I first ate dim sum in 1968 at Nom Wah, on Doyers Street in New York’s Chinatown. (The place is still there.) The appeal of the service style was immediate and tremendous — why couldn’t every meal be an uninterrupted stream of small, exotic dishes brought to you on a gleaming (or at least functional) cart? I’m quite sure that I said, either on that visit or one of the frequent ones that followed, “Someone needs to do this with non-Chinese food.”
Tasting menus and tapas bars came close, but nothing quite captured the spirit of the dim-sum cart. Until last year, when State Bird Provisions opened on Fillmore Street in San Francisco.
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A phrase often used (overused, really) to describe well-made gnocchi is “light as a cloud.” It’s not an especially instructive description for a piece of real food, and for cooks hoping to try their hands at gnocchi for the first time, it can be downright daunting.
It’s true that gnocchi requires a bit of technique, but achieving that cloudlike texture — “light” is perhaps a simpler, less intimidating word — isn’t actually that difficult.
Read the rest of this article, get the recipes, and watch the video with Mario Batali here.
This sauce/side dish — a simple combination of fennel, tomatoes and olives — is magical. Not because it’s the best thing you ever ate, but because it’s transportive: you eat it and you’re in the Mediterranean. This is even true with winter tomatoes (though of course it’s better with those of summer, and see my suggestion below), because the dominant flavors are fennel and olives.
The fennel is cooked until almost jammy. It will never become as tender as onion, but it gets close. The heat barely diminishes its distinctive anise flavor and gives the final compote a lovely texture. Garlic, thyme and capers are all supporting cast members.
The olives are really the stars. If you use good olive oil, so much the better, but the oil that comes out of plump, juicy and unpitted olives is really sensational, and yes, I honestly believe that the pits contribute a flavor that isn’t there otherwise.
There are the up-and-coming root vegetables with near-celebrity status — celeriac, parsnips, beets — and then there is the potato. Simultaneously beloved and despised, the potato is our most-grown and most-eaten vegetable and the one that is sometimes seen as a leading villain in the obesity pandemic.
O.K., but chips and fries are not the only ways to eat potatoes. A good potato can be incredibly delicious sautéed in a little garlicky olive oil, simmered in stock, boiled and drizzled with the tiniest amount of butter and a sprinkle of mint or mashed with greens. No one is going to convince me that these preparations are going to make us fat.
And those are just the start. In the something like 10,000 years since the potato was cultivated (it has been in the hands of Europeans and their descendants for only 500), there have been something like 10,000 different ways of cooking it. Here are a mere 12, but at least a few of them are bound to be new to you. All of these recipes are based on about two pounds of potatoes, roughly four medium to large spuds.
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The gleaming, massive lamb shank on these pages, impressive though it may be, is not the most effective way to serve what amounts to the shin and ankle of a lamb.
It’s glorious, for sure, but it has a number of disadvantages, the first of which is that a small-to-moderate lamb shank weighs in at more than a pound, a nice serving size in the ’70s (or the Middle Ages) but a bit macho for most of us these days. The second is that it’s difficult to cook — size alone makes it awkward, and penetration of flavors is an issue. It’s difficult to eat. And finally, that same graphic quality that makes for such a gorgeous photo reminds some people more of its source than they’d like.
Besides, I’ve slowly begun to realize that my most successful lamb dishes were made from what was left over from a meal of lamb shanks. A couple of months ago, when braising season began, I cooked two sizable lamb shanks and, of course, enjoyed them. But I really got into it over the following couple of nights when I wound up using them to create a marvelous ragù and then transformed the ragù into a lamb-tomato-bean stew that could not have been much better.
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Last month, Sam Sifton and I took up the job of cooking for 15 people at a friend’s home in Brooklyn. The idea was to feed and impress friends, family members and colleagues without driving ourselves nuts. It’s possible. And to do so, we decided not to spend more than eight hours obsessing over, shopping for and preparing the meal. We endeavored to buy all our ingredients in the morning and then cook through the afternoon. Dinner was called for 6 p.m.
There’s a simple logic in putting together a big holiday feast. You want variety — even vegans are pretty easily satisfied by bounty — but you don’t want to be cooking individual meals for each person. A couple of easy decisions at the beginning start a cascade of choices that generate a menu. We wanted a high-low meal: a beautiful yet manageable dinner bookended by an impressive starter and an eye-popping dessert. In order to pull this off, we first had to decide on a main course, a meat dish. After rejecting pork (too obvious), beef and lamb (too expensive), we settled on chicken. We were near Sahadi’s, the Middle Eastern market on Atlantic Avenue, so Sam resolved that the chickens would be roasted with preserved lemons. Golden and crusty, with a zing from the salty, acidic taste of the lemons, they would be a perfect bridge from our opulent appetizer into our decadent dessert. For sides, we settled on pilaf, a salad and roasted root vegetables, which are as seasonal as it gets this time of year.
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THE predicament I found myself in was also an opportunity, and not unlike the puzzle that faces C.S.A. participants each week: I had a pile of vegetables and I had to figure out what to do with it. (A C.S.A. — for community supported agriculture — is a scheme in which participants share in a farmer’s risk and bounty, putting money down upfront and getting a periodic share of the crop in
I was in western Wales at Blaencamel, a 50-acre farm owned by Peter Segger and Anne Evans, friends of my friend Patrick. The couple began growing food organically nearly 40 years ago, and work 15 acres in vegetables plus an astonishing acre of greenhouses. I’d offered to cook dinner, not knowing exactly what that meant. And in the shed that housed the little honor-system shop on the farm (on Dec. 1, mind you), I was overwhelmed by all those greenhouses produced. All I needed to do was choose and cook.
As usual, I began with no idea of what would eventually wind up on the table. But I did have my standard plan: I’d choose what seemed most appealing and figure out what to do with it when we got to the kitchen.
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Believe it or not, there is more than one way to roast a turkey. First, you must ask yourself what you really want. I’ll offer you three options: A fast, crisp-skinned bird, moist and not overcooked, served with roasted vegetables; a leisurely braised bird, also with veggies; or the classic stand-up roast, presented beautifully in all its glory, prepared in a straightforward manner.
If you want speed and don’t mind a novel look, choose the flattened bird, which employs a method that goes by the quaint name of spatchcocking. It takes a little work at first, because it’s a little more physical than other techniques: you have to remove the backbone, flatten the breast and dislocate the thigh joints from their sockets. None of this is difficult, but it may be a bit much for some. The reward is a lovely roasted bird with a not-overcooked breast and perfectly done legs; it also cooks in about an hour — yes, you read that right: an hour. The downside, apart from the butchering, is that some might consider it weird-looking.
There is nothing new or unusual about mashed squash or about mashed vegetables on toast. (What’s new is that the toast is now frequently called crostini, but that’s not exactly revolutionary.) Still, there is such a broad range of foods that can be served on toasted bread that it’s not surprising some of these will come as revelations.
This squash-and-toast combination is served by Dan Kluger, the executive chef at ABC Kitchen. Something about it drives me wild: the squash is creamy but chunky, rather than puréed. There is a lot of complex sweetness, but acidity as well, and it’s lean as well as fatty. (It doesn’t take a detective to see the layer of ricotta underneath the squash.)
Put it on a nicely toasted piece of bread and you have a real winner. But it also occurred to me that the mashed squash alone would make a terrific Thanksgiving side dish.
So I asked Dan’s boss, my friend Jean-Georges Vongerichten, to show me how to put it together.
I would not have figured the dish out myself, which made this a rewarding experience. Jean-Georges peeled the squash: almost any winter squash will yield to a sharp knife and some patience, though as I wrote a couple of weeks ago, thin-skinned varieties like delicata are easier to peel or can be left unpeeled entirely. He cut the squash in half, took out the seeds and sliced it into not-quite-random pieces, mostly about 1/4-inch thick. These he roasted with oil until they were tender enough to mash; by that time, a few had blackish, caramelized ends.
To cut to the chase: next, he confited onion slices with both maple syrup and apple cider vinegar. Veteran cooks will immediately get the idea: Cook the onions awhile, until they’re dark and soft, then add the two liquids and continue to cook until they’re jammy. The process could take as long as an hour, depending on the heat, your attentiveness and the water content of the onions. But it isn’t difficult.
At that point, the two preparations are simply mashed together. If you serve them in a bowl at Thanksgiving, you will be serving something on a, er, higher level than mashed sweet potatoes with marshmallows. Otherwise, lightly toast some good bread in olive oil, spread it with a light, fresh cheese and top with the squash. Do not forget the mint; it’s not the same without it.