A while back MG and I contributed some recipes to a project. Now the official Chelsea Market Cookbook is here! Let the world be exposed to Metalbelly‘s Texas Chili and my golden garlic butter that mysteriously tastes just like movie popcorn and great stuff from people way more famous than us… lots of them! Check it out at Amazon.
One of my recipes in the book, originally titled ‘Market Fish Stew’, was retitled Provençal Fish Stew and likened to a bouillabaisse. While the use of leeks, fennel and pastis are typical of Provence, I have to admit my dish is way too simple (and adaptable) to hold court in the tradition of the bouillabaisse. If the recipe I developed for the Chelsea Market Cookbook is a speedboat, the bouillabaisse I ate at a tiny port restaurant in Marseille many years ago was a French naval ship. I didn’t really know what I was in for while I hunted for the historic soup, but my goal was to find the perfect place to eat it. It should be noted that this was before personal opinions could be publicly accessed with ease. I couldn’t look at scores of reviews, there was no googling to be done. These were my early days of culinary exploration and because there were less resources, I was honing the skill of spotting a real deal restaurant with each new travel. In seas of tourist traps, among hordes of menus and foreign words, finding the local gem just by scanning the immediate details became my superpower.
The day I went shopping for bouillabaisse I was on a solo mission. No one to translate or steer. As I wound through the streets of the port I scanned for a place with just the right light, a healthy level of sound, happy relaxed guests and staff, good smells, smallish size, a bit off the path. The menu, is it traditional and also unique? Is there variety, is there a clear specialty? This is the first glance.
I picked my spot and ordered a bouillabaisse. Soon after the waiter presented me with a plate of raw Mediterranean fish and various sea animals. However confused, I signed off with a nod. He disappeared leaving me to devour a whole basket of bread and rouille, a garlic and saffron ailoi named because it is the color of rust, a mandatory part of a bouillabaisse meant to be sunk in the bottom of the soup –not necessarily eaten as an appetizer. He came back with a huge bowl brimming with the seafood in an incredible broth, thick with fishy shrapnel and a little gritty with seasonings. As I worked my way through that bowl of perfectly cooked fish, my guy refilled broth from a tureen and bread/rouille as needed. It was impossible to stop eating, even though it was probably enough for four people.
Sorry to report that I don’t know the restaurant name or the street it was on. I didn’t write notes on food then or take pictures of my meals with the enormous Nikkormat I was probably carrying. Since this momentous meal, I have researched and discussed many more details of regional French cooking, learning that there is much debate about what an authentic bouillabaisse really is, seasonings, type of fish, order of plating, etc. Eating any dish in the place of its origin is such a unique sensory experience that it is hard to describe the final criteria when looking for the best local spot. One might say that you have to give yourself over to the place you are visiting and its customs in order to be admitted passage to an authentic experience. If you search for a restaurant with ketchup bottles on the table wherever you go, it is sure you will be denied this. (I actually met a set of travelers that told me they do this.)
I walked Marseille top to bottom, letting it take me where it would. On a desolate road that ran alongside the sea, there were signs indicating boats in transit to/from Corsica, Italy and Algeria. I remember reading the exotic port names and feeling small and far away, isolated from the rest of the world (remember, no cellphones). I realized that no one on the continent knew where I was at that moment and I could be anywhere. I continued into the ‘the pannier’ or old town which was a tight maze of narrow corridors. It must have been during a particularly quiet siesta because what was described to me as the must-see, crazy, condensed part of town was silent. The strange, lonely feeling deepened but didn’t last long. The noise level rose as the streets pointed back toward port and I turned a corner just in time to see an outdoor beer garden full of people (travelers) my age. I hung with them for a bit before the desire to continue my loner journey resumed.
I bought some cheap cigarettes in an alleyway. I happened upon a gallery opening in a cavernous garage-like space with minimalist paintings and loads of wine. Way earlier that day I trekked around the moon rocks of the Calanques peering down at the very place the delicious bouillabaisse fish come from. Traveling with my stunning vintage Laguiole (like a good Frenchman) I sliced saucisson and broke bread under the immense statues of the Palais Longchamp before wandering the fine arts museum inside. At night I sketched the illuminated windows of St. Vincent de Paul and pretended I spoke only Bulgarian to maintain my solitude when approached by curious passers by. I fell in love with Marseille and its briny breeze. Was intrigued by the local accent choppy with its Italian inflection, the cultural mash-up, the crossroads and that overall, ‘hey! we’ve got a port, we can go anywhere we want but we stay here’ kind of feeling. I’m pretty sure I had a spot on bouillabaisse that day.
The other day I quickly typed up how to prepare Pasta alla Norma in an email for a friend. He was looking for delicious stuff he can cook in less than 30 minutes and I was looking for things I could type in less than five. This is definitely one of my go-to pasta recipes. I remember leaving similar directions on a friend’s voicemail when she asked me for an easy but interesting pasta recipe for a last minute dinner party.
Pasta alla Norma hails from southern Italy, as does the majority of my ancestors. With its mixture of textures and temperatures it raises the bar considerably on regular old pasta with red sauce without too much more effort. Traditionally it is made with ricotta salata, a firm, salted version of soft, curdy ricotta but I use either (or both!) since I love the cool, creamy contrast of soft ricotta with warm, chunky tomatoes and silky eggplant. And, having a tub of ricotta on the table next to my pasta reminds me of my grandpa, Cranky Franky, who was always pretty happy to be piling cheese on top of his pasta. This might be hereditary.
THE QUICKEST PASTA NORMA
- dice up 1 eggplant into bite-sized pieces (or two if they are the small kind)
- toss it with some oil and salt and place on a baking sheet.
- bake in a hot oven (400F) until browned (10 min), set aside.
- meanwhile, cook up a box of pasta (rigatoni is how my grandma did it)
- and make/heat up your fave tomato sauce (quick recipe follows)
- when the sauce is warmed up and almost ready to eat, mix in the roasted eggplant (scrape the browned bits off of the pan and get them in there, the oil too….that is flavor, man).
- also drop some fresh basil leaves into the sauce and some parmesan.
- taste the sauce for seasoning. add salt, pepper, garlic or red pepper flakes to bring out the awesomeness.
- plate the pasta, top it generously with the eggplant/tomato sauce and add a spoonful of fresh ricotta cheese on top of it all.
In an equally informal way, here is how I make tomato sauce with my brain off:
TOMATO SAUCE ON THE FLY
- for every large can diced tomatoes, use one small onion. and 4 cloves of garlic, minced.
- start by sauteing the onions in a bit of oil with a pinch of salt, pepper and some red pepper flakes until onion is translucent, about 7 minutes.
- add a few glugs of whatever red wine is laying around.
- when the wine is reduced to almost nothing, add the tomatoes and minced garlic. simmer gently for 15 minutes or more. the longer it simmers the thicker it will be.
- when done, stir in a small handful of basil leaves. i always let the sauce rest a while before serving it (at least 10 minutes). reheat if necessary. check for seasoning and serve.
I am a miso lover. I need to have miso soup at least once a week, usually as the precursor to some sushi even though that feels like the lazy way out. Miso paste in general has so much more potential than a few cubes of tofu and some lonely sails of seaweed. By learning a few different (easy!) ways to use it, miso can be a staple in your fridge forever and ever. You, as the owner of a high-quality tub of miso, can reap the many health benefits for just as long.
Since it’s a fermented food, it is important is to avoid boiling miso. High heat will harm the living enzymes that make this a genuine superfood as it will also dull the unique flavors. Use miso to ‘finish’ dishes that you have created rather than adding it when there is still cooking to be done.
Miso to-do list:
-Mix into softened butter to make ‘miso butter’, the best topping for seafood ever.
-Mix with minced garlic and chili paste as a condiment for grilled meat.
-Whisk into salad dressing or marinades.
-Just miso solo in a bit of simple broth.
-I’ve seen people use it in pesto as a substitute for parmesan but…
Below is a hearty soup recipe that uses a bunch of fantastic end-of-summer vegetables, but any mixture of veg would work. Once the soup is off of the stove, dunk a measuring cup into the broth, scooping out about one cup of hot liquid. Drop a few spoonfuls of miso into measuring cup and whisk/stir until it is dissolved. Pour the miso mixture back into the soup pot and adjust to taste. You can simply repeat this process until you have reached the desired amount of umami.
Try potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, parsnips, cabbage, spinach and/or noodles. This recipe can be as elaborate or as simple as you’d like, the main thing is hot (not boiling) liquid*, dissolve miso, enjoy.
FARMERS MISO SOUP
2 quarts stock or water
1/2 cup onion, chopped
1 kohlrabi, peeled and cubed into small chunks
1 celery rib, thinly sliced crosswise
1 cup chopped kale leaves
1 garlic clove, minced
1/2 pound tofu, cut into small cubes
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 splash of rice vinegar
a few red pepper flakes
1/4 cup wakame seaweed, soaked in cold water until softened
1/4 cup miso paste (any color)
1 inch ginger
chopped chives to garnish
- Place the stock in a large pot and bring to a gentle boil. Add onion, kohlrabi and celery. Simmer about 10 minutes.
- Add kale, garlic and tofu. Cook until all vegetables are tender, about 10 more minutes.
- Remove from heat. Stir in soy sauce, vinegar and red pepper to season. Taste and adjust. Add wakame.
- Take one cup of stock out of the pot and place in a bowl or measuring cup. Whisk miso into the hot broth and pour it back into the soup. Taste and adjust.
- Ladle soup into bowls and using a fine grater (preferably a microplane), grate some carrot and ginger into each soup and sprinkle with chives to garnish.
- When reheating the soup, warm it but don’t boil. I’ll say it again.
*Make your own stock! I love stock making.
I don’t even peel the fruit, I don’t add more than a tablespoon of sugar to it. A squeeze of lemon and a badass crisp topping (as healthy or as buttery sweet as you want it to be) and not only do you have an impressive seasonal dessert but you have a crazy quick (outstanding) breakfast when you drop a scoop of crumble into a bowl of yogurt. Sweet summertime!
When you come from an Italian (American) family, every time the doorbell rings in August, someone is standing there with an armload of tomatoes that they grew. All year I wait for tomato season. I barely care for them otherwise for a few reasons but now I can put all of those things aside and get into some uninhibited tomato eating for a little while.
My dad was the first one at the door this year with these beautiful plum and cherry varieties. And no tomato delivery would be complete without some basil. Thanks, Dad!
Then came the heirlooms from the CSA and I am a happy girl.
New tomato recipes coming soon… meanwhile an old tomato recipe.
I didn’t mean to make this recipe any more healthy than it was intended to be but because of midnight baking sessions and needing to use what is on hand, it just happened that way.
It is now quite justifiable as breakfast or a stand up snack. I won’t even tell you how awesome it is with an espresso.
CHOCOLATE COCONUT ZUCCHINI BREAD
1 cup all-purpose flour
1.5 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 cup unsweetened natural cocoa powder
1 pinch salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, ground
1 stick of butter, softened
6 tablespoons coconut oil
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup buttermilk*
2 cups zucchini, shredded (about 2 medium sized zucchini)
1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips
1/2 cup unsweetened shredded or flaked coconut
- Preheat the oven to 350F. Grease and flour two loaf pans, set aside.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, cocoa powder, salt baking soda and cinnamon.
- Beat the butter, coconut oil and sugar together with a whisk or electric mixer until pale and airy.
- Drizzle in the olive oil, mixing constantly until incorporated, then add the eggs one at a time, beating each until thoroughly mixed in.
- In a measuring cup, add the vanilla to the buttermilk (*or buttermilk substitute).
- Mix 1/3 of the flour mixture into the butter/sugar until just combined. Alternate with 1/2 of the buttermilk, mix, then another 1/3 of the flour. Add the rest of the buttermilk and the rest of the flour.
- Fold in the zucchini, chocolate chips and coconut. Divide batter between the two loaf pans.
- Bake for 50-60 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Cool slightly before slicing.
* Buttermilk is awesome but if it is late at night or early in the morning and you don’t have it, there are very legitimate ways to substitute:
Place 1 tablespoon of fresh lemon juice (or plain vinegar) in a measuring cup, add milk to hit the 1 cup mark and let stand at room temp for a few minutes. The milk will thicken and sour.
Or a combo of yogurt and milk works great, 1/4 cup milk + 3/4 cup plain yogurt = one cup buttermilk substitute.