Category Archives: fall

Lentils with Blistered Cherry Tomatoes

cherry tomatoes from fort greene farmer's market We felt the first snap of cold yesterday in New York. The day before, a walk through the neighborhood farmer’s market under buckets of rain was proof that summer lingers. Minute cherry tomatoes on the vine, bushels of yellow squash and sticky plums. It’s still bountiful around here.

fort greene farmer's market

I use the market as a bellwether. Instinctively, I know it’s time to start cooking winter squash and potatoes and roots. But the farmers have the last word. I asked a few of them, as I planned the menu for the next Supper Club (Oct. 18), what might I find in two weeks time? Can I plan on tomatoes, still?

summer squash at the farmers market

One farmer, Hector, said global warming has changed things in upstate New York. The season runs longer, for sure. The chances of a frost in the next few weeks are very low. Cherry tomatoes will likely be around for a little longer.

blistered cherry tomatoes

Lentils find their way onto my plate about once a week: dressed up with herbs in a salad, braised in aromatics and served alongside a grilled sausage, served with vegetables and rice to make a protein-rich meal sans meat, cooked into soup. Fast-cooking. Cheap. No soaking needed. Hearty, fibrous and nutritious.

french lentils, also called lentilles de puy

A batch of lentils will last in the fridge for days. You can mix and match flavors, working them into lunch and dinner in small quantities. The following recipe isn’t necessary, really. Just make lentils and add what you like. Design the dish around what the farmers bring to market. Or just add chopped bacon and caramelized onions and call it a day.

lentils with blistered tomatoes

 

Lentils with Blistered Cherry Tomatoes

Serves 8

2 cups of lentils (lentilles de puy or French Lentils are best for this recipe)
1 medium carrot, peeled and cut in half
1 small onion, peeled and cut in half, root intact
1 bay leaf
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt

For the dressing:
Juice and zest (thinly sliced) of one lemon
Pinch of cayenne
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup olive oil

A splash of sherry or red wine vinegar
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 pint cherry tomatoes
6 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs (any or all: basil, chives, mint, parsley, tarragon)

Simmer lentils for 20 minutes with carrot, onion, bay leaf, garlic, salt, and plenty of cold water (at least 3:1 water to lentils), until just tender but with a little bite (al dente). Drain and save liquid for stock.

While the lentils cook, make the vinaigrette, mixing together all the ingredients except the oil. Whisk in the oil. Err on the side of a more acidic (=more lemon), as lentils need a flavor boost.

Add dressing to drained, warm lentils. Toss gently. Taste and adjust seasoning. Mix in a splash of vinegar (sherry or red wine), 3 tablespoons of herbs, and stir to blend.

Heat a large skillet with olive oil over a medium-high heat. When hot but not smoking, add cherry tomatoes and cook, undisturbed, for a few minutes, until they begin to pop and collapse. Shake pan. Tomatoes are done when they are a little browned/blackened, after about 5 minutes.

Serve lentils warm or room temperature, with tomatoes and their juices poured on top, and garnished with remaining chopped fresh herbs.

 

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Filed under Appetizer, dinner, fall, Lunch, Recipes, Salad, sides, summer, vegetarian

Eggplant Caviar

Early fall is when eggplants are at their best. Choose firm, dark colored orbs, plentiful and reasonably priced in this season. Cook them soon after buying.

eggplant mint puree

Adapt this simple mash to your taste, adding different seasonings to tip the scale alternately towards North Africa (using tahini, toasted, crushed cumin seeds and a pinch of cayenne), the Middle East (pomegranate molasses), or Italy (fresh basil and/or minced anchovies).

eggplants ready to bake

No recipe is needed. The easiest method for cooking eggplants is to pierce them a few times with a small knife and bake on a sheet pan in a hot oven until they collapse. Scoop out the cooked flesh and mix in flavorings to suit your mood. Use a fork, rather than a food processor, or you will end up with something more like baby food. The texture is nicer when it’s roughly mashed.

Be sure to garnish eggplant caviar with something to add color to the dish’s dull, beige appearance. Chopped mint, parsley, cilantro or basil work well. Pomegranate seeds provide a crunchy, sweet contrast. Serve room temperature with toasted pita bread. Keeps about a week in the fridge.

serve eggplant puree with toasted pita

Eggplant Caviar
Serves 4-6

2-3 eggplants (about 1½ pounds), rinsed, dried and pierced in a few places with a paring knife (to release steam)
Grated zest of one lemon (optional)
Juice of ½ lemon (or more, to taste)
½ clove of garlic, minced and using the flat part of a knife’s blade, made into a paste with ½ teaspoon sea salt
1-2 tablespoons Greek yogurt (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
A little extra virgin olive oil, for drizzling
1 tablespoon minced fresh mint leaves, for garnish
Black sesame seeds, toasted, for garnish (optional)

Preheat the oven to 450°F. Place a sheet of aluminum foil in a baking pan and lay the eggplant on top. Bake until the flesh is cooked, about 20 minutes. Set aside until cool enough to handle.

Scoop out the cooked flesh into a medium bowl and discard the eggplant skins. Mix in the rest of the ingredients, including some minced fresh herbs, if you like. Taste and adjust seasoning (more salt? lemon?) Transfer to a small serving bowl, drizzle with olive oil, and garnish with chopped fresh herbs and/or sesame seeds. Serve as an hors d’oeuvre with toasted pita bread, or as a side dish with the meal.

Optional ingredients: tahini, pomegranate molasses, cayenne, harissa, ground cumin, paprika, fresh herbs, chopped scallions, chopped fresh chili peppers, chopped black olives, minced anchovies. Pomegranate seeds scattered on top look beautiful – and taste great.

 

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Roasted Winter Vegetables

In the pre-Whole Foods, bad old days of smelly, dingy “natural food” stores, or “health food” stores (a name that rang with promise but in reality was more like a cross between Communist Poland circa 1984 and the corner store in a desolate city neighborhood, with rainbow stickers and dangling “dream catchers” in the window), root vegetables bore the brunt of many a joke. These gnarled, dirt-crusted tubers were bendy and battered. We bought them because they offered a pesticide-free experience. But they were unappealing. Sanctimonious winter vegetables gave health food a bad name.

humble winter root vegetables

 

I hitchhiked across America with my sister Kate in 1980. In each new city, we sought out the local health food store and the gay bar. Both of these venues, in our minds, delivered a cache of interesting people and ideas. Most health food stores sold herbal tinctures, fresh ginger, crystal deodorant, and bulk nuts. They also had bulletin boards packed with announcements for area political meetings, basement concerts, healers and other fringe activities. We loved the bulletin boards and relied on them to connect with like-minded folks.

Gay bars offered another kind of entertainment. In El Paso, on the final leg of our maiden voyage to the promised land of California, we spent a long evening playing pool with the all-male patrons. It was a dangerous time to be a homosexual in Texas. It took a lot of asking around the town to find this beer-soaked subterfuge. I remember winning a game of pool with a strapping guy, shirtless in a leather vest. He laughed, surprised by his 18-year female old opponent, sporting a crew cut. Kate and I felt we were living on the edge, exactly where we wanted to be.

Back to root vegetables. I have learned to embrace them. To love them, even. I try to eat seasonally and experimenting with root vegetables is a winter pastime. At my local food coop, carrots, parsnips, turnips, rutabagas and the like occupy a prominent position, glistening and firm, inviting and healthful. Natural food stores have come a long way.

parsnips

 

Mostly, I make soups with roots, or roast, or mash them for a side dish. Try adding a cup of cubed parsnips or celery root to your next curry or stew. They’ll add another flavor dimension and increase your vitamin intake. Always keep a few root vegetables in the fridge. They keep for weeks and add flavor to stocks (except parsnips, which really are too pungent unless that’s what you’re after).

purple-carrots

 

A few nights ago I cleaned out the fridge and roasted up what I found for a quick vegetable companion to baked bluefish. Crunchy, sweet and salty, this is a winter side dish that makes “health food” downright delicious.

roasted-root-veg

 

Roasted Winter Vegetables
Serves 6

Quantities are flexible – as are ingredients. Try any combination of the following winter vegetables: beets, carrots, cauliflower, celery root, fennel, parsnips, potatoes, rutabagas, shallots, squash, sweet potatoes, turnips. The key is #1 cut the veggies in similar sizes to ensure even cooking, and #2 not to overcrowd the baking sheet.

1 pound carrots
½ pound parsnips
½ pound sunchokes
1 pound fingerling potatoes
12 cloves garlic, peeled and trimmed, left whole
1 lemon, trimmed and thinly sliced (optional)
Olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
3 tablespoons chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Scrub and trim the vegetables. With organically grown produce, I leave the skins on because nutrients are lost when you discard the peels.

Slice carrots and sunchokes 1/4” thick, parsnips 1/8” thick (to compensate for longer cooking time), and fingerling potatoes in half. Cut vegetables on the diagonal — for what my cooking student Ben calls a “jaunty angle.” This will improve the look of the final dish.

In a large bowl, using your hands, mix the cut vegetables and garlic with olive oil, salt and pepper. Add lemon slices if you want to add punch. Spread in a single layer on two baking sheets. Do not overcrowd the baking sheets or the vegetables won’t get crisp.

Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven, toss with a spatula and cook for about 20 more minutes, or until cooked through. Sprinkle with parsley before serving.

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Filed under fall, Recipes, sides, vegan, vegetables, vegetarian

Plum Clafoutis

pints of plums at the farmers market in brooklyn

Every year of my conscious life I mourn the last delicious peach of the season. The chin dribbling peach, the fuzzy skinned peach, the tart-and-sweet-at-the-same-time peach, the misshapen doughnut peach. The smell of a perfect white peach! I feel dizzy with pleasure. But once I have had that fateful bite of a mealy peach, sometime in September, I know the book is closed until the following July. The good news is… there are plums.

plums at fort greene farmer's market

At the Fort Greene farmer’s market here in Brooklyn this weekend, piles of plums announced “We are faking out autumn!” Purple like a queen’s velvet cape, pert and tart and full of flavor, plums are the latecomers to the summer party of irresistible fruits. They’re called prunes in France. They are best cooked (or dried, like the prunes we can buy in a bright box all year, known to promote good digestion).

sexy purple plums

I made a few versions of Plum Clafoutis before settling on this recipe. The classic clafoutis (French, bien sur) is made with unpitted cherries. Basically a batter poured over fruit, I’ve always found it a little on the eggy side. I prefer crispy things. So to add texture, I frothed up the egg whites, folding them into the batter. Next time, I will scatter almond slivers on top before baking, to add more crunch.

plum clafoutis recipe prep

In Ottolenghi’s cookbook (an absolute must-have and just published in the US), the recipe suggests making little mini-clafoutis, in ramekins. That sounds lovely, but I wanted this to be a fast and easy dessert. Minimal fuss. Maximum Can-I-Pretend-It’s-Summer-For-A-Few-More-Weeks. Please?

baked plum clafoutis

plum clafoutis for breakfast

 

Plum Clafoutis

Serves 8

Butter to grease pan
1¾ pounds small, firm-ripe plums
3 eggs separated
6 tablespoons sugar
½ vanilla bean
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup heavy cream
½ cup flour
pinch of salt
Confectioner’s sugar for dusting

Generously grease a 9” tart pan (or pie plate, or cake tin). The pan should be at least 1½” deep. Preheat the oven to 375° F.

Cut plums lengthwise into 6 wedges each, discarding pits and stems. Reserve 1 cup of cut plums and scatter the remaining plums on the bottom of the greased pan.

In a medium bowl, using a whisk or an electric beater, beat the egg yolks and sugar until pale yellow and creamy. Slit the vanilla bean in half longwise and scrape the seeds into the egg yolk mixture. Blend in with the vanilla extract and cream. Stir in the flour.

In a medium bowl, beat the egg whites and salt until they form stiff (but not granular or dry) peaks. Fold beaten whites into the batter. Pour batter over the cut plums. Scatter reserved plums on top.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve warm or room temperature with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar on top.

 

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Filed under Breakfast, dessert, fall, Recipes, Uncategorized, vegetarian

Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

firm ripe tomatoes for slow roasting

I haven’t put away the sandals and sundresses yet. The markets still burst with zucchini, eggplant and tomatoes. We took the subway out to Rockaway Beach a few days ago for an early evening swim. It’s imminent — the Halloween icons, the sweater weather, the short days. But I refuse to let go of summer.

halved tomatoes on a sheet pan for roasting

Making slow-roasted tomatoes extends the vibe. These plump, sweet-sour treats explode in your mouth with concentrated flavor, transporting you to a summer day in one bite. They can be tossed with a salad, served with grilled meat, scattered with pasta and herbs, or popped into a lunch box. I love them on bruschetta, garlic rubbed toast smeared with ricotta and basil leaves.

sprinkle cut tomatoes with sugar, salt and pepper

My cousins Betsy and Bobby live in the Yorkshire Dales (photo below), about a five hour drive north of London. I visited them in August and was served a most delicious salad of slow roasted tomatoes with croutons, black olives and red onions. Most of it came from their beautiful garden out back.

walking in the yorkshire dales, UK

If you can find them, roast a mix of yellow and red tomatoes to increase the visual appeal. Use cherry tomatoes if you wish; just decrease the cooking time by an hour or so. Dusting them with a mixture of sugar, salt and black pepper before they go in the oven exaggerates their natural sweetness while keeping them on the savory side.

Summer in northern England doesn’t immediately evoke images of just-picked, ripe tomatoes. I imagine Betsy roasts tomatoes regularly and stores them in jars with olive oil, treasuring them into the fall long after the leaves have turned. Thanks to her, I will do the same.

 

Slow-Roasted Tomatoes

Makes 24 halves, enough to serve 8 as a side dish

12 plum tomatoes, firm-ripe
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper*

Preheat oven to the lowest temperature it will go, 250˚ or 275˚ F. Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise. Arrange cut side up, in a single layer, on a rimmed sheet pan. Mix together sugar, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Sprinkle tomatoes liberally with sugar mix. Bake for about 4 hours – or more – until tomatoes have collapsed and shriveled, caramelized but not burnt. Eat warm or room temperature. Store for about a week in the fridge, or in a sealed jar covered in olive oil, which preserves them up to a month. You can also freeze them.

* Do you have a good pepper grinder? What does that even mean? Being the house guest of several lovely, kind, adorable friends this summer has provided me with the opportunity of bringing a pepper grinder house present. Selfishly, it’s because I cannot live without the use of my sturdy, workhorse grinder. But also, because everyone – even novice or non-cooks – should have one in their kitchen. This is one I can safely recommend. Look for the Peugeot label on the underside (the business end).

 

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Filed under Appetizer, Breakfast, fall, Lunch, pasta, Recipes, Salad, summer, vegan, vegetarian

Pear Cranberry Crisp

pear cranberry crisp using bosc pears

 

On the eve of America’s greatest food holiday, Thanksgiving, I am tasked with making a fruit dessert for the family spread. As I’m not a pumpkin pie person (texture problem), nor one to deny people their right to butter (life is too short), I chose to make a crisp. Pears and cranberries will be deployed. Both are fruit stars of the season and locally grown to boot.

Also called a crumble, a cobbler, or “Apple Brown Betty” by my mother’s generation (who made it with bread), a crisp should be just that. Crispy on top, melting and yielding inside. It can be as sweet as you like, or even salty if that’s your thing. Think salted caramels. Or our local ice cream shop’s genius flavor, “Salted Crack Caramel,” made with saltines. Use the fruit at hand. Apples, rhubarb, quince, figs, cranberries, figs. Berries in summer.

As soon as the weather gets cool enough to warrant wearing wool, I mix up a batch of the crisp topping, decant to Ziploc plastic baggies and freeze for instant use when dessert must be summoned. Homemade fast food. Sometimes, you just want to eat crisp! Peel and cut up whatever fall fruit you have around, toss with a little sugar and spice, sprinkle over your frozen topping and bake. Presto, a warm dessert that comforts instantly.

Or breakfast. Cold crisp with a spoonful of yogurt makes a perfect morning food, especially if you add oats to the topping for extra nutrition and rib-sticking. Home cook wonder woman Deb Perelman has a brand new cookbook out with the ideal recipe.

Happy and delicious Thanksgiving to you, dear reader. Ever grateful, Nan

 

Pear Cranberry Pecan Crisp

Serves 8-10

For topping:
2/3 cup pecans, toasted for 6 minutes in 375˚F oven
1 1/3 cups flour
6 tablespoons brown sugar
1 ½ tablespoons sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
12 tablespoons (1½ sticks/6 ounces) cold, unsalted butter, cut into ¼” pieces

For the filling:
4 lbs pears (Bosc or Bartlett), peeled, cored and cut into 1” chunks
1½ cups fresh cranberries
¾ cup sugar
6 tablespoons flour
1½ teaspoons ground cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350°F. Butter 13x9x2-inch glass baking dish.

Mix the dry topping ingredients together in a bowl. Work the butter into the flour mixture with your fingers until the mixture comes together and has a crumbly, but not sandy texture. Or use a food processor and pulse a few times until you get the crumbly texture. Chill until ready to use. Topping can be made ahead and refrigerated for about a week, or frozen up to 2 months.

Mix pears, cranberries, sugar, flour and cinnamon in large bowl. Transfer to dish. Crumble topping over fruit. Bake until fruit is tender and topping is lightly browned, about 1¼ hours. Cool for 10 minutes before serving. Serve with vanilla ice cream or softly whipped cream.

 

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Filed under Breakfast, dessert, fall, Recipes, vegetarian

Spicy Zucchini Soup

vegan vegetarian gluten-free spicy zucchini soup

Every summer, my inner beach bum emerges and I toy with the idea of ditching everything and finding a beach shack to call home. Not a responsible, reasonable idea, I know. My safe solution is to cook summer foods until the last local tomato drops from the vine. To wear sandals well into October (no, not with socks). To swim in the ocean after Columbus Day.

zucchiini summer squash

Before you fall headlong into the realm of autumn (pears, chestnuts, leeks, etc.), stretch out summer by using all the great produce still plentiful in the markets. There are still summer squashes to be cooked, ears of corn to be shucked. It’s not over yet!

Tired of zucchini after the seemingly endless supply of it these past months? Try this simple, fast puréed soup. It’s packed with vegetables, has no dairy or gluten (if you care) and the spices elevate the soup to an exotic-seeming, Goa-inspired velouté. Serve chilled on an Indian summer day or hot to warm you from inside. The bright green color takes it way beyond the usual soggy pile of sautéed zucchini that gives this vegetable a bad name.

cinnamon coriander fennel cumin pepper caraway seeds

Eminently flexible, this recipe withstands all sorts of adaptations. Try making it with butternut squash (much more autumnal). Use leeks or parsnips instead of zucchini. In fact, this is like a master-puréed-vegetable-soup recipe, with an Indian kick. No canned chicken stock needed. Just vegetables, water and spice. The toasted nuts add depth and make it feel special.

Go to the farmer’s market and buy a box of summer squash. Make boatloads of this soup and freeze portioned containers. There will come a cold day in December and you will have this soup, feel a flash of summer, and share a meal with your inner beach bum.

blended spicy zucchini soup

 

Spicy Zucchini Soup with Toasted Almonds
Adapted from Martha Stewart

Serves 4-6

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium-sized onion, chopped roughly
1 tablespoon salt
2 garlic cloves, chopped roughly
1 teaspoon mild curry powder, preferably homemade (recipe below)
1½ pounds zucchini, trimmed and cut into chunks
1 potato (about 6 oz), peeled and cut into chunks
4 cups water
1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted, for garnish

Heat olive oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat. Add chopped onion and cook for 5 minutes or until softened, stirring occasionally. Sprinkle with salt and add garlic. Stir to combine and cook about a minute. Add curry and stir, then add zucchini and potato. Sauté for five more minutes.

Pour water over vegetable mixture and turn up heat, bringing the mixture to boil. Lower heat and simmer about 10 minutes, or until potato is just tender.

Transfer in batches to a blender (never more than 1/2 full, to avoid messy, painful accidents), blending until smooth and creamy. Serve hot or cold, with toasted almonds as a garnish.

 

turmeric ginger cayenne spices to make homemade curry powder

 

Curry Powder

Everyone has a recipe for this spice blend. Mine is culled from Madhur Jaffrey and Peter Berley, two chefs I admire. Making your own blend has the advantage of tasting fresh and lively, and allowing you to amplify certain flavors to your liking. Cayenne equals heat so if you like a lot, add more. Invest in a simple coffee grinder (about $20) and dedicate it to spices.

2 tablespoons whole coriander seeds
1 tablespoon whole cumin seeds
½ cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon peppercorns
5 whole cloves
1 teaspoon whole mustard seeds (brown or yellow)
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Heat a small, cast iron skillet over medium-low heat. Add coriander, cumin, cinnamon, caraway, fennel, peppercorns, cloves and mustard seeds. Stir until spices smell toasted and fragrant, about 2 minutes. Turn out onto clean plate to cool.

Transfer spices to coffee or spice grinder and grind finely. Add ginger, turmeric and cayenne and stir to combine. Use a clean glass jar to store the spice blend and keep in cool, dry place for up to 2 months.

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Filed under Appetizer, fall, Lunch, Recipes, soup, summer, vegan, vegetarian