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Archive for the ‘Salads’ Category

I love summer meals. Cool, refreshing, and nonchalant; celebrating the spontaneous combination of any variety of flavors without a clash because everything is fresh, fresh, fresh.  Tonight in Vermont, I threw together a meal every ingredient of which was local, (with the allowable exceptions of a lemon, an orange, Kalamata olives, some Spanish olive oil, salt and pepper, and a pinch each of cumin and coriander–Mediterranean items that don’t grow in these here parts).


Here are the elements of the meal:

> a cold bean salad with two varieties of heirloom beans grown by Killdeer Farm, here in Norwich, fennel, orange segments, radicchio, olive oil, and herbs from my mom’s herb garden.

> panzanella: tomatoes, a stale baguette, fresh mozzarella, garlic, chives, olives, backyard basil.

> cold grilled chicken.

> corn on the cob, picked this morning and as sweet as dessert.

> grilled heirloom eggplant, summer squash, and zucchini from the neighbors’ garden.

> a Lebanese-style yogurt sauce for the grilled veggies and chicken.

> (and for Jack, the above, plus Vermont cheddar, a glass of Strafford Creamery milk, and local carrots and sugar snap peas.)

The best supporting actor award in this meal goes to the yogurt sauce, which I hadn’t made before, but which will now be my default leftover-chicken-jazzer-up.

Lemon-Yogurt Sauce

1/2 cup plain Greek yogurt
1/4 tsp. lemon zest
juice of 1/4 lemon
pinches of salt, ground coriander and ground cumin (best if you use seeds ground with a          mortar and pestle)
4 mint leaves, minced
small bunch chives, minced
1 tbs. parsley, minced

Stir it all up and adjust the seasonings to taste.

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Sunday lunch

Sicilian style, on a sunny Sunday, with Susan Stewart. It was as sumptuous and soothing as all this sibilance might suggest.

Yesterday, we were invited to have lunch with Susan, whom we’ve known mainly through her writing, both poems and literary criticism.  I’ve been spending a lot of time with her book Crimes of Writing in particular, which addresses the literary authenticity scandals of eighteenth-century Britain, a topic close to my dissertation.  At Sunday lunch, however, we talked mostly about Italy and food.  Susan had set a table on the little, plant-festooned balcony of the apartment she rents, the walls of which are lined invitingly with old books and older pictures.

view from the bedroom

While we chatted in the tiny kitchen, Jack explored the apartment.  See him in the window?

He’d found a little library ladder.  What a great piece of furniture!

Meanwhile, Susan was boiling spaghetti and shredding the bottarga, a specialty she’s been serving to her two sons for their birthdays since they came to Rome when they were not much older than Jack.  Bottarga is the salty, pressed, preserved-in-beeswax roe of tuna that Italians serve with lemon as an antipasto or tossed with pasta.  The dish had three ingredients—butter, bottarga, and spaghetti—and was sensational.

Susan then fried up a platter of anchovies, and served them on a bed of arugula with lemon slices.  This dish was followed by a Sicilian salad of blood oranges and marinated black olives. And then we ate Cassata, a Sicilian ricotta cake that’s dotted inside with chocolate chips, iced with dense icing, and decorated with candied fruits.  Needless to say, Jack was a big fan of this part of the meal.

Susan lives right in Piazza San Cosimato, where there’s a playground.  After the meal, we went outside, and eventually walked back up the steps from Trastevere to the Gianicolo, and home.  The sun is so welcome.

Jack took pictures all the way.  He managed to capture a good shot of an acanthus leaf, the variety that tops Corinthian columns, and—gosh!—a good one of his parents.

The rest of this post has nothing to do with food, and is really an unrelated addendum about everyday life in Rome.  The thing about everyday life is that it often throws you into unexpected and odd experiences.  I’ve been having problems with my feet—joint pain (no more 10Ks for me)—so I went to an orthopedist today on the Aventine hill.  I got lost, of course, in the spiderweb-like network of streets, but finally found my destination. I was buzzed in, and walked up the dark stairway of an apartment building that also houses a group of English-speaking doctors.  The whole appointment went as it might have any place in the U.S. (she went into enthusiastic detail, with a skeletal model, of what was wrong with my feet, complimented me on my slow pulse, seemed perversely excited that someone so young should have such problems, and made chit-chat with me about having husbands in the same fields) until the end, which seemed to me to be particularly Italian: the doctor suggested I go shoe shopping, and wrote down a list of brands I should look for!

This appointment was followed by a visit to a clinic run by nuns where I stood like a flamingo on a platform and had my feet x-rayed.  When I got home and told Peter all about it, and that I’d gotten a cortisone shot, he said, “so you’re on steroids?”

But I figure all of this is better—and more interesting—than taking, as some Italians do, a spot of grappa in my coffee every day.

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We’re in the season of Carnevale, the forty days before Lent, which used to be, for Italians, one long party, when masquerade meant license.  (For some of Lord Byron’s lines on this tradition, check out my fritter post.)  Speaking of fritters, frappe—a crispy, ruffled kind of fried dough topped with a blizzard of powdered sugar—is now in all of the forno windows, beckoning people with its simple mix of sweet, fat, once-a-year bliss.  On our way to the market this morning, Ramie and I stopped at Dolce Desideri (as usual).

There are all kinds of other traditional Carnevale pastries, too, some of which are variations on what we call “doughnut holes” and Italians call “bombe.”  (I have to admit, I sometimes give in to Jack’s whine on the way to school, and stop at Caffe Tazza D’Oro, where I get a cappuccino and he gets “una bomba piccola,” a little ball of sweet, sugar-crusted dough small enough to fit in my fingers’ OK sign.)

From Desideri, we went to the market to stock up on delicious seasonal greens. I bought a little head of treviso radicchio that looks like an overblown dark rose.

The presence of limes at this stall made us realize there is a complete lack of limes in Italian cooking—at least around here.  Why?  Every other citrus fruit grows in abundance, in the gardens here, in the playground at Jack’s school, in courtyards all over the city.  But this is the only place I’ve ever seen limes.

This is also the place to get ginger root, dried fruits, bulk nuts, and spices.

From there, I went to my favorite local forno to get some pizza bianca.

I also bought some puntarelle, which I later tossed in the traditional Roman way with lots of garlicky vinaigrette and chopped anchovies.  Puntarelle are the hearts of a tall chicory variety, sliced lengthwise and soaked in cold water, which makes them curl and takes off some of their bitterness.

The recipe at epicurious.com suggests substituting endive, if you can’t find any chicory.  (I’ve adjusted the amounts a bit from their recipe):

  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 6 anchovy fillets, rinsed, patted dry
  • Large pinch of coarse kosher salt
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
  • 4 large heads of Belgian endive (about 1 1/3 pounds), halved lengthwise, then cut lengthwise into thin strips

Mix garlic, anchovies, and salt in small bowl. Mash with back of wooden spoon or firm spatula until paste forms. Whisk in oil, vinegar, and mustard. Season dressing to taste with salt and generously with pepper.

Place endive in large bowl of ice water. Refrigerate 1 hour. Drain well. Place in clean bowl. Toss with anchovy dressing and serve.

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My mind and time have been taken up with other writing projects during the past week—my dissertation, about which I won’t talk here, and my story/pamphlet for Bioversity, about which I will talk, at some later date.  But I have to steal a few moments from eighteenth-century literature to do some musing on marjoram.

2034-tb-marjoram

Every Wednesday night at the Academy, the RSFP kitchen cooks an entirely vegetarian meal with local, seasonal ingredients.  Last night, the highlights of the meal were hazelnuts (chopped on a bitter green salad with beets) and marjoram.

Marjoram is often thought of as a meat herb because it can hold its own alongside the most flavorful lamb or venison.  But last night’s main course was potato gnocchi with marjoram and chopped walnuts, pecorino and some wilted green (something chicoryish but not too bitter… plain old spinach?).  It was a risky dish, because the piny astringency and almost medicinal zest of the marjoram could easily have overpowered the humble little gnocchi.  That’s why I’d like to praise, along with the herb so evocative of wildness, the kitchen staff here.  Not only did they create delicate gnocchi for almost fifty people, but they seasoned it delicately with one of the strongest herbs.  The dish had to have been prepared with gentle fingers—to keep the gnocchi fluffy and to crush the leaves of marjoram without mincing out the flavor.  The wine pairing was exquisite, too: a slightly effervescent, green-grassy crisp white from Lazio.  Like a vinho verde, but even greener.

Thanks, guys!

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fagioli

Prettiest when raw, these swirly colored pink and white beans are a satisfying bite-size.  I bought a large handful at a market stand the other day, and Jack helped me shell them yesterday afternoon.

shelling

My idea was to mix up a nice cold bean and grain salad.  In some chicken stock, I simmered the beans until al dente, not mushy, and in another pot simmered a friendly blend of whole grains: farro, brown rice, orzo, and some others.  When these were done, I tossed them together with minced fresh herbs, cherry tomatoes and red pepper.  Whatever you have on hand would be good.  For lunch today, I dressed it with vinaigrette, and put a big spoonful of it on top of a mache and treviso salad.

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Late August on the Outer Cape is like one long lazy day.  Mornings and evenings are cool, but the sun warms everything in between—except the Atlantic waves.

collecting tomatoes

collecting tomatoes

We’ve eaten fish, of course, but the food fun I had yesterday we found by the roadside instead of the seaside.  Just down Long Nook Road from Jack’s grandparents’ house, we stopped at a little farmstand to buy some things for lunch.  Jack wanted the pumpkin, but I picked out sungolds, a squash, and the tiniest red potatoes I’ve ever seen.

prayer flags
pumpkin

Then, we went to the playground.

the twirling tire swing is the best!

the twirling tire swing is the best!

resting, alongside a bluefin

resting, alongside a bluefin

Back home for lunch, I boiled the potatoes, warmed some scallions and leftover grilled chicken in olive oil, and then tossed it all together in a bowl with some vinegar and mustard.  A quick, warm salad makes a delicious lunch.

bite-sized beauties

bite-sized beauties

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When we got to the Hanover Farmers’ Market yesterday, thunder was rumbling in the not-too-far distance.  We wouldn’t be able to linger.  I went straight for the Cedar Circle Farm booth, where I was almost overcome by the vivid colors spread before me!

I spent all the cash in my pocket on this pile of (always organic) beauty:

cedar circ vegs

When we got back to my parents’ house at the far end of Turnpike Road in Norwich, it was still too hot to turn on the oven or even think systematically about a meal.  I pulled out a tub of hummus, and we used it as dip for the celery (the most celeryish celery I’ve ever tasted!) and the sungolds.

In spite of the sky–another storm brewing after some hot sun–we decided to cook out.

dark clouds over the back hill

dark clouds over the back hill

We had some grass fed ground beef from Hogwash Farm, so we decided to do burgers, corn on the cob, and a big chopped salad combining the tomatoes, some peppers, radishes from Killdeer, and cucumbers and herbs from our garden.  Dressed with a bit of mustard vinaigrette, it was flavorful, cool, and perfectly satisfying.

This is the only season when a raw salad like that, with little adornment or special treatment, tastes so vivid.

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