Articles in Cooking w/recipe
Celeriac looks like Hannibal Lecter’s lunch. A pale and ghostly cerebellum with tangled dreadlocks, it is never going to win any beauty prizes. Prepossessing, it is not. Little wonder many shoppers give it a wide berth as it singularly fails to bear any resemblance to its slender green cousin and has the sort of looks only a mother vegetable could love.
Yet celery and celeriac are essentially the same plant, both descendants of wild celery. Plant breeding and cultivation from the 17th century onward, however, took them in different directions. Celery was destined to be sought after for its crisp, sweet stalks; celeriac for the large swollen base half-buried in the ground like a forgotten cannonball.
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Over the centuries, horticulturalists succeeded in turning a tiny root into a gnarled ball of intense but delicate celery flavor and fragrance. Despite these excellent qualities, celeriac has never really hit the big time. Still overlooked by many shoppers, it is an omission to our vegetable repertoire that is gradually being rectified.
The many ways to use celeriac
Never ones to shirk a kitchen challenge, however, the French became skilled at hacking their way through the knotted roots and convoluted rhino-thick exterior in order not to waste large chunks of good flesh. However, user-friendly varieties have come onto the market in recent years that are larger and smoother and much easier to peel.
If eating it part-cooked or blanched in a salad (raw celeriac is underwhelming), try adding celery salt to the vinaigrette or give the basic dressing of mayonnaise, cream and mustard a bit more zip with capers and/or gherkins.
A touch of orange zest can add some warmth to a velvety soup of celeriac and leek or fennel. Or, you could scatter with toasted hazelnuts or add a dollop of parsley-walnut pesto for interesting contrast. Think of celeriac as you would potatoes: serve deep-fried celeriac chips with mustard or garlic mayonnaise; roast chunks along with a joint of beef, pork or lamb; or boil or steam and mash them with plenty of butter for a purée.
Modern vegetarian cooks have welcomed the ability of celeriac to soak up flavors, which makes it excellent to roast in the oven; use in gratins or as a filling for pies and tarts; and mix with mushrooms (especially ceps), nuts, tomatoes or cheese. Dauphinoise made with celeriac and potato makes a wonderful combination, or try celeriac rosti for a change. It also carries well the pungency of fresh spices such as ginger, chili, coriander and black pepper.
The paler it is the fresher celeriac will be, but the thick knobbly skin will keep the interior smelling pleasingly of aniseed for quite a long time until used. At its best between September and April, celeriac should be saved from the compost heap. It may be a knob-head, but it deserves better.
- If you can’t use the celeriac once cut, drop the pieces into acidulated water to stop discoloration. Browning doesn’t affect the taste, but the color can look rather unappetizing.
- To store, refrigerate in an unsealed plastic bag. It will keep for several weeks.
- To cut celeriac safely, slice about a half-inch (1 centimeter) off the top and bottom with a sharp knife. Roll onto a flat edge and either cut off the skin (as you would a pineapple) or use a potato peeler. Expect to discard about a quarter of the celeriac by the time you have done this.
Celeriac and Celery Soup
Add a little orange zest or a handful of toasted hazelnuts for extra interest, if desired.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes
Total time: 60 minutes
Yield: 4 servings
4 tablespoon butter
1 onion, thinly sliced
1 leek, thinly sliced (don’t include the dark green part or it will spoil the look of the marble-white soup)
About 1 pound peeled and chopped celeriac
About 1 pound sliced celery (reserve a few leaves)
4 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 dollop of heavy cream
Chopped parsley (optional)
1. Heat the butter in a saucepan and add the onion and leek. Cook gently for 10 minutes, then add the celeriac, celery and a little salt.
2. Cover and cook for another 10 minutes but don’t let the mixture brown. Add the stock, bring to a boil and simmer until the vegetables are tender (about 15 minutes).
3. Purée the soup, then reheat gently. Add the cream and season with salt and white pepper to taste. Adorn with a few reserved celery leaves and/or parsley.
Celeriac Remoulade (French Slaw)
Adjust the proportions of the dressing to your own taste; some like a piquant taste, others prefer just a hint of mustard.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Total time: 30 minutes
Yield: 6 servings
1 medium celeriac
Juice of 1 lemon
3 to 4 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2/3 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon heavy cream or crème frâiche
1 to 2 tablespoons capers (optional)
Salt and black pepper
1. Peel the celeriac; either grate to a medium size or cut into matchsticks. Plunge into a pan of boiling water, then drain and cool.
2. Mix the rest of the ingredients in a serving bowls. Season to taste and mix in the celeriac.
Celeriac and Potato Gratin
Prep time: 30 minutes
Cook time: 1 hour, 30 minutes
Total time: 2 hours
Yield: 6 servings
1 cup heavy cream
1/3 cup whole milk
2 garlic cloves, crushed
Salt and black pepper
About 15 ounces peeled potatoes, cut into thin slices
About 15 ounces peeled celeriac, cut into thin slices about the same size as the potatoes
2 to 3 tablespoons grated Parmesan cheese
1. Put the cream, milk and garlic in a saucepan and bring to the boil. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.
2. Arrange the potatoes and celeriac in overlapping layers in a gratin dish. Cover it with the cream mixture, tipping the dish to get an even distribution.
3. Cover with foil and bake for about an hour or until the vegetables are tender. Tip: While the dish is baking, use a spatula to press the vegetables into the cream once or twice so they don’t dry out.
4. Remove the foil, sprinkle with the Parmesan and bake for another 10 minutes until the top is nicely browned.
Main photo: Celeriac is a knobby, bulbous root vegetable. Credit: Clarissa Hyman
By now, you’ve probably heard about turmeric: the yellow-orange rhizome native to South Asia recognized for its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
The ingredient in Indian and southeast Asian cuisines that colors curries and other dishes gold, turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a staple in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicines. Studies suggest that the rhizome may be helpful in treating osteoarthritis, viral and bacterial infections, stomach ulcers, cancer and other conditions.
I’ve known of turmeric’s usefulness in treating the common cold since 2008, when I stumbled upon sugar-coated slices of the rhizome at the central market in Hoi An, Vietnam. I’d been nursing a scratchy throat and runny nose for three chilly, drizzly days. When a vendor heard me cough, she pushed a bag of candied turmeric in my direction and motioned toward my throat and red eyes. I ate several slices then and there and intermittently snacked on the turmeric for the rest of the day. By morning, my sore throat was gone. By day two, I felt good as new.
A Not-So-Common Cure for the Common Cold
Over the last few years I’ve incorporated turmeric into my daily diet, usually combined with green tea, ginger and lemongrass in the form of a powerhouse infusion. I drink the refreshing, slightly spicy and astringent elixir iced, as a preventive. I haven’t suffered a cold since late 2011.
So this Christmas, I’m giving friends the gift of good health in the form of jars of candied turmeric slices (and making extra for myself to carry with me on travels). The lovely orange flesh of the rhizome has a slight bitterness that proves a wonderful foil for a coating of white sugar. To increase the snack’s healthfulness, I add black pepper – believed to increase the body’s ability to absorb turmeric’s beneficial ingredient, curcumin – to the simple syrup in which I poach thin slices of turmeric.
An Unexpected Extra That You Can Tip Your Glass To
At the end, I’m left with a bonus: a beautiful, astringent-bitter simple syrup that makes a great flavoring for cocktails.
Like ginger, turmeric peels most easily with the edge of a spoon. The rhizome stains anything it touches (wear an apron) and will leave a dark orange, tacky goo on your spoon and knife. To remove it and the color that’s left on your hands, cutting board and other kitchen surfaces, wash with a kitchen cream cleanser.
Look for fresh turmeric at Whole Foods and other specialty grocery stores, gourmet markets and southeast Asian and Indian groceries.
Prep time: 15 to 20 minutes to peel and slice the turmeric plus up to 6 hours to dry the turmeric slices.
Cook time: 20 to 25 minutes
Yield: 3/4 to 1 cup candied turmeric slices
Thin slices are paramount here, as is allowing ample time for your turmeric to dry after poaching. Rush this step and you’ll end up with unattractive clumps of sugar and rhizome.
3/4 pound fresh turmeric
1 cup water
3/4 cup sugar, plus 1/3 cup for tossing the poached turmeric
Prepping the turmeric:
1. Break any small knobs off of the main turmeric root and use the edge of a spoon to peel the skin off of all of the rhizome pieces. Use a paring knife to peel away any stubborn bits of skin.
2. Rinse the peeled turmeric and slice it as thinly as possible into coins and strips.
To candy the turmeric:
1. In a medium saucepan, heat the water. Add 3/4 cup sugar and stir to dissolve.
2. Add the turmeric, stir to submerge all of the pieces and bring the syrup to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer briskly until the turmeric slices are tender but not limp, about 25 minutes.
3. Drain the turmeric in a colander or sieve placed over a bowl, then transfer the turmeric slices to a cooling rack set over a baking sheet or piece of foil or parchment paper. (Set the turmeric syrup aside to cool and use to flavor sparkling water and cocktails.) Arrange the turmeric slices on the rack so that they do not overlap and place in a well-ventilated spot (underneath a ceiling fan is ideal). Allow the turmeric to dry until the slices are slightly tacky but no longer wet, at least 3 hours and as many as 6 hours, depending on the temperature and ventilation in the room.
4. Toss the turmeric slices in 1/3 cup of sugar until coated. (Don’t throw away leftover sugar; it’s delicious in tea.) Store the turmeric in a clean, dry jar or other container. If you live in a hot, humid climate you may need to refrigerate it to keep the sugar from dissolving.
Yield: 1 cocktail
Syrup and orange juice make this pretty and potent bourbon cocktail a little bit sweet. Campari and turmeric add a nice astringent-bitter edge; lemon juice adds a hint of tartness.
2 ounces bourbon
1 ounce Campari
1 ounce orange juice
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) turmeric simply syrup (see Candied Turmeric recipe, above)
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Orange slice, for serving
Pour all of the ingredients except for the orange slice into a cocktail shaker. Add a handful of ice. Shake and pour the cocktail and ice into a short glass. Garnish the rim of the glass with the orange slice.
Main photo: Candied turmeric provides a gift for friends — and for yourself. The simple syrup left over from the candied turmeric recipe makes a wonderful flavoring for cocktails. Credit: David Hagerman
Just in time for holiday gatherings and good any time for parties and special occasions, here are two easy-to-make recipes that yield enough delicious cookies to delight a hungry crowd. Used in tandem, the pound cake and financier cookie recipes also solve the classic baker’s dilemma: When recipes call only for egg yolks, what to do with the whites? And vice versa.
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When they were young, our sons loved pound cake. The recipe I developed called for egg yolks, which meant the whites went to waste. That always bothered me. Recently, I needed to make a large number of cookies for a party. I decided adapting the pound cake recipe would make a unique cookie.
But that left me with my old problem. What to do with the egg whites? No one in our house eats egg white omelets so I looked through a notebook where I keep recipe ideas. In my notes about a Parisian bakery (I neglected to write down the name) was a description of a scrumptious financier. Like a cartoon character, the light blub turned on over my head. Financiers are made with egg whites. The pound cake needs yolks. Viola! A marriage made in the oven.
Making the cookies in silicone molds adds to the ease of preparation. No need to brush on melted butter and dust with flour because the molds are nonstick. They require a minimum amount of washing before being used again to make another round of delicious cookies.
Silicone molds are available online and in specialty cook stores such as Sur La Table and Williams-Sonoma as well as in the cookware sections of major department stores.
Best served at room temperature, the cookies will stay fresh for a week if refrigerated in airtight containers.
Lemon Zest Pound Cake Cookies
Pound cakes get their name because the classic recipe calls for a pound each of butter, flour, eggs and sugar. Adapting the recipe for use in a small mold transforms the cake into a light-as-air crisp cookie, with many of the qualities of an Italian dipping biscotti. The lemon zest contrasts nicely with the buttery richness of the cookies.
If you want to use larger molds, the yield will be lower and the cookies will need to be baked longer. Because ovens vary, I would suggest starting with a test batch of three or four cookies to determine the baking time.
The dough has a thickened consistency not unlike Play-Doh. Use your fingers to spread the dough into the corners of the individual molds.
Yield: 126 cookies made in molds 1-inch by 1 3/4 inch
Preparation Time: 30 minutes
Baking Time: 20-25 minutes
1 1/2 cups sweet butter
6 egg yolks
2 whole eggs
2 cups white sugar
1 teaspoon finely chopped lemon zest
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
4 cups all-purpose white flour
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
1. Heat oven to 350 F.
2. In a saucepan melt butter over a low flame. Set aside to cool.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, whole eggs and sugar to a custardy consistency.
4. Add lemon zest to the egg mixture.
5. Slowly whisk in the melted, room temperature sweet butter.
6. Add baking powder and mix well.
7. Sprinkle 1/4 cup flour into the bowl. Whisk to mix well. Continue adding 1/4 cup at a time and blending until all the flour is incorporated into the egg-butter-sugar dough.
8. Into each 1-inch by 1 3/4-inch mold, place 1 1/2 teaspoons of dough. Using your fingers press down to shape the dough into each mold.
9. Put the molds onto a cookie sheet and place in the preheated oven.
10. Rotate the molds every 10 minutes for even browning.
11. The cookies will bake in 20-25 minutes. But because ovens vary, begin checking after 10 minutes. If the tops are lightly browned, they are probably done.
12. Remove the molds from the oven and place on a wire rack for 10 minutes. Remove each cookie and place on the wire rack.
13. When cooled to room temperature place the cookies in an airtight container and refrigerate for later use.
14. Just before serving, dust the tops with powdered sugar. Serve by themselves with coffee or tea, or with fresh berries, whipped cream or ice cream.
- Add 1/4 cup finely ground roasted almonds into the batter.
- Add 1/4 cup finely ground chopped dark chocolate or chocolate chips into the batter.
- Blend together 1/4 cup finely ground roasted almonds with 1 teaspoon white sugar. Halfway through baking, dust the tops of the cookies with the almond-sugar mixture.
Orange Glazed Hazelnut Financiers
Financiers are often prepared with ground almonds. Any nut can be used. I prefer roasted hazelnuts.
Using larger sized molds will result in fewer cookies that need to be baked longer.
Unlike the thick pound cake dough, the financiers batter is thin and is best placed into the individual molds using a spouted container like a measuring cup. Because ovens are different, I would suggest making a test batch of three or four cookies to determine the baking time.
Yield: 90 cookies made in molds 1-inch by 1 3/4-inch
Preparation Time: 30 minutes
Baking Time: 30 minutes
3/4 cup sweet butter
1 cup, plus 2 tablespoons whole raw hazelnuts
1/2 cup all-purpose white flour
1 3/4 cups confectioners or powdered sugar
Pinch sea salt
Pinch black pepper
6 egg whites
1/4 cup orange simple syrup (see recipe below)
1. Heat oven to 450 F.
2. Melt butter and set aside to cool.
3. Place hazelnuts on a baking sheet and roast in the oven 2-3 minutes. Remove. Wrap the hot hazelnuts in a damp, cloth kitchen towel. Rub the towel against the hazelnuts to remove the skins. Measure out 2 tablespoons of the roasted hazelnuts. Cut each hazelnut into quarters and reserve.
4. Using a food processor, grind the remaining 1 cup of roasted hazelnuts into a fine meal. Keep an eye on the grind so the hazelnuts don’t over process and become a nut butter.
5. In a large bowl, use a whisk to blend together the hazelnuts, flour, sugar, sea salt and black pepper.
6. Add the egg whites and mix well.
7. Whisk in the cooled, melted butter.
8. Transfer the batter to a spouted measuring cup and fill each mold with batter.
9. In the middle of each financier place a quarter piece of roasted hazelnut on top, cut side up.
10. Clean off any batter that may have spilled onto the outside of the mold.
11. Drizzle 2-3 drops of orange simple syrup on top of each financier.
12. Put the mold onto a cookie sheet and place in the preheated oven for 5 minutes. Rotate the cookie sheet for even browning. Reduce the temperature to 400 F and continue baking another 5 minutes.
13. Turn off the oven.
14. Rotate the cookie sheet and leave the financiers in the oven 10 minutes or until they are lightly browned on top and firm to the touch. Making a test batch to determine how long they should remain in the oven at this juncture is helpful. Leaving the financiers in the cooling oven longer will create a crisper cookie.
15. Remove from the oven and place the mold on a wire rack. Do not remove the financiers from their molds until the mold has cooled to the touch. Then carefully remove each cookie and allow them to continue cooling on the wire rack.
The financiers can be stored in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to a week.
Serve at room temperature with coffee or tea, with fresh berries, whipped cream or ice cream.
Orange Simple Syrup
Before making the syrup, the peel is boiled three times to remove the orange’s astringent oils.
Yield: ¼ cup
Time: 30 minutes
1/2 cup orange peel with rind, finely chopped
6 1/4 cups water
1/4 cup white sugar
1. Place the chopped orange peel and two cups of water into a saucepan.
2. Bring to a boil. Remove the pan from the stove top and strain the orange peel pieces in a fine metal strainer. Repeat the process two additional times.
3. Place the orange peel, sugar and 1/4 cup water into the saucepan. Do not stir the mixture. On a low flame, bring the mixture to a low simmer.
4. After the water dissolves the sugar, continue simmering the syrup 10 minutes. To test for doneness, dip a small spoon into the liquid. If the back of the spoon comes out coated, the syrup is done.
5. Use a fine metal strainer to separate the syrup from the candied orange peel. The orange peel can be saved for later use in a refrigerated airtight container.
6. Transfer the syrup into a spouted bottle or use a small espresso-sized spoon to drizzle the orange flavoring onto the financiers.
Main photo: Lemon Zest Pound Cake Cookies. Credit:David Latt
“Fresh is best” is usually a good rule to live by. But if you know how to find quality preserved items, a few well-chosen canned foods in your pantry can save the day, especially during the busy holidays.
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Healthy food is food that is minimally processed. All the foods’ transformation should happen when you turn it from the raw to the cooked and not at some factory.
When I am unable to pronounce the ingredients listed on the side of a food’s packaging I shiver. When I see the word “natural” on a food package I read “Sh&u8#%g” because it has the same meaning. However, I am not a fanatic or obsessive about food: I can eat crap too. I do so minimally. I don’t always seek out organic, or local, or seasonal, or any other of the environmentally correct buzzwords.
Now and then canned food is just plain convenient. And luckily there are some canned products that are not loaded with chemicals such as taste enhancers or preservatives of one kind or another. If you keep these in your pantry you will always have a delicious, convenient and quick preparation on hand. This is particularly handy during the holidays. On their label you should see only one ingredient list, namely the same one as on the front of the packaging, the food itself. Some might have some citric acid, but that’s OK.
There are four foods that I use in their canned form for a variety of reasons: the food is out of season, I forgot to buy the food, I’m too tired to cook, or it’s a last-minute idea. My five canned go-to foods are chickpeas, tuna, artichoke hearts, tomatoes and pimentos.
In this recipe you’ll use four of those. The idea here is that this is party-quality food, the kind of dish that you could serve to guests and they will comment on its deliciousness. After they do then you can spill the beans, so to speak, and tell them how simple it all is.
Yield: 4 servings
Prep time: 15 minutes
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
1 15-ounce can organic chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
4 canned organic artichoke hearts (foundations), drained and quartered
2 tablespoons sliced pimentos
2 1/2 ounces canned yellowfin tuna in olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1. In a sauté pan, heat the olive oil with the garlic over medium heat.
2. When the garlic begins to sizzle add the chickpeas, artichokes and pimentos and cook, stirring, for 5 minutes.
3. Add the tuna, salt, pepper and cayenne, toss a few times and remove from the heat. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.
Main photo: Four-can antipasto. Credit: Clifford A. Wright
For nine nights leading to Christmas Eve, Mexico celebrates las posadas: singalong parties to reenact Joseph and Mary’s biblical pilgrimage to Bethlehem and their near-fruitless search for shelter before Jesus’ birth.
Then, success. After several stanzas of rejection, someone lets them in. With the joyous chorus of “Entren, santos peregrinos” — come in, holy pilgrims — it’s time to break a piñata and eat. And steaming bowls of pozole are often there to feed the crowd.
A three-part series on dishes of the season
Part 1: Pozole
Part 2: Buñuelos
Part 3: Tamales
I had my first taste of the pork-and-hominy-based soup in Mexico City. For most anyone, that first taste can never be the last, and it wasn’t mine. Aided by a stack of Mexican-government-published recipe books I’d bought at a market near my home in the Colonia Narvarte neighborhood, I’ve made the dish repeatedly, both in Mexico and after I’d returned to the States.
It’s the perfect party food. You can make it for yourself, but it’s a recipe that’s easy to make for a crowd. And, inevitably, it’s a hit.
The draw of pozole is not just in its rich, smoky broth laced with puréed guajillo chilies. It’s the buffet line of cold raw veggies that your guests add to it that make it uniquely special for them as well.
That crunch of sliced radishes, shredded lettuce and diced onions create a perfect complementary texture for the hot stew. Squeeze in some lime juice for an added zing of flavor, and there’s nothing like it.
I’ve adapted the pozole recipe over the years from the one that was published by the Mexican Government Workers’ Social Security and Services Institute in the 1980s.
The cookbook series “… y la Comida se Hizo” (… and the Meal was Made) is a wonderful Spanish-language collection that provides hundreds of traditional recipes celebrating Mexico’s widely varying cuisine. The recipe for pozole — which most often is brought out for parties such as posadas or the Independence Day festivities in mid-September — fittingly was found in the book entitled “… and the Meal was Made for Celebrating.”
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Written simply for an audience that varies as widely as its cuisine — including those who cook on stoves without temperature controls or timers — the recipes rarely provide temperature settings and sometimes omits suggested cooking times. Instead, it often relies on directions, such as “cook until the meat is tender.”
The recipe I’ve adapted below provides quite a few more guidelines, as well as adjustments on the ingredients. The one in the Mexican cookbook called for slices of “pig’s head, pig knuckles and pig’s feet.”
The adapted recipe suggests country spareribs instead — both for the ease of shredding the meat and to simplify the explanation of the dish to guests who may be wary of trying something new. Canned white hominy is also the way to go here.
For parties held on chilly winter nights like Mexico’s posadas — celebrated from Dec. 16 through Christmas Eve — it’s a colorful way to celebrate. The red, white and green garnishes will add festive color to the holiday table.
Mexican Red Pozole
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: About 2 hours
Total time: About 2 hours, 5 minutes
Yield: 10 to 12 servings
For the soup:
1 large head of garlic
16 cups water, plus extra for soaking chilies
1 white onion, peeled
4 pounds of country-style pork ribs
8 guajillo chilies
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon oregano
4 (15-ounce cans) of white hominy
Kosher salt to taste
For the garnish:
Shredded iceberg lettuce
12 radishes, sliced thinly
1 large white onion, diced
4 large limes, each cut into 8 wedges
1. Separate the head of garlic into cloves, peel and slice.
2. Add 16 cups of water, garlic, onion and pork ribs to a stockpot and bring to a boil.
3. Turn the heat down to allow the mixture to simmer, uncovered, until the meat is tender — about 1 1/2 hours.
4. While the meat is simmering, place the guajillo chilies in a bowl and pour enough boiling water over them to allow them to be fully submerged (about 1 1/2 cups). Soak the chilies for a half-hour.
5. Using disposable kitchen gloves, remove the chilies from the water. (Reserve the water.) Remove the stems and slice open to devein the chilies. Place the chilies, the reserved water and some of the seeds in a food processor and blend until smooth. For a spicier soup, include more of the seeds.
6. When the pork is tender, remove it from the stockpot and shred the meat off the bone. Discard fat and bone.
7. Return shredded meat to the stockpot, and add the guajillo purée, bay leaves, oregano, hominy and salt to taste.
8. Cook for another 30 minutes to allow the flavors to blend.
9. While the pozole is still cooking, prepare the garnish ingredients and place them in small serving bowls. Keep the raw vegetables refrigerated until time to serve to provide for maximum crunch.
10. Serve the soup hot, with plenty of room in the bowl to allow for the garnishes.
Main photo: Pozole, topped by garnishes. Credit: Karen Branch-Brioso
Yes, meatballs are here again, those eternally returning spheres of gastronomic delight. Not high on anyone’s culinary sophistication list, meatballs have an earthy attraction that seems to come and go through the years. Now they are back big time with Michele Anna Jordan’s collection of meatball marvels, “More Than Meatballs” (Skyhorse, 2014).
“More Than Meatballs”
“From Arancini to Zucchini Fritters and Everything in Between”
By Michele Anna Jordan, Skyhorse, 2014, 176 pages
» Click here to buy this book
The more-than-ness of the book puts the traditional meatball in a broad culinary context, as the subtitle —”From Arancini to Zucchini Fritters and Everything in Between” — suggests. There are more than 75 recipes, plus variations, so you can imagine just how far Jordan has ventured.
Yet the soul of the book remains the traditional meatball – named thus for good reason: Try making a meatcube, meatpyramid or meatcone. Even those words look horribly wrong! No, the meatball is a culinary merger of form and function no less perfect than its mechanical relative, the wheel.
The only other cooked product of man’s hungry genius that rivals the meatball for salutary simplicity and earthy economy is, I believe, the omelet. Curiously though, the omelet works inversely to the meatball: Omelets begin life round (the egg) and leave it flat. The meatball starts life flat (chopped meat, poultry, fish, etc.) and ends round.
Of course there are flat-sided meatballs: sausage and hamburger patties and the monolithic American classic — meatloaf. These more-than-meatball entities are what one observant aficionado of this class of foods, the eminent European artist, writer and restaurateur, Daniel Spoerri, has labeled “the premasticated” — chopped animal-based foods. The ancient Persian word for meatball — kufteh — means, according to my sources, “chopped” or “ground.”
Context is everything
It was actually Spoerri who introduced me to meatball-ogy. After absorbing his postmodern deconstruction of the meatball in “A Dissertation on Keftedes” (keftedes, a Greek variation on the Persian kufteh) in the 1970s, I reprinted the work in a collection of Spoerri’s food-related texts, published as “Mythology and Meatballs: A Greek Island Diary Cookbook” (Aris Books, 1982). The dissertation is full of learned and charmingly funky discourse on the social history and symbolism of the meatball in the context of world gastronomy.
But Spoerri’s material (Newsweek called it “a Dadaist sampler of culinary oddments”) seems a bit beside the point when we are truly hungry and a well-made bowl of sauced or souped meatballs, steaming hot and redolent with spice, is placed in front of us. For example, there’s Jordan’s meatball and pasta dish of Spanish descent, Sopa de Albondigas y Fideo, from the chapter titled with meatball-in-cheek irony, “Context Is Everything.” It’s a perfect dish to warm the soul on a cold winter’s night.
Out of context, served “neat” as Jordan puts it, the book’s mother of all meatballs is, logically enough, The Meatball (see recipe below), an “Americanized Italian immigrant,” writes Jordan. It is made from ground pork and beef and mixed with grated cheese, egg, onion, red pepper flakes, nutmeg and clove. Jordan adds that this meatball, as good as it is on its own, lends itself to almost any context: in classic spaghetti and meatballs with marinara sauce; in lasagna; in soups; or as part of sandwiches and sliders.
Optionally, these balls can be wrapped in caul fat — readily available now at trendy butcher shops — for added richness and succulence. Jordan’s introduction of caul fat — the stomach lining of pigs used as a casing for the traditional flat sausage patty in France known as the crépinette— makes for a perfect “coverup” for The Meatball and many other versions in the book. The very good step-by-step photographs of caul-wrapping technique are helpful to the novice caul wrapper.
Using caul connects Jordan’s creations to the ancient “minces” wrapped in pork omentum (caul) one finds in meatball compilations dating to ancient Rome, including the classic cookbook attributed to the gourmet, Apicius — De Re Coquinaria (“on the subject of cooking”).
Karma goes around, too
After decades in and around the food world, it’s starting to dawn on me that I have a karmic relationship with the meatball. First with Spoerri’s Dissertation, which inspired one of my first Foodoodle cartoons, “The Global Meatball” (see illustration). And now with Jordan’s “More Than Meatballs.”
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I first met and worked with Michele Anna Jordan when she approached me in 1988 with her groundbreaking manuscript for “A Cook’s Tour of Sonoma” (Aris, 1990), the first of her many fine cookbooks, many of which are coming back into print. Spiraling forward through the decades, I was delighted by the opportunity to connect with her again, this time providing the foreword (without compensation, I should add) to “More Than Meatballs.” How could I resist my meatball karma?
Although I didn’t know it when I took on the task, it appears the humble, global, historical meatball is, as Jordan explains in the book’s introduction, back in fashion, and apparently for some time. And not just on restaurant menus and kitchen tables. There are now meatball-themed food shops and food trucks popping up across urban America and a new Guinness World Record for a meatball at more than 1,100 pounds.
“More Than Meatballs” is just the latest, and surely one of the best, examples of the meatball’s enduring power to please and sustain. Jordan puts it better than I could: “Yes, meatballs are on a roll, a rock ‘n’ roll. Let’s dance! Let’s have a ball!”
Prep time: 25 minutes (45 minutes if you are grinding your own meat)
Cook time: 10 to 20 minutes, depending on size
Total time: 35 to 65 minutes
Yield: About 32 small or 16 large meatballs
1 cup torn white bread, from sturdy hearth bread, preferably sourdough
3/4 cup milk or white wine
1 pound grass-fed beef, ground twice
1 pound pastured pork, ground twice
1 small yellow onion, grated
3 garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons chopped fresh Italian parsley
3/4 cup (3 ounces) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, Dry Jack, or similar cheese
Black pepper in a mill
1/2 to 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes, to taste
2 large pastured eggs, beaten
1 cup fresh bread crumbs, or 6 ounces caul fat
1. Put the bread and milk or wine into a mixing bowl and use a fork to crush the bread and blend it into the liquid. Set aside for about 15 minutes.
2. Add the beef, pork, onion, garlic, Italian parsley and cheese to the bowl and mix well. Season generously with salt, several turns of black pepper, red pepper flakes, and several gratings of nutmeg and mix again. Add the eggs, mix well, and then knead for a minute or two until very well blended.
3. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour or as long as overnight.
4. To finish, cover a sheet pan with wax paper.
5. Use a 1-ounce ice cream scoop to form small meatballs or a 2-ounce scoop to make larger meatballs; set each ball on the wax paper.
— If using bread crumbs, put them into a mixing bowl, add a meatball, and agitate the bowl to coat the meatball well. Set it on a baking sheet and continue until all are coated.
— If using caul fat, spread the fat on a clean work surface and wrap each ball.
6. To cook, pour a thin film of olive oil on a heavy skillet set over medium-high heat. When the pan is hot add several meatballs, being certain not to crowd them. Cook for about
45 seconds and then agitate the pan so the balls roll. Continue cooking until the balls are evenly browned and have begun to firm up, about 5 to 7 minutes, depending on their size. Set the cooked balls on absorbent paper and continue until all have been cooked.
7. To serve neat, return the meatballs to the pan, reduce the heat to very low, cover, and cook for 4 to 5 minutes for small meatballs and about 12 minutes for large ones, until the meatballs are just cooked through. Transfer to a platter and serve hot.
Main photo: Fresh Herb Meatballs are among the recipes featured in Michele Anna Jordan’s book. Credit: Liza Gershman
Do you have menu monotony? Are you cooking the same recipes over and over again for the holidays?
There is relief from this stubborn winter malady. I’m not suggesting that you toss all your family favorites, but I am proposing that you add variety to the menu and, in the processes, treat yourself and your guests to some new flavors.
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To add changes to the menu without adding stress don’t take on the whole job alone — have friends and family bring side dishes or desserts. “A good old-fashioned potluck is great for the holidays, too. It is a simple way to add variety to your usual menu, share some of work and try out new recipes,” recommends Rick Bayless, winner of the James Beard outstanding restaurant award for his Chicago-based Mexican restaurant Frontera Grill. Assigning dishes, and even providing the recipe, assures that the meal will be balanced with a cohesive mix of foods, and you won’t end up with three platters of the same string bean recipe.
For a wonderfully unusual side dish with a south-of-the-border flare that goes with any menu, add Bayless’ colorful and crunchy, Mexico-inspired Christmas Eve Salad. This salad of jicama, beets, oranges and peanuts “provides the perfect visual accent for the holiday table, echoing the colors of holiday poinsettias,” Bayless says. The salad is topped with chopped peanuts and sprinkled with Mexican colored candies for a festive and whimsical finish. You can serve slivers of sugarcane, available in Spanish and Mexican grocery stores, along with the salad. “You and your guests will really enjoy chewing on fresh sugarcane, it has a delightfully fresh sweetness,” Bayless says.
Rick Bayless’ Christmas Eve Salad (Ensalada de Noche Buena)
Prep time: 20 minutes
Yield: 8 servings
4 large beets, boiled and cut into small sticks
3 seedless oranges
5 tablespoons fresh lime juice
2 1/2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium (about 1 pound) jicama, peeled and cut into small sticks
10 romaine lettuce leaves, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch slices
2/3 cup roasted, salted peanuts
1 3- to 4-inch section of sugar cane, peeled and cut lengthwise into slivers, for garnish, optional
1 tablespoon colored candy cake decorations (grajeas in Mexico), for garnish
1. Place the beet sticks into a large bowl.
2. Using a zester or vegetable peeler, cut the zest (colored rind) from 1 of the oranges and finely mince it. Mix the minced zest with the lime juice, orange juice, salt, sugar and olive oil in with the beets and let stand 1 hour.
3. Cut away the rind and all white pith on the oranges. Cut between each white membrane and remove the segments. Reserve.
4. To serve, add the jicama and most of the orange segments (reserving a few for garnish) to the beet mixture. Lay the lettuce on a serving platter. Scoop the beet mixture into the center, then sprinkle with the peanuts and reserved orange segments. Garnish with the sugar cane, if using, and candies. Serve.
‘Instant’ Rum Baba Panettone
Another great shortcut is to buy something ready made, but unusual. For an Italian finish to the meal, consider ready-made panettone, imported from Italy. Tall and dome-shaped, panettone is a soft, sweet yeast cake with a fruity aroma of raisins and candied oranges. It’s the quintessential Italian Christmas dessert, usually served plain, accompanied by a glass of Asti Spumante.
Or you can dress it up a little by drenching it in rum syrup, making a virtually instant baba cake. Available in standard 1- and 2-pound sizes, panettone also comes in adorable, single-sized portions, which work especially well with this recipe:
From “Dolci: Italy’s Sweets” by Francine Segan (Stewart, Tabori & Chang)
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 15 minutes
Total time: 25 minutes
Yield: 8 to 12 servings
3 cups granulated sugar
1/4 to 1/2 cup dark rum
8 slices of panettone, or 8 small individual-sized panettone
Fresh or frozen berries, optional
1. Add the sugar to 1 1/2 cups water in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until thickened, about 15 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir in the rum to taste. Allow to cool to room temperature.
2. Arrange the panettone on a serving platter. An hour before serving, slowly pour the rum syrup over the panettone until all the liquid is absorbed.
3. Serve topped with confectioners’ sugar and accompanied by berries, if you like.
Pandoro Christmas Tree Cake
Another unusual ready-made dessert is pandoro, the tall Christmas tree shaped Italian cake that’s available in most supermarkets and Italian gourmet shops starting in late fall. Pandoro has a delicious eggy, brioche-like soft center, with a lovely vanilla-butter aroma. In Italy, pandoro is often served cut in horizontal slices that are restacked to look like a Christmas tree. It even comes boxed with a packet of confectioners sugar to sprinkle on top.
You can spread the pandoro with anything creamy like ice cream, whipped cream, icing, pastry cream or even zabaglione. And just like a gingerbread house, you can decorate it with anything festive including tiny candies, sprinkles or crushed candy canes.
In this recipe, pandoro cake is taken to yet another level: each layer is spread with mascarpone custard and decorated with mint leaves and candied cherries.
From “Dolci: Italy’s Sweets” by Francine Segan (Stewart, Tabori & Chang)
Prep time: 15 minutes
Yield: 10 servings
1/4 cup plus 1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sweet liqueur, such as Cointreau or rum
2 large egg yolks
14 ounces mascarpone cheese
1 cup heavy cream
1 pandoro cake, about 1 pound
Decorations, such as candied cherries, fresh mint leaves, silver confetti
1. In a saucepan, combine 1/4 cup water with 1/4 cup of the sugar and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and stir in 1/4 cup of the Cointreu or rum. Reserve.
2. In a standing mixer combine the yolks and the remaining 1/2 cup of sugar and beat for 5 minutes until light yellow and fluffy. Beat in the remaining 2 tablespoons Cointreau or rum, and fold in the mascarpone.
3. In a separate bowl, beat the heavy cream until peaks form. Fold the mascarpone cream into the whipped cream.
4. Carefully, so as not to break the points, slice the pandoro horizontally into 6 slices. Brush the outsides of the slices, the golden colored baked section, with the reserved Cointreau syrup.
5. Place the largest pandoro slice onto a serving platter and spread with some of the mascarpone mixture.
6. Cover with the next largest slice, angling it so that the points of the star tips don’t line up. Spread with some of the mascarpone mixture and repeat with the remaining layers, finishing with a dollop of mascarpone on top.
7. Decorate the points with candied cherries and mint leaves or candies. Sprinkle the entire cake with confectioners’ sugar.
Main photo: Rick Bayless’ colorful and crunchy, Mexico-inspired Christmas Eve Salad features jicama, beets, orange and peanuts. Credit: FronteraFiesta.com.
Christmas is for sharing, and some of the best gifts to share are the ones you’ve made yourself. The only snag about edible gifts is that once you’ve conceived and created them, put them up in clever containers and wrapped and labeled them with a holiday flourish, it can be a bit of a wrench to part with them. Steel yourself — or better still, make enough to keep some for yourself.
Winter chutneys go beautifully with a holiday ham, meat or game pie, or pâté en croûte. This super-simple date chutney (see recipe below) — a recipe from my mother, who used to make it every Christmas — is a double pleasure because it’s just a leisurely chopping and mixing job. There’s no cooking at all, so the apartment is not invaded with penetrating vinegary fumes. It benefits from keeping for a few weeks, so the flavors ripen nicely and will last for several months.
If you have herbs growing in your garden or terrace, the more robust perennial ones like rosemary, thyme and winter savory will still be good to go. Throw some in a food processor with sea salt and grind till fine for a wonderfully aromatic herby salt (see recipe below). The color when freshly ground is a delicate herbaceous green. This will fade after a few weeks, but the flavor lingers on. Add a note to the gift label with serving suggestions: It’s wonderful scattered over roast vegetables either before they go into the oven or as they come out (for even more flavor) or sprinkled onto focaccia or other bread before baking.
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The softer, more delicate herbs work best in a moist mix like pesto. Instead of the usual basil-pine nut combo, try one with pumpkin seeds, loads of flat-leaf parsley and grated Parmesan or Grana Padano, whizzed together to a verdant paste. A bright green blob floated on top of deep orange pumpkin soup is a thing of beauty, or you can stir it into pasta or risotto or serve with cold turkey, duck breasts or grilled fish.
Around Christmas here in Alsace, France, on the border with Switzerland and Germany, baking reaches fever pitch at this time of year. Whether you visit friends at home, buy bread at the baker’s or attend the local hunt, you will be plied with Guetzli (Switzerland), bredele (Alsace) or Weihnachtsbrödle (southern Germany) at every turn. And here I have to own up to my sad little secret: I really, really don’t care for them and find that, at a time of major carb-overload, most are just not worth the calories (for me). However, I do make an honorable exception for Brunsli (see recipe below), moist, dark chocolate, almond-laden cookies laced with Kirsch brandy from Basel, Switzerland.
Finally, if life gives you lemons, make citrons confits, or salted lemons (see recipe below), which will bring a golden Mediterranean glow to your kitchen and make an especially welcome midwinter gift. In this recipe, from chef Thierry Voisin, former chef at Les Crayères in Reims, France, the lemons are first blanched, then packed into jars and covered with a sweet-salty syrup. They are a bit softer and less briny than the kinds packed in a jar with kosher salt, and they’re ready to use sooner than the salt-packed quarters. The finely diced peel (discard the pith) gives a bright, zesty lift to meat stews, tagines, couscous and all manner of vegetable dishes.
Fresh (Uncooked) Date Chutney
Prep time: 10 minutes (15, if you don’t use a food processor)
Total time: 10 to 15 minutes plus 2 to 3 weeks of maturing
Yield: Makes 4 1-pound (450-gram) jars
1 pound (450 grams) pitted dates
1 pound (450 grams) raisins or sultanas
1 pound (450 grams) apples
1 pound (450 grams) onions
1 pound (450 grams) brown or raw sugar
1 tablespoon salt
Plenty of freshly ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
2 cups (1/2 liter) cider vinegar or wine vinegar
1. Put the pitted dates and raisins or sultanas in a food processor.
2. Quarter and core the apples (don’t peel) and chop them roughly.
3. Add the apples to the food processor along with the peeled and chopped onions.
4. Add brown or raw sugar, salt, pepper, cayenne and vinegar and process thoroughly till quite finely chopped and well mixed. (Alternatively, chop dates, raisins/sultanas, apples and onions finely together, then tip them into a bowl and stir in the sugar, salt, pepper, cayenne and vinegar.)
5. Spoon into clean, dry jars and label.
Note: The chutney is best when matured for a couple of weeks, and it will keep for several months.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 10 minutes
Yield: 2 4-ounce (100-gram) jars
1 tablespoon fresh thyme leaves, stripped off stalks
1 tablespoon winter savory leaves, stripped off stalks
10 sage leaves, torn
7 ounces (200 grams) sea salt (sel de Guérande or similar) or kosher salt
Put the thyme, savory and sage leaves in a food processor, add the salt and process till fine. It will turn a beautiful jade green color. This will fade after a week or two, but the flavor will remain hauntingly herby.
Pumpkin Seed and Parsley Pesto
Prep time: 10 minutes
Total time: 10 minutes
Yield: about 1 cup pesto
1 good bunch of flat-leaf parsley, leaves only (about 1 ounce, or 30 grams)
2 tablespoons hulled green pumpkin seeds
2 tablespoons grated Parmesan or Grana Padano
Pinch of salt
1 small clove garlic, mashed
6 tablespoons olive oil
1. Put parsley leaves, pumpkin seeds, cheese, salt and garlic in a blender.
2. Blend until well-chopped, stopping to scrape down every now and then — add a little water if necessary to make the blades turn.
3. Pour in the olive oil in a steady stream and continue blending till very smooth, scraping down if necessary.
4. Tip into a dish or jar and cover tightly.
5. The pesto will keep in the fridge, unopened, for up to a month. Once broached, cover with a thin layer of olive oil to exclude air.
Prep time: 25 minutes (plus 1 hour to refrigerate the dough and 1 hour to allow the Brunsli to dry out before baking).
Cook time: 5 minutes
Total time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Yield: Makes 20 to 30, depending on size
4 ounces (100 grams) dark chocolate, (Lindt Excellence, for example)
5 ounces (150 grams) sugar, plus extra for rolling out dough
8 ounces (250 grams) ground almonds
2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 egg whites
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons Kirsch
1. Melt the chocolate in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water (or microwave for 1 to 2 minutes). Stir till smooth, then set aside till cooled but still melted.
2. Mix together in a large bowl the sugar, ground almonds, flour, cocoa powder and cinnamon.
3. Beat the egg whites in a bowl with a pinch of salt till snowy but still creamy — don’t overbeat or they will be hard to incorporate smoothly.
4. Fold the egg whites into the dry ingredients.
5. Stir in the cooled, melted chocolate and Kirsch and press the mixture together to form a firm dough. (It’s a good idea to use latex gloves because the dough is very sticky.)
6. Refrigerate the dough for 1 hour.
7. Sprinkle a working surface with sugar (do not use flour) and roll or pat out the dough to about half an inch (1 centimeter) thick.
8. Cut into shapes with cookie cutters (hearts, Christmas trees, half-moons etc.) and lay them on a baking sheet lined with non-stick baking parchment. Recycle any trimmings and cut out more shapes.
9. Leave the unbaked Brunsli at room temperature for 1 hour to dry out a little, otherwise they fall apart when baked.
10. Heat the oven to 475 degrees F (240 degrees C) and bake Brunsli for 5 minutes — they will turn a shade paler and start to dry out a bit around the edges, but should remain moist in the middle.
11. Remove Brunsli from the oven and let cool on a rack.
12. Once cool, pack in cellophane bags and tie with pretty ribbons, or store in an airtight tin.
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Total time: 20 minutes, plus 2 to 3 weeks’ maturing
Yield: Makes 4 preserved lemons.
4 lemons, untreated
4 ounces (100 grams) salt
5 ounces (150 grams) sugar
2 cups (1/2 liter) water
3 to 4 sprigs of fresh thyme
1. Put the lemons in a saucepan, cover with cold water and bring the water to a boil.
2. When the water boils, tip it away; repeat the process twice more.
3. Press the drained lemons firmly into a Mason or Kilner glass jar.
4. In the same pan, dissolve the salt and sugar in 2 cups of water and pour it (hot) over the lemons.
5. Push the thyme down into the liquid.
6. Snap the lid shut while the lemons are still hot.
7. Cool, refrigerate for 2 to 4 weeks before using (or bestowing on favored friends). The lemons will keep for several months.
Main image: An herbed salt. Credit: Sue Style