Category Archives: easy

This meal requires no special equipment or techniques.

Breakfast

What does a person, who mostly writes about dinner, eat for breakfast? One might well wonder. I guess I’m a creature of serially monogamous breakfast habits. Obviously I like variation at dinnertime, but not in the morning. Years  and years of eating the same thing for breakfast over and over again feels just right to me.

Right after college it was peanut butter and bitter marmalade on an English muffin and a cafe au lait. My roommate and I brewed these up in our Bialetti Moka Express on the funky Harvest Gold stovetop in our Russian Hill apartment. I think I ate that for breakfast for maybe ten or fifteen years.  Then there were a few years, maybe four or so, of poached eggs on toast. With a cup of Murchie’s Empress Afternoon Blend tea and a glass of orange juice. That was in the Pacific Heights apartment. After I met Martin, we ate boiled eggs with this kind of weird, pink, caviar paste. It came in a bright blue tube with a smiling, little, blond boy on the front. That phase didn’t last too long. I love Martin but that pink caviar is only ok. It doesn’t hold a candle to peanut butter and marmalade.

On trips to Sweden to see Martin’s family, I discovered all kinds of cultured milk. Kefir, filmjölk, all kinds of yogurt, quark, fresh cheeses. There began a long period of variations on yogurt for breakfast. Initially this led to making my own yogurt for awhile. Then kefir finally became available in the U.S., that was really exciting! (Yes, I do live in cave.) Lastly, Greek yogurt finally arrived, the richest, thickest, most luxurious of all. Martin started making a deeply toasted muesli with dried cherries. I got stuck on that with the Greek yogurt for a long, long time. Later, switching it up with honey, raspberries, some ground walnuts and a squirt of lemon juice, was heaven.

When winter rolls around though, raspberries become ludicrous. They fly in from South America and I think “oh – how fresh and so exotic in the wintertime”  but they’ve travelled miles to get to Seattle, and taste as if they’ve been around the block a few times. For something so mediocre, they cost the earth.  I tried the bags of frozen local berries but quickly tired of them.

Fortunately, a few weeks ago, in a little plastic box pushed out of sight behind the toaster and leftover from a wintery Sticky Toffee Pudding: I remembered – Medjool dates! (What?! You’ve never had Sticky Toffee Pudding? I will remedy that by posting the recipe at some point…) Their deep fruity caramel flavors are in perfect counterpoint to the brightly sour yogurt. Toasted walnuts left from a grapefruit salad added complex bitterness. I confess my sweet tooth doesn’t allow plain old yogurt: I needed something sweet. Dark Grade B maple syrup – we always have that in the fridge. Maple + dates  are made for each other– I will have to figure out a dessert with those two some day. The crown on this breakfast though, is the salt. A small but decisive pinch of kosher sea salt provides a glittering, edgy crunch. Perfection.

I think I will eat this until I am old and grey.

Yogurt with Dates, Toasted Walnuts, Maple Syrup and Sea Salt

  • 3/4 cup yogurt – read the ingredients list – there should be no additives, nothing to thicken it but the bacteria. My yogurt (Straus) has non-fat milk, buttermilk and the yogurt cultures. I also like the European Style Organic Plain Yogurt from Trader Joe’s
  • 2 tbsp grade B maple syrup
  • 2-3 tbsp (about 7 walnut halves) toasted for 10 minutes at 350. (I would toast at least a cup or so at a time)
  • 3 medjool dates, with pits, pitted. (Pitting is easy and I think the dates with pits taste better)
  • a pinch of Kosher sea salt (I like this one, as you may already know)

This is hardly a recipe, but here’s what I do:

  1. Take the kids to the school. Return home and take a deep breath. Take 15 minutes for breakfast.
  2. You’ll want your favorite bowl. I like a deep round one because it fits so nicely into the palm of my hand when I sit eating on the couch with the newspaper but I have a fond recollection of my mother-in-law’s wide soup plates. Soup plates work better on a table though. It’s your choice. Put the yogurt in the bowl.
  3. Drizzle 2 tbsp maple syrup over the yogurt (I have to confess I kind of love it when I “accidentally” pour in too much…shhh)
  4. With a small sharp knife, make a lengthwise slit down the dates. Push out the pit. I like the dates quartered the long way. Scatter them with the walnuts over the yogurt and maple syrup.
  5. Take that decisive ( not too much and not too little) pinch of kosher sea salt and strew it over the yogurt dates and walnuts.
  6. Get a soup spoon and sit comfortably somewhere, eating this magnificent yet simple breakfast, reading the paper, gathering your thoughts, then finally getting on with things.

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The Moroccan Salmon Sandwich

There is a diner (the upscale yuppie variety) near my house called Skillet, which serves a extraordinarily good hamburger. I am somewhat of a devotee of the hamburger. (And I don’t mind much if it’s the posh kind or the fast food kind – if by fast food you mean Dick’s)  Anyway, at Skillet they have this condiment called bacon jam. It’s as heartstoppingly wonderful as it sounds. Of course bacon jam is heartstopping in every sense of the word. So much so, that having eaten at Skillet several times in the course of a few weeks, I felt I had to explore other parts of the menu. After carefully looking it over, and with a flicker of regret as I passed over the burger (bacon jam, arugula, creamy blue cheese), I ordered the Moroccan Sockeye Salmon Sandwich, which had condiments that sounded intriguing too: harissa aioli and crisp fried preserved lemons.

The salmon sandwich handily beat the hamburger – the epic Skillet hamburger with bacon jam. No kidding. Harissa aioli and fried preserved lemons beat bacon jam?! Yes they did. It’s true. Sharp bittersweet tang, then more sweet, and smoky too, the tangled crunch – oh just a little bit more – What?! How can it be all eaten up already?! I had to figure out a way to make this sandwich at home because ordering two would be embarrassing.

Guess what? It was easy. There are a couple of ways to get there too. This could be a project kind of sandwich, with toasting, grinding and soaking the spices for the harissa and the ras el hanout yourself or you can just buy them ready-made at a grocery store. Moroccan food has become ubiquitous in cities and I see these condiments all over the place. That being said I would not deny myself the pleasure of the scent of freshly roasted cumin, or the sinus clearing burn of roasted dried chili de arbol. (Please try making these condiments just once!) However, I do understand that this is just a sandwich. A fifteen minute proposition if you don’t make all the condiments yourself.

Removing the pin bones with needle nose pliers

Moroccan Sockeye Salmon Sandwich – serves 4 generously

  • 1 1/3 lbs sockeye salmon filet
  • 1 tbsp ras el hanout (see recipe below)
  • spray olive or canola oil
  • 1/2 c. mayonnaise (I like the Trader Joe’s brand)
  • 1/4 c. harissa (or to taste – see recipe below)
  • 1 medium sized preserved lemon, sliced thin, seeds removed and dried off with a paper towel (I prefer Le Moulins Mahjoub brand for their firm skin. It makes it a lot easier to slice. I bought them at the grocery store)
  • Canola or peanut oil
  • 1/4 c. rice flour
  • 1 tbsp cornstarch
  • 2 handfuls of arugula, rinsed and dried
  • 4 brioche buns or soft potato rolls
  1. Using needle nosed pliers (I have some reserved for the kitchen in a drawer) remove the pinbones from the salmon. If you run the tip of your finger lengthwise down the fatter side of the salmon, you will find the bones poking upwards.
  2. Heat the grill or the grill pan, to medium.
  3. Spray the salmon on both sides with olive oil and sprinkle the ras el hanout evenly over the top of the fleshy side. It will tend to clump in spots but you can even it out with a stiff brush or even your fingers.
  4. Place the salmon flesh side down over medium heat on your grill and set the timer for 8 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, heat about 1/4″ of canola or peanut oil in a heavy skillet over medium high heat.
  6. While the oil is heating, combine the rice flour and the cornstarch with a pinch of salt on a small plate. Lightly coat the sliced preserved lemon in the dry ingredients and set aside.
  7. Test the oil by dropping a little piece of bread into it. It should brown quickly and evenly. It it burns right away, it is too hot and you’ll have to begin again.
  8. Carefully, so you don’t splash yourself, lay the lemon slices in the hot oil. They should take a minute or two per side to become golden brown.
  9. Set aside on a plate lined with a paper towel.
  10. Whisk the harissa into the mayonnaise with a fork.
  11. The salmon should be ready to flip now.
  12. Flip the salmon over and set a timer for two minutes. Allowing the salmon to cook thoroughly on the flesh side should make flipping it over a breeze. It simply does not stick to the grate if you grill it this way and you get beautiful grill marks.
  13. Bring the salmon inside and cut it into 4 generous pieces.
  14. Spread both sides of the brioche or potato rolls with the harissa mayonnaise. Lay the salmon, then the arugula, then the preserved lemons  and top with the other half of the roll.
Ras El Hanout – makes about 1/4 cup
This recipe comes from Fine Cooking. It is so easy to throw together if you, like me, have loads of spices in your cupboard.
  • 2 Tbs. sweet paprika (preferably Hungarian)
  • 1 tsp. granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/2 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cloves
  • 1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 tsp. ground allspice
  • 1/4 tsp. cayenne
Combine all ingredients in a small bowl and stir with a fork.
Harissa – makes about 1/2 cup
This recipe comes from Sunday Suppers at Lucques.  I have only made wonderful food from this book.
  • 6 dried chile de arbol, ribs and seeds removed – this is much easier to do when they are dried
  • 2 San Marzano tomatoes, canned
  • 1/4 tsp whole cumin seeds
  • 1 medium cloves of garlic
  • freshly ground black pepper – several grindings
  • 1 tsp kosher sea salt
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • 1/16 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1/2 tsp sherry vinegar
  • 1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil
  1. Heat a medium sized heavy sauté pan over high heat for 1 minute. Add the chilies to the pan and dry toast them until they have little black spots and they smell wonderful. Depending on the heat of your stove this could happen in seconds or take up to a couple of minutes – so don’t walk away! When they are done, set aside in a heat proof bowl and cover with very hot water. Set aside for 15 minutes.
  2. Setting the heat to medium, toast the cumin seeds. Seeing as the pan is already quite hot, this will take less than 30 seconds under your watchful eye. When they smell fabulous, take them off the stove and grind them in your mortar and pestle. If you don’t have one, crush them with the edge of the bottom of a wine bottle on a cutting board, or in a clean coffee grinder.
  3. In the same pan, cook the tomatoes over medium heat until darkened and somewhat thicker. Set aside.
  4. Drain the chiles and put them in a food processor or blender with the garlic, tomatoes, paprika, cumin, cayenne, vinegar, salt and pepper. Puree until combined. You will have to scrape down the container with a spatula frequently; this doesn’t make a lot of harissa. With the motor running, add the olive oil in a thin stream and blend until smooth.

To give you some idea how of delicious and universally pleasing the Moroccan Salmon Sandwich is, I will tell you that my picky five year old demolished his and ate half of a second and Martin and I ate ours and split a third. There was nothing left for Siri and Alistair and they had to be consoled with ice cream sundaes, which were clearly running a distant second to the sandwich. Alistair even ate just bread with the sauce and arugula because we’d run out of the salmon. Ok. I confess that the fried preserved lemon was a tough sell. My daughter managed to pick hers off even though I trickily shoved it underneath the tangle of arugula leaves. Siri is nobody’s fool and saw through my ruse immediately. The boys blithely polished the whole thing off, lemons and all.

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Post #100: No, I did not make this cake and another confession


You can probably tell from the bakery box.

Leo’s birthday follows right on the heels of Martin’s, but there was too much stuff going on and I couldn’t deal with the cake part. Did I say “my kids can invent whatever cake they want, anything, and I will try to make it” in my last post? I’m going to have to take that back.  Here’s what happened:

Leo said: I want a volcano cake, with real hot lava. Here, like this picture Ali and I drew:

So I explained to him how I had this great idea of baking a banana bundt cake, and how I would drizzle yellow and orange glaze over the top to mimic hot lava. (plus it would use up some bananas that were quickly turning black on my counter) I should have known this was an unfavorable inception for a birthday cake. Especially a volcano cake with real lava for a 5 year old with a vision.

“What’s a bundt?” he looked suspicious. I showed him a bundt cake image I found on the Martha Stewart website and I will never forget his look of deep disdain and disgust. What he said was: “Mom that will be so stupid. That doesn’t look like my picture AT ALL.” True.

So I called a bakery. In just 24 hours my problem was solved. My dad picked up a sparkler at a toy store in the shape of a “5” to go on the top, and we covered the cake with candles and, because of excessive sparkiness from the sparklers, went outside in the very cold air to sing Happy Birthday.

For dinner Leo asked for Roast Chicken with Spaetzle and Green Stuff (by which he meant parsley) and Arugula Salad with Oranges, Candied Walnuts and Goat Cheese. That’s my boy! It’s a lovely menu.

So now I’m going to have to write about spaetzle. I should have posted about spaetzle a long time ago because they are so easy and incredibly popular at my house. The spaetzle maker helps the process a lot, costs $9.58 (quite a bargain!) and takes up so little room in a drawer that I don’t feel bad writing about an esoteric kitchen tool. Some people use a colander. I have tried this and I don’t recommend it.

Spaetzle Maker

Spaetzle – serves 4

  • 1 1/2 c. all purpose flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 3/4 tsp salt
  • pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (I really recommend not skipping this!)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 c. water
  1. Set a large wide pot of water to boil. When the water is boiling, add a couple of tablespoons of salt. The water should taste salty.
  2. In a medium sized bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, salt and nutmeg.
  3. Measure the water in a liquid measuring cup. Add the eggs and beat until smooth with a fork. Pour over the dry ingredients.
  4. With a wooden spoon, beat the batter until smooth.
  5. Scrape the batter into the spaetzle maker and scrape the batter into the boiling water, pushing the spaetzle down under the water as you go, to make sure they cook properly. This takes about a minute.
  6. Drain in a colander and serve with melted butter and grated parmesan OR if you have roasted a chicken according to my method, with the pan drippings and a handful of finely chopped Italian parsley.

Spaetzle with Roast Chicken and Parsley

My children would walk over hot coals for this, or maybe even eat a brussels sprout.

Incidentally, this is my 100th post and I need to come clean about something: most nights I dread making dinner.  You’d think because I blog about making dinner that I have an endless supply of ideas and that I always have a vision about what we’ll be eating. Usually, I have no idea what to make. It’s true.

Often, this is how it works. I wake up in the morning and sometimes, even before he’s really awake, I nudge Martin. I say – What should we have for dinner? He rolls his half open eyes and mutters – Let me go check your blog…

Then I think: Argh! and flip over and look at the clock. 6:25 is WAY too early to call my cousin or my neighbor…I could send an email though: What are you making for dinner? Then I flip through magazines, peruse cookbooks, stop by Food 52 until its not so ungodly early that I can finally call. Somebody who, lots of times is not me, usually has a really good idea.

So, I would love to know. Really. What will you make for dinner tonight? What is your back pocket meal that saves everything at the last minute when you are too tired to think or make anything fun? (For me? Peas Pasta Ham and Cream. I’m so sick of it. That’s why I’m asking.) I could totally use a good idea.

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Rarified poached egg on toast

If you were walking down Federal Avenue last Friday, and you happened to look up through the windows of my dining room, you would have seen a solitary woman at the table, eating lunch a tad more ceremoniously than one might usually when eating alone at home. That was me. It was a cold bright sunny day and I was taking this lunch seriously, some might say with intent, on a proper plate with a linen napkin. (Often my lunch is peanut butter and bitter marmalade on whole wheat toast, eaten standing up at the kitchen counter.) Mary Alice, who is beyond generous, brought over half a dozen, warm, very fresh eggs from Gumbo and Kebab, her chickens. Finally, I could recreate the poached eggs on toast with roast asparagus, satiny folds of prosciutto, and truffle butter I had last spring at the Girl and the Fig in Sonoma, on another sunny, much warmer, day in California.

In preparation for the eggs, I spent just a few minutes adding truffle oil and sea salt to softened french butter. Mashing it in, then tasting. Too much oil? Too much salt? When is it delicious enough? Oh, the sacrifices I make! Spending the morning making and tasting truffle butter indeed! If you remember lunch from the Girl and the Fig, you probably remember the truffle butter. You only need a tablespoon. It is easy to make and the oil is pretty easy to come by. Roast asparagus takes one minute of prep, four minutes in the oven. No problem there. The bread and even sometimes Prosciutto di Parma you can buy at the supermarket.

What aren’t so easy to come by, unless you have your own chickens, are fresh eggs. I hate to say it, but to enjoy this lunch, you have to have a very fresh egg. Even though the sandwich (somehow this really doesn’t feel like the right word!) is very simple, it is one of my top ten meals. I feel very lucky. Everyone should have a friend like Mary Alice.

Poached Egg on Toast with Prosciutto, Asparagus and Truffle Butter

  • 1 slice excellent bread with some whole wheat and a little rye if possible, a scant 1/2″ thick
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 very fresh egg
  • 1 slice prosciutto di Parma
  • 4 asparagus spears, rinsed, woody ends snapped off
  • 1 tbsp french butter, or cultured butter, at room temperature with a few drops of truffle oil and a small pinch of kosher sea salt mashed in, to taste
  • several pinches of kosher sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  •  a skillet and a little metal pan you can put under the broiler.

Perfect poached eggs

  1. Set the broiler to high. Raise the oven shelf to the top rail.
  2. Heat up the skillet for a few minutes over medium high heat.
  3. Add 1 tbsp butter and 1 tbsp olive oil. When the butter stops foaming, add the bread. Let it sizzle but don’t let it burn. It should be deeply golden and crisp before you flip it over. Toast both sides. Place the toast on a nice plate.
  4. Lay a slice of prosciutto over the toast.
  5. Wipe out the skillet and fill it with water. Heat the water over high heat until it simmers. Add a tsp of salt. When the water is simmering crack the egg into the water. You may need to lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. If you have never poached a very fresh egg before, you’ll be amazed to see how the white holds together in a perfect oval! Now I know why the eggs I typically poach look so sloppy. Cook until the white is firm, about 5 minutes. Don’t let the yolk harden. That’s your sauce.
  6. Just as soon as you crack the egg into the water, toss the asparagus on the metal broiler pan with 1 tbsp of olive and a big pinch of kosher sea salt and a generous grinding of black pepper. Put the asparagus under the broiler for 2 minutes, then turn them over, they should be crisp and a little brown. Set them back under the broiler for 2 more minutes. When they are browned but before they become floppy and overdone, remove from the oven. Take them off the pan and put them right on top of the prosciutto. You don’t want them to continue to cook on the hot metal pan.
  7. Remove the egg from the boiling water with a slotted spoon if you have one, and carefully lay it on top of the asparagus. Dab the heaping tbsp of truffle butter on the side of the plate.
  8. Sit somewhere quiet and hopefully tidied up, with a large clean linen napkin and a glass of mineral water. Eat your lunch peacefully, without rushing.

After the asparagus and prosciutto and most of the toast and egg were gone, I found myself chasing tiny crisp crumbs around the plate with my knife, carefully scooping them up against the blade and then dipping the tip into the truffle butter. Some of the large grains of sea salt caught in the buttery crumbs adding mineral crunch and tang.  Then of course there were the traces of molten yolk that got scooped up too. I licked the end of knife. That was such an excellent lunch.

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Snowed In – Red Lentil Soup

Sometimes this magical thing happens in my kitchen, where I have all of the ingredients, even some that are fairly obscure, and I can make something really delicious on the spur of the moment.  I love it when that happens.

Since Plenty, what I’ve been in the mood for is vegetables, and this blog I follow, Dana Treat, has tons of ideas for seasonal delicious vegetable food. (Notice that I didn’t say vegetarian? I really am not a vegetarian.) Still, maybe because of the holiday gluttony, vegetarian, even vegan food is what I crave. So I was very happy to discover this soup last week. It’s one I’ve eyed and abandoned in the Deborah Madison Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone for years. For some reason, I think because Ms. Madison described the soup as “thin”, it didn’t sound so delicious. Then I saw the photograph on Dana Treat, and I was turned. This is a fabulous soup. Also, it is very easy to make, which proved to be very handy when I was housebound with four kids for three days last week.

So often jilted by the weatherman predicting snow, I refused to believe what the weather reports were saying. Surprise, surprise! Wednesday morning we were totally snowed in, a rare thing in Seattle. I couldn’t get the car out of the driveway. I was afraid to even try. I was kind of desperate to come up with a dinner for four hungry kids using only what I had in the cupboard. Scanning the recipe for Red Lentil Soup with Lime; was it possible I had what I needed?! I peered into my pantry.

Wow. I had two cups of red lentils! I had basmati rice! Turmeric and cumin – I always have those! When I found some only barely wilted cilantro in the crisper and a couple of limes, there were clearly beautiful possibilities for dinner. (Although I feel I must mention that my brave and kind friend Mary Alice went out into the cold to bring us a gallon of milk, orange juice and—because I’m shameless—some fresh spinach for this soup! She trekked through the snow and ice with a backpack and Yaktrax (so cool!) on her boots for us!) Technically I suppose we could have skipped the spinach, but when you’re snowed in you get anxious for something green.

As always, and even though there is rice, I think this is lovely with homemade croutons. Only five extra minutes!

Red Lentil Soup 

from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, by Deborah Madison

  • 2 cups split red lentils
  • 1 tbsp turmeric
  • 4 tbsp butter
  • salt
  •  1 large onion, chopped fine (about 2 cups)
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 tsp black mustard seeds
  • 1 bunch of chopped cilantro
  • juice of three limes
  • 1 bunch of spinach sliced crosswise in ribbons
  • 1 cup cooked basmati rice
  • full fat Greek yogurt for garnish
  1. Put the lentils, turmeric, 1 tbsp of butter, and 1 tbsp sea salt with 2 1/2 quarts of water in a 7 qt. heavy sauce pan or dutch oven. Over medium high heat, bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes. The lentils should be very soft and nearly falling apart.
  2. Using an immersion blender, pureé until very smooth.
  3. While the soup simmers, in a large heavy sauté pan, cook the onion in 2 tablespoons of butter, with the cumin and the mustard seeds, over low heat. When the onions are very soft, after about 15 minutes, add the cilantro and cook for one more minute.
  4. Add the onion mixture to the soup and the juice of two limes. Taste to see if you would like more lime juice. This soup tastes very good a little sour.
  5. When it is time to serve the soup, take 1 tbsp of butter and melt in a wide skillet over medium heat. When it foams add the spinach and sprinkle with pinch of seasalt. Cook until it is just wilted and divide among the soup bowls. (I skipped the spinach for my son, he hates it. The soup was still very good)
  6. Add a generous spoonful of warm rice to each bowl. Ladle soup over the spinach and rice.
  7. Garnish with a dollop of yogurt.

Croutons

While the soup is simmering and the onions are sweating in butter, you could make the croutons. They are not required but I totally love them with this soup. I happened to have a very stale ciabatta on the counter during the snow week and I hacked off slices all week long. I put croutons under poached eggs, with cheese and salami and with this soup. It really doesn’t matter if the bread is very stale. The croutons should be glossy with butter and olive oil and so crisp they shatter as you bite down.

I would cook the croutons first, and then wilt the spinach, in the same pan.

  • 4-6 slices from a loaf of stale artisan bread, about 1/3″ thick
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 tbsp olive oil
  1. Heat the butter and oil over medium high heat.
  2. Sauté sliced bread until golden, then flip. 1-2 minutes per side.

There is something about this soup, or maybe there are a few things. First of all, the color is ravishing, a pure saturated yellow, flecked with bright green cilantro. The scent of melting onions and the toasted aroma of mustard seeds were the perfect antidote to a cold wintery night. And then of course there was the cool, creamy, yogurt, in counterpoint to the richly flavored soup. We all loved it.

Snowed in

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Winter Couscous + Winter Cocktail

I have a new cookbook.

Actually I’ve had it for a few months now, but with Christmas and everything, I forgot about it for awhile. Until the past few weeks, I never tried a single recipe. That didn’t prevent me from having a very good feeling about it. (Or from giving it as a Christmas present several times.) It’s called Plenty.

Anyway. I’ve been playing around with it a lot. Usually, if I get five recipes  from a single cookbook, I feel like I’ve done really well. With Plenty, I’m going to challenge myself to cook every recipe. The writing and the photographs are so inspiring! On Monday I tried the Winter Couscous and I’ll definitely be making that again – maybe even tomorrow.

It’s sort of funny – how much I like this book because I have no instinct become a vegetarian, and this is a book all about vegetables. I simply couldn’t give up meat as I love to cook with it and I would miss the flavor too much if I stopped eating it altogether. However, after reading Plenty, I could actually see how I might make an entirely plant (ok, plant plus butter and cheese!) based diet work. As soon as I started flipping through this book without a speck of speck, a shred of pork, a breast of quail, a leg of duck, I wanted to try everything. I’m not even going to skip the eggplant section. And I nearly always think eggplant is creepy.

Another thing. This Ottolenghi – he’s not so chef-y in his cooking. Complicated techniques are not what you’ll find in his book. This is food with a wild riff-y flamboyance, full of vim and a middle eastern accent, but no craziness. It sort of reminds me of this roommate of mine from college, Craig, who used to cook for us on weekends. Many late Friday nights found him in our shared kitchen, heaps of ingredients on the cutting board, a glass of wine by the stove, music playing. More and more people would show up and he’d just add a little of this or that to the sauté pan. When we finally sat down to eat, it was often unpredictable and always delicious. We loved those evenings, the fun of Craig’s happy confidence in the kitchen. There’s something about the loose and playful style of cooking in Plenty, fearlessly combining flavors of far reaching origins, that reminds me of Craig cooking. Ottolenghi’s recipes are those of a gleeful, passionate chef, devoted to color and flavor. In Plenty, I found my favorite ingredients in dazzling and unexpected combinations. I’m just wild for this book.

I made the Winter Couscous on Monday night after we got back from skiing. You might think, judging from the longish list of ingredients, that this was an odd choice, after a rough drive down the mountain through a blizzard. The recipe did require a perhaps too extensive run to the grocery store when we were all wiped out. (Thanks Martin! It was worth it though…right?!)  But the vivid colors! The aroma! The deliciousness! I totally think it was worth it. If I were you, I’d make it on a relaxed Sunday the first time. You’ll see how simple it is and make it again right away.

Winter Couscous

from Plenty, by Yotam Ottolenghi

  • 2 carrots – peeled and cut into 3/4″ dice
  • 2 parsnips – peeled and cut into 3/4″ dice
  • 8 shallots – peeled
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 4 star anise
  • 3 bay leaves
  • 5 tbsp olive oil
  • salt
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/4 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/4 tsp hot papricka
  • 1/4 tsp chilli flakes
  • 10 ounces butternut squash – peeled and cut into 3/4″ dice
  • 1/2 cup dried apricots – roughly chopped
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup couscous
  • a large pinch of saffron
  • 1 cup boiling vegetable stock (I used Better Than Bouillon. I don’t think this is the occasion for making stock from scratch, unless of course you have some hanging around.)
  • 3 tbsp butter
  • 2 tbsp harissa (You could buy some, or you could make it yourself! I wrote about it here. It’s worth the effort.)
  • 1 preserved lemon, inner flesh removed and discarded, peel finely chopped
  • 2 cups destemmed whole cilantro leaves, washed
  1. Preheat the oven to 375.
  2. In a large roasting pan, put the carrots, parsnips, shallots, cinnamon sticks, star anise, bay leaves, 4 tbsp olive oil, 3/4 tsp salt, ginger, turmeric, paprika, and chile flakes. Toss well.
  3. Place in the oven and roast for 15 minutes.
  4. Add the squash and toss. Return to the oven for 35 minutes.
  5. Add the apricots, chickpeas and 1 1/2 cups of water. Cook for 10 more minutes.
  6. In a large Pyrex or other heatproof bowl, combine the couscous with 1 tbsp olive oil, the saffron, and 1/2 tsp salt. Pour the boiling stock over the couscous, stir, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Leave for 10 minutes.
  7. Add the 1 tbsp butter to the couscous and fluff until the butter is melted and incorporated. Cover with the plastic wrap again and leave near the stove to keep warm.
  8. To finish, mound the couscous on a large platter. Stir the harissa and preserved lemon into the vegetables. (Or, if you have sensitive children, serve the spicy harissa in a pretty bowl with a little spoon at the table, to be mixed in to taste.) Taste the vegetable mixture for salt and adjust if necessary. Spoon the vegetables and any juices onto the couscous. Strew cilantro leaves over the top and carry this gorgeous, fragrant mess right out to the table. Leave the whole spices in – they are so beautiful on the platter.
While you’re cooking, get somebody to make you one of these:
Ginger Cocktail
from the Art of the Bar by Jeff Hollinger and Rob Schwartz (by far the best book of cocktails I’ve seen)
  • 8-12 mint leaves
  • 1/2 ounce ginger syrup (see recipe below – you’ll need to make this in advance)
  • 1 1/2 ounces gin
  • 1/2 ounce fresh lime juice
  • ginger ale
  1. Put the mint leaves in a tall glass, pour in the syrup and muddle until you can really smell the mint.
  2. Fill up the glass with ice and pour in the gin and lime juice. 
  3. Top up with ginger ale.
  4. Gently stir to combine.
  5. Garnish with a slice of lime.
Ginger Syrup
2 ounces fresh ginger, peeled and thinly sliced
1 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
1 1/2 cups of water
1 cup sugar
Combine the ingredients in a small heavy saucepan and simmer for 30-40 minutes. Cool completely. Strain. Keeps for two weeks in the refrigerator.

 

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Date Night at Home

On Saturday night, we spent the evening in the kitchen setting beef drippings, butter, olive oil, crushed peppercorns, and brandy on fire. The flames were bright blue and flying right up over my head! Isn’t that kind of perfect for date night at home?

Staying in rather than going out might seem boring until you consider a few things. We didn’t need to make a reservation. Or search for parking. There was no need to find a babysitter. Or find something clean and reasonably stylish to wear. (This is sometimes a problem for me. Sigh.) There was no menu ennui. (Spare me yet another kale salad!) No meaningless chatter with a fawning waiter. At dinner, we could savor that last drop of wine since we were already home and didn’t have to drive anywhere. (It would have been criminal to cork even a tablespoon of that Williams and Selyem!) We could’ve eaten dinner in our pajamas! (We actually didn’t do this.) Best of all, we could cook whatever we wanted. And set it on fire!(As you might’ve guessed, for me, this is the fun part.)

I’m not a fan of steakhouses. Portions are ridiculously large, I loathe getting nickel and dimed on the sides, and they’re too rich anyway. I find the rituals of a steakhouse old fashioned and boring. To me, brandy, cigars and Frank Sinatra are for posers. However, there are times when I crave a perfectly seared and seasoned steak, charred almost to the point of being burnt yet still with a deeply rosy interior. I try to make lighter sides, still alluding to the steakhouse classics. The brandied pan sauce on the steak enriches the mashed potatoes. Sauteed mushrooms need nothing but a little shallot, butter and black pepper. The chard, edgy then sweet with garlic, chilies, and (fig) balsamic turns creamed spinach on its nose.

We always nibble on some very fancy cheese while we cook, something local or French. Something stinky. I know of a very good ginger-y cocktail (if you ask me I will send you the recipe!) that would be wonderful with cheese, but if you do get a really great bottle of wine, a cocktail is too much. If you drink mineral water while you cook, you won’t fall asleep right after dinner, which would be a shame on date night.

Somewhat traditional and very celebratory, this menu has played Valentine’s Day dinner often, sometimes birthday dinner.  Yes there is work involved, but it’s simple – no crazy mincing necessary. I barely batted my eyelashes at Martin and I got him to wash and trim the chard, a job I hate. It should have been me, as date night at home was my idea.

Date Night Dinner

  • Steak au Poivre with cream
  • Mashed Potatoes
  • Sauteed Mushrooms – black trumpet are delicious and need no trimming
  • Wilted Swiss Chard with Balsamic ( I was given a bottle of Fig Balsamic by a dear friend and I am deeply grateful!)

I couldn’t take a picture of the food because you can’t let a hot meal cool on its carefully warmed plates and start snapping pictures in the middle of dinner on date night.  I had to settle for a photograph of a table set in anticipation and the empty wine bottle.

First, read through the whole recipe, then assemble all these ingredients as written, plus 3 sauté pans and a 3 quart saucepan. One person should do the steak and mushrooms; the other, the potatoes and chard. There should be 15 minutes of prepping the ingredients and under 20 to do the cooking.

Pepper Steak

  • (2) six ounce beef tenderloins, let them come to room temperature for an hour before starting
  • 1 1/2 tbsp black peppercorns, roughly cracked in a mortar and pestle
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 2/3 cup brandy
  • 1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
  • 3/4 tsp salt

Mashed Potatoes

  • 3 medium sized Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled, cut in half, and set into the 3 quart saucepan, completely covered in cold water
  • 1/2 cup milk + 4 tbsp butter in a Pyrex measuring cup or small saucepan
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Sauteed Mushrooms

  • 1/2 lb black trumpet mushrooms
  • 4 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 1 medium shallot, minced
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper

Wilted Chard

  • 1 bunch swiss chard, stalks removed, cut into 1″ strips
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed and minced
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp salt
  • balsamic vinegar to finish (if you happen to have any fig balsamic, now would be a good time to break it out)

The poshest bottle of Pinot Noir you can get your hands on – poured into glasses so it opens up in time for dinner.

  1. Set the table. Light the candles. The plates will be hot so you may need to protect the table with a thick mat or trivet.
  2. Start by setting the saucepan of potatoes on high heat to boil. When they reach a boil, set the heat to medium and allow them to simmer. They should be done about 20minutes after they reach a boil.
  3. Press the crushed peppercorns into the steak firmly, top and bottom, with the heel of your palm. Sprinkle each side with a pinch of sea salt. Set aside.
  4. Carefully examine the mushrooms, looking for debris. We found a rather large dark piece of wood in ours! Trumpet mushrooms are difficult to wipe clean, so we quickly rinsed them in a colander and dried them with towels.
  5. Heat the oven to 200. Put two dinner plates on the rack to warm.
  6. You’ll be cooking the mushrooms and the beef simultaneously.
  7. Set two heavy saute pans over medium high heat for 3 or 4 minutes. Use the larger one for the mushrooms – they need a lot of space or they won’t crisp properly.
  8. In the mushroom pan, melt the butter until it stops foaming.
  9. In the steak pan, melt the butter with the olive oil, until the butter has stopped foaming.
  10. Add the mushrooms to their sauté pan and stir to coat with butter. Stir every minute or 2. Initially, they will weep a lot of liquid.
  11. While the mushrooms are cooking, add the steak to the other sauté pan. Set a timer for 3 minutes. The steaks should really sizzle, if they aren’t your pan isn’t hot enough. It’s a fine line between seared and burnt, so you want to pay close attention. It’s deeply satisfying to get it just right. After 3 minutes, carefully flip the meat, and set the timer for 3 more minutes. You want to get a good sear in that amount of time, no longer, to keep the interior pink.
  12. While the steaks are searing, the mushroom will have lost a lot of liquid, let it bubble away until it is gone, then raise the heat a little and add the shallots. Now that the liquid is gone, the mushrooms can brown and become deeply flavorful. When they start looking crisp, taste one and add sea salt and black pepper. They may be done before the steaks. It doesn’t matter. Put the sauté pan on the back burner while the steaks catch up.
  13. Now that the steaks are seared, you need to cook each side for 3 more minutes on medium heat. This will produce a deep pink (not red!) interior. After a total of 12 minutes, remove the steak from the sauté pan and carefully, without dripping all over the edges of the plate, move them to the warming plates in the oven.
  14. While you are finishing the steak and mushrooms, your partner should work on the chard and mashed potatoes.
  15. In the microwave in a pyrex measuring cup or in a small saucepan on the stove, heat the butter and milk until the butter has melted.
  16. Check the potatoes with a fork; they should be just falling apart. Drain in the colander and return to the saucepan. Add the hot milk and butter and mash with a potato masher or a wire whisk until smooth. Season with sea salt and black pepper. Put the saucepan lid on a place on a back burner until dinner is done, which will be very soon.
  17. The chard and the pan sauce will be completed at the same time.
  18. In a clean sauté pan, heat the 2 tbsp olive oil over medium high heat. Add the garlic and chili flakes. Just as the garlic turns golden, add the chard and toss as it settles down, wilting. Toss for a few minutes. Turn off the heat and season with sea salt and black pepper.
  19. As your partner finishes the chard, heat the brandy in the steak sauté pan with all the browned bits, any fallen-off peppercorns and pan juices. When the brandy is bubbling, light a long match, stand away from the pan, and light it. If you have never done this before, the flames can leap rather high – almost 2 feet in my case. It’s kind of exciting. Anyway after several seconds the flames will die down some – you can just blow them out very easily. With a wooden spoon scrape up all the brown pieces on the bottom of the pan. When all is bubbling nicely, add the cream. Let it simmer over medium-high heat until thickened, about 3 minutes.
  20. Remove the plates from the oven with mitts – they’ll be hot. Mashed potatoes are first, cozied up near the steak. Ladle some of the pan sauce over them. Don’t make a lake of it! You don’t want a messy looking plate. Put the mushrooms alongside the steak and the chard by the potatoes. Splash just a little balsamic over the chard. Inhale. Exhale. Sit down to dinner.
Oh. My. God. There are 20 steps!
Don’t let that deter you! This is really fun – I promise!

(I wonder if I am the only person who thinks that setting things on fire in the kitchen constitutes a romantic evening?…Martin seems to like it!)

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The (failed) Salad Redux

The holidays are over. It is raining listlessly. Through the window in my office I can see the looming black shape of the evergreen in the yard, the grey stick mass of the leafless maple tree and the leaden cocoon of the winter sky. In the living room, the Christmas tree is strung with a series of dusty, white, spider webs connecting the Santa Claus at the top to the light on the ceiling. Tree limbs droop with the weight of the ornaments and there are more and more needles on the carpet. (I’m taking the tree down tomorrow, I swear!) Outside, it is not particularly cold and certainly not warm, but it is soggy. Thick new moss grows on everything, greenly blanketing paths and the steps – even tree branches. What an excellent time of year to play around in the kitchen!

It was about this time last year that I wrote about grapefruit in salad. The winter weather must drive me to anything at all reminiscent of sunlight. Anyway, I made this salad over the holidays again and again and sent the recipe around to anyone who asked for it. (It’s a reworked and vastly improved version of the failed salad) I must have eaten it twenty times in the last month and I’m still not sick of it!

The candied walnuts were very last minute. There were none left at the grocery store (probably because I started a run on them!) so I had to find a recipe. I made the walnuts for the first time this Christmas Eve. Crisp, spicy and so one-more-handful-ish, I made a batch minutes before leaving for my aunt’s house: a sweet little extra Christmas gift. How perfectly handy –  to have a recipe like that.

The Salad

for 4-6 people

  • 2 bunches of watercress
  • a wedge of blue Castello or Cambozola, cold – to make cutting easier
  • a handful of candied walnuts (see recipe below)
  • 2 pink grapefruits or 3-4 blood oranges
  • 1 tbsp currants
  • 1 shallot – thinly sliced into rings
  • 2 tbsp Champagne vinegar
  • 1 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 6 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  1. Combine 1 tbsp hot water and red vinegar in a very small bowl with 1 tbsp currants.
  2. In another very small bowl, toss champagne vinegar with the sliced shallot.
  3. Wash and dry the leaves of watercress and mound on a large platter.
  4. Cut the Blue Castello into small pieces, removing any rind, and strew over leaves.
  5. With a very sharp knife cut the top and bottom off the grapefruit. Cut off all the rind and pith. Over a medium sized bowl, carefully slice between the membranes to remove the fruit in sections, catching any juice and the fruit in the bowl.
  6. Arrange the sectioned grapefruit over the salad.
  7. Toss the walnuts over the top.
  8. Lift the shallots out of the vinegar carefully, reserving the vinegar for the dressing. Pulling the rings apart, scatter the shallots over the salad.
  9. Drain the currants, and toss over the salad.
  10. Add 1-2 tbsp grapefruit juice to the  small bowl with the champagne vinegar. Whisk in olive oil, 1/2 tsp sea salt, and a few grindings black pepper.  Dress the salad – you may not need all the dressing.
Candied Walnuts
(can be quadrupled!)
  • 1 cup large walnut pieces (mostly halves)
  • 2 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp kosher sea salt
  • several grindings of pepper
  • an optional pinch of cayenne (I liked it; my kids, not so much)
  1. Preheat the oven to 325.
  2. Toss all ingredients together in a medium sized bowl.
  3. Lightly spray a rimmed cookie sheet with vegetable oil.
  4. Spread the coated nuts over the cookie sheet.
  5. Toast for 15 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes.
  6. Remove from oven and cool stirring every few minutes so they don’t stick too badly to the pan.
You might think you’re mad at me when you see how the maple syrup and sugar seem welded to the cookie sheet. Don’t worry. Pour a cup or two of very hot or boiling water over it and in a few minutes it will wash right off.
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After Christmas dinner comes plum pudding

As you might have guessed I’ve given Christmas Dinner a lot of thought. There have been culinary highs and lows. I’ve made far too much, too rich food. I’ve lost a lot of sleep. I’ve allowed my kids too much Christmas chocolate and suffered some mind-bogglingly bad behavior. Two years ago I had to spend the afternoon on Christmas day in bed, trying to catch-up on rest I was too wired to get the night before. A lost cause. I’d drunk too much coffee!

Figuring out how to have a nice day, a nice dinner and nicely behaved kids forces me to be reductive. I don’t want to spend the whole day in the kitchen. I want to play a board game, do a puzzle, get out of the house for some fresh air with the family and the dog. I want to make food that my kids will look forward to, that will thrill the grown-ups. If we want to be sure to have happy kids, this would not be the time for experimentation, even though my natural inclination is to try something new. Experimentation feels festive to me and I have to shelve that impulse. I have tried to create a tradition that isn’t bogged down by either trendy recipes that will quickly seem passé or uninspired renditions of the menus we had as kids.

After much trial and error I’ve finally arrived at what feels like the perfect Christmas meal. It has been a long haul. One year I prepared a slavishly Swedish smörgåsbord with smoked fish, ham, meatballs, lingonberries and all the trimmings. The next year I made a totally traditional British meal with a haunch of roast beef, billowing Yorkshire pudding, crisply roast potatoes and gravy—followed by plum pudding. Cooking such complicated heavy meals takes weeks of prep and planning and it gets boring. This led to exhaustion (me), bad behavior (my kids) and frustration (Martin). Then I had an illuminating conversation with my aunt.

The answer to my dinner conundrum turned out to be French dip sandwiches. Seriously. And no, they aren’t too pedestrian for the main event on Christmas Day. My aunt takes the French dip sandwich to a whole new level and yet she manages to keep the process easy so that her Christmas day is a relaxing one where she can enjoy her family and still have a meal that everyone looks forward to. She makes a standing rib roast for all of us on Christmas Eve and then, with leftovers, builds the most luxurious French dips the next day.

I can do this! I thought. So now I roast a beef tenderloin, which is a very easy thing to do on Christmas Eve, and slice it up the next day. I stir a little horseradish into some creme fraîche so it’s got a searing edge to it. I open a jar of cherry chutney that I buy at the store—that’s easy. I put par baked little French breads from La Brea into the oven; they are perfect with a crispy crust and an interior with just enough oomph that it doesn’t melt into the brothy dip. (Once I tried brioche rolls – a disaster! They disintegrated.) I butter the bread and layer it with piles of thinly sliced rosy beef. Wrapping the sandwiches in foil, I put them in the oven to make sure they get good and hot and move on to the salad. The beef broth for dipping is made the weekend before, and heated up just before serving.

With the sandwiches there will be a salad, a variation on the one that I made a few weeks ago, the failed salad. I’ve tweaked the recipe and now it works. The watercress gets a much milder blue cheese, blood oranges and candied walnuts. I kept the pickled currants and shallots and added juice from the blood orange to the vinaigrette. Now the salad is perfectly balanced. The colors are vibrant and very Christmas-y.

For starters we have smoked salmon on homemade Swedish rye bread with all the trimmings: minced red onion or chives, lemon, unsalted cultured butter, sea salt. With this you must serve champagne.

The one thing I couldn’t ditch was the plum pudding. And I’m going to tell you how to make it, even though I would put money on the fact that nobody who reads this will actually try making one. My grandfather faxed the recipe to me from England, transcribed from my grandmother’s “norse mutterings”, back in 1991. It really wouldn’t be Christmas dinner if I didn’t serve Granny’s Plum Pudding afterwards.

Christmas Menu

Smoked salmon, creme fraiche, minced red onion and lemon on Swedish rye bread with fennel seed and orange rind

French dip sandwiches with horseradish cream, sour cherry chutney and strong beef broth for dipping

Watercress salad with gorgonzola dolce, blood oranges, candied walnuts, quick pickled dried currants and shallots

Granny’s Plum Pudding and Hard Sauce

Plum Pudding  

You can make this weeks in advance of Christmas. It will only improve with age.

  • 3/4 cups softened butter
  • 2 cups soft bread crumbs from white bread
  • 1 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 3 cups dried currants
  • 1 1/2 cups raisins
  • 1 1/2 cups golden raisins
  • 1/2 cup candied citron or orange peel or a mixture of both – chopped
  • 1/4 cup dried cherries
  • 1/2 cup chopped blanched almonds
  • 1 large cooking apple, grated
  • 3 eggs
  • the zest of one orange and one lemon
  • 3/4 cup sherry—or “any booze you have”; some people like Guinness for this. Others, ginger beer.

Stir all the ingredients together until well combined. Pack into a buttered pudding basin and steam in a soup pot for 6 hours. You do this by sealing the pudding basin and placing on a stainless steel vegetable steamer. Fill the pot with water so that it comes a quarter way up the sides of the pudding basin. After six hours let it rest uncovered on the counter until it is cool. Store in the refrigerator for weeks if necessary and reheat in a steamer on the stove. This seems to take about 2 hours. All this cooking will not hurt the pudding in any way.

Martin says that Plum Pudding is really just a vehicle for the following hard sauce and I understand what he is saying up to a point. In my opinion, you do need to serve Plum Pudding with some sort of sauce. We like Hard Sauce. Some people serve it with a sickly rum creme anglaise kind of thing but I don’t approve of that.

Hard Sauce

  • 3/4 cup softened unsalted butter
  • 1 1/4 cups soft brown sugar
  • 3 tbsp brandy

Cream the butter and then add the sugar. A hand mixer or food processor will make this very quick. Then add the brandy and process until smooth. Taste it; you may want more brandy. Put the hard sauce in the refrigerator to chill. I like this lethally strong as the contrast of the boozy sauce melting over the the mindbendingly rich and steamy pudding is so completely diverting.

It would be very much in the spirit of the Christmas season to have a not-too-small piece heated up in the microwave the morning after with a spoonful of Hard Sauce. Eat it in bed before the kids have woken up with a cup of strong Indian tea with milk on the bedside table, while reading one of the books you unwrapped the day before.

That’s what I would do.

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Ribollita

More cannellini beans. More soup with bread stirred into it. What can I say? I imagine it will be difficult to convince anyone that they ought to run out and try this soup. I was dubious too, the first time I tried it.

I don’t think it’s just the memory of the candlelit barrel vaulted brick ceiling in the restaurant or of being an architecture student in Florence or of walking out in the chilly darkened narrow streets of late fall behind the basilica of Santo Spirito. That memory is sketchy and faded and would be unlikely to have any bearing on how I remember this soup. It was over 20 years ago after all. I do remember the cistern quality of the room, the dim light, the heavy dark wooden furniture. Also that it was kind of thrilling to enter a space that was so deep underground. A dozen of us crowded around a long corner table. We’d been strongly encouraged to try the ribollita. Yes, skip tagliatelle al cinghiale e porcini. Skip bistecca alla fiorentina. (It’s way out of your meager student budget anyway.) Don’t just order a salad or pasta. So I, like everyone else at the table except for one extremely picky person, shrugged and ordered ribollita. I am still so happy I did.

Ribollita is not a brothy soup. It looks like wet stuffing. (I shouldn’t have written that. Now you’ll never try it.) There are ragged shreds of cavolo nero run all through it – it wouldn’t be ribollita without the cavolo nero. Don’t think you can just substitute plain old kale or cabbage and still call it ribollita. Bread is essential. I have come across recipes that layer the bread in the soup like some kind of bread lasagna. This seems wrong to me. It needs tearing up and stirring in; transforming plain old minestrone into a deliciously rich velvet mess. A drip or two of green olive oil over the top, just before serving – that’s also important.

Ribollita is the easiest thing in the world to make and at the same time, time consuming. To extract rich flavor from such simple ingredients, you have to let it cook for awhile but the hands on part is minimal. You will be richly rewarded for a little planning and labor! I think I might be begging you to try this…No, I am begging you to try this. You won’t regret it. Ribollita is just the thing for December. Utterly warming and deeply satisfying on an almost spiritual level for adults. And yet my four year old plowed through a large bowl. Even after burning his tongue, he kept on eating. Then he asked for seconds.

Ribollita – serves 6

  • 1 cup of cannellini beans, soaked over night and simmered for about 45 minutes until tender. Save the cooking liquid. (Simmer with a bay leaf and a couple of smashed cloves of garlic. Add a tablespoon of salt towards the end.)
  • A small bunch of chopped parsley, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 4 large stalks of celery, chopped
  • 2 medium carrots, peeled and chopped
  • 2 red onions, peeled and finely chopped
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 (14 1/2 ) ounce can whole plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
  • 1 bunch cavolo nero, stalks removed and sliced into coarse shreds
  • 1 loaf of stale pugliese or other Italian style bread, crusts removed and torn into 1-2″ pieces
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • extra virgin olive oil and parmesan
  1. Over medium heat, in a large heavy soup pot, place the parsley, garlic, celery, carrot, onion and olive oil and stir. When the vegetables are hot and gently sizzling, turn the heat down to low and cover. Leave for about 30 minutes, stirring occasionally. Do not let it stick or brown.
  2. Add the tomatoes, and cook for another 30 minutes in the same way.
  3. Add the cavolo nero and half the cannellini beans with enough of their cooking liquid to cover everything and make the soup liquid. Simmer for another 30 minutes.
  4. Using an immersion blender if you have one or a food processor if you don’t, puree the remaining cannellini beans. Add them to the soup. If the soup looks dry, add a little boiling water until it is just liquid.
  5. Add the bread, several glugs of extra virgin olive oil, and season to taste with sea salt and pepper.
  6. The soup should be extremely thick.
  7. Garnish each serving with more olive oil at the table and parmesan if desired.
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