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Archive for the ‘vegetables’ Category

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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no pain, no gain

I read recipes at the gym. While the shocking part of that sentence is the part about going to the gym, I’d prefer to talk about the recipes. You probably would too.

It started innocently enough. Two weeks ago, I stuffed the most recent Saveur in my gym bag when I couldn’t find a New Yorker – my up-until-then preferred gym reading material. Trotting on the elliptical, I contemplated opening my own food truck. In between stretches, I dreamt of eating my way down Route 7 in France from Paris to Menton.

Last week, I graduated to cookbooks. I started with Melissa Clark‘s In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite. I had bought the book weeks before after making Clark’s tomato tarte tatin recipe. But when the box arrived and I ripped open the shrink wrap, my heart sank: there were no pictures. Not even a few glossy page in the middle. Had I read the reviews, I would have know that. But I ordered it on faith with one too-easy click of the buy button. I placed it back in the box and tried to figure out who might soon be receiving it as a gift.

The book taunted me from its lonely cardboard home, its spine not so much as cracked, its pages not dog-eared and splattered. It begged to be read. And, having avoided the gym for days with the excuse of nothing good to read, I lugged this 1-pound 14-ounce 444-page hardcover cookbook to the gym. I figured it would keep me company while pedaling and tone my biceps as I lifted it on and off the bike.

The spinning spun by quickly. Until I nearly fell off of my bike laughing when I read, “Every Thanksgiving when I was a kid, my uncle Danny used to say, ‘I like my turkeys built like Jane Fonda, with small [*$*#] and a big [@##].'” (For the real words used, check out A Chorus Line’s song “Dance ten, looks three” or just buy the book and turn straight to page 145.)

Steadying myself and finishing my workout, I found dinner.

As you can probably tell by the photos, I roasted carrots. I’m not going to suggest that anyone eat just than a big bowl of carrots for dinner, but if you were to eat carrots – and carrots alone – for dinner, these are the carrots to eat.

Here’s what Clark writes about roasting vegetables:

You can roast almost anything to delectable results. Just take whatever it is you want to eat, toss it with loads of olive oil and more salt than you think you need, and put it in a low-sided pan in a hot oven. While you unload the dishwasher or mash some garlic for a vinaigrette, your dinner will soften on the inside and caramelize on the surface, taking on that characteristic roasted, sweet flavor. It will condense and deepen in the heat, becoming more intensely itself in taste. Beets get beetier, broccoli gets broccolier.

Under her tutelage, my own dinner of carrots got carrotier. As directed, I roasted the carrots with a smidge of red pepper and let them shrink and shrivel to the essence of their carrot-ness. Minutes before they were ready, she upped the ante by adding a drizzle of thick dark pomegranate molasses (syrup).  The pomegranate sugars caramelized and intensified the already carrotier carrots’ natural sweetness.

As I raised one of these orange beauties to my mouth, a drop of still-hot pomegranate caramel burned my skin. No pain, no gain, right?  It sure seemed worth it for these carrotiest carrots of all.

And with that adage, I’ll be dragging my own Jane Fonda @## back to the gym to finish up the book.

Pomegranate roasted carrots

It’s hard to actually call this a recipe – instead I’ve provided guidelines and very approximate measurements for a single serving – a decent-sized bowlful – of carrots. I modified it from Melissa Clark‘s In the Kitchen with a Good Appetite. These carrots call for a few specialty Middle Eastern ingredients, and I’ve provided some easier-to-find alternatives. First we have pomegranate molasses, also called pomegranate syrup — is a very concentrated pomegranate juice Without any added sugar, it has a natural sweetness combined with a puckering tartness. You can make your own by boiling down pomegranate juice until very dark, thick, and able to coat the back of a spoon. In a pinch, you could also use balsamic vinegar either as is or boiled down to a thicker concentrate as well.  If you do buy some pomegranate molasses or make your own, try it out in these other recipes: tomato tarte tatin, lahmajun-style meat sauce, and spoon lamb.  The other specialty ingredient is aleppo pepper. This is a mild Syrian pepper that looks a little like red pepper flakes; if you can’t find any, substitute a pinch of cayenne pepper.

Another tip – to avoid having to scrub caramelized pomegranate off of your cookie sheet, roast the carrots on a sheet of parchment paper (or aluminum foil) – you’ll thank me later.

Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper or aluminum foil. Peel 6-8 carrots, cut them in half width-wise and then in half or quarters lengthwise depending on how thick the carrots are. Try to make them all approximately the same size. Scatter the carrots on the parchment, drizzle with 2-3 teaspoons of olive oil, 2 pinches of salt, a good grind of pepper, and a pinch of aleppo (or cayenne) pepper. Shake the pan to make sure that the carrots are evenly coated with the oil and spices and then spread them out in a single layer.

Roast the carrots for approximately 30 minutes total, with a few quick interruptions. After the first 15 minutes, shake the tray around (or just use a fork) again to stir the carrots so they’ll evenly roast. Ten minutes later, drizzle the carrots with 1-2 teaspoons of pomegranate molasses (or more to taste – the more molasses, the stickier/sweeter/tarter the carrots will be), and shake the tray around again to mix. Throw them back in the oven for the last five minutes. The carrots are ready when they’re slightly shriveled, soft but not mushy, and covered in a golden glaze of pomegranate.

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take two

I know what you’re thinking.

Really? Another tomato tarte tatin?

Yup. Another tomato tarte tatin.

The first ones I made walked the line between sweet and savory. The tomatoes were bathed in a hot pool of caramel and showered with tangy balsamic. They were smothered with caramelized onions. And sprinkled with thyme. The flavors and textures scatted off one another. The whole tomatoes burst in your mouth. The soft onions melted into the crust that was drenched in enough caramel that we needed a few extra pieces of bread to sop it up.

This next one was a whole other beast. And by beast, I mean a whole new beauty. I prepared it for an impromptu lunch with a friend who doesn’t like sweet with his savory and shies away from loads of balsamic.

To keep the tang, I used pomegranate syrup, essentially very concentrated pomegranate juice the consistency of a thick, viscous, slow-pouring molasses. Not surprisingly, it’s sometimes called pomegranate molasses.  You can make pomegranate syrup yourself by cooking down pomegranate juice for about an hour. Many recipes call for adding sugar, but the bottle that I bought in Israel is just pure pomegranate and that’s what I used in the recipe, adding a pinch or two of sugar to taste.

In order to intensify the tomato flavor, I added a little bit of tomato paste. Its natural sweetness serves as a nice counterpoint to the pomegranate.

I decided to keep that sauce on the thicker side, thinning it out with just a bit of water, so that after flipping, the puff pastry would remain very crispy with no liquid to weigh it down.

A dusting of mint gave the tarte a fresh, light flavor, cutting its intensity.

The resulting tarte was like a good California Cab. Inky and jammy and slightly puckery. Coating your mouth with a rush of flavor. Able to serve as a meal of its own or to stand up to a good steak. I wouldn’t have been surprised if after lunch our teeth had turned purple.

Tomato tarte tatin with pomegranate syrup

I have never seen a tarte tatin with this combination of tomatoes and pomegranate. It’s flavors were inspired by a traditional tomato tarte tatin, the flavors in lahmajun , and my favorite Middle Eastern condiments. Pomegranate syrup or molasses is very thick reduction of pomegranate juice. It should not contain sugar and is puckeringly sour.  If you don’t have a tiny bit of tomato paste lying around, try tomato sauce. I rarely use an entire can of tomato paste in one sitting, so I freeze the leftovers by the tablespoon in ice cube trays and pop one out when you need it. Eat the tarte lukewarm – be careful because the tomatoes will be hotter than you expect!

Serves 1 as lunch or 2 as side dish.

- 4 ozs puff pastry (I  use half of one of the pastries in a 17-oz Pepperidge Farm 2-pack)

- 1-2 t tomato paste

- 1 T pomegranate syrup/molasses

- 1 t olive oil

- pinch of sugar

- pinch 0f kosher salt

- a few grinds of black pepper

- 2 – 3 t water

- 12 – 18 cherry or grape tomatoes

- 2 sprigs of mint leaves

Prep. Defrost the puff pastry for 20-30 minutes on the counter, or overnight in the refrigerator. (Or, make your own.) Preheat the oven to 425ºF.

Mix. In the small pan (5 inches across the bottom), mix together the tomato paste, pomegranate syrup, olive oil. Add a large pinch of sugar, a large pinch of salt, and several good grinds of pepper. Thin slightly with water until it’s the consistency of maple syrup.

Arrange. Slice the tomatoes in half through the core and toss them with the syrup in the pan. Arrange them, cut side up in a single layer.

Roll. Roll out the puff pastry dough between two pieces of wax paper into a circle about 1 inch larger than your pan (so, 7 inches in this case).

Tuck. Transfer the pastry to cover the tomatoes. Tuck the edges around the tomatoes. Cut several short vent in the pastry.

Bake. Bake the tarte until the crust is puffed and golden, 25-30 minutes.

Flip. Let the tarte stand for 5-10 minutes. Run a knife around the pastry to loosen it from the pan. Place a platter on top of the pan and carefully flip the tarte over.

Sprinkle. Thinly slice a few mint leaves and sprinkle them on the tarte. Make sure to eat it before the mint wilts.

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tucked in

Two tables. Ten chairs. Twenty forks.

Dinner was at eight.

The guest of honor was Ilana. She had just returned from two weeks in Nicaragua. She doesn’t eat meat.

The menu was vegetarian.

Dinner was planned around a tomato tarte tatin. Ilana likes a good tarte tatin.

I made two.

Luckily I have two pans.

In the blue pan, the onions were caramelized. In the orange, the first caramel was made.

The caramel was layered with tomatoes then smothered in onions.

The salt was sprinkled. The pepper was ground. The thyme leaves were plucked.

The first pastry was rolled, its edges tucked in, its surface slashed.

It made it to the oven.

The blue pan was cleaned, its onions set aside.

The whole process began again, this time with colorful  baby heirloom tomatoes.

One tarte out, the next tarte in.

The tartes were flipped, first the orange, then the blue.

Dinner was served.

We all tucked in.

Caramelized tomato tarte tatin

This tarte is based on a recipe that Melissa Clark wrote for her column, “A good appetite” in the New York Times back in 2008 and two tomato tarte tatin recipes in Tamasin Day-Lewis’s The Art of the Tart. I looked for this recipe after having a tomato tarte tatin at a newly opened cafe called Tatte. Tarte tatins are traditionally dessert fare, made with apples. This tarte is a combination of sweet and savory with the traditional caramel spiked with sweet and acidic balsamic. Throw some crumbled feta or goat cheese on it if you’d like.

Serves 6-8.

- puff pastry (I  use 1 of the pastries in a 17 oz Pepperidge Farm 2-pack)

- 2 T olive oil

- 3 red onions

- 1/4 C plus a pinch of sugar

- 1 T balsamic vinegar

- 1 lb cherry or grape tomatoes

- 1 T chopped fresh thyme

- salt and pepper

Prep. Defrost the puff pastry for 20-30 minutes on the counter, or overnight in the refrigerator. OR, make your own. (Yeah, right!) Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Slice onions very thin.

Caramelize. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Saute onions with a pinch of sugar, stirring, until the onions are golden and caramelized, about 15-20 minutes. Add 2 T water and scrape off the brown bits from the bottom of the pan. When the water cooks off, transfer the onions to a bowl.

Swirl. This time, make a sugar caramel. In an overproof 9- or 10-inch pan (I have a few Le Creusets that fit the  bill), combine 1/4 cup sugar and 3 T water. Cook over medium heat, swirling the pan gently. Do not stir, just swirl. Stirring could result in crystallization and a grainy caramel. Watch the sugar very closely – the moment it starts to turn a light golden brown, remove it from the heat to avoid burning. Turn on your fan, add the balsamic and move your head back – the fumes are very strong, almost like smelling salts. Continue swirling until the vinegar mixes with the caramel.

Scatter. Scatter the tomatoes onto the caramel, then sprinkle with the onions, thyme, salt, and pepper.

Roll. Roll out the puff pastry dough between two pieces of wax paper into a circle about 1 inch larger than your pan.

Tuck. Transfer the pastry to cover the tomatoes. Tuck the edges around the tomatoes. Cut several long vent in the pastry.

Bake. Bake the tart until the crust is puffed and golden, about 30 minutes.

Flip. Let the tart stand for about 30 minutes. Run a knife around the pastry to loosen it from the pan. Place a platter on top of the pan and carefully flip the tarte over. Cut into wedges and serve immediately. After a few hours the crust will get soggy, so make sure to eat the whole tarte at once.

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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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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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