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Peas and Sympathy

31 Dec

Find me the person who treats the last day of the outgoing year and the first day of the new one with little notice and I’ll show you a liar. Or, in a more sympathetic view, a person who has been sorely disappointed by the days up to now.

It’s not like every year is a banner one or I am possessed by an irrepressible spirit of Pollyanna-ness at the end of December. No matter how good or bad the last 365 were or weren’t, there is bittersweet in varying doses of spoon or bowls-full. I remember one particular New Year’s Eve, counting down what felt like unbearably long final seconds –  10, 9, 8 – and thinking, my god, please let’s stick a fork in this one; it can’t end soon enough. Others end with hearty clinks and big smiles. It’s the beautiful unpredictableness of life, ain’t it?

IMG_0766For me, 2012 was a good year in many ways. I spent more time with my Dad. I got closer with people I wanted to get closer to. A long-held dream of visiting South America was fulfilled, and I made it to new-to-me spots in three other countries, too, in what amounted to some very fortunate and wondrous travel. I reunited with an old friend, made some great new ones. In work, I hit a stride that I’ve been working toward for a long time. And Mitt Romney didn’t become president. For all this, I am a pile of grateful.

And then there’s the balancing bits that simultaneously make me feel like the plates are shifting erratically under my feet and whose vice grip of gravity keeps all the happy stuff in clear perspective. We lost a dear, dear friend to cancer after she waged a long, phenomenal, and righteous battle; I still can’t get it through my head that she’s gone. Hurricane Sandy took our breath away with her wrath. The unspeakable murders in Newtown, CT. After a doctor discovered a bizarre mass on his brain, an old friend I’ve known since age 12 is having brain surgery within the hour that I am writing this.

Unless southern Italy is the place of topic, I am not a southerner by any stretch of geography or imagination. I grew up on Long Island, moved to New York City a long time ago, and have never dwelled in residence outside the Empire State. Still, a few years ago, I adapted the tradition of making Hoppin’ John – black-eyed peas cooked with salt pork – for the New Year. It’s a dish with a sad/happy past, which – when I think about looking back on the good and bad of any year – makes it seem all the more appropriate. In books I have like The Encyclopedia of American Food & Drink and the Food Lover’s Companion, similar bits of information are listed on the dish’s origins: It originated in the Caribbean and was brought to the southern United States by people ripped from their homes and families and forced into slavery. But an article I found written by Susan Krumm in 2009 shed a little more light on the dish. She writes:

Black-eyed peas … were brought to the West Indies and made their way to the United States in 1674 by way of the slave trade. They were a staple in the diet of American slaves.

During the Civil War, Union soldiers, following the scorched-earth policy on their march through the South from Atlanta to Savannah, Ga., destroyed all crops such as cotton, tomatoes and potatoes. In part, because they were a staple of the diet of slaves, black-eyed peas were overlooked… Southerners — slave owners, commoners and former slaves — turned to black-eyed peas for survival.”

A homely little legume turned out to be mightier than the sword. Or, at least, a food that sustained people, maybe gave them hope, and certainly kept them alive.

As to the name? The etymology is as murky as a long-cooked pot of peas can be, with versions like the so-called common welcome of, “Hop in, John!” when inviting someone into your house for a dish and some warmth, or that perhaps a children’s game of hopping around the dinner table on one leg before sitting down to the New Year’s Day dish brought good luck (and maybe expended some extra energy to keep little ones sitting still in their seats). The humble bean often has that kind of back story – Jack’s magic beans; my grandmother’s good luck chick peas on All Soul’s Day; lucky fava beans on St. Joseph’s Day. A little talisman to hold onto and wish for all good outcomes for ourselves and the ones we care for deeply.

Southern or not, I’ll make a little pot of Hoppin’ John tomorrow using what I’ve got — some salt pork and stock I’ve got in the freezer, the bag of beans in the pantry, gratefulness for the good I had this year, sorrow for the bad, and the will-it-to-be-better hope for my friend today and anyone else who needs it for the days ahead. Happy New Year, all. May your pots be full of beans and your hearts with ladles full of luck and hope. xo

hoppinHoppin’ John (adapted from the Cookin’ Up the Blues Tobasco Cookbook)
4 cups dried black-eyed peas, rinsed and picked over
3 ham hocks
1 lb thick-sliced speck or pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch or so bits
2 lg Spanish onions, chopped
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups chicken stock
1 tsp fresh thyme
1 TBSP Tabasco
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp Kosher salt

Soak beans in water overnight. In a large pot filled with water, boil the ham hocks for 45 minutes or so. In a large Dutch overn, cook the speck or pancetta until fat begins to render. Add in onion, celery, and garlic and sautee until soft. Add the peas and stock. When they come to a boil, reduce heat and simmer. Add in ham hocks (reserve the liquid), thyme, Tabasco, pepper, and salt. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until liquid is absorbed. If the beans aren’t quite ready, add in a little more liquid from the water used for the ham hocks. Serve with corn bread, look those you toast in the eye, and have a lucky, happy New Year.


Cooking with Marie

6 Dec

Marie in Kitchen
I am terrified of the French.

Or I was. I know this is ridiculous and childish – I know – and maybe not just a little bit crazy-town, but there it is. The language! The food! The wine! The clothes! The culture! The… Frennnnnchness!


As lovely as it all is, those items seemed to play upon my worst personal fears of clumsiness and ineptitude. So much so, that after more than a decade of writing about food and wine, I only took my first trip to that lovely country a few short years ago – prior to that, I feared that setting foot in Paris would only bring about the villagers to point their fingers (J’ACUSE!) exposing me for the two-bit fraud I feared I was: a dabbler not worthy to indulge in the greatness of Gallic culture.

So you see the depth of craziness that my sweet, lovely ex-pat Parisian neighbors had to battle before convincing me that they come in peace – and, at times, pate.


A few years ago, my friends Jean-Francois and Marie moved into a sweet, set-back Tudor home across the street from my husband, Dan, and me. The intimidation bar was set high – J-F worked for a high-profile fashion designer and M is an extraordinarily talented artist. She also happens to be the kind of cook that played upon my worst fears – traditional, phenomenal, instinctual. You know – French.

As our friendship has grown, they’ve become very dear to us. They are, really, the best neighbors you could possibly ask for and despite my enormous hang-ups and bullet-riddled insecurities, we go to each other’s homes for dinners, share wine at our respective tables, and look out for each other when the occasion for neighborly attentions arise. They even spend Thanksgiving with us. And at this last one, M invited me to come and cook with her for the umpteenth time, and I finally said yes.

One week to the day later, I was in her tidy kitchen learning to make sweetbread pate, a recipe of her mother’s, written in M’s neat handwriting on a sheet of paper. M doesn’t speak much English, and my French is about as terrific as my dog’s, but we muddled through (with only one phone call to J-F for a particularly tricky translation) and I learned to make something I never believed I could.

I wish I possessed the kind of storied bravery and openness of a woman like Julia Child (and even some contemporaries of mine – I’m talking about you, Caroline and Mindy!) who took Paris by storm with the kind of fearless wonder that allowed her not just to learn, but to bring her cooking adventures back home to fascinated American masses. My god, it’s taken me five years (and a lifetime) just to set foot in M’s kitchen and stand beside her, lining Le Creuset terrine with pork, veal, and Port-marinated sweetbreads. But you know, it was really worth the wait. We have another cooking lesson today – a traditional veal stew and chocolate mousse – and we’ll eat it together with them tomorrow night.
but as for the pate, here’s how it went:

 Boil the sweetbreads (200 grams, or about half a pound) for 10 minutes. Allow to cool; pull off any loose bits of fat. Marinate for 2 hours in ruby Port (in the ‘fridge, if that’s not obvious) and freshly ground nutmeg.

Boil the sweetbreads (200 grams, or about half a pound) for 10 minutes. Allow to cool; pull off any loose bits of fat. Marinate for 2 hours in ruby Port (in the ‘fridge, if that’s not obvious) and freshly ground nutmeg. Meanwhile, marinate (separately) about a pound of pork loin and a pound of veal, cut into 2-inch pieces, in Cognac and freshly grated nutmeg, also for 2 hours.

When the marinade time is almost up, mince three shallots and sauté in about a tablespoon of butter. Add salt and pepper and set aside.

Mixed meat

When marinade time is up, reserve the Cognac and put the pork and veal in a food processor and chop until consistently ground and smooth.
Combine the ground meat in a large bowl with the residual Cognace, 2 eggs, salt and pepper, about a half cup of sour cream, and freshly ground nutmeg. Set aside.

Slicing pork breast 2

Slicing pork breast

Remove skin from a breast of pork and slice the meat into long, thin strips.
Remove the sweetbreads from the Port, and slice into thin pieces.

lining terrine
Line an earthenware terrine with some of the pork strips. Add a layer of the chopped, mixed meat.Add a layer of the sweetbreads.

Terrine pre-cookRepeat until the terrine is full. Top with any leftover pork strips and cover.  Preheat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.

water bath
Place the terrine in an oven-proof dish filled with water. When oven is ready, carefully put it on the middle rack and cook for 1 ½ hours. When time is up, remove and allow to cool completely. When terrine is cool, remove the top and press down with something flat (most terrines come with a gizmo for this, but a plate of fat-edged section of a butcher knife will probably do just fine) and refrigerate overnight. Voila.

I, Tomato Hoarder

10 Sep

ImageRight around the end of August every year, I start getting a little crazy. Not in the seasonal-light-disorder-panic kind of way, but in the “ohmuhgod, all these delicious tomatoes are here for but a fortnight x 3! (or so)” kind of way. The red and yellow and green and purple of it is blinding. It’s all I can see. If I were in a roller derby and the prize were tomatoes? I would knock down everyone in my way. Which would be all the peoples. It’s kind of bad news. Which is probably why my dad sends me back with bags of them, myriad friends leave gifts of garden tomatoes on my stoop,and  my local veg guy with all the good Jersey ones sees me coming and clears a path. I just came home with a few pints of eensie, indescribably sweet yellow ones from him and ate half of them in a sitting. Feed the beast and the beast will leave you alone.

This year, with our weird, warm East Coast winter and dry as crackers summer, it was quite possibly the best in memory for ‘matoes. And so I’ve been using them every chance I get. Simple stuff, but I’m fairly certain I’ve eaten a tomato at least every day since early August. Not bad. And I even shared them sometimes. One week, I made tomato and cheddar and mayo sandwiches for my co-workers at the wine shop I write for, and another I made tomato-saffron-orange marmalade and gave it away to anyone I thought who might dig it.

But now it’s mid-September and my dad informed me a few days ago that his garden is all done. On my kitchen sill today sat 6 heirlooms from a friend who texted with a tomato SOS over-abundance (thank you, Mary Kay), a pile of chubby red grape tomatoes that I grew in pots in the few dollops of sun I get in my yard, and the rest of the little Jersey yellows I got for a song down the street. Tonight, I thought, tomato pie seemed in order.

ImageKnowing Heidi Swanson is a wiz with making really fresh ingredients stand-out, I found two great recipes on 101 Cookbooks, but as I read them through and thought about the other ingredients I had and might want to use, I wound up morphing them into something slightly different. The one I was leaning toward most heavily – an uncooked tomato tart in a crunchy parmesan crust – sounded great, but I took the advice of one of her readers and gently heated the slices, as well as a bunch of the yellows, with a little olive oil, butter, and garlic, and then let the juices run off so the tart wouldn’t get soggy. Also, I didn’t really have enough parmesan, but I did have cheddar. I made the butter-flour crust with cheddar subbed for parmesan, baked it as Swanson suggested (with a few extra minutes added for my oven), and lined the bottom with the rest of my cheddar to keep the drained tomatoes from doing any leaky damage (another one of Swanson’s awesome suggestions). This, by the way, tastes like the most delicious Cheez-It ever.

There’s an onion tart recipe that I make often for parties from French Tarts: 50 Savory and Sweet Recipes (great book) and I was craving some caramelized Vidalias, so they became the base with a little anchovy paste and fresh thyme mixed in. The layering was as such: onions, yellows, reds arranged as concentrically as I could manage. A salad on the side rounded the whole meal out. And while I’m inconsolably bummed that my tomato feasting and hoarding is pretty much at an end, this was a pretty good savory note to go out on. Also, I think my friends and family might stop avoiding me now that they’re safe from being knocked to the ground by my alter roller-skating ego, Early Riot Grrrrl.

Last Tomato Tart

6 medium tomatoes, slice about a quarter inch
½ pint of yellow cherries, cut in half
1 large, or 2 small, garlic cloves, cut in half and slivered
1 Vidalia onion, sliced thin
1 tsp anchovy paste
1 tsp fresh thyme
2 TBS olive oil
1 ½ TBS unsalted butter
Kosher salt

1 1/4 cups white flour
1 tsp kosher salt
3 TBS ice water
½ cup cold, unsalted butter, plus 1 tablespoon, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup shredded sharp cheddar, plus ¼ cup

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

In a food processor, combine the flour, salt, and cheddar, and pulse until the texture is grainy. Add in the ice water, one tablespoon at a time, until mixture can be pinched with your fingers and won’t fall apart. Immediately press into a tart dish (removable sides are best so you can see the pretty ridged pattern when all is said and cooked), line with wax paper or aluminum foil, fill with pie weights, rice, or beans, and bake 15 minutes. Remove from oven, take out weights and liner, and then put back in and bake for another 15 minutes or until deep golden in color. Remove from oven and sprinkle with the remaining ¼ cup of cheddar.

ImageMeanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and the butter in a medium-sized pan. Add in onions and cook until caramelized, stirring and turning over occasionally; about 15 minutes. Add in 1 teaspoon anchovy paste, chopped thyme, and a pinch of kosher salt. Cook for one more minute.

In another medium-sized pan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil and the rest of the butter over medium heat. Add in garlic and let cook until fragrant, about a minute. Place the sliced tomatoes in the pan in one layer, gently salt, and cook for about 1 minute. Remove from pan and place in a colander set over a place (to catch the juice). Repeat until all tomatoes are cooked.

To assemble the tart, evenly spread the onions on the bottom, followed by the yellow tomatoes, then the slices formed in a concentric circle. Be fancy and garnish with a few sprigs of thyme. Eat and be happy.

Bean There, Ate That

29 May

Corny! Yes, that was a very corny title I threw up there. But that’s the thing about baked beans — they have to be about the least sexy sidedish on the planet. At least, this is what’s happened to them over the years, as a long-cooked, honest, pot o’ beans morphed into a can of Heinz fwopped into a microwaveable bowl and, ding, ready! Gargh.

But my husband loves them. Loves them! And is always prodding me to buy cans of the gooey, congealed, sweet sacrilege, to the point that my inner prickly food fiend screams, “FOR THE LOVE OF PETE, NO! OVER MY DEAD, BEAN-SPLATTERED BODY WILL I SERVE THAT!” Sigh. Even if there’s a certain retro-cool Don Draper-ness potentially going on with them now. Remember that whole Rolling Stones/Baked Beans thing that happened this season? Well, it’s not so far away from reality–yup, that’s Roger Daltry to the right, wading in a pile of Heinz beans and hugging an enormous can of them. The best part about that photo is he looks utterly insane. But how else would you look if you were sitting in beans? Exactly the same, that’s how.


We decided to lay low this Memorial Day Weekend for myriad reasons, and had a little cook-out one night with family and a couple of close friends. As per usual, when I was heading out to the store, Dan said, “Let’s have baked beans!” Which I promptly ignored and didn’t buy (mean), and then felt bad about it (sucker).

As luck would have it, my kitchen-happy friend and former book-publishing colleague Renee Wilmeth had posted a recipe for her mom’s baked bean recipe on Facebook yesterday, and I happened to catch it. She’d tweaked it with her own very good updated twists — smoked sea salt being the kicker that makes this recipe so great, and which makes me kind of want to take a cue from Daltry, fill a tub with them, and roll around in it. (That was too much sharing, wasn’t it? Yes. Yes it was.)

I had all the ingredients on hand (yippie!), which, with the exception of the smoked sea salt, aren’t super complicated (and you could do without that — kosher salt would do just fine, and it wouldn’t ruin the recipe a lick). Also, full disclosure:  I used turkey bacon. Stop judging. I had it on hand because, ugh, I love crispy things and BLTs and we’re trying to cut down just a tiny, tiny bit around here, so sue me. I am not sorry!

The most complicated thing about making it is… having time. But once you throw them in the oven, you can pretty much forget about them. Never mind the substitutes or the slow-cookin’ lazy factor, though; just make these because they are uh-mazing. They were happily and, dare I say, greedily spooned up by a few family members who are, um, usually super-duper sniffy, picky eaters. Ha! I win! Cha-cha-cha.

Renee Wilmeth & Her Mom’s Bodacious Baked Beans

1 lb small white beans (navy beans or similar)
1 white onion, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
½ lb bacon, chopped, plus another 3-4 strips for the top of the beans (I didn’t do this for obvious reasons)
1-2 tablespoons, mustard (Renee’s mom used yellow; she uses Guildan’s; I used Dijon)
1.5 teaspoons smoked salt (I used 2, because I know I like just a little extra salty-salty)
1/3 cup molasses, mild or blackstrap
½ cup packed brown sugar
9 cups water
1-2 teaspoons cider vinegar

So says Renee: “In a large dutch oven, fry the bacon until it’s cooked but not crispy. Add the onion and garlic and sauté until it’s all soft.  Then add molasses, mustard, beans, salt, water and brown sugar. Bring to a simmer on the stovetop then pop into 300 degree oven.  [NOTE: I went up to 325 because I find my oven runs a little cool.]

“Cook beans for 4-5 hours with lid on.  Then add strips of bacon, take lid off, and cook in oven for another 2 hours to thicken sauce.”

If you need to adjust the water during the ‘lid on’ phase, go for it. Taste every now and again for seasonings along the way and tool with that, too, if you like — I found all of it just fine as instructed.

Gimme a Beet! Last Night’s Easy-Peezy Beet Salad

20 May

On my way out to hang with my Dad yesterday–a strong, sunny dazzler of an afternoon in this most bizarre of spring seasons–I swung by Sang Lee Farms, a great organically-farmed produce and plant purveyor on the North Fork of eastern Long Island. Owned by second-generation farmer, Fred Lee, this little-farm-that-could started out in the 1940s in Melville as a supplier to Chinatown vendors and eateries. Today, Fred, his wife, Karen, and their three children work their land now located in Peconic, supplying produce to some of the best restaurants on Long Island and NYC from a bounty of over 100 varieties of organic and, sometimes, heirloom veggies. It’s a special little spot, and one where I know I’m guaranteed to find side options of the bright and inspiring kind.

Dad and I had planned on ravioli for dinner later, and while walking past the pretty baskets filled with greens and tubers and carrots, the come-hither hue of a bunch of multi-colored beets caught my eye. Sold. To that, I added to my stash a container of Catapano chevre (a goat farm and cheesemaker just down the road), paid, and hit the road.

“Beets?!” my pops said incredulously when I walked in the door with their leafy locks peeked from the bag. “I hate beets!”


“The only ones I ever liked were at the East Rockaway Point House. Joseph, the maitre’d, used to give your mother and I little plate of them, pickled, with our cocktails.”

Okay, so, tangy was the order of the day. I boiled them, ran them under cold water, and chilled them down. I knew his mint was up in the backyard, so I clipped a healthy looking sprig and cut that chiffonade-style. Once chilled, I tossed them together with a mustardy-dressing, the mint, and the chevre, and served it as a salad with dinner. He liked it.

Score one for the formerly blasphemed little beet.

Minty, Tangy Beet Salad
(serves 2-3)
1 bunch multi-colored beets (or, you know, whatever beets you want to use – the multi are just super pretty)
1 small bunch fresh mint leaves, washed, dried, and cut chiffonade
2 TBSP goat cheese
2 TBSP olive oil
1 tsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tsp lemon juice
1/2 tsp honey
sea salt and freshly ground pepper

Boil beets until fork-tender, about 10 minutes. Rinse, peel, and chill in the refrigerator. Meanwhile, whisk together the olive oil, mustard, lemon juice, honey, and salt and pepper to taste.  Cut beets to desired size (I cut mine in bite-sized eighths), toss with dressing and crumbled chevre. Adjust salt and pepper as needed.

Cook with Books: Zuni Cafe Cookbook

15 May

[Note: Cook with Books will be an ongoing, cookbook-reviewing, musing, hands-on, pots-hot section of this blog–hopefully weekly, possibly less or more, depending on what in heaven’s name is going on in a given 7-ways-to-Sunday period.]

Judy had me at chicken.

It was just about 10 years ago when my husband, Dan, and I went to dinner at Judy Rodgers’s Zuni Café. I’d never been to San Fran and was already pretty excited about the food scene. Add to that the notion that we were there for a book project I’d just co-written on wine and food pairing, and I was feeling pretty fa-lee-da dazzled. And I hadn’t even had the chicken yet.

I’d read about the famous Rodgers chicken with bread salad, and ordered it before our waiter even got to the specials. It was all it had been built up to be — crispy, a little salty, dribbly juicy with this crunchy/soft tuft of torn peasant bread, at once tangy, sweet, nutty, savory, bitter, and bright. It stayed in my sense memory long after licking the last crumb of the salad from an index finger.

Rodgers’s Zuni Café Cookbook was published that same year, and when I got back to NY I bought it, and still faithfully roast my bird the Rodgers’s way: fast and hot. But this book is no one-fowl flash in the pan. It’s deceivingly packed with great recipes. I say deceivingly because of the way it’s written–at once rambling and practical. Sort of the way my sisters and I talk to each other when phoning up to ask for or explain a recipe. Which is another thing I love about it; how personal it seems. Instead of playing to the masses, Rodgers’s classic (I’m hauling out the C word, I am!) is kind of intimate. After years of splattering it with myriad juices and dribbles and bits and bubble-overs, I feel like I could walk into her kitchen and know exactly what I’d find in it.

And I learned a week or so ago, with no real surprise, that I’m not alone in my Zuni swoon. I was at a wine dinner with a group of other writers, and somehow Zuni came up. Two seats away from me, the eyes of writer Andrew Dornenburg (whose own recent tome, The Food Lover’s Guide to Wine, written with wife Karen Page just got a Beard nod) lit up. “Oh, I love that book!” And within seconds our end of the table were confessing undying love for this 10-year-old compilation of recipes. Written by a woman who, to my general knowledge, isn’t slinging hash on TV, or selling chicken stock with her face on a Tetra-pack box, or opening up Zuni chains in airports. But this is a semi-snarky digression and getting away from the point.

Being it’s not just the bread salad — it’s pretty much everything in its beautiful, quirky pages. There hasn’t been a single recipe that disappoints. And even though it’s hard to pull yourself away from favorites (those short ribs!), it’s inevitably rewarding when you do. Which brings us to tonight’s asparagus and rice soup with pancetta and black pepper.

This time of year, it’s impossible not to get a little asparagus-happy, and it so happened I had a bunch in my fridge that I bought at my local greenmarket this past weekend. I wanted to use them tonight but not as a side; I was craving something a little more communal. Like soup. After flipping glumly through a few other books packed with empty promises, I turned to tried-and-true Judy, and there it was. It lets the asparagus be asparagus, chopped instead of pureed, to really get their texture along with the bright green color and spring flavor. Add to that a genius bit of Arborio rice, bits of pancetta, sweet onions, and black pepper and you have that trademark Rodgers savory quality that will keep you coming back for seconds and thirds — simple yet surprising.

Asparagus and Rice Soup with Pancetta and Black Pepper
– makes about 4 cups –
(adapted from the Zuni Cafe Cookbook, W.W. Norton and Co. )

6 TBSP extra virgin olive oil
2 cups yellow onions (about 1 large)
Pinch of kosher or sea salt
1/4 cup dry white rice (Arborio if you’ve got it–otherwise, use what you’ve got)
3 1/2 cups chicken stock, give or take (next time, I’ll use a little more, and maybe some more rice, too)
1/2 cup water
8 or so oz. asparagus, woody ends cut off, stalks sliced diagonally about an 1/8-inch thick (don’t worry about being perfect; really–it’s just soup and it’ll still taste great)
3 to 4 oz. pancetta, finely chopped (I like mine a little bit chunkier than that, and got (2) 1/4-inch slices and diced them about a 1/4 inch)
Fresh black pepper

Heat 3/4 of the olive oil in a 4-quart saucepan or soup pot over medium-low heat. Add the onions and a pinch of salt, stirring while cooking until they start to sweat. Add the rice, stock, and water and simmer. Cover and cook about 15 to 20 minutes until rice is tender. Turn off the heat.

While the rice cooks, heat the rest of the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Toss in pancetta and asparagus, stir to coat and then allow to cook for a few minutes, turn; repeat until pancetta starts to brown and everything gets tender.

Transfer to broth-rice mixture, bring to a boil for a minute. Add pepper. Serve right away with a nice hunk o’ bread.

Consider the Humble Can of Tuna…

27 Apr

I like paper. I still read one, along with a slew of magazines and books with pages to dog-ear. This is probably wasteful. I know this. But old habits die hard and, well, you don’t even know the half of it.

In this paper-clipped world to which I cling, there’s a lot of recipe clipping that occurs on a weekly basis. Unfortunately, many of these wind up stuffed between pages on my cookbook shelf, piled up on the desk, or, for the lucky ones, stick-pinned to a corkboard near the sink in the kitchen. And it’s from there that I rescued this one from the January 2012 Bon Appetit: Linguine with Crab, Lemon, Chile, and Mint.

The first time I made it, I followed the recipe exactly – ingredient by ingredient – shopping for the fresh crab, linguine, chilies, and mint so that it would be all that I’d hoped. And it was. The sweetness of the crab, the heat of the peppers, the brightness of the mint and citrus. Dan and I ate in total silence, looking up only once from our bowls. I raised eyebrows to beckon confirmation, and he gave it with mouth full: “So good!”

Fast-forward to a bleary-eyed worknight when I walked through the door, starving and tired, and a text came from Dan saying he was close on my heels and in exactly the same crazed, empty-stomached state. But there was nothing! Bare fridge. Random ingredients. Confused mind from the disorienting clang of hunger pangs. And then I looked up and saw that recipe, stick-pinned back in its spot on the board, and had a thought: “You know, you could probably make that with tuna and dried red pepper…”

Most of the simple cupboard ingredients – pasta, can o’ tuna, dried red pepper – were there. I had a lemon and a couple of shallots and some garlic. No mint, but we’d survive. And so Thursday Night Tuna with Pasta was born.

The thing about this is, just like I subbed out crab for tuna, you can mess around and try other swimmy, crawly sea dwellers, too. Anchovies might be a bit too strong here without a sweet element to balance them out, but if you want to work in more sustainable terms, blue fish (yes, I said it!) or possibly even sardines could be a good alternative.  Point being: You can do this in a half hour with, in all likelihood, stuff you’ve got on-hand. Dig it! With a fork.

Linguini with Tuna, Lemon, Red Pepper, & Mint (*adapted/altered from Bon App’s Linguine with Crab, Lemon, Chile, & Mint)
(serves 2 with a little bit leftover)

1/2 lb linguini
Sea salt
4 TBSP unsalted butter (unless you have salted–then just use that, for pete’s sake)
2-3 TBSP olive oil (I start it with my standard; finish it with the better stuff)
1/4 cup minced shallots
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tsp dried hot red pepper
1 lemon, zested and juiced
Pinch white pepper
1 5-oz can Italian light tuna in olive oil
2 TBSP mint, if you’ve got it (mine, dormant in pots from last summer, is back in action–sweet!)

Cook pasta in salted boiling water according to package directions (unless you’ve made your own – then use the Force, Luke).  Drain and reserve about a cup or so of the pasta water.

In a large saute pan, melt 2 tablespoons butter and 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat. Toss in the shallots and cook until they start to soften. Add the garlic and dried red pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, about a minute more.

Add 1 tablespoon lemon juice and a quarter cup of the pasta water and the pinch of white pepper. Cook until liquid starts to reduce; about 1 minute. Add in your cooked pasta and toss to coat (tongs are your friend). Add a little more of the pasta water, toss again, and cook for a minute. Pasta should look shiny. Add the rest of the butter, the lemon juice, the zest, the tuna (fork it into the pan to avoid spilling all the oil from the can in there), and half the mint. I throw in a little sea salt if I think it needs it. If it’s looking dry, add a little more pasta water. Divvy up between bowls, sprinkle the rest of the mint on top, and have at it.

DRINK: I happened to have an open bottle of Terradora Falanghina, and that’s what we drank – which was pretty darned nice.

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Sip. Eat. Mix. Pour. Stir. Think. Repeat.