There are the up-and-coming root vegetables with near-celebrity status — celeriac, parsnips, beets — and then there is the potato. Simultaneously beloved and despised, the potato is our most-grown and most-eaten vegetable and the one that is sometimes seen as a leading villain in the obesity pandemic.
O.K., but chips and fries are not the only ways to eat potatoes. A good potato can be incredibly delicious sautéed in a little garlicky olive oil, simmered in stock, boiled and drizzled with the tiniest amount of butter and a sprinkle of mint or mashed with greens. No one is going to convince me that these preparations are going to make us fat.
And those are just the start. In the something like 10,000 years since the potato was cultivated (it has been in the hands of Europeans and their descendants for only 500), there have been something like 10,000 different ways of cooking it. Here are a mere 12, but at least a few of them are bound to be new to you. All of these recipes are based on about two pounds of potatoes, roughly four medium to large spuds.
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The gleaming, massive lamb shank on these pages, impressive though it may be, is not the most effective way to serve what amounts to the shin and ankle of a lamb.
It’s glorious, for sure, but it has a number of disadvantages, the first of which is that a small-to-moderate lamb shank weighs in at more than a pound, a nice serving size in the ’70s (or the Middle Ages) but a bit macho for most of us these days. The second is that it’s difficult to cook — size alone makes it awkward, and penetration of flavors is an issue. It’s difficult to eat. And finally, that same graphic quality that makes for such a gorgeous photo reminds some people more of its source than they’d like.
Besides, I’ve slowly begun to realize that my most successful lamb dishes were made from what was left over from a meal of lamb shanks. A couple of months ago, when braising season began, I cooked two sizable lamb shanks and, of course, enjoyed them. But I really got into it over the following couple of nights when I wound up using them to create a marvelous ragù and then transformed the ragù into a lamb-tomato-bean stew that could not have been much better.
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Unless you’re a routine visitor to KFC, fried chicken is probably not in your weekly diet. Which is fine: it is, after all, a treat. But even though you can get fried chicken that’s way better than the fast-food variety all over the place, it remains a specialty of home cooking, and one that anyone can handle. To me, the best has a simple, flavored coating of flour or the like, rather than thick, ultracrusty preparations or spongy batters.
After trying a number of contemporary and often needlessly complicated fried-chicken recipes, I decided to refine my own standard, which was first published 14 years ago in “How to Cook Everything” and itself was an adaptation of a recipe that initially appeared as Paula Peck’s Best-Ever Fried Chicken in her 1961 classic, “Paula Peck’s Art of Good Cooking.” That was among my favorites when I was learning how to cook, as varied and sensible a cookbook as existed at the time. (Her other book, “The Art of Fine Baking,” is equally brilliant and provides perfect instructions for making croissants.)
While I never met Peck, and although her cookbooks are out of print (her granddaughter Megan is doing her part to reacquaint new cooks with Paula’s work at meganpeckcooks.com), her cooking remains with me. Her treatment of chicken is a fine example; she was among the first cookbook authors to suggest that chicken breasts substitute for veal (hard to believe, now that it’s the other way around), and she was also a fan of chicken legs.
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The sweetness of bell peppers — they’re never hot, unlike nearly all of their relatives — is especially pronounced in summer, which is also when you’re most likely to wind up with one that was grown domestically. Even a green pepper — which is unripe — is sweeter when the weather is hot.
A good red pepper is the sweetest and most flavorful of the lot — yellow and orange are simply other varieties — but there’s no denying that a multicolored tangle of peppers is a beautiful thing, and that even the relative bitterness of green peppers adds complexity to the mix. In any case, you can use any color pepper you like in any of these recipes.
Unless noted, use a pound of peppers in all of them. That’s roughly equivalent to two whole large peppers, three cups sliced or 2 1/2 cups chopped. Core and seed everything. My favorite method is just to cut around the core, standing the pepper up and slicing it like an apple from the outside.
One of the most basic and wonderful preparations for bell peppers is roasting; a roasted red pepper with olive oil, capers or anchovies (or all three) remains one of the great, simple joys of this territory. Put whole peppers on a baking sheet lined with foil and roast in a 450-degree oven, or broil, turning the peppers as each side browns, until they have darkened, even blackened, and collapsed. (A hot grill is even better.) Gather the corners of the foil and wrap up the peppers; cool until you can handle them, about 15 minutes, then remove the blackened skin and seeds. (Do this under running water to make it easier; you probably won’t get all the skin off, and that’s O.K.)
The recipes are thorough, but far from exhaustive. Peppers combine beautifully with eggs, with vinegar and with eggplant and probably a dozen other ingredients I didn’t have the space to get to.
Fernand Point was not one of your gym-going, globe-trotting, Ph.D.-equipped chefs. He was a roast-chicken-for-breakfast-eating, two-bottles-of-Champagne-at-lunch-drinking, big fat (no way around it) guy, the stereotype of the mid-20th-century French chef and almost without question the most influential of his time.
His time was on either side of World War II, and his place was La Pyramide, about a half-hour south of Lyons, often considered the mecca of French cuisine. During the war itself, he fed refugees from the north and then closed for six months rather than feed the occupying forces. His lifestyle was legendary, as was his cooking. (His wine cellars, too — though they were overseen by Mme. Mado Point. They had their share of great Burgundies and Bordeaux but also brought respectability to Rhone wines, even the still-overlooked whites. Mme. Point also ran the restaurant after her husband’s death in 1955, by most reports brilliantly.) Everyone ate at La Pyramide, or wanted to. Half the great French chefs of the next generation — men like Bocuse, Chapel, Outhier and Vergé — trained under him.
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By Meghan Gourley
Occasionally, we test a recipe that doesn’t make it to print. Here’s one that we loved and thought people should see: chicken breast with cumin and honey. We understand the fear of undercooking chicken, but if you learn how to gauge doneness correctly you will end up with perfectly juicy, moist chicken breast every time.
About four to six minutes per side is all it takes, depending on the quirks of your oven or grill. You’ll know it’s done when you cut the breast with a knife and clear juices run out. (Or if a meat thermometer registers 155 dgF.) It’s easy to get distracted by the sizzle of honey and olive oil and the tang of cumin wafting through the air but try to resist. The last thing you want to do is overcook the chicken.
North-African Spiced Chicken Breast
4 chicken breast halves (or 2 whole chicken breasts)
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon dry sherry
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon minced garlic
salt and freshly ground pepper
Heat a broiler or grill to medium heat and put the rack 4 inches from the heat source. If you’re broiling, put the chicken in the pan in which you’ll cook it. Combine the olive oil, honey, dry sherry, cumin, garlic, and some salt and pepper in a bowl. Spoon the mixture over both sides of the chicken. Grill or broil chicken breast halves for 4 to 6 minutes per side (a tad longer if you’re cooking two whole breasts), until browned and just cooked through. Sprinkle with lemon juice and garnish with fresh parsley and lemon wedge. Optional: serve with a dollop of yogurt.
Here are 9 more ways to sauté, poach and roast chicken breasts.
It is a classic — really killer — combination, but one most people don’t play around with much. Once I started to think about it, though, the possibilities for pork and apples seemed myriad: obviously, you can cook chops and chunks in a cast-iron skillet, maybe with a little bacon and onions . . . an easy vision. Bacon-wrapped apples, skewered and roasted or broiled (or grilled, for you warm-climate people) is another. A B.C.A. — bacon, cheese (soft, mild, brie-ish cheese, especially) and apple — is a fine sandwich, especially when cooked as you would a grilled cheese.
On the slightly more complex side, I turned to the stuffed pork loin. This recipe has been a symbol of winter to me ever since I saw its photo (the stuffing was apricots) in one of the Time-Life “Foods of the World” cookbooks. (These were important works of the ’60s and ’70s, at least to those of us who were cooking.)
Read the rest of this column and get the recipes here.