By Ann | March 23, 2015
At the risk of public flagellation, I’m going to make a confession: We don’t eat a family dinner. I know, I know, research and lifestyle bloggers regularly tell us how important it is to gather round the table once a day. Babies eat a bigger variety of healthy foods, they connect with their parents, and obesity, drug use, teen pregnancy, etc. are all avoided. But here’s the reality: Lucy eats dinner at 5:30pm. (I sit with her and appease her demand for stories. “Boook. Boook,” she says, reaching to touch pictures of dogs with avocado-smeared fingers.) Her father gets home at 8pm (or later), and I usually eat with him. Right now, while she’s still so little, Lucy’s dinner simply exists on a separate plane from ours.
I’m sure things will change once she gets older (e.g. stays up past 7pm). But for now I tamper my guilt by preparing one family meal of the week. On Saturday mornings while Lucy and her papa are out, I whirl around the kitchen like a madwoman. When they come home at noon, we sit down to lunch, the three of us all eating the same thing. I try not to dumb down the food too much, because part of the exercise is about community and expanding the palate. On the other hand, there’s always the fear that she won’t eat anything. I try to split the difference, which is how I found myself making spinach soufflé for a toddler.
Soufflé aux épinards sounds labor intensive and it does use its fair share of pots and bowls. But really, a soufflé is just a very thick, egg-yolk enhanced béchamel sauce, mixed with whipped egg whites—a simple concept that’s also a good way to eat spinach if you don’t have many teeth. I started with the recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking and adapted it to suit my needs. This meant frozen chopped spinach squeezed dry, and enough eggs to fill an 8-cup soufflé dish X 2 — because I made an extra for the freezer, to be defrosted for weeknight baby dinners.
Soufflés need an extra whipped white or two to give them lift, which means you’ll have yolks leftover. Here’s a thrifty tip: mix them with sugar (one teaspoon per yolk) and freeze for later use in homemade ice cream.
Use a light hand when folding the béchamel sauce and egg whites together—don’t worry if they’re not completely combined. I like to leave large dollops of whipped whites streaking through the thick sauce, which I think allows for a more extravagant rise.
I timed lunch perfectly that day, everyone seated at the table, salad dressed, baby bibbed, and baguette sliced, just as the timer dinged. I felt unusually smug as I surveyed my beautiful soufflé, which puffed gently over the rim of the dish, golden with toasted cheese. Parenting can sometimes feel like a relentless slog, but then there are moments like this: sitting down with your little pack, your family, to enjoy a home-cooked meal together.
And then there is reality. Don’t let this picture fool you—Lucy ate two bites of soufflé and I had to beg her to even put those in her mouth. Like most babies, she eats when she’s hungry (a novel concept!) and that afternoon she was not hungry. (She went on to scoff a huge portion at dinner the next day, so all is not lost.)
What are your favorite family meals?
Spinach soufflé / Soufflé aux épinards
Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking
Serves four (on its own) or six (with a salad)
Julia Child’s soufflé recipes use a 6-cup dish, but I increased the quantities for an 8-cup dish because I feel like if you’re going to make a soufflé, you might as well go big. Leftover soufflé is delicious, though no longer airy, I still enjoy the denser texture—and the taste remains the same, of course.
1 package frozen chopped spinach, defrosted
3 1/2 tablespoons butter
4 1/2 tablespoons flour
1 1/2 cups milk
6 egg yolks
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
Salt and pepper to taste
8 egg whites
1/2 cup grated Gruyère or Comté cheese
Butter to grease dish and 1-2 tablespoons fine bread crumbs
Special equipment: 8-cup soufflé dish, electric beaters
Preheat the oven to 400ºF.
Thoroughly squeeze the liquid from the chopped spinach. Butter the soufflé dish and sprinkle with enough breadcrumbs to generously coat the interior, tapping out the excess (this prevents sticking).
In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the flour and cook until it smells slightly toasty, about 2 minutes. Add the milk, whisking continuously until the mixture forms a very thick sauce, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat.
Separate the eggs, dropping the whites into a large, clean, dry mixing bowl. (Any trace of fat will cause failed whipped whites, so make sure your bowl is scrupulously sparkling clean.)
Whisk the egg yolks, one by one, into the hot béchamel sauce, until fully incorporated. Add the chopped spinach and stir until thoroughly combined. Season with salt, pepper, and nutmeg (the egg is raw, but I usually taste at this stage so I can adjust seasonings; sample at your own risk).
Add a pinch of salt to the egg whites and beat them until stiff. Stir one quarter of them into the sauce (this lightens the mixture). Add all but 1 tablespoon of the cheese. Gently fold the rest of the egg whites into the sauce and spoon the mixture into the prepared dish. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and place on the middle rack of the preheated oven. Turn the oven down to 375ºF and bake for 30-35 minutes until the soufflé is puffed, golden, and slightly jiggly when you shake the dish. Serve immediately.
By Ann | March 7, 2015
I hesitate to start out by saying that the food at Bouillon Chartier isn’t that bad. But the truth is, no one comes here for the food. Three of us lunched at this cavernous restaurant a couple of weeks ago, and we chose the place for two bald reasons: 1) We wanted to meet near les Grands Boulevards; and 2) It’s open on a Monday. Oh, and 3) It’s historic. And 4) It’s cheap (bonus!).
The word “bouillon” in the name of Bouillon Chartier refers to a fascinating bit of Paris restaurant history. In 1860, a butcher named Monsieur Duval had the brilliant idea of opening a restaurant that served cheap bowls of beef broth to the workers at Les Halles (Paris’s former central food market). Eventually the word bouillon, or broth, became synonymous with a type of inexpensive restaurant.
(Little did Monsieur Duval know that 155 years later, East Village hipsters would rename bouillon “bone broth,” and sell it for $7 a cup.)
At the end of the 19th century, the Chartier brothers expanded upon Monsieur Duval’s concept and founded their own chain of bouillons. Though only two still exist—Bouillon Chartier and Bouillon Racine in the 6e—these establishments continue the mission of offering a “decent meal at a reasonable price” with “good service.”
From the great big door on the busy Rue du Faubourg Montmartre, you walk through a courtyard to the restaurant at the back. The line can stretch all the way to the street, but when we arrived on a rainy Monday at 12:30pm, we were seated right away.
The dining room is full of Art Nouveau charm, a vast space with high ceilings, soaring mirrors, brass rails, and carved balustrades. Along the walls are wooden armoires with small, numbered drawers where regulars once stored their couverts, or silverware and napkins. I tried to peek inside, but they’re now sealed shut. Tables are shared, which means if you’re eating alone, you can expect three strangers to be seated next to you.
The menu still features bouillon, now renamed consomme, a daily brewed vegetable broth offered for 1€, which is officially the cheapest thing I’ve ever ordered in a restaurant in France. It was thin and watery, but I could taste a faint, earthy hint of vegetables in there somewhere, as if the liquid held a distant memory of carrots and leeks. The table’s other entrées of oeuf mayonnaise and carrottes rapées looked better, dressed with industrial-esque vinaigrette and mayonnaise, yes, but simple and tasty (though accompanied by perhaps the world’s saddest tomato garnish).
The list of main courses reads like a dictionary of classic bistro cuisine, including choices like roast chicken and fries, grilled andouillette, or tête de veau with tangy sauce gribiche. At a place like this, it seemed wise to keep things simple with confit de canard, pommes grenailles and I am happy to report that the confit was one of the better versions I’ve had, the fat completely rendered (whether by design or neglect, no matter) and the skin pleasingly crisp. Accompanying new potatoes were properly roasted, though without crunchy edges. My friend, Erin, described the steak as “definitely not the worst I’ve ever eaten.” Also, it arrived perfectly cooked, à point.
Old-fashioned desserts included fresh pineapple, wine-soaked prunes with ice cream, and other classics, but I splurged (calorically, at least) on the chou glace vanille chocolat chaud, a spongy profiterole puff filled with vanilla ice cream, flooded with warm chocolate sauce, and garnished with a handful of toasted almonds. Though my watery first course had left me hungry, I couldn’t finish the generous portion.
Efficient service meant that three courses AND coffee were served in less than an hour. (Noisy, casual, and fast, this is a great place to eat out with kids.) Before we even knew we wanted to leave, our waiter had bustled up and calculated the bill on the paper tablecloth—the first time I’ve ever received the check in France without asking for it. Three courses for three people plus two coffees (no wine) came to €50.70 or €17/person, when rounded up.
Ah, Bouillon Chartier, still cheap after 119 years.
7 rue du Faubourg Montmartre
01 47 70 86 29
A little note: If you enjoy reading my blog and would consider nominating it for a Saveur Magazine blog award, I would be so grateful. All you have to do is visit Saveur’s nomination page, enter my blog’s URL (www.annmah.net) and tick off as many categories as you see fit. (May I suggest “best culinary travel coverage” and/or “best writing”?) Nominations close Friday, March 13. Thank you so much for your help. Your support keeps me going! xo
By Ann | March 1, 2015
Last February, I had the opportunity to visit Ravenna, Italy, a small city in the Emilia-Romagna region known for its stunning collection of Byzantine-era mosaics. You can read more about my adventures in my article for New York Times Travel, but the trip was so visually memorable, I wanted to share some of my photos. The Basilica di San Vitale, pictured above, is Ravenna’s most visited site.
Built in 525, San Vitale allegedly inspired the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul.
Mosaics lavishly decorate the apse.
Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo.
The three Magi at Sant’Apollinare Nuovo wearing outfits that inspired Roberto Cavalli.
The buildings—like the Arian Baptistry—so humble from the outside, revealed glittering artistry within.
Like this water wrought in mosaic.
The Basilica di Sant’Apollinare in Classe is two miles from Ravenna.
At the Mausoleo di Galla Placidia, these leaping flames inspired Dante’s “Inferno.”
The starry sky and trompe l’oeil border date to 425. NBD.
Ravenna is a well-heeled town with a very accessible (and adorable) historic center.
After finishing his masterpiece, “The Divine Comedy,” Dante died here in exile in 1321. Locals say his unhappy spirit still wanders the streets. His tomb, pictured above, resembles a pepper pot.
A lamp burns continuously in Dante’s tomb, the oil a gift from his guilt-ridden hometown, Florence.
The Romagna region is famous for piadina, a type of griddle-coked flat bread. Here, a sandwich filled with proscuitto, arugula, and squacquerone cheese.
I also loved the handwritten menu at Osteria dei Battibecchi, a small restaurant near the Piazza del Popoplo dripping with Old World charm.
I usually don’t like eating out alone, but the food here was so good—rustic and honest—it was company in and of itself, like these handmade spinach-filled tortolloni, tossed in sage butter sauce.
I had never seen peas and meatballs together, but this plate of polpette e piselli were a meal unto themselves, no spaghetti necessary.
The Piazza del Popolo is truly the heart of the town.
It rained during nearly my entire visit, but when the sun emerged, it gleamed in bright slivers. I left Ravenna clutching a hunk of Parmagiano-Reggiano (produced in the neighboring Emilia region, but fresher than what we’ve got at home), and dreaming of ancient glass tiles.
By Ann | February 22, 2015
The Count of Monte Cristo?
But everyone raved so passionately about Alexandre Dumas’s gripping plot and deliberate pacing, that I immediately went and bought the novel on my Kindle. At first I was skeptical—the book takes at least a hundred pages to get its hooks into you—but all of a sudden, I found myself gripped by a tale of blood-thirsty revenge. The book tells the story of Edmond Dantès, a happy-go-lucky sailor who is framed by his frenemies—dangerous even in 19th-century France, who knew?—and wrongfully imprisoned. After escaping from jail, he vows to seek revenge—a quest that leads the story into many convoluted twists and turns, including hidden treasure, secret aliases, deserted islands, and more, all lavished with the trappings of bottomless wealth. As I read late into the night, I found myself pondering questions of justice, innocence, vengeance, mercy… and sandwiches. Surely the Monte Cristo sandwich would make an appearance in this literary classic?
Hélas, non. Le Comte de Monte Cristo scarcely eats at all, and he certainly does not indulge in ham-and-cheese sandwiches that are dipped in egg batter, fried in butter, and sprinkled with powdered sugar, strawberry jam, and/or maple syrup. Perhaps you’re wondering, who created this
monstrosity marvel? A quick internet search revealed that the Monte Cristo sandwich became famous in the 1960s when it was served at Disneyland; the name is a tribute to its French croque monsieur roots, and (sadly) has nothing to do with the book.
Nevertheless, after wolfing down Alexandre Dumas’s masterpiece, I needed to chase it with a toasty, melty sandwich. The Monte Cristo seemed too decadent for even this intrepid cook to tackle, however, so I whipped up a couple of café classics: the Croque Monsieur, and his wife, Croque Madame .
In my mind, there are two types of croques. There’s the kind that starts with an oversized slice of country bread, heaps it with sliced ham and grated cheese, and achieves a golden crust in the broiler (see photo of “type A”). The other kind dabs béchamel sauce on square, white, sandwich slices, before topping with ham and cheese, and broiling (see photo “type B”). Both are delicious, but if forced to choose, I might admit a slight preference for type B, with its velvety, nutmeg-scented nappage marrying the elements. “B” stands for béchamel! Or best!
If you’re not careful, however, type B can quickly become soggy, with its sauce and floppy-crumbed bread. There are a few secrets to creating a pleasingly crunchy croque B. Toast the bread before assembling the sandwich. Prepare a thick béchamel. Allow it to cool before spreading. Be sparing.
Another benefit to preparing a small quantity of béchamel is that it’s surprisingly fast to make—one might say it even falls under the category of “easily whipped up.” After that, the sandwich is a snap to assemble, making this an achievable meal to cook (and even photograph) while wrangling a curious toddler.
A word of advice: Make sure you watch your broiling sandwich like a hawk, or you’ll wind up with extra toasty edges :)
The addition of a fried egg is optional, but a gooey, salty bite swirled in a pool of creamy yolk is pretty irresistible. If you’re keen on eating while reading, the eggless Croque monsieur is more easily enjoyed one-handed. Either way, this is a meal fit for a count! (Especially if you use Comté cheese, ba dum bum.)
I think the amounts of sauce and cheese given here are perfect for exactly two sandwiches. For a Croque Madame, add a fried egg to the top of each sandwich.
4 slices sturdy, white sandwich bread (I like Pepperidge Farm)
2 thin slices of ham
2/3 cup grated Comté or Gruyère cheese
1/2 cup béchamel sauce (recipe follows)
1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon flour
1/2 cup milk
Pinch of nutmeg
Salt and pepper
Make the béchamel sauce. In a small saucepan, melt the better over medium heat. Add the flour and cook, stirring, for 1-2 minutes. Add the milk and whisk over low heat, until the milk boils and the sauce thickens. Add the nutmeg, salt, and pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings. Allow to cool.
Preheat the broiler. Lightly toast the bread. Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil. Spread two slices of bread with a thin layer of béchamel. Add a layer of grated cheese and a slice of ham. Dab lightly with béchamel. Top each sandwich with the second slice of bread. Spread a thin layer of béchamel on the top of the second slice. Add a layer of grated cheese. Place both sandwiches on the baking sheet and broil under golden, about 5 minutes. (The edges will darken very quickly, so it’s a game of chicken between the golden center and rapidly blackening crusts.) Serve immediately with sharp mustard.
By Ann | February 10, 2015
I grew up in the suburbs sprawling south of Los Angeles, but you could call me a bad Californian because I don’t like dates. I mean, does any other fruit so sharply evoke So Cal in the 1970s as the sugary date, blended into icy sweet milkshakes, the iconic treat of an arid desert corrupted by manmade oases? And yet, I find dates overly sweet and mealy—too sticky to be enjoyed as a fruit, too fruity to be enjoyed as a sweet.
I went decades without a date crossing my palate. But a few weeks ago, I made a Sticky Toffee Pudding for my book club and made three discoveries. 1) Sticky toffee pudding may sound quintessentially British, but it was invented in the 1970s and is really just a gussied up name for date cake. 2) You can’t taste the dates in Sticky Toffee Pudding, which makes it perfect for date haters. I’ll share my recipe soon. 3) You will have leftover dates after making Sticky Toffee Pudding.
Which begs the question: If you don’t like dates, what on earth do you do with the leftovers?
Hooray for my friend, Amy Thomas, who came to the rescue with this crunchy, bright, sweet and savory salad!
The recipe is simple and the ingredients might even be in your fridge right now! Take a bunch of celery, the fresher the better, and slice the stalks thinly on the bias. Pit and chop a handful of dates. Toast some chopped almonds in a pan, season them with a pinch of sea salt. Spritz on the lemon juice, drizzle over the olive oil, and lavish the whole with shavings of Parmagiano Reggiano. The lemon juice and dates create a lovely sweet-tart balance that’s offset by salty, soft bursts of cheese, and the golden, toasty crunch of almonds. It’s an elegant, unusual, perfectly seasonal salad. And the best part is, you’d never know there were dates in it :)
Celery salad with dates, almonds, and parmesan
Adapted from Bon Appétit
Serves two generously, or four modestly
1/3 cup raw almonds, roughly chopped
8 celery stalks, thinly sliced on a diagonal
6 dates, pitted and coarsely chopped
Juice of one lemon
2 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (separated)
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Fleur de sel (or salt), pepper
2 oz Parmagiano Reggiano
In a small skillet, heat 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the almonds, stirring frequently until golden. Season with a generous pinch of fleur de sel (or salt).
In a large bowl, combine the celery and dates. Toss with the lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and crushed red pepper flakes. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Shave half of the Parmagiano Reggiano over the salad and toss gently to combine. Serve immediately, with the remaining half of the cheese shaved over the top.
By Ann | January 28, 2015
Back in my twenties, my drink of choice was a vodka soda, clean and crisp with a slice of lemon. My thirties witnessed a turn toward wine, as befits a stint in Paris. And now that I’m entering my forties—which, for the record, hasn’t happened yet, but is coming soon enough, EGADS—I have a new drink: dry sherry. Yes, it’s the favorite of vicars, old biddies, and the Crane brothers, scoff all you like. The true secret is that sherry is full of golden, nutty, caramel notes and it’s delicious. It’s also an ideal drink to accompany tapas, such as smoky Spanish chickpeas with spinach. AND it’s one of the few aperitifs that can be described as a tipple, which is really quite titillating.
Sherry is produced in the Jerez-Xérès-Sherry DO (Denominación de Origen) of Andalusia, Spain, which is reflected in its Spanish name, vino de Jerez. Unlike regular wine, it’s fortified: a strong distilled spirit is added to the cask after fermentation, and the alcohol content increases with aging. As I learned in Talia Baiocchi’s new book, Sherry: A Modern Guide to the Wine World’s Best-Kept Secret, sherries span a wide spectrum, from delicate—fino, dry and pale—to heavy—Oloroso, dark and rich (and my favorite). And, yes, sometimes they’re sweet—as in the case of Harvey’s Bristol Cream—though Baiocchi—who is a wine writer and editor-in-chief of the terrific online drinks magazine PUNCH—gives these blended sherries wide berth, generally filing them under the “Mistakes in Alcohol Consumption folder.”
With chapters on everything from production to consumption (e.g. cocktail recipes), Sherry offers an extremely detailed look at a very complex wine. It also includes a wealth of addresses for sherry towns and producers, and I suspect it would make an excellent travel guide to the region. I appreciated the practical advice on storing open sherry (best in the fridge), glassware (she recommends stemmed white wineglasses, though I love my vintage ware), and food pairings. Baoicchi offers an old Andalusian saying: “Fino and manzanilla if it swims, amontillado if it flies, and oloroso if it walks.”
Of course, no discussion of sherry would be complete without tapas, which allegedly originated in Andalusia’s taverns. The book offers a few recipes, but I was captured by the “garbanzos con espinacas”—a stew of chickpeas and spinach enrichened with breadcrumbs, smoked paprika, and the bitter bite of fine olive oil.
The recipe comes from New York City chef Alexandra Raij, who was inspired by a dish at El Rincóncillo, Sevilla’s oldest bar, founded in 1670. “This simple chickpea, spinach, and bread stew has long been one of the bar’s specialities,” writes Baiocchi, “and no matter whether it is hot outside, the long bartop is always littered with steaming plates of it.” The dish starts with dried chickpeas (making it a perfect candidate for a pantry cleanout); breadcrumbs are toasted in garlic-flavored olive oil, and then pounded into the chickpea broth, creating a thick, creamy sauce that’s heightened by a generous scoop of smoked paprika. The tender beans and chopped spinach are suspended in this luscious sauce.
It’s a simple meal and crusty bread is a great accompaniment—though one day I’d love to spoon it over garlic-rubbed toast. And to drink? Sherry, of course.
Smoky Spanish chickpeas with spinach
Adapted from Sherry by Talia Baiocchi
8 oz dried chickpeas, washed, sorted, and soaked overnight
1 onion, halved
1 carrot, peeled
1 head garlic, plus 3-4 smashed cloves
5 tablespoons olive oil
1 10-oz package frozen spinach, defrosted and squeezed dry
1/2 cup panko bread crumbs
1 tablespoon smoked Spanish paprika
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
In a large pot, combine the chickpeas, onion, carrot, and head of garlic, then add enough cold water to cover everything by at least 4 inches. Bring to a boil and skim off any foam that arises. Reduce to a simmer and cook until the chickpeas are tender and creamy, about 2 hours. (I usually cover the pot and simmer in the oven at 325ºF.) Drain the chickpeas and reserve the liquid. Discard the vegetables.
In a large, clean pot, heat five tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the smashed garlic cloves and stir until the garlic turns golden and fragrant. Remove the garlic. Add the panko breadcrumbs to the hot oil, stirring until golden, about 4 minutes.
Add the paprika, cumin, and cayenne, then 2 cups of the chickpea cooking broth. Over a high flame, boil the mixture, stirring vigorously to break up the breadcrumbs. Cook until the liquid evaporates, the mixture is dry, and the breadcrumbs start to stick to the pan—about 10 minutes. Add another 2 cups of chickpea broth. Stir briskly, scraping up any browned bits at the bottom of the pot. Cook, stirring often, until the sauce is smooth and creamy, like a roux—about 10 minutes—adding dashes of fresh water if the sauce becomes too thick. Taste and adjust seasonings.
Add the chickpeas and spinach to the sauce and heat the mixture through. Taste again, and season if needed. Serve drizzled with high quality olive oil.
By Ann | January 13, 2015
The other day I opened the kitchen cupboard and a bag of cashews fell on my head. I wish I could tell you it was the first time, but the truth is, I dodge falling legumes in my kitchen like hailstones in June. The pantry shelves are groaning with bags of this and that—various flours, dried fruits, nuts, grains, beans—all of them partially full, with not enough of any one thing to create a meal. They drive me crazy.
In the spirit of January parsimony, I have cut myself off from the grocery store and vowed to only buy fresh veg and meat until we’ve emptied (most of) the cupboard. This week, I started with the leftover pasta, gathering all the different kinds into one big rollicking, rustic dish.
At first I had doubts: Is it possible to cook different shapes in one pot? Yes, says Bon Appétit, and the varied sizes and cooking times create a lovely, complex texture, with some bits mushy and others al dente. Paired with a chunky chickpea puree, this is a hearty, wholesome, frugal winter dish.
Here’s what you do: Simmer some chickpeas (you could use canned) in salted water, along with bits of celery, carrot, onion, garlic, and/or whatever else strikes your fancy. In a sauté pan, sizzle up some minced garlic and chili flakes. Add the seasoned chickpeas and their veg, throw in a handful of cherry tomatoes. A few satisfying pounds of the potato masher will turn the beans into a soupy, crushed puree. When the pasta’s cooked—I boiled three shapes for an arbitrary time of nine minutes—mix the two together.
I ate this meal on a cold night as the wind howled outside and my heart unclenched from last week’s events in France, a hot plate of comfort to try to soothe my sorrow.
Rustic pasta with crushed chickpeas
Adapted from BonAppétit.com
This is a flexible recipe, both adaptable and expandable. Along with using up dried pasta, it’s also a great way to clean out any vegetables you’ve got hanging around the fridge. I used elbow macaroni, farfalle, and spaghetti, but any mix of shapes will work. I would, however, avoid thicker varieties that take ages to cook. Break up long strands of spaghetti or linguine when you add them to the pot.
1 1/2 cups chickpeas
1 stalk celery, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
3/4 lb mixed pasta shapes
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 teaspoon chile flakes
1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
Delicious strong olive oil and Parmagiano Reggiano for serving
In a saucepan, add the chickpeas, carrot, and celery, and cover with an inch of cold water. Season and simmer for about 10 minutes.
In a sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat and sizzle the garlic until fragrant. Add the chili flakes and then the chickpeas and their vegetables, moistening with dashes of the chickpea broth. Stir in the tomatoes (and any other vegetables you might be using). Lower the heat and cook until the tomatoes soften and start to fall apart. Using a potato masher, crush the chickpeas in an rough, textured purée. Add splashes of chickpea broth as necessary.
Meanwhile, in a large pot of boiling water, cook the pasta. (I boiled mine for 9 minutes.) Drain and stir the crushed chickpeas into the pasta, adding more chickpea broth to moisten the mixture. Taste and correct seasoning. Serve drizzled with lots of delicious, sharp extra virgin olive oil (I prefer the kind from Sicily), and drifts of Parmagiano Reggiano.
Update: A few people have asked me about the events of last week. To be honest, I initially started this post in a completely different direction. But as I struggled to process my feelings, I realized that it just didn’t feel right or true for me to comment on the situation in France. Last week I was New York, watching the events unfold via “live blogs” and Twitter, just like everyone else who wasn’t in France—and it felt disingenuous of me to blog about my jumble of emotions as if they’re meaningful. (If, however, you’re looking for insights, this opinion piece by Pamela Druckerman is pretty terrific.) I’m still reeling by what happened last week, still processing my thoughts, still grieving and terribly sad—and I’m guessing most French people feel the same way.
By Ann | December 31, 2014
Happy holidays! I’m a little late to offer my Season’s Greetings, so please allow me to be among the first to wish you a bonne fin d’année. I’ve been enjoying sunny days in Southern California, where babies roam free without hats, coats, and mittens, the kitchens are large and bright, and Dad pours Champagne like it’s water. To accompany the sparkling wine, he and I invented these lovely cheesy puffs filled with creamy lemon-thyme-scented chèvre. We think they’re perfect savory tidbit to help ring in the new year.
You start with a batch of choux pastry, which you can whip up in the amount of time it takes Grandma to wrangle a toddler to and from the playground. One batch of choux makes about 40 small puffs, but I suggest dividing the dough in two: bake one half plain (to be filled), and add grated cheese to the other for gougères. The result is two types of hors d’oeuvres from one session of baking: Win, win!
While the puffs are in the oven, it’s time to play with your savory filling. I whipped goat and cream cheeses together and lightened the mixture with a couple of spoonfuls of Greek yogurt (crème fraîche would also work). Zest over a bit of lemon, add a sprinkle of fresh, crushed thyme, a scraping of black pepper, et voilà, a bright and elegant mixture that matches beautifully with Champagne. My dad took his filling in another direction: curry powder, cayenne, Sriracha—watch out for the kick! Next time, he’s contemplating blue cheese, while I might try smoked salmon.
We could have filled the puffs with a piping tip, but Lordy, there’s nothing more I hate washing than a pastry bag. We snipped the corner off a ziplock bag and were none the messier.
Here’s the secret part of this recipe: Fill the puffs in advance. When you’re ready to serve, heat them for five minutes in the oven. The tops of the choux puffs become crunchy, while the interior turns warm and gooey. It’s a beautiful contrast.
Before I leave you with the recipe, may I take a minute to wish you bonne année? I’ll always remember 2014 as the year I became a working parent: there have been many defrosted dinners, too little sleep, some great travel, several wonderful Sunday afternoons at the playground, and a few satisfying projects. I feel like I’m finally finding my balance. Thanks, as always, for reading! You make blogging a joy. xo
Cheesy puffs filled with lemon-thyme chèvre
*Note: One batch of choux pastry makes about 40 small puffs. I suggest dividing the dough in two, and using one half for gougères (as indicated in the recipe). If you’d like to use all the dough for filled puffs, you’ll need to double the recipe for the filling.
For the choux pastry:
1 cup water
6 tablespoons butter
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup flour
4 large eggs (or 3 jumbo eggs)
1/2 cup grated Gruyère cheese (optional) (if making gougères)
Preheat the oven to 425ºF. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In a saucepan over medium flame, heat the water, butter, salt, and nutmeg, until the mixture boils. Add the flour all at once and beat with an electric mixer (or wooden spoon) until it forms a dough. Lower the heat and continue stirring until the mixture comes away from the sides of the pan, and begins to film the bottom. Remove from the heat and beat in the eggs, one by one, until they are well incorporated into the dough.
Divide the mixture in half. Use two spoons to form small, 1 1/2-inch mounds, evenly spaced. Moisten your index finger with water and smooth the tops.
For the gougères: add the grated cheese to the second half of the dough, and form into mounds, as above.
Both the puffs and gougères bake for 20 minutes, until golden brown and doubled in size. Turn off the heat and leave the baking sheets in the warm oven for ten minutes with the door ajar. Allow to cool before filling.
For the filling:
4 oz cream cheese
2 oz goat cheese
2 tablespoons Greek yogurt, or crème fraîche
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, lightly chopped
Beat the cream cheese, goat cheese, and yogurt with an electric mixer. Stir in the lemon zest, thyme, and black pepper. Taste and adjust seasonings. The mixture should be the texture of mousse. If it’s too thick, add another tablespoon of yogurt.
To fill the puffs:
Cut the corner off a ziplock bag and spoon the filling into the bag. Find a natural crack in the puff, and squeeze in a teaspoon of filling. Continue with the remaining puffs—they may be filled in advance. Before serving, warm the puffs (and gougères) at 350ºF, until the tops are crusty, about five minutes.
By Ann | December 16, 2014
As research for my new novel, I started taking a wine class this month. I love it! It’s so much fun to learn why wines taste the way they do, and how they complement or conflict with different foods.
One of the things we’ve talked about is umami. You’ve probably heard it described as the “fifth flavor” (along with sweet, salty, sour, and bitter)—the word translates from Japanese as “pleasant savory taste.” Umami is that rich, deep, almost meaty quality found in foods like mushrooms, Parmesan cheese, cured meat, or MSG. It occurs when glutamate breaks down into L-glutamate via fermentation, braising, or ripening. (This NPR article offers a detailed explanation.)
If it sounds elusive, that’s because it is. The taste of umami “can be difficult to isolate,” says my wine textbook. Honestly, I’ve been mystified by it for years, but last week I learned a surefire trick to REALLY taste it:
Take an ordinary button mushroom. Slice it in two. Microwave one half for 30 seconds. Then, take a bite of the raw half, versus a bite of the cooked. When I tried it, the raw half tasted flabby and faint. But the cooked half exploded with deep, earthy, meaty flavors—it was like the essence of the mushroom distilled into a bite. I was amazed at the difference!
(If you don’t have a microwave, try baking, steaming, or plain sautéeing the mushroom for the same effect.)
Umami makes many foods delicious, but it’s also considered “high risk,” which means it’s difficult to pair with wine. In class, they suggested drinking a wine that is more fruity than tannic— “the umami in the food will emphasize the bitterness of the tannins” —so I might consider sipping a white with your next umami burger :)
What’s your favorite umami food? (Or do you think it’s a myth?)
UPDATE: Preston from Paris by the Glass left this fantastic tip on my Facebook page: “Foods with lots of umami almost always go with fino or manzanilla dry sherry,” he says. “Try it… it’s delicious! There’s a savouriness to the wine itself that goes marvellously with these foods.” I’ve recently been enjoying an evening tipple of Oloroso sherry, which seems to have an umami quality of its very own. Can’t wait to try it with Parmesan cheese.
By Ann | December 9, 2014
Last weekend, in a moment of sheer madness, we decided to walk the baby over to Rockefeller Center and pick up a few gifts. Oh, lawsy, the CROWDS, the tourists, the shoppers, all elbowing each other and trying to snap selfies with the Tree, the Tree, the Tree!!! My holiday panic officially set in. In case you’re feeling similarly, here are some thoughts on gifts, all of them my favorite discoveries of 2014, and all of them available online :) Happy holidays!
I miss my local Paris fromager on pretty much a daily basis, so I was thrilled when I discovered the brie fermier (pictured above, center) from Murray’s Cheese. Gooey, salty, creamy, with an earthy, mushroomy savor, it’ll trick you into thinking you’re on a picnic in the Champ de Mars. Murray’s ships nationwide so you can send a wedge to your favorite fromage-o-phile.
Murray’s also ships vieille Mimolette, a salty, dense, shocking orange cheese with lovely sweet, caramel notes that’s produced in northern France near the Belgian border. As I wrote in this post, Mimolette is one of the only cheeses that uses mites as part of its aging process. Because the mites are considered an allergen, the FDA banned the cheese last year. Happily, rules have softened and discreet imports are being allowed once again. Send a chunk along with a magnifying glass for peering at the moving “crumbs” (which are actually cheese mites). Hours of fascinating (if slightly disgusting) fun!