Archives for category: Farms

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It’s no secret: I am possibly cooking my way through the entirety of Yotam Ottolenghi’s cookbook Jerusalem. I’ve blogged about a couple of the recipes here—Lentils with Broiled Eggplant and Preserved Lemons; and from his earlier book Plenty, Hummus & Ful, Caramelized Garlic Tart. This month’s Recipe Lab at the New York Times is even focusing on Jerusalem and soliciting fan favorites. I’ve been meaning to write in.

I was flipping through Jerusalem the other day before shopping at the food co-op. I had almost settled on the Helbeh—a honey-soaked, fenugreek-infused cake—when I remembered the outside temperature (97 F) and how much I have been avoiding the oven. I stumbled next on a recipe for Spiced Chickpeas and Fresh Vegetable Salad, a gorgeous mélange of crisp vegetables that are all currently in season, accompanied by chickpeas coated in spices then quickly fried in olive oil. Served with greek yogurt it seemed like the only other thing I’d like to eat in this heat other than cold watermelon. (Check out Bittman’s Watermelon All Day Long in this weekend’s Times’ Magazine.)

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You need to get a head start on this the night before by soaking 1/2 cup chickpeas in cold water with a pinch of baking soda. The next day, as the chickpeas are cooking, you can assemble the rest of the salad. I improvised and bought what looked best at both the co-op and the farmer’s market—crunch Kirby cucumbers, local radishes, an assortment of cherry tomatoes from Hepworth Farms, purple scallions, cilantro, and parsley. It’s that time of year in the Northeast when you can’t really go wrong in the produce department if you stick to buying locally.

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I’d love to serve the salad as brunch for friends, along with some good pita and homemade hummus. To the salad you could add a salty cheese like feta; or maybe even watermelon!

Spiced Chickpeas and Summer Vegetable Salad

1/2 c dried chickpeas
1 tsp baking soda
2 small cucumbers
2 medium or large tomatoes, or a small basket of cherry tomatoes
1/2 pound of radishes
1 red pepper, seeded, with white pith removed
1 small or 1/2 large red onion, peeled
1/2 cup scallions (green or purple), chopped
1/2 cup cilantro leaves and stems, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup flat-leaf parsley, coarsely chopped
6 tbsp olive oil
grated zest of 1 lemon, plus 2 tbsp lemon juice
1 1/2 tbsp vinegar (such as sherry, champagne, or combo white and balsmic)
1 clove garlic, chopped
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 1/2 tsp ground allspice
1 tsp ground cumin
Yogurt (optional)
salt and black pepper

Soak the dried chickpeas overnight in plenty of cold water with a pinch of baking soda. (In this hot weather I put them in the fridge overnight.) When you’re ready to cook them the next day, drain and transfer to a large saucepan. Cover with water (about twice the amount, in volume, as the chickpeas) and bring to a boil, cooking on high for up to an hour. Mine were thoroughly cooked in 30 minutes. Skim off the white foam as needed during cooking. Drain and set aside.

Chop the cucumbers, tomatoes, radishes, and red pepper into small (roughly 1/2-inch chunks, and place in a bowl. Add the chopped scallions, parsley, and cucumber. Mix together.

To make the dressing, combine 5 tbsp of the olive oil, the lemon zest and juice, vinegar, and sugar in a jar and shake well. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Pour the dressing over the salad and toss to coat.

Mix together the cardamom, allspice, cumin, and 1/4 tsp salt. Spread out over a plate, then toss the cooked chickpeas in the spice mixture. Heat the remaining 1 tbsp olive oil in a sauté pan and add the chickpeas, cooking for 2–3 minutes. Remove from heat and keep warm.

Divide the salad onto plates and serve with the warm chickpeas and a dollop of yogurt.

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Last time there was a threatening storm in this region I threw a paella party with my friend Amy. This time, I was in Boston as part of a small team of cooks catering my dear friend Melony’s dinner party in Jamaica Plain (the Brooklyn of Boston). Paella for Irene. Middle Eastern Vegan for Sandy. I made it back to NYC yesterday just before the subways shut down.

I decided a while back that, for the party, I’d make hummus and ful served with dukkha and the tomatoes I canned in September. Ful is broad beans, or dried fava beans, mashed into a kind of paste with garlic, lemon juice, and olive oil. I turned to Yotam Ottolenghi for both the hummus and ful recipes and sort of winged it for the dukkha. Dukkha, by the way, is a staple of Egyptian street food—a finely (or coarsely, depending on preference) ground mixture of spices, nuts, and sesame seeds, traditionally served with pita that’s been dipped in olive oil before coated in the spice mixture. I’ve never heard of it served with hummus or ful but I couldn’t imagine this being a bad thing. I love Ottolenghi’s hummus and ful recipes — you cook both beans, separately, until they’re a disintegrated mush that makes for the creamiest spreads you’ve had. It requires lots of hand-squeezed lemon juice.

Here is the very non-New York kitchen I got to cook in this weekend, in JP…

I needed pita. I had enough to tend to in the thirty-six hours I was in Boston that making pita from scratch didn’t make the list. I asked Melony where we might get the freshest, tastiest pita and a friend steered us toward Sofra, a Middle Eastern bakery and cafe in the Mt. Auburn section of western Cambridge. I lived in Cambridge for a hot minute some years ago but had never heard of the place. Although I was somewhat familiar with its sister restaurant, Oleana, and Siena Farms, where they grow produce for both locations. It was a twenty-five minute car ride from JP to Sofra Saturday afternoon and all I can say is: dukkha donuts. That, and: go. Run. Get thee to Sofra! One thing—you can’t take the T there. Which, if you’re a local, is probably a bonus—helps keep the masses (and tourists) at bay.

I was enthralled with this place. I considered buying their own dukkah mixture but had brought all the spices and nuts with me from Brooklyn to make my own. So I walked around flustered for ten minutes unable to decide what to order. I settled on the aforementioned dukkha donut (last bite below), and split a rolled flatbread with spinach falafel and beet tzatziki with Melony. But a highlight might have been the espresso-sized shot of tahini hot chocolate: Sofra’s signature drink. And the pita, made to order, did not disappoint (also below).

The party was a grand success. It felt like a wedding—there were speeches, toasts, a lot of love in the room, and an impressive spread of both savory eats and sweet treats. I won’t bother to retype Ottolenghi’s recipe for hummus and ful, which you can find here. I barely tweaked it—other than multiplying proportions by four, in order to serve thirty people—you can’t go wrong following this recipe to a t. But I do want to share my recipe for dukkha, below. And a shout out to my step-mother for giving me the initial inspiration after tasting a batch she had made a couple months ago.

And last, but not least, I made what has become my party staple: Union Square Cafe bar nuts. Warm, salty toasted nuts tossed with rosemary, cayenne, salt, and a hint of brown sugar. These are best served warm to guests right as they’re arriving, a little hungry, with a fresh drink in hand.

Dukkha

1 c assorted, unsalted, raw mixed nuts (almonds, hazelnuts, cashews, walnuts, peanuts)
1/2 c sesame seeds
1/4 c cumin seeds
1/4 c coriander seeds
2 tbsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp black peppercorns
1 tbsp fenugreek
1 tsp sea salt
1 tsp paprika

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Toast the nuts on a baking sheet for 10 to 15 minutes until fragrant and lightly browned. Remove from baking sheet and let cool. Place the sesame, cumin, coriander, cumin, and fennel seeds on the baking sheet and toast in the oven for about 5 minutes. Let cool. Then combine all the ingredients—nuts, seeds, spices, salt—in a food processor and blend to desired consistency.

Union Square Cafe Bar Nuts

1 1/4 lb mixed, unsalted nuts
2 tbsp coarsely chopped fresh rosemary
1/2 tsp cayenne
2 tsp dark brown sugar
2 tsp salt
1 tbsp butter, melted

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spread the nuts onto a baking sheet and toast in the oven until light golden brown, about 10 minutes. In a large bowl combine the rosemary, cayenne, brown sugar, salt, and melted butter. Toss the toasted nuts with the spiced butter and serve warm.

Last Wednesday I was waiting for the F train at Jay St-MetroTech, trying to make a 9 am meeting near the Flat Iron. I forgot to bring reading material for the train, so wandered over to the news and candy kiosk in the middle of the platform. For a couple years I’d buy the Times every Wednesday just for the dining section. The crossword was a bonus (Wednesdays: not too hard, not too easy), the arts section a boon. It was definitely worth the four quarters I’d plunk down on the tall counter of the Marcy Ave. newsstand before dashing up the stairs to catch the J train.

Then the price of the paper creeped to $1.50, before becoming $2 and $2.25. And this past year, the price went up to $2.50. Now it’s a rare Wednesday when I get ink on my hands in pursuit of the latest restaurant review. But I was glad I splurged this week, if only for Melissa Clark’s treatise on figs, “Italy to Brooklyn, Fig by Fig.” Did you know there are fig trees growing all over Brooklyn, in large part a holdover because of the borough’s influx of Italians in the first half of the twentieth century?

On Friday, when hastily throwing a bag together for a last-minute trip to Vermont, I tossed the paper into my duffle, wanting to try Clark’s recipes for financiers and lamb-and-fig skewers. If figs can grow in NYC, I reasoned, surely someone in Vermont is growing them. So yesterday morning I woke up early, stopped off at Vergennes Laundry for a chocolate croissant and coffee (my Saturday morning ritual when I’m here), then drove down to Middlebury for the farmer’s market. Got the requisite pan au levain from Good Companion Bakery, tomme from Twig farm, bacon from Kate (North Branch Farm), eggs from Doolittle, all the while keeping my eyes open for figs. I saw none. Apples and plums of all varieties. Watermelon even. I considered using local plums in place of figs in the recipes, but decided to try the co-op. They had them! Black mission figs. Unfortunately they were from California, not Vermont, but I picked them up anyway. I had my heart set on those recipes.

My last errand in town yesterday was to pick up lamb for the skewers from a sheep farm, outside of town, down a dirt road. Kate tipped me off to the farm, and its honor system — you walk into a little room filled with glass-fronted freezers, write down what you’re taking, leave cash in a little plastic cup, and you’re done. I found the farm, which is completely unmarked, no signage, and pulled into the driveway. There was an old farm house on the property, and a few sheds. I wondered if I was in the right place. I heard voices and laughter coming from one of the sheds, and made my way over. The door opened as two people were on their way out, and I asked if I was in the right place to buy lamb. Tom, the farmer, said I was and invited me in. He explained how the system worked. He didn’t have boneless leg of lamb so he walked me through his other cuts. In the meantime we got to chatting, and I mentioned I was up from Brooklyn, but that my parents lived nearby.

“Brooklyn?!” he exclaimed, in what I took to be mock horror. “That’s terrible,” and he sort of chuckled nervously. I chuckled, thinking I’ve heard this before. Everybody wants to live in Brooklyn these days — it’s so cool, so young, charming architecture, farmer’s markets on every corner, beautiful people riding bicycles in skirts, or with bow-tied collars, on their way to work. Then I got the sense that maybe Tom wasn’t kidding. So I asked if he was. “No! I’m not! That’s a terrible place to live! So crowded, so many people.” Then he shook his head like he was sorry for me. Sorry for my choice of residence, sorry I didn’t get to see the sun set over the Champlain Valley every day. Sorry I didn’t get to smell dirt and farmland and manure. I remember my friend Kate visiting me from Vermont some years ago when I lived in Park Slope, and she said that while she loved visiting New York, she couldn’t live there because she has to see the mountains and sunset everyday.

It’s true, we have bow ties, bicycles, and brownstones. BAM, beaches, bagels, and some of the best new food being made in the country. But it’s not Vermont. It’s so far from Vermont, despite how hard Brooklynites like me try to bridge that gap, by pickling and fermenting and gardening. But hey, at least my local farmer’s market back home has figs. For now, that’ll have to do.

Fig-Almond Financiers
adapted from Melissa Clark, The New York Times
Yields 18

Financiers are tiny French cakes made with browned butter and often almond flour. They’re traditionally made in shallow, rectangular molds, resembling small bars of gold, but can also be made by filling muffin tins part way. I didn’t have that many figs to spare so I decided to try some local plums in addition to the figs, for adorning the tops. They worked liked aces! Both the fig and plum financiers were equally good. The original recipe also calls for 1/2 c of hazelnut flour. I scoured town for hazelnut or almond flour but found none. So I decided to cheat by adding some almond paste and using a combination of pastry flour and all-purpose flour.  I cut the sugar from the original 1 1/4 cup to 1 cup, and next time I make these I’d cut it even more, to 3/4 c or even 1/2 c.

1 stick butter, plus extra for greasing the pan
1 c sugar
1/2 c whole wheat pastry flour
1/3 c all purpose flour
pinch of salt
1 1/2 tbsp almond paste
4 large egg whites
1 tsp vanilla extract
3 ripe figs (and/or Italian plums)

1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. In a small saucepan, melt butter, cooking until it smells toasty and just starts to brown. Pour into a heatproof container and let cool.

2. In a large bowl, combine sugar, flours, and salt. Beat in egg whites until the flour mixture is damp. Add the almond paste, combine. Add the butter and whisk vigorously until very smooth, about two minutes. Beat in vanilla.

3. Trim the stems off of figs, and slice each one crosswise, into thirds.

4. Butter and flour muffin tins. (Makes 18, so unless you have lots of muffin tins you may need to re-butter tins for a second rotation.) Fill each muffin cup scant halfway and top each with a slice of fig. Bake until golden brown, about 15 minutes. Cool on a wire rack.

Lamb and Fig Skewers
adapted from Melissa Clark, The New York Times
Yields 4 servings

The original recipe calls for boneless leg of lamb, but I think this may be hard to come by. And if you do find it, it will likely run you a pretty penny. So I think you could use lamb stew meat or a bone-in cut (like the steaks I used) and cut the meat into chunks.

4 garlic cloves, minced
2 large sprigs rosemary, minced
2 tbsp fresh lime juice
1 tbsp honey
1 1/4 tsp coarse salt
1 tsp black pepper
1 tsp tamari
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
12 ripe figs
1 1/2 pounds lamb meat (boneless leg of lamb, chops, steak, or stew meat), cut into 1-inch chunks

1. Begin by making the marinade. In a large bowl, toss together garlic, rosemary, lime juice, honey, salt, pepper, and tamari. Stir well to dissolve the salt, then stir in the oil. Set aside a few tbsp of the marinade. Add the lamb to the bowl with the remaining marinade and toss well. Marinate if you have time (makes a difference!), in the refrigerator, for a few hours, or at room temp for 30 minutes.

2. Thread the figs on skewers, making sure to leave a little space in between each one. Brush with the marinade you set aside.

3. Get your fire started. [If you’re not grilling, you can put the figs and lambs on a baking sheet instead of skewers and bake.] Thread the lamb on the skewers, leaving space in between each piece. Grill for three to five minutes, turning once.

4. Serve with fresh mint and lime wedges.

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