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BUTTERY BRAISED ENDIVES

blog-braised endives

It took me a long time before I could admit how much I dislike barely cooked vegetables. I realize I am in the minority; most folks love them, especially this time of year, when heavy winter food has palled. Granted, their crispness and bright colors have a clean, minimalist appeal, but I find them squeaky in the mouth and one-dimensional in flavor.

I prefer my cooked vegetables well done—that is, with a tender, yielding consistency that stops short of falling apart. When I have tried to explain this to people, they can’t get beyond my heritage and the pervasive yet misguided notion that to a southerner the only good vegetable is a mushy vegetable. It makes me sad that they’ve never had an honest southern meal, one in which vegetables are treated with respect.

In that regard, good southern cooks have much in common with their counterparts in France or Italy—they all know there is a world of difference between overcooking and slow, gentle cooking. The technique of braising vegetables in a little liquid until they’re soft and tender, for instance, allows a give-and-take between the braising juices and the vegetables themselves. The resulting layers of flavor are a revelation.

One of my favorite vegetables for braising is belgian endive. Its slight, pleasant bitterness is a clue that it’s related to edgier greens such as escarole, frisée, radicchio, and other members of the Chicorium genus. The vegetable has long been grown around Brussels, and the industry has spread to the Netherlands, France, Spain, South America, and California. Belgian endive cultivation takes time and is labor intensive, so it is not cheap. You get lots of bang for the buck, though: There is practically no waste, and the only cleaning that’s necessary is a quick rinse under cold running water.

The pearly leaves, which are at once crunchy and satiny, make a dramatic salad when cut crosswise and tossed with a darker green, or a sturdy vehicle for creamed blue cheese. But braising, which coaxes out the rich, nutty sweetness that lies just beneath the surface, transforms it into a far more interesting vegetable, one that can stand alone as a first course or pair nicely with roast chicken or lamb, or grilled steak or fish.

For all its elegance, belgian endive is a forgiving vegetable, and braising is a forgiving technique, so it’s pretty much impossible to go wrong. Below you’ll find two versions, and I’m very fond of them both. As for any embellishments, they’re up to you. You could cut the endives in half lengthwise and wrap each half in a paper-thin slice of pancetta or prosciutto, say, or perhaps add a bit of cream at the end, or even tuck in slivers of ham, then top with grated Gruyère and run under the broiler until the cheese is golden in places.

I like to braise vegetables in a sauté pan—that is, a deep straight-sided skillet—or a low, wide clay pot, but a flameproof gratin dish works well, too. In any case, choose a size that will just hold the endives side by side. A braise can’t be rushed, so give yourself plenty of time—or make it a day ahead and reheat it gently.

Braised Endives à la Julia Child

Adapted from The Way to Cook (Alfred A. Knopf, 1989), by Julia Child

Serves 6

12 endives—fresh, firm, and fat, all the same size, all creamy white, and all neatly closed at the pointed end

¼ teaspoon coarse salt, plus a little more, if needed

½ cup water

½ tablespoon fresh lemon juice, plus a little more if needed

2 to 4 tablespoons butter, cut into slices

2 to 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley (optional)

1.  Remove any wilted outer leaves from the endives. Trim the root ends but keep the leaves attached. Rinse under cold running water.

2. Arrange the endives in a sauté pan or flameproof clay casserole or gratin dish and add the salt, water, lemon juice, and butter. Cover and boil slowly on top of the stove for about 20 minutes, or until the endives are fairly tender and the liquid is reduced by half. Either cover and cook slowly on top of the stove or lay buttered parchment paper over the endives, cover, and braise in a 325ºF oven until very tender, pale golden in color, and almost all the liquid is evaporated, about 1 hour. Taste and correct seasoning halfway through. Serve sprinkled with parsley if desired.

Braised Endives à la Richard Olney

Adapted from Lulu’s Provençal Table (HarperCollins, 1994), by Richard Olney

Serves 6

4 tablespoons butter, cut into slices

12 belgian endives

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

¼ cup dry white wine

½ lemon

1. Remove any wilted or discolored outer leaves from the endives. Trim the root ends but keep the leaves attached. Give them a quick rinse and pat dry.

2. Smear about half the butter in a sauté pan, or a flameproof clay casserole or gratin dish and fit in the endives. Top with the remaining butter and season with salt. Cover the endives with a piece of parchment paper and then a lid or foil.

3. Gently cook the endives over low heat in the butter and the liquid released by the endives, turning them over when golden on the underside. When no more liquid remains in the pan, add a couple of tablespoons wine. Continue to cook, adding a bit of wine from time to time to keep the bottom of the pan moist. When the endives are golden brown on all sides, meltingly tender but still intact, squeeze over a few drops of lemon juice, grind over pepper, turn them around in their juices, and serve directly from their cooking vessel.

BONNIE’S BACK!


Bonnie Slotnik

Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York, a blog by Jeremiah Moss, is a must-read for a certain kind of New Yorker. The writing is fine and knowledgeable, and the losses and injustices chronicled there in this Age of the Greedy Landlord are the sort of thing one chews over at three o’clock in the morning, when righteous indignation or, on occasion, impotent fury, is easier than sleep.

Last November, Moss had dire news for cookbook lovers everywhere: Bonnie Slotnick, a dealer in out-of-print and antiquarian cookbooks, was being forced out of the Greenwich Village shop she’d inhabited for 15 years. Bonnie isn’t what you might call a social media person, so she asked Moss to run an announcement she’d prepared for her customers.

“I’m still here!” she wrote. “But my landlord has refused to renew the lease on my shop. I’m looking for a small storefront in the East Village … but would also be open to other (marginally affordable) neighborhoods. It’s also possible that if I found the right person, I would consider sharing space—with another bookseller, an antiques dealer, a kitchenware shop. Maybe you’d be interested, or know someone who might? Rest assured that I will find a space, you will find your way there, and I will make it as cozy and welcoming as the old shop.”

The combination of resoluteness, good cheer, and an openness to opportunity is a powerful one. Bonnie’s circumstances came to the attention of sister and brother Margo and Garth Johnston, who moved with alacrity, offering her the ground-floor commercial space of their family home, an 1830s brownstone on East 2nd Street. “These wonderful people read of my plight and reached out to me,” Bonnie wrote in another announcement for Moss, “because in their eyes, a bookstore is the ideal tenant. Their late mother, Eden Ross Lipson, was the longtime children’s book editor at the New York Times Book Review, and it’s a book-loving family. It’s also a family that prizes the history and traditions of their neighborhood and appreciates the plight of the small-business owner.”

Although Bonnie specializes in cookbooks of the early to mid-1900s, her inventory stretches back to the mid-1800s. In addition to about 5,000 volumes, it includes ephemera and old kitchen implements, arranged like the sculptural objects they are. In other words, there is something for everyone, from serious collectors (she ships worldwide) to devotees of period salt-and-pepper shakers. Bonnie’s new store is three times the size of the old one, and she now has the room for book parties, readings, and a dedicated children’s corner, already furnished with the small, sturdy table and chairs Margo and Garth Johnston had when they were young. Bonnie gently fingered a faded duck decal on one of the chairs. “I need to get the story behind this,” she said.

When I stopped by the just-opened shop late last week, Bonnie and Margo were admiring the salvaged shelves that had been neatly jigsawed, as Bonnie put it, into every imaginable space. “I’m still trying to figure out what to do with the middle of the room,” she explained. “I’ve never had to think about that before!” For now, coins on the floor, scattered by one well-wisher, “for luck,” take pride of place.

The aromas of new paint and sawdust mingled invitingly with those of old books and freshly pressed vintage table linens, another one of Bonnie’s interests. She organized a drawer of aprons here, a stack of books there. The store’s location may be new, but its richly textured history is ongoing. Chinese-cooking authority Grace Young had come by to organize the Asian books, I heard. Bonnie’s contractor decided the fireplace needed a mantel, and just like that, she had one to showcase some absolute gems. Longtime friends, welcoming neighbors, and customers both old and new drifted in, all happy to be there. Somewhere, Eden Ross Lipson is smiling.

Bonnie Slotnick Cookbooks, 28 East 2nd Street (between Second Avenue and the Bowery), 212.989.8962; bonnieslotnickcookbooks.com

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WINTER WARMTH: TURKEY CHIPOTLE CHILI

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I’m a purist about a number of things, but not about chili. I like it with ground, cubed, or shredded meat. With or without beans. With or without tomatoes. I do prefer really good soft tortillas as an accompaniment, but tortilla chips, rice, or the spaghetti (and oyster crackers) that folks in Cincinnati are crazy about all have their place.

I’m fascinated by the diversity, I guess. By its very nature, this product of various ethnicities and a timeline that spans four centuries embraces change. Culinary antecedents include a Native American buffalo stew; a Berber-influenced meat dish seasoned with cumin and garlic from the Canary Islanders who, by order of Philip V of Spain, helped populate Texas in the 1700s; and, in Cincinnati, saltsa kima, a Macedonian meat sauce seasoned not with chiles but spices such as cinnamon and allspice and brought to the Queen City by Greek immigrants in the 1920s.

What really captures my imagination, though, are the untold numbers of cooks who have made this dish their dish down through the generations, from cowboy cooks and the “chili queens” of San Antonio, who sold their wares on the plazas from the 1860s until the late 1930s, to today’s cook-off champions and dedicated home cooks across the country.

Then there’s Bobby Short.

The legendary jazz singer and pianist, who died in 2005, epitomized Manhattan sophistication and style, whether holding court for 35-plus years at the elegant, intimate Cafe Carlyle or gadding about town with the fanciest crowd imaginable. His apartment on East 57th Street, near Sutton Place, was suitably glamorous, with a Bechstein black-lacquered grand piano, Art Deco furniture, African-American art, African sculpture, and a monogrammed Cartier silver ice bucket.

My knowledge of these particulars is not firsthand—we shared the same neighborhood, not the same universe—but rather from that peculiar intersection of research, fate, and procrastination with which every writer is familiar. Back in 2009, you see, Jennifer Boles wrote a charming Peak of Chic blog post about a luncheon Bobby Short gave for friends, as chronicled in the March 1970 issue of House Beautiful. His knack for making things appear effortless extended to the kitchen, with a clutch of make-ahead dishes: Texas Chili, Corn Meal Muffins, Salsify with Mayonnaise Mousseline, and Boysenberry Sherbet. Jennifer Boles’s favorite part of the article was a quote from Mr. Short that compared cooking to making music:

When you make a stew, you finish it to taste with a few grinds of the peppermill, maybe a dash more salt, thyme, too, and you know—you just know—when the flavor is right. Making music is much the same thing. You start with a little bass, add a soupçon of treble, throw in a bit of the drum, ‘growl out’ the lyrics, and suddenly it’s okay. You’re in there swinging.

And how.

Mr. Short was a experienced host, and he must have known how smart it is to have a no-fail menu, one that people find irresistible. And chili would have had a bit of unexpectedness to it. I’ll bet his guests had more fun than they would have had at a more formal do.

My favorite chili recipe, a staff favorite at Gourmet, is made with turkey and rich with the smoky heat of chipotle chiles. Its green color comes from tomatillos; only (very) distantly related to true tomatoes, they have a round, fruity acidity and great body. Although this chili isn’t as substantial as a typical beefy red version, it manages to be satisfying and suave, all at the same time. Mr. Short would approve.

A few kitchen notes: Don’t let the somewhat lengthy ingredient list put you off this recipe; you can find everything at a well-stocked supermarket, including tomatillos (canned are more common this time of year) and chipotles in adobo. Chipotle chiles, by the way, are red, ripe jalapeños that are smoked and dried. The fact that they’re fully mature before processing helps explain their underlying sweetness, and the smokiness gentles their heat. In addition to being sold dried, they’re also available canned in a tangy tomato-based sauce called adobo. After using what you need, transfer the leftovers to a glass jar and store them in the fridge. I often whiz them up in the blender, then use that purée to spice up mayonnaise for sandwiches or chicken salad, or stir a little into a stew or braise.

Turkey Chipotle Chili

Serves 6 to 8 (makes about 14 cups)

Adapted from The Gourmet Cookbook (Houghton Mifflin, 2004)

2 canned chipotle chiles in adobo, or 2 dried chipotle chiles, stemmed and seeded (wear rubber gloves)

1 cup water (boiling if using dried chiles)

2 pounds fresh tomatillos, husked and rinsed well, or 5 (11-ounce) cans whole tomatillos, drained

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 large onions, chopped

4 tablespoons minced garlic, divided

2 tablespoons ground cumin

4 pounds ground turkey (not lean)

2 cups chicken stock or store-bought low-sodium broth

1 bay leaf

1½ teaspoons dried oregano, crumbled

Coarse salt

1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, and chopped

2 (4-ounce) cans mild green chiles, drained and chopped

1 tablespoon cornmeal

1 (19-ounce) can white beans (Great Northern or navy), rinsed and drained

½ cup chopped fresh cilantro, plus more for garnish

Accompaniment: sour cream

1. If using canned chipotles in adobo, purée them with the 1 cup water in a blender and transfer the purée to a bowl. If using dried chipotles, in a small bowl soak them in the boiling-hot water 20 minutes, then purée with their soaking water in a blender.

2. If using fresh tomatillos, blanch them in a large pot of boiling water 5 minutes; drain, then purée in blender. If using canned tomatillos, simply purée after draining.

3. Heat oil in an 8- to 10-quart heavy pot over moderate heat. Add onions and 2 tablespoons garlic and cook, stirring, until onions are softened, about 10 minutes. Add cumin and cook, stirring, 30 seconds. Add turkey and cook, stirring and breaking up lumps, until no longer pink, about 8 minutes.

4. Add chipotle and tomatillo purées, chicken stock, bay leaf, oregano, and about 2 teaspoons salt. Simmer, uncovered and adding more water if necessary to keep turkey barely covered, 1 hour.

5. Stir in bell pepper, green chiles, and cornmeal and simmer, stirring occasionally, 30 minutes.

6. Stir in white beans, remaining garlic, and salt to taste and simmer until beans are heated through, about 5 minutes. Discard bay leaf and stir in cilantro. Serve with sour cream and additional cilantro. The chili, without the cilantro, may be made 3 days ahead; let it cool completely, uncovered, before covering and refrigerating. It also freezes beautifully.

OYSTER LOVE

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For most people, their first oyster is a rite of passage. M.F.K. Fisher’s was at the Christmas banquet at the southern California boarding school where she was a student. “I swallowed once,” she wrote in The Gastronomical Me, “and felt light and attractive and daring, to know what I had done.” My first wasn’t raw, but an angel on horseback—that is, shucked, wrapped in bacon, and broiled until the bacon is crisp. Angels on horseback were a staple at my mother’s cocktail suppers, and she and my father thought to offer me one at around age eight. Never mind that I was expert at filching them from an unattended baking sheet in the kitchen—that salty, suave, officially sanctioned bite made me feel like a grown-up, part of their social milieu. I soon progressed to roasted oysters and then those on the half shell without a backward look.

My mother saved oyster shells that caught her fancy. One became a grand “alabaster” sink in my dollhouse, but mostly they joined other small, random treasures on the kitchen window sill. Mom might soak okra seeds in them just before planting, or use them to pocket a bit of soil and a tiny bluet, wild violet, or rue anemone. Oyster shells would stand in for salt cellars, both by the stove and on the table.

I picked up my mother’s habit and consequently have a collection of oyster shells that remind me of people and places near and far. Above, at top left, that big ‘un is an Eastern oyster (Crassostrea virginica), which is indigenous to the East and Gulf coasts of North America. Virginicas range from clean-tasting (Wellfleets, from Massachusetts) to beautifully briny (Shooting Point Salts, from the Shooting Point Oyster Company, on the Eastern Shore of Virginia) to sweet and creamy (Apalachicolas, from the Florida Panhandle). Virginicas are also cultivated on the West Coast; one of the most popular is the Totten Inlet virginica, raised by Taylor Shellfish Farms in a bay off Puget Sound. Seafood authority, genius promoter, and longtime friend Jon Rowley introduced me to the Totten, which is sweet, with an alluring mineral finish.

Moving clockwise, you’ll see a virginica from Peconic Bay, Long Island, which is where most of the oysters we eat at home come from these days. The shell that looks like a ruffled party frock is from a mild, rich Pacific oyster (Crassostrea gigas), a species that was brought to the West Coast from Japan in the 1920s; today, it’s commonly cultivated in Europe as well. The little deep-cupped shell below it comes from a Kumamoto (Crassostrea sikamea), originally from Japan and now cultivated successfully in Washington, Oregon, California, and even the cold offshore waters of Mexico. Its diminutive size and sweet-salty balance make it a great “starter” oyster for a novice at a raw bar.

At the bottom is the tiny yet full-flavored Olympia (Ostrea lurida), the only species indigenous to the West Coast. And the round, aptly named European Flat (Ostrea edulis), the famed oyster of Belon, Marennes, and Colchester, has a robust mineral aftertaste that you either adore or equate to french-kissing the bottom of a boat. Overfishing, the parasite Bonamia, and the current passion for smaller, milder oysters have caused edulis to virtually disappear in Europe, but all is not lost. In North America, it’s cultivated on both the East and West coasts, with place names that incorporate the word flat. (For additional info about oysters, as well as why they really are best in the “R” months, take a look at my “Jane Says” column at TakePart.com from a few months back.)

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My parents were true educators at heart, and their library included Oysters, a slim hardback prepared by workers in the Writers’ Program of the Work Projects Administration in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and published in 1941. I cannot tell you how many times I pored over its pages, with their charming illustrations and captions (“The oyster crab, drawn very much larger than it is in real life”). It was my favorite, along with Orchards in All Seasons, in a series of science books for third and fourth graders that also included Life in an Ant Hill, Romance of RubberThe Story of Bees, and 20-odd other titles.

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Not that Sam and I really need an excuse to eat oysters, but it seems only natural to indulge on Valentine’s Day. We’ll be spending it in Orient, a small coastal community way out on the North Fork of Long Island. The English who settled the area around 1661 knew it as Oysterponds.

So our favorite bivalve will be on the menu chez Lear. We might romp through a few dozen raw, on the half shell, or choose instead my father’s Sweetheart Oysters, always a great favorite. Or, if we’re in the mood for some retro chic, angels on horseback. No matter what, I’m on the prowl for some pretty shells. I have a couple for salt cellars, but the window sill—it looks empty.

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HOT BUTTERED RUM

blog-hot buttered rum

New England is still getting pounded by one heck of a blizzard, but New Yorkers are experiencing their own DeflateGate: Although conditions are serious out on Long Island, a measly five and a half inches or so of snow was measured in Central Park.

What a bust. A couple of respected computer models certainly looked dire, with predictions of more than 30 inches of snow for Manhattan, but what meteorologists and newscasters neglected to hammer home was that the storm was a complicated one, and the forecast should have been more obviously presented as a range of possibilities.

Even if that had happened, you can’t mess with Mother Nature—or human nature, for that matter. Speaking as someone who grew up thinking “hurricane season” was an official division of the year that came between summer and fall, I laid in supplies with a zeal my mother would’ve recognized. While taking inventory of a pantry shelf or two, I discovered a dusty bottle of dark rum that had escaped being corralled with the rest of the booze, and knew we were ready for whatever the “Blizzard of 2015″ could throw at us. Or not.

Most recipes for Hot Buttered Rum say to make a compound butter with the spices, then stir a pat of the butter into each mug of rum and hot water until it melts. The method below calls for simmering everything except the rum together for ten minutes, which gives the spices the chance to lose their rawness and release their flavors and aromas, making for a more mellow, well-rounded drink. Cradle a mug in your hands, inhale, and you will feel very après-ski, even if your aching muscles and glow of accomplishment come from nothing more glamorous than shoveling the sidewalk.

Hot Buttered Rum

From Gourmet Today: More Than 1000 All-New Recipes for the Contemporary Kitchen (Houghton Mifflin, 2009)

Makes 4 drinks

2 cups water

1/2 stick (4 tablespoons) unsalted butter

1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon nutmeg (preferably freshly grated)

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/8 teaspoon coarse salt

5 1/3 ounces (2/3 cup) dark rum such as Myer’s

Combine water, butter, brown sugar, spices, and salt in a 1- to 2-quart saucepan and bring to a simmer. Simmer, whisking occasionally, 10 minutes to blend flavors. Remove the pan from the heat and stir in rum. Pour into mugs.

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TRUE BLUE: COLSTON BASSETT STILTON

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January is typically devoted to fresh starts. We all know people who have vowed this month to exercise more, eat or drink less, and otherwise curtail the excesses that began at Thanksgiving.

Good for them! I’d be more inclined to join in if I hadn’t discovered that my favorite Stilton—from Colston Basset Dairy (estab. 1913), in Nottingham, England—is carried by one of my favorite specialty foods purveyors, Salamanders, in Greenport, on the North Fork of Long Island. (It’s closing this coming Sunday until March 1, but you can also find Colston Bassett at murrayscheese.com and formaggiokitchen, both of which ship nationwide.)

If I had to settle on a single blue cheese for life, it would be that from Colston Bassett, one of England’s smallest Stilton producers. Made from local cows’ milk—the farms are all within 1½ miles of the dairy—the cheese is simultaneously creamy and crumbly, with veins of deepening rich color and lingering, mellow flavor that isn’t marred by harsh acidity or overwhelming saltiness.

It is lovely creamed with a fork and served with celery sticks or silky endive leaves for an hors d’oeuvre, or crumbled over an watercress and pear salad for a first course. Made into Stilton Sauce (recipe below) and spooned over slices of beef tenderloin, it vaults a dinner party into the stratosphere. But it’s at its most assured at the end of a meal, with a glass of Tawny Port or a good red wine, and a firm-ripe pear or two. That’s when I renew my January vow, which is the same every year because I always fail miserably: Be kind, be kind, be kind.

Stilton Sauce

From The Gourmet Cookbook: More Than 1000 Recipes (Houghton Mifflin Company, 2004)

This is also delicious served over cauliflower, instead of Mornay sauce.

½ pound Stilton, softened

1 stick unsalted butter, softened

1½ cups dry white wine

1 cup heavy cream

4 teaspoons finely chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1. Stir together cheese and butter in a bowl until smooth.

2. Boil wine in a 1-quart saucepan until reduced to about 2 tablespoons, about 15 minutes. Add cream and boil until liquid is reduced by about half, about 8 minutes.

3. Reduce heat to moderately low and whisk in cheese mixture a little at a time, then whisk in parsley. The sauce, without the parsley, can be made 1 day ahead. Cool, covered with wax paper, then refrigerate, tightly covered. Reheat over moderately high heat, whisking constantly. Whisk in parsley. 

TIME FLIES!

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And how. It’s been way too long since I last posted—I was typing as fast as I could for folks who pay for it—but here’s hoping in the meantime you’ve made Chicken Marbella at least once, and are contemplating your journey into the new year.

Here at the Lears, we have a delicious few days ahead. There is Beef with Tomato Sauce and Garlic braising in the oven as I write this—just the ticket for a bitterly cold night, and the leftovers will come in handy over the weekend.

New Year’s Eve will find us at home, sitting down to Sweetheart Oysters or “Mama Macie’s Oyster Stew,” courtesy of Damon Lee Fowler. Either way, our richness of oysters, as my father was fond of saying, will be local, from Peconic Bay. As for the main course, we’re keeping it ultrasimple: confit duck legs from Hudson Valley Duck Farm, cooked until brown and crisp, then served bistro-style, with a watercress salad à la my former Gourmet colleague Paul Grimes. I have a feeling juicy pomegranate seeds will find their way into the mix—nice with the walnuts and orange slices called for in the recipe, no? And since dessert is Sam’s department, that frees me up to organize things for the following day.

That’s January 1, of course, and for us, that means Hoppin’ John, traditionally eaten for good luck in the American South, especially in the lowcountry of South Carolina and Georgia. It’s a very plain dish of field peas (today, the most common type used is the black-eyed pea) cooked in ham-hock broth and served with rice and collard greens, which symbolize “folding green” money. Why tempt fate?

Hoppin’ John

With thanks to The Gourmet Cookbook—as well as a few centuries of southern home cooks.

Serves about 8

As far as the traditional accompaniments go, they can be fraught for many. If cooking rice gives you the wobblies, try this tried-and-true Gourmet recipe; it’s called “foolproof” for a reason. And if you don’t have the time or inclination to cook your greens long and slow until they become supple, then cook them quickly, in the Brazilian style; they’re just as delicious, but in a different way, and you can easily substitute olive oil for the bacon and drippings if desired. Lastly, what will really put things over the top is some really good cornbread. My go-to recipe is from the Cornbread Goddess, Ronni Lundy.

A 16-ounce bag black-eyed peas, picked over and rinsed

1 large meaty ham hock (or 2 small ones)

9 cups water

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 large onion, chopped

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

1 small dried hot-but-not-searing chile or ¼ teaspoon dried red pepper flakes

Accompaniment: cooked long-grain rice

1. Soak the black-eyed peas: You can do this the slow way, by putting them in cold water to cover by about 2 inches, then soaking them for 8 hours, but quick-soaking works, too. Put them in a pan and cover with 2 inches of water, then bring to a boil and boil 2 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let the beans soak in their water, covered, 1 hour. After either method, drain the black-eyes in a colander and rinse.

2. Make the ham-hock broth: Combine the hock and 9 cups water in a deep pot and bring to a simmer. Simmer, uncovered, until the meat is tender, 1½ to 2 hours. Fish the hock out of the broth with tongs and let cool on a cutting board. Meanwhile, measure the broth: If you have more than 6 cups, boil until reduced to 6 cups; if you have less than 6 cups, add enough water to make up the difference. When the hock is cool enough to handle, remove the meat, discarding skin and bones, and chop.

3. Put ’em together: Heat the oil in a large heavy pot over moderately low heat. Add the onion and season with salt. Cook, covered and stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Add the chile or red-pepper flakes, drained black-eyes, broth, and ham; bring to a simmer and simmer, partially covered, until black-eyes are tender but not falling apart, 20 minutes or so. Discard chile, if using, and season with salt and pepper. The cooked black-eyes can be made a day or so ahead of time, cooled completely in the broth, and refrigerated. Reheat gently, adding a little water to thin.

4. To serve: Spoon the black-eyed peas over the rice and serve the extra black-eyes in their pot liquor on the side to provide more moisture. And Happy New Year!

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CHICKEN MARBELLA: WELCOME TO THE CLUB

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In 1978, the year I moved to New York, the Upper West Side was still gritty and rough around the edges. Except, that is, for The Silver Palate, a valiant little shop that had opened the previous year on Columbus Avenue, at 73rd Street. Its concept—elegant yet accessible take-home food for dinner parties, picnics for concerts in Central Park, and every occasion in between—was as bright and shiny as its inviting storefront. It was the genius child of Julee Rosso, an advertising executive who loved good food, and Sheila Lukins, a Cordon Bleu cook who ran a catering operation out of her apartment at the Dakota. Called The Other Woman Catering Company (“So discreet, so delicious, and I deliver”), it aimed to snaffle proto-Yuppy bachelors, who were expected to entertain graciously at home without the benefit of a wife in the kitchen.

The Silver Palate was a terrific source for basics, such as baked ham and potato salad, and gift-worthy preserves and pickles, but it was also where I first tasted a triple-crème cheese and chicken liver pâté with green peppercorns. It was where I was first exposed to a different style of entertaining, one that skipped over formal “company” dishes in favor of things that were altogether more intriguing: Greek mezes, Spanish gazpacho, Moroccan chicken pies wrapped in a paper-thin, fabulously flaky pastry crust, and, most famously, Chicken Marbella, with its heady mix of prunes, olives, capers, and garlic.

I can’t imagine what Lukins went through to source her ingredients; the New York City Greenmarket was a fledgling operation back then, and simply getting a steady supply of good-quality olive oil or red-wine vinegar must have taken dogged work. Fast forward to 2014, and the abundance of riches available at Eataly, say, or Gotham West Market—let alone the Greenmarket, which has expanded into a large, flourishing network and operates year-round—really puts things into perspective.

The Silver Palate went national in 1982, with the publication of The Silver Palate Cookbook. It made publishing history, with something like 870,000 copies in print after three years, and it made culinary history, too, changing the way many Americans cooked, ate, and thought about food. I think an entire generation of young women must have given or received it at a bridal shower. And chicken Marbella (pronounced “mar-BAY-ya,” after the Andalusian resort town frequented by European aristocrats and deeply tanned film stars) became the default dinner-party dish of the 1980s.

In large part, I think this was because it was just so damn liberating. Because the chicken had to marinate for a day—and was also very good if made ahead and reheated—it bent to your schedule, not the other way around. What this meant, practically speaking, in New York in the ’80s, was that you could throw the thing together on a Friday morning, before climbing into uniform (pantyhose, floppy foulard silk tie, and “women’s suit,” which involved a skirt, not pants, from Brooks or Gorsart), and go gallivanting off to work and then, possibly, the Odeon. Even if you stayed out far too late, you could still pull it together for a dinner party Saturday evening and make it look easy. That’s my theory, at any rate.

Chicken Marbella eventually ran its course, of course, and became a period piece, mentioned among well-versed home cooks of a certain age with a snicker that wasn’t at all unkind, but knowing. It was as good as a secret handshake.

And it still is. A few weeks ago, I found myself in a cookbooks-we’ve-known-and-loved conversation with the wise and wonderful Janet McCracken, the former deputy food editor at Bon Appetit and now the test kitchen director at EveryDay With Rachel Ray magazine. “Remember Silver Palate?” she asked, leaning back in her chair. Our eyes met. “Chicken Marbella!” we exclaimed in unison. “For some reason, I’ve been craving it,” I admitted. “Well, it’s the perfect fall dish,” Janet said, and she wasn’t just humoring me, she was right. “They really knew how to use vinegar,” she added. “It’s a more complex acid than citrus. And there’s something about the vinegar and brown sugar together ….” Yes. And plain-old supermarket capers, packed in a vinegar brine, or what Lukins and Rosso call “juice,” work to great advantage here, as well.

The combination of prunes, olives, capers, and garlic isn’t novel any more, but Chicken Marbella is still delicious and accommodating to a hectic schedule. It also handles improvisations—a little preserved lemon, for instance, or dried apricots instead of prunes—with aplomb. It’s good hot, with rice pilaf, couscous, or barley, or at room temperature, sliced and put over arugula or other salad greens. Be sure to whisk some of the pan juices into the vinaigrette.

My next month is packed with work and travel, so I’ll be posting sketchily, if at all. But, hey—you can’t miss me if I’m never gone! In the meantime, plan a dinner party and raise a glass to …

Chicken Marbella

Adapted from The Silver Palate Cookbook, by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins (Workman Publishing, 1982)

Serves 6

½ cup extra-virgin olive oil

½ cup red-wine vinegar

1 cup pitted prunes

½ cup pitted Spanish green olives

½ cup capers with a bit of juice

6 bay leaves

1 head of garlic, peeled and finely puréed, or finely chopped, sprinkled with salt, and worked into a paste with a flat side of a knife

½ cup fresh oregano, chopped, or ¼ cup dried oregano

2 chickens (3½ to 4 pounds each), quartered, or cut into smaller serving pieces

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

1 cup brown sugar

1 cup dry white wine

¼ cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped

1. In a large bowl, combine the olive oil, vinegar, prunes, olives, capers and juice, bay leaves, garlic, and oregano. Add the chicken, generously season with salt and pepper, and turn the chicken to coat. Cover and let marinate, refrigerated, overnight.

2. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Arrange the chicken in a single layer in 1 or 2 shallow roasting pans, and spoon the marinade, prunes, olives, capers, and bay leaves over it evenly. Sprinkle the chicken with brown sugar and pour the wine around (not over, thus washing off the sugar) it.

3. Bake the chicken 50 to 60 minutes, basting a few times with the pan juices (again, try to avoid washing off the sugar) once it begins to brown. The chicken is done when the thigh pieces, pricked with a fork at their thickest, yield clear yellow (rather than pink) juices.

4. Transfer the chicken, prunes, olives, and capers to a serving platter; discard the bay leaves. You can either moisten the chicken with a few spoonfuls of the pan juices, or, for a little more finesse, put the roasting pan on the stove top and bring the pan juices to a boil; reduce slightly and strain through a fine sieve into a bowl. Pour over the chicken and sprinkle with parsley.

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ZUCCHINI: THE RAW & THE COOKED

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Zucchini has quite the reputation. The plants are prolific as hell, and with the effortless pick-up of a sports car, their offspring zooms from the cute, almost-ready-to-pick stage to the size of a cricket bat (see above) in no time. Garrison Keillor, chronicler of the small, fictional town of Lake Wobegon on A Prairie Home Companion, has a perennial joke/universal truth about having to lock the car in the summer, or else someone will leave zucchini inside.

Like many cooks, I’ve long been prejudiced against overgrown zucchini. Generally speaking, the skin can be a bit tough, and the flesh more starchy than succulent. But the outsize bounty from our neighbor’s garden has changed my mind. It could be the particular variety, or the soil, or the utter freshness, I don’t know. But Sam and I have been happily sharing in the largesse because it’s been absolutely wonderful—tender, juicy, and living proof that the words mild and bland are not synonymous.

Our neighbor never means to let the zucchini get out of control, of course, but she’s not there every day to keep a close eye on it. And anyway, zucchini has a mischievous streak: It lurks under the cover of big, floppy leaves, seeing what it can get away with and provoking startled outbursts (“Good God, I never even knew that one was there“) from home and market gardeners alike.

All squashes originated in the New World, by the way, and were taken to the Old during the Columbian Exchange. What we think of today as zucchini is a product of selective breeding that made its debut circa 1901, as the cultivar ‘Zucca Quarantina Vera Nana,’ in Milan. “It is likely that the first Zucchini grown in America was imported by Italian immigrants to California,” wrote Amy Goldman in The Compleat Squash (Artisan, 2004). “By the time the Germain Seed and Plant Company and Aggler and Musser of Los Angeles introduced it commercially in 1918 as Italian Squash, local market gardeners who made a specialty of it were already raking in the bucks.”

In 1920, an entire page in the Germain catalog was devoted to zucchini, complete with both interior and exterior photos of Café Marcell, in Los Angeles, “where Zucchini Had Its Birth,” and recipes from the chef. Marcell’s “Florentine” involved dipping diced zucchini first in flour, then egg; frying in olive oil; and serving with drawn butter. “Mornay”? Cubed zucchini boiled for one minute, drained, and baked under a luxurious mantle of cream sauce, Parmesan, and butter. And “Julienne” entailed cutting zucchini into matchstick slices “much like French fried potatoes,” dipping in milk, then flour, and frying “in very hot grease.”

The novelty may have worn off, but zucchini can still be a go-to restaurant signature dish. I can’t eat at The Red Cat, in Chelsea, for instance, without ordering the “quick sauté of zucchini,” with almonds and pecorino. One of the world’s easiest waste-not-want-not vegetables, zucchini requires nothing but a good rinse and minimum trimming. It adds lightness to ratatouille, and cut lengthwise into thickish slices and tossed with olive oil, it is well-mannered on the grill. Personally, I’ve become very fond of it raw. One of this summer’s discoveries is that if it’s garden-fresh, bigger is better. The rounded flavor is miles away from the slightly bitter, unripe taste of an immature specimen.

The recipe directly below is a great favorite. I made it just the other day for a Slow Food potluck, and not only did it survive a few hours in the way back of a car, it got betterAnd now that the weather is cooling off, I’ll be spending more time behind the stove. Forget dicing, cubing, or cutting into matchsticks: An abundance of zucchini is much less intimidating if grated, left to drain, and then sautéed. Any leftovers are delicious in an omelet or frittata.

Zucchini Carpaccio

Serves 4 to 6

This recipe is from Francesca Cianci, a Florentine who once cooked at Mezzaluna, a trattoria on the Upper East Side. It was first published in Red, White & Greens: The Italian Way with Vegetables (Morrow, 1996), by Faith Willinger, an authority on all things Italian and a longtime contributor at Gourmet. If you want to go in a different direction, flavor-wise, substitute a mix of fresh mint and marjoram for the arugula, and feta for the Parmigiano. For cutting the zucchini, you’ll need a mandoline or a (far less scary) handheld adjustable-blade slicer; my brand of choice is Benriner, available at J.B. Prince for about $25.

¾ pound zucchini (preferably 2 medium, but don’t be afraid; 1 very fresh large one works fine, too)

1/3 cup coarsely chopped arugula

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 teaspoon balsamic or sherry vinegar

Flaky sea salt, such as Maldon

Freshly ground pepper

¼ pound piece of Parmigiano-Reggiano, for shaving

1. With the slicer, cut zucchini into paper-thin slices. (If the zucchini is too wide for the slicer, cut it in half lengthwise first.)

2. Arrange the slices, overlapping them slightly, in one or two layers on a large platter and scatter with the arugula. Drizzle with oil and vinegar, then season with salt and pepper. Using a vegetable peeler, shave curls of Parm on top.

 

Sautéed Grated Zucchini 

Serves about 4

This simple sautés delicious on its own, but you can give it finesse by topping it with a handful of pine nuts, toasted in olive oil and butter on the stovetop. Or you can channel The Red Cat and shower it with toasted almonds and pecorino. Hard to go wrong, really.

1½ pounds zucchini

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

Extra-virgin olive oil and/or unsalted butter

About 1 tablespoon minced shallot

1. Grate the zucchini however you like—by hand or in a food processor. Toss it in a colander with about 1½ teaspoons salt. Set the colander over a bowl and let drain 20 to 30 minutes. Squeeze the zucchini dry by handfuls in a clean kitchen towel (not terry cloth).

2. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and sauté the shallot until softened. Add the zucchini and cook, tossing, over high heat for a few minutes, just until tender. Season with salt and pepper.

TOMATOES, BASIL, PASTA

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In a few weeks, I’ll get around to turning the season’s abundance into late-season tomato sauce and slow-roasted tomatoes, as well as pesto, but right now, I still want supper to taste like the garden. That’s why you’ll find scalloped tomatoes in my current culinary rotation, as well as the pasta below, a keeper from my days at Gourmet. It’s based on a recipe from the Antica Fattoria del Colle, an agriturismo near Deruta, in Umbria. Sam and I have been spending lots of time rusticating in an old farmhouse on the North Fork of Long Island, and the simplicity of the dish suits life there to a T. We carry our pasta bowls out to a rickety little table on the porch, where we sit and watch the sun settle itself for the night.

One of the great pleasures of the recipe, by the way, is that depending on the type and mix of tomatoes you use, it always tastes different; this is a real boon if you eat it all the time, like we’ve been doing.

A note on peeling tomatoes: With a sharp paring knife, cut an X just through the skin in the bottom of each tomato (don’t cut deeply into the flesh). Working with a few tomatoes at a time, you can blanch them about 10 seconds in a pot of boiling water, then transfer them with a slotted spoon to a bowl of ice water to cool. Or you can do as I do and simply pour boiling water from the kettle over them and let them sit for the requisite amount of time. Either way, with a little help from your knife, the skins should come right off.

A note on the pasta: The very thin dried egg fettuccine made by DeCecco is especially good here; it’s available at most supermarkets. A more luxurious option is Cipriani tagliarelle, which you’ll find at fancy food shops and online sources, including Cipriani and Amazon.

Pasta with Tomato and Basil

From The Gourmet Cookbook: More Than 1000 Recipes (Houghton Mifflin, 2004)

Makes about 5 cups

¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

2½ pounds ripe tomatoes (5 medium) peeled and coarsely chopped

2 large basic branches, plus 1 1/3 cups packed fresh basil leaves, coarsely chopped

½ teaspoon coarse salt

Freshly ground black pepper

¾ pound good dried egg fettuccine or other long pasta

Finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Heat oil in a 6-quart pot over moderate heat until hot but not smoking. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until golden, about 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes, basil branches, salt, and pepper to taste, bring to a simmer, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, cook fettuccine in a large pot of boiling salted water until al dente; drain.

Remove the basil branches from sauce and stir in chopped basil. Toss fettuccine with sauce in a bowl. Serve with grated cheese.

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