recipes

Recipe Love

 
LISTENING TO STANLEY TUCCI and his mother talk about recipes the other night made me think about all the little culinary treasures my mother has passed on to me. Not just basic cooking techniques that I learned at her elbow, but recipes from her mother, her mother’s mother, her father, her mother-in-law, a childhood schoolmate of my father’s, their friends in London in the late 1940s. She has been the keeper of these recipes and now is making sure her children have them, too.
 
There’s Friar’s Omelette, from Susanna Moss, my mother’s grandmother, written out in her own hand, my Polish Babcia Władysława’s pickled herring and babka (two separate dishes!), my dad’s traditional Christmas beetroot brine and soup, shortbread from Grandma Lily, brown bread from Grandad Percy (he was a miller and expert baker). Not to forget Marysia’s almond torte and Zosia’s pickled dill cucumbers. I’ve collected some on my own visits to family, too: Uncle Abdul Beidas’s hummus, Aunt Ela Makowiecka’s gazpacho (despite the Slavic name, she lived a good part of her life in Spain).
 
Recently this loving passing around of recipes took a different turn when my 20-something son Christopher flipped the tables and taught me how to make an elegantly plated beet, arugula, frisée and goat cheese salad that he’d learned somewhere along the line living in an Italian (Canadian) household for the last two years and working at an Italian café. Lucky me, and now lucky you because it’s the perfect Meatless Monday dish to share. Slicing the beets very thin is not only beautiful but somehow highlights their delicate sweet flavor. From my family to yours. 
 
 

At the Market This Week: Desperado Chefs and Salade Niçoise Royale

MY FRIDAY MORNING RITUAL is to visit my neighborhood farmers’ market on West 97th Street, often with one friend or another who lives nearby. Today—because it was pouring rain of course—I decided to switch things up a bit and make the trek down to Union Square Greenmarket. I have to say the sights just made me feel like singin’ in the rain.
 
 
 
 
I was early enough to bump into (be run over by) chefs foraging for the day’s ingredients. You can learn a lot from how they eye the produce and then hone in on, say, the romano beans and buy four big bags of them. Plus perfect bunches of dandelion greens. You look at what they choose and see that, yes, it is at its peak of perfection that day, at that farm stand. (And as Mario Batali once pointed out—in encouraging people on all sorts of budgets to shop at farmers’ markets—when you buy a particular crop at its season’s peak, it’ll also be at its cheapest.)
 
 
One hyperfocused chef/cook (maybe he was running late and worried he’d miss out on a crucial ingredient) rushed into the Migliorelli Farm stand and said, “I want all your Tuscan kale, all of it. I’ll take all you have.” Now this is not a small farm stand, so that’s a big load of kale! Tuscan kale soup? Sautéed Tuscan kale? Maybe the menu will reveal all.
 
 
As usual, I bought enough beans and tomatoes and potatoes and greens to feed an army and give me a good upper body workout at the same time. With a lovely piece of Yellowfin Tuna from Mermaid’s Garden in my fridge, I have all the makings of a Salade Niçoise Royale, as Nancy Harmon Jenkins refers to the new-fangled version of this dish that includes tuna. In The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook, she reminds us that traditionalists don’t include tuna, or even potatoes. I guess in this case I’m not a traditionalist.
 
 
On the way home, I stopped by Eataly to refuel with a latte and apricot croissant. It was just after opening hour and the place was amazingly calm. I relaxed for a while and then strolled through the store, spotting the frisée (above) I needed and hadn’t found at the market. That will be for a salad with golden beets. But more about that another day.  

Sometimes a Cookbook Is More Than Just a Cookbook

PANZANELLA DI FARRO, a Tuscan-style tomato salad with farro, from Olives & Oranges, by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox, is the recipe that got me started eating farro. At the time, I didn’t know much about farro, except that it was a grain, so making that dish led to all sorts of research and then expeditions all over the city to find it.
 
 
After that, since I travel regularly to Montreal and Toronto, I had to find farro sources in those cities, too, because the salad had become something of an extended family favorite as well. (Travelers: Dinah’s Cupboard in Toronto; Milano Supermarket in Montreal). 
 
 
A bag of farro even made the trip north with us to Georgian Bay (above) and 45 minutes across the water to my brother’s cottage on an island one summer (we’d found wild rice on its shores, but weren’t holding out any hope for farro).
 
All this adventure, thanks to one recipe.
 
Beyond farro, though, that dish introduced me to a whole wonderful world of cooking with chef Sara Jenkins. I’ve been down to Porchetta, her little shop on East 7th Street where she makes herbed roast pork sandwiches that get raves from anyone who’s tried them. And I’m looking forward to more visits to her pasta restaurant, Porsena, in the same neighborhood.
 
But the East Village is not exactly next door, so back to the cookbook. I usually like to cook and eat at home anyway, so I’ve branched out to try other recipes in this very approachable but sophisticated book. Roasted cauliflower with tahini sauce. Orange and mint leaf salad with roasted beets. (Both great for Meatless Monday!) Baked pork chops with peaches (time for this one again, now that peaches are appearing in the market). Spaghetti with lemon sole, almonds, capers and parsley. Monkfish with olives, potatoes, and sun-dried tomatoes. And recently for dinner, smoked trout with arugula salad, pictured here.
 
 
 
 
Along with the recipes, which are helpfully labeled quick-cook and slow-cook, Jenkins shares her knowledge of the Mediterranean pantry and offers flavor tips that make you an all-round smarter Mediterranean cook. I’m still a little obsessed with that farro salad, though. Planning to make it for another family get-together some time soon. Purslane or arugula? We’ll see. 
 
Porchetta
110 East 7th Street  
New York, NY 10009
212-777-2151
 
Porsena
21 East 7th Street  
New York, NY 10003
212-228-4923
 

Fish for Dinner—Mermaid's Garden Makes It Happen

FRIDAY WAS FISH DAY IN MY FAMILY, for as long as I can remember growing up. Initially a religious observance, it eventually just became the custom and what we all enjoyed eating. It helped that we lived in a town on the shores of Lake Huron. Depending on where we were or what was convenient, dinner might be English-style fish and chips wrapped in newspaper, bass or perch caught in Georgian Bay (and the occasional pike!), shrimp fried rice or pickerel from the fishing boat at the dock down by the bridge.
 
In my own household, I’ve always cooked fish, although I drifted from the Friday fish idea—and it didn’t always happen weekly. Ever since I became smitten with all things Mediterranean, though, I’ve been enjoying fish and seafood more again—and exploring new ways to serve it.
 
This Catalan white bean soup with shrimp, from Nancy Harmon Jenkins’s The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook, makes a meal “handsome enough for a dinner party,” as she puts it. She’s right.
 
 
These ocean perch are baked with lemon slices, a little wine, capers and olive oil in the pan. Talk about fast food.
 
 
Oven-baked fish fillets with cherry tomatoes, lemon zest, garlic, capers and olive oil are always a hit. These are red snapper.
 
 
And here’s red snapper again, a couple of big ones from a Portuguese fish store in Toronto, ready to pop in the oven. (It was Christmas Eve and we were cooking for a crowd.) This is another Spanish recipe from Jenkins—the fish is roasted on a bed of sautéed onions and small potatoes, and then topped off with red pepper slices and tomatoes. A one-dish dinner—lazy Mediterraneanista loves it.
 
 
This summer, I’ve found a new and wonderful way to get a regular fish fix—I’ve joined Mermaid’s Garden Community Supported Fishery. It was started by Bianca Piccillo, a marine biologist who left academia to work in the food business, and Mark Usewicz, the French-trained executive chef at Palo Santo in Brooklyn. As consultants, Bianca and Mark work with restaurant professionals helping them “knowledgeably and confidently chose delicious, sustainable fish.” Now, as a CSF member, I get that benefit too. Which is nice because shopping for fish that’s good for you and the ocean can be confusing.

The CSF works like a CSA does—you buy a 4-week share (fish for two in my case) and pay $66 up front. On Thursday morning we get an e-mail from Bianca, telling us what fish we’ll be getting, how it’s caught, even who caught it—and ideas from Mark for cooking it. Later that afternoon, I head to Brooklyn to pick up my share of fish. So far, we’ve eaten tuna, hake, black bass, striped bass (probably my favorite), pollock. The fish has been fresher than fresh, and although I don’t collect if off the boat myself, there’s something nice about knowing something about where it came from. I’ve been enjoying learning a bit more about fishing practices—and different types of ocean fish. And there’s something very comfortable—and comforting—for me about reviving that weekly rhythm of fish for dinner that was implanted at a young age. Thank you Bianca and Mark!

Meatless Monday: Do You Have Recipes to Contribute?

MEDITERRANEANISTA’S Shaved Fennel and Apple Salad is on this week’s menu at Meatless Monday. I’ve written before about this nonprofit public health campaign and the work it does. Go check out its recipe bank for all sorts of inspired ideas for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Even snacks. Do you have a recipe to contribute? Don’t be shy. 

Cherry Tomato Love

 
When you grow cherry tomatoes in the garden, very few ever seem to make it into the kitchen for a meal, so tempting are they to eat straight from the bush. Somehow, though, when I buy them at the farmers’ market, I have a little better luck, and so I’ve been enjoying some great meals with cherry tomatoes as the star. 
 
One favorite dish is a cherry tomato salad that doubles as an uncooked “sauce” for pasta. I put sauce in quotes because this really is more salad than fluid sauce.  I like adding wild arugula, too, Puglia style. Puglia is the region of Italy in the heel of the boot, where traditionally wild greens have been used extensively in everyday cooking. Wild arugula is peppery, with deep-cut leaves, and it’s now possible to buy cultivated wild arugula (a bit of a strange concept I admit). I especially like a local organic one from Satur Farms, grown on the North Fork of Long Island by Paulette Satur and her husband Eberhard Müller, former chef of Le Bernardin and Lutèce. (I buy it at Whole Foods or FreshDirect.)
 
 
I will be eating a plate of this summer pasta tonight, in preparation for tomorrow’s NYC Century Bike Ride—at least that’s my excuse. Too bad the ride isn’t through Puglia, where we could pick our own arugula and learn to make homemade pasta along the way. (Yes, such a cycling tour exists!)
 

Dinner Tonight: Ratatouille Niçoise

Summer vegetables are just beginning to appear at the farmers’ market—red peppers, zucchini, onions—and so my thoughts turn to ratatouille niçoise. I brought back a recipe for the Provençal vegetable stew when I lived in France for a year right after high school—and I have been making it ever since. I’d faithfully copied down the recipe while a classmate prepared it for a gang of us one evening. We’d all met in the student pension where we lived, kitchen-less, but then our friend had moved out to a small apartment—the height of sophistication I thought at the time because she could have dinner parties and serve wine (cheap, Moroccan).
 
Ratatouille is a classic garden-to-table dish so typical of Mediterranean cooking: a few ingredients, big flavors and simplicity. In cooking circles over the years, I discover there’s been quite a bit of debate—and exchange of recipes—about the best method and perfect ingredients. Julia Child, in Mastering the Art of French Cooking, for instance, advocates cooking the vegetables separately before layering them in a casserole “to partake of a brief communal simmer.” What a beautiful way to put it—and I gladly follow a lot of Julia’s advice—but in the case of this rustic dish, I tend more toward the philosophy of one online commenter: “I do find it amusing that people are using recipes for ratatouille.”
 
Imagine stepping out into your kitchen garden in the middle of summer when vegetables are ripening faster than you can pick them: Gather an eggplant, a few zucchini, some onions, a couple of peppers, 4 or 5 tomatoes and a handful of herbs—whatever looks good. Stew them all up with garlic and olive oil—et voilà. Few of us have vegetable gardens in New York City, but as I selected peppers and zucchini and herbs at the farmers’ market (no local eggplant yet), I felt as close to the spirit of cooking from a Provençal potager as I could.
 
Over the years, I’ve made ratatouille hundreds of time for family and friends. I’ve made it on a Coleman stove camping on North Carolina’s Outer Banks and in massive triple quantities for potluck dinners. At first, I usually made it as a side dish, but more and more now we like it as a main course, eaten alone or with couscous or high-protein quinoa. It’s great with grilled fish. And if I’m in the mood for meat, I fill my plate with ratatouille and grill a really fabulous tasty sausage as a side. (This week it was Bilinski’s Apple Chardonnay.) These are the proportions I like best now—meat as an accent rather than the main deal.
 
Here’s the translated recipe, which I more or less follow:
 
Ratatouille Niçoise
Yield: about 8 cups
 
1 large eggplant
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil, (less, if you prefer)
4 zucchini
2 cloves of garlic
1 lb ripe tomatoes
3 medium onions
2 green or red bell peppers
Salt, pepper
Fresh herbs, up to ¼ cup—basil, thyme, Italian parsley, depending on the flavors you like (I add French tarragon—a teaspoon dried or the leaves from a couple of fresh sprigs) and what’s available
 
1. Peel the eggplant and onion and coarsely chop all the vegetables (Keep onions separate.) Mince or finely chop the garlic. Chop the herbs.
 
2. Heat the olive oil in a large heavy saucepan (I use a 5½-quart Le Creuset French oven) over medium-high heat. Add onions first, then other vegetables, stirring to combine them (and so they don’t stick on the bottom).
 
3. Add garlic and herbs, plus the salt and pepper to taste.
 
 
4. Lower to medium heat, cover and cook for 45 minutes, stirring from time to time, especially at the beginning. Remove lid and cook for another 45 minutes so the liquid evaporates.
 
Ratatouille keeps well and tastes even better reheated. You can also eat it cold. 

Cycling Superfuels à la Méditerranée

Roasted Vegetables
 
 “Five great foods that can help you ride better.” Now that's a promise; I need all the help I can get—this is definitely a clip-and-save, well, download-and-print, article for me. The five foods are salmon, linguini, red peppers, sweet potatoes and berries—easy to like—and right in tune with Mediterranean eating. Then I stumble on a dinner menu that manages to combine them all (well, almost) in one big superfuel feast. (Imagine the speed, imagine the power, I fantasize to myself.) The dishes—Roasted Gingered Salmon with Mango Salsa and Roasted Root Vegetables—have great Med cred: fish, lots of veggies and fruit, plenty of olive oil, lively citrus and cilantro flavors. 
 
The source of the recipes was unlikely but somehow fitting: I came across them on VeloNews.com last summer when I was following the Tour de France. They were developed by Leah Vande Velde (wife of pro cyclist Christian Vande Velde) to feed the pro Garmin bicycling team. The VeloNews editors had a few “lost in translation” moments when they converted a recipe meant to feed the entire team to one that would serve 4 regular humans. As the editors wrote in a note: “Maybe if we were more familiar with publishing recipes, we would have noticed that 22 ounces of olive oil and 25 ounces of brown sugar were a bit much for four pieces of salmon? Maybe.” That’s been corrected. But you still have to pick your own oven temperature for the salmon: 400°F seems to work fine.
 
I throw in red peppers and sweet potatoes (and whatever else is in season) with the root vegetables. Berries for dessert, and you have all the superfuels in one meal except for the linguini. That’s a big “except” for cyclists, I know, but luckily I’m not riding some insane number of miles all over France, so I can save the linguini for another day. 
 

 

Roasted root vegetables with brussels sprouts

Farro, Farro, Where Art Thou?

I’m hunting for farro—once I find out what it is. It’s the first item in a recipe for Panzanella di Farro, or Tuscan tomato salad with farro, in Olives and Oranges, by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox.
 
 
All I know is that it’s a grain—and not one found on my local grocers’ shelves. When I Google it, I find lots of contradictory information. It’s spelt, it’s not spelt. It takes an hour to cook, it takes 20 minutes. I go on with my research and when I’m deep in the weeds of scientific discussions about tetraploid wheats and taxonomy disputes I decide I’ve learned enough.
 
Farro scholars (I’m sure they’re out there) may split hairs but here’s what I, er, boil it down to: Farro (triticum dicoccum or emmer wheat) is an ancient grain, an unhybridized wheat with an intact husk that is the ancestor of modern durum wheat. (Spelt is triticum spelt, a close relative, but not exactly the same in taste and texture. Still, confusion reigns, because Triticum dicoccum, farro, is often translated into English by its Italian producers as “spelt.”)
 
I learn that farro was one of the earliest domesticated crops in the Fertile Crescent, known to archaeologists who explore ancient tombs and excavations. It was eaten by the Roman legions (it seems they were sometimes paid with a daily ration of farro). Farro’s backstory begins to read like a novel. In 1906 agronomist and botanist Aaron Aaronsohn found wild emmer growing in Rosh Pinah (Israel), and his discovery of the “mother” of wheat was said to have caused a sensation in the botanical world. Something about all this thrills me—call me a romantic, but part of the pleasure of Mediterranean eating, I am discovering, is this connection to peoples long gone and life in places far away.
 
Emmer survives in mountainous regions as what’s called a relict crop, one left over from the days when it was widely cultivated. Today it is mostly cultivated in Italy, in Umbria, and Tuscany, most famously in the region of Garfagnana, where it has the equivalent of an appellation controlée.
 
The farro I’ve located in New York is from Umbria and it’s semipearled, meaning the husk has been cracked and it takes only 20 minutes to cook. It has a wonderful nutty flavor and is full of nutrients, too—high in protein, vitamins B and E, and fiber. 
• Bartolini Emilio brand (500 g/$8) at Zabar’s, back behind the coffee to the left of the jams
• Roland brand (500 g/$5) at Fairway, on the shelf with rices. (The words Triticum dicoccum don’t appear on the Roland package but farro does and I’m going with it for now.)
• Rusticella d’Abruzzo brand at Market Hall Foods online (the bricks-and-mortar store is in Oakland, CA)
 
Zabar’s
2245 Broadway (at 80th Street)
New York, NY 10024
212-787-2000
 
Fairway
2312 12th Avenue (at 130th Street)
Manhattan
212-234-3883
 
2127 Broadway (at 74th Street)
Manhattan 
212-595-1888
 
480-500 Van Brunt Street
Red Hook, Brooklyn
718-694-6868
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