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130310-lgeStill life by Julian Merrow-Smith.

Your Italian Diet

Recipe: Asparagus and Celery Soup with Celery Gremolata

Many readers have told me that they really like my monthly diet column for Curves magazine. I like it too. It’s been a stimulating but at times mind-boggling challenge, coming up with 400-calorie main course meals in a bowl. One thing I’ve certainly learned is how easy it is to eat too much. And after almost two years writing the Curves column, I feel I’ve now got the thing down.

So with you in mind, I’m going to extend my Curves forum to my blog, giving you all sorts of seasonal, low-calorie, mostly Italian recipes. They won’t be as strict as the ones for Curves, and I’m not listing numbers for calories, carbs, fats, or salt. That won’t be my style here, but I will assure you that any recipe I post will be healthy, low-calorie, and sensibly portioned (if a bit more generous than the ones for Curves).

The beautiful truth is that much of Southern Italian cooking falls naturally into this category. You just need to be careful about what you choose to cook. Which is where I can really help you. I’ll be posting some classics, but mostly, as is my way, giving you fresh, creative takes on Italian themes. I won’t be going near any diet ingredients, such as reduced fat cheeses or those awful cooking sprays. You’ll get real food, with recipes composed in a contemporary, natural, and I hope elegant style.

Cutting simple carbohydrates and sugar and upping vegetables is my goal. What about fat? I’m not as fat-phobic as some diet types are. I love fats of all kinds. They add flavor. I’ll be using, in addition to delicious, monounsaturated extra-virgin olive oil, things like pork fat, fatty fish, and cheese, but I’ll work them in so they flow into the dish without taking over (did you know that olive oil and just about all fats contain 120 calories a tablespoon? I used to pour oil over my food with abandon. Now I think about what I’m adding and why. Will more oil add more flavor, or just drown the dish in a greasy slick?)

What about pasta, you ask? I could live without pasta as easily as I could live without my red Gabrielle lipstick by Chanel. It’s not gonna happen, ever. But I will change up my pasta offerings. I’ll be suggesting that you eat pasta only as a first course, the way it’s traditionally served in Italy. I’m not sure how we got so far off track with pasta in this country. The portions are totally out of control. (I know people who eat an entire pound on their own. How do they even get it down?)

Which brings me to asparagus. I thought I’d implode waiting for it to show up in my markets. Spring in New York has been and still is damn cold. Every growing thing has been late. But now we’ve got the local stuff coming in, and I can relax a little. I’ve been especially eager to cook up some asparagus soup. Every spring I look for ways to make it a little differently.

This soup is in the crema style, which in Italian culinary terms means a purée but not one that necessarily contains cream. I don’t usually add many flavors to a spring vegetable soup, preferring to keep it simple and pure, but somehow I thought of celery this time around. Celery with asparagus. Yes, that sounded right. I tried it and really liked the way the two flavors married. I finished the soup with a spoonful of Parmigiano and a gremolata  made with parsley leaves, celery, and lemon. It came out really nice.

Please let me know if there are specific dishes you’d like to see here. I’m going to lay off the pizzas, paninis, and desserts for a while, since they really have no place in a weight-loss program, but anything else, just ask.

Asparagus and Celery Soup with Celery Gremolata

(Serves 5)

Extra-virgin olive oil
2 small spring onions, chopped, using some of the tender green stem
2 inner celery stalks, chopped, plus the leaves from about 5 stalks
2 pounds asparagus, the tough ends removed, blanched for about 1 minute and then plunged into ice water (this helps preserve the bright green color).
1 or 2 cloves spring garlic, sliced
1 large Yukon Gold potato, peeled and chopped
Salt
Freshly grated black pepper
About 5 large sprigs flat-leaf parsley
The grated zest from 1 lemon, plus a squeeze of its juice
1 heaping tablespoon grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese

Drizzle about a tablespoon of olive oil into a large soup pot. Heat it over a medium flame. Add the onion and the celery (but not the celery leaves), and sauté for about a minute, just to release their flavors. Chop the asparagus into pieces, and add them to the pot, along with the garlic and potato. Give it all a good stir, and sauté for about 3 minutes. Now add enough water to just cover the vegetables

Bring the soup to a boil, and let it cook at a low bubble, uncovered, until everything is tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper.

While the soup is cooking, chop the parsley and celery leaves together. Mix in the lemon zest and a pinch of salt. That’s the gremolata.

Purée the soup in a food processor or with one of those wand things (I think the food processor does a better job with asparagus, which is so fibrous).

When you’re ready to serve, reheat the soup, and then check the seasoning. Add a tiny squeeze of lemon juice, the Parmigiano, and a drizzle of fresh olive oil, and give it all a stir. Ladle the soup into bowls, and top each bowl with a generous sprinkling of the gremolata.

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salts_and_spices_pictures_3Spice of Life, by Kelly McCollam.

 Recipe: Lasagna with Spring Greens, Guanciale, and Spiced Besciamella

It’s been a cold spring in New York. Must be lasagna season. But not any lasagna, not the beloved Southern Italian lasagnas of my childhood, filled with ricotta, meatballs, sausage, tomatoes, mozzarella. One with a lighter style. I had to take a trip to the Genoa of my mind to decide my direction here. And there it was, a food memory of Liguria, its beautiful pesto lasagna, made by alternating layers of Genoese pesto and besciamella between sheets of pasta. As far as I’m concerned, it’s one of the genius dishes of Italian cooking. A streamlined concept that is surely worth improvising on. I figured I’d replace the pesto with a mess o’ young spring greens, make a thin, smooth besciamella, and that would do it. Then I started fiddling with spices.

The flavor of besciamella (Italian béchamel) is pretty much set. My usual is everyone’s usual, with nutmeg, a pinch of cayenne, and a bay leaf, producing a deep milky taste with a hint of spice. This time around I decided to go fragrant. I wanted a bit more spice, but I didn’t want the dish to scream curry. So I started adding a pinch of this, then tasting, then a pinch of that and another taste. I called it a day when the bubbling aroma turned warm and rich but hadn’t gone Asian on me. Where I stopped was at allspice, cardamom, coriander, and Aleppo pepper, while keeping the nutmeg and bay leaf. I think it worked well with the wilted greens and guanciale filling.

What I believe:

I believe lasagna should be loose and flowing. When I cut a piece and put it on a plate, it should breath. Not spread into a big, sloppy mess, but just relax. I don’t let lasagna “rest” when I take it from the oven. No need, the way I cook it. I construct it not so deep and cook it on high heat, uncovered, for a crisp top and a lighter interior. That way enough liquid evaporates without the thing overcooking into a compact block.

Lasagna with Spring Greens, Guanciale, and Spiced Besciamella

 (Serves 6)

For the spiced besciamella:

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 cups whole milk
1 fresh bay leaf
A big pinch each (about ⅛ teaspoon) of Aleppo pepper, black pepper, allspice, cardamom, coriander, and nutmeg
Salt

For the rest:

Extra-virgin olive oil
¼ pound guanciale, cut into small cubes
2 shallots, chopped
2 garlic cloves, sliced
5 cups mixed greens, leaving a bit of water clinging to them: spinach, baby kale, arugula, mustard, the leafy part of broccoli rabe, and anything tender enough to collapse with a quick sauté
Salt
Black pepper
Aleppo pepper
1½ cups freshly grated grana Padano cheese
¾ pound fresh lasagna sheets, boiled, cooled, and laid out in the usual way, where ever you can find room (sometimes draped over the rim of my bathtub)

To make the besciamella: In a medium pot, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour, and whisk until it’s blended into the butter. Sauté a minute or so, without letting it brown, to get rid of the raw taste. Add all the milk, and whisk well to blend. Add all the spices and a decent amount of salt. Whisk a few times, and then let it slowly heat, whisking frequently. Keep whisking while keeping it at a low bubble, until the sauce becomes thick and smooth, about another 3 minutes. That should do it. Cover the surface with plastic wrap, so it doesn’t form a skin.

In a large, deep skillet, heat a few tablespoons of olive oil over medium flame. Add the guanciale, and let it render some of its fat. Add the shallot, and sauté until softened. Now add the garlic, and cook just until fragrant, a few seconds. Add as much of the greens as you can, turning them in the oil until they wilt enough for you to add the rest of them. Cook, uncovered, until they’re just tender, about 4 minutes (sprinkle with a little water if they’re dry). Season with salt, black pepper, and a little Aleppo.

Preheat the oven to 425 degree.

Choose an approximately 10-by-12-inch baking dish about 2 inches deep. Drizzle in a little olive oil to lightly cover the bottom of the dish, and put down a layer of pasta. Make a layer of greens, drizzle in a layer of besciamella, and sprinkle on some grana Padano. Repeat the process, ending with a layer of pasta. Now mix a tablespoon of olive oil with about 2 tablespoons of warm water, and pour it over the pasta. I like to do this when I’m not working with a liquidy sauce. A bit of moisture assurance. Finish with the remaining besciamella and a sprinkling of grana.

Bake uncovered until it’s hot and bubbling and the edges are browned, about 20 minutes or so. By the time it takes you to get it to the table, it’ll be ready to cut.

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photo 2

Here’s my May column for MyCurves. Happy Spring to you.

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CoorteStrawberries1705TheHagueMhuisWStill life with Strawberries, Adriaen Coorte, 1705.

Recipe: Strawberries with Vermouth, Vanilla, Orange, and Basil, Served with Ricotta Cream

Impatience is a personality trait of many cooks, don’t you agree? Foodthe raw ingredients, the cooking, eatingit’s all a flash in the pan. There’s so much pressure to capture the moment. And there’s seasonal pressure, too. You know what I’m talking about, that gnawing agitation, most profound in early spring. I make trips to my Greenmarket, optimistically snooping around, but seeing nothing but those cute but culinarily unappealing fiddleheads. I then march off, anxious, my face all screwed up, only to stop, in desperation, at my super duper mercato to pick up my stand-in asparagus and strawberries, not accepting that I should wait for the good stuff, the local stuff. So I give in. I don’t play farm girl. I can’t wait. My Klonopin-craving brain buys the pumped up Florida produce and brings it all home. The stuff smells like close to nothing, unblemished nothing. How do I coax flavor out of it? We cooks have our ways.

Strawberries with Vermouth, Vanilla, Orange, and Basil, Served with Ricotta Cream

 (Serves 5 or 6)

 1½ cups dry vermouth
A drizzle of Cointreau
½ cup sugar, or a bit more if your fruit is less sweet
½ a moist vanilla bean, split lengthwise
2 long strips orange peel
2 pints small strawberries, hulled but left whole (or larger ones,cut in half)
A handful of small basil leaves, left whole (or larger ones ripped in two)
2 cups whole milk ricotta
A drizzle of whole milk

Place the vermouth, sugar, vanilla bean, Cointreau, and orange peel in a saucepan. Add about ¼ cup of water. Bring to a boil over high heat. Turn the heat down a touch, and let the mixture bubble, uncovered, until reduced by about half (which should leave about a cup of liquid, maybe a bit less). Let cool completely. When cooled it should have the consistency of a loose syrup.

Put the ricotta and a drizzle of milk in a food processor and pulse a few times until it’s smooth.

When you’re ready to serve, put the strawberries in a serving bowl, add the basil leaves, and pour the syrup over the berries, giving them a gentle stir.

Spoon some ricotta into wine or parfait glasses. Add some strawberries to each, and finish with a big drizzle of their syrup.

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largeAsparagus Still Life, by Marie Cosindas.

Recipe: Chicken Liver Salad with Haricots Verts and Gentle Herbs

Here’s a different Easter dinner, with an asparagus soup, a chicken liver salad, and strawberries with ricotta and orange flower water.

Why? Easter means eggs means rebirth. Where there are eggs, there will be chickens. Where there are chickens, there will be slaughtered chickens. Where you have slaughtered chickens, you will have chicken livers, which are an extremely delicious but often overlooked food. I get cravings for chicken livers (maybe I’m part vampiress). I love them in pasta, but my all-time favorite preparation is to quick sear them in butter, add a splash of cognac, and toss them, hot and still pink in the center, over a cool salad. A spring salad with them will include what’s just poking up from the earthmint, chervil, chives, watercress, baby lettuces of all varieties, maybe a few young radishes, unformed garlic, maybe sugar snap peas or string beans, tiny leeks. Whatever I find that looks pretty, I’ll toss together. Fluidity, spontaneity, and peace of mind, even if that’s not a description of my current mental state. I will try to bring these qualities to my springtime cooking. Rebirth.

This salad, with its fragrant chicken livers, tarragon, and chives, will be the centerpiece of my Easter dinner. But I’m starting off my meal with an asparagus soup, the one here, a purée, topped with a basil and almond pesto. It’s from an older post, but it seems a good match. I think an Italian rosato wine will be nice with both the soup and the salad. And to end my Easter dinner, I’m going not with a classic pastiera, which I love and have already eaten huge amounts of, pre-Easter, but instead with strawberries topped with a dollop of sweetened ricotta. I like adding a few scrapings of nutmeg and drops of orange flower water to the ricotta, along with sugar. I thin it out with a bit of milk, and give it a quick whirl in the food processor.

My menu is definitely not traditional in any culture, but this particular Easter, which will be sunny but a tad nippy, the flavors and the streamlined simplicity of these dishes are speaking to me (no, I’m not on a diet). If they speak to you, too, why not give them a try.

Have a great Easter.

Chicken Liver Salad with Haricots Verts and Gentle Herbs

(Serves 2)

A handful of haricots verts, trimmed, briefly blanched, dropped into cold water, then drained
About 2 cups young spring greens (watercress, baby arugula, red or green soft leaf lettuces, whatever looks best to you)
2 French breakfast radishes, sliced into thin rounds
8 sprigs tarragon, stemmed
A palmful of flat-leaf parsley leaves
A few baby scallions, sliced
1 stalk young garlic, sliced
1 teaspoon Spanish Sherry vinegar
½ teaspoon Dijon mustard
Salt
Black pepper
A big pinch of nutmeg
1 teaspoon crème fraiche
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
¾ pounds organic chicken livers, trimmed and cut in two or three
A splash of cognac or brandy
A few chives, cut into ½-inch lengths

Choose a nice looking salad bowl (white porcelain, I’m thinking, to hold greens and browns). Add all the greens, the haricots verts, radishes, tarragon, parsley, scallions, and young garlic.

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, mustard, salt, black pepper, nutmeg, crème fraiche, and about 1½ tablespoons of olive oil (use a really nice one). Add a little more vinegar or olive to taste, but don’t go nuts with the vinegar.

Get a skillet hot over high heat. Add the butter and a drizzle of olive oil. Dry off the livers, and season them with salt and black pepper. Put them in the skillet, spreading them out. Sear them quickly, until browned well on one side, about a minute (be careful, as they can spit and pop). Now turn them over and brown the other side, about a minute more. You want them to stay pink at the center. Add a splash of cognac, and watch it flame up.

Toss the greens with the dressing, and then add the chicken livers. Garnish with chives. Serve right away.

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Women with Fish

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The Fish

 I caught a tremendous fish
and held him beside the boat
half out of water, with my hook
fast in a corner of his mouth.
He didn’t fight.
He hadn’t fought at all.
He hung a grunting weight,
battered and venerable
and homely. Here and there
his brown skin hung in strips
like ancient wallpaper,
and its pattern of darker brown
was like wallpaper:
shapes like full-blown roses
stained and lost through age.
He was speckled with barnacles,
fine rosettes of lime,
and infested
with tiny white sea-lice,
and underneath two or three
rags of green weed hung down.
While his gills were breathing in
the terrible oxygen
the frightening gills,
fresh and crisp with blood,
that can cut so badly
I thought of the coarse white flesh
packed in like feathers,
the big bones and the little bones,
the dramatic reds and blacks
of his shiny entrails,
and the pink swim-bladder
like a big peony.
I looked into his eyes
which were far larger than mine
but shallower, and yellowed,
the irises backed and packed
with tarnished tinfoil
seen through the lenses
of old scratched isinglass.
They shifted a little, but not
to return my stare.
It was more like the tipping
of an object toward the light.
I admired his sullen face,
the mechanism of his jaw,
and then I saw
that from his lower lip
if you could call it a lip
grim, wet, and weaponlike,
hung five old pieces of fish-line,
or four and a wire leader
with the swivel still attached,
with all their five big hooks
grown firmly in his mouth.
A green line, frayed at the end
where he broke it, two heavier lines,
and a fine black thread
still crimped from the strain and snap
when it broke and he got away.
Like medals with their ribbons
frayed and wavering,
a five-haired beard of wisdom
trailing from his aching jaw.
I stared and stared
and victory filled up
the little rented boat,
from the pool of bilge
where oil had spread a rainbow
around the rusted engine
to the bailer rusted orange,
the sun-cracked thwarts,
the oarlocks on their strings,
the gunnelsuntil everything
was rainbow, rainbow, rainbow!
And I let the fish go.

Elizabeth Bishop

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KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Recipe: Israeli Couscous with Calamari, Spring Peas, and Saffron

When The da Fiore Cookbook came out, in 2003, I was eager to get a copy. I’ve still never managed to eat at the now very famous restaurant, in Venice, one of Marcella Hazan’s favorites, but I liked the idea of it from word one. Venice, water, a lady chef, plus gentle flavors for fish, pasta, risotto, and vegetables, all quite different from the Southern Italian palate I was then exclusively working with. I especially liked the way Mara Martin, the chef and owner, treated pasta. A little butter, leeks, white wine, carrots, an occasional drizzle of cream, saffron, sweet spices like nutmeg and cinnamon, Parmigiano Reggiano with seafoodjust a sprinkling. No hot chilies, barely a tomato, no oregano, rosemary used as a gentle undertone.

Venetian cooking, especially when offered by da Fiore, is complex but remains gentle to both eye and palate. It’s about both the sea and seasonal vegetables. Like Southern Italian, my hometown cooking, it never gets tired for me. I’ll always love anchovies, garlic, and pecorino, but I also welcome lightness. Da Fiore’s food seems to me a touch angelic.

Here’s a recipe inspired by Signora Martin’s “Fusilli with Squid and Peas.” She adds pancetta, a bit of cinnamon, thyme, and Parmigiano. I chose saffron, another favorite spice of hers but not one she used in her fusilli recipe. Saffron and butter make an amazing pairing, sweet, opulent, but weightless on the tongue. And butter with peas you really can’t beat.

I make a little spice broth with saffron and a few other things, and add it at the end, gently coaxing all the ingredients together. No cheese in my version. It didn’t blend well with the saffron.

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Israeli Couscous with Calamari, Spring Peas, and Saffron

(Serves 4 as a first course)

1 cup chicken broth
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
A pinch of ground cinnamon
A large pinch of saffron threads, dried and ground
Salt
A big pinch of sugar
1½ cups Israeli couscous
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 small white onion, finely chopped
1 stem young garlic, chopped
5 sprigs thyme, the leaves chopped
1 cup freshly shucked peas, briefly blanched, then cooled under cold water, then drained
A splash of semi-dry white wine
1 pound small calamari, sliced into rings
Black pepper
A handful of flat-leaf parsley, the leaves lightly chopped

Pour the chicken broth into a small pot. Add the cinnamon, allspice, sugar, and saffron. Turn on the heat, and let boil gently for about 4 minutes. Add a pinch of salt, and turn off the heat. Let sit.

Set up a medium pot with water, add salt, and bring it to a boil. Add the couscous.

In a large sauté pan, heat about a tablespoon of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter. Sauté the onion over medium heat until softened. Add the garlic and the thyme. Add the blanched peas and a bit of salt, and sauté about a minute. Add a splash of wine, and let it boil off. Add the spice broth, and simmer about 4 minutes, just until the peas are tender. Turn off the heat.

When the couscous is al dente, drain it, and place it in a large serving bowl. Add a drizzle of olive oil and a few turns of black pepper. Toss.

Dry off the calamari. Put a large skillet on high heat. Add the remaining butter and a drizzle of olive oil. When hot, add the calamari, seasoning with salt and black pepper, and sauté very quickly, just until it loses its transparency. Tip the calamari into the couscous. Add the peas with all their broth. Add the parsley. Toss. Taste for seasoning.

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photo 3Photo by Lisa Silvestri

Here’s my April column for MyCurves. It’s for gently poached chicken with asparagus, watercress, and sweet spices. Very light. Very Spring. For the ladies who lunch, or for anyone who’d like to shed a few pounds.

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veggies

Recipe: Artichokes à la Barigoule with Ras el Hanout

The artichoke looks complicated, like an elaborate multitiered dress that might take some time getting into but would ultimately be worth the trouble. Plus it’s got spikes. Can’t beat that. And its taste is like . . . what is it like? It’s both subtle and assertive, a strange combination. That’s another part of its allure.

Weird weather patterns in the western U.S. have proven beneficial for artichokes this year. There are lots of the big globes around, a glut, I guess, but I’m also seeing those sometimes hard to find “babies.” They aren’t really babies; they’re actually more like midgets. They’re full-grown, just small incidental growths that pop up lower on the stalk. A few days ago I found really nice ones, heavy for their size, solid, cute. And so easy to prep. No chokes. Hardly any waste. I just pulled off a few tough outer leaves, trimmed the tops, and cooked them whole. So pretty.

Artichokes à la barigoule is a dish that has always fascinated me. I like slow-cooked vegetables that soak up flavors as they soften. This preparation turns up in many of the Provençal cookbooks I ownOlney, of course, but over and over in many others. It’s a classic in French Mediterranean cooking but not often found in bistros around here. I’m not sure why. It’s delicious, gentle but deeply satisfying, like the artichoke itself. Barigoule is essentially a braise, with wine and stock, often finished with a splash of acid, such as a good vinegar. Most recipes contain carrots and fennel and spring herbs. Chervil, parsley, dill, fennel tops.

I love ras el hanout, the North African spice mix that’s used often in couscous dishes. It varies from region to region and from shop to shop. You can find it premixed at Middle Eastern food shops, such as Kalustyan’s here in Manhattan. I like to make my own, and that often varies too. Right now I’m using a mix of anise, fennel, allspice, cardamom (I love cardamom), clove, black pepper, cinnamon, coriander, cumin, and ginger. Some versions contain rose petal, dried thyme, or bay leaf. I use ras le hanout as a dry rub for lamb and chicken and in some tagines. Lately I’ve been adding it to vegetables. It’s excellent with eggplant and tomatoes, as well with as artichokes. I do restrain myself, though, including just a hint, so it slips into my Italian and French Mediterranean dishes without tipping the balance to out and out North African cooking.

Artichokes à la Barigoule with Ras el Hanout

 (Serves 4 as a first course)

The juice from 1 lemon
2 dozen or so baby artichokes
Extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon piment d’Espelette or another medium hot paprika
½ teaspoon ras el hanout
1 large shallot, thinly sliced
2 carrots, peeled and cut into rounds on an angle
1 tender inner celery stalk, thinly sliced, plus the leaves from a few stalks
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
The leaves from 4 big sprigs of thyme
Salt
A splash of dry vermouth
1½ cups or so light chicken broth
A few drops of Spanish sherry vinegar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
A handful of chervil

Set up a bowl of cold water, and add the lemon juice. Trim the tough outer leaves off of the artichokes until you get down to the lighter green ones. Trim the tops and bottoms off of the artichokes. Drop the artichokes into the water.

In a skillet, heat about 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the artichokes, piment d’Espellete, ras el hanout, shallot, carrots, and celery (but not the leaves), seasoning with a little salt. Sauté until the artichokes take on a little color and everything is just starting to soften, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and the thyme leaves, sautéing just to release their fragrances, about a minute. Add the vermouth, and let it bubble for a minute. Add the chicken broth, turn the heat down a drop, and simmer at a low bubble, uncovered, until the artichokes are just fork tender, about 12 to 15 minutes (you’ll want to turn them around in the broth from time to time so they cook evenly). There should still be a fair amount of slightly thickened liquid in the skillet.

Add a few drops of the vinegar, the butter, and the celery leaves, and give it all a stir. Scatter the chervil over the top. Serve warm or at room temperature.

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Women with Fish

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This is  Barb Troiano. She lives upstairs from me. She’s a fish hoarder. When I took this shot, she was going through a mackerel phase, but there’s been other stuff, believe me. Scallops in their shells,  shad roe, eels. I’m not completely sure where she gets this fish, but I sense she’s got a connection to the Fulton Fish Market, I think a mob guy she used to date. She’s spoken fondly of Eddie, and  I’ve seen him,  or some older guy, hobbling up to her apartment with wooden boxes. He looks to be about five foot two, maybe Irish. Not bad looking. Old flames die hard.

Needless to say, her apartment stinks. About four times a year the social services send a group of men in hazmat suits to clean through all this  misery (she doesn’t even eat fish, so this compulsion is truly wasteful). They often resort to hanging a thick plastic tube out her window that leads to a dumpster, which quickly gets filled. Then for a week or two I’ll see social workers marching in and out of her place with clipboards. I can hear Barb crying that she’ll never do it again. She’s reformed. But then she’ll start screaming that she hasn’t had a paint job in 16 years and she’s due one, as if these social workers had any say over that. She’s got a complicated mind.  On two occasions she’s dropped typing books off at my apartment. Barb seems to think they’ll help with my career.

The eviction notices build up, but it’s hard to evict anyone in this welcoming city, especially an older person. And the thing is, Barb is nice. She does an amazing Billie Holiday interpretation. That’s probably one of the reasons Eddie fell for her. I wonder what she looked like when she was young.

It’s now early spring and I’m sensing it’s about time for another hazmat show upstairs. It smells, but it has been worse. At the moment, I’m thinking slightly over the hill mussels. Poor Barb. She’s a tormented soul. Maybe a good candidate for Lexapro, not that she’d ever see a psychiatrist. I don’t want her evicted. Where would she go? I just want her to stop what she’s doing.

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