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Is THIS delicious enough?

I’ve cleaned up my act. Asparagus, arugula, beets, lima beans, salmon, plain yogurt, walnuts, blueberries, raspberries and cantaloupe and a dearth of processed grains have shaped my daily menu. Instead of veering wildly from starving myself to voracious bingeing on pear and custard pastries or salt and pepper potato chips I’ve made sure to consume responsibly in a measured and thoughtful fashion. (Although I have to confess, I was occasionally saved from some very poor choices by a square of dark chocolate.)

Then over the weekend I read this article by Mark Bittman. And I watched his little video and became obsessed. As you know, I am a slave to a rustic soup and this one was full of pork fat, cheese and olive oil. I know it’s not possible to detox on all that animal protein and fat, but is it possible to eat this kind of food in the midst of a detox and still be committed to detoxing?! For me, the metric has to be based on how delicious and flavorful the food is – which is a very personal way to measure! It seemed crazy to even try this soup, but…I just had to! Even the most thoughtfully prepared detox food can quickly become very boring!

In Mr. de Carlo’s “Bone Soup” there is a side of baby back pork ribs (it could have been any piece of meat with a large bone but the pork neck the butcher had was frozen in a solid lump and I wasn’t willing to wait for it to thaw). There is a lot of olive oil, not only in the soup, but on the soup and also gilding the deftly salted croutons which garnish the soup with bright raggedly torn leaves of basil. And how about the two big handfuls of parmesan cheese, in the soup – adding body and complex, savory, tang – and then even more thrown over the soup for good measure? This is what Mr. Bittman has to say about it:

But it’s worth pointing out, I think, that the soup is neither a fat-bomb (I wouldn’t be surprised if it has fewer calories than Olga’s) nor one that lacks complexity.

I am still trying to figure out how this soup is not a “fat-bomb”…

Olga’s method, as described by Mr. Bittman, is strikingly similar to this recipe I love from Alice Waters, which if you can refrain from adding cheese, is actually vegan. It’s very very healthy. And Mark Bittman says that this might have fewer calories than a vegetable soup made with water and olive oil…Hmmm.

I can’t wrap my head around it. Oh well. I will just trust Mark Bittman!

I felt compelled to make this soup as soon as I read the recipe and I would hate not to try something so clearly marvelous because of some silly detox “rules”. This is how to think about it: Bone Soup is a little vacation from the Detox. And like a really good vacation it will be revivifying, meditative, transporting and totally necessary. It is an entirely different sort of health transgression from pastry and potato chips.  The thing is, you can eat pretty much whatever you want on a diet if you set seriously high standards – this means only eat food that is truly delicious. Since Bone Soup takes five hours from start to finish there is no danger of eating that way everyday. I wouldn’t want to. Who would?! It’s too rich. It’s a maybe once a week vacation from the berries, melons, lettuces, yogurt and fish that I usually eat.

Save this complex and warming soup for a cold day. Like yesterday.

Bone and Black Chickpea Soup

slightly adapted from Frank de Carlo’s Black Chickpea Soup

  • 1 cup black dried chickpeas, soaked over night and then drained (next time I’m going with the yellow chickpeas, black chickpeas are good but much more firm than the yellow)
  • 3 tbsp olive oil + more for the croutons
  • 1 pound baby back pork ribs
  • 1 red onion, diced
  • 1 carrot diced
  • 2 stalks celery
  • 1 14 ounce can peeled plum tomatoes, drained if very liquid and chopped
  • a bay leaf
  • a few sprigs of thyme
  • 1/2 cup white wine
  • 1 pound rustic bread cut or torn in 1 1/2″ chunks
  • 1 cup chard leaves, washed and roughly shredded
  • 2 eggs
  • coarsely grated parmesan – about 3 cups
  • fresh basil leaves, washed, dried and torn into large pieces
  1. Over a medium flame, heat 3 tbsp olive oil in a 7 quart heavy stock pot or Dutch oven.  While the oil is heating, lightly season the meat with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. When the oil is shimmering, start browning the meat. There should be a distinct sizzle but no smoke. If you happen to burn the fond (the delicious brown crispy stuff on the bottom of the pot, be sure to wipe it off before you continue to the next step or your soup will taste acrid.) The meat should be deeply browned on both sides but not burnt.
  2. After the meat is brown, add the tomatoes, bay, thyme sprigs, drained chickpeas, wine and enough water to cover everything by an inch. Cover the pot and bring the soup to a simmer over medium high heat. Then turn the heat to low, with the lid half way off. You can simmer for 3 – 5 hours.
  3. While the soup is simmering, take a moment to make the croutons. Heat the oven to 325. Toss the bread cubes in a bowl with some olive oil, 3 or 4 tablespoons and a pinch of sea salt. Bake on a rimmed baking sheet for about 10 minutes or until they are golden and crisp. Remove and set aside until ready to serve.
  4. When both the meat and the beans are fully cooked and tender, remove the meat to a cutting board and when it has cooled slightly, shred the meat and discard the bones, fat and gristle. Add the shredded meat back to the pot.
  5. Beat the two eggs together in a small bowl and then whisk into the soup. Whisk in 2 cups of the parmesan, and swirl in a little more olive oil
  6. To serve, ladle the soup into a wide soup plate or bowl. Garnish each with a few large croutons, another drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkling of parmesan cheese and several torn basil leaves.
Mr. de Carlo describes this soup as Umbrian. I don’t understand how this works exactly, but when I eat something like this, so complex and so distinctly of a certain place, it’s like being right there in Umbria just for those few moments you are eating. And for me that is reason enough to make this soup.

 

 

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Delicious Detox: Salad Nicoise

It’s not the type of cinnamon roll I usually go for, the very sticky kind with gooey frosting. And there were eight of them, really huge, scented with cardamom from this truly marvelous bakery in Manzanita Oregon. We hadn’t anticipated they’d be so enormous. And the kids, even though they were ravenous from hours of playing on the beach, couldn’t even finish one. Which left me alone in the kitchen with a half finished box of cinnamon rolls. I didn’t eat them all at once and of course I didn’t eat every last one. I’m not that much of a glutton. The kids had made a significant dent. But over the course of a day and a half, the remainder slowly and steadily disappeared. They were fantastic. Which brings me to the topic of today’s post: May will have to be Delicious Detox Month.

I was actually going to write about making pizza because I have a new method and I totally love it. However when I discovered there was no wi-fi at the Manzanita cabin my friend Liz and I rented (and really, given my track record of never writing blog posts on vacation, maybe it would never have been written anyway) I ended up waiting another week to write. Then, with the cinnamon roll debacle and feeling rather on the wrong side of forty and clearly not bathing suit ready at all and June being right around the corner, I knew I wouldn’t be writing about pizza. Not this month…It’s time for Delicious Detox. Liz, of course, coined the catchy phrase.

I still feel I should provide the link to the pizza dough here. It’s perfect for any night of the week, being so easy (no kneading!) but it was also just perfect for a Saturday night last weekend. (I guess this is the kind of thinking that leads to taking all of May off from pizza and pastries…) A breeze to stir up and to form; the dough baked out chewy and crisp all at once. Also, you really should try my current favorite pizza accoutrements (melted leeks, bacon, white cheddar, breadcrumbs, finished with arugula) for which, if you ask in comments, I will be happy to provide directions. Here is a photo:

As far as the Delicious Detox goes, don’t worry, there is no way I would subsist for a week on honey/cayenne water or what have you. My little brother did that once and from his dizzying experience I know that method is not for people who have to drive carpools or make dinner every night for a bunch of ravenous children. Also, I don’t believe in talking about dieting in front of kids. I talk about making “healthy choices”. Here’s how it will go: I will eat a lot less meat. I will vigilantly search out seasonal vegetables. I will take advantage of halibut and salmon season. I will snack on fruit and drink only water. (I will still have a latte for breakfast though – I’m not completely crazy.)  Go sugar free the entire time – no maple syrup, no honey. Only whole grains, if grains are on the menu. Sometimes a little challenge is fun. I promise that whatever I write about will taste delicious – not like compressed hay bales or rabbit food.

In anticipation of the new regime, which will start May 1st, I was inspired to make Salade Niçoise. I was hoping to get some sashimi grade ahi to sear as a substitute for the traditional canned tuna. At the seafood counter, the fresh tuna looked grim and the fish guy deeply apologetic.

“I was hoping I could just sear it.” I said doubtfully.

“Uhhh. It should be alright.” You might describe his look as shifty.

I headed over to the canned fish aisle. Line caught tuna, local, packed in olive oil. It is the traditional choice even if it wasn’t what I’d envisioned.

Salade Niçoise

serves 4

  • 1 bunch slim asparagus, ends trimmed (traditionally these would be green beans, boiled. Asparagus is what I had on hand)
  • 12 new potatoes
  • 12 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1/3 cup pitted Niçoise olives
  • a splash of white wine or vermouth
  • a small head of red lettuce
  • 2 handfuls of arugula
  • 2 cans albacore tuna packed in olive oil
  • 4 boiled eggs: start in cold water and when the water has reached a boil, cook for 5 minutes. Then drain and cool in cold water.
  • 3 tbsp flat leaf parsley, rinsed and finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp fresh basil, rinsed and finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 tsp french mustard
  • 3 tbsp red wine vinegar
  • 9 tbsp extra virgin olive oil plus extra for broiling the asparagus
  • sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Put a medium sized saucepan, half full of water on the stove over high heat.
  2. Preheat the broiler to high
  3. Place asparagus on a rimmed sheet pan with 1 tbsp olive oil and a generous pinch of salt and lots of pepper. Toss until coated.
  4. Broil for 3 minutes, turning or shaking the pan once after a minute or two. The asparagus should have some brown spots and smell wonderful. Remove from the hot pan and set aside on a plate to cool.
  5. When the water in the saucepan is boiling add 1 tbsp salt and the potatoes. When the water returns to the boil,  lower the heat to medium and set a timer for 12 minutes.
  6. While the potatoes are cooking, rinse and dry the lettuce and arugula leaves and arrange on a large platter.
  7. In a medium bowl, whisk the red vinegar, the mustard, the herbs, 1/2 tsp sea salt and a generous grinding of pepper. Slowly pour in the olive oil in a thin stream, whisking constantly.
  8. Drain the tuna and toss with 2 tbsp of vinaigrette.
  9. When the potatoes can be easily pierced with a fork, drain them and leave them to cool slightly. When you can handle them without burning yourself, quarter them, and toss them in a small bowl with the vermouth.
  10. Add 5 tbsp of vinaigrette to the potatoes. Allow to cool a bit.
  11. Peel and quarter the eggs.
  12. Toss the cherry tomatoes with 1 tbsp vinaigrette.
  13. Toss the rest of the vinaigrette with the salad leaves.
  14. Arrange the asparagus over the lettuces. Arrange the potato salad either in a heap in the middle or evenly over the whole platter of leaves.  Dot the platter with tomatoes, eggs, tuna and olives.

Have I left anything out? David Lebovitz says you choose either tuna OR anchovies. He also said Niçoise salad is perfectly fine with no fish whatsoever. So I didn’t forget anchovies – I just made a choice. So can you. That’s the fun part.

Perhaps next month there shouldn’t be quite so much olive oil…

Manzanita, 2012


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Rarified poached egg on toast

If you were walking down Federal Avenue last Friday, and you happened to look up through the windows of my dining room, you would have seen a solitary woman at the table, eating lunch a tad more ceremoniously than one might usually when eating alone at home. That was me. It was a cold bright sunny day and I was taking this lunch seriously, some might say with intent, on a proper plate with a linen napkin. (Often my lunch is peanut butter and bitter marmalade on whole wheat toast, eaten standing up at the kitchen counter.) Mary Alice, who is beyond generous, brought over half a dozen, warm, very fresh eggs from Gumbo and Kebab, her chickens. Finally, I could recreate the poached eggs on toast with roast asparagus, satiny folds of prosciutto, and truffle butter I had last spring at the Girl and the Fig in Sonoma, on another sunny, much warmer, day in California.

In preparation for the eggs, I spent just a few minutes adding truffle oil and sea salt to softened french butter. Mashing it in, then tasting. Too much oil? Too much salt? When is it delicious enough? Oh, the sacrifices I make! Spending the morning making and tasting truffle butter indeed! If you remember lunch from the Girl and the Fig, you probably remember the truffle butter. You only need a tablespoon. It is easy to make and the oil is pretty easy to come by. Roast asparagus takes one minute of prep, four minutes in the oven. No problem there. The bread and even sometimes Prosciutto di Parma you can buy at the supermarket.

What aren’t so easy to come by, unless you have your own chickens, are fresh eggs. I hate to say it, but to enjoy this lunch, you have to have a very fresh egg. Even though the sandwich (somehow this really doesn’t feel like the right word!) is very simple, it is one of my top ten meals. I feel very lucky. Everyone should have a friend like Mary Alice.

Poached Egg on Toast with Prosciutto, Asparagus and Truffle Butter

  • 1 slice excellent bread with some whole wheat and a little rye if possible, a scant 1/2″ thick
  • 2 tbsp olive oil, divided
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1 very fresh egg
  • 1 slice prosciutto di Parma
  • 4 asparagus spears, rinsed, woody ends snapped off
  • 1 tbsp french butter, or cultured butter, at room temperature with a few drops of truffle oil and a small pinch of kosher sea salt mashed in, to taste
  • several pinches of kosher sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  •  a skillet and a little metal pan you can put under the broiler.

Perfect poached eggs

  1. Set the broiler to high. Raise the oven shelf to the top rail.
  2. Heat up the skillet for a few minutes over medium high heat.
  3. Add 1 tbsp butter and 1 tbsp olive oil. When the butter stops foaming, add the bread. Let it sizzle but don’t let it burn. It should be deeply golden and crisp before you flip it over. Toast both sides. Place the toast on a nice plate.
  4. Lay a slice of prosciutto over the toast.
  5. Wipe out the skillet and fill it with water. Heat the water over high heat until it simmers. Add a tsp of salt. When the water is simmering crack the egg into the water. You may need to lower the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. If you have never poached a very fresh egg before, you’ll be amazed to see how the white holds together in a perfect oval! Now I know why the eggs I typically poach look so sloppy. Cook until the white is firm, about 5 minutes. Don’t let the yolk harden. That’s your sauce.
  6. Just as soon as you crack the egg into the water, toss the asparagus on the metal broiler pan with 1 tbsp of olive and a big pinch of kosher sea salt and a generous grinding of black pepper. Put the asparagus under the broiler for 2 minutes, then turn them over, they should be crisp and a little brown. Set them back under the broiler for 2 more minutes. When they are browned but before they become floppy and overdone, remove from the oven. Take them off the pan and put them right on top of the prosciutto. You don’t want them to continue to cook on the hot metal pan.
  7. Remove the egg from the boiling water with a slotted spoon if you have one, and carefully lay it on top of the asparagus. Dab the heaping tbsp of truffle butter on the side of the plate.
  8. Sit somewhere quiet and hopefully tidied up, with a large clean linen napkin and a glass of mineral water. Eat your lunch peacefully, without rushing.

After the asparagus and prosciutto and most of the toast and egg were gone, I found myself chasing tiny crisp crumbs around the plate with my knife, carefully scooping them up against the blade and then dipping the tip into the truffle butter. Some of the large grains of sea salt caught in the buttery crumbs adding mineral crunch and tang.  Then of course there were the traces of molten yolk that got scooped up too. I licked the end of knife. That was such an excellent lunch.

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