Raw tomato summer pasta “al sugo crudo”

I cannot remember which of my Italian friends taught me to make a “sugo crudo al pomodoro” but it was most certainly on a warm summer’s day.  It’s magic is in the mixture of freshly sliced tomatoes shimmering in a small pool of olive oil, perfumed by leaves of fresh basil. Given a moment to marinate, these ingredients marry as it were — the tomatoes taking on the flavor of basil and the basil melting into the juices of the fresh tomatoes.  Continue reading

Strawberry fields forever . part II .

This is the second part of a short little story describing simple traditions involving an abundance of red berries. I have a few favorite ways to bring strawberries to the table and each one is a reminder of the happiness of spring and the comforts of home.

Home is neither a single place nor a static object. The name describes a feeling that expands beyond space and time. In my case the word home describes different countries. The following narrative has its origin in the Netherlands, one of the parts of this world I feel a part of.

This story is about the strawberry sandwich. Even writing the name brings a smile to my face. It’s about three simple ingredients, namely butter,  bread and well, of course strawberries.

Bread is an essential part of the Dutch food tradition and in this country it is amazingly good and wholesome.

Butter, like dairy of all sorts, takes a prominent place in the low lands. For this particular kind of sandwich, one generally uses the unsalted kind.

Strawberries make an appearance in early spring and are a fundamental part of the landscape well into late summer.

The key to a perfect berry sandwich is the quality of the ingredients, of which in this part of the world there are many.

Traditionalists will spread their butter on a slice of fresh white bread. I diverge from this habit by cycling to my favorite bakery for a loaf of light whole wheat sourdough.

On each slice of bread, one spreads butter generously but not in extravagance.

The strawberries are washed, cut and subsequently layered over the butter, the more the merrier, but without any kind of exaggeration. 

The sandwich is ready to be served in a deliciously pragmatic no-nonsense manner so typical of this country and culture. 

I love the strawberry sandwich for this very reason. 

Suggested combinations

Serve the sandwich with the very best of the three ingredients available to you. Try it as is. Don’t be tempted in other words to add mint leaves, balsamic vinegar, lemon zest, black pepper, or any number of wonderful pairings that go so well with strawberries. Keep it pure and simple.

It is definitely old school to sprinkle the strawberries with just a touch of sugar.

Notes

A strawberry sandwich is at its very best when served as soon as the sliced fruit is layered on the bread.

Wild garlic spaghettata

 

It was Sunday evening after the movies and it was time to eat sooner if not later. I was in the mood for a spaghettata — the charmingly Italian name for a late night bowl of pasta.

spaghettata is all about cooking with pantry ingredients. It goes hand in hand with noisy nights with friends stuffed around the kitchen table filled with conversation. It’s symbolic for spontaneity in other words.

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Strawberry fields forever . part I .

The very first bright red strawberries have made their way home. Strawberries are a modestly delicious  fruit; the kind that lend themselves to sweet family gatherings rather than to complicated cheffy creations. I cannot help but love these berries for what they symbolize.

I have favorite ways to bring them to the table, none of which I would really call worthy of the name recipe. One of them is Italian in origin — the country I grew up in — the country that drives my creativity.

Imagine summer in southern Italy somewhere outside the rowdy city streets of Naples

Put yourself under the shade of an umbrella, seated at a table close to a busy family kitchen

Envision a terrace filled with huge terracotta pots of brilliantly blooming red geraniums

Amidst vivid conversation on a warm August evening, a chilled porcelain bowl is brought to the table 

Floating in red wine are freshly cut strawberries that go by the name “fragole al vino”

This summery Italian dessert is a breeze to prepare. Wash a bunch of bright red strawberries and tip them into a bowl. Squeeze the juice of a half of lemon over the berries and add the faintest sprinkle of sugar. Toss and stir gently. Pour a slightly chilled red wine to barely cover the fruit just before serving.

Note

I will be sharing more of such narratives.The next one will be Dutch in character.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

They’re here ! I mean the luscious red berries in this enamel bowl.

Spring greens and things

Meet this bunch of tangled up roots that shoot into stalks only to abound into a crazy wig of bright green leaves.

I am referring to purslane, one of the first types of leaf to appear just as the winter  is making its getaway.

Purslane is refreshing and slightly lemony in flavor. The only obstacle to eating it is getting it washed and dried without bruising its leaves.

This is really quite simple and only takes a moment.

It’s a question of cutting away the roots, thus allowing the wrapped up stalks to separate.

I soak the purslane in a big bowl of cold water and let it float. After that, I let the greens just drip dry in a sieve.

The next steps to a great salad is to toss the leaves gently by hand with the best olive oil available; add a pinch of sea salt flakes and a big squeeze of fresh lemon juice and the purslane is ready to serve.

Once again, a nice big bowl comes into the picture.

Purslane is one of my three favorite spring greens in this simple trilogy.

When I was younger, the name “turnip greens” did not sound appealing because I associated it with the root vegetable I preferred to avoid.

Later in life I discovered “raapstelen”, the name of the very same leafy tops, but then in the Dutch language.

I bring the greens home gratefully from the organic market and wash as I describe above.

There is something so reassuring about a bowl of greens floating in water just around supper time.

I love these leaves raw, tossed with olive oil and dressed with shavings of Pecorino Romano. Freshly ground pepper suits this salad well.

I love turnip greens even more, sautéed with wild garlic in a mixture of unsalted butter and extra virgin olive oil.

Greens are a sure sign of spring and are piled up in my plate to serve as a pillow to all the other foods I might be serving (like risotto for example).

The slightly anise-like flavor of delicate green chervil makes for a good match in mixed leaf salads.

Washing them is a breeze, just like the other greens in the trilogy.

A little goes a long way.

My favorite way to mix them is into a salad with the carrot-top greens tossed through some crunchy pale yellow endive leaves.

Chervil keeps well in a vase. Just like flowers, it responds well to some fresh water on a daily basis.

This green herb is often sprinkled over white asparagus, known as witte goud or white gold in the Netherlands.

Somehow its flavor seems to ask for a sprinkle of crushed walnuts.

Another simple favorite of mine is freshly chopped chervil stirred into butter with some chives.

The only ingredients needed to complete a late afternoon aperitivo is a chunk of sourdough bread and a bunch of radishes. 

Here’s to spring greens and a new season !

 

 

 

 

Dutch-inspired smashed potato-carrot and onion hutspot

 

This story is about potatoes. Actually, it’s about onions and carrots as well. I won’t write about how potatoes traveled across continents over the centuries, or even about how many different kinds of potato are cultivated where I live in the Netherlands — this despite the fact that I believe that culinary history is as fascinating as the most thrilling plot to a novel.

My narrative will lead to the recipe for a bowl of superbly simple mashed root vegetables. This humble, crumbly, creamy one-pan dinner is an icon in the country I live in. It goes by the name of hutspot (which literally translated means a hodge podge or a mishmash). The term refers to the technique of mixing things together in a pot, not necessarily or exclusively to the ever-popular trio of onions, carrots and potatoes.

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Bitter and blood orange marmalade

I once read in the preface to a novel that every cook is obsessed and I immediately nodded silently in agreement. I know my obsession: it’s with  citrus.

I am equally, if not more fascinated by all things Italian and that most definitely includes lemons and oranges. Therefore, whether I need them or not, the sight of perfumed bergamot – and especially paper-wrapped Sicilian blood oranges –  inspire me to carry bags full home at every shopping expedition.

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