Sunday, December 05, 2010

What to Make for Your Next Cocktail Party

Dorie Greenspan's new book, Around My French Table, has been stalking me for months now. First, I got invited to a press luncheon for the book in July. It was at Blue Hill and we ate pea soup, Hudson Valley duck, and cheesecake. Everything was delicious. Then, I wrote a story about the book's somewhat surprising success, considering the fact that Dorie Greenspan doesn't have a TV show or food magazine, yet her book is one of the year's most popular (and bestselling) cookbooks. And then I went to a party for a cookbook "tournament" last week, where I met Dorie and ate one of her delicious sable cookies (in a piglet shape, natch).
Can you believe I STILL had not tried one of the recipes in her book?
So tonight, I finally took the plunge. And, unsurprisingly, it was a smash hit. Dorie's Gougères are fabulous. They are cheese puffs, and they are airy and cheesy, a little crunchy and even a tiny bit creamy. They were a cinch to make (I really had no reason to be nervous, but I was, I think because they're just so... French). I used an aged cheddar, and followed her instructions exactly, even the quirky step of putting them into an oven you've preheated to 425, but then dropping the temperature to 375 once they're in. Who knows why. It works.
We enjoyed the gougères with some chilled Muscadet. Even our baby got her hands on some and loved them (poor thing is used to eating puffs of a different sort--flavored with spinach and banana).
What will be next from Dorie's book? Elsewhere in the "Nibbles and Hors D'oevures" chapter I have my eye on Savory Cheese and Chive Bread. But her main dishes and, of course, desserts look amazing, too. Sorry it took me so long!--S


1/2 cup milk
1/2 c water
8 T unsalted butter, cut into 4 pieces
1/2 t salt
1 c all-purpose flour
5 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 c coarsely grated cheese, such as Gruyere or cheddar

1. Position the racks to divide the oven into thirds and preheat the oven to 425 F. Line two baking sheets with silicone baking mats or parchment paper.
2. Bring the milk, water, butter, and salt to a rapid boil in a heavy-bottomed medium saucepan over high heat. Add the flour all at once, lower the heat to medium-low, and immediately start stirring energetically with a wooden spoon or heavy whisk. The dough will come together and a light crust will form on the bottom of the pan. Keep stirring--with vigor--for another minute or two to dry the dough. The dough should now be very smooth.
3. Turn the dough into the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or into a bowl that you can use for mixing with a hand mixer or a wooden spoon and elbow grease. Let the dough sit for a minute, then add the eggs one by one and beat, beat, beat until the dough is thick and shiny. Make sure that each egg is completely incorporated before you add the next, and don't be concerned if the dough separates--by the time the last egg goes in, the dough will come together again. Beat in the grated cheese. Once the dough is made, it should be spooned out immediately.
4. Using about 1 T of dough for each gougere, drop the dough from a spoon onto the lined baking sheets, leaving about 2 inches of puff space between the mounds.
5. Slide the baking sheets into the oven and immediately turn the oven temperature down to 375 F. Bake for 12 minutes, then rotate the pans from front to back and top to bottom. Continue baking until the gougeres are golden, firm, and yes, puffed, another 12 to 15 minutes or so. Serve warm, or transfer the pans to racks to cool.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Not That There's Anything Wrong with Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Oatmeal raisin cookies = classic. Always good. Comforting.
Try swapping out the raisins for dried cherries. Add almonds and almond extract. And chocolate chips? Now we're talking!
The recipe for Cherry-Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies was the first recipe I tried from the new Bon Appetit Desserts cookbook, which is one of those doorstop numbers that could possibly be the only dessert book you'd ever need. And it's certainly off to a good start with this recipe, which is your typical drop cookie recipe, just with a couple of twists.
With something as simple as an oatmeal cookie, replacing raisins with cherries and slipping in some homey chocolate chips and slightly sophisticated almonds is a very nice touch. It got me thinking about some other combos that might be tasty:
Candied ginger + pistachio?
Dried apricots + macadamia nuts?
Figs + hazelnuts?
You could really go, er, nuts here! But for now I'm quite content to enjoy the cherry almond combo. I gave a bag of them to some friends who just had a baby and they seemed to love them. But I'll admit it: I'm glad the bag only held about two-thirds of the whole batch.

Cherry-Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

1 c unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t salt
10 T (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temp
1/2 c sugar
1/2 c (packed) dark brown sugar (I used light; no biggie)
1 large egg
1 t vanilla extract
1/2 t almond extract
1 c old-fashioned oats
1 1/2 c semisweet chocolate chips
1 c dried tart cherries (they seemed large so I cut them in half)
1/2 c slivered almonds, toasted (I used sliced almonds)

1. Position1 rack in center and 1 rack in top third of oven and preheat to 325 F. Line 2 heavy large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper.
2. Sift flour, baking soda, and salt into medium bowl. Using electric mixer, beat butter and both sugars in large bowl until well blended. Mix in egg and both extracts. Beat in flour mixture. Stir in oats, then chocolate chips, cherries, and almonds.
3. Drop dough by rounded tablespoonfuls onto prepared baking sheets, spacing 2" apart. Bake cookies 12 minutes. Reverse baking sheets and continue to bake cookies until golden, about 6 minutes longer. Cool cookies on baking sheets (cookies will firm as they cool).

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A New Look at Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving!

I approached this year's meal a bit differently than usual. Don't get me wrong; I'm always focused on the food at Thanksgiving. But this year, with a 10-month-old baby grabbing at every morsel she could get her little hands on, I realized just how wonderful and varied the Thanksgiving meal is.

Our daughter got her greens via stracciatella soup with spinach and cut-up pieces of green beans from a green bean casserole. She savored small bites of rosemary garlic parmesan biscuits. She puckered up for my homemade cranberry sauce and, of course, wiped out her favorite food on the table: pureed sweet potatoes (this version doctored up with apple juice concentrate, brown sugar, and butter). She ate our family's Italian dishes, soufrite (sausage, peppers, & chicken) and Nonna's stuffing (ground beef, raisins, & rice). She had a few shreds of turkey, though, like me, she preferred the sides. When dessert arrived, she happily dug in to pumpkin pie (the filling), tasted a bite of a gingerbread cheesecake square, and had a few apples from my apple tart, and licked whipped cream off her dad's finger.

Of course I can't remember my first Thanksgiving. But watching my daughter enjoy hers was even better.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Scone Kick

I'm on something of a scone kick, because making scones requires buying buttermilk, and what else does one do with a half-empty container of buttermilk but make more scones? While the last batch were straight-up decadent, the scones I made this weekend are more of a "healthy" scone. I know that sounds like an oxymoron, but when we're talking scones, if they have a bit of whole wheat flour and some oatmeal in them, I say they count as healthy.

Oatmeal Nutmeg Scones are from Dorie Greenspan's (if you haven't seen her latest cookbook, Around My French Table, I highly recommend it!) classic Baking, a reference that has always given me great baked goods. Dorie (if I may) calls them "tender and sweet," and that's quite accurate. They crumble easily and aren't so sweet that they can't handle a dab of apricot preserves on top. They're pretty ideal scones, actually., lovely for breakfast or an any-time-of-day snack. (And I've still got more buttermilk, so my kick can continue.)--S

Oatmeal Nutmeg Scones

1 large egg
1/2 c cold buttermilk
1 2/3 c all-purpose flour (I substituted half whole-wheat flour)
1 1/3 c old-fashioned oats
1/3 c sugar
1 T baking powder
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1/4 t freshly grated nutmeg
1 stick plus 2 T (10 T) cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone mat.

Stir the egg and buttermilk together.

Whisk the flour, oats, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt and nutmeg together in a large bowl. Drop in the butter and, using your fingers, toss to coat the pieces of butter with flour. Quickly, working with your fingertips (my favorite method) or a pastry blender, cut and rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture is pebbly. You'll have pea-size pieces, pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and pieces the size of everything in between--and that's just right.

Pour the egg and buttermilk mixture over the dry ingredients and stir with a fork just until the dough, which will be wet and sticky, comes together. Don't overdo it.

Still in the bowl, gently knead the dough by hand, or turn it with a rubber spatula 8 to 10 times. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and divide it in half. Working with one piece at a time, pat the dough into a rough circle that's about 5 inches in diameter, cut it into 6 wedges and place on the baking sheet. (At this point, the scones can be frozen on the baking sheet, then wrapped airtight. Don't defrost before baking--just add about 2 minutes to the baking time.)

Bake for 20 to 22 minutes, or until their tops are olden and firmish. Transfer them to a rack and cool for 10 minutes before serving, or wait for the scones to cool to room temperature.

Makes 12 scones.

Recipe courtesy of Baking by Dorie Greenspan

Friday, September 10, 2010

Introducing... the Introduction

As the best cookbook authors know, recipe introductions are way more important than you might think. They situate a recipe, telling you why you should try it, what to watch out for while you're making it, and what you might eat or drink alongside it. And if they're written well, they give you a little insight into the author's personality.

Take, for instance, the new book from Baked authors Matt Lewis and Renato Poliafito. It's called Baked Explorations and features 75 recipes for "classic American desserts reinvented." This subject practically begs for recipe intros (or "headnotes," as editors call them): why reinvent, say, a New York-style crumb cake? Or chocolate mint thumbprint cookies? Read the intros, and you'll find out.

Which brings me to the the book's Carrot Coconut Scones with Citrus Glaze. Reading the intro--and getting a Tweet from Matt Lewis saying the scones were a big hit with the book's recipe testers--convinced me I had to make them: "I have succumbed to deep self-delusion and equate all carrot baked things with health and nutrition," it says in part. A carrot cake fiend, I immediately identified with this statement. An additional note reads, "the oats and carrot lend an air of nutrition, but deep down this is a perfect treat for morning, noon, and night." Sold, to the lady with the ridiculous sweet tooth who eats oatmeal with candied ginger and cranberries for breakfast.

So these scones: they're outrageously good. And I didn't even make the citrus glaze. I just painted the egg white glaze on them and sprinkled them with sugar. They are sweet but not too sweet. Denser than muffins, but softer and moister than many scones I've had. And divinely textured thanks to the shredded coconut and oats.

Good headnotes are key. They make reading a cookbook fun--and motivate me to carry my cookbooks out of the living room and into the kitchen.--S

Carrot Coconut Scones with Citrus Glaze
Yield: 6 to 8 scones

For the scones:
2 3/4 c all-purpose flour
1/2 c granulated sugar
1/2 c rolled oats
1 T baking powder
1/4 t salt
1 c shredded sweetened coconut
1/2 c (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2" chunks
1 large egg
3/4 c buttermilk
1 T pure vanilla extract
1/4 c carrot puree (recipe follows)
1 egg white, beaten

For the citrus glaze:
1 T fresh lemon juice
2 T fresh orange juice
1 c confectioners' sugar

Make the scones:
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and position the rack in the center. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, oats, baking powder, salt, and shredded sweetened coconut.
3. Add the butter. Use your fingertips to rub the butter into the flour until the butter is pea size and the mixture is coarse.
4. In a separate bowl, whisk together the egg, buttermilk, vanilla and carrot puree. Slowly pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until the dough just comes together. Gently and briefly knead the dough with your hands. The dough will be sticky and may need to be sprinkled with flour.
5. Roll the dough up, turn it on its end, and gently flatten it into a disk about 1 3/4" high. Do not overwork the dough.
6. Whisk the egg white with 1 T water. Set aside.
7. Cut the dough into 6 or 8 wedges and place the scones on the prepared baking sheet. Brush the tops with the egg white wash. Bake for 18 to 20 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a scone comes out clean. Do not overbake.
8. Transfer the scones to a wire rack to cool completely. Place the baking sheet, with the parchment still on it, underneath the rack.

Make the citrus glaze:
1. Whisk all ingredients together in a medium bowl. The glaze should be loose enough to drizzle. If it is too thick, add a little more oragne juice. If it is too loose, add a little more confectioners' sugar.
2. Drizzle the glaze over the scones and allow it to set before serving.

To make the carrot puree:
1 medium carrot
1/4 c orange juice

1. Place the carrot and juice in a medium glass microwaveable bowl. Cover or wrap tightly in plastic wrap.
2. Microwave on high for about 5 minutes. If the carrot is fork-tender, it is ready. If it is not fork-tender, continue to microwave in 30-second bursts until it is.
3. Blend (in blender or food processor) the carrot and orange juice until smooth, or alternatively, mash with a potato masher until lump free.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Perfection Is Overrated

As if tasting delicious weren't enough, this dish has another thing going for it: it's supposed to not look perfect. This is my kind of dinner!

This Tomato, Goat Cheese, and Olive Tart could be called "rustic" or "free form." Or, as Melissa Camero Ainslie, who who shared the recipe on her excellent blog, Bitchin' Camero, said, it could also be called the tart of a lazy person. Whatever you call it, you should make it. It's very easy and a delightful way to highlight summer tomatoes. Although the recipe calls for heirloom tomatoes, I used New Jersey beefsteak tomatoes and it turned out fabulously.

I made one tart and froze the other half of the dough. But I have a feeling I may be defrosting it soon, because this is such a perfect summer meal. Along with a salad, it's a perfect (in a less-than-perfect kind of way) lunch or supper.

Perfection isn't all it's cracked up to be, you know.--S

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Catalog Cooking

I've been pulling recipes off the Internet for ages now, while still using my cookbooks regularly, thanks to EatYourBooks. But until now I'd never made a dish from a recipe I found in a catalog.

A new Williams-Sonoma catalog arrived the other day and as I idly flipped through it, envisioning myself sitting down to a lovely spread like this one, I came upon a recipe for something called Tuscan Frittata Affogata. I know this sounds suspiciously made-up, like, do they really eat something so frou-frou sounding in Tuscany? (I also paid attention because Fork ordered a dessert called "affogata" at this restaurant a few months ago and it was fabulous.) Anyway, it looked good: a frittata made with eggs, cheese, and sausage, topped with marinara sauce, fresh mozzarella, and basil.

So I decided to try it. And it was excellent. It looked like a pizza coming out of the oven, all saucy and and bubbly cheese. And that's kind of what it is: a frittata pizza. It may well be true that no one in Tuscany has ever eaten such a thing. But who cares? This is one great dish. I had to make a few adaptations since the recipe--coming from a catalog and all--was written for you to use a fancy frittata pan that W-S sells for $149.95. Pish posh. You don't need one of those. Live on the edge and flip that baby right onto a plate, then slide it back into the pan.

Other than that it's pretty straightforward. An excellent way to use up a leftover cup of tomato sauce; a simple dinner that goes great with a salad and some garlic toasts; delicious the next day, cold or room temperature. I'm off to scour more catalogs now!--S

Friday, July 16, 2010

Zucchini Bread's Secret Ingredient: Olive Oil

Sure, it would be great to have a vegetable garden. It would also be great to have central air (not happening in this pre-war apartment), a personal assistant (how long have I been meaning to book a haircut?!) and a beautiful baby and fabulous husband (oh, wait). Anyway, the veg garden. But I have the next best thing: a mother-in-law whose garden is roughly the size of our bedroom and living room put together.

My in-laws came to visit last weekend, bringing with them the first of the garden's bounty: zucchini! And I know it is so painfully obvious to make zucchini bread, but that's just what I did. I'm still avoiding dairy and soy, and after a conversation yesterday with Terry Walters, a cookbook author who makes it a point to cook with "clean food," which includes baking without using canola oil, I tracked down a recipe for Zucchini Bread that uses olive oil instead of canola oil or butter.

I know I've made fabulous zucchini breads before (I have twice made, but never blogged about, this one; if you like Indian flavors, you must try it), but the one I made this morning might outdo them all. It is really simple--just zucchini, flour (I used a mix of whole wheat and white), sugar, eggs, vanilla, nutmeg, cinnamon, walnuts and raisins. But that olive oil! It makes the bread moist but still light and airy--a little savory, and even kind of floral.

Still waiting on that personal assistant, but until then, I guess I can make my own zucchini bread.

Zucchini Bread

Makes 2 loaves

Wet ingredients:

1 c olive oil
2 eggs
2 c sugar [I used 1 1/2 c]
1 t molasses
3 t vanilla
1 t salt
1/8 t nutmeg
3 t cinnamon
2 c grated zucchini

Dry ingredients:

3 c flour
1 t baking soda
3/4 t baking powder
1 c Nuts, Raisins, Currants, Craisins, Chocolate Chips or a combo [I used walnuts and raisins]

1. Preheat oven to 350F.
2. Shred zucchini with a box grater or with the grating blade of your food processor.
3. Grease two loaf pans by brushing on some vegetable oil; coat with flour.
4. Crack eggs into a mixing bowl, and then whisk thoroughly to integrate yolks. Add the olive oil, sugar, molasses, vanilla, and spices, and mix well. Stir in zucchini.
5. In another large bowl, sift [I didn't sift; I just stirred] together flour, baking soda and powder.
6. Pour the wet ingredients into the blended dry ingredients. Fold until just mixed. Add the nuts/dried fruit/etc.
7. Pour batter into loaf pans and bake 45 to an hour; the loaves are done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean or with just a few crumbs.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Screaming for ...Spice Dreams?

Ice cream season is upon us! For the foreseeable future I'll be sticking with dairy-free sorbets, which is fine by me--especially if they all turn out to be as good as Coconut-Ginger Sorbet. Creamy, laced with with shreds of coconut, and refreshing, but with a little heat from ginger--this sorbet is a classic. It's from a new book called Spice Dreams: Flavored Ice Creams and Other Frozen Treats by Sara Engram and Kimberly Toge, which is all about adding spices like basil, cardamom, chile, mint, and thyme to frozen desserts. Some of them can get a little wacky (not that I haven't tried making bizarre ice cream flavors before), but the combination of ginger and coconut is spectacular.

Coconut-Ginger Sorbet

Makes about 3 cups

3/4 c sugar
3/4 c water
1 t ground ginger
1/8 t salt
1 (14-oz) can coconut milk
1/4 c sweetened flaked coconut
1/4 t vanilla

Combine the sugar, water, ginger, and salt in a medium, heavy saucepan. Heat the sugar mixture over medium heat, stirring gently, until the sugar has completely dissolved and the syrup is clear, about 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and let steep for 1 hour.

Combine the coconut milk, flaked coconut, and vanilla in a medium bowl. Strain the syrup mixture through a fine-mesh sieve into the coconut milk mixture. Whisk until the syrup and coconut milk are completely mixed. Cover and refrigerate until completely chilled, at least 4 hours or overnight. The sorbet mixture may be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Freeze the chilled sorbet mixture in an ice-cream maker according to the manufacturer's instructions. Transfer the sorbet to an airtight container and freeze in the freezer for 2 to 4 hours before serving.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

The Temporary Vegetarian

There's a column in the New York Times called The Temporary Vegetarian, and last month, it featured a recipe for "A Vegan Main Dish of Indian Green Beans." Halfway through my two-week dairy and soy hiatus, and this recipe is coming in handy.

Not only is it handy; it's actually very, very good--the sort of vegetable dish I can see myself making again and again. While Julie Sahni, a cooking teacher and cookbook author who created the recipe, says you can make this with cauliflower, eggplant, carrots, or brussels sprouts, I went with green beans tonight. They got plump as they cooked, and soaked up the rich sauce, a savory and spicy mix of ground cumin and coriander, red pepper flakes, and paprika, built up with finely chopped onion and garlic, and thickened with coconut milk.

Sahni suggests topping the dish with sliced almonds which you fry gently, and this is a nice touch, adding crunch and earthiness. A squirt of lime brings out even more flavor. Definitely make a pot of rice to serve alongside the beans; it helps soak up the sauce and temper the heat. We also had some seared scallops (so much for that "vegan main dish" thing--oops), which were also excellent with the coconut sauce.

I'm actually relishing the challenge of avoiding dairy and soy. It's leading me to some great new recipes--and making me so much more conscientious about what I eat.--S

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Here's the Story, Morning Glory

For me, breakfast isn't just the most important meal of the day; it's possibly my favorite meal of the day. Homemade yogurt and granola; an egg and cheese sandwich; even just a bowl of cereal with berries and milk--such simple things really make me happy in the morning.

And then the pediatrician suggested I cut milk and soy out of my diet, since it might be triggering an allergy that's turned the baby's skin into a dry, cracked mess. Five days in, her skin is looking better, and I'm getting used to black coffee. Breakfast, too, has taken a new direction.

The only reason I'm eating a bowl of soy-free cereal with rice milk and strawberries right now is that I've polished off all the Morning Glory Muffins I made last week. I wanted to find a recipe for a muffin or bread that didn't include dairy or soy, and that wasn't vegan, so I went to Cookstr, which I think has the best search options of any recipe site I've visited. I searched for a baked breakfast item that was lactose- and soy-free, and that didn't take more than an hour to make. Voila: Morning Glory Muffins, which were apparently the muffin of the back-to-the-land movement in the '70s.

Here's what I love about these muffins: they're made with shredded coconut, carrots, apple, crushed pineapple, raisins, and walnuts. As if that magnificent ingredient list isn't enough to lure you in, here's more to love: the recipe makes 16 regular-sized muffins (I got 12, since I made 6 jumbo and 6 regular). You can substitute whole-wheat flour for half of the regular flour (which I did). They don't get weighed down and gooey after a day, and make a very hearty breakfast.

I'm only on this diet for two weeks (for now), but I have a feeling I'll be making these muffins for many years to come.--S

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Rhubarb Season

Rhubarb season is here, and this year I greeted it with a new recipe from 101 Cookbooks. Heidi Swanson's Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble isn't revolutionary, nor is it exciting. But man, is it good.

A big fan of multigrain flours, Swanson calls for spelt flour in this recipe, which, according to a new book I've been leafing through called Good to the Grain, is a good introduction to whole grain flours, since it is easy to bake with, and gives satisfying results. Spelt has a slightly tart aroma, and is also distinctly sweet--making it a great match for the classic sweet-tart combination of strawberries and rhubarb.

The crumble topping also includes oats, lightly toasted pine nuts, natural cane sugar, butter, sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper. You can add a splash of port wine to the fruit, if you have it, but I didn't, and it didn't seem to make this any less tasty. In fact, we ate the crumble at a picnic, along with a Sangiovese wine, and I will say it was one of the most enjoyable dessert experiences I have had in awhile. Watching the sailboats on the Hudson, sipping a delicious red wine, listening to our baby coo on the blanket alongside us, eating a strawberry rhubarb crumble: not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon.--S

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Springtime Lessons

Nothing against a big, hearty bolognese, but sometimes you want something a little lighter for dinner. And nothing against salads, but there are times when torn bits of lettuce just feel a tad boring.

Enter the delicious meal known as the "composed" salad. (It sounds much more elegant in French: salade composee--non?) Anyway, it's a collection of vegetables, starches, and proteins, all cooked in the simplest manner possible and then dressed in a vinaigrette. This version, from Martha Stewart's Cooking School and titled "Poached Chicken Breast and Spring Vegetable Salad," consisted of poached chicken, boiled baby new potatoes, steamed asparagus, and poached leeks--all dressed with either a lemon vinaigrette, or a buttermilk vinaigrette. Martha also likes marinated artichokes with this, and while I'm sure homemade ones are great, I went with jarred for convenience.

Making this "salad" was an education for me. The most important lesson I learned was how to poach chicken. Until now, I'd always just boiled it in water for 20 minutes. But now I know that adding a carrot, stalk of celery, peppercorns, parsley, thyme, a bay leaf, and some salt makes the chicken so much more flavorful (and leaves you with a delicious stock for future use). I found the recipe online here.

I also picked up some other tips:
  • cook baby new potatoes at a gentle simmer, not a fast boil

  • buttermilk makes a great dressing for chicken or vegetables when whisked with olive oil, white wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and herbs

  • poaching leeks brings out their sweetness; tossing a few thyme sprigs into the pot imparts a mild savoriness

There are millions of ways to vary this salad, and I'm thinking I'll explore some of them this summer.--S

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Ragu That Got Me Talking

This whole parenting + full-time job + getting back to running, friends, and life is... well, suffice it to say, I haven't figured out how to also keep up with this blog. It isn't that I haven't been in the kitchen: lately I've made some delicious blondies, awesome cupcakes, tasty zucchini pancakes, and a perfect roast chicken (if I do say so myself). It's just that I've been lazy about telling people about them.

But I'm ready to break the silence. What did it? A bolognese sauce with homemade pappardelle. Wide, chewy, eggy noodles tangled onto a plate with a rich, meaty sauce that's just the slightest bit sweet... this, I had to share. I grew up making my mom's marinara sauce, a champion workhorse in its own right. But I'd never made bolognese. I always thought it was too complicated for me. The truth is, it isn't really complicated at all. So long as you can stay home for at least four hours--which isn't so hard when you have a three-month-old baby to cuddle--it's quite simple.
You start by sauteeing some cubed pancetta, and then adding diced carrots, celery and onion. Next, you stir in ground pork and veal. Once the meats are cooked, in go tomato paste, a cup of white wine, milk, thyme, pureed tomatoes, a bay leaf, and chicken stock. Then, for the next three and a half hours, you basically let the sauce slowly simmer down to a thick and chunky consistency, like "loose chili," as the recipe says. I let the sauce cool completely and then froze it for about six days, until we ate it last night.

I'm sure the bolognese would've been great with fresh pasta from any one of our local purveyors, but since I was just bumming around on Sunday afternoon, I decided to make homemade pappardelle from Lidia's Italy. I had all the ingredients, and Lidia's pastas are usually superb. This one was no exception. Sure, the noodles were a little raggedy because I didn't make each ribbon a perfect rectangle. But I like to think their homemade look was more authentic than anything you could buy in a store.
Homemade pasta with bolognese sauce: I can't think of a better reason to get back in touch.--S
Bolognese Sauce
Makes 8 cups
For soffritto
2 T unsalted butter
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
3 oz pancetta, cut into 1/4" pieces
2/3 c minced yellow onion
2/3 c minced carrot
2/3 c minced celery
For sauce
1 lb ground veal
1 lb ground pork
3 T plus 1 t tomato paste
1 c dry white wine
1 1/4 c whole milk (I used a combination of 1% and half & half)
6-7 c chicken stock
1 can (28 oz) whole peeled tomatoes, pureed (w/juice) in blender
1 dried bay leaf
5 sprigs thyme
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1. Cook soffritto: Heat butter and oil in large pot over medium-high heat until butter starts to sizzle, then reduce heat to medium. Add pancetta, and cook until golden and fat has rendered, about 2 1/2 minutes. Add onion, carrot, and celery and cook, stirring often, until just beginning to brown around edges, about 10 minutes (adjust heat if mixture is browning too quickly).
2. Brown meat: Add veal and pork and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently and separating meat with the back of a wooden spoon, until no longer pink, 8 to 10 minutes. once meat is completely browned, pour off any excess fat. Add tomato paste and cook 1 minute, stirring to intensify sweetness.
3. Deglaze pot and add liquids: Pour in wine and cook, stirring to scrape up browned bits from bottom of pot, until liquid has evaporated, 6 to 7 minutes. Add 1 cup milk and cook until reduced by half, about 3 minutes (don't worry if it appears slightly curdled, it will smooth out again). Add thyme bundle, then pour in 6 cups stock. Add tomatoes and bay leaf, and season with 1 1/2 t salt and 1/4 t pepper.
4. Simmer the sauce: Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a very low simmer and cook, partially covered, 3 to 3 1/2 hours, skimming the fat from the surface with a ladle periodically. If at any time the sauce appears too dry, add up to 1 cup more stock as necessary. The finished sauce should have the consistency of a loose chili. Stir in remaining 1/4 c milk and season with salt and pepper, as desired. If not serving immediately, let cool completely before transferring to airtight containers. Refrigerate up to 3 days or freeze up to 3 months; defrost in the refrigerator before using.
Recipe courtesy of Martha Stewart's Cooking School
Fresh Pasta for Pappardelle
Makes 1 pound
2 c all-purpose flour
1 large egg
2 egg yolks
4 T extra-virgin olive oil
Ice water as needed
1. Put the flour in the bowl of the food processor and process for a few seconds to aerate. Mix the egg, egg yolks, and olive oil in a measuring cup or other spouted container.
2. With the machine running, pour the liquids quickly through the feed tube on top of the flour. After 20 seconds, most of the dough should clump up on the blade. Process for another 15 seconds or so--no more than 40 seconds total. (If the dough does not gather on the blade and process easily, it is too wet or too dry. Feel the dough, then work in either more flour or some ice water, in small amounts, using the machine or kneading by hand.)
3. Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface and knead it by hand for a minute, until it's smooth, soft, and stretchy. Press it into a disk, wrap well in plastic wrap, and let it rest at room temperature for 1/2 hour.
4. To roll out the dough in a pasta machine, cut the pound of dough into four equal pieces. Work with one at a time, keeping the others covered. Run the first piece of dough through the rollers at the widest setting several times, to develop strength and smoothness. Repeat with all the pieces. Reset the machine to a narrower setting, and run the first piece through, extending it into a rectangular strip. Let the rollers move the dough, and catch it in your hand as it comes out. Roll it again, to stretch and widen it. Lightly flour and cover the strip, then stretch the other pieces.
5. Roll and stretch all the pieces at progressively narrower settings, until they spread as wide as the rollers (usually about 5") and stretch to 20" or longer. Cut the four long pasta strips in half crosswise, giving you eight sheets, each about a foot long and 5" wide. Lay these flat on the trays in layers, lightly floured, separated, and covered by towels.
6. Lay out a rolled sheet on the floured board; dust the top with flour. Starting at one of the short ends, fold the sheet over on itself in thirds or quarters, creating a small rectangle with three or four layers of pasta.
7. With a sharp knife, cut cleanly through the folded dough crosswise, into 2"-wide strips. Separate and unfold the strips, shaking them into long needles. Sprinkle them liberally with flour so they don't stick together. Fold, cut, and unfurl all the rolled psata sheets this way and spread them out on a floured tray. Leave them uncovered, to air-dry at room temperature, until ready to cook.
8. Cook in salted boiling water 2-3 minutes.
Recipe courtesy of Lidia's Italy

Friday, April 09, 2010

All of the Crunch, None of the Grease All Over Your Kitchen

Some days, you just aren't up for creating a big old mess in the kitchen. But you want fried chicken. What, my friends, is a cook to do in this situation?

And therein lies just some of the genius of Oven-Fried Chicken. Meat that's moist and juicy inside; crispy and crunchy outside. A quick cooking time. Minimal ingredients. And no need to break out the splatter screen!

Breaded, fried chicken cutlets are a standard dinner around here; I probably make them once a month. But this recipe introduced me to a few new techniques that will definitely change the way I make the dish. First, you use skinless, boneless chicken thighs instead of breast meat. It's much juicier and more flavorful. The recipe suggests lightly pounding the thighs, which I did by covering the thighs in plastic wrap on a cutting board and then whacking them with the bottom of a saucepan. This gives you more surface area, and more opportunity for crunch. Second, the chicken cooks in a very hot (450-degree) oven, instead of in a sputtering frying pan on your stove. No mess, and a slightly lowered risk of getting your hand or arm burned with oil. Third (and this may seem obvious but it's worth pointing out), the recipe has you season the flour with celery salt, garlic salt and cayenne pepper (I skipped the garlic salt but definitely recommend the cayenne), and use panko instead of plain old bread crumbs.

I love this recipe. Hope you do, too.--S

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

No Guilt Brownies

Every time I make Espresso Brownies for friends, they're a hit. Caffeine and chocolate together in one rich, dense, perk-you-right-up sweet bite--of course they're good. They are easy to make and freeze beautifully. They're ideal with a cold glass of milk. They've been in my repertoire for a few years now.

And yet.
I've never written about these brownies on this blog. I think I was hung up on a sort of embarassing aspect to the recipe. You see, it calls for... oh man, here we go: boxed brownie mix. There. I said it. Duncan Hines Chocolate Lovers, Triple Chocolate Decadence, Betty Crocker Supreme Brownie... take your pick. But to make these delicious brownies, you start with a box of premixed brownie batter. And you know what? I'm okay with that.

I haven't made slice and bake Tollhouse cookies in at least 10 years, and on the rare occasion that I bake a cake, I do it from scratch. Brownies? I have some excellent recipes that have never failed me. But Espresso Brownies, with their 19.8 ounces of brownie mix, are the exception. You amp them up with semisweet choclate chips and espresso powder, Cake Mix Doctor style, and then top them with an espresso glaze. They're pretty decadent.
Lose the guilt. Eat the brownies.--S

Monday, March 29, 2010

Steak and Eggs

I feel a little disingenuous sharing this recipe. It's barely a recipe. It's something anybody can make. A staple of Vegas breakfast buffets, a favorite of the protein-obsessed. But it's so delicious. I mean, look at that photo. Meaty, cheesy, oozy... I'm talking about steak and eggs.

A rib-eye steak topped with a fried egg is decadent enough. Add goat cheese and you're in gluttony territory. And what better time than the days before Easter (when we're supposed to be fasting) to tell you about Grilled Tuscan Steak with Fried Egg and Goat Cheese? Bistecca alla fiorentina, in case you didn't know (and I certainly didn't) is a t-bone or porterhouse steak grilled and seasoned with salt, pepper and olive oil. Pure and simple. And that's how this recipe starts out, though it calls for more tender (and fattier) rib-eyes. You also sprinkle some herbes de Provence (I just used dried thyme, dried basil, and fennel seeds, since I didn't have dried marjoram, savory, rosemary, or sage) on the meat.

Although I have a cast iron grill pan, I find my nonstick griddle does a great job with steaks, as long as they aren't too thick. So I fired it up until it was smoking hot. When the steaks hit the pan, they sizzled pretty awesomely, and after five minutes per side, they were medium-rare. You let them rest for a few minutes on a plate (cover them with foil, if you'd like) while you fry a couple of eggs, sunny side up, in the grease that's left on the pan (oh, yes!). And once the whites are set, you slip the eggs atop the steaks, and adorn them with crumbled goat cheese and chopped parsley.

This is a heavenly meal. We ate salad alongside it, you know, to keep up appearances. But make no mistake. The cheese melts into the runny egg, making a sort of sauce for the tender beef. It's salty and creamy and meaty and, well, just about perfect.--S

Grilled Tuscan Steak with Fried Egg and Goat Cheese

serves 4

4 (8-oz) rib-eye steaks
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 T herbes de Provence
2 T plus 2 t olive oil
4 large eggs
1/4 c (2 oz) crumbled goat cheese
2 T chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

1. Place a grill pan over medium-high heat or preheat a gas or charcoal grill.
2. Season the steaks with salt and pepper. Sprinkle both sides of each steak with the herbes de Provence. Drizzle with 2 T of the olive oil. Grill for 6 to 8 minutes per side for medium-rare. Remove the steaks, from the heat and allow to rest.
3. Meanwhile, in a medium skillet, heat the remaining 2 t olive oil over medium-high heat. Crack the eggs directly into the pan and season them with salt and pepper. Cook until the egg whites are set, 2 to 3 minutes.
4. To serve, place the steaks on 4 serving plates. Carefully top each steak with an egg. Sprinkle with the crumbled goat cheese. Garnish with the chopped parsley and serve.

Recipe courtesy of Giada at Home

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Smart Cookie

Carrot cake has been my favorite cake for a long time. The warm spices, the flecks of carrot, that cream cheese frosting.... Yet I rarely make carrot cake, mostly because I can't justify whipping up a big old cake for myself and eating the entire thing. A cake isn't so easy to toss in a Ziploc bag and share with friends. It's also not a very mobile dessert. (Try eating a slice while walking about town with a cup of coffee.) Enter Carrot Cake Cookies: perhaps the most practical way to get your carrot cake fix. Yes, this is the answer to one of the more vexing issues facing dessert eaters today.

We can thank Martha Stewart's Cookies, one of the loveliest cookie books to come out in recent years, for this rather obvious yet somehow groundbreaking concept. The recipe combines a standard cookie dough with the classic carrot cake spices of cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger, carrots (obvs!), raisins, and two cups of rolled oats. Once you've transformed the dough into soft cookies measuring about two inches in diameter, you assemble the iconic cream cheese frosting (truly, I think "iconic" sums up the marriage of cream cheese, butter, confectioners sugar and vanilla) and make sandwiches out of the cookies and frosting.

Soft, sweet cookies yielding to the thick and creamy filling, easy to share with friends and nibble on while strolling around the neighborhood? That's what I call innovation.--S

Saturday, March 13, 2010

When Life Hands You Potato Starch...

A few months ago, I wrote about a new website called Eat Your Books. It's a cool idea: you create a virtual bookshelf of all the cookbooks you own, and since Eat Your Books has indexed the recipes in those books, you can search for all kinds of things. Say you're wondering which of your cookbooks have recipes for cassoulet. Or you want to make a summery seafood appetizer but don't know which book to look in. Or there's a bag of potato starch in your fridge that you don't know what to do with.

Oh, did I say potato starch? Yeah. Close readers may recall I bought it (along with a bunch of other unusual ingredients) to make some recipes out of the BabyCakes NYC cookbook awhile back. Haven't used it since. So I searched "potato starch" in my cookbooks on Eat Your Books, and what do you know? Along with a bunch of vegan recipes from BabyCakes, there were recipes for cakes from BakeWise and Joy of Cooking, as well as a recipe for marshmallows from Baking by Dorie Greenspan. Sold!

You start by getting sugar and light corn syrup to a "soft ball" stage (that's 265 degrees F) on the stove. While that's going, you sprinkle unflavored gelatin onto cold water, let it get spongy, and then liquefy it in the microwave. Whip up some egg whites, add the syrup, then the gelatin, along with some vanilla, and you've got a very pretty meringue.

Here's where the potato starch comes in. It's like a powdery buffer that keeps the marshmallows from sticking to everything. You sprinkle it over a parchment paper-covered baking sheet, pour in the marshmallow mixture, and then top it off with more potato starch. Three hours later, you cut up the marshmallows and toss them in more of the stuff, which is similar in consistency to cornstarch or powdered sugar.

I probably should've made the marshmallows a bit thicker, but I'm still satisfied with them. They're light and springy, and don't taste at all like the plastic-y ones that come out of a bag from the supermarket. Oh, and in case you were wondering? Nothing like potatoes, either!--S

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Sweet Sustenance

One of the marvelous things about having a baby is all the visitors who come by to see the little one. Our month-old wonder is used to being passed around from aunt to grandmother, coworker to friend, neighbor to cousin--which is so wonderful to see. But, you know, oohing and aahing over tiny fingernails and ears is hard work. I've got to offer all the well-wishers some sustenance. Granted, many of them come bearing edible gifts, but I've been stepping up my efforts, too. The latest baby-holding fuel I've made? Braided Coffee Cake with Cardamom.

Unlike some coffee cakes, this one isn't chock full of butter, sugar, chocolate or sour cream (though I have nothing against those decadent delights). Nope--it has just one stick of butter and a half-cup of sugar, as well as three egg yolks and a half-cup or so of milk (I used 1%). What gives this cake--it's actually more like a bread--its character is the warm and toasty taste of cardamom. I always thought of cardamom as an Indian spice (Tamarind's basmati rice, loaded with whole cardamom pods, is divine), but apparently, it's common in Scandinavian baking, too. It lends an almost floral aroma to this otherwise simple bread.

The other lovely thing about this bread? It's braided--which not only looks pretty, but isn't even hard to do. Topped with a smattering of chopped pecans and cinnamon, this is one sweet-smelling, and sweet to look at--baked treat. Almost as sweet as holding a certain tiny little someone.--S

Braided Coffee Cake with Cardamom

Makes 8 or more servings

3 c flour, plus more for rolling the dough
1 1/2 t instant active dry yeast
Pinch of salt
1/2 c sugar
1 t ground cardamom
8 T butter, plus more as needed
3 egg yolks
1/2 to 1 c milk, as needed
1/2 c walnuts, pecans or almonds
1 t ground cinnamon

1. Combine the flour, yeast, salt, 1/ c sugar, and the cardamom in a food processor and pulse to combine. Add 6 T of the butter and the egg yolks and pulse again until well combined. With the machine running, drizzle about half the milk through the feed tube. Process just until a dough ball forms, adding a little more milk if necessary, then stop. Knead a little by hand, until the dough is smooth (add a little flour if necessary), then form the mixture into a ball and place it in a buttered bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until about doubled in bulk, 1 to hours.
2. When the dough is ready, cut it into 3 pieces. On a floured board, roll each piece into a long rope just over a foot long. Braided the pieces, pinching both ends to seal. Put on a buttered cookie sheet, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise again for about an hour.
3. Preheat the oven to 375F. Chop the nuts and combine with the remaining 2 T butter (you can do this in a small food processor, but be careful not to pulverize the nuts) and the cinnamon. Brush the dough with a little milk and sprinkle the nut mixture over it.
4. Bake for 25 to 35 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool, then slice and serve.

From The Best Recipes in the World

Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Danny Meyer Marathon

In 2006, Spoon interviewed pioneering restaurateur Danny Meyer for a story about his book, Setting the Table. At the time, Meyer's empire included seven New York City restaurants, including his flagship Union Square Cafe, Eleven Madison Park, and Gramercy Tavern. Today, his menu includes 12 establishments, from the gleaming bar room at the Museum of Modern Art, to hamburger heaven Shake Shack, and the impressive new Italian trattoria Maialino. So when Spoon & Fork guest bloggers Laura and Patrick, better known as Fillet Knife and Butcher Twine, decided they wanted to do a Danny Meyer Marathon, hitting all Meyer's restaurants in one day, we were intrigued.

For any other restaurateur, the feat wouldn't be either as impressive, or as fun. Just the the thought of a Jeffrey Chodorow marathon, for example, makes one's head spin. Chodorow's restaurants are too theme-park, too inconsistent, and too, well, corporate. But Meyer, even while rolling out a host of new restaurants in a very short time, has never forgotten the key ingredient in any restaurant's recipe for success: hospitality. From Fork's first meal at Union Square Cafe some 20 years ago, to a recent lunch at Tabla (try the skate), Meyer's restaurants never disappoint.

That's because Danny Meyer restaurants make sense. The menus, ingredients, and preparation are first-rate, whether at the top-rated French wonder Eleven Madison Park, or at a picnic joint like Shake Shack, where it is not uncommon for people to wait on line for an hour just to get a hot dog. The rooms are elegant, yet comfortable. And the staff are the best in the city: gracious, efficient, and warm.

So a Danny Meyer marathon also made sense, and, like the restaurants themselves, it did not disappoint. On February 27, over the course of 12 hours, from the Upper West Side all the way down to Madison Square Park, our intrepid bloggers tasted burgers and fries, shrimp corndogs, tandoori octopus, sea bass with spaghetti squash... and wait until you hear about dessert.

It was a day to remember: great food, great fun, a test of gastro-endurance, and a few twists and suprises. The full report will be up soon, don't miss it!--S&F

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Mmmm... Beer....

There are certainly worse predicaments than having your cousin, who works for a beer and wine distributor, drop almost three cases of craft beer off at your apartment in the middle of February. The shipment conveniently arrived just as I was re-introducing booze to my diet after nine months of limiting myself to half-glasses of wine, and for the first week or so, I happily dipped into our stash a few evenings a week.

Then I came across a recipe for Beer-Braised Beef with Onion, Carrot and Turnips, calling for 12 ounces of dark beer. It sounded cozy and warm and hearty--and a nice way to make the most of our recent windfall. And so I set about browning cubes of boneless chuck roast, which had been dredged in flour, salted, and peppered, in a splash of oil in my Dutch oven. The next 10 minutes were pretty much the most active part of this dish's cooking process--and that's not saying much, since the activity entailed stirring the beef around every few minutes to let each side get a little crispy. After such heavy work, I poured in a bottle of River Horse Special Ale, a cup of beef stock, some crushed garlic cloves, and a bay leaf. Then I lugged the heavy pot, tightly lidded, into a 300-degree oven for an hour and a half.

When I opened the pot 90 minutes later to slip in the carrots, I was greeted with the steamy and savory beginnings of a stew; 25 minutes later, when it was time to add the onions and parsnips, the meat was even further broken down. And after another hour had passed, the beef was completely fork-tender.

Now, this recipe comes from Cooking Light, so I shouldn't be surprised that it tells you to strain off the fat from the stew's liquid before serving. I skipped this step. I was feeling kind of lazy, and honestly, there didn't seem to be that much fat to skim, anyway. So perhaps this dish wasn't as light as it could have been. But it was awfully tasty. Over three hours, the beer and beef stock mellowed the meat into submission, and the veggies were sweet and perfectly tender, too. A perfect winter meal that I neglected to photograph (hence the pic, courtesy of, but that we happily scarfed down with a salad and crusty bread. Thanks for the beer, Dan! --S

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Banh Mi: The New Black

Though they aren't quite as ubiquitous as pretzels and hot dogs, banh mi are apparently well on their way to taking over New York City. I first tasted one of these Vietnamese sandwiches--at their most basic, they consist of chicken, pork or even pate; pickled, shredded vegetables; spicy mayo; and sprigs of cilantro; all on a crusty baguette--about three years ago at Bao Noodles. Then my coworkers introduced me to Baoguette. And now I'm here to tell you about a twist on the banh mi that you can easily make at home.

If banh mi are supposedly a French-Vietnamese hybrid, then the Pork Meatball Banh Mi is an Italian-French-Vietnamese hybrid, taking the meatball sub in a very interesting (and delicious) direction. This recipe, from Bon Appetit, has you combine ground pork with chopped basil, garlic, scallions, fish sauce, chili sauce, sugar, salt and pepper (plus a sprinkling of cornstarch, presumably to help hold everything together). You form the meat into small-ish balls and fry them in a tablespoon of Asian sesame oil until they're nice and brown.

Before all that, however, you've already grated some carrots and daikon (or just use regular radishes if you can't find daikon) and set them to pickle in rice wine vinegar, sugar and salt for an hour or so. And you've whipped regular mayo into a deliciously spicy concoction with hot chili sauce and scallions.

Slice open a baguette (and here's where I think I could've used some foresight: the Eli's Bread baguette I bought was a bit too crusty; next time I'll go for a softer loaf), and pile on some meatballs, veggies and mayo. Tuck a few stems of cilantro in there, and maybe some sliced cucumber or jalapeno pepper, if you're so inclined. The combo of sweet, spicy, hot and cool is excellent. Bring on the banh mi boom!--S

Monday, January 04, 2010

Soup's On

Blustery weather and quiet January weekends call for long-simmered, warm dishes—and Pasta and Bean Soup from a new book called The Best Soups in the World (sounds suspiciously Bittman-esque, no?) by Clifford A. Wright—is just the thing. It's a twist on Italian pasta e fagioli, with white beans and small bits of macaroni joining forces with pork stew meat (I used shoulder), pancetta, fennel, chickpeas and, interestingly, a cinnamon stick.

I've been trying to plan ahead (what with Spork Jr. on the way) and have been doubling recipes when possible, so Fork and I can eat one dinner and freeze another one for later this winter when we're not so inclined to shop for food, never mind cook it. This one fit the bill perfectly, and there's already a solid quart of it in our freezer. It really is tasty, with a deeper and richer flavor than your average pasta and bean soup.

If you make this soup (and I highly recommend you do), plan on cooking it much longer than the recommended 1¼ hours—it took at least three hours for the dried cannelli beans I used (which hadn't been pre-soaked) to cook fully—and you'll probably wind up using an additional two to four cups of stock. But when it's 20 degrees outside (and "feels like 8"), few things are more comforting.

Pasta and Bean Soup

Makes 6 to 8 servings

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound pork stew meat, diced
¼ pound pancetta, cut into strips
¼ pound prosciutto skin, whole or cut into strips (optional)
1 large onion, chopped
1 fennel bulb (about ¾ pound), chopped
1 celery stalk, chopped
6 garlic cloves, chopped
10 cups chicken broth
1½ cups (about 10 ounces) dried white beans
1 cup (1/2 pound) canned chickpeas
¼ pound Parmesan crusts (optional)
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
1 sprig fresh rosemary
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
¼ pound tubetti, ditali, or other short tubular macaroni
Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese for sprinkling

1. In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, then add the pork, pancetta, and prosciutto skin, if using, and cook, stirring, until they turn color, about 5 minutes. Add the onion, fennel, celery, and garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened, 12 to 15 minutes.
2. Add the chicken broth, white beans, chickpeas, Parmesan crusts, if using, cinnamon stick, bay leaf, and rosemary, bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to medium-low, season with salt and pepper, and cook until the white beans are al dente, about 1¼ hours. Add the pasta and cook, stirring, until they, too, are al dente, 12 to 15 minutes. Remove and discard the cinnamon stick, bay leaf, and rosemary sprig. Both the prosciutto skin and Parmesan crusts can be eaten if desired. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil and the grated Parmesan cheese.