Well! Waaaay back a couple of weeks ago I was going to tell you about our first attempt making socca, and then my blog vanished out from under me. Better late than never, so here it is: chickpea flour pancakes (socca) with caramelised onions and roasted tomatoes, adapted from the book Plenty. I have no idea why we’ve never made socca before, it’s simple and tasty and makes a great vehicle for vegetables or pizza toppings. I’ve seen recipes that have you pour the batter into a hot skillet, then put it under the broiler to give it a bit of char. I was using the oven to roast tomatoes, so I just flipped the pancakes and finished them on the stove, which worked fine.
The batter was just chickpea flour, water and an egg. The recipe in Plenty wants you to whip the egg white, but I didn’t see any other recipe call for that and it sounded unnecessary, so I skipped it.
The pancakes, being made of legumes rather than grain, are very tender and brittle, but I found that by making them fairly small (6-8 inches) they were easy to flip.
The tomatoes were sweet, small greenhouse tomatoes from Hedlin Farms. They were very good roasted until just a bit concentrated and scattered over the onions. We’re looking forward to putting all kinds of things on socca this summer.
On Monday I really, really didn’t feel like going anywhere, including the grocery store. I rummaged through the refrigerator, then tossed a tweet out asking for suggestions based on my main available ingredients: macaroni noodles, fresh tomatoes, feta and salami. Cook Local (as well as my cousin Katherine) came through with an improvised pasta idea – thanks! I decided to add arugula at the last moment, partly to add color but mostly because a friend gave us a bag of arugula that still needed to be finished off – I had forgotten to list it among my assets.
Not the prettiest dish in the world, but extremely good. And easy!
The sauce, a mixture of tomato, cream, green chile, cilantro and spices, is straight from a Madhur Jaffrey recipe, but she wants you to serve it with prawns. We made it that way for a while, then hit on the idea of stirring in lightly cooked peas instead of shrimp. We’ve done it this way ever since.
Here’s a lovely sauce to make you feel like it’s summer again, even though it may be more than a little snowy outside. Oven-roasted tomatoes and peppers, pureed with chipotles and spices, then simmered with onion until thick, make for a spicy rich sauce redolent of the flavors of late summer. Using the sauce to braise country-style pork ribs makes for some fabulous winter tacos.
We’ve just started to get into the half pig we bought recently. The chops we started with were fantastic, pan-seared and coated with a cider reduction. More recently I tried braising some blade steaks in a sauce of vinegar, mustard and beer, which was eye-rollingly good but one of the ugliest plates I’ve ever produced (the braised green cabbage on the side didn’t help matters). These ribs came somewhere in between, and while I didn’t get any pictures of the shredded pork tacos, trust me that they were extremely successful as well. However, don’t feel that you need to use this sauce with pork – it would be great used for enchiladas, or on eggs, or stirred into a pot of beans, or anywhere that could use a shot of spicy tomato goodness.
Stuffing cheese into a chicken thigh doesn’t necessarily sound like a wise idea, but when the cheese in question is panir, a dry non-melting Indian cheese, all is well. We found this dish in a recently acquired cookbook, Modern Spice (on clearance at Village Books!), which is full of wonderful recipes that fuse Indian flavors with the American pantry. In this case bone-in chicken parts are stuffed with Indian herbs and spices mixed with Indian cheese, but baked in the oven instead of being simmered in liquid on the stovetop, as with so much Indian cookery. The chicken gets crispy on top, and the stuffing takes on the flavor of the bird as well as that lovely cheesy toastiness and a kick of chile heat.
Panir is crucial to this recipe, since no other cheese behaves quite like it (maybe halloumi?), but if you can’t find panir you could still make all the other ingredients into a rub for roasted chicken parts. What’s not to like about butter, chiles, ginger, garlic and cilantro?
A fusiony sort of dish like this didn’t seem to need a traditional Indian accompaniment, so we recreated a salad we invented on our Paris vacation, caramelizing finely diced fennel in a skillet and stirring in chopped ripe tomatoes. Pure essence of summer, it played beautifully off the spicy cheese and chicken. With a bright Sangiovese rosé, this was a very successful summer-to-autumn transitional dinner.
The tomato harvest this year has really blown me away. Normally, having just one or two vines in pots on the deck, I’m lucky if I have enough tomatoes to make the occasional salad, or to top a taco now and then. This year the stars aligned to produce showers of juicy little red Stupice tomatoes and bowlfuls of Sungold cherry tomatoes, including the single prettiest tomato I have ever grown. Look, isn’t it beautiful?
So, finding myself in the unusual position of needing to eat a lot of tomatoes all at once, I opened a few cookbooks at random and found a recipe: Oven Roasted Tomatoes with Thyme and Garlic, from James Peterson’s impressive tome Vegetables. I had a pile of freshly dug garlic drying on the front porch, a pot of thyme on the deck, and plenty of olive oil, so it was but the work of a moment to get a pan of this roasting in the oven. And then the work of an hour or two to wait for it to finish up…
All I needed to do was wash the tomatoes, cut them in half, and lay them cut-side-down in a pan filmed with olive oil.
We eat so much grilled eggplant during the summer (thanks to the nice folks at Hedlin Family Farms) it’s a little embarrassing. Sometimes we dust it with spices first, but usually we just dress it with olive oil, salt and pepper, grill it till it poofs up and turns golden, then eat it in huge heaps with lamb kebabs or whatever else is on the grill that day. In an attempt to do something different with our weekly poundage of eggplant (plus some of the tomatoes which are beginning to take over the deck), I came up with this caponata. And we’ve made it twice in one week, so I guess it worked pretty well.
My approach here is to get all the ingredients except the eggplant mixed together in a big bowl, so all I have to do is take a cutting board down by the grill and dice up the eggplants as they come off the heat. Then I dump them into the dressing and mix everything up together. The flavors sit and blend while we grill the next part of the meal.
On Sunday we made sure to make it up to the Bastille open-air market on Boulevard Richard Lenoir. It begins at Place de la Bastille and stretches for several blocks, four aisles wide and teeming with people, dogs and little wheeled shopping carts.
You can buy everything from tomatoes to underwear. Not to mention foie gras. And wine.
Ever since I discovered the word “spatchcock” in a Nigella Lawson book, I’ve wanted to try it. And not just because it’s such a great word.
It’s a method of preparing a chicken for high heat cooking such as roasting or grilling, where you remove the backbone and flatten the bird so that it’s more or less an even thickness throughout. It has the effect of getting all the skin on one side, so you should be able to get lots of crispy chicken skin, plus the flesh side is all available for seasoning. This weekend we finally got around to trying it, and the result was sort of a Win-Fail-Win situation.
Our freezer has gotten very low on emergency lunches, so it was clearly time to make a lasagna. Few things are as comforting on a cold day as being able to pull a container of lasagna out of the freezer, nuke it, pour a glass of wine, and have a hot, cheesy satisfying lunch. And to make that happen, of course, we have to have lasagna for dinner first. Oh, the sacrifices we make.
I make lasagna pretty much exactly the way my parents did when I was a kid (it was my favorite), except for the addition of no-boil lasagna noodles, which are God’s gift to casserole makers. Sometimes I’ll do a variation with pesto and white sauce, and I often add fresh spinach, but this particular one was just the basics: red sauce with meat and mushrooms, ricotta, mozzarella and noodles. End of recipe. I do not add egg, or cottage cheese - I feel very strongly about these things. That grainy ricotta texture is important here.
Oh – to go with our lasagna, we threw together a spontaneous salad of mixed spinach and lettuce greens and shaved fennel, with a lemon-mayonnaise dressing. It was FANTASTIC. If I ever figure out how I did it I’ll write the recipe down. Wow.
Now, back to the lasagna: