had a fairly interesting day today. Lunch was kind of crazy. When i got in, marco was moving pretty slow and i checked the station and did a few things, but he kept saying that we were tutto aposto, so i didn’t worry too much. I made gnocchi alla gorgonzola for lunch and we all (me, marco, lorena, francesco) ate together. But people started coming in right at 12:30, as we were still lingering over lunch, and by the time we got back into the kitchen we had a few tickets hanging.
And right away i was pretty much slammed. I, of course, was not all set with everything i needed, marco, with his experience of only working in this place where you do maximum 40 covers per meal, is used to doing things on the fly during service, but for me this is nerve-wracking and i like to have everything in it’s place in copious amounts, just so i can relax and not worry about it. So i’m cleaning anchovies as i need them, pinching off the heads and opening up the bodies by sliding a finger down them, forcing out the guts and then pulling the spines out. Very messy business to be doing during service, while you’re making plates. The other thing that kind of screwed me was the sink that’s next to my station. On lunch shifts, we don’t have “the washing-up guy,” as marco calls claudio (they’re actually friends outside of work, i think, but marco continues to refer to him as “the washing-up guy.” Very strange) so i have to wash all my own saute pans. If i get hit with a lot of orders all at once, i don’t really have time to wash them until i don’t have any more pans left and just have no choice. This is also the sink we clean pretty much everything in.....fish, vegetables, etc.... This morning marco had cleaned a double-batch of seppie (a kind of like really big squid) which comes covered in this like black slime. And he didn’t clean the sink. And he also threw most of his other pots and pans he used for prep in there including a big rondeau that he used to make the peperonata. So when lunch started the sink was half full of black slimy fish water, the drain stopped up, and with about 5 or 6 pots in it. I had to move everything out, unclog the drain, and clean all the gross gook out of the sink so i could get ready to recycle my saute pans. This was all done while i had tickets hanging.
But, as bad as i had it, marco had it worse. I at least went over my station and got most everything together before lunch. Marco just figured he’d do everything “in the moment” and got his butt kicked a little. He was cutting veg for contorni, fileting fish to order, washing spinach as needed, etc.... His first tickets took a long time because i think he forgot to fire up his piastra and his steamer, he didn’t have the oven hot enough, etc. He’s learning this station, still, so this was a good lesson day for him. After it was clear what happened, francesco came into the kitchen, watched him flailing around, and yelled at him pretty good about how he was to be absolutely ready at 12:30, saying he wants him to have enough prepped to serve 80 people, just to make sure. I didn’t get any of this, but i’m not sure if it was cause i was more prepared or just cause he’s not at a point where he feels like he can yell at me yet.
Dinner went much smoother. Actually, it was probably the best shift i’ve had there yet. It was the first time i felt comfortable enough to be really loose and have fun with things....everyone was joking around, singing, cracking jokes, even francesco. We were busy, but pleasantly so, with things coming and going at a good pace, but never getting hectic.
When i came in at seven i started doing the normal pre-dinner preparations, but marco wanted me to make the staff meal. He pointed to a bunch of short ribs he had thawed out earlier in the day and told me to “throw them on the piastra for a few minutes.” I told him that they wouldn’t be good that way, that they’d be very tough, and he said that that was the way he always cooked them and that it was fine. I said i thought it would be better to braise them in liquid,but he didn’t know what i was talking about, looking at me like i was from another planet. Francesco was there and he was watching this discussion and i said to him in italian that you have to cook this kind of meat in liquid, very slowly, to get them to be tender. So i started prepping to do them the way i wanted to cook them, rough chopping carrot, and onions, cutting the short ribs into small pieces so they’d cook quick. Marco was wary.... “it’s got to be ready in a half hour...” he said. So i’m braising short ribs in a half an hour. I dredged them in flour, browned everything over very high heat, then deglazed with red wine and water, adding lots of salt and pepper and a bunch of fresh thyme and bay leaves. I cranked the heat and left the lid a little open so the sauce could reduce, but it would still cook as fast as possible, all the while warning everyone that i thought it wouldn’t be very good, that it would be tough....that if i had two hours it would be excellent...etc. But actually, they turned out pretty good. The meat wasn’t tender....but it wasn’t like beef jerky either....it was not bad. I just served all the carrots and onions and stuff as the veg, and then i reduced the sauce after pulling everything out and poured it over the whole thing. The sauce was really quite good, i thought, and it totally gave me a craving for a good red-wine sauce which i have not eaten probably since we were in paris in october. So i’m thinking maybe i’ll try to make something like this on sunday at home. Although i’m not sure i can get short ribs around here what with the whole ban on beef on the bone cause of mad cow. When we were eating, giovanna was gnawing on a bone and i told her that there was “molto mucca pazza dentro questo.” She laughed, but kind of gave me a worried look. Seriously, if you’re worried about mad-cow, there’s not much worse things you could be eating than short-ribs, especially when you hack them all up into little pieces in order to cook them faster. Even marco, although he didn’t say anything complimentary, was, i think, somewhat impressed. While we were talking about it, beforehand, he was giving me a lot of attitude, as usual, telling me that his way was always fine. After we ate, though, he was asking me all kinds of questions about how to make it...did i use red wine...etc..
This whole thing, i think, made me remember how much i do know about cooking and reminded me that i know what i’m doing here and, i think, gave me a newfound confidence in this kitchen. I’ve been playing the role of the humble apprentice for the last few weeks, just laying back and listening and trying to learn how to do it their way, and i think i kind of got stuck in that mindset somehow, forgetting that even though this food and much of the fish is new to me, that all the techniques and principles are still just rooted in the basics and are all things i’m thoroughly familiar with. I think the whole thing gave me a little more respect from marco and francesco and also, with myself.... i’m starting to find myself in this kitchen after almost 4 weeks.
off today and really relaxing. We made pancakes for breakfast, fried up pancetta, and we even managed to find real maple syrup somewhere, so we had a good ol’ american-style breakfast. Yum.
Thought i’d do some menu updates....seems like it’s been a while.
I’ll just update the ones that are new or that haven’t been commented on before...
Bruschetta con Patè di Acciughe con Fichi al Balsamico—this is a thick puree of cooked scombra, which i think we call scorpionfish, and salted (from a jar) anchovies. I didn’t see francesco make it, but it’s incredibly salty. He spreads it in a very thin layer on toasted bread and tops it with sliced dried figs that are rehydrated in balsamic vinegar until fairly soft. Arrugula leaves go over the top, and it’s drizzled with olive oil. Sweet, salty, crunchy, soft....really nice.
Sgombretti in Carpione—the sgombretti are small versions of the scombra used above. Francesco cleans them (actually usually either me or marco does this) and then they are floured and deep-fried. They are then stored in a pickling-type liquid that has vinegar, water, salt, sugar, and onions. This is heated to a boil, then when the fish are ready, the boiling liquid is poured into the container to cover the fish. Kind of like en escabeche style. To serve, he just gives a few whole fish on a plate.
Linguine con Tonno, Basilico, e Mentuccia—This is the same dish again but now we’re using tuna instead of swordfish or the caciotta. When we get a big load of basil in, we pick it all and then wash it, spinning it dry in a salad spinner. Then, we pack the leaves into a container and keep them under oil. Marco has told me repeatedly that you can’t keep basil in the winter, so they do this, let the container just sit out at room temp....and use it for anything where the basil is going to be heated.
Linguine al Nero—making the sauce for this has become one of my near-daily duties. After marco cleans the seppie (which i’ve seen translated as cuttlefish, but they’re way bigger than any cuttlefish i’ve ever seen) i get the little bodies with the tentacles and francesco gets the big sacs for the seppie arroste. I have to rinse the tentacles under running cold water vigorously to get all the black slime and sand off them, then i finely chop a couple shallots and sweat them in olive oil. I cut up the seppie bodies into small pieces, and after deglazing the shallots with white wine, toss in the seppie and cook it until done. Then i add a spoonful of tomato paste, cooking it a little, and then some water. The water gets brought to a boil and then i add the ink sacs after ripping them open with two forks, to turn the whole thing an evil jet black. I season it, cool it down, and then we just heat it in a pan and toss it with cooked linguine for the plate.
Orecchiete con Broccoli e Anduja—francesco cooks broccoli in the steamer for a contorni, and i usually get it after it’s on it’s way out...a couple days later. We sautee a good bit of garlic in olive oil with a couple salted anchovy filets, mashing them up, then add the broccoli, which we mash some with a fork to break down the bigger pieces. The cooked pasta is added to this, and usually a little more oil, since, as marco says “broccoli ***** oil.” The anduja is mixed with a little hot water to form a paste and then drizzled over the top.
Tagliolini con Ragù di Totani—Totani is another kind of calamari. These are reddish orange in color and francesco uses the sacs for the frittura, so we again get the tentacles, which we do similarly to the linguine nero, but without the ink. Totani has a lot of sweetness and it’s more tender than the seppie, which are huge. It turns a very bright orange-red when cooked and it’s very pretty.
Tagliolini con Carciofi e Gamberetti—pretty basic. We clean the artichokes, getting them to the hearts, then halving them and keeping them under lemon-water. Then we slice them thinly and sautee in olive oil with garlic until they’re almost tender. The gamberetti are just little shrimp, which we peel, using the tails, and sautee in oil with garlic. We deglaze with white wine, add the artichokes, salt, herbs....and toss with the pasta.
Carpaccio di Tonno con Insalatina di Arance—this one was new last night...and i think it was only cause we ran out of the smoked swordfish. Same dish, but instead of the smoked fish, francesco sliced fresh tuna on the slicer and draped it over the orange slices.
Tonno al Gratin di Pecorino Siciliano—this is a very weird and interesting combination that francesco’s been playing with the last week or so. The first night, he took thin slices of pecorino and breaded them...dipping first in flour, then egg, then breadcrumb, and put them on top of tuna steaks, then broiled them until brown and melty, then roasted the whole thing to finish cooking. The pecorino is not pecorino romano, which most people in the u.s. know, but a somewhat softer cheese. There are about 100 different types of pecorino, with just about every town or region doing their own version ranging from rock hard grating cheeses to softer cheese resembling a gouda with more bite. The siciliano is somewhere in the middle of these two, but nothing like the very hard, sharp, saltyness of a pecorino romano. The second time he did it, the cheese was cut up into small sticks and soaking in cream. He would dredge them in breadcrumbs and then pack some more of his gratin mix (breadcrumbs, oil, herbs, salt, chopped caper) onto the top. This is the one he stuck with. The cheese melted more evenly, getting more browned on top. Very strange combo of cheese with fish, which you hardly ever see.
Sardelle in Frittura con Salsa alla Menta Fresca—not sure if i wrote about this one yet. The sardines are dredged only in flour, not breadcrumbs for this one, and they get kind of puffed up when you fry them. They’re served with a sauce in a little sauceboat that’s a severely strong-smelling sweet-and-sour kind of sauce made with vinegar, sugar syrup, and lots of fresh mint leaves.
Tonno Arrosto con Lattughino e Capperini di Pantelleria—This is another interesting one. Francesco chops the tuna into smallish pieces for this, then start them in the padella with olive oil, sauteeing them hard to get color. Then he adds chopped iceburg lettuce, white wine, capers, salt, pepper, herbs.... it ends up looking more like an asian dish than an italian one....like a tuna stir-fry.
Fritelline di Carciofi e Gamberetti—this are similar to the fritelle di neonate, but with artichokes and shrimp. Francesco uses the same egg-flour-grated cheese-baking soda mix to bind it, and frys the mix into cakes. Somewhat chunkier and harder to get to the plate whole than the neonate.
Cantucci e Zibibbo —once again, i assumed that we bought the little almond biscotti that we call cantucci and keep in a big glass jar behind the bar. But yesterday when i came in, marco was rolling out the dough for it into long logs and brushing them with eggwash before baking them for the first time. Basic biscotti technique....bake once, slice, then bake again to dry. The zibibbo is not grappa after all, but a very sweet dessert wine, very similar to sauternes. I think they’d call it a type of vin santo here. It’s a dark golden color, fairly strong alchohol, and very syrupy and sweet. You're supposed to dunk the cantucci in the zibbibo when you're eating it. i've tried them a few times after service and it's a great combination....but what sweet thing isn't good with desset wine? i'm a huge fan of sauternes, late harvests, etc...