Previous month:
April 2011
Next month:
June 2011

Mindy Fox's Roasted Parsnips with Za'atar and Aleppo Pepper

DSC_7908

When I first roasted parsnips a few months back, coated in olive oil and sprinkled with salt, I did a double take when I started eating them. A double and then triple take and then, mouth still full of sweet, nutty, roasty parsnip, I narrowed my eyes.

Who exactly, I wanted to know, was responsible for the fact that I had never before realized just how delicious roast parsnips could be? Who had been holding out on me? Was it you? Or you? Or you? I needed to give whoever it was a stern talking-to.

Since then I've decided to look into that small thing called personal responsibility and blame no one but myself for the long-held notion that parsnips are to be ignored, at best, and at worst, maligned for being...too earthy and too sweet at the same time? Sort of funny-looking? A pallid version of a brilliant carrot? Who knows, people.

I'm a woman changed.

DSC_7902

Now, I know it is a little obscene to be telling you about roasting parsnips on the day after Memorial Day.

(Sidenote: It's climbing to 85 degrees in Berlin today, which, if you listen to the radio here, is practically reason to fall over in a heat-related dead faint. And you know what I think is just fantastic? After 15 years on the East Coast of the United States, surviving the various heat waves that afflicted New York over the years, the 2003 blackout and the mind-bending experience of standing on a Manhattan subway platform in August for more than 23 seconds, I don't actually think 85 degrees is that hot anymore! It's spring-like. Practically reason for a light cardigan. I actually have cold feet right now! Goosebumps, slight ones, at the breeze coming through the balcony door! And, Berliners, if this is what you call humidity, then I am a lucky girl to get to live here. But I already knew that.)

Back to roasting parsnips in summertime. Yes, I know it's a little perverse. But just think of it this way: it's going to be a lot worse in a month! While you can still find parsnips at the green market and while the evenings are still cool-ish, get yourself a couple of pounds, plus some Aleppo pepper and a bit of za'atar.

DSC_7906

My friend Suzy brought me back a stash of incredibly fragrant za'atar from her recent trip to Jordan (so fragrant that even in a Ziploc bag, it perfumes my kitchen cupboards - magical), but you can easily find it online (Kalustyan's, Zamouri Spices or Penzeys). Its composition varies slightly from one Middle Eastern country to the next, but in essence za'atar is a mixture of sesame seeds and dried thyme or marjoram and sumac. It's brilliant stuff. You can sprinkle it on flatbreads and bruschetta, on plates of hummus or sliced tomatoes. You can season summer salads with it. Boiled potatoes. Grilled meat. Plop some in a puddle of olive oil and drag fresh pita through it. Dust it on cubes of feta layered with sliced tomatoes. And roast parsnips with it.

The recipe comes from this gem of a book by Mindy Fox that I borrowed from a friend a few weeks ago and am desperately considering not giving back. All you do is cut the peeled parsnips in half or in quarters, dredge them with olive oil, Aleppo pepper, salt and za'atar and roast them in the oven until they're caramelized and crispy and sugary and salty and peppery and herbal, all at the same time.

Was that too much of a laundry list? Okay, fine, how's this: I dare you to make a full batch and not eat most of it - by yourself - standing at the kitchen counter. Serves 4, my foot. Or this: If you already thought regular roast parsnips were candy from the gods, these roasted parsnips will blow your mind. Or if you, like me, are new to the world of parsnips, don't even waste your time with any "basic" recipe. Just go straight to the motherlode. You don't even have to thank me! I'll hear your collective, contented chewing from across the world, I just know it.

Roasted Parsnips with Za'atar and Aleppo Pepper
Serves 4

2 teaspoons za'atar
1/4 teaspooon Aleppo pepper
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
2 pounds parsnips
2 tablespoons olive oil

1. Preheat the oven to 425 F wiith the rack in the middle of the oven.

2. In a small bowl, mix together the za'atar, Aleppo pepper and salt.

3. Peel the parsnips, cut them in half lengthwise (if they're very fat, cut them into quarters) and, in a bowl, toss them with the oil and spice mixture to coat. Arrange the parsnips in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet or baking dish. Roast for 20 minutes, then, using tongs or a spatula, turn and stir the parsnips. Continue roasting until golden, blistered and tender, 10 to 15 minutes more. The za'atar will blacken.

4. Remove from the oven and taste - if needed, you can sprinkle more of the salt and spices on the parsnips. Serve warm or at room temperature.


Berlin, My Heart, My Home

DSC_7986

Berlin has cast a spell on me these days. Ruby-like strawberries barely last two days on the kitchen counter. White asparagus burst with juice under the blackened thumb of a farmer at the market. The days are full of soft breezes and sunshine, big puffy clouds dancing like cotton wool across the sky. Yesterday, while the heavens broke open and rain showered down, the sky remained a stubborn blue and the sun shone brightly in the sky: Magic, indeed.

DSC_7863

We took a walk around a lake near our house the other day. The banks of the lake were heavy with lilacs and weeping willows and people splayed out on the grass. Berlin can be so hard and gray in winter, but when spring blooms, the city comes alive, leaving you breathless on every corner. There is nothing like it. If I could, I'd bottle Berlin Spring for all of you, to dab behind your earlobes and transport you to our cobblestoned streets.

DSC_8019

I've been so overwhelmed with the details of what lies ahead in the coming weeks that I found myself, on Friday, practically unable to breathe. That evening, I went for a walk in Neukölln with my dad and focused on the little things: a black-legginged girl standing in the window of her ground-floor apartment, sanding the frame; rhubarb growing out of a two-by-four square of bare earth on a sidewalk; a little kid zipping past us on a scooter, scrawny leg pumping.

DSC_7280

Then I thought about what it will feel like to see all the people I love gathered in the garden of my mother's house when I bind my life to this other person who I met and fell in love with almost 12 years ago. And I got all quiet inside.

DSC_8023

This is Berlin: all graffitied and shadowy and a little scruffy around the edges.

DSC_7876

This is Berlin, too: fuzzy and charming with trees and grass and glassy lakes and orderly red-roofed houses spotted as you fly in over the city.

DSC_7284

And this is my Berlin: hand-painted Easter eggs hanging in a beloved living room with sunlight falling through the window just so.

DSC_8017

Tomorrow I fly to New York one last time before I get married and before I finish the book. I will see my editor and buy place cards for the wedding and celebrate with my friends and bounce down Seventh Avenue in a yellow cab. I will get a haircut from my tattooed hair dresser (yes, still) and eat Malaysian food for lunch and walk my beloved streets and soak up all that wonderful New York pixie dust that I desperately miss sometimes when I'm in my little treehouse, at my desk.

DSC_8025

But then I'll get impatient to come home again, to my lovely, leafy city with its goofy art vending machines and its elderflowers, heavy with pollen, waiting to be turned into syrup. There will be sleepy afternoons in my friend's backyard and berry-picking excursions in the overgrown fields just past where the Wall once stood. There will be lunches on our balcony in the summer heat and wasps will buzz at the kitchen window. There will be bike rides at dusk, soft, fragrant air rushing past my ears, and there will be languid picnics on sloping hills.

DSC_7864

And like a ripple of raspberry purée running through a scoop of melty ice cream, there will be this low, happy hum in the undercurrent of every day, telling me that I made the right choice, that this is my home and where I belong.


Andrea Reusing's Cooking in the Moment

DSC_7879

I have disliked mayonnaise for as long as I can remember. It's even possible I was born hating it. My whole life I've recoiled from its wobbly texture, its eggy aroma, its mysterious ability to turn the simplest sandwich into a mess of goo. Oooh, just thinking about it is making the hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

Yuck, people. Yuck. I literally just shivered.

As I grew older and got over a lot of the dislikes of my childhood (Brussels sprouts, mustard, parsley and oysters, all of which I adore fiercely now), mayonnaise remained the lone cowboy on the deserted plain of my food phobias. I even found a way to like cilantro, which for so long had reminded me of soap, at best, and rat poison, at worst. But mayonnaise would not budge.

The frustrating thing was that so many people whose taste in food I adore and revere seemed to love the stuff. Layered in tomato sandwiches, dolloped on top of a hard-boiled egg, set out for dragging a piece of cold cooked crab through; why, mayonnaise, when written about like that, did seem like it could be manna from heaven. Why, then, did it repulse me so?

DSC_7964

A few years ago, when I was still editing cookbooks at the publishing house I used to work at, we got a proposal in from a woman named Andrea Reusing, the chef and owner of a restaurant called Lantern in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The restaurant specialized in a fusion of Asian cooking with local ingredients and there was a substantial amount of buzz surrounding the project. We were very interested in buying the book, but ultimately lost out to a publisher who bid more money than we did. It's frustrating when it happens, but it's part of the publishing life. I put the book out of my mind and got back to work.

A few months ago, that publisher sent me a copy of the book. As I flipped through the pages, I felt a small stab of disappointment. Despite the stunning photography (by a master, John Kernick) and what looked like good food, the design felt a little soulless to me. All those lower-case chapter and recipe titles and color blocks. (This is the curse of the cookbook editor; it's like being a film editor, you can never again look at another movie without thinking of what's happening just outside the frame.) I thought of all the ways "our" designers would have made the book sing and then I put the book on my coffee table and forgot about it.

But last week, I picked it up again for bedtime reading. I live alone for five days a week now, and the only time someone's around to get me to turn the light off so he can go to bed already is on the weekend. I slid into bed with the book in my hands, turned to the first page and started to read. And before I knew it, an hour had passed.

DSC_7967

I read the book from cover to cover that night, falling in love with the world that Andrea writes about. She may be the chef of a high-end restaurant, but this book feels deeply, deeply personal. There are no complicated, cheffy dishes between the covers here. The recipes are easy and approachable, but the flavors that Andrea combines feel wonderfully fresh and new. I know you think you've heard this before, but, here, let me give you a few examples and you'll see what I mean.

She puts soy sauce on asparagus, cardamom on spinach and sorghum on sweet potatoes. She blends dried elderflowers into freshly squeezed grapefruit juice, coats fried chicken in rye breadcrumbs and banishes the tired old carrot-ginger soup once and for all with her carrot soup made with toasted curry and pistachios. There are pickled sour cherries and hot tomato relishes and salt-marinated cucumbers alongside pot roast and grilled mackerel and rice grits. I stopped marking which pages I wanted to cook from because, frankly, there were too many.

But aside from the recipes, the book is a beautifully written ode to the bounty, diversity and history of North Carolina small-scale farmers and Southern foodways. Essays about her favorite fish market in Carrboro, for example, or the man who supplies her restaurant with a wide array of mushrooms from his home garden or the couple who run the Chapel Hill Creamery, making a mozzarella so delicate it "barely holds together until dinner", enrich the book immeasurably and cast a spell on the reader, making you long for a life in a region that is rediscovering its agrarian roots so thoroughly that it's become second-nature for greenmarkets to offer not just heirloom tomatoes (Pruden's Purple, Hillbilly Flame, Arkansas Traveler!) and apples (Dula Beauty, Striped July, Bald Mountain!) but squash (Jumbo Pink Banana, Jarrahdale, Old Timey Pie Pumpkin!), melons (Emerald Gem, Pride of Wisconsin, Sugar Baby!) and sweet potates, too (O'Henry, Beauregard, Covington!).

Reading Cooking in the Moment made me want to start planting my own vegetables, made me mourn how far behind Germany is in all ways to the American local food movement and made me want to get into the kitchen all at once.

DSC_7884

And (did you wonder if I was ever going to get back to the mayo?) it made me fall hook, line and sinker for homemade garlic-anchovy mayonnaise, which I whipped up in two minutes and have proceeded to eat every day since.

Every.

Day.

Since.

Me.

Mayonnaise.

Case closed.

All you need, says Andrea, is a jar and an immersion blender. Which charms me, lazy bones that I am. You just buzz egg yolks with salt, an anchovy fillet, some minced garlic and a squeeze of lemon juice in the jar with the immersion blender before slowly drizzling in neutral-flavored oil and a bit of olive oil for flavor until you've got a few inches of creamy, palest yellow mayonnaise and your five-year-old self's mind is blown at the prospect that you are about to put this stuff in your mouth and eagerly at that.

Creamy, savory, garlic-anchovy mayonnaise, it turns out, tastes fabulous with cold roast chicken. So fabulous I ate it for lunch two days in a row. Then, when the chicken was gone, I made myself - finally! at 33! - the iconic tomato sandwich with white bread, sliced tomatoes, a healthy sprinkling of salt and more of that mayo. It was, indeed, as delicious as everyone says. The anchovy, in case you're wondering, disappears entirely into the mayo, leaving behind not a trace of fishiness. I promise. Cross my heart.

Now I'm almost down to the bottom of the bowl and I'm frantically trying to come up with reasons why I shouldn't make another batch. So far, they're all terrible.

DSC_7952

Cooking in the Moment is incredibly inspiring, not just in terms of cooking but also in terms of its spirit. Andrea's reverence for the people growing the food she serves to her customers and to her family is infectious. It will make you want to mail-order chickens from a Kansas chicken farmer, gather your children around to help churn fresh ice cream out of fresh strawberries, buttermilk and cream (and then watch them eat it directly out of the churn) and then book a flight to Chapel Hill so you, too, can be fed by the woman who makes Indian lime pickle with citrus from Plaquemines Parish and serves it with a chickpea purée.

Andrea is that rare breed of chef whose talent for lyrical writing is as developed as her pitch-perfect taste for food and her ability to seize everyday moments and find the divine within them. Her soulful, richly textured book is a gift, for readers, for cooks and for everyone in between.

Garlic-Anchovy Mayonnaise
Makes about 1/2 cup

1 egg yolk
Salt
1 garlic clove, minced
1 anchovy fillet
1/4 lemon
1/3 to 1/2 cup of neutral vegetable oil
2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1. Put the yolk in a wide-mouth jar and pulse for about 30 seconds with an immersion blender. Add a good pinch of salt, as much minced garlic as you'd like (I used about half a clove, which made for a pretty mild mayo), the anchovy and a big squeeze of lemon juice. Pulse again. While pulsing, slowly drizzle in the oil until the mixture is emulsified and creamy. Taste for salt and thin with a little water if necessary.