Day One: E&W Goes Gluten-Free

31 days buttonI haven’t talked about it here yet, but about a month ago I had to change my diet because of a health condition and begin eating gluten-free. In some ways it has been a radical shift, and in other ways it’s not noticeable at all.

My friend Kelsey, who blogs at Heart Knit Home, encouraged me to join the 31 Days Of… blog challenge, and after some hesitation I agreed. I don’t blog here terribly often, but I always have intentions of doing more. This seemed like a good way to get in the habit of writing here more frequently while also sharing some of the exploration I’m doing into this new way of eating. I also want to give a shout out to Kelly and Angela who helped me get my lovely button and banner for this challenge.

I try very hard not to think of this foodstyle as having to live without something. That negative spin on it gives me pause. Instead I’m just trying to embrace the difference. While I don’t miss bread too much, especially since there are some good gluten-free option, I do miss being able to eat foods at restaurants that should be safe, but because of cross-contamination of cooking oil they aren’t.

The foods I’m referring to are french fries. And tortilla chips. But mostly french fries. Sigh.

Excuse me while I go saute some potato wedges in schmaltz, mmmkay?

Marcella Hazan is Dead

Goodbye, Marcella

I was working all day, building a site for a wonderful event in San Diego called Cake Bake, and I missed the news earlier in the day that Marcella Hazan passed away today at the age of 89. Hazan was a force in the kitchen, and her influence on Italian cuisine in America is impossible to overstate. Her lasting influence in my kitchen will her Tomato-Butter Sauce, another of my so-called best recipes. I didn’t know Mrs. Hazan, but if you can know a person through her perfect recipes, then I suspect she was uncomplicated on the surface and delightfully complex inside.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I only started making this sauce about two years ago. We had huge #10 cans of tomatoes in our cupboard, and with only two of us I worked hard to find new ways to use them after I’d exhausted some of our traditional repertoire. A good, dependable tomato sauce had always eluded me. Mine always came out strangely sweet or bitter, and I struggled with whether I should make a quick-cook sauce or do a day-long simmer. At its best my sauce was slightly worse than an average store-bought marinara.

Where I first found the recipe I’m not sure. Most certainly it was on a blog, possibly on Smitten Kitchen. But once turned on to it, I couldn’t seem to get away from it–Hazan’s Tomato-Butter Sauce kept popping up everywhere. Mention-itis, as Bridget Jones would say. Was it possible that this sauce of beautiful simplicity had been right under my nose for years, but I’d overlooked it?

Last winter, when there wasn’t an abundant variety of vegetables available in Tashkent, we slowly worked our way through about ten of those #10 cans, making a pot of sauce each week. I had planned to make some today, but the day got away from me. It would have been a fitting eulogy.

Marcella Hazan’s Tomato Sauce with Butter and Onion

28-ounce can peeled plum tomatoes, no salt or herbs added
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 small white onion, peeled and cut in half
Kosher salt

Add the tomatoes, butter, onion halves, and a pinch of salt to a 4-quart saucepan. Bring to a simmer over medium-high heat, then lower the heat. Crush the tomatoes lightly with the back of a spoon as they cook, and stir occasionally. Simmer very gently for 45 minutes, until much of the liquid reduces and the butter droplets separate from the tomatoes. Remove and discard the onion.

According to Giuliano Hazan’s version of his mother’s recipe, “The sauce is done when the butter has separated from the tomatoes and there is no remaining liquid.”

Serve over hot pasta with Parmesan, if desired.

Note: this sauce freezes beautifully, but making a double batch takes much longer than 45 minutes, based on my experience. Also, you don’t have to discard the onion. I think it’s delicious, so I usually save it and separate off a few rings to nibble on while finishing dinner.

My Best Recipe: Butternut Squash Risotto

Squash blog

If ever asked, I would be hard-pressed to say what my very best recipe is, but this would be one of the handful that would leap to mind. In our foodie-obsessed culture it sometimes seems that the more retro or the more avant-garde a dish is, the more respect it commands. For me, the idea of a best recipe is one that is consistent, easy to remember, uses a handful of staple ingredients, and can be whipped together for weeknight dinner or easy weekend meals.

That’s exactly what risotto is for me. I’ve been making versions of this dish for about twenty years, adding flourishes to the basic recipe. This recipe is a best friend–it never lets me down, and picks me up when I need comfort. It’s hearty, savory, and there’s a zen to the process of making it.

One of our household favorites is pumpkin or butternut risotto. They both use the same basic recipe and take the same amount of time to make, but pumpkin from a can save a few prep steps and if you’re like us, there’s usually some in the pantry or freezer. This is a perfect fall recipe that can be made vegan or not, depending on your choice of stock and cheese.

Risotto with Butternut Squash or Pumpkin (adapted from Sundays at Moosewood Restaurant)

5 cups stock, vegetable or chicken

2 Tbsp. olive oil or butter, or a combinations of both (or sub some schmaltz for butter if you have it)

1 small yellow onion, finely chopped

1 1/2 cups arborio rice

1/2 small butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1/2″ cubes or 1 cup pumpkin puree

1/2 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese

salt and pepper to taste

  1. Bring the stock to a boil in a medium saucepan. Lower the heat and maintain a simmer.
  2. Heat the oil and/or butter in a large, heavy saucepan on medium heat and saute the onion for 2 to 3 minutes, until translucent but not browned.
  3. Add the rice and stir for one minute to thoroughly coat the rice with oil, taking care not to break the grains.
  4. Add the wine and stir constantly until it is absorbed.
  5. If using squash, add the cubes followed by 1/2 cup of stock and stir until the liquid is absorbed.
  6. Ladle in the simmering chicken stock, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring after each addition until it is absorbed. It should take about 18 to 20 minutes to cook the rice. Reduce the stock added toward the end and increase the frequency, tasting for the point where the rice is tender but al dente.
  7. If using pumpkin puree, add the puree at the halfway point.
  8. Remove the risotto from the heat and stir in the grated cheese.

If you are vegan, this recipe is still delicious without the cheese, but will likely need a bit more salt to taste.

Either version is really lovely with a bit of sage or herbes de Provence, as well.