Springtime Mac n Cheese

image

Spring is the time to eat babies. Baby veggies. Yesterday I bought a small bunch of those Japanese white turnips and converted them into a nice mac n cheese. Cheese mixture: Asiago and white cheddar in Béchamel sauce. Minced the tender turnip greens with some finely-chopped green garlic. Lightly steamed the dime-sized turnips. Tossed them in with some fancy elbow pasta and declared it finished.

The Legume-Bitter Green Axis
It should be well-known that stewed dried legumes and sturdy, bitter greens, like dandelions and escarole, combine alchemically to produce extraordinarily satisfying and delicious results.
A few combos that work reliably are fava and chicory (fava e cicoria), white beans with radicchio, and green lentils with escarole. To me, these are like meat dishes for vegetarians.
After scoring an abundant and gorgeous head of chicory from J.Glebocki farms at the Inwood green market this past Saturday, I decided to try cooking it with a novel pulse.
This use of the word pulse is not so common in the US. It refers to leguminous plants that have pods containing several seeds and that are meant to be used dried. You can read all about that here.
A particular favorite of mine is the red lentil. It cooks quickly and mostly falls apart, but the texture is never pasty and there is still a vaguely retained lentil shape at the end.
I cooked a couple of cups of red lentils in an equal amount of water, which you will adjust by adding more as it is absorbed during the cooking process. To this I added some chopped onion that I had browned in olive oil.
When the lentils were cooked to my liking- in about 10-15 minutes, I added the washed chicory, which I had chopped into 4-5 inch lengths. I continued cooking over a medium flame until the chicory reached the desired tenderness.
I added sea salt and a generous amount of coarsely ground black pepper. You can see the result above.
It was terrific!

The Legume-Bitter Green Axis

It should be well-known that stewed dried legumes and sturdy, bitter greens, like dandelions and escarole, combine alchemically to produce extraordinarily satisfying and delicious results.

A few combos that work reliably are fava and chicory (fava e cicoria), white beans with radicchio, and green lentils with escarole. To me, these are like meat dishes for vegetarians.

After scoring an abundant and gorgeous head of chicory from J.Glebocki farms at the Inwood green market this past Saturday, I decided to try cooking it with a novel pulse.

This use of the word pulse is not so common in the US. It refers to leguminous plants that have pods containing several seeds and that are meant to be used dried. You can read all about that here.

A particular favorite of mine is the red lentil. It cooks quickly and mostly falls apart, but the texture is never pasty and there is still a vaguely retained lentil shape at the end.

I cooked a couple of cups of red lentils in an equal amount of water, which you will adjust by adding more as it is absorbed during the cooking process. To this I added some chopped onion that I had browned in olive oil.

When the lentils were cooked to my liking- in about 10-15 minutes, I added the washed chicory, which I had chopped into 4-5 inch lengths. I continued cooking over a medium flame until the chicory reached the desired tenderness.

I added sea salt and a generous amount of coarsely ground black pepper. You can see the result above.

It was terrific!

Ramps season barely lasts longer than a springtime sneeze. If you haven’t had them, they are typically described as ‘wild onion’ or sometimes ‘wild leeks.’ The latter designation i think is an effort to attest to the subtle and mild flavor, as the bulb is more onion-like in shape. The greens are unique- big floppy things. They resemble allium.

You might have another week in the season to try cooking them yourself, and I say do it. Here is a super simple method that produces ramps suitable as a side dish or as a bed for braised fish. I also enjoyed them on a pulled pork sandwich.

First cut off the tentacle-like roots. I use a scissors. I’m a champion of scissors as a culinary tool. They’re really convenient for certain cutting tasks. This is one. Pizza is another.

Then give them a thorough washing. They aren’t as bad to clean as leeks because they don’t grow in sand.

Next, a quick saute in olive oil reduces the bulk and adds a layer of flavor.

Follow by adding 1/2-3/4 cup of chicken stock and a couple of grinds of coarse black pepper. Cover and simmer for 5-7 minutes.

When the bulb is readily pierced with a fork, take them out, reduce the liquid and give the ramps a quick drag through the reduction.

You’ll be pleasantly surprised at the mild and sweet character of braised ramps. Personally, I can’t stand it when people refer to savory dishes as ‘sweet,’ but here it’s too true to ignore.

They are perfectly suited to serve as a veggie side. Also, they make a nice bed to a piece of Chilean Sea Bass, hake, striped bass- any mild fish I think would work well. 

Once again, proof that simple ingredients need only a simple preparation.

Fish for Breakfast
A few years ago I had a conversation with a nutritionist. We were discussing ways to lower my carb intake at breakfast time. I figured it meant I’d be eating a lot more eggs.
'It doesn't just have to be eggs,' he said.
'You can choose any lean protein. Have a piece of chicken.'
It struck me as an unusual twist, but I decided to work with the idea.
Another obvious source of lean protein is fish, of course, and fish is a popular breakfast item, though usually in a high-sodium smoked variety. It’s common to have lox, smoked salmon, smoked trout or even herring for breakfast.
But I wanted to avoid the salt, so that pointed me in the direction of working with fresh fish. I felt that strong-flavored oily fishes could overwhelm a palate that is still half-asleep, so I began to steam and poach various white, flaky varieties that might seem bland at the dinner table. Fish like hake- which is very inexpensive, and flounder. Even striped bass is a great breakfast fish, though it really begs to be drizzled with butter.
I mentioned this fish-for-breakfast habit to my dear friend FoodieFatale and her reaction was something along the lines of ‘I just don’t think of fish as a breakfast food.’ And I fully understood.
So here, pictured above, is my breakfast-friendly flounder fish taco. It’s yummy, healthy and pairs well with coffee.
On top of a corn tortilla that I nuked for 15 seconds, are some pieces of flounder. This time I opted to sauté them, using a wee bit of olive oil to add a hint of crispiness. Then I topped it with some sliced tomato and avocado wedges. I added some pickled jalapeno too, because I like the heat.
To finish it off I added coarsely-chopped cilantro and some salsa verde. 
It’s grrrrreat!

Fish for Breakfast

A few years ago I had a conversation with a nutritionist. We were discussing ways to lower my carb intake at breakfast time. I figured it meant I’d be eating a lot more eggs.

'It doesn't just have to be eggs,' he said.

'You can choose any lean protein. Have a piece of chicken.'

It struck me as an unusual twist, but I decided to work with the idea.

Another obvious source of lean protein is fish, of course, and fish is a popular breakfast item, though usually in a high-sodium smoked variety. It’s common to have lox, smoked salmon, smoked trout or even herring for breakfast.

But I wanted to avoid the salt, so that pointed me in the direction of working with fresh fish. I felt that strong-flavored oily fishes could overwhelm a palate that is still half-asleep, so I began to steam and poach various white, flaky varieties that might seem bland at the dinner table. Fish like hake- which is very inexpensive, and flounder. Even striped bass is a great breakfast fish, though it really begs to be drizzled with butter.

I mentioned this fish-for-breakfast habit to my dear friend FoodieFatale and her reaction was something along the lines of ‘I just don’t think of fish as a breakfast food.’ And I fully understood.

So here, pictured above, is my breakfast-friendly flounder fish taco. It’s yummy, healthy and pairs well with coffee.

On top of a corn tortilla that I nuked for 15 seconds, are some pieces of flounder. This time I opted to sauté them, using a wee bit of olive oil to add a hint of crispiness. Then I topped it with some sliced tomato and avocado wedges. I added some pickled jalapeno too, because I like the heat.

To finish it off I added coarsely-chopped cilantro and some salsa verde. 

It’s grrrrreat!

Pizza sin Formaggio
I got inspired to make a cheese-free pizza the other night. The twist was, it was tomato-free as well. The idea is roughly based on the Ricardo pizza at Roberto’s Zerro Otto Nove trattoria on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. ‘Zero Otto Nove’ translates as ‘Otto’s New Zero.’ (Just kidding.)
Ingredients:
1 medium Kabacho or butternut squash. A pumpkin will suffice in a pinch, and would likely be very good in fact.
5 shallots
Prosciutto 1 handful thinly-sliced and chopped 4-6 oz
brown sugar 3-4 teaspoons
minced rosemary needles 1 teaspoon
olive oil
pizza dough of any origin
Preparation:
Quarter the squash, scrape out the seeds and roast for 30 minutes until you can pierce with a fork. Purée, adding a little water and a teaspoon of brown sugar. The final consistency should be a bit thinner than tomato paste. Set aside.
Shave the shallots. You can use whatever means you prefer. I used a knife and cut them very thinly. Preheat a skillet, then add olive oil. Sauté the shallots slowly over medium heat. Continue until they are golden-brown but still soft. Add 2-3 teaspoons of brown sugar and incorporate with a spatula until the shallot mixture is glistening. Set aside.
On to the crust
One thing about pizza crust that I can prove is: the way you treat it matters more than the absolute perfection of the dough itself. Because the one thing that I do not have that Otto’s New Zero does have is a wood-fired stove that reaches a temperature of 809 degrees- yet I can still turn out a thin, crispy crust.
To make up for the lack of a pizza oven, I obsessively follow this order of steps:
allow the dough to come to room temperature if it has been refrigerated
preheat your oven to ‘all the way.’ Your smoke detector will likely go off, so be forewarned. This pizza is going to cook by eye so ‘as hot as it gets’ is the rule.
apply olive oil to a large cookie sheet, then cut a piece of parchment to fit and apply olive oil to that too. The first layer of oil adheres the paper to the pan and the second de-adheres the finished pizza from the paper. Ironic, isn’t it?
fit the dough to the pan in stages. if it is at first reluctant to comply, let it rest a bit and then come at it again. Gradually, you should be able to spread the dough to the four corners, using the ball of your fist to regrade the surface until the dough is thinly and evenly distributed.
using a fork, prick the crust all over.
place in the hot oven and check every minute or so until it just starts to turn color.
remove for further operations
Building the Pizza
Using a baking spatula, trowel-on the pureed squash evenly. Sprinkle the minced rosemary over the squash.
Drop on the shallots in small clumps with your fingers or tongs. You will probably want to spread them out more evenly using a pair of forks. I recommend it.
Now add the minced prosciutto, deftly apportioning it so it becomes statistically even slice-wise over the entire pie. For a precise mathematical explanation see Wolfram Research, otherwise just eyeball it.
Now into the oven. If you’ve kept your furnace blasting, it should be a matter of 5 or 6  minutes until it’s done. What is done? See the photograph and you will have read my mind on the subject.

Pizza sin Formaggio

I got inspired to make a cheese-free pizza the other night. The twist was, it was tomato-free as well. The idea is roughly based on the Ricardo pizza at Roberto’s Zerro Otto Nove trattoria on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx. ‘Zero Otto Nove’ translates as ‘Otto’s New Zero.’ (Just kidding.)

Ingredients:

1 medium Kabacho or butternut squash. A pumpkin will suffice in a pinch, and would likely be very good in fact.

5 shallots

Prosciutto 1 handful thinly-sliced and chopped 4-6 oz

brown sugar 3-4 teaspoons

minced rosemary needles 1 teaspoon

olive oil

pizza dough of any origin

Preparation:

Quarter the squash, scrape out the seeds and roast for 30 minutes until you can pierce with a fork. Purée, adding a little water and a teaspoon of brown sugar. The final consistency should be a bit thinner than tomato paste. Set aside.

Shave the shallots. You can use whatever means you prefer. I used a knife and cut them very thinly. Preheat a skillet, then add olive oil. Sauté the shallots slowly over medium heat. Continue until they are golden-brown but still soft. Add 2-3 teaspoons of brown sugar and incorporate with a spatula until the shallot mixture is glistening. Set aside.

On to the crust

One thing about pizza crust that I can prove is: the way you treat it matters more than the absolute perfection of the dough itself. Because the one thing that I do not have that Otto’s New Zero does have is a wood-fired stove that reaches a temperature of 809 degrees- yet I can still turn out a thin, crispy crust.

To make up for the lack of a pizza oven, I obsessively follow this order of steps:

  1. allow the dough to come to room temperature if it has been refrigerated
  2. preheat your oven to ‘all the way.’ Your smoke detector will likely go off, so be forewarned. This pizza is going to cook by eye so ‘as hot as it gets’ is the rule.
  3. apply olive oil to a large cookie sheet, then cut a piece of parchment to fit and apply olive oil to that too. The first layer of oil adheres the paper to the pan and the second de-adheres the finished pizza from the paper. Ironic, isn’t it?
  4. fit the dough to the pan in stages. if it is at first reluctant to comply, let it rest a bit and then come at it again. Gradually, you should be able to spread the dough to the four corners, using the ball of your fist to regrade the surface until the dough is thinly and evenly distributed.
  5. using a fork, prick the crust all over.
  6. place in the hot oven and check every minute or so until it just starts to turn color.
  7. remove for further operations

Building the Pizza

Using a baking spatula, trowel-on the pureed squash evenly. Sprinkle the minced rosemary over the squash.

Drop on the shallots in small clumps with your fingers or tongs. You will probably want to spread them out more evenly using a pair of forks. I recommend it.

Now add the minced prosciutto, deftly apportioning it so it becomes statistically even slice-wise over the entire pie. For a precise mathematical explanation see Wolfram Research, otherwise just eyeball it.

Now into the oven. If you’ve kept your furnace blasting, it should be a matter of 5 or 6  minutes until it’s done. What is done? See the photograph and you will have read my mind on the subject.

I’m reblogging @FoodieFatale ‘s excellent cannoli creation myth. Delicious and naughty. Nice work Joce and Gwen. http://foodiefatale.com/?p=32

There are lot of freshly-minted grade ‘A’ signs in restaurant windows throughout Manhattan. I sense that Health Inspectors received especially generous holiday gifts this year.

There are lot of freshly-minted grade ‘A’ signs in restaurant windows throughout Manhattan. I sense that Health Inspectors received especially generous holiday gifts this year.

The Fickle Turnip
There are those who do not believe the turnip is an edible vegetable.
I am here to testify one need only embrace the adage ‘add enough butter to anything and it will be delicious.’ Follow this advice and the turnip will become a frequent guest at your table.
You will be quite surprised to find the turnip can express an exquisite and stunning array of flavors to tantalize the unwitting palate. But the turnip is a fickle temptress, for as fall creeps in, they develop a more feisty nature, and their bite is sharp enough to scare away the novice eater.
Pictured above is the Hakurei turnip. This variety is always a sure bet. It will never strong-arm you, never wrestle your taste buds to the mat.
I have discovered that most any variety will retain a mild character if they resemble the Hakurei in their snow-white beauty and petite size.
My father cooks them for us. My job is to cook the greens, which, when prepared correctly, are tender and taste just like broccoli rabe. I love two-fer veggies. Beets work the same way.
I’ve watched Dad modify the recipe over the past few months, principally by changing the amount of butter in the upward direction. Here’s the gist of the braise:
Ingredients
2 bunches small white turnips (purple is a sign that they have crossed over into a more revved-up mode of pungency.) We halve them, or quarter them into bite-size pieces.
1/2  stick butter- this is the nominal amount, but frankly, i have never seen anything but a whole stick in the pot.
2 1/2  cups chicken broth
2  teaspoons sugar 
salt to taste
2  chopped scallions or 1 leek, minced 
1 handful flat-leaf parsley, minced
Method
First melt the butter and add the turnips. Then pour in the broth and add the salt and sugar. Bring the pot to a boil, then lower the heat and cook without a lid until the turnips with are tender. Add the scallions or leeks, and the parsley, stirring to incorporate. Try not to break up the turnips. You can optionally remove the turnips and reduce the liquid. Serve the turnips in a large bowl and return the liquid if you have reduced it separately. Be amazed.

The Fickle Turnip

There are those who do not believe the turnip is an edible vegetable.

I am here to testify one need only embrace the adage ‘add enough butter to anything and it will be delicious.’ Follow this advice and the turnip will become a frequent guest at your table.

You will be quite surprised to find the turnip can express an exquisite and stunning array of flavors to tantalize the unwitting palate. But the turnip is a fickle temptress, for as fall creeps in, they develop a more feisty nature, and their bite is sharp enough to scare away the novice eater.

Pictured above is the Hakurei turnip. This variety is always a sure bet. It will never strong-arm you, never wrestle your taste buds to the mat.

I have discovered that most any variety will retain a mild character if they resemble the Hakurei in their snow-white beauty and petite size.

My father cooks them for us. My job is to cook the greens, which, when prepared correctly, are tender and taste just like broccoli rabe. I love two-fer veggies. Beets work the same way.

I’ve watched Dad modify the recipe over the past few months, principally by changing the amount of butter in the upward direction. Here’s the gist of the braise:

Ingredients

  • 2 bunches small white turnips (purple is a sign that they have crossed over into a more revved-up mode of pungency.) We halve them, or quarter them into bite-size pieces.
  • 1/2 stick butter- this is the nominal amount, but frankly, i have never seen anything but a whole stick in the pot.
  • 2 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • salt to taste
  • 2 chopped scallions or 1 leek, minced
  • 1 handful flat-leaf parsley, minced

Method

First melt the butter and add the turnips. Then pour in the broth and add the salt and sugar. Bring the pot to a boil, then lower the heat and cook without a lid until the turnips with are tender. Add the scallions or leeks, and the parsley, stirring to incorporate. Try not to break up the turnips. You can optionally remove the turnips and reduce the liquid. Serve the turnips in a large bowl and return the liquid if you have reduced it separately. Be amazed.

My dear friend @FoodieFatale, invigorated by her recent move to the Connecticut seaside, has experienced a concomitant upswell of interest in edible marine creatures.

Perhaps her passion has been augmented by that long-rumored arousing property of the oysters in which she has shown a keen interest.

Her recent pre-Thanksgiving tweet inquired of her followers whether they would be adding oysters to their stuffing this year.

Well, this year and every year, our family pays homage to our Chesapeake bay heritage, ‘that immense protein factory,’ as Mencken called it, by including oysters in our stuffing.

By now of course, eutrophication and over-fishing have caused the oysters of the bay to dwindle sadly to a small, endangered population. Probably they all know each other first-hand by now.

Ours were likely from Long Island. At any rate, at Manhattan prices, they added up to cost more than the turkey.

Here are some photos (courtesy of Susana Tressler) for the non-believers.

Rethinking Chicken Feet

chk feet

For many American diners whose ethnicity doesn’t include Chinese, rethinking chicken feet will come only with great difficulty, because they have never thought of eating chicken feet in the first place.

I am sympathetic to this viewpoint, but, being a somewhat intrepid culinary explorer, I have not shied away from trying them myself. To this day chicken feet remain my proof-positive that you can sprinkle five-spice powder on anything and it will taste good.

Lately though, I have been purchasing my chickens from a place down the street that I call ‘pick your own.’ It’s a live-poultry joint and I have reviewed it elsewhere in these pages.

Unless you specifically make a request, your well-cleaned bird is handed to you in a sack with its feet attached. Now, for me that means retrieving the poultry shears and cutting them off.

What I did not anticipate was that, as I cut through the tendons, the little claws would wrap gently around my finger, as if to perch.

That’s when I noticed how sparkling white they were.

So the other day I was having dim sum in Chinatown, and when the chicken feet cart came by, I briefly considered taking some.

As is the common practice in Chinatown, one is seated at a table with others, and there you form a happy band of diners in some fashion, depending on the personalities and the willpower to transcend language barriers for the common merriment.

I was seated across from this gentleman:

diner

He was pretty bleary-eyed for 10am and it the reason for it quickly became clear as he reached into a secret bag, withdrew a flask of cognac and dumped it into his empty teacup. I declined his polite offer to share in the imbibing.

At that point I thought I saw him eat his toothpick and I got a little worried, but it soon returned from its perilous duty to his plate, and all seemed well again.

Just at that point, though, it seemed to me that the moment had reached such an intrinsic level of absurdity, that I was compelled by it to call for the waiter and have the chicken feet brought to me with great haste.

This they were delighted to do.

Then, alas, I discovered the naked truth. There was no five-spice powder on them. It was just feet in all their gristly, greasy glory.