As soon as we arrived home last week, after a long stay in France, I started stocking our empty fridge and cupboards. Several trips to local supermarkets took care of the basics, but it was at our weekly farmers’ market that I found gorgeous summer vegetables, freshly baked loaves of bread, and locally crafted yogurt.
Honest-to-goodness tomatoes, deep red, juicy, and packed with flavor, were the first thing that caught my eye. They would be perfect to use for a summer tomato and chickpea soup—a dish I had created for my new book, Soup Nights.
The tomatoes need only to be chopped and seeded, then simmered slowly with chickpeas in a cumin-scented broth. Lemon, yogurt, and mint all contribute cooling accents to this soup. I used chicken broth for my version, but vegetarians can sub the quick-and-easy vegetable stock recipe that is also included. Continue reading
On a recent visit to London, I ate at Gymkhana, a well known Michelin-starred restaurant in the center of the city. Every dish was memorable, but my favorite was a plate of tender, golden grilled chicken thighs that boasted incredibly moist flesh. When I asked our server how they were made, she volunteered only that the chicken was marinated in yogurt, homemade Indian mustard, fresh ginger, and spices. After returning to my small Parisian kitchen, I was determined to make a version to savor again.
For the marinade I whisked whole yogurt, mustard, and freshly grated ginger with lemon juice, garlic, and cayenne pepper. Dijon mustard stood in for the Indian variety that was unavailable locally. The chicken I had sampled across the Channel was reminiscent of tandoori chicken, but it was a rich golden color rather than the usual vibrant orange hue. So, I decided to omit the red food coloring often called for in tandoori dishes. Continue reading
Provencal Tomato Tart after baking.
My friend, Marie Claire, stirring onions.
Tomatoes and onions cooked together for the filling.
Last summer in Paris, my good friend and talented cook, Marie Claire, told me about a tomato tart she had recently made while on vacation in the South of France. A beloved family recipe, this savory tart was a dish her mother, Suzanne, had prepared for her during her childhood in Provence. My French friend showed me photos of the dish and shared the recipe, but somehow I didn’t get around to trying it. This year, soon after we arrived in the French capital, I wasted little time before asking if she would prepare the tart with me.
To make it, we used purchased puff pastry for the crust, and then sautéed sliced onions and diced tomatoes until softened and well melded. The filling, scented with herbes de Provence and garlic, was spread in the tart shell, then covered with sliced tomatoes and a sprinkling of Gruyère cheese. Continue reading
Following a brief trip to London, we made our way to Paris and settled in the apartment we rent. After eating out for several days across the Channel, I couldn’t wait to go to the nearby markets and buy the makings for a simple supper. I decided on lamb chops marinated in a spicy mix of harissa, lemon juice, and olive oil along with fresh herbal accents of mint and cilantro. As a garnish for the lamb, I reserved some of this marinade as a dressing for cherry tomatoes and chickpeas.
Harissa, a North African condiment made with hot red peppers, garlic, and spices, is available throughout France. At home in the States, you can find it at few groceries, but your best option might be to order it from Amazon. Although I’ve seen it in jars, I prefer the harissa paste sold in tubes like the one here. Continue reading
Savory Mexican Cheesecake with Tortilla Chips
Guests sampling the buffet.
Claire on the left and Liz on the right–two Amherst grads who helped cook and in my kitchen!
The professor congratulating his students
Manchego, Tomato, and Avocado Toasts
Melon with Pernod and Mint
Cheeses with Fresh Cherries and Sage
My husband and I look forward each spring to celebrating graduation at Amherst College. We host a party for my spouse’s students, and make it a family affair by inviting the moms, dads, siblings, and grandparents of the honorees. This year was a particularly large group with almost fifty people at our home last Saturday for champagne and appetizers.
I set out a buffet that included smoked salmon with lemon crème fraîche, a tray of cheeses garnished with fresh cherries and sage, and roasted asparagus spears with a gribiche sauce (mayo with chopped hard boiled eggs, mustard and chives). Skewers of cantaloupe marinated in Pernod and mint, plus a savory Mexican cheesecake (scented with cumin and chili) served with yellow and blue tortilla chips rounded out the menu. But, it was a simple passed hors d’oeuvre for Manchego, Tomato, and Avocado Toasts that garnered the most attention. Continue reading
This past week I taught two hands-on classes titled Paris Spring Cooking. The menu included artichoke soup, scallops with asparagus and peas napped with beurre blanc, and as sides a watercress and orange salad, and crispy rice cakes with Comté cheese. By far the technique that interested my students most was that of making the celebrated French sauce known as beurre blanc.
Beurre blanc (or white butter) is one of the simplest of France’s sauces, yet many cooks have never prepared it. It consists of two simple steps. First you add minced shallots, wine, and vinegar to a good sturdy saucepan. Then, cook the mixture until almost all of the liquid has evaporated. For the second step, you whisk in a tablespoon of cream and begin adding small pieces of softened butter while whisking vigorously. The trick is to never let the butter melt completely, but rather keep it at a sauce-like consistency. When all the butter has been incorporated, the sauce can be transferred in its saucepan to a skillet of warm water to keep it from solidifying. Continue reading
Far more than in the past, I find myself considering my friends’ eating habits when we entertain. Are you gluten-free? Do you eat sugar? Are you vegetarian? are questions I ask routinely. And the most resounding “ yes” I hear is to the last of these. Always deferential, my vegetable-loving pals respond that they don’t expect a special meal, that they’ll be fine enjoying salad and side dishes at dinner. But what fun is that for them! It’s like being invited to the theatre, and saying I’ll be okay seeing only the 2nd and 3rd acts. So, I am always searching for delicious vegetarian main courses to share with my expanding circle of discriminating guests.
Rice with peas, fresh mint, and Pecorino will not disappoint. Here is a beautiful spring entrée prepared with easy- to-find ingredients that is uncomplicated to assemble. You start by making a quick “pea pesto” pureeing peas (fresh or frozen) with pine nuts, mint, and Pecorino.The intensely flavored mixture is then tossed with warm cooked rice. Continue reading
Za’atar refers to a plant whose leaves have been used in cooking since ancient times in the Middle East, but it is also the name for a very popular spice mix used throughout that part of the world. A fragrant blend of dried herbs, often including thyme and oregano, as well as sesame seeds and sumac (a spice with a tangy lemon taste made from ground berries), za’atar adds a robust flavor to many dishes. Rub it on grilled meats or chicken, or sprinkle it over yogurt or hummus. Or use it in a delicious dressing for a spring salad like the one that my friend Joy Howard created.
I first spotted this dressing on Joy’s Instagram feed, and immediately wanted to try it. Instead of using dried herbs she chops fresh thyme and oregano, then combines them with sumac, sesame seeds, and garlic. Mixed with lemon juice and olive oil, the za’atar quickly becomes a dressing. For this salad, soft, tender greens work best. You toss them Continue reading
Spring Pizza ready to go into the oven.
Spring Pizza after baking.
Cutting the first slice!
This week in the supermarket, I had a eureka moment while standing in front of a display of sleek, slim bundles of asparagus. Why not turn the tempting spears into a topping for pizza instead of using them as a side dish or tossing them with strands of cooked pasta– my usual methods of cooking this spring vegetable.
Within minutes, I had a plan. At the cheese counter I chose a piece of Taleggio, a soft creamy Italian cheese that melts beautifully. A package of those sweet little cippolini onions beckoned as well, especially since they were being sold peeled. To round out the toppings, I decided on brown (cremini) mushrooms. Continue reading
Gnocchi alla romana with roasted asparagus
Table setting for spring dinner
Gnocchi spread on a chopped board and ready to be chilled
Spring is officially underway, but New England hasn’t gotten the memo. Temperatures here recently climbed to 70, accompanied by clear, blue skies, and then fell suddenly to the 20s with a daylong snowfall. Each morning this week I’ve checked the weather even before my texts and email (a first!), debating what to wear. And, of course, I wonder what to cook! For a small dinner we hosted for out-of- town friends this weekend, I spent as much time planning the menu as preparing it. In the end the night’s dishes reflected this transitional time of year, satisfying yearnings for both cold and warm weather fare.
Our opener—gnocchi alla romana with roasted asparagus–was a good example.
The gnocchi, assembled Roman style with farina rather than potatoes, are enriched with Parmesan and butter, cut into rounds, and then baked. Served piping hot atop bundles of asparagus, they seemed to welcome spring and acknowledge winter at the same time. Continue reading