Spiced Chickpea I turned 28 on Monday. In the days before, there had been a buzz around our house: on multiple occasions, Raquelle would send me a text to announce her arrival, something like: About to come inside the house! Close your eyes so I can put away one of your gifts! Not wanting to spoil the surprise, I would shut my eyes and engage in a brief meditation on materialism, or the origin of joy. It should come as no surprise that, more than once, as I sat there with my legs crossed and my eyes closed, I heard not the opening and closing of the closet, but rather the refrigerator door. In our house, we don’t often give gifts that will stand the test of time, the ones that will decorate our wrists until we’re grey, or hang around in the bottom of our dressers until we’ve outgrown them. We give gifts that are not wrapped in bright colors or festooned with great big bows. Ours are wrapped in butcher paper, or held tightly under glass and cork. Ours grace the table, not the back of the closet.On Monday morning, I was woken early. Raquelle had to teach her classes in the city and she wanted to share breakfast with me. It felt a little like Christmas morning, walking down the stairs in my pajamas, my eyes heavy with sleep, the windows still covered with the darkness of the night. The table was filled with smoked salmon and capers, thinly sliced red onion and crème fraiche, and great big pieces of warm toast. After breakfast, Raquelle cleared the table and set down a few sheets of paper in front of me. She left without saying what it was, and at first my eyes struggled to see in the dim light of the kitchen.IMG_2500There on the page were letters written to me from my mother and father, my brother and sisters, my closest friends. It was a sort of out-of-body experience, all of these great souls with whom I connect to the world, speaking to me at once, wishing me well. I spent the rest of the morning and afternoon thinking of them.IMG_2508_1I sat at the Café Festival, had a coffee and watched the people, and the pigeons, and the trees. Not long after, my coffee had gone cold. I paid the bill and left. My birthday gifts too, neatly wrapped and stored in the fridge, would meet the same end: they’d be eaten, or spoiled, or trashed. This is a great lesson to me. Especially on a birthday, a chance I have to consider my entry into this body and this life. And, morbid as it may sound, a chance to consider my exit. A life is a very beautiful and fleeting thing. I don’t know how many more times I’ll put on my watch or admire the way my coat hugs my shoulders. But a table filled with good things doesn’t ask me to look forward. It allows me to be here, comfortably seated.IMG_2518That evening, after Raquelle had returned home from work, we sat down to a table filled with good things. There was homemade bread, a cheese plate with gruyere, morbier, brie, and croquet, sliced and cured ham, the most beautiful red and white radishes, seared foie gras served with a fig-rosé reduction, cold Crémant, an Absinthe cake, and a bottle of good Kentucky Bourbon. Even before we began to eat, I was already full.

Because there is no recipe for happiness, I’ll share with you something more practical, something that you can certainly create in your own kitchen. Of all the things we ate for my birthday dinner, there were two dishes in the running for the tastiest bite. One was the foie gras that was seared and served with a little rosé and fig jam that had been reduced down until it became sweet and syrupy. The other was what you see here: a richly spiced sort of stew that was made with fried chickpeas and garlic, blistered tomatoes, and fresh celery tops. It was spiced with fried cumin, oregano and smoked paprika. And just as so many of the most satisfying dishes are made, this one was thrown together without too much consideration. But it was so delicious, and warming, and perfect for a cold Fall night that I had to share it with you. Alternatively, you could throw this into a food processor at the last minute for a warm and spicy chickpea-tomato hummus to be slathered on charred bread with lots of olive oil and black pepper. Here’s the recipe:Spiced ChickpeasSmoky Chickpea-Tomato Stew with Celery Tops (serves 3-4)

Ingredients:

1 lb cooked chickpeas

1 lb cherry tomatoes

4 cloves garlic, minced

Olive oil

1/4 cup apple cider vinegar

1 tbsp whole cumin, coarsely chopped

1 tsp fresh-ground black pepper

3 tsp smoked paprika(it’s crucial to use ‘smoked’ paprika in this case)

1 tsp dried oregano

1 cup sliced celery tops

 

Preparation:

To start, heat a large pan on medium heat. When the pan is hot, pour in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil, and then the cherry tomatoes. They should sizzle and pop and blister slightly. You can put a lid or a pop screen over them to prevent splattering. After about 5 minutes of cooking, lower the heat to medium and let the tomatoes cook for another 15 minutes. Keep an eye on them so that they don’t burn too much.

Meanwhile, heat another pan on medium-high heat. Add the coarsely chopped cumin and the black pepper to the dry pan and let it toast for a minute or so. Add about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Once it’s good and hot, add the chickpeas to the pan. They will sizzle and they should crisp up slightly. Let them cook for about 10 minutes. In the last 5 minutes, add the minced garlic and the oregano and the smoked paprika.

After the tomatoes have cooked for about 20 minutes, add the chickpeas, the apple cider vinegar, and salt to taste. Let it simmer for another 5 or 10 minutes. You could also continue to let this stew. It will only improve with time.

At the moment when you’re ready to eat, chop the celery tops and scatter them over the stew.

Enjoy.

 

Dark-Chocolate Raspberry PuddingI’m not much of a sweets guy. In fact, when given the choice, I always pick savory over sweet. In the hours after dinner, when most people romanticize about a warm piece of apple pie, I’m thinking about french fries and mayonnaise. But that’s not to say that I don’t like sweets at all. I’m just picky. That’s probably why I don’t post too many recipes for desserts on this here blog. Sure, I’ve done pumpkin pie, salted butter chocolate chip cookies, and a spectacular raspberry-fig tarte, but that’s about it.   A couple nights ago, my wife decided that she was going to make a very classic, very French chocolate pudding. My memories of pudding took me back to playgrounds and field trip sack lunches, where I’d wolf down the gloppy, starchy stuff and wish for another Capri-Sun to wash it all down. Knowing that the version she planned to make would be altogether different (and way better), I was excited and intrigued. But about an hour later, we found ourselves staring over a bowl of grainy chocolate and wondering how we were going to whip a couple egg whites into stiff peaks by hand. The chocolate, sensitive to rapid change in temperature, had been placed over a double boiler for too long and had seized up into a giant ball. It’s safe to say that a more thorough reading of the recipe would have helped. I must point out, though, that Raquelle is a great cook. And she’s a fantastic vegan baker. In fact, she is hailed by her friends to be a sorceress when it comes to coconut milk, avocado, and maca powder. The French kitchen, however, in all its eggy/milky/fatty goodness, behaves very differently. It’s no wonder things didn’t turn out quite right. IMG_2357_1Yesterday, I thought we’d waited long enough; that even though it had been only a day since defeat, we should give it another shot. Raquelle had other obligations and left me to it alone. I took a moment to consider how I might improve upon a basic chocolate pudding. I had all kinds of ideas. There was one that I had planned on calling an “Old Fashioned” Chocolate Pudding. I would have substituted bourbon whiskey for the water, added macerated cherries, and orange zest to the whipped cream. And if Bourbon were not so damned expensive here in France, I probably would have made that. My other idea is what you see here: a pudding made with dark chocolate, sweet raspberries, and topped with a coconut milk whipped cream. It tastes as dreamy as it sounds, and as I type these very words, there’s a big bowl of it propped up on my lap, nearly gone. But, you know, I don’t really care for sweets, right?IMG_2338_1IMG_2361_1Dark Chocolate-Raspberry Pudding with Coconut Cream (serves 4)

Ingredients:

2 eggs, room temp

170 g high-quality dark chocolate, chopped

60 grams water, room temp

40 g sugar

1 cup fresh raspberries

60 g butter(room temp), chopped

sea salt

1 can coconut milk, well chilled

 

Preparation:

Begin by pouring the raspberries and about a tablespoon of water into a small saucepan on medium-low heat. Let the raspberries cook and condense for about ten minutes. Once they’ve condense, let them cool.

Meanwhile, separate the whites and the yolks of the eggs. Using a hand mixer, beat the whites until they form soft peaks.

In a separate bowl, add the chopped chocolate, the water, the butter, sugar, and a pinch of salt. Use a double-boiler to slowly heat the chocolate until it melts. Be sure to stir it slowly and continuously. If you don’t have a double boiler, not to worry. You can simply heat some water in a small saucepan and place a slightly larger pan on top of it. Once the chocolate mixture has melted and is completely homogenous, slowly stir in raspberries, followed by the two egg yolks. Then, slowly fold in the beaten egg whites. The idea of folding is to combine without destroying the aeration of the whipped egg whites. Be sure, however, that you do not leave any streaks of the beaten whites. Once combined, cover the pudding with plastic wrap and let it cool in the fridge for about two hours.

While the pudding cools, you can make the coconut cream. Be sure that you are using canned coconut milk that has been kept refrigerated. This will ensure that the fat has risen to the top. Open the can of coconut milk and scoop out the rich fatty  stuff on the top. Leave behind the water at the bottom. To prepare it, use a whisk and beat it until it comes to your desired consistency. As I’m not a big fan of very sweet things, I choose to keep the coconut cream simple, without any added sugars. I won’t tell you how to serve this, as I’m sure you can figure it out. But I certainly wouldn’t mind if you decided to enjoy this with a sip of fine Kentucky Bourbon.

Cheers.Dark Chocolate-Raspberry Pudding

Roasted Broccoli with GrapesHere in Aix, I’m still in awe of the number of food-related businesses that stud the narrow, cobble-stoned streets. Along with all manner of restaurants, you’ll find bakeries, fromageries, and butcher shops; little stores devoted entirely to tea, or exotic spices. It would not be a figure of speech to say that, standing on our terrace, I could lob a stone over the roof and hit a Japanese restaurant, a vietnamese place, a super-good pizzeria, or a classic brasserie. In fact, I did a little research on Google Maps to find that within 5 minutes walking distance (walking distance!), there are over 60 restaurants, bars, and cafes.

Just yesterday, I was on my morning walk to the market. In the hours before noon, the city is pretty quiet. The freshly-cleaned streets glisten with cold water and most days it’s just me and the pigeons. But this morning felt different. I could hear a dull commotion a few blocks down. When I turned the corner, I could see a large truck filled with what looked like recording equipment. Several men were unloading the truck and moving things into our favorite cheese shop. At first glance, I worried that a news crew had discovered some grisly secret beneath the giants wheels of cheese. My primary concern was that we could no longer count on them for the most perfectly ripe morbier. Our cheese toasts will never be the same! I thought. But as I got closer, I could see that there in the middle of the stacks of cheese was a tiny table, outfitted with two chairs. On top, there was a single rose. Outside the shop, there was a woman working on a prop, a giant black sign whereupon she was painting the word “Cremerie.” It was a film set. Alas! I would do my cheese shopping elsewhere. But first, the market.Roasted Broccoli with GrapesOur first couple weeks here were financially wreckless, which meant that today, I was on a mission to exercise some restraint. I eyed the various stalls of produce to find very fresh, very beautiful bunches of broccoli. And it was cheap. What’s more, I had been wanting to make a big dish of roasted broccoli, with fresh garlic, lemon, and lots of black pepper. I had considered studding it with raisins for some sweetness. But the market doesn’t have raisins. And just as that moment, as I began to consider the word for raisins in French (raisins sec), I had a better idea. The french call raisins ‘dried grapes.’ And they call grapes, well, ‘raisins.’ Here, nearly lost in translation, I stumbled upon something delicious. Roasted Broccoli with GrapesIn a moment, I had swooped up a great big handful of grapes, a wedge of parmesan from down the road, and I found myself back in my kitchen, anxiously at work, ready to make something good.Roasted Broccoli with GrapesI would make a dish with crispy roasted broccoli, the edges beginning to brown. There would be earthy black pepper and cider vinegar for brightness. It would be flecked with minced garlic, studded with sweet muscat grapes, and once out of the oven, I would top it with ripe and crumbly parmesan cheese and a few pockets of hot chili oil. It would be perfect. And it was.

Spicy Roasted Broccoli with Muscat Grapes and Parmesan(serves 2)

Ingredients:

1 large bunch of broccoli

1 cup of muscat grapes(or another sweet grape)

2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tbsp apple cider vinegar

3 tbsps of good parmesan cheese, crumbled

hot chili oil, to taste

black pepper and salt, to taste

Preparation:

Preheat your oven to 460 F. Chop off the broccoli florets, leaving some of the stem. Place the broccoli onto a large sheet pan and evenly distribute the grapes and the chopped garlic. Season it with salt, pepper, and the 1 tbsp of apple cider vinegar. Place it in the oven to cook for about 25 minutes. Let it cook long enough that the florets begin to crisp up and to turn brown. This is essential! Once cooked, remove the broccoli and plate it up. Top each plate generously with parmesan, more black pepper, and some hot chili oil. Rejoice.roasted broccoli with grapes

 

Whole-Wheat TagliatelleWhether we choose to admit it or not, the days of summer are gone. Pool parties are a distant memory; no more is the air filled with the scent of char-grilled burgers and Banana Boat tanning lotion, and the carefree flip-flopping of open-toed shoes has hushed. Some may find this to be a disappointment. But not me. This means I can finally open my windows, finally take a long stroll without being drenched in sweat, finally have un café a la terrasse and actually enjoy it. Even more, in these next few weeks, we exist in a very special part of the year: without a hard freeze, summer’s last fruits have found their way to the table alongside more hardy vegetables, like squash, broccoli, kale, and chard. If you are one who cooks with the seasons, this might seem like a bit of quandary, trying to come up with dishes that incorporate produce from summer and fall. But don’t fear: as a general rule, the best way to bring together various ingredients is to cook them with some sort of grain or pasta. In doing so, diverse vegetables are no longer incompatible partners; rather, they provide interest and excitement to whatever pasta or grain they’re cooked along with.whole-wheat tagliatellebutternut squashYou could certainly make this dish using store-bought dry wheat pasta, and it would be just fine. But I’ve never been a fan of wheat pasta. In fact, it seems like a kind of oxymoron, like pizza without cheese or sugar-free chocolate. A big part of why I love pasta is its starchy, creamy, comforting texture. This is exactly why I never buy wheat pasta–because it’s devoid of this wonderfully creamy quality. In recent weeks, however, I’ve been experimenting with all kinds of homemade pasta. There was a stellar summer lasagna I made, layered with thick slices of provencal tomatoes, fresh basil, gruyere, and parmesan. It was enormous, and after eating on it for about a week, my wife made a request for a more ‘healthy’ pasta. I often grumble over these requests, but in truth, if left to my own devices, I would be a very fat, very sad man. And in trying to honor her request, homemade whole-wheat tagliatelle was born.whole-wheat tagliatelleI hope that by this point, you know me well enough to be sure that I would not post a recipe that I myself do not believe to be absolutely delicious. But you might be wondering why this wheat pasta is any different from the rest. Here’s the deal. The pasta you buy at the store, be it white or wheat, is made with flour and water. Most fresh pastas, however, are made with egg. It’s no surprise that an egg can provide a richness and creaminess that water alone cannot. It’s this addition of egg that nearly solves the whole-wheat pasta problem. That, and a bit of olive oil. Now, is it identical to a big bowl of fettucine made from white flour(or semolina)? No. Of course not. It does, however, have some very lovely qualities to it. Namely, it has a pleasing chewiness that makes you want to go back for more and a subtle earthiness that pairs well with bright flavors like tomato or lemon. If this is, in fact, your first rodeo, you could always start with a classic and make this first. But if you feel game, let’s go.

whole-wheat tagliatelleWhole-Wheat Tagliatelle with Butternut, Chard, and Cherry Tomato Sauce(serves 4)

Ingredients:

2 lbs cherry tomatoes

1 large bunch of chard

1 medium-sized butternut squash, chopped

1 yellow onion, diced

6 cloves garlic, minced

hot chili oil, to taste

for the pasta:

200 g whole wheat flour

2 large eggs, room temperature

2 tsp olive oil

Preparation:

Start by assembling your ingredients for the pasta. In a large bowl, or on a clean countertop, pour in the wheat flour and make a well in the center. Separately, mix up your eggs and the olive oil with a fork and then pour them into the well. With a clean hand, integrate the flour, a little at a time, to the egg and oil. It will take a little time and toward the end, it will probably seem too dry, as if the remaining flour will not be able to mix in. But continue to work with it until all the flour has been incorporated. At this point, you will have a shaggy dough that needs to be made more supple. This can be done by kneading the dough. For about 5 whole minutes, knead the dough on a clean work surface. As you knead it, you should notice that it becomes more and more smooth. When the ball of pasta dough begins to resemble that of the picture above, wrap it in plastic and leave it to rest on the counter for one hour(or up to a few hours).

While the pasta rests, we’ll make our sauce, and prepare the chard and the butternut squash. To start, pour a good glug of olive oil into a wide pan and turn the heat to high. When the pan is hot, pour in the cherry tomatoes. They will sizzle and spit–all good signs. Let them cook on high heat for about 10 minutes, taking care that they do not scorch(a little charring is good, however). After about ten minutes, turn the heat to medium high and add the minced garlic and the chopped yellow onion. Give it a good bit of salt and fresh cracked pepper and let it cook on medium heat while you prepare the butternut. This sauce will continue to cook as you prepare the butternut, the chard, and the pasta.

To prepare the butternut, preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Cut the butternut down the middle, scoop out the seeds(which you can roast and season with savory indian spices!), and cut off the outer skin. Chop the butternut into bite-sized pieces and place them on a wide sheet pan. Give them a good bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper, and let them cook for about 20 minutes, or until they are good to the tooth and slightly browned.

While they cook, prepare the chard. Heat a very large pot of salted water until it comes to a boil. While it heats, remove any thick pieces of stalk from the chard, but keep some for texture and chew. Chop the chard into ribbons and give it a good rinse. When the salted water boils, throw in the chard, cover it briefly, and cook just until the chard wilts (about 2 minutes). Remove the cooked chard, rinse it under cool water, and set it aside for later use.

Once the hour of resting is up, it’s time to roll out the pasta. Begin by cutting the disc of dough into four equal pieces. Lightly flour your work surface and, using a rolling pin, gradually roll out the dough. Flour lightly as you go, so that the pasta doesn’t stick and then tear. If you want nice long tagliatelle, don’t worry about the width of the piece of dough that you are rolling out. Instead, roll it out as long as you can. For me, this meant that each quarter of pasta dough could be rolled out to a nearly-30-inch rectangle. This is not a breeze, and it requires that you bear down with your weight onto the rolling pin while slowly rolling outward, but you can do it! If you lose your mojo and try to settle for thick whole-wheat pasta, you will likely not be pleased. The result will be coarse strands of pasta that are too thick to be moistened by the water in which they will boil. So, with that in mind, hang in there! Once this rectangle has been rolled out long, flour it well and fold it over onto itself into it becomes a neat little folded pasta package measuring about 4 or 5 inches long. Flour the top of this folded package and take care not to press it down at all. Instead, with a sharp knife, cut the length of the pasta so that it is about 1/8 of an inch wide. Once completed, gently loosen these strands with a little more flour. These should now unfold into separate pieces of tagliatelle the length of the initial rectangle of dough you rolled out. Place these aside on a dry plate and continue with the other three pieces of dough. When you’re finished, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. From here, the process moves quickly.

When the water boils, throw in the pasta and crank up the heat on the pan of cherry tomato sauce to high. The pasta should cook for two minutes. After two minutes, strain the pasta and pour it into the pan of cherry tomato sauce. Give it a good mix and let the pasta and the sauce cook together for one more minute. Finally, pour the pasta-sauce mixture into a large mixing bowl and throw in the butternut squash and the chard. Season with a little more salt and pepper to taste, and hit it with a little hot chili oil. Careful, the stuff is hot.

Enjoy.