Articles in Cooking w/recipe

Three lusty winter beans and greens. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

In traditional Mediterranean cooking, dried beans are typical winter foods that are often combined with winter greens and root vegetables such as Swiss chard, spinach, squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes and others.

There is a delight in these kinds of dishes not only because they’re delicious, but they are satisfying and healthy too. These three are only examples of what you can do with “beans and greens.”

To devise your own combination, start with a dried legume and then consider its color and match that with an appropriate root vegetable (color also considered) and an appropriate green.

So, for example, red kidney beans, white potatoes, and kale or lentils, beet greens and yams and so on all cooked for beautiful winter main courses or side dishes. If serving as a main course, you should double these recipes.

Beans and Greens: beans, sweet potato and chard

Beans and Greens: beans, sweet potato and chard. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Beans and Greens: beans, sweet potato and chard. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Prep time: 6 to 8 hours with bean soak or 10 minutes without

Cook time: 45 minutes

Yield: 2 to 4 servings

Ingredients

1/4 cup (about 2 ounces) dried red kidney beans, soaked in water for 6 to 8 hours, drained

1 bay leaf

6 ounces sweet potato, peeled and diced

3 ounces winter squash, peeled and diced

1/4 pound Swiss chard leaves, chopped coarsely

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 1/2 ounces finely chopped onion

1/8 teaspoon cumin seeds

Salt to taste

Directions

1. Place the beans in a large pot with the bay leaf and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook 25 minutes. Check to see if the beans are tender with a little bite to them. If not, cook longer. Add the sweet potato, squash and Swiss chard, stir, and cook until they are all tender, about 20 minutes. Drain.

2. Meanwhile, in a sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat then cook, stirring, the onion and cumin until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the drained beans and greens to the pan, mix well, season with salt, cook 1 minute then serve.

Beans and Greens: fava, eggplant and frisee

Beans and Greens: fava, eggplant and frisee. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

Beans and Greens: fava, eggplant and frisee. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

Prep time: 6 to 8 hours with bean soak or 10 minutes without

Cook time: 50 minutes

Yield: 2 to 4 servings

Ingredients

1/4 cup (about 2 ounces) dried yellow fava beans, soaked in water 6 to 8 hours, drained

1 cup extra virgin olive oil

5 ounces eggplant, peeled and diced

1 1/2 ounces finely chopped onion

1 large garlic clove, finely chopped

1/4 pound frisee, chopped

1 1/2 ounces arugula, chopped

2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped

Salt to taste

Directions

1. Place the fava beans in a pot and cover with cold water. Bring to boil over high heat and cook until tender, about 40 minutes (check for tenderness and cook longer if necessary).

2. Meanwhile, in a skillet heat the olive oil over medium-high heat then cook, turning occasionally, the eggplant until golden brown, about 6 minutes. Remove the eggplant with a slotted spoon or skimmer and set aside. Discard all but 2 tablespoons of the oil. Reduce the heat to medium.

3. Add the onion and garlic to the pan and cook, stirring, until the onion is translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the frisee, arugula, and mint to the pan and cook, stirring, until wilted, about 8 minutes. Add the fava beans and cook, tossing with a little salt, for a minute. Serve hot.

Beans and Greens: chickpeas, spinach and potato

Beans and Greens: chickpeas, spinach and potato. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

Beans and Greens: chickpeas, spinach and potato. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

Prep time: 6 to 8 hours with bean soak or 10 minutes without

Cook time: 45 minutes

Yield: 2 to 4 servings

Ingredients

1/4 cup (about 2 ounces) dried chickpeas, soaked in water for 6 to 8 hours, drained

5 ounces boiling potato, such as Yukon gold, white or red potato, peeled and diced

6 ounces spinach leaves, chopped

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 small leek, white part only, split lengthwise, washed well and finely chopped

1 large garlic clove, finely chopped

1/2 stalk celery, finely chopped

1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh tarragon

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Directions

1. Place the chickpeas in pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook for 15 minutes (taste one and if it is quite hard cook another 20 minutes) then add the potato and cook until the potato has disintegrated a bit and the chickpeas are tender, about another 25 minutes. Add the spinach and cook until it is wilted, about 2 minutes. Drain and set aside.

2. In a sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat then cook, stirring, the leek, garlic and celery until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the tarragon and cook until it wilts in a minute. Add the drained chickpeas and spinach, and toss well with some salt and pepper then serve hot.

Main photo: Three lusty winter beans and greens. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

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Little neck clams with pasta and string beans. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

Winds blow through bare tree limbs, chilling you to the bone, making you long for bowls of hot, comfort food. Of course, a microwavable meal might be in your kitchen, but a freshly cooked meal is always more satisfying. Making pasta with delicious clams and healthy vegetables will warm you up. Quick and easy, it requires only one pot.

The fewer pots and pans you need to prepare a meal, the quicker the cleanup. Using already cooked pasta is an easy starting point. Live clams purchased from a quality seafood purveyor will yield a fresh-from-the-sea brininess.

Fresh green beans have a pleasing crunch when cooked with the same al dente finish as the pasta. The dish can flexibly use different vegetables. If green beans are not available, use any number of greens from leafy spinach to broccolini, kale or shredded escarole.

Sometimes clams are sold in plastic mesh bags placed on beds of ice. At other stores, they are kept in tanks with circulating cold salt water. Unfortunately, buying clams can be a hit-or-miss proposition. From the outside, good and bad clams look pretty much the same. The only way to determine whether the clams are as good as they can be is to buy and cook them. This is why it is useful to have developed a relationship with a seafood market you trust.

Little neck clams in a frying pan with shellfish broth. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

Little neck clams in a frying pan with shellfish broth. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

Only use small clams, approximately 2 or 3 inches across. Larger clams are better used cooked, removed from the shell and chopped. Steamers, a deliciously sweet clam, require some finger work to remove the skin covering the foot, so manila, little neck or butter clams are easier to prepare and eat.

Clams with Pasta and Green Beans

Purchase the clams from a quality seafood market. Fresh clams have a wonderfully clean flavor. If the clams are in a salt water tank, pick as many clams as you can that are open. When you use the slotted spoon to remove them from the water, they will close, indicating they are very much alive.

Finding good green beans depends on the season and the purveyor. Always buy green beans that are firm and unblemished. For some reason, in Southern California where I live, green beans from farmers markets are often not as good as those found in Asian markets. At Marukai, a local Japanese market in West Los Angeles, the green beans are consistently firm and unblemished.

If substituting spinach, trim the root ends and rinse well to remove all sand and grit, then roughly chop and add at the same time as the clams. If using broccolini, cut off the stems, peel and cut into thin rounds, then add the peeled rounds and florets on the bottom of the pot with olive oil and lightly sauté before adding the clams. If using kale, cut the leafy part off the center rib and roughly chop and sauté in the pot with olive oil before adding the clams. If using escarole, shred and sauté in the pot with olive oil before adding the clams.

Green beans. Copyright 2016 David Latt

Green beans. Copyright 2016 David Latt

If clams are not available, freshly peeled and deveined raw shrimp are a good substitute. If using raw shrimp (peeled and deveined) instead of clams, sauté for one minute and add the green beans and pasta. Stir well. The shrimp will cook in 2 to 3 minutes. For additional sauce, add homemade seafood stock and butter (optional).

Not everyone enjoys bacon, but if you do, bacon and clams make wonderful partners in this dish.

For more sauce, add homemade stock, preferably one made with fresh fish or shellfish.

If fresh clams and green beans are not available, frozen can be substituted. The result will be good but not as good if both are fresh.

Prep time: 10 minutes (if using cooked pasta) or 20 minutes (if using uncooked pasta)

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Total time: 20 minutes (if using cooked pasta) or 30 minutes (if using uncooked pasta)

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

4 pounds live manila, little neck or butter clams

1 pound uncooked or 4 cups cooked pasta, fettuccini, spaghetti, penne, fusilli or ziti

Kosher salt

1 pound fresh green beans, washed, ends trimmed, cut into 1-inch lengths

1 slice bacon (optional)

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 cup fish or shellfish stock (optional)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter (optional)

1 tablespoon capers, drained

2 scallions, washed, ends trimmed, cut into rounds (optional)

Sea salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Cayenne powder to taste (optional)

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional)

Directions

1. Rinse the clams in a strainer to remove any surface sand and grit. Set aside.

2. If cooked pasta is not available, add kosher salt to a 4-quart pot, bring to a boil, add a 1-pound box of pasta to the boiling water, stir well and cook until al dente in about 10 minutes. Taste to confirm the doneness. Put a strainer over a large bowl in the sink and drain the pasta, reserving the salted pasta water. Toss the pasta to prevent sticking and set aside.

3. To cook the green beans, either use the salted pasta water or fresh water with kosher salt in a 4-quart pot. Bring the water to a boil. Add the green beans and cook 5 minutes. Strain and discard the salted water. Set the cooked green beans aside.

4. If using bacon, heat the pot on the stove-top on a medium flame. Lay the bacon slice on the bottom. Turn frequently to evenly brown. When crisp, remove the bacon and drain on a clean paper towel. Set aside. Leave the bacon fat in the bottom of the pan.

5. Place the pot on the stove-top on a medium flame. Add olive oil, unless bacon was chosen, in which case the bacon oil will suffice. When hot, add the alternative greens as directed above and then the clams and cover. Cook 5 minutes. Remove cover and stir well.

6. The clams will begin to open and give off liquid. Add the homemade seafood stock if more sauce is required. Add sweet butter if desired. Stir well and continue cooking on a medium flame.

7. Add green beans or the alternative greens as directed above. Stir well.

8. Add capers. More of the clams will open.

9. Add the pasta. Stir well. Remove whichever clams do not open and discard.

10. At this point the dish can be served or it can be set aside for up to an hour before serving.

11. When you are ready to eat, taste the sauce and adjust seasoning with sea salt, black pepper and cayenne (optional). Because the clams and bacon (optional) are salty, additional sea salt might not be required.

12. Transfer pasta and clams to a serving bowl. Top with crumbled crisp bacon (optional), scallions (optional) and freshly grated Parmesan cheese (optional).

Main image: Little neck clams with pasta and string beans. Credit: Copyright 2016 David Latt

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Harīsa. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

Given how easy it is to make harīsa, the ubiquitous chile paste of North Africa, I’ve never had much use for those inferior tubes of the stuff. Harīsa is the most important condiment used in Algerian and Tunisian cooking, and you need to make this recipe and keep it in the refrigerator before attempting any other Algerian or Tunisian recipe you might have in my or others’ recipes.

It’s hard to believe that so essential a condiment could evolve only after the introduction of the New World capsicum after Columbus’ voyages. It’s thought that the chile entered North Africa by way of the Spanish presidios that dotted the coast in the 16th century or came up from West Africa overland from the Portuguese holdings there.

Harīsa comes from the Arabic word for “to break into pieces,” which is done by pounding hot chiles in a mortar, although today a food processor can be used. This famous hot chile paste is also found in the cooking of Libya, and even in western Sicily where cùscusu is made. In Tunisia it would be prepared fresh at home. The simplest recipe is merely a paste of red chile and salt that is covered in olive oil and stored.

Harīsa is sold in tubes by both Tunisian and French firms. The Tunisian one is better, but neither can compare to your own freshly made from this recipe.

I first became intrigued with making harīsa from a preparation made by Mouldi Hadiji, my Arabic teacher more than 30 years ago. I concocted this version, based on a Berber-style one I had in Djerba, from a recipe description given to me by a merchant in the market in Tunis, who unfortunately provided measurements that could last me a century (calling for 50 pounds of chile).

Tlitlu bi’l-Lahm (fresh pasta pieces with lamb in spicy harīsa sauce). Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

Tlitlu bi’l-Lahm (fresh pasta pieces with lamb in spicy harīsa sauce). Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

Some cooks also use mint, onions or olive oil in their harīsa. You also don’t have to use the exact dried chiles I call for, but at least one should be quite piquant.

Be careful when handling hot chiles, making sure that you do not put your fingers near your eyes, nose or mouth, or you will regret it. Wash your hands well with soap and water after handling chiles. After you make your first harīsa, with all the modern conveniences, I hope you can appreciate what exacting work this was, making it in the traditional mortar — 50 pounds of the stuff!

Harīsa

Prep time: 1 1/4 hours

Yield: 1 cup

Ingredients

2 ounces dried Guajillo chiles

2 ounces dried Anaheim chiles

5 garlic cloves, peeled

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground caraway seeds

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground coriander seeds

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

Extra virgin olive oil for topping off

Directions

1. Soak the chiles in tepid water to cover until softened, 1 hour. Drain and remove the stems and seeds. Place in a blender or food processor with the garlic, water and olive oil and process until smooth, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides.

2. Transfer the mixture to a small bowl and stir in the caraway, coriander and salt. Store in a jar and top off, covering the surface of the paste with a layer of olive oil. Whenever the paste is used, you must always top off with olive oil making sure no paste is exposed to air, otherwise it will spoil.

Variation: To make a hot harīsa, use 4 ounces dried Guajillo chiles and 1/2 ounce dried de Arbol peppers.

Note: To make ṣālṣa al-harīsa, used as an accompaniment to grilled meats, stir together 2 teaspoons harīsa, 3 tablespoons olive oil, 2 tablespoons water and 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley leaves.

Main photo: Harisa. Credit: Copyright 2016 Clifford A. Wright

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Green and yellow plantains at Carniceria Mimi in Canas, Costa Rica. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

I was intimidated by plantains. Having eaten them in Latin American restaurants, I knew they were good when served with roast chicken, rice and beans. But seeing them in the market, I had no idea how to cook them. A trip to Costa Rica changed all that when a chef demonstrated how plantains are easy to prepare and delicious.

Like bananas, their sweet cousins, plantains are naturally fibrous and a good source of potassium.

Although they look like large bananas, they are not edible unless cooked. Primarily starchy, especially when green, plantains also have a stiff, bark-like peel. Delightfully easy to cook, plantains are used to create delicious side dishes.

Available all year round and grown primarily in the southern hemisphere, plantains are cooked in a great many ways — steamed, deep fried, sautéed, boiled, baked and grilled. The same fruit is prepared differently when it is green than when it is yellow or black. The first time I visited a Mexican market in Los Angeles, I noticed bunches of very large bananas with mottled yellow and black skin. I thought the blackened fruit was spoiled. In point of fact, when the peel turns yellow and then black, the starches in the fruit have begun to convert to sugars.

Plantains, yellow or black, will never be as sweet as a banana, but when cooked in this ripened state, they produce a deliciously caramelized side dish or dessert.

In his kitchen at Villa Buena Onda, an upscale boutique hotel on the Pacific Coast in Costa Rica’s Guanacaste Provence, Chef Gabriel Navarette demonstrated in a cooking video how easy it is to prepare plantains. In fact, they are so easy to cook, now that I am home, I make them all the time.

Chef Gabriel Navarette with a plate of patacones. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Chef Gabriel Navarette with a plate of patacones. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

The only difficulty with cooking plantains is finding a market that sells them. Not available in supermarkets in many U.S. cities, markets serving the Spanish-speaking community will have plantains. Seek them out because besides selling plantains, the markets will also be a good source of mangoes, papayas, tomatillos, chayote, fresh chilies, Latin spices and a good selection of dried beans and rice.

Navarette demonstrated how to prepare plantains three ways. He stuffed green plantains with cheese and baked them in the oven. He flattened green plantains and fried them twice to make patacones, thick, crispy chips served with pico de gallo, black beans, guacamole or ceviche. And, he caramelized yellow plantains to serve alongside black beans and rice on the wonderful Costa Rican dish called casado, which always has a protein such as chicken, fish, pork or beef.

Villa Buena Onda, or VBO as it is known locally, is an intimate destination. With only eight rooms, the hotel fells like a private home with a personal chef. The price of the room includes all three meals. Navarette and his fellow chefs make each dish to order.

Navarette studied at Instituto Nacional de Aprendizaje, a prominent school training professionals in many fields. He worked in resort and hotel kitchens, moving up the ranks from server to line cook, then as a sous chef and finally as the head chef at VBO for the past eight years.

Cooked yellow plantains. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

Cooked yellow plantains. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

What attracted me to his food, as well as that of his cousin Diego Chavarria on the weekend and Rosa Balmaceda in the morning, was that each dish tasted home cooked but was plated in the most beautiful, five-star way.

Aided by César Allonso Carballo to translate, Navarette was happy to show me how to cook plantains. I was amazed at how easy they are to cook.

Cooking yellow plantains to use as a side dish or dessert is the essence of simplicity. Simply peel each plantain, heat a half-inch of safflower or corn oil in a carbon steel or cast iron pan over a medium flame, cut the plantain into rounds or in half lengthwise and then cut into 5-inch long sections, fry on either side until lightly browned, drain on paper towels and serve. All that can be done in five to eight minutes and the result is delicious.

The crisp and savory patacones are slightly more complicated to prepare but not much more so.

Patacones from the kitchen of Villa Buena Onda

Yellow or black plantains should not be used to make patacones because they are too soft.

In the restaurant, Navarette uses a deep fryer to cook plantains. That is fast and easy so he can keep up with the orders, but I discovered at home that by using a carbon steel pan I was able to achieve the same result using less oil with an easier clean up.

The oil may be reused by straining out cooked bits and storing in a refrigerated, air-tight container.

Enjoy the patacones with an ice-cold beer and, as the Costa Ricans say, Pura vida! Life is good because everything is OK.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Total time: 15 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

2 green plantains, washed

1 cup corn or safflower oil

Sea salt and black pepper to taste (optional)

Directions

1. Cut the ends off each green plantain. Using a sharp knife, carefully cut along the length of the tough peel being careful not to cut the flesh of the plantain. Pry off the peel and discard.

2. Preheat oil in a deep fryer to 350 F or a half-inch of oil in a large sauté pan over a medium flame.

3. Cut each plantain into 5 or 6 equal sized rounds.

4. Place the rounds into the deep fryer for 3 to 4 minutes or until lightly browned. In the sauté pan, turn frequently for even cooking, which should take about 5 to 8 minutes.

5. Remove, drain on paper towels and allow to cool.

6. Prepare one round at a time. Put the round on a prep surface. Place a sturdy plate on top of the round. Press firmly in the middle of the plate until the plantain round flattens, then do all the other rounds.

7. Place the flattened plantains back into the deep fryer for 2 minutes, or 4 minutes in the oil in a sauté pan as before. Turn as necessary in order to cook until lightly browned on all sides.

8. Remove from the oil, place on paper towels to drain and cool.

9. Season with sea salt and black pepper (optional).

10. Serve at room temperature with sides of black beans, pico de gallo, sour cream or ceviche or all four so guests can mix and match.

Main photo: Green and yellow plantains at Carniceria Mimi in Canas, Costa Rica. Credit: Copyright 2015 David Latt

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French-style roast chicken. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

“You can always judge the quality of a cook or a restaurant by roast chicken,” wrote Julia Child in “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” It was a bold statement, but it reflected a certain historic reverence for the fowl, which in France has historically been considered “the best of all birds covered by the name of poultry,” as 20th-century French culinary authority André Simon put it in his “A Concise Encyclopedia of Gastronomy.” Even my mother, a fine Italian cook, raved about the delicious roast chicken in France. After visiting our relations in Paris, she would always speculate about what it was that made the chicken so tasty and delicate. The chickens for sale in butcher shops there were plump without being fatty, their flesh pink, not yellow. Try as she would, she couldn’t reproduce the same results with the commodity chickens (“machine-made,” as they were known in our family) she faced back home in New York.

How to buy the best bird

A proud French chef. Credit: Copyright 2015 Laura Cornell, courtesy of Laura Cornell and Julia della Croce

A proud French chef. Credit: Copyright 2015 Laura Cornell, courtesy of Laura Cornell and Julia della Croce

The first secret of the famous roast chickens of France concerns their feed and rearing. Take the famous poulet Bresse, a “controlled” breed that is considered the most flavorful in the world. The birds roam freely, happily pecking and scratching in the grass, their foraged food supplemented with milk and corn. These prime specimens carry their own official appellation d’origine contrôlée, a set of regulations that guarantees their authenticity, much like wine. In the past, to acquire chickens of similar quality here in the States, you needed to know a good local farmer or raise them yourself; today, however, wholesome poultry has become commonplace in American markets, and I am convinced that anyone who starts out with a well-fed, free-range bird can duplicate the delicious poulet rôti.

The other secret to roast chicken is the size and freshness of the bird, along with a few roasting techniques that are traditionally practiced by French home cooks and professionals alike. “Too small a bird does not roast well in the oven because its flesh is cooked before its skin has time to turn the expected appetizing golden color,” French chef and teacher Madeleine Kamman explained in her authoritative “The Making of a Cook.” On the other hand, a bird weighing larger than three to four pounds takes longer to cook through to the bone, by which time the breast is overcooked. Most chefs concur that a six-month bird weighing in at four pounds, the smallest in the so-named “roaster” category, is ideal. At that weight, the bird has more meat on it than younger, so-called “fryers,” and it is still tender.

Technique classique

An even prouder French chef. Credit: Copyright 2015 Laura Cornell, courtesy of Laura Cornell and Julia della Croce

An even prouder French chef. Credit: Copyright 2015 Laura Cornell, courtesy of Laura Cornell and Julia della Croce

As for roasting, I learned the method early on at Peter Kump’s New York Cooking School, which taught classic French cuisine. Years later, when Italian cooking became all the rage, I would spend many happy hours teaching there, but when I first met Peter, I was a young food writer with an assignment to write an instructive article on proper roasting techniques. When I called him with some questions, he invited me to sit in on a class he taught devoted entirely to roasting chicken. The results were a revelation, and even now, I can say that the chicken I ate that evening was one of the most delicious I have ever tasted: crusty-skinned and juicy. Even the breast, which I usually avoid, was moist and tasty, saturated with the flavors of butter and tarragon. I was initiated. The recipe became a keeper in my otherwise largely Italian repertoire.

The classic, straight oven-roasting method involves starting at a fairly high temperature to sear and brown the skin, then lowering it to cook the meat through. The technique follows, unaltered over the years save for a few tweaks — the most important being pre-salting and then air-chilling the bird before cooking, a simple step that keeps the moisture in and results in astonishing flavor and crispy skin.

Poulet rôti: A cheat sheet

Trussing the bird. A proud French chef. Credit: Copyright 2015 Laura Cornell, courtesy of Laura Cornell and Julia della Croce

Trussing the bird. A proud French chef. Credit: Copyright 2015 Laura Cornell, courtesy of Laura Cornell and Julia della Croce

Preparing the bird:

  • To keep the juices in, truss the bird using cotton kitchen twine, tying the ankles together and drawing them close to the breast. You can either tuck the wings under the back or tie a string around the girth to fasten them.

The roasting pan and other equipment:

  • To prevent the bird from steaming rather than roasting, you must select a  pan of the right shape and size: it should be just large enough to fit the bird easily and no larger. For a 4-pound bird, it should be 8 x 11 inches and no more than 2 inches deep, fitted with a V-rack that elevates the bird above the sides of the pan.
  • An alternative to a rack is to elevate the chicken on a single layer of thickly sliced carrots and onions (or lemon slices, if you like).
  • Fowl takes on the flavor of all the other ingredients in the roasting pan. Carrots and onions are the classic aromatics. If the vegetables are permitted to burn (which is likely if the pan is too large for the bird), the roast will take on their bitterness.
  • Use a good meat thermometer to test doneness. Cheap ones lose their accuracy after a few uses.
  • If you make stuffing, bake it in a separate buttered dish.

Turning and basting:

  • While everyone would probably agree that the best way to ensure a juicy bird with crisp skin is to spit-roast it, turning and basting in the home oven simulates the rotisserie principle. Use melted butter, good olive oil or a mixture of the two for basting, not broth — it makes the skin flabby.
  • Each time you remove the bird from the oven to turn and baste, shut the oven door immediately. Even a minute with the door open will throw off the temperature and cooking time.
  • Allow the chicken to rest 20 to 30 minutes before carving. This helps the bird to retain its juices; instead of immediately running out at the point of a knife, they will retreat into the tissues of the bird and stay there.

French-Roast Chicken With Herbs, Garlic and Pan Gravy

The perfect poulet. Credit: Copyright 2010 Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton in “Italian Home Cooking: 125 Recipes To Comfort Your Soul” (Kyle Books), Julia della Croce

The perfect poulet. Credit: Copyright 2010 Christopher Hirsheimer and Melissa Hamilton in “Italian Home Cooking: 125 Recipes To Comfort Your Soul” (Kyle Books), Julia della Croce

Prep time: 30 minutes, plus 8 to 48 hours for chilling

Cooking time: Approximately 1 1/4 hour

Total time: About 2 hours

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

4 large cloves garlic

3 tablespoons soft unsalted butter, plus additional melted butter or good olive oil for basting

1 (4-pound) free-range chicken

Fine sea salt

Freshly ground pepper

1 bunch fresh tarragon sprigs; alternatively, rosemary or thyme if you prefer

3 to 4 teaspoons kosher salt

Suggested equipment: 8 x 11 x 2-inch baking pan, V-rack to fit the pan, instant-read meat thermometer, cotton kitchen twine

Directions

1. Grate one garlic clove finely, preferably with a microplane grater, and blend it with the soft butter. Holding the chicken over a sink, drain any liquid out of the cavity and remove any giblets. Use paper towels to blot the chicken well inside and out until it is absolutely dry (no need to wash it). Remove excess fat from the chicken, taking care not to tear the skin. Sprinkle the cavity lightly with sea salt and pepper and slip in the remaining garlic cloves and some of the herb sprigs of your choice. Gently and carefully separate the skin from the flesh of the breast and thighs without tearing, using your fingers or the rounded end of a wooden spoon. With your fingers, insert the garlic butter into the pockets, smearing as much of the flesh as you can. Push in the remaining herb. Rub the inside of the neck cavity with any garlic butter that remains. Sprinkle kosher salt and pepper on the skin, covering all surfaces. Transfer the bird, breast side up, to a rack on a platter to allow air circulation and chill, loosely covered with a thin cotton dish towel, for 8 to 48 hours.

2. Before cooking, bring the bird to room temperature for 1 hour. Preheat an oven to 450 F (425 F convection) for at least 20 minutes. Preheat your roasting pan, which should fit the dimensions given in the cook’s tips section above.

3. Make sure that the skin is completely dry. Truss the chicken using cotton kitchen twine, drawing the legs close to the breast to plump up the bird until it forms a snug ball and then tying the ankles together securely. Tuck the wings under the back; alternatively, pass string around its girth and tie the wings securely. Brush melted butter or olive oil on the entire surface of the bird and place it breast-up on a cold oiled V-rack in the preheated roasting pan.

4. Slide the pan onto the middle oven rack, legs facing the oven rear where the temperature is hotter. Roast for 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and reduce the oven temperature to 375 F (350 F for convection) Turn the bird on one side and baste with butter or olive oil. Return it to the oven and roast for 20 minutes. Then repeat the procedure for the other side, roasting for 20 minutes more. Take the chicken out to check the internal temperature, inserting the instant-read thermometer into the thigh at the thickest part, away from the bone. It should register at 170 F.  If the bird is not cooked through, flip it on its back and return it to the oven for 5-minute increments until it reaches the right temperature. It should be a uniform golden color with crisp, taut skin. Transfer the bird to a carving board with a gutter that will capture its juices. Remove the strings and let it rest for 30 minutes in a warm place.

5. While the bird is resting, make the gravy. Use a wooden spoon to dislodge any bits of meat stuck to the bottom of the roasting pan. Add 3 to 4 tablespoons water to the drippings. Warm the roasting pan on the stove top over medium heat. Simmer to reduce the liquid to about 1/2 cup, then pour through a fine mesh strainer. Separate the grease from the natural juices using a spoon or a fat separator. Check for seasoning.

6. When the bird has rested, detach the wings and legs at the joints. Use a very sharp carving knife to cut the breast into thin slices. Arrange all nicely on a warm platter. Discard the herbs in the cavity. Add any juices that have collected during carving to the gravy you have made. Pour a little of the gravy over the carved chicken and pass the rest at the table.

Main photo: French-style roast chicken. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

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Tummàla, a Sicilian Christmas specialty. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Families all seem to have their own Christmas classics — roast turkey, baked ham, crown roast or pork, or prime rib. Many Italian-Americans will have lasagna or a feast of seven fishes. One spectacular preparation for a change of pace is to follow some families and make the classic Sicilian Christmas tummàla.

Tummàla is a timbale of rice, a magnificent concoction of layers of baked rice, poached chicken, veal meatballs, hard-boiled eggs, cheeses and a cheesed omelet to create a golden mantle.

Although a Christmas specialty, Sicilian cooks prepare tummàla for all sorts of celebrations when a grand culinary gesture is warranted. It is considered a representative example of cucina arabo-sicula, a contemporary folkloric expression of a supposed Arab culinary sensibility found vestigially in the contemporary Sicilian kitchen, some 800 years after the last of the Arab-Sicilian population disappeared. At the very least, it is considered Arab-Sicilian because the Arabs introduced rice to the island in the ninth or 10th century.

The Italian translation of the Sicilian tummàla is timballo, leading one to believe that this dish is derived from the French timbale, a baking mold in the shape of a kettledrum, hence its name.

In fact, the name comes either from Muhammed Ibn al-Thumna, the 11th-century emir of Catania, or from tummala, the purported Arabic name for a certain kind of plate, although that etymology is not confirmed.

Assembling a Sicilian classic

Assembling Tummàla. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Assembling tummala. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Traditionally, this dish is made with a chicken with its unborn eggs. The cheeses called for are pecorino pepato, caciocavallo and fresh mozzarella. Pecorino pepato is a young pecorino cheese made with peppercorns thrown into the curd. Caciocavallo is a spun-curd cow’s milk cheese and can be replaced with provolone.

Mozzarella is used in place of fresh tuma, a fresh pecorino cheese that is only found at the source of production, so it’s not available in this country. It is possible to find a young tuma aged between three and six months in Italian markets in the United Sates. One can also try Internet sources such as Murray’s Cheese or igourmet.com.

Finally, don’t let the list of ingredients intimidate you. Great length, in this case, does not mean great difficulty.

Sicilian Christmas Tummàla

Prep time: 1 1/2 hours

Cooking time: 3 1/2 hours

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

Ingredients

One 3-pound chicken

2 medium onions, cut into eighths

2 celery stalks, cut into chunks

4 ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and quartered

5 fresh parsley sprigs

10 black peppercorns

1/2 cup fresh bread crumbs

3 tablespoons milk

3/4 pound ground veal

3/4 pound pecorino pepato cheese, grated, divided

1 large garlic clove, finely chopped

6 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley, divided

1/2 teaspoon salt 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

7 large eggs (2 hard-boiled and sliced)

1 medium onion, chopped

2 tablespoons pork lard

1/2 pound mild Italian sausage, sliced 1/2 inch thick

1/4 pound pork rind (optional), cut into thin strips

2 tablespoons tomato paste

2 1/2 cups (1 1/4 pounds) short grain rice, such as Arborio rice, soaked in tepid water to cover for 30 minutes or rinsed well in a strainer, drained

Unsalted butter as needed

1 cup dry bread crumbs

1/2 pound fresh mozzarella cheese, sliced

1/4 pound caciocavallo cheese, thinly sliced

1/4 pound pecorino cheese, grated

Directions

1. In a large stockpot that will fit the chicken comfortably, place the chicken with its gizzards, onions, celery stalks, tomatoes, parsley sprigs and peppercorns. Cover with cold water and bring to a near boil over high heat. As soon as the water looks like it is going to boil, reduce immediately to a simmer and cook the chicken until the meat falls off the bone when pushed with a fork, without letting the water boil, 2 hours. Don’t let the water bubble; otherwise it toughens the chicken.

2. Meanwhile, prepare the veal croquettes. In a bowl, soak the fresh bread crumbs in the milk. If the mixture looks soggy, squeeze the milk out. Add the veal, half of the pecorino pepato, the garlic, 2 tablespoons chopped parsley, 1/2 teaspoon salt and the pepper. Lightly beat 1 egg and add to the mixture. Mix well with a fork or your hands. Form croquettes the size and shape of your thumb. Cover and put aside in the refrigerator.

3. Drain the chicken, saving all the broth in a smaller pot. Remove and discard all the skin and bones from the chicken and cut the meat into small pieces.

4. In a large sauté pan, cook, stirring, the chopped onion in 1 tablespoon lard over medium heat until golden, about 8 minutes. Remove from the pan and set aside. Add the remaining lard to the pan and cook the veal croquettes until they are browned. Add the sausage and the pork rind and cook for 10 minutes. Add the sautéed onion, the remaining 4 tablespoons parsley and the tomato paste diluted in 1 cup hot water. Cook over low heat for 10 minutes. Set aside.

5. Preheat oven to 350 F.

6. Bring the chicken broth from step 1 to a boil and reduce by one-third. Pour 2 1/2 cups broth into a heavy saucepan, bring to a boil, add the rice and about 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Cook, covered and without stirring, until al dente, about 15 minutes. Pour about 3/4 cup broth into the veal-sausage mixture.

7. Drain the rice, if necessary, and mix it with the remaining pecorino pepato.

8. Butter a deep baking dish or baking casserole and spread 1 cup dry bread crumbs on the bottom, shaking vigorously to spread them thin so that they coat the bottom of the baking dish, dumping out any excess.

9. Spread the rice on top of the bread crumbs, about 3/4 inch deep. Spread three-quarters of the chicken and half of the veal croquettes and sausage mixture on top of the rice. Make a layer of hard-boiled egg. Layer the mozzarella cheese on top of the eggs. Cover with the remaining veal and sauce. Spread on a layer of caciocavallo cheese. Mix the remaining chicken with the remaining rice and spread it on top.

10. Beat the remaining 4 eggs lightly and combine with the pecorino cheese. Season with salt and pepper. Pour the sauce evenly over the top.

11. Bake until the top has a nice golden crust, about 1 hour. Check from time to time to be sure it doesn’t dry out. The tummàla can be served directly from the baking dish with the pan sauces or with tomato sauce.

Tummàla. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Tummala. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

Main photo: Tummàla, a Sicilian Christmas specialty. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright

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Try serving a

For simple holiday entertaining, take a cue from Italy and select a few quality ingredients that are wonderful alone, but that can dress up for any party. Three Italian classics — Grana Padano aged cheese, Prosciutto di San Daniele and Mortadella Bologna — can create dozens of delectable nibbles.

Following is a look at some of the possibilities.

Entertaining gluten-free

Wrap a slice of succulent prosciutto around veggies for elegant Italian umami "sushi." Credit: Courtesy of Mortadella Bologna IGP

Wrap a slice of succulent prosciutto around veggies for elegant Italian umami “sushi.” Credit: Courtesy of Mortadella Bologna IGP

Thinly slice prosciutto or Mortadella Bologna and serve on a pretty wooden board. Set out wedges of Grana Padano  with a cheese knife and clusters of grapes for simple, elegant party nibbles.

Wrap a slice of succulent prosciutto around veggies for Italian umami “sushi.” Try zucchini, carrots, enoki mushrooms, cucumber and avocado, which all pair wonderfully with prosciutto. Mortadella Bologna also makes a great roll-up. Sprinkle with chopped pistachios for color and crunch.

Fruit pair perfectly with cold cuts and cheese. Melon is a classic with prosciutto, so for a festive variation, dice cubes to create mini bites. Cantaloupe and honeydew melons make a pretty color mix.

Figs and fruits

Figs pair perfectly with cold cuts and cheese. Credit: Courtesy of "Philosopher’s Kitchen," Random House

Figs pair perfectly with cold cuts and cheese. Credit: Courtesy of “Philosopher’s Kitchen,” Random House

Figs too are a classic pairing, but fresh figs aren’t readily available during the holidays, so use dried instead. Simmer a dozen dried figs in a cup of white wine to make them soft and summer sweet.

Top with anything you like including prosciutto, chopped pistachios with honey and mascarpone cheese with a sprinkle of lemon zest.

Guests love a little skewer to nibble with a glass of bubbly Prosecco Superiore. Try Prosciutto di San Daniele and Grana Padano served with fried sage leaves and cubes of Mortadella Bologna accompanied by pistachio cream, made by blending finely ground pistachios with a little heavy cream and mascarpone or cream cheese. Fresh fruit like pears, apples and grapes pair perfectly with the naturally creamy sweetness of Grana Padano. It’s also wonderful with dried fruit. Spear chunks with olives and dried cranberries for a tangy-savory combo.

A toast to the party

Melt Grana Padano cheese with prosciutto or mortadella for bruschetta toppings. Credit: Courtesy of Grama Padano DOP

Melt Grana Padano cheese with prosciutto or mortadella for bruschetta toppings. Credit: Courtesy of Grama Padano DOP

Grana Padano lends itself to all sorts of bruschetta toppings. Melt onto bread to accompany Prosciutto di San Daniele or Mortadella Bologna, or for a vegetarian option top with chopped fresh or sun dried tomatoes or red bell peppers.

Mini sandwiches are always a party favorite. For an Italian riff — called “panettone gastronomico” — horizontally cut tall brioche bread into 7 equal slices to create 3 sandwich layers. Use your favorite filling, then stack and slice into triangles. The top section sits above as a decorative garnish.

Little baked pasta cups make a versatile appetizer. Just a quarter pound of pasta makes 24 bite-sized treats that can be eaten plain or topped. To make, combine cooked angel hair pasta with a beaten egg and some grated aged cheese. Twirl on a fork and bake into mini muffin tins until firm and golden at the edges. Then serve plain or topped with Prosciutto di San Daniele, Mortadella Bologna, shaved Grana Padano or pesto.

Everything Cheese Crisps

These cheese crisps are perfect to serve with cocktails, for garnishing soup or salad, or just as an afternoon snack. Credit: Copyright 2011 Quentin Bacon

These cheese crisps are perfect to serve with cocktails, for garnishing soup or salad, or just as an afternoon snack. Credit: Copyright 2011 Quentin Bacon

The usual bag of chips is OK for everyday, but dazzle party guests with these creative cheese crisps by cookbook author and PBS TV host Ellie Krieger who notes, “These easy, cheesy nibbles are a gigantic punch of Grana Padano flavor in a light lacy crisp. I brought in an extra touch of fun by flavoring them with all of the seasonings of my favorite “everything” bagel.”

Adapted from Comfort Food Fix, © 2011 by Ellie Krieger. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. All rights reserved.

Prep time: 10  minutes

Bake time: 8 minutes

Total time: 18 minutes

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

2/3 cup finely grated Grana Padano cheese (2 ounces)

1 teaspoon all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons sesame seeds

1 teaspoon poppy seeds

1 teaspoon dried minced onion

1/2 teaspoon garlic powder

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a small bowl, combine the cheese, flour, seeds, onion, and garlic powder. Spoon heaping teaspoons of the mixture onto the prepared baking sheet, leaving 2 inches between each mound. Using your fingers, pat the mounds down, spreading them so each is about 2 1/2 inches in diameter. Bake until they are golden brown, about 8 minutes. Allow to cool completely on the baking sheet before lifting them off carefully. Make the crisps up to 2 days ahead and store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Main photo: Try serving a “panettone gastronomico,” a sandwich tower, at your next party. Credit: Copyright Rovia Signorelli, Alessandria Italy

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Zengoula are infinitely more wonderful when infused with a tangy lemon syrup. Credit: Copyright 2015 Staci Valentine.

When it comes to Hanukkah, are you of the latke persuasion or are you in the fried pastry camp: sufganiyot, buñuelos, zengoula?

The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen

"The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen"

By Amelia Saltsman,

Sterling Epicure, 2015, 320 pages

» Click here to buy the book

Did you know there’s an alternate fried-food universe beyond potato pancakes? Not only is there a whole new/old world of Hanukkah foods to dive into, there is a hidden wealth of meaning that brings 21st-century relevance to the familiar tale of the Maccabees and the mythical bit of oil.

Before we jump in, I should tell you that Hanukkah is my favorite holiday. And that I’m the daughter of an Iraqi father and a Romanian mother, whose families immigrated to Palestine in the early 1930s. My parents met in the Israeli army, came to Los Angeles a few months before I was born to further their education and stayed.

You should also know that I’m devoted to the farmers who grow my food. All of which make fertile ground for what comes next. As the young child of busy students, my affection for Hanukkah didn’t stem from elaborate presents, large parties or even alluring aromas from the kitchen. Far from extended family and time-honored traditions, we drew to the glowing candles of the Hanukkah menorah (hanukiyah) as though to a cozy fireplace. The sense of warmth and togetherness fed my soul long before I could have articulated the concept. Little did I know that I was tapping into Hanukkah’s very heart.

A child’s favorite holiday

Amelia Saltsman with her parents, Benjamin and Serilla Ben-Aziz, in 1955. Credit: Courtesy of Amelia Saltsman

Amelia Saltsman with her parents, Benjamin and Serilla Ben-Aziz, in 1955. Credit: Photo courtesy of Amelia Saltsman

Much of the Hanukkah story is common Sunday school stuff. The Festival of Lights, a minor holiday in the Jewish calendar, commemorates the triumph of Judah and his band of Maccabees over Syrian-Greek rule and forced assimilation, the rededication of the temple and the miraculous bit of oil that lasted eight days, which is why we eat fried foods.

The holiday offers no obvious seasonal or agricultural connections, as do the great holy festivals such as Passover that are mandated in the Torah. (Hanukkah is “minor” because during the Roman occupation when the sages were choosing which stories to include in the Bible, the tale of a successful rebellion did not, for obvious political reasons, make the cut. But that’s no reason to skip a party.)

So far, so familiar. But here’s the thing: Hanukkah begins on the dark moon closest to the winter solstice, the shortest day and longest night of the year, when the pre-electric world would have most craved light and warmth. With autumn crops tucked away and the rebirth of spring far off, a festival of light to cheer a dark winter would have been just the ticket. Aha! The seasonal touchstone is the absence of growing things, the hiatus that drives us all indoors. However did I channel that at the age of 6? Funny how one’s life passions are present before we ever understand their implications. For me, this little marvel is on a par with the eight days of oil. (For the record, Hanukkah is thought to be a reenactment of Sukkot for the fighters who had missed the autumn harvest pilgrimage festival.)

Doughnuts and latkes

The author's family makes latkes that are thin, crisp and made from grated potatoes. Credit: Copyright 2015 Staci Valentine; reprinted with permission from "The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen"

The author’s family makes latkes that are thin, crisp and made from grated potatoes. Credit: Copyright 2015 Staci Valentine; reprinted with permission from “The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen”

My Hanukkah food memories from those years are pretty sketchy, other than the Israeli holiday favorite, sufganiyot (doughnuts) that my father would bring home from the bakery where he worked evenings after class.

Latkes entered the scene when I was 9 and my sister was a baby. My mother received a gift of Sara Kasden’s “Love and Knishes,” a popular Jewish cookbook filled with Yiddish schtick. Although Hanukkah latkes are a European Jewish (Ashkenazic) custom to symbolize the oil, my mom considered them a New World treat and embraced them with gusto.

Kasden’s book defined our latke approach: thin, crisp and made from grated — not pureed — potatoes as the secret to great potato pancakes instead of ones that are raw, burnt and greasy all at the same time (a sort of negative miracle of its own). Over the years, three generations (my mother, me, my children) have perfected our skills into a zen-like rhythm, three abreast at the stove, to produce enough delicious latkes to satisfy our now-large family gatherings. (More hot tips: heat oil — no more than 1/4 inch deep — over medium heat, get oil hot enough that batter sizzles on contact, keep latkes thin — one generous tablespoonful of batter flattened with a spoon makes a three-inch pancake.)

A grandmother’s legacy

Amelia Saltsman’s paternal grandmother, Rachel Ben-Aziz, would cook the Iraqi fried funnel cakes known as zengoula. Credit: Photo courtesy of Amelia Saltsman

Amelia Saltsman’s paternal grandmother, Rachel Ben-Aziz, would cook the Iraqi fried funnel cakes known as zengoula. Credit: Photo courtesy of Amelia Saltsman

It wasn’t until many years later that I discovered another Hanukkah miracle: my Iraqi grandmother’s recipe for zengoula — crisp fried funnel cakes drenched in simple syrup. The coiled pastries are a centuries-old favorite in the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asia (where they are called jalebi), and were adopted by Iraqi Jews for Hanukkah.

The Sephardic treats are addictive, each crunchy bite shattering to a burst of sweet syrup. How had I missed the fun all these years? Although our family began transatlantic visits back and forth in 1961 and I had vivid memories of the dishes my Safta Rachel cooked for us, this one had escaped me.

But my cousin Elan Garonzik remembered them. Whenever our Safta visited his family in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, before heading west to us, Elan took careful notes as he cooked with our grandmother and still has his handwritten zengoula notes from the 1960s. I needed his help to work up a proper recipe.

Relearning a recipe

Three generations make latkes. From left: Amelia Saltsman; her daughter, Rebecca Saltsman; and Saltsman’s mother, Serilla Ben-Aziz. Credit: Photo courtesy of Amelia Saltsman

Three generations make latkes. From left: Amelia Saltsman; her daughter, Rebecca Saltsman; and Saltsman’s mother, Serilla Ben-Aziz. Credit: Photo courtesy of Amelia Saltsman

As luck, or miracle, would have it, I visited Elan, now a New Yorker, when the Museum of Jewish Heritage was showing “Iraqi Jewish Archives.” The exhibit depicts the discovery by a U.S. army team of thousands of books, Torah fragments, shopping lists and other ephemera that tell the 2,500-year story of Jews in Iraq, instead of the WMD they were seeking in that Baghdad basement. Go figure.

Elan and I whisked up the simple batter, set it to proof and headed to the museum. We wandered the exhibit, gazing at photos of youngsters who reminded us of his mother and my father. We came around a corner to a display about Hanukkah, which described local holiday customs including zengoula, the only dish mentioned in the show. It was, as they say in Yiddish, beshert (meant to be).

Today, we’re four generations celebrating together. Over eight days, our latkes, zengoula and sufganiyot pay tribute to “free to be you and me” diversity and remind us that it is indeed about the oil — not too much and hot enough. And in the spirit of our forefathers, we bask in the warmth of candlelight as we embrace a “minor” holiday to its fullest measure.

Zengoula With Lemon Syrup: Iraqi funnel cakes (Pareve)

Zengoula should be fried the day they are to be eaten, although the batter must be made ahead. Credit: Copyright 2015 Staci Valentine; reprinted with permission from "The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen"

Zengoula should be fried the day they are to be eaten, although the batter must be made ahead. Credit: Copyright 2015 Staci Valentine; reprinted with permission from “The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen”

Prep time: 30 minutes, plus 6 to 24 hours to proof

Cook time: 45 minutes

Yield: 8 servings

Traditionally soaked in sugar syrup, zengoula are infinitely more wonderful when infused with a tangy lemon syrup. It takes only a few minutes to whisk together the forgiving batter the night before you want to serve zengoula, and the pastries can be fried early in the day you want to serve them. You will need to begin this recipe at least six hours before you want to serve zengoula.

Ingredients

For the dough:

1 1⁄8 teaspoons (half package) active dry yeast

1 1/4 cups warm water (100 to 110 degrees)

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

3/4 cup cornstarch

Scant 1/2 teaspoon salt

For the syrup:

2 to 3 lemons

1/2 cup water

1 cup sugar

2 quarts mild oil for frying, such as grapeseed, sunflower or avocado

Directions

To make the dough:

1. In a small bowl, stir together the yeast and 1/4 cup of the warm water and let stand in a warm place until the mixture bubbles, about 10 minutes.

2. In a medium bowl, using a fork, stir together the flour, cornstarch and salt. Stir in 1/2 cup of the warm water and the yeast mixture. Slowly stir in enough of the remaining 1/2 cup warm water until the dough is lump-free and the consistency of thick pancake batter.

3. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until doubled in bulk, at least 6 hours or up to 24 hours.

To make the lemon syrup:

Using a five-hole zester, remove the zest from 1 of the lemons in long strands. Halve and squeeze enough lemons to yield 1/3 cup juice. In a small pot, stir together the lemon juice and zest, water and sugar over medium heat. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring frequently, until the sugar is completely dissolved and clear, about 1 minute. Pour into a pie pan and let cool. (The syrup can be made 1 day ahead, covered and refrigerated.)

To make the fritters:

1. Scrape the dough into a 1-gallon resealable plastic bag or large pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch plain pastry tip and set the bag in a bowl for support. Let the dough stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes.

2. Pour the oil to a depth of 3 1/2 inches into a 4- or 5-quart pot, wok or electric fryer and heat to 375°F. If using a plastic bag for the dough, snip 1/4 inch off one of the bottom corners, cutting on the diagonal, to create a piping tip. Roll the top of the pastry bag closed to move the batter toward the opening.

3. Pipe a bit of the batter into the hot oil. The oil should bubble around the batter immediately. If it doesn’t, continue heating. Pipe the dough into the hot oil, creating 3- to 4-inch coils or squiggles. Be careful not to crowd the pan. Fry the dough, turning once at the halfway point, until bubbled, golden and crisp, 4 to 5 minutes total.

4. Use a slotted spoon to fish the fritters out of the oil, drain them briefly on a towel-lined plate, and then drop them into the syrup for a moment or two, turning them to coat evenly. Lift them out of the syrup and transfer them to a tray in a single layer to cool. Repeat with remaining batter, skimming any loose bits of dough from the hot oil between batches to prevent burning.

5. The cooled pastries can be piled on a platter. Pour any remaining syrup over the top. The fritters taste best served the same day they are made, although they will hold their crispness overnight. Store loosely covered at room temperature.

Adapted with permission from “The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen: A Fresh Take on Tradition” © 2015 by Amelia Saltsman, Sterling Epicure, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.

Main photo: Zengoula are infinitely more wonderful when infused with a tangy lemon syrup. Credit: Copyright 2015 Staci Valentine; reprinted with permission from “The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen”

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