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 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.