Okay, we have a week left of summer and I’m milking it for everything it’s worth. Right now I have peaches ripening in my fruit bowl and I’m going to make peach ice cream, probably the last ice cream I’ll make for a while. It’s not that summer truly ends here in L.A. — if anything it keeps going and going and going — but at some point, as a seasonally-focused home cook, you’ve gotta embrace the calendar. So right now it’s tomato salads galore; next week it’ll be pumpkin bread.
And a great transitional dish? Caponata. “What’s caponata?” you ask. Think ratatouille with the dial turned up to eleven. Instead of a bunch of stewed summer vegetables, you have deeply browned eggplant, earthy celery, briny capers, and then red wine vinegar, sugar (yes, there’s sugar), and white wine. It’s sort of like an eggplant pickle but also an eggplant salad and also an eggplant condiment.
If I teach you anything, anything at all, during our time together let it be how to turn one meal into three. Case in point: this chicken dinner I made on Wednesday night, which turned into Thursday’s lunch, and then turned into Thursday night’s pasta. How did I get all of that out of one little bird? Allow me to astound you!
Every family has its own way with potatoes. Growing up, my mom would buy frozen potato latkes, heat them up in the toaster, and serve them with Mott’s apple sauce (you can hear all about it on my mom’s episode of Lunch Therapy). Most families, I’d venture, are mashed potato families. Some do it from a box, others from scratch.
Here at Chez Amateur Gourmet, we’re a roasted potato family. Specficially: pee-wee potatoes roasted with garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, and sometimes with spices thrown in (smoked paprika, cumin seeds, crushed coriander seeds).
Here’s some free life advice: if you ever see two vanilla beans on sale for $8, buy them.
That’s literally what happened to me last week at Cookbook in Echo Park. They’re selling vanilla beans in little packets of two for eight bucks. Here’s the thing: if you’ve never worked with a vanilla bean before, you should treat yourself, at least once, to the experience… especially if you like vanilla. A fresh vanilla bean is intensely fragrant in the most natural way — the total opposite of a vanilla-scented candle — and scraping the little black seeds out with a sharp knife is the closest many of us will ever get to buying caviar.
One of the cruelest things food writers have asked innocent home cooks to do is to make pesto in a mortar and pestle. Yes, I know, Italian grandmothers do this instead of pilates; yes, I know, it yields a texture that’s so silky you want to rub it all over your body and wear it as a dress. I get that. But for most people, the idea of making pesto in a mortar and pestle just makes them not want to make pesto. And that’s a shame! Because pesto is one of the most terrific things you can make at home, especially if you make in the summer.
Cinderella has to pick lentils out of the fireplace in order to go to the ball (at least in Into The Woods) and for a long time I thought to myself, “At least she doesn’t have to eat them!”
There are so many foods that people associate with “health food,” they’re anything but enticing. Lentils definitely have a prominent place on that list. (The guiltiest offender? “Nutritional yeast.” Can you think of a food with a more awful name? I can’t.) And yet, just like The Best Broccoli of Your Life changed the way we think about broccoli, Ottolenghi has a recipe for lentils that’ll shift them into the category: “Something I really want to eat!”
Suffice it to say, I feel very lucky to call Ryan a friend. And knowing that his birthday was coming up, and that he’s part of our quarantine bubble (a very small group of friends that we still see), I asked if he had a menu in mind for his birthday dinner. He didn’t hesitate: “Oooh, can we have Martha’s Mac and Cheese?” (The best of all time, in case you didn’t know that.) “Oh, and maybe a salad with peaches? Peaches are season, right?” (They are.) “And can we do a coconut cake for dessert?” “You got it,” I replied.
When we think about one-pan cooking, we usually think about a dish where all of the components cook together in one pan at the same time. But there’s another kind of one-pan cooking! (Sorry for the exclamation mark, I was excited.) It’s the kind where you cook multiple components in the same pan one after the other and then assemble everything together on the plate at the end.
That’s what I did here when I made salmon for dinner the other night. You may be thinking: “Make the components one after the other? Don’t they get cold?” And I’d say to you: “Not really, they’ll stay warm. Stop worrying so much.”