The quantity of herbs heaped onto nearly every dish at every Vietnamese restaurant never ceases to amaze me. And this time of year, I crave nothing more than eating this kind of food: fresh, light, fragrant. Summer rolls lined with mint, green papaya salad speckled with Thai basil, chicken salad loaded with scallions and cilantro — oh Nam Phuong! You feel so far away.
Last weekend, halfway through our drive along the Mohawk Trail en route to a campsite in the Berkshires, we came to a roundabout, which sent us off into a village of green sweeping lawns dotted with stone steeples, brick chapels, farmers’ market signage, and students tossing frisbees. We slowed to take it all in, the utopia that is a college campus.
The following afternoon we returned to Williamstown and guided by an encouraging Yelp review, stopped into Pappa Charlie’s for lunch. We ordered as we always do when we find ourselves in these sorts of spots: anything with tuna for Ben; anything with avocado for me. In a patch of grass just outside the deli, we tucked into our four-inch thick sandwiches teeming with sprouts, dripping with mayonnaise and tomato juices. And although we have eaten this meal countless times in countless places, we relished this lunch, the soft, thick bread, the creamy avocado, the salty chips, the crunchy pickle.
I’ve heard that trying to please everyone, as a general life strategy, may at best lead to disappointment and, at worst, failure. Eek.
But what if, say, without even trying, you just happen to please everyone? Hmm.
Soooo, I know it’s January 7th, and I should be eating kale and tofu and sipping on homemade kombucha, and I probably should not be interrupting your New Years’-resolution-dining regimen with visions of béchamel-slicked toast layered with black forest ham, gruyère cheese, and oozing poached eggs, but, um, well, I’m sorry?
I arrived at the Albany airport to find my auntie Marcy waiting at baggage claim ready to snatch Wren from my arms and to feed me, as always, immediately.
She led me to her car, and before I could even buckle my seatbelt, she had pulled a ball jar filled with cucumber and green grape gazpacho — one of my favorites — from a cooler and handed me a Lifefactory water bottle — I want one! — filled with ginger-mint-and-orange-flavored water.
Feeling nourished and ready to face the task of the day — find me a place to live — we zoomed off in Marcy’s mobile spa, equipped with coolers holding bowls of quinoa and mango salad, a brown paper bag sheathing a loaf of Shelburne Farms chili cheese ciabatta, and a little baggy holding rice crispy treats for dessert. My auntie spoils me.
I returned home to a heat wave craving nothing more than this cool summery meal. As I mentioned, this white gazpacho, loaded with dill, is one of my favorites. I find nothing more refreshing this time of year, and had I not been so worried about disappointing some of you, I would have shared this recipe ages ago. You see, some of you may be turned off by the zing of the raw garlic. One clove imparts an amazing amount of bite, and while you certainly could leave it out, I fear something would be lost without it. While variations of white gazpacho can be found all over Spain (so I’m told), raw garlic (along with the stale bread) seems to be a constant. This soup makes a wonderful first course, especially when every sip is accompanied by slivers of toasted almonds and sweet grapes.
Happily Ever After: or so ends the tale of so many kitchen accidents, this story of a batch of past-prime Jim Lahey pizza dough being no exception.
Once upon a time, an avid admirer of the Lahey pizza recipe opened her fridge to discover two rounds of several-days old dough, their plastic-wrapped seams bursting with nubs of desiccating dough. Not wanting to see the dough go to waste, the girl began experimenting, first in the form of focaccia. After letting the two rounds of dough rest briefly in a well-oiled 8×8-inch pan, she stretched it gently, using all ten fingers to create dimples, then sprinkled the surface with sea salt and rosemary. In no time the dough, with oil pooling in its myriad craters, began looking like a pretty decent focaccia, and it ended up baking off even more beautifully. Later that evening, the girl split the focaccia lengthwise and served roasted red pepper and herbed goat cheese sandwiches to some friends, none of whom would have suspected they had a batch of tired pizza dough to thank for their delectable dinner.
And that’s just the beginning of this tale’s happy ending. About a week later, the girl visited her family in CT, where the familiar sight of days-old pizza dough in her mother’s basement fridge — it turns out her mother’s planning is sometimes just as poor as hers — sent the girl scouring for other leftovers. When she found some caramelized onions, a tub of salt-packed anchovies, and a jar of olives, an impromptu pissaladière began to materialize.
In addition to mascarpone sorbet, my gnudi-making debacle, which left me with pounds of semolina flour in my pantry, has led to another pleasant discovery: relatively easy and completely delicious ciabatta-like sandwich rolls.
It turns out that when one cup of the all-purpose flour in the peasant bread dough is replaced with one cup of semolina flour, the loaves transform a bit, becoming at once chewier and lighter in texture and slightly more golden in color.
And when the dough, instead of being shaped into two loaves, is portioned into roll-sized pieces and sprinkled, just like those ever-so-promising gnudi, heavily with semolina flour, and gently stretched into squares or elongated “slippers,” it bakes off into light sandwich rolls, crispy on the exterior and soft on the interior.
But when the unbaked rolls are allowed to be pampered just a bit more by an overnight rest in the fridge, they bake off even more beautifully, becoming even crispier on the exterior, more porous on the interior, feather-light in weight, gorgeously golden in color, and resembling in taste the most delectable ciabatta, so well suited for housing any number of sliced meats and cheeses, fried eggs and bacon, or slices of mozzarella and tomato.
My pantry is cluttered with odd ingredients, a reflection of impulse purchases made after seeing recipes for “ultimately authentic” dishes I feel I have to make immediately. As I often don’t make these dishes immediately, I end up collecting tubs of tamarind concentrate and palm sugar (purchased for pad thai) and shrimp paste (for satay sauce) and fermented black beans (for mapo tofu).
Often these ingredients sit untouched for months (years), or they get dipped into, stashed in the fridge, forgotten, and ultimately unnecessarily re-purchased when I see that next completely authentic recipe I have to make immediately. It’s a vicious cycle.
A few unseasonably hot days last week had me craving chilled soba noodles with dashi, a favorite summer meal I first tried at Morimoto, where they make it with green tea soba noodles — SO good. After scouring my pantry and finding myself making the usual note to self — purchase bonito flakes and kombu promptly — I paused. Certainly I could make something that could satisfy this same chilled soba craving without going down my usual pantry-cluttering path.
A few weeks ago I discovered that for all the years I have been cooking quinoa I have been doing it wrong. The quinoa I have made, as a result, while edible and receptive to countless seasonings and additions, has never kept my attention for very long — after the odd week-long-quinoa binge, I’d forget about it for months.
But after posting the radish entry a few weeks ago, I received a comment from a dear old friend who managed several of the Philadelphia farmers’ markets while I lived there. Joanna pointed me to a Yotam Ottolenghi recipe for a quinoa salad with radishes, fava beans, avocado and a lemon vinaigrette she had recently made for some friends to rave reviews.
A quick google search led me to the recipe. While the ingredient list had me foaming at the mouth, it was the first few lines of the instructions that really struck me: Place the quinoa in a saucepan filled with plenty of boiling water and simmer for 9 minutes. Drain in a fine sieve, rinse under cold water and leave to dry.
PLENTY of boiling water. Simmer for NINE minutes. RINSE under cold water. Is this news to you, too? Why has every package of quinoa instructed me to cook it as if it were rice — 1 part grain to 2 parts water — in a covered pot? And to cook it for at least 15 minutes but often for as long as 20? And after the cooking process, to let it rest off the heat under its steaming lid for an additional 5 to 10 minutes?
Last summer, my sister and I escaped to NYC for 36 hours. We packed in a show, some good shopping, and a lot of good eating including breakfast at Eataly and dinner at Momofuku. I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned this getaway before — sorry, I don’t get out much — but after discovering that Danish pastry dough can be made in the food processor and, as a result, that cheese danishes can be whipped up in just a few hours, I found myself dreaming about other danish-like pastries, croissants in particular, ones brimming with prosciutto à la Eataly specifically.
Now, the breakfast pastries we ate at Eataly were served at room temperature and filled with slices of meat sandwich-style. And while they were delicious, I was craving something more like the pain au jambon I had read about in the Tartine cookbook, in which smoked ham and cheese are rolled and baked with the dough. So, guided by Tartine, I layered thin slices of prosciutto and batons of gruyère over my faux croissant dough, and before too long, a half dozen crackly golden pastries emerged from my oven, cheese oozing from the ridges, salty meat entwined with each flaky layer.