Thursday, September 22, 2011

Summer Tomato

When the cold weather hits and stays, the only way I'll crave tomatoes is from a jar. I'll pull out a mason of the puree I canned and use it with wine for a nice slow beef braise. Or a chili. Or a long-simmered sauce. If I'm tempted to buy tomatoes at the grocery, I'll roast them till the sugars caramelize.

But right now, we're still in summer tomato season, and there are endless ways to enjoy these beauties. My biggest craving this year was for gazpacho. Mixing tomatoes with cucumbers, peppers, and acid seems like the only appropriate meal on a 90-degree summer afternoon. I added chopped raw fennel to mine this year, and the sharp-yet-subtle anise flavor sung through.

Those who love a ripe, red tomato may scoff at my next act, but I start to crave green tomatoes before the red end product even enters my mind. I love their sour crispness. Done right, a fried green tomato will retain part of this crisp texture while softening slightly, enough for the juices to flow throughout the slice. I fry my tomatoes in cornmeal, and have begun adding some uncooked grits to the mixture for extra crunch.

When my mom gifted me with beautiful lavender fairy-tale eggplant this summer, a fried green tomato seemed the perfect counterpoint to the soft, almost mushy grilled rounds. Topped with a sweet, red tomato jam, the combination was divine.

And of course, there is also a time to enjoy a tomato in its pure essence, sliced, with little adornment. After a long morning this past Saturday, I wanted a quick, leisurely lunch. A plate with kalamata olives, ricotta salata, and sliced heirloom tomato, all drizzled with garlic-coriander olive oil is a lunch you never want to end.

Friday, July 22, 2011

New riff on something great

So many people are a fan of kale chips these days, and I am certainly one of them. I first read about them in the February 2009 issue of bon appetit magazine, and instantly wanted to try them. I fell quickly for these crisp green leaves. Baking the kale slowly at a low heat with olive oil, salt, and pepper condenses the brisk, vegetal flavor.

But friends, I am here to tell you--do not limit the making of these chips to kale. Today, I made them with beet greens, and the results were superb. They have the same great crispness as the kale, and though more delicate (a little less mineral, and you can taste the beet), still bring ballsy flavor.

The best thing about making chips with beet greens is that you're probably not going to use the greens otherwise. Kale, sure, you'll saute it or throw it in a fritatta. But beet greens? Not so much. To begin, if you buy any beets other than the classic red--say golden--the greens don't taste good. But in chip form they do. Truly! Plus, different kinds of beets have different colored tops, so you get fun, multi-colored chips.

So, jump on the head-to-hoof bandwagon, only in veggie form. Buy beets from a farmer with the tops still on and crisp up those greens!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Squash Interpretations

There's a saying, "You eat with your eyes," that I think is really true. Food tastes better to us when it looks beautiful. I don't mean pretty. Chef David Tanis talks in one of his cookbooks about pretty food versus beautiful food. Pretty food is when you go to a restaurant and everything has been piled on top of each other to fit neatly in a perfect square on the plate and then the plate--not the food, but the plate--is drizzled with balsamic reduction. Lovely, pretty, but not beautiful.

Beautiful food is when the elements of the food are allowed to shine. Scattering something with a few pomegranate seeds seems luxurious, but it is also real; pomegranates
are a natural, edible jewel. Cooking a while fish, as I recently did for the first time, is beautiful. The presentation is simultaneously simple and special.

Color in food amazes me. Take, for instance, these two interpretations of patty pan squash. I had a yellow patty pan, a food that is naturally a bright, vibrant yellow. Thrilling that something like amaranth microgreens exist with their shocking burgundy threads. A salad of the two is a surprise and a great way to "eat with your eyes".

But take the same squash. Slice into thin slivers and arrange, overlapping on a plate, as if the squash is fanning itself out. Marry with pieces of basil, a lemon-Siracha-oliv
e oil dressing. Yellow and green is a more classic color combination, but the dressing brings a pink-orange note that glides across the white squash flesh. This is fresh food that is as good as it can possibly taste, but then made even better through its beauty.

Monday, July 4, 2011

American Pie

Happy 4th of July! To me, 4th of July has always been about having a brunch picnic with my family and watching fireworks. This year, neither of those are happening (though last night I saw fireworks go off here and there). So, what does 4th of July mean when the traditions are taken away? I think it's all about remembering things that make America America. Not the principles and ideas like liberty and capitalism, but the real tangibles, the fun(ny) things like cookouts and cut-off jean shorts, and those little embroidered aprons worn by 50s housewives.

And as they say, what's more American than apple pie?...maybe a cherry pie with star crust! Here's to celebrating in style!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Simple Pleasures

Food doesn't have to be fancy. In fact, it usually shouldn't be. Mint leaves, white peaches, chioggia beets, Tuscan kale, a hunk of parmigiano--these things are all beautiful on their own and need no adornment.

And sometimes, foods come upon us as a surprise. There is a place on my street where I happened to see two tiny red gems peeking up through the foliage--wild strawberries. Every so often, I will check back and gather a couple more. On Monday, I was thrilled to discover several berries, wet with dew, and I picked all of them. There is delight in holding a handful of these wild red orbs.

And sometimes the delight comes from resurrecting food from a dismal state past its prime. I had a hunk of home-baked bread that was old and had been left out over night. Was was once relatively soft and porous turned into a rock-hard heel. It was too large to crush into breadcrumbs, too hard to cut for croutons. But I developed a trick. Last night, I put the bread in a bag with a touch of milk and let it soak overnight. This morning, I was rewarded with something soft and edible. I soaked the entire piece further in milk and egg and made a hunk of french toast. And these three simple things when fried in oil become sublime.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Spring Eating

Just a few pictures to get back in the swing of bok choy with peanut noodles...a vase full of mint...herbs de Provence goat cheese with raspberries and pears...A spring lunch: culzeroni with butternut squash and microgreens, flatbread, and Campari spritzers...a chicken, peach, goat cheese pizza with balsamic reduction cherry almond crostata

I am so happy to be eating this fresh, warm-weather food!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

'Tis a gift to be simple

Often, simplicity is best. Sometimes it's easier to enjoy food when you savor the food itself, pure flavors, unadorned. Think of the sweet corn of summer, simply boiled on is cob, buttered and salted. Or a sharp farmhouse cheddar, cutting off buttery shards with a knife. These are foods that want nothing more. They have no need of preparation. These are the foods that remind us why we love food. The best food can be delicious without the best chef.

Simple foods are a different kind of comfort food. They do not fall into the category of beef braised for hours in a stew or rich, gooey macaroni and cheese. They comfort--not because they are hearty, but because they are real. They need little, if any, preparation--the original fast food. We are comforted because we can eat well the moment we are hungry, without agonizing over recipes.

I ate this way last night. I recently acquired a beautiful bottle of Greek olive oil, pressed exclusively from kalamata olives. It is a bright, vibrant green, the exact green you would hope for to celebrate spring and new life. It is silky. And grassy. Perhaps you have read about olive oils before, and there are these strange descriptors, the way wine is spicy or jammy. Olive oil is nuanced in a similar way, and people say it is fruity or herbal. Or grassy. The second I opened the bottle and tasted my oil, I knew. I knew I was tasting a grassy one. It was fresh and alive. And I wanted to eat that pure flavor, un-muddied and true. So I made a vinaigrette. I smashed a garlic clove in my mortar with a little sea salt, making a satiny paste. Poured in my olive oil. Whisked in a little cider vinegar. Chopped up some romaine. Dressed the lettuce. Accompanied by a beautiful chunk of pecorino, a simple food in its own right.

And another thing about simple food--it loves to be presented simply too. And that somehow makes it all the more beautiful.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


It is so satisfying to eat food that comes straight from my own hands, to be completely connected to what I'm consuming. Because so often, we don't know. Today's sandwich came pretty darn close, save the basil leaves scattered on top, which I really have no business eating in the winter, anyway. But sometimes we make little exceptions. But the rest? Pure goodness.
The base is Irish soda bread that I baked last night. I've started baking bread regularly, and I have a basic rustic loaf that I bake a couple times a week. When you can't find the time to let your dough rise, however, Irish soda bread is a good go-to-loaf. I like mine with currants and caraway seeds.
Next, I slathered on some good, homemade ricotta cheese. I discovered around Christmas time that it is so easy to make your own ricotta, and have been making it ever since. The texture is divine, and the taste is clean. It tastes exactly like what it's made of--milk. I have used my ricotta to make ravioli, a dessert across between a cheesecake and souffle, and ricotta fritters--little balls of fried, crisp, gooey goodness. And ricotta is great on sandwiches, especially as a foil to stronger flavors, as in today's interpretation...
Chili pepper chutney. At the end of the summer, I bought up a bunch of chilies and cooked them into a spicy-sweet mass with onions, balsamic vinegar, and brown sugar. The chutney is very spicy, so it's a perfect match for ricotta, which helps tame the heat and bring out the flavor.
It's a lunch to feel good about.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

How to use up that open bottle of wine

Walking into my kitchen last Wednesday morning, you might have thought me a fool. You would have found me, standing in front of a hot oven, eyes closed, as the passionte voice of a tenor singing opera filled the air. I would have seemed lost. Anything but. In fact, I was smelling heaven. See, I made these:

Biscotti al vino. Wine cookies. Flour, sugar, olive oil, white wine, a little fennel seed and lemon peel. Basta. Now that I have made them, I can't think of anything more miraculous.

It began as I was reading Marlena di Blasi's wonderful A Thousand Days in Venice, in which she falls in love with a "blueberry-eyed" Venetian, and marries him. The book is as much a meditation on life as it is on love, and in Italy, life means food. And so, page after page contains the simplest mentions of some meal, each one restrained yet tempting. And I am easily seduced by the power of suggestion. So when Marlena goes to the bakery and buys biscotti al vino, "cookies made with white wine, olive oil, fennel seed, and orange peel," I want some too.

I began searching for recipes, finding them mostly in Italian. The ingredent list is short, however, and easy enough to understand. (None of the recipes I found called for the fennel and orange flavorings, but as she was eating her cookies in Venice, I figured that's authentic enough. I substituted lemon for orange.) The method seemed intuitive. So I began, mixing flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and fennel seed. To it, I added olive oil, white wine, and lemon peel, bringing the dough (which is almost like a bread dough) together. I let it sit. I shaped the dough into little doughnuts, dusted them with sugar, then into the oven. After awhile, I could really begin to smell them, which is where you would have found me, reveling in the luxurious combination of aromas. Let me just say, that if you ever would like someone to fall in love with you, put a tray of these in the oven before he arrives.

And they taste pretty darn amazing too. The wine offers a subtle, je ne sais quoi kind of flavor. Or, to quote one of the Italian bloggers I discovered in my search for a recipe, they are, "facile, facile, ma buona, buona" (easy, easy, but good, good). And I'm thrilled to find a baked good I can make without butter or eggs.

I have made these cookies twice in the span of one week. The first time I made them, the recipe I developed yielded good results, but the dough was hard to work with, so I tweaked it a little and was satisfied the second time around. So, here is my recipe for biscotti al vino:

Put 1 1/2 c flour, 1/4 c sugar, 1 tsp. baking powder, 1 1/2 tsp. fennel seeds, and a pinch of salt in a bowl. Use a whisk to mix. Pour in 1/4 c olive oil and 1/3 c white wine. Grate over the zest of half a lemon. Use a wooden spoon to begin incorporating ingredients, then use your hands to knead into a smooth dough. Let rest, covered with a dishcloth, for 15 minutes and preheat oven to 360 degrees.
Pour 1 T sugar on a plate. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Take a walnut-sized piece of dough and roll into a snake. Join the ends, making a little doughnut-shaped cookie. Dip the top in sugar and put on the baking sheet. Continue. Will make around 12 cookies.

Bake in preheated oven for 15-25 minutes--depending on what you want the texture of the cookie to be. Shorter time will give a softer cookie, but it will not color. Longer time will slightly brown the cookies and yield a crunchy cookie.

PS-Haven't tried it yet, but I hear you can make these with red wine too. Might change the other flavorings, like clove instead of fennel.