Archive for the ‘Essential Ingredients’ Category

You could probably make this dish in the time it takes to read this recipe.  It depends, of course, on good olives, which don’t come out of a jar or a can.  Ideally, you use green olives stuffed with garlic; this saves you the work of pitting them (although it’s probably a good idea to roughly chop the olives first to make sure no errant pits make their way into the food processor).  If you can’t find garlic-stuffed olives, use an equivalent amount of (pitted) green olives and throw one peeled clove of garlic into the mix.

This pesto is great tossed with chopped tomatoes for a quick salad.  It would also make a great pasta sauce, sandwich spread or dip for crudites.

makes about 3 cups of pesto

  • 1 c of green olives stuffed with garlic (Actually, by “1 c” I mean a few handfuls.  I have no idea how many olives actually made it into this pesto.  Ditto for the almonds.  If it’s too olive-y, add more almonds.  If it’s too almond-y, more olives.  Rocket science, this ain’t.)
  • 1 c of blanched, slivered almonds
  • pinch of red pepper flakes
  • olive oil as needed (about 1 c)

Double-check to make sure there are no pits in the olives, then put in the food processor along with the almonds, red pepper and a few grinds of black pepper.  Pulse a few times to roughly chop the olives and almonds, scraping down as needed.  Put the food processor on low and drizzle in the oil with the machine running.  Add enough oil to reach the desired consistency (I like this on the looser side).  Serve and enjoy.


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The trouble with being a pedant is that, one day, your pedantry will come back and bite you in the rear.

After spending a semester in college studying in Italy (well, “studying” might not be the most accurate term), I returned with a little knowledge of Italian and a lot of self-righteousness about the way Americans approach Italian food.  Pasta as a main course?  How ludicrous.  Cappuccino in the afternoon?  Barbaric.  Cheese with seafood?  Puh-leeze.

This condescension extended to the pronunciation of Italian words, especially of America’s favorite appetizer in the ’90s, the ubiquitous bruschetta.  Now, Italian has got one tricky rule of spelling, and it’s not too hard to master:  The letters c and g are always hard (as in the English cat and gate) except when followed by e or i:  Then they sound like the English letters “ch” and “j”.  (Look at the word cappuccino:  The first c is hard as in “cat”, and the second one—well, two—is a “ch” sound.)   In order to keep a hard c or g before e or i, insert the letter “h” after it:  That pasta that you love with meatballs is pronounced spa-get-ee, not spa-jet-ee.  This is how Italian spelling works:  No exceptions.

Thus, it would irritate me to no end when I overheard people ordering “bru-she-ta”, not “bru-sket-ta”.  (What irked me even more—and still perplexes me to this day—is the existence of jarred “bruschetta” topping.  Bruschetta is toast:  You can top it with anything, not just tomatoes and basil.  But I digress.)  I started pronouncing Ghiradelli’s chocolate with a hard g, even though San Franciscans refer to the square whence it comes as gee-ra-del-leez.

But my entire phonological system collapsed when a colleague of mine referred to that bright red cured cherry that you find on top of your sundae as a mar-a-SKEE-no (which is, of course, how the word should be pronounced in Italian).  I had grown up referring to them as mar-a-SHEE-nos, and I suspect you did, too.  Well, if that just wasn’t sunlight to the blind:  I had been brusketta-ing all over the place, and I hadn’t even known it.

What can I do?  I’m left stewing in my own hypocrisy.  I wince when somebody orders brusketta or Geeradelli’s chocolate, but I can’t bring myself to call these delicious little cocktail garnishes “maraskeeno cherries”.  (Oddly enough, I have no problem referring to the bottle of Luxardo maraschino that I finally acquired by its proper Italian pronunciation, but I fear that pronouncing the liqueur one way and the cherries another way is an untenable system.)

Fortunately, this recipe, adapted from NPR’s Kitchen Window, is very easy to follow, even if I can’t pronounce the finished product.

makes a lot of cherries

  • as many cherries as will fit in a Mason jar or plastic container, washed, stems and pits intact
  • enough Luxardo maraschino liqueur to cover the cherries (I used about 1 cup)

Stuff the cherries (any kind will do—I used Bing) into the jar.  Pour in enough liqueur to cover them.  Put the lid on and shake the jar a few times.

Refrigerate the cherries for at least two weeks, shaking them every other day or so.  (They’re even better after a month.)  I’ve noticed that the cherries have turned a fairly dingy brown, but that’s because their color has leached into the liqueur, which has turned a delightful fuchsia (and is a delicious digestivo).  Clearly, those neon-red cherries you remember from your childhood ice cream parlor have more than a little Red No. 5 in them.  These delightfully chewy maraschinos, with their vague redolence of alcohol, are definitely more at home in an Old Fashioned than on a sundae.  It also goes without saying that these cherries are definitely not for children.

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A few years ago, my dad asked me if I had a good recipe for a tomato sauce to complement the pizza he was making.  He seemed a little nonplussed when I said, “Saute some onions and garlic; stir in some canned tomatoes.”  Apparently, he had been expecting something more elaborate.

I’ve had several conversations like this, where people seem surprised that I don’t include dried oregano, red wine vinegar, carrots, cayenne pepper and who knows what else in my tomato sauce.  I decided at some point that I like the purity of flavor of just tomato, onion and garlic, and everything else proved sort of distracing.  Carrots and celery seemed like too much fuss for little payoff; dried herbs always made the sauce taste like high school cafeteria pizza to me.  I’m not adverse to adding a little sugar or vinegar to balance the sweet/tart profile of the sauce, but too much of either starts to push it into ketchup territory.

So, here it is:  basic tomato sauce.  It’s great for saucing pasta as is; you can also keep batches of this in your freezer and thaw it out to use as an ingredient in building lasagna, braising meatballs or creating more elaborate sauces with mushrooms or cured meat.  With a few small additions, it can be turned into the sauce for the Spanish potato dish patatas bravas, which features a spicy tomato sauce with bay leaf, pimenton and sherry vinegar.

  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1 can of whole tomatoes in juice (avoid crushed tomatoes, diced tomatoes, tomatoes in puree or any of that other tomfoolery)

Heat a few glugs of olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet.  Add the garlic; when it starts to color, add the onion and a generous pinch of salt.  Turn heat to medium low and sweat the onions for about 5 minutes, until they start to become golden in color.

Place a colander over a bowl.  Strain out the tomatoes, reserving the juice.  Add the tomatoes (but not the juice) to the skillet, breaking them up with your hand as you go (watch out for flying tomato seeds).  Turn the heat back up to medium.  Crush the tomato into the onion, and saute vigorously for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  The tomato flesh should break down and start to caramelize.

Deglaze the skillet with the reserved tomato juice.  Turn the heat to medium high and reduce the sauce, stirring occasionally, about 10 minutes.  By now, the tomatoes should be fairly broken down and the mixture should seem “saucy”.   If you like the sauce on the chunky side, leave it as is; otherwise, transfer the sauce to a food mill or food processor.

Pass the sauce through the food mill.  Use the sauce as is, or reserve for later use.  Mangia!

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If they called it “mayonnaise”, you would never eat it.  But since it’s called “aioli”, you can’t get enough of it.  It’s been so ubiquitous on restaurant menus over the past few years that I propose that the last decade be renamed the “Aioli Aughts”.

Aioli (or, by the Catalan spelling, allioli) is simply mayonnaise with a lot of garlic added to it; mayonnaise, in turn, is simply an emulsion of eggs and oil.  I can think of no better example of cooking-as-alchemy than making mayonnaise:  Can you imagine anything less appealing to eat than raw eggs and a cup of vegetable oil?  But when mixed together correctly, they form a rich, flavorful sauce which doesn’t look anything like its constituent parts and which is light years better than Hellemann’s (or any other jarred mayo).  The addition of garlic—a lot of garlic—and using olive oil instead of a neutral vegetable oil are no-brainers; throwing a little pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika) into the mix provides a ton of flavor and great color.  Serve this with potatoes (sweet or otherwise),  sandwiches or any sort of fried vegetables.

  • 2 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • 1 T Dijon mustard (preferably Maille)
  • juice from 1/2 lemon
  • 1 egg
  • 1/4 t pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika), plus more for garnish
  • 1 c (or more) olive oil

Roughly chop the garlic and place in a mortar-and-pestle with a little salt.  Pound the garlic into a puree, then add to a blender with the mustard, lemon juice, egg, pimentón and lots of black pepper.  Blend over medium speed until thoroughly combined.  With the blender running at medium, slowly drizzle in the olive oil until a nice creamy emulsion forms.  (You may need a little less olive oil, or a little more.)  Taste for seasoning and serve with a little extra pimentón sprinkled on top.

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Thank God it’s April.

Granted, here in the Pacific Northwest, the weather has actually gotten worse since February.  But at least the days are longer and the farmers’ markets finally have something besides turnips and potatoes.  To celebrate all things green, here is this recipe—absolute heaven for garlic lovers.  It’s inspired by the pesto that I used to purchase from Smith Meadows, who run a wonderful stand at the Dupont Circle Farmers’ Market in Washington, DC, selling fresh pasta, pasta sauces, grass-fed beef, cage-free eggs and other sundry delights.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with green garlic, it’s exactly what it sounds like:  young, green garlic, available in the early spring when the first shoots emerge from the ground.  Green garlic bulbs look like green onions, and they bear the same relationship to regular garlic as green onions do to regular onions (i.e., they are simply the immature versions of those vegetables, with the green stalks still attached).  Just like green onions, green garlic is very pungent when raw.  This is an asset, and this uncooked sauce exploits all of green garlic’s piercingly alliaceous wonder.  It’s great tossed with pasta, and it’s also a wonderful dip for chips, pita and vegetables.  Be warned, though:  This is powerful stuff.

  • 3 bunches green garlic (this will yield about 1 c of chopped, trimmed green garlic)
  • 1/2 c blanched, slivered almonds or pine nuts
  • olive oil, as needed
  • 1/2 c grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Trim and discard the ends and any nasty bits from the green garlic.  Next, trim off any tough, papery parts and reserve them for your vegetable stock bag.  Roughly chop the garlic.

Add the garlic and almonds to the food processor.  Pulse until roughly chopped, scraping down the sides as needed.  Add a generous pinch of salt and several grinds of fresh black pepper.  Turn the machine on low and drizzle in the olive oil until the mixture is loose (you will probably use 1/2 c of olive oil, or more).  Stir in the cheese.  Serve.  (To keep in the fridge, cover with a layer of olive oil to help the pesto preserve its bright green color.)

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Boy, is romesco sauce good.

Mmm, mmm, mmm.

Romesco sauce is further evidence that one should have almonds in the freezer at all times, ready to jump into the food processor at a moment’s notice.  It is also further evidence that garlic is good, that red peppers should always be roasted, that a little sherry vinegar can bring any dish to life.

You will find yourself putting this romesco sauce on crostini, on chickpeas, in soups, on a pan-seared flatiron steak, on roasted asparagus.  You might even start tossing it with pasta, eating it with crackers, tortilla chips, celery sticks… Eventually, you’ll just be eating it straight out of the bowl with a spoon.  And perhaps cleaning the bowl with your fingers.  Consider yourself warned.

  • 2 red bell peppers, seeded, roasted and peeled (you can substitute jarred roasted peppers, or even omit the peppers entirely and increase the amount of tomato)
  • 2 cloves of garlic if you’re serving this to polite company, 4 cloves if you’re serving it to me
  • 1/2 c blanched slivered almonds (hazelnuts are also traditional and delicious)
  • 1/2 c homemade bread crumbs
  • 1/2 c tomato, chopped
  • 1 T sherry vinegar
  • 1 t pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika)
  • olive oil, as needed (about 1/2 c)

Add everything but the olive oil to a food processor; add a few generous pinches of salt and grinds of black pepper.  Pulse a few times until the almonds are coarsely ground.  Put the food processor on low and drizzle in the olive oil until you make a creamy sauce that still has some texture from the almonds and the bread.  Serve.

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Bread Crumbs

Free food.

That’s how I feel about bread crumbs.  Invariably, part of a baguette goes uneaten, and by the next day, it’s stale.  It could go into the trash, or it could go into a bowl and wait for more of its baguette brethren to accumulate, until the day comes when the bowl is full and it’s time to make bread crumbs.  (Be warned, though:  A bowl full of bread scraps sitting on your kitchen counter will attract curious stares from houseguests.  Prepare a few pithy replies to potentially awkward questions in advance.)

Homemade bread crumbs are far, far superior to the store-bought kind.  Besides being tasty enough to eat straight, they are perfect for:

  • breading croquettes, chicken and anything else you want to fry
  • mixing with cheese for topping gratins
  • stuffing vegetables
  • sauteing with olive oil and garlic and sprinkling on top of pasta (aka the poor man’s parmigiano)
  • covering bottom crusts of fruit pies to absorb excess juice

Once you’ve collected enough odds and ends of bread, the process is straightforward.  Crush the pieces of bread with your hands into crouton-sized pieces onto a baking sheet.

Place the bread in the oven and set for 300 degrees.  Once the oven hits 300 degrees, bake for 10 more minutes.  Turn the oven off and allow the bread to cool in the oven, about 20 minutes.  (You want the bread to develop a little golden color, but you don’t want it to burn.  Mostly, you just want it to dry out.)

Transfer some or all of the bread scraps to the food processor (you may have to work in batches).  If there are any pieces bigger than a golf ball, crush them as you put them into the food processor.  Pulse the food processor a few times until the scraps are ground into crumbs.

Set a colander over a bowl.  Pour the contents of the food processor into the colander, then shake the colander so that the crumbs fall into the bowl below.

Take any pieces of bread that stay in the colander and return them to the food processor.  Pulse again until ground into crumbs, then add to the rest of the bread crumbs.  (You could, I suppose, continue to sift the bread crumbs and pulse the remaining large pieces ad infinitum in a culinary version of Zeno’s paradox, if you were the sort of person with too much time on your hands.)

Place in an airtight container and keep indefinitely in the freezer.  Free food!

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