Twelve weeks in, and I am starting to realize a few things. The more you keep trying something, the more you are inclined to learn to like it. For example, lamb. I’m not sure I love it yet, but this week’s Rosemary Rack of Lamb was the first time I glimpsed wanting to eat this by choice.
Ina and I can disagree about what constitutes a dramatic dish. Lemon Capellini with Caviar was pitched as “This is the perfect special appetizer or dinner for a celebration….It’s dramatic, it’s delicious, and best of all it’s ready in five minutes,” but at the end of the day it was a bowl of noodles with butter and lemon zest. Sure, there was caviar on top, but that really doesn’t change the heart of the dish, which is hot pasta and melted butter. This does not translate as dramatic in my book. Quick? Yes. Dramatic? Hardly.
There are people who will enjoy something I don’t care for, and I will not care for certain things that other people really enjoy. Fennel is one ingredient that I enjoy as a contributing flavor in certain dishes, but when it is the main attraction, I reach my threshold in a bout two bites. Other people can’t get enough of it.
I love just about anything that is served with Tzatziki on the side. There’s really nothing more to say about this.
Pear is a really difficult fruit to get right in a dessert setting. Pear Clafouti hit the mark this week, while other pear desserts have not. This was elegant, delicate, feminine, and quite delightful.
If you walk past a large bowl of raw vegetables and start to drool, it might be a sign that you need more raw vegetables in your diet. The Greek Panzanella proved to be my opportunity to realize how long it had been since I had ingested a full serving of raw food, and I was thankful for the opportunity to feed my body what it clearly craved.
WHAT I COOKED
Salmon with Lentils, Barefoot in Paris
Roasted Fennel with Parmesan, Barefoot Contessa Cookbook
Italian White Beans with Escarole, Cooking for Jeffrey
Rosemary Rack of Lamb, Make It Ahead
Easy Tzatziki, Make It Ahead
Greek Panzanella, How Easy Is That?
Pear Clafouti, Barefoot In Paris
Lemon Capellini with Caviar, Barefoot Contessa Cookbook
WHAT I LEARNED
SALMON WITH LENTILS. Let’s be clear about one thing. Ina has a formula for lentils, and over the span of her cookbooks, it can be found in six different forms. Two side dishes, one main dish, two soups, and a salad. This dish is one of the six. Don’t get me wrong. I love it. They work every time. But it strikes me as funny the way she will take one recipe, rework it, repackage it, and then republish it. I guess in a way it’s kind of genius, because regardless of which cookbook you own, chances are you have one of her recipes for lentils. They really are delicious.
ITALIAN WHITE BEANS AND ESCAROLE. Escarole is a member of the bitter herb family. It is thicker than a lettuce, but thinner than kale. There really isn’t a substitution for escarole, and most grocery stores carry it. When you taste it raw, it has a nice bitter flavor, sort of like arugula, but without the peppery bite. This soup really knocked my socks off, and I enjoyed serving it as a first course for lunch. It came together quite quickly, was easy, and the finished flavor was more complex than the simple prep would have you expect. It is creamy from the beans, brothy from the stock, and has a kick of heat from crushed red pepper flakes, but not at all spicy. It is meant to be eaten in the winter, where its warming effect can be best enjoyed. A double batch of this would serve ten.
ROSEMARY RACK OF LAMB WITH EASY TZATZIKI. The best lamb recipe I’ve made so far, and this is coming from a not-so-enthusiastic lamb eater. The overnight rub really infused it with lots of flavor, and they cooked perfectly in 25 minutes. The added element of the cucumber yogurt sauce helped make these more familiar and platable for me. I think if I had started my lamb journey with this recipe, as sort of a gateway dish, then the other ones that I’ve tried would have perhaps been more enjoyable. We had several people at the Ina Lunch say how much they enjoyed this lamb dish, and one of them said she really didn’t ever eat lamb. So there is something about this dish that is more universally appreciated and enjoyed than some of the others.
GREEK PANZANELLA. Run, don’t walk. Grab a cart, get the vegetables, and make this right now. Everything about this was perfect. It is summer in a bowl (even though we served it in December). It is fresh, so beautiful, perfectly seasoned. The beautiful colors, and the huge chunks of bread, soaking up the vinaigrette make it one of the top contenders for the best recipe from the project.
GINGER SHORTBREAD. All of Ina’s shortbread variations (and there are quite a few) are the best. Buttery, perfect, easy. The addition of crystallized ginger is soft and subtle, not at all overpowering or spicy like a ginger snap. It is almost indiscernible in the finished cookie, but in the best way possible. The ginger doesn’t roar at you. It just sweetly lets you know its there, every once in a while. This is an elegant, simple cookie. They last for a very long time, making them an ideal gift-giving cookie.