Articles in Cooking

Apple Pumpkin Pie. Credit: Michael Krondl

Was there pumpkin pie at that first legendary Thanksgiving? My bet is there was.

You will recall from grade school that the first grand feed was held in Plymouth, Mass., in 1621 by the Pilgrims to mark their first harvest — and the fact they were alive. This was something to celebrate, given that 50% of their compatriots didn’t make it through the first year. We know they the feast lasted more than three days, but exactly what was on the menu remains a bit of a mystery.

The English being English, the reports of the event mention only the meat. We know they invited about 90 Wampanoag who brought plenty of venison, and the Englishmen managed to bag a week’s worth of unnamed game birds, so there’s a pretty good chance wild turkeys were among them. As far as cranberry sauce and mashed potatoes, marshmallow-topped yams and Campbell’s green bean casserole, or even pie, the record is silent. We know they had no potatoes, marshmallows or Campbell’s soup.

But there’s a semi-decent chance they might have sent the kids into the cranberry bogs to pick the autumn fruit and stewed some sort of condiment out it. After all, this sort of thing was popular enough in England at the time. And they probably did have pie, an English staple if ever there were one, though apple pie would have been out of the question — not because they wouldn’t have been familiar with it. Apple pie is mentioned as early as the 14th century, and the cookbooks familiar to the Puritans included plenty of apple pie recipes. The trouble was, any apple trees in Massachusetts would have been no more than seedlings.

What were the other options? Back across the Atlantic, pie shells — or “coffins,” as they were known — could be filled with just about anything: pigeons, mutton haunches, minced meat, baby pigs, rabbits. For a lark, four and twenty live blackbirds might be tucked away in a pie crust and released at the dinner table. Fruit and vegetables were popular fillings as well, often sweetened, but not always. Pumpkins, or pompions, as they were called, had taken up root in England long before the Mayflower sailed and consequently pumpkin pie recipes showed up early, though not in a form the test kitchens at Libby’s would recognize. John Gerard recommended baking them sliced with apples in the 1590s. Hannah Woolley’s popular 17th-century culinary guide, “A Gentlewoman’s Companion,” described a “pompion pye” made by sautéing pumpkin pieces with thyme, rosemary, marjoram, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and pepper. These are mixed with eggs and sugar and layered in the pie shell with apples and currants. To serve the pie, you lift off the lid, stir the pumpkin to a purée and replace the lid.

Apparently, there were parts of England where pumpkins were cultivated specifically for a custardy apple pumpkin pie. It’s reasonable to surmise that early New England settlers made something similar but with just pumpkins. Maybe pompion pye, made of familiar native squash, was one of the exotic European preparations the Wampanoag guests got to taste in 1621.

Inside the pumpkins. Credit: Michael Krondl

Inside the pumpkins. Credit: Michael Krondl

Certainly the kind of smooth pumpkin custard-filled pie we’re familiar with became commonplace in New England. Amelia Simmons’ “American Cookery” from 1796 has a couple of recipes for it as well as a variant made with apples mixed with squash. All these are based on old-world models, on pies filled with a sweet purée of potatoes, chestnuts, quinces or even African yams. The main difference: In the king’s English, these were called “baked puddings”; in America they eventually came to be “pies.”

No Libby’s for this apple pumpkin pie

Compared to 100 or more years ago, today’s cook is presented with both advantages and impediments to making a decent pumpkin pie. Canned pumpkin is ubiquitous, almost all of it made by Libby’s, from a pumpkin variety called Dickinson that resembles a giant, tan football. Finding your own cooking pumpkin, however, isn’t always easy.

Pumpkins for pie. Michael Krondl

Pumpkins for pie. Michael Krondl

There are plenty of those big, happy, orange pumpkins, but they are intended for carving jack-o’-lanterns, not eating. Their flesh is scrawny, insipid and altogether useless for pie, or any other culinary effect. Like the Libby’s variety, cooking pumpkins tend to be the color of butternut squash, with a thick layer of orange flesh. The so-called cheese pumpkin is one kind that can be found at farmers markets this time of year. But even these, you can’t just roast and use. To get the desired density for a custard-type pumpkin pie, the roasted pumpkin flesh needs to be lightly puréed (a food processor or food mill will do the job) and then drained. The easiest way to do this is to line a large sieve or colander with a coffee filter. After two or three hours, the consistency will approximate what comes from a Libby’s can.

Is it worth the effort? That’s not the sort of question a Puritan would ask.

Apple Pumpkin Pie slice. Credit: Michael Krondl

Apple Pumpkin Pie slice. Credit: Michael Krondl

Apple Pumpkin Pie

Adapted from “The Great Little Pumpkin Cookbook”

Prep time: about 1/2 hour

Cook time: about 1 hour

Total time: 1 1/2 hours plus time needed to make pastry

Yield: 8 to 10 servings

While this doesn’t exactly reproduce the consistency of the old British custardy pumpkin apple pies, it is a tasty departure from the usual autumn staples. If a cooking pumpkin isn’t available, a butternut squash will serve the same purpose.

1 recipe double crust pie pastry (recipe follows)

1 1/2 pounds cooking pumpkin or butternut squash

1 pound firm cooking apples such as Northern Spy, Baldwin or golden delicious

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

3 tablespoons flour

3/4 cup dark brown sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Large pinch nutmeg

Large pinch cloves

1 egg, lightly beaten

Directions

1. Roll out half of the pastry for a bottom crust and place in a 9-inch pie pan. Refrigerate.

2. Preheat oven to 425 F.

3. Scoop out the pumpkin seeds, cut the pumpkin into 1-inch strips, cut away the peel and slice the strips into 1/8-inch thick pieces. (You should have 4 cups.)

4. Peel, quarter and core the apples. Cut into 1/4-inch slices.

5. In a large bowl, toss the pumpkin with the apples, vinegar, flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Arrange in the pastry-lined pie pan.

6. Brush the edge of the dough with the beaten egg.

7. Roll out the remaining dough and place on top of the filling. Crimp the edges. Cut vent holes in the top crust and brush the top with the egg.

8. Set on the bottom shelf of the oven. Bake 20 minutes. Lower temperature to 350 F. Continue baking until golden brown and the pumpkin offers no resistance to a knife or skewer, about 1 more hour.

9. Cool at least 2 hours before serving. Serve at room temperature or slightly warm.

Double Crust Pie Pastry

Prep time: 10 minutes

Total time: 10 minutes plus 2 or more hours of chilling

Yield: Makes enough dough for 1 double crust or 2 single crust pies.

Ingredients

2 1/3 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

8 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

6 tablespoons lard or vegetable shortening

about 1/3 cup ice water

Directions

1. Sift together the flour, and salt. Add the butter and shortening. Using your hands or a pastry cutter, break up the two fats in the flour until the mixture is about as fine as rolled oats.

2. Add just enough water to moisten the flour. Toss to form a rather dry dough. Do not overmix. Gather the dough together and wrap in plastic film. Refrigerate at least 2 hours.

Note: The dough may be made ahead and refrigerated for up to 3 days or frozen for several months.

Main photo: Apple Pumpkin Pie. Credit: Michael Krondl

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A live Dungeness crab. Credit: David Gomez/iStock

As Americans there are certain holiday food traditions many of us share: turkey at Thanksgiving, gingerbread at Christmas. But in addition to these commonalities, regional specialties, from tamales in Texas to kalua turkeys in Hawaii, contribute local flavor to our celebrations. In the San Francisco Bay Area, the holiday table wouldn’t be complete without Dungeness crabs.

This succulent bottom-feeder was first harvested commercially from the San Francisco/Bodega Bay waters in the mid-1800s, and Bay Area residents have been feasting on its sweet meat ever since.

The region’s commercial crab fishing season opens just before Thanksgiving and lasts only as long as the crabs do. Often, the supply runs out not long after the ringing in of the New Year. With such a short season, Northern Californians strive to eat as many Dungeness crabs as possible before they disappear — and what better time to do it than the holidays?

Unlike the ubiquitous Thanksgiving turkey, Dungeness crabs are not associated with a particular winter holiday. Some people have them for Christmas, others for New Year’s Eve, or even Black Friday.

For Joy Sterling, whose family owns Iron Horse Vineyards in western Sonoma County, Thanksgiving is the best time for crabs. “Our tradition is to start with cold, cracked Dungeness crab fresh from Bodega Bay, just 13 miles from us as the crow flies,” she said. It’s served buffet style, as a pre-turkey appetizer, along with the winery’s unoaked Chardonnay. “We like a traditional Louis dressing, which is a Northern California invention, sliced Meyer lemons, bright Rangpur limes and regular limes.”

At the Stony Point location of Oliver’s Market in Santa Rosa, people begin lining up at 6:30 a.m. on Christmas Eve to buy Dungeness crabs for their holiday feasts. Before the day is over, the store will easily sell 1,000 pounds of crab. “It takes at least an hour to get through the line,” crab-lover Kelly Keagy of Santa Rosa said, “but people are nice and in a good mood.”

Keagy’s family has been eating crabs on Christmas Eve for the last 10 years, accompanied by warm sourdough bread and salad. “When the kids were little, crab wouldn’t have been high on their list of favorite foods,” she said. “Now that everybody is older, crab and Champagne are the highlights of our Christmas Eve.”

Supply and demand

Having a family tradition of eating Dungeness crabs at Thanksgiving can be a bit risky, due to supply fluctuations. Some would even call it foodhardy.

“Three things can affect availability at Thanksgiving,” said Scott Lenhart, founder of San Francisco Crabs, which supplies live Dungeness crabs to individuals, restaurants and retailers. “One is a bad crab season, or something like the oil spill a few years ago where they don’t catch any. Second, there can be strikes, when crab fishermen are negotiating for pricing. Then you can also have horrendous weather.”

International orders can also cut into the local crab supply. “China’s taken a huge amount of crab from us, and that’s one reason the prices are going up,” Lenhart said. “There’s a huge Asian market for Dungeness crab for special occasions, and for the rising middle class.”

Nick’s Cove crab cakes. Credit: Justin Lewis.

Nick’s Cove crab cakes. Credit: Justin Lewis

And because Northern California’s Dungeness crab season opens before those in Oregon and Alaska, out-of-state crabbers head south to get an early start. “They come to our waters and scour our crabs,” Lenhart said.

Even so, he always has Dungeness crabs on his Thanksgiving table. “I’ve been having Dungeness crab with turkey for a long time,” he said. The crabs are simply boiled with a little sea salt, and eaten without embellishment. “You don’t need garlic or butter. It’s good right out of the pot as soon as it’s cool enough to eat.”

Getting creative with crabs

At Nick’s Cove Restaurant, in the town of Marshall on Tomales Bay, executive chef Austin Perkins gives Dungeness crabs a gourmet twist. For the restaurant’s annual Thanksgiving dinner, as an alternative to the traditional turkey entrée, he serves up wood-fired whole Dungeness crab with fingerling potatoes and rosemary butter.

“Dungeness is a little bit sweeter and a lot milder than most other types of crab,” Perkins said. “We use it in many different ways at the restaurant, from crab cakes to our Dungeness crab mac and cheese.”

For those boiling crabs at home, he offered this advice: “After cooking, you need to remove the top part of the crab’s shell and remove all the intestines. After that, look for grayish gills on the sides and scrape those away as well.” Then the crab is ready to crack and eat, or use in a recipe.

Although Lenhart of San Francisco Crabs prefers his Dungeness crabs unadorned, he said he also likes them deep fried, or simmered in cioppino, San Francisco’s signature fish stew. “There’s nothing wrong with ginger crab at a nice Chinese restaurant, either,” he said. “But for Thanksgiving, you don’t need any sauces. You just can’t beat it.”

Nick’s Cove Dungeness Crab Cakes

Cooking Time: About 6 minutes per batch (3 minutes per side)

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

3/4 pound Dungeness crab meat, cooked and shelled

2 cups mayonnaise

2 tablespoons Old Bay seasoning

1 teaspoon salt

1/8 cup panko bread crumbs, plus an additional 1/2 cup for coating

Oil for pan frying (preferably rice bran oil or vegetable oil)

For garnish:

Spicy Paprika Aioli (recipe below)

Arugula and shaved fennel

Directions

1. Place all ingredients in a large bowl and combine with hands until thoroughly mixed.

2. Weigh out 1 1/2 ounce portions and form them into cakes.

3. Roll cakes to coat in more panko, and brown them on the top and bottom surfaces in a hot sauté pan coated with oil (about 3 tablespoons, enough to cover the bottom of the pan).

4. Serve with Spicy Paprika Aioli, arugula and shaved fennel.

Spicy Paprika Aioli

Yield: About 1 cup

Ingredients

1 cup mayonnaise

2 tablespoons smoked paprika

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1/2 tablespoon cayenne pepper

1/2 tablespoon salt

Directions

Whisk everything together to combine.

Main photo: A live Dungeness crab. Credit: David Gomez/iStock

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Salmon in pastry is an alternative Thanksgiving dish. Credit:

Lots of our traditional Thanksgiving dishes come from the English. Food we think of as American, like apple pie and turkey with stuffing, originated in Elizabethan England in the time of Shakespeare.

Pies, both sweet and savory, were popular back then. Savory pies were always a part of  festivities and were often made into the shape of the ingredients inside. I especially love the fish pie dishes from that era, which were made into the shape of lobster, crab or salmon with the crust embellished with elaborate pastry scales, fins, gills and other details.

This salmon in pastry recipe is a real showstopper, gorgeous and delicious. The recipe includes artichokes and asparagus, both considered aphrodisiacs in Elizabethan England and expensive delicacies in Shakespeare’s day, enjoyed only by the nobility and wealthy. The ingredients paired with the salmon here are unusual — grapes, asparagus, pistachios and oysters — but surprisingly the flavors work wonderfully together, creating a memorable dish. Perfect for Thanksgiving!

Salmon in Pastry

From: “Shakespeare’s Kitchen” by Francine Segan (Random House)

Prep Time: 15 minutes

Bake Time: 40 minutes

Total Time: 55 minutes

Yield: 12 servings

Ingredients

Store-bought or homemade pie dough

4 artichoke bottoms

1 salmon fillet, cut into twelve 2- by 3-inch pieces (about 1 1/2 pounds)

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon coarsely milled black pepper

1 dozen medium oysters or 1 can smoked oysters

12 thin asparagus stalks, cut into 1 inch pieces

24 green seedless grapes

1/4 cup coarsely chopped pistachios

1/4 cup finely ground pistachios

1 large egg, beaten

3 lemons, cut in wedges

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 375° F.

2. Roll out slightly less than one-half of the dough into a 5- by 13-inch rectangle about 1/4 inch thick and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

3. Place the artichoke bottoms in a long line down the center of the crust. Sprinkle the salmon with the salt and pepper and put over the artichokes. Arrange the oysters, asparagus stalks, green grapes, and both the coarsely and finely chopped pistachios over the salmon.

4. Roll out the remaining dough into a 5- by 13-inch rectangle and place on top of the ingredients. Trim the dough into the shape of a fish and pinch the edges to seal. Using the excess dough, add fish details, such as an eye or fin. Using a teaspoon, imprint scale and tail marks on the dough, being careful not to cut through the dough. Brush with the egg.

5. Bake the salmon for 40 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve with lemon wedges.

Main photo: A salmon in pastry dish is a real showstopper, gorgeous and delicious. Credit: “Shakespeare’s Kitchen” by Francine Segan (Random House)

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L. John Harris' Broom Ballet. Illustration credit: L. John Harris

La Vie en Rose: Île Saint-Louis, one of two small islands floating in the middle of the River Seine and hyped in travel literature as “a peaceful oasis of calm” in the heart of busy Paris, is anything but. A tourist mecca, bien sûr (of course), filled with snazzy shops and restaurants — and home to the legendary Berthillon ice cream — the scene is more Coney Island fun park than Parisian island oasis.

Our Café French lesson today takes us to the island’s trendiest cafe, Café Saint-Régis on Rue Jean du Bellay. Just across — via the Pont Saint-Louis bridge — from Paris’ other natural island, Île de la Cité, where Notre Dame resides in all its gloomy Gothic glamor. The Café Saint-Régis is what I would call faux belle, refurbished to evoke the gaudy Art Nouveau atmosphere of Belle Epoque Paris, with gaudy prices to match. It can be, like the island itself, cloying.

Living in a Parisian broom closet

Whatever joie de vivre Parisian cafes provide their devotees — like me — I’m just not buying it today at the Saint-Régis. Lest we forget, cafes have their dark side: Revolutions and assassinations have been plotted, even launched in Parisian cafes throughout history, and the despair-laden philosophy, Existentialism, was hatched in Jean-Paul Sartre’s favorite cafes after World War II.

My dark mood today is more ennui – that perfect French word for melancholy — than despair. I’ve been staying in a very small apartment on the island — much smaller than the rental agency photos indicated. So I vegetate (call it work) in the island’s cafes to escape domestic claustrophobia, something apartment-dwelling Parisians have been doing for centuries.

The only joie of note at the Saint-Régis today is triggered by my waiter waltzing (literally) around the cafe with his broom — a  push broom, a smaller version of the broom type we use in the U.S. for exterior cleanups. I could write a whole treatise on France’s bizarre broom methodology: In short, the French push, they don’t sweep!

A broom ballet on Rue Jean du Bellay

Googling broom history and etymology — in both French and English — I come across our lesson’s homophones, le ballet (the dance) and le balai (broom), identically pronounced — bal-ai.

Illustration credit: L. John Harris

Illustration credit: L. John Harris

Aha! My waiter, dressed in formal cafe black and white, is executing un ballet de balai – a broom ballet. Ennui morphs into bonheur (happiness).

But back at the apartment, my mood darkens again. The sight of the kitchen push broom leaning against the wall triggers gloom, not cafe joie. Maybe this is just a case of generic Island Fever (la fièvre de l’île), or the oppressive weight of French history that floats over the island like a giant bejeweled crown.

A whole lot-a Louis going on

Everywhere you go on Île Saint-Louis there are references to King Louis IX, the island’s beloved Saint Louis. Bridges, streets, hotels, churches and cafes carry the name or variants. Even the word régis in Café Saint-Régis, means “of the king.” My corner cafe/brasserie where I go for my morning petit déjeuner is Le Louis IX. It was Louis XIII in the 17th century, dubbed “the Just,” who developed the island’s urban plan — it had been a cow pasture — and named it in honor of Saint Louis.

À propos royal sobriquets, several of the 18 Frenchmen who have served as King Louis have earned less-flattering nicknames. In the ninth century there was “the Stammerer” (Louis II), in the 10th “the Lazy” (Louis V) and in the 12th, “the Fat” (Louis VI). You could say that the French have had a love/hate relationship with their mostly House of Bourbon Louises.

Shrimp Louis. Illustration credit: L. John Harris

Shrimp Louis. Illustration credit: L. John Harris

Honestly, I’m surprised there was never a “Shrimp Louis.” The likely candidate would be King Louis XVII, son of guillotined King Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. Never attaining the throne after the revolution, the Dauphin died in prison at age 10. He didn’t live long enough to earn a snappy moniker.

Speaking of salads

If I thought my one-bedroom apartment was small, I was corrected at a dinner in the chambre de bonne (maid’s quarters) of Paris guidebook author Annabel Simms, an English expat. Her book, “An Hour From Paris,” is a perennial seller in Paris and is designed to take tourists out of crowded Paris for memorable day trips.

The fifth floor studio walk-up on the island’s main drag, Rue Saint-Louis-en-l’Île (of course), is equipped with a tiny wall-mounted kitchenette — two burners, under counter fridge and sink. “And,” Simms boasts, “no microwave!” Simms, who is currently working on a cookbook geared to simple French apartment cooking, serves me her version of Elizabeth David‘s “Salade Parisienne,” from “French Provincial Cooking” (1962), composed of fresh vegetables, hard-boiled egg and slices of room-temperature roast beef, dressed with a vibrant vinaigrette. Simple, delicious and perfect for a warm summer night.

The conversation drifts toward my host’s mixed reviews of her island oasis lifestyle. She’s been living frugally and productively on the pricey Île Saint-Louis for more than 20 years and avoids the expensive touristy spots like Café Saint-Régis. “I love their baby Spanish sardines served in the tin with the lid rolled up,” she admits, “but I’d rather go to the cheaper Café Lutèce next door with its terrace facing north towards the Seine and the quieter right bank.”

The next day, back for a farewell crème at Café Saint-Régis before heading back to the States, I ponder Simms’ somewhat cloistered life on Île Saint-Louis. It’s telling that over the course of decades on the island, Simms has built her career as a writer in Paris based on a book that encourages tourists to get out of Paris. After only three weeks here, I’m ready to get out, too. Or is that just my Île Saint-Louis ennui speaking?

Main illustration: “Broom Ballet.” Credit: L. John Harris

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The ubiquitous chicken tikka masala can be delicious. But why stop there? Credit: Rinku Bhattacharya

Chicken tikka masala — a fairly delectable concoction of tomatoes, cream, fenugreek and grilled, boneless chicken — has become the poster child of stereotypical Indian food, leading most of us knowledgeable in Indian cuisine extremely hesitant to associate with it.

When done right, it can be a palate-pleasing dish. I mean, who can argue with smoky chicken morsels smothered in a mildly spiced tomato cream sauce? All things considered, it’s a fairly good introduction to the world of Indian cuisine before moving on to bigger and better things.

But this is where the problem lies. The love for chicken tikka masala does not leave much room for taking that next step. On the contrary, it seems to be gathering more fans and converts in its wake. A few cohorts that aid in its cause are the saag paneer (Indian cheese morsels in a creamed spinach sauce) and the leavened, butter-slathered naan bread. They woo the spice-averse with cream and butter and the novelty of a tandoori oven.

 Lights … camera … stereotype

A recently released food movie, “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” takes us from the bustling markets of Mumbai to farm markets in rural France and on a journey of reinventing Indian food in chic Paris — all in an hour and a half. However, before moving on to molecular gastronomy, the movie’s central character, Hassan Kadam, wows us with his fare in his family restaurant, Maison Mumbai, with dishes such as saag paneer and butter chicken, essentially enough hackneyed restaurant fare to make any true-blue Indian foodie shudder.

Departing from the author’s original fairly adventurous food renderings, the movie makers introduce the viewer to Hassan’s talents by talking tandoori, showing stunning pictures of saag paneer before moving onto other essentials and brave and bold fusion.

This creates the same frustration that leads most Indian food professionals to shy away from the chicken tikka masala, as the dish has stymied the broadening of the essential Indian repertoire.

Certainly, we have come a long way. There is a lot of exploration in Indian cuisine. Yet few restaurants leave this staple off their menus. They call it different names and sometimes add nuances to it that might add a layer of sophistication or a somewhat varied touch, but it is there — in some shape or form.

Even sandwich chains have moved on to include tikka sandwiches or wraps in their repertoire as a nod to the cuisine of India.

Is chicken tikka masala even originally from India?

Chicken tikka masala also suffers from heritage issues. It is difficult to bond, I mean, truly bond, with a dish that supposedly was invented in a curry house in London. It is hard to wax poetic about it like it was something conjured up in your grandmother’s kitchen.

If you are a fan of this brightly hued, rich-tasting curry, it is not my intent to offend you. Instead, it is to move you along to the other aspects and dimensions of your Indian restaurant menu. Yes, you can be adventurous, too. Explore, and you might surprise yourself with a new favorite or maybe a few. Imagine the possibilities.

If you like it spicy, a chicken chettinad from Southern India might please with its notes of garlic and black pepper. A simple chicken curry with ginger and tomatoes could tantalize the taste buds, without any unnecessary cream. And, of course, a kerala coconut and curry leaf chicken curry might also satisfy the indulgent palate with gentle citrus notes from the curry leaves.

The objective here is to taste the complete bouquet of flavors that good Indian cooking offers, rather than a muted version that is further masked with too much cream.

I offer you as a peace offering a nuanced cauliflower dish, which is creamy and richly flavored with ground poppy seeds and cashews. No cream here. This recipe for cauliflower rezala is a vegetarian adaptation of the Mughlai style of cooking found in Eastern India. This variant combines traditional Mughlai ingredients, such as yogurt and dried fruits, with core Bengali ingredients, such as the poppy seeds used in this dish. A mutton or chicken rezala is fairly rich. I first lightened the original with chicken in theBengali Five Spice Chronicles” and have adapted this for the cauliflower and kept it relatively simple. If you can find pale cheddar cauliflower, it should result in a pretty rendition.

Cauliflower

Cauliflower Rezala provides the creaminess without the cream. Credit: Rinku Bhattacharya

 

Cauliflower Rezala – Cauliflower in a Cashew, Yogurt and Poppy Seed Sauce

Prep Time: 4 hours (mainly to marinate the cauliflower)

Cook Time: 30 minutes

Total Time: 4 hours, 30 minutes

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

For the marinade:

3/4 cup Greek yogurt

1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

1 medium-sized cauliflower, cut into medium-sized pieces

For the cashew cream paste:

1/2 cup cashews

1/2 cup poppy seeds soaked in warm water for 2 hours or longer

Water for blending

For the base:

2 tablespoons oil

1 teaspoon caraway seeds (know as shazeera)

1 medium-sized onion, grated on the large holes of a box grater

2 to 3 bay leaves

4 to 6 green cardamoms, bruised

3/4 teaspoon red cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon clarified butter (ghee)

To finish:

1 tablespoon rosewater (optional)

Slivered almonds and or pistachios

Directions

1. Beat the yogurt with the salt and marinate the cauliflower pieces in the mixture for at least 3 hours.

2. Grind the cashews and poppy seeds into a smooth paste and set aside. You need to start with the poppy seeds, without too much water, just enough to create a paste, and then add the cashews with 1/3 cup water.

3. Heat the oil and add the caraway seeds. When they sizzle, add the onion.

4. Cook the onion for at least 7 minutes until it begins to turn pale golden.

5. Add the bay leaves, cardamoms, cayenne pepper and then the cauliflower. Cook on medium heat until well mixed. Cover and cook for 7 minutes.

6. Remove the cover and stir well. Add the poppy seed and cashew paste and mix well.

7. Stir in the clarified butter and cook on low heat for another 3 minutes. Note: The gravy should be thick and soft, and the cauliflower tender but not mushy.

8. Sprinkle with the rosewater, if using, and garnish with slivered almonds or pistachios.

Main photo: The ubiquitous chicken tikka masala can be delicious. But why stop there? Credit: Rinku Bhattacharya

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Savoy cabbage, a winter vegetable, is a milder and sweeter alternative to green and red cabbage varieties. Credit: Clarissa Hyman

For years, I thought Savoy cabbage was a specialty of the great London hotel of that name, a way of cooking the vegetable that transformed it into a dish fit for kings. Even today, frilly Savoy cabbage remains, in my eyes at least, the classiest brassica on the block, a glamorous, swanky sibling to pale, pointy spring or hard white winter cabbages. Less aggressive than kale, more versatile than red, a good Savoy bursting with squeaky-clean health and goodness, is a far cry from the flabby cabbage-swamp clichés of British school dinners that linger long in collective memory.

The evolution of the great family of brassica cabbage cultivars, which also includes broccoli, cauliflower and Brussels sprouts, originated in spindly, “headless” plants that were known throughout the ancient world. The Greeks cultivated such headless cabbages, believing they originally came from the sweat of Zeus, chief of the Gods (it must have been something to do with their, er, pungent smell when over-cooked).

However, generations of children who have been told to eat their greens to a refrain of cabbage-is-good-for-you (an unpopular, as opposed to a popular saying) can really blame the Romans. Cato, in the 2nd century BC, devoted a long passage to the plant in “De Re Rustica.” And Pliny the Elder, in “Historia Naturalis,” described a swollen-stemmed plant (perhaps another brassica, kohlrabi) and an exaggerated reference to “headed” cabbages 30 centimeters (about 12 inches) across, as well as 87 cabbage-related medicines.

The lore about cabbage

Over the centuries, cabbage has been credited with many medicinal properties, from curing snake bites, to growing hair on bald spots and preventing drunkenness (wrong!).

Savoy, as a newly developed variety with a loose “head,” came to prominence in medieval Germany, the great center of cabbage culture, although the name suggests an earlier French or northern Italian origin, with a possible link to Catherine de’ Medici.

Slow-growing Savoys are particularly good after the first frosts. They are hardy enough to stay in the ground through the winter, and bring a swathe of colorful, ruffled cheer to the stews, casseroles and thick soups of the winter months. Cabbage soup is a rustic favorite still in France and Germany, cooked with pickled pork or confit goose and duck.

The flavor of Savoy is nutty, and the texture crisp and firm (when not, of course, boiled lifeless), although a slow braise with rich flavorings, such as beef stock, Marsala wine and thyme, can also work well. Its natural color ranges from acid yellow to Day-Glo lime and from vivid emerald to deep forest green. The wrinkled leaves are supple and strong enough to be stuffed with meat and rice and rolled, before being bathed and baked in rich tomato and sour cream sauces spiked with caraway seeds or paprika. One of the greatest spectacles of the East European repertoire is a stuffed whole cabbage winched like a missionary’s head from a cannibal’s pot.

Simplicity of cabbage

But you don’t have to attempt this culinary equivalent of climbing Mont Blanc to enjoy a Savoy. If you wish, and have time, soak the leaves in cold water for a few hours before cooking to crisp them up further, then simply remove the tough central stalk and chop roughly. Steam or cook in plenty of water at a rolling boil with the lid off to retain the bright green color for a few minutes before tossing in butter, sea salt and black pepper. Or, just slice and cook briefly in butter. Leftovers can make a splendid bubble and squeak (see recipe below).

Savoy is also excellent and surprisingly sophisticated when shredded and stir-fried with seasonings such as red chile, sesame, garlic, ginger and soy sauce. It also goes well with aniseed flavors such as tarragon, fennel and Chinese five-spice powder.

The Savoy is the cabbage that even cabbage-haters can learn to love. If all else fails, try calling it an adorable petit choux, because everything sounds better in French, of course. Even cabbage.

cabbagehead

cabbagehead
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The leaves of Savoy cabbage are very distinctive, a combination of green hues combined with a distinctive crinkled texture. Credit: Clarissa Hyman

Stir-Fried Savoy Cabbage

A quick and vibrant dish that perks up the taste buds. Add garlic and/or 5-spice powder if you like, but the key thing is not to overcook it.

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cooking Time: 5 minutes

Total Time: 15 minutes

Yield: 2 servings, as a side dish

Ingredients

Half a small Savoy cabbage

1 tablespoon sesame oil

4 green onions, sliced

1 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely chopped

1 small fresh red chile, de-seeded and finely chopped

Soy sauce to taste

Directions

1. Shred the cabbage leaves, wash and drain well. Set aside.

2. Heat the oil in a wok until sizzling, then add the green onions, ginger and chile. Stir-fry briefly, then add the cabbage.

3. Stir-fry over medium heat for about 5 minutes until the cabbage is tender but still has a little crunch.

4. Season with soy sauce and serve immediately.

Buttery Braised Savoy Cabbage

An excellent dish to serve with meatballs or chops.

Prep Time: 20 minutes

Cooking Time: 15 minutes

Total Time: 35 minutes

Yield: 4 servings, as a side dish

Ingredients

1 Savoy cabbage

3 tablespoons butter

1 onion, chopped

2 large tomatoes, skinned, de-seeded and chopped

1 tablespoon paprika

2 tablespoons freshly chopped fennel leaves or dill leaves

Juice of half a lemon

Salt and black pepper

2 tablespoons toasted almonds

Directions

1. Discard the very coarse, outer leaves of the cabbage, then cut into quarters and then into thin strips.

2. Melt the butter in a large saucepan and stir in the onion, tomatoes and paprika.

3. Add the cabbage, fennel and lemon juice and mix well together. Season with salt and pepper.

4. Cover the pan and simmer for about 10 minutes or until the cabbage is tender. Add a splash of water or a little more butter if the cabbage mixture seems to be drying out.

5. Sprinkle with the toasted almonds just before serving.

White Fish, Green Cabbage

A surprisingly delicate dish that gives an interesting edge to simply baked white fish.

Prep Time: 10 minutes

Cooking Time: 25 minutes

Total Time: 35 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

6 thick fillets of white fish

1 large Savoy cabbage cut into wedges

1/3 cup butter

Juice of half a lemon

2 two-ounce tins of anchovies in olive oil

14 fluid ounces sour cream

Black pepper

1 bunch of parsley, chopped

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 392 F (200 C).

2. Arrange the fish in a well-buttered oven dish. Sprinkle with the lemon juice and dot with flakes of butter. Cover with foil and bake for 20 minutes.

3. Steam or microwave the cabbage wedges until tender.

4. Put the anchovy fillets and their oil into a small pan. Gently mash with a wooden spoon over low heat until the anchovies disintegrate. Add the sour cream and black pepper and stir well. Simmer for a few minutes.

5. Arrange the fish and cabbage wedges on a warm serving platter or individual plates. Pour some of the sauce over the fish and scatter with parsley. Serve the remaining sauce separately.

Bubble and Squeak

Originally, this old-fashioned British dish of cooked potatoes and cabbage fried together, was made with leftover beef and cabbage. Potatoes appeared in 19th-century recipes and the beef was discarded. The name supposedly refers to the noise made by the vegetables as they fry in the pan.

Prep Time: 10 minutes (30 minutes if not using leftovers)

Cooking Time: 40 minutes

Total Time: 50 minutes

Yield: 8 servings, as an accompaniment

Ingredients (Amounts are variable, depending on how much leftovers you have.)

1 small Savoy cabbage, shredded, cooked and set aside

2 pounds leftover mashed potatoes

1 onion, thinly sliced

4 to 5 tablespoons butter, drippings or goose fat

Salt and pepper

Directions

1. Mix the cabbage and potatoes together.

2. In a large frying pan, heat some of the fat and fry the onion slowly until soft. Mix into the cabbage and potatoes. Season well.

3. Add the remaining fat to the pan and spoon in the cabbage, potato and onion mixture. Press down with a wooden spoon or spatula until it makes a flat cake. Fry over medium heat until the bottom crisps.

4. Stir to mix the crust into the vegetables, pack down again and then fry to make another crust. Continue until the crisp brown pieces are well mixed with the cabbage and potato. This should take about 20 minutes. Serve hot.

Main photo: Savoy cabbage, a winter vegetable, is a milder and sweeter alternative to other green and red cabbage varieties. Credit: Clarissa Hyman

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Apple Cider-Cranberry-Cornbread Stuffing. Credit: Kathy Hunt

Most of my friends possess heartwarming tales about Thanksgiving, of a day spent roasting aromatic turkeys, peeling and mashing potatoes and hanging out with their families in warm, inviting kitchens. My stories have a far less romantic bent. For me, this holiday brings back memories of my parents bickering over whether to stuff or not stuff the turkey.

In my mother’s eyes, a stuffing-filled turkey was tantamount to serving her guests a platter of salmonella. If you craved a savory dressing, you baked it in a separate dish. In any case, you always roasted your turkey au naturel.

My dad took a different stance. He argued that without a moist, herb-laced stuffing bundled inside, the turkey would be dry and flavorless. So too would the filling isolated in another pan. The two had a symbiotic relationship and needed each other to shine.

Keeping this in mind, he often snuck into the kitchen and shoved a halved onion, celery stalk, slice or two of bread, dried thyme and butter into the bird’s empty cavity. With that, the annual stuffing war commenced.

Over the years I’ve struggled with which position to take. I know history favors the stuffers. Since classical Roman times cooks have filled meat and poultry with sundry foods. Roast pigs packed with sausages and black pudding and geese overflowing with bread, onions and sage commonly graced the Roman dinner table. These additions were used to dress up the main course and make dining less mundane.

By the 19th century, French cooks had upped the ante on dressings. To spice up their offerings, chefs would shape minced and seasoned veal, pork or chicken, which are known as forcemeats, into whimsical shapes. They tucked these objects into roasts, whole fowl or fish. When diners cut into their entrees, they were surprised and amused to find ball-, egg- or carrot-shaped treats inside.

Throughout the ages people have used stuffing to stretch their meals. During tough times, when meat was expensive and scarce, cooks would extend their protein allotments by filling them with hunks of inexpensive bread and seasonings. The starchy stuffing absorbed the roasting meat’s rich juices and produced a hearty side dish.

Is stuffing in the bird a food-safety risk?

Although my dad had tradition and practicality on his side, my mother had the ultimate ally, the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Because of the risk of salmonella poisoning, the USDA advises against stuffing turkeys.

The problem with filled poultry involves bacteria and undercooking. Unless the stuffing reaches a minimum internal temperature of 165 F, bacteria from the turkey will survive and thrive in it. This tainted filling can, in turn, give diners a nasty case of food poisoning.

Common sense tells me to increase the cooking time and temperature of a stuffed turkey. These steps would kill off the bacteria and eliminate the risk of illness. Yet, if I do this, I could end up with fully cooked stuffing and a parched, inedible main dish.

Over the years, I’ve come up with a suitable compromise. In deference to my mother and the USDA, I bake my dressing in a greased baking dish. To keep the stuffing luscious and full-flavored, I may add extra butter or turkey drippings to it. Fat doesn’t dry out in the oven, nor will it turn bread crumbs gooey the way stock sometimes does.

In honor of my dad and his desire for a succulent, full-flavored bird, I also slide a few celery stalks, sliced onions, sprigs of rosemary and thyme and chunks of butter inside the turkey. As the turkey’s temperature nears the requisite 165 degrees, I remove and discard the produce.

For those who have never had to play peacekeeper and stuff or not stuff at will, I offer these bits of advice. If you decide to fill your turkey, cook and then cool your dressing before putting it in the turkey. To prevent bacteria from forming, add the bread crumb mixture right before putting the turkey in the preheated oven. Lastly, loosely and lightly pack the filling so everything cooks evenly.

A dressing that satisfied both my parents’ preferences is this Apple Cider-Cranberry-Cornbread Stuffing. Loaded with flavorful fruit and herbs, moistened with apple cider and then baked in its own dish, it’s a delicious detente for the longstanding Thanksgiving stuffing debate.

Apple Cider-Cranberry-Cornbread Stuffing

Prep Time: 30 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour 15 minutes

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

3/4 cup dried cranberries

1 cup apple cider, plus more if needed

1/3 cup chicken stock

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided

1/2 cup finely chopped white onion

1/2 cup finely chopped celery

5 cups toasted cornbread crumbs

1 cup toasted wheat bread crumbs

1 1/4 cup diced Granny Smith apples (about 1 1/2 apples)

1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

2 teaspoons minced fresh rosemary

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

1. Place the cranberries, cider and stock in a small bowl. Allow the cranberries to steep in the liquid for 20 minutes or until plumped up and soft.

2. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a large baking dish.

3. In a small sauté pan, heat half the butter. Add the onion and celery and sauté until soft but not browned, about 5 minutes.

4. Spoon the sautéed vegetables into a large bowl with the bread crumbs. Add the cranberries and cider mixture, apples, parsley, rosemary, thyme and salt and stir until the ingredients are well combined. Taste the stuffing to ensure it doesn’t seem too dry. If it needs more liquid, sprinkle up to 1/3 cup cider over the stuffing and stir to combine.

5. Loosely layer the stuffing in the buttered baking dish. Dot the top with pieces of the remaining butter.

6. Cover the dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove the foil and continue to bake for an additional 10 minutes until browned. Serve warm.

Main photo: Apple Cider-Cranberry-Cornbread Stuffing. Credit: Kathy Hunt

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A slice of fried spaghetti makes the perfect finger food. Credit: Giovanni Castiello, Maistri Pastai

Want a new way to serve pasta? Ditch the fork and try these handheld pasta snacks. They’re delicious and fun to eat.

Pasta has branched out from its traditional role as a first-course dish and now stars in unusual forms in Italy’s bar scene. Apericena — “appetizers as dinner,” an assortment of tiny plates served in lieu of a formal sit-down dinner — is a new trend in Italy, especially in the northern cities of Milan and Turin. Hip restaurants and bars present elaborate buffets, with many lush pasta offerings, included with the price of a glass of wine or cocktail.

Creative finger foods such as oven-baked pasta “pretzels” are offered as nibbles. Any long hollow macaroni with a hole in the center — such as bucatelli or perciatelli — boiled, tossed with a little oil and baked, turn out as perfect golden crisps with a pretty bubbly surface that look just like pretzel sticks. Great served plain, with just a sprinkle of sea salt or jazzed up with dry spices such as ground garlic, cayenne or smoked paprika, they are eye-catching served poking out of a wine glass. “Pasta pretzels are a delicious bar snack,” says Riccardo Felicetti, president of the World Pasta Organization and owner of the Felicetti Pasta Company, “accompanied by assorted cheeses, salami and olives, (they) are a nice menu item as well.”

Another highly versatile offering are bite-sized foods wrapped in a strand of fresh pasta and fried. A strand of fresh pasta can be wrapped around all sorts of foods —  seafood such as shrimp, oysters, scallops; veggies such as whole mushrooms and baby sweet bell peppers; and even mini-meatballs all make great finger foods. Chef Andrea Fusco, of Ristorante Giuda Ballerino in Rome, serves shrimp with mortadella mousse wrapped in strands of pasta —  spiedino di gambero, what he calls “a dish eaten with the hands, informally.”

Another especially adaptable dish, Pasta Cups (recipe below), is Italy’s modern single-serving riff on timballo, the baked pasta pie featured in the movie “Big Night.” Bake up a batch in mini-muffin tins and then either serve them plain or fill the tiny cups with anything you like, from diced tomatoes to cheese or salami.

Pasta as bar food

Andrea Mattei, Michelin star chef of La Magnolia Restaurant in the Hotel Byron in the chic Tuscan seaside resort town of Forte de Marmi, created a delightful mini bite of pasta for guests to enjoy at the bar. He fills penne pasta with a puree of dried sea cod (baccala) and adds hints of Tuscan ingredients, including farro from Garfagnana and tomatoes from Livorno. He explains, “I invented this tiny tasting for our clients, who coming in from a day at the beach wanted a little something cool and refreshing with the flavor of the sea and of Tuscany to pair with a cocktail. It was an immediate hit and now returning guests specifically ask for it. It’s become a bar menu staple as we noticed that sales of aperitifs and cocktails rose significantly after this tiny, unique bar snack was introduced. It’s so popular that we also offer it poolside.”

Penne pasta filled with a purée makes for a finger food. Credit: Andrea Mattei

Penne pasta is filled with a purée of dried sea cod and other Tuscan ingredients. Credit: Andrea Mattei

Macaroni fritters, a typical Neapolitan street food, are hand-held morsels of seasoned pasta dipped in batter and fried. They can be found throughout Naples, in every rosticceria and in the city’s most popular pizza shops such as Scaturchio and chef Ciro Salvo’s 50 Kaló. Similar to arancini, Sicilian stuffed rice-balls, these pasta fritters are spreading from Naples throughout Italy. Author and Italian TV personality Gabriele Bonci even serves them in Pizzarium, his Rome pizza shop.

The fritters, called frittatine di maccheroni, are traditionally made with bucatini, the long thick hallow pasta specialty of southern Italy, but any shape pasta can be used and any sort of sauce. Crispy outside, creamy cheesy inside, they are a great restaurant starter or bar snack, as they are a make-ahead dish that can be assembled in advance and fried as needed. “Macaroni fritters are not just a creative way to enjoy pasta, but they are very economical too, as they’re a terrific use for leftover pasta,” notes Emidio Mansi, sales manager for Garofalo, a renowned pasta company founded in 1789 near Naples, in Gragnano, a town with a legendary pasta-making history.

Fried spaghetti, Frittata di spaghetti, another southern Italian specialty, is like a jumbo variation of macaroni fritters. Instead of individually frying each portion, all the seasoned leftover spaghetti is fried in one skillet and then served sliced like pie. A staple in Italy, it’s surprising that more restaurants and pizzerias in the United States don’t serve it, especially considering that it is low-stress on busy kitchens, as it’s made in advance and served at room temperature. At the charming Acqua Pazza restaurant on the Amalfi Coast, chef Gennaro Marciante serves seasonal variations, including a frittatina infused with the area’s famed huge, aromatic lemons.

What I love about traveling through Italy is seeing the myriad ways pasta, a simple flour-and-water product, is creatively used. Italy, a country we view as bound by tradition, is really evolving. It’s easy for us home cooks to take a strand from the Italian box and wrap it around something new! Pasta served as a breadstick or cracker or a handheld snack. No forks required!

Pasta Cups can easily be baked in mini-muffin tins. Credit: "Pasta Modern"

Pasta Cups can easily be baked in mini-muffin tins. Credit: “Pasta Modern”

Pasta Cups (Capellini in Timballo)

From: “Pasta Modern: New & Inspired Recipes from Italy” by Francine Segan (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 2013)

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 12 minutes

Total time: 17 minutes

Yield: 24 pieces

These little nests of Parmesan-flecked angel hair strands are baked to form perfect one-bite nibbles. Though excellent plain, there are endless ways to fill these chewy, crunchy morsels: with prosciutto, pesto, tomatoes, shaved Parmesan cheese, mozzarella, salami, caponata, garlicky broccoli rabe — or anything the chef comes up with.

Ingredients

Olive oil

2 eggs

3 tablespoons grated grana padano, Parmesan or other aged cheese

2 tablespoons butter

1/4 pound angel hair or other long thin pasta

Salt

Optional ingredients: salami, pesto, anchovy, prosciutto, cheese etc.

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly oil 24 mini muffin cups (or use disposable mini cups and set them on a baking pan).

2. Combine the egg, grated cheese and butter in a bowl. Cook the pasta in salted boiling water until al dente, drain and toss with the ingedients in the bowl until well combined and almost all absorbed. Using a fork, twirl a few strands into a nest shape and put into a prepared muffin cup. Repeat. Drizzle any remaining egg mixture on top of the nests.

3. At this point you can either put an ingredient the center of the nest, or bake them plain and top them with something yummy afterward. Bake for about 12 minutes or until set.

Macaroni Fritters (Frittatine di Maccheroni)

Macaroni fritters are crispy outside, creamy cheesy inside. Credit: Garofalo Pasta Company

Macaroni fritters are crispy outside, creamy cheesy inside. Credit: Garofalo Pasta Company

Recipe courtesy of Garofalo

Prep time: 20 minutes (plus rest 6 hours or overnight)

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Yield: Dozen 2-inch fritters

Ingredients

3 tablespoons butter

4 tablespoons all-purpose flour

3/4 cup milk, warmed

2 teaspoons freshly grated nutmeg

Salt and white pepper

1 pound cauliflower florets

1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese

3 ounces sharp provolone or scamorza cheese, chopped

1/2 pound bucatini or other long thick pasta

1/4 cup bread crumbs

Vegetable oil, for frying

Directions

1. Make a béchamel: Melt the butter in a small saucepan, then off the heat, use a fork to stir in 2 tablespoons of the flour until smooth. Return to the heat and cook for a minute until golden, then slowly add the milk, stirring a few minutes until thick. Stir in the nutmeg and season with salt and white pepper.

2. Boil the cauliflower in a pot of salted water until very soft, about 10 minutes, and remove to a food processor with a slotted spoon. Puree the cauliflower with the béchamel, Parmesan and provolone cheese until it resembles cooked oatmeal. Place the mixture in a large mixing bowl.

3. Meanwhile, break the pasta in half and cook in boiling salted water for 3 minutes less than package directions. Drain and stir into the cauliflower mixture. Taste and add more cheese or other seasonings, if needed.

4. Lightly butter an 8-inch round high-sided pan and spread with the pasta mixture, packing it down firmly. The mixture should be about 2 1/2 inches high. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 6 hours or overnight.

5. Combine remaining 2 tablespoons flour with 4 tablespoons of water in a bowl to form a smooth slurry. Spread the bread crumbs onto a plate. Using a 2-inch cookie-cutter, cut out rounds from the cold pasta. Gather up any odd bits of pasta and form into another round; you’ll get about 12 rounds.

6. Dip each round into the flour-water mixture, then into the bread crumbs, coating all sides.

7. Heat 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a small skillet over high heat. Add the rounds and fry until dark golden on both sides. Drain on paper towel-lined plate. Serve at room temperature.

Main photo: A slice of fried spaghetti makes the perfect finger food. Credit: Giovanni Castiello, Maistri Pastai

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