When did asparagus start to look like it grew up down creek from the leaky nuke plant? Once upon a time all bundles of asparagus resembled packs of Ticonderoga #2’s, except they were green instead of school bus yellow, and tipped with terminal buds instead of pink erasers. And thin. Thinner than pencils. Not these Asparagus with Horseradish Cream, Chervil and Honey. These guys are hefty, but by today’s standards they’re mid-size. Larger examples abound, at least at our local WFM. Blame France–they started it. A handful of Februaries ago, in a more innocent age of asparagus, I was strolling through the open air market near Bastille with a Parisian friend when she paused before a box of giant asparagus, not yet widespread in the US. Gargantuan and lavender. She pincered a particularly fat one with two fingers, cocked an eyebrow upward as she examined it and then said, “C’est genial, ceci.” Nice, this one. Nice embraces a variety of meanings, but for purposes of this post I’m going to take it to mean delicious. After eating some I had to agree and since then, I’ve grown to prefer big asparagus. Once you get past the, uh, big factor there’s more there there, more asparagus flavor. Thin asparagus are the vegetable analog to spare ribs. Crazy delicious, but you need to eat a wheelbarrow of them before you cry, “Enough!” With the new Schwarzenegger stalks the crazy delicious remains, but embodied in fewer stalks to snap and peel (if you’re the snapping-peeling type) and, since asparagus are finger food, sigh, less opportunity to dribble sauce down your front.
The preserved limes have been ready for almost two weeks, but because of construction we couldn’t use them until now, until Griddle Cooked Razor Clam with Coconut Oil and Preserved Limes. Spicy, perfumed with preserved lime and basil, this is the sweetest clam we know, and the simplest to prepare, even if it does require a bit of courage to cook it.
The little piles of sesame seeds atop the prunes are the traditional way of garnishing the dish.
We’re baaaaaaacccckkkkk…. with a dish that’s great for a winter that refuses to die–Moroccan Short Ribs of Beef with Prunes and Ras el Hanout. Before we stumbled through an invisible portal into the Gehenna of wiring, longtime Rialto employee Mohammed Karachi and his family spent a morning cooking with us. Mohammed’s wife Layla walked us through their Moroccan family recipe for braised short ribs, using ras el hanout from Mohammed’s mother. What a treat! Layla’s ribs easily earned a place in my personal pantheon of great braised dishes. The spicy and sweet components are kept separate until the dish is served. Do you want a forkful of beef with Moroccan seasoning and a bit of prune at the same time? Or first the spicy, then the sweet? (My preference.) It’s comforting either way.
Dust. Dust everywhere. Dust up the river. Dust in the counting houses. Dust atop the rooftops and down the chimneys. Dust creeping into the collier-brigs, dust settling between the toes of the subway captain, and above in the yards of a great (and dusty) city. The fortune cookie that accompanied the newsboy’s take-out Beef Chow Fun last night read, EXPECT VACUUMING. The photographer dreads dust the way vampires (old school) fear garlic. He glides in across his dusty parquet like a thief and is put in mind of astronauts doing their bouncy-bouncy across the Mare Tranquillitatis, clouds of lunar poussière rising to envelope them to their shins.
Due to an unforeseen and unfortunate series of events we’ve discovered that safety bids us rewire our home. Gaaaaaaccckkk! Aside from the inconvenience of having wires dangling everywhere, there is also the attendant problem of dust, bane of cameras and food.
Eating a cricket involves a leap of faith. I made that leap, along with a hundred and fifty other intrepid eaters at the Little Herds Future Food Salon event at Brazos Hall in Austin, Texas last Wednesday night. Crickets, it turns out, don’t taste too bad. In fact, crickets and mealworms, in one form or another, are downright tasty. Think crunch. Think hazelnuts. I’m serious.
Vegetables never ranked high in my juvenile estimation, and cauliflower occupied a particularly low rung on the ladder, beneath broccoli but definitely above rutabegas. Everybody behaved as though cauliflower were a deviant vegetable, safely edible only after an extended baptism in a volcanic bath to exorcise its cruciferous demons. This reduced it to a watery, …
Ah, children. If you append the name of one child to a dish, the other will someday ask, “Why didn’t you ever name anything after me?” Our son Oliver’s mastery of Oliver’s Chicken Stew made him a culinary hero to his impoverished roommates. Our daughter turned 18 this week – sob - and reminded us that she needed a dish that she could take with her to college, something within her skill set that might make her a culinary goddess to her future roommates, something with her name on it. Ergo Roxanne’s Balsamic Chicken with Olives.
Preserved lemons may never be as commonplace to American cooks as pesto, which was once unknown outside of immigrant Italian homes. But who can say? A salty, fragrant ingredient with a hint of sweetness. Stranger things have happened. Maybe the day will come when the thought of dark greens brings preserved lemon trailing behind. And not just with greens, how about a chilled crab salad with preserved lemon? Or as a contrapuntal note in risotto with guanciale. That day has already arrived at our house. Once upon a time most Americans venturing into the world of these strange, salted citrus fruit needed a culinary anthropologist like Paula Wolfert to tell us what to do with them. No longer. Any time we need a bright, sharp flavor accent with something floral, we think preserved lemon. For seafood, for pork, for chicken, for lamb. Oddly, about the only thing we don’t have with preserved lemon is beef. But I’m open to suggestions, if you have a good one. In the meantime, if you’re someone who’s always wanted to make your own Preserved Lemons, Limes and Kumquats, this is the post for you.
Food bloggers and their readers tend to be a supportive, upbeat, crowd (“Kale! Wow! Double thumbs-up!”). We don’t get many complaints, helpful suggestions for improving the site, but every few months this plea arrives: “Can’t you do something so we don’t have to cut and paste your recipes?” Never let it be said The Garum Factory …