This is a base recipe for a number of classic French white fish recipes. I use sole here, but you could use the same recipe for any white fish: cod, hake, flounder, haddock, etc. This works with trout too.
On September 5, '21, we celebrated the cuisine of central Italy with our friends and summertime neighbors Lance and Lynda Hylander. For this project, one of three recorded on this blog, I defined "Central Italy" as the six regions north of Campania/Apulia and south of Emilia-Romagna and the Po River valley, to wit: Tuscany, Umbria, Marche, Abbruzzo, Molise, and Lazio (Lazio is where Rome is).
As usual for these dinners, we started out with Vermouth in cordial glasses and an Antipasto course of a fine salumi platter that represented all of the regions featured in the dinner.
The Insalata course was a hearty Insalata di Lenticchie, or lentil salad, with delicious tender lentils from Umbria, an area known for its lentils. This also showed that not all Italian cuisine demands tomatoes! With the salad we opened a couple of local white wines, a Trebbiano d’Abbruzzo (from Abruzzo) and a nice Frascati (from Lazio).
We didn't get to take a vacation in 2020, the plague year when everything was locked down to prevent the spread of Covid-19. By late spring of 2021 things were gradually opening up again, and everyone wanted to see distant loved ones. Melissa had come to visit her mother, and then we all went to Florida so she could see her father in Palm Coast, just south of Jacksonville in the north.
While they visited, Lorna and I drove from Jacksonville to Key West and back.
Here's how it went:
By Thursday we were winding down from our sprint along all of Florida's Atlantic coast. We joined Melissa and Bob for a leisurely drive to New Smyrna Beach for the afternoon, and then up to a Big Cat sanctuary north of Jacksonville to wrap up this adventure.
New Smyrna Beach is a nice town, with far better shopping (per Lorna) and coffee (per me) than we had seen in Key West or even in Miami Beach. I was surprised to see ten public shuffleboard courts, all well occupied with even young people playing.
After they finished shopping and I had caught up with note-taking and coffee, we had a fine lunch at Third Wave, where I got to try another celebrated southern specialty: shrimp and grits. We dined outside in a shady courtyard with a pleasant breeze and no street noise.
As evening approached we returned to Palm Coast and split into two cars so Bob could join us to see the Big Cats north of Jacksonville, near the airport hotel where we'd be staying that night.
Key West is a long way from anywhere, and Marathon is just an hour closer. The drive back to the mainland, reversing the drive down, was uneventful, until we got to Key Largo. Then the rains came, in buckets. The road up to Homestead is straight and limited access, so everyone just pushed on at a slightly slower speed. The rain continued until we were just north of Miami.
We had to get all the way up to Palm Coast that day, and we had two stops planned, so we could ill afford to lose the time to the rain.
I had originally wanted to see the Everglades, with a backup plan for the Flamingo Gardens in Davie. When Lorna learned of that, the alligators lost and the birds won.
I'm glad it worked out that way. We arrived at the Flamingo Gardens just as the rain was ending, but it was still pretty wet and quite hot so we took a very good tram ride around the property, seeing not just flamingoes but peacocks (including a white one), ibises, toucans, and other tropical birds. The driver was knowledgeable and happy to answer questions. And of course I found a book in the gift shop.
Our only other stop that day was up in Sebastian, at the south end of the "Space Coast". This was to visit Lorna's cousin and his wife for dinner, and then to get out to Route A1A to see the water views.
On the evening of Day 3, after our mango adventure, we drove down to Key Largo and along the Oversea Highway to Marathon, about halfway to Key West. The first part of the road was not a lot different from any built-up area around here. That was something of a disappointment.
We did notice that on every island there seemed to be a Sandal Factory store, or some name like that. It mystifies me how many sandals people can wear out down there, that there's such need for that many stores.
After Islamorada, things were much less built up and we saw more of that wide-open, sea-on-both-sides view that you see in the tourist brochures. There were still power lines and scrub on the many little islands that you pass along the way, and for much of the way we were accompanied by the remains of the Henry Flagler's 1912-era Bahia Honda railroad bridge, which connected the keys before cars were common.
Do you like mangoes, avocadoes, dates, nectarines, pistachios, kale, quinoa, soybeans, winter wheat, cherry blossoms, bamboos, or pima cotton? Thank the brilliant early 20th century botanist and plant explorer David Fairchild. Here he is in his later years with his wife Marian (daughter of Alexander Graham Bell) at The Kampong, their garden-home in Coconut Grove.
Fairchild wrote Exploring for Plants, The World Was My Garden, The World Grows Round My Doorstep, and Garden Islands of the Great East, memoirs of his travels, discoveries, and work building the USDA Plant Introduction Service. I have read and enjoyed them all. Today was my long-awaited day to explore palm trees and mangoes as brought to us by Dr. Fairchild.
Miami Beach did not thrill us. Its heyday was back in the 1920s, '30's and '40s, even into the '50s. The long waterfront was developed in those days, and the structures, mostly hotels, are fine examples of Art Deco architecture. But toay Ocean Drive is just a fancy setting for partiers and beachgoers. The shopping was disappointing and good food is there to be found, but you have to look for it. Of course, I might have been more charitable if I'd had the sense to go in January...
Some of the places do try to maintain a sense of "another time", especially 1957, the last year of pre-revolution Cuba. Here we have an authentic cigar girl, going from table to table hawking cigars, cigarettes, and more modern versions of the combustible vices. Naturally none of the cigars are actually from Cuba, but they all play to that forbidden fruit mystique by claiming to be made from tobacco grown from Cuban seed, or using names like Havana Especial (made in Honduras). If she sold a cigar, she would open it and cut it for the customer and lend him a lighter so that he could bless us all with his romantic vaporous exhalations.
On the first full day of our expedition, we drove the short distance north to old St Augustine. This is where we really knew that we weren't in New England anymore.
Of course it was hot and humid, but that happens sometimes at home. But the whole setting was different - the trees and the buildings, the big sky view unobstructed by hills, even the way people dressed.
St Augustine is the oldest continuously occupied town in the current USA, predating Plymouth by 55 years. Plymouth's claim to fame is that, due to where the Mayflower finally reached shore, it was outside of any charter except their own, the Mayflower Compact. St Augustine was the well-supplied and well-supported administrative center of an important Spanish and later British colony for over 200 years. The fort is impressive and well-preserved.
Across the street from the fort is the busy historic shopping district, mostly along pedestrian-only St George Street.
In retrospect, we see that this was some of the best shopping that we found in the Sunshine State, certainly better than Miami Beach and Key West, if you like independent bookstores, gourmet shops, kitchen supplies, etc.
Lorna discovered this gem at the Mo Bay Grill, a Jamaican restaurant in Sebastian Florida. We were on a little one-week vacation during a lull in the Covid period, and we took the opportunity to visit her cousin Billy and his wife Judy.
I can find very little history about it. It's along the lines of a Bellini, fruity with sparkle, but it's pretty, refreshing, and not too alcoholic.
The restaurant menu description says strawberry juice but the online recipes say strawberry liqueur. Lorna's seemed to have strawberry juice, and I think that worked just fine. To be honest, I've never seen a strawberry liqueur worth drinking. I used strawberry juice in the recipe here; to make it, puree some strawberries and then squeeze them out through cheesecloth. You don't need a lot of it, and it's OK if it's a little pulpy.
These clove-studded Cipolle di Napoli made a great side dish for the Pork Roast in the Florentine Style. I expect they'd be good with any pork or poultry dish that's not too highly seasoned.
A funny thing happened: as the onions cooked and the water inside them expanded, the innermost part of the onions got squeezed out! You can see them in the photo, above the front left-hand onion like bunny ears and to the right of the front onion like a jaunty beret! The next time I make this, I will try cutting an X in the top of each onion to see if that helps.
This is a tasty summertime dish for hot weather. The scapece part of the name derives from the Spanish escaveiche and ceviche (raw fish marinated in vinegar) but the Neapolitans use it to describe many things dressed with vinegar.
This takes a long time, but it's not a time-consuming dish. You need to allow time for the cut zucchini to dry in the sun, and afterward more time for the vinegar to settle in and mellow. Drying the zucchini helps it to cook up crunchy rather than mushy, so it stands up better to the vinegar.
Note that this recipe is not an agrodolce; there is no sugar.
Here's a delicious mushroom soup with Italian sensibilities applied to an Austrian ancestor, from Trentino-Alto Adige in the Italian Alps on the Austrian border.
Mushrooms are an important part of Alpine cooking and northern Italian cuisine in general. Note that this includes an opening saute in butter instead of olive oil seen further south.
This soup represented that alpine region in our Northern Italy all-star feast.
I'm not excited by this one. I wonder how something so simple got such a long name?
Well, Melanie Belshee did the research at her very good Alcohol Infusions blog and it seems to be named for a fellow with a deep connection to the bar where it was developed.
The best I can say about this is that it's a fairly light summer refresher. I made it with an ordinary Highland Scotch and Martini & Rossi Dry Vermouth; a more robust Scotch or a less assertive vermouth might have had better results.
I described in Italy All-Star Feast: The South how a blog about New England food and drink came to focus temporarily on Italian traditional cuisine, wrapping it up with a trio of all-star feasts exploring the 20 provinces of that ancient foodie culture. This was a tricky one, as I had to squeeze in eight provinces, each with long and distinct culinary traditions!
For the Northern Italy feast, I included the big provinces of Piedmont, Lombardy, Veneto, and Emilia-Romagna, plus the smaller Alpine border provinces of Val d'Aosta (on the French/Swiss border), Trentino-Alto Adige (Austria), Friuli -Venezia-Giulia (Slovenia), and little coastal Liguria, home of Genoa. Our companions were our old friends David and Diane Peck. Here's how we did it: