Monday, December 29, 2014

the Lebovitz adaptation

I can scarcely read David Lebovitz  without wanting to share with you whatever it is he’s talking about that day. But then you might just as well read yourself instead of tuning into Twice Bitten every other Tuesday.
I have to admit that some of his recipes work better than others. For instance, in a braised endive dish that I couldn’t wait to try a few weeks ago, the endive is braised in butter on the stovetop and then tucked in with a parchment paper covering to the oven for about an hour before taken out and cooled, each endive wrapped in thin ham, then put back into the baking dish and covered with a béchamel (white sauce) with Gruyere or other Swiss style cheese folded into it, and then browned back in the oven.
I made it and Leo thought it was dreamy, but I found a few things wrong with my execution of it. First of all, the sauce was brown instead of white and golden on top as in David’s photo. And there was something about the texture that I didn’t like, the endive being extremely soft and yet rather stringy. Neither of which was the fault of the dish but, as I say, in my execution of it and, possibly, in David’s directions as to the making of it. And perhaps the endive could have been fresher. A better cook than I would have adapted it to her own expectations, anticipating that the browned butter in the dish would turn the entire sauce brown. Which I may have recognized, but did nothing about.
So now, in hindsight, let me tell you, I would bake it until the juices had become a glaze, not liquid, and then, instead of a béchamel, I would simply nap it with warmed heavy cream and the grated cheese and bake it until bubbly and golden. That would make a wonderful very low carbohydrate dish for this carb-hyped season.
Another thing that David did, recently, was to print another cook’s adaptation of a recipe from David’s book, My Paris Kitchen, for a slightly sweet Israeli cous cous! I’m unable to find that now – he may have taken it down for it’s circuitousness – but I did find the adaptation, itself, by Sara Rosso on her blog, It involves a lot of fresh lemon juice and cilantro along with dates and pistachios and a bit of cinnamon.
It sounded wonderful to me and so I tried it – adding bacon to the mix, and more lemon – and was blown away. I thought it was outstanding and I could eat it all day, while Leo thought it was good but too sweet for a main dish despite the bacon. Whomever you believe you can bet it would make a wonderful side dish for the holiday table.
Israeli or Middle Eastern (as the Co-op labels it in the bulk department) cous cous  is simply a larger grained cous cous. And of course cous cous is not a grain, or only remotely, being made from flour, traditionally from semolina wheat. I think of it as a pasta. Don’t ask me how they form regular cous cous  into those little balls::: Well, do ask me, and I would tell you women’s fingers and lots of gossip I would guess. Sitting outside on kitchen chairs in some North African landscape, deftly rubbing dough between their palms to form tiny little pellets. On the other hand, Israeli cous cous is actually extruded into larger little balls and then baked. It is cooked, then, by boiling briefly.
I am buying bacon made from the hog jowl from Plew Farm at the Rutland Winter Market on Saturdays. I keep it frozen and shave off just as much as I need for each use. I imagine I used 2 or 3 ounces in this dish – just enough for a bit of savory flavor. Excellent Medjool dates may be found in the Co-op’s produce section. Roasted and salted pistachios in their bulk section. As a matter of fact all the ingredients (but the bacon) can be found in different parts of the Co-op.
Here’s the recipe. It is Sharon Nimtz’s adaptation of  Sara Rosso’s adaptation of David Lebovitz’s
Lemon-Pistachio Israeli Cous Cous
3 or 4 ounces thin sliced bacon (see above)
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
½ cup cilantro, chopped just coarsely
½ cup diced Medjool dates
½ cup salted and roasted pistachios, coarsely chopped
¼ teaspoon of cinnamon
2 tablespoons very good salted butter at room temp
1 ¼ cups Israeli cous cous
sea salt to taste
 Freshly ground pepper
Add all the ingredients except cous cous, salt and pepper to a large bowl.
Boil the cous cous in salted water according to package directions, or simmer about 8 minutes until al dente. Drain, then add the cous cous to the bowl and stir until the butter is fully melted and all the ingredients are mixed well. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature. I would not re-heat leftovers.
Happy Holidays, Dear Readers!
this Twice Bitten column was published in the Rutland Herald on 12/23/14

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