Do you remember way back in the balmy month of May, with much excitement, I announced the planting of my little fire escape container garden?
There were tomatoes and radishes and herbs and peppers and even strawberries, all tucked neatly into little containers, basking happily in the dappled Brooklyn sun.
Well, I hate to say it, but it’s been a dramatic summer and there were few survivors.
First there was summer’s refusal to get started. The plants wanted heat, but there wasn’t any. Then there was the tornado which uprooted a few and harmed many. Then there was the rain that kept beating my seedlings into pulp. And finally, there were the squirrels; those dumb, stupid baby squirrels who feel that my planters are the perfect place to hide all their bounty that I am positive they will never remember.
Tomatoes? Gone. The radishes and herbs? KOed by the weather. The strawberries managed to give me two really cute berries, and that was all. They were then hit by the double header of tornado and squirrels. As you can see, it wasn’t only this guy who had a rough summer of farming in Brooklyn!
But you’ll notice I haven’t said a thing about the peppers. Well, that’s because they survived! I feared for them. They were the hardest hit by the tornado. All six plants were torqued out by the wind into a very neat spiral and had many broken leaves and stems. So I gently gathered them up and tied them together and hoped that would be enough. It was. They kept growing, but wouldn’t flower.
Then we started making cheese. One of the recipes noted that leftover whey makes great plant food. So after our first cheesemaking foray I let the whey cool and then fed the peppers. I could almost hear them cheering! The next morning they looked so perky and happy, and then just a day or two later the first blossom bloomed. And then another day or two later, we had our first pepper, a Portugese hot.
This weekend, with prospects for at least another half-dozen peppers, the Boy and I decided it was time to harvest our first Brooklyn-grown produce. But it needed a proper end.
I recently bought Claudia Roden’s The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, the follow up, decades in the making, to her first book, and possibly my favorite cook book of all time. It has many of the same recipes as the book from the ’70s, updated and adapted for the modern home cook, plus hundreds of new ones. In one meal Ms. Roden made me think of this book as essential. She is genius.*
Over a year ago the Boy had printed out a recipe for Shakshuka from the Times and brought it home to me. When he does this, I know he really wants to try whatever it is, and that it’s probably something I might not be so fond of. Something about that recipe rubbed me the wrong way. It was so fussy and long and complicated. I kept hiding it and hoping he’d forget about it. But no.
I had said I wanted to make something with tomatoes. Shakshuka he said! I whimpered something about not being in the mood. I wanted a place to properly use my one pepper. Shakshuka he said! I mumbled something about it being too complicated. I wanted to coddle the beautiful free range eggs I’d picked up earlier in the week. Shakshuka he said! I murmured something about the pepper getting lost in all those flavors.
And then, finally, we were at the greenmarket, my patience was wearing very, very thin and there, at one of the stands were the world’s largest bell peppers and I agreed. Shakshouka I sighed.
Something was niggling at the back of my head. Hadn’t I seen a recipe in The New Book for shakshouka that looked really simple and clean and easy? Yes, I had. And so, this is where our brave little pepper ended his life, in a warm, molten, silky, sweet and spicy tangle of tomatoes and eggs. A fitting end? Incredibly so.
The tiniest whisper of spice from the sausage melded perfectly with the rest of the meal. Both dishes, though intensely flavorful and at least a little spicy, were devoid of any high seasoning. The light cinnamon aroma was the element that transformed the disparate elements and elevated them into a meal. It was delightful.
And so we sat and munched and oohed and aahed and discussed next years garden. First, I’ll start the seedlings inside. Second, I’m going to make sure my plants and dirt come from organic sources. Third, I will buy containers that are too high for squirrels to clamber into. Fourth, chicken wire will go over everything. Fifth, pray to god there are no more tornadoes!
*As an aside, did everyone read the profile the New Yorker did on Ms. Roden in the food issue? They’ve only got an abstract, a sidebar and some recipes online now, so it’s worth trying to track it down. It made me, even more, want to fly to London and hang out with her. I cannot wait for her volume on Spain to be published!
Head below the jump for the recipes for Claudia Roden’s Shakshouka and Slatit Batata Marfusa.
prep time: 10 minutes ~ cooking time: 45 or so minutes
- Olive Oil
- 2 lbs of Bell Peppers, cut into strips
- 4-6 cloves Garlic, roughly minced
- 1 Onion, sliced
- 2 lbs of Tomatoes, cut into chunks
- 1 hot Chile
- Salt & Pepper
- 4 eggs
Add a healthy glug of olive oil to a deep saute pan set over medium-high heat. Add the peppers and cook a few minutes then add the onions and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently until everything is nice and soft then add the tomatoes and cook until they break down and then cook until reduced to a silky, thickened consistency.
The exact time it takes to get to a thickness you like will be determined by how much water your vegetables contain and how saucy you like your shakshouka. Mine was comparable to a nice thick marinara.
Turn the heat down and add the chile. Season with salt and pepper. Stir to incorporate.
Crack each egg, one at a time into a bowl, then make a little well for it in the sauce and gently tip the egg into the sauce. Repeat for each egg, season with a little salt and then place a lid on the pan and allow the eggs to cook a few minutes until set.
To serve: Scoop up an egg for each person and garnish with a little sauce. Enjoy!
P.S. – This saves very well and is even better the next day. The yolks of the eggs may get a strange, jellylike texture, but they’re still delicious, especially when mixed together with the leftover potatoes and capers!
Slatit Batata Marfusa (Mashed Potates with Capers)
prep time: 10 minutes ~ cooking time: 1 hour or so depending on your potatoes
- 1 1/2 lbs Fingerling Potatoes, scrubbed and cut into chunks
- 4-5 tbsps Olive Oil
- 1 1/2 tsps Sherry Vinegar
- 2 tsps Shatta or Harissa
- 3 tbsps Capers, rinsed
Boil the potatoes in salted water until tender. Drain, return to pot, then mash them with the olive oil and vinegar. Add the shatta or harrisa and the capers. Mix to incorporate. Taste. Season with salt and pepper.
This is traditionally served cold, but is equally delicious warm. Enjoy!
Both recipes adapted from Claudia Roden’s The New Book of Middle Eastern Food.