potato salad with summer vegetables and anchovy dressing

for me, when it comes down to it, salad will be the deciding course for whether a restaurant experience is good . . . or distasteful. if it's not flawless-fresh with vivid, engaging bites of textures, then whatever follows will most certainly be a disappointment. i aim for the same salad standards at home too. so that requires three or four market trips a week to toss-up the season's just-picked produce.
       when i found this recipe from jonathan benno (food & wine august 2005) i could tell it would eclipse my salad expectations. and, i wasn't let down. i've been making it every summer since and consider it one of my repertoire's show-stoppers . . . it always gets a wow review from my guests. multiple colors of grape tomatoes and fingerling potatoes makes it even prettier. and garnished with a few sprigs of fresh herbs, this salad puts a palette of color on the table.

ingredients (serves 4)
• 4 ounces yellow wax beans
4 ounces thin green beans
6 garlic cloves
2 bay leaves
1 thyme sprig
1 rosemary sprig
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
12 small fingerling potatoes, scrubbed but not peeled
2 oil-packed anchovy fillets
1/4 cup milk
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon chopped parsley
1/2 teaspoon chopped marjoram
12 cherry tomatoes, halved
1. in a saucepan of boiling salted water, cook the yellow beans until just tender, 3 minutes. using a slotted spoon, transfer the beans to a baking sheet and let cool. add the green beans to the boiling water and cook until just tender, 2 minutes. using the slotted spoon, add the green beans to the baking sheet. let cool, then pat dry.
2. add the garlic, bay leaves, thyme, rosemary and peppercorns to the boiling water. add the potatoes and simmer over moderately high heat until tender, about 20 minutes. drain the potatoes, reserving the garlic cloves. discard the seasonings.
3. meanwhile, in a small bowl, soak the anchovies in the milk for 10 minutes. drain the anchovies, then coarsely chop them and transfer to a blender. add the olive oil and the reserved garlic and puree. with the machine on, slowly add the vinegar. scrape the dressing into a bowl, season with salt and pepper and stir in the parsley and marjoram.
4. slice the boiled potatoes 1/4 inch thick and put them in a large bowl. add half of the anchovy dressing and toss gently. add the yellow and green beans, the cherry tomatoes and the remaining dressing, toss gently and serve.

barley and celery

this is my anti-holiday food post.
as 2011 narrows toward the winter solstice, my revolt against holiday hype and excesses is best expressed in this wholesome, comforting recipe: barley and celery cooked in vegetable stock . . . 
eaten without fanfare. 
from a bowl.
with a spoon.
ingredients (serves 6 to 8)
• 1 and 1/2 cups of pearled barley
• about 1 and 1/2 tbls. olive oil
• 1 onion, finely chopped
• 6 to 8 tender inner stalks of celery, finely chopped
• 8 cups of vegetable stock
• cleaned celery leaves, chopped
• salt and pepper
• white balsamic vinegar and olive oil to drizzle
1. put the barley into a large skillet and toast it on med.-low until browned. put the toasted barely into a bowl and set aside.
2. pour the olive oil into the skillet, add the onion and the celery and cook until softened. cover the pan with a lid and set the flame to low, allowing the vegetables to soften but not brown.
3. heat the stock until it boils.
4. add the barley to the onions and celery and pour in some of the stock until it fills the skillet about 3/4s of the way. simmer until most of the stock is absorbed.
5. keep adding stock and simmering as in step 4 until all of it is incorporated.
6. once the barley is softened, season it with salt and pepper.
7. serve the barley with some of the celery leaves mixed in, top with a little white balsamic vinegar and a drizzle of olive oil.

Cauliflower Soup with Chive Oil and Crostini

i spent some time over the weekend testing recipes for thanksgiving. this one not only made it to the menu, it rocketed to the top and will open for dinner. a lush, velvety purée of robust, roasted cauliflower garnished with chive oil and a crunch of crostini will start our meal with an elegant prelude.
blanched chives blended with olive oil paint this soup with a bright green zip
Cauliflower Soup with Chive Oil and Crostini:
Recipe adapted from "Bon Appetit" October 2011 Issue 

CHIVE OIL (use unused portion for salad dressing or as a dip for bread)
• 2 oz. fresh chives
• 3/4 cup of olive oil

1. bring a pot of salted water to boil.
2. add the chives and when the water starts to boil again count to 10.
3. remove the chives with tongs to a colander. (save the blanching water for use in stock or as a poaching liquid)
4. squeeze the water from the chives and roughly chop them.
5. put the chives and the olive oil into a blender and process until smooth.
6. strain the oil through a fine sieve. (save the solids to use in salad dressing or to garnish fish or chicken)
7. refrigerate the oil and bring it to room temp. before serving.
SOUP (serves 6 as a starter - make ahead and reheat to serve)
• 1 large head of cauliflower
• olive oil to drizzle
• 1 large onion, chopped
• 1/4-1/2 cup milk
• day old bread for crostini
• salt

1. cut the stem off the bottom of the cauliflower.
2. set it into a baking pan and rub with olive oil.
3. pour 1/2 cup water into the bottom of the pan.
4. tent the cauliflower with foil and roast for an hour or so at 375 degrees until a knife inserted into the core meets no resistance. (check the pan every now and then and add more water if needed)
5. coat the bottom of a large sauce pan with olive oil and heat on med-low.
6. add the onion and cook until translucent.
7. add the roasted cauliflower and 4 cups of water. turn up the heat to med. and simmer until the water is heated and the cauliflower is very soft.
8. purée it with a stick blender or in batches in the food processor.
9. cut day-old bread into planks and rub them with olive oil. heat them in the oven at 400 until crispy.
10. put the soup back on the flame. whisk in the milk, season with salt, and heat through.
11. ladle into bowls and drizzle with the chive oil. serve with the warm crostini.

mushrooms, onions, and fresh thyme pizza

jim lahey's recipe for pizza funghi was inspired by a risotto stewed with the same ingredients– a mario batali creation.
just three toppings and a generous pour of olive oil make this thin-crust pizza a focus of dense mushroom flavor. on the periphery is the compliment of sweet onions, and a hint of thyme. 

i praise its simplicity. it deserves slow chewing in order to contemplate the woody, wholesome funghi made buttery with olive oil, lively with onions, and green with thyme. my jim asked for a few shakes of parmesan to top his slice . . . i like it just as it is, right from the oven served with a crisp toss of salad and a glass of white wine.

jim lahey's recipe for pizza funghi
pizza dough ingredients (makes two 13"x18" crusts)
3 3/4 cups bread flour
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
3/4 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon sugar
1 1/3 cups water at room temperature
olive oil
how to prepare the dough
1. in a mixing bowl, stir together all of the dry ingredients. add the water and mix with a wooden spoon until well blended.
2. cover the bowl w/plastic wrap and let it rise until doubled, about 2 hours or so.
3. dust the counter with a little flour and divide the dough in half. cover one piece of dough with the plastic wrap and let it rest about 20-30 min. freeze or refrigerate the other piece of dough for later, or use it to make a different kind of pizza.
4. rub olive oil on a 13"x18" baking sheets. rub your hands with olive oil and spread the dough (floured side up) onto the baking sheet. press and push until the dough is spread out to the edges of the pan. it will be quite thin. close any holes by pinching the dough together with your fingers.

• 1 1/4 lb. cremini mushrooms, wiped clean with a cloth and thinly sliced
• 1 1/3 cups diced yellow onion
• 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves, minced
• 1 tsp. salt
• 2 1/2 tbls. extra virgin olive oil
1. preheat the oven to 500 degrees, and put a rack in the center.
2. toss the mushrooms, onions, and thyme together in a mixing bowl.
3. spread the toppings evenly over the prepared dough all the way out to the edges.
4. sprinkle the pizza with sea salt and drizzle it with olive oil.
5. bake for 20-25 min. until the crust edges are crisp and browned, and pulling up from the pan.

vegetarian french onion soup

a bowl of french onion soup 
defined a new food absolute for me.
in possession of my first passport and barely of driving age, i remember not caring that i had just scorched my tongue with a simple, slow brew of onions in butter, broth, and wine. i could taste every ingredient, yet their combination was made congruent through the preparation process, relating to my senses in an altogether notable way. topped with baguette slices and gruyére cheese, after that first taste of french onion soup: food added up to an art form. by the time i uncovered the bottom of the bowl, my interest in cooking had also raised exponentially. this, i had to learn to make.
  every time i eat a facile french onion soup, i am reminded of why i prefer to eat with a spoon.

 in julia child's words, "the french are seldom interested in unusual combinations or surpise presentations . . . the frenchman takes his greatest pleasure from a well-known dish impeccably cooked . . . each of the several steps in the process, though simple to accomplish, plays a critical role."
this recipe is from "mastering the art of french cooking," by julia child 
- adapted for vegetarians

ingredients (serves 6-8)
• 1 and 1/2 lbs. yellow onions, thinly sliced
• 3 tbls. unsalted butter
• 1 tbl. oil (i use high heat safflower oil)
• 1 tsp. sea salt
• 1/4 tsp. sugar
• 2 quarts of boiling veg. stock
• 1/2 cup dry white wine
• 3 tbls. cognac
• thinly sliced stale baguette, toasted (4-5 spices per bowl)
• 2 cups of grated gryuére cheese
1. melt the butter with the oil in a 4 quart sauce pot on low. add the sliced onions, cover the pot, and cook slowly for 15 min. until the onions turn translucent and soften.
2. uncover the pot, raise the heat to med., and add the salt and sugar. cook for 30-40 min. stirring frequently, until the onions have turned an even, deep, golden brown.
3. off the heat, stir in the boiling stock and the white wine. return the pot to the heat, and simmer partially covered for 30 to 40 min. more.
4. preheat the oven to 400 degrees.
5. turn off the soup to stir in the cognac. adjust the seasoning.
6. ladle the soup into oven-proof bowls. stir in a little of the grated gruyére, float the toasted baguette slices on top, and layer on more cheese.
7. set the bowls on a large cookie sheet and put them into the preheated oven for about 20 min. until the soup is bubbling and the top is lightly browned.

white asparagus with red bell pepper coulis

serve something a little different that's still appetizing, not odd.
i am not a fan of aspic or mushroom foam. sure, unusual ingredients are intriguing. but even so, give them to me in a dish that's recognizable as food, artfully arranged or simply ladled into a bowl.
white asparagus is grown covered over in mounds of dirt and harvested before any chlorophyll forms in the plants. void of green color, it has a milder, less-green taste than the more common variety. remove the bitter peeling of the colorless stem to reveal an iridescent, pearly, delicate stalk . . . and present a dish that might be unexpected, but isn't peculiar tasting.

• white asparagus (6 or 7 stalks per serving)
• vegetable stock
• 1 bay leaf per serving
• roughly chopped pistachios
• leeks- 1 per serving, sliced thin
• olive oil
• sea salt
• red bell pepper coulis (click here for the recipe)
1. wash the asparagus and snap of the bottom of the stems. lay them on the cutting board and peel the stalks with a vegetable peeler.
2. put the asparagus into a skillet. add enough veg. stock to almost cover. sprinkle with a little salt, and add the bay leaves.
3. simmer for about 8 min. just until tender, but not too soft.
4. drain the cooked asparagus (save the liquid for soup) and retain the bay leaves for serving.
5. wipe out the skillet and coat the bottom with several tbls. olive oil. heat on med-low until shimmering. add the sliced leeks, season with salt, and cook until soft.
6. put the cooked leeks into a small bowl and wipe out the skillet.
7. using the same skillet, make the red bell pepper coulis.
9. spoon some coulis onto a plate and lay 6 or 7 stalks of cooked asparagus on top. add some of the cooked leeks and chopped pistachios.
10. drizzle the plate with olive oil. garnish with the cooked bay leaves.

mango, orange and rum punch

jim and i fell under the spell of fruit and rum drinks on a vacation in puerto rico where we rented a little beach place with a galley kitchen and a blender. the hex started to take hold on our first trip to the small-town grocery store in aguadilla, luring us down an aisle stocked entirely with rum. at the end were big refrigerated cases of ice that sparked ideas for chilly concoctions to whip up with fruit.
in the evenings, after the sun and surf, we played cards in the shade of our porch, and we watched the far off ships that cruised to and from san juan. as we sipped our fiendish, frosty potations, the breezes blew through and sent the smoke from the grill down the beach to a chihuahua named, carolyn. after a little while, she would scamper up the steps for table scraps and belly rubs, casting her own canine spell over our hearts.

we brought back the incantation for our rum elixirs, and now we blend them at home when the heat index rises. this particular recipe is wickedly good so be careful . . . it's been known to make the drinker tongue-tied.
 ingredients (makes a syrup for 6-8 drinks)
• 1 ripe mango
• 2 oranges
• 2 lemons
• pineapple rum
• dark rum
• lemon perrier
• drambuie
1. halve the mango lengthwise by cutting it away from the seed. scoop the flesh away from the skin and put it into the blender.
2. halve the oranges and lemons and squeeze the juice into the blender.
3. to make the syrup, blend the mangos, orange and lemon juices to a thick purée.
4. pour three ounces of the syrup into a a shaker. add 1 oz. of dark rum, 1 oz. of pineapple rum, 1/2 oz. of drambuie, and 1/2 cup of crushed ice. shake until the ice is almost melted.
5. pour the drink into a glass of crushed ice, and top with lemon perrier. stir . . . sip, slowly.