Pink Peppercorn and Parmesan Gougères
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Pink peppercorns, which I discovered as poivre rose in cooking school, aren’t really peppercorns at all. Shakespeare may have said a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, but poivre rose is really a misnomer. Pepper is hard, and spicy. It makes you sneeze; it is boisterous and strident. But pink peppercorns are like hot, bright birthday balloons, freeze-dried and hollow, that crunch and crumble at the slightest pressure. They are not spicy so much as feisty, like a natural Pop Rock with just a hint of peppery spice—more subtle and delicate, in flavor and texture, than the peppercorns in your pepper mill.
The black peppercorn is the father figure: strong, set in his ways, inveterately hot-tempered. The pink peppercorn is his delicate daughter: beautiful, subtle, refined, unexpected, vivacious, and surprising. Yet, the Pink Lady doesn’t fall far from the tree.
Provençal Calamari Salad
This is a recipe of unsung heroes: calamari (calamars in French) and tarragon. I can still remember my first encounter with the thing that is calamari. It was in a spooky old cliffside restaurant near Woodstock in upstate New York. Up until that point, my only knowledge of squid was the sculpture of the giant one in the whale room at the Museum of Natural History. The crispy rings and tendrils were a revelation: crunchy, salty, chewy, briny, and even sweet in that delicate and tender way peculiar to seafood. That was twenty-one years ago, and I’ve eaten calamari at least once a week since.
Calamari is all you could every ask for: It’s cheap, it cooks in seconds, and it goes with anything, a Proteus that assumes and absorbs the flavors, and even sometimes the hue, of whatever you are cooking. And yet, for all their virtues, their ease, their inexpensiveness, they are still evocative of expensive seafood dinners, and generally bring an ooh or ahh from expectant eaters.
Apple Celeriac Remoulade
I’m continuously surprised that what seems outlandishly exotic in one region is a quotidian afterthought in the next. Think of fennel in Italy and France, and its recent revelation here in the States. And celeriac, or celery root, is one of the humblest, earthiest, and most common ingredients in France, only to be elevated by nostalgic chefs at their Paris corner restaurants.
Celeriac has the texture of something between an apple, yuca, and jicama—tender, crisp, and decidedly root-vegetable in its heartiness. Its taste is fragrant celery, more like celery seed or celery salt than the leafy-headed green tops peeking up from the vegetable bin. It’s crunchy, moist, and grassy for its pallor. Most of all, it is fresh.
Chamomile Rice Pudding
Chamomile is the comfort tea, built to settle any stomach, or any mind, at the end of a nervous, over-stuffed day. And to me, nothing is more comforting than rice pudding. This dessert plays with both chamomile tea and dried chamomile blossoms, both of which imbue a mellow floralness that counteracts the sweetness of traditional rice pudding. It’s creamy and studded with golden raisins rehydrated in a mug of chamomile tea, and sweet, sticky, floral honey. Instead of sweet, pungent, and heady vanilla—traditional in rice pudding—this version is subtle and dressed-down.
Chamomile Rice Pudding with Tea-Soaked Raisings
serves 4 to 6
- 2 cups water
- 3 tablespoons of dried edible chamomile flowers
- 4 cups milk
- 1 tablespoon butter
- 1 cup Arborio rice
- 1 chamomile tea bag
- 1/4 cup golden raisins
- 1/4 cup sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 1/4 cup cream to finish (optional)
Start as though you were making a risotto. In two separate pots, heat the water and the milk. Place the chamomile flowers (not the tea bags) in the water, and allow to steep for at least ten minutes. Strain the flowers out, and return the chamomile water to the pan to keep warm.
Melt the butter in a wide pan with sides over medium low heat. Add the rice, and stir to coat, cooking for just a minute in the butter until the rice turns translucent.
Use a ladle to add the water bit by bit to the rice, adding more only as it is absorbed, and stirring continuously. Once you have used all the water, switch to milk, and continue to stir.
Meanwhile, brew a cup of chamomile tea with the tea bag. Place the golden raisins in the tea to rehydrate.
Once most of the milk has been used, and the pudding has reached a thick, porridge-like texture, add the sugar, and stir it in to melt over the heat. Add the pinch of salt as well.
Take the pan off the heat. Stir in a splash of cream to finish, and serve hot, in separate bowls or ramekins. Strain the golden raisins out of the tea, and top the pudding with them. Serve with honey alongside.
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Pistou-Crumbed Creamed Spinach
It amazes me how I’ve managed to become a tourist in my own hometown. As I prepare to fly back to New York after months abroad, I’ve found myself doing what any other red-blooded visitor to New York might do: making reservations at steakhouses for a good New York steak—specifically Peter Luger, to which I’ve shamefully never been, and BLT Prime. And as I longingly sit in front of MenuPages pondering what I’ll order, I realize the thing I’m looking forward to the most is just a supporting player: the creamed spinach.
It’s been one of my favorites since I used to pile it on top of hamburgers as a little girl. Reassuringly, conscientiously vegetal, there is a Popeyed redemption in creamed spinach. But then, there’s that comfort of Maman’s gratin—bubbling, luscious. In my world, the steak just plays second fiddle.
Chamomile Pork Chops with Lemon
I’ve had my nose in a book for the last week studying for a looming macroeconomics exam, and I finally found out something interesting. Do you know who said “There’s no such thing as a free lunch?” Milton Friedman.
But I have a hard time believing that Milton Friedman knew anything particularly meaningful about lunch.I think with a bit of creativity, you can get something for (almost) nothing. Take this recipe, for instance. I bought a 1 1/2-pound pack of lean, very thinly sliced pork loin chops for just a couple of dollars. Everything else, flour, salt, pepper, lemon, olive oil, I had at home. I saw a pack of dried chamomile flowers for a matter of cents, threw them in the basket, and went to pay.
For just a couple of dollars, I was able to make something simple and hearty, but still exciting and different. The chamomile that’s worked into the flour atomizes its signature mild summertime scent as it hits the sizzling pan, and the elusive floral taste peeks out from the plate. It’s subtle, but unique, and a simple way to tuck a touch of thought into the everyday fast and furious parade of meals. I serve this with bright lemon wedges, and a simple tossed salad of pea shoots and green herbs, tossed with shallots, sea salt, olive oil, and a spritz of citrus. And even if I paid for my pork chops, I still feel like a got that injection of restaurant frivolity for free.
Chamomile Pork Chops with Lemon
- 3/4 lb. thin-cut pork chops
- 2 tablespoons dried chamomile flowers, ground
- 1/2 cup flour
- Light olive oil for frying
- Salt and pepper
Season the pork chops with salt and pepper.
Use a clean coffee grinder to make chamomile powder of the dry flowers. Then, mix it into the flour.
Dredge the pork chops in the flour-chamomile mixture.
To a sauté pan over medium to medium-high heat, add enough light-tasting olive oil to lightly cover the bottom of the pan. Sear the dredged, thin pork chops until golden on both sides, about 4 minutes total. You do want to make sure you cook the pork all the way through.
Serve on a plate with lemon wedges, and a fresh salad of green shoots tossed with olive oil, sea salt, and a splash of lemon juice of verjus.
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There is a saying in our house: “Il n’y a que Maille qui m’aille.”(Loose translation: “Only Maille works for me!”) It’s a slogan of the venerable French mustard house Maille that my stepfather mutters at every meal on his journey from table to fridge, right between where he picks up his first bite and where he realizes there’s no mustard. He slathers it on bread, on pasta, on fish, on meat. He is indiscriminate, and I have come to learn that the American stereotype of putting ketchup on escargot can be just as frankly reversed, as I have seen him anointing the most American of meals—hot dogs, French fries, grilled cheese, and even Kraft mac and cheese—in Dijon mustard.
So it was a great moment last summer when I emerged from the Metro in Paris and looked up to see a veritable Maille museum and shop. The shelves were like those from an estate library, and behind glass, brightly lit, were mustard jars, hand painted in the traditional fashion, selling for no small price. There were flavors ranging from the ubiquitous cassis, tarragon, and honey, to walnut and bleu and clementine. And mustard sputtered from great brass taps.