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Today marks my completion of a decade of writing this blog. The culinary adventures (both successful and not so) about which I’ve told stories each week have given me great pleasure. To celebrate my tenth anniversary, this post will be a retrospective of some of the dishes I’ve most enjoyed making, eating, and writing about – one for each year.

You’ll notice a strong Western European emphasis in the choices here. That’s a reflection of Tom’s and my general eating preferences, but I’ve actually written about dishes from 24 countries in the Americas, Europe, and Asia. I could have featured many of those others among these favorites.

Clicking on an image below will open the full post about the dish.
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2010

Prosciutto-wrapped Broiled Shrimp

My first blogging year was devoted to one new recipe a week from one of the 200+ cookbooks in my collection. This one, from Ada Boni’s classic Il Talismano della Felicità, makes as good an appetizer as it did a main course.

 

2011

Plum Cake Cockaigne

From my second year, I began including posts about recipes I’d previously known and loved. This one, from Irma Rombauer’s Joy of Cooking, has been a late-summer favorite in our household for more years than I can remember.

 

2012

Traditional Paella Valenciana

I found recipes for this relatively simple paella in two cookbooks: Penelope Casas’ Food and Wines of Spain, and Teresa Barrenechea’s Cuisines of Spain. Both looked good, so I drew steps from both recipes.

 

2013

Bluefish Gravlax

 

Here, I adapted a salmon gravlax recipe from the Cooking of Scandinavia volume of the Time-Life Foods of the World series for local bluefish. I also made the book’s cucumber relish and mustard-dill sauce.

 

2014

Tripe in Golden Fontina Sauce

This is my own version of trippa alla valdostana, from Tom’s and my book The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen. It makes a remarkably rich, mellow, elegant dish – if I do say so myself.

 

2015

Pheasant Pie with Noodles and Mushrooms

Under this pastry crust is faisan à la vosgienne, made from an Alsace recipe in Anne Willan’s French Regional Cooking. Pheasant, noodles, mushrooms, sauce, and pastry were all lavishly endowed with butter.

 

2016

Chickpea and Cuttlefish Stew

Penelope Casas’s book La Cocina di Mama: The Great Home Cooking of Spain provided the recipe for this Andalucian dish intriguingly spiced with hot red pepper, sweet smoked paprika, and garlic.

 

2017

Poulet Marengo

Anyone familiar with my food preferences will know I couldn’t let this retrospective go by without including at least one chicken dish. This is a classic from Robert Courtine’s The Hundred Glories of French Cooking.

 

2018

Veselka’s Borscht

The Ukrainian restaurant Veselka, in NYC’s East Village neighborhood, serves the best borscht I’ve ever tasted or can imagine tasting. Making a batch of it from the place’s own cookbook was a major accomplishment for me.

 

2019

Apple-Stuffed Pork Roast

Apples, bacon, butter, mushrooms, onions, sage, a pinch of sugar, and a touch of wine vinegar made a delightful stuffing for roasted pork. It’s a recipe I clipped from Saveur magazine and pasted in my big recipe binder.

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So:  10 years, 512 posts, recipes from 120 cookbooks, as well as a few from magazines, newspapers, and the internet. I’ve learned a lot about food and cooking from all this. Now I plan to take the month of January off, to think about how I’d like to position my blog for the coming years.

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This week I tried twice to reproduce a dish called Potatoes Fused with Cheese and Mushrooms that I’d enjoyed at the Bebedouro tapas bar in Lisbon last month. Both times I achieved what I’ll call successful failures. That is, though neither attempt came anywhere near its target, both results were extremely tasty and quite versatile. I can see either of them gaining a regular place in my repertory.

Here is the dish at the restaurant.
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From its flavors and texture, I thought the potatoes and mushrooms might have been roasted separately before being “fused” together in an oven to melt the cheese, so that’s what I’d do. I found a recipe online that seemed to have useful pointers for my initial foray.

The main challenge was the mushrooms. Black trumpets are the only kind I know that are so thoroughly dark, but the ones occasionally available here are always very small. And, this week, the ones at Eataly (best place locally for wild mushrooms) didn’t look very fresh. I’d have to forgo a color match and try another variety. I chose hedgehogs.
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The potatoes were no problem. A stand at my greenmarket carries German butterballs – a small, dense, waxy heirloom variety that holds its shape well in cooking.

In the afternoon I cut both vegetables in large pieces; tossed them separately with salt, pepper, and the luscious olive oil I’d brought back from my Portugal trip; and put the two pans in a 400° oven.

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The mushrooms took about 15 minutes to get tender; the potatoes about 45. When they were done and cooled, I combined them in two individual gratin dishes, along with more olive oil, and left them covered on the kitchen counter. In the evening I topped the dishes with grated Gruyere before reheating them under the broiler.
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Unfortunately, the cheese didn’t melt very well. And clearly, my dish bore no resemblance whatsoever to the Bebedouro one. But it made a delicious combination of flavors: richly meaty, even though totally vegetable. An excellent first course for our dinner.
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Nothing daunted (or at least not too badly daunted), I determined to try again. Roasting had left the vegetables fairly dry and crisp: nothing wrong with that, but not what I’d been aiming for. Next time, for the initial cooking I would boil the potatoes in their jackets and sauté the mushrooms. Also, I would try a different mushroom – oysters, this time. (Black trumpets still weren’t good.)
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So I did. For the final heating I dressed the veg with enough of that good Portuguese olive oil to make a noticeable puddle in the gratin dish. Instead of grating the cheese for the topping, I took thin shavings with a vegetable peeler. And instead of finishing the dish under the broiler, I baked it at 350° for almost 30 minutes.
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This second version didn’t come out looking anything like Bebedouro’s either. But, like my first, it was very, very good. A softer, moister version than the other, it made a fine dinner companion to a small broiled steak.

I don’t think I’ll venture a third try. Some travel-encountered dishes are best left to fond recollection – she said reluctantly.

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Tom and I are just back from a week’s cruise on Portugal’s Douro river. We traveled upriver from Porto, on the Atlantic coast, about halfway to the Spanish border and back. The scenery was picturesque: vineyards, forests, vineyards, olive groves, vineyards, villages, and yet more vineyards. Above all, the Douro valley is Port wine country, but it also makes an abundance of red and white table wines.

Our ship, the Infante Don Henrique, carried 86 passengers from 8 countries, of which only we were from the USA. This was our third river cruise with the Croisieurope line. (See the others here and here.) It serves only one menu for each meal: three or four courses, at both lunch and dinner. Happily, this cruise included many Portuguese specialties, peppered among the line’s good standard hotel-style fare.

The wines – both simple ones poured generously for free and an array of better bottles to buy at modest prices – were almost all Portuguese. Accordingly, we ate and drank very interestingly (not to say excessively) throughout the trip. Here are some of the dishes we particularly liked..

Appetizers

The Portuguese influence on the ship’s cuisine was most prominent among the first courses. Here were cured ham from the prized Iberico black pig; sweet, tender melon from the Azores; a flavorful ricotta-like cheese on toasted whole-grain bread; a locally traditional meat-filled puff pastry tart; three kinds of luscious spicy sausages – chouriço, linguiça, and morcela; and a taste of the nation’s excellent olive-oil preserved sardines.
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Presunto ham and Portuguese melon

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Requeijao cheese tartine

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Pastel de Chaves

 

Grilled sausages, sardine toast

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Main Courses

For the principal lunch and dinner dishes, our chef turned mostly to international hotel-style preparations: everything meticulously designed on the plates and perfectly good, if not very exciting. There was one exception to that pattern, which I’m saving for last..
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Filet of sole with spiny lobster

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Chicken breast stuffed with linguiça

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Braised lamb

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Duck leg with fig and port wine sauce

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The Pièce de Résistance: Bacalhau com Nata
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This big dish of salt cod with cream sauce was presented to our five-person dinner table. My heart sank when I saw it. I knew that salt cod – baccalà – was practically the Portuguese national food, but I’d disliked every version of it that I’d ever tasted, in Europe or America. Nevertheless, I had to try it. Wow! It was terrific. Absolutely delicious.

The cod tasted like fresh fish. It was mingled with potatoes and swathed in a rich bechamel, probably seasoned with onions and wine. It went beautifully with the salad of baby greens and black olives. One of the first things I did when I got home was look up recipes for this dish. There are many online, and I’m going to try one very soon. Only, I’ll make it with fresh cod, not baccalà. That can’t hurt, surely? I’ll let you know.

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Before the cruise, we’d spent two days in Lisbon, where we also ate interestingly and very well. My next week’s post will be about that gastronomical adventure. Tom will also be doing a post on his blog about at least some of the wines we drank on the cruise and in Lisbon.

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Pasta e fagioli is Italian soul food. This quintessential peasant dish has an endless number of regional, local, and individual variations, each fiercely defended by its partisans as the absolute best. Those of us not invested in a particular version have the pleasure of enjoying them all.

When Tom and I did our first cookbook, La Tavola Italiana, we took advantage of that abundance and developed three pasta e fagioli recipes of our own, one each in the styles we’d had in northern, central, and southern Italy:

  • Venetian: fresh egg pasta, pinto beans, and a big pork bone
  • Roman: short tubular pasta, white beans, tomato sauce, and pork skin
  • Neapolitan: mixed short pasta shapes, red beans, fresh tomatoes, no meat

This week I made a modest quantity of the southern version’s recipe for us two. Overnight, I soaked four ounces of Rio Zape beans, a very tasty heirloom variety that I buy online from Rancho Gordo.
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Next day I drained them, added 1½ cups of fresh water, and set them on to simmer while I peeled, seeded, and chopped 2 big plum tomatoes, peeled and halved a garlic clove, chose a tiny dried hot red pepper, and measured out ¼ teaspoon of dried oregano.
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I sautéed those ingredients in olive oil, with salt and black pepper, for ten minutes
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then stirred the seasonings into the bean pot and let it go on simmering until the beans were tender. They took only about an hour, indicating that they were a very fresh batch. They also produced a rich, meaty aroma, for all that there wasn’t a speck of meat in with them. Off heat, the pot sat at the back of the stove all afternoon. (No point showing you a picture of that: the beans were all sunken under the liquid.)

As dinner time approached, I brought the pot to a boil and stirred in four ounces of miscela pasta – short pieces of many different shapes of dried pasta. In the old days, Neapolitan families kept all their broken and leftover bits of pasta – the miscela – for just these purposes. Nowadays we can buy such a mix.
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Slowly, the pasta pieces absorbed the liquid, swelled up, and began rising to visibility.
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This part of the cooking always needs frequent stirring, because beans and pasta both tend to stick to the bottom of the pot as the liquid is absorbed. In this case they also needed a little additional hot water to keep the sauce from over-thickening. You can make the dish as moist or dry as you choose: Tom likes it soupier than I do, so we negotiate the difference each time.
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Once the pasta is done, the pot needs to sit off heat, covered, for five minutes before serving. Then, at table, diners complete the dish to their taste with olive oil, salt, crushed red pepper, and grated pecorino Romano cheese.
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If you’ve never tasted it, you’ll hardly believe how rich and luscious a concoction these humble ingredients make. In Tom’s Neapolitan family, his father’s generation – 16 siblings – grew up on past’e fagiol’ and revered it all their lives.

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The old saying has it that you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear, but one day recently I thought I’d give it a try. My “sow’s ear” was a bag of three smallish avocados bought for $2 from a usually reliable stand. I’d intended them for guacamole. They were hard as rocks, of course, so I left them out for a few days on a sideboard to ripen.
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They didn’t. After a full week, they were still rock-hard and were developing some squishy dented and flattened spots. Grand! If I wanted them for guacamole, it’d have to be now or never: These bargain avocados were clearly never going to properly ripen. I’d just have to adjust my recipe to cope with whatever would turn out to be edible on them.
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Once I’d peeled the avocados and cut away all the ugly gray-brown parts, I was left with a small quantity of too, too solid flesh.

  • First adjustment: Don’t even try to mash it with a spoon or chop it with a knife. Puree it by machine.
  • Second adjustment (really a choice made earlier): Don’t buy a big bunch of fresh cilantro when you’ll need only a few sprigs. Instead defrost a cube of the cilantro base that you’d made to salvage some of the last big bunch of the herb that you’d bought.

That decided, I could proceed with my usual approach to guacamole: chopping onion, tomato, and a serrano pepper and mixing them, along with salt, into the puree.
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It came out looking pretty good, much like a proper guacamole. Hoping for the best, I set a bowl of it next to a batch of tortilla chips and served it as our dinner appetizer.

 

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But alas, that guacamole was no silk purse. Tom dipped one chip and said he tasted mold in the mixture. It didn’t taste moldy to me, but neither did it taste much of avocado. Tom stopped after the second chip. I ate more of it than that (feeling an obligation), but it was just too uninteresting. Maybe a plastic purse? Regretfully, I let the rest of it go.

I hate it when those old adages turn out to be right.

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Planning for a casual dinner party last week, I turned to the summer section of TSOTIK (rhymes with exotic), our family name for Tom’s and my book The Seasons of the Italian Kitchen. There I found recipes for several perfect-for-hot-weather dishes that I hadn’t made in a long time, so I built the evening’s menu around them.

 

Insalata Caprese – Zucchini a Scapece

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Insalata caprese
hardly needs a recipe at all: just pair the best available mozzarella with the best available tomatoes, and offer salt, pepper, and olive oil for diners to dress their own portions. The great white puffball you see above is a very fresh 1½-pound buffalo milk mozzarella, and the red cartwheels around it are local heirloom tomatoes. The combination is always wonderful.

Zucchini a scapece is a classic Neapolitan antipasto that I’ve written about before. For it I lightly floured rounds of zucchini, fried them in olive oil, and marinated them overnight in a simmered mixture of vinegar, water, garlic, and chopped mint leaves. The dish is best when made, as here, with the costata romanesco variety of zucchini, the prince of the summer squash family.

 

Fettuccine all’Abruzzese

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If you think this bowl of pasta looks as if there’s barely any sauce on it, you’re right. There isn’t much. But this simple peasant dish always surprises people by how unexpectedly delicious it is. The sauce is just a sauté of finely chopped pancetta and onion; chopped basil and parsley, salt, and pepper; with a little broth stirred in and nearly evaporated. The fettuccine – homemade, and rolled very thin: that’s essential – are tossed first with grated pecorino cheese and then with the sauce. The pasta readily absorbs the sauce, and the diners just as readily absorb the pasta.

 

Abbacchio in Umido – Ciambotta

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For the book I translated this meat recipe as “Summertime Lamb Stew” because, in Italian, in umido means stew, but there are no substantial vegetables in it, as there are in most cold-weather stews. It’s simply chunks of boneless lamb shoulder braised in tomato sauce, with seasonings of chopped pancetta, onion, carrot, celery, parsley, and marjoram. Unfortunately, it’s hard to get really young lamb these days, so the dish can take much longer to cook than the recipe suggests. Not a problem, though: just start early – even a day in advance – simmer however long it takes until the lamb is tender, and reheat it when needed. This is a reliable dish: It’ll be fine.

To accompany the vegetable-less lamb stew, I made a big sauté of summer vegetables from the greenmarket: eggplant, celery, onions, potatoes, peppers, tomatoes, and zucchini. We also had plenty of crusty bread available to soak up the delicious juices they generated, along with the equally good sauce from the lamb.

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The dinner wasn’t confined to these three courses. We also had a few hors d’oeuvres before coming to table, a cheese platter after the lamb, and a simple dessert of homemade lemon ice with cookies. Altogether, a very relaxed and comfortable summer repast. And Tom had picked out five wines from his collection to match with the food. He has written about those wines on his own blog.

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Salade Lyonnaise

The deadly heat wave that scorched most of the US last weekend was my fault, I fear: The weather gods noticed that I’d just published a post saying summer in New York hadn’t been too hot yet. I’ll never learn!

So I’ve been back on the hunt for interesting new summer recipes. Today’s good salad dish came about by happenstance. For another kind of salad I needed frisée, which isn’t always available locally. Tom, doing the shopping, brought home the only head of it there was in any of our stores. The thing was gigantic: Even after using as much as I needed for that first dish, what remained was a great green wig more than 18 inches across.

 

Frisée is delicate, so I’d have to use it soon. Salade lyonnaise came to mind, since I’d enjoyed one recently during my cruise on the Rhône. It’s a dish of bitter greens and crisp bacon, an atypical vinaigrette, and the crowning touch of a poached egg.

Surprisingly, none of my cookbooks had a recipe for the dish, but the internet had many of them. One by Mark Bittman of the New York Times seemed like a classic so I took it as a model. For two portions I tore up enough of the palest friseé to fill two cups, tightly packed, and set it aside. Then I slowly crisped four slices of bacon in a skillet with a little olive oil.

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That was an error, as it happened. I was supposed to cut up the bacon raw, and I hadn’t paid attention. Not a problem, though: I took out the cooked slices, chopped them, and returned them to the pan, leaving in all the rendered bacon fat. Next I added a tablespoon of chopped red onion. That was twice as much onion as the recipe called for, but still a very modest amount.
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After a minute’s sauteeing, I stirred in two tablespoons of red wine vinegar and half a tablespoon of Dijon mustard to complete the dressing for the greens.

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For poaching the eggs, I used my regular technique (learned long ago from From Julia Child’s Kitchen.) A little fussier than Bittman’s, it turns out perfectly cooked fresh jumbo eggs in exactly 3½ minutes. Unfortunately, as can be seen below, this day one of my two eggs wasn’t fresh enough: the white spread out and partially slid away from the yolk, spoiling the oval shape.
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I slipped the eggs into cool water to halt the cooking and, since this was not for a company dinner, didn’t bother trimming off the unsightly bits. My bad. But they taste just as good as aesthetically pleasing eggs.
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I spread the frisée on two plates, tossed it with the rewarmed bacon dressing, and topped each with an egg. Here’s the portion with the nicer shaped egg:
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At table, after the usual family squabble over who should have the better-looking plate (This time Tom won; I got it), we each broke open our egg so the liquid yolk could mingle with the greens, and added salt and pepper to taste.
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Simply fabulous! I’d been worried that there might not be enough dressing to coat all the frisée, but it turned out to be a perfect amount. A vinaigrette with rendered bacon fat taking the place of olive oil is just wickedly good. A little more onion in the dish wouldn’t have hurt, and we both could happily have eaten a second poached egg on it. Even so, all the flavors came together in a luscious harmony, for a salade lyonnaise even better than the one our cruise ship had served.

Before the rest of my frisée wilts, I think I’ll be doing this dish again.

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