Who flipped the switch? After weeks of height-of-summer salads and cookies suddenly here we are, plunged into nights when you need a jacket. I grilled a dozen ears of corn last Thursday, alone at home, nursing a scotch on our deck in the dark, except when I raised the lid of our grill …
Local Massachusetts peaches seem increasingly old-fashioned to me, meaning that you make a mess when you eat one (unless a nearby vendor gives you slices) and while they taste sweet they also have a faint counterpoint of tartness. This makes them the ideal companion for salty prosciutto. I suppose we could have left it at that, but we also had a raft of mint and some pistachios, so Jody upped the ante with a pistachio-mint pesto that doesn’t require much more than a quick buzz in the food processor. Fresh mozzarella makes it a sumptuous enough to stand in for lunch, if that’s where’s you want to go. You’ll also be relieved to know that local cherry tomatoes, now at their spectacular peak, don’t require peeling. This is the easiest antipasto you’ll even encounter, especially on a hot day when instead of cooking all you want to do is savor the last days of summer.
So what’s up this week? Braised Artichokes with Mozzarella, Tomatoes and Mint. Spring has arrived, and with it truckloads of fat green globe artichokes. No groaning (Oh, god, not artichokes, they’re such a pain…). No, they’re not, and if we learned anything at all from recent events it’s that the small gestures we take for granted are more precious than ever. You only know what you’ve got when it’s gone, so start snapping those leaves off.
Here’s the scene: working-class neighborhood, first house, first back yard, first patio. Radical move against the local pave-the-yard-build-a-grape-arbor esthetic. We christened the patio’s finish by inviting neighbors Pam and Chris to join us for Grilled Spring Onions with Romesco. At the time, almost two decades ago, I’d heard of Romesco, the thick Catalan sauce based on roasted red peppers and nuts, but not grilled spring onions, which my wife assured me was a big deal in Barcelona. She was right. The Calçotada is a month-long Barcelonan lovefest to calçots, spring onions, which are then grilled and slathered with Romesco. Imagine a sloppy Falstaffian bender lasting most of April, involving untold quantities of red wine and masses of fragrant grilled onions wrapped in newspapers or served in inverted clay roofing tiles and eaten with your hands. Uh-huh, who isn’t down for that?
Nobody hates lamb blade chops. People either love them, or they’ve never heard of them. Viewed from a diner’s perspective, lamb blade chops are to loin chops as pork ribs are to pork loin. There’s fat, gristle, a bit of bone, and you need to work a bit more to get the good stuff. The reward is heaps of flavor. If you fall into the never-heard-of-‘em group, then this week’s Grilled Lamb Blade Chops with Hot Mint Chutney is your opportunity to step-away from the fancy-dress dinner party of loin chops, leave your champagne flute of civilisation on the veranda, and stride across the lawn through the baffled croquet players as you peel off your tuxedo and enter the forest.
Craig Claiborne, the late pioneer of food journalism for the New York Times once wrote a New Year’s Day column that included the line, “Blessed indeed is the household whose refrigerator contains an overlooked tin of caviar.” Yes, well. For most of us, caviar times may be gone, but that only means the return of our salad days. Substitute chickpeas for caviar and you’re halfway to Wilted Green Salad with Fresh Chickpeas, Feta and Greek Yogurt.
I prefer to worship at the altar of hospitality, rather than entertaining. Entertaining parses your life into into realms. The private realm is marked by gruel, dog food and the odd can of water chestnuts. The entertaining realm features sourdough loaves fashioned from home-grown wheat, spit-roasted French game birds and Pakistani mango tiramisu. You pull out and dust off this fancy life for visiting poobahs. As far as your guests can tell, your life is a moveable feast. Hospitality doesn’t make these distinctions. It simply invites you into my life. And this is where bruschetta and crostini come in.* They’re anti-poobah food.
In my personal desert island larder (you know, What would you take if you had to choose only a dozen or so dishes or ingredients on a desert island for the rest of your life?) Skordalia with Parsley Salad would surely rate shelf space.* And not because it includes potatoes. But because it includes …
We’re going to switch things up this week for Pan-Roasted Cauliflower with Dukkah. Normally you read a title like that and you think, Okay, this is about cauliflower, and then it’s about dukkah, whatever the hell that is. It would then follow that we’d spend a lot of time nattering on about cauliflower and give you a little dukkah sub-recipe (we’re not sophisticated enough to have a site that features sidebars… yet).
But this week the cauliflower is just a tease, a way of filling the seats inside the tent so we have an audience for dukkah, the exotic headliner who’s come all the way from Egypt, an aromatic mixture of toasted nuts and seeds gussied up with a few fragrant accents.