Comfort Food for Trying Times

After 9/11, I remember being at a loss for what to offer the readers of my syndicated column, “That’s Entertaining,” that I was writing back then. Who, I thought, would feel like entertaining during such a horrific time? Then it came to me: food and the thought of food restores. In particular, such comfort dishes as roast beef with mashed potatoes and gravy or golden chicken pot pies can lift spirits as well as satisfy our hunger.

After all that has happened this autumn–the hurricanes that have struck our country and the Caribbean, the earthquakes in Mexico, the mass shooting in Las Vegas, and now the fires in California, I have found myself once again thinking of comfort food.

This time I’ve chosen taleggio-stuffed meatballs and spaghetti, with a spicy tomato sauce. These meatballs distinguish themselves from more traditional ones in several ways. They are prepared with ground dark meat turkey, and shaped into bite-sized spheres –around 1.5 inches in diameter. I stuff them with small cubes of creamy taleggio cheese, and then Continue reading

Roasted Grapes, Olives, and Walnuts for a Simple Fall Dish

In the file cabinet wedged into the closet of my study, I keep folders filled with recipes clipped from magazines and papers or printed from the internet. These recipes are not categorized by type of food (which would be the most practical organization), but rather haphazardly by season with headings like: “fall/winter” or “spring/summer.” There are hundreds in countless folders. Recently, I spotted a recipe from the late 90s for roasted grapes and olives. It called for wine grapes and Picholine olives to be cooked in a skillet in a wood-fired oven. Because I didn’t have access to either wine grapes or a wood-fired oven then, I left the instructions filed away as a memory. But fast-forward almost 20 years, and I saw the recipe in a new light!

Red and green seedless grapes plus pitted Kalamatas stand in beautifully for the original ingredients. Walnut halves add crunchy texture, and herbes de Provence and bay leaves an herbal accent. Nothing could be simpler to prepare. I tossed everything with olive oil Continue reading

What to Do With All That Late Season Zucchini

Zucchini with sauteed onion and tomato topping ready to go in the oven.

√ Make them into soups (corn and zucchini chowder; zucchini Vichyssoise)
√ Use them in vegetable gratins (ratatouille; corn and zucchini pudding)
√ Use them in salad (tomato, chickpea and zucchini)
√ Add them to pasta (linguine, zucchini, garlic, capers, pine nuts)
√ Turn them into a savory tart (zucchini, bacon, goat cheese tart)
√ Turn them into a relish (zucchini and sweet red pepper relish)

Those are just a few ways I use zucchini, that ubiquitous late summer crop that arrives in farmers’ markets and groceries this time of year. For the past few weeks, though, I’ve prepared this versatile vegetable in a new mode inspired by my June stay in Paris. In France’s capital I noticed that chefs were preparing the squash by halving the zucchini lengthwise, then adding imaginative toppings and roasting them. At one Left Bank restaurant (Racines des Prés in the 7th), zucchini halves were mounded with black olives, crumbled feta, and chopped hardboiled eggs and then offered as a first course.

Inspired by these Parisian samplings, I created the following recipe. For my version the Continue reading

Porchetta-Style Pork Tenderloins for Labor Day Weekend

Many years ago during a trip to Italy, I remember stopping at a roadside stand somewhere near Florence to buy “porchetta.” From my first bite of this intensely flavored grilled pork, I was smitten. The porchetta (pronounced por-ket-ah) was prepared with a whole boned pig that was stuffed with garlic and herbs, then rolled, and cooked slowly on a spit. Vendors served the fork-tender pork as an exquisite sandwich layered between bread slices.

Over time, I discovered many recipes for porchetta, but all required long, slow grilling, and I never seemed to have enough free time to try them. Then, this summer I had a eureka moment! Why not use the traditional seasonings of fennel seeds, rosemary, sage, and garlic as a rub for pork tenderloins. For my adaptation I slathered the tenderloins with an herb and garlic olive oil mixture, before marinating them for several hours. Then I browned Continue reading

Salad for Supper from Cape Cod

Grilled Peach and Fig Salad with Arugula, Burrat, and ProsciuttoEarlier this month, I posted a photo on Facebook of a striking grilled peach and fig salad that I had sampled during a visit to Cape Cod. The dish, which was served as an opener at Del Mar, a restaurant in Chatham known for its creative cooking, attracted more comments than usual from my friends. Many asked for the recipe, so over the past few days I’ve spent time trying to reproduce the fresh and subtle flavors of the original. After several attempts, I think the following version is close to the original.

At the restaurant, sliced peaches and figs, as well as slim honeydew melon wedges were seared over a wood fire, but at home I used a stovetop grill pan. (A good, heavy skillet would also work.) I combined these colorful fruits with arugula and pieces of cream filled burrata, all dressed in a balsamic honey vinaigrette. Thin prosciutto slices shaped into rolls, and toasted pecans made fine finishing touches. Continue reading

A Delicious Riff on Guacamole!

Avocado Pate with Pico de Gallo and Tortilla ChipsAlthough food, like fashion, has trends that change with recurring frequency, some styles seem to be timeless. Take the little black dress–it has been and will continue to be a mainstay in most women’s closets. On the culinary front I think it’s safe to say that guacamole or some interpretation of it will never lose its popularity.

For instance, for years when entertaining I’ve returned again and again to a recipe for an avocado pâté. This appetizer has all the components of traditional guacamole (plus a few extras). However, in this variation avocados are whizzed with cream cheese along with shallots, garlic, spices, and lime juice in a food processor until the ingredients combine in a Continue reading

My New “Go To” Summer Appetizers

Cucumber Slices, Hearts of Palm, Feta, Herbs“Cucumber Slices with Hearts of Palm, Feta, and Fresh Herbs”—those are the extra easy, extra quick appetizers I’ve served twice in the last two weeks when entertaining. In Paris I included them in a spread of starters to begin a summer supper. Back home this week, when we invited friends to stop by for wine, I offered them again along with a platter of cheeses.

On both occasions, a plate of cucumber slices mounded with a mixture of pureed hearts of palm, feta, and fresh herbs, disappeared within minutes and had to be refurbished. I watched as guests helped themselves to not one or two, but several servings. These little bites offered a cooling respite to the heat of summer both in Paris and in New England.

I can’t take credit for inventing this recipe. That honor goes to my book club friend and talented cook, Beth Souza, who served them to rave reviews at one of our meetings. She shared the recipe with me, explaining that she used a food processor to blend hearts of palm with feta (preferably purchased in brine), along with herbs including mint, cilantro, and chives. A touch of olive oil and water smooth out the mixture. Your gluten free guests as well as your vegetarian pals will love these, she added!

I’m already planning to serve these appetizers again when more out-of-town company arrive this weekend!

 

A French Cherry Tart for July 4th!

A couple of summers ago during a visit to the Basque country in the southwest of France, I tasted a rich, double-crusted butter tart that encased a delicious cherry filling. One bite of this confection and I was in heaven. Although I have thought about that tart every time cherries have come into season, only recently did I try to reproduce it. After several attempts I arrived at a close facsimile, and think it would make a glorious finale to a July 4th celebration!

Although I sampled an individual tart, the following recipe is prepared in a 9-inch tart pan so that it easily serves eight. The secret to its success lies in preparing an extra short, extra buttery crust (like a shortbread one). I even replaced some of the flour in the dough with ground almonds for added flavor. The bottom crust is broken into pieces and simply patted into the pan. Then a filling of fresh cherries and cherry preserves accented with Amaretto, is added. The top crust is rolled out between sheets of parchment and patted atop the filling. Continue reading

Depending on Which Chèvre You Choose…

Chèvres at my local shopFor those of you planning to make the Cherry Tomato and Radish Salad in Orange Vinaigrette with Whipped Chèvre featured  on Monday, I realized after I penned the post that the amount of milk called for when whisking the chèvre could vary depending on the firmness of the goat cheese. I used a creamy, but somewhat firm chèvre from my local cheese shop (see photo above!) and it easily needed almost 2/3 cup of milk to get it to a nice whipped consistency.  Softer goat cheeses like Chavrie (which I mentioned in the post) will need as little as 2 tablespoons of milk. I’ve made these notes on the recipe so be sure to check out the revised version here.

It’s been in the 90s every day this week–tomorrow we might be lucky and it will reach only into the 80s! Happy cooking everyone!

 

 

 

 

Cooking in Paris When the Temperatures Soar

Tomato and Radish Salad with Whipped ChevreMonday (Lundi)                High 95
Tuesday (Mardi)                High 97
Wednesday (Mercredi)     High 97
Thursday (Jeudi)               High 97

When I looked at the weather app on my phone this morning, the temperatures above are what I saw. Paris is having a “canicule”—a heat wave! It certainly determined what I wanted to cook this week. No turning on the oven–salads and chilled soups will be on the menu instead.

A salad that I tasted recently at a fabulous Left Bank restaurant, Le Bon Saint Pourçain, was the inspiration for our lunch today. The image of halved cherry tomatoes, paper thin shavings of radish, and sliced red onion served with whipped chèvre was still dancing around in my head. The cool refreshing flavors as well as the vivid colors of this dish were appealing, but I also appreciated that all the ingredients were seasonable, and readily available in my neighborhood markets. Continue reading