Mar 302015

My readers will now and then offer comments on my recipes, but no one is more exacting than Victor Hazan, husband of and collaborator with the late Marcella Hazan and indeed himself a very fine cook. Here is a message he sent me about my Beef and Guinness Stew recipe, which I offered in my Zester Daily column for St. Patrick’s Day:

beef and Guinness stew ingredients

Ingredients for my Beef & Guinness Stew — sans peas. Credit: ©Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

 I followed it more or less scrupulously, save for some things an Italian cook wouldn’t go for, e.g. boiled potatoes served with their skins on. Che barbarità! I peeled and quartered them and threw them in with the meat after it had cooked an hour and a half. I very much liked doing the vegetables separately. To the carrots and turnips, I added parsnips, cipolline, and cardoon. I had no fresh peas, and I don’t use frozen ones, another barbarità. I cooked the stew for close to three hours, at the gentlest of simmers, on the stovetop. Superb! Grazie mille.

Dreaming of fresh baby peas…. real ones iatCampo dei Fiori market, Rome. Credit: @ Paolo Destefanis,

The fresh baby peas of my dreams…. at Campo dei Fiori market, Rome. Credit: © Paolo Destefanis,

If you’ve tried the stew following my recommendations faithfully, I have no doubt you found it astonishingly good. While I’m all for the cipolline and cardoon (I might find the parnsips a bit of sweet root vegetable overkill if used in addition to the carrots), I couldn’t disagree more about the skins on the potatoes. I like their earthy character, and besides, peel them away and you’ll take off the most nutritious part of the spud (B vitamins, calcium, and fiber). As for recommending frozen “petite” peas if you can’t get your hands on fresh ones—meaning peas eaten the same day they’re picked (after just a few hours, their sugars start converting to starch and they’re useless), fresh peas are elusive even when they are in season for those of us with our own gardens as much as for anyone else (it’s the one vegetable that refuses to thrive in my soil). Finding such peas in March would require nothing short of a divine intervention in my part of the world (the Irish, for their part, don’t have peas to add to their stews in March, either). Frozen baby peas can be a perfectly respectable substitute as long as they are not overcooked (see my recipe). After some back and forth about this, Victor conceded that even Marcella added frozen peas to a stew now and then.

With the world in such a sorry state, it does the heart good to have disagreements with friends about such relatively lighthearted matters — and to find that peace can be reached so easily and in good fun.

A note about my wallpaper: Because my garden is still covered in snow today, despite the official arrival of Spring, I have decided to keep the beautiful persimmons in the snow background for now. I’m so lucky to have the use of such exquisite, painterly images thanks to the generosity of my book photographer and friend, Paolo Destefanis. I’m finding it hard to part with this photograph in particular.

Jan 182015
Polenta: The Long and the Short of It, with Inspiration from Marcella

Nearly twenty-five years ago I wrote an article for Cook’s magazine titled “Polenta: To Stir With Love.” In it, I advocated the traditional method for stirring the cornmeal and water continually as it simmers on the stove for lump-free and silky results, just as I had watched my mother and countless cooks in Italy’s polenta-loving regions do. Although most cornmeal package directions call for simmering it for some 45 minutes, many Italian cooks believe that it should be cooked for at least an hour or even longer, to improve its creaminess and render it more digestible. (Where the stirring was once done […more…]

Dec 192014
Still Time Left for Making the Fruitcake You Can Love!

True English fruitcake—sumptuous, evocative, intoxicating— is something you can love. Here is a recipe dedicated to you for Christmas—especially to my friends who think they hate fruitcake. It’s a revelation: continue reading here for the recipe and story.

Nov 242014
Thanksgiving Wow—Apples Italian Style

We’re getting close to Thanksgiving, so I’m sending out this little dessert recipe that will cuddle up to pumpkin pie (why have only one dessert?)—or even replace it. Everyone will love you for adding some Italian panache to the feast. Continue reading here for the recipe… *A Note about the artist: This whimsical watercolor was painted by one of my favorite illustrators, Laura Cornell, for my weekly column in the now defunct “Suburbia Today” Sunday magazine section of the Westchester-Rockland (Gannett) newspapers. Laura, already a successful illustrator, went on to become a published author of children’s books as well, including […more…]

Oct 212014
Pumpkin Masquerades for a Halloween Sweet

With pumpkin season upon us, I was reminded of a delicious recipe for pumpkin baklava that a Greek chef, Martina Colombotos, made for me some thirty years ago. It was so good that COOK’S magazine ran a story I wrote about Matina and her baklava in their October issue all those years back. Here’s the recipe, written up in a Halloween piece I wrote for Zester Daily for a grown-up Halloween treat. My husband and collaborator, Nathan Hoyt, carved up a pumpkin for Halloween. Thanks to him, and to Richard Bowditch and Tom Hopkins for the original photos. Happy Halloween […more…]

Aug 242014
Rediscovering the Lost Art of the Pickle, in Ten Minutes

Pickling hasn’t been this hot in America since covered wagon days when being able to preserve food for the long cold winters meant the difference between life and death (remember “Little House on the Prairie”)? Besides anything else, pickling is downright fun. If you know how to, you’re ahead of the game, but if you don’t, did you know that you can “quick pickle” in the time it takes to boil water and vinegar together? Here’s my latest article in Zester Daily for doing just that with the one crop that everyone always seems to have too much of, zucchini. Why […more…]

Aug 102014
Readers Write: About that Peppery Steak Salad Scented with Olive Oil...

The recipe in my last post for a quick and easy steak and potato dish (read here) seemed to be especially popular, and some of you sent me comments and variations. I’m passing some of them along here. One more thing…do wash it all down with a nice Pugliese red. Salute! Great recipe, Julia–reminds me of Tuscan tagliata di bistecca. And perfect for a no-nonsense meal on a hot summer night. You reminded me that the great teaching chef Bill Briwa from the CIA (you know which one of those I mean) experimented with beef and olive oil and found […more…]

Aug 022014
Steak and Potatoes Take on New Meaning Doused with Bold Olive Oils

After my recent travels to Puglia, Italy’s southernmost region, I’ve had its big, bold olive oils on my mind. The province of Bari, founded well before the 8th century BC when it was absorbed by Magna Graecia, has lived on olive oil for millennia. Today the area still makes most of Italy’s olive oils. Drive past places with names like Cassano delle Murge, Bitetto, Bitonto, Bitritto, and Binetto, and you see nothing but forests of olive trees and billows of sky, interrupted now and then by towns undisturbed by tourism. But where once, production was geared toward quantity to meet Europe’s […more…]