EAT YOUR WEEDS! GRILLED PIZZA WITH PURSLANE
Like many proud Sicilian men of a certain generation, my maternal grandfather was a bit suspicious and more than a bit arrogant. He’d have taken one look at my veggie-packed pizza and said, “Why-a you put all-a dat crrrap on-a di peetza? Dayz-a weeds” My paternal grandmother, on the other hand would’ve been thrilled to see all that fluffy purslane put to good use. She, less affluent (and much less suspicious) than my grandfather, was a keen urban forager whose skills would’ve impressed even Fredrik Berselius of Aska. Same impulse (deliciousness), same motivation (it’s there and it’s free), yet totally different audiences (penniless diners paying complements vs. well-to-do diners paying big bucks). She picked dandelions and wild onions from secret patches near her home in Bensonhurst, mulberries from trees on her block and crabapples from our back yard when she came to visit. I can only imagine how disappointed she was with our beautiful, perfectly manicured suburban lawn–great sitting but not great eating.
I discovered purslane on my roof-top garden years and years ago and had no idea that it was edible until I came across a Turkish recipe from Paula Wolfert. Talk about disappointment! I still kick myself for having weeded and tossed out those delicious and highly nutritious greens for all those years! Luckily, it’s available at farmers’ markets and still dirt cheap. I wonder when it’ll go the way of skirt steak, monk fish and chicken wings.
Purslane, a.k.a. portulaca oleracea grows wild in the States but is cultivated just about every where else. This succulent plant figures prominently in many cultures, especially hot, dry climates like India and Iran because it’s so hardy and nutritionally dense. These greens are true nutritional heavy-hitters. They’re high in omega 3 fatty acids (the largest source per gram than any other plant) vitamins A, B, C and E, beta carotene, calcium, folate and potassium. These low-growing plants have smooth, red stems and spatula-shaped leaves that grow in groups of five. A tiny yellow flower sits in the center of the leaf cluster and only opens during the hottest time of day, closing up when the sun goes down. The seed pod contains loads of super-tiny black seeds like poppy seeds but half the size or less. Australian Aborigines would grind these seeds into flour to make bush bread–a dense loaf cooked over coals. It’s hard to imagine how many seeds went into a single loaf. Just thinking about that is too much work for me. I’d rather just eat the leaves and stems and buy a nice loaf of bread from Bien Cuit.
My favorite ways to use purslane are in salads (it has a baby spinach-like texture and flavor) in soups and stews (it thickens the liquid much like okra or file powder) but my favorite is dressed with lemon juice and olive oil on top of a hot-off-the-grill pizza. Sometimes I’ll sauté it first, but often I’ll just mound it on the pizza and allow the ambient heat to gently wilt the greens. It makes eating pizza down-right virtuous!
GRILLED PIZZA WITH PURSLANE, GOAT CHEESE AND OLIVES
1 pound pizza dough, divided into 4ths
Oil for brushing and drizzling
1 large red onion, cut into slivers
4 garlic scapes, or scallions, cut into 2-inch lengths
1 tablespoon rosemary leaves
Salt and freshly ground pepper
¼ cup pitted green olives, halved
4 ounces goat cheese, crumbled
4 cups purslane, baby arugula or whatever looks good at the market
1 tablespoon lemon juice
- Light a grill. Clean and oil the grates. On an oiled board, stretch the dough out to 8-inch rounds and brush generously with oil. Let sit for 10 minutes.
- Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in a medium skillet. Add the onion, garlic scapes (or scallions) and rosemary, season with salt and pepper and cook on moderate heat until just softened, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and add the olives.
- Carefully drape the dough, working with one piece at a time, over the grates and season lightly with salt. Cook over moderately high heat just until lightly charred and set on the bottom, 3 to 4 minutes.. Flip the pizzas and quickly sprinkle on the onion, garlic scapes, olives and goat cheese, cover the grill and cook over moderate heat until the bottom is nicely charred and the dough is cooked through, 3 to 4 minutes. It may be necessary to move your pizzas around the grill if you have hot spots.
- Toss the greens with the lemon juice and 2 tablespoons oil, season with salt and pepper and mound on top. Let sit until barely wilted. Cut into wedges and serve.
SHAKSHUKA FRIDAYS AKA B’FAST FOR DINNER
SHAKSHUKA FRIDAYS AKA B’FAST FOR DINNER
Growing up Catholic, my mother would often make frittatas for our mandatory meatless Friday night dinners. Friends of mine thought it was exotic and intriguing, but for us it was just a big, thick omelet filled with lots of vegetables. Potatoes and onions were the constants, but peppers, asparagus, broccoli rabe or zucchini were the variables. As a little kid, I hated those variables. I did a lot of picking out and sneaking to the dog or my napkin in those days. But as I grew, so did my appreciation for those “weird, icky” vegetables, especially peppers. The one thing however, that always bothered me, even after learning to love them, was that their skins were so tough and indigestible. I still picked out the peppers, but only to remove the skins. Tender and sweet, they melted in my mouth, leaving a sweet little pocket in the eggs as I picked them out.
Another Friday night egg dish that my mom made occasionally was Eggs in Purgatory—eggs simmered in savory tomato sauce. I remember complaining, as a kid, how gross it sounded and that the whole miserable affair was an unfortunate waste of perfectly good tomato sauce that should only be served with macaroni (back when pasta was called macaroni). The fact that my mother did not smack me or send me to my room at that very minute, (she may very well have and my rose-colored glasses are closer to crimson ) either showed enormous self-control or a smug understanding of just how delicious she knew it was—probably both. The runny yolks melting into the tangy, rich tomato sauce, the crusty bread that sopped it all up. She was right— It was delicious.
This recipe combines the best of both dishes and is a tribute to my mom who really mastered the art of meatless Fridays, good Catholic that she was…mostly.
ROASTED PEPPER SHAKSHUKA
1 red pepper
1 yellow pepper
1 orange pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large Vidalia onion, sliced into slivers
2 scallions (or garlic scapes) , cut into 2-inch strips
Thyme leaves for garnish
- Roast the peppers over a gas flame or under a broiler until lightly charred all over, but not too soft. Transfer them to a bowl, cover with a plate and let cool. Peel the peppers, remove the core and seeds and cut them into ½-inch wide strips.
- In a large cast-iron skillet, heat the oil over moderate heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring frequently, until softened and lightly browned, about 8 minutes. Add the pepper strips and scallions (or garlic scapes), season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are very soft, about 8 minutes longer. Using a spoon, make 6 wells in the vegetables and place a teaspoon of butter into each. Crack the eggs into the wells, being careful not to break the yolks. Season lightly with salt and pepper, cover and cook over moderately low heat until just set, about 3 minutes. Sprinkle the thyme on top and serve with crusty bread.
STONE FRUIT GALETTE, NEVER ENOUGH OF A GOOD THING
STONE FRUIT GALETTE, NEVER ENOUGH OF A GOOD THING
Making my way through the farmers’ market in August puts me into stone-fruit sensory overload on (healthy) par with my annual pre-Halloween trip to Economy Candy. Of the peach variety, there are Saturn, yellow, white and donut peaches (also yellow … Continue reading
VINTAGE BLUEBERRY PIES
Sometimes a few simple ingredients can inspire a great dish. Other times, it may actually be the dish itself that inspires the great—wait…that sounds a bit like an Odyssey-type riddle (maybe Monty Python?) In any case, I’ve been on my own quest of sorts—a quest to find beautiful and unusual tabletop objects and kitchen equipment. I’m really not one to fetish-ize stuff or even collect things really, but lately, I’m finding it hard to resist yard sales, junk shops and the occasional antique shop.
The more food writing, styling and shooting I do on my own, the greater need for interesting props I have. On a recent trip upstate, I hit every joint on the way up and came away with a few lovely things. One was a vintage square muffin tin made by Echo from the ‘40’s. It was filled with hazelnut coffee beans and scented tea candles—the shop owner’s shabby-chic “Great holiday decorating tip”—which immediately gave me a headache. (She refunded me $2.50 for the beans and candles that I left behind.) Down the road, I found a few original Danish modern serving spoons, a vintage pastry blender, wooden board and an amazing Bennington bowl all for $6. Of course they’re no Golden Forest Dinnerware collection by Dibbern, but I like them, they’re interesting, purposeful and took some effort to find.
It’s finally sunk in that beautiful objects can function as “muses” as well as decoration. When I hold something in my hands, I know exactly what I will do with it. The muffin tin would be perfect for these little blueberry pies—it just needed a good soak and scrub to get rid of the hazelnut coffee /vanilla scented candle smell before baking.
ACTIVE: 30 MINUTES; TOTAL: 2 HRS
FLAKY ALL-BUTTER PASTRY
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, chilled
1/2 cup ice water
2 cups blueberries
1/2 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tablespoon water
Granulated sugar for sprinkling
- Make the pastry: In a large bowl, using a pastry blender or 2 butter knives, combine the flour and salt. Add the butter and cut it in, until the largest pieces are the size of small peas. Add the ice water and using a wooden spoon, gently stir until a raggy dough forms. Turn the crumbs onto a work surface and knead 2 or 3 times. Form into a disc, wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Alternatively, use the food processor: pulse the flour and salt. Add the cubed butter and pulse in 1 second bursts 5 times. The butter should be the size of small peas. Lift the lid, pour in the water and pulse 5 or 6 times, just until the dough is moistened, but doesn’t form a ball. Knead briefly, wrap and chill.
- Preheat the oven to 375° and position a rack nearest the bottom. Spray a 6-muffin muffin pan with vegetable spray. On a floured surface, roll the dough ¼-inch thick. Cut the dough into six 7-inch rounds. Gather the scraps and gently press together to make more rounds. Transfer the rounds to a baking sheet and refrigerate for 5 minutes. Ease the pastry into the muffin cups, carefully pressing it into the corners. Patch any tears if necessary.
- Make the filling: In a bowl combine the berries, ginger, lemon zest and juice, the brown sugar and cornstarch. Spoon the filling into the pastry, mounding it slightly above the surface. Bring the edges of the pastry together and pinch to seal. Brush the tops with the egg yolk mixture and sprinkle with sugar. Bake the pies on the bottom rack until the filling is bubbling and the pastry is deeply golden, about 1 hour. Cover the tops with foil if they brown too quickly. Let cool, then carefully transfer the pies to a platter. Serve warm.
BRUSSELS SPROUTS–WHY WAIT FOR AUTUMN?
Brussels sprouts in August? Huh? After nearly 2 decades in magazine publishing, I’m still bewildered by the fact that we always work at least one season ahead. Flat, tasteless hot-house tomatoes in March have to (using taste memories, a great sense of imagination and an even greater suspension of disbelief) approximate July’s luscious juicy heirlooms. Of course shipping from parts west (and warm) is always an option, but very costly. The irony of publishing “Locavore” stories in season while working on them out of season is one that never escapes me, but probably never occurs to readers. And why would it? Who could know? Working on wintery stories in the Spring and Summer is a bit less of a stretch because many of those fruits and vegetables store fairly well. Taste is not always optimal but chances are, they’ll be roasted, braised, gratinéed, puréed or baked into a pie and that mitigates much of the un-seasonality .
Brussels sprouts, the stinky cornerstone of Thanksgiving, are now just starting to pop up at the market, which is convenient for magazine work. But I’m always happy to see Brussels sprouts–any time of year and take full advantage of their presence whether I’m developing out-of-season recipes or just making dinner…or today’s brunch as luck would have it.
One of my absolute favorite dishes is Shakshuka–a Middle Eastern version of my beloved Italian Eggs in Purgatory. Both dishes are nothing more than eggs baked in tomato sauce. Today I wanted something a little different and not so saucy. Back from a beautiful, drizzly trail run, and starving, I did a quick check of my pantry: eggs, sandwich bread, scallions, rosemary and yes, Brussels sprouts. (I was working on a Thanksgiving story and had half a basket in my fridge.) My post-run go-to meal always combines protein, carbs and veggies and I had everything I needed.
I toasted some croutons in the skillet, then shredded and sautéed the Brussels sprouts in olive oil to softened them and bring out their sweetness. Rosemary and scallions were all the seasoning, besides salt and pepper, necessary, though I suppose some fresh chiles would’ve been delicious. (Enter hot sauce!) I then transferred the mixture to individual baking dishes, made a little well in the center of each, into which I cracked an egg. They popped into a very hot toaster oven (no need to turn on the big one) for about 4 minutes and emerged with runny yolks, crispy croutons and tender Brussels sprouts. A perfect all-in-one meal!
BRUSSELS SPROUT SHAKSHUKA
total time: 20 min
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 slice packaged white bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
6 large Brussels sprouts, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 scallion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon chopped rosemary
salt and freshly ground pepper
2 large eggs
Preheat the oven to 400°. In a large skillet, heat 1 tablespoon of the oil. Add the bread and cook over moderately high heat, stirring until lightly toasted, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Add the remaining oil to the pan along with the Brussels sprouts, scallion and rosemary and season with salt and pepper. Cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until bright green and crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Return the croutons to the skillet and toss to combine. Divide the mixture between 2 individual baking dishes or gratin dishes and make a small well in the center. Crack an egg into each dish and bake until the whites are set but the yolks are still runny, 3 to 4 minutes. Serve with hot sauce. Yay!
GOOD GOD, ANOTHER $@&#! GRANOLA?
Yes, another $@&#! granola. Hey, I’ve been making mine for nearly 15 years, thank you very much, so I’m not exactly a newcomer. That was back when “crunchy granola” and men with big bushy beards actually meant “hippie”…and not the other “H” word, back when Williamsburg was a place your parents dragged you to for a lesson in American history and not a place you went to to pay $15 for an 8-ounce bag of artisan-made muesli. And like my hippie predecessors, I am a radical…for delicious granola (among other things–just don’t ask me about the Grateful Dead…total blind spot)
It was something I made twice a month and ate everyday for breakfast for nearly 15 years. My morning would play out thusly: I’d get up at 5:00AM, have a cup of coffee and a moment of quiet reflection, then head out the door for an 8-mile run, come home, shower, make lunch for the kids and head to work by 9:00. Nowhere in that run-down did you see breakfast. That’s because breakfast was my desk-side, email-reading reward for making it through my commute without having a Network-style meltdown on my way to the office.
The fruit changed with the season and the yogurt with what ever i had on hand, but for the most part, the granola remained pretty much the same: oats, nuts, seeds, sweet syrup, brown sugar, oil and dried fruit. Nuts can be raw walnuts, pecans or almonds (salted or smoked almonds added at the end are my favorite), ; seeds can be flax, sesame, chia or sunflower; sweet syrup can be maple, honey, rice bran, or agave; and dried fruit can be cranberries, raisins, diced mangos, apricots, dates or figs. Cinnamon is nice, but not crucial. Try it and hug a tree–I’ll be right next to you!
ALMOND-MAPLE GRANOLA WITH CRANBERRIES
Makes about about 5 cups
1/3 cup maple syrup
3 tablespoons canola oil
3 tablespoons (packed) light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Pinch of salt
3 cups old fashioned rolled oats (preferably thick-cut)
1 cup raw slivered almonds
1/4 cup golden flax seed meal (or seeds ground in a coffee grinder)
1 cup dried cranberries
Preheat the oven to 300° and butter a large rimmed baking sheet. In a large microwave safe bowl, combine the maple syrup, oil and brown sugar and microwave on high for 30 seconds. Add the cinnamon and salt and whisk until smooth. Add the oats, almonds and flax seed and stir until completely moistened. Spread out on the baking sheet and bake in the center of the oven, stirring occasionally, until golden, toasted and fragrant, 40 to 45 minutes. Let cool completely, then add the cranberries. Store the granola in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks.
The Great-est Scape
I picked up a beautiful, gnarly tangle of garlic scapes from the farmers’ market this weekend to play around with and found so many delicious uses for them: grilled flatbread; mixed pepper stir-fry; pickled with chiles and bay leaves; and pesto.
What the heck is a garlic scape, you ask? It is the long, green flower stem that grows from a head of garlic. Farmers remove the scapes which draw energy and nutrients away from the bulbs so that the bulbs may grow larger and more robust. It’s a lovely sacrifice that I’m happy to accept–guiltlessly. They’re generally available at farmers’ markets in early to mid summer, so now is the time to binge. You can freeze them with a quick blanch and flash-freeze but it’s not quite the same.
Fresh, at first bite, they’re mildly garlicky and very green tasting, but after a few seconds, they explode into that recognizably sharp, pungent and spicy garlic flavor. When sautéed, however, they become mellow and sweet with a delicate suggestion of garlic. The texture is not unlike a tender green bean or pencil-thin asparagus.
Preparation couldn’t be simpler. Trim an inch or so from the tough, woody bottoms and the brown feathery tops and then cut into whatever size pieces you like. For the flat bread, and stir-fry, I cut them into 2-inch pieces and sautéed them until crisp-tender. For the pickles, I cut them to fit the jar and left them raw because I wanted a pronounced flavor and a crunchy texture–think garlic dills without the cucumbers.
The same went for the pesto. The vibrant, green flavor would be irresistible on grilled bread or simple grilled chicken, both of which I served that night–deliciously! Ordinarily I like to toast nuts for pesto because it adds a more distinct nutty flavor, but here, I left them raw so as not to interfere with the garlic too much. For that reason, I also left out the cheese, though pecorino or Parmigiano-Reggiano would be fine. Honestly, it could go either way and still be dreamy. Please try it while scapes are still at the market. They don’t last forever!
GARLIC SCAPE PESTO WITH PINE NUTS
Makes about 1 cup
10 large garlic scapes, bottom ends and browned tops trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup (packed) Italian parsley
1/4 cup pine nuts (toasted optional)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (optional)
Put the scapes, parsley and pine nuts in a food processor and pulse until finely chopped. While the machine is running add the oil and process to a chunky puree. Season with salt. Stir in cheese if so desired and use on grilled chicken or bread, with pasta, grain or bean salads.