Wednesday, February 14, 2018


"Heartbeet" salad for a client's Valentine's dinner party
Anyone can write about chocolate or champagne or romantic getaways for Valentine's Day. But to me, beets are actually the perfect food on which to focus for San Valentino. (Witness the heart-shaped beets in the salad above).

And beets are having a moment. In the 20th century, this would have confounded me. I was, seemingly, a born beet-hater, notorious for my acrobatic skills and back bends to avoid having pureed beets spoon-fed to me from the time I was a wee baby. As a child, I knew beets mostly in borscht form in Jewish delis, and as the coloring agent in the horseradish that accompanied my father's beloved (and to me, gag-inducing) matjes herring. It was all very eastern European old-school. In the interim, however, I've grown to adore beets, and like to play with their flavor and texture as much as I love using their bright color to make gorgeous plates of food, fuchsia dressings, and aiolis and sauces. The beets greens are delicious too -- which really speaks to my adoration of whole-vegetable cooking.

The rich, wine-dark magenta of many beets (they come in other brilliant colors and patterns, of course), are a perfect late winter vegetable: a root veggie to brighten cold weather cooking, which can get heavy...and a gorgeous color that speaks to the love and romance of February's romantic holiday: Valentine's Day. That these veggies are actually good for your heart is just the icing on the (healthy) cake.

So first, some history. The wild beet, the ancestor of the beet with which we're familiar today, is thought to have originated in prehistoric times in North Africa, and grew wild along Asian and European seashores. In these earlier times, people exclusively ate the beet greens and not the roots. The ancient Romans were actually one of the first civilizations to cultivate beets to use their roots as food. (You have to love the ancient Romans). The tribes that invaded Rome were responsible for spreading beets throughout northern Europe where they were first used for animal fodder, and later for human consumption, becoming more popular in the 16th century.

Beets' value grew in the 19th century when it was discovered that they were a concentrated source of sugar, and the first beet sugar factory was built in Poland at that time. And when access to sugar cane was restricted by the British, Napoleon decreed that the beet be used as the primary source of sugar, catalyzing its popularity even further. Around this same time, beets were first brought to the United States, where they now also flourish. Today the leading commercial producers of beets include the United States, Russia, France, Poland, and Germany.

As for the nutritional benefits of beets, preliminary research shows beetroot juice to reduce blood pressure in hypertensive individuals and so it may have an effect on mechanisms of cardiovascular disease. Beets are a unique source of phytonutrients called betalainsBetanin and vulgaxanthin are the two best-studied betalains derived from beets, and both have been shown to provide antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and detoxification support -- which make beets a good source for likely risk reduction of many types of cancer, including colon, stomach, nerve, lung, breast, prostate, and testicular cancers. Even well before current-day scientific evidence, those living in the middle ages knew something was special about beets: back then, beetroot was used as a treatment for a variety of conditions, especially illnesses relating to digestion and the blood.

More good news: beets belong to the chenopod family — along with chard, spinach and quinoa — which continue to show an increasing number of health benefits not readily available from other food families. The red and yellow betalain pigments found in chenopods, their unique epoxyxanthophyll carotenoids, and the special connection between their overall phytonutrients and our nervous system health (including specialized nervous system organs like the eyes), point to a unique health value in beets. 

When selecting beets at your local market, choose small or medium-sized beets whose roots are firm, smooth-skinned and deep in color. Smaller, younger beets may be so tender that peeling won't be needed after they're cooked. These beets are also wonderful grated or sliced paper-thin in salads, and for topping proteins. While the quality of the attached beets greens does not reflect that of the roots, if you're going to consume this very nutritious part of the plant, look for greens that appear fresh, tender, and have a lively green color. One great way to utilize beets and their greens in one single dish is the Greek-inspired preparation of skordalia: it's a whipped potato-garlic mixture that's half-way between a sauce and a dip, and very delicious, usually served with a combination of roasted or boiled beets, which can also be served with their greens sauteed in olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic. Here, I've made it with purple potatoes for a colorful dish that's great for a gathering.

I often speak about the connection between color and nutrition: the more colorful your plate, the better-balanced your nutritional intake will be. And we also eat with our eyes, so what better way to have a gorgeous, healthful meal than to "eat the rainbow" as it were? Beets help in bringing bright colors and their inherent vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants to the plate. Beets can range in color from pure white to golden to deep, dark burgundy. This dish pictured is a Moroccan-spiced salad of beets and carrots that have been roasted, peeled, and cubed. I used the carrot and beet greens to make a pesto to serve along the outer rim of the plated salad. This is an elegant appetizer, vegetarian-friendly, and nutritious and delicious. It checks all the boxes!

Chioggia beets, or "candycane" beets as they're nicknamed, are amazing, with concentric circles  visible as you slice through them, in brilliant crimson and white or pink. The liquid you get from cooking beets or marinating beets can be used to make countless beautifully-colored sauces and dishes. It's the great base for a magenta vinaigrette, and it makes one gorgeous pink aioli just perfect for a romantic Valentine's Day meal. You can still make that electric-colored borscht, which when updated seems very modern and in line with the popularity of Eastern and Northern European foods. You can still pickle eggs in the briny beet juice, which makes for very pretty deviled eggs.

As a vegan-friendly substitute to beef tartare, I often do a beet tartare, which is meaty and earthy and delicious. A beet-tahini dip served with crudite is also a great party hors d'oeuvre. And around Hanukkah, and in fact year round, an interesting version of potato latkes is the beet-and-carrot latke. And since veggie juicing has become so popular, and beets-and-vodka are a natural Eastern European pairing, you can even make your cocktails healthy: beautiful, vibrant beetini anyone? 

Beets are so versatile! You're really limited only by your own imagination...

Happy and healthy Valentine's Day, everyone! xoxo

Wednesday, January 31, 2018


I will always have my perennial favorite dining spots in Rome. Some are so inherently tied to wonderful meals with friends and loved ones that I will return, time and again, with fond memories. Some are casual trattorias and bars where we, our Roman crew, were regulars. Some were my local neighborhood joints. And others are more of the special occasion ilk, places to which I'd happily return as frequently as possible, but more realistically where I might dine once every year or two. Antico Arco is one of those beloved ristoranti in the last category.

The restaurant is situated at the top of the Gianicolo Hill above Trastevere, very near the American Academy of Rome and the Villa Aurelia (I used to spend a lot of time in this area, working, walking, swimming at a nearby hotel pool, etc., so I have many a memory tied to the immediate neighborhood). The space itself is unique. In this 19th century structure, there is a ground floor with a bar area upon entry and a long and narrow dining room, and an upstairs that used to seem like a cozy attic, but with a very tasteful, modern rehab several years back, it's now an elegant, airy space.

The restaurant was founded as a partnership between Patrizia Mattei, who studied for and dedicated herself to the creation of a fine dining establishment, along with her husband Maurizio Minore, and their friend Domenico Calio'. Their current chef is the talented Fundim Gjepali, Albanian by birth with culinary training under his belt in France, Spain, and Italy. He grasps Mediterranean flavors and Italian technique and brings a sophistication and eclecticism to Antico Arco's menu.

The Antico Arco wine cellar, storing some 20,000 bottles, is located in the catacombs of San Pancrazio which date to the 4th century AD. This cellar keeps the wines at a perfect temperature (both for aging/preserving but also for quaffing as soon as the bottle is brought to your table). The restaurant's wine list is an expansive one, and with 1200 labels, it's enviable for its depth of Italian varietals but features wines from all over the globe. I must admit I prefer to stay within the Italian peninsula when eating and drinking in Italy (with the occasional foreign invader!), and when in Rome, at a restaurant with an excellent wine list, I prefer to explore top local producers who might be under-appreciated, or whose varietals are lesser known. I put my trust in the hands of gifted somms who can bring interesting local wines to my attention, which is often how I find a new vino "obsession"!

Antico Arco cheese plate

As for the food at Antico Arco, you can select from an a la carte menu, or from the tasting menu. You can't lose with either option, and both types of menus allow you to sample from some of Antico Arco's most time-honored dishes, as well as the newest seasonal creations of the chef. Upon our last visit, we preferred to sit back and enjoy the tasting menu, so we didn't have to make many choices and could be a little, well, coddled. (Nothing wrong with that upon occasion!) We started off with the Crudo di ricciola (amberjack tartare) with ginger, lime, and puntarelle, that most Roman of winter veggies (shaved chicory stems). I love to start out any Mediterranean meal with a raw fish dish. It makes me happy and sets up a great meal to follow with a light, vibrant opener.

Our next course was another Antico Arco classic: a bright orange egg yolk nestled in a bed of creamy ricotta made to look like the egg white, studded with tones of black-and-white in cauliflower pieces and black truffle. The next dish was a chickpea soup with chestnuts flavored with anise and toasted rosemary breadcrumbs. My then-boyfriend (now husband) enjoyed this dish while I opted for a vegetable tart with melty toma cheese, as I try to avoid dishes featuring chestnuts and/or anise. It was a nice reprieve and nice of the chef to accommodate my rare-but-insistent whims! 

Then came the pasta course: another local classic of spaghetti alla carbonara, this time amped up with the delicious Verrigni pasta and lots of truffles, both cooked within the pasta sauce and shaved on top. It was rich and warming and exactly what a brisk Roman night was calling for. This was followed by a meat course of crispy-skinned duck, a foie gras medallion, and artichoke leaves: a dish more Roman than most people realize, but one that harks back to the days of the Roman empire, when it was traditional to eat game and their livers, which had been enriched by feeding the ducks and geese lots of local figs.

Artichokes are of course the current-day quintessential Roman vegetable. All of this was accompanied by wonderful white and red wines paired to perfection (I don't have a record of exactly which wines we were served, only that they were wonderful recommendations and that we left very happy)! We were also served a lovely cheese course before dessert -- a tradition that has waned in modern (lactose-intolerant) times, but one I thoroughly enjoy. Ours on this tasting menu was a "cannolo di caprino" -- a goat cheese cannolo that set the stage for the dessert of our choice to come.

Now, Antico Arco has been famous for a very long time for a dessert that has become pretty much ubiquitous the western world over...but that doesn't mean it's not completely worth it to get the dessert anyway. Yes, it's the molten chocolate cake. And yes, it's a winner. I don't care if squiggles of raspberry coulis are passe', either. I like them and they're the perfect accompaniment to the deep, melty dark chocolate of the warm cake. Its decadence is the perfect end to a great meal.The mini profiterole with chocolate filling on a pool of vanilla bean creme anglaise, and various sweet mignon didn't hurt, either. 

We called a taxi to take us home after dinner. As we headed down the Gianicolo hill at the end of the evening, we asked the driver to pull over for a moment as we passed the Fontanone, lit up and gurgling away. It was the perfect spot to get out of the car for a moment, to show off Rome to my boyfriend, and take in the breathtaking view of the city at midnight, its monuments aglow and it streets bathed in amber lights, traffic still clogging its ancient roads. It's hard in that moment not to fall in love -- with Rome, with each other, with Italian food and Italy in general. It's amazing what a great meal can do.

Antico Arco
Piazzale Aurelio 7  00152
+ 39 06 581 5274

Friday, January 12, 2018


I am a big fan of what many consider "exotic" fruit -- though nothing is terribly exotic considering that nowadays in New York City, we can find just about anything, from anywhere, if you now where to look. Perhaps it's better to say that some fruits are not yet "mainstream", or "everyday" fruits. Everyone knows what an orange, or a banana, or an apple looks like, tastes like. But the persimmon? There are a lot of people out there who are unsure what a persimmon even is (or if it's a fruit at all), much less how it tastes or how it's eaten. I'm here to declare that persimmons are great eating out-of-hand, but are also a wonderful ingredient in salads, in savory dishes, and for baking. It's worth getting to know these beauties. So, let's take a closer look at the versatile, brilliant persimmon, in season throughout late fall and into the winter.

There are two main categories of persimmons, generally speaking: hachiya and fuyu. The hachiya variety is acorn shaped, usually a deep or bright orange, and should only be eaten when ripe and soft (unripe, these guys are incredibly astringent and seem pretty, well, inedible, thanks to their high tannin content). The fuyu variety is more squat and round, can range in color from a pale orange or more golden hue to the bright orange of the hachiya variety, and can be eaten like an apple when it's more firm, even crisp, as it's much less astringent than the hachiya variety. Much like the tomato, persimmons are technically a berry in terms of botanical morphology, though most people don't lump them into the berry category with raspberries, blueberries and the like. (It's actually amazing how many foods are technically berries!) There is a third type cultivated in Japan, and prized for its rich brown flesh when ripe (instead of bright orange). "Chocolate persimmon" contains dark brown flesh within, the maru variety is sold as "cinnamon persimmon" for its spicy taste, and "brown sugar" is prized for its deep sweetness. A fourth variety, grown in Israel and known as the Sharon ("shah-RON") fruit, named after the Sharon plain in Israel, is the marketing name for the Triumph persimmon, an Israeli-bred cultivar. This variety has no seeds, is very sweet, and can be eaten whole. In Valencia, Spain, one can find a variety that's variegated called the Spanish persimon (one "m"), in Spanish called Ribera del Xuquer or Rojo Brillante. In Italian and Japanese, the persimmon shares the same name: kaki (pronounced more or less "cocky").

As you can probably guess from their varietal names, the persimmon is of Asian origin, native to Japan, China, Korea, Burma, and Nepal. Cultivation of the persimmon extended throughout east and south Asia, and was later introduced to southern Europe and California (they have similar growing climates) in the early 1800s, and to Brazil by the end of the 19th century. In Korea, the matured fermented fruit are used to make a persimmon vinegar called gamsikcho (I'm now obsessed with the idea of this vinegar!), and for hundreds of years, the Japanese have consumed persimmon leaf tea made from the dried kaki leaves. In the northwestern U.S., persimmons are a commonly-found ingredient in pies and various desserts, like persimmon pudding (baked to the consistency of pumpkin pie, but resembles more of a brownie), almost surely topped with whipped cream. And Mitchell, Indiana is the proud home to an annual persimmon festival. As for nutritional value? Persimmons are high in dietary fiber and some dietary minerals, and offer a significant source of vitamin C and iron. They are also, when ripe, high in glucose (that sweetness comes at a cost), so make note.  

Most importantly, how do we use the persimmon as a seasonal ingredient? I love baking with persimmons, in cakes and tarts in which the fruit holds its form and beautiful color, but I also love using its puree in cakes and cheesecakes, and frozen in ice cream or sorbet. You can whip up a great smoothie with persimmon flesh, and it's easy to transform into a jam or mostarda to spread on bread or to accompany a gorgeous cheese plate. But arguably the best way to enjoy the pure flavor of the persimmon flesh is to eat it out of hand -- or rather, by removing the green-brown stem of the fruit (if it's ripe, it should "unplug" to remove easily), and scooping out the tender, sweet flesh with a spoon. It's like a ready-made fruit custard. 

Beyond utilizing the fruit to finish a meal, I also like to incorporate the persimmon into savory preparations, as a counterpoint to sharper bitter or salty flavors. it works marvelously well in seasonal salads, like this Tuscan kale, feta, and persimmon salad with pomegranate and sunflower seeds. Dressed with a white balsamic-pomegranate vinaigrette, this salad hits all flavor and texture notes and is a nutritional fall or winter salad to boot. Move over, avocado toast! Toasted bread with a shmear of fresh ricotta, sliced persimmon, and cracked pepper is insanely good. The fruit even works in highly-spiced dishes, like a curry or a spicy salsa dressing for fish or meat. I love it in a winer ceviche too. Really, it's all about using this seasonal ingredient however you enjoy it most. The important thing is to try it, get used to its flavor, and soon the "exotic" persimmon will become for you, as it is for me, an everyday winter food love affair!

Sunday, December 31, 2017

LIBATIONS: The Pina Colada

If you like piña coladas...

Yes, it's an oldie but a goodie, that song by Rupert Holmes, the one that speaks of getting caught in the rain and having half a brain. But ol' Rupert was onto something. The piña colada is one of my all-time favorite cocktails, particularly when it's prepared correctly. And it happens to have originated in Puerto Rico, a fabulous island that's an unincorporated territory of the United States but has yet to be afforded statehood (and therefore the right to vote in U.S. elections, though I digress)...and PR is an island that happens to have been the hard-hit victim of a particularly harsh hurricane season in the autumn on 2017. 

I adored Puerto Rico when I visited right after New Year's back in 2015. My husband and I were dating at the time, and though we'd taken several trips together, both domestic and international, this was our first tropical getaway to a Caribbean island, a 5-day jaunt to a destination with reveling in sybaritic coupledom as the sole point of the trip. With poolside cocktails, natch. What better place to enjoy one of my favorite refreshing, tropical frozen drinks than in its palm tree-lined place of origin? I'd just worked hard serving up great food and beverages to clients throughout the holiday season, so I was very much looking forward to being served a little bit myself, and relaxing in the sun, when temperatures back home were sub-zero. I prefer frozen cocktails to frozen tushies!

First, a quick primer on the piña colada. The name means "strained pineapple" -- a reference to the fresh pineapple juice in the drink. It's generally served blended/frozen or shaken with ice, though my personal opinion is that you go frozen or go home. Its origin story is still up for debate: it was definitely created in Puerto Rico, but where and by whom is still somewhat unresolved. There is a legend that says a Puerto Rican pirate created the drink in the 19th century to boost his crew's morale, but the recipe for the drink seems to have gone with him to his grave in 1825. 
In the modern era, we have two stories. Story 1: Ramón "Monchito" Marrero Pérez lays claim to have made it first at San Juan's Caribe Hilton Hotel's Beachcomber Bar in '54, utilizing Don Q Gold rum and what was then a new product, Coco Lopez's crem of coconut (developed in '48 in Puerto Rico, hence to Puerto Rican lineage of the drink itself). Story 2: Bartender Ramón Portas Mingot claims to have created the pina colada in 1963 at the Barrachina Restaurant in Old San Juan -- a claim the restaurant adheres to in the present day. Many say the drink didn't get its name until the 1960s, regardless of who the actual creator was. But the piña colada has definitively been the national drink of Puerto Rico since 1978, and National Piña Colada Day is celebrated on the island on July 10th each year. Fun fact: in one of the greatest movies ever made, The Godfather Part II (1974), in the scenes that are set in Cuba in 1956, the characters are offered Piña Coladas on several occasions, even though the drink wasn't named as such until the 1960s.

Back to Puerto Rico. While I indulged in many a piña colada on our trip to PR, we discovered the most memorable version just before sunset on the evening we were flying back to frigid New York some time around 9:30 p.m. We were having dinner at a wonderful restaurant Santaella (see my review on this blog at, in the neighborhood surrounding a central mercado away from the "strip" by the beach, away from the crowds of tourists and chain restaurants. As I remember, we walked there from our hotel, as we wanted to take in some local scenes, and though the mercado was mostly closed down by the time we got there (it was about 4:00 in the afternoon, so a few fruit and veg sellers were still in the covered market, but crowds were sparse), we did see a vibrant local scene. 

There were kids playing the in plaza, and families sitting outside on patio chairs. fanning themselves from the heat. Behind the market and around the corner, we saw a grouping of tables and chairs, and several older men sitting playing cards and dominoes. Many of them were sipping...could it be...piña coladas? Yes. There was a makeshift bar set up with a single powerful blender, ice in plastic tubs, plenty of rum, and lots of coconuts and pineapples ready to be whirred together into that perfect tropical elixir. I approached the woman making them and asked in Spanish for 2 piña coladas, and asked her how much they cost. For five dollars a pop, we got about 20 ounces each of the most satisfying, delicious, boozy piña coladas we had our entire trip, served up in a large clear plastic cup. Pure heaven.

So as we wind down 2017 and look forward to 2018, let's raise a frosty glass to Puerto Rico and its signature drink, the piña colada. It takes us away to a tropical island "Escape" (the actual title of the piña colada song), even in the dreary cold of a northeastern winter. And, please give anything you can to continue U.S. support to PR, a gorgeous island full of wonderful people who need our help.

Piña Colada
1 ½ oz. aged Puerto Rican rum
1 ½ oz. cream of coconut (like Coco López)
1 ½ oz. pineapple juice
5 chunks fresh pineapple
16 oz. crushed ice
Tools: blender
Glass: hurricane
Garnish: pineapple wedge
Add all ingredients to a blender and whir for about 30-60 seconds until smooth and frothy. I always think a dark rum floater never hurt anybody, and can only improve the drink. 

To help Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Maria, you can always give to the Red Cross, or to the organizations below...

Puerto Rico Real-Time Recovery Fund:

Hurricane Maria Community Recovery Fund:

Unidos Por Puerto Rico:

Happy New Year!!!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

RECIPE: Sufganiyot, A Hanukkah Favorite

Above, sufganiyot I made with my family last Hanukkah: a culinary success but a mess getting my powdered sugar-covered nephew clean!
Hanukkah, the festival of lights, is a celebration of the reclaiming and rededicating (Hanukkah means "dedication") of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem in the second century BCE. The oil used to light the menorah in the temple, thought only enough to last for a night, lasted for eight days instead -- hence the festival of lights. Culinarily speaking, this translates to celebrating this oil with lots of fried goodies. Latkes, or potato pancakes -- and really fritters of any kind -- are present on most Hanukkah tables. Sufganiyot, or donuts in Hebrew, are basically the sweet version of fritters. They're delicious, and surprisingly to some, easy enough to make at home. In closing out this year's festival of lights, what better way to top off eight days of gluttonous fried foods than with the ultimate fried dessert?

There is a long tradition among both Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews linking fried donuts, in various forms, with Hanukkah. North African tradition melds with the Jewish tradition of associating sfenj (the smaller, deep-fried donuts) with Hanukkah. In Israel, where Central and East European Jews mingled with North African Jews, the Yiddish ponchkes (similar to the German berliner, the Polish paczki, or the Russian ponchik) became part of this tradition.

Angel Bakeries, the largest bakery in Israel, reportedly fries up more than 250,000 sufganiyot every day during the eight-day Hanukkah festival. Local newspapers add to the excitement by sending out food critics each year to rate the best sufganiyah in town. As a result of the national hubbub, some purveyors have elevated the basic filling recipe to an art form. The most basic version is filled with plain red fruit jelly, while more expensive versions are piped with chocolate cream, dulce de leche, vanilla cream, cappuccino pastry cream, and even the Israeli anise-flavored liqueur called araq, and topped with various extravagant toppings, from coconut shavings to meringue and sprinkles and flavored glazes. Even Burger King got in on sufganiyah fever last year with the "SufganiKing" -- a burger with the bun replaced by sweet donut halves, which as BK notes "proves that miracles still happen"!

Here is my basic recipe. Below that I'll post a link to my recipe as published on The Daily Meal a few years ago. You can get creative with both the fillings and the toppings. I like a salted caramel filling with a dark chocolate glaze (or the reverse), a meyer lemon curd filling (with a lemon poppyseed glaze, yum!), a fruit cream filling with various chocolate and candy toppings, or a classic jam filling -- try fig -- topped with a simple dusting of powdered sugar. Whatever your personal palate dictates, one thing we know is that It's time to make the donuts!


  • 1 Tablespoon dry yeast
  • 4 Tablespoons sugar
  • 3/4 Cup lukewarm milk or water (water for meat meal, milk for dairy meal)
  • 2 1/2 Cups AP flour
  • 1 Pinch of salt
  • 1 Teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • 2 Tablespoons butter or pareve margarine, softened
  • Jelly (strawberry, raspberry, apricot, etc.) or cranberry sauce
  • Sugar, for rolling
  • Vegetable/seed oil, for deep-frying


- Mix together the yeast, 2 tablespoons of sugar, and the milk. Let sit until it bubbles.
- Sift the flour and mix with the remaining sugar, salt, cinnamon, egg yolks, and yeast mixture.
- Knead the dough until it forms a ball. Add the butter/margarine. Knead some more, until the butter is well absorbed into the mixture. 
- Cover with a towel and let it rise overnight, or at least 2 hours, in the fridge.

- Roll out the dough to a thickness of 1/8 inch. Cut the dough into 24 rounds with a juice glass or any object with a 2-inch diameter.
- Brush the 12 rounds with beaten egg whites. Take 1/2 teaspoon of the cranberry sauce and place in center of 12 rounds. Press down at edges, crimping with the thumb and second finger to seal. Let rise for 30 minutes.
Heat 2 inches of oil in a pan, to about 375 degrees.
Drop donuts into the hot oil, about 5 at a time, not crowding the pan. Turn to brown on both sides. Drain on paper towels and roll the donuts in sugar.

Here's a link to my recipe on The Daily Meal:

Enjoy, and Happy Hanukkah!

Thursday, November 30, 2017

QUICK BITE: Holiday Comfort Foods: Soup Edition

It's pretty much inevitable. In the run-up to Thanksgiving, which is of course the big food-centric opener to the holiday season, I work too much, cook too much, travel on flying petri dishes otherwise known as airplanes, and my sleep suffers as a result of all of this. Aaaand...boom. Suddenly, I'm getting sick. Under the weather. No bueno. But the good news in all of this? Post-Thanksgiving is the perfect time to make and enjoy soup.

I refuse to toss a turkey carcass in the trash unless it's been fully utilized as a flavor-maker by infusing a rich stock, a deeply soothing broth, and the base of a delicious soup. Of course, these soups are not vegetarian-friendly -- perhaps another time, another post. These soups have a poultry base. Right now we're talking about the fact that it's the bones of the bird that make these stocks enriched with collagen and nutrients, so restorative, so...rectifying. While cooking away, their meaty perfume permeates the kitchen (and indeed, the entire apartment or house) in which they're cooked with the smell of another Thanksgiving, and this can't be bad. There's no real recipe needed; this is an act of recycling, a thoughtful using up of scraps and leftover ingredients, cleaning out the fridge in the process. We chefs love efficiency and economy.

So, here's the deal: use whatever remains of the turkey carcass that's been picked clean. Add the neck and gizzards and whatever you've saved from various turkey parts. This year, for instance, I spatchcocked our family Thanksgiving  turkey, so I added the backbone to the stockpot, which added a real flavor boost, along with the roasted veggies over which I cooked the turkey. Then, throw in some celery, carrots, and onion -- in whatever form you have left over. If you don't, a simple trip to the market and a few dollars will give you what you need. Toss in some garlic or leeks or shallots, if you like. Add some black peppercorns, maybe a touch of thyme or parsley or rosemary (or all three). Fill the pot with cold water and set it on the stove to boil. Once it hits the boiling point, turn it down to a low simmer and just let it slowly cook for hours. I'd say 4 hours is the bare minimum for this stock, but 8 will get you a rich, golden stock you'll remember for years to come. 

What now? Well, it's best to cool the stock for an hour or two and then put it in the fridge overnight. This way you can skim the fat the next day when it's congealed at the top. From there, you can layer flavors however you like. That's the beauty of a good stock. Make sure to salt it at the end. 

I had my white bean and escarole turkey soup for breakfast yesterday morning, as I woke up still feeling under the weather, and I knew I'd have to fly. The restorative broth with a bit of a peperoncino kick was just what the doctor ordered. 
Today I continued with matzo ball soup, a.k.a. Jewish penicillin -- I ordered in from Sarge's deli, as they make a good MBS and they're close by and I don't have to make the soup myself when I'm not feeling up to it. That's part of the beauty of living in Manhattan. 

But I make great soups from turkey (and chicken, and vegetable, and beef, and oxtail) stocks all through the winter. You can simply add a starch -- pasta (long noodles, or small pasta like ditalini or tiny shells or Israeli couscous, or tortellini), or potatoes (regular or sweet potatoes or blue). Add any combination of veggies cut small. Add chile pepper in some form (paste, hot sauce, fresh or dried chiles) for kick, if you like, and an acid (wine or citrus juice or vinegar) to cut the richness of the savory broth. And fresh herbs at the end are always welcome. Spices too, if they work with the kind of soup you're making. It's all up to you. But as with most things, in the kitchen and outside of it, it's most important to start with a great base. The rest is just gravy...errr, soup.