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Archive for the ‘Vegetable’ Category

Surprisingly, the stands at my Greenmarket last weekend were still offering corn on the cob. I couldn’t resist one final end-of-season batch, though the ears all looked a bit dry and weather-battered. I felt they needed something to liven them up, so I went on a recipe hunt in my cookbooks.

Not much luck at first. Even in American regional cookbooks, the recipes were for rather heavy puddings or fritters, and books of most other countries had none at all. Then I hit gold in an unexpected place. At Home with Madhur Jaffrey, my newest Indian cookbook, has “Corn with Aromatic Seasonings”: a stir-fry, billed as working well with most Indian meals and also Western-style roasted or grilled meats.
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Preparing the ingredients is always the most work in making Indian dishes. Three ears of corn, shucked, made two cups of kernels – just the right amount for half the recipe.

 

Here are all the measured aromatics. Clockwise from the top, a bay leaf, whole mustard seeds, chopped fresh ginger, chopped fresh jalapeño pepper, a piece of cinnamon stick, two whole cloves, and two cardamom pods.
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The actual cooking went like a breeze. I heated olive oil in a frying pan and tossed in the whole spices.
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In a few seconds, when the mustard seeds began to pop, I added the ginger and jalapeño.
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A few quick stirs, and in went the corn.
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After about two minutes, I added half a teaspoon of salt and a tablespoon of heavy cream.
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Then about three more minutes of stirring, until the corn had absorbed all the cream, and the dish was done. I served it alongside simply grilled pork spareribs.
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And very good the corn was. None of the individual spices dominated in it; all blended to make it a lightly piquant, full-flavored dinner vegetable. Jaffrey says the dish can be made with frozen corn too. It went very well alongside the spareribs, and I can see it working equally well with a steak. This dish could be starting a long career with us.

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You couldn’t tell from reading my blog that Tom does a lot of cooking in our house. He does, though. Not big on following recipes, he’s a versatile utility cook. Soups, stews, steaks, chops, pasta, frittata, vegetables – let him look in the refrigerator, freezer, and pantry, and he’ll put together something good for a meal.

One of his big talents is hash. Tom sees hash as the perfect way to use leftovers to make another, different meal. No two of his versions are ever exactly the same, and he never measures ingredients, but all are a simple pleasure to eat. This week I watched with my camera while he made his latest concoction. Here’s what would be going into it:
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In the front, a few formerly fried potatoes, the last chunk of a good smoked ham, raw celery, and remnants of a roasted duck. In the back, two eggs, an apple, red onion, carrot, and raw potatoes. (The apple isn’t chopped yet, to keep it from turning brown.) As you see, he doesn’t feel hash needs to be overly heavy on meat.

The condiments, lined up in readiness, were Mexican hot sauce, Worcestershire sauce, salt and pepper.

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And so, to work. He started by parboiling the raw potatoes and carrots for 10 minutes.

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Drained, they went into a frying pan with the onion and celery, and gently sauteed in olive oil for about 10 to 15 minutes. No browning yet wanted.

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Next, he stirred in the ham, duck, and already fried potatoes, cooking the mixture slightly more briskly for another 10 minutes. Generous salt and pepper, plus splashes of Cholula sauce and Worcestershire went in at this point, and everything was vigorously stirred together.

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Finally came the apple and another vigorous stirring, followed by gentle cooking together for 10 to 20 minutes, until the mixture began browning on the bottom and forming a slight crust. The hash was ready.
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Then it was my turn to step in, to poach eggs to top the hash. You need very fresh eggs for poaching, to keep the whites neatly surrounding the yolks. On this day the eggs I had were pretty old, so as an experiment I put a pair of English muffin rings into the pan of simmering water and eased an egg into each one.
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I can’t say it worked completely well. Even though most of the whites stayed contained within the rings, some escaped and floated around wispily in the water. But it didn’t seem to hurt the eggs any.

So here is a plate of the day’s hash, crowned with its egg. The hash itself was richly flavorful, as always. The apple, which he’d never used in a hash before as far as I remember, gave  a nice little touch of sweetness to the succulence of the meats and vegetables. And the liquid egg yolk made its usual perfect sauce.
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Hail to the chef!

 

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Many years ago, when I started being interested in Indian cooking, basmati rice intimidated me. The first Indian cookbook I bought had a whole page on preparing it for cooking, then 2½ more pages on cooking it. Were they serious? Picking out foreign particles, washing in 9 waters, soaking 30 minutes? Too much work! I simply used American long-grain rice in Indian recipes and was happy enough with it.

Over time, several things converged: I became a more expansive cook, basmati rice packaging became cleaner, and recipe directions became more relaxed. (Now they typically say to rinse basmati in a few waters, or four waters, or until the water runs clear.) Gradually, I’ve come to appreciate the uniqueness of basmati’s long, slender, nutty grains.

My newest Indian cookbook is At Home with Madhur Jaffrey. I bought it after my friend Joan, who does a lot of Indian cooking, sent me an email saying, “I love this book. The recipes are homey, relatively simple, pretty foolproof, and delicious enough to serve to guests. (No standing at the stove brown-frying sliced onions for 30 minutes.)”

I can certainly agree about one of the first recipes I’ve made from the book: a pilaf of basmati rice. A half recipe’s worth was lovely in an everyday supper for two. There were only a few other ingredients: sliced onions, slivered almonds, golden raisins, a piece of cinnamon stick, and chicken stock from a bouillon cube.
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Of course, I did have to prepare the rice properly. My latest batch was perfectly clean, but it had a lot of starch that needed to be rinsed away. My system is to put the rice in a sieve, lower it into a bowl of cold water, stir the rice around gently, lift out the sieve, change the water, and repeat as often as necessary.
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That arrangement takes a few more rinses than pouring the rice directly into a lot of water and swirling it around lengthily, but I find the rice in the sieve easier to retrieve.

While my rice was having its 30-minute soak, still in the sieve in the final bowl of water, I began cooking the other ingredients. Here, the onions and the cinnamon stick are sauteeing over fairly high heat in olive oil – which Jaffrey accepts as a substitute for ghee.
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When the onions began to brown, I added the almonds; browned them, added the raisins and then the drained rice. I meant to take a picture of that stage, but I had to move fast just then and couldn’t get to the camera until the chicken broth went into the pot.
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I added just a little salt, because the chicken stock was pretty salty; brought the pot to a boil; covered it tightly; and cooked it undisturbed on the lowest possible simmer for 25 minutes. It was perfectly ready, and fluffed beautifully.
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That started as one cup of rice, which the recipe indicated would serve two or three people. Since rice triples in volume, I knew it would be too much, and it certainly was: It looked ample for four. But I’d planned to make the pilaf the centerpiece of the meal, along with only small leftovers of a braised chicken dish. So we ate as much as we could of the delicious pilaf, and I froze the rest for future enjoyment.

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Police inspector Salvo Montalbano, hero of Andrea Camilleri’s Sicilian mystery novels, is an impassioned consumer of local foods, eating his way through dishes often fully described in the books. The latest volume gives Montalbano a role reversal: he goes undercover as the cook aboard a mega-yacht cruise that will be hosting an international criminal summit.

Readers, please note: If you haven’t read The Cook of the Halcyon but intend to, you might want to skip this post. I won’t be able to avoid spoilers.

Between the yacht’s crew and the guests, Montalbano will have to make meals for 12 people. To prepare for the role, he gathers recipes from his housekeeper, Adelina, and his restaurateur friend, Enzo. And he manages the cooking well, once on the ship – a fact that devoted Montalbano fans may find hard to credit, as he has never before been known to cook anything whatsoever. But so we are told.

On a critical day in the cruise, Montalbano makes a potato gâteau for the dinner’s first course. (In the book’s original Italian, the word may have been gattò.) He uses a big sack of potatoes, a dozen eggs, two kinds of cheese, ham, olives, and one very special item. The combination sounded interesting, so I thought I’d try to create a tiny version. Here are my ingredients.
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In the front are two ounces of chopped Castelvetrano olives, two ounces of chopped fontina cheese, and two ounces of chopped ham. Behind them are one egg white, one whole egg, and some grated Parmigiano. On the right, one pound of potatoes, mashed.

I beat the whole egg into the potatoes, spread half of them in a small buttered casserole dish, laid on the three chopped ingredients, and topped with grated cheese.

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I covered the filling with the remaining potatoes and spread the extra egg white over the top, as Montalbano did. My only divergence from his procedure was omission of the “very special item.” Verb. sap. sat.
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Montalbano baked his gâteau for half an hour, and his egg white topping became a brown glaze. We aren’t given an oven temperature, so I tried 350°. Not hot enough: after an extra 10 minutes, I raised the heat to 400°, and though my gâteau eventually firmed up well and even puffed a little, the glaze had spread unevenly and hardly colored at all.
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Nevertheless, it was a very tasty dish. On the plate, the potatoes and filling made a nicely varied flavor blend – piqued by the excellent Castelvetrano olives. The gâteau could certainly have stood alone as a first course, though it went very well alongside our sauteed fillets of sea bass.
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The only part of it we didn’t care for was the glaze, which was mostly a dry skin. Next time, instead of the egg whites, I’ll dot butter over the top layer of potatoes. This is a versatile dish that I can imagine pairing with almost any dry-cooked fish, fowl, or flesh. One could easily vary the filling ingredients, too.

P.S.  As readers of the book well know, Montalbano’s own gâteau was a truly memorable dish for the guests and crew of the Halcyon.

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If this summer’s Olympics had had an event for Dumb Cooking Mistakes, I’d have gotten a gold. It was by pure luck that I was able to salvage the very promising Italian vegetable dish on which I had committed the idiocy.

But let me tell it from the beginning.

From the collection of summer vegetables I’d written about here last week, there was one left of the small eggplants, still firm, plump, and shiny.
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I’d saved it to use for a recipe simply called Eggplant with Mozzarella, which I’d noticed for the first time while browsing the vegetable section of this little Neapolitan cookbook – another book I’ve had for years, where I can still discover treasures.

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Basically, you fry eggplant slices, sandwich a slice of mozzarella between each pair, and bake them in the oven with tomato sauce, beaten egg, and grated parmigiano for just 15 minutes. Seemed easy enough. I peeled and sliced my eggplant, salted the slices, and left them in a colander for half an hour to drain off some of their liquid.

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Then I pressed them dry in a cloth, floured them, and browned them well in olive oil.
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Here are half the slices, placed in the baking dish, topped with mozzarella, and awaiting the upper halves of the sandwiches. The sauce ingredients are sitting behind them. All well so far.
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But then I made my ridiculous blooper. This is what the recipe says:

Cospargere le melanzane ripiene con due uova battute con sale e pepe, qualche cucchiaiata di salsa di pomodoro e una spolverata di parmigiano grattugiato.

Now, in a well written English recipe, that might be given as “Beat two eggs with salt, pepper, a few tablespoons of tomato sauce and a sprinkling of grated parmigiano. Pour the mixture over the stuffed eggplant.”

But the phrasing of the Italian is, “Spread over the stuffed eggplant two eggs beaten with salt and pepper, a few tablespoons of tomato sauce and a sprinkling of grated parmigiano.” So what I did was add the three things one after the other. I somehow had the idea that they’d all blend together in the oven.
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Anyone with half a brain would have realized that wouldn’t happen. When I looked in after the dish was in the oven for a little while, everything still sat right where I’d put it and the egg was already firming up on its own. Aarrgh!

I pulled out the dish and quickly tried to scrape the tomato sauce and cheese off the eggplant, mix them into the half-scrambled puddle of egg, and spoon some of it back over the eggplant. Didn’t work all that well, but I put the dish back into the oven to finish its 15 minutes of baking.

It came out pretty sad looking.

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But the gods who take care of culinary idiots were on the job that day, because those little “sandwiches” were fabulous. Yes, you could see that the egg and tomato hadn’t come together properly, but in the mouth their flavors blended brilliantly. It was one of those magical “whole is better than the sum of the parts” creations. And it got even better as it cooled.

Tom had initially raised an eyebrow, but then we both scarfed down every bit. I was so relieved!

 

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What would we do without the summer’s bounty of fresh tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants? Alone and in combinations, these vegetables are fundamental to many of the world’s cuisines, and – IMO – none more simple, savory, and ingenious than Italy’s. I’ve been trying some new recipes for that vegetable trinity from my little Italian regional cookbooks. This one, for eggplant-stuffed peppers, is from Rome.
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The filling for these peppers starts in a very traditional way, with garlic, parsley, and anchovy sauteed in a little olive oil.
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Then you add the eggplant, which, in the typical nonchalance of Italian recipe writers, are said to be cut in pezzetti ­– pieces; no size given. My talented knife man has his own views about cutting vegetables, and he patiently created charming little cubes for me.
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I stirred the eggplant long enough to insaporire – i.e., flavor it with the seasoned oil. (Actually, it absorbed the oil so fast I had to add more to keep the cubes from sticking, but only a little: There’s almost no limit to the amount of oil that eggplant will suck up. That’s why, in one version of the famous Turkish eggplant dish legend, the imam fainted.) Then I added chopped tomatoes, capers, salt, and pepper, and cooked it all gently for 20 minutes.
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Next was to prepare the peppers: I washed and halved them lengthwise, cut out the seeds and interior membrane, sprinkled them with salt, and set them in an oiled baking dish. When the eggplant filling was ready, I filled the pepper cases with it.
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The peppers were to bake in a hot oven for about 25 minutes. Mine were quite thick-walled, and I thought they might take longer than that to soften. So I gave each one a little drizzle of extra olive oil in case of need and baked them at 400°. Indeed, they took about 10 minutes more.
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They came out looking a little wizened, but they certainly smelled good. (Next time I’ll brush the cut pepper edges with oil, too.) Knowing that many baked Italian dishes are better if not served immediately out of the oven, I let them cool just a little while. Then we ate them alongside roast duck and a potato gallette.
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They were excellent. The eggplant, now lusciously soft, had taken in and harmonized all the flavors of its accompaniments, while the peppers retained just enough freshness and crunch for a textural and flavor contrast.

The two stuffed pepper halves we didn’t eat that evening held until the next day, when I gratineed them with a topping of mozzarella. They were even better! The eggplant had become as rich as meat; both it and the peppers loved the melted cheese. The combination was good enough to serve as a primary recipe in its own right: It could make a fine lunch or a first course at dinner.

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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.

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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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