Grandma loved her beets. She loved growing them. Boiling them. And, making borscht soup with them. We enjoyed them as well. But beets are not everyone’s favorite. Some say it’s too red, or too bland in soup by itself or too earthy. All maybe true. Nonetheless the vegetable became one of our household favorites, even though we didn’t always prepare the beets Grandma’s style. Like many “family favorites”, it seems as though you grow up with them or know them best through friends. Eggplant for example, was a vegetable I first tasted at the home of Italian friends when they served eggplant Parmigiana; but I never ate one at my own home. Beets were the same for my friends. Red beet Borscht was a soup only available at my home, I was told.
One of the premier fish of the region is visiting our waters these days — the beautiful Striped bass. When I lived in the New York City area I would frequently fish with friends and family — as often as they allowed me to do so — catching, cleaning, preparing and cooking striped bass. I loved every step of the process. And the crew enjoyed my eagerness to be the chef. The stripers were so plentiful back in the 1970s and ‘80s that several fisherman I was fortunate enough to fish alongside would “catch and release” these magnificent wonders of the deep. Today, Ryan Collins who writes about fishing and the outdoors for the blog www.capecodtoday.com shares stories about how large they can grow and how one particular diver has actually seen the giants up close and filmed them swimming by in abundance at only 10 feet below the surface. Some fortunate soul has even been able to catch a 60 pounder which they call “Hawgs” that can be caught in “hawgtober” since October is the ideal time for catching stripers in the waters off Cape Cod.
This past summer, two Korean physicians contacted me to prepare a wedding feast for them. I was excited about the opportunity because it would require me to learn a new type of barbecue--Korean style. The couple loved eating their traditional style because they felt the dish was ideal when eaten outdoors in the warm weather and because it naturally made them very nostalgic. In preparing their Korean BBQ, I learned that this type of food is historically a favorite among Koreans, especially when the meat of choice is short ribs cut vertically across the rib bones. Although my impression is that virtually all people enjoy barbecue in various styles regardless of their ethnic or cultural heritage, there is something primordial about cooking on an open flame or even a gas-driven grill under the stars. My guess is that most people worldwide would reveal many lip-smacking barbecue delights.
India is the birthplace of eggplant. But seldom do we see Indian varieties. In fact, many people assume that eggplant, which is actually a fruit not a vegetable, comes from the English who originally thought of eggplant as having an ornamental virtue rather than a culinary one. Its beauty is not to be under estimated but the numbers of ways eggplant can be prepared to eat are virtually endless. And the more I explore this lovely fruit the more I appreciate the multicultural possibilities.
Correction: In the “Lobster, Chinese Style” column that ran two weeks ago, the time to steam the lobster was missing and it should be 10 minutes.
Alfredo Viazzi’s restaurants in New York City’s Greenwich Village were especially well known for their Italian seafood dishes. I often enjoy preparing Viazzi’s recipes for friends and family including Branzino, in the bass family prepared in seaweed, cold striped bass with garlic butter, baccala al verde, and fish stew Livorno Style.
But Viazzi’s swordfish messina style was one of my favorites. It reminds me of the many memorable meals I ate at Viazzi’s when I lived in the New York City area. His food was exceptional and reminded me of the trattoria dishes of Italy.
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