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Archive for July, 2015

 

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.

chreime

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.

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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.

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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

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.

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Looking for some summer reading recommendations? I’ve got a few for you.

First off, Stir. It’s the debut book – a memoir with recipes – of Jessica Fechtor whom some of you might know from her blog Sweet Amandine. It’s about life and illness, food and cooking, hosting and guesting, love and identity. I say debut because I think we’ll be reading a lot more from Jess: when we discussed the book for an article I was writing for the Forward, she told me that her PhD dissertation is about representations of food in Jewish literature and she is hoping to span academic and popular readership.

Jess Fechtor's butter almond cake

Next up, All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. David Leite is organizing a virtual book club and this is our first assignment. I’m about a third of the way through this book that takes place in France and Germany during WWII and I’m really loving it so far. Bonus: if you want to know what the author is reading, check out this New York Times interview with him.

For those of you who keep a pile of cookbooks on the nightstand, one of my writing teachers in Italy, Rachel Roddy, recently published her first cookbook. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it and ordered the British version, Five Quarters; it comes out in the US early next year under a different title. Rachel moved from England to Italy a while back and created a life for herself in Rome. She is a vivid story teller and I hear Rachel’s animated accent when I read her essays and musing on living in the Testaccio neighborhood of Rome and her instructions for the food that she turns out of her kitchen. Just the other day, I found myself chucking chickpeas and white beans into a grocery cart, making plans for paste e ceci soup (it might be a very soupy summer) and bruchetta con cannellini. No surprise that I have Italy on my mind, having just spent nearly two weeks in Sicily, but Five Quarters is filling my dreams with images of linguini con zucchine (which is where my bookmark currently resides and rhymes in a lovely way when you say it aloud) and riding around on a motorino. 

Speaking of Italy, I’m reliving my meals at Case Vecchie, drooling my way through Fabrizio Lanza’s Coming Home to Sicily. I think there’s a crema di limone pudding in the very near future.

During our workshop, we read various passages, articles, and book chapters to help us explore different ways of beginning a piece of writing. A couple on the food of Sicily have made their way to my library queue (You do have a library card, right?): Mary Taylor Simeti’s Pomp and Sustenance and Helena Attlee’s The Land Where Lemons Grow.

And one more book that has come highly recommended by many friends: Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life.

In case you want more immediate gratification, here are a few articles that are just a click away:

Tamar Adler’s A Philosophy of Herbs. Perhaps this is the article I had in mind when, after reading the whole pea-camole brouhaha, I ignored the published recipe and made my own pea mash with avocado, mint, lemon juice and salt.

How cookbook author Paula Wolfert is using food to keep Alzheimer’s dementia at bay.

The story of The Day Jacques Pépin Saved My Life.

Now that I’ve adjusted back to a quotidian life without wine at lunch, The Guardian on drinking in the middle of the day.

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And finally, to fuel all that reading, I give you cake.

Marcella’s butter almond cake

Reprinted with permission from Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home by Jessica Fechtor.  

This cake was created by Marcella Sarne, who entered it in a baking contest sponsored by C&H Sugar and won, to the tune of a grand-prize custom kitchen. Sprinkling salt over the batter together with the toasted almonds and sugar is genius. Covered and stored at room temperature, this cake keeps well for several days.

Serves 8 to 10

Butter and flour for the pan
3 heaped tablespoons sliced almonds
¾ cup (1½ sticks; 170 grams) unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
1½ cups (300 grams) granulated sugar, plus 1 tablespoon for finishing
2 large eggs
1½ teaspoons pure almond extract
1½ teaspoons pure vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
1½ cups (188 grams) all-purpose flour
A pinch of sea salt flakes, like Maldon, if using (see headnote)

Preheat the oven to 350˚ F, and butter and flour a 9-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom.

Spread the sliced almonds in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast them in a preheated oven for 5 to 7 minutes, until fragrant. They should color only lightly.

Whisk together the melted butter and 1½ cups sugar in a large bowl. Add one egg, whisk until fully incorporated, then add the other and whisk some more. Add the almond extract, vanilla and salt, and whisk well, until smooth. With a rubber spatula, fold in the flour until just combined.

Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan and scatter the toasted almonds, sea salt flakes, if using, and 1 tablespoon sugar over top. Bake for 35 minutes, until the cake peeking through the almonds takes on a faintly rosy color (this cake blushes more than it browns), and a tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool on a rack until nearly room temperature, then ease the cake out of the pan and cool the rest of the way.

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