Easier Than You Think

Can we talk about bread crumbs for a sec? Well, more than just a second, but it seems fitting since we just ended an eight day stint with nary a bread crumb in sight. There was a time when I would buy bread crumbs, and the truth is, it’s not the biggest deal if you do. But I’m here to convince you to make your own, and it’s much easier than you think.

Lilli in shades

First thing’s first. Don’t go to the bread section of your market. Walk over to the bakery section. On the side there should be a cart or maybe just a shelf, piled high with yesterday’s goodies. Maybe there will be a bag of muffins, marked down 75% that you should buy and store in your freezer for when you feel like a muffin and you don’t want to turn on the oven or leave the house. Perhaps there’s a German chocolate cake that’s half off. All these items are perfectly delicious, but most stores can’t sell food unless it’s the freshest. (Another time remind me to tell you the story of Rich and my first date. It involved me, a stale cannoli in Quincy Market and a very embarrassed Rich. It all worked out in the end, obviously.)

But yes, on that shelf of day old baked goods should also be a selection of bread loaves. For me, it was a day old French baguette that cost fifty cents. As Rich quipped, with prices that low, John Valjean wouldn’t have had to steal.

If you’re not in a rush, let that cheap day old loaf sit on your counter for another day or two; we’re aiming for stale. When the time is right, get out your food processor, break the loaf into chunks, and pulse away. I’ve found that turning the food processor on and just letting it spin makes the bread crumbs too fine. You can then store your fresh, homemade bread crumbs in a Ziploc bag in the fridge. They’ll be good for months, since they were stale to begin with.

And now that you have bread crumbs, might I suggest this lovely little springtime dish. We had it last night for dinner, and I found myself fingering a bunch of asparagus tonight at the market, wondering if it would be overkill to have it two nights in a row. (I resisted, but no, it is not.) It’s a Melissa Clark recipe, and you know how much I love her stuff. The only thing I would do differently than the original recipe calls for is to make this in a non-stick skillet. I always make a mess of my fried eggs in a regular skillet, as the picture illustrates.

Clark says she got the idea for this dish from the franny’s, an Italian place in Brooklyn that’s on my list of places to check out the next time we’re in NYC. There they serve an asparagus salad of wood oven-roasted stalks covered in vinaigrette, bread crumbs, and minced hard-cooked eggs. I haven’t tried that version, but I love this one here.

A word about asparagus, because I’m realizing I don’t think I’ve talked about it on this blog. The best way to trim its ends is to hold up a stalk and give it a bend at the end. It will naturally snap off where you should cut it. I take a page from Martha Stewart and use that one stalk as the ruler and cut the rest of the stalks to match it. And yes, that is an asparagus plate in the photo. Rich bought it for me years and years ago for a springtime present.

Pan-Roasted Asparagus with Fried Eggs and Anchovy Bread Crumbs, from Melissa Clark’s In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite

Ingredients

3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 Tablespoons unseasoned, preferably homemade bread crumbs

1 anchovy fillet , minced

1 small garlic clove, minced

Kosher salt to taste

¼ teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest

1 bunch asparagus, trimmed

Pinch freshly ground black pepper

2 large eggs

Directions

Heat 1 tablespoon of the oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat. Add the bread crumbs and anchovy and cook, stirring occasionally, until the bread crumbs are browned and toasted, about 2 minutes. Stir in the garlic and a large pinch of salt and sauté until fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes longer. Add the lemon zest, then transfer the mixture to a small bowl.

Wipe the skillet with a paper towel and return it to the heat. Add another tablespoon of the oil and then add the asparagus and a pinch of salt and pepper. Cover and cook, stirring and shaking the pan occasionally, until the asparagus is tender, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer the asparagus to a serving plate and sprinkle with the bread crumb mixture.

Add the remaining tablespoon of the oil to the skillet and return it to the heat. Crack in the eggs and fry until just set but still runny, 2 to 3 minutes. Slide the eggs on top of the asparagus and serve.

Advertisements

Special Delivery

Jason and Lisa were married last October. It was outdoors, in a state park. But before you start to comment about how cold us guests must have been, Lisa nipped that one in the bud by having greeters pass out warm apple cider when we pulled up. Just charming. Jason is a Southern gentleman, so after the ceremony, as we walked into the reception, each guest was handed a mint julep to sip. Loved that. Oh, and Lisa and her mom had gone to the orchard and made pounds of apple sauce that they’d canned and topped with lace. Another perfectly lovely little detail.

apple sauce

And about six weeks ago, Lisa and Jason had baby Emma. Considering that I may have left the wedding with more than one jar of her applesauce, it was time to pay it forward. I know there’s only so much cooking one can do with a newborn (can you believe that baby Miles is now walking?!?!), so last week I spent a little time in the kitchen making a meal for the new parents. Then we packed up the car and headed over to JP for a visit and snuggle with their little peanut.

Baby Emma

Pasta travels well, so I went with a favorite dish of mine from the Zuni Café cookbook. I’m surprised at how many times I’ve made this but hadn’t shared it here. It’s full of things I love, like well-fried broccoli and cauliflower, salty capers, chopped anchovies, and briny olives There’s crushed fennel seeds, though the recipe does suggest using minced fennel bulb if you have it on hand. They also suggest substituting pecorino romano if you don’t feel like bread crumbs, and trading out the black olives for green ones, or even skipping the olives and anchovies. But, they plead, “don’t sacrifice the 8 to 10 minutes of care it takes to cook the vegetables to the delicately frizzled crispiness that gives the dish its great texture and variety. The sautéed vegetables are great by themselves, or a side dish with grilled or roasted poultry or meat.”

Zuni Pasta

I also put together a fennel, orange and beet salad, which Lisa dubbed “the winter salad”, that I packed up in an old yogurt container and snapped a few rubber bands around for the car ride.

winter salad

Notes: My best advice for the pasta dish is to prep everything beforehand. Mise en place, people. Yes, there are some recipes that you can prep as you go, but it is much easier to have everything good to go for this one. I used whole wheat spaghetti as my pasta, and they say that this one works with all sorts of chewy pasta – penne, spaghetti, orecchiette, or shells.

Pasta with Spicy Broccoli & Cauliflower from The Zuni Café Cookbook

For 4 to 5 servings

Ingredients

About 1 cup fresh, soft bread crumbs (about 2 ounces) made from crustless, slightly stale, chewy, white peasant-style bread (optional)

About ¾ cup mild-tasting olive oil

About 12 ounces broccoli, trimmed, with a few inches of stem intact

About 12 ounces cauliflower, leaves removed and stem end trimmed flush

Salt

1 generous Tablespoon capers, rinsed, pressed dry between towels, and slightly chopped

1 pound penne, spaghetti, orecchiette, fusilli, or medium shells

1 Tablespoon chopped salt-packed anchovy fillets (4 to 6 fillets) (optional)

6 small garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

About ½ teaspoon fennel seeds, lightly pounded in a mortar

4 to 8 pinches dried chili flakes

1 Tablespoon tightly packed, coarsely chopped, fresh flat-leaf parsley

4 to 5 Tablespoons coarsely chopped pitted black olives, such as Nicoise, Gaeta, or Nyons (rinsed first to rid them of excess brine)

Directions

If using bread crumbs, preheat the oven to 425.

Toss the bread crumbs with 2 teaspoons of the oil, spread on a baking sheet, and bake for about 5 minutes, until golden. Keep the crumbs on the stove top until needed.

Slice the broccoli and cauliflower about 1/8 inch thick, and generally length-wise. Most of the slices will break apart as you produce them, yielding a pile of smooth stem pieces, tiny green broccoli buds, loose cauliflower crumbs, and few delicate slabs with stem and flower both. Don’t worry if the slices are of uneven thickness; that will make for more textural variety.

Warm about ¼ cup of the oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. Add most of the sliced broccoli and cauliflower, conveniently leaving the smallest bits behind on the cutting board for the moment. (They’ll burn if you add them to soon.) The oil should sizzle quietly. Swirl the pan, and leave the vegetables to cook until you see the edge bits browning, about 3 minutes. Salt very lightly and toss or stir and fold gently. Add a few more spoonfuls of oil and scrape the remaining bits of broccoli and cauliflower into the pan. Add the capers and swirl gently. Continue cooking over medium heat until the edges begin to brown, another few minutes, then give the pan another stir or toss. Don’t stir too soon or too often, or you will get a homogenous, steamy pile of vegetables instead of a crispy, chewy one. Most of the capers and vegetable crumbs will shrink into crispy confetti-like bits.

Meanwhile, drop the pasta into 6 quarts of rapidly boiling water seasoned with a scant 2 tablespoons  salt (a little more if using kosher salt). Stir, and cook al dente. Set a wide bowl or platter on the stovetop (or in the still-warm oven if you made bread crumbs) to heat.

Once the mass of broccoli and cauliflower has shrunken by about one-third and is largely tender, reduce the heat, add another few spoonfuls of oil, and scatter the chopped anchovy, garlic, fennel, and chili over all. Give the vegetables a stir or toss to distribute. Cook for another few minutes, then add the parsley and olives. Taste – every flavor should be clamoring for dominance. Adjust as needed.

Toss with the well-drained pasta and garnish with the warm, toasted bread crumbs, if desired.

Winter Salad

Notes: For this salad, I used a mandolin to thinly slice the fennel. For the orange prep, using a serrated knife, I sliced off the top and bottom of a navel orange, then sliced the skin off the fruit by following the outside curve. Then I rolled the orange onto its side, and thinly sliced the orange. Each fruit yielded about 8 slices.

I had roasted the beet the day before by preheating the oven to 400, setting the beet in a small baking pan with sides, filling it water about halfway up, adding the beet, and tenting it all with tin foil. It took about an hour to roast. When it was time to peel, I simply ran the beet under cold water and rubbed the skin off into the sink.

My apologies for not measuring out exactly how much cumin I used in the dressing. I grind my cumin seeds in a coffee grinder I use specifically for spices. I was literally taking pinches of cumin for the dressing. The same goes for the brown sugar. My best advice for the dressing is to taste until it tastes right to you. That’s really the best way to handle homemade dressings, anyways.

Ingredients

For the salad:

1 fennel bulb, thinly sliced on a mandolin

2 oranges, sliced thin

1 beet, roasted, peeled and diced into ¼-inch cubes – make sure to prep the beet last, otherwise all your other ingredients will be stained magenta

5 black olives, sliced

Place all salad ingredients in a large bowl or lay out on a platter

For the dressing:

In a small glass jar, shake together:

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar

4 tablespoons olive oil

1/8 teaspoon jarred mustard

2 teaspoons brown sugar

2 pinches cumin

Taste-test the salad dressing using a piece of fennel. If it’s to your liking, pour the remaining dressing over the vegetables.

To Market, To Market

Fresh eggs at La Boqueria, Barcelona

The “activities” on my Facebook profile are pretty accurate. I really do enjoy melting cheese on things, experimenting with my pressure cooker, riding my bicycle along the Charles and exploring international grocery stores. Of course, when you’re in another country, every grocery store is an international one, and on our trip I made a point of wandering through markets both famous and quotidian.

La Boqueria in Barcelona has existed in some form since the 13th century, first as a meat market.

They love them some pork in Spain.

Today, vendors still sell meat — everything from pigs’ heads, to hanging charcuterie — but alongside a kaleidoscope of fresh produce, eggs, spices, cheeses, fish, nuts, chocolate and sweets.

Fruity candy...

And fruit as sweet as candy.

I bought marcona almonds at this stand. Shhh, don't tell customs.

La Boqueria is frequented by Barcelona residents, but it’s very touristed as well. In order to see how the natives shopped everyday, we popped into the French grocery store chain Carrefour, three storefronts down Las Ramblas. The refrigerator cases were nowhere near as photogenic, but I got a kick out of the juice boxes of gazpacho and mass-produced Spanish Easter cake offerings.

Although it wasn’t our intention, our visit to medieval Bruges coincided with the town’s weekly market, where local villagers shop for their produce, cheeses, meats, candies and plants.

Tourists dominate in Bruges, but the natives come out for market day.

Gummy smurfs. La la la-la-la-la...

I’ll be quite honest and say that I was not enamored by this quaint, Flemish, walled city. My advice is to rent In Bruges; at least some shots in the film that weren’t overrun with tourists. Despite the entire town being named a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the place feels Disney-fied.

Our friend Brian told us Bruges was too touristy. We should have listened.

Many of the buildings have been almost too well-restored, as if they exist solely to serve as a backdrop for pictures taken by thousands of tourists who swarm the main square daily to see the belfry and take a canal ride. Rich and I much preferred Antwerp, where medieval castles are integrated into a working city of half a million.

We preferred Antwerp's mix of medieval and modern to Disneyland Bruges. Also, Antwerp had better beer.

My musings on the authenticity of Bruges extended to the produce at the weekly market in the town square. We Americans have an idealized notion of the European market, but I couldn’t help but wonder what Michael Pollan would think of the pallets of Driscoll’s strawberries, straight from the farm… in California.

As in Spain, my market visits in The Netherlands weren’t limited to the photogenic public markets. In Rotterdam we stopped at Albert Heijn, a chain supermarket, to buy provisions for our picnic among the flowers. I enjoyed browsing the jars of pickled vegetables, the prepared salads, the mass-produced chocolate and confections (think Cardullo’s), the cheese case and the deli. (Rich, meanwhile, was agog at the baseline quality of Dutch supermarket beer.)

It turns out the Europeans also like convenience, and the produce section had an entire wall of pre-peeled boiled potatoes and beets, a la Trader Joe’s. I was surprised to see that bagged lettuce is not just an American phenomenon. The Dutch also enjoy that convenience, albeit with their own twist; there you can buy curly-cues of pre-cut, pre-washed Belgian endive.

Belgian endive in its natural habitat.

Our first night in Rotterdam, our hosts served us stampot, a mash of potatoes and endive so common that the recipe is on the back of the bag. It was delicious, especially with the garlic and shallots our friends added to spice up the typically bland Dutch fare. But I had another dish on my mind. “If I could get this at Star Market, there is a salad I would eat every day,” I said dreamily to my hosts. Well, I’ve been back just a few weeks, and although I’ve had to chop my own endive, I’ve already enjoyed this salad three times. And now I share it with you.

Endive Salad with Radish, Crumbled Egg and Anchovy Vinaigrette

Ingredients for Salad

5 heads of endive, cut into 1/4 rounds

6 radishes, thinly sliced

1 hard-boiled egg

A few notes: Sometimes a head of endive is a good four inches thick, sometimes it’s barely two. Last week I was able to produce a salad with five heads of endive that fed four comfortably, but the four heads I had on Friday night barely filled one salad plate. I’ve seen very good prices at Market Basket, but it really does vary from week to week and store to store. If you’re unhappy with what you’ve found, this recipe will also work very well with escarole.

To prepare the endive, peel off the first layer of bitter leaves. With a sharp knife, cut half-moons approximately 1/4 inch thick. Stop when you get to full moons; these rounder pieces are very very bitter.

Place half-moons on an appropriately-sized serving platter, followed by the thin discs of radish. I prefer adding the vinaigrette at this stage, then topping off the salad with a hard boiled egg that I’ve simply crumbled with my hands. Then, if I’m feeling it, I drizzle some more dressing on top of the egg.

Anchovy Vinaigrette

In a small jar, shake together:

3 anchovies, minced

About 2 cloves of garlic, minced

Scant teaspoon of mustard — I use mustard sparingly in my dressings, as I’m not a big fan of the flavor, but it does such a good job emulsifying things. If you like mustard, add more; I’m sure it will taste delicious.

3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

6-7 tablespoons olive oil

The vinegar-to-oil ratio is entirely up to you. As I’ve admitted in the past, I love tart things, so I enjoy a little pucker, but I know that’s not the case for most people. I’ve left salt off the ingredients because many people will find the anchovies salty enough, but definitely season to your taste.

Bonus Recipe: I recently came across this anchovy vinaigrette from Rendezvous in Central Square, Cambridge. If you’ve got the ingredients in the house, I say go for it. I’ll freely admit to wanting to drink this straight from the bowl.

Sketches of Spain

“I don’t think you realize just how hard it’s going to be for you to eat,” numerous friends had warned me when they heard about our plans to visit Spain. Several thoughtful vegetarians warned me to stay away from the croissants, anything flaky, and to be wary of fried things. After a certain point, I began to imagine the country as a Homer Simpson-meets-Salvador Dali dream sequence: window shades made of thin slices of Iberian jamon and unicyclists juggling ham hocks in town plazas.

From a food studies perspective, I was fascinated by the idea of a food culture shaped through politics and religion. As a Jew, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from a country that had pretty successfully removed my people from their midst.

As it turns out, I ate like a pig (tee hee) and enjoyed some tasty, tasty tapas in Spain. I’ll admit, it helps that I eat fish, but some of the veggie-friendly tapas I enjoyed included pimientos de Padrón (fried little green peppers dusted with salt flakes) patatas bravas (crispy fried potatoes served with a fiery paprika sauce), fried Camembert served with a berry sauce, and piles and piles of olives.

In Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, I fell in love with the simple pa amb tomaquet: thick slices of rustic toast rubbed with garlic, then tomato, then drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt. (If that doesn’t look like Spanish to you, it’s because it’s Catalan, which is somewhere between French and Spanish.) I’m already counting down the days until August and its lovely tomatoes to make that one. And I was tickled to find tons of “Russian Salad” a type of potato salad I ate buckets of as a kid at my best friend’s house, who is originally from Latvia.

But what really made Spain a joy for me was the fish. I couldn’t stop eating boquerones, marinated white anchovies. (Note to self: Next time I go to Spain, make sure to TRIPLE wrap the glass jars from Barcelona’s La Boqueria market, so as to avoid another oily/fishy suitcase situation. Fortunately, the fish survived the trip, and the cats have been all over the suitcases since we got back. Everyone wins!)

When I wasn’t scarfing boquerones, I was enjoying other fishy delights. Anchovies were common, either on toast, wrapped around bright Spanish olives skewered by toothpicks, or fried. In Barcelona, I enjoyed a tapa of baccaloa (salt-cured codfish) stuffed into sweet red peppers, and I had an absolutely gorgeous, perfectly fried piece at a cafe on the Plaza Mayor in Madrid.

I am very mindful of my tuna intake — that whole mercury and child-bearing age thing — but I definitely had more than one dill pickle that had been sliced open and stuffed with the pink fish and roasted red pepper, then skewered shut with toothpicks holding olives and cocktail onions.

For 1.5 Euros, this pickle racecar can be yours.

It’s hard to say whether I preferred the Catalonian foods of Barcelona or the tapas of Madrid. Although we were armed with some top restaurant suggestions, every decent bar in Madrid will serve you a tapa with your drink order: Manchego cheese, La Tortilla Espanola and tuna shmeared on baguettes. But overall, I think my favorite small bites were from El Mercado San Miguel in Madrid. Think of a glass-enclosed, very high-end Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, full of food vendors selling everything from thin slices of Iberian ham on crispy baguettes to spicy chorizo, fried croquettes of spinach and cheese, cups of gazpacho, and creamy salt cod on baguettes.

And the sweets in Spain! Chocolate, nuts, marzipan and ice cream.

And the churros! My goodness, how could I forget about the churros!

(And of course, Rich got his jamon jam on. Witness for example, El Museo del Jamon, a popular Madrid chain.)

So yes, I ate well in Spain. But I was still a little uneasy being a Jew in Spain. One of the big sites in Madrid, La Plaza Mayor, was the site of executions during the Inquisition. The bases of the lampposts in the square memorialize some of the victims. It’s not that the Spanish are overtly anti-semitic so much that they did such a good job of purging the Jews centuries ago that there’s barely any Jewish community there today. Currently, there are barely 50,000 Jews in all of Spain; in the 14th century, there were about 500,000.

We were in Madrid for Friday night, and part of me wanted to find a place for Shabbat services. In case that I had forgotten for one minute that I married the most amazing man I have ever met, without any prompting, Rich removed the worry for me by researching, locating and writing in Spanish a synagogue he knew I would feel comfortable praying at. The congregation Rich tracked down for me was teensy, having been founded by 80 families, mostly from Argentina. To put it in perspective, there are 5 million people living in metropolitan Madrid today.

Lest you think we did not actually visit any sites: La Sagrada Familia

On that very warm Friday night, we rode the subway from our hotel in the heart of Madrid to the very outskirts of the city. We walked and walked until we finally reached the right street and the right number, but had a little trouble finding the congregation. Eventually we found them, about 55 altogether, in a sweltering recessed side room of an apartment complex. They weren’t exactly hidden, but I was still reminded of the morranos during Queen Isabella’s reign.

I barely speak Spanish but had no trouble following the service. That Friday night, thousands of miles from my little home in Boston, I read and spoke the same language as everyone else in the room. I knew when to sit, when to stand, and when to bow. I recited some of the most magnificent poems the Jewish civilization has ever produced in the country where they were written. The prayer book was translated, from Hebrew to Spanish, and every so often, Rich would nudge me, excited that he was finally making use of the Spanish component of his comp lit degree. “Honey,” I whispered softly, “you don’t have to translate for me here. I can understand the Hebrew. My parents made sure I learned it when learned my ABCs.” After the service, there was a kiddush or, as Rich called it, Jewish tapas.

Absinthe tastes like licorice. Delicious.

For me, Judaism is about being a part of a civilization. That Friday night, I was proud, and I must admit, a little weepy, to participate in its rituals in a country that did everything it could to eradicate it.

This weekend, I will be performing the same rituals that my little band of survivors will be doing all over the world. I will remove all unleavened foods, pots, pans and utensils from my kitchen, clean the condo from top to bottom, and drag up my entire Passover kitchen from the basement. For the next eight days I will not eat anything that contains chametz or has come into contact with it, as consumption of virtually all grains –including wheat, barley, spelt and rye — is prohibited in the Ashkenazi tradition.

Cooking on Passover is a challenge, but I assure you, we eat like Ferdinand and Isabella, minus the pig. To kick off Passover and commemorate the Spanish leg of our European adventure, here’s a recipe of Tortilla Espanola, a traditional and ubiquitous Spanish dish that also happens to be kosher for Passover. Eggs are a go-to Passover ingredient; I know I will have at least one asparagus frittata in the next week.

Can you imagine waking up and seeing that in the morning? Gaudi did.

I’m using Mark Bittman’s recipe as it’s pretty much flawless. He calls for any waxy potato; I used Yukon Gold and was quite pleased with the results. If you are using a mandolin, 1/8 inch is the way to go. I don’t have a kosher-for-Passover mandolin, so don’t worry if you don’t either. If you do have a kosher for Passover mandolin, can I come over and play in your kitchen? And don’t worry about all the olive oil; a lot will be poured off. As Bittman writes, “Save it in the fridge if you like: It’s delicious and good for sauteing virtually anything.”

My one tip about the eggs: According to the laws of kashrut, Jews are forbidden to eat blood. As a result, we check eggs for blood spots in a separate dish. I also like this step as insurance against eggshells getting in places where they’re not supposed to be.

Spanish Tortilla from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything

Makes: 4 to 6 servings

Time: About 40 minutes

Ingredients

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 1/4 pounds waxy potatoes, 3 to 4 medium, peeled and thinly sliced

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 to 8 eggs

1. Put the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. About 3 minutes later, add a slice of potato; if bubbles appear, the oil is ready. Add all the potatoes and onion and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Turn the potato mixture in the oil with a wooden spoon and adjust the heat so that the oil bubbles lazily.

2. Cook, turning the potato mixture gently every few minutes and adjusting the heat so the potatoes do not brown, until they are tender when pierced with the tip of a small knife. Meanwhile, beat the eggs with some salt and pepper in a large bowl.

3. Drain the potato mixture in a colander placed over a large bowl to reserve the oil. Wipe out the skillet, return it to medium heat, and add 2 tablespoons of the reserved oil. Combine the potato mixture with the eggs and add them to the skillet. As soon as the edges firm up — this will only take a minute or so — reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, undisturbed, for 5 minutes.

4. Insert a rubber spatula all around the edges of the cake to make sure it will slide from the pan. Carefully slide it out — the top will still be quite runny — onto a plate. Cover with another plate and, holding the plates tightly, invert them. Add another tablespoon of oil to the skillet and use a rubber spatula to coax the cake back in. Cook for another 5 minutes, then slide the cake from the skillet to a plate. (Or you can finish the cooking by putting the tortilla in a 350F oven for about 10 minutes.)

The tortilla can be served as a main dish, with, perhaps a side salad, or as a side to a larger dish. Serve warm (not hot) or at room temperature. Do not refrigerate.

Like a giant delicious Pac Man.

She cooks with the fishes

Oh my. Is it possible to devour a head of lettuce?

Winter in New England is tough. But slipping on black ice or climbing over a snow drift to get to a sidewalk isn’t what frustrates me the most about this season.  It’s the fresh vegetable situation. Oh, how I long for August and its ripe tomatoes and corn straight from the cob. I’ve been hungering for salads recently, and have been contemplating persimmons and escarole. But for now, a Caesar salad will do quite nicely.

It’s been a few years since I realized I could make Caesar salad at home. The recipe base I use is from an ancient Cook’s Illustrated, but I do wander away from it after a certain point. (Eight grindings of fresh black pepper? Really?) They suggest coddling the egg, as does The New York Times Cookbook, although Zuni Cafe, which sells more Caesar salad than anything else on their menu, does not. Neither use Worcestershire sauce, although I do, and I really do think it brings it to the next level. It is not key, however.

The key to Caesar salad is anchovies. Anchovies, you might be thinking to yourself, are NOT vegetarian. But here’s the thing:I called this blog “mostly vegetarian” so I could sneak around the anchovy issue. If you’re a fish eater but are squeamish about anchovies, please give them a shot. Anchovies are the cheapest flavor packets I can think of. Ancient Romans doused everything in garum, and many Asian cuisines wouldn’t be the same without fish sauce. When I bite into something with an anchovy in it, I am always struck by all the complex layers of flavor they add.

In most scenarios, you won’t even have to touch them. If you’re cooking with them, beat them in the pan with the back of a wooden spoon. You can get a can of anchovies for less than $3 at any grocery store. Ocean State Job Lot used to have glass jars of anchovies that were really special but hasn’t had them for a while. I toss the remaining anchovies, can and all, into a plastic bag in the fridge. Let them sit for a few minutes at room temperature and the oil will return to form. But please be warned: anchovies are incredibly ugly. I took numerous shots of mine and realize there was no way to make them look pretty. None.

I've gussied up these anchovies with some garlic. Not as ugly now.

Another thing that I love most about this dish is that it is a quintessential pantry recipe. You should have all these things on hand, so when you start to miss out-of-season veggies, you can whip this up in minutes.  It’s even quicker if you don’t insist on the croutons.

Caesar Salad Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated September/October 1997

Garlic Croutons

2 large garlic cloves, peeled and pressed through a garlic press

1/4 teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 cups 1/2-inch white bread cubes (from a baguette or country loaf)

Caesar Salad

1 large egg

Juice of one lemon

1 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce

Pinch of salt

A few grindings of fresh black pepper

2 small garlic cloves, pressed

3 or 4 flat anchovy fillets, minced (I do mine in a mortar and pestle with the garlic at the same time)

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 medium heads romaine lettuce or 2 large romaine hearts, washed, dried and torn into 1 1/2-inch pieces (about 10 cups, lightly packed)

1/3 cup grated Parmasean cheese

1. For the croutons: Adjust oven rack to center position and heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix garlic, salt and oil in a small bowl; set aside for 20 minutes. Spread bread cubes out over small baking sheet. Drizzle oil onto bread; toss to coat. Bake until golden, about 12 minutes. Cool on baking sheet to room temperature. (Croutons can be stored in airtight container for up to 1 day.)

2. For the dressing: Bring water to boil in small saucepan over high heat. Carefully lower whole egg into water; cook for 1 minute. Remove with slotted spoon. When cool enough to handle, crack egg into small bowl with all other dressing ingredients except oil; whisk until smooth. Add oil in slow, steady stream, whisking constantly until smooth. Adjust for seasoning. (Dressing may be refrigerated in airtight container for 1 day; shake before using.)

3. Place lettuce in large bowl; drizzle with half of dressing, then toss to coat lightly. Sprinkle with cheese, remaining dressing, and croutons; toss to coat well. Serve immediately.