045: The Meme Lord Ever Giveth
Plus, barely legal edibles guaranteed to distract your guests from the increasingly heated kitchen of Andrew Cuomo
(JS) I’m not gonna talk about the boat. I’m not gonna talk about the boat. I’m not gonna talk about the boat. I’m not gonna talk about the boat. Ok I’m sorry but I have to talk about the boat. On the one hand I’m deeply creeped out by cargo ships, or really any watercraft of that size; I’m hardly a physicist but man-made structures of that scale simply shouldn’t float. (Real fans may counter, “but Jake, what about your noted history as a skipper and the anchor tattoo on your left forearm?” to which I would offer that evergreen Whitman refrain: very well then, I will contradict myself, I was a dumb teen, I contain multitudes.) And yet there’s something deeply humbling about ships running aground in the year 2021 (our girl has already secured a feature image on the Wiki page). How refreshing it’s been to finally enjoy a meme with a seemingly non-problematic protagonist! The freakin’ moon sliding in for an eleventh hour rescue?! And to think this all went down in old Mitzrayim during Pesach?! That’s kismet, folks.
A hearty Chag Sameach to those who are celebrating; although I’d planned to join my family for a second night seder of sorts, unforeseen flight delays led them to instead spend their Sunday wandering the cultural desert of Boca Raton, just as their ancestors had done. Next year in Larchmont, as I like to say.
Here’s a selection of decidedly non-KFP fare I’ve enjoyed this past week:
Fennel-scented polpette in sugo from Giorgio Locatelli’s Made in Sicily
Kia Damon’s kimchi grilled cheese with a quick and dirty pantry tomato soup
Friend of the newsletter Salley generously picked up some goodies for me from Jersey City’s Bread and Salt, including a fat slice of pastiera napoletana, casatiello (seemingly an Easter-specific riff on my beloved baba rustico), and maybe the best bomboloni I’ve had to date
(SB) Like my esteemed colleague, I too contain multitudes. Since these multitudes are currently manifesting as a set of divergent interests, hobbies, and passions that I seem to be hell-bent on pursuing semi-professionally during a pandemic, I have increasingly been reflecting on whether Walt Whitman would have survived a world with Zoom. Currently, I’m leaning towards “definitely not.” Crossing Brooklyn Ferry? In this economy? Maybe double masked. Anyway, I digress, sweet readers. The last week seems to have passed in the blink of an eye, a blur of park-based pleasures, endless screen-time, and interminable to-do lists. I sing the same song every week, at the top of the letter, but I gather that you’re all hearing similar tunes during your days. (JS: She, too, sings America.)
While our world has clearly changed forever in the past year, I am left with the reality that springtime has always made me desperate to play hooky habitually. I don’t want to do my work and frankly I don’t want you to do your work — I just want us all to be able to make the game-time decision to spend the entire weekday afternoons reading novels outside or finding the best fish buns in Staten Island. I want to eat crab legs doused in butter and then take a nap! I want to do a small, discrete task when I wake up and then bask in the self-satisfaction of accomplishment at the Botanical Gardens. I want to have three drinks at lunch and browse a used book store with my friends. I am in the mood both to rest and deeply desirous of an email assuring me that I am a good, promising scholar who will be receiving thousands of dollars in research support and, surprise, a tenure track job in a city I love. These are my confessions! I hope that they manifest in whatever small way they are able.
In the interim, here’s what I ate this week:
Several sweet and springy outdoor meals, including banh mi and summer rolls from Two Wheels, enjoyed in Central Park; a big Saturday picnic, replete with a (smol) wheel of Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk cheese, lots of bread, leftover kuku, and a bottle of prosecco to boot. Friend of the letter Aanchal made some malpua to celebrate Holi.
A large and virtuous grain salad to follow that cheese and bread orgy, livened up with chaat masala-dressed desi channa, roasted eggplant, asparagus threatening to expire, and a few handfuls of arugula.
Another round of Priya Krishna’s easy red dal, served with basmati, yogurt, and potato chips prepared by Willis, an emerging weeknight staple.
TRASH TALK: Maast o Sabzi Polo, or, Post-Nowruz Naughty Fusion
(JS) I first learned about yogurt rice during an off-season road trip through the Costa Brava in late 2016, during which I listened to Padma Lakshmi’s Love, Loss, and What We Ate – a fact that makes me the unquestionable authority at this newsletter when it comes to all things yogurt rice. (SB: Curd rice, as we call it on the subcontinent, is also, fun fact, one of my favorite foods.) As we careened through the Catalunyan countryside, passing sleepy Romanesque hamlets with unassuming names like Ultramort (🙃) and Matajudaica (😬) in search of calçots and cava, the soothing sounds of Padma filled our rickety little hatchback, serenely narrating – precisely as promised – tales of love, loss, and what she ate. Yogurt rice features prominently, a South Indian staple of her childhood that she frequently revisits throughout her journey for a reliable bowl of comfort. Leftover cooked rice is mixed – preferably by hand– with salted plain yogurt in nearly equal parts, and then dressed up with a colorful blend of mix ins: chopped cucumbers or pomegranate arils provide a pop of juicy freshness, while fried urad dal offers some nutty crunchiness, aided by a quick and piquant tadka of mustard seeds, asafoetida, curry leaves and green chiles. With a week of vacation left and nary an accessible kitchen (let alone leftover rice) on my itinerary, I made a mental note of this most alluring recipe, but failed to return to it for a cool three and a half years. As we headed into pandemic Q2, faced with rising temperatures and an abundance of Misfits Market English cucumbers and Tommy Atkins mangoes, I finally experienced the joys of yogurt rice first hand, subbing in cilantro for curry leaves and cashews for urad dal (per this Padma-sanctioned Food52 adaptation). Served room temperature or cold, it’s the type of easy meal one can fall back on in the heat of the summer, turning leftovers and assorted fridge remnants into something to savor.
An impromptu Nowruz dinner last week left me with a good two and a half cups of extra sabzi polo, the herb-laden rice typically served to usher in the new year. Frantically googling recipes for leftover Persian rice provided little insight as to how to make use of the fragrant grains (we’ll never know just what u/urdoingamazingsweety did with his stepmom’s bounty). And so I found myself contemplating what my co-editor has referred to as “naughty fusion.” Persian cuisine is blessed with a variety of yogurt-based dishes, including hits such as maast o khiar (literally, “yogurt and cucumbers”) or maast o musir (“yogurt and shallots”). In addition to the titular ingredients, the former often incorporates some combination of raisins, dried rose petals, chopped walnuts, a bit of garlic, and a blend of fresh and dried herbs, especially mint and dill. Would it be crazy, I wondered, to introduce these ingredients to my leftover sabzi polo for a Nowruz-inspired yogurt rice? In fact, it was delicious; the polo offered not only a symphony of herbal flavors, but also textual variety, the rogue bits of leftover tahdig providing additional crunch to my porridge. I dialed back the yogurt a bit, arriving at something in the range of 2:1 rice to yogurt, but you could definitely modify that ratio for your tastes. If you find yourself craving more heat than the Persian pantry tends to provide, lean back into the Indian side of this dish and finish with tadka, or even a hot pickle.
USE A CONDIMENT: Salsa (be)Guille
(SB) Every now and again, I make eye contact with one of the many recipes that flit across the threshold of my inbox and know that we’re destined to grow intimately acquainted. Such was the case with Andrea Aliseda’s Salsa Guille, featured in an email blast from Epicurious last week. Looking intriguingly beige and alluringly creamy, Andrea’s great grandmother (JS: also known as her bisabuela) Guille’s salsa recipe snared my interest with its use of both peanut butter, bouillon, and a promise to be a welcome addition to everything from sizzling mushrooms to quesadillas.
The recipe is fairly straightforward. Begin with prep: quarter a medium white onion and separate each layer, smash roughly 14 cloves of garlic, and halve and de-stem eight serrano chiles. Andrea’s recipe has you heat up two cups of avocado or rapeseed oil in a dutch oven over medium heat before adding the onions, garlic, and chiles over a low simmer. (Full disclosure: I discovered I only had about one cup of vegetable oil, so I used about half those onions, a full ten cloves of garlic, and six serrano chiles. Yes, I can be an agent of chaos.) When the corners of the onions are beginning to blister, after about ten minutes, remove the mixture from the heat and transfer the solids into a blender with a slotted spoon and allow to cool for another ten minutes.
Next, add in a healthy teaspoon of vegetable bouillon (I bet you could use chicken), two tablespoons of peanut butter, and a little salt to the blender and puree until smooth. Stream in about a cup of the cooking oil with the blender on low, and watch hungrily as the mixture emulsifies. Scrape everything out of the blender, and top with crushed peanuts if desired. I scraped about half of my salsa into a tupperware for the fridge and the other half into a jar to take immediately to the park. I enjoyed the park-bound salsa with a medley of picnic bites: bread and leftover kuku, plantain chips, and slivers of bell red pepper. I came home and used the reserved half as a topping first for roasted asparagus, and then for a grain and veggie salad, inspired by new-subscriber Caitlin & their boo Bobby’s picnic contribution. In the intervening days, I have also used this salsa on last-minute lunchtime quesadillas, as a dip for potato chips, and as a chaat topping with some desi chana. In other words, it is the gift that keeps on giving, and I am grateful for Guille.
TMYK: Focaccia Pugliese
(JS) If we haven’t made it clear already, we’re huge fans of focaccia at this newsletter. Lately we’ve taken to shouting the glories of Carla Finley’s sourdough version at anybody and everybody who will listen, but we’re hardly monotheists when it comes to focaccia. (SB: Or, really, anything.) Prior to our #naturallyleavened days, we worshiped at the altar of Saltie, the late cult Williamsburg sandwich purveyor whose minimalist focaccia provided a pillowy base for fan favorites like The Scuttlebutt. We can hardly think of a better use for concord grapes than this bejeweled grape and rosemary scented focaccia from Smitten Kitchen. Of course, there’s Samin’s Netflix-famous Ligurian focaccia, a dimply loaf bathed in olive oil and flecked with flaky salt. Just to confuse you, I’ll add that we’re deeply intrigued by focaccia di Recco – also from Liguria – a thin and elastic dough filled with melty cheese. All of this is to say that choosing a favorite would be like asking us to choose a favorite child: with the right prodding we probably could do it, but instead we choose to see them as unique and special, and hope that at least one will nourish us into decrepitude. We are forever curious when focaccia is involved, and always eager to add another* to our repertoire.
This week our Italian cosplay takes us to the south for a taste of focaccia pugliese, an olive-oil rich dough that’s effectively fried in heavily oiled iron pans. I followed this recipe from Katie Parla, which combines semola rimacinata (not to be confused with coarse semolina) and bread flour along with some potato that’s been boiled, cooled, and riced – to be honest, I’m not sure it adds a ton of flavor and Katie suggests you can probably get away with omitting it, but other recipes insist it’s crucial for optimal texture. It’s worth noting potatoes feature prominently in both sweet and savory dishes from the region (I’m keen to give these ‘mpigne a try soon). I adapted Katie’s recipe for sourdough and prepared mine by hand instead of with a mixer, stretching and folding and increasing the fermentation times accordingly, but as far as the other ingredients are concerned I largely stuck to script. (SB: OK Bryan Ford of Prospect Heights.) Well, at least for one of my three focaccia; the first was bedecked with cherry tomatoes and olives (buttery Castelvetranos, rather than the more typical black varietals, simply because I had already had them on hand) and finished with a sprinkle of oregano; on the second, I layered thinly sliced potato (soaked for a couple hours in salt water, following Jim Lahey/Deb Perelman’s advice) with briney capers that crisped up upon baking, dusted with a bit of Aleppo pepper; the third focaccia was studded with chunks of provolone, the sprinkled with fennel seed and black pepper.
Starting your prepared dough on the stovetop in a heavily-oiled cast iron pan ensures a deeply browned and crispy crust that can sometimes be difficult to achieve in home ovens. Once the oil starts to bubble and crackle, let the focaccia cook for a few minutes, then use a heat-proof spatula to lift and edge and check for coloring – Katie suggests three minutes, but I probably kept mine sizzling closer to five. Once it’s begun to brown, you then transfer the pan into the oven, where it bakes for another 17 or so minutes at a comfortable 425°F atop a preheated baking stone (an inverted Dutch oven lid works in a pinch). Again, I erred closer to 20 minutes for mine, but I prefer a well done crust and fully cooked toppings. I am not prepared to divulge just how much of these three focaccia I consumed in the 24 hours after they were baked, but I will tell you that I have two more proofing in the fridge right now.
*All that being said, under no circumstances will we condone a so-called garden focaccia; this shit will not cook evenly, will not slice well, and honestly just won’t taste that good.
PERMANENT ROTATION: The signature steamed eggs from Buvette are a petit dejeuner à la francais we find ourselves missing most frequently these days. A slow scramble is a low lift at home hack worth trying.
(JS) Friend of the newsletter Daira kindly gifted me this extremely chic bamboo compost bin for my birthday that spontaneously cracked in half a mere two weeks into use (evidently I’m not alone!). I’m back on the hunt for a compost solution, as my freezer garbage tetris is getting a little out of hand.
(SB) I am ever intrigued by a new, chicly packaged condiment. This week, my fantasy pantry pick is a bottle of Ghanian bean paste known as Shito from San Francisco based Gloria’s Shito. The “Adventurer” is sold out, leaving me with a goldilocks choice between too little and potentially too much, plus a vegan option for good measure.
(JS & SB) We recently found ourselves enamored with a Yunan steam pot on Zoe Yang’s instagram stories, though allegedly shipping from The Wok Shop can be a bit of a gamble. In their defense, the Panama Canal is notoriously unreliable.
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