Tuesday, May 25, 2010
And now it is almost over, at least this part. The manuscript will be sent off to its new home by the end of the week, and I'll have the entire long weekend to... Relax? Cook? Balance my checkbook? It will be a strange, strange thing.
Last night I left my desk for a few minutes to see Kim Boyce of Good to the Grain fame speak at Omnivore Books. Admittedly, I went mostly to escape the house. But once there I fell head over heels for her philosophy: whole grains, when used properly in baking, can enhance seasonal fruits and vegetables and produce delicious flavor profiles. We're talking rustic rhubarb tarts, olive oil rosemary chocolate chunk cake, and muffins galore. I cannot wait to dig into this book.
Her talk made me feel like baking. I know, I should have gone directly to the store for some spelt or buckwheat flour. But I don't have time for such things this week. So instead, I ran home and pulled out the usual pantry baking staples: butter, sugar, eggs, flour, and chocolate.
I almost never make brownies. I love rich, chocolate desserts but brownies seem so ordinary. When I was a little girl my mom regularly made a small pan after dinner. She somehow managed to put nuts in half, and leave them out of the other half, so that adults and children were happy. We'd eat them warm, ideally with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top. Perhaps if we were lucky there would also be a drizzle of Hershey's chocolate syrup involved.
Making brownies is so simple: one bowl, one pan, thirty minutes in the oven and you've got something gooey and delicious. I used the recipe on the back of the chocolate tin (Ghiradelli's mix of cocoa and ground chocolate) and didn't think much about it.
It wasn't about the recipe or the method. These brownies didn't have to be the best I'd ever eaten. They just had to be good: warm and comforting and there in my kitchen on the last Monday night before I turn in the manuscript of my first book.
This was about cooking and eating for pleasure. And as I stood in the kitchen, scraping clandestine dark ribbons of brownie batter from the bowl and licking them from the spatula, I was very, very satisfied.
Saturday, May 15, 2010
The other day I had a date. I've been having a lot of dates lately, but this one was particularly good because it included homemade risotto. Next to Acme walnut bread, risotto just might be my most favorite food. I love for all the seasons: heavy with butternut squash and pancetta in the fall, bright with asparagus and favas in the spring. I love it plain too, with lots and lots of parmesan cheese, a big green salad and a large glass of chewy, earthy red wine.
That's how we ate it the other night. It was a cold spring night in San Francisco which meant that a warm bowl of risotto and a glass (or two!) of wine seemed the perfect prescription to a long and stressful day. And the fact that I wasn't the one stirring and stirring over a hot stove? Well that made everything even better.
There was enough risotto left over that it could have been reheated for lunch or perhaps even a light supper. But then the urge to cook came back. "Arancini!" I proclaimed. "Suppli!" he said.
What exactly is the difference? Not much, it turns out. Both arancini and suppli are fried risotto balls stuffed with something very good in the middle. Arancini usually feature peas and mozzarella and occasionally meat, while suppli simply have cheese, often something gooey and good like mozzarella or fontina.
Suppli are more Roman, while arancini hail from Southern Italy and the feisty Sicilians. I was cooking for a man who had lived in Rome, so suppli we would eat.
But as committed as I was to the suppli (and the man!), I wasn't sure how I felt about frying. This recipe, for baked suppli, made risotto balls that were crispy on the outside, soft and cheesy on the inside. I did briefly pan fry the suppli before popping them in the oven to help encourage a crisp and crackling brown shell. It made them slightly more decadent, but without the mess of splattering oil and a smoke filled kitchen.
A dinner redux with suppli, simple greens dressed with olive oil, balsamic, and lemon, another big glass of wine, and hands held across the table? It felt like a roman holiday.
P.S. Apparently they are called suppli al telefono because when you bite into them the cheese stretches out long and thin like the best roman telephone wires. Romantic, no?
Prepared Risotto (made from a 1/2 cup of dried arborio)
2 ounces mozzarella, torn or cut into pea-sized pieces (you could also use fontina or gruyere)
1 cup dried bread crumbs
1/4 cup grated parmigano
salt and pepper
1 warm cup marinara (I made my own by sauteing one half a yellow onion and a minced clove of garlic till soft and then whirling it all in the blender with a can of fire roasted tomatoes)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. In a shallow bowl, combine 3/4 cup of bread crumbs, the parmesan, salt and pepper. Set aside.
Combine the risotto, egg and the remaining bread crumbs in a large bowl. Using a small ice cream scoop or your hands (if using your hands, it helps to keep them wet), shape the risotto into roughly tablespoon-sized balls. Cradling a shaped ball in your palm (to keep the shape intact), use your thumb to tuck a piece of mozzarella into the center of the ball and reshape the ball around the cheese, so the cheese is fully enveloped. Place each formed and stuffed ball onto a plate. When all the risotto has been used, place the plate in the refrigerator for 15 to 30 minutes.
Once the balls have chilled and firmed up, roll each one in the bread crumb mixture and place them on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, turning halfway, until the suppli are golden brown. Serve with marinara for dipping.
Sunday, May 09, 2010
It is actually a nice, albeit simple, way to cook, because it shows me how far I've come. I used to be the kind of person who required a recipe. No recipe meant no dinner, or boring fare: a bowl of pasta with bland red sauce, a quesadilla with canned black beans and salsa from a jar.
I still love to cook from recipes, recipes give me most of my ideas. But I like realizing that I am slowly becoming the kind of person who can make something out of nothing. It makes me feel self-sufficient. The bad part? Nary a recipe in sight, which means there's little to share here.
But as I finish writing the book, this means of simple cooking is highly satisfying. I like shopping for fresh produce at my weekly farmer's market. Instead of planning meals I spend the rest of the week tiredly stumbling into the kitchen, throwing open the fridge, and figuring out something easy to make and eat.
Take lunch, for instance. The pickings were slim. But I did have some good bread -- I simply can't live without a loaf of Acme Walnut Bread -- and as it toasted I found a small bunch of radishes in the fridge. Out came the good butter and salt, and before long I was slathering the pink jewels with butter, dipping them in salt, and happily watching the sun stream in through the windows. I could almost believe I was in France. Almost.
For the moment, at least, I am finding just as much joy in not cooking as I usually do in picking recipes, shopping, and cooking up a storm. I’m sure soon I’ll want to return to the kitchen, but in the meantime, my radishes and I are happy as can be.