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Tomatoes and Oysters

Back before Mario Batali became a big star on The Food Network, he owned a restaurant named Po, located on Cornelia Street in Greenwich Village. One of Chef Batali’s signature offerings was white bean bruschetta — cannellini beans kissed with a touch of garlic, balsamic vinegar and herbs and spooned atop hunks of toasted Italian bread. I remember having dinner there shortly after my 25th birthday. It was the first time I had had bruschetta, and it was a taste revelation.

According to Wikipedia, bruschetta is a food the origin of which dates to at least the 15th century from central Italy. It consists of grilled bread rubbed with garlic and topped with extra-virgin olive oil, salt and pepper. Variations may include toppings of spicy red pepper, tomato, vegetables, beans, cured meat, and/or cheese. Bruschetta is usually served as a snack or appetizer.

One of the more familiar and popular recipes involves tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, basil and olive oil. For myself, I prefer tomatoes, salt, pepper, some kind of herb (mint, tarragon, basil or even celery leaves), some acid (a teaspoon or two of white wine vinegar, red wine vinegar or lemon juice), shallots or Vidalia onion and good quality extra-virgin olive oil. No cheese — I feel it throws off the balance of the dish. Ditto for garlic.

One other thing — when you make bruschetta, you should strive to use the best and freshest ingredients possible. You’ll definitely taste the difference in the end.

Heirloom tomato bruschetta

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3 small to medium ripe heirloom tomatoes, chopped
1 shallot, finely chopped
pinch of kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon mint, cut into a chiffonade
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Italian bread or sourdough bread, sliced

In a bowl, combine all ingredients except the bread. Mix well.

Toast the bread until lightly golden. Spoon the tomato mixture atop the toast and serve immediately.

(1)Chiffonade is a cooking technique in which herbs or leafy green vegetables are cut into long, thin strips. This is generally accomplished by stacking leaves, rolling them tightly, then cutting across the rolled leaves with a sharp knife, producing fine ribbons.

Recipe and demo for the oyster stew after the jump.

Oyster stew, New Orleans style

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Oyster stew is a simple, rich soup featuring, you guessed it, oysters. It can be made with either fresh or canned oysters. The key to oyster stew is minimal cooking, making it very easy and fast to prepare. Some variations include crumbled bacon, sliced potatoes, shallots or green onions. However it’s best to interfere with the dish as little as possible in order to let the flavor of the oysters shine through.

This version uses a butter-based roux as a thickening agent and soup base.

One dozen shucked oysters
reserved oyster liquor
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 rib celery, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
2 large shallots, finely chopped
1⁄2 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
pinch of kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
small pinch of cayenne pepper
1 cup whole milk
1 cup heavy cream

Combine oyster liquor with 1 cup water in a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium heat. Add the oysters and simmer until their edges just begin to curl, about 2 minutes. Strain oysters through a fine sieve set over a medium bowl. Reserve oysters and cooking liquid separately.

Heat butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add flour and cook, whisking constantly, until the roux becomes golden brown, about 1-2 minutes.

After about 20 seconds of whisking.

After about 45 seconds of whisking.

After about a minute and a half of whisking. Looks about right. The color should be similar to peanut butter. You have to watch it very carefully — any longer and the roux will darken further which will ultimately affect the stew’s flavor. If the roux darkens too much, it will burn and you’ll have to start over.

Reduce heat to medium. Add celery, garlic, shallots, parsley, salt, pepper, and cayenne. Cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until onions and celery are very soft, about 5 to 8 minutes.

Stir in milk, cream, and reserved oysters with their cooking liquid and cook, stirring occasionally, until just hot, about 2 minutes. Try not to let it come to a boil. You just want to heat the stew through. Serve immediately.

Traditionally oyster stew is served with oyster crackers, however I had some rice that needed to be used. I think I gained about 5 lbs. after tonight’s dinner. 🙂

No peaches — I was too full for dessert.

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