Articles in World w/recipe
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.
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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).
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!
Prep time: 1 1/4 hours
Yield: 1 cup
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
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
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.
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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.
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.
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
2 green plantains, washed
1 cup corn or safflower oil
Sea salt and black pepper to taste (optional)
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
In Provence, Christmastime comes to an official close on Feb. 2. This is not just maddening French bureaucracy but a recognition that Candlemas Day denotes the feast of the purification of the virgin and the beautiful Provençal Nativity scenes made from clay figurines called santons are to be put away for another year.
It will mark the end of several weeks of festivities starting Dec. 4, the feast day of St. Barbara, when everyone plants a few seeds of wheat or lentils on a bed of damp moss. Gradually, these seeds turn into tufts of green, which will be used to decorate the festive tables over the coming weeks — although the celebrations may be a bit muted if the seeds have failed to sprout. This is not a good sign, but perhaps an excuse for an extra glass of elegant Chateau Simone white or rosé or a licorice-based Ricard from Marseille.
Christmas traditions have diminished in the south of France much as they have elsewhere as time moves on. This is not an indication of any less enjoyment, but an evolution to suit more modern mores. The famous gros souper (grand supper) used to be eaten before Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, followed by the réveillon, the “awakening” supper, on return. For many families, however, this has merged into the meal taken on Christmas Day around a table decorated with holly and roses of Jericho, white cloths and candles.
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The gros souper was traditionally a meatless yet hearty meal, hence its alternate name of souper maigre (lean supper); it remains essentially simple, fresh and abundant. As Gilles Conchy, owner of Provence Gourmet cookery school, explained at his country house near Aix-en-Provence, there is no single set menu and meals are adapted to regional produce and local availability.
In inland Provence particularly, vegetables play a major role: spinach with garlic and parsley, chard and cardoon, raw celery with anchoiade, olive tapenade, the small but sweet vibrant orange-bronze potimarrons (pumpkins) of the South mashed with black truffle. As elsewhere in France, festive meals frequently begin with oysters and foie gras — in Conchy’s case, violet artichokes with pine nuts, tomatoes and fresh goose foie gras — but thereafter it may include a light garlic and herb broth, Sisteron lamb with herb butter, a chestnut-stuffed turkey or goose, capon, guinea fowl, salt cod with aïoli or a fish bourride, and Banon cheese. The poet of Provence, Frédéric Mistal, recalled a gros souper at the turn of the 19th century that also included snails and gurnard with olives.
Sweet treats for the holidays
Thirteen loaves of bread were once offered to symbolize Jesus and the apostles. Today that reference is incarnated in the Treize Desserts, the plate of 13 desserts. These are not, as I discovered to the relief of my waistline, a succession of creamy concoctions, but a ritual lineup of delicious things to nibble, most famously four types of nuts and dried fruit or mendicants to represent the Catholic religious orders that require vows of poverty.
After that, it’s a question of region, town or individual family, but items generally include a flat cake made with olive oil (around Aix they add anise seeds and orange-flower water), black and white nougat flavored with lavender honey and Provençal almonds, clementines, candied fruit, quince paste, dates, prunes, green melon, white grapes and the lozenge-shaped almond Calissons d’Aix sweetmeats. According to tradition, guests must sample a little of each dessert with some sweet vin cuit prepared in the autumn.
The appearance of the three wise men on Epiphany is celebrated with a galette des rois (cake of the Magi), as it is in the rest of France. The Provençal version, however, is quite different from the traditional puff pastry one and takes the shape of a crown-shaped brioche encrusted with candied fruits symbolizing the jewels of the Magi.
In Marseille, Candlemas celebrations are dazzling — their roots are in ancient pagan rites of preparation for the end of winter. The blessing of the navettes takes the edible form of biscuits in the shape of the rowing boat that reputedly brought the Saint Maries to the shores of Provence.
Winter in Provence is not just luminous blue skies, Cezanne landscapes and the scent of wild herbs; it is also animated Christmas markets, Nativity scenes, santon fairs, Mass in the ancient Provençal language and time-honored pastoral plays, processions and ceremonies. Soon after Candlemas, the first of the almond trees will bloom — once, Aix was the celebrated center of the almond trade. With this, the cycle of the year begins again in this most magical of French provinces.
Rack of Lamb With Pink Fir Apple Potatoes
Recipe courtesy of Gilles Conchy of Provence Gourmet.
Yield: Makes 6 servings
2 racks of lambs of 6 chops each (about 3 1/2 pounds)
Half a stick of unsalted butter
Salt and pepper to taste
Provençal dried herbs (thyme, rosemary and savory) to taste
2 pounds of small pink fir apple potatoes, unpeeled
12 cloves of garlic, unpeeled
3 to 4 tablespoons olive oil
1. Cover the lamb with slightly softened butter into which you have mixed salt, pepper and herbs. Place in an oven-safe dish.
2. In a bowl, mix the rinsed but unpeeled potatoes with more herbs, salt, pepper, olive oil and the unpeeled garlic cloves. Arrange these around the sides of the lamb.
3. Cook at 375 F for 40 minutes.
4. Remove the lamb from the oven and slice the chops from the rack. They should be slightly pink on the inside. If not cooked enough, put the chops back in the dish and in the oven for a couple of minutes.
5. Serve the lamb with the potatoes.
Mashed Potimarron With Truffles
Yield: Makes 8 servings.
2 medium-size potimarron (pumpkins)
5 teaspoons heavy cream
1/3 to 1/2 ounce black truffle
Salt and pepper to taste
Parmesan cheese to taste
1. Open the potimarron and remove the seeds. Peeling is optional, but it is advised if you can’t get Provençal pumpkins.
2. Cut potimarron into large diced chunks.
3. Steam for 20 minutes.
4. Once steamed, mash the potimarron with the cream, grated truffle, salt and pepper.
5. Turn into an oven dish, top with a little grated parmesan cheese and broil till it browns a little.
Cardoons With Anchovies
Yield: Makes 6 servings.
1 cardoon, about 3 1/2 pounds (Choose the curvy, white variety.)
Juice from 1 lemon
1 handful plus 6 tablespoons flour
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
12 anchovy fillets
4 cups of milk, gently heated
Grated Swiss cheese
1. Separate the cardoons into branches. With a knife, remove the “threads” on both sides of each branch.
2. Rinse and cut into 1 1/2-inch slices.
3. Drop the cardoon pieces into a pot of water acidulated with lemon juice as you go.
4. Heat another large pot of salted water and stir in a handful of flour. When it boils, drain the cardoons from the first pot, add to the boiling water and cook for an hour.
5. In a frying pan, heat the olive oil, onion, garlic and anchovies over medium heat. Drain the cardoons and add to the pan. Turn the heat to low.
6. Combine the remaining flour and the milk in a saucepan and stir until it thickens.
7. Place the sauce in an oven dish with the cardoons. Top with a little Swiss cheese and broil until it browns a little.
Bourride (Fish Stew With Aïoli)
Yield: Makes 4 servings.
For the fish stock:
Salt and pepper to taste
1 fish head
1 celery branch
7 ounces white wine
For the aïoli:
2 cloves of garlic
1 egg yolk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon mustard
Salt and pepper to taste
4 ounces olive oil
4 ounces sunflower oil
1 soup spoon lemon juice
For the bourride:
1 ounce olive oil
1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
2 to 3 branches of dried fennel
1 bay leaf
Orange peel (a coin’s worth)
4 large potatoes, sliced a quarter of an inch thick
Salt and pepper to taste
2 egg yolks, at room temperature
4 slices white fish (conger eel, cod, angler fish, whiting or bass, for example)
Salt and pepper to taste
4 slices of grilled bread
For the fish stock:
1. In a saucepan, combine 3 1/2 pints of water, salt, pepper, the fish head, onion, leeks and celery and slowly bring to a boil.
2. Skim off the top layer, then lower the heat.
3. Add the wine and simmer for 30 minutes (no more). Check the stock occasionally while cooking and skim if necessary.
4. Filter the stock through a colander.
For the aïoli:
1. Peel and crush the garlic, then combine the garlic paste with one egg yolk, mustard, salt and pepper.
2. Mix the oils and start to add the garlic mixture drop by drop very slowly, whisking all the while. This process is delicate, so never stop whisking and only when your aïoli starts to come together can you start to dribble in the oil a little faster.
3. About halfway through the process, add the lemon juice.
4. Set aside in the refrigerator.
For the bourride:
1. In a cooking pot, layer the ingredients in the following order: the thinly sliced onion, 2 tablespoons of olive oil, the fennel branches, the bay leaf, the orange peel, the sliced potatoes, salt and pepper.
2. Brown these ingredients 2 to 3 minutes on high heat without stirring. (Shake your pot a little so the onions do not burn.)
3. Add enough warm fish stock to barely cover the ingredients. Cover the pot and cook for 10 minutes at medium heat.
4. Place the slices of fish on top and as much stock as is needed to cover the fish.
5. Cover the pot and cook for 6 to 8 minutes. Check to make sure the fish and potatoes are cooked, then remove from the heat.
6. Soak the grilled bread in fish stock and set aside.
7. Remove 2 tablespoons of aïoli for each serving and set aside.
8. Put the remaining aïoli in the cooking pot, add 2 egg yolks and 9 ounces of fish stock. Mix over very low heat and keep stirring until the sauce thickens.
9. Pour the sauce on the soaked bread. Place a slice in each serving dish and top with the fish and potatoes. Use the reserved aïoli as a mayonnaise and offer a little extra fish stock for those who want extra moisture.
Main image: A Provençal Nativity scene made from clay figurines called santons. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clarissa Hyman
The new year of 2016 is fast approaching. I am now trying to complete the tasks planned for this year but left unfinished, both business and personal. By doing so, I can welcome a new year as a fresh start.
This is what we do in Japan at the end of each year. But something has bothered me for long time, and I have let the years pass without fixing it in my kitchen. It is the croissant. In Japan, croissants are deeply rooted in our culinary culture and have been a part of my life, long before coming to America. So, this October I attended a class at the International Culinary Center in New York City on making authentic croissants. I can now start the new year with the proper croissant that I have dreamed of.
Falling in love with croissants
It was 30-some years ago when I first visited Paris and instantly fell in love with croissants. Flaky, crumbling, buttery croissants at small cafés in the city became my breakfast. I can still picture myself in the mornings, standing at a long counter bar in these cafés, staring at bottles of liquor and wine on the shelves behind the counter, and then biting into shattering layers of a crispy croissant. With small sips of strong coffee, I always reached for a second croissant in the always-full basket on the counter.
The richness of the butter stayed long in my stomach, but never enough to spoil my lunch. The real croissants back then were rather small (about 6 inches long), narrow, extremely brittle on the outside and airy inside. But today, this gem seems to have disappeared from the streets of Paris.
A bit of Paris in Tokyo
Now, let me take you to a very special place in Japan. There is a little patisserie called Aux Bon Vieux Temps near Oyamadai station southeast of central Tokyo. I lived near this station for about three years with my husband, Buzz. On one of our weekend walks, we happened to pass by a small, very French-looking pastry store. We entered and found that it was full of the highest quality authentic French breads, pastries and chocolates. The store became our Sunday breakfast pilgrimage destination — especially for very crisp, buttery, authentic croissants and a cup of very good coffee. Because of Aux Bon Vieux Temps, I no longer had to dream about the old croissants of Paris.
No shortcuts allowed
Chef Katsuhiko Kawata, the owner and pastry chef of Aux Bon Vieux Temps, has been making authentic croissants for years in Tokyo, while the super-sized, bread-like croissants have invaded France and America. Chef Kawata apprenticed and learned the art of baking croissants in his 20s in Paris. He is 70 years old today and still working in his kitchen. His approach to producing quality, artisan croissants and pastries is the same as that of classical music player. During every available minute, he practices his art and polishes his skills. Laziness and shortcuts are out.
On our most recent trip back to Paris, I was saddened by my encounters with ugly, fatty, dense and bread-like croissants at local cafés — the Americanization of the croissant in every aspect of quality had come to France. The use of industrial dough and shortcut baking processes may be among the reasons for this demise. However, last year in March, a very welcoming article appeared in the Wall Street Journal, “Welcome Back to Authentic Croissants in Paris,” by Alexander Lobrano. That article inspired me. I should stop complaining about fake, fat croissants in the city and learn how much labor, time and care is necessary to bake a good croissant by myself.
The croissant class taught by chef Mark Gerlach at the International Culinary Center was only a scant five hours in duration. The correct way to make croissants requires at least a full 48 hours, the chef said. In order for the students to engage in all processes of the preparation, we used dough that had been kneaded and rested in advance.
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Real croissants: It’s in the dough
Here, from the class, are seven tips on how to make real croissants:
- Use quality ingredients.
- Dehydrate flour properly.
- Use butter with 83% fat.
- Proof the dough at a temperature of 68 F and humidity of 65-70%.
- Apply proper lamination technique (folding butter into dough multiple times to create very thin alternating layers of butter and dough).
- Roll out the dough into correct thickness and into the proper size and shape.
- And finally, bake it just to the state where crumbling and fluffiness meet.
Now I am committed to baking fabulous croissants in my kitchen to celebrate the start of an exciting new year. I shall start the project two days before I enjoy the end of this year properly with a bowl of traditional soba noodles on New Year’s Eve. Maybe you will, too.
Instructions on creating the croissant can be found in many places, but here is how to make the dough.
Yield: About 1700g (18-21 croissants)
Prep and resting time: 3 1/2 hours
This recipe uses international measurements, because they are more precise — and precision is very important in this recipe. (Equivalents are 1 ounce = 28 grams and 1 pound = 453 grams.)
750 grams bread flour
15 grams salt
100 grams sugar
30 grams softened butter
38 grams fresh yeast
150 grams milk
285 grams water
345 grams butter
1. Mix the flour, salt, sugar, softened butter, yeast, milk and water in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix them on low speed just to combine. Increase the speed to medium and mix for 5 minutes or until a smooth sticky dough comes together.
2. Oil the inside of a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl. Cover the bowl with a plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 1 hour.
3. Remove the dough from the bowl and flatten it. Using a rolling pin, roll it out into a 12-inch square. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate until it is between 50 and 60 degrees F.
4. Place a block of butter between sheets of parchment paper and, using a rolling pin, shape it into a 6-inch by 12-inch shape.
5. Place the butter in the center of the dough. Pull the parchment paper away from the butter. Wrap the dough around the butter, making sure that the dough completely covers the butter but does not overlap at the seam. Lightly pound the dough with a rolling pin to make the butter more extendable.
6. Roll the dough into about a 30-inch by 8-inch rectangle. Perform a double turn.
7. Rotate the dough and roll it again into 30-inch by 8-inch rectangle. Perform 1 single turn. Roll the dough into a 12-inch by 8-inch rectangle.
8. Wrap the dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate it for 1 hour or overnight.
Main photo: The proper proofing of the croissant dough leads to a perfect result: fluffy and airy on the inside with brittle, crisp, butter-infused layers on the outside. Delicious! Credit: Copyright 2015 Hiroko Shimbo
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.
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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
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
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
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.
Main photo: Tummàla, a Sicilian Christmas specialty. Credit: Copyright 2015 Clifford A. Wright
Long before there were Christmas lights, cards, trees or even Santa Claus, and before there were Christmas cookies, richly frosted Yule logs or candy canes … there was gingerbread.
At least since the Middle Ages, what we loosely call gingerbread — richly spiced cookies, wafers and honey breads — has been part of the winter holiday season. There’s a street in the medieval heart of Prague named after spiced honey cake makers. And we know that the Bavarian city of Nürnberg (Nuremberg) was a gingerbread exporter in the 14th century, as was the Dutch city of Deventer not much later. Ever since, the scent of Christmas has been that of gingerbread.
In much of central and northern Europe, the holiday season stretches for several weeks, beginning on St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6) and ending a month later on Epiphany (around Jan. 6). St. Nicholas was a semi-mythical 4th century Middle Eastern bishop, the sometime patron saint to merchants, sailors and thieves. In his modern incarnation, he is mostly known for rewarding good children and punishing the bad.
The Netherlands Santa: An old bishop and his servant
In the Netherlands, the white-bearded bishop (known there as Sinterklaas) arrives each year (supposedly) from Spain, accompanied by a black-faced companion named Black Pete. The tradition of an African servant seems to derive from Holland’s not altogether savory colonial history. That it endures is baffling to most outsiders even if the Dutch insist that it is all just good fun.
America’s Santa Claus is largely derived from Sinterklaas, though he has no sidekick, is much jollier (perhaps because of the remittances from starring in Coca Cola ads?) and hails not from sunny Spain but from the North Pole.
Dutch bakers and their aromatic dough
Whereas edible Santas are usually made out of chocolate, Saint Nicks come in the form of gingerbread; these may be the original gingerbread men. Dutch bakers follow medieval tradition by continuing to press richly aromatic dough into elaborately wooden molds carved in the shape of angels, animals and hearts, but most especially Sinterklaas. Since the large cookies are the mirror image of the mold, the Dutch named them speculaas — derived from the Latin word for a mirror — a term that they now use for any kind of gingerbread.
This shape, along with the distinctive spicy scent, announces the season. The winter treats are richly flavored with exotic, Eastern spices. In the Middle Ages, it was widely believed that spices such as cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon originated in the Garden of Eden, which was supposedly located somewhere east of the Holy Land. Accordingly, martyred saints, or their remains, were believed to emanate sweet and fragrant spice — and, naturally, so did their gingerbread images.
Moreover, some of these original edibles were literally precious because of the high cost of the Eastern aromatics. Imported from half the world away by ship, camel and ox cart, the spices were both expensive and rare. Accordingly, how much and which of these costly seasonings ended up in the cakes depended on the time and place. The British were fond of ginger, so we call our spice cakes “gingerbread.” In Germany and other parts of central Europe, the local “gingerbread,” or Lebkuchen, often contained no ginger whatsoever. The famous Nürnberg interpretation was made with cloves, nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamom. And the cheap versions, sold at country fairs, were concocted of rye flour and honey and were barely spiced at all.
In the days when sugar was an elite treat, the peasantry often grated this inexpensive Lebkuchen on their porridge in lieu of sugar. Meanwhile, the French have their own spice bread, or pain d’épice, and add anise to the usual sweet spice masala.
Many varieties of spicy treats
Yet no one is quite as obsessed with gingerbread as the Dutch. Food historian Peter Rose has documented some 47 varieties of speculaas, and that doesn’t even include the pepernoten (spice cookies) handed out by black-faced Netherlanders on St. Nicholas Day.
Nobody can touch the Dutch when it comes to the quantity of spice in their gingerbread. This too is part of a colonial legacy, when the little country controlled the world supply of nutmeg and cloves. Today, the Dutch make cheese studded with whole cloves and often include nutmeg along with salt and pepper when setting the table. Not surprisingly, some speculaas has the kick of a cinnamon red hot. Most Netherlanders wouldn’t be able to tell you what goes into speculaas spice, since they buy the mixture already mixed, but cloves and nutmeg are typical, as is white pepper.
No matter the recipe, it seems purposely made to ward off Holland’s damp winter chill. A bite of sweet, intensely spicy speculaas sends a warm glow throughout your body. It’s not hard to understand why this was once thought an edible morsel of paradise.
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Speculaas With Almond Filling
This recipe is loosely adapted from the Dutch culinary historian Christianne Muusers. She suggests putting a little rose water into the almond filling, which adds yet another layer of aroma to this profoundly spiced treat. Though just about everyone in Holland will just reach for a package of prepared speculaas spice, it’s worth grinding your own spices — they’ll be much more intense. I like to use muscovado, a natural brown sugar, in the dough, although another brown sugar will certainly work.
Prep time: About 45 minutes
Baking time: About 30 minutes
Total time: 1 hour and 15 minutes
Yield: 2 dozen pieces of speculaas
2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup natural demerara sugar (or substitute light brown sugar)
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon grated nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground white pepper
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom seed
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons (1 1/4 stick) cold, unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
3 1/2 ounces (about 1 cup) sliced almonds
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 large egg
2 tablespoons heavy cream
10 ounces almond paste
1 tablespoon rose water
1 lightly beaten egg for brushing
2 dozen to 3 dozen whole blanched almonds for decorating
1. To make the dough, combine the flour, demerara sugar, spices, salt, baking powder and baking soda in a food processor. Pulse to combine. Add the butter and pulse until the butter pieces are about as big as flakes of oatmeal. Transfer mixture to a bowl. Stir in the sliced almonds and lemon rind. Stir together the 1 egg and the cream. Sprinkle this over the flour mixture, then gently toss this mixture with your hands until you have a rather dry dough. If it doesn’t hold together, add another tablespoon or two of cream. It should be about the consistency of pie dough. Cover and refrigerate overnight; this allows the flavor of the spices to infuse the dough.
2. Make the filling by putting the almond paste into a food processor and gradually adding the egg and then the rose water, teaspoon by teaspoon. You need the filling to be spreadable but not runny. This may be made a day ahead and refrigerated.
3. When you’re ready to bake the speculaas, set your oven to 350 F. Take half the dough and roll it out on a floured board to about a 1/4-inch thick round or rectangle. (If it feels too hard, let it sit out for half an hour before rolling.) Transfer this to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Use plenty of flour when you’re rolling out the dough, and don’t worry if it breaks as you are transferring it — you’ll most likely need to cut it and patch it anyway to form an even round or rectangle.
Almond paste filling
4. Spread the almond paste over the dough, leaving a border of about 1/4 inch naked. Roll out the rest of the dough, drape it over the filling, and even out the dough to make a smooth edge. Brush generously with lightly beaten egg, using the brush to smooth out any cracks and crevices. Using a knife, trace diamonds over the surface. Decorate the top with whole, blanched almonds.
5. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes in the preheated oven until firm and a rich brown. Make sure to cut it into pieces before it cools completely. I usually cut it into squares or diamonds of about 2 inches.
Main photo: Speculaas With Almond Filling are best when made with freshly ground spices. Credit: Copyright 2015 Michael Krondl
With the considerable help of family and friends, we finished in record time the olive harvest on our Tuscan farmlet high up in the hills behind Cortona, Italy.
It was not the best harvest we’ve ever had, though the yield, at 12.8 percent, was high. Translated into real terms, that means that for every 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of our plump, shiny, black Leccino olives that went into the press at the Landi mill on the road to Arezzo, we got back almost 13 kilos (28.6 pounds) of oil. And that meant we were blessed with a little more than 70 liters of fine, fresh, blissfully spicy and fragrant oil with a hint of lush fruitiness that will emerge more fully in the coming months.
Celebrating the harvest
Back home with our treasure, we broke open the champagne, Franciacorta and prosecco for a bubbly salute, and of course we toasted thick slices of bread in the fireplace, rubbing them with cut cloves of garlic and lavishing the new oil on top for the original bruschetta (called fettunta around Florence). We also made bean-and-farro soup, traditional for the harvest, and garnished it with a healthy glug of new oil and tossed pasta in new oil with chopped garlic and broken chilis in the family favorite ajo-ojo-peperoncino (garlic-oil-hot red peppers), and we had a wonderful olive salad (see recipe below) made by our friend chef Salvatore Denaro with green olives he had cured earlier in the season.
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Denaro is Sicilian, though he has lived in Umbria for most of his adult life. He remains Sicilian through and through, and it was he who introduced me to the old Sicilian idea that you must harvest olives to cure before the Feast of San Francesco on Oct. 3. “Later on,” he explained, “they’re too full of oil.”
So, in keeping with tradition, his were quick-cured green olives, olive schiacciate, or smashed olives, cured in a salt brine with bunches of wild fennel, then tossed in this salad, which makes a terrific antipasto as well as a great accompaniment for any kind of roast or grilled meat, or even in one of those Sicilian fish platters where a whole fish has been roasted in a combination of tomatoes, olives, capers and other tasty things.
Prep time: 15 minutes
Cook time: None, although the olives benefit from resting about 30 minutes before serving
Total time: 15 minutes, plus resting time
Yield: Makes 1 1/2 to 2 cups olive cunzate
Even in Sicily, cured olives are often dressed up (“cunzate”) to present as an antipasto salad. Try this with the plain green olives you buy from a supermarket bin, but taste them first (despite the sign that says “No snacking”) to make sure they have good flavor. And do not even contemplate using the kind of green olives in a jar that come stuffed with pimientos or the like.
This treatment will bring ordinary supermarket olives to life in a whole new way. You can do it ahead of time, too, and let the olives marinate in the mixture for a day or two, even up to a week, before serving. Keep the salad on hand for healthy holiday snacking along with bowls of almonds you’ve blanched and toasted in olive oil in a 350 F oven.
About 8 ounces brine-packed green olives, with their pits
2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, preferably Sicilian
1 small fresh green or red chili pepper, thinly sliced
1 medium stalk celery, coarsely chopped
2 or 3 whole garlic cloves, peeled and thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon wine vinegar (optional)
Sea salt to taste (optional)
1 tablespoon finely minced flat-leaf parsley
Pinch of dried Sicilian or Greek oregano
1. Rinse the olives in a colander, tossing gently under running water. If you wish, remove the pits, but the olives themselves should remain as whole as possible. Some brine-cured olives have vinegar added to the brine to give a tart flavor. Taste an olive to see how salty and/or tart they are, then decide whether to add vinegar and/or salt to your marinade.
2. Transfer the olives to a bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil and toss gently. Reserve the remaining tablespoon of oil to use at the end if necessary.
3. Add the chili pepper, celery, garlic and parsley and toss again. If the original brine for the olives was not perceptibly tart, add a teaspoon of good wine vinegar, along with a sprinkling of sea salt if necessary.
4. Let the olives sit, covered, at room temperature for 30 minutes or so, then taste. Adjust the mixture at this point, adding more or less of the ingredients mentioned. If the mixture seems too dry, add the remaining olive oil. At this point, you may cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for two or three days.
5. When ready to serve, bring the olives in their marinade back up to room temperature. Transfer to a serving platter and sprinkle with the minced parsley and oregano, crumbling the oregano with your fingers to bring out the flavor. Taste an olive and adjust the seasoning once more, adding a little more vinegar and/or salt as needed.
Note: Denaro is a purist, but some Sicilians toss into the mix a few thin curls of lemon or orange zest or even a few pieces of fresh orange or lemon segments, the outer membrane carefully cut away.
Main image: Olive Cunzate. Credit: Copyright 2015 Nancy Harmon Jenkins
The restaurant was nothing special, just a small room with a couple of low tables and stools. There was no menu, nothing to indicate what was being served. But next to the door was a wide basket piled high with fresh rice noodles, and behind them I could see steam rising from a large soup pot. And in Yunnan province, in southwestern China, that means one thing: breakfast noodles.
I hurried in, took a seat at an empty table and shook off my coat, wet from the heavy morning fog. The proprietress, a young woman whose face was rosy from standing over the steaming pots all morning, asked what I wanted in my soup, and I pointed to some things that looked particularly delicious — some fatty stewed pork, a heap of thin rice noodles, some bright green chives. In just a couple of minutes, the soup was ready. I added a handful of pickled mustard greens and a small spoonful of dried chili flakes in oil and took a sip. The flavor was rich and bright, sour and spicy, and somehow both comforting and exotic all at once.
Starting the day with noodles
I would say that the noodles were a perfect antidote to the cold, wet weather, but the truth is that those noodles would have been fantastic in any circumstance. In fact, I’ve enjoyed similar noodles for breakfast on hot, muggy days down by the Chinese-Vietnamese border and on a cool, crisp morning near Tibet. And in every case (and every temperature) they were the perfect way to start the day.
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Eating noodles for breakfast is common all across East and Southeast Asia. In Japan you can have asa-raa or “morning ramen,” in Vietnam pho is a reliable way to start the day, and in Malaysia there’s stir-fried mee goreng. But there’s something about the combination of meat, pickles and chilies in Yunnan’s noodles — not to mention the wide array of different rice and wheat-based noodles you can choose to put in your soup — that makes it one of the most addictive and satisfying breakfasts I’ve ever had. Everywhere I’ve traveled in Yunnan, I’ve started my mornings with noodles from that town’s busiest stand, hole-in-the-wall or restaurant, and every single time I’ve been blown away by the flavor.
It’s been a few months since I last traveled to Yunnan, but thankfully those morning noodle are not hard to make. Whenever I feel like I need a little help waking up, or I just want something hearty to start the day, I make them for myself. All it takes is a few ingredients and about 15 minutes, and I can have a breakfast that is both a little bit exotic and immensely comforting.
Yunnan-Style Noodle Soup
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 10 minutes
Total time: 15 minutes
Yield: 2 large portions
4 cups prepared broth (preferably pork or chicken)
6 ounces ground pork (about 3/4 cup)
3 ounces vegetables, like Napa cabbage, sliced crosswise into 1/8 to 1/4-inch strips (approximately 1 1/3 cups’ worth)
1/2 cup Chinese pickled vegetables, ideally mustard greens or daikon pickles
2 1/2 cups fresh or parboiled rice or wheat noodles
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup fresh herbs, ideally flat garlic chives or scallions, cut into inch-long pieces (mint and cilantro also work well, and multiple herbs can be used in combination)
Black Chinese vinegar and dried ground chili in oil, for serving
Heat the broth in a pot large enough to accommodate all of the ingredients (including the noodles). Meanwhile, in a separate pot, bring 4 cups of water to a boil and blanch ground pork for 5 seconds, breaking up the meat with chopsticks or a spoon, then drain it and set it aside. The meat will still be pink, possibly even red in some places.
Beginning the soup
When the broth is boiling, add the pork, cabbage and half of the pickles to the pot. Return to a boil and cook 2 to 3 minutes, until stem parts of the cabbage begin to soften slightly.
Adding the noodles
Add noodles and cook until semisoft (timing will vary depending on type of noodle being used). When noodles have softened, add 1/2 teaspoon salt and mix into broth, then top noodles with the remaining pickles and chives or scallions, if using. Cook another 30 seconds, and remove the soup from heat.
The finished product
Divide the soup into deep bowls and top with any delicate herbs, like mint or cilantro. Add vinegar and chili to taste.
Main photo: Breakfast noodles are served in Yunnan province, China. Credit: Copyright 2015 Josh Wand