A Slightly Mad Recipe

Nancy Silverton's Pan Cotto

This is another crazy recipe Nancy asked me to test for her. It's a vegetable dish she discovered in a restaurant in Italy, and she plans to include it in her forthcoming cookbook.  Knowing Nancy, who never stops tweaking recipes, it will be considerably changed by then.  But this version, which I made for friends last night, was such a hit that I feel compelled to share it.

Warning: it's a fairly time-consuming and cheffy recipe. And it has some of the strangest recipe instructions I've ever encountered.  It is also unlikely to come out in the smooth pancake (think hash brown potatoes) that she intends - but hash browns rarely turn out in a perfect pancake either. Doesn't really matter; what you will end up with is something crisp, slightly salty, and utterly irresistible.

Note: Nancy says you need a 9-inch non-stick sauté pan to make this. I used a 10-inch pan, and it worked fine. The more non-stick, I'd say, the better.

 

1 pound broccolini (about 2 bunches; or broccoli di ciccio)

2 tablespoons plus ½ teaspoon kosher salt (I cut this in half and it was still fairly salty)

4 arbol chile pods (I didn't have these, and it was fine)

½ to 1 teaspoon red chile flakes (depending on how spicy you like your food)

6 ounces country bread without the crust; crusts cut off; weighed without the crust (It's about half a loaf of Ciabatta or a round white loaf)

¼ cup garlic cloves (10 to 12 medium cloves), thinly sliced.  (I cut this in half.)

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

 

Trim and discard the dry stem ends of the broccolini. Separate the florets and the stems, then slice the stems in half lengthwise and cut them into 2-inch long segments.  (Basically you're cutting the broccolini into fairly small pieces.)

Combine 2 quarts of water in a medium saucepan with a tablespoon of salt and chile pods and bring the water to a boil over high heat. Add the broccolini, return the water to a boil, and cook 3 minutes. Turn off the heat. Fish the broccolini out of the water and transfer it to a large bowl, reserving the cooking water in the pot. (This is important; you're going to need that water.) Discard the chile pods. Toss in the chile flakes. 

Trim the crusts off the bread and cut it into ¼-inch cubes. (This will take longer than you think.) Put the bread cubes into a medium bowl. Add the olive oil, garlic, and salt and toss to coat the bread. 

Pour 1 tablespoon of olive oil into a 9 or 10-inch non-stick sauté pan. Add the bread, along with all the garlic and oil, spreading into an even layer in the pan. Turn the heat to high and cook until you hear the oil begin to sizzle, 3 to 4 minutes. Continue to cook the bread over high heat, swirling the pan often and gently stirring the bread once or twice, so the bread doesn’t stick to the pan,  3 to 4 minutes more. Add the broccolini, mixing it into the bread so that it's evenly dispersed. Reduce the heat to medium, add ¾ cups of the reserved broccolini cooking water and swirl the pan again to prevent the bread from sticking.

Here's the strange part: put the pot (with the cooking water still in it),  directly on top of the broccolini and bread to weigh it down. Cook in this fashion for  4 minutes, until it's all turned into a kind of mushy pancake.  Remove the pot of water and reduce the heat to medium-low. Now take a metal spatula and begin pressing on the pancake, from the center out (the edges will become higher than the center), doing this every few minutes for about  20 minutes, until you hear the oil in the pan begin to sizzle. (What you're doing is cooking the water off.)

Swirl the pan every few minutes to try and prevent the bread from sticking to the pan (although in my experience this is fruitless). After the water has cooked off and the oil is really singing, increase the heat to medium and cook the pancake, swirling the pan and pressing on the pancake, until the pancake is golden brown and crisp, another 5 minutes or so. 

Now turn off the heat, slide the pancake onto a dinner plate, cover it with another one and flip it over so the crisp side is on top. Slice into 6 or 8 wedges, like a pie.

Or just cover the pan with a dinner plate and flip it out of the pan. If it resists, don't worry; even if it's a scraggly mess instead of a serenely perfect pancake, it will be extremely delicious.

I'm sorry I forgot to take a picture, but when I rushed it to the table it smelled so wonderful we had devoured it before I had a chance to get my camera out. 

 

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Things I Love: Drinking Vinegar

Vinegar
People have been fermenting fruit into alcohol since the beginning of civilization. It follows, then, that old alcohol - vinegar - has been a staple of our diet for at least as long. The Mesopotamians made vinegar from dates, the Romans made vinegar from grapes, and from China to Greece, nearly every other kind of fruit has been discovered in vinegar form at the bottom of some ancient barrel. 

So why does it feel fresh to see drinking vinegars being produced in this country? Everything old is new again - again. Long popular in Japan and Korea, and of course important to some niches in shrub and switchel form, drinking vinegars provide a perfect counterpoint to rich meals. Just mix a tablespoon or two with a bit of sparkling water. Or if so inclined, add a jigger of vodka.

 I’m besotted with the shiso offering from Genki-Su, a company that makes Japanese-style coconut vinegar-based drinking vinegars. It’s also worth checking out the Pok Pok  line; theirs was the first drinking vinegar I ever tried, and I've had at least one of their bottles in my cupboard ever since. 

 

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The Cherry Bombe Jubilee

Last year's Jubilee was completely fascinating - one of the best conferences of its type I've ever attended. This year's sounds equally interesting.  
 
It takes place this Sunday.  

The Day’s Schedule 9:30 – 10:30 am: Breakfast and Registration

10:30 am – 12:30 pm: Session 1
Welcome by Kerry Diamond and Claudia Wu
Truly Share a Meal with Lauren Bush Lauren
Being a Leader: Rooted in Authenticity with Karen Kelley
The New Food Revolution: Three Stories with Caroline Randall Williams, Michelle Tam, and Danielle Walker. Moderated by Michele Promaulayko. Introduction by Andie Mitchell.
In Conversation: Ina Garten, with Julia Turshen

12:30 – 1:45 pm: Lunch, presented by Sweetgreen

1:45 – 3:30 pm: Session 2
Change the World, One Bite at a Time with Tanya Holland, Martha Hoover, and Jordyn Lexton. Moderated by Vivian Howard.
Listen to Your Deepest Self with Padma Lakshmi. Introduction by Jordana Rothman.

Meet the Modernists with Dominique Crenn, Elise Kornack, Iliana Regan, and Anjana Shanker. Moderated by Aki Kamozawa. Introduction by Charlotte Druckman.

3:30 – 4:15 pm: Snack Break, curated by Elly Truesdell of Whole Foods Market

4:15 – 5:30 pm: Session 3
Feel Your Way to Success with Erin McKenna
Keynote Conversation: April Bloomfield, with Gail Simmons. Introduction by Mimi Sheraton.

*Lineup is subject to change 

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Say Cheese!

Cheese

Took a fascinating cheese class last night with Matt Rubiner, of Rubiner's Cheese in Great Barrington.

I don't think I've ever eaten so much cheese. And I learned a lot. 

This class was a romp up Route 7 from Monterey, Massachussetts (Rawson Brook Farm), to Highgate, Vermont (Boucher Farm).  Matt says this is now the densest cheese route in America, and who am I to disagree?

The cheeses we ate were delicious; high points, for me, were the sweet, simple Rawson Brook Farm Chevre, which is about as basic as cheese can be.  I also loved the Dorset from Consider Bardwell Farm, the Crawford from Twig Farm and the rather remarkable Orb Weaver Old, from Orb Weaver Farm, which had a sweet, honest earthy quality. But we weren't just tasting cheese. Among the fascinating facts I learned last night:

Everything we thought we knew about cheese changed a few of years ago when a professor at Harvard, Rachel Dutton, sequenced the genome of cheeses. Professor Dutton is doing really interesting things; here's an article about her. 

A professor at the University of Vermont, Paul Kindstedt, is changing what we know about blue-veined cheeses. 

And for anyone who happens to be lactose-intolerant, you can not only eat cheese (most of the lactose in cheese is drained out with the whey), but you might be able to drink the milk of Ayrshire cows, who produce milk so different from that of other cattle that it is naturally homogenized.

I'm sure shops all over America are offering cheese classes.  I can't guarantee they'll be as instructive - or as deliciously entertaining - as Matt's, but it's certainly worth exploring.  When I first started writing about food there were almost no artisanal American cheeses.  I will never forget my first taste of American goatcheese, when Laurie Chenel began making it in the late seventies up in the Napa Valley. But what really thrills me is that, as our cheesemakers become increasingly adept at their craft, our knowledge about the subject keeps growing. It is, to me at least, endlessly fascinating.

Matt

 

 

 

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A Cake with a Pedigree: Fast, Easy, Low Fat

Cake
I was reading through Laurie Colwin's More Home Cooking yesterday, when I came upon this cake. I've been looking for an alternative to Angel Food Cake - which has virtually no fat - and this one seemed possible.  It has no butter and no eggs, and requires only a half cup of oil and a cup of buttermilk. Then I saw the recipe was from the Fannie Farmer Cookbook, Marion Cunningham's revision of the classic, as tweaked by a friend of Laurie's named Karen Edwards.

So this is a chocolate cake that was passed down from Farmer to Cunningham to Colwin to Reichl.  

It's not the most spectacular chocolate cake I've ever baked, but it certainly is the easiest.  It takes all of three minutes to whip up, requires only one bowl, and spends a mere half hour in the oven. If you're in need of a delicious dessert at the last minute, this will make you (and your family), very happy.  

  

Fannie, Marion, Karen, Laurie and Ruth’s Supersimple Chocolate Cake

1 3/4 cups all purpose flour

3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 cup buttermilk

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 teaspoons vanilla

 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Butter and flour a 9-inch round cake tin.

Mix the flour, cocoa, sugar, baking soda and salt in a medium size bowl.

Whisk in the buttermilk, oil and vanilla.

Turn into the cake pan (the batter will be fairly thick), and bake about 30 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean.

Put on a rack and allow to cool for a few minutes before turning out of the pan.  

 

 

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A Pretty Perfect Dinner

Kyle

This is Kyle Knall, the chef at Maysville in New York.  Last night he and BBQ Pitmaster John Markus cooked dinner for a small group at John's upstate house.  It was a wonderful meal in every way, but the biggest surprise was that these meatcentric men, who spent all day grilling and smoking in a wicked wind, included so many fantastic vegetables in the mix.  We ate (and drank) for hours, and yet somehow walked out the door feeling buoyant.

The evening began with this stunningly delicious concoction of razor clams:

Clams

 

And these tender lamb ribs.  Kyle cooked them sous-vide before grilling them, then slathered the meat with a pungent cilantro sauce.  They were irresistible - and just the start, just enough to stave off hunger while we waited for the main events.

Lamb

 

And now the stars of the show. This remarkable quail, which Kyle marinated in sunflower seed hozon, before grilling them and adding a mustard seed accent. 

Quail

 

A rabbit roulade - grilled.  I thought it wouldn't stand up to the heat.  I was wrong.

Rabbit

 

John's amazing slow- smoked beef  rib (look at that smoke ring!):

Ribs

 

Carrots!

Carrots

 

Local grains from Wild Hive, topped with greens, mushrooms and various vegetables.....

Grains

 

and this stunningly simply salad of pea shoots, lemon, salt and a smattering of grated cheese.

Peashoots

 

For dessert, a very simple granita. And then, the perfect ending: the latest offering from Pinhook: a truly fantastic bourbon.

Photo

 

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Reason to Rise

Waffle

Rice Waffles

There is nothing as luxurious as a really great waffle. On this snowy morning the knowledge that a big bowl of waffle batter was slowly puffing itself up in the kitchen propelled me right out of bed.

I'm a longtime fan of Fannie Farmer's classic yeast waffle recipe, which I first encountered in Marion Cunningham's wonderful The Breakfast Book.  But this is a new twist: I used rice flour instead of wheat.  The result: waffles so light they seemed to float off the griddle and hover in the air. Waffles so light they dissolved the instant they hit the tongue. 

Many thanks to Anson Mills, whose 13 colonies rice waffle flour is unlike anything I've used before. Like Sean Brock (with whom they've partnered), Anson Mills has embarked on a quest to bring back the heirloom crops of the antebellum Carolina rice kitchen. They've searched through seed libraries, looking for southern crops that disappeared with the industrialization of American farms, and brought them back.  Take a look through their site; this is is agricultural history at its most intriguing.

This rice flour is specifically intended for waffles, which were extremely popular in the old south, and often served at dinner with fried chicken. Personally, I prefer them in a starring role at breakfast. A perfect start to the day.

Note: Anson Mills cuts this rice flour with pastry flour. If you’re using ordinary rice flour, be sure to use half rice and half wheat flour. 

Rice Waffles

(adapted from Fannie Farmer and Anson Mills) 

1/2 teaspoon instant yeast

1/2 teaspoon plus one tablespoon sugar

1 1/2 cups Anson Mills 13 colony rice flour OR 3/4 cup rice flour plus 3/4 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 tablespoons butter

1 cup whole milk 

1 egg

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

 

Dissolve 1/2 teaspoon instant yeast and 1/2 teaspoon sugar in 1/2 cup warm water (be sure the water is not too hot or it will kill the yeast). Set aside. 

Whisk the flour, salt, and remaining tablespoon of sugar in a large bowl. 

Slowly melt half a stick of butter, allowing it to turn a slight, nut-like brown. Remove from the heat and stir in the milk.  When it's cool enough to stick your finger in, add the yeast mixture.   

Stir the liquids into the flour, mixing well.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave on the counter to rise overnight.

The next morning, stir in an egg and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda. If the batter feels a bit thick, add up to 2 tablespoons more milk. 

Pour batter into a hot waffle iron: how much batter you use will depend on the size of your iron, but in my old fashioned cast iron waffle iron it makes about 7 waffles.

Eat with maple syrup, apple syrup or, in true southern fashion, sorghum.  Or simply eat the waffles piping hot, unadorned, with your fingers.  

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Ridiculous Spinach

Les Epinards du Chanoine Chevrier 

as recounted by Elizabeth David in Mediterranean Food

“...Brillat-Savarin was intrigued by this spinach cooked in butter.  Here is the famous secret. 

On Wednesday (for Sunday): choose your spinach, young leaves, neither too old nor in flower, of a good green with their middle ribs.  In the afternoon clean the spinach, removing the stalks, and wash it carefully. When it is tender, drain it in an enamel or china colander; drain out as much water as possibly by pressing the leaves firmly down in the sieve; then chop them finely.

Now put into the a pan (enamel or glazed earthenware) with some fine fresh butter and put on to a very low fire. For a pound of spinach allow 1/4 pound of butter.  Let them cook gently for 30 minutes, then take them off the fire and let them cool in the same pan. They are not to be served today. 

 

Thursday:  Add another ounce and a half of butter to the spinach and cook again for 10-15 minutes over a very low fire. Again, leave them to get cold.  They are not to be served yet.

Friday:  Exactly the same operation as the previous day. Do not be tempted.

Saturday: Again the same operation.  Beware of temptation; the spinach will be giving out a wonderful aroma. 

Sunday: At last the day for your guests has arrived.  A quarter of an hour before you intend serving dinner, put the spinach again over a low flame, with two good ounces of butter, for 10-12 minutes.  This time take them out of their pan and put them in a warmed vegetable dish and serve them very hot. 

In the course of five daily cookings, your pound of spinach has absorbed 10 1/2 ounces of butter.  Such was the Abbe Chevrier’s secret.   

Elizabeth David adds: “It is advisable to cook at least 2 or 3 pounds if all this performance is to be gone through. The given amount of butter will still impart a good flavor to the spinach.  

I think even Thurber (whose famous New Yorker cartoon was, "I say it's spinach. And I say to hell with it.") might have been impressed.

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Last Night at Blue Hill

Menu

The room has been transformed, the walls obscured by "row cover," the fabric farmers use to protect their crops.  The tables are also new in every sense of the word; they were grown in February with compostable materials and mycelium. The result is cozy and warm, a bit like eating in a cocoon.  

And the menu, it's safe to say, is unlike any you have seen before.  WasteEd, Dan Barber's pop-up in his Blue Hill restaurant is intent on reimagining waste, making something out of what is usually thrown out. He's invited 20 different chefs to join him, creating special dishes on successive nights. Last night Alex Raji made pork skin noodles with ruby shrimp, Iberico-Choicero pepper XO  sauce and potato skin dashi. Tonight's chef is Alex Stupek.

But the bulk of the menu belongs to Dan and his teams, and it is completely fascinating food.  This is what I ate last night.

Bones
Hidden inside that little paper cone are the most delicious warm fried skate wings - the bones you usually leave behind.  They're so crisp they crackle as you bite into them. The tartar sauce is infused with smoked whitefish heads. So much more satisfying than french fries!

 

Salad

This salad is made from damaged storage apples and pears, along with the leavings from a major commercial food processor.  The vegetables are crisp and fresh, with a  hint of pistachio dancing along the edge of the flavors.  That whipped stuff on the side that looks like cream?  It's just the water from cooked chick peas that's been whipped.

 

 

  Salume

Cured pork from a waste-fed pig, served with melba toast made from leftover oatmeal.

 

Sable

This may have been my favorite dish of the evening: it's what's left after the smokehouse cuts the filets off the sable (or black cod), which is usually thrown out. Meat is always sweetest close to the bone, but when you run a knife along this tender, silky, luxurious fish you encounter something remarkable.  It's even better dunked into carrot top marmalade and parsley vinaigrette.

Green

Monkfish have the ugliest heads, which are usually discarded.  The cheeks are called wings, and fried they can give chicken a run for its money.  The hot sauce on the side is made from the almost-forgotten fish pepper, which was once ubiquitous in the crab joints of the Chesapeake. 

Fried

 

You can burn beef tallow, and WasteED does. It gives a lovely light.

Tallow

 You can also pour it into a dish and dip this chewy bread into it. 

Bread

There was more - a "burger" made of the pulp left in a vegetable juicer, a sorbet made of cocoa pod husks, a bread pudding made from whey.  It was all delicious. Cooks have been using scraps for thousands of years, and it's good to be reminded that talented chefs can do remarkable things when they choose to cook low on the hog. In ordinary times, everything we ate last night would have gone into the garbage.  And that's just wrong.

The dishes on the WasteEd menu are $15 each, and you'll want to try everything.  But there's not much time; come April, WastEd vanishes and Blue Hill Returns.  

Sean Brock, of Husk in Nashville and Charleston will be the final guest chef. Should you want to join him,  for free, Tasting Table is running a sweepstakes for dinner for two

And if you're looking for some useful tips to use at home, Gabrielle Hamilton's new cookbook, Prune, has an entire chapter called Garbage. I learned a lot. 

 

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WastED

Have you read Dan Barber’s book The Third Plate

It’s the critical text for this moment in food. I recommend it to everyone. 

In it, Dan argues that if we’re serious about a sustainable food culture, our understanding of “good food” must evolve to include the leftover bits: the stems, the bones, the wheys. Brilliantly, he shows how reconsidering garbage is also critical to advancing cuisine. 

Most food traditions are challenged to make food scraps appetizing in lean times. Think of the ancient - and irresistible - peasant stews of France and China. Think of our own scrapple. But fast food has changed all that; now it's become cheaper than food. And we've become a nation of wasters. 

Dan's latest endeavor aims to change that.  WastED is a food-scraps pop-up featuring a different star chef each night at Blue Hill; I think it's the most exciting culinary event of 2015. And it's happening right now. The chefs' challenge? Make delicious food out of perfectly good “waste” from every stage of the food production process. Not only will diners play judge to masters at the top of their game - Dominque Crenn, Nancy Silverton, Sean Brock - but they'll get an education. And it's affordable: each dish is only fifteen bucks. 

The pop-up runs through the end of this month, so make your plans now. Reservations before 9pm, walk-ins only after. 

An example from last night: “rack of cod” with carrot top marmalade and fish skin-parsley vinaigrette! 

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About this journal
Where am I eating? What's for dinner tonight? And what books have I been reading? For a look at what's going on in my life lately, take a look at this journal, which I try to update on a regular basis.