Archive for the ‘Rhode Island’ Category

Butter and cheese. Can anything be better?

It’s especially great when asparagus is in season, growing in my garden, like right now.

This is a great side dish with any main course like a big slab of meat, and has special meaning to me because my cousin first introduced me to asparagus with this recipe when I was just a kid. She passed away many years ago, but I think of her every time I make this simple but delicious dish.

You can use almost any grated “parmesan” cheese, but nothing beats real Parmigiano Reggiano that you freshly grate yourself. Whatever you use, please, just don’t use the junk that comes in a can.

 

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1 lb. fresh asparagus spears
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
sea salt and freshly cracked black pepper

 

 

The easy way to trim an asparagus spear is to grab the thicker end between two fingers and bend it. It will snap at the point where the tough part ends and the softer, edible part begins. I toss the bottoms into my compost pile.

I heat the butter and oil together in a pan and then add the asparagus spears, cooking over medium heat for about 5 minutes, until al dente. (You don’t want them mushy.)

While the asparagus is still in the pan, I sprinkle the Parmigiano Reggiano on top, letting it melt a bit. I season with sea salt (I prefer Fleur de Sel) and freshly cracked black pepper.

 

 

 

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Despite the large Italian community we have here in southern New England, there’s no exceptional pizza to speak of. I suppose you could say “them’s fightin’ words!” but if it’s here, I haven’t found it yet. (Fellini Pizza is about the best in Providence.)

So where is the excellent pizza? New York City, of course. OK…maybe I’m prejudiced because I’m a Brooklyn boy, and worked in a variety of pizzerias in my younger days, but there’s no doubt in my mind that if you want the best pizza–or bagel, for that matter–you’ve got to go to the Big Apple. (Even “Frank Pepe’s” in New Haven, CT is a mere stop on the way to the real deal.)

Pizza in the Big Apple can be confusing, as there are many different varieties to choose from. Brick oven pizzas abound, but there are pizza lovers who won’t settle for anything less than an old-fashioned pizza baked in a coal-fired oven. The extremely high heat of a coal-fired oven cooks the pizza in just a minute, and imparts a crusty, charred flavor you can’t get any other way. There are only about a dozen coal-fired pizzerias left in New York City, and many of them have been around for a hundred years or more, so it’s definitely a matter of making a special trip to enjoy this style of pizza. (Providence now has its own coal-fired pizza, but it just can’t compare.)

There’s plenty of good, basic pizza in New York City, too: the traditional thin, round Neopolitan pie, and the thicker, square Sicilian pie, baked in that Blodgett pizza oven we all knew in our early pizza-making days.

Many years ago, when I heard through the pizza lovers’ grapevine that a “new” pizza was out there, one that was gaining a cult following, I needed to know about it. And more importantly, I needed to taste it!

It’s called Pizza Montanara, and there’s still only a few pizzerias in New York City that serve it. The one I go to without fail is PizzArte, on West 55th, and I have to say it’s the ultimate pizza.

 

Pizza Montanara, sitting next to me in the car, just waiting to be devoured.

 

What makes Pizza Montanara so spectacular, quite simply, is that the dough is fried in oil for 30 seconds, flipped and fried another 30 seconds, before they put the sauce and cheese on it, and then they cook it in a wood burning oven. It is not greasy. The frying process puffs the dough up and creates a beautiful pillow-like softness that I’ve never experienced in a pizza before. Imagine a pizza cloud and you’ve got Pizza Montanara.

Where to get Pizza Montanara.

 

I’ve made Pizza Montanara at home, with limited success. I poured a few inches of olive oil in a large cast iron skillet, stretched my dough into a small pie, and gently floated it into the pan. Using a spatula and tongs, I was able to flip the fried dough over after about 30 seconds, then removed it from the pan after another 30 seconds. It was golden and puffy. I quickly sauced and cheesed it and in the oven it went. But it’s a messy process that doesn’t always come out just right. I need more practice!

 

Frying the pizza dough. I use olive oil for better flavor, but I have to watch the temperature, because the smoking point is low (about 375 for extra virgin olive oil) and burnt oil is not what anybody wants!

 

 

A homemade Pizza Montanara, with buffalo mozzarella and pepperoni.

 

A four-cheese Montanara, with mozzarella, sharp Provolone, Parmiggiano Reggiano, and ricotta…and lots of garlic!

 

Every time I post a photo of Pizza Montanara on Facebook or Instagram, my friends don’t believe that this could possibly be a life-changing pizza experience. It is. After a trip to Manhattan, we’ll devour 3 pizzas on the ride home. Nothing makes New York traffic easier to bear than a Pizza Montanara in the seat next to you!

Pizza Arte also makes one helluva gluten-free pizza.

 

 

I live one town over from Fall River, Massachusetts, and just down the road from New Bedford, Massachusetts, two thriving proud Portuguese communities. In middle school, my daughter had to take mandatory Portuguese language classes. We’ve got dozens of authentic Portuguese restaurants in the area, and even a well-stocked supermarket with its own bacalhau (salt cod) room: Portugalia Marketplace, in Fall River.

So when I first posted my recipe of Portuguese kale soup, I was told by many Portuguese friends that my soup wasn’t authentic so I couldn’t call it that. Fair enough. After all, my soup has far less carbs (no potatoes or pasta), fewer spices, and it uses homemade stock instead of water. It may not be Portuguese, but it’s full of flavor.

 

My version of the classic Portuguese kale soup.

My version of the classic Portuguese kale soup.

 

4 cups home-made chicken or beef stock
4 cups water
1 cup lentils, rinsed in cold water
1 onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, through a press
1 lb. Portuguese chourico, peeled and chopped into small cubes 
1 large bunch organic kale
salt and pepper

Add the stock and water to a large pot. Heat until boiling. Add the lentils.

In a saucepan with a little olive oil or bacon fat, sauté the onions, carrots, celery, and garlic for a few minutes. Add the chopped chourico and sauté a few minutes more. Add the contents of the sauté pan to the pot.

Wash and de-stem the kale, tearing the leaves into smaller pieces. Add the leaves to the pot and stir. The stems go in your compost pile. (You can also use them in a juicer.) Kale is always on the “dirty dozen” list of vegetables with large amounts of pesticides, so I always buy organic.

Cook the soup until the lentils are al dente. Taste and season for salt and pepper before serving.

 

A few years ago, we were invited to a very cool retro summer party: cocktails and appetizers from the 60’s, and everyone contributed to the music by bringing in their favorite songs on vinyl.

We were also asked to contribute to the apps, so I brought waffle chips with clam dip.

 

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2 8-oz. packages cream cheese, softened
3 6-oz. cans of chopped clams, drained, liquid reserved from one can
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Combine all the ingredients, except the clam liquid, in a bowl and mix them well with a fork.

Add 1 tablespoon of the clam liquid and mix well. Keep adding the clam liquid until the dip reaches a consistency you like.

Serve with the potato chips.

 

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Last year, I was having dinner at The Boat House restaurant in Tiverton, RI, with my buddy, Lee, who lives in Maine half the year, and we started talking about what makes the perfect lobster roll.

Often, when you go to a restaurant and order one, they’ll first ask if you want it cold with mayonnaise or warm with butter. (A warm lobster roll with melted butter, we were told by our bartender, Cayce, is called “Connecticut style.”) The three of us discussed the mayonnaise-to-lobster ratio, and other significant factors. The final conclusion was that everyone likes their lobster roll a little differently.

It’s certainly easy to go to a clam shack or seafood restaurant to get one, but nothing beats making one yourself.

 

The lobster roll at The Back Eddy in Westport, Massachusetts. Delicious and fresh. But it breaks one of my cardinal rules about lobster rolls. (Go to the bottom of the page.)

When I make my own lobster rolls, freshness is key. I always start with live lobsters. I get them from the Sakonnet Lobster Company on Sakonnet Point in Little Compton, RI.

 

Once you’ve bought your live lobster, the next step is to cook it right. Some people steam and some people boil. I’ve always been a boiler myself. I fill a large pot half-way with water and add sea salt. I bring it to a rolling boil before the lobsters go in. And then I do the math…

I boil my lobsters for 10 minutes for the first pound. I add 3 minutes per pound for each additional pound thereafter. For example, a 2-pound lobster should boil for 13 minutes and a 1 1/2-pound lobster should boil for 11 1/2 minutes. And if I’m boiling more than one lobster, the same rule applies: 3 2-lb. lobsters = 6 pounds. So 10 minutes for the first pound, plus 3 minutes x 5 for each extra pound (that’s 15) for a total of 25 minutes. (These times are for hard shell lobsters. I reduce the boiling time by 3 minutes if I’m cooking soft-shell lobsters.)

Remember, you’re going by total weight of all the lobsters, because the more you have, the longer it takes the water to return to the boil once you put them in.

 

Lobster catch LTL

 

A larger lobster is not always better. My uncle used to buy the largest lobster he could find, and it was impressive when he placed at the center of the dinner table. But the meat was like rubber. And personally, I felt bad for the old lobster that made it that far in life. His last days should’ve been in the ocean, not on a plate.

My maximum lobster size is 2 lbs. But at 1 1/2 pounds, you have the perfect ratio of meat-to-shell…with lots of delicious meat that is still sweet and tender. It’s perfect.

After the lobsters have been removed from the pot and have cooled for a few minutes, I get to work: cracking the claws and tail and removing every bit of beautiful meat I can find. Lobster lovers will tell you that the legs have some meat in them and that the tomalley (the green liver and pancreas) and roe (eggs) are delicacies not to be missed. For the purpose of making lobster salad, I don’t use these parts. But I do save the tomalley and roe for a separate treat…and I save all the legs and cleaned empty shells for lobster stock.

Cleaning lobster legs is easy: simply remove all the legs from the body and place them flat on a cutting board. Grab a rolling pin, and one at a time, roll the pin over the lobster legs, starting at the claw end and working your way up. Like a tube of toothpaste, the meat will squeeze right out of the leg!

 

Lobster roll LTL

 

Now for the important stuff. What goes in a lobster roll, and more importantly, what doesn’t… I have very strong opinions in this matter.

First, there should NEVER be anything green in a lobster roll! No celery, no pickle, and it certainly shouldn’t be sitting on a bed of lettuce! Nothing should be crunchy in a lobster roll! The magic is in the texture of the perfectly cooked lobster meat. Don’t mess with it!

NO paprika or Old Bay seasoning!

A pinch of celery salt? Yes!

Mayonnaise? Only Hellman’s!

White pepper, not black, and just a touch.

Salt? A pinch of Fleur de Sel or other fine finishing salt.

And the secret weapon to bring out all the flavors: the tiniest squeeze of fresh lemon juice…not enough to give it lemon flavor…just to brighten the taste.

As for the roll, you can’t go wrong with Martin’s potato long rolls: soft and squishy straight out of the bag, or to take a page from the Connecticut-style lobster roll lovers: lightly grill the rolls and brush them with a little melted butter!

 

I recently returned from a trip to New Orleans, where I had oysters every which way: Bienville, Rockefeller, char-grilled, baked, and, of course, raw. But here in New England, we’re pretty proud of our oysters, and Rhode Island alone, we’ve got a wide variety to choose from. And we don’t just buy ’em and slurp ’em down: we go out and dig our own…and we have a different buck-a-shuck oyster bar to go to for any given day of the week.

 

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Fresh oysters deserve an amazing cocktail sauce, and my recipe kicks butt: lots of horseradish, lots of flavor, and a secret ingredient: vodka. Not only does it give it a kick, it keeps it from freezing solid, so I can keep the cocktail sauce in the freezer until I need it. Then, I just scoop it out like sorbet.

2 cups ketchup
4 tablespoons prepared horseradish
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/2 teaspoon Frank’s Red Hot, or other hot pepper sauce
5 grinds of fresh black pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon good quality vodka, like Tito’s

Combine all the ingredients. Store in a tight plastic container in the freezer.

 

Fresh shucked oysters with pickled red onion ice.

Freshly shucked oysters with pickled red onion ice.

 

When I’m in Portland, Maine, I visit one of the best oyster bars in the country: Eventide. Besides some wickedly creative dishes, they consistently have a fantastic variety of fresh oysters to choose from. And they offer a variety of “accoutrements” to go with them: anything from a red wine mignonette to kimchee ice. My favorite is the pickled red onion ice. All you need is a shot glass with a freshly shucked oyster inside, a half-shot of chilled vodka on top, and some pickled red onion ice, and you’ve got the best oyster shooter on planet Earth. I even suggested the shooter to the manager at Eventide. It has yet to make it to the menu. (But I remain hopeful!)

 

An oyster shooter with pickled red onion shaved ice. Bottoms up!

An oyster shooter with pickled red onion ice. Bottoms up!

 

I’ve managed to come up with a pretty good version of the pickled red onion ice at home, and I serve it alongside my cocktail sauce.

2 large red onions
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar

 

Peel and quarter the onions. Drop them in a medium-sized pot and cover with about a quart of water. Bring it to a boil and cook it down until it has reduced to a cup of concentrated onion water after straining.

Bring the strained onion water back to the stove, and on medium heat, add the sugar and vinegar, stirring. When the sugar dissolves, remove it from the heat and let it cool to room temperature before pouring it into a container and placing it in the freezer.

When it’s time to eat oysters, remove the block of red onion ice from its container, and, using a fine cheese grater, shave the ice over the top of the freshly shucked oysters and devour immediately! (It melts quickly.)

 

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Despite almost universal opposition to the cruel way calves are treated, the Humane Society says the veal industry shows little signs of changing. That’s why many people simply refuse to eat veal. I was one of them.

The veal industry is a by-product of the dairy industry. To get the dairy cows to produce milk, they are impregnated every year. Half of their offspring are male, no use to the dairy business, and those are the calves that become veal.

I said I was one of the people who didn’t eat veal. What changed was my source. A few years ago, Sweet and Salty Farm (www.sweetandsaltyfarm.com), a dairy farm down the road from me in Little Compton, Rhode Island, began selling their own line of yogurt and cheese. And like most dairies, when calves are born, they have no use for the males. But rather than taking them away from their mothers and caging them for their short lives, they allow the calves to stay with their moms, nursing for up to four months before weaning. Then they graze in the fields by their mothers’ side, living a stress-free life. And when the time finally comes, they are dispatched humanely.

The result is incredible grass-fed veal I don’t feel guilty about eating: a rich, red in color…nothing like beef and a far better option than conventional veal. I also buy the veal bones from the farm to make a rich, flavorful veal stock, roasting the bones on a baking sheet with onions, carrots and celery…then moving them all to a large pot of water that cooks for 24 hours.

Traditionally, veal saltimbocca consists of veal medallions rolled with prosciutto and sage leaves. Often it is served with a marsala sauce. I got rid of the marsala–too sweet–and substituted a chardonnay. I added fontina cheese. And a guest’s aversion to spinach gave me the option to use kale…with bacon, of course!

By the way, if you’re not lucky enough to have a farm that humanely raises veal (or you’re still queasy about veal in general), this recipe works with chicken breasts, too.

 

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1 1/2 lbs. grass-fed veal, pounded thin and cut into medallions about 3″ around
1/2 lb. prosciutto, sliced paper-thin
1/2 lb. fontina cheese, sliced thin
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
olive oil
butter
2 cups veal stock
1 cup un-oaked white wine (I like to cook with Alice White chardonnay)
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage
1/2 yellow onion, finely chopped
12 oz. baby portobello mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 lb. spaghetti
2 bunches organic kale
3 strips cooked bacon, finely chopped

Place the veal cutlets on a cutting board between a few layers of plastic wrap. Pound the cutlets to about 1/8″ thickness. Cut them into pieces about 3″ around, which will make them easier to handle.

Place the flour in a bowl and add the teaspoon of salt and 1/2 teaspoon of pepper. Mix well.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and butter in a pan. Drop the veal medallions in the flour and coat both sides of the meat, shaking off any excess. Carefully lay the veal in the pan and cook the veal until it’s just barely browned. You don’t want to cook it all the way through. When the medallions have cooked, place them on a baking sheet. Cook the medallions in batches, adding more olive oil or butter to the pan if needed.

When you’ve cooked all the medallions, use the same pan to sauté the onion until translucent. Add the mushrooms and cook them down. (You can add a little of the veal stock to help the mushrooms release their liquid.) Add the rest of the veal stock, wine and sage. Cook over medium heat until it’s reduced by half. If the sauce looks a bit thin, make a quick roux in a separate pan by heating equal parts melted butter and flour until it forms a paste. Stir this paste into the sauce, making sure there are no lumps. Set the sauce aside.

Back to the veal medallions: place a piece of prosciutto on top of each medallion, and then a slice of fontina on top of that. Keep the baking sheet with the medallions in a warm (150 degree) oven.

Boil the spaghetti in well-salted water until al dente. Strain and toss in a bowl with unsalted butter. Season with a bit more salt.

Hand-tear the kale and remove all the tough, woody stems. Wash the kale thoroughly in cold water, making sure you get all the dirt and sand that can be caught in its leaves. Heat some olive oil (and bacon fat, if you have it!) in a pan, and toss in the chopped bacon, just to warm the bits up. Working in batches, place a handful of kale in the pan, and when it wilts down a bit, place another handful in, and so on until you’ve got all the kale in. Season with salt and pepper, and keep tossing the kale until it has wilted to its desired doneness. (I like it to still have a bit of a crunch.)

When you’re ready to serve, turn the oven on broil and place the baking sheet with the veal medallions on the top rack. You want the cheese to melt, but you don’t want it to burn, so keep an eye on it!

Serve a few medallions on the plate, with spaghetti, kale and sauce on the side.

I’ve had Clams Casino in many different forms. Back when I worked in Italian restaurants in New York, we would make a breadcrumb mixture, press it onto a freshly opened whole clam, and then place a small piece of bacon on top before it went into the oven. It was good, but the clam often stuck to the shell, and many people didn’t want to gulp down a whole clam like that.

Oyster knife (left) and a clam knife (right.) Different tools for different jobs.

When it was time for me to make my own recipe, I decided that I would chop the clams and mix them into the breadcrumb mix, so that every bite was the same.

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/3 cup finely chopped Vidalia or other sweet onion (about a 1/2 an onion)
2 garlic cloves, squeezed through a garlic press
1/3 cup dry white wine
1/3 cup unflavored bread crumbs
1 tablespoon fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
Freshly cracked black pepper
2 dozen medium neck clams
1/3 lb. bacon, cut in small squares to fit the clam shells
Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium heat. Add the onions, and sauté them until they’re translucent. Add the garlic, and cook for 10 seconds. Add the wine and simmer for a minute. Add the bread crumbs, and stir the mixture until it becomes thicker, like a paste. Add the parsley and oregano. Season with pepper. (There’s going to be plenty of salt in the clam juice and bacon, so no salt is needed.)

The bread crumb mixture.

Remove the pan from the heat and let it cool.
It’s time to open the clams. If you know how to do that, open them over a sieve with a bowl underneath so that the clam meats and juices are captured. Discard any broken shells, but save the good ones.
If you struggle with opening clams, this method makes it a little easier: Bring a large pot of water to boil, and drop the clams into it, about 10 at a time, for 30 seconds. Don’t let them open! Remove the clams with a slotted spoon and place them in a bowl to cool. Continue doing this in small batches until all the clams have been in the water. You’ll find this makes opening the clams much easier. Then proceed as above.
Once you’ve shucked all the clams, let the clam juice sit for a bit, so that any grit settles to the bottom of the bowl. Then pour off the clean clam juice and add it to your bread crumb mixture. (Don’t worry if it looks soggy at this point.)

Looking a little soggy, but that’s OK.

I like to hand chop the clam meats instead of using a food processor. You want tasty clam chunks, not too big but not mush. Add the clams to the the bread crumb mix.
At this point, if the clam mix looks very soggy, simply add a little more bread crumb to dry it out.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Line a large baking sheet with foil. Separate the clam shell halves and wash them, making sure you don’t have any shell fragments left in the clam shell.  Fill them with the clam mixture, mounding them slightly, and placing each one on the baking sheet.

Clams and bacon…delicious!

Cut the bacon in small squares to fit the clam shells. Place a small piece of raw bacon on the top of each clam.
Bake until the clams are just cooked through, the topping is golden, and the bacon is cooked, about 30 minutes.

This makes a great appetizer, but it’s hard to just eat a few!

The definition of a consomme is: “a clear soup made with concentrated stock.” I might add “mind-blowing” to that sentence, especially with this recipe. The key to success– and this is crucial–is to use absolutely garden-fresh, in-season ingredients. If you try this with greenhouse or supermarket tomatoes, you’re just wasting your time.

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4 1/2 lbs. of fresh garden tomatoes (my favorite is the heirloom: Brandywine)
1 large bunch of fresh basil, leaves and stems
1 2-inch piece of fresh horseradish, peeled
1 clove of garlic, peeled
1 tablespoon white wine vinegar (I use Alessi)
2 oz. vodka (I use Tito’s)
sea salt and pepper

Remove the core of the tomatoes, but leave everything else, including seeds and skin.

Put all the tomatoes, basil, horseradish, garlic, vinegar and vodka in a blender or food processor. You might need to do this in batches if your equipment can’t handle it all.

Process until you get a kind of slush.

Line a mixing bowl with a double layer of cheesecloth and pour the tomato slush mixture into it. Gather up the corners of the cheesecloth carefully, and tie them securely so you can lift the bundle up by the knot. Hang the bundle from a hook over a clean bowl in the fridge so that it catches the liquid that drips out, and leave the whole thing in there overnight. The liquid that drips out will be clear.

Cheesecloth bundle dripping overnight in the fridge.

Cheesecloth bundle dripping overnight in the fridge.

To serve, chill bowls (or in this case: the sipping glasses) in the fridge. When you’re ready to serve, ladle out the consomme and garnish each with a tiny basil leaf. A drop of excellent quality olive oil is optional.

Synthetic cheesecloth apparatus. The real thing works better.

Synthetic cheesecloth apparatus. The real thing works better.

I tried using a synthetic cheesecloth for this recipe, and I found that it doesn’t filter out enough of the solids to make a clear consomme. You could use it along with real cheesecloth, just to use the stand, or just hang it all in real cheesecloth, as described in this recipe.

It seems like the popularity of shishito peppers has exploded overnight. Once a rare treat that I could only get on the menu at one of my favorite Boston restaurants, Toro, now they’re everywhere: farmers markets, bistro and pub menus, and of course…my own garden!

Shishito peppers are mostly mild…but you can get hold of a spicy one every 10 peppers or so…kind of a Russian pepper roulette!

Shishitos straight from the garden!

Shishitos are incredibly easy to grow…just like any other pepper. They love a full day’s worth of sun, and lots of fertilizer. If you have success growing tomatoes, shishitos should be on your list. Plus, they’re really quite prolific: it’s not uncommon to find a couple dozen peppers growing on each plant!

Shishitos are also easy to prepare, and take just minutes. Ideally, if you’ve already got a charcoal grill going, you’re almost there. Simply place the shishitos in a bowl and drizzle in a little olive oil. Toss the peppers to coat, and place them directly on the ashed-over coals of the fire. Work quickly turning them over with tongs. You want them to blister, but you don’t want them to burn! They’ll pop, deflate, and get soft. That’s when they’re ready. Simply place them on a serving plate, and sprinkle some really good sea salt (I like Fleur de Sel) over them while they’re still hot.

If you don’t have the time for a charcoal grill, you can still prepare delicious shishitos by placing them in a pan. Sprinkle in a little olive oil, and toss them around to coat them. Turn the burner on high, and cook the shishitos until they’re blistered, but not burned. Cook them on all sides, carefully flipping them over with tongs. Like on the charcoal, they will pop, deflate and get soft. Transfer them to a serving plate and sprinkle immediately with salt.

To enjoy shishitos, you simply grab them by the stem and bite!