Thursday, December 15, 2011

The ultimate "family restaurant"?

New York City restauranteur Massimo Galeano wanted to serve his customers the same traditional Italian dishes he grew up with and still craved. So he started bringing his mother from Bologna for weeks-long visits to handcraft the tortellini, ravioli, tagliatelle and other pastas he serves at Gradisca. At her flour-dusted table in clear view of diners, she rolls, shapes and stuffs the dough, conjuring a soothing presence that makes the meals feel truly home-style, in an age when the term "family restaurant" gets batted around a bit too lightly. Read the delightful story in the Dining Section of this week's New York Times.

And while there, here's another piece to enjoy: author Jennifer Steinhauer describes why we feel slighted with the frequent appearance of store-bought items at the neighborhood bake sale or pot luck. Her article vindicates my decision to make German Chocolate Brownie Bars at Halloween, even though I wasn't sure they'd appeal to trick-or-treating kids or protective parents. (By all appearances, they did, although the store-bought chocolate-dipped M&M granola bars ultimately proved most popular.)

In a world where so much of what we eat is conveniently mess-proof and cookie-cutter, it's nice to see that hand-made and one-of-a-kind can still hold its own. (And yes, even on those occasions when the pan of bar cookies is crispy brown on the edges while the center isn't completely done... and the harried cook scrambles for a remedy... kinda like the fourth quarter of a Broncos football game. Sigh.) 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Eat, Drink, Cook: The Potato Pancake Tradition

Over at Hungry Chicken Homestead — where blog writer Bonnie Simon says her citified chickens rule the roost — there's an opportunity to weigh in on the best way to make potato pancakes.

Bonnie is Jewish, and potato latkes are a traditional food for her family at this time of year, even if she and her mom trade friendly barbs over whether the potatoes should be blended or shredded first. (And don't we all know what those fun little food disputes can be like?)

Bonnie's story and recipe reminded me that my mom, who is not Jewish but rather of German Mennonite ancestry, often made potato pancakes for us when we were kids. (Hers were pillowy smooth rather than free-form shredded too. Maybe it's a generational thing.) Those tender pancakes were fragrant, warm and soft, perfect for cold winter mornings or long dark winter evenings on the farm. Comfort food, that's what they were. Bonnie's remembrances are feeding my own, and now I'm thinking about making some myself. Plus, group me with those who think potatoes have been unfairly demonized (Dr. Daphne Miller devotes an entire chapter to the healthy upside of traditional potato-centric diets in her wonderful book, The Jungle Effect: The Healthiest Diets from Around the World — Why They Work and How to Make Them Work for You.) My view: Fast food french fries, bad. Colorado potatoes with skins on, good. Especially during the winter.

For something leaner, lighter and literally greener, though, I couldn't help noticing a recipe from Gourmet (God rest its soul, my all-time favorite magazine before the clueless bean-counters parachuted into the Conde Nast corporate office and decided since Bon Appetit published recipes, too, the best literary food journalism available in print should be canned) for zucchini latkes. If you're like me, you find yourself craving all things green during these dark (but sparkly) days of plant dormancy. Here's a way to have your pancake, and eat something green too.


Add a little color to the Festival of Lights with zucchini pancakes that shine green. Lighter than potato latkes, they’re the Mediterranean cousins who’ve traveled north to visit family in eastern Europe.
  • 3 lb zucchini
  • 1 1/3 cups plain fine dry bread crumbs
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
  • About 1 cup vegetable oil for frying

    sour cream

    a deep-fat thermometer
  • Grate zucchini using medium shredding disk of a food processor. Transfer to a bowl and toss with 2 tsp salt. Let stand 30 minutes.
  • Squeeze zucchini in batches in a kitchen towel to remove as much liquid as possible. Transfer zucchini to a large bowl and stir in bread crumbs, eggs, marjoram, 1/2 tsp salt, and 1/4 tsp pepper.
  • Preheat oven to 200°F.
  • Heat 1/3 cup oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat until it shimmers. Scoop 2 Tbsp mixture per latke into skillet (6 to 8 per batch). Flatten with a fork to form 21/2- to 3-inch pancakes. Fry until golden brown, about 2 minutes per side (adding more oil as necessary). Transfer to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet and keep warm in oven.