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KOHLRABI SLAW: A MARKET STORY

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The weather whiplash we’ve been experiencing lately requires agility, both at the market and in the kitchen. Take last week, for instance: Those single-digit days had me entertaining thoughts of a fork-tender chuck roast or choucroute garni, fragrant with juniper, but no, I didn’t act fast enough. The forecast turned balmy, and the morning I set aside for shopping was improbably warm, with wispy fog and a low sky the color of an oyster shell. Rich, heavy food was suddenly unappealing—I didn’t want to buy or cook it, let alone eat it. I tore off a good bit of my shopping list, threw it in the nearest trash can, and opened myself up to opportunity.

The mild day had lured a few unexpected purveyers to the Union Square Greenmarket, including the folks at Keith’s Organic Farm, who usually finish their season at Christmas. Among their crates of potatoes, carrots, and garlic was one of kohlrabies (pronounced “coll-rahb-ees,” and yep, that’s the correct plural). Propped on top was a copy of The Art of Simple Cooking II, the latest cookbook by Alice Waters, smartly turned to a spread of kohlrabi recipes. Now that is the way to sell an ingredient that’s unfamiliar to many.

I wrote about kohlrabi about a year ago, but a few things bear repeating: It’s delicious cooked or raw, and swings from the seasonings of Eastern Europe to those of China and India with ease. What really spoke to me when I saw it on Saturday was the fact that it’s clean-tasting and hearty, all at the same time—exactly what’s called for in an unseasonably warm spell in January.

Technically speaking, kohlrabi is not a root vegetable, but instead a bulbous stem that grows above ground. It plays well with root vegetables, however, so it allows for some fancy footwork on your part: In a winter salad or the slaw below, try mixing it with turnip, rutabaga, or celery root. A member of the nutrient-dense Brassicaceae family, it’s particularly high in potassium and vitamin C.

Alice Waters suggests serving serving the slaw alongside a bit of salami or prosciutto, some fried vegetables, or a spicy baked Dungeness crab. I ended up splurging on a duck breast and cooking it the way Floyd Cardoz taught me, but can’t wait to pair the slaw with fat grilled sausages next week. That is, if the weather holds.

Buying & prep notes: You can use either green or purple kohlrabi for this recipe; they are both white underneath the skin, and I can’t detect much difference in flavor. I prefer one medium kohlrabi to two small ones here, as it will have a greater ratio of flesh to peel. Lastly, when peeling, remove any fibrous layer beneath the surface.

Kohlrabi, Carrot, and Apple Slaw

Adapted from The Art of Simple Cooking II, by Alice Waters

Serves 4

1 medium or 2 small kohlrabi bulbs

1 red, orange, or yellow carrot

½ apple (such as Cox’s Orange Pippin, Pink Pearl, or Braeburn), cored

1½ teaspoons cider vinegar

1 teaspoon coarsely chopped parsley

1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

1. Peel the outer woody skin from the kohlrabi. Using a sharp knife or a mandoline, cut the kohlrabi into thin pieces. Then cut the pieces into matchsticks.

2. Cut the carrot into pieces and then into a matchstick julienne as above. Cut the apple half into slices, then matchsticks.

3. Stir together the vinegar, parsley, and olive oil, then season with salt and pepper. Taste for salt and acidity and adjust as needed, then toss with the fruit and vegetables.

VARIATIONS

  • Omit the apple, use lemon or lime juice instead of the vinegar, and cilantro instead of parsley. In a small dry pan, heat ½ teaspoon each nigella seeds and black or brown mustard seeds until they pop. Stir them into the slaw.
  • In addition to (or instead of) the kohlrabi, use radishes, turnips, rutabagas, beets, or celery root. Fennel is also a great addition.

SCARLET POACHED PEARS FOR CHRISTMAS

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Desserts that are both easy and spectacular are all too rare. That’s why it pays to keep a running file of them, and if they happen to be gluten and/or dairy free, or not terribly fattening, then so much the better. This time of year, at the top of my list are the scarlet poached pears developed by my former Gourmet colleague Paul Grimes, for the September 2008 Paris issue.

Because poached pears rarely look as good as they taste, Paul took a cue from a dessert at Le Chateaubriand, which uses a beet to intensify the pears’ hue. I think the red glassware that you see at Paris flea markets may have also had an impact; Paul’s informed, very painterly eye is one of the reasons he is such an extraordinary food stylist.

If you or yours don’t happen to like beets, no worries: You can’t taste them in the least, and the fresher and juicier the beet, the deeper in color the fruit will become. My beet was less than optimal; I’d forgotten to buy one at the farmers market, and the gnarly root I picked up at the grocery store had been languishing in the bin a bit too long. Still, it did the trick, and the poaching transformed not just the pears, but the less-than-stellar beet—it was almost candied, and I ate it standing over the sink.

Beets have long been used as a dye for textiles and food. Before the advent of artificial colorants, they put the “red” in red velvet cake, for instance, and they turn Easter eggs a delicate mauve. The vegetable’s saturated color, like that of bougainvillea, amaranth, and the flowers of some cacti, comes from pigments called betalains (from Beta vulgaris, the Latin name of the common beet), specifically, a purple pigment called betacyanin and a yellow one called betaxanthin.

Betalains are extremely unstable—they leak when cut, cooked, or exposed to air or sunlight. They aren’t nearly as common in plants as the anthocyanin pigments found in all manner of foods—including berries, grapes, cherries, plums, carrots, and black rice—and so are considered a relatively new class of dietary antioxidants.

Now, about poaching, one of the gentlest culinary techniques. Although it isn’t complicated, you do want to be mindful of the heat. You don’t want the liquid to vigorously boil—otherwise, whatever it is you’re cooking will either break apart or toughen. A lower flame allows you greater control and precision. The end result—whether you are poaching chicken, say, or eggs or fruit—should possess the quality of moelleux (mwall-yew)—a soft, velvety mouthfeel that is completely, captivatingly French. No surprise, really, that there’s not an English equivalent of the word.

Covering the pears with a round of parchment paper as they poach encourage them to cook and color evenly. To help them stay covered with liquid, try placing a small saucer on top of the parchment as they cook.

If you are at all resistant to the idea of poached pears, you’ve likely been scarred by having to grapple with one that threatened to skid across the table when pierced with a fork. This usually happens during a first date or dinner with the boss. But understanding moelleux—the pears should be so tender they practically melt in your mouth—is a real game changer.

The key to success is very, very basic: You must cook the pears until they are done. Since the pears may be of slightly different sizes or at different stages of ripeness, test them all instead of just one. When you insert a small skewer (a turkey lacer works brilliantly) or paring knife, it should glide in but the flesh should still feel solid, not mushy. Then don’t delay—take the pears off the heat and cool them down quickly, so they don’t overcook.

Paul calls for Forelle pears, an old variety that holds its shape well during poaching; small Bosc pears also work. (If you’d like to know more about pears in general, you’ll find my shopping, cooking, and eating guide to pears here.) The recipe also specifies Orange Muscat, which isn’t the easiest dessert wine to find. Although another muscat won’t have the same alluring orange-apricot aroma, it will still be delicious.

You’ll want to serve these with a fork, for stabilizing the pear, and a dessertspoon, for scooping flesh and juice.

Merry Christmas! Happy Hols! See you soon in 2014.

Scarlet Poached Pears

Recipe by Paul Grimes, Gourmet, September 2008

If your pears are very small or ripe (instead of firm-ripe), then set the kitchen timer for 20 minutes, say, instead of the 35 to 40 minutes specified below. And if the pears are indeed done more quickly, then transfer them to a bowl to cool, remove the bay leaves and cinnamon stick, and continue to simmer the poaching liquid until thickened and syrupy.

2 cups Orange Muscat such as Quady Winery’s Essensia (from a 750-ml bottle)

1 medium red beet (¼ pound), peeled and sliced

1 tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice

1 (2-inch) cinnamon stick

2 Turkish bay leaves or 1 California bay leaf

3 small firm-ripe pears (¾ to 1 pound total), such as Forelle, peeled, halved lengthwise, and cored

1. Bring wine, beet, sugar, lemon juice, cinnamon, and bay leaves to a boil in a 1½- to 2-quart saucepan, stirring until sugar has dissolved.

2. Add pears and cover with a round of parchment paper. Reduce the heat and simmer, turning occasionally, until pears are tender and liquid is syrupy, 35 to 40 minutes. Transfer pears to a bowl. Discard cinnamon stick and bay leaves and pour syrup over pears. Cool completely in syrup, about 30 minutes. Poached pears can be made 1 day ahead and chilled in the syrup. (The color will deepen the longer they stay in the syrup.)

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SMOKED FISH: YOUR HOLIDAY GUIDE TO SHOPPING & EATING

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Holiday entertaining has a certain glamour about it. And although a magnificent standing rib roast, for instance, or a caramel-caged croquembouche are tried-and-true showstoppers, the extravagance and formality they represent are an uneasy fit for many of us these days. There’s the expense and time involved, obviously, but also lighter, leaner diet preferences, or a hectic life in which a relaxed lunch or cosy Sunday supper is more achievable—and appealing— than an elaborate meal.

That’s why my go-to delicacy for the past few years has been smoked fish. It is chic and versatile: For brunch, say, you can serve paper-thin slices of smoked salmon with cream cheese, butter, and assorted bagels and Eastern European–style dark bread, or, for a first course at lunchtime or supper, drape a few glistening slices of gravlax on small plates with a dollop of a dill or mustard sauce. You can buy a whole salmon fillet that’s been sliced and then reassembled on the bone—very nice for a buffet—or add coarse flakes of smoked chub or trout to a horseradish dip, a salad of watercress and crisp apple, or bowls of hot borscht. And don’t forget about Danish smørrebrød, the open-faced sandwiches eaten with knife and fork. This one, from The Gourmet Cookbook, is made with smoked salmon and scrambled eggs, and is reason alone to keep a few bottles of Tuborg or Carlsberg in the house. We had it just the other night, after we came home late-ish from a cocktail party. Then we went to bed and slept like lambs.

My favorite purveyor is the renowned Russ & Daughters, on Houston Street. Founded in 1914 by Joel Russ, it is the quintessential Jewish-American “appetizing store”—specializing in all manner of mouthwatering preserved fishes (there’s a sampling in the top photo), dairy products, and confections. Not being a native New Yorker, I first learned about the shop in the 1970s, when Calvin Trillin started writing about it in his food pieces for The New Yorker.

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Russ & Daughters is now headed up by the fourth generation of Federmans, and in Trillin’s marvelous foreword to Mark Russ Federman’s memoir, Russ & Daughters: Reflections and Recipes from the House That Herring Built (published this year by Schocken), he noted that the smoked salmon is still sliced by now-manager Herman Vargas, a Yiddish-speaking Dominican who has worked at Russ & Daughters for more than 30 years. Herman produces “slices thin enough to read The New York Times through,” he wrote, then clarified: “Not the big-print edition; I’m talking about the regular.”

Whether you buy smoked fish from Russ & Daughters (they ship nationally, and, if you live within striking distance, are open Christmas Day and New Year’s Day) or another purveyor, below you’ll find a cheat sheet to the different styles and types of fish. In general, everything you see labeled “smoked salmon,” is cold-smoked, meaning the smoking takes place at below 90ºF (that sold at Russ & Daughters is smoked at 75°F). The gentleness of the technique results in fish with a silky texture, which allows for thin slicing. Most cold-smoked salmon, by the way, is made with farmed Atlantic salmon. Hot-smoking, on the other hand, literally cooks the fish at temperatures ranging from 150° to 170°F, which results in a flaky texture. In both cases, the fish is either “wet-cured” in a mild brine or “dry-cured” with a rub of salt and brown sugar before it’s smoked. And the color, which is not an indicator of quality or flavor, should range from pink to orange.

SALMON: CURED BUT NOT SMOKED

Gravlax: This salmon isn’t smoked but simply seasoned with salt, sugar, and dill, then weighted and refrigerated for a few days. As the salt and sugar penetrate the fish, excess moisture is drawn out, creating a brine. It has a characteristic  tender, compact texture and rich yet clean flavor. Store-bought gravlax (literally “buried salmon”) is available, but you can make it at home, too. Serve it in ultrathin slices, with a dill- or mustard-based sauce, or on small, thin pieces of buttered brown bread.

Lox: Here, the salmon isn’t smoked, but salt-cured in an assertive brine; it needs the counterpoint of cream cheese and a bagel to bring out its best. It’s also absolutely delicious in lox chowder à la Russ & Daughters. The word lox, by the way, which is derived from the Yiddish laks and the German Lachs, simply means “salmon.” Because of its brine bath, lox is frequently whiter than the usual smoked salmon. Belly lox, from the fatty belly of the salmon, has a very full, salty, and surprisingly delicate flavor.

SALMON: CURED AND SMOKED

Irish: If you see wild Irish smoked salmon, pounce: It is superb—salmon and smoke at its most elemental. And the kind labeled “organic Irish salmon” is more deeply flavored than other farmed smoked salmons.

Kippered (baked) salmon: The hot-smoking process imparts a succulent texture and rich flavor to this appetizing classic. Pair it with a cold-smoked salmon for two different smoked-salmon experiences. It’s best to serve kippered salmon in a single thick piece (so it won’t fall apart) and let people cut off large, enjoyable forkfuls.

Norwegian: With a good balance of smoke and salt and a firm yet yielding texture, this is a terrific choice for people who are new to the world of smoked fish.

Nova: This term once referred to wild Atlantic salmon caught off Nova Scotia, or in the case of Gaspé Nova, from the Gaspé Peninsula, along the south shore of the St. Laurence River in Quebec. Today, though, with wild Atlantic salmon nearly extinct, the term more correctly refers to how the salmon is treated—first it’s briefly wet-brined, then gently smoked. Nova is the standard New York–style smoked salmon; it’s uniformly tender and mild.

Scottish: The genuine article—that is, salmon that has been caught (most likely, from a screened pen at a salmon farm), dry-brined, and smoked in Scotland—is smokier, firmer, and more distinctive than Nova. It makes a lovely first course, whether served on its own or shredded and tossed with pasta and cream sauce.

Wild Western or Pacific: The term wild salmon is nearly synonymous with Pacific salmon (you can meet the species here). They are more muscular (i.e., leaner) than farmed salmon, and contain more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. The flavor is smoky, salmony,  and more complex than any farmed salmon.

About whole sides of salmon: An entire side of salmon has a definite wow factor, and a purveyor like Russ & Daughters will trim and thinly slice whatever type of smoked salmon you choose, then reassemble it in presentation-ready form. And the firm of H. Forman & Son, Britain’s oldest salmon curer (and the last smokehouse in London’s East End) sells its luxurious “London cure” at Williams-Sonoma.

SPECIALTY FISH

Chub, whitefish, and cisco: These closely related fish, which come from the cold, deep lakes of North America, are becoming hard to find; as Mark Russ Federman explains in Russ & Daughters, their primary fishery, the Great Lakes, has been overrun by accidentally introduced non-indigenous species such as the zebra mollusk and the lamprey eel. Their flavor is rich, sweet, and smoky—well worth the effort of peeling back the skin, turned golden by hot-smoking, and removing the meat from the bones, leaving the fish frame intact. Enjoy, as Federman suggests, on a bed of lettuce accompanied by thick slices of tomato and onion, with a buttered slice of rye or pumpernickel bread or toasted bialy.

Sable: Smoked sable was once known as “poor man’s sturgeon,” sold on Manhattan’s Lower East Side for 70 cents a pound. Also known as black cod (which isn’t a true cod at all), it owes its buttery richness to its habitat—the deepest waters of the Bering Sea and Pacific Ocean, stretching from Alaska down to California, and its diet includes crab and squid. Sable can handle something spicy or sharp in flavor; try serving it with a horseradish sauce or even an olive relish or tapenade. It’s also wonderful flaked and tossed with potatoes and a lemon-spiked mayonnaise.

Sturgeon: Widely considered to be the crème de la crème of all smoked fish, hot-smoked sturgeon is firm, full-flavored, and velvety in texture. Most of what you’ll find in the United States is sustainably farmed.

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RECIPE FOR HAPPINESS: ROSEMARY-ROASTED POTATOES FROM JUDY RODGERS

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Last Monday’s sad news that Judy Rodgers, chef and co-owner of Zuni Cafe, in San Francisco, had died prompted an outpouring of heartfelt tributes. One that stood out in my mind was that in the Los Angeles Times by Jonathan Gold, who introduced me to Judy’s remarkable food back in 2001, on a research trip I took with my colleague (and Jonathan’s editor) at Gourmet, Nanette Maxim.

Nan and I had organized an ambitious, tightly orchestrated schedule packed with restaurants, vineyards, orchards, cheesemaking operations, farms, and markets, but we were on the home stretch by the time we connected with Jonathan and his wife, Laurie Ochoa, another member of the Gourmet family. It was a relief not to have an agenda, but simply a leisurely lunch with friends. Nan and I perused one of the most enticing menus in the world, then turned all the decision-making over to Jonathan and Laurie while we took in the convivial room. I don’t think I’ve ever felt at home faster in a restaurant.

In last week’s piece, Jonathan noted that Judy wasn’t first with urban rustic cuisine—that would be her mentor Alice Waters—nor the first to populate her wine list with obscure labels from Italy and the Rhone. “Her insistence on dry-brining was novel, but less sexy than liquid nitrogen or sous vide …. She was process-oriented, but had nowhere near Thomas Keller’s OCD-like obsession with detail …. Rodgers wasn’t constructing an alternate food universe like Corey Lee at Benu or Daniel Patterson at Coi, she was cooking dinner for you and your friends.”

I’ve been back to Zuni a number of times over the years, but my meal doesn’t deviate much from what I had that first time—house-cured anchovies with celery, Parmigiano-Reggiano, and olives followed by salt-rubbed chicken roasted in the massive wood-burning oven, then carved into enjoyably irregular serving pieces and nestled in a bread salad, moist with drippings and flavored with currants, pine nuts, and peppery or bitter greens. Dessert? Espresso granita with whipped cream. Signature dishes all, and the fact that they stay on the menu, along with other time-honored favorites (Caesar salad, the burger on foccacia, ricotta gnocchi, bowls of polenta and bean soup) without being tweaked beyond recognition has long been a gift to Bay Area residents and occasional visitors alike.

Judy was famous for her admonition, “Stop. Think. There must be a harder way.” But there is a big difference between finesse and fussiness, and like Judy herself, the food at Zuni never preened. “She was like one of those stage directors,” Jonathan wrote, “who knows that the best way to coax greatness out of her actors is to stand out of their way. And in her Zuni Cafe Cookbook, possibly the greatest, most generous cookbook ever written by a working American chef, she shared every technique she had.”

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It is an extraordinary book, an important book, and if you don’t have a copy, you must rectify that immediately. The introduction and first chapter, “What to Think About Before You Start & While You Are Cooking,” alone are worth the price, for they will make anyone, whether novice or experienced, a better, more mindful cook.

“Well, I’ve looked at it,” a young foodie friend said sheepishly. “But I’m an eater, not a cook. I’m one of the reasons God made restaurants. And the recipes are so long.”

It is true that a number of them go on for pages. That doesn’t reflect their degree of difficulty, however, but rather the culinary knowledge they impart. And once you stop looking and start reading, odds are you’ll be hooked in no time, for Judy was a graceful, nuanced writer. Not only did she have a very fine and finely tuned palate, she had the observational skills of an art historian (which she once intended to become) and a vocabulary to match. Gerald Asher, Gourmet’s longtime wine columnist, contributed wine suggestions, and his essays about pairing wines with cheese, salads, cured meats, and so on, provide yet another layer of texture and richness.

As do the headnotes—the bits of text that precede the recipes. Having written scads of them in my day, I’m a connoisseur, and the thought and care Judy gave them continues to inspire. The one that precedes the Zuni hamburger recipe, for instance, is more of an essay on the kind of meat you should buy (boneless beef chuck) and the reasons why you should then cut it into pieces and preseason it with salt for up to a day before grinding it yourself. In lesser hands, this would make me want to throw the book at a wall, but instead, it got me first to the meat counter and then into the kitchen. The foolproof recipe made me a convert not just to making burgers from scratch, but of preseasoning every piece of meat, poultry, or fish I cook.

But what about the damn potatoes, you’re thinking. Good lord, it’s about time I got to those. The reason I chose this recipe out of all the treasures in The Zuni Cafe Cookbook is because it is staggeringly simple, easy to work into your culinary repertoire, and very forgiving if supper is delayed for any reason. “There are only four ingredients,” my pal, still skeptical, said. “And  the recipe is almost two pages!”

At least he wasn’t whining about having to turn the page. But still. “Just read it,” I replied, trying not to sound snappish. “Even y—anyone, really, can make this, and see? You get a handy note on the virtues of bruising herbs. You don’t even have to chop.”

That caught his interest. I left him parked on the sofa while I got dinner working, and he’s still there, reading Judy’s book.

Rosemary-Roasted Potatoes

From The Zuni Cafe Cookbook, by Judy Rodgers (W.W. Norton & Company, 2002)

Judy recommended a rich, yellow-fleshed potato such as Finnish, Bintje, or German Butterball [the latter is what I used here], but she goes on to say you can use Yukon Gold or even russets for this recipe. She also noted that at Zuni they usually prepared this recipe with olive oil, but in the winter, they substitute duck fat when serving the potatoes with poultry, or rendered beef fat (that’s a restaurant chef talking), to accompany beef.
For 3 to 4 servings:

A scant 1¾ pounds yellow-fleshed potatoes, peeled and cut into irregular 1- to 1½-inch chunks

Salt [use coarse]

A leafy sprig of fresh rosemary

About ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

Preheat the oven to 400º.

Place the potatoes in a 4-quart saucepan and add cold water to cover by a few inches. Salt liberally, stir to dissolve, and taste—the water should be well seasoned (we use a scant 1½ teaspoons sea salt per quart water).  Bring to a simmer over high heat and stir again, then reduce the heat just to hold the simmer. Cook until the potatoes ares soft on the edges and tender inside, 6 to 12 minutes, depending on the variety of potato and exact size of chunks. Drain well. Taste. The potatoes should be perfectly seasoned and delicious already. Place in a bowl while still warm.

Strip a palmful of leaves from the sprig of rosemary, then smash and bruise them with the back of a knife blade [or a mortar and pestle] to release their perfume. Add them to the bowl of warm potatoes and drizzle with the olive oil to coat liberally. The slightly overcooked potatoes will both soak up and shed into the fat. Some of the edges or smaller pieces may even crumble, which will produce crunchy bits and pieces everyone will reach for.

Transfer the potatoes, clad in their potato-laden oil, to a wide, shallow roasting pan. (If roasting potatoes for a crowd, use more than one pan, rather than pile the potatoes.) Roast until golden, rotating the pan as needed so they color evenly, 20 to 25 minutes. Because they were so moist, the potatoes may stick to the roasting pan in spots—use a metal spatula to loosen them.

Once golden, the potatoes hold well, or even improve from holding in a 275º oven. To best preserve their crunchy mantle, don’t stack or pile them; leave them on their roasting pan.

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FOR THE FOODIE WHO HAS EVERYTHING: THE BEST KITCHEN TOWELS

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From a six-burner stove and pot-filler faucet to nonstick baking-sheet liners and a high-end chef’s knife, this is the age of professional equipment for the home kitchen. But for some reason, one of the most important tools a restaurant cook relies on every single day has yet to cross over.

I’m talking about towels, kitchen towels—or side towels, as they’re called in the trade.

At cooking school, their importance is impressed upon students straightaway. Allen Smith, my teacher at Peter Kump’s, patiently watched everyone fumble with tying apron strings just so, but brought us up sharp if we forgot to tuck in a side towel as instructed. Some 20 years later, Allen is now culinary director at the Maybury gourmet food shop and café in Dubai, but as I imagined, his reaction is pretty much the same. “Well, otherwise, it’s like cooking naked!” he wrote. “You’re completely unprotected and not ready to remove a hot pot that’s boiling with a mind of its own, or rescue a baked something from the oven. Then there is the constant need for clean, dry hands.”

Restaurant cooks may use some side towels for pot holders and others for wiping down his or her station. (Since a damp towel conducts heat quickly, one dedicated to “wet work” never doubles as a pot holder.) They can also be used for stabilizing a mixing bowl while an ingredient is poured with one hand and whisked with the other, patting herbs dry, gripping the skin of a fish while removing it, or erasing a smudge of sauce on a plated dish.

Anthony Bourdain gave them a shout-out in Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly. ”… messy station equals messy mind. This explains why side towels are hoarded like gold by good line cooks. When the linen order arrives, the smart cookies fall onto it voraciously, stashing stacks of the valuable objects anywhere they can hide them. One cook I knew would load them above the acoustic tile in the ceiling, along with his favorite tongs …. I’m sure that years later, though the restaurant has changed hands many times, future generations of cooks are still finding stashes of fluffy, clean side towels.”

Aside from linen tea towels that cost the earth (and live in a drawer until taken out for a special occasion), the options available to home cooks are dismal. Traditional twill, terry-cloth, or waffle-weave offerings aren’t nearly as thick and durable as they used to be, and even though IKEA’s ultracheap (at 80 cents) Tekla towel has its fans, I can never use one without thinking I’ve gotten exactly what I’ve paid for.

Real value is more along the lines of what you see above. Imported from Germany and made of 100 percent cotton, the weave of these towels is such that they seem to get denser—thus more resistant to heat and stains—with each washing. Pick up one and scrunch it in your hand, and not only will you’ll want to cook something, anything—but you’ll understand what the professionals are talking about. In fact, the gray-and-white-checked version was once standard issue at the Culinary Institute of America; in Making of a Chef, Michael Ruhlman noted that the CIA imported the towels from Germany because it couldn’t find acceptable ones in the United States.

And now they’re available at J.B. Prince, a top-drawer purveyor of professional culinary equipment that somehow manages to be old school and ahead of the curve, all at the same time. I’ve long been a fan; the Wüsthof knives I bought all those years ago for cooking school came from the store, and they’re still going strong.

As is Judy Prince, the founder of the business. She noticed the towels on a visit to a European department store with a lavish cookware section. “They carried different brands of all things,” she said, “but only one brand of towel.” That was enough to pique her interest, and when she discovered the towels had been made the same way by the same family business in Germany since 1897, she got the ball rolling, and imported her first shipment a few months ago.

“We’ve had interest all across our customer base,” Judy said. “Chefs are snapping them up left and right, and the nonprofessionals coming into the showroom are buying them for placemats and to dry homemade pasta on.” Although she warned me that the towels do shrink after washing, I found that they’re so generously sized to begin with, it doesn’t much matter when folded and used to move hot pots around on the stove.

“The thing is, I’d been noticing that in lots of restaurants, the runners in the front of the house had really beautiful towels slung over their shoulder,” she explained. “Quatorze Bis [one of Manhattan's classic French bistros], for example. It really added something to how those guys looked. And in some restaurants in Berlin and Scandinavia, they had very long towels—four feet, maybe longer—hanging off the back of their aprons. It gave them a certain elegance. The visuals are so cool, it gets the mind going.”

And how. Either one of the extra-long towels shown below will easily wrap around my largest rondeau, and just thinking about that conjures beef bourguignon or cider-braised pork shoulder. If I were more enterprising, however, I’d figure out how to sew a bunch of them together serape-fashion and have a new outfit for the holidays.

Details, details

Premium German side towels (top photo): In addition to the array of colors shown, they come in white; $7.20 each and $57.60 for a pack of 10 (same color).

Premium oversized towels (bottom photo):  At left, a super-strong 50-50 cotton-linen blend ($17.90 each and $143.20 for a pack of 10) and at right, 100 percent cotton ($13.90 each and $111.20 for a pack of 10).

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ROASTED SWEET POTATO COINS FOR—WHAT ELSE?—THANKSGIVUKKAH

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The rare alignment of Thanksgiving and the first day of Hanukkah has brought the invention of a new portmanteau word, way too many puns (“Gobble-Tov!”), people at the supermarket meat counter wondering aloud if sausage stuffing would be bad form, and the angst that occurs when you saddle a blissfully gift-free occasion with presents.

I suppose all the fuss was to be expected. Because the dates of the two holidays always vary (Thanksgiving is linked to the fourth Thursday in November and the eight days of Hanukkah are reckoned by the Hebrew calendar), the world won’t see this convergence roll around again for something like 80,000 years. (Click here for a explanation from physicist and Jewish calendar math whiz Jonathan Mizrahi.) Perhaps by then we will have settled on a single spelling for the word Hanukkah. Or not.

Both holidays are about gratitude, and if this hybrid occurred more often, it could be a real moneymaker. Look at the cottage industry that’s sprung up around the more common overlap of Christmas and Hanukkah. It’s inspired numerous worthy interfaith handbooks as well as a 2003 episode of The O.C. television show, an O.C. c.d., Chrismukkah cards, a Chrismukkah cookbook, a childrens’ book (Blintzes for Blitzen), and even a Hanukkah tree topper. Talk about a merry mish-mash!

But back to Thanksgivukkah. What I find interesting is the widespread presumption that on Thanksgiving Day all Americans eat exactly the same food, the sort conjured by Norman Rockwell’s sentimental 1943 painting Freedom from Want (aka “the Thanksgiving Picture”). In my experience, however, plenty of families happily veer far from the Rockwellian ideal based on their heritage and the local bounty of the season, and they don’t give it a second thought.

For lots of folks in the Lowcountry of South Carolina and Georgia, for instance, turkey is what’s enjoyed if you’re not too full after an epic oyster roast. And over the years, I’ve spent the holiday with friends whose must-have “traditional” sides include Moroccan-spiced carrots and parsnips, braised Kashmiri greensjeweled rice, Korean pancakes, or a deconstructed stuffing along the lines of an Italian bread salad, rich with chestnuts, pancetta, and broccoli rabe. So I suspect that sweet potato latkes, matzo ball soup made with turkey broth, challah or rye-bread stuffing, and cranberry rugelach or strudel aren’t as novel as some would lead you to believe.

Sam and I are saving the latkes for a soon-to-be-designated brisket night, but I found myself thinking that there still needs to be some sort of bridge between the classic Thanksgiving spread we’ll be enjoying and the lighting of Sam’s menorah, a bit later in the day. My inspiration came from the corner Duane Reade, in the form of chocolate Hanukkah gelt wrapped in gold foil. Slicing sweet potatoes crosswise into “coins” is nothing new, but the simple technique works especially well on a day that can be otherwise fraught in the kitchen. The prep is nothing to speak of, and the slices roast very quickly; by the time the turkey has finished resting and the gravy is made, they’ll be done.

The custom of giving away gelt (Yiddish for “money”) to children, by the way, dates back to the Middle Ages, but its roots stretch back much further. During the early years of the Hasmonean dynasty (142–63 B.C.E.), the first Jewish coins were issued; most of them depicted cornucopia, symbolic of the prosperity during these years. And according to Hanukkahgelt.com, it’s traditional to share your good fortune with those in need or for a good cause. This year, I belatedly discovered that during November, Disney-ABC Television Group will fully match gifts (up to $250,000, for you big spenders) to Feeding America. There’s not much time left, so hurry! The goal is to provide 40 million pounds of produce to those in need. The Boulder, Colorado–based nonprofit Conscious Alliance aids local food pantries nationwide—in particular, those on economically isolated Native American reservations. And if you’re hankering for an official Thanksgivukkah apron or T-shirt, visit ModernTribe.com; all items are now (understandably) final sale, but ten percent of the proceeds will benefit the nonprofit Jewish hunger program Mazon.

Roasted Sweet Potato Coins

This recipe is extremely adaptable. You can substitute coconut oil for the olive oil, for example, or brush the coins with pure maple syrup about halfway through roasting. To peel or not beforehand is up to you; I like leaving the skin on to get every last bit of flavor and nutrition out of the vegetable, but if the skin is on the gnarly or tough side, get rid of it.

Sweet potatoes

Extra-virgin olive oil

Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper

Preheat the oven to 325º. Cut the sweet potatoes crosswise into slices about ¼ inch thick. Toss the sweet potatoes with extra-virgin olive oil to coat, season with salt and pepper, and place in a single layer on 1 or 2 rimmed baking sheets. Roast, turning the slices over once or twice (and switching placement of the baking sheets if using 2) until they are tender and deep golden, 20 to 30 minutes.

 

RARE FIND: RADICCHIO TARDIVO

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November mornings at the Union Square Greenmarket don’t bring much in the way of exotica, unless you count the turreted chartreuse heads of romanesco cauliflower, fantastically feathered hen of the woods mushrooms, and possibly—no, definitely—the elegant Rastafarian gentleman who channels Joseph in his Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.

The past couple of weeks have brought a showstopper, though, in the form of radicchio tardivo—a blanched type of Treviso radicchio from Tim Stark’s Eckerton Hill Farm, in Lenhartsville, Pennsylvania. With curved, dazzling-white ribs fringed by long, narrow wine-dark leaves, this member of the chicory clan is known in Italy as a fiori d’inverno (“flower of winter”), and prized as one of the most beautiful vegetables of the season. When grown in the Veneto region, it’s sold as Radicchio Rosso Tardivo di Treviso IGP; the initials, which stand for “Indicazione Geografica Protetta,” signify it’s been awarded a certified geographical designation by the Italian authorities, just like a terroir-specific balsamic vinegar (Aceto Balsamico di Modena) or cured meat (Mortadella di Bologna).

Like all delicacies, tardivo doesn’t come cheap—Stark is selling his for $16 a pound—and that is because of its labor-intensive cultivation. “I have to say deer and groundhogs love it,” said Stark. “We had to put up a deer fence. And what you see is just the inner tendrils, the heart, of the plant. But talk to Chris—he’s the one who brought the seeds back from Italy and did all the work.”

Eckerton’s Chris Field was on vacation in Florida, but happy to talk tardivo. He’d done his due diligence for two years, sussing out a high-quality seed source near Padua and getting a feel for the complicated growing process, in part through Pioneer Valley farmer Tim Wilcox, who had written his college thesis on tardivo growing methods in Italy.

“When you plant the seed is very important,” Field explained. “We started in trays in the greenhouse in mid-July and transplanted to the field in mid-August. You let it grow, keep it weeded and watered, until the root gets sizable.”

The plants are harvested after the first couple of frosts, and that’s when the fun starts. You dig down under the plant in order to bring up the taproot; if you inadvertently snap off the plant at the top, it’s a goner. The roots are trimmed to four to five inches in length, dead leaves are removed, and then the plants are put in water and left in the dark (which halts the production of chlorophyll), where shoots begin to grow again.

This process, called imbianchimento and based on that used to blanch Belgian endive, was developed in the 1860s by Belgian agronomist Francesco Van Den Borre. It can be elaborate on a large scale, but is a bit more ad hoc at Eckerton. “The plants are in tubs in the basement at Tim’s,” said Field. “And I change the water every other day. In ten days to two weeks, you have the best growth—they sweeten up and the leaves are dark maroon. Then you peel away any crappy leaves and cut the root—which is absolutely delicious, by the way.”

So is all that effort worth it? Yes. Tardivo has a lovely bitter-sweet balance and a satiny, sublime crisp-tender texture. It’s versatile, too, which is one reason restaurant chefs are all over it like white on rice. It’s wonderful grilled, sautéed, basted with olive oil and baked, or stirred into risotto. Like any bitter green, tardivo has a great affinity for a hot bacon dressing, and it gives an edgy, wild flavor to a salad of fennel and (hooray!) the season’s first satsumas. And in Marcella Hazan’s Radicchio and Warm Bean Salad (recipe below), it seduces with that particular, exquisite Italianate blend of austerity and luxuriousness.

In fact, it’s made me look at the most familiar variety of radicchio, called Chioggia, with fresh eyes. That tight, round head of maroon leaves veined with white was the gateway bitter green for many Americans: Twenty-five years ago, Italian farmer and winemaker Lucio Gomiero began cultivating it in the Salinas Valley of California. The company he formed with Italian grower Carlo Boscolo and two local farmers helped fuel the growth of the prepackaged-salad industry, which valued both the bright color and sturdiness of Chioggia’s chewy-crisp leaves. Today, the firm (formerly European Vegetable Specialties and now called Royal Rose) is the largest producer of radicchio in the world.

Admittedly, tardivo is a splurge, but it’s worth adding any radicchio—including regular Treviso, which grows in a loose-leafed, elongated head (like romaine), or Chioggia—to your culinary repertoire. The vegetable is an excellent source of vitamins C, E, and K, as well as folate and dietary fiber, and a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition in 2005 found that Chioggia is higher in total phenols—plant antioxidants—than most other vegetables and fruits. In fact, recently it’s been certified as a Superfood, a category that includes blueberries, kale, broccoli, and pomegranates. This would not be news to Pliny the Elder, who, in the first century A.D., was well aware of the medicinal properties of “the marvelous red-lined lettuces of the Veneto.” He noted in Naturalis Historia that they were good for insomnia and purified the blood. That works for me.

Shopping tip: The Royal Rose website has some savvy information on how to choose a good head of Chioggia radicchio, which is what most of us end up with at the grocery store. Bigger is fresher, it turns out; a head should weigh at least half a pound. The reason some are the size of tennis balls is that the outer leaves wilt when the heads are stored or shipped for any length of time, and they’re trimmed, sometimes repeatedly, to preserve their appearance.

Radicchio and Warm Bean Salad

Adapted from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, by Marcella Hazan (Alfred A. Knopf, 1992)

For 4 to 6 servings

In a perfect world, I’d always make this salad with radicchio tardivo, but regular Treviso is absolutely delicious, too. Chioggia can be a bit too assertive for some people, so taste it first. If it’s too bitter for you, then do as Marcella did (God bless!) and cut the radicchio with some Belgian endive to tip the balance toward milder flavor. She also shared a secret she learned from the radicchio growers of Chioggia. “It can be made to taste sweeter,” she wrote, “by splitting the head in half, then shredding it fine on the diagonal.”

Cranberry beans, 2 pounds fresh, or 1 cup dried, soaked, drained, and cooked until tender

1 pound radicchio or Belgian endive, or a blend of the two

Coarse salt

Extra-virgin olive oil

Choice quality red-wine vinegar

Black pepper, ground fresh from the mill

1. If using fresh beans: Shell them and put them in a pot with enough cold, unsalted water to cover by about 2 inches. Bring the water to a gentle simmer, cover the pot, and cook at a slow, steady pace until tender, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. Time their preparation so they will still be warm when assembling the salad. You can also cook the beans a day or so ahead of time; let them cool completely before refrigerating them in their liquid.

2. Hotten up the fresh or cooked dried beans if necessary. Meanwhile, detach the leaves from the head of radicchio, discarding any blemished ones. Slice them into narrow strips about ¼ inch wide, soak in cold water for a few minutes, drain, and either spin-dry or shake dry in a towel. Put the radicchio in a serving bowl.

3. Drain the hot beans and immediately add to the radicchio. Season with salt and toss once. Drizzle with enough olive oil to coat well and add a dash of vinegar and liberal grindings of pepper. Toss thoroughly and serve at once.

 

OBSESSION: FALL RADISHES

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We all tend to think of radishes as one of the first fresh offerings of spring, but because they love the cool weather and grow quickly, they have a second season in the fall. At farmers markets, bright bouquets of them—crimson, magenta, lavender, rose, and snow white—are stacked alongside more-purposeful bunches of carrots, parsnips, turnips, and celeriac. They are all root vegetables, yet I have a sneaking suspicion that the earthy, aromatic soup-pot heavyweights view their thin-skinned pretty-as-a-picture relation as frivolous, even feckless. With cultivar names like Cherry Belle and Snow Belle, what more could you expect?

I don’t care. And anyway, they’d be wrong. The radish is plenty rich in vitamins and minerals; it’s a member of the Brassicaceae family, after all, which also includes kale, broccoli, and cauliflower. In the 18th century, radishes were considered “powerful fortifiers of digestion,” a remedy for kidney stones, and an antidote for the common cold.

I can’t get enough of them. They’re delicious in a salad with fennel and watercress, but generally I don’t get that fancy. Given a quick rinse and plopped on a cutting board with a paring knife, a little bowl of flaky Maldon sea salt, and an enjoyable chuck of butter, they’re our every-night hors d’oeuvre, best enjoyed in the kitchen while cooking supper. Crisp, juicy, and gently peppery, they’re just what’s called for as we ease into heartier winter food—lamb stew, Sam’s first brisket of the season, warm lentil salad with kielbasa.

Radishes are also wonderful sautéed, roasted, or braised, but the only thing I ever get around to cooking is the radish tops. They are especially fresh and vibrant in the fall, with great old-fashioned turnipy flavor. After washing them thoroughly (they can be very sandy), stir them into leek-potato soup or toss them into the pot with your favorite braising greens. Fall, meet Feckless.

A MARKET STORY: CHICKEN WITH FORTY CLOVES OF GARLIC

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Garlic is the most potent member of the allium family (which includes onions, leeks, shallots, and so forth), and its great abundance at the farmers market this time of year tends to engender awe and, sometimes, confusion. “My girlfriend sent me out to shop for dinner,” a twenty-something said last week, holding up one of the fat bulbs shown above. “I need three cloves of garlic. Is this a clove?”

I was trying to fit a ruffled disk of escarole into a too-small (but recycled!) plastic bag, and it took a minute to realize he was talking to me. “Nope, that’s what you call a head of garlic,” I said, and seized the moment to grab four of them for myself. “A head should give you—I don’t know—about eight to ten cloves.” He nodded his thanks, then, as we edged into the check-out line, put down the book he was carrying to fish out his wallet. I had to laugh when I saw the cover—Parade’s End by Ford Madox Ford. I practically tugged on his sleeve. “Hey, have you read Provence?” I asked. “Ford Madox Ford loved garlic!”

Ford was a wonderful, very personal English writer who swanned around Paris in the 1920s with Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Joyce, and Pound—you know, the usual crowd. Although the borders between his fiction and nonfiction tended to blur, Ford was quite sensibly convinced that no one could be “completely whole either physically or mentally” without “a reasonable amount of garlic” in their diet. No surprise, then, that he felt most at home in the south of France, where garlic is as elemental as earth, wind, water, and fire.

Some decades later, Richard Olney, another expat (from Iowa), moved to a Provence village and, over the next 30-odd years, wrote or edited more than 35 books on food and wine. He observed, in the influential Simple French Food, that the flavors of Provençal food tend to be direct and uncomplicated, reflecting the sharp clarity of the light and the landscape. The rough magic conjured by his words is perfectly illustrated by one of the most provocatively named dishes on the planet, Chicken With Forty Cloves of Garlic.

In truth, it’s a homey preparation with few ingredients, and one of our favorite Sunday suppers during cold weather. It’s also a lesson in the transformative power of slow, moist cooking in a covered pot: The chicken turns juicy and tender, and the garlic loses its pungency and becomes mellow and creamy.

Most recipes call for unpeeled cloves, with the recommendation that they be squeezed from the husk onto toasted bread at table. In the recipe below, however, from The Gourmet Cookbook, the cloves are peeled. “We may have taken inspiration from Gourmet’s France [1978],” mused Zanne Stewart, the magazine’s former executive food editor. “That recipe came from a restaurant chef in France. Oh, and the recipe also calls for white veal stock—just what we all have kicking around in the fridge!” We snorted in unison.

“And then there was Sally Darr’s recipe, from La Tulipe, back in the eighties,” Zanne continued. “I’m pretty sure she peeled the cloves first, too. But I like mine unpeeled—the flavor is more subtle.”

In this day and age, I think it all comes down to the garlic. Most of what you’ll find at the supermarket is imported from China, and it can taste excessively harsh. I can’t tell you why, exactly—it could be the particular strain of garlic cultivated, or maybe dubious growing, handling, or storage practices. But if that’s the garlic hand I’m dealt, then it can’t hurt to mute its stridency by cooking the cloves in their form-fitting papery wrappers.

The stuff I picked up at the Greenmarket, though, is another matter. It’s a type of hardneck garlic called rocambole, and a signature crop of organic farmer Keith Stewart. As you may have gathered from previous posts, including last week’s, his farm supplies us with the makings of countless delicious meals. Rocambole garlics have a rich, deep well-rounded flavor—there’s a hint of muskiness, for good measure—that turns a simple braised bird into something heroic.

The downside? A rocambole isn’t an especially good keeper. Under professional storage conditions (cold, dry, circulating air), it can last more than half a year, but home cooks pretty much need to use it or lose it.

Which is where Chicken With Forty Cloves of Garlic really comes in handy. Even though the dish is a great family supper, don’t be afraid to serve it to company. The chicken is surprisingly delicate in flavor, and guests can take as many or as few garlic cloves as they want. If there are any cloves leftover, they are delicious smooshed and stirred into mashed potatoes, soups, vinaigrettes—or mayo, for sandwiches.

Yikes, I almost forgot. One last note on the bird! Browning a whole chicken can be a bit fraught—you are dealing with a generous amount of hot oil, after all. So feel free to cut the chicken into serving pieces before searing, or simply use whatever chicken parts you prefer. You’ll need to adjust the cooking time somewhat, but that’s a piece of cake. When it’s done, you’ll know: it will smell absolutely ravishing—and make you want to move to Provence.

Chicken With Forty Cloves of Garlic

From The Gourmet Cookbook (Houghton Mifflin, 2004)

Serves 4 (which means 1 head of garlic apiece—yum)

1 (4-pound) chicken, left whole or cut into serving pieces

½ teaspoon coarse salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 scant cup olive oil

2 fresh flat-leaf parsley sprigs

1 fresh rosemary sprig

1 fresh sage sprig

1 Turkish bay leaf or ½ California bay leaf

1 celery rib

40 garlic cloves (from about 4 heads), peeled or not (see above discussion)

Accompaniment: slices of baguette (or, as Richard Olney would say, any rough country bread), toasted or grilled

1. Put a rack in middle of oven and preheat oven to 350ºF. Sprinkle chicken inside and out with salt and pepper. Tie legs together with kitchen string and fold wings under chicken. Heat oil in a 6- to 8-quart wide heavy ovenproof pot over moderately high heat until hot but not smoking. Add chicken and sear, turning it carefully, until golden brown all over, about 10 minutes. Transfer chicken to a plate.

2. Tie herbs and celery together with string to make a bouquet garni and add to pot. Scatter garlic in pot and put chicken, breast side up, on top. Cover tightly, transfer to oven, and bake, basting twice, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into thickest part of thigh (without touching bone) registers 170ºF, 30 to 40 minutes. Transfer chicken to a cutting board and let stand 10 minutes; reserve pan juices.

3. Spread roasted garlic on toasts and cut chicken into serving pieces. Serve chicken drizzled with some of the pan juices.

BEHOLD THE BUTTERNUT: INSPIRATION FOR AUTUMN SCRATCH SUPPERS

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Butternut squash, introduced to the public in 1936 and working hard ever since, doesn’t have the cachet of kabocha or the drama quotient of a Blue Hubbard or Red Kuri. What it does have going for it is widespread availability, great versatility, ease of peeling, good, reliable flavor, and now … cuteness.

That’s right. Say hello to a relatively new cultivar on the block, the NutterButter. It stopped me in my tracks about a month ago, when I first saw it at Keith Stewart’s stand, at the Union Square Greenmarket. Two or three of them have provided ballast in my market bags (and lots of good eating) every week since.

NutterButter, which was released in 2011, was developed by Dr. Jodi Lew-Smith, director of research and production at High Mowing Organic Seeds, in Wolcott, Vermont. “This variety was selected for high brix (sugars) levels, good flavor and medium size,” the company’s blog of December 7, 2011, read. “Fruits weigh around 2.5 pounds and measure an average of 4” wide by 7” tall.”

I’ve spent far too much time on the High Mowing website, but it is absorbing. This entry, from two weeks ago, gives insight into the discernment, not to mention the heavy lifting, it takes to grow, harvest, and cure (who knew?) fields of winter squashes. When judging ripeness, for instance, one must pay close attention to the stem—or, more correctly, the peduncle. Too bad it sounds like a relative you want to keep a very close eye on. But no matter. “Let peduncle be your word of the day!” Paul Betz wrote. “There will be a change from green and fleshy to more corky and dried. It’s important … to give the plant the opportunity to get everything it can to the fruit.” No wonder farmers wince when they see customers on the prowl for a jack o’ lantern use the, er, peduncle as a handle.

Like bigger butternuts, the NutterButter has a compact seed cavity, which translates to a greater proportion of meaty orange flesh, and its small size makes it even more versatile—at least in my kitchen, where cooking for two is the default position. Whacked in half lengthwise and seeded, it can be baked or roasted cut side down, just like an acorn squash, but the flavor is far richer. One NutterButter is a convenient platform for an individual main course; pair it with a hearty farro and mushroom pilaf, and you’ve got Meatless Monday covered—especially if you’ve cooked up the farro ahead of time and have it waiting in fridge or freezer. Before a few more recipe riffs, though, it makes sense to discuss a couple of butternut basics: how to peel one, and how to roast the seeds.

To peel: Vegetable mavens Deborah Madison and Alice Waters have this down pat. First, cut the squash crosswise in half, right where the straight neck meets the bulbous part that houses the seeds. Peel it in long, even strokes with a sharp knife or sturdy Y-shaped vegetable peeler, then slice, dice, or cut the flesh into large cubes. Next, cut the round part in half, scoop out the seeds and fibrous bits, and peel that as well—or, if the squash is large, save the halved bulb and roast, unpeeled, another evening.

To roast the seeds: When my friend and former colleague Greg Lofts explained that he doesn’t pick over or rinse pumpkin and squash seeds before roasting, it was a revelation: All the pulpy, stringy bits caramelize and turn sweet, nutty, and delicious—and the fact that you don’t waste a thing is pretty great, too. Greg’s technique is in the November issue of Martha Stewart Living and it deserves to become an instant classic. For every two cups seeds with pulp, toss with one tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil and season with coarse salt (and perhaps a bit of cumin or smoked paprika if so inclined). Spread the mixture on a parchment-lined baking sheet and roast in a preheated 300º oven, stirring every 15 minutes or so, until the seeds are crisp and the pulp is caramelized, 50 to 60 minutes. Yum.

Okay, so what’s for supper? Roasted or baked butternut (see above) is a no-brainer side for chicken thighs (season with s & p and bake at 350º until done), particularly when you gussy up the squash with a robustly flavored compound butter. Start with room temperature butter and work in some finely chopped shallot and fresh thyme or sage, say, or a dab of harissa, puréed chiles in adobo, or an Indian spice blend.

I also love a Provençal squash gratin. In Simple French Food, the masterful Richard Olney cuts pumpkin or squash into tiny dice, tosses it with persillade and flour, then puts it in an earthenware dish and bakes it in a low oven for two hours or so. Beneath the resulting deep, rich brown crust, “the squash should have melted to a near purée, the cubes retaining perfectly their form but ready to collapse at the touch of a fork or a tongue.”

Olney’s tian de courge may sound simple (and sexier than hell), but my weeknight version requires a brisker approach, one that goes something like this. Walk in the door and turn on the oven to 375º. Peel the squash and cut into roughly 1-inch pieces. (You can even do this in the morning—odds are, you won’t be losing much nutritive value—and refrigerate the squash in an airtight container.) Toss with olive oil and salt and spread on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. Roast until tender and caramelized, 30 to 40 minutes. (Stir a couple of times during roasting so the squash cooks evenly.) Finely chop a couple of garlic cloves and cook in olive oil for mere seconds—it should be softened but not browned. Stir in a handful of chopped parsley, and then toss the persillade with the squash when done.

By this point, I’ve poured a bourbon or glass of wine and considered the contents of fridge and pantry. Sometimes I shovel the squash over arugula, add some leftover cooked white beans (or not), drizzle with walnut or pumpkin-seed oil, and serve up with pan-fried fat pork sausages—a staple in our kitchen because they cook so quickly.

And since bitter or spicy greens set off the sweetness of squash so well, broccoli rabe is another easy partner. Cut off the tough ends and blanch the greens first; fish them out with tongs and drain, then salt the water, return it to a boil, and cook cavatappi or other smallish tubular pasta. Reserve a cup or so of the cooking water before draining the pasta and set both aside. Chop the blanched greens into manageable pieces and sauté in olive oil with a little garlic, red pepper flakes, and, if you have it, some chopped fresh rosemary. (If you really want to get fancy, kick off the sauté with chopped pancetta.) Add the roasted squash, the pasta, and enough pasta water to give a saucelike consistency, gently tossing until all is nicely hottened up. Season to your liking and serve with Parmigiano and good olive oil, for drizzling. I’ve just decided this is what we are having for supper on Halloween. All I need is candy corn, for dessert.

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