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Fava beans are a spring vegetable with a short season. The good news is these versatile little wonders are about to be plentiful. You can find them at farmers markets, where they will be at their least expensive toward the end of June when they’re abundant.
The first thing I love about fava beans is that they’re easy to shuck. The beans pop out of their pods almost like you’ve unzipped them.
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Next, experts debate whether you should remove the beans’ skin or leave them. I’ve always believed that depends on what you plan to do with them. To make the fava bean purée, the skin must come off. That’s easily done by plunging the beans in boiling water for about five minutes so the skins are loosened. Each bean will have a little black seam, which is where you pinch to remove the skin.
I often end up making this fava bean purée because everyone likes it and it’s a great starter dish to feast on while you await grilled food. I have a good number of ways of cooking fava and I have many favorites, including linguine and fava, grilled scallops and fava, purée fava and chicory soup. But this simple purée is such a winner I thought I’d encourage you to try.
Fava Bean Purée
This is a great antipasto or party dip. My original recipe calls for 10 pounds of fava beans, which takes me about 45 minutes to pod and peel. This is a scaled-down version, and you could cut it in half again should you want something even more manageable.
5 pounds fava bean pods
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil or more as needed
2 large garlic cloves, pounded until mushy in a mortar with ½ teaspoon salt
⅛ teaspoon ground cinnamon
Freshly ground white pepper to taste
1. To remove the beans from their pods, bring a large pot of water to a boil and cook the beans for 10 minutes. Drain. Once they are cool enough the handle, pinch the peel and pop the beans out. You will have about 4 cups of peeled beans.
2. Place the beans in a food processor, in 2 batches if necessary, with the garlic and salt, and run continuously as you slowly pour the olive oil in as if you were making mayonnaise. Stir in the cinnamon and white pepper, taste and correct the seasoning.
3. Store in the refrigerator, but serve at room temperature with grissini sticks or flatbread broken into wedges and fried in olive oil.
Top photo: Fava bean purée. Credit: Clifford A. Wright
The number of food stands at the Anatolian Cultures and Food Festival in May at the Orange County Fairground in Costa Mesa, Calif., was a bit daunting because all the food looked wonderful and smelled even better. One of the longest lines was for the katmer, a baked flaky pastry stuffed with clotted cream, sugar, and pistachios. It was the line we got on.
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The festival is a celebration of all the cultures of Anatolia — Turkish, Kurdish, Greek, Armenian and Jewish — all of which enjoy more or less the same food. There were historical displays, concerts and handicrafts. For me, though, the primary draw was the food court with its stunning display of foods, some of which I haven’t seen since I was last in Turkey and some I had never seen or tasted.
I was beginning to get impatient with the wait and the crowds around me when another couple waiting suggested that under no circumstances should I even consider quitting the line before I had the chance to eat katmer.
The chance to eat katmer is so rare, especially since this katmer was being made by the master katmer maker himself, Mehmet Özsimitci, of the Katmerci Zekeriya Usta in the eastern Turkish city of Gaziantep. Özsimitci had flown in with pounds upon pounds of the best Antep pistachios, the best in the world they say. Mine line mates said they didn’t know of anyone in the United States who was making or even could make katmer, so it was truly a special food.
As our interminable line got closer and closer to the katmer, I began to marvel at the mastery and artistry of Özsimitci’s skill. My first thought, which was confirmed by my newfound Turkish interlocutors, was that this is really tricky to do. He flattened a ball of dough on a greased marble slab and then rolled it out until thin. Then, as if it weren’t thin enough, which it wasn’t, he lifted and flipped and spun the dough repeatedly until it was ultra-thin before letting it land on the slab again to receive its stuffing.
He stretched the dough further and secured its sides to the slab by patting them down and then with his hands sprinkled the clotted cream on top and spooned sugar and ground pistachios on top of that. Then, carefully, he folded the sides of the pastry inward to cover the stuffing, forming a square pastry that he then picked up in one deft motion and placed on the baking tray, which his assistant then placed in the oven.
Katmer is usually eaten as a breakfast item, and it will give one enough energy until dinnertime. They say it is best when eaten hot, and it was. We devoured it while realizing we would have to wait for the next Anatolian Food Festival in two years time before having another one.
Top photo: Mehmet Özsimitci making katmer. Credit: Clifford A. Wright
Extolled for its large leaves, colorful stems and ruggedness, both as a plant and as a vegetable, Swiss chard surprisingly remains intimidating to some home cooks.
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Swiss chard is botanically related to beets. It grows well in sandy soil, and it originated on the coasts of the Mediterranean. In fact, the Andalusian seaport of Málaga offers a delightful Swiss chard recipe for acelgas a la Malagueña that utilizes the golden raisins and paprika from the region. The Spanish word for Swiss chard, acelgas, comes from the Arabic word al-silq, meaning Swiss chard or beet greens. Although the coastal port of Málaga is known for its seafood, the local cooking is also favored with some appetizing vegetable preparations such as this.
As large leafy greens are famously nutritious, Swiss chard is an excellent vegetable to cook with for nutritional reasons, culinary reasons and palatable reasons. The following is the recipe I usually use when I teach classes on leafy green vegetables and want to introduce a vegetable. Many people know what Swiss chard is, but few have cooked it. Here’s your chance and you won’t be unhappy.
Acelgas a la Malagueña
2 pounds Swiss chard, heavy central stem ribs removed, washed well several times and drained
6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
¼ cup golden raisins
1 tablespoon paprika
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
1. Place the Swiss chard in a large steamer and wilt, covered, over high heat with only the water adhering to it from its last rinsing, 4 to 5 minutes. Drain and chop coarsely.
2. In a large sauté pan, put the Swiss chard, olive oil, garlic, raisins, paprika, salt, pepper and vinegar and turn the heat to medium-high. Cook until it begins to sizzle, about 3 minutes, reduce the heat to low and cook until the mixture is well coated and blended, about 15 minutes. Serve immediately.
Top photo: Red Swiss chard. Credit: Aspen Rock/iStockphoto
The world of gourmet dining can be a high-stakes popularity game. When Chef Ferran Adrià closes his restaurant, el Bulli, the world’s “best restaurant,” because he knows its ideas have run its course, and the next best restaurant, Chef René Redzepi’s Noma in Copenhagen, embarrassingly sickens its guests, it’s refreshing to find an avant-garde young chef such as Massimo Bottura of the Osteria Francescana in Modena, Italy.
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In Bottura’s case he has experimented successfully with avoiding the cheater’s crutch of excessive butter, cheese, cream, fats and salt to discover the essential nature of individual foods using the very codifications he has overthrown to reconstruct dishes that respect the old while paving the way to the new. Bottura has received his third Michelin star, and his restaurant just ranked third on the World’s Best Restaurant list by San Pellegrino. His philosophical approach to cooking reconstructs food rather than deconstructs it, blending tradition and modernity, rather than overturning it.
The fascination with chefs and their food is not new. Those of us a certain age remember the “continental cuisine” of the 1960s with its beef Wellington, the nouvelle cuisine of the ’70s, California cuisine of the ’80s, the birth of the celebrity chef in the ’90s, and so on. However, it is easy become jaded too, eye-rolling when we hear of yet a new “best chef.” Bottura himself says “of course we appreciate the accolades that drive people to the restaurant and our food” but it is more meaningful for him that people appreciate and understand what he is trying to do: reconstruction, not deconstruction (read molecular gastronomy).
Dishes that are about pure flavor, not presentation
Bottura brings his native region of Emilia-Romagna, already famous for its foods, into focus by discovering the essence of its food. “It’s all about editing out, taking away to get to the essence. What’s not there brings out the purity of what is left,” he explained as we talked while looking out over the Pacific in Santa Monica, Calif. Bottura’s enthusiasm and passion for his food, his articulate and philosophical approach is infectious and clearly gives an idea of the food to come.
Emilia-Romagna has long been considered the mecca of Italian cooking with its famous balsamic vinegar, prosciutto, Parmigiano cheese, Bolognese sauce and tortellini in brodo. The codification of dishes in Emilia-Romagna places cultural constraints on chefs, but Bottura understands that cuisine is a part of material culture, a living thing, like language. It cannot ossify, but moves forward by virtue of the ingenious creations of chefs as well as home cooks as they manipulate their unique raw products.
An example of Bottura’s exploration is his gastronomic tribute to Sicily in the savory granita he makes with almonds from Noto, Sicily, Lavazza espresso, candied bergamot, capers from Pantelleria and vanilla sea salt.
Bottura is looking for a “clean flavor” by extracting the best from the past. What he means by clean flavor is “pure flavor” where shape is not important beyond creating something beautiful. His search for the essential means the diner eats with his palate, not with his eyes, so that’s why he creates monochromatic plates.
“It’s not about the first bite but the third and fourth bites,” he said.
And why get rid of fat?
“Fat mutes flavors,” he explains. “We get rid of fat. It isn’t about the butter or the cream or the salt, just the flavor of the food.”
Diners who are tired of the recent trend of restaurants serving 30 one-bite courses might prefer Bottura’s approach.
Top photo: Massimo Bottura. Credit: Paolo Terzi
Broccoli rabe is the new spinach, as one twentysomething, let-me-reinvent-the-wheel food blogger called it. Yeah, broccoli rabe is healthy, but if it doesn’t taste great no one will eat it.
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Let’s get rid of some confusion: broccoli rabe, broccoli rape, broccoli raab, rapini, Chinese flowering cabbage are all the same thing. It’s unrelated to spinach. But we can’t get rid of all confusion because broccoli, cabbage, kohlrabi, cauliflower, rapini and turnip tops are all botanically related.
Furthermore cime di rape, friarelli and broccoli rabe are often confused by the very people who are famous for cooking them, the Neapolitans. You’ve got to admire a people who have a website devoted to friarelli, though. Friarelli refers specifically to young broccoli rabe, and the dish is made by boiling the vegetables in water, draining them, and then frying them in olive oil with garlic and salt.
Broccoli rabe is very popular in southern Italy, where this bitter tasting green is cooked in a variety of ways to make it more palatable. It has been popular for a long time. Plutarch, the second-century Greek essayist, wrote about broccoli rabe in a story about the Roman general Manius Curius, who, after a long and successful career, retired to his modest home in the country. One day some Samnite ambassadors came and found him boiling greens like broccoli rabe or turnip tops. They offered him some gold and he responded by asking why a person satisfied with such a supper would need gold.
I was in Naples when I first had friarelli at the restaurant Donna Margherita at Vico Alabardieri. The dish called salsicce e friarelli was made of sausage taken out of its skin and flattened into two patties and fried in olive oil along with the friarelli that was cooked in olive oil, garlic and red chile flakes. This was served with French fries and lemon. It was great.
On another occasion I had pizza con salsiccia e friarelli, and I thought this one of the finest pizzas I’ve ever had. It’s sometimes called pizza pulcinello, named after Pulcinella, the comic character of the 17th-century Neapolitan commedia dell’arte. The pizza is made with mozzarella and small slices of sausages and drizzled olive oil. When I had it the crust was thick with risen sides and it was cooked in a wood-fired oven, which left appetizing black marks on the bottom of the pizza.
A simple broccoli rabe preparation is easy and brings out the richness of the hearty vegetable. You can use it to top a pizza or pair it with sausage like the dishes I enjoyed in Naples, or use it in myriad other ways because it’s versatile in its simplicity.
Boil the broccoli rabe until soft in about 12 minutes then drain and transfer to a sauté pan with some olive oil and chopped garlic. Sizzle for a few minutes then serve with salt and lemon juice if desired.
Broccoli rabe with garlic and olive oil. Credit: LittleNY Photography and Design/iStock
It seems Mediterranean food is back in the news, as it should be. As an author who writes about Mediterranean cuisines, I am often asked about my favorite cuisine and recipes. These are impossible questions, but heck let’s give it a shot. So here are my five greatest celebratory dishes of the Mediterranean. You can’t please everyone and the list won’t include everyone’s favorite, but here are my choices for legendary dishes.
The Mediterranean has been the home of great feast celebrations at least since Odysseus sailed the wine-dark sea with his men feasting on roast lamb. The popularity of Mediterranean food today draws all of us to its classic meals. We see this popularity everywhere from the promotion of the Mediterranean diet, to so-called Mediterranean dishes in scores of restaurants, and on the pages of food magazines.
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Think you don’t know Mediterranean food? If you’re eating pizza, yogurt, lasagna, tapas, bruschetta and couscous, you’re eating Mediterranean food. However, the world of Mediterranean food is huge, deep, and varied.
Celebrate with these great dishes of the Mediterranean
As soon as we hear about its health benefits we’re presented with a variety of famous and not-so-famous celebratory meals that are extravagant and rich and delicious that belies our perhaps false notion that Mediterranean food is mostly green vegetables with a touch of olive oil.
A celebration in the Mediterranean is a big deal and here are, arguably, the five greatest preparations in the Mediterranean, any of which can be made to celebrate. Each of these dishes is utterly unforgettable.
The Moroccan bastila (also transliterated pastilla) is a magnificent pigeon pie rich with eggs, butter, almonds, spices such as saffron and ginger, herbs such as cilantro and parsley, and orange flower water. The dish is encased in thin pastry leaves called warka, which are like phyllo pastry leaves, and finally dusted with confectioner’s sugar and powdered cinnamon.
In Morocco, it’s usually eaten at the end of Ramadan. If you try the recipe, read it several times before beginning so you are familiar with what happens. Given how labor-intensive the preparation is, you’ll only want to make it for friends who truly appreciate good food, and who love Moroccan food already. You’ll need a 16-inch round baking pan.
A large steel pan of saffron-infused and yellow sticky rice with fish, shrimp and runner beans or with chicken is an invitation to a great feast in Valencia. One of the great misunderstandings about paella is that true Valencian Spanish paella is made in one of two ways, with chicken or with seafood, and never with mixed meats. Today there are many variations, including dishes that mix meats and seafood. To make paella authentically, you cook it in a flat steel pan over an open fire outside without ever stirring the rice. You’ll need an 18-inch steel paella pan that can be purchased online from Dona Juana.
This classic preparation of coastal Provence is almost never made at home and tends to be a restaurant dish. That doesn’t mean home cooks can’t make bouillabaisse. My recipe seems more complicated than it should be because I wanted a recipe that doesn’t makes compromises. You should follow it exactly, and you’ll have an experience identical to the one I had at the Tetou restaurant in Golf-Juan in France, where we lingered over a bouillabaisse all afternoon. The gentle waves of the Mediterranean sea were lapping mere feet away from us while the air was redolent of saffron, fennel, orange, garlic, and rascasse, the essential scorpionfish.
The idea of a pasta pie is one of the most extravagant in all Italian cuisines. The 16th- and 17th- century cookbooks included recipes per far pasticcio (for making pie) which usually meant pasta pie.
One version of a pasta pie is the timballo, which is a kind of pasta pie or pasticcio in Italian. This dish is made in a ball mold that looks like a timbale or kettledrum, hence the name. One of the most famous renditions of this dish is found in the wonderful 1996 movie “Big Night.” In the film, the timpano (Neapolitan for timballo) is not made with a pastry crust, making its unveiling all the more tense as everything is held together precariously. One can make it in any kind of springform mold or deep pie pan with or without a short dough pastry crust.
The Arabs, Turks and Greeks all make a variation of the same preparation of spit-roasted, seasoned fatty meat on a vertical rotisserie. It is purely street food and never made at home, and perhaps shouldn’t be called “celebratory” as it is everyday snacking food in its birthplace. For me, though, every bite of a gyro is a celebration, so I include it.
The Turks call it döner kebabı, the Greeks gyro (pronounced YEE-ro), and the Arabs shāwurma. In Greece, a gyro is made with slices of meat rather than ground patties as it is in some places. Although it’s quite common to see electric rotisseries, many believe the hardwood charcoal rotisseries with their vertical shelves for charcoal are the best way to cook the meat.
The meat used for these dishes is varied. Generally it is a combination of the best cuts of top sirloin, loin, and shoulder of lamb. These cuts are not necessarily ground but pounded very thin, layered, seasoned and skewered.
Any one of these five preparations will be a challenge with a great reward. Make any of these and you will understand more about the culinary patrimony of the Mediterranean than you can imagine.
Bouillabaisse at the Tetou restaurant in Golf-Juan. Credit: Ali Kattan-Wright