Tag Archives: Review

Sugar and Sweets

23 Jun

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In my formative years as a budding chef and food writer, I did an unusual thing and read the mammoth Larousse Gastronomique, all 1,168 pages with its thousands of entries, cover to cover – or shall I say, from abaisse (a term used in French cookery for a sheet of rolled-out pastry) to zuppa inglese (a Neapolitan pudding). The first English edition appeared in 1971, when I was 17 and already a bartender mixing Negronis in Queens, New York. (For those who might remember, it was the Olde London Fishery on Union Turnpike.)

This memory was triggered when a voluminous book, The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets (Oxford University Press, 2015) about the size of a three-pound box of Godiva chocolates, appeared on my desk last week. With more than 850 pages and 600 articles about the arresting history of sugar and sweets, I have decided to repeat my own history and take this encyclopedic work to bed with a cup of tea or a pony of alkermes. Poignantly, this book, too, ends with an entry about zuppa inglese (written by author Clifford A. Wright) with an interesting debate over the dessert’s true origin (is it from Naples as friend and food writer Arthur Schwartz insists, or Lazio, or Tuscany, as others suggest?)

The book begins, not with abaisse but with another nod to the French, a la mode – followed by a three-page entry about sugar addiction, contributed by Ashley Gearhardt. Such is the width and breadth of this alluring new tome. Under the brilliant baton of food writer and historian Darra Goldstein, 265 experts in the culinary world have weighed in with well-researched commentaries about an irresistible subject. A la mode, by the way, translates to “in the current fashion.” According to contributor Carolin Young, “In France a la mode refers to a traditional recipe for braised beef, which at one time was considered a new fashion,” whereas in America the phrase refers to a scoop of vanilla ice cream served with a slice of pie.

Evocatively, the first line of the book’s foreword begins: “I can remember easily the first time I stood deep in a field of sugarcane in full bloom, a field already marked for harvesting. It was spring of 1948, and I had just begun fieldwork in Puerto Rico.” Written by Sidney Mintz (who is 92 and considered “the godfather of food studies”), this triggered another profound memory. The year was 1962 and I was standing deep in a field of sugarcane when I was eight years old. The location was Belle Glade, Florida, where my cousins ran a plantation and owned the local movie theater. I will never forget the sickeningly sweet smell of extracted molasses wafting through the wet heat of the day from the factory nearby. It made me woozy. Which, of course, is what sugar does, and accounts for, in part, why we love it and sometimes loathe it.

The history of sugar is not all sweet. There is much suffering in the quest for this cherished foodstuff. Our hunger for sugar fed the institution of slavery, led to ugly legacies of racism, to the invasion of weaker nations by stronger ones to manipulate sugar prices, and to the exploitation of children and minorities who worked the fields. Bravo to the book’s editors for not sugar-coating the more painful aspects of its past.

Whereas this is an encyclopedia, meant to be dipped in and out of at leisure, it is unlike any other I’ve seen. There are hundreds of illustrations including mouthwatering paintings by Wayne Thiebaud (a personal favorite), Andy Warhol, and Will Cotton, a handful of historical recipes, and more than 600 erudite essays by pastry chefs, neuroscientists, food historians, and chemists, about what has become a grand metaphor for human pleasure. Equally satisfying are the book’s comprehensive appendices – anthologies of films, songs, outstanding pastry shops, and museums around the world, dedicated to our universal, and historical, predilection for sugar and sweets, first evidenced by Eve and an apple.

I’m not sure if I’m more excited learning about wasanbon (the most famous sugar used in traditional Japanese confectionery), or sitophilia (which describes sexual arousal involving food), but lurking between the candy-coated endpapers of The Oxford Companion to Sugar and Sweets, is something gratifying for everyone.

Two Great Cookbooks for Hanukkah 2014

2 Dec

My private cookbook collection can’t compare to that of many of my colleagues — my 500 or so seem paltry next to collections in the thousands. But at this stage of life, I carefully curate the books I want around forever. Here are two of them — both recently published and perfect gifts for Hanukkah.

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Jewish Soul Food: From Minsk to Marrakesh
by Janna Gur
Schocken Books, New York NY 2014 $35.00 ISBN 978-0- 8052-4308-6

This is a rave. With striking photos and vibrant spirit, here is a cookbook that reads like a luscious travelogue built around the culinary narrative of the Jewish diaspora. The book’s author, Janna Gur, is among the most knowledgeable representatives of Israeli cuisine (her first book, The Book of New Israeli Food, 2007 is already a classic) and of Jewish food and identity around the globe. Her new book, Jewish Soul Food: from Minsk to Marrakesh, is both prequel and sequel to Jerusalem by Ottolenghi. In a world cluttered with cookbooks, hers is a standout, a poignant journey of enforced migration and authenticity cast in a contemporary light. There is much to learn. I have never seen, eaten, or made many of these dishes: Her sabich (an egg and eggplant sandwich often eaten for breakfast) is gorgeous, as is hamim macaroni, mafroum (meat and potato “sandwiches”), Bulgarian feta-stuffed pepper “cutlets,” and tantalizing fluden, made with poppy seeds, walnuts and apples, for dessert. Its diverse recipes paint much of Israel’s culinary landscape, where Ms. Gur resides and publishes, with her husband, Israel’s most prominent food and wine magazine called Al Hashulchan (At the Table). Born in the former Soviet Union, Ms. Gur emigrated to Israel in 1974 and since that time has scholarly untangled the global threads woven into the Israeli kitchen.

Some of my favorite dishes include sabzi polo, rice pilaf made with equal amounts of basmati rice and fragrant fresh herbs, and addictive ijeh b’lahmeh which are herb and meat latkes perfect for Hanukkah. Also appropriate for the holiday are bimuelos, a Sephardic dessert of fried dough, drizzled with cinnamon-scented honey syrup and garnished with walnuts. I look forward to making her orange flower butter cookies studded with almonds for gift-giving this season.

This book is important because of Janna’s strongly held belief: The only way to preserve traditional cuisine for future generations is to cook it. Without her careful attention to this repertoire of priceless artifacts — recipes from vanquished times and cultures — these hand-me-downs would be all but lost. Jewish cuisine is unique because it reflects the histories of so many nationalities, wars and displacements. How Ms. Gur captures its essence in 100 recipes is the magic of this book.

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Eating Delancey: A Celebration of Jewish Food
by Aaron Rezny and Jordan Schaps

powerHouse Books, Brooklyn, NY 2014 $35.00 ISBN 978-1-57687-722-7

I don’t know exactly where my grandparents lived as Hungarian immigrants in the early part of the last century, but they certainly climbed tenement steps and shopped on Delancey Street, as depicted in this sumptuous book with lovely essays by famous fressers (eaters) — Calvin Trillin, Paul Goldberger (architecture critic of the New York Times), food maven Arthur Schwartz, legendary graphic designer, Milton Glaser — and mouth-watering recipes. There are spectacular images of food, people, storefronts, and culinary ephemera, and an unexpected black-and-white photo of Janis Joplin smoking a cigarette at Ratner’s, which is fabulous.

Eating Delancey, is Mr. Rezny’s personal homage to the vanishing flavors of his youth. Similarly, Mr. Schaps waxes nostalgic about his bubbe Ethel Raben and the meals he consumed in her Russian-Yiddish-American kitchen. Mr. Rezny photographs the semaphores of their combined history — bagels, halvah, knishes, seltzer bottles — with the same intention. The photographs of iconic quaffs — a bottle of Cherry Heering, Slivovitz, a bottle top of Cel-ray soda, tea in a glass are stunning in their simplicity. And the luster of the finished dishes — a slice of creamy cheesecake, Schwartz’s sweet and sour flanken, even matzo brei, a monochrome dish if there ever was one, here looks sensuous.

Joan Rivers would have kvelled from this book. Her poignant introduction, which in itself is poignant, is brilliantly alive with affection for Jewish food. She describes her mother, “a chic woman, very well read, a great hostess, and a horrible cook” and goes on to confess her love of singed chicken feet and gefilte fish with freshly grated horseradish.

Many books have delved into the psyche of Jewish people through their food — but this book succeeds as a true work of art. I, for one, regret not knowing more about my grandparents’ path, that of Joseph and Louise (Goldstein) Gold, who walked and ate with the best of them. More nostalgia: My best friend threw me a surprise wedding shower at Sammy’s Roumanian on Chrystie Street — imagine how classy that was — a place where chicken fat is poured from a pitcher, garlic fills the air, and where time, for a moment, stands still.

Spring Review

13 Mar

springreviewIt’s time for a Spring Review since beginning my blog in 2010. I’ve written more than 300 entries and wanted to share the best with you. Because of instantaneous access to one another via the Internet, the “world’s table” is now on public view. It is my goal, then, as a journalist, chef, author, restaurant consultant and food trends junkie, to help set the table with decades of perspective. When Vladimir Nabokov got around to writing his memoir, he called it “Speak, Memory.”  When writing my blog, I issue a similar command to myself:  “Taste, Memory!” I seek ways to connect the reader emotionally to his or her own gastronomic wavelength.

Just as Anna Quindlen writes about her keen observations about life – tying together politics, family, and one’s inner experience, often with whimsy — I have written my voice into daily, and weekly, connections to food, dining, cooking, history, biography and memoir. Each entry is a deliberate serving of the past, present and future – whether connecting the uprising in Egypt to my respect for Naguib Mafouz and my fondness for Egyptian cooking (with a contemporary photo of a young man preparing an ancient dish of ful mudammas); or experiencing the soul of Philadelphia-chef Marc Vetri through his singular approach to food and cooking and told his story by deeming him a “culinary bodhisattva.” A posting about “white carrots” informs the misinformed (which at times can be most of us), with an observation backed up with a bit of history, some speculation, and a few recipes to make the point. Included is a mesmerizing photo of carrots.

I believe that a younger generation of “food passionistas” – a term I coined for the group of dedicated, enthusiastic, and obsessively curious types about the world of food, chefs, and cooking – are in need of less hype, and more information, in an accessible  way. Inspired by the daily experiences of life in my kitchen, life in other people’s kitchens, learning at the hands of some of the industry’s most influential tastemakers, the purpose of my blog is not to attract advertisers or lure masses of readers; rather, it is an intimate, highly personal, often funny view of the world of food. Every blog posting puts my readers in-the-know about something timely. As a bonus, there’s always a “goody bag” in which one finds original recipes, ways to use new ingredients, food and wine pairing ideas, tips for entertaining, news about the coolest chefs and hottest restaurants. Or something more personal – a taste experience (ever try bitter chocolate, Parmigiano-Reggiano and sweet red grapes?); a mind stimulant (what about making marmalade from carrots?), or a new technique (like my deconstructed “wined-and-brined turkey,” or making cream cheese via “drip irrigation”).

Cooking is not merely about measurement and temperature, and the culinary world is not merely about gastronomy or nutrition. Food has deep historic and emotional resonances, and profound historical connections — think about “feast” or “famine” or “bread riots.”

Food is familial and simultaneously social: We break bread together and then divide the world into pig-eaters or pig-shunners.

When one writes well about food, all these factors come into play, consciously or not. One should know that The Gleaners in Millet’s famous painting reach backward historically to biblical injunctions not to harvest to the corners of the field, but to leave food for the poor. One should know that without the discovery of the Americas, there would be no tomatoes in Naples, no paprika in Budapest, no chocolate in Zurich. One should know something about why certain foods connect to certain religious festivals – why, for example, we serve lamb at Easter and also at Passover, and why both “feasts” relate to activities around the table.

What my mother cooked for the her family is different from what my readers’ mothers did then or do today, but they all set standards for how we view not just what’s on our plate, but how we will relate to a larger world – one in which even the present seems to vaporize in an instant.

Please take a moment to enjoy the posts below, and I encourage you to search the archives for others that may be of interest to you.

Cooking in Silence

Chocolate Dirt: Is it Art or is it Dinner?

Insanely Delicious Fresh Figs

The Gaza Kitchen

30 Apr

GK_2ndPrt__94234.1360079498.826.1280It was with an open mind and a touch of sadness that I read the riveting, and sometimes provocative, new cookbook, The Gaza Kitchen, written by Laila El-Haddad and Maggie Schmitt. I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. El-Haddad at her book party launch last month in New York at the sublime restaurant ilili – whose Lebanese cuisine is a distant cousin to the flavors, aromas, and politics found in the Gazan kitchen. Ms. El-Haddad, who is a social activist, blogger and author of Gaza Mom: Palestine, Politics, Parenting, and Everything In Between, felt like an old friend. After all, there was a time, long ago, when it was possible for Jews to have Palestinian friendships in the Old City of Jerusalem and share meals, and the culinary history, which has existed between us for thousands of years. Now there is a wall, both literal and metaphoric, that shields us from the realities of everyday existence in Gaza, where home kitchens are prey to the exigencies of conflict and deprivation: sporadic electricity, unaffordable ingredients that were once kitchen staples, and the rationing of food and fuel.

While I know the food of Israel well, having served as the unofficial spokesperson for Israel’s food and wine industry for years, and also as one of a delegation of “Four Women Chefs for Peace” on a culinary mission to Israel in 1996, I was fascinated to learn about the cuisine of Gaza, a tiny strip of land (25 miles long and 2-1/2 to 5 miles wide) sandwiched between the desert and the sea. What immediately jumped out was the presence of fresh dill and dried dill seed, the use of fiery hot chilies, and a totally new ingredient to me “red tahina.”

Red tahina, made from roasted sesame seeds, is to Gaza what pesto is to Genoa. It is virtually impossible to get it anywhere and I have asked a friend from Israel to try to find some and bring it to me when she comes to New York at the end of the month. How to use it if you can’t find it? The authors suggest adding a bit of dark sesame oil to the more familiar blond tahina to approximate the taste in several of the book’s recipes.

The cuisine of Gaza is Palestinian (home to 2 million people) “with its own sense of regional diversity,” according to author and historian, Nancy Harmon Jenkins, who wrote the forward to the book. In Gaza, she points out, stuffed grape leaves are uniquely flavored with allspice, cardamom, nutmeg and black pepper, and that chopped chilies, both red and green, and verdant fresh dill make Gazan falafel both personal and unusual.

Food there, no less than here, is a passionate subject. The cooks at home are always women while the cooks in restaurants and outdoor stalls are always men. But it is the zibdiya that unites them in the preparation of their lusty cuisine. According to the authors, “a zibdiya is the most precious kitchen item in every household in Gaza, rich or poor.” It is simply a heavy unglazed clay bowl accompanied by a lemonwood pestle used for mashing, crushing, pounding and grinding. Made from the rich red clay of Gaza, in larger forms they are also used as cooking vessels.

Their cuisine may lie at the intersection of history, geography and economy, but in The Gaza Kitchen, one is made acutely aware of how geo-political struggles find themselves revealed in a single dish. It’s hard not to swoon over the description of the “signature” dish of Gaza called sumagiyya, a sumac-enhanced meat stew cooked with green chard, chickpeas, dill, chilies, and red tahina, or not to be curious about fattit ajir, a spicy roasted watermelon salad tossed with tomatoes, torn bits of tasted Arab bread, and a lashing of hot chilies and yes, fresh dill. It is a repertoire of dishes that feel like a secret…but no longer.

Now only if there was a recipe for peace. One can always hope.

Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child

7 Aug

Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child
By Bob Spitz
Alfred A. Knopf (August 2012)

I knew Julia up close: I cooked for her; shared dozen of meals in a variety of cities; drank vintage wine and listened to music together, and celebrated with friends at book parties, engagement parties and restaurant openings (sometimes our own). I worked in the industry dominated by Julia’s spirit and accomplishments for most of my career as a professional chef. So it was with avid interest that I devoured her life’s story whole. Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child — told with affection and reverence by author Bob Spitz – lifts an American icon from the cauldron of celebrity into a dish of comfort food. The book chronicles an appealing personal journey defined by obstacles, perseverance, and an endearing quest to satisfy her many appetites.

Spitz, who distinguished himself as the über-biographer of The Beatles, is a rightful heir to Julia’s life story. Not only were they colleagues who traveled, ate, and gossiped a bit, but Mr. Spitz’s keen insights and artistry, help tell her story through a historical prism that spans a century. The book, to be released this week (to coincide with what would have been Julia’s 100th birthday on August 15th), illuminates the shifts in culture, cuisine, customs, and class, and examines the struggles of a woman, born in California in 1912, searching for identity. The book is hard to put down, despite its heft (557 pages), but few lives are worthy of such delicious scrutiny.

Julia’s life, while charmed and privileged, came with its own profound struggles for self-identification and meaning. I was struck by the meandering of Julia’s journey – until her thirties, when she enlisted in the war effort as an office worker for the OSS. The underbelly of her early story includes a lackluster attitude towards school (with grades to match at Smith), a spiritual yearning that never seems to materialize, a jagged relationship with her ultra-rich, ultra-conservative father, and the subsequent idealization of men. Despite all of it, what becomes crystal clear is Julia’s extraordinary self-confidence and almost super-human work ethic that continued until her late eighties when she was still master of stage and TV screen. Mr. Spitz, however, does not shine Julia up for public consumption; he keeps her flaws and foibles intact. Julia’s husband, Paul Child, emerges as an equally compelling personality, one who was hugely responsible for who, and what, Julia became. “Paul filled a hole in Julia’s development,” Mr. Spitz observes. Her story is also a powerful look at the allure of food that today is perhaps too available to all of us. For Julia it was that first meal in Rouen, France – a fish, cooked in butter and parsley, with insouciant simplicity, at La Couronne in 1948 — that hypnotized her.

For a Pasadena society girl to ultimately find a calling when nearing 40 is an interesting enough read, but to become a media icon at age 50 is quite another story. All 6 feet, 3 inches of Julia emerged on television in homes all over America, and from that time forward — more than three decades worth — we were treated to indelible images of omelettes, a chorus line-up of raw chickens, bubbling copper sautoirs of boeuf bourguignon, laughter, and learning.

Even more than her recipes, however, was her out-sized personality that served generations of women well beyond the kitchen. (It is interesting to note that Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique” was published around the same time as Mastering the Art of French Cooking.) In Dearie, Julia’s multi-generational imprint on what then was our gastronomically myopic culture is expertly textured by Mr. Spitz, who makes Julia’s personal and professional trajectory of targeted historical importance. Whether or not you grew up watching Julia on TV, or ever mastered the art of French cooking, you will no doubt get a vicarious culinary education by the book’s end. Julia’s dining experiences, cooking adventures, and culinary travails are enough to make you swoon.

Julia encouraged Bob to write her story. Unhappy with an earlier biography, Appetite for Life, written in 1997 by Noël Riley Fitch, Julia felt that she appeared lifeless and “already dead.” Gauging by the multitudinous events slated for the 100th birthday celebration of Julia this week, this month, and in the coming months – including an all-day seminar at Radcliffe, the re-opening of Julia’s Kitchen at the Smithsonian, and hundreds of restaurants dishing up Julia’s favorite recipes — Julia has never been more alive in the hearts and minds of those who grew up with her and ate and drank her dreams. Dearie: The Remarkable Life of Julia Child is then, a much-appreciated, well-timed gift to us all.

Lidia’s Italy in America

22 Dec

Lidia Bastianich is one of my personal heroes and, in a moment’s notice, I would lead the campaign to make her our next Ambassador to Italy. (Mr. Obama, are you listening?) Nothing, of course, against our current Ambassador, but I can think of no one who is so recognizably respected. Lidia has all the makings: savvy business acumen, formidable intelligence, and the perfect demeanor fitting such a position. And I love the notion that political prowess may actually begin in the kitchen.

Lidia has introduced us, through her seven cookbooks, television shows, and as doyenne of a handful of Italian restaurants in America, to the complexities of Italy’s culture and to the simplicity of Italy’s authentic cuisine. For decades we have accompanied her on journeys across the culinary landscape of Italy and now, in her newest cookbook, Lidia takes us on a culinary exploration of Italian cooking in America.

And while you’d think there’s nothing left to say about Italian-American food given the thousands of magazine articles and dozens of cookbooks that have scrubbed this particular gastronomical cupboard clean, nugget after nugget of good food and delectable ideas pop out of the recipes and stories lovingly told by Lidia and her daughter, Tanya Bastianich Manuali, in Lidia’s Italy in America (Alfred A. Knopf).

Lidia Bastianich, who by most reckoning must be Our Lady of Italian Cooking, traveled the country, revisiting places where Italian immigrants originally settled and where, even today, there’s great resonance. From Arthur Avenue in the Bronx to San Francisco and California wine country, with stopovers in robust Italian enclaves like New Orleans (think muffuletta sandwich), Philadelphia, Federal Hill in Providence, Chicago (think chicken Vesuvio), Baltimore and Boston, she adds places and faces to what certainly is America’s favorite “foreign” cuisine.

I put the word “foreign” in quotes because, by and large, we eat domesticated versions of true Italian food here and in many cases we eat Italian dishes that never existed in the old country. Many of the dishes — spaghetti and meatballs and veal parmigiano –were invented here by immigrants who made good and creative use of products then available to them.

Most of the time-worn dishes in this book no longer appear on menus of trendy, upscale Italian restaurants. After all, when was the last time you went out for lasagna or veal marsala or chicken tetrazzini? — dishes that have been co-opted by the likes of Olive Garden. So you won’t find sea urchins or burrata or guanciale or lardo here. You will find perfectly clear recipes of all your old favorites along with some interesting twists.

She notes that, contrary to most recipes in Italian-American cookbooks, the steak in bistecca pizzaiola should be cooked separately from the sauce so that both retain their distinct identities; most recipes have the meat simmered in the sauce. She has the same advice for those old standbys, sausage and peppers and veal marsala: cook the meats separately from the vegetables, then toss together at the very last moment.

Lidia theorizes that pasta alla puttanesca soared to popularity here in the 1970s because authentic Italian ingredients such as cured olives and cured capers were just becoming available, so the dish delivered what she calls a “wallop of flavor” that keeps people making it right up to today. She explains that even though Thomas Jefferson had a macaroni-making machine and served his baked pasta doused with cheese, maccheroni al formaggio also has an Italian rendition, hers with sage, grated fontina, cheddar and parmesan cheese.

Although they’re authoritative, many of these recipes are nostalgic because they require an ingredient many of us no longer have: time — time to make and fill ravioli with sausage and ricotta, or to assemble the various components of a first-rate lasagna, or to pound thin, stuff, roll and braise braciole. Where are our grandmothers now that we need them again?

There’s one very up-to-date recipe for brined turkey breast, from the New York restaurant Torrisi Italian Specialties, in which the bird is cooked very slowly in a quasi-sous vide plastic pouch, then smeared with a fabulous paste of garlic, oil, honey and vinegar and broiled until the skin crisps.

I asked Lidia which recipes best represent the Italian-American kitchen. She chose Fried Marinated Artichokes, Clams Casino, Penne Rigate in Vodka Sauce, Spaghetti with Meatballs, Chicken Cacciatore, Sausage and Peppers, and Almond Pine Nut Cookies as the “stellar expressions.”

I’m up for any of these dishes — or for her voluptuous eggplant parmigiana — next time Lidia plans to spend an afternoon at the stove.

The soulful pictures of Italian-American chefs, cooks, fishermen and butchers are almost worth the price of this lovely book. Ambassador Bastianich has a nice ring.

One for the Table: food, politics & love

19 Dec

I am new to the world of blogs and bloggers and rely on the kindness of strangers to send me reviews (of my work) or interesting articles on meaningful topics. Just this morning I was sent this missive from Lisa Dinsmore, an editor of the brilliant blog called “One for the Table.”  It is one of the most thoughtful reviews I’ve received.  It seems as though Lisa has already cooked more than 10 dishes from Radically Simple and, from the sound of it, seems very happy.  Me, too.  Lisa has a lovely way of pairing recipes and you might enjoy taking her lead as you read the review.  Her favorites so far: “Lemony Arugula & Sun-dried Tomato Salad with Smoked Mozzarella that we paired with Gold’s Chicken Parmigiana, which delivered the flavors you expected but in a lighter, fresher way; Pappa al Pomodoro, a tomato, cheese and bread soup that was hearty enough to satisfy my meat-eating husband; Manchego Chicken with Prosciutto and Arugula paired with Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Dates, and Steak Tenderloin with Balsamic, Rosemary & Gorgonzola paired with White Beans, Spinach, Tomatoes & Rosemary, made our usual weeknight dinners much more special.”

Lisa also took a beautiful photo of my Pappa al Pomodoro — recipe below.  It might be just the thing for Sunday supper on a cold winter night.


Pappa al Pomodoro

This famously soupy dish, thickened with bread instead of pasta, is much like a pasta course–deeply satisfying and a great way to begin a meal — or become the meal, when paired with a substantial vegetable or salad.  It’s a good excuse to use your best extra-virgin olive oil, which should be drizzled on right before serving.  A tip: The best way to “chop” canned tomatoes is to use scissors to snip them right in the can.

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
3 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
28-ounce can plum tomatoes in puree, chopped
2 cups chicken stock
4 ounces baguette, cut into small pieces, about 5 packed cups
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
large pinch red pepper flakes
3/4 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Pecorino Romano, or a mixture

Heat the oil in a 4-quart pot.  Add the garlic and cook until soft but not brown, 1 minute.  Add the tomatoes and stock; bring to a boil and cook 10 minutes over high heat.  Add the bread and cook 8 minutes, mashing with a potato masher until the ingredients are integrated and the bread is very soft.  Add the basil, pepper flakes, and salt. Cook 2 minutes longer.  Stir in 1/2 cup of the cheese.  Ladle into bowls and drizzle with more oil.  Sprinkle with the remaining 1/4 cup cheese.  Serves 4

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