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March 2011

Canal House's Hearts of Palm and Blood Orange Salad


I found myself staring into the salad plate today at lunch, wishing I had a silk shirt in exactly the color of that vinaigrette. Or maybe a stiff little canvas skirt with a bit of swing, perfect with tucked-in white tee-shirts and flat sandals. Better yet, a wedding bouquet made of peonies in this hue, or a little nosegay of ranunculus, my very favorites.

This winter has dragged on long enough when you start seeing your spring wardrobe in the communal salad plate, methinks. And cruelly, a few weeks ago, while New York was still digging out from under all their snow, we actually had warm winds and bright sun. It felt like spring and, leaning out of my bedroom window one morning, I saw buds on the majestic chestnut tree that lives in our courtyard and whose branches frame the morning sky for me every day. But then, in one fell swoop, Arctic winds and their accompanying temperatures befell us again.

But you know what those Arctic winds brought along with them, besides the cold wind? A whole lot of sunshine, every day this week. Which puts me in the very odd position of actually being grateful for something so cold that it sears the top layer off my skin every day.


You know what else is nice? Discovering a new salad to eat multiple times a week. I found this one the other night when we had friends over for dinner. Another dinner party, yes! But I stuck to my guns and made only what I wanted to eat, which happened to be a cauliflower soufflé (after making this one in London last weekend with one of my besties and realizing just how awesome a soufflé dinner can be) and apple strudel with softly whipped cream flavored with vanilla sugar for dessert. We needed something cleansing and astringent between those two knockouts and I found the very thing nestled in the front pages of The Canal House's third volume, Winter & Spring.

You buy a jar of hearts of palm, locavorism be damned, a few blood oranges, which - now that I live just north of Italy - I feel I can eat with aplomb, and a head of frisée. Then you marinate the hearts of palm, ivory batons quartered lengthwise, in a vinaigrette made of little else besides mustard and blood orange juice and olive oil. Mixing it together, you'll see that lush pinkness swirl into existence. You might, like me, have to restrain yourself from using this as a dye.


You cut little suprêmes from the oranges, meaning you hold a peeled orange gently in the palm of your hand and then, using a sharp knife and some care, you carefully slice the segments of the orange out from between their connective membranes. This is the fancy way of using oranges in this salad. If this seems like far too much fuss, you can also just peel the orange and cut it into slices crosswise. But there was something meditative and peaceful about the suprêming for me. I've spent all week in a fog of work and taxes and dirty sweatpants; standing over the counter cutting an orange into pretty segments was the most glamorous I got all week.

That's really the hardest work, anyway. You put the washed and dried frisée (I like to rip it into bite-sized pieces) on a plate or in a bowl and then arrange the hearts of palm, stained the palest pink, and the orange segments on the salad, before drizzling the lot with the gorgeous vinaigrette. The hearts of palm, if you've never had them, feel squeaky and velvety at the same time under your teeth and work to tame the edge of the blood oranges and the bite of the frisée. They soak up the vinaigrette, transforming into the mildest of pickles, and are simply a joy to eat.

It's such a simple little combination, but a welcome change from the usual soft lettuce-orange-avocado salad that I rely on in winter. This one's a little spunkier and a little more bitter, which I love. It's a winter salad with what I like to think of as a Caribbean soul. And will miracles never cease: I even found myself thinking, as I crunched through lunch today, that winter can stay a little longer, as long as it keeps us rich in hearts of palm and blood oranges.

Hearts of Palm and Blood Orange Salad
Serves 4

2 blood oranges
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
Salt and pepper
3 to 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar, optional
1 jar (14.8 ounces) hearts of palm, drained and quartered lengthwise
Small head frisée lettuce

1. Working with one orange at a time, peel the fruit, taking care to remove most of the pith. Working over a bowl, slice the orange into segments, letting the segments and juice fall into the bowl. Squeeze any juice from the leftovers in your hand into the bowl.

2. Stir the mustard and lemon juice together in a wide bowl. Add some salt and pepper to taste, then stir in the reserved blood orange juice. Whisk in the olive oil. Taste for seasoning and add the vinegar, if using. Add the hearts of palm to the bowl and gently turn them in the vinaigrette. Set aside to marinate.

3. Arrange the frisée on a serving plate or in a bowl. Place the hearts of palm and orange segments over the frisée and drizzle with the vinaigrette. Drizzle a little more olive oil over the salad and serve.

Simple Onion Soup


I made chicken stock the other day. Trudged down to the butcher to buy two organic soup chickens from France, ankles bound indelicately, skin cast in a yellowish hue. Passed the grocer on the way back home where I found wilting soup greens, as the Germans call that bundle of aromatics made up of two halves of a leek, a carrot, a slice of celery root and a spray of parsley tied together, in the dark recesses of a shelf close to the floor. At home again, I sliced an onion in half and charred each side in a pot with no oil, as every German recipe for chicken stock will instruct you to do, then filled up the pot with cold water, peppercorns, the yellow French chickens, bay leaves from my mother's garden in Italy and the soup greens, washed and peeled as best I could, plus a little bundled bouquet garni. The pot simmered away for hours, clouding up the kitchen windows, making the kitchen and my office smell like a Jewish grandmother's house.

The stock lasted us all week. A ladleful in risotto here, a golden puddle with tiny semolina dumplings there, a jar for my mother, a container in the freezer. If I had a bigger freezer, I'd make stock once a month. There's something so elemental about cooking it (and if you have two chickens floating in the broth, you can salvage one after an hour to actually eat, dipped into HP Fruity sauce, for example, my little guilty pleasure) and finding yourself supplied with the groundwork for a great many delicious meals.


The other day at lunch, inspired by a recipe from a German cooking magazine called essen & trinken, I sliced a small pile of onions thinly and cooked them in a little olive oil along with some unusal aromatics (star anise, juniper berries) until they were soft and translucent and going pale brown in the pan. A few sprigs of thyme from the balcony gave the onions an herbal touch. After a while, I poured a glug of dry white wine to deglaze the onions, then filled up the pot with some ladlefuls of chicken stock and let everything simmer away for a little while, while I sliced bread and spread the slices thinly with mustard before showering them with a carpet of grated Gruyère cheese. Under the broiler the bread slices went, until the edges were crisp and browning quickly and the cheese had melted and blistered in the heat.

I filled each soup plate with onion soup, then floated a toasted cheese tartine on top. The soup softened the bread, turning the bottom-side custardy and easy enough to cut with a spoon. We slurped away as carefully as we could, marveling at the depth of sweetness in the soup, crunching away at the edges of the toasts before they sogged entirely.


You always dream, when you work in an office, of being free one day, free to work in your pyjamas, free to be your own boss. It's a misleading little daydream, because the truth is that working from home for yourself is so much harder than being in an office. At least it is for me. I miss my commute to work, my colleagues, my office uniform. I spend too much time in my own head at home, feel far more oppressed under my own expectations of myself than I did under any employer. But in one respect, working from home really does beat everything else and that is the luxury of being able to emerge from the fog of work to cook my own lunch. To spend a half hour standing over the stove in the middle of the day, making a little salad, setting the table for the two of us, is bliss.

In a few months, our lunchtime ritual is going to change. Max will be working far away during the week and I'll be left to my own devices, probably sentenced to a great many peanut butter sandwiches at midday. It's just not as much fun to cook for yourself than it is when you're sharing a meal, is it? That seems to be one of the great truths of a cook's life. So until then, I'm counting my blessings, boiling chickens and making onion soup.

Simple Onion Soup
Serves 2 for lunch

3-4 tablespoons olive oil
5 medium yellow onions, cut in half and sliced thinly
1 star anise
A few stalks of fresh thyme, minced
10 juniper berries
1/4 cup (100 ml) dry white wine
4 1/4 cups (1 liter) chicken stock
Salt, pepper
4 slices country bread
Dijon mustard

1. Put the oil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat and cook the onions, star anise, thyme and juniper berries slowly in the oil for 20 minutes, until the onions are limp, silky and starting to turn brown. Deglaze with the wine and let most of the alcohol cook off, stirring occasionally. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour in the chicken stock and let the soup simmer for another 20 minutes.

2. Spread each slice of bread very thinly with mustard and top with a layer of grated Gruyère. Put the cheese toasts on an aluminum foil-lined baking sheet and slide under the broiler in your oven for a few minutes, just until the cheese is blistered and melting and the edges of the bread are toasted.

3. Ladle the soup into deep soup plates and top each plate with a cheese toast. Serve immediately.

Jamie Oliver's Pizza Dough


I've been lucky enough to eat a real pizza napoletana on a sidewalk in Naples, scarcely bigger than my two palms put together. Milky mozzarella bleeding into fruity, clean tomato sauce; heaven in three, four bites, gone as quickly as it came. I had the best pizza of my life at Pizzeria Mozza in Los Angeles, that sunswept, palm-studded city that so many New Yorkers love to hate, but that - deep inside my soul, my heart - feels like home to me. I loved the weird little pizzas at City Bakery before they started baking them on puff pastry; greasy slices in lieu of a proper dinner from the one-dollar joint down the street from my office; the glorious, glorious pies at Co. on 9th Avenue. And pizza al taglio is on my (very short) list of things you should eat before you die.

Even for my birthday dinner in December, I had just one request: pizza, please. And a beer. (We went to Casolare, a grungy little restaurant by the side of a canal in Kreuzberg which serves pizza that is very good and on occasion so great that a slim young man with, yes, an oftentimes above-average appetite, can eat two entire pies by himself in one sitting. Ahem. As God is my witness. Also! It's a good place for people watching: last summer, I saw half the cast of Inglourious Basterds having dinner in the back of the restaurant.)

In other words, I like pizza a lot. Probably like most of you out there, too. And there was a time when I let myself get swept up in the insanity that surrounds making pizza at home these days. You know, like cooking a pizza under the broiler on an upside-down cast-iron pan. Dealing with the weight of a pizza stone. Letting pizza dough proof for 24 hours for maximum flavor. Collecting recipes from pizzaioli far and wide to read about their favorite toppings. Sourcing Italian flour for the most authentic texture possible.

And then I got so tired of it all. I realized that I didn't actually want to recreate my favorite restaurant pizza at home. I wanted to go to a restaurant and pay to be fed that pizza. At home, I was happy with a pizza made in less than two hours, with a chewy, flavorful crust and toppings I could calibrate myself. Turns out, when you let go and stop trying to create restaurant results in a home kitchen, you can find yourself making some pretty stellar pizza. It's just a matter of realizing that the two are totally different things.

My favorite, holy grail dough is Jamie Oliver's pizza dough. It comes together in a flash and has the most incredible, floppy texture which translates to loose bubbles and a gorgeous, burnished bottom after a pass in the oven. Jamie's original recipe makes an enormous amount of dough so I halve it and between the two of us we usually manage to polish it off (did I mention the above-average appetite?). I don't bother using "00" flour or bread flour or the mixture of regular flour and semolina that he suggests. I use plain, old all-purpose flour with delicious, chewy results. Also, what I'm using here in Berlin is actually instant yeast and not active dry yeast since it can be added directly to the ingredients without needing to be proofed first. Score! One less thing to wash up afterwards. As for you, just use whatever yeast you've got.


You start out by making a rather shaggy mixture of flour, yeast, a bit of sugar, warm water, some olive oil and salt in a bowl. I stir this as best I can and then I give up, dumping the shaggy mess on the counter to knead it properly. Within a few minutes, I get a satiny-smooth, cool ball of dough. I let this rest while I quickly wash out the bowl, dry it and coat with a thin, thin film of olive oil.


The ball of pizza dough goes into the bowl, I turn it lightly to coat it with the oil in the bowl and then I cover it with a cloth and slide it into my still-cold oven for one hour. That's it. Enough to finish up work, make a salad, shred a ball of mozzarella, and set the table.

After an hour, I gently coax the dough - now puffed and fluffy - out of the bowl onto the floured counter. This may be one of my favorite things to do in the kitchen, handle freshly risen dough. It's so pure and expectant, somehow. And the texture of the dough is always so improbably light and bubbly. Plus, it smells like yeast and olive oil, which is a direct catapult to standing in the doorway of my favorite hole-in-the-wall pizza place in Urbino. At this point, I also turn on the oven as high as it will go.


I gently pat out the dough and it dimples agreeably under the pressure of my hands and then I gently, gently start to tug it into the shape I need for my sheet pan. I don't like to roll this dough - the light and puffy quality it has now will translate to a wonderfully blistered and airy crust in a few minutes - and besides, it is so easy to handle that it will flatten out with just a few judicious tugs and pats. If you like a thicker crust, pat the dough to fit your sheet pan (lined with oil-slicked aluminum foil). If you like a thinner crust, divide the dough in two and fit two sheet pans with it. You might find you'll need a rolling pin if you're aiming for a thin, thin crust. Or divide the dough into balls for individual pizzas.


For the topping, since we are purists and never stray from the classic trinity of tomato-mozzarella-anchovy, I open a can of peeled plum tomatoes, pour out half the juice (cook's snack!) and then, using my hands, shred and spread the tomatoes and remaining pulp and juice around on the dough evenly. I salt the tomato layer liberally and sprinkle with with dried oregano (make sure it's from Italy or Greece and it'll taste even better) and then strew the mozzarella I shredded earlier around evenly (don't use buffalo mozzarella as it's too wet and also a bit of a waste if not eaten whilst fresh and cool on your plate). I lay six to eight  anchovies in and around the cheese, give the pizza a quick drizzle of olive oil and then it's ready to go in the oven. My broiler is in my oven, not below it, so I put the pan in the top third of the oven and turn the broiler on. The uncooked tomatoes cook briefly while the flavor stays fresh and vibrant. (If you choose the thick pizza route and do this, you'll come uncommonly close to replicating my beloved pizza al taglio.) The cheese blisters and browns, the crust swells up, my stomach growls.

And that, quite literally, is it.


It always amazes me how quickly pizza can be made at home. Everything except the mozzarella is a pantry staple, really, and with just a few minutes of active work and ten minutes in the oven, you'll find yourself the proud producer of an ovenful of fresh, crusty pizza that's yeasty and salty and chewy and a total delight to eat.

So now, tell me, lovelies: how do you top your pizzas?

Pizza Dough
Makes enough for one half-sheet pan (if you like a thicker-crusted pizza) or two half sheet pans if you like your pizza thin as can be)

3 1/2 cups (1 lb) all-purpose flour (if you can find it, use Italian "00" flour)
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons fine sea salt (you might find you need more)
1 packet (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast or 7 grams instant yeast (for those of you in Germany, this is one of those Trockenhefe packets)
1 1/2 teaspoons raw or regular sugar
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/4 cups lukewarm water

1. Put the flour into a large bowl and make a well in the middle. In a large measuring cup, mix the yeast, sugar and olive oil into the water and leave for a few minutes, then pour into the well. Using a fork, bring the flour in gradually from the sides and swirl it into the liquid. Sprinkle in the salt. Keep mixing, drawing larger amounts of flour in, and when it all starts to come together, work the rest of the flour in with your clean, flour-dusted hands. Knead until you have a smooth, springy dough.

2. Wash out your bowl, dry it and oil it lightly. Place the ball of dough in the bowl and turn to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and place in a warm room or an oven (not turned on) for about an hour. The dough will have doubled in size.

3. Now put the dough on a flour-dusted surface and gently deflate it with your hands - this is called punching down the dough. You can either use it immediately, or keep it, wrapped in plastic wrap, in the fridge (or freezer) until required. If using right away, simply pat out to the size of your half-sheet pan or divide in half and roll out to cover two pans. You can also divide the dough into little balls for individual  pizzas - this amount of dough is enough to make about three to four medium pizzas.

4. Timing-wise, it's a good idea to roll the pizzas out about 15 to 20 minutes before you want to cook them. Then simply top them with your heart's desire and bake them in a very hot, preheated oven (turn your oven as high as it will go) for about 10 minutes for the thicker pizza and less for the thinner ones, until crisp and bubbling.