cook the mag: bon appetit's feta with sumac and black sesame seeds

If you would have said to me, say three years ago, "Batya, how are the Broncos doing this season?" I would have shrugged and stared back at you blankly. The confused look might have been followed by something like, "You mean the football team, right? The one from Denver?" But that would have been the extent of it. I come from a long line of Yankee stock, and other than baseball, we didn't follow other sports. Football hardly registered at all.

Things changed exactly one year ago when my husband's cousin Melissa gave us tickets to see the Denver Broncos, a gift for our 5th anniversary. It was my first trip to the stadium, and even though I was hopped up on meds (following a diagnosis of acute tonsillitis with an extreme form of strep), I fell in love with the sport. Football is a religion around here, and I've become a pretty faithful practitioner. I'll admit that I don't know every rule or intricate detail of the game, but my heart is definitely in it. 

In addition to cheering for the home team, Sunday football has become a catalyst for our weekend gatherings too. Sometimes we head over to our neighbors' house, other times we host at our home. And since there's never really enough time to clean the house and cook a meal, I opt for dishes that are big on flavor and easy to make. Last week's menu included olives (the good kind), a cheese plate, hummus (2 ways),shakshuka (sauce made the night before), and this feta sumac spread from Bon Appetit. Though our team didn't win the game (don't worry, they're still in 1st place), we all had a great time. And isn't that what football gatherings are really about? (S



Feta with Sumac and Black Sesame Seeds (Courtesy of Alison Roman for Bon Appetit Magazine, October 2014)


1½ pound feta, sliced ¼” thick

1 tablespoon fresh oregano or marjoram leaves (optional, I made it with and without) 

1½ teaspoon black sesame seeds

1½ teaspoon ground sumac

Olive oil (for drizzling)

Crackers (for serving)


Divide feta among small serving dishes. Top with oregano, sesame, and sumac. Drizzle with oil; serve with crackers.


If you're looking for really good cheese, olives, crackers- that sort of thing- and you live in Denver, head over to the Truffle Cheese Shop on 6th Avenue. It's one of the best in the city. 

Sumac, a tart, citrusy spice, is available at Middle Eastern markets or specialty foods stores. I have a friend who brings back sumac from the Middle East (Lebanon), but when I run out I head over to Arash Market in Aurora. 

In Instagram: Coffee & Pie (Ottolenghi and Tamimi's Jerusalem Herb Pie)...and link love!

It's been almost 15 years since my mother escorted me on a 3-day road-trip from New York City to Madison, Wisconsin, which is where I originally started law school (this was long before I realized that I did not actually want to be an attorney). And it was on that road-trip that I figured out just how different we sounded from some of our Midwestern countrymen. Less me, more my mother. 
My mother's accent is 100% pure Bronx. She grew up in the 1950s and 60s on the Grand Concourse (which if you're wondering, does have the second largest collection of Art Deco architecture outside of Miami). The accent is very particular and it's distinct from its more popularized Brooklyn counterpart. As for my accent, I like to think that I don't really have one. Maybe it's slightly more pronounced if I drink a few glasses of wine, or right after I've talked with my mother on the phone. But for the most part, I think that I can 'pass' as someone who is generally from the Northeast, or mid-Atlantic...unless I say the words dog, ball or coffee...
..which brings me to Novo Coffee. They're one of the top 10 roasters in the country, and they happen to roast right here in Denver. Their coffee is served at some of the city's top restaurants, but there aren't too many places where you can buy their beans retail. So I was happy to discover that their warehouse is open on Friday between 1 and 3 pm for retail purchases. (I'd call before you go- just to confirm.)
Last month I finally found some time to check it out. I was greeted by Herb Brodsky, a co-founder of Novo. And it took me less than a minute to peg his accent... 
This Bronx-born coffee roaster relocated to Denver back in 1995 and started his business shortly thereafter. But geographic kinship aside, Novo roasts some of the best beans I've ever tasted- thanks in part to their master-roaster Erich Rosenberg. My boys and I toured the facility and I schmoozed with Herb. And for a brief moment he suspected that he had dated my mother. But there were lots of ladies with the surname Goldstein in the Bronx in those days, so it was an easy mistake to make. It turns out they never dated.
On the hunt for more good coffee and/or cappuccino, I also found The Humble Pie, which is located in the Baker Historic District of the city. In addition to great coffee, they also have some of the best pies around. There are savory and sweet options, so obviously I got one of each.
Feeling inspired by both coffee and pie, I decided to drink a nice cup of joe while scouring my favorite blogs and cookbooks for some pie ideas. I found an herb pie recipe from Jerusalem that looked so good, I just had to make it...even though it's a bit different from the pies that originally inspired me at The Humble Pie.
I hope you like this pick. It reminds me (a bit) of my favorite Moosewood Spanakopita...just with more herbs. 
Notes on the pie: I couldn't find the right kind of ricotta (the one that crumbles, not the one you use in baked ziti), so I used Myzithra-- a Greek substitute that I think worked really well. Also, and I can't really explain this one, I couldn't find any arugula at the supermarket. I went to two grocery stores, and they were both sold out. (Does Colorado have an obsession for arugula that I don't know about?) A man stocking the produce section told me to come back on Monday. And I was thinking, "Are you kidding, me? I can't wait three whole days to make this pie!" So I went ahead and substituted fresh spinach for the arugula. 
Due to a 'situation' with my youngest son Theodore, the pie got baked a bit too long (the recommended time of 40 minutes is probably perfect), but it was still really good. I'm now 3-for-3 with Yotam and Sami's new cookbook.
And here you go...

Herb Pie (adapted slightly from Yotam Ottoleghi and Sami Tamimi's Jerusalem)
Serves 4
This pie can happily sit at the center of a vegetarian meal.

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for brushing the pastry
1 large onion, diced
1 lbs. Swiss chard, stems and leaves finely shredded but kept separate
3-4 stalks celery, thinly sliced
4 scallions (green onion), chopped
1 large bunch fresh spinach (The original recipes uses 1 3/4 ounces of arugula, which I think the British call rocket.)
1 ounce flat-leaf parsley, chopped (I used between 1/2-3/4 cup)
1 ounce fresh mint, chopped (I used between 1/2-3/4 cup)
2/3 ounce dill, chopped (I used about 1/2 cup)
4 ounces of anari or ricotta cheese, crumbled (I used about 3/4 cup of Myzithra)
3 1/2 ounces aged cheddar, grated (I used about 3/4 cup)
2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled (I used about 2 small, but full, handfuls)
the grated zest of 1 lemon
2 medium free-range eggs
1/3 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon of superfine sugar

9 ounces filo pastry 
  • Preheat the oven to 400F/200C. Pour the olive oil into a deep frying-pan over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté for 8 minutes without browning. Add the chard stems and the celery and continue cooking for 4 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the chard leaves, increase the heat to medium-high and stir as you cook for 4 minutes, until the leaves wilt. Add the scallion/green onion, spinach (or arugula) and herbs and cook for 2 minutes more. Remove from the heat and transfer to a colander to cool. 
  • Once the mixture is cool, squeeze out as much water as you can and transfer to a mixing bowl. (I didn't have much water to drain-- probably because I'm at altitude and the water evaporates more quickly.) Add the three cheeses, lemon zest, eggs, salt, pepper and sugar and mix well.
  • Lay out a sheet of filo pastry and brush it with some olive oil. Cover with another sheet and continue in the same manner until you have 5 layers of filo brushed with oil, all covering an area large enough to line the sides and bottom of a 8 1/2-inch pie dish, plus extra to hang over the rim. Line the pie dish with the pastry, fill with the herb mix and fold the excess pastry over the edge of the filling, trimming the pastry as necessary to create a 3/4 inch border.
  • Make another set of 5 layers of filo brushed with oil and place them over the pie. Scrunch the pastry a little to create a wavy, uneven top and trim the edges so it just covers the pie. Brush generously with olive oil and bake for 40 minutes, or until the filo turns a nice golden brown. Remove from the oven and serve warm or at room temperature.
* * *
link love...
an interesting read on buffalo mozzarella. 
discovery of the week. and they run a fabulous company.
another new-to-me food blog.
ordered this
time is up!
building that bridge... 
on the book shelf (thanks Jo Ellen for the recommendation).
a fabulous looking winter salad (thanks, Yana).

Please note: These are heart-felt recommendations. I have no business relationship or sponsorship with Novo Coffee, The Humble Pie or any of the links mentioned on this blog. 

Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield (and Linguine with Lemon, Feta and Basil)

The other day I found myself wanting to leave the city. I didn't want to go too far, so I ruled out Rocky Mountain National Park. I was thinking about the Wildlife Sanctuary which is relatively close by, but decided to save that for a day when we had a few more hours to spare. I remembered that I hadn't been to the Denver Botanic Gardens at Chatfield in quite some time and it was calling me.  
The satellite garden is a nature preserve that has grasslands, blooms and Hildebrand Ranch. The old ranch is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and it houses chickens, roosters, goats and ponies. We also met a large toad in the pond. Otis named him Walter. He wanted to "take him" and relocate Walter to our couch. I explained that the toad probably liked his natural environment a lot more than he would our home...and that his mom and dad would miss him dearly if we were to snag him, put him in a paper bag and bring him back to Denver. Otis seemed satisfied with my explanation. Walter was left in the pond. 
The garden is also affiliated with a local CSA  and if I lived a little bit closer I would have signed up for the season. But our long-term plans in Denver aren't certain, and I decided to forgo a CSA membership this year. Instead we will rely on the Denver Farmers Markets for our fruits and vegetables. I'm heading to the markets next week and I'm excited to see what they've got.
Back to the farm...
We spent a good deal of time in front of the chicken coup. Otis decided that this would be a good place to wrestle his baby brother Theo. As you can see from the photos below, the hens couldn't believe their eyes.  
There are lots of picnic benches in the gardens, so next time I'll bring some food and eat outside. And since Chatfield is only 30 minutes away from Denver, I think I'll be going back again soon...

When we got back from Chatfield, both boys feel asleep. It was quiet time in the house and I, not wanting to use all of nap time to cook, decided to make something super-simple that I had seen on Cookstr. And here it is...
Linguine with Lemon, Feta, Pinenuts and Basil (Courtesy of Cookstr, Gordon Ramsay)
The light and zesty flavor of this pasta dish makes it ideal for the summer. It's also quick and easy for supper during the week, because you are likely to have the ingredients on hand.
Yield : Serves 4
1 pound fresh (or 10 ounces dried) linguine
¼ cup olive oil
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/3 cup freshly grated Parmesan
Handful of fresh basil, leaves only
7 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
Cook the fresh pasta in a large pot of salted boiling water for 2 minutes. If using dried pasta, cook according to package directions until al dente. Tip the pasta into a colander, leaving about 2 tablespoons of the cooking water in the pot.
Immediately return the pasta to the pot and add the olive oil, lemon zest and juice, Parmesan, basil, and three-quarters of the crumbled feta. Toss well and check the seasoning. Divide among warm plates and scatter the remaining feta and the pine nuts over the top. Serve at once.

Mushroom Risotto (from the Gorgeously Green Diet)

Risotto. It's earned the reputation of being difficult to make and, truth be told, I've mucked-it up more times than I care to mention. Before trying this recipe, my little arborio rice dish never came out right. It was always far from the creamy dish it should have been. Without fail, it would come out pasty and goopy, and quite frankly, not very edible. The outcome was always the same: hot mess.
But my dear friend Charlotta put me onto this recipe, one that she said was fool-proof. And indeed it is. It comes from The Gorgeously Green Diet and I've made it three times...successfully! Whooo-wee. The white wine and the dried mushrooms give the dish so much flavor-- and I just top it off with a little olive oil, shaved parmesan and lemon juice.
Like many risotto dishes, this recipe uses dried mushrooms instead of fresh ones. That's because the water used to rehydrate (reconstitute) the dried mushrooms adds so much flavor to the dish (I added the mushroom-infused water toward the end of the cooking process). I used porcini, portobello, hen of woods and "forest blend" so far, but next time I think I'll add some fresh chantarelles as well. 
You can make this risotto with confidence and without fear that your culinary efforts will result in a mushy mess. Then pour yourself a nice glass of chilled white wine and enjoy. 
Bon Appetito.

Mushroom Risotto (Courtesy of The Gorgeously Green Diet)
Serves 4-6
1-ounce package mixed dried mushrooms
About 1 quart vegetable stock
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
4 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 3/4 cups risotto rice 
2 wineglasses (dry) white wine 
1 tablespoon butter
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Freshly grade Parmesan cheese

Put the mushrooms in a measuring cup and cover with 2 cups of hot water. Set aside.
Pour stock into a medium saucepan and heat gently. Keep warm over low heat. 
In a large saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and celery and cook for about 5 minutes, until softened. Add the rice, turn up the heat, and stir until the rice looks translucent (mine never got completely translucent--but close). Add the wine and stir until almost evaporated.
Now you are ready to add your first ladle of stock (you never leave a risotto- it needs to be nursed!). Keep stirring as you add more and more stock, waiting until each addition is absorbed until you add the next ladle. After 15 minutes, taste to see if the rice is cooked; if it needs more time (and mine did), add a ladleful of the water that the mushrooms have been soaking in. The risotto is cooked when the rice is slighly al dente. Take it off the heat and stir in the mushrooms and butter. Season with salt and pepper to taste, spoon into bowls, and top with a generous dusting of cheese (I added a drizzle of olive oil and a bit of lemon juice too). Enjoy! 

Dorie's Strozzapreti: Corsican Spinach and Mint Gnocchi

In Italian, 'Strozzapreti' translates to "priest choker" or "priest strangler," but in a culinary context they are typically an elongated form of cavatelli (or fusilli). In Corsica, and throughout the Tuscan and Umbria regions of Italy, Strozzapreti can also refer to a baked cheese and vegetable dish, or gnocchi. It has been said that these gnocchi are large enough to choke a person (read: priest) if eaten whole, hence the name "priest choker." I hope that doesn't render these dumplings unappetizing!

This is another recipe from Dorie Greenspan's, Around My French Table. (Have I mentioned how much I love this cookbook?) It's very much Italian in terms of influence, but since this is a Corsican dish, and Corsica is part of France, it's included in Greenspan's tome on French cuisine. It's a bit time consuming to make (some of that is wait time though), but it's worth it and you can divide the work up into parts. I made the gnocchi ahead of time and chilled them in the refrigerator overnight. The next day I boiled and baked them. 

I love these little dumplings. The mint really makes these gnocchi pop and it gives them a wonderful freshness. They remind me of the spinach gnocchi I made about a year ago, but those were topped with an asiago cream sauce and these are smothered in homemade tomato sauce.
Heeding the caveat implied in the dish's name (Strozzapreti), I cut mine in half.
So, go ahead, enjoy these gnocchi…just be sure not to swallow them whole! 

Use fresh ricotta and fresh really makes the dish.
Strorzzapretis: Corsican Spinach and Mint Gnocchi
Serves 6 starter servings or 4 main-course servings
10 ounces spinach, trimmed
1 pound whole-milk ricotta or fresh brocciu, if you can get it
1 large egg
5 ounces cheese, such as Gruyere or Emmenthal or a combination of Gruyere and Parmesan, grated (about 1 1/4 cup)
1 bunch mint leaves, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour, plus more for shaping
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Olive oil
1 1/2 cups tomato sauce (I made my own but you can use a good-quality store bought marinara as well)

Wash the spinach in several changes of cool water, toss into a large pot, with the water still clinging to the leaves. Place the pot over medium-low heat, cover and cook the spinach, turning often, until it is soft, about 5 minutes. Turn the spinach into a colander and shake out as much of the water as possible.

When the spinach is cool enough to handle, press out the remainder of the water (or as much as you can) by squeezing small bunches of the spinach between your palms or by twisting them in a kitchen towel. Coarsely chop the spinach, toss it into a bowl, and use your fingers to pull the clumps of spinach apart as best you can.

With a sturdy rubber spatula or wooden spoon, beat the ricotta or brocciu into the spinach, followed by an egg. Stir in half of the grated cheese and the mint, sprinkle over the flour, season with salt and pepper and blend. You'll have a soft, malleable mixture. 

Line a baking sheet or tray that will fit in the fridge with plastic wrap. Make a mound of about 1/4 cup flour on your work surface. 

Working with two tablespoons, scoop up a tablespoonful of the cheese mixture with one spoon and then scrape the mix from one spoon to the other until you've formed a cohesive quenelle. Drop the quenelle into the mound of flour, and then toss it gently from hand to hand to shake off the excess.  After working the mixture this way, your quenelle will probably look like a large, slightly misshapen bullet, and that's just fine. Put the nugget on the lined sheet and continue until you've used all the dough, you'll have about 3 dozen strozzapreti.

Chill or freeze the strozzapreti for about 30 minutes, just to firm them a bit. (I refrigerated them overnight).

Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Lightly oil an 9x13 baking dish (glass, porcelain or pottery).

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and have a big bowl of ice and cold water nearby.

Remove the strozzapretis from the refrigerator or freezer. Lower the heat under the pot so that the water is at a simmer, and carefully drop some strozzapreti into the pot-- don't crowd the pot-- work in batches of 8 to 10 at a time. The nuggets will sink to the bottom of the pot and then pop to the top. After they do, let them gently bob around in the pot for about 5 minutes, then lift them out of the simmering water with a slotted spoon and drop them into the ice water.

Continue poaching and cooling the rest.

Drain the strozzapreti, and dry between sheets of paper towels-- be careful, they're soft and fragile-- then arrange them in the oiled pan. Pour the tomato sauce over the strozzapreti, top with the remaining grated cheese, and slide the pan into the oven.

Bake for about 15 minutes, until the sauce is bubbling hot, the cheese melted and the strozzapreti heated through. Serve immediately.