I was crowned queen of my family’s kitchen before I was 13. I loved to cook and bake, and I always left a mess in the kitchen. Lila, my red-haired, 17-year-old daughter — an endless well of wit and sarcasm — bakes every day. She particularly loves to leave the mess for me.
When I was a teenager, I did a demonstration of baking breadfor my public speaking class — in straight-up TV cooking-show style. I brought in a selection of doughs at various stages of development. As I slapped and kneaded, my classmates oohed. As I sliced through the crisp crust of the finished loaf, they aahed. I had no cribnotes, no recipe by my side. After class, I shoved the leftover doughs onto the top shelf of my locker and raced off to class. By 4 p.m. the smell of yeast was wafting down the hall. Dough was oozing out the vents of my locker and, inside, had poured onto my books and gym clothes. I wore those clothes with pride, knowing I’d shared my love of baking.
My home kitchen sometimes reminds me of that locker: fragrant, messy and amusing.Even before I went to culinary school and started cooking seriously, I cooked every day. Lila learned to cook by living with me. I give her free rein in the kitchen whenever she wants it, and I offer advice (she sometimes listens). We get to do some quality obsessing together about baking, like binge watching “The Great British Baking Show.“
Then one day she blew me away.
Lila wanted to make a cookie that was crisp on the outside and soft on the inside, which may not sound difficult but Lila is a vegan. Baking delicious vegan food — so that the end product tastes good, and has wonderful texture — is no mean feat. She went right at it while I was out catering. No advice, no book, no nothing.
By the time I got home, there was a pile of dishes and I was none too happy. I grimaced and sighed and did her dishes still in my stained whites. She knew I was displeased, and was reduced to tears. I saw the cookies she had made. I sat down, listened to her explain what she had done, and tasted her cookies.
Lila had reverse engineered one hell of a cookie. Really, it’s a terrific cookie, not an aw-I-am-your-mom-isn’t-that-cute-terrific cookie.
She explained how she made it. She wanted the crumb to be tight but not dense. So she used a blend of all-purpose flour with the lightening power of cornstarch. She wantedcoconut to play a supporting role that could stand up to the strong, vivid citrus flavor of lemons, yet not overpower them. So she added coconut water — not coconut milk — as the liquid. It gave the cookie a little body. Then she chose baking powder — and plenty of it — to give it pouf without much spread. The result is a bakery-worthy treat, easy to make and truly delicious.
I couldn’t be prouder — and I hope she’s as proud of herself as I was that day in high school and I told her I would do her dishes as long as she kept innovating and learning. I smiled, complimented her again, and ate another cookie. Ah, the power of baking rises again.
Lila’s Vegan Lemon Coconut Cookies
These cookies are phenomenal: They are crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside; sweet but not overly sweet; coconut-y but not overly so. It’s a deeply balanced cookie and I am one proud chef mom kvelling.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Total time: 20 minutes
2 cups all purpose flour
1 cup granulated sugar plus 1/2 cup for rolling
3 teaspoons cornstarch
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
Zest and juice of one large lemon
1/4 cup fresh coconut water, from young coconuts preferred
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
1/4 cup melted coconut oil
After shaping the dough for each cookie, dip it in sugar and roll it to coat before placing it on the baking sheet lined with parchment. Credit: Copyright 2016 TheWeiserKitchen
Preheat oven to 350 F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.
In a mixing bowl, sift together the flour, sugar, cornstarch, baking powder and salt.
Add the lemon juice and zest, coconut water and vanilla bean paste, and stir just to combine. Add melted coconut oil and stir to combine.
Using a 2-tablespoon scoop or a spoon, scoop out the dough and shape into balls. Drop the cookie balls in the sugar and gently roll to coat. Place on the prepared baking sheet about 1 1/2 inches apart. Place in the oven and bake for 10 minutes or until the cookies are crispy on the outside and not raw on the inside, but still soft, and not brown beyond the edges.
Main photo: My 17-year-old daughter created a vegan cookie that is lemony with a hint of coconut; crisp on the outside and chewy on the inside. Credit: Copyright 2016 TheWeiserKitchen
At one time, if I wanted a handful of airy, pearl-sugar-encrusted chouquettes, I’d have to either scrimp and save for a trip to France or break down and make these sweets myself.
For centuries these petite, round pastries have been a mainstay of French bakeries and patisseries. Like clockwork, each day bakers tumble a dozen or so soft chouquettes into small paper bags and, handing over the baked goods, send hungry but happy customers on their way. Simple yet satisfying, chouquettes have long served as an afternoon snack or a means of tiding over famished French diners until dinnertime.
In recent months I started to notice this beloved treat appearing in bakeries and shops in my New York City neighborhood. Piled high on trays inside glass cases or displayed in wicker baskets, as they are in France, chouquettes have begun to insinuate their way into international markets and hearts.
Like many newcomers to the chouquette, I originally mistook it for a French take on the American doughnut hole. Because the two were comparable in size and shape, I assumed they would also have a similar taste. One bite of the chouquette’s soft, mildly sweet and eggy dough and its crunchy sugar topping, and all comparisons to that greasy, occasionally gooey confection ended.
Unlike doughnuts, which are a relatively modern creation, chouquettes date back to Renaissance France. Historians point to the 16th century and a chef, a man known as Panterelli, whom Catherine de Medici had brought with her to France, as the inventor of the first chouquette.
Panterelli had crafted an unusual dough that consisted of flour, water, eggs and butter. Although it lacked such leavening agents as yeast, baking powder or baking soda, the dough still rose in a hot oven. This resulted from its high moisture content, which, when heated, produced steam that, in turn, caused the pastry to swell. Note that his dough, or pâte, is not to be confused with puff pastry, which contains layers of buttery dough and, as a result, has a flaky texture.
In the 18th century, French bakers began shaping this pâte into tiny buns that, after baking, resembled little cabbages. The French word for “cabbage” is choux. Pair that with Panterelli’s pâte and you have the classic dough for chouquettes and assortment of other desserts, pâte a choux.
During the 19th century, the renowned Parisian chef Marie-Antoine Carême tweaked this recipe yet again. It is his take on pâte a choux that I enjoy today in my neighborhood chouquettes.
While I appreciate the convenience of walking a few blocks to fetch a bag of fresh chouquettes, I continue to bake my own, too. Quick and simple to make, they always dazzle my friends and family. Then again, who wouldn’t be impressed by a platter of homemade, pearl-sugar-studded French pastries?
A different kind of dough
Unlike other types of pastry dough, preparing chouquette dough involves cooking. Credit: Copyright 2016 Kathy Hunt
Pâte a choux is the rare dough that is cooked before being baked. To make a batch of chouquettes, I first melt butter in a saucepan with water, sugar and salt. To this I add flour. I then stir the ingredients together until a soft, malleable dough forms. The eggs are the final addition to the saucepan and make the dough wet and a bit sticky. This moisture is what gives chouquettes their light consistency.
After being spooned onto parchment paper and decorated with pearl sugar, the chouquettes are baked until puffy and golden brown. If, after being removed from the oven, the pint-sized treats collapse, I just put them back in the hot oven for a few more minutes.
Because chouquettes are hollow inside, they can be filled with an array of ingredients, such as custard, chocolate or jam. I, however, am a purist and prefer to leave them as they are. I love them most when they’ve been adorned with those chunky, white sugar crystals and, if I’m feeling really adventurous, a smidgen of ground cinnamon.
Chouquettes ready for the oven. Credit: Copyright 2016 Kathy Hunt
Prep time: 10 minutes
Bake time: 20 to 25 minutes
Total time: 35 minutes
Yield: 3 dozen
For the dough:
1 cup water
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs, at room temperature
For the topping:
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon water
2/3 cup pearl sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
Preheat the oven to 425 F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.
Place the water, sugar, salt and butter in a small saucepan and heat over medium. Stir the ingredients together until the butter has melted.
Remove the pan from the heat and stir in the flour. Mix until a soft, malleable dough has formed.
Add the eggs one at a time, stirring briskly with each addition until the eggs are completely incorporated. When finished, the dough will be sticky.
Using a tablespoon or a small disher that holds roughly 1 tablespoon, scoop out and place equal portions of dough on the parchment-lined baking sheets. Leave about 1 inch between each chouquette.
In a small bowl whisk together the egg yolk and water. In another small bowl mix the pearl sugar with the ground cinnamon.
Brush the tops of the chouquettes with egg wash, then sprinkle cinnamon sugar over top of each.
Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the chouquettes are puffed up, golden brown and dry in appearance. Remove them from the oven and cool for 1 to 2 minutes before serving.
Note: When stored in an airtight container, chouquettes will keep for up to three days. However, they are best when consumed on the day they’re baked.
Main image: Cinnamon chouquettes. Credit: Copyright 2016 Kathy Hunt
If shakshuka is not yet on your food radar, then it soon will be. And be prepared to fall head over heels for this homely Tunisian favorite that may well be the region’s most delicious onomatopoeic egg dish.
Even though it sounds as if it ought to mean “all shook up” à la Elvis, the word shakshuka actually means “all mixed up,” a subtle distinction. Its charm is based on a trio of basic ingredients: tomatoes, fried or poached eggs and some form of chili pepper. Sounds simple, but as in all such deceptively easy recipes, the devil is in the detail.
In Israel, the cult of shakshuka has especially taken wing, becoming as ubiquitous as hummus and falafel. Introduced to the country by Jewish immigrants from North Africa, it is now found on cafe and restaurant menus throughout the country, served from dawn till dusk.
The mother of all shakshuka dishes is served at the eponymous Doctor Shakshukain Jaffa along with a range of Libyan favorites, but on Tel-Aviv’s Ben Yehuda Street you can find small, hole-in-the-wall cafes that serve nothing but shakshuka. Choose the fiery heat level, specify the degree of softness of your egg yolk and select from a range of extra toppings and ingredients such as fresh herbs, eggplant, feta, merguez sausage, tahini or tofu.
A daring “green” shakshuka — made with leeks and spinach in a creamy sauce with no tomatoes — is fast becoming popular. A shakshuka baguette I encountered, however, was to my mind an innovation too far — in looks, like something you’d find in a medical textbook; in taste, much the same.
A rose by any other name might smell as sweet, but to shakshuka mavens the dish would just not have same the exotic appeal if it was simply called baked eggs in tomato sauce.
Shakshuka: Debating recipe tips
The tomatoes in this dish need to be really ripe and packed with flavor. Peeling is preferable but optional. Canned tomatoes are acceptable, though they don’t have quite the same textural quality. On the other hand, some prefer it this way.
Red peppers are sometimes fried with the tomatoes, although a strong, vocal faction contends they should be chargrilled separately and added to the sauce once the latter is cooked. Some avoid them altogether.
Use very fresh spices, or the sauce will taste flat. Add them at the start and fry gently in olive oil before adding the tomatoes. Popular spices include cumin, caraway and black pepper. Paprika, chili pepper, cayenne, harissa or a similar fiery spice is the key. Garlic is optional but eminently desirable. Ditto onion. Or both.
The sauce on which the eggs will rest should not be too liquidy, so make sure you cook it until it largely evaporates.
Use eggs at room temperature, because a cold egg will cook unevenly. The whites take longer to cook than the yolks, so timing is tricky. Some cooks cover the pan to solve the problem, but that tends to overcook the yolk. Still, some folk run a mile from a runny one. Others separate the eggs, cooking the whites till set before adding the yolks. Personally, I feel this lacks the proper aesthetic.
If you want to add extra ingredients, do so either just before adding the eggs or at the same time.
Shakshuka can be cooked in either a large communal skillet to dish out as required or in individual dishes so you can serve them in the pan in which they were cooked.
Mop up your shakshuka with good bread. No argument.
Shakshuka: A starting point
The recipe is intended as a guide. Regard shakshuka as a free-wheeling dish dependent on personal preferences and ingredient availability.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 50 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
Yield: 4 servings
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely sliced
1 red pepper, diced
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 to 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 pounds tinned tomatoes (or ripe tomatoes in season)
2 teaspoons sugar (optional, depending on the flavor of the tomatoes)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
4 to 8 eggs, depending on size/hunger
Salt and pepper to taste
Small bunch of fresh coriander or parsley, roughly chopped
Heat the oil in a large, lidded frying pan over medium heat. Add the onion and cook until golden, then add the pepper. Fry until both are soft, then stir in the garlic, paprika, cumin seeds and cayenne pepper and cook for another couple of minutes.
Add the tomatoes and sugar, if using. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Taste and season, adding more cayenne if you prefer it spicier.
Make 4 to 8 shallow indentations in the sauce, and break in the eggs. Season them lightly with salt and pepper, then turn the heat down as low as possible, cover and cook for about 10 minutes until the eggs are just set.
Sprinkle with coriander or parsley and serve.
This breaks the shakshuka rules — it has no tomato! — but makes an excellent brunch or breakfast dish.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Total time: 20 minutes
Yield: 2 to 3 servings
1 large leek, sliced
2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil or butter
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon sweet paprika or chili flakes
6 cups spinach or kale, chopped
1/2 cup sour cream
A little freshly grated nutmeg to taste
1/4 pound feta or goats’ cheese
Fry the leek in the butter or oil in a wide frying pan for about 10 minutes. Add the garlic, and when the aroma rises, add the paprika or chili flakes, then stir in the spinach until it starts to wilt.
Add the sour cream, nutmeg, salt and pepper and stir to mix well.
Make shallow dips in the sauce, and break an egg into each one. Cook for a few minutes or until the eggs are done to your liking. Cover the pan briefly if you think appropriate.
Sprinkle with the cheese and serve immediately.
Main image: Shakshuka is a Tunisian dish that can be eaten at any meal of the day. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clarissa Hyman
I’ve lived in Italy off and on since the 1970s, eating my way up and down the peninsula, shopping the markets, raising the vegetables in my own gardens, prepping and cooking the food, studying the history and meeting the home cooks and chefs who carry the treasures of the Italian table in their heads, hearts and hands. I’ve learned a lot, in short, about Italian cooking. But almost everything I know, everything I’ve learned, ultimately traces back to one source — Marcella Hazan.
Her first book, “The Classic Italian Cook Book,” published by Knopf in 1973 and acquired by me a few years later as a gift from an erstwhile husband when we moved to Rome, truly opened the doors of my kitchen to Italian cooking. I have been grateful ever since. I consult that book and her many others to this day, often uncovering unexpected tips, ideas and information. Now I have a new treasure in my Marcella library — “Ingredienti” — her husband, Victor’s, tribute to his wife of nearly 60 years, who died in 2013.
A true Italian kitchen, in Marcella’s words
This invaluable little book is based on Marcella’s notebooks, discovered by Victor after her death and assembled by him into usable form. A caution: It is not a cookbook, though any number of cooking tips are scattered throughout. It is, in fact, a series of intelligent, well-informed essays on critical ingredients for an Italian kitchen, from “Produce” (artichokes, arugula, etc. ) to “The Essential Pantry” (pasta, of course, olive oil, Parmigiano, etc.) to “Salumi” (all the cured meats — prosciutto, guanciale, pancetta, and, as they say in Italian, via dicendo).
“Ingredienti” by Marcella and Victor Hazan. Credit: Copyright 2016 book cover courtesy of Scribner
It’s an open secret in the food world that Victor Hazan was the defining voice in his wife’s long and remarkable career. While the brilliant ideas, sensible advice and enormous range of recipes Marcella produced all came from her inspirations and her own kitchens, it was Victor who developed the clear, comprehensive prose that distinguished her seven cookbooks and countless magazine articles. Throughout her career, she was a pervasive influence on America’s understanding of Italian food, yet she never had a restaurant, never starred in a television show and almost never appeared in public to give a talk or do a demonstration. What a different world she lived in, but she ruled that world for 40 years and continues, for many of us, to dominate it to this day.
An inspiring force
Marcella Hazan at a cooking demonstration. Credit: Copyright 2016 Victor Hazan
I met Marcella in the 1970s after “The Classic Italian Cook Book” was published. In fact, the first food story I ever wrote was an interview with the Hazans at their cooking school in Bologna, Italy, in a hotel across from the train station that was also headquarters for the Bologna division of Weight Watchers International (providing a memorable lead sentence for my story). Eight or 10 students were in the class, one of whom was planning to open a “northern Italian” restaurant somewhere in the upper Midwest and had come to take a weeklong course to understand what she was getting into. Another was a man who claimed to detest olive oil. “I don’t know what he’s doing in an Italian cooking class,” Marcella murmured, barely sotto voce, in her inimitably gravelly voice.
The menu for the class was simple, though some techniques were not. Students struggled to master shaping tortellini, the devilishly difficult little hat-shaped filled pasta that is the pride of Bologna’s sfogline, or pasta-makers. But there was also a traditional arrosto di maiale al latte, pork loin braised in milk, a surprisingly simple dish, flavored with nothing but salt and pepper, rich and succulent. A dish first described by Artusi, the Fanny Farmer of 19th-century Italian cooking, it was introduced to Americans by Marcella — and it deserves to be revived.
That was not my only encounter with the Hazans. In fact, I remember almost every time I spent with them simply because from each encounter, I took away a piece of invaluable knowledge. But one, in particular, stands out: In the late 1980s, when I was working as a food journalist in New York, Marcella called to invite me to dinner. “I want to show you something about pasta,” she said. The next evening, in the Hazans’ comfortable East Side apartment, she presented her dinner guests with two plates of pasta, identically dressed very simply with butter, a grating of Parmigiano Reggiano and a light sprinkle of herbs, nothing to interfere with the flavors of the pasta. One plate of tagliatelle had been made entirely by hand, rolled out on a board “until the pasta is almost paper thin and transparent,” as she says in that first book. The tagliatelle on the second plate were what you and I might call handmade, but rolled through a hand-cranked pasta machine. In the machine, as she wrote, “something happens to its composition … that gives the dough an ever so slightly slippery texture.” The words are Victor’s, but the sentiment, precise and to the point, is Marcella’s to the core.
And you know what? She was absolutely right!
Arrosto di maiale al latte (Pork Loin Braised in Milk)
This recipe was published in Marcella Hazan’s “The Classic Italian Cook Book” (Knopf 1973)
Yield: For 6 persons
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 pounds pork loin, in one piece, with some fat on it, secretly tied
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground pepper, 3 or 4 twists of the mill
2 1/2 cups milk
Heat the butter and oil over medium-high heat in a casserole large enough to just contain the pork. When the butter foam subsides, add the meat, fat side facing down. Brown thoroughly on all sides, lowering the heat if the butter starts to turn dark brown.
Add the salt, pepper and milk. (Add the milk slowly, otherwise it may boil over.) Shortly after the milk comes to a boil, turn the heat down to medium, cover, but not tightly, with the lid partly askew, and cook slowly for about 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until the meat is easily pierced by a fork. Turn and baste the meat from time to time, and, if necessary, add a little more milk. By the time the meat is cooked, the milk should have coagulated into small nut-brown clusters. If it is still pale in color, uncover the pot, raise the heat to high, and cook briskly until it darkens.
Remove the meat to a cutting board and allow to cool off slightly for a few minutes. Remove the trussing string, carve into slices 3/8-inch thick, and arrange them on a warm platter. Draw off most of the fat from the pot with a spoon and discard, being careful not to toss any of the coagulated milk clusters. Taste and correct for salt. (There may be as much as 1 to 1 1/2 cups of fat to be removed.) Add 2 or 3 tablespoons of warm water, turn the heat on high, and boil away the water while scraping and loosening all the cooking residue in the pot. Spoon the sauce over the sliced pork and serve immediately.
Main photo: Marcella and Victor Hazan. Credit: Copyright 2016 Barbara Banks
The summertime debate is on. What is the easiest way to cook pork ribs? Boil, roast or grill? High heat, low heat, wet sauce or dry rub? I’ve tried them all. Now the question is settled, at least for me. Slow roasting with a dry rub. To avoid summer’s heat, I put the ribs in a 250 F oven before I go to bed. When I wake up, the ribs are moist with a bacon-thin, sweetened crust. And these best-ever ribs cooked while I was fast asleep.
My mother taught me to make pork ribs with a thick coating of sauce sweetened with brown sugar and raisins. Eating those finger-licking ribs was one of my favorite childhood memories.
Everything changed on a busy research trip to Abilene and Fort Worth, when I ate at 25 restaurants in 36 hours. I fell in love with West Texas BBQ.
At restaurant after restaurant, I watched grill masters lay bundles of mesquite into their subcompact-car-sized smokers. With the heavy metal doors open, the wood crackled as flames enveloped the logs The grill masters seasoned their racks of pork ribs with thick, grainy coats of brown sugar and spices rubbed onto the meat. Waves of dry heat radiated from the smokers. But the heat that would cook these ribs would come not from an open fire but from smoldering mesquite embers.
When the doors were closed, the blazing logs were starved of oxygen. The flames died and a delicate smoke filled the air. At that moment the grill masters loaded in the racks of ribs coated with sweetened dry rub. Hours later, the ribs were removed, their outer coating thickened to crispness, creating what grill masters call “bark.”
I loved those ribs even more than the ones from my childhood.
At home, without the benefit of a smoker, I experimented for years to duplicate that sweet-crispness. Nothing could ever recreate the wonderful mesquite smokiness but I did succeed in making ribs with bark as good as any I enjoyed in West Texas.
High heat versus slow cooking
Mix of kosher salt, black pepper, brown sugar, cumin, coriander and cayenne for dry rub slow roasted pork ribs. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
Cooking with high heat is exciting. There is great pleasure in watching the pyrotechnics of an outdoor grill as sizzling fat catches fire. Roasting at low heat in the oven lacks that excitement.
And yet, what happens in an oven set at 250 F has its own kind of magic. In the darkness of the oven, the waves of steady heat melt the fat inside the rack, tenderizing the meat and gently fusing the dry rub to the outside of the ribs.
The best magic of all is that the oven does the work. No standing over a blazingly hot grill on a hot day. Once the oven door closes, there is nothing to be done.
Walk into the kitchen and a savory-sweet aroma scents the air. Pull the baking tray out of the oven and press a finger against the outside of the rack. The soft pliancy of the meat has been replaced by a jerky-like crust as sweet as a crème brulee topping.
Slow-Roasted, Dry-Rubbed Pork Ribs
Rack of pork ribs, trimmed. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt
Cooking time depends on the size and thickness of the rack.
Buy good quality pork. Asian and Latin markets are often a reliable source of fresh pork products. Unlike the ribs sold in upscale supermarkets, the ribs in these markets will most likely be untrimmed.
Above the actual ribs, the rack will have a top portion with boneless flap meat and a section with thick bones similar to country style ribs. Another smaller piece of flap meat will stretch across the back of the rib bones.
Requiring only a sharp filleting knife and a few minutes, removing the flap meat and the top portion is not difficult. The flap meat is excellent to use in stir fries, slow roasted in the oven or grilled on the BBQ.
A white membrane is attached to the outside of the flap meat. Use a sharp filleting knife to separate the meat from the membrane and discard.
The flap meat and country style bones can be prepared in the same manner as the ribs. They will cook more quickly and should be removed from the 250 F oven after a total of 2 to 3 hours depending on thickness.
While the rack of ribs does not have to be turned over, the flap meat and country style bones should be turned over after one hour for even cooking. After another hour, use kitchen shears to cut off a small piece of meat to test for doneness. Return to the oven if the meat is not yet tender.
To eat the country style ribs, have a sharp paring knife handy to help cut out those hard to reach tasty bits tucked between the bones.
The ribs can be cooked ahead and reheated. In which case, do not cut apart the ribs until ready to serve. Reheat in a 300 F oven for 15 minutes.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 6 to 8 hours
Resting time: 5 minutes
Total time: 6 hours, 35 minutes to 8 hours, 35 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
1 rack pork ribs, 4 to 5 pounds, washed, dried
3 cups brown sugar
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons freshly ground black pepper
¼ cup cumin
¼ cup coriander
½ teaspoon cayenne (optional)
1. Place a wire rack in the middle of the oven. Preheat to 250 F.
2. Select a baking pan or cookie sheet that is 2 inches longer than the rack of ribs. Cover the pan with aluminum foil for easy clean up. Place a wire rack on top of the aluminum foil.
3. Lay the rack of ribs on a cutting board, bone side up. Use a sharp filleting knife to remove the tough membrane on the bone side of the rack. Let the knife help you lift the membrane. Use your fingers to pull the skin off the bones and discard.
4. Do not cut off any fat.
5. In a bowl, mix together dry ingredients.
6. For easy cleanup, lay a sheet of plastic wrap on the cutting board. Place the rack on the cutting board. Layer a thick coat of the dry spices onto both sides, covering the meat and bones.
7. Reserve left-over dry rub in an air tight container and refrigerate for later use.
8. Carefully place the rack of ribs on the wire rack meat side up.
9. Put the baking sheet into the preheated oven.
10. Roast six hours. Remove from oven. Use kitchen shears to cut off a small piece and taste.
11. The outside should have a jerky-crispness. The meat inside should be moist and tender. The tapered end of the rack where the bones are small will cook faster than the rest of the ribs. Use the kitchen shears to cut off that section before returning the rack to the oven for another one-two hours. Be careful not to dry out the meat.
12. Once the ribs are cooked, remove from oven and let the meat rest five minutes.
13. Cut between the rib bones and chop into pieces any flap meat without bones. Serve hot with a green salad, Cole slaw, baked beans or freshly steamed vegetables.
Main photo: Dry rub pork ribs cut apart after slow roasting and ready for serving. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt.
Proscuitto is ubiquitous. It’s draped over melon or paired with figs or mozzarella in restaurants everywhere. You can buy imported Proscuitto di Parma at Whole Foods at $31 a pound for a bone-in leg or on Amazon for $15.
Massimo Bottura serves culatello. At Osteria Francescana, his Michelin three-star restaurant in Modena that topped the 50 Best Restaurants for 2016, it appears as an appetizer, paired with Campanine apples, mustard and crunchy “gnocco” bread.
And not just any culatello. Chef Bottura procures his culatello exclusively from Massimo Spigaroli’s Antica Corte Pallavicina, an inn and working farm one hour’s drive from Modena. You’ll find that same culatello at Alain Ducasse’s Sporting Club in Montecarlo and Bombana in Hong Kong. But nowhere in the United States. The closest you’ll get is Zibello fiocco (culatello salami) for $40 a pound.
Prosciutto versus culatello
Vertical Tasting of Spigaroli culatello at Antica Corte Pallavicina. Credit: Copyright 2016 John Pleshette
Culatello (“little backside” in Italian) is the fillet of the pig’s hind leg from which prosciutto is cured. Both are salted and left to sit for two months, which draws out the blood and kills bacteria. The process predates the Romans, and except for the introduction of nitrites, which further inhibit bacterial growth, it hasn’t changed much since. Proscuitto is then hung in a cool place for anywhere from nine months to two years, while culatello is encased in a pig’s or cow’s bladder and hung for 18 to 27 months.
All proscuitti are not created equal. Only a dozen designations are protected by the EU and stamped PDO or PGI, which guarantees they come from a particular region and, more important, are cured only with sea salt and no nitrites. All are produced in northern Italy. They vary in taste and texture depending on the terroir and the pigs. San Daniele, with its dark color and sweet flavor, is from Fruili. Parma pigs are fed whey from Parmigiano Reggiano, lending Proscuitto di Parma a nuttier flavor.
Culatello is more high-maintenance. Spigaroli’s black pigs are kissing cousins to the acorn-fed pigs that give us Jamon Ibérico. It cures throughout the cold damp winters in the Po Valley just south of Cremona. The difference between prosciutto and culatello is subtle, but profound.
Fourteenth-century charm meets 21st-century gastronomy in the dining room at Antica Corte Pallavicina, the inn and working farm on the River Po. Credit: Copyright 2016 Antica Corte Pallavicina
In the sun-filled dining room at Antica Corte Pallavicina, Spigaroli’s prized culatello is presented for a tasting beneath three celadon cloches. Each conceals pink-mahogany curtains of culatello. The first two, from white pigs, are aged, respectively, 18 and 27 months. The familiar salty-sweetness of prosciutto gives way to a leathery richness. The older culatello is nuttier. The black pig culatello is smokier, with black cherry notes and a velvety texture. Between pigs, we cleanse our palates with hunks of crusty country bread and glasses of Trebbiano, served with pickled vegetables and fiocco, the chewy-soft salami made from the trimmings and the fat.
Antica Corte Pallavicina commands several acres close to the Po, encompassing Spigaroli’s restaurant, the hotel, a cooking school, a farm, a parmesan factory and culatello cellars. Al Cavallito Bianco, a more casual osteria, is run by Spigaroli’s brother Luciano. If you snag one of the six rooms, you can meet the pigs and tour the Parmigiano fattoria and culatello caves, which were built in 1320 by the marquesse di Pallavicina for precisely that purpose.
The Spigarolis’ great-grandfather went from a sharecropper at a nearby pintador belonging to Guiseppe Verdi to tenant farmer at Pallavicina. Their father was born there in 1916. But by 1990, when the sons purchased the property, it had fallen into ruins. The extensive restoration combines rustic charm with modern conveniences. The original, ox-sized fireplace dominates the dining room, where a wall of glass doors opens onto a trellised patio. A massive decommissioned steel stove functions as a serving station.
Going to the source
Spigaroli culatello ages in the cellars built in 1320 by the Marquesse di Pallavicina. Credit: Copyright 2016 John Pleshette
After consuming feather-light tortelli, stuffed with ricotta from Spigaroli cows and Spigaroli spinach — glistening with Spigaroli brown butter and showered with Spigaroli Parmigiano — we tour the caves, down a dungeon’s stairs to the dank cellar. The culatelli, white with mold, hang from the ceiling, encased in pigs’ bladders like ghostly chandeliers. Misty air wafts in from the Po. Such cellars are increasingly rare. The EU frowns on such conditions as potentially unsanitary. Because of that flavor-enhancing mold, the FDA forbids importing it to the United States. You’ll have to go to the source.
You’ll find yourself in food heaven. Emilia-Romana is Italy’s Burgundy; Bologna, its Lyon. You won’t find a better spaghetti carbonara than the one at Pizzeria delle Arte in Bologna, spiked with guanciale, creamy with Parmigiano and egg yolks the color of navel oranges. Massimo Bottura celebrates that same Reggiano in his Five Ages of Parmiagiano at Osteria Francescana.
Our last dinner, in Milan, we sit next to three Italian businessmen. “What brings you to Italy?” one wants to know.
“We came for the culatello.”
“Ah.” He smiles. He understands.
Main caption: Chef Massimo Spigaroli and his team show off their prized culatello. Credit: Copyright 2016 Antica Corte Pallavicina
At a time of year when most people are fixated on berries and peaches, corn and tomatoes, it’s also the season to get excited about onions — not just any old allium but a heritage sweet onion harvested by hand in Walla Walla, Washington.
Walla Walla Sweets are the unheralded heirloom stars of summertime. Juicy, mild and sweet, they are at their best in all of the great (and easy) meals of the season: grilled with sausages, caramelized for burgers, sliced raw for salads and more.
Fresh and delicate in terms of both flavor and handling, Walla Walla Sweets are in season right now — and with a very limited supply from a handful of family growers, they won’t last long.
Long before Walla Walla became renowned as an American Viticultural Area, this valley in southeastern Washington was the agricultural hub for a surprisingly sweet onion brought to the region from Corsica by a French soldier named Pete Pieri. According to all accounts, Pieri immigrated to Walla Walla with the seed in the late 19th century and began cultivating it commercially in 1900.
Grower Michael Locati’s great-grandfather, Joe, worked for Pieri for four years before going out on his own in 1909. He joined other Italian immigrant families, mainly from Milan and Calabria, who settled in this valley to become small-scale produce farmers, cultivating a seasonal onion now known as the Walla Walla Sweet.
Four generations later, Michael — along with his father and uncle — grows these heirlooms on 60 acres of Locati Farms and co-owns a packing and shipping arm called Walla Walla River Packing Co. Despite these modernizations, this is the same specialty onion, hand-selected by the family for over a century.
That’s a fair bit longer than that other famous sweet onion, Vidalia, a hybrid cultivated in Georgia since the 1930s. The Walla Walla “still has that heirloom genome,” said Locati.
A field worker harvesting onions by hand. Credit: Copyright 2016 Walla Walla Sweet Onion Marketing Committee
It’s natural to think that sugar content is what makes Walla Walla Sweets exceptional. Not so. Their mildness has to do with the fact that they contain about half the amount of pyruvic acid that gives yellow storage onions their bite and makes you cry.
“This geographical area is very low in natural sulfur,” Locati said. The sulfur content in the soil is a catalyst to the production of pyruvic acid, he explained. “So these naturally low sulfur soils allow for these onions to be really sweet.”
Walla Walla Sweets are planted in early fall. They overwinter in snow-covered fields, then sprout and additional onion starts are transplanted in the spring. By mid-June, harvest has begun and continues through late August.
“Onions are ready when the leaves start laying down,” said Dan McClure, who began growing organic Walla Walla Sweets in 2007 with his wife Sarah. The couple currently raises over 800 tons on 27 acres at Walla Walla Organics and plans to scale up production, although the labor is even more arduous than many other crops.
“No mechanical process yet exists that won’t damage them,” McClure said. Nearly as large as softballs and weighing up to two pounds, these globular onions are delicate, with thin skins and a high water content that make them prone to bruising.
So workers harvest them entirely by hand. Carefully packed into boxes, the onions are then cured just until the necks dry out and the outer layer of turns amber. Still, they have a short shelf life — a couple of weeks at most, according to McClure.
For a community once famous for this varietal, it’s a big blow that acreage has dropped within the past five or so years from 1,000 acres to about 500, according to Kathryn Fry-Trommald, executive director of the Walla Walla Sweet Onion Marketing Committee.
Compared to Vidalia’s 15,000 acres, this onion market is small potatoes. Urban sprawl (“there’s a Wal-mart now where there were onion fields,” said Fry-Trommald), consolidation in agriculture and labor pressures are all factors, as is the fact that many of those “old Italian families” are no longer in farming.
Another major threat is the competition from hybrid sweet onions — some mechanically harvested and higher in pyruvic acid — grown from Arizona to Texas. These are available year-round at much lower prices than Walla Walla Sweets.
In 1995, after discovering that other Washington-grown onions were being sold as counterfeit Walla Walla Sweets, the growers obtained a federal marketing order to protect this specialty onion, in the same way that heritage foods from Italy must be certified as locally grown and packaged.
For farmers like Locati and McClure, it’s hard to earn a living with a seasonal, fresh market onion. But they say the process of hand selection and hand harvesting is worth it for the allium’s singular qualities. There’s no sharp bite, and it has a complex flavor all its own marked by a startling sweetness.
While you don’t have to try Michael Locati’s method of tasting them raw in the field, this is a true “slicer” for using raw in salads and salsas or on burgers and sandwiches. You can grill, roast, sauté, or caramelize Walla Walla Sweets, too — just don’t wait.
Ways to cook and use sweet onions
Onions caramelizing in the pan. Credit: Copyright 2016 Lynne Curry
Grill: Use a grill basket to cook large sliced or chopped onions on a hot grill until nicely charred. Toss and continue grilling until softened and translucent. Alternatively, grill thick onion slices on a well-scraped grill grate until grill marks appear; flip and cook the other side until soft and translucent. Toss onions with sliced and grilled zucchini, portabello mushrooms and red peppers seasoned with salt and pepper, a splash of olive oil and balsamic vinegar for a side dish with grilled steaks, chicken, pork chops or fish.
Roast: Place trimmed and peeled whole onions into a greased roasting pan. Rub well with olive oil and season with salt, pepper and fresh thyme. Roast at 425 F until brown and fork tender, about 1 hour, and serve with roast pork or beef.
Sauté: Slice peeled onions thinly. Heat a sauté pan over high heat with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the onions and season with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring, until they soften and begin to brown. Add 1 bunch fresh, washed spinach or chard, another pinch of salt and ground pepper. Cover and let steam until the greens are wilted. Remove the cover, stir well and serve as a side dish with grilled meats or fish.
Caramelize: Slice peeled onions thinly. Heat a sauté pan over medium-high heat with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Add the onions and cook, stirring, until they soften. Add a large pinch of salt, reduce the heat to low and continue cooking, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan every 15 minutes until the onions turn very soft, like jam, and the color of brown sugar, about 1 hour. Serve on hamburgers, grilled cheese sandwiches or pizza.
Main photo: Caramelized onions make any burger better. Credit: Copyright 2016 Lynne Curry
As the calendar starts to reach the other side of July, we are well into grilling season, enjoying the smoke and fire of the grill on longer relaxed evenings. Vegetables, red meat and seafood all work well with the sensuous kiss of fire, but when it comes to grilling, chicken is my personal workhorse.
I find chicken a way to showcase many flavors. A good, healthy marinade is all it needs to make it the star of the season. Add to it your favorite assortment of market veggies and you are in business.
To keep your chicken dishes interesting, you’ll need some serious flavor options up your sleeve. Keep in mind, though, that you do not necessarily need to restrict your options to chicken breasts. You can also try drumsticks, wings or even boneless, skinless chicken thighs.
Marinating at least four hours will ensure a well-seasoned piece of chicken that is perfect over a salad or with your favorite grain, and the leftovers can be added to a simple green salad.
Here are a dozen seasoning ideas and three recipes to get you started on a mix-and-match journey. These ideas fall into three basic categories: sweet and savory; yogurt-based; and olive oil, garlic and seasonal herbs. For vegetarians, these seasoning ideas and recipes will also work well with your favorite fleshy vegetable — think eggplant– or even tofu, so you can also enjoy the fire and smoke of the summer season.
A touch of sweetness
Sriracha, Mustard and Maple Chicken Kebabs: Sweet and spicy flavors come together in this dish. See recipe below.
Chutney Spiced Marinade: Combine 1 cup of your favorite chutney (such as tomato or tamarind) with 1 tablespoon of freshly grated ginger, 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper and 1/2 cup chopped mint or cilantro. Blend to a smooth paste and use as a marinade for up to 2 pounds of chicken.
Apricot Sage Marinade: Combine 3 tablespoons apricot preserves, 2 cloves garlic, 1/4 cup olive oil, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 or 2 jalapeños to taste and 1/4 cup chopped oregano. Blend into a puree and use as a marinade for up to 2 pounds of chicken.
Maple-Red Pepper Marinade: Combine 1/4 cup maple syrup, 1 1/2 tablespoons red pepper flakes, salt to taste and 1/3 cup olive oil. This will marinate up to 2 pounds of chicken and would also work well for shrimp or tofu.
Soy, Ginger and Brown Sugar: Blend 3 tablespoons grated ginger, 1/4 cup soy sauce, 1/4 cup brown sugar, 1 tablespoon sesame oil and 1/3 cup olive oil to make a flavorful marinade. You can also use this as a basting sauce if you do not have time to marinade the chicken.
Chicken Tikka Kebabs: Make a double batch to use in a salad. See recipe below.
Garam Masala Marinade: Combine 3/4 cup Greek yogurt, 1 tablespoon lemon juice, 2 tablespoons freshly grated ginger, 1 1/2 tablespoons garam masala and 1 tablespoon sugar and salt to taste for up to 2 pounds of chicken.
Mint and Cumin Marinade: Combine 3/4 cup plain yogurt, 1 cup mint leaves, 2 cloves garlic, 1 tablespoon powdered cumin, 1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric, 1 teaspoon red cayenne pepper and salt to taste. Marinate up to 2 pounds of chicken for at least two hours.
Ginger and Smoked Paprika: Combine 1/2 cup yogurt, 1 tablespoon paprika, 1 tablespoon ginger and 1 teaspoon pink salt. Marinate 6 to 8 drumsticks for at least three to four hours.
Malai Kebabs: Combine 1/4 cup sour cream, 1 tablespoon garam masala and 1/4 cup cashews and toss with chicken. Serve with freshly chopped mint.
When in a hurry, seasonal herbs and olive oil combine for tasty marinades. Here are a few favorites.
Ginger and Lemongrass: For a touch of Thailand, whisk together 1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil, 1 tablespoon lemongrass paste, 2 tablespoons fish sauce, 1 tablespoon brown sauce and 3/4 cup of chopped Thai or regular basil. You can also add 2 tablespoons sriracha and 1/4 cup coconut milk depending on your tastes.
Mint and Black Pepper: Blend together 1/3 cup of extra virgin olive oil, 1 cup of mint chutney and 1 1/2 tablespoons black pepper and salt to taste.
Mock Tandoori: This dairy-free version marinade is great if you want the flavors of tandoori without the yogurt. Combine 1/4 cup olive oil, 2 tablespoons garam masala powder, 1 tablespoon ginger paste, 1 tablespoon powdered cumin, 1 tablespoon powdered coriander and salt to taste.
Herbs of Valhalla: This marinade highlights the profusion of summer herbs. Combine 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil; 1 serrano pepper, stem removed (and seeded if you prefer a milder flavor); 2 cloves garlic; and 2 cups mixed herbs, such as chives, cilantro, basil and mint and blend into a paste.
Lemon Herb Chicken Kebabs: Combining lemon juice, olive oil and a few basic spices is all you need to create a flavorful meal of chicken and squash. See recipe below.
Sriracha, Mustard and Maple Chicken Kebabs
Sriracha, Mustard and Maple Chicken Kebabs. Credit: Copyright 2016 Rinku Bhattacharya
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 15 to 20 minutes
Total time: 45 to 50 minutes
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
1/3 cup sriracha
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon salt
2 pounds chicken, cut into 2-inch pieces
1 nectarine, stoned and cut into eighths
1 medium red onion, cut into eighths and separated
2 tablespoons olive or mustard oil
1 teaspoon nigella seeds
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
1. Mix together the sriracha, mustard, ginger, maple syrup and salt and toss the chicken into the mixture. Let it rest for 30 minutes.
2. Skewer the chicken with the nectarine and red onion.
3. Brush well with the oil and grill for about 12 to 15 minutes, turning frequently.
4. Remove from the grill. Sprinkle with the nigella seeds and cilantro.
5. Serve with rice or warm pita.
Lemon Herb Chicken Kebabs
Lemon Herb Chicken Kebabs. Credit: Copyright 2016 Rinku Bhattacharya
Prep time: 1 to 2 hours (plus time to marinate)
Cook time: 30 minutes
Total time: 1 1/2 hours to 2 1/2 hours
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
1 1/2 pounds of boneless, skinless chicken thighs
4 tablespoons minced garlic
1 tablespoon freshly ground cumin
1/2 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon red cayenne pepper
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 to 3 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt to taste (about 1 1/2 teaspoons)
3 to 4 zucchini, cut into 1/3-inch (1-centimeter) slices
1 tablespoon finely chopped oregano, plus more for garnish
1 tablespoon finely chopped thyme, plus more for garnish
Lime or lemon wedges to garnish
1. Cut the chicken in 1 1/2 -inch chunks and place in a mixing bowl.
2. Add in the garlic, cumin, black pepper, red pepper and olive oil.
3. Stir in the lemon juice and salt and toss well to coat and mix the ingredients.
4. Stir in the zucchini and the oregano and the thyme and set the mixture aside for 1 or 2 hours at room temperature (up to 65 degrees) or refrigerate longer or overnight.
5. When you are ready to cook, remove the chicken from the refrigerator and thread onto skewers.
6. Prepare a grill and place the skewers on the grill and cook for about 15 minutes, turning the skewers every 4 to 6 minutes, allowing the chicken to turn crisp at spots and cook through. The zucchini will also soften and turn darker at spots. Baste and brush the chicken with olive oil while cooking.
7. Remove the skewers from the grill. To serve, remove the chicken and zucchini from the skewers, garnish with additional herbs if desired and serve with the lime or lemon wedges.