Super Bowl Recipe Countdown (Day 2)

miso 008Miso-Ginger Chicken with Scallions I created this recipe years ago for Real Food magazine and didn't remember how good it was! I made it the other night for "the food maven" (I mean who isn't these days?) and a bunch of friends. Love at first bite...and the second...and as delicious the next day right from the fridge. I even brought a few pieces to a neighbor. (A rare thing for me to do.) It is a great do-ahead dish because it marinates for at least 8 hours and bakes at a super-high temperature for under 20 minutes.  (And a flash under the broiler).  That's it!  I bought two large packages of small chicken thighs (24!) and piled them high on a platter when they were all dark golden brown and crispy.  A shower of slivered scallions finished the dish.  It is the white miso (known as shiro miso) that tenderizes the flesh to make it silky and lush.  Miso is also a "flavor carrier" and helped the garlic and fresh ginger permeate every crevice. Shiro miso, and mirin (sweetened rice wine) can be found in Asian markets, health food stores and most supermarkets.  Great with beer, sauvignon blanc, chilled sake, and even beaujolais. The recipe is easily doubled and tripled and is great hot, warm, room temperature, or chilled.

1/2 cup shiro miso 3/4 cup mirin 4 large cloves garlic 3-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped 12 chicken thighs (with skin, bone-in) 8 scallions Put miso, mirin, garlic and ginger in food processor. Process until smooth. Put chicken in a large bowl and pour marinade over chicken. Finely chop white and green part of 5 scallions and stir into chicken. Cover and refrigerate 8 hours. Preheat oven to 450. Transfer chicken with some of its marinade to rimmed baking sheet. Bake 18 to 20 minutes (depending on size of thighs) and then broil 1 to 2 minutes until dark golden brown and cooked through (do not overcook.) Finely sliver remaining scallions and scatter on top.  Serves 6

Cookbook Nirvana

conferenceNirvana – a place of bliss – is my word for a cookbook conference taking place in New York City next month.  If you are a lover of cookbooks, like I am -- a writer, or simply an avid user -- this may be just the weekend for you.   The conference promises a tantalizing array of panels (from “Give Us This Bread: Christianity in Cookbooks;”  “In the Night Kitchen: Why Write Cookbooks for Kids;” Trendspotting in the Food Space;” to “Publishers and Food Bloggers -- Creating a Productive Partnership”); distinguished guests (Amanda Hesser, Arthur Schwartz, Molly O’Neill, Mollie Katzen), and illuminating workshops (from “The Wild World of Self Publishing” to “The Way to Look: How To Do Research with Cookbooks”), all under one roof at the Roger Smith Hotel on Lexington Avenue.   And if that is not enough to whet one’s appetite, I’m told that the food served at last year’s conference, thanks to chef Daniel Mowles, was very good indeed. But cookbook aficionados do not live by food alone and judging by the erudition of this year’s panelists, the real sustenance is about ideas, culinary history, process, and politics.

According to the conference organizers the event is an “eclectic gathering of those who publish, write, edit, agent, research, or simply buy and use cookbooks.”  In other words, there is something for everyone -- even collectors, who might enjoy a panel entitled “Cookbooks as Works of Art.”

Andrew Smith, the conference founder, charmingly takes “credit (or blame),” for launching the idea last year.  He teaches food history and professional food writing at the New School for Social Research in New York, and is the author and/or editor of 23 books.  His latest works include American Tuna: The Rise and Fall of an Improbable Food, and Drinking History: 15 Turning Points in the Making of American Beverages.   And while he has never published an actual cookbook, Professor Smith uses them constantly in his own research and wanted to explore the vicissitudes of the field.  Because “cookbook publishing is changing so rapidly – self-publishing, printing on demand, blogging, online cookbooks, websites filled with recipes, and culinary apps,” Mr. Smith said that he didn’t understand what was underway – or where the genre was headed.  After talking with many cookbook writers and publishers, he concluded that no one else did either, “although many had insights and opinions.”   After last year’s triumphant conference, Mr. Smith felt his teaching and research methods had improved simply by attending the event and feeding off the vast culinary brain trust that had gathered.

To find out more about the conference, go to www.cookbookconf.com and save a place for yourself!  You’ll find me in the “Night Kitchen” – talking about the challenges of researching, writing and publishing books for children with moderator Laura Shapiro – one of the finest minds in the culinary world.

Why does this conference matter?  After all, we seem to have shifted from a cooking society to an eating society, so is there any real point to the annual tsunami of cookbooks being published?  My answer is without a doubt.  We are a nation obsessed with food, but the rules of the game are changing.

A Happy Thanksgiving to All

It's been awhile since you've heard recipe news from me. As you know, I've been cooking and supervising hundreds of volunteers to continue feeding those-in-need from the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. It is definitely a time to give thanks: For me personally, the thanks come from the opportunity to serve. The food maven himself, Arthur Schwartz, came to help yesterday and will be there in our satellite kitchen at Congregation Beth Elohim today. His tasks included peeling eggs (20 dozen of them!) and sautéing 30 pounds of onions until caramelized. They are for the homemade bread stuffing we will make for our pre-Thanksgiving meals. Our goal is 1500 sandwiches and 250 hot lunches - roast chicken, stuffing, mixed vegetables, cranberry sauce and "dinner" rolls. Fresh apple slices, too. Anne Hathaway and her new husband came to visit us at the shul the other day - they were heartened by the work that was taking place. That said, here are some of my favorite Thanksgiving recipes, for it is a time when simplicity might be most appreciated. I, too, will be preparing a Thanksgiving meal for a dozen or so of our family and friends, and then again on Saturday. And a nice invitation just came our way - a dinner of leftovers on Friday night at a neighbor's home. I adore leftovers more than you can imagine. In addition to the radically simple recipes below, you might enjoy my refreshing cranberry granita - yes, made from a wobbly block of leftover cranberry sauce - complete with its ridges.

Below you'll also find some wine suggestions from my favorite wine gal, Carol Berman (classinaglasswine.com), who says, "the Thanksgiving feast is filled with many flavors, which run from savory to sweet. I look to wines that simply harmonize with them and sway with the music of the meal. These are my Thanksgiving picks for 2012. Look for current vintages, although these all age gracefully and sell for less than $25.00."

Paumanok Vineyards, Riesling, North Fork, Long Island, NY Domaine des Terres Dorées, Beaujolais, L'Ancien, France Montinore Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Oregon Tenuta Pederzana, Lambrusco Grasparossa, Emilia Romagna, Italy

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Juicy Turkey Breast with Sausage, Fennel & Golden Raisins (adapted from Radically Simple)

This really elegant recipe is a cinch to make and looks like an elaborate French "ballontine." Have the butcher bone the breast, leaving the breast halves attached and the skin on. This is a perfect Thanksgiving recipe for six, but often I roast turkey thighs that are marinated in garlic, fresh thyme, rosemary and white wine so that we can all enjoy some dark meat, too. Stunning and simple.

12 scallions, white and green parts separated ¾ pound Italian sweet sausage, removed from casing ½ cup golden raisins 2 tablespoons fennel seed 3-pound boneless whole fresh turkey breast, with skin 2 tablespoon olive oil 2 cups chicken broth

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Arrange the scallion greens in a row on a broiler pan. Mince the white parts of the scallions and combine with the sausage, raisins and 1-1/2 tablespoons of the fennel seeds. Sprinkle the turkey (skin side down) with salt and pepper. Spoon a line of sausage mixture down the center. Starting at one long side, roll up tightly to enclose the filling. Tie with string at 1-inch intervals. Place the turkey on the scallions and brush with the oil. Sprinkle with the remaining fennel seeds and salt. Roast 1-1/2 hours, basting with 1 cup broth, until the stuffing reaches 155 degrees. Transfer turkey to a platter. Place the pan atop the burners. Add remaining broth. Boil, scraping up browned bits, 5 minutes; strain. Remove string from the turkey; thickly slice. Drizzle with the pan sauce. Serves 6

Jane Brody's Brussels Sprouts

Jane Brody, the personal health columnist for the New York Times since 1975, is my neighbor in Park Slope, Brooklyn. She is crazy about Brussels sprouts and gave me her recipe to include in my book, Radically Simple. It is her adaptation of a recipe from the Bear Café in Woodstock, New York. I love how recipes travel around.

½ cup pecan halves 1-1/2 pounds Brussels sprouts, trimmed 2 tablespoons unsalted butter 2 tablespoons olive oil 1 small yellow onion, finely chopped 2 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Toast the pecans in a nonstick skillet over medium-high heat until fragrant, 2 minutes. Set aside. Add the Brussels sprouts to the boiling water and cook 5 minutes. Drain well; cut each in half through the stem end. Heat the oil and butter in a large skillet. Add the onion and cook over high heat until golden, 5 minutes. Add the garlic and Brussels sprouts and cook until tender and browned in spots, 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a serving bowl. Break the toasted pecans in half and sprinkle over the Brussels sprouts. Season with salt and pepper. Serves 4 to 6

Leftover- Cranberry Sauce- Granita

This is one of my favorite inventions! After (or before) Thanksgiving you can transform a can, or two, of jellied cranberry sauce into an amazing granita --- or sorbet. Garnish with fresh raspberries or pomegranate seeds. If you don't have an ice cream maker to make sorbet, you can prepare this as a granita by freezing the mixture and stirring it with a fork until slushy.

Grated zest and juice of 3 large lemons Grated zest and juice of 2 large oranges 2/3 cup sugar ¼ teaspoon pure vanilla extract 16 ounces jellied cranberry sauce

Combine the lemon zest, ½ cup lemon juice, orange zest, and ½ cup orange juice in a medium saucepan. Add the sugar, vanilla and 2-1/2 cups water; bring to a boil. Spoon the cranberry sauce, in large pieces, into the saucepan. Bring to a boil and whisk until melted and smooth. Cool, and then chill well. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions. Serves 8

One Pea Pod/Scallops and Pea Puree

What did I have for lunch yesterday?  One perfect pea pod.  No kidding.  I was rushing like crazy and forgot to eat lunch.  I was at my favorite stand at the Union Square Farmer's Market buying micro-greens, edible flowers, pink-stemmed buckwheat sprouts, and more.  Windfall Farms carries "boutique" produce unlike any other and that's where all the photo/prop/food styling folks go.  Including me...and I have a photo shoot for Lenox China coming up.  Anyway, I was also thirsty and the nice farmer said, "here, eat a pea pod."  In one fell swoop, I tasted early summer...I felt satisfied...and my thirst was quenched. That's it. A pea pod bursting with tiny fresh peas.  The essence. Nothing more. As promised yesterday on my Facebook page, I present the recipe that got a surprise rave from cooking maestro Arthur Schwartz who said he made my "Seared Scallops on Sweet Pea Puree" from Radically Simple: Brilliant Flavors with Breathtaking Ease.  He said "be mindful when browning the scallops," but he also said that the timing was perfect and that it was delicious.  I think he added a burst of fresh lemon juice and so may you. I hope you enjoy it as much as Arthur and his guest did.

This dish is an adaptation of one of the most beloved recipes from my original Recipes 1-2-3, but I've updated it with dry vermouth and a garnish of trendy pea shoots. It is a dish for any time of the year because frozen peas, always available, provide the base of the lovely buttery puree, but I suggest you try it soon with super-fresh peas from the farmers market.  If using fresh peas, shell enough peas (from their pods) to get about 1-1/2 cups and follow the recipe, cooking the peas as long as needed to get tender but still bright green.

Seared Scallops on Sweet Pea Puree Get the best freshest scallops available.  Make sure they haven't been "dipped" in a solution or you will have difficulty browning them.

10 ounces frozen petits pois, thawed 4 tablespoons unsalted butter 20 medium-large sea scallops 3 tablespoons dry vermouth handful of pea shoots, mache, or microgreens

Put the peas in a saucepan with water to just cover. Bring to a boil and boil 2 minutes (longer if using fresh peas.) Drain well and save 6 tablespoons cooking water. Put the peas, 2 tablespoons of the butter, and the reserved cooking water in a blender.  Puree until very smooth and thick.  Add salt and pepper.  Return to the saucepan and keep warm.   Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large skillet.  Season the scallops and add to the pan.  Sear over high heat 2 minutes per side until golden and just cooked through.  Spread the warm pea puree in the centers of 4 large warm plates.  Arrange the scallops on the puree.  Add the vermouth and remaining 1 tablespoon butter to the pan. Cook over high heat until syrupy, about 30 seconds.  Pour over the scallops and top with pea shoots.  Serves 4

Give peas a chance.  Enjoy!

A "Babette's Feast" Dinner

For my daughter's school charity auction I agreed to host a dinner at my home -- where I was chief cook and bottle washer (well, actually, the only cook) and my husband was sommelier, digging out gems from his cellar such as an 1982 Chateau Margaux and several bottles of 1978 (!) Keenan Cabernet Sauvignon from California. The latter far exceeded the former but drinking the former (valued somewhere between $900 and $1900) was interesting, to say the least. It actually improved in the glass overnight -- and we sipped it for breakfast as we continued washing more than 100 plates, every pot in my house, and more than 75 wine glasses. One of my favorite movies is Babette's Feast. I suggest you rent it. You will then understand the title of today's blog. The menu for my 7-course seated dinner is as follows and it includes the hors d'oeuvres and wines also served. Many thanks to Susan Goldberg-Liu and her husband for bidding for the dinner, and to beloved Arthur Schwartz for being our "celebrity" for the evening and for signing his wonderful book The Southern Italian Table to all. Many thanks, too, to Omar Honeyman, waiter and bartender extraordinaire -- a legend on New York's catering circuit.

“COCKTAILS and LITTLE MEALS with ARTHUR SCHWARTZ”

Susan Goldberg-Liu and Simon Liu and friends FOR BERKELEY CARROLL

Hosts: Michael Whiteman and Rozanne Gold

May 24, 2012

Homemade hummus with za’atar and lavash crisps Cracked olives with wild fennel & “fish-sauce” pecans Tiny crostini of red pepper tapenade, goat cheese & fresh thyme Smoked salmon pizzette with lemon & basil

 Fresh corn fritters with cumin seed, wild arugula and lime Venezualan “guasacaca” sauce

   Ginger-Pear Lime Martinis Vinas de Balbo (chardonary-ugni blanc) in magnum, Argentina

M   E   N   U

Chilled Beet Soup with crème fraiche, smoked bacon & lemon zest Michael’s homemade whole grain-rye bread Mia Prosecco, Italy

Sauteed shrimp with shallots and tarragon, roasted garlic flan Pasanella & figlio Bianco, Maremma 2010

Crisped duck magret, roasted grapes & sauteed ramps with potato-cauliflower puree & grape demi-glace Chateau Margaux, France 1982

Falling-off-the-bone pork, vinegar, kale, wild mushrooms and buttery grits Keenan Cabernet Sauvignon, California 1978

Bitter chocolate mousse cake, lemon buttermilk sorbet, venetian wine cake Cockburn’s Quinta do Tua, 1987, Vintage Porto

CHEF:  ROZANNE GOLD

A Radically Delicious Recipe: Torta Caprese with Espresso, Served with Lemon Mascarpone

 

Sweet Friday

I often write for a wonderful magazine called Real Food.  It is not available on newsstands but instead can be found in some of the best upscale supermarkets across the county. In the summer 2012 issue, out now, I created a cover story based on our trip to the Amalfi coast last summer.  Included in the story are recipes for a white bean, mussel and red onion salad made with a dressing fashioned from sliced lemons, another salad of grilled romaine with Roma tomatoes, chicken breasts with black olives, lemon and fennel, and little potatoes with sun-dried tomatoes baked al cartoccio.  The final touch is a a famous cake from Capri called Torta Caprese (adapted from Arthur Schwartz's wonderful book, Naples at Table.) My version has added espresso powder and a hint of almond extract added to the chocolate-ground almond batter. I gild the experience with an unorthodox helping of mascarpone (Italian cream cheese) whipped and flecked with bits of lemon zest. Limoncello, anyone?

2 sticks (16 tablespoons) unsalted butter 8 ounces semisweet chocolate 12 ounces almonds 6 extra-large eggs, separated 1 tablespoon espresso powder ¼ teaspoon almond extract 1 cup sugar 6 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar 8 ounces mascarpone 1 large lemon

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Using 1 tablespoon butter, butter bottom and sides of a 10-inch removable bottom cake pan.  Line the bottom with a round of parchment paper and butter the paper. Melt the remaining butter and chocolate in a heavy saucepan over low heat until melted and smooth, stirring often. Process the almonds in two batches, each with 2 tablespoons sugar, until very fine and powdery. Transfer to a large bowl. Stir in espresso powder. Set aside.

Beat yolks until light and thick, about 3 minutes. Add ½ cup sugar and beat 2 minutes longer. Add the melted chocolate and the almond extract to the yolks. Stir well. Stir in the ground almonds until thoroughly mixed. Beat egg whites with a pinch of salt and ¼ cup remaining sugar until very stiff. Add beaten whites to the batter in 2 batches until incorporated. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake on a rack placed in the bottom third of the oven for 1 to 1-1/4 hours or until the cake is just firm. Cool and invert. Remove paper. Dust with 2 tablespoons confectioners sugar pushed through a sieve.  Serve with lemon mascarpone:  Beat mascarpone with 4 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar. Grate the lemon zest and add to mascarpone with 1 to 2 teaspoons lemon juice and a large pinch of salt. Serve with cake. Serves 10 to 12

Sophia Loren & NYC's Best Pizza

A Vittorio De Sica movie from the 1960s, called L'Oro di Napoli, features a young, voluptuous Sophia Loren sensually flattening discs of pizza dough while her cuckold of a husband drops them into a primitive vat of very hot oil. They promptly inflate and are sold without embellishment to be eaten as a snack, or as what today we call "street food." The set for that movie was a real-life restaurant called Starita, where they've been baking or frying extraordinary pizza since 1910. But about 10 years ago, Antonio Starita, the shop's third-generation pizzaiolo, hit upon an ingenious third-step -- first frying the dough, then decorating it and popping the pie into an oven to warm the toppings and melt the cheeses.

Last summer in Naples, we forked over a fistful of Euros to a clueless cab driver while searching for this legendary pizzeria in the twisty-curvy district of Materdei. Like many pizzerias in Italy, it was closed for lunch. But a version of it recently opened on Manhattan's easy-to-locate West 50th Street -- and there he was, Don Antonio Starita himself, overseeing a grand parade of classically Neapolitan pizzas coming out of his wood burning oven and, oh, yes, out of his deep fat fryer, at the new Don Antonio by Starita.

His specialty is called montanara in New York and simply pizza fritta in Naples. The fried dough puffs into an amazingly soufflé-light disc and topped with an intense tomato sauce and imported smoked mozzarella di bufala known as provola, and then popped briefly into a volcanically hot oven. It is like eating an exceedingly flavorful pillow.

The secret? Palm oil. The palm oil is important because it can withstand the rigors of high temperatures without breaking down, adding a delicate crispness to the dough's exterior. The dough downright floats with a bearable lightness of being.

We were a party of six celebrating culinary maven Arthur Schwartz's birthday, (he is the author of the award-winning cookbook Naples at Table), and I can tell you that every dish was its own celebration. We began with a huge platter of angioletti, which are fried puffy thumb-sized strips of dough topped with marinated cherry tomatoes, garlic, excellent oregano, and arugula, which was, for me, one of the most original and delicious dishes I've had anywhere recently! Then onto pizzas chosen by Antonio, not all of them on the menu.

We went nuts over a two-layer affair stuffed with mix of sautéed escarole, pine nuts, raisins and ricotta, then topped with wafer-thin dough and fresh mozzarella. A splendid pie with grape tomatoes in tomato sauce with mozzarella and basil stopped all table conversation for a short moment. And for dessert there was a pizza slathered with ricotta, honey and almonds, punctuated with a lit birthday candle.

Fat be damned, you're looking at a trend here, mark my words. I've run across a sushi bar selling slices of pizza dipped in tempura batter and deep-fried. Fish-and-chips shops have been doing downmarket versions for years in (of all places) Scotland, but they've kept it a rather well deserved secret. Out in Denver, Marco's Coal-Fired Pizzeria has a montanara and a ricotta-honey dessert pie, but they'll also fry any of their numerous pies in the same manner as Starita, right down to using palm oil.

Of course if you pile some mozzarella, salami, ricotta and tomato sauce onto a round of pizza dough, and fold it into a turnover, then you have a makings of a deep-fried calzone -- which is what you get at Locanda Positano in San Francisco and numerous other pizza joints around the country -- but these miss the point of crisping all the dough's surfaces, making for an amazing depth of flavor.

In Naples where they've been frying dough for centuries, you get it Starita's way or occasionally you run across a decorated thin-crust pizza that's topped with a second layer of dough, the edges being pressed together and the entire affair gently submerged in hot oil. This is not an obscure product in Naples, but it sure has taken its time crossing the Atlantic.

Now a restaurant named after the dish itself, La Montanara, has just opened on New York's Lower East Side. There, Giulio Adriani, who owns a restaurant in Rome and two places called Forcella in New York, is serving only fried pies, but he's using sunflower oil.

Locating Starita in New York may be easier than searching the curvaceous streets of Naples hoping to find either Sophia Loren or great pizza, but getting in isn't easy since they take no reservations and crowds form early, often waiting on the sidewalk for one of the restaurant's 70 seats. Bring a bunch of friends so you can try several of the 70 varieties available. Or, you might consider that long-awaited trip to Napoli.

Tell them Don Antonio sent you.

Tastes of the Week

March 19 to March 26, 2012 It was all-Italian all-the-time last week with three indelible meals. So here’s an homage to pizza, to pizzazz, to posterity, and to the maestri behind the magic:  Antonio, two Frankies, and Pepe.

Last summer in Naples, we forked out a fistful of Euros to a clueless cab driver while searching for the legendary pizzeria named Starita in the twisty-curvy district of Mater Dei. Of course it was closed. But a version of it recently opened on Manhattan’s easy-to-locate West 50th Street, and there he was, Don Antonio Starita himself, overseeing the grand parade of pizzas in and out of his wood burning oven and, oh, yes, his deep fat fryer. I’ll come back to the fried stuff in a moment.

Antonio has partnered with a former student who also runs the pizzeria Keste in New York and the new place is called Don Antonio by Starita.” We were a party of six celebrating dear friend Arthur Schwartz’s birthday, and I can tell you that every dish was its own celebration. We began with a huge platter of angioletti, which are fried puffy strips of dough topped with marinated cherry tomatoes and arugula, and then onto pizzas chosen by Antonio and not necessarily on the menu.

We went nuts over a two-layer affair stuffed with a mix of sautéed escarole, pine nuts, raisins and ricotta, then topped with wafer-thin dough and fresh mozzarella. For dessert there was a pizza slathered with ricotta, honey and almonds.

But in between these pies came Starita’s justly famous fried pizza – called montanara -- invented there about ten years ago where it simply is called pizza fritte. They drop a round of pizza into hot palm oil and it puffs up into an amazingly light disc (light as in texture; caloric like the dickens), which they top with an intense tomato sauce and imported smoked mozzarella di bufala, and slide it into their oven for finishing. You’re looking at a trend here, mark my words.

We all rolled home to sleep off dinner because there was another the following night, celebrating another friend’s birthday…Erica Marcus, former honcho cookbook editor and now ace food reporter for Newsday. That feast took place at Frankies (no apostrophe – there are two guys named Frank) in Brooklyn’s Carroll Gardens. We sat at two long tables in a romantically refitted old stable behind the restaurant and took our food from huge platters of antipasti; crostini of chicken liver mousse, delectable eggplant caponata, split fresh sardines en saor, followed by platters of  homemade cavetelli and hot sausage in brown butter;  of ethereal meatballs with pine nuts and raisins;  and robust braciola marinara -- all washed down with an infinity of excellent Barbera.

My husband especially liked Frankies’s opening aperitif, made with gin, Cointreau and lemon juice topped off with prosecco. He reminded me the following morning precisely how many he’d had as we got into the car for a two-hour drive to Yale where our daughter will be attending a high school summer program.  I knew he was worse for wear when he popped a couple of Tums on I-95, which he blamed merely on two days of feasting.

Now Yale is in New Haven, and you don’t drive there without stopping either at Sally’s or Pepe’s, both of which are the town’s equivalent of Starita, both of which bake a thin-and-crispy crust in coal-fired ovens. Yale could wait because we had just enough time for a pepperoni pie (pretty good) and for New Haven’s gastro-gift to the world – the white clam pie, which we had at Pepe’s (Sally’s being closed for lunch). This is a fairly affable assemblage of chunks of chewy clams, a sprinkling of cheese, some oregano, copious dousings of olive oil and enough garlic to eradicate all the witches in Transylvania.  It was an ultimate umami assault on our tastebuds, and while some folk make pilgrimages for the white clam pie, I think it is OK just to make it a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Tonight we’re having broccoli.

Tastes of the Week(s)

February 27 through March 18, 2012 Several weeks have gone by and I haven't shared some of the interesting and, often superlative, tastes that I've had. This "tastes" column is a way for me to both document and re-imagine the experiences, but also an invocation for you to fine tune your own. This is a new era of "mindfulness" for me -- in both cooking and eating -- resulting in far more pleasure and appreciation. As many of you know, I am a student in a program called Foundations in Buddhist Contemplative Care and I work in an emergency room and on a cancer floor once a week. The very notion of contemplation spills over into everything nowadays -- not just in working with patients. It even extends to the little cafe at Beth Israel Hospital in New York, where I slowly savor my tuna fish sandwich and unexpectedly decent coffee in a weekly ritual, sharing tables with strangers, wondering what the day has been like for them. Mindful eating is now being talked about with much grace -- I enjoy re-reading the wonderful article in the New York Times about it several weeks ago -- but I am also interested in "contemplative cooking" -- that of my own and of others. It is a subject I will be writing much more about.

This installment bridges February and March -- the end of an almost nonexistent winter and very early spring. I had a wonderful lunch last week at Rouge Tomate, a beautiful sprawling modern restaurant on East 60th Street in the city.   Their $29 prix fixe menu was quite a surprise especially because the meal was as enjoyable and professional as one I recently had at Le Bernardin. The chef, Jeremy Bearman, deserves much more attention and I look forward to learning more about him and his philosophy in cooking. Now here is a "contemplative chef!" Every detail of taste, color, harmony, balance and surprise existed in every dish. I started with a Green Tornado (not part of the prix fixe) instead of my usual glass of wine. It was a fabulous quaff blended from tarragon, spinach, basil, butter lettuce (!), mint and lemon juice. Stimulating and satisfying, I could drink these all summer long.  (And doesn't butter lettuce sound divine and fattening?!) The first course, Wild Mushroom and Leek Salad, was a "painting" that also included spring garlic, frisee, Meyer lemon, and a polenta crisp. The main course, Arctic Char a la Plancha, came with black rice (also known as "forbidden rice"), green olives, spring onion, and passion fruit. The passion fruit was expressed by a disk of daikon that was cooked "sous vide" in passion fruit juice. It might have been one of the most exciting tastes I've ever had.  And while the arctic char spent a few too many seconds on the plancha, the dish as a whole was fascinating.  Desserts? A bittersweet chocolate tart, with accents of banana, coconut, lime yogurt and ginger gelato, and Fingerlakes Farms' Yogurt Panna Cotta, with notes of dried cherry, pistachio, orange and kumquat. I want to learn more about the principles of SPE -- which according to the menu is based on a "genuine respect of ingredients and the crafting of balanced dishes that naturally marries extraordinary cuisine and authentic nutrition." The restaurant is committed to support local farms, fisheries, and producers who employ sustainable practices. And while I respect all that, I respect the "mind of the chef" most.

I had a bar of chocolate called Brooklyn Bar from Mast Brothers Chocolates -- a real player on the chocolate scene  -- manufactured in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The flavor profile of this particular variety really got my attention -- red wine and plum.

Vietnamese coffee at the home of Arthur Schwartz. Arthur just returned from a 40-day cruise to Australia and Asia and we went to hear stories of the voyage and sip extraordinary coffee that he brought home from Vietnam. Just a few sniffs of the coffee could send you into orbit. There is nothing else that has that bouquet. Vietnamese coffee is usually served with sweetened condensed milk -- but I love it straight. I, too, was so enamored of it from my own trip to Vietnam five years ago that I put a "recipe" and photo of Vietnamese coffee in my book Radically Simple! The coffee is very expensive and worth it.

Fabulous Spanish wine tasting with Gerry Dawes at Despana in Soho. It's a terrific place to stop into mid-afternoon for a snack. 410 Broome Street. Wonderful tapas and more of that terrific Iberico ham.

Homemade whipped cream! I forgot how delicious it can be. I had leftover heavy cream from an article I was working on and decided to whip it up with confectioners sugar and good vanilla extract. Plopped it on strawberries and crepes we made from Eat Fresh Food:  Awesome Recipes for Teen Chefs -- for Sunday brunch.

Have a delicious week!

Tastes of the Week

January 1 to January 8, 2012 A home-style Chinese banquet: What better way to welcome the tastes of a new year than at a Chinese banquet.  Not in a restaurant, mind you, but in the comfort of someone's home. And so, just a few days ago, our friends and neighbors, Simon Liu and Susan Goldberg-Liu, invited us to a "dumpling fest" at their gorgeously restored brownstone. Along with their son Max (just home from Paris) and daughter Emma, our daughter Shayna learned to fill and fold her first dumplings (see photo), while Simon tended to his homemade chicken broth in which they all were poached. We had dumplings of shrimp and sausage, some of "just sausage" as Shayna's still shy of seafood, along with some naked fishballs. They reminded me of Italian gnudi, which are ravioli without the ravioli skin. Rounding out the meal were roast duck, pork and cuttlefish purchased in Brooklyn's vibrant Chinatown, where Simon has his art-and-restoration studio. It was all washed down with a rioja from Spain and a sauvignon blanc from Argentina. Everyone said no thank you to the barrage of chocolates and gingerbread men that followed, and then, of course, we ate them all.

A New Year's leg of pig: I often make an extra turkey on Thanksgiving because, in my opinion, it's not a party without copious leftovers for guests to take home. With that in mind, I encouraged my husband to roast an entire leg of pig for New Year's Eve even though were only eight for dinner and even though he pointed out that, after allowing for the bones, we'd have over two pounds of pig per person. Dutifully, he cut deep slits into the meat and stuffed them with a chop-up of fresh rosemary, sage, thyme, hot peppers, sea salt and an immeasurable quantity of garlic -- these being the seasonings for a classic Italian porchetta. The resulting roast looked like a bronzed sculpture sitting on our kitchen counter, and after he'd carved enough for double portions it still resembled a Henry Moore. No matter, I simply invited another shift of friends for lunch on New Year's Day and after slicing off food for a dozen guests, there it was, slightly diminished, but still hulking. Eternity has been described as "two people and a ham" (perhaps by Dorothy Parker). After a couple of meals of leftover leg, a roast pork ragu with penne rigate and several sandwiches of garlicky pork, sriracha, sliced tomatoes, arugula & pickled red onions, we just tonight saw the last of it -- except for stock made from the bones, which reside in our freezer waiting for a day in some uncertain future when our appetite is at last restored. Mozart and Sausages: No more flowers for me. Instead send me pork products from La Tienda and regale me with marzipan candies that evoke days gone by. Such were the gifts from my brother and sister-in-law last week. Part birthday gift, part holiday tidings, these edible treasures were firsts for me. First the candy: Known as Mozart Kugeln, packed in a delightful red tin with tiny portraitures of the composer, these are deluxe confections exquisitely filled with marzipan, made from "fresh green pistachios, almonds and rich hazelnut-nougat, enrobed with delicious milk and bitter chocolates." They have been made in Germany for more than 150 years and delighted my guests who unwrapped each elaborately-foiled candy with great affection. Add to that, a selection of Spanish sausages so fine as to make one swoon. From La Tienda, a family-owned company who gleans the best artisan products from Spain and ships thousands of order per week to homes across America, came three amazing products -- one entirely unknown to me -- sobrasada Mallorquina, a semi-soft chorizo that is meant for spreading on crusty bread. It is superb. Add to that, a cured sausage Sorio made with smoked paprika, and a Spanish-style salami flavored with black pepper instead of the more typical paprika.  (www.latienda.com)

Arthur Schwartz's Pasta and Lentils: A vegetarian gift to all for the New Year. In Italy, lentils are good luck for the new year and so this is my wish for all. Made by the maestro himself, we enjoyed it tremendously on New Year's day. Click here for the recipe. 

One hunded wine glasses: We washed at least this number by hand. A variety of shapes and sizes, for champagne, wines, moscato passito di Pantelleria, and Liquore Centerba, a digestif made with 100 herbs -- which was very helpful at the end of such a week.

Here's to a delicious 2012.

Tastes of the Week

Dec. 5 through Dec. 11th, 2011 Without a doubt, the taste of the week was the hand-sliced "5J Jabugo de Bellota" ham from Spain, meticulously carved by a master ham-slicer, also known as a cortador, at a private tasting last week. There is great romance around the entire production of the beloved 100% pure bred Iberico pig of Spain. Unique in myriad ways, it's worthy of a taste of your own. Read more about it.

I made a cake from Arthur Schwartz's wonderful and encyclopedic book Naples at Table, while I listened to the soundtrack from John Turturro's voluptuous film Passione. Talk about having a good time (by yourself!) The cake is the famous Torta Caprese from the Amalfi region of southern Italy, which we enjoyed this summer during our trip to Ravello, Atrani, and Amalfi. The cake is flourless and based on an abundance of ground almonds. I had a hankering to make it for company this weekend. I added some espresso powder (not an authentic but a still-in-the-vernacular touch) and served it with my own homemade chocolate sorbet. Recipe below. But you might have to browse Arthur's book, or website, for his marvelous torta.

To celebrate the completion of several years of research and a voluminous manuscript about a beloved food personality, we toasted our colleague, the author, with a bottle of 2000 Moet and Chandon champagne. The champagne was a beautiful golden color with yeasty complexity, honeyed tones and bright acidity. If only all champagne tasted this way! A perfect match with still-warm slices of smoked ham meticulously cut by another master ham-slicer (my husband), and my homemade tapenade whose salinity was softened by sweet butter and a touch of brandy. To finish? Deeply flavored espresso and amazing chocolate-covered pecans from Blue Apron gourmet food store in Park Slope -- a gift from our guest.

Another house gift, this time from my brother and his wife, was a box of the best Italian cookies from Giorgio's Bakery in Hoboken. They are famous for their cannoli and pignoli cookies, but I now love their chocolate-enrobed spice cookies (I don't know their official name but they taste like Christmas) and almond-studded quaresimali (biscotti).

There might be nothing more refreshing to drink than freshly-squeezed pink-hued grapefruit juice! At a breakfast I hosted at my home this week for students in my class (Foundations in Buddhist Contemplative Care), someone brought a jug of the said juice from Lambeth Groves. OMG! The brand is available at the famous Park Slope Co-op and, I imagine, many other places, too. Located in Vero Beach, Florida you can find out more about it by calling 1-800-JUICE-4-U. It's been a long time since I've even thought about grapefruit juice. So glad to get re-acquainted.

And since it's "the season," I enjoyed two wonderful dinners in town last week.  A superlative holiday hosted by Les Dames d'Escoffier at the glamorous Barbetta restaurant in the theatre district. The cannelloni alone were "da morire" (to die for) as was the risotto, braised beef in Barolo and many other specialities from the Piedmont region of Italy.

And there was the Indian feast for four at Tulsi, the Michelin-starred midtown restaurant owned by the great tandoori master and lovable chef, Hemant Mathur. I believe we consumed the entire menu (well, almost!) and savored the tandoori lamb chops, dum biryani -- a "time honored Mughal rice dish, slowly baked in a Handi pot sealed with naan dough" -- made with goat, ginger, cardamom, mace & saffron, lamb nargisi kofta (with cashew nut sauce and cumin-greep pea quinoa), black pepper and coconut shrimp, and masala ceviche (with citrus, green chile, cilantro and gun powder (!)...for starters.

Tomorrow I'll eat yogurt.

My Homemade Chocolate Sorbet You don't need a fancy ice cream maker. I make this in a $30 Donvier (just make sure the canister, and the chocolate mixture, are very cold) before starting to churn. If not eating right away, let the sorbet soften a little before serving.

3/4 cup sugar 1/4 cup dark corn syrup 1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa powder 4 ounces semisweet chocolate 1/2 teaspoon espresso powder pinch of salt

Combine the sugar, corn syrup, cocoa powder, and 1-1/2 cups water in a large saucepan. Whisk until smooth and bring to a boil. Boil 1 minute, whisking.  Remove from the heat and stir in the chocolate, the espresso powder, a pinch of salt and 1/4 cup water. Stir until the chocolate melts. Pour the mixture into a blender and process 1 minute, until smooth. Refrigerate the mixture until very cold. Stir briskly and freeze in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions. Serves 6

Lunch in the Country at Bell's Mansion

Last week I had the pleasure of being taken to Bell's Mansion in Stanhope, New Jersey for lunch. Accompanying me were food maven Arthur Schwartz (who knew he was also so knowledgeable about Polish food!), historian Bob Harned, and Brendan Fahy, my old boss at Lord & Taylor, when I was executive chef in charge of their 38 restaurants across the country. At that time in my life, right after my stint as Mayor Koch's chef at Gracie Mansion, I was hired by L&T's Chairman of the Board, Joe Brooks, to re-conceptualize the Bird Cage (do any of you remember those wonderful places?) with the task of making in-store dining more, well, fashionable. Mr. Brooks was fastidious in every way, and elegant as all get out. He anticipated the needs of his customers and satisfied fantasies they didn't even know they had. I remember the sheer joy, and terror, of cooking lunch for Mr. Brooks while he was entertaining Sophia Loren one day in the private dining room atop the Fifth Avenue store. I credit Mr. Brooks and Mr. Fahy as mentors in my life and for giving me the opportunities and education that were life-changing. I can't think of a better place to reminisce with old and new friends than at Bell's Mansion. The new friends are Jack and Maria Kaczynski who own the historic house and restaurant that have made Stanhope, New Jersey a destination. Their "garden-to-table" cuisine is glorious as is the environment and food offerings. "The best pierogies I've ever had," said the food maven, Arthur Schwartz. Homemade kielbasa with caramelized onions, ethereal stuffed cabbage in a wondrous beef broth, and "New American" dishes spice up the menu. Although the 170-year old mansion speaks of "special occasion" dining, as does the beef wellington that graces the menu, the atmosphere is casual enough to make you want to come everyday -- as several of their customers do! Despite the heavy rains this summer, the gardens, including fruit trees and grape arbors, were lovely and provided the prime materie (primary materials or ingredients) for our delicious meal.   During the course of the lunch, I found myself asking time and again, "Did you grow this?," "Are these your tomatoes?," "This parsley is so vivid, is it yours?," "Just look at that lovely purple basil." Not only was the refined stuffed cabbage made by Maria, the cabbage was also grown by Maria, who serves as head gardener of the property. Their executive chef, Thomas Wohlrob, is a local celeb who once owned his own restaurant, but now he is wowing locals with Duck Alexis (duck breast with sun-dried cranberries and shiitakes), rack of lamb, an enlightened eggplant rollatini. The kielbasa that I loved comes with house-cured sauerkraut and there are always pierogies-on-parade. We especially liked those stuffed with wild mushrooms and sauerkraut; those filled with potatoes and cheese, and a "new world" variety filled with cheddar and jalapeno.

The generous bar, originally built for the Palmerton Hotel in Pennsylvania during the 1880's, is all oak and mirrored and welcoming. I can't imagine anything better than a bucket of mussels and a glass of sauvignon blanc, or a large platter of those wild mushroom pierogies and a glass of cab, on some upcoming snowy evening. Before the season changes, however, you might consider Sunday brunch on their terrace, eating like a locavore, under the canopy of trees and flowers.  Save room for their lovely creme brulee, white chocolate mousse with raspberries, or...fresh fruit pierogies!

I am grateful to Jack and Maria for their hospitality and for the abundant offerings from their gardens:  Slender eggplants, sweet corn on the cob, pale yellow peppers, just-picked apples, juicy tomatoes, and tasty hot peppers. Love in a basket.

Bell's Mansion:  11 Main Street, Stanhope, New Jersey.  973-426-9977

Tastes of the Week

August 7 through August 14th Began this morning with a bowl of yogurt and a copious pour of raspberry-rhubarb birch syrup brought to me by a friend who just returned from Alaska. Apparently they use this brooding, deeply complex elixir, instead of honey, in many ways. Birch syrup is a unique flavor from Alaska's forests and is apparently quite rare. It takes an average of 100 gallons of sap from paper birch trees to make 1 gallon of birch syrup (www.alaskabirchsyrup.com).

Great french fries at the Hotel Kitano jazz club where we heard the remarkable saxophonist Ted Nash and his quartet the other night. The burgers looked good, too -- and so did the drummer! Ted Nash, is one of the country's top jazz musicians -- we met him a few weeks ago in Ravello when he was traveling with Wynton Marsalis.

I finally went to the Park Slope Food Co-op! It's considered one of the best in the country and it's only a few blocks from my house. Purple okra, bouquets of perky basil, wild fennel, and watermelon with seeds! 

Fabulous dinner at ilili-- a very sophisticated Lebanese restaurant (Fifth Avenue and 28th St.) -- whose chef, Philippe Massoud is becoming a rock star. Begin with a table full of cold mezze (the best labneh!) and follow with a round of hot mezze, (and fried sweetbreads!) and savory pancake "sliders."  Baskets full of warm, homemade, ultra-thin pita.  Great pounded raw meat (kibbeh naya) that you place on the pita with a slice of onion, jalapeno and fresh mint!

An amazing tasting dinner at Eddie Schoenfeld's new restaurant Red Farm in the West Village.  The bbq'd Filet Mignon Tart with curried vegetables & frizzled ginger was one of the best "first tastes" I've ever had!  Also great? Kumamoto oysters wtih meyer lemon-yuzu ice, grilled vegetable salad with artichoke-bean curd dip and amazing homemade "crackers," and shu mai shooters, with carrot-ginger juice and fresh morels!

A great lunch, on one of New York's most beautiful afternoons, at Mario Batali's La Birreria on the rooftop of Eataly!  Sat outdoors and chomped down on a terrific sausage of pork and beef, flavored with coriander, a kind of half-cured chunky kraut, and a fabulous dish of maiitake mushrooms with asparagus and peas. I can't wait to go back.

A morning snack of Sicilian pesto (made with almonds, tomato, very good garlic, and basil) at Arthur Schwartz's house, followed by one of the year's best caponata's (check it out in Arthur's book "The Southern Italian Table"), eaten on crusty loaves of grain bread from Orwashers. I used to buy Orwasher's bread for Mayor Ed Koch when I was the chef at Gracie Mansion -- in 1978! A peach so good at Union Square Market that several people stopped me, as the juices were running down my arm, to ask me where I got it. I think they were from Breezy Hill Orchards. 

Cannoli on the Move

Straight from the lens of my son's camera in San Bruno, California are two winning photos with the caption:  SO BAD, BUT SO GOOD!  Clearly, this is the latest in food truck rage -- not yet seen on the East Coast to my knowledge.  Cannoli!  Specialty filled cannoli to rival the niche marketing of tacos, botanical ice creams, yeasty waffles, summer slushes, and hummus with hubris (the Taim Mobile), for our daily affections.  But the Roamin' Cannoli truck wins my heart. Whereas, cannolo is the correct terminology for a single pastry, cannoli is the name given to two or more pastries.  In that sense, the spelling on the side of the darling cannoli carriage is correct, as there are THREE varieties to choose from.  You can have any flavor for $4 bucks.  The "Not So Traditional" is filled with sweet mascarpone and goat cheese, orange zest, and TCHO dark chocolate chunks.  The "Lemon Meringue" is filled with smooth lemon cream and dried meringue stars.  The "White Raspberry Brulee" is filled with El Rey white chocolate filling, fresh red raspberries and bruleed sugar edges.  According to the empirical evidence, "meringue stars," my son, no doubt chose the "Lemon Meringue."

I am quite certain I would have had the "Not So Traditional."  And Jeremy's grandmother, who lived to be 90, loved cannolis but would not have wanted any of these.  Anne Frieda Whiteman would have opted for a cannolo at Ferrara's in New York's Little Italy.  I read that they make their cannoli shells with red wine -- to impart the requisite hue to the crispy pastry tubes -- whereupon they are filled with a sweet ricotta filling and maybe a dash of almond extract, a few mini chocolate bits or some crushed pistachios.  More than the delicious noodle pudding she used to make (written about by award-winning author Arthur Schwartz in his tome "Jewish Home Cooking: Yiddish Recipes Revisited"), this was the ultimate in sweets.  Anne, who never got use to leaving a message on an answering machine (she called it "the monster"), would certainly not cozy up to a dose of goat cheese in her beloved treat.  (But then again she put corn flakes on her noodle pudding.  Risky business in her day.) Boy do we miss her.

In my first 1-2-3 book, Recipes 1-2-3:  Fabulous Food Using Only Three Ingredients, is a curious recipe for "Cannoli Custard."  I recommend serving it with biscotti for dipping and ice-cold shots of Strega.  Espresso to follow.

Cannoli, by the way, are of Sicilian origin, and in Italy are commonly known as "cannoli Siciliani."  Someday history may tell us they were invented in San Bruno, California.

Thank you, Jeremy, for the photos and the memories and a brand new trend to add to your father's list.

Cannoli Custard (from Recipes 1-2-3)

2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese 9 tablespoons confectioners' sugar 3/4 teaspoon rum extract

Gently whip the ricotta, sugar, and rum extract in the bowl of an electric mixer.  Do not over-mix. Divide equally among 4 martini glasses and chill well.  Sprinkle additional confectioners' sugar, pressed through a sieve, over the top before serving.  Serves 4

Sherry, Anyone?

A little more than six months ago, Alessandro Piliego opened a sleek, inviting tapas bar, and decked the walls with Botero paintings and high shelves teeming with sherry bottles. The hanging rustic chandeliers cast a warm glow along the bar and caress the tall tables and high-back stools where one sips and sups small plates of Spanish food.  Located on the burgeoning end of Court Street in Brooklyn, near the now-famous Prime Meats and Buttermilk Channel, Alessandro named his place Palo Cortado, and I asked him what it meant.  Something new to me, although I am an avid fan of fino sherry, palo cortado is a style of sherry, slightly richer than oloroso.  To that end, he could have similarly named his tapas bar, Fino, Manzanilla, Amontillado, Oloroso, Moscatel, or Pedro Ximenez, as each is a different type of sherry along the spectrum of very dry to very sweet. I was delighted to learn about this and even more delighted to drink it.  These fortified wines deserve more respect.  The varying descriptors of their flavor profile are rich and include, unlike wine, words like salty and nutty.  They are great companions to authentic, and not-so-authentic, tapas -- at once both piquant and lusty. It was fun to share the night with the food maven, Arthur Schwartz, whose birthday we were celebrating, and Bob Harned, who had not been to Palo Cortado since it opened.  They did, however, know Alessandro and had been to a tasting in the summer.   If I could order 5 servings of the patatas bravas for myself, I would have.  At $4 a plate, that would be bargain. They were exceptional: small cubes of perfectly fried potatoes laced with aioli and Rioja sauces.  We had delicious octopus (pulpo a la gallega) served with small potato discs and a pimenton vinaigrette.  Next came spiced lamb meatballs with mint-cucumber yogurt and preserved lemon, and piquillo rellenos -- small roasted peppers stuffed with chicken and cheese, served with a white bean puree and pepitas.  We enjoyed fabulous mixed olives and briny caperberries and acidic boquerones, which are marinated white anchovies with capers, garlic and parsley.  These two palate openers went especially well with the super-dry, and slightly salty, mineral-y, manzanilla that we had.  We moved on to a delicious full-bodied Rioja.  Instead of birthday cake, Alessandro brought something brilliant to try:  Medjool dates marinated in sherry with vanilla yogurt mousse and roasted almonds.  Happy Birthday Arthur, and muchos gracias to Alessandro.

I offer you one of my most radically simple and delicious tapas to serve at home.  Fatty and rich, these chorizos will taste wonderful with a glass of cellar-temperature Amontillado, or...Palo Cortado!  (located at 520 Court Street, Brooklyn, NY.  tel: (718) 407-0047). Grilled Chorizos in Red Wine In a shallow ovenproof dish (a small paella pan is great), slice 8 ounces chorizo or pepperoni 1/4-inch thick.  Place flat-side down, 1/4-inch apart.  Pour 1/2 cup red wine to come halfway up the sides of chorizo.  Preheat broiler.  Broil 6 to 8 minutes until crispy.  Spoon pan juices on top.  Sprinkle with finely slivered cilantro.  Serves 4

Merci, Bon Appétit

This month's Bon Appétit magazine, March 2011, has a cover story with lots of appeal.  On the upper left are big letters that spell out everyone's favorite comfort dish:  MAC & CHEESE.  "Hands down the tastiest version we've ever made" -- the editors agreed to comment on the cover.  "And other remarkably sumptuous baked pastas," it goes on to say.  Those are great headlines, I have to admit, especially because that story is mine!  More than five months ago I was asked to write an article featuring baked pasta recipes.  I struggled with it more than most and even complained to my best friend, pasta-maven Arthur Schwartz, that it was difficult to put a new spin on not one, but five such recipes. The reasons were plentiful: pasta continues to absorb liquid and tends to "grow" in the dish; there can be a "sameness" about the flavors of most baked pastas, and there are far fewer recipes for baked pastas in the Italian repertoire than you would imagine except for lasagna, baked ziti and cannelloni (when was the last time you saw that on a menu?).   It occurred to me that macaroni and cheese might fit the bill, and so I "amp-ed" up the classic by tossing pasta with my version of pimiento cheese!, then stirred three cheeses into its coral creaminess, and added a flourish of parmesan crumbs on top.  Simply baked until the topping gets crisp and the sauce is bubbling, this slyly named Pimiento Mac & Cheese is rather good.  Are you perchance thinking of making it tonight?  (Recipe below).  The four other featured recipes are Moroccan-Spiced Pastitsio with Lamb & Feta -- perfumed with ras el hanout and dried mint; Rigatoni with Eggplant and Pine Nut Crunch; a lusty Lasagna with Turkey Sausage Bolognese, flavored with fennel seed, white wine and basil; and Tortellini Gratinati with Mushrooms & Parsnip "Bechamel." That one may, in fact, be my favorite -- flavored with fresh rosemary and grated nutmeg, I'm rather certain no one has ever made a parsnip bechamel before.  The root vegetable, cooked and pureed, takes the place of the butter and flour in the classic sauce, and adds a sweet earthiness of its own.  Hey, maybe the March 2011 issue should be named Buon Appetito!  Enjoy!

Rozanne Gold's Pimiento Mac & Cheese The mix of Parmesan, cheddar, bell pepper and sweet-tangy Peppadew peppers coats the pasta perfectly -- and the panko topping adds great texture.

1 large red bell pepper, 7 to 8 ounces, seeded and cut into 1-inch pieces 2 garlic cloves, peeled and halved 1/2 cup panko (Japanese breadcrumbs) 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, room temperature 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano 3/4 cup drained Peppadew peppers in brine, 1 tablespoon brine reserved 1/4 teaspoon ground ancho chiles 1-1/4 cups packed shredded extra-sharp yellow cheddar cheese 1 packed cup shredded whole-milk mozzarella 8 ounces medium shell pasta or gemelli

Bring 1/2 cup water, bell pepper, and 1-1/2 garlic cloves to a boil in a small saucepan.  Cover; reduce heat to medium-low.  Simmer until pepper is soft, about 15 minutes. Toast panko in a skillet over medium-high heat until golden, stirring often, 5 minutes.  Transfer to bowl; cool to lukewarm.  Rub 1 tablespoon butter into crumbs to coat.  Mix in 1/4 cup parmesan cheese.  Transfer bell pepper mixture to processor.  Add Peppadews and 1 tablespoon brine, 2 tablespoons butter, ground chiles, and 1/2 garlic clove.  Then add cheddar and 1/4 cup parmesan.  Process until sauce is smooth; season with salt and pepper.  Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Butter an 8-cup baking dish,  Cook pasta in a pot of boiling salted water until tender but still firm to bite.  Drain; return to pot.  Stir sauce and mozzarella into pasta.  Season with salt and pepper.  Spoon pasta into dish.  Sprinkle with crumb topping.  Bake until topping is crispy and sauce is bubbling, about 25 minutes.  Let rest 10 minutes and serve.  Serves 6

Meatballs "To Die For"

This brings us to our last of Google's most sought-after recipe requests.  Even at position #10, this number undoubtedly represents thousands of pots of simmering tomato sauce begging for orbs of ground meat, mixed with spices, and love.  "I love my meatballs," Italian cooking maestro Arthur Schwartz whispered to me just last night.  This, from the man who helped put Neapolitan cuisine on the map, about the dish that, "along with pizza and spaghetti with tomato sauce, (meatballs) have to be the most internationally famous, even infamous specialty of Naples."  And while other cultures have their versions, Jewish sweet-and-sour meatballs, albondigas from Spain, Swedish meatballs, Lions head meatballs from China, meatballs from India and the Middle East called kofta, I believe it is the southern Italian prototype that people most desire. According to Arthur in his delicious book Naples at Table, "often the meatballs of Naples are considered too bready -- too meager, too poor, too deceptive.  But it is, in fact, the high ratio of soaked, dried bread they complain about that makes them so light, so crusty, so juicy, so really clever."  The inclusion of mollica di pane -- the milk -or water-soaked interior dough of fresh bread -- gave way to dried breadcrumbs when Italians migrated to America.  In this mecca of meat and gold-paved streets, they upped the ratio of beef to bread, and presto!, the meatballs became heavier.  But no, not Arthur's.  His are considered among many to be "da morire"  (To die for.) Meatballs can be eaten as a main course with a vegetable, as they often are in Naples.  Or, they can be fried and dropped into tomato sauce; or served atop a bowl of spaghetti. I personally love meatballs in a hero sandwich (some of you say "subs" or "grinders"), topped with melted mozzaralla.  I adore the tomato-soaked bread that lingers behind.  Arthur's recipe, which you will find below, has pine nuts and raisins in the mixture.  These days, he laments, not everyone adds them -- it's up to family tastes -- "but these embellishments make for a much more interesting dish, a Baroque touch from the Baroque city."

All this talk about meatballs makes me want to run to the Film Forum next week to see director Pasolini's movie "Mamma Roma" starring Anna Magnani -- beginning 1/21.  The movie itself tells the story of a life that, like Neapolitan meatballs, depicts poverty and deception.  It is the tale of a middle-aged prostitute trying to put her sordid past behind her and fashion a good life for her teenage son.  Pasolini, by the way, is considered one of Italy's greatest modern poets, novelists, and film directors (he died in 1975.)  And Magnani, no doubt, is considered one of Italy's finest actresses.   See you at the Forum!

Polpette alla Napoletana adapted from Naples at Table

3 cups dried crustless bread cut into 1-1/2-inch cubes before measuring 1-1/4 pounds ground beef (80% -- not leaner) 3 eggs, beaten well 2 large cloves garlic, finely minced 1/2 cup (loosely packed) grated pecorino cheese 1/4 cup (loosely packed) finely cut parsley 1/3 cup pine nuts 1/3 cup raisins 1 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 1/4 cup vegetable oil 1 quart favorite tomato sauce

Soak the bread in cold water.  Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, combine, but do not yet mix, the remaining ingredients, except the oil and tomato sauce.  Squeeze the bread by fistfuls to drain it, then break it up into the bowl.  First with a fork, then with your hands, blend the mixture very well, squishing it in your hands to make sure the bread blends with the meat.  Do not worry about handling the meat too much.  With your hands moistened in cold water, roll the mixture between your palms into 12 meatballs. When a drop of water sizzles immediately, it's hot enough for the meatballs.  Gently place them in the pan and as soon as the first side looks brown, dislodge them and turn to another side.  Continue rotating the meatballs, using a wooden spoon and/or spatula.  After 10 minutes the meatballs should be well browned but slightly rare in the center.  If serving without sauce, continue cooking them for 5 to 8 minutes, rotating them as you go.  If serving with sauce, place them in the sauce now and simmer for 15 minutes.  Makes 12 meatballs

New Year's Resolution #1

More entertaining at home. Just last night we had an absolutely wonderful dinner at the foodmaven.com's Park Slope apartment to usher in the New Year.  Instead of sitting at his elaborate dining room table, Arthur created a stage set in his living room, dressing the coffee table in gold leaf finery with massive candles and beautiful wine glasses laid upon tapestry.  Although we had agreed upon a simple supper for "a party of five" -- the menu morphed into an extravaganza that began in 2010 and ended sumptuously in 2011!   The evening commenced with "aperitivi"-- a great white wine from Italy (Fiano di Avellino) for me and martinis for the men.  Fleshy black olives, peppadews (tiny sweet and spicy peppers) filled with tuna, salumi, black pepper taralli, the best potato chips, and tiny white anchovies in vinegar.  For Arthur, the menu bridged old and new.  The first course was an old friend -- a beloved pasta with lentils (good luck for the New Year) that tasted meaty and primal.  He said it was the great tomato paste he used!  I also remarked how good the actual malfatti (mixed-shaped) pasta was and Arthur declared it an excellent brand from Italy.  Will find out the name.  Next came a few dishes new to Arthur -- he loves to experiment and was intrigued with a recipe that he adapted from Jamie Oliver.  In the style of cooking I love best, it was radically simple and very, very delicious:  A bone-in, tied lamb shoulder, braised ever so slowly, with lots of fresh rosemary and whole garlic cloves.  It cooked, covered, for hours until it exuded fragrant juices into which we dunked copious amounts of bread.  With that we drank a 1982 Chateau Gloria (a very good year) from our wine cellar.  A bowl of mashed root vegetables with butter and snippets of scallions and parsley added great color and were radically good.  Arthur had called to ask if I had a potato masher, and I was happy to bring the treasured utensil that once belonged to my mother-in-law.  The memories started to mount. 'Round midnight (one of my favorite Dexter Gordon jazz tunes), I was treated to four small birthday cakes, laid upon a large ceramic platter, one in every color.  I blew out many candles and could barely hear my wishes above the fireworks outside.  The beautiful cakes, "made with real buttercream," came from the Ladybird Bakery in Brooklyn. They were delicious.

And as tradition has each year beginning with a bite of cake, another tradition follows.  My birthday breakfast:  A glass of champagne followed by the most delicious scrambled eggs made by my husband in a double boiler so that they become velvety and Hollandaise-like.  He piles them atop a hillock of smoked salmon and often garnishes them with caviar.  As traditions go, it ain't half bad.

Have a happy and healthy.

Barton Fink Comes for Cocktails

Last night I had the pleasure of playing matchmaker to the great actor John Turturro and my great friend Arthur Schwartz.  They are both in love...with Naples! John Turturro, as many of you know, is one of America's finest actors, writers and directors best known for his roles in Barton Fink, Quiz Show, The Big Lebowski, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, and more than 50 other movies. Today, he most wants to be known as the director of a new film, Passione, about the street life and music of Naples.  Arthur Schwartz, as many of you know, is one of the world's great cooks and authorities on Italian cuisine, specifically food from Naples.  Today, he wants to bring a musical production from Naples to Brooklyn (and brought the sound track to seduce us.) Since the Turturros live directly across the street from us and Arthur and Bob live around the corner, it seemed the perfect moment to open a bottle of Prosecco and talk about their beloved city.  We had a blast. The day started with Arthur and I going to buy salumi and prosciutto and pane at Di Palo's -- the city's most celebrated Italian food store.  It has been in existence since the 1930's.  They recently expanded to include a fantastic wine shop and it was too much fun spending time with Lou di Palo who, according to Arthur, knows more about Italian food producers and products than anyone.  At 7:30 p.m. the six of us (with John's wife and my husband), sat in our living room talking, laughing, eating, drinking, and watching John slowly unfold:  Before we knew it, John was "in character" telling us about the joys of producing his new musical -- which will be available in the states sometime early next year.  Arthur and Bob have already seen it in Italy...and loved it. You can experience a bit of last night by making Arthur's fabulous caponata.   Arthur brought it, along with some lovely parmesan "cookies", and they went beautifully with all the cheeses, salumi, "melted tomatoes," Sicilian breadsticks, olives and fresh fennel that we had.  After the Turturros went home (it was snowing when they left!), Arthur and Bob stayed for a light supper -- a cheese-and-onion tart, wild arugula salad, and wine cake with lemon buttermilk sorbetto for dessert.  Strong coffee followed.

Here is Arthur's classic, unpublished, recipe for caponata; and here is the link to the trailer for John's "Passione."   Ciao, ciao

Classic Caponata

Classic caponata can be very oily, but Arthur has reduced the final oil content by soaking the eggplant in salt water, which decreases the amount of oil it absorbs when fried, and by draining the oil from the fried eggplant before adding it to the sauce.

2 1/2 pounds eggplant (I prefer several small ones instead of 1 very large) 3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste 2 outside ribs celery, cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 1 cup) 1 large onion, sliced very thin (about 1 1/2 cups) 3 tablespoons plus 1 cup extra virgin olive oil 1 1/2 cups tomato puree 1/2 cup white wine vinegar 2 tablespoons sugar, or more to taste 2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa (optional) 12 (6 to 7 ounces) large Sicilian green olives, cut off their pits in large pieces 1/2 cup salted capers, rinsed well and soaked in cold water if very salty 3 rounded tablespoons raisins 3 rounded tablespoons of pine nuts or almonds (optional)

Put about 2 quarts of cold water into a very large bowl with about 3 tablespoons of salt.

Wash the eggplants. Cut them into 3/4 to 1-inch cubes. As they are cut, put them into the bowl with the salted water. Let stand for at least 30 minutes, weighted down with a plate so the cubes stay submerged.

Meanwhile, boil the celery in lightly salted water for about 3 minutes, until crisp-tender. Drain well.

In a 12 to 14-inch skillet, over medium-low to medium heat, sauté the onion in 3 tablespoons of olive oil until tender and lightly golden, about 10 minutes.

Add the tomato puree, stir well and simmer 1 minute.

Add the vinegar, sugar, salt, and cocoa. Stir well and simmer another minute.

Add the olives, capers, raisins, and the reserved celery. Stir well again and let heat through 1 more minute. Set aside.

Drain the eggplant cubes.

Heat 1 cup of olive oil in a 9 to 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat. When hot enough to sizzle an eggplant cube immediately (or bubbles gather around the handle end of a wooden spoon), fry the eggplant cubes in several batches. The eggplant can fill the pan, but only in 1 layer. Fry for about 4 minutes, turning the cubes a couple of times. The eggplant should be soft but no more than very slightly browned. Remove with a slotted spoon or skimmer and drain on paper towels. Repeat with the remaining eggplant. There will probably be 4 batches.

After each batch of eggplant has drained a minute or so, transfer it to the pan with the sweet and sour sauce. Stir each addition into the base sauce.

When all the eggplant has been fried and it is all in the sauce, mix well but gingerly so as not to break up the eggplant too much. Heat through gently, just until the mixture starts bubbling at the edges.

Taste for salt and vinegar. You may want to add a little more of each. Or a trace more sugar.

The caponata is best eaten at room temperature the day after it is made, but it is quite good even fresh and still warm. Makes about 2 quarts

The $2 Little Meal

My husband and I have a funny routine when we make dinner.  We're usually so exhausted after work that we don't go shopping, so we challenge each other to make a meal from whatever is in the house.  The result of one very inexpensive "improv" dinner years ago was a bowl of "caramelized onions and pasta."  That recipe wound up in my very first cookbook called Little Meals:  A great new way to eat and cook (Villard), and I affectionately named it the $2 Little Meal.   The cost of the entire dish was no more than 2 bucks and relied exclusively on things you would have in your kitchen: onions, salt, sugar, balsamic vinegar and pasta, and a smattering of thyme and basil leaves (that I had dried from the summer window box.)  Freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, always in my fridge, is actually optional here.  At the time, I made the dish with farfalle (bowties) because, as "house rules" dictated, it was all we had.  But it is quite good with any pasta shape, short or long.  Years later, the recipe morphed into a dish I created for my monthly column in Bon Appetit where roasted peppers and fennel seeds added a bit of complexity and sophistication.  You can find a version of that recipe by "googling" Caramelized Onion and Roasted Pepper Pasta.  But here, and now, I will share the original, humble dish.  A bottle of $2 Buck Chuck wine (now more expensive) would be just the thing to drink! For more ideas on "improv cooking" you might want to look at Arthur's Schwartz's gem of a book called "What To Cook When You Think There's Nothing in the House to Eat! A book that truly lives up to its title. 

The $2 Little Meal (adapted from Little Meals) This can be served as a first course for four or a main course for two.  It is also a nice side dish alongside a simple roast.

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzling 1-1/2 pounds yellow onions, thinly sliced 1/2 teaspoon sugar 2 teaspoons dried basil leaves, crumbled 1 teaspoon dried thyme leaves, crumbled 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar 8 to 12 ounces dried pasta freshly-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Heat oil in a large nonstick skillet.  Add sliced onions and cook over high heat until they begin to brown, about 10 minutes.  If they begin to burn a little, that's okay. Lower heat and add the sugar, basil, thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Cook 10 minutes, stirring often, until onions are uniformly caramel-colored.  Add water and vinegar and cover pan.  Simmer while pasta is cooking.  Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.  Cook pasta until just tender; drain well and shake dry.  Divide pasta among 2 to 4 warm bowls.  Top with cheese, if desired.  Serves 2 to 4