Michael Scelfo and his wife, Ellen, toast the season with their friends. (Photos by Kristin Teig / Food Styling by Molly Schuster)
Chef Michael Scelfo spends approximately 60 hours a week in the kitchen at Harvard Square’s Russell House Tavern, but his favorite place to cook is actually inside his 113-year-old Holliston house. “It’s so peaceful,” he says. “I’m home, I’m comfortable, and the music is just the way I want it.”
Scelfo, who will leave Russell House to open his first solo restaurant later this year, redesigned his 700-square-foot home kitchen in 2010, creating an unusually wide layout (7.5 feet between the stove and opposite counter) for maximum fluidity. “The large, open format has a circular flow to it, with an oversize island in the middle,” he says. “It allows me to cook and socialize at the same time.” Given how much Scelfo and his wife, Ellen—a buyer and manager for the KGirl and Kenzie Kids boutiques in Chestnut Hill—love to entertain, this was a crucial aspect of the remodel. “You do want to be able to hang out with your guests,” he says.
Scelfo also incorporated luxe touches like a custom cobalt-blue BlueStar range, white Carrera-marble countertops, and a computer workstation with a 27-inch monitor, used mostly for cataloging recipes. To warm things up, he added shelving and accents made of salvaged wood.
When the weather is balmy, Scelfo moves things outside, where he likes to grill on the patio. Ahead, with help from friends Josh Childs (of Trina’s Starlite Lounge and Silvertone) and TJ and Hadley Douglas (of the Urban Grape), he shows us how to throw a spring-themed fete full of fresh ingredients and bold flavors.
THE MENU (serves 8)
• Crushed pea, mint, and mascarpone crostini with shaved radish salad
• Braised short ribs with ginger-and-lime shrub
• Whole grilled black bass with spicy lime sauce and green-curry aioli
• Pickled spring vegetables with toasted barley and chanterelles
• Ellen’s strawberry-and-basil buckle with black-pepper ice cream
• TJ and Hadley Douglas’s “The Wandering Poet” cocktail
“When you come into our home, I want you to feel like it’s a good place with solid human beings,” Scelfo says. “There’s an honesty that’s clean and simple, and that’s the approach I take to my food.”
CRUSHED PEA, MINT, AND MASCARPONE CROSTINI WITH SHAVED RADISH SALAD
Creamy and bright, this spread works with either fresh or frozen peas.
Pea-purée-topped crostini are a light yet satisfying starter.
3 c. blanched and chilled peas
Juice of 2 lemons
1 c. mascarpone
1/2 c. Greek yogurt
10 mint leaves
1 1/2 tbsp. chives
1 tbsp. red-pepper flakes
2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
1 loaf of rustic country bread, sliced
1 clove of garlic, peeled
1 handful of raw radishes, shaved
Place the peas, oil, lemon juice, yogurt, mascarpone, chives, and mint in a food processor, and blitz for a couple of seconds, until it’s nearly smooth but still has some texture. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Toast the bread slices until lightly browned, and rub with the clove of garlic. Toss the shaved radish slices with good sea salt (like Maldon), the pepper flakes, and olive oil. Arrange the bread slices around the purée, and finish off the platter with a handful of the radish salad on the side.
A bowl of fresh radishes.
BRAISED SHORT RIBS WITH GINGER-AND-LIME SHRUB
Short ribs get a sprinkle of sea salt and coarse ground black pepper before they’re served.
The Short Ribs
Scelfo prefers to finish off his ribs in a smoker. Don’t own one? Simply bake your ribs in the oven. The chef uses zinfandel in his braising liquid—if you don’t have any on hand, go with “any red wine you’d be happy to drink,” he says.
5 lbs. boneless beef short ribs, cut crosswise into 2-inch pieces
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tbsp. vegetable oil
3 medium onions, chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
3 tbsp. all-purpose flour
1 tbsp. tomato paste
1 bottle of zinfandel (750 ml.)
10 sprigs flat-leaf parsley
8 sprigs thyme
2 sprigs rosemary
4 fresh or dried bay leaves
1 head of garlic, halved crosswise
4 c. low-salt beef stock
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Season short ribs with salt and pepper. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Working in two batches, brown short ribs on all sides (about eight minutes per batch). Transfer short ribs to a plate. Pour off and discard all but 3 tablespoons of drippings from the pot. Add onions, carrots, and celery to the pot and cook over medium-high heat. Stir often, until onions are browned (about five minutes). Add flour and tomato paste; cook, stirring constantly, until well combined and deep red (about two to three minutes). Stir in wine, then add short ribs with any accumulated juices from the plate. Bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium and simmer until wine is reduced by half (about 25 minutes). Add all herbs to the pot along with the garlic. Stir in the beef stock. Bring to a boil, cover, and transfer to the oven. Cook the mixture in the oven until the short ribs are tender (about two hours). Transfer short ribs to a platter. Strain the sauce from the pot into a glass measuring cup. Skim the fat from the surface of the sauce and discard. Season the sauce to taste with salt and pepper. Chill.
The Ginger-and-Lime Shrub
This tangy, herbaceous syrup is fantastic drizzled on short ribs or mixed into gin- or vodka-based cocktails. Makes 2 1/2 cups of syrup.
2 c. apple-cider vinegar
2 c. sugar
4 tbsp. finely minced ginger
2 limes, halved
1 c. mixed mint, basil, and thyme
Fresh mint sprigs for garnish (optional)
Combine cider vinegar, sugar, ginger, and limes in a large pot, and bring to a boil. Add herbs, reduce heat to low, and simmer for five to seven minutes. Allow mixture to cool, then chill. Pour mixture into a fine strainer and let drain, pressing to extract all liquid. Reserve solids for future use. Transfer syrup to a covered jar, and refrigerate until ready to use. If you have a smoker, heat your smoker to 80 degrees and fill with chips. (Scelfo uses hickory, but other varieties, like mesquite, alder, and cherry, will work.) Place the short ribs in the smoker, and brush every 15 minutes with the ginger-and-lime shrub for about an hour and a half. If you don’t have a smoker, use the oven, still at 350 degrees. Cook the ribs for an additional hour and a half in the oven, brushing with the shrub mixture every 15 minutes. To plate, reheat the short-rib sauce until it’s been reduced by about half. Place the short ribs on a platter, and drizzle with sauce. Garnish with fresh mint.
Ginger and lime anchor the glaze for the braised short ribs.
WHOLE GRILLED BLACK BASS WITH SPICY LIME SAUCE AND GREEN-CURRY AIOLI
Scelfo uses black bass here, but this recipe will work with any whole fish—as long as it has a firm flesh that will stand up to the grill. Your fishmonger can remove the scales, guts, and gills—and you can ask to have the fins clipped, too.
Whole black bass with spicy lime sauce and green-curry aioli.
The Black Bass
1 (2 1/2 lb.) whole black bass, scaled, gutted, and gills removed
Extra-virgin olive oil
8 lime slices
2 fresh bay leaves
2 oz. white wine (any kind you’d drink)
4 cloves of garlic, smashed
Preheat grill to high. Make three diagonal slices about a half-inch deep on each side of the fish. Salt the fish and coat it generously with olive oil. Season the inside of the fish with salt and olive oil. Place lime slices and garlic inside the cavity. Line a sheet tray with aluminum foil, and lay the fish on top. Fold the aluminum foil up around the sides of the fish to create a sort of baking dish. Add a splash of the white wine and place on the preheated grill. Cook with the lid down until the fish is just cooked through (about 30 to 35 minutes). Remove from the grill and present with the aioli and lime sauce on the side.
Juice and zest of one lime
1 medium clove of garlic, minced
1/2 to 1 tsp. green-curry paste (such as the Mae Ploy brand)
1/2 c. coarsely chopped cilantro leaves
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 egg yolk
1 1/3 c. canola or another mild-flavored oil
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the lime juice, lime zest, garlic, curry paste, cilantro, salt, and egg yolk, and mix until smooth and uniform. With the motor running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream. Process until smooth and thickened. Taste, and adjust curry paste and salt as necessary. Transfer to a bowl, cover tightly, and refrigerate for at least one hour, and up to two days, before serving.
Spicy Lime Sauce
10 limes, segments removed and transferred to a bowl
1 tbsp. red-pepper flakes
3 tbsp. good-quality extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine ingredients in a bowl, and set aside.
Grilled whole fish is an elegant main course that’s deceptively easy to prepare.
PICKLED SPRING VEGETABLES WITH TOASTED BARLEY AND CHANTERELLES
“Once you know how to pickle something, and you know a good recipe, you can start experimenting and pickling whatever you want,” Scelfo says. As the season progresses, try this recipe with produce like watermelon rinds, peaches, and cherry tomatoes. The pickles will keep in the fridge indefinitely.
Jars of pickled fennel, radishes, and shallots.
Pickled Spring Vegetables
1 c. thinly sliced fennel (about 2 medium-size bulbs)
1 c. thinly sliced radishes (about 1 bunch)
1/2 c. thinly sliced shallots
2 tbsp. ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
4 cloves of garlic, whole
1 c. seasoned rice vinegar
1 large slice of orange peel
1 tsp. whole black peppercorns
3 tbsp. whole star anise
1/4 c. lime juice
3/4 tsp. kosher salt
Fill a clean quart-size jar with the fennel, radishes, shallots, ginger, garlic, star anise, and orange peel. Pour in the rice vinegar, lime juice, salt, and peppercorns. Cover and shake to unify the mixture. Place the jar in the refrigerator, and let sit for one hour or more. Store in the refrigerator.
Toasted Barley and Chanterelles
1 tbsp. olive oil
2 c. pearl barley, rinsed
2 shallots, minced
2 tbsp. thyme leaves
1/2 lb. chanterelle mushrooms (or other wild mushrooms—even creminis will work)
4 c. chicken or vegetable stock
3/4 tsp. salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
In a heavy medium saucepan, heat oil over medium heat. Add barley and cook, stirring frequently, for 10 minutes, until the barley starts to brown and gives off a nutty aroma. Add shallots, and cook for two minutes. Add mushrooms, and cook until soft (two to three minutes). Add stock and salt. Bring to a boil, then turn down heat until it’s barely simmering. Cover and cook for 45 minutes, or until liquid is absorbed. Stir well, and season with fresh thyme, pepper, and more salt, if needed. Fold in a handful of pickled vegetables. (Option: Fold in a tablespoon or so of pickling liquid as well.) Serve immediately.
ELLEN’S STRAWBERRY-AND-BASIL BUCKLE WITH BLACK-PEPPER ICE CREAM
This sweet-savory cake can be modified with a variety of fruits and herbs as the seasons change.
Ellen Scelfo’s strawberry-and-basil buckle with black-pepper ice cream.
3/4 c. white sugar
1/4 c. shortening
1/2 c. milk
2 c. all-purpose flour
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
2 c. fresh strawberries, finely chopped
1 c. chopped fresh basil
1/2 c. white sugar
1/3 c. all-purpose flour
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/4 c. butter, softened
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease an 8-by-8-inch baking pan. Cream together the 3/4 cup sugar, shortening, and egg. In a separate bowl, mix together 2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt. Stir into sugar mixture, alternating with milk. Stir in strawberries and basil, and mix by hand. Pour into the baking pan. For the topping, combine the remaining sugar, flour, cinnamon, and butter, and distribute over the top of the cake batter. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes.
Black-Pepper Ice Cream
The black pepper in this ice cream enhances the sweetness of the strawberries in the buckle.
1 1/2 c. whole milk
1 1/8 c. granulated sugar
3 c. heavy cream
1 1/2 tbsp. pure vanilla extract
1 1/2 tbsp. fresh cracked pepper
In a medium mixing bowl, combine milk and sugar until the sugar is dissolved. Stir in the heavy cream and vanilla. Chill the mixture in the refrigerator overnight. Pour the mixture into the freezer bowl of an ice cream maker and season with black pepper. Mix for 20 to 25 minutes for a soft, creamy texture. Chill in the freezer for about two hours.
“THE WANDERING POET” (FROM THE URBAN GRAPE’S TJ AND HADLEY DOUGLAS)
Keep all of the ingredients (except the bitters) chilled before use. For a garnish, Hadley Douglas recommends a simple lemon twist. Serves one.
1 1/2 oz. Lillet Rose
1/2 oz. Damrak gin
2 oz. moscato (Hadley recommends Innocent Bystander, available at the Urban Grape)
4 dashes rhubarb bitters (such as Fee Brothers, available at the Boston Shaker)
Splash of lemon juice
Pour moscato into a champagne flute, and top with the Lillet and gin. Finish with the bitters, lemon juice, and a lemon twist.
Ellen Scelfo, an avid baker, serves up her famous dessert, strawberry-and-basil buckle with black-pepper ice cream.
Ellen Scelfo (right) catches up with her guests over dessert.
Scelfo and his friends enjoy after-dinner whiskey.
During the warmer months, the Scelfos often grill outdoors.
Scelfo in his home kitchen.
A drawing by the Scelfos’ children hangs in the kitchen.
A cheese grater that’s been in Scelfo’s family for multiple generations.
Scelfo used salvaged wood as shelving in the kitchen.
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