This will shock none of you, especially if you know me in real life, but I’m something of a wimp.
Roller coasters? Terrifying. Horror movies? As if. (Though I do love Rosemary’s Baby, but mostly for Ruth Gordon). And, in the culinary department, I’ve been avoiding chiles for most of my adult life. Sure, I can handle a few pickled jalapeños in my nachos–and, as everyone knows, they’re a key ingredient in Eggs Adam Roberts–but the idea of cooking with raw, un-pickled, fiery chiles has never appealed to me. Until recently…
A few weeks ago, for the Golden Globes, I did something I’d never done before: I served health food to a crowd. Now when I say “health food,” I don’t mean the punishing kind that makes you weep with displeasure (tofu on a bed of undressed arugula or something like that); I mean the kind of food that actually makes you feel good, light, refreshed, well-fed but not sick. In other words, the total opposite of the kind of food I normally serve to a crowd (see: chili, lasagna, Sunday gravy, etc). How did this all come about? It started at the farmer’s market.
Look, I can’t pretend it’s autumn here in L.A. To be blunt: it’s as summery as it was in July, though the mornings and evenings are cooler. The telltale sign is what I’m seeing at the farmer’s market: sure, there’s kabocha squash–and I made a very excellent risotto out of it–but, way more present still are heirloom tomatoes, eggplants, basil and all of those sum sum summertime ingredients. If I were a disingenuous food blogger, I could pretend I was crunching through falling leaves, sipping cider and humming the theme from “It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown.” Instead, I’m going to share this amazing recipe from last week’s trip to the farmer’s market despite its unavoidable summeryness.
Once upon a time, I Tweeted: “Artichokes: not worth it.”
As with all Tweets like this, it had its share of supporters and detractors. Though I was being tongue-in-cheek, I was also sort of being serious. I hate dealing with artichokes. For my cookbook, the terrific chefs Alex Raij and Eder Montero taught me how to make a gorgeous spring vegetable confit with fava beans and asparagus and lots of green things including the dreaded artichoke. In their kitchen at Txikito, Alex showed me how to cut through the top of the plant, how to trim the stem, how to cut out the choke. When we were done, what looked like a bowling ball suddenly looked like a ping pong paddle. Did it taste good after it was confited? Yes. But was this something I’d really want to do in my own kitchen? Not really. When it comes to artichokes, I’m happy to eat them. But prepping them is the pits.
Usually I have a gage in my head that lets me know how good the dinner I’m making is going to be. At some point, while prepping this Kabocha Squash Risotto (based on this one in Bon Appetit), I figured it would be pretty good but not great. Several reasons: the squash, which you pan-fry before adding to the risotto, came out a little mealy and dry. And instead of making my own stock, I took the recipe’s advice and used Swanson vegetable broth. I figured on a scale from 1 to 10, this risotto would be a 6. How wrong I was. This risotto was hands down one of the best risottos I’ve ever made–an absolute 11–and everyone I fed it to went nuts for it. What made it so good? Let’s examine.
So at the Hollywood Farmer’s Market, where I bought the ingredients to make my soul-stirring Summer’s End pasta, I spied an unusual sight–something I’d never seen before: a crate of Jujubes, identified as “Japanese Dates.” Jujubes are a real thing? A fruit? Not just a movie theater candy? I was intrigued. So I filled a small bag with them and brought them home. First, though, I paid. I’m not a crook.
Please take your computer screen–this may be tricky, if you have a laptop–and detach it from the base. Good. Now nail it to the wall with this post prominently featured because DANG, isn’t this salad that I made yesterday a work of art? I’m mighty proud of it. In fact, I’m so proud of it, maybe I don’t even want to tell you how I made it because then you may steal my thunder and tell people that YOU invented it, not me. Well, it’s not like I invented it, but you know what I mean. Ok, fine, you wore me down…here’s how this artful plate of food came into existence.
It’s August and you have no excuse: tomatoes and peaches are calling. Not the ones with little stickers on them at the supermarket, but the superior, positively bursting-with-summer ones you’ll find at your farmer’s market. “Ugh, but do I really have to go to a farmer’s market?” If that’s you, listen up: yes you do. And I’m going to walk you through it, tell you what to buy, in order to make an incredible Summer Farmer’s Market Feast for six. Are you ready? Let’s do it.