We tasted lots of smoky foods for our June roundup—so many, in fact, that they couldn’t all fit in the magazine. Here are three bonus extras, and some delicious ideas for how to serve them.
1. Salvatore Bklyn Smoked Ricotta: About six months ago Betsy Devine and Rachel Mark started smoking their ultra-rich ricotta, made with milk from Hudson Valley Fresh, an upstate New York co-op. Thirty minutes over cherry wood imparts an amazing toasted marshmallow flavor that complements the cheese’s creaminess. Devine and Mark say: “Fold it into pasta with plenty of black pepper and chile pepper or smear it on ciabatta with slices of speck and apples. For dessert, try stirring in a little sugar and use it as a dip for chocolate-covered graham crackers for fire-less s’mores.”
2. Snake River Farms Gourmet Franks: Made from American Wagyu raised outside Boise, Idaho, these dogs spend some time over hickory and alder wood and have an all-natural beef casing. They’re only mildly smoky but have pure beef flavor and a gentle, pleasing spiciness with a super snap. They’d be great grilled, topped with a quick relish.
3. Vanns Smoked Rice: This long-grain white rice, smoked mostly over red and white oak, smells like a fire pit, but when cooked becomes more nuanced and subtle, especially prepared pilaf-style with onions and chicken stock. It would add a fabulous depth to dishes like red beans and rice, jambalaya and gumbo.
"I’ve realized that the moments of literary eating I like best are the ones in which the characters suffer because of their food," posits Brit writer Geoff Nicholson in his recent New York Times essay, "Go Ahead. Spoil My Appetite." He then goes on to list some of the most horrific foods in the canon, like a "pinkish-gray stew" in George Orwell's 1984, "hideous English candies" in Thomas Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow, and fishy-tasting milk in Herman Melville's Moby Dick. Is this a rare case of food masochism? If so, I'd love to hear about your favorite dishes from literature. Here's mine: Henry Perowne's fish stew in Ian McEwan's Saturday.
This morning I had had breakfast with writer Anna Watson. Anna used to be a peripatetic editor at the brilliant but sadly shuttered Culture + Travel magazine. These days the La Varenne–trained foodie has been spending her days in the kitchen, on a mission to try and eat extraordinarily well on a budget. She recently launched a new blog called The Recession Cookbook, where she shares her cost-saving strategies (steak dinner and a bottle of red for two for under $35), excellent recipes and genius ideas for turning leftovers into delicious meals. I know I’ll be regularly checking in for value-minded dinner party inspiration.
Our extraordinary features editor, Michelle Shih, is a terrific home cook. After telling me about making her own yogurt, I asked her to share. Here it is:
Lately, I’ve been on a make-your-own-dairy-product kick. Last weekend, I tried Maria Helm Sinsky’s ricotta recipe—delicious and as easy as she claims, though I forgot that the whey needed to drain for two hours, so I didn’t get her baked pasta on the table until 9pm. This weekend I was inspired by Harold McGee’s article in the New York Times about making yogurt. Over the years, so many people have raved to me about how good homemade yogurt is compared to the storebought stuff. But I was skeptical as to how easy it was until I read McGee’s piece.
Try as I might, I am not destined to be an urban gardener. I have yet to get one of these to even sprout, and my herb-garden seedlings from Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza last spring met a terrible end. Hope springs eternal, though, so I’m sure I’ll uncover my (secret) green thumb by participating in gardening and food blogger Willi Galloway’s Feed Me: Recipe and Seed Swap. Willi’s been running DigginFood for almost a year now, chronicling the mischievous antics of her four laying hens and the amazing bounty that can come from a backyard plot and some serious gardening skills. (She’s the West Coast editor for Organic Gardening magazine.) While driving a few weeks ago, Willi got the idea for the swap, which, like her site, combines her twin passions for tilling the land and cooking up crops. Here’s how her swap will work: Sign up and get paired with a partner. Download an adorable recipe card and write out your favorite recipe, then send it off to your partner with a seed packet for one of the ingredients; your partner will do the same for you. I just hope my partner sends me seeds that are drought-resistant and averse to sunshine.
Forget ham: The real reason to be excited for Sunday is that the Washington Post will announce the winners of their third annual Peeps diorama contest. Last year, they got more than 800 submissions. That means more than 800 people took time out of their busy, harried lives to construct elaborate, awe-inspiring tableaux of chick- and rabbit-shaped sugared marshmallows. The winner, 22-year-old Lauren Sillers of Potomac, Maryland, constructed her Tomb of King Peepankhamun with Peeps, Christmas lights and acrylic-paint Peeps hieroglyphics. If you ever need reminding of the wonders of humanity, if you ever need your faith in our collective ingenuity restored, flip through the Peeps Shows
of 2007 and 2008.
But, because ham really is the main reason to look forward to Sunday (and because we have no recipe for Peeps—yet), check out our own inspiring slide show of 15 delicious Easter dishes to serve with yours, including Mario Batali's clever asparagus with pancetta and Daniel Boulud's creamy pea soup.
If retweeting is re-posting a twitter feed, what's the word for re-blogging a Facebook status update? Retatting? This is a retat. Last night I got so excited I mentioned this on my Facebook page. A vegan friend is coming for Passover, and while concocting vegan main courses and a dessert is fairly brainless (see these excellent vegan main courses from F&W and desserts from Babycakes vegan bakery), I got kind of addled at the idea that anyone might feel left out during the requisite courses of gefilte fish and matzo ball soup. The soup was easy: I made my vegetable broth look like chicken stock by browning the onions in a little olive oil before simmering them in water. Then I added big florets of cauliflower, which look a lot like matzo balls, and simmered them until soft.
Vegan gefilte fish was the stumper. Gefilte fish, for me, is mostly just an excuse to clear my sinuses: The bland quenelles of whitefish taste best swirled in peppery beet horseradish. (They're also a fun way to paint your plate purple.) So what's bland, holds together in quenelle form without eggs, and goes well with a peppery beet-colored condiment? It only came to me at about 11 pm: chickpea cakes! My recipe: Sauté a finely minced quarter of a white onion (or 2 large shallots) in 2 tablespoons of olive oil with a pinch of dried thyme and a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes. Add the rinsed chickpeas from one 15-oz can, cover and simmer until just heated through. Remove the pan from the heat and let cool. Add 1/4 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest and season with salt and pepper. Mash the heck out of the peas with a potato masher and form into 1/4-cup mini-footballs. Cover and refrigerate before serving. We'll see how they go over at this evening's seder. But three of them made for a lovely midnight snack last night.
Easter is this Sunday. This means that my mother has started baking her annual batch of pizza rustica using a recipe from her aunt, a stubborn woman who, because of a lamp, did not speak to her sister (my grandmother) for six years. Per this aunt's instructions, my mother will whisk six eggs and some flat-leaf parsley with half a pound each of fontina and Parmesan cheeses before adding six pounds of ricotta and half a pound each of cubed salami, soppressata, prosciutto and ham. This will make three to four double-crust pies. Clearly, we’re not light eaters.
Curious about its origins, I discovered that pizza rustica is an Easter staple in Naples. Nancy Harmon Jenkins, author of Cucina del Sole, has heard of it among the Pugliese and the Abruzzi and confirmed that it’s pretty widely eaten in the whole southern Italian boot. In my house we actually call it “pizza gain”, a phrase that’s an Italian-American corruption derived from pizza ripiena or piena, meaning “stuffed” or “full” in Italian. In short, piena, or chiena in certain dialects, became chien', then “gain” as it got passed down across generations (and an ocean). These pies, most made from some combination of cheese, meats and eggs in a sweet crust, are meant to break the Lenten fast by offering many of the rich treats given up as a sacrifice.
And break the fast it does. David Greco, who runs the Arthur Avenue Café and Mike’s Deli in the Bronx, makes a Neapolitan-style rustica based on his maternal grandmother’s recipe that’s very similar to my mother’s – and one that weighs in at a little over three pounds a pie. He’s been selling 200 a day for the past week. His secret is a touch of lemon zest in the crust. He also makes a Calabrian version from his father’s family with chunks of soppressata and thinly-sliced prosciutto baked into an eggy focaccia. Frank Generoso of the Royal Crown Pastry Shop in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn says the key to his rustica is using the best quality ricotta that’s firm but still creamy. A thick ricotta, he says, will hold up and not run all over the place.
My mother's is still the best, especially a couple of hours out of the oven. I should start fasting now to heighten the enjoyment of that first bite.
Until this week I had never had tuna noodle casserole. Much to my chagrin at the time, I did not grow up eating that kind of food. I begged my mom for Hamburger Helper and SpaghettiO's, but she was more into grilled chicken and steamed vegetables. (Turns out that was not such a bad thing.) When put to the task this week of creating a tuna noodle casserole recipe to put on our website, I had to do a little research. The common factors among all the recipes I saw were canned tuna, egg noodles and canned condensed soup. Canned condensed soup was out!
I wanted to make a thick, creamy sauce as my casserole base, but didn't want to make a béchamel sauce, which would require a few more steps. Instead of a béchamel or a can of cream of mushroom, I settled on a cream-cheese-based sauce. By melting cream cheese into warm milk, you end up with a thick, creamy sauce just perfect for the job of binding the noodles with the tuna and vegetables (in my case, mushrooms and peas). Still very much in the style of tuna noodle casserole, but elevated a step above the can.
Tuna Noodle Casserole with Cheddar-Panko Crumbs
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 celery stalk, cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/2 pound white button mushrooms, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon coarsely chopped thyme
1 3/4 cups whole milk
1/2 pound cream cheese, cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
Two 7.5 ounce cans tuna packed in olive oil, drained
1/2 cup frozen peas, thawed
1 pound wide egg noodles
4 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, coarsely grated (1 3/4 cups)
3/4 cup panko
1. Preheat the oven to 375. In a large deep skillet, melt the butter in 2 tablespoons of the oil. Add the onion and celery and cook over moderate heat until tender, about 8 minutes. Add the mushrooms and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the thyme and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the milk and cream cheese and cook over moderate heat until the cream cheese melts, creating a thick sauce, about 2 minutes. Remove from the heat, add the Worcestershire sauce and season with salt and pepper. Fold in the tuna and the peas.
2. Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling salted water cook the egg noodles until al dente. Drain and rinse under cool water. Add the noodles and 1 cup of the cheddar cheese to the sauce and gently toss until the noodles are well coated. Scrape into a 2 1/2 quart baking dish.
3. In a small bowl, toss the panko with the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Add the remaining 3/4 cup of cheddar cheese and toss to combine. Sprinkle the panko topping over the casserole and bake for about 45 minutes, until the casserole is hot and the topping is golden. Serve.
Make ahead The unbaked assembled casserole can be refrigerated for up to 1 day. Bring to room temperature before baking.
What happens when you put six star chefs in the same kitchen? In the case of Seattle's Thierry Rautureau (Rover's), Maria Hines (Tilth), Joseba Jiménez de Jiménez (The Harvest Vine), Johnathan Sundstrom (Lark), Jason Wilson (Crush) and Holly Smith (Cafe Juanita), you get an ingenious musical-chairs-like dinner series called Seattle Chefs Table 2009. "The idea—six chefs and six courses at six restaurants—was born in the face of this horrible economy," says Rautureau, who hosted the first dinner a few weeks ago at Rover's, taking care of the hors d'oeuvres, while the other five chefs handled the remaining courses. This evening, the chefs are convening at Tilth, where the menu includes dishes like vanilla-scented lobster by Jiménez de Jiménez, handmade garganelli with uni by Sundstrom and almond financiers with Meyer lemon preserve by Hines. The dinner series ($90 per meal) have been such a hit that the chefs have just announced a second night of dinners. Here, the remaining dinners:
The Harvest Vine: April 13 (2701 E. Madison St.; 206-320-9771 or harvestvine.com)
Lark: May 19 (926 12th Ave.; 206-323-5275 or larkseattle.com)
Cafe Juanita: September 22 (9702 NE 120th Pl., Kirkland; 425-823-1505 or cafejuanita.com)
Crush: October 19 (2319 E Madison St.; 206-302-7874 or chefjasonwilson.com)
Undisclosed location: mid-November for a "Holiday Feast" celebrating six different holiday themes.
For those unable to make it to Seattle for one of the dinners, create your own with these superb recipes:
Hines's Salmon with Oyster Mushrooms and Peppers
Wilson's Herb-and-Spice Lamb Chops
Sundstrom's Herb-Grilled Chicken with Goat Cheese Ravioli