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Pithy and Cleaver » fall

Archived entries for fall

Leap and look: Whole wheat pasta with pumpkin cream sauce.

You know how sometimes you kind of just get an idea into your head, and you simply can’t rest until it’s been seen to or otherwise sorted out? And you can’t stop thinking about it, it haunts your dreams and makes everything else seem sort of…beige in comparison? This recipe was one of those.

Pasta with pumpkin sage cream sauce

From the first second it popped into my head, it was a constant companion; the fact that my gratification was almost endlessly delayed (I couldn’t get the ingredients; then, I couldn’t schedule an evening; blah blah) made it a siren whose wail could not be ignored. I was helpless in its embrace. I had to make it, or I was going to pop. And so, not being one to tempt that fate, I succumbed to the inevitable and finally made it happen.

Yes, yes. I finally got to make whole wheat pasta with a pumpkin and sage cream sauce.  Oh! Oh, yes! And what a delight it was.

The recipe is a riff on a risotto that I developed a few years ago, made creamy and dreamy with the application of a little bit of milk and a lot of Gruyere, and possessed of a spicy warmth, courtesy of the nutmeg I recklessly tossed in. This flavor profile, when developed so many years ago, was one of my first great cooking revelations–it was the moment that I first became brave enough to toss together disparate flavors (such as nutmeg and sage) just to see what would happen, and realized that some of the world’s greatest dishes grow out of inexplicable (and sometimes seemingly bizarre) juxtapositions of flavors. It taught me that if you’re going to make something spectacular, you have to be brave enough to throw out what you know from time to time. It taught me that you have to let go of feeling safe and just fucking GO for it.

A good lesson to have refreshed upon occasion, no?

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Pod People: Kale and Fresh Cannellini Bean Soup

It seems that I’ve become one of those pod people. I just can’t help myself— fresh legumes show up at my local farmer’s market and I’m spineless. Shells full of chickpeas are too adorable for me to resist. I find myself grabbing pods and pods of flageolet beans when I’m not even planning on being home for dinner! And the other day, I fell for these sweet cannellini.

Unlike my slightly less-than-lifechanging fresh garbanzo experience, it turns out that fresh cannellini beans are quite distinctive and delicious. They get a beautiful creaminess with perfect firm skins after about 20 minutes of simmering.

I threw them into one of our standard sick-day soups: homemade turkey broth, a few smashed cloves of garlic, assorted greens. I added some tortellini, too, though you could also try any other pasta or dumpling.

I grew up in a chicken-soup house—my mother’s matzoh balls would be quite confused to find themselves in any other broth. But Matt grew up in a turkey-soup house, and that’s not a bad thing. Turkey stock is much more flavorful than its chicken counterpart—it has a richness and depth that is unmatched. I made my broth the day before our soup dinner with wings and necks from the farmer’s market, but if you don’t seek those out, at least keep this in mind for your Thanksgiving leftovers.

Continue reading…

Apple of my eye: Maida Heatter’s homemade applesauce


And we’re back!

It’s funny that after a week of the stomach flu (during with we were sustained only by turkey broth, toast, and Mott’s applesauce) I would crave this. But homemade applesauce, like many things, is a completely different animal than the store-bought kind. It’s brightened with a touch of lemon and not too much sugar. Chunks of fresh apples have a pleasant texture—a bit of a bite. I used a mixture of local ones from the farmer’s market—huge red Romes and some hard green apples whose name I didn’t recognize. Today I just used a bit of vanilla extract, but the lovely flecks of real vanilla bean make this superlative. Soon, soon—Shiv and I just made quite a purchase here. (Any suggestions of what sort of trouble we should get into with those? What do you do with a hundred and twenty vanilla beans???)

I copied down this recipe a long time ago from a funny old dessert cookbook my mom has. The pages are yellowed and the spine is broken, so you have to remove a bunch of rubber bands to open the book. I’m not actually sure any of the other recipes still get used, but the applesauce is a staple in my parents’ house. I think, though, that tonight’s version may be even better than the one I remember from home—perhaps it was the mix of green and red apples, which were particularly flavorful and almost floral in scent. I just ate a second bowl for dessert. (Addition: and a few spoonfuls with cornbread for breakfast.) It’s worth making a bunch—applesauce freezes well and is perfect with pork chops or brisket . . . Stay tuned, more to come on that later.

Maida Heatter’s Applesauce
12-15 Apples
Juice of one lemon
2 cups water
1/4-1/3 cup sugar
1 each cinnamon stick and vanilla bean
optional pinch nutmeg or mace (I did the nutmeg, not the mace, and added a quick shake of ground cinnamon, too.)

Peel, quarter, and core apples. Place in heavy pot with lemon juice. Slit vanilla bean, scrape, then add pod too. Add cinnamon stick. Add 2 cups water, stir.
Cook covered over medium heat 5-10 minutes until apples begin to soften. Uncover, and with a heavy wooden spatula (or potato masher) stir and break up the apples. Leave some chunks. Continue cooking and mashing until tender but not completely mushy. Add 1/4 to 1/3 cup sugar, stir, taste, add more if needed. Add nutmeg/mace/cinnamon if desired.

Mrs. L’s Pumpkin Bread (with Cranberries!): All the Flavors of Fall


I had a wonderful first grade teacher we called Mrs. L. She played guitar and taught us to sing “If I Had A Hammer.” We memorized Shel Silverstein and Robert Frost poems and wrote “books” of our own, illustrating them and writing dedications and all (that was my favorite part.) We counted down one hundred days of school and celebrated the hundredth with a hundred-yard dash, one hundred pieces of popcorn, and any number of other countable things in hundred-unit quantities.

At some point during that year (probably exactly this time of year) we baked pumpkin bread in her classroom and brought home a slice with the recipe. My mother—though a bit wary of the snot and dirt that might be incorporated into first grade classroom cooking—saved the recipe, and it’s the one I still follow every fall. I know Shiv already recommended a pumpkin bread recipe, but the more the merrier, right? And hey, it’s Halloween!


Today I played around a bit, adding tart cranberries and orange zest and substituting a bit of whole-wheat flour, throwing in a sprinkle of cloves and quarter-teaspoon of molasses—I’m not sure the recipe would still be recognizable to Mrs. L. She’d probably still recognize me, though. I don’t look that different from how I looked back then.



Pumpkin-Cranberry Bread

Adapted from Susan Lohrer

Sift together in large bowl:
1 1/2 cup flour (I used 1 cup all purpose and 1/2 cup whole wheat flour.)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 C sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda

Mix in small bowl:
1 cup pumpkin puree
1/2 C cooking oil
2 eggs (whisked)
1/4 teaspoon each cinnamon and nutmeg
zest of one small orange
sprinkle ginger, cloves
1/4 teaspoon molasses (optional)

1 cup fresh cranberries, picked through (frozen is probably fine, don’t thaw, just throw them in.)

Combine pumpkin mixture with flour mixture. Do not mix too thoroughly. Stir in cranberries. Pour into a greased loaf dish (original recipe says “well-Pammed.” Does anyone use that stuff anymore? Is it bad for the ozone layer?) Bake 50-60 minutes at 350. Loaf is done when a toothpick comes out clean. This recipe makes one loaf. Let cool before serving—the flavors mellow and this really is tastier about half an hour out of the oven.

Notes: If you make mini-loaves or muffins from this, the cooking time is shorter. The cranberries are optional and kind of tart. I like it that way, but this recipe is traditional and great without them.

Also, If you are left with some pumpkin puree and don’t know what to do, I highly recommend this recipe for pumpkin orzo with sage.

The Scent of Fall: Pear and Ginger Crumble


Some Sundays are so perfect—nearly to the point of being painful. It was so warm in the morning that we claimed an outside table at a nearbye cafe, took our sweaters off and sat in tank tops and teeshirts, bare arms drinking in the sun—can it be late October?

After the dog parade I couldn’t resist the call of the little Sunday greenmarket, choosing a pile of burnished red Anjou pears and some battered looking yellow Bartletts. To my surprise, the scratched up Barletts peeled beautifully, and were ripe and perfumed, while the Anjous were a little crunchier, and less sweet.

Crumble/crisp was one of the first recipes I learned to improvise on, so usually I make these pretty much from memory. But I’d seen this recipe for Pear Crumble with Crystallized Ginger online, so I started from there, adding a few crushed gingersnaps to the topping and a little vanilla to the fruit. I substituted whole wheat flour for half of the topping flour, and made only a 9 x 9 square crisp (cutting the topping quantities in half.)


Sitting in the late afternoon light, reading the paper while the crisp baked, I was hit with a rush of scent. I am not exaggerating, this crisp might be the single best-smelling creation to have ever graced our kitchen. I had to make myself take it out of the oven—I wanted to bake it all evening, if only the scent could keep going. (Of course, then the handle fell off my oven, and then I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to get it out…)

A warm scoop of this at the end of the day after a walk in the West Village and a few slices of John’s pizza was pretty wonderful. Though a little dulce de leche on top wouldn’t hurt. And I might try to add more of an acidic bite next time—replace half the pears with apples, or add cranberries to the mix. Once it cooled off, the pear-and-vanilla combo was a bit too much like the canned pears of childhood memory. But those didn’t smell nearly as good.

Pear Crumble with Crystallized Ginger
Adapted from Bon Appetit (Oct 1998)

For topping
1/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour (or all white if you prefer)
1/3 cup old-fashioned oats
1/3 cup (packed) muscovado sugar (or brown sugar)
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
pinch teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon minced crystallized ginger
5 gingersnaps, crushed
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces (I microwaved it a minute to soften it.)

For filling
About 3-4 pounds firm but ripe pears, peeled, cored, cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon sugar (we don’t like crisp too sweet)
1 tablespoons minced crystallized ginger
1-2 teaspoons unbleached all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 375°F. Butter 9 x 9 baking dish. Mix first 8 ingredients in medium bowl. Add butter and rub in with fingertips or a fork until moist clumps form.

Combine pear slices and lemon juice in baking pan. Add remaining ingredients and toss to blend.

Sprinkle topping over. Bake crumble until pears are tender and topping is golden brown and crisp, about 45 minutes. (Start checking at 30 minutes) Cool at least 10 minutes. Serve warm. (Microwave if it’s cooled off—this was not as good at room temperature.)



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