creamy cauliflower and grana padano soup

With yet another snowstorm getting underway here, it seemed like a good day to make this simple and nourishing soup. Last week, I tasted it as prepared by Fabio Viviani, the charming Italian guy from Top Chef.

He was in New York City doing a demonstration for Legends from Europe, representing some pure, natural food products from Italy, including Proscuitto di Parma, Prosciutto di San Daniele, Montasio and Grana Padano cheeses.

Grana Padano is sometimes called “poor man’s Parmigiano Reggiano,” which seems a little unfair. I think it’s just as delicious. And possibly because it’s not as well known outside of Italy, I find it tends to have a more friendly price tag. It’s made in the Po Valley region in northeastern Italy from raw cow’s milk and aged between 9 and 12 months. The cheese develops a rich flavor and granular texture that I absolutely love, with a slightly milder and less salty taste than Parmigiano.  [Read more…]

chopped kale salad with hot smoky dates

I would love to eat a fresh date, preferably right now while taking in the sight of an azure Mediterranean sky through a spray of palm fronds. Today, instead of that, I have muted gray winter light (a chance of snow, they say) and some dried dates.

In Miami, where I once lived, huge majestic date palms were planted all around the grounds of fancy hotels and private homes, and at one of my favorite public spaces anywhere, the Fairchild Tropical Gardens. I’m pretty sure the clusters of brilliant yellow fruit that would sometimes appear on the trees were not good to eat. Date palms are natives of hot, dry desert places.

They’re grown in the humid zone of South Florida, often dug up and imported there from other places at huge expense. But while they can flourish on South Beach like sunbathing debutantes, it’s not their ideal climate for fruit-bearing.

I’ll have to wait until I’m in a place like California in winter to bite into a fresh date, an experience that Alice Waters describes in Chez Panisse Fruit as “soft yielding flesh, with a mildly sweet, rich flavor entirely different from that of the hard, wrinkled and cloyingly sweet dates in the package.”

Medjool dates are dried dates, but far from hard and dry, I think. They have a rich quality – kind of luscious really – plump and tender inside. And you can find them in almost every well-stocked market in the produce section at this time of year.  [Read more…]

raw and roasted cherry tomato salad

August is the month that feels most like summer to me, when days melt lazily into each other and the sun feels that much warmer. It’s the perfect time to unplug. When we lived in the Midwest, my kids would start the new school year in early August, which never failed to feel strangely out of step – it was always September when I was growing up. This year it felt nice to push our vacation into that last full month of summer.

We spent a few weeks on the coast of Rhode Island; almost every day was so clear and beautiful, each sunset outdoing the last. I didn’t want it to end.  Nothing makes me happier than looking at the ocean all day, and planning dinner around produce from the local farmstand – at this point in the summer that would be tomatoes, sweet corn, blueberries…and more tomatoes.

The cherry tomatoes I found at the market the other day were hard to resist, in a rainbow of colors. Usually my daughter eats them up by the handful straight out of the pint basket, as if they were the cherries they’re named after. Before they disappeared, I got the idea to make a cooked and raw salad,  to get a little bit of the intensity I love about roasted tomatoes along with the burst of juicy freshness from uncooked ones.  [Read more…]