Archive for August, 2013

Daniel Boulud’s “Eggplant Like A Pizza”

Thursday, August 29th, 2013



All those August eggplants, zucchini, tomatoes and peppers overwhelming your kitchen counter and weighing on your conscience have a place:  Daniel Boulud’s Eggplant Like A Pizza, multi-layers of vegetables and a few herbs, topped with cheeses and baked like a pizza.  It’s like a younger, funner version of ratatouille.  Slice it thinly for an appetizer that says late summer better than “caprese.”  Omit the flour from the fried eggplant and you have a magnificent vegetarian and gluten-free dinner.

Recommended by friend and great cook, Sophia Padnos, Cafe Boulud Cookbook, French – American Recipes for the Home Cook, by Daniel Boulud and Dorie Greenspan, is what I’m currently turning to for dinner inspiration.  This is a cookbook written by a French chef who understands American homecooks; the recipes are clearly written and not difficult, but they are involved because they include details that a chef would never dismiss, like reminding you to lay baking racks down on cookie sheets so that your fried eggplant can properly cool without turning soggy.


Cafe Boulud Cookbook has wow-ed a few meals in this household already:  Boulud Harissa over grilled salmon, White Gazpacho – a chilled blend of green grapes, toasted pinenuts and almonds, white bread, garlic and sherry vinegar, and now “Eggplant Like A Pizza.”


Because I wanted everyone to understand the beauty of Boulud’s and Greenspan’s well-written recipe, I have taken “Eggplant Like A Pizza” exactly from the book.  But I want to add that this recipe is truly a blueprint for many possibilities.  Take Boulud’s idea of using the rim of a removable springform pan as the template for stacking the vegetables; start with the fried rounds of eggplant, (Again, don’t use flour if you want it to be gluten-free.) After the eggplant, stack what you wish.  I did use tomato confit, a recipe from Boulud’s book that was delicious if not also a bit involved, but I think I would use fresh cherry tomatoes the next time, just because they are so sweet and delicious right now.  I may use fewer roasted peppers and more cheese next time, too.  I might slide a veil of pesto in, or maybe tapenade.  The premise and method is wonderful – all Boulud.


Make the pizza your own.  I think it has possibilities all year round.



Daniel Boulud’s Eggplant Like A Pizza


1 – 2 medium eggplants


3 – 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 green bell pepper, cored, seeded, deveined, and cut into thin strips

freshly ground white pepper

1 small red onion, peeled trimmed, halved, and thinly sliced

1/2 zucchini, scrubbed, trimmed, and cut into 1/4 inch thick rounds

1/2 yellow squash, scrubbed, trimmed, and cut into 1/4 inch think rounds

2 cups flavorless oil, such as grape-seed or vegetable or deep frying

flour for dredging

5 leaves basil, torn into pieces

1 roasted red pepper, cut into thin strips

1 roasted yellow bell pepper, cut into thin strips

1 tablespoon finely chopped Italian parsley leaves

12 pieces tomato confit or drained oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, quartered

1 head roasted garlic, garlic pushed out of the peel

12 Nicoise olives, pitted

1 tablespoon finely grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese

2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled


Peel one of the eggplants and cut it into 1/8 inch thick rounds.  (Boulud uses a mandoline, but says a knife works, too.) You’ll need about 20 slices for the pizza, so count what you’ve got to determine whether or not you need to use the second eggplant.  Sprinkle the slices on both sides with salt and place them between paper towels.  Set aside for 45 minutes to release some of the bitterness.

While the eggplant is resting, saute the vegetables:  warm 1 tablespoon of the olive oil in a small saute pan or skillet over medium heat.  When it’s hot, add the green pepper strips, season with salt and pepper, and cook, just until the pepper is tender but not colored, 5 – 8 minutes.  Spoon the pepper onto a small plate and set aside.  Put the pan back over the heat and, if necessary, add a little more olive oil.  Warm the oil, then add the red onion slices to the pan.  Season with salt and pepper and cook the onion until it too is tender but not colored.  Set the onion aside on another small plate and repeat with the zucchini and then the yellow squash, adding only as much oil as you need to keep the vegetables from sticking.  (The vegetables can be sauteed a few hours ahead and kept covered at room temperature or in the refrigerator.)

For the “crust:”  Pat the salted eggplant dry between paper towels.  Place a rack over a baking pan and put it close to the stovetop.  Pour the 2 cups of oil into a deep saucepan and put the pan over medium-high heat.  Dredge the eggplant slices a few at a time in the flour, tapping off the excess flour.  When the oil is hot (about 350 degrees) fry the eggplant in batches – don’t crowd the pan – just until the pieces are golden at the edges and lightly crispy.  Lift the slices out of the oil with a slotted spatula and onto the rack to drain.

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 400 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with foil.  Brush the inside of a 10 inch cake ring or the ring (not the base) of a springform pan with oil.  Place the ring on the baking sheet and brush the area inside the ring very lightly with oil.

Start constructing the pizza by arranging a layer of fried eggplant slices, each slice slightly overlapping the previous slice, within the cake ring.  Top with another layer of eggplant – this makes the crust.  Season with salt and pepper, and scatter over the basil leaves.  Lay the red and yellow pepper strips over the basil and sprinkle these with the parsley.  Next, arrange a layer of yellow squash and zucchini rounds and lay the green pepper strips over the squash.  Top this with the pieces of tomato and roasted garlic cloves.  Finish with the sauteed onions and the black olives.  Dust the pizza with the grated cheese and scatter the feta evenly over the pie.  Drizzle with olive oil and slice the pan into the oven.

Bake for 15 – 20 minutes or until the pizza is very hot and the cheese is melted.  Remove the pan from the oven.  Take off the cake ring, and using two broad spatulas, lift the pizza onto a cutting board or serving plate.

Cut into wedges.


The Coastal Table

Friday, August 23rd, 2013


Karen Covey, food writer, cooking instructor, Gourmet Recipes for One blogger, has written a fresh, simply beautiful cookbook that bows to the fresh, simple beauty of the Massachusetts southern coast, a region shyly flourishing with seafood, dairy, agriculture, and, lucky them, even vineyards.


Westport River Vineyards, a breathtaking expanse of vista rippling with grapevines, hemmed by pearly lanes of crushed oyster shells, was the setting last night for a party launching Covey’s new book, The Coastal Table.  Local caterer Smoke & Pickles passed golden local scallops topped with pickled rhubarb, Shy Brothers thimble cheeses, and flakes of tender smoked bluefish crowned with bread & butter pickled onions.




Bloggers, book people, food people and friends couldn’t help but feel special sipping sparkling flutes of Westport Rivers Farmer’s Fizz, and watching dusk fall on this coastal plain.  It was a beauty of an evening, all of it from the wines to the pickles a bouquet of the south coast, looking just like a page from the cookbook itself.


You don’t have to live on the Westport River to enjoy making “crostini with wilted kale + goat cheese,”  “roasted salmon + potato salad with lemon-caper pesto” or “late summer vegetable pot pies.”  Even “red wine truffles.”


While it’s a wonderful resource for the region’s food artisans, to browse through Covey’s book makes a tiny mind-vacation.  Most importantly, it inspires cooking.  The recipes mostly begin with great local ingredients, and are almost all do-able for dinner tomorrow or an easy party this weekend.

And guess what? – I have a small cameo in The Coastal Table!   Check out page 207.





Dinner in August: burrata and tomatoes

Monday, August 19th, 2013


I’ve been cheating on dinner all week, and am here to blog about it.  Burrata cheese is a gift to those too busy to cook in August.

After dinner three consecutive nights of radiant sliced tomatoes crowned with fresh curds of burrata, olive oil, salt and pepper, and a stalled blog, I decided that other people may be as much in need of something quick and delicious to make for dinner as I am.  Thus this blog about a pretty good August dinner cheat.


Burrata, a cheese creation originally from Puglia, is baseball-size spheres of the most delicate mozzarella filled with even softer mozzarella and cream.  Take forks to pull open the round, and waves of filling – fresh, creamy ricotta-like curds –  break over the shores of your local fresh tomatoes.  Burrata and tomatoes is to the caprese salad what croque monsieur is to a ham and cheese sandwich, a decadent translation of the same ingredients, and it tastes special three days in a row.  This is a very good dinner in August.


In my shopping haste, I’ve been buying a serviceable brand of burrata at Stop & Shop.  Trader Joes sells tubs of burrata, too.  Of course, local tomatoes are gleaming from bins and baskets just about everywhere right now.  Drizzle olive oil in and around those breaking waves of curd, sprinkle salt and pepper.  If you have fresh basil, slice it thinly – a chiffonade – and sprinkle around.  Just add bread, and dinner is served.

Cheesemaker Lourdes Smith of the Somerville, Massachusetts artisanal cheese producer Fiore di Nonno makes burrata art:  fig burrata, honey lavender and chili burrata, mascarpone burrata.  Such are examples of Fiore di Nonna’s burrata decadence.  You can find them in Boston and area farmers’ markets and these stores:



Mario Batali’s Monkfish Piccata, inspired in Gloucester

Tuesday, August 13th, 2013


Gloucester inspired, Mario Batali creates “Monkfish Piccata.”

So what if the man in orange clogs who made Italian food famous again mispronounces our city?


Not only is it kind of thrilling to hear him say it, the recipe Batali created is fabulous.  Monkfish Piccata with artichokes and kale.  It should be on every Cape Ann restaurant menu by next week, with a footnote to Batali.

For this piccolo moment of fame we thank Ann Straccia, of “Glowster.”

Batali has inititated a campaign – #batalicooks4 –  inviting people to send him their favorite four ingredients.   He chooses from the good ones – or, I don’t know, maybe he chooses from the challenging ones?  the oddest ones? – and creates a dish.

Ann Straccia sent him “monkfish, artichokes, kale and lemon.”  And guess what?

The Straccia recipe is Video #1 of the series!

Our streets may not be lined with cafes sporting Campari-umbrellas, but Glowster is a food town.  The people here, Sicillian to Portuguese to Finish, can cook.  Thanks, Ann, for representing the “Glowster” food culture so brightly!

Watch the video; share it with to your friends.  Then cook!


recipe courtesy of Mario Batali

1 1/2 pounds monkfish, bone removed and cut into 8 round medallions
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 cup Wondra flour or all-purpose flour
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus 3 tablespoons
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1 bunch kale, chiffonade
4 baby artichokes, trimmed. sliced paper thin and in acidulated water
3/4 cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons tiny capers
Juice of 1 lemon
1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, finely shredded

1. Season the fish medallions well with salt and pepper. Place the flour in a shallow bowl or on a plate. Dredge each piece of fish in the flour, patting off the excess.

2. In a 12 to 14 inch sauté pan, heat 1/4 cup of the olive oil over high heat until smoking. Working in batches, if necessary, to avoid overcrowding the pan, cook the monkfish in the hot oil, turning once to brown both sides evenly and cook through, about 4 minutes per side.

3. Meanwhile, in a separate sauté pan, heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil over medium high heat and cook the onion for about one minute, until softened slightly. Add the kale to the sauté pan and cook until just slightly toasted, about 3 minutes, and season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat and set aside.

4. Drain the artichokes and season with salt and pepper , then add them to the sauté pan with the monkfish, making sure to place them on the bottom of the pan. Add white wine to the pan and swirl for about one minute. Add the capers, lemon juice, and parsley. Stir and remove from heat.

5. Spoon the kale onto the plate, place the monkfish medallions on top of the kale, and then spoon the sauce and artichokes over the top . Serve immediately.


*photo courtesy of the Mario Batali people.

Toys Falling

Sunday, August 11th, 2013


This is the essay I wrote in response to the “Toys Falling” prompt curator and artist IlaSahai Prouty assigned a group of artists and writers last spring.    Saturday night was a performance of the show’s written works.  The show is up through September, but keep an eye on Flatrocks Gallery.  Make a point to visit it anytime.  Interesting things are happening in this northwest corner of Cape Ann.  


Toys Falling

When the young mothers first arrive they are always confused that everyone considers them the most delicate cases.  Grief here looks like purple and blue Himalayan peaks, millions of years of it stacked in layers like fossil fuels into craggy ranges.

So, the mothers of young children are surprised to be considered different, immediately treated with such pointed concern.  No one passes them without pausing to whisper, “How are you doing?” Just a few minutes ago an old woman touched my hair – or that’s the feeling of it.  Everything here is done and not really done;  it’s done in the memory of what was once done.  So to experience the woman touching my hair feels like remembering what it was like to have someone touch the bottom of my hair, to give it a feathery sweep.

“Just like my Valerie’s,” the older woman said softly, and then, “Are you ok?”

They give us distance.  We are allowed a special area that’s even more calming than the grand views of sky and rock.  Our area is more intimate, almost a nursery complete with painted clouds on the ceiling like the ones some of the mothers left behind, only these clouds are real.  Everyone seems to know that while being here separates you forever from the touch, the voices, the breath of loved ones, it’s the mothers taken from their small children for whom the pain is never less dull than hair-ripping, knife cutting, boiling water on skin.  We never stop hearing babies crying, toddlers waking scared in the night, seven-year-old’s feverish whimpers.  We’ve been taken from the sides of cribs, baby carriers, playpens, car seats, classrooms of tiny chairs, crumpled leotards and miniature backpacks.

Famine, disease, cancer, drugs, violence, bad genes.  These are the chauffeurs who drove us here.  But now, here, people save seats for us, hold open doors, never let us carry a thing.   Even the mothers of older children say their grief is another grade.  The amber older mothers are preserved in is the color of their children arguing, testing, breaking rules, talking back, beginning to feel their own selves.  They were taken when their children could ride bikes to school, drive, even be parents themselves.  They are moms, even grandmothers, but not mama, mamica, mamae, aiti, maman, and mommy anymore.  The older mothers wither when they look at us.

When it’s really bad, particularly when it’s close to a child’s birthday, we move silently to the special area where the sky is always patches of blue flecked with wisps of cottony clouds, and pray.

In our prayers we build toys for our children, magnificent large expensive toys we could never afford when we were with them.  We build everything our children ever dreamed of, beautiful dolls once coveted in a catalogue, race cars with elaborately coiling tracks, even the video games and x-boxes we once disapproved of.  We will give our children anything, because the only relief we have from the anguish is remembering the light in our children’s eyes when the paper is pulled away from the present, when delight and faith electrified their small bodies, rippling through them so hard the children could barely be themselves anymore.  They jumped up and down; ran around a dining room table; their entire selves filled with the magic of something beautiful appearing because they wished it.  Remembering that look in our children’s eyes briefly closes the open wounds of our anguish.  Our prayers look like the aisles of Toys R Us.

And when it’s too much, the mothers find an edge, and push the toys off.  I myself have shoved off Groovy Girls, American Girl Dolls, Star Wars helmets, Lego Space Shuttles and Playmobile pirate ships.  The toys fall slowly, at first.  I can still see them after a full minute, they fall so slowly.  The women lean over and watch – a line of mothers bent over the edge of heaven the way our children leaned over the edge of the giant fish tank at the New England Aquarium.  We lean over watching the toys fall, straining our eyes.  The toys fall faster the closer they get to earth, and they get smaller.  They begin to spin, and the women can no longer distinguish one from another.  The toys look like a blur at one point, because they are so far away.  They mix together like a big, moving blurry cloud.

And then, a child will come to the window.  Every once in a few years a young mother sees it.  A child comes to a window, looks up, and there is the light in their eyes, the wonder, the joy.

“Snow,” the child whispers, before running away from the window.  Then the women can barely hear the shouting, “IT’S SNOWING!” but we remember the gentle rumble of a child’s bare feet racing through the house to wake up a brother or sister.  “IT’S SNOWING!” they are shouting now; “IT’S SNOWING!”




Frog Hollow Farm Peaches

Thursday, August 8th, 2013


These are the peaches to eat if you can’t remember what a real peach tastes like.

These are the peaches that Julia Child special-ordered.

These are the peaches at the center of an urban-kitchen legend:  Bill Clinton was dining at Chez Panisse.  For dessert he ordered something like a magnificent dark chocolate creation, which Alice Waters vetoed, sending him instead one perfect Frog Hollow Farm peach on a plate.

These are the peaches to send to someone you really love, or perhaps someone you really want to love you back.



They’ve been written about in The New York Times and The L.A. Times.  It’s impossible not to be won by this fruit.  The Cal Red is casually known as the “Oh My God” peach.  Frog Hollow describes the O Henry like this:  “It has the same burst of sweet, sticky densely-flavored peachy wonderfulness as the Cal Red, followed closely by a tingly jazz of acid.”

Risking localvore thrown stones, I am going to say that no New England peach can compare to those grown in the hot dry days and cool nights of the Sacramento Valley.  “Farmer Al,” the farmer genius of Frog Hollow, planted his first peach tree in 1978.  Frog Hollow Farm now grows everything from apriums to olives to persimmons to citrus.  (Their marmalade is also definitive.)  They have a commercial bakery on the property, which, no doubt, produces glorious lovelies.

Frog Hollow Farm has been certified organic since 1989.  Farmer Al tree ripens all the fruit, and intentionally under-waters just before harvesting, which, according to their website, invites the fruit to concentrate-up with flavor.

I am proof of the Frog Hollow’s fruit confidence and smart business practices.   Last summer I was on twitter complaining about spending $30 for a bag of local peaches which were all rotten, each and every one of them molding from the inside out.  Frog Hollow jumped into the conversation, asked for my address, and sent me a box of Cal Reds, promising Peach with a capital “P.”


I am not just a customer, I’m a believer; I now send Cal Reds to people I love.

You might be shocked at their prices; this isn’t Market Basket, remember.   These are peach art-form.  These are peaches to make you feel better that not every honest taste in a fruit has been GMO’ed and industrialized away.  Occasionally it’s worth paying something to know that.  Also, there are not many fail-safe gifts; this is one of them.

The true taste of a peach – juicy, honeyed, cinnamoned – is so irreplaceable, so definitively peach, so specifically delicious, everyone should have a chance to taste that again.  Cal Reds or O Henry’s.  Go to Frog Hollow Farm, order a mixed 6-pack, and be prepared for taking the day off to enjoy them.  Then vote on which your prefer – “oh my gods” or the “tingly jazz of acid.”

Short & Main Tomato Fritters

Monday, August 5th, 2013


Last May I took my visiting French guests to Short & Main, the second restaurant for Amelia and Nico Monday who opened The Market Restaurant in Annisquam three years ago.   Leaving a heaving tray of glimmering Duxburys, Pemaquids and scallop crudo nothing but empty shells, my French friends, with a pout that said surrender, declared this briny platter of shellfish, “better than Paris.”



Still, Short & Main has had its share of new restaurant headaches.  How would you like to receive a five thousand pound wood-fired oven in the mail, assemble it, and learn its eccentricities – as in, “how hot do the logs burn?” – well enough to serve a hundred people in a week?

I didn’t experience these evenings, but I heard about the air conditioner problems:  there was none; there was a heat wave, and that five thousand pound wood-fired pizza oven was like a fire-breathing dragon at one end of the room.

All that is resolved.  I recently bit into a folded slice of tender pizza crust, dappled bronze, brimming with Alprilla Farm arugula, La Quercia prosciutto, and shingles of Parmesan.  Pizza for Romans, I thought.


Late last winter I invited Nico and Amelia to my house for dinner; as a gift Amelia  brought a small plastic bag of candied orange peel she had made that day.  There was no restaurant to cook for, no new menus to design; oranges were the only fruit in season, and Amelia was cooking.  It was a gesture those of us who cook understand, but we’re often lead to believe that chefs eat take-out on their days off; they don’t cook, and they certainly don’t preserve orange peel.   I think this image explains the heart of both the Market and Short & Main.  Nico and Amelia truly love the art and the alchemy of food; they love it even when the closed sign hangs on the door.


This week I received in the mail, printed in flourishing font on hefty cardstock, a recipe for tomato fritters, a Short & Main thank you for my tiny contribution to the Kickstarter effort that funded the dragon/oven.  This simple piece of mail again reminds me that, beneath all the buzz, the magazine covers, and, well, the buzz, Nico and Amelia love to cook.

Short & Main will be open all year.  Many of the staff, including Nico and Amelia, will leave Annisquam for downtown Gloucester.  In winter, when there are more seagulls hanging over Main St. than tourists strolling, those of us still on Cape Ann will have the fortune to enjoy Amelia’s and Nico’s wood-fired pizza oven experiments.  Stews, tagines, roasted this, slowly braised that, we have much to look forward to.

Until then, here’s a recipe to carry with you into tomato season.  These are delicious topped with garlic scape pesto.






Tomato Fritters


combine in a bowl:


6 diced medium tomatoes

1 small yellow onion, grated

1 medium zucchini, grated

add salt & pepper and drain well




3/4 cup flour

1/2 tablespoon baking powder

3 sprigs chopped mint leaves

1 bunch chopped parsley leaves


Spoon dollops into oil.  (batter will be loose)

Pan fry at medium heat until golden brown

Sprinkle with salt and enjoy the deliciousness!




Bread + Butter

Thursday, August 1st, 2013


Here’s an indication of how good Bread + Butter is:  At noon on a recent weekday almost every seat in the place was filled with attractive twenty to thirty year-old women, lunching in groups of two’s, fours, even eights.  I think there was one guy in the place, and he was waiting for a woman who worked there.

When women lunch together, we care about the food.  Bread + Butter was packed with young women enjoying each other’s company, and a fabulous lunch that, eyes closed, could be served in the Quartier Latin.

Ignore the perfunctory look of Bread + Butter, located in the old Martignetti building on bustling Cross St. in Boston’s North End.  Ignore the plate glass doors, tiled ramp entrance, and easy-to-wipe-down chair and table surfaces, all too reminiscent of a purely functional fast lunch.  One look at the pastry case and you will know you’re not in a Subway anymore.

Lee Napoli, a pillar – or Croquembouche –  of classic French pastry in Boston, owns Bread + Butter; she rises each morning at 3:00 to make the croissants. Napoli learned her pate feuilletee lessons in the 1980’s as pastry chef at Maison Robert, once Boston’s premier French restaurant.  She later created dessert legends at The Lenox Hotel, Grill 23, and The Harvest restaurant.  Napoli founded the Professional Pastry Guild of New England, and is current president of the Boston chapter of Les Dames d’Escoffier.   Along with Bread + Butter, Napoli owns ChocoLee Chocolates in Boston’s South End.


This entire pedigree is told best by the buttery shards of flour and air collapsing in your mouth with the first bite of a Napoli croissant.

The Queen’s Cakes, a humble brown confection – no glamourous dessert curlicues or whirlygigs here –  similarly awe the palate, leaving you to ask is this the best breakfast or the best dessert I’ve ever had?  Pastry is all about the molecular arrangements of flour, butter, sugar and air; the molecules in Napoli’s queen cakes arrange themselves into a tender, firm, flaky, moist, crisp, sugary, mild, buttery taste with notes of caramel and just a whiff of salt.  Word on the North End street is “Queen’s cakes, get ‘em early; they sell out by 10:00.”


Again, ignore exteriors.  Bread + Butter may not be brimming with character, but it is clean and cheerful.  Take a lesson from the girls:  Lunch is great.  I had a duck confit sandwich on crackling fresh baguette, and a farro salad with roasted cauliflower in an almost-plump tasting lemony dressing.


Aside from plastic utensils, this was a sophisticated meal.

The fresh peach and frangipane tart, a perfect layering of pate brisee, cool almond cream and ripe peach-ness, of crisp, creamy, and sweet, cancelled out any plastic utensil issues.



Lastly, Bread + Butter’s baguettes are the real thing: I mentioned that crackling crust, but there is also a soft buttery crumb, and a little bit of salt.  The New York Times today announced the baguette a suffering cultural totem in France, although the French teenagers I have hosted this year clearly consider it more important than water at a meal.  Their mothers warn them to eat their bread, claiming it adds fiber to their diet, slows the meal, and drains the gusto for dessert.  The New York Times says that picking up the daily baguette in France is still the equivalent of saying to your family, “I love you;”  they just say it now with half a loaf per Parisian man, rather than a whole.  (In 1900, it took three baguettes per man a day to say “I love you!”)

Gluten is scarier than fat in America these days;  the poor baguette here barely stands a chance.

So, if you work near Cross St. in Boston, or if you’re passing through the North End and want a wonderful lunch minus the red sauce, and if you’re not afraid of gluten, stop in at Bread + Butter where “I love you” tastes like France.