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October 2005
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December 2005

Nigella Lawson's Beet and Ginger Soup

Six years ago, when I was living in a courtyard studio on rue Bonaparte in Paris, I sat at my kitchen-dining room-bedroom table and leafed through a copy of British Vogue. After looking at the glossy pages of statuesque models with impossibly long limbs and blank expressions, I reached the food pages, where an entirely different kind of woman held court. She had a lovely face, black locks of hair, and a writing style that immediately held me captive, though all she wrote about was the convenience of making pancake batter the night before you actually want pancakes. I immediately committed her name to memory. When How to Eat was published, I read it at bedtime like a novel, and gave copies to my friends and family, as with How to Be a Domestic Goddess. Despite grumblings about the failures of the recipes in the US version of the book, I couldn't get enough of her columns in the New York Times and the episodes of Nigella Bites on E!.

So, is it odd that to this day I have made only a handful of her recipes (an avocado-pea-endive salad, ricotta fritters, and an uncooked tomato sauce for pasta)? In the blogosphere rarely a day goes by without a mention of a dish or pastry of hers, and my own personal library of Nigella's recipes seems full to bursting. I clearly have some work to do. So without further ado, I present to you the beet and ginger soup I made last night. For some reason, my beets did not want to get soft - I roasted them for close to two hours, then ended up boiling them for another half hour and they were still pretty hard (has this ever happened to one of you?) Pureeing them left me with an unpleasantly textured soup. I'd follow Nigella's advice and use canned beets (the horror!) next time. I added a cup of chicken soup, some lemon juice and grated ginger, and sprinkled flakes of salt on top. Spicy, sweet and nicely astringent: a more virtuous and gorgeously hued dinner could not be had.

Beet and Ginger Soup
Serves 2

8 ounces cooked beets (or one 15-ounce can, drained)
2 teaspoons minced or grated ginger
1 cup hot vegetable broth
4 teaspoons lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Chop cooked beets roughly, and put into a blender with ginger, hot broth and lemon juice. Purée to make a smooth soup. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

2. Pour into a soup bowl, and serve immediately at room temperature, or heat and serve piping hot.

Kale and Potato Spanish Tortilla

Tortilla
You might have noticed that I never post about recipes from Epicurious. It's not because I don't like their recipes, but rather it's because the reader reviews do the job I've taken on for myself with the newspaper recipes. It's a very useful place to find recipes and food information, though I have sometimes tired of the Bon Appetit-Gourmet aesthetic (oh, Lordy). When I went to my CSA last night (only 2 more weeks left, sob, before the barren earth stops sending us vegetables), it seemed like divine food intervention when a recipe for kale and potato tortilla that I'd been hoarding for some time was reprinted on the newsletter we get from the farmers each week.

Off to home I trotted, with my sack of roots and tubers, to prepare my dinner. The recipe calls for what seems like an ungodly amount of olive oil. Partially out of pigheadedness and frugality, and partially because I am down to the last dregs of my oil supply, I only used a fraction of what was called for (incidentally, I finished my stash of garlic oil). The tortilla turned out just fine, but a bit dry. So, use all the oil and don't be a health pedant like I was trying to be. Also, I only had 5 eggs and not 7, so you'll see that my tortilla differs from the original shot. Still, it tasted delicious and was pretty easy to prepare. I had two wedges for dinner with a few silken leaves of prosciutto alongside it, but I could see the tortilla cut into smaller wedges still and served as an appetizer, with white wine, at a party.


Pierre Reboul's Concord Grape Clafoutis

Clafoutis
A few weeks ago, Melissa Clark wrote an article for the NY Times about Pierre Reboul, the pastry chef at Kurt Gutenbrunner's new restaurant, Thor, in New York City. Gutenbrunner is also the chef at Wallse and Cafe Sabarsky, which is one of my favorite New York places. The atmosphere, the food, and especially the desserts transport me back to Germany (via Austria, I suppose). So, in a roundabout way, I expected Reboul's recipes to be something very special. The clafoutis with concord grapes that I tried was bizarre from start to finish. Not necessarily bad, mind you, but bizarre.

The recipe called for a pound of Concord grapes to be peeled and seeded. PEELED AND SEEDED, PEOPLE. The things I do for this blog, I tell you. It's enough to make a girl want to poke her eye out with an Oxo cake tester. So, yeah, the process is about as fun as it sounds. And it takes forever. I warn you herewith, for God's sake, if you are intent on making this recipe, choose another fruit to make it with. The grapes are not that essential. Then, the recipe stipulates a few spoonfuls of cookie crumbs to be added to the batter. What? In a clafoutis? Whatever happened to plain old flour? I soldiered on. The batter was to be prepared with ground almonds and cookie crumbs, plus some butter and a mound of confectioner's sugar that would have struck fear into the heart of any dentist.

Now, I understand that pastry chefs are under a certain amount of pressure to create desserts that must do many things at once: evoke memories, highlight seasonal ingredients, vary from run-of-the-mill desserts listed on other menus, and taste good. Sometimes the result is a dessert that transcends its previous state into something wondrous and new, yet still delicious and even familiar. And sometimes this pressure results in a dessert that leads you swiftly to think, why, oh, why did the original have to be messed with? Some things should not be improved. A classic clafoutis, fruit peeking through the delicate, pancake-y batter, is one of these things.

In the end, this clafoutis was no clafoutis, it was a cake. I suppose this is what I disliked about it. An unleavened, buttery cake with a nubby, sticky, crumbly texture. My roommate liked it, Ben gave it the thumbs up, and I'm sure my colleagues will devour it when I present it to them in a little while. But for me, the clafoutis was a disappointment. 

My pile of grapes, and their seeds and skins beside them:
Grapes
After creaming together softened butter and a mess of confectioner's sugar, I added eggs, some salt, pulverized almonds and the crumbs from four shortbread fingers whizzed to bits in a food processor.
Batter_4
I spread the batter in a pan, then covered the top with the grapes and some of the juices.
Raw_4
I baked it for just over an hour, until the top was golden brown and set.
Baked_4


Russ Parsons' Garlicky Braised Cauliflower with Capers

Cauliflower
Are you getting sick of Russ Parsons yet? I'm not, though I realize it might sometimes make for monotonous blogging when I post entry after entry about recipes of his I've made with success. I'll try and be more varied, I promise. In the meantime, drown yourself in a plateful of this cauliflower. You might think I'm kidding, but I ate an entire head of cauliflower prepared this way, in one sitting. I'll admit that it's all I had for dinner, so it might not really be as gluttonous as it sounds, but still!

Some people think cauliflower is a vegetable to be scorned, as it's usually cooked into a putrid state of wobbly cellulose. But I am here to tell you that this need not be the case. Caramelized cauliflower a la Orangette is a gorgeous thing, all crispy and nutty, but so is steamed cauliflower with a light and creamy mustard bechamel sauce (I'll post the recipe when I figure out where my stepmother found it) and definitely this braised dish, full of deep, sharp flavors and tender florets. I'd take out the capers next time, or at least use only those in brine and not the salted ones, as I practically burned my tongue off with the overload of salt (and lest you think I did not soak them enough, I am here to tell you that I did! Soak them for quite a while. Anyhoo.).

Now for those of you who hate anchovies, you who think they are little devil fish, with their hairy bones and their pungently fishy taste, I tell you to fear not the wee anchovy. It wants to make your dinner better, not worse! Melted into a puddle of warm oil, these fishlets give the dish a deep and lovely flavor that has nothing to do with funky marine aromas. Trust me, once you're forking into the cauliflower at the end, you won't even remember that there are anchovies, albeit in a most deconstructed state, lurking about.

To make this dish, mince up a few anchovies and let them melt slowly in a pan of hot oil.
Anchovies
Using a wooden spoon, I like to nudge the anchovies towards disintegration.
Melted_1
Add some chopped garlic and a healthy pinch of red-pepper flakes, cooking until the garlic has softened slightly. Then add a head of cauliflower florets and some water. With the top tightly on the pan, let the cauliflower cook over low heat for about 7 minutes, or until it's tender but not mushy. Remove the top and turn the heat up to cook off the water and concentrate the sauce. Add a handful of fresh, chopped parsley (and the capers, remembering my note from above). Eat with abandon.


Wee Sprouts

Stalk_6
I know that Jack climbed up a magical beanstalk, but when I saw this woody branch in my CSA basket a few days ago, I imagined him climbing up it instead, using the bulbous growths as steps all the way up to the hungry giant's lair.

Sprouts_4

There are days when the newspaper cooking gets to be too much, and all I want is a plate of steamed vegetables for dinner. That majestic stalk yielded a small serving of delicate little brussels sprouts, perfect for one not-so-hungry girl. Aren't they cute?


Paula Wolfert's Madeleines from Dax

Image24

These could also be known as My Bumpless Madeleines. The recipe was excerpted from Paula Wolfert's The Cooking of South-West France (which is being reissued now, and is gorgeous) in an article from the LA Times this summer about Wolfert's house and life in Sonoma. While I worship at the altar of Wolfert, these madeleines didn't really cut it.

I feel terribly about what I'm about to do. Criticizing a recipe of Paula Wolfert's! She of the melting Fork-and-Knife Kale, the miraculous sardine-avocado toasts, the endless discussion threads on eGullet... I do not venture into this uncharted territory lightly. But it is my duty as a recipe-testing blogger to tell the truth. So the truth is, these madeleines had no bump. And a bumpless madeleine isn't much more than a cookie with a fancy name.

Sure, the little suckers tasted okay. But delicious they were not. And I'm no madeleine virgin. In fact, a few years ago, I made a batch that, glorious bump and all, were revelations after years of eating packaged Madeleines de Commercy. (Of course, now, for the life of me, I can't remember where I put that recipe. I'll find it, never fear.) Wolfert's bumpless madeleines had the correct, barely dusty texture, but the flavor was oddly flat and, dare I say it, almost greasy.

1. First, I beat together 2 eggs, a pinch of salt and 5 1/2 tablespoons of sugar until the mixture was thick and light (6-7 minutes). Then I added 1 1/2 teaspoons of orange flower water and 1 teaspoon of vanilla extract, whisking gently to combine.

2. I sifted 5 1/2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour with 5 1/2 tablespoons of cake flour and 3/4 of a teaspoon of baking powder together, twice. I gradually stirred this into the egg mixture. I added 5 tablespoons of clarified butter that had melted and cooled, plus 2 tablespoons of heavy cream. I stirred the batter gently until smooth. The bowl was covered with plastic and refrigerated overnight.

3. The next day, I heated the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit, and buttered the hollows of a madeleine pan. I filled the pan 2/3 of the way full, then rapped it against the table to let the batter settle. I baked the madeleines for 5 minutes, then lowered the oven temperature to 325 degrees, and baked for 6 minutes more, until the edges were browned and the madeleines were golden.

4. After removing the pan from the oven, I loosened each cookie with the tip of a knife and cooled them on a rack. The recipe indicates that it will yield 18 (3-inch) cakes or 24 (2-inch) cakes.


Spaghetti Squash Gratin

Gratin_2

Spaghetti: is there a more perfect food? I think not. So when it gets bandied about in certain food circles that spaghetti squash is a good, calorie-conscious substitute for those chewy strands made from durum flour, it makes my hackles rise. There's nothing wrong with a little pasta, people. In fact, I'd venture to say that a nice plate of spaghetti (whole wheat, if you like!) with a good, homemade tomato sauce and some gratings of cheese on top is a whole lot healthier and tastier than any low-carb concoction being whipped up by cooks of questionable talent. But this is hardly blogworthy news (at least I hope it's not).

What is worth talking about is the lovely vegetal wonder that is spaghetti squash. This smooth, melon-colored squash has stringy flesh that separates into little strands when cooked (hence its name). It's wholly different from the melting, orange flesh of butternut or acorn squashes, so easily transformed into velvety soups or creamy pie fillings. My way of preparing spaghetti squash is totally delicious and very healthy as well, not to mention easy as pie. And just to spite the low-carb brigade, I serve this with roasted potatoes.

Spaghetti Squash Gratin

1. Take a 3-pound spaghetti squash and put it in a stockpot, covering it with water. Bring the water to a boil, then simmer with the top on, for 20 to 30 minutes or until the squash is tender. Remove the squash from the pot with tongs, and slice it lengthwise. Let the halves cool until you can handle the flesh with your bare fingers. Remove the seeds and discard. Using a fork, scoop out the strands and transfer them to a bowl, until the shells are empty.

2. To the squash strands add 6 or 7 heaping spoonfuls of diced, canned tomatoes. Add the freshly stripped leaves of several thyme branches, 2 small diced garlic cloves, freshly ground pepper and some salt. Mix this all together and spoon into a gratin dish. Cover the squash mixture with shavings of Parmigiano.

3. Slide the dish into an oven that's been preheated to 450 degrees Fahrenheit and let it bubble away for half an hour, or until the top has browned nicely. This serves 2 people as a side dish.