Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Back in the Saddle

What’s cooking? Pasta with Lemon-Chile Pesto and Grated Egg

I’ll bet you think the Kitchen Goddess – having successfully arrived in Texas for the season – has been just hanging out on her porch with a cup of coffee and her feet up. Yes, it is tempting. The truth is that the excitement of being back in her Austin kitchen has had her cooking up a storm – being turned loose in a kitchen space that’s easily four times the size of her summer digs makes her almost giddy. Unfortunately, most of that cooking has been from recipes that have already appeared here, so at the end of all this activity, there was woefully little to write about.

Then it occurred to me that you might have missed some of the favorites I’ve served. They’re mostly dishes I love but haven’t made in a while. That’s one of the best things about a change of venue – it causes me to rethink my standard list of what’s-for-dinner. And maybe, like me, you could use a brain jostle, to move away from the same old same old. The mere fact of it being October has stirred in me longings for certain colors and flavors I haven’t thought about in, well, a year. So I have a nice new pasta for you, but first, here’s what else I’ve made recently. Have you tried these?

For my son and his golfing buddy, who came to visit, I made this Cumin Chicken with Squash, Fennel, and Grapes. Nothing that looks this good can be any easier, and you can assemble it early in the day and refrigerate it, then stick it in the oven 45 minutes before you want to serve. Add a green salad or a fruit salad or some roasted asparagus, and dinner is served.

For my book group’s pot-luck supper, I wanted something that would use up the giant crop of cherry tomatoes that greeted me on my return. This Roasted Tomato-Bacon-Goat-Cheese Galette was perfect, and devoured by the ladies. I timed it so that the “cooling-off” period took place on the ride to the meeting, so it was still warm when I arrived. All in, it took me 2 hours, but that includes the time the dough spent firming up in the fridge. And well worth it.

I treated my son and his golfing buddy to this marvelous Coconut Oat Pilaf, as a breakfast one day. The photo on that post looked really dreary, so I re-shot, just to show you what a champ (or chump) I am. And while I was at it, I tweaked the recipe again. The KG never stops thinking...

So now that I have you thoroughly off track, today’s new idea is an easy pasta with the most wonderfully fresh lemon flavor. Really, the combination of the butter and the lemon and the egg yolk makes it feel like some kind of yummy dessert, without the sugar. And the texture... OMG. The sauce is so velvety, it fairly slides down your throat.

Almost there. Just have to juice the lemons and grate the cheese. The lemon
zest did’t make the photo, but it’s ready.
Kitchen Goddess word of warning: There will be a lot of yelling and cursing and jumping around if you don’t get your mis en place with this recipe. You can do some things – like grate the egg yolks and the cheese – while the pasta is cooking. But the pasta will finish cooking in the sauce – yes, in the sauce – so you can’t be still grating lemon rind or squeezing lemons while the pasta is cooking, unless you are a lot faster at grating and squeezing than the KG. Life will be better if those things are done ahead.

Also, you may notice that the pasta I used was not rigatoni, but paccheri, which is larger and floppier than rigatoni. Pish-posh. The Kitchen Goddess uses what’s in the pantry, as long as it’s about the same shape. And she recently was served a magnificent pasta dish with paccheri in Italy, and a similar sauce, and was determined to revisit the experience.

Pasta with Lemon-Chile Pesto and Grated Egg

Adapted from Dawn Perry in Bon Appetit, March 2015.

Serves 4.

This is rigatoni.
12 ounces paccheri or other short pasta (like rigatoni, which is what the original recipe called for)
Kosher salt
4 yolks from hard-boiled large eggs, finely grated (box grater works best)
8 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
juice and finely grated zest of 2 lemons [Kitchen Goddess note: The original recipe calls for juice/zest of 1 Meyer lemon and 1 regular lemon. But the season for Meyer is short. KG once used 1 regular lemon and 1 sweet lime; another time used 2 regular lemons. Delicious both times. Food52.com suggests ½ lemon and ½ orange as substitute for Meyer.]
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes)
Freshly ground black pepper
½ ounce (about ½ cup) Pecorino Romano or Parmegiano-Reggiano, finely grated
Garnish: chopped parsley

In a large pot of boiling salted water (about the taste of the ocean), cook the pasta just long enough that it becomes very al dente. (It will still be opaque and fairly firm in the center). Drain the pasta, but reserve 2 cups of the pasta cooking water.

In a large skillet with at least 2-inch sides (or do as the KG did and use the pot you cooked the pasta in), melt 6 tablespoons of the butter over medium-high heat. (Leave the other 2 tablespoons of butter out to reach room temp.) Whisk in the lemon zest and juice and the Aleppo pepper (or pepper flakes) until well combined.

Add the pasta and 1 cup of the pasta water and stir with a wooden spoon (gentler on the pasta), tossing the pasta often and adding more cooking liquid as needed, until the pasta reaches al dente and the sauce thickens and coats it. This will take about 5 minutes. Season with salt and freshly (!) ground pepper to taste.

Remove the skillet or pot from the heat and stir the additional 2 tablespoons of butter into the pasta and sauce. Sprinkle on the grated cheese, and toss until the cheese melts. Serve the pasta with the grated egg yolks sprinkled on top, and a small amount of parsley.

Monday, October 2, 2017

Ode to Small-Town Charm

What’s cooking? Sea Scallops with Creamed Corn and Tomatoes

The migration south for my hubby and me is once again over. But before we left the Northeast, I spent some time running last minute errands. For me, the best place for that is not our current neighborhood in Jersey City, or even the neighborhoods of Austin. No, the place I prefer is the town we lived in while raising children. My younger son often jokes that I’m the only person he knows who’s crazy enough to drive 30 minutes just to shop for groceries; and as I headed there last week, I thought maybe he’s right.

Afterward, I considered what I had accomplished: hair appointment, manicure, pick up a shirt I’d ordered, shop for toiletries, visit a jeweler, and buy coffee – all at different stores. Six separate establishments within a tight grid of 11 blocks. It wasn’t until I looked at the receipt from the public parking lot where I stashed my car that I realized I’d completed this list of errands – on foot – in  a span of 2 hours and 14 minutes. I’m sure I could have made it all happen in either Jersey City or Austin, but not on foot, and not in that time frame. And the fee for that 2¼ hours? Three dollars. Now I expect those lots are subsidized by the city, but really...

The experience reminded me how much I enjoyed life in a small town. I didn’t think so when we moved there 30+ years ago. I’d been a New York City girl for 10 years, and the idea of living where the population was less than 25,000 and the sidewalks rolled up after 10 p.m. struck me as insanity. But my husband assured me that he didn’t want to raise children in New York City, so that was that. Then we found Summit.

Photo credit: Elizabeth Winterbottom Team, Local Realtor
Originally incorporated as Summit Township by an act of the New Jersey Legislature in 1869, Summit was reincorporated as a city in 1899. It likely got its name from its location on the easternmost edge of the Watchung Mountains, about 20 miles from Manhattan. Back in the 19th century, it was a favorite destination of wealthy of New York City residents fleeing the summer heat. Today, it’s still a popular suburb among financial industry workers and other commuters to Manhattan.

Photo credit: Daniel Case at the English language Wikipedia

It’s a quirk of many New Jersey suburbs that they are divided from each other in fairly random fashion. Depending on how the lines were drawn, you might live in a different town than your neighbors across the street. Suburban sprawl has already taken its toll: Summit’s 6 square miles are tightly constrained by the cluster of other towns on all sides, a vise that tends to push real estate values to impressive heights.

Photo credit: Daniel Case at the English language Wikipedia
But the town’s charm is in its embrace of those confines. The downtown shopping area covers at best 16-17 square blocks, and – by law – there’s no drive-through fast food and no buildings more than three stories high. Most are one or two. It’s hard to spend any time walking around without seeing someone you know, even if you moved away eight years ago. And a few of the merchants still know my name.


Of course, my favorite part of the town remains its farmers’ market. As I said so long on Sunday to friends at the organic farm stand, I loaded up on Tuscan kale, golden beets, and cherry tomatoes. Another stand had corn and zucchini. At the fish monger, I picked up a last pound of sea scallops, then I went home and cooked this most wonderful dish that takes advantage of the season’s best. If you can’t get fresh corn, use frozen, but you must try this dish.

Melissa Clark posted a similar dish in The New York Times not long ago, using shrimp. You, too, could use shrimp. But when you have the freshest sea scallops this side of the Mississippi, that’s what you cook. The zucchini was my own addition, too, and I was so glad. It’s got a very neutral flavor and keeps the corn sauce from being quite so thick and ... well, corny. Any other summer squash would do as well. And I love the salty tang of the feta cheese.

Sea scallops are rich, so 1¼ pounds of scallops is really all you need to feed four people, and the corn-zucchini-feta sauce is filling. I served this once with a salad and sliced peaches (though any fresh fruit would do), and once with a sauté of green beans instead of the salad. The dish makes a beautiful presentation, and it’s easy to make the sauces ahead of time and heat them up while you’re cooking the scallops. So it’s a great dish to serve guests.

Kitchen Goddess note on zucchini: For this dish, look for squash that’s small and firm and heavy feeling. The skin should be smooth and shiny, with no blemishes. If large zucchini is what you have, cut them in half and scoop out the seeds before dicing them. Smaller squash won’t have all those seeds, and what they have will be small and tender.

Sea Scallops with Creamed Corn and Tomatoes

Inspired by Melissa Clark in The New York Times.

Serves 4.

1¼ pounds large sea scallops (12-16 per pound, or 4-5 per person)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 cups diced zucchini (½-inch dice)
KG’s latest discovery: an easier way to cut corn off cobs. Upend a small bowl
 inside a larger bowl and slice down the side of the cob. The small bowl
provides a stand for the cob and the larger bowl catches the corn.
3 tablespoons heavy cream
2½ cups corn kernels (from 3 ears)
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 small white onions or ½ large, cut in ½-inch dice
2 cups cherry tomatoes, quartered
2 cloves garlic, minced
Dash of Worcestershire sauce
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or a dash of cayenne pepper)
Chiffonade of basil leaves for garnish

Pat the scallops dry with a paper towel, and lay them out on a plate or paper towels, and sprinkle them with salt and pepper.

First make the corn/zucchini/feta sauce. In a large skillet, melt 1 tablespoon of the butter and add the zucchini. Sauté over medium/medium-low heat for 3 minutes. Add 1 more tablespoon of butter and when it has melted, add the cream. Reduce the heat to medium-low, stir in the corn and cook, covered, for 10-12 minutes or until the corn is very soft. Stir occasionally. If the mixture appears to get dry, add a tablespoon or two of water.

Transfer the corn/zucchini mixture to a blender and add the feta, plus1 teaspoon of salt and ¼ teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper. Blend until you get a thick purée. Set aside the mixture and keep it warm until you’re ready to serve.

Next, make the tomato sauce. Wipe out the skillet you used with the corn/zucchini, and put in 2 tablespoons of olive oil. At a medium setting, heat the oil and add the onion. Sauté the onion until pale gold and soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and the garlic, plus a large pinch of salt. Cook the tomatoes – again adding a tablespoon or two of water if needed – over medium heat for about 8 minutes, until the tomatoes break down into a sauce. Stir in the Worcestershire sauce, the lemon juice, and the Aleppo pepper/cayenne. Set aside the sauce and keep it warm until you’re ready to serve.

Lastly, cook the scallops. Wipe out the skillet again (or use a different one!) and melt in it the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil. Raise the heat to medium-high. When the surface of the oils shimmers, place the scallops in the oil and DO NOT TOUCH THEM for 3 minutes. (This will allow the natural sugars of the scallops to caramelize.) Using a spatula, turn the scallops over and cook – again without disturbing them – for another minute, then remove the skillet from the heat.

To plate the dish, spoon enough corn/zucchini purée into a wide, shallow soup bowl to cover the bottom. Place the scallops on the purée and spoon the tomato sauce on top. Garnish with ribboned basil leaves.

Enjoy the fall!

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

An Appetizing Start – and the Beet Goes On...

What’s cooking? Golden Beet Soup and Cucumbers in Pesto

Let’s get a bit on nomenclature out of the way first. Who here knows the difference between an appetizer and an hors d’oeuvre? It’s a trick question, because there is no difference. Sort of. You’ll notice on a restaurant menu that they never call the first course “Hors D’Oeuvres”; those are listed as “Appetizers.” So you’d think that means that appetizers are bigger, more substantial items, and hors d’oeuvres are little noshy things you pass around at a party. But the phrase “hors d’oeuvre” just means “off the work,” where “the work” is taken to mean the featured item (think work of art). A side dish, so to speak. And that says nothing really about the nature or timing of a dish. So an appetizer is a more specific pre-dinner item, but conventionally speaking, an hors d’oeuvre would be the same thing.

Whenever I’m getting ready to entertain guests, I always have to remind myself that the purpose of appetizers is to stimulate the appetite, to get your taste buds producing those gastric juices so that the digestive process will be really primed for the main meal. The idea is not to fill the guests up so that they don’t need the meal.

Now for reasons known only to herself, the Kitchen Goddess likes to have at least three items on the appetizer tray. As the pressure builds and the time grows short, she almost always has an appetizer that gets 86̓d in that last hour before the ball drops. But it’s important to remember that a bowl of salted nuts or olives is a perfectly acceptable appetizer. (Salty foods being great stimulants for the taste buds.) So if you can keep in the habit of stocking salted nuts or chips or pretzels or olives, you’ll always have something that can substitute for a more elaborate item that you no longer have time to produce. Also, if you are like the Kitchen Goddess and occasionally are not completely ready when the guests appear at the door, it’s good to have something to soak up the alcohol during that possibly lengthy time while you’re finishing the main work. Which also means that hors d’oeuvres should not be the kind that need the cook’s attention.

Which brings us to today’s recipes. The first is a cold soup – you folks remember how fond I am of cold soups? Light, mellow-tasting, and a wonderful color, this soup is easy to make a day or two before you serve it. The tang of buttermilk gently balances the natural sweetness of the beets, and the soup is beautifully garnished with olive oil, pickled shallots, and fresh herbs.

Not everyone likes beets, and I get that. Grumpy is in that category. He tasted this soup and said it wasn’t bad, but “In the end, it’s beets.” So if that’s the way you feel about them, that’s okay. But if you’re on the fence about beets, you might give this one a try, because the flavor of golden beets is sweeter, less earthy, and mellower than red beets. And if you actually like beets, well then, you are in for a treat.

Golden beets are easy to find this time of year. And they are great for you. As with most deeply colored veggies, they’re high in many vitamins and minerals. Heart healthy and high in antioxidants, they’re good for kidney function, eyes and skin, blood pressure and cholesterol. They’re also useful in treating anemia and fatigue.

I found this recipe in a New York Times article about The Lost Kitchen, a relatively new restaurant in the wilds of Maine that operates only eight months of the year. Under chef-owner Erin French’s guidance, it has become so popular that she is completely booked from May through New Year’s Eve in a single day. So whether or not you can become one of the lucky customers, you can experience Chef French’s expertise right here, today.

Golden Beet and Buttermilk Soup

Adapted from Erin French, chef-owner of  The Lost Kitchen, as seen in The New York Times.

YIELD: 4 to 6 servings as a first course, 10+ as an appetizer

2½ pounds golden beets (4-5 large)
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallots
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for serving
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon salt, or more to taste
2 cups buttermilk
juice of ½ lemon, (a little more than 1 tablespoon)

Small handful of basil leaves
Small handful of dill fronds
⅓ to ½ cup sour cream (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400°.

Trim the leaves off the beets down to 1-2 inches from the bulb. No need to wash them, and do not cut off the tail of the root. Wrap the beets in aluminum foil or put them into a casserole and cover it tightly with foil. Bake large beets 50-60 minutes. Let them cool in the foil or covered dish. Once they’ve cooled, the skins will rub off easily with your fingers.

In the meantime, make the garnish: In a small bowl, combine chopped shallots and vinegar and let macerate for 20 minutes. Whisk in 2 tablespoons olive oil and season with a few grinds of black pepper.

When the beets are cooked, cut 1 beet into a small, even dice (about ¼ inch), and add it to the shallot mixture. Season to taste with salt and set aside. This will be the garnish.

Cut the remaining beets into large chunks and purée in a blender with the buttermilk and lemon juice for 2 minutes or until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Refrigerate the soup until completely cool.

If you’re serving the soup as a first course at the table, drizzle each bowl with a teaspoon of olive oil. Sprinkle the diced beets/shallots on top, with herbs and sour cream on the side, so guests can garnish their bowls as they like. Or serve it as an hors d’oeuvre in small glasses, with a few drops of oil, a little of the beet-shallot mix, and a few of the herbs. Add sour cream, if you like. (I did not.)

This soup can be made a day or two ahead. Just let the beet-shallot garnish come to room temperature before you serve, so the oil isn’t congealed.

And now for an even easier appetizer.

Cucumbers in Pesto

You probably already keep at least one variation on a  pesto recipe – if not, here are two absolutely swell versions:

Basil pesto
Arugula pesto

The only other thing you’ll need is a package of Persian cucumbers – or at least that’s what I think they used to be called. Now, they’re so popular they come from Canada and are called mini-cukes. Whatever. They’re small versions of the seedless English cucumbers – milder than regular cukes, with thin skins and almost no seeds. Very nice taste and texture..

Slice the baby cukes at an angle, in pieces about ½ inch thick. Mix them in a bowl with some pesto, and give the mix about a half-hour to combine flavors. Serve with toothpicks. You’ll need about ¼ cup of pesto for 3 mini-cukes.

Note: You can also serve this combination on a bed of lettuce or in small bowls as a salad.

Thursday, August 31, 2017

Survivor Soup

What’s cooking? Chick Pea Soup with Tomato and Rosemary

The Kitchen Goddess was working on a post about hors d’oeuvres, but the topic began to seem frivolous in light of the difficulties so many friends and family are experiencing in the aftermath – and we hope it can now be considered aftermath – of Hurricane Harvey. So today’s post will be more focused on cooking during difficult times. Call it a Harvey Hangover remedy. And later this week, we’ll have a nice post about hors d’oeuvres.

In the South, where I grew up, there is no occasion that cannot be celebrated with food. Even tragedy – or maybe I should say especially tragedy – sends Southern cooks running to their kitchens in an all-out assault on pain, grief, and other forms of suffering. Succotash as succor.

Twelve years ago, in the aftermath of Katrina, I cooked gumbo for 160 people as a fund-raiser at our church in New Jersey. With rice made by the minister and his wife, garlic bread baked by the Committee on World Fellowship, and divine desserts brought by another member of the congregation, it became an astonishingly heartwarming effort that had everyone digging deep into their wallets. We sent the proceeds – $8,000 – to a small church we’d connected with in New Orleans.

These days, I don’t have the kind of kitchen such heroic efforts demand. Instead, I’ll give you a recipe for a terrific and terrifically easy soup that even those whose pantries may have been ravaged by the storm might be able to put together. Light but filling, it’s a good soup for any weather, with amazingly vibrant flavors. The secret is in the short cooking time. And sometime during the cooking or the eating or the clean-up phase, I hope you will take time to count your blessings –  however large or small – and send a contribution to the Central Texas Food Bank, which is a major player in the relief effort for the victims of Hurricane Harvey.

* * *

The author of this recipe is the creative and clever Amanda Cohen, chef-owner of a wildly successful vegetarian restaurant called Dirt Candy, in New York City. She is the first vegetarian chef to compete on Iron Chef America. Her cookbook, Dirt Candy: A Cookbook, is the first graphic novel cookbook to be published in North America.

Chef Cohen says this soup should take less than 30 minutes to make. I will confess that the first time I made it, I took about three hours. But that’s because I obsessed over the size of the cans – had to do an extra trip to the store to check the available sizes – then got completely sidetracked watching the team trials for this year’s world championships in bridge. Finally, I decided, Okay, fine, I’ll just do the math, then at least I’ll know how much to adjust the other ingredients.

The second time I made it, I used cup measurements, and was much happier. And now that’s done for you, so you should be able to breeze through the process.

Kitchen Goddess note: Flexibility is the key concept for this soup. The proportions aren’t strict, and neither is the rest of the recipe. You can try the dish with cannelloni beans or black beans or any other beans you like. You can substitute basil or thyme or tarragon or oregano for the rosemary – each will contribute its own distinct flavor. If you don’t have fresh, use dried. And if you want a slightly richer soup, try chicken broth instead of the water. This is a dish that’s meant to be quick and easy, so use what’s at hand in your kitchen. And for those of you in Houston and on the Texas Coast, I’ve put in parentheses various alternatives to the ingredients.

Chick Pea Soup with Tomato and Rosemary

Adapted from Amanda Cohen, chef-owner of Dirt Candy, in NYC.

Serves 4 (or 2, with seconds, as at my house).

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup diced red onions (Alt: yellow onions, or 3 tablespoons dried onion flakes)
¼ cup carrots cut in ¼-inch dice (Alt: parsnips or skip them entirely)
½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper (Alt: a small pinch of chili flakes or a dash of Tabasco)
2 tablespoons minced garlic plus 1 tablespoon minced garlic (about 9 cloves, or Alt: 4½ teaspoons of dried garlic flakes)
One 19-ounce can chickpeas, drained (about 2 cups) (Alt: cannellini beans, navy beans, black beans)
One 19-ounce can diced tomatoes (about 2 cups)
3 cups water (enough to cover)
1 large sprig of rosemary (6-7 inches long)
juice and zest of 1 lemon
¼ cup chopped parsley (Alt: 2 tablespoons dried parsley)
¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (Alt: Grana Padano or Pecorino Romano)
1 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste

In a small soup pot or large saucepan set over medium-low heat, combine the olive oil, onions, carrots, Aleppo pepper or chile flakes, and cook, stirring for 4 minutes or until the onions become translucent. Add 2 tablespoons of the garlic and continue to cook, stirring, for another minute. Adjust the heat to make sure neither the onions nor the garlic burn.

Stir in the drained chick peas and the tomatoes, and add the water. Drop in the rosemary.

Simmer the mixture for 15-20 minutes, then add the remaining tablespoon of garlic and simmer another 2 minutes. Turn off the heat; remove the rosemary from the soup and discard. Add the lemon zest and juice and the parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste.

If you prefer a thick soup, purée 2 cups of the soup in a blender, and add it back to the pot.

Serve with Parmigiano-Reggiano sprinkled on top. And invite a friend over to share.

Whoops! Looks like I forgot the Parmesan cheese...

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Something New for When They Ask You to Bring an Appetizer

What’s cooking? Marinated Zucchini

A layout of noshes for a luncheon with friends. The zucchini is the far right dish. The center dish is a fava bean pesto, but that recipe is for another time.
For the longest time, I’ve had a little tidbit of fun to share. But I never could figure out a way to incorporate it thematically into a post. Until now.

Soooo... I was listening to a Serious Eats podcast, in which the host interviewed Chef Missy Robbins. After running the kitchens at some of the country’s better Italian restaurants (Spiaggia in Chicago, A Voce in NYC), Ms. Robbins has opened her own eatery, in a renovated garage in Brooklyn of all places. It’s called Lilia. And right off the bat, she earned herself THREE stars from New York Times critic Pete Wells.

I’m a big fan of Wells’s writing, so I read the review, and amazingly enough, it opened with a reference to one of my new faves in internet lingo:

“My one-sentence review of Lilia for the too-long-didn’t-read crowd: Missy Robbins is cooking pasta again.”

In the world of web slang and acronyms, you likely already know LOL and IMHO and WTF and OMG. But how about tl;dr? Always written in lower case – and the only one I’m aware of that uses specific punctuation – it refers to a post/article/rant/review that’s a little too chock full for its own good, and it means “too long; didn’t read.” It apparently began as a form of protest – an editorial notation to indicate that a passage exceeded the reader’s attention span. Most recently, it can also be used by a writer to point out a précis of a longer piece, as Pete Wells did with his review of Lilia. As a writer who often finds herself penning more than is really necessary, I just think it’s fun, and hope none of you see my posts as tl;dr.

And now, in the way that internet denizens inevitably stretch any good idea into hyperbole, there’s even a Facebook page for tl;dr wikipedia, and a Twitter page for the same thing, where writers use humor to present Wiki-like entries stripped to the bare essentials. As in these examples:

Exclamation point (!): An exclamation point is a punctuation mark used to indicate that the writer of a sentence is a 12-year-old girl.

Nintendo: According to your mother, a Nintendo is anything with buttons on it.

Cracker Barrel: Cracker Barrel is a chain of restaurants catering to travelers with the insanely specific need for both pancakes and a wooden sign that says “Never Enough Thyme.”

Reply all: Reply all is an email function that streamlines the process of getting fired.

At the end of this journey into another way to waste time online, the Kitchen Goddess was naturally intrigued with the thought of a visit to Lilia. It took a month to secure a reservation before 9:45pm, but that only reinforced my desire.

I was not disappointed. Amazing pasta, inspired desserts, delightfully funky if noisy environment, and the trip to Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood was an adventure in itself. Then the very first dish we tried – raw, lightly crunchy zucchini marinating in olive oil with capers and herbs – piqued my tastebuds with the excitement you get from a successful movie trailer. I bogarted the last few pieces in the bowl, then begged our server to tell me what was in it. When the list of ingredients contained fennel pollen, I knew I had to try it on my own.
Kitchen Goddess note on fennel pollen: The KG has mentioned fennel pollen before on this blog, and yet I sense that many of you still haven’t tried it. What are you waiting for?

Fennel pollen has been gaining popularity in the U.S. since Mario Batali began to cook with it in the 1990s. In Italian cuisine, it’s often added – in lieu of saffron – to pastas, pestos, and risotto. Although the primary flavor of the fennel bulb is licorice, the pollen carries a much more nuanced mix of flavors, conveying a sweet mustiness that reminds me of curry. In an article for Saveur magazine, the award-winning food writer Peggy Knickerbocker wrote, “If angels sprinkled a spice from their wings, this would be it.”

The aroma alone will transport you to the stalls of some Middle Eastern spice bazaar. I had it on a crusted pork roast and practically keeled over. I toss some in chicken soup, in lentil soup, and sprinkle it on roast chicken.  A whiff will give you ideas of what to do. It’s the ultimate secret ingredient, and it’s now available in specialty spice stores, some high-end groceries, or online.

The KG orders hers online, from My Spice Sage for $19.75/ounce (less if you order more) with free shipping, or through amazon.com for slightly more. Try some – for the timid, try sharing an order with a friend. You won’t be sorry, and then you can make this dish...

Marinated Zucchini 

Inspired by Missy Robbins at Lilia, in Brooklyn, New York.

Serves 6-8.

16-20 ounces (1-1¼ pounds) zucchini or any summer squash, including pattypan
½-inch wide strips of zest from one lemon (use a vegetable peeler)
juice of one lemon (about 2 tablespoons)
1 teaspoon champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon brine from caper jar
1 tablespoon capers
1 teaspoon fennel pollen
½ teaspoon dried dill or 1 teaspoon fresh dill, chopped
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Choose squash that are small and firm, as the skin will be thinner and the seeds smaller and tenderer.
Slice the zucchini (and any other long squash) on an angle into pieces about ½ inch thick. If you have pattypan squash, slice it into wedges about ½ inch thick at the outside. Put the squash into a medium mixing bowl or a 6-7-cup plastic container with a lid.

In a jar or separate small bowl, combine all the remaining ingredients except the olive oil. Shake or stir until the sugar and salt are dissolved. Whisk in the olive oil and pour the mixture over the squash. Cover the bowl tightly with cellophane wrap or plastic lid and refrigerate 4-5 hours before serving. Serve in a decorative bowl with toothpicks or cocktail forks.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner... or Overnight or for the Weekend?
What’s cooking? Roasted Carrot Salad with Carrot-Top Pesto and Burrata

Nothing focuses the mind quite like the prospect of guests. You’re having friends over for cocktails or dinner, or maybe you’re having a party. Those people will be wandering around your living room, your kitchen, your porch. They’ll be using your bathroom, maybe accidentally poking their heads into the laundry room. In winter, they’ll be hanging their coats in your closet, or piling them on your bed. The more you invite, the more likely someone will wander off the reservation and notice your husband’s exercise equipment that he keeps handy in the corner of your bedroom, or that picture you’ve been meaning to hang that’s been stashed behind a chair for... oh, months. (I will not discuss the piles of books and papers in my office – I won’t live long enough to get that room straightened, so anyone who goes there gets the real me with no apologies.)

Then there are the overnight guests. For however much time, they have full rein over the entire casa, and God knows what they’ll find when they open closets, take a wrong turn on their way to the porch, or decide to make themselves a cup of coffee.

At least these are the tortured thoughts that jog around my brain when the prospect of guests arises. Not that I don’t love entertaining – I’ll invite friends for a cup of coffee or a glass of wine or dinner at the drop of a toque, and I always want friends and family who don’t live near me to come visit. But as the time for those events or visits draws near, I start looking at my environment with fresh eyes – seeing it the way someone who doesn’t live with me might. And I’m almost always horrified at what I find. That towel bar that’s coming loose, the dripping faucet, the rugs that need cleaning, bags of clothing I’ve been meaning to take to Goodwill, ... the list seems endless.

What am I thinking? They’re not trying to buy the place. And most people don’t actually get out the proverbial fine-toothed comb just because you invited them over. I certainly don’t when/if the roles are reversed. But that’s how my mind works.

Inevitably, a few items on my to-do list just don’t get done. Because at some point, what I really want to do is cook for these folks. So the food distracts me and it turns out the guests don’t notice or maybe they do but aren’t telling me. Ah, well...

Our most recent guests were a darling couple from Austin. And the itinerary I put together was as ridiculously crammed as my to-do list. But we had time for a nice lunch on the day they arrived, and I found this truly wonderful salad, a heavenly marriage of roasted carrots and burrata cheese.

Part of what I like best of this dish – other than the excellent mélange of tastes – is that there’s so little wastage. The carrots are small and tender, so you don’t have to scrape them, and most of the feathery tops get used either in the pesto topping or as a green salad accompanying the roasted carrots. If you want to get really compulsive – and I almost always do – save the fronds you don’t use in this dish in a baggie in your freezer for the next time you make vegetable broth.

The other thing I like about this dish is that it affords me a chance to splurge on burrata cheese, that rich and creamy, lightly salty delicacy that first came to us from the Puglia region of Italy. Burrata looks like a small bag, tied at the top. The bag is made from mozzarella, and inside the bag is a soft filling of cream and stracciatella, the shards of cheese left over from making mozzarella. Buy it as fresh as you can find it – most likely from a grocer or cheese shop that gets daily shipments of mozzarella. Central Market in Austin actually makes burrata on site daily.

The recipe is a creation of the very excellent Manhattan Chef April Bloomfield (Spotted Pig, Breslin Bar & Dining Room, and her newest, White Gold Butchers) with JJ Goode, and appears in the book they co-authored, A Girl and Her Greens. And please do not be put off by the length of this recipe. It takes a bit of time because of the separate steps, but there’s nothing hard or complicated about it. Trust the Kitchen Goddess!

Roasted Carrots with Carrot-Top Pesto and Burrata

Adapted from April Bloomfield and JJ Goode.

Yield: Serves 4-6 as an hors d’oeuvre or side dish

For the carrots:
1 bunch (about 20) of small carrots (large-finger size), scrubbed well but not peeled, and all but 1-2 inches of the tops removed and reserved
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt

For the Carrot-Top Pesto:
4 cups (lightly packed) of tender carrot tops (thick stems discarded)
15-20 fresh basil leaves
½ cup walnut pieces
1 ounce Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, finely grated
1 medium garlic clove, halved lengthwise
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the presentation:
1 large (about 8 ounces) burrata, drained and brought to room temperature
3-4 tablespoons Carrot Top Pesto
1½ cups (lightly packed) carrot tops (the most delicate, feathery ones you can find)
10-12 medium-sized basil leaves (if what you have are large leaves, tear them in half right before mixing with carrot tops)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Maldon or another flaky sea salt


For the carrots:
Preheat the oven to 500º.

In a heavy, oven-proof skillet large enough to hold the carrots in a single layer (or at least close to a single layer), heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over high heat until it shimmers. Add the carrots, sprinkle on 1 teaspoon of salt, and use tongs to turn the carrots so that they get well coated with the oil.

Sear the carrots for 7-8 minutes, turning them occasionally, until they're browned in spots. The carrots will get softer and more maleable as they cook, so you should be able to reposition them into a single layer.

Move the skillet to the oven and roast the carrots until tender, 10-11 minutes, pausing halfway through the cooking time to turn them.

Let the carrots cool while you make the pesto.( Or you can make the pesto the night before; if so, bring it to room temperature before serving.)

For the Carrot-Top Pesto:
In the bowl of a food processor, combine the carrot tops, basil, walnuts, Parmesan, garlic, and salt. Pulse several times – enough for the mixture  to reach a rough, mealy texture. Then with the machine running non-stop, slowly pour in the oil. Continue to process, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides, until the mixture is well combined. You can make the purée smooth or rough – whichever suits your taste.

If you make the pesto the day before serving, be sure to cover it well and refrigerate it overnight.

For the presentation:

Place the buratta in the center of a large serving plate. Arrange the carrots around the cheese in a haphazard pattern.

Spoon dollops of the pesto here and there on top of the carrots. The Kitchen Goddess likes to serve the remaining pesto in a bowl so that guests can serve themselves more on the carrots or on crostini.

In a small bowl, combine the carrot top sprigs with the basil leaves. In a separate small bowl or a jar, whisk together the olive oil and the lemon juice with a pinch of salt until the dressing looks creamy. (The Kitchen Goddess prefers to use a jar, so she can just put the lid on and shake it until it looks creamy.) Toss the carrot top sprigs and basil with a couple of teaspoons of the dressing, and arrange the “salad” on top of the carrots.

Take a sharp knife and gently cut the burrata into quarters. (This will feel a little like cutting open a water balloon, but fear not.) Drizzle the rest of the dressing over all, and serve.

It will make you want to have guests every day!