Friday, March 18, 2022

WINE ESCAPES: Valle de Casablanca, Chile

It's not news that the long, wisp of a country on South America's Pacific coast is a hotbed for great wine production these days. It's actually the world's fifth-largest producer of wine. But Chile's wines are still undervalued in the global market, compared to its Old World "competition" in countries like France, Italy, and Spain. Which means that when you can find some of Chile's best wines, you're likely to find them at a much more approachable price point -- all the better to be able to taste lots of them, and discover your own favorites. Or, you could do what my friend Jess and I did, and head to the actual vineyards that produce these wonderful wines to sample them on their home terroir, if you will.

We ventured into Chilean wine country in early January, which of course in the southern hemisphere is the height of summer. I knew going in that I liked Chilean wines; I'd enjoyed many of them in New York, and I had been enjoying them all week long in my travels around Chile. So when Jessica and I left Santiago and headed to the Casablanca Valley for a day trip in wine country, we knew we'd like much of what we'd be tasting. Perhaps it was the proximity to the Pacific Ocean and the rolling verdant hills that reminded me of Napa and Sonoma in California. Perhaps it was the New World sensibilities of our host winemakers and vineyard guides that they share with California winemakers. There are some French influences in the winemaking here, but this was definitely not Europe in feel. Of course, many European wine varieties (including and particularly French wine grapes) were transported to Chile in the 19th century in an effort to save the varieties from phyloxxora, the deadly vine *plague* that has historically wiped out not just entire vineyards, but entire growing regions.
Pablo Morandé is considered the maverick in these parts, who, while working for behemoth Concha y Toro, recognized that the Casablanca Valley possessed a lot of the characteristics of coastal California, which made it hospitable to growing cooler-climate wine styles. It took some time to create not just a buzz about the valley's potential, but to prove that quality wines could be made here. Morandé established Bodegas Re, and along with a handful of other producers, put the Valle de Casablanca on the wine world's map.

The Casablanca Valley wine-growing region takes advantage of the Humboldt Current effect. This air stream moves from the Antarctic through all of the Pacific coast of Chile, providing cool afternoon breezes and mitigating the climate of the Casablanca Valley. This, paired with the warm air rising in the east, creates an environment that's ideal for vines. The sandy clay soil is quite homogeneous in the valley, and creates favorable growing conditions for white wines in particular. These include some of the finest Sauvignon Blancs in Chile, with Chardonnay a close second for the title of the country’s best white wine style. Of late, the region has been exploring the potential of several white grape varieties "new" to the area, including Riesling, Viognier and Gerwurztraminer. Still, red styles are not completely ignored in the Casablanca wine region, as the cool climate conditions lend themselves to the production of some high-quality vintages. Pinot Noir reigns supreme among these, though Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon are also grown in the Casablanca Valley.  

Kingston Vineyards
The Kingston Family Vineyards is a boutique Casablanca winery that has been in the same family for over a century. The land was established by US mining engineer Carl John Kingston, hailing from Michigan's Upper Peninsula, while prospecting for gold in the early 1900s. The farm eventually reaped rewards by becoming one of the area’s most prominent producers. Their wines, which include small, handcrafted lots of Pinot Noir, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc, have featured on top wine lists around the world, including Jean Georges in NYC and The Four Seasons in London. The estate was also named ‘Winery of the Year’ by Wine & Spirits Magazine in 2011. 
We enjoyed a tour of their state-of-the-art winemaking facilities, followed by a lovely tasting complete with cheeses and breads and nibbles, in a glass-encased tasting room overlooking the steel wine vats.
Kingston produces around 3,500 cases per year of Pinot Noir, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, and Chardonnay. It is one of a handful of Chilean vineyards leveraging artisan winemaking and sustainable viticultural techniques to uncover the potential of coastal Chile, 12 miles from the Pacific Ocean. It's a marriage of American innovation and Latin American tradition and terroir. In a bit of "small world" trivia, several members of the Kingston family are Princeton University graduates, and some have remained Princeton residents -- locals to where I grew up.  

Bodegas Re
This vineyard and cellar made for an interesting stop on our tour. The concept of Bodegas Re is contained in the "Re": REdoing, REcreating, REthinking, get the idea. It's a marriage of history (the founder's family goes back as far as nine generations in winemaking) with modern techniques and technology in viticulture. Bodegas Re was number 43 on the 2021 list of the World's Best Vineyards to visit, for the third consecutive year.
 The cellar is filled with oversized egg-shaped earthenware amphorae used for aging the wines -- they date back to the family's original historical plantings. There are earthenware jars and jugs of varying sizes all over the cellar rooms, containing not just wine but a variety of local liqueurs, as well as balsamic vinegar featured in its very own showcase room. 

While the blustery hills and weathered red granites of western Casablanca have tended to provide much of the more recent wine excitement in the region, it’s worth visiting other producers around the valley. Veramonte, in Casablanca’s eastern hills, is a name many will know and has an exciting wine team lead by Rodrigo Soto, formerly of Sonoma’s Benziger -- yet another connection to California wine making in this valley. 2,500 hectares of native forests surround Veramonte, and the vineyards receive briny breezes and morning fog from the Pacific, creating ideal growing conditions for crisp local whites and cold-weather reds like Pinot Noir and Merlot.
Loma Larga
Loma Larga is one of the region’s premier estates, owned by the Diaz family -- although the influences here are from France as opposed to the United States. Loma Larga, which translates as ‘long hill’ is unusual among Casablanca Valley wineries as it concentrates its production on red wines. Larga was the first winery in the valley to grow Cabernet Franc, Syrah and Malbec – while Pinot Noir, Merlot and a small amount of Cabernet Sauvignon are all successfully produced here alongside typical white grape varieties.
A unique way that Loma Larga offers visitors to tour the vineyard is on horseback -- an experience that will really make you feel like you're visiting back when French wine grapes were first exported to Chile in the 19th century.

Booking a tour through the Casablanca Valley Wine Route ( is a great way to see the area on a day trip or overnight stay from Santiago. Visiting wine country in any location with a robust wine growing economy is always a fabulous way to see some of the prettiest parts of these countries. Plus, vineyard owners on the whole are wonderfully hospitable people, and they're great experts in all things delicious in their part of the world. Go, and enjoy!

Friday, April 2, 2021

SEASONAL INGREDIENT: Jerusalem Artichoke

What a year. What an awful year 2020 has been, and 2021 has been no picnic so far, either. Amid this terrible time, it's basically been a whole year since I've posted in this blog -- since last Passover, really. So now here we are, experiencing the second pandemic Passover (celebrating surviving a plague while surviving a plague -- you can't make this stuff up!) And after a year of home cooking, by necessity, day and night, week after week, I have come to focus on the minutiae. There is little joy to be found in the big-picture, the large-scale suffering, so I've trained myself to find joy in the small and the quotidian. I derive happiness from the family of deer visiting our back yard most Friday afternoons, as if keeping sabbath among our evergreen bushes. I breathe a sigh of relief when our mounds of recycling are picked up every other Thursday. It's finding the calm that comes as I drift off to sleep cradling my baby boy on a stormy afternoon, the sound of wind and rain drumming on the window. And it is enjoying the culinary minutiae as well: the smell of garlicky cannellini beans stewing on the stove, the anticipation of waiting for a loaf of sourdough to rise, the sensory pleasure of digging into some messy smoked BBQ ribs. And sometimes above all, I derive the most pleasure from simply eating a favorite fruit or vegetable in its seasonal glory: the turgid raspberry that stains my fingers, the deep earthiness of a roasted beet used to scoop up some fresh chevre, a slice of eggplant fried to perfection. Included in this group of favorite foods is a vegetable that happens to be in season now and through the spring: the Jerusalem artichoke.
Now, I love a good artichoke. The carciofo, in Italian, is the symbol of Rome, and no city does a vegetable (a thistle, really) justice like the romani di Roma. But my love for the "OG" artichoke may be eclipsed by its sort-of cousin, the Jerusalem artichoke, also known as the sunchoke. It's got many monikers, really -- the Canada potato, the French potato, and most melodic of all, the topinambur (in Italian and various other European languages). So let's begin at the beginning.
First, for the etymology:

The Jerusalem artichoke has nothing to do with the city of Jerusalem, and is not technically an artichoke, though they are distantly related as both are members of the daisy family, and the genus Helianthus. The Jerusalem artichoke's taste is sweet and earthy, much like an artichoke. But the origin of "Jerusalem" is still uncertain. Italian settlers in the U.S called the plant "girasole", their word for sunflower, which translates roughly to "turns towards the sun", since this is exactly what these flowers do. Over time, the word girasole in southern Italian dialect sounds a lot like "Jerusalem" and therefore English speakers may have corrupted the term "girasole artichoke" into its current day moniker. Another theory for the name is that the Puritans who came to the New World considered America the "New Jerusalem" and the plant they found growing there was named after this place. The plant had various other names as well, including lambchoke and sunchoke -- which is another name by which is it known today, created in the 1960s by a produce wholesaler who was trying to revive the tuber's appeal. It looks a lot like ginger root, but its skin is more translucent and slightly more golden in color.
And then, the history:
The Jerusalem artichoke had been cultivated by Native Americans long before Europeans landed on American soil. Apparently, Lewis and Clark ate Jerusalem artichokes, prepared by a Native American woman in what is now North Dakota. It was fairly common in the U.S. and the plant really proliferated in both the Americas and Europe, and grew so easily that it was principally used as animal feed in England and France. The French in particular had a soft spot for the vegetable, which reached its peak popularity at the end of the 19th century. But by the time of the second World War, the Jerusalem artichoke (along with the rutabaga) had become associated with the deprivation of the war years and the Nazi occupation, since they'd become a staple of the French diet thanks to rationing and the paucity of other traditional foods. Once the war was over, they returned to their previous purpose as animal feed. It wouldn't be until the 21st century that the Jerusalem artichoke would find favor again with top chefs, winding up on countless tasting menus in Michelin starred dining rooms.

The nutritional value:
Potassium, iron, fiber, niacin, thiamine, phosphorus, and copper are all nutrients found in abundance in the Jerusalem artichoke. The tuber also contains inulin, a form of soluble fiber that cannot be broken down by our digestive system. It's metabolized, instead, by bacteria in the colon, thereby balancing blood sugar. Inulin also stimulates the growth of bifidobacteria ("good bacteria") and fights harmful bacteria, making the Jerusalem artichoke one of the best food sources on earth for prebiotics. It's also high in soluble fiber, which may help lower total blood cholesterol levels by lowering "bad" cholesterol (or "LDLs"). And finally, the sunchoke is high in potassium and low in sodium, which may aid in the reduction of blood pressure and inflammation. The only negative by-product of all of this healthfulness is that consuming Jerusalem artichokes can cause some serious gas. Forewarned, as they say, is forearmed.

And finally, enjoying the Jerusalem artichoke:

Beyond all of the health benefits of the tuber, and its interesting history, there is the matter of taste: the Jerusalem artichoke is delicious. And versatile.

When treated as a tuber, the sunchoke makes for a wonderful puree and a more healthful alternative to the carb-heavy potato. Thinned with broth or water or milk, it makes an amazing soup, and can be made into a sauce in this way as well. The Jerusalem artichoke can be oven roasted and served as any root vegetable, and also alongside other roasted vegetables in a medley. Finishing a roasted sunchoke on the grill also brings out its sugars and caramelizes the outside of the artichoke. Few finishing touches are as tasty as a Jerusalem artichoke that's been thinly sliced and fried in a top-quality oil. Once fried, they can be a crispy topping (as in the photo, with tuna tartare), an accompaniment to proteins or other vegetables, or as the star in an appetizer in its own right.

One lovely way to prepare Jerusalem artichokes for spring is in a rich and vegetal risotto. Here, I've prepared a classic risotto with the addition of a sunchoke puree stirred into the risotto as it cooks. It's topped with sliced fried crispy Jerusalem artichokes, and flavored with sumac, red onion, lemon zest and juice, and fresh mint -- all flavors redolent of dishes you'd find in the city of Jerusalem, and a way to pay tribute to the name of the tuber itself. It's an Italian dish with an Israeli flavor profile.

Another great way to enjoy the tuber is in this delicious roasted Jerusalem artichoke soup. It's a multi-step process to concentrate the flavor through oven roasting, but beyond that it couldn't be simpler to prep. Just spread out the cleaned Jerusalem artichokes on a lined baking sheet, toss with olive oil and salt, and oven roast at 375 until they're caramelized and soft in the middle, about 45 minutes to an hour. Once cooled slightly, puree in a Vitamix/blender or food processor with some tasty vegetable broth and a glug of extra-virgin olive oil until you get the consistency you want. Season with salt and pepper, and any other spices you might enjoy. The version I made here is seasoned with roasted garlic (roasted alongside the Jerusalem artichokes) and finished with a bit of fresh lemon juice and zest, and za'atar. I fried eggplant slices and served them atop the soup, with a bit of pistachio pesto as well. This has been a winner for both Passover Seders and everyday eating. It takes me to Israel and the Mediterranean in general, and it's a really healthy way to reset your gut bacteria while satisfying your belly. 

As we say during the Seder...Next year in Jerusalem (artichoke)! Enjoy, and Happy Passover, Happy Easter, and Happy Spring, everybody!



Wednesday, April 8, 2020

HOLIDAYS: A Very Unusual Passover + Recipe: Short Ribs with red wine, coffee, apricots, and almonds

I'd written the opening of this blog post last year, and never posted it in time for Passover as I'd just had a baby, and blog posts were, honestly, not at the top of my priority list. I didn't really think much would overturn giving birth as the top game-changer in my life, but here we are in 2020 (that's 5780 on the Jewish calendar) and, well, consider life's fan officially hit with fecal matter. We're living during a pandemic, an actual plague, so you don't get more meta than celebrating Passover this exact week during this specific year. 

Passover Seder for 40, in more convivial times
In normal times, Passover is a paradox for me and many Jews of like mind: it's a fresh start, the beginning of spring, time for a cleanse, and a great way to jump-start a low-carb diet with enough time in advance of beach season to actually make a difference (beach season! remember that?!) -- but because of this, it's also a time of some suffering, at least for 8 days. A few years back, I developed this recipe for clients of mine who wanted something a little less traditional for their Passover seder: they'd done the brisket and matzo ball soup thing, so why not move on to something a little more adventurous? Enter this short rib dish.

To be fair, I braise short ribs all through the autumn and winter. It is for me, in all its iterations, the classic comfort food dish that brings me back to my youth, when my Dad would request short ribs for a special cool weather dinner. My Dad loves ribs of all kinds, but especially meaty, fall-off-the-bone beef ribs. A rich red wine-beef broth braising liquid reminds me of childhood dinners. Fast forward to the graduation dinner prepared by our class in culinary school for our family and friends: my friend Courtney and I were on main course duty, and our main course happened to be Korean-style braised short ribs with a silky roasted garlic potato puree. I'm pretty sure that dish alone convinced my father that culinary school had been the right career move for me. And now, so many years later, I seem to return to slow-braised beef short ribs as a crowd-pleaser, but also as a kind of signature dish that impresses clients, and can be served to the strictest of kosher diners as well (assuming the beef ribs are kosher, obviously). And like most braised dishes, this kind of cooking is slooowwwww cooking comfort food -- what we all crave right now, and what we all have time for during lockdown, quarantine, shelter in place, pause, and every other form of social distancing we have to suffer through in the time of Covid.

This needn't be a meal for Passover, though it works well for a Seder main course. It's got a bit of the agrodolce or sweet-and-sour thing going on, which is a very historically Jewish way of preparing savory foods. Here, the touch of brown sugar or honey along with the wine and vinegar give it that depth of sweet-sour flavor. Coffee ramps up the rich bitterness, and the almond-dried apricot pairing is redolent of Mediterranean/North African and Sephardic flavor pairings. I like to serve it over a celeriac-potato purée, though for those non-kosher-for-Passover cooks, it's great over polenta as well. I served this to clients with some concia, a Roman Jewish sauteed zucchini dish. It works well here.

So, this Passover, whether you're celebrating it in traditional style, or making up new traditions in these unusual times, instead of fighting for the same old first cut of brisket like everyone else (#covidsedershortage), indulge your quarantine family with a more unusual main course for your meal. While the ribs are braising, you can binge-watch your latest distraction series. I suggest HBO's The Plot Against America (adaptation of Philip Roth's excellent novel, created by David Simon of The Wire fame), Netflix's insane docu-series The Tiger King, Unorthodox, and the always-excellent Ozark. And, as is the Passover tradition -- and extra called-for during this pandemic -- lots of good wine. At least 4 glasses is the rule!

Braised Short Ribs with Red Wine, Coffee, Apricots, and Almond

(6 people)


Approx. 4 lb. boneless beef short ribs cut into 3-in pieces
olive oil
6 cloves of garlic, peeled but whole
1 red onion, cut into small dice
4 stalks celery, cut into small dice
3 TBSP flour
1 bottle dry red wine
2 cups beef broth
6 oz. balsamic vinegar
4 oz. espresso or strong black coffee of choice
3 Tablespoons brown sugar OR honey
1-2 bay leaves
½ pound baby carrots, peeled and diced
1 1/2 cups dried apricots, chopped roughly
1 cup roasted almonds, chopped roughly
fresh parsley, chopped
Salt & pepper to taste

- In a heavy-bottomed large skillet or roasting pan, heat enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the cooking vessel. When hot, take the pieces of beef, salt them, and place in the oil. Sear (brown) on all sides, turning as necessary. Repeat until all the pieces of beef are browned but not cooked through.

- Remove the beef from the pot and keep in separate bowl. Add onions and celery and garlic to the pan and cook in the remaining oil until they become translucent/tender. Sprinkle with flour and cook for another 3 minutes.

- Add half of the vinegar and half the bottle of red wine to “deglaze” the pan, scraping up all the brown bits from the meat. Add broth, espresso and brown sugar or honey. Cook another 2 minutes.

- Add the meat, and add the rest of the wine, with the bay leaf. Cover and place either in an oven (at 375 degrees F) or covered on the stovetop on medium heat for approximately 15 minutes. Lower the heat to medium-low (350 oven) and cook for another 60-75 mins, mixing to turn the meat occasionally.

- Remove from oven/stovetop and uncover. Add the carrots, apricots, almonds, and rest of the balsamic, and cover again. Put back in oven, or if on stovetop, cover and lower flame to low heat. Cook for another 45-60 minutes depending upon size of beef pieces. You want the beef to be very, very tender.

-  Strain the meat and vegetables from the cooking liquid, reserving the  liquid and placing it in a smaller pot. Return the meat and vegetables to the original cooking vessel. Heat the cooking liquid on medium-high and stir to thicken. Cook until it reaches desired consistency, tasting for salt and pepper, then pour back into roasting pot with stew and reheat all together. Stir in freshly chopped parsley just before serving.

*Delicious served over mashed potatoes or soft polenta.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

RECIPE: Italian Wedding Soup

To be honest, I had been planning to write a blog post on Italian Wedding Soup, a perennial favorite, for quite a while. But now, with a worldwide epidemic on our hands, and my beloved Italy stuck as the primary western country to have suffered through the outbreak, somehow this post becomes even more relevant. For all of us all over the world who are hunkering down, locking in, sheltering in place, and whatever else (hopefully by now, everyone is starting to realize that social distancing is NOT ENOUGH) -- soup is a palliative. It allows you to use your pantry items to produce something that, here, is much greater than the sum of its parts. The weather of late, both here in the NY metro area, and in Italy as well, remains mostly wintry. Gray. Bleak. It even snowed a bit in Rome and Umbria the day before yesterday, which rarely happens. This weather, and staying inside (#iorestoacasa), creates an atmosphere at home that's perfect for slow cooking, for soups, for a bubbling cauldron of something nourishing and delicious -- and one that will last for days if cooked in a big batch.

Which brings me to...Italian Wedding Soup. It sounds so festive, no? Like it has a long history rooted in Italian matrimonial banquets and traditions of amore. But in reality, this is a dish that seems to be Italian-American in origin, although certain regional soups up and down the Italian peninsula look a lot like Italian Wedding Soup, give or take a few ingredients. And to get it out of the way, its name has nothing to do with when or where or to whom it's served. Instead, it's a reference to the "marriage" of fairly disparate ingredients that all come together in this soup -- a harmonious blended family, if you will, of greens and meatballs, vegetables, sometimes beans, perhaps an egg whisked into the finished product, and of course a little pastina (this is Italian, after all. Did you expect it to be carb-free??). E basta. More or less. And in true Italian fashion, at this matrimonio, the more the merrier.

My version depends on my mood when I'm making it. In a recent version, I left out the carrots to please my husband, who is only eating lower-carb veggies at the moment (and to keep the peace in our marriage, ovviamente!) -- so it made for a darker, mostly green soup, plus a little purple kale and the meatballs. But normally I like carrots as part of my mirepoix, so I am including them in my recipe below. Hell, toss in some finely diced red peppers if you love punchy color in your food, like I do. If you're going completely low-carb, you could leave out the tiny pasta -- or just get creative if you're including it (try finely broken angel hair). Some add in beaten egg at the end just before serving, though I tend to leave that tactic to classic Roman stracciatella soup or Chinese egg drop soup. But, every marriage is different, and every wedding is its own thing. So make Italian wedding soup in your own individual way, to your own taste. That's what home cooking is all about, vero?

Stay safe and healthy, everyone. And stay home!

Serves 4-6
For the Meatballs:

5 ounces ground beef
6 ounces ground pork
5 ounces ground veal 
1/2 onion, grated
1/3 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 large egg
1 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup bread crumbs
1/3 cup grated Parmesan
Freshly ground black pepper

For the Soup:

1/4 cup good quality olive oil
1 medium onion, small dice
2 medium carrots, small dice
2 stalks celery, small dice  
3 cloves garlic, chopped
Optional: 2 leeks, small dice
12 cups rich homemade chicken broth
14 oz. cooked cannellini (white) beans, or similar beans of choice (drained and rinsed) 
8 oz. small pastina: ditalini, orso, stelline, fregola, acini di pepe, etc.
1 pound greens: Tuscan kale, purple kale, escarole, curly endive, etc.: coarsely chopped
1/2 cup minced flat leaf parsley
4 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra for garnish
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


- Place beef, pork, and veal in a large bowl. Add in bread crumbs, onion, parsley, oregano, parmigiano, egg, 1 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper
- Gently toss and break up mixture with hands to evenly coat and distribute. Shape mixture into very small meatballs, about 1/2 - 3/4 inch, and transfer to a large plate.
- Heat 1 Tbsp olive oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium-high heat. Add half of the meatballs and cook until browned, turning occasionally (to brown all over), about 5 minutes total.
- Transfer meatballs to a plate lined with paper towels while leaving oil in skillet. Repeat process with remaining meatballs (note that meatballs won't be cooked through at this point; they'll continue to cook through in the soup) 


- While meatballs are browning, heat 3 Tbsp olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add carrots, onions and celery and saute until veggies have softened, about 7 - 8 minutes.  Add garlic and saute for one more minute.
- Pour in chicken broth, season soup with salt and pepper to taste and bring mixture to a boil. Add in pasta and meatballs, reduce heat to light boil (about medium or medium-low).
- Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until pasta is tender and meatballs have cooked through, about 10 minutes.
- Add in your chopped greens during the last 3 minutes of cooking (and don't cover the pot). Taste for salt and pepper. Stir in chopped parsley.
- Serve warm, sprinkled with parmigiano and a drizzle of great quality extra virgin olive oil.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

RECIPE: Cauliflower, Broccoli, and Chickpea Spiced Soup

Ahhh, January. The dead of winter. If ever there was a time for making and enjoying soups, it's in the first few months of the calendar year. Winter, post-holidays in particular, calls for meditative cooking, low-and-slow dishes that eke out all of the nutrients from bones, vegetables, tubers, and aromatics. So for the next few months, I'll be highlighting all of the soup and stew dishes, the multi-step baking dishes, the read-the-Sunday-Times-in-your-fluffiest-socks kind of cooking that I find comforting when the mercury dips below any temp that might tempt a sane person to venture outdoors.

The recipe below was one I created last week, and I really liked the results. A lot. I wanted to use the leftover cauliflower and broccoli I had from cooking for private clients. It's cruciferous vegetable season and though I love the old reliable Italian garlic/olive oil/peperoncino pan-roasted preparation for these (and all!) veggies, I wanted something different. I also like the idea that vegetable soups are wonderful ways to both A.) eat a delicious, filling, meatless meal, and B.) retain all of the nutritional value of the veggies that gets "cooked off" in other preparations. Veggie soups are essentially vegetables stewing in their own vitamin and mineral-infused broth. Brilliant! And, I might add, easy. Add to all of this the fact that soup freezes really well, and it's clearly the perfect large-batch, meal-in-a-bowl cooking that lends itself to accompanying Netflix binge-watching. Or napping. And freezing for easy meals all winter long.

So, the recipe. I was looking for something more tasty than a simple, straightforward vegetable soup. The spices are vaguely Indian in flavor, though this is no traditional dish that I know of -- even though, if not pureed, this might be a vegetarian stew inspired by an Indian chana-gobi (chickpea-cauliflower) curry. I sauteed the broccoli, and then the cauliflower, in a large rondeau/pot to the point of getting a bit of caramelization on the florets. Then I cooked a base of sauteed onions, garlic, ginger, and spices, added some chopped fresh tomatoes, and then returned the broccoli and cauliflower to the pot, along with vegetable stock and the cooked chickpeas. Then you just let time and the stove work their magic. Note that I used two Indian spices that are likely not in everyone's pantry: amchoor and tamarind powders, which give the soup notes of fruity-sourness that amps up the interesting flavors here. They're not necessary, and you could substitute a little tamarind paste or concentrate, or even a bit of lime zest, if you like.

At the end of the cooking process, I added a touch of coconut milk and I used an immersion blender to blend half of the soup (as in the photo here), for a mix of textures and to leave it a little bit chunky in a mostly creamy pureed soup (with no cream, of course). You can puree it all, if you prefer a velvety-smooth soup, or puree very little of it if you like more of a vegetable stew feel to the dish. Here, the taste is what shines through. 

My advice? Serve with a crusty piece or two of toasted bread -- best are the darker, multigrain, sourdough, or brown bread varieties. There's so much good bread out there these days (or make your own!). I toast mine and drizzle it liberally with great Italian olive oil. It goes with everything. And it makes this soup an utterly satisfying winter meal.

CBC Spiced Soup (Cauliflower, Broccoli, and Chickpea)
Serves 4-6 

1 head broccoli, cut into florets (and stems)
1 head cauliflower cut into florets
5 cloves garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
1/2 c. extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, sliced thinly
2 vine-ripened tomatoes, diced
2 knobs fresh ginger, finely diced
1 tsp. ground cardamom
1 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. dried tamarind powder (optional)
1/2 tsp. chili powder
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. turmeric powder
1/2 tsp. ground mustard powder
1/2 teaspoon ground amchoor (dried mango powder), optional
pinch of peperoncino 
Approx. 12 cups rich vegetable stock (or enough to fully cover the vegetables)
1 14-oz. can of cooked chickpeas, drained
2/3 cup coconut milk

Squeeze of lime juice
Prosciutto slices, cooked in a little olive oil in a pan, on both sides, until crispy (optional)
Cilantro to garnish
- In a rondeau or large round soup pot, on medium heat, warm a few tablespoons of the olive oil with a clove of garlic. Heat for 30 seconds.
- Toss in the broccoli and cook until bright green and starting to caramelize (brown) in the pan. Salt, add a mini pinch of peperoncino, then remove from pan and set aside. Repeat with the olive oil, garlic, and cauliflower.
- Heat the remainder of the olive oil in the same pot, add remaining garlic cloves, and warm for one minute. Add the onions and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add all of the spices and the chopped tomato and cook to activate the aromas of the spices, about 2-3 minutes.
- Return the broccoli and caulflower to the pot, and stir to mix all of the flavors together. Cook for another 2-3 minutes.
- Add the vegetable stock to the pot to cover the vegetables, along with the chickpeas. Cover and cook until it all reaches a boil, then turn the flame down to low and let the soup simmer for approximately 30 minutes.
- Uncover the soup, stir in the coconut milk and the lime juice, and add salt and pepper to taste.
- When the flavor is where you want it, puree half of the soup (or all, or only a small portion of it) with an immersion blender, in the pot itself. Stir to mix the chunkier vegetables throughout the pureed soup. 
- Garnish with cilantro and crispy prosciutto slices, if you like. And serve with crusty toast.

Like most soups, this gets better with a few days of sitting in the fridge, allowing flavors to meld. Keep for 4-5 days in the fridge and freeze any leftovers -- you'll be happy you did!

Monday, December 23, 2019

HOLIDAYS: Hanukkah, Italian Style: Fritti

The essence of Hanukkah foods comes down to one important adjective: fried. In Italian, this is a category of food unto itself, called fritti (plural for fried thing). And why not? Fried foods, when done well, can encapsulate the essence of said food, whether it's fish or meat, potato or herb, sweet or savory get the point. (Ask a Scot about fried food and you may encounter a person waxing poetic about candy bars you never imagined should be battered and cooked in bubbling oil. But I digress). Yes, good fried food is great.

And so, as we celebrate Hanukkah, the festival of lights, I look to the Italian Jews and specifically the Roman Jews of my beloved second home in the Eternal City's quartiere ebraico, known as the Jewish Ghetto. It was in this ghetto that I gorged myself on carciofi alla giudea, which are "Jewish style" artichokes that are twice deep fried, opened up like a flower, with a tender heart and outer leaves like the best verdant version of Cape Cod potato chips you can imagine. It was here and in the nearby streets leading to the Campo de' Fiori that I enjoyed filetti di baccalà (fried codfish) at places like the fry shop known simply as -- you guessed it -- "Filetti di Baccalà" which served only fried codfish and fried zucchini. And it was great. Oh -- and that fried zucchini, when served marinated in some vinegar, chili pepper, and garlic with some fresh herbs (basil, mint) -- is called concia. That too is a Roman Jewish specialty, and it's killer. Try it on a panino with mozzarella and a slathering of harissa. Buoooooono.

Of course, every Roman pizzeria serves their classic fritti as antipasti to pizza, and this includes the Roman specialty of fiori di zucca, the zucchini or pumpkin flowers stuffed with mozzarella cheese and a kick of anchovy for salt and umami. Like everything else in Italy that's delicious, alas, these items are seasonal. So fresh fiori di zucca are available in warmer months, and artichokes are available now, in the cooler months from roughly November to April. This means I include them in most of my Jewish holiday menus for both Hanukkah and Passover.

Perhaps the most surprising Hanukkah food that Italian Jews eat is actually something we Americans consider our own specialty: fried chicken. Pollo fritto. Of course, we're not talking KFC or standard fried chicken of the American South, here. This is made, in Italy, with heritage breed chicken that's not plumped up by commercial feed and penned in to get American-sized, overgrown breast meat. So in North America, the least commercially-raised chicken would be the best approximation. These chicken get butchered into 10 pieces so they're all more or less the same size. Then, they're marinated overnight in lots and lots of freshly-squeezed lemon juice. I add a little yogurt or buttermilk as well, plus a glug of olive oil, garlic and rosemary. When frying the chicken, a bit of spiced flour with lemon zest and chopped herbs is all you really need. Italians cook everything in olive oil, and you can deep fry in it as well. In this country, I usually use half olive oil, half vegetable oil or safflower oil. The chicken is served with fried and fresh lemon slices, and fried herbs like sage and rosemary. Plenty of Sicilian sea salt finishes it off. And that's it. 

It's a simple preparation for a fried Hanukkah main course that's a real crowd-pleaser. But then again, most fried food is crowd-pleasing by nature. And I just can't celebrate Hanukkah without latkes, no matter what kind of meal I'm making. (Any excuse to have the trifecta of potato, fat, and salt, amiright?)

Celebrating Hanukkah through food means a celebration of foods cooked in oil. So from antipasti like Roman Jewish-style artichokes, to a fried chicken main course, through to fried sweetened dough in any iteration (castagnole are Italian fried donut holes -- try them drizzled with honey!), a menu consisting of fried Italian specialties makes a perfectly delicious, crispy, Italian Jewish meal worthy of a most interesting Hanukkah celebration stateside. It beats the same old matzo ball soup and brisket any day!

Enjoy this year's festival of lights. Happy Hanukkah, everyone!

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

QUICK BITE: Whole Vegetable Eating

I'm an October baby, and autumn is my favorite time of year (okay, besides the warmth and fun of the summer. That's pretty great too). Fall's many harvest-season gifts make it a pleasure to cook, and eat, now. What many people don't realize is that the popular ethos of "nose-to-tail" eating can be applied to vegetables as well. You don't need to eat the whole hog to go, well, whole-hog. Often the skin and seeds, roots and leaves of vegetables are just as delicious as the thing itself.
A trip to the farmer's market at this time of year is a revelatory experience, the changing colors of the leaves on the trees reflected in the market haul of reds and greens in apples and pears, oranges and yellows and umbers in all varieties of pumpkins and squash. The cruciferous vegetables of winter are coming in, even as Indian summer golden peaches are still being sold alongside them. This is the perfect time for what I call "whole vegetable eating" -- sometimes called root-to-fruit, or some such rhyming variation. What's most important is not what it's named, but how it's done. I'll give you a little help.
As the weather turns cooler, we look to root vegetables and foods that start producing in autumn to last us through the winter. We know that carrots and beets are healthy root veggies, but often the greens (or carrot tops, in the case of carrots) are overlooked, or worse, removed before we can use them. And they're delicious!


I love serving the Greek dish skordalia, which is a whipped potato-garlic puree (try this with purple potatoes!) along with roasted beets and wilted beet greens. It's the perfect dish served warm or at room temp, so it's incredibly versatile. And it looks beautiful as well.

 For whole-vegetable eating with carrots, I love making a carrot-top pesto (with nuts and cheese) or salsa verde (with other herbs, capers, and scallions), and roasting the whole carrots, serving them drizzled with the sauce made from their greens. It's also a gorgeous presentation, waste!

Just as we know these roots better than their stems and stalks, we know the stalks of celery and parsley better than celery root and parsnips -- though all parts of these veggies are tasty and worth exploring in their own right. I love using celery root raw, slicing it into a thin julienne and tossing it with homemade mayonnaise for celeriac remoulade, the simplest of French treats. And I love, especially during cold months, using celery root to replace potatoes by 80%, making a puree for all of the stews and slow-cooked braises I cook at this time of year. 

Parsnips are another great substitute for potatoes, but they also provide a delicious pairing with roasted carrots -- they look a lot like white carrots anyway -- and their sweetness when roasted mimics that of carrots' sweetness, so they're great hit with a bit of acid, tossed in either a balsamic vinegar or some citrus juice before and after roasting. I also love a good celeriac or parsnip soup. They puree so nicely and they have a verdant undertone that potatoes don't. Again, they pair well with sweet and acidic, so I usually top off the soups with a maple gastrique or some kind of sweet-sour accompaniment.
Though usually summer squash is found -- you guessed it! -- in the summertime, you can usually find zucchini and yellow squash well into the fall in many markets. And often, the zucchini flowers are actually pumpkin flowers (fiori di zucca in Italian), so these are also a part of the pumpkin to be utilized in whole vegetable eating. We know we can clean and roast pumpkin seeds. Of course the flesh itself works for preparations from savory to sweet, and even the flowers of the pumpkins are a great gastronomic delight -- stuffed, fried, sauteed and tossed in a pasta or risotto. This is the definition of whole vegetable eating.

Stuffed zucchini flowers
My homemade gnocchi with cherry tomatoes and chive blossoms
And speaking of flowers, many people don't realize that most herbs go to flower if allowed. Usually, for the purpose of the herb itself (which is generally comprised of a leaf), we pick the leaves before they go to flower -- but not always. And the flowers can be an intensely flavorful and beautiful form of the herb itself. I love snipping chive blossoms into salads and main courses, adding a burst of purple color to otherwise monotone dishes. The coriander flower (cilantro is the herb, and coriander as a spice is the dried seed) is also a lovely floral version of an already fragrant herb. I remember the first time I saw prodigious use of coriander flower to transform dishes from simply delicious to ethereal, by chef Iñaki Aizpitarte at Paris's excellent Le Chateaubriand restaurant. I always note the innovation of a chef when she or he uses all parts of produce so that nothing is wasted, and we get many different aspects of the primary ingredient's flavor profile at once. It's something I try to practice in the kitchen as often as possible.

And in this approaching season of cold weather and soup-eating, there's no better opportunity to practice whole vegetable eating than by making a vegetable stock out of any and all vegetable trimmings and scraps you have on hand from making any produce preparations. Just toss all the "unwanted" parts into a large stock pot, cover with water, and keep it going on a low rumble on the stove for hours on end. Skim the scum (yes, that's the actual technical name for the discolored bubbly foam that should be discarded from any stock preparation) and then just ladle out what you need from the pot. The stock will continue to get richer with time.

Happy Harvest Season, everyone. Enjoy your autumns!