Radicchio Panzanella from “Eat This Poem”

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“Because when we eat and when we read, we honor what was made for us to consume. We savor every last bite.” -Nicole Gulotta, Eat This Poem

One of the great gifts of poetry is attention. Have you ever tried to read poetry like prose? It doesn’t work. You scan the lines and end up losing the thread halfway through. No, to read poetry you must slow down. Let the rhythm wash over you. Luxuriate with the feel of the words in your mouth. To understand poetry you have to fall in a little in love with it.

Cooking is the same. There’s a world of difference between cooking pasta and setting a pot of water to boil, adding a steady stream of salt, running your fingers through the pasta before adding it to the roiling water, and testing it until it embodies the perfect marriage of yielding and firm. When it’s done with attention and care,cooking ceases to be a chore and becomes a meditation.

If you care about both food and poetry you’re likely already following Nicole Gulotta’s brilliant site Eat This Poem. And if you’re following Nicole online- and even if you’re not- you need to check out her new book of the same name.

I say this as someone who was lucky enough to get a sneak peak of her  book. When I was taking notes for what to make I filled three pages of a legal pad. I started using symbols to keep everything straight- , a circle for make at work, a star for must-dos, a heart for date night. Her book is filled with simple, good food made with attention.

Nicole’s book is organized not around meals or seasons but by theme. These themes- On Splendor, On Moments in Time, among others- speak to the rhythms of our life. These themes are filled with poems and accompanying recipes. And what poems. I found myself lingering over old favorites from Theodore Roethke, Naomi Shihab Nye, Billy Collins, and Mary Oliver. And I fell for new to me poets like Jehanne Dubrow and Richard Levine (whose enclosed poem, “Believe This”, I emailed to two separate people in with the title OMG OMG. Look it up. Fall in Love.). There is splendor here.

It’s a brilliant idea. And what transforms a brilliant idea into a treasured work is that it works beautifully. The recipes are elegant creations, delicious and creative but written with life in mind. This is a working cookbook that exists in a space that’s been sorely neglected. Nicole is not preaching the gospel of a 30 minute meal. She’s not a chef whose sub-recipes have sub-recipes. Instead she’s an evangelist of the calming, attentive power cooking brings- choosing a peach, chopping parsley, gently cooking garlic until it’s just fragrant. These actions nourish us just as much as what we place in our mouth does, and Nicole appreciates these acts without fetishizing them.

In response to “Tree” by Jane Hirshfield, where Hirshfield speaks of “That great calm being/ This clutter of soup pots and books-” Nicole offers a segment of simple, comforting meals that feed the calm being in us. For this lovely radicchio panzanella found with Hirshfield’s poem radicchio is quickly seared then chopped. It’s then tossed with whole grain croutons, Parmesan cheese, white beans, and a punchy dressing and topped with chives. I was curious but cautious when I saw the recipe- radicchio is famously bitter and can be overwhelming. But I trusted Nicole and recommend you do the same. The heat tames radicchio’s bite enough that it will play nice with the other ingredients. It’s a dish unique enough to stop you in your tracks, but no harder than boiling and tossing pasta. And by the act of making something both commonplace and special you are are practicing the poetry of cooking.

Eat this Poem is released on March 21st and you can find it here. I already have a list of people I’ll be buying it for as gifts. Congratulations Nicole! You’ve created something truly exceptional.

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Radicchio Panzanella

Adapted from Eat This Poem: A Literary Feast of Recipes Inspired by Poetry by Nicole Gulotta, © 2017 by Nicole Gulotta. Reprinted by arrangement with Roost Books, an imprint of Shambhala Publications, Inc. Boulder, CO. www.roostbooks.com
Nicole recommends drizzling the radicchio with olive oil and sprinkling with salt and pepper, then searing it in a dry pan. I seared my radicchio in a healthy drizzle of olive oil because I was distracted and not paying close attention. (I am fully aware of this irony.) This meant that the radicchio was a bit more cooked, but was still excellent.

Serves 2-4

4 cups whole grain bread cubes (cut from about 4 slices each an inch thick)
olive oil
salt and pepper
1 pound radicchio (about 2 medium), wilted outer leaves removed and quartered
1 1/2 cups cooked white beans such as cannellini, or one 14.5 ounce can
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
minced chives

For dressing:

1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
2 teaspoons honey
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the bread cubes onto a sheet tray and toast until golden and crisp, about 12-15 minutes. Set aside and let cool.

In the meantime, warm a healthy drizzle of olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Place the quarters of radicchio in the pan and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Sear until the leaves are soft and just going brown in spots, then turn. Repeat until all sides of the radicchio have been kissed by oil. Transfer to a cutting board and roughly chop the radicchio. Place in a large bowl and top with the beans, bread, and Parmesan cheese.

To make the dressing, whisk together the balsamic vinegar, sherry vinegar, and honey. Add in the olive oil and whisk while it’s combining. Season to taste with a healthy pinch of both salt and pepper, then pour over the salad and toss well. Top with a flurry both of Parmesan and chives.

 

 

 

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Gougères with Gruyere and Shallots

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When I was 10 my parents made the decision to change churches. We went from attending Mass every Sunday at the a grand Cathedral to a small, scrappy church technically a mile away but actually in a different universe. It was no small decision. The Cathedral was where my parents had been married, where all three of their children had been baptized. It was where my dad had been an alter boy and a lector, and where many of my cousins attended school. It was large and elegant and intimidating.

Our new church was none of those things. The priests were Franciscans. They had nicknames and went barefoot on the alter. Babies were baptized naked. It was all new and exciting. And our new church was a bilingual parish.

My hometown had (and still has) a sizable Hispanic population. This was never something that I had encountered in my day-to-day life. My grandparents had been born in the same town I was. I knew where they had lived, the house my dad had been born into, where the only church that still spoke Slovak was located but somehow not about the huge swath of our town where signs were only in Spanish. Our neighborhood was mostly white. Our family was mostly white. My school was diverse, but the friends I hung out with outside of school were mostly white.

And my parents decided to change that. Soon we were attending bilingual services for feast days. After Mass in the summer we would eat paletas bought from the vender who arrived just as Mass was letting out. In the fall it turned to churros. My dad and I joined a choir and would sing verses alternating in Spanish and English. At church potlucks I happily ate tacos, but refused to eat more when I learned what lengua meant (tongue).

I want to be clear that this does not mean everything was all the sudden happy and easy. There were misunderstandings. There were missteps. I did not often want to go to services that would stretch to 2 hours, and where I only understood every 3 words. But it was good for us, as individuals and as a family.

I cannot, for the life of me, correctly use por and para, but there are hymns I will not sing in English. There is still nothing as good as a paleta in the summer heat. I am filled with gratitude of the humble  church where I was raised, where Aaron and I were married, that marched for immigration reform. It was not a wealthy church, but it was a rich one.

I was reminded of all of this last night, as the church I attended celebrated the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The church I attend here in Minneapolis is a Cathedral. It is large and elegant, but also warm. Last night there was a bilingual service. There was a procession of Aztec dancers. There were the words I have sung, hundreds of times, set to a different tune, but still “Santo, santo, santo, santo el Señor“. And there was a homily of hope in the darkness. About the radical nature of a brown-skinned Mary appearing in Aztec clothing and speaking Nahuatl to Juan Diego, an Aztec peasant. About how God is always with those who are oppressed, no matter when or where.

Gougères do not fit neatly with this story. But feeding people is one of the best ways I know to show love. I like to joke that I only speak culinary French, but the other half of the joke is that I only speak religious Spanish.

When we choose to love people it is not easy. It requires a steely resolve and great patience. It requires radical hope and realism. Love is not easy. But I would rather live actively working on love than live without it. And where I stand right now, love includes gougères .

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Gougères with Gruyere and Shallots

Makes about 30 gougères

Gougères freeze well, and can be baked straight from frozen. One great beauty of gougères is that they are so versatile. You could add herbs, spices, or different cheeses to these beauties to make them entirely your own. I’ve been known to bake gougères and eat them straight off the sheet tray. But if you pressed me for the best way to eat them I’d tell you to invite people over, make mulled wine, and serve gougères warm from the oven.

8 tablespoons (113 grams) butter
1 cup (226 grams) water
1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) salt
1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
4 eggs
1/2 a shallot, diced
1/2 cup (40 grams) finely grated gruyere

In a medium saucepan over medium heat melt together the butter, water, and salt. Bring the mixture to a simmer, making certain that all the butter is mixed, then add in the flour. Use a rubber spatula to stir in the flour, being careful to completely incorporate the flour. Continue stirring on heat, using the spatula to pick up and turn the dough, until the dough looks smooth and even. Turn the dough out into a large bowl.

Stir the dough with a rubber spatula every few minutes until the dough is at room temperature. Once the dough is no longer warm, add in the eggs, one at a time, stirring completely between each addition. It will first look as though the egg will refuse to combine, but continue working and it will cooperate. After the eggs have all combined stir in the shallots and gruyere.

If you are using a piping bag, use a medium sized round tip (or do as I did, and just cut a opening in your bag and don’t use a tip) and fill your bag. Pipe out the gougères onto a sheet tray lined with parchment paper. I aimed for mine to be an inch and a half in diameter and an inch in height and found that to be a perfect size.

If you are not using a piping bag, use two spoons to scoop the batter onto a sheet tray lined with parchment paper. Aim to use about 2 tablespoons of batter in each gougère. Be careful, regardless of which method you choose, to not let the gougères touch.

Put a tiny bit of water in a shallow dish. Dip your fingers in the water, and then use your fingers to shape the gougères as necessary. If you’ve piped your gougères, flatten out the tail on top. If you’ve spooned your gougères, smooth out any rough lines.

The gougères can now be frozen, or baked off. If you want to freeze your gougères just pop the tray in the freezer, then transfer to a ziplock bag once frozen.

When you are ready to bake your gougères, preheat your oven to 400. Bake the gougères, spaced an inch apart, for 20-30 minutes (20 for fresh, 30 for frozen), rotating the baking tray every 10 minutes. The gougères are ready when they are golden in color, firm to the touch, and light when picked up. Enjoy warm.

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Brussels Sprouts Burrata with Pomegranate

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There’s a game I like to play at work, where I ask my fellow cooks if they’d rather give up butter or cheese. The answer is almost universally butter. One participant only responded, “Kill me”, which is not a fair answer. All the same I think “Kill me” speaks to our dedication to cheese.

I love butter. Some breakfasts are only a piece of toast smeared with butter and topped with salt. I try to have pounds of butter on hand at all times. It’s difficult to imagine life without butter- from perfectly flakey pies to a hearty pad on a steaming baked potato. But cheese, man. I would give up butter in a heartbeat before forsaking the creamy mozzarella, the pungent camembert, the smoked gouda, and the sharp cheddar.

I loved cheese as a kid, but never ate burrata. My cheese consumption was mainly limited to mac and cheese, cheese pizza, and quesadillas. Burrata is one thing that I had never heard of until I was an adult. I’m sure part of it is growing up in the suburbs, where my culinary world was rocked by the introduction to hummus as a teenager. But part of it is also that our collective food culture has changed a lot in the past 15 years. When I was a kid I had never heard of kale, or tahini, or pomegranates. Now all these things are sold at Walmart. It’s a bit strange, but it’s also welcome. I’m all for better access to good food for everyone.

Burrata is an absolute treat, a ball of mozzarella filled with cream and more mozzarella. I had to make it at work for a time. It’s difficult, aching work involving both strength and finesse, and I’m sometimes not capable of either, let alone both at the same time. It’s also a good reminder that just because I can make it doesn’t mean that I should. There are things that are best left to professionals, and burrata is one of them. The best place to get creative with burrata is the toppings.

If you’re in the habit of serving fancy cheeses at parties, this would be gorgeous. The mild, creamy burrata tops a tangle of butter softened, balsamic spiked Brussels sprouts and hot pink pomegranate seeds on good, crunchy bread. The whole thing gets a drizzle of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. It’s nutty and bright and creamy and just salty enough. It disappears quickly.

But if you are not someone who hosts parties, or if you host parties but are more likely to serve your guests lentil soup than fancy cheeses (me, mostly), this is still worth making. It’s an indulgent meal and a lovely break from the routine. I like to think of burrata (and other good cheese) as an affordable luxury. I may not have it all the time, but when I have burrata I make sure to enjoy them.  I would make this for yourself for a lovely solo dinner, or with someone you adore.
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Brussels Sprouts Burrata with Pomegranate

This is a good basic template for multiple ways to eat burrata. And if you don’t eat cheese but still want something special, I have a feeling this Brussels sprouts and pomegranate seed topping would be great on pureed white beans.

Serves 2 for a meal, or more for a snack

1 1 /2 cup shaved brussels sprouts
1 tablespoon butter
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Good bread, cut into thin slices (I used 8)
1 ball of burrata
Pomegranate seeds
Olive oil
Flaked salt such as Maldon

Melt the butter over medium-low heat. Add the brussels sprouts and a pinch each of salt and pepper, then cook, stirring often, for 3-5 minutes until the brussels sprouts are broken down a bit but are still soft. Add the vinegar, stir well, taste and adjust for seasoning.

To serve, arrange the burrata in the center of a platter, surrounded by slices of bread. Top each of the bread slices with the Brussels sprouts and pomegranate seeds. Drizzle the burrata with olive oil and top with flaked salt. Serve at room temperature.

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Homemade Ricotta

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In my last post I was sappy. Today we’re getting cheesy. We’re making cheese. Specifically, ricotta.

I was introduced to making ricotta in restaurant kitchens. There we make it by the gallon, using a ratio instead of a recipe. 2 to 1 milk to cream. Boil with salt. Add acid. Set. Strain. The pure white curds that emerge are magic. When I tasted homemade ricotta for the first time I realized that ricotta is so much more than just a filling for lasagna. It’s creamy and light and almost sweet, and it plays so well with everything.

I’ve seen ricotta as a base for dumplings, as a component of a strawberry-chocolate dessert, and as a filling for bruschetta, among other things. In my own kitchen I eat ricotta on top of nutella smeared toast, as a topping for pastas, melted on pizzas, and straight from the spoon. Once you start looking it’s hard to think of anything that’s not improved with a smear of ricotta.

 

Ricotta is simple. You need a pot, a spoon, a colander (or sieve, but you may not have a sieve and you likely have a colander), and some cheesecloth. Cheesecloth should be available at most grocery stores for two or three dollars, and has a habit of proving enormously useful. And once you have the tools, it’s boil, stir, set, and drain. The whole process takes an hour with maybe five minutes of active time, and you’re left with the best ricotta you can acquire this side of $20 a pound.

Making ricotta also has the benefit of leaving behind whey. The whey is the milky, salty, slightly acidic liquid left behind when you drain the ricotta. I’m not going to promise you you’ll love it, but at this moment I am drinking whey straight from a coffee mug. It’s also magic in bread making. I recently made this pizza crust using whey instead of water and it was one of the best pizzas I’ve ever made. And if bread making isn’t your thing, whey would be fantastic in a creamy soup.

If you’re still on the fence, think of all the things you could eat with the ricotta you make.

-My mom used to make stuffed shells. These ones look like a grown up version of my childhood favorite.
-I made this cake with our old wonky oven and it was delicious. I can’t imagine how good it would be with homemade ricotta (and our newer, functioning oven).
-I love everything I’ve had from Anna Jones, and I’m willing to bet that includes lemon ricotta french toast.
-Baked ricotta? Baked ricotta.
-And to take advantage of the last of summer produce, a tomato and ricotta pie.

Homemade Ricotta

makes about 2 cups

4 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup lemon juice

In a  heavy bottomed pot stir together the milk, cream, and salt. Bring to a boil (200 degrees if you’d like to be specific) then turn off the heat. Stir in the lemon juice, and stir for 10 seconds. Let the whole mixture sit for 20 minutes.

Line a colander or sieve with a double layer of cheesecloth and place over a large bowl. Pour the ricotta mixture into the colander. Let it drain, undisturbed, until the ricotta is at the texture you want. This usually takes 20 to 30 minutes for me.

Save the whey separately from the ricotta. The ricotta should last refrigerated for a week, but it’s unlikely to last that long.

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Marinated Feta

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It was just a block of shrink-wrapped feta that was on sale at a local cafe/bodega. I picked it up on a whim, bought it, and carried it home in my purse. I don’t know what appealed to me about it- maybe that it wasn’t precious. It’s easy to get into a bubble sometimes, where I can get hand pulled mozzarella in bulk and assume everyone can find champaign vinegar. I’ve been spending some time in that bubble recently.

It wasn’t always that way. When I was a tween my parents somehow ended up with a subscription to Food and Wine magazine. My parents are many things, but “foodies” is not one of them. I read that magazine greedily. I wanted to go to the aprés ski parties in rustic modern mountain houses where they ate braised short ribs and hot chocolate affogato. I also wanted to know where in Sam Hill I was supposed to find adobo sauce and drinking chocolate that dotted those recipes. I know where to find both of those now. I’d still like an invite to the aprés ski parties.

It seems like in the past ten or so years our cultural interest and access to food has exploded. But this explosion was not evenly distributed. I get frustrated that it’s hard to find sumac or za’atar here in Minneapolis, and then get a text from my mom where she can find farro. And there’s nothing more frustrating than seeing a recipe for, say, baked peaches that has the headline “Don’t even try to make this if your peaches are less than perfect.” Perfect peaches. What makes a peach perfect and where do I find them? And if I do find them is baking them, which is a clever trick to turn much-less-than-perfect fruit into almost-perfect fruit, really the preferable use for those perfect peaches than eating them over the sink with the juices running down your arms?

All of this is to say that I’ve been thinking a lot about food quality and food cost. We spend a slightly embarrassing amount on our grocery bill here, and are trying to cut down. It’s true that if you have top quality ingredients it’s easy to eat well. But it’s false that the only way to eat well is to have those top quality ingredients.  Sometimes all it takes is a bit of creativity.

To whit, I made this marinated feta. I used the aforementioned block of shrink-wrapped feta- there was nothing fancy here. I chopped together garlic and mint, stirred with red pepper flakes, lemon zest, and olive oil, and poured over the block, then let it hang out in the fridge for 6 hours. The result is a flavor packed feta that’s far more elegant than its original incarnation. I tossed some pasta with this feta, chopped tomatoes, and the last of some roasted red peppers that had been hiding in the back of the fridge. Aaron made rice and beans, our customary pantry meal, and topped the whole mess with cubes of marinated feta, which brought a flavorful punch. I have plans to use the last bit as an omelette filling, but there’s a whole host of possibilities here. I think it’s fantastic with the first of the tomatoes (I’ve been choosing hydroponically grown tomatoes and feel no shame), and this could be a great component on a bruschetta or replacing the mozzarella in a caprese salad. This would also make a mean pizza topping, and I bet that blended with a bit more olive oil it would make a fantastic spread. And, of course, you could swap out the lemon peel for orange peel, the garlic for shallots, red pepper flake for your dried chili of choice, mint for almost any herb (but I bet oregano would be especially fantastic) or add in spices (saffron would be beautiful if you want to get spend-y) or pantry staples (anchovies or capers would be excellent).

Marinated Feta

one 8 ounce block of feta cheese
6 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves of garlic, minced
zest of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
small bunch of mint, chopped (about 1/4 cup chopped)

Place the feta in a small bowl or container where it can lay flat. In another small bowl, combine the olive oil, garlic, lemon zest, red pepper flakes, and mint and whisk together well. Pour over the feta. Cover, and refrigerate for at least 6 hours, or overnight. It will keep for a few days in the refrigerator.

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