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The Last Meal of 2012—some memories and recipes

Katie Lee, Art Smith and me at the New York City Wine & Food Festival. Got any kale questions?Did you eat a lot of kale in 2012? I did. It seemed to be everywhere. One of my favorite days of the past year was at the New York City Wine & Food Festival, where I hosted a Smart Chefs panel that included chefs Marc Murphy, Sue Torres, Art Smith and cookbook author Katie Lee, who went on somewhat poetically and rather hilariously about the two kale meals she had eaten in one day (video here). So in addition to whatever else I was making for my last 2012 supper, a side of kale seemed in order.

But for the centerpiece of this meal, which was cooked for my family at the home in which I was raised, something festive and spectacular. Another great memory from the past year was my trip to Italy with Art Smith, where we ate insanely well (and possibly too much at times) and tried to get ourselves back in balance with runs along the Mediterranean in Livorno, a port town in Tuscany.

Livorno, Italy. Nice place to run, great place to eat. Harvesting olives for Lucini oil in Tuscany, October 2012

Earlier, when I was researching my book, Tom Colicchio introduced me to his family's traditional cacciucco, a fish stew with roots in Livorno, that turns out to be extremely easy to cook and really impressive, on its own with some freshly made crostini, or over bowls of pasta. (Not a lot of pasta; we used half a package of whole wheat spaghetti for 6 people. This is one of my personal big takeaways from Smart Chefs: Eat pasta the way Italians do, in small portions -- not massive bowls!)

I wanted something fresh and crispy for contrast, so I made a fast salad of thinly shaved celery, radish, shallots, with parsley and celery leaves, dressed with olive oil, lemon, salt and pepper. If you've read the book, you are familiar with how those last four ingredients are key to chefs for building flavor, and they did not let us down in this simple and refreshing preparation. Looking forward to 2013, Bon Appetit's January issue assures us that lettuce-free salads of shaved vegetables will be big this year. (My recipe, below, is adapted from one of theirs.)

And, as ever, dessert. The same Bon App had a gorgeous photo of a lemon-honey tart with a salted shortbread crust. Tart with meyer lemons, from my parents' garden. Happy New Year Mom + Dad! (Do you read my blog?) Their recipe calls for meyer lemons, which are not hard to find in stores anymore, but I had it really easy: There's a meyer lemon tree growing in my parents' backyard. When we were kids my brother and I used to pull a racquetball-sized fruit from the tree and toss it to our dog, who would catch it and then drop it in a puckerface (dogs can't really pucker, but we still thought this hilarious). Better use: in a honey-scented, pleasantly salty, tangy and custardy pie to close out an amazing year.



2 cloves garlic

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil (use a great one; you're going to taste it)

1 baguette or crusty Italian bread, sliced into 1/2-inch rounds.

2-3 fresh tomatoes (optional)Crostini. Photo by my son.

Crush the garlic cloves and stir them into the olive oil in a small bowl. Brush the bread with the garlic-scented oil.

Place the bread oil-side down in a large pan or stove-top grill over medium heat. While that side is cooking, brush the other with oil. Turn when they are golden, about 4-7 minutes. Cook the other side and serve immediately as is, or garnish with chopped fresh tomatoes and another drizzle of olive oil.


Shaved Celery & Radish Salad

10 celery stalks, very thinly sliced (shaved on a mandolin is best; otherwise use a food processor's slicing blade)

leaves from one head of celery, chopped roughly

5 medium radishes (we used French breakfast variety) very thinly sliced into disks

1 shallot, very thinly sliced (are you sensing a trend here?) and separated into rings

1/2 cup chopped parsley

1 tablespoon lemon zest

kosher salt

ground black pepper

1/4 cup olive oil

2 tablespoons lemon juice (or more to taste)

Place celery, celery leaves, radishes, shallots and parsley in a large bowl. Add lemon zest, salt and pepper and toss to combine. When ready to serve dress with olive oil and lemon juice, toss again and adjust seasonings to taste.


Cacciucco, adapted from Tom Colicchio

Serves 6

2 medium onions, minced
4 stalks of celery, minced
1 fennel bulbs, minced
1 cup olive oil
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes (I like San Marzano)
2 cloves garlic, mincedCacciucco. Traditionally part of the Italian Christmas fishes dinner, but equally good on New Year's
Zest from one lemon
Crushed red pepper
1 cup of dry white wine
1 cup water
1 lb. squid, cleaned and chopped into 1 inch pieces
18 manila clams
1 lb. medium shrimp peeled and deveined
1 lb. medium scallops
1 lb. monkfish, halibut or other firm filet that can be cut into 2 inch cubes

Over medium to low heat, cook the minced vegetables in the olive oil for about 45 minutes until soft.

Add the crushed tomato, garlic and lemon zest.

Add the squid and cook for about 30 minutes, simmering over low heat. Add the wine, water and clams. Cover and cook until the clams open, about 10 minutes.

Add the remaining seafood and gently cook for 15 – 20 minutes

Serve with whole wheat linguini or spaghetti mixed with garlic, parsley and olive oil.


Braised Kale

1 pound kale (about 2 bunches), large  ribs and stems removed, torn into roughly 1/2-inch pieces

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 medium onion, finely choppedKale had its year. Will we still love it in 2013?

4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

2 cups vegetable stock or organic chicken stock

1/4 cup finely grated Parmesan cheese

Heat the olive oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally,  until translucent, about 5-8 minutes. Add sliced garlic and salt; cook until onion is golden brown, stirring, about 5 more minutes.

Add kale and stock and toss until leaves start to wilt. Cover pot and reduce heat to medium-low. Continue cooking until kale is very tender, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Drain and serve tossed with Parmesan cheese.


Lemon-Honey Tart with Salted Shortbread Crust

Will post this shortly, after magazine is off-stand.

Meanwhile, as you think about eating deliciously and healthfully in this new year, I hope you'll find some inspiration in Smart Chefs Stay Slim, which is just out in paperback.


What I'm Cooking Tonight: Chili, carrots via Bittman

Because Mark Bittman has shared so much of himself and his great ideas in his own books, I felt particularly happy to have him answer my questions -- specifically about how he turned around his weight and his health -- for Smart Chefs. I often turn to his recipes, both those he offers in my book, and many from his. Lately I love Food Matters for basic questions of whether to soak beans (it just doesn't matter much, he says) and when to add salt to their cooking water (only when they are approaching tender enough to eat).

Tonight I'm making some chili con poco carne (mostly beans; meat only for seasoning), and his cumin carrots.  A healthy, warming meal in advance of more holiday eating tomorrow.

Scarlet runner beans, getting ready to become chili. Photo via my phone.

Roasted Carrots with Cumin

serves 4

1 to 1 1/2 pounds baby carrots, green tops trimmed, or full-sized carrots, cut into sticks
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Heat the oven to 425°F. Put the carrots on a baking sheet and drizzle with the olive oil; sprinkle with the cumin and salt and pepper. Roast until the carrots are tender and browning, about 25 minutes. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

recipe by Mark Bittman


Menu for a Winter Party with Grown-ups and Kids

We had my son's three best friends and their families over for dinner tonight. It was a pretty-healthy comfort food night to suit both 10-year-old palates and those of an assortment of parents, some of whom are vegetarian. Here's what we served:

spiced hot apple cider (plus wine for the big kids)

cut veggies (red pepper strips, carrots, celery, fennel, radishes) and pita chips with guacamole

Thomas Keller's tomato soup (click for recipe)

Mini gruyere grilled cheese sandwiches

Roast turkey (I used the basic recipe from Sam Sifton's book Thanksgiving: How to Cook it Well, which I reviewed recently for People.) apples, onion, rosemary, sage and celery in the cavity. Butter on the outside.

truffle-cream mashed potatoes


salted fudge brownies, from Kate Krader, one of my pals at Food & Wine, where she is the restaurant editor. These are so good I made sure to send guests home with the leftovers so as not to keep half a pan in the house.



p.s. After your end-of-year splurges, get "Smart Chefs Stay Slim" in paperback starting 12/31.





What I'm cooking now: Soup

This is a Thomas Keller recipe for tomato soup. I still have a lot of love for that famous canned tomato soup, served with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of chives. This is better.


Tomato soup

(serves 4)
2 tbsp  olive oil
½  carrot, finely chopped
½  Spanish onion, finely chopped
2   garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1   shallot, finely chopped
Pinch of chilli flakes
28 oz  can of San Marzano tomatoes
1   bouquet garni (1 bay leaf, 1 thyme sprig, 1 tarragon sprig and 2 black peppercorns.)                 
2 tbsp       crème fraîche

1. Heat olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat, add carrot, onion, garlic and shallot, stirring occasionally until soft (7-10 minutes).

2. Add chilli flakes, tomato and bouquet garni. Simmer, stirring occasionally until warmed through (10-15 minutes).

3. Remove from heat, discard bouquet garni, process soup in a blender until smooth. Stir through crème fraîche, add water if soup is too thick. Pass through a fine sieve, season to taste and keep warm.


A glimpse of the future

I've got two big events coming up, which is dampening my ability to think in menus. The first is a major culinary trip later this month, the details of which I'll share soon. (But note that I am studiously staying away from Italian dishes at the moment.) And on October 13, the Smart Chefs Stay Slim panel at the New York City Wine & Food Festival, which comes to town Wednesday night. So, I'm going to take a little hiatus from posting menus. Well, I'm going to do this one.  More ideas when I return from the trip -- can't wait to share them.


MONDAY: Lentil soup, whole wheat baguette (bought), beet salad with mint (sorry, I still have an abundance of mint in my windowbox and an equal amount of guilt if I don't make use of it).

TUESDAY: Salmon teriyaki with noodles and garlicky green beans.

WEDNESDAY: Pan-seared fish (whatever is looking good and is not like salmon -- have I mentioned the chicken ban in my house?) with roasted little potatoes, tomatoes and olives

THURSDAY: Vegetable curry with rice. Poached pears (or figs -- or both).

Reusing's wonderful salad -- I make variations of this all the time.

FRIDAY: Warm asparagus salad with hard boiled eggs and homemade croutons. The recipe is by Lantern chef-owner Andrea Reusing, and appears in my book. Best in spring when it is asparagus season; I'll probably adapt it with some other green vegetables, gently blanched before adding -- everything goes good with just-cooked eggs and fresh croutons.

Più presto. Arrivederci!