So, despite the fact that I gushed about The Breslin nearly a year ago and also in an interview for Amazon, and even though I’ve fussed over The Spotted Pig, I didn’t even consider picking up chef April Bloomfield’s* book, A Girl and Her Pig because the odds felt slim that it would provide me with anything close to the joy that her cooking does at a dark table in the Ace Hotel, with a grapefruit gin-and-tonic (swoon) in my hand.
Someone pointed out to me a few weeks ago that this site has not a single recipe in the archives for egg salad. However, unlike the time I realized the broccoli archives boasted but a single recipe (and quickly sought to populate it) or the time I accepted that a quickie from-scratch homemade chicken noodle soup deserves a place in every arsenal, the egg salad-shaped hole in the archives went unnoticed less due to editorial oversight and more because, well, you know: egg salad; it’s pretty dull. Could anything be more uninspired than an amalgamation of smashed-up hard-boiled eggs and the dreaded mayonnaise? I mean, have you seen the yellow, flavorless mounds of dubious origin and assembly date most delis scoop onto a slice of bread and try to pass off as lunch? It would hardly make an enthusiast out of you. Or anyone.
But for those of us who see past the lack of beauty-queen stature and fervor around it, we know egg salad can be rather delicious if made properly, which is to say, at home, with perfectly cooked eggs and just enough dressing to cling, not drown them. At home, I make three small additions that I think transform it from the unglamorous status-quo to something I find crunchy, bright and absolutely perfect on a slice of whole-grain toasted bread in the middle of the day. The first is that I love to use coarse, or whole-grain Dijon mustard. Not only is it the prettiest thing in my fridge, the combination of the faintly crisp/crackly seeds and its milder flavor are heavenly here, adding texture and just enough kick to the eggs. The second is finely minced shallot, just a little. You could use red onion, too, but I think the texture is key. You want it to be noticeable enough that you enjoy it but not so loud that it upstages the star, kind of like surprise guests at a halftime show.
If you have a thing for chocolate, the world is your oyster. On this very site, 86 of the just over 800 recipes boast a significant chocolate component and entire sections of bookstores will be happy to fill in any cravings I missed. If you have a thing for bacon, the internet would be overjoyed to find you places to put it, zillions, even, although I’d proceed with caution before auditioning a couple. But if you have a thing for something slightly less of a prom king/queen ingredient, say, tiny white beans, well, it can be tough. It’s not there are no uses for them, it’s just that when you’re very much in love, there are never enough ways to be together. And if you’re me — someone who sometimes ups and makes a mega-pot of white beans just because you feel like it, presuming you’ll find things to do with them later — you sometimes end up scrambling, yanking down nearly every cookbook in your collection but still coming up bereft of uses outside the well-trodden soup-and-salad territory.
So tell me: What are you favorite uses for beans outside the ever-popular realm of chili, tacos, soup and salad? Really, I’m hankering for more inspiration. I ended up finding some — but never enough — in this month’s Bon Appetit, in a stack of pasta recipes you will find it impossible to choose among from Sara Jenkins of Porchetta and Porsena (and green bean salad, sigh) fame. I was so charmed by the short tubes of pasta with chickpeas, I made it almost immediately but maybe it was because I’ve overdone it on chickpeas this month, but I kept thinking it would be nice with something… daintier. And considering that it is an established fact (um, in Italy, where I suspect both my white bean and artichoke obsessions could roam free) that white beans, garlic, rosemary and olive oil are a combination sent from above, I had a hunch they’d be happy here too.
I realize that when it comes to January Food — carrot sticks, soup, legumes and other things I suspect, what with it being the third week of the month, you are already tiring of — gnocchi, thick dumpling-like pasta made from potatoes, hardly makes the cut. It’s, in fact, not even invited to the party, having no place among the sweatband-ed, pumped up, high-topped aerobicized… okay, maybe my brain went straight past “earnest attempts at resolution-inspired rebalance” to a Richard Simmons video, circa 1982. These things, they happen.
But a kale-apple-ginger smoothie, gnocchi is not. And yet, this dish from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook is one of my favorite things to make after a month of holiday gluttony because it is both light and filling, yet warm enough for the coldest day. The thing with gnocchi is that it’s so plagued by a reputation of being bad for you that it’s presumed that if you’re eating it, your arteries/girth/sense of proportion must already be doomed so let’s just ladle on the blue cheese, okay? And, indeed, most restaurants will serve it with butter, cream, cheese and other rich ingredients, such as truffles, probably with more butter. It’s not my thing; I think such preparations wreck the delicacy that’s at the heart of perfect gnocchi, which is featherlight, dumpling-like and best appreciated in a puddle of intensely flavored broth. It’s true: I turned the Italian classic of gnocchi and red sauce into a riff on matzo ball soup, and I’m not even a little sorry.
For as long as I have written this website — yes, even longer than it has been since I told you the wee white lie that Paula Wolfert’s hummus was all I’d ever need — I have known how to make the most ethereally smooth, fluffy, dollop-ing of a hummus and never told you. I have some nerve. But, in my defense, I had my reasons, mostly that I knew if I told you how to make it, I’d be able to hear your eye rolls through the screen, they’d be at once so dramatic and in unison. From there, there would be the loud, synchronized clicks of “Unfollow!” “Unfriend!” “Hide these updates, please!” and the under-breath mutters of “Lady, you have got to be kidding me.” Because, you see, the path between the probably acceptable, vaguely grainy but borderline good-enough hummus you probably have been making and the stuff that I dream about sweeping cold, sweet carrots sticks through — the January version of fresh strawberries and whipped cream — has only one extra stop but most of you will argue that it’s at Cuckoo Farm: you see, you must peel the chickpeas.
Chickpeas, when they’re cooked, have a thin skin that sags a bit, kind of like a Sharpei’s, but less cute. It hangs about them like they’re trying hard to shake it, but just couldn’t. I have found that if you help them — put a single chickpea between your thumb and next two fingers and press gently until it pops out with a rather satisfying soft pop, then plink! into a bowl — it makes all of the difference in the texture of your final hummus. But I theorized that no sane person would ever spend their time ejecting chickpeas from their skins, because it would be such an arduous task, even reorganzing bookcases, which we did last night, would be preferable. Yet when I cautiously asked you last week if you’d want to hear about a new hummus technique, so many of you said “Yes, please!” I figured it was time to make peace with this technique once and for all.