Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Carciofi alla protestanta

There's a fantastic deep-fried artichoke dish called carciofi alla giudea, which is all over the place in the Jewish Ghetto neighborhood of Rome. I could eat this every day, but I have small children who like to cannonball into my ass while I am doing tricky things at the stove, so deep-frying is pretty much out.

I discovered a recipe by Pino Luongo that involved trimming medium-size artichokes, boiling them in a mix of oil and water, then drizzling them with oil and roasting them. This was great except that scraping the chokes out of full-size artichokes is a bore. Plus it leaves little frizzy bits of choke all over your kitchen. So I developed a variation of this, which I'm calling carciofi alla protestanta even though you don't have to have the Protestant work ethic to make them. Here's how:

Background: Buy a packet of BABY artichokes, and make sure you have olive oil (cooking oil, not the nice kind you save for salads) and lemons at home. Squeeze a couple lemons into a large bowl and add a few cups of water. Take a heavy pot, add 2 c water and 2 c olive oil, and set this to boil. Slosh a couple tablespoons of oil onto a cookie sheet and set the oven at 375.

Preparation: Strip off 3-4 layers of the artichokes' outer leaves, until you get down to the leaves that are pale green and tender-looking. Trim the stem and the top of each artichoke (so you don't get pointy bits stuck in your soft palate) and drop it into the lemon water.

Cooking: Simmer the artichokes in the oil-water mixture for about 15 minutes, then remove them with a slotted spoon. Put them leaves-down on the cookie sheet and flatten them slightly so the leaves flare out like a flower. (Most of them will end up slightly mangled. Fear not. They will taste just as good as the pretty ones.) Drizzle a little more oil over the stem ends. Bake the artichokes until the leaves are golden brown and look crunchy; start checking after 10 minutes, though I find this often takes closer to 20.

Eating: They're hot! Don't burn your mouth! These taste great next to a plate of spaghetti tossed with garlic, olive oil, and red pepper. You may want to keep in mind that artichokes make wine taste like it contains Nutra-Sweet, so if you're drinking wine with this don't open anything you've been saving. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Christmas Treats for Chocolate Haters

My Christmas cooking problem is that I'm not wild about chocolate, and it shows up in so many guises at this time of year. (Chocolate lovers, I have nothing against you. Your kink is okay, it's just not my kink...)

The result of this is that I'm always on the lookout for festive recipes that don't involve chocolate. Gingerbread and spice snaps (I make mine with a little black pepper) are always good, but here are some recipes I just worked up that I'm really into.

For these recipes, I happened to have candied lemon peel around, but lemon zest also works well. If you want to make candied lemon peel, peel lemons into neat strips, place in a saucepan and cover with water, then bring to a boil for a minute. Drain off that water and replace it with 1 cup sugar and 1.5 cups water. Simmer the lemon peel in this syrup until it becomes translucent, then leave to dry on parchment-lined baking sheets. Sprinkle sanding sugar over the peel if that's your thing. Oh, and save the sugar syrup. It's great mixed with water or tea.

Lemon-Rosemary Meringues

Use a bigger bowl than you think you'll need for mixing these; I never do, then have meringue splatters all over my kitchen. Oh, and buy a cheapie zester to zest your citrus. Graters are a pain in the ass for this.

3 egg whites (or however many you need to use up)
1/3 cup sugar for each egg white
Splash lemon extract - 1 teaspoon, approx.
Zest of one lemon
1/2 teaspoon scissored rosemary

Beat the egg whites until they've trebled in size, then add the other ingredients and beat until the meringue holds moderate peaks. Drop by the spoonful onto parchment-lined baking sheets and let dry out in a slow oven (250 degrees) for an hour or so.

Lemon, Rosemary, and Pine Nut Cookies

1/2 cup butter
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon scissored rosemary
1 tablespoon chopped candied lemon peel OR zest from 1 lemon
1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
1 egg
3/4 cup flour
Pinch salt
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted in a dry pan until they smell good

Cream the butter and sugar and add the rosemary, lemon peel/zest and lemon extract. Add the egg and mix well; then add flour, salt, and pine nuts. Drop by the generous teaspoonful onto parchment-lined cookie sheets, and bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes. If you think of it, rotate the sheets halfway through the baking time, but I confess this is not my strong suit.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


I had leftover phyllo dough recently and figured I'd make spanakopita with it. I wanted, however, to make something a little more innovative than the traditional spinach pie. More to the point, we were out of spinach. We did have some beautiful purple broccoli from the farmers' market, so I figured I'd use that. The result -- "broccopita" for short -- is now going to become my default.

First, I made some ricotta by heating up a cup of whole milk to just under boiling, then adding a spoonful of vinegar and returning it to the near-boil. You can do this in the microwave and it makes ricotta that is tastier and cheaper than store-bought. Just drain it in a sieve or cheesecloth before use.

While that was going on, I steamed the broccoli -- two good-sized heads -- and sauteed an onion and three nice fat cloves of garlic in olive oil. I mixed the vegetables together in a bowl, shredding the broccoli into tiny florets, and grated a bunch of pecorino over the top. (Real parmesan would also work well here, though it would change the flavor palette. Substituting broccoli for spinach and pecorino for feta gives you more of an Italian dish than a Greek one, which is fine by me.)

After that, I added the ricotta, tossed to combine everything, and corrected the seasoning. Many spanakopita recipes include an egg for binding, but my ricotta was semi-liquid and bound everything nicely on its own.

I lined an eight-inch springform pan with the half-pack of phyllo dough, brushing the sheets with olive oil where possible, and spread the filling in the middle. I made a pie around the filling with the phyllo and sealed the top with olive oil and a dab of butter. Then I popped the pie in a medium-hot oven and cooked until it was an attractive golden brown. Tasty!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Etrog preserves - Just in time for the season!

Just kidding. Today's post is actually about pear butter, which is tasty and easy. I was put off home canning for years by that scene in Little Women where Meg tries to make currant jelly and it causes a scene of morally instructive marital discord. But now I know that her mistake was to start with jelly, which is hard and runs the risk of not setting. Instead, she should have made pear butter. Here's how to do it:

First, get some canning jars from the supermarket. I suggest the half-cup size, which are easy to deal with and leave you with many jars to keep or give. Also, make sure you have a stockpot and some kind of rack to hold the jars. A collapsible steamer insert (the kind that looks like a UFO) works fine here. Wash the jars, rings, and lids and set them to dry in a slow oven while you get busy with the pear butter.

Peel a bunch of pears, figuring on about 2 medium pears per half-cup jar. Core them, cut them into large chunks, and drop them in a big saucepan. Add the juice of a lemon or two and a half-cup of sugar. I also like a teaspoon or two of ginger in the mix; do this if it suits your taste. Other people like to add rum or brandy.

Cook until the pears start to come apart, then mash with a potato masher or fork. Taste and see if you want to add more sugar or lemon juice. Continue to cook down until the mixture is a bit thicker than applesauce. I like to leave it a little chunky and rustic, but you can make it beautifully smooth by pureeing it in a blender if you prefer. (Don't puree it straight off the stove unless you like to live dangerously.) Don't stress too much about exact quantities of ingredients or the pear butter's texture. This is low-maintenance stuff, and is meant to be fun.

When the pear butter is cooked down as much as you like, take your jars out of the oven and add the hot pear butter right to them. Make sure the rims aren't sticky and top the jars with lids and rings. Don't make the rings too tight -- you want air to be able to escape during the processing stage.

Process the jars according to the jar manufacturer's instructions. Really, this isn't hard. Botulism is very rare, even with home-canned goods, but you don't want to risk being That Person who gives botulism to all his/her friends. You'd soon have no friends, for a variety of reasons. If you don't have a fancy canning pot and rack, you'll still be fine. Just take your stockpot, put the steamer insert into it, and add the jars, winding a dishtowel around their sides so they won't bang into each other while they're boiling. Fill the stockpot with hot water so that the jar lids are submerged by about an inch, then set the pot to boil for twenty minutes or more. When this is done, turn off the heat and leave the jars in the pan for about five minutes before removing them with tongs. Don't fiddle with the lids for the first 12 hours or so. The lids will ping shut in a cheery manner.

(If you cannot cope with boiling jars, just bottle up your preserves and store them in the fridge once they're cool. They'll keep fine for a few weeks that way.)


Friday, April 2, 2010

Easter dinner

Ham is traditional for Easter where I grew up, but one spring I remember a friend of mine asking if gentiles served ham for Easter dinner as an impromptu religious test. I find that I usually serve lamb on Easter, not because I keep kosher -- far from it -- but rather because lamb has a fun aura of ecclesiastical correctness.

The other problem with ham is logistical: if you buy a fresh ham so you can have the fun of cooking it yourself, you have a lot of damn ham. Dave and I were given a country ham (ham preserved in what must be an equal weight of salt, for those of you unfamiliar with it) for Christmas many years ago. It was delicious. It was also about the size of a toddler, and by March we were desperate. They don't go bad, and you only want about an ounce at a time because it's so salty. So they last, and last, and last.

We have been very conservative ham buyers since then.

Lamb is tricky in its own right, though. I tend to like lamb very thoroughly cooked, and I horrify sensible friends by eating steak tartare. It's the membranes running through the meat that turn me off. So here's how I cook it:

The day before you plan to eat it, soak and cook some white beans. I go for cannellini, but navy beans work fine too. Buy a lamb roast -- I've used leg, shoulder, and shank, depending on how many people I'm cooking for -- and season it.

The next morning, chop some odori (an onion, a smallish celery rib, and a clove or two of garlic) and line the bottom of a baking dish with them. Add the lamb, some white wine, and a bottle of strained tomatoes. Cover this tightly and leave it in a slow oven for four hours. At that point, check that the lamb isn't drying out, add more wine if necessary, and add the beans. Re-cover the dish and pop it back in the oven. Give it another two hours; it can hold for longer if you need it to.

Serve this with a green salad, adding if possible some nice fresh dandelion leaves from your yard to give it an astringent feel.


The Goyim on Their Home Turf: Easter Weekend

Good Friday is traditionally a fast day, and this year we are having fish. I'm not sure if a beautiful fish baked with potatoes, white wine, and herbs really counts as penitential food -- any more than the organic, whole-wheat matzoh we had Tuesday night really counts as the bread of affliction -- but it sure tastes good. This is how you cook it:

Get a cleaned fish. Bass, flounder, and trout all work quite well, though anything that looks good and is about the right size would be fine. I usually get a fish that's a little over a pound for the two adults and two small children in my house, though we once took on a beautiful three-pound flounder and left no scrap. Cut up and parboil some potatoes in salted water. Season the fish's cavity and insert the flavoring of your choice: fresh rosemary, thyme, and lemon slices have all served us well in the past.

Arrange the drained, parboiled potatoes around the fish in a lightly oiled roasting pan and drizzle a little extra olive oil over the lot. Splash a little white wine in the pan and bake in a medium-hot oven until done. I start checking after about 15 minutes, though it usually needs more like 30. Big, thick fish can apparently take an hour; I'm partial to the small ones myself so have never tried it.

When the fish is done, prepare it for serving by lifting and removing the skin on the top side of the fish and removing the filets to plates. Run a knife under the vertebrae and lift out the spinal column (it is best to banish the squeamish from the kitchen around now), then remove the bottom filets. Don't forget the tasty, winy pan juices, which will be your sauce!

I like to serve this with bitter greens. This year we're having an ecclesiastically appropriate passion fruit cream for dessert: the pulp of two passion fruit whisked lightly into about a half cup of heavy cream, with a scant teaspoon of vanilla sugar thrown in to balance it.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Dear Goyim in the Kitchen,

This morning I find that I have four half-empty bottles of Manischewitz. What must I do with them?

Dear Reader:
No problem! Buy and chop a few packets of mixed dried fruit, and dump them in a Tupperware with the leftover Manischewitz. Let it stew in your basement until November, when you can use it for your Christmas fruitcake. (I told you I was Episcopalian.)
Love from the goyim