Sara Forte's Soba Bowls with Poached Salmon

Soba bowls with salmon

I am chicken with no head, hear me roar. The washing machine just flooded the bathroom, I haven't started packing yet for a flight to London that leaves less than three hours from now and I still need to do about 67 things including mopping the bathroom between now and then, so forgive me for throwing this recipe at you so unceremoniously, but it's been sitting in my drafts folder for too long already and I just couldn't make it wait any longer.

Now: Since I discovered these soba bowls with poached salmon (from Sara's The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook), I have made them more times than I can count and if a week goes by without them on the cooking plan, Max starts to get very itchy and plaintive. This is high praise indeed; I find it difficult to make the same recipes over and over again when there are so many other delicious things to discover. Don't you? But these lovely things are are silly easy, fantastically delicious, and even virtuous, if that's your thing, and I'm happy to make them every week. Oooh, I love them.

The preparation seems a little fussy at first. You need three different cooking vessels: a pot for poaching the salmon, a pot for the soba noodles and a roasting pan for the broccoli. You also need a serving bowl that you mix the dressing in. But as long as you have a loving (or electric) dishwasher, this shouldn't dissuade you, because all these little steps are worth the trouble. And if you are even just mildly interested in Asian cooking, you probably have all the ingredients required. In fact, for us, the salmon is the most difficult thing on the ingredient list to source. (Sara's original recipe has you use green tea for the poaching liquid, but I skip that step because I never have any green tea bags lying around the house and I'm too cheap to use my fancy loose green tea for this.)

My favorite part is spangling the top of each serving plate with toasted sesame seeds from a little plastic container I bought a few months ago from a Japanese shop. It sort of feels like one of those old-school green Parmesan cans, but instead of a questionable cheese product, out come toasted sesame seeds with a flick of the wrist. Happiness!

And that's that! Off I go.

Sara Forte's Soba Bowls with Poached Salmon
From The Sprouted Kitchen
Serves 4

3 tablespoons toasted sesame oil
2 tablespoons tahini
2 tablespoons agave nectar
Grated zest and juice of 1 lime
3 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
2-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
1 bunch broccoli
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 clove garlic, minced
Pinch of sea salt
1 tablespoon peppercorns
½ cup mirin or dry white wine
1¼ pound (preferably wild) salmon fillet
1 (9.5-ounce) package soba noodles
4 green onions, white and green parts, thinly sliced on the diagonal
½ cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro
¼ cup white or black sesame seeds

1. Preheat the oven to 425°F.

2. In a small bowl, whisk together the sesame oil, tahini, agave nectar, lime zest and juice, tamari, and grated ginger until smooth. Set aside.

3. Cut the broccoli into small florets, including some of the stems. Toss the broccoli in a bowl with the olive oil, garlic, and salt and then spread out on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast for 15 minutes, then remove from the oven.

4. In a saucepan, bring 1 cup water to a gentle simmer. Add the peppercorns and mirin to the water. Gently slide in the salmon, skin side down. Cover and cook until the salmon is just barely cooked in the middle, 8 to 10 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fillet. If in doubt, it’s better to undercook the salmon a bit than overcook it. Remove the salmon to a plate, loosely cover with foil and set aside.

5. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Cook the soba noodles according to package instructions or until al dente.

6. While the noodles cook, chop the roasted broccoli. Drain the noodles. In a large bowl, toss together the warm noodles, broccoli, dressing, green onions, and half the cilantro. Divide the noodles among four bowls, top with a portion of the salmon, and sprinkle the remaining cilantro and the sesame seeds on top. Serve immediately.


Cooking for Hugo: Teriyaki Salmon

Hugo and teriyaki salmon

Helloooo, fellow cooking-for-small-children-ites! It's been a long, long, long, long time, hasn't it? I'm going to be that mother and place the blame for this unintended hiatus directly at my beloved child's feet. Those sweet little feet attached to the, er, obstinate son I seem to have birthed who sometime around 15 months decided that he wasn't going to eat anything but pasta, boiled rice and, maybe, on some days, yogurt anymore.

Those scrambled eggs he used to hoover up like a pro? NO. The bananas he used to eat, slice by slice? NO. The little cubes of cheddar cheese he used to delicately pluck from my fingers and then eat like a gourmand? NO. The bowls of blueberry oatmeal he used to down in an instant? NO. Steamed broccoli he used to gobble like it was going out of style? NO! Segments of sweet juicy clementines he used to eat like candy? NO NO AND NO.

And for good measure, to all of it: NO.

Continue reading "Cooking for Hugo: Teriyaki Salmon" »


Martha Stewart's Hot Crab Dip

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Thank you, darlings, for all your lovely comments and well wishes. It did me good to crawl off and act like a wounded animal for a bit. I took lots of hot baths, baked a bunch of delicious, comforting things and read all the back issues of the New Yorker I had lying around the house. It was very restorative and I'm happy to say that besides a sore chin and a few remaining issues with my jaw, I'm feeling back to normal.

As for the delicious baked things, I will tell you about all of them, I promise, but first things first: This hot crab dip, which comes from the pages of Martha Stewart's Hors d'Oeuvres Handbook, was the Number One Most Delicious Thing I made over the holidays (we had it for our Christmas Eve appetizer) and while I realize it may be snooze-y for you to read the words "Christmas" and "holidays" in February, please trust me. You need to have this in your repertoire.

Hot crab dip was one of those things I'd vaguely heard about but had never actually seen in the flesh. I always assumed it had been very trendy and hip mid-century, but had gone the way of the three-martini lunch as the decades passed. When I was trying to think of what to serve to our guests on Christmas Eve (we always do a pretty simple fish-based meal that evening), I pulled down the Hors d'Oeuvres Handbook for inspiration. While much of the book's recipes are for much fussier (and more elegant) things than I'd ever have the energy to recreate, there are so many fantastic ideas for entertaining a crowd packed within its pages. Case in point, this hot crab dip.

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It's a silly-easy recipe and can be made in advance of serving, both big pluses for cooking for a crowd. You can make it with frozen crab meat as well as fresh, which is a boon to those of us who live in countries where fresh crabmeat is unheard of. (Berliners, I bought mine here.) And most importantly, of course, it is drop-dead delicious.

This is not diet food or temple food or whatever you're going to call it. It's rich with butter and cream and cheese, but a little goes a long way and it is guaranteed to please the people you're feeding. I'd go so far as to say that as long as the days are short and the weather biting, you owe it to your friends to make them hot crab dip. Not to overstate things, but it's the kind of food that make you feel all is right with the world as you eat it. The rich savoriness will warm your bones and the conviviality of scooping and dipping bits of toasted bread into it while clustered around a table together will warm your soul. Just the thing to keep us going through this next gray month.

(The Amazon links are affiliate.)

Martha Stewart's Hot Crab Dip
Adapted from Martha Stewart's Hors d'Oeuvres Handbook
Serves 8 as an hors d'oeuvres

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium shallots, minced
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3/4 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning
1 1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
3/4 cup half-and-half
8 ounces cream cheese, cut into small pieces
4 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, grated on the large holes of a box grater (about 1 3/4 cups)
3 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
10 ounces lump crabmeat, picked over for cartilage
1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 slices white bread, crusts removed, torn into 1/4-inch pieces
1/2 teaspoon paprika
Toast points, for serving

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees with a rack in the center. Melt 2 tablespoons butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and cook until soft, about 2 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon water and simmer for 30 seconds. Stir in the cayenne, Old Bay, and dry mustard until well combined. Pour half-and-half into saucepan and bring to a simmer. Slowly whisk in the cream cheese, a few pieces at a time. When the cream cheese is fully incorporated, whisk in the cheddar cheese, a handful at a time. Stir the mixture for 2 minutes. Remove from heat. Add lemon juice and Worcestershire sauce; stir to combine. Stir in crabmeat and half of the parsley.

2. Transfer mixture to an ovenproof baking dish and sprinkle with bread pieces. Dot top of bread pieces with remaining tablespoons butter; sprinkle with paprika. Bake until bread pieces are golden and dip is hot, 18 to 22 minutes. Garnish with remaining 1/4 cup parsley and serve with toast points.


Spicy Cabbage with Bacon, Shrimp and Tomatoes

Spicy sautéed cabbage with shrimp, bacon and tomatoes

It's a holiday here again, one of a few this month that gives us a nice, stretched-out weekend and a Monday that is eerily quiet. Max left early this morning to get some work done back in Kassel. When the front door closed behind him, the baby started crying and then I almost cried at the sound of it. I don't know who I felt worse for, the baby or Max. Usually, Max leaves late Sunday night, long after Hugo's gone to bed. It's a lot tougher when the kid's around to realize he's being left.

We had the loveliest weekend, though, especially yesterday, when we spent the afternoon in my friend Kim's garden, grilling meat and eating salads under a few sun umbrellas, the kids playing in the sandbox. It was one of those perfect days that you wished didn't have to end. It wasn't just the weather that was perfect, it was the general mood, the feeling that we were just where we were supposed to be, soaking up the warmth and indolence in quite the right way. Whenever expat friends of mine get irritated about how the whole country goes quiet on Sundays, I have to think about perfect days like yesterday. They'd be so much harder to enjoy if you knew that you could also be running errands or working. A day of rest should be just that.

Later, after we'd gotten home and bathed the sand and strawberry juice off the baby and put him to bed and were preparing to sit down and watch a spectacularly terrible movie on the couch, legs all tangled up together for a few more hours, I realized we had nothing for dinner. I managed to cobble together a few things from the fridge (sliced beets, boiled broccoli, a few sad tomatoes sautéed with a past-its-prime zucchini), but they were a little unsatisfying and I wished we'd had a head of green cabbage in the fridge - plain, old, green cabbage, because with that around, you never go hungry.

Spicy cabbage with shrimp and tomatoes

Whenever there's nothing in the fridge but green cabbage, I make Brandon's spicy cabbage, or a variation thereof, and we always finish dinner thinking about why don't we eat it more often. It's the best kind of empty-pantry meal. You need hardly anything to make it, it's plentiful and filling and delicious and spicy (I up the quantity of sambal oelek), and it comes together in hardly any time at all.

The most recent twist I made on the recipe involved a little diced Speck, some canned tomatoes and frozen shrimp, because I wanted something a little heftier and more substantial to make it a one-plate dinner. The extra ingredients gave the cabbage a slightly Mediterranean feel and the tomatoes smoothed and sweetened the hot bite of the sambal oelek. I even ate the (cold!) leftovers for breakfast the next day. Me! Miss-toast-and-honey! Wonders will never cease. (Also, I highly recommend it.)

Happy Monday, folks.

Spicy Cabbage with Bacon, Shrimp and Tomatoes
Serves 2-3

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, sliced
1/2 cup diced lean bacon or Speck
1/3 - 1/2 head green cabbage, thinly sliced
1/3 can plum tomatoes in juice, shredded with your fingers
1 teaspoon sambal oelek (or more or less to taste)
1 1/2 cups small frozen shrimp, defrosted
1/2 lime

1. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan and add the onion. Cook over medium heat, until glossy and fragrant, about 5 minutes. Add the diced bacon and cook for another few minutes.

2. Dump the sliced cabbage into the pan and mix well, using tongs, to distribute the onions and bacon through the cabbage. Cook over medium-high heat for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring often. Add the tomatoes, and the sambal oelek. Stir well to combine. Lower heat to medium, cover the pan and let cook 10 minutes.

3. Uncover the pan and add the shrimp. Stir to distribute. Cover the pan and let cook until the shrimp are just cooked through and pink. Squeeze 1/2 lime over the cabbage, stir well and serve immediately.


Le Grand Aïoli

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I'll bet you've been wondering where I've been, haven't you. Felled by the flu, perhaps, you think. Off visiting her husband in his faraway city, maybe. No, dear reader, I was right here the whole time, only instead of cooking and writing or cleaning up my desk space (urgh) during my spare time this past week, I was deep - deep - into Downton Abbey. Yes, it's true. I abandoned you for an English television show. Forgive me. I can't help it. It is just so good.

I'm almost at the end of Season 3 now (how, you fellow Downton freaks gasp? Right here. You're welcome, unless you want to get anything done again, ever, in which case, I'm sorry.) and am finally coming up for air and it occurred to me that it might be nice to, you know, get back to work again or at least vacuum the apartment so that my child doesn't start teething on dust bunnies, seeing as he's starting to learn how to scoot forwards and sideways all of a sudden. (And has two teeth! Two bottom teeth!)

I have cooked now and then in the past week, most notably last Sunday when I made my mother a birthday lunch consisting of salt cod (chewy!), a plethora of delicately steamed vegetables (pain in the necky!) and a big old bowl of mayonnaise (this one) that broke not once but twice before I found the best trick ever for saving broken mayonnaise. (There was a lemon tart, too, that was a disaster from start to finish, but I'm not going to dwell on that now, am I. Confectioner's sugar hid a multitude of sins and it was gobbled up in no time, thank goodness.)

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Salt cod, cooked vegetables and boiled eggs served with a big bowl of garlicky mayonnaise is called le grand aïoli in southern France and during this very cold, very gray January, it was a welcome change from the usual meaty stew I would have thought to serve for a lunch party. All complaining aside, it was actually quite fun to cook, too. The salt cod soaked on the balcony for several days before the lunch and then only had to be briefly boiled and skinned and shredded the day of the party. I prepared the vegetables the morning of the lunch, roasting the beets in the oven to concentrate their sweetness, while doing the rest - Romanesco, small, sweet carrots, tiny potatoes, golden-yolked eggs and fennel wedges - one after another on the stove. And Max was home to entertain Hugo, so all was right with the world.

Well, until that mayonnaise broke. The first time, I tried to save it with an additional egg yolk (put it in a clean bowl, carefully whisking the broken mayonnaise into it until it's nice and thick again). But then it broke again. This time, I had no more egg yolks to rely on. Our guests were arriving and things were getting very hot under my collar. (Did I mention the lemon tart from hell? It was staring at me balefully from the kitchen counter, under its blanket of powdered sugar.)

I ran to the computer for help and found this tip: instead of an additional egg yolk, put a spoonful of mustard in a clean bowl and whisk in the broken mayonnaise. (The genius tip comes from none other than Julia Child, goddess of frazzled daughters trying to cook their mother's birthday lunches everywhere.) Max handed the baby off to a pair of eager hands and came in to help. He whisked while I poured the broken mayonnaise (is there anything more hideous?) into the bowl and, lo and behold, a thick, glossy, delicious mayonnaise emerged (and it didn't taste like mustard, in case you were wondering). I practically cartwheeled with joy.

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Gently steaming the vegetables until they're just done ensures that they taste fresh and sweet - so good that they hardly need a thing to dress them except for a big dollop of mayonnaise. That mayonnaise ties all the things on the table together, the chewy cod and the rich, soft eggs, too. It's the base note of a delicious little symphony. I'd even go so far as to say that that it was a ray of sun straight from southern France on that cold Berlin day.


Marcella Hazan's Tomato Anchovy Sauce

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The fridge is full to bursting right now with various pots of jam, a silly amount of mustards in tubes and jars, two or three cheeses and a bunch of homemade fruit syrups (raspberry! elderflower! apple-currant, too!), but, as I stood in front of it with a gnawingly empty stomach today, there was nothing in it for lunch. We had no bread to make impromptu grilled cheese sandwiches, and no vegetables to do a simple stove-top sauté. The last of the rice was used up last night and I thought if I even so much as looked at another potato I'd hurl it at a wall. (Potato pancakes, potato dumplings, potato cake, I think we need to talk.)

When this happens to you, do you usually throw in the towel and go out for lunch? Or do you scrounge around until you find something suitable to eat, even if that means canned sardines on top of instant polenta with toasted sesame oil for flair? If I had not still been wearing my pyjamas at lunchtime (uh, one of the benefits of working from home, yes), I would have thrown in that towel and made someone else make me lunch. But vanity and laziness made me resourceful. You see, we did have a small jar of anchovies in oil and a can of my very favorite pomodorini di collina and an obliging parsley plant on the balcony.

Suddenly, things were looking up.

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I first read about this sauce on Rachel's mouthwatering blog earlier this year. It's Marcella Hazan's recipe and seems to be almost like the devastating Sofia Loren to her more Jayne Mansfield-like tomato-butter-onion cult. You melt a few anchovies in some olive oil, throw in a bit of garlic (I leave mine in chunks big enough to fish out, but you could mince it, too), and then simmer a can of tomatoes in that dark, funky base until the sauce is reduced and thick enough to coat a panful of spaghetti. I find it needs a bit of chopped parsley to make it feel like a proper lunch, but that's about it. You barely need any salt, you certainly don't need any grated cheese on top and the sauce's richness (not fishiness, don't worry) makes for a very satisfying meal.

With a square or two of chocolate for dessert, of course. One needs something special to book-end a scrounge-y meal like this, after all.

So, tell me, readers: what do you eat when there's "nothing" at home to eat?

Tomato and Anchovy Sauce
Serves 2 or 3

1 clove garlic, peeled and halved (or minced)
3 tablespoons olive oil
5 flat anchovy fillets
1 16-ounce can imported Italian cherry or plum tomatoes
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1. Heat the oil in a skillet and gently brown the garlic over low heat. Add the anchovies and, stirring constantly, allow the anchovies to melt into the oil.

2. Add the tomatoes and bring the sauce to a low simmer. Let simmer, uncovered, for 20 to 25 minutes. Taste for seasoning. In the meantime, bring a pot of water to the boil and cook enough spaghetti for two or three people. Drain the spaghetti, toss with the sauce and sprinkle with parsley. Serve immediately.


Ragù di Pesce

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I am sitting here in my office right now, the sky as dull as a washed-out t-shirt outside the window, rain leaking from above, feeling very far away indeed from the sultry colors in the photo above. In fact, it almost feels sort of cruel to post it; it's like a taunt from the last beautiful days of summer, strutting around all triumphant in fancy heels and a perfect summer dress, while you - autumn - have given up and retreated to the bedroom in saggy sweatpants and itchy woolen socks. Let's kick summer in the teeth, shall we? Now is the time of apple picking and pretty scarves, Sunday afternoons at the movies and hard work, after all. Nothing to be ashamed of!

Also, summer, this sauce doesn't belong to you.

Okay, so remember my friend Alessandro? His mother, Gabriella, is quite possibly the very best cook I know, and I happen to be blessed with a lot of good cooks in my life. She is from Bologna, the culinary heart of Italy, and she creates magic at her stove, from delicate breadcrumb soups to lusty pigeon sauces and briny octopus-potato salads. She's the woman who taught me how to make real ragù Bolognese and a mean lasagna.

Also, ragù di pesce. Fish sauce, if you're wondering. Though "fish sauce" sounds rather...fishy, and wan.  Like something beige and sticky you'd see napped on boiled potatoes so old they've grown skin at a German university canteen. And the fish sauce, er, ragù di pesce (pronounced rah-GOO dee PESH-eh) I'm talking about is a spicy, briny, fantastical thing that you toss with spaghetti, grabbing your heart at first bite.

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It is my not-so-secret hope that one day, I will be able to spend enough time in Gabriella's kitchen that she'll cook her way through her entire canon with me. In August, we started modestly: with grilled, stuffed tomatoes (I'm saving the recipe, my darlings, for the book) and this ragù. (Well, there were also a tray of gratinéed mussels and grilled fresh anchovies, tossed in herbed breadcrumbs, but those were more incidental lessons than anything else. Still, are you hungry yet? I just had breakfast and my stomach is growling.) And because sharing is giving, it is too good to keep to myself. May your September be rich in ragù di pesce!

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You begin, appropriately, with the fish. At the fish market in the next town over from the village where my mother and our friends live, near the Adriatic coast of Italy, you can buy a little mixture specially made by the fishmongers for ragù. It's got bits of salmon and monkfish, tiny shucked clams, chopped squid, and some shrimp cut into it. You can make your own fish mix in places without such a lovely service by simply buying a couple of different fillets of fish, a few shrimp and octopus, and a handful of clams, and then chopping and shucking everything up at home. You'll want about a pound in total.

To make things a little special, you can also buy some fancy scampi to serve on top of the plate of spaghetti. But that's just if you have guests that you really want to impress. If it's just a regular old Tuesday night, skip this step. Gabriella also bought cannochie, a specialty of that part of the Adriatic. I'd never seen them anywhere else before, but the Internet says they're called mantis shrimp in English. Have you ever heard of them? Anyway, they look sort of goofy and they're spiny to no end, but once you get past their shell, the flesh is sweet and fresh and almost lobster-like in consistency. Except, there's a lot less of it.

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Are you the kinds of people to do a proper mise en place before you start cooking? I always wish I would be, but I never am. New Year's resolutions and so on, let's make pretend we're doing a mise. Assemble an onion, some garlic cloves, a big pile of minced fresh parsley, two or three plum tomatoes, a bottle of white wine, a box of spaghetti, some hot red pepper, salt, and...the fish? I think that's it.

Now, feeling all virtuous with your organization skills, put on an apron and finely dice the onion and a garlic clove or two. In a wide, deep pan, sauté them togther gently in olive oil, along with several spoonfuls of the minced parsley. You want this mixture to get wonderfully fragrant, but without burning. So monitor the heat and keep moving everything around the pan.

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When it's done, about 7 minutes later, add the chopped fish mixture and stir well to distribute the oil and onion and garlic and herbs. Let that cook for a few minutes, stirring almost constantly, until you see the very edges of the shrimp start to go gray.

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Add the scampi and mantis shrimp, if using, and then add about a cup of dry white wine. Mix well and let it cook down for several minutes. In the meantime, seed and chop two plum tomatoes. Actually, three. Pour yourself a glass of that white wine.

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Add the tomatoes to the pan and stir. If it's looking like it needs a little more color, add a few spoonfuls of pureed canned tomatoes. And salt. A good amount! More than you think. Gabriella says that's the trick about seafood, it needs a lot of salt. And a nice pinch of red pepper flakes, if you want a little heat. (I always do.)

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Let the sauce come to a low boil and busy yourself with other things for a little while, like filling a pot with water for the spaghetti (the sauce as depicted here makes enough for a 454-gram box, which should be plenty for four to five people) and bringing it to a boil. Set the table, if you don't have small children to do it for you, or if your spouse is busy making the rest of dinner on the grill in the garden, teaching that girl with the camera his most precious secrets.

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When the sauce is, well, saucy, meaning, when the sloshiest part of the liquid has reduced, and the sauce feels thickish, about 10 minutes later, turn off the heat, stir in the rest of the parsley, taste for seasoning and then deal with boiling the spaghetti. As a visual aide, the sauce should look about it how it does in the first photo of this post. When the spaghetti is nice and al dente, drain it and add it to the pan with the ragù, tossing to distribute the little bits of fish and sauce evenly. You want to work quickly so that the spaghetti doesn't turn gummy. It'll absorb a bit of the sauce's liquid in the hot pan, which makes for forkfuls that truly taste of the sea.

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Command everyone to the table. In fact, if you got them well-trained, they'll know to be waiting, fork in hand, napkin in lap, raptly for you to dish steaming hot plates of spaghetti up in front of them.

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The fish bits fall apart in the sauce, infusing the tomato sauce with briny flavor. The wine gives depth to the sauce, which is, as these things go, quite a contender for fancy fast food. The parsley adds freshness and a bit of color. But really, calling out the individual elements of the dish is sort of beside the point, because what makes this so delicious and special is how it all comes together on the plate.

And even though it's possible to make this ragù at any point during the year now, I think it tastes best when eaten with eyes closed, dreaming of the summer, remembering skin hot from the beach, hearing crickets chirping at night.