Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Recipe for Pomegranate Ice Cream in Pistachio-Cardamom Cookie Sandwiches, with Bonus Recipe for Crispy Pistachio-Cardamom Cookies

Christmas is coming faster than you’d think, which means Christmas baking season is nearly upon us.

For the last few days, I’ve been working on a fun, new, seasonally appropriate, and colorful Christmas dessert. After several attempts, I’ve finally perfected my recipe for Pomegranate Ice Cream in Pistachio-Cardamom Cookie Sandwiches.

The recipe is amazing. Tart pomegranate, rich pistachio, and aromatic cardamom come together harmoniously in every bite of the ice cream sandwich.

I originally made mini-sandwiches because I was testing successive versions of the recipe in small batches. I soon realized the small sandwiches were ideal for serving after a holiday meal. They provide just enough sweetness to finish the meal with a flourish, yet are light enough to prevent that overstuffed feeling.

One version of my cookie recipe was light and crisp; too crisp for ice cream sandwiches, but perfect for serving on its own as a cookie. This cookie is so delicious, I’ve included the recipe below. I’m also adding Crispy Pistachio-Cardamom Cookies to the mixed plates of Christmas cookies I make every year for friends.

Pomegranate Ice Cream is also terrific on its own, and extremely easy to make. It takes less than 5 minutes to mix the ingredients, and the ice cream maker does the rest of the work. Serve scoops of the ice cream plain, with a few pomegranate seeds (arils) sprinkled over the top, or even with Crispy Pistachio-Cardamom Cookies on the side. This is another tart-yet-light dessert for serving after holiday meals.

Besides their deliciously tart flavor, pomegranates are good for your health. They contain large amounts of Vitamin C and B5, as well as many other phytochemicals. Tests show pomegranates may reduce heart disease risk factors and reduce blood pressure.

Here's my theory: So long as you eat it during the holiday season, the heart healthy benefits of pomegranate counteract the negative effects of eating cream, making Pomegranate Ice Cream a guilt-free treat.

Pomegranate Ice Cream in Pistachio-Cardamom Cookie SandwichesPomegranate Ice Cream in Pistachio-Cardamom Cookie Sandwiches
Makes 20 1 1/2” sandwiches or 10 3” sandwiches

1 recipe Pistachio-Cardamom Cookies for Ice Cream Sandwiches (see recipe below)
1 recipe Pomegranate Ice Cream
(see recipe below)

Make the Pistachio-Cardamom Cookies for Ice Cream Sandwiches and let them cool completely.

Make the Pomegranate Ice Cream. When it's done, put it in the freezer for 1/2 hour to firm up.

Lay out the plain cookies, underside up, on a cookie sheet. Using a 1 Tbsp. scoop for 1 1/2” sandwiches or a 2 Tbsp. scoop for 3” sandwiches, place a scoop of ice cream on each plain cookie. Top the ice cream with cookies that have pistachios in the center, pushing down carefully to flatten out the ice cream without breaking the soft top cookie.

Freeze. Serve straight from the freezer. If you are storing the ice cream sandwiches for any length of time, wrap them individually in plastic wrap.

Pomegranate Ice Cream with Pistachio-Cardamom CookiesPomegranate Ice Cream
Makes about 3 cups of ice cream (enough for 20 small, or 10 large, ice cream sandwiches)
lowers the freezing point of ice cream, which makes it slightly softer and easier to serve than ice cream that doesn’t include alcohol. Even without the alcohol, Pomegranate Ice Cream is delicious, although it may form noticeable ice crystals. Pomegranate liquor enhances the pomegranate flavor, but raspberry-flavored vodka and plain vodka also work well and both have the benefit of being sold in miniature bottles. If you are making this to serve on its own, and your ice cream maker is large enough, double the recipe.

1 cup pomegranate juice from fresh pomegranates OR 1 cup 100% Pomegranate Juice
(see Note below)
1 cup half and half
1/2 cup cream
1 Tbsp. pomegranate liqueur or vodka
1 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/4 cup sugar
1/8 tsp. salt

Thoroughly whisk all the ingredients together. Put the mix in an ice cream maker and freeze according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Note on pomegranate juice: Here’s how to juice pomegranates: Cut the pomegranates in half, and juice with a citrus juicer. If you don't have a citus juicer, remove the pomegranate seeds (more accurately,
arils) from the skins, discarding the white fibrous matter separating the seeds. (You’ll make less of a mess if you do this underwater.) Whir batches of the seeds in a food processor and then put through a strainer to remove the pits (a Foley food mill works well for this task). If you don't have access to fresh pomegranates, 100% pomegranate juice works just fine in this recipe.

Pistachio-Cardamom Cookies (for use in ice cream sandwiches)
Makes 40 1 1/2” cookies (20 sandwiches) or 20 3” cookies (10 sandwiches)
With added cornstarch to reduce the protein content of the flour, egg yolk instead of whole egg, and slightly underdone cookies, this version is tenderer than cookies intended to be served on their own. The tenderness makes the cookies softer and easier to bite through, an important consideration for ice cream sandwiches. These cookies are more highly seasoned than cookies that aren’t served frozen. If you want Pistachio-Cardamom Cookies for eating on their own as cookies, see the recipe below for Crispy Pistachio-Cardamom Cookies. In a pinch, if you can’t find raw pistachio nuts, buy roasted, salted nuts (Costco often carries these), rinse off the salt, and dry them very well before using in the recipe. If you have a convection oven, you can bake multiple sheets of cookies at one time; if not, bake the cookies one sheet at a time.

1/2 cup shelled, unsalted pistachio nuts
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup unsalted butter (1 stick), softened
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 – 3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/8 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. freshly ground cardamom (1 tsp. if using pre-ground cardamom)
Coarse sugar crystals for topping the cookies
Extra pistachio nuts for topping the cookies

Preheat the oven to 325°F (or 300°F convection).

Add the pistachios and sugar to a food processor or blender, and process just until the pistachios are finely ground.

Using the mixer’s whisk attachment, cream the butter and half the pistachio sugar until they are light and creamy. Beat in the egg yolk and vanilla, scraping down the sides of the bowl, as needed. Mix in the remaining pistachio sugar.

Sift together 1/2 cup flour, cornstarch, salt, and ground cardamom. Using the mixer’s paddle attachment, slowly mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Add the remaining flour, as needed; the dough should be pliable, but not at all sticky.

Roll out the dough on a floured cloth until it is 3/16” thick (gather up the trimmings and reroll them). Cut out the dough with a cookie cutter (I like 1 1/2” circles for mini ice cream sandwiches), and place on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper or
Silpats. Sprinkle each cookie with coarse sugar crystals. Push one pistachio nut into the center of half the cookies.

Bake for 7 - 8 minutes, or until the cookies have firmed up, but are still underdone. Remove from the oven and place the cookie sheets on wire racks to cool (don’t remove the cookies from the cookie sheets until they are completely cool).

Crispy Pistachio-Cardamom CookiesCrispy Pistachio-Cardamom Cookies (for serving as cookies)
Makes 80 1 1/2” cookies or 40 3” cookies
This recipe produces crispy cookies that are perfect for serving on their own, with a cup of tea, or as part of a mixed plate of Christmas cookies. (Crisp cookies aren’t suitable for ice cream sandwiches because they’re too hard to bite through when frozen.) In a pinch, if you can’t find raw pistachio nuts, buy roasted, salted nuts (Costco often carries these), rinse off the salt, and dry them very well before using in the recipe. If you have a convection oven, you can bake multiple sheets of cookies at one time; if not, bake the cookies one sheet at a time.

1 cup shelled, unsalted pistachio nuts
1 cup sugar
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened
1 large egg
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 3/4 – 2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. freshly ground cardamom (1 1/2 tsp. if using pre-ground cardamom)
Coarse sugar crystals for topping the cookies
Extra pistachio nuts for topping the cookies

Preheat the oven to 325°F (or 300°F convection).

Add the pistachios and sugar to a food processor or blender, and process just until the pistachios are finely ground.

Using the mixer’s whisk attachment, cream the butter and half the pistachio sugar until they are light and creamy. Beat in the egg and vanilla, scraping down the sides of the bowl, as needed. Mix in the remaining pistachio sugar.

Sift together 1 3/4 cup flour, cornstarch, salt, and ground cardamom. Using the mixer’s paddle attachment, slowly mix the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients. Add the remaining flour, as needed; the dough should be pliable, but not at all sticky.

Divide the dough in half. Roll the halves out on a floured cloth until they are 3/16” thick (gather up the trimmings and reroll them). Cut out the dough with cookie cutters (I like 1 1/2” circles), and place on cookie sheets lined with parchment paper or
Silpats. Sprinkle each cookie with coarse sugar crystals and push one pistachio nut into the center of each cookie.

Bake for 10 – 12 minutes, or until the cookies just barely start to brown. Remove from the oven, and use a spatula to place the cookies on wire cooling racks. Store in an airtight container.
Pomegranate Ice Cream in Pistachio-Cardamom Cookie Sandwiches is my contribution to Sugar High Friday:
All That Glitters hosted this month by Susan of The Well-Seasoned Cook

Crispy Pistachio-Cardamom Cookies is my contribution to
Eat Christmas Cookies: Season 2, which is created and hosted by Susan of Food Blogga. Check out Susan’s round-up page to see all the cookie recipes submitted this year (Susan will continuously update the page as new cookie recipes are submitted).

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Humble Limpet (Petalida): A Treasure of the Sea (Η Tαπεινή Πεταλίδα)

Limpets and OuzoLimpets tightly adhere to rocks in shallow water where the sea meets the shore. They’re found throughout the Mediterranean, and on rocky coastlines around the world.

As a kid growing up on Puget Sound, I gathered limpets’ domed, pointed shells for my shell collection and marveled at their pearlescent undersides. The thought of eating them never crossed my mind.

Then I spent a year on a Greek island in the Northern Aegean Sea.

On a winter afternoon over twenty years ago, my husband returned from a seaside gathering expedition with his cousin Zafiris. Between them, they’d accumulated two giant sacks of sea urchins and a little bag of limpets.

LimpetsI recognized the limpets immediately but couldn’t fathom why two grown men would gather them. “They’re called petalides” my husband said. “Try one, they’re edible.” He pulled out two limpets the size of half-dollars and wiped algae off the undulating brown feet with a corner of his shirt.

He used the edge of one shell to scrape out the body of the other. “Here,” he said, holding up the shell with the freed limpet. I hesitated. “They’re great!” My husband applied a squeeze of lemon to the limpet, which caused it to recoil and contract. When I still hesitated, he popped the limpet in his mouth and smiled, “Mmm, so good. Better than clams. They taste of the sea.”

Both men smelled of ouzo, which did little to enhance their credibility. It was only after Froso, whose food judgment I trust without question, confirmed their edibility that I slurped its contents into my mouth. Chewing the limpet released a sweet sea flavor, more luscious and delicate than clams and more meaty than oysters, but embracing the deliciousness of both.

“Good meze,” Froso pronounced. “Perfect with ouzo,” Zafiris said, raising his glass. “Yamas!”** “Let’s go get some more,” said I.

Gathering LimpetsIt takes good balance to gather limpets. The rocks on which they live are slippery with algae; breaking waves make the rocks even more treacherous.

The top of limpets’ shells can also be covered with algae, making them tricky to find. At night, limpets graze over the rocks, returning to the same spot every morning. One trick to finding them is to look for a meandering path of cleared algae leading to a small bump that is otherwise indistinguishable from the surrounding rock.

Gathering Limpets
Hunting for Limpets, Knife at the Ready

When you spot a limpet, if you look closely, there’s a small gap between its shell and the rock. If you deftly slide a thin knife blade under the shell and along the rock’s surface, the limpet will pop right off. If you fumble and miss the gap or touch the shell, the limpet sucks its shell tightly to the rock. Limpets fit the rocks so perfectly, and with such amazing force, they're impossible to dislodge. If this happens, it’s better to forget that limpet and look for another.

My husband loves the sea and gathering. No trip to the beach is complete without bringing something back: sea urchins, fish, octopus, little crabs, or wild thyme from the shores. After one of his more successful winter forays twenty-one years ago, we ate a pile of fresh-from-the-sea raw limpets dressed only with a squeeze of lemon.

The next day we still had a bowel of live limpets residing in the refrigerator. We decided to try a variation of the Constantino family recipe for Clams Casino. The family tops raw clams on the half-shell with a small square of partially cooked smoked bacon, a dash of Tabasco, and a squeeze of lemon. The clams are then broiled until the bacon curls and slightly browns on the edges.

That winter, we were living in a stone house facing a wind-blown harbor with just an oil drip stove (soba – σόμπα in Greek) for heat. The stove heated only one room, but its hot cast-iron top made a convenient-cooking surface. Since we didn’t have a broiler, we used the stove-top to cook the limpets from below. Though the bacon wasn’t crispy, the married flavor of sea, smoke, pork fat, lemon, and Tabasco was indescribably delicious.

Limpets Casino on the GrillAll these years later, as soon as we arrive on the island and the jetlag wears off, we head straight to the beach with a loaf of bread, some olives, and a bottle of ouzo. We gather a bag of limpets and eat our fill. The next day, we feast on Limpets Casino. Even though we now have a broiler, we use the outdoor grill to cook them from below.

As Zafiris said, limpets are perfect with ouzo, raw or cooked. Yamas!

**”Yamas” is a common Greek toast, and is a contraction of the phrase “Stin ygeia mas” (Στην υγεία μας) which means “to our health.”

Monday, November 24, 2008

Recipes for Tuscan-style Grilled Steak with Roquefort-Rosemary Butter & Oven-Roasted Potatoes

Tuscan Steak on the FireIt’s been snowing off and on for the last few days. In self-defense, we’ve kept a roaring fire going, a not-insignificant accomplishment since we’ve been burning green wood.

By Saturday afternoon, we had an impressive bank of coals in the fireplace, just right for grilling thick Tuscan-style steak. We headed out to the store to buy the best steaks we could find.

We rarely eat big chunks of meat, so in honor of the decadent occasion, we decided to throw dietary caution to the wind. I mixed up a compound butter seasoned with Roquefort, rosemary, and garlic to top the steak.

For fireplace grilling, we use a simple folding grate and set it up directly over very hot coals. If the fire is flaming, all the better; just be sure to turn the meat often so it doesn’t burn (long tongs are perfect for this task).

The final result was amazing. Seared brown on the outside and rare on the inside, the steak was everything we could’ve hoped. The rich flavor of Roquefort-Rosemary Butter was a lovely finishing touch for our perfectly grilled steaks.

To accompany the steaks, I made simple Oven-Roasted Potatoes. These are the potatoes I turn to when I need to cook potatoes at the last minute and want something fast and reliably delicious. The potatoes are great for mopping up the melted Roquefort-Rosemary Butter and meat juices left on the plate when you've had your fill of steak (don't feel obligated to eat the whole steak; it makes terrific left-overs).

Tuscan Steak and Oven Roasted PotatoesTuscan-style Grilled Steak with Roquefort-Rosemary Butter
Serves 2

The key to this dish is cooking the meat over a very hot fire, and regularly turning the meat. Instead of Roquefort butter, Tuscan-Style Grilled Steaks are also excellent with a little fresh lemon juice squeezed over them at the table. Tomato salad, made with juicy fresh tomatoes, is a nice balance for steak and potatoes.

2 rib-eye, porterhouse, T-bone, New York, or other high-quality cut of steak, at least 1” thick
Freshly ground black pepper

Roquefort-Rosemary Butter:
3 Tbsp. Roquefort
3 Tbsp. butter
2 tsp. minced rosemary
1 tsp. minced garlic
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice

Liberally season both sides of the steaks with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Let the steaks sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes.

Using a fork, mash the Roquefort and butter together. Add rosemary, garlic, and lemon juice and continue mashing until the mixture is smooth. Divide the mixture into sixths and shape into small balls.

Let the grate heat up over the fire for five minutes, or until it is very hot. Put the steaks on the grate and cook, turning regularly, until the steaks are done to your liking. For rare steaks, cook them 3 – 5 minutes on each side.

Plate the steaks, top with the Roquefort-Rosemary Butter (or lemon wedges), and serve.

Oven Roasted Potatoes
When I’m using potatoes with unblemished skin, I don’t bother peeling them. If you want to make more potatoes than will fit as a single layer in the frying pan, brown them in batches on the stove, and then put the browned potatoes in a larger pan for oven-roasting.

Yukon Gold or red potatoes
Olive oil

Preheat the oven to 450°F.

Peel the potatoes and cut into 2” chunks. In an oven-proof frying pan (cast iron works best), pour in enough olive oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan. Brown the potato chunks in the olive oil. Put the pan and potatoes in the oven, and roast until the potatoes are cooked through (easily pierced by a skewer), about 10 – 15 minutes. Serve immediately.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Recipe for Pear Pecan Cake with Lemon Glaze (Κέικ με Aχλάδια και Πεκάν)

Pear Pecan CakeWhen I was growing up, cupcakes were a homey lunchbox treat. They weren’t seen in upscale bakeries or on fancy tables.

That all changed in 1996 when New York City’s
Magnolia Bakery started making cupcakes with extra cake batter. After Magnolia’s cupcakes were featured on Sex and the City, it set off a nationwide cupcake craze. Cupcakes’ popularity continues; Barack Obama recently gave Joe Biden a dozen for his birthday.

In 1999, the owners of Magnolia Bakery, Allysa Torey and Jennifer Appel, published
The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook: Old-Fashioned Recipes from New York’s Sweetest Bakery. The slim volume is filled with old-fashioned recipes for cake, cookies, and other desserts, all made with the best possible ingredients.

Last week, I had ripe pears that needed to be used immediately. Magnolia Bakery’s Pear Pecan Cake seemed a wonderful way to use them. I modified the original recipe by adding grated lemon peel to the batter and finishing the cake with a light lemon glaze. The clear lemon flavor balances the pear cake’s richness.

Pear Pecan Cake with Lemon Glaze is moist and delicious. With a cup of hot coffee or tea, it makes a decadent breakfast or mid-morning snack.

Pear Pecan CakePear Pecan Cake with Lemon Glaze (Κέικ με Aχλάδια και Πεκάν)
Adapted from
The Magnolia Bakery Cookbook
The batter for this cake is thicker than normal cake batter, so don’t worry if you can't pour it. Apples may be substituted for the pears, and walnuts may be used instead of pecans.

2 – 3 ripe pears (2 cups chopped)
3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups sugar
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. salt
1 cup plus 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1 Tbsp. freshly grated lemon peel
1 1/3 cups coarsely chopped pecans

2 cups powdered sugar
3 – 4 Tbsp. lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Thoroughly oil a Bundt or tube pan. After it’s oiled, if the pan isn’t nonstick, lightly flour it to ensure the cake will properly release from the pan.

Peel and quarter the pears. Remove the core, cut each quarter in half lengthwise, and then cut each slice in crosswise pieces.

Sift together the flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt. Stir the oil, eggs, and vanilla extract into the dry ingredients. Fold in the chopped pears and pecans. Evenly spoon the batter into the prepared pan, lightly smoothing out the top. Bake for 60 minutes or until a thin skewer inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for 20 minutes, turn the cake upside down onto a wire rack to release it, and finish cooling the cake.

Mix the powdered sugar and 3 Tbsp. lemon juice in a small bowl. If the glaze is too thick, mix in the remaining lemon juice. Spoon the glaze over the very top of the cake so that it drips down the sides and center of the cake.

Slide the cake onto a serving plate. To store, cover the cake with aluminum foil.

Nuria, who writes
Spanish Recipes from Barcelona, Spain and Maryann of Finding La Dolce Vita from the state of New York are two of the world’s nicest people. Both are excellent cooks. At their requests, I’ve completed a know-your-fellow-bloggers meme. For those whose blogs I’ve named below, if you want to complete the meme on your blog, feel free, but please don’t feel obligated, to do so. Here goes:

Who are the last 10 people who commented on your blog?

10) Peter from Souvlaki for the Soul
9) Joan from FOODalogue: Meandering Meals and Travels
8) Maria from Organically Cooked
7) MAG from Hommus & Tabbouli
6) Lydia from The Perfect Pantry
5) Maryann from Finding La Dolce Vita
4) Mariana from History of Greek Food
3) Bijoux from
Keep It Simple
2) Kalyn from Kalyn’s Kitchen
1) Susan from The Well-Seasoned Cook

Now answer the following:

1. Has number 10 taken any pictures that moved you? Peter at Souvlaki for the Soul takes some of the best pictures in the food blogosphere. His moody pictures of the Acropolis may be the best I’ve ever seen of this well-photographed site.

2. Have you ever tried something from number 9's blog? I only recently learned about Joan’s blog. As someone who grew up eating Pigs in a Blanket and who loves greens of all kinds, I want to try Joan’s recipe for “This Ain’t Yo Mama’s Pigs in a Blanket.” It looks wonderful.

3. Do you wait excitedly for number 8 to post? Yes. Maria of
Organically Cooked is one of my favorite writers; as a storyteller she is without peer among food bloggers.

4. If you could give one piece of advice to number 7 what would it be? MAG’s Lebanese recipes at
Hommus & Tabbouli are mouth-wateringly good. She doesn’t need any advice; MAG knows what she's doing!

5. Does number 6 reply to comments on her blog? Yes, Lydia does reply to comments left on
The Perfect Pantry. She also gives us a weekly peek into other people’s pantries, a series I find endlessly entertaining.

6. How did number 5's blog change your life? When
Finding La Dolce Vita had its first anniversary, Maryann did a drawing for an anniversary present that I was lucky to win. The package included a pizza chopper that has revolutionized how I cut up pizzas and tarts. Thanks Maryann!

7. How often do you comment on number 4's blog? I comment on most, if not all, posts on Mariana’s blog,
History of Greek Food.

8. What is your favorite post from number 3's blog? Bijoux of Keep It Simple helps keep me current on modern design trends. Her latest post on a
cutting-edge Japanese product is my current favorite.

9. Where is number 2 from? Kalyn of Kalyn’s Kitchen is from Salt Lake City, Utah.

10. Has number 1 blogged something that inspired you? Pretty much everything Susan of The Well-Seasoned Cook puts on her blog is inspirational. Her photographs jump off the screen and her descriptions of food are smoothly creative.

11. Do you know any of the 10 bloggers in person? Yes, I know Maria from Organically Cooked.

12. Do any of the 10 bloggers know each other in person? Yes, Kalyn and Lydia met at this year’s BlogHer conference. Maria from Organically Cooked and Mariana from History of Greek Food are friends. If others know each other, it’s news to me.

13. Out of the 10, who updates her blog most frequently? Kalyn of Kalyn’s Kitchen, Queen Mother of Weekend Herb Blogging, updates most frequently.

14. Which of the 10 makes you laugh? Maria’s quirky sense of humor is just one of the reasons I keep going back to Organically Cooked.

15. Which of the 10 makes you cry (good or bad tears)? Cry? Why in the world would I cry when reading about good food and looking at pictures that make my mouth water?
This is my recipe for Bookmarked Recipes, hosted and created by Ruth of Ruth’s Kitchen Experiments.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Quince with Recipe for Pork and Quince Stew – Kydonato (Χοιρινό Kυδωνάτο)

Halfway through daily errands, I bought two quinces, a new-to-me fruit. When I got back in the car after the next stop, the air inside was perfumed with a powerful aroma, reminiscent of pineapple and very ripe apples combined.

I planned on cooking the quince that night. When I got home, I left them on the kitchen counter. Soon, their lovely fragrance permeated the kitchen. I couldn’t wait to cook with quince.

For several years, I’ve been meaning to make Pork and Quince Stew, an old-time recipe on the Northern Aegean island we call home. It wasn’t until I read, in quick succession, Mariana’s recipe for
Stuffed Quince and Ioanna’s recipe for Beef and Quince Stew that I was inspired to set out on a quest for quince (found in Carr’s specialty produce section).

When I cut the quince open and tasted a thin slice, I was disappointed. The flesh was firm and disagreeably woody, and its flavor was astringent and unpleasant. I was confused. How could fruit with such an amazing aroma taste so bad?

For advice, I turned to the ever-reliable Elizabeth Schneider, author of
Uncommon Fruits & Vegetables: A Commonsense Guide and Vegetables from Amaranth to Zucchini: The Essential Reference (both are indispensable reference books). Schneider explains: “Quince requires cooking to be edible … the hard, ivory interior, when slowly cooked, develops a rich flavor … that makes it a delight in sweet and savory dishes.”

When buying quince, Schneider advises to choose large fruits with a smooth and regular shape, which makes them easier to peel. Because the firm flesh is difficult to cut, it’s important to use a sharp knife. Schneider says that “quinces bruise easily, [but] last for months” if they are tightly wrapped in plastic and kept in the refrigerator.

On the island, quinces were traditionally packed in sawdust and stored in north-facing rooms. This kept the quinces fresh until the family pig was slaughtered in late December or early January.

Having determined that cooked quince can be tasty, the next step was developing a stew recipe. As I perused my Greek cookbook collection, I found a multitude of recipes for Pork and Quince Stew (called Kydonato in Greek), all of them different. Some were seasoned only with bay leaves, others contained cinnamon or cloves or nutmeg or allspice or a combination of several spices. Some used dry red wine, others sweet red wine, and still others white wine. Some recipes were rich with onions, others warned not to add onions, lest they overshadow the quince flavor.

I ended up creating my own recipe for Pork and Quince Stew, taking guidance from a variety of recipes and seasoning it to please our palates. My husband has never been fond of fruit and meat, nor is he keen on cinnamon in savory food. Since I was intent on using the quinces, I left out the cinnamon and instead flavored the dish with allspice, nutmeg, bay leaves, and lemon peel.

Pork and Quince Stew was a great success. The flavors were savory and not overly sweet, and the quince was a lovely complement to the tender pork. We both enjoyed it thoroughly.

My husband added dashes of Jamaican hot sauce to his serving. I was persuaded to try the stew with a little hot sauce and was surprised by how good it tasted. I wouldn’t cook the stew with hot sauce, but I’d definitely serve it on the side for spicy food fans.

Pork and Quince Stew – Kydonato (Χοιρινό Kυδωνάτο)
Serves 4
When cutting the lemon peel strips , avoid as much of the white pith as possible. Serve with roasted potatoes and a crisp green salad.

2 1/4 pounds bone-in pork butt or shoulder, or country-style ribs (1 1/2 pounds boneless)
Freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. olive oil
3 cups diced onion, 1/2” dice
1 cup white wine
2 Tbsp. tomato paste
2 cups water
1/2 tsp. whole allspice berries
3 bay leaves
2 4” strips of lemon peel
2 Tbsp. butter
2 quinces
1 Tbsp. sugar
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg

Wash and dry the pork, cut the meat off the bones, remove any large pieces of fat, and cut the meat into 1” cubes. Season the cubes, and any bones, with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Heat the olive oil in a large pot and sauté the pork and bones until they are well-browned. Stir in the onions and sauté until they soften and begin to turn golden. Stir in the wine, scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan, and cook until the wine is reduced by half. Stir in the tomato paste until it is thoroughly combined. Stir in the water, allspice, bay leaves, and lemon peel. Bring the liquid to a boil, cover, turn down the heat, and simmer for 1 1/2 – 2 hours until the pork is very tender. Taste and add salt or freshly ground black pepper as needed.

While the pork is cooking, peel the quince, cut them into quarters, remove the core, and drop in
acidulated water (water with lemon juice) to keep the quince from turning brown. Cut each quince quarter in half lengthwise and then in half crosswise; dry the quince pieces thoroughly.

Melt the butter in a frying pan, add the quince pieces, and cook until they are lightly browned on all sides. Turn off the heat, sprinkle the sugar and nutmeg over the quince, and toss to combine.

When the pork is tender, stir in the quince, and cook covered for 30 minutes. Remove the bay leaves and lemon peel. Serve immediately, warning your guests not to eat the allspice berries.
This is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by Siri from Siri's Corner.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Recipe for Beet Soup (Παντζαρόσουπα)

Rushes of adrenaline are surging through my body. My hands are shaking so hard it’s difficult to type.

For the last half hour, I’ve been trying to chase a gathering of moose out of the garden. Whistling and yelling and waving my arms convinced two of them to leave. The remaining two ignored me, continuing to eat the currant bushes with equanimity.

To assist their departure, I opened the garden gate, hooting and hollering the whole time. This only motivated the largest moose to charge in my direction. I ran back to the house - and safety - as fast as my legs would carry me.

Both moose calmly returned to chomping the currant bushes, working their way unacceptably close to our precious apple tree.

I grabbed a baseball bat and headed back into the fray. This time I approached the garden through the woods, whacking trees with the bat and making the scariest noises I could muster. As I neared the garden fence, being careful to stay out of sight and to keep the fence between me and the moose, they finally turned tail and ran, not through the open gate but over the 7-foot fence.

Such are the challenges of gardening in Alaska. It’s clear we’ll have to raise the fence to keep out rapacious moose.

No doubt the moose were in the garden because snow covers the grass on which they normally graze. With temperatures well below freezing, Alaska is settling into winter.

Cold weather goes hand in hand with soup. Last night we sat in front of a roaring fire, cozy in our log house, enjoying bowls of ruby-red Beet Soup.

Hearty Beet Soup is chockfull of vegetables. Because they cook for a relatively short time, the vegetables retain their individual flavors. They swim in a savory-yet-sweet broth, which is perfectly balanced by the sour cream and fresh dill garnish.

Now that I’ve calmed down from my moose encounter, I’m ready for lunch: a delicious bowl of leftover Beet Soup.

Beet Soup (Παντζαρόσουπα)
Serves 6
Bacon adds wonderful flavor to the soup, but it’s equally delicious without it; if you omit the bacon, sauté the vegetables in 2 tablespoons olive oil. If you don’t want to bother with dicing the beets, parsnips, and carrots, grating them by hand or in a food processor works just fine. Ketchup is an unusual addition, but it boosts the
umami, thus enhancing the soup’s lusciousness. I prefer roasting beets to concentrate their flavor; however, the soup may also be made with boiled, steamed, or microwaved beets. If the beets are cooked ahead of time, Beet Soup makes a quick and tasty meal.

1 cup diced bacon, 1/4” dice (optional)
1 cup diced parsnips, 1/8” dice
1 cup diced carrots, 1/8” dice
1 1/2 cups diced celery, 1/4” dice
1 1/2 cups diced onions, 1/4” dice
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
6 cups vegetable or beef stock
1 14.5 ounce can diced or crushed tomatoes
1/4 cup ketchup
4 medium-sized beets, roasted and cut in 1/4” dice
1 1/2 cups finely shredded cabbage
Sour cream
Minced dill

Sauté the bacon in a Dutch oven until the fat has rendered and the bacon begins to brown. Add the parsnips, carrots, celery, and onions, and sauté until the onion softens. Add the garlic and cook for one minute. Stir in the stock, tomatoes, ketchup, beets, and cabbage. Bring to a boil, cover, turn down the heat to low, and simmer for 30 minutes. Uncover and cook for 10 minutes, or until the vegetables are cooked through and the broth is flavorful.

Serve the soup immediately, topped with a dollop of sour cream and minced fresh dill.

NOTE on Roasting Beets: Preheat the oven to 400°F. Wash the beets, cut off the greens leaving an inch of stem (don't cut into the beet itself), rub the beets with olive oil, and wrap tightly in a foil packet (or place in a tightly covered baking dish). Bake for 40 minutes to 1 1/2 hours, depending on the size of the beets and how fresh they are. The beets are done when they're tender if poked with a knife or skewer. Let the beets cool, and slip off their skins (I wear gloves when I do this to protect my hands from staining). (These can be made ahead and kept in the refrigerator for about a week.)

This is my entry for Weekend Herb Blogging hosted this week by Heather from Diary of a Fanatic Foodie.

Friday, October 31, 2008

PESD with Recipe for Pasta with Spicy Cauliflower Sauce

Between the US presidential contest and Alaska’s senatorial election, I’ve developed a severe case of PESD (Pre-Election Stress Disorder).

Even when I’m not compulsively checking my favorite political websites, the upcoming election dominates my thoughts. Since I can’t seem to write coherently about food, I’m officially giving up until after November 4.

Though writing is beyond me, I’m still cooking dinner every night. One of my favorite recent meals was Pasta with Spicy Cauliflower Sauce, a dish I created to honor the gorgeous, creamy-white cauliflower that arrived in last week’s CSA box.

Pasta with Spicy Cauliflower Sauce is delicious and gives cauliflower the attention its wonderful flavor deserves. (One day, when I’m fully recovered from PESD, I’ll explain why steaming or boiling cauliflower is almost always a mistake.)

And for my American readers, please vote!

Pasta with Spicy Cauliflower Sauce
Serves 4
The anchovies in the breadcrumbs are optional, but their salty flavor nicely complements cauliflower. The amount of rosemary needed will depend on how strongly flavored your rosemary tastes.

Cauliflower Sauce:
1 cauliflower
2 cups diced yellow onions, 1/2” dice
1/4 cup olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
2 – 3 tsp. minced rosemary
1 tsp. Aleppo pepper or 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes

Spiced Breadcrumbs:
3 cloves fresh garlic
1/4 tsp. Aleppo pepper or 1/8 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes
6 anchovy fillets (optional)
1 cup fresh bread crumbs or
2 Tbsp. olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

2 cloves fresh garlic
1/4 tsp. salt
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1/2 pound
gemelli, fusilli, or other dried pasta

1/4 cup dried currants
1/2 cup chicken stock, plus more as needed
1/2 cup grated fontina cheese
1/2 cup finely grated fresh parmesan cheese

Make the Cauliflower Sauce: Wash the cauliflower, cut out the stem and discard it, and break the cauliflower into florets. Roughly chop the florets.

Sauté the onions, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, in olive oil until the onions soften and start to turn golden. Stir in the chopped cauliflower, rosemary, and Aleppo pepper, and cook over medium heat for 15 - 20 minutes, or until the cauliflower is tender and starts to caramelize.

Make the Spiced Breadcrumbs: While the cauliflower is cooking, puree together the garlic, Aleppo pepper, and anchovies (if using). Toss the puree with the breadcrumbs until they are thoroughly combined. Season with freshly ground black pepper and salt (if using anchovies, which are salty, it may not be necessary to add salt). Sauté the seasoned bread crumbs over medium heat, stirring frequently, until the crumbs are crispy. Pour the crumbs onto a plate to cool.

Make the Pasta: Puree the garlic and salt together; this is easiest to do with a mortar and pestle. Whisk the olive oil into the garlic and salt. Boil the pasta in boiling salted water until it is al dente; be careful not to overcook. Drain the pasta and immediately mix in the garlic oil.

Finish the Dish: Stir the pasta and garlic oil into the cooked cauliflower. Stir in the currants, and 1/2 cup chicken stock. Let cook over medium heat for 1 minute or until the pasta is heated through. If the pasta is too dry, add a little more chicken stock. Stir in the fontina and half the parmesan cheese.

Divide the Pasta with Spicy Cauliflower Sauce between four plates or pasta bowls, sprinkle with spiced breadcrumbs and the remaining parmesan cheese, and serve immediately.
This is my entry for the third anniversary edition of
Weekend Herb Blogging, hosted this week by its creator Kalyn of Kalyn’s Kitchen.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Weekend Herb Blogging #155 Round-Up


We’re back from Greece, my life and family are back on an even keel, and I’m ready to blog again. It’s fitting to resume blogging today; October 26 is my blog’s first birthday.

What a year this has been.

I’ve improved my writing and photography, but still have much to learn about both. I’ve struggled to maintain the discipline that regular blogging requires. Over the next year, I’ll continue that struggle and will do my best to provide interesting content and delicious recipes.

The best part of blogging is something I wouldn’t have imagined in my wildest dreams - the dynamic and vital community of food writers. The generosity of fellow writers has been never ending. This kindness and thoughtfulness is a welcome counterpoint to the difficult economic and political challenges facing today’s world.

One way in which food writers build bonds and share information is though “events,” in which all are invited to write posts on a similar theme by a date certain. One of my favorite such events is
Weekend Herb Blogging, an event created by Kalyn from Kalyn's Kitchen to highlight the herbs and other plants used by cooks around the world.

As it happens, today it’s my turn to summarize this week’s Weekend Herb Blogging entries.

Next week (October 27 – November 2, 2008) is the three year anniversary of Weekend Herb Blogging, and Kalyn encourages everyone to join in the anniversary celebration by submitting a recipe featuring their favorite herb, vegetable, or fruit. Kalyn has put together a whole week’s worth of anniversary events, including drawings for three fabulous prizes. Kalyn also has an important announcement about the future of Weekend Herb Blogging.

This week’s Weekend Herb Blogging entries are listed in the order I received them. If I’ve made an error, please let me know and I’ll fix it right away. Remember, next week’s third anniversary host is Kalyn from
Kalyn's Kitchen.

Drunken Crabs
Manila, Philippines

Ning, of Heart and Hearth, was lucky to receive a gift of several kilos of live crab. Ning’s maid generously contributed her family’s secret recipe for Drunken Crab, which Ning says is “the best crab we have ever tasted.” The crab is seasoned richly with fresh ginger, fresh turmeric, garlic, sesame oil, chili paste, and an entire liter of gin. Ning advises that what “cooking wine is to the Chinese, [gin is] to the Filipinos.

Cardamom Pear Cake
Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Tina, of Choosy Beggars, used her glut of pears to make Cardamom Pear Cake. Tina says her coffee cake is “wonderfully moist” and is “just perfect with a cup of Earl Gray tea or coffee.” Tina reports, “Five pears down, 500 more to go.”

Chania, Crete, Greece

Inspired by the current economic crisis, Maria, of the wonderful blog Organically Cooked, boldly tried eating nettles for the first time. She put on her gloves and picked a pile of them. She substituted the nettles for spinach in Spanakopita and also made Kalitsounia (little Cretan hand pies) with nettle filling. Sadly, Maria wasn’t able to take a picture of the Kalitsounia because her family devoured them all as soon as they came out of the oven.

Pork and Vegetable Kebabs on Rosemary Skewers
Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA

Last week, Nikki, of Niksnacks, had a date with her stovetop smoker. She marinated chunks of pork tenderloin with orange juice, sage, and lavender, and threaded the pork and vegetables on rosemary skewers. Nikki briefly smoked the kebabs and finished cooking them in the oven. Nikki says, “Yum. If only every date I have could taste this good.” (For anyone who hasn’t tried rosemary skewers, I highly recommend trying them; here’s another idea for using them.)

Roasted Butternut Squash with Lemon, Thyme, and Parmesan
Salt Lake City, Utah, USA

Kalyn, of Kalyn’s Kitchen, created Weekend Herb Blogging and has faithfully organized it for the last three years, to well-deserved acclaim. This week, she made Roasted Butternut Squash with Lemon, Thyme, and Parmesan by roasting chunks of squash with olive oil, fresh thyme, and lemon juice, and finishing the roasted squash with freshly grated parmesan cheese.

Autumn Fruit and Nut Salad with Pita Chips
Cleveland, Ohio, USA

Yasmeen, of Health Nut, has been having a good time cooking and baking with seasonally fresh pumpkins. She reminds us to always use the “bounteous” and “beneficial” pumpkin seeds. Yasmeen’s Autumn Salad gets its “sensational flavor from crunchy pumpkin seeds … fresh apples, oranges, toasty almonds, and homemade pita chips.” She also describes her pumpkin seed roasting method.

Sfouggato with Asphodels
Athens, Greece

Mariana, of History of Greek Food provides a very interesting lesson about the Greek omelet called Sfouggato. Mariana’s Sfouggato is particularly interesting because she made it with shoots of the asphodel, a flowering plant seen often in Greece. For anyone interested in food history, Mariana’s blog is a must read.

Sunroot Leek Flan with Horseradish Sauce
Valsorda, Lake Garda, Italy

Brii, of Briggis Recept Och Ideer, writes about Jerusalem artichokes (also known as sunchokes, sunroots, and earth apples). Brii used them to make individual Sunroot Leak Flans, rich with cream cheese and seasoned with fresh ginger. Brii served the flans with a simple mixture of creamy yogurt and tangy horseradish.

Chocolate Poppy Seed Cake with Apples
Bardolino, Lake Garda, Italy

In honor of her Grandfather Silvio, Cinzia, of
Cindystar, made Chocolate Poppy Seed Cake with Apples. Cinzia says the cake is “a sweet fantasy … made even more special by the poppy seeds that give this cake a unique and unusual taste and texture.” Cinzia also likes using poppy seeds in salads, sweet breads, and pastries.

Sagu Gula Bali (Sago with Spiced Coconut Milk)
Sydney, New South Wales, Australia

Anna, of
Morsels & Musings, uses sago pearls (similar to tapioca pearls) and pandan (screwpine) leaves to make an Indonesian dessert called Sagu Gula Bali. During a cooking class on Bali, Anna’s teacher explained that pandan is used in Southeast Asian cooking in a similar way to how vanilla is used in Western cooking. In the US and Australia, many Asian stores sell frozen pandan leaves which Anna says retain their flavor.

Pumpkin Seed Brittle
Alexandria, Virginia, USA

Cheryl, of Gluten Free Goodness, hosts a pumpkin carving contest every year for Halloween. This year she served Pumpkin Seed Brittle, based on an old nut brittle recipe in her collection. Because she cooks the sugar syrup in the microwave, Cheryl’s simple brittle takes only 10 minutes to make.

Petis Pois à La Française
Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

Haalo, of Cook (Almost) Anything at Least Once, recently found red-skinned peas in her local market. The peas look like, well, green peas, but the pods are something to behold; be sure to check out Haalo’s amazing pea pictures. Haalo used the peas to make Petis Pois à La Française, “a bistro favorite … made with onions, bacon, lettuce, and fresh peas [c]ooked in a good amount of butter.” Haalo recommends serving the peas with fresh baguette, perfect for sopping up the delicious juices.

Stir Fried Squid in Black Bean Sauce
Long Island, New York USA

Beachlover, of Beachlover’s Kitchen, combined pre-cleaned squid with fermented black bean sauce to make quick and easy Stir Fried Squid in Black Bean Sauce. Beachlover says that fermented black beans are very fragrant, and are quite popular in China and other Asian countries.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Gardens and Kittens with Recipe for Eggplant Kebab on Rosemary Skewers (Κεμπάμπ με Μελιτζάνες και Δενδρολίβανο)

Eggplant Kebabs Ready for the GrillCompleting an eggplant trifecta, yesterday we had Eggplant Kebab on Rosemary Skewers. (Eggplant Clafoutis and Spaghetti with Eggplant and Tomato Sauce make up the other legs of the trifecta.)

Eggplant Kebab came about through sheer serendipity. I was washing eggplant, idly thinking about how to prepare it, when I noticed the vase of rosemary branches on the windowsill over the sink.

Rosemary and JasmineRosemary Bushes and Garden with Blue Jasmine (top left)

Two years ago at Easter we planted two tiny rosemary plants that are now large bushes. The bushes are growing all akimbo, having outgrown the small amount of soil in which they’re planted. The windowsill vase of rosemary contained the trimmings from a branch broken off by the kittens.

Three years ago we began feeding a mother cat with kittens. She’s been back every year since then, each time with a new brood. Over the years, the cat feeding has progressed from once in a while to twice a day, from leftovers in the back yard to cat food on the veranda.

Kittens in the GardenKittens in the Garden

Effie and Nikos, cousins who live nearby, use our yard when we’re not here for their kitchen garden, which they generously turn over to us when we're in the village. In our absence, they’re at our house most every day to weed, water, or harvest. They say the mother cat and kittens disappeared when we did last year and, endearingly, showed up again only the day before we returned.

The kittens are endlessly entertaining. We’re happy to give them a vacation from scrounging food in dumpsters or catching it when they can. Only a curmudgeon would care that gamboling kittens may damage a few plants.

Rosemary makes splendid souvlaki skewers. When I saw the rosemary while my hands were full of eggplant, a picture of Eggplant Kebab on Rosemary Skewers jumped immediately to mind. I had to have them.

Eggplant Kebabs on the GrillI alternated eggplant on the rosemary skewers with onions and green peppers, and would have used cherry tomatoes if I’d had any. Grilled over a medium hot fire, and brushed with garlic and oil while still hot, Eggplant Kebabs are flavorful and very tasty. Rosemary lightly scents the eggplant, while the fresh garlic oil complements the grill's smoky essence.

In the future, if the kittens aren’t around to break off some rosemary, I’ll just have to do it myself. I’m definitely making Eggplant Kebab again.

Eggplant Kebabs on Rosemary Skewers
Eggplant Kebab on Rosemary Skewers (Κεμπάμπ με Μελιτζάνες και Δενδρολίβανο)
Serves 2
Cherry tomatoes would make an attractive addition to Eggplant Kebab. If the rosemary is starting to form new shoots along its length, break these off to make it easier to push the vegetables up the skewers.

4 rosemary branches, 12 inches long
1 large eggplant (about 1 pound), cut in 1 1/2” chunks
1 – 2 red onions, cut in 1 1/2” chunks
1 – 2 green peppers, cut in 1 1/2” chunks
Olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

Garlic and Oil:
2 cloves garlic
1/4 tsp. salt
1/3 cup olive oil

Cut the ends off the rosemary branches at an angle to make sharp points. Alternate chunks of eggplant, onions, and peppers on the skewers, starting and ending with a chunk of eggplant. Brush the vegetables with olive oil and season well with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Puree the garlic and salt together (a mortar and pestle is the best tool for this job, but it can also be done in a blender). Mix in the olive oil.

Grill the eggplant skewers over a medium hot fire. As soon as they’re done, brush them with the garlic and oil. Serve immediately with a fresh tomato and onion salad, a slice of feta, a handful of olives, and crusty bread.

Kittens and Sea UrchinsKittens with Sea Urchins

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Andrea Camilleri's Montalbano with Recipe for Spaghetti with Eggplant and Tomato Sauce (Pasta alla Norma) (Μακαρόνια με Μελιτζάνες και Ντομάτες)

Andrea Camilleri, photograph by Pensiero

(From Greece)

English language books are hard to find on the island.

I carefully select those to bring with us, focusing on books we’ll both enjoy and want to reread. After several years, most books recede far enough into memory that rediscovering them is a pleasure. Since airlines have cracked down on weight limits, prudent book selection is more important than ever.

Two years ago my parents sent us the first six volumes of
Andrea Camilleri’s wondrously good Inspector Montalbano series, set in Sicily and skillfully translated by poet Stephen Sartarelli. A few pages into the first book, I realized the series was perfect for the island. I quit reading and put the Camilleri books in my “bring to the island” corner.

Then my head
exploded and I was off reading for longer than I’d planned. Shortly before we left for Greece this year, to my great joy, I finally was able to read books again. I dug out the Montalbano series and packed them for the trip.

I began getting to know Inspector Montalbano our first day on the island. One week later, thoroughly captivated by the cantankerous, world-weary, enigmatic inspector, I finished the last of the six books. I’m already looking forward to rereading them, but first I’ll track down and devour the rest of the series.

Here’s Camilleri/Sartarelli describing the inspector in the opening scene of
The Terra-Cotta Dog (book 2):

To judge from the entrance the dawn was making, it promised to be a very iffy day – that is, blasts of angry sunlight one minute, fits of freezing rain the next, all of it seasoned with sudden gusts of wind – one of those days when someone who is sensitive to abrupt shifts in weather and suffers them in his blood and brain is likely to change opinion and direction continuously, like those sheets of tin, cut in the shape of banners and roosters, that spin every which way on rooftops with each new puff of wind. Inspector Salvo Montalbano had always belonged to this unhappy category of humanity.

Camilleri’s prose brings Sicily’s people, and its highways and byways, vividly to life. In the original Italian, Camilleri uses Sicilian dialect to create colorful characterizations and bring humor to stories that might otherwise be overly dark. Sartarelli effectively captures the dialect’s essence in his creative translation.

Inspector Montalbano loves to eat, and insists on doing so silently, the better to appreciate every nuance in the dishes set before him. He thinks poorly of those who cook badly, and when forced to eat bad food (“… shamefully overcooked pasta, a beef stew conceived by an obviously deranged mind, and dishwater coffee of a sort that even airline crews wouldn’t foist on anyone…”), he heads out for a meal good enough to lift him out of the gloom into which bad food plunges him.

In the course of investigating a disappearance in
The Snack Thief (Book 3), Inspector Montalbano interviews a “well-dressed seventy-year-old lady … in a wheelchair.” When the interview is over, the woman invites the inspector to lunch:

“Well, signora, thank you so much …,” the inspector began, standing up.
“Why don’t you stay and eat with me?”
Montalbano felt his stomach blanch. Signora Clementina was sweet and nice, but she probably lived on semolina and boiled potatoes.
“Actually, I have so much to –“
“Pina, the housekeeper, is an excellent cook, believe me. For today she’s made pasta alla Norma, you know, with fried eggplant and ricotta Salata.”
“Jesus!” said Montalbano, sitting back down.
“And braised beef for the second course.”
“Jesus!” repeated Montalbano.
“Why are you so surprised?”
“Aren’t those dishes a little heavy for you?”
“Why? I’ve got a stronger stomach than any of these twenty-year-old girls who can happily go a whole day on half an apple and some carrot juice. Or perhaps you’re of the same opinion as my son Giulio?”
“I don’t have the pleasure of knowing what that is.”
“He says it’s undignified to eat such things at my age. He considers me a bit shameless. He thinks I should live on porridges. So what will it be? Are you staying?”
“I’m staying,” the inspector replied decisively.

Although food plays only a supporting role in the Montalbano books, Camilleri’s descriptions of traditional Sicilian dishes are inspirational. I read the above passage just before lunch and, coincidentally, had the ingredients on hand to make Pasta alla Norma. So I did.

Montalbano was right to stay for lunch with Signora Clementina. Eggplant and Tomato Sauce with Spaghetti is absolutely delicious.

Spaghetti with Eggplant and Tomato Sauce (Pasta alla Norma) (Μακαρόνια με Μελιτζάνες και Ντομάτες)
Serves 4 - 6

Pasta all Norma comes from Catania, a city in eastern Sicily, and is named after Catania native Vincenzo Bellini's famous opera, Norma. Traditionally, eggplant for Pasta all Norma is fried, as described by Signora Clementina. Because fried eggplant absorbs a lot of oil, I oven-roast it instead. If you want to fry the eggplant, sprinkle the eggplant slices with a lot of salt and let drain for an hour or so (salt collapses eggplant’s cell structure and helps reduce its oil absorption). Rinse off the salt, pat the eggplant dry, fry in olive oil until the slices are golden brown, and drain on paper towels.

Tomato Sauce:
2 pounds ripe tomatoes or 2 15-ounce cans whole tomatoes, roughly chopped
1 cup roughly chopped onion
1/4 cup chopped fresh basil or mint
1/4 olive oil
1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. Aleppo pepper or 1/2 tsp. crushed red pepper flakes (optional)

2 globe eggplants
Olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper

1 pound spaghetti
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 - 2 garlic cloves, grated or finely minced (optional)
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 – 1 cup grated or crumbled
ricotta salata or myzithra

Make the Tomato Sauce: Put the tomatoes, onions, basil and salt in a large pot and cook over medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring regularly. Put the tomato mixture through a food mill to remove the skins and seeds. Return the tomato mixture to the pot with the olive oil and sugar. Bring to a boil, turn down the heat, and simmer for 30 minutes, stirring regularly. Taste and add salt, as needed.

Make the Eggplant: Preheat the oven to 450°F. Slice the eggplant into 1/2” cross-wise slices. Brush the slices on both sides with olive oil and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bake the eggplant for 15 minutes or until the eggplant slices are golden brown, remove from the oven, and let cool. Cut into 1” wide slices. Add the eggplant to the tomato sauce and stir gently, being careful not to break up the eggplant slices.

Make Pasta alla Norma: Cook the pasta in boiling, salted water until it is al dente. Drain the pasta, reserving 1/2 cup of the pasta water. Return the pasta to the pot and stir in the reserved pasta water, olive oil, garlic, and freshly ground black pepper. Add all but 1 cup of the Tomato and Eggplant Sauce and toss with the pasta. Pour the sauced pasta into a large bowl and top with the remaining sauce and crumbled cheese. Serve immediately.
This is my entry for
Novel Food #5, hosted and created by Simona of Briciole and Lisa of Champaign Taste, both of whom love Inspector Montalbano. You can find the Novel Food #5 round-ups here and here.