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Circle of Carrots, by Mimi Roberts.

Recipe below: Smooth Carrot Soup with Fennel and Pear

I’ve been finding blown-out late-season carrots at the farmer’s market, lumpy and woody but so cheap I can’t resist. I tried one raw. The taste wasn’t bad, not soapy, but the texture was rough. Good for soup.

I often like a big, smooth soup. It forces me to focus on its tastes, since everything gets whirled together, unlike a chunky texture where you can actually see what you’re putting into your mouth. Uniform smoothness necessitates culinary thought to pull out flavors. Can I taste the pear clearly, or is it just serving as a sweetener? Does it add subtle acidic brightness? Does the fennel add fennel taste, and maybe a hint of bitter? And with all the stuff I’ve added, can I still taste the carrot? In this case, I’ve answered yes to all, so I know I’ve succeeded.

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Smooth Carrot Soup with Fennel and Pear

(Serves 6)

Extra-virgin olive oil
2 bunches of orange carrots, peeled and chopped
1 large fennel bulb, chopped, saving the fronds and chopping them lightly
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small baking potato, peeled and chopped
½ teaspoon fennel seeds ground to a powder, or a big pinch of fennel pollen
A few large thyme sprigs, the leaves chopped
2 ripe pears, peeled, cored, and chopped
Salt
Black pepper
A splash of Poire Williams
1 cup chicken broth
A few drops of rice wine vinegar

Get out a big soup pot, and set it over medium heat. Drizzle in a little olive oil. Add all the ingredients except the Poire Wiliams, the chicken broth, and the vinegar. Sauté, stirring everything around a few times, until everything’s fragrant and starting to soften, about 4 minutes. Add the splash of Poire Williams, and let it bubble for a few seconds. Add the chicken broth, and then add enough water to just cover the vegetables. Bring it all to a boil, and then turn the heat down a touch, and cook at a medium bubble, partially covered, until everything is very tender, especially the carrots. This should take about ½ hour, maybe a little longer depending on how hard your carrots are. Now let it sit, uncovered, for about 15 minutes, so all the flavors can blend further.

Purée the soup in a food processor, in batches, until very smooth and glossy, adding more water, if needed, to thin it down. Pour it into a clean pot. Taste for seasoning, adding a few drops of rice wine vinegar for brightness, and more salt or black pepper, if needed.

To serve, reheat the soup gently. Pour it into bowls, and garnish it with chopped fennel fronds and a drizzle of good extra-virgin olive oil.

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Still Life with Pears, Vincent Van Gogh, ca. 1888.

Recipe below: Pear and Almond Cake with Poire Williams and Fresh Ginger

I sort of like baking. I sort of like playing with flour. But I don’t love it. Not like I love making a ragu, or spaghetti with white clam sauce. Still, baking can be fun, especially the way I do it, without serious recipes. Not having them limits what I can turn out, but I’m okay with that. I don’t love sweet so much. Savory tarts and fruit things are for me. I’ve worked out a few dependable general recipes for breads, plain cakes, biscotti, and torte, and starting with them, I mix up the flavors depending on the season and my mood. This pear creation is based on my sweet olive oil cake recipe. I make variations on it all the time. They usually contain some type of fruit, apples, or blueberries, or peaches. I sometimes add nuts, walnuts, or pistachios. And then I decide on spices, maybe cinnamon, allspice, black pepper, whatnot. Sometimes I’ll add a fresh herb, thyme, or lemon verbena. Then maybe a drizzle of fragrant booze. I recently made a version with apples and anisette. It came out real nice. You can easily make that one by swapping the pears here for apples and the Poire Williams for anisette.

This is a big, not-too-sweet cake, from enough batter to fill a 10-inch springform pan.  I make these things often for my husband’s breakfast, an attempt to wean him off industrial boxed cereal, which for some unexplained reason he seems to love. It is also good for afternoon tea, or brunch, or even for dessert, if you serve it with sweetened whipped cream or vanilla, caramel, or ginger ice cream

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Pear and Almond Cake with Poire Williams and Fresh Ginger

3 large eggs
1¼ cups sugar
¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus a little extra for the pan
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tablespoons Poire Williams or another pear brandy
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
3 cups regular flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
4 ripe pears, chopped (peeled if you wish). You’ll want about 4 cups
¾ cup whole blanched almonds, lightly toasted and roughly chopped

You’ll need a 10-inch springform pan.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Grease your pan with a little olive oil.

In a bowl combine the eggs, the sugar, the olive oil, the vanilla, the pear brandy, and the ginger, and mix well. In a separate bowl combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir to blend all the ingredients.

Add the flour mixture to the egg mix, and stir it in. Add the pears and the almonds, and mix to blend.

Pour the batter into the pan, and bake until lightly browned and springy in the middle, about 50 to 55 minutes. Let cool for about a half hour before slicing.

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Les dames font des crêpes, by Philippine Cramer.

Recipe below: Crespelle with Ricotta, Swiss Chard, and Pine Nuts

Manicotti made out of crespelle was one of the first things I learned to prepare during my spell of teenage cooking mania, which started as a way to control anxiety but led to a lifelong passion. My mother made manicotti from crespelle instead of the more predicable pasta sheets. I watched her swirl the thin batter into the pan, then flip the fragile things over, messing up a few but soon hitting her stride. It looked so elegant and professional. My mother didn’t make pasta by hand or do any baking, so this was an unusual undertaking. I didn’t know she had it in her. I was attracted to crespelle for this reason and because it looked annoyingly complicated, a perverse kitchen draw for me. Her crespelle manicotti were always filled with ricotta and spinach and baked with a béchamel. Pretty classic Southern Italian. She sometimes made them part of our Christmas Eve dinner, as I do now.

The truth is, making crêpes isn’t complicated. It’s really fun, once you get it down. Even before you get it down, watching them gum up into a ball or fold over like a fortune cookie can be amusing for a while. I’ve been making these things off and on for 40 years, and the first few still often turn out lumpy before I get into the swing of it. Also I usually make mine not with butter, which is classic, but with olive oil. That makes them much easier to work with. Fun even. Give them a try.

Crespelle with Ricotta, Swiss Chard, and Pine Nuts

(Serves 4 or 5, making about 12 7-inch crepes)

For the crespelle:

1 cup all-purpose flour
4 large eggs
Salt
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for cooking the crespelle
1 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon cognac or grappa

For the filling:

2 bunches of Swiss chard, the thick inner ribs removed,
A drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil
1 small garlic clove, minced
32 ounces whole-milk ricotta
1 large egg
½ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
¾ cup grated Montasio or grana Padano cheese
6 big sprigs of marjoram, the leaves chopped
A big handful of lightly toasted pine nuts
Salt
Black pepper

For the sauce:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 scallions, chopped, using some of the tender green
1 28-ounce can tomatoes, well chopped and lightly drained
A few big sprigs of marjoram, the leaves chopped
A few big sprigs of thyme, the leaves chopped
Salt
Black pepper
2 tablespoons crème fraîche
A small chunk of Montasio or grana Padano cheese

To make the crespelle batter, put all its ingredients into the bowl of a food processor, and pulse until smooth. It should reach the consistency of thick cream. If it’s too thick, add a little more milk. Pour the batter into a bowl, and let it sit for about 30 minutes. This will allow the flour to absorb the liquid and let the gluten relax, so you get a nice tender crêpe.

Now cook the crespelle. I used a 7-inch omelet pan, but if you’ve got a proper crêpe pan, a little bigger or smaller, use that. And any small sauté pan will do. With these olive oil crespelle, I never find sticking a problem, so you don’t need a nonstick pan. Put the pan over a medium flame, and let it heat up. Pour in just enough olive oil to coat its surface. Pull the pan from the heat, and ladle in a bit less than a quarter cup of batter, tilting the pan quickly in a circular movement to spread the batter. (You’ll get the hang of it. The first few usually don’t come out too well. Once the heat is regulated and you get the feel of it, you’ll find it fairly easy, trust me.) Let the crêpe cook just until you notice it coloring lightly at the edge. Then shake the pan, moving the crêpe away from you, and slip a spatula underneath. Give it a fast, confident flip. If it folds up a bit, just straighten it out with your fingers (these things are a lot sturdier than you’d think). Cook it on the other side for about 30 seconds, and then slide it onto a big plate.

Make the rest of the crespelle the same way, adding a drizzle of olive oil to the pan when needed. Stack the crespelle up on top of one another (they won’t stick, I swear). If you like, you can refrigerate them until you want to assemble the dish.

To make the filling, blanch the Swiss chard in a pot of boiling water for about 2 minutes. Drain it, and run cold water over it, to stop the cooking and bring up the green color. Squeeze as much water out of it as possible, and then give it a few good chops. Put it in a bowl, and then add all the other ingredients for the filling, mixing them in well.

To make the sauce, melt the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the scallion, and let it soften for about a minute. Add the tomatoes and the herbs, and season with salt and black pepper. Cook, uncovered, for only about 4 minutes. You want the sauce to stay fresh tasting. Turn off the heat and add the crème fraîche.

Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

Get out a big baking dish that will hold the soon to be rolled crespelle snuggly.  Or use two dishes. I usually do that. Oil the dish(es) lightly with olive oil.

Fill each crêpe with an ample layer of the ricotta filling, and roll it up. Place them in the baking dish or dishes. Pour on the tomato sauce, and top with a grating of Montasio or grana Padano. Now give everything a drizzle of fresh olive oil, and bake, uncovered, until hot, bubbling, and lightly browned at the edges, about 20 minutes.

Let sit for a few minutes before serving.

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Radicchio, by Ana Petrak.

Recipe below: Rigatoni with Radicchio di Treviso, Gorgonzola, Rosemary, and Walnuts

I have a chest cold at the moment. It makes me feel all different inside, and not entirely in a bad way. Sort of insular but not sad, and just wanting to be indoors. The heat has gone on, drying the apartment air. The vomit-smelling gingko berries are smashed all over the sidewalk, one of the first signs of fall on my block. A few Chinese ladies were here this morning gathering them up. I saw them out the window while I choked down a few Mucinex. And then I got back under the covers and thought about autumn food, particularly tastes that might blast this cold out of my head. Gorgonzola came to mind.

There’s a pasta dish that has always intrigued me but I’ve hardly ever cooked. It contains gorgonzola and radicchio. Excellent ingredients both, decidedly northern. With the passing of tomatoes, eggplant, and peppers, fall brings Northern Italian flavors into my kitchen. Very cozy. I’ve added walnuts and a touch of rosemary to this pasta. It should do wonders for my head.

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Rigatoni with Radicchio di Treviso, Gorgonzola, Rosemary, and Walnuts

(Serves 5)

Salt
1 pound rigatoni or penne
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
A drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, peeled and lightly smashed
2 large heads of radicchio di Treviso, sliced into rounds and then pulled apart into ribbons
1 big sprig of rosemary, the leaves chopped
A few scrapings of nutmeg
½ pound gorgonzola dolce, cut into little bits
A big handful of walnut halves, lightly toasted and lightly chopped
Coarsely ground black pepper
A handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves, lightly chopped
A chunk of grana Padano cheese

Bring a big pot of water to a boil. Add a good amount of salt, and drop in the rigatoni.

In a large skillet, over medium heat, heat half of the butter and a drizzle of olive oil. Add the garlic clove, and sauté until it’s fragrant, 30 seconds or so. Add the radicchio, the rosemary, and the nutmeg, and season with a little salt. Sauté, stirring the radicchio around, just until it starts to wilt, about a minute or so. Pull the skillet off the heat and add the gorgonzola and the walnuts, stirring in the cheese so it melts.

When the rigatone is al dente, drain it, saving about a cup of the cooking water, and pour the pasta into a warmed serving bowl. Add the rest of the butter, and toss. Add a little of the cooking water to the skillet, to loosen the sauce, and then pour the sauce over the pasta, removing the garlic. Add the parsley and a generous amount of black pepper, and toss again, adding more cooking water if you need it to get a creamy texture. Serve hot, bringing the grana Padano to the table for grating.

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Recipe below: Bucatini with Mussels, Yellow Tomatoes, Butter, and Thyme

As you’ve probably noticed, I’m really dragging out the tomato season this year. I can’t help it. They’re still in the market. Big gorgeous heirlooms. Lots of them. I like going to Union Square Greenmarket around 6 p.m. to take advantage of the big bags of seconds that farmers lay out for almost free. I grabbed a bag of slightly bruised yellow tomatoes, not sure what variety, and when I got them home I was reminded of why I don’t always like yellow tomatoes. They tend to be a little mealy, low acid, and low sugar, which translates into sort of tasteless. But I had to use them for something, so into my mussel sauce they went. Wine, a touch of sugar, and a few drops of rice wine vinegar corrected their shortcomings. I didn’t really cook them, just threw them in at the end to heat through. Better that way.

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Bucatini with Mussels, Yellow Tomatoes, Butter, and Thyme

(Serves 4)

Salt
1 pound bucatini
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 shallots, well chopped
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
½ teaspoon ground allspice
10 big thyme sprigs, the leaves chopped
2 pounds really fresh mussels, small ones if possible, well cleaned
Black pepper
½ cup dry white wine
3 big yellow tomatoes, seeded and chopped, about 3 cups (drain them briefly if they’re juicy, but mine weren’t and most yellow varieties aren’t)
1 teaspoon sugar
½ teaspoon rice wine vinegar
Aleppo pepper
A handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves, lightly chopped

Bring a big pot of salted water to a boil. Drop in the bucatini.

Set up a very large skillet or stew pot over medium high heat. Add half the butter, the shallots, garlic, thyme, and allspice, and sauté until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the mussels and the white wine. Season with a little salt and black pepper and cook, stirring   occasionally, until the mussels open.  Add the tomatoes, and let cook for about a minute longer. Turn off the heat, and add the sugar and rice wine vinegar.

When the bucatini is al dente, drain it, and pour it into a big wide serving bowl. Add the rest of the butter and the parsley, and stir everything around. Add the mussels and broth and some Aleppo. Toss gently and serve hot.

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Still Life with Lobster, by Antoine Vollan.

Recipe below: Bucatini with Lobster, Late Season Tomatoes, Orange, and Olives

We had the heat on last night. Summer is now officially done. But we’ve still got tomatoes. New York is interesting that way. In September to mid-October you still get some of high summer—warm afternoon sun, eggplants, peppers of all types, lots of tomatoes, herbs. I’ve got healthy basil in my little garden. I do get anxious trying to hold on to all these things, dreading the long stretch of potatoes and turnips ahead. It’s time to celebrate the remaining warm days and nights by preparing something special. Lobster with tomatoes is a gorgeous pairing, and if you add pasta it’s not even such an extravagance. One medium lobster easily serves two.

I love the ritual of blanching tomatoes and slipping off their skins, and then chopping and draining the tomatoes, catching their water to add to my sauce, if needed, or to mix with a little vodka for a chef’s reward Bloody Mary. I can still do that for a couple more weeks. Late season tomato cooking is a good time to play around with flavors, too. Have you ever added orange to a tomato sauce? It’s excellent, especially when you’re incorporating seafood, as I do here. Check it out.

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Bucatini with Lobster, Late Season Tomatoes, Orange, and Olives

(Serves 2)

1 medium lobster (about 2 pounds)
3 big round local tomatoes (about 1½ pounds)
Salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large shallot, cut into small dice
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
The grated zest from 1 large orange, plus a big squeeze of its juice
A fresh medium-hot red chili, seeded and minced
About 6 large sprigs of thyme, the leaves chopped
A splash of white Lillet aperitif or vermouth
1 teaspoon soy sauce
⅔ pound bucatini or spaghetti
A drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil
A palmful of black or brown olives ( I used Taggiasca, from Liguria), pitted and cut in half
A dozen basil leaves, lightly chopped

Set up a large pot of water, add a good amount of salt, and bring it to a boil. Drop in the lobster, cover the pot, and boil until it’s about half way cooked, about 5 minutes. Pull the lobster from the pot, and let it cool.

With the water still boiling, drop in the tomatoes, and boil them, uncovered, until their skins start to crack, about 2 minutes or so. Using a strainer spoon, scoop them from the water into a colander, saving the cooking water. Run a little cool water over them, and peel off their skins, which should slip away easily. Now chop the tomatoes, and put them back in the colander, sprinkling them with a little salt. Stick a bowl underneath the colander so you can catch their juice. Let them sit for about 15 minutes.

Now you can either pull the meat from the lobster, cutting it into chunks, or, as I prefer, hack the thing into pieces right through the shell.  Simmering the pieces in the shell gives the sauce more flavor and also makes for a pretty presentation. I do it with a regular chef’s knife, but you can use a cleaver if you want. However you do it, make sure you put the lobster pieces in a bowl or something to collect any juices, so you can add that to the sauce.

Bring the water back to a boil.

Get out a big skillet, and melt the butter over medium heat. Add the shallot, and let it soften for a minute. Now add the garlic, orange zest, hot chili, and thyme, and sauté a minute or so longer to release all their flavors. Add the Lillet or vermouth, and let it bubble for a few seconds. Add the tomatoes, the orange juice, the soy, and a little salt.

Drop the bucatini in the water.

Let the tomatoes simmer, uncovered, for about 3 minutes. I don’t cook them long, preferring to keep their freshness and bright color. They should start giving off juice after a minute or so, but if the sauce seems thick, add some of the reserved tomato water. Now add the lobster and any juices it has given off. Turn the heat to low, and simmer, partially covered, about a minute or so, just to finish cooking the lobster. Turn off the heat.

When the bucatini is al dente, drain it, and pour it into a wide serving bowl. Add a drizzle of olive oil, the olives, and the basil. Toss. Add the lobster sauce, and toss again. Serve right away. This pasta is great with a deep pink rosato Cerasuolo from Abruzzo. And if you follow up with an escarole salad and a piece of fontina Val d’Aosta cheese, you’ll have a very special early fall meal.

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A still life with vodka and Peeps.

Recipe below: Penne alla Vodka with Late Season Tomatoes

I still don’t understand why pasta alla vodka tastes so special. You would think that adding vodka, pretty much tasteless, to a tomato sauce wouldn’t contribute much, but it somehow adds enough to make the dish unique. I first learned of penne alla vodka in the early 1970s, when it became a thing. My mother made it a lot. Psychologically it seemed to taste of vodka, which made it appear fancy, late-night, and a bit risqué. Palatewise, maybe I could really only detect tomato, cream, and a bit of hot chili. Magical thinking.

I love a pasta that feels lovely by design, where a few ingredients pull together to create a sum greater than the parts. This odd dish is one of those. And it’s wonderful on another level, since, for me, it’s usually made without much planning, out the necessity of getting dinner on the table fast. Last week, for instance, my husband was worn out and on the verge of what seemed like a complete freak from a particularly stressful work day. He came home depleted and fell asleep. When he woke up, at around nine, it was just the type of situation where alla vodka pasta goes into motion in my kitchen. I had farm stand tomatoes and basil from my garden. Everything else was pantry.

There are two ways to make this sauce. You either add a good amount of vodka at the beginning and let it reduce, or you drizzle in a small amount toward the end of cooking and leave it kind of raw. I’ve tried both and have come to prefer the first method.

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Penne alla Vodka with Late Season Tomatoes

(Serves 6 as a first course or 3 or 4 as a main)

6 or 7 medium-size round, ripe summer tomatoes (about 2 pounds)
Salt
1 pound penne
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 medium shallots, cut into small dice
1 fresh red peperoncino, well chopped
A big pinch of sugar
About 5 or 6 large thyme sprigs, the leaves chopped
⅓ cup vodka
1 heaping tablespoon crème fraîche
A dozen or so basil leaves, lightly chopped
Grana Padano cheese for serving

Set up a big pot of water, and bring it to a boil. Add a good amount of salt. When it boils, drop in the tomatoes, and let them bubble until you notice their skins just starting to crack, probably about 3 minutes, but depending on their ripeness. Lift them from the water with a strainer spoon into a colander. Save the cooking water. Run a little cold water over them, and let them sit until they’re cool enough to handle. Now pull off their skins, which should slip off easily. Chop the tomatoes into medium dice, and stick them back in the colander over a bowl. Toss them with a little salt, and let them drain for about 20 minutes, saving the tomato water.

Bring the pot of water back to a boil, and drop in the penne.

Get out a big skillet, and set it over medium heat. Add 3 tablespoons of the butter, and let it heat through. Add the shallots, the peperoncino, and the thyme, and sauté until everything is soft and fragrant, about 4 minutes. Add the sugar and a little salt. Add the vodka, and let it boil for a minute or so (you want it not completely boiled away but just cooked down enough to take the boozy edge off). Add the tomatoes, and turn the heat up to medium high. Let it bubble until the tomato pieces start breaking down and giving off juice, about 5 minutes. The sauce should be a bit liquidy. If it looks too dry, add some of the reserved tomato water. Add the crème fraîche, stirring it in. Turn off the heat.

When the penne is al dente, drain it, and pour it into a serving bowl. Add the last tablespoon of butter, and stir it around. Pour on the tomato sauce, add the basil, and toss. Taste for seasoning. Grate on grana Padano at the table.

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