Foodie Tuesday: It’s roasting in here!

Welcome to 2012, friends!  I have been woefully negligent of this blog as of late, and my only defense is that everything seems to accelerate mercilessly during the holiday season and I simply couldn’t keep up with everything.  It will surprise no one, however, that my enthusiasm for eating has flagged not at all, which brings me to the first Foodie Tuesday post of this new year: oven roasting and Diana Henry.

Last year I received a beautiful cookbook as a gift: Roast Figs, Sugar Snow by Diana Henry.  The book’s hearty wintertime recipes were interspersed with gorgeous photographs and vivid, in-praise-of-eating excerpts from authors like Laura Ingalls Wilder, Italo Calvino, Robert Frost, and Colette.  I read the book cover-to-cover and made the Swedish Thursday soup with split peas and ham, then set about learning more about Diana Henry, an Irish food writer and cook.

I found and ordered two more cookbooks by Henry, which immediately became indispensable resources in our Brooklyn kitchen.  I would go so far as to say that, if you were to have only one cookbook in your home, you’d do well to own either Plenty or Pure Simple Cooking.  Henry’s prose and recipes are practical, unassuming, and delicious.

She is a major advocate of oven-roasting, a nearly effortless way to serve a meal that is at once rib-sticking, homey, elegant, and sometimes even exotic (I am given, here, to a profusion of adjectives–forgive me!).  Oven-roasting is a very simple concept, but the resulting flavors are nuanced and eminently satisfying.

Nearly every recipe in Plenty and Pure Simple Cooking is appended with a variation or two, which means that an Italian-style roast chicken with rosemary and balsamic vinegar can easily become instead a Catalan roast chicken with pimenton, preserved lemon, and black olives.

As these winter days grow ever-colder (14° F today!? Sheesh.), the humble bounty of oven-roasted meats and vegetables warms both the home and the soul.  Happy cooking, happy eating, and Happy New Year!

 

 

Catalan-Style Baked Chicken – adapted from Diana Henry’s Pure Simple Cooking

Marinate 8 chicken thighs in 1/4 C olive oil, 1 Tbsp. pimenton (smoked Spanish paprika), 5 crushed garlic cloves, & the finely sliced flesh of 1/2 preserved lemon, plus 2 Tbsp. juice from the jar of lemons.

Put into a roasting pan with 2 lbs. unpeeled sweet potatoes, cut into big chunks, & 2 red onions, cut into wedges.  Season with salt & pepper.

Bake in a preheated 400°F oven for 45 minutes, until cooked through, adding a handful of pitted black olives & the shredded zest of the lemon 15 mins. before the end.  

Sprinkle with chopped fresh parsley & mint or cilantro & serve.

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Foodie Tuesday: Constant Craving(s)

I’m preoccupied with spring. It’s entirely likely that my obsessive fixation on sunshine and 70-degree weather is rooted in the fact that both seem to have RSVP’d “No” to April. Ah, well. Until the Brooklyn Heights Promenade is fully bedecked with blooming tulips, I’ll continue to summon spring as best I can in my kitchen. Below is a list of some epicurean delights I’ve been craving (and savoring!) lately, all of which evoke spring’s lush, temporal beauty.

1. Fava Beans
I can’t stop with the favas! This early in the spring, fava beans taste mild and, well–green–with a pleasantly subtle bitterness. There’s something bucolic and picturesque about fava beans, despite (because of?) the rather protracted shelling, blanching, shocking, and re-shelling process. A couple of glasses of wine into a Sunday afternoon, with Italian canzoni emanating from my stereo, I can imagine myself returned to a life I’ve never lived: I may be shelling fava beans in my Brooklyn apartment, but in my mind I’m at home in the Tuscan countryside, watching the rolling brown hills turn green and preparing for Pasqua. I told you, this is after a couple (oh, fine…a few) glasses of wine. Hannibal Lecter was on to something: fava beans do go beautifully with a nice Chianti.

2. Peas
Since my parents are reading this blog (and, let’s face it, they may very well be the only people reading this blog), the inclusion of peas on my list of spring cravings will doubtless come as a shock. I’ve never been a fan of peas. In fact, there are pictures of me as a baby, grimacing as I spit peas out of my mouth. But. Around ten years ago (Jesus), I worked at a French restaurant in Seattle, and one spring our chef introduced a salad of watercress with barely blanched, tiny, sweet peas tossed throughout. The whole business was finished with a medallion of goat cheese and a dressing that I couldn’t replicate if my very life depended on it. Remembering that salad, I’ve started introducing petites pois into my gastronomic forays. They’re even part of the menu for my upcoming wedding. And don’t even get me started on the pairing of sugar snaps with Sahadi’s hummus. Sweet(pea) mystery of life, at last I’ve found you!

3. Roast Chicken
Roast chicken was one of the first things I learned how to make. Lucky thing, too. The dish immediately calls forth images of home, comfort, and effortless sophistication, yet it’s almost laughably easy to prepare. Salt, pepper, and a little olive oil will result in a moist, tender bird with crispy skin. Fresh parsley and thyme, along with lemon zest and copious amounts of butter, will result in a brush with nirvana. When I was 22, I was seduced by a very romantic and very complicated chef. Using his roast chicken and impossibly long eyelashes, he lured me down a rabbit hole of bad decisions and emotional turmoil. Had I known at the time that a perfect roast chicken was a decidedly unromantic, uncomplicated proposition, I doubt I would have been as easily duped.

4. Rosé
I don’t really have to elaborate on this, do I? Nothing bespeaks indulgence, elegance, and frivolity (springtime’s daughters, all of them) more than pink wine. A glass of Bandol rosé is a Provençal sunset in liquid form. And if God made anything more luxurious and enchanting than a flute of Billecart-Salmon brut rosé, She kept that shit for Herself.

5. Asparagus (and Eggs)
Eggs, whether poached, hard-boiled, fried, or scrambled, are the perfect dance partners for asparagus. The woodsy pungency of steamed young asparagus fairly cries out for a baptism of molten, silky egg yolk and a sprinkling of sea salt. And on my more motivated mornings, I revel in asparagus and goat cheese scrambles. Something about seeing a bunch of asparagus stalks in my fridge, standing up like so many soldiers, fills me with good cheer.

I could go on, I really could. Mint, fennel, rhubarb, lamb, and countless other springtime delights each merit rhapsodic praise. But I have to go be a singer today, then I’m meeting up with my fiancé and his family for Passover seder at Sammy’s Roumanian. Who would have ever believed it? This German-Norwegian-Anglo-Saxon Catholic girl (from Alaska, no less), is celebrating Passover. Stay tuned, as the Sammy’s Seder is sure to figure prominently in an upcoming Foodie Tuesday post. Until then, may all the delights of spring–however belated her arrival–be yours.

Holy Water, Chicken Stock, Tomato, Tomahto

Saturday night had tumbled ass-over-teakettle into a maelstrom of hasty words and hurt feelings. Apologies finally wrestled their way to the surface at dawn, leaving us wrung out and penitent and asleep until noon. When I woke, the bourbon from the night before had taken up residence behind my eyes, making Sunday hurt.

Forgiveness, especially when summoned on a hung-over morning, can be elusive and coy, like calling a cat from a hiding place: it’ll come out when it’s good and goddamn ready, no matter how sweetly you call or what you promise in return.

CIMG3863There is nothing elusive or coy, however, about soup made from scratch in early Autumn. Soothing, evocative of grandmothers and sweater weather, soup is pretty difficult to mess up. If you add too much salt, you can always add some water. The three lonely celery stalks in your fridge that have been waiting for something to do will be welcomed, as will a stray potato, or basil on the verge of going bad.

You have to just kind of let everything simmer together for a while. Eventually, the flavors begin to commingle and the soup begins to look like more than the sum of its parts. Soup, unlike people, will always forgive rashness, impatience, and too much spice.

And so, contrite and in need of comfort, we decided to make soup for Sunday dinner. While rolling oregano-and-garlic turkey meatballs between our hands, chopping dill, melting onions in oil, and baptizing everything in an ablution of homemade chicken stock, a palpable, if tentative, peace began to settle itself around and throughout us.

CIMG3868Later, we sat on the floor, big ceramic bowls of our soup on the coffee table in front of us. This silence was companionable, open. Then:

“Do you like the soup?”

“Yes, but it’s more that I’m taking refuge in it, you know?”

“Yeah. Me, too.”

I haven’t been to Mass in years, but I know Communion when I see it.

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