AUTUMN COME SHE WILL (WITH TOMATO BREAD PUDDING)

Ciao’d with a cup of mulled cider.

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Just as a rose smells sweetest before its demise, autumn flaunts its fleeting nature. This season of tailgate picnics (see you soon, CU Buffs!) and leaves crackling underfoot urges us to recognize time’s ephemeral quality and to treasure each moment.

After sending off our son to his freshman year of college with exhortations along the lines of “Best 4 years of your life!” my husband and I returned to a house resounding with silence. Rather than answering the morning (every morning) call, “Hey, mom, I can’t find my Vans/backpack/car keys,” I sit with my cup of coffee and gaze at the garden. The autumn wind rustles through the trees, their branches becoming barer with each passing day. The wind seems to have sucked the energy out of the house, too.

Teenage boys exude distinct energy. It’s all consuming, lurching from pound-my-chest masculine bravado to outright immature silliness. One evening in August, I heard Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl blaring from the speakers in our yard and my son’s friend shouting over it, “Happiest song of the summer!”

Okay, let’s take a step back, shall we? Brown Eyed Girl was written in 1967. We listened to it in college, and it was throwback even then. But some things gloriously transcend time. Brown Eyed Girl is a song about youth, growing up, and okay, it’s about “making love in the green grass,” too. It is a paean to memory. It’s nostalgic. How perfect that the boys would be playing this song on the cusp of their yet-traveled adventures.

I will miss that riotous and richly textured boy energy. Thanksgiving is just around the corner, though. I can already hear their voices trilling in the crisp autumn air. I smell their weed, oh I mean chicken katsu from the Hawaiian take-out place. I feel the pleasant softness of well-worn sweatshirts when we hug, and I see them tossing lacrosse balls (and dice for beer die). I can taste their joy.

In the meantime, speaking of ephemeral, the last of the season’s tomatoes hang heavily on the vine. My friend harvested hers this week and bestowed me with a basket of red, ripe treasures. I’m a bit tired of Caprese salad and gazpacho, so I took an autumn spin and made tomato bread pudding. Layered with cheese and laced with herbs and garlic, it’s just the thing for a warm, cozy dinner.

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TOMATO BREAD PUDDING

Bread pudding is traditionally made from stale bread. If you have it, great. If not, a fresh crusty baguette or country loaf will do just fine. If you’re the traditional sort, toast the fresh bread slices in a 350F oven for about 15 minutes.

Serves 4 to 6

½ pound country bread, sliced about ½-inch thick
3 large, ripe, tomatoes, sliced (about 1 pound)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 teaspoons chopped fresh oregano
3 teaspoons chopped fresh parsley
2 garlic cloves, minced
3 ounces Fontina or Gruyere cheese, grated (about ¾ cup)
2 ounces grated Parmesan cheese
4 large eggs
2 cups milk (low-fat okay)

Preheat the oven to 350F. Lightly grease a 2-quart baking dish with olive oil or butter.

Layer half of the bread slices in the baking dish. Top with half the tomato slices. Sprinkle with salt, pepper, and half the herbs and garlic. Top with half the cheese. Repeat the layers.

Beat together the eggs and milk. Season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper and pour over the bread and tomatoes. Bake until puffed and golden, about 50 to 60 minutes. Let sit 5 minutes before serving. Adapted from The New York Times.

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Summer's Swan Song

Ciao'd with a tomato sandwich. Mayo mandatory.

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Hey, everybody!

It's been awhile - almost a whole summer - since I've posted. How could I take a step back when there is such a bounty of deliciousness to highlight in recipes. But yeah, I took most of the summer off. This doesn't mean I wasn't cooking and eating. And eating. And cooking. And eating more. 

I woke up today with the realization that summer is singing its swan song. Hate to be a downer but ain't it the truth? We only have weeks left to enjoy juicy plums and peaches, mouth-watering tomatoes, sweet corn, and I could go on and on.

So before I take the next few weeks off (I will be grieving my only son having left for college), why not a nod to the tomato, tomahto? 

If you go to the archive (click on it above), you'll find lots of tomato-y recipes. One of my favorites: Italian Gratin with Tomato and Zucchini. This gem is archived under the date August 25, 2016 and carries the title A Cry for Tomato Help (And The Italian Gratin Answer). Let's face it, as we think about back-to-school, it's the tomato and the zucchini that would become the fast friends at carpool. Perfectly matched.

The lead to the recipe is a story about (human) friendship of the girlfriend kind. Where would we be without our sister friends?

Enjoy! See you in September. 

Anthony

Ciao'd with a robust glass of red.

I don't know who took this photo. Please let me know if you know. Brilliant.   

I don't know who took this photo. Please let me know if you know. Brilliant.

 

I was at once enamored and scared of him. Completely transfixed. He was like the guy I met in a college bar who I knew my parents would never approve of. Because! Because Anthony Bourdain was a firebrand. He was the kind of guy who touched my soul in places that enlivened me, excited me, and made me feel like I could stretch beyond my expected norms. His weathered exterior masked his kind, sensitive heart.

It wasn't just about Anthony's food knowledge. He was not a cooking channel talking head. Not by a long shot. Anthony gave a master class in storytelling. His global curiosity was unmatched.  And perhaps most moving, his authentic and soulful love for real people around the world torpedoed through the television screen and into our hearts and minds. With food as his lovely, melodic instrument, Anthony united us with people in other (and sometimes strange) cultures. From Seoul to Tokyo, Hanoi to Hawaii, and so many points in between, Anthony Bourdain was #badass. 

"Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseparable from those from the get-go.”  Roger that, Anthony.

This recipe is great, but if you choose not to make it, please read the recipe. His voice, true and exciting,  resonates. God, we need more people like this. Rest in peace, Anthony Bourdain. You were a force. 

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MUSHROOM SOUP

 

6 Tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small onion, thinly sliced
3/4 lb (12 ounces) button mushrooms
4 cups chicken stock
1 sprig Italian parsley
Salt and pepper
2 ounces dry sherry

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt 2 tablespoons of the butter. Add the onion and cook until translucent. Add the mushrooms and the remaining butter. Let the mushrooms sweat for about 8 minutes. Stir in the chicken stock and the parsley and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for about an hour. Remove the parsley and discard. Let the soup cool for a few minutes. Transfer to the blender and blend at high speed until smooth. Do I have to remind you to do this in stages, with the blender's lid firmly held down, and with the weight of your body keeping that thing from flying off and allowing boiling hot mushroom puree to erupt all over your ktichen?

To astound your guests with a Wild Mushroom Soup, simply replace some of those button mushrooms with a few dried cèpes or morels, which have been soaked until soft, drained, and squeezed. Not too many; the dried mushrooms will have a much stronger taste, and you don't want to overwhelm the soup. Pan sear, on high heat, a single small, pretty, fresh chanterelle or morel for each portion, and then slice into a cute fan and float on top in each bowl.

And if you really want to ratchet your soup into pretentious (but delicious), drizzle a few tiny drops of truffle oil over the surface just before serving. Why the hell not? Everybody else is doing it.

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FIRST-WORLD PROBLEMS, WHITE WHINES (AND OLIVE OIL BRAISED POTATOES)

Ciao'd while watching the French Open.

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Before you play the race card on me, the white whine moniker was coined by Streeter Seidell, author of White Whine: A Study of First World Problems (2013, F+W Media, Inc.). If you take a step back, you have to admit that the title is not only brilliant but true, too.

Lately, I have been hearing a lot of complaining among my crowd about persnickety “problems.” There’s a Hatfield and McCoy battle waging at my tennis club (that alone raises the eyebrow). Non-members are attending tennis clinics. And they are super loud, laughing and calling to each other on a court adjacent to courts occupied by members. Said members are consequently bugged to distraction. Granted the noise is not prescribed tennis etiquette but it begs the question: if the pros at the US Open can play through rowdy crowds, why can’t a 3.0 player just get on with it?

Here’s another first-world whine: Queuing to get on your flight to Hawaii/Mexico/Europe because your miles did not sweep you through to first class.

Oh, and another one: A crying baby on that flight to paradise.

And how about this: Standing behind a person with 16 items in the 12-item market cash-out line.

And this: Candy corn or Peeps not sold all year long.

I can go on:

Your kid not getting into the college dorm he wanted.

And on: A sweat-showering person posing next to you in hot yoga.

And one (or two) more: No WI-FI. Wonky GPS.

Listen, I am guilty of more than one of the whines above. Stuff bugs me, too; however, in light of what transpires beyond the entitled masses, I am trying to maintain perspective.

I’m thinking about stuff like this:

For 1 billion people safe water is scarce. It takes less than 3 seconds for the water to cascade from our faucets (thewaterproject.org).

Around the world, 62 million girls are not in school (usaid.gov).

42 million – roughly one in eight Americans – rely on food stamps (CNN Money). These are fellow Americans who make only (or less than) $26, 600 a year for a family of three. Do the math - approximately $555 a week – for EVERYTHING. 

More than 13 million kids in this country go to school hungry (No Kid Hungry).

In a single night in California in 2016, 21.48% of the population experienced homelessness. In New York, 15.7% (National Alliance to End Homelessness).

I could go on with these stats but I think you get my drift.

Am I an activist? Do I have an answer for these real problems? No, but I think I finally became less of an ostrich and more of an eagle. I am well aware of the strife in the world but, until recently, it swirled around me rather than alighted upon me.

When I was overwhelmed, my grandmother told me, “Take one step and your other foot will follow.”  Recognizing that something needs a solution is the first step to making it happen. So I guess this post is the first step.

This recipe for Olive Oil Braised Potatoes with Sage and Bay Leaf pays tribute to another strife. During the mid-19th century, a blight destroyed virtually every potato in Ireland, a staple for the country’s population. About 1 million people perished. Seriously, aren't we so blessed?

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OLIVE OIL BRAISED POTATOES WITH SAGE AND BAY LEAF

Cooking the potatoes in olive oil elicits their creamy, buttery flavor.

Serves 4

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 ½ pounds small red potatoes, halved
1 small shallot, minced
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh sage
1 small bay leaf
1 cup chicken stock + more if needed
Salt and pepper
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh parsley

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the potatoes, shallot, sage and bay leaf. Cook, stirring, until the potatoes are fork tender, about 10 minutes.

Add the chicken stock, bring to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are tender, about 20 minutes. If the potatoes dry out, add a bit more liquid.

Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with the parsley, and serve.

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FARRO SOUP WITH BEANS, BROCCOLI, AND CHICKEN SAUSAGE

Ciao'd while nibbling peppermint bark. 

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Happy Holidaze! My fingers ache from online shopping. My feet relentlessly remind me (at 3 AM) of time spent cooking and baking. My derrière seems to expand every day, no thanks to cocktailing and celebrating at various holiday soirées. It's time for a rejuvenating, healthy bowl of soup. And this one's a winner. 

Farro Soup with Beans, Broccoli, and Chicken Sausage is just the foundational recipe. You can add other vegetables (cubed potatoes, green beans, and peas come to mind). If you are of the vegetarian persuasion (shout out to Glo and Randee), you can take that route. Simply omit the sausage and use water or vegetable stock in place of the chicken stock. Go for broke and add tubetti pasta for a farro-y take on pasta e fagioli. 

I'm giving a dinner party this weekend. Rather than serving an over-the-top menu, I'm thinking of offering this soup with warm crusty bread and a salad. For real. Cozy vibes all around! 

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RECIPE

FARRO SOUP WITH BEANS, BROCCOLI, AND CHICKEN SAUSAGE

Borlotti beans, also known as cranberry beans, complement the earthy flavor of farro. Sure you can use canned beans (use 2 cups if you opt for this route) but the texture of the cooked dried beans is so much more substantial. You can also opt to make this a vegetarian soup. Simply omit the sausage and use water or vegetable stock rather than chicken stock. This is a hearty, satisfying soup that tastes even better on the second or third day. It freezes well, too.

Serves 6 to 8

1 cup dried borlotti (cranberry) beans
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
8 ounces fully cooked chicken or turkey sausages, sliced
1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
2 carrots, finely chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 cup farro
One 28 oz can chopped tomatoes
8 cups chicken stock or water, more as necessary
2 cups broccoli florets
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley
Freshly grated Parmesan, for serving

Place the beans in a large, heavy pot. Cover with water about 2 inches above the beans. Cover the pot, bring to a boil, and then remove from the heat. Let the beans soak in the water for 1 hour and then drain.

Heat the oil in a large saucepan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the sausage and cook until browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a plate.

Add the onion, celery, and carrots to the pot along with a ¼ teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Cook, scraping up any brown bits of sausage from the bottom of the pan, until the onion has softened and turned translucent, 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the farro, beans, tomatoes, sausage, and stock. Bring to a boil, and then decrease the heat and simmer until the farro and beans are tender, about 1 to 1 ½ hours. Add the broccoli florets and cook until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the parsley and stir to combine.

Serve the soup and pass the Parmesan at the table.

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MARCELLA MONDAY: ZUCCHINI, TOMATO, AND BASIL SAUCE

Ciao'd with the AC on full blast.

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Two classic summer flavors, zucchini and tomato, pair together in this light, vibrant, quick-cooking sauce. Marcella Hazan suggests, "The taste comes through even more explicitly if you can obtain vine-ripened, fresh, firm tomatoes." And she shares another secret: "An important component of the light, bright flavor is the way the garlic is handled. It is sliced very thin and aside from a brief, preliminary contact with hot oil, it is simmered in the juices of the tomato so that what emerges of its aroma is the sweetness rather than the pungency."  While Marcella calls for scooping away the tomato seeds, I left most of them intact as I like the flavor the seeds impart.

Suggested pasta: Spaghetti or spaghettini

Enough sauce for 1 pound of pasta,
making 4 large or 6 small servings

4 to 6 medium zucchini, about 1 pound, trimmed
3 to 4 garlic cloves (enough to yield 2 tablespoons sliced garlic), peeled and sliced very, very thin
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 cups fresh ripe, firm tomatoes (about 4 whole), peeled and seeds scooped away*, chopped rather coarse OR drained canned Italian plum tomatoes, chopped rather coarse
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
A dozen basil leaves, cut into thin shreds

Cut the zucchini into fine julienne strips.

Put the garlic and olive oil in a skillet, turn on the heat to medium, and cook, stirring two or three times, just until the garlic becomes colored a very pale blond.

Add the chopped tomatoes, turn the heat up to high, and cook, stirring frequently, for about 10 minutes, or slightly longer if the tomato is watery.

Add the zucchini, salt, black pepper, and cook for 5 to 6 minutes, turning the ingredients over from time to time. The zucchini should be quite firm - al dente - but not raw. 

Cook and drain the pasta and toss it immediately and thoroughly with the sauce, mixing into it the basil shreds. Serve promptly. Marcella Cucina, Marcella Hazan, Harper Collins, 1997.

*How to peel and seed a tomato: Core the tomato. Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Drop the tomato into the boiling water (you can add several tomatoes at a time). Remove the tomato when the skin begins to peel, 15 to 30 seconds, and put in a blow of ice water to cool. The skin will slip off easily. Cut the tomato in half crosswise and scoop out the seeds.