The conversation usually goes like this:
Nice Person: "So, I heard you...
a) like to cook. What do you cook?"
b) write a blog about food. What do you cook?"
c) spending your spare time cooking instead of writing your dissertation. What do you cook?"
Me: "Oh, well, yeah, I like to cook...oh, all sorts of things, really...I sort of, you know, like to experiment with new recipes... [Nice Person continues to smile nicely]...Well, and I like to use seasonal fruits and vegetables when I can, and, ummm...I guess I just like to fiddle around in the kitchen."
That answer is generally a conversation-ender. I guess it comes across as some sort of lame excuse for an answer to a question that, though completely reasonable, seems to lack a satisfying response--at least from my mouth. There's the cuisine-centric option: I cook Italian. Or, the diet-focused one: I cook low-carb and no red meat. Maybe a technique-driven answer would work: I cook with a wok. Sometimes I braise.
I cook omelets. I cook from Bon Appetit magazine. I cook pork. What's a girl to say?
Just this week the answer hit me...not necessarily the answer that will satisfy my interlocuters (I haven't had the occasion to try it out yet), but the answer that reflects why I choose one recipe over another. Luckily, it's short, and easy to memorize: "I cook colors. And occasionally textures." There you have it.
You'd think I would have come to this realization earlier, considering that, once I figured out how to arrange my posts by category in Blogger, I labeled them according to color and texture. [See right-hand column of this page]. I didn't think for a moment that this particular organization choice would be as user-friendly as one that arranged recipes according to main ingredient or preparation technique or dinner course. But, I thought, it's not like droves of time-pressed and hungry internet-surfers are daily clicking over to Food and Paper in search of culinary inspiration. So I labeled my posts as red, yellow, green, creamy, crunchy, and squishy without realizing that the answer to the question, "So, what do you cook?," has been right there in my side bar for months.
It was only when I found myself on the brink of tears, wrestling with a ruined batch of beet pasta dough in a 90 degree kitchen that I realized the lengths I would go for a plate full of color. After I chucked the beet dough blob that refused to firm up into anything remotely capable of being rolled through a pasta maker, I immediately started steaming a pound of spinach, my heart set on bright green pasta instead of bright pink. It wasn't to be. The report on that batch will have to wait for another day... let's just say that, later that evening, my dinner guests dined on pale yellow pasta bought at the eleventh hour from Whole Foods. Fortunately, I had a few more colors up my sleeve.
For the past few weeks, my Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) box from the Kretchmanns' farm has included a bag of radishes, a pretty little vegetable that I fear I have gravely neglected. With this steady supply, I've been slicing them over salads, salsas, and now crostini. Here, they do double duty--layered in paper-thin slices over a slathering of ricotta cheese and grated radish. Dressed up with flecks of green herbs and a dainty branch of dill, these nibbles seem more like art than appetizer.
inspired by an epicurious recipe from Gourmet, April 1997.
Makes about 16 crostini.
1 baguette, sliced at an angle into 1/2 inch thick slices
extra virgin olive oil
coarse salt and fresh ground pepper
1 garlic clove
1 cup ricotta cheese
4 ounces goat cheese, softened
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon lemon zest
12 large radishes
1 tablespoon finely chopped parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped chives
1 tablespoon finely chopped dill
dill leaves for garnish
1. Make crostini: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Arrange bread slices in one layer on baking sheets. Brush bread slices on both sides with extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with a bit of salt and pepper. Bake for about 15 minutes, until golden brown. Rub toasts with garlic clove.
2. Make ricotta-radish topping: In a bowl, finely shred 6 radishes, and squeeze out as much liquid as you can from the pulp. In another bowl, stir together ricotta and goat cheese. Add lemon juice, zest, and herbs. Stir in grated radishes and salt and pepper to taste. Radish mixture can be made one day ahead, covered, and chilled.
3. Assemble crostini: Just before serving, spread radish mixture on toasts. Thinly slice remaining radishes with a mandolin (or, if you have better knife skills than me, by hand). Arrange a few radish slices on top of each crostini. Drizzle a bit of olive oil onto each one, and top with a small piece of dill. Sprinkle with coarse salt.
Mango-Cucumber Gazpacho with Harissa-Glazed Shrimp
Serves 6 as an appetizer, 4 as main course.
Ripe mangoes have been plentiful and cheap for the last month or so. For this recipe, I took bits and pieces from two other recent mango success stories: grilled salmon with mango salsa and mango ice cream. The salmon dish had won me over with its sweet-fruit and sweet-fish combination and its zip of cilantro and lime. The ice cream had reminded me that mangoes manage to be both refreshing and creamy. I tossed those qualities into a food processor, blended, and ladled into bowls. The result: Mango-Cucumber Gazpacho. This is a sweet gazpacho, best enjoyed is small portions with a glass of Prosecco on the back patio.
As for the shrimp: I recently discovered the marinating potential of harissa, a Tunisian smoked-chili paste made with garlic and cumin. It's good on baby back ribs, better on grilled shrimp. As for color and texture, you can't beat fiery-orange shrimp floating on a pool of neon-green gazpacho.
4 ripe mangoes, peeled and pitted
2 cucumbers, peeled and seeded
1/2 green pepper, seeds removed
1 medium jalapeno, with seeds and ribs
1 teaspoon lime zest
juice of 1 lime
1/2 cup orange juice
1 cup chicken stock, vegetable stock, or water
1/2 cup finely chopped cilantro, divided
1 teaspoon coarse salt
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2-3 large shrimp per person, shelled and deveined
1/4 cup harissa
1/4 cup molasses
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1 teaspoon fresh black pepper
1. Make marinade for shrimp: Mix harissa, molasses, soy sauce, maple syrup. and black pepper in a medium bowl. Add shrimp. Cover, and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.
2. Make gazpacho: Puree mango, cucumber, jalapeno and green peppers, lime zest and juice in food processor or blender. Add orange juice, stock (or water), 1/4 cup cilantro, salt, and pepper and puree until combined. With machine running, add olive oil in a steady stream and blend until emulsified. Thin with additional stock (or water) to reach desired consistency.
3. Grill shrimp: Heat a grill to high. Remove shrimp from marinade, allowing excess to drip off. Discard remaining marinade. Grill shrimp, turning once, just until cooked through, about 2 minutes per side.
4. Assemble: Ladle gazpacho into bowls, top with 2-3 shrimp, and garnish with remaining 1/4 cup cilantro.