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Recipe: Sautéed Baby Red Swiss Chard (Bietina)

10 Mar

You’ve vowed to eat more leafy greens, and you’re doing a great job adding more collard, kale, mustard greens, spinach, and other leafy greens to your diet. In Italy, where I live, those other greens would also include borage, broccoli rabe, chicory, escarole, watercress, and wild greens. But as you munch your way through one high-fiber, high-mineral, high-vitamin leafy green after another, there comes a day when you realize that, much as you love them all, one sautéed leafy green looks much like another. You have fallen into a green rut. That’s when Swiss Chard comes to the rescue. With Swiss Chard, you can have your leafy greens and ruby-red stems, too (if you get the right kind; chard stems can be white, yellow, or red).

Swiss Chard, or bietina/bietola in Italian, is widely eaten in Italy and around the Mediterranean. Why, you may ask, is it called Swiss Chard? No one knows. It’s not Swiss. But the plant may have first been described by a Swiss botanist, so that could be the answer–though it’s possible a German botanist actually did the describing first. It is one of those common plant-name oddities, like Jerusalem Artichoke.

This recipe uses tender, baby red Swiss Chard. If the chard you have is bigger/older, you may need to cut the leaves off the stalks, and add the chopped stalks to the skillet first, to give them more cooking time.

Recipe: Sautéed Baby Red Swiss Chard
2-3 servings

1 1/2 lb. (3/4 kg.) baby red Swiss Chard
olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
chili flakes/crushed red pepper
salt and pepper

Preparation

1. Trim the stalks by cutting them off the root end of the bunch of chard. Most stalks should be thin and tender. With larger stalks, take a knife and carefully remove the stringy part by peeling down the center of the stalk.

2. Wash the greens in plenty of cold water, swishing and swirling to remove any dirt or grit. Drain in a colander.

3. Drizzle some olive oil around the bottom of a heavy skillet; add the garlic, chili, and salt; grind some pepper over; and cook the garlic and chili over medium-high heat for about a minute. Add the chard, stirring occasionally to make that sure none of the leaves get stuck to the bottom of the skillet, and that all leaves get cooked. As with all greens, what looks like a huge amount will soon cook down to a fraction of its former volume. If the pan seems too dry, add a bit more olive oil.

4. Check the seasonings, and serve either warm or at room temperature.

Recipe: Spaghetti with Ricotta and Pecorino Romano

3 Mar

Sometimes, you need comfort food. While home today with a very sore throat and not much food in the fridge, I wondered what to make for lunch. It needed to be soft. It needed to make me feel better. It needed to be made from the few items I could scrounge up, and it needed to be prepared quickly. There was only one possibility: Spaghetti with Ricotta and Pecorino Romano, a double dose of sheep-milk heaven — and ready in less than 15 minutes. Perfect.

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Spaghetti with Ricotta and Pecorino Romano

This is a free-form recipe; you can adjust any of the ingredients to suit your tastes. The quantities below are for one hungry pasta lover, but this dish could serve two people if part of a multi-course meal.

  • 113 gr./ ¼ lb. spaghetti (or fettucine, tonnarelli, or other pasta)
  • 1 tbsp. /14 gr. butter, cut into small pieces
  • ¼-1/3  c. grated Pecorino Romano cheese
  • fresh, coarsely ground black pepper, to taste
  • 65 gr./ 2 ¼ oz. sheep’s-milk ricotta, crumbled or cut into small pieces (* use the best, freshest ricotta you can find)

Preparation

  1. Start boiling lightly salted water in a generously sized pot. When the water comes to a boil, add the spaghetti and cook just until al dente—often that’s about 1 minute less than indicated on the package.
  2. Meanwhile, place the pieces of butter in an unheated skillet or large bowl next to the pasta pot. Add the Pecorino Romano cheese,  grind black pepper over  top (to your liking), and sprinkle 2 tbsp. cooking water around the sides of the skillet or bowl.
  3. When the spaghetti is done, quickly scoop it out of its cooking water with a pasta ladle and drop it into the skillet or bowl. Don’t shake off all the cooking water; it is an essential ingredient. Stir and swirl the spaghetti vigorously to melt the butter, the Pecorino Romano cheese, and the cooking water into a light sauce. Add more cooking water if the pasta appears too dry.
  4. Check the seasonings (adding salt and more ground  pepper if needed), gently fold in the ricotta, and serve immediately, with additional grated Pecorino Romano on the side.

Recipe: Bolivian Soup with Wheat Berries (Sopa de Trigo)

29 Jan

There are probably as many versions of this soup as there are Bolivian families, and all of them likely to be delicious, but this is the version that has evolved at our house over the years. I love the bright-red color that comes from the tomato and chili pastes; it brightens even the coldest, most dreary day. I also love the soup’s many layers of flavor, each one contributing to the overall symphony. It’s even better the next day, so it’s a great make-ahead dish. And it’s very adaptable: make a vegetarian version by eliminating the beef/lamb, adding more veggies, and using vegetable broth/bouillon. Or substitute quinoa for the wheat if gluten is an issue.

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Bolivian Soup with Wheat Berries (Sopa de Trigo)

Wheat/Hominy:
1/3-1/2 c. dry wheat berries/trigo pelado
1 can (14 0z./400 gr.) cooked hominy/mote blanco, undrained
–OR 1/2 c. dried cracked hominy (maiz blanco trillado)–see photo below

½ c. freeze-dried potato/black chuño (optional)

Soup broth:
12 c./3 liters beef broth
1 lb./500 gr. meaty, bone-in beef or lamb
1 large onion, halved
1 large tomato, quartered
2 carrots, peeled and halved
2 bay leaves
beef bouillon cubes (optional)

Soup Vegetables:
3/4 c. petite peas
2 large carrots, julienned
3 large potatoes, julienned (it’s traditional to julienne both the carrots and the potatoes, but I have been know to dice both instead…)

Sofrito:
2 tbsp. olive oil
1 lg. onion, finely diced
1 tbsp. finely chopped parsley
1-2 tbsp. red aji (chili) paste (aji colorado/aji panca)–see photo below
2 tbsp. tomato paste
1 tsp. dried oregano
coarsely ground black pepper, to taste

Toppings:
2 green onions, finely sliced
1 tsbp. finely chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp. finely chopped fresh oregano
1 tbsp. finely chopped  fresh mint

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Dried cracked hominy

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Red aji (chili) paste

Preparation:

  1. Note: If using  the optional freeze-dried potato/chuño, soak it in warm water overnight prior to making the soup. Before adding it to the soup in step #5, drain it and squeeze as much water out as possible. If necessary, chop into small pieces.
  2. Place the wheat berries (and, if using, the dried hominy) in a medium saucepan, cover with several inches of water, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 60-90 minutes or until both wheat and hominy are soft. Drain and set aside. If using canned hominy, pre-cook only the wheat, and add the undrained canned hominy to the soup in step #5.
  3. Meanwhile, add the broth and meat/bones to a large pot and bring to a low simmer, skimming periodically until no more foam is produced. Add the halved onion, quartered tomato, halved carrots, and the bay leaves and continue simmering slowly until the vegetables are soft, about 30 minutes. Check the seasonings and add beef bouillon cubes to taste, if needed.
  4. Remove the beef/lamb to a dish and let cool. Strain the broth through a fine-meshed sieve into a large bowl, mashing the tomato pieces to extract any remaining liquid. Return the broth to the pot and discard the vegetables.
  5. Shred the meat, discarding the bones and any fat, and add the shredded meat to the pot along with 1 c. of the cooked wheat, the hominy, the freeze-dried potato/chuño (if using), and the peas, carrots, and potatoes. Bring to a low simmer and cook for 15 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile, prepare the sofrito: Heat the olive oil  in a skillet over medium-high heat, add the onion, and cook until soft and slightly golden. Add the remaining ingredients to the skillet and cook for a few minutes, stirring frequently, to make a fragrant paste. Add the paste to the soup pot, stir to mix, and continue simmering the soup, covered, for 15 minutes or more to develop the flavors and ensure all vegetables are soft. If the soup seems too thick, add more water. If it needs more salt, add another bouillon cube.
  7. Serve with the sliced green onions and herbs sprinkled on top, and with plenty of crusty bread.

Recipe: Raspberry Chocolate Cake with Ganache Frosting

22 Sep

This moist, raspberry-scented chocolate cake is a family favorite. It’s also a crowd pleaser, though very few people who ooh and aah over it realize it’s vegan. I love it because it’s easy to make and I can lick the bowl with a clear conscience. But mainly, I love it because it’s a great cake, perfect for anyone who wants a delectable, double dose of dark chocolate.

Note: There are times I have made a non-vegan version of this cake out of necessity; some of the vegan ingredients can be hard to come by here in Italy. So, if you are making this for a non-vegan crowd, it is possible to substitute regular (ideally, whole) milk for the soy milk in the cake and frosting, and to also use butter and (preferably dark/bittersweet) regular chocolate chips in the frosting.

Raspberry Chocolate Cake with Ganache Frosting

Raspberry Chocolate Cake with Ganache Frosting
(very slightly adapted from the recipe for Raspberry Blackout Cake with Ganache-y Frosting in Vegan with a Vengeance by Isa Chandra Moskowitz)

Serves 12

Cake

1 ½ c. all-purpose flour
½ c. Dutch-process cocoa powder
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
1 ½ c. vanilla soy milk
½ c. canola (or vegetable) oil
1 (10-oz.) jar seedless raspberry preserves (reserve ½ c. for batter)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 ¼ c. sugar

Preparation:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray two 8-inch round cake pans with cooking spray,* place a round of parchment paper on the bottom of each pan, and spray again.
  2. Sift together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  3. Combine the soy milk, oil, ½ c. preserves, vanilla, and sugar in large bowl and mix well. The preserves should be mostly dissolved; small clumps are okay.
  4. Add the dry ingredients to the wet in batches and mix until everything is incorporated.
  5. Divide the batter between the prepared pans and bake 40-45 minutes, or until a toothpick or knife comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool in pans.
  6. When cool, remove one cake layer from the pan and place on a cake plate or stand. Spread with a thin layer of the remaining raspberry preserves, then with a thin layer of chocolate ganache on top of the preserves. Place the second cake layer on top and repeat, then ice the sides.

* In lieu of cooking spray, coat lightly with vegetable oil.

Ganache Frosting

¾ c. + 1 tbsp. vanilla soy milk
6 tbsp. non-hydrogenated margarine (such as Earth Balance)
12 oz. vegan chocolate chips

Preparation:

  1. In a saucepan over medium heat, bring soy milk to a low boil. Add margarine and melt, turn off the heat, then add the chocolate chips and stir until smooth. Let cool–then refrigerate the frosting for an hour or so to thicken to a spreadable consistency. Check to make sure the frosting does not become too firm–remove from the refrigerator if necessary.

Recipe: Fried Zucchini Flowers and Sage Leaves

24 Jun

Fritti LR
Zucchini flowers taste as good as they look, if not better. Stuffed with fresh mozzarella, a hint of anchovy (or not),  lightly battered and fried until crisp and golden, they are summer on a plate. Fresh sage leaves–encased in the same warm, crispy shell–will turn your thoughts to autumn. But the good news is, you can have them now. Two appetizers straight from the garden.


Fried Zucchini Flowers and Sage Leaves
4-6 servings

1 c. (250 ml.) water–regular or sparkling
1 c.  flour, spooned lightly into the measuring cup (about 133 gr.)
salt and pepper
12-14 zucchini flowers*
9 0z. (250 gr.) fresh mozzarella
2-3 anchovy fillets (salt-cured, packed in olive oil)–optional
canola or sunflower oil–enough to fill a medium sauce pan to about 2.5 inches (6 cm)
handful of fresh, firm sage leaves

*Use male zucchini flowers. They appear at the end of long stems, unlike female flowers, which appear at the end of the emerging zucchini.

Preparation

1. Prepare the batter: Put the water in a medium bowl and sift the flour over it, whisking to incorporate. Add a pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper. The batter should be thick enough to coat the flowers, but not pasty. See the right consistency for a light batter below. Set aside the batter while prepping the flowers.

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2. Lay out all the zucchini flowers, wipe them clean, and discard any that appear bruised or past their prime (they are quite perishable). Trim the stems to about 1 inch (2.5 cm), leaving enough stem to grasp and dip. Pull off the sepals (the spiky green parts at the base of the flower). Gently work your thumb and index finger into the flower and pinch off the pollen-topped stamen. You will probably tear the flower slightly; that’s ok, but try not to tear it too much, or shred it. See the prepped flowers and discarded sepals and stamens below:

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3. Mozzarella and Anchovies: Cut the mozzarella into as many 2.5-inch ( 6 cm) long rectangular pieces as you have flowers–or whatever size best fits into the flowers you have. You can omit the anchovies, you can go all in and lay a nice piece of anchovy fillet on top of each piece of mozzarella before placing both in the flower, or you can take a moderate approach. That entails placing the anchovy fillets in a bowl, drizzling them with some extra olive oil, mashing them with a fork, then placing the mozzarella pieces in the anchovy oil so they get a hint of the flavor rather than a wallop. Either way, you want to place the mozzarella pieces (with or without anchovy) into the flowers, covering them up as best as you can and twisting the ends of the flowers closed to create a mini pouch.

4. Bring the oil to high heat in a medium saucepan. Holding the stem end of a sealed zucchini flower, dip it into the batter in a twirling motion to keep it closed (sealing any open parts with your fingers and twisting the bottoms closed again if needed). When the flower is completely covered in batter, carefully lower it into the oil. Repeat for as many flowers as will fit into the saucepan in one layer without crowding; you will need to cook the flowers in batches. When one side is golden, turn the flower over (or push the flowers gently under the surface of the oil as they cook, to ensure both sides become golden).

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5. Drain the fried flowers on paper towels, sprinkle with a bit of salt, and eat as soon as possible!

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6. Now for the much-easier sage leaves: Wipe them clean, dip each one into the batter, and fry until golden. Drain on paper towels, sprinkle with a bit of salt, and…

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7. … enjoy!

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Recipe: Coffee Ricotta Mousse with Gianduia (Chocolate Hazelnut Spread)

19 Feb

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Since moving to Italy, I have become obsessed with fresh, soft ricotta. Ricotta is made from the whey left over from making other cheese (so, the second cooking–and hence the name ricotta, which means twice cooked). It can be made from cow’s milk, sheep’s milk, goat’s milk, or buffalo’s milk. Cow’s milk ricotta is more common, but I love the taste and texture of sheep’s milk ricotta (ricotta di pecora), which has a very high fat content and is a bit softer than the cow milk version.

Cow's milk ricotta  Sheep milk ricotta
Despite this slight preference, I have yet to meet a ricotta I do not like. I love it in pastas and in any savory incarnation–but I really, really love it sweet: in the ricotta cakes here in Rome, in Sicilian cannoli, in the Neopolitan sfogliatelle…the list goes on. Basically, I love sweet ricotta here, there, and everywhere. So for the past few weeks, I’ve been experimenting with making a ricotta dessert at home: mousse. It has been tough work.

This version is currently my husband’s favorite: coffee-flavored with ripples of gianduia, a dark chocolate-hazelnut spread that is a sleek, grown-up version of Nutella. The recipe is for two servings (based on 1/2 c. ricotta per person)–and can easily be multiplied. It yields a subtly flavored mousse that is not overly sweet, but the ingredients can easily be adjusted to your taste. Note: delicious as this is, it has one other thing going for it–it is a very quick dessert that can be made ahead and put in the refrigerator until later.

Coffee Ricotta Mousse with Gianduia
Two servings

Mousse
1 tsp. instant espresso powder or instant coffee granules
1 tsp. vanilla
1 c. fresh, soft ricotta (preferably sheep’s milk ricotta–but use whatever is the best ricotta you can find)
2 rounded tbsp. sugar
3 tbsp. whole milk

Filling
2 heaping tbsp. gianduia (chocolate-hazelnut spread)

Garnish
2 or more whole hazelnuts
chocolate-coated cookie sticks

Pernigotti  Mikado
Preparation
1. Dissolve the instant espresso powder (or instant coffee granules) in the vanilla.
2. Place the remaining mousse ingredients in a bowl and mash with a fork until soft and mousse-like; add the coffee/vanilla mixture and whisk to combine, eliminating as many lumps as possible.
3. Leave with a few lumps for a more rustic mousse, or, for a finer texture, use an electric whisk (such as a whisk attachment on an immersion blender) or a hand mixer and whisk until velvety smooth.
4. Place 2 heaping tbsp. mousse in the bottom of each mousse cup, dot with about 1 heaping tsp. gianduia, and swirl slightly. Repeat, for three layers total, using up all remaining ingredients in the final layer.
5. If preparing in advance, cover each mousse cup with aluminum foil and refrigerate.
6. Just before serving, garnish each mousse with a whole hazelnut and chocolate-coated cookie stick.

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Recipe: Broccoletti Ripassati (Twice-Cooked Romanesco Broccoli)

12 Feb

After our visit to Sora Margherita, I found I could not get the broccoletti ripassati out of my mind. Soft, delicately sweet and nutty, redolent of roasted garlic and chilies, it was a perfect wintery comfort food, and I wanted to replicate it at home.

Broccoletti
So last week I went in search of a nice Broccolo Romanesco. It is in the Brassica oleracea family, along with broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, cauliflower, collard greens, and kale. Not to be confused with regular broccoli (Brassica oleracea Italica Group), Romanesco broccoli (Brassica oleracea Botrytis Group) is bright green and pointy and has been grown in Italy for centuries. It is most closely related to cauliflower and tastes a bit like it–though it is richer and more tender. And while it is sometimes labelled “broccoflower,” it should not be confused with the other, more common “broccoflower” that looks just like a green cauliflower. By now, I’m sure you are confused…. But rest assured, if you see a swirly, pointy, highly decorative Broccolo Romanesco, you will immediately know it is the one that is not like the others.

Romanesco broccoli
And if you do see one, grab it, take it home, and make some Broccoletti Ripassati; you won’t regret it. You can it eat it as a side dish, on its own (pictured up top as an oh-so-good, next-day lunch eaten with a spoon)–or mixed into pasta with some of the cooking liquid, as is very common in Rome.

Broccoletti Ripassati

1 head Romanesco broccoli
roughly 8 c. chicken or vegetable broth (I used water and chicken bouillon cubes at slightly less than full strength)
1/4 c. olive oil, plus extra as needed
freshly ground black pepper
1/4-1/2 tsp. chili flakes, or to taste
4 medium garlic cloves, minced–plus another 2 cloves, minced (optional)
2 tsp. red wine vinegar
salt & pepper to taste

Preparation

1. Trim the broccoli, cut it in half, cut out the core, and separate each half into florets.
2. Bring the broth to a boil and simmer the florets in the broth until they are soft enough to be pierced with a fork–it should take less than 10 minutes.
3. Drain the florets, reserving 1 c. of the cooking water.
4.  Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat and grind some black pepper over the top. Add the chili flakes, cook for about a minute, then add the 4 cloves of minced garlic. Cook for about 30 seconds while stirring, then add the broccoli and stir to coat it with the garlic.
5. Cook for about 15 minutes, stirring periodically and scraping up any bits from the bottom of the skillet, until parts of the broccoli turn very slightly golden. During the course of this second cooking, the broccoli will begin to disintegrate, which is perfect.
6. If the broccoli gets too dry, add some of the reserved cooking liquid and/or olive oil. You do not want the broccoli to be either too wet or too oily; you want it to be soft, moist, and almost slow roasted.
7. Sprinkle the red wine vinegar over the broccoli and cook until the vinegar has evaporated. Add the remaining 2 cloves of minced garlic, and cook for another 5 minutes (the first batch of garlic contributes to the slow-roasted taste; this batch adds a little extra kick–but it’s optional).
8. Season to taste and serve.

Recipe: Coda alla Vaccinara (Oxtail Stew) with Rigatoni

2 Dec

One of the pleasures of being in a new place is tasting local dishes and then trying to figure out how to make them. In Italy, part of the fun lies in consulting butchers, greengrocers, cheese purveyors, wine merchants, and really, any Italian who eats, because they are all happy to offer advice. As soon as the days grew cooler, I knew what I wanted to make: Coda alla Vaccinara (Oxtail Stew) served over rigatoni–an old-style dish appearing on many Roman menus.

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In previous times, the slaughterhouse workers of Testaccio (the vacccinari) were given offal and oxtails to pad their slim salaries. Their wives rose to the challenge and created dishes that made the most of the available ingredients. In Coda alla Vaccinara, the oxtails are braised in a sauce made with pancetta, lots of celery, onions, carrots, tomatoes, wine, and spices, though the stew is open to interpretation; everyone I asked prepares the dish in a slightly different way. Some people make it with red wine instead of white, some add water, some forego the carrot, some add raisins. Large pieces of celery are de rigueur, but in a rebellious break from tradition (and knowing I wanted to turn the entire stew into a sauce), I finely diced all the celery and survived to tell the tale.

However, I did not escape looks of shock and dismay on the faces of two Italian friends when I mentioned I had added a pinch of cinnamon to the stew. “Cinnamon? CINNAMON? No. NO.” But I say “Yes.” In addition to cloves, cinnamon very frequently appears in recipes for Coda, which is meant to have a warm-scented, delicately sweet undertone. So here is the resulting recipe, a hearty interpretation perfect for autumn and winter. And following on the advice of Alessandro Volpetti (and I’m happy to take the word of anyone at Volpetti’s), I topped the Coda with grated Ricotta Salata cheese, one of my favorites. But omit the cinnamon if you prefer, top with Parmesan or Pecorino Romano instead–this dish is yours to interpret.

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Rigatoni with Oxtail Sauce (con Coda alla Vaccinara)

1-2 tbsp. olive oil
2.2 lb. (1 kg.) oxtails
salt and pepper
4 oz. (about 112 grams) pancetta, cubed
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, finely diced (or coarsely grated)
5 stalks celery, finely diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
1/8 -1/4 tsp. chili flakes
4 whole cloves (or 1/8 tsp. ground)
¼ tsp. ground cinnamon
1.5 tbsp. tomato paste
1.5 c. white wine
1 large (28 oz./800 grams) can peeled Italian tomatoes
fresh parsley and marjoram (or oregano)
tiny pinch sugar

1 lb. (500 grams) rigatoni
Ricotta salata cheese, grated

Preparation
1. Lightly season the oxtail pieces with salt and pepper. Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven, then brown the oxtail pieces, turning them on all sides. Remove from the pot and place in a bowl.
2. Add the pancetta to the pot and cook until mostly crispy and the fat has rendered; do not drain the fat. Add the onion, carrot, and celery and cook until soft, deglazing the pot as you go. Sprinkle the onion mixture with more black pepper, add the garlic and bay leaf, and cook for a couple of minutes. Add the chili flakes, cloves, and cinnamon and cook for a minute or two while stirring. Add the tomato paste and the wine. Simmer gently for about 5 minutes to reduce the liquid slightly.
3. With clean hands, take a peeled tomato from the can and crush it into the stew; repeat with all the tomatoes. This is a very satisfying technique—but moderation is key; if you are too enthusiastic, you may end up shooting tomato bits across the kitchen. If you prefer a slightly less visceral experience, you can cut the tomatoes while in the can, or remove them and dice, adding all the tomatoes and all the tomato sauce/juice from the can to the pot.
4. Mix in the pinch of sugar, nestle the oxtail pieces into the vegetable mixture, pour in any liquid from the bowl they were in, sprinkle with more black pepper, and then scatter some of the herbs on top.

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5. Cover the pot and simmer on low heat for about 3 hours, or until the meat is very tender when pierced with a fork (it may take longer depending on the oxtails). Remove the oxtails, place on a dish, let cool, then pull off as much meat from the bones as possible (this will require some patience). Return the shredded meat to the sauce; keep warm.
6. Cook the rigatoni according to package instructions until al dente, drain, return to its pot, and then mix in the Coda sauce. Scatter more fresh herbs on top and serve with the grated cheese.

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Recipe: Salade Nicoise with Salmon

1 Jul

Sometimes, you just get tired of lettuce and yearn for something a bit “more.” The deconstructed Salade Nicoise meets that need. It is one of my favorite salads for that reason, and because all parts of it can be prepared in advance. Plus, salad makers with an artistic flair can have a lot of fun deciding how to present the ingredients to maximum effect. To earn the name “nicoise,” a dish must contain a few specific items: olives, garlic, French green beans, tomatoes, and anchovies (or tuna in oil). Artichokes and hard-boiled eggs are also characteristic of a salade nicoise, but just as I was assembling this one in front of a hungry audience I realized I had forgotten to boil the eggs…. So, no eggs this time around. However, the beauty of this salad is that you can improvise and make it with whatever you have on hand. I had a craving for broiled salmon, so substituted that for the tuna, and added corn off the cob and chick peas, just because. Three hungry people polished off this platter–but with some crusty bread on the side, it could feed four less ravenous eaters. The recipe below is a free-form one–the quantities of all the ingredients (and the ingredients themselves) can be adjusted as desired.

Salade Nicoise 2
Salade Nicoise with Salmon

1 filet of salmon, about 1 lb.
olive oil
salt and pepper
fresh lemon juice

2-3 ears of corn, husked, with silky threads removed
a couple handfuls of thin, French-style green beans, rinsed
6-8 small red potatoes, rinsed and scrubbed but not peeled, and cut into quarters
3 eggs (which I forgot)

1-2 ripe tomatoes, diced
nice black olives, about 1/3 c. (I had Kalamata on hand, but Nicoise or other French olives would be more traditional)
cooked chickpeas, about 1/2 c.
8-10 canned/tinned artichoke hearts

your favorite garlicky vinaigrette

Preparation

1. Set oven to broil. Pat the salmon dry and place on a rimmed cookie sheet sprayed with cooking spray. Rub the salmon with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and pepper, drizzle lightly with lemon juice, and broil a couple minutes on each side, or until cooked through. Remove from oven and let cool, then cut into chunks.
2. Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to a boil. Drop the corn cobs and green beans into the pot, and cook 5-8 minutes or just until tender. Using a slotted spoon, remove the vegetables from the pot and place them in a colander set on a dinner plate. Take the colander to the sink, rinse the vegetables in cold water, and set them aside. Keep the water in the pot boiling.
3. Drop the quartered red potatoes into the boiling water and cook until tender; remove them from the pot with a slotted spoon and set aside to cool. Finally, gently lower the eggs into the boiling water, turn off the heat, cover the pan, and let the eggs cook for 10-12 minutes. Remove the eggs and place them in cold water to cool, then peel and quarter them.
4. Take a cooked corn cob and stand it on its end on a stable cutting board. Carefully cut the corn off the cob in vertical strips with a sharp knife. If the green beans remain wet, pat them dry.
5. Assemble the salade nicoise by placing all the ingredients (including the tomatoes, olives, chickpeas, and artichokes) in an alternating pattern on a large platter. Drizzle lightly with the vinaigrette, and serve with additional vinaigrette on the side.

How to Eat a Cherimoya (Chirimoya)

15 Apr

It’s really simple–cut it in half, and eat it with a spoon. That’s how my Bolivian grandmother (who adored this creamy Andean fruit) ate it–delicately scooping out the seeds she encountered, and then savoring small spoonfuls of the custard-like flesh. I also love cherimoyas (or as I grew up calling them: chirimoyas), though I only ever ate them in Bolivia as they were impossible to find in the United States. But that has been changing, to the point that last week, they appeared  in the “exotic” fruit section of my local grocery store. What a treat! I took some home, let them soften up a bit (they should be quite soft to the touch, but not completely mushy), and then dug in. Yum…. Mark Twain considered cherimoyas the most delicious fruit ever (having tasted them in Hawaii, after they were introduced there via Spain and Portugal)–and I’d have to agree. But don’t be tempted to bite into a seed; the insides are toxic.

This fruit is also known as a Custard Apple, and I get the “custard” part, but can’t figure out the “apple” part; perhaps it’s due to the shape? Because a cherimoya doesn’t taste anything like an apple. What it does taste like is an entire tropical fruit salad pureed into a silky, sweet, tangy custard. It’s a vitamin-rich (B6 and C) dessert in its own green cup. One day I may be tempted to make a cherimoya flan, or some cherimoya ice cream, or perhaps a cherimoya smoothie, but it’s hard to mess with perfection. Really, all you need is a spoon.