potato and kale pan pizza with ricotta

True new potatoes — freshly plucked out of the ground, their skin flaking off like a sunburn — are another one of those seasonal foods that come into your life for a fleeting moment. They delight you with youthful sweetness and tender delicacy, then quietly disappear into the horizon like the memory of a summer love.

I’ve been stalking that moment, pouncing on the first farmer’s market stand I saw displaying a bin of dusty, misshapen nuggets. I love baby potatoes all by themselves, simply steamed and doused with plenty of good olive oil or melted butter. But I also crave potatoes as a topping for pizza or flatbread. That particular combination of creamy starch and crisp dough is a carb-lover’s dream.

Traditionalists (and my 16-year old son) may reject pizzas with potatoes on them as some kind of blasphemy. That’s fine, I get it. But I believe they’re missing out on something delicious. And did I mention that leftover slices of this pizza make an amazing breakfast with a fried egg on top?

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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…]