It has been my experience for years that on eves of CSA pickups, we get by with what we have, cobble together dinner with the scraps in the vegetable drawer, a hunk of bread, cheese, a tin of sardines or whatever we find in the pantry.
But this summer, I can’t keep up. Even with the children eating the green beans, a weekly ritual of chard fritters, and gratins galore, we can’t make a dent in our produce share. Every Monday is an emergency, an evacuation of what’s left, everything and anything shredded into a slaw.
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.
About this time last year, I learned how to properly cook quinoa, a revelation that not only gave the ancient grain a permanent spot in my pantry, but also inspired a number of grain salads I made all summer long.
While the ingredients in each salad varied from radishes and peas to cherry tomatoes and cucumbers to roasted squash and wilted mustard greens, the formula was always the same: something fresh, something crunchy, something spicy, something sweet. The dressing was simple too: extra-virgin olive oil and minced red onions macerated in vinegar or lemon juice. Cheese never entered the equation, nor was it missed.
Here, wheat berries and walnuts combine with asparagus and radishes in an addictive, chewy, crunchy, colorful combination, a simple salad to herald the arrival of spring, which at last appears to be here to stay.
A little over a year ago, I made Kesté’s lemon pizza, whose beguiling combination of smoked mozzarella, sliced lemon and fresh basil defied all conventions and challenged my ideal of pizza.
When I first began experimenting with preserved lemons, this pizza came to mind, and then it materialized on the dinner table, the preserved lemons replacing the slices, everything else remaining the same. It has been awhile since I made Kesté’s original version, but the preserved lemons offer that same brightness and intensity, and the combination is one of my favorites. As I am learning, preserved lemons work nicely anywhere lemon and salt work nicely — so, everywhere? — and while there is something about the combination of smoked mozzarella and lemon that just can’t be beat, this is a fun pizza combination, too: za’atar with olive oil, fresh ricotta, preserved lemon and basil.
The key when using preserved lemons is to adhere to the maxim less is more: a little preserved lemon goes a long way. I now understand why the two preserved lemon recipes I followed called for so few lemons, and that doubling each of those recipes, which seemed the obvious move at the time, may have been unnecessary.
My sister, the doctor, lover of pies and Peeps, is hosting Thanksgiving this year. She has it all under control, sleeping arrangements organized, color-coded cooking timeline mapped out, and the menu finalized, promising her 12 guests a turkey, a spanakopita, cranberry sauce (not this one) and pie.
To help lighten her load, I’ve signed up to bring punch, stuffing, bread, and this potato gratin, a dish my mother has served at nearly every big holiday gathering for as long as I can remember, one that often steals the show no matter what it’s beside, turkey or otherwise.
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 Appetit Thanksgiving 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.
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.
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.
I find myself living in a Potemkin village, my cookbooks — clutter! — hidden away, my stand mixer — clutter! — stashed in the hutch, my pots, pans, utensils, teapot — clutter! — boxed up in the garage. Staged by the realtors, our house has never looked cleaner, prettier, or more color coordinated. It also has never been more unlivable.
Even so, today I discovered that with little more than a knife, a cutting board, and a large bowl, a beautiful whole grain salad can materialize in no time. Determined not to eat takeout for the fourth night in a row, I made a big bowl of tabbouleh, a dish my mother made for us all summer long for as long as I can remember, a dish that feels at once light, satisfying and nourishing. With some warm pita and a block of feta, dinner was served.
Unlike many grains, bulgur requires nothing more than cold water — yes, cold! — to fluff up and become edible. You can’t mess it up. There are no grain-to-water ratios to remember; there are no cooking times to adhere to. After an hour of soaking, the cold water is drained and the bulgur is ready to be dressed in olive oil, freshly squeezed lemon juice, salt and pepper.
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?