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.
CHICKEN & LEEKS IN PHYLLO
This fresh and healthy chicken pie is light enough to eat all summer, which you’re going to want to do, plus the leftovers are tops! The chicken’s flavor and tenderness quotient are very high, mostly owing to the lovely herb and spice-scented yogurt marinade it spends the night (or two or three) sousing in. Even though the actual cooking process is a breeze, it’s one of the dishes we’re going to recommend actually planning for a bit (rather than how the feeding frenzy mealtimes usually are around here). So! Prep time is a day and a half at least—just so we’re clear. I’d hate for you to get stoked then realize you had to wait another three days to eat the greatest chicken pie ever baked. Because that’s what you’re in for.
1 lb organic, free-range chicken
14 oz nonfat greek yogurt
Juice of half a lemon
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
3-4 garlic cloves, smashed and sliced
1 tsp fresh ginger, minced
1 serrano pepper, seeded and diced
Fresh ground pepper
4 leeks, sliced thinly, rinsed in a water bath, and well drained
Bunch fresh parsley, washed and chopped, no big stems
20 sheets phyllo, frozen and thawed
2 tbsp melted butter, ¼ cup olive oil mixture (to brush on phyllo)
Pound the chicken until thin and flat, as if for a paillard, then cube it. (I put the bird in a Ziploc bag, covered it with a kitchen towel and then banged it flat with an ice cream scoop, and it went great! So, try that if you don’t know how else to do it.) Throw it into a Ziploc and set it aside while you make the marinade.
Combine yogurt, lemon juice, extra virgin olive oil, cumin, coriander, ginger, garlic, salt and pepper, and serrano pepper in a bowl and stir until blended. Add the mixture to the chicken and let it sit overnight in that Ziploc bag if possible, or at least three or four hours. The longer it sits, the more amazingly tender and flavorful the result will be.
When you’re ready to assemble your pie (make sure your phyllo is properly thawed according to the box directions), get the marinated chicken out of the fridge and put it in a bowl. Add the leeks and parsley and turn to combine. Set aside. Melt two tablespoons of butter on low heat, and mix it in a bowl with ¼ cup oil.
Next, butter, oil or nonstick spray a 9×12 baking dish, and lay down your first sheet. Brush lightly with butter/olive oil mixture, and lay second sheet on top, brush with butter/oil, and then add the third sheet, and go on like that until you’ve laid down 10 sheets. Work quickly so the phyllo doesn’t dry out and begin to crack; you can also cover, with a slightly damp paper towel, the resting phyllo yet to be added to the pan, if necessary. It should stay moist that way.
When 10 sheets are down, spread the herby, spicy chicken and leek goodness in a thick single layer across the entire pan. Smooth down with a spatula and then add 10 more sheets of phyllo, always brushing with butter/oil between layers.
Bake in a 400-degree oven for 35 to 45 minutes. The pastry will be deeply golden, the chicken cooked through and so tender. It will be amazing. It’s unreal right from the oven, and it’s magnificent the next day, right out of the fridge. Dinner and lunch in one pan, in that order.
OLIVE OIL CAKE WITH SAFFRON AND CARDAMOM FROM ALICE MEDRICH
This cake is at once fluffy yet silky, subtly spiced and just gorgeous. It’s a dessert for people who don’t have sweet teeth, yet it’s rich and satisfying, and sugary enough for those who do (with sunny yellow olive oil and bright velvety saffron).
Pinch saffron threads, crumbled
1/2 cup whole milk
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
3/4 tsp ground cardamom
1/8 tsp kosher salt
2 large eggs
2 egg yolks
Confectioner’s sugar, enough for dusting
The recipe is for one 8-inch cake, preferably in a round cake tin but any thin baking dish will suffice. Tin is key though, because the cake cooks at a relatively low temperature and a thick porcelain baking dish won’t work. The slimness of the dish guarantees the light, springy quality we all crave in a cake.
So, in a small bowl, sprinkle the crumbled saffron over the milk and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour your cake tin and set aside.
Sift the flour and baking powder into a bowl also set aside. Next, in a large bowl with a hand-held mixer, beat the sugar with the olive oil, vanilla, cardamom, and salt on medium-high until well blended. Add the eggs and yolks one at a time, beating well after each one. Take your time and give each step some love. It will be OK. It will be awesome.
After eggs and egg yolks have been blended into the mix, continue to beat on medium high until the mixture pales and thickens, about 3 to 4 minutes. Downshift to low speed and add the flour mixture and saffrony milk in three separate additions. Scrape down the sides of the bowl if necessary, and mix well to create a silky, uniform batter—no lumps.
Pour the shiny, silken batter into your cake tin and bake for 50 minutes, until it’s golden brown and the sides of the cake spring away from the sides of the pan. Then pierce the center with a toothpick if you really need to check doneness, and the toothpick should come out clean. Let cool in its pan for 15 minutes, then invert and let cool on a rack or just a plate. Turn the cake right side up, dust with powdered sugar, slice into wedges and serve.
CHARRED BITTER GREENS
I adapted this recipe from April Bloomfield’s crowd-pleasing dish at The John Dory Oyster Bar, and it’s amazing. The bright, zesty flavors of anchovy, dijon and vinegar, against smoky, grilled bitter greens, is the most exciting way I know to start a meal. It’s like a starter pistol, or a roman candle, shooting off layers and layers of flavor into the starry cosmos.
For the dressing:
1 whole tin of anchovy fillets in oil (I think Cento brand is the best), rinsed (you could debone it if you really care, but I don’t so I didn’t; the bones are extremely fine, and you’re about to puree the whole thing anyway)
1/2 tsp coarse-ground dijon mustard
1 clove of garlic, chopped roughly
1 fresh, organic, free-range egg yolk
1/4 cup white wine vinegar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup high quality vegetable oil
1/4 cup grated parmesan
Salt and pepper
For the salad:
2 heads bitter greens (I like chicories, like escarole, endive and radicchio), quartered length-wise
3/4 cup Panko, toasted
1 bunch radishes, sliced thinly
1 bunch scallions, sliced thinly on the bias
In the bowl of a food processor, pulse the anchovies, mustard, and garlic a couple times until a paste forms, then add the egg yolk and vinegar; puree to emulsify. In another bowl, whisk together the olive and vegetable oils. While running the food processor, slowly add them to make a smooth, creamy emulsion. Pour it all into a bowl, fold in the 1/4 cup parmesan, season with salt and pep, cover and refrigerate.
Now, for the salad, you can prep the greens with white vinegar or you can straight grill them without. I recommend prepping them, and it’s very simple. Just boil up a cup of white vinegar and pour it over the quartered greens. Toss everything quickly to wilt the greens a little, then drain. You want them to stay crunchy mostly, but the vinegar takes a lot of the bite out of them.
After greens are prepped, cook the greens over high heat, searing each side for a few seconds, just enough to get color on the sliced sides. You can toast the breadcrumbs in a dry pan for a few minutes while you’re at the stove anyway, just remember to keep them moving or they’ll burn in a blink.
Let the greens cool a bit, add the scallions, radishes, then the dressing, then the breadcrumbs, and toss to coat evenly. Serve immediately! It’s amazing.
GRACE PARISI’S SUMMER CORN SALAD WITH CHIPOTLES IN ADOBO
Grace Parisi’s corn salad is the best thing to take to a summer barbecue, especially because it tastes like a delicious, smoky cheeseburger, even though it’s totally vegetarian! Spicy, sweet, fresh and crunchy … you’ll want to lick the bowl.
5-6 ears sweet summer corn
2-3 scallions, sliced thinly
2-3 chipotles in adobo sauce, seeded and chopped finely
1 large sweet vidalia onion, sliced into thick rounds
Juice of half a lime (or a whole one, depending on how juicy)
Heaping 1/4 cup of sour cream
Salt and pepper
1 tbsp olive oil (for grilling)
If you don’t have a grill, the best way to cook perfect corn is to pop them in a 350-degree oven for 30 minutes, husk and all. If you have a gas stove, shuck the roasted corn and roll them over the flame for just a few seconds to get some color. Set the corn aside and heat the oil in a pan or grill pan over medium high. Grill the onion slices in small batches until they’re soft and sweet, with some great golden color. Set them aside to cool. When they’ve cooled enough, slice the corn off the cob and coarsely chop the onion.
In another bowl, mix together the sour cream, lime juice, chipotle chiles, and scallions. Add the corn and onions, season with salt and pepper, and you’re out the door.