Spring

Dalida Restaurant's "Mom's Pasta" 

By Danielle Frum

In the heart of Tel Aviv’s Levinsky market on Zebulun Street, you’ll find a chic, glass door opening in the row of otherwise traditional market stalls selling spices and fresh fruit. This is the entry to Dalida, the two-year-old restaurant opened by Dan Zoaretz — one of the new chefs leading the rage for Israeli fusion food. Zoaretz, who for the better part of his young career worked in Asian cuisine restaurants, decided to break out and embrace his mixed, exotic heritage:

“My grandmother was from Yemen, my father from Libya. There is a lot of European in there too,” Zoaretz told me as we sat at a front table in the restaurant one recent morning, just as the day was getting started.  Delivery men passed back and forth hauling crates of fresh vegetables while outside I could hear the grates opening on neighboring stalls.  Zoaretz said he chose the name Dalida after the Egyptian-born singer  who "performed in more than 10 languages, including Arabic,  Italian, Greek, German, French, English, Japanese, Hebrew, Dutch and Spanish.”

I asked Zoaretz which was his favorite of his menu's ambitious combinations? He pointed to an item simply listed as “Mom’s Pasta.”  This, he explained, was a traditional fresh pasta in pomodoro sauce, but with a Lebanese twist — including the addition of cumin. He serves it on a standard brown glass plate — a tribute to the surrounding humble ethnic market restaurants where, at lunchtime, old men crouch over Persian and Yemenite dishes served up on the same type of plate. Indeed Dalida is a tribute to the whole Levinsky market — applying old methods to completely modern creations.


Serves 4. 

1 pound homemade or high-quality fresh paparadelle pasta 
4 tbs olive oil, plus more for spiced garnish mixture 
2 large yellow onions, chopped 
2 large carrots, peeled and chopped 
1 cup fresh parsley, chopped 
2 cups fresh ripe tomatoes or one 28-ounce can of San Marzano whole tomatoes, cut in half, plus 2 fresh tomatoes chopped 
Pinch of ground allspice 
1 cup roughly chopped garlic 
2.5 ounces spicy dry chili 
2.5 ounces sweet red paprika 
1/2 tsp cumin 
1/2 tsp ground caraway seed 
Olive oil 
Handful fresh oregano leaves 
Freshly grated Parmesan-Reggiano 
Handful fresh basil leafs, shredded 
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste 

For the sauce: 
In a medium-saucepan heat 2 tbs of the olive oil and saute the chopped onion for five minutes. Add the chopped carrots and saute for five minutes more. Add the parsley and the halved tomatoes (plus their juice if using canned). Bring the mixture to a boil, stirring several times. Then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for three hours, adding water if necessary. When finished, use a food processor or immersion blender to blend everything into a smooth sauce. Add the allspice and season to taste with salt and freshly ground pepper. 

Meanwhile, using a mortar and pestle, mash the garlic with the dry chili, paprika, cumin, caraway and salt to taste. Slowly drizzle in some olive oil, mixing until smooth. Keep refrigerated until ready to use. 

When ready to make the pasta, bring a large pot of salted water to boil.  In a medium saucepan over medium high heat, add the remaining 2 tbs of olive oil. Saute the chopped tomato until almost burned. Then add the sauce and fresh oregano leaves. Turn down the sauce, and simmer until ready to use. 

Boil the pasta until al dente, according to directions (if fresh this will be no longer than 3-5 minutes). Drain and toss with the sauce. Sprinkle with the basil leaves and add the cheese, salt and pepper to taste. Serve each bowl with a spoonful of the spicy garlic sauce on top. 

* * *

 

Mona Restaurant's Cold "Arabian Salad" Consomme

 

By Danielle Frum

First up in our series of recipes from Israel's hottest new chefs is this consomme based on a deconstructed Arabian salad by chefs Moshe Gamlieli and Itamar Navon, of Mona restaurant in Jerusalem. There is a reason Kim and Kanye stopped by to dine here on their visit to the Holy Land in April, where they baptized their daughter North. 

Located in what was a 19-th century Ottoman mansion-turned-art-school (Bazelel, the first art school in Israel), for 40 years Mona served mainly as a non-Kosher bar to the city’s political activists and intellectuals, being one of the few places to drink on a Friday night. in subsequent decades,  it became a more formal, intimate restaurant serving French-based cuisine.

Four years ago, Mona was bought by the owners of a popular restaurant based in the famous Mahane Yehuda market, where Gamlieli, now 28, worked as a chef. The menu changed to a more seasonally-based one. Then, five months ago Gamlieli and Navon, 30, were able to able to secure financing to buy the restaurant.

They completely upended its menu. “We were unleashed,” the two young chefs told me, smiling. To do what? As they say themselves, “it’s hard to refine our cuisine to one style.” Gamlieli has cooked in the United States, France and London; Navon for his part has worked in London and Australia. “We are always trying to learn,” Navon said. “Sometimes our dishes are classic. Sometimes they are very young.”

The menu itself appears simple: Printed in basic Courier font, the descriptions are terse. 

Tomato Consomme. Pickled Cucumber. Chervil.

Fish Carpaccio. Chili oil. Tomato Seeds. Oregano. Labne.Buttered Chicken. Gratin. Mustard Hollandaise. Tagliatelle. Clams. Lemon Butter. Soft Egg. Botargo.

 There is a little bit of everything here — French, Italian, even Indian — but what makes the dishes special is that they are always brought home with some original element of local spices or ingredients. And, staying true to Mona’s heritage, this is not the place to come to if you are avoiding traif. 

I asked the chefs what was their most innovative dish. To my surprise, Gamlieli replied, “The tomato consommé. It is outstanding.” What could be so outstanding about a consommé? Not wishing to leave me in doubt, he disappeared to the kitchen. He returned with a small glass bowl. empty except for a little pile of chopped garnish — tomatoes, oregano, some fennel leaf. On the side was an equally small glass pitcher filled with a clear, cold liquid. Gamlieli poured the liquid over the garnish, offered me a spoon and invited me to taste it.

“Where is the tomato?” I asked. He nodded at me again to taste. 

What I tasted was indeed outstanding. The soup, while completely colorless, was rich with the flavor of the freshest tomatoes, cucumbers and other elements of an Arabic salad — which in fact was what the chefs had based it upon. The secret lay in blending the vegetables all together, and leaving the mixture to drain overnight through cheesecloth. It makes for the perfect starter to a Shabbat lunch, not least because it is made the previous night and served chilled. Plus, there is that WOW factor from the very first sip. 

Serves 6.

6 ripe tomatoes 
1 small cucumber 
3 whole cloves of garlic, peeled 
6 sprigs fresh oregano leaves 
2 sprigs fresh mint 
6 sprigs fresh basil 
1/4 of a small Spanish onion, peeled 
1 stalk celery 
1 tbs sherry vinegar  
5 tbs olive oil 
1/2 cup water 
Salt, freshly ground pepper to taste. 
  
Garnish: 

1-2 radishes thinly sliced
Fresh oregano leaves 
Small cucumber thinly sliced and soaked in the cosumme untill soft 
6 cherry tomatoes cut into quarters 
Fennel fronds (optional) 
  
Roughly chop all the vegtables and herbs,and put all of the ingredients into a blender. Blend well for 3-5 minutes, in batches if necessary. 

Line a strainer with damp cheesecloth and place over a large bowl. Pour in the blended vegetables and let strain overnight in the refrigerator. Discard with all the leftover pulp. Soak the cucumber slices for garnish in the consomme until ready to serve. 

To serve: Taste the consomme and season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Distribute the garnish ingredients among six clear glasses or small bowls. Fill a small jug with the consomme and pour over the garnish in each glass or bowl.

* * *

 

The Best Hummus

Mmm hummus at Abu-Hassan in Jaffa. 

By Danielle Frum

"In Israel, everything is political, including the hummus."

My guide, Yuval Zelinkovsky, said this as he tore off a piece of pita and expertly folded it into a small, origami-like boat -- a technique that, as he demonstrated, provided for optimal dipping. We were sitting in what is generally regarded as the best hummus joint in Tel Aviv, Abu-Hassan, a family-owned and operated business on one of the ancient side streets of Jaffa.

I guess in some ways what we were doing might be viewed as political: Jews breaking bread with a demographic mix of customers at an Arab-run establishment. But fortunately, the only territory we had to fight over was a space at one of the few narrow tables in the otherwise tiny restaurant (if the term restaurant can even be applied to Abu-Hassan, which serves precisely three dishes: hummus, a variation of hummus, and a creamed fava bean dish named fal which also includes, you guessed it, hummus). 

When we arrived on a weekday at lunch time, a line stretched out the door and perilously into the narrow cobbled street. It was not the kind of place to get huffy about tables: if you weren't willing to grab the next available seat at a shared table, you could take your hummus at the curb. Abu-Hassan was my first stop on what would become, truly, a magical exploration of Israeli culture, primarily through food. 

Although it was my third trip to Israel, I'd never taken the time to appreciate this side of the country. Like so many tourists on a limited schedule, I'd largely skipped Tel Aviv in favor of the major historical sites in Jerusalem and beyond. On one of my journalistic visits, I'd met with Arab and Jewish spiritual leaders; I took tea in a Palestinian house on the West Bank, and that same evening dined with Israeli politicians to discuss the unceasing, troubling issues of peace. 

This time I wanted to side-step politics altogether -- to the degree it was even possible, as Yuval pointedly observed. I wanted to experience Israel as those who live there experience it -- not hustling myself through a series of sites, nor focusing on the news headlines -- but as the vibrant and diverse society it has become.

Joining our table at Abu-Hassan, in fact, was a prominent Israeli musician, whom Yuval recognized. We'd spent the morning working our way up the hill of Jaffa, the oldest port in the world dating back some 4,000 years and from where the eponymous orange comes from (which, in 1948, became the new state of Israel's first major export -- politics again!). 

Jaffa now resembles an exotic Middle-Eastern version of Manhattan's Meat Packing district. Old warehouses and fish stalls have been hollowed-out and refashioned as studios for artists; Ottoman-era balconies protrude from newly renovated condos; there are picturesque galleries selling paintings, sculptures and jewelry; hip coffee houses happily co-exist with old-style shawarma vendors; and the ancient Jaffa flea market is still a bustling destination for bric-a-brac of all kinds, from antique Arab tea tables to, well, junk. As in, junk junk. 

If you didn't already know about Abu-Hassan's hummus, it would not be the sort of place you'd be likely to stop in. Despite the tell-tale line, it is -- like so many authentically ethnic restaurants in Israel -- completely indifferent to aesthetics: plastic chairs and veneer-top tables are arranged in the claustrophobic space higgledy-piggledy, so as to maximize dining discomfort. You must either squeeze into a chair or past one. The server -- there is <em>a</em> server, give them that -- has to pinball it through the room and reach over heads to deliver the bowls of hummus. P.S. the restaurant doesn't believe in napkins. 

Yuval ordered the works: the original hummus, which interestingly came with a side sauce of hot pepper and lemon juice; subuch, which is a chunkier, warm version of hummus traditionally eaten at breakfast; and fal. These dishes were dealt to the table like cards from above our heads, along with an incoming basket of fresh warm pita, and our Fanta drinks of choice (don't ask for a wine list).

That being said, Wow. Wow wow wow. 

The hummus was as creamy as yogurt; the recipe somehow achieved the perfect balance of tahini (crushed sesame paste) and ground chickpeas, which had been soaked and stewed for hours. The hummus was then garnished with olive oil, cumin, sweet paprika and warm whole chick peas; you added the hot-pepper-lemon sauce to taste. Admittedly I am used to eating store-bought hummus out of the fridge. The room-temperature fresh hummus combined with the warm chickpeas and seasoning was an entirely different creature from its loser supermarket cousin -- as different, say, as homemade gelato is from frozen-hard, generic-brand ice cream. 

The subuch was similarly divine, warmer and more filling; the fal was fine, but blander and less satisfying than the two hummus dishes. 

Yuval and I went silent as we reverently, if greedily, plowed our little pita boats back and forth between the hummus and the subuch, leaving oily wakes on the plates. Finally we were full and willing to surrender our seats to the next in line. One our way out, Yuval asked our server what was in the subuch recipe so we might share it with our readers. The server laughed.

"Hummus," he said.

This recipe for hummus comes as close as any to Abu Hassan's. It's adapted from Sami Tamimi and Yotam Ottolenghi's cookbook JerusalemOttolenghi writes: "Our basic hummus recipe is super-smooth and rich in tahini, just as we like it, and can be kept in the fridge for up to three days and used simply spread over a plate, drizzled with olive oil and eaten with a pita or bread."

Serves 6.

1-1/4 cups dried chickpeas
1 tsp baking soda
6-1/2 cups water
1 cup plus 2 tbs tahini (light roast)
4 tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
4 cloves garlic, crushed
6-1/2 tbs ice cold water
Salt
Best quality olive oil, to serve 

The night before, put the chickpeas in a large bowl and cover them with cold water at least twice their volume. Leave to soak overnight.

The next day, drain the chickpeas. Place a medium saucepan over high heat and add the drained chickpeas and baking soda. Cook for about three minutes, stirring constantly. Add the water and bring to a boil. Cook, skimming off any foam and any skins that float to the surface. The chickpeas will need to cook for 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the type and freshness, sometimes even longer. Once done, they should be very tender, breaking up easily when pressed between your thumb and finger, almost but not quite mushy.

Drain the chickpeas. You should have roughly 3-2/3 cups now. Place the chickpeas in a food processor and process until you get a stiff paste. Then, with the machine sill running, add the tahini paste, lemon juice, garlic, and 1-1/2 teaspoons salt. Finally, slowly drizzle in the ice water and allow it to mix for about five minutes, until you get a very smooth and creamy paste.

Transfer the hummus to a bowl, cover the surface with plastic wrap, and let it rest for at least 30 minutes. If not using straightaway, refrigerate until needed. Make sure to take it out of the fridge at least 30 minutes before serving. Drizzle with olive oil. 

 * * *

Summer Beet Soup

 

By Danielle Frum and Anne Applebaum

It's hard to imagine a summer in the Polish countryside without chlodnik: Icy cold, tasting of fresh dill and kefir (or light yogurt), with a glimmer of sweet beets and crunchy cucumbers. It is the most refreshing food you can possibly eat on a hot afternoon. The color -- light pink, with flecks of green -- is elegant enough to serve as a first course of a formal lunch, though chlodnik can also be eaten on its own as a light supper. The taste and texture contain echoes of Greek tzatsiki and Spanish gazpacho, but the combination is thoroughly Polish. Although, just to confuse you, Poles often call this soup chlodnik Litewski, which means "Lithuanian chlodnik." That is one more testimony to the close relationship of Poland and Lithuania, which were bound together in a single state for many centuries. 
As with many traditional dishes, there are many versions of chlodnik. We prefer a lighter version, made with kefire if you can get it, or nonfat yogurt if you can't. We also like to use hard-boiled eggs, which gift the soup some heft (for a more exotic and elegant touch you may substitute quail's eggs). But if that doesn't appeal, leave them out entirely. Try to use fresh beets, as these will produce the best color. Avoid using a golden beet for this recipe. You'll want the final soup to be pink.

This recipe is adapted from our cookbook, From a Polish Country House Kitchen: 90 Recipes for the Ultimate Comfort Food. Photo by Bogdan Bialy. 

Serves 6.

2-3 medium beets, or 5 to 6 small beets
2 medium cucumbers, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 small celery stalk, lightly peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1/4 cup plus 1 tbs finely chopped fresh dill
1/4 cup plus 1 tbs finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 large bunch of fresh chives, finely chopped
1 tsp salt
1 tsp freshly ground pepper
Pinch of sugar
8 cups kefir or plain nonfat yogurt
3 large eggs or 12 quail's eggs, hard-boiled 
  
In a large saucepan, cover the beets with water and boil until soft. Drain and let cool, and then remove the skins (they should slip off; use rubber gloves if you don't want to look like you've just committed a murder). 
Cut the beets into relative small, even dice -- about 1/4-inch. Toss the vegetables and herbs in a large bowl, together with the salt, pepper, and sugar. 
Pour in the kefir (or yogurt), and mix all the ingredients in the bowl together well. Refrigerate for a few hours, preferably overnight. You will notice that the beets will have "bled"-- creating bright pink streaks. Stir to even out the color, bearing in mind the summery blush is part of the soup's traditional charm. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve; then peel and thinly slice the hard boiled eggs, using a half egg per serving. If using quail eggs, halve them and use two per serving. Mix the soup again just before serving and ladle into individual bowls, placing the egg slices on top.

* * *

Rolled Pancakes with Jam

By Danielle Frum and Anne Applebaum

This recipe, for traditional Polish "nalesniki," is the third and last in FT&V's series on seeking a better blintz for Shavuot. While the word "nalesniki" does translate as "pancakes," these are closer to French crepes, and closer still to Hungarian "palacsinta": They are thinner and more limp than American pancakes, and are meant to be folded around something, not eaten in a stack with maple syrup.  
There are savory versions -- you can wrap them around a chicken sauce or some grilled vegetables. But we think the pancakes work best with Polish plum jam ("powidla"), which is thick, sticky, and not too sweet. Eaten with jam (or with butter and sugar), they make an excellent breakfast, or even a light supper. Inevitably they are the thing you make when there's nothing in the house except eggs and flour, which happens to everybody from time to time. Children unfailingly love them. 
This recipe is adapted from our cookbook, From a Polish Country House Kitchen: 90 Recipes for the Ultimate Comfort Food. Photo by Bogdan Bialy. 

Makes for approx. 15 pancakes.

1 cup plain low-fat yogurt
2 large eggs
1/2 cup cold water
Pinch of salt
1-2 tbs vegetable oil, plus more as needed
Plum jam or another jam of your preference 
  
Place the yogurt, eggs, water, flour, and salt in a large mixing bowl and whisk until the batter is very smooth. You can also do this in a blender or food processor if you prefer. The batter should be well-blended and the consistency of light cream.  
Cover the batter with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1-2 hours, or in a pinch, for at least 20 minutes. (This allows the flour to absorb some of the liquid and it makes the batter lighter.) Heat a small frying pan or crepe pan if you have one, preferably non-stick, over low heat. Spread just enough of the oil over the bottom to cover it thinly -- you can use a brush or towel to do this. When the pan is hot, pour in enough of the batter -- about 1/4-cup for a 9-inch pan -- so that it makes a thin, smooth film covering the entire pan.  Lift up the edges to check the pancake; when it is lightly browned, usually about 2 minutes, use the spatula to flip it over (or of course, flip it in the air like they do in the movies, if you dare). Cook for 2 minutes more, or until lightly browned. The finished pancake should be thin but not at all fragile. 
Treat the first pancake as an experiment; if it has cooked too fast, lower the heat. If the batter seems too thick, beat in 1 tsp water, and add another if they are necessary. As they are done, stack the pancakes on a plate covered with a paper towel to absorb any oil. Keep them warm if you can, but they are usually eaten at room temperature, so they needn't be very hot. 
When ready to eat, spread each pancake with jam and roll them up. Let the children put on their own spread. You are allowed to pick them up and eat them with your fingers.

* * *

Blueberry and Ginger Crepes with Lemon Ricotta, Mint, and Honey Drizzle

By Danielle Frum

In our quest for a better blintz for Shavuot, I looked toward France -- and specifically Normandy, ground zero for the world's best crepes. A blintz, after all, is an Eastern European take on a French crepe. It employs sweetened cheese and usually a fruit topping. And yet -- as readers know -- I find the result unfailingly disgusting. I know many of you disagree with me, and have even upbraided me on Twitter for my dislike of the fat, fried Polish/Russian variation.

So here is my compromise. I emailed my friend Jens Korberg who, with his partner, Bruno Francois, run The Old Third winery in beautiful, rural Prince Edward County, Ontario. As Bruno's last name suggests, he is of French origin, specifically from the small town of Yquelon, Normandy, where his grandfather made cider and Calvados. A couple of years ago, Bruno figured out that the same land he was growing his Pinot Noir grapes upon was also perfect for cultivating "the noble Golden Russet," an apple that produces an especially dry and sophisticated cider. Now the winery produces cider as well -- and, reaching further back into his culture, Bruno last summer set up a true Normandy-style crepe stand for Old Third visitors. The crepes are a natural companion to the cider (I'll vouch to the wine as well). Yet it fell to the Swedish-born Jens, the chef of the pair, to come up with a weekly seasonal recipe for the crepes. I remembered -- indeed, could still taste -- a blueberry and ricotta version he created.  Jens wrote me back with the recipe, which appears below. His crepe batter is perfection: it produces light and lacy crapes with a toasty edge. The filling is minimal: only a couple of tablespoons of both cheese and fruit are needed per crepe. The result is more like pastry than overstuffed crepe.  If this can qualify for a blintz, then I LOVE BLINTZES.

NOTE: Before making these, I ran out  and bought an 11-inch Staub crepe pan -- which comes with the traditional wooden spreader and spatula. The spreader took a few spoiled crepes to master but I really enjoyed it. You can also make the crepes in a heavy cast-iron pan (suggest 9-11 inches in diameter). Swirl the batter around thinly and evenly, and then follow the directions below. 

Makes for approx. 12 crepes 

For the batter:

5 eggs
1-2 large pinches of salt
4 cups milk
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 oz (4 tbs) unsalted butter
Olive oil (for frying the crepes) 
 

In a large bowl, add eggs, salt and one cup of milk. Sift in some of the flour and whisk until smooth. Add another cup of milk and some more flour and repeat until all flour and milk is added. (I used the whisk attachment on my immersion blender, which worked well.)

In a small sauce pan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Keep it on the heat until it foams and big bubbles start to form. Take it off the heat and set aside to cool for a few minutes. It will continue to brown.

While whisking, slowly add the butter to the batter. Continue to whisk until well mixed. Let rest in the fridge for a minimum of two hours, or overnight. Stir well before using.

For the filling: 

2 cups blueberries (frozen or fresh)
1 tbsp freshly grated ginger
1 cup sugar
Zest from 1/2 lime
1 tsp good vanilla extract
1 tsp white wine vinegar 
2/3 cup extra smooth ricotta cheese 
2 1/2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice 
1 tbsp sugar 
Honey and fresh chopped mint for finish


In a medium sauce pot, add the first six the ingredients and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer for 10-15 min, stirring occasionally. The blueberries will melt into a delicious soupy jam sauce. 

When thickened, set aside and let cool slightly. Press through a sieve if you want it smooth. Meanwhile mix the ricotta, lemon juice and sugar in a medium bowl until combined. 

Making and assembling the crepes:

Heat your crepe pan over medium heat until nice and hot (I found a true medium, over a gas flame, was the perfect temperature for the crepes. You may have to experiment a little: the crepes should neither scorch quickly nor be too slow to brown.)

Take a clean dischloth, roll it up, and then tie an elastic or piece of string a couple of inches from one end, creating a puffy applicator with which to spread the oil on the hot pan.  When the pan is ready, pour in a tablespoon or so of the olive oil, and then use the cloth to spread the oil evenly around on the surface. 

Ladle the batter onto the pan and swirl it quickly so it evenly coats the pan, or use a spreader (depending on the size of the pan, you will need 1-2 ladles of batter -- again this is something you will need to experiment with. Just be prepared to write off the first few crepes. Your dog will be happy). It doesn't have to be a perfect circle although you will feel irrational, French-like pride if it is.

Check the edges as they brown and, using a thin spatula or the wooden crepe turner, carefully lift the crepe to see if it is evenly brown. If so, turn it over. The crepes aren't as delicate as you think, and when cooked on one side they are amenable to being flipped. When the other side is spottily brown it's ready for filling. (For reasons I couldn't understand, the first side always looked better than the second, so flip it over again so the spotty side will be on the interior when you fill it.) 

Take a couple of tablespoons of the ricotta mixture and smear over the center-top of the crepe. Spoon some of the blueberry mixture in the same position on top. Then, like a crepe Maestro, use the spatula to fold the bottom up first, then fold over the two sides. (As you can see in the photo, the top half of the crepe is kept open.) Immediately remove to a plate, drizzle with honey and chopped mint. Start the next one right away, oiling the pan as needed after every few crepes.

We like to eat them right off the pan, assembly-line fasion, but if you want to prepare a bunch in advance, make a stack of crepes and let cool. Then, when ready to proceed, bring the sauce and ricotta to room temperature, fire up the crepe pan again and lightly warm each crepe. Remove to plates, and fill and fold as directed. 

* * *

Buckwheat Blintz with Creamy Rainbow Chard and Gruyere

By Danielle Frum

Buckwheat is a nod to the blintz's Russian origins that, when dealing with a savory filling, gives the whole thing an earthy heft.  Fresh rainbow Swiss chard appeared in my framer's market this past weekend. I felt the Dairy and Shavuot planets were in alignment for a creamy, cheesy marriage between the crepe and fresh seasonal ingredients.

The creamy rainbow chard  filling is adapted from Bon Appetit.  Crepe batter recipe is by Jens Korberg of The Old Third.

Makes 10-12 crepes.

Buckwheat Crepe Batter:

5 eggs
1-2 large pinches of salt
4 cups milk
3 cups buckwheat flour
2 oz (4 tbs) unsalted butter
Olive oil (for frying the crepes) 
 

In a large bowl, add eggs, salt and one cup of milk. Sift in some of the flour and whisk until smooth. Add another cup of milk and some more flour and repeat until all flour and milk is added. (I used the whisk attachment on my immersion blender, which worked well.)

In a small sauce pan, melt the butter over medium-high heat. Keep it on the heat until it foams and big bubbles start to form. Take it off the heat and set aside to cool for a few minutes. It will continue to brown.

While whisking, slowly add the butter to the batter. Continue to whisk until well mixed. Let rest in the fridge for a minimum of two hours, or overnight. Stir well before using.

When ready to make the crepes, heat a crepe pan, or 9-11-inch cast-iron nonstick skillet, over medium heat until nice and hot (I found a true medium, over a gas flame, was the perfect temperature for the crepes. You may have to experiment a little: the crepes should neither scorch quickly nor be too slow to brown.)

Take a clean dischloth, roll it up, and then tie an elastic or piece of string a couple of inches from one end, creating a puffy applicator with which to spread the oil on the hot pan.  When the pan is ready, pour in a tablespoon or so of the olive oil, and then use the cloth to spread the oil evenly around on the surface. 

Ladle the batter onto the pan and swirl it quickly so it evenly coats the pan, or use a spreader (depending on the size of the pan, you will need 1-2 ladles of batter -- again this is something you will need to experiment with. Just be prepared to write off the first few crepes. Your dog will be happy). It doesn't have to be a perfect circle.

Check the edges as they brown and, using a thin spatula or the wooden crepe turner, carefully lift the crepe to see if it is evenly brown. If so, turn it over. The crepes aren't as delicate as you think, and when cooked on one side they are amenable to being flipped. When the other side is spottily brown it's ready for filling. (For reasons I couldn't understand, the first side always looked better than the second, so when you fill it, use the spotty side for the interior.)

 For the filling:

Kosher salt
2 large bunches Swiss chard, ribs and stems cut into 2” lengths, leaves torn into 2” pieces
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, plus 1-2 tablespoons for baking
2 medium shallots, sliced
Freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup heavy cream
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1 cup grated Gruyere

 

 Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Cook chard leaves in a large pot of boiling salted water until tender, about 1 minute. Drain; transfer to a bowl of ice water to cool. Drain and squeeze well in a clean kitchen towel to remove excess moisture.

Heat butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and chard ribs and stems, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring often, until tender, 5–8 minutes. Add cream; bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer, stirring often, until thickened, about 4 minutes. Add chard leaves and cook, stirring, until warmed through and coated with cream sauce. Add zest, 1/2 cup of the cheese and season with salt and pepper.

Assembling:

Spoon about 2 tbs of filling onto the bottom third of a crepe. You're going to turn this, basically, into a big burrito: Fold the bottom over the filling, fold int the two sides, and then fold down the top and make it all snug. Continue to do with the other crepes until the filling is gone.

Arrange the blintzes in a shallow baking dish. Sprinkle with the remaining cheese and dot with butter. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the cheese is melted. Remove, separate and serve immediately.

* * *

Springtime Shabbat: Asparagus Three Ways

 

By Danielle Frum

It's admittedly awkward to confess that my middle-aged self thrills at the sight of the first asparagus to arrive in my local farmer's market. My embarrassment is somewhat mitigated by the thrill of my children at same. Nothing says spring more than bunches of new aspargus heaped on rickety wooden frames. Ramps don't really count. I'll take zucchini blossoms as a runner up. But asparagus! Ahhh...

The problem with asparagus is that if you're going to do it right, it takes a little work. Nothing is more disheartening -- from an asparagus afficiandos' view -- than a boiled, undercooked, and unpeeled stalk. I don't know where the fashion for undercooking vegetables arose, but it's especially unpleasant when it comes to woody types of vegetables such as asparagus. If you're dealing with a thickish stalk, you need to break it in half and shave it down from its head, or else you're going to be left with something akin to chewing on a stick. The ready-to-cook version should resemble a Marine standing at attention -- the entire body peeled and sinewy topped by a jar head. Pencil-thin asparagus doesn't need to be peeled, but it, like its thicker compadres, needs to be broken in a brutish way -- don't just try to break off the bottom tip but let it separate where the toughness dictates, sometimes as much as half or more of the whole stalk.

Here is broken asparagus, untrimmed v trimmed:

Once you have done this you will be justly rewarded with the sweetest and most tender aspargus you have ever tasted. For our Shabbat celebration of this fleeting spring vegetable, I've included two basic side recipes and one main course recipe.

  1. Asparagus with Lemon and Butter

Serves 4.

2 lbs fresh aspargus, trimmed and peeled as directed below
1/4 cup unsalted butter
The juice of one lemon
Freshly ground pepper and salt to taste

Rinse the asparagus and break each stalk where it naturally severs from its tough base. Don't be a hero and try to preserve the whole stalk. You may be surprised at how short the resulting trimmed stalks are -- but all of it will be super tender when cooked. Bundle the stalks and secure with twine or an elastic band.

Bundled asparagus ready to be plunged into boiling water:

Meanwhile fill an asparagus pot with salted water and bring to a boil. Place the bundled  aspargus into the strainer and lower it into the boiling water. Depending on the freshness, it should only take 2-5 minutes to cook. You want it soft but not mushy. Strain and remove to a mixing bowl when done. Toss with the butter, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Arrange on a platter and serve immediately.

  1. Roasted Asparagus

This is the supreme and lazy way to cook asparagus. You don't even have to peel it. You can rinse, break and toss it in a roasting pan and your guests will be convinced that you are the greatest chef since Escoffier. Just please don't reveal how easy it is.

Serves 4

2 lbs fresh asparagus
1/8 c olive oil
Freshly ground pepper and salt to taste
Juice of one lemon

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Break the aspargus at its natural point, ensuring you remove all of the tough stem. Toss with olive oil and grindings of the pepper and salt. Distribute evenly in a heavy roasting pan.

Roast until browned and tender, approx 20 min depending on the thickness of the asparagus. Turn and check for doneness halfway through.

When ready, remove from the oven, squeeze over the lemon juice, check for seasonings, and serve immediately.

 III. Spring Risotto with Asparagus, Morels and Baby Peas

Serves 4.

This is essentially a one course meal perfect for Shabbat, You can enhance it by adding a side salad, but truly it isn't needed.

1 oz dried morels
2 oz fresh morels, rinsed and roughly chopped
1 lb fresh asparagus
2 tb olive oil
2 tb butter
½ c chopped onion
1 cup frozen baby peas
1 cup Vermouth
1 1/2 cup Arborio rice
Zest of one lemon
¼ cup crème fraiche
 1 cup freshly grated Parmesan Reggiano
Freshly ground salt and pepper to taste

Soak dried mushrooms in 2 cups boiling water for at least 30 min. When ready, drain but preserve stock. Thoroughly rinse the dried mushroms and roughly chop. Set aside.

Meanwhile bring another large saucepan, with 3 cups of water, to boil.  Peel the aspargus up to their heads and chop into 1/4-inch rounds, leaving the heads intact. Blanche heads in the boiling water until just tender, about  a minute or so. Drain the asparagus but preserve the water: bring it to a gentle boil.

In another deep heavy saucepan, preferably cast iron, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat, and saute the chopped onion until soft. Add dried and fresh mushrooms and chopped asparagus. Saute for two minutes more and then add the risotto. Saute for another minute, stirring constantly, and then add the Vermouth.

When the Vermouth has evaporated, begin adding the reserved mushroom broth in increments. Don't add more until the previous increment has been absorbed. 

When the mushroom broth is gone begin ladeling the asparagus water in similar increments, waiting until each ladelful is absorbed before adding the next.

When the risotto is nearly cooked (it will start to look like it is swimming in its own broth and be al dente to taste), add the frozen peas.  Give it a minute or two more and then toss in the blanched asparagus heads.

Remove from the heat and add in the creme fraiche, lemon zest and Parmesan. Combine until well mixed and serve immediately.

* * *  

 

Springtime Shabbat: Roasted Chicken with Jerusalem Artichoke & Lemon

By Danielle Frum

As you can probably tell from my last recipe -- Saffron-Infused Artichoke Soup with Lemon -- I get kind of obsessed with artichokes at this time of year. As a complement to the soup, I thought it would be interesting to bring in a main course recipe that uses the Jerusalem artichoke (sometimes referred to as "Sunchokes"), the less spiky cousin of the traditional artichoke. 

What I love about the Jerusalem artichoke -- actually a sunflower tuber -- is that you get the bang of artichoke flavor in a much more gentle and unobtrusive form. You can slice up this guy and roast it with potatoes, and your guests will look up with surprise as if to say, "Why do these otherwise plainly roasted potatoes taste so delicious?" It can be cooked and blended into soups. Or it can be roasted on its own, and even pureed or mashed, for a change of pace from the regular side of potatoes.

This week's recipe comes from one of my favorite cookbooks by some of my favorite chefs: Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamini's Jerusalem: A Cookbook. It also posseses one of my favorite characteristics for a Shabbat dinner: It's a meal in a pan you can make in advance. All it requires is a green salad on the side.

*Note: the chicken requires at least two hours -- or preferably overnight -- to marinate. 

Serves 4.

1 lb Jerusalem artichokes, peeled and cut lengthwise into wedges 2/3-inch thick
3 tbs freshly squeezed lemon juice
8 skin-on, bone-in chicken thighs, or 1 medium whole chicken, quartered
12 banana or other large shallots, halved lengthwise
12 large cloves of garlic, sliced
1 medium lemon, halved lengthwise then very thinly sliced
1 tsp saffron threads
3 1/2 tbs olive oil
2/3 cup cold water 

1/2 tbs pink peppercorns, lightly crushed
1/4 cup fresh thyme leaves 
1 cup tarragon leaves, chopped
2 tsp salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Put the Jerusalem artichokes in a medium saucepan, cover with plenty of water, and half the lemon juice. Bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer for 10 to 20 minutes, until tender but not soft. Drain and leave to cool.

Place the Jerusalem artichokes and all the remaining ingredients, excluding the remaining lemon juice and half of the tarragon, in a large mixing bowl and use your hands to mix everything together well. Cover and leave to marinate in the fridge overnight, or for at least two hours.

Preheat the oven to 475-degrees. Arrange the chicken pieces, skin side up, in the center of a roasting pan and spread the remaining ingredients around the chicken. Roast for 30 minutes. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and cook for a further 15 minutes. At this point the chicken should be completely cooked. Remove from the oven and add the reserved tarragon and lemon juice. Stir well, taste, and add more salt if needed. Serve at once.

Photo by Jonathan Lovekin from Jerusalem: A Cookbook.

* * *

Springtime Shabbat: Saffron-Infused Artichoke Soup with Lemon

 

By Danielle Frum

I first came across this soup at the historic Pera Palace Hotel in Istanbul. I was in Turkey to trace what remnants I could find of the once thriving Jewish culture under the Ottomans. Like so many of the exotic combinations of spices and ingredients I would come across in Turkey, this soup struck me as both wonderfully evocative of its place and yet also so simple. Jews seem to have a passion for artichokes (the best I've ever tasted were in the old Jewish quarter of Rome: a whole artichoke somehow flattened, breaded and deep fried...). Spring is artichoke season; as they make their way from California to markets everywhere, I try to include them in as many dishes as I can.  

This soup is a perfect first course for a spring Shabbat dinner, not least because it is so easy and quick to make. Its taste, however, is not simple: the mingling of mellow saffron, earthy artichoke and a zing of lemon make for an unexpected and delicious soup. 

Try to use the best quality broth (preferably homemade) and saffron -- and then don't skimp on the saffron. Until I’d wandered the Spice Market of Istanbul I hadn’t appreciated the dramatic differences in quality of this unique, pricey herb – from the bottles of bland, ground yellow powder familiar in Western supermarkets to small expensive threads carefully packaged in wax paper. At the Spice Market I encountered the rarefied Persian variety, currently unavailable in North America. The threads are deep crimson with golden points, and sold in tiny vials. I found you didn’t need much more than a pinch to create a deeply aromatic saffron flavor in any given dish.

Saffron afficianados recommend steeping the saffron in a couple tablespoons of hot water or broth before adding it to a recipe: the heat releases the flavor and allows its distinctive yellow color it to be more evenly dispersed throughout the ingredients. You can soak it in advance anywhere from two to 12 hours. As for the artichokes, the good news from an ease perspective is that the flash-frozen or vacuum-packed fresh artichoke hearts now common in most grocery stores work well here, and save you the hassle of peeling and removing the choke from this otherwise difficult, prickly vegetable.

Serves 4.

1 large pinch of best quality saffron threads, pre-soaked as above
1 tbs olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 whole cloves of garlic, chopped
1 pound artichoke hearts, trimmed and quartered, or 2 packages of frozen artichoke hearts (1pprox. 16-20 oz), thawed
4 cups chicken stock
Juice of one lemon
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Heat oil in a heavy saucepan over medium heat, and sauté the onions until soft, about 6 to 8 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for another minute or so. Add the artichokes, the soaked saffron, and then the broth. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce heat and simmer until the artichokes are cooked and soft, about 7 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Use an immersion blender to puree the soup in the pot. (You can also puree the soup in batches in a food processor or blender.) Season with salt and pepper, and then add lemon to taste. Be careful: the lemon should not overwhelm the flavors of saffron and artichoke, but just give the soup a tangy edge. You may not need to use all the juice of one lemon. Serve immediately.

* * *

Springtime Shabbat: Zucchini "Pasta" with Turkey Meatballs

By Danielle Frum

My children are always asking me to make pasta -- and I'm always resisting, as for the past few months my husband and me have been trying to cut down on carbs. However, recently I bought a  "spiralizer," a gadget I can't recommend highly enough, especially if you love pasta but not its calories. 

Basically it turns all kinds of vegetables into spaghetti (among other things). Some vegetables obviously work better than others. I've had the most success with zucchini: it's firm enough to take the shape of pasta, and only needs to be sauteed for a couple of minutes to be perfectly cooked. Moreover, even those (i.e. kids) who might complain they don't like zucchini can be won over when having it served this way.

For this zucchini "pasta," I adapted a classic Marcella Hazan recipe for meatballs in tomato sauce to a matzah friendly version. I also subsituted turkey for beef to make it lighter. 

Serves 4.

For the meatballs:

1 pound ground turkey, preferably dark meat
1 tbs finely chopped yellow onion
1 tbs chopped parsley
1 egg
1 tbs olive oil
1/8 tsp grated nutmeg
3/4 cup bread crumbs
Vegetable oil
28 oz canned imported Italian plum tomatoes, chopped or crushed, with their juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

For the "pasta":

4 medium zucchini
2 tbs olive oil
Kosher salt
Dried chile pepper to taste

First, make the meatballs in tomato sauce. In a large bowl put the ground turkey, onion, parsley, the egg, breadcrumbs, olive oil, and nutmeg and integrate using a wooden spoon. Then gently knead the mixture without squeezing it (too much handling will toughen the meatballs) until evenly combined. Make 1-inch meatballs.

Choose a heavy saute pan that can accommodate all the meatballs in a single layer. Pour in enough vegetable oil to come 1/4-inch up the sides. Turn on the heat to medium high and when the oil is hot, slip in the meatballs. Brown the meatballs on all sides, turning them carefully so they won't break up.

Remove from heat, tip the pan slightly, and with a spoon remove as much fat as floats to the surface. Return the pan to the burner over medium heat, add the tomatoes with their juice, a pinch of salt, and turn the meatballs over once or twice to coat them well. Cover the pan and reduce the heat to cook at a quiet, but steady, simmer for about 20-25 minutes, until the oil floats free of the tomatoes. Taste and correct for salt, add freshly ground pepper, and serve over the zucchini pasta.

(Ahead of time note: The dish can be cooked entirely in advance and stored in a tightly covered container for several days. Reheat gently before serving.)

For the pasta: While the meatballs are simmering, wash and trim both ends from the zucchini, and "spiralize" them into pasta whirls using the pasta blade on the spiralizer. Toss with a sprinkling of salt and set the finished pasta in a large strainer in the sink until the meatballs are ready.

Turn the meatballs off and let sit while you squeeze out any remaining moisture in the zucchini using paper towels (it just occurred to me you could do this in batches in a salad dryer: I didn't try this but experiment!). Heat the olive oil in a large saute pan over medium-high heat. Saute the zucchini until cooked and lightly browned, approximately 2 minutes (you may have to do this in a couple of batches). Remove to a serving bowl, toss with more salt and some shakes of chili pepper, and pour the meatballs and sauce on top. Serve immediately.

 

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