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.
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, …
Last month I attended a special dinner at Rialto featuring dishes from Fabrizia Lanza’s wonderful 2012 COMING HOME TO SICILY. Everything was cooked by the Rialto Team, under Fabrizia’s direction, whom Jody had met years ago on a biking adventure in Italy. You may know Fabrizia as the daughter of Anna Tasca Lanza, founder of the famed Sicilian cooking school Case Vecchie. Art historian turned passionate cook and cultural advocate for her native land, Fabrizia now leads Case Vecchie, writes about Sicilian food and is building a video archive of Sicilians engaged in culinary traditions increasingly imperiled as the outside world seeps into island life.
As usual, I got held up, arrived late for the dinner, and slid into my chair with a longing glance toward everyone else’s empty appetizer plates. At that moment Fabrizia, a slender patrician woman who looked as though she might have as easily discussed the subtleties of Botticelli’s brush technique as she did the culinary pleasures of wild fennel, was giving the room a brief introduction to Sicilian cuisine and I didn’t want to cause a stir by asking anyone to explain what I’d missed. The menu card next to my plate simply identified the course as Panelle. A waiter took pity on me and few moments later set a saucer with two triangles of something in front of me. Without my glasses I might have mistaken them for shortbread. I took a bite. A rich toasty flavor at once comforting and tantalizing elusive filled my mouth. The triangles had thin crispy edges and a bit of creaminess in their thickest part, the center. “What are these?” I asked Jody, who said hi on her way back into the kitchen with Fabrizia. “Chickpea flour,” she said. “And water and salt.” “That’s it?” “That’s it,” she said, “Amazing, aren’t they?” And that is how I had my first taste of the subject of this week’s post, Panelle.
Two kinds of cooks entertain at home: those who want guests in their kitchen, and those who don’t. Fried Stuffed Olives are definitely for the former. Filled with pork, salami, mortadella and cheese, these little bits of indulgence are best while still warm. Out of the pan and into the mouth, with only a minute or two in between. That means people nearby, glass of wine in hand, paper towel at the ready. Cook, drain, eat. Fun all round.
We’re obsessing over peeled tomatoes. Jody has even made a convert of me, Mr. No-Fuss-No-Muss. Tomato and Burrata Salad with Basil, Olives and Capers might well have begun Peeled Tomato… By the end of the summer you’ll either be slipping tomatoes out of their skins quicker than a fast-change artist in a costume shop. . . or you’ll be reading another food blog that doesn’t ask so much of you. But if you do, you’ll miss the supple sensation that is a tomato without its skin, as well as a remarkable esthetic experience. I, for one, had no idea how ordinary tomatoes metamorphosed into the Betty Grables of the garden without their skins. They’re gorgeous.
And nothing makes it worth the effort – trifling as it is – of removing a few tomato skins than pairing the tomatoes with burrata, the really hot cousin of bufala mozzarella.