30 March 2012

From the Chef ~ Zuppa di Pesce, Fish Soup, Ciuppin, Cioppino!

When you hit the internet or your recipe book collection, you’ll find many versions of fish soup out there.  As you might guess, there’s a lot of latitude in this recipe.  Here’s my version, which falls more toward the cioppino end of the spectrum.  In truth, it’s just what I happened to throw into the pot during a recent preparation.  But don’t let my casual comments undersell you:  this batch was worth formalizing.  I used homemade fish stock, in this case, stock from both black cod and sockeye salmon trimmings.  I pulled the fresh herbs from my garden.  And the garlic toast is “the cherry on top”, or in this case, “the cherry on bottom”, and a worthy addition.

1. In a deep pot, sauté the following in 5-6 tbsp. olive oil until translucent:  1-2 ribs celery; 5 cloves minced garlic; 1 small bulb fennel coarsely chopped.
2. Add the following and bring to a simmer:  2 bay leaf; 1 tsp. each kosher salt, freshly ground pepper, red pepper flakes; 2 cups dry white wine; 5 cups fish stock; 1  32-oz. can tomatoes plus 1/2 of tomato juice in the can.  Simmer for 10-15 min. while you prepare for the next addition.
3. Now add an assortment of 3-4 pounds of fish and seafood.  For instance, I first added 1 lb. each of clams and mussels.  After 4-5 min., I added fish that cook more quickly:  1/2 lb. of prawns and about a 1 lb. rock cod.
4. Once all fish is just cooked, stir in a tablespoon each of finely chopped celery greens, fennel tops, & fresh thyme.
5. Rub stale or toasted bread with a clove of garlic and place in the bottom of a bowl.  Ladle cioppino on top and enjoy with lots of napkins and a bowl for the shells! 

27 March 2012

From the Chef ~ Spring Greens and Ricotta Gnocchi

The photos and the recipe directly below are the gnocchi I made for Sunday night dinner at my folks home this past weekend.  Oh my god, were they awesome!  So, I want to share them with you.  I'm posting two reliable versions of this exquisite dish!  There are several recipes for these on the internet, so the first version is my adaptation.  Generally speaking, recipes include spinach, ricotta, some parmigiano, a bit of flour and eggs.  I made the ricotta from scratch the morning before (see recipe below under March 2012).  Out gardening in the yard that afternoon, I noticed a robust patch of rainbow chard that had happily overwintered.  That's when I got the idea to put these together and revisit this favorite dish.  And don't worry about homemade-homegrown ingredients.  Make life easy:  buy some decent ricotta and some spinach or chard, and you will see that these are really easy to whip together.  Enjoy!  

  1. In a large pot of water, blanch 1 big bunch of chard, spinach, or other green until just wilted.  Hey, why not experiment with some combination for something truly unique.  Let drain a few minutes and then squeeze out liquid.  Chop very finely.
  2. In a large bowl, thoroughly combine minced greens, 2 cups whole-milk ricotta, 1/2 cup grated parmigiano cheese, 1/2 cup flour, 2 large beaten egg yolks, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. freshly grated pepper, and a big punch nutmeg.
  3. Grab a small clump of the mixture and roll out on a floured surface a 5-6" long rope to about 3/4 inch in thickness.  Cut rope into 3/4 inch pieces, and with floured hands, roll into oblong gnocchi.  Place on a flour-covered tray.
  4. Bring a pot of water to a low boil.  You don't want the water to boil too hard or these delicate dumplings could disintegrate!  Add about half gnocchi to water.  In a few minutes they will rise to the top; let them boil an additional minute and then remove from pot with a slotted spoon.  Allow them to drain in a stainer for a minute or two.
  5. Simultaneously while boiling gnocchi, bring 1/4 cup butter and 12-16 sages leaves to barely a simmer.  Place gnocchi on a platter or in individual serving bowls and spoon sage butter over gnocchi.  Serve immediately with a dusting of grated parmigiano. 

This second recipe comes from Cucina Italian magazine.  I published it in Casa Fiore #15 ~ June 2005.

Genova and the greater Italian Riviera (located in the northwestern Italian region of Liguria) offer a unique cuisine to satisfy a diverse array of tastes.  Hemmed in between the vast Mediterranean and the mountainous “Entroterra” region, the Ligurian kitchen is dominated by local seafood and fish and fresh vegetables and herbs.  This two part series will feature vegetable and herb pasta dishes, one that is world famous, and another that should be.  I hope you will enjoy these tastes of Genova as much as I do!

1. Place 1.5 LBS. SWISS CHARD, BROCCOLI RAPA, ARUGULA, OR SPINACH (I prefer spinach) in a large skillet over medium heat with a little bit of water.  Cover and cook until wilted.  Drain, roughly chop, and squeeze out some of the excess water without wringing the greens too dry.  Chop very finely by hand and place in a mixing bowl.
3. Add 1 CUP FLOUR and mix until forming a wet dough.
4. With floured hands, pinch off tablespoon-size amounts of the dough and roll gently to form oblong balls. Place on a sheet covered with wax paper until ready to cook.
5. Bring a large, salted pot of water to a boil.  Add the gnocchi.  Cook until they rise to the surface, count to 10, and remove from the water with a slotted spoon.
6. Melt 1/2 STICK (OR MORE) OF BUTTER over low heat.  Add 20 FRESH SAGE LEAVES and cook until soft and fragrant (2-3 minutes). 
7. Gently toss gnocchi with sage-butter.  Dust with plenty of grated PARMIGIANO CHEESE and serve.

22 March 2012

Seatte Real Estate Market Update ~ Best Time for Sellers Since '07

February statistics for both Northwest Multiple Listing Service and Trendgraphix are in and the market continues to fire on all cylinders for sellers.  Ask any Seattle Realtor and she or he will tell you that this is unequivocally the best time for sellers since the peak of the market in the summer of 2007.  All one needs to do is take a quick glance at the graph below.  When the red "pended" line (properties that went under contract in February) turns sharply north towards the rave green (Go Sounders!) "for sale" bar, we can almost see inventory evaporate on the street.  Clues are abundant that sellers are feeling more optimistic:  "flippers" are returning to the market and successfully buying and remodeling homes for profit, new construction is selling in presale before completion, sellers are advertising "offer review" dates when they will sit down and choose a buyer to work with, and offer-makers are completing "preinspections" and then waiving inspection and financing contingencies and offering more than list price to compete for a home.  As the market heats up, buyers are having to recalibrate their expectations.  Accustomed to many years of distress, buyers now must contemplate the very real prospect of having to enter a multiple offer.  All this being said, there is still distress in the market.  Approximately 25% of all single-family homes listed in Seattle on the NWMLS are either bank owned or short sale properties, and condos in town and all properties outside of robust urban and suburban areas like Seattle and Bellevue are not necessarily on this same speedier pace.  Distressed in Seattle, however, does not always mean less sell-able these days, as distressed homes are virtually matching the pace of sale for non-distressed homes (2.3 months of inventory for distressed homes vs 2.1 for non-distressed homes).  Take a look at this example:  as I write, I am involved in a short sale multiple offer (go figure) where 10 offers showed up.  The same home sold quickly but with only an offer or two in hand this past summer, and subsequently fell apart through the rigors of the short sale process.  (Incidentally, this is why median prices for distressed single-family homes in Seattle clocked in at $255K, while non-distressed homes garnered $405K.)  This home very starkly demonstrates how the market has changed in just over half a year.  The take-away is that it's a pretty darn good time to be a seller.  Stay realistic about price and take the extra effort to prepare your home for the market, and good things can come your way.  How long this will last is hard to know, so seize the moment. 

Why are things on such a frenzied pace?  Why is inventory so low?  There's lots of speculation on these topics and lots to discuss.  Give a call sometime and we can grab a coffee, a drink, or a bite and get caught up on Seattle real estate! 

The graphs below represent statistics for all Seattle single-family homes in February and are provided by Trendgraphix.

21 March 2012

Casa Fiore #65: Published, Posted, and in the Mail!

“Fiore, thank you for meeting with me this morning.  Pete said you were an awesome, down-to-earth, honest good guy, and you totally are.  I really appreciate your patience in hearing me out and exploring options with me.  Your insight is so helpful and critical to informing some of the decisions I make.”

—Terri H., Ravenna

This month's offerings include:
  • From the Chef:  Homemade Ricotta!
  • Invitations to Windermere Real Estate Sound Real Estate Investment workshop and "Tempo di Primavera", UW Italian Studies  Programs Spring Scholarship Auction
  • Observations From the Field:  The market is heating up for sellers!
  • Just Sold:  Super Cool Green Lake Contemporary Home
Stay tuned to CasaFioreOnline.com for the web release of selected articles.  Care to join the hundreds who receive the old-fashioned, snail mail version of Casa Fiore at their door step?  Send along your address and let me know!

19 March 2012

You Are Invited! Sound Real Estate Investment in Today's Market

Dear Faithful Readership,

I hope all is well with you and yours!  I want to let you know about an investment property workshop Windermere is hosting that I think will be very good.  In short, it shows the value of purchasing a long-hold rental property in basic terms.  It will spell out very succinctly and clearly the benefits of real estate investment.   The presentation is based on sound and valuable principles, and therefore I wanted to offer it to you.  This workshop is built for those mulling over real estate investment, so I want to invite you or anyone you know who might be interested.  Having seen the growth opportunity in long-term rental properties, I am excited to help those with interest!

Who?       You or anyone you know considering real estate investment.
When?     Thursday, March 29th, 6:30-8:30pm AND other future dates TBD.
Cost?        As my guest, this is a complementary event.  Wine and appetizers served.

Please RSVP to me:
206.355.1919   pignataro@windermere.com

From the Chef ~ Homemade Ricotta

Tired of cakey, dry ricotta that tastes almost nothing like the real thing?  Sick of paying an arm and a leg for anything remotely close to quality ricotta?  Well, have I got the antidote for you!  This is great stuff and easy to make.  I toast bread into crunchy crostini rounds and serve the ricotta on top as a simple appetizer.  For my girls, I mix in a little powdered sugar, vanilla and chopped chocolate chips and have cannoli filling for dessert.  Though technically not true ricotta, you’ll agree that it’s a worthy facsimile.  As always, call if you have any questions!   (Souce:  Seattle Times Pacific Magazine, 5/31/09)

1. Combine 2 quarts whole mile, 2 cups buttermilk, 1 cup heavy cream, and 1/2 tsp. salt in a large pan.  The better the milk, the better the ricotta, but admittedly, I’ve used basic QFC milk and it still turns out nicely.  Heat over medium heat, stirring frequently, until reaching 175°, when milk will begin to curdle.  Set aside for 10 minutes.
2. Using a large slotted spoon, gently lift curds into a cheesecloth-lined colander; scrape any curds left clinging to the bottom and sides of the pan and add them to the colander.  Let drain for about 30 min.
3. Tie up ends of cheesecloth and suspend “bag” of curds from faucet for up to 60 minutes.  I don't like my ricotta too dry, so I let it drain for roughly 20 minutes.  Pack ricotta in a covered container and enjoy for up to a week!