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The word savory isn't one we use very often, but to me it suggests the place where flavor and fragrance meet, in foods with deep, full tastes that are exciting to the palate. The savory way takes into account the nature of the food itself, its promise as well as its limitations. It considers how best to bring to the table dishes that are alive and sparkling with colors, shapes and fragrance. This food has character and even elegance; but at heart it's simple home cooking, nourishing food set forth in a climate of happy anticipation.
I look for dishes that are uncomplicated and quickly made, even if they take a bit longer to develop flavor while they roast or bake or simmer on the stove unattended. The tastes are clearly discernible, either distinct elements in simple sautÚs or as more complex combinations that slowly yield their flavors to the whole dish and fill the kitchen with their good aromas as they cook. There are also a number of recipes that are more involving, for those occasions when we want to take some extra time to cook something special.
The recipes are designed to be flexible. Many can be used as a one-dish meal or fit easily into a larger menu. Some will immediately quell an urgent appetite; others require leisurely cooking to prepare pantry items that will brighten ordinary foods. Some dishes are made with very little or even no fat at all while others make use of more traditional amounts of butter and cream for those luxurious foods we like to eat on special occasions. In the absence of the perfect ingredient, there are suggestions that acknowledge the usefulness of frozen or canned alternatives. It's my hope thateach of us, in our own way, will continue to find in real cooking the pleasure, relaxation and vitality that are so important to our happiness and health.
Celery-Apple Salad with Currants and Walnuts
This is a sophisticated cousin to the familiar Waldorf salad, but the creamy dressing is replaced with a walnut oil vinaigrette. Crisp and refreshing in taste and appearance, celery salad travels well and is put together easily. The pale green celery and golden apples are very pretty dotted with currants, and the salad contains nothing you can't buy in a supermarket. However, if you have garden thinnings of rocket (arugula), mustard greens, cress, or nasturtium leaves, you can strew them over the top and then toss them in just before serving. d
Use a dark-colored walnut oil with the rich flavor of nuts or try using a hazelnut oil and hazelnuts in place of the walnuts. If neither of these oils is available, use a sunflower seed or light olive oil mixed with a little dark sesame oil.
Makes 6 to 8 servings
1/2 cup dried currants
1 large head of celery
2 Golden Delicious apples
5 or 6 pale green celery leaves
4 parsley branches
10 walnuts, cracked and left in large pieces
1 to 2 tablespoons walnut oil
lemon juice or Champagne vinegar
freshly ground pepper
If the currants are hard, cover them with warm water and set them aside to soften while you cut the celery and apples. When they're soft, after 10 minutes or so, drain them and squeeze out the water.
Separate the stalks of celery and peel the tougher outer stalks. Slice the celery into thin pieces, straight across or at an angle. Cut the apples into quarters or sixths if they're large and thinly slice them crosswise. Finely chop the celery leaves and the parsley and crack the nuts.
Combine the celery, apples, currants, celery leaves, parsley, and walnuts in a bowl. Toss them with just enough walnut oil to coat everything lightly. Add the lemon juice or vinegar to taste, salt lightly, season with pepper, and toss again.
It's difficult to imagine how a recipe as simple as this one can also be so good. This recipe is derived from one of Elizabeth David's, which calls for only lentils, sorrel, and cream. I have never been able to resist adding some red onion and bay leaf, and sometimes a mirepoix of celery and carrots. But even with these additions this is the simplest of soups. There is no browning of onions or sautÚing of vegetables; just a few ingredients boiled together and blended. Although leguminous soups usually improve after a few days, I find this one is best when served right away.
This plain-looking soup--neither lentils nor sorrel boasts stunning color--is light, nourishing, and surprisingly delicious. It is one of my favorites.
Makes 1 quart
1/2 cup lentils
1/2 small red onion, finely diced
1 bay leaf
1 1/2 quarts water
3 handfuls sorrel leaves, shredded
1 to 2 tablespoons cream or creme fra¯che
freshly ground pepper
Rinse the lentils and combine them in a soup pot with the onion, bay leaf, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and water. Bring to a boil; then simmer, partially covered, for 30 minutes or until the lentils are completely soft.
PurÚe half the cooked lentils in a blender until smooth; then return them to the pot. Add the sorrel and cook for another 10 minutes; the sorrel will turn olive green. Stir in the cream, taste for salt and serve with freshly ground pepper.
Penne with Roasted Peppers, Saffron, and Basil Cream
This colorful pasta is filled with the smoky, rich flavors of grilled peppers and saffron. Penne, or any other hollow or twisted pasta shape, is right for this sauce. If you have roasted peppers on hand, this pasta can be assembled in just a few moments.
Makes 4 servings
1 large red bell pepper
1 large yellow bell pepper
1/8 teaspoon saffron threads
1/2 cup hot water
2 large tomatoes
1 tablespoon virgin olive oil
1 medium-sized red onion, finely diced
3 garlic cloves, pounded to a paste or finely chopped
a handful of basil leaves, finely sliced
1 cup half-and-half
3/4 pound penne or other dried pasta
freshly ground pepper
freshly grated Romano or Parmesan cheese
Roast the peppers according to the directions on page 329. Cut them into small squares and set aside.
Cover the saffron threads with the hot water. Bring a small pan of water to a boil, submerge the tomatoes for 15 seconds, and remove them. Take off the skins, slice the tomatoes in half, gently squeeze out the juices, and cut the flesh into small squares.
Warm the oil in a wide skillet and add the onion. Cook over medium-high heat until the onion is just starting to color; then add the garlic, a few tablespoons water, and half the basil. Continue cooking until the onions have softened; then add the peppers, tomatoes, saffron threads and the liquid, and half-and-half; simmer until the sauce has thickened as much as you like.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil, add salt to taste and the pasta, and cook until it is al dente. Drain and add it to the sauce. Gently toss to combine and season with plenty of pepper. Serve garnished with the remaining basil and a light dusting of cheese.
Carrots, Roman Style
Although this dish derives from chronicles of Ancient Rome, it is rather contemporary in feeling. Its method is straightforward, the herbal flavorings are clear yet surprising, and the vinegar both sharpens the flavor and leaves the carrots with a firm texture. I have omitted the fermented fish paste that was so frequently used by the Ancient Romans, but one could include an anchovy, finely chopped or pounded and added to the liquids at the beginning.
Makes 2 servings
1/2 pound carrots
8 small mint leaves
1 lovage leaf, if available or several pale inner leaves of celery
2 teaspoons virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon Champagne or white wine vinegar
freshly ground pepper
finely chopped mint or lovage leaves, for garnish
Scrape the carrots and slice them into pieces 2 to 3 inches long. Cut each piece lengthwise into quarters or, if the carrots are very large, into sixths or eighths. All the pieces should be approximately the same size. Tear or chop the herbs.
Warm the oil with the cumin seeds and green herbs for a few moments to bring out their fragrances; then add the carrots and toss them in the oil. Add a few pinches of salt, the water, and the vinegar; bring to a boil, lower the heat, and simmer until tender, about 40 minutes. By this time the liquid should have reduced to almost nothing, leaving the carrots nicely glazed. If the pan becomes dry before the carrots are done, add more water in l/4- or 1/2-cup increments until they are sufficiently tender. When done, season with pepper and serve with a garnish of fresh herbs.
Leftover carrots are good eaten cold, as a vegetable condiment or salad.
Baked Apricots with Buttered Bread Crumbs
If you're longing for the kind of tree-ripened apricot you tasted in California or France but have only underripe fruit available, this recipe offers an approximation. Baking greatly improves the slightly green fruit we find in our markets, almost ripening it in the oven. But include some ripe apricots as well if you can. Their flavor is incomparable, and they break down to make a little sauce for the dish.
When I first made this recipe, I didn't use the bread crumbs but, following the advice of Elizabeth David, set the apricots in a pan over a piece of vanilla bean, added a little water, sprinkled them with sugar, and baked them. The apricots tasted wonderful, but they collapsed completely and looked rather unappealing. The covering of bread crumbs helps protect them and makes a fragile, buttery crust. It's a little like eating warm fresh jam with toast. The simpler version though, uses no butter. The cooked fruits are delicious served chilled with Ricotta Cream Cheese (page 353).
Makes 4 modest servings
1 1/2 pounds fresh apricots
4 to 5 tablespoons vanilla sugar (page 407) or plain sugar plus a 2-inch vanilla bean
2 tablespoons water
2 cups fresh bread crumbs made from white bread
1/4 cup melted unsalted butter
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Wash the apricots, slice them in half, discard the pits, and toss them with the sugar. Put the water in the bottom of a glass pie plate or baking dish. If you're using the vanilla bean, slice it in half lengthwise and lay it in the water; then set the apricots on top. Toss the bread crumbs and melted butter together; then spread them over the apricots. Bake until the bread crumbs are just lightly browned and the fruit tender, about 25 minutes. Let the dessert settle and cool before serving it warm with a pitcher of cream or a bowlful of lightly whipped cream sweetened with sugar and a drop of vanilla.