Reading: July 2014

1-DSC_0563 Turkey's on my mind this month, since my brother has spent his summer doing research and meeting interesting folks in Kurdistan, Tel Aviv, and now, Istanbul. I spent a week in Istanbul back in 2006, but according to my brother, so much has changed since I visited. I feel like I missed at least half the great food Istanbul has to offer, and he's definitely making up for my poor planning. For the rest of us, though, here are some great links to food in Turkey, specifically Istanbul, and then a slew of other links that caught my eye this month.

  • The dough for Katmer, one of my favorite Turkish pastries, is notoriously thin. Watch an expert make it effortlessly (then go find some - it's amazing.)
  • Anissa Helou's whole vimeo channel, while we're at it. From baklava to lavash to tagliatelle, she's caught it all on video.
  • Robyn's food tour with Istanbul Eats, run by my buddy Yigal. I'm full just reading it.
  • As if they knew I'd be doing a Turkey edition of link love, Yigal and team recently posted an awesome-looking tour of Gaziantep, the food capital of Turkey. Wish I could go on this so, so bad.
  • Last but not least, if you've never had isot biber, you've been missing out. It's a Turkish chile (also called urfa biber) that's similar to Aleppo chile, but, I would argue, better. Also, Aleppo chile is really hard to come by these days, for obvious reasons; isot is a great substitute. it's smokey and floral and in some cases, mixed with sumac and salt and other stuff. It's what I use in my green beans and in so many other things. It's really a staple around here. You can get it from igourmet (linked above) or Kalustyan's. To give some perspective on how essential it is to my cooking, I have two different jars of it that live permanently on the counter, and at least one kilo stowed away. It's that essential.



And other non-Turkey related stuff:

  • Chocolate ice cubes for your ice coffee and Angostura-thyme ice cubes for your iced tea. Brilliant.
  • I love Yam Som-O (pomelo salad) and make it all the time. Cara of BGSK recently wrote up her trip to Thailand, and shared this fine-looking recipe for Som Tam-style broccoli, which I will be making as soon as broccoli is back in my good graces.
  • Can I geek out on you guys for a second? Earlier this year, I bought a pressure canner from my friend Cathy, who had 3 because she was testing recipes for her eagerly-anticipated, extremely awesome book, Mrs. Wheelbarrow's Practical Pantry, coming out this fall and available now for preorder on Amazon. So yes: she sold me one of her pressure canners. But owning a pressure canner isn't quite the same as using one, and it took me until this weekend to finally take the plunge. I was nervous: as in, I stared endlessly at the pressure gauge, worried in equal parts about the pressure dropping and the canner spontaneously exploding -- but it all turned out okay, and now I'm the proud owner of 6 pints of pressure-canned salsa, ready for winter. I can't wait to keep exploring more recipes. If you're interested in making the salsa recipe, for canning or just to eat now/freeze, you can find it here, on Food52. It's a Mrs. W classic.
  • Last but not least: lately, some of you have asked for the recipes for dishes I've posted to my instagram. Just wanted to let you know that I've started posting recipes to the photos themselves, which makes it super easy to find the recipe you want. For example, click on a recent picture of okra and you'll find a pretty great, easy recipe for okra in tamarind-tomato sauce.


That's all for today. Happy Monday; hope it's a great week.

Summer Squash and Herb Gratin

1-DSC_0799 The most obvious solution to the "problem" of those oversized, seed-filled summer squash is to make a gratin. When you slice those massive squash as thinly as possible, blanket them in something creamy, and top the pile with something crunchy, the so-called problem is a problem no more.

However, gratins cause a problem of their own (one that's slightly more real than a glut of summer produce): flooding. Summer squash are like 80% water, and if you aren't careful, they'll flood even your most carefully constructed casserole. If you've ever made a gratin with plain sliced squash, you know what I'm talking about. You've gotta serve it with a slotted spoon, and even then, the liquid pools in the pan and on the plate, ruining what could have been a good thing.


Most recipes that call for cooked squash tell you to salt and strain it in advance. This is good advice. But to really avoid any pooling whatsoever, you need to kick the draining process into overdrive.

Before making this gratin, I salted my squash aggressively and let it strain for a full hour. I then pressed it against the strainer to release even more liquid, and before layering it into the gratin dish, I picked up handfuls and squeezed them out even more. For about 2 1/2 pounds of squash, I ended up with 1 1/2 cups of liquid. That's 1 1/2 cups of liquid that didn't flood my gratin dish. Winning.


A side benefit of straining the squash so aggressively is that the process softens it, so it takes much shorter to cook. As a result, the gratin didn't taste like it had been cooked to death. It was soft and yielding, but still tasted fresh.

I kept the flavoring pretty simple - just a big handful of my favorite herbs from the garden: basil, mint, chives. If you've got some pesto in your fridge, you can use that instead.

Also, as good as an uber-creamy gratin can be, I wanted to keep this one light, for summer. That didn't stop me from making a bechamel, but I just made a half portion of it, and spread it on top of the casserole before topping with the breadcrumbs. The result was light enough to fall short of indulgent, but that layer of bechamel stays creamy underneath and gets crunchy on top: it makes the gratin, so don't skip it.

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Summer Squash and Herb Gratin Serves 4 with leftovers, or 6 if served as a side dish

2 1/2 lbs. summer squash 1 tablespoon salt 3 tablespoons olive oil, divided 1 cup fresh bread crumbs 1 medium-large yellow onion, diced 1/4 cup chopped fresh herbs (I like a mixture of basil, mint, and chives, but you can use oregano, parsley, or whatever herbs you have) 3 tablespoons butter 2 tablespoons flour 1 cup milk 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg, preferably fresh 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese Salt and pepper

Using a mandoline, slice the squash into 1/6-inch slices. Layer them into a large strainer, sprinkling the tablespoon of salt over the slices layer by layer until all the squash has been salted and layered into the strainer. Put the strainer over a bowl or in the sink, and set aside to drain for one hour. Once an hour has passed, press hard on the squash to release as much liquid as possible.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and lightly butter the inside of a roughly 9x13" baking dish.

Put 1 1/2 tablespoons of the olive oil into a saute pan set over medium heat. Add bread crumbs, and cook, stirring occasionally, until golden browned and crispy, 5-7 minutes. Strain into a small bowl.

In the same pan, add the remaining 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil and the diced onion. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until translucent, about 5 minutes. Transfer onions to the bottom of the baking dish.

Now, make the bechamel: in a small saucepan, melt butter until it bubbles. Add flour, and use a fork to stir until it has combined with the butter to form a creamy paste. Add the milk and a pinch of salt, turn the heat to medium-high, and bring the milk to a boil. Boil for about 1 minute, stirring regularly, until the sauce thickens. Then stir in the nutmeg and remove from the heat.

Assemble the gratin: Take handfuls of the strained squash, give them a strong squeeze to release their liquid, and layer or pile them into the baking dish, adding bits of chopped herbs as you go. You don't have to be fancy with the layers here: the whole thing gets covered up anyway. When you've layered in half the squash and herbs, sprinkle a couple tablespoons of the bread crumbs and one or two gratings of cheese over that layer. Shake a few grinds of pepper over that layer as well. Repeat with the remaining squash and herbs, top with a thin layer of cheese, then spoon and spread the bechamel over the top. Sprinkle the breadcrumbs and the remaining cheese onto the bechamel.

Transfer to the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Serve immediately, or let cool completely and store for up to 3 days. Reheat gratin in a 375-degree oven for at least 15 minutes before serving.

Perfect Asian Quick-Pickles

1-DSC_0417 There are times when I get home from work, drop my bag, open the fridge, and dinner just jumps out at me. I see the garlic scapes on the middle shelf, the tomatoes on the counter, some good ricotta lurking in the back, and it's done: summer pasta.

But other times, despite what others surely would call a full fridge, I can't seem to find anything to make. Last Wednesday was one of those times, and I'll have you know that I came this close to running down the street and grabbing a rice bowl--before an idea popped into my head.



A couple weeks ago, friends had us over for a last-minute al fresco dinner. The plan was to fry up some of the squash blossoms that had bloomed in their garden; we figured the rest would come together. I brought a mondo salad and some fresh mozzarella to stuff in those squash blossoms. They pulled off some amazing Mexican elote-style corn and a bunch of other grilled things. But perhaps the star of the show - not to take away from the elote and the blossoms - was the appetizer, which they'd made with the help of Blue Apron.

If you don't know it, Blue Apron is one of these start-up cooking services that sends you perfectly portioned amounts of everything you need to make dinner for two at home. The ingredients seem high-quality, the instructions are clear, and the recipes are pretty creative. I've spent quite a bit of time on their website, and I've found about a dozen great ideas for easy, inexpensive dinners that you can make at home in about 30 minutes.

These pickles were an accompaniment to a Korean-style scallion pancake. We noshed on them while we finished getting dinner on the table, but I couldn't stop thinking about them for days, so I finally looked up the recipe and made them and the scallion pancake at home, rescuing my cash from the rice bowl place in the nick of time.

There is one ingredient in the pickles that you might not have lying around: black vinegar, also called Chinkiang vinegar. It's mellow and a little bit malty; I love it in a tofu stir fry, and it's perfect in these pickles. The one I have is available for 7 bucks on Amazon, but if you can't find it, you can substitute an equal amount of rice wine vinegar and if you have it, add a teaspoon or so of sorghum molasses for that smoky, malty flavor.

Perfect Asian Quick-Pickles Adapted from Blue Apron Makes enough for 4 as a snack

2 Kirby or Persian cucumbers, halved crosswise and cut lengthwise into quarters 4 radishes, cut into thick coins 1 garlic scape, coined (or substitute 1 scallion) 2 teaspoons sesame oil 1 tablespoon soy sauce 1 tablespoon Chinese black vinegar (or substitute an equal amount of rice vinegar with a teaspoon of molasses) 1 teaspoon Sambal Oelek, sriracha, or other hot chile sauce, to taste

Combine all ingredients except the vegetables in a medium bowl and whisk with a fork to combine. Taste, and adjust the quantities of chile, vinegar, and soy sauce as needed. Add vegetables, stir to coat with the marinade, and set aside for about 15 minutes before serving.


Ina Garten's Sagaponack Corn Pudding

1-DSC_0317 The experts report that corn pudding is a specific thing. Before angering the purists with this hacked-up version, I figured I'd look into what the original actually is. After an earnest attempt to track down true corn pudding, I'm here to report - somewhat cheerily? - that Google is so full of riffs and adaptations, it's nearly impossible to find a source that records the original dish.

From what I can tell, true corn pudding is like a souffle, made with the pulp and juices left over after you've cut the kernels off an ear of corn. In Amanda Hesser's version, you need 14 ears of corn to get enough pulp for one 9-inch baking dish.

I had 8 ears, and I didn't have other plans for the kernels. I wanted something that could make use of them, and I really didn't want it to be fussy. I was drawn to the puffed-up, cloud-like spoonbread that Deb shared from Cook's Illustrated a while back, but it called for three too many bowls and I was in a hurry.

Fortunately, Ina came to the rescue with something called Sagaponack Corn Pudding, which she claims converted her from corn pudding skeptic to lover. I wouldn't go that far (plus, who hates corn pudding?), but it's a sturdy dish that can be mixed and/or baked well in advance, held in a hot oven without deflating, and please even the few strange specimens who haven't been counting down the days until good corn finally comes back to the markets. (Weirdos.)

The notion of bringing a fluffy corn pudding to a potluck might sound strange, but I think this is made for such an occasion. It's great hot, for certain; but at room temperature, it turns craggy like a good frittata, just the type of thing to set alongside that green bean salad and all the tomatoes.

In summary: yes, this belongs at your Fourth of July gathering. And at any summer gathering thereafter.

Have a wonderful long weekend, folks, and enjoy the holiday.

Ina Garten's Sagaponack Corn Pudding adapted from the Barefoot Contessa website

Pretty loyal to the original, but I nixed the cheese in the pudding itself, opting only to sprinkle cheese on top. I also inadvertently skipped the part where you put your baking pan in a baking pan full of water - probably a psychological block to fussing so much on an already hot day - and the pudding came out great without the water bath. You're welcome.

1 stick (1/4 lb.) unsalted butter 5 cups fresh corn kernels cut off the cob (6 to 8 ears) 1 cup chopped yellow onion (about 1 large onion) 4 eggs (Ina uses extra large; I used 5 medium eggs, which worked well) 1 1/2 cups milk 1/2 cup heavy cream 1 cup ricotta cheese 1/2 cup fine yellow cornmeal 3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves 1 tablespoon sugar 1 tablespoon kosher salt 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 1/2 cup (4 ounces) grated cheddar or other cheese (Comte or Gruyere would also be nice here)

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and butter the inside of an 8- to 10-cup baking dish (a 9x13 baking pan is perfect).

Melt the butter in a very large sauté pan and sauté the corn and onion over medium-high heat for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs, milk, cream, and ricotta in a large bowl. Slowly whisk in the cornmeal. Add the basil, sugar, salt, and pepper. Add the cooked corn mixture and stir to combine, and then pour into the baking dish. Sprinkle the top with the grated Cheddar.

(At this stage, the pudding can be held in the fridge for several hours or up to 2 days before baking.)

Bake the pudding for 40 to 45 minutes, until the top begins to brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Serve warm or at room temperature.