Articles in World
“I need white people lunch!” demands young Eddie Huang, played by Hudson Yang, in a trailer for the forthcoming ABC TV show “Fresh Off the Boat.”
The show is comically and more-than-loosely based on Huang’s life as a first-generation Chinese-American growing up in Orlando, Fla.
Young Eddie’s sentiment rings true for me, particularly around this time of year as we all scurry to get Thanksgiving meals in place. For me, growing up as the first-generation child of Trinidadian and Iranian immigrants, Thanksgiving was a chance to be “truly American.” But it was also a battle between me and parents, whom I wanted to serve only “white people’s food.” Not curried chicken or gormeh sabzi (herbed stew with kidney beans), just turkey, stuffing, gravy and potatoes — that’s it.
They ignored me, preferring instead to mark the holiday with special-occasion dishes from their own cultures alongside turkey and the trimmings.
At the time, I was too embarrassed to talk about it with my peers, but now, many years later, we compare notes. My high school friend Terence Weston told me that his own Caribbean family made Callalloo, a thick, green soup, on Thanksgiving. And in place of a turkey, his family would have molded tofu or bread because they were Seventh-Day Adventists who observed a vegetarian tradition. Over at the DeFazio house, my playmates Theresa, Anthony and Mark enjoyed lasagna and antipasto before the turkey came out, which was OK to my young mind, because Italian food was “really American.”
Melding Thanksgiving meals and American values
Brandeis University professor Ruth Nemzoff, an expert in family dynamics and author of “Don’t Roll Your Eyes: Making In-Laws Into Family” (Palgrave/Macmillan, 2012), once asked students to describe their Thanksgiving dinner in an attempt to highlight gender roles in the preparation of a ceremonial meal.
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“Instead the students returned papers which described how each family put their ethnicity into the holiday,” she said. “The hors d’oeuvres were spring rolls, ravioli, or knishes, depending on ethnicity. Surrounding the turkey were remnants of the family’s past — a great metaphor for core American values.”
In some immigrant families, no turkey was in evidence whatsoever, although the day was marked with a celebratory meal. Amy Dalal’s family came to the U.S. from Mumbai, India, in 1974 as strictly vegetarian Hindus.
“We never had turkey,” she said. “My mother usually made some special food, but it would vary from year to year. It might be dosa or matter paneer, a vegetable dish with homemade fresh cheese.”
Dalal’s mother’s nod to American custom is her own fresh cranberry sauce, which the family smears on theplas, a spicy Guajarati flat bread with fenugreek.
On the other hand, Becky Sun’s family emigrated from Taiwan in 1976, and they did try to replicate the American Thanksgiving in the small towns in which they lived.
“Like all the other families, we had baked sweet potatoes in a casserole, topped with mini marshmallows and frosted cornflakes,” Sun said. “[My mother] also was — and still is — a fan of Campbell’s Cream of Mushroom Soup, with which she makes green bean casserole with the French’s onion sprinkles.”
Still, the one thing conspicuously absent from the Sun clan’s Midwestern feast was the turkey. Instead, her mom cooked roast duck, and because bread stuffing seemed odd to her, she substituted sticky rice as a side.
Bearing witness to an immigrant past
As evidenced by these anecdotes, putting a personalized ethnic twist on Thanksgiving is an American tradition nearly as old as Thanksgiving itself. Families whose forebears immigrated to the U.S. far earlier, like Tami Weiser’s Jewish-American family, who came from Russia and Germany to New Orleans 100 years ago, melded “ethnic” foods with American expectations. Tzimmies, a sweet potato and carrot casserole made at Passover, was a logical addition to the holiday table. When her mother took over the feast, she made the offering more modern — and more Southern — by creating a candied yams with pralines. You can get that recipe from The Weiser Kitchen.
Today, children of newer immigrants, like Nadine Nelson, are much more at ease with their multicultural heritage, and I envy them for it. Nelson, whose Jamaican family emigrated to Toronto, Canada, where she was born, moved to New Haven, Conn., when she was 10. Her aunt once tried her hand at turkey and overcooked it. After that Thanksgiving became more of a day for everyone to come together and less about the traditional meal.
A professional cook, Nelson has recently taken over Thanksgiving dinner, with a specific eye to creating a multicultural meal to which the whole family contributes. There is jerk turkey, peas and rice cooked in coconut milk, curry-and-guava-glazed carrots, goat head soup and steamed stuffed fish, all alongside sweet potato casserole, cornbread stuffing and cranberry sauce.
Nelson said the best part of the melded meal is when her aunt insists everyone stand and say what they are thankful for. “It is important for a family to stand witness to that. ”
Keeping Nelson’s words in mind, this year, I, too, will stand witness to my family’s heritage. And even though my parents are long gone, their gormeh sabzi and curried chicken happily will be on my Thanksgiving table.
Nadine Nelson’s Jerk Roasted Turkey
Prep time: 40 minutes
Cook time: About 2 1/2 hours for an unstuffed turkey or 4 hours for a stuffed turkey
Total time: 3 to 5 hours.
Yield: Makes 24 servings.
2 cups wet jerk sauce (such as Walkerswood brand)
1/4 cup dry jerk seasoning (such as Blue Mountain brand)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
10-pound to 12-pound turkey, cleaned and dried
1/2 stick butter, softened
Green seasoning (see recipe below)
1. Mix together the wet jerk sauce, dry jerk seasoning, salt and pepper in a large bowl, and then rub the jerk sauce evenly over the inside and outside of the turkey.
2. Using your fingers, gently separate the turkey skin from the breast and rub the sauce mixture under the breast skin as well. Use up all the sauce, rubbing it around the turkey.
3. Place the turkey breast side down inside a 2-gallon, heavy-duty sealable oven-proof bag. Squeeze out as much air as possible and seal the bag. Refrigerate and marinate for 24 to 48 hours, turning over every 12 hours.
4. Preheat oven to 450 degrees F. Prior to cooking, open the bag and rub the green seasoning (see recipe below) all over the turkey, under the breast skin and inside the cavity.
5. Position the oven rack near the bottom of the oven. If using stuffing, remove the turkey from the baking bag and loosely pack the stuffing in the cavity. Rub the outside of the turkey with the butter.
6. Put the turkey back in oven-proof bag and seal well. Place in a deep roasting pan and cook for 45 minutes, then lower the temperature to 325 degrees F. Continue roasting the turkey until a meat thermometer registers 180 degrees F in breast meat or 185 degrees F in thigh meat. This should take about 2 1/2 hours for an unstuffed turkey or 3 1/2 to 4 hours for a stuffed turkey.
7. Remove turkey from the oven and put it on a warmed platter. Cover loosely with foil and let rest for 30 minutes before carving.
Prep time: About 5 minutes
Yield: Makes about 3 cups
Two bunches parsley
3 medium red onions, cut into large chunks
1 bunch thyme
1 bunch scallions, root ends trimmed
1/8 cup paprika
3 tablespoons onion powder
3 tablespoons garlic powder
1 tablespoon ground allspice
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil
1. Place all the ingredients in a food processor and process to a smooth paste, about 1 to 2 minutes.
Parvin Ganeshram’s Gormeh Sabzi (Persian Herb Stew)
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 1 1/2 hours
Total time: About two hours
Yield: Makes 4 to 6 servings.
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced thinly
2 pounds stew beef or chicken breast, cut into 1-inch pieces
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 tablespoon turmeric
4 cups water
2 bunches flat parsley, washed well
1 leek, trimmed, washed well and sliced into 1-inch pieces
1 bunch fresh fenugreek, washed well, or ½ cup dried fenugreek leaves
1 limou omani (dried Persian lime, available in Middle Eastern markets) or ½ cup lemon juice
1 12-ounce can dark red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
½ teaspoon saffron powder, dissolved in 1/3 cup boiling water
1. Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat, then add the onion. Fry until the slices begin to soften and become translucent, about 1 to 2 minutes.
2. Season the meat chunks well with salt and pepper to taste and add it to the pot with the onions. Fry until golden brown, about 8 to 10 minutes for beef or 5 to 6 minutes for chicken.
3. Stir in the turmeric and mix well. Allow the mixture to fry for 1 minute more, then add the water.
4. Place the parsley, leek and fenugreek in a food processor and chop to a fine consistency. You may also do this by hand. Add the chopped herbs to the stew, along with the limou omani.
5. Add salt and pepper to taste and lower heat to a simmer and cook until the meat is fork tender, about 1 1/2 hours for beef or 30 minutes for chicken.
6. Stir in the rinsed kidney beans, more salt and pepper is desired and simmer 10 minutes more.
7. Stir in the saffron and simmer 1 to 2 minutes. Serve with rice. (See recipe below.)
Persian White Rice (Chelo)
The secret to the long, fluffy grains of Persian Rice is steaming and a method that “traps” the excess moisture away from the rice as it steams.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 40 minutes
Total time: 50 minutes
Yield: Makes 4 to 6 servings
2 cups high-quality basmati such as Lal Quila
1 tablespoon coarse salt
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
1. Wash the rice by placing it in a deep bowl and filling it with cold water. Swirl the water around with your hand until it is cloudy. Carefully drain the water. Repeat 4 or 5 times until the water is clear. Set aside.
2. Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a large, nonstick sauce pot or a large iron pot and add the salt and 1 tablespoon of the oil.
3. Add the rice and simmer on medium-low for 10 to 15 minutes. Drain in a colander.
4. Add 1/4 cup of water to the rice pot and 1 tablespoon of the oil to the rice pot. Swirl it around. Add 1 large spoon of rice into the middle of the pot and add spoonful after spoonful in a mound until all the rice is used.
5. Drizzle the remaining oil over the rice and pour another 1/4 cup of water over it. Use a rubber spatula to smooth the pyramid up into a smooth cone.
6. Place a clean dishtowel or doubled up paper towels over the pot and then squeeze the lid into place. Place over low heat for 30 to 40 minutes.
7. Remove the rice and place it on a platter. To remove the tahdig, or rice crust, take the pot and carefully hold the bottom under cold water. Then use the spatula to loosen the crust. Turn it out onto a platter.
Main photo: Candied yams with pecans is a Thanksgiving specialty in Tami Weiser’s family. Credit: Tami Weiser
Pumpkins are a fixture at autumn farmers markets in Turkey, where they grow so large that they’re often cut with saws and sold in halves or by the slice. Like Americans, Turks love their pumpkin both savory — in soups, stews and as stuffed vegetables — and sweet.
Perhaps the most prized Turkish dessert is kabak tatlisi (literally, “pumpkin sweet”), wedges of pumpkin simmered in a syrup made by using sugar to leach the gourd of its natural juices. Because the recipe doubles or triples easily and the result keeps well for a day or two in the refrigerator, it’s a perfect dessert for holidays that demand do-ahead short-cuts, like Thanksgiving.
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A sweet dessert tamed by nutty toppings
I’ve been a pumpkin lover all my life, yet until recently, kabak tatlisi, which is often served on its own or with kaymak (Turkish clotted cream), left me cold. Then I sampled it in Hatay province in southeast Turkey, where the pumpkin is served drizzled with tahini (that is a Turkish pantry staple) and sprinkled with crushed walnuts. The tahini’s slight bitterness tames the cloying sweetness of the pumpkin and crunchy walnuts complement the pudding-soft texture of the vegetable. The tahini’s oil content lends a rich, satisfying mouth feel, but since it’s made up mostly of vegetable, kabak tatlisi settles lightly in the stomach.
Though Turkish cooks usually make kabak tatlisi in a covered pan on top of the stove, I’ve found that the dish cooks wonderfully — and with less bother — in the oven. It emerges a lovely burnt orange, tinged with brownish bits from the caramelization.
Do not fear the sugar
Be prepared. This recipe calls for what will seem like a lot of sugar. Resist the temptation to cut back. The sugar is there to pull liquid out of the pumpkin. Yes, the result is super-sweet, but kabak tatlisi isn’t meant to be eaten in American pumpkin-pie-sized wedges. Just a few cubes per diner — three or four little bites of caramel-y, tahini-nutty sweetness to end a meal — will do.
Resist also any urge to reduce cooking time by cutting the pumpkin into smaller pieces than this recipe indicates, or it will turn to mush before it caramelizes and the syrup has reduced. Be sure to use unadulterated tahini, without peanuts or peanut butter. Its bitter edge is essential to the success of this dish.
Plan ahead: the pumpkin must “soak” in the sugar for 8 hours (or overnight) before baking.
Caramelized Pumpkin with Tahini and Walnuts (Firinda Kabak Tatlisi)
Note: This recipe can easily be doubled, halved, cut into thirds. The rule of thumb is one part sugar to two parts pumpkin. Do not serve kabak tatlisi hot out of the oven. Room temperature or slightly chilled is best. Make sure your tahini is at room temperature when you serve.
Prep time: Up to 1/2 hour to prep the pumpkin; 8 hours to “soak” the pumpkin
Cook time: 45 minutes
Yield: Serves 8
1 1/2 pounds peeled pumpkin
3/4 pound (1 1/2 cups white sugar)
12 tablespoons pure tahini, at room temperature and whisked to remove any lumps
3/4 cup chopped walnuts
Prepping the pumpkin:
1. Cut the pumpkin into wide (3-inch) wedges and/or large (4-by-4-inch) chunks.
2. Arrange the pumpkin pieces in a baking dish or tray just large enough to hold them closely, but without crowding.
3. Sprinkle the sugar over the pumpkin and cover the dish with plastic wrap.
4. Leave the pumpkin at room temperature for 8 hours or overnight. Turn the pumpkin pieces occasionally – once every few hours, or once before bed and once after you get up — to expose all sides to the sugar.
Baking the pumpkin:
1. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
2. Before baking, turn the pumpkin pieces one last time in what has likely become a mixture of syrup and lumps of wet granulated sugar.
3. Place the baking dish on the middle rack of the oven and bake for 40 minutes, gently turning the pumpkin pieces and basting with the sugar syrup once or twice.
4. Check the pumpkin for doneness by piercing a piece with a sharp knife. There should be no resistance.
5. Baste the pumpkin once more, then raise the heat to 400 F and continue to bake until it shows bits of caramel brown in some spots and the syrup bubbles, about 10 to 15 minutes.
6. Cool the pumpkin in its baking dish.
7. To serve, cut the pumpkin into small cubes or wedges and carefully transfer to bowls or plates. Spoon a bit of syrup over it, if you like, or leave it in the dish. Drizzle 1 1/2 tablespoons of tahini over each serving of pumpkin and sprinkle with walnuts.
Main photo: This prized Turkish dessert, kabak tatlisi, features pumpkin wedges simmered in a sweet sugar-based syrup and topped with tahini and walnuts. Credit: David Hagerman
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.
La Vie en Rose
One in a series of graphic explorations of French language, food and culture
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.
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.
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.
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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
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.
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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 the “Bengali 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 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
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)
1 tablespoon rosewater (optional)
Slivered almonds and or pistachios
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
I will confess right from the start that I’ve never been a big fan of Thanksgiving. Call me Scrooge if you will, but I’ve never seen the point of eating oneself silly one day of the year.
And I hate to call attention to it, but the food isn’t even all that interesting. An unnaturally plumped out bird, its interior filled with sundry pastes made from stale bread, roasted for hours until the meat is dry and stringy; a traditional sauce that is too tart to eat on its own and requires massive quantities of mashed potatoes to make it go down; a selection of vegetables cooked to death then beaten to a uniform pap; and finally a selection of desserts about which the less said the better — pumpkin pie (another pap), mincemeat (like Christmas fruitcake, nobody actually likes it but we all pretend to) and pecan pie so sweet it makes my teeth ache just to write the words.
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That was Thanksgiving when I was growing up, before my mother saw the light and began serving lobster instead, which she did only after her children had left home and she no longer had to maintain the Rockwellesque illusion of the holiday. You can see why my memories are not exactly nostalgic for Thanksgivings past. The only things I really liked were the silver bowls of nuts and mints (each one hiding a spot of jelly inside) and the peculiar divided crystal tray that was brought out once or maybe twice a year in which to serve celery sticks stuffed with Philadelphia cream cheese.
But truth be told, the real reason I didn’t like Thanksgiving — which has remained a secret until the present day — is that there are no presents! We had gifts at Christmas, gifts at Easter, gifts at birthdays and fireworks on the Fourth of July, but nothing at Thanksgiving — and no overstuffed, over-roasted bird could make up for that. Not even the exciting presence of my uncle from Boston, who always brought a collection of guns and taught me to shoot them at targets on the river below our house, could overcome my disappointment in the holiday.
The pleasures of Thanksgiving
So to ask me to think about the pleasures of Thanksgiving, as the Zester Daily editors have done, is to ask pretty much the impossible. I could tell you about the best turkey I ever made, one deep fried in extra virgin olive oil from a 4-year-old stash I found hiding in the back of our Tuscan pantry. OK, so it was only a quarter of a very large Tuscan turkey, but it was memorable nonetheless. Or I could tell you about the chestnut soup, potage de marrons, with which we began the meal one year. Made from a recipe in an old Elizabeth David cookbook, it required skinning and peeling the chestnuts (not a task for pikers, requiring as it does a hot oven and a very sharp knife), making a vegetable stock, cooking the peeled chestnuts in the stock until soft, pureeing them and finally thinning the puree with milk or cream. “Although all this may sound a lot of fuss to make a chestnut soup,” David comments, “it is well worth the trouble.” And so it is, especially when made with the marrone (chestnuts) gathered from the line of trees that extends below our house.
After all, isn’t Thanksgiving supposed to be about giving thanks for an abundant harvest? A harvest of chestnuts, a harvest of olive oil, a harvest of squash and pumpkins? Moreover, to celebrate the harvest, to celebrate the goodness of what has been safely gathered in, even if you’ve gathered it from only your local supermarket, is a way of honoring and paying respect to all the people who made the harvest possible, especially the farmers. It’s a good time to remember that without farms, we have no good food, and without good food, in my reckoning, we have no real happiness.
So presents or not, I plan to celebrate Thanksgiving in my own quiet way. But not with turkey and not with squashed squash. Instead, I’m going to make a very special pasta dish developed by my daughter, who often serves it at her restaurant, Porsena, in New York. We’re featuring it in our almost completed book, “The Four Seasons of Pasta,” which we hope will be out in time for Christmas 2015.
Here it is, and if you’re as tired as I am of squashed squash, pureed turnips, boiled onions and mashed sweet potatoes with marshmallow sauce, just try this and see if it doesn’t bring some seasonal delights and maybe even a little applause for daring to step outside the envelope.
Pasta With Crumbled Garlic Sausage, Sage and Winter Squash
For this pasta, we use pennette, but any small, shaped pasta will do — try orecchiette, creste di galli (cock’s combs), Pasta Faella’s lumacchine (small snails), Benedetto Cavalieri’s ruote pazze (crazy wheels) or any similar quirky shape. This is a particularly good treatment for whole-wheat pasta, with the flavors of squash, sausage and wheat all marrying together nicely.
For the squash, use any hard winter squash, such as Hubbard, butternut or buttercup; sugar pumpkins will be too sweet, but one of the pumpkins grown for eating (and not for Halloween), such as Long Island cheese pumpkin with its pale skin and flattened shape, would do very well. The squash should be about 2 pounds when trimmed. Chop the squash coarsely, and don’t worry if the pieces are not equal. Part of the charm of the dish comes from some pieces disintegrating almost into a puree while others stay a little firm to the bite.
For the sausages, look for pure pork sausages with nothing but salt and aromatics (and garlic) added. We use sweet Italian sausages for this, and when we can find them, fennel-flavored ones. If you like spicy food, however, use the hot kind. If you use sweet sausages, consider adding a pinch of ground or flaked red chili peppers or a teaspoon of wild fennel pollen or crushed fennel seeds to perk things up a bit. And if you cannot get garlic-flavored sausages, by all means add more garlic to the sauce.
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 30 minutes
Total Time: 40 minutes
Yield: Makes 6 servings
10 to 12 sage leaves
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1/2 cup finely chopped onion, red or yellow
2 garlic cloves, crushed and chopped
2 Italian-style sausages, sweet, fennel or spicy (about ½ pound)
2 teaspoons wild fennel pollen or ground fennel seed (optional)
Pinch of ground or flaked red chili pepper (optional)
About 1 pound (500 grams) pasta (see headnote for suggestions)
4 1/2 to 5 cups coarsely chopped firm, orange-fleshed squash (see headnote for suggestions)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/3 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, plus more to pass at the table
1/2 cup chopped flat leaf Italian parsley
1. Set aside 4 or 5 of the largest sage leaves to crisp in oil and use for a garnish. Chop the rest to make 1 to 2 tablespoons chopped sage.
2. In a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil over medium heat then add the chopped onion and garlic. Remove the sausage meat from its casings. As soon as the vegetables start to sizzle, crumble the ground sausage in. Let the sausage meat cook briefly, tossing, stirring and breaking it up until it has rendered out its fat, then, when it just stops being pink, add the chopped sage along with the fennel and chili pepper (if using) and stir it in.
3. Set a large pot of abundantly salted water on to boil.
4. Heat the remaining tablespoon of oil in a small saucepan over high heat and add the reserved whole sage leaves. Saute, turning, until the leaves are crisp, then remove to a paper towel to drain.
5. When the pasta water is boiling vigorously, add the pasta and stir with a long-handled spoon. Pennette will take about 10 minutes to become al dente, but start testing at 8 minutes.
6. While the pasta water returns to a boil and the pasta cooks, add the grated squash to the sausage in the saucepan and turn up the heat to medium high. Cook briskly until the squash is soft, cooked through and some pieces are beginning to disintegrate. Add a ladleful of pasta water to the sauce and stir it in. Keep the sauce warm over low heat while the pasta cooks.
7. Have ready a warmed serving bowl.
8. When the pasta is al dente, drain it and transfer to the warm bowl.
9. Season the sausage-squash sauce with salt and pepper, along with the grated Parmigiano, and toss. Garnish with chopped parsley and finally with the crisp-fried sage leaves.
10. Serve immediately, passing more grated cheese at the table.
Note to cooks: Use this as a master recipe for all sorts of sausage-and-vegetable pasta sauces. Once Thanksgiving is past, try it with broccoli rabe or turnip greens, or chop a bunch of leeks into smaller pieces, rinse them thoroughly and add in place of the squash.
Main photo: Sausage and squash are a nice flavor combination for a Thanksgiving pasta dish. Credit: Nancy Harmon Jenkins
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.
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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.”
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 (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.
3 tablespoons grated grana padano, Parmesan or other aged cheese
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 pound angel hair or other long thin pasta
Optional ingredients: salami, pesto, anchovy, prosciutto, cheese etc.
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)
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
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
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
In Belgium, beer is the beverage of choice, while mead, an ancient alcoholic drink, is virtually unknown. But a young Belgian beekeeper, Xavier Rennotte, has given mead a makeover with the recent launch of his own brand, Bee Wine.
With roots in historic recipes and “Beowulf,” the real magic behind Bee Wine’s freshly minted flavor comes from Rennotte’s collaboration with a Belgian scientist. Mead is nothing more than honey, water and yeast, although spices and fruit are sometimes added for flavor. It’s not wine, although it tastes like it.
When I first encountered Rennotte some years ago, he had just met Sonia Collin, an expert in brewing and honey at Louvain University. I asked him then why he had turned to science for help. He explained it was his godfather who had made the suggestion: “Learn from the beginning, the scientific way. The best way to understand something is to go deep inside it,” he had told Rennotte.
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But why mead? It turned out Rennotte was obsessed with recreating the flavor of his first boyhood taste of mead, known as hydromel (“honey water”) in French. In other words, he was using science to track down a fleeting, Proustian taste from his childhood in the Belgian countryside.
Rennotte’s story lies at the heart of a book I wrote to explore our mostly pleasurable relationship with flavor, and the science behind it. I caught up with him recently at a food festival in the Parc Royal in Brussels. A crowd was gathered in front of his Nectar & Co stand to sample his Bee Wine.
Many people were mystified — was it wine or not? He happily explained its origins, as he offered tastings. Most people were delighted with the flavor. “It makes a great aperitif, or can be used as an ingredient in a cocktail,” Rennotte said. He’s also a trained chef, and loves using it as a marinade for lamb or fish, or as a dessert ingredient. “It’s great in sabayon,” he noted.
People were also sampling about a dozen types of organic honey with different flavors, aromas, textures and colors that Rennotte imports from around Europe for his Bee Honey collection. They include lemon blossom, wild carrot, eucalyptus and coriander. My favorite is the sunflower honey — thick as molasses, butter yellow and delicious on Le Pain Quotidien sourdough bread. One of his best-sellers is a spreadable paste made of just honey and pureed hazelnut. It tastes like Nutella, but with no added sugar or oil.
Rennotte isn’t the only novice alcoholic beverage entrepreneur who has turned to science for help and inspiration. One of the recipes in my book is for sabayon made with Musa Lova, a banana liqueur produced by a Flemish restaurateur. The liqueur is made in collaboration with the director of the largest in vitro banana species collection in the world, at the Laboratory of Tropical Crop Improvement at Leuven University. Musa Lova, a rum-based liqueur that comes in varieties such coffee or local honey, is made with ordinary Cavendish bananas, without added flavoring. Bananas contain a huge number of flavor molecules, which vary slightly depending on the ripeness.
Science not only helps alcoholic beverage makers, the producers influence science too. During my research in Copenhagen, for example, I discovered that the pH scale, used in medicine, agriculture and food science, was developed at the Carlsberg brewing company’s laboratory in 1909.
Rennotte’s hydromel is made from organic orange blossom honey from the Mount Etna area of Sicily, organic German yeast and spring water. His meadery, south of Brussels, is a former slaughterhouse that he refurbished with solar panels and a system to reuse the water that cools the fermentation tanks.
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The first time I tasted Rennotte’s mead was at his wife’s bakery-patisserie Au Vatel in the European Quarter, where we met often to talk about his search for the perfect mead. The early sample I tasted, which he had poured straight from a plastic lab bottle into a wine glass, was clear, young but tasty. The honey-tinted final product I drank at the food festival was light and sweet with a complex flavor that, one customer noted, develops and changes slightly with every sip.
“I couldn’t have done it without science,” Rennotte said. “I learned how the yeast functions, the importance of the pH of the honey and the temperature of the water — I learned it all from Sonia.”
Rennotte is incredibly proud and happy with his hydromel. But did he manage to capture the flavor he remembered from childhood? “I’m still searching,” he said. “Perhaps I’ll be looking for it for the rest of my life.”
Crumble of Christmas Boudin Sausage With Mead Sauce
Prep time: 15 to 20 minutes (plus chilling)
Yield: Serves 4
For the boudin mixture:
1/3 pound white boudin with pecans
1/4 pound black boudin with raisins
A “knob” of butter (roughly 2 tablespoons)
For the apple compote:
2 cooking apples
1/4 cup water
2 tablespoons sugar
For the mead sauce:
2 cups veal stock
1 1/4 cups mead
Salt and pepper to taste
For the topping:
2 ounces Speculoos (classic Belgian spice cookies)
1. Prepare the compote the day before or in the morning, so that it can be well chilled before serving. Peel and cut the apples into chunks. Cook the apples in the water on high heat. After 5 minutes, mash the apples, drain off any excess water and add the sugar. Chill.
2. Before serving, remove the skin of the sausages and place the meat in a mixing bowl. Mash the sausage meat with a fork. Cook the sausage meat in the butter in a nonstick pan on high heat. Remove when the meat is browned and keep warm.
3. To create the mead sauce, combine the veal stock and the mead in a saucepan, simmer and reduce. Salt and pepper to taste.
4. Prepare the Speculoos cookies by breaking them into small pieces.
5. When serving use 4 balloon-type wine glasses to layer the ingredients in the following order:
- 2 tablespoons warm sausage meat
- 1 tablespoon mead sauce
- 2 tablespoons cold compote
- 1 tablespoon crumbled Speculoos cookies
This is one of Xavier Rennotte’s favorite mead recipes, a starter or amuse-bouche based on boudin (blood sausage) from the southern, Francophone region of Belgium. During Christmastime in Wallonia, butcher shops’ windows are overflowing with boudin made with a variety of ingredients, such as raisins, apples, walnuts, leeks, pumpkin, truffles and Port. Each butcher competes to offer his or her clients a selection of sweet and savory boudin sausage.
Main photo: Belgian beekeeper Xavier Rennotte has given mead a makeover with the launch of his Bee Wine. Credit: Xavier Rennotte
Di Carroll always knew she wanted to live in Italy. Brought up in Cheshire, North West England, she felt an overwhelming affinity toward all things Italian from an early age, studied Italian at university, and worked as a translator, interpreter and wine merchant. Carroll’s particular love of Piedmont dates from a holiday trip to Turkey she took with her brother while still in her teens: The siblings made friends with a Piedmontese family, who invited them to visit during their journey back to the U.K.
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From the start, Carroll says she was captivated with the Piedmont region in northern Italy. “I saw the hills and vines, castles and little villages, and immediately fell in love. We sat under the fig tree in our friend’s garden and they pointed out the ripe, black figs they would pick next morning for breakfast. It’s a memory I’ve always kept — and now I can do the same,” she says.
Carroll and her husband, Pete, moved to Italy 13 years ago. Their old farmhouse in the Basso Monferrato is remote, peaceful and off the “expat” track. It is not a tourist area, but it is within the official Barbera growing area and Pete cultivates a small vineyard for their own consumption.
Regional Piedmont cookbook
Carroll has slowly been compiling a cookbook of regional and local recipes that have been refined through the prism of her own expert cooking skills. As we talked in her farmhouse kitchen in front of a wood-burning stove (“fabulous for roast chicken”), she was excited to show off a bottle of Gambadpernis (Partridge Leg), a lovely new DOC wine made by neighbor Bussi Piero.
“The production is tiny, there are only a few producers. Of course, they’ve been making wine ’round here for generations, although often they would just keep a lot of the grapes, dry them and eat them for Christmas,” she says.
[To earn DOC status (Denomination of Controlled Origin), a wine has to be made from grapes from a particular defined area and pass strict tests for standards in alcohol content, flavor, aroma, color and more. It ensures that the consumer is drinking an authentic wine, not a counterfeit or adulterated one.]
Di Carroll, who moved to Italy with her husband 13 years ago, fell in love with the Piedmont region as a teen. She has been compiling a cookbook of regional and local recipes that have been refined through the prism of her own expert cookery skills. Credit: Clarissa Hyman
Carroll explained the concept of the congenial merenda sinoira, a gathering of a half-dozen people or more, where everyone gathers to talk and nibble around a farmhouse table laden with salami, ham and cheese, and a pezzo forte, a pasta piece de resistance — usually pasta with butter, sage and Parmesan.
“It’s a lovely ritual, which is why I decided to get a really large table, so when visitors come, that’s where we sit, not in armchairs and sofas,” she says.
Traditional Piedmont dishes
For Carroll, Piedmont is the perfect Italian region. “The continuity of food and life is important here. The Piedmontese have a unique style and outlook on life. They are courteous and respect your boundaries, welcoming and attentive, and they have a way of making you feel you matter.
“They are still very die-hard about eating their traditional dishes and particular about the quality of their ingredients. People still keep rabbits and hens for food,” she says. “In every family vineyard you will still find two or three mixed vines for the table. My butcher’s beef comes from two miles down the road, and he goes to see the animals before they are slaughtered to choose which one he wants. My main problem at first was that they don’t hang the meat here for any length of time. The butcher now matures it for three weeks for me, but I still can’t convince any of my Italian friends to do the same.
“Every house has a copy of The Silver Spoon, but there is still a great oral tradition of handing recipes down. As well as personal variations, many villages also have their own collective recipes, recipes that belong to the village. At the annual fiera (fair), when they open up the wine cellars, each one offers a traditional dish to go with the wine samples,” Carroll says.
Nonetheless, Carroll says she has brought a little bit of Britain to her corner of a foreign field. She is known locally for her occasional afternoon teas for female friends, complete with teapot (unheard of!) and fine bone china. As for her husband, he’s down at the local bar with the lads in the circulo, discussing everyone’s favorite subjects — politics. And football. And what’s for dinner that night.
La Bagna Càuda or Bagna Caoda (Hot dip)*
Prep time: 30 minutes
Total time: 1 hour
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
12 large cloves of garlic in their skins
12 salted anchovies
3 1/2 fluid ounces best-quality, fruity, aromatic olive oil
1 stick of unsalted butter
Black pepper, to taste
Chopped basil, to taste
1. Set the garlic to cook on a very low heat — between 175 F and 212 F, at the most — in the oven.
2. Meanwhile, melt the salted anchovies in the oil and butter, again on a very low heat, until they become a paste. If you do it on the stove, this part will take no more than 10 minutes.
3. When the garlic is soft and creamy, remove the skins, and mash them into the anchovy mixture. Season with black pepper and a little chopped basil, stir well.
* So called because it should always be served hot. This is usually served as a vegetable dip, with celery sticks, red bell pepper batons, roasted pumpkin pieces, endives, baked onions or raw fennel. Guests are given their bagna càuda in terra-cotta dishes over a tealight, which keeps it warm. It can also be served as a cold dressing on cooked bell peppers that have been cooked over a flame, skinned and arranged on a plate with the bagna càuda as a dressing.
Prep time: 20 minutes
Total time: 40 minutes
Yield: 6 servings
1/2 stick of celery, diced
1/2 onion, chopped finely
2 to 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (Ligurian preferred because of the fragrance and balance it gives to the sauce)
3 anchovy fillets in olive oil, crushed in a mortar
2 ounces fresh red peppers, chopped fine
1/2 fresh chili pepper
7 ounces tomato passata
1 teaspoon sugar
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Red wine, to taste
Red wine vinegar, to taste
1. Gently fry the celery and onion in the oil.
2. When they start to turn light golden brown, stir in the anchovies, peppers, passata, sugar and black pepper. Add the wine and vinegar in small amounts and taste as you go; stirring spoon in one hand, tasting spoon in the other, until it you find a good sweet-sour-spicy balance of flavors that suit your palate.
3. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for a few minutes.
4. Serve as a condiment, rather than a covering sauce, with cold veal tongue.
Boiled veal tongue: Boil and simmer a fresh tongue in water with a bay leaf, large sprig of rosemary and an onion studded with a couple of cloves. The tongue is best made a day in advance.
Brasato al Barolo (Beef in Barolo)*
Prep time: 1 hour
Total time: 3 to 4 hours, plus overnight
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
4 ounces very thinly sliced lardo (or streaky bacon — not pancetta or lardons)
35 ounces pot roast beef, tied neatly with string
1 ounce unsalted butter
2 to 3 ounces of extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
2 to 3 sage leaves
Sprig of rosemary
2 large cloves of garlic
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 or 2 cloves (the spice, not clove of garlic)
A “whiff” of cinnamon (the spicing has to be delicate)
1 bottle of Barolo or Barbera
Hot beef stock (homemade, preferably)
For the soffritto:
2 onions, chopped
1 carrot, chopped
1 celery stick, chopped
A pinch of ground nutmeg
1. Cut the lardo into slivers.
2. Make small incisions into the meat and insert a piece of lardo into each one.
3. Fry the beef in butter and oil in a large casserole so it browns evenly on all sides.
4. Add the herbs and garlic to the pan and season with salt and pepper.
5. Add the spices (clove and cinnamon), heat gently for about 20 minutes with the lid halfway on.
6. Remove the meat, and replace any juices that drain from it back in the casserole. Set the meat aside.
7. Add the soffritto to the casserole dish, stir well, taste and add a little more salt. Replace the meat.
8. Add the wine and bring gently to a boil in order to evaporate the alcohol (otherwise it will be bitter).
9. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook for at least 3 hours. Test periodically for “doneness” — when the meat feels very tender, almost falling apart. (You can cook it in the oven, but in Italy it is mostly done on top of the stove).
10. Top with hot stock from time to time, if necessary.
11. When done, remove from the heat and allow the meat to cool in its juices.
12. Several hours before serving, take the meat out and carve into medium-thick slices.
13. Strain the cooking juices and thicken slightly with cornstarch if desired.
14. Reheat the meat, arrange on a silver platter (if you wish to make a fine impression) and pour the sauce over the meat.
Tips for this recipe
- This recipe needs Piedmont wine as it is most appropriate for the character of the dish, which is traditionally made in a deep, lidded casserole.
- One of the secrets of success is to add a pinch of salt now and then, rather than in one go. Keep tasting as you go, it’s important to get the right balance of flavors.
- The traditional accompaniment is potatoes mashed with olive oil and Parmesan, and carrot batons braised in oil and water, and sprinkled with fresh herbs such as sage, parsley and rosemary.
Il Bunet (or Bonet)
A chocolate and amaretti pudding favored throughout Piedmont.
Prep time: 30 minutes
Total time: 90 minutes
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
10 ounces amaretti biscuits
2 rounded tablespoons of unsweetened cocoa powder
17 fluid ounces whole milk
6 eggs, separated
The point of a knife blade of salt
2/3 cup white sugar
2 fluid ounces rum (optional, it was not used in days of yore)
1 cup sugar moistened with 2 tablespoons water for the caramel
One 2-pound rectangular loaf pan
1. Pulse the amaretti into a fine crumb in the food processor, mix in the cocoa powder, then add the milk.
2. Whip the egg whites into firm peaks with baking soda, taking care not to overbeat. Then whip the egg yolks and sugar into a velvety cream like zabaglione. Fold everything together carefully.
3. Make a caramel mixture by gently heating the sugar and 2 to 3 tablespoons water until the sugar dissolves; coat the bottom and sides of the loaf pan with the caramel mixture.
4. Pour the pudding mixture into the loaf pan and cook in a Bain Marie, or double-boiler bath, for 30 to 45 minutes at 350 F. When the pudding is firm to the touch and has pulled away from the sides of the pan, take it out of the oven, let it cool to room temperature before flipping over onto a serving platter and unmolding.
Often called La Langarola from the Piedmontese region of Le Langhe, which stretches south between Alba and Cuneo, and is where the renowned sweet round hazelnuts are cultivated.
Prep time: 1 hour
Total time: 2 hours
Yield: 6 to 8 servings
For the cake:
5 eggs, separated
The point of a knife blade of baking soda
3/4 cup light brown or granulated sugar
2 tablespoons rice or hazelnut oil (or a light sunflower oil)
2 1/2 cups finely chopped, skinned hazelnuts* or hazelnut flour if you can find it. (Processing the nuts in a food processor is acceptable, provided the result is a fairly fine crumble.)
Cinnamon or vanilla, if you prefer
The point of a knife blade of salt
Lined cake pan
Unsweetened cocoa powder, to dust baked cake
For the hazelnuts:
2 cups boiling water
3 cups baking soda
1 cup of hazelnuts
Bowl of very cold water
For the cake:
1. Whip the egg whites into peaks with baking soda; put to rest in the refrigerator.
2. Whip the eggs yolks and sugar into a firm mousse that resembles zabaglione, add the rice oil gently; fold in the finely chopped hazelnuts and a pinch of salt. (Many prefer the natural flavors of quality hazelnuts, but you can add a pinch of cinnamon or a little vanilla if you wish.)
3. Carefully fold the whipped egg whites and the egg and nut mixture together.
4. Pour the mix into a lined 9- to 9.5-inch-diameter cake pan, bake at 350 F for at least 45 minutes.
5. Halfway through cooking time, cover cake mix with grease-proof paper to avoid burning.
6. When cooked — a toothpick inserted into the cake comes out clean — remove from oven and allow to cool in the pan.
7. To serve, dust with a little unsweetened cocoa powder, and offer to your guests with a glass of Moscato Naturale.
For the hazelnuts:
1. Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan.
2. Let water continue to boil, add the baking soda to the water, which will foam.
3. Add the nuts to the boiling mixture and allow to boil for about 3 minutes. The water will turn black.
4. Have a bowl of very cold water handy. Place a nut in the cold water and try to rub off the skin. If it doesn’t come off easily, let the nuts continue to boil for a few minutes longer.
5. Continue to test one nut at a time. When the skin comes off easily, add the rest of the nuts to the cold water and start to peel.
6. Dry the nuts in a warm, but not hot, oven so as not to toast them or dry out the oils.
Main photo: Bagna càuda, made with garlic and anchovies, is a dip best served hot. Credit: Clarissa Hyman