Add something different to your Thanksgiving table: spicy butternut squash recipe

We’re down for the count, ladies and gentlemen, and I’ll be brief.

My previous post was about Paris, filled with images of a city that is deeply close to my heart for reasons I cannot explain. On my first trip, I felt as if I had lived there for many, many years. It may be easy to feel that way while on vacation, but the feeling haunted me with each visit. Without getting too political on a site which I hope offers respite from the world of troubles, I just want to say that this year, I think we are collectively so very grateful to be safe today, to have a roof over our heads, to have good food, to share love and friendship with others, and to think of those less fortunate. It is my wish for you and everyone. Yes, let us all count our blessings. Happy Thanksgiving, one and all.

A few notes about the recipe:

Pre-peeled butternut squash has become commonplace in most markets, but you’d be surprised to find that the skin is quite delicate and peeling is not necessary. A whole, unpeeled squash will also be much fresher than one that has been peeled already, but no guilt if you go that route. I’m just saying: you don’t have to.

Pomegranate seeds are also a common market staple right now, and it’s fun (again, fresher) to seed them yourself. You will only need half a pomegranate for this recipe, but you can use the extra seeds in salads, or stir them into yogurt. See the recipe for an easy way to extract the seeds (and possibly take out a few frustrations in the process.)
 

Spicy roasted butternut squash with yogurt and pomegranate
Serves 4 (recipe can be multiplied)
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon maras pepper
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
3 tablespoons chopped fresh ginger
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large (2 pounds) unpeeled butternut squash, halved, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch thick slices
Seeds from 1/2 pomegranate (about 1/2 cup)
2 to 3 tablespoons milk
1/2 cup plain yogurt
3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

1. Set the oven at 475 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment.

2. In a large bowl, stir the turmeric, cumin, cinnamon, maras pepper, salt, and pepper until combined. Stir in the ginger and oil. Add the squash to the bowl. With your hands, toss to coat it with the spices.

3. On the baking sheet, spread the squash in one layer. Bake for 20 minutes, or until it is tender and browned at the edges. Transfer to a shallow serving dish.

4. Meanwhile, cut the pomegranate in half horizontally. Hold one half over a bowl with the seed side facing down. Use the back of a wooden spoon to firmly strike the skin several times all around to knock the seeds into the bowl.

5. In a bowl, stir the milk into the yogurt. Add more milk, 1 tablespoon at a time, if necessary, to make a thick sauce.

6. Drizzle the yogurt over the squash. Sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds and cilantro. 


Posted on November 20, 2015 .

Take a bite out of Paris in the Marais district

So much good food, so little time.

In May of this year I travelled to Paris for a street photography class with Peter Turnley. One of the results of the trip was this article I wrote for the Boston Globe. I ate a chicken dish in a restaurant in the Oberkampf district, about a ten minute walk from the Place des Vosges in the Marais. The dish at L'Acolyte (De L'Insolite), (49, rue de la Folie Mericourt, 11th arr.) was a lot more complex, involving sous-vide if memory serves, but this version is something you can create in your own kitchen. Comfort food for those in-between holiday extravaganzas over the next few months. See the end of the post for the recipe.

I loved renting an apartment in this district because it is within walking distance of so many of Paris hotspots, and if you can't get there on foot, the metro will take you there. It's a bit like SOHO with smaller buildings--you could say it has been ruined by too many tourists and upscale shops, but who has time for that? If you go, save it for a weekday.

PARIS — The art of people watching was perfected in this city, and nowhere do you have a better view than from a cafe in the Marais district. You’ll find one on just about every block here, ideal places to observe a scene that ranges from funky to haute. Spend a day here sampling great food, shopping at the small, quirky boutiques and outdoor food markets, or just relaxing and taking in an atmosphere populated by bikers, hipsters, and well-heeled Parisians.

Situated on the Right Bank, the Marais lies roughly between the Bastille and the Georges Pompidou Center, cutting across the 3rd and 4th arrondissements, the 20 municipal districts that snail around the Seine. It’s a pleasant walk across the river from the 5th arrondissement. From wherever you are, hop on the Metro and get off at Saint-Paul, heading to the Rue de Rivoli. If you want a true Parisian experience, you can rent a bike (helmets are not de rigueur, but then, everybody in Paris smokes a lot too). Otherwise, walk north on one of the small streets toward the Rue des Francs- Bourgeois and you will find yourself in the heart of a village of winding streets, enticing stone passages, and hidden gardens, saved from ruin and demolition in the 1960s by the preservation efforts of Andre Malraux, a writer and France’s first minister of culture.

 

From the 13th to the 17th centuries, the Marais was home to the nobility, who built large hotels particuliers (mansions), of which the Hotel Carnavalet on the Rue des Francs-Bourgeois is a stunning example, now a museum dedicated to the history of Paris. The nearby Musee Picasso and the Musee d’Art et d’Histoire du Judaisme (Museum of Jewish Art and History) are also housed in one of the old grand residences. When the rich moved across the river to the Faubourg Saint-Germain at the end of the 17th century, the Marais attracted, over the years, a large Jewish community, gay couples, and artists. The square around the Rue des Rosiers is still a center of Jewish life (and good Jewish food.)

GREEN SPACE

The Place des Vosges on the edge of the Marais is one of the most beautiful, and the oldest, planned squares in the city. Elegant brick and stone homes with steeply pitched slate roofs (Victor Hugo lived here) surround a large peaceful park with plenty of room to picnic or relax on a bench surrounded by trees. Take a break here or browse in the art galleries under the arcades.

OUTDOOR MARKETS

If you’re on a short visit, you won’t be able to bring home fresh ingredients, but you’ll want to. Paris’ markets are windows into the life here. You can have a snack and discover inexpensive souvenirs to tuck into your suitcase like espadrilles, kitchen towels, and the wildly popular little knives made by Opinel.

Marche Bastille, a five-minute walk from Place des Vosges, is on Boulevard Richard Lenoirnear the Colonne de Juillet in the Place de la Bastille. Open Thursdays 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., Sundays 7 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Marche Popincourt is a 10-minute walk from Place des Vosges on Boulevard Richard Lenoir near the Oberkampf stop on the Metro. Open Tuesdays and Fridays 7 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

CAFES AND RESTAURANTS

Long, fast-moving lines at L’As du Fallafel, a kosher Middle Eastern restaurant, are worth it. Opt for the falafel, ask for a paper plate and plenty of napkins, and walk around the corner to Charles-Victoire Langlois Park on the Rue des Blancs-Manteaux. L’As du Fallafel, 34 Rue des Rosiers, Paris 4.

The cafe L’Etoile Manquante serves excellent salads, sandwiches, pates, cheeses, organic produce, sulfur-free wines, and entrees. 34 Rue Vieille du Temple, Paris 4.

La Droguerie du Marais is essentially a takeout window with a few stools inside. This tiny creperie is street food at its best. Try the buckwheat crepe with ham, egg, and crispy cheese at the edges. 56 Rue des Rosiers, Paris 4.

If you want to sit and relax with your crepe, head to Breizh Cafe, a deservedly famous spot in a casual setting. Reservations recommended. 109 Rue de Vieille du Temple, Paris 3.

Near the Place des Vosges, the Provencal bistro Chez Janou has a sparkling interior bar and interesting Provencal herbal liqueurs. Best for the atmosphere and a glass of wine or liqueur. 2 Rue Roger Verlomme, Paris 3.

 Fulvio offers Sardinian food and its extensive menu is written on a huge chalkboard, explained enthusiastically in several languages by the bearded Fulvio, who looks like he hopped off a Harley-Davidson some time in the ’60s. Fulvio’s exuberance is matched by his passion for fresh seasonal ingredients and authentic Italian dishes. You are expected to share the entrees, our equivalent of appetizers, but not the plats, which are not large enough to divide. Desserts are huge. Spaghetti might be tossed with chicken livers and mushrooms, or prepared simply with olive oil. 4 Rue Poitou, Paris 3.

Just a short walk from the district will take you to the Seine and bridges to the left bank and L'Isle Saint-Louis. This bistro serves standard French fare, but it is very pleasant and hearty; you couldn't ask for nicer waiters or location.

As you wander across the Seine from L'Isle Saint-Louis in the evening, there's a lot of street activity on the Blvd Saint-Germain.

And always the food. Il faut choisir. Tough decisions.

And now for that chicken recipe:

Farmer’s chicken with potatoes and mushrooms
Serves 4
The modern twist is in this traditional poulet fermier is how the mushrooms are cooked. Slice them as thinly as possible; if you have a mandolin or other type of slicer, use it. Then cook them in a layer of olive oil that almost covers them until they are crisp and brown at the edges but still slightly chewy. Don’t forget the baguette for serving and be sure to pour yourself a glass of French wine.

1 whole chicken (3 1/2 to 4 pounds), cut into 8 serving pieces (2 legs, 2 thighs, 4 breast quarters)
Salt and pepper, to taste
About 1/2 cup olive oil (you will have some leftover after frying; save and use for another dish)
1 1/2  cups chicken stock
1/2 cup white wine
1 1/2pounds small potatoes, halved or quartered
2 sprigs fresh thyme
1/2 pound crimini mushrooms, thinly sliced
3/4 pound green beans, ends trimmed

1. Set the oven at 400 degrees. Have on hand a flameproof casserole with a lid. Sprinkle the chicken with salt and pepper.

2. In the casserole over medium-high heat, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil until it shimmers. Add the chicken, skin side down in one layer. Cook for 8 to 10 minutes, or until the skin is golden. Turn and cook for 1 minute more. Transfer to a plate.

3. Pour off and discard the fat from the pot. Add the stock and wine, and stir to scrape up the sediment. Add the potatoes and thyme. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and cover. Simmer for 7 minutes, or until the potatoes begin to soften. Place the chicken on the potatoes. Cover and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until a meat thermometer inserted into the thickest part of a piece registers 165 degrees.

4. Meanwhile, in a medium skillet over medium high heat, heat about 1/8 inch oil until hot. Add a handful of mushrooms, just enough to cover the bottom of the skillet without crowding. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes stirring often, until mushrooms are golden at the edges. Transfer to a plate with a slotted spoon. Continue adding handfuls of mushrooms until all are cooked. Set aside.

5. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the green beans and cook for 5 minutes, or until tender. Drain and keep warm.

6. Divide the chicken pieces and potatoes among 4 shallow soup bowls. Ladle the pan juices over them and top with mushrooms and green beans. 






Posted on November 11, 2015 .

Cauliflower rice pilaf recipe

We’re ramping up to the eating season, starting with tonight’s candy. Cold weather, good appetites heavier food, and a need to compensate for the darker days ahead bring us to the table more often now.  And so, though we may try to set the scale back ten pounds tonight (good luck with that), the reality is weight gain is on the horizon if we don’t pay attention. Okay, Debbie Downer, thanks for that.

Now I’m an equal opportunity eater, so I don’t espouse any drastic ‘nutritional’ plans, but adding more vegetables can’t hurt. This cauliflower rice pilaf is a great stand-in for rice or couscous if you want to cut back on carbs where you can.

To start, core the cauliflower and slice it into small pieces. No need to fuss with breaking it into florets. Using about one-half at a time, finely chop it in a food processor until it looks like small grains. You could sauté it in a large skillet with olive oil, but I like this method. Spread it on a parchment lined baking sheet and roast it in a hot oven. The cauliflower steams and releases some of its moisture, making it fluffy. Pick up the parchment and dump it into a bowl, and that’s all there is to it. You can be creative with seasonings. I like this combination for its satisfaction quotient. Lentils and spices, with fresh herbs and a touch of sweetness from the currants make a pleasing dish to serve with a roast chicken, for example. You will probably be eating a lot of that too, now that Old Man Winter is slowly making his way to your doorstep.

Speaking of doorsteps, I hope you didn’t buy peanut butter cups for the kids tonight—bad strategy! Only buy candy that you really don’t like, and you can stay on the straight and narrow, at least until Thanksgiving really kicks off the eating season.

 

Cauliflower rice pilaf with turmeric, lentils, and currants

1/2 cup Le Puy or small French lentils

1 1/2 cups water

1/8 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup pistachios or sliced almonds

1 head cauliflower, cored and sliced into small pieces

2 tablespoons olive oil

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ground turmeric

1 teaspoon coriander seeds, crushed in a mortar

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

3 tablespoons lemon juice

1/2 cup currants

2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley

2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

1. Set the oven at 350 degrees. Have on hand a small baking dish. Line a rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring the lentils, water, and salt to a simmer. Cook for 25 to 30 minutes, or until tender. Drain in a colander.

3. In the baking dish, spread the pistachios. Toast in the oven for 7 to 8 minutes, turning often, or until pale golden. Remove.

4. Set the oven at 400 degrees.

5. In a food processor, pulse half the cauliflower pieces until finely chopped. Transfer to the baking sheet and pulse the remaining pieces. Mound the cauliflower grains in the center of the baking sheet, and drizzle with the oil. Sprinkle with the salt, turmeric, cumin, and coriander. Toss with your hands to mix together evenly. Spread in one layer, and bake for 7 minutes.

6. Remove from the oven, stir, and spread again on the sheet. Bake for an additional 7 minutes (total cooking time is 14 minutes.)  Transfer to a serving bowl. Stir in the cooked lentils, pistachios, lemon juice, currants, parsley, and mint. Taste for seasoning and add more salt and lemon juice, if you like.

Posted on October 31, 2015 .

Bright green pesto trick: Spaghetti with basil pesto, cherry tomatoes, and ricotta

Though we gotta say goodbye for the summer
Baby I promise you this
I'll send you all my love every day in a letter
Sealed with a kiss
(And I’ll keep a freezer full of pesto for you, too.)

I’m not giving up on summer yet.

First, I’ll make this end of summer pasta. Once I’m on a roll, I’ll make extra pesto to freeze. I know that when I’m oppressed by the gloom of winter, it will be there. Waiting.

With only five ingredients, pesto is simple to make, but as in the case of so many simple dishes, the devil is in the details. In other words, use the best ingredients you can get your hands on. Start with perfect basil leaves, fresh nuts, and Parmesan grated from a block by hand and good-lookin’ garlic. As for that olive oil you’ve been saving for a special occasion, this is the time to use it.

This recipe makes enough for one pound of pasta, but double or triple this batch, omitting the Parmesan, to tuck into zipper bags, squeezing out as much air as possible and freeze. Flatten the package so you can break off as much or as little as you want. (You can also use ice cube trays, but who still has them?) Defrost and whisk well, then stir in the Parmesan.

If you’ve noticed that pesto often turns a disappointing olive green, try this neat little trick to keep it bright. Blanch the leaves in boiling water for a few seconds, then quickly refresh them in an ice water bath, and presto! The boiling water kills the browning enzymes in the leaves, so the color stays bright.

As for cooking the pasta, a few caveats bear repeating. [CAUTION, COOKING LESSON AHEAD] Use abundant water and keep it at a boil. No need to add oil, since the starch from the pasta helps the sauce stick to it. Salt it generously—about 1 tablespoon per quart of water (some Italian cooks say it should be as saline as sea water.) Test for doneness slightly before the recommended cooking time on the package. Al dente, the term Italians use for pasta that is ready, means it is done but slightly chewy in the center when you bite a strand. Before draining, dip a measuring cup into the cooking water to remove some.

Dress the pasta with pesto and a little cooking water, then add ripe cherry tomatoes, and creamy ricotta.

Spaghetti with basil pesto, cherry tomatoes, and ricotta
Serves 4

PESTO
3 tablespoons pine nuts
2 packed cups basil leaves
1 clove garlic, finely chopped or passed through a garlic press
1/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Salt, to taste

1. Set the oven at 350 degrees. Have a large pasta serving bowl on hand.

2. On a pie pan, spread the pine nuts. Toast for 7 to 8 minutes, or until pale golden.

3. Bring a large pot of water to a boil (you will also cook the pasta in it.) Set a bowl of ice water next to it. Have a slotted spoon on hand.

4. In the boiling water, dunk the basil leaves, pushing them down to submerge them. After 3 seconds, with a slotted spoon transfer them to the ice water. Drain and squeeze out excess water with your hands. Leave the pot on low heat for cooking the pasta.

5. In a blender, finely grind the nuts in short bursts. Add the basil, garlic, oil, and Parmesan. Blend until the mixture is coarsely pureed, stopping the motor often to push the mixture down around the blade. Taste and add salt to taste. Scrape the pesto into a serving bowl.

PASTA
1 pound spaghetti
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved and sprinkled with salt and pepper
1 cup whole-milk ricotta
 

1. Return the pot of water to a rolling boil. Add a generous amount of salt. Add the spaghetti and stir to separate the strands. Cook at a boil for 8 minutes, or until al dente. The pasta will continue to cook a little after it is drained. Scoop out and set aside 1/2 cup pasta water.

2. In a colander, drain the spaghetti.

3. Stir a small amount of the hot pasta water into the pesto to loosen it to a slurry consistency. Add the pasta and toss to coat it. Add half the tomatoes and toss with the pasta. Taste and add more salt, if you like. Distribute the remaining tomatoes and spoonfuls of ricotta on top.



Posted on September 6, 2015 .

Butterscotch Sundaes

Quick, make and eat this sundae before the curtain falls with a thud on September 8th, the day after Labor Day. There’s something final and gloomy about that day. It’s like the cartoon image of night falling. Boom. Summer is over. Walk the line. Shape up, or ship out. Get it together. Your days of indulgences were numbered, and now your number is up.

Just when I smugly declare that I don’t eat sugar anymore, I discover this butterscotch sauce in my mother’s recipe box, a vestige from my childhood. I swear it’s genetic. My maternal ancestors each had a serious sweet tooth. My grandmother’s sisters, identical twins Bea and Vi, were famous for their trips to New York from New Jersey. Dressed to the nines, they walked up and down Fifth Avenue, in high heels mind you, scrutinizing the store windows, and making notes for their dress business. Their trail always ended at Schraftts, where they earned their reward of ice cream sundaes with hot butterscotch. Sometimes they’d bring a couple of jars home to share.

I love the precious, popular, and now ubiquitous salted caramel. But a hankering for butterscotch is something that goes deep. Very deep. If I say too much more, you’ll have me committed. So hurry up and make it.

A jolt of salt gives old-fashioned butterscotch sauce, which you can make in less than ten minutes, a modern twist without losing any of its original buttery goodness. Add some salted pecans, and your salty-sweet tooth will be more than satisfied.

 Butterscotch sundaes with salted pecans
Serves 4

SAUCE
1 cup dark brown sugar
1/3 cup light corn syrup
6 tablespoons unsalted butter
3/4 cup heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
2 teaspoons vanilla

1. In a saucepan over medium heat, stir together the brown sugar, corn syrup, butter, cream, and salt. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and stir in the vanilla. Taste and add more salt, if you like. Serve warm. Store leftover sauce in the refrigerator.

PECANS AND ICE CREAM
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 cup pecan halves
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 pints vanilla ice cream

1. Set the oven at 350 degrees. Have on hand a rimmed baking sheet and 4 sundae glasses.

2. On a the baking sheet, place the butter in the center. Heat in the oven for 1 to 2 minutes, or until it melts. Remove from the oven and toss the pecans in the butter. Spread on the baking sheet andsprinkle with salt.

3. Return to the oven and bake for 8 to 10 minutes, or until toasty. Cool.

4. In each of 4 tall sundae glasses, place several scoops of ice cream. Drizzle with sauce, and sprinkle with pecans.

 


Posted on August 20, 2015 .