"You just go on your nerve. If someone’s chasing you down the street with a knife you just run, you don’t turn around and shout, “Give it up! I was a track star for Mineola Prep.” That’s for the writing poems part." -Frank O’Hara, Personism: A Manifesto // It’s for the cooking part, too.
There’s a farmstand by me that has been showing off tomatoes these last couple of months like they were just-dug-up rubies. It was startling to see such glorious red globes in February, and so many of them, too. Tory and I had just been flipping through Ottolenghi’s Simple, professing our love to the summer tomato on the page. We miss ’em bad and I know you do, too.
But let’s be real. It is simply not tomato season yet. These beauties tasted identical to the beefsteak tomatoes that are sittin’ bland at the grocery store today, and I know they aren’t the sort of farm that grows them indoors. I *just* recently learned about this kind of farm in NJ, and this is what their tomatoes look like on the farmstand today:
I am pretty disappointed in myself for not visiting the Union Square Greenmarket throughout all of 2018. I think I spent that entire year living a very sad lie. I could’ve had beautiful tomatoes in January! February! All year long. But this post isn’t about those tomatoes. It’s about what I’ve been doing all this time with store-bought ones.
The only way I’ve coped with the lack of summer tomatoes is to purchase a sweeter variety and roast them (usually the smaller varieties). This galette got me all teary eye’d. It was the closest thing to summer I’ve had to date.
Top it with your favorite cheese and greens. I used feta and radish microgreens. Even better: serve it with my Blood Orange Z’hug to turn up the green and the heat. (Seriously, do that!) Have it with yolky eggs in the morning. I know I did. Maybe don’t forget the olives.
– 1 9″ pie dough (homemade or storebought)
– about 1 1/2 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
– drizzle of good quality olive oil
– sprig of thyme or oregano, leaves only, tender stems are okay
– salt and pepper, to taste
– favorite cheese
– blood orange z’hug (<-click for recipe)
– microgreens (optional)
– olives (optional)
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
In a small bowl, gently toss tomatoes in olive oil, salt, pepper, thyme. Center them cut-side up on your pie dough (which should be on a baking sheet) and fold in the edges. Brush edges with milk or eggwash, and if you want, season them with flaky salt and/or other spices. Bake for about 40 minutes, til some tomatoes are browned and the dough looks golden.
You’ll want to make this even when tomatoes ARE in season. 2 1/2 more months? Or, you know, head on over to your local indoor farm. Or Union Sq Greenmarket if you’re around.
Do you love sweet and sour dishes? I didn’t til I sat at my love’s Syrian-Jew-But-Also-Italian table.
Traditionally made with apricots, I noticed how Dan’s mom, Lori, would also add an equal amount of prunes to her Yebra (stuffed grape leaves), which are smothered, gently, with a tamarind sauce. It’s a beautiful, vibrant-tasting dish. When I decided to challenge myself by making these for my love (or making these at all–I didn’t want to ruin a gorgeous recipe!) a light-bulb struck. Why not use another dried fruit that I adore?
Let me tell you. Eating this made me want to buy fresh figs and roast them in this sauce–which actually might be a recipe coming soon–but I digress.
Did I eat more figs than grape leaves? Probably. But mostly because I wanted their to be enough of the leaves themselves for Lori to try. When I told her I was making Yebra, I received a stream of expected texts, “did you rinse them first? Dry them? Did you soak the rice? Make sure you lay them vein-side up.” I didn’t have much time to reply (because..yes..I was doing all those things!) I have made these a few times with her and my confidence in the kitchen that morning sang through the window on the 5th floor of my mom’s tiny UES kitchen. Upon the first bite (I swear it!) my guy teared up. All I heard was “…babe.” And he then came at me for a bear hug and a hundred kisses. Next day, I received a text from Lori that said it tastes just like Aunt Sara’s. Which, BTW, is the ultimate compliment. For as long as I’ve sat at their table, Dan has always said “Please make it taste like Aunt Sara’s.” I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting her, but here’s to you, Sara.
Stuffed Grape Leaves with Figs and Apricot in Tamarind Sauce
1 lb hashu, recipe follows
8 oz jar of grape leaves (about 30-36)
10 dried mission black figs
8 dried California apricots (do not use Turkish here)
juice of large lemon, plus more to taste
5-6 tbs tamarind concentrate
pinch of brown sugar
pinch of salt
4 cups water (plus more)
1. In a bowl, gently mix by hand all the ingredients and spices for hashu and set aside. *Set oven to 350 degrees unless you plan on cooking these babies on the stove from beginning to end.
2. Drain grape leaves, carefully taking them out of the jar. In a large pot, bring water to a boil and add the grape leaves, carefully turning them with tongs, for about a minute. Then quickly get them into a big bowl of ice water. Pour them over a colander and begin to dry each one, while cutting off their stems. Make sure you lay them vein-side up when done.
3. Take a heaping teaspoon of hashu (more or less, depending on the size of the leaf), and place the spoonful at it’s center closest to the stem. Fold in the sides and roll them semi-tightly.
4. In a dutch oven or pot, drizzle a little vegetable oil on the bottom and start arranging your stuffed grape leaves and dried fruit, creating about 2 or 3 layers of them, depending on how many grape leaves you were able to stuff. (Some come torn up in the jar). My pot ended up with only two layers–about 32 grape leaves.
5. On med-high heat, cover the pot and let steam for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile, make your sauce. In a medium bowl, add your lemon juice and tamarind. Whisk in about two cups of water and a pinch of brown sugar and salt. Pour over the grape leaves. Add another 2-3 cups of water so that it almost reaches the top layer of grape leaves, about 3 quarters of the way. A lot of the liquid will decrease as it cooks, and you’ll want some later. It’s the good stuff. You don’t want it soup-like, though.
6. Place a heat-friendly plate directly on top of the leaves to keep them from unraveling (or don’t. I didn’t. But if you’re making a lot it might be wise to.) Simmer up to 45 minutes on the stove or in the oven, covered. Spoon sauce over the top leaves occasionally. When some leaves have caramelized, turn them onto a platter and serve with all the things.
Syrian Menu for Two (with leftovers)
Yebra served with homemade Za’atar Flatbread.
And hummus topped with warm chickpeas that simmered in it’s own broth with toasted cumin seeds, then got tossed in an olive oil and lemon dressing, topped with za’atar and Aleppo pepper.
And a very fresh, colorful market haul salad made of very finely chopped parsley, red cabbage, scallions, cherry tomatoes, peppers, and cucumbers. I suppose all that’s missing is the bulgar!? (There was bulgar, guys. But since it was so fine (I bought it to make kibbeh), it turned to mush.) Kitchen fails are welcomed here. This salad was beautiful and simply wanted to be without.
On the table, which is actually the gorgeous cheeseboard my guy got me years ago sitting atop a radiator by the windowsil (because good lighting!), is a precious tea towel Tory gave me recently. It has a Syrian recipe of anise bread printed throughout. I love it so!
I sent over a grape leaf question to Kathryn from Cardamom and Tea the other day, and she responded with absolute kindness. I might have an opportunity to learn how to forage for fresh leaves and I do hope to meet this amazing woman whose food speaks to my soul. Lori already said she’s coming with! A day out with new friends and family in spring sounds like just the thing.
A fallen nest. A single, big-headed dandelion for one adult wish. Plenty of wild onions and flowers. The silhouette of Mohonk Mountain and it’s house. A field of corn, and then a single tree in a field of thousands of corn. These are only some of the things we eyed on a roadside in New Paltz.
We were either walking to the farm a half mile in, into town two miles in, or to a strawberry field we never actually found. Long story short–we walked and we ate. We walked in the rain, sharing a small umbrella. We did this often. We walked under the sun and pointed to all the beautiful roadside things, and sadly, the not so beautiful. We toyed with the idea of someday doing a catering business, using local ingredients only, maybe from a town like this. Maybe I’m not even toying around at this point. But what I do know: walks with my best friend have healed the part of my brain that was loud with awful news, social media, worry. While I can’t get rid of what’s happening, I can do more and be more ready to give my all, for myself, and for others.
Only a half mile away, Wallkill View Farm had everything I needed, stocked full of local preserves, pastas, cheeses, sauces, spices, and allllll the produce. Every fruit and vegetable was minutes-ago-picked. On our first day, I bought generous-looking figs, raspberries which were on the tart side but immediately made me think JAM, plums, peaches, cherry and plum tomatoes, a banquet of basil that looked too beautiful to put into our next few meals. I bought creamers (baby red potatoes) that hold ridiculously true to their name. Applewood smoked bacon that lasted us 5 days, to be served alongside farm fresh eggs. My sweet guy made us breakfast every morning.
We bought prosciutto that ended up on one of our homemade pizzas. A single eggplant that was sweet and fed us for two days. Cinnamon raisin bread and a cinnamon crunch ice cream from Jane’s creamery in Kingston. Perhaps I’ve never been happier. I did not plan this trip whatsoever. This was all Dan with the help of Aunt Donna, whose beautiful home felt most like the grandest escape from city life.
What more did I do with this market haul? Guys. I could cry while telling you how each ingredient made me feel the most comfortable in my own skin. I made pesto out of some of the basil, pistachios I found in the fridge, capers, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper. I tossed creamers with a few spoonfuls of this and roasted them. They were crisp on the outside, creamy on the inside. Easily the best roasted potatoes I’ve ever had. I served the rest of the pesto with sliced cherry tomatoes and mozzarella. This was our lunch before we went to A Tovola, where we ordered hand-rolled pasta reminiscent of the pasta-making class we recently saw at Eataly.
One night we made pizza so good that we swore we could open up a restaurant. I made sauce out of the plum and cherry tomatoes. I woke up early to work on the dough so it could rise while we walked into town. We topped one pie with prosciutto. It was thin, sturdy, crisp. It was everything. Dan even made panko-breaded eggplant, which we decided is the only way to bread these babies.
Now let’s talk about the fruit. You gotta know I made jam, right? And you must know it was THEE BEST small batch jam I’ve ever made. While we couldn’t find the destination for picking strawberries, we ended up at the Dressel Farms market itself to buy the small, jewel variety.
Quick recipe for my small batch berry fig jam:
You want about 4 cups total of chopped fresh fruit, which makes about 2 cups of jam. I used:
2 cups strawberries, hulled and chopped
1 cup raspberries
about 5 big figs, diced
1/2 cup sugar (more if your fruit is not sweet enough)
tsp lemon zest
fresh squeeze of lemon
Put all berries and figs in a pan over medium heat. Break them down with a masher and add your sugar and zest. Let simmer for about 15-20 minutes, stirring often. I like to leave my jam a bit chunky but feel free to mash some more or use an immersion blender. Add a fresh squeeze of lemon (or orange!) towards the end to brighten up the flavors.
Sometimes I add other things, like mint, thyme, or freshly cracked black pepper, or even booze. But I wanted this to be all about the fruit and nothing more. BECAUSE:
It was also meant for pop tarts. You heard me. Pop tarts. Dan has been asking me to make these hand pies and I thought this was the perfect time to do so.
For the pastry, all I used was:
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temp
8 oz cream cheese, room temp
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp sugar
2 tsp vanilla extract
1 tsp salt
In a big bowl, cream your butter and cream cheese together with sugar, salt, and extract til light and fluffy, about 3 minutes in your stand mixer with a paddle attached. Slowly add in your flour, continuing to mix for another minute or two til well incorporated. On a floured work surface, divide this into two equal parts, pat both into rounds and individually wrap them in plastic wrap. Chill for at least 1 hour, or longer.
Dan rolled one out and used a pizza cutter to cut rectangles out of them. Then we filled em up with a big tbsp each of jam. Used a fork to seal the edges. We made a quick glaze of confectioners sugar, squeeze of lemon, dash of vanilla extract, and a tsp of jam. It was delicious!
The morning before our last day, I remembered I had a second dough chilling in the fridge. I also had 2 peaches, 1 plum, and a handful of strawberries. I sliced them up so they could take center stage of a galette. I topped it with a cinnamon, brown sugar and pistachio crumble, and served it with cinnamon ice cream. No regrets.
This post did not even begin to touch all the wonderful stores we walked into, or the restaurants we ate at. One truly needs to be talked about, but I think I’ll save that for the next one. For now, I leave you with desserts and love. Next might contain soup, and more love. And definitely more support of local farms, with recipes to go along with it. I bought this book at Wallkill View Market and am feeling very, very inspired.
Plus, I returned home to find that my purple tomatillo plant grew a foot, and it’s tiny little husked fruits are beginning to grow. Heirloom beets are almost ready to be pulled out. Cherry tomatoes are about to debut their flowers. Dan’s are already blooming! There’s so much beauty to what’s to come.
“We ordered wings and kinda ate them,” was what Dan said to me the other night when we thought about our first date six years ago. Which, BTW, lasted about 8, really beautiful hours, sooo…butterflies-in-the-tummy much!? That night, we picked at our platter of BBQ fried wings at a pub by Rockefeller Center like we were two love-birds who could care less about food. If you saw us now, you might just laugh yourself to tears. Butterflies have cleared the tummy and made a home at our hearts, if only but to make room for all the really amazing meals we share together.
Today, a waiter at La Villa half-jokingly tells us that we need to bring together two tables in order to accommodate our order of arancini (stuffed with cheddar!?), a bowl of delicately fried eggplant sticks, a 1/2 dozen baked clams, baby green salad topped with slow-roasted beets, which then has large parmesan shavings piled on top, and don’t forget the Margherita pizza with pepperoni, please. Did we order pasta, too? I wouldn’t doubt it. We are ridiculous and ridiculously in love with food. We will either sit there, quietly eating. Or with hands flailing discuss every bite and compare notes. Next in conversation is how I can bring this beautiful simplicity into the house so we don’t have to leave so often (or spend that much money).
A beautiful-tasting tomato sauce is at the heart of a lot of our favorite dishes. I’m sharing a recipe with you that is quite helpful for when tomatoes are not in season. I am, quite literally, counting the minutes to when I get to pick from his 4 cherry tomato plants. Then let the freshly roasted tomato sauces and bisques begin!
fresh herbs, such as thyme, rosemary, bay leaf (opt)
3 14-oz canned cherry tomatoes*
3 med-sized parmesan rinds or 4 small**
2-3 full sprigs of basil
1 cup grated parmesan, divided
1 pound pasta of choice
*You can order canned cherry tomatoes online or find them in specialty markets. They are robust in flavor and slightly sweet. I buy La Valle or Mutti, but you can also use any of your favorite canned sauce.
**I buy a container of parmesan rinds from any supermarket that has a major cheese section (Fairway, Whole Foods, Italian markets). Or simply start freezing the rinds to your whole parmesan wedges! You can use them in soups and stews as well, so please don’t throw those babies out.
Heat olive oil in a dutch oven. Gently fry your red pepper then add your onion, stir til translucent. Add your garlic, carrot, fresh herbs if you have any. After about 2 minutes, add your canned sauce. I like to crush some tomatoes with my hands as they go in but you can smash with a wooden spoon as well. Then add your parmesan rinds and basil. Let it do it’s thing for about 40 minutes, stirring once in awhile to make sure the rinds do not stick to the bottom of your pot. Take out the rinds, basil, and carrot. Cook your pasta separately but drain a couple of minutes earlier than the instructions tell you to. Finish cooking it off in the sauce with 1/2 cup grated parmesan stirred in. Serve with more parmesan and fresh basil.
Once I started to add parmesan rinds in my pot, I’ve never stopped. In fact, I refuse to make sauce unless I have at least one around. They are nutty and salty and make the sauce. And a sauce made well actually will let the butterflies do a little swing dance. Everyone’s happy and in love. Promise.
“If I had to choose one ingredient to dedicate a short book to, what would it be?” After receiving two recipe books from Connie, one with only Chickpea recipes and the other with Ginger, I had to ask. The answer should’ve been obvious, though. I very recently dedicated an entire post to cooking with oranges. Which is more of an intro to what’s to come with my love of these versatile globes, and my love for not wasting an ingredient. I use juice, pulp, and peel in a variety of different dishes and ways, and I look forward to sharing them with you. Today, though, let’s quickly talk about that mind blowing moment I had very recently while making marmalade and seasoning ribs for next day’s dinner.
I had just jarred my small batch of blood orange and meyer lemon marmalade and put it to the side to cool and thicken a little bit more. I took out a cutting board and decided I might as well start spicing up the ribs for tomorrow so I don’t have to deal with it in the morning. I like to do a quick rub of oregano, garlic powder, cumin, smoked paprika, Hungarian (hot) paprika, salt, and brown sugar. I ran out of brown sugar, though. I love a smoky, spicy, sweetness to my ribs before brushing a thin layer of BBQ sauce all over them. I glanced over at the marmalade and eyes lit up. I rubbed a couple of teaspoons of it over the ribs, covered with plastic wrap and left it in the fridge til next morning.
Guys. I might as well open up a restaurant dedicated to grilling/cooking/baking/roasting with preserves. It WORKS. I must’ve told Dan this story at least 5 times, but for Father’s Day last year, I made grilled Blueberry BBQ chicken and was wowed by the result. This may even be better.
After about 45 minutes in the oven in 300 degree heat, (we don’t have a grill yet!), tightly sealed in aluminum foil, I uncovered the ribs and brushed on some more of the marmalade and raised up the heat to 400 for about 15-20 minutes more. The outcome was pretty amazing, especially the peels themselves as they slightly blackened and crisped up. I could eat preserves like this for daysssssss. Broil them for 5-8 minutes if they haven’t blackened up a bit after 15 minutes!
I don’t even care that these photos were taken with a phone instead of my canon. I’ll make this again and edit this post, but why wait to share this with you?
The marmalade is simple. I used two medium-sized Sicilian blood oranges and one meyer lemon. Halve them and thinly slice. Whatever the amount of fruit you get in cups, you’d want to use the same amount of sugar and water. In this instance, I did 2 cups of each. I added a splash of meyer lemon infused vodka. Next time? I’m adding red pepper flakes. Simmer for about 30 minutes, or until peels have softened and liquid thickens. You can test it out by putting a little on a plate that has been in the freezer. If it thickens on the plate, it’s ready. Jar it or put in plastic container. It’s a small batch and will go after a few uses.
Let me know what you think! I can’t wait to experiment more with BBQ and preserves. Maybe I’ll even try this on chicken. I should also mention that the marmalade in teas and on warm biscuits is a true delight. In fact, I made these specifically for homemade biscuits. Smothered with butter. THE. BEST.