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Finest Kind: Lobster Chowder

Not everyone in Maine celebrates the year-end holidays with lobster, but in my family, my mother considered a bright red lobster a proper commemoration of the feast, whether Christmas or New Year’s. Truth to tell, it’s a whole lot easier to serve up steamed lobsters with melted butter–with a side of baking powder biscuits and a big green salad—than it is to roast a turkey, boil the vegetables and make all those pies. (Who needs pie after consuming a whopping great Maine lobster?) Even better is this lobster stew, which we had for Christmas Eve but it would be just as good at New Year’s—or any time throughout the chilly months when you feel the need for celebration. It’s based on a recipe from Sam Hayward, dean of Maine chefs, a man who truly understands Maine food and foodways. Sam called it Scotian Lobster Chowder because he said he first had it in Nova Scotia. I’ve simplified it somewhat because even the most simpatico restaurant chef doesn’t always understand the need for effortless and uncomplicated techniques in the home kitchen. You can buy already cooked lobsters, but if you can find live ones they’re easy to steam in 2 to […]

Lentils for la Cenone

It’s a tradition in Italy, one I honor and respect each time a new year rolls around: lentils for Capo d’Anno, the top of the year, almost always served with either sumptuous zampone, a delectably rich and sticky sausage made in a stuffed pig’s trotter, or with cotechino, similar but slightly more polite perhaps since it’s simply a big fat sausage without the attachment of a pig’s cloven hoof. I can’t find zampone or cotechino in Maine; nonetheless, I’m duty-bound to eat lentils on San Silvestro (New Year’s Eve). Why? Because each tiny legume represents another coin added to my treasure chest in the year ahead and if I don’t consume lentils, well, poverty inevitably will loom. I like to use tiny lentils from Castelluccio in Umbria–they are incomparably sweet and hold up well, not disintegrating when they’re simmered for 30 to 40 minutes. Another similar choice are the equally small lentilles de Puy from France’s Auvergne. It’s worth seeking out either of these for superior flavor and texture. I was surprised to see that no less an authority than Elizabeth David recommends soaking these lentils for at least an hour and then cooking them for an hour and a […]

It’s All About the Excess

It strikes me that Americans, though we profess an ideal of simplicity, are seldom content with the actual concept—especially at the table where we talk about how something is better when it tastes of what it is, unadorned with dressings and spicy sauces and extra ingredients. But do we embrace the ideal in practice? No! In most restaurant kitchens, despite chefs’ claims,  the notion of simplicity is anathema, whether it’s Grant Achatz’s lamb 86 (three little portions of lamb, cooked three ways and served with, I’m not exaggerating, 86 different accompaniments–you can see the kitchen brigade at Alinea putting this together on You Tube), or a burger that was extolled recently in the New York Times by my erstwhile colleague Sam Sifton—a grilled meat pattie topped with a combination called crab Rangoon (crabmeat mixed with cream cheese, Worcestershire, soy sauce and mayo), itself topped with coleslaw (and not just any coleslaw, this one is stir-fired) and then chile sauce, and finally the whole contraption served on a soft sesame-seed bun. Get your mouth around that if you can! This is something the Times food editor ate in Omaha, Nebraska, and not only got his mouth around it, apparently he could […]

Cocido: Spain’s national dish

  On a recent visit to Las Casas de Hualdo, a magnificent olive oil estate in the rolling plains of La Mancha between Toledo and Talavera in central Spain, I was served at lunch a substantial cocido madrileño, a noble dish to restore flagging bodies and spirits during the hard work of the olive harvest. By mid-November, it was getting toward the end of the harvest, workers were wrapping up an extensive grove planted to Picual, that most difficult (but rewarding) Spanish cultivar, and the intense fragrance of that oil seemed to permeate every corner of the vast estate. A litte of the fresh Picual oil, dribbled over the top of the cocido at lunchtime, added to the pleasure of the dish. This is Don Quixote country—rounding the top of a rise, you can almost see, looming on the next hilltop, the good knight astride Rocinante with his faithful Sancho Panza by his side. In fact, Sancho may have been the first literary figure to mention this dish, though he called it, as most people did at the time, olla podrida: “That big dish that is smoking farther off,” Sancho said, “seems to me to be an olla podrida, and […]

Thanksgiving? Problems? Not me!!!

Now we’re about to crash full on into Thanksgiving and as usual every newspaper food page and cooking blog and social-foodie media post is full of advice for nervous cooks, with shopping lists, chore lists, countdowns, schedules, et infinite cetera. I keep going back to the brilliant San Francisco cooking teacher Mary Risley and her historic You Tube video, familiarly known as “Just Put the Fucking Turkey in the Oven.” You can see it here: https://tinyurl.com/wlzx8at And enjoy! Honestly, I refuse to get fussed up about Thanksgiving. Almost anything can go wrong and most often something does: The turkey is still frozen in the middle after six hours in the oven The pumpkin pie doesn’t come together The cranberry sauce is too sour to eat Sibling rivalry roars to the fore Politics rears its extremely ugly head Aunt Doris’s squash and turnips are so over-cooked and watery they have to be eaten with a spoon Uncle Matt has so much to drink he falls asleep in the mashed potatoes But just live with it. All of it. Let’s just imagine everything on that list happens, which is highly unlikely. But in the event(s), it is not earth-shattering. And you will live […]

Leftover Pumpkin? Put It to Work!

If you’re like me, you may have a certain amount of pumpkin left over after the efforts of the holiday–which of course is much more devoted to candy than it is to anything as healthy as pumpkin or squash. Be that as it may, we (my daughter and I) have a bunch of good recipes in our book, The Four Seasons of Pasta (find it here: https://tinyurl.com/y2q9ydke), and you can put that pumpkin right to work, just so long as it’s not soot-blackened from the candle in your Jack o’Lantern. And if it’s sooty, just clean it off and you’re ready to go. (Someone will doubtless complain that candle soot contaminates the pumpkin so thoroughly as to be carcinogenic but I believe life is short and holidays are infrequent and a little soot once a year is not going to do any major damage to the system.) With that in mind, here’s a recipe for pasta dressed with sizzled pumpkin and pumpkin seeds, seasoned with sage, black pepper, and of course the requisite amount of freshly grated parmigiano reggiano. And if this recipe doesn’t use up all your leftover pumpkin, there’s another in the book, almost as good, possibly even better, […]

In Search of Lost Memories

Here’s a recipe for madeleines, the little French tea cakes that sent Marcel Proust into such paroxysms of memory—all 4,250 pages of A la Recherche du temps perdu (of which I have absorbed only the first 200 with 4,050 to go) stem from is encounter with a madeleine and a sip of thé au tilleul. In honor of the book, I was moved to recreate the famous madeleines, which called up my own memories of a good many decades ago, back when we lived in France and they were my little girl’s favorites. I will make them again in a few weeks to welcome her home from Italy. They are surprisingly quick and easy, really just a classic genoise batter, though you do have to follow some rules, such as beating the eggs seemingly forever, and taking time to chill the batter before you bake. This will make about 16 madeleines, looking “as though they had been molded in the fluted scallop of a pilgrim’s shell,” according to the Master. Note that you will need a madeleine pan–two would be better as each pan will make a dozen little cakes. They are easy enough to find on the internet–a French-made […]

Mita’s Sugo: Tuscan Classic

It must have been in 1973 or 74 that Mita Antolini showed me how to make her Tuscan sugo. She sat in my kitchen and directed me as I chopped onions, garlic, parsley, and all the other ingredients of a classic soffritto. Then she stirred the sauce with a big old wooden spoon, its edges charred and cracked from use. I’m guessing the spoon itself added immeasureably to the flavors in the sauce. This was served over tagliatelle, but she often made potato gnocchi for Sunday lunch and the sugo went atop them too. It’s also one of my favorites to serve on a plate of soft polenta. I’ve been making Mita’s sugo for almost half a century and it just keeps getting better and better. But what surprised me, and I made note of it at the time, was that her sugo was ready in less than an hour, although it could have cooked for another two or three, at a very low simmer and constantly adding a little more liquid as it cooked down. I was used to Americans writing about Italian food, most often recommending that a ragu be cooked slowly for hours and hours until the […]

What To Do With All Those Tomatoes

It’s the time of year when I sit at my desk with a bowl of variegated cherry tomatoes at my side. As I ponder the text in front of me, my hand automatically reaches out for yet another of the sweet-tart treasures. Such inspiration they deliver! Red ones, yellow ones, and the ones with a sort of dappled striped surface, orange with red streaks down the side. Then there’s that curious pungent somewhat spicy fragrance of fresh, raw tomato, hard to describe but recognizable in certain kinds of olive oil, especially Spanish picual when it’s well-made (which it often is not). Olive oil descriptors include tomato, green tomato, and tomato leaf, all distinctive, all carrying that memory of late summer and tomatoes. So what to do with all these tomatoes pouring into the kitchen? First, make pomarola, the Italian country housewife’s pantry staple throughout the year—just red ripe tomatoes (plum tomatoes are best, San Marzano or Roma), either peeled and bottled whole or crushed into a sauce for pasta or a base for soups, maybe with a little chopped garlic or a sprig of basil (best are the blossoming tops of basil shoots) added at the last minute. You’ll find instructions […]

Extra-Virgin: What’s It All About?

It was a pleasure to see Julia Moskin delve deeply into olive oil in a recent New York Times article (https://tinyurl.com/y4bgq2ph) Extra-virgin olive oil is such a unique ingredient, so important in a healthy diet, so critical to the flavor of most Mediterranean dishes (and many others besides), that it’s unfortunate so many American consumers still seem perplexed and confused about it, even after years of comment and concern. The myths prevail The myths do prevail, however. Two of the most prevalent are: most extra-virgin (especially that from Italy) is fake and you’re a fool to pay high prices for suspect oil you can’t cook with extra-virgin Neither of these is completely true. Italian financial authorities are extra vigilant where foodstuffs are concerned; when they step in to confiscate fake oil masquerading as Italian, it makes national news and leads to huge fines and jail terms. While there is indeed fake oil on the market (just as there are many other fake foods), a smart consumer can easily avoid them. Just remember that good olive oil is expensive; anything that looks too good to be true most likely is. More problematic for consumers than out-and-out fraud are olive oils that […]

Bread & Tomatoes

Tomato Time! Late summer cries out for luscious ripe tomatoes, warm from the garden sun, fresh from the farmer’s market, at every meal, every eating opportunity, throughout the day. I keep a bowl of pomodorini, cherry or grape tomatoes, on the kitchen table for quick snacking. I love a thick slice of an heirloom tomato, dressed with olive oil and salt, on my toast for breakfast. I relish slightly firm tomatoes chunked up and mixed with torn pieces of good, milky mozzarella and some shredded leaves of basil for lunch Panzanella And at any time of day when hunger strikes hard, I’m apt to help myself to a bowl of the bread salad called panzanella. (The panzanella in the picture was made by my friend Letizia Mattiacci at her lovely agriturismo high in the hills overlooking Assisi. For more on La Madonna del Piatto, look here: https://madonnadelpiatto.com.) In Umbria and Tuscany, panzanella is usually an antipasto, but the hefty salad makes a great late-summer supper, maybe with something else to round out the meal–thick slices of young pecorino cheese, or a cold soup (avocado perhaps?), or a wedge of sweet cantaloupe with some salty prosciutto. Or just a bowl of […]

Okra, you said?

I went looking for a recipe for okra, which I only make once or twice a summer when this odd, pod-shaped vegetable is in season. (I mean, in season in Maine; although it’s a much-admired vegetable throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, I’ve never seen okra in Italy.) One of the first recipes that came up was this one from the New York Times: https://cooking.nytimes.com/recipes/2253-middle-eastern-style-okra That’s actually my very own recipe. I don’t remember when I wrote it, and the Times website, alas, offers no clue, but it has my name attached. If you can’t access the Times website, there’s a more up-to-date version of the recipe below. I’ve also included my adaptation of an Indian recipe from Passionate Meals (https://tinyurl.com/yymhahu4) by the late, great Ismail Merchant whose food I enjoyed at the home he shared with James Ivory in Claverack, New York. My okra comes from magnificent Beth’s Farm Market at White Oak Corner in Warren, Maine. Okra the Lebanese Way Okra, which I learned to love years ago in Lebanon, is most often prepared this way but some cooks add lamb to the dish, about a pound of lamb in small cubes, browned in oil, then add the okra pods to […]

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Virgin Territory: Exploring the World of Olive Oil

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"This is the definitive book on olive oil, and one that should change the way you shop.”

-- Amanda Hesser, co-founder of Food52.com and author of The Essential New York Times Cookbook

"Virgin Territory is smart, fun to read, and relevant--thank you Nancy, once again, for such good work.”

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-- Arthur Schwartz, author of Naples At Table and The Southern Italian Table

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What Chef Alice Waters said about our book: “Every time Nancy writes a book it is an inspiration, because she goes into each subject with such enthusiasm and depth. And Sara is a wonderfully talented and intuitive chef. It is no surprise, then, Nancy and Sara have together created a beautifully approachable book that captures the vibrancy, traditions and remarkable versatility of pasta.”  Chef Alice Waters