rustic parmigiano polenta with greens

I found my thoughts provoked before I sat down to write this post, because I just read this terrific essay by Emma Marris, which lays out how the “gospel” of Alice Waters and her restaurant Chez Panisse has become a cultural force in dining, especially high-end dining, while reminding us more than once that Alice Waters cooks peasant food “but only rich people can afford it.”

I parsed the reality that the kind of cooking that captivates my heart and senses, and moves me toward what I do (and share with you here) is exactly that kind. Call it “cucina povera” – Food of the Poor Peasant – or any one these favored words; “rustic” “simple” “seasonal” and let’s not forget “artisanal.” 

I feel the irony of the situation.  [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…]

tuscan kale, ricotta and mushroom pizza

tuscan kale, ricotta and mushroom pizza www.familystylefood.com
I laughed through “The Celery Incident“, a teaser episode from the new season of Portlandia; Steve Buscemi plays a sad sack salesman at Produce Sales Headquarters, taken to task for the sorry state of his account – celery – on the vegetable totem pole.

It’s pretty funny; in the episode,  heirloom tomatoes, kale and brussels sprouts are the hot, sexy IT foods (bacon and corn play some parts, too), while celery struggles for some love.  It did make me wonder if in reality kale has its own marketing board; no question kale (and healthy, green food in general) has gone viral over the past few years. But as far as I know kale ads aren’t taking the place of huge displays of Victoria’s Secret models in Times Square.

I’ve been trying to give celery a second chance in my kitchen. I use it as part of a flavor base – the soffritto - when I start cooking certain soups or sauces, but other than that I find its flavor can be overpowering when used raw or else it goes completely benign and unpleasantly mushy when cooked.

tuscan kale, mushroom and ricotta pizza www.familystylefood.com

But to get back to kale, the co-star in this pizza recipe: I couldn’t be happier everybody wants some. I kind of hope it’s not just a fad that every restaurant in the land has some version of a kale salad on the menu (not so in France: The Kale Project is attempting to stir the pot).  [Read more…]