It is a mad scientist’s power that comes from making something wonderful and brand new. A singular dish that was just a grocery list of disparate ingredients, moments or hours before. The golden, shimmering alchemy of cooking is one of the ways I fill my life with warmth and light. I cook home food; no molecular gastronomics, no loopy swirls on the plate. It is a remarkable thing to be confident in providing for yourself—not just surviving, but creating, often out of very little, a feast, nourishing and magnificent in its rustic simplicity.
My very favorite thing on earth. Honestly, I make enough to fill a satellite dish and eat the entire thing alone. It’s sharp and crunchy, creamy and tart, cool and refreshing. I can’t get enough of it, and neither will you!
Romaine lettuce • Pita bread • 1 serrano pepper • Green onions
Avocado • Bunch mint • Bunch cilantro • Olive oil • Lime • Salt
For me, this is usually a race to rip up everything and get it into my body as quickly as possible, because I really do love this meal dearly. The idea is to get the pita in the oven to crisp up brownly while you go ahead with chopping and tearing. So while it toasts, chop the romaine into bite-size pieces, and slice the green onion thinly, through the light green parts. Dice the serrano finely, and pull off fat handfuls of each herb and run a knife through it. Halve the avocado and use a spoon to scoop out small dollops. Throw this goodness into a huge bowl, and use a smaller bowl to make the dressing, which I like to keep as light as possible, just a few glugs of good olive oil and about one lime’s worth of juice. Salt to your taste; I prefer my dressing more limey than sharp. Remove the pita from the oven, let cool, and tear or break into small pieces. Pour the dressing over the salad and then add the pita croutons, and fold the salad gently to dress everything evenly. Serve to yourself, and people you love a whole bunch, because this is the best.
The salad niçoise is one of my favorite classic dishes; it’s protein-packed yet light, with a bunch of interesting tastes and textures going on—plus, it’s a great way to use leftover eggs and/or potatoes. However, it’s not always convenient to sit and have a leisurely salad when you’ve got important things to do, so I made up a way to be French and fantastic, on the go.
Baguette, sliced thinly and diagonally • 1 hardboiled egg, sliced into thin rounds • 1 small roasted red potato, cold, sliced into thin rounds • 1 packed solid white albacore, drained • 1 tomato, sliced thinly • Romaine leaves, torn • Niçoise olives • Olive oil • Lemon • Salt and pepper
First we have to make our sandwich spread: Throw the olives in a food processor and pulse a few times with your oil and lemon, a pinch of salt and pepper, then set aside. Next, grab everything else and make a dang sandwich! I like a long, ficelle-style bread. If you can’t find it, then it can be approximated by slicing up a baguette, which is what I usually have to do. Put a layer of leaves on your bread, then the egg, the potato, the tuna, the tomato. Spread the olive mixture on the top slice, and add it to the party. Wrap it in foil, and eat it wherever you want. Niçoise, liberated! Vive la France!
FENNELLY SAUSAGE WITH SWISS CHARD AND ORECCHIETTE
Truth time: This is no family heirloom recipe; although, it does taste like it should have been in everyone’s family for years, because it’s unbelievable. I came across it on Instagram actually, on a post by Mindy Kaling, who said this dish, from Osteria Mozza in LA, is one of her favorite things; a co-star, Ike Barinholtz, had mastered the recipe years ago and made it for her. And if those goofballs can do it, I thought, so can we!
3/4 lb fennel sausage • 1 bunch Swiss chard, ribs removed and reserved • 12 oz orechiette pasta • 1 cup chicken stock, more if needed • Large yellow onion, sliced thinly • Few cloves garlic, minced • Olive oil • 1 to 2 tbsp red wine vinegar • Few tbsps plain breadcrumbs • Jalapeño or serrano pepper, diced finely • 1 to 2 tbsp butter • Freshly grated parmesan (the more the merrier) • Handful parsley, washed and chopped • Salt and ground pepper • 1/2 to 1 cup water
While you wait for your water to boil, separate the ribs from the leaves of the Swiss chard. Run a knife roughly through them and set aside. Warm olive oil on medium high, add the ribs, and saute them on high for three minutes. Turn the heat down, and add garlic, onion, jalapeño or serrano, and salt. Cook, stirring often to prevent browning, for 10 or 12 minutes. Add a little water to the pan bit by bit to sweat and soften the onion without browning—but not too much—just so the pan is never dry. Fold the chard leaves into the pot, adjust the salt, reduce heat to low, cover and cook for 10 to 15 minutes.
As that’s simmering away, let’s get to the sausage. In a separate pan, sear it first on each side for two minutes, then brown the rest, breaking it up into tiny pieces and sprinkling with the red wine vinegar until it’s cooked through. Add the sausage to the chard pot, with the cup of chicken stock. Cook together for a few minutes, stirring constantly, then add the butter, stir gently until it’s all melted, turn off the heat, but leave it on the burner.
Add salt to the boiling water and pour in the pasta, cooking 11 minutes or until al dente. Drain, but reserve 2 tablespoons of the cooking water. Add the pasta to the sausage and chard, fold to combine, grate over the parmesan and pour in the breadcrumbs. Let sit five minutes, covered, then sprinkle with fresh parsley and serve! It will be amazing!
Alfajores. Alfa-jores. A party and pantry staple for many South Americans, it feels good just to say it: round and mellow and tender on the tongue, just like the little shortbread cookies themselves. A cookie sandwich, a la Oreo, alfajores are traditionally filled with dulce de leche. They’re easy to make, lazy even, but they do take time. This is a slow-Sunday-in-the-kitchen-kind-of treat; just make enough to last all week.
Heaping 3/4 cup bread flour • 1 cup cornstarch • 1/2 tsp salt • 1 tsp baking powder • 1/2 tsp baking soda • 1/3 c granulated sugar • 8 tbsp salted butter • 2 large egg yolks • 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract • Powdered sugar for finishing • 1 cup dulce de leche (recipe below)
Making a can sweetened condensed milk magically turn into dulce de leche is easy, but it takes three hours, so plan accordingly. Just fill a large pot with water and bring to a rolling boil, peel off the label and drop in the can (carefully!). It needs to boil for three straight hours, just make sure the can is submerged at all times. You may need to boil water in a kettle and add it to the pot periodically, since the lid will be off the whole time and the water will be evaporating like a mug. After three hours, fish out the can using tongs or a slotted spoon, and place on a heat-resistant surface to cool. Let it cool completely (about two hours) before popping open, to avoid a burning caramel explosion-type situation. Once you do open it though, mix it with a spatula and party. It’s awesome! It will last three or four weeks refrigerated in a sealed container. Make it beforehand and you’ll be able to make alfajores at a moment’s notice!
For the cookies: Combine cornstarch, flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Whisk a bit to blend, and set aside.
Next, cream together the sugar and butter in a larger bowl. Be sure to stop the mixer and scrape down the sides once or twice to make certain everything is well-integrated. When the mixture is light and fluffy, after about 3 minutes with a hand mixer on medium, add the egg yolks and the vanilla. Blend well, about a minute, and then begin adding the dry ingredients slowly, mixing on low. Blend everything evenly on low for another minute. The mixture will be sandy and disparate, not very doughy at all. This is OK! It’s going to make a very silky, crumbly cookie.
Dump the mixture onto plastic wrap and form it into a ball. Refrigerate until firm, 45 minutes to an hour. Next, preheat the oven to 350 and lightly flour your work surface. Place the dough ball here and roll out to 1/4” thickness. The dough will crack and crumble, but don’t worry! Just repress it together. Next, punch out rounds with a 2” cookie cutter. You’ll have somewhere between 24 to 30; just make sure it’s an even amount, since we’ll be making sammies with them! Re-roll the dough scraps and punch it all out until everything’s gone.
Bake on parchment-lined baking sheets for 12 to 15 minutes, cookies should be pale on top and lightly golden on the bottom. Remove from oven and allow to cool completely.
Once they’re cooled, turn over half the rounds and spread a couple teaspoons of dulce de leche on the goldy bottoms. The pale side should be on the “outside.” Close the sandwiches with another round and dust with powdered sugar. Be careful, though: As soon as you have them, you’ll be hooked. They’ll creep into your waking moments … you’ll taste them in your dreams!