French in a Flash: Niçoise Panzanella Bread Salad

RECIPE: Niçoise Panzanella Bread Salad
Niçoise Panzanella

Niçoise Panzanella Bread Salad, with black olives, green beans, cherry tomatoes, anchovies, tuna, herbs, lemons, and BREAD!

Some people say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.  Don’t reinvent a classic–it’s a classic because it’s perfect as is.  Which, is true.  But even though this panzanella is something of a reinvented Salade Niçoise or Pan Bagnat, I’m not reinventing it to improve it, but so I can find more ways to eat it because I love it.

Salade Niçoise is iconic, as is the Pan Bagnat which is just a Salade Niçoise sandwich.  This is somewhere in the middle: a bread salad full of all the flavors that make a Salade Niçoise a Salade Niçoise: cherry tomatoes, tender blanched haricots verts, anchovies, garlic, lemon, olive oil, thyme, basil, and the best part–albacore in olive oil.  All tossed with toasted, crusted cubes of bread that soak up all the flavor and make it a meal.  It’s salty, fresh, crisp, and bright.

So like I said, this is one more way to eat your Salade Niçoise.  And who doesn’t want that?

Excerpted from my weekly column French in a Flash on Serious Eats.

Niçoise Panzanella Bread Salad
serves 4

Niçoise PanzanellaINGREDIENTS

  • 6 cups day-old bread, cut in 1-inch cubes
  • The juice and zest of 1 lemon
  • 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon roughly chopped fresh thyme
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • 7 ounces haricots verts, halved and blanched until tender crisp
  • 45 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 30 Kalamata olives, pitted and halved
  • 12 anchovy fillets in olive oil, drained and roughly chopped
  • 1 cup baby arugula, roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons roughly chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 1 5-ounce can of albacore in olive oil, drained

PROCEDURE

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.  Spread the bread in a single layer on a baking sheet, and toast until just golden brown, about 10 minutes.  Set aside to cool.

Prepare the vinaigrette by whisking together the lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil, thyme, and salt and pepper.

In a large bowl, toss together the haricots verts, cherry tomatoes, olives, anchovies, arugula, basil, parsley, and the lemon-thyme vinaigrette.  Then, add the tuna and bread croutons to the bowl, and gently toss until everything is combined.  Let sit on the counter for at least 20 minutes before serving.

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Working Girl Dinners: Spaghetti with Tobiko and Herbs (yes, that pasta with fish eggs!)

RECIPE: Spaghetti with Tobiko and Herbs
Tobiko Pasta

Tobiko Pasta

This is one of my favorite dishes of all time.  I got a ton of friends and readers telling me that they loved the Cheapskate Spaghetti.  This is like Cheapskate Spaghetti–goes to Japan.

I was at the restaurant Basta Pasta in New York with three of my best friends.  I seem to have been the last person on earth to go there, but I’d been hearing about the place for years because they do one of those hot pasta dishes tossed in a hollow Parmesan wheel.  And those are always a show stopper.  But I didn’t realize that the point of the whole place is this Japanese Italian fusion.  And before you judge pasta with sea urchin in a pink sauce, let me just tell you it is heart stopping–so special and different and wonderful and complex.

This pasta, Spaghetti with Tobiko and Herbs, is based on the pasta I had a Basta Pasta that night: spaghetti tossed with tobiko (flying fish eggs, like on the outside of your California Roll) and shiso, a Japanese herb that falls somewhere between mint and basil.  I know, it sounds coo coo for Coco Puffs crazy.  But it is kind of like a much more delicate, sweeter, fresher version of spaghetti with clam sauce.  The fish row bursts ever so slightly in your mouth, and has that unmitigated flavor of the sea.  The shiso (or in our case, the mint and basil) counters it with a tremendous garden freshness.  And the easy butter sauce is so simple and elegant and good.  Good thing I asked the waiter what was in it!  Honestly, I can’t stop making this dish.  It’s weird, but that’s what makes it special.  And the fact that it’s even cheaper and easier than everyone’s favorite Cheapskate Pasta–well, that just speaks volumes.  You have to try this.  You won’t be able to stop eating it, and no one will be able to believe that you made it!

Spaghetti with Tobiko and Herbs
serves 4

Tobiko PastaINGREDIENTS

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 pound spaghetti rigati (recommended: Barilla)*
  • ½ cup clam juice
  • ⅓ cup tobiko (flying fish roe) or masago**
  • ⅓ cup chiffonade of shiso (or mint and basil)***

PROCEDURE

Dice the butter, and put it back in the fridge.

Cook the spaghetti in very well salted boiling water until al dente.  Reserve ½ cup of the pasta cooking water before draining.

Add the clam juice and reserved pasta water to the empty pasta pot over high heat.  Once the mixture comes to a boil, whisk in the butter, 1 cube at a time, until they are all dissolved into the sauce.  Take the pot off the heat, and toss the pasta with the sauce.  Taste for seasoning, and add salt if you want it.

You can either divvy the pasta up between 4 bowls, and divide the tobiko and herbs on top of the bowls of pasta; or you can toss the tobiko and herbs with the pasta in the pot.  Either way, serve right away!

NOTES

*I like the spaghetti rigati because each strand holds the sauce and tobiko to it.  But if you can’t find it, just use regular spaghetti, like Basta Pasta does.

**This is those tiny orange fish eggs on the outside of sushi.  I buy it for $1.89 for ⅓ cup at a local Asian market, in the freezer section.  You can also try your local sushi restaurant, or the sushi counter at your supermarket.

***Shiso is an Asian herb that I can’t find.  So I use a mixture of 10 basil leaves and 20 mint leaves.

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French in a Flash: Thick Celeriac Soup with Gruyère

RECIPE: Thick Celeriac Soup with Gruyères
Celeriac Soup

Celeriac Soup with Gruyère melting into it...

The first thing that hits me about celeriac is the smell.  It’s like the forest floor and a cabbage patch and a grassy field all at once.  It is so intensely vegetal.  And let’s face it: few vegetables can tread the line between root vegetable and garden vegetable with such success.  It has the bulk and heartiness of the likes of a potato, but the lightness and brightness of a very mild celery.  It’s gorgeous.  And because so few people really eat or make it in the States, it’s that smell that immediately takes me to France, and makes me feel like I’m having something ever so special.

This soup was inspired by a Vichyssoise, if you consider a Vichyssoise to be a thick soup of root vegetable and onion, rather than exclusively potato and leek.  The soup is simply celeriac, caramelized shallots, thyme, and vegetable broth, simmered and blended together until it’s thick and creamy, even though there’s not a drop of cream.  In the age old French tradition of stirring grated cheese into hot soups, I serve it with a mound of grated Gruyère to be melted and stirred into the thick and steaming soup.  The result is a hearty soup with the lightness and smell of a garden, punctuated by the slight sweetness of the caramelized shallots and the earthiness of thyme.  The Gruyère does magical things, adding that salty nuttiness that I love, and oozing into the soup.  If you make one soup this fall, it has to be this one!

Excerpted from my weekly column French in a Flash on Serious Eats.

Thick Celeriac Soup with Gruyères
serves 4

Celeriac SoupINGREDIENTS

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 6 small shallots, finely sliced
  • 1/4 pound potatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 3/4 pounds celery root, peeled and cubed
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 5 cups vegetable broth
  • Grated Gruyère, for serving

PROCEDURE

In a large stockpot, melt the butter over medium heat until frothy.  Add the shallots, and cook on medium-low to medium heat until caramelized, about 10 minutes.  Keep a cup of water on the side, and add a splash every few minutes to keep the shallots from burning before they are caramelized.

Add the potatoes, celery root, thyme, salt, pepper, and vegetable broth, and bring to a boil over high heat.  Cover, and reduce the heat to medium-low, simmering for 30 minutes.  Add the contents of the pot to a blender, and carefully purée until smooth.  Serve very hot, with a big pile of coarsely grated Gruyère to pile on top and melt into the soup.

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The Secret Ingredient (Chipotle): Chipotle Ketchup

RECIPE: Chipotle Ketchup

Chipotle KetchupMaybe I say this every month.  It’s very possible.  But Chipotle has been my absolute favorite Secret Ingredient to date.  Which may be why I’m doing five recipes instead of the usual three.

Chipotles are smoked jalapenos.  But, they are somewhat different than the usual jalapeno you’d buy at the store.  Green jalapenos are picked when the pepper is slightly unripe.  Like bell peppers, the longer a jalapeno stays on the vine, the more its color deepens from green to red.  So jalapenos meant for chipotles are left on the vine until they become deep red in color, then dry a bit, and are finally harvested.  Once they are harvested, they are smoked over a period of days until they are quite dry, like a prune.  Then, they go on to many different forms, the one I prefer being canned chipotle in adobo, where the peppers are packed and rehydrated in a vinegar-based sauce with onions and flavorings, that becomes a secret ingredient all on its own.

Chipotles can be used in all sorts of complicated dishes, slow cooking with pork, or co-chairing a fantastic guacamole with avocados.  But one simple preparation that I often see on haute-casual brunch menus is chipotle ketchup, served simply with fries.  The smoky, earthy spiciness of the chipotles add a great kick to the ketchup, but the adobo, with its similar spices and vinegar content to ketchup just kicks the whole thing up, while still staying in the vein of the original ketchup.  The result is something seamless that simply works.

Excerpted from my weekly column The Secret Ingredient on Serious Eats.

Chipotle Ketchup
makes 1 1/3 cups

Chipotle KetchupINGREDIENTS

  • 1 14-ounce bottle of ketchup
  • 2 chipotles in adobo
  • 1 tablespoons adobo

PROCEDURE

Put all the ingredients in the blend, and whiz until smooth.  Serve with fries.

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French in a Flash: Quick-Braised Young Leeks with Parmesan and Thyme

RECIPE: Quick-Braised Young Leeks with Parmesan and Thyme
Baby Leeks with Parmesan and Thyme

Baby Leeks with Parmesan and Thyme

Sometimes, for this column, I have a very distinct thing that I want to do.  Like, Celeriac Remoulade.  And then I pace and puff and pout my way around a supermarket, hunting for the celery roots that are never going to be found, because they’re not in season.  This week, I did as the French do (probably very appropriate given the nature of this column), and just wandered the produce aisle, looking for something to strike my fancy.  And I found them, baby leeks.  They’ve been so trendy for so long, which is something you don’t say everyday.  So, I figured, let’s give them a whirl.

My flavor inspiration came from Thanksgiving stuffing, the onion and thyme action with a salty bite.  I do a quick blanch on the leeks, and then toss them with olive oil and whole thyme leaves and a bit of nutty Parmesan, and then put them into a hot oven to have everything crisp and crumble into each other.  The result is such a beautiful, unusual side dish, full of soft, mellow onion flavor, and charred, woodsy strands of thyme, and nutty, salty Parmesan.  Hey, ’tis the season.  Might as well get with the times.

Excerpted from my weekly column “French in a Flash” on Serious Eats.
Quick-Braised Young Leeks with Parmesan and Thyme
serves 2

Baby Leeks with Parmesan and ThymeINGREDIENTS

  • 6 ounces baby leeks, tips and dark greens trimmed away
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 cup water
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon olive oil
  • 10 small sprigs thyme
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated Parmesan

PROCEDURE

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Halve the leeks lengthwise.  Place the butter and water and salt in a sauté pan over high heat.  Add the leeks in a single layer, and place the lid askew over the pot.  Cook until the water has just evaporate, about 7 minutes.

Gently toss the leeks with the olive oil and add the whole thyme sprigs.  Roast in the oven until just slightly golden, about 3 minutes.  Scatter the Parmesan over the leeks, and return to the oven for 1 minute more.  Serve on the side, or on top, of chicken or fish.

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Franglais: Onion-Ring Leeks

RECIPE: Onion-Ring Leeks
Onion Ring Leeks

Onion-Ring Leeks

I always go for comfort food, but there are times when I want my vegetables to be a bit more stilettos than sweat pants.

Enter the leek.

The unsung heroe of French food.  Any stock, any soup, any sauce—should have a sign graffitied across the plate, “leeks were here!”.  Their leaves are used in bouquet garni, tied and bound, then thrown away.  They are braised in sauces, then strained out.  And thrown away.  They are simmered in stocks, with bones, and peppercorns.  And then thrown away.  For every ten times you’ve tasted a leek, maybe they’ve actually crossed your lips once.  It’s a crying shame.

Every once in a very long while, when leeks are the star of the show, and get their day in the sun, they are in that single, solitary moment highbrow, exotic, and very French.  Leeks have the mild onion flavor of a shallot, but less sweet, and a bit more vegetal with a hint of celery.  Hearty in constitution, but delicate in flavor.  I love to shred them superfine and toss them in flour, and then fry them until they’re frizzled, and pile them high on top of seared steaks or crisp fishes.  This version is a step up from that, thick strands of leeks soaked in buttermilk and coated in an onion-ring breading of flour and cornmeal.  I fry them until they are crisp, and season them with salt, and maybe a pinch of piment d’Espelette.  I like them as an appetizer, with a wedge of lemon.  Or on the side of a light grilled steak.  They soften, and caramelize, and are crisp and soft and sweet and salty at once.  To be blunt, they are delicious.  A treasure, buried at the bottom of your stockpot, or garbage can.

To everything there is a season.  And I believe the leeks shall inherit the earth.

Excerpted from my weekly column Franglais on The Huffington Post.

Onion-Ring Leeks
serves 2 to 4

Onion-Ring Leeks

serves 2 to 4

 

Onion Ring LeeksINGREDIENTS

  • 1 leek, cut into thick strips
  • ⅓ cup buttermilk
  • ½ cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons cornmeal
  • ¾ teaspoon salt
  • Canola oil for frying

PROCEDURE

Leave the leeks to soak for 15 minutes in the buttermilk. Meanwhile, mix together the flour, cornmeal, and salt.  Fill a cast iron skillet with 1 inch of canola oil, and heat it to 375°F.

Allow the excess buttermilk to drip away, and dredge the leeks, individually, in the flour mixture.  Fry in small batches until crisp and golden brown, from 1 to 3 minutes.  Drain on paper towels, and sprinkle with extra salt.

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Working Girl Dinners: Bruschetta Sea Bass

RECIPE: Bruschetta Sea Bass
Bruschetta Bass

Bruschetta Bass

I eat bruschetta at least once a week.  In fact, I’m getting ready to make it for lunch today.  I like it simple, tomatoes tossed with olive oil and salt, maybe some torn fresh basil, piled onto toasted good bread that I sometimes rub with garlic.  It’s light, and healthy, and easy, and perfect.  When I’ve over done it, which is often (I had two dinners last night: a brie sandwich at 6 AND fish and chips at 10), this is what I revert back to.

For dinner, if I want something similar, but more elegant, or more hearty, I actually turn a piece of Chilean sea bass into bruschetta.  The fish is thick, but buttery and flaky, and I sear it in olive oil, super simply, just until it’s crispy on the edges, and just cooked through.  Then, and this is the secret, I rub it with a cut clove of garlic.  Like with garlic bread, but it’s garlic fish.  So good.  Then, I pile it high with a salad of tomatoes, and olive oil, and basil, so all the tomato juices run down into the ravines in the fish, and the salad is so fresh and light you can’t help feeling like some virtuous kitchen saint, when really you’re eating something so good, you don’t care about actually being good.  You’re going to love it, plus, it dresses up nice for company.  Bon app!

Bruschetta Sea Bass
serves 2

Bruschetta BassINGREDIENTS

  • 2 5 to 6-ounce boneless, skinless Chilean sea bass fillets
  • Salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons
  • ½ pint grape tomatoes
  • 12 large basil leaves
  • 1 clove garlic

PROCEDURE

Season the fish with salt.  Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a wide skillet over medium heat.  Place the fish presentation-side-down in the hot oil, sear until golden brown, about 4½ minutes.  Flip the fish, and sear another 2 to 2½ minutes.

Meanwhile, chop the tomatoes in a mini food processor to a chunky chop (you can do this by hand too).  Stir with basil and remaining olive oil,  and salt.

When the fish is done, cut the garlic clove in half, and rub the cut end all over the hot fish.  Divide the tomato salad over the top, or on the side, of the fish, and serve right away.  Bon app!

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