Eggplant burgers, a cozy, Roman-inspired chicken dish for Rosh Hashanah (or any fall night), and a new novel I can't stop talking about
Greetings eaters and readers! I have officially been in in my New York apartment for one week, and about 100,000-plus steps later, I’d like you all to know: I do not miss my driveway or my car. I guess I knew I’d like walking everywhere, but I didn’t know how much I would love walking everywhere. This week’s bonus post for subscribers will have more fascinating updates on my city-living discoveries, but in the meantime, I have a lot to tell you about today, so let’s get right to your Three Things…
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1. Chicken with Peppers for Rosh Hashanah (or dinner tonight?) from a gorgeous new cookbook
Anyone who has spent a minute reading Dinner: A Love Story knows about my affection for Leah Koenig’s cookbooks, which I turn to all year long, but especially this time of year as we head into the Jewish holidays. A leading authority on Jewish food, Koenig is a genius at interpreting traditional dishes in a progressive, respectful, and of course, unbelievably delicious way. Her latest cookbook takes this one step further. It’s called Portico: Cooking and Feasting in Rome’s Jewish Kitchen, and it explores the unique, 2000-year-old (!) culinary landscape of Rome’s Jewish Ghetto, or la Cucina Ebraica Romana. Gorgeously photographed by Kristin Teig, the pages take us on a journey down via del Portico d’Ottavia, the main drag in the neighborhood, and around the Ghetto’s ancient narrow streets, passing through sacred synagogues, bakeries with centuries-old ovens, and inside the kitchens of Roman guides and locals. It was a Shabbat dinner at the home of a kosher caterer over a decade ago who “exploded” her previous understanding of what Jewish cuisine was.” The dishes she ate “were neither Ashkenazi (hailing from Central and Eastern Europe), nor Sephardi (hailing from the Iberian Peninsula). They were uniquely Roman and they were incredible.” You’ll find the famous Carciofi Alla Giuda (Jewish-style Fried Artichokes) in these pages, of course, but you’ll also find a classic saucy stuffed zucchini, gnocchi made with semolina, so many sweets (sour cherry ricotta pie!), and a slow-braised beef stew she first ate at that Shabbat dinner. It was so good, Koenig said, that she claims it played a significant role her path to allow meat into her vegetarian diet. (Maybe I shouldn’t be telling you this?) In addition to including the fascinating history behind each dish, Koenig includes technique tutorials and menu suggestions for specific holidays, so you know just what to make when, say, Rosh Hashanah rolls around, i.e. this weekend. Here’s one recipe she recommends for the occasion: Chicken with Peppers. I’ll let her tell you about the dish her own words over on Dinner: A Love Story, but for me, it’s just the ticket for any cozy Sunday night dinner, not just for the High Holy Days. (Note: And here’s Leah’s Mushroom Moussaka if you’re looking for a show stopping vegetarian main.)
P.P.S. Wise words from a sign I stumbled upon in the Roman Ghetto in 2019.
2. Mark Bittman’s Eggplant Burgers
Mark Bittman posted this photo ^ on instagram over the weekend and it made me laugh so hard. A friend had apparently told him about a new invention at Yankee Stadium: A giant soda that has a cup of chicken wings on top, with a straw running right through the chicken wings. “This does not even appeal to me,” Bittman wrote. “And we have discussed at some length my weakness for junk food.” When the guy pushed back on Bittman, saying no one would eat “good food,” at a baseball game anyway, Bittman wrote, “That I’m calling bullshit on. You think people won’t eat hummus? Guacamole? Eggplant hamburgers…that thought made me want eggplant ‘polpetti’ more than I’ve ever wanted any food.” In his instagram caption, Bittman gives a loose description of how he made the eggplant polpetti (not sure why he calls them that, they’re more like patties than meatballs), but since I of course felt the urge to make them as well, I wanted to give you a few more specifics. Warning: This is not an easy-breezy Tuesday night meal. (If you’re looking for that kind of eggplant recipe, go with this weeknight winner, while the market still allows!) For some of us, though, the dinner is, in Bittman’s words, “as good as a Yankee Stadium hot dog.”
Inspired by Mark Bittman
Makes 8 medium patties
Cut 4 small graffiti eggplants (you could also do 2 medium Italian eggplants) into 1-inch-thick horizontal slices, then add them to a parchment-paper lined sheet pan and toss with salt, pepper, olive oil. Bake at 475°F for 30 minutes, flipping half way through. Let cool, then chop roughly and add them to the bowl of a food processor. (You should have about 4 cups.) To the same bowl, add 1 1/2 cups Italian breadcrumbs, 1 egg, 2 garlic cloves, a handful of parsley leaves (optional), 1/2 cup Parmesan, and more salt and pepper. Pulse until everything has just combined. (It is inevitable that it will be a little mushy, like veggie burgers, but persist.) Sprinkle about a 1/2 cup of breadcrumbs on a plate, season with salt and pepper. Shape 1/4-cup portions of the eggplant mixture into patties, then press the patties into the breadcrumbs on both sides. Fry in neutral oil (canola, vegetable) over medium heat in a cast iron or nonstick pan, about 3 minutes a side, until the patties look golden and crispy. Serve with warmed jarred tomato sauce, such as Rao's, and more Parm.
3. North Woods, by Daniel Mason
When we decided to move from the house that we’d lived in for twenty years, almost overnight it felt like I was living in a museum of my life — I couldn’t stop seeing memories of my kids (as babies, as toddlers, as teens) in every corner of the house, like some long, drawn-out dance with ghosts. Sweet, happy ghosts, but ghosts nonetheless. This is maybe why I fell so hard for Daniel Mason’s new novel, North Woods, which tells the story of one house, first built in the woods of Western Massachusetts by lovers who have run away from a Puritan colony, and the subsequent lives that house (and its ghosts) bear witness to over 350 years. It feels like twenty stories wrapped up in one, each told in a different literary style reflecting the era — i.e. a captivity narrative, passionate, ornate love letters, a true crime column — and along the way, we meet a loyalist soldier and his spinster daughters, a lonely painter and his illicit lover, a con man, a clairvoyant, a mother grieving her missing son. But as we move through the centuries, it becomes hauntingly clear that none of the inhabitants are ever really gone. Like the best novels, the book is completely immersive and changes the way you look at the things you walk by every day — old houses, of course, but also that 100-year-old oak tree in your backyard (imagine what it has seen!), and even the insects burrowing around your stacked fire logs. (One of the best characters in the book is…an opportunistic little beetle.) North Woods comes out next week.
*Full disclosure, my husband Andy edited the book, but if you are worried that I am biased, you can do your own due diligence with this review, as well as this one. You can also ask my kids, both of whom devoured it over the summer.
Thanks for reading, see you soon!