Esquites (Mexican Corn on the Cob in a Cup)

It's elote for people who don't like to eat with their hands!

Who doesn’t love elote, that roasted Mexican corn on the cob slathered with mayonnaise, chili powder, and cheese, spritzed with lime juice, and served on a stick? I’ve come to associate it with summertime, when sweet corn is in season and I have my pick of local food trucks to sit in front of, snacking away.

As much as I love it, I have to admit that the fastidious Virgo in me doesn’t always love how sloppy elote is to eat. I get annoyed with how the grated cheese smears all over my chin, how the corn inevitably sticks in my teeth, and how glops of mayo always end up on my dry clean-only shirts. It’s the kind of annoyance that makes me hang my head in foodie shame as I go back to the truck to ask politely for a steak knife to cut off the kernels so that I can eat them with spoon.

That is why I really love esquites, which are essentially elote in a cup (or, as I prefer, a large bowl or a trough). Here, the messy work is done ahead of time and all you have to do is eat it, calmly and neatly.

Both elote and esquites are essentially street food and like most street food, there isn’t really an official recipe per se. The general consensus seems to be that there must be corn, it can be boiled but it is better roasted, there should be some kind of fat like soft butter, crema Mexicana,  or — even better — mayonnaise (I like my street food a little on the trashy side so it’s mayo for me). There should be some heat, some lime juice, and some salty, crumbly cheese like Cotija, but grated Parmesan or aged feta does the trick too.

Unlike eloteesquites often includes some chopped epazote, a traditional Mexican herb whose flavor is hard to describe. If pressed, I would say it kind of tastes like what would happen if cilantro and tarragon romped in a dusty field and had a herb baby. Epazote is worth seeking out; a little is all you need to add a wonderful earthy dimension to the corn. If you can’t find it, chopped cilantro is a good substitute.

Ingredients:

2 ears of corn

1 serrano chili pepper, seeded and finely chopped

Olive oil

Butter

Salt

1 tablespoon of mayonnaise, crema Mexicana, or sour cream

The juice of half a lime

Cayenne pepper to taste

1 tablespoon of epazote, finely chopped

1 tablespoon of grates Cotija, Parmesan, or crumbled feta

Tajín Clásico Mexican chili seasoning (or you can experiment with a combination of Ancho chili powder, more lime juice, and salt)

How to prepare:

1. Remove the corn kernels from the cob. To do this with minimal mess, stand each ear of corn in a large shallow dish and slice down the length of each ear with a sharp knife. Keep the knife as close to the cob as possible. Rotate the ear and continue to slice down each exposed side until all the kernels are removed.

2. Sauté the kernels and the chopped serrano chili in a large skillet or cast iron pan with about 1 tablespoon of butter and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

3. Once the kernels have started to brown, transfer them to a bowl and add the mayonnaise, lime juice, and enough cayenne pepper to suit your taste. Stir in the epazote and the grated cheese. Adjust the seasoning, dust with Tajín, and serve.

Brooklyn Mac and Cheeze Takedown Update: Mac-sagna!

The heavenly mash-up of mac and cheese + lasagna!Most of you who follow this blog know that for the past couple of years I have been a regular competitor in a series of cook-offs here in NYC known as The Takedowns. However, it occurred to me the other day that for all of my blog posts announcing competitions and updating you on what happened at each one, I have never actually written about what it’s like to prepare and compete in one.

In contrast to what one might think, there is no cooking on site; the venue just isn’t set up to accommodate that. Rather, all the cooking happens at home and then the competitors — known collectively as the Takedowners — tote their creations to the venue about an hour early to stake out a table and set up the tastings. The tastings are open to the ticket-buying public — not just the judges — which means that each of us has to prep about 250 1-oz. samples for everyone to taste.

If 250 1-oz. samples sounds like a lot, it is! The majority of Takedowners do multiple test runs before deciding on a final entry, and most try to plan ahead so that they are not scrambling at the last minute to put together something that is both tasty and winsome.

I wish that I was one of those people, but partly due to my schedule and mostly due to my inability to get organized early, I am usually the Takedowner pulling out her hair and freaking out less than 24 hours before the event. I do console myself by thinking that stress and time constraints are the mothers of invention. Sometimes it works in my favor like last summer when I brought home two ice cream makers for my Backwoods Blueberry Buttermilk Sherbet.

Sometimes it just results in something damn weird that I am still damn proud of like my Miso Awesome Cookies.

I had a couple of ideas for this year’s Brooklyn Mac and Cheeze Takedown (pizza mac and cheese? garlic bread-inspired mac and cheese? chocolate mac and cheese?). Ultimately, I decided that a baked mac and cheese was the way to go.

My entry for this year’s Brooklyn Mac & Cheeze Takedown? Mac-sagna, the heavenly mash-up of mac and cheese and lasagna.

Using a gallon of homemade, three-hour pork and beef Bolognese, a gallon of béchamel, four pounds of macaroni, two pounds of shredded mozzarella, two pounds of grated Parmesan, and half a pound of garlic and parsley-buttered bread crumbs, I made two gigantic 21 x 12 inch trays of mac-sagna for champions.

It was delicious and I had to stop myself from eating it like this:

Om nom nom nom nom!

Sadly, there were so many other excellent mac and cheeses that I did not win. I did, however, get to see and spend time with good friends, taste a lot of amazingly creative and imaginative dishes, and be part of another drunkenly excellent Takedown. That alone is worth every sweaty second in the kitchen.

A scaled down recipe is forthcoming. In the meanwhile, you can check out my fellow Takedowners here and here, and read more about the lovely winner here.

Brooklyn Mac and Cheeze Takedown (I’m in!)

Mac & Cheeze, pleeeeeze!

After taking a competitive cooking hiatus, I am gearing up for the Brooklyn Mac and Cheeze Takedown this coming Sunday, March 23rd, at the Bell House from 2:00pm to 4:00pm. The event sold out in a ridiculously short amount of time (tickets were gone faster than I ever remember any Takedown selling out), which can only mean one thing: NYC is READY FOR CHEESY GOODNESS RIGHT NOW!

So before the weather turns definitively spring-like, this will be rich comfort food’s last stand before making way for tender lettuces and baby veg. For those of you who have tickets, I look forward to seeing you there! And for those of you who were not able to score them in time, I promise I will keep you all updated!

In the meanwhile, here is how you can help me out. I am still mulling over ideas for the Takedown and haven’t decided what to make yet! Any and all ideas are welcome! 

Classic Gratin Dauphinois (Potato Gratin)

Classic potato gratin
The best gratin dauphinois that I have ever had was made many years ago by a woman in the Dordogne.

The future stepmother of my companion at the time had a chateau in the Périgord. It had been years since she had been there herself and taking advantage of our position in Paris, she asked us to take a weekend off and go down to check on the property for her. After a long drive from Paris that was made even longer by a detour forced by an errant herd of sheep, we arrived at the property famished and exhausted. The chateau itself was uninhabitable. In lieu, we stayed in the caretaker’s home — a crumbling stone house in need of many repairs, the least of which was a new roof.

Dark, dusty, and overrun with audible mice, the house was inhabited by a desperately lonely woman who not only feared the state of the only home she had known for more than 20 years, but had also become increasingly worried about her precarious life. What would happen if the owner decided to sell the property? What would happen if the owner came back and forced her out? She had nowhere to turn and no income to speak of besides her limited state pension.

Communication between her and the stepmother was so poor that she initially thought we were sent to kick her out. Once it was established that we most certainly were not, she relaxed and began to list everything that needed to be fixed. Unfortunately, there was nothing that we could really do besides listen and watch her gnarled fingers expertly reduce a pile of meager potatoes into thin slices with a dull paring knife. She continued to fret while we ate that divine gratin. In the heat of the fire (yes, the stove was a wood one) the potatoes had collapsed into a silky smooth cake; the individual layers had become indistinguishable from the whole. This was all washed down with a dozen small glasses of homemade walnut liquor made from nuts that had fallen from the trees surrounding the property.

It was a delicious meal, albeit a very sad one.

I never knew what happened to the woman. The stepmother tossed away the caretaker’s worries with nothing more than a soupçon of concern and my relationship didn’t survive the move back to New York. Consequently, I never followed up on the story.

However, ever since that meal, I have tried literally hundreds of recipes for gratin dauphinois in the hopes of recreating that recipe-less dish that was probably as natural for that woman to make as it was for her to breathe. I have made gratins with liters of heavy cream and piles of Alpine cheeses. I have added truffles and more butter. I have tried different varieties of potatoes soaked in milk, not soaked in milk, and even parboiled in milk and cream. I have tried slicing the potatoes paper thin with mandolines. I’ve tried Julia Child’s recipe.

After all that experimentation, nothing has come close. However, this recipe comes the closest.

Like all dishes born out of need and necessity, gratin dauphinois is best simple — not gussied up with an excess of cream, butter, and cheese. Although the urge to be decadent is strong when it comes to French farmhouse dishes, the best ones are made with only whole milk, some stock, and the gentlest kiss of cheese. The allure of excess is not rewarded as richly as the alchemical reaction of humble ingredients and time.

Ingredients:

1-2 sprigs of fresh thyme

1-2 sprigs of fresh rosemary

1-2 sprigs of savory

2 bay leaves

3 smashed garlic cloves, plus one more

5-6 black peppercorns

Freshly grated nutmeg

Salt

1 cup of chicken stock

1 cup of whole milk (or light cream if you must)

4 smallish waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/8-inch slices

1/2 cup of grated Gruyère

1 tablespoon of unsalted butter

How to prepare:

1. Preheat the oven to 350°.

2. In a medium-sized saucepan, cover the herbs, the black peppercorns, and three of the smashed garlic cloves with the milk and the stock. Season with salt and freshly grated nutmeg to taste. Over a medium-low flame, gently heat the mixture until it just comes to a boil. Turn off the heat, cover the pan, and let the herbs and garlic steep.

3. While waiting for the milk mixture to cool, rub an oven-proof dish with the remaining smashed clove of garlic. Generously butter the dish.

4. Strain the milk mixture. I like to do this into a measuring cup with a spout as it makes it easier to build the gratin later.

5. In the bottom of the gratin pan, make an even, single layer of potato slices. Pour just enough of the milk mixture to cover the slices and then add another layer on top. Top that layer with just enough of the milk mixture to cover the slices. Scatter a little bit of the grated cheese on top. Continue to build the gratin with a little bit of grated cheese in-between every other layer, and with each layer covered with the milk mixture. Reserve just enough cheese to scatter on top near the end of baking. The final layer at this point should be just potatoes. Use your hand and press down on top of the gratin. Add more milk mixture if needed, but leave about 1/2-inch of clearance from the top of the gratin dish.

6. Dot the top of the gratin with butter and cover it with a piece of parchment paper cut to fit.

7. Bake the gratin for about 30 minutes before removing the parchment paper. Continue to bake the gratin uncovered for about 15 minutes. Sprinkle the remaining cheese over the top and continue baking for 15-20 minutes until the top of the gratin is golden and the potatoes are soft. This is very important: let the gratin rest for about 10 minutes before serving.

Our Growing Edge

This blog post is my second contribution to the amazing Genie De Wit’s Our Growing Edge. Our Growing Edge is a monthly event that aims to connect food bloggers, broaden our horizons, and encourage us to try new things.

The month is just starting and anyone can be a part of the party! For more information, please go to the page Genie has set up on her blog Bunny. Eats. Design.

This month’s host is Leah from Sharing the Food We LoveThank you so much for hosting, LeahTo take a look at the participating bloggers this month, click here.

 

 

Puréed Fava Bean and Pecorino Spread

Viva la Fava!
I think that fava beans are one of those things that you need to prepare yourself in order to truly appreciate them. I’m sure that I came across them before I lived in France, perhaps randomly poking out of a spring ragoût or crushed and smeared on some olive oil-brushed toast. However, it wasn’t until that spring in Paris that I actually bought some of my own.

Fava beans appeared suddenly and seemed to overwhelm the markets overnight. They overflowed from round baskets made of thin slats of wood that were stapled together. To fill your flimsy paper bags, you had to first elbow your way through ruthless matrons who did not care if they knocked off your glasses as they pinched and squeezed each pod to see which had the biggest and juiciest beans.

They were ridiculously cheap, mere centimes for a kilo.

You needed kilos of them too. Given that one kilo equals roughly 2.2 pounds, 2.2 pounds of pods would yield slightly more than one cup of beans once shucked. That cup would be reduced again to a mere 2/3 of a cup after removing the waxy, unappetizing membranes from the beans.

Fava beans were so abundant and economical in France that I just assumed that they were as available and inexpensive everywhere else.

Wrong.

Priced somewhere between $2-3 per pound, fava beans in New York are not the budget treat they were in France. However, once I developed a taste for them, I began eagerly anticipating their springtime arrival. Given that a small 2/3 cup serving of fava beans tends to run me about $5-6, I tend to favor recipes that prepare them simply in order to let their earthy, nutty, slightly bitter flavor and buttery texture shine.

Fava beans are still available at the markets here in New York, but elsewhere the season may be ending or has already passed. If you can’t find them easily or find the price prohibitive, I imagine that shelled edamame makes a respectable substitute.

This is one of those recipes where I encourage you can feel your way through it and modify it to fit your tastes. I used Pecorino Romano, a sharp, tangy, and salty sheep’s milk cheese that traditionally partners up with fava beans in and around Rome. However, using grated Parmesan in place of the Pecorino Romano results in a very nice spread too. For a little more smoothness, you can add a soft dollop of good ricotta, or maybe even a spoonful of thick, creamy yogurt.

However you make it, this dip, spread, or whatever you want to call it, is a terrific thing to dunk vegetables in, particularly radishes. You can also slather it on crostini.

Ingredients:

About 2 pounds of fava beans in their pods

1/3 of a cup of freshly grated Pecorino Romano

1/3 of a cup olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper

How to prepare:

1. First of all, you will need to remove the beans from their pods. This is easy to do and is much like shelling peas. Once shucked, discard the empty pods, and blanch the beans in boiling water for about 2 minutes — any longer than that, and they will be mushy. Have an ice bath ready to shock the beans after draining them. By submerging the beans in ice water after cooking, you will retain their beautiful green color. When the beans are cool, remove the waxy outer-covering of each one by nicking the end of a bean with your finger nail and easily squeezing each one out of its peel. Discard the peels.

2. Combine the beans with the grated cheese in a food processor. While the machine is running, add the olive oil in a steady stream until the consistency is nice, smooth, and thick. Transfer the spread to a bowl and season it freshly ground black pepper to taste. You shouldn’t need to add any salt because the cheese should be salty enough.

The spread should keep covered in the fridge for 3-4 days.

Unrelated query to Readers: Had a problem where this recently published post reverted back to a much earlier draft and “unpublished” itself. Spooky! Has this ever happened to anyone else? 

Jonathan Benno’s Pasta e Fagioli

Don't be a fool, eat yo' pasta fazool!
Nigella does what?!”

Steve from Gourmandistan shook his head incredulously and made a face.

She tells you to put all the fresh herbs in the foot of a nylon stocking and to leave the whole thing in simmering stock for an hour!

“Doesn’t it melt?!”

“Yeah. You would think!”

“That is disgusting.”

Agreed.

A few weeks ago, Steve was in town for the Roger Smith Cookbook Conference and we were talking “food blogger shop” at Roberta’s over craft beer and aioli-coated fried sweetbreads.

Shop that night included pasta e fagioli,

I love pasta e fagioli, affectionately known on these close-to-Jersey shores as pasta fazool. Translated simply as pasta and beans, the name of this humble Italian dish belies its power to soothe and satisfy. Pure alchemy occurs when the nuttiness of the beans Vulcan mind-melds with the pasta in rich rosemary and bay-scented broth. It is warm, wonderful comfort in a bowl and in these waning days of winter, it is the perfect dish.

My current favorite version of pasta e fagioli is from Mario Batali, who starts off his recipe by asking you to mash up a wad of fatback with the back of a spoon until you have a nice and smooth porky paste. Very Italian.

The subject of our mutual alarm was from British celebrity chef Nigella Lawson — not Italian at all. Although I like her writing, her recipes leave me cold . . . and extremely skeptical. Like this one for pasta e fagioli in which she asks you to use a “popsock” — also known as a knee-high nylon stocking — as a herb sachet instead of good, old-fashioned, food-safe, heat-resistant, and dependable cheesecloth.

Now I see the utility of bundling the aromatics used to perfume pasta e fagioli in a sachet; it makes it much easier to remove the spent herbs from the soup if you have them together. It saves you from the futilely fishing around for the gray and bitter spindles of rosemary leaves. However, I draw the line at rooting around in my sock drawer for kitchen essentials. Furthermore, Nigella includes the following sentence in her recipe: “Chuck out the corpsed popsock and its contents [after the beans are tender].”

Not yummy-sounding at all.

I am always on the lookout for a new variation on pasta e fagioli. Recently, New York Magazine published one from Jonathan Benno in which he solves the fresh-herb-removal problem by infusing the stock with Parmesan rinds and aromatics and then straining them all out before use. 

Brilliant!

Benno recommends soaking the dried beans for two days in the refrigerator instead of just one day on the countertop. I’m not sure if the additional day of soaking affects the taste, but I did notice that the beans cooked faster and more evenly. The beans were also creamier.

Heirloom beans are best, but regular old beans work just as well. Traditionally, borlotti beans — also called cranberry beans — are used in pasta e fagioli, but cannellini beans are a good substitute.

To Benno’s recipe, I have added bacon. Because I can never resist adding bacon to everything 🙂 You can omit it and the soup will still be delicious.

Ingredients:

2 cups of dried beans (preferably heirloom beans like borlotti beans or cannellini beans)

2 quarts of chicken stock (about 8 cups)

1 cup of Parmesan rinds

2 sprigs of fresh rosemary

2 sprigs of fresh thyme

2 sprigs of fresh sage

5 fresh or dried bay leaves

1 pound of bacon ends, chopped (optional)

1 teaspoon of dried oregano

1 teaspoon of crushed red pepper flakes

Salt and pepper to taste

1 1/2 cups of dried ditalini or another kind of small tubular pasta like macaroni

Extra-virgin olive oil

Freshly grated Parmesan

How to prepare:

This soup is not difficult to prepare. However, it does require some advanced planning. Be sure to read the recipe closely before beginning.

1. In a bowl large enough to fit the beans comfortably, cover them with about two inches of cold water. Soak the beans in the refrigerator for two days.

2. When the beans are done soaking, drain them.

3. Combine the chicken stock, the Parmesan rinds, the fresh herbs, and the bay leaves in a large pot. Simmer everything together for about an hour. Do not the let stock boil. Strain the stock and discard the Parmesan rinds and herbs.

4a. If using, brown the chopped bacon ends in a large skillet until most of the fat has rendered. Drain the bacon bits on paper towels.

4b. Add the soaked and drained beans, the bacon if desired, the dried oregano, and the crushed red pepper flakes to the strained stock. Gently simmer the beans for between 1-2 hours. When the beans are done, they will be creamy in the center. Do not let the liquid come to a boil or the skins can burst. Skim the surface of the soup if and when necessary. Adjust the seasoning.

5. When the beans are tender, add the dried pasta to them. You may need to add more stock or water if the level of the liquid in the pot is too low. When the pasta is al dente, turn off the heat.

To serve, heap a generous spoonful of freshly grated Parmesan on top and finish the soup with a drizzle of good extra-virgin olive oil.

Kolpona Cuisine’s Muttar Paneer with Freshly-Shelled Peas


When Tahmina over at Kolpona Cuisine posted her recipe for muttar paneer, I knew that the minute shell peas came into season, I was going to make it. Before I started reading her blog, I always felt so intimidated by South Asian cooking. Long lists of spices — some ground, some whole — would freak me out so much that I would end up making something French or Italian-inspired instead.

But what I love about Tahmina is how accessible she makes Bengali, Indian and South Asian cooking. Don’t have a spice grinder for garam masala? No problem. Garam masala is better with whole spices anyway — just count how many of each thing you put in, and fish them out with your fingers while you eat. Don’t have paneer? Take that 2% milk you have lying around the house and make cheese!

This is the second recipe from Tahmina that I have cooked (the first being kale paneer), and I loved the results. The serrano peppers and chopped cilantro added near the end of cooking give the dish a wonderful freshness. The peas are also such a pretty contrast to the sunny yellow sauce. It’s really, really good.

I think that by the end of the summer, I will have succeeded in making everything that she posts!

I hardly changed Tahmina’s recipe with the exceptions of using freshly shelled peas, substituting ginger-garlic paste for actual ginger (I didn’t have any) and garlic, and using store-bought paneer. Tahmina recommends making your own paneer  something that I would totally do if I didn’t keep forgetting to watch the clock. I never seem to be able to factor in enough time to let the cheese drain! She also advocates making your own ghee, which is also on my cooking to-do list. I keep forgetting the fenugreek leaves too . . . I need to replace that Post-it pad in the kitchen!

I did have to French up this recipe a little bit by using some fancy crème fraîche in the place of heavy cream 🙂 Oh la la!

And the absolute best part about cooking from a friend’s blog? You feel like they are right in the kitchen with you, even when they are hundreds of miles away 🙂

For the her recipe, click here.

Ingredients:

For the tomato-onion base:

2 tablespoons of ghee or vegetable oil

1/4 cup of raw cashews

1 medium onion, chopped

1/2 teaspoon of ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon of red chili powder

1 teaspoon of ground cumin

1 teaspoon of ground coriander

2 tablespoons of ginger-garlic paste

2 Roma tomatoes, chopped

Salt

For the Garam masala:

Ghee or vegetable oil

1/2 teaspoon of cumin seeds

5 green cardamom pods

5 whole cloves

2 bay leaves

1 cinnamon stick

For the final dish:

1 cup of freshly shelled peas

2 serrano peppers, chopped

8 ounces (about 1 1/2 cups) of paneer, cubed

1/2 cup of cilantro leaves, chopped

1/4 cup of crème fraîche

Salt

How to prepare:

1. In a large saucepan, toast the raw cashews in about two tablespoons of ghee or oil over medium heat. When the cashews begin to color, add the onion and sauté everything together until the onion begins to turn golden around the edges. Add the ground spices and fry them until they are nice and fragrant. Be sure to stir the onion mixture frequently so that the spices don’t burn. Add the ginger paste and the chopped tomatoes. Cook them until the tomatoes begin to break down. Adjust the seasoning.

2. Purée the tomato-onion mixture in a food processor or blender.

3. Using the same saucepan, heat the whole garam masala spices in about a tablespoon of ghee or vegetable oil over medium heat. When the spices are fragrant and the cumin seeds begin to pop, add the puréed tomato-onion base back to the pan. Let the it simmer for a few minutes so that the garam masala spices infuse the tomato-onion mixture. Add chili peppers and the peas and cook them until the peas are just start to become tender, about 4 minutes. Add the paneer, the chopped cilantro leaves and the crème fraîche. Continue to simmer everything together for 3-4 minutes more. Adjust the seasoning for a final time.

Serve with rice or, as Tahmina recommends, chapatis.

Orecchiette Carbonara with Freshly-Shelled Peas


On a hot and sticky mid-August night several years ago, I boarded an overnight train from Paris to Milan. The cabin was filled with two sets of bunk-beds that were meant to accommodate four people. Instead, we were five because the couple sharing the cabin with us had a toddler.

The family asked if they could have the bottom bunks, which was fine by me because I wanted to bunk closest to the itty bitty window that cracked open at a woefully insufficient angle.

Insufficient because the father had removed his shoes and the smell was horrific.

It was so bad that I couldn’t sleep. I was finally forced to look in my Italian phrasebook and scan the pages by moonlight for something appropriate to say that would make the man put his darn shoes back on!

Unfortunately, my phrase book had nothing related to shoes, or putting on shoes or telling people that the smell of their feet was intolerable. However, I did manage this:

“Per fevore, signore. I vostri piedi, è violazione dei miei diritti umani!”

Which worked out roughly to mean, “Excuse me, sir. Your feet, this is a violation of my human rights!”

No response. So I tried these other phrases:

I vostri piedi, sto svenendo . . . Non riesco a respirare . . . !”

Which means: “Your feet, I’m passing out . . . I cannot breathe . . . !”

Then I repeated, “I vostri piedi,” pointed to his feet, crossed my eyes and pretended to die.

Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

He must have understood me because he refused to acknowledge my existence. I tried not to take it personally, even though I hated him more and more as we crawled south to Italy. Maybe, I thought, he was trying to incapacitate his over-active son. Or maybe he was angry at his wife and was trying to suffocate her with the smell of his feet.

Seriously. If that smell could be weaponized, the war on terror would be over.

So what does this have to do with carbonara, that amazing Italian dish that uses the residual heat of freshly boiled pasta to transform bacon, beaten eggs and Parmesan into a creamy sauce?

In that very same Italian phrase book was a recipe for spaghetti alla carbonara, a recipe that I still rely on to this day.

The idea to use orecchiette and peas actually comes from Suzanne Goin‘s Sunday Suppers at Lucques. Her description of how orecchiette are perfectly shaped to cup small bits of bacon and peas was irresistible to me, but I prefer to stick with my old phrasebook’s way of making carbonara because it only uses one pan — and who doesn’t prefer that?

These proportions will make enough for two, but can easily be adjusted for more. For something richer, you could add about a 1/3 of a cup of caramelized chopped onions to the mix. This recipe was also a great way to start using the wonderful shell peas that are at the market right now, as well as the bacon and pullet eggs from my CSA.

Pullet eggs are small eggs from young hens that have just started laying. They say that two pullet eggs are the equivalent of one regular chicken egg, but I find that it’s really more like 3 pullet eggs = 2 regular chicken eggs. Pullet eggs are wonderfully rich in both flavor and mouthfeel, just perfect for carbonara if you can get a hold of some.

I also used up the last of my CSA bacon ends to make my bacon bits, but you can use crumbled cooked bacon strips in this if bacon ends are not handy.

Ingredients:

1/3 pound of dried orecchiette

1/3 cup of bacon bits or crumbled cooked bacon

1/3 cup of freshly shucked green peas or frozen peas

5 pullet eggs or three regular eggs

1/2 cup of freshly grated Parmesan

Freshly grated black pepper

Olive oil

How to prepare:

1. Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil. When the water has reached a rolling boil, add the pasta. While the pasta is cooking, set up the other ingredients. This recipe moves quickly near the end, so it is a good idea to have everything ready to go.

2. Combine the Parmesan and eggs in a small bowl with freshly ground black pepper.

3. When the pasta is not quite al dente, add the peas to the boiling water. Let the pasta and peas finish cooking together. Drain and pour the pasta and peas back into the saucepan. Add the bacon along with a quick drizzle of olive oil. Pour the beaten egg mixture over the pasta and begin stirring everything together quickly. When you add the eggs, the pasta should be warm enough to barely cook them. You want the sauce to be just thick enough to coat the pasta with a glossy sheen. If the sauce seems soupy instead of creamy, put the pan over a very low flame and continue to stir and toss the pasta quickly until the sauce turns smooth and creamy.

Don’t worry if you accidentally overcook the eggs and they scramble a little bit. It will still be delicious.

Wild Spinach and Radish Green Spanakopita


It used to always kill me to buy a bunch of radishes and discard the leafy tops. I have never had the space to compost, so all of that plant matter would go straight into the trash.

It killed me every time until I found out that you can eat those radish greens and they are delicious.

Yes, you can eat them! Raw, they have a nice, spicy bite. Cooked, their flavor mellows and they taste warm and wonderful. Like the best tasting, silkiest spinach ever. To think that I was throwing them away for all those years!

They are a bit of a pain to clean since you have to fastidiously wash all the dirt and grit from the leaves and stems. It is worth it though.

When I saw wild spinach (also known as lambsquarter) at the Greenmarket, I immediately thought that spanakopita would be a great way to use both greens. When I think about Greek food, I think about the Greek landscape: scrubby in parts, dotted with wild herbs and craggy olive trees. There is something a little rustic about the combination of wild spinach and radish greens that fits my little Mediterranean fantasy (never mind the fact that there is nothing rustic about the Greeks; they are as polished and well-turned out as the Milanese).

Spanakopita is wonderful mix of greens and feta wrapped up in flaky phyllo dough. You can make these little triangles, or alternately layer the phyllo dough sheets and the filling in a ceramic dish to bake as a giant pie.

Some might be disappointed to see that I didn’t make my own phyllo. Does anyone really make their own phyllo anymore? I think the oft-repeated saying goes that a woman is good Greek marriage material when she can roll phyllo thin enough for her prospective husband to be able to read a newspaper through it. I don’t plan on being anyone’s Hellenic housewife any time soon, so store-bought phyllo dough it is!

Ingredients:

6 cups of radish greens, washed

6 cups of wild spinach, washed

Olive oil

1/2 pound of feta, crumbled

The zest of one lemon

Salt and pepper

A pinch of nutmeg

1 egg, beaten

6 sheets of frozen phyllo dough, completely thawed

1 stick of butter, melted

How to prepare:

1. In a large pot, heat some olive oil over medium heat. When the oil becomes fragrant, add the wild spinach to the pot along with a few tablespoons of water. Sauté the spinach until it is just wilted. Remove the wilted spinach with tongs to a colander to drain. Repeat this process with the radish greens.

2. When the greens are cool enough to handle, use your hands to gently squeeze and press as much liquid as possible out of the leaves. You will be amazed how much liquid there is. Try to be thorough; the less moisture there is in the leaves, the better your filling will be.

3. Finely chop the greens and put them in a large bowl. To the bowl, add the feta and the nutmeg. Stir everything together until the cheese is evenly distributed throughout the greens. Adjust the seasoning before adding the beaten egg.

3. Preheat the oven to 375°.

4. Fold the phyllo sheets in half lengthwise and cut them in half. Fold each half lengthwise and cut them in half again. Each phyllo dough sheet will give you 4 long strips of dough. Cover the strips snugly in plastic wrap. Working one strip at a time, make the spanakopita. Gently brush each strip with melted butter. Starting at one end, put a dollop (about a scant tablespoon) of filling in the upper corner. Fold the phyllo dough down over the filling to make a triangle. Now fold the filled triangle up. Continue to fold the strip into triangles, like folding an flag (or at least how we Americans fold a flag). Don’t worry if the folds aren’t perfect. Working with phyllo can be very forgiving because you can always make the uneven edges stick to main triangle with more butter.

If you want crunchier spanakopita, you can layer two strips of phyllo dough together with brushed butter and then fold the triangles up as you would with one strip. Just remember that you will need double the number of phyllo dough sheets in this case.

Continue folding with the remaining strips of phyllo dough. Arrange the completed triangles in a single layer on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. You should end up with 24 filled triangles total.

5. Brush the triangles with the remaining melted butter. Bake them for 20-25 minutes until they are golden and crisp. Serve hot.

Variation:

I had planned on adding about 1/4 cup of fresh dill, a 1/4 of a cup of fresh parsley and a 1/4 of a cup of freshly chopped green onions, but I got distracted by a terrible werewolf movie on television called Blood and Chocolate. I think lost brain cells! It wasn’t even corny, or cheesy or cool in a bad cult-movie kind of way. It was just bad.

Kale Paneer


I can’t take credit for this recipe. That honor goes to the amazing Tahmina at Kolpona Cuisine whose recipe for Saag (Palak) Paneer gave me a delicious way to polish off the remainder of my giant pile of kale. The only changes that I made were to A) use fresh kale instead of spinach, and to B) forget to add the fenugreek leaves. I only realized that they were missing after I started eating 😦

Next time, I will follow Tahmina’s lead and make my own paneer. I bought it this time for the sake of convenience. I also didn’t think that fresh kale would release more liquid than fresh spinach when cooked. I should have compensated by reducing the amount of water that I added to the dish.

This was really, really good. So good that I ate it with piles of white rice! And Tahmina, you like it spicy! Thank goodness, because I like it spicy too 🙂

Thanks for the great recipe; I loved it!