A summer’s night dinner on Lolita’s deck in Cambridge is always a delight, but after a day of bicycling through Boston it’s even better! We had planned on having guests tonight, but alas, said plans fell through – so the husbandman and I decided to take a whirl around town straddling our steel and spoke steeds to see what sort of goodness we could find. Starting by riding along the Charles, then zooming past the Museum of Science, tripping by the canal locks under the Zakim heading towards the Garden, skirting by Charlestown on Commercial Avenue, turning into the labyrinth North End, sailing along the Rose Kennedy Greenway, speeding across the Northern Avenue Bridge, passing the pedestrians into South Boston, gliding along the South Bay Harbor Trail to the newly developed Fan Pier, and settling into a lunch at the new Legal Seafoods Harborside: about 7 quick, city miles full of sights and sounds and smells and sea-fresh air. On our way back home, we re-visited the North End to buy something special to eat with the fresh veggies from the farm waiting in our fridge. We ended up with heaven: fresh, elegant, and easy for our al fresco dinner under the darkening sky.
Grilled Veal Chops, Corn, and Heirloom Tomato Caprese
2 12oz veal chops
2 ears fresh super-sweet corn
1 boll fresh mozzarella
2 large cucumbers from the garden
2 bright Heirloom tomatoes
5oz Greek yoghurt
1 bunch fresh mint
4 tbs minced red onion
good balsamic vinegar
sea salt and black pepper
white bread and fresh butter
I had two things to buy: meat and mozzarella. The first item I hunted for here, at the Sulmona Meat Market, a bastion of butchery still serving the North End after 40 years in the business. It has taken me a while to learn how to order meat at one of these tiny shops: when one enters, one sees that the counters and cases are surprisingly bare, and for most of us accustomed to portioned steaks and chops and ribs cut in all manner of ways displayed prettily in oxygenated glass refrigerators to make the meat redder and more “meat-looking,” the lack of product is disconcerting. I admit, the first few times I walked in to see what they had, I walked back out again – a little unsure how to proceed when there were no prices and no product. But this time, I persevered.
The two men pictured above were the day’s butchers. The younger guy in the back (who was, I must admit, unexpectedly easy on the eyes – I hope the 6-foot tall blonde wife he was describing isn’t reading this) kept disappearing into the old-fashioned wooden-doored walk-in, emerging moments later with huge hunks of perfect meat in his hands for his customer. I asked the older gentleman what they had in stock; he asked me what I wanted. I said I didn’t know, but did he have pork? Did he have beef? Did he have lamb? He said yes he had pork. Yes he had beef. Yes he had lamb. Humph – he wasn’t making it easy. But watching the other guy come in and out, it suddenly struck me: he probably had a veritable menagerie of barn-yard animals back there, all just waiting to be *freshly* cut to order. He was’t going to haul a whole carcass out for me – I had to know what I wanted. But all I knew was that we wanted to grill, and that I wanted something special, so I went through my mind’s register of elegant meats I’d not eaten in a while, and I finally blurted out “veal chops”. He nodded sagely, slowly disappeared into the cooler, and reappeared a few minutes later with the sweetest pink side of veal I’d ever seen.
A whacking cleaver, a big-ass bone-saw, and a deftly handled chef’s knife later, and I had two perfect chops trimmed and wrapped and ready to be weighed. At Whole Foods, veal like this would cost me $22/lb; at Savenor’s even more.
Using a pencil likely brought over on the Mayflower, my new best friend slowly inscribed the price of each of my two items (I also bought two links of sweet Italian sausage) on the inner wrapper, and using long-hand, he added up my price. My veal weighed in at 1.5lbs, and at a miraculous $13 per pound, it cost less than $20! The gamble – ordering hand cut meat from a butcher sight-unseen and price-unknown – paid off. These would prove to be the best veal steaks I’d ever eaten, and for the best price I’ve ever paid!
I know my last post included Greek yoghurt, too, and that maybe I’m getting a little repetitive here, but that was a basil sauce for salmon, and this time I’m making a fresh cucumber, mint salad.
I start by peeling, slicing, and de-seeding my cukes — plucked just moments ago from the vines overhanging our roof-deck. Clayton’s green thumb has never been more verdant.
A tutorial on how to chiffonade is never out of place; let’s do one here. I’ve washed my mint leaves and patted them dry with paper towels, and now I’ve got them all stacked loosely together, stems aligned.
Then I take that bundle and roll it into a loose cigar. Using my just sharpened chef’s knife, I slice as thinly as I can.
The results: crispy, very thin, very long ribbons of snappy, minty freshness.
Along with salt, pepper, and the yoghurt, I add my mint to a bowl with the cucumbers.
I mix the contents of the bowl together very well, adding more salt and pepper as needed to taste. I also add some minced red onion. Lemon zest would be good here, too – but I was out of lemons. Curses! Anyway, this goes into the fridge to chill.
The corn has also been a theme around here lately — it’s just so sweet, fresh, and good right now! These two ears were specifically picked for us by the farmer from whom we purchased them; Clayton told him about my blogging, and he wanted to really put forth a good display. (I’ll change the preceding sentence with info on the actual farmer and his farm once I get that info from my ol’ man.) We grill them simply by just removing all the outer husk – leaving only the inner-most leaves intact – and placing them directly on the hot grill. They take about 25 minutes, so we give them a small head-start over the veal which will only take 15 or so.
Speaking of veal – here’s how the steaks look just sprinkled with pepper and basking in the early evening’s setting sun. Pepper is all these babies need; veal is so tender and delicious on its own, and I really wanted to enjoy just the unadulterated flavor of the meat. Besides, my thought is that the cucumber salad will be a lovely accompaniment to this dish – sort of a riff on lamb and tzatziki.
These lovely heirloom tomatoes – one a black crimson, I think, and the other a big yellow – hail from Kimball’s Fruit Farm stand. If the tomatoes I’m eating I haven’t grown myself, then I’ve purchased them from these guys — they really know their fruit!
I mentioned earlier that the only other thing I needed to buy for this meal was mozzarella cheese, and the North End helped me out there, too. The Cheese Shop at 20 Fleet Street is the new incarnation of Purity Cheeses, which was closed when it’s bona-fide wise-guy goodfella owner got indicted for something decidedly non-cheese related (unless you use “cheese” as a euphemism for laundered money).
These three beautiful bundles of lactic dreaminess cost $9; it is the best goshdurn cheese in the state. Sorry, artisanal cheese-producers selling your stuff at farmer’s markets and at chi-chi restaurants – previously Purity has got you beat.
A caprese salad might be a tired concept – showing up as it does *everywhere* – but more often than not these days it’s made with crappy, tasteless tomatoes, pre-packaged pesto sauce, dry, rubbery mozzarella cheese, and “ay-tail-E-anne” dressing. When it’s made with real quality ingredients like these rich, sweet, meaty heirloom tomatoes, my own garden’s abundant Italian basil, true fresh mozzarella gently formed from curds and floating in brine, nutty EVOO and thick, viscous balsamic vinegar – it is a revelation. Topped with some exotic flakes of black salt (blended with volcanic ash, a gift from my sweet sister), this colorful salad is as strikingly beautiful as it is devastatingly delicious.
I plate this next to a cold mountain of my creamy, minty, crispy cucumbers.
After 10 minutes on the grill, my peppered veal steaks are browning perfectly, and are ready to flip. The smell of sizzling meat is making me salivate.
We’ve been rolling the corn around pretty regularly, too, so it can cook on all sides. The husks become nice and papery, and the silks crisp and dry. It only takes a moment, when the cobbs are ready, to peel back the paper and string and snap everything off at the base, leaving nothing but hot, steaming corn ready to be rolled in butter.
Now that’s a plate. Sorry, my dear friends who didn’t make it to dinner tonight (we’ll reschedule soon!) – but you missed something really amazing. Except for the pat of butter adorning the corn (which we laid on our slice of bread, to give it a good place to wallow), there is very little fat on this filling and full platter of supper! Lean veal, simply grilled, two light salads – both fresh and locally sourced – and super-sweet corn come together in a symphony of salubrious satisfaction. Well worth the 14 miles biked there and back, this repast is a rich reward for another work week down, and just the right way to rev ourselves up for the work week just on the other side of Sunday. As the sun slowly sets in the west, streaking the sky with brilliant azure and fierce crimson, Clayton and I tuck into our dinners with enthusiasm – oooohhhing and aaaahhhing on each outstanding bite.