Sukkot starts tonight and I’m excited to be meeting a few friends for dinner in one of the many temporary buildings that have popped up in parking lots all over the city. I wrote another piece about my time in Sicily for the Forward. I’ve pasted it below along with a recipe for casatelle – ricotta-filled turnovers that I fried up a few weeks ago.

Pavillion in the edible garden

Living in an apartment 20 stories above the streets of Manhattan can make relating to the holiday of Sukkot and its harvest celebration somewhat difficult. But spending time this summer in Sicily, an island with a dramatic and rich agricultural heritage, re-acquainted me with the agrarian setting in which so many of our holidays originated.

During my week at the Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school, we picked lettuces for our salad, drank wine from the vineyard just up the street and ate ricotta from neighboring sheep. One morning, awakened by cooing birds outside my window, I spent a pre-breakfast hour writing in a small pavilion situated in the edible garden just a few stairs from my room. Surrounded on three sides by blue and white striped canvas walls, I scribbled away. As my stomach signaled time to eat, lazy plops of rain hit the bamboo roof. I took it all in — the temporary shelter, the vegetation, the gentle scent of fertilizer — and felt a sense of being tied to the land and at the mercy of the weather. I left my sukkah and ran to the kitchen for coffee.

Our final cooking lesson included cassatelle, fried turnovers filled with ricotta made by the shepherd we had visited earlier in the week. They reminded me of the Sukkot tradition of cooking stuffed foods to signify the abundance of the harvest. Back in my own kitchen, I prepare for the holiday by rolling out dough and wrapping it around soft blobs of cinnamon-scented cheese, frying up the pastries in sputtering oil and eating them warm with just a dusting of powdered sugar. As I lick my sweet fingers, I’m thankful for the abbondanza of my own life.



Adapted from Fabrizia Lanza’s Coming Home to Sicily. Cassatelle are ricotta-filled turnovers common in the eastern part of Sicily, and Mario, Executive Chef of the Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school, attributes their origins to Arab and Spanish flavors and techniques. The dough uses semolina flour and feels like fresh pasta. Wine in the dough provides both flavor (a bit of sweetness) and texture, helping with the formation of bubbles in the pasties as they fry; dry Marsala works well.

The recipe calls for a pasta machine to help knead the dough and roll it out to a uniform thickness. Alternatively separate the dough into five pieces and roll each out into a 9-by-9 square before cutting out circles.

These pastries are best fresh, but you can freeze the filled turnovers and then thaw and fry them up when you’re ready to eat.

Makes about 20 pastries

– ½ C white wine (or dry Marsala)
– ¼ C extra-virgin olive oil
– 2–4 T water
– 2 C semolina flour
– Pinch fine sea salt
– 1½ C whole-milk ricotta, preferably sheep’s milk
– 5 T granulated sugar
– 1 t ground cinnamon, plus more for garnish
– Vegetable oil for frying (several cups, depending on size of pan)
– Powdered sugar, for garnish

Warm. Combine the wine and oil in a small saucepan and heat until just warm (not hot). You can also use a microwave.

Knead. Mound the flour on a work surface or in a very large bowl (the latter is my preference), and make a well in the center. Add the wine-oil mixture and salt to the well, and with a fork, carefully incorporate it into the flour. Knead the dough with your hands, adding drops of water until smooth and elastic, about 8–10 minutes. The dough should slowly spring back when you poke it with your finger.

Rest. Roll the dough into a ball, wrap in plastic and rest for 30 minutes on the counter.

Mix. In a small bowl, stir together the ricotta, granulated sugar and cinnamon. Set aside.

Roll. Set a pasta machine to the widest setting. Run a piece of dough through the machine about 5 times at this setting, folding the dough in half each time before rolling it again. When the dough is very even, move the dial to the next setting and roll it through 2 to 3 times more, folding it each time. Move the dial to the third setting and roll it through 2 or 3 more times.

Cut. Lay out the dough on a floured work surface, and cut out circles with a 4-inch round cookie cutter.

Fill. Place a spoonful of ricotta just off-center, then moisten the edges of the dough with water and fold over. Pinch or use a fork to seal. Repeat with remaining dough and filling.

Fry. Heat 2 inches of oil in a large, heavy skillet or Dutch oven (higher sides will limit splattering). Drop in a scrap of dough — the oil is hot enough when the dough floats and oil rapidly bubbles around it. Add the cassatelle in batches and fry, flipping occasionally, until deep golden, about 3 minutes. With a slotted spoon or skimmer, transfer to paper towels to drain.


Serve. Sprinkle with powdered sugar and cinnamon. Serve warm.

tehina cookies

tehina cookies

The Rosh Hashanah count down has begun. My mom’s in charge of soups and brisket and I’m covering most of the other bases. In case you’re looking for last minute inspiration, here are our menus, inspired by the simanim, foods to symbolize our best wishes for a new year:

Sunday dinner: chicken souproast chicken with plumspomegranate-roasted carrots, green beans, mashed potatoes, apple cake

Monday lunch: spicy butternut squash soupbrisket, salmon, salad, swiss chard, roasted potatoes, plum cakechocolate biscotti

Monday dinner: bagels and lox, sesame cookies

Tuesday lunch: leftovers

The recipe I have for you today is a simple drop cookie. Sesame seeds are said to represent abundance for Rosh Hashanah, so I found a cookie recipe that is essentially peanut butter cookies with tehina swapped in. Then I coated the dough in seeds before baking. Out of the oven, the cookies are crunchy and a little crumbly, with a texture like French sable cookies. I brought them to Atlanta for the weekend and a few people have been asked for the recipe, so this one is for you, Caroline and the whole Katz family. Shana tova!

tehina cookies

Tehina cookies

Adapted from Martha Stewart. These are essentially peanut butter cookies with tehina instead of the peanut butter. If your tehina has separated, you might want to throw it in the microwave for 10 seconds at a time to soften the paste and facilitate stirring. If you don’t stir the tehina through, your cookie dough may be a bit oily. The baked cookies will taste good even if it’s a little bit more difficult to roll the dough into balls.

Makes about 3 dozen

– 8 T (1 stick) unsalted butter

– 3/4 C tahini, stirred

– 1/2 C granulated sugar

– 1/2 C packed dark-brown sugar

– 1 large egg

– 1/2 t vanilla or orange blossom water

– 1 1/3 C all-purpose flour

– 3/4 t baking soda

– 1/2 t kosher salt

– 1/2 C sesame seeds

Mix. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream butter, tehina, and both sugars together until light and fluffy. Add egg and vanilla, and mix on medium speed until well combined. In a medium mixing bowl, sift flour, baking soda, and salt together. Add to the butter mixture, and beat just to combine.

Chill. Let the dough rest in the fridge for 30 minutes.

Heat. Heat the oven to 350ºF.

Roll. Scoop out 1 – 1 1/2 tablespoons of dough (I use a mini ice cream scooper), and shape into a ball. Roll in sesame seeds and place 3 inches apart on parchment-lined baking sheets.

Bake. Bake one tray at at time until golden brown, 12 to 14 minutes. The cookies should still be a little bit soft in the middle, but will harden as they cool. Transfer baking sheets to a wire rack to cool.

Store. Store in an airtight container at room temperature up to 1 week.

I’ve promised to write more on my time in Sicily, a week at the Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school and a few more days at the beach in Cefalu. I’ve found so much inspiration in the course, the school, the landscape of the island that I’m writing a short series of articles for The Forward, tied to several Jewish holidays. Since so many of our holidays are tied to an agricultural calendar, it makes sense that spending time cooking directly from the land would provide a catalyst for recipes to celebrate.

In this first piece (pasted below), I get my first taste of Sicily in the form of figs so ripe that every attempt to photograph them slumped into a puddle of juice. No worries, I drew the best out of grocery store figs to create a sorbet coupled with honeycomb candy, perfect for launching a new year of adventurous travel and delicious experiences.

fig sorbet with honeycomb candy

Until recently, what little I knew about Sicily came from Sophia Petrillo’s stories on “The Golden Girls.” Spending a week at the Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school last June, though, gave me a proper introduction to the rich landscape of this large island. I was there for a course on food writing and found myself smitten with Sicilian culinary heritage.

This year I’ll be celebrating the Jewish holidays with an eye toward incorporating into my own traditions the foods I tasted in Sicily.

Early on a Monday morning I flew to the island’s largest city, Palermo, and took a bus into town. There I met up with Susie, another student attending the workshop. We shook hands, awkwardly hugged, dropped our luggage in a storage room at the train station and set off to explore the city. With only a few hours before our connection, sightseeing options were limited, but no matter: Our only goal was gustatory.

Susie navigated us to Mercato del Capo, the souk-like market that’s a testament to Sicily’s long-ago Arab rule. We stopped in front of the largest jar of Nutella I have ever seen, a beckoning hand dipping strawberries and offering them up. Our loyalty was easily bought. At the sight of a 10-euro banknote, the vendor filled a paper cone with berries and another with plums.

I pointed to a pile of green fruits, shaped like Hershey’s kisses, each about the size of my fist. The vendor held one up — “ Fichi !” he said. “Figs,” Susie whispered — and ripped it open, swiping each half in the chocolate spread before handing them over. While we chewed, he piled figs into two more cones. “ Basta, basta !” Susie cried, holding up her hands like a crossing guard stopping cars. Our vendor indicated that he had no change for our bill and emptied a box of cherries into a final cone, making sure we got every last cent’s worth.

After wandering the stalls, Susie and I plopped ourselves down in a shady spot. I fished out a fico and weighed it in my palm, its bottom felt heavy like a water balloon and I saw a few crystallized beads of sugar escaping from a small crack in the skin. I tore it open and lapped up the dripping flesh, feeling the seeds crackle between my teeth, and letting the sweet juice pool in the dust at my feet. Until that point, I had never actually enjoyed eating a fresh (or dried) fig. I found myself mumbling a shehecheyanu and explaining to Susie the Rosh Hashanah tradition of saying a blessing over a new fruit that you hadn’t eaten all year.

We retrieved our luggage at the station and met a few more classmates on the bumpy train. Mario, one of the chefs, picked us up in the small town of Vallelunga and drove us to the school where, after washing off the travel, we launched right in to what would become an evening tradition: aperitivo hour in the courtyard outside the kitchen. Next to a tray of bubbles in stems and several plates of bruschetta, Susie laid out the remains of our market fruit picnic. Over this abbondanza of food and drink and against the setting sun, we introduced ourselves. Against this backdrop, I was ready to begin.

As I prepare for the New Year, I wanted to re-create that first taste of fruit in the heat of the Sicilian sun by making a refreshing sorbet.

fig sorbet

Fig sorbet

This recipe is inspired by the decadent fresh figs I ate in Sicily this summer and is adapted from sorbetto di fichi in Fabrizia Lanza’s Coming Home to Sicily. I used green Calimyrna figs, but black ones will do just fine as well. The step of peeling the figs is important – my first batch I included the peels and the texture was strangely slimy. At the Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school they serve the base sorbet recipe with freshly whipped cream. 

For Rosh Hashanah, I wanted to add in some honey elements. The fig and honey swirl provides some textural contrast, as it is thicker than the sorbet itself, like a ribbon of fudge in a decadent chocolate gelato. You’ll need a scant three pounds of figs total if you’re going to make the sorbet and the swirl. For a nice crunch, crumble the honeycomb candy over top.

Makes about a quart of sorbet

– 2 pounds figs
– ½ C port (or water)
– ¾ C water
– 2 T freshly squeezed lemon juice
– 1 C sugar
– Fig and honey swirl (see below)
– Honeycomb candy (see below)

Peel. Slice the stem off the figs. Peel by sliding the tip of a knife under the top layer of skin and grasping it with your thumb, pulling towards the opposite end in long strips. You’ll be left with a thin layer of white pith around the pink flesh. You’ll end up with 1½ pounds or about 3 cups of peeled figs.

Puree. In a blender, puree the peeled figs, port and/or water, lemon juice and sugar until very smooth.

Chill. Cool in refrigerator for 2–3 hours.

Freeze. Freeze the cold mixture in an ice cream maker. Once the sorbet has finished churning, dribble in the cooled fig and honey swirl and gently stir to distribute it but not so much that it disappears. Transfer to an airtight container and put in the freezer to firm up for a few hours or overnight.

Serve. Scoop into bowls and sprinkle with crumbled honeycomb candy.

fig sorbet


Fig and Honey Swirl

This fig and honey compote is also great over vanilla gelato or mixed into your morning yogurt.

Makes 1 cup

– ¾ pound figs, quartered (1½ cup)
– 2 T honey

Heat. Over a low flame, heat the figs and honey for approximately 10 minutes until the figs break down into a thick syrup. Pulse with an immersion blender until only small pieces of fig remain. Cool in refrigerator for 2–3 hours.


honeycomb candy

Honeycomb Candy

In the restaurant, we crumble honeycomb candy over vanilla gelato drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil in a twist on affogato. This candy is also known as seafoam, hokeypokey, and, when coated in chocolate (I prefer dark), is similar to Australian Violet Crumble. It’s fun to have a jar of it in the kitchen for sweet honey snacking over the Rosh Hashanah holiday.

– 2 t baking soda
– 1 C sugar
– 2 T honey
– 1 T water

Prep. Line a half sheet pan (18” X 13”) with parchment paper. Sift the baking soda into a small bowl. If you don’t sift, you might happen upon a nubbin or two of unpleasant tasting baking soda in the middle of your candy.

Heat. In a large pot (the mixture will expand about four-fold, so make sure your pot is big enough!) over medium heat, mix the sugar, honey and water. Clip a candy thermometer to the pot. Over the span of about 5–7 minutes, the syrup will bubble gently and then darken to a golden brown at around 290° F. Stand over the pot because the last stage goes quickly and you don’t want burnt sugar.

Pour. Once the syrup hits 300° F, pull out the thermometer and pour in the sifted baking soda. Stir 2–3 times with a rubber spatula (not too much or you’ll deflate the mix) and the syrup will lighten, turn opaque and quadruple in size. Carefully tip the bubbling mess onto the lined sheet pan — it will look like a big blobby monster crawling out of the pot. Let it spread out on its own and resist the urge to touch it — it’s hot and can burn and also too much fussing will break the bubbles.

Store. When completely cool, break into pieces and store in an airtight container.

As everyone posts photos of their kids’ first days of school and France celebrates la rentrée, I’m still trying to wring the most out of summer. This salad is how I’m doing it.

watermelon feta salad

There have been a lot of outdoor days, but I have to say that I’ve enjoyed my fair share of reading in the air conditioning over a plate of this composed salad. It’s a classic hot-weather country pairing of crisp sweet watermelon and creamy, briny (but not too salty sheep’s) feta that I first tried in Israel. After having an Italian variation in my restaurant – we call it anguria and serve compressed melon with ricotta salata, shishito peppers, and toasted almonds – I bought my first of many watermelons this summer.

For my version, the dressing is a blitz of lemon, oil, and a big fistful of mint. The more mint, the better in my book. Toss the dressing with some arugula, arrange a few slabs of watermelon, dot with feta, and sprinkle with oven-toasted hazelnuts. Nothing to it.

In case you want some reading suggestions, here are a few of my faves from the past few weeks:

Elissa Altman on feeding her mother.

Rachel Roddy on her two Italian kitchens.

Molly Birnbaum on the late Oliver Sacks.

Happy reading, all!

watermelon feta salad

Watermelon feta salad

Serves 6

– 6 C arugula
– 3/4 C mint dressing (see below)
– 1/2 medium seedless watermelon, sliced into wedges
– 3/4 C sheep’s milk feta
– 1/4 C toasted and roughly chopped hazelnuts
– handful mint leaves, torn

Toss. Toss the arugula with half the dressing.

Arrange. Divide the dressed arugula onto plates. Lay watermelon slices artistically, and top with crumbled feta, hazelnuts, and a few mint leaves. Drizzle with remaining dressing.

Mint dressing

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

– 1/4 loosely packed mint leaves
– 1/2 C lemon juice
– 1 C olive oil
– 1 T honey
– 3/4 t salt

Mix. Use an immersion blender to mix all the ingredients together.

where they shine

I had my last piece of this cake for breakfast this morning.

apricot amaretti cake

It’s the apricot cake I made for shabbat last week and after I shared it with my guests, I made another one for myself. All for me!

It’s a variation on the cake I’ve started calling my “back pocket cake” – I wrote about it for the Forward this week and it’s a cake that’s so incredibly simple and versatile that I make it all the time with whatever fruit looks good. I’ve even developed a super cheesy mnemonic so that I no longer have to refer to the recipe. I quote (myself): “So far, my best attempt has been counting it out like a bandleader revving up his crew with a few snaps of his fingers: a 1, and a 2, and a 1-2-3-4. If you squint and cock your head to the side and use a little imagination, you’ll remember this stands for a one (cup flour), and a two (eggs), and a one-half (cup oil) three-fourths (cup sugar). It’s a bit of a stretch, but once you make it, you’ll never need the recipe again.”

I first made the cake with apples just a few months into this blog when I was hosting my first ever Rosh Hashanah dinner. It is, I believe, the most linked-to post on my blog and the recipe that my friends make year after year for their own families. Some actually refer to it at Gayle’s apple cake. I’m blushing.

Today’s version is apricots with amaretti. Amaretti are crunchy little meringue cookies that have an almond flavor but are actually made with ground up apricot kernels (which are sometimes known as the poor man’s almonds because they taste like the nut, only slightly more bitter). Clearly a perfect match for the apricots I found in the market.

Now, up until last week, I’d never tried a fresh apricot and I’m not really sure I was missing much. I twisted one open and it tasted like a lesser version of a peach, as if it was unwilling to share itself with anyone. But I had made up my mind to bake them into a cake, so I went ahead with my plan. Worst case, I had ice ream.

Now fresh apricots might not be much to talk about, but cooked? Whew, cooked is where they shine. The heat loosens up their greedy grip on flavor and they transform. In the cake, they slump into the batter and release syrup that pools in the wells left by the pits and leaks into the cake.

Out of the oven, the cake has a dense crumb – just the way I like it – with pockets of sticky apricot and the crunch of almond-flavored cookies. A little reminiscent of coffee cake, which, again makes me feel justified eating it for breakfast.

apricot amaretti cake

Apricot and amaretti cake

This is a variation on my any-fruit back-pocket cake (see below).

Serves 8-10

–  1/2 C canola oil
–  3/4 C sugar
–  2 eggs
–  ½ t vanilla extract
–  ½ t almond extract
–  1 C flour
–  1 t baking powder
– ½ t kosher salt
– 7-8 apricots, sliced into halves or quarters
– 3 T crushed amaretti cookies (6-8 cookies)

Prep. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Grease and flour a 9-inch round cake pan or springform.

Mix. Mix together the oil, sugar, eggs, and extracts until smooth. Add the flour, baking powder and salt and continue mix by hand until the ingredients just come together.

Arrange. Tip the batter into the prepared pan. The batter is thick, so you’ll need a spatula to scoop it all out and then spread it evenly in the pan. Arrange the fruit however you want. Halves skin-side down make a dramatic cake as the fruits sink quite a lot and you end up with a craggy cake moonscape. Quarters balanced on their sides allow the cake to rise more evenly, resulting in a more, well, traditional cake. Sprinkle with the crushed cookies.

Bake. Bake the cake for 40-45 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Watch the fruit to make sure its juices don’t burn.

Back pocket, any-fruit cake

This recipe was adapted from Marian Burros’ plum torte published in the New York Times. I replaced the butter with oil to make it parve and like to use different fruits depending on what’s in season. The batter is thick but still pourable; a few swipes of a spatula gets it right into the pan. The fruit juices ooze all over and dribble beautiful color throughout the cake. Any type of juicy fruit works.

A few suggested flavor combinations:

apple or pear, vanilla, cinnamon
– blueberries or raspberries, vanilla, lemon zest
plums, rose water, lime zest
– peaches or nectarines, vanilla
– apricots, almond extract, cardamom, amaretti cookies crumbled on top

Serves 8-10

–  1/2 C canola oil
–  3/4 C sugar
–  2 eggs
–  1 t extract (vanilla, almond, rose water, orange blossom water)
– 1 t citrus zest (lemon, lime, orange)
–  1 C flour
–  1 t baking powder
– ½ t kosher salt
– 2 cups fruit
– Optional: 2-3 T raw sugar

Prep. Preheat oven to 350˚F. Grease and flour a 9-inch round cake pan or springform.

Mix. Mix together the oil, sugar, eggs, extract, and zest until smooth. Add the flour, baking powder and salt and continue mix by hand until the ingredients just come together.

Arrange. Tip the batter into the prepared pan. The batter is thick, so you’ll need a spatula to scoop it all out and then spread it evenly in the pan. Arrange the fruit however you want and sprinkle with raw sugar.

Bake. Bake the cake for 40-60 minutes until a toothpick comes out clean. Apples and pears take close to the full hour; stone fruits burn more quickly, so I take them out around 45 minutes.

a chaotic tumble

Just a quick hello and recipe for you. I’m having friends over for shabbat dinner tonight and am keeping it easy. There will be watermelon salad with a touch of feta and a mint dressing, salmon with a quick Italian green sauce to spoon on top (more on that in a sec), carrots, and roasted potatoes. Also, an apricot amaretti cake that’s a variation on my Rosh Hashanah staple.

This month I’ve been able to get out of the city quite a bit – a day baking with Dorie Greenspan and her husband Michael (just like last year), a day at my friend‘s pool in Atlantic Beach, and another weekend at another friend‘s place in Huntington. I’ve been doing a fair amount of cooking and writing, but haven’t had a chance to sit down, here, to tell  you about it. Fear not, there will soon be sorbet and a smattering of recipes from tonight’s dinner.

For now, that green sauce. I’ve been reading through my friend Rachel’s book – it’s really a combination of recipes, photos, and musings that’s satisfying to read in bed. Yes, I read it before I fall asleep, but I’ve also found myself waking up and sneaking a few peeks before morning pages. Her writing is infectious and it helps that I can hear her clipped accent in my head. I was looking at her blog yesterday and randomly skipped to August of 2012 to see what she was making a few summers ago. Seasonal blog roulette, you might call it. The recipe that popped up was for green sauce – Rachel describes a version she had in a restaurant as “a chaotic tumble of parsley, capers, onion, anchovies, breadcrumbs, garlic and olive oil.” I love that. A chaotic tumble. It’s how I feel my entertaining comes about. It’s how I feel my life comes about sometimes as well.

This tumble must have been stuck in my head – an earworm of a recipe – because I found myself grabbing herbs by the fistful right after I bought the fish with no plan other than to wrap it in paper and cook it over a bed of lemons.

Italian salsa verde

There was a lot of chopping and scraping and a few glugs of oil and I ended up with a peppery sauce – saline from capers and anchovies, sharp from raw garlic, fresh from the herbs –  that will be great over the salmon. I’m also envisioning mixing it with tuna. Spreading it on bread and topping with roast beef. Drizzled on eggs. Oh, there’s so much I can do with this sauce. I may have to hide some of it before setting it out on the table at dinner tonight.

Shabbat shalom and happy weekend, all!

Salsa verde (Italian green sauce)

Adapted from Rachel Roddy here and here. Measurements are approximate.

Makes approximately 1 1/2 cups

– 1 fistful of flat-leaf parsley, approximately 1/2 C chopped

– 1 fistful bunch cilantro, approximately 1/2 C chopped

– 20 leaves mint, approximately 1/4 C chopped

– 2 T capers in salt (don’t rinse)

– 2 cloves garlic

– 4 anchovy fillets in oil, drained

– 3/4 C extra virgin olive oil

– 2 T lemon juice

Chop. Chop the herbs finely and put in a large bowl. Roughly chop the capers and add to the herbs.

Scrape. Rub garlic on a microplane into the bowl. Roughly chop the anchovies and then scrape them against the cutting board with the edge of your knife until it forms a smooth paste. Scoop into the bowl.

Mix. Add the oil and lemon juice and mix everything together. Let the flavors meld in the fridge for a few hours.

i’ve gone sweet

When I came home from Sicily, zucchini (and its family) season was in full swing. Tender, thin-skinned squash was everywhere. Yellow and green, solid and striped, eight-ball and pattypan.

There were squash blossoms too, and I picked a few myself when I spent the day out in Brooklyn with Edible Schoolyard NYC (check out this photo of my colleagues here), weeding a border along the fence separating the school garden from the street. There is an art to collecting these long yellow flowers, I learned. You only take the male ones (the females, with a bulb of an ovary along the stem, when fertilized form the fruit, er, squash) and you have to give each a good shake to scare any bees out. Otherwise you’ll end up with a bag of buzzing blossoms. Now you know.

This year, I’ve gone sweet with my squash, baking up a zucchini cake with two types of chocolate – cocoa and bittersweet shards. The recipe comes from Chocolate & Zucchini, one of the first blogs I ever read and a huge inspiration for my own. The cake itself is more rich than saccharine, with a deep dark chocolate flavor and a crumb moist with flecks of zucchini. I like to bake it in a loaf pan – which is how I like to bake most of my cakes – but you can fancy it up in a round or bundt if you’d like.

Before we get to the recipe, a little reading. First off, Luisa wrote about the language of food workshop that I attended at Case Vecchie in Sicily last month. And Rachel, our other teacher, has written so convincingly about the importance of a good tomato sauce that I’m considering buying a food mill to make my own smooth silky sugo to coat a bowl of (homemade, hopefully soon) pasta. Finally, women talk about balancing motherhood with the realities of restaurant life.

chocolate and zucchini bread

Chocolate and zucchini cake

Adapted from Chocolate & Zucchini. I use olive oil to make the cake non-dairy. The batter is very thick and you may need to use some strength to smooth out the top once you’ve wrestled it into the pan. 

If you do want to go savory with your zucchini, try it raw, roasted, or tucked into a frittata

– 1/2 C olive oil or room temperature butter, plus more for greasing the pan

– 2 C flour

– 1/2 C unsweetened Dutch cocoa powder

– 1 t baking soda

– 1/2 t baking powder

– 1 t fine sea salt

– 1 C granulated sugar

– 1 t pure vanilla extract

– 2 T strong cooled coffee or 1 t instant coffee granules

– 3 large eggs

– 2 C unpeeled grated zucchini, from about 1 1/2 medium zucchini

– 6 oz good-quality bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped (about 1 C)

olive oil

Prep. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch by 3-inch loaf pan.

Whisk. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

Mix. In the bowl of a mixer (or by hand in a large mixing bowl), beat the sugar and oil or butter until fluffy. Add the vanilla, coffee, and eggs, mixing well between each addition.

Combine. In a large mixing bowl, combine the zucchini, chocolate chips, and about a third of the flour mixture, making sure the zucchini strands are well coated and not clumping too much. This will help make sure that the zucchini and chocolate don’t just sink to the bottom of the cake.

Fold. Add the rest of the flour mixture into the egg batter. Mix until just combined; the batter will be thick. Fold the zucchini mixture into the batter, and blend with a spatula without overmixing. Pour into the prepared cake pan, and level the surface.

Bake. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer onto a rack to cool for 10 minutes, run a knife around the pan to loosen, and turn on to a cooking rack.


shabbat table

Shabbat shalom from my apartment!

Well, this photo was actually last shabbat, but one week later, I get to say the same thing! If you look closely, you’ll notice that nothing really matches, but most of the stuff sort of “goes.” When I left Boston, a friend helped me pack and, more than anything else, she helped me purge. She convinced me to get rid of my service for twelve and only bring down six meat plates and four dairy plates. She said that I’d never have an apartment large enough to entertain more than six people.

Well shame on me for listening. Last Friday, I cooked for seven (and a baby). If you look closely, you’ll see there’s only enough for six on the table. One of my friends is typically late and I didn’t expect her until dessert. When she showed up pretty close to on time, I had to scramble. I managed to assemble a blue, white, and yellow mishmash of a table.

The menu took shape when I decided to make my favorite carrots. Then, still thinking of Paris and my favorite foods from the late great Les Ailes restaurant, I decided to make chreime – a spicy Tunisian fish stew – as the main event since I had a few non-meat eaters in the crowd. I rounded things out with haricots verts tossed in garlic scape dressing and roasted potatoes, straight from the farmers market.


We started out with bowls of cucumber gazpacho, a cross between this recipe and this one, essentially cucumbers, onion, avocado, sherry vinegar, yogurt and bread.

As usual, I was afraid that I wouldn’t have enough food, so I burnt a few eggplants and mixed the flesh with a dash of tahini and pomegranate molasses à la Ottolenghi.

burnt eggplant

It’s hard to make mushed eggplant look good, but a sprinkle of parsley helps.

Ottolenghi's burnt eggplant with tahina

After dinner, we retired to the couch and ate dessert clustered around my coffee table. I spread out a cloth and piled on the desserts. There was a magnificent almond cake, a chocolate zucchini loaf (I promise to share), and a massive plate of watermelon and berries.

Have a great weekend, all!

Burnt eggplant with tehina and pomegranate

Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty. You can also add some chopped cucumber and/or halved cherry tomatoes. If you have pomegranate seeds, they would be lovely to sprinkle on top. Since this was a last minute addition to my dinner, I just used what I had. 

Makes about 2 cups

– 3 medium eggplant

– 1/2 C tehina

– 1/3 C water

– 2 T pomegranate molasses

– 2 T lemon juice

– 2 garlic cloves, crushed

– 1/4 C chopped parsley

– salt and pepper

Burn. Poke several holes in the eggplants with a fork or sharp knife. Put them on a foil- or parchment-lined tray and place directly under a hot broiler for about an hour, turning them a few times, The eggplants need to deflate completely and their skin should burn and break.

Drain. When the eggplant is cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh into a colander, avoiding the blackened skin. Leave to train for at least 30 minutes.

Mix. Chop the eggplant flesh roughly and transfer to a medium mixing bowl. Add the tehina, water, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, garlic, parsley, a pinch or two of salt, and a grind of pepper. Mix well. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more garlic, lemon juice, or molasses if needed. You want the salad to have a robust sour/slightly sweet flavor.


Chreime (Spicy Tunisian fish stew)

Just barely adapted from Lior Lev Sercarz‘s recipe in Saveur. I doubled the recipe and added some crushed tomatoes so make a soupier dish. I couldn’t find small red Thai chilis, so I substituted larger serranos and added the seeds to the mix – the result was only a little spicy, so I might add more next time. I made the sauce first in a large skillet, then divided it between two skillets so the fish would have enough room to cook.

Serves 8 – 10

– 3 lbs fish such as sea bass or grouper, cut into 4- to 5-ounce filets

– 1/4 C fresh lemon juice

– kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

– 1/2 C olive oil

– 20 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

– 5 serrano chilis, stemmed and finely chopped

– 1 6-oz can tomato paste

– 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes

– 2 C water

– 3 C minced cilantro

Marinate. Combine fish, juice, salt, and paper in a bowl; set aside.

Cook. Heat oil in a large (at least 12-inch) skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and chiles (including seeds); cook, stirring until soft 1-2 minutes. Add paste; cook, stirring until slightly caramelized, about 5 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, cilantro, and water; boil. Reduce heat to medium; cook until sauce is slightly reduced, 6-8 minutes.

Simmer. Split the sauce between two large skillets. Divide fish between the two skillets, skin side up, with its juice and cover; cook until fish is done, 18 – 20 minutes.

Last month, en route to Sicily, I stopped in Paris for a few days. I hung out with my good friend Laurence and we visited some of my old haunts from when I spent the summer of 2007 taking dance classes. I wrote about that summer and my brief return for The Forward, and published a recipe for the spicy Tunisian carrot salad that I discovered nearly a decade ago.

It’s funny – I had an abnormally difficult time writing this article. In general, I’m a harsh self-critic and I think that when I’m close to a topic, like writing about a time that holds special meaning to me, I have a hard time creating editorial distance. That’s how I’m feeling about my most recent trip to Sicily. I’ve committed to writing a few articles for the Forward about my travel, and I’m really excited about them (fig sorbet, anyone?) but I’m having trouble writing anything here. I’m hoping with enough distance, and perhaps in dribs and drabs, I’ll be able to really capture what was so amazing about my trip – why it came at the perfect time for me, what it meant, what it means to have given myself such a luxurious gift.

In the interim, I’ve copied below my article about Paris, the month that I spent there, and the carrots that I prepare to take me back.

spicy Tunisian carrot salad

Say Paris, and most people envision the Eiffel tower, a pyramid of colorful macarons , a bicycle ride with a baguette poking out of the front basket. But Paris for me is captured in a bowl of spicy shredded carrots. A cross between traditional French carottes râpées (a grated carrot salad mixed with little more than lemon juice, olive oil, parsley, and a pinch of sugar) and Middle Eastern harissa-spiced cooked carrots, this Tunisian raw carrot slaw screams summer in Paris to me.

Picture this: It’s Saturday afternoon, July 2007, and I’m sitting in Luxembourg Garden, nestled between the student-filled Latin Quarter where I’m subletting for the month and the trendy Saint-Germain-des-Près where the great intellectuals of France once congregated in cafes. I’ve made the Kiddush blessing over wine at the flat and brought the rest of my lunch for a picnic in the park.

The lawns are lush and manicured, people mostly sitting on chairs rather than sprawled out in the grass, obeying the signs saying “ interdit .” In awe of this politesse , I grab my own brightly-painted green seat and pull up a second as a table. A portable chreime, the fiery Sephardic fish stew, concentrated into boulettes de poisson (much more appealing to say than fish balls) and a thickened sauce, smushed onto a baguette. Merguez sausage. Plastic containers of cold salads: spicy shredded carrots, roasted eggplant and peppers, potatoes. A tart of concentric berries. A wedge of chocolate cake. All for me.

Just two days earlier, I had landed at Charles de Gaulle airport with a backpack stuffed with a computer, flip flops, a pair of tap shoes, and ballet slippers. My luggage stranded in London, my summer waiting in France. First thing Friday morning, I made a beeline to the grands magasins department stores on Boulevard Haussmann for a shopping spree courtesy of the airline.

A few basic outfits in hand, I set out to find some of the kosher restaurants I had marked on my map with big red Xs. Several were on Rue Richer and I found the street by following historic landmark signs directing me to the Folies-Bergère cabaret music hall. There was a line in front of the iconic building’s art deco marquee, but rather than looking for tickets, the crowd was queuing to pick up their Shabbat feasts from Les Ailes, the Tunisian-owned restaurant and traiteur take-out counter next door.

I took my place after the last person and quickly found myself face-to-face with a (luckily very patient) waiter. We were separated by my elementary vocabulary and several meters of glass-encased salads, vegetables, meats, fish and pastries. With a lot of pointing and stammering, I managed to amass two bags full of food. In an act of generous hospitality, my new friend threw in a few extra challah rolls and a big container of unassuming-looking shredded carrots.

My luggage eventually found its way to me, and for the remainder of the month I took classes in the mirrored studios of Centre de Danse du Marais with a view of the Centre Pompidou on one side and the old Jewish neighborhood on the other. Every week, I made my Friday trek to Les Ailes, eventually narrowing down my order to my favorite choices (which I could now request with confidence) and always asking for an extra serving of the spicy carottes râpées . The piquant salad would last all week in the teeny-tiny frigo in my apartment. Some mornings, I took a few nibbles before heading out. Many nights, I ate a bowl before a late-night crêpe with lemon and sugar. The carrots quenched any type of hunger I had.

Last month, I returned to Paris and visited good friends and old haunts. We had lunch in le Marais and walked past Notre Dame to lounge on chairs in the Luxembourg Gardens. One night, we went to see a cirque de soleil-like performance at the renovated and gilded Folies-Bergère. I knew that Les Ailes next door had closed, but it was still a shock to see its rainbow of salads replaced by a whole new storefront.

In the intervening years, I sought to recreate the carrot salad that carried me through that summer. I collected recipes and compared techniques. How best to prepare the vegetables: Cooked in chunks? Sliced thin on a mandolin? Shredded in a food processor? Should the salad be sinus-clearing spicy? What about using raw garlic? In the end, I believe I have perfected my own interpretation of Les Ailes’ spicy carottes râpées , so whenever I want to remember my summer in Paris, I pull out a few ingredients and I am transported.

Spicy Tunisian Carrot Salad (Carottes Râpées à la Tunisienne)

Adapted from the late Gil Marks’ Moroccan raw carrot salad (shlata chizo) published in Olive Trees and HoneyI’m not sure of the actual provenance of this salad — Moroccan? Tunisian? — but since it uses harissa and was inspired by the Tunisian restaurant Les Ailes in Paris, I’ve decided to call it Tunisian. You can use a food processor to grate the carrots, but I prefer to use a julienned peeler, which results in long, uniform carrot strands that soften just enough when absorbing the spicy liquid to become a little floppy; when I’ve used a food processor or box grater, the carrots quickly become a droopy soupy mess.

Wrapped well, the carrot salad keeps in the refrigerator for several days.

Makes about 2 cups

– 1 pound carrots, peeled and grated
– ¼ cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
– ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
– 2 teaspoons cumin
– 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
– ½ teaspoon hot paprika
– ½ teaspoon sumac
– 1 teaspoon salt
– 2 teaspoons silan or honey
– 1-2 teaspoons harissa, to taste
– 2 tablespoons chopped parsley and/or cilantro

Mix. In a very large bowl, mix the carrots, lemon juice, oil, spices, salt, silan/honey and 1 teaspoon of harissa. Taste and adjust heat with more harissa if you’d like.

Sprinkle. Just before serving, sprinkle with herbs.

Just a super quick hello and a garlic scape dressing before these curlicue young stems and buds disappear from the market.garlic scapes

Last time these funny little guys showed up here was pesto, my first foray into scapedom. Since then, I’ve played around a bit, notably folding them into eggs, but these days I’ve been whirring them into a bright green dressing with a soft garlic flavor and a bright splash of lemon juice. I cannot stop eating it. I’ve added the dressing to a kale and radicchio salad – I know, kale is the old black, but I still love it, particularly the young leaves that one of the farmers at my local greenmarket sells – and a provençal-style salad of roasted potatoes, blanched green beans, radishes, and eggs (think salade niçoise, but warm and all mixed together). I made a similar version at Meira’s as a marinade for grilled vegetables and, just today, dipped some cherry tomatoes in it for a quick snack.

Now hurry up, scape season is almost gone.

kale and radicchio with garlic scape dressing

Garlic scape dressing

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

– 3 oz (about 4) garlic scapes, roughly chopped

– 1/4 C lemon juice (approximately 2 medium lemons)

– 1/2 t salt (or more, to taste)

– freshly ground black pepper

– 3/4 C extra-virgin olive oil

Puree. Using an immersion or regular blender, puree the garlic, juice, salt and a few grinds of pepper until relatively smooth. Slowly pour in the oil while continuing to puree until you have a bright, nearly fluorescent, green emulsified dressing.


If you are going the kale and radicchio route, I suggest making croutons. I typically have a few slices of unseeded rye in the freezer, so I pull out a pair and cut them into rough cubes. Heat some olive oil in a pan, shake the bread into an even layer, sprinkle a nice pinch of salt and let the cubes toast on one side – this takes a minute or two if the pan is really hot. Then, sauté: here I’m using the original French term – sauter, to jump – quite literally. Using a smooth forward and back motion and a little pop at the end, help the the bread cubes jump out of the pan for a sec and flip onto their backs. You might lose a few until you get really practiced, but I just pluck the runaways off the stove (or, more likely, the floor) and thrown them back into the pan.

rye croutons


I like to use a nice big crusty rye boule, but any fairly sturdy loaf – think sourdough or pullman – should work well.

Makes 1 heaping cup

– 1 1/2 T extra-virgin olive oil

– 2 slices bread, cut into cubes

– pinch of kosher salt

Heat. Heat oil over medium high heat until shimmering in a pan with sloped sides.

Sauté. Spread the cubes in the hot pan, sprinkle with salt, and let toast on one side until lightly golden. Using a forward and back motion with your hand, toss the bread crumbs over the edge of the pan and catch them in the middle. Do this a few times until most surfaces of the croutons are golden brown.

quickie croutons – 1-2 slices rye boule, slice into cubes. heat olive oil, drop in the cubes, sprinkle on salt, salute – let the cubes jump!


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