June 24, 2017
I will never forget the farmer in Venice who laughed uproariously when I asked her to give me the purslane she was weeding from her fields. “This is not for humans,” she said contemptuously, handing over great heaps of the thick slightly lemon-flavored weed. Yes, it’s a weed, but as Ralph Waldo Emerson noted, weeds are just plants whose virtues we have yet to discover.
I’m a longtime fan of this particular weed. Googling around I found this article I wrote almost twenty years ago extolling its many virtues. Thoreau was another fan. “I have made a satisfactory dinner off a dish of purslane which I gathered and boiled. Yet men have come to such a pass that they frequently starve, not from want of necessaries, but for want of luxuries.”
It puzzles me that purslane, with its satisfying crunch and easygoing flavor, isn’t better known. You can eat it raw, in soups or simply boiled. Here’s a Mexican favorite.
Shopping list: purslane, tomatillos, a green chile, corn tacos, queso fresco.
Staples: onion, garlic.
Begin by making a quick green salsa. Peel the papery husk off 4 tomatillos, wash them and toss them into a blender with 1 small green chile, half a small onion and a clove of garlic. Whirl them into a thin liquid.
Take a big heap of purslane, wash it well, chop it well, and boil it for about 10 minutes. Drain.
Slick a skillet with oil and add the salsa. Bring it to a boil, turn the heat down and add the purslane. Add salt and pepper to taste. (Diana Kennedy adds cumin as well, but I prefer the tacos without.) Cook it down until it’s thickened into a lovely sludge.
Sprinkle some queso fresco across the top and served wrapped into warm tortillas.
October 11, 2016
I originally called this pumpkin soup, but it’s really a gratin baked right inside the pumpkin. I was 21 when I developed the recipe, and oblivious to richness so I used nothing but cream. Today I mix the cream with chicken broth (about a cup of cream and a cup of broth). You could also use milk. It’s STILL pretty much of a heart-stopper but it’s irresistible.
Go out and buy a fairly small pumpkin (about 4 pounds) with a flat bottom. Cut off the top, as if you were going to carve a jack-o-lantern, and hollow it out. Spread the seeds out and dry them to eat later.
Now get a good loaf of French bread, cube it, put the cubes on a baking sheet and toast them lightly in a 350 degree oven for about 9 minutes. Leave the oven on.
Grate a good amount of one of the Swiss cheeses – Emmenthaler, Gruyere or Appenzeller (you’ll need about 12 ounces). Layer the bread and cheese inside the pumpkin until it’s almost full (leave a half inch on the top because the filling will expand a bit).
Mix 1 cup of chicken stock into a cup of cream. Add a teaspoon of salt. Grind in some black pepper and grate in some nutmeg. Then fill the pumpkin almost to the top with as much of this mixture as you need, replace the top of the pumpkin, brush the outside with neutral oil, set it on a baking sheet, and bake for about 2 hours.
Bring the whole pumpkin to the table. When you serve it be sure to scoop out the pumpkin flesh with the cheese and the cream.
September 11, 2016
Went to the farmers market in Great Barrington yesterday, where I encountered Gray Kunz with his adorable grandson, Jean-Luc. Gray is one of the chefs I most admire in the world, and when he said he was buying all the tomatoes he could carry, I hastened to follow in his wake.
I’m sure the great chef is doing something unimaginably fantastic with his haul. But I came home and made this simple soup. Incredibly easy, and extremely satisfying. I’m just hoping we don’t eat it all; this will be the most wonderful freezer find when the snow starts to fall.
Roasted Tomato Soup
2 pounds tomatoes (about 5), cored and cut into quarters
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
3 cloves garlic
2 onions, quartered
extra-virgin olive oil
1-3 cups water
1/4 cup cream
Heat an oven to 375 degrees
Place the tomatoes, onions, and garlic pieces on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper, shower with salt and splash generously with olive oil. Put into the oven for about an hour.
Squeeze the cloves of garlic out of their skins and put them, along with the tomatoes and onions into a blender or food processor. Add 1 1/4 cups water and blend. Add more water if you’d like thinner; I think 2 cups of water is about right, but you might like more or less.
Taste for salt, reheat a bit and then swirl in a little cream before serving.
September 1, 2016
Found local jalapenos yesterday at Love Apple Farm, which set off an almost overwhelming longing for the spicy green peppers in black beans at the restaurant that used to be called Grand Sichuan in Chelsea (it’s now Chelsea Chinese). They claim it was a favorite of Mao Tse Tung; I always loved it.
So I thought I’d try to make myself a version.
The first bite was so hot I thought my heart might stop – but I kept eating. All day I kept going back for more. At midnight, just before going to bed, I had another bowl.
Then, this morning, I took what was left (the refrigerator had tamed the heat a bit), tossed it into a pan with an egg, and finished it off.
If you have any sense at all, you’ll remove the seeds before making this dish, which might civilize it a bit.
I should note that this is a work in progress; I’m sure I can improve the recipe considerably over time. I’m looking forward to the experiments, but be warned – you really have to appreciate heat to have any interest in this dish.
Chinese Chiles in Black Beans
Mix 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine or dry sherry, and a teaspoon of sugar into 3/4 cup of chicken broth. Set it aside.
Make a cornstarch slurry by mixing a tablespoon of cornstarch into 2 tablespoons of water.
Mince a tablespoon or so of fresh ginger and 2 teaspoons of garlic. Mix that with 3 tablespoons of Chinese fermented black beans.
Cut a large onion in half, vertically, and slice it into strips.
Slice a red pepper (not hot – this is mostly for color), into thin strips.
Slice 4 jalapenos. If you want to temper the heat, remove the seeds; if you’re foolish, keep them.
Heat a wok until it is very hot and add about 3 tablespoons of neutral oil. Add the onions, stir fry them for a minute or so, then toss in the garlic, ginger and black beans and stir them about for a few seconds until the aroma is hovering in the air above the pan.
Add the jalapenos and red pepper and toss for about a minute. (If you have a fan above your range, this might be the moment to turn it on.)
Stir the chicken stock mixture, toss it into the wok and bring to a boil. Add the cornstarch slurry and keep stirring until the sauce is glistening and slightly thick.
Serve hot over rice.
(The picture above is in a tiny bowl; I was so busy eating I neglected to take a picture until the chiles were almost gone.)
June 25, 2016
I keep finding fascinating recipes in this beautiful vintage cookbook. Here are some of Merle Armitage’s suggestions for using sour cream; it turns out to be a mini-theme in the book.