My friend Jess wrote me recently to tell me that puntarelle has appeared at my beloved Booth’s, at Spa Terminus near Maltby Street, in London. Puntarelle is a variety of chicory grown in Italy with an unusually brief growing season, a traditional method of preparation, and a fanatical following. It is wonderfully bitter, and very crunchy. In a classic puntarelle salad, the stiff inner spears of the vegetable are julienned into narrow strips, and simply dressed in a garlicky anchovy dressing. In Rome (or so I have read, on this wonderful blog post), during puntarelle season, it is in markets everywhere. Some Roman vendors sell a taglia puntarelle, which simplifies the process of slicing the puntarelle, or you can buy it pre-cut. In London, I would julienne the puntarelle myself, put the strips in a bowl of ice water to curl, and warm some minced garlic in olive oil just until it became fragrant. I whisked this with a generous amount of chopped salted anchovy fillets, lemon juice, and plenty of salt and freshly-ground black pepper. This simple salad is one of my favorites. Continue reading
My favorite fact about chutney: the word derives from the Sanskrit word caṭnī, meaning to lick. Chutneys are, loosely, a mixture of vegetables or fruit (or both) and spices. Indian chutneys can be cooked or raw, blended or pounded, pickled or fresh. In the West, chutneys are usually a combination of fruit, savory spices, sugar, and vinegar.
My palate for Western chutneys developed late. For a long time, I thought they were yucky. Salty spicy vinegary fruity pickle? Blech. Perhaps my aversion was a consequence of having to politely eat haroseth (a mixture of apples, wine, chopped nuts, and spices traditionally served at Passover seders) at an early age. But. Eat enough tagines in which apricots and quince have been slowly simmered with meats, salty cheese and French fig jam, cantaloupe and prosciutto, and eventually one starts to enjoy, albeit reluctantly, the contrasting tastes of sugar and salt, fruit and vinegar and spice in Western chutneys. Another fun fact: Western cuisines tend to pair ingredients that share flavour compounds, whereas many Asian, and particularly East Asian, cuisines tend to pair contrasting ingredients. Continue reading
This week I have been grappling with the Great Crustacean Controversy. Specifically, do the crabs, lobsters, and other crustaceans we eat feel pain, and if so, what is the most humane way to kill them? Or, as David Foster Wallace famously phrased it (far more articulately and precisely than I ever could), “Is it all right to boil a sentient creature alive just for our gustatory pleasure?” At a more ignorant time of my life, I blithely tossed live lobsters into pots of boiling water, clapped the lid on, and equally blithely devoured them. Lobsters don’t scream when you cook them – that much is myth – but recent studies suggest that crustaceans do in fact feel pain, or at least they exhibit behaviors consistent with the avoidance of remembered pain, strongly supporting an inference that they experience pain. It thus is most humane to kill them before cooking them. But how? Maybe some of you remember the lobster scene from Mostly Martha, the 2001 film about a German chef who discovers her softer side thanks to her niece and an Italian sous chef. She sobs over the abstract suffering of the lobster, which in most circumstances is denied the mercy of a swift death. Even Gordon Ramsay kills his lobsters before cooking them. Continue reading
It’s good to have people in your life who push you out of your comfort zone. My lovely friend Nicola pushes me way past my comfortable depth (in positive ways), and leads by example. Thanks to Nicola, in early May, I found myself in a car with four people driving to a smallish unpretty town about an hour south of London, where, along with three other friends, we would cook overnight in the British Barbecue Society’s Grassroots Shake and Sauce competition. Continue reading
My mother is one of the world’s great food hoarders. Her freezer is always packed so full that when you open the freezer door things invariably tumble out: half a dozen New York bagels in a plastic bag, a Tupperware container of chicken stock, frozen leftovers, frozen packages of butter. The refrigerator is the same. Growing up, I did not realize that this was anything but normal. I’d look in friends’ refrigerators and think, “Where is the FOOD?” It should go without saying that this condition, if not hereditary, at least must create a strong genetic predisposition. I am always ready for the apocalypse; I reckon that I could feed myself and a small band of hardy survivors for at least a few months, although I do wonder what I’d do when I run out of cat food. Continue reading
This summer I was deputized to take charge of my family’s Fourth of July dinner. As I am an obsessive and a planner, I decided what I would make weeks in advance: pork shoulder marinated in my homemade jerk sauce, then cooked in my dad’s smoker for eight or ten hours until it was meltingly tender. This is the kind of food project that appeals to me: slow cooking, with just enough wonky food science to cue in the never-distant internal third-person narrator. Also, in London, I don’t have a barbecue, so I have become increasingly fixated on the direct application of fire and smoke to food. Continue reading
Unless you’ve been under a rock or you live in the Southern hemisphere, you probably know that wild garlic is currently in season. Wild garlic, called wild leeks or ramps in the United States, is annoyingly but deservedly trendy. It is (a) delicious; (b) beautiful; and (c) did I mention delicious? As I discovered, it also freezes beautifully; although the leaves lose their structural integrity, they maintain their colour and pungent flavour. To freeze wild garlic, simply chop finely or puree in a food processor, pack in a Tupperware, and pop in your freezer.
Perhaps, like me, you were lucky enough to “find” wild garlic actually growing wild, and you greedily picked way more than you could possibly use at once. (It still counts as finding it if someone else found it first and showed you where, right?) Or maybe you bought a bunch at a Farmers Market, used some leaves in a recipe, and now are wondering what the heck to do with the rest. Or maybe you just need a little inspiration. Whatever your need, here are three lovely things to do with wild garlic when you’re at a loss. For what it’s worth, all of these recipes were made using wild garlic that I had previously frozen. Continue reading
To those of you who read my blog with any regularity and/or know me personally, and who know of my ADDICTION to spicy food (I don’t think that’s too strong a word), it should come as no surprise that I have been obsessed with making, and perfecting, my own Jamaican jerk sauce. I should state a disclaimer: I have never been to Jamaica. But I’ve loved jerk seasoning ever since I first encountered a seriously fiery jerk paste while I was working in a spice shop at age 21. I’ve conducted exhaustive “research” on Jamaican jerk sauce; i.e., I eat jerk whenever I can and I try lots of different jerk sauces. London’s got a huge West Indian population, and during the Notting Hill Carnival, my favourite place to be is Golborne Road, where the food stalls are crammed the tightest, the air is so smoky from oil drum barbecues it makes your eyes sting, and you can get a plate of jerk chicken and rice and peas and plantains for £5. Continue reading
This recipe post was originally intended to be about what I made for lunch. But the sauce I made was so delicious (really!) that I decided it deserved its very own entry, lest it be lost and forgotten with the fried sardines. It’s actually a wonderfully versatile sauce, and although it’s particularly nice with oily dark fish, like sardines, herring, or mackerel, I imagine it would also be lovely served, say, as an accompaniment to grilled shrimp, or even with more delicate fish like cod or sole (perhaps for dinner, with some boiled new potatoes). You could even put it on bruschetta and serve it on its own. Continue reading
I would like to talk about the holy trinity. No, I don’t mean leeks, carrots and celery. The holy trinity I’m talking about is tamarind, chile, and ginger. In fact, I think there is no more blessed union, or, if you prefer, no hotter ménage á trois. The marinade (really, a wet rub) I made using these ingredients as a base literally cannot be improved upon. It is rich, complicated, savory, tangy, and spicy. In short, it is freaking AWESOME. Continue reading