Even though the snow hasn’t really hit in full force yet, the long, cold, gray winter is upon us. But don’t despair, vegephiles! There are still treasures to be found, they just grow hidden beneath the Earth’s surface. Take it away, Leo.

Y U NO GET THE JOKE?!

If you haven't seen Inception or don't troll the Internets, I'm sorry for you.

The answer isn’t a dream within a dream within a dream (you brought your totem, right?), but instead the root vegetables that come to harvest during the winter months. For most specimens, the cold weather actually concentrates the natural sugars, giving a sweeter flavor. Taking a stroll to see what I could get locally, I landed some carrots, parsnips, turnips, and sweet potatoes.

Phallic? Yeah, I can admit that.

Mother Nature's bounty during the winter months.

The tap roots and tubers spanned a decent spectrum of texture and flavor, from the hard and sweet carrots to the softer and spicy turnips, which I figured would do well mixed and cooked together. Vegetables, you say? Yeah, it’s a safe bet I’m going to roast the little bastards.

Getting a tan in a non-stick pan.

Tiny size, big flavor.

Given the freezing temperatures, though, I wanted to add some additional warmth (and not an insubstantial amount of flavor) to my vegetables as well. To meet and exceed all of my needs, I went for whole cumin. The whole seed retains the deep warmth and smokiness of the spice, and just like coarsely-ground black pepper, pieces of cumin release their flavor when you bite down in a pleasantly intense way.

CRUSH THEM AND THEY WILL THANK YOU.

Sometimes it's good to have kitchen toys. Sometimes, though, you don't really need them.

In order to get the most out of whole spices, a simple dry toasting is all it takes. Any small pan over medium heat for 5 minutes or so will not only release all of the flavor of the cumin seed, but it will also perfume your kitchen. TAKE THAT, YANKEE CANDLE. NO MORE $27 HOUSEWARMER JARS FOR ME. Afterwards, many recipes suggest you crush whole toasted spices with a mortar and pestle or grind them in a spice mill or coffee grinder. Don’t have either of those? Neither do I. A bowl and a small glass (or Ball jar, in my case, being a country boy) work just fine.

Sugar and spice and everything nice.

Peel, dice, toss with the standard olive oil, kosher salt, and freshly-ground black pepper, and sprinkle with the crushed and toasted cumin seed. Roast hot (400 degrees for 20-30 minutes) until tender and enjoy.

Do you really need step-by-step instructions? I just gave them to you above anyway. I have faith in you, just try it.

– Max.

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So yes, my first attempt at getting creative with my latkes ended in failure. I am neither proud, nor stubborn, so after this mishap I decided i needed to go back to basics and make a traditional, honest-to-goodness, classic potato latke. With help from a friend (really, her mother, but I won’t rub it in), I acquired a tested and bullet-proof plan of action.

Could I have done something to make these latkes more exotic? Sure. I thought about playing with fresh herbs and heady spices, but I wanted to stick to my roots this time around. Besides, a classic latke, though delicious and simple in its own right, can be a platform for any number of toppings, not the least of which includes apple sauce. They’re fried potato and onion (uh, YUM), so try some sour cream (also traditional), a fried egg (breakfast, anyone?), ketchup or barbecue sauce (if you’re a total goy), crème fraîche and caviar (no, really, just like an oyster),  or anything else you enjoy with fried potatoes.

Ingredients

  • 3-4 pounds of russet potatoes (weight is approximate)
  • 1 pound of onion, either yellow or white (again, weight is approximate)
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly-ground black pepper
  • Vegetable oil (for frying)

Procedure

  1. Wash and peel potatoes. Can be done in advance if kept under cold water.
  2. Chop potatoes and onions into relatively uniform chunks. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, so neatness doesn’t count.
  3. Process chunks in food processor in brief pulses, making sure to scrape down the bowl at least once. The final texture should be uniform, but still quite chunky.
  4. Drain the mixture in a colander lined with a tea towel or several layers of cheesecloth (work in batches if necessary).
  5. Twist the towel around the mixture and wring out the moisture, applying a fair amount of force.  Place in a large workbowl.
  6. Stir the mixture together with the beaten egg.
  7. Season with kosher salt and freshly-ground black pepper. Be aggressive!
  8. Heat 1/4 cup (or so) of the vegetable oil in a large non-stick skillet over medium heat.
  9. Scoop the latke mixture into the pan, flattening out into pancakes.
  10. Flip once the underside has browned, about 3 minutes maximum.
  11. Cool briefly before eating.

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I feel like I may be revisiting latkes at some point, if inspiration to do something weird and different strikes me. For now, I’m glad I finally figured out the basics, even if Chanukkah was last month.

– Max.

 

pennoni dressed with cold-pressed olive oil, parmigiano reggiano, and traditional gremolata

pennoni dressed with cold-pressed olive oil, parmigiano reggiano, and traditional gremolata

Boiling yourself some pasta on a weeknight is hardly a new idea, and certainly not some gourmet shit. However, its also one of those go-to meal ideas that can easily be brought up from depressing to delicious with a few simple steps. Good pasta, with a few adornments, doesn’t always need sauce (delicious though some tomato sauces may be).
 

WORTH IT:

  • Cold-pressed olive oil, which preserves the fruity and grassy flavors of the olives. Used for dipping, dressings, and finishing, never for frying chicken breasts.
  • Real parmigiano reggiano, not the shit in a green can, and not the cheap store-brand imitation. Look for the dimpled, capitalized lettering on the rind that spells out “parmigiano reggiano.” The flavor is nutty, creamy, salty, and slightly sharp. Eat it on your pasta. Eat it on some bread. Eat it with cured meats. Eat it with a fork.
  • Imported dried pasta or freshly-made noodles may seem unreasonably expensive compared to a box of Barilla, but when your goal is to appreciate the subtle nuances of wholesome, traditional ingredients, the same goes for your pasta as well.

But remember: sometimes there’s just no replacing Annie’s mac and cheese. Or Kraft, I guess, if you’re a total sucker.

~~~~~

Gremolata is designed specifically to be added to a dish right before eating, often times to liven the flavor of long-cooking roasts of meat. However, the bright, pungent, acidic hit is fantastic over pasta. The traditional recipe goes as follows:

  • 1 clove of garlic, finely minced
  • Handful of parsley (flat-leaf, if possible), minced
  • Zest of one lemon
  • Squeeze of juice from lemon, just to bring the mixture together

Simply mix and sprinkle over whatever needs a punch of flavor. In addition to pasta, try it over bread with some of that wonderful cheese and cured meat, or on some roasted vegetables after they’ve come out of the oven. The basic formula of aromatic (garlic, or even onion) + herb (parsley) + citrus  (lemon, zest and juice) is incredibly flexible. Here’s my short list (which I’ve tried and love):

  • garlic + thyme + lemon + orange on roasted chicken (especially good with some dark meat and a piece of crispy skin)
  • garlic + red onion + cilantro + lime on avocado slices with toasted bread
  • garlic + onion + parsley + lemon on ripe tomato slices = deconstructed bruschetta (also good on bread)

I’m bound to get all weird with this concept, so I’m sure I’ll have more ideas sometime soon. Something Asian, perhaps? That sounds like it could be promising…

– Max.

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