until pliable. Roll it on a floured surface into a circle approximately 9 inches in diameter. Place it in a pie tin or on a baking sheet that has been lightly sprayed with oil or butter.
Place a modest amount of your chosen filling (about ¼ cup) into the middle of the dough. Fold the sides of the dough over the filling in an overlapping pattern, making sure to leave a hole in the middle for the fruit to peek out (and the steam to escape). Brush the outer pastry with an egg glaze (egg beaten with a few drops of water) and sprinkle with coarse or turbinado sugar.
Bake in a hot 350 degree oven for 10 to 15 minutes. The timing varies considerably depending on the intensity of the oven. The outer shell should be golden brown and the bottom firm and lightly colored.
Allow the pie to rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving/consuming.
We know that many of the attendees at the Adult Ed dinner enjoy cooking, so we thought we’d throw in a couple of extra recipes as a thank you for attending.
The following dish of miniature Apple Strudel was a hit at our last Sunday Night at the Opera. It’s another way to make a small, individual portion of pie with a minimum of fuss.
You can get a nice argument going between German, Austrian and Hungarian bakers as to what is the best dough for a strudel. I like thin, crispy, flaky and easy, so I’m opting for commercially-made filo dough, which can be found in the dairy or freezer case at the supermarket.
If you haven’t worked with filo, read the instructions on the box. Yes, it’s delicate. Yes, it dries out. Yes, it rips and tears.
Just remember four cardinal rules: First, have all of your ingredients ready to go before you open the package. Second, work quickly. Third, brush liberally with butter. And fourth, don’t worry, because even if you screw up it’ll taste marvelous!
This recipe is nothing more than pre-made dough wrapped around a pre-cooked filling. Not fancy, just good.
Oh, use any type apple you like. My preference is always to mix a sweet variety with a tart one.
EASY APPLE STRUDEL
1 granny smith apple
1 fuji apple
2 tb butter
1 tb sugar
pinch ground ginger
Pinch ground cinnamon
Pinch ground cloves
1 tb lemon juice
Optional: 1-2 tb chopped black or golden raisins
Optional: 1-2 tb chopped walnuts
4 sheets filo dough
3-4 tb melted butter
Peel, core and dice the apples. Add them and the butter to a skillet and saute over medium-high heat until they begin to soften. Add the sugar, spices and lemon juice and stir. Taste and adjust seasonings to your liking. Add any optional ingredients at this point. Allow to cool to room temperature.
Preheat oven to 350. Lay a sheet of parchment paper over a cookie sheet.
To assemble the pastries. Lay a 9”x14” filo sheet on a clean surface and cut in half the long way. Brush one half with melted butter and then lay the other half on top, and brush again. Place ¼ of the apple mixture in the center of the bottom of the sheet closest to you, and carefully roll the pastry away from you to form a log. Brush additional butter over the top and gently pinch the two open ends shut. Place the filo log on the parchment-covered sheet, and continue until all 4 are done.
Bake in the oven for 15 to 25 minutes. Outer pastry should be crisp and golden, and the bottom should be dry. Remove and allow to rest 10 minutes before serving. (As If you can wait that long!)
Every year Stellina uses humdreds of pounds of field-ripened tomatoes grown exclusively for us, and delivered still-warm-from-the-fields to our back door. The best tomatoes are sliced for salads, but many of them end up being preserved for use later in the year, in much the way Italian farmers and gardeners would prepare for the winter. The following is a recipe for oven-drying tomatoes, and for turning these same dried tomatoes into a luscious sun dried tomato salsa.
Autumn is one of the busiest in our kitchen, because we are dealing with the conflicting demands of processing the last of the summer crops, while integrating the first items from the fall harvest.
For instance, in Stellina’s basement I have 200 lbs of ripe Beefsteak tomatoes. They’re gorgeous, but I can’t use them all this week. So they’re going into the oven to dry, then into the freezer for use later in December.
You can dry any tomato variety, just remember to keep the oven’s temperature low and monitor their progress constantly. Every batch is different, with some of the tomatoes becoming soft and leathery, and others as dry as an autumn leaf. That’s part of the fun.
What you end up with are thin disks of super-concentrated tomato flavor, with just a hint of smokiness to them. You very own “Sun Dried Tomatoes”, at a fraction of what you’d pay for them at the store.
“SUN DRIED” TOMATOES
4-5 lbs ripe tomatoes
4 tb oil
Heat oven to 250. Trim the ends of the tomatoes and cut them into slices approx. ½ + inch thick. Line 4 cookie sheets with aluminum foil, lightly brushed with oil. Lay the tomato slices on the foil so that they don’t overlap. Slide the sheets into the oven.
Allow the tomatoes to “bake” undisturbed for an hour, then drop the temperature to 180-200. Periodically rotate the trays, monitoring their progress and, if necessary, removing any tomatoes that dry faster than the others. Total time varies wildly, from 2 ½ to 4+ hours.
Allow the tomatoes to cool before storing. Place the fresher, suppler ones in a quart container and cover with olive oil. Refrigerate for 1-2 weeks. Soak briefly in warm water before using. Use the olive oil for making salad dressings or pasta dishes.
Store the drier tomatoes in zip-lock bags, popping them into the freezer for use later in the winter.
One of the best ways to really enjoy the deep flavor of dried tomatoes is to puree them into a cool salsa, great with grilled chicken or pork, steamed vegetables or any kind of seafood. You can also use it as a pizza sauce or toss it with hot pasta and parmesan. Spread it on toasted bread with feta cheese for a quick snack.
SUN DRIED TOMATO SALSA
2 cups of sun dried tomatoes
2-3 cloves raw, peeled garlic
2 tb chopped fresh basil or parsley
1-2 tb lemon juice
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
Optional: 2 tb capers
Optional: 2-3 tb sliced black or green olives
Place the tomatoes in a bowl and pour over just enough warm water to cover. Let them sit just until they are supple and moist. Drain, reserving the soaking water. Coarsely chop the tomatoes and add them, the garlic, herbs and 1 tablespoon of lemon juice to the bowl of a processor or blender. Add a pinch each of salt and pepper, turn the machine on and slowly pour in ½ cup of olive oil. If it seems too thick, add some of the reserved soaking water. Taste and add more lemon juice, olive oil, salt or pepper as you see fit. The consistency should not be watery, but creamy and spoon-able. If you choose to add capers or olives, do so at the last minute. Pour the salsa into a quart container and cover with a thin layer of olive oil. Will keep for a week in the refrigerator.