Gift Guide, Day 3

November 30, 2010


They open a window into long-gone worlds, offering an unselfconscious portrait of another time. I can’t think of anything I’d rather do than spend a long morning browsing through a great old bookshop. And if there’s a better way to honor friendship than by offering a specially chosen old cookbook, I’ve never found it.

My most recent find was a seed catalog from World War II, filled with great drawings of long-gone vegetables (and including an exhortation to grow the magic vegetable, kudzu). The seed company has the same name as one of my closest friends, and it will make a fine Christmas treat.

You never know what you will find, but there is always something for everyone. In the past I’ve found first editions of MFK Fisher books, a whole trove of volumes from Alan Davidson’s library, a book written in the fifties for supermarket executives on the future of the grocery store – even copies of my own first cookbook, MMMMM: A Feastiary – which I ran out of years ago.

My favorite old cookbook stores? Bonnie Slotnick in New York, and Omnivore Books in San Francisco.

Happy browsing!


Gift Guide, Day 2

November 29, 2010

Artisanal Soy Sauce

Nobody goes out and spends twenty bucks on a bottle of soy sauce. At least too few people do. Which makes this a perfect gift opportunity.

Artisanal soy sauce is one of those magic elixirs that makes everything taste better. If you’ve never had it, you won’t believe how different it can be from the commercial kind. (And if all you’ve ever tasted is the really cheap supermarket soy sauce that is basically caramelized water, you have a real revelation ahead of you. Just the jump from that to, say, Kikkoman, is huge. The leap into one of the hand-made brands is another enormous step forward.)

You can buy a few different brands of fine soy sauce from Corti Brothers in Sacramento. You can buy it other places as well, but when you go to the Corti Brothers website you can also download the most opinionated, illuminating and interesting newsletter in the business. I learn something every time I read one of Darrell Corti’s entries. That’s another great gift – and it’s free.


The Gift Guide

November 28, 2010

Starting today I’m going to post a new gift suggestion every day until Christmas. These are all products I’ve tried and loved, all gifts that I’d like to receive myself. (And although I shouldn’t have to say this, I should add that nobody’s paying for product placement.)

There’s a certain irony in this, because when I was at Gourmet I did a terrible job of showcasing stuff to buy. This was partly because there was always so much pressure from the publishers to showcase the advertisers’ products. If you’re wondering why there are always watches on the cooks, there’s your answer. But it was also because I could never figure out a really interesting way to offer shopping suggestions. But now that I’m no longer at the magazine, when people ask me for gift suggestions, it all seems very straightforward. So here it is, a list of gifts that I think your friends will appreciate.

I’m starting with Mangalitsa pork, because I cooked some the other day, and I was truly startled by the sheer deliciousness of these beautiful wooly pigs.


I love baking with Mangalitsa lard, which is pure white, soft and has a fine sweet flavor that is not quite like anything I’ve tasted before. When you’re making pie dough it rolls out like a dream, and bakes up into a wonderfully flaky crust that lacks the mean piggy flavor of so much lard.

But the last time I ordered the lard from De Bragga and Spitler (, I decided to order some meat as well. Let me just say that it is, hands down, the most delicious pork I have ever tasted. It is so sweet, succulent and seductively flavorful that the only seasoning it needs is some salt and pepper (and maybe a few cloves of garlic). Trust me: if you send this to a friend, he will love you forever.


The World’s Best Waffles

November 21, 2010

Fannie Farmer’s Yeast-Raised Waffles

Sprinkle 1 package of dry yeast over a half cup of warm water in a large bowl and wait for it to dissolve.

Meanwhile melt a stick of butter, add 2 cups of milk and allow it to just gently warm up. Add it to the yeast mixture.

Mix a teaspoon each of salt and sugar into 2 cups of flour. Add this to the liquid and beat until smooth.

Cover the bowl and let it stand overnight at room temperature.
In the morning beat in 2 eggs and a quarter teaspoon of baking soda, stirring well. Cook on a very hot waffle iron until crisp on each side.

This makes about 8 waffles, and will keep for a few days in the refrigerator.


My Favorite Seafood Pasta

November 14, 2010

Had dinner at Torrisi Italian Specialties the other night. Everything was wonderful – the famous garlic bread, the three bean salad with shredded dried scallops, the potato gnocchi and the juicy pork – but it was the spaghetti with seafood that really knocked my socks off. It was rich, slick, very sexy.

With the first bite I was suddenly in Venice, cooking again with Enrica Rocca in her lovely kitchen, making an aromatic (and bright orange) stock out of shrimp heads. I loved her spaghetti allo scoglio, the most intensely flavorful seafood pasta I’ve ever tasted.

The secret to this dish is simple: You finish cooking the pasta in the aromatic seafood broth until the pasta becomes one with the sauce. This is not spaghetti with sauce on top; it is spaghetti with sauce inside each strand. The seafood on top is lovely and delicious, but here it is just a garnish.

Spaghetti allo Scoglio

¾ pounds medium shrimp with heads
* 1 medium onion, sliced
* 1 large carrot, peeled and chopped
* a handful of chopped parsley
* 1 lb mussels, scrubbed
* 1 lb spaghetti
* 2 cloves garlic, smashed or minced
* about 20 cherry tomatoea, halved
* 1 small dried hot chile,
* 1 pound squid, cleaned, and cut into rings (tentacles left whole)
* white wine
* olive oil
* salt and pepper to taste

Remove the heads from the shrimp. Put them into a pot with the carrot, onion, parsley and a glug of olive oil and cook, covered, over medium-low heat, stirring lazily every once in a while for about 15 minutes. Then add the shrimp shells, ¾ cups of white wine and 4 cups of water and simmer very gently for about an hour and a half to make an intense stock (it will turn bright orange from the fat in the shrimp heads). Strain the liquid into a bowl and set aside.

Heat a couple of tablespoons of olive oil and the garlic in a deep heavy skillet. When the garlic is fragrant add the mussels and 3/4 cup white wine, cover the pan and cook until most of the mussels have gaped open. This should only take a couple of minutes. Snatch the mussels out as they open, setting them in a colander set over the stock bowl. Continue to cook for about 5 minutes; discard any mussels that refuse to open.

Meanwhile, cook spaghetti in well-salted boiling water until barely al dente, about 6 minutes. Drain in a colander.

Put 1 cup of stock, cherry tomatoes, chile and some more chopped parsley in the skillet and simmer a few minutes until the tomatoes get soft. Stir in the spaghetti and simmer until the pasta has inhaled all the liquid (about 3 minutes), adding more stock as needed to make the pasta perfectly al dente. Add the squid and shrimp, stirring for about one minute or just until the shrimp turn rosy and the squid loses its translucence. Stir in the mussels and a bit more parsley and serve to 4 very happy people.