Articles in World
Every time you bake a load of bread, it’s a small miracle — combining flour, water, salt and air to get the final product.
When humans found a way to store grains and make them into flour, it changed the course of history, enabling economies and populations to grow. In so many ways, bread is at the core of our history. Bread is culture, and it is about people. It’s also about love — think about how we bake for people we love, our family and friends.
I recently read Michael Pollan’s book “Cooked,” and it made me think a lot about my relationship with bread. I did not relate to his idea of the perfect bread, which he claims to have found in Chad Robertson’s Tartine sourdough bread. Robertson’s bread, I’m sure, is amazing. I have not tasted it from his cafe, but I have enjoyed Robertson’s book, and I think it is a thorough and detailed baking book with a guide on how to make sourdough bread.
Bread shouldn’t be perfect, but varied
But to Pollan’s point, is there such a thing as perfect bread? I sustain myself every day on rye bread — actually, I can’t live without it. In the Middle East, they live on flatbread and pita, and in many parts of Eastern Europe they live on different types of rye bread. Thousands of bread traditions exist around the world, and the new and trendy sourdough bread made with a dark, tasty crust and light, airy texture can’t take all them out in one go.
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I bake bread according to what I am going to eat and what kind of flour I have in the house. I often like to eat dense bread with a lot of fiber, and I like to bake with varieties of flour such as rye, spelt, emmer and different heritage wheats. I use a lot of local flours, such as Ølands wheat. This summer I met a farmer at a Kneading Conference in Maine who had just started growing some Øland hvede wheat. Interest in that particular variety is growing.
The flavor of bread comes from the flour, so bread can’t be better than the flour you use to bake it. You can add to that with your skill and knowledge, which comes from practice. Baking doesn’t have to be only scientific; it can also be very intuitive.
Pollan writes in “Cooked” that he has concerns about the Tartine sourdough bread being 100 percent plain wheat and therefore not as healthy as a whole-grain bread, but it’s a challenge to get the same crust and texture with whole grains. My question is why not just enjoy a variety of breads baked using different methods?
I believe bread has to be about variety, and that comes from diversity in both craftsmanship and grains. Both have more or less disappeared in Western food culture, with the food-manufacturing industry taking over food production.
No matter what, good bread needs quality flour milled from grains treated with care and grown in an environment with crop rotation and care for the soil. The flour has to be stone ground and not separated in the process, and it can’t be older than 7 months when used. Finally, when baking bread, the dough needs time to ferment. Large-scale food manufacturers do not apply to any of these above-mentioned techniques, and many small bakeries do not either.
So, do you have to bake your own bread to have good bread? The answer is both yes and no. If we don’t bake it ourselves, we have to make conscious choices about the bread we buy.
If you are hesitant about the idea of baking your own bread and all it involves, you should know that baking is not hard or time consuming; most doughs take care of themselves.
Baking is part of my everyday life; I bake rye bread every week, and I also bake a lot of other breads, including this dense and tasty emmer wheat bread. It contains about 25 percent whole-grain flour, so it’s very filling. I eat only a slice for breakfast, and it’s perfect for a sandwich on the second day or with soup during the winter months.
Emmer and Wheat Bread
Emmer is an old wheat variety that contains a lot of protein and minerals and tastes wonderful. Eat the bread the Danish way with cheese or jam for breakfast or with a salad or soup.
Prep time: 1 hour
Cooking and proofing time: 8 to 12 hours
Total time: About 2 hours active work, spread over multiple days
Yield: Makes two loaves
2 cups (280 grams) stone-ground whole-grain emmer flour
4½ cups (500 grams) strong wheat flour
1½ teaspoons organic dry yeast
1 tablespoon flaky sea salt
2¼ cups (600 milliliters) cold water
1. Start by mixing the flours in a large mixing bowl, then add in the dry yeast and salt.
2. Pour in the water, mixing the dough until it is smooth and even. If you have a Kitchen Aid or similar mixer, use it to mix the dough. The dough should be quite sticky and will absorb a lot of the water while rising.
3. Place the dough in a bowl and cover it with a kitchen towel, then let it rise at room temperature for a half-hour.
4. After it rises, cover the bowl with cling film and place it in the refrigerator for 8 to 12 hours.
5. After proofing in the refrigerator, place the dough on a floured surface and let it rest for 30 minutes.
6. With spatula and a bit of flour, divide the dough into two equal pieces and shape it into two round loafs without kneading too much.
7. Place the loaves on a baking tray lined with parchment paper and cover with a kitchen towel. Leave to rise for about 30 to 45 minutes.
8. Check on the dough. It should have risen a little and bounce back easily when touched lightly. If the dough rises for too long, it will start going flat.
9. Preheat the oven to 450 F (225 C or Gas 7).
10. Sprinkle the oven with water or place a small oven-proof bowl filled with water inside. This will create some steam in the oven.
11. When the dough is ready, place it in the oven and bake for 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 400 F (200 C or Gas 6) and bake for 35 more minutes.
12. Remove the bread from the oven and leave it to cool on an open wire rack. It’s important not to cut the bread before it’s cool because the bread continues to bake during the cooling time and is not done until entirely cooled.
Main photo: Emmer and Wheat Bread with jam is a good choice for breakfast. Credit: Trine Hahnemann
When Carlo Petrini, president of Slow Food International, the global grassroots nonprofit association, launched the “1,000 Food Gardens in Africa” project in 2012, he could never have imagined that within two years the project would have doubled its results and increased its goals tenfold.
“We’ve already launched 2,000 gardens, and are now aiming for 10,000 to be established by 2016 in all 52 countries of the continent,” says Slow Food International vice president Edie Mukiibi, from Uganda, who has coordinated the project. (Californian chef and activist Alice Waters is the association’s other vice president).
Mukiibi was speaking at Terra Madre, Slow Food’s biennial five-day event which, with Salone del Gusto, is underway in Turin, Italy. Both are open to the public. Terra Madre is a global network of food-producing communities from more than 150 countries worldwide, and this year it brought hundreds of representatives from 2,500 of those communities to Piedmont to meet, share knowledge and exchange ideas.
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Mukiibi explains how the African gardens project has been able to increase so fast: “We’ve set up a network using local radio stations and mobile phones to spread the word about the importance of this project in remote parts of the country.” The objectives of the gardens are practical, symbolic and political.
“We have a heavy responsibility to lift Africa from where it now is,” he continues. “Africa is an old continent in terms of its creation but now it has the energy and fresh ideas of its youthful population. This gives us lots of opportunities. Our generation has access to communications and education so we must act and react against industrial farming’s brainwashing. Biodiversity and sustainability must be priorities in the fight against the monocultures of the cynical, market-driven corporations that are trying to dominate the world of agriculture.”
Gardens benefit families and communities
The food gardens follow different models. The largest, of several acres, are community gardens, worked on by many members of a local tribe or village. Family food gardens are also being established wherever possible to increase self-sufficiency. School gardens are another important part of the project. As Alice Waters, who has long led the fight to put school lunch on the curriculum in the U.S. and to create food gardens in schools, says: “Food gardens breathe life into education.”
At the African Food Gardens conference at Terra Madre, many Africans shared stories about their experiences. Moudane Hassan, from Somalia, explained that his people were originally nomadic camel herders who had never traditionally planted vegetables.
“We now have 54 gardens in Somalia, of which 19 are in schools and 24 in communities,” he said. “They are helping us get improve nutrition and free ourselves from dependence on international food aid.”
Julie Cissé, an activist from Senegal and founder of GIPS/WAR (a group of initiatives for social progress in an area called War), has another inspiring story to tell. She runs a network of 300 women who work the land.
“We’ve battled for women to become owners of the land they work, and we’ve had to ask permission for this from our elders and local administrators. We’ve even lobbied government.
“Our most effective argument is to explain that we want to re-create the kinds of vegetable gardens our grandmothers had, and that strikes a chord even with the most macho of men,” she says.
“We believe in sustainability, in farming the land without chemicals and pesticides or genetically modified crops. Now the men see just how productive we are, and how much we are bringing in as food and resources, and they are enthusiastic.”
The Senegal gardens are either family gardens of around 150 square yards, or much bigger, 15-acre community gardens on which up to 120 women may work. Slow Food helps by providing access to technical support and, in some cases, sponsorship from companies and individuals abroad.
The group also came up with an innovative solution for city women and for those who have lost plots to land-grabbing but who want to produce food. Called “One woman, one chicken crate,” it involves wooden crates that are 1.7 square yards. The women can keep chickens in the crate and use the top to grow a vegetable.
“A crate or two can always be fitted into a courtyard or alley and provide the women with a source of healthy vitamins while supplementing the family income,” Cissé says.
Mukiibi agrees: “Our grandfathers fought for independence. We too must stand up and fight malnutrition and the neo-colonialism of land-grabbing and imposed monocultures. Let’s support the biodiversity of our food to save African gastronomy. Start by spreading the word.”
He might have added that this doesn’t apply only to Africa: Planting food gardens in our own schools, communities and backyards can turn the tide on junk-food wastelands and the health problems they are creating everywhere.
Top photo: Julie Cissé at Terra Madre. Credit: Carla Capalbo
Many cultures around the world honor departed ancestors with holidays each year. Some feature altars. Some burn incense. But feasting is the common thread that runs through many of the celebrations.
The dead are part of that — with food offerings left in their honor.
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In Mexico’s two-day Day of the Dead celebration — el Día de los Muertos — Nov. 1 celebrates the lives of departed infants and children. Nov. 2 honors those who died as adults. On both days, families provide the favorite food and drink of the departed.
In China, families set out plates of food during for their ancestors at the Hungry Ghost Festival. An empty place at the dinner table is sometimes left for an ancestor to join in the feast.
The Hungry Ghost Festival, which is thousands of years old, is traditionally celebrated on the 15th day of the seventh lunar month. Chinese families place ancestral artifacts on a table, burn incense and display photographs of the dead.
Remembering the dead with food, flowers and festive décor
Mexico’s tradition also features colorful altars to honor ancestors.
MexicanSugarSkull.com offers this detail on the offerings — ofrendas — that families set out on their Day of the Dead altars:
“They are decorated with candles, buckets of flowers (wild marigolds called cempasuchil and bright red cock’s combs), mounds of fruit, peanuts, plates of turkey mole, stacks of tortillas and big Day-of-the-Dead breads called pan de muerto. The altar needs to have lots of food, bottles of soda, hot cocoa and water for the weary spirits. Toys and candies are left for the angelitos, and on Nov. 2, cigarettes and shots of mezcal are offered to the adult spirits. Little folk art skeletons and sugar skulls, purchased at open-air markets, provide the final touches.
Mexico’s Day of the Dead is believed to trace its origins to pre-Hispanic Aztec rituals. After the arrival of Spanish conquistadors, the celebrations were moved to coincide with the Christian holidays of All Saints’ Day (Nov. 1) and All Souls’ Day (Nov. 2).
Not just a Mexican holiday anymore
Today, Day of the Dead has grown in popularity far behind the borders of Mexico and Latin America. The traditional observance from central and southern Mexico can now be seen in Día de los Muertos imagery and art around the world.
You can purchase just about anything you need for your own Day of the Dead celebration. From sugar skull molds to authentic Mexican Día de los Muertos folk art pieces, which are sometimes used as an altar decoration by celebrants. The happy skeletons are shown doing many different things, from cooking to selling wares at the market. There are even skeleton mariachi bands. Families will purchase the colorful skeletons that depict activities their departed family member enjoyed in life.
Making sugar skull decorations is very simple, using only three ingredients and a mold. The fun part is decorating them. I recruited my 7-year-old daughter and her friend to decorate the skulls. The kit came months ago, and my daughter had been bugging me since the day it arrived to make them. Not only was it a fun activity, it gave me a chance to talk about honoring our ancestors and remembering them in a fun — not sad — way.
I encourage families to make the skulls together, even decorating the skulls to resemble the deceased in their families and extended families.
Día de los Muertos Sugar Skulls
Prep time: 10 minutes
Drying time: 8 hours
Yield: 5 medium skulls
For the sugar skulls:
3 cups granulated sugar
3 teaspoons meringue powder
3 teaspoons water
For the royal icing:
1 pound powdered sugar
⅓ cup water
¼ cup meringue powder
Gel paste food coloring, assorted colors
For the sugar skulls:
1. In a medium bowl, mix the sugar and meringue powder.
2. Sprinkle the water over the sugar mixture.
3. Using clean hands, knead the mixture until all the sugar is moistened and it feels like wet sand. Make sure there are no lumps.
4. Pack the mix firmly into the sugar skull mold.
5. Carefully invert the mold onto a baking sheet or piece of cardboard.
6. Gently tap the mold to release the sugar skull from the mold.
7. Let the skulls dry for at least 8 hours to overnight.
8. Decorate the skulls with royal icing.
For the royal icing:
1. In a stand mixer, beat the icing until it makes stiff peaks.
2. Divide the icing and use paste food coloring to make assorted colors.
3. Using a piping bag, decorate the skulls as desired.
Main photo: Mexican sugar skulls for Day of the Dead celebrations. Credit: Cheryl D. Lee
When I first opened the doors to my restaurant Tanoreen 15 years ago, I had a clear intention: offer my diners a peek into the Middle Eastern cuisine I knew beyond falafel and hummus. I also wanted to share a rich, nuanced culinary world that — contrary to popular belief — was more slow food than fast food.
At that time, hummus was not served at cocktail parties with carrot sticks, people didn’t know what tahini was or how to use it. Freekah (smoked wheat) was not proclaimed a “super food” and za’atar and sumac were not the trendiest spices in the land. But to me, these foods were things we consumed and used daily. They were part of the tradition of food in the Middle East that was then unknown in America. I am quite pleased that the Mediterranean diet has become so popular. It’s healthy, fresh and in my opinion, delectable.
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By Rawia Bishara
But let’s be honest. Most of the popular Middle Eastern dishes that have worked their way through the food chain were, until recently, “fast food” such as supermarket shish kabob carts and hummus party trays. Middle Eastern food is about much more than dips and sandwiches. The spice mixes and the use of fresh vegetables, lean meats, grains and olive oil are all cornerstones.
Our meals, when I was growing up and with my own children, were and remain an active meditation. It’s not “on the go” but rather celebrating slow-cooked food, togetherness, conversation and phones off!
Unlike baking, cooking is not formulaic, even though recipes can feel that way sometimes. I always say two people can make the same recipe, and it will taste completely different. There is a soulfulness in this kind of cooking.
It’s an inner, almost empathetic connection to the people you’re cooking for. The focus is on what really tastes good, and not just on your tongue. It’s also in the emotions and memories triggered as your guests eat the meal you’ve prepared.
Similarly my cookbook, “Olives, Lemons & Za’atar,” comes from that same premise. I want to celebrate the variety of recipes, which are not at all difficult, along with the traditions and memories that come with Middle Eastern food.
Memories of such meals stand like flag posts throughout my life: the first meal I cooked for my husband (stuffed artichoke hearts), our traditional Christmas dinner (roast leg of lamb), my daughter’s favorite breakfast food as a child (potatoes and eggs) and traditional wedding mezzes.
I learned all this from my mother, a schoolteacher and home cook. Technically speaking, she was a genius chef. But her real strength as a cook lay in her ability to make meals that were an extension of her love for her family and guests — of which there were many! Her meals created an environment of warmth, safety, comfort and a total blast for the senses. It was hypnotic, with all your synapses triggered simultaneously.
A snapshot of a favorite meal: a warm winter stew of slow-braised cauliflower and fragrant spiced lamb, served alongside warm rice pilaf and toasted vermicelli noodles, fresh tomato salad with shaved radish and herbs from her garden. There were heaping plates of olives, warm fresh Arabic bread, long thin hot peppers to crunch on. And small plates of hummus and labne, served before the meal but later banished to the outer corners of a table almost wiped clean. Two parents, five children and almost always a guest or two — because if you cook for seven, you are cooking for 10.
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Ghada, as we called it, was a refuge. The biggest meal of the day, served in the late afternoon, with dinner usually later and much lighter.
In today’s world, we may seem more connected, but really we’re more disconnected than ever. People click away on their smartphones on the train, walking down the street, at the gym and, yes, at the dinner table.
As a chef, I try to create a cozy bubble-like environment in my restaurant, just as I did in my own home as a mother and wife. Middle Eastern food creates that mood, using dishes that invite connection. A great meal is a conduit to togetherness.
Brussels Sprouts With Panko
Prep time: 15 to 20 minutes
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
Corn oil for frying
4 pounds Brussels sprouts, outer leaves removed, cut in half
1 cup Thick Tahini Sauce (see recipe below)
1 cup lowfat plain yogurt
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1 cup panko (Japanese-style bread crumbs)
Pinch sea salt
1. Pour ¼ to ½ inch corn oil in a large skillet and place over a high heat until hot. To test the temperature, slip half a Brussels sprout into the pan; if it makes a popping sound, the oil is hot enough.
2. Working in batches, fry the Brussels sprouts, turning occasionally, until they are browned all over, 2 to 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the sprouts to a paper towel–lined plate to drain.
3. Meanwhile, whisk together the Thick Tahini Sauce, yogurt and pomegranate molasses in a medium bowl. Set aside.
4. In a small skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high until hot. Add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute.
5. Add the panko and stir constantly until the crumbs are golden brown, about 2 minutes.
6. Stir in the salt and remove the bread crumbs from the heat. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to cool.
7. Place the Brussels sprouts in a serving dish, drizzle with the sauce and top with the panko crumbs. Serve immediately.
Brussels sprouts were not part of the Palestinian kitchen when I was growing up. I discovered them here in the States and very eagerly tried to push them on my children. To that end, I did what any good mother would do — I pumped up their flavor by adding a little tahini sauce and sweet pomegranate molasses. It worked!
In fact these Brussels sprouts were so delicious that they made it onto the original Tanoreen menu and I’ve never taken them off.
Thick Tahini Sauce
Prep time: 5 minutes
Yield: 2½ cups
1½ cups tahini (sesame paste)
3 to 4 cloves garlic, crushed
Juice of 5 lemons or to taste (about 1 cup)
1 teaspoon sea salt
Chopped parsley for garnish
1. In the bowl of a food processor, combine the tahini, garlic, lemon juice and salt and process on low speed for 2 minutes or until thoroughly incorporated.
2. Turn the speed to high and blend until the tahini mixture begins to whiten.
3. Gradually add up to ½ cup water until the mixture reaches the desired consistency.
4. Transfer the sauce to a serving bowl and garnish with the parsley. Leftover tahini sauce can be stored, tightly covered in the refrigerator, for up to 2 weeks.
Tahini sauce is ubiquitous in Middle Eastern kitchens. It is the condiment. There is hardly a dish that isn’t enhanced by it. At Tanoreen, I mix it into salad dressings and drizzle it into cauliflower casseroles. My daughter? She dips French fries into it! Learn to make this and you will have a simple, delicious, versatile sauce to add to your repertoire.
Main photo: With a bit of tahini sauce and pomegranate molasses, even kids love the author’s Brussels Sprouts With Panko. Credit: Peter Cassidy
It wasn’t much more than 100 years ago that Boulder, on the storied Colorado foothills, was a lively frontier town at the gateway of the Rockies, a bustling supply base for miners venturing into the mountains prospecting for gold and silver. Today, the city of Boulder, still possessed of the pioneer spirit, is a mecca for a different kind of trailblazer, the American artisan.
If the early settlers had meager materials with which to found a cuisine, their descendants raise heritage wild Russian boar, East Friesian dairy sheep and Italian honey bees. They have learned about wine in Friuli and cheese in Tuscany, but they haven’t forgotten their heritage. They’re breeding bison, eating knotweed and foraging for mushrooms in the hills.
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It’s not surprising that this is where Chefs Collaborative, a group of chefs, food producers, and movers and shakers in the food industry, would choose to meet for their annual summit, themed “Moving Mountains, Scaling Change.”
Flying over Boulder, the high plains conjured wild mustangs and Spaghetti Westerns — a change of scenery from the sultry beaches of Rimini, where I had just been two weeks earlier for the Gelato World Tour finals. Still running on gelato fumes, I was now in for three heady days of meeting and eating, Colorado style. We talked hogs. We talked beef. We talked sheep. We talked chicken. We talked humane ranching; grass-fed, sustainable animal husbandry; natural curing; GMO and factory farming. We talked how to distribute small-scale harvests and handcrafted foods to a wider public. Generally, we celebrated food.
But the gelato gods weren’t done with me. Taking a breather from our think tank, we ventured onto Pearl Street in Boulder’s colorful historic district, where a shop window with this inscription caught my eye:
“We promise to never serve you gelato that wasn’t made today.”
The real stuff
I knew that could mean only one thing. Someone who had learned the art in Italy was making the real stuff — silky, small-batch, gelato from scratch — in this Colorado town.
We wandered into the shop, Fior di Latte, and sure enough, the gelatière, Bryce Licht, told us that he and his wife had learned the art in Italy. Five years ago, he left his native Boulder for the Veneto on a research grant. At first he studied marketing. Then, he said, he fell in love with Giulia De Meo, a Venetian. She taught him how to cook genuine Italian food. Gelato was their obsession. “We decided to start our own business and apprenticed with gelatièri who had shops in Treviso,” he said. “One of them was the Italian gelato champion in 2011. We got to see behind the scenes … and we fell in love with the business.”
The couple moved back to Boulder and immersed themselves in the local food scene, selling their gelato from a cart at the farmers market and supplying neighborhood restaurants. They lucked out again when they found a sliver of a space in which to set up shop in the hub of the hip main street.
As we talked, I scanned the pans overflowing with delicious-looking fruit, nut and chocolate gelatos when my eyes pounced on a mound studded with fresh pear. Could it be? Yes! With my first lick, I was transported back to the Lido in Venice, where an old man with a gelato cart had piled spun frozen pear ambrosia onto cones for my little girls and me one summer many years ago. I’ve been yearning for that elusive flavor ever since.
While I scarfed down the gelato, Licht explained their obsession with using fresh seasonal fruit whenever they find it.
“I saw local pears at the farmers market, and so I’m making gelato with them now,” he said. “Soon it’ll be pumpkins and butternut.”
Fior di Latte will offer two varieties. One is a pumpkin and Chinese five-spice with star anise, cloves, cinnamon, Sichuan pepper and fennel. The other is more traditional in Venice. “It really tastes just like a delicious pumpkin with no added spices other than [sugar] and a pinch of salt,” Licht said. “Of course, the pumpkin is fresh.”
The couple source all their supplies carefully. “We use only natural ingredients, no exceptions. Anything that doesn’t live up to these standards is just not gelato,” Licht said. He also said they use pistachios from Sicily, hazelnuts from Piemonte and almonds from California and toast them before blending them into a paste.
Eating the pear gelato, Italy and Colorado merged. It was both the essence of what I had eaten in Venice so many years ago, and the stuff of what those of us at the summit saw as the way forward. It embodied, I realized, two sides of the same cone.
Main photo: Sign on Fior di Latte window. Credit: Nathan Hoyt
Looking for a black Halloween food to make grown-ups howl with delight? Black Bean Soup With Mexican Pesto tastes like it took all day simmering on the back burner, getting rich and thick from hours of loving attention.
But when time is too short to stir dried beans in a witch’s cauldron, canned black beans that have been carefully rinsed are the fast and easy answer to perfect results, because they’ll be intensely flavored and then puréed smooth in the resulting soup.
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My favorite black bean soups are from Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, specifically around the city of Mérida; their unctuous, creamy textures contain no cream and are packed with characteristic layers of flavor from gargantuan amounts of herbs and a whisper of regional habañero chile. For decadence, locals often swirl in a spoonful of crema for special occasions, and Halloween is definitely such an occasion, at least in the U.S.
You start by making a flavor bomb similar to an Italian pesto to embellish the finished soup: Pull a big handful of basil leaves off stems, add cilantro and, if you can get some of the herb, throw in a little epazote with spicy habañero chile for traditional tastes. Because pine nuts aren’t found in the Yucatan, substitute pecans, Mexico’s national nut, for the right texture profile. For cheese, my choice is a not-too-salty queso añejo (aged queso fresco), or use Parmigiano-Reggiano. Only the best-quality extra virgin olive oil will do for its fruitiness, and then finish the soup with Merida sunshine: a generous squirt of bright Mexican (aka Key) lime juice.
Black Bean Soup With Mexican Pesto
Prep time: 45 minutes
Cook time: 15 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
Yield: Makes 4 servings (may be doubled)
For the pesto:
4 large cloves of garlic, coarsely chopped
¼ cup coarsely chopped pecans
1 fresh habañero chile
¼ teaspoon sea salt or kosher salt
⅛ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 cup basil leaves, tightly packed
½ cup cilantro leaves
10 epazote leaves (if available)
¼ cup grated queso añejo or Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
⅓ cup extra virgin olive oil
For the soup:
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
One 3-inch white onion, coarsely chopped
2 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
½-inch piece of the habañero chile, minced
Three 15-ounce cans organic black beans
2 cups organic chicken broth, divided
2 Mexican (aka Key) limes
Sea or kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
½ cup Mexican crema, or sour cream thinned with a little milk
For the pesto:
1. Combine the garlic, pecans, a tiny ¼-to-½-inch piece of the chile finely chopped (wear disposable gloves while doing this), salt and pepper in a food processor. Process for 10 seconds. Toss in the basil, cilantro and epazote and grind again for 10 seconds. Turn the processor off and scrape the sides with a spatula to get everything down into the mixture.
2. Add the cheese. Turn the machine back on and pour the oil slowly through the feed tube, processing until the mixture is fully incorporated and smooth. Taste carefully for saltiness and if the sauce is spicy enough — it should be hot! If not, mince another small piece of the chile and process again to fully incorporate the bits. Taste again and adjust accordingly.
3. Using a rubber spatula, scrape into a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and set aside.
For the soup:
1. Heat the oil in a large pot and sauté the onion until translucent. Toss in the garlic and chile and cook until starting to brown. Remove from the heat.
2. Rinse the beans carefully for a few minutes. Scrape the onion, garlic and chile into the processor using a spatula and then dump in the beans. (You may have to do this in two batches.) Process until smooth, adding 1 cup of broth. Pour back into the pot.
3. Mix in the remaining 1 cup of broth. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat to a simmer, squeeze in the lime juice and season the bland beans assertively to taste with salt and pepper. Simmer 10 minutes.
4. To serve, ladle the soup into bowls and top with a generous tablespoonful of pesto on each. If using, swirl a tablespoon of crema in a circle around the pesto and pass the remaining crema in a small bowl.
Main photo: Black Bean Soup With Mexican Pesto. Credit: Nancy Zaslavsky
Although pasta may seem simple — just boil, right? — you might find that you’ve been doing some things wrong. Since Oct. 25 is World Pasta Day, below are some tips that will ensure your pasta is just perfect.
Riccardo Felicetti, a fourth-generation owner of artisan Italian pasta company Felicetti and new president of the International Pasta Organization, shares tips on how to properly cook pasta. “Pasta gets lonely,” he says, “so be sure to keep it company while it’s cooking so that you can occasionally stir it and so you can try some to test if it’s done.”
Riccardo Felicetti’s Tips to Making Perfect Pasta
- Use a big pot and lots of water so the pasta has room to move while it cooks. Use at least 1 quart for every ¼ pound of pasta.
- Think horizontally when cooking small amounts or filled pasta. When making long pasta like spaghetti for just one person, Italians put it into a wide shallow pan. You need only fill the pan with enough water to cover the spaghetti horizontally, not vertically!
- Do not add the pasta until the water boils or the pasta becomes gummy.
- Use the time on the box only as a general guideline. The best way to tell if pasta is ready is to taste it. Start tasting three to four minutes before the package’s suggested cooking time.
- Never rinse pasta. The starch on the pasta helps sauces adhere to it, and is a thickening agent for the sauce too.
- Always save a little of the pasta cooking water to toss with the pasta and sauce to thicken and meld the flavors. Again, it’s that starch that helps bring everything together.
The International Pasta Organization website provides a fun list of pasta recipes from around the world, nutrition advice and other interesting information. “Representing pasta producers from all over the world,” Felicetti says, “gives me great pride and is a huge responsibility at the same time. Pasta is a global food, nutritionally valuable, and has a central role in almost everyone’s diet.”
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Perfect for World Pasta Day is this recipe for pasta sushi, a fusion of Italian and Japanese cuisines.
Adapted from “Pasta Modern: New & Inspired Recipes from Italy” by Francine Segan.
Substitute pasta shells for the white rice, making beautiful, Japanese-inspired but Italian flavored, one-bite appetizers.
Try cooked or raw fish such as poached lobster topped with caviar, diced seared tuna with a dollop of hummus or raw oysters with lemon zest. You can fill them all the same, or make an assortment; just calculate about 4 pasta shells per serving and a heaping tablespoon of filling for each.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cooking time: 10 minutes
Total time: 20 minutes
Yield: Serves as many as you like
For the shells:
4 large pasta shells per person
Rice wine vinegar or lemon juice, to taste
Mirin or sweet Marsala or sherry, to taste
For the filling (approximately 1 tablespoon per shell):
Diced or thinly sliced raw fish such as tuna or salmon; raw or cooked oysters; sea urchin; caviar; and/or cooked fish like poached lobster, crab, or shrimp
For the garnish (to taste):
Lemon or orange zest; grated horseradish; chopped scallions; fresh diced fruit; mozzarella, cream cheese or other cheese; red chili pepper; and/or sea salt
1. Boil the pasta shells in salted water until al dente. Drain and toss with a splash, to taste, of rice wine vinegar and Mirin. Spread out onto a plate and let cool to room temperature.
2. Fill each shell with a tablespoon of filling. Garnish and season as you like.
Main photo: Pasta sushi is the perfect fusion of Italian and Japanese cuisine. Credit: “Pasta Modern: New & Inspired Recipes from Italy.”
Are olives an aphrodisiac? My research suggests they are not, but for Andrea Pupek and Fabio Cimicchi, they most certainly were. Andrea’s Global MBA thesis project, a comprehensive marketing plan for Fabio’s family olive oil business, resulted in love, marriage and now a vibrant olive oil export business, Caselle Italian Imports.
Andrea’s mother knew early on that Andrea would travel the globe when at 13 she became a student ambassador of People to People. Her parents provided her with roots and wings. Her roots were firmly planted in Western Massachusetts, and her wings took her to Italy.
Family’s pierogi ‘factory’
Andrea recalls the strong ties her family had to her paternal grandmother, her babci. Her favorite memory with her babci is what she calls “the Pupek family pierogi factory.” As with many family recipes, none were ever written for the pierogis. Andrea had the foresight when her babci started forgetting things at 92 years old to document and photograph the pierogi factory. A legitimate recipe now exists, and an indelible memory was forged between Andrea, her sister and their babci.
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Family values were the centerpiece of Andrea’s upbringing. Even after her parents divorced they continued to celebrate the holidays together. This exceptional situation of support, love and respect was one Andrea would find among the olive groves in Orvieto, Italy.
Andrea’s thesis work took her to Italy — to the Cimicchi family — to develop a business and marketing plan for the export of their olive oil. She never imagined that one of the Cimicchis would become her husband or that she would call Orvieto home.
The transition she says was easy.
Fabio’s family’s values echoed hers. His family is emotionally and physically close, resembling what one might imagine a prototypical, multi-generational Italian family to be. Sunday lunches are a ritual. It anchors the family solidly in their generational traditions of meals that are simple, but long and delightful. There are multiple courses that include some form of roasted chicken, potatoes and, of course, a homemade pasta dish.
Marriage of family traditions
At the holidays, Andrea integrated her family’s Christmas cookie-making traditions into the Cimicchis’ traditions. When Andrea and Fabio traveled to the United States for the holidays, she made sure to include one of the Cimicchi family’s Christmas Eve favorites – chocolate spaghetti – in her family’s festivities. Imagine spaghetti with olive oil, chocolate, walnuts and sugar paste. Now that’s a decadent tradition worth importing.
The love affair has produced much more than the fusion of family values and food traditions. It has also resulted in the creation of Caselle Italian Imports. The Cimicchi family owns more than 195 acres of land, planted with more than 2,000 olive trees.
Le Caselle is located the between Orvieto and Castel Viscardo in the Umbria region, which is known for its olive oil and is frequently referred to as the green heart of Italy.
The Cimicchi family’s ties to Le Caselle date as far back as the 1700s when the family came to care for the land under Knight Guiscardo, who was himself hired to protect the land for the church. The land changed hands a few times among a small group of families, but Fabio’s great-grandfather Alessandro ended up owning the majority of the original Castel Viscardo estate. In 1984, Fabio’s parents purchased the rest of the family land that makes up the original Le Caselle estate from Uncle Guiseppe Cimicchi, with the goal to produce wine and olive oil.
Family’s olive oils
The Cimicchis produce two types of olive oil for sale: Madonna Antonia, which is made from 100% moraiolo olives, and Olio delle Caselle, their signature Umbrian blend. The blend is a closely held, secret family recipe perfected over several generations, using just the right proportions of moraiolo, leccino, frantoio and rajo olives. Olio delle Caselle has a golden color with a tinge of green.
When tasting the olive oil, Fabio told me to slurp the olive oil along with some air. Adding the air emulsifies the oil and allows it to spread across your entire mouth for a full taste bud experience. The taste was smooth and fresh, with a little spicy aftertaste. Delicious. It is perfect on young greens and tomatoes, in salad dressings and soups, and as a dip for crusty Italian bread.
With the matrimony of Andrea and Fabio, and the loving support of close family friends, Caselle Italian Imports was born. Andrea put her masters thesis to work, sharing the amazing fruits of the Cimicchis’ labors with the wider world. Caselle Italian Imports also offers other Italian specialty products, such as traditional balsamic vinegar from Modena.
Main photo: Recently harvested olives from the Cimicchi family’s Le Caselle estate in Italy. Credit: Andrea Pupek