spring crunch

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What I savor most about spring vegetables is biting into things. The sound a radish makes when it snaps in your mouth. Clean and crisp cucumbers that quench thirst. I toss aside the mushy and roasted in favor of these delights. This recipe is a sort-of risotto. There is no rice in it, rather farro. I love the nutty flavors of the grain against the bright spring ones of radishes, ramps, and asparagus.

farro and spring veg
This reflects the vegetables I used, but they can easily be switched up.
1 cup farro
4-5 cups stock
olive oil/butter
1 bunch ramps
1 bunch radishes (less the greens, but save them!)
1 bunch asparagus
zest of 1/2 a lemon
1/2 – 1 cup grated parmesan
black pepper

Soak the farro in water for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, prep your vegetables. Chop up the ramp bulbs and cut the greens into ribbons. Keep them separate. Quarter the radishes. Chop asparagus into even pieces, setting aside the very tips. Slice the asparagus tips in half crosswise if you want, for dramatic effect. Set them aside with the ramp greens.

Boil the farro in stock until tender. Drain, reserving extra liquid. Heat enough butter in a pot. Sauté radishes and ramps until the radishes just begin to fade in color. If things are sticking, add a bit of stock. Add the asparagus. Add the farro back into the pot, along with about 1/2 cup stock. Stir, letting the farro cook a bit longer, just past tender. Add the ramp greens and asparagus tips and cook just until the greens wilt. Add lemon zest and parmesan. Season with black pepper and salt to taste.

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spring crunch

suggestion chicken

IMG_1013I cooked my first roast chicken when I was eighteen.  At eighteen months old, I had stopped eating meat. No one knows why, but according to my mother, I reveled in hamburgers before that elusive decision. I stuck with my vegetarianism until the end of high school, when curiosity got to me. I was tired of always maneuvering around pesky bits of bacon that snuck into pasta sauce or turning a blind eye to chicken stock. A hunger for exploration was developing.

My mom and I roasted a chicken together. I followed her instructions while sneaking peaks at Melissa Clark’s suggestions for chicken roasted with lemon and garlic. I held my breath while rinsing the bird, flushing blood from the body cavity. I felt I had to be able to reconcile with the gross bits. It worked, as roast chicken always does.  There is something fool-proof about the bird rubbed down in salt, pepper and olive oil subject to a hot oven for forty-five minutes.  Sometimes it is a little dry or the skin does not get quite crispy enough, but it always tastes good.

A few weeks ago, so a few years after the first bird, I rifled through the pantry looking to put together dinner.  There were a couple of chicken thighs defrosting in the sink, a bag of fingerling potatoes and too many onions. I sliced the onion to cook low and slow in butter. Quartered potatoes to roast. But what about these thighs? My boyfriend (who has come to leave me alone in the kitchen, wisely) pointed at a bag of dried apricots and said, “What about these?” I waved him out of my zone and poked at the spice rack.Curry powder…and apricots!  Chickpeas? I turned to the fridge, always full of half-opened jars of things. Tomato paste. And always garlic .

suggestion chicken
for the suggested apricots

for the chicken
four pieces of chicken, breast or thigh
a glug of olive oil
2 tbsp +/- tomato paste
1 tbsp curry powder
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 14-oz can chickpeas
1/3-1/2 cup dried apricots

for the onions
2-3 yellow onions, sliced thin
butter
white wine

Mix olive oil, tomato paste, curry powder, garlic and a pinch of salt in an oven-proof dish. It should have a paste-like consistency, not too dry, not too runny. Add the chicken pieces and rub with marinade. Let sit while preparing the onions (the longer you let it sit, the better, but it works without a long marinade).

Heat a generous amount of butter in a heavy pan, preferably cast iron. Add the onions and a pinch of salt. Sauté the onions over low heat for at least an hour. Just before serving, deglaze the pan with splash of white wine. Turn up the heat to evaporate excess liquid.

Preheat the oven to 400°F. If your oven has a convection-roast setting, use it. It’ll make the chicken extra-crispy. Soak the apricots in boiling water. Add the chickpeas to the dish and mix around. Arrange the chicken skin-side up.  Cook until done, about 40 minutes.

Drain the apricots and add to the pan. Top with caramelized onions.

suggestion chicken

short crust

There were things Mom made and things Dad made.  Dinner most nights was Mom.  For a time, every Tuesday was pesto night.  It was the only way I would eat vegetables, whipped into a puree with pine nuts, olive oil and parmesan. Teddie’s apple cake, Maida Heater’s brownies, and an East 62nd Street lemon cake were Mom items. I learned the basics of baking with these recipes. The pages of the cookbooks are stained with drips of grease, flour caked into the centerfold.  Each of them had also been amended to deepen flavor. Doubling the chocolate in a simple recipe for run of the mill brownies renders them hearty and indulgent.  A slight half cup of whole wheat flour turns the apple cake nutty and savory.

Pies, tarts, eggs and the grill were Dad. The nights we ate omelets and crêpes he stood frying and flipping above a cast iron skillet. Come summer, he guards the grill with expertise and ease.  The pies and tarts happened all year round on special occasions.  He always made it in a food processor, the ice cold butter sounding off against its plastic walls. I burned my tongue and fingertips too many times eating them the scraps of crust right out of the oven. The butter crust was a balancing act of fat, starch and water.

My first semester of college there was a pie baking contest sometime around Thanksgiving. I felt I had to enter. That crust. I dialed home, asking if I could do it without the food processor.  There was a moment of silence, then the one liner I’ll never forget “How do you think the pilgrims did it?” Right. I nodded and wrote down his proportions. This recipe works for pies, tarts, galettes, quiche (if you omit the sugar).

short crust
10 2/3 tbsp butter
2 cups flour
2 tbsp sugar
scant 1/4 cup ice cold water
dash of rum

Mix flour and sugar. Cut the butter into the mixture. Work it by rubbing between your fingers until you get pea-sized pieces. Add liquor if using, then a tablespoon or so of cold water. Mix it, add more water. Resist the urge to add more than ¼ cup of water. Once the dough starts to come together a bit, turn it out onto the counter. It will not be a cohesive mass, it should still be crumbly. The next step is called frissage and builds the texture of the dough, holding it together while making it flaky. Collect the dough into a disc about the diameter of CD and 2 inches tall.  Roll it out on wax paper or parchment and flip into tart shell/pie pan/cookie sheet (for a galette).

short crust

kabocha squash: soup two ways

squash soup 2 ways

This week it feels like much of the city has been under the weather.  The real winter chill came back into the air after a mild December. I’ve been eating a ton of squash soup during the past few cold months.  Soup never captured my imagination before. I never felt satisfied after eating it and the ways to combined flavor and texture felt limited.  This is changing.

My habit started back in November with the first recipe here, for acorn squash soup.  A few weeks later, I went to the farmer’s market with Lucy.  We met our last year of college and became fast friends, both absorbed by food, literature and politics, wondering how to make sense of it all. After graduation, I moved back to New York after school while Lucy took off for Western Mass and various adventures in farming and farm education.  She makes it down to the city about once a month and we catch up over beer and whiskey.  I have yet to make it back upstate with her, but hopefully a visit will be in order soon.

Back in November, she introduced me to kabocha squash.  I picked it up at the market, holding it by the stem, examining it.  “What’s this?” I asked.  Lucy knows more about the culinary and medicinal uses of plants than anyone I know.  (I am addicted to the wild rose elixir she once gave me: pure delight).  “Kabocha squash, kind of meaty. Less sweet than butternut.”  I bought it and some broccoli raab, unsure how they would meet.  A couple of days later, I improvised a flexible soup of squash, chickpeas and greens. The squash and greens change depending on what looks good or what is cheap that day at the store or market.  Kabocha is my favorite, far and away.  It has a richness of flavor, nutty and full without the syrupy flavor of butternut. These soup recipes require the same group of ingredients cooked in different ways.  In the first, the soup is not puréed: cubes of squash, greens and chickpeas simmer in a ginger-coconut stock.  In the second, the squash gets puréed with half the chickpeas. The greens garnish the top of the soup. The second is prettier, a bit more refined, but both are delicious.  The greens are flexible in both.  For the rustic version, I like a heartier green like lacinato kale or broccoli raab. Spinach works beautifully mixed into the smooth soup at the end.

variation one
coconut oil
1 tbsp minced fresh ginger
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cumin
chili flakes to taste
1 medium squash, peeled and cubed
4 cups stock
1 14oz can chickpeas
1 bunch hearty greens
kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
spicy chorizo (optional)

Heat coconut oil over medium heat in a soup pot. Separate the leaves and stalks of your greens. Cut the leaves into ribbons and set aside. Dice half the stalks and sauté with minced ginger and garlic until soft. Add spices, letting them toast in the oil for about thirty seconds, until fragrant.

Add cubed squash and stock to the pot. If the stock doesn’t quite cover the cubes of squash, top it off with water. Bring to a boil, then let simmer until the squash is tender, fifteen to twenty minutes. Mix in greens and chickpeas. Adjust for seasoning.

If desired, brown spicy chorizo in a separate pan and top the soup with it. The soup becomes more hearty and filling with the fat and smoked paprika from the sausage.

variation two
coconut oil
1 tbsp minced fresh ginger
2 cloves minced garlic
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp cumin
chili flakes to taste
1 medium squash, peeled and cubed
3 cups stock
1 14oz can chickpeas
1 bunch mature spinach or 8oz baby spinach
kosher salt and fresh ground black pepper
toasted coconut chips

Heat coconut oil over medium heat in a soup pot. Sauté minced ginger and garlic until soft. Add spices, letting them toast in the oil for about thirty seconds, until fragrant. Add cubed squash, half the chickpeas and stock to the pot. Bring to a boil, then let simmer until the squash is tender, fifteen to twenty minutes.

Meanwhile, clean the spinach and trim the stems (if using mature spinach – for baby spinach, just rinse out of the box). Heat coconut oil and chili flakes in a sauté pan. Wilt spinach and set aside.

Once the squash is tender, purée the soup until smooth. If too thick, add a little water. If too thin, bring to a boil and reduce for 5-10 minutes. Adjust for seasoning, then add the remaining chickpeas. Serve in warm bowls, topping each with a healthy dose of spinach and a sprinkling of toasted coconut chips.

kabocha squash: soup two ways

radicchio salad

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We had a brief relief from winter this week in New York. This is the first December I can remember where I’m not rushing to finish final papers and wrap up four months worth of school.  I would usually be making cookies or cakes to fuel late nights in the library.  This year, though, the intensity is different.  Work is busy as any holiday season in retail or food service is.  I’m wanting more hearty and energizing foods.  And colorful ones, to combat the ever-gray skyline. My ‘weekends’ fall mid-week.  During these pauses, I try to make time to visit my family every other week or so.  My parent’s kitchen is my favorite place to cook.  They have endless appliances and a refrigerator full of bounty from the farmer’s market. The challenge of putting together dinner with someone else’s groceries is fun. It facilitates creativity and often gives way to new ideas and recipes.

Yesterday, I found big bunches of purple kale, radicchio, clementines, apples and eggs. An apple I ate while cooking and set the kale aside for some kind of pasta (recipe to come soon!).  Radicchio is one of my favorite vegetables. The whole family of bitter greens: endive, radicchio, treviso.  They sweeten when cooked and have a silken texture.  But raw, they have a bite.  I found a recipe in Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy, one of my favorite cookbooks to come out in the past few years.  There is so much information in it. She has a recipe for a chopped radicchio salad with egg, parsley and walnut-shallot vinaigrette.  A fresh salad this time of year always appeals, especially it has a bit of body.  I tweaked her recipe here, switching out walnut oil for hazelnut, adding toasted almonds and clementine slices. I love how the sweetness of the citrus balances the bite of radicchio. The rich nutty flavors offer a solid base.

radicchio salad
adapted from Deborah Madison’s Vegetable Literacy
serves 2-4

for the salad:
1 head radicchio
2 clementines
1 hard boiled egg
1/4 cup toasted finely chopped almonds

for the dressing:
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1 tbsp sherry vinegar
3 tbsp hazelnut oil
1 tsp dijon mustard

Quarter the radicchio and remove the tough base of the stem. Finely slice crosswise and place in a wide bowl. Chop up the hardboiled egg and add. Peel the clementines and slice crosswise, pulling the discs into segments. Prepare the dressing and add to taste. Garnish with toasted almonds.

radicchio salad

threefold pasta

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This recipe comes from three different places: a weathered cookbook found in a cold farmhouse in Tuscany in mid-January, the kitchen of Roberta’s in Bushwick, and a Emiko Davies column on food52.

The weathered cookbook found in a cold farmhouse in Tuscany belonged to Bosa.  I was named for Bosa’s mother, Nina, whom I never met.  Until recently, Bosa lived part time in the old family villa just outside Florence.  She is a few years older than my parents and lives in New York full time now. The town was called Strada-in-Chianti and the villa, Ulivello. It captured my imagination long before I ever saw the place: my mother would tell me stories of visiting the house, of eating there, of walking through the olive orchards that spilled into the hills below.  I first visited one summer during college. I took my best friend and we fell in love with the house, soaking up as much sun and olive oil as our bodies would allow.

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I discovered the weathered cookbook a year and a half later on my second visit to Ulivello.  It fell in January, halfway though a year abroad in Paris. I was there alone with Bosa. I played music to pass the time between our car trips to small towns where I was the only American that time of year.  We shared the cooking.  Both of us prefer cooking alone and switched nights.  While she cooked, I poured over her collection of cookbooks, mostly “Italian Country Cooking” of one stripe or another.  One recipe stuck out to me, for a farro risotto with sage, orange and chickpeas.  I wrote it down on scrap paper and took it back to Paris with me.  I have since lost the recipe I jotted down, but remember the assembly of flavors was delightful.

Part two of my recipe is adapted from the Roberta’s Cookbook.  The chefs behind the Bushwick staple are creative and innovative, but their recipes are particular and often too specific for casual home cooking. Roberta’s is best known for their pizza, but the menu and cookbook offer a range of dishes, each attentive to detail and balance.  I was intrigued by a recipe for pasta with a citrus juice sauce.  The savory/sweet/smokey combination is remarkable and unexpected.  The wooly smoke of fiore sardo, a Sardinian pecorino, brings out the sweet tang of ripe winter citrus.

Then, finally, I spotted Emiko Davies’ recipe for pasta e ceci on food52.  Her column on regional Italian cooking is a go-to for me.  She expresses  the balance and richness of flavors of many traditions beautifully.  I took her combination of pasta and chickpeas and melded it together with Roberta’s citrus sauce, taking the sage and orange from that weathered cookbook.

threefold pasta

serves two to four

adapted from the Roberta’s Cookbook, Emiko Davies at food52 and a cookbook from Bosa’s collection at Ulivello.

8oz short pasta (I used radiatori)
8oz dried chickpeas or 1 can of chickpeas
2 cups orange juice (about five oranges)
zest of one orange
fresh sage
3oz finely grated fiore sardo

do ahead
If using dried chickpeas, soak them the night before. A few hours before making the pasta, set them up to cook. Transfer the soaked chickpeas and a bay leaf to a medium saucepan. Cover with an inch of water and keep at a steady simmer until done, about two hours. Drain the chickpeas, making sure to reserve the cooking water.

day of
Set a pot of water boiling to cook the pasta. Zest one orange and set aside. Juice the remaining oranges. In a wide pan, reduce the orange juice by at least half. Add chickpeas and 1/2 cup of their water. Once the water reaches a rolling boil, salt it and add the pasta. Undercook the pasta by about two minutes — it should still have a bite. It will finish cooking in the pan with its sauces. While the pasta cooks, heat a couple tablespoons of butter in a small pan. Let it begin to brown and then add the sage leaves, frying them until crispy.

Once the pasta is done, reserve 1/2 cup of its cooking water and drain. Add to the pan with the orange juice and chickpeas. Add the reserved pasta water and stir over medium high heat, making sure everything is coated evenly. Grate enough fiore sardo over the pan and continue stirring. Pour the sage butter over the pasta. Arrange the fried leaves over the top and bring to the table.

threefold pasta

dunkers

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There were tins of cookies, 4-inch discs stacked on top of each other.  Peanut butter, oatmeal raisin, and dunkers.  I would rifle through the freezer in my grandparents’ garage looking for the containers a few hours before dinner, setting them on the counter to defrost before we sat down to eat. I was still a picky eater then, when steamed green beans were adventurous.  My family would finish eating whatever they had — maybe pork chops with apples followed by a big salad — while I would sit, waiting.  Eventually (finally!) I could clear the plates and rush bowls and spoons to the table.  Grandpa would produce a few quarts of ice cream and the tins of cookies sat at the center of the table.  I pawed through them, tossing peanut butter and oatmeal aside.  Dunkers were my grandmother’s specialty and have become a staple for me this time of year.  Cooking them is a kind of living memorial, an active remembrance of her sass and care.  I first found the recipe for them in a weathered cigar box of my father’s, written on a scrap of paper that could have slipped away.  I make a batch every Christmas that disappears in the night, consumed by hungry foragers.  In college, a couple dozen would inaugurate the onset of fall. They are regular ginger-molasses cookies: chewy and spiced.  The recipe below is how it appears on that scrap of paper, written down in a rush. I often play with the spice quantities and spices — some white pepper here is great, also a dash of cayenne.

dunkers

1/2 cup butter
1/4 cup oil
1 cup sugar

beat it.

4 tbsp molasses +/-
1 beaten egg

add.

2 cups flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tbsp ginger
2 tsp cinnamon

sift and add.

bake at 350 or 325 until done.

dunkers

pantry granola

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This is one of those few things I make mostly because I like having it around. The extra large glass jar filled with golden oats and slightly caramelized coconut chips sits atop the fridge. This was the first granola recipe I ever made, and will be the only one. Making it fills the apartment with a sweet and savory perfume and a double recipe rarely lasts more than a week. The combination of olive oil and maple syrup is the trick here — the nuts and seeds can be changed and adjusted.

pantry granola
adapted, liberally, from Early Bird Granola via lottieanddoof
3 cups rolled old fashioned oats
1 1/2 cups slivered almonds
1 cup pumpkin seeds
1 1/2 cups coconut chips (shredded coconut will work in a pinch)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup olive oil
kosher salt (to taste)

Preheat the oven to 325°. Mix dry ingredients. Add brown sugar and salt (I use a decent sprinkling, but adjust to taste). Pour in olive oil and maple syrup. Stir it until everything looks evenly coated. Spread onto a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake for 35-45 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes to ensure even toasting.

Let cool completely before storing.

pantry granola

acorn squash and apple soup

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The cold snapped into place this week in New York. Long underwear and turtlenecks got pulled down from the upper shelves of closets and oversized circle scarves covered faces. The city begins to turn inward this time of year, a collective hunch against the wind.  Coming home late from a day of work, hands still icy, nothing has the same effect as a bowl of earthy soup.

Adapting recipes to what I have on hand rather than buying more ingredients has been a necessary challenge these past few months.  There is a certain gratification in cooking what is there rather than what has to be sought, and this soup comes through that process.  I had a morning to myself and a kitchen empty save a single squash, pantry items, and a batch of homemade chicken stock. Through a bit of improvisation and substitution, I arrived at this.

November Soup

(liberally adapted from a New York Times, Florence Fabricant, recipe for a squash soup published in the early nineties. )

serves four

1 acorn squash
1 red onion, diced
1 overripe apple, peeled and diced
a splash of brandy
2 cups chicken stock*
about 1 cup water
cumin
coriander
cinnamon
cayenne
coconut chips

*homemade stock will make a huge difference here.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Split the squash in half and roast skin side down on a foil lined baking sheet until tender. No need to oil the pan here. Pour a little water into the pan to create a more humid oven.

Saute the onion until soft in a soup pot. Add the apple chunks and a splash of water. Cover. The apple, especially if quite ripe, will disintegrate quickly, making a kind of onionapplesauce. Add a splash of brandy.

Let the squash cool before scooping out the flesh and adding to the pot. Add chicken stock and let simmer for a bit. Puree until smooth. Add kosher salt, freshly ground black pepper and spices to taste.

Toast the coconut chips for garnish, filling the kitchen with warm aromas while they brown. They add crunch and sweetness to the soup (and a gentle reminder of warmer climes).

acorn squash and apple soup