Wondrous pal Betsy spent the weekend with us. A long-time favorite of Tillie’s, she now has all three (especially Waldo, who becomes putty) eating out of her hand. In an odd, generous, and thrilling twist (usually guests bring wine (the American way) or dessert (the Italian way)) … Betsy did the American thing, but then some: she brought terrific wines and the main course – lamb – for Sunday lunch.
We began with apertivi outside (it being yet another beautiful day in Tuscany) and cold asparagus with a wasabi mayonnaise dip. We then moved indoors to eat the rest of the meal – brown rice pilaf and sautéed artichokes with pecorino and preserved lemons. Details of our Sunday lunch (excepting the lamb, which once again I overcooked) are below.
The rice dish made me wonder as I looked at the calendar this morning and realized that this was a big day in Florentine history: in 1478, Jacopo de’Pazzi, one of the brains behind the plot to kill the Medici, was captured in the Casentino, brought back to Florence, and was hanged from Palazzo Vecchio. That was the easiest part of his woes, for once he was good and dead, Medici supporters had a field day desecrating his body.
You might wonder how this could possibly lead to rice? Wondered what kind of rice dishes were consumed in the 15th century. Was, for example, risotto alla Milanese a popular dish (probably not). Maestro Martino, a fifteenth century chef and cook “book” author (in scare quotes, because these are manuscripts) provides some recipes, such as a torta di riso biancho (loaded with almonds and rose water; so little flour’s in the recipe that you have to wonder if he means “torta” in our twenty-first century conception), riso alla italiana (cooked with a “brodo grasso” (rich broth) and other things, riso in latte di mandorle (rice in almond milk), and riso in migliore modo (rice the best way): cook it in goat or almond milk. He then suggests adding a whole lot of sugar (think rice pudding).
So I guess Signor Pazzi knew some rice dishes.
Cold poached asparagus with wasabi mayonnaise dip
1 lb. thin asparagus, woody stems broken off
1 c. best-quality mayonnaise
3 T. sesame seeds, toasted
2-3 T. wasabi paste
1 T. sesame oil
Put water in a shallow sauce pan large enough to hold the asparagus stalks, and bring to a boil over high heat. Gently toss in the asparagus, give a quick stir; for al dente asparagus, take them out after about a minute (just when it returns to the boil), and drain them in a colander. Run cold water over to stop cooking process.
In a non-stick pan, toss the 3 T. sesame seeds over a medium-low flame. Stir constantly, as they burn quickly. As soon as they have a hint of golden hue, give them about a half minute more, and remove from flame. Mortar and pestle them roughly.
Combine the mayonnaise, toasted sesame seeds, wasabi paste, and sesame oil in a small bowl, and toss to combine.
Serve on a preferably white plate (makes the asparagus look really green) with the dip on the side.
Brown rice pilaf
Peas and pancetta are a classic Italian combination. The addition of coriander decidedly is not.
2 T. extravirgin olive oil
3 slices of pancetta, sliced thinly
1 small red onion, chopped
4 c. cooked brown rice
1 c. freshly-shelled peas
4 T. white wine, chicken broth, or water
1 handful of coriander, chopped
1 handful of mint, chopped
1 T. tamari or shoyu (or high-quality soy sauce)
Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan and add the pancetta and red onion. Stir frequently so the combination doesn’t stick/burn. Once the pancetta has rendered its fat, and the chopped onion’s turned golden, add the brown rice and the (raw) peas. Tablespoon by tablespoon, add to the mixture, stirring constantly. Add only as much of the liquid as you need to keep the mixture from sticking.
When the peas are cooked through (in 2-3 minutes, usually) remove the pan from the flame, and add the coriander, mint, and tamari. Taste for seasoning, and serve.
Stir-fried artichokes with pecorino and preserved lemon
10 small artichokes, trimmed, chokes removed, and quartered
Juice of one lemon
3 T. extravirgin olive oil
½ preserved lemon, carefully de-salted, minced
Semi-aged pecorino, about a ½ c.
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Handful of fresh majoram, coarsely chopped
Prepare the artichokes, and dump them in a bowl filled with water and the juice of one lemon while you prepare the rest of the recipe.
Heat 2 T. olive oil in a saucepan over a medium flame. Toss in the artichokes, and stir semi-constantly, ‘til cooked through. Remove from the heat, tip into a bowl, and mix in the preserved lemon. Be liberal with the freshly ground pepper, but taste before adding salt (as even after careful de-salting, they still often retain some residue).
Using a vegetable peeler, shave the pecorino on to the artichokes, add the marjoram, and toss to combine. Serve immediately (although it's good cold, too).
Serves at least 3. Dogs like this because of the cheese.
Welcome, Myrtle Bobbie (b. February 11, 2010) to our world. We all feel certain she’ll forget her first weeks on the planet in Tonawanda, New York and quickly adapt to life in the West Village.
Happy Birthday, Bets!
 The plot, on 26 April, was a partial success, as Giuliano, the brother of Lorenzo the Magnificent, died of multiple stab wounds in the Duomo. Another Medici supporter (Francesco Nori) was killed as well. Swift Medici retribution, however, ensured that there were a whole lot more dead Pazzi and co-conspirators than Medici.
Platina speaks of Maestro Martino in his De honesta voluptate et valetudine, c. 1474.Several manuscript versions of Martino's work are known, one of which is Libro de arte coquinaria edito per la egregio e peritissimo maestro Martino coquo del Rev.mo S Cardinale de Aquileia. See Claudio Benporat, Cucina Italian del Quattrocento, Firenze, 1996.