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a bowl of beans


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.


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.


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candied tomato + ricotta 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.


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.

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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.


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.


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.

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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.)


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.


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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.

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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.


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.


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multigrain banana (smoothie) pancakes


On the rare occasions when Ty goes away on a trip, his sister has asked me, “so, what is your secret single behavior?”

I seriously, seriously wish I was the sort of person who might have a saucy answer to that question.

But: know thyself, woman. My “secret single behavior” involves trying to remember to cook instead of reverting to eating only giant bowls of popcorn at mealtimes. (I’m sure upon my arrival in April the Italian authorities will arrest me for having consumed a glass of phenomenal nero d’Avola with a bowl of popcorn while watching an episode of “Bones.”) It involves rocking out to Brandi Carlisle at top volume (sorry neighbors) while trimming Brussels sprouts. (You should hear me on some of those key changes mid-song. Heart-stopping, I tell you.) It means that I use the blender in the morning. (Ty doesn’t like loud noises right after waking up.) It involves, I will not lie, watching BBC productions of Bleak House, Jane Eyre, or Persuasion, and, if I’m really given time to deteriorate, Emma. It involves cooking all of the very few foods that Ty won’t eat.

so lonely

Ty really doesn’t like to have pancakes on weekend mornings—he always wants something very savory, like eggs, bacon, sausage, home fries, grits, and what have you. I love these things, too! But sometimes a girl just wants to get her pancake on. The other thing he hates in the morning is noise, so I generally avoid using the blender when he’s around. I started to make a smoothie the other morning, because when I woke up I found myself face-to-face with that most common of kitchen gremlins: the single, almost-too-ripe banana. Without thinking, I threw that banana in the blender. But then I realized that I really just wanted a nice stack of pancakes. The following recipe was born. You can use a combination of flours, and I would always make at least one part of the flour all-purpose, just to get a light and fluffy pancake. And I always, always, use part cornmeal in my cakes—it gives you a nice crispy exterior, which I love. I had rye on hand, and you could use that or whole-wheat pastry flour, or oat flour, or anything else you had on hand.

foamy batter

With any pancake recipe relying on chemical leaveners (baking soda or baking powder) and buttermilk or yogurt—especially ones with whole-grain flours—you should let your batter rest for a few moments before you start to cook the pancakes. The acidic dairy and the baking soda interact and create millions of little air pockets in the batter. These are what lend your pancakes lightness. Typically I create time for resting by mixing the batter and then letting it rest while I get out my griddle, spray or butter it, and heat it up nice and hot. By then, 10 minutes have passed, and when you scoop into that batter to start cooking, you have a lovely, light, foamy, loamy pancake mixture. The mixture will be so airy that you may have a hard time dolloping it onto the griddle in circles. Just do the best you can—and don’t force it by manipulating or mashing it to make a circle—and you will be rewarded with the lightest pancakes you’ve ever had.

The recipe below makes just enough pancakes for two people. You can multiply it out to make enough for up to eight people. I just hope they’re eight people who don’t mind the noise of a blender in the morning.

last bite

Multigrain banana (smoothie) pancakes

This recipe makes enough for 2 people, multiple as necessary to feed more hungry folks

  • 3/4 cup flour (I use all-purpose, rye, cornmeal)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 egg
  • 1 banana
  • 1/2 c buttermilk or plain yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon oil
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • pinch of nutmeg

1. Sift together flours, baking powder, baking soda in a large bowl. Toss in the kosher salt and set aside.

2. Place all remaining ingredients in the pitcher of your blender. Blend until a smooth liquid forms. Pour liquid into dry ingredients and mix lightly, until completely smooth. Set aside for about 10 minutes to lighten while you prepare the griddle.

3. Heat a large nonstick skillet or griddle wiped with vegetable oil over medium-high heat, until very hot, but not smoking. Reduce heat to medium. Scoop batter by 1/4 cupfuls onto griddle. Allow pancakes to cook fully on first side (take a tiny peek using your spatula to lift up the edge) before gently flipping to cook the second side. If the pancake is turning too dark before it is cooked in the center, reduce the heat under the pan.

4. Plate pancakes on warm plates and serve with orange slices and maple syrup.

nice and brown


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borlotti beans w fennel + tomato

The beans and legumes are having a heyday here in our kitchen, even more than usual. With a recent shipment of beans from Rancho Gordo, we are on a bit of a tear. Borlottis, a type of cranberry bean, are a particular favorite, and if you have just two people in your family, you can cook a one-pound bag on Sunday and eat them all week. In fact, we made this dish with fennel and tomato in the same week that we made this other dish that involved serving the Borlotti beans over bread cubes toasted in olive oil, with just a little frizzled sage on top. They don’t need much adornment to really sing.


Combining the Borlotti beans—you can use any cooked cranberry bean—with a lot of fennel, kale, and tomatoes seems less like a bean dish and more like a winter vegetable dish. For the first time in weeks, I felt like I had eaten vegetables in the way I feel I’ve eaten vegetables in the summer. It feels totally reckless to have so much fresh stuff in the pot, but really these are winter produce staples. The fennel mellows and loses its licorice-y taste, leaving behind a complicated sweetness. The kale is earthy and the tomatoes provide their characteristic acidity, which balances the dish. It is a bonus that if your beans are already cooked, this takes only a few minutes to get to the table.

beans and such

I based this concoction on a recipe in Paula Wolfert’s amazing book, The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen, which my sister bought me for Christmas. The book is marvelous, and I was enchanted by a recipe for black-eyed peas with fennel and tomatoes that Wolfert said was from Crete. That was enough to sell me on it. A little bit of Crete in my kitchen? In February? Yes, please.

Borlotti beans w fennel + tomato

Adapted from The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen by Paula Wolfert

  • 1/2 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 medium fennel bulb, peeled and thinly sliced
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
  • 4 to 6 large kale leaves, ribs removed and cut into a fine chiffonnade
  • 3/4 cup plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 cups cooked Borlotti beans, or other cranberry type bean (about 14 oz)

1. Warm onion, fennel, and olive oil over medium heat. Toss and cook for about 15 minutes, until vegetables are pale gold in color. About halfway through, sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt and toss to continue cooking.

2. Then add kale and toss for a few moments. Add tomatoes and water and bring to a simmer. Stir and add cooked beans. Simmer for about 15 minutes to allow flavors to blend. Taste for seasoning, and add a bit more salt as needed. Serve warm.

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split pea soup

I was serious when I said frugal was the watchword for January. And maybe February, too. I make no promises.

I read Joan Acocella’s review of two books about St. Francis of Assisi on the train on the way into New York earlier this month. I’m not going to lie: there is something about this guy that really appeals to me.

I don’t think he ate split pea soup, probably. But I think he would say we are on the right trail. Except that split pea soup is so delicious. I can’t understand how, when it only uses water, instead of broth. And split peas, well, they are so homely. But there is something delicious going on here. For me, the key is for the soup not to be too thick and pasty. As it simmers, I add splashes of boiling water as necessary to keep the consistency, well, soupy—instead of pasty. Maybe you like a much thicker split pea soup, so by all means adjust to your tastes, and then think about the possible connection between the frugal and the sublime.

Split pea soup

  • 16 oz dried split peas
  • 7 cups boiling water
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large onion, roughly chopped
  • 4 large carrots, trimmed and peeled, sliced
  • 4 stalks celery, trimmed, sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1/2 tsp crushed pepper
  • 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt

1. In a very large bowl, combine split peas and boiling water. Allow to sit and soak for 1 hour.

2. In a large soup pot, combine chopped onion, carrots, celery, and garlic with olive oil. Heat over medium-high heat. When mixture becomes fragrant, reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring, until vegetables are soft and onion is translucent and turning golden, about 10 to 12 minutes. Add crushed red pepper, thyme, and salt. Add soaked split peas and all the soaking water. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer. Bubbles should break the surface of the pot every few seconds. Cook for 1 to 1 and a half hours and then taste to see if peas are cooked and soft, and break up easily. Add a little salt if necessary. If peas aren’t done yet, cook for another 30 minutes or as needed until peas are fully cooked. Throughout the cooking, if the mixture becomes thick instead of soupy, add splashes of boiling water to the pot as needed.

3. When soup is cooked, remove from heat. Use an immersion blender to carefully blend it into a puree. Add a bit of boiling water if soup is too thick. Alternatively you can blend it in batches in a regular blender, being cautious to vent the top slightly, while still allowing no soup to spatter or escape.

4. Serve in heated bowls. If you aren’t feeling as ascetic as St. Francis, serve with these biscuits.

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zuppa lombarda

Beans are an ideal January food.

Frankly, beans are an ideal anytime food, but in January they meet my criteria for health and frugality after a holiday season of extravagant eating.

I found this recipe in of my most treasured cookbooks, Il Libro della Vera Cucina Fiorentina by Paolo Petroni. The book is a Florentine classic, and was given to me by an Italian friend who is also a phenomenal cook. It is in Italian, but my food Italian is okay, and this recipe is so simple that you don’t even need to know Italian to decode it. It contains: beans, olive oil, sage, garlic, and bread. I don’t count the water you need to cook the beans.


The cookbook claims the recipe was misnamed, as the dish does not appear in the Lombardy region at all, but rather may have been popular with immigrants from Lombardy who lived in Florence in the 1800s. I don’t quibble about these things when something is this simple and good. As with most simple dishes, it depends entirely on the quality of the ingredients used, and in this case that means the beans. I used Borlotti beans from Rancho Gordo, and can only recommend that you do the same. The soup in the cookbook is made with fresh shell beans, and I’m sure you could use cranberry, cannelini, or a similar bean. It is essential in any case not to use the canned beans—the broth that develops while cooking dried or fresh beans is essential to the glory of this dish.

I used dried Borlottis that had not been soaked, and just covered the beans with about four inches of water, because I wanted the beans to soak up most of the water, and for the rest to evaporate during cooking. If the water level in your bean pot becomes reduced below the surface of the beans, add splashes of boiling water as necessary until the beans have finished cooking. When finished, you will want beans that are just covered in the nice, rich broth.


The original recipe includes bread that is toasted plain, and the sage is added to the pot with the beans, garlic and olive oil at the beginning of the cooking. I wanted something with a bit more of the sage flavor, and simply fried the chopped sage leaves and added them to the top of each dish of soup. Meanwhile, the bread was cubed and fried until a deep golden color in olive oil and sprinkled with salt before dishing the beans over with their broth and then topping with the sizzled sage. Perhaps a bit rich for the blood of the thrifty Florentines, but nonetheless extraordinary.

Zuppa lombarda

Adapted from Il Libro della Vera Cucina Fiorentina by Paolo Petroni

Serves 4 to 6

  • 1 lb dried Borlotti beans or other dried cranberry or white bean
  • water to cover by 4 inches
  • 1/3 cup olive oil
  • 4 whole cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 20 or so fresh sage leaves, thinly sliced
  • 3 to 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 6 to 8 slices of stale ciabatta or other crusty Italian-style bread, cut into 1-inch cubes
  • sea salt or Maldon salt for finishing

1. Rinse and pick the beans over and add to a large soup pot. Cover with water by about four inches. Pour in the 1/3 cup of olive oil, add the garlic cloves, and set over medium-high heat. Bring the pot to the boil and then reduce to a bare simmer. Cook until the beans are tender (taste at least a dozen or so beans to make sure they are all tender), about 2 and 1/2 hours in my case. After about an hour of simmering, you can add he 1 and 1/2 teaspoons of kosher salt.

2. When beans are cooked through, prepare the rest of the components. Warm the 3 tablespoons of extra-virgin olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat until quite hot. Add cubed bread to the hot oil, without crowding the bread cubes. When first side is golden brown, turn the bread and toast another side of the cube. This can be done in batches, adding more olive oil between batches as needed. When a batch of cubes are browned, place them in the warmed soup bowls, distributing evenly among the bowls. Each bowl needs the cubes from just 1 slice of bread. Sprinkle the browned bread cubes with a pinch or two of Maldon or sea salt.

3. When bread cubes are browned and in the soup bowls, warm a tablespoon or two more olive oil in your skillet. Add the sliced sage leaves and cook until fragrant and beginning to crisp. Turn off heat and sprinkle with a few pinches of Maldon or sea salt.

4. Assemble the soup. Ladle beans and some broth over the cubed bread. Sprinkle with some of the fried sage and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil.


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