Saffron Risotto with Zucchini Blossoms and Crème Fraîche

RECIPE: Saffron Risotto with Zucchini Blossoms and Crème Fraîche

Saffron Risotto with Zucchini Blossoms and Crème FraîcheI promised a few weeks ago that I would make a zucchini blossom risotto with saffron and crème fraîche – and I did!

I had my dad over for dinner. Growing up, I spent every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday night out to dinner with him. Sometimes it would be Steve’s pizza on Second Avenue – garlic bread, a pie, iceberg salad with lots of dried oregano and red wine vinegar. Occasionally, it would be lobster. He taught me how to eat in New York. And he continued to treat to me to such outings – well, he still does! But more and more now, I try to have him over for our dinners. He can’t boil water, so I think a home-cooked meal is as exotic to him as dinner out is to most people.

Last time he came over, I made this risotto. Shallots, butter, Arborio rice. Marigold-bright zucchini blossoms, torn into ribbons. White wine, steeped with saffron. So good! And to finish it off, instead of cheese, tangy, rich crème fraîche. It’s just so good. And golden and beautiful.

Saffron Risotto with Zucchini Blossoms and Crème Fraîche
serves 2 to 3

8 large zucchini blossoms
1 ½ cups vegetable broth, mixed with 2 cups of water
¼ teaspoon saffron
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 shallots, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, smashed and peeled, but otherwise whole
1 cup Arborio rice
¼ cup dry white wine
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
¼ cup crème fraîche
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

To prepare the zucchini blossoms, slice off the stem, and remove the stamen. Then tear into petals. Set aside.

In a small stockpot, heat the vegetable broth – water mixture with the saffron over medium heat.

In a wide braising pan, heat the olive oil over medium heat, and add the shallots and garlic. Sauté until translucent. Add the rice and zucchini blossoms, and toast for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the white wine and reduce. Then, ladle the saffron broth into the rice, one ladle at a time, stirring and adding more as the rice absorbs the liquid. After 20 minutes, the rice should have absorbed all the broth, and should be tender. Stir in the butter and the parsley. Spoon into bowls, and top with a dollop of crème fraîche.

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Categories: 30 Minutes, Eat, Main Courses, Recipes, Sides, Starches, Vegetarian, Vegetarian

Whole Wheat Orecchiette with Sausage and Caramelized Fennel

RECIPE: Whole Wheat Orecchiette with Sausage and Caramelized Fennel

Whole Wheat Orecchiette with Sausage and Caramelized FennelEveryone who knows me knows I hate summer.  Now, I have to admit that it’s growing on me.  The office slows down.  We travel.  The fruits and tomatoes are in explosion.  But really, once August rolls around, I’m done.  After Labor Day, when the rest of the world stops drinking rosé and starting mourning the end of summer Fridays, I am celebrating the return of pumpkin pie-everything and starting discussions (negotiations!) about Thanksgiving dinner potato options.

Now, while the air is turning fresh and crackling with possibility, the sky feels blue and unlimited, I am quietly rejoicing in the return to fall cooking.  Hearty.  Harvest.  Whole grains.  Meats.  Vegetables that don’t spoil if you look at them the wrong way.

I love this pasta dish.  I have to confess – I loved it so much that when I had leftovers, I ate it for breakfast before work and didn’t need to eat again until dinner.  It starts with red onion and fennel – sweet and hearty.  I caramelize them until they become nearly a jam, and then add in fennel-studded pork sausage, and white wine, and a little bit of broth.  I finish it all off with a mess of lacey fennel fronds and crème fraîche.  It’s rich and tangy from the sausage and crème fraîche; sweet and earthy from the onions and fennel; bright and airy from the fennel fronds.  I toss it all with whole wheat orecchiette that traps the sauce and bits of sausage.  It is so good!  I am dreaming up a version with turkey sausage and Swiss chard as I write this.

Happy fall, and bon app!

Whole Wheat Orecchiette with Sausage and Caramelized Fennel
serves 4


1 tablespoon olive oil
1 pound Italian sausage (about 4 links, with fennel inside)
1 red onion, very thinly sliced
½ fennel, very thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, sliced
¼ cup dry white wine
½ cup vegetable broth
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, cold
½ cup crème fraîche
1 pound whole wheat orecchiette
½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
½ cup chopped fennel fronds (or parsley)
Salt and pepper


In a heavy-bottomed, wide pan, add the olive oil. Remove the sausages from their casings, and add to the oil. Cook over medium-high heat, breaking up with a wooden spoon, until golden brown. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside.

Add the onion and fennel to the pan with the drippings from the sausage. Season with salt and pepper, and add about 2 tablespoons of water. Cook over medium heat for 20 – 25 minutes, until the vegetables are caramelized. If the pan ever starts to burn, add a spoonful of water. Add the garlic and warm through. Add the wine and reduce by half, scraping the good brown bits off the bottom of the pan. Add the vegetable broth and the reserved sausage into the pan. Bring to a boil, and stir in the cold butter. Finally, stir in the crème fraîche.

While the onion and fennel cooks, cook the pasta according to package instructions until al dente.

Add the cooked orecchiette on top of the sauce. Top with the Parmesan and the fennel fronds. Then, toss to coat, finishing the pasta in the sauce. Add up to ¼ cup of pasta water if the sauce seems too dry. Devour!

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Categories: 30 Minutes, Cheap, Eat, Main Courses, Meat, Recipes, Sides, Starches

Whole Wheat and Olive Oil Madeleines with Citrus

RECIPE: Whole Wheat Olive Oil Madeleines with Orange and Lemon

Whole Wheat Olive Oil MadeleinesI am a devoted fan of the Betsy-Tacy books.  I came to them late in life (they are considered, I would argue incorrectly, to be children’s books and so I deem discovery at twenty-eight to be late in the game), having found them face-out on a shelf in Barnes and Noble’s.  It was kismet.  I fell in quickly with Betsy, a young aspiring writer, prone to lists and dreams of self-betterment, going to high school in Minnesota in 1910.  We had nothing and everything in common.  I have re-read the six books every year since, sometimes twice, in times when I can use the escape of slipping in Betsy’s fantastically wholesome life and warm family.  Familiar, and yet a century and a world away.

Anna, “the hired girl” in the Betsy Ray stories, marks the first day of school each year by making muffins.  Because that is what one does on the first day of school!  I love the tradition and custom encapsulated in these books; the sense of remarking on the mundane.  And, of course, the idea of holding something warm and homemade and baked in the morning on a “school” day.  I must still be dreaming.

My life, I am sure like yours, feels impossibly hectic, like a bronco that can’t be broken.  Time has a mind of its own, and I can’t tame it.  But now that I am married, and living what I might call an “adult” life, I am looking to what tradition and custom I want to appropriate as my own, as my own family’s.  Betsy’s home is the happiest I’ve ever read about, and like her fictional to-be husband, I get most of my information on the world around me from the stories I read.  So I’ve taken little snippets from the turn-of-the-century traditions of the Rays.  Sunday Night Lunch (cold dinner and friends) was a fixture of my London life for years.  This September, I decided I would bring in muffins, in honor of the rentrée.  But I am hardly the all-American mid-Western girl that Betsy was.  I didn’t grow up on muffins.

But when I was young, I remember the lengths to which my mom would go to get me madeleines.  Excursions through the gourmet shops of Manhattan.  We would whip through the aisles like dust devils, inhaling olive ficelles and sampling peppery salamis.  To finally find clear plastic bags of madeleines, little shell cakes with happy, fat pot bellies.  Sweet and smelling of lemon or vanilla.  They remind me so much of my school days, that I knew, as an adult, madeleines would be my first-day-of-school muffins.

I couldn’t completely justify starting the day with cake, even if I bake it myself.  So I took out some sugar, swapped in whole wheat flower, and replaced some of the butter with olive oil.  Instead of extracts, I thread the dough will strands of fresh orange and lemon zest.  I could not believe how easy these were to whip up by hand in a single bowl, or how hearty and indulgent they were all at once.  I felt…spoiled.

I hope you try these whole wheat, olive oil, and citrus madeleines.  And, if you don’t have a madeleine mold, you could always go the way of Betsy and Anna and bake these in mini-muffin tins.  Bon app!

Whole Wheat Olive Oil Madeleines with Orange and Lemon
makes 16 Madeleines

2 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 orange
1 lemon
¼ cup olive oil
½ cup whole wheat flour
¼ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/3 cup sugar


Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

In a small pot, melt the butter with the zest of the orange and the lemon. I use a zester, rather than a Microplane, because I like the big ribbons of zest in the Madeleines. As soon as the butter is totally melted, shut off the heat, and add the olive oil. Allow to cool and infuse.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the two flours, baking soda, and salt. Set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and sugar. Squeeze two tablespoons of juice from the orange, and whisk into the eggs and sugar. Add the cooled butter – olive oil mixture, and whisk to combine.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients in batches, stirring just to combine. Spray the Madeleine pans with olive oil spray. Spoon 1 tablespoon of batter into each Madeleine mold. Bake for 10 minutes. Allow to cool for 5 minutes in the pan, and then completely on a rack. Eat!

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Categories: 30 Minutes, Bakery, Bread & Butter, Breakfast & Brunch, Easy, Eat, Pastries, Recipes, Vegetarian

Whole Wheat Zucchini Flower Pizza with Lemon Ricotta and Thyme

RECIPE: Whole Wheat Zucchini Flower Pizza with Lemon Ricotta and Thyme

Zucchini Blossom Pizza 2To me, zucchini blossoms are the unicorns of the vegetable world.  There are so fleeting and hard-to-find, sometimes I’m not sure they exist.  But when I do stumble across them, they are precious, delicate, expensive.  I become covetous all over.  I have to have them.

This time, the blossom sighting occurred in Connecticut.  I was staying at the parents’ house of a good friend, and they had a garden overrun by summer.  They can’t pick the tomatoes fast enough.  As we pulled away, my friend’s mother came to me, shoving a paper bag into my hands.  Tomatoes.  Zucchini in three colors.  Carrots.  Zinnias.  “Take them,” she pleaded.

On the way back to the city, we stopped at a country market, and there, gleaming bright in their little plastic case, were the blossoms.  It was the last box.  And only $4.  I shouted to Mr. English, jumping up and down: “Zucchini blossoms!  Zucchini blossoms!”  He told me he’d meet me by the cash register.

Zucchini Blossom Pizza 1I arrived home with whole wheat pizza dough, lemons, and my treasure in tow.  In my fridge, I had ricotta cheese, thyme, Parmesan, and pine nuts.  I rolled out the dough, ribbon-ed the zucchini with a vegetable peeler, and began to assemble.  Lemon zest and juice went into the ricotta, the base layer.  Then the zucchini, yellow and green.  Then the blossoms, stamens removed, laid out flat.  Then the parmesan, the thyme, the pine nuts.  Sea salt and olive oil.  I used my brand new pizza stone, and the result was heaven.  I think it would work just as well to leave the lemon ricotta off before baking, and then spoon little pillows of it, cold and fresh, and the hot pizza straight from the oven.

I sat munching my summertime treasure on the couch, already dreaming of my next unicorn sighting.  Because next time, I’m making zucchini blossom and saffron risotto.  I can’t wait!

Bon app!

Whole Wheat Zucchini Flower Pizza with Lemon Ricotta and Thyme
serves 4 to 8

1 cup ricotta cheese
Zest from ½ lemon
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Salt and pepper
1 zucchini
¼ pound zucchini flowers
1 pound whole wheat pizza dough
½ cup Parmesan, freshly grated
6 – 8 sprigs thyme
2 tablespoons pine nuts
4 teaspoons olive oil
bench flour

Position the oven rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 500 degrees. Place your pizza stone in the oven on the middle rack.

Prep your ingredients. In a small bowl, mix together the ricotta, lemon zest and juice, and salt and pepper. Using a Y-peeler, strip the zucchini into ribbons, leaving aside the seeds at the middle. Clean the zucchini flowers by slicing them in half and removing the stamen. Set everything aside.

Divide the dough in two rounds. Using some flour to help you roll out the dough, roll the dough to a thin round about 13 inches in diameter. Very carefully, using oven mitts, pull the pizza stone out of the oven. Arrange the dough on the hot stone. Spread the dough with half the ricotta mixture, leaving about a ½ inch border for the crust. Then drape zucchini ribbons in a single layer across the top of the ricotta, followed by half the zucchini flowers. Top with half the Parmesan, and a nice pinch of salt. Then, top with leaves from half the thyme stems, and half of the pine nuts. Drizzle with half the olive oil. Cook in the oven for 10 – 12 minutes, until crisp. Repeat with the other half of the ingredients.

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Categories: 60 Minutes, Bread & Butter, Eat, Main Courses, Recipes, Tarts, Quiches, Pizzas, Vegetarian, Vegetarian

My Signature Carrot and Triple-Walnut Salad

RECIPE: Rainbow Carrot and Walnut Salad

Carrot Walnut Salad

I grew up eating carrot salads.  My mémé’s Moroccan one: spicy, lemony, overflowing with toasty and smoky cumin seeds, and punctuated with parsley, served on Friday nights.  My mom’s more Mediterranean one – shredded carrot floss, golden nuggets of Parmesan, olive oil, more lemon, more parsley, served on sunny cold winter days by our pool when we were living in Florida.  Whereas my friends ate salads that had carrots in them, we ate carrot salads.  Just carrots.  I like the humbleness of them. The healthfulness of them.  I like that they are cheap and cheerful, crunchy and sweet and savory.  A carrot is an honest vegetable; I have faith in carrots.  Old reliables.

When I’m in France, mostly in the summertime, I love to lose myself in the hypermarchés.  Yes, of course, everyone loves the markets.  But I love the supermarkets too, where prepared carrot salads are ubiquitous and I insist on bringing one to every picnic.  I move methodically, up one aisle, down the next.  No item undiscovered, unconsidered, unremarkable.  Mr. English puffs out his cheeks, stands impatiently tapping his foot as I consider five brands of Camargue gray salt, and want to consider at thesis level the advantages and disadvantages of each.  “It’s just salt,” he mumbles.  But not.  Everything there is a little different, and that little difference, for me, is wonder.

Take, for example, the carrots.  If you get a good hypermarché, the bagged salad section will also be replete with angel-hair shredded carrots, celeriac, and carrots with celeriac.  I make rémoulades without hesitation.  (The mustard selection is another twenty-minute decision!)  It’s amazing how just the little differences – the finer shred to our American shredded carrots – leads to such a feeling of novelty.  The carrots there are less crunchy, more downy, creating nests rather than piles or stacks.  Grass rather than hay.  It’s not better.  Just different, and to me, embarrassingly, a little exciting.

Carrot Walnut SaladI was shopping at my usual supermarket in New York this week when I came across a bag of shredded organic heirloom rainbow carrots.  Beet-ish purple-red.  Golden.  Standard-issue orange.  And ghost white.  All tossed together in a 10-ounce plastic sack.  There it was.  The novelty!  The excitement!  The rush of want.  And I didn’t have to cross the Atlantic.

I have long been working on my own version of a carrot salad.  I probably have editions of it on this blog that I have forgotten.  But I wouldn’t be my meme’s granddaughter and my mom’s daughter if I didn’t have a carrot salad.  Mine is with walnuts.  Carrots, root vegetables, earthy.  Walnuts, so woody, almost like tree bark.  I love them both, and I love them together.

Maille recently gifted me a jar of their walnut mustard, and I was immediately struck by just how walnutty it was.  A touch a honey (Tupelo!), a splash of white wine vinegar, a stack of Maldon salt flakes, crushed between my fingers.  Then, walnut oil, olive oil.  In go the rainbow shards of carrot, followed by parsley (can’t break that family tradition), and smashed toasted walnuts for a walnut triple-threat.  The result is so wonderfully of-the-earth.  Thoughtful, but simple.  I had some Terra Original chips, as I almost always do.  The colors matched my carrots, and I crumbled a few on top of the salad, the way my Le Comptoir places blue potato chip shards on its dishes in Paris, for salt and crunch and surprise.  It was just the perfect touch – very me – to autograph my contribution to the family carrot album.

Carrot Walnut Salad

Merci, Maille, pour la moutarde!

Bon app!

Rainbow Carrot and Walnut Salad
serves 4

Carrot Walnut SaladINGREDIENTS

  • 1 teaspoon walnut mustard
  • 1/8 teaspoon honey
  • 1 tablespoon white wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons walnut oil
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 10-ounce bag of shredded rainbow carrots
  • 1/3 cup chopped toasted walnuts
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • Optional: Terra chips, crumbled on top


In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, honey, and vinegar with salt and pepper.  Whisk in the two oils.

In a medium bowl, combined the carrots, walnuts, and parsley.  Toss with the vinaigrette.  Serve!

If you want, top with the Terra chips just before serving.

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Appetizers & Hors D’Oeuvres, Cheap, Easy, Eat, For a Crowd, Recipes, Salad, Sides, Soup & Salad, Vegetables, Vegetarian

Brûléed Peaches

RECIPE: Brûléed Peaches

Bruléed Vanilla PeachesA bonus recipe!  I loved my peach and vanilla tarte tatin so much, I had to use my leftover peaches and vanilla sugar for something.  I love this for breakfast with Greek yogurt or for dessert with ice cream (Vanilla!  Ginger!  Lavender!) or crème fraîche.  All you do is sprinkle some vanilla sugar on a half peach and torch it like a crème brûlée.  The sugar forms the stained-glass-window crust, and the peach stays fresh and succulent.  If you don’t have a torch, you could always run it under the broiler, but the peach will then warm and cook ever so slightly.  You might prefer it that way!  Either way, a summer recipe not to be missed.

p.s. You could also do this with lavender sugar instead of vanilla sugar.  Reason enough to make it twice.

Brûléed Peaches
makes 1/2 peach -- make 1 or 2 halves per person

Bruléed Vanilla PeachesINGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 ripe peach, white or yellow, stone removed
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla sugar


Pat the cut side of the peach dry with a paper towel and place on a rimmed baking sheet (line with foil for easy clean up).  Sprinkle the cut side of the peach with the sugar.  Using a torch, caramelize the sugar until it forms a golden crust.  Serve immediately.

Alternatively, heat the broiler.  Assemble the peaches as above and broil until the sugar crust forms — about 3 minutes.


To make vanilla sugar, place a vanilla bean in a jar of sugar, and let sit at least overnight.  This is a great thing to do once you’ve scraped the seeds from the bean for another recipe (like White Peach Vanilla Tarte Tatin).

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Categories: 15 Minutes, Breakfast & Brunch, Desserts, Easy, Eat, Fruit, Recipes, Sweets, Vegetarian

Summertime White Peach and Vanilla Bean Tarte Tatin

RECIPE: White Peach and Vanilla Bean Tarte Tatin

Peach Tarte TatinMr. English and I spent sixteen perfect days in France this summer.  It was my first vacation in a year, and I counted each perfect, sun-soaked, olive oil-drenched day one by one until finally the last, devastatingly, arrived.

The first week, we discovered the Alpilles, up high in Provence.  Rocky like the moon, relaxed — but chic, and brimming with rosé.  We stayed at a stunning hotel called Le Mas de la Rose, and as ever, we regaled ourselves at breakfast.  We like nothing so much as a really good hotel breakfast.

Breakfast at Mas de La RoseThe Breakfast Room - Mas de La RoseMasDeLaRose1MasDeLaRose2I love breakfast in France – cheese, baguette, yogurt, fruit so ripe it weeps.  They did a great seared brioche coated in sugar – better, I think, than French toast.  I’ll try to figure out that recipe.  Verbena tea.  Prunes.  Delightful!

And they had these fabulous jams in cool flavors that they procured at the market in Eygalières.  Strawberry mint.  Blueberry thyme.  And my favorite, peach vanilla.  I had never thought of peach and vanilla before, but I haven’t stopped thinking about it since!

Peach Tarte Tatin 1Someone at work recently turned me on to New Jersey peaches — nearly as good as the Provençal ones.  I found gorgeous white ones, although, of course, you could use the yellow.  I have traditionally found tarte tatin to be quite exacting and hard to get right, but I realize, it is so much easier to make with soft, ripe peaches than with apples, because you don’t need to precook the fruit.  Just swirl around sugar, water, and vanilla bean seeds in a pan until golden, add in some cool unsalted butter, and arrange your peach slices on top.  I add a pinch of Maldon sea salt too, because what’s caramel without salt?  Then I just top with puff pastry out of the fridge, and throw the whole thing in the oven.

Peach Tarte Tatin 2The caramel is bitter-salty-sweet, has that deep vanilla perfume, and it mixes with all the peachy juices.  When you flip it over, the caramel juices form a deluge, rushing to the edge of the platter (use one with a rim!), so that the tarte looks like the ark awash in a peachy sweet sea after forty days and forty nights.  The puff pastry soaks it up but keeps its own sense of self at the same time.  It is so good!  Throw some crème fraîche on the side.  It is a summer showstopper.  I had this grand plan to invite people over to devour it, but Mr. English and I just keep sneaking off to the fridge for “slivers”.  I’m putting this one on repeat until peach season is up!

Peach Tarte Tatin 4Bon app!

White Peach and Vanilla Bean Tarte Tatin
serves 4 to 6

Peach Tarte TatinINGREDIENTS

  • ½ cup granulated sugar
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/8 teaspoon Maldon sea salt
  • The seeds from 1 vanilla bean
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 3 ripe white peaches, pitted and quartered
  • 1 sheet thawed frozen puff pastry


Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

In a 10-inch sautépan, meat the sugar, water, salt, and vanilla over medium heats until golden brown, swirling the pan occasionally to ensure even caramelization – about 9 minutes.

Take the pan off the heat and swirl in the butter.  As soon as the butter is melted, arrange the peach quarters neatly in the caramel (I use tongs so I don’t burn my fingers).  Then, quickly roll out the puff pastry just a little bit, so it covers the pan, and using the tongs, tuck it into the edges of the pan.  Using a paring knife, cut two little steam vent slits in the pastry.  Bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes.  Then, let rest on the counter for 10 minutes.  Then carefully turn out onto a plate, and serve with crème fraîche!

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Categories: 30 Minutes, Desserts, Eat, Fruit, Provence, Recipes, Vegetarian, Voyages