Now don’t get all nervous just because everyone and their mother is coming to your house tomorrow to eat. The first thing to remember is, if you are stressed, this is no time to reinvent the wheel. You can bend it though. Instead of the classic two crusted apple pie, make one with a no need to roll it out crust on the bottom, and a lovely little cap of thinly sliced apples for a top.
Use 1 cup of flour, 1/2 cup of cold, diced butter, 1/4 cup of sugar and a pinch of salt for the pastry. Rub the butter into the dry ingredients with your fingertips until you don’t see anymore big hunks of butter. It doesn’t have to be completely even. Press into a 9 or 10 inch pan with a removable bottom, that has been covered with a layer of parchment. Bake at 400 degress until just golden.
For the filling, peel and halve nine apples. Remove the core. Toss them sugar to coat. In a heavy saucepan, melt 2 tablespoons of butter. Add half the apples and caramelize without disturbing, first on one side, then the other. Repeat with the remaining apples. Reserve two halves. Arrange the rest on a foil lined sheet pan and bake at 350 until soft. Smash with a fork. Cover the crust with the apples. Cut the reserved apples into thin slices and arrange in a concentric circle ontop of the other apples. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 375 degrees until the edges of the sliced apples are caramelized. Serve with slightly whipped cream.
I have a cold, and I suppose it’s good to have a cold every once in a while if you’re a martyr or to clean out the system, but I am feeling no benefits of any kind, so I’m arming myself for battle. Buy fresh ginger, scrub it, put the whole thing, cut into large chunks, into a pot and simmer it for at least an hour. Drink straight or with honey as many times as you think about it during the day. With every meal or instead of eating if you have no appetite, have chicken stock. Bring raw bones to the boil. Throw out the water, rinse the bones and the pot, and start again. Same bones, new water, a piece of carrot, a piece of celery, an onion, a garlic clove, some fresh parsley, a sprig of thyme, a bay leaf, and a little tomato skin if you have one. Simmer, skimming the pot whenever you get the chance, for at least an hour, and up to three of four. Eat as many fresh oranges as you can. Sleep. Find someone to give you a massage. Drink some more ginger tea.
I got to Rome in one piece, which was I was doubtful about, being driven in at remarkable speeds in a car the size of a tuna can. At the Taza d’oro at Fumicino I had my favorite ever airport sandwich, sauteed spinach with garlic and fresh mozarella on focaccia that is so good it’s crazy good, and I ate it between phone calls from my girlfriend Caroline and my girlfriend Monica who kept me company by ringing me up every twenty minutes until I took off. I got on the plane, still in my new purple suede boots, no olive oil in hand for the first time in four years, and now I’m home.
I haven’t really eaten yet in New York because there is a huge bag of leftover Halloween candy above the refrigerator that I can’t seem to forget about.
It happens like that..so sweet and you know it’t not good for you no way no how, but it just keeps pulling you back.
I learned two new words yesterday, indicesa and fosso. Indicesa (slope) because I was driving down a slope, and fosso (ditch) because I ended up in a ditch. You never know when you might be presented with the oppportunity to improve your vocabulary or to test your coping skills. Me, who is afraid of the woods in light or dark, got out of the car, and marched to the bottom of the hill in my new purple suede Prada boots down a rocky dirt road without even the light of the moon to protect me from wild boar, hunter’s dogs forgotten and left to roam, and God knows what else hiding beind the trees.
You can fake courage.
My life saving soul protector of a friend Caroline, talked me through the whole thing and though my car rests where I left it (in a fosso), my feet made it safely down the indicesa (slope), to the bottom of the road. I hung up the phone, and swept off to the Villa La Macchia to translate for the oil tasting and dine on savory and sweet roasted chicken with prunes, orange peel, onion and green olives and a lovely sformata made from semolina and poached apples for dessert.
When love is involved, love that has grown deep and wide in a minute or over a lifetime, even if it is not working, even if a newspaper arrives on the doorstep every morning saying “don’t do it anymore, walk away,turn the page, no more, no more, no more, don’t do it!”, there is always the hope that maybe, just maybe this time, everything will fall in place the way it should, the way an apple falls from a tree, because it must, the way we expect it to, the way we hunger for, long for, beg for. It is commendable to keep trying, and to keep trying, because miracles happen, and it is also commendable when the troops are low and freezing from lack of food and shelter, when your heart is broken and your mind is no longer your own, to give up the battle.
Someday I am going to be able to stop myself from trying to make Chocolate Nemesis, but not yet. I think it’s been eight years now. Not once has it turned out right. Not once. So why did I put on the menu for my class? I had to try again.
There are moments in life that although they last only a moment, stay with you forever and give you good reason to pursue them and the love and life they send flowing through veins and heart. A risotto made with a gentle broth of chicken bones and mushroom stems, carrot, celery, onion, garlic and thyme, slowly simmered for nearly two hours on the back of the stove, and then another onion minced and sauteed with a few whole cloves of garlic with only a slice of the knife to cut them in half, thyme, and olive oil, to bathe them until the melt, risotto poured in all at once, and in seconds, as soon as they begin to lose their milky white, a shower of wine, stirred until it evaporates into the air around the stove, and then ladle by ladle, stock, and more stock, a little salt, at the end the mushrooms, sauted and seasoned in their own pan before they meet the rice, and finally off the heat, a gentle fold of cheese and butter, and to the table it goes to be eaten before even a glass of wine can be drunk and if the risotto has been cooked with an attentive and open heart, it will hold you until the next time, suspended in the taste of woods, earth, and rays of sun that make their way through.
Instead of making meat sauce by frying the onion and garlic first with a little fresh sage and rosemary, and then adding the ground pork and beef to brown, and then finally the whole plum tomatoes, tonight, I made a soffritto to start the sauce. Finely chopped carrots and celery and onion, sizzling together with half a head of garlic still in tact, seared on its flat side before its friends hit the pan. Cook the soffritto, and then cook it some more. It should be nearly melting and every edge caramelized to the color of burnt sugar. It’s true that it takes time.
But it is only with time, that the carrots and celery transform themselves into the essence of deep, rich flavor. A bowl of raw vegetables, no more than the kind that everybody makes and nobody eats at a party given half an hour in the pan, become a definition of deliciousnes.
Can I just say that sometimes it is good thing to be without something that you know and to be thrown in with the lions of the unfamiliar to sink or swim.
Last night I had no aluminum foil. Say what you want about all the food loveliness that Italy has to offer, the foil is terrible. Habit is hard to break and because it looks like foil I try to make it be foil and it isn’t. Precious liquid flies from the braising meat like some kind of reverse rainstorm and you would think I would learn, but just like when I should have broken up with my no good low down cheatin’ dog of a boyfriend in the 12th grade, but instead just kept dialing the number, I went rifling through the drawers in search of anything shiny and silver that I could pretend would seal my edges. It wasn’t there, which can be the only time sometimes that you figure out something different and low and behold can be better than any Tripp Somerville that ever was. Instead of foil when you are braising ribs that you need to be fall off the bone tender, use parchment paper. Season and sear off the whole rack and then add a few heads of garlic cut in half crosswise with three or four sprigs of rosemary. When the garlic is golden and gorgeous, spill in a cup of white wine and let it reduce a bit before putting everything into a roasting pan. Cover the whole lot with the parchment. Dampen the top of the paper with water and cook at 350 degrees for about 2 1\2 hours, adding a bit of water as you need it to keep the bottom of the pan with about 1\2 an inch. It works, and better than expected.
Pork chops from the butcher Trabalza, cooked over a wood burning fire that has settled to coals and is ready to make magic of meat, is a culinary phenomenon. It is love and tenderness and warmth and nourishment and it would convince even the vegetarians among you if just for the moment. Salt them first and a dribble of the olive oil after.
I am wearing my olive stained knees proudly this morning, since yesterday I was up picking with my friend Caroline who is in a mad rush with everybody else to pick the olives before they fully ripen or freeze. Once you pull them from the branches and they fall into the nets, you have to carefully lift the edges of the nets from under the trees and tip the olives into a pile to sort them from their leaves and branches. We listened to Italian radio to improve our grammar but carried on in English as we always do. I speak Italian like I cook when I have to make anything French–with massive effort.
The ladies were serenaded by Pino yesterday as they drove through the hills of Montelpulciano and Montelcino. They bought wine and cheese and balsamic, stole off to ancient press for olive oil that still uses the stones to crush the goods, and then came home for a dinner of handmade sausages simmered in a sauce of tomato, garlic, onion, fresh sage, and rosemary with cannellini stirred in at the end, and parmesan grated over the top. Serve it with polenta, and when you make your polenta, be sure to add enough water. It should be the texture of sour cream. Stir the butter and cheese in only after you have turned off the heat.