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Crepes and Salad, by Julie Galante.

Recipe below: Crespelle with Ricotta and Many Herbs

The quarantine has steered my dream time toward people from my culinary past. Maria Guarnaschelli, my first cookbook editor, who I haven’t heard from in years, recently made a grand appearance. I was always a little scared of her. She continues to scare me in my sleep.

After New York got locked down I moved upstate to ride it out, feeling a little guilty for leaving my city but also grateful to have an escape. Recently I had a nightmare set in our upstate house. I was messing around in the kitchen with an old fashioned hand-cranked meat grinder. I don’t actually own one, but I remember my grandmother using one. I was putting ricotta through it, and it was making a disgusting mess. As ricotta shot out over counter and floor, anxiety ground its way up my esophagus. A car appeared in the driveway. Maria Guarnaschelli and some guy with bleached blond hair got out.

“Finally, I’ve found out where you’re living,” she said, striding into the house as if she owned it. “You can’t get away from me. Do you have Sicilian wine?” Yes. “Can you get us some?” I asked her if she shouldn’t be wearing a mask. She blew that off. “Do you have any antipasti? Roasted peppers or something?” I didn’t. “What’s for dinner?” I said I was making manicotti with crespelle, and that was why there was ricotta all over the floor. “I hope you have enough for fifteen people. The office will be here any minute.” Now several more cars pulled up, and throngs of people came into the kitchen, none of them wearing masks and definitely not social-distancing. They drank wine and laughed like at a party.  “We’re not supposed to be doing this,” I said. “Oh lighten up,” Maria snapped. Now I was terrified. Not only could I get the virus from any one of these unruly city people, but also I didn’t have enough for them to eat. I went upstairs to ask my husband what to do. He said, “How do I know? They’re your friends.”

I woke up scared. Then I went ahead and made crespelle, just to put a cap on my dream. And I made a lot of it.

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Crespelle with Ricotta and Many Herbs

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

For the crespelle:

1¼ cups regular flour
4 large eggs
Salt
1 tablespoon sugar
3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for cooking
1 cup whole milk
1 tablespoon cognac or grappa

For the filling:

2 cups baby arugula
2 cups baby spinach (or a mix of spinach and Swiss Chard)
1 cup lightly chopped basil leaves, plus a little extra for the top
1 cup lightly chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves, plus a little extra for the top
The leaves from 5 large marjoram sprigs
The leaves from a few large thyme sprigs
32 ounces whole-milk ricotta
1 garlic clove, minced
Salt
Black pepper
A few big gratings of nutmeg
2 eggs
1 cup grated grana Padano cheese, plus another ½ cup to sprinkle on the top

For the tomato sauce:

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large shallot, chopped
A splash of sweet vermouth
1 35-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

For the besciamella:

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 tablespoons regular flour
1 quart whole milk
Salt
1 fresh bay leaf
½ teaspoon nutmeg
A big pinch of Piment d’espelette

To make the crespelle batter, put all the crespelle ingredients into the bowl of a food processor, and pulse until smooth. The batter should have 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 before you use it. That will allow the flour to absorb the liquid and let the gluten relax, so you get a nice tender crepe.

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, choose that. 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 the pan. 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, trust me, you’ll find it fairly easy.) Let the crespella cook just until you notice it coloring lightly at the edge. Then shake the pan, moving the crespella 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 on the other side for about 30 seconds,. 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 all the greens and herbs in a pot of boiling water for about 2 minutes. Drain and run cold water over them to stop the cooking and bring up their green color. Squeeze out as much water as possible, and then give them a few good chops. Put the chopped greens in a bowl, and then add all the other ingredients for the filling, mixing well.

To make the sauce: Melt the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the shallot, and let it soften for about a minute.  Add the sweet vermouth, and let it bubble for 10 or 15 seconds. Add the tomatoes and the herbs, and season with salt and black pepper. Cook, uncovered, for about 5 minutes (not much longer, because you want the sauce to stay fresh tasting). Turn off the heat.

To make the besciamella: In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. Add the flour, and whisk until it’s blended into the butter. Sauté for a minute or so, without letting it brown, to get rid of the raw taste. Add all the milk, and whisk well again to blend. Add all the spices and a decent amount of salt. Whisk a few more times, and then let the mix slowly heat, whisking frequently. Keep whisking while keeping it at a low bubble, until the sauce becomes thick and smooth, about another 4 minutes or so. That should do it. Cover the surface with plastic wrap, so it doesn’t form a skin.

Heat the oven to 425 degrees.

Get out a baking dish big enough to snuggly hold the soon-to-be-rolled crespelle.  Or use two dishes. I usually do that. Oil it or them lightly with olive oil.

Fill each crepe with an ample layer of the ricotta filling, and roll it up. Place them all in the baking dish(es). Cover them with the besciamella.

Dot the top with blobs of tomato sauce (see the photo below), scatter on the remaining basil and parsley, and top with grana Padano. Give everything a drizzle of fresh olive oil and a few grindings of fresh black pepper, and bake uncovered until hot, bubbling, and lightly browned at the edges, about 20 to 25 minutes.

Let the crespelle sit for about 10 minutes before you cut them. It’s traditional to cut them into squares, as you would lasagna, instead of serving each person 1 or 2 whole, long crespelle. It really does look lovely that way.

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Crespelle ready for the oven.

Women with Fish

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I’ve finally been punished for all the octopi I’ve hacked up, hammered, boiled, and grilled in the past thirty years.  I guess it’s too late to say I’m sorry.

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Still Life with Potatoes, by Vincent Van Gogh, 1888.

Recipe below: Tiella Pugliese with Potatoes, Red Peppers, and Anchovies

I had a heartsick week. My cat Buddy, who was my best, closest, most loving cat ever, died of cancer. It’s been three days now, and I can’t say I’m anywhere near over the hump on the path of grieving. I feel as if my insides have been scraped dry. But I’m still me, and in times of trouble, I cook. I cook hard. Layering food can calm a broken heart. Structure is soothing. Seriously. When I’m sad, I often make a lasagna. I didn’t make a lasagna this time, but I did put together a tiella Pugliese.

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My cat Buddy loved my cooking, especially anything with scallops, calamari, shrimp, or clams, and frankly he didn’t always need them cooked. Love you Buddy.

This is an unusual layered casserole from Puglia, my father’s part of the country. It’s a piatto unico, always anchored by a few layers of potatoes. Most people don’t think potato when they think of Southern Italy, but it’s not all pasta there. Some fine potatoes lurk around. Tiella is both the name of the dish and the name of the dish it’s cooked in.

You start with potatoes. Sometimes you add rice. But then you might put in an inner row of mussels still in their shells, or slices of salt cod. Often tucked in somewhere are tomatoes, zucchini, or sweet peppers. I’ve eaten one tiella that contained artichokes. You’re layering up and baking some of the good things you have on hand to feed your people. All the flavors meld to form a seamless whole. You sprinkle a little caciocavallo inside to gently and deliciously hold the thing together. You cut it like a lasagna. This felt solid and correct for the time I’m in now. Good food helps.

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Tiella Pugliese with Potatoes, Red Peppers, and Anchovies

(Serves 5)

Extra-virgin olive oil
5 large Yukon Gold potatoes, sliced very thin—peel them if you like, but I didn’t bother
2 red bell peppers, roasted, seeded, peeled, and then cut into strips
Salt
Black pepper
Aleppo pepper
1¼ cup grated or thinly sliced caciocavallo cheese
6 canned Italian tomatoes, crushed with your hands
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
10 oil-packed anchovies, roughly chopped
6 or 7 big marjoram sprigs, the leaves chopped
6 or 7 big thyme sprigs, the leaves chopped
A big splash of dry white wine
A handful of homemade breadcrumbs

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Pick a nice looking casserole dish that will hold all the layers. I used a 7-by-10-inch Le Creuset rectangular one, but an equivalent oval or round dish will be pretty, too. Drizzle in a little olive oil, and lay down a layer of potatoes. Add the red peppers and some of the caciocavallo, seasoning with salt, black pepper, and a little Aleppo. Drizzle with olive oil.

Add another layer of potatoes. Then add the tomatoes and red onion and garlic. Scatter on the anchovies and half of the herbs.  Top with a sprinkling of caciocavallo. Give it another drizzle of oil.

Layer on the remaining potatoes, season with salt, black pepper, and Aleppo. Sprinkle on the rest of the herbs and any remaining caciocavallo. Drizzle on the wine.

Sprinkle on the breadcrumbs, and drizzle with oil. Season with salt and black pepper.

Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for about 45 minutes. Take off the foil, and bake until the top is browned and the potatoes are tender, about another half hour.

Let the tiella rest for about 15 minutes before you cut it. Serve it hot or warm.

I served it with an arugula salad, and it seemed exactly right.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Risotto da Romano, by Sonja DiMeola.

Recipe below: Risotto with Mushrooms, Peas, Thyme, and Saffron

I think it’s now six weeks since I left my city for upstate New York. The chipmunks I’ve been spying on from my kitchen window no longer look identical. I’m not sure what kind of accomplishment that perception is, exactly, but I’ve noticed that some are wider around the butt, some have longer stripes down their backs, some seem a rustier red. I’ve come to love the little guys, with their jerky movements and their skinny tails sticking straight up when they zoom by. And speaking of critters, I’ve been keeping an eye on Hudson Valley in Pictures, a Facebook group where locals post nature shots. I’m now envious of all the people who have foxes regularly hanging out in their backyards. One fox named Ginger is especially lovely, and now she’s got babies. Gray babies, soon to be red and fluffy just like her. I looked up how to attract foxes and have subsequently been flinging raw chopped meat around my yard. So far, no action that I can detect, but I’m not giving up. It’s boring up here, and these guys are gorgeous.

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Ginger of the Hudson Valley.

I’ve also been looking for morels, so far also with no luck. Maybe it’s a little early.  I’ll keep you posted on my progress.

My longing for morels got me thinking about mushroom risotto, a fabulous thing when made with wild mushrooms, but still semi-fabulous with plain old supermarket ones. I had a bag of fancy Vialone Nano rice I ordered from Gustiamo.com, so I set out to make my first risotto of this quarantine season. No morels in the markets up here, but I did find shiitake, oysters, and cremini. Those with a bag of frozen peas, some homemade chicken stock, and fine Spanish saffron made for a memorable risotto. I like my risotto on the loose side, not too glopped up with cheese. This one was that way. I find that these days there’s nothing like looking forward to a fine meal to broaden one’s boxed-in horizons. Try this with a few glasses of Provençal rosé. You won’t be disappointed.

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Risotto with Mushrooms, Peas, Thyme, and Saffron

(Serves 4 or 5)

A generous pinch of saffron threads
Extra-virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 large sweet onion, such as a Vidalia, cut into small dice
5 or 6 large thyme sprigs, the leaves chopped, plus a little extra for garnish
1 long rosemary sprig, the leaves chopped
¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 cups Vialone Nano or Carnaroli rice
3 cups chopped fresh mushrooms—a mix of wild and cultivated is good, but whatever you can get
Salt
Black pepper
½ cup dry vermouth
5 cups homemade chicken broth
1 cup peas, fresh or frozen
The grated zest from 1 lemon
A chunk of Piave or grana Padano cheese

If your saffron is moist (and it should be somewhat moist if it’s fresh), place it in a small pan and dry it for a few seconds over a very low flame. Then put it in a mortar and give it a gentle grind. It should break down into a powder. Add a few tablespoons of hot water to the saffron, so it can release its full flavor. If you just throw saffron threads into a dish whole, they won’t break down enough to reveal their full blossomy beauty, and the stuff is expensive, so you want to get your money’s worth.

Pour the chicken broth into a saucepan, and if you have any mushroom trimmings, add them. Bring this to a boil, and then turn the heat down and keep it at a simmer.

The best pan for risotto is one that’s wide and has straight, not too high sides. That will provide enough room for good evaporation and even cooking. So find a pan somewhat like that, and get it hot over medium heat. Add half the butter and a drizzle of olive oil. When it’s hot, add the onion, and let it soften for a minute or so. Add the herbs, the nutmeg, and the rice, and sauté a minute or so to coat the rice well. This will help it cook up separate and glossy. Add the mushrooms, and sauté until they’ve softened and are giving off some liquid, about 2 or 3 minutes longer. Season with salt and black pepper. Add the vermouth, and let it bubble for a few seconds.

Add a big ladle of the hot chicken broth, and give the rice a few good stirs. You needn’t go crazy stirring risotto constantly, so don’t get nervous here. The main thing is not to let it stick to the bottom of the pan, so just test it every so often with a few good stirs. When the rice looks almost dry, add more broth, and stir a few more times. Keep the rice at a good constant lively bubble and you’ll be in good shape. Add the saffron water, and stir it in. Keep adding broth as needed until the rice is just tender but still has a little bite. Add the peas and the lemon zest, stirring them in. Add a little more broth, stirring until the peas are tender and the consistency of the risotto is a little creamy. Add hot water if you run out of broth. In my experience, this whole process takes about 17 minutes.

Take the risotto off the heat, and add the rest of the butter and about 2 tablespoons of grated Piave or grana Padano, stirring it in. Add another small ladle of broth or water to ensure a loose, creamy consistency. Add a little more black pepper, and give it a final stir. Ladle the risotto into warmed serving bowls, garnish with the extra thyme, and serve right away, bringing the rest of the cheese to the table.

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Meatballs with Goat Cheese Spaghetti, by Kate Muirhead.

Recipe below: Meatballs with Moroccan Spices in a Tomato, Cinnamon, and Mint Sauce

How much ground meat does one freezer need? I seem to have a big collection, lamb and pork from various places, crappy beef from the supermarket, six or seven packages of good stuff from local farms. I’m not sure if it makes me feel more secure or out of control. It does make me feel a bit stupid. In normal times, I’ve always chopped my own meat, either by hand or with a grinder attachment on my food processor. Now I want it pre-ground and frozen, and I want lots of it. I don’t want to eat it so much as I just want to have it. And now I’m sick of looking at it all. It feels like unnecessary slaughter. Or am I taking it too seriously?

So I’ve been making lots of meatballs, all different ways, sometimes reaching back into my meatball-laden childhood, other times venturing off to foreign lands. My mother often made hers with raisins and pine nuts and a touch of cinnamon. That, I would say, was classic Neapolitan, often with a hint of Spanish-Arab. For my newest meatball creation I’ve taken this a step further, coming up with, I suppose, a cross between Moroccan kefta and Southern Italian style. I’ve added pork, definitely not Moroccan, and cheese, also usually not. And I’ve broken out my spices but not overdone it with them. The taste is gentle, a little sweet. The aroma of the things sizzling away in olive oil gave me a nice moment of much needed mind travel. It’s good to get out occasionally.

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Meatballs with Moroccan Spices in a Tomato, Cinnamon, and Mint Sauce

(Serves 4 or 5)

For the meatballs:

1 shallot, minced
1 garlic clove, minced
Extra-virgin olive oil
¾ pound ground chunk
¾ pound ground pork
1 large egg
¾ cup grated grana Padano cheese
5 thyme sprigs, the leaves chopped
A handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves, chopped
½ teaspoon each cumin, Aleppo pepper, sugar, coriander seed, cinnamon, and allspice
1 slice bread without the crust, soaked in milk
Salt
A splash of dry Marsala

For the sauce:

Extra-virgin olive oil
1 large shallot, minced
1 bay leaf, preferably fresh
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
A splash of dry Marsala
1 35-ounce can Italian tomatoes, chopped, with the juice
Salt
A handful of spearmint leaves, torn

To make the meatballs, sauté the shallot and garlic in a little olive oil until just softened, about 2 minutes. Combine all the other meatball ingredients in a large bowl. Add the shallot and garlic and a drizzle of fresh olive oil. Mix it all gently with your hands. Try not to overwork the meat. If it gets too compact, the meatballs may get tough.

I always taste my meatball mix before cooking to make sure it’s well seasoned and it seems right to me. That might not be for you, but I find it really helpful.

Form the mix into meatballs any size you like. I prefer mine about in an inch or so across, but you can make bigger ones. Put them in the refrigerator for about an hour to firm up.

In the meantime, make the sauce. Get out a large skillet, and set it over medium heat. Drizzle in a tablespoon of so of olive oil. When it’s hot, add the shallot, the bay leaf, and the cinnamon, and sauté until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add a splash of Marsala, and let it bubble. Add the tomatoes, season with salt, and cook at a lively bubble for about 5 minutes. Turn off the heat.

Get out a large skillet and pour in about ½ inch of olive oil. Get it hot over medium-high heat. Add the meatballs, and brown them well all over. Do this in batches, if you need to, so you don’t crowd them.

Heat the tomato sauce and drop the meatballs in it. Simmer gently for about 10 minutes, just until they’re cooked through.

Scatter on the mint, and serve hot or warm. These meatballs are especially good with bruschetta, toasted and then rubbed with garlic and brushed with olive oil. I think an escarole salad is a perfect follow-up.

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Peaches and Almonds, by Auguste Renoir, 1901.

Recipe below: Orzata and Olive Oil Cake

In normal times I’m one of those cooks who shop for dinner every day. There’s nothing in my freezer except vodka, gin, and ice cubes. Things sure have changed. I now worry constantly about feeding my people. Right now my people are my husband, Fred, my sister, Liti, often our neighbor Adrianne, my cats, Buddy and Little Red, and now Liti’s cat, Delilah.

Previously dinner was the only meal I cooked, and it was usually a recipe I’d been working on for a book or a magazine, or for this blog. So I gathered last-minute ingredients at 6 p.m. from West Side Market or Citarella or the Chelsea Market, and that was that. I bought what I needed for the recipe. I’ve never thought much about breakfast or lunch. I never had kids, because, frankly, I didn’t think I’d be able to take care of them. So no kids’ breakfast or lunch to prepare, my husband ate lunch at work, I went out to the deli for a sandwich or had leftovers, and my sister lived blocks away. Now I worry there’s nothing in the house for the meal. I’m making peppers and eggs and gashouse eggs and tuna salad sandwiches and grilled cheese with bad tomatoes. I need to remember to keep peanut butter in the house, and salami, and milk, and apples, and tons of cat food. I’ve finally become what I’ve always dreaded, a housewife. It feels weird.

Now I, like everyone, try to shop only once a week, and my small freezer is full. Sausages, ground meat, homemade chicken stock. I make chili and ragù, freezing half of it for a later date. I’ve also been making my olive oil yogurt cake again. It’s good for breakfast. Not too sweet, sort of healthy, I guess. I usually flavor it with vanilla or brandy or sometimes orange or lemon zest. Yesterday I noticed an ancient bottle of orzata syrup behind all my vinegars. I hadn’t used that in at least a year. It was a bit furry around the rim, but it smelled wonderful.  Every Italian-American has a bottle of this almond-flavored syrup hanging around. We used it all the time when I was a kid, mostly adding it to seltzer. My father would often plop a lump of lemon ice in our orzata sodas. That was the best summer drink ever. I don’t think about orzata much anymore, maybe because I’m not so fond of sweet drinks these days, preferring dry wine. But there it was, so I decided to add some to my olive oil yogurt cake. The result was subtle and kind of cozy. You might want to give this simple cake a try.

Stay safe. Eat olive oil cake.

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Orzata and Olive Oil Cake

2 cups all-purpose flour
A pinch of salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
½ teaspoon grated nutmeg
2 large eggs
1 cup whole milk plain yogurt
1 cup sugar
3 tablespoons orzata
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup blanched almonds, toasted, cooled, and roughly chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Rub a little olive oil into a loaf pan.

Put the flour in a medium bowl. Add the baking powder, salt, and nutmeg, and give it all a good stir.

In another bowl, combine the eggs, yogurt, sugar, and the orzata, and mix well. You can use a beater, but often I don’t bother.

Add the flour mix to the yogurt mix, stirring everything together. Add the olive oil, working it in. Now add the almonds, and give it all a quick stir.

Pour the batter into the loaf pan. Bake until browned and puffy, about 45 minutes.

I find this cake is as good with prosecco as it is with espresso.

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Still Life with Duck Eggs and Herbs, by William Robinson.

Recipe below: Arugula and Chickweed Pesto with Almonds and Gruyère

I never used to be particularly jealous of birds, but now I am. Especially the blue jays that seem to be laughing at our predicament. But in a happier vein, I just ordered a ton of herbs. I can’t start planting for probably another three or four weeks, but I wanted to put in my order ahead, because there are rumors of plant and seed hoarding, and I believe them. Everyone with a yard is going gardening crazy. The nursery I go to sells out in normal times, so I’m not taking chances on my lemon verbena now.

Before my own herbs get going, I satisfy my desire with store-bought ones and wild stuff I pull up in my yard. Chickweed is all over the place now. I love it. It tastes a bit like raw corn (or maybe more like corn silk). That might sound like a weird flavor to put into pesto, but it’s good. Maybe it wouldn’t be good straight, but mixed with arugula it sweetens up in an interesting way, and the Gruyère and butter I’ve uncharacteristically added here give the whole thing richness. If you don’t have any chickweed (but take a look around, you just might—right now mine is popping up with little white flowers), parsley will work well in its place.

I used this pesto on pasta, but it was also good the next day spooned over scrambled eggs. I can also see smearing it on a grilled cheese sandwich or stuffing it under the skin of chicken before grilling.

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Arugula and Chickweed Pesto with Almonds and Gruyère

(Makes enough for 1 pound of pasta)

3 big handfuls of baby arugula
1 smaller handful of chickweed (or you can use parsley)
½ cup blanched almonds
1 small garlic clove, roughly chopped
½ cup grated Gruyère cheese
½ cup grated grana Padano cheese
Salt
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

Set up a medium-size pot of water, and bring it to a boil.

Put in the arugula and the chickweed or parsley, and blanch then for a minute. Put them in a colander, and run cold water over them to set their color. Drain them well, squeezing out as much water as you can.

Put the almonds in the bowl of a food processor, and grind them well. Add the greens, the garlic, both cheeses, a good amount of salt, and the olive oil, and pulse until it’s all fairly smooth and a nice light green color. Add the butter, and pulse to blend that in. If the pesto seems too dense, add a little more oil.

If you’re using this for pasta, you’ll want to work in a little pasta cooking water while tossing it, to make it creamy.

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Still Life with Casserole Dish, Onions, Garlic, and Carrots, by Catherine Edmunds.

Recipe below: Spezzatino of Lamb with Fennel, Carrots, and Peas

Have you all found ways to keep busy? I hope so. If it weren’t for cooking, I don’t know what I’d be doing, or how I’d be doing, truly. I’m sure a lot of you feel the same. And, I must add, if liquor stores hadn’t been declared an essential business, I’d be way deep inside my own bad head by now. I tend to get withdrawn when scared, and wine can be liberating. There is, of course, with booze, the problem of diminishing returns, but so far I’m nowhere near that hazard.

Last night I decided to make Easter dinner. Since I have no idea what day it is, it may as well be Easter. Here’s my version of agnello con piselli, a Roman lamb stew that’s made for that holiday. It’s usually thickened with eggs. I’ve never been crazy about the texture that creates, so here I’ve just upped the vegetables, adding fennel and carrots, and worked in a slurry at the end to add body.

Try serving this delicate stew over fettuccine tossed with butter and more fennel fronds, or with bruschetta brushed with olive oil. An escarole salad is a good follow-up, with Rodda Peeps for dessert.

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Spezzatino of Lamb with Fennel, Carrots, and Peas

(Serves 5)

2½ pounds lamb shoulder, cut into 1½-inch cubes
Salt
1 teaspoon ground fennel seed
1 tablespoon sugar
Black pepper
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large fennel bulb, cored and cut into medium chunks, reserving the fronds
4 or 5 carrots, cut into thick ovals on an angle
2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
4 or 5 large sprigs of rosemary, the leaves chopped
2 fresh bay leaves
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 anchovy fillets, chopped
1 cup dry vermouth
3 cups homemade chicken broth
1 tablespoon honey
1½ cups fresh peas, or a package of frozen peas
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1½ tablespoons flour

Dry off the lamb chunks, and toss them with the ground fennel seed, some salt, black pepper, and the sugar.

Get out a large casserole fitted with a lid. Pour in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and get it hot over medium high heat. Brown the lamb well, doing it in batches so you don’t crowd it.

Turn the heat down a bit, and add the onion, the fennel, and the carrots. Sauté for about 2 minutes. Add the garlic, rosemary, cinnamon, bay leaves, and anchovies, and sauté it all until fragrant, about another minute or so.

Add the vermouth, and let it bubble for a few seconds. Now add the chicken broth and the honey. Add more broth or water, if needed, to just cover the meat. Season with a bit more salt and black pepper, and bring it to a boil.

Turn the heat to very low, cover the pot, and simmer gently until the lamb is tender, about 1½ hours. Don’t be tempted to let it go much longer. It’ll get dry. Lamb stew cooks faster than beef stew.

Skim any scum off the top. I find that lamb throws scum.

In a small bowl, mix the softened butter together with the flour. Add a big ladle of stew broth, and mix it in well. Pour this into the stew, and stir it in. Let it cook at a simmer for a minute or so to thicken the sauce.

Add the peas, and cook until they’re tender, another minute or two. Taste for seasoning, perhaps adding more salt, pepper, rosemary, a bit more cinnamon, or a drizzle more honey to balance the flavors. Add the fennel fronds. Serve.

 

Women with Fish

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In my mind, I’m all cooped up, but in my soul I’m riding high.

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Still Life with Tuna, by Sunshine Art.

Recipe below: Cavatappi with Tuna, Black Olives, and Arugula

I assume that most of my readers are, like me, getting through this period of isolation with the help of cooking. In normal times I wake up thinking about what I’ll make for dinner. Now I think about that constantly. I know that many cooks are reaching back into their childhoods and pulling out dishes from memories, both good and bad. I certainly am.

There’s no dish that reminds me more of my mother than pasta with canned tuna. It showed up on the table when she was angry, or at least that’s how it seemed to me. If I recall correctly, she served a version of this the night she hurled a piece of fruit at me, an apple, I believe, missing me but hitting my friend Scott in the head so hard that the barrel chair he was sitting on went spinning. Yes, I believe that was one of our pasta with canned tuna nights.

My mother made various versions of the dish, most often a sort of puttanesca with capers and olives and canned tomatoes, and also a pasta with tuna and peas, with or without tomatoes. I loved all the various takes. I haven’t made it in a while, but today I realized that though my Italian pantry was getting low, I still had all the fixings for this perfect one-dish meal. Maybe my sister will throw a wine bottle at me. I kind of hope so. Just to liven things up.

Get good tuna in olive oil. I like Flott and Agostino Recco, both from Sicily, and Ortiz, from Spain.  Prolonged heating messes up the delicate taste of the fish, so you’ll want to add it at the last minute and just warm it through. I understand that it’s not easy to find good stuff at the markets these days. I don’t usually buy Barilla pasta or Cento tomatoes, but that was all they had, and I feel lucky I got it. Do the best you can. It’s a very forgiving dish.

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Isolation era provisions.

Cavatappi with Tuna, Black Olives, and Arugula

(Serves 4 as a piatto unico)

Salt
Extra-virgin olive oil
1 shallot or small onion, chopped
1 or 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
A splash of sweet vermouth
1 28-ounce can Italian tomatoes, well chopped, with the juice
Aleppo pepper
1 pound cavatappi, fusilli, or penne pasta
A palmful of shriveled Moroccan olives, pitted
2 7-ounce jars or cans good tuna packed in olive oil, drained
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 or 6 big sprigs marjoram or oregano, the leaves lightly chopped
A big handful of baby arugula
Grana Padano cheese for the table.

Set up a big pot of pasta cooking water, add a lot of salt, and bring it to a boil.

While the water is heating, get out a large skillet, and drizzle in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat. Add the shallot or onion, and sauté until softened, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic, and cook until fragrant, about a minute longer. Add the vermouth, and let it bubble out. Add the tomatoes, season with salt and some Aleppo, and cook at a lively bubble for about 5 minutes.

Drop the pasta into the boiling water.

Turn the heat off under the tomato sauce. Add the tuna, the olives, the marjoram or oregano, and the butter, and stir everything around.

When the pasta is al dente, pour it into a big serving bowl, saving a little of the cooking water.

Pour on the tomato and tuna sauce, and toss, adding a little cooking water if needed. Check for seasoning. Add the arugula, and toss again quickly.  Bring the grana Padano to the table for those who want it. I like cheese with this tuna dish.