I woke up Sunday morning with one mission in mind: buy a punch bowl.
We had had friends over on Saturday night, and the Fish House Punch had been a wild success, adored by the men and women alike, the unfrozen ice ring inconsequential, the plastic lemonade pitcher excusable but less than ideal.
The punch had been a last-minute addition to the menu, inspired I suppose by the Bon AppetitThanksgiving Issue I had been reading earlier that day, whose second bit of holiday-survival advice was to “Serve a House Drink.” With only four drinkers on deck Saturday night, there was no pressing need to make a punch, but after its reception, I don’t think I’ll be able to host another party this season — any season? — without serving it. It’s just too good, and so simple, too, calling for juicing lemons, dissolving sugar in water, and twisting open bottles: cognac, dark rum, and peach brandy.
Like most punches, this one is high-octane, the kind of stuff that warms the body upon first sip. And it did its job well, starting the evening with a bang, ultimately making the party a smashing success, but not before delivering a successful smashing: we were all drinking water exclusively by the time dinner hit the table. What can I say, it’s only November 5th. We’re out of practice. I’ve never been more excited for the holidays. And I’ve got my punch bowl now to prove it.
We passed Saratoga Apple en route to Argyle, but the stand’s happening scene — hordes of people, cider in hands, pouring in and out; live music; wood-fired pizza; alpaca petting — lured us back on our way home. We soon discovered the main attraction: apple cider donuts. Made on the premises, these warm, cinnamon-and-sugar coated, crispy on the exterior, feather-light donuts disappeared by the tray-full about as quickly as they emerged from the fryer.
Upon returning from the stand, I read online that Saratoga Apple’s donuts “have been known to inspire jealousy, ecstasy, and even inter-state travel.” I wasn’t surprised. I have never tasted anything so delicious. And of course I immediately had to tell everyone I knew — new friends, my neighbors, the mailman, everyone at the Niskayuna Coop — about my experience. I quickly learned that apple cider donuts are kind of a “thing” around here. And that you don’t need to travel 40 miles to find a good one. And that one of the most popular spots in the area is, as the crow flies, two miles away. So much to learn, so little time.
This time of year I suspect few of you are thinking about summer squash. Many of you are more likely celebrating the last prune plums of the season or refusing to eat anything but tomatoes before they disappear for too many long cold months. And some of you may have already moved on to pumpkins and apples.
But it’s been an odd summer for me. I just haven’t had my summer squash fill. So last Sunday at the Schenectady farmers’ market, I stocked up — they’re practically free at the market these days — with visions of spending the week making bread and fritters and spaghetti and salads with shaved Pecorino.
Last summer I discovered eggplant caviar, a dish made from peeled eggplant roasted in a foil-covered pan, a preparation that, with minimal oil, produces the creamiest lightest flesh imaginable. Seasoned with fresh herbs and macerated shallots, spooned over grilled bread, this mashup makes a wonderful summer hors d’oeuvre.
This year, I’ve been using my grill to make the eggplant caviar, and I think I might love it even more. After reading about charring whole, unseasoned eggplants over coals or in the oven seemingly everywhere I turned — in Mark Bittman’s Flexitarian column, in Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Jerusalem, and in the book I always rely on this time of year, Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Vegetables — I had to try the method myself.
Remember last week when I brattily exclaimed, “I want one!” after seeing my auntie Marcy’s Lifefactory glass bottle? Well, guess what? I got one. And guess what else? I have one for one of you, too, and I couldn’t be more excited.
Upon returning from Albany, I started researching Lifefactory, and it came as no surprise that one of the company’s co-founders, Daren Joy, is an award-winning designer and architect. In a video on the site, Daren briefly discusses his design process and observes that “there is a connection that gets formed almost immediately,” noting that people “know they love [the bottle] right when they first touch it.” Perhaps my reaction wasn’t so bratty after all: the instant desire to have one was simply the sign of successful design.
As I suspected, I am loving my Lifefactory glass bottle. After a week of heavy use, I have yet to open my shoulder bag to find my phone lying in a pool of water — success! — and I have yet to find myself at the sink trying to scrub away a fungal smell from the opening — success! The glass delivers such a clean, pure taste. Moreover, thanks to the silicone sleeve, the bottle has survived several crash tests — the kids are as drawn to the bottle as I am — down our asphalt driveway.
There was a time in my life when subscribing to a CSA had little appeal. I wanted to buy what I wanted to buy when I wanted to buy it. Today, I am happy to have somebody else make the decision for me.
In the past six years, subscriptions to CSAs in eastern Pennsylvania, southern California and northern Virginia have forever transformed how I eat and cook. I have learned to plan meals based on the vegetables I have at hand not the protein. I have learned to appreciate vegetables in their freshest state seasoned with little more than olive oil, salt and pepper. I have eaten more dark leafy greens than I ever imagined.
During this time, too, I have allowed more than one bunch of radishes to shrivel up and rot, a kohlrabi bulb or two to desiccate, and a few bags of okra to mold over. It is painful — shameful — to see these foods spoil. Today, not a morsel of my CSA goes to waste.
Below, I have compiled some things I have learned these past six years that help me utilize my CSA to its fullest potential. Read More
Several years ago I bought a Benriner turning slicer. It is a ridiculous (but fun) tool that sits in my cupboard 364 days a year. To justify hanging on to it, I pull it out every year, just once, at the start of zucchini season, when I set out to make one of my favorite spaghetti recipes, the very dish that inspired its purchase.
I had read about the turning slicer in Michael Chiarello’s Tra Vigne Cookbook, which extolled the tool for its ability to cut vegetables into long spirals, perfect for making cucumber salads or for preparing potatoes for the deep fryer or for turning out zucchini slices for this very spaghetti recipe. That sounded like fun, I thought, and I ran out to Fante’s to see for myself.
While the gadget works beautifully and while it, unlike some of my other slicers, poses no risk to my fingers, my experimentation has extended no further than this single recipe. Truthfully, I prefer the shape of the long thin wisps created by a mandoline.
While neither tool is required to prepare this pasta recipe, having one helps. The beauty of the dish lies in the delicateness of the zucchini and summer squash strands, which cook in the final minute of the assembly process while they’re being tossed with the just-boiled spaghetti.
The sauce for this pasta is simple: extra-virgin olive oil heated briefly with minced garlic and crushed red pepper flakes. Lemon zest and lots of chopped basil and parsley add a touch of freshness. Grated Parmigiano Reggiano is a must.
I love this pasta. It’s simple and summery, and it always inspires me once again to unearth such a promising gadget. Maybe this summer will be different? Maybe we’ll take to feasting on whimsical cucumber nest salads and carrot and daikon radish slaws? Maybe we’ll grow accustomed to sliding our grilled steaks onto beds of crispy potatoes? It’s unlikely, but I’ll be sure to keep you posted.
Notes: The original recipe called for 3/4 lb. spaghettini, 3/4 lb. zucchini and 1/2 cup olive oil. I have reduced the amount of pasta and olive oil, but essentially kept the amount of squash the same. I also added lemon zest, which goes nicely with zucchini and adds a touch of brightness. Also, don’t be confused by the photo with the halved lemon and reamer — I don’t actually add any lemon juice, though I can’t imagine a squeeze would do too much damage. Your call.
1/2 lb. spaghetti
1/2 lb. or more zucchini or yellow squash (I used 11 oz. weighed after being trimmed sliced)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil (or more or less)
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
zest of one lemon
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
¼ cup finely chopped parsley (optional — sometimes I just use basil)
½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
freshly ground pepper
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a big pinch of salt. Meanwhile, using a mandoline or Benriner turning slicer, cut the squash into long thin strips. Alternatively, cut the squash with a knife as thinly as you are able. Place the sliced squash in a colander in your sink. Cook the pasta until al dente, reserving ½ cup of the pasta cooking liquid (though you might not even need it — I never seem to with this dish).
2. Place the oil, garlic and red pepper flakes in a small skillet and turn heat to high. When the oil and garlic begin to sizzle, turn off the heat. (If you have an electric burner, as I do, remove pan from the heat source if the garlic begins to brown.)
3. Drain the pasta over the colander containing the squash, then transfer pasta and squash to a large bowl. Add the garlic-red pepper oil to the bowl. (Note: I add all of the oil at once, because I like the pasta to be nicely coated, but I could see how some people might find it too oily. If you are wary of oil, add about half of the oil to start, then add more as needed.) Add the zest and the herbs. Add the Parmigiano. Toss. Taste. Season with kosher salt (if necessary — I add a lot of salt to the pasta water so I usually don’t have to add any extra salt) and pepper to taste. If necessary, add some of the reserved cooking water (I didn’t need any), more olive oil (didn’t need it) or salt and pepper.
Hello there. Just a quick midweek post here. Thought I’d share with you all how I’ve made my favorite easy weeknight dinner both more and less involved.
Let me explain. Adding asparagus to pasta carbonara adds about a minute more to your prep time but precludes the need to make any other sort of vegetable side dish — 3/4 of a pound of asparagus, for me at least, is enough roughage for one evening.
So there you have it. Fry some bacon. Sauté some onions. Cook some pasta. Blanch some asparagus. Whisk some eggs. Zest a lemon. Toss it all together, and watch how a no-cream light-on-the-cheese sauce transforms a simple pasta into a creamy-tasting, vegetable-loaded, one-dish dinner. Yum.
Coarse salt and ground pepper
6 slices bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
4 leeks* (white and light-green parts only) or spring onions*, halved lengthwise, rinsed well, and thinly sliced
3/4 pound short pasta, such as campanelle or orecchiette
3/4 pound of asparagus, ends trimmed
2 large eggs
1/2 ounce Parmesan, grated (1/4 cup), plus more for serving (optional)
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest, plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, coarsely chopped (optional — I didn’t use them this time around)
*If you don’t have leeks or onions, any onion will do — finely chop about a half cup or more of whatever onion you have on hand.
1. Set a large pot of salted water to boil. In a large skillet, cook bacon over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from skillet. (I did not pour off any fat… it looked too good to discard.) Add leeks, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring often, until leeks are golden brown, about 10 minutes.
2. Add pasta to pot and cook according to package instructions. Meanwhile, cut asparagus into 1.5- to 2-inch long pieces. In the last three minutes of the pasta cooking time, drop the asparagus into the pot of water. Reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking liquid.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, Parmesan, and lemon zest and juice. Whisk 1/4 cup pasta water into egg mixture.
4. Drain pasta and asparagus and immediately add to egg mixture, along with bacon, leeks, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper and stir to combine. Sprinkle with more cheese if desired and serve immediately. Note: If you’re nervous about the egg not cooking, just throw the whole mixture back into a large skillet over medium heat for a minute or two.
Yesterday morning, a little self-intervention led to a most-delicious discovery.
This is what happened. After finding myself once again scouring the internet for Tartine’s croque monsieur recipe, clicking on fruitless links I had clicked on before, and seeing myself heading down an equally defeating path — toward my bookshelf ready to thumb through my Tartine cookbooks to ensure once again I hadn’t made a glaring oversight — I paused. What’s wrong with you? I asked myself. This isn’t rocket science. This is croque monsieur.
And right then and there I stopped wasting time and marched straight into the kitchen, making bechamel the order of the hour. And then I preheated the oven to roast some asparagus and spring onions. And then I cut two thick slices of olive bread, grated some Comté cheese and picked a few thyme leaves. And before I knew it, a bubbling, bechamel-and-roasted vegetable-tartine had emerged from my broiler. And in an instant Tartine didn’t feel 2,847 miles away, and Tartine-style croque monsieur at home, such an impossibility.
While I didn’t even miss the meat on my spring vegetable croque monsieur, I suspect that a few slices of ham would bring my favorite breakfast sandwich even closer to home. Just know that if you can make a bechamel, and if you can get your hands on some good bread, some sort of Gruyère-like cheese, and some fresh thyme, you have the foundation for a daydream-worthy croque monsieur.
Of course, the only possible way this sandwich could be made any more delicious is if it were topped with a poached egg. Yum.
Asparagus and spring onions from our Olin-Fox Farms CSA:
Asparagus & Spring Onion Croque Monsieur
Serves: However many you like
Note: I’ve included a recipe for a bechamel sauce that I really like (it’s from Nancy Silverton’s sandwich book), but by all means, if you have a go-to bechamel recipe, use it. After the bechamel is made, there really isn’t a need for a recipe here. Just pick your favorite spring vegetables and cook them however you like, or if you have access to some good ham or bacon, go the more traditional route and substitute the vegetables with the meat. If you use a bakery-style loaf of bread and come Gruyère or Comté cheese, you’re good to go.
asparagus and/or spring onions, ends trimmed
good bread, cut into thick slices
bechamel sauce (recipe below)
grated gruyère, Comté or Swiss cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Toss the asparagus and spring onions with olive oil and kosher salt on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast the vegetables until tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Test with a knife for doneness.
2. Preheat the broiler. Place the slices of bread on a sheet pan and broil them about a minute on each side. Remove pan from the oven. Spread about a tablespoon of bechamel over each slice of bread. Top with the roasted vegetables. Top with grated cheese to taste.
3. Broil until the cheese is bubbling and starting to brown. Sprinkle with the fresh thyme and serve immediately.
Note: This recipe is adapted from Silverton’s recipe for Mornay sauce in her croque monsieur recipe in her Sandwich Book. To make it a Mornay sauce, as far as I can tell, stir in 1/2 cup finely grated Gruyère and 1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano at the very end.
Also Note: This makes enough bechamel for about 30 croque monsieurs. I haven’t tried having the recipe, but it likely would work just fine. I don’t use bechamel that often, so I’m short on ideas for using up the remaining bechamel. Thoughts? I just plan on eating croque monsieur every day until I’m out of bechamel.
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 medium white or yellow onion (about 4 tablespoons finely chopped)
4 black peppercorns, crushed (I didn’t do this)
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups whole milk
1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion, salt, and cracked peppercorns (if using), and cook about 10 minutes, until the onion is soft but has not begun to color. Remove from the heat and add the flour in two batches, whisking to combine it with the onion and butter. Return the pan to the stove and over low heat, cook a few minutes, until the flour is absorbed, stirring constantly so that it doesn’t brown. Remove from the heat and slowly whisk in the milk. Drop in the bay leaf.
2. Return the pan to the stove, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent the sauce from burning on the bottom of the pan. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until the taste of raw flour is gone and the mixture is thick, smooth and silky. If it’s too thick and becoming difficult to stir, you’ll need to whisk in a little more milk.
3. Using a fine mesh sieve, strain the sauce. (I didn’t strain the sauce — I don’t mind those onion bits, and the bay leaf was easy enough to pull out. Now, if you did the peppercorn thing, you probably want to strain the sauce.)