Heal me, oh leaf

I am wrapped in cabbage leaves now for my back, and ready for my flight. The bad news: I don’t smell so good, the good news: who is going to sit next to somebody wrapped in cabbage? For anybody who never stuffed cabbage leaves in their bra to take down the swelling of boobs feeling like a box of frozen spinach and enlisted to feed a baby, cabbage is a natural healer. And I’m counting on it. There are times to doubt and then there are desperate times. I leave this evening for Italy. I am meditating on wild flowers and red wine and I believe in cabbage.
If I could, I would make everybody bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches before we got on the plane, but we have none of that, and I have to be careful not to move the cabbage around too much.
New shoes are answer #2. Before I leave I am setting out a selection of cold cereal and then going uptown to secure a set of silver, sparkly, Birkenstock sandles. How can a back stay cramped with a brand new pair of sexy, styling orthopedics? That and a pack of trailmix is going to see me through. When I get off the plane, I am going to be walking straight, my hair is going to be curly, my skin will have laughed it’s way back to youth, peanut by raisin, and cabbage bandages will be falling to the ground around me like crutches left by the born again.

Do the meringue

The thing about meringue is, it’s not pizza. You don’t want to work it like a dough, you don’t want to slap a bunch of stuff on top before you bake it, and you don’t won’t to flap it into an oven set at bronze melting or even cake baking temperatures. Once it’s baked though, you can do what you want to it–save it for next month when your Aunt Bertha comes knocking, or layer it up with an espresso and rum doused sponge cake, chocolate mousse, and whipped cream or my favorite–whip the cream, fold it into a bit of mascarpone with a little sugar, and stack it up with almond studded, barely bronzed meringues, flat as crispy cookies, and juicy, red, just picked strawberries. (I know I just had strawberries and cream last Saturday night, but when something is so good on Saturday, I am all for more of the same on Wednesday.) You could serve it with hot tea, and put your stockings on, or you could forget the stockings, go bare legged and move right to the Prosecco.

Beat 5 egg whites with a pinch of salt and 1/2 cup of sugar until stiff. Fold in another 1/2 cup of sugar, mixed in with 2 cup of almonds that you have ground in the processor (I like skins on). Now fold in 1/2 cup of melted and cooled to room temperature butter–all very carefully, either with your hand or a rubber spatula so that you don’t deflate the eggs. Sift a scoop of flour. Sift it again. Sift it again. Now from that, measure 1/2 cup. Sift it over the top of your egg whites. Fold in. Grate a tiny bit of lemon zest over that when the flour is nearly folded in. Preheat the oven to 250 degrees, and be sure the oven is telling you the truth. Grease 2 cookie sheets, cover with parchment paper, butter the paper, then spoon the egg white mixture out onto the paper, dividing it between the two sheets and spreading each into a 1/4 inch high rectangle. Bake for about 45 minutes, and immediately slide a metal spatula under the cakes to loosen, and invert so that you can peel off the paper. Cool, and layer with 3 parts heavy cream to one part mascarpone and a few tablespoons of sugar, and cut strawberries, leaving some whole or halved to place along the top layer of cream.
I think this is best after a delicious and simple grilled steak (dressed with olive oil and lemon), that has been served with a crusty baguette, and fresh fava beans for dipping into your best olive oil and salt.

Saturday night dinner

This is Saturday night dinner in a snap. No need to stress no need to mope no need to call everybody up and cancel or give them directions to anywhere but your house.

Asparagus Carbonara
Roast Pork Loin
Potato Gratin
Strawberries with Mascarpone

1. Buy your groceries:

2 bunches of pencil thin asparagus, 1 dozen organic eggs, 1 big chunk of Parmigiano Reggiano,
fresh thyme or basil, 1 stick of unsalted butter and a box of penne rigate. Buy 1, 3 pound pork loin off the bone, 8 to 10 yukon gold potatoes, a pint of cream, a beautiful olive oil, some fresh sage, fresh flat leaf parsley, a lemon, a little rosemary a loaf of crusty bread, a few bunches of garlic, some snappy looking fava, a small container of mascarpone, and 2 or 3 pints of strawberries. If you like salad, buy a little arugula. If you see some tiny cantucci, buy them too.

2. Return home.

3. Tie the loin, if not tied already. Season the pork loin well with sea salt. Sear in a hot and heavy pan on all sides. In the mortar and pestle, or with your food processor, smash 4 cloves of garlic, 8 to 10 sage leaves, a sprig of rosemary, a few sprigs of parsley, and a few chunks of bread with a good drizzle of olive oil. Taste for salt. Add a little fresh lemon zest (no pith). Taste. Make deep incisions into the loin with a small sharp knife, and shove the green paste into the slits. Set into an oiled pan in a 350 degree oven. Give it a good pour of delicious red wine. This is going to stay in the oven for about an hour, or until a metal skewer stuck into the end of the loin, towards the center, is warmish to hot to your lip. Remove and allow to rest.

4. Boil an inch of water with a little salt. Add the asparugus, once you have snapped them all where they bend. Cook for 4 minutes. Drain. New water in the pan, and plenty of it, with salt. Add 9 ounces of pasta. While that is cooking, heat up 3 minced cloves of garlic with olive oil and fresh basil, or mint or thyme. Add the asparagus once the garlic is looking a tiny bit golden, and give it a toss for a minute. Season with salt and freshly ground pepper. Remove from heat. In a bowl, whisk 6 of the egg yolks together with a few handfuls of finely grated parmesan. Add a pinch of salt and pepper, and then whisk in a teaspoon of the hot pasta water. Whisk in another teaspoon of the water. Add 4 tablespoons of butter to the asparagus and when the pasta is al dente, drain, add the asparagus, toss, and then ready to stir with a wooden spoon immediately, add the egg yolk mixture. Taste for salt and if it needs to smooth out a little, add a tablespoon of cream. This is your first course.

5. Wash and slice the potatoes as thinly as you can. Layer them in a buttered dish, giving each layer a little crumbled sage and FRESH minced or thinly sliced garlic (you can saute the sage and garlic first, but you don’t have to), a little salt, and a drizzle of cream. Bake covered until the potatoes are completely soft. Set it under the broiler, watching like a hawk, until a little golden. Serve with the pork.

6. Prep your strawberries by washing them, drying them carefully on a paper towel, and cutting them in half. Add a few teaspoons of sugar to the mascarpone, and a little lemon zest. You can also stir in a few tablespoons of fresh ricotta if you have it. Serve with the berries.

7. Laugh. You did it!!

Black bean salad and smash

I am testing my ability to teach from my floor station. Laid flat out like a drunk in the middle of a subway platform–people flying around and over in every direction just the same–I lifted up my arm as a sign that I was ready to talk about dinner. “Jonathan, you need one pot,” I said. “Fill it with an inch of water and talk to me when it’s boiling.” “OK,” he said. “Shuck 2 ears of corn and drop ‘em in. Cover the pot. Let them cook for four minutes.”
“Mom”, said Ferdinand, “do you know there is a snake that can swallow a pig whole or an alligator.” I did not. I had only ever seen a snake swallow a rat. Ferdinand was impressed.
The corn was done. “Now dump out that water, keep the corn on a plate, drizzle some olive oil in the pan, and two whole cloves of garlic, cut in half. “Done.” “Now take out a can of black beans and rinse them off. Keep rinsing; you have to rinse until the beans look like they’ve woken up. That’s right. I’m the teacher. Get an onion–a tight red one and cut it up pretty finely and get it in there with the garlic. Add some salt and a few leaves of flat leaf parsley. You done?”
He felt I was rushing him.
“I’m sorry. When you are ready..take out the coriander seeds, toast them in a separate little pan for one minute–watch them–and then crush them with the mortar and pestle. Taste the onion to see how delicious it tastes. Is it delicious?”
It was delicious.
“OK, add the coriander, add the beans, cut the corn off the cob, add that and here comes the important part: it’s all about the acid and salt. Turn off the flame now, and squeeze in the juice from half a lemon from the fridge, and then give it some salt. Now taste it. They should be like a tennis match–bam, badaboom, bam, badaboom–and you can’t take your eyes off of either one of them because one is as good as the other, and between them is just electric.”
“It’s good,” he said.
“OK, all right. Is it smooth, do you need a little extra drizzle of olive oil to bring it all together?”
Jonathan is a patient man. He gave it a little drizzle. Then he smashed up an avocado, gave it a minced clove of garlic, a squeeze of lemon and some salt. We had it all with corn chips, a few bitter green leaves of lettuce and beer.
Bless him.

Cooking competition

I was flipping through the how-to life book in my brain, looking for all the sections on what to do if pain is winning like some kind of oversized, muscled up, body thrasher on Wide World of Wrestling, how to live life with one leg, and how to smile when you really don’t mean it and coming up with a deep and wide nothing. I took pills, massaged, excercised, laid flat out (on the bed, in the park, on the kitchen table for dinner and on the floor for general conversation), chiropracted and wept. Nothing. And so then what? Hire a gurney, and how does that work on a plane?
The house was empty. With my good leg I made my way to the kitchen. I borrowed a line from Ferdinand. “YOU WANT A PIECE OF ME?” I said, and I threw all of the Advil, the Aleve, and the Tylenol into the bin. “BRING IT ON, GIVE ME ALL YOU GOT, I’M NOT AFRAID (a little bit lying). And then I started to cook. I braised potatoes and leeks, I made a soffritto of finely minced carrots, celery, onion and garlic with fresh sage for some lovely cannellini, and then started a risotto with mint, basil and pencil thin asparagus. I baked a cake. And when I was done, I packed it all up and gave it to my girlfriends.
And do you know, today I’m feeling better. Of course it could have been the massages, the chiropractics, the exercise or the lying around or the weeping, but I like to believe that there is something about having a fight with the devil and then cooking with all the love you have to give, to fight your way back.

Easy doesn’t mean keep your curlers in.

Penne rigate with fresh wilted spinach and garlic is taped on my brain like a permanent memo for those nights when dinner brain cells have no interest in making themselves present. Noodles, spinach, garlic, toss. For nights of questionable but still hopeful performance abllity, and a need for a certain je nais se qua, it is easy enough to add seared sausage or toasted fresh bread crumbs, pepperoncino, or black olives, or even shavings of Pecorino to the mix to make you feel like it’s worth getting dressed to come to the table. The other night I had the no show of brain cells and a guest. I had none of the above extras, and so I panicked. Spinach, garlic and noodle for a guest? That’s like wearing curlers and a hair net to the table. And then I remembered my potatoes! Potatoes are a miracle worker; they are the false eyelashes of my menu repertoire. I added a whole, uncut clove of garlic to the pan with olive oil and a sprig of rosemary. I diced up the potatoes finely, and threw those in with salt over a medium/high heat until they were golden brown and cooked through. Held them to the side and then a little more olive oil in the pan, three big cloves of minced garlic, a tablespoon of finely chopped parsley, (let this go on it’s own until the garlic begins to get golden) a few flakes of red pepper (or a whole and uncut pepperoncino) and finely a bag of baby spinach leaves with salt. This only needs to cook for about 2 minutes. Meanwhile, in the pasta pot, loads of salted boiling water, and cook the (9 ounces) of pasta until al dente, draining well, saving a few spoonfuls of cooking water on the side. Combine the pasta with the spinach, the potatoes, grated parmesan or pecorino a drizzle of your best olive oil, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice, and if you need it, a spoonful of the reserved water. Taste. Be happy. This is really good with Copola’s red merlot.

Falling for your food

Do you know how it is when you are sunk in love, absolutely soul sucking, heart wringing, life giving, in love. Love that leaves you breathless and thoughtless, and the smell of their skin intoxicates you.
I would say you might feel a need to touch this person, that it would be just a little bit of torture and not so good for the soul to always look the other way and never know the heat between your hand and the softness of their cheek.
You have to get your hands in there when you cook. It’s important to touch your food. It’s one of those things that is going to make it a lot more fun to make dinner. If you don’t want to touch your food, it might be the food–get new food. I love smushing ripe tomatoes in my hands that have been made red in the sun and smell like summer. I have no feelings for hard and tasteless grey toned, and lifeless orbs called by the same name.
Practice by making foccaccia. Buy a beautiful unbleached flour with plenty of gluten, a silky olive oil and sea salt and a gorgeous bunch of deep purple grapes. Mix and then knead the dough until it is satiny smooth; bake, let it settle, and then rip.

Use 2 1/4 cups of wrist temp water; mix in 2 tablespoons of active
dry yeast. Add 1/4 cup of olive oil and about 3 cups of flour and 1
tablespoon of salt. Mix with a wooden spoon. Add another 3 cups of
flour. You can all the way and do the whole thing by hand or whir in the food processor for about 30 seconds, then finish by hand, and knead til smooth, about another three minutes. (you may
have to do this in two batches if you are using your processor). Let this rise for an hour in a warm place. Push it down, and then let it sit in the fridge for 24 hours in oiled plastic bags. Allow to come to room temp, (about an hour) and then roll to fit into sheet pans.
Let it rise again on an oiled sheet with a brush of olive oil over each bread, and a scatter of grapes pushed in ever so slightly with your fingers and a sprinkle of sugar. Bake at 450 degrees until done.
Serve with a beautiful blue cheese or a salty hard ricotta salata and a salad of spring herbs and greens. Forget the fork.

Minestrone visions

My happy little leg cramps have graduated to full out left leg labor pain type leg cramps. And when you look it up on line it says, “sucker, you are just going to have to suffer–it could be weeks, could be months.”
Ferdinand has been reduced to cold cereal, candy bars and plain pasta. He doesn’t seem to mind–and Jonathan is away–eating peanuts and freeze dried string beans somewhere on the Appalachian trail with his mother.
I would be a liar if I told you I was going to get up from this bed and make soup, but I am having minestrone visions, which may or may not be a sign that my body is trying to heal itself, if only via hallucinations.
Cut one onion, 2 carrots and 2 stalks of celery into a fine dice. Saute this in the best olive oil you have for about 20 minutes, over a low flame, with 3 cloves of garlic, a stalk of parsley and one of fresh thyme. (or no herbs–in Tuscany they traditionally would use no herb here). Dice up a little fresh pancetta or lard from a happy pig (if no guarantee of a happy pig, just leave it out) and saute that for a few minutes with the onion mixture. Add 2 chopped zucchini, potaotes, peeled and chopped, 1/4 of a savoy cabbage that has been cut into a fine shreds along with a few cups of hot stock and 1 squished whole, canned plum tomato. When the vegetables are just done, add between 1 and 2 cups of COOKED cannellini, half of them smashed. Ideally, you want to cook them from dry, so that you can use their cooking liquid for the soup. If not, just use extra chicken or beef stock to get the consistency of soup that you would like. Taste for salt and black pepper. Add 20 baby spinach leaves that you pile one on top of the other, then fold over, and slice into thin strips. Do the same with about 10 basil leaves, adding them about 2 minutes before the soup is done. Serve with a drizzle of olive oil, parmesan, and a crusty crouton.