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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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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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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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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.

 

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Thanksgiving dinner was a two-person affair for Tom and me this year. Sadly, Covid concern kept us away from our traditional holiday meal at the home of friends. To console ourselves, we tried putting together a minimalist celebratory feast.

I acquired a turkey thigh and leg (bought, not grown, Tom hastens to clarify), which together weighed in at a bit over two pounds. Wrinkly creatures, they were.
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I’d only ever roasted whole turkeys before, so I had to do some recipe research for these parts. I found a simple preparation for roasting turkey parts in Julia Child’s The Way to Cook. Per Julia, parts take half the time of a whole bird, which for my two would mean two hours at 325°, for an internal temperature of 165°. Mindful of turkey’s tendency to be dry, I spread softened butter all over the two parts and basted them every 30 minutes with their own juices and hot water.
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Meanwhile, to approximate the traditional Thanksgiving bounty of multiple vegetable dishes, in my hotter oven I roasted a pan of winter vegetables, using ones I had on hand: a white sweet potato, a carrot, some chunks of Spanish onion, the end of a fennel bulb, and a few Brussels sprouts.
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And I made a very small batch of cranberry-orange relish: one cup of cranberries and half of a clementine, rind and all.
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A special treat for our first course was oeufs au cheval. I’ve written here about this appetizer of white bread fried in butter; spread with foie gras, topped with a butter-fried egg; sprinkled with grated parmigiano and paprika, and finished under a broiler. The eggs were unusually uncooperative this day, apparently adapting perfectly to the ambience of 2020, so our plates weren’t as pretty as earlier ones I’d made, but they tasted just as good.
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Then it was time for the turkey. When two hours in the oven were up, the thigh and leg were a crisp rich brown, quite handsome to look at, but they’d also reached 180° on an instant-read thermometer. That was not good. I pulled them out of the oven, gave them a good rest, and hoped for the best.
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I didn’t get it. The meat was dry and chewy, the skin all leathery. Alas, that’s only too common in Thanksgiving turkeys, and a perfect example of why people often dislike the traditional dinner. (The vegetables were somewhat over-roasted too. Maybe my oven is running too hot?)

Well, it was what it was, and we ate what we could of it. A hastily made pan gravy and the cranberry relish helped it a bit.
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The nice 12-year-old Morey-Saint Denis from Drouhin that we drank with it by no means hurt. One wonders how many dry turkeys have, over the years, been lubricated by a good wine.
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What helped the dinner most, actually, was its dessert – again in the great American holiday tradition. Just for the two of us I made the whole pumpkin chiffon pie that I’d intended to bring to our friends’ dinner party. It’s one of Tom’s favorite pies, and it came out exactly as it should: feather-light on the palate, moist, spicy, and only slightly sweet – a lovely ending to a slightly flawed dinner.

Let’s hope it’s an omen for what’s left of this very flawed year.
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Two Sturdy French Soups

Cold weather hasn’t seriously clamped down yet, but there’ve been enough damp, dank, chilly days lately to push my culinary interest toward hearty, rib-sticking foods. Still trying out never-made recipes from my cookbook collection, I’ve recently discovered two excellent soups in the Cooking of Provincial France volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series: Potage Crécy and Potage Purée Soissonaise.

 

Potage Crécy – Purée of Carrot Soup
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I use a lot of carrots in my cooking – mostly as an ancillary ingredient, in the basic mix of chopped vegetables called mirepoix (French), battuto (Italian), or sofrito (Spanish). It was a nice change to have carrots play the star part in this easy recipe. My trusty mini processor made short work of mincing three cups’ worth.
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I then minced ¾ cup of onions by hand, which I softened in butter for 5 minutes in a heavy saucepan.
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Into the pan went the carrots, a quart of Tom’s homemade broth (a deliberate substitution for the recipe’s chicken stock), 2 teaspoons of tomato paste, and 2 tablespoons of raw rice.
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After simmering the soup for just 30 minutes, uncovered, I pureed the entire mixture through a food mill, returned it to the pan, and added salt, pepper, and ½ cup of heavy cream. At dinner time I brought the soup back to a simmer and stirred in a tablespoon of softened butter before serving it.
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It was, as I’ve already said, extremely good. Carrots have so much natural sugar, I’d wondered if the soup would be uncomfortably sweet, but it wasn’t. The flavor suggested a good winter squash. The carrots had totally absorbed the cream, leaving a texture just a little nubbly – quite pleasant on the tongue. This soup will be a good standby in the cold days ahead.

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Potage Purée Soissonaise – White Bean Soup
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I liked this recipe at first glance, because it calls for marrow beans. Large, plump, and richly flavorful, marrows are my all-time favorite white bean. This soup was a more elaborate production than the previous one, so I started early in the day, making half a recipe’s worth. Using bouillon cubes, I made up 1½ quarts of chicken stock, dropped in 1½ cups of beans, and gave them a 2-minute boil.
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Then the pot sat off heat for an hour, letting the beans soak, while I chopped half a carrot, half an onion, and a big leek in my large food processor. At that point I had to take exception to the recipe. It wanted the vegetables softened for 5 minutes in 1 tablespoon of butter in a 6- to 8-inch skillet. That would have been ridiculous: My half quantity generously filled a 10-inch pan and still took more than 5 minutes, beside needing more than half a tablespoon of butter.
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I went on to prepare the remaining ingredients. The recipe called for a chunk of lean salt pork, which is just about unobtainable these days. (It’s a mystery how some things, like salt pork and Bibb lettuce, just disappear from the marketplace.) At my butcher’s suggestion, I’d gone out and bought the fattiest bacon I could find, 2 ounces of which I blanched in boiling water for 10 minutes. I also made up a bouquet garni of bay leaf, parsley, and celery leaves.
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Next, I had to drain the beans, measure the liquid, and add more if needed to make it up to a quart. It took just a little. Back went the liquid into the soup pot, along with the beans, the bacon, the vegetables, and the bouquet garni.
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Now came the annoying part. I had to leave the pot uncovered and simmer the soup for two hours, or until the beans were tender. That meant almost constant attention to keep the soup from, alternatively, boiling too hard and doing nothing at all. After the first hour, almost all the liquid was gone. I had to add several doses of boiling water from a kettle, and keep the simmer going for almost an extra half hour, before the beans were ready.

Finally, it was time to drain all the solid ingredients, discard the bacon and bouquet garni, and purée the rest through a food mill. It was very dense, requiring long, hard, hand labor.
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When I returned the puree to the pot I was to add “enough of the liquid to make the soup as thick as heavy cream.” As you can see in the picture, there wasn’t very much liquid left. My puree absorbed it all, almost without noticing it.

The recipe did say I could add more stock if the soup remained too thick. That increased my annoyance with the pointless precision of measuring and adjusting the liquid to begin with and expecting it to last through two hours of uncovered cooking. I didn’t have any more stock. So I thinned it out a bit more with hot water, bringing it to a sort of porridgy density, swirled in a tablespoon of butter, and served it.

After all that, I’m glad to be able to say the soup was fabulous. All its flavors came together in a subtle, creamy, almost meaty whole – hard to describe but deeply satisfying.

I’ll definitely make this soup again, but with some adjustments. Let the beans soak for two hours, not one, at the start. Use at least half again as much liquid. Use homemade stock (the bouillon cubes were heavy on salt). Partially cover the pan for the entire two-hour simmer. Let my big food processor, not the manual food mill, purée the solids. I don’t think any of that could hurt the soup, and it will certainly ease the job of the soup maker.

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Here’s a great thing: an uncomplicated dish that’s made from everyday ingredients, that sounds kind of boring, that looks very plain, but that tastes like heaven itself.

Do I exaggerate? Maybe, but that’s the way this specialty of Italy’s Puglia region struck me when I made it for the first time. The recipe I used isn’t even from an Italian cookbook, but from Kitchen Conversations, by venerable California restaurateur/chef Joyce Goldstein. She’s famous for idiosyncratic takes on many Mediterranean dishes, but in this case her delicious Pitta di Patate appears to be a very traditional version.

It starts with boiled or baked potatoes, mashed and beaten with egg, flour, grated parmigiano, salt and pepper. Plus a little milk if necessary to give it a texture like a soft dough. I was making a mere ⅓ of the recipe, so I baked two small russets and mashed them with everything else in my heavy-duty mixer.
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With the potatoes set aside, next was to make the filling. I started by sauteeing a sliced onion in a pan with olive oil for 10 minutes. I added a large diced tomato, cooked it another ten minutes, and stirred in two teaspoons of capers and two tablespoons of chopped black olives. That all got set aside too.
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As the vegetables had cooked, I’d cut two slices of good white bread into cubes and pulsed them in the mini-food processor to produce fresh breadcrumbs, to be drizzled with olive oil and baked in the oven to brown.

 

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Then the pie was ready to be assembled. I strewed some of the crumbs on the bottom of a baking dish and covered them with half the mashed potatoes. Onto that I spread the tomato-onion filling. Then the rest of the potatoes and another generous sprinkling of crumbs.
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The dish went into a 400° oven and was ready in 30 minutes.
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In its dish, the pitta looked merely like mashed potatoes, and we expected it to taste like that too, when I cut out squares of it to accompany grilled sausages on our dinner plates. But oh, that onion, tomato, caper, and olive center layer! For me it was like magic: the flavors all melted together in a symphony of deliciousness.
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Now, I can’t guarantee that if you try the dish – from either Goldstein’s recipe or one of the many versions available online – you’ll feel the same way about it. Tom liked the pitta very well, but he didn’t go into the ecstasies I did. Nor did he join me when I ate all the leftovers for lunch the next day. They were still blissfully good – that’s all I can say.

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Stuffed summer vegetables are quintessential warm-weather food. Eggplants, peppers, tomatoes, and zucchini make fine receptacles for all manner of appetizing fillings – as well as, in many cases, delicious filling ingredients themselves. Stuffed vegetables do require having the oven on, alas, but that’s a trade-off I can accept: I’ll bear the heat to get the treat.
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Above are my two latest stuffed vegetable discoveries, one for eggplants and one for Bell peppers. The recipes, both from Le Ricette della mia Cucina Romana, call for quite simple, meatless fillings. Here are the ingredients:
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(Please ignore that onion. There’s no onion in these recipes. I must have been thinking of something else when I assembled the veg.)

For making the cases, the peppers are just halved and seeded. The eggplants take a little additional preparation: the flesh is carved out and set aside, the shells are salted and left to give up some of their moisture.
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The stuffing for the peppers is a mixture of tuna, dry breadcrumbs, chopped olives, salt, pepper, and olive oil. For the eggplants, their pulp is first chopped and sautéed briefly in olive oil, then mixed with diced fontina, salt, and pepper.
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The fontina was one thing that sparked my interest in this recipe. In my experience, this cheese from the Alps in Italy’s Val’Aosta is extremely unusual in Roman cooking. Mozzarella or caciocavallo is what one would expect. And that wasn’t the only oddity in the recipe. The ingredient list includes pomodori maturi – ripe tomatoes – but the cooking directions say not a word about tomatoes. What was I to do with them? Well, in another Roman cookbook I found a stuffed eggplant recipe in which tomatoes are turned into a sauce and spooned onto the stuffing. I had some fresh tomato sauce in the refrigerator, so I used that.
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The baking dish went into a 400° oven until the vegetable cases were tender, which took about 40 minutes. The eggplants were actually done sooner, but it didn’t harm them to stay in there long enough for the peppers to soften.

Here they are again, cooked. Note that there isn’t a lot of stuffing. In the past whenever I’ve baked vegetables like these, I’ve packed in the stuffing and heaped it high. I was a little dubious about the modest amounts here, but they worked very well, though we felt that a little more good ventresca tuna would have been welcome in the peppers.
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When the filling dominates, the effect is that the base vegetable is merely an edible container. Here, pepper and eggplant were the main components, with each one’s stuffing being mostly a flavorful condiment. They were quite rich and filling, too. We had them hot, as a main dinner course, and found they got even better as they cooled. That being the case, they could very well be cooked in the cool of the morning and served later in the day. They’d also make good lunches and dinner antipasti.

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A Simple Potato Tortino

Everybody knows Murphy’s Law: “Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.” Then there’s Murphy’s Second Law: “All the things that do go wrong will go wrong at the same time.” Lately, my rangetop burners began seriously leaking gas. Soon after, my refrigerator stopped delivering cold air. At 25 years old, both appliances were unrepairable. So, despite sheltering in place, maintaining social distance, and restrictions on major deliveries and service work in our co-op building, we had to get them replaced.

The rangetop was the toughest, requiring anxious emergency coordination among the co-op, the seller, the delivery service, the installers, and a master plumber (now required in NYC) to oversee the gas connection. As that was working out, we turned the failing refrigerator into an old-fashioned icebox by putting in big bags of ice every few days.

When the rangetop finally arrived, it fit perfectly into the space occupied by our old one. That had been one of our biggest worries. Whew! And it’s a beauty.

 

But much more sophisticated than our old one. With an infrared griddle, double rows of flame on all six burners, extremely sensitive controls, and very short distances between Barely On and Ready to Incinerate, it’ll take us a while to figure out how to use it properly. It’s like learning-to-cook lessons all over again.

Slightly daunted but still game, I found a very simple new recipe to try on the rangetop: a tortino of potatoes, from Le Ricette della mia Cucina Romana, a volume in the del Riccio series of Italian regional cookbooks.

I’ll just take you quickly through what I did.

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Boil a big russet potato in its jacket.

 

 

 

 

 

Dice two ounces of guanciale and brown it in a little olive oil.

 

 

 

 

 

Peel and mash the potato, but not to the point of a puree. Leave it fluffy.

 

 

 

 

 

Mix the potato into the guanciale and its melted fat, along with salt and pepper.

 

 

 

 

Gently shape the mixture into a round, flattish cake.

 

 

 

 

 

Cook the cake until brown and crisp on both sides.

 

 

 

 

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Simple as it was, the tortino turned out to have quite a personality. It practically stole the show from the rare beef and green peas on our dinner plates.
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I can see making this tortino with other kinds of cured meats too – pancetta, sopressata, capocollo, finocchiona, maybe even American bacon. Each would provide a slightly different character to a simple, tasty dish.

In my next post, I’ll tell you how we made out with replacing the refrigerator.

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