a bowl of beans

fava

There may be more written about Italian food than any other cuisine on earth. For this reason it is intimidating to write about one’s food experiences in Italy. Nonetheless, I just returned from Rome and also a village in Perugia called Montefalco, and about this I must write.

fennel scraps

One of our first meals in Rome wasn’t even in Rome. It was at the cafeteria at Ostia Antica, on a Sunday at noon, when we were suddenly ravening and miles away from anything else to eat. Ostia Antica is an abandoned Roman port city right outside of Rome. Unearthed in the late 19th century, it is hauntingly beautiful, elegant, and organized. So different from the hot chaos of the Roman streets, here weeds grew quietly up between the ancient paving stones, and ancient tablets marked graves and directions. The city had been immense, Rome’s first colony, when it found it needed a port. Imagine the chaos of boats, bringing hundreds of African animals each day, bound for death in the Colosseum. Other boats carried wheat from Egypt, and slaves. People lived on top of people. You can see the remains of enormous apartment buildings. At several points I thought, just the trash from the amount of food consumed in the city itself—it must have been daunting.

The place was more or less devoid of tourists, except for a gaggle of German high-schoolers who were clearly Latin students traveling with their teachers. It was a brilliantly sunny, cloudless April day, and hunger struck us quickly. As miserable as cafeterias at a tourist site can be, we dutifully trouped in to find something to eat. The format was tavola calda, meaning there were dishes piled with warm items to one side, and dishes piled with cold items to another. The food looked good.

carciofi

I selected a number of salads, including one of borlotti beans: celery, celery leaves, carrots, all doused in olive oil, perfectly salted. We sat outside in the chilly sunshine with our dishes, scooping up bites of frittata, or cheese, or beans. Clearly, I thought, there is a conjurer in the kitchen, cooking up an insurrection in this a cafeteria.

Every meal was wonderful, even sandwiches from a cart in the park. Eventually we did find a real conjurer, at an enoteca in Montefalco called l’Alchimista. It is almost tragic that this restaurant is so hard to find, perched in this little town made entirely of rock. It is absurd how good it is to consume the layers of crepes, besciamella, and mushrooms they call “lasagne,” and it is almost silly how you begin to covet each remaining bite of grilled quail, or beef.

giant meringues indeed

Since I returned, I’ve begun to replicate my favorites modestly, beginning with that bean salad. I cook a pound of Rancho Gordo borlottis, or Ojo de Cabra, or cranberry beans at the beginning of the week. Then each night I scoop some out and make a new salad. Cafeteria food.

A bowl of beans

  • 3 cups drained and rinsed cooked or canned beans (Borlottis, cranberry beans, or Ojo de Cabra work well)
  • 1 carrot, peeled and then sliced thinly with a mandoline or vegetable peeler
  • 1 stalk celery, strings removed, finely chopped, leaves included
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley (if you have it)
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon of fleur de sel or Maldon sea salt (much less if using table salt)
  • freshly cracked pepper

1. Select a bowl that will hold all of the ingredients. Mix together all ingredients except for salt and pepper. Mix well. Taste and add fleur de sel or Maldon sea salt, and cracked pepper, as you feel necessary. Finish with another drizzle of olive oil. Serve at room temperature.

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under recipes

candied tomato + ricotta crostini

crostini

There is a sort-of-good reason my posting has been sluggish the last two weeks; I’ve been in Italy with my sister. First we were in Rome for a week, and then out in Perugia, visiting a remote enough village called Montefalco. Italian food and wine—and the gorgeous, sunny, bright, 70-degree days—they make you a step slow. In a good way.

I made these crostini before I left; I was probably already thinking about Italy. In northern Italian cuisine, at least, there are as many ways to transform dry and stale bread as there are moments in time. During our journey, we had many dishes of bread soaked in bean broth, or smeared with some kind of meat, or heaped with brothy greens. All delicious. These are easy finger food for a party—nice and compact and simple to pick up and eat. Most of the crostini I’ve encountered in Italy are actually soaked in broth, which makes them decidedly not finger food.

candied

When I created these, I needed a huge batch, so I give large party-sized proportions below. But you can just as easily grab a 12-ounce container of sweet cherry or grape tomatoes and make these on a smaller scale. Fresh marjoram is hard to find—but it’s wonderful. If you can’t find it, I think a much smaller number of sprigs (maybe 2 or 3) of fresh thyme would do. And do take the time to locate a nice, strained, creamy, fine-grained ricotta, or make your own, or simply line a sieve with cheesecloth and drain the regular store-bought kind by weighting it down over the sink for an hour or overnight in the refrigerator.

Few sights will perk up your kitchen faster than a giant pan of these incredible tomatoes simmering away on the stove. You’ll find more uses for them than just crostini. I originally got this idea, in fact, from this stunning recipe I found on Food52 a year or two ago. More cooking discoveries from Italy over the next few weeks. I’ve already made versions of two new dishes that will soon enough make it to these pages. Until then, ciao!

cooking away

Candied tomato + ricotta crostini

Makes about 50 crostini; enough to feed a number of people as part of a cocktail party menu. You can cut the recipe by one-third for a much smaller number.

A lazy woman’s version of this fantastic recipe from Food52.

  • 36 ounces cherry and grape tomatoes, mixed colors
  •  3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3/4 sweet vermouth
  • 1/2 cup light brown sugar
  • 10 sprigs fresh marjoram
  • Maldon salt
  • 3 cups fresh, strained ricotta
  • 1 or 2 baguettes, sliced about 1/4-inch thick (depends how long the baguettes are)

1. In a very large nonstick skillet, warm tomatoes and olive oil together. Cook at medium-high heat until tomatoes are all burst. Pour in the vermouth after taking the pan off of the heat. Crumble in the brown sugar and return pan to burner, set to medium. Throw in marjoram sprigs. Simmer until dark, thick, and syrupy. This may take 20 to 30 minutes. It depends on the amount of moisture in the a tomatoes. Let mixture cool for about 30 minutes.

2. Preheat oven to 350 F. Place baguette slices cheek by jowl on baking sheets and toast for about 15 minutes. Set aside.

3. Thickly spread a dollop of ricotta on about half of crostini. Then top each with a spoonful of candied tomatoes. Sprinkle with Maldon salt to taste. Discard marjoram stems as you go. Continue covering crostini with ricotta and candied tomatoes until mixture is used up; you may have bread left over, depending on how big your baguettes were. Serve at room temperature.

Leave a Comment

Filed under recipes

orange + avocado salad

salad forever

I learned this salad about halfway through my college years. I lived in Cabot House at Harvard, where the residential quarters are divided into 12 houses, each with a professor in charge, and a number of graduate students and other scholars kicking around to keep an eye on the undergraduates. The professor in charge of our house was a faculty member who had a remarkable wife, a phenomenal cook, a brilliant host, and a lively spirit.

Though I had grown up in a house where we fed every soul who walked through the door, Emanuela taught me a lot about the military-drill precision involved in preparing for entertaining. While she had a genius for flavors, textures, and more than anything, technique, she also innately understood when things had to be ready and how to get them ready. Just as hordes of college students and faculty would push their way through the door, platters and bowls arranged themselves flawlessly on the table. There was never any stress involved; even though people overuse the word “effortless” in this sense, she really made it all seem effortless. Suddenly we would all be tamed, civilized. Perching on chairs, eating carefully, listening to the speaker who was invited, mulling the topic. Civilization.

platter

Civilization; that is what this salad represents, and it charmed me from the beginning. Before college, I had never eaten or prepared an avocado. And we certainly never used a knife to take the skin off of an orange, creating glistening, jewel-like slices. Emanuela would toss this with giant tubes of pasta for a salad, dousing it in just the right amount of olive oil. These days, I leave off the pasta and serve it on its own. I recently made it for a big party and loved the proportions of it on the platter. If you’d like to be the genius of your next party, give it a shot. It will all seem so effortless, and civilized.

gems

Orange + avocado salad

This is scaled for a big crowd on a huge platter. You can bring it all the way back to 1 avocado and 1 orange.

  • 10 ripe Haas avocados
  • 10 juicy navel oranges
  • 1/4 of a red onion, finely chopped
  • extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
  • fleur de sel or Maldon sea salt for sprinkling

1. Peel the avocados and cut into 6 to 8 lengthwise slices. Use a sharp knife to take the skin and pith off of the oranges. First, slice off each end, then set up on one of the flat ends and cut with the knife just under the pith, rotating the orange and removing skin and pitch in sections. Flip to the other flat end and remove remaining pith with your knife. Slice in half lengthwise and remove the center of the orange. Cut each orange into 8 or so slices. Place slices in a bowl as you go. Collect up all the juices from the cutting process and reserve.

2. Arrange orange and avocado slices in alternate on a large platter, in concentric circles or however you like. Drizzle all the juice from the orange over the platter, making sure avocados are covered. Sprinkle onion over, and drizzle olive oil over. Sprinkle with just a little Maldon salt or fleur de sel. Taste. Adjust seasoning. Serve.

Leave a Comment

Filed under recipes

deviled eggs w fresh herbs

egg plates

Is everyone sick of deviled eggs? Between Easter and Passover, they get a workout this time of year. But if you aren’t, I recommend grabbing some of the super-springy herbs at the farmers’ market and getting to work. While I’m giving out unsolicited advice, I would also recommend trying out those medium-size eggs in the grocery store.

I seriously feel for the medium eggs. No one uses them. I often wonder who, besides me, ever buys them. But when you’re boiling eggs, you want ones that are a week or two old. I figure you get that and more with the mediums. No recipes ever call for them, even though, really, they aren’t that runtish.

cute and medium

Generally I buy my eggs at the farmers’ market—and they’re mostly mediums, with a handful of larges and usually one super-giant egg in each dozen. Using these eggs for baking, I’ve long been used to measuring the cracked eggs to make sure I’m getting the right quantity of fluid in sensitive baking recipes. So, when I’m making deviled eggs, especially for a cocktail party, I like them bite-sized. And they hard-boil in no time. (Nine minutes off the heat after bringing to a boil; then you plunge them into an ice bath. The eggs are still a mite soft in the middle; this makes the filling extra gorgeous in the end. Change the time to 12 minutes off heat for large eggs.)

tarragon

Adding butter to the yolks, just a bit, at room temperature, is a trick we have all by now seen on Food52, where this technique was shared by Virginia Willis in a “genius recipe” feature. It’s pretty clever. The filling is just gorgeous, and handles easily. The chopped herbs get stirred in by hand at the end so as not to turn the filling green. I am partial to the chervil, and add quite a lot, showering the finished eggs with a heavy hand. Its pert citrus flavor livens up the proceedings, and marries beautifully with a nice cocktail like a Negroni.

Do you have an old hobnail or pressed-glass egg plate? Run out and get one! Cheers, it’s spring.

Deviled eggs w fresh herbs

Adapted from Virginia Willis’ recipe at Food52

  • 1 dozen medium eggs
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise
  • 1 and 1/2 tablespoons room temperature butter
  • 1 tablespoon dijon mustard
  • a dash of cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, if needed
  • 4 tablespoons chopped tarragon, chives, or chervil, plus more for garnish

1. First, boil the eggs. Place eggs in a pan and cover with water by 1 inch. Place on stove over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Cut off heat just as water boils, place lid on pan. Set a timer for 9 minutes. (This is for medium eggs. For large, time 12 minutes.) When it rings, carefully transfer eggs to a big bowl of ice water and cool thoroughly. At this point you can refrigerate eggs for several days until ready to make deviled eggs.

2. Peel eggs. Slice in half lengthwise. Remove yolk to food processor; add mayonnaise, butter, mustard, cayenne. Pulse until very smooth. Scrape mixture into a bowl. Add chopped herbs. Taste for salt. Add salt as needed.

3. Scrape mixture into a quart-size plastic zipper bag. Push out air, seal bag, snip off corner. Use this to fill eggs, or simply spoon filling into the whites. Garnish with remaining herbs.

4 Comments

Filed under recipes

carrot cake bran muffins

kitchen seems sunnier

Okay, so it is really odd, my culinary response to the Easter season. I always want to make things with carrots. Reading this hilarious essay by Nicholas Day on Food52 recently probably didn’t help. For one thing, it reminded me of the 3-pound grocery store bag of unglamorous, bizarrely fluorescent carrots in the bottom of my crisper. (By the way, if you’re looking for pantry-savvy dinner recipes, using carrots, you should read this piece.) There is just some switch in my mind that goes, Easter, Easter bunny, carrots. I mean, eventually I come around to the ham, the coconut cake (mandatory), coconut meringue pie,  hot cross buns, and the egg dishes. And I have even adopted a love of the seriously weird Easter pie tradition here in New Haven, including rice and wheat. But it’s cold, still, and I like breaking open my baked goods and seeing a little spark of color. Orange specks! Yes?

why is this so fluorescent

And this recipe, it is pretty good. It’s like a kind of carrot coffee cake (there is sour cream, after all) crossed with a bran muffin. My basic bran muffin is a riff on the one in the Cheese Board Collective Works—if you don’t own this cookbook, and you have even the teensiest obsession with muffins and scones, go out and get a copy now. It is virtuous, but delicious. None of the punishing texture that can sometimes be associated with bran muffins. Not too sweet, and just perfectly spicy. The ingredient list is long, but if you keep bran and germ in the house, the rest of the list is just staples, and much of it is an assortment of spices. If you have a favorite crumb or streusel topping, it might be good on here. I often find myself eating my morning muffin on the run, so I left those off. Crumbs tend to get stuck all over me when I walk and eat, and the result is not good for my sartorial presence in the office. What is the best accompaniment to these muffins? A slab of cream cheese, right down the middle. Reminiscent of carrot cake with cream cheese frosting, but good for breakfast.

orange flecks

Bonus: these muffins freeze really well. You can pull one out of the freezer and toss it in the microwave for a few seconds to thaw it. The best part? When the days warm up, you can have a nice muffin for breakfast without turning on the oven. I am counting the days until this is a legitimate worry, my friends. Enjoy your spring festivals, everyone!

Carrot cake bran muffins

Adapted wildly from Cheese Board Collective Works

  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup sour cream
  • 1/3 cup canola or vegetable oil
  • 3/4 cup molasses
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3/4 cup rye or whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 cup wheat bran
  • 1/2 cup wheat germ
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 cup grated carrot, packed (about 3 to 4 carrots)
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans, if you like

1. Grease a 12-cup muffin tin thoroughly, or line muffin tins with paper or foil liners. Preheat oven to 375 F. In a medium bowl whisk together eggs, sour cream, oil, molasses, water, raisins and vanilla. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, whisk together flours, brown sugar, soda, salt, bran, wheat germ, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg.

3. Pour egg mixture into the center of flour mixture and stir just until combined. Add carrot and nuts, if using, and mix well, just until dry mixture is thoroughly incorporated into batter. Let batter rest for 15 minutes, so the moisture can distribute.

4. Spoon batter evenly into prepared tin. Bake at 375 F for 5 minutes and then reduce temperature to 350 F. Bake 25 more minutes. Test to ensure muffins are done by inserting a toothpick near the center. The toothpick should emerge batter-free. Cool in tins for 5 minutes, and then carefully remove to a cooling rack. Serve warm or room temperature with butter, or a smear of cream cheese.

Leave a Comment

Filed under recipes

pork roasted in wine + pastis

gorgeous slices

It’s Sunday and I just spent a good bit of time reading the “real estate” (read: totally absurdly expensive homes that no one could afford—not very “real”) section of the New York Times. Why do I torment myself like this? I am still scratching my head about how the Times is able to locate so many people who can afford multi-million-dollar homes. One of today’s features was an arty couple who have bought an old chapel and manor house in Italy. Mama.

As the kids say, whatever. I like my tiny kitchen. I especially like it on a sunny Sunday after a quick shop and a yoga class. I like that it has a sodastream: unlimited seltzer water! And the shelves are stocked with cookbooks with hundreds of slips of paper tucked in them. Lots of recipes to try out. So much potential.

nutmeg and pastis

I guess pork roast is kind of a thing here. It’s lean, it’s adaptable, it cooks faster than a roast of beef—all things I look for in my regularly scheduled programming in the kitchen. I have eyed a similar recipe in Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Italian Cooking, for pork simmered in red wine, for some time. As the wine reduces, a thick sauce forms. I think it wouldn’t work in the slow cooker properly, so this may just be a Sunday thing. You can rock out to some music, clean the kitchen, do some laundry. All the while, the pork is roasting on top of the stove. It is pretty magical. Bonus: you can do this in a house that did not cost $2.7 million.

A word of advice: do not skimp on the time you spend browning (and browning) the roast before you cook it. This adds a huge amount of flavor to the finished product, and makes the roast look incredibly appetizing to boot. I adapted Marcella’s recipe to incorporate pastis. Pastis or pernod is an anise-flavored liqueur, and I love fennel with my pork. In fact, you probably do, too. You know the little seeds you find in your Italian sausage (both hot and sweet)? They’re fennel seeds. If you despise fennel, just leave the pastis out. Still delicious, and very close to the original recipe. Skip the real estate, and head to the dining section. Happy Sunday.

Pork roasted in wine + pastis

Adapted from Essentials of Italian Cooking, Marcella Hazan

  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 center-cut pork roast, about 3 lbs. (preferably with a cap of fat on one side)
  • 1/4 all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup pernod or pastis (anise-flavored liqueur)
  • 2 to 3 cups red wine such as cabernet sauvignon, merlot, or chianti
  • 2 bay leaves
  • fresh nutmeg for grating
  • kosher salt
  • freshly cracked pepper

1. Choose an enameled cast-iron or other very heavy pan with a lid, one which is just a smidgen larger than your roast. Warm butter and olive oil in this pan over medium heat until butter foams and the foaming subsides. Meanwhile, spread the flour on a plate and coat the entire roast in flour. Brown the roast, patiently, fatty side first, until dark brown on all sides. This will take 15 minutes or so. If the butter in the pan begins to burn, reduce the heat, and continue browning the roast.

2. When roast is browned, pour in the pastis, carefully. It will foam up right away. After a few seconds, add the wine, just until only less than an inch of the roast is above the level of the wine. Add bay leaves, a few gratings of fresh nutmeg, salt (about 1 teaspoon at first), and freshly cracked pepper. Use a fork to turn the roast a few times, and then return it to a position with the fatty side on top.

3. When wine mixture returns to a simmer, adjust the flame so that, with the lid securely on, the pot is barely simmering. Cook at a low simmer for about 3 hours, turning roast occasionally, perhaps every 30 minutes or so. If the level of the wine is lower each time, that is okay. By the end of cooking, you should have a small amount of thick sauce in the pot.

4. The roast will be extremely dark in color, tender and nearly falling apart after 3 hours. Remove it to a carving board and slice it thinly to serve. Pass sauce along side.

Leave a Comment

Filed under recipes

smothered cabbage

heads will roll

Two hours. In two hours you can do your laundry, pop a bowl of popcorn and watch an entire episode of Miss Marple, meet a friend for a leisurely lunch. It turns out that in two hours you can also transform a humble head of cabbage, which will cost you roughly $2, into something fairly well sublime. First, you must sharpen your knife. You’re going to take the head of cabbage and remove the outer leaves, and then slice down one side of it making thin, paper-thin shredded slices, until you reach the core. Then you’ll lay it on that flat side and slice down another side until you reach the core. You’ll do this five times—four sides plus the top—until what you have left is a cube of cabbage core and a giant bowl of thinly shredded cabbage. Doing this is a meditation, if your knife is sharp. If you knife is not sharp, it is a chastisement. What did you do wrong? Think about it. It will come to you. It is Lent, after all.

nature

I cannot tell you what happens inside the pan that transforms this most humble of brassicas into something sweet, yet not slimy. Maybe it involves quantum mechanics, or Maxwell’s demon. I could not say. What I do know is that the produce section of the supermarket is loaded with inexpensive cabbages after St. Patrick’s Day. And if there were ever a dish that is the exact opposite of boiled wedges of cabbage in every respect, this is that dish. Even better is the fact that cabbages will keep a good old time in the crisper of your refrigerator. I like to have one on hand for nights when the vegetable for the meal has not yet revealed itself to me. The trick is getting home early enough to let this cook along while the rest of the meal is emerging.

shredding with a knife

When it is cooked, does it look pretty? No, it does not. But it is March. There are no vegetables. We have had our flings with rutabagas, parsnips, sweet potatoes, Brussels sprouts. Those days are over. It is the time of year when I discover anew that the winter of my discontent actually occurs fairly near the vernal equinox. On an evening when you have the leisure to let something simmer away for two hours, I hope you make this smothered cabbage, and ponder sunnier glories.

Smothered cabbage

Adapted from Essentials of Italian Cooking, Marcella Hazan; serves 6 or so as a side dish

  • 1 medium yellow onion, peeled, trimmed, and thinly sliced
  • 3 fresh cloves of garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • five to six cranks of freshly ground pepper
  • 1 head of green or Savoy cabbage, about 2 to 3 pounds, thinly shredded
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1. In a large, heavy casserole pan with a lid, warm the onion, garlic, and olive oil over medium heat. Cook for about 10 to 15 minutes, until very soft and onion is beginning to turn gold. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and give a few more turns. Add shredded cabbage, tossing completely together five or 10 times. Add red wine vinegar, toss three or four more times, and add the lid.

2. Reduce heat to lowest setting and cook for two hours. You can do something else. Come back every 30 minutes and give it a good tossing. If it is getting dry, sticking, or browning, add 1/4 cup water, and stir. After two hours have passed, remove from heat and serve. I like it with roast chicken, or pork roast, or sausages, or chops.

smothered

Leave a Comment

Filed under recipes

pollo marroquí

lemons perking up the kitchen

For a minute there, things were beginning to warm up in Connecticut. Last weekend, we went out to a lacrosse game and I actually got a sunburn on my face. Things were looking up. And then, just like that, the warm air retreated. But I find myself, in this situation, seeing the pantry staples in a new way. And while this recipe has a long list of ingredients, due to a riot of spices, the gist of it is quite short. Spices, onion, garlic, lemon, olives, chicken.

I named this Moroccan chicken, but in Spanish, because I imagine the dish as a cross between the two cultures. If you don’t have Aleppo pepper, use crushed red pepper, and if you don’t have za’atar, add a pinch of thyme, and just a few sesame seeds. I personally wouldn’t add a speck more cinnamon than 1/4 teaspoon, but you may like cumin more than I do. The paprika should be Spanish, but of course Hungarian will do. And I did not use smoked, because I wanted all the spices to harmonize. I had pitted green olives—just make sure they’re the Spanish kind, and not stuffed. You want the oily, vegetal quality of the olives from Spain without the overly salty brine.

simmering away

Handling the lemons as described is important. The zest, in great big strips, simmers away for the whole cooking time. The flesh of the lemon is sectioned out, and added just at the end, with the olives. The zest permeates the dish with lemon flavor and the juicy bites of lemon segments are a welcome awakening at the table.

The smell of this in the kitchen is pure heaven. And it is a weeknight supper to die for. Just before I started the chicken, I put on a pot of brown basmati rice, replacing half the water with chicken stock. With a salad and a big platter of fruit (if you like), you have supper. In my imagination, at least, this might be a fun dinner for kids to help out with, ransacking the spice drawer, scavenging the jars with the most alluring names. Imagining how warm it is in the places from which the spices came, and what it might be like to sail there, balancing on the foretop with their toes, squinting to fend off the sun. Of course that’s just for the kids. Grown-ups, we don’t need our imagination to survive the final days of winter.

ready to serve

Pollo marroquí

  • 1 lemon
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper, or crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon za’atar
  • 3/4 cup pitted green olives
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 – 2 lb. boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 1/2 large onion, thinly sliced
  • about 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 cups chicken stock

1. Place a tiny bowl (such as a ramekin) and a small bowl (that will hold about 2 cups) on your work surface. Using a vegetable peeler, remove zest only from the entire lemon in thin strips. Place in the tiny bowl or ramekin. Add the garlic, paprika, cumin, cinnamon, Aleppo or crushed red pepper, ginger, and za’atar to the tiny bowl and set it aside.

2. Now place the small bowl (that will hold up to 2 cups) near your work surface. Take the peeled lemon and, using a very sharp paring knife, slice off both ends to create a flat end. Turn the lemon onto one end and use the knife to remove the pith, following carefully along the curve of the lemon, exposing the juicy pulp. Flip to the other end to finish removing any remaining pith. Then section out wedges of lemon pulp by running the knife just inside the membranes, removing the slice of pulp only and placing it in the small bowl. Squeeze any juice remaining in the membranes into the bowl with the pulp. Add the olives to the lemon pulp, and set aside.

3. In a large, shallow casserole or saute pan with a lid, heat olive oil over medium heat until it shimmers. Add boneless, skinless thighs and move them carefully around the pan as you put them in, so that the chicken does not stick. Cook until light brown on one side, then carefully flip them over and cook the other side, about 4 to 5 minutes per side. Remove chicken with tongs and set nearby on a plate. Place sliced onion in the pan, still over medium heat, and sprinkle with about 1/2 teaspoon of the kosher salt. Saute for about 10 minutes, until onions are soft and golden brown. Add the spices and zest in the tiny bowl to the pan. Stir until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes, and add the chicken stock. Bring to a simmer and return the chicken plus any accumulated juices to the pan. Stir, and add the lid. Turn heat all the way down and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until chicken is cooked and tender. Flip chicken pieces about halfway through cooking.

4. Remove the lid from the pan and remove the chicken to a clean plate. (I flip the lid onto its handle—my Le Creuset braiser has a flat knob—and rest the chicken there.) Cook pan juices for 5 to 10 minutes at medium-high to reduce and thicken them. Then stir in the contents of the other bowl: lemon pulp, juice, and olives. Reduce heat to a low simmer, return chicken to pan, and simmer at lowest heat for 3 to 5 minutes. Serve chicken on rice or couscous with a big scoop of sauce from the pan.

Leave a Comment

Filed under recipes

black bean, chorizo + kale soup

close up

Someday I will get organized and do a series of posts on how one pot of beans can feed you for an entire week. If you play your cards right, beans can be an essential part of a sound weeknight meal preparation strategy. Actually, if it is true that dilettantes talk strategy while professionals talk logistics, then having a good supply of perfectly cooked beans on hand is a professional-grade maneuver. Especially in winter when vegetables are in shortly supply, beans augment fresh vegetables—in this case, dark, leafy greens—and can be combined in any number of dishes throughout the week.

kale leaves

I cooked a pound of Rancho Gordo “Midnight Black” beans on a Sunday and we had tacos one night and this soup on another. On a third night I made a bean side dish with onions, garlic, and a few tomatoes. I used some of the ingredients I had around for the tacos—queso fresco, cilantro—to garnish this soup. These beans, and their broth, are out of this world. I wanted to make a soup to use up the bean juice; I couldn’t bear to imagine pouring it down the drain. I like to keep a few cut-up pieces of chorizo in the freezer for scrounge nights when I might have some beans and some other odds and ends around, but I need something to add flavor and protein to the dish. If you did not cook your own black beans, use canned ones, but rinse them first. This means you’ll have to add some extra stock to the pan. The black bean cooking liquid gives the soup a lot more body, however. If you’re using canned beans and extra stock, you may want to run an immersion blender in the soup for a few seconds just to create a little more thickness. Because beans (and also chicken stock, if you’re using store-bought) have wildly varying levels of saltiness, be sure to taste the soup in its final simmer to determine whether you need to add salt to balance it out at the end.

Be careful; this soup comes together super fast. Supper might even be ready before you’re hungry.

bowl of soup

Black bean, chorizo + kale soup

  • 1 link fresh chorizo sausage (1/3 lb)
  • 1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 3 Tb olive oil
  • 1/2 large bunch of lacinato or regular kale (6 ounces), sliced into a chiffonade
  • 3 cups black beans plus 2 cups of their cooking liquid (I use Rancho Gordo “Midnight Black” beans)
  • 1 cup chicken stock (if using canned beans, increase to 2 to 3 cups and rinse and drain beans)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • crumbled queso fresco (optional)
  • chopped fresh cilantro (optional)

1. In your favorite heavy soup pot, crumble the chorizo and cook until browned and no longer pink. Add onion and garlic, and add a little olive oil if needed to saute these with the chorizo. Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes to allow flavors to develop. Add the rest of the olive oil and crushed red pepper, cook for 1 more minute, and add kale. Saute for 3 minutes.

2. Add beans and 3 cups of liquid (either 2 cups of bean cooking liquid, if you cooked your own dried beans, or use 2 additional cups of chicken stock) and salt. Stir and bring to a simmer. Simmer for about 15 minutes. Taste and add salt if needed. (This depends entirely on whether your beans were already salted.) Dish into warm bowls and garnish as you wish.

 

Leave a Comment

Filed under recipes

roasted sweet potatoes + brussels sprouts w salmon

IMG_2852

As we accelerate towards the vernal equinox (can’t believe I just typed that), the situation at the farmers’ market becomes more extreme. We can still find winter squash, which have been stored for a while and are still tasty, and sweet potatoes, which are even sweeter now than they were at Thanksgiving. Beyond this, it’s slim pickins. This past Saturday, though, I witnessed what I consider to be the very earliest sign of spring at the market: eggs. We are entering what some farmers and folklorists call the “egg moon,” the moon cycle before Easter when the hens start to lay again in earnest. There is more sunlight each day, and while we silly humans continue to bask in misery when we see the dirty snow on the ground, grimacing at our friends’ Facebook postings from tropical locations (enough, already!), the hens are keeping their beady little eyes on the ball. The ball, that is, that hangs in the sky during the days, the days that are inching longer, and longer still. There are worlds of wisdom in our feathery friends.

IMG_2828

Take heart, gentle reader! We have only a few weeks to go before little greens and pussy willows make their way to the market. Meanwhile, grab yourself some sweet potatoes—or winter squash—and roast them up. Soon enough you’ll be waxing sentimental about the root vegetables of winter, and how you miss them at times in the glorious summer. Sweet potatoes are not the favorite vegetable of my beloved, but my roots include a tribe of sweet potato-growing farmers in southern Maryland. And I love sweet potatoes. Brilliantly, you can cut them into small fry-shaped batons, and toss them in smoked paprika, salt, and olive oil for a delicious treat. You can do the same with little, teeny Brussels sprouts. You can roast these and then at the end add a nice piece of salmon and have yourself a decent meal.

You can scale this recipe up for a family-sized meal that’s fast to throw together and tasty, too. And use the time you saved to dream of what you can make next week with eggs, and soon, with garlic scapes, and spinach, and a handful of tender and early herbs.

IMG_2834

Roasted sweet potatoes + brussels sprouts w salmon

Recipe below will feed 2 people; double or triple it to feed more, and use multiple baking sheets

  • 1 large sweet potato, peeled, cut into 1/4″ x 1/4″ fries the length of the potato
  • 1/2 pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
  • 1/4 of a large red onion, sliced into thin rings
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika, plus a little extra for the fish
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 salmon filets, 4 ounces each
  • lemon wedges, for serving

1. Preheat oven to 425 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment and set aside. In a large bowl, toss the sweet potato fries and half of the onion slices with half the olive oil, half the paprika, and half the salt. Spread evenly on baking sheet, making sure fries aren’t touching each other. Then, in the same bowl, toss the Brussels sprouts with half of the onion slices and the rest of the olive oil, paprika, and salt. Spread on the other half of the baking sheet.

2. Place baking sheet in hot oven and bake for 20 minutes, removing once to turn fries and toss sprouts. Remove from oven and make sure that sweet potatoes and Brussels sprouts are mostly cooked. Make space in the middle of the baking sheet and add the fillets, skin side down. Sprinkle a little smoked paprika on top of fish. Return to oven for 10-15 minutes, until fish is cooked. Remove from oven and serve promptly, spritzing with lemon juice if desired.

Leave a Comment

Filed under recipes