rosemary chicken with roasted lemons

rosemary chicken with roasted lemons

What’s the secret to juicy chicken? It’s in the Top Five list of age-old questions.

We all want the answer to that one, along with:

What’s the secret to erasing wrinkles?

What’s the secret to inner peace?

What’s the secret to sweet old doggie breath?

I know I’ve only listed four of the top five. I’ll bet you can imagine what the other one is.

I doubt I’ll be eligible for a Nobel prize, but I have good news – I know the answer to the very first question. Hurray!
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pici pasta with ramps and dandelion greens

pici pasta with ramps and dandelion greens

Right around this time last year I read a cranky rant (well, okay, I guess you could say rants by nature lean toward the cranky side), can’t remember where. Someone complaining about those crazed foodies who seemed to be suffering from some kind of trendy spring fever, everywhere strewing ramps onto every inch of their food and posting pictures of the resulting culinary mayhem all over the Internets.

Now here I am offering up my gratuitous ramp post. You could call me a crazed foodie I suppose, but it has to be said that there’s a reason people go nuts for these stinky undomesticated onions.

ramps

Ramps are alliums, members of the onion family. They’re wild relatives to leeks and garlic, possessed of a certain mysterious something that makes them exciting to be around, their aroma a presence of musky funkiness that somehow makes you lean in closer, provocatively.

Like your second cousin once-removed who shows up at Sunday dinner just home with his Eurail pass; sporting long ungroomed hair and a 5 o’clock shadow a good month exposed, still shaking out sand from a longer-than-planned sojourn on that beautiful but undiscovered beach located somewhere on the coast of the former Yugoslavia.

Untamed, but something you would very much like to get to know, or better yet devour hungrily with no words spoken. I’m talking about ramps here, remember. This is a family channel.

Dandelion greens are another spring thing that pops up, gets foraged and scattered over food but dandelion greens don’t have quite the sexy cachet that a few bunches of ramps do. Could it be it’s that they don’t have that delicious dirty smell? They are also admittedly bitter and a little tough, especially closer to the stems.

dandelion greens

My grandmother would cook dandelion down to a murky brown, then saturate them with garlicky olive oil. They went on the table once the smaller people had long departed with bellies full of macaroni, meatballs and assorted pastries. It was the comfort food of her generation, and her grown children too.

I can now appreciate – and even crave – all things on the bitter taste spectrum, greens included. I prefer not to cook them down to mush, although I recognize that long, long cooking removes a bit of that. The dandelion greens you can buy in the produce section aren’t wild but cultivated, definitely milder than wild ones from the backyard.

This combination of strong greens is a good match with pasta of the same character. I love these dried thick hollow noodles from Tuscany called pici  - I found a bag recently at An Olive Ovation, a boutique olive oil store in St. Louis.

Chef Jacob Kennedy describes pici in his fantastic book The Geometry of Pasta as “almost brutish in their diameter and lack of uniformity; they go with brutish sauces…”

pici pasta

pici pasta with ramps and dandelion greens

pici pasta with ramps and dandelion greens

Yield: serves 2 - 4

Substitute bucatini or perciatelli pasta for the pici, which are similar long hollow-shaped pasta.

Ingredients

  1. 12 ounces pici, bucatini or perciatelli pasta
  2. 1 bunch ramps, root ends trimmed
  3. 1 bunch (about ½ pound) dandelion greens; washed
  4. ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  5. 1 garlic clove, thinly sliced lengthwise
  6. 2 eggs, lightly beaten
  7. Kosher salt
  8. 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or dried crushed chili

Instructions

  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil with 2 tablespoons kosher salt.
  2. Rinse the ramps to remove any dirt or mud. Separate the green leafy tops from the root ends; slice the greens into thin ribbons and slice the ramp stalks and bulbs thinly crosswise.
  3. Slice the woody stems off the dandelion greens until only about ½-inch remains.
  4. Heat the oil and garlic in a sauté pan until the garlic becomes fragrant and starts to sizzle (but not turn brown). Toss in the ramps and greens and move them around in the pan. Cook partially covered until the greens are wilted and softened, about 5 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, cook the pasta until al dente – it will take a bit longer to cook than spaghetti or thinner long pasta shapes. Just before draining scoop out 1/3 cup of the pasta water and whisk into the eggs.
  6. Add the drained pasta to the sauté pan off the heat; drizzle in the eggs and toss everything together. Sprinkle with the chili and taste for more salt.
http://familystylefood.com/2013/05/pici-pasta-with-ramps-and-dandelion-greens/

pistachio crumbly cake

pistachio crumbly cake from Modena

My daughter and her friend began to make this cake disappear one afternoon, tearing off pieces with their hands, letting the crumbs fall down to where the dog was waiting, eager to take on the role of floor-polisher.

Whacanacakeshis?”

Although I think my kids should be long past the stage of being wary of nuts in and around their food – they don’t have allergies or anything else to cause worry – they still hesitate before taking a sample of any cake, cookie or other sweet baked thing with clear nut visibility.

pistachio crumbly cake sbrisolona

Apparently this cake seemed appealing despite that slight defect, because half of it was gone before I could reply.

“It’s like a coffee cake…”

“Oh, yeah. I like coffee cake, but this looks kinda flat. Are you sure it’s a coffee cake?”

“It’s an Italian coffee cake, not puffy like the ones you’re used to. You like it?”

“Yahmmmmm…”

This is my take on sbrisolona, Italian crumb cake. Most traditional ones are made with almonds or pine nuts like this one from Mario Batali, but I wanted to use pistachios, so here you go.

It turns out properly crumby, not like a dry cookie but a slightly sticky crumble.

pistachio crumbly cake

pistachio crumbly cake

Yield: one 9-inch cake

This cake is prepared entirely in a food processor before baking. It keeps very well on your kitchen counter for a few days, if it lasts that long.

Ingredients

  1. For streusel:
  2. ½ cup shelled pistachios, toasted and coarsely chopped
  3. 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  4. ¼ cup granulated sugar
  5. 2 tablespoons brown sugar
  6. 2 tablespoons melted butter
  7. For cake:
  8. 1 cup shelled pistachios, toasted
  9. 1 cup all-purpose flour
  10. ¾ cup granulated sugar
  11. 1 teaspoon ground anise seed
  12. ¾ teaspoon kosher salt
  13. ½ teaspoon baking powder
  14. 2 eggs
  15. 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  16. ¼ cup melted butter
  17. Grated zest from 1 lemon

Instructions

  1. Heat oven to 325 degrees and lightly brush the bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan with olive oil or melted butter.
  2. To make the streusel, stir together all ingredients in a small bowl.
  3. Grind the pistachios in a food processor until fine crumbs form; add the flour, sugar, anise seed and baking powder and pulse to combine.
  4. Whisk together the eggs, olive oil, butter and lemon zest until emulsified; add to the flour mixture in the food processor and blend just until the batter is smooth, about 30 seconds.
  5. Spread batter into the pan and top evenly with the streusel. Bake 25 – 30 minutes; the cake should spring back to the touch.
  6. Cool cake on a rack 10 – 15 minutes before removing sides of the pan; allow cake to cool completely.
http://familystylefood.com/2013/05/pistachio-crumbly-cake/