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Archive for May, 2012

An Israeli and a Palestinian in England taught me a new word in French.

No matter how many ways I try to string that sentence together, it always sounds like the beginning of a joke that starts in a bar. Luckily, the story ends in the kitchen.

The Israeli is Yotam Ottolenghi. The Palestinian is Sami Tamimi. They both grew up on opposite sides of Jerusalem and met years later in London.

The restaurant is Ottolenghi, the one they partnered to open a decade ago. The dishes draw upon their common food memories and Mediterranean influences.  I can only surmise this based on the two cookbooks that have come out of their kitchen. I’ve never been to their restaurants. But I have eaten their food. And that’s how today’s digression begins.

The French word I learned is mangetout. It comes from the French words manger (to eat) and tout (all). It refers to varieties of peas that are eaten whole in their pods which are edible when young — the flat-podded snow peas and the round-podded sugarsnap peas. Those Brits! Their supposed animosity with the French and their food — the two cultures trade mild insults, with the English calling the French “frogs” for cuisses de grenouilles, the frogs legs they eat, and the French calling the English “rosbifs” for the roast beef they eat — must be some sort of ruse to cover up their love of French food names like courgette (zucchini) and rocket/roquette (arugula).

When I saw the picture opposite the recipe for French beans and mangetout with hazelnut and orange, I immediately flagged page 36 in Ottolenghi – The Cookbook. The name intrigued me as I myself have been known to mange tout. The crunchy hazelnuts nestled between long skinny haricots verts (as you might guess, I like calling them by their French name) and wide flat mangetout and threads of orange zest spoke to me. They said mangez moi, eat me. And so I did.

The hazelnuts were toasted and skinned and chopped. The haricots and mangetout were blanched in boiling water and shocked in ice water. The glistening green pods were drained and dried in a towel. The oranges were zested and juiced. The chives were sliced. Everything was thrown into a bowl with a few dashes of olive and nut oils. A sprinkle of salt, a grind of pepper, and that picture jumped off of page 36 and into my kitchen.

And then, my friends and I, nous avons mangé tout, we ate it all.   

Haricots vert and mangetout with hazelnut and orange

This recipe is adapted from Ottolenghi – The Cookbook. There are a number of steps in the recipe, but they all are pretty quick and can be done in parallel if you plan ahead. While toasting the hazelnuts, blanch and shock the beans in separate batches (because the mangetout require only about a minute to cook). The nuts and beans should be ready around the same time. Right before serving, mix together the beans, zest and juice the orange over the bowl, add oils, salt and pepper, and adjust seasoning. Then sprinkle with chives and hazelnuts.  

Hazelnut oil canbe difficult to find – the one I use is made in France by Phillipe Vigean – it’s kosher and I found it at Zabar’s in NY.  La Tourangelle‘s hazelnut oil is more readily available but is not yet kosher. A good alternative is to try toasted almonds and almond oil. La Tourangelle’s almond oil is excellent and, like most of their oils made in California, is kosher; the ones made in France are not certified. Make sure to store all nut oils in the refrigerator as they can go rancid quickly.

Serves 6-8

- 1 lb haricots verts (very thin French grean beans)

- 1 lb mangetout, i.e., sugersnap peas or snow peas (I used snow peas)

- 2 garlic cloves

- large handful of chives

- 2 oranges for zest and juice

- 1 C unskinned hazelnuts

- 4 T oilve oil

- 2-3 T hazelnut or other nut oil

- coarse sea salt and black pepper

Prepare. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Trim the stalk ends from the the green beans and mangetout, but keep them separate. If you want to be really French, remove the tails from the green beans, but I like how they look. Finely chop the garlic. Roughly chop the chives. Zest and juice the oranges. If you don’t have a zester, remove very thin layers of orange peel with a sharp knife, leaving behind all traces of white, and then slice them into long, skinny strips.

Toast. Scatter the hazelnuts on a cookie sheet and toast them for 7 – 10 minutes until you can smell them. Wrap them in a cloth towel so that they steam will loosen the papery skins. When they are cool, rub them in the towel to remove most of the skins. Roughly chop them.

Blanch. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add salt and when the water returns to a boil, blanch the haricots for 4 minutes and then quickly fish them out and shock them in a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking. Bring the water to a boil again and blanch the mangetout for only 1 minute, and then shock them in another bowl of ice water. Drain the beans and let them dry.

Toss. Mix the beans together in a bowl. Add the orange juice, oils, and salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with orange zest and chopped hazelnuts.

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I’ve let you down. I made a tart and never shared it.

I’m generally a good sharer. My Montessori school teacher put sharing right up there with polishing silver and learning French, and I was an overachiever. But this one tart just slipped through my fingers and out of my mind and into a folder of photos that got lost between a handful of trips and Passover.

Until now.

Apologies aside, let’s talk about the tart.  It’s made with frangipane – an almond custard.

Have you ever tried frangipane? You’ve probably found it tucked neatly between a sweet tart crust and spiral of fresh fruit. Or nestled among the buttery layers of a flaky croissant. Good frangipanes don’t use almond extract. They don’t need it. Because they’re pure sweetened-but-otherwise-unadulterated almond  seduction.

Want to taste some excellent frangipane? If you’re in Boston, head straight to Harvard Square to Crema Cafe for their almond croissants. Make sure to get there early — as in well before noon, especially on a Sunday — because these house-made freshly-baked almond-only filled pastries go quickly.

But back to today’s tart (or rather, six months ago’s tart). I like to bake my fruit right into the almond layer. The juices from the fruit melt into the frangipane. The almond cream puffs up as it bakes and nearly buries the fruit under a crispy, caramelized crust that crackles with the first dip of the fork.

By this point, you’ve probably noticed that this tart has pears in it. On boy, you’re thinking, this girl is evil. Because pear season was months ago. Even worse, it’s months away. But let’s think about it this way: when the days start getting shorter and the leaves start falling off the trees, and the coats come out of storage, you’ll have something to look forward to along with the first snow of the season and a new pair of boots.

And I’m not entirely evil. Though, perhaps a bit of a tease. Next week (if the baking gods smile down on me), there will be a summer fruit frangipane tart to follow. I’ll share that one post-haste because then you’ll be able to go out and grab a few pints of berries or plums and make your own tart to bring to a barbecue.

Until then, happy drooling!

Pear frangipane tart

I have unfortunately lost the source of this recipe. I’ve looked through my usual cookbook suspects and online, and can only find  recipes that use either almond paste or blanched almonds.  I will keep searching, but in the interim, check out this other pear and almond tart.

Frangipane is an almond custard filling for tarts (or other amazing baked goods). The first time I made this tart, I used my stand mixer for the frangipane. The second time, I found it easier to just mix it up by hand. 

Instead of vanilla, I always use orange blossom water as a nice complement to the almond. You can make the pâte sucrée (sweet tart dough) from scratch or use store-bought pie crust dough or even puff pastry in a pinch. Whenever I have extra egg yolks, I quickly whip together a pâte sucrée batch or two in my mini food processor and freeze them until I need them.

Makes a large (9.5-10 inch) tart.

- 1 batch pâte sucrée or pie dough: the recipe that I use is here and here – make sure not to work the dough too much – you just need a few pulses. Also, before rolling the dough out, remember the fraissage: gather the dough together into a pile, and then with the palm of your hand, push it away from you against the counter a few times. This will make the dough flakey.

- 3 T unsalted butter

- 1 1/2 C almond flour – sometimes called almond meal, this is very finely ground almonds. You can find in made with raw almonds (the flour will be light brown) or blanched almonds (the flour will be a very light beige). You could also grind up 1 1/2 C blanched almonds – but be sure to add half the sugar to avoid making almond butter in  your food processor.

- 2/3 C sugar

- 1/4 t salt

- 1 t orange blossom water

- 1 T orange liqueur (e.g., Cointreau)

- 2 eggs

- 3 pears – I use Bosc, but Anjou or Bartlett work well

Prep. Preheat oven to 375°. Lightly grease the bottom of a 9.5 – 10 inch tart pan with a removable bottom.

Roll. Roll the pastry dough out between two sheets of wax or parchment paper (to make it easier to transfer to the pan) into a circle about 2 inches larger than your pan. Remove the top sheet of paper. Gently lay the dough on the pan and slowly remove the second piece of paper. Press the dough into the bottom of the pan and up the sides. Roll your pin across the top of the pan to trim off any excess dough. Use this excess to patch any cracks.

Chill. Refrigerate the tart shell for 30 minutes until firm.

Bake. Prick the dough all over with a fork. Place a sheet of aluminum foil or parchment paper (not wax paper which will smoke) on the raw dough and fill with pie weights or raw rice. You want to weigh down the crust so it doesn’t form bubbles. Bake the dough for 20-30 minutes. Start checking the dough after 15 minutes – it’s ready when light brown. Place on a cooling rack. Keep the oven on.

Brown. While the crust is in the oven, melt butter in a small pan until it browns. The butter will sputter and foam as little brown bits collect on the bottom. When the butter turns to liquid gold and starts to smell nutty, take it off the heat. This takes about 5-7 minutes. Let the butter cool.

Mix. In a bowl, mix together almonds flour/meal, sugar, salt, orange blossom water, and liqueur. Lightly beat the eggs and then mix them in. Pour in the cooled golden butter and mix. The frangipane will be a bit gritty looking.

Slice. Peel the pears, slice them in half, and core them, making sure to also remove the fibers from the seeds to the stem. Carefully slice each pear from tip to end – you want thin slices (I get about 20 slices out of each pear). I say “carefully”  because you want to keep the slices together in the shape of the pear.

Fill. Spread the frangipane in a thin layer on the tart shell, about 2/3 of the way up the edges. Don’t feel compelled to use all of the frangipane because you don’t want it to overflow after you add the pears. (If you have any leftover, use it to make a mini tart or two). Transport the pears on a chef’s knife or dough scraper and gently lay then, tip side in, on the frangipane in a circle. Lightly press the pears towards the outside of the pan to fan the slices out. Smooth out the frangipane and  move it around to even it out if necessary.

Bake. Bake for 40-45 minutes. Check the tart after 35 minutes and then every few minutes until the frangipane turns golden and is no longer jiggly. Let cool before serving.

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Is it summer yet? It sure feels like it.

Not the hot sticky New England brand, but the warm sunny breezy brand. A breeze so lovely that a few open windows and a ceiling fan does the trick. A day so lovely that one might be inspired to buy some mint and thyme plants with hopes of not killing another fooderific herb garden. The herbs are growing outside on my balcony, and as they’re only 2 days old, they seem to be holding up quite well.

An impromptu dinner invitation and a quick scramble for what’s on hand, and my first zucchini salad of the season emerges.

Welcome back, summer, and a great weekend to all!

Marinated mint zucchini salad

Another quick and easy salad, this one requires 5 ingredients (plus salt and pepper), 2 implements (zester and mandoline – check out the links to see the ones I use), and a bowl. Quantities are approximate, so taste and season as you go along. This salad serves 4-6.

Using a mandoline, slice 3 zucchini very thin. Also slice 1/2 red onion on the mandoline. If you don’t have a mandoline – no problem. Just slice the vegetables as thin as you can. Toss the vegetables. Zest two lemons over the salad and then pour the juice in as well. Drizzle a few tablespoons of olive oil and sprinke with salt and pepper. Pick some fresh mint from your still growing herb garden and slice or rip it into small pieces. Toss everything together and taste for seasoning. Bask in your kitchen with the oven off and a gentle breeze from the window.

***

If  you’re looking for other ways to take advantage of the summer’s zucchini windfall, check out these recipes from years past:

If  you want to cook: zucchini bread or roasted zucchinior zucchini tart with raclette (or plain swiss cheese)

If you don’t want to cook:  marinated zucchini salad with mushrooms and dill or zucchini ribbon salad with middle eastern spices

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I don’t have much time today because the sun is fading and I’m on my way out to dinner with a bag full of jars, a bowl, and a box. No mystery here, it’s food for tonight’s shabbat dinner. It might be cuatro de Mayo, but we’re celebrating cinco de Mayo tonight with margaritas, guacamole, steak with fruit salsa, spicy cinnamon brownies, and margaritas.

Before I head out, I wanted to jot down recipes for the dishes I’m bringing because there are so few Mexican recipes out there that do not revolve around corn, avocado, and black beans. I spent hours thumbing through a half-dozen cookbooks and my favorite online sites. And then I just made up two recipes. First I grilled the freshest spring vegetables I could find and made a sauce from smokey chipotle peppers to drizzle on top. Then I  toasted pepitas and roasted tomatillos and jalapenos and chopped up a salad inspired  by the produce I remember from my last visit to Mexico City.

So here you go. Two Mexican recipes, just under the wire, and ready for you to throw together for your own fiesta.

Happy weekend!

Grilled vegetables with chipotle sauce

Grill vegetables. Slice 2 zucchini and 2 yellow squash on a bias (about 1/3-inch thick). Break the woody ends off of a bunch of thick asparagus (about 20 stalks). Slice one red onion into rings. Place each vegetable in a separate bag or bowl and let marinate in olive oil, salt, and pepper for about 30 minutes. Heat a grill pan over medium-high heat – it’s ready when a drop of water sizzles the second it hits the pan. Make sure to turn on your exhaust because it will start to get smokey. Grill each vegetable for approximately 4-6 minutes per side. When they start to release from the pan, they’re ready – I found that I did need to do a little work to release the zucchini and squash as they were still sticking a bit when they were fully cooked.

Make sauce. In a food processor, mix the following: 2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce (there are usually 5-6 peppers in a can), 1 tomato, juice of 2 limes, 1/4 C olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Add a little bit of water to thin everything out if necessary.

Drizzle. Arrange vegetables on a platter, squeeze another lime over top, and drizzle with sauce.

Chopped salad with tomatillo cilantro dressing

Make salad. Pickle half a red onion: slice it very thin and marinate for at least 30 minutes in 3 T red wine or apple cider vinegar, 1/4 C warm water, 1/2 t sugar, and salt to taste. Dry toast a handful of pepitas (raw pumpkin seeds) in a small pan – keep shaking the pan to move the seeds around and when the turn slightly golden and start to pop, take them off the heat and let them cool. Chop into bite-sized pieces 2 romaine hearts, 2 C arugula, and a yellow pepper. Slice 3 radishes very thin (I use my cheap mandoline). Peel and chop a medium-sized jicama into approximately 1/2 inch cubes.

Make dressing. Remove the husks from 2-3 tomatillos and rinse off the sticky residue. Under a broiler, roast the tomatillos and 2 jalapeno peppers on aluminum foil. When the skins blacken and blister, take out of oven and wrap then up in the foil so that they will steam. Once they are cool enough to handle, peel off the skins. Remove the seeds from the peppers. Put them into the bowl of a food processor with about 1 cup cilantro, juice of 2-3 limes, and 2 T honey. Process until smooth. Slowly add 1/4 C olive oil and process until emulsified. Season with salt and pepper. Add more lime juice if the dressing needs a little more acid (or water and oil if it needs less).

Toss. Mix all the vegetables and then sprinkle with pepitas and drizzle with dressing right before serving.

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I’d like to tell you the tale of my week in San Francisco. It was intrinsically tied to a book. No, not a cook book, but a book book.

The book is Ruth Reichl‘s Comfort Me with Apples. This is the second of her memoirs, and the third of her books that I’ve read.

Before we can fly out West, though, there’s a little history we need to get through.

Reichl and I met in 2001, the year I returned to medical school after a several year hiatus in the “real world,” also known as corporate America (I’m not sure that that’s the real world, but anything felt more real than my 17th year sitting in classrooms). We were introduced by my boyfriend at the time – he bought me a subscription to the now sadly out of print Gourmet magazine and inspired my purchase of a stand mixer (Kitchenaid, just like his). The mixer lasted until last year, its life much longer than the relationship, but its end no less tragic.

For eight years, I awaited Reichl’s monthly arrival in my mailbox, her letter from the editor the start to a cozy night or two, snuggled up under the covers and cradling my Gourmet by the light of my bedside lamp, folding over page after page of recipes to try. She wrote (well, still writes) with an ease that reminded me that with good food, everything would turn out all right. In an effort to rid my apartment of clutter (an ongoing battle), I purged all my food magazines. Only one Gourmet survived – April 2009 — and as I wrote this, I reread her letter to see what Reichl had to say almost exactly three years ago.

“Because that is what spring is all about: hope, possibility, and our endless capacity to rejoice in what nature has given us.”

A nice sentiment as the weather warms and I am in the very (very) early stages of contemplating a big change.

On a particularly sunny Sunday in March, I found myself sifting through cardboard boxes of books lining the sidewalk in front of the post office mere steps from my apartment. Wedged between a carpentry manual and Chemistry text in the last  box, I saw a blue book with Reichl’s name peeking out at me. Three dollars and it was mine.

As night fell, I curled up with Garlic and Sapphires, glad for a reunion. I devoured Reichl’s pre-Gourmet tales of visiting and reviewing the full spectrum of New York restaurants for the Times. In anticipation of this rising star Bay Area critic arriving in New York, chefs pasted pictures of Reichl in their kitchens so that staff could recognize and alert the team to her wielding  pen. As a result, Reichl often dressed in disguise amd adopted different personas to avoid special treatment.

Two nights later,  I ordered Tender at the Bone, Reichl’s first memoir. At some point — between stories of her childhood, stories of her move to Berkeley where she cooked for everyone from housemates to the now defunct Swallow Restaurant Collective, and stories of her early days as a restaurant critic — we became friends and I called her Ruth.

She flew out to San Francisco with me. We shared a cramped middle seat. I forced myself to watch a movie destined for a captive audience so that we wouldn’t have to part ways at wheels down.

Once in the Bay Area, I savored my time with Ruth, only allowing myself to read one or two chapters per day.

We spent the whole week together.

She accompanied me from Oakland to San Francisco to Half Moon Bay to Berkeley. She sat with me in cafes in between meetings. She joined me at the bar for dinner. She was the last person to speak to me before I fell asleep.

In between meetings, I thought of little other than food. Where would I eat next? Where might Ruth go? What disguise might she have worn and persona might she have assumed? What would she think of the food the atmosphere the service? How does the staff treat someone eating solo? Do they give you looks when its crowded and you alone linger at a table meant for two?

I wanted to taste everything. At dinner, I always started with a glass of wine and ended with a desssert and coffee. And there were one or two courses in between. One morning at breakfast, I sat down with a coffee (of course!), a tartine with butter, a croissant, and an orange-flecked breakfast bun. I’m not sure what I was thinking.

But what I had hoped would be the highlight of our time together didn’t go quite as planned. My Berkeley food crawl with my friend and expert eater, Joanne, was almost cancelled when she and her kids got sick. But Ruth and I soldiered on. We crossed the Bay Bridge, just the two of us, intent on exploring her old haunts. We drove past Channing Way where Ruth reminded me she had lived in a communal house (more like a commune) in the 70s. We arrived at Shattuck Avenue — “gourmet ghetto” central — and quickly found parking. I knew that Chez Panisse would be closed on Sunday, but didn’t expect its across-the-street neighbor, The Cheese Board Collective, to be closed as well. I saw the two landmarks, peered in from the outside, left fingerprints on the windows, and then sought out food (and, of course, coffee). A few frantic text messages to Joanne and a charming little cupcake was in my hand. Another hour or two and we headed back.

The next day, Ruth and I said goodbye at the airport on my way back to Boston.

It was a great week.

It was a hard week.

It was a long week.

It was a coffee-filled week.

It was a delicious week.

Fettuccine with asparagus, lemon, mascarpone, and almonds

I would never have come up with this dish had I not been traveling in San Francisco with Ruth. It was inspired by “Danny’s Lemon Pasta” – fresh fettuccine with a cream and lemon sauce – published in Ruth Reichl’s Comfort Me with Apples, the book I carried around with me from cafe to restaurant to cafe . Having just read the recipe, and dining alone perched on a stool at the bar at A16, I pounced on the restaurant’s fregula with asparagus, mascarpone, meyer lemon, toasted almonds and pecorino riserva. With this ingredient list and Reichl’s directions, I developed this fresh, summery, nutty pasta. The sauce just barely coats the pasta, so if you like more sauce, adjust accordingly. Before draining the pasta, scoop out a cup of pasta water in case you want to thin the sauce. It’s best to have all your ingredients prepped and on hand because the recipe goes by pretty quickly and can be on your table within 15 minutes. This recipe serves 2 hungry people.

- 1/4 C sliced almonds

- 3/4 lb fresh fettuccine (or other shape)

- 1 large bunch of asparagus; thick or thin stalks work fine, but a thicker stalk will require an extra mintue or two of cooking.

- 2 T butter

- One lemon (for zest and juice)

- 1/3 C mascarpone

- salt and pepper

Toast. In a skillet over medium heat, toast the almonds, shaking the pan to avoid burning. This shouldn’t take more than 5 minutes. Once you start to smell the almonds, they’re done. It’s best to stay nearby because nuts can turn from golden to black in just a few seconds.

Slice. Cut off the woody ends of the asparagus and then slice in 1 – 1 1/2 inch the remaining stalks.

Boil. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Add salt and bring back to a boil. If you are using fresh pasta, drop in the pasta and asparagus together at the same time. This should talk about 3-4 minutes to cook through. If you are going to use dried pasta, follow the cooking directions and then 3-4 minutes before you plan to remove the pasta, drop the asparagus into the pot. When both the pasta and asparagus are ready, scoop out a cup or so of pasta water, and then drain everything in a colander.

Whisk. While the pasta and asparagus is boiling, melt butter in a large pan (that will fit all of the pasta). Zest the lemon into the hot butter. Remove the pan from the heat and whisk in mascarpone until smooth. If you’d like a richer sauce, whisk in extra mascarpone. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Toss. Pour the drained pasta and asparagus into the pan and toss everything to coat the pasta with sauce. If the sauce is too thick, add some pasta water to get it to your desired consistency.

Squeeze. Squeeze the juice of half the lemon over the pasta.

Sprinkle. Sprinkle the toasted almonds over the pasta.

***

PS – Here’s where I ate.

Oakland and Berkeley:

Bocanova
Jack London Square
55 Webster Street
Oakland, CA 94607
Happy hour menu before 6 pm (great when you’ve just arrived from the East Coast)

Miette (additional locations in San Francisco)
85 Webster Street
Oakland, CA 94607
Try the chocolate sables, shortbread (lemon and lavender are my favorites), and pot de crème

Caffe 817
817 Washington Street
Oakland, CA 94607
Get anything with a poached egg

Love at First Bite Bakery
1510 Walnut Street, Suite G
Berkeley, CA 94709
The “pretty in pink” cupcake has just the right ratio of strawberry buttercream to not-too-sweet strawberry cake

San Francisco

La Boulange Bakery
All over San Francisco and the Bay area
This small chain has great pastries and breakfast (think egg on a croissant), and people were lined up outside the Marina location when it opened at 7 am
 

Tartine Bakery
600 Guerrero Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
Skip the tartine – thick toasted slabs of levain soudough – and go straight for the croissants: buttery and extra flakey, leaving a trail of shattered crumbs all  over the table and down your shirt

780 Cafe
780 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
Huge space, great coffee, free wifi, tons of outlets, well-worn sofas; if you don’t have an Apple, you will be out of place

A16
2355 Chestnut Street
San Francisco, California 94123
Ask for a few extra pieces of salted hazelnut brittle with your coffee (I thought it was better than my actual dessert)

Zaré at Fly Trap
606 Folsom St. (at Second Street)
San Francisco, CA 94107
If they have it, get the pistachio crepes with pistachio ice cream; the owner will probably stop by your table to say hi

tacolicious
3 locations in San Francisco
Try the albacore tuna tostadas

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