7/17/15

UNDRESSING VEGETABLES : an unfolding book of recipes—summer PEPERONATA

Oh those lusty peppers... the ones C. Columbus, way back when, brought back from the New World. Seems he announced their discovery to Old Europe with words along the lines of: You could call them a food if it weren't for their strange, intense taste.

They were first regarded with much distrust on this side of the pond. But being a most generous vegetable that adapts well to different climates, Indian peppers, as they were first named for their peppery hotness, rapidly invaded the gardens of even the poorest.

In Italy, while the aristocracy was indulging on fatty meat stuffed with truffles and seasoned with generous amounts of cloves, saffron and cinnamon, the simple-the rural-the peasant folk—masters at making a virtue out of necessity—went about inventing a more "democratic" gastronomia, which still today forms a heritage of flavors.

As for peppers, the evidence is large. From Piedmont to Sicily, there's a plethora of—what else to say—sensual dishes created around peppers, from sottaceto up North to skinned alive in the South. In Piedmonte peppers with anchovies; peperonata and the hot-sauce peverade in Lombardia-Veneta; further south along the Tirreno served with salt cod; pan-fried with olives, capers and pine nuts in Naples; and further down the boot in Puglia—such a refined simplicity in its culinary culture!—its famed frigitelli [in France corne de boeufperhaps similarly called in the States those long thin green—and red—peppers] simply fried in olive oil. Not to mention i caponati of Sicily. My, my! And well... pizza with peppers, what's there to say?

All that said... finding a pepper that "carries the Earth—that the Earth carries" ain't so easy. I walk by many a stand, many a mound of peppers at marketplace and natural food store combined, searching for the deformed, the thin-skinned -fleshed -stemmed pepper, the unweighted, the field grown, the supple, the...... Inevitable that the peppers coming from Italy—still—carry all those traits. As do the Corne de boeuf, still mainly small-producer grown inn  France... till they become industry darlings—the death knell of any humble vegetable, of any true earth-filled, dirt-filled satiation.

Alright, enough of my lamenting and fulminating. Onward and forward... here's my favorite pepper dish: peperonata. Simple as can be, sumptuous as you could ever want. Enjoy!

By the way, much of the inspiration for the words above come also from a small book entitled : Si Fa Presto a Dire Cotto by Marino Niola.


7/1/15

UNDRESSING VEGETABLES : an unfolding book of recipes—SUMMER tomato tarte

I love to make "naked" seasonal vegetable tartes, that is nothin' but the vegetable, a bit of olive oil, a pinch of sea salt, a sprinkling of fresh herbs and perhaps a few seeds. Thinly sliced and arranged slightly overlapping, the vegetables simply melt into the pastry dough. Inevitable that I'd set aside butter and make the dough with olive oil as well, adding to the naked earthiness of the dish.

Summer brings with it tomatoes, and I so celebrate their arrival—it's a long traveling of months and seasons without their plump, sweet, juicy presence. When they fill the vine they fill my kitchen. When they vanish from vine they vanish from my kitchen.

Now there are tomatoes and then there are tomatoes: this tarte being naked, it is a robust and ripely sweet red flesh that is called for. I can think of a few that fit the bill in France [Campari, Noire de Crimée] and Italy [Camone, Marinda], and most everywhere truly open-field-grown vine tomato from small producers. Unfortunately even the pettiest looking plump tomato might have zero sweetness... so know thy tomatoes and thy producers!

As for the pastry dough, I like to give it some crunch so I add a bit of cornmeal or polenta and a handful of poppy seeds. In France I have the choice of a variety of wheat flours and use one somewhere between white and whole. France has a tradition—as does Italy—of producing different "types" of flour depending on the amount of bran or mineral content therein—the more bran you take away the whiter it gets. The "types" are numbered from 45 to 150, the numbers relating to the weight in grams of ash left behind after burning the flour—ash is the mineral content. So there's T45, fine fine pastry flour—with around 0,45 gr of ash per 100 gr of flour; T55, all purpose; T65, a bit off-white and used in baguette tradition; T80, half whole wheat "semi-complet—and the flour I most often use; T110, considered as whole wheat, and T150, wholemeal flour and used to make "pain au son" bran bread.

I buy my flour from a very small producer, Rochefort. A family affair that grows their grains organically and stone grind them themselves. There's no way of getting around the fact that an artisan flour will be tastier and void of all those "improving and treatment agents"—not what 'm looking for in my flour—and thus more naked. Right up my alley!

In the States, you could play with making your own "type" blends from varying mixtures of whole wheat and unbleached white pastry flours. One thing to remember is: the more bran in the flour the more liquid it will absorb, so you'll again need to play with your recipe.

For a wheat-less pie dough, scroll down to the bottom.




TOMATO TARTE w/ OLIVE-OIL PASTRY DOUGH - serves 6

pastry dough :
200 gr T80 flour [try something akin to 75 gr whole wheat pastry + 125 gr unbleached pastry]
25 gr cornmeal or polenta [not precooked]
Handful poppy seeds
75 ml extra virgin olive oil
Couple three generous pinches unrefined sea salt

filling :
800 - 900 gr tomatoes
Generous handful sunflower seeds
2 - 3 sprigs fresh thyme, leafed
Extra-virgin olive oil
Unrefined sea salt
Freshly ground white pepper

||| Combine the flour, cornmeal, sea salt and poppy seeds in a large bowl. Make a well in the middle and add the olive oil. With your hands rub the flour and oil together until the mixture turns crumbly. Wet a finger, dip it in and taste for saltiness... add more if desired. Make a new well, add 60 ml of cold water and gently mix with a fork, starting from the edge of the bowl, digging down and lifting up in the center as you turn the bowl, until the flour mixture begins to hold together [add more water, up to the 80 or 90 ml, if needed and gently mix again]—the dough should be slightly clingy. Gather up into a compact ball, place in a glass container or wrap in waxed paper and set aside in a cool place for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Feel free to put it in the refrigerator, just be sure to remove it at least 30 minutes before rolling out.

||| Preheat the oven to 220 ˚C || 425 ˚ F. On a generously floured surface, lightly knead the dough with the heel of your hand for a couple three turns. Shape again into a tight ball, flatten out slightly in the form of a rectangle then roll out to a thickness of 0.3 cm || 1/8th inch. Transfer to a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Cut the edges straight with a pizza cutter then roll and pinch the edges of the dough inward slightly to form ramparts 3 mm || ¼-inch high. Crimp the edges. [For a more rustic look, just fold the extra dough over the top, leaving the edges uneven.]

||| Cut the tomatoes crosswise into ¼-inch slices [if you prefer into bite-sized dice]. Set in a colander over a bowl to drain a bit. [No need to discard the juice that remains in the bowl… drink it.] Arrange the tomato slices, generously overlapping them, on the pastry dough, or spread the dice out evenly and well into the corners. Give a generous drizzle of olive oil over the tomatoes. Toss the sunflower seeds with olive oil to lightly coat then sprinkle on top of the tomatoes. Give a very light sprinkling of sea salt then bake in the oven on the middle rack for 30 - 45 minutes, until the edges of the tarte and tomatoes are beginning to brown and the juice is happily bubbling. For a bit more browned-ness, cook on the middle-high rack for the last 10 minutes. Upon removing from the oven, immediately season generously with sea salt to taste. Let cool for 15 minutes before serving.

||| Serve with a generous twist of freshly ground white pepper. Pour a glass of natural "living" rosé wine and enjoy.


WHEAT-LESS OLIVE OIL PASTRY DOUGH

100 gr buckwheat flour
100 gr brown rice flour
25 gr cornmeal or polenta [not pre-cooked]
75 ml extra virgin olive oil
60 - 100 ml cold water
Generous pinch unrefined sea salt

||| Sift flour with salt into a large bowl. Make a well in the center and add the olive oil. With your hands rub the flour and oil together until the mixture turns crumbly. Add 60 ml of water and stir lightly with a fork, dragging in from the edges and up through the middle and turning the bowl with each stir, until the dough beings to clump together [add more water as needed, the dough should definitely be slightly wet]. Gather up into a tight ball, place in a glass container or wrap in waxed paper and and set in a cool place for 30 minutes to 1 hour. Feel free to put it in the refrigerator, just be sure to remove it at least 30 minutes before rolling out.

||| Place on top of a large sheet of parchment paper and flatten out slightly in the form of a rectangle. Cover with a second sheet of parchment paper and roll out to a thickness of 0.3 cm || 1/8th inch. Along with the bottom parchment paper, transfer to a baking sheet. then roll and pinch the edges of the dough inward slightly to form ramparts 3 mm || ¼-inch high. Nicely crimp the edges. Return to the refrigerator for 20 – 30 minutes before baking.

6/10/15

UNDRESSING VEGETABLES : an unfolding book of recipes—kitchen CREDOS 'n MANNERS con't

Continuing this week with a few more of my kitchen "credos 'n manners." And a risotto recipe below.


THOSE STRAINED BROTH VEGETABLES :

After straining your vegetables from the broth you’ve just simmered up, those same “spent” vegetables can be transferred to a food mill and turned into a purée for a wonderful quick soup. In fact I use the food mill as my colander to strain the broth then the vegetables are already where they need to be. You just have to start turning the handle and making sure the vegetables find their way under the blade. And don’t forget to turn the food mill over once you’ve finished your cranking and scrape off any purée from the bottom of the sieve. Then simply heat up [adding a bit of broth or water to the purée if needed], pour into a bowl, top with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a grind or two of freshly ground pepper, a pinch of sea salt, and perhaps a few shavings of Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Sardo (both found in any well-furnished cheese store) et voila, lunch is served.

And speaking of vegetable broths, all those outer leaves of cabbage, fennel, lettuce, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cauliflower, all those red onion peels, garlic peels, those deep dark leek tops, all those more fibrous kale and collard ribs, arugula, cilantro and parsley stems, asparagus peelings, outer artichoke leaves that get rejected ‘cuz their texture won’t make the grade in your dish can all go into a pot with water to generously cover and simmered gently till soft, 30 to 40 minutes. The resulting “medley” broth can be used to wet other vegetables you’re about to cook or added to the water you’re going to be cooking your pasta, beans, grains, pulses in, or added to your smoothie liquid. You can also simply put it in a jar in the refrigerator and next time your thirsty for some water, drink a glass of it—there are surely nutrients that your body will smile at. The strained vegetables can again be passed through a food mill, added to the broth for a more ”textured” drink, It might not be total nirvana to your mouth, but it just might be to your belly—although you’d be surprised how good the taste can be.

If not in the mood for making the broth right then and there, plop them all into a bag and freeze 'em until you need some flavored water.

SWEET PEA PODS :

It was Toni Vianello, great Venetian chef of l’Osteria—his hole-in-the-wall restaurant in the Marais, unfortunately sold some time ago—who taught me the rich purée that can be coaxed out of sweet pea pods. The dear chef was/is known for his risotto wizardry and it was watching him make a Risi e Bisi [recipe down below] that I learned this lovely bit of kitchen kraft. You shuck the peas then wash and drain the pods. Transfer to a pan or pot ample enough to comfortably hold them and add cold water to just just cover—I always throw in a fresh bay leaf or two. Cover with a lid and bring to a boil. Remove the lid and cook at a very slight simmer for 20 - 25 minutes. Transfer to a food mill placed over a pot or bowl to catch the cooking water, which you can set aside to use elsewhere as you see fit. Place the food mill over the pan you cooked them in and purée the pods. You end up with something akin to pea caviar. Don’t forget to turn the food mill over and scrape the bottom of the sieve—that's where all the beauty is.

FAVA PODS :

No need to throw away the pods of fava beans. They can be sautéed—though they must be very fresh [recipe to come].  You simply cut off the tips of both ends then the seam running the length of one side. Cut in two lengthwise then into 2 - 3 pieces crosswise. Here you can blanch them in boiling water, enough just to cover, for 2 – 3 minutes and drain—I'm not much for blanching myself so I skip this step. Heat a generous drizzle of olive oil in a large skillet. Add a garlic clove or two, coarsely chopped, and sautée for 1 minute. Add the fava pods—I add a smidgen of water to the bottom of the pan, as well, since I don't blanche them—and sautée for 7 to 10 minutes. Sprinkle a bit of flour on top, sifting it through a sieve. Cook for another few minutes. Season with sea salt to taste.

ROASTED PEPPERS, BLANCHED 'n SEEDED TOMATOES :

When I roast peppers in the oven under the broiler, charring their skin so as to easily remove it, I always throw the skins and seeds and juices that remain, once I’ve undressed the peppers, into a food mill and turn them into a concentrated purée, or jus, that can top many a summer vegetable dish.

The same goes for tomatoes when I blanch them in order to remove the skins. [You can also loosen the skins by holding the tomatoes over a gas flame.] Those skins and all the seeds and any white core also get dropped into the food mill, using the finer sieve, and again turned into a bit of extra concentrated purée-jus. Actually quite great when mixed with the pepper jus; makes for a flavorful garnish [coming soon, my summer quinoa cake recipe].

WILTING GREENS :

The bit of water that clings to greens just washed is normally all the water that’s needed to wilt them. Once again, this way you end up with very little if any water left in the skillet and thus all the goodness has remained in the leaves. And if your recipe calls for your greens to then be vigorously squeezed to extract any excess water, the green water that often comes flowing out during the process also ends up as a thirst-quenching shot of a drink. If there's a large quantity such as spinach always surrenders, I add it to a broth for my spinach risotto—recipe coming soon—to pasta water or, if all other ideas fail, I water the plants on my windowsill with it, diluting it greatly with water.­

I don’t cook a lot of vegetables in water or by steaming. I truly prefer to roast the majority of them; some I will sautée. But when I do cook vegetables in water [for example, potatoes, green beans] rather than having them bob up and down in a lot of H2O, I just cover the bottom of the pan with a slight ½-inch or so then keep an eye and add a bit more water as needed until cooked. I do this because I can’t bear having all that goodness end up in large amounts of cooking water poured down the drain; it’s full of nutrients and flavor that have been drawn from the vegetable. When using small amounts of water to do the cooking there’s just a bit remaining in the bottom of the pan—most of the flavor, vitamins, minerals and such have remained in the vegetable. And water as is left over I pour into a little glass and drink down, a bit like a shot of earthy jus.

And here again I'll say that I very rarely blanche vegetables and even more so never ever ever shock them with cold water, supposedly to keep them "neon green"—there goes all the more flavor and goodness down the drain. I simply cook them for a lesser time [more al dente] then spread them out to cool. Salting them immediately out of the cooking pan.

NUT 'n SEED MEALafter milking :

What to do with all that meal when the nut or seed milk is made and the milk bag is full of les restes. It seemed such a shame, the first time I made almond milk, to toss all of that leftover meal, so I emptied it into a bowl, added a bit of this, a bit of that and ended up with these quite rustic and very tasty tea biscuits [recipe coming soon].

Since then I've also dried the meal and whirred it up into a fine flour that can be used as a portion of the regular flour in your pastry dough, cookie dough, cake batter, crêpe batter, sundry bread doughs, and the like—a fifth, a sixth of the flour in weight.

The flour is easy enough to make and should be done forthwith—the meal quickly goes rancid. Just spread it thinly out on a cookie sheet or jelly-roll pan and either set it out in the sun on a hot summer day or in an oven preheated to 100 °C | 225 °F, the oven door slightly ajar. Stir it up from time to time until completely dry, 3 - 4 hours. When cool, grind into a fine flour in a chopper or wide-based blender. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for a couple three weeks. One further thing I do with my nut or seed meal flour, is turn it into a sort of faux Parmesan [recipe soon coming]. When I give a vegan cooking class and pasta, ravioli, gnocchi has been requested for the menu, this is a delightful, homemade substitute for grated Parmesan or Pecorino. Of course it's not quite one or the other, but  does add a bit of earthy joy to those Italian dishes.


And now for my variation of Risi e Bisi :: serves 4 - 6





= best in late spring, early summer

Risi e bisi is a celebrated dish from the Republic of Venice [la Serenissima—back centuries ago] traditionally served to the Doge on April 25, the fête of St Marc, protector of Venice [also the day Venice was founded]. Its texture should be somewhere between a “wavy” risotto and a soup, perhaps more like a minestrone.

 for the broth :
150 gr carrot
150 gr leeks
w/ fine inner green tops
75 gr celery, w/ any young green tops
75 gr [smallish red onion], peeled 'n cut in half
 1 FRESH bay leaf
1 - 2 sprigs fresh thyme
2 - 3 sprigs flat parsley
Unrefined coarse sea salt f

or the risotto:
300 gr Vialone Nano riso [if not available use a Carnaroli riso]
300 gr shelled fresh peas
1 on-the-small-side red onion, finely chopped
1 good handful flat parsley, coarsely chopped
1 FRESH bay leaf
60 gr Parmigiano-Reggiano, freshly grated
50 gr unsalted butter, room temperature 'n cut into small pieces [you can substitue a good olive oil—use 35 - 40 ml]
Zest of 1 lemon for garnish
20 fresh mint leaves for mint oil
Extra-virgin olive oil
Unrefined sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

  ||| To make the mint oil : best to have a mortar and pestle in which to crush the mint leaves along with a slight pinch of salt. Then add a few good drizzles of olive oil and stir with the pestle. Transfer to a small bowl and add a bit more salt if needed. Set aside. {if you have no mortar and pestle, gently but quite finely chop the mint leaves and add cover with olive oil and add a bit of salt].

||| Zest the lemon over a plate. Spread it out evenly and place in a warm spot for a good hour or so to dry.

||| Prepare a light vegetable broth : put the carrots, leeks, celery—whole or cut in half crosswise—red onion, and herbs in a large saucepan. Cover with water by an inch or two and bring to a boil covered. Remove the lid, add a tiny handful of salt and cook uncovered at a slight simmer for 30 - 40 minutes, until the carrots are easily pierced with a knife. Strain over a bowl. Strain again through a fine-sieve strainer, if desired, to remove any floating particles. Rinse out the pot and return the broth to it. Please don not throw away the cooked vegetables, pass them through a food mill. Later in the day or the next turn it into a quick soup. Add a bit of water and warm up in a saucepan. Garnish with a pinch of unrefined sea salt, a couple grinds of the black pepper mill, a drizzle or two of extra-virgin olive oil, and if in your refrigerator, a bit of Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Sardo rendered into shavings and showered over the top.

||| For the risotto : shuck the peas and wash the pods. Put the shucked peas and 1 bay leaf in a small pan—if the peas aren't super fresh and super sweet,—(( add a couple sprinkles of sugar. Add enough water to barely cover the peas. Set aside. Place the pods in a good-sized pan. Cover just just with cold water. Place the lid, bring to a boil. Remove the lid and cook at a very mild simmer for 20 - 25 minutes. Drain through a food mill placed over the pan with the broth. Over another bowl crank the food mill full of the cooked pods and turn them into a sumptuous purée. Set aside in a small saucepan.

||| Heat the broth and keep at a very light simmer while making the risotto.

||| Heat a couple generous drizzles of olive oil in a wide pan over medium heat. Add the red onion and cook until soft and translucent, approx 3 minutes, stirring occasionally and paying attention to not let it burn. Add the rice and stir to coat. Cook for a couple minutes, stirring occasionally and gathering the kernels in from the sides and edges of the pan each time, until the kernels turn bright white inside and transparent around the edges. Add 1 large ladle of simmering broth and cook until almost absorbed, stirring occasionally. Add more broth one ladle at a time, stirring with each addition and allowing it to be mostly absorbed before adding the next ladle. In all the cooking time for the rice will be approx. 18 minutes. The rice should remain well al dente and not dry.

||| 7 - 8 minutes before the rice is cooked, bring the peas, covered, to a boil then lower the heat and cook for 3 - 4 minutes–they should still have a good crunch to them. Pour the peas and cooking water into the risotto. Cook for another minute. While the peas are cooking, gently heat the pea purée [half or more of it depending on how green you want your risotto to be]. Add it to the risotto along with the peas and the chopped parsley.

||| At this point the rice should still be al dente and the risotto quite soupy – if not add a bit more broth. Turn off the heat. Add the Parmigiano-Reggiano and butter—don't stir yet. Cover the pan and let stand for 2 minutes. Remove the lid and rapidly stir, or “mantecare,” with a risotto [that crazy looking wooden spoon with a hole in the middle] to create a creamy consistency. Season with unrefined sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Serve immediately in wide soup bowls. Garnish with a generous teaspoon of mint oil, a sprinkling of lemon zest, and a couple three turns of the pepper grinder.

As for wine : In Italy you might look for a Oltrepò Pavese Cortese from Pavia or a Soave from Veneto. In France, I'd look for a Jurançon Sec from Jurançon. A lovely Pinot gris or Reisling from Alsace. A incisive Sauvignon from la Touraine. All natural, living and wildly naked...of course ,—))

A la prossima settimana!

6/3/15

UNDRESSING VEGETABLES : an unfolding book of recipes—kitchen CREDOS 'n MANNERS


A BIT ABOUT MY KITCHEN
CREDOS 'n MANNERS

There are a few things I’d like to share with you about my way of cooking that I hope will help you use this unfolding book efficiently and enjoyably.

— The recipes herein are meant as guides and not as absolute authority. The sense I mean to convey with these words is that of garnering a sensual knowledge, intuition and personal touch in the kitchen, nourishing curiosity so as to careen a bit off the path [and celebrating what might seem like a failure for the enriching experience it is]. I would also encourage you, when deciding to make any of the recipes in this book, to prepare it once to “get a feel for it,” tweak it to your tastes and expectations a second time, then invite your friends over for an evening around the table.

— Weighing dried goods with your hands or measuring oil in seconds of drizzle is a lovely way to commune with ingredients. I have a friend who lives in Italy’s Piedmont region—famous for its Carnaroli superfino rice, the number one ingredient in the risotto of the region—who showed me how the Torinaise weigh rice for risotto: 2 generous handfuls per person—give or take a little. Taking mental notes of how many grams a handful of walnuts or pumpkin seeds weigh and measuring oil in length of drizzle—give or take a little—is, well, thrilling. Because “give or take a little” really is for me where the love affair with cooking begins! You'll see a lot of pinches and handfuls with adjectives like good, generous, tiny alongside. For you to determine—by sticking your finger in and tasting—the “exact” amount. Yes! Fingers are allowed in my kitchen.

— Obviously where such phenomenon as gelling, thickening, and rising are concerned, more exact measurements are certainly called for.  Yet so many factors can impact on the outcome of even a pie dough: what type of flour, how fresh the flour is and thus the amount of moisture in it, whether the day is humid or dry. In which event you’ll need more or less water to bind it. And what about citrus fruits… depending on the time of year, they will be more or less acidic. The flowers the bees feasted on will define the sweetness and taste of your honey. And ovens… they definitely each have their own “hot” personality!

— All specific measurements in this book are in milliliters and grams. The reason being simply that most measuring cups now show multiple measuring units for liquids, and measuring dry ingredients in grams, with a scale [and being able to zero out in order to weigh a new ingredient in the same bowl] is just so much more accurate, intuitive, easy… enjoyable. [A quite interesting article on why America is one of only three countries, along with Burma and Liberia, still to have not switched to the metric system.] I’m all for everyone having a kitchen scale! Bet you’ll never go back to using cups again.
Here are three scale brands I recommend: Tefal, Salter, Oxo. Make sure the scale takes rechargeable batteries and measures in grams—most will also measure in ounces. They can easily be ordered from your favorite online kitchen store.

— May I ask that you please use only seasonal produce as local, organic and polyculture as possible. Flours as freshly milled as can be found and minus as many "agents" as possible. Dried beans no older than last year’s harvest—check the packaging date, if there is one. Eggs from truly clucking, pecking, scratching hens. Honey from bees that aren’t so tampered with, so sequestered, so robbed of their winter supply. Milk and cream from cows that are at least pastured at length. Try using blond cane sugar, if available. I know it's not as white in color or flavor, but that subtleness of "cane" I find quite pleasant. If it must be refined look for beet sugar or a refined cane sugar that doesn't use bone char as a whitening agent—go figure! In other words, take the time, the energy, and spend the money to place within your body foods that honor the Earth, the creatures with whom we cohabit on it, and thus ourselves.

— You’ll see these abbreviations in my recipes : kg for kilogram [approx 2 lbs] | gr : for grams | ml : for milliliters | tBsp : for tablespoon | tsp : for teaspoon. As well as a lot of pinches and handfuls and drizzles and sprinkles and...


WASTE NOT, WANT NOT

One of the joys of cooking is the challenge I give myself of finding ways to creatively use every—or almost every—part of a vegetable or fruit—citrus—in my cuisine. It’s wonderful to see this same awareness cropping up in more and more kitchens, be they home or professional!

I have to wonder where and when the habit of tossing out so much of a plant’s offerings began then became a habit that for so long was unquestioned… at least in much Western “urban” cuisine. I remember the time a French friend stood aghast as I threw out my cooked broth vegetables [that was some years ago and the beginning of my awakening] and taught me how to turn them into a soup.

Citrus peels—organic ones—rarely find their way into my trash. They’re precious to me: they add brightness, bits of zingy texture, cherished layering and depth, generous color to any vegetable dish, any dessert—enhancing the story our taste buds are given to read. They also make sweet chunks of candied essence for all those delectable Italian sweets. Whether lemon, lime, orange, tangerine, clementine, mandarin, grapefruit… I always reserve the peel before eating or juicing the fruit. Below are the various ways I save and put to use those precious citrus peels and put them to good culinary use.

And greens: beet and turnip greens; cauliflower, broccoli and leaves, carrot, fennel, radish, celery tops, and just about every other supple, leafy, curly, flat, toothed, feathery green top—so often discarded—offer such flavorful, nourishing goodness that can be creatively used to succulent, nutritional ends! The greens I’ve mentioned above are by no means a complete inventory; the list goes on, all the more so if you have a patch of earth to grow some of your own vegetables and fruits in, or a planter box or three or four at your window for all your favorite fresh herbs.

Below is a list of ways I get the most out of the citrus and vegetables I bring home. Obviously, organic is of the essence here.


THOSE PRECIOUS CITRUS PEELS




SIMPLY ZESTING THE PEEL :

Wash and dry the citrus fruit! Snuggle it in the cup of your hand, facing you, as though you were inspecting it—if you turn it “upside down” you won’t be able to see where you’ve already zested and will end up with lots of bitter pith. Place the zester on top of the fruit and begin zesting, drawing the zester toward you (or away from you depending on the direction of the teeth) in long sweeps, once—never twice—over each portion of peel, leaving the pith behind. And you should avoid zesting any blemishes there may be. Run your finger down the gathered zest over a bowl or plate. Feel free to intermittently stop and scrape off the zest, if you’re more comfortable with that.

If you're not planning on directly adding the zest to a batter, filling, dough or other, spread it out on a plate and set it aside to dry; within a couple of hours you’ll have a lovely fluffy powder I like to call citrus salt. Sprinkled as garnish on top of any dish, sweet or savory, is simply a pleasure. If you want it dry right away, place the plate in a spent oven, the door ajar, for a few minutes or in the hot sun. You can keep the dried zest in a glass jar in the fridge for a couple three days.

note : As for my zester of predilection, it would be the 40001 Microplane classic zester—the barebones option with no handle. It almost floats across the citrus peel, gathering up but the essence of the zest, which is precisely what I want. The edges of the zester also conveniently act as a container, keeping the pith from falling off. Now I imagine you might already have your own favorite citrus zester, all the better… and do forgive me my “preaching.”  Regardless of which zester you use, what’s most important is to remove only the very essence of the peel and leave behind all that bitter white pith. Of course, when using citrus peels, the fruit should always be organic!

CITRUS CURLICUES :

Wash and dry the citrus fruit. Using a vegetable peeler, remove the zest lengthwise, from top to bottom, in long strips. With a sharp paring knife, cut off any pith from the underbelly of the zest: starting in the center of each strip, place your knife at a slight angle and “catch” the pith then flatten the blade, pressing firmly on it, and zigzag back and forth toward the end of the strip. Turn and repeat in the other direction. If any pith remains, go over the strip again. Now cut your “pithless” peels lengthwise into extremely thin strips. [You can also simply use a citrus peeler, which will give you a thinner, finer curlicue—but with a bit less crunch.] You can take a look at my video on lemon zest.

It’s best to prepare your curlicues the night before, or the morning of. In which event simply spread them out on a plate and set them aside to curl up; 8 hours should be sufficient. Store in a glass jar until ready to use later in the day. Can be kept in a glass jar in the fridge for up to 3 days, but best used the day of.

If you need them in a hurry, spread the thin strips out on a plate and dry them in an oven preheated to 100 ˚C | 200 ˚F, the door slightly ajar, until the strips begin to curl, approx. 10 minutes. Shake them from time to time and keep a close eye: they should just begin to curl while remaining supple and not taking on any color. Cascade them over salads, gnocchi, pasta… and desserts.

PEEL BEFORE JUICING OR EATING :

If you have no particular need of citrus zest at the time, but are about to squeeze that lemon or peel that orange to eat, don’t throw the peel away! Take a minute to score the fruit from top to bottom with the tip of a sharp paring knife, cutting just through the peel, 4 to 8 cuts around depending on the fruit. Try to avoid cutting into the flesh. Peel each section downward, carefully, to make sure the strip comes off whole. A spoon can help achieve this: just carefully press it downward between the peel and the fruit, following the curve of the fruit from top to bottom. Rolling the fruit a bit beforehand will loosen the peel from the fruit. Place in a glass jar in the refrigerator. They will keep for 3 to 4 days. Then when you need some zest, take a strip or two out of the refrigerator and zest away. Or gather up the peels from 3 or 4 days and give them the candied treatment [instructions down below].

Alternatively you can cut the peel off à vif: cut off the top and bottom of the fruit then with a sharp paring knife trim off the peel and pith, cutting down slightly into the actual fruit from top to bottom [this is the same method used to segment your fruit—particularly grapefruit]. Rather than throwing away the peel, set it aside to dry spread out on a plate, pith side up, in a warm place, best where the sun can stretch its rays across. This will take a few days in the open air—you want to make sure the bit of fruit on the pith side is completely dry. You can also dry them in the oven preheated to 100 ˚C | 200 ˚F, the door slightly ajar, for a few hours. Or try a dehydrator if you have one. Can be kept in an airtight glass container, away from the sun, for up to 3 months.

Added to boiling water for a couple of minutes then strained these dried peels make for a wonderfully refreshing tea. Try adding a few cardamom seeds, fresh rosemary, mint, thyme, a cinnamon stick…

CANDIED CITRUS PEEL :

Now there are surely as many recipes and hints, shoulds and shouldn’ts to candying citrus peel as there are grandmothers and home cooks. Well, you can now add my version to your list.

— Unblemished organic orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit, tangerine scrubbed and patted dry
— Sugar for simple syrup [I use blond cane sugar, a bit less refined than white sugar]
— Sugar for coating : granulated [sometimes powdered, which I grind myself]

1.   Cut off the top and bottom of the fruit. Score the rinds, by gently cutting from top to bottom through the peel with the tip of a sharp paring knife, 4 to 8 cuts around depending on the fruit. Try to avoid cutting into the flesh. Peel each section downward, carefully, to make sure the strip comes off whole. A spoon works wonderfully for this. Just carefully press it downward between the peel and the fruit, following the curve of the fruit from top to bottom. Rolling the fruit a bit beforehand will loosen the peel from the fruit.

2.   Put the peels into a large stainless steel pan. Add cold water to generously cover. Put the lid, ring to a boil then drain. Repeat this twice more. Transfer to a large bowl and rinse the peels with cold water to bring them back to room temperature. Cover again with an ample amount of cold water then cover the bowl with a plate and set aside in a cool place or put in the refrigerator if you prefer. Change the water twice a day for 5 days. On the 5th day, give the peels a final rinse then transfer them to a stainless steel pan. Cover with a generous amount of water, place the lid, bring to a bowl then drain and rinse with cold water.

3.  Spread out on a kitchen towel and gently pat dry. When cool enough scrape or cut off any excess pith—it isn’t necessary to remove all the pith, just that which has become soft and spongy. Cut into ¼- to ½-inch lengthwise strips or bite-sized lozenge-shaped pieces.

4.  Weigh the fruit—in grams—then set aside. Weigh out the same amount in grams of sugar and 1 1/2 times the amount in cold water (water measures the same in grams and milliliters (15 gr = 15 ml of water). Combine the sugar and water in a heavy stainless steel saucepan, ample enough to hold the peels and simple sugar, but not too large. Bring to a boil over medium heat and cook until the sugar is dissolved. Add the zests, lower the heat a bit and cook at a generous gentle simmer until they are tender and turning translucent, anywhere from 15 to 30 minutes... give or take. Stirring is to be avoided, as it can cause the sugar to crystallize.

5.  Place a sheet or two of parchment paper somewhere out of the way. Remove the zests with a slotted spoon, letting the spoon drain before spreading them out on the parchment paper. Separate the peels to give them breathing room, none should be overlapping as they'll stick amorously together. Let them dry for 1 day. Sprinkle generously with granulated sugar. Turn the peels over and sprinkle again with granulated sugar. Let dry for another day then transfer to a glass jar. Sprinkle in a bit more sugar and give the jar a shake to make sure all the peels are well coated. The peels can be stored in an airtight jar, out of the sunlight, for up to 6 months.

notes : If you don’t have the time or patience, once you’ve initially boiled the peels 3 times you can proceed with step 3 of the recipe. It is true that the result will be zests that are both less chewy and slightly more bitter. |||  I do use powdered sugar to coat when making very thin candied lemon rinds, in which event I've cut off all the pith after blanching and soaking, leaving nothing really but the zest of the peel. ||| If you’re making candied tangerine, clementine, mandarin peels, proceed directly to step 3. Being a thinner peel, they cook up better without the 5 days of soaking. ||| I collect my peels as I go, over a period of a few days. When I’m going to eat an orange I score and peel it then put it in a glass jar in the refrigerator until I’ve collected enough [4, 5 or 6 oranges] to make the task worth while. I’ve even collected different peels from citrus I’ve used during that time and candied them together. Giving you a jar of candied peels that offer a bit of a “surprise.”


EAT YOUR VEGETABLE — ALL OF IT

— Beet, turnip, kohlrabi, radish greens among others can all be wilted, sautéed, roasted in and of themselves, added to other leafy greens in any number of recipes: frittata, erbazonne, fogliata, any number of pasta and risotto dishes. The very tender inner “baby” beet and turnip leaves, very fresh and tender radish leaves, carrot tops, inner celery greens, fennel fronds can all be ground into a very fine paste with a mortar and pestle, pressed through a small tight sieve or strainer and mixed with some good extra virgin olive oil for a colorful “sauce” or garnish, or less finely ground up and turned into a pesto generously spread on bruschetta. Recipes to follow over the months.

Come mid-spring, when baby turnips start showing up at my favorite producer stands at the marketplace, I begin my gleaning. Actually the vendors see me coming and dig into their boxes of discarded goods. I greedily hand them my empty bag and they stuff it full. Then come beet greens—oh!!! my favorite—and then and then and then...


A RIB IS A RIB IS A RIB TO BE EATEN 

The variety of Swiss chard, or simply chard, commonly found in Western Europe [in France called blette, bette, côtes de bette or blette depending on the vendor) is always of green leaf with a much more generous rib that is quite prized, and a slightly less “steely” flavor. Very large leafed blette has ribs that can be a good 3-inches wide! Thinly sliced or chopped then sautéed before the leaves are added. The tarte aux blettes is a French favorite, but the recipe that really jazzes me is Venetian and nothing but the ribs—as a way of not wasting those left over from a recipe calling only for the greens. A couple photos and the recipe.


Chard Ribs alla Veneziana




— a good pile of Swiss chard ribs
— 1 garlic clove, cut in half, sprout removed, coarsely chopped or finely sliced
— 1 – 2 sprigs flat parsley, coarsely chopped
— 1 peperoncino [dried hot red pepper]—optional
— handful of walnuts, freshly cracked—not pre-shelled—lightly roasted, very coarsely chopped
— pinch dried lemon zest
— good white wine vinegar
— extra virgin olive oil
— unrefined sea salt and freshly ground pepper

||| Toast the walnuts in an oven preheated to 160 ˚C | 325 ˚F for 10 or so minutes, until they start releasing that beautiful scent. They do burn easily, so keep an eye.

||| Thoroughly wash and dry the Swiss chard ribs. Cut into large bite-sized pieces of any form you wish. Place in a large skillet with just a bit of water, enough to slightly cover the bottom. Place the lid and cook for 5 – 7 minutes—they should remain slightly al dente. Drain off some of the cooking water—no need to discard that tablespoon or two of jus, pour into a glass and sip away. Lovely!

||| Add a couple drizzles of olive oil, the garlic, peperoncino if using, and cook for another minute or two, until all the water is evaporated. Remove the peperoncino. Add enough vinegar to “wet” the ribs then let evaporate over medium-high heat. Add a handful or two of chopped parsley and give a good stir.

||| Transfer to a plate. Season with sea salt to taste and garnish with a a sprinkling of walnuts, a pinch of dried lemon zest and freshly ground lack pepper.

note : If you wish to make a lunch out of your vinegar-sautéed ribs, cook up an egg sunny side over and dry out some black olives in the oven : cut the pitted olives into pieces and set them in an oven preheated to 160 ˚C | 325 ˚F for up to 30 minutes or more, stirring from time to time. When they nicely crisped up, they're done. Sprinkle them over the egg and ribs.

As for beet green stems or ribs, cut quite small and sautéed a bit with some thinly sliced garlic—sprout removed—and a teeny pinch of peperoncino [red pepper flakes] before adding the greens, brings texture to your dish. Once out of the skillet, a drop or two of lemon juice, a sprinkling of dried lemon zest and a good drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil and, well, life is beautiful.


See you next week with more on “waste not want not.”


5/27/15

UNDRESSING VEGETABLES : an unfolding book of recipes—INTRODUCTION



Over the years I have started and stopped, picked up and put down working on a book about my relationship to food, trying to gather and put order to my thoughts and recipes so many times as to be farcical. I have played endlessly with layout software, exploring various page designs, only to find myself disenchanted by the process—probably a ploy on my part to really not get down to business. But I truly have wanted to get down to business compiling thought and recipe and error and discovery in the simple, solitary way I have gone about deepening my relationship to vegetables and the instinctive process involved in cooking them into dishes that tell my palate and taste buds stories.

Perhaps what has been a cog in the wheel has been my "adamant" ways : no glossy pictures, no cups and ounces as measurements, no one looking over my shoulder editing my words… Guess I need my relationship to writing a book of recipes to be as intimate and homespun as the way I teach those same recipes in my cooking classes.

In truth, I mostly shirk at, shrink from the fancy, the sculpted, the trendy, the let-me-entertain-you, the blow-your-mind aspects of what is or has become—to a great extent, it feels to me—the world of food-ing. The swirling onslaught of it all so clouds my thoughts and hampers me—I know, I should just not let in all the clamor. But it seems hard to keep it out; it has so exploded—with such spirit—everywhere. And yes, there is a multitude of wonderful enthusiasm therein.

So what to do? Retreat and quietly write, posting the pages of my book weekly on my blog. I'll follow the seasons in the kitchen and with my pen, and figure it’ll take at least a full season cycle to complete my work. Then I'll finally give it book form.

So here goes! Do hope you'll follow along through the weeks and seasons.



UNDRESSING VEGETABLES : an unfolding book of recipes 


INTRODUCTION : a bit about my journey

It all started back one day in 1962 when my mother came home toting a Challenger juicer. Before I knew it I had a glass of fresh carrot juice, almost neon orange, in my hand. Do I remember the initial sensation as I took the first sip? Suffice it to say my mouth was aflame with a tale of tastes and sensations theretofore unknown, and I rapidly became a fan.

Then followed cashew butter and whole wheat bread—out with the Wonder loaf. Butter took the place of Margarine, Crisco disappeared from our chocolate chip cookie dough. As for our breakfast cereal, Swiss muesli—the raw stuff—became a staple. Although I do remember the first time I put a milky spoonful of it in my mouth. I was home sick and, playing up my woeful state, pleaded my mom to bring me a late morning snack of sugary cereal, you know Frosted Flakes, Sugar Pops and the like. She obliged, arrived at my bedside and handed me a bowl, which I greedily took. Looking down I saw something quite unfamiliar and gave her a querying glance. "Muesli,” she said, assuring me it was quite delicious. I almost spit the first spoonful across the room: a sensation of straw or wood chips suddenly filled my mouth and, mind you, it was completely void of that usual “onslaught” of sweetness. I did grow to love that totally raw cereal, still quite artisan at that time: its texture, the subtle yet lingering flavors.

There were also the huge raw salads my mother started preparing: fresh broccoli, carrots, green beans, green onions, cauliflower, apple, surely sunflower oil—not yet extra-virgin—and lemon juice. We’d all pitch in cutting and tossing and before long there’d be a mountain of earthy goodness to dig into.

Why this sudden change in our diet? My mother had been diagnosed with cancer. Now being a born-again Christian who took the words of the Bible at face value—“by my stripes you are healed”—she had elected to let Jesus heal her, and never returned to her gynecologist, who had wanted to schedule an operation. She saw "no reason to cut out those good organs that have served me so well," as she later told me. She had given birth to 6 rambunctious kids.

Through a dear German friend and fellow Christian she was introduced to a physician, Dr. Pfleuger, who had immigrated to the States from Germany and was treating cancer patients in his Los Angeles home with “diet,” convinced, as we're other doctors and medical researchers from across the seas, such as Catherine Kousmine, of the connection between a healthy diet and the remission of cancer.

Whether it was her faith, her will, the carrot juice and raw salads, a slight misdiagnosis, a spontaneous regression, or a mixture of them all, she is alive today and as feisty as ever, not having stepped foot into a doctor’s office again until well into her eighties.

The upshot of this bit of familial history is that my siblings and I, from an early age, became converts of healthy eating. Indelible the impressions of all those brilliant, complex flavors and the stories they tell that impregnated our taste buds and memory. 

Plucking another memory from those sifting, shifting sands of childhood, churning with its endless discoveries. Up until the age of 7, I was simply ignorant of where the vegetables served to me at mealtime came from, city kid that I was. Or I had just never thought about it. Well one day the question bounced into my mind and came straight out of my mouth. My mother's reply came as quite a shock, leaving me teetering as I tried to grasp the fact that all those carrots, onions, potatoes, broccoli, green beans, sweet peas that I ate were grown in dirt, harvested from it. Wasn't dirt dirty? The idea of fertile soil burgeoning with microscopic bacterial life was nowhere in my mental landscape. I remember wandering out to the lawn and positing myself in front of the large landscaped planter gorging with succulents, cactus and the like that lined the facade of our house. And there I had a talk with the dirt. Perhaps our chat reassured me that all was in order, the natural order of things, or it just suddenly didn't seem like such a radical—even disgusting—bit of reality, as I do recall making piece with the concept. I think I even brought a pinch of dirt up to my mouth and tasted it—the beginning of my understanding of "terroir."

Stride forward a few years to when I was 18 and had just moved into my first apartment, a little studio with windows round like those of a ship's, beautiful wooden paneling from floor to ceiling, like a captain's quarters, an open kitchen and the waves of the Pacific just across the lane and a slight strand of ocean sand called Sunset Beach that snuggled up to Santa Monica.

After moving in I dutifully went to the supermarket for a big shopping then got to stirring up my very first dinner on my own. I remember frying up a choice cut of meat I had chosen to inaugurate this propitious moment.  Sitting down to dig in I put the first bite into my mouth. Ohhh, the sudden swell of blood!

Now I don't recall my mind—or palate—having ever questioned the practice of eating meat at home around the table with my 5 siblings and mother. In fact I was most often the one doing the cooking. Was it family ritual, the scents and flavors of food underpinning it; the already braying commotion of life together and not wanting to rock the boat; the being one of a unit and wanting to do my part to hold it together that had never brought to my senses the slightest questioning of eating meat? I imagine so.

But that night on my own something seemed suddenly awry. I put my fork down and that was for the most part the end of my life as a carnivore. It was also the end of supermarkets on the whole—I thank my mother's influence for that! I began shopping at the small "hippie" health food stores scattered here and there around the beachfront—when organic was still a “suspicious” word—and eating organically and I've never stopped.

Now all this healthy eating was wonderful, but it was also that summer that I decided to "go on a diet” though there was absolutely no need for any such regime. I was one skinny lady, having been blessed with quite a fiery metabolism, and I could—and did—eat large amounts of food without gaining an ounce. My "diet" was actually something more psychological: anorexia would be the term. It consisted of a couple three peaches a day, a program I faithfully followed for a couple weeks, quite proud of my willpower and accomplishment. Preening in front of the mirror, I was more than pleased at what I saw—or imagined I saw.

It was then I went off on a weekend to the Russian River with friends. There was an 8-mm camera among the bunch of us and a short film was shot of our frolicking, which was screened the following week in my apartment. Gathered around the portable screen (or was it a hung white sheet) the lights went out and the film filled our vision. I was having a great laugh with the others at our cavorting until suddenly there I appeared, center screen. I was so taken by aback, stunned, completely aghast at the image of myself: emaciated, almost skeletal. I hadn’t prepared for such a viewing in my mind’s eye and it was a stark wake up call. So stark that any further intent at anorexic behavior was  expelled from my being.

Not that I was over the hump regarding my sense of self—or lack thereof—which surely was at the bottom of my behavior, and thus the relationship to my body and self image, and likewise to food. Emotional wounds run deep. I simply shifted from one eating disorder to another: bulimia. And I found myself increasingly caught up in an impelling cycle of binging and purging that lasted into my early thirties.

I’ll never forget the day I finally triumphed over it. That morning I woke up deeply frustrated, utterly distressed at my inability to control the impulse to stuff my belly, my body, my “self.” It was shopping day, time to stock the fridge for the week. Well this time I was determined not to fall prey to binging, as was the case after each big excursion to the market; once I’d put everything away, I’d start right in gorging.

As I crawled out of bed I made a pact with myself: I resolved this time to control myself, to overcome the intensity of the urge to eat. I got dressed for the day and off I went to Mrs. Gooch’s, my natural food store of predilection, joyously filling my cart with fresh produce, my favorite dairy items, honey, nut butter and the like.
Back home, I attentively emptied my shopping bags, consciously placing each item in its place. But no sooner had I finished than I crumbled, overpowered, as by a powerful tide, by the “need” to gorge. Before I knew it I was licking almond butter from a knife, ripping open a package of crackers, lifting the lid off of the cottage cheese. Then a spring broke: boing! A fury flooded me. My voice flew from my chest in hurling, blood-curdling screams. I began to dance a bestial dance of trance, flinging cottage cheese on wall and carpet, frenetically smearing it on my my body, lathering my hair with it, honey, almond butter, any food substance at hand. Crushed crackers flew through the air, falling like pattering rain to the ground. And I stomped and I howled and I “burned the house down.” I have no idea how long this went on, thirty seconds, a minute, two at most, though it seemed like an eternity. Time had disappeared; I had entered a vortex.

When I came back to my senses, I was purged—yes—and haggard, dizzy, trembling, sobbing. The house looked as though it had been through a cataclysm, as did I dressed in a lather of sticky, oily, greasy foods. It's a wonder no one called the police; it must have sounded like someone was being murdered. Perhaps in a sense that is what went on. But what was murdered—or exorcised—was a force that had held me prisoner for so long.

It took time to weave together a healthy relationship with food, with eating, with nourishing myself. That's where France comes in the picture. In 1980 I took off for the City of Lights, my guitar in stow. Over the months I lived there I “discovered” a culture of food and table that would bit by bit become a precious aid in my learning how to eat, how to savor what was on my plate—not difficult given the amazing fresh produce and artisan products of French cuisine back then—how to sensibly nourish my body and spirit, and take away from the table a sensation of healing satiety. What a blessing!

Finally came a trip to Italy a year or so later. Genoa to be exact. I don't know what it was in the air, in the landscape, in the Genoese attitude and manners, but I couldn't get away from this image of dirt under each person's fingernails, embedded in the lines of their hands. Something so earthy, so robust, so simple inhabited their culture. Perhaps because Italian culture is so connected to its regional and rustic cuisines and thus to the humble earth and its greens and roots, bulbs and fruits...

Invited for dinner to the home of my Italian friend one evening, I stood in the kitchen talking with his mother and watching her make a salad. Mounds of succulent lettuce leaves she dressed by simply drizzling them with olive oil—that excellent Ligurian stuff—gently tossing to coat them before adding a splash of good wine vinegar and a sprinkle of salt. It was simply exquisite! Simply humble. Simply dressed—or was it simply undressed.

Which brings me to the present and my simply wanting to undress vegetables, to give them their noble, humble nakedness. Let them tell their story unadorned. What better way to nourish the body, to nourish a connectedness with the earth, to nourish the spirit.

See you next week!

1/27/15

bay area cooking class, berkeley, march 8 — plus "zuppa di ceci e farro" recipe

Interested in stirring up some scrumptious seasonal vegetable dishes? In Berkeley, CA? On March 8? Would love to have you join in! Flyer below...

Now at my Berkeley class we won't be stirring up this lovely and rustic and simple zuppa di ceci e farro [chickpea 'n farro soup], whose recipe and "stunning" photo you'll find down below. But no reason you can't scramble out into your kitchen and stir it up on your own one of these yet dusky evenings still harboring winter's breath.

And leave it to those clever and resourceful Italian contadine to have thought to marry the humble likes of pulses and grains, beans and pasta—for the sake of necessity—tuning their union into wonderfully nourishing, satiating-to-your-belly, and "story-telling"-on-your-palate dishes.

Of course it all starts with il soffritto [if you prefer, mirepoix in French]: a mixture of finely diced carrots, onion and celery, in its simplest form, gently sautéed for a spat of time. Gentle being the secret here so as to coax from the vegetables their innermost fragrance, all the while persuading them to surrender to translucence and tenderness. Therein lies the fragrant foundation to many an Italian dish. The big no no in Italian kitchens is to let your soffritto start browning... that brings pouts and the end of any sweet fragrance.




zuppa di ceci e farro

ZUPPA di CECI e FARRO ::  serves 4 - 6
variation on una ricetta shared by Maurizio Tuliani [specialist of medieval history]

200 gr | 7 oz dried chickpeas [garbanzo beans]
150 gr | 5.25 oz farro [einkorn—triticum monococcum, if possible, otherwise emmer—triticum dicoccum]
8 - 10 gr | 0.3 oz kombu [edible kelp]
60 gr | 2 oz red onion, finely diced
60 gr | 2 oz carrot, finely diced
60 gr | 2 oz celery with a few tender leaves, finely diced
2 - 3 garlic cloves, cut in half, sprout removed, very coarsely chopped
300 gr sweet green cabbage [pointed cabbage, Loirent cabbage—exquisite, savory cabbage, chou de Pointoise], the ribs removed, the leaves thinly sliced lengthwise
7 tasty black pepper corns, very coarsely ground [best done with a mortar 'n pestle]
1 fresh bay leaf
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 sprig fresh sage
Extra virgin olive oil
Unrefined sea salt
Ground cinnamon

||| Soak the chickpeas over night. Rinse, generously cover with fresh water in a large pan, cover and bring to a boil. Lower the heat, add the  bay leaf and cook covered anywhere from 40 - 90 minutes or more, depending on your chickpeas. Add the kombu approx 20 minutes before the end of the cooking time and, with the lid a bit ajar, continue to cook at a very slight simmer, until the chickpeas are quite soft. Add more water if needed, you'll be in need of that cooking water. Remove the kombu and set aside. Add a few generous pinches of sea salt to  the chickpeas and set aside in their cooking water.

||| Soak the farro, if not pearled, for 8 hours. Rinse, bring to a boil in water to slightly cover and cook for approx 30 minutes—the grains should be al dente. Season with sea salt to taste and set aside in the cooking water. [If your farro is pearled, follow the directions on the package.]

||| Pat the kombu dry and cut into bite-sized pieces.

||| Sauté the onion, carrot and celery [il soffritto], along with the sprigs of rosemary and sage in a generous couple drizzles of olive oil over medium-low heat for 10 - 15 minutes, until the onion is translucent, stirring frequently—so as not to let the onions burn. Add half of the chopped garlic for the last couple of minutes. Discard the rosemary and sage sprigs and transfer to a plate.

||| Drain the chickpeas, returning the cooking water to the pan. Set one third of the chickpeas aside whole. Pass the other two thirds through a food mill and return to the cooking water [or use an immersion blender directly in the cooking water]. Add il soffritto, the whole chick peas, farro, ground pepper and cook at a low simmer for 10 - 15 minutes. Add a ladle or two or three of water or vegetable broth if the mixture seems dry—you're looking for a creamy consistency here. Add a pinch or two more of salt if needed.

||| While the soup is simmering, heat a drizzle of olive oil—in a cast iron skillet if possible. Add the kombu and cook over medium heat until turning crisp, 10 or so minutes. Add the other half of the chopped garlic a couple minutes before the end; it should also crisp up. Season with a pinch of sea salt. At the same time, sauté the cabbage leaves in a generous drizzle or two of olive oil and a couple splashes of cold water over medium-high heat until lightly browning, 7 or so minutes. Immediately season with sea salt.

||| Place a couple ladles of soup in each bowl. Give a very light sprinkle of ground cinnamon. Garnish with the cabbage then the kombu-garlic mixture. Give a generous drizzle or two of olive oil to each bowl of soup and serve.

note : no need to discard the cabbage-leaf ribs, cook 'em up nice and soft in water to cover, pass 'em through a food mill and return to the cooking water. Season with a slight pinch of sea salt and a drop or two of olive oil, and sip it on down—just to keep your motor nicely running.

soffritto