healthy eating

RECIPE: Wild Mushroom Ragu with Bucatini

 
WITH MUSHROOMS POPPING UP IN THE WOODS and in markets, this seemed like the perfect Friday night dinner this week. I did some one-stop shopping for the ingredients at Eataly, where I found shitakes and chanterelles, along with Barilla dried bucatini and prosciutto. (This recipe is a perfect example of the Mediterranean meat-as-condiment idea.)
 
Serves 4
 
2 tbs extra-virgin olive oil
1 small carrot, finely chopped
1 small celery stalk, finely chopped
1 small onion, finely chopped
3½ ounces prosciutto (sliced ⅛-inch-thick), cubed*
1¼ pound mixed wild mushrooms, such as shitake, chanterelle, trumpet or blue foot, trimmed and halved
¼ cup vegetable broth
¼ cup water
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
¾ pound bucatini or spaghetti
½ cup heavy cream
 
*Although I didn't use it today, Citterio makes a 4 oz. package of cubed prosciutto (with no weird additives—ham and sea salt are the only two ingredients) that’s super convenient.
 
 
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add carrot, celery, onion and prosciutto; reduce heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are softened, about 7 minutes. Add mushrooms, broth, water and pinch salt and pepper; stir to combine. Reduce heat to low, cover and cook, stirring once or twice, until mushrooms are very tender, about 30 minutes.
 
Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Add pasta and cook until al dente. While pasta is cooking, warm cream to a simmer. Drain pasta, transfer to a large serving bowl, add hot cream and mushroom mixture, and toss to combine. Season with salt and pepper, and serve.
 
Adapted from a recipe in La Cucina Italiana. 

Celebrating World Pasta Day

 
NOT THAT I NEED AN EXCUSE to enjoy pasta, but next Monday, October 25, is World Pasta Day (did you know?), and I thought I’d get a head start with tonight’s dinner. Which, of course, was an excuse for another visit to Eataly, the Batali/Bastianich Italian food hall that opened this summer at 5th and 23rd. There, I found everything I needed to make a wonderful wild mushroom ragù with bucatini. (More on that in a minute.)
 
Pasta took some knocks when low-carb diets were popular. But eaten in reasonable portions (1 to 1½ cups cooked, say), pasta is part of a healthy Mediterranean diet—and a much beloved food. The complex carbs provide energy, of course, as any cyclist will tell you. Whole-wheat pasta is the most nutrient-rich, with at least three times the fiber of refined pasta. It’s also pretty tasty, which wasn’t always the case. Pasta made from refined durum wheat flour or durum semolina often gets a nutritional boost from being enriched with iron, folic acid and other B-vitamins. We eat some of both in our household.
 
Then there’s the sauce: Pasta is often referred to as an “efficient delivery system” for other healthy foods. I hate to think of any food on my plate being merely a delivery system—sounds so clinical. If you buy high-quality pasta (dried or fresh) it’s delicious in and of itself. But I know what they mean. Sauces full of vegetables and legumes are an easy and delicious way to incorporate those hard-to-get daily recommended servings of vegetables into your meals. But drown your pasta in sauce?! How gauche. Well, here’s cookbook author Mark Bittman’s take on the sauce-to-pasta ratio question. 
 
One of my favorite companions to pasta is fresh tomato sauce with cannellini beans and herbs. But today, I’m going for something different. With mushrooms popping up in the woods and in markets everywhere, it’s the perfect season to make this dish.
 

 

 

 

 

Best Med Diet Dish at...Flex Mussels

WELL, YOU GUESSED IT, mussels—steamed in all sorts of flavored broths, some even quite distinctively Mediterranean, but all qualifying as a great Med diet seafood dinner made with fresh ingredients. How about San Daniele, with prosciutto, caramelized onions, white wine and garlic, or Spaniard, with chorizo, sweet peppers, Spanish olives, red wine and tomatoes? Yep, there’s even Mediterranean, with shrimp, kalamata olives, fennel, lemon, anise and oregano. The list goes on and on—there are more than 20 choices ($17-20)—so the only way to eventually make a decision and not drive your dinner companions crazy is to tell yourself you’ll be coming back another day—and another.
 
The menu has non-mussel Med choices, too, including arugula or bibb lettuce salads, a whole fish, even chicken with dandelion greens. We started the meal with raw oysters, incredibly fresh and tasty. (The owners started out in Prince Edward Island and know their seafood.) The crusty whole wheat bread is perfect for mopping up the broth. I hear executive pastry chef Zac Young (Top Chef) makes some amazing desserts. Next time! Good wine list (we had a nice Grüner Veltliner with our mussels) and an excellent selection of beers from around the world.
 
Plus a $20 deal every night from 5:30 to 7: If you don’t mind sitting at the counter or bar (and why should you—the chairs have backs, the design vibe is very cool), you can dine on all-you-can-eat Classic (white wine, herbs, garlic), Fra Diavolo (San Marzano tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, basil) or PEI (lobster stock, drawn butter) mussels, plus fries and one draft beer for $20. (For the deal—no reservations accepted, no sharing.)
 
Flex Mussels
154 W. 13 St (between 7th and 6th)
New York, NY
212.229.0222
info@flexmussels.com 
 
Also at:
174 E. 82 Street (between 3rd and Lexington),
New York, NY 
212.717.7772     
 
 

At the Market This Week

JUST LIKE HAVING KIDS makes you feel the years pass in a particularly poignant way, so do weekly visits to the farmers’ market. I was feeling downright sad last week as the tomatoes dwindled and I had to face it, summer was over. But this Saturday, a visit to Union Square Greenmarket reminded me that fall has its pleasures, too. Not only did I find a few pounds of nice end-of-season San Marzano plum tomatoes at Cherry Lane Farms, but the whole market was a riot of color and productiveness. Peppers sweet and hot, winter squash, glorious specimens of savoy cabbage, carrots, beets, kale and collard greens, broccoli. It was hard to know where to start—or stop. 

RECIPE: Eggplant Slices, Pomegranate, Yogurt and Tahini

THESE BAKED EGGPLANT SLICES are excellent on their own, but add the pomegranate vinaigrette and the cool yogurt sauce, with its tastes of garlic and tahini, and the dish has some of those big-flavor contrasts that make Mediterranean cooking so interesting. Pomegranate molasses is made by boiling down the juice into a syrup; it’s used in quite a few Eastern Mediterranean dishes to add depth and a tart-sweet flavor. This is the first recipe I’ve used it for—I look forward to trying others. I found it (and the tahini) quite easily by heading straight for Kalustyans on Lexington Avenue between 28th and 29th Street in Manhattan. You should be able to find it at any Middle Eastern or Mediterranean grocer. 

Serves 4-6, as appetizer or side dish
 
4 medium eggplants, cut into ½" rounds
1 tbs pomegranate molasses
1
 tbs red or white wine vinegar

2 tbs extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for brushing eggplant 
2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt

(I use half Greek strained yogurt, half regular yogurt; either works fine)
1 clove garlic, minced

2 tbs tahini
¼ cup pomegranate seeds

 
Preheat oven to 475°F.
 
Brush both sides of the eggplant slices with olive oil and lightly salt them. Place on an oiled baking sheet and bake, turning once, until they're tender and a little brown, about 30 minutes. Arrange on a large plate.
 
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together the pomegranate molasses, vinegar and 2 tbs olive oil.
 
In a separate bowl, whisk together the yogurt, minced garlic and tahini. 
 
Brush the top of the cooked eggplant slices with the pomegranate vinaigrette, then spoon yogurt sauce over them and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds.
 
Adapted from Claudia Roden, Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon 

 

Meatless Monday: Eggplant Emergency

 
A FRIEND CALLED TO SAY that house guests had come laden with farmstand fare this weekend, and the whole crowd had eaten lovely meals from it. Trouble is, not enough lovely meals, because now Monday was here and she still had a small boatload of eggplants sitting on her kitchen counter. What to do?
 
Well, in case any of you have had a similar culinary challenge (haven’t we all?), here are some ideas:
 
Think Turkish. Turks love eggplant and have dozens of different ways to cook it, many involving olive oil and tomatoes. One of the most famous dishes is imam bayildi, or the imam fainted, which is eggplant stuffed with tomatoes and onions. Clifford Wright, author of The Mediterranean Feast, gives the scoop on the name—and a recipe—here. Perfect for Meatless Monday. Or any other day for that matter.
 
Another famous Turkish eggplant dish is karniyarik, also a stuffed eggplant. I’ve made it quite a few times recently but I’ll go into that more another day because there’s too much to talk about already and besides, one of its ingredients is lamb.
 
So, back to Meatless Monday. As the eggplant rush gathered force at the end of the summer, I began making a dish with pomegranate, yogurt and tahini. I found the recipe one day when I was in the Rose Reading Room of the New York Public Library, browsing through some of the many cookbooks I don’t own. They have quite a collection, and what a splendid setting it is for transporting yourself to other places. The Lebanese eggplant recipe is from Arabesque: A Taste of Morocco, Turkey, and Lebanon, by Claudia Roden, an Egyptian-born cookbook writer who is credited with having revolutionized Western attitudes to Middle Eastern cooking with her classic, A Book of Middle Eastern Food, published in 1968. She’s a lively passionate writer, so I look forward to delving more deeply into all her books.
 

Today’s Meatless Monday treat at our house is this Algerian Eggplant Jam, from Joanne Weir’s From Tapas to Meze: Small Plates from the MediterraneanIt makes a delicious snack or appetizer on crostini (toasted baguette) or crusty bread.
 
Of course, one of Mediterraneanista’s enduring favorites when it comes to eggplant is ratatouille. I usually make a big pot, because there’s nothing tastier or easier for quick lunches or dinners, and you can always mix it up, so to speak, by serving it with grilled Italian sausage one day and couscous the next. Or you can try one of ratatouille’s many cousins, each with its own distinctive style.
 
Finally, you can never go wrong with Martha Rose Shulman’s suggestions in her Recipes for Health column at NYTimes.com. The recipes are conveniently organized by ingredient, and she often spends a week on different ways to prepare a single vegetable or grain. Here’s some of her eggplant repertoire to the rescue. 

Haiku on a Year in the Life of a Restaurant

A GOOD MEAL is poetry. So perhaps it’s not so surprising to find a chef-poet. On the occasion of Union Square Café’s 25th anniversary, chef Michael Romano has written some haiku:
 
autumn chill
distant wood smoke
truffle dogs are digging
 
long-simmered stew
aged red wine
streetlights on at five

 
Now doesn’t that awaken your senses in the most lovely way? Find the rest of the year here.
 
 

Does Your Market Have Live Opera?

MUCH AS I LOVE NEW YORK CITY’S GREENMARKETS, the farmers’ market closest to my heart will probably always be Montreal’s Jean-Talon Market, perhaps because it’s the first one I got to know as a grownup doing her own cooking. I’d learned the farmers’ market habit early from my parents: Most Saturday mornings we headed to the market in the small southern Ontario town where I grew up. When I lived in Montreal I don’t think I realized how special Jean-Talon Market was, although I loved shopping there.
 
Marché Jean-Talon is located in Montreal’s Little Italy. Perhaps that helps explain this.
 
 
Thanks to Bruce for passing this on. And to the Opéra de Montréal for the fine performances.
 
The market has been operating since 1933 and in summer it has some 300 vendors, mostly farmers from the surrounding country. But it’s open year-round, thanks to enclosed sheds, with shops selling cheeses, spices and all the beautiful products of the Québec terroir—fish from the Gaspé, organic meat and game, mushrooms, you name it. (The market has a long tradition of selling organic products.) Definitely worth a visit if you’re traveling that way.
 
 
Some imported produce is sold at the market, too. (Those winters get long.)
 
 
When you go, don’t overlook the neighborhood’s Italian coffee bars and shops. And be sure to book dinner at Kitchen Galerie, a tiny and very special restaurant overlooking the market, whose chefs prepare the meal from what they’ve found at the market that day, doing all the shopping, cooking and serving themselves. Délicieux! (Sorry, no pictures—I was too busy eating.)
 
Jean-Talon Market
7070 Henri-Julien Street, between Saint-Denis and Saint-Laurent
Montréal, Québec
 
Kitchen Galerie
60 Rue Jean Talon Est
Montréal, Québec
514.315.8994
 
 
 
 

Oh, for Love of Farro

WENT ON A LONG BIKE RIDE last weekend, across the George Washington Bridge and onto River Road in New Jersey. We decided to go south this time and make a lunch stop at Mitsuwa, a Japanese grocery store that’s always fun to visit. (Mediterraneanista likes a change of pace from time to time.) Turns out the annual Hokkaido Food Festival was in full swing, so we lunched on crab, corn and pumpkin croquettes and finished off with a Hokkaido dessert—a fabulous strawberry cream puff from a bakery named Arles. (How did they know?)
 
 
After lunch, I went up and down the aisles and aisles of Japanese specialties—a hundred types of saki, sushi-grade tuna, pristinely fresh whole mackerel and pike, thinly sliced pork belly and beef. Then there were the items I wouldn’t even begin to know how to prepare.
 
 
So I came home from Mitsuwa with—a bag of farro. Yes, the store has an Italian section, with quite a selection of grains and beans and there it was, a bag of Bartolini farro at a price I couldn’t resist and compact and sturdy enough to carry home on a bike. (I suspect that cycling 25 miles for a bag of farro is not going to be an everyday thing, though.)
 
I’ve been on a bit of a farro kick these days; even did a guest blog post on it for Oldways, the nonprofit that convened a lot of the early scientific/culinary conferences on the Mediterranean diet and continues to raise public awareness of its benefits in really smart ways. I’m trying out different farro soups now that fall is here. I’ll keep you posted. 
 
Mitsuwa Marketplace
595 River Rd
Edgewater, NJ 
201.941.9113
 

Tomato Sauce, Batch 2

LAST WEEK READER JOHN FROM TORONTO passed on his great you-can-do-this method for making tomato sauce, which he learned from a Sicilian friend in London. He made another batch this week and sent some photos. The tomatoes he’s using look so beautiful and not at all like the giant hard waxed Romas you often come across in grocery stores. (I learned this week that Italian families in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, source their Romas in central New Jersey. Need to tap into that pipeline!)
 

Now doesn’t this make you want to stop everything and make tomato sauce? 

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