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I chose this recipe, from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking vol. 2, to match with a bottle of 2007 Vintage Tunina, one of the 12 special wines Tom is featuring on his blog this year. It’s the kind of lush, rich dish needed to stand up to this majestic 14-year-old white wine.
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My piece of veal was not exactly a steak, which the recipe calls for. My butcher denied all acquaintance with the concept of a veal steak, and the best I could get was a longish, thickish hunk of boneless veal shoulder. But, at home, Tom contrived to butterfly it and pound it into nearly the requested ¾” thickness.

Of course, once the veal went into a hot pan, to be browned in butter and olive oil, it began to shrink back, hump up, and thicken again. No way to stop it; that’s just the nature of the beast. I resigned myself to whatever shape it wanted to have.

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I salted and peppered the meat; stirred in chopped shallots; sauteed for a few more minutes; poured on white wine and homemade mixed-meat-and-chicken broth; and added two fresh sage leaves. (These last, from my little rooftop herb collection, are by far the biggest sage leaves I’ve ever seen. I have no idea what variety of sage I’m growing. But it tastes just fine.)
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While the veal simmered gently, covered, for an hour, the recipe’s instructions were to wash, quarter, and sauté fresh mushrooms in butter, to be added to the veal for its last 10 minutes. It was my good fortune to have some previously sauteed morel mushrooms in my freezer, perfect for just such occasions. In they went.
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When the veal was tender, it and the morels came out to a warmed platter while I finished the sauce. Removing the sage, I boiled down the cooking liquid almost to a syrup. The shallots had virtually melted into invisibility, leaving behind just their essence.
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I added a good dose of heavy cream, boiled the sauce down again until it thickened lightly, and poured it over the meat and morels. In fact, I was supposed to have swirled in some enrichment butter first, but I just plain forgot. Not a problem, however: the sauce was luxuriant enough without it.
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The veal had cooked perfectly, tender and juicy, and the morels had retained all their woodsy essence. This dish and that white wine, as big and complex as any red, were a marriage made in heaven.

For more about the wine, see Tom’s blog.

A cobbler can be a great fruit pastry for an ease-loving home baker. You do have to make and roll out dough but, unlike making a pie, you don’t have to fit a round of dough into the baking dish, fit another round over the fruit filling, trim and seal the two together, and shape an attractive rim.

The cobbler section of Lee Bailey’s book Country Desserts opens with a two-page spread showing a rustic blackberry cobbler, made with dough merely partially folded over the berry filling, leaving large (artistically placed?) gaps.
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In the recipe headnote, the author declares this to be his favorite kind of cobbler. I’ve made and enjoyed his peach cobbler, so the prospect of an even tastier one was very tempting. And berries are easier to work with than other fruits: no peeling or slicing needed.

There were no fresh blackberries in my Greenmarket yet, so I bought a commercial pack. Happily, it contained three cups of berries, which was exactly right for a half recipe’s worth.

I usually make pastry in my heavy-duty mixer, but this recipe requires a food processor, because it calls for frozen butter and frozen vegetable shortening. That’s certainly a way to keep the dough cool, but I’ve never had trouble using just chilled fats and very cold water.  This should have been my first clue that Bailey’s favorite cobbler might require a bit more effort and complication than other, less special, ones.
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The processor noisily and laboriously turned the frozen fats, flour, and salt into a rough crumble. Then I had to trickle in more ice water than called for, in order to make it gather into a mass. Good thing the fat was frozen: in the process, the machine had thrown a lot of heat.
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The dough, shaped by hand into a ball, had to rest in the refrigerator for 30 minutes. I used the time to clean the dough residue from the processor parts, which was harder than cleaning my stainless steel mixer bowl. Another clue? Hmpf!

When it was time to roll out the dough, I faced a mathematical question. If a whole recipe needs a circle of dough 15 inches in diameter, how big should the circle be for half a recipe? It was obvious that a half-sized circle – 7½ inches – would be too small, so I resorted to my trusty A = π r² formula and rolled the dough to 11 inches.
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Probably unnecessary precision, as I realized later. I could just have eyeballed the job. I think I was already a little spooked. Anyway, I draped the dough over a small pie dish and heaped the berries in the middle, adding sugar and dots of butter.
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Here I diverged from the recipe. For three cups of berries, it would have wanted six tablespoons of sugar – much too much, I thought. I gave it three tablespoons. Then, just before closing over the dough, I chickened out to the extent of one more tablespoon. In the upshot, that was unnecessary: Those berries were plenty sweet already.

Back to following directions, I folded the overhanging dough around the filling (it wasn’t supposed to cover completely), and sprinkled a little more sugar over the crust.
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The cobbler baked at 425° for 45 minutes, to come out lightly browned and bubbling – and with a large puddle of breakthrough juices. Hmpf again!
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Inartistically messy as it looked, my blackberry cobbler was delicious. Perhaps a bit too sweet, but richly berryish and with a firm, tasty crust. Well worth the amount of unexpected effort it took. (Though next time I might try making the crust with unfrozen fats.)
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The half of it that we couldn’t finish for dessert that evening made a sinfully good breakfast the next morning. That none of it lasted longer than that is a testimony to how much we enjoyed it.

 

The herbs I planted on my building’s roof garden, which I mentioned in my last post, are doing well.

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Picking them has been perilous for a few weeks, because of a militant mockingbird that attacked anyone who stepped out onto the roof, which he considered his territory. At last, his babies have fledged and left the nest he was guarding up there, and I can tend my tiny herb garden in peace.

The herb that most needs frequent cutting back is the dill, which has been flowering so fast, it’d soon be setting seed and dying off. To help redirect its attention to new shoots, I snipped some of its feathery-leaved flowering stems to use in two recipes I made for the first time this week.
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Dakhini Saag: Spinach with Dill

This dish from Madhur Jaffrey’s Vegetarian India is a specialty of Hyderabad, a city in southern India. Jaffrey says it’s “a simple but very flavorful spinach dish.” Given the number of ingredients listed in the recipe, I wasn’t sure I’d regard it as simple, but by the same token I could see it was certainly going to have a lot of flavors. It looked like fun.

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To begin, the spinach had to be wilted in boiling water, drained, cooled, and squeezed. Then I called my bespoke knife man into action, and he gallantly rose to the occasion. Clockwise from lower right, here are the spinach, chopped; sliced fresh spring onion; diced heirloom tomato; sliced Spanish onion; chopped dill; chopped garlic; salt, cumin seeds, turmeric, and red chili powder.
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Actually, once those components were prepared, the dish really was quite simple to make. First, I sauteed the cumin seeds, Spanish onion, and garlic for a few minutes over medium heat.
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Next, I lowered the heat, added the spinach, dill, salt, turmeric, and chili powder, and cooked all that for two minutes.
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Last, I stirred in the diced tomato and spring onion.
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Another two minutes’ cooking made the dish ready to eat.

And very good it was.The very first taste was purely moist, tender spinach, but each forkful opened in the mouth to reveal the flavors of the seasonings – mainly dill, but also subtle accents of spring onion, cumin, and chili. (The tiny cubes of tomato, being of necessity hothouse, served mostly for appearance.) A nice middle choice between plain spinach and a composed dish.
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Jennifer’s Dill Bread

Long ago, my friend Jennifer, with whom I’ve shared many recipes back and forth, gave me her hand-written one for dill bread. It had her small variations on a recipe that a family friend had given her even longer ago. I saved it in my big recipe binder, but this folksy American yeast bread made with cottage cheese never quite caught my interest enough to try. Now, with my dill needing to be used, it seemed to be time.

The recipe directions were simple in the extreme – they started with “Soften yeast in water. Combine all except flour.” The “all” was cottage cheese, sugar, salt, baking soda, minced onion, softened butter, an egg, and dill weed.
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Next was to add “enough flour to form a stiff dough.” Here, I had to go astray. The ingredient list said 2¼ to 2½ cups. In my heavy-duty mixer with the dough hook, 2½ cups of flour produced only a thick, heavy batter. I added more flour. And more. And more. (I think there was too much whey in my cottage cheese.) This is apparently supposed to be a no-knead dough, but mine was thoroughly kneaded by the time I achieved a dough thick enough to hold together in a ball.
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It rose nicely in a gently warmed, turned-off oven, though with all that extra flour, it took longer than the expected one hour to double in bulk.
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I punched the dough down, shaped it into a ball, and was then supposed to put it in an 8-inch round casserole to rise again. I don’t have a dish that size, so I substituted a buttered 8-inch pie tin and prayed that the free-standing loaf would support itself as it rose in the turned-off oven. It did.
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A bit over an hour of baking at a more moderate temperature than I usually use for breads (350°) produced a plump brown loaf. The final touch was to brush the crust with butter and sprinkle it with sea salt.

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Sliced, it revealed a soft, light crumb with a wheaty sweetness and a gentle fragrance of dill. (Might have been dillier if I hadn’t had to add so much extra flour.) It was good as a dinner bread, good for sandwiches, and good for morning toast. Although it will never replace my all-time favorite White Bread Plus from Joy of Cooking, this folksy recipe made a versatile and tasty loaf.
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A brief heat wave earlier this month made me think about a picnic. Normally, I can take picnic fixings up onto my building’s roof garden, but this spring a very aggressive mockingbird who has a nest somewhere up there has taken to dive-bombing anyone he regards as encroaching on his territory. His beak is sharp and his aim is good.

Oh, well. A picnic in the dining room can be pleasant too, and there we have air conditioning, comfortable chairs, and a good CD player. And no avian attackers.

One of Tom’s and my favorite dishes for hot-weather fare is a big salade niçoise. But it’s still too early in the season for the fully ripe field-grown tomatoes and freshly dug potatoes that the dish wants, so I looked for other cold-platter combinations.

It so happened that I had many new choices just then. My friend Betty, who was downsizing her book collection, had dropped off a pile of cookbooks for me to look at, in case I might want any of them. A 1986 volume called A Taste of Italy, by Antonio Carluccio, a British restaurateur, had a number of interesting looking recipes, including three new-to-me antipasto items that I made for my picnic platter.

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What you see here are raw-beef meatballs, eggs stuffed with tuna, eggplant rolls, an heirloom tomato (hothouse, but best I could find), and a wedge of sheep-milk ricotta. The green wisps around the edge of the plate are bits of cilantro that I managed to snip from a plant in my rooftop herb collection before the militant mockingbird chased me away.

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Uova Ripiene di Tonno

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Deviled eggs are a time-honored summer treat. I usually mash their yolks with whatever condiments I feel like pulling out of the refrigerator that day – mayonnaise, mustard, ketchup, soy, Worcestershire, Cholula, pimentòn, capers, cornichons? This recipe, more restrained, calls for a lot of canned tuna and only a little mayonnaise, parsley, capers, and black pepper. That way, the balls of filling are the main component of the dish, the whites merely a casing. Especially if made with the rich Italian belly tuna called ventresca, it’s a tasty little dish. (The parsley was also from my roof, snuck out under the baleful eye of that bird.)

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Insalata di Carne Cruda

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While steak tartare is always eaten immediately after its preparation, the raw beef here is minced together with parsley and garlic; dressed with olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and black pepper; and held in the refrigerator for a whole day before being eaten. That made the lemon juice “cook” my beef like seviche, turning its bright red color to grayish pink and somehow flattening all its rich meatiness. The headnote calls this a popular Piedmontese recipe, but the versions of carne cruda that I know are made with veal, not beef; and lemon juice is added only at the last minute. For me, this was a terrible way to treat excellent sirloin.

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Involtini di Melanzane

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These eggplant rolls tasted better than they looked. My eggplant (store-bought; too early for local ones) had excessively well-developed seeds. Sliced thin, the flesh around its seeds had very little substance. Browned in olive oil, drained, and spread with a chopping of parsley, pine nuts, capers, and garlic, the slices were too fragile to roll properly. Folded over and baked for 20 minutes, they darkened too much at the ends and partially burst open at the middle. Annoying! But this treatment has promise. I’ll try it again, with a fresher, less mature eggplant that I’ll cut in somewhat thicker slices.

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All in all, though, that platterful made a nice first-of-the-year indoor picnic. So far, I’d call the score for this cookbook a hit, a miss, and a maybe. I’ve marked a dozen of its other recipes for trying someday, so we’ll see how that score changes over time. Good thing it doesn’t have a recipe for spit-roasted mockingbird!
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Though spring is inexorably yielding to summer, local asparagus is still available at the farmstands of my Greenmarket, and Tom and I are still happily consuming it. There’s often a bouquet of asparagus spears in a glass in my refrigerator, like a vase of flowers in bud – which, of course, is exactly what they are.

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I took some of my latest bunch to use in a pasta dish: Maccheroncini alla Saffi, from Marcella Hazan’s More Classic Italian Cooking. It’s a book I’ve had and enjoyed for decades, but I couldn’t remember ever making this recipe for small macaroni with asparagus, ham, and cream. The combination seemed classic, almost familiar: Surely I’ve eaten something like this before. Well, let’s see how this particular version comes out.

Scaling it down for two servings, I started by boiling half a pound of asparagus spears until just tender.
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When they were done and drained, I cut them into short lengths, cut two ounces of boiled ham into small strips, and measured out half a cup of heavy cream. Those were essentially all that was needed for the sauce, which was to come together while the pasta was cooking. So I set them aside until dinner time approached.

Then I dropped six ounces of penne into boiling salted water, melted a tablespoon of butter in the asparagus’s cooking pan, put in the asparagus pieces just long enough to turn them in the butter, added the ham, stirred in the cream, and cooked for about a minute. When the penne were al dente, I drained them and tossed them in the pan with the sauce, off heat.
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For our individual servings we showered on lots of freshly grated parmigiano and freshly ground black pepper. Between the cheese and the ham, no additional salt was needed.
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It was an attractive dish, and pleasant enough to eat. But mildly disappointing. While the asparagus, the ham, the cheese, the cream, and the pasta were all good tastes in themselves, they didn’t do anything for each other: not in the pan, not in the bowl, and not on the palate. A synthesis of flavors in a dish is important to me; if the whole isn’t greater than the sum of its parts, I can’t fall in love with a recipe.

Late May is high season for local asparagus in New York City. I usually buy a bunch almost every time I visit my Greenmarket. We can be very happy with asparagus simply boiled, served hot or cold, with or without sauce (butter, mayonnaise, mustard, vinaigrette), possibly topped with an egg (fried, poached, hardboiled and sieved). Roasted or sauteed is good too.

This season I’ve added another asparagus preparation: batter-frying. I treated myself to a copy of Eric Ripert’s new cookbook, Vegetable Simple.

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It’s a large-format volume, and the photography is so gorgeous, it’s practically a coffee table book. Every recipe is faced by a full-page color portrait of the featured vegetable.

Ripert says simplicity is key to his goal of showcasing vegetables’ natural flavors and qualities. That’s admirable, but what a Michelin three-star restaurant chef regards as simple isn’t always what we lesser mortals do. Thus, for his asparagus tempura recipe, he:

  • makes the batter with sparkling water and Japanese flour (though he permits all-purpose with the addition of a bit of baking soda);
  • for the frying, adds sesame oil to his preferred rice-bran oil (though again, other vegetable oils are allowed); and
  • serves the dish with a dipping sauce made with soy sauce, mirin, and lime juice.

That’s pretty complex simplicity. My pantry doesn’t run to all those specialties, but I hoped I could achieve a reasonable approximation of the dish. Here’s what it looks like in the book:
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Interesting enough to attempt, at any rate.

With half a pound of my current bunch of asparagus, I immediately diverged from the recipe. Rather than peeling the spears, I just snapped off the tough ends. I sometimes peel really fat asparagus, but these were fairly slender.

I made the batter with (sorry!) all-purpose flour, baking soda, beaten egg, and (at least) ice-cold San Pellegrino sparkling water – leaving it lumpy, as Ripert directs.
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Before embarking on the frying, I made the dipping sauce. That was a big compromise. I had soy sauce, but I’ve never used mirin. This sweet rice wine is sold only in fairly large bottles, and I was going to need only half a tablespoon of it. Online research into substitutes produced the suggestion of sherry, with the addition of some sugar. I did have a bottle of sherry open, so that was what I used. But then I realized that I’d forgotten to buy the necessary lime. Aargh! It was too late to go out for one now, so I settled for lemon juice, also with some sugar.

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I doubt if Ripert would have approved of these makeshifts, but I didn’t know how the sauce was supposed to taste anyway, so it would have to do.

And then, on to the frying – which I did in corn oil (my regular choice when olive oil would be too strong), adding the required two tablespoons of sesame oil. The instructions were to “cook until the asparagus spears have floated to the surface and are no longer bubbling, about 2 minutes. They should be pale in color and very crisp.”

Mine didn’t quite behave that way. They floated immediately, bubbled constantly, and began browning in less than one minute.
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What to do? Preserve the pale crust and possibly undercook the asparagus? Get the asparagus tender and spoil the delicate crust? I needed to decide quickly, so I more or less split the difference. My asparagus spears didn’t come out looking anything like Ripert’s, but they seemed OK.
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And so they were. They were pleasantly al dente, the coating lightly crunchy. The dipping sauce was all right too, though it tasted pretty much like plain soy sauce. We couldn’t pick up any hint of that tiny bit of sesame oil.
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But all in all, it was an interesting experiment, and one that I may well try again. It’s hard to resist fresh local asparagus in its brief season.

 

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This dish of potato gnocchi with a long-cooked sauce of lamb and sweet red peppers – from my book The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen – has two unusual features: the cut of lamb it used and the way the gnocchi were cooked.

Let’s start with the meat. Its source was the trimmings from a frenched rack of lamb. I always ask for them when the butcher prepares a rack for me. Lambs are running very large these days, so the trimmings from this latest rack came to 1-3/4 pounds.
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Separating bits of meat from those gnarly hunks of fat, fell, and connective tissue is a maddeningly long task, which Tom generously undertakes for me. (He modestly suggests not trying it unless you have the patience of a saint and the knife skills of a samurai.) This time it produced 10 ounces of pure meat.
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You don’t need to go through that much effort for the dish, however. Half-inch pieces of any cut of lamb will do. Salted and peppered, they go into a heavy casserole to be browned in olive oil with two cloves of garlic, two bay leaves, and an optional little peperoncino (dried hot red pepper).
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Once my lamb was browned, I poured in ¼ cup of white wine and cooked until it evaporated. Then it was time to remove the peperoncino and stir in four chopped plum tomatoes – I used canned this time, but fresh are fine too – and two Bell peppers – preferably red, for their sweetness – cut into narrow two-inch strips.
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I covered the casserole and let it simmer gently for two hours, stirring occasionally and checking that the juices weren’t drying up. If they are, adding a little water will keep the solids from frying. The tomatoes dissolve into a sauce, and the peppers become meltingly tender.
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So that was the sauce. And here’s the second unusual feature I promised. The gnocchi I used are cooked right in the sauce – no separate boiling.

When I first saw this imported Italian brand in a store, I was extremely skeptical of its instructions. I’ve made potato gnocchi from scratch for years, and I’d never seen a recipe where they didn’t have to be cooked first in water. That would be like dropping raw spaghetti right into their pot of sauce. But I tried a box of them and cooked them as directed, and it worked! These Mama Emma gnocchi are so good and so easy to work with, I’ve become a fan.

All you do is add a little extra water to your finished sauce – in this case, about half a cup for nine ounces of gnocchi – stir in the little nuggets, and cook until they’re tender, less than five minutes.
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They don’t swell very much (must be partially precooked?), but their final texture is just what it should be. In the long-simmered sauce, the flavors of lamb, tomato, and pepper mellow into an intriguing blend, with just a touch of spice from the peperoncino. A very satisfying down-in-the-country-tasting dish.
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Exactly one year ago, Tom and I were booked on a flight to Rome, for a week’s stay. We so miss that city! Even if Italy reopens to Americans this summer, we won’t be joining the first wave of post-pandemic visitors. While waiting, we try our best to reproduce the Roman foods that we love, here in our own kitchen.

Pollo alla romana, chicken braised with sweet red peppers, is a homely, comforting dish served in every trattoria in Rome. It was one of the earliest recipes we recreated for our first cookbook, La Tavola Italiana, and is still one of my favorites.

Trouble is, not even the best variety of red Bell peppers grown in the USA can compare with the huge, gorgeous ones available in Rome’s vegetable markets. Still, even domestic peppers can make this a very good dish. And this week, long before there are any local peppers, I found big, good-looking ones from Mexico (we’ve been grateful for Mexican fruits and vegetables all winter) at my best local vegetable stand. Each weighed about 9 ounces and cost all of 50 cents.
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We can’t get chickens as flavorful as those in Italy either (I think Roman birds must lead more interesting lives than American ones), but I try for the best I can.

Scaling down my own recipe, I began browning two cut up chicken legs in olive oil, along with a sliced garlic clove. This didn’t go well. Whatever I had last cooked in that pan had totally unseasoned it, and the chicken pieces persisted in sticking, tearing the skin and pasting it to the bottom of the pan.
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Chicken stickin’

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The pieces also thought it was fun to spatter their olive oil all over the stove every time I struggled to dislodge them, as you can see in the picture. Oy.

When they had gotten as brown as they were going to (not very), I deglazed the pan with white wine and scraped up all the remnants of the tasty skin, leaving them in to contribute whatever they could to the dish. The wine also persuaded the chicken pieces to release their death grip on the pan, so I could comfortably stir in about a cup’s worth of puree made from canned Italian-style tomatoes, plus salt and pepper.
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The chicken simmered along quietly in the liquid for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, I had been peeling and quartering two of my favorite German butterball potatoes and also cutting up one of the big red peppers. I added them to the pan.
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I should admit that potatoes are totally non-canonical in pollo alla romana, but for an occasional variation on the recipe, they’re awfully good. Potatoes love tomatoes, and vice versa.

Covered, the pan simmered along for half an hour, getting an occasional stir that wafted up an increasingly mouth-watering aroma. I don’t know how it happens, but I’d swear there’s some sort of chemical interaction among chicken, peppers, and tomatoes that makes for an unexpectedly rich and luscious dish. My partially mangled chicken pieces even came out looking not too bad.
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And tasting fine too. So, while pollo alla romana in the USA is not as great as it is in Rome, it is a consolation, until we can get back across the ocean for the real thing. Moreover, this is a chicken dish that even Tom likes!

 

Mushrooms and onions are workhorses of my cooking repertoire: essential support players in many dishes, on many dinner plates, but rarely the stars. When I found a recipe in the American Cooking volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series that gives leading roles to both vegetables, I was happy to try it.

Here are all the ingredients. The mushrooms are cremini, the sliced onions are Spanish, and the condiments are salt, pepper, lemon juice, parsley, butter, and sour cream.

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The cooking was quite easy, and I did most of it well in advance, though the recipe doesn’t say you can. First I sautéed the onions in the butter until they were lightly colored. That took seven minutes.
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Next, I added the mushrooms, mixed them around a bit to get acquainted with the butter and onions, covered the pan tightly, and cooked for another seven minutes.

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At that point I turned off the heat and moved the pan, partially covered, to the back of the stove, where it sat peacefully for a couple of hours.

When it was time to eat, I pulled the pan up to a front burner and stirred in salt, pepper, lemon juice, and sour cream. I brought everything to a simmer, stirring until the sauce was heated through and taking care not to let it boil, lest the sour cream curdle.
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The final step was to sprinkle chopped parsley over the mushrooms in the serving bowl.

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At the dinner table, the mushrooms, onions, and sauce shared the plates with a pan-roasted rib steak and braised bok choy. It all would have been more attractive if the sauce had coated its vegetables evenly!


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I’m sorry to say the dish was disappointing. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it mediocre, but the good-in-themselves components didn’t mesh in a way to enhance each other. The mushrooms were just mushrooms, the onions just onions. The sauce was all right, as long as you like sour cream, but it was just as pleasant on the steak and bok choy as on its own vegetables.

 

Another time I may well make the dish entirely without the sauce. I’d slice the mushrooms rather than leave them whole, double the quantity of onions, and maybe deglaze the pan with a bit of white wine just before serving. I bet it would be very good, done just that simply.

 

A whole (or even half) ham is not something you choose lightly when cooking for a two-person household. But it’s spring, tulips and daffodils are blooming, and life in our city is opening up a little at last, allowing us to gather vaccinated friends around our dinner table: Just the occasion for a festive ham.
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I can’t even remember the last time I cooked a ham, but I knew I didn’t want to smother this one with sweet glazes or sticky tropical fruits. Rather, something more restrained, amenable to whatever excellent wine Tom would bring out for us from his collection. In Julia Child’s The Way to Cook I found the perfect recipe: Braised Whole Ham in Wine and Aromatic Vegetables. It’s quite a big deal, occupying a two-page spread in the book, and though it calls for a 14-pound bone-in whole ham, it turns out to be perfectly adaptable to a half ham.
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In fact, the half ham I ordered from our butcher weighed in at 12 pounds. They’re growing pigs mighty big these days! I had him slice off a thick ham steak, which left me with a hefty 10-pound hunk of meat.
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I set it on a rack in my biggest roasting pan and strewed the pan with sliced carrot, onion, and celery, black peppercorns, allspice berries, sage leaves, and bay leaves. The recipe gave several options for the wine, which was to be poured in next: dry white, French vermouth, or Port. By the rarest of coincidences, I happened to have 3/4 of a bottle of a pleasant dry white Port in the refrigerator. In it went.
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After adding about a pint of good broth, I covered the roasting pan and braised the ham for three hours at 325°, basting with the pan juices every half hour.

When the ham came out, the knife work began. Tom manned the cutting board and painstakingly trimmed off all the bits of rind, fat, and hard, tough, ragged pieces.
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Julia says it’s normal for the ham to look a mess after this step. I’m proud to say my ham was absolutely normal.
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All the above work was going on in the afternoon. Per the recipe, it should have been done much closer to dinner time, to be ready for its final metamorphosis in the oven. But, with all the rest of the meal to manage, a lot of it needing similar late-stage work, I took a risk that the ham would tolerate a lengthy pause at room temperature. (Which it did, thank goodness.)

Meanwhile, I strained the juices from the roasting pan, to be warmed and served in a gravy boat, and turned several slices of my homemade white bread into fresh crumbs. Later, but still before the guests arrived, I transferred the ham to a shallow roasting pan, brushed some of the juices all over the ham, and pressed the bread crumbs onto the entire surface. I must say, I was very dubious that the crumbs would adhere but, by golly, they did. That made the ham look much more civilized.
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As time for the main course finally approached, I drizzled some melted butter over the breadcrumbs and put the pan into a 500° oven, uncovered, for just 15 minutes – enough time to brown the crumbs and warm the ham. (Julia assured me the ham could even be served tepid, if desired.) Then it was ready to slice.
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I’d like to have shown you the ham and its accompaniments on a full dinner plate, but I got so absorbed by the conversation with the guests that I forgot to take any further photos. It was a wonderful ham: not at all heavily smoky, but rich with the essences of the braising ingredients. The light gravy was equally rich, with just a touch of fruitiness from the port.

To complete our pleasure, the ham and the wine Tom had chosen for it – a white 2017 St. Joseph from the Rhône – could have been born for each other. He is a great fan of Rhône whites, and here the earthiness and roundness of the St. Joseph, and the distinctively intense fruit of its southern French grapes, meshed perfectly with the meat sweetness and light smokiness of that ham. As Italian cooks would say, un buon abbinamento.