Wine Trail - Cook's Edition

THE Sandwich

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here's only one. For some years we've had sandwiches on Tuesday night. It is part of the routine. But for us there's only one Sandwich with a capital S. We plant tomatoes, 28 plants for the two of us. It isn't enough. We wait for those several months in the summer when they are perfect...

There's nothing hard about this, just get the right ingredients at their peak and enjoy.  We have it several times a week if we have the tomatoes.  For us it is that good.

And actually, it is just a BLT, but a very special one.  This demonstrates what a creative chef (by all means it was not us who thought this up) can do with the right stuff.  It this case the genius is Nancy Silverton who co-owned (with her then husband) one of the then best restaurants in Los Angeles, Campanile. She also founded La Brea Bakery and has gone on to ever more fine restaurant exploits (Where we've not yet been.). In Nancy Silverton's sandwich book (small s, small b). which then goes on to proclaim 'the best sandwiches ever' (well, at least from Thursday night's at Campanile), you'll find. 'Ino's Pancetta, Lettuce and Tomato.' And now that I'm staring at the recipe for the first time in years, I find that Ms. Silverton provided a recipe for a sandwich she'd had at 'Ino's in Greenwich Village. So there you go. We all share.

This is our twist of her twist of Ino's sandwich. We won't speculate if 'Ino's got it somewhere else as well. Everybody gets the credit.

And while we'll talk about wine pairings,  what is basically a tomato sandwich goes awfully well with a Bloody Mary, so we've got a bonus recipe of the best one we've ever had.

Tomatoes

Tomato Cages

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here is just no way to get around this, if you haven't ever eaten home grown height of the season tomatoes, you really don't know what a tomato tastes like. Supermarket tomatoes are big, red and uniform. And firm. They are bred that way. They can be mechanically picked and trucked all over the continent (or shipped all over the world). Turns out when farmers cross-bred tomatoes to get these traits they bred out genes which make the tomatoes sweet. If that isn't bad enough, generally these tomatoes are picked green, gassed with ethylene which turns them somewhat red and then shipped. This does not make for great tomato eating.

Look very carefully at the signs you see around the tomatoes you buy.  They almost always say they are vine-ripe. Sounds good, doesn't it? Guess again. If the materials we have looked at are correct (and we've heard this for years), a "vine-ripe" tomato is one which is mostly green. It is picked, probably gassed with ethylene, or at least placed in a warming room and eventually on to you. What you want is a "vine-ripened" tomato. One that turned red on the vine and was picked when perfectly ripe and sweet and delicious. And also, a variety that hasn't had all the flavor bred out of it.

We know. The tomatoes in the picture above are in our back yard. As we said, we plant 28 plants for the two of us and it isn't enough. During the summer we mostly eat tomato meals and we eat The Sandwich a lot. If you have a chance, try growing tomatoes. It isn't that hard. (But remember you can't keep planting them in the same place, that leads to problems. We rotate our 'crop' on a 3 year cycle. We don't have a lot of space but in the summer that's mostly what is out there.)

PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE do not refrigerate your wonderful fresh ripe tomatoes, ever!

Arugula

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hese peppery tasting greens are so easy to grow, you'll wonder why you ever bought them in a bag. If you are into it, you'll only pay for seeds once. We take a patch of ground and water it. We scatter a lot of arugula seeds on to it and cover it with a very light cover of soil. Then we step all over it. We have no idea if the stepping part does anything, but we don't want to stop since we've been so successful.  We keep the area relatively damp. Pretty much within 3 days you'll see them coming up just as it shows in this picture earlier today in our back yard. The patch at the top was planted about 2 1/2 weeks, give or take, can't remember, before the later patch below it.

Arugula

If you let some good number of the plants continue to grow, eventually they will 'go to seed'. They'll get about 4 feet tall and eventually produce green seed pods.  When they dry out and  turn brown you can harvest the tiny seeds in the pods and save they for next year. Just catch them before they start to break open on their own. They are, after all, trying to reproduce. We have actually used seeds that are 4 years old and they have been fine.

A Tale of Two Lemons

A lot of recipes say use 'the juice of one lemon' (or "use the juice of a half of lemon"). Okay. Here are two lemons.


2 lemons

Which one do you use?

The internet is full of answers and we're not going to offer any of them because, in our opinion, when cooking you should (to the extent safe and possible) taste as you go. Or at least keep track for the next time. One possible exception is the use of something in baking where weighing amounts is a very good way to go and stick to the recipe. That being said, next time you are working with a recipe, remember those two lemons and think to yourself: "How do I want it to taste?" Okay, you can search the 'net and decide if 2 to 3 TB is the amount of juice in a lemon. We're not going to measure it right now.

Lemon Zest

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hat outer layer of the lemon (don't include the white pith) that is so fragrant and flavorful. But how do you get it off? The old fashioned way is with a 'peeler' after which you can chop it thick or fine to your liking (but sometimes does pick up the pith). The cool new way is to use a Microplane. The quick story is that a wife while making an Orange Cake actually used a new rasp tool her husband brought home from the hardware store. The entire story is actually pretty interesting which you can see in the few paragraphs here.  While we are big fans of the microplane, we sometimes want a bit of 'mouth feel' from larger pieces. Use whatever suits you. Last night we used both. (There's another type we own but forgot about it when making The Sandwich the other day because we tend to use the Microplane in place of it. It is called a zester and actually ours does a decent job if you don't need a lot of zest. You'll see it in the second picture below.)



THE Sandwich (makes 4, very large)

Spray or drizzle olive oil (preferably extra virgin, but don't kill yourself if it isn't) over the tomatoes then sprinkle salt and pepper to taste over them. Do it at least 10 minutes before eating. We tend to do it an hour before.

Bake the pancetta in a 425 degree oven until it is crisp but not burnt. Put the pancetta between paper towels to remove a lot of the grease. We often do this earlier in the day then take the cooled pancetta in the paper towels and just shove it in the fridge till we need it (though we reheat it slightly in the microwave just before assembly).



Heat a stove top grill pan. While heating spray or brush both sides of the bread with olive oil. Or, rub both sides of the bread with butter (we find that works out really well if the bread is frozen which is usually where ours is found). Again, if the bread is frozen, it is really easy to rub clove(s) of garlic on both sides. The garlic just wears away onto the bread (great for garlic bread as well). In a pinch we've found that garlic powder isn't all that bad, though the flavor isn't the same. Use sparingly.

Grill both sides of the bread on the grill pan. If you don't have one, toast the bread in the oven (using broiler or not). Or be creative and toast the bread in a toaster, then do the oil/butter/garlic thing. Hey, this is a sandwich! It will taste good. Our pan hold 4 pieces at a time which is good.  We do the first 4 and start assembly while toasting the rest of them.

Put equal amounts of the mayo spread on four slices of bread. Top with equal amounts of pancetta, then equal amounts of tomato, then equal amounts of arugla. Spray or drizzle some olive oil over the arugula, then sprinkle salt over it (preferably kosher or sea salt).


Here's how we always describe the tomato step: Cram as many slices of the ripe tomatoes as you possibly can (knowing you have to pick it up) on top of what you've done so far.

After you have oiled and salted the arugula, cover each sandwich with the remaining slices of bread. Typically we press down some and serve.

Sandwich in Hand

Sometimes we have hot peppers on the side.

Lemon Garlic Mayo

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e were going to call this aioli, but it just isn't because we make it in a mini food processor. We also thought about showing you how easy (usually) making homemade mayo is, but that's for another time. We came up with this for The Sandwich because it is quick and easy. But homemade mayo (or aioli) is wonderful and you should try it some time.
Put all the ingredients except the lemon juice (and vinegar, if using) into a mini food processor. Whir away. Add in the juice/vinegar. How much? We want the flavor but we don't want to turn it into a really loose sauce. Use however much you like to get the consistency you like. At the very most, you don't want it to be so runny that it won't stay on the bread when you pick it up.

If you don't have a mini food processor and you have a mortar and pestle you could mix it all up there. If you don't have that, just chop up the pulp and the rind as well as you can and mix with the other ingredients. It will be fine.

Mayo


WINE PAIRING (or make that alcohol pairing)

Zinfandel would work with this. And, of course, we'd be remiss if we didn't mention our friends, the Nalles, who make wonderful zin.

Or, as we have pointed out, a Bloody Mary might be in order. Recipe follows.


Bonus Recipe: Best Bloody Mary Ever


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ine is our thing. But there is for many a time and place for something else. Cocktails can also be a creative endeavor and a lot of establishments are being very creative, using herbals and fruits and all manner of additions to the harder liquors. An old classic is the Bloody Mary and since our 'Sandwich' is all about tomatoes it seems like this is the right way to go from time to time. We have had some pretty good ones in New Orleans, though it seems like it was always also a salad in a glass, but the best Bloody Mary we've ever had came from the pages of Playboy magazine. Of course we've adapted it a bit.

Tomato Juice. The classic main ingredient is tomato juice which is ubiquitous.  Except we don't exactly have it around the house most of the time. So if the need arises, we  use something we have a whole lot of all time time, tomato paste. Fact is most bottles of tomato juice are made from tomato paste reconstituted with water (check out the labels, we always do). For us, for a Bloody Mary, we find that an ounce of tomato paste to which you add enough water to make 4 ounces is just about the right ratio.

Tomato paste freezes well. We just put it in a dish, freeze it then wrap it with plastic wrap.  If it is well wrapped it keeps a long time.  If you don't wrap it well it kinda turns to leather after awhile and you have to toss it.

By the way, if you are adventurous, substitute V8 (or any of it's clones). Very tasty.

Celery Salt. Check out the picture below. Best we can tell it is a relic of another era. We have no clue when we acquired that container.  What is in it now is homemade. It is never full. You really don't want to have your spices on the shelf for years anyhow, they lose their strength. The first few recipes we found on the web use equal parts salt and celery seed. Grind the celery seed in a grinder (we use a coffee grinder reserved for spices) and mix with salt. What salt? It probably should be salt that is finely ground. Depending on what's on our shelf we' probably just put kosher salt and the celery seed in the grinder and grind till it is all fine. Use whatever amounts you like, but it really doesn't pay to buy the stuff.

Vodka.  There are those that advocating using 'bottom shelf' (i.e., not the expensive stuff) vodka as all the other ingredients are pretty much going to wipe out any nuance.  That being said, you should experiment. Your own taste may find there is a difference. We do recall back when we were making pizza dough with beer as part of the liquid and used some beer that cost about 3 bucks for 24 cans. Uh, bad idea. That was bad enough to even make pizza dough taste lousy. Lesson learned on really cheap alcohol.

Cholula. Don't substitute.  You might have Tabasco on the shelf and that's really good stuff (and the factory is an interesting place to visit; not big, but a lot of the time it smells really good--if you like that sort of thing--we do), But for this the flavor of  Cholula is what you are looking for; it seems to match the smoked paprika really well. Besides, if you live where we do, it's probably cheaper than Tabasco.

This recipe is for 2 drinks because that's what we do.
Garnishes: we like a single pepper which depends on what we have around. Some people like celery and a bunch of other stuff.

In a large container (we use a 4 cup measuring cup) mix all the ingredients except the garnishes. Add ice cubes.  We use about 6-8. Stir the mixture. Pour into chilled rocks glasses (if you have such a thing, otherwise any glass or cup or container is going to do... it's a drink!)

When trying to find out why you stir a Bloody Mary instead of shake it, there were lots of different reasons, so check it out for yourself. But while reading one of the recipes on Serious Eats, we found something so amusing we want to repeat it. The author, Paul Clarke says about garnishes:  "Garnish with a slice of lemon or lime or—who am I kidding?—pretty much anything short of the Hoover Dam.". We saw a lot of that in the French Quarter of New Orleans. Of course that's a place where there are drive-throughs dedicated to just very alocoholic daiquiri's. Around here, if you drink liquor on the street you get arrested. In the French Quarter (at least) the street signs say the alcohol you drink on the street just can't be in glass containers. We thought it was fascinating. Amazing how one person's sin is another person's pleasure.

 
Cheers!

Here are summaries of the recipes in a .pdf you can print