Tuesday, February 8, 2011


Awkward confession: for all the number of times I have uttered the word "piccata!" in my life, I had never actually eaten it until this past weekend.  This is the kind of thing where if you don't know, you probably don't need to... but certainly, it was partly in honor of Beavis and Butthead's imminent return to television that I decided to finally try making some piccata.

Quite different from a lot of eye-talian food we eat in the US, piccata is made with a sauce of lemon, white wine, and capers (yes, I'm still trying to use that damn bottle of wine).  In this particular recipe from LA's Augusta Vegan Bakery, the puckery tartness of the lemon, capers, and wine are balanced out by chewy-crispy mushrooms and by tofu that has been lightly battered and fried.

Wikipedia informs me that whereas "In the United States it is usually served with a starch, such as pasta, polenta, or rice . . . in Italy this is almost never done as veal piccata is a "secondo" (entree) and would be served after the pasta (or other starch) course."  Oh well.  I also drink cappuccinos after 10 am (and made with soy milk, no less!).

Although it's a bit complicated, what's nice about this recipe is that the "meat" isn't really the main thing; you could totally substitute any number of things in place of tofu: chickpeas, tempeh, seitan (but no thanks), fish, chicken.  What's important is the combination of temperatures, tastes, and textures.

I didn't change too much here.  I thought cornstarch might work better than Ener-G egg replacer, so I did that.  Also, Jon's doesn't carry shiitake mushrooms, and the 4 blocks to the Asian markets seemed particularly far, so I used cremini instead.  Actually, it was a little funny how both of the recipes I made for this dinner (the other of which is a mushroom, lentil, and tomato salad) used cremini mushrooms, but they were cut and cooked in different ways, so it didn't seem too redundant.

If--no, when--I make this again, I'll aim for a less sour sauce.  My dinner guest said she liked it just fine, but I thought that the sauce was too lemony, especially when paired with arugula, which is itself pretty bitter.  The more I cook, the more I realize that every dish or every meal is just about balance between yin and yang textures, flavors, colors, and sometimes temperatures.

But really, this seems like a dish that you should do according to your taste and your whims, not following a recipe, and perhaps sampling generously from the wine as you go along.  Next time.

Tofu Picatta with Mushrooms

for the tofu:
2 TB canola oil
1 block extra firm tofu, sliced and pressed
1/2 c water with 1/2 TB cornstarch dissolved in it
1/2 c flour
for the mushrooms:
2 TB Earth Balance 
3 c shiitake mushrooms, sliced (I used cremini out of necessity)
1 TB dry white wine
1 TB lemon juice
pinch salt
for the sauce:
1/2 c dry white wine (or more)
1/2 c vegetable broth (or more)
1/8 tsp salt
1/3 c lemon juice (or less)
2 tsp capers
1 TB Earth Balance
1 TB flour
several cups pasta, cooked
2-3 c arugula
3 TB parsley, chopped

1. You will need two mediumish frying pans, plus a pot for the pasta.  I used a saucier pan for the tofu/sauce instead of a normal fry pan.
2. Heat oil in a frying pan.  Dip tofu slabs in cornstarch liquid, then dredge in flour, and then fry for a few minutes on each side until lightly browned.  Remove from pan and put in oven to keep warm.
3. Deglaze the same pan with the wine and stock.  Reduce heat to low and simmer about 5 minutes.
4. In the second frying pan, melt the earth balance, then fry the mushrooms over medium heat until soft (about 5+ minutes).  Add the wine, lemon juice, and salt, and cook until the liquid is gone.  Then reduce heat to low and continue cooking until mushrooms are chewy and slightly crispy.
5. Meanwhile, finish the sauce.  Add the salt, lemon juice, and capers, then reduce heat to low.  Whisk in the earth balance, then carefully whisk in the flour.  Keep cooking on low until everything is done; thin with water if desired.
6. Adjust seasonings, then serve.  Put things on the plate in this order: greens, pasta, tofu, sauce, mushrooms, parsley.  Serves about 4. 

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