Can we talk about the Madness? Uconn upsetting Michigan State? Kentucky’s last-second 3-pointer for the win? The Wisconsin-Arizona overtime nail biter?
I sound like I know what I’m talking about, right? I don’t. But thanks to theSkimm, I am up-to-date on all the most important goings-on in the world. (Really, you should subscribe, it might change your life.)
You also should make this baked ricotta for any guests you might find at your house watching the Final Four this weekend. As is the case with so many baked cheese dips, the success of this one can be attributed to the synergistic reaction that takes place in the oven, the final melty product amounting to so much more than the sum of its herbs, spices, and cheeses. In other words: cheese is good, melted cheese is better. At least when placed before a crew of ravenous, raucous, raging sports fans.
I just spent a week eating cheese, making butter, growing sprouts, baking bread, snuggling with Golden Retrievers, visiting farms, driving through covered bridges, admiring snow-capped mountains and frozen lakes, and sampling microbrews while eating wood-fired pizzas. Could I have been anywhere in the world but Vermont?
Perhaps, but short of meeting a few friends for a morning snowshoe, my week couldn’t have been filled with more quintessential Green Mountain State activities. My siblings and I grew up traveling to Charlotte many times a year to visit my mother’s sister Marcy, master of pies, soup, and delectably melty appetizers. The five-hour drive always felt interminable, knowing what we had awaiting us: our cousins, a zipline, Uncle Wade’s waffles, Lake Champlain, dogs and endless outdoor fun.
For my parents, the drive was a breeze, the nature scenes providing endless distraction. I never quite understood the enthusiasm for the birds perched on the highway light poles or the first glimpse of Mount Mansfield, but on my drive north this past Sunday, I realized I had officially become my parents. “Children!” I would shout at every turn. “Look at the cows! The silos! The mountains! The sugar houses!”
For the past year, the most frequent question asked on this blog is this: Can the peasant bread be made gluten-free?
Everyone knows someone — a friend, an uncle, a cousin — recently diagnosed with Celiac disease who has had to forget bread as he/she once knew it.
You might have this friend, this uncle, this cousin. I do. And you might want to treat him/her to a loaf of freshly baked bread but you don’t know where to begin. This is the position my mother found herself in a month ago while preparing for the arrival of her brother-in-law, who had recently adopted a gluten-free diet. Panicked by the thought of serving dinner without warm, fresh bread on the table, she called asking if I had ever successfully made the peasant bread gluten free. I answered as I have to everyone who has asked thus far: no, not yet.
Tired, pale, wrinkled — it’s a sad lot of vegetables gracing the farmers’ market tables these days.
But I’m not judging. Those very three words came to mind as I looked in the mirror this morning. I could use a little help right now — some sun, some fresh air, spring — and so could those vegetables. And I’ve got just the thing.
I will consider this post a success if, by the end, one of two things happens:
1. You feel inspired to tackle Moroccan cooking, immediately buy a tagine, preserve and then purée a batch of lemons, find a source for ras-el-hanout, and, in the short term at least, join me on a tagine-making bender, throwing any and everything possible into your new favorite kitchen tool.
2. You move to Schenectady so you, as I, have a Moroccan pantry in your backyard, a supply of Aneesa’s ras-el-hanout, preseved lemons, tomato jam, parsley chermoula, all of which make throwing together a Moroccan feast as effortless as popping a frozen pizza in the oven.
Either outcome will be a win for me, especially number two — perhaps we could meet for lunch? — but let’s start from the top.
Scenario #1. If you are more inclined to stay where you are and take a stab at tagine-style cooking…
…first disregard everything you know about braising, which typically calls for searing meat then finishing it in a covered pot with a small amount of liquid. Tagine cooking in essence is braising but there is no initial browning, no deglazing of the pan, no multi-step process. Everything gets thrown into the tagine at step one and forgotten until step two, at which point your food is cooked and you, pita bread in hand, are ready to attack it.
I left Tara Kitchen on Saturday afternoon, my belly filled with chicken and preserved lemons, my bag with jars of harissa, tomato jam, and ras-el-hanout. I had just spent two hours learning about Moroccan cooking, scribbling notes while sipping on mint tea, assembling tagines, photographing each step, savoring every bite and finally departing, only hoping my brain might retain a fraction of what I had learned, already regretting not having purchased a tagine.
But before returning home, I had to swing by the Co-op for one thing — a bag of frozen peas and carrots — an integral mix in Tara Kitchen’s chickpea tagine, a dish I would make at home later that evening. Aneesa Waheed, the owner of Tara Kitchen, takes pride in the simplicity of the dishes she serves and noted as class began that all of the ingredients she uses can be found at any market. Her chickpea tagine, a slightly sweet mixture of vegetables and dried fruits mixed with chickpeas and her homemade tomato jam, is one of my favorites.
Never would I have guessed that such a flavorful mixture — a vegan, nut-free one to boot — could be so simple to prepare, but as I learned in class, this is the beauty of tagine cooking. Aneesa fell in love with Moroccan food for this very reason: she could throw a handful of ingredients in a tagine, set it on the stove, go take a shower, make a few phone calls, and return to a steaming hot, delicious and satisfying dinner. And while the success of the finished tagines certainly depends on the sauces and spice mixtures that have been prepped in advance, I can attest to the simplicity of the tagine-making process.
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.
Can we agree that there never is enough crispy topping on the baked pasta gratin? Didn’t we just discuss this? Yes. I’ll keep this brief. Without a bread crumb topping, this sheet pan pasta gratin comes together even faster than the mac n’ cheese, and the addition of chopped raw kale not only provides some tasty roughage but also bolsters the crispness effect — think: kale chip meets gratin edge.
Like the mac n’ cheese, the elements in this gratin include a light béchamel made with equal parts milk and water, two cheeses, and parboiled pasta, something like penne or campanelle, whose fluted, petal-like edges brown up so beautifully.
You know how sometimes a day — a year — can rip by in an instant? But somehow the ten minutes while the steak is resting feel interminable? Without gainful employment, that steak will draw you in, those crispy bits will dangle and taunt, that carving knife will reflect light in your eye until you succumb.
The only possible way to survive those torturous ten minutes is to stay busy, and I have the perfect distraction: make a simple pan sauce, something like this red wine-shallot reduction, a delectable Daniel Boulud recipe. Those ten minutes never will pass so quickly. That steak, at last, will rest without fear.
Just a quick hello today. With Valentine’s Day quickly approaching, I thought I’d check in in case you are menu planning or perhaps needing a card?