AFTER THE CORNUCOPIA OF COMFORT FOODS shared at the Thanksgiving table (and in the days that followed), I was in the mood today for something clean and crisp and refreshing. This Shaved Fennel and Apple Salad was the perfect answer. The tart apple and the fennel were fabulously crunchy, and the lemony dressing gave it a nice zing. You can substitute your favorite flavors into the salad. I used parsley today; next time I’ll try a couple of tablespoons of fresh tarragon or mint. And instead of apple, my mother uses Asian pear in her fennel salad—delicious indeed.
Fennel is popular in the traditional Mediterranean diet—particularly in Italy, but also in France and Greece. It’s full of nutrients—vitamin C, fiber, potassium, as well as various antioxidants and phytonutrients. The Florence fennel is what you’ll see in markets here, with a big white bulb, topped by long stalks and fronds, all of which can be eaten.
I think the first time I ate fennel was when my mother served her fennel and pear salad to us on one of my visits home. It’s not a dish she made when we were growing up; she’d learned it later on, from a friend during a long stay in Italy—making it her own by adding the Asian pears. Fennel is very versatile—eat it raw, as called for in the salad here, or steam, braise, grill or roast it (it caramelizes beautifully). Add it to soups and stews, serve over pasta or bake it with fish. This salad, in fact, works wonderfully served over grilled fish.
Wild fennel, a different plant, grows all around the Mediterranean; apparently it’s found on this continent in California, British Columbia and in other locales, too—perhaps where homesick Italians have planted the seeds. Once established, wild fennel is prolific. Wild fennel pollen, once known only in Tuscany, is prized by chefs like Mario Batali and Sara Jenkins (who uses it in her porchetta) for the flavor and aroma it brings to a dish.
INTERESTING ARTICLE IN YESTERDAY’S New York Times on chefs using unusual wild ingredients in their dishes. Nova Kim of Wild Gourmet Food (included in the article) was selling some beautiful mushrooms at New Amsterdam Market when I went last Sunday.
Kim and her partner Les Hook are long-time gatherers of wild edibles from the fields and woods of northern Vermont—and spirited educators, whether at the Smithsonian or from behind their stand. “I’m so glad you used the word gather,” Kim exclaimed as we chatted about the mushrooms. “Foraging is about ravaging the woods. Gathering and wildcrafting is what we do.” (Whew, lucked out on that one.)
The pair have a wild food CSA (Judith Jones, Julia Child’s longtime editor, is a customer), and they supply chefs at the New England Culinary Institute (NECI) and high-end restaurants. If you like to gather wild edibles yourself or to cook with them or just think they’re a good thing to keep around, you might want to check out the nonprofit Wild Food Gatherers Guild, which Kim and Hook founded with NECI executive chef Tom Bivins—to “sustain the collection of wild foods as a craft and a livelihood.”
Wild Gourmet Food will be back at New Amsterdam Market December 19, the last day of this year’s schedule for the market. Maybe you’d like to visit them and make this Wild Mushroom Ragù.
IF YOU’RE STILL LOOKING FOR IDEAS for the un-meat part of your Thanksgiving meal, Meatless Monday has invited its favorite chefs and cooks to share their favorite recipes. How about Mario Batali’s Sicilian rice balls, Martha Rose Shulman’s cranberry orange relish, or Dino Mash from Kim O’Donnel’s The Meat Lover’s Meatless Cookbook? Check out all the recipes here.
THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET has been added to UNESCO’s representative list of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity, four years after Spain, Italy, Greece and Morocco first petitioned for its inclusion. Here are excerpts from the UNESCO citation (emphasis added):
The Mediterranean diet constitutes a set of skills, knowledge, practices and traditions ranging from the landscape to the table, including the crops, harvesting, fishing, conservation, processing, preparation and, particularly, consumption of food. [It] is characterized by a nutritional model that has remained constant over time and space, consisting mainly of olive oil, cereals, fresh or dried fruits and vegetables, a moderate amount of fish, dairy and meat, many condiments and spices, all accompanied by wine or infusions.
However, the Mediterranean diet (from the Greek diaita, or way of life) encompasses more than just food. It promotes social interaction, since communal meals are the cornerstone of social customs and festive events.
The system is rooted in respect for the territory and biodiversity, and ensures the conservation and development of traditional activities and crafts linked to fishing and farming in the Mediterranean.
Women play a particularly vital role in the transmission of expertise, as well as knowledge of rituals, traditional celebrations and the safeguarding of techniques.
UNESCO started the list in 2003 because “cultural heritage does not end at monuments and collections of objects, but also includes traditions or living expressions” passed from generation to generation. Culinary arts were included as an element of cultural expression for the first time this year. (The gastronomic meal of the French and traditional Mexican cuisine have also been added.)
I browsed through the list of 166 practices and traditions—songs, dance, crafts, festivals, healing arts—and before I knew it I’d whiled away more than half an hour watching videos on Sardinian pastoral polyphonic singing, Azerbaijani carpet-weaving, falconry and Catalonian human towers. It gave me a little of the same feeling I get whenever I look up at the biodiversity wall at the American Museum of Natural History: awe at how many different weird and wonderful expressions life—and human culture—can take. And a reminder that they are worth safeguarding.
Here’s the promotional video for the Mediterranean diet entry (French only, but the visuals are the best part anyway).
Of course there’s been grumbling about criteria for the UNESCO list, how the choices are made, or even whether they should be made at all. Is honoring culinary heritage in this way a good idea? asks historian Rachel Laudan in her Soapbox piece over at Zester Daily, suggesting it may just be part of a “pervasive culinary nostalgia.” Provocative and interesting reading. Don’t miss the comments section; cookbook author Marcella Hazan has a few views of her own.
WHOLE GRAINS, FLOURS, BREAD—it’s Greenmarket Grains Week—cauliflower, winter greens, squash and…Peter Hoffman, chef/owner of the restaurants Savoy and Back Forty, doing a cooking demo Friday at Union Square.
On my way out the north end of Union Square Market this afternoon, I saw a cooking demo and stopped to see what was up. Lucky I did: Peter Hoffman, chef/owner of Savoy and Back Forty, was demonstrating how to make Spelt and Mushroom Soup with Sage and Sheep Cheese Crostini, especially for Grains Week.
By some miracle, it wasn’t super-crowded so we got to stand around and ask questions. Did you cook the spelt beforehand?—Yes, because it takes quite a while. What kind of mushrooms are they?—Today I’m using oyster mushrooms, from right over there at Madura Farms, he explains, pointing to a stand down the way.
Then there was the tasting, of course, and the soup was just right for outdoor eating on this brisk sunny day—warm broth full of flavor, chewy grain. Yum. In fact, everyone seemed to like it, even those for whom spelt was something new. A few reaaaaallly liked it. Or maybe they were just hungry. (One serving, please. No, sorry, we can’t give you a third helping.)
Most of the ingredients came from farmers’ stands just steps away—the spelt, celery root, greens, sage—which was the point, after all: For two decades, Hoffman has crafted Savoy’s menus around produce of the season from local farmers whom he’s gotten to know over the years. “Savoy is as close as you’ll get to Chez Panisse in New York City,” one reviewer wrote. Hoffman has been shopping at, cooking from and supporting the Greenmarket for 30 years—including 15 years on its advisory board. Nice to run into him there.
The soup recipe is part of the Greenmarket Recipe Series; you should be able to find it at the market. Peter Hoffman is reportedly working on a book that will recount a year of shopping at the farmers’ market, with recipes and reflections. Can’t wait to read it. Meanwhile, here’s a summer tour of the market with him, from WNYC:
Look for more cooking demos with various chefs on Saturday, November 20 at Union Square Greenmarket.
And to close out Grains Week, don’t miss the Flapjack Breakfastat New Amsterdam Market this Sunday, November 21, 11-1, tickets $20. Sausage and maple syrup are part of the deal!
ALWAYS OPEN TO NEW RECIPE IDEAS, I took a look at this animated short by filmmaker Gary Leib: 101 Quick and Simple Dishes for Fall. You might want to, too; it includes a couple of real Mediterranean gems. Fusilli with elf, anyone? My favorite is the one with the whole fish. No, I won’t give away the punch line.
MUCH AS I LIKE ROAST TURKEY at Thanksgiving, I’ve always liked the side dishes even more, especially when combined in a crazy spill-off-the-plate sort of way. Now Tara Parker-Pope has a great series going, over at her Well blogat NYTimes.com: A Vegetarian Thanksgiving. Vegetables (and fruit) are the stars in dozens of fabulous recipes, some homey, some knock-your-socks-off chef’s masterpieces. She’ll add new dishes daily until Thanksgiving. Lots for Mediterraneanista to like here. How about Martha Rose Shulman’s Orange-Scented Sweet Potato and Fruit Gratin or Tom Colicchio’s Caramelized Tomato Tarts? The recipes are all so tempting, I think Thanksgiving will have to be a month-long celebration this year. That’s OK— I do have quite a lot to be thankful for. What about you?
I DON’T KNOW HOW Mr. Mediterraneanista (or BC, as he prefers to be called) got to Food52. Maybe he saw it mentioned on politico/foodie Ezra Klein’s blog, but that’s beside the point. One day last week I was tapping away at my computer, vaguely aware of kitchen rustle in the distance. An hour or so later, voilà—I’m being invited for a beautiful bowl of sweet potato soup for lunch. Olive oil, infused with zaatar—an eastern Mediterranean spice blend of sesame seeds, thyme and sumac—is drizzled on top. When I dip my spoon in I find crumbled feta is in the mix, too. What a wonderful combination of sweet and aromatic flavors. And what style (must be that two-careers-ago design training).
I don’t mean to imply that having BC cook a meal is something like the 8th wonder of the world. It’s not. He went through a long bread-baking phase in the 90s when our boys were little, and then there was the madeleine making period (we all really liked that) and the ceviche-as-school-project-with-kids experiments. Plus he’s certainly done his share of better-get-dinner-on-the-table-the kids-are-cranky. For the last while, he’s been the go-to pizza maker in our house. Mediterraneanista especially likes that. And if I can ever take a photo of one that does it any justice, I’ll definitely share. In the meantime, I’m just loving this surprise soup lunch development.
HERE’S SOME FAST FOOD WITH MED CRED, available at five locations around the city—including high-traffic areas like Times Square and Union Square. Maybe one is near your office? A couple more branches are opening in the next few months, including one in Hoboken.
My pick from the Maoz menu is the falafel whole-wheat pita sandwich ($5.25), with veggie toppings from the salad bar—roasted cauliflower, diced beets, tabouli salad, Moroccan-style marinated carrots, and so on, plus various sauces, including cilantro, garlic, tahini, chili. If you dine in, you can refill your pita as many times as you want from the salad bar, piling up those veggie servings with the greatest of ease.
Last time I was at Maoz, I bought an extra side order of falafel ($3.50, made from chickpeas) to take home, where I combined it with my own salad and tahini later. Yum. Maoz’s falafel made SeriousEats.com’s top 7 falafel sandwiches in New York City earlier this summer. The white pita lost it some points. I found the whole-wheat pita pretty tasty.
The first Maoz restaurant opened in Amsterdam in 1991 and soon attracted local customers and travelers alike. The menu emphasizes fresh produce and, although it doesn’t use olive oil, the Med diet favorite, it does use zero trans fat vegetable oil. For only $1 extra, you can get freshly squeezed carrot, apple or orange juice instead of soda with the sandwich meal deal. If you’re interested in more nutrition details, check out the Maoz website.
Meatless Monday Deal:At Maoz Vegetarian, every day is meatless but on Mondays you get 10% off the Salad Meal Deal ($9.95)—a box of greens with falafel plus two add-ons (hummus, eggplant, etc.), salad-bar toppings and freshly squeezed juice.
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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.