Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Pasta: a love story

We moved to Barcelona in December, 2001, in the wake of 9/11. We were leaving Argentina in the midst of the economic, and eventually political, crash. It was a tumultuous time. South, people were losing their homes, their livelihoods. North, they were planning a war. Here in Barcelona, Andrés and I spent those first months wandering the streets alone. We had nowhere to go, no here to call home.

We decided to get married. When you’re far from home and sharing your life with just one other person, you do crazy things. You form a family. A family of two. And you create your own home. You stuff your home with things you love: noises, smells, words, texture--things that remind you where you come from, where you are, where you’ve never been.

Sunday in Buenos Aires means one of two things: asado or pasta. Pasta used to mean homemade; for some houses it still does. For others, however, it means the pasta factories. Each neighborhood has its own. Every Sunday, neighbors queue down the block and around the corner, looking to buy tallarines, spaghetti, tagliatelli and linguini by the kilo, ravioli and sorrentini by the dozen. The barrios bustle. Neighbors hurry home with tallarines carefully wrapped in paper, raviolis lining boxes like petite-fours, to tuco simmering on the stove.

Sunday in Barcelona means five-on-five football matches and the cañas that follow. It means the book fair at the Sant Antoni market. It can also mean a coffee at Caelum. It rarely means church and it never means pasta. Spain means rice, paella. Spain knows nothing about pasta.

Sunday is a day of ritual. In many European countries, shops and shopping centers close on Sundays. People infuse their Sundays with meaning--we spent our first few years here looking for one.

Last Christmas, I finally gave Andrés a new Sunday: A pasta maker.

Now, each Sunday, he engages in the same ritual his grandmother used to, kneading love into eggs and flour, transforming the resultant sticky mass into food. And so, as it does for millions of other porteños so many miles away, Sunday in Barcelona now means fresh pasta. It means spaghetti and homemade meatballs. It means linguini and cream sauce. It means penne and sun-dried tomatoes. And lots of fresh basil. For two.


Sunday Pumpkin-Ricotta Ravioli (for a Family of Two)

300 grams fine flour (about 1 1/3 cups, or 10 ounces; Andrés uses 00, though 000 is better)
2 eggs
Fresh Spring Water

500 grams roasted pumpkin or butternut squash (about 2 cups)
1 tablespoon tightly packed brown brown sugar
250 grams ricotta cheese (about 1 cup)
1 tablespoon fresh sage
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
Salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup freshly grated parmesan
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (for drizzling)


For the pasta:

Measure the flour out on your kitchen scale. Then transfer to a clean surface.

Make a small crater in the pile of flour with your first. Crack the eggs into the crater and beat them with a fork. Once the egg is beaten, use the fork the mix it into the flour, gently bringing flour in from the sides. It will soon have a consistency similar to that of cornmeal.

Once all the flour has been mixed with the egg, it is time to knead. You may need to add water to make this process easier. To add the water, merely dip your hands into a small bowl of water and knead. Repeat this as often as necessary to create a workable blob. Knead.

Wrap the dough in a damp kitchen towel and let sit for a short while. Meanwhile, set up your paste maker and prepare the filling.

For the filling:

In a small bowl, mash the roasted pumpkin with fork. Add the brown sugar and mix well. Now add the ricotta and mix well again. Add sage and turmeric, and salt and pepper to taste.

Divide the dough into smaller bowls. Roll each one out with a rolling pin and send it through the pasta maker till you have the desired thickness. (Andrés says his grandmother did this by hand--she had no pasta maker. She would roll the dough out and then cut it to the desired width with a knife. It's a bit easier with the machine.)


Once you've got the dough where you want it, add the attachment to the machine. In this case, we added the ravioli one.

Spread the filling on two sheets of pasta dough. Crank it through the pasta maker.

Boil 4 quarts water in a large pot. Throw in some salt and a laurel leaf for good measure. Add the pasta and let it cook till it rises to the surface. This should take less than three minutes. Drain.

Add freshly grated parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

The Queen Bully of Garlic

In an old FoodVibe post Steve asked: Is it worth trying to juice garlic?

I'll answer this question, unequivocally: NO.

I juiced garlic, once. At the time I was twenty-two, bursting with bravado, and inspired by the heady writing of one of my early heroes, the juicing extraordinaire, Dr. Norman Walker. (Warning: Do not follow that link lightly...) In his famous Fresh Vegetable and Fruit Juices this is what Dr. Walker has to say about garlic juice:

"Metaphorically speaking, garlic itself is bad enough but garlic juice by itself may cause devastating social ostracism for the one who drinks it. It is very beneficial, if one has the mental fortitude to overcome social handicaps, and the intestinal fortitude to endure the general discomfort which accompanies the more or less rapid house cleaning of one's system."

Around this time I smuggled fresh garlic into restaurants. I cut the cloves raw onto my food. (Suzanne will attest to this fact.)

I had the mental fortitude. Unfortunately, I did not have the intestinal fortitude. One cup of garlic juice and I was walloped. I drank the garlic juice, mercifully mixed with carrots, on a Friday morning in July. I was due to go to the beach for the weekend. I never made it. I spent the weekend in bed, immersed in one of the most intense and ridiculous detox experiences of my life. I smelled like garlic until September.

Garlic is intense. At the very least, it inspires intense emotion. I for one love it. Before I became humbled by life and love, I used it in my own cooking like a battle axe. Don't like garlic? Too bad, here's my Risotto with 40 Cloves of Garlic.

Suzanne and I once made Risotto with 40 Cloves of garlic. It was a balmy summer night. We shared the risotto and three magnums of red wine with my brother. Then we went bowling. That sweaty night, as the garlic and wine seeped from our pores, as our friends moaned and complained about the obnoxious smell, we winked at each other and laughed conspiratorially.

No amount of social ostracism could overcome the deep and loving pact we forged over massive amounts of red wine and garlic.

I'm a Garlic Bully. I throw my garlic love in people's faces. Rarely have I met my match. I suppose though when you're a bully you always get your comeuppance.

Once, in Barcelona, I met The Queen Bully of Garlic.

When I lived in Barcelona I made a habit of visiting the fruit and vegetable markets every day. Most days I was so enthralled by the shapes, colors, and smells of the fruits and vegetables that I literally wasted up to an hour, simply browsing the aisles. On one of these occasions I was awakened from my spell by a short fat women whose cheeks were plump and red, and who offered me a clove of garlic speared on the end of a small pocket knife.

Queries?” she asked.

Then, as if preparing for a sudden burst of song, she proclaimed in rapid fire Spanish that her garlic was the most powerful in Barcelona. As she spoke she waddled back and forth with sincere pride, inhaling deeply, throwing her hands in the air as if to prove that the garlic was responsible for her robust posture. Seeing my doubt, she implored me to bite into the clove and taste for myself.

I accepted the challenge with my bravado, throwing the entire clove into my mouth. I chewed the garlic as if it were an apple, but before my second bite I realized that I was experiencing the real deal: the garlic to end all garlic, a perfect, peppery slice of the beautiful, ugly, power of The Stinking Rose.

I continued chewing with a twisted face, as if it were a matter of pride, like taking a shot of whiskey. The taste, however, was too strong. I spit the clove onto the sidewalk in defeat. The small crowd that had gathered burst into laughter. The fat women smiled. She was chewing on one of the cloves for pleasure.

For the rest of that day and onto the next, wherever I went the smell of garlic followed. Garlic seeped out of my pores like a renegade sweat, like a battle scar.

Moroccan Charmoula Tempeh

This is a close adaptation of the great Peter Berley's recipe from the outstanding book The Modern Vegetarian Kitchen--my all-time favorite vegetarian cookbook. Four garlic cloves make this dish garlicky; six make you a "garlic bully." Serve with rice.

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup water (yes water)
1/3 cup fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons fresh ground cumin (Please tell me you grind your own spices?)
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon ground chile powder
2 teaspoons kosher salt
4-6 garlic cloves, peeled
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped
1 pound tempeh, cut into one inch squares

In a blender or food processor or blender, mix together olive oil, water, lemon juice, spices, salt, garlic, and cilantro.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Arrange tempeh squares in a single layer in a baking dish. Pour on marinade and cover securely with foil. Bake for 45 minutes, until tempeh has absorbed the marinade. Uncover and bake for a few more minutes to brown.

Serves 4

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

My son Zev eats cucumbers at night

It's been over a half hour now. You still sit with furrowed brow and tight, pursed lips. Elbows on the table, your chin rests in your hands.

I watch you across the room from the couch as I read the fiction piece in the December issue of Harper's. It arrived weeks ago. I haven't had time to read it yet. I put it down, walk to the table. I should know better than to try reading during dinner time.

"Let's go big boy," I say.


I knew you would say this, yet I have few options in my arsenal. I am resourceless, but not defeated. We stare at each other. We often reach this impasse.

I come home late everyday from my second teaching job. I only have an hour or so with you and Akiva and Sivan before you go to bed. I don't want our time to be spent like this.

First were the fishies with a bit of ketchup, a side of frozen grapes. You did a great job, devouring the fishies in minutes. I expected that. They're your favorite. Then came the finely chopped cucumbers, mixed with vanilla probiotic yogurt. This is the only way you'll eat cucumbers, which the doctor says you must.

Stalling for time, you play with your hands, pretending they are wild animals fighting each other. You frequently play like this. I did the same thing when I was your age. I feel a strange sensation. Not sure what it is, I push it down. Maybe to examine later.

Now is not the time for such things. I'm all business. You must eat your vegetables.

The cucumbers turn the yogurt into a watery mess. I don't blame you if you don't want to eat them. I fix it: Pour out the watery yogurt, replace it with a newer, fresher batch. It returns to its original consistency.

Placing the bowl back in front of you, I scruff your hair affectionately.

"Mmph," you say gruffly and move you head away from my hand.

The doctor says you have to eat vegetables--they will help your condition. Sometimes you don't poop for days. You choose to hold it in--an incomprehensible act of childhood power and defiance. Once when you were three, it went on for two weeks. I used to find you hiding under the dining room table, your face a twisted mask of discomfort as your tiny stomach muscles worked to close your bowels like an iron clamp.

"Why, Zev?" we would ask. Then we would beg, "Let's just go the bathroom, please!"

The doctor said your bowels must be swollen with constipation, that it must painful, that perhaps you can no longer feel the proper time to go. Then came the accidents. Sudden and unexpected, they were a seeming validation of the prognosis. The doctor said avoid dairy, wheat, anything that binds; he said we have to give you daily doses of fresh vegetables with copious amount of olive oil. This would somehow produce the desired effect--that your colon would shrink and allow you to feel the proper sensation again, that you would poop again, regularly and normally.

I try to explain this to you.

You dismiss it all.

"Zev," I say, "You're being unreasonable!"

I know how ridiculous this sounds. You are five years old, far beyond reason.

You still sit there. I get desperate. I begin to think of bargains, the requisite if/then deals. How can I snatch compromise out of the jaws of defeat?

Sometimes the defiance is legendary, as it is tonight.

But so far the cucumber yogurt treatment has yielded small successes. No accidents for a long time. No more holding it in. Good reports from your school in Manhattan.

At home, you will often be on the floor playing when suddenly you'll look up with a crazed look in your eye: "Poopy!" you yell, and run to the bathroom.

"Yay, Zev!" we all yell in unison.

Don't let the smile fool you. He hates red onions and tomatoes too

Now it is later. All the cucumbers have been eaten. Previous angers and tempers drain away like warm bath water from the tub. After drying off and getting into your pajamas, you ask me to lay in bed with you as you fall asleep--a small, conciliatory act of remorse from the five-year old mind, a desire to clear the slate.

I say, "Yes, of course." I am glad you asked. It doesn't always happen.

You are asleep within five minutes. Turning over, I look at the soft rise and fall of your chest. Tomorrow brings another day of school for you, with its social maze. Later, high school, girls, politics. I suppress a shudder, lay my arm across your waist. The fuzzy feel of your winter pajamas, the slight smell of stale urine, rekindles distant memories of my own childhood bed.

What did my father think as he watched me sleep? Was he as lost, as spinning as I am tonight?

In the haze of consciousness between waking and sleep, I have an image of us walking together, hand in hand through an enormous field of cucumbers that stretches for miles in all directions.

Flanking the field on all sides rise buildings of dizzying heights. Still beyond them, mountains, then deep blue sky. Still further beyond, space. Coming from everywhere, the sound of people talking, laughing, rushing. Somewhere overhead, airplanes zigzag the sky. As we walk, I ask you to stop, wait a moment.

Bending down, I pluck a ripe green cucumber from the ground. Kneeling to meet your height, you look into my face as I hand it to you.

"Here, take this," I say. "They taste good."

Spinach, Goat & Cottage Cheese Tart in a Potato Crust

With the green color of spinach and the tangy taste of goat cheese, this recipe is sure to be one that adults love but kids hate. Seth originally published the recipe here.

6-8 medium Yukon Gold potatoes
2-4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
1 garlic clove, thinly sliced
1 bunch spinach, stems removed, and sliced into thin strips, washed and not dried
8 oz. fresh goat cheese, crumbled
1 cup cottage cheese
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
¼ cup basil, chopped
Sea salt and fresh ground pepper

Peel the potatoes and slice into 1/8 inch rounds. Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a wide skillet over medium-high heat. When hot, add a layer of potatoes to the pan and cook, turning once, 3-4 minutes per side, until golden and easily pierced with a knife. Set aside on plate lined with a paper towel. Repeat with remaining potatoes.

When potatoes are done, add 1 tablespoon olive oil to the pan. Add garlic and cook until light gold, about 1 minute. Add the spinach (with water clinging to its leaves) and cook until bright green and tender, 2-3 minutes. Transfer the spinach to a bowl and gently add fresh goat cheese, cottage cheese, eggs, lemon zest, lemon juice, and basil. Stir gently. Season to taste with sea salt and ground pepper.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. To assemble the tart, lightly butter a 9-inch springform pan. Line the pan with potatoes, covering the bottom and sides, covering any empty spaces. Pour in the spinach-goat cheese mixture. Bake until firm and golden, about 50 minutes.

Release the spring from the pan and gently left the side. Set the tart on a plate, slice, and serve.

6-8 servings

Monday, December 08, 2008

Fat Should Inspire Sex

I recently calculated my daily fat intake. Since I eat essentially the same foods every day, my calculations are probably pretty accurate.

For breakfast, I typically consume 3 tablespoons raw extra virgin olive oil. That's 42 grams of fat, 360 calories--66% of the daily suggested intake.

Lunch, I consume 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil (baked, in tempeh). That's 28 grams of fat, 240 calories.

By dinner, I've exceeded my daily fat intake, simply by consuming olive oil.

Is this healthy?

One prominent study suggests two tablespoons daily is a healthful dose. But I cannot find any studies on excessive olive oil consumption. I can say, though, that as a type-1 diabetic, I'm prone to an increased risk of high blood pressure, as well as heart and cholesterol problems. And yet, I'm healthy. I get blood tests several times a year. I check my own blood pressure monthly. My levels are healthy, normal.

Also, at 5' 11", 150 pounds, I'm slightly underweight.

Keeping this in mind, consider my dinner: I typically consume two tablespoons raw extra virgin olive oil, about 27 grams fat from chicken, and about 1/4 cup coconut milk. After dinner, I eat a little chocolate, about 6 grams of fat worth.

In one day, I consume:

7 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil: 98 grams fat ; 840 calories.
2 chicken legs: 27 grams fat; 464 calories
1/4 coconut milk: 12 grams fat; 120 calories
Chocolate: 6 grams fat; 80 calories

That's 143 grams of fat--more than double the daily recommended value.

Again, can this be healthy?

I'd say, possibly. I rarely eat dairy fat (I eat raw butter and goat cheese occasionally.) I never, ever eat trans-fats. My animal fat intake is not excessive. (I take fish oil capsules every day, but the capsules do not increase my fat intake.)

Still, 143 grams.

I don't care. I love fat, with wild abandon.

Without fat, cuisine is unimaginable. Fat provides immense flavor and an impossible to match smoothness. Fat tenderizes food. Fat allows for high-heat cooking--the domain of crispiness and robust flavor. To me, low-fat cuisine is lifeless, boring, just plain stupid. Thousands of studies have proven the health benefits of fats--fish oils, extra virgin, olive oil, even saturated fats such as extra virgin coconut oil. People who eat low fat diets in pursuit of health or weight-loss are simply moronic. To me, low-fat dieters seem as boring and lifeless as their boring, lifeless diets.

No doubt, some chefs might say the same thing about me. I typically eschew the classics of gourmet cooking, cream and butter, in my own manic pursuit of "health." (I do use some animal fat, such as bacon, on special occasions, and when absolutely called for.)

Well, I challenge any chef to make my mashed potatoes. They're delicious; they're also healthy.

I think cuisine should provide taste and nourishment and vitality. Any chef can whip up a great-tasting mashed potato, with cream and butter. But how do creamy, buttery mashed potatoes make you feel after you eat?

I want my diners to feel satisfied, but I also want them to walk away from the table feeling light and sprite. I don't want my diners to moan, to lay around, devastated by my food. I want my diners to dance in celebration. I want my diners to kiss without fear of burbing unhealthy burbs. I want my diners to feel like making wild, winey-love. I want my diners to feel sexy, before and after eating.

Towards this end, I use the sexy fat: coconut milk.

Coconut milk (unlike coconut oil) does not dramatically alter the taste of a dish, if used in correct quantities. (My mashed potatoes do not taste at all like coconut.) And yet, coconut adds the silky luxuriousness that's missing from many dairy-free recipes. I use coconut milk in many recipes where cream might be called for, and usually the result is terrific.

Try mashed sweet potatoes. Try chocolate truffles.

Recently, I've been making variations on what I call "Healthy Creamed Spinach." It's basically greens, simmered with coconut milk. Try it. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Coconut Braised Greens

I originally developed this recipe for Whole Foods Market; if you like it, you can rate it here.

1 large bunch kale or collard greens, trimmed and teared into small pieces
1 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, very thinly sliced
1/2 cup fresh coconut milk
1 teaspoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
Sea salt
Fresh ground pepper

In a large dutch oven over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onions and a pinch of salt and saute, stirring occasionally, until soft and translucent, 6-8 minutes.

Add the coconut milk and lemon juice to the pan. Add the greens. Gently toss. Simmer over medium-low heat, covered, until greens are just tender, 3-5 minutes.

Season to taste with salt and fresh ground pepper.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Dear Alcohol

Dear Alcohol,

By the time you read these lines, I’ll be gone. It may shock you, but I've been thinking about leaving you for months—since that day at the beach last summer. But let's not go there. Not now.

Over the last few years, you slowly began to demand more of my time—time usually spent with friends or family. I was dependent on you, at a period in my life when I needed to be independent. I feel sad admitting I won't be able to be with you anymore. But I know I'll be a more complete person as a result. You will be angry. You will resent me. You have that right. I cannot stop that.

Alcohol, we have been through a lot together. Our romance was a whirlwind romance. When we first met in high school, you validated me in ways that no one had before. With you in those early days, I felt a sense of belonging--a belonging I had never felt.

In your murky depths, I saw a reflection of myself. You allowed me to be whomever I wanted to be. You listened. For a while, our relationship worked well for me.

But you changed. I changed.

By the end, we were all wrong for each other.

I just felt betrayed by you one too many times. The false hopes. The empty promises. I slowly came to realize that your smiles were placating and sycophantic. You turned into my enabler. Perhaps I was the real betrayer. I acknowledge this. I betrayed myself by allowing you into my life. You never forced yourself upon me. It was I who sought you out.

I don’t blame you for anything. I have no resentment. I only want to move on.

You may ask, "What about all those late nights? All the times we made love?"

My answer is that, in the end, I was just going through the motions. I faked it. I lost pleasure in our encounters a long time ago. Yes, I can admit that now. I don't feel good about it.

But I do remember the good times. I'll miss the laughter, the mirth. I'll miss our circle of friends- scotch, bourbon, beer.

And who could ever forget wine? Yes, wine with her purple eyes, her long, sleek neck.

But there is someone new in my life. Her name is Coffee. She is hot, lovely. She's also black. Does this surprise you? Coffee picks me up in ways that you never could. By the end of our time together, you could only bring me down.

Coffee and I are beginning to create more of a life together than I could ever hope to have with you.

I hope you can one day understand and come to terms with what I have done. I can only thank you for our time together, and for everything you have taught me about myself.

We'll always have college.

Please, don’t try to find me.



Thursday, December 04, 2008

A Perfect Pot of Rice

My house white is basmati. Early morning I measure a cup or more and wash it in a pot. Washing rice is a custom in India: Basmati is traditionally rinsed seven or more times, until the water runs clear. The stated purpose of washing is to rid the rice of excess surface starch, ensuring a lighter cooked grain. I'm all for a lighter grain, but I wash for kicks too.

Here's what I do: I put the rice in the pot. I pour water into the pot and swish the rice around with my fingers. I love this part: Wet rice in my fingers. Think of Audrey Tatou as Amelie, thrusting her hands into a bag of dried lentils. The camera cuts to her face and there she is, full of verve, alive.

After washing, I let the rice soak in water for hours. In his classic book Healing with Whole Foods Paul Pitchford suggests that soaking grains like rice "germinates the dormant energy." I love the thought of this: I go to work and my rice stays at home, leaping forth into a new kind of ricehood. If I had to define the word FoodVibe this would be it: rice, soaking.

When I get home, I discard the soaking water and assemble the dish.

I throw in the water, a little olive oil, ¼ teaspoon turmeric, two garlic cloves, two slices ginger, a few pinches saffron, and a few dashes fleur de sel.

When the rice simmers the kitchen smells like our old place in Barcelona. I envision my wife in a red blouse, tied at the neck, feasting on paella. So I call her into the kitchen, she comes skipping, and I say: I'm making rice! Rice? she says. And then we make love on the kitchen floor, the smell of the cooking rice inspiring romance, possibility, and dinner.

Perfect Pot of Rice

1 cup white basmati rice
1 3/4 cup water
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
two whole garlic cloves
two slices fresh ginger
Sea salt

In a medium saucepan, wash the rice in seven or more changes of cool water until the water runs clear. Do so with a sensual fervor that reminds one of the movie Amelie. Cover the rice with cool water and set aside to soak for 30 minutes, or up to 18 hours. (This is called FoodVibing the rice.)

Drain the rice. Throw the water, olive oil, turmeric, garlic cloves, slices ginger, a few pinches saffron, and 1/4 teaspoon sea salt into the pot. Bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer until the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Remove the rice from the heat. Remove the lid and put a few paper towels over the pot; cover again and let stand for 5-10 minutes. This last step is utterly essential; resting is crucial.

Fluff with a fork, remove aromatics, and serve.