Sicilian Savory Swiss Chard Tart

Swiss chard torta

Hello darlings! We are in Italy, which you probably - if you follow me on Instagram - already know. The boys and I arrived a week ago. It has been filthy hot and we have been doing the usual things: going to the beach, attempting to play badminton in the shade without collapsing from heat stroke, buying our weight in tomatoes and peaches from the market. Yesterday afternoon, while we were visiting a friend's baby rabbits and talking about the fox that stole her rooster a few weeks ago, a cold front finally came in. Last night we were able to sleep under coverlets again and not wake up with damply sweating skin. The air is clear and crisp today and I feel like gulping it in like a puppy dog.

This year, the boys are in day camp for the first time. They ride horses and play Italian games and eat two-course lunches every other day (there are sandwiches and French fries on the alternating days). Max arrives tomorrow and then it will really feel like we are on vacation. After having skipped the annual tradition of coming here last year, I am especially alert to all of the beauty and wonder of this place. Am I really here, I keep thinking. Is this really real?

When we are here, I share cooking responsibilities with my mother. This is lovely. She'll make things like lentil and calamari stew, or baked guinea fowl with peppers and potatoes. I end up relying heavily on the Sicilian cookbook that she mail-ordered from a newspaper once. It may seem improbable, but it is an impeccable source of recipes and I have rarely made a misstep cooking from it.

This torta di bietole (or Swiss chard tart) is something I make every summer. I buy a disc of tart dough at the grocery store (this particular one is gluten-free and perfect - Italians suffer in great numbers from celiac disease and the gluten-free options available at the grocery store are amazing, look at the blistery flake!), and a big bunch of the most tender baby chard. I get a quivering pile of ricotta from a cart at the market in Urbino, plus fresh eggs from our friend with the missing rooster. There's not much to the tart besides cooking the chard (first boil it, then sauté it with oil and garlic to dry it out and flavor it a little more deeply), then mixing it with the ricotta, eggs and some pecorino for more flavor. 

The delicate chard I can get here in summer has thin, tender little stalks. The chard I get back in Berlin (and that you may find wherever you are) has much thicker ribs, but as long you chop them after boiling, it'll be fine in the tart. The original recipe calls for sheep's milk ricotta, which is a rich delight, but not always easy to find out of season or out of Italy's borders. Of course, cow's milk ricotta is fine too. You could also swap out the pecorino for Parmigiano if you had to. (Sicilians rely more heavily on sheep's milk.)

All that's left to do is to fit the tart dough into the pie plate, scrape the savory filling into the pan, fiddle with a lattice crust with the leftover dough scraps and into the oven it goes. The tart is as good eaten fresh from the oven as it is the next day, when it's had a bit of time to settle, making it wonderful picnic fare. You could do the usual and serve this with salad alongside, or, if it's hot as hell where you are, just eat a wedge of it and call it a night. I love how simple it is, easy to whip up with the ancient whisk and plastic bowl in my mother's Italian kitchen, and how it isn't too rich and queasy-making, like quiche can be.

One final note: the metric quantities below are the ones I used when making this. I translated the U.S. quantities using Google and not my own equipment. I think they're all fine, but just wanted to make sure you knew.

Sicilian Savory Swiss Chard Tart
Makes one 9-inch/23-cm torta

550 grams/1.2 pounds Swiss chard
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 garlic clove, halved
300 grams/1 1/4 cups ricotta (preferably sheep's milk, but cow's milk will do, too)
4 large eggs
70 grams/3/4 cup grated pecorino
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 sheet/circle store-bought or homemade flaky tart dough (unsweetened)

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C. Boil the Swiss chard in salted water for 5 minutes and drain. Squeeze out the excess moisture and chop the chard roughly (especially if the ribs are wide). Place the olive oil a sauté pan over medium heat and sauté the garlic clove until light golden. Add the chopped Swiss chard, season with salt and pepper to taste, and sauté for a few minutes, until the remaining moisture has evaporated. Discard the garlic clove and set aside the chard.

2. Place the ricotta and eggs in a mixing bowl and whisk until smooth. Add the grated cheese and salt and pepper and whisk again. Stir in the chopped chard. 

3. Place the tart dough in a 9-inch/23-cm pie plate or cake pan. Trim off any excess dough and set aside for the lattice. Crimp the edges. Scrape the filling into the dough and smooth the top. Top the filling with the excess dough cut into strips. 

4. Put the torta in the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the dough is browned and crisp and the filling has puffed and set. Cool on a rack for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Joshua McFadden's Zucchini Salad with Tomatoes, Peanuts, Basil, Mint and Spicy Fish-Sauce Sauce

Joshua McFadden Zucchini Salad

Berlin public schools let out for summer last week and the city emptied out almost immediately. The streets feel empty and quiet now, parking spots abound, rush hour is muted, the air is thick with the scent of the blossoming linden trees. The smell, heavily floral and intoxicating, hangs in our apartment too, the windows yanked open day after day in the hopes of catching a faint breeze. Hugo's school closes for summer tomorrow and next week the boys and I leave for Italy, where the heat has already scorched the grass yellow and my mother awaits us. 

I am desperate to be there, itching with anticipation, actually, after having skipped our annual trip last year in an attempt to regain my sanity a little and write. These days, I feel different. I want to soak up every minute with the children, hold them close, watch them flourish in their happiest place, wild mint crunching under their feet, skin salted from the sea. I cannot wait to be where I feel most free and held, listening to the cicadas sawing away from morning til night, eating meal after meal of drippy melons and tomatoes, the rituals of summer anchoring us so firmly to that place. 

Until we leave, my calendar is filled with dinner dates and lunches and a picnic and celebrations of birthdays and anniversaries. We fling our arms around each other again in greeting and to say goodbye, promising more time together when everyone's back again in August. It feels delicious and indulgent and restorative and frightening and wonderful; totally banal and strange as hell at the same time. We weren't allowed to hug for so long. Is it safe? Meanwhile, tomorrow I will have a rising fourth grader and a little one with just one year left in Kita. It is nearly July. Wasn't it just January? Time is flying. Carpe diem.

The heat means that we mostly eat things I barely have to cook. Melon and ham, tomato and mozzarella, beans and tuna, peaches gulped down over the sink. The other day, I made a wonderful salad from Joshua McFadden's Six Seasons of wafer-thin zucchini and a whole array of cherry tomatoes, roasted peanuts and spicy fish sauce. I'm not the biggest fan of raw zucchini - I really love its velvety softness once boiled - but here, the zucchini is cut so thin and then salted and left to rest for a while. The zucchini slices are silky and nicely sweet against the fiery, lusty sauce, the crunch of the peanuts, the fruity burst of the tomatoes. This is the perfect salad to be piled high into a plate and eaten for a meal on hot summer nights when appetites are low, but the belly growls and is in need of satisfaction. 

Note: This post includes affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you purchase through them, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Zucchini Salad with Tomatoes, Peanuts, Basil, Mint and Spicy Fish-Sauce Sauce
Serves 4
Adapted from Six Seasons

3-4 medium firm zucchini
Salt
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved
1/2 cup salted roasted peanuts, roughly chopped
1 bunch scallions, sliced on a sharp angle and soaked in ice water for 20 minutes
1 small handful basil leaves
1 small handful mint leaves
1/4 cup Spicy Fish-Sauce Sauce (recipe follows)

1. Using a mandoline or a very sharp knife, slice or cut the zucchini into thin slices, either lengthwise or crosswise. Toss the zucchini with a teaspoon of salt and place in a colander to draw out moisture for 30 minutes. Then blot the zucchini with a paper towel to remove moisture and excess salt. Place in serving bowl.

2. Add the tomatoes, peanuts, drained scallions, basil and mint. Pour over the spicy fish-sauce sauce. Taste and correct seasoning. Serve immediately. 

Spicy Fish-Sauce Sauce
Makes about 1 1/4 cups

1/4 cup seeded, deribbed and minced fresh hot chiles (mix of colors, if possible)
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup fish sauce
1/4 cup water
1/4 cup white wine or rice vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar

Stir everything together in a small bowl until the sugar has dissolved. The sauce will keep in a bowl in the fridge for up to 2 months.


Grace Young's Stir-Fried Iceberg Lettuce

Stir-Fried Iceberg Lettuce

Hello, good people! It is a beautiful June day. I am drinking a glass of Apfelschorle (which is the German term for when you mix fizzy mineral water with apple juice) and it is being cooled by the most beautiful ice cubes that I make using this mold, bringing me untold amounts of joy each time I pop out a perfectly beveled little cube. Mercury is retrograde until the end of the month and thus we have been gnashing our teeth for a week straight about all the various things that have gone haywire (to name only a few: broken brake lights on one car, a busted tire on another, a child who insisted on shoving a CD into the delicate CD player mouth of a 16-year-old audio appliance while a CD while already was playing inside of it whyyyyyy), but the fine weather and good humor and fancy ice cubes go a long way in soothing the blow.

Besides, one thing Mercury Retrograde apparently doesn't affect is cooking, thank the moon and stars! 

The most revelatory dish I made this week was this big old pan of hot lettuce. Yes! I know that some of you will look at those words, "hot" and "lettuce", and sail right on by. But wait! Don't go just yet! Cooked lettuce is amazing and just happens to a staple in both Italian and Chinese cooking, so you know it has to be good. And it is! (Besides, I'm just messing with you. Stir-fried iceberg sounds so much sexier than hot lettuce.)

I don't ever eat iceberg lettuce. I don't ever buy it. (Though the excellent comments on this post are all you ever need if you are iceberg curious and need some ideas.) In fact, I stopped eating salad greens entirely a few years ago because I have a hard time digesting them raw. But when I got this big box of vegetables delivered a few weeks ago, a big old head of iceberg lettuce was in the box too. I let in languish in the fridge until this week and the outermost layers had to be removed. The inner leaves and core were still fresh and sweet and crunchy. 

It was just the thing to use in this recipe I'd been saving for...that one day I found myself in possession of iceberg lettuce. You chop up the lettuce into biggish chunks, and fry garlic slices and scallions in oil. Then you add the lettuce chunks to the pan and stir-fry them for just a minute. Then in goes the magic concoction of equal parts soy sauce, sesame oil and rice wine (plus sugar and pepper). You cook the lettuce, stirring well so that the sauce coats every piece, and a minute later your meal is done. Pile it in a plate with some rice alongside and you've got my ideal dinner. Sweet and savory, silky and toothsome. It is so delicious and satisfying, not usually what you'd think to describe a head of iceberg lettuce, amirite? 

The recipe comes from this cookbook and Grace Young says you can use other vegetables in this exact preparation with great results. I'm going to do baby boy chop (ed: This is the funniest autocorrect of my entire life, so I'm leaving it, but obviously I meant to write bok choy!) next and then maybe romaine. Ooh. And iceberg again, too, of course!

Note: This post includes affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you purchase through them, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Grace Young Stir-Fried Iceberg Lettuce
Serves 2
Note: You can, instead of iceberg, use romaine lettuce, spinach, watercress, baby bok choy, asparagus, snow peas and snap peas. 

1 teaspoon soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 teaspoon rice wine or dry sherry
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground white or black pepper
1 1/2 tablespoons peanut oil or other neutral oil
4 scallions, cut on the diagonal into 1-inch pieces
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced or smashed
Half a medium head iceberg lettuce, cored, outermost leaves discarded, inner leaves torn into 4-inch wide pieces (or substitute 12 ounces of other vegetables)
Kosher salt, to taste

1. In a small bowl, combine soy sauce, sesame oil, rice wine or sherry, sugar, and pepper; set sauce aside.

2. Heat a wok or 12-inch skillet over high heat. Add peanut oil, half of the scallions (including all of the white and light green pieces), and garlic and cook until garlic is golden, about 5 seconds. Add lettuce and stir-fry until lettuce softens slightly, about 1 minute. Drizzle in sauce and cook until lettuce is just coated with the sauce, about 1 minute. Season with salt, divide between 4 bowls while lettuce is just tender and still bright green, and garnish with remaining scallions.


Ottolenghi's Zucchini with Harissa and Lemon

Harissa Zucchini

A few days after arriving back in Berlin, I was sent a huge crate of produce by Fresh Fruit Germany. Every single piece of produce was in perfect condition and with so much flavor! It was the perfect welcome back to my kitchen after nearly four weeks away. Cooking my way through the crate was so much more fun than first picking out a recipe, then going grocery shopping, then getting started in the kitchen. Instead, I had to quickly come up with ways to use up all the eggplant, zucchini, cucumbers, lettuce, potatoes and leeks (just to name a few) that were in peak condition and wouldn't last long otherwise.

I made frittata with peppers, potatoes and prosciutto from Six Seasons. I made Alison Roman's potato and leek soup with sour cream and vinegar (and yes, I left out the dill and the soup was still stellar). I made cucumber raita and Greek salad and bean salad and pasta alla Norma. But the dish that surprised and pleased us the most was this marvelous bowl of soft zucchini dressed with preserved lemons and rose harissa. The recipe comes from Ottolenghi's latest book Ottolenghi Flavor

I cut a few corners, as I almost always do with Ottolenghi recipes. I used far less oil, just cooked the garlic for a minute or two, then added the zucchini without removing the garlic. Also I skipped the basil because we didn't have any (though I'm sure it would be even more delicious with basil). This recipe makes a pretty sizable amount of zucchini, and I fully anticipated having leftovers. But I didn't anticipate Hugo falling in love with it and eating the largest portion! He was fully obsessed. I was pretty amazed, since it's not just rather spicy, but also rather complex, between the chile, the preserved lemon and the rose harissa. But Hugo couldn't get enough. Three helpings, if I remember correctly, and then it was all gone and I was promising to make it again soon.

Note: This post includes affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you purchase through them, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Ottolenghi's Zucchini with Harissa and Lemon
Serves 4
Adapted from Ottolenghi Flavor

2 tablespoons olive oil 
4 garlic cloves, finely sliced
1 tablespoon rose harissa
1 red chile, finely chopped
½ preserved lemon, finely chopped, discarding any seeds
1½ tablespoons lemon juice
1 kilo zucchini, finely sliced (about 3 good-sized zucchini)
Generous handful basil leaves, roughly torn, optional
Salt

1. Place a large, non-stick sauté pan over medium-high heat with the oil and garlic. Gently fry for a couple minutes, stirring often, until soft, golden and aromatic. Don’t let the garlic become browned or crisp, so turn the heat down if necessary. 

2. Add the zucchini and 1¼ teaspoons of salt. Cook for 18 minutes, stirring often, until the zucchini are very soft, but are still mostly holding their shape (you don’t want them to brown, so turn the heat down if necessary).

3. While the zucchini are cooking, stir the harissa, chile, preserved lemon and lemon juice together in a serving bowl. Set aside

4. When the zucchini are done, stir through half the basil, if using, and transfer to a bowl. Toss the zucchini with the dressing and taste for seasoning. Before serving, finish with the remaining basil, if using. 


Emma Laperruque's Nutella Buckwheat Brownies

Buckwheat Nutella Brownies

I have been feeling a little...fragile as of late. For example, this obituary made me cry. This book that I finished last night left me with the most sickening case of existential dread. I went into the boys' room this morning for a morning snuggle, but one boy was happily reading in his top bunk and the other was far too busy setting up Playmobil knights for something as silly as snuggling, so I had to start my day snuggle-less. Who cares, right? Reader, the heartache, I tell you. Sometimes I don't think I'll ever be prepared for the heartbreak of them growing up.

The sun has come out in full force this week, despite freezing temperatures at night. We're having the kind of blindingly bright, blue-skied days, still bundled up in warm coats and sweaters, that I normally associate with New England in early fall. Today, driving Hugo to school, I stopped at an intersection and the haze from the sun was so bright, I momentarily thought I was in Vermont.

What to do when one feels exceedingly wobbly? Besides going out into the sunshine for a long walk, I mean. I was thinking about that today as I cooked our lunch: an onion in hot olive oil, slivered canned plum tomatoes dropped in one after the other, the salting of pasta water, the reducing of the sauce. Laying out the plates and forks, digging out the parmigiano from the depths of the fridge. Cooking pasta with tomato sauce does seem to be one of my most foolproof therapies. The mellowing onion, the starchy fug, it all ends up being self-parenting alchemy.

Nutella Buckwheat Brownies

But! I am not actually here to tell you about the healing powers of tomato sauce! I am here to tell you about these 3-ingredient brownies, which—if the world is a just place—should be the next viral recipe to sweep the planet, like that baked feta situation earlier this year. The brownies are made with Nutella, eggs and buckwheat flour. That's it if you don't count salt, but flaky salt is essential to their success, so make sure you have some when you make these.

The Nutella and eggs are whisked together until smooth, then you stir in the buckwheat flour. You scrape this rather stiff mixture into your prepared pan, then sprinkle with flaky salt. The brownies emerge from the oven with that gorgeous crinkly top and the perfectly fudgy consistency. Now I have to make one thing clear: if you know buckwheat flour, you're familiar with its assertive flavor. Hugo and I love it and the combination of the chocolate-hazelnut spread and the earthy, grassy buckwheat turns the brownies into something truly unique. Hugo couldn't stop raving. "These are the best brownies ever," he eventually said (after brownie #5 or 6). They're pretty great. The other two members of our family, who are decidedly less enamored of buckwheat, didn't quite love them as much.

You don't have to use buckwheat flour. You could use teff flour, if you wanted to stay gluten-free, or regular flour, though I suspect they could end up a bit too cloying. The buckwheat adds a hearty, almost savory note. And the consistency! I didn't believe it could be possible with just those three ingredients, but it was perfect.

Gluten-Free Nutella Buckwheat Brownies

What do you do when you're feeling wobbly, dear readers? In case it's making brownies, well, here you go and hugs to you.

Note: This post includes affiliate links and I may earn a commission if you purchase through them, at no cost to you. I use affiliate links only for products I love and companies I trust. Thank you.

Emma Perruque's Nutella Buckwheat Brownies
Makes 12-16 brownies

1 1/4 cups (370 grams) Nutella
2 large eggs
1/2 cup
(60 grams) buckwheat flour
Flaky salt (optional)

1. Heat the oven to 350°F/180°C. Line an 8-inch/20-cm square baking pan with parchment, with overhang on two sides.

2. Combine the Nutella and eggs in a bowl and stir until smooth. Add the flour and stir again until smooth. Spread into the prepared pan. Sprinkle with salt if you’re using it.

3. Bake for about 20 minutes until puffy, crackly, and a cake tester inserted near the corner comes out clean.