photos by gluttonforlife
In many ways, Greece was as I had imagined it. Athens was hot and bustling, with the presence of the ancients hovering everywhere. (More about that soon.) Syros, a small island next to Mykonos, was even hotter, with quaint stone streets and sun-bleached buildings against the dazzling blue of the Aegean. What I didn't expect was an almost total lack of fresh seafood. Whether it's because tourist demand exceeds the supply, or the waters are regulated due to overfishing, we saw only frozen octopus and no fresh fish on the menus. Only once, when we were on Syros, did we enjoy wild mussels and red shrimp, which were truly wonderful. So for much of our time in Greece, we stuck to a classic that never gets old: Greek Salad.
photos by gluttonforlife
If you don't like cooking, make sure you know how to shop. There are people who can pull together a wonderful dinner without ever lighting the stove. If you have access to lovely cheeses and charcuterie, fresh produce and a delectable bakery, you can simply act the part of curator, responsible only (but crucially) for the selection and arrangement of the perfect elements. A salade composée
, or composed salad, is another variatiom on this theme. This French invention (if, in fact, anyone can really claim ownership)—a fitting combination of prescribed rules and laissez-faire
—is a perfectly calibrated assortment of ingredients aesthetically arranged on a plate and drizzled with dressing, rather than tossed with it. (Though I'm not above tossing mine, if I feel it may be of benefit.) The most famous example is arguably the salade Niçoise
, with its complementary hard-boiled eggs, anchovies, canned tuna, potatoes, olives and green beans. The most successful manage an artful balance of colors, flavors and textures and a pleasing architecture, like the ones currently featured on two of my favorite blogs—flavor in spades
and hungry ghost
—whose fertile creativity and gorgeous refinement continually amaze.
photos by gluttonforlife
I'm not sure that subtle is a word that describes me, nor the food I cook. I'm pretty open about my thoughts and feelings, and equally forthright with the flavors on my plate. I'm fairly certain that I'm a supertaster, yet my highly attuned palate does not shy away from big, bold tastes. I love sharp pickles, lethal chiles and pungent aromatics like shallots and lime leaves. The complex funkiness of aged cheeses and fermented fish is mother's milk to me. I embrace brassicas of all sorts, with their often pronounced mustardy character and their wonderfully cruciferous texture. I shared a recipe for a kohlrabi and apple slaw
earlier this year, a crisp and refreshing salad with a citrusy dressing, and I'm offering another one here, to encourage you to get acquainted with this often neglected member of the wild cabbage family. Look for tender young specimens at farmers markets now—in pale green or deep purple—and enjoy them raw in all their glory.
I started working when I was 16 as a hostess at Gilda's
, a seafood restaurant on the wharf in Santa Cruz. It was one of a few restaurants owned by a large family of Neapolitan immigrants—the Stagnaros—who were born fishermen and restaurateurs. I met my first real boyfriend there, a line cook who surfed and drove a turquoise '59 Chevy. He made a mean Denver omelette and taught me to roll a joint. At Gilda's (pronounced with a soft "G") we served excellent Boston clam chowder and a divine crab Louie, the West Coast salad made with crisp lettuce, hard-boiled eggs and Thousand Island dressing. So when I saw a recipe
in the Times
last month for a slightly updated version (courtesy of David Tanis of Chez Panisse), I began craving it in the way you do the familiar tastes of home. I made it with fresh East Coast lump crab meat, not the classic Dungeness, and dressed it with a creamy boiled dressing instead of the pink stuff, and it still satisfied immensely.
Those were the days. Sometimes I yearn for the suppleness of youth, its insouciance and capacity for indulgence. But it's a fleeting moment of fantasy because I belong irrevocably to this moment. I inhabit this skin with a sense of purpose and without regret. There are times for looking back and times for looking ahead, but there's no time like the present. As Joni Mitchell sings, in her seminal song "Down To You," Everything comes and goes, marked by lovers and styles of clothes. Things that you held high and told yourself were true, lost or changing as the days come down to you.
The salad days that matter now are on your plate. Channel your creativity and your quest for health into this ageless combination of the raw and the cooked. Interrupt the dreary weeks of winter with refreshing concoctions crisp with cabbage, celery, apple and bitter greens, and punctuated with sweet bursts of citrus and pomegranate. By all means toss in some protein—a grated hard-cooked egg; some oily tuna or smoked mackerel; a crumbly goat cheese or sharp pecorino. You're looking to create that perfect balance of flavors and textures: crunchy and creamy, sweet and tart, salty and spicy. As in all things, experience enhances your ability and wisdom makes a superb seasoning.
You go along in life, understanding the course of things, but never really imagining that what you see others endure will befall you. That might be the definition of youth. Because, inevitably, it happens to you. To paraphrase Mia Farrow, life is a series of losses and it's all about the grace and resilience with which you respond. My former mother-in-law once looked at a photo of Liv Ullman on the cover of the New York Times Magazine
and said, "Ugh, she's really let herself go." Never mind that the Swedish actress was being lauded for directing a film, what mattered to this woman was that a former beauty now looked like the 62-year-old she was. And I remember feeling disgusted by that, and vowing to forever construe "letting oneself go" as something quite liberating and wonderful.I let my grey hair come in over the past 2 years and there was a certain loss that needed to be mourned there; quietly, mind you. I went from a tousled brunette to an elegant silver without more than a whimper. But now that I am finding it difficult to fit into any of my clothes, now that my skin is becoming slacker and my muscle tone less defined—all those clichés of middle age—I begin to feel a bit of that desperation that sends women under the scalpel. I'm not going to start in with the whole I'm invisible
routine. Unless you're Elle Macpherson
, that pretty much sets in after age 40. And I'm lucky enough to have a husband who tells me I'm beautiful all the time. But, pathetic as it may be, I am newly committed to holding on to what I have for as long as possible. That entails lots of exercise and watching what I eat. Because, to me, being a glutton is all about expanding your palate not your waistline. It's being greedy for the things that are good and
good for you. It means that lunch is about salad.
A while back, I believe I mentioned a desire to explore some lesser-known ingredients with you. I've been keeping a running list—including pickled tapioca, sorghum molasses and dried Persian limes—so do let me know if there's anything you're curious about. This is kohlrabi—from the German "kohl," meaning cabbage and "rabi," meaning turnip. It's a brassica, like cauliflower, kale and collards, and has all the same nutritional benefits: low in carbs and calories, high in fiber and antioxidants. It also comes in a deep purple color. Slightly sweet and fresh, with the faintest peppery bite, kohlrabi can be eaten raw or cooked. If raw, it needs to be peeled, but after cooking the tougher outer skin softens up plenty. With all the cozy soups and hearty braises we're eating at this wintry time of year, it's nice to have some cool, crunchy salads as a counterpoint, (here's one with celery root
, and another with radicchio and grapefruit
), so I used my kohlrabi in a crisp, sprightly slaw.
photo by george billard
My friend Andy Jacobson died on Saturday. He was only 52, and he left behind an incredible wife and two amazing teenagers. I saw it coming but I wasn't prepared. I wanted more time with him, a chance to fix him the Brussels sprouts salad that was the subject of his last tweet to me. In response to my posting this video on the subject, he wrote: "Looks so good! Will you make them???? Pleeeeeze." I never got around to it. Like my father, he had stomach cancer, so he might not have been able to eat it anyway. But still. I'm making it now, Andy, and I'm hoping that whoever else tries the recipe below will think of you, too. An aesthete, a mensch, a quibbler, a devoted father and husband, a loyal friend, a merry prankster. One of G's pals from way back, and like family to us, he got himself licensed so he could perform our wedding ceremony, and he milked that crowd for laughs. The gods are surely smiling today.
My baloney has a first name. It's Mortadella. I'll bet you already know that baloney is a bastardization of bologna—actually, Bologna, for the city in Italy from whence this delectable pork sausage hails. But are you aware that it's named for the mortar (mortaio) that in conjunction with a pestle was originally responsible for the finely ground meat that forms the basis of this heat-cured salume? (Salume is how Italians refer to charcuterie or, more basely, cold cuts.) I have no love for Oscar Mayer's offspring, and shudder to think what goes into those inspid, rubbery slices. They're barely fit to kiss the hem of the real deal: a rich, dense and savory concoction, flavored with garlic, coriander, nutmeg and sometimes studded with pistachios.
this is not your childhood bologna
I get my mortadella at Eataly
's fabulous salumeria where I can have it cut to order in a thick slab. For some gathering over the next month I may even make this recipe
I came across for "Mortadella Smear" in Saveur.
Trust me, it surpasses its unfortunate name in every way. Pureed mortadella enriched with a velouté sauce and a little cream, slathered on grilled bread and drizzled with balsamic. What's not to like? This diverges wildly from the mortadella of yore and is more akin to paté whipped up by a lazy Italian contessa.
Mortadella has a fair amount of fat, so it fries up beautifully crisp. You can do thin slices, which are quite nice, almost chip-like, but I prefer chubby little cubes that come out chewy with crunchy edges. The perfect vehicle for them? A fresh escarole salad tossed with tangy anchovy dressing.
Escarole, also known as "broad-leaved endive" (but not called that by anyone you know) is a member of the chicory family, along with puntarelle
, radicchio and Belgian endive. It's slightly sweeter than its bitter brethren and is a sadly under-appreciated green. (Here's
a recipe for a very simple escarole soup.) Delicious cooked—sauteed with shallots and chile, wilted in garlicky oil—escarole is secretly a salad diva. Served raw, it's gutsy without being aggressive and has gently curled edges that are made for cupping dressing.
We had this salad one night for dinner along with cups of creamy butternut squash soup sprinkled with spicy toasted squash seeds, and it reminded me that I've been meaning to talk to you about something: GARNISHES. The way you finish a dish can make the difference between good and extraordinary. G calls it "kicking it up a notch"—unabashedly ripping off Emeril's catch-phrase—and it's a call to action in the kitchen. You can always make something just that much better with an extra drizzle of spicy green olive oil, sprinkling of coarse sea salt, frizzle of herbs or dollop of crème fraîche.
This is where the notion of condiments comes into play. Homemade chutney, spiced pumpkin seeds, curry salt, fried sage, pickled onions—these have the power to bring your cooking into focus by adding flavor and textural counterpoints. Use your imagination, your creativity and your palate, and have fun gilding the lily.
Fall is here—already. It's brought with it beautiful cool sleeping weather and that poignant quality, a tender melancholy. This is my favorite season, bittersweet and poised so precariously between the royal flush of summer and the dark abyss of winter. Time now to squeeze every last drop of warmth and sweetness from the world. In the garden, tomatoes, zucchini, basil and herbs are performing a glorious swan song. It's the perfect moment for one of these verrines
, a French bistro staple that I learned about in the October issue of Food & Wine
, which is dedicated to the new French classics. You're undoubtedly familiar with parfaits, those gorgeous layers of fruit, cream and frozen delights showcased so perfectly in clear footed glasses. Well, this is sort of a vegetable version of that. A fresh, chunky salad topped with a creamy layer of whipped mascarpone, and garnished with a crispy slice of prosciutto. It's an ideal lunch, or a lovely way to welcome guests for a casual dinner party.