Thursday, March 20, 2008

One Old Friend, Two New Dishes

When you see an old friend after many years' absence, what's the right thing to do? In my case, it means cook a great meal for my buddy, Hank Gilpin. Years ago I moved to Providence, Rhode Island after growing up in LA. It's difficult to imagine two places more different in culture and size. When I first arrived in Providence, I was invited to a party. With the directions came the instruction, "I live on the other side of town." I drove for twenty minutes, the time it takes to drive across LA, but twenty minutes in Providence meant I ended up in Massachusetts.

Going on a tour of East Coast colleges with our son, we knew we would drive through Rhode Island. We definitely had to stay overnight at Hank's converted church in Lincoln, a few miles outside of Providence. Hank established himself as a major voice in woodworking decades ago. His furniture is remarkable for its simplicity and elegance. He is one of those rare individuals who proves that art can be a business.

When I first met Hank, I was pretty unhappy. I didn't like Providence, East Coast weather, or all those ubiquitous trees. In California I was used to an uncluttered landscape. Driving the freeways, I could see for miles. In New England, the forests ruined the view. Hank took me for walks in the woods where he talked about the different kinds of trees, how the wood changed over time, and how he took that into account when making a piece of furniture. In time, he made me appreciate Rhode Island. If events hadn't conspired otherwise, I probably wouldn't have moved back to LA.

When we got to Hank's, it was still early enough that Michelle and Michael decided to drive over to Tufts and have a look around. That gave us a couple of hours to catch up, check out places I remembered, and prepare dinner. Rhode Island has great lobsters and clams, so our first stop was Captains Catch. We also went by Federal Hill, the Italian part of Providence, where we picked up a fresh whole chicken at Antonelli Poultry and a good pecorino romano at Costantino's. On the way back to the car, we bought a delicious chocolate cake at Pastiche. After a coffee and more catching up, we realized we better get dinner started. It had gotten late.

Back at the church, Hank poured bourbon shots and the work began. The lobster was washed, waiting its turn in the sink. Artichokes were trimmed and ready to cook. Chicken stock was started. A mushroom, garlic chicken ragout was bubbling away. Steamers were steaming. Pasta water was boiling. Chicken breasts were marinating. The parsley-caper salsa was ready to serve with the fresh mozzarella.

When I cut open the lobster I saw something completely unexpected: perfectly fresh tomalley and coral, the colors bright and clean. In LA when we buy a New England lobster, how long has it been out of the sea? Days? Weeks? This lobster had been caught the day before. The chicken also yielded a surprise: a beautifully plump liver. Again, freshness made the difference. I decided we'd have some impromptu appetizers. Hank opened a bottle of Merlot.

Figuring out what to make came quickly. A simple sauté for both. To serve the chicken livers, toasted pieces of Italian bread in olive oil, but for the tomally and coral something more delicate was needed. Lavash cut into 2" squares, dredged in olive oil seasoned with sea salt and black pepper, and roasted in a 350 degree oven for 2 minutes created crispy squares that were the perfect compliment to the creamy tomalley and coral.

With the rest of the dinner under control, Hank and I enjoyed our appetizers and Merlot, then we set the kitchen counter with plates and platters full of food. Michael and Michelle returned from their adventure, tired but happy to have seen Tufts. They were revived by the dinner waiting for them. Nice what two old friends can do when they have time to visit.

Chicken Livers on Toast

Freshness is the key. The livers need to be plump and firm, with no discoloration. Chopping the livers into dime-sized pieces means they will cook quickly.

1 large chicken liver, washed, the membrane removed, roughly chopped
1 tablespoon shallot or yellow onion, finely chopped
1 tablespoon Italian parsley, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled, finely chopped
1 tablespoon capers, drained, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon sweet butter
1 slice of Italian bread, crusts removed
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Cut the slice of bread into ½" by 1" rectangles and sauté them in the olive oil until lightly browned on both sides. Drain on a paper towel and set aside. In the same frying pan, on a medium flame, sauté the parsley, garlic, onions, and capers until lightly browned, add the butter, then the livers, carefully browning them on each side. Serve on the toasts.

Serves 2. Preparation Time: 10 minutes. Cooking Time: 5 minutes.

Lobster Tomalley and Coral on Lavash

Bake the lavash ahead as described above.

Tomalley and Coral from 1 lobster, washed
2 teaspoons parsley, finely chopped
½ garlic clove, peeled, finely chopped
1 shallot, peeled, finely chopped
6 2" squares of baked lavash
1 teaspoon butter
1 tablespoon avocado, finely chopped
1 teaspoon olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Marinate the tomalley and coral with the garlic, shallot, 1 teaspoon of the parsley, and olive oil for 30 minutes, then sauté with the butter in a hot pan until the coral turns red. Put a small mound of the tomalley and coral on the lavash square, topped with the avocado and parsley.

Serves 2. Preparation Time: 5 minutes. Marinating Time: 30 minutes. Cooking Time: 5 minutes.

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