Everything Old Is New Again

Back before the great flood when I was in grammar school, Meatless Monday was actually Meatless Friday. While my classmates were all eating tuna salad sandwiches, my very (as it turns out) forward thinking mother would make us sardine (from a tin) sandwiches with slice a slice of onion on white toast. Needless to say, not everyone was a fan of sardines, plus they looked so weird and had their own, shall we say, fragrance. Didn’t matter to me, I loved them.

Fast forward to current times. One cannot swing a yoga mat today without seeing a story in food magazines, on TV or on line about the huge plusses of sustainable seafood. Guess what? “Tinned fish” are in and in a huge way and fall into that very category. According to an article I just read, those tins that carry products from Spain and Portugal are packed right out of the water and the contents are among the healthiest fast foods to consume. The packaging is irrestible, almost centerpiece worthy for a casual tapas dinner. Finally, you are doing your part to partake of items that won’t destroy the oceans. So here are some ideas to use those products in some cool and delicious (and easy to prepare) ways and still feel virtuous in their consumption.

Some of what I have in my pantry. Back a bit, I posted a recipe for Sardine butter, puree a tin of sardines with a stick of butter and spread on toast or crackers. The same can be done with mackerel. These two fish are not only delicious, but also good for you (hello Omega 3). The tinned octopus and or squid can just be served on a pretty plate with a toothpick inserted for easy eating. Squeeze a bit of lemon juice on top because, why not? My new favorite is that cod liver stuff. Nobu served monkfish liver and the world craved it. This is much cheaper and easier to find and work with. It is almost like a pate. I serve it with a simple salsa verde (parsley leaf, capers, lemon zest, chopped olives if you like, a bit of olive oil and salt and pepper to taste). Spread on a plain cracker. A quick, easy, and fancy bite.

If you want something more substantial, open a tin of your choosing, chop the contents and toss all with pasta. Instant sauce. Want to dress up a salad? Same thing, and the dressing is already made for you, just a squeeze of lemon juice or a splash of vinegar to cut some of the richness.

So where do you find this magical stuff? Pretty much at any supermarket. Check the international aisles not for the products from Spain or Portugal because those countries provide the best of these items. WWW.tienda.com carries many more specialty items from Spain which might not be available at the supermarket. Uber Chef Jose Andres has a line of products as well. Check the web, and you will come up with more purveyors. Search specialty markets in Europe if you happen to be there, you will find these goodies in their aisles as well. I was fortunate enough to have friends bring back a few items for me just recently, God bless them.

At the end of the day, keep a few tins around, and the next time Meatless Monday (or any day) rolls around and you are hungry, break out a two slices of bread, toast them, add a slice of onion and thank my mom. Like I said at the outset, everything old is new again.

Too many onions.

So you finished the holidays, everything put away, and now you have too much of everything including the onions you forgot to use. You could make onion soup, but if you are married to a man who doesn’t really care for it, you have to think of something else before they go bad.

Simple and easy way to use them up that doesn’t include kimchi or pickling. Slice them as thinly as possible and put into a pot with about a tablespoon of butter and a tablespoon of a neutral oil. Add about 1/2 cup water and a tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. Wait on the salt and pepper, their time will come later. Put the pot on a medium low heat and let the water melt the onions without browning them. Eventually all the water will dissipate (thank you for this great trick Jacques Pepin), and the onions will begin to caramelize a bit. Don’t let them brown. Taste for salt and pepper at this point and season to your liking.

Let them cool, put them in a jar, and serve with sandwiches (for the pesky, non onion soup liking hubby) or on toast with or without avocado, on eggs, on burgers, or however you want. Chop and mix with sour cream and make a grown up version of onion dip to serve with chips (Super Bowl coming!). Takes all of 15-20 minutes to make and works with any color onion. Freeze for later works too!

CHEATER OYSTERS ROCKEFELLER

With the holidays fast approaching, especially Christmas Eve, the Mother of all Fish Meals, this recipe is quick, easy, and great to transport for a last minute show stopper for Friendsgiving or even Brunch. I call it Cheater Oysters Rockefeller. It was developed over Manhattans and dinner with my dear friends MD and AF while eating some creamed spinach from our favorite butcher, DellaPietra in Brooklyn Heights. For ingredients for four persons as a starter (3 per person), you need a dozen oysters, 12 Tablespoons of the aforementioned creamed spinach, grated Pecorino Romano (or Parmigiano Reggiano if that is what you have), and a splash of Pernod or Sambuca or even fennel seed or fennel pollen if you have for that taste of sweetness and licorice.

To prepare, heat your over to 500. You will be steaming the oysters open but not cooking them through. Cover a sheet pan with aluminum foil and crunch in spots to make a small pocket for the oysters to save the liquor that may seep out, you will want to use that later. Place the oysters on the sheet pan rounded side down and let them cook in the oven until the flat top starts to separate from the bottom; watch carefully, this only takes a few minutes. Take them out as this happens so that early openers don’t overcook. Let cool until you can handle, I use a potholder for this step, and pry the top from the bottom. When all are opened, pour any oyster liquor into a bowl and place the oysters back their shells. Usually the top comes off without the oyster attached, but if that does not happen, just scrape it off with a knife and place into the shell. This step requires a bit of patience if the tops don’t pop easily. Just work at them gently and they will open. I have an oyster knife but it isn’t necessary, use whatever you think will make the job easier for you. Even a flat head screwdriver works. Add any liquor that may have accumulated in the pan to the reserved juices and strain to remove any nasty shell bits that may have come off. Remove the tinfoil and replace with a new piece and cover that with a wire pan grate. Next, add the liquor to the creamed spinach and also add the splash of Pernod (or a pinch of ground fennel or fennel pollen) and salt and pepper to taste. You can preheat the spinach if you want but I don’t find that a necessary step. Spread each oyster to cover the entire opening with about a tablespoon of spinach and place on the wire grate. Top all with the grated cheese to your liking (isn’t more better?) and place back into the oven until the cheese is melted and the spinach warm.

If you are making to transport, place the shells, oysters, juice and spinach in separate containers and combine just before heating.

Serve, maybe with a glass of champagne? After all, it is the holidays and they are called Oysters Rockefeller!

NOT BORING BERRY SALSA

Just in time for America’s favorite holiday, I bring you Red, White, and Blue Berry Salsa. This beautiful side is can be served in a multitude of ways with a multitude of savory or sweet items, is easy to make, doesn’t require a great deal of time to prepare, involves a minimal amount of chopping and no heat, and looks gorgeous on the plate! What more could you ask for in a party food? And how and what do you need to prepare it? Think your regular salsa ingredients: onion–use Vidalia, white, or the white part of scallions; pepper-use Fresno to keep the color theme, but if you can’t find them, Jalenpeno works fine, even a pinch of red pepper flakes in a pinch-you need some heat; a splash of Balsamic to keep the sweet, a splash of olive oil and coarse sea salt to keep the savory; finally, strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, even blackberries, whatever you like to keep the red and blue idea. Mix the ingredients together and let sit for about 1/2 hour to allow the flavors to marry. Serve along side grilled steak, hamburgers, or sausages. Serve atop vanilla ice cream. Leftovers? Serve the next day on some toast or yogurt for breakfast. See? Berries, they’re not just for whipped cream and scones, and certainly not boring! One more thing, as it is a celebration, don’t forget the champagne! Happy Birthday America!

Love Apple Confit

Did you know that tomatoes are called love apples in some circles? What better day for this great recipe that is a riff on something I saw in Milk Street Magazine, and it comes together in under an hour. It is perfect for your pre Valentine’s Day dinner aperitivi. It utilizes those pint sized containers of grape or cherry tomatoes that are always around and gives them an elevated status beyond a toss in for a salad. For one pint of tomatoes (a container), you will need 2 cloves of peeled and smashed garlic, 4 Tablespoons of olive oil, a pinch of salt, 1/4 teaspoon sugar, a bay leaf, and 1/2 cup of water. In a heavy duty pot, heat the olive oil over medium high heat and add the garlic. Cook until the garlic is golden, about a minute. Add the remainder of the ingredients and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and cook until all the tomatoes have burst, about 15-20 minutes. Stir occasionally to prevent the tomatoes from sticking. After all have burst, reduce heat and continue to cook another 15-20 minutes until the mixture resembles a thick sauce. The oil will come to the top and at that point the mixture is cooked. Set aside to cool. It will continue to thicken. Serve on a slice of good toasted bread for a take on bruschetta with a bit of basil and there you have it. Gluten Free? Just use your favorite gluten free loaf. Or add to an endive leaf. Don’t forget the champagne and a kiss. Happy Valentine’s Day!


I am not cooking today, well not for a crowd, but I am going to give you two starters and a dessert that are easy and can be made in record time. All of these are from, where else, Italy. The first is called Pinzimonio and hails from the Tuscan region of the boot. It is a mixture of raw veggies: fennel, cucumber, radish, celery, whatever you like but make it colorful. The vegetables are is served with a mixture of best olive oil with flaky salt (Malden if you have it) freshly ground pepper, and a mix of your favorite spices or herbs. That’s it. The biggest dilemma of this nibble is what service piece to use. The second is a staple appetizer in Rome. For this you need a freshly sliced baguette or whatever your favorite bakery bread is, some unsalted butter, and anchovies. Butter the bread slices and top with the anchovies. Eat. This always makes an appearance at my Christmas Eve fish festa. Now the dessert. I call this the “idiot proof cake” because I am an idiot when it comes to baking and even I can make this. It is from the late Marcella Hazan who was Venetian, so we have made a small visit to the land of divine gastronomy, not to mention art, music, and style. Ingredients are fun ingredients to follow, 1/4 cup milk, 2 eggs, pinch of salt, 1 cup of sugar and 1 1/2 cups of flour, 4 Tablespoons butter plus some for greasing the cake pan and some Panko. What are the fun ingredients? Whatever you want. I have made this cake with a mixture of plums, a mixture of berries, chopped apples, I have added mint, nuts, but today, because it is Thanksgiving and they are in season, I made with pomegranate seeds and blueberries. Beat the milk and eggs, add the salt, the sugar, and the flour and mix until combined, then add your fun ingredients. Preheat your oven to 375. Butter a springform pan or a tart pan and sprinkle the Panko on the bottom and the sides. Dump out any of the excess. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and add the 4 Tablespoons of butter in small bits to the mix, pushing them into the batter. Bake for 35-45 minutes. I start testing at 35 minutes, cooking time will vary depending on the heat of your oven. The finished produce is delicious served as is, or can be topped with ice cream, whipped cream, powdered sugar, fruit syrups, whatever suits your taste. So there you have it. Two before and one after the big meal bits and bites. What you serve in between, well that’s up to you. Once last thing. Many thanks to all who are following me. I am so grateful for your support and encouragement. Buona Festa Di Ringraziamento

Kale. The vegetable everyone loves to hate. You’ve juiced it, mashed it, eaten it raw for salad; heavens knows what other abuse you’ve inflicted on this beleaguered green. I am going to give you an idea gleaned from Jacques Pepin ages ago. And if you are quick, you can have it ready before the o’clock kickoff to go with your chips and dip. Crispy Roasted Kale Leaves. Easy. Healthy. Cheap. You need a head of kale, stripped of the leaves and leaves torn into bite sized pieces as shown, a splash of olive oil, Kosher salt (or flaky sea salt such as Maldon), pepper, and an oven set at 350. Lay the leaves on a rimmed baking sheet and toss with olive oil, a tablespoon or so. Now, place the kale leaves on a rack and place the rack onto the baking sheet. Make sure there is space between the leaves–they won’t get crunchy if layered on top of each other. Place the pan into the oven and roast about 10 minutes until crispy. You want them to keep some of the green color so watch that they don’t burn. When done, place into a serving bowl, toss with the salt and pepper and serve. That’s it. See, even kale can be made lovable with some olive oil and salt. And here is a freebie, you can do the same thing with Brussel Sprout leaves. Separate the heads and treat the same way. Now about that kickoff…..

Yotem Ottolenghi, the master of many ingredients, has published a new book called SIMPLE. It is a beautiful text and in fact does have many simple and ingredient pared recipes. Among them, I found this, and with the preponderance of beautiful mini cauliflowers of many colors still in the green markets, I was inspired to make it. It is indeed simple: ingredients-the aforementioned cauliflower, a Tablespoon each of butter and olive oil, and flaky sea salt, Maldon if you have it. He adds a green dipping sauce, but I found the sweetness and crunchiness of the cauliflower more than enough (I did serve some Greek yogurt alongside because I had a purple cauliflower and it looked so beautiful). I made this with a mini sized head, but the recipe works for any size. Here are the directions. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Rinse the cauliflower, trim the stem to flatten it, but do not remove the leaves (they get crunchy and delicious in the roasting process) and place in salted boiling water head down for 5-6 minutes. Don’t worry if the head is not completely immersed. After 6 minutes, remove and place head down in a colander to drain for 10 minutes. Place drained and cooled head on a sheet pan or an oven proof dish head side up (you can use the dish for serving) and top with butter, olive oil, and a sprinkle of the the sea salt. Roast in oven for 1 hour to 1 1/2 hours depending on the size of the head. Remove from the oven and let cool. Sprinkle with a bit more salt and pepper. Serve as is either on the sheet pan or on the dish. Just break off the florets and eat. It is crunchy on the top, and creamy in the middle, the leaves get potato chip like, just a great vegetarian lunch or dinner side. And so much more inventive than the tiresome cauliflower rice.

This is a one ingredient appetizer. It isn’t Potato Chips. It isn’t olives. It’s Frico! What is Frico? It is a nibble made from cheese. Hard cheese, like Parmigiano Reggiano, or Manchego, or Asiago. It isn’t much in terms of a recipe, it is more about technique and a tiny bit of practice, but once mastered, you will find yourself making them often for aperitivi hour. Grate cheese so that you have 2 Tablespoons per bite. If you are only doing two, you can use a non stick pan, but for more than that it’s easier to use a rimmed baking sheet lined with either parchment paper or silpat. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Measure your cheese and lay on baking sheet and flatten to rounds of about 3 1/2 inches leaving space between each round. Place in oven and bake for about 2 minutes. Watch carefully, you want them to be golden, if they brown too much they become bitter. When done, remove from pan with a spatula and place on a plate to serve. Once you get the hang of it, and while the Frico are still warm, you can drape the finished rounds over a bowl or a rolling pin to create a shape as shown below. If you want to jazz up your Frico, you can add some fennel or ground black pepper, some cayenne if you want some kick, its really a matter of taste. Don’t be discouraged if the first one doesn’t work. Once you get the hang of it, they go really fast, in the oven AND into your tummy.

Mommy’s Christmas Party Cheddar Puffs. I didn’t know what else to call these. In my teen years, my parents would host a Christmas Party for their neighbors and friends a week before the holiday, a tradition I continued for years as an adult. There would be a lot of items served that we never saw on a regular basis (or any basis), Mama Leone Shrimp, rumaki, different kind of preparations on toothpicks, all very exotic stuff for a teenager. One items that would appear at the last minute were these puff appetizers. Mom would take a loaf of white bread, cut off the crusts, quarter the slices into triangles to make it more “party-like”, give the bread a quick toast in the oven, and finish them with all matters of whipped egg whites tossed with crab meat or cheddar cheese or clams and a dash of paprika. They would be popped under the broiler at the last minute to be served hot. I loved them. Here is the recipe: two egg whites whipped up, a dash of cream of tartar to stabilize them, and grated cheddar cheese folded in. I had some mushrooms in the fridge, so I filled them with the mixture, but truth be told, my mother’s 1965 version with white bread was much better. Sometimes, retro is just what you need. Here’s to mom on this Columbus Day Observance.