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While writing my monthly column for the now defunct MyCurves magazine, I was often driven a little crazy by how regimented my ingredient amounts had to be. That did not fit my freewheeling lifestyle. After decades of recipe writing, all of a sudden I needed to measure out every grain of salt and drop of olive oil, and even stuff chopped herbs into teaspoons. To anyone who’s followed my career, you know I’m an improvisational type, which  has always been reflected in my recipe writing style. From the beginning I sensed that my readers had a culinary foundation that would allow them to make their own calls on many ingredient amounts and improvise to suit their tastes. My style grew partly as a give-and-take with my audience. This made me happy. But ultimately the MyCurves column made me very happy too, or maybe enlightened is a better word. Yes, it was enlightening to see just how much or little of everything I was putting into my food, to be forced to confront it. Five tablespoons of olive oil in a pan of broccoli rabe? Really? That’s more than 600 calories. Writing for MyCurves even changed some of my eating habits. I no longer glug through 25 ounces of olive oil a week. Nobody needs that much oil, no matter how good it is for you.

Okay, so I accept that diet organizations (this was the magazine of the Curves fitness chain) have their rules for ingredient amounts. But there were no set rules concerning the actual body of a MyCurves recipe. At least no one mentioned anything to me. At first I automatically thought conservative, even doctor-like. It seemed some of their other writers were working in that direction. After all, this was a serious publication. Some of its readers were clinically obese, and they were relying on me for help. But did I need to bark out military-like orders? I quickly realized I needn’t, and in fact people trying to lose weight deserve all the warmth and comfort they can get. Don’t you think? So I wrote the recipes in my usual way, with a friendly voice and plenty of experience to back me up. That worked out just fine, and, in my opinion, even softened the set-in-stone ingredient listings.

And now I’m developing low-carb dishes for my own blog. Are they diet recipes? I mean, the point of low-carb is partly to lose weight (but also to make sure you don’t develop anything nasty like adult-onset diabetes). I wondered if my recipe style would change when I went low-carb. I soon understood that these recipes could contain absolutely no restrictions. All I’m doing here is creating good Italian dishes that are naturally very low in carbs. No rigidity, no compromise. I just wasn’t going near pasta, potatoes, pizza, or risotto. There’s a big world of Italian food out there that’s naturally low-carb and fantastic. I sometime forget that myself.

So here’s a really good recipe for lentils, a legume I really love. When I starting looking into its carb load, I got some really good news. First off, it’s high in fiber and protein, with only 12 grams of carbs in ½ cup. And its glycemic index, the indicator of how fast and how high a food will raise our blood glucose, is low, around 30. That is mainly because you digest them slowly. Lentils are one of the lowest-carb beans you can eat.

For this soup I’ve chosen the tiny, tanish lentils grown in Umbria. They keep their shape even when cooked tooth-tender, unlike most lentils, which break down almost into a purée. They produce a soup that’s more brothy and elegant. I get beautiful ones from Gustiamo, the best Italian food importer in the country that I know of.  French Le Puy lentils, which are green, cook up in a similar fashion and can sometimes be found at specialty shops.  Either variety will work  well here. Also, just a few words about the sausage in this soup: It’s intended as a seasoning, not a major presence, and that’s why there’s so little of it. The lentils have so much flavor that I didn’t want to overpower them. I think you’ll find that the balance is right.

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Umbrian Lentil Soup with Andouille and Escarole

(Serves 5 to 6)

Extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 celery stalk, diced, plus a handful of celery leaves, lightly chopped
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
About ½ teaspoon ground allspice
7 or 8 large sprigs thyme, the leaves chopped
1 andouille sausage, cut into very small cubes
1¾ cups dried Umbrian or Le Puy lentils (no soaking needed with lentilsanother reason to love them)
Salt
Black pepper
A pinch of sugar
A splash of dry vermouth
1 quart light chicken broth
1 small head escarole, cut into very small pieces (about 1½ cups cut)
A drizzle of good red wine vinegar
A lump of unsalted butter

Choose a big soup pot with a lid. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and let it warm over medium flame. Add the onion, carrot, celery, and its leaves, and let them soften for about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, allspice, thyme, and andouille, and sauté until the sausage and the seasonings are releasing their aromas, about 4 minutes. Add the lentils, salt, black pepper, and sugar, and sauté until the lentils are well coated with seasoning, another 2 or 3 minutes. Add the vermouth, and let it bubble for a few seconds. Add the chicken broth, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down a touch, partially cover the pan, and cook at a low bubble until the lentils are tender, about 35 to 40 minutes. You’ll want to add warm water if the liquid gets too low, so check every once in a while. Give the surface a good skim.

Now add the escarole, and let it wilt into the soup. Adjust the texture by adding more hot water, or a little more broth if you prefer. I like my soup a bit loose.

Turn off the heat and add the butter and a few drops of vinegar to balance out the flavors. Taste for seasoning. That’s it.

About Writing Recipes

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When I was working on my first cookbook, Pasta Improvvisata, which was about improvising in the kitchen, I decided to take a fresh approach to recipe writing. I was going to list all the main ingredients in one column and all the seasoning ingredients, such as herbs, wine, spices, shallot, and garlic, in another. I thought that would illustrate how easily you could fiddle with flavorings while still holding onto a core recipe. It was not the accepted way to write a recipe. The standard is to list the ingredients in order of use. Maria Guarnaschelli, my editor, had a fit when she saw my manuscript, and she made me change everything to the conventional style. Also, and I truly feel she did this as punishment, she told me I had to include weight measurements, which I don’t think are in the heads of most cooks and that seem more British than American to me. Most Americans don’t do home cooking with scales. Well, I did what she said, partly. I changed to the standard order-of-use listing. But I didn’t change my  “1 medium baking potato” to “1 ¾-pound baking potato.” I don’t weigh vegetables; I eyeball them. Most cooks do. Would you know what a ¾ pound potato looked like and be able to grab one off the shelf? And would it matter all that much if your potato were a few ounces heavier or lighter than prescribed? So when I handed the manuscript back to her, she said, “I see you didn’t include the weights.” But that was the end of it. Strange. I do, however, understand how my two-column approach would have been highly confusing. She was right about that.

Elizabeth David, in her groundbreaking book Italian Food, published in 1963, just talked her way through her recipes, presenting them in one big block, barely even breaking them into paragraphs. I say the book was groundbreaking because it was written for a British audience that at the time had had little exposure to Italian cooking. That made her unorthodox recipe style even more surprising. Here’s her recipe for Fegato di Vitello alla Milanese:

Cut the liver into slices about ¼ inch thick. Season them with salt, pepper, and lemon juice, and leave them for about an hour. Dip them in beaten egg, coat them with breadcrumbs, and fry them in butter. Before serving them add a little cut parsley to the butter, and garnish the dish with halves of lemon.

That’s a good recipe, but it’s for a cook who has done something like it before. You’ve got to have some knowledge of “frying,” meaning what I would call sautéing. How many does the dish serve? As many as you like, would be her answer. Add a little cut parsley to the butter? I assume she means the butter left in the pan after “frying,” and I suppose it’s implied that you’re supposed to pour it over the cutlets. I get this, many cooks would, but some, even accomplished cooks, are put off when things aren’t spelled out. It might be infuriating for new cooks, or cooks who aren’t familiar with the flavors of the cuisine. I think most of David’s readers would have had no flavor memories to use in interpreting many of her Italian recipes. And she didn’t really say what things should taste like (sweet with just a hint of sour, or gently garlicky with basil prevailing, for instance). She did give more detailed instructions and measurements for complicated recipes such as Tagliatelle alla Bolognese, at least. I love the book, but I know Italian food. I can see where confusion could arise.

Alice Waters, or whoever actually writes her recipes, takes a similar talk-your-way-through-in-paragraphs approach in her vegetable and fruit books, although only with very simple preparations. It works well because she explains so much about each vegetable or fruit she’s using that once you get to the recipe, you can pretty much taste what it should be like. Here’s her recipe for stuffed dates:

Once pitted, dates can be stuffed with cheese (we use Parmesan, pecorino, or mascarpone) and with nuts. The first walnuts of the season are a favorite, lightly toasted before insertion; when almonds come into season, we use them too.

For another nice filling, knead grated orange zest and a few drops of orange liqueur into almond paste. Fill the cavity of each date with the paste, smoothing over the exposed bit with your finger.

Okay. I feel I know how to make those.

I generally like this talking-writing style very much. It’s comforting as long as it’s not too vague. And it can make even a novice cook a bit more relaxed in the kitchen. It’s the anti–Julia Child approach to recipe writing. As much as I love Julia Child, I must admit I find many of her recipes too detailed. When I was a teenager just starting to look at cookbooks, some of her recipes actually gave me anxiety attacks. Am I doing this correctly? I forgot to shake the excess crumbs from my soufflé pan! Is my soufflé now ruined? Did I turn the heat down exactly 15 minutes after the thing entered the oven, or did I wait 17? Will my soufflé now be burnt on top and raw inside? Yes? No? I’ll have to just wait in agony. It’s funny that she wrote that way, since her TV shows were so casual. They were, for me, a better learning experience.

In The Talisman Italian Cookbook, published in 1950, a little book my mother always had hanging around the house, Ada Boni used a spare style, not as whimsical as Elizabeth David’s but more military. She gave very specific amounts, even down to salt and pepper, but her instructions were as brief as they come. Here’s her Duck in Salmi:

Place duck in a large pan with onion spiked with cloves, sage leaves, bay leaf, liver, heart, and gizzard. Add oil, vinegar, salt and pepper. Put pan cover on and cook over a very moderate fire about ½ hour. When meat is done, place in serving dish, strain gravy and serve on toasted bread.

Is half an hour long enough to cook a whole duck? I can’t imagine it would be. I’ve never made the recipe, so I’m not entirely certain.  She doesn’t mention about carving the duck, but I’m sure you’d want to.

She offered plenty of interesting recipes for wild game, fresh sardines, and artichokes, things that weren’t on the minds of most 1950s American housewives. As a kid I’d drift through the tiny but tightly packed book wondering how I could get my hands on a wild boar. Boni, like David, was assuming a level of familiarity with the kitchen. Most older cookbooks did. When did cookbook writers decide that most people didn’t even know how to bake a potato? Was it when men began to take an interest in cooking? Most women, back then, grew up learning at least some basics from their mothers. Men learned how to hammer things.

And then there’s the New York Times style, short, direct, no-nonsense, and, even though the recipes are as spare as can be, usually easy to follow if you’ve got a little cooking experience. The one thing they do that I’m not crazy about is numbering steps in a recipe, as in:

  1. Cut the head of radicchio in half lengthwise. Remove and discard the core.
  1. Heat the olive oil in a saucepan over medium-high heat.
  1. Add the garlic clove.

To me that’s like the directions for putting together an IKEA dresser, which I’ve never been able to manage. The numbers put on the brakes for me. They’re perfectly functional, but they seem cramped to me. I guess I’m a go-with-the-flow kind of recipe reader.

I don’t know about you, but I occasionally pick up a patronizing tone from some recipe writers, sometimes in their recipes proper but more often in their head notes. I’d have to put Marcella Hazan and Mark Bittman in this category. Is it just me? Many cooks admire these people immensely, but I almost never look at their recipes. I want to feel a nurturing vibe, or even neutrality, not a subtle undertone of condescension. That just shuts me down.

My recipe writing style is always evolving. At the moment I tend toward the straightforward list of ingredients presented in order of use, but with somewhat relaxed quantities. Then I like getting friendly and maybe a bit too involved in the directions. I describe how the dish will look, smell,  how the ingredients should sound sizzling or bubbling in the pan, and change during each stage of the preparation. And I give an approximation of the time any given step will take, such as “until  just softening and giving off a gentle aroma of garlic, about 3 minutes.” I think a description of what you should see and smell in the pan, plus a general idea about how long it’ll take you to get there, is helpful.

Some writers like to tell a big story about a recipe, as I often do, and then go into a fairly cut-and-dried recipe, as I never do. This can work, but it can be mood-altering. Just when everything is getting intimate, you get hit with a list of very precise measurements, even for things like salt and pepper. I think David Tanis, the New York Times writer, strikes a good balance here, despite the confines of the style he has to work with. I always know what he’s telling me to do.

Knowing my readers fairly well by now, I find myself getting looser with my measurements. A splash of wine or a palmful of capers are descriptions most of my readers are comfortable with. But, of course, that depends on where I’m writing. When I was doing a monthly column for Curves, a diet magazine, everything had to be tallied, each grain of salt, drop of oil, and teaspoon of chopped herbs, even though chopped herbs contained almost zero calories. Curves kept to a strict, rigid style. They calculated the precise amounts of fat, salt, carbohydrate, and protein in every dish, with inflexible limits. It was an interesting exercise for me, and I’m glad I did it, but left to my own culinary head, it’s not what I’m about.

There are many recipe writing styles out there, and the longer you write, the more individual yours will become. I’m always reading blogs and cookbooks not only for recipe ideas but also to see how others write them down. I can’t say it’s an art form, exactly. It’s more of a craft. No, more of a journey, your personal way of getting from beginning to end. And with any luck, along the way you will teach your readers to make some really good food.

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I Just got back from Marseille. I had been hearing Alice Waters carry on about the town for so long, I knew I’d get there eventually. And I did love it, the shining water at the port, the sweet smell and yelling at the fish market, the garlic, the way too much lavender in and on everything, the harissa in huge tins. But most of all I loved all the small independently run restaurants and shops. I saw places that were half consignment shop, half lunch place, that offered well tossed salads and tartines topped with grilled sardines and mesclun, or a café with a scattering of outdoor tables where you could drink rosé wine (or pastis if you like) and eat olives, and smoke, and after an hour or so decide to order a dish of cuttlefish persillade or steak tartare, or just another couple of rosés. Of course, Manhattan doesn’t have much of this intimacy going on anymore. It was almost heartbreaking to see how effortlessly it’s done in Marseille, or at least looks to be. What is with a city where a 25-seat, trendy bistro can be open only three nights a week? A mystery.

I went to two pizza places while I was there, Chez Vincent and Chez Etienne, both Marseille institutions. Each time I ordered an anchovy pizza, and both came with fresh tomato sauce and a sprinkling of herbes de Provence. I just love that so much. At Chez Etienne, it and a cheese pizza were the only options. Interesting. And at both places a dish of cuttlefish persillade was offered, a popular dish all over town, it seems. I got that both places, too. Chez Etienne’s version was particularly enticing. It was obviously flash-cooked, with garlic, parsley, and possibly a dusting of flour added at the end. The thickness of the cuttlefish made the dish really seductive, an opulent change from run-of-the-mill squid. It wasn’t sautéed exactly, but more something between a high- heat sauté and a fry, yet without any heavy coating. It was so good. I knew I’d try my hand at it when I got home.

I don’t cook cuttlefish much. The fish guys at my Greenmarket have local squid, so I almost always go for that. But I do see cuttlefish in shops, so I picked some up. They’ve got a strange rubbery feel. Very solid. They’re much thicker-bodied than squid and don’t flop around much. Look for smaller cuttlefish, which are more tender. That’s what the cooks in Marseille use.

Cuttlefish are a bit chewy even if you take the utmost care with them, but for me that’s part of their appeal. I notice that no one cuts them into rings, as you do squid. Instead they slice thin strips or small cubes. I imagine rings would cook up too tough. I liked the look and texture of the thin strips, so I went with those.

I had a hard time getting that fry-sauté result. I think the pizza places use a lot of oil and then maybe scoop the cuttlefish out of the pan with a slotted spoon or something. I chose less oil and really high heat. It came out a bit different but still nice. I think quite nice.

For a low-carb alternative, instead of following the cuttlefish with an anchovy pizza (although you must experience that sometime), try this salad. Escarole has a substantial feel to it, making it, to my thinking, a solid second course. And the vinaigrette is rich with mustard and cream, a good way to keep to your low-carb plan without sacrificing the little indulgences that are so important for your spirit.

Seared Cuttlefish with Gremolata, and  Escarole Salad with Mustard Cream and Pine Nuts

(Serves 4)

For the gremolata:

The grated zest from 2 lemons, avoiding as much of the white pith as possible
2 garlic cloves, minced
About a dozen large sprigs of flat leaf parsley, the leaves well chopped
6 large sprigs thyme, the leaves well chopped
A big pinch of sugar

For the cuttlefish:

Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt
Black pepper
2 pounds cuttlefish, cleaned (if yours have ink sacks, reserve the ink, which you can freeze, for a pasta or risotto dish)
1 heaping tablespoon finely ground breadcrumbs
A few big scrapings of fresh nutmeg
Lemon wedges

For the salad:

1 large head escarole, torn into small pieces
1 small shallot, thinly sliced
1½ teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon heavy cream
1 teaspoon champagne or white wine vinegar
Salt
A pinch of sugar
Freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
A palmful of pine nuts, lightly toasted

Cut the cuttlefish in two lengthwise. Then, working widthwise, cut into thin strips. You should end up with a big pile of half moons. Dry it all well.

Mix all the ingredients for the gremolata together in a small bowl.

Set a wide, heavy-bottomed skillet over high heat. When hot, add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and let it heat through. Add the cuttlefish, spreading it out and seasoning it well with salt and pepper. Scatter on the gremolata, the breadcrumbs, and the nutmeg, and let everything sear for a minute or so without moving it around at all. Now shake the pan a few times so everything gets gently tossed. Sauté for about a minute or so longer, just to cook the cuttlefish through and crisp up the crumbs and the garlic. The pan should be fairly dry with a bit of crust on the bottom. Give the bottom of the pan a big scrape with a wooden spoon, and turn the cuttlefish out onto a serving platter. Serve hot, with lemon wedges if you like.

You can prep the salad and the vinaigrette beforehand, but dress it right before serving, which should ideally be after the cuttlefish. To make the salad, put  the escarole in a large salad bowl. Scatter on the shallots. In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, cream, and vinegar. Season with salt and pepper and a pinch of sugar. Slowly add the olive oil, whisking to form an emulsion. Pour that over the salad, and toss well. Scatter on the pine nuts.

Women with Fish

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I just got back from Marseille, a place where they treat fish with great reverence.  The morning fish market at the Vieux Port is a high strung, hectic place, with people shouting in French, Italian, Arabic, and I’m not sure what other languages. The fish flop around tragically in big bins, waiting for their guts to be slit open. If I think about it too much, I get an empty, sick feeling in my own stomach.  But when your chosen fish has been killed and cleaned, it is then, surprisingly, wrapped in paper printed with the famous Louis Vuitton insignia, signaling  that everything is alright. All is elegant and wonderful. You and your fish are finally at peace. Nothing undignified has happened.

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A caper shrub growing out of a wall in Pantelleria.

I’m still finding tomatoes at the Union Square Greenmarket. The other day I took home a buck’s worth in a soggy paper bag. They were all cracked and oozing, their skins already slipping off. What a mess. But they did smell like tomatoes, to their credit, tomatoes edging toward a sweet, rotting death. I pulled their skins off easily, didn’t even have to boil them. They weren’t really edible raw, so I figured I’d make some kind of a cooked sauce. If you’ve got summer tomatoes put up, or are inclined to buy a can of good Italian plums, you can use those instead of my saved-from-the-crypt variety.

After squeezing the seeds from my fragrant bowl of mush, I began to think about transforming them into a gentle red agrodolce. A little sweet and a little acid. Red wine and a drizzle of honey did the deed. I came up with a real old-fashioned cooked sauce, one too concentrated and intense for a pasta sauce. I made that other type of Italian sauce, a condimento, something reduced and used to accompany fish or vegetables, possibly grilled lamb, or to spread onto crostini.

Capers were the flavor I chose to highlight, so I used nice ones. I like the salt-packed Sicilian ones they produce on the dry, windy island of Pantelleria. Gustiamo carries an excellent brand.  They need a bit of soaking to remove their salt and reveal their floral beauty.

I considered different ways of cooking the cod, baking or broiling, but ultimately decided on a pan sauté, giving the fish a thin, spice-infused coating of flour to crisp it up and hold it together (cod can flake a bit). Cod is easiest to flip and handle when you have thick fillets, so try and find those. You could do the dish with monkfish. That would be really lovely. Either way.

To round out this low-carb dinner, trying serving it with escarole sautéed with garlic and a bit of hot chili. That worked for me.

Pan-Seared Cod with Red Wine Caper Sauce

(Serves 4)

For the sauce:

Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large shallot, cut into fine dice
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
1 fresh bay leaf
5 thyme sprigs, the leaves lightly chopped
2 small rosemary sprigs, leaves chopped
½ cup dry, non-oaky red wine
About 4 medium tomatoes, skinned, drained, and chopped, or a 15-ounce can of whole tomatoes, well chopped and lightly drained
½ cup chicken broth or water
½ teaspoon honey
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
A palmful of salt-packed capers, soaked and rinsed
About 6 large sprigs of flat-leaf parsley, the leaves lightly chopped

For the cod:

4 thick chunks codfish fillet, skinned (about ½ pound, or a little less, each)
About ½ cup all-purpose flour
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
A big pinch of sugar
½ teaspoon ground allspice
½ teaspoon ground coriander seed
Extra-virgin olive oil
Lemon wedges

To make the sauce: Set a large skillet over medium heat. Add a good drizzle of olive oil. Add the shallot, and let it soften for a minute or so. Add the garlic, allspice, bay leaf, thyme,  and rosemary, and sauté to release their flavors. Add the red wine, and let it bubble for a minute. Add the tomatoes and chicken broth, and let cook, uncovered, at a good bubble for about 5 minutes. Add the honey, and season with salt and pepper. Cook another 5 minutes. The sauce should have thickened a bit. Turn off the heat, and stir in the butter and the capers.

On a big plate, mix together the flour, salt, black pepper, sugar, allspice, and coriander. Coat the cod pieces on all sides in the flour mix.

Put a heavy-bottomed skilled on the stove (cast iron is good), and turn the heat to medium-high. Add a generous amount of olive oil. When the oil is hot, add the cod, browning it well on both sides, turning it gently. Cook until just firm but still tender, about 5 minutes, depending on the thickness of your fish.

Reheat the sauce, and add the parsley.

Plate the fish, and top it with a big spoonful of the sauce. Garnish with a lemon wedge. Serve with escarole or another well-seasoned green vegetable.

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Still Life With Fish, Giuseppe Recco, 1634-1695.

People always ask cooks, what’s your favorite pasta dish, or dessert, or main course, or, even more broadly, what’s your favorite dish of any kind. It seems they can’t help themselves. Journalists do it too (not that they’re not people, but you know what I meanyou’d think they’d be sharper). I’m astonished that this goes on. The question is unanswerable. Cooks cook because they love food. Any cook who gives an answer to the question is lying. But, strangely, when someone asks me what’s the best dish if they want to lose weight, I have an answer. Fish soup, I always say. I can’t help myself. I believe it’s true, because fish soup, any great fish soup, is healthy and delicious, and you can’t sustain weight loss if your food isn’t delicious. I remember having this exact conversation with Nigella Lawson’s sister, when she was living in New York. She told me that the then publicly unknown Nigella wanted to lose weight. Could I suggest a good dish for her to eat? Yes, fish soup would be the thing, I said. I wonder if the advice ever reached her.

My mother often made zuppa di pesce for Christmas Eve, full of shellfish and calamari and sometimes lobster. I loved it so much I’d dream about it before and after Christmas. Now I make simpler versions for midweek meals, maybe just with mussels, adding chickpeas or cannellini beans. I’ve never met a fish soup I didn’t like, as long as it was made with really fresh seafood.

Here’s another one. We’ve all been given the go-ahead to add a little saturated fat into our diets, which is great news, since a little goes a long way in creating deliciousness. This soup contains mussels and calamari, tomatoes, a bit of butter, and a final dollop of crème fraîche. It’s amazing how that lump of crème immediately pulls the taste in a new direction. Before the addition, it’s a good Southern Italian soup; after, well, I’m not sure what it is, but it’s rich and possibly a touch French.

Again, in keeping with my new slant, very low carbs here. Forget about the bread but make sure you have a good green salad waiting. I add it to the soup bowl when I’ve finished eating the soup, so the greens pick up whatever tomato wine broth is left. That’s a good way to get your mind off bread. I swear it works.

Zuppa di Pesce with Crème Fraîche, Leeks, and Thyme

(Serves 4)

Extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 leeks, chopped, the white part only
1 carrot, peeled and cut into small dice
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
About ¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
8 large thyme sprigs, the leaves lightly chopped
A small glass of dry vermouth
1 cup light chicken broth
1 28-ounce can plum tomatoes, drained and chopped
1 pound mussels, well washed
1 pound of small to medium-size calamari, cut into thin rings, the tentacles left whole
Salt
Black pepper
A heaping tablespoon of crème fraîche
A handful of flat leaf parsley, the leaves lightly chopped

Get out a big, wide casserole type pot, and heat it over medium flame. Add a big drizzle of olive oil and the butter. Add the leeks and carrot, and sauté until fragrant. Add the garlic, nutmeg, and thyme, and continue sautéing until the vegetables are soft, about 5 minutes.

Add the vermouth, and let it bubble for a few minutes. Add the chicken broth and the tomatoes, and bring to a boil. Turn the heat down a bit, and let simmer at a low bubble, uncovered, for about 8 minutes.

When you’re ready to serve the dish, add the mussels, giving them a good stir, and cook them until they’ve opened. Add the calamari, and cook just until opaque, about another 2 minutes. Turn off the heat. Season with salt and black pepper, and add the crème fraîche. Stir, tasting for seasoning. Add the parsley, and take it to the table.

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Still Life with Cheese and Salami, Cesare Tallone, 1853-1919.

Chopping with a good chef’s knife is one of the simple but solid pleasures of my adult life. It never lets me down. I don’t cut myself anymore, not like when I was first learning. I can drink wine, play tango music, talk trash, and form perfect little cubes, all at the same time. Now, there’s an accomplishment worth growing up for.

Here’s a dish where you get to do lots of chopping, which should be soothing. And it’s another of my low-carb recipes. I hope everyone is enjoying these as much as I am. They’re turning out to be a very good way to eat. I keep all the Italian flavors I love but ditch the unhealthy starch. Type 2 diabetes runs in my family, and I want nothing to do with it.

This is a roasted version of a chopped salad. I thought it would be nice for the cool evening nip that’s now in the air, or at least is around New Yorklandia.

Please let me know if there are any low-carb Italian-inspired dishes you’d like me to create recipes for. I’d be happy to do so.

Italian Chopped Salad for Early Fall

 (Serves 2)

About 8 cherry tomatoes, cut in half
1 large fennel bulb, trimmed and cut into cubes
2 celery stalks, cut into large dice, plus the leaves from about 3 stalks, left whole
2 leeks, well cleaned, the white and the very lightest green part cut into large dice
Extra-virgin olive oil
Salt
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 garlic clove, crushed
A few gratings of nutmeg
Freshly ground black pepper
A handful of frisée lettuce or chicory, torn into small pieces
A handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves, left whole
A few large sprigs of marjoram, the leaves left whole
A handful of black olives (Niçoise are nice for this)
A small chunk of soft, young caciocavallo cheese, cut into small cubes
A small chunk of soppressata, not too dry, skinned and cut into small cubes

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Put the tomatoes, celery, fennel, and leek on a sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil, and season with salt and black pepper. Toss everything well with your fingers so it’s all well coated. Roast for about 10-12 minutes, just until the vegetables start to brown at the edges but still hold their shapes. Take the pan from the oven, and let it sit for a few minutes to cool.

In a small bowl, mix the lemon juice, garlic, and about 1½ tablespoons of olive oil with a little salt, black pepper, and nutmeg.

Put the frisée in a shallow salad bowl. Add all the roasted vegetables, the parsley, marjoram, celery leaves, olives, caciocavallo, and soppressata. Pour the vinaigrette over the salad. Toss. Serve right away.

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