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That eternal search for OOMPH

All cooks are looking for that little touch – some call it nafas – that will give their food a spark. You might find it in a special vinegar, or salt – or fish sauce. The search for OOMPH is apparently timeless. Some historical records cite garum as the first real condiment, carried throughout the Byzantine and Roman empires by soldiers looking to add a little flavor to otherwise lackluster food. Oh, those Romans. 

The taste for garum is alive and well today with colatura, an Italian version of fish sauce that adds that little something  to recipes. It’s a total umami bomb, especially when you lightly drizzle it on roasted vegetables, in a simple salad of cucumbers, olives, and pistachios, and even in a vinaigrette. Go ahead and add it to some classic spaghetti with a hefty dose of Parmesan cheese. Use a light hand  – it’s easy to add more but hard to take away.

I get my colatura from the Italian importers Gustiamo – and they get it from producers on the Amalfi Coast. Talk about oomph.

photo credit: amalficoast.com

In Camille’s Kitchen: Braised Whole Artichokes with Mint, Parm & Breadcrumbs

I love artichokes but I hate the process of trimming and cleaning them. Roasting or braising them whole is an easy way to get all the artichoke goodness without the hassle.

My below recipe for braised artichokes is a Roman-style dish. Artichokes are technically a thistle and are a big deal in southern Italy, where you see them everywhere. (In fields, on tables, as part of the landscape… literally everywhere.) You eat them the old-school way by peeling back the individual leaves and scraping them through your front teeth, which is more fun that is sounds. 🙂

The artichokes soften in water laced with parmesan, which is a great way to use up those parmesan rinds. Mint and breadcrumbs with a little cheese and lemon gives a fresh pop of flavor. It you like salty snacks – like potato chips – try this instead.

Braised Whole Artichokes with Mint, Parmigiano Reggiano and Breadcrumbs

INGREDIENTS

1 Parmesan rind
3 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup Panko breadcrumbs
2 artichokes
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
2-3 tablespoons torn mint leaves
Sea salt, to taste

PREPARATION

Fill a stockpot with a gallon of water and place parmesan rind in the water. Put the parmesan rind in water and simmer over medium heat for an hour. 

While the parm broth simmers, heat 1 tablespoon oil in a medium skillet over medium heat, add the panko, stir to coat in the oil, and continue to stir to evenly toast the crumbs. Set aside. 

Clean the artichokes by taking off the first layer of hard outer leaves, trimming the stem so it can sit flush onto a work surface. Spread the leaves back and use a spoon to scoop out the center choke. There are a bunch of small prickly leaves to remove but once you see a flat surface, you’re good – that’s the heart. 

Add artichokes to parmesan broth and simmer until tender, about 20 to 30 minutes depending on the artichoke’s size. Lift the artichokes out of the water and place on a platter. 

Garnish with remaining olive oil, lemon zest and juice, parmesan, breadcrumbs, torn mint and a sprinkle of salt.

In Camille’s Kitchen: Roasted Leg of Lamb with Spring Onions and Pea Medley

I had a great time working with Superior Farms last week to teach my online students how to make a springtime classic: Leg of lamb. I know lamb seems intimidating, especially if you are new to large cuts of meat, but my method simplifies the process. I love doing the online demos, because it helps folks to see me in my own kitchen, going through the steps, and lets students to ask questions in real time.

This recipe is a love letter to spring. If it piques your interest, feel free to reach out here to book a lamb demo of your own, or if you live in the New York area, have me build a menu around it for a private dinner. Give it a try – the anchovy butter takes it right over the top and it’s one of my current faves!

Roasted Leg of Lamb with Spring Onions and Pea Medley

INGREDIENTS

For the leg of lamb
1 bone-in leg of lamb 
2 ounces (1 can) anchovies packed in olive oil, drained
Leaves from 6 fresh basil (2 heaping tablespoons leaves)
4 garlic cloves, smashed and peeled
4 ounces unsalted butter, softened at room temperature
Cracked black pepper
Kosher salt
1 lemon

For the pea medley
1 pound frozen peas
½ pound sugar snap peas
¼ cup spring onion (scallions if you cannot find spring onions)
2 tablespoons garlic
1 Tablespoon mint
½ tablespoon basil
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup olive oil
¼ cup water

PREPARATION

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Use a small sharp knife to make about a dozen incisions, each about 2 inches deep, through the fat that covers the top of the meat. Using a mortar and pestle or a blender, blend 2/3 of the anchovies, basil and the garlic cloves into a chunky paste. Using your fingers, press paste deeply into incisions.

Mix remaining anchovies and the butter into a paste. Smear this mixture all over the surface of the roast. Season liberally with black pepper and salt. Place the lamb on a rack in a roasting pan, fat side up, and squeeze the lemon halves over. Pour the wine around the roast into the pan.

Roast the lamb for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and roast until internal temperature reaches 130 to 135 degrees (for medium-rare), about another 60 to 90 minutes. If possible, for the last 15 minutes of cooking, use convection or a broiler to crisp the fat on the roast.

Remove pan from the oven, remove rack from the pan, and let the roast rest on the rack for at least 15 to 20 minutes. The internal temperature will rise to about 140 to 145 degrees.

Meanwhile, cut sugar snap peas in half. In a large pot of salted water cook the sugar snap peas. Shock in cold water and set aside.

In a Dutch oven, warm the olive oil over low heat and add the garlic. Cook garlic till golden brown, about 1 minute.

Add the spring onion, mint and basil. Cook for a few seconds. Add frozen peas and cook for 3 minutes, constantly stirring. Add water and cook for another minute.

Take ¼ of frozen pea mixture and much of the cooking liquid as possible and puree. Add pureed peas as well as blanched sugar snap peas back to pan. Mix well and cool.

Reheat to serve.

Magic wheels

Unless you love food, you probably have no idea what this photo is. Abstract art? Ancient drums? New forms of insulation?

But if you love food, like me, you know that these are large wheels of Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese aging to perfection.

I love to travel and explore the rich cuisines of every destination. Seeing the food in the place it originates brings a whole new appreciation to the ingredients I work with. These Parmigiano wheels, resting and being nurtured until they reach the peak of their tangy saltiness, makes me want to use every piece that I can.

Real Parm is an affordable luxury. Maximize it to justify the expense! The hard, darker rinds are no different that the sweeter Parmigiano near the center. The flavor is more concentrated and the texture is dense because of the exposure to air. Water out, flavor in. Put that flavor to good use! Here are some of the ways I use the rinds in my kitchen:

– Add a rind to simmering tomato sauce for creaminess and a unique salt flavor.
– Make a stock with several rinds and add tiny ditalini pasta and peas for a quick soup.
– Add it to the soaking or boiling water for beans.
– Toss it in with braising liquid for meat
– Grind it in the food processor into small chucks to use in bread doughs
– Add it to your steamer basket when steaming vegetables


To store the rinds, just place them in an airtight container or bag until ready to use. Boost flavor and reduce food waste! It doesn’t get more delicious than that.

In Camille’s Kitchen: Whipped Ricotta

I first encountered whipped ricotta when traveling in Sicily, where the cheese is often made with sheep’s milk. Whether you use milk from sheep or cows, when you whisk olive oil into the fresh cheese, it smooths out the slightly grainy mouthfeel and the ricotta takes on a super smooth and lush texture. Perfection on toast (with any fruit or veg you want!) but also amazing over pasta or as a base for a dish of roasted vegetables. Easy to make, easy to eat.

Makes 1 cup

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup ricotta

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling

¼ teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste

Crusty bread

Chili flakes, lemon zest

INSTRUCTIONS:

Whisk the ricotta, olive oil and salt in a medium bowl until smooth. Toast the bread and spread ricotta over the top. Finish with a drizzle of olive oil, chili flake, lemon zest and sea salt.

Photo by MadMax Chef on Unsplash