April 28, 2015
It's so clear today that from where I'm sitting I can see both the Catskills and the Adirondacks, and if I get out the binoculars I can just make out Lake George far to the north.
It feels like spring is trying to arrive, and yet there's not a single local vegetable in the market and it feels like soup weather.
And so I ended up making this warm, vegetarian version of the rich, cold summer soup, Vichyssoise. It is not, by the way, a French dish. It was invented at the Ritz Hotel in New York in 1917 by Chef Louis Diat (who went on to become the resident chef at Gourmet Magazine in the fifties.)
Hot Vegetarian Vichyssoise
4 large leeks, washed cleaned of sand, white part finely chopped (5 cups)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1/2 cup finely chopped onions
4 cups vegetable stock (recipe below)
5 small russet potatoes, peeled and chopped (1 pound)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup whole milk
1 cup half and half
chopped chives or scallions
squeeze of lemon
Cook the leeks and onions slowly in the butter until they're soft and translucent, about 10 minutes. The quantity will reduce considerably.
Add the hot vegetable stock, the potatoes, and the salt. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for thirty minutes, partially covered.
Strain the mixture and puree the leeks and potatoes in a food processor.
Whisk the puree into the strained liquid, add a cup of milk, and a cup of half and half.
Bring to a boil and the very carefully puree the entire mixture again to make an extremely smooth soup. (Hot soup can be very painful when it hits your skin.O
Add a splash of lemon juice, taste for seasoning, and garnish with chopped chives or scallions.
Quick Vegetable Stock
To make a small amount of vegetable stock, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a medium sized pot and saute half a chopped onion, one chopped carrot, the washed dark green tops of the leaks used for the soup, one chopped celery stalk, a few sprigs of thyme, and, if you happen to have it, a half fennel bulb, chopped. Add a few good grinds of black pepper and two quarts of water, bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer for 30 minutes, uncovered.
Strain one quart of liquid from the vegetables and use for the vichyssoise.
April 24, 2015
It snowed yesterday. And I woke this morning to these dispiriting words: "Snow will start in 55 minutes." I'd like to point out that it's the end of April!
In search of spring, I picked up a pound of fava beans. I have a serious love/hate relationship with this particular vegetable. I'm always cheered by their tender green color, and their lively brightness seems flavored with optimism. But I find the tedium of peeling each little bean really annoying.
Back home, I put about a pound and a half of Yukon Gold potatoes on to boil. Removing the favas from their pods, I threw the beans, briefly, into the potato water, poaching them for a mere 45 seconds. Then I fished them out and stood at the counter, plucking each little bean from its shell.
When I was done I diced a small shallot and sauteed it in a few tablespoons of butter. I sprinkled in some salt, tossed in the peeled fava beans and worried them around for three minutes or so. Then I smashed them with the back of a spoon.
The potatoes took about 12 minutes to get soft; at that point I added a few tablespoons of butter and a splash of milk and smashed them into a puree. I added a beaten egg, and a few gratings of lemon zest. Then I folded in the fava beans.
I happened to have some ricotta on hand, so I threw in a couple tablespoons of that as well.
With a salad on the side it made a really heartening little lunch for two. Each spoonful felt like a promise that spring really will come. Soon please.
April 23, 2015
That, in case you missed the reference, is the title of one of my favorite Laurie Colwin pieces. It is also exactly where I found myself last night. I've noticed that supermarkets are suddenly selling "baby eggplants" which fill in nicely for Asian eggplants. Bought one, and then stood in the kitchen, contemplating it.
I suddenly thought about the eggplant dish I learned when I was taking lessons at the Yangshuo Cooking School in Guilin, China. I remembered loving it – and that it was incredibly easy. What I had not remembered was how extremely delicious it was. I'm sorry to say I liked it so much that we'd eaten it all before I remembered to take a picture. So no picture, but here's the recipe.
What you’ll need:
1 small baby eggplant (about half a pound)
2 cloves of garlic
fermented black beans
Asian chile paste
Cut the eggplant into long thin strips, then cut those in half. You don’t have to be fussy about this, but you want to end up with pieces about 3 inches long and a quarter inch wide.
Smash the garlic and grate the ginger until you have a couple of teaspoons.
Rinse the salt from half a teaspoon of Chinese fermented black beans.
Measure out a third cup of water, then add a tablespoon of oyster sauce, a tablespoon of soy sauce, a quarter teaspoon of chile paste (more if you like your spice), and the rinsed black beans.
Slice the scallions into long, thin shards, then cut them into 2 inch lengths.
Get a wok so hot that a drop of water, flicked in, skitters across the surface. Add 3 tablespoons of oil, swirl it around the pan, then throw in the eggplant slices and toss them about until they’re soft and slightly seared on the edges. Add the garlic and ginger and toss until the scent rises above the pan, then add the water mixture. Stir fry for a couple of minutes; the eggplant should now be coated with a glossy sauce. Add the scallion threads, toss for a few more seconds and serve to two happy people.
April 21, 2015
I want to share one last recipe from Virginia Cookery, one that reads almost like poetry. It’s from the personal family cookbook of Robert Bland Lee – who was the first Virginian representative to the US Congress (and also the uncle of Robert E. Lee). His wife Elizabeth Collins, a Quaker born near Philadelphia, wrote these recipes in her own hand. I'm wondering how she felt about owning slaves.
The Lees were planters who lived in Fairfax County on Sully Plantation; the plantation's website says they had 29 slaves. The head cook, Thorton, was a slave, which might explain the vast amount of work that went into this recipe. ("Race ginger" incidentally, had nothing to do with slavery; it was another word for ginger root. I'm not sure how it differed from white ginger. And I'm extremely curious about the amount of garlic in the recipe; unusual for that time.)
Without further ado:
“Put 6 quarts of best cider vinegar in a stone jar. Put in it 4 oz. of mustard seed pounded fine, 4 oz. coriander seed, bruised, 6 oz. of race ginger Soaked in salt and water 24 hours, then pealed and sliced and put in the sun to dry, the white ginger, 2 oz. preferable, bruised, 5 oz. of garlic, 1/2 oz. of mace pounded, 1/2 oz. of nutmeg pounded. Have a wooden stopper for the jar to fit tight, tie a cloth over it and put it in the sun for six weeks shaking it every day.
In the meantime prepare the vegetables. Put cabbage in salt and water after quartering it until it turns yellow. Then scald it in the last brine until a little tender, sprinkle salt over it and lay it in the hot sun in the morning the inside down. Before night open the leaves and sprinkle salt through them turning them up on the dish. Let them remain out that night in the dew. In two days if the sun is hot they will be quite white, and dry enough in two more to put away until winter for the soaking pot. Prepare radish pods, beans, young corn, melons, peppers etc. in the same way. Radish pods will become white and dry in one night and day. Nothing should be dryer than to keep until the soaking pot is ready. – E. Lee”
April 19, 2015
Few names are as memorable as Clementine Paddleford, and yet our collective culinary conscience doesn't seem to have filed hers in the right place. A prolific columnist for the New York Herald Tribune in the forties and fifties– and the writer of the "Food Flashes" column in Gourmet –Paddleford spent the better part of her life traveling the country in search of America's best regional fare. She is variously credited as the first person to ever publish recipes for fried chicken, barbecue sauce, and cioppino. True? Probably not. Still, she was way ahead of her time. She was, in many ways, introducing us to our own cuisine. It makes me sad to think that she never got to know that her time had come; she died in 1967, just a few years before food became an important part of popular culture.
Paddleford had a passionate regard for the everyman – and yet she was a product of her time. Her ideas about hometown cooking often show their age. Reading her you begin to wonder what was for dinner if you did not happen to belong to an all-white community association. She began a column on Ohio desserts,"Here on South Park street in Cleveland, Ohio, the houses are built far apart with wide lawns and hedge between to give exclusive privacy."
Still, she had a flair for the rare: she published a recipe for chawan mushi, the delicate Japanese custard, in the 1950s.
Truth be told, looking through most of her recipes doesn't make me want to run into the kitchen. But just as I was thinking that, I came upon this, which seems remarkably up to date, given the current craze for all things pickled. Prune plums won't be in season for months, but I've been thinking this would work well with apricots – or maybe rhubarb?
Paddleford got this recipe from the former first lady of Idaho.
Mrs. Robert E. Smylie's Fresh Plum Chutney
1/2 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup granulated sugar
3/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons crushed chili pepper
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons mustard seed
2 fat cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 small onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup preserved ginger, cut in thin slices
1 cup white raisins
3 1/2 cup fresh Italian prunes, halved and seeded (about 20 prunes)
Mix together the sugars and vinegar and bring to the boiling point. Add remaining ingredients except prunes, and mix well. Then stir in prune halves. Simmer until thickened, about 50 minutes, stirring frequently and gently. Fill sterilized jars.
If you're a reluctant canner like me, just cut the recipe in half and freeze leftovers. I'll be serving mine with a sumptuous piece of pork.