The Microgreens Cookbook

The Microgreens Cookbook by Brendan Davison, Rizzoli 2017, hardback $39.95, 224 pages

Eat watercress and gain wit.

Greek Proverb

This old wisdom is even more true for microgreens–each little leaf grown lightly on the earth and packed with nutrition and flavor.

Hearty eaters might dismiss microgreens as elite rabbit food. Even more open-minded cooks might limit them to garnishes, but as Amanda Cohen points out in her foreword, these melt-in-your-mouth leaves add real flavor and texture.

And while Cohen talks about flavor, grower Brendan Davison talks about health–of soil, water, and people. All farmers know that soil is key to healthy yields. The differences come in how they get there–fertilizers or naturally.

And despite the name of his operation–Good Water Farm–Davison doesn’t grow hydroponically. He uses soil, “a living, nutrient-rich medium” to grow his microgreens, “the first true leaves of an herb or vegetable,” that appear within a few days of planting. It’s amazing that you can get so much flavor and nutrition in such a short time.

And you can do it yourself. In this book, Davison outlines the basics. He takes a zen approach–encouraging practice and focus to connect with the earth and food but if you want the sense of accomplishment that comes with harvest, he outlines the steps and shares his experience. Start with good organic soil and seeds, and then follow his tips on sowing, growing, and harvesting. Some, like sunflower, kale and pea are easy to grow while basils and cilantro are fussy and require more attention.

Davison is a meticulous grower and these are meticulous recipes. The’ve been tested and re-tested, all of them are plant-focused. You’ll find coconut-milk “ice creams,” a few fish recipes, smoothies and bowls. There are international flavors, like Carrot Rasam with Radish Microgreens and Aristocrat Tuna Poke, but mostly these are flavor-forward recipes like Roasted and Smashed Potatoes with Green Goddess-Style Tahini Dressing and Roasted Figs with Lemon Balm and Fennel Microgreens.

Clean, bright, and focused–the way we should always be in the kitchen, and in life.

 

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I Heart Rome, Recipes and Stories from the Eternal City

I Heart Rome, Recipes and Stories from the Eternal City by Maria Pasquale, Smith Street Books 2017, hardback $35, 272 pages

If your mother cooks Italian food, why should you go to a restaurant?

Martin Scorsese

Well, maybe your mother’s not Roman, and in that case you’ll want this book for both its classic recipes like Saltimbocca and Tiramisu and for its dive into authentic flavors like Coda alla Vaccinara and  Trippa alla Romana.

Tuscan food has a reputation for being muscular and simple. But Roman dishes are also simple–many of these recipes have only half a dozen ingredients or fewer–but there is also a richness to them.

As in the recipes above, they make use of less than luxurious cuts like tripe and oxtail. Or, rely on technique like the pasta dish cacio e pepe. After all, as Pasquale writes in this book, Roman food is based on cucina povera, the food of the poor.

She divides her recipes not by courses, but to follow the pulse of the city. A Margherita Pizza picked up at la pizzeria, fried treats like Suppli or Crocchette di Patate with an appertivo, or sweet cream buns, Maritozzo con Panna, with a coffee or digestive.

The recipes are mouth-watering, and some of them will be frustrating. You’ll have to hunt up fresh anchovies, purple-tinged globe artichokes, or the aforementioned tripe. But finding some cured pork cheek, guanciale, for a proper carbonara will be worth the trouble. If nothing else, you’ll learn a technique you can adapt with your local artisan bacon.

And there’s always Pasquale’s final chapter, A Casa, with recipes meant to be cooked at home–soups, pastas, sauces that are the basis of thrifty and delicious home cooking.

But with this book, you hardly need to cook. The flavors come through in Pasquale’s stories and its photographs. You can accompany her to the local coffee bar to start the day with an espresso and a cornetto. Join her in Cristina Bowerman’s kitchen to get some insight from Rome’s only female Michelin-starred chef. Learn how to navigate the vegetable markets and create an Italian cheese board.

Whether you find Rome in the kitchen or the streets, it will taste good.

 

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Strufoli

Whether you celebrate Christmas religiously or with retail, I hope you’ll also take a moment to relax with friends and family and perhaps enjoy some special food. I have to admit, I don’t make strufoli every year, but during this season, it (and my grandmother who made it unfailingly) is in my thoughts.

strufoli

It’s not Christmas without it

 

One of my iconic childhood foods is strufoli, the chunky beads of fried dough, drizzled with honey and spangled with sprinkles that my grandmother would make every Christmas and bring over in sticky foil covered pans. You can have your anemic and one-dimensional candy canes, your tins of Danish butter cookies, and your Chex mix; I’m sticking with the fried dough of my people.

My brother and I would crow like little maniacs when Nana showed up with the annual treat and even my mother, to whom fried food was a tool of the Devil, would stand back and let us attack, at least for a while. We would carefully pick at the mound, looking for bits with the perfect balance of sprinkle, honey, and dough. After our shameless greed had blown off some energy, the dish would be temporarily removed from our sticky little hands, but by the next day, the batch was finished. Santa hadn’t even arrived, but another Christmas had passed.

One year, as a teenager, I went to help my grandmother cook the strufoli. It was a full day affair, with dough covering the kitchen table and a huge pot of oil steaming on the stove. I remember moving around the kitchen and I remember how happy she was to have me there, and I feel terrible that I didn’t pay more attention and that I let the tradition die.

Years later, as a young mother, before the internet made items no larger than the head of a pin website-worthy, I came across an Italian cookbook with a recipe for strufoli and I was tossed back to Nana’s kitchen and childhood Christmases.

My husband, who does not fear frying, helped me back to childhood by manning the oil, while I made the dough. Again, I don’t remember the recipe, but I do remember the unhappy outcome, which I blamed on translation. Warm from the pot, they were lovely, but very quickly they staled into dead little nuggets that were no one’s family tradition. I gave them to my son’s preschool teachers as a Christmas token; what a miserable family they must have thought we were!

Life went on, the recipe was tucked away and memories filed. Then at a local deli, run by an Italian family, I found Maria had made strufoli, for Christmas. I nearly swooned into her arms and bought a plateful without even asking the price.

You can bounce all over the internet and find plenty of recipes for strufoli, which is often translated as Italian honey fritters,  but I am now loyal to Gina DePalma’s recipe from Dolce Italiano, her cookbook of the desserts served at Babbo. It works and it tastes right.

Gina DePalma’s Strufoli (adapted from Dolce Italiano)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 2 tsp baking powder, 1/2 tsp kosher salt, 3 large eggs, 4 tbs softened unsalted butter, 2 tbs powdered sugar, 1 tbs granulated sugar, 2 tsp vanilla, olive oil for frying, 1/2 cup vin santo, honey to taste (Gina says 2 cups), sprinkles

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

Beat the eggs with the butter, sugars, and vanilla. Add the dry ingredients and beat to form a soft dough. Turn the dough onto a floured board and knead until it’s firm enough to handle.

Divide the dough into three pieces and roll each piece into a rope about 1/2 inch in diameter. Cut the rope into 1/2 inch pieces. Keep them covered as you roll and cut the remaining dough.

Heat the oil (enough so the pieces can be immersed) to 360 degrees and fry pieces until golden brown.

Melt the vin santo and honey together, and sauté the fried pieces until they are coated. Pile them in a serving plate and decorate them with sprinkles.

Elbow your brother out of the way and enjoy!

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An exhibition, not a contest, so…no wagering

Almond Melts, Fruitcake Cookies, Bay Sugar Sables, Ricciarelli, and Jalapeno Cranberry Thumbprints

I know some people treat cookie swaps as contests, but ours is more an excuse to get together, drink champagne, and laugh.

Everyone lays out their contributions on the table–I find it easier to enter a party with a task, then the conversation naturally starts on that and segues into whatever–and as guests arrive the abundance grows. When we describe our contributions a few abashed participants will winking-ly admit that perhaps their contribution was not made with loving hands, but who cares–all that abundance is cheer enough!

the recipe claims these rock-hard cookies will be soft by Christmas. If not, they smell great–I’ll put them in my lingerie drawer!

We don’t go all Martha Stewart, though in some future world with robot friends, that might work. In the meantime, I have a rather pleasant to-do list with things like hang the giant paper star, decant the ratafia, buy champagne, and bake!

and these ratafias will be ready to decant and drink–cranberry-bay and pear cardamom

 

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Tea and History

The Victorian tea on Sunday afternoons at London’s V&A Museum is served on custom Burleigh china.

This article appeared in the December/January issue of CHoWline, the monthly newsletter of the Culinary Historians of Washington, DC.                 But here I can share more pictures!

London’s Victoria & Albert Museum was established for edification and immersion. The sculpture hall’s reproductions of classical statues was created for students of drawing and sculpture, and in all the galleries you will still find students intent over their sketchpads.

Today visitors can immerse themselves in decorative arts from around the world and through time, crafted in silver, ceramics, photography, textiles and more, but sooner or later, like the peckish duchess who invented it, you will want tea. And the immersion can continue at the museum’s Victorian Tea, offered on Sunday afternoons, when the linens and good china come out.

Sigh…

In fact, the V&A was the world’s first museum to offer a café in 1856, at first in temporary Tudor-styles rooms that a leading newspaper described as “hideously ugly,” and by the 1860s in three grand, artist-designed and decorated rooms. The center Gamble room is the largest and is covered in majolica tiles colored yellow, burnt orange, and cream, with a ceiling of ornately enameled metal sheets. The materials are bright, dazzling, but also practical—fire-resistant, easy to clean and didn’t absorb odors.

To the right is the Poynter room, finished in dark wood and blue and white Dutch-style tiles, painted by female students at the National Art Training School. Originally, it was a grill room, serving substantial meals, including jugged hare, steak pudding, and seasonal tarts. A “second class,” budget-conscious menu offered veal cutlets for 10 pence and buns and sponge cake for one pence.

It was also the preferred dining spot of artist, Edward Byrne-Jones, who helped his colleague William Morris design the third room, where the Victorian Tea is offered. When hired, Morris was relatively unknown and had just started his firm. The room is decorated in his medievalist Arts and Crafts style, done in mossy green paneling and covered in gilded panels of entwined fruits and vegetables, with murals of maidens at their domestic chores. Like the museum’s collection, the rooms are learning tools, each representing a different design theory.

Anchovy and pansy is a remarkably good combination.

The Victorian Tea’s menu was created by food historian Tasha Marks, of AVM Curiosities, her firm, which explores food as an art and immersive experience. The menu includes five savory and five sweet items based on 19th century recipes from Mrs. Beeton, Mary Allen, and A.B. Marshall, some slightly tweaked for modern palates. Choices include Mrs. Beeton’s cucumber sandwich as well as a Nasturtium Open Sandwich that features fresh anchovy. Marks points out that Victorians really liked fishy flavors. From the era of empire, an Indian ham sandwich uses chutney from a Mary Allen recipe.

It wouldn’t be tea without them.

Marks continues, “On the sweet side we have fruit scones, which weren’t exactly a fixture on the menu in the Victorian era—they came slightly later—but you can’t have an afternoon tea without them!” Likewise, tea choices include the traditional Earl Grey as well as English Breakfast, which became popular in the 1930s.

The immersion experience extends to the table settings—Burleigh china specially designed for the service and mixed flatware that look like lesser pieces from the museum’s collection.

Fortified and refreshed, visitors can head upstairs to examine the silver collection’s many pieces devoted to tea. In fact, 18th century inventories showed that English households owned twice as many tea wares as coffee utensils. And as always, table service was an opportunity to show taste and wealth. More than an earthenware mug, a tea service of porcelain and silver might include candlesticks, a salver tray, tea caddies, and more.

It’s lovely to see the artifacts in their cases, but perhaps even lovelier to see them spread out on a tea table for you.

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Cookie Swap

Half the fun of cookie swap (for me) is coming up with the invitation. This year I was inspired by the best.

How’d I do? (I had help from my photoshop expert)

 

Wish you all could come!

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It’s Indian Pudding Season, Motherf***ers

McSweeneys and Colin Nissan, please don’t sue me.

slow and sweet in the oven

Ok, there’s no need to get aggressive, but I continue to believe that this dessert has not gotten its due. And while we mark Thanksgiving with a huge basin of this mess, it’s a perfectly good winter recipe–ingredients off the pantry shelves and a low and slow oven. The recipe below makes a reasonable amount–not huge Durgin Park quantities–and all you need is a good netflix, then be careful not to drip ice cream on the couch.

Indian Pudding at Home

4 cups of whole milk, 1/2 cup yellow cornmeal, 1/4 cup molasses, 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 1 egg, vanilla ice cream

Scald two cups of the milk in an 8-inch skillet and slowly pour in the cornmeal, stirring to break up the lumps. Simmer over low heat until thickened. Remove from the heat and set aside until it’s warm.

Stir in the molasses, sugar, salt, egg, and one half cup of the remaining milk. Cover the skillet and bake at 325 degrees for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, stirring in a half cup of milk every half hour (more or less milk and more or less time, depending on your oven). The pudding should be thick but not solid.

Serve warm, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

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