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.

Ants on a Log, All Grown Up

The origin of my new favorite potluck salad is very simple: I was at Star Market the morning of the neighborhood vegetarian potluck, and celery was on sale for 99 cents a bunch. All I could think was, “Wow, that would be so Cheap Beets if I could make a vegetable side dish for a dollar.”

005

I knew I had seen a celery side dish somewhere, so I started flipping through the mental Rolodex as I picked up the things that were on my actual shopping list. When I got home I checked my Mario and Lidia cookbooks and then the rest of the Mediterranean shelf in my cookbook collection. Coming up short, I did what I always do when in doubt and I need a solid recipe: I looked to Melissa Clark. And there it was, a celery salad recipe. I actually checked online, and Clark has a similar recipe to which she adds dates. Obviously, there was no question about their inclusion.

So I made the salad for the potluck, and again this week for a potluck in my office I had organized. It’s pretty basic stuff: Celery, nuts, and dried fruit. It’s ants on a log, basically, but for grown-ups.

I’ve adapted Clark’s recipe ever so slightly, but it is indeed her recipe. Just as I’ve adapted hers, feel free to adapt as you need to. Clark notes that if you don’t have Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, “any aged cheese, such as Cheddar, Gouda, or manchego, can stand in very nicely.” If you are leaving out the cheese altogether, skip the dates, and “throw a handful of drained capers or chop an anchovy into the vinaigrette to give the salad a saline kick.”

lilli emma

I like the crisp crunch of celery against the sweet chew of the date. This would be a great side dish for Thanksgiving. It’s a good chaser in between bites of roasted roots and heavy stuffing.

Celery Salad with Walnuts, Parmesan and Dates

Ingredients

1 cup walnuts

1 ½ Tablespoons red wine vinegar

½ teaspoon kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

8 large celery stalks with leaves, thinly sliced

2 ounces good Parmesan cheese, shaved or grated – whatever is easier for you

12 dates, chopped

Directions

Preheat oven to 350F. Spread the walnuts in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast, tossing halfway through, until the nuts are golden, 7 to 10 minutes. Cool and coarsely chop.

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, salt, and pepper; whisk in the oil. Combine the walnuts, celery and leaves, cheese and dates in a large salad bowl. Add the vinaigrette and toss gently to combine.

Letting Go

I believe in leftovers and packing lunch, which means I have a cupboard that is jammed with Tupperware, Gladware, and well-washed yogurt containers. About once a year I sit on the floor of the kitchen and empty it out, marry each container with its lid, purge singletons, and neatly stack all parts back on the shelves. Things remain tidy for about three weeks, but before long, plastic containers throw themselves to the floor when I open the cupboard door.

We’ve had one container in particular that’s been in our collection for years. It’s a huge yellow tub that once held peanut butter, and, until recently, served as the perfect vessel for our homemade ice creams. Whenever we’d whip up a batch of peach basil, or maybe some Turkish Delight, I knew I could count on the plastic tub to be just the right size for our new flavor. Until last week, that is.

Last week was our friends’ 7th annual beer and cheese party. Last year Rich and I went local, bringing both beer and cheddar that was made nearby. I simmered up a pear chutney to keep things interesting, and it went over very well. This year, due to the impending birth of the hosts’ second child, the party was moved up from the fall to August, which meant a pear chutney was out of the question. To keep things interesting, we didn’t bring a cheese, but homemade cheese crackers, which we paired with a selection of local German-style lagers by Jack’s Abby brewery in Framingham. The crackers are a Melissa Clark recipe (I know, I know, what can I say, I just can’t quit her), and they taste like a healthy Cheez-it, or a Goldfish cracker you wouldn’t mind feeding your little one. The hostess noted they were a bit like a whole wheat shortbread.

The crackers went over well, but we left the party early for a dinner party. Not all the crackers had been eaten when it was time for us to leave, so Rich left the container on the table and walked away. Which container? My beloved yellow tub. I didn’t realize until we were about 10 minutes from the party that we’d left it behind. “My container!” I whelped. “Let it go,” Rich said. “But! But!” I responded. “Let it go. Just let it go.”

Healthy Homemade Cheddar Crisps from In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite by Melissa Clark

We actually used a combo of leftover cheese bits that were in the fridge: fontina, cheddar and Parm. I say use whatever cheese or cheeses you have that you’d like. It’s your palate, after all.

Ingredients

1 cup whole wheat flour

¼ teaspoon baking powder

4 Tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature

½ teaspoon kosher salt

Pinch cayenne (optional)

1 ½ cup (6 ounces) shredded Cheddar cheese

Directions

In a small bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. In a food processor or electric mixer with a paddle attachment, mix the butter, salt and cayenne until creamy. Add 1 cup (4 ounces) of the cheese and mix until thoroughly combined. Gradually add the flour mixture and run the food processor or beat with the paddle until the dough pulls away from the sides of the bowl and starts to form a ball, about 7 minutes. Wrap the dough in plastic, and roll into a log about 1 ½ inches in diameter. Chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour or up to overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350F and line two sheet pans with parchment. Unwrap the log of dough and slice into rounds 3/16 inch thick. Arrange the rounds on the prepared baking sheets and place a generous pinch of the remaining ½ cup cheese on each cracker. Bake until the crackers are golden brown, about 12 minutes. Turn off the oven and leave the crackers to crisp for an additional 5 minutes. Transfer the crackers to a wire rack to cool.

Clark points out that you can also place the dough between 2 sheets of plastic and roll into a rectangle 1/8 inch thick. Using a small (1 ½-to 2-inch) heart-or-fish-shaped cookie cutter, cut out the crackers and place them on the prepared sheet pans. Press the remaining scraps of dough together, reroll, and cut out additional crackers, then bake as directed.

Salad Days

The best part of last Tuesday was the tomato sandwich I ate over the sink. Mind you, it was a very good day already. The weather was nice, good stuff happened at work. But really, those August tomato sandwiches are something I wait all year for. Just on Sunday, a West Coast native friend of ours was bemoaning the condition of January tomatoes around here, and I suggested she just not eat them in January and to wait until August. Last year we even had tomatoes coming in the CSA deep into October, so really, three months is already a quarter of a year. Not bad at all!

Rich doesn’t get it. Earlier tonight, as I was making a summer panzanella with leftover challah, quarters of red cherry tomatoes and ribbons of green basil, and a roasted eggplant salad with a cilantro and garlic-speckled yogurt sauce, he poked around the refrigerator. He reminded me that the last brownie in there was mine, that I still had some salted caramels that a friend gave me in the springtime, and there was still a half a box of truffles my dad sent for me in May. Where I go savory, he goes sweet. He actually didn’t stay for dinner, but biked to a friend’s house for chipotle-marinated grilled turkey tips. Not to worry, I was invited to join them, but I had been looking forward to my salads all day.

And last week, when I made this Southeast Asian tomato salad, Rich had a bite, but left the rest for me. He agreed that it was very delicious, but isn’t so big into tomatoes. He snapped the photo of me that’s up there. He’s also insisting I admit that that’s not a regular dish I’m eating off of: it’s the serving platter. Not to worry, I fried up some eggs so there would be a protein on the table. I’ve decided to not share the photo of me drinking the remaining dressing off the platter. But you should drink it, too. You’ll want to, anyways.

The recipe is another winner from Melissa Clark. Man, I just love her. The flavors here will probably remind you of the amazing roasted tofu and cabbage salad; I know it did for me. That’s a good thing. I actually didn’t use a half of a jalapeño, but part of a hot pepper that came in the CSA. I didn’t have Thai basil on hand, just regular basil (which then made its way into tonight’s panzanella.)

Southeast Asian Tomato Salad from Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now

Ingredients

About 2 teaspoons Asian fish sauce

2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lime juice

1 teaspoon light brown sugar

2 scallions, finely chopped

1 fat garlic clove, minced (or just use 2 small ones)

½ jalapeño, seeded, if desired, and finely chopped

3 large or 4 medium tomatoes, sliced ¼ inch thick

2 Tablespoons chopped fresh Thai or regular basil

2 Tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Directions

In a small bowl, whisk together the fish sauce, lime juice, sugar, scallions, garlic and jalapeño. (If you think your fish sauce is very salty, start with 1 teaspoon; you can add more at the end.)

Arrange the tomato slices on a plate. Spoon the dressing over the tomatoes. Let stand 10 minutes to allow the tomatoes time to release their juices. Sprinkle with basil and cilantro; serve.

Put a Ring on It

About six months ago, my left ring finger started to itch and sting. I removed my wedding ring for a few days and applied Cortisone, but as soon as I put the ring back on, the itching returned. I switched the ring to my right ring finger, but the same symptoms appeared a few days later. After talking to friends and poking around on the internet, I realized that at some point I had developed a nickel allergy. Nickel, I recently learned, is mixed with gold to make the white gold my engagement ring and wedding band are made of. As I write this post, my hands are jewelry-free. At some point I’ll probably go to the jeweler and pick up a plain platinum band so there’s some sort of marriage marker, but I’m not interested in buying a new engagement ring.

We’ll be celebrating our fifth wedding anniversary in June, and in the six years I’ve owned my engagement ring, I’ve received piles of compliments on it on a near-weekly basis. It’s not your typical metal band with a stone in the center, but an original creation based on an Edwardian design. It’s a band full of filigree, diamonds and lots of character. And they’re Canadian conflict-free diamonds, which was key for me. When Rich found the ring, he knew right away it was the right one. (Of course he knew, I had given him explicit instructions and design ideas for what I wanted.) He brought me to the jeweler to take a look, and I took it out for a test-drive. We brought it back, and then, because I’m me and like to make sure everything is just as it should be, we then went to 11 jewelers the next day. Just to make sure. Rich was not happy.

When we’d decided on my ring, we asked the designer, Ana-Katarina, if we could maybe replace the center diamond with a higher grade. “Oh no,” she said shaking her head, “You’re getting married. You need to save your money so that you can buy a home and have children. Don’t spend any more money than you have to on a piece of jewelry.” That summer was a hot one, and the store had a special discount depending on the temperature. When the thermometer hit 102, Rich made his move.

My sister and her wife loved my ring so much, that they also went to Ana-Katarina when they decided to get engaged. Their rings are both incredibly unique and inspire oohs and aahs wherever they go. I met someone last year and complemented her on her ring. It was also by Ana-Katarina.

I’ve been trying to make the best of the situation, making dishes that would have required me to remove my rings, like last week’s granola bars, these chickpea patties or this cabbage salad that required an even distribution of the dressing with a few down-and-dirty hand tosses.


I found this recipe earlier this week in “A Good Appetite,” Melissa Clark’s column in The New York Times, and you know how much I love her stuff. I’ve changed things up a bit, and employed my friend Tania’s baked tofu method in lieu of the one Clark suggests. I’ve also replaced the brown rice the salad rests on with wheat berries I soaked overnight and cooked in the pressure cooker.

March is one of those in-between months when it comes to vegetables: You’ve become a little sick of winter’s root vegetables, but asparagus and artichokes are still a few weeks away. Sometimes there are some nice, sweet parsnips that the farmer has picked, but there’s always cabbage. As Clark points out, one head of cabbage can make at least three separate dishes. I used a third of the cabbage I had in the fridge for this dish, and it fed three of us with leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch. I hope to use the rest of the vegetable for a warm borscht I’ve been plotting; more on that later.

Ironically, my nose ring is made of titanium, so, for the time being, that’s the one piece of jewelry that’s a constant in my life. And, I guess if this was India or certain African countries, it would be quite evident from that piercing that I am, indeed, happily married.

(Editor’s Note: Because there have been several off-line requests for a photo, I’ve “borrowed” this from one of AK’s albums. I’m a little worried I’m breaking some sort of copyright law by using this photo, so if anyone thinks this might end in a lawsuit, please feel free to chime in.)

Crunchy Vietnamese Cabbage Salad with Baked Tofu

Ingredients

3 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce

2 teaspoons light brown sugar

2 teaspoons Asian fish sauce

Zest and juice of 1 lime

1/2 jalapeño, seeded and minced (note: I had a red Thai chili and used half. I think any hot pepper will work in this recipe)

1 garlic clove, minced

4 tablespoons peanut oil

1/2 pound extra-firm tofu

4 cups shredded cabbage

1 large carrot, grated

1/3 cup coarsely chopped roasted, salted peanuts, plus more to serve

2 tablespoons chopped cilantro, plus more to serve.

Directions

Preheat oven to 450.

Pat the block of tofu dry using a paper towel. Slice the slab into thirds, and then slice those into thirds. Using your hands, gently toss the slices in a large bowl with a few glugs of olive oil. Place the tofu pieces on an oiled baking sheet and place in the hot oven. At 15 minutes, remove the pan from the oven. Using a silicone spatula, test one piece by flipping it over. You’re looking for a nice crust; it should be golden and beginning to caramelize. If it’s not there, place it back in the oven for another 5 minutes. Remove the pan and flip over a piece. If it’s golden, flip the rest of the pieces and put the pan back into the oven for another 15 minutes. You’re looking for the tofu to be a deep golden and the pieces will be spongy, with just a hint of crispness. Trust me, the texture has an amazing mouth feel and you’ll want to pop pieces of this all night long.

To make the vinaigrette, in a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the first six ingredients, then gradually whisk in the oil.

In a large bowl, toss together tofu, cabbage, carrot, peanuts, cilantro and vinaigrette. Garnish with more peanuts and cilantro.

Mea Culpa

Forget Wes “Butterfingers” Welker, forget Gisele. It’s my fault the Patriots lost the Super Bowl. But I promise you I didn’t mean it.

Rich and I thought we were doing our fellow party-goers a favor by sharing this lemony olive oil banana bread that we’d whipped up that morning. But when we announced the addition of banana bread to the table of delights, Sarah and Mike both let out a yelp. They’d just returned from a trip to New Orleans where they been told, randomly enough, that it’s bad luck to bring banana bread on a shrimp boat – and by extension, naturally, to a Super Bowl party.

We didn’t even know we’d be bringing the banana bread to the party, because we didn’t even know we’d be baking it that morning. But when the bananas, which Rich had picked up for me in an attempt to find something sweet, nutritious and low in acid, began to look like giraffe necks, I knew it was time to try out this recipe in Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now. And you know how I am about Melissa Clark recipes.

Sure, I’ve already posted a banana bread recipe, but really, you can’t have enough banana bread recipes.  We switched things up a little bit with this one, trading out reflux-inducing chocolate chips for walnuts. I think pecans would also be nice. The result is moist, almost fruity because of the olive oil, but all that gets wiped away in the most pleasant of ways by the terrific lemony glaze.

My apologies to the fans of New England. And, to all the Giants fans out there (and I know some of you reading this are – Hi Russ!) you’re welcome. Next time you have a Super Bowl party bring some banana bread. Apparently it’s good luck, for the G-men, anyhow.

Lemony Olive Oil Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips (or nuts) from Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now

Ingredients

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

¾ cup dark brown sugar

¾ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate (or walnuts)

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 ½ cups mashed, VERY ripe bananas (3 to 4 bananas)

¼ cup sour cream or plain whole milk yogurt

1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For The Glaze

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

4 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt Add the chocolate pieces (or nuts) and combine well.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the olive oil, eggs, mashed bananas, sour cream or yogurt, lemon zest, and vanilla. Pour the banana mixture into the flour mixture and fold with a spatula until just combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until golden brown and a tester inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out clean, 50 minutes to 1 hour.

Transfer the pan to a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn the loaf out of the pan to cool completely.

While the cake is almost cool, prepare the glaze. In a large bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice until smooth. Drizzle the glaze on top of the cake, spreading with a spatula to cover.

Cough, Cough

Five years ago, right around this time, I started coughing. I coughed in the morning, I coughed in the afternoon, I coughed in the evening, and when I put my head down at the end of the day, I coughed even more. Nothing seemed to help; in fact, lozenges, hot tea, and sips of water only seemed to aggravate it. Some doctors thought I had asthma and began treating me with steroids. Others suspected it was a nervous cough that would go away once I got married that June. But after our wedding day, while we were on the cruise ship for our honeymoon, the coughing seemed to be even worse.

In August of that year, after enjoying a rich meal at the French restaurant Sel De La Terre during Restaurant Week, my cough was worse than usual. “You know,” Rich began, “I don’t think you have asthma. I think eating is making you sick.” And he was right. It turned out I had severe acid reflux – Gastroesophogeal Reflux Disease or GERD, to be more precise. Basically, the coughing was me choking on stomach acid. I know, gross.

Having figured out what was wrong meant I could start treatment and get better, but we soon discovered just how sick I was. Nearly everything I ate ended with me coughing. And I started to cut back on foods that made me sick, which, as it turned out, was pretty much everything I put in my mouth. Sure, there are certain trigger foods – chocolate, citrus, mint, spicy foods, alcohol, pickled things, caffeine and fat — but most fruits, and even many vegetables, were making me cough.

I settled into a diet of plain rice, grilled fish or grilled chicken, sashimi, rice cakes with a shmear of jam, pretzels, and because they were fat-free, jelly beans and black licorice. I saw a nutritionist who recommended quinoa and amaranth, grains that would keep me healthy and wouldn’t irritate my stomach. But overall, my diminished options led to me losing a lot of weight. On June 24, 2007, my wedding gown was a size 10. By January 2008, I was a size 4. I was thin, but I was absolutely miserable.

Slowly, I began adding foods back into my diet and gained back some weight. But by February 2009, the coughing came back and was even worse than before. I went back to my horrible diet, and again lost a ton of weight. Things seemed to have found a proper balance for the next two years, but by August 2011, I was coughing again. I ignored it as best I could, but my coughing was once again being disruptive.

I finally saw my ear nose and throat doctor on Thursday afternoon who informed me my throat was as irritated as it was the first time she met me in 2007. “I know what to do,” I sighed. “But I really don’t want to. I have a food blog. What’s the point of a food blog if I can’t eat food?” My plan was to keep on cooking food and to pretend I wasn’t sick. But since this is going to impact what I’m able to eat (and cook), I’ve decided to come clean.

Hi, I’m Molly Parr, and I have acid reflux so bad, that there are times in my life I can’t eat. I don’t want to stop eating through this newest course of treatment, so you’re coming on the journey with me. I might offer a recipe with notes suggesting how a dash of Aleppo or Srichacha can kick things up a notch, but I will most likely ignore my own advice.

I told my doctor how the winter time, with all its low-acid roots, would make things less difficult this time. But then I remembered all the nice citrus that brightens cold January mornings and I started to get whiny.

It will definitely be a fine line at times. A mellow garlic in a soup will probably not irritate me as much as a garlicky dressing brightening up a raw kale salad would. There will be more grains this year, harkening back to the nutritionist’s advice of an ancient grain diet. This past weekend I made a dish of a parboiled onion, chickpeas and boiled turnips and carrots which was all tossed together with some low-fat Greek yogurt. I ended up having to pick out all the onions because they were too pungent for me. This isn’t going to be easy, I know that for certain, but it will be an adventure. I entertained while I was sick and plan on continuing to do so. I think there will be more braises and stews in my future, which is just fine for January.

This recipe from Cook This Now, the newest cookbook by Melissa Clark (she of the stuffed pumpkin fame), is the perfect example of a dish that can be altered to combat reflux. One can skip the minced raw garlic step as well as ignore the suggestion of sprinkling Aleppo when serving. We decided to throw caution to the wind tonight and added the minced garlic: the result was extraordinary. We had a slew of Parmesan rinds in the fridge which we added to our pot, but if you skip the cheese, this dish is vegan.

White Bean Stew with Rosemary, Garlic and Farro

Ingredients

1 pound dried cannellini beans

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, more for drizzling

5 garlic cloves, peeled

1 celery stalk, cut in half crosswise (reserve celery leaves for garnishing)

1 large onion halved lengthwise from root to stem so it holds together

1 whole clove (stick in the onion half)

2 rosemary sprigs

2 thyme sprigs

1 bay leaf

Piece of Parmesan rind, if you like

2 ½ teaspoons kosher or coarse sea salt, more to taste

1 cup faro, rinsed (We used wheat berries which I first soaked and then cooked for 30 minutes in the pressure cooker)

Flaky salt, such as Maldon or fleur de sel

¼ teaspoon Turkish or Syrian red pepper such as Urfa, Maras or Aleppo

Chopped celery or parsley leaves, for garnish (optional)

Lemon juice and/or Parmesan cheese, for serving (optional)

Directions

If you have the time and would like to soak your beans ahead, this will shorten your cooking time. Put the beans in a large bowl and cover with several inches of water. Let soak for as long as you can. Overnight is optimal but even a few hours will hasten the cooking.

When ready to cook, drain the beans and place them along with the oil, 3 of the garlic cloves, the celery, and the onion in a large pot over medium-heat. Bundle the rosemary, thyme, and bay leaf together, tie securely with kitchen twine, and throw it into the pot (or just throw the untied herbs into the pot, though you will have to fish them out later). Add the Parmesan rind, if using. Cover everything with water and stir in the salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium and allow to simmer, partially covered, until the beans are soft. This can take anywhere from 1 to 3 hours, depending on how long (if at all) you soaked your beans and how old your dried beans were when you go them.

A test of doneness is to place a bean in your palm and blow on it (the natural thing to do since it will be hot). If the skin breaks, it’s ready. Of course, tasting is a better way to tell. If your bean pot starts to look dry before the beans finish cooking, add more water as needed. At the end of cooking, the water should not quite cover the beans. (If it’s too liquidy, ladle the extra out and discard.)

Meanwhile, while the beans are cooking, prepare the farro. In a large pot of boiling salted water, cook the farro, pasta style, until softened. This could take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour, depending upon what kind you use. Drain well.

Mince the remaining 2 garlic cloves

When the beans are cooked, remove and discard the onion, celery, herbs, and Parmesan ride if you used it (you can leave the garlic cloves in the pot; they are yummy). Ladle half of the beans into a food processor or blender, add the minced raw garlic, and puree. Return the bean puree to the pot. (You can skip this step and just stir in the minced garlic; the broth will be thinner but just as tasty).

Serve the beans over the farro, drizzle each portion with plenty of olive oil, then sprinkle with good flaky salt, red pepper, and celery leaves or parsley. If the stew tastes a bit flat, swirl in some lemon juice at the end to perk up the flavors. Grated Parmesan cheese on top is also nice. But make sure not to skimp on the oil, salt and red pepper when serving, unless you have reflux.

  • You can really substitute any dried bean you like for the cannellini beans. This basic bean recipe will work with any of them, though cooking times will vary.
  • Look for semi-pearled farro. It cooks more quickly than whole farro – 20 minutes instead of an hour.  If you can’t find farro, you can substitute wheat berries.
  • To add some color and turn this into more of a whole meal, add a bunch or package of spinach, or a small bunch of kale (torn into pieces). Simmer until the greens wilt before serving.

Heat and Serve

The evolutionary biologist (and outspoken atheist) Richard Dawkins theorizes that the act of applying heat to food was what enabled our early ancestors to gain the nutrients to evolve. Cooking, in other words, is what makes us human.

I hadn’t thought much about this idea until a few months ago, when I found myself trying to explain the intricacies of cooking on Shabbos. I won’t go into exacting detail here; entire books have been written, and degrees have been earned, about the process. But the person I was helping was absolutely fascinated with the idea that, in according to Jewish law, applying heat to raw ingredients actually creates a new substance, which is forbidden. That’s what cooking is: the application of heat to create something new.

I roasted some root vegetables at my parents’ house earlier this week, and my mom asked what I had added to the mix. “Nothing,” I replied. “It was just olive oil and salt. And, I added heat.” I had taken raw, inedible parsnips and potatoes, added heat, and created a spectacular side dish. In college, I used to create a marinade for my roasted roots, with things like tamari and balsamic vinegar, which created a savory crust to the vegetables.

This simple recipe from Melissa Clark’s newest, Cook This Now, is the perfect example of the application of heat to create something entirely new and unexpected. A simple rutabaga, which I learned this year from Ottolenghi can be spectacular raw, has been cooked this time into a warm dish for a cold night. And it’s cheap; today at Russo’s, rutabagas were 29 cents a pound. Granted, maple syrup is expensive, but I get mine at Ocean State Job Lot for a fraction of what it would cost elsewhere.

Roasted Rutabagas with Maple Syrup and Chile from Cook This Now by Melissa Clark

Ingredients

1 ½ pounds rutabagas, peeled and cut into ¾ inch cubes

2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 Tablespoon maple syrup

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

Directions

Preheat oven to 400F.

In a large bowl, combine the rutabagas, oil, maple syrup, salt and cayenne; toss well to combine. Spread the rutabagas in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Roast, tossing occasionally, until the rutabagas are tender and dark golden, about 40 minutes.

Clark adds that if you’re not a rutabaga person to feel free to use whatever root vegetables you are enjoying at the moment.

Off The Chain

In July, as I was savoring peaches whose juices dripped down my wrist and fresh corn on the cob that required a good flossing after munching, I started wishing it was October. It was in July that I found a recipe in Melissa Clark’s In the Kitchen with A Good Appetitefor a pumpkin whose empty shell had been thoughtfully stuffed with alternating layers of toasted baguette, Gruyère, and a sauce of heavy cream and white wine steeped with sage and nutmeg. “I found this recipe,” I would say to Rich, my sister, friends, the cat – really, anyone in ear shot — “that is going to be off the chain. Off. The. Chain.”

Well, it’s finally October, which means some of the best foods of the whole year – butternut squash, beets, arugula, cauliflower and, wait for it, pumpkins – have started to appear at markets and in CSA boxes around town.  Two weeks ago, my weekly CSA list noted an inclusion of a sugar pumpkin, which meant I was this close to fulfilling my stuffed pumpkin dream.

When I arrived at the student union for my usual Thursday pick up, there was a new girl checking off names. It was obvious there was no pumpkin in my box, and, even more frustrating, there was an enormous pile of sugar pumpkins on display right next to her. Rather than putting her on the spot, I thanked her for my pumpkinless box and brought it back to my office. Naturally, the only thing to do was call the farm and see how I could go about getting my rightful pumpkin at the next week’s pickup. They were totally cool about it; apparently I was the only person who either did not get their promised pumpkin – or who was crazy enough to actually call them about it. “There’s a pumpkin shortage this year!” I tried to explain to Rich.

Well, this week I received my promised pumpkin, as well as a new pumpkin in my box. So now, I can either make this dish twice, or use the second one for a terrific pumpkin pudding recipe I stumbled upon last year around this time.

Friday night we finally had the pumpkin of my dreams. It was everything I hoped it would be: the perfect combination of softened sweet squash mixed with the savory notes of the cheese, cream and sage. It may have been one of the best things I’ve ever eaten, and I eat a lot. Our dinner guest thought the pumpkin tasted like pumpkin pizza, minus the sauce.  He suggested rather than me choosing between making this recipe a second time or making the pumpkin pudding, that I should go and find more pumpkins and make this again and again. Like I said: Off. The. Chain.

Given the cost of the Gruyère, I wouldn’t break the bank on a good one. Trader Joe’s carries reasonably priced cheeses. We’re not really big wine drinkers; lucky for us, the liquor store now carries teensy little bottles of wine.  Mine cost $1.99, and I am pretty sure I can get three more pumpkins out of it. My point is: don’t break out the good stuff for this dish. We’re lucky enough to have a sage bush growing in front of our house; please feel free to stop by and pluck some leaves if that’s the only thing stopping you from making this dish.

Cheesy Baked Pumpkin with Gruyère Fondue from Melissa Clark’s In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite

I think I’m a little late to the Melissa Clark fan club, as she has written and co-written dozens of cookbooks. In the Kitchen is how I imagine a good cookbook to be: excellent writing and tales followed by superb recipes. I had this book for less than five hours when I decided that we needed to have the baked flounder and eggs for dinner that night. Clark actually suggests it as a breakfast, which sounds amazing to me. And I’ve made her green goddess dressing three days in a row. She has a new book out this week, and I cannot wait to get my hands on it.

Ingredients

6 (1-inch) slices baguette

½ cup heavy cream

½ cup dry white wine

¼ cup milk

1 large garlic clove, peeled and smashed

3 fresh sage leaves

½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 (3-4 pound) sugar pumpkin, well-scrubbed

5 ounces grated Gruyère cheese (1 ¼ cups)

1 Tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

•           Preheat oven to 425. Cut the baguette slices in half lengthwise and place on a baking sheet. Bake until golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes.

•           In a medium saucepan, bring the cream, wine, milk, garlic, and sage to a boil over medium heat. Reduce the heat to low and allow to simmer for 5 minutes. Take the mixture off the heat and discard the garlic and sage. Stir in ½ teaspoon of salt, the nutmeg, and the pepper.

•           Cut the top off the pumpkin and scoop out the pulp and seeds. (If you want to toast your own pumpkin seeds, and I always do, see the Note below.) Set the pumpkin in a baking dish. Place a layer of bread in the bottom, followed by a layer of the cheese. Poor in a third of the cream mixture. Repeat for 2 more layers and replace the pumpkin lid. Using your fingers, rub the oil all over the outside of the pumpkin and sprinkle on additional salt.

•           Bake the pumpkin until the skin blisters and the flesh is fork-tender, about 1 ¼ hours. Allow to cool in the pan slightly, then slice to serve.

NOTE: I saw this method for toasting squash seeds on Jody Adams and her husband’s new blog The Garum Factory. Like everything Jody does involving food, it’s pretty much perfect.

BONUS TOASTED PUMPKIN SEEDS RECIPE FROM THE GARUM FACTORY: Put the mass of pumpkin pulp and seeds in a large bowl and fill it three-quarters full with water. Work the pulp with your fingers to release the seeds from the fibers. The seeds will float. Skim the seeds and spread them on a sheet pan. Bake in the oven for 3-4 minutes or until dry. Remove the tray from the oven, drizzle a Tablespoon of oil over them, then season with salt, smoked paprika and a pinch of sugar. Smear everything about, then return the pan to the oven. Roast until the seeds are golden brown and crisp, about 8 more minutes.   Use as a garnish, or eat like popcorn with a great beer.

Bonus Cat Photo