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Even for a Doubter | English Muffin Sandwich

Even for a Doubter | English Muffin Sandwich

English Muffin Sandwich with Fluffy Eggs | Delightful CrumbRecently, Ben and I were eating tacos at our preferred taco spot when a couple sat down at the bar next to us and, soon, received a hearty sandwich each. In what couldn’t have been more than twenty minutes, they managed to consume these sandwiches—serious sandwiches, with lots of melting cheese and hearty proteins and plenty of fixings—drink a couple of beers, have a very efficient conversation and go on their way. I was amazed. I looked down at the remaining one of my two fairly small tacos, which I had been trying to eat as slowly as possible, then at Ben, incredulous. “They’re sandwich people,” he explained.

I am not sandwich people, you see. I’ve just never been a big fan. I know! Such a controversial statement. If you’re actually still reading, you’re probably thinking, Who is this person, and why did I ever trust anything she ever said about eating? I realize that sandwiches are very popular. But they disappear far too quickly for my preference, and they’re so filling. And yes, I do know that this is exactly why most people love them.

I, on the other hand, like my meals long and lingering, and, when given the choice, I would prefer eating a much more significant volume of food than the average sandwich allows. (Vegetarianism, by the way, has served me very well in this regard.) Open-faced sandwiches, however, are totally my jam, as is the practice of deconstructing a sandwich I have been served so that I can eat the individual components. The goal here is to make the meal last, and to leave room for cake if possible.

And yet, there is a time and a place for sandwiches, even for a doubter like me. Sometimes, a person really is that hungry, or in a hurry, or both. But if I’m going to eat a sandwich, it must be delicious, and it must be interesting. Enter the English muffin, with its heartiness, pleasant texture and slight chew. Put that baby in the toaster and it boasts the most distinct and lovely scent, one that reminds me of my childhood. That’s probably because, until recently, I hadn’t eaten one in years, deterred by preservatives and unfamiliar words on the ingredient lists. I did make them from scratch once, which was fun but time consuming and so never repeated. And then, my friend Kimmy started working at Leadbetter’s Bakeshop. She has excellent taste, so I was not surprised to find that these are not just English muffins but very delicious English muffins, things of beauty without any mysterious ingredients. If you are lucky enough to live in the Bay Area, you should definitely seek them out.

But wherever you might obtain your English muffins, once you have them in hand, here’s a sandwich that even the sandwich-averse (i.e., me) can enjoy. It is fitting at any meal, pleasantly filling and highly tasty.

(Also, you can definitely eat this one open face if you want—you’ll be making a mess regardless!)

English Muffin Sandwich with Fluffy Eggs | Delightful Crumb

English Muffin Sandwich with Fluffy Eggs & Avocado

Egg cooking inspiration from Bon Appétit

Serves 1 but easily multiplied (be sure to make the eggs separately for each sandwich)

English muffin (plain, whole grain or multi-grain), like Leadbetter’s

Butter or olive oil, for the pan

2 eggs

Salt

Freshly cracked black pepper

Minced chives

Goat cheese, optional

1/2 avocado, roughly mashed (add a squeeze of lemon or lime if you like)

Sriracha or your preferred hot sauce

Arugula

Get all of your sandwich components ready so that you can construct quickly once the eggs are done. Split the English muffin in half using a fork and start toasting.

To make fluffy folded eggs, melt a pat of butter or drizzle of olive oil in a small skillet over medium-low heat. Whisk two eggs with a sprinkling of salt and pepper until completely uniform in color and consistency. Add the eggs to the pan and, with a spatula, move them around gently as they cook, as with a soft scramble. When the eggs are nearly cooked but still slightly runny, about 2 minutes, sprinkle some chopped chives atop. If your pan is on the larger side, push the eggs together. Fold them into a half moon, then fold again to form an English muffin-sized, quarter-of-the-pie-shaped package.

Hopefully your English muffin is perfectly toasted at this point, or just before. Spread a thin layer of goat cheese, if using, on one or both sides of the muffin. Pile the mashed avocado on the bottom half of the English muffin, with more on the top half if you like (this is a nice move if you, like me, end up deconstructing the sandwich while eating). Gently set the fluffy eggs atop the avocado. Top with plenty of hot sauce and a generous handful of arugula.

English Muffin Sandwich with Fluffy Eggs | Delightful Crumb

For the Love of Mezze | Stuffed Grape Leaves

For the Love of Mezze | Stuffed Grape Leaves

Stuffed Grape Leaves | Delightful CrumbIt’s March! My goodness, this month snuck up on me. Spring is on the horizon, and life is good. To catch us up quickly, I’ve chosen one thing to say about my rather hectic month of February, which is that I have become obsessed with Michael Solomonov’s cookbook Zahav. And that is what I’m here to tell you about today.

I love this book. I love the stories Solomonov tells about his upbringing and how he arrived at his current understanding and interpretation of Israeli food, which was a gradual process, as most of our thoughtful concepts of culture tend to be. Solomonov was born in Israel, grew up mostly in Pittsburgh, moved begrudgingly back to Israel as a teenager, then returned to the US. When he visited his home country again, it was as an adult and a chef, and he saw Israel’s cuisine in an entirely new light. It isn’t one straightforward set of traditional recipes but instead an amalgamation of many different cultures’ cuisines, he explains, tied together by such values as hospitality and the ritual of sharing a meal, and by the collective experience of those living in what is still a fairly young country. This is what he strives to represent at his Philadelphia restaurant, and it comes through in the cookbook as well.

I also love the food in this book. To be specific, I love the mezze and the salads and the tahini, three things I have long loved with a great, undying passion. I use tahini with abandon and delight in big salads. And if I had my druthers, I would eat a meal of mezze every day. There are few experiences I enjoy more than eating a whole bunch of different dishes at once, the flavors melding, each bite different than the last. An array of dishes makes a meal into an experience, encouraging everyone to linger until the candles burn out, resting in the comfort of the table, while another bottle of wine is opened, signaling that the meal is far from over.

With the guidance of this cookbook, I have discovered the glories of a condiment called schug, baked perfectly puffed pita bread, cooked up a batch of halva (some of which landed in a CAKE, compliments of Ottolenghi), been won over to Solomonov’s method for making the most creamy hummus imaginable and prepared a downright stunning feast of mezze. (Thus far, most everything has worked out well for me, but I also think that Phyllis Grant offers a fair and thoughtful critique over on Food52’s Piglet competition, least I be swept away entirely with the fat salad chapter. At the least, I will definitely be purchasing The Food Lab after reading her glowing review.)

Today, I want to share with you Solomonov’s not-so-traditional recipe for stuffed grape leaves, or dolmades. What struck me about making these was the very fact that I could, with much greater ease than I had expected, followed by the reality that they were delicious. The barley gives them a wonderful chew, the spices are on point and the sweetness and zip of the pomegranate molasses takes them over the top. We ate them as part of an epic, all-Zahav spread of mezze, which I highly recommend if you have the time and inclination to tackle such a project.

Stuffed Grape Leaves with Barley & Pomegranate

Barely adapted from Michael Solomonov’s Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking

Makes 25 – 35 stuffed grape leaves

If you can find fresh grape leaves, blanch them quickly in boiling water. If not, you can find jarred grape leaves at a well-stocked Middle Eastern store. In the Bay Area, I’ve purchased them at Berkeley Bowl.

Next time, I’ll try this with a bit less pomegranate molasses. I didn’t use the entire mixture and felt the finished product could still have been a tiny bit less sweet. The original recipe calls for 1/2 cup, and I’ve given a range below, as I’m quite confident you could go down at least to 1/3 cup and get great flavor with a bit less sweetness.

1 cup barley

1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

1 small bunch kale, stripped from the stems and thinly sliced (about 3 cups)

4 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro

1/4 cup sunflower oil (or another vegetable oil)

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground fenugreek

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon black pepper

25 – 35 grape leaves

1/3 – 1/2 cup pomegranate molasses, depending on your preference for sweetness

Put the barley in a large bowl and cover with at least 3 inches of water. Let it soak overnight. Drain.

In a skillet over medium-high heat, warm the olive oil. Add the kale and half of the garlic and cook until the kale has wilted, about 5 minutes. Set aside.

In a food processor, combine the remaining garlic, cilantro, vegetable oil, turmeric, fenugreek, cumin, salt and pepper. Puree until a smooth paste forms. Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and stir in the drained barley and cooked kale.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Use a large cutting board as your workstation for filling the grape leaves. For each, spread the grape leaf on the cutting board, stem pointing toward you. Trim off any part of the thick stem that extends below the leaf. Place a heaped teaspoon of the barley mixture on the bottom quarter of the leaf, right on the stem. Fold in both sides of the leaf and roll it up, as you would a burrito or spring roll. Repeat until you run out of filling. Tightly pack the rolled leaves in a baking dish.

Combine the pomegranate molasses with 1 1/2 cups of hot water and whisk to blend. Pour over the stuffed grape leaves. They should be just barely covered. You may not use all of the mixture, or you may need to add a little extra water. Cover the baking dish tightly with foil and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until the stuffed grape leaves are tender all the way through.

Serve warm or at room temperature. The grape leaves will keep for several days in a tightly closed container in the refrigerator.

If we’re lucky | Kabocha, Olive Oil & Chocolate Cake

If we’re lucky | Kabocha, Olive Oil & Chocolate Cake

Gjelina Kabocha Cake | Delightful CrumbThese last few months have felt like an interim to me, a period tucked between the last concrete set of experiences and something else yet to be revealed. I’ve called it by many names: in-between, transition, season, interlude. That’s certainly what it feels like, even now. But a couple of weeks ago, I realized something. It’s quite a bit more likely that this isn’t the in-between of anything. The crystal clear moments, it seems to me, are the rare ones. What I’m experiencing now? Perhaps this is life.

Throughout my childhood—and I know I’m not alone in this—the idea of the in-between was entirely absent. This continued into college, when the path still seemed relatively clear and simple, mostly because I didn’t yet know the wildness of the world, its myriad opportunities, roadblocks, surprises. No one mentioned that my sense of this path might change once I’d left behind the rhythm of an academic calendar, so after college, I kept trying to wrap definitions around the seasons of my life, doing my best to identify what each one was about and where it was taking me. Job applications, waiting, moving, a layoff: these were transitions, hinges between the better, sturdier, more important parts of my life, the ones that made sense. But maybe it’s not a structure I’m building, or even a path that I’m on. Maybe it’s a painting—and an abstract one at that.

Clarity is golden and comfortable but elusive. We live much more of our lives in the hazy space, where direction and purpose and the meaning behind events and experiences aren’t obvious at all.

I was listening to a Dear Sugar podcast today, part of a series in which Cheryl Strayed and Steve Almond talk about singleness, finding “the one” and the idea of scarcity. The whole thing is worth a listen, relevant as it is to the current state of relationships. In this particular podcast, they spoke with Kate Bolick, author of Spinster. For a long time, Bolick explains, she looked at her life through the binary of single v. married, waiting to see which it would be. As she writes to open the book, “Whom to marry, and when will it happen—these two questions define every woman’s existence.” But then one day, when she was about thirty-five, she woke up and thought, What am I waiting for? She realized that her life, as it stood at that moment, was fantastic. She didn’t need to wait for a life partner for the story to begin. It was a great life already.

The principle applies here, too. This moment is pretty great, in its own weird way, and I’d hate to miss it. It’s taking me an awfully long time, but I’m gradually coming to terms with the fact that life doesn’t always—or rather, doesn’t usually—make sense in the logical, all-the-puzzle-pieces-fit way I once expected. The truth, I think, is that sometimes we just wait, doing our best to set aside anxiety around the question of what it is we are waiting for. We carry on. Celebrate what we have and know, right now. Enjoy it to the extent that we can. And, if we’re lucky, eat cake.

Gjelina Kabocha Cake | Delightful Crumb

Kabocha, Olive Oil & Bittersweet Chocolate Loaf Cake

Adapted from Travis Lett’s Gjelina: Cooking from Venice, California

On our trip to LA last spring, Gjusta Bakery, sister project to Gjelina and also owned by Travis Lett, was the one place we visited twice. If LA wasn’t so full of incredible things to eat, I could have gone every day, multiple times. It’s that good. This is a beautiful cookbook, full of the sort of vibrant dishes that put Gjelina and Gjusta Bakery on the map, from creative vegetable dishes to epic mushroom toast to this sturdy, flavorful cake.

The glaze puts this cake more in the tea time/dessert category for me, so you could leave it off if you want a less decadent breakfast treat. However, I think the decadence would be worth it, even at breakfast, because it’s a fantastic touch. The pepitas and cacao nibs lend great texture, and it’s gorgeous to boot. The original recipe calls for kabocha squash, but since I’m no longer finding that variety at my market, I used butternut, which was delicious. I am sure acorn squash or pumpkin would cooperate here as well. Draining the roasted squash is a great trick, and the deeper flavor and lovely crumb that result are worth the extra wait.

Serves 8 to 10

One 1-lb (455-g) piece kabocha or butternut squash, seeded

Extra-virgin olive oil for drizzling, plus 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon (255 ml)

Butter, for the pan

1 1/2 cups (180 g) all-purpose flour (or use half all-purpose and half white whole wheat or whole wheat pastry)

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons freshly ground nutmeg

3/4 teaspoons kosher salt

1 cup (200 g) to 1 1/3 cups (265 g) natural cane sugar, depending on your preference for sweetness and your choice of squash

3 large eggs, lightly whisked

8 ounces (230 g) bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

3 tablespoons raw pepitas

FOR THE OLIVE OIL GLAZE

1 1/4 cups (150 g) confectioners’ sugar, plus more as needed

2 tablespoons hot water, plus more as needed

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons lightly crushed cacao nibs

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. On a baking sheet, drizzle the squash with olive oil, turn the piece cut-side down and cook until very soft and beginning to caramelize around the edges, 30 to 45 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Scrape out the squash flesh and transfer to a food processor. Pulse until smooth.

Place a large piece of cheesecloth in a colander set over a bowl. Put the puréed squash in the cheesecloth and wrap tightly. Allow the squash to drain at least 4 hours, or up to overnight. Squeeze by twisting the cheesecloth to remove any excess water. Unwrap the drained squash and measure out 1 cup (225 g). You can do this up to a few days ahead of baking. Leftover squash can also be saved; keep it in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.

In a large bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. In another bowl, whisk together the sugar, olive oil, squash purée and eggs. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the squash mixture. Whisk until just combined, taking care not to overmix. Stir in the chopped chocolate.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake until browned on top and a tester inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, 75 to 90 minutes. If it is browning too quickly, tent with foil. Let the cake cool in the pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes. Then, run a knife around the edges and invert the cake from the pan. Let cool on the rack for another 20 minutes.

In a small, dry frying pan over medium heat, gently toast the pepitas until fragrant and beginning to brown, about 3 to 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Make the glaze. In a small bowl, whisk the confectioners’ sugar with 2 tablespoons hot water until you have a thick glaze. Add more confectioners’ sugar or water as needed to create a smooth glaze with a thickness reminiscent of honey. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil, whisking constantly.

Place a sheet of parchment paper beneath the cooling rack. Pour the glaze over the cake, allowing it to drip over the sides. Sprinkle with the cacao nibs and toasted pepitas and let the glaze set completely before serving, about 1 hour.

The cake will keep in an airtight container for several days. It also freezes well.

Gjelina Kabocha Cake | Delightful Crumb

Turkish Fried Eggs (Or, How to Beat the Winter Blues)

Turkish Fried Eggs (Or, How to Beat the Winter Blues)

Turkish Fried Eggs | Delightful Crumb

Come January’s end in the Bay Area, it feels to me like springtime. I imagine this sensation has mostly to do with the fact that I go back home to Michigan over the holidays, and after that sort of cold and ice, this weather—along with the blue skies, leafy plants and blooming trees—seems awfully springlike indeed! Nor does it hurt that at this point, I’m open to anything that keeps on inspiring the feeling of newness brought on by a new year. But I do insist there’s something to it. The sunshine is warmer, and the air clear and wet and clean, the way I remember it feeling in my lungs when I was a kid and finally outside without layers upon layers of clothing, ready to stomp through puddles and (prematurely) run barefoot down the block.

It’s not springtime, of course. If those of you in the colder and snowier parts of the world actually continued reading beyond that first paragraph, especially without cursing beneath your breath, please forgive me for bringing up the sunshine so callously, and know that I’m well aware that it sure as heck doesn’t feel anything like spring to you. Even here, we’re had plenty of rain (and thank goodness for it!), which is springlike, sure, but not the best prompting for getting outdoors or, at least for me, staying happy and hopeful. We’ve got snow and rain showers aplenty to endure before the season really changes, and though I’ve protested this fact to varying degrees throughout my life, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

With the seasons, there’s plenty of waiting it out, of moving in and out, of liking some things more than others. That this aspect of the seasons is reflected in life has been a strange reality for me to grasp, to be honest, but one that I’ve come to peace with over time. At least things aren’t staying the same, someone said to me a very long time ago, when I was in the midst of a very different season. It’s stuck with me all this time.

It’s hard, though, the waiting, the storms, the confusing parts of our stories, being trapped indoors when you’ve got things to do. If that resonates with you, if you’re feeling stuck or blue, I have a small but brilliant thing that should help. This breakfast (or brunch, or lunch) is incredibly easy to whip up, thus launching your ordinary weekday with a little extra pizzaz. You simply fry a couple of eggs, char a piece of pita or flatbread, slather that bread with yogurt and top it with the eggs, pepper flakes and lots of herbs. It’s rich but still light, full of flavor and brightness from all of those herbs and very delicious.

I must say, it’s silly that it took me this long to share something from Anna Jones‘ wonderful cookbook A Modern Way to EatI think it’s because it was too hard to choose—I’ve baked and cooked so many things from it throughout the last few months. To name just a few: Sweet & Salty Tahini Crunch Greens, Seeded Banana Bread, Chickpea & Preserved Lemon Stew, Pistachio & Squash Galette, Butterscotch Blondies. All have been delightful, just like their author’s voice and style. The whole book is cheery and full of great ideas for wholesome meals that aren’t too complicated. I especially love Jones’ creative take on vegetable dishes, where she puts a new twist on ingredients and concepts I thought couldn’t ever surprise me again, without ever making the recipes too complicated or fussy. I also love the baked goods, of course, which are simple and wholesome and fun. She even offers maps to building your own soups, smoothies, salads and the like, breaking down the complexity of everyday, recipe-less cooking. This book would pave the way for a very good start to the new year in the kitchen, if you’re looking for such a thing, in the sense of deliciousness and health alike.

And if this meal isn’t enough to beat the blues and keep you feeling hopeful for springtime, I also recommend heaps of citrus, lunch with friends, getting out into the sunshine whenever possible, this article and Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic (friendly and funny encouragement to get off our bums and do the work, put fear in its place, live vibrant, creative lives, etc.).

Spring will come soon enough. Let’s do our very best to enjoy these moments, too.

Turkish Fried Eggs

Adapted from Anna Jones’ A Modern Way to Eat

Serves 2

4 tablespoons Greek yogurt or labneh

Sea salt

Butter or olive oil

4 eggs

2 whole wheat pitas or flatbreads

1 teaspoon Aleppo or Maras chile flakes

Sumac

A few sprigs each of fresh mint, parsley and dill, leaves picked and roughly chopped

Freshly cracked pepper

Mix the yogurt or labneh with a big pinch of sea salt and set aside.

Fry the eggs to your liking. Here’s my method: Heat a large skillet over low-to-medium heat. Add a good-sized pat of butter or a generous pour of olive oil and let it warm. If using butter, it should melt and then begin to foam. Add the eggs. If you like, spoon the butter or olive oil over the eggs as they cook. Or, cover the pan with a lid for a minute or two, which also helps with even cooking. I sometimes splash in a bit of water at this point as well, to the same end. Anna Jones and I share the same preference for fried eggs, which I think is quite delightful here: just set, the edges beginning to crisp up and the yolk very runny.

While the eggs cook, toast the pita or flatbread until lightly browned and charred in places. If you have a gas stove and it strikes your fancy, you can char the edges a bit over the flames. Since this is such a simple dish, I think it’s worth the extra effort to make sure you get some good texture and flavor from the bread.

Top each pita with a spoonful of yogurt and two fried eggs. Finish with the chile, a generous sprinkling of sumac and the herbs. Season with salt and pepper, and enjoy!

Doing it Again | Ribollita with Winter Squash

Doing it Again | Ribollita with Winter Squash

Ribollita | Delightful CrumbI’m a sucker for all things New Year-related. I love reflecting on the past and tend toward nostalgia. I’m always grateful for the blank canvas that a new year provides, even though I’ve come to realize that it will eventually be covered with the same sort of strange, delightful, wandering, maddening brushstrokes that are, quite simply, the stuff of life. Over here in my little corner of the world, 2015 was weird, I’ll give you that. I don’t know what it was all about, or where the arc of its story is leading. But I think that’s a pretty normal feeling, and 2016 could very well be just as confusing and unexpected. Perhaps this realization would sour some against the whole idea of celebrating the new year, but somehow it endears me to it. I love the cadence of the turning of the calendar page, the idea of starting fresh, the hopefulness that bubbles up even when we don’t feel all that hopeful. (Plus, champagne!)

And then there are resolutions. My affinity for them likely has something to do with my love of lists and words and planning—but it’s more than that. The act of making resolutions is a proclamation that we believe we can change and grow and become better, truer versions of ourselves. That we don’t have to be stuck. And I, for one, can feel very stuck from time to time, so I’ll take all the help I can get. But I also appreciate the critique of resolution-making that’s been sounding loudly these past couple of years. Because it’s true that we can go way overboard with all of this: cleanses and big promises and flash diets and extreme commitments that few humans could manage to keep up for more than a few weeks. So this year, I started with a list of things that I’ve changed or accomplished in recent years—in other words, resolutions I don’t need to make. I’ve increased my consumption of books (novels, even!), tidied up our home, changed my purchasing habits to better align with my values, stopped leaving piles of papers that need attention all over my apartment, caught my stride in the realm of simple meals, learned much more about wine, made great nut milks and butter, baked a few beautiful layer cakes and mastered my egg-making techniques. That is, I’m making progress.

Ribollita | Delightful CrumbBen and I made it home from our holiday travels on New Year’s Eve around 11pm, just in time to pop a bottle of champagne, toast some ciabatta I’d stored in the freezer and slather it with goat cheese and garlic confit (something I really ought to tell you about soon!) and hunker down under a blanket to watch the ball drop. And then we fell asleep on the couch. It was perfect. We thus started the new year with no hangovers to speak of, and January 1 was a glorious day, complete with a long walk in the sun, big bowls of delicious pozole and plenty of confetti at Camino, the new Star Wars film at our favorite old theatre and a cozy dinner at home. And then I succumbed to a nasty cold, so the rest of 2016 to date has been less than grand.

But you know what? That’s life. And we’re doing it. Whether last year was weird or wonderful, full of joy or brokenheartedness, you made it through, and I bet you learned something. I bet you came out on the other side stronger, wiser and more resilient. So here’s to doing it again in 2016.

I don’t know about you, but the thing I most want to eat as the chaos of the holiday season winds down is soup, and lots of it. In my book, ribollita is just the thing for cold January nights—and also, as it happens, for any resolutions that might have to do with simple cooking, using leftovers and/or healthful meals. I’ve been making a version of Tamar Adler‘s ribollita for the last few years, and the recipe that follows reflects much of her instruction. More recently, though, Ben and I went to a holiday market at Pizzaiolo and had a wonderful rendition that was made by layering roasted squash and toasted bread beneath a delicious vegetable-and-bean-filled broth, finished with olive oil and shaved parmesan. We’ve picked up that method at home, and this is the cobbled-together result.

Ribollita | Delightful Crumb

Ribollita with Winter Squash & White Beans

Inspired by Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal & Pizzaiolo in Oakland, CA

Serves 4

1 small butternut squash or 2 large sweet potatoes, cubed

Olive oil

Aleppo pepper flakes (optional)

Sea salt

About 2 cups bread, cut or torn into 1-inch pieces (I like to use a sturdy sourdough and don’t remove the crusts)

1 onion, diced

2 stalks celery or 1/2 bulb fennel, diced (optional)

2 cloves garlic, minced

2 sprigs rosemary or thyme, stemmed and minced

1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, or to taste

1 14-oz. can peeled whole tomatoes or chopped tomatoes (I like to use the fire-roasted variety for an extra punch of flavor)

2 cups (or 1 14-oz. can) cooked white beans (cannellni, gigante, Great Northern and garbanzo beans all work nicely)

2 – 4 cups vegetable broth, water or liquid from cooking beans

1 small bunch kale, stemmed and chopped

A few sprigs fresh flat leaf parsley, leaves picked and chopped (optional)

Parmesan cheese, shaved into ribbons

Freshly cracked pepper

Start by roasting the squash or sweet potato. Toss the cubed squash or sweet potato with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch each of Aleppo pepper flakes and salt. Roast at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes or until cooked through, tossing once. This can be done up to a few days ahead; store in an airtight container in the refrigerator and bring up to temperature before using.

While the oven is on, make the croutons as well. Toss the torn bread with a drizzle of olive oil and a pinch of salt. Arrange on a baking sheet and toast for about 15 – 20 minutes, until the bread is golden brown and beginning to blacken in places. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

To make the soup, warm a generous drizzle of olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add the onion, celery or fennel (if using), garlic and a pinch of salt. Once the vegetables begin to soften, add the rosemary or thyme and red pepper flakes. Cook for another minute or two, then add the tomatoes. If using peeled whole tomatoes, break them up roughly with a wooden spoon. Add the beans and 2 cups of broth. Bring the soup to a gentle simmer and cook for several minutes to cook the vegetables through and allow the flavors to meld.

Add the chopped kale and additional broth, to your preference. Remember that you’ll be adding this to squash and toasted bread, so you want a fairly brothy soup. Turn the heat down to low, cover the pot and cook until the kale is wilted. Taste the soup and adjust seasoning as needed.

To serve, fill each bowl with a scoop of roast squash and a small handful of toasted bread. Ladle the soup over top, finishing with a generous drizzle of olive oil, ribbons of Parmesan cheese, a sprinkle of parsley and freshly cracked black pepper.