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When Cooking Is the Main Event
A collection of Bittman-inspired dishes from the weekend
If you’re ever in Myrtle Beach and see a put-together lady in a wide-brimmed hat riding a red trike on one of the bike paths, there’s a chance it’s my mom. I just went to visit her over the weekend for her 79th birthday and she’s killing it. Since my father died five years ago in August — once she adjusted to her new reality — she has settled in with a great group of friends; a magical home; a sustaining routine of reading, gardening, and visiting with her friends who call themselves the Martini Girls, even if some have long swapped martinis for low- or no-octane drinks.
Sure, my mother is cognizant of the direction our world has been heading, and the fear it can elicit in me, in her, in us — yet she carves out moments of joy and is demonstrably grateful throughout the day; it’s something I hope to better emulate. Lots of these moments center around food and cooking, of course. Below you’ll find a collection of the Bittman-inspired dishes we ate this past weekend and I hope you like them as much as we do.
My parents moved from New Jersey to South Carolina over a dozen years ago; their first house was quite a bit further south than where my mother lives now. When she was first vacationing there, she was smitten with Lowcountry dishes, this one in particular. A Lowcountry boil is different from Mark’s New Orleans’-style here, I believe, in that there’s sausage and less kick and probably some variation on herbs, but correct me if I’m wrong. Regardless, it’s an easy way to feed a big or small crowd. Any excuse to eat with my hands off a table covered in newsprint.
Orecchiette with Salmon and Leeks
My mother probably eats more salmon than anyone I know: on a plank, in pasta, as a burger, in a sandwich. I knew we’d kick off the weekend with it and sure enough, she didn’t let me down. This recipe is a good one that Kate Bittman also cooks with her family.
Makes: 4 servings
Time: 30 minutes
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 skin-on salmon fillets (about 12 ounces total)
Salt and pepper
1 pound leeks, trimmed, sliced crosswise and well rinsed
1⁄2 cup dry white wine
1 pound orecchiette or other small-cut pasta
2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives, for garnish
1. Put the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. When it’s hot, add the salmon skin-side down, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook until the skin is crisp and releases easily 3 to 5 minutes; turn the fish and lower the heat to medium. Continue cooking until the salmon is not quite opaque all the way through, just another minute or 2.
2. Transfer the fish to a plate. Carefully peel off the skin and return it to the pot. Cook, turning occasionally until browned and crisp, 3 to 5 minutes. Transfer to the plate with the filets and sprinkle with salt.
3. Add the leeks to the pot, sprinkle with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, 3 to 5 minutes. Add the wine, pasta, and 1 cup water. Bring to a boil and scrape up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Reduce the heat so the mixture bubbles enthusiastically and cook, stirring frequently and adding more water 1⁄4 cup at a time to keep the mixture saucy until the pasta just begins to get tender, no more than 10 minutes.
4. Chop the salmon skin. Use a fork to flake the salmon into large pieces. Add it to the pasta and cook until the salmon is heated through and the pasta is tender but still has some bite, another 2 to 3 minutes. Taste, adjust the seasoning, garnish with the chives and salmon skin, and serve.
— Recipe from Dinner for Everyone
Wedge Salad with Blue Cheese
Neither of us is huge iceberg fan, but my mother loves creamy dressings like blue cheese — I’m more of an olive-oil-and-lemon person myself — and iceberg holds up nicely here. When I visit her down South, it seems like we always make this one as if my father were there with us, since it was his favorite.
Makes: 4 servings
Time: 20 minutes
1 cup yogurt, preferably whole milk
½ cup crumbled blue cheese
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice, or more as needed
Ground black pepper
1 head iceberg lettuce, cored and cut into 8 wedges
½ cup toasted and chopped hazelnuts, pecans or walnuts, optional
1. Mash yogurt with blue cheese, lemon juice, a pinch of salt, and a grinding or two of pepper. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more lemon juice if necessary.
2. Place each wedge of iceberg lettuce on a plate, drizzle with dressing and sprinkle with nuts if using.
— Recipe from The New York Times
Here’s a dish I don’t make enough, one that I love for it’s pastry meets good-for-you greens combo. My mother brought this to a Saturday birthday lunch party that started at noon and ended at 6:30 p.m. — the best kind of day party.
When you’re working with phyllo dough, makes sure you keep the pieces you are not working wiht covered with a damp towel.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 bunch scallions or spring onions, trimmed and roughly chopped
Two 10-ounce packages frozen spinach, thawed and drained, or 11/2 pounds fresh spinach, large stems removed
Salt and pepper to taste
3 tablespoons pine nuts
2 tablespoons golden raisins or raisins, optional
2 cups feta cheese
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg, or a bit more to taste
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, melted
10 to 12 phyllo sheets
1.Preheat oven to 300°F. Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat; add the scallions a minute later. Cook until they begin to soften, 3 to 5 minutes, then add the spinach. Season with salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, until the spinach is completely wilted, less than 5 minutes. Turn the mixture out into a bowl and let it cool, then stir in the pine nuts and raisins if you’re using them.
2.Beat together the feta and eggs in a separate bowl. Season the mixture with the nutmeg and some pepper, then taste and adjust the seasoning.
3.Brush the bottom of a 9x13-inch baking dish with butter. Lay 6 or 7 phyllo sheets in the pan, brushing each sheet with melted butter. The edges of the sheets should hang over the rim of the pan.
4. Spread half of the cheese mixture over the phyllo and top it with half of the sauteed spinach and scallions. Lay another 4 sheets of phyllo on top of the spinach, buttering each sheet, then top the phyllo with the remaining cheese and spinach. Fold the edges to enclose the pie, sealing with melted butter and additional buttered phyllo if necessary.
5. Score the top of the pie into squares or triangles and bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until golden brown. Serve warm or at room temperature.
— Recipe from The Best Recipes in the World