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Archive for July, 2012

ritual

I’ve got pistachio on the brain.

It might be because I bought a huge bag for a certain salad that I’ve made several times in the past few weeks.

I keep a jar of these beauties on my coffee table and my friends and I scoop out a handful or two at a time.

Shelling them is half the fun. There’s the plip-plop of each shell half falling into the bowl, their sounds dampened as the empty shells pile up. Then the undivided attention we pay to one another as the repetitive activity occupies our hands but frees up our minds to focus on what we’re talking about. Finally the satisfaction of reward for work done.

After the shelling, there’s the eating. There’s the layer of salt that gets you salivating. Then the dusky purple papery skin that slips and slides between your teeth. Finally the bright green kernel that rolls around sweet and unctuous on your tongue and yields to a gentle bite.

It reminds me of the Israeli ritual of sitting around a few cups of mid-day or after-dinner coffee, kibbutzing about the day’s news while pausing every few seconds to pop another sunflower seed into your mouth, crack the hull between your teeth, find the seed meat inside, and casually drop the remains into the napkin lining your palm.

During these hazy hot humid days punctuated by flash storms, the pistachio shelling ritual is soothing, the plip-plop echoing the rain drops outside.

But there are only so many pistachios that one girl can eat before starting to think about baking. Especially this girl.  Especially on a rainy day.

And so, with pistachio on the brain and a few hours until the rain lets up, I sit and I shell and I skin and I toast and I chop.

Then I mix and I sprinkle and I bake and I slice and I bake and I cool.

And I crunch away. And the rain stops.

Pistachio rose biscotti

These biscotti are inspired by the flavors of baklava, studded with toasted pistachio and tinged with rose water. You can buy pre-shelled pistachos to simplify this recipe, but I find the act of shelling and skinning the pistachios very soothing. (I found a cool trick to remove the skins from pistachios and almonds by soaking in hot water for a few minutes.)  Do whatever is easiest for you. I adapted this recipe from one for biscotti di Prato in Lou Seibert Pappas’ Biscotti (you might remember seeing these cookies on here before). The rose flavor is very subtle and next time I make these,  I’ll amp it up to 1 1/2 or 2 teaspoons of rose water.  

Makes about 3 dozen biscotti.

- 2 C unshelled pistachios (or 1 C shelled pistachios), divided

- 3 eggs

- 1 t rose water (I use Cortas brand)

- 7/8 C sugar (i.e., one cup minus 2 tablespoons)

- 1 t baking soda

- pinch of kosher salt

- 3 C flour

- turbinado sugar (“sugar in the raw”) for sprinkling

Preheat. Preheat the oven to 350ºF.

Shell. Remove the pistachios from their shells. You should end up with about one cup (assuming you don’t eat too many).

Skin. Fill a bowl with the pistachios and cover them with boiling water. Let them sit for about 3 minutes until the water is cool enough for you to reach in and pluck out a few pistachios at a time. Squeeze them between your fingers and the skins should slip right off. This step also removes the salt.

Toast. Spread the pistachio on a cookie sheet in a single layer. Toast in the oven for 7-10 minutes until they’re dry and fragrant. Let them cool.

Chop. Chop the pistachios with a knife or pulse a few times in a food processor. You should still have chunks, not a fine powder.

Mix. In a bowl, whisk together the eggs, rose water, and sugar (I use my stand mixer). Add the baking soda, salt, and flour and mix until everything is blended. Mix in 3/4 cup of the pistachios.

Bake. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Shape the dough into two long, skinny loaves (about 15 inches long and 2 inches wide). They will spread a lot during baking, so make sure to leave enough room between them. Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup chopped pistachios and a few pinches of turbinado sugar. Bake for 40 minutes until firm and golden brown.

Cool. Let the loaves cool for about 5 minutes until you can touch them. Lower the oven to 275ºF.

Slice. Slice the loaves on the diagonal into 1/2- to 3/4-inch wide slices.

Bake again. Lay the slices flat on the baking sheet (you may need two) and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the sheet(s) and flip the slices over. Continue baking for another 5 minutes.

Store. Keep the biscotti in an airtight tin or jar. I usually put half of them directly in the freezer to save myself from them.

***

Update 4/14: Here are a few more photos that I took recently for an article in the Forward.

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Pistachio rose biscotti

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alchemy

In less time than it takes for you read through this post, you can make a salad dressing that just might change your life.

Let’s get to it so you can run to the kitchen and throw three ingredients (well, five if you count salt and pepper) into a jar. Shake, and, abracadabra, a jar of life-altering liquid gold.

I’m sure you can guess the first two ingredients — some sort of acid (in this case, lemon juice) and some sort of oil (in this case, olive oil) in a 1:2 or 1:3 mix. The third, orange blossom water, takes this dressing from classic to ecstatic. Its flavor is subtle but remarkably present.

Now, enough of my chatter. Run to the kitchen, rummage for a jar, and get shaking. (If you’re like me, you may need to spend a few quick moments cleaning up the mess of containers that have burst out of your cabinet in your rush to find  just the right jar.) Toss a handful of greens and herbs on a plate, crack open some pistachios, and just before you lift your fork, drizzle the dressing over.

p.s. Nearly three weeks after her death, I can’t stop reading Nora Ephron’s New Yorker article on her love affair with cookbooks. Don’t read it yet – savor it over your salad.

Arugula and pistachio salad with orange blossom dressing

This salad comes from Yotam Ottolenghi’s vegetarian cookbook Plenty. Orange blossom water is an extract used in Middle Eastern cooking. The brand I use is Cortas. Ottolenghi uses watercress and a mix of herbs — basil, cilantro, dill and tarragon. I substituted arugula for the watercress, both having a similar bitterness, and my own favorite herbs. The dressing is more than enough to serve 6-8 people (with about 3/4 of a pound of arugula).

Make dressing. In a jar, whisk (or shake) together 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice, 1 1/2 teaspoons orange blossom water, and salt and pepper.

Make salad. Toss together in a big bowl a few handfuls of arugula, chopped fresh mint, chopped fresh basil, and a few sprigs of fresh dill. Shell a handful of lightly salted pistachios and add to the salad. Add the dressing just moments before serving.

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shades of green

Taking up residence in my refrigerator is a cityscape of green jars. There’s the blender jar of cucumber gazpacho. To its left is a small jar of garlic scape oil topped by an even smaller jar of mint oil. To its right, a tall jar of mint- and chive-flecked labne, but that’s another story.  The  “buildings” are nestled between a garden of pea shoots and tendrils with their young white blossoms and a wild tangle of mâche and arugula destined for a salad.

This shelf reminds me of my freshman  year of college. No, I didn’t have a fridge full of greens to fuel my studies. Instead I had a roommate who was going through a preppy stage. In honor of her, my then boyfriend created a game called “J. Crew shades of green.” It consisted of a piece of paper with a column of twenty-five green color swatches (cut from a catalog) arranged from dark to light like a Panetone paint color chart and a column of twenty-five names. There was jade and apple and oasis and gatsby. It was a matching game.

Assembled, the contents of my refrigerator jars transform into a sea of wave crest gazpacho splattered with monterey pine mint oil and cyprus garlic scape oil. And then I got to wondering – what would those colors be in Crayola? How about sheen gazpacho with Christmas mint oil and inchworm scape oil?

The game makes for endless hours of entertainment.

Colors aside, this summer soup came to me in the form of an appetizer a few weeks ago before the best-meal-on the Cape dinner at Ten Tables where it was served over a shock of spiced wine (J. Crew) jazzberry jam (Crayola) beet cubes. At home a few days later with a whir of the blender, a few pulses of the food processor, and some toasting and slicing, I had a very pretty, wave crest-monterey pine-cyprus-tinted Jackson Pollack canvas of my own.

Cucumber mint gazpacho

I used as a starting point another cucumber gazpacho recipe from a few summers ago, and added almonds and mint. Soaked bread thickens the gazpacho and, most importantly, makes it really creamy without any cream (see salmorejo). You might need to make this in two batches, depending on the size of your blender jar. It did fit in my standard Kitchenaid 56 ounce (7 cup) blender. The soup’s flavors intensify with time and I like it best after a night in the fridge. It will thicken up a bit, so be prepared to add a little water before serving. I’ve included the recipes for mint oil and garlic scape oil – the soup is special without them, but even special-er with them and the leftovers will find their way into other dishes for days.  

If you want to be trendy, serve the soup in tall shot glasses or tumblers. Or, go old school and use bowls.

Makes 6 cups

- 1 1/2 pounds thin-skinned cucumbers — about 10 small Persian cucumbers or 2 seedless/English cucumbers

- 1/2 C cold water

- 1 small onion or 1/2 large onion

- 5 garlic scapes (or 2-3 cloves regular garlic)

- 1 T tightly packed mint leaves (about 30)

- 3/4 C almonds (skinned), divided

- 1/4 C olive oil, plus more for drizzling

- 1/4 C red wine vinegar or sherry vinegar

- kosher salt

- 1 C stale  bread, cut into cubes. I’ve found challah or ciabatta to be best. You can keep on some crust, but not too much or the soup will come out less creamy, more gritty

- Optional: mint oil,  garlic scape oil (recipes below)

Puree. Rough chop the cucumber (I keep the skin on) and add to the blender jar with the cold water. Puree until smooth. Rough chop the onion and scapes and add to the blender jar with the mint leaves. Puree again. Then add 1/2 cup of almonds, olive oil, and vinegar, and keep pureeing until the entire mix is smooth.

Soak. Add the bread cubes to your blender and let them soak up the liquid for at least 30 minutes. When they have softened up, puree again until very smooth. Add salt to taste.

Chill. You want to serve this cold, so refrigerate for at least an hour (straight in the blender jar) before serving. The soup will thicken a bit, so you may need to add a little cold water and blend until it’s the consistency  you want.

Toast. Toast the almonds until they just start to darken (5 minutes in a 350ºF oven). Let them cool and then pulse in a food processor a few times (or chop by hand). Sprinkle over soup.

Get fancy. Garnish as much as you’d like (see recipes below). Drizzle with olive oil, mint oil, and/or garlic scape oil.

Flavored oils

Make sure to use a very mild oil – I use grapeseed oil – so that the flavor of the herbs shines. An olive oil will be too overpowering. The oils can be used immediately, but an overnight stay in the fridge will intensify the flavors. There will be leftovers. The mint oil is great drizzled on salads, asparagus, or a nice steak. I love spooning a little bit of garlic scape oil on an egg in the last minute of frying and then wilting some arugula in the hot pan. I’ve also thrown it over fresh pasta with a little bit of grated parmesan.

Mint oil.  In a food processor, puree  1/2 cup packed mint leaves in 1/2 cup grapeseed (or other mild) oil.

Garlic scape oil. In a food processor, puree 15 garlic scapes in 1 cup grapeseed (or other mild) oil.

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Happy Fourth!

Before you light up the grill and pull out the sparklers, click on over to the Jerusalem Post and check out a couple of recipes in my Come to the Table column. This month we’re talking about rose water and orange blossom water, two floral extracts that have a history longer than that of vanilla.

You might have  noticed that I bake orange blossom water into any sweet that contains almonds. In my research for the article, however, I came across several savory recipes that incorporate orange blossom water and it’s now my new secret weapon, er, ingredient. Look out, because another salad with orange blossom dressing is coming your way soon and it’s a winner.

Until then, happy sunning and eating!

Beet, orange, and feta salad

This recipe, adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s vegetarian cookbook Plenty, is a spin on the classic Moroccan salad of oranges and olives, meant to cool down the palate from spicy foods. The addition of beets makes a more substantial hearty and earthy side dish, and I followed Elise Bauer‘s beet roasting instructions . I’ve replaced the olives with feta as the salty counterpart to the sweet beets and acidic citrus. The orange flower water in the dressing provides a sharp, slightly bitter flavor to round out the dish – use a very mild oil to really let the orange blossom shine. Be careful when handling beets as they stain everything that gets in their way, including your hands. I’ve provided a few time- and effort-saving shortcuts for several of the steps.

Serves 6 as a side dish

- 4 large beets

- 3 T olive oil, divided

- 1 head of radicchio

- 3 oranges

- 1/3 C crumbled feta cheese

- 1/3 C grapeseed or other mild oil (canola or vegetable oil will work too)

- 2 t orange flower water

- 3 T red wine vinegar

- salt and pepper

- 3 T chopped parsley for garnish (optional)

Roast (or boil). Preheat oven to 400ºF. Line a roasting or cookie sheet with foil. Scrub the beets, remove their greens, and place in the pan. Drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cover tightly with another piece of foil so that the beets don’t dry out. Roast for 1 – 2 hours, depending on their size. They’re ready when tender and easily poked with a fork. Once the beets have cooled for a few minutes, but are still warm to the touch, peel off their skins. Cut them into small, bite-sized chunks. If you don’t want to turn on your oven, instead of roasting, boil the cleaned beets in salted water for 45 minutes to 1 hour until fork tender, and proceed as above.

Grill (or don’t). Heat a grill pan (or a grill if you have one) over medium-high heat. Quarter the radicchio, leaving the core intact, and drizzle with the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Grill the radicchio for several minutes on each surface until the leaves start to soften and brown. When cool, cut out the core and chop into bite-sized pieces. If you like the bitterness inherent in radicchio, skip the grill and just chop the leaves into small pieces.

Segment (or slice). Cut the tops and bottoms off of the oranges and then slice down the sides to remove all the peel, including the white pith. You’ll be left with round, naked oranges. Over a small bowl, use a paring knife to remove each orange segment by slicing between the membranes (then throw out the membranes). Or, slice the orange flesh into circles.

Compose. Spread the beets and radicchio on a large plate. Dot with orange segments and crumbled feta.

Dress. In a jar, mix together the grape seed oil, orange flower water, and vinegar. Taste for salt and pepper. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and garnish with parsley, if you’d like.

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