Duck Ragu with Pancetta and Green Olives




For me it doesn’t get any better than duck. Steak can be great, fish exquisite, but canard tops them all. There’s no arguing with taste, so instead of arguing with me just know that if we end up marooned on the same island, and my side has the ducks and your side has the emus or llamas or cows, and there’s only sufficient forage and fresh water for one set of domesticated farm animals, yours will have to learn to swim. Before I wrote this I ran through the blog wondering how often I’d written about duck before. To my surprise, the answer was once. If you’re living someplace warm, and fancy some grilled duck breast with peaches, have at it. The rest of us in New England are glancing skyward, like GAME of THRONES extras with their first speaking roles, muttering, “Winter is coming.” Grilling may not be in our cards these days, but as lovers of duck we are resourceful. We’re plundering one of Rialto’s most well-known dishes for its flavor combinations—Slow-Roasted Duck with Green Olives–and translating them into something much simpler. A homey pasta dish. Herewith, Duck Ragu with Pancetta and Green Olives.


Passion Fruit Sponge Custard-8907

This week: Passion Fruit Sponge Custard.  Not the most elegant dessert we’ve ever made, but ignore the appearance, go for the taste, like the fruit itself.  Ripe passion fruit resemble hard-boiled eggs, after the apocalypse, wrinkly red-brown ovals.  But inside, oh…  a pucker-sweet crazy delicious psychedelic orange pulp dotted with black seeds.  (You eat that goop?!  I thought nature made things in bright colors as a warning – poison! poison! poison!?  Nope.  Nature wants you to eat that goop, to, uh, carry the seeds away.)  The flavor of passion fruit hovers somewhere between orange and mango, just as sweet, but way tarter than either.  The only exotic fruit with an equal effort/pleasure ratio, IMO, is the durian, but we’ll reserve durian for another day.  In the meantime, try this sponge custard, an antique English dessert that’s not really spongy or a custard, flavored with an intense sweet-sour taste of the tropics.


Roasted turnips with bacon and dates-9431

My father once dismissed my mumbled teenage excuse for getting home late with the family car by asking me, “Do I look like I just fell off the back of the turnip wagon?”  The image of a mule-drawn cart heaped high with a bumpy cargo silhouetted against the moon rose in my mind, with my dad tumbling off the rear end.  Wisely, I held my tongue.  Ah, turnips, once the symbol of stupidity (turnip-head, not heard much any more) or deprivation (dietary staple for stateside Americans in WWII), have rolled back into fashion.  Witness our Macomber Turnips Roasted with Bacon and Dates.  Believe me, no one will mistake this dish with anything having to do with deprivation.

Chicken Livers with Passion Fruit, Pomegranate and Caramelized Dumpling Squash

Chicken Livers with Passionfruit-1

Winter is coming, and no matter what WHO says about meat, dammit, all of us need an occasional treat to balance the scales with life’s tricks.  Herewith Chicken Livers with with Passion Fruit, Pomegranate and Caramelized Dumpling Squash, exactly the kind of meal that Jody and I cook up at home when things have been crazy and we need to remind ourselves to slow down and savor what’s in front of us.  In the last month we’ve been to Haiti, where Jody cooked and taught up a storm and I photographed it all and much besides.  Right before our departure, one of Jody’s cooks fell and broke her ankle, which will keep her out of the kitchen for several months.  Since out return Jody’s been picking up the the slack (note the state of Jody’s hands in the photos), while I’ve been processing photos for all of the institutions we visited.  When we lift our noses from the grindstone, this is what we eat.


Chilled Corn and Peach Soup with Basil-4421


Not that kind of naked.  Naked as in camera-only.  No multiple lights, no radio controls, not even a tripod.  It has been a very long month–the PanMass Challenge, loved ones off to parts known and unknown–and during our single day of work in a week of vacation the last thing I wanted to do was set up lights and softboxes in our little vacation kitchen to make it look and feel transformed.  Sometimes all you can do is just let things be.  We had barely enough plenty of light coming though the windows and I thought why not dance on the edge a little?  Back to basics: camera – light – food.  This is a Chilled Corn and Peach Soup photographed au naturel. 


Seared Green Beans with Whipped Feta-3531


This recipe is so simple I had trouble envisioning exactly what I was going to photograph, which was fine, because given the temperatures of the last couple of weeks, who wants to spend a lot of time in the kitchen?  Seared Haricots Verts with Whipped Feta and Preserved Lemon will have you in and out in no time and then you can devote yourself to doing what everyone does in hot weather – using the grill while quaffing enormous quantities of beer.  Or, you can simply do what Jody and I did: sit down, pour yourself a glass of dry rosé, add some sliced tomatoes and crusty bread and call it lunch.


Bluefish Agrodolce-1


Okay, I admit it–I love fishy fish.  You can keep catfish, but once that’s off the table, I’ll eat everything else.  Bring on the sea urchin roe, mackeral, fresh sardines and all swimming things smoked and pickled.  All grand.  But if I were Neptune, sitting at my right hand, way above the salt, would be bluefish.  This week we’re serving Bluefish Agrodolce, an easy easy easy dish.  And when you’ve gotten agrodolce, a quick sweet-sour sauce, well in hand you can serve it with just about any kind of seafood with a bit of gumption.  Welcome aboard.



Eggplant with Farro, Ginger and Pomegranate-0637

I returned from Istanbul a few weeks ago with an eggplant monkey on my back.  During those brief periods in Turkey when I wasn’t stuffing myself with baklava, I was slavering over Turkish eggplant.  The aubergine highlight of my travels was a braised veal shank wrapped in eggplant, a dish so meltingly tender than it was difficult to tell from texture alone where the eggplant ended and the meat began.  The ubiquity of cooked eggplant in Turkey isn’t duplicated in this country and an eggplant lover must sometime fall back on his own devices.  Stuffed Eggplant with Farro, Ginger and Pomegranate is not nearly so complicated as the veal shank I ate, but it is tender, and so deeply satisfying that the absence of meat in the recipe seems irrelevant.

Poached Salmon with Chipotle Yogurt

Poached Salmon-1922


Previous blog posts notwithstanding, we don’t spend every free moment careering about  the back roads of rural France and Italy, pausing every few hours for an under-the-olive-tree feast.  Truth is, we almost never go on picnics unless we’re on vacation or on a biking trip.  Trying to find time when everyone’s schedule meshes during the day is like trying to plot when when three or four different orbiting satellites will pass within shouting distance–not impossible, but requiring more math and determination than any one of us can muster.  We’re as overbooked as you are.  Which is why when we do manage to find the time, having something special – other than what’s on offer from a gourmet deli – becomes all the more important.  Enter Poached Salmon with Chipotle Yogurt.


Baklava Wafers-9958

Ceci ce n’est pas un baklava.  Or not quite.  Baklava cookies or baklava biscuits is closer to the mark.  Jody liked wafers, so that’s where we’ll land.  Baklava Wafers with Raspberries, Lemon Curd and Greek Yogurt.  This is an easily assembled dessert of the things you’re most likely to have on hand* –  except for the baklava biscuits, er, wafers.  Until a recent trip to Thessaloniki and Istanbul I would never have considered myself a baklavite.  If a parallelogram of baklava and a double espresso found themselves within mutual reach, perhaps a few times a year, I didn’t object, but neither did I seek them out.  All has changed, alas, since Istanbul, where the baklava is indeed something to write home about.  And bring home, in the form of an obstinate spare tire I seem to have had no trouble smuggling through customs.  Did anyone ever eat half a portion of baklava?  A quarter?  I think not, but these baklava wafers are a lighter indulgence.  You can gussie them up into the full-boat dessert shown here, or you can just eat a couple as an afternoon snack with you espresso.  Either way, this recipe will leave you with plenty of wafers even after the dinner party guests have departed.