blasphemous tomato salad

You know that time in late summer when you have way too many tomatoes and they are infinitely cheap and absolutely delicious? This recipe is for that time. I'm making it now (June) because the 'fuzz found really great hydroponic heirloom tomatoes at the New York Farmer's Market in Union Square, and bought some in-between flare-ups of violent police activity.

Take a lot of tomatoes. Grate 1/3 of them. Yes, this is the blasphemy. Grate them with a box grater. Chop (or slice) the rest. Mix the grated and chopped tomatoes with red-wine vinegar (maybe less than 1 tbsp for every pound of tomatoes?) and salt (maybe half a tsp for every pound of tomatoes?). Throw in a glug of olive oil if you like. Let stand for an hour or so.

When you are ready to eat, toast hearty slices of beautiful, bourgeois bread, scrape them with a split clove of garlic (to make them garlicky), spoon on surfeit of tomato salad and garnish with basil, olive oil, and anything else you like such as mozzarella, proscuitto, bacon, hard cheese, thyme, sea salt, parsley, you name it. Eat like a sinner.


sweet-potato chili

This is a quarantine favorite in my house. It can be made vegetarian or with meat, and it can be made hot or sweet.

Par-boil a half-pound of dried beans of any kind for about an hour in a 250 F (120 C) oven (or you can use a can of beans instead). When they are nearly finished, burn a large onion or two medium onions, chopped to bean size, and a large sweet potato, or a couple small ones, chopped to bean size, in olive oil in a pot. If you are going to use spicy sausage, like chorizo, burn it in the pot after the onions. You want to leave some dark burned bits on the bottom of the pot at this stage!

Add a chopped sweet pepper, some chipotle peppers (dried or from a can) if you want it hot, about 1 tbsp of chili powder and about 1/2 tbsp of cumin and about 1 tbsp of salt. Add water to cover, get it to a boil, and then put it in the oven at 250 F (120 C) for an hour. At the end, beat it up a bit with a fork to get the sweet potato to break up and become the body of the stew.

Possible modifications include: Try other kinds of meat, or even try a new plant-based meat alternative. Increase or reduce hot peppers, or use fresh jalapenos. Add tomato paste perhaps? Or maybe tabasco or vinegar for some acid. It's extremely forgiving, and the quantities of everything are up to you.

Serve with sour cream or yoghurt and chopped cilantro. Serves eight-ish.


white bean and chard soup

I made a beautiful quarantine soup from the larder today: Burn merguez sausage in a pot so that it leaves nice brown sticky stuff on the pan. Substitute anything here; you could use other sausage or fake meat or a chicken thigh or a bone. Or go old-school vegan! (If you go vegan, get your brown from the mirepoix.) Remove the meat to a bowl.

Clean the pan by sautéeing diced onions, carrots, and celery (that is, mirepoix) in olive oil. Add white beans (either from a can or parboiled from dry for 40 minutes in water). Add water, salt, pepper, garlic, and maybe a mushroom-broth cube or something like that. Bring this all to a boil on the stove and then simmer it in the oven at 300 F (150 C) for 40 min.

At the end, add a bunch of finely chopped swiss chard (silver beet or equivalent; any lettuce will do), and the crispy sausage bits. Return to the oven for 15 min or until the lettuce is wilted. Serve with harissa for hotness.

I'm being unspecific about quantities here, but this truly isn't rocket science. The only thing that really matters is the ratio of salt to total mass.


chowder fist algorithm with a discussion of salt

Chowder is deeply satisfying and dead easy. Here's my algorithm:

Chowder is big chunks of POTATO and OTHER THINGS in a broth built of FAT, ONION, WATER and CREAM.

  • POTATO is any somewhat starchy variety because you want it to fall apart a bit and thicken the soup. I like Russet and Yukon Gold.
  • OTHER THINGS can be any or all of seafood or flaky white fish, corn, bacon.
  • FAT is butter, bacon drippings or, hell, even coconut oil.
  • ONION is a yellow or white variety and not too sweet. Could also be French shallots in a stretch.
  • WATER is, well, water of course, but if you have a bottle of clam juice and are making a fish/seafood chowder, throw that in too.
  • CREAM is heavy or whipping cream (otherwise it will curdle) with the addition, if you are making corn chowder, of some "corn-cream" made by grating some of the ears of corn.

Here's how I make about 4-6 servings (about 1 pound of chowder per serving which, I assure you, is not too much).  Measurements are mostly in terms of the volume of my clenched fist (about a cup). Making this is very relaxing (despite the clenching).

  • 1-2 thumbs fat
  • 1 f (ie. one fist) chopped coarsely onion
  • 3 f potatoes peeled and cut in wedges
  • 2 f of the other thing(s)
  • 1 f heavy cream
  • salt and pepper
Put a large, heavy bottomed pot on medium heat. If bacon is one of your other things, add to pot and cook slowly to render out the fat. (Put the bacon bits aside to add back at the end.) Sweat the onion in the fat. Add the potatoes and water to just cover.  Bring to a boil and simmer until spuds are almost tender. Add other things and cook until other things are falling apart (if white fish) or about 10 minutes.  Add cream and season with salt and (generously with) pepper (see below).  Turn off the heat and, with the lid on, let the chowder get comfortable for about 20 minutes.

The Salt

With a dish as simple as this, adequate seasoning is essential.  Salt is the not-so-secret secret ingredient. Now, if you look at the ingredients, you'll notice that, with the exception of bacon and maybe canned clams and the butter, nothing is salted. So how much salt would I expect to add to this?  My rule of thumb (thanks Julia Child) is about 1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon salt per pound of unsalted food.  A pint of water is a pound and two of my fists are about a pint (two cups).  There are six fists of ingredients in the list plus the water, which is going to be about another 4 fists.  10 fists is about 5 pints so I would expect to need at least 5 x 1/2 tsp of salt, which is just shy of 1 tablespoon.

If that scares you, measure out your tablespoon into a little bowl and add it a 1/2 tsp at a time. Stir well between additions and keep tasting until you find yourself thinking, "Dear Lord, that is delicious.  I must eat an entire bowl immediately!" My guess is there won't be any salt left in your bowl.  In fact, you may have even gone beyond.

southern-style cornbread

B and his girlfriend SL are staying with us during The Confinement and she is gluten-sensitive, so I'm exploring gluten-free tastiness. A number of family members are also keen on eating a more plant-based or plant-rich diet, so tonight's menu was Vegetarian Chili with Southern-style Cornbread.

This cornbread is amazing.  The batter is very soupy; you won't believe it could turn into delicious cornbread, but have faith. The recipe fits nicely in an 8" cast iron pan. For the fam, I triple it and use a 14" pan.

You need:
  • 2 tbsp fat (half-and-half butter and oil, bacon drippings, rendered fatback,...)
  • 1 cup cornmeal (not corn flour: think polenta rather than tortillas)
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/3 c boiling water
  • 3/4 c buttermilk (you could do half plain yoghurt, half milk too)
  • 1 egg, beaten
Place your 8" cast iron pan in an oven and heat to 450°F.

Put 1/3 c cornmeal in a large bowl.  Put remainder of cornmeal in a medium bowl, add remaining dry ingredients and stir. Pour boiling water over the cornmeal in the large bowl and stir to break up.  Stir in buttermilk, breaking up lumps, and then the egg.   Stir in dry ingredients.  It will be soupy. Don't worry.

Remove the pan from the oven, add fat and swirl to coat, but don't get fancy. Don't burn yourself with that extremely hot pan.  Pour in the batter and return to oven.  Bake for about 20-25 minutes.  Will be golden brown on top and pass the "toothpick test". Allow to cool 5-10 minutes before devouring.


oven fried potato chips (crisps)

More quarantine food! Pre-heat the oven to 375 or 400 F. In that pre-heating oven place a large cookie sheet with walls or roasting pans or a few cast-iron skillets. Meanwhile, slice two or three potatoes into 1-mm-ish-thick slices (thicker than potato chips or crisps). When the oven is hot, put a layer of olive oil into the pans and give it a minute or two in the oven to get very hot. Pull out the pans and line them with a single layer of slices of potato only very slightly overlapping. Generously salt and pepper. Return the pans to the oven and check every five minutes. The chips are done when the median chip is half brown! Remove from the oven, cool, put on a plate with a paper towel (to absorb excess oil) and add taste sands like hot flakes, cayenne, brewer's yeast, tajin, etc.


pasta with anchovy red sauce

I love how easy and fast this is! And in these times of crisis, it can be made with long-lived pantry ingredients. So it is a self-quarantine specialty. It comes from the 'fuzz's friend Emily.

While your pasta water is heating, sauté in olive oil one finely chopped onion and one finely chopped clove of garlic and one 2-oz can of anchovies until the onions are very soft. The anchovies will dissolve in this process. Add one 6-ish-oz can of tomato paste and as much red-pepper flakes as you can stand, and maybe a bit of salt (the anchovies already provide some salt). Simmer this mess while half of a one-pound package of pasta cooks (preferably spaghetti, says the 'fuzz). When the pasta is done (don't over-cook it), mix the very thick sauce with one cup of pasta water and the pasta itself.

Serves four. If it isn't the end times, garnish with lots of chopped parsley. Variation: Cook without the hot flakes and add them to the garnish. That's good if you have some guests who don't like it hot.

Update: This post supersedes this slower and slightly more boring version of this dish.


duck and potatoes

pre-heat the oven to 450 F (230 C). At the same time, heat some water to boiling. Par-boil two (or more) medium potatoes, cut into pretty small pieces, in the boiling water for, say, 5 minutes. While the potatoes are par-boiling, put a cast-iron pan (or two if necessary) into the oven to heat with the oven. Drain the potatoes and put them, olive oil (plenty) and salt (plenty) into the pan and put it back into the oven. Toss these with a spatula every 5-ish minutes.

Meanwhile, cut diagonals into the fat on a duck breast and paint it with molasses (or maple syrup, or nothing sweet) and salt. After the potatoes have been going in the oven for 20 minutes, push potatoes aside and put the duck into the pan, fat side down. Do 12 minutes that way, and 6 the other. Pull it all out, let it sit for 5 minutes, then slice the duck thin and serve. Preferably with cranberry sauce and a salad or green vegetable. Serves 2 to 3, depending on appetites.


dutch baby

Here is my text-message recipe for dutch baby, our go-to weekend breakfast. The recipe is identical to that of Yorkshire Pudding. Serve with maple syrup, or else lemon juice mixed with powdered sugar to make a lemon glaze! Oh and bacon or duck bacon.


fresh corn soup

I sliced fresh, very sweet corn off a few cobs into a pot, added water just to cover and salt, and threw in the (denuded) cobs too. I boiled it for 20 minutes or so, pulled out the cobs, blended part of it and mixed it back in. I finished it with a bit of cream, and adjusted salt and pepper at the end. It was ridiculously sweet. So sweet the family asked if I had added sugar. This is somehow related to PMC's soup algorithms.