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Today was a salad-for-breakfast kind of day. And a salad-for-lunch-kind of day. And a salad-for-dinner kind of day. Not only that, it was a kale-salad-for-breakfast-lunch-dinner kind of day.

I was pretty late to the kale game. My first ever taste was nearly four years ago when I bought a big bunch of kale to help me decide whether to join a CSA. I had heard that in bad years, even in good years, you can go weeks on end with little more than kale and a few carrots in your weekly vegetable box. So I made a kale soup. I did end up buying into CSA, but the soup was decidedly on the con list, despite what may have I told you at the time).

And then for years, kale disappeared from my blog. It disappeared from my kitchen. It even disappeared from my CSA box (every week, I found some pour soul to trade their tomatoes/chard/potatoes/tomatoes for the prized kale; yeah, you never want to share food with me).

But it’s back, my friends. Kale is back. And with a vengeance. Three times this month. Thrice!

I took baby steps at first, using delicate tender baby kale leaves in a salad and a soup. And then, I dove right in. I skipped over the mild lacinato (dinosaur) variety and went straight for the red Russian. Imagine biting into curly parsley when you’re expecting Italian flat-leaf. That’s the difference between red Russian and baby kale.

But mix some kale with a little oil, a little acid, a little salt, and we’re in business. The leaves wilt just enough to become not merely palatable, but delicious. They absorb the flavors and then hold them in while resisting the wilt that their less hardy brethren are so prone to.

Dress it today, eat it tomorrow. Or, if you’re like me, dress it today, eat it this morning, this afternoon, and this evening.

Kale salad with ricotta salata, walnuts, and bread crumbs

I started this salad with Kim Severson‘s version (also reprinted in the New York Times where Mark Bittman called it The Kale and Ricotta Salata Salad, as if it were the only one worth knowing!) and then added parsley for its fresh flavor and toasted bread crumbs and walnuts for some crunch. Ricotta salata is ricotta cheese that has been pressed, aged, and dried. It is solid, but can crumble. If you can’t find it, a sheep’s milk feta could substitute (I like Pastures of Eden brand). 

Serves 4 (or just 1 over the span of a day)

- 3-4 slices stale baguette (for 1/2 C crumbs)

- 1/2 C walnuts

- 1 t + 1/4 C olive oil, divided

- kosher salt and pepper

- 1 large shallot

- 1 lemon for juice (~2 T)

- 1 large bunch red Russian kale (approximately 6 C shredded and loosely packed)

- 8-10 parsley stems

- 1/4 lb (4 ounces) ricotta salata (1/2 C shredded)

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Blitz. Break the bread into pieces, including the crust, and then blitz in food processor or blender until you get large crumbs. If your bread isn’t stale, dry it out by placing it in the oven with the walnuts for about 5 minutes.

Toast. Spread the  walnuts and bread crumbs out separate baking sheets and toast for about 10 minutes until fragrant and slightly golden. Drizzle the tablespoon of olive oil over the bread crumbs, sprinkle with salt, and mix with your hands.

Whisk or shake. Cut the shallot into several large pieces and mince it in a garlic press (or chop it very fine) into a bottle or bowl. Add the 1/4 cup oil and the juice of the lemon with a large pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Shake or whisk until emulsified.

Slice. Trim the leaves of the kale above where the stems become thick. Stack the leaves in a pile, roll them like a cigar, and slice it thin crosswise. Chop the parsley.

Assemble. Scoop the kale and parsley into a large bowl and add the dressing (this recipe makes the right amount of dressing for the salad, so no worries about over-dressing). Dig your hands in and toss the leaves with the dressing, and let the salad sit for about a half hour. At this point you can also leave the dressed leaves (and only the leaves) in the fridge overnight – they’ll continue to soften, but are hardy enough not to get soggy.   Before serving, sprinkle with the toasted breadcrumbs and walnuts and shave  the ricotta salata over the salad. Give a quick toss and serve.

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good stuff

I normally read my magazines from front to back. I might sneak a peek at the New Yorker’s cartoon contest on the last page, but for the most part, I’m a cover-to-cover gal.

But when I pulled the plastic off of this month’s Bon Appétit, I jumped right to page 96 for Dorie Greenspan‘s cover recipe. She made speculoos.

I first encountered speculoos on a flight to California. This was back in the days when you not only got stuff on airplanes, you got good stuff. Around this time, Belgian cookie maker Lotus contracted with airline food suppliers and literally flew their cookies into the US to expand their market from Europe . As we boarded that plane and struggled with our luggage, the crew handed out two thin little rectangular cookies wrapped in red cellophane. One pack per passenger. This cookie  hooked me in just one bite (well, maybe two, then three, then … I stole my sister’s pack of cookies). They were crispy and delicate and caramel-y and just a little spicy and they managed to melt away in my mouth.

If I first encountered speculoos on a plane, I first truly experienced these cookies visiting my friends Janouk and Regina in the Netherlands. In light of that, I’m going to refer to these cookies as the Dutch do – speculaas (pron: spek/you/lahs) — going forward.

I met Janouk and Regina during the summer of 2006 while we were taking a stage - a dance workshop - in Nice. We danced for 3-5 hours a day and then relaxed together afterwards — sitting on the pebbly beach, grabbing a bite (and we ate a lot more than salade Niçoise), and walking back through vieille ville, the old part of town, to our rented apartments.

So, the following year at just around this time between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I flew out to Den Haag for a few days en route to Belgium. I stayed with Janouk (then a student, now a teacher), toured around a bit, shopped more than a bit, and spent a day in the dance studio, taking a few hours of class with Regina, the owner. After class, we climbed the stairs to Regina’s home above the studio and hung out like we had in Nice. But this time, we ate Dutch food. Regina set out a few beers and tossed a big red bag to me. I caught it and tore it open, finding small button-shaped cookies inside. Regina said not to bother putting them in a bowl as they’d disappear before long. Those little quarter-sized nubbins were called kruidnoten (“spice nuts”) and had a taste very similar to that of speculaas. But they’re more fun that speculaas (and more dangerous) because you can wrap your fingers around about a half-dozen and pop them in your mouth as if they were seedless grapes. 

Janouk and Regina gave me a little history lesson about these cookies and Sinterklaas‘ holiday. As they tell it, Sinterklaas travels by boat from Spain (where he lives the rest of the year) to the Netherlands with several short black Zwart Pieten child servants*. They arrive on the evening of December 5th and Zwart Pieten give out candies and kruidnoten to good children. Judging by the bag we finished in one evening, we must have been very good girls that year.

As I made Dorie’s speculoos  buttons, I fashioned them closer to kruidnoten, a little smaller in diameter, a little higher in height. I wanted to make sure that I could grab a  nice handful at once.

* There is some controversy about these characters and their costumes, but that’s a topic I’d prefer not to discuss here.

Kruidnoten (or speculoos/speculaas buttons)

I adapted this recipe from Dorie Greenspan’s speculoos buttons recipe in Bon Appetit (December 2012). I skipped her glaze and colorful decorations, opting instead for a very humble looking cookie that really lets the spices and caramel flavor shine. I also made mine slightly smaller (diameter 1.25 – 1.5 inches) and thicker than recommended, so my yield was a bit lower than Dorie’s expected 90 cookies. I’ve kept the original directions. The main difference is that I rolled the logs a little bit longer and thinner (about 9 inches each instead of 8) and made slightly thicker cuts (on the liberal side of 1/4-inch). I might make them even smaller and thicker next time.

Makes 90 small cookies (with my modifications, I only made 70)

- 2 C all-purpose flour

- 1 T ground cinnamon

- 3/4 t ground (dried) ginger

- 1/2 t fine sea salt

- 1/2  t freshly grated nutmeg

- 1/8 t ground cloves

- 1/2 C (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

- 1/2 C  (packed) light brown sugar

- 1/4 cup sugar

- 1 T dark blackstrap molasses

- 1 T honey

- 1 large egg, room temperature

- 1 t vanilla extract

- 1 large egg white

- Sanding or other decorative sugar – I used raw sugar

Whisk. Whisk first 6 ingredients in a medium bowl; set aside.

Beat. Using an electric mixer at medium speed, beat butter in a medium bowl until smooth, about 2 minutes. Add both sugars, molasses and honey; continue to beat until mixture is smooth and creamy, about 3 minutes. Beat in egg and vanilla; mix for 2 minutes.

Mix. Reduce speed to low; add dry ingredients and mix to blend well.

Shape. Scrape dough from bowl and divide into thirds. Using your palms, roll each piece of dough into an 8-inch log. Wrap logs tightly in plastic or parchment paper.

Chill. Freeze the logs for at least 3 hours. (For neater edges, remove logs from freezer after 1 hour and roll on counter.)  Dough can be made up to 2 months ahead, just keep it frozen.

Preheat. At least 30 minutes before you’re ready to bake, arrange racks in top and bottom thirds of oven and preheat to 375°. Line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.

Cut. Whisk egg white in a small bowl to loosen; lightly brush all over 1 log. Roll in sanding or raw sugar. Using a long, slender knife, slice off a sliver of dough from each end of log to make ends flat. Cut log into 1/4 inch-thick rounds. Transfer to a baking sheet, spacing 1/2 inch apart; place in freezer while you cut the next log. (The cookies hold their shape better if you bake when dough is cold.) Repeat with remaining dough.

Bake. Bake 2 sheets of cookies, rotating the sheets from top to bottom and front to back after 6 minutes, until tops are golden brown and centers are almost firm, 11-13 minutes.

Cool. Transfer cookies to wire racks and let cool. Repeat with third sheet of cookies. Cookies can be baked 2 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.

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I was just scrolling through the blog today and realized that we haven’t had salad in a while. If you don’t count the that kale and barley deal from earlier this month (Is it salad? Or is it a side? I categorized it as salad on the recipes tab, but I’m rethinking that one), the last salad we ate together was on July 13. If you’re curious, that was eighteen weeks and three days ago. I was curious.

That Friday the 13th salad was unusual in that I had veered from my standard dressing of a drizzle of oil, a squeeze of lemon, salt, pepper, and I’m done. Instead, I made an orange blossom dressing that I actually call liquid gold, it’s that good. Well, my friends, I’ve found another dressing that just might just give that dressing a run for its money.

This Monday the 19th one centers around pomegranate molasses. You’ve seen pomegranate molasses (also called pomegranate syrup) all over this blog. It’s in lamb and meat sauce and a roast. It glazes carrots, decorates roasted vegetables, and caramelizes tarte tatins. It has also found itself atop a bowl or two of vanilla ice cream.

Pomegranate molasses is just very concentrated pomegranate juice. You can buy it in Middle Eastern (and sometimes Indian) grocery stores or make it yourself by reducing pure juice in a sauce pan until it thickens into a sticky syrup. It’s sweet and puckeringly sour. If you like sour candies, you might want to run out to buy a bottle of this stuff. Or two.

But it never occurred to me to turn it into a salad dressing until my friend Jess suggested it. And now I can’t get enough of it. The first time I made, I licked the last few drops off of my plate when I ran out of bread for sopping up. Luckily I was alone at the time. Though, I might very well have done it in a restaurant full of strangers.

Arugula salad with pear, goat cheese, pomegranate, and walnuts

Serves 4

- 3 C loosely packed arugula

- 10 sprigs of parsley, minced

- 1 scallion, sliced on a bias

- 1 pear (I used Bosc), cubed

- 2 T goat cheese, crumbled

- 1/2 C pomegranate seeds

- 1/3 C spicy candied walnuts (see below)

- pomegranate molasses dressing (see below)

Pile. Mix together the arugula and parsley and arrange on a large plate. Sprinkle with scallion, pear, and goat cheese.

Tap. To remove the seeds from the pomegranate, slice the fruit in half, hold a piece cut side down over a large bowl, and hit the outside skin with a wooden spoon. Most of the seeds will fall out and you can gently pry out any remaining ones. Juice will splatter, so don’t wear white.

Finish. Scatter the pomegranate seeds and walnuts over the salad. Drizzle with dressing. The dressing is intense, so drizzle sparingly.

***

Spicy candied walnuts

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen. You’ll have leftovers, which you’ll probably end up eating by the handful. 

Makes 2 1/2 cups

- 1 egg white, room temperature

- 1 T pomegranate molasses

-  1/3 cup brown sugar

- 1/3 cup white sugar

- 1.5 teaspoon kosher salt

- Generous pinch of cayenne pepper

- 1/2 t cumin

- 1/2 lb (2 1/2 C) walnut pieces

Preheat oven to 300ºF.

Whisk. With a fork, whisk the egg white and pomegranate molasses in a large  bowl.

Mix. Add the sugars, salt, cayenne, and cumin, and mix everything together. Stir in the walnuts and toss until evenly coated.

Bake. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper, and spread the  sugared nuts in a single layer on top. Bake for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Cool. Remove from the oven, and separate nuts as they cool. When completely cool, pour the nuts into a bowl, breaking up any that stick together.

***

Pomegranate molasses dressing

Inspired by Sweet Amandine. You’ll have leftover dressing, but it keeps in the fridge for at least 2 weeks.

Makes 1/2 cup 

- 6 T olive oil

- 1 T pomegranate molasses

- 1 T lemon juice

- 2 t brown sugar

- salt and pepper

Shake. Put everything in a jar and shake to mix. The sugar may stick to the bottom, so use a fork to dislodge it and keep shaking.

Taste. Dip an arugula leaf into the dressing and adjust the seasoning.

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I’ve lived in Cambridge for four years and three months. That’s the longest I’ve stayed in a city since I left my childhood  home when I was 17. Which has gotten me thinking about what home is. And what it means to me to have really planted roots. Oh, not in the get married/buy a house/make babies/get a dog/build a picket fence kind of way, but roots nonetheless.

But when I say I’m going home, I always think of the city where I grew up and the house where my parents still live. Nothing new here, of course, and many of you probably share the sentiment. But nowhere have I seen this feeling of home so poignantly captured as in Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi‘s most recent cookbook collaboration.    

I’ve written about this London-based pair before and shared a small handful of their recipes. But their latest venture is much more than a cookbook. It’s a journey to their shared home of Jerusalem, where they grew up on opposite sides of the city.

In the introduction to the book, they explain: “It is more than twenty years since we both left the city…Yet we still think of Jerusalem as our home. Not home in the sense of the place you conduct your daily life or constantly return too. In fact, Jerusalem is our home almost against our wills. It is our home because it defines us, whether we like it or not.”

They continue, “the flavors and smells of this city are our mother tongue.” I love that. Our mother tongue. I get that.

I speak street food. Hummus and tahina, falafel and schwarma, all wrapped up in warm pita and laffa. Fresh carrot juice and bourekas.

I speak market food. Tomatoes and pickles, goat cheese and sheep cheese, rugelach and, well, more rugelach.

I speak home food. Spicy carrots and eggplant dips, chicken soup and harira, syrup-drenched cakes and pistachios by the handful.

I speak these foods and they inform my cooking  even though each of my visits to Jerusalem have been brief. I can only imagine what it’s like to have grown up there. And then to make the journey back, senses more keenly aware of everything after an absence.

I can imagine. And I can cook now that I have the recipes. And I can share them with you. Here is my first taste from the cookbook.

(For more discussion of the cookbook, check out my column this month in the Jerusalem Post. You’ll also get a non-so-sneak peek at another recipe before I post it here in a few days.)

Roasted cauliflower with tahina

Adapted from Jerusalem: A Cookbook. The original recipe calls for frying the cauliflower, but I simplified it with a  quick roast in the oven. I made it with multi-colored cauliflower, having found purple, green, and yellow varieties in the grocery store. This makes a lot of dressing. I had enough left over after five heads of cauliflower to drizzle over a few more brassica vegetables – a head of broccoli and a few kale salads. Feel free to make only half of the dressing.

A few notes on tahina  Make sure to refrigerate it after opening because it can go rancid quickly (the same is true of sesame and nut oils). If the tahina separates, heat it up slightly to make it easier to mix. When you first add liquid to the tahina  it will thicken but quickly loosen up as you stir. For this recipe, add enough liquid so the sauce becomes about same consistency of honey. I’ve been told the most authentic brand you can buy outside of Israel is Roland. 

Serves at least 10 as a side dish

- 3 heads of cauliflower

- 8-10 scallions

- 1 small bunch parsley

- 1 small bunch mint

- 3 cloves garlic

- 2 lemons for zest and juice

- 4 T olive oil, divided

- ¾ C tahina

- 2/3 C Greek yogurt (I used 1% fat)

- 1 t pomegranate molasses (sometimes called pomegranate syrup), plus extra for drizzling

- About ¾ C water

- Salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 425˚F.

Prep. Trim the end of each cauliflower and then quarter them through their cores. Cut out the cores and then break the vegetable apart into bite-sized florets. Cut the scallions in 2- to 3-inch pieces. Roughly chop the parsley and mint – you’ll need ¼ cup of each for the dressing; reserve any extra for garnish. Mince the garlic.  Zest one lemon. Juice both lemons – this should yield a little over ¼ cup.

Toss. Toss the cauliflower in a bowl with 3 tablespoons of olive oil, a few pinches of salt, and a few grinds of pepper.

Roast. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or foil. Spread the cauliflower on the pan in a single layer and roast in the oven for 30-35 minutes until the cauliflower is crisp and parts of it have turned golden brown. Transfer to a large bowl to cool.

Saute. Heat up the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil in a small pan. When the oil is shimmering, add the scallions and sauté for about 5 minutes until they begin to color. Transfer to a bowl to cool.

Whisk. Spoon the tahina into a bowl and mix in the  yogurt, garlic, herbs, lemon zest, ¼ cup of lemon juice, pomegranate molasses. Slowly pour in the water, whisking with each addition. Only add enough water to get  the sauce to a thick, smooth pourable consistency, similar to honey. Taste a floret dipped in the sauce, and season with salt, pepper, and lemon juice.

Serve. Mix the vegetables with a some of the sauce, enough to coat the vegetables without drowning them. (As I mentioned, there will be leftover sauce!) Drizzle with pomegranate molasses and any leftover parsley or mint.

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how recipes go

I was digging around for a container of soup last night, and out plopped a bag of blueberries. I had frozen the berries at the peak of their season, having bought a pint (or two) too many.

You can’t get a better surprise than this during the first snow after the first hurricane of the season. And on the first night that you turn on your heat, the though of blueberry anything feels like a vacation in the sun.

I was envisioning a blueberry coffee cake, but that didn’t seem right. Then a friend reminded me of a rhubarb crumb bar that was adapted from another rhubarb crumb bar that was adapted from a blueberry crumb bar that was adapted from another blueberry crumb bar that I might want to check out.

Did you get all that?

But, isn’t that just how recipes go? We find something that looks good, we do a little research, we check out the “original” recipe — if you can ever really call a recipe an original — and then we tweak  until we can call it our own.

And not that anyone ever owns a recipe, but there are some that are just classically you. I’ve got a few of them — the aforementioned soup, a pear tarte tatin, almond chocolate chip cookies, and lemon bars – and friends request them regularly. So, when I heard bars, I though of my turn-to  lemon version. Blueberries instead of lemon? Do I need to ask?

And then, of course, crumb topping. Yes, definitely with crumb topping. A brown butter crumb topping. With all these recipes scattered across my screen, I set to work. While I mixed and browned and baked, I scrawled a few notes, taking an ingredient from here, a technique from there. A little cornmeal in the crust. A lot of lemon in the blueberries. And that nutty brown butter in the crumb.

And voilà. Introducing blueberry cornmeal brown butter crumb bars. Pull up a chair.

Blueberry cornmeal brown butter crumb bars

This recipe is based on my lemon bars with their cornmeal crunch. I then added a brown butter crumb topping, inspired by une gamine dans la cuisine. If you haven’t browned butter before, what are you waiting for? Brownies? Blondies? Squash? Yes, yes, and yes. 

Makes 9-16 squares

For the crust:

- 1 C sifted flour

- 1/2 C fine yellow cornmeal

-  pinch salt

- 1/8 t baking soda

- 3 T unsalted butter (room temperature)

- 1/3 C white sugar

- 1 egg

- 1 T yogurt

- 1/4 t vanilla extract

For the filling:

- 3 C blueberries (fresh or frozen)

- 3 T white sugar

- 3 t cornstarch

- 1 lemon for zest and juice

For the crumb topping:

- 6 T unsalted butter

- 1/3 C brown sugar

- 1/2 C flour

- 1/4 C fine cornmeal

- a pinch or two of salt

Prepare. Preheat oven to 350ºF and put a rack in the upper 1/3 of the oven. Grease an 8X8 square pan with vegetable oil or line it with parchment.

Make crust. Stir together the flour, cornmeal, salt, and baking soda. Beat butter in another bowl until creamy (I use my mixer). Add the 1/3 C sugar and beat for about a minute until smooth. Beat in the egg, yogurt, and vanilla. Add in the dry ingredients and beat on low until just combined. The dough will be sticky, so this is going to get a little bit messy. Scoop the dough into the pan, spread it around evenly (I just did this with wet fingers), and prick all over with a fork. Bake for 20 minutes or until the top gets just starts to brown.

Make the filling. While the crust is baking, mix together the blueberries, sugar, cornstarch, and lemon zest and juice.

Make the topping. To brown the butter, cook it in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the butter starts to foam. After about 5 minutes, the butter will start to brown as the milk solids cook. Once you see little brown specks (the solids), take the butter off the heat. It should smell nutty. In a bowl, mix together the brown sugar, flour, cornmeal, and salt. Then pour the browned butter over it and mix everything together.

Put it all together and bake.  When the crust comes out of the oven, pour the filling over the top (it should be a magenta color by now!) and then crumble the topping over the blueberries. Bake for another 20-30 minutes until the topping sets — it won’t change color much, so you’ll have to test the firmness with your fingers.

Serve. It’s best to let bars to cool completely before cutting if you want everything to be neat. If you can’t wait, try to hold off for at least 5 minutes before digging in.

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Enough chit-chat. Let’s cook, shall we?

See that up there? The New York Times calls it barley soup with mushrooms and kale. Barley soup with mushrooms.

If you’re thinking what I’m thinking, you’re thinking: why isn’t it called mushroom barley soup with kale?

Is it barley-er than the classic soup? Is it less mushroom-y? No and no. The mushroom and barley get equal billing here (and share very nicely with supporting actor kale). Which really should make it mushroom barley soup with kale.

If I had to compare it to what I know of mushroom barley soup, I’d say it’s, well, soupier.

Maybe we should call it soup with barley, mushrooms, and kale.

But that just sounds odd, don’t you think?

Barley soup with mushrooms and kale

I adapted this recipe from the New York Times, skipping the dried mushrooms and upping the garlic. I’m still working up the guts to use regular kale, but for now I’m dipping my toe in with the more tender baby kale. Be patient with me, people, be patient. I’m getting there. 

So here’s the thing: I’ve never been a fan of mushroom  barley soup – it always seemed thick and slimy. But this one is, as I said before, soupier. And it’s good. Good enough that I ate it for lunch four days in a row. As it sits in the fridge, the barley will absorb more of the liquid, so you’ll have to add some liquid (I just used water) to thin the soup a bit. To keep it bright, I squeezed some lemon and chopped some parsley after re-heating. Admittedly, by day four, I was happy to see the bottom of the pot.

Serves 4-6

- 1-2 T olive oil

- 1 large onion

- 1/2 lb cremini mushrooms (sometimes called baby portabellas)

- 4 cloves garlic

- 2 qt (8 C) water

- 3/4 C pearl barley

- a handful of fresh parsley, divided

- a few sprigs thyme

- parmesan rind

- 5 oz baby kale

- lemon for juice

- kosher salt and black pepper

Chop, cook, and stir. Cover the bottom of a heavy soup pot or Dutch oven with the olive oil and heat over medium until shimmering. While the oil is heating, chop the onion and thickly slice the mushrooms. Add the onion to the pot and cook, stirring frequently until just tender (don’t let it brown), about 5 minutes. Then add the mushrooms, continuing to stir for another 3 minutes or so until they start to soften and release their moisture. Mince the garlic and add it to the pot with a good pinch of salt. Cook and stir for another 5 minutes until the mushrooms start to reabsorb their moisture and the whole mix dries out.

Simmer. Add the water, barley, a few sprigs each of parsley and thyme, and parmesan rind. Bring to a boil, and then reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for about 45 minutes. The barley won’t yet be cooked through.

Slice. Stack the kale leaves in bunches and slice crosswise into slivers.

Keep simmering. Add the kale to the simmering soup and continue to simmer, covered,  for another 15-20 minutes.

Serve. Remove the parsley and thyme sprigs, taste for salt and pepper, and stir in a few squeezes of lemon. Chop the remaining parsley and sprinkle a pinch over each bowl.

Store. The soup should keep in the fridge for a few days, but the barley will absorb liquid. Just add a bit more water before you reheat to get the right consistency. Don’t forget the lemon and parsley. I suspect that the soup also freezes well.

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It all started with apples.

Poor apples. They’ve had a rough go at it this year, and I missed apple picking. Unless you were on the ball, you probably missed apple picking around here too. Luckily, two of the farms at my Monday market still proudly display a full range of red and green and yellow beauties. I buy them in twos and threes and they hold me over until the next week.

My favorite varieties are Jonagold and Honeycrisp. In the afternoon, I pull out a paring knife and balance the dull side of its blade against my thumb, pushing through the rough, unwaxed skin and covering a plate with apple slivers. I pair the slices with a spoonful of sweet creamy peanut butter. Sometimes two spoonfuls.

Last week, I barely saw home, and the apples piled up. I had enough for a tarte tatin. But a tarte tatin can’t be eaten alone, so I invited a group over for dinner.

The group grew to ten, the tarte grew to two, and the apples, well, I no longer had enough of them. A quick run to the store for a few more apples, and dinner was on the way.

The guests arrived and we crowded around the table for eight set for ten.

It was a simple dinner. We started with soup. Next up, a kale salad with roasted beets and orange. Another salad brought by a friend. And a tortilla española* that was a last-minute addition when I realized soup and salad might not be enough.

Shoulder to shoulder and hip to hip, we drank wine and prosecco out of tumblers.

Ten soup bowls were swiped with bread, ten plates were scraped with knives. When I rose for seconds, I found on the buffet (also known as a microwave cart hastily cleared moments before everyone arrived) a few kale leaves swimming in a large bowl, a cube of avocado embracing a spoon, and a Molly scratching the last few dark bits of egg and potato stuck to a 14-inch (!) pan.

“Did I not make enough?” I whispered. Molly solemnly nodded.

I looked around. My guests were sprawled on the sofa, chairs, and floor.

Retreating to the kitchen, I pulled out the tarte tatins, apples still tucked under crusts whose edges were tinged with sticky scarlet pomegranate caramel. I covered each pan – first the blue skillet, then the orange – with a plate and flipped. I expected an apple or two to latch on to the skillets. I didn’t expect some of the apples to have turned into circles of mush. I guess a few of my mismatched apples** were better for sauce than pie.

I hid in the kitchen for a few moments, thinking. I spooned the clinging apples and mush from the skillets and arranged them as artfully as I could.

A smile on my face and a Times article in my head, I emerged with a tarte in each hand. “Pomegranate applesauce tarte tatin for dessert!”

* The tortilla española. A tortilla española is a Spanish potato omelette, similar to an Italian frittata. I followed Mark Bittman’s recipe from How to Cook Everything (the yellow cover).  For the recipe from the updated version of Bittman’s book of the same name (the red cover) , check out Molly’s story of her trip to Spain. Let me know if you’re interested in the version I made – I’ll gladly whip another tortilla and report back to you.

** The apples. I used a mix of market- and store-bought apples that included Mutsu, Jonagold, Honeycrisp, Gala, and Granny Smith. I did a  bit of research and I think the Honeycrisps were the sauce culprits.

Pomegranate apple(sauce) tarte tatin

Tarte tatin is a traditional French upside-down caramelized apple tart. Still obsessed with pomegranate, I found a recipe that combines this tart fruit with this sweet tarte (hehe!). I cut the sugar down to 1/2 cup and the tarte was still plenty sweet. I know that the recipe might seem daunting – make caramel? flip over a burning hot skillet?  - but if I can do it, so can you. I’ve made tarte tatins with pears and tomatoes, and there are a bunch of things I’ve picked up along the way.

First, the caramel. It’s pretty easy to burn the caramel, so you need to watch it closely. If you’re afraid the caramel is starting to burn, take the skillet off the heat immediately and assess the situation: let things cool down a bit, dip a fork in the caramelizing syrup, and carefully taste it. Carefully because you don’t want to burn your tongue. A slight burnt flavor – think crême brulée – is fine, but if you taste smoke, start over.

Then, the flip. The tarte will be prettier if you flip it just out of the oven. Get out your oven mitts and extra kitchen towels. Place a plate on top of the pan and cover the plate with a towel. Grasp the pan-plate-towel pile with oven mitted-hands, hold your breath for a moment, and turn the whole thing over. Some caramel might spill out onto the towel, but you’ll be fine because your hands will be protected. If you want to wait until the tarte cools, it will turn out almost as pretty, but a few apples will probably stick to the skillet. Just scoop them off and put them back on the tarte. 

1 pie crust or puff pastry (I make this sweet pâte sucrée or pâte brisée, or just buy puff pastry)

- 1 1/2 C pomegranate juice or 1/2 C pomegranate molasses/pomegranate syrup (thickened pure pomegranate juice; don’t bother with the ones that add sugar)

- 4-8 of  your favorite baking apples, depending on size (you want enough to fit tightly into your skillet); for me, the most reliable are Granny Smith

- 1/4 C (1/2 stick) butter (or margarine for a non-dairy tarte)

- 1/2 C sugar

- large pinch kosher salt

Prep. Preheat oven to 400ºF and let pie crust/puff pastry come to room temperature.

Reduce. Bring the pomegranate juice to a boil until it reduces by a third (down to 1/2 cup ) into a thick syrup. If you use purchased pomegranate molasses/syrup, you don’t need to boil anything.

Slice. Peel and core the apples, then slice into halves or quarters. I like halves, but you can fit more apples in if you use quarters.

Caramelize. Melt butter in a heavy oven proof 9- or 10-inch skillet and then sprinkle evenly with sugar. Cook over medium heat without stirring until the mixture begins to bubble all over and turns lightly golden. This should take about 3 minutes. Remove from  heat.

Cook. Tightly fill the skillet with apples, cut side up,  and sprinkle with salt. Keep in mind, the apples will shrink as they cook and you might be able to slip  in a few more slices midway. Return the skillet to medium heat and cook the apples without stirring  until a thick, deep amber syrup bubbles up between the fruit. (OK, even though you’re supposed to leave the caramel alone to do its thing, I usually flip the apples once or twice to make sure they soak up the caramel evenly. Just make sure to leave the cut ends up because when you flip the tart, you’ll want the rounded sides facing the top.) This will take about 20 minutes. Pour the pomegranate syrup over the apples – the mixture will bubble up. Cook until the juices further thicken. The apples will be a deep burgundy color. Remove from heat. With a spatula, make sure that the apples are tightly packed.

Tuck. Roll out the crust between two sheets of wax paper into a circle one inch larger than the skillet (i.e., leave an extra inch all around). Slide the crust over the skillet and tuck it in around the apples and at the edges of the skillet. The crust doesn’t have to be perfect because you’re going to flip it over anyway. Cut a few slits in the crust to let air escape.

Bake. Bake the tarte until the crust browns and the juices at the edge are thick and scarlet in color. This takes 25-30 minutes. Remove the skillet from the oven and let cool for five minutes minute. (If you let the tarte cool for too long, the caramel will thicken and the apples are more likely to stick to the pan. But if you’re nervous, just flip it later.)

Flip. Place a large plate over the skillet. Using oven mitts and kitchen towels, hold the skillet and plate together and carefully flip over the tarte. Lift the skillet — if any apples are stuck to the skillet, just put them back into place on the crust. Let the tarte cool for at least 15 minutes before serving.

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turn to a can

My farmers market has a few last heirloom tomatoes, but their supply is dwindling and the market itself will soon close shop for the winter. (Winter? Yeah, winter tends to come early and stay late in my neighborhood.)

So, while you hunt from market to market, farmer to farmer, for the last of the season, eaten like an apple with a sprinkle of salt, I have some ideas for tomatoes during the winter.

Skip the tomatoes that look like they might be good – the uniform red tomatoes on the vine – and go for the ugly and the small, things that will cook up well. Anything that makes you think of basil when you take a sniff. Earlier in the summer, I used baby/cherry/pear/whatever-you-call-them tomatoes to make tarte tatins. Like the classic French dessert, traditionally made with apples, you caramelize the fruit, cover it in puff pastry, bake, and flip. The small tomatoes, the most reliably sweet winter orbs, concentrate their flavors in the oven, especially when bathed in tangy flavors – balsamic vinegar or pomegranate syrup. (And, Edible Boston just featured one of my caramelized tarte tatin (Creative Director Michael Piazza’s professional photo here) in The Tomato story (PDF here) of their fall 2012 issue. Woohoo!!!)

What else can you cook with tomatoes in the winter? Well, there’s always tomato sauce. Grab a bunch of plum tomatoes, also a decent option when the weather turns chilly, and get peeling. I’ve always found tomato peeling a  bit fussy – boiling water, slicing an X in the tomato’s bottom, dropping it in the water, waiting a few seconds, fishing it out, plunging it into ice water, waiting for it to cool, and then peeling the slippery fella.

Lucky for you, I found a tomato trick: freeze the tomatoes until hard (a few hours), take them out and let them defrost until  you can handle them (about 10 minutes) and the skins just slip off. When frozen, the liquid in the tomatoes expands (like an ice cube) — you can actually see the tomato skin stretch until it splits — and then contracts as it warms, leaving behind wrinkly skin too big for the shrinking tomato. Cool, no?

Of course, when your grocery store fails you, just turn to a can. In this realm, San Marzano tomatoes are the best for whatever you want to make.

And if it’s tomato sauce you’re after, Marcella Hazan’s recipe is the way to to. It has been circulating for years; I only discovered it last week — I’ve missed a few other bandwagons in my time — but I’ve been making up for lost time here, with three batches already under my belt.

Here’s the deal. Crack open a can of tomatoes. Empty it into a saucepan with an onion and a few pats of butter. Simmer for nearly an hour. When fat droplets form at the surface, it’s ready.

Fish out the onion and eat it if you’d like. Sprinkle the sauce with salt to taste, but don’t taste your way to the bottom of the pan. A little pepper, maybe a dust of parmesan, a scatter of basil, and you’re ready to top (drown?) some pasta.

If you have any sauce left, store it in the fridge. It’ll be gone in a few days.

PS – for some grilling ideas, head over to my latest Come to the Table article in JPost, “Grilling Time, Come Rain or Shine.”

Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce

This recipe is all over the internet – the version I used is on Food52. The butter in the sauce provides just the right amount of indulgent cream and sweetness. 

Serves 4-6 (enough for about 1 pound of pasta)

- 1 28-ounce can San Marzano tomatoes (whole); or 2 lb fresh tomatoes, peeled

- 1 onion

- 5 T butter (unsweetened)

- salt and pepper to taste

- basil, parmesan, etc.

Crush. With your hands, crush the tomatoes into small chunks.

Simmer. Peel the onion and cut it in half. Mix in a saucepan the crushed tomatoes, onion, and butter, and bring to a simmer. Continue to simmer over low heat, stirring every once in a while and breaking up any remaining large tomato chunks into bite-sized bits with the back of a wooden spoon. The sauce is ready when bright red fat droplets rise to the surface.

Taste. Add salt and pepper to taste.

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“It’s almost zwetschgendatschi time,” Melanie informed me over lunch the other week.

Punctuated by my attempts to pronounce the name in the Swedish accent that I seem to adopt every time I try to speak German (find the real pronunciation here), Mel brought me up to speed.  Her family in Munich has a zwetschgen tree in the backyard. It bears small, deep purple plums that ripen over the span of a short week or two in late August/early September.  During that time, there’s a mad rush to use up all zwetschgen before they drop off the trees. Enter the zwetschgendatschi. It’s a cake made in a sheet pan nearly the size of the oven and uses up about half a trees worth of plums.

A week later, I found the first zwetschgen in the grocery store and bought about a dozen. I called Mel, we made plans for a Sunday of baking, and I set to work researching recipes. Following Mel’s guidelines very closely. The dough shouldn’t be too sweet. The zwetschgen should be sour. Streusel is optional, but not necessary. Whipped cream is not optional.

Over the next few days, I found two base recipes and studied technique. I practiced cutting and folding the plums into quarters while leaving the skin intact. This sounds like a lot of trouble, but when you’re arranging the plums in overlapping rows like roof shingles, jammed against each other all the way to the edge of the pan, you’ll be thankful for the efficiency. Because when you’re trying to use up a tree’s worth of fruit in one large cake, you want the zwetschgen packed as tightly as possible.

When Mel arrived at my place 10:30 am on Sunday morning, I was ready. But a quick glance at the mere pound of plums sent us straight to the grocery store for more. With three more pounds of plums in hand, we rolled up our sleeves and set to work.

We made a yeast dough, watching as my mixer kneaded it into a perfect ball. While it was rising, we carefully quartered our plums. There’s nothing like working side by side over a cutting board.

The dough doubled, I rolled it out and then we stretched and pushed it into the edges of the pan. We arranged the plums, gently pressing each one into the dough, tips upright in a tight phalanx formation. Datschi most likely comes from the Middle High German word detschen or datschen which means to press.

We sprinkled the plums with sugar, Mel reminding me not to make the cake to sweet, and then popped the tray into the oven.

While we waited, I made lunch. As we sat down to the table, we could smell the zwetschgen concentrating in the oven as they sank deeper into the sweet rising dough.

Plates cleared, Mel called her mother, then her brother, the sound of lively German in the background when I pulled the glistening cake out of the oven.

As the cake cooled and the juices pooled, I whipped up some cream sprinkled with confectioners sugar.

I carried the tray around my apartment, trying to find the perfect light for capturing its beauty. This shot was taken on a blanket on my balcony. (And then the blanket, splotched with a few sticky spots of juice, went straight into the washer.)

We finally cut into the cake into large rectangles, the knife slipping between zwetschgen and hitting the soft bread-like cake beneath and reaching the pan with a thud.

The scoop of whipped cream! Don’t leave it off. It slowly melted, the cold mingling with the warm, the sweet cutting the tart.

I invited a few other friends over that evening to help get through the pan and had just a few rectangles for the next day’s breakfast (and lunch) by which time the plum flesh had deepened from a golden green color to a rich ruby red, the syrup dyeing the dough nearly all the way through.

Happy weekend, all!

Zwetschgendatschi (Bavarian plum cake)

Zwetschgendatschi is a plum cake made in Germany (and nearby countries) with the small, oval zwetschgen plums (also called Italian prune plums or damson plums or quetsche in French) that ripen in early fall. The cake has a yeast dough and is jammed edge to edge with plums.  Pick out  plums that are just slightly tender. If they’re too ripe, they’ll fall apart when you cut into them. Plus, the whole point of the cake is to use up the plums before they pass their prime.

This cake is classically made in a sheet pan - I used a 13X18 cookie sheet with a raised edge.

Serves 12-15

- 1 C whole milk

- 1 T dry yeast (approximately one packet)

- 1 t + 1/2 C + 2 T sugar (you add sugar three different times)

- 1 t + 4 C flour

- 1/2 C butter (one stick), plus more for greasing

- pinch of salt

- 1 egg

- 1 lemon for zest

- 4 lbs zwetschgen (Italian plums)

- 1 pint heavy cream

- 2 T confectioners sugar

Proof. Warm milk  in a small pot until  lukewarm (don’t let it bubble). Remove from heat and sprinkle in the yeast, 1 teaspoon of sugar and 1 teaspoon of flour. Cover with a cloth towel and set in a warm place for about 20 minutes until the top is frothy (i.e., proof that the yeast is alive and working).

Melt. Melt the butter and let it cool while the yeast is proofing.

Knead. In the bowl of your stand mixer (or just a regular bowl if you want to knead by hand), stir together sugar (1/2 cup), flour (4 cups), and salt. Add the milk mixture, melted butter (make sure it has cooled – you don’t want it to cook the egg), egg, and lemon zest. Knead until the dough comes together into a solid ball. Knead by hand for a few minutes. You shouldn’t need any extra flour while kneading.

Rise. Return the dough to your bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, poke a hole in the plastic, and place the bowl in a warm  place. Let the dough rise until doubled, about an hour.

Slice. You’re going to want to slice each plum into quarters. You can do it the old fashioned way – cut all the way around the pit and then cut each half in half, but this will make arranging the plums a bit more difficult. The other way sounds a bit more complicated, but works really well with these plums. Slice the plum on only one side and pluck out the pit (these plums are “freestone” ones, so the pits pop right out). Gently open the plum halves without cutting the skin. Make two more cuts to flatten the plum into quarters, still keeping the skin intact.

Preheat. Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Press. Generously grease a large cookie sheet. When the dough has risen enough, knead it a few more times by hand and then roll it out into a rectangle around the size of the pan (don’t worry if it’s not exact). Transfer the dough to the greased pan and press and stretch it until it reaches the edges. It will initially spring back, but evenutally it will stay in place. Try to get the dough the same thickness all around.

Arrange. Place the plums quarters on the dough in layered rows, flesh side facing forward and with the stem tips facing up. If you’ve flattened the plums, lean each one up against the next, overlapping like shingles on a roof. Now you see why it’s worth the early effort of cutting the plums carefully.

Bake. Sprinkle the plums with sugar and  bake for about 30 minutes until the dough gets golden brown. Let cool in the pan for at least 10 minutes before eating.

Whip. Whip together cream and confectioners sugar. Watch carefully so you don’t overwhip to make butter (trust me, I’ve done it).

Slice. Cut the cake into 3X4 or 3X5 rectantgular pieces.

Eat. Top each slice with a good spoonful of whipped cream. Have at it!

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I’ve lost my kitchen.

In the battle against my friend’s CSA (shared with me while they were on vacation), the CSA won. 

Earlier this week, my friend Ilana and I drove out to the farm to gather our goods. It’s a half pick -em-up and half pick-your-own kind of farm.

I will spare you the details of everything rolling around on my counters and threatening to nudge open my refrigerator door.  Luckily, farm-fresh food seems to stay farm-fresh longer than store-fresh food stays store-fresh. So my abject fear of watching everything rot before being able to stuff it all in my mouth has been allayed.

Over the past few days, there have been salads, tomatoes by the handful, sauteed chard, and zucchini bread.

And today, I give you frittata.

It can’t get much easier that frittata, which is essentially a quiche without a crust.

Here’s the formula: slice and saute some vegetables, beat some eggs, sprinkle some cheese, bake, broil, and eat.

Seriously. That’s it.

Best part? It’s great cold.

And so, I also give you breakfast.

Zucchini and tomato frittata with feta

The inspiration for this frittata came from Steamy Kitchen and the New York Times. Use whatever vegetables and herbs you have on hand – asparagus, broccoli, potatoes, chard, basil, mint, thyme. I like to slice everything really thinly so it cooks quickly (easiest if you have a mandoline).

- 1 onion

- 2 zucchini

- 1-2 tomatoes (depending on size)

- 1 T dill

- 2 T olive oil

- 2 t butter

- 5 eggs

- 2 T milk (I used 1%)

- 1/4 C feta

- salt and pepper

Prep. Preheat oven to 350ºF and put one rack in the middle of the oven, one rack below the broiler. Slice onion into thin half moons. Using a mandoline or knife, slice the zucchini into very thin rounds. Slice the tomato into ~1/4 inch rounds. Chop dill.

Saute. In a non-stick, ovenproof pan (8- or 9-inches), heat olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add butter and onion and saute until the onions brown (but don’t let them burn), about 5 minutes. Add zucchini and a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Continue to saute until the zucchini wilts and starts to brown, another 5 minutes. Taste for seasoning.

Whisk. Whisk together the egg, milk, and dill.

Pour. Remove the pan from the heat and pour the egg mixture over the zucchini. Stir a little bit. Arrange sliced tomatoes and crumble feta on top of the eggs.

Bake. Bake the frittata on the middle rack until the eggs set, 7-8 minutes.

Broil. Turn on the broiler and move the pan to the rack below the broiler. Broil for 2-4 minutes until the feta and tomatoes start to brown.

Eat. Traditionally served room temperature or cold (when it’s much easier to cut), I love this right out of the oven.

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