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Golden and red beets at Union Square Greenmarket—perfect for a new Mediterranean recipe I have.[/caption]
LISTENING TO STANLEY TUCCI and his mother
talk about recipes the other night made me think about all the little culinary treasures my mother has passed on to me. Not just basic cooking techniques that I learned at her elbow, but recipes from her mother, her mother’s mother, her father, her mother-in-law, a childhood schoolmate of my father’s, their friends in London in the late 1940s. She has been the keeper of these recipes and now is making sure her children have them, too.
There’s Friar’s Omelette, from Susanna Moss, my mother’s grandmother, written out in her own hand, my Polish Babcia Władysława’s pickled herring and babka (two separate dishes!), my dad’s traditional Christmas beetroot brine and soup, shortbread from Grandma Lily, brown bread from Grandad Percy (he was a miller and expert baker). Not to forget Marysia’s almond torte and Zosia’s pickled dill cucumbers. I’ve collected some on my own visits to family, too: Uncle Abdul Beidas’s hummus, Aunt Ela Makowiecka’s gazpacho (despite the Slavic name, she lived a good part of her life in Spain).
Recently this loving passing around of recipes took a different turn when my 20-something son Christopher flipped the tables and taught me how to make an elegantly plated beet, arugula, frisée and goat cheese salad that he’d learned somewhere along the line living in an Italian (Canadian) household for the last two years and working at an Italian café. Lucky me, and now lucky you because it’s the perfect Meatless Monday
dish to share. Slicing the beets very thin is not only beautiful but somehow highlights their delicate sweet flavor. From my family to yours.
AT OUR HOUSE, WE CALL THIS DISH Christopher’s Beet Salad
, because of how the recipe came to us
. Golden beets work really beautifully, too, says Chris.
5 medium beets
wild arugula and frisée greens
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
2 tbs balsamic vinegar
4 oz goat cheese
Scrub the beets and boil whole until tender (45 minutes to an hour). Remove from water and let cool.
In a small bowl, whisk together olive oil and vinegar, adding salt and pepper to taste.
Combine about four handfuls of wild arugula and frisée in another bowl, dress with the vinaigrette and toss gently.
When the beets are cool, peel and, using a mandoline, slice them into thin rounds. Arrange in circles in one layer on four salad plates.
Drizzle a little extra-virgin olive oil over the beets.
In the center of each plate, pile a small handful of the arugula/frisée mix.
Top with a slice of goat cheese (browned under the grill if you like).
Serve with crusty bread.
ANOTHER SHOUT-OUT FOR THE MEDITERRANEAN DIET from the medical world. In a Jane Brody column today
in the New York Times
, Dr. David Spence
, a stroke prevention specialist at the University of Western Ontario who advocates intensive medical therapy (as opposed to surgery) for stroke prevention in asymptomatic patients, comments:
“Americans tend to name their meals by the meat. ‘Tonight we’re having steak, or chicken or fish,’ ” he said. “I recommend that my patients go vegetarian every other day, and when they eat meat, chicken or fish on the days in between, the portion should be the size of the palm of their hand.” Along with appropriate medications and control of blood sugars in diabetics, Spence “is a strong advocate of a traditional Mediterranean diet, high in whole grains, fruits and vegetables, lentils and beans, olive oil and canola oil and low in cholesterol and animal fats,” Brody writes.
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Stan Tucci Sr, Joan Tropiano Tucci and Stanley Tucci signing copies of their new cookbook, a collection of family recipes and stories. (photo © Basia Hellwig)[/caption]
STANLEY TUCCI WAS AT THE NEIGHBORHOOD BARNES & NOBLE on Friday to promote The Tucci Cookbook,
and it was more than a little fun. He brought along his mother Joan Tropiano Tucci and his father Stanley Tucci Sr. “the real authors of the book—I’m the fake author” and his wife, literary agent Felicity Blunt (sister of Emily) and his pet dog. Well, no dog actually, or kids, for that matter, but you get the picture. It was very homey, just like I imagine his family’s kitchen has always been. “Cooking is about doing it together, seeing the creative act, that’s what’s binding,” he told us, and you can imagine the fun he and his parents and children all have cooking together
. “Then you sit down at the table and see what you’ve produced,” Joan says. “It’s exciting.”
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Recipes from the book were previously published as Cucina & Famiglia. "The book now has a new life, with beautiful photography," says Tucci.[/caption]
In a foreword, Mario Batali writes that “Stanley has written a love letter to his mum and dad, to his distant roots in Calabria.” Tucci tells his Barnes & Noble audience, “My mother is an incredible cook,” calling her up to join him at the microphone, “and she learned to cook from her mother.” The book goes into some family history (both sides are Calabrese), with sections written by his mother and father. His father apparently would pause at some point during dinner and always ask, “How does the rest of the world eat?”
Tucci and his parents share family recipes that were the inspiration for Big Night, as well as those of Gianni Scappin, of Le Madri, with whom he collaborated on the movie. Tucci has cooked more than once on screen. Did he have any tips for Meryl Streep in Julie & Julia, in which he plays Paul Child? someone asks now. Well, just acting tips. Big laugh. “Seriously, though, Meryl is a great cook, but at one point, she was stirring manicotti and I just couldn’t take it any more. I had to demonstrate how it was done. She said, great, sure….but I have no idea whether she changed anything.”
Tucci first started cooking when he was around 12 years old, his mother says. “It was a lasagna bolognese with bechamel.” They all seem to like Stan Sr.’s peaches in red wine. Why not? Sounds like the perfect dessert to me. Tucci shops at Stop & Shop, Joan at Shoprite. She likes to search out Italian products, and has tried a lot of different canned San Marzano tomatoes before settling on, damn, I didn’t quite catch the name. Barilla pasta, or De Cecco are great, “not too starchy,” says Joan. “And forget the light olive oil; it’s terrible.” When Stanley was growing up, Joan mostly used Filippo Berio
extra-virgin olive oil. Tucci uses Frantoia from Sicily. Now they’re really dishing!
I haven’t had a chance to try any of the recipes yet. I’ll report back when I have. I doubt if timpano (made famous in Big Night) will be the first one I try, although it truly sounds magnifico. Tucci and his family cook it every Christmas. “My most memorable food moment,” says Tucci.
SOMETIMES A FARMERS’ MARKET STAND JUST LEAPS UP AT YOU and says, “Make this dish!” At this time of year, that dish often involves peppers. Piled up in gorgeous multicolored heaps, who can resist?
For this recipe, I add chopped up peppers to a few staples from the cupboard—canned cannellini and garbanzo beans, which I stock up on at Whole Foods, plus extra-virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar—and a generous handful of mint. It makes a fall meal full of wake-you-up tastes and crunch. If you like, you can top it off with crumbled feta or goat cheese—adding a salty zest and some extra protein.
Oh, and a loaf of crusty bread and a bottle of crisp Albariño from Spain are always welcome accompaniments.
Generously serves 4 as a main dish
1 red pepper
1 orange pepper
1 yellow pepper
1 15-oz. can cannellini beans
1 15-oz. can chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
½ small red onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 tbs. red wine vinegar
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
A good handful (½ cup or more) fresh mint leaves, cut into thin strips (chiffonade) or left whole if very young and tender
Fresh feta or goat cheese (optional), for topping
Core, seed and dice the peppers into ¼-inch pieces and place in a serving bowl big enough to fit all ingredients. Drain and rinse the beans. Zap them for 20 seconds or so in the microwave, ’til just warm, and set aside. In a small bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar and garlic, and pour over the beans. Let sit for 10 or 15 minutes. Add beans, onion and mint to the peppers, and gently mix. Season with sea salt and pepper, to taste.
MY FRIDAY MORNING RITUAL is to visit my neighborhood farmers’ market on West 97th Street, often with one friend or another who lives nearby. Today—because it was pouring rain of course—I decided to switch things up a bit and make the trek down to Union Square Greenmarket. I have to say the sights just made me feel like singin’ in the rain.
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You can count on the Queens County Farm Museum stand at Union Square Greenmarket to have pristine produce and friendly folks. Time for another bike ride out to the farm—we hear an Octoberfest dinner is coming up soon.[/caption]
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Heirloom tomatoes from Bodhitree Farm, which grows more than 30 different kinds, including brandywine, green zebra, anana noir, gold medal and Cherokee purple (one my favorites).[/caption]
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It may have been raining this morning, but when these bouquets greet you as you come out of the subway, who can mind?[/caption]
I was early enough to bump into (be run over by) chefs foraging for the day’s ingredients. You can learn a lot from how they eye the produce and then hone in on, say, the romano beans and buy four big bags of them. Plus perfect bunches of dandelion greens. You look at what they choose and see that, yes, it is at its peak of perfection that day, at that farm stand. (And as Mario Batali once pointed out—in encouraging people on all sorts of budgets to shop at farmers’ markets—when you buy a particular crop at its season’s peak, it’ll also be at its cheapest.)
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Chefs come with serious transportation, no over-the-shoulder bag for them. [/caption]
One hyperfocused chef/cook (maybe he was running late and worried he’d miss out on a crucial ingredient) rushed into the Migliorelli Farm stand and said, “I want all your Tuscan kale, all of it. I’ll take all you have.” Now this is not a small farm stand, so that’s a big load of kale! Tuscan kale soup? Sautéed Tuscan kale? Maybe the menu
will reveal all.
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Bean heaven today—borlotti, romano, French green beans, wax beans. And Salade Niçoise inspiration.[/caption]
As usual, I bought enough beans and tomatoes and potatoes and greens to feed an army and give me a good upper body workout at the same time. With a lovely piece of Yellowfin Tuna from Mermaid’s Garden
in my fridge, I have all the makings of a Salade Niçoise Royale
, as Nancy Harmon Jenkins refers to the new-fangled version of this dish that includes tuna. In The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook,
she reminds us that traditionalists don’t include tuna, or even potatoes. I guess in this case I’m not a traditionalist.
On the way home, I stopped by Eataly
to refuel with a latte and apricot croissant. It was just after opening hour and the place was amazingly calm. I relaxed for a while and then strolled through the store, spotting the frisée (above)
I needed and hadn’t found at the market. That will be for a salad with golden beets. But more about that another day.
ABUNDANCE! I GO TO THE FARMERS’ MARKET year-round, but there’s nothing like the pleasure of seeing pristine summer crops piled up one after the other. Since I don’t have a family of eight, I try to be reasonable in my purchases but it’s hard to resist.
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Cubanelle peppers—I have just the stuffed eggplant recipe for these.[/caption]
What do you get for $16 at the market?
A Renaissance painting.
Cherry (tomato) candies.
A riff on the Italian flag.
Peaches so juicy you have to eat them over the kitchen sink.
ACCOMPANIED BY CRUSTY BREAD, this salad makes a fresh light supper in summer, with a lovely contrast in flavors between the salty fish, peppery arugula and the grapefruit. Red or pink grapefruit tend to pack a bigger nutritional punch—especially vitamin A and the antioxidant lycopene—and look prettiest in this salad I think, but when I cut this one open, surprise, surprise, it was white. Better luck next time.
1 tbs Dijon mustard
1 tbs red wine vinegar
1 tbs lemon juice
1 large shallot, thinly sliced with a mandoline
1 garlic clove, cut into fine julienne
1 pink grapefruit
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt and coarsely ground black pepper
8 oz smoked trout, flaked into small pieces
5 oz wild arugula (or 2 bunches, washed and torn)
1/2 small red onion, sliced very thinly
Whisk together mustard, vinegar, lemon juice, shallot, garlic, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/8 tsp pepper; let sit for 10 minutes
Trim off the top and bottom of the grapefruit. With a sharp knife, starting at the top, cut peel and pith from the grapefruit, following the curve of the fruit. Trim away any pith that’s left and then slice out sections of fruit from the membrane, placing in a medium bowl.
Add trout, arugula and onion to grapefruit and toss gently. Add dressing and toss to combine. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Adapted from Olives & Oranges: Recipes & Flavor Secrets from Italy, Spain, Cyprus & Beyond, by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox.
PANZANELLA DI FARRO, a Tuscan-style tomato salad with farro, from Olives & Oranges,
by Sara Jenkins and Mindy Fox, is the recipe that got me started eating farro.
At the time, I didn’t know much about farro, except that it was a grain, so making that dish led to all sorts of research and then expeditions all over the city to find it.
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Semi-pearled farro at Fairway Market.[/caption]
After that, since I travel regularly to Montreal and Toronto, I had to find farro sources in those cities, too, because the salad had become something of an extended family favorite as well. (Travelers: Dinah’s Cupboard in Toronto; Milano Supermarket in Montreal).
A bag of farro even made the trip north with us to Georgian Bay (above) and 45 minutes across the water to my brother’s cottage on an island one summer (we’d found wild rice on its shores, but weren’t holding out any hope for farro).
All this adventure, thanks to one recipe.
Beyond farro, though, that dish introduced me to a whole wonderful world of cooking with chef Sara Jenkins. I’ve been down to Porchetta
, her little shop on East 7th Street where she makes herbed roast pork sandwiches that get raves from anyone who’s tried them. And I’m looking forward to more visits to her pasta restaurant, Porsena
, in the same neighborhood.
But the East Village is not exactly next door, so back to the cookbook. I usually like to cook and eat at home anyway, so I’ve branched out to try other recipes in this very approachable but sophisticated book. Roasted cauliflower with tahini sauce. Orange and mint leaf salad with roasted beets. (Both great for Meatless Monday!) Baked pork chops with peaches (time for this one again, now that peaches are appearing in the market). Spaghetti with lemon sole, almonds, capers and parsley. Monkfish with olives, potatoes, and sun-dried tomatoes. And recently for dinner, smoked trout with arugula salad, pictured here.
Along with the recipes, which are helpfully labeled quick-cook and slow-cook, Jenkins shares her knowledge of the Mediterranean pantry and offers flavor tips that make you an all-round smarter Mediterranean cook. I’m still a little obsessed with that farro salad, though. Planning to make it for another family get-together some time soon. Purslane or arugula? We’ll see.
110 East 7th Street
New York, NY 10009
21 East 7th Street
New York, NY 10003
MONDAY, JULY 23 IS THE LAST DAY to sign up for Season 2 of Mermaid’s Garden CSF. As you know, I’ve been loving the once-a-week fish fix myself.
There are now five pickup locations in Brooklyn: Park Slope, Bushwick, Red Hook, Clinton Hill/Bedford Stuyvesant and Cobble Hill. Space is limited so act now if you’re interested. Go to: Mermaid’s Garden CSF for more information.
[caption id="attachment_1272" align="alignnone"]If you choose the pickup in Red Hook, you can always combine it with a visit to the Farmers’ Market—and then there’s always IKEA tempting you across the way, too. [/caption]