Melia Marden grew up in New York and Greece, where she enjoyed great seasonal food and a family that loved to entertain. As executive chef at New York City’s hotspot, The Smile, she develops an ever-changing seasonal menu rooted in Mediterranean flavor that has been raved about by Frank Bruni and Padma Lakshmi and is loved by celebrities. Now, in Marden’s first book, she presents 125 easy Mediterranean-inspired recipes for the home cook. From Minted Snap Peas to Watermelon Salad to Summer Steak Sliced Over Corn to Almond Cream with Honey, these are recipes calling for fresh ingredients and bold flavor but requiring no special techniques or equipment. Including 100 photos, this is a gorgeous, unique package that will charm and inspire home cooks everywhere.
“A stylish, no-nonsense guide to creating some rather choice staples.” —Interview
“Melia Marden gives us perfect food, conceived with true brilliance, executed with true love.” —Joan Didion, author of The White Album
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THE ABUNDANT PANTRY: A SHOPPING LIST
There are certain ingredients that I always come back to, pantry staples I like to have on hand to help me throw together a meal at the last minute. This is a shopping list of the items I usually keep in stock — a combination of classic never-fail basics and exotic products that can liven up a recipe in a pinch.
EXTRA-VIRGIN OLIVE OIL: Can't live without it. The basis for 99 percent of my savory cooking.
KALAMATA OLIVES: I always have a jar in the fridge. Great for giving a quick pasta or panseared chicken breast rich, salty flavor.
CRUSHED TOMATOES: During the summer I love to use fresh ripe tomatoes. In the winter, crushed or diced tomatoes are an essential base for pasta sauces, soups, and stews. For some dishes (like my puttanesca sauce and my Moroccan meatballs) I actually prefer the intense flavor you get from the canned variety. My favorite brand is the Italian import Sclafani; to me it has the perfect balance of sweetness, acidity, and saltiness, as well as a good consistency.
YOUR PREFERRED DRIED PASTA: Needs no explanation. When all else fails, you can usually pull together a delicious pasta dish from the contents of your pantry. I always have a box of penne rigate on hand for last-minute meals.
CAPERS: Great for sprinkling into sautéed vegetables or over salads for a briny kick.
GRAPE LEAVES IN BRINE: Roughly chopped, they can be used to add a bit of salt and heft to a dish.
RAS EL HANOUT: A North African spice blend that adds a unique warmth to roasted meats, stews, and soups. The ingredients vary but can include cinnamon, cardamom, coriander, nutmeg, chilies, and dried rosebuds.
HARISSA: A fiery Tunisian chili paste, this slightly smoky mixture can be used as a rub for meats, added to marinades or broths, or served alongside dishes as a hot sauce. I buy mine in a bright yellow-and-red tube from a nearby spice shop; every brand I've seen has beautiful illustrated packaging.
PINK PEPPERCORNS: Tender and sweet enough to eat whole, these bright pink young peppercorns make an attractive addition to pickles and salads.
DATE MOLASSES: Darkly sweet and flavorful, like a Middle Eastern version of maple syrup. I use it as a sugar substitute in baking, as in the Sticky-Toffee Date Pudding (see this page), or drizzle it over oatmeal or yogurt for breakfast.
POMEGRANATE SYRUP: This tangy, not-too-sweet syrup has the concentrated taste of fresh pomegranates. Use it to glaze root vegetables such as carrots or parsnips in place of honey, or add a drizzle to balsamic salad dressing. Also terrific poured over baked ham before heating it in the oven.
TRICKS UP YOUR SLEEVE: RECIPES THAT KEEP AND ADVICE ON WHEN TO USE THEM
I find that cooking in the right circumstances can be very relaxing — especially if I'm making a dish I know well and love. There's something about working with my hands and moving through familiar motions that calms me down. Because cooking is such a tactile, physical occupation, it requires that you stay alert; you're involved in a steady rhythm of actions, so you can't be distracted by your day-to-day anxieties. (Granted, I don't always feel this sense of calm when I'm racing to finish my prep for a busy night at the restaurant, or when I've invited ten people over for Christmas dinner and have decided to bake a difficult cake just for the fun of it!) The recipes in this section are the ones I like to make when I feel like cooking without the pressure, when I have a little extra time or just want to be alone in my kitchen.
None of these recipes is difficult or timeconsuming, and they can all be used for weeks to come. I like to think of my time in the kitchen preparing these staples as giving my future self a present: pickles that can be added to sandwiches, tossed in salads, or simply nibbled on with a wedge of cheese; or infused salts and sugars that can be sprinkled over food for an extra boost of intense flavor. When fleeting seasonal produce is available, I try to take advantage of it and make it last; a batch of ramp pickles from the spring will last till winter, when it's time to make a jar of Meyer lemon confit. Part of my concept for this chapter is to avoid an all-or-nothing mentality. I don't expect you to be a full-on pioneer, making all your own jam and curing your own meat. Most of us don't have the time, space, or inclination for that. But if you don't have much time to cook one night, it's nice to be able to drizzle your homemade chili oil onto a quickly thrown together pasta dish. Make a big batch of homemade granola and you'll have your breakfast taken care of for weeks. Experiment with some candied pistachios one day and impress friends by crumbling them over a simple bitter-greens salad another. Being a great home cook doesn't have to mean cooking every meal every day or making all your food from scratch. Sometimes it can simply mean putting a little time into preparing ingredients in advance so you can enjoy the fruits of your efforts later, at a leisurely pace.
If you have a food processor, you never need to buy nut butters. The consistency won't be supermarket smooth, but you can really taste the raw freshness of the almonds in this recipe. I like to spread some on toasted multigrain bread with a little bit of honey for a quick, satisfying breakfast or midday snack.
Makes 2 cups (500 grams) 2 cups (286 grams) raw whole almonds 2 teaspoons honey 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt 1/2 cup (120 milliliters) vegetable oil
1 Place the almonds, honey, and salt in a food processor and blend until well combined. With the processor running, slowly drizzle in the oil and continue blending until smooth.
2 Store, refrigerated, for up to 1 week. Let the almond butter come to room temperature before using and stir to recombine the oils.
SETTING THE TABLE
The time and effort you need to put into cooking dinner can be daunting, but for me the worst part is undeniably the looming threat of having to clean up at the end of the night. Save yourself some trouble and bring everything to the table in its cooking pot. For hot dishes, place a clean, folded dishtowel or small wooden cutting board on the table first to protect its surface. Of course, this presentation will look a lot better if you use attractive, brightly colored pots and pans. I recommend investing in one medium or large Le Creuset Dutch oven. They come in a variety of beautiful shades and always look great on the table, but they also can improve your cooking: The cast iron heats evenly and helps you to get a rich, flavorful browning on seared meats and vegetables. I also like to use my classic black castiron frying pan for sautéed side dishes. You can buy them new or seek out a bargain at secondhand shops or flea markets. Old rusted cast iron can usually be brought back to life with a few tricks; a simple search online turns up countless tutorials. Among my other favorites are vintage enamel Dansk roasting pans and saucepans. I love their clean, minimal design and intense, bright colors. You can find them easily online or at flea markets, and they're usually relatively inexpensive. With a few nice pots and pans, the table always looks festive and, as a bonus, the food will stay warm longer.
Every October a good friend and I celebrate her birthday by going apple-picking upstate at a beautiful orchard set on an expanse of sloping hillside. We always have a great time, eating apples right off the trees and getting a little drunk on cider that we've spiked with bourbon. I invariably end up with a huge bag of apples that I can't finish fast enough slowly rotting on my kitchen table, so I started making this applesauce to put the peak-season fruit to good use. I based the recipe on my mother's two pieces of advice: Don't add a lot of sweetener, since the apples themselves are naturally sweet enough, and throw in a pear and a quince to add an extra dimension of flavor. For a heartier texture and tarter flavor, I leave half the apples unpeeled, and I make sure to use some with pink or red skin to infuse everything with a warm rosy color.
Makes 2 1/2 cups (600 milliliters) 4 to 6 mixed firm apples (about 3 pounds / 1.4 kilograms), such as Empire or Macoun, some with pink or red skin 1 Anjou or Bartlett pear, peeled, cored, and roughly chopped 1 quince, peeled, cored, and roughly chopped 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 1/2 large lemon) 1 tablespoon honey 1 cinnamon stick
1 Peel half the apples, leaving the skin on the ones with pink or red color. Core all the apples and chop into roughly 1-inch (2.5-centimeter) pieces.
2 Combine the apples, pear, quince, 1/4 cup (60 milliliters) water, the lemon juice, honey, and cinnamon stick in a deep pot over medium heat.
3 Cook until the fruit is broken down and the mixture is thickened, about 40 minutes. Stir frequently, breaking down the fruit by pressing on it and mashing it with a spoon.
4 Serve the applesauce straight from the stove with seared or roasted meat (it's delicious with pork chops), or let cool completely and refrigerate in a clean airtight container.
Of all these stocking-up recipes, I go through this simple hot sauce the fastest. I based it on the chili oil you sometimes see in little glass bottles on the tables in old-style Italian American restaurants. I drizzle it on soup and pizza, add it to store-bought tomato sauce, or just serve it in a dipping bowl with some warm toasted bread.
Makes 1 cup (240 milliliters)
1 cup (240 milliliters) extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 cup (25 grams) red chili flakes
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 Place all the ingredients in a small saucepan and cook over very low heat for 10 minutes. The heat should be low enough that the garlic sizzles slightly but doesn't fry or change color.
2 Remove from the heat and let cool completely. The garlic and chili flakes will sink to the bottom. Store in the refrigerator and let come to room temperature before using.
This granola is one of our most popular dishes at The Smile. The trick is to cook it at a low temperature and stir the mixture often so that the oats get evenly crisp and golden. I serve it over Greek yogurt with chopped dried figs and dates, for a hint of North African flavor.
Makes about 10 cups (1 kilogram)
6 cups (480 grams) rolled oats
1 1/2 cups (216 grams) raw almonds, roughly chopped
1 1/2 cups (150 grams) raw pecans, roughly chopped
1/2 cup (120 milliliters) extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 cup (120 milliliters) maple syrup
6 tablespoons (110 grams) honey
1/4 cup (55 grams) light brown sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt Plain Greek yogurt or milk, for serving Chopped dried dates, for topping Chopped dried figs, for topping Fresh berries, for topping
1 Preheat the oven to 250°F (120°C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
2 In a large bowl, combine the oats, nuts, oil, maple syrup, honey, brown sugar, and salt and mix well.
3 Spread the mixture onto the prepared baking sheets in as even a layer as possible.
4 Bake for 30 minutes, then stir very well. Continue to bake, stirring every 30 minutes, until golden brown and slightly crisp, about 2 hours total.
5 Let cool completely; the oats should feel completely dry and crisp. Transfer to an airtight container and store in a cool, dry place.
6 Serve over Greek yogurt or with milk. Top with dates, figs, and fresh berries.
MARINATE MIXED OLIVES
I usually have a jar of these olives waiting in the back of my refrigerator for last-minute, low-key entertaining. They make a substantial, flavorful snack to nibble on while enjoying a glass of predinner wine. I like to toss in a few fresh orange slices just before serving.
Makes 1 quart (960 milliliters)
2 cups (360 grams) Alphonso olives
2 cups (360 grams) Greek green olives Grated zest and juice of 1 orange
4 cloves garlic
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
2 teaspoons red chili flakes
1 cup (240 milliliters) extra-virgin olive oil
1 In a heatproof bowl, combine the olives, zest, and juice.
2 Using the side of a chef's knife, lightly press on the garlic cloves so that they crack slightly but stay whole. Add the garlic to the bowl.
3 In a small frying pan over medium-high heat, toast the fennel seeds, stirring constantly, until golden and fragrant but not burnt, about 1 minute.
4 Add the chili flakes and oil to the pan, cook for 30 seconds, then immediately pour the warm oil mixture over the olives and toss to combine.
5 Let cool completely, then transfer to a clean container with a tight-fitting lid (such as a glass canning jar). The olives will keep in the refrigerator for several months.
6 Before serving, let the olives come to room temperature to soften the oil, and mix well with a spoon.
MEYER LEMON CONFIT
At The Smile, we serve a version of this simple condiment on top of our roasted chicken entrée. At home I like to make a batch when Meyer lemons are in season and have it on hand to add a little lemony bite to otherwise simple dishes. It pairs well with roasted chicken, and is great tossed with plain pasta or drizzled over lightly steamed asparagus. For a quick, elegant snack, spread some of the confit on toast and top with torn fresh basil and sea salt. Of course, while Meyer lemons have a particular sweetness, you can also make this recipe using regular lemons.
Makes 1 1/2 cups (360 milliliters)
6 Meyer lemons
1 cup (240 milliliters) extra-virgin olive oil
3 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 Use a vegetable peeler to remove the zest of the lemons in strips 2 to 3 inches (5 to 7.5 centimeters) long, leaving as much of the white pith behind as possible. Cut the strips lengthwise into slivers 1/8 inch (3 millimeters) thick.
2 Squeeze 3/4 cup (180 milliliters) juice from the lemons (squeeze the remaining juice and reserve for another use, such as in the Ouzo & Meyer Lemon Drops, seethis page).
3 Rinse the lemon zest in warm water and drain.
4 In a small saucepan over low heat, combine the zest, juice, oil, garlic, and salt. Bring to a very low simmer and cook until the zest is soft but still holds its shape, about 20 minutes. Skim off and discard the foam that rises to the top of the oil mixture.
5 Let cool completely, then transfer to a clean container with a tight-fitting lid (such as a glass canning jar). Make sure the confit is completely covered with the oil mixture. The confit may be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 month. Let come to room temperature before using.
I love kumquats. I like that you can just throw a whole one in your mouth for a burst of sweet and sour, like nature's candy. Kumquats are usually in stores only for a few months in the winter, so I try to make a batch of these pickles while I can. Serve a little bowl of them alongside a firm goat or sheep's-milk cheese for an instant sophisticated cheese plate.
Makes 1 quart (960 milliliters)
4 cups kumquats
1 1/2 cups (360 milliliters) cider vinegar
1/2 cup (100 grams) sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
2 allspice berries
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 Cut the kumquats in half crosswise and pick out any seeds that are easily accessible.
2 In a saucepan, combine the vinegar, 1 cup (240 milliliters) water, the sugar, salt, and spices and bring to a simmer. Add the kumquats and cook for 1 minute.
3 Transfer to a clean container with a tight-fitting lid (such as a glass canning jar) and let cool completely. Cover and refrigerate. The kumquats will keep in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.
Ramps are slender wild leeks that have become extremely trendy in the last few years. Because they can't be cultivated, are hard to transport, and have a short season, they're tailor-made to be fetishized by foodies. I recently overheard a man at the farmers' market scoff that ramps used to be considered a weed and now they're selling for twenty dollars a pound. While I'd love to share his skepticism, I can't help but get on the ramp bandwagon: I have a soft spot for anything in the onion family, and these have an irresistible, delicately sweet yet pungent flavor. They're best sautéed with butter and tossed with orecchiette or spread on toast.
Because their season is so brief, I also like to pickle a bunch while I can get my hands on them (you can sauté the green tops and pickle the rest, as below). Their oniony odor mellows out over time in the sweet pickling mixture. Among my favorite things to make with them are ramp Gibson martinis (see this page). They also make a great simple tomato salad — just finely mince pickled ramps and sprinkle them over sliced ripe beefsteak tomatoes. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Modern Mediterranean"
Copyright © 2013 Melia Marden.
Excerpted by permission of Abrams Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
NOTES ON USING THE RECIPES,
1: STOCKING UP,
2: APPETIZERS & DRINKS,
5: VEGETABLES & STARCHES,
6: PIZZA & PASTA,
8: MEAT & POULTRY,
INDEX OF SEARCHABLE TERMS,