Hello. And happy new year! I didn't expect to be gone so long. Even if it is just to say hello, clear the cobwebs, and say sorry that is has been a while, it is nice to be back.
I've missed writing here, posting pictures, sharing recipes and stories. They say that writing takes practice, that it is something you should do every day. I have been writing a fair bit, but most of it is serious and professional, or long, long lists. I have decided to return here as I need a place to play, to be messy, to not be horrified by my typos or run-on sentences.
2015 was a good year. At times I was too busy to see the goodness, but I am trying to resist the cultural currency of busyness. Isn't it boring to say that you are busy? Isn't it predictable? Too busy to write. Too busy to cook. Too busy to pause.
So although I have been doing a lot and still have a lot more to do, I am trying not to be busy. Being busy requires identification and thought, work even. Instead, I am just trying to do.
Last year I climbed a few mountains, and Germany's highest was one of them. Standing at 2,962 meters, it was too overcast when I reached the top of the Zugspitze to see the view. It was only in the gondola on the way down, when we crossed the clouds, that I could see just how high I had climbed. The funny thing about climbing mountains is it isn't too difficult. Sure, there are some mountains that are challenging, but there are many manageable ones too. Compared to the weight of the news today, climbing a mountain seems like a breeze, even when it is Germany's highest. I guess this is to say that often the easy things, like breaking months of silence or writing every day, take the most amount of effort. The grand ones just don't compare. They are boasted by adrenaline, by the ability to say "I did it!" It is the quiet activities that often pose bigger peaks to climb. With that in mind, here is to a year of doing instead of just being busy. I hope to keep sharing mountains and travels, recipes and photos, run-on sentences and thoughts in this space. Thank you for joining.
I have a deadline quickly approaching, which makes today a very good day to distract myself with the autumn sunlight, a Bavarian amaro, and tales of a boozy granita. Summer is arguably the season for granita; however, as September turns into October, I'm hoping that there will be a few more afternoons golden enough to sit in the sun and to eat your spritz with a spoon instead of drinking it with a straw.
If Campari Granita is a good idea, then Mondino Granita is an even better one. For those of you outside of Bavaria, Mondino is our own local version of Campari. I first stumbled upon it around Christmas time two years ago. I was in a store, and the saleswoman saw me admiring the well-designed label and asked me if I would like to try some with some warm orange juice and cinnamon. When I asked her what it was, she replied: "It is like Campari, but good." Made by hand in Bavaria, its ingredients include bitter oranges, rhubarb and yellow gentian (a plant indigenous to the Alps).
I left the store with three bottles, having found a great Christmas gift and my new favourite amaro.
The recipe for this granita comes from Jennifer McLagan's Bitter, which also gave us Belgian Endives Bathed in Butter. These two recipes alone make her cookbook a home-run. The original recipe calls for Campari and offers either an orange version or a grapefruit version. Since I am a firm believer that bitter is better, I went for the grapefruit. I have no regrets.
adapted from 'Bitter' by Jennifer McLagan, via Orangette
yields 4-6 servings
1 cup (250 ml) freshly squeezed grapefruit juice 1/2 cup (125 ml) Mondino 2 tbsp (25 grams) sugar 1/2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice. Stir together the juice, Mondino, sugar, and lemon juice. Pour into a metal pan (around the size of an 8-inch metal pan). Cover with plastic wrap, and place in the freezer. Every hour or so, remove the pan from the freezer and use a spoon to stir the mixture and break up the ice crystals. For the last stirring (the third of fourth hour depending on the temperature of your freezer), use a fork to stir to make the ice crystals finer and fluffier. To serve, spoon the granita into chilled glasses and eat right away, when it is still very cold. Guten!
I'm back home after a couple of hot and hectic weeks on the road. Yesterday, as I was out restocking my fridge, I noticed there were still some baskets of currants hanging around, so I thought I would share this quick recipe.
Nigel Slater is my go-to-guy when it comes to cooking quickly, efficiently, and deliciously when you have only a little time and a lot of hunger. So it is no surprise that this salad recipe comes from his book Real Fast Food. I have mentioned before that in moments of week-night hunger I usually resort to pasta, so I bought this book in an effort to mix things up.
Nigel is teaching me that lentils are just as quick, tasty, and reliable as pasta, and when paired with white currants pretty beautiful for a quick meal. The lentils are nutty. The currants are tart. The effort is minimal. It checks off all of the boxes. As with all lentil dishes, overcooking the lentils is the death of this dish. If you are planning ahead, go ahead and soak
the lentils overnight or for a few hours in water. However, this recipe
is great because it is simple, fresh and good and can be made on a whim.
In other words, don't worry if you forgo soaking. But if you do soak, make sure to keep an even more attentive eye on them so that they do not overcook.
Black Lentil and White Currant Salad adapted from Nigel Slater's 'Real Fast Food'
serves 2 ingredients 180g / 6oz beluga lentils 100g / 400z white currants a half dozen or so fresh chives, chopped 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil juice of 1 lemon coarse salt freshly ground pepper
Wash the lentils in a sieve under running water. Place them in a pot and fill the pot with water so that the lentils are covered by a good inch. Bring the water to a boil and cook until they are tender but not mushy, about 12 minutes. Drain and place in a bowl.
Top and tail the currants and add to the lentils. Snip the chives into 1-cm lengths (1/2-inch) and add them to the lentils, as well as the olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Mix everything gently, so as not to crush the currants. Serve.
There are some foods that are so simple, and yet so sophisticated. Take a poached egg, for example. One pot of boiling water, one egg, perhaps a dash of vinegar, and three minutes later you have a meal, often a good looking one too. We all know that tried-and-true technique of putting an egg on leftovers. Well, if you put a poached egg on something, anything (from a piece of toast to some leftover broccoli), you have yourself a meal that wouldn't look out of place at a nice bistro. That's just how sophisticated poached eggs are.
Labneh is another example. A "yogurt" cheese, it is even easier than poaching an egg, and yet also manages to be quite sophisticated. It is the kind of thing that is good to have around in your fridge when the temperatures are high, and your energy is low.
This summer, I've been slathering labneh on toast, and then dressing it up either sweet (dried rose petals, black sesame seeds, flaky salt, and honey, inspired by Sarah Britton's My New Roots cookbook) or savory (herbs de provence, chili, smoked salt). I've also been eating it on cucumbers with a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkling of chili and some torn basil leaves. And when my energy has been lowest (or my body temperatures has the hottest), I've just dipped chunks of carrot straight into the labneh, all while feeling smug for having something homemade to eat that did not involve any effort. Making labneh has nothing to do with cooking, and everything to do with patience. Stir some salt into yogurt, preferably Greek yogurt, and then leave it to drain for 24 hours. That's it.
When you make labneh, you end up with whey (the strained liquid). Use it to make a smoothie, or add it to your baking.
450 grams full-fat Greek yogurt 1/4 tsp salt
Place a strainer over a bowl. Line the strainer with a couple layers of cheese cloth. Pour in the yogurt, add the salt, and give it a stir. Gather the ends of the cheese cloth and bundle them together with an elastic band or butcher's twine. Place in the refrigerator and leave for 24 hours. Remove the labneh from the cheese cloth, place in a dish, and eat. Leftovers can be stored in the fridge for a good four days.
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I'll be spending the rest of August jumping in lakes, drinking white wine, and staying up late with books. I hope you'll be doing the same. I'll see you in September for tales of plums, figs and road trips.
My body has been bruised by summer: two wasp stings, many more mosquito bites, a summer cold, red shoulders and blotches of pink on those bits of skin that the sunscreen missed. But summer bruises are bruises that I don't mind. The berries, juicy tomatoes, cold bottles of white wine, and even colder lakes more than make up for any itches and scratches.
When it is 34 degrees Celsius (like today), I can understand why some relegate their ovens to the task of storage between the months of June and September. Although in these temperatures I too live mostly off of salads, berries, and cheese, I don't abandon my oven and stove completely. I need both in order to roast plums, boil eggs, potatoes and green beans for salad nicoise, bake tarts, and cook pasta. This recipe is somewhat of a compromise. And brilliant. Tomatoes obviously shine in summer and when they are as good as they are right now, they don't any heat. But pasta still does. In Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, he admits that he can no longer recall the saint who taught him to make this dish "but if you have good fresh tomatoes and good basil, there is no higher use for them than this dish (446)."
I couldn't agree more. This is summer cooking at its best: simple and satisfying. It requires almost no effort, but tastes amazing. Raw tomato sauce has had a guaranteed spot on my summer's greatest hits list for several summers now. I've made it with all sorts of pasta and, although long pasta seems to get along best with the sauce, any pasta will do. The buffalo mozzarella is optional, but a very good option.
Linguine con Salsa Cruda (Linguine with Raw Tomato Sauce)
adapted from Mark Bittman's 'How to Cook Everything Vegetarian'
serves 2 1 cup cored and roughly chopped ripe tomatoes (about 4 medium tomatoes) 1 clove garlic, lightly smashed 1/4 cup roughly chopped fresh basil leaves 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil sea salt black pepper half a pound (about 250 grams) linguine, or other pasta 1 ball buffalo mozzarella
a broad bowl, put the tomatoes, smashed clove of garlic, half the basil
and olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and then use a fork to mash
everything together. Leave for at least half an hour at room temperature
for the flavors to mellow.
a large pot of water to a boil, and generously salt it. Cook the pasta
in the boiling water, following the package instructions, until al
dente. Just before straining the pasta, spoon out a tbsp of the cooking
water to add to the raw tomato sauce.
Remove the garlic from the sauce and add the buffalo mozzarella, torn into small chunks. Toss the pasta with the sauce and top with the remaining basil. Guten!
A couple of months ago I started a cooking journal. Maybe to call it that is a bit of an exaggeration, but the idea is to keep a list of things I've been cooking. It isn't about recipes. There are no photos or illustrations. It is just a simple, straightforward list. An inventory of cooking and eating - the good, the bad and the ugly.
I also like how one can read a list. At first it is like poetry, structured prose with pauses and stops. And then it becomes numbers and clear statements, such as that Perec drank 181 named bottles of wine, as well as an unspecified number of unnamed bottles, in the course of a year.
Now that, in addition to eating, I spend more and more time reading, studying, researching and observing how and what we eat and the cultural histories of food, I have less time to cook. This is precisely why I started this cooking journal of sort, this list, this inventory. I want to keep cooking, to record it, and better understand how I cook, what I cook, and how my cooking is influenced by the research I do about food.
Although I am not quite ready to record how many bottles of wine I drink, I like that this inventory will give me a clear answer should anyone ever ask how many times I cook pasta in a year.
I started my inventory in April. After a good start, my entries for June are rather sad. I am an exceptional list maker, so this does not reflect neglect in writing. Instead, it reflects a lack of cooking. June was, by far, the busiest month of the year for me, so I have been trying to make up for it by enthusiastically cooking my way from the end of June to the beginning of July.
In other words, I am sorry for the silence this past month. Please accept this Fig-Olive Tapenade as my apology.
The figs make this classic dish a little sweeter, a little more unexpected. Eat it with bread, crackers or pita toasts. Smear it on sandwiches or, as David Lebovitz suggests, even on grilled tuna steaks or chicken breasts.
Tapenade aux Figues (Fig-Olive Tapenade)
adapted from 'The Sweet Life in Paris' by David Lebovitz
makes 6-8 servings
1/2 cup (85 g) stemmed and quartered dried figs
1 cup (250 ml) water
1 cup (170 g) black olives, rinsed and pitted
1 garlic clove, peeled
2 tsp capers, rinsed and drained
2 anchovy fillets
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 tsp finely chopped thyme (or rosemary)
1 1/2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup (60 ml) extra virgin olive oil
Coarse sea salt
Freshly ground pepper
Place the dried figs in a small saucepan and add the water. Simmer over medium heat, with the lid askew, until tender, about 10 to 20 minutes. Set aside to cool and then drain.
If using a food processor, pulse the soaked figs, olives, garlic, capers, anchovies, mustard, thyme and lemon juice to create a thick paste. Pulse in the olive oil unti the paste is chunky-smooth. Good tapenade should have a slightly rough texture, so do not overmix. Season with salt and pepper, if necessary, to taste.
If using a mortar and pestle, mash the olives with the garlic, capers, anchovies, mustard and thyme. Pound in the figs. Once the figs are broken up, stir in the lemon juice and olive oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
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The summer issue of Chickpea has just been released online. Between great summer recipes, I've shared a story about snacking on palm sugar in Myanmar. The digital issue is available here, and the print issue is also available for pre-order.