From Sara Moulton's Home Cooking 101: How to Make Everything Taste Better
You might remember chef Sara Moulton as one of the Food Network’s original celebrities during its first decade of television. Maybe you recognize her from her current show, "Sara's Weeknight Meals," which is set to air its sixth season in January 2017. Or perhaps you own one of her best-selling cookbooks. Her latest, Sara Moulton’s Home Cooking 101: How to Make Everything Taste Better is an opus of home cooking, relevant to those with and without experience in the restaurant world.
With more than 30 years of culinary experience, Moulton’s other distinctions include being a protégé of Julia Child, executive chef of Gourmet Magazine, cofounder of the New York Women’s Culinary Alliance, and a member of the James Beard Foundation’s Who’s Who of Food and Beverage.
On July 9, I had the privilege of meeting the acclaimed chef at the 2016 Grafton Food Festival. Moulton and I settled into two armchairs at the Grafton Inn to talk about Child, culinary media and Vermont's influence on the food world.
Cave-aged clothbound cheddar at the 2016 Grafton Food Festival
“I don’t mind mist, but please don’t pour,” said Angela Comstock, innkeeper at the Grafton Inn, as she watched slate-colored clouds shift across the skyline. It was Saturday, July 9, and the inn was hosting its fourth annual Grafton Food Festival. For an hour or two, the weather seemed to heed her request. Then the sky cracked open, raining buckets.
For another all-day food festival, a washout could have been a disaster. But, luckily, the inn's field was sheltered by an enormous tent, making a cozy enclave for festival-goers and 25 vendors hanging out within its barriers. Also luckily, the Grafton Inn was filled with stalwart folks who didn’t mind a little water.
I keep a one-gallon bag of homemade breadcrumbs tucked in the freezer. The bag grows fatter week by week with odd ends of olive loaves, stale bagels, nubs of potato bread and too-old slices of homemade rye. The bread scraps will get slicked with olive oil and toasted into croutons; those that remain will be pulsed in a blender and zipped into the freezer bag. There they remain, until meatballs need making or a pile of spaghetti with herbs and cream begs for an extra hit of texture.
Currently, I have a favorite way to use those breadcrumbs waiting in my freezer. Determined to celebrate asparagus season as long as possible, I blanketed a platter of fat, roasted spears with toasted breadcrumbs and a few poached eggs. The runny orange yolks — courtesy of hens Alice, Riggs, Garfield, Houdini and George Costanza (yup, I know they're female) — mingle with the tender-sweet stalks and golden breadcrumbs for a dish that meets all go-to notes of color, flavor and texture. Here’s the recipe.
Recently, I was invited to have lunch with Suaad Alsammraee and her friends at the Courtyard Retirement Home in Winooski. I got to know the 65-year-old Iraqi at a financial literacy class organized by the Champlain Valley Office of Economic Opportunity. Alsammraee wanted to have one last get-together in Vermont because she and her husband were moving to Oregon to be closer to their daughter. The couple resettled in the Green Mountain State in November 2013, but most of their children live in Europe.
When I arrived at 10 a.m, Alsammraee's kitchen was already in full swing. She divided tasks between Ahlam Al Attar and Houda Musanovic and supervised them. I later found out that Alsammraee, or Sursur, as her grandchildren call her, had prepared the dishes days in advance. Among them were trays of kofta, or minced lamb meat, and borek, a thin, flaky dough with meat filling and peas, were ready to be baked.
Pizzeria Verità is known for its Neapolitan-style wood-fired pizza. The restaurant is nominated annually in Seven Days readers' choice awards, and is No. 1 on TripAdvisor (up from No. 2 last week) for Burlington-area pies. (See my story about learning tricks of the dough here.) This means that sometimes you can't get a table at the restaurant.
If you find yourself out of luck — or you're planning a party — here are five secrets from Verità co-owner Leslie Wells for making the best-tasting pizza at home:
Use a dough recipe with a long fermentation process; this gives the crust more structure and airiness.
Source the freshest, highest-quality ingredients for topping.
Never underestimate a great cheese.
Get your oven as hot as possible, and finish with the broiler to cook the top.
Keep it simple; don't over-top the pizza. The key is to have flavors that complement, rather than overwhelm, each other.
Of course, Wells also has a sixth suggestion: "When all else fails, come to Pizzeria Verità!"
'Tis the season when markets are few and far between, and when farm stands tend to close at dusk, which comes earlier every day. That makes it tough to get farm-fresh vegetables with any frequency, except from the grocery. The good news is, autumn's harvest keeps for weeks, so you can stock up without fear of spoilage.
Right now, my crispers are stuffed with carrots from my last trip to mom's garden, beets from the Intervale's Half Pint Farm (from a weeks-ago trip to City Market), aging celery and a box of cranberries from Cranberry Bob. On the counter, my bowl of onions, garlic and shallots overfloweth.
A while back, I made a bunch of pie crusts and froze a few for a lazy day when I wanted pie, and, wanting to do something fun with this assortment of cool-weather produce, I threw together a quick (and beautiful!) savory galette with some cheese.
Like most of my farmers market recipes, this one is endlessly tweakable — mix and match the roots, swap shallots for onions or cheddar for pecorino (these will behave differently when baked but both will work), and voila! An impressive but easy supper awaits.
On Route 100 just north of Waitsfield village, Hartshorn's Farmstand offers a wild proliferation of root-cellar vegetables, squash in particular. Bins along the outside of the stand overflow with butternuts, acorns, hubbards, kabochas, delicatas, and — my personal favorite — buttercups.
I am fond of the buttercup for its rich, creamy flesh, subtle nutty flavor and relative ease in handling. Unlike the hubbard, which I also adore, the buttercup grows to a manageable size, cooks fairly quickly and is easier to slice without losing a finger to the knife.
And, when split in half and stuffed, these make a lovely entrée; they can also be cut, post-cooking, for a fine side dish. Either way, with fresh Vermont cranberries from Cranberry Bob, and sage, sausage and coconut, these stuffers make for a homey but interesting November meal. What's more, the recipe is vegan but for the sausage (and gluten-free!), so it's friendly for pretty much anyone.
The recipe can also be endlessly adapted: Substitute the sweet breakfast sausage for spicy andouille or chorizo, grapes for the cranberries, pears for the apples or rosemary for the sage. It's all good.
With the summer farmers markets finished for the season, we're now in that autumn lull before the winter markets begin, and if you want farm-fresh produce, you'll have to hit up a farmstand — or your local co-op.
But with all the rain we've been having, late fall mushrooms are in full bloom. At the end of my Burlington block is an old maple tree that recently started fruiting with pounds and pounds of meaty oyster mushrooms — more than I could ever use. While summer oysters are usually milky white, as the weather cools, they start sprouting in shades of dusty brown, and these beauties were massive, some as big as my hand.
I picked a couple pounds* (many more remain on the tree) and, feeling rich, started dreaming up a fall frittata with foraged apples from my pantry and a bit of McKenzie sausage from my fridge. A quick trip to City Market brought fresh sage, courtesy of Digger's Mirth Collective Farm, and Tarentaise, a mild, Alpine-style cheese from Pomfret's Thistle Hill Farm. And that, quite quickly, was that.
*For nonforagers, MoTown Mushrooms supplies great oysters in many colors, or you can usually find them at the co-op or other grocers. Also, any mushrooms you prefer will work well with this recipe.
It's late September and the greens are still going strong. You've already blanched and frozen all that you intend to save for winter, but the garden's still cranking out chard, kale, collards and whatever else at a cold-weather-defying rate. During a mild year, some kales will winter over and grow through the following spring if you let them. And at market, these hardy survivors will chug along well into root-vegetable season and beyond.
As summer gives way to fall, these greens are also one of the last doses of fresh chlorophyll we'll get, and I'm happy to embrace both the tyranny of leaves and cooler-weather cooking. Let's bust out the cream, shall we?
Adapted from an Alice Waters classic, this rich, creamy gratin will take care of whatever greens the garden wants to throw at you, and warm your belly on a cold autumn's night.
Even better, it works fine with whatever ratty old past-prime leafy things you've got kicking around your fridge. Last night, I made it with a mix of wilty rainbow chard, kale and gummy celery, but you could add radish or turnip greens, spinach, leafy herbs (basil, sorrel, lovage, in moderation) or even some sad-sack arugula. Get crazy! All dead greens love cream.
With the arrival of May, I'm expecting to see a fresh start here at the Seven Days food desk. Between planning Vermont Restaurant Week, putting out the annual 7 Nights magazine and losing my longtime partner in crime, Corin Hirsch, I have never been busier than I was in April.
In fact, I was so busy that I didn't find the time to blog about two major events that catalyzed Vermont foodies last month. On April 3 and 4, Chez Panisse owner and Slow Food pioneer Alice Waters visited Vermont from California. Two weeks later, a pair of "Chopped" champions showed off their Food Network-tested skills in a culinary battle in Montpelier.
As we venture into May and look forward to summer, I want to share some spring memories.
Onion confit, cabbage and cheddar panade in the style of Zuni Café's Judy Rodgers. Served with root veggie slaw and the season's first spring greens
As exciting as it was to meet Waters, lunch at Burlington's Intervale Center was also an enjoyable state of the union for local foodies to meet, greet and realize how far we've come.