Crack Open A Book

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

With Sunday’s Headhouse Market closed due to the Papal Visit, we had stocked up the week before.  Then the weekend came, and the blissfully car free streets full of happy residents and visitors made eating out seem so much more appealing than cooking that fridge full of food.  I was feeling a little dispirited by the idea of getting through it all, until I decided to take a look at a cookbook or two for some motivation.  A few minutes later, having flipped through 100 or so pages of Tender by Nigel Slater, I had three recipes we could easily make with everything we had on hand.


It seems so silly to say “and then I thought of my cookbooks!”, but this time of year I really do tend to forget them.  So much of what’s available right now needs little in the way of a recipe to make a delicious dinner.  Blogs, newspapers, and magazines all offer recipes perfect for the season.  But a cookbook like Tender, as the subtitle “A Cook and His Vegetable Patch” suggests, is perfect for looking up individual vegetables and finding simple, seasonal dishes.  I immediately made a broccoli and bacon soup for lunches, the recipe available here, then moved on to baked eggplant with tomato and parmesan for dinner. 

Posted by Donna on 09/29 at 06:09 PM

Sauteed String Beans in Tomato Sauce

Saturday, July 25, 2015


While I thought it was fitting to use my grandmother’s bowl to serve this old fashioned dish, the result didn’t taste much like the stewed green beans I remember from childhood.  For one, I briefly blanched the beans while the simple tomato sauce was cooking so they could be thrown in at the end to just cook through.  I also used a combination of wax beans and two varieties of pole beans for a mix of flavors.  Our lovely San Marzano plum tomatoes on the plants we got at Savoie Organic Farm aren’t quite ripe yet, so we used several beautiful Persimmons.  They were definitely more juicy than a plum, but that worked well for this quickly cooked sauce.  We did add some chunks of fresh mozzarella from Hillacres Pride just before eating - purely for the protein, of course.

Sauteed String Beans in Tomato Sauce

1 pound string beans
3 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
5 medium tomatoes
12 basil leaves

Trim beans, blanch in salted water and set aside.  Using the same boiling water, blanch tomatoes just long enough for their skins to crack.  Rinse briefly to cool, remove skins and chop in 1 inch chunks.

Mince garlic and saute a minute in olive oil over medium heat.  Add tomatoes and a few pinches of salt and leave simmering until tomatoes begin to break down and sauce thickens.  Add beans and cook until beans are desired consistency. 

Serves 2 for lunch or 4-6 as a side dish.



Posted by Donna on 07/25 at 02:52 PM

Another Way with Zucchini

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Aside from grilling, my favorite summertime meals are pastas lightly sauced and loaded with vegetables.  So, I was particularly happy with this offering from the New York Times’ David Tanis.  We used ricotta from Hillacres Pride, available at the Headhouse Market, and the small and piquant leaves of minette basil growing in our window boxes. 


My take on this involved three alterations.  First, I cut the zucchini into half-rounds that were considerably thinner than Tanis’s.  It may just be a matter of preference, but I like the zucchini to nearly fall apart, becoming a creamy sauce in their own right.  Second, I cooked the zucchini for considerably longer - and covered - than Tanis instructs.  Third, I used more reserved pasta cooking water as well.  Adapting Tanis’s wine recommendation, we paired this with a sauvignon blanc from Turdo Vineyards.  One final note for future experiments with this recipe: I suspect that a mint pesto, rather than a basil one, might work as well. 


Posted by Kevin on 07/18 at 08:53 AM

Fried Stuffed Zucchini Flowers

Wednesday, July 08, 2015


The last time I made these was in Italy, frying them in tiny single batches in a tin cup we found in the rental villa.  The flowers were for sale in the local co-op, the olive oil from the farm we were staying on.  I had no thermometer, and no recipe, and I still suspect the first few came out way too greasy, but they were gone as quickly as I could make them.  This time was much easier, with both a candy thermometer set at a perfect 350 degrees and this very simple recipe from Tyler Florence to which we only added a small cube of mozzarella in each flower.  We used flowers from Queens Farm and Hillacres Pride mozzarella.  They disappeared as quickly as last time, though I managed a picture.

Posted by Donna on 07/08 at 07:34 PM

New Twist on an Old Dish

Wednesday, June 10, 2015


One of the vendors we religiously shop at Headhouse Market is Shore Catch.  Shopping there as much as we do, we inevitably repeat some recipes once we bring the fish and shellfish home.  So, there is a perpetual urge to find new recipes. 

This one, taken from the indispensable River Cottage Fish, gave me two twists on something I thought I knew inside out: spaghetti and clams.  Growing up Italian-American in South Jersey, it was impossible not to see this at Sunday dinners and Seven Fishes.  Therefore, I was surprised to see a version use actual cream (completely new to me) with clams that were fresh but removed from their shells - I was accustomed to thinking of either fresh clams in their shells or canned clams.  Most importantly, it called for fresh pasta.  In retrospect the fresh pasta makes perfect sense - being, as it is, ideally suited to richer, cream or butter-based sauces, but for someone raised on spaghetti and clams in white sauce, this was a revelation. 

Discoveries aside, the dinner still needs refinement.  Not having any white wine at hand (i.e., my stock of Galen Glen Gruner Veltliner having long run dry), I resorted to a bit of pasta water.  The resulting sauce was a little too light and simple.  A glass of white wine may have added the depth and viscosity it needed.  However, in a nod to my favorite dish from Bistro La Minette, I would also be tempted to add some fresh tarragon to the sauce as well.  Either way, from now on if it’s clams in white sauce, it’s going to be fresh pasta. 

Posted by Kevin on 06/10 at 03:14 PM

Four-Minute Squid (or Less)

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

The River Cottage’s seafood cookbook, titled The River Cottage Fish Book strangely enough, continues to be my favorite on the subject.  Not only does it advocate for sustainable, local seafood, it provides an abundance of information regarding species, recipe substitutions, and some general cooking guidelines that are endlessly useful.  If you are intent on buying seasonally, locally, and sustainably, this flexibility is crucial. 

My latest favorite is a quick squid recipe.  As he does elsewhere, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall states that this is more a suggestion than a recipe, but I would call it a technique.  The bodies of the cleaned squid, which we purchase from Shore Catch at the Headhouse Market, are butterflied (basically cut open so that they lay flat), scored on each side in a diamond pattern, and then tossed with something for flavor.  The original recipe calls for olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, and finely chopped garlic, but this is infinitely adaptable.  To cook, set to maximum heat under your cast-iron pan, griddle, or grill and cook one minute or so per side, turning them twice.  Two cautions here, though: one, make sure the pan or grill is thoroughly preheated; two, if you go beyond four minutes, you will have overcooked them.  They will curl up, which is good, and they will also char, which is even better. 



Posted by Kevin on 05/27 at 06:01 PM

More from In Search of the Perfect Loaf

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Having already recommended Samuel Fromartz’s In Search of the Perfect Loaf, I will refer you to my earlier comments as to why.  However, I can already identify two benefits from reading Fromartz.  One, it has given me the confidence to experiment with recipes and tailor results.  Two, should those experiments fail - or, more accurately, fail to meet expectations - I now have a better sense of why.  Both applied in this instance.


The first time I made this loaf, Jim Lahey’s.  There isn’t anything necessarily wrong with that; it’s just not my preference.  This time, I felt confident enough in my baking to use a different temperature and cooking time, based on Lynne Rossetto Kasper’s Modena Mountain Bread. This involved not only a lower temperature, but also retaining steam in the oven.  This variation was, unquestionably, a success.


Unfortunately, as you can see here, the crumb is anything but light and airy.  It’s dense and chewy, which is fine, but that wasn’t what I was going for.  What went wrong?  Fromartz’s recipe calls for letting the dough rise in a pantry that’s roughly 55 degrees.  Given the absurdly low temperatures last night, I am guessing our pantry was significantly lower than 55.  However, that wasn’t the real mistake; the real mistake was not trusting my instincts when I pulled the dough out this morning.  I was following the recipe exactly, but I should have known it needed a longer rise. 

Having written that, I now realize a third benefit of reading ...The Perfect Loaf: rather than discouraged by this disappointment, I will simply try again.

Posted by Kevin on 02/15 at 05:20 PM

Humble and Lazy Beans

Sunday, November 02, 2014


Each year, I am amazed at the diversity and output of our little garden plot. Even when the success rate of our three-sisters experiment was 66% (no squash), we still came away with delicious corn and an unusual pole bean called Lazy Housewife. 

I thought the Lazy Housewife was just amusingly named, but there’s a metaphor buried in that imaginative moniker: there was little effort in harvesting the dried beans.  To be honest, we picked the beans, plopped them in the vegetable bin in the fridge, and completely forgot about them.  Weeks later, we remembered, peeled them open, and out popped dried beans. 

Since these were special to us, I wanted a simple preparation - no stews or soups here.  So, I opted for this recipe from Jamie Oliver.  The Lazy Housewife may have been used in “Humble Home-cooked Beans,” but don’t let the underwhelming adjectives deceive you.  They were absolutely delicious.  Apart from the (apparent) simplicity of the dish, I was interested in the technique: simmering the beans with vegetables and spices to impart flavor.  I had done so with garlic and herbs, but never this many ingredients.  The results were beans that didn’t taste like the vegetables, but a more interesting, complex version of themselves.  Just a word of warning: a long, slow simmer is best.  In fact, simmer these the way you would simmer a slow-cooking shoulder-cut of meat.

Posted by Kevin on 11/02 at 04:56 PM

In Search of the Perfect Potato Salad

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Anyone who grew up near Vineland in South Jersey will surely know Joe’s Poultry.  Our parents would never consider fast food appropriate for dinner, but a stop at Joe’s little shop for a rotisserie chicken was a different case altogether.  But it wasn’t the chicken that was my favorite - it was the potato salad.  Almost creamy, with bits of shredded carrot and diced pickle and never too much mayo, the potato salad deservedly became the standard by which all others were compared in my family.  (Joe’s Poultry is still going strong, by the way, and if the reviews on Yelp are any indication, we’re not alone.)

A few years ago I tried my hand at potato salad, thinking I could definitely come up with something delicious with all the wonderful local potatoes at hand.  Nope.  I used Tom Culton’s lovely fingerlings, which according to many recipes should have been the perfect texture, and left the skin on.  The result was more like like pieces of potatoes dressed in mayonnaise - not at all the moist and flavorful texture of Joe’s.  While the skins were delicious, there was way too little potato exposed, so nothing cohered.  I tried again, this time choosing young potatoes with thin skins, but big enough to allow for pieces with plenty of exposed potato.  I also mashed the potatoes slightly with a fork and added tiny diced bits of pickles and chives.  My family wholeheartedly approved.


So why is the potato salad pictured purple, you ask?  We picked up a massive jar of naturally fermented pickles made by Amanda of Phickle at the food swap the week before and they had a fantastic half sour taste that was perfect for potato salad.  The only potatoes we had on hand were from Savoie Organic Farm and just happened to be purple.  Prettiest batch I ever made.

2 pound potatoes, skin on is fine if they are new potatoes, cut into pieces of 1 1/2 to 2 inches
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons mayonnaise, or more, depending on your preference
1 bunch of chives, chopped
1 dill pickle, diced

Put potatoes in a pot and cover with water.  Add 1 tbsp salt and bring to boil.  Boil potatoes until fully cooked - usually no more than 10 minutes, but test with fork.  Drain and allow to steam dry.

Transfer potatoes to a bowl and roughly mash some with a fork to desired consistency.  Toss potatoes with mayonnaise, chives and pickle.  Add 1 tsp salt and taste to adjust salt or mayonnaise.  Serves 4-6.

Posted by Donna on 07/24 at 05:32 PM

Marc Vetri’s Rigatoni with Swordfish and Eggplant “Fries”

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

It was partly because yesterday’s weather - warm but breezy, comfortable in the shade - reminded me so much of our biannual trips to Italy.  It was partly because I was looking for something to eat with a particular, local wine.  And it was partly because these ingredients were available concurrently at Headhouse Market.  At long last, I was ready to make Marc Vetri’s rigatoni with swordfish and eggplant fries.

This has been on my “must-make” list ever since I first opened my copy of Rustic Italian Food.  However, I never seemed to have either the time to make it (and, it must be said, this dish is rather time- and labor-intensive) or all of the necessary ingredients. 


And, while this may have taken two people and ninety minutes from start to finish, it was worth every second.  The combination of flavors is wonderfully evocative of summer, and the ingredients are perfectly proportioned.  Moreover, as with Vetri’s fava bean and pecorino pasta, it takes very little to make a sauce: in this case, eight ounces of cherry tomatoes, garlic, onion, some olive oil, and a few tablespoons of the pasta cooking water.  That’s it.  But, trust me, once the tomatoes exude their liquid, and you see it coat the rigatoni, you will understand. 


We don’t normally drink wine with lunch unless we are out or have company, but since this dish was so redolent of Italy, what could be more Italian than a long pranzo outside with a glass of wine?  In Rustic Italian Food, Jeff Benjamin recommends a Calabrian Ciro Rosso.  Not having any in my wine cellar (aka our unheated basement pantry), I used this as excuse to open this Sangiovese from Turdo Vineyards in Cape May, NJ (one of our local favorites). Sangiovese is best-known as the primary (but not necessarily sole) grape in Chianti.  However, the typical aroma (sometimes described, affectionately, as similar to a “barnyard”) and tannins are not apparent in this one.  Coupled with the soft tannins are aromas of black fruit and spices.  The medium body balanced nicely with the mild flavor of the swordfish. 


It is a measure of the quality of this recipe that I would, without hesitation, make it again despite the work involved.  The only modifications I would offer are:
1) Make the eggplant fries early on and have them warming in the oven.  The rest of the dish comes together very quickly if you measure and prep everything else and, especially, if you are using dried pasta (as we did).  We let the eggplant drain on an upside-down drying rack on top of newspaper.  Then, we discarded the oil-soaked newspaper, and put the rack in the oven until we were ready.
2) Add the eggplant fries to your dish as you eat.  Start off by topping the dish with a few, and then stir in more as you eat.  This will keep them from getting soft. 
3) Cut the eggplant “fries” to match the length of the rigatoni. 
4) Either chiffonade the basil or, even better, use minette basil leaves.  Still waiting on our abysmally slow-growing basil plants in the garden, we plucked the leaves of a couple of minette basil plants in our window boxes.  The flavor is fantastic, and the small leaves were more evenly distributed. 
5) Regardless of whether you scale this recipe up or down, be sure to keep to the proportions Vetri dictates.  The balance of flavors and textures, in the correct proportions, is what makes this greater than the sum of its parts.

Posted by Kevin on 07/23 at 06:53 PM

A New Way with Carrots

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

When I pulled an actual bunch of carrots from our garden last week, it was cause for a (minor) celebration.  After years of trying and failing with Scarlet Nantes, I’d found a new variety perfectly suited for our plot.  To celebrate, then, I wanted something special.  Thanks to Yotam Ottolenghi, I found it.


What’s particularly impressive about this dish, and Ottolenghi in general, is how he uses spices and small quantities of exotic ingredients to create vibrant, unique vegetable dishes.  Many other chefs would resort to slabs of bacon - not that there is anything wrong with bacon.  Here, however, Ottolenghi creates a curried flavor that relies on olive oil and yogurt for its fat content.  It certainly showcases the carrots, but it is also worlds away from the roasted carrot salad I normally make in summer.  I made only a few minor changes: omitting the preserved lemon and cilantro (not by choice, only by circumstance); altering the cut and, therefore, cooking time of the carrots; omitting green chiles; and substituting chives for green onions and adding them to the yogurt.  Ottolenghi suggests this as a side to a fried fish, but it was perfectly satisfying as a part of a light summer lunch along with an omelette and a green bean salad.

So, should you find yourself in possession of a fresh bunch of carrots, think twice before adding bacon.

P.S.  Unlike Smitten Kitchen, I do not ever doubt Yotam Ottolenghi’s sanity.

Posted by Kevin on 07/15 at 04:45 AM

Arugula Pesto

Sunday, April 06, 2014

When I first started eating seasonally and locally, I thought that the short, dark days of winter would be the hardest to abide.  I quickly learned, however, that the early, longer days of Spring were much more difficult.  The temperature surpasses sixty degrees, and you immediately start looking for ramps, asparagus, and new potatoes.  This, of course, is contrary to all reason and experience - even if you yourself just planted your spring crops - but it doesn’t stop you. 

Perhaps that’s why this dish was such a welcome harbinger.  It was an authentic spring vegetable, arugula, from this, the last month of Farm to City’s Winter Harvest


This arugula pesto came from the my ongoing purge.  Desperate for something springlike but also rather exhausted from the workday, I found the minimal effort involved in the dish was perfect.  I substituted almonds for pine nuts simply because that’s what I had, and I used all pecorino rather than half pecorino and half parmesan.  This was partly because I didn’t have any parmesan, but I think the pecorino’s smoother flavor is more appropriate and helps distinguish this from classic pesto.  Also, I didn’t use anything like a full cup of olive oil.  I add a little oil as I start the food processor, drizzle in more while it purees, but only as needed.  This way, I get exactly the texture I want and as little oil as necessary.

It went very well with some whole-grain gemelli, but I think long pasta would work well also.  It would also serve as a nice condiment to fish.  The bright, lemony flavor would really cut through an oily fish, but it is delicate enough for white-flesh fillet as well. 

Posted by Kevin on 04/06 at 04:58 PM

Tattie Scones: What Your Mashed Potatoes Want To Be

Saturday, March 08, 2014


I love the flexibility of latkes or similarly made potato pancakes - they can be served with breakfast, as an appetizer with any number of delicious things on top, or as a dinner side.  I’ve tried to do similar things with pancakes made from leftover mashed potatoes, but they always seemed to come out with a bit of a crust that sticks to the pan and tasting mostly of - well, warmed leftover mashed potatoes.  Last week I came across a recipe for a tattie scone, which adds just enough flour and leavening agent to create a pancake that stays together, browns beautifully and tastes of potato, but slightly chewy and springy. 

1 1/2 cups leftover mashed potatoes
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Combine mashed potatoes, flour and baking powder thoroughly, forming a dough.  (If your mashed potatoes had no butter or salt in them initially, melt a tablespoon of butter and add to mixture along with a generous pinch of salt).  Form four or five balls and dust with flour.  Heat a large cast iron skillet or nonstick pan on medium and add a teaspoon or so of butter.  Flatten each ball of dough in the skillet to a thickness of about half an inch.  Cook for a few minutes on each side until browned.

Posted by Donna on 03/08 at 05:48 PM

Polenta for the Third Time, But This Time My Own

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

I am not sure if I have always associated polenta with winter or whether that came with eating locally.  Regardless, at a recent - and utterly fantastic - meal at High Street on Market,  I was reminded of how satisfying polenta can be.  Since neither the dinner itself nor the leftovers for lunch the next today were enough to satisfy a polenta craving, I had to make more.

I have tried myriad techniques for polenta, and while some worked better than others, the better methods demonstrated that good polenta can’t be cooked quickly (in my opinion).  This recipe, adapted from Nigella Lawson’s How to Eat, is the best combination of oven- and range-cooking polenta that I have come across.  As Nigella offers, you could use stock instead of water, but I don’t ever feel polenta needs it - especially if you cook the polenta with a parmigiano rind as I do. 

The mushroom ragout, also taken from How to Eat, was satisfying without being exactly what I was looking for.  I would add some bacon or pancetta in the next version and probably some tomato paste as well.  Additionally, the ragout did not thicken or cohere as it should - even with the addition of flour.

None of this, of course, stopped me from eating it twice; the second time, as breakfast with a poached egg, was even better than the first. 


What’s best about this meal, and most important about this post, is that it highlights two excellent products from Winter Harvest: a mix of cremini, shiitake, oyster, and trumpet mushrooms from Oley Valley Mushrooms and, of course, the polenta.

Posted by Kevin on 02/19 at 03:47 PM

Vegetarian Mapo Tofu

Sunday, February 16, 2014

I’ve yet to meet an Asian noodle dish I didn’t like.  My favorites lately, particularly on cold days, are those dishes with a lovely gravy-like sauce such as dan dan noodles or especially mapo tofu.  Since we have such wonderful locally produced tofu, I thought this might be a good dish to try at home where I could also use local pork or even go vegetarian.


While I’ve made this recipe in the traditional manner, with ground pork and small cubes of tofu, and it was delicious, here I decided to use all tofu and crumble it, adding small, diced delicata squash that had been sitting around.  Any winter squash would likely work, but delicata is particularly useful since it peels easily and cooks quickly, remaining slightly firm.  The recipe below is adapted from Epicurious.  In addition to swapping out the pork for squash, I also make the sauce on its own rather than adding the components to the dish, as I’ve found simmering the sauce separately and incorporating at the end creates sauce that’s nicely thickened without overcooking the squash.  This dish comes together remarkably quickly.

1 tablespoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon minced garlic
3 scallions, sliced, with whites and green separated
1 tablespoon minced peeled ginger
1 delicata squash, peeled and diced in ½” cubes
1 pound tofu
1 tablespoon chopped parsley

2 tablespoons bean paste
2 tablespoons soy sauce
1 cup chicken broth
1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 2 tbsp water

Combine bean paste, soy sauce and chicken broth.  Heat in small saucepan over medium heat, adding cornstarch dissolved in water.  Simmer until sauce thickens slightly.  Set aside.

Heat sesame oil over medium heat in a wok or saucepan.  Add garlic, the whites of the scallions and ginger and cook for one minute.  Add delicata squash and stir fry until squash cooks to desired texture.  Add crumbled tofu and sauce.  Cook together for one minute or until sauce thickens to desired consistency and add greens of scallions and parsley.  Serve over rice or noodles of your choice.


Posted by Donna on 02/16 at 02:05 PM

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