Apparently, there are alotta folks who don't care for one Amanda Hesser. She's a New York Times food writer who, at the ripe old age of 31, has published two cookbooks, both replete with charming stories about falling in love - in The Cook and The Gardener, with a grizzled old French gardener and his fresh-from-the-dirt vegetables, and in Cooking for Mr. Latte, with her eventual husband, whom she dubbed Mr. Latte. The latter tale was published first as a Food Diary in the Times. I read an interview with her yesterday on Leite's Culinaria and it inspired me to make one of her recipes. You see, I was taking a stand. Apparently, there's a devout group of anti-Hesserites. Who can imagine such a sweet-looking, gifted cook and writer having enemies? I guess Osama and Michael Jackson aren't enough for some people. Geez.
But getting to the point - which is the food - last night I made Hesser's arborio rice salad with pine nuts and lemon zest, and Italian zucchini and tomatoes. It was one of those days where the sun seeps in through the windows all day long, and by 3:00 pm our tiny apartment was warm and almost stuffy. I was looking for something light, no meat to weigh us down, with minimal heat required in the kitchen. When we finally ate, around 10 at night, the pepper and lemon zest flavors had melted into the rice, though not mellowed, and 20 minutes in a hot oven had turned the vegetables just a bit soft, so when we bit they didn't bite back. (Why did we eat so late? I confess that I kept Mr. Food Musings waiting for over an hour while I finished a glass - well, maybe three glasses - of Chardonnay with my friend down on Fillmore. Starving, he texted a threat: "I'm going 2 get Peasant Pie." Peasant Pies, though delicious, are my nemisis - but more on that another time.)
Arborio Rice Salad with Pine Nuts and Lemon Zest
Yield: 4 servings
I've adapted both recipes for 2 people, with enough for one to have an extra helping or for the other to have leftovers for her lunch the next day. However it works in your household.
1 cup Arborio rice
1 1/2 TBSP olive oil
1 1/2 TBSP red wine vinegar
zest of 1/2 a lemon
freshly ground pepper
1/8 cup pine nuts, toasted in the toaster or regular oven at 350 for 3-5 minutes till golden brown
1. Fill a large pot with water and season with enough salt that you can taste it, but it's not salty. Bring to a boil, then add rice and turn down to a light boil till rice is tender but still firm (took me 15-20). Drain the rice and tip into a serving bowl.
2. Sprinkle olive oil, red wine vinegar and lemon zest over the rice and stir well with a big wooden spoon. Let sit for an hour (or up to 8 hours in the fridge) so the flavors meld. Stir every now and then.
3. Before serving, bring rice up to room temperature and stir in the pine nuts.
Italian Zucchini and Tomatoes
Yield: 3 servings
Hesser adapted this recipe from Paola di Mauro, "a winemaker outside of Rome who is so well known for her cooking that chefs in America beg to visit her to divine her secrets." Harumph. Is it bad form to admit I've never heard of her?
3 zucchini, ends trimmed
1/2 small onion, chopped
1 scallion, white part only, thinly sliced
3 big basil leaves
1/8 cup of flour
1/2 cup tiny cherry tomatoes (Sweet 100s are my preference but this time of year even those are more tang than sweet)
1/6 cup olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
1. Preheat to 425.
2. Slice the zucchini into 2-3" lengths, and then lengthwise into 1/4" sticks. Toss them into a colander. Add the onion and the scallions. Tear basil leaves into small pieces and scatter on top. Season lightly with salt, then sprinkle with flour. Toss the vegetables and flour with your hands until the vegetables are well-coated. It will be wet but don't let it get gooey. Add the tomatoes, season again with salt and toss once more.
3. Pour half the olive oil into a ceramic pie plate or medium baking dish. Fill the dish with the vegetables, then grind pepper on top. Pour the remaining oil on top and bake it for about 20 minutes.
This would be lovely with a piece of grilled fish, or cold roasted chicken, which is what Mr. Food Musings got. Hey, it was 10 pm.