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August 5, 2022
Pro Secrets of Homemade Pasta: Missy Robbins Tells All
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Missy Robbins, chef and founder of Lilia and Misi in Brooklyn, teaches a masterclass in making pasta at home—she explains why her noodle recipes include a copious number of egg yolks, why she often leaves salt out, and her secret to cacio e pepe. Plus, Romy Gill takes us on a food tour of Kashmir; Adam Gopnik explains the rules of time in the kitchen; and we make Zucchini and Chickpea Salad with Tahini Yogurt.
Questions in this episode:
"When I bake with frozen blueberries, should I keep them frozen or thaw them first?"
"Can you help me get out of my cooking rut? I cook for one and am at a loss for recipes."
"How can I keep my chicken breasts moist? My kids don’t seem to like Dad’s famous dry chicken breasts."
"My grandmother taught me a dessert that involved a vaccuum––you put fruit on the bottom of a pan with a glass cup turned upside down so that the fruit juices go up into the glass. I don't remember the recipe, but I do remember the vacuum. Can you help me recreate it?"
"I made a chicken pot pie from scratch (minus the pie crust, because I’m not ready for that). The flavor was somewhat muted. How can I punch it up?"
Christopher Kimball: This is Milk Street Radio from PRX. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Today Missy Robbins is here to teach us the rules for making great pasta and sauces at home. Plus, the number one the most important ingredient is the one you leave out.
Missy Robbins: If I'm going to do a mushroom dish, I want it to be about the mushrooms if I'm going to do a fennel dish, I want it to be about the fennel and I edit myself by always remembering that because often you still have a tendency to kind of say like, oh, what does that need? And often what it needs is for you to take something out of it.
CK: First off, it's my interview with Chef and writer Romy Gill, for her book on the Himalayan Trail, Gil traveled across Kashmir and Ladakh in search of recipes and stories. Romy welcome to Milk Street
Romy Gill: Thank you for having me.
CK: So, for your book, you traveled all over Kashmir. So why did you choose Kashmir and then what did you find?
RG: Since I was a young girl I've always wanted to go to Kashmir because if you know India, if you know the map of India, India is a very big country. We speak different languages we look different. We have very different rituals. Our food is very different. So, you know I used to watch us a little girl Bollywood films, all these actors and actresses running around the snow and and if you know where I grew up, there was no snow I had never seen snow. And then when I met my husband, he's a computer chip designer so he used to travel on his scooter to all these places in Himalayas and he used to show me all these photographs, I was very very fascinated with that.
CK: You know one of the recipes I really loved was simple as red kidney beans you actually you can use a can of kidney beans, but you heat some ghee you add some whole spices you fry them, add some ground spices and cook it for 15 minutes. I just love the idea of infusing a fairly bland ingredient like kidney beans with all these spices, which I think in some ways kind of summarizes what I love about this style of cooking.
RG: Thank you for saying that because I just think that the recipe is in the books is I know somebody will say oh Where do I find the black cardamom or where do I find the shahi-jeera the shahi-jeera I have to explain which is the black cumin. If you cannot overpower it you have to use it like a pinch. It is smells like I don't know if you know tonic water. It smells like that. So, you have to make sure you adding it less. And then if you have the store cupboard ingredients if you buy these, you can make so many different dishes with that.
CK: So, cooking goat or lamb and yogurt why cooking yogurt does it actually change texture does it change flavor what is the yogurt doing?
RG: So actually, it normally tenderizes meat or vegetarian dishes but also it gives that creaminess and also a yogurt is something which is used widely in India and very very different dishes, but I think the spices when they use for certain dishes certain things like when they use in rista, which is the meatball which is cooked in the yogurt and then added mint on the top. It just works I think the yogurt, mint and the spices it works really well with the creaminess but also gives you a nice kind of a sour taste to the dishes.
CK: You know, many cultures have beat balls, and that includes Kashmiri cuisine too. But you stuff your meatballs with apricot, which I thought was really interesting.
RG: My friend who is a wonderful chef called Pratik, he's Kashmiri Pandit. So, his his mom said that you know Kashmiri pandits use this as a meatball and they've had the apricots when they're cooking. It is the utterly most delicious dish because when you're biting in the meat, the sweetness comes and then the wonderful spices that has when we are cooking the broth. I mean you know you can find any apricots in the world but those apricots maybe the soil is different. It’s just the most delicious apricots in the world.
CK: Well, you have the most delicious we have the worst, so I haven't had a good apricot in 20 years for whatever reason. You talk a lot about Kashmiri saffron and you talk about the fact there's a lot of fake saffron in the world or low quality. So, is Kashmiri saffron, the best in the world you think?
RG: It is indeed though has been the soil makes so much difference. And the way they do it, the families still come together, and you know, work on the farm and as a whole family work together. The saffron fields only bloom for few weeks. You know you get really few stigmas out of saffron, and they use each part of the flower but if you don't know the right and the wrong saffron, the saffron which is is from Kashmir, it's more floral, it's got the most lovely taste to it. And I have tasted so many different sacraments from Iran and from Spain and from other parts where they grow. I still think the saffron in Kashmir is the best in the world.
CK: Harissa you know most people think about chili paste, but harissa is also a mutton recipe in Kashmir, right?
RG: It is it is. And it's also in ___in India, they have the harissa as well, but there is a Muslim culture. So, when I went there, you know, I tasted the harissa very heavy, you cannot eat too much of it, but it's the most delicious and it's a labor of love. If you're going to make it at home. It's a labor of love because it takes longer time. The meat is cooked on the bone. And then once it's slow cooked for a long time, then you shred it, and then you cook it in the rice flour. And then you blitz it and then you eat it with a flatbread. That's how I tasted it in Chai Chai, which is a really modern cafe. And then I went to the Old Town, which is all city in Srinagar, where lot of workers you know who go to work in the morning will go at five o'clock and eat that and it keeps you filled for a whole day. It's so heavy, you can't it's very rich and heavy, but it's the most delicious thing to have, but it's a labor of love.
CK: So, give me one recipe. That would be a good introduction for people they can make at home that would really sort of sum up some of the great ways of thinking about food in Kashmir.
RG: I think that tabak maz which is super easy, and the shish kabobs are super, super easy. But in shish kabob’s, the people might need saffron to have that flavor. If you don't have it's fine too. But tabak maz which are the ribs all you do is boil the meat and spices and then you fry them shallow fry them or deep fried them. It's up to you. But it's fried in ghee which is so much nicer if you don't know what ghee is, it's clarified butter. Or if you can use oil as well to do that. That's the most easiest thing to do. I would recommend people to do that.
CK: Romy, it has been a real pleasure. And now I have a new destination Kashmir. Thank you.
RG: Thank you so much for having me.
CK: That was Romy Gill, author of On the Himalayan Trail. Next up, it's time to answer some of your cooking questions with my co-host Sara Moulton. Sara is the star of Sara's Weeknight Meals on public television also author of Home Cooking 101. Hey, Sara, so you live in New York, obviously COVID has been going on for a while. Did you see your local food scene in your neighborhood change somehow during that time? What happened?
Sara Moulton There was none. Absolutely none. All the restaurants shut down. And then as you know what started happening, which was a happy thing, which I hope continues, although it's controversial is all these outside areas where people can eat outside and suddenly we're looking like Paris you know except you're sitting next to the subway grates. Not quite so cozy.
CK: What about the restarting of restaurants, have a lot of them come back?
SM: They have, we lost some, we definitely did. They're still lacking in staffing for sure. You know, I walk around every day I walk. And on weekends, the young people are out. Its jam packed. It's like you feel a joy. You know, they're all out on the prowl. You know, they're all looking for love. It's all the way it used to be
CK: In all the wrong places.
SM: I don’t know about that.
CK: You know what I love, I love to go by a restaurant that's packed now that was empty, right, a year and a half ago. That does give me joy
SM: Right, right.
CK: So, all right, let's take a call
SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: Hi, this is Jill ___ from Portland, Oregon.
SM: Hi, Jill, how can we help you today?
Caller: I have a question about baking with frozen blueberries. (Okay) so recipes I've been using. I noticed I always say if you're using frozen blueberries, to use them, like keep them frozen, don't sell them out. Right. And the challenge I have with it is that like just recently I was making a blueberry coffee cake. And what I noticed was the temperature was 350 in the oven for about like an hour because of blueberries were frozen. I ended up keeping it in there for like 90 minutes, which then just baked the sides, the edges but not the center. And then it took like another hour it was just a big mess. So, I was wondering if you had any recommendations for that?
SM: Wow, I think something else is going on besides the blueberries. Have you ever made that particular coffee cake with fresh blueberries?
Caller: No first time.
SM: Everything I've ever heard corroborates what you just said which is you should use the blueberries frozen. If you don't want them to sink to the bottom you can toss them in a little flour or something and you should increase the cooking time slightly. But not by a half an hour to an hour. I mean that's crazy. Maybe you could tell us you know what were the ingredients in the cake and what kind of pan you can cook it in.
Caller: Okay, it was an eight-by-eight-inch pan. And then for the cake it said two cups of fresh blueberries fresh or frozen, flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, sugar, grated lemon zest.
CK: How much flour?
Caller: Two cups of flour
CK: Well, I think that's the problem right there. Are you sure it said two cups of blueberries? Because two cups of flour and two cups of blueberries seems kind of crazy.
Caller: Yeah, it says one pint and then in parentheses, two cups of blueberries.
CK: I mean, I would normally expect half a cup of blueberries, three quarter cup or not more than a cup. There's just not enough batter. And so, you're ending up cooking a wet mess in the middle, right?
SM: I agree. 100% I would just find a different recipe.
CK: I would say that's probably the problem. You can thaw out the blueberries if you want. Toss them in flour, and then make sure you get rid of the excess. But I'm with you and Sara, I normally would just throw in the frozen ones.
SM: Yeah, I agree.
CK: So, if it was supposed to be an hour. You cooked it for an hour and a half or two hours. And when you got finished cooking, what was the inside like?
Caller: After 90 minutes. I didn't want the site to burn or overcook so then I just cut out the sides I kept stabbing it with a fork to see if the center was done. And then after like two hours it was just this gross mess. It just was stabbed with a fork to death so
CK: You made one terrible mistake you did not capture this for TikTok because this would have gone viral is not you it's the recipe.
SM: It is the recipe absolutely not your fault at all. And it's not the blueberries’ fault either. So, find a better recipe that's all
CK: Go to Serious Eats for example, I always trust their work and look for a blueberry recipe like that. I think you'll see a very different proportion. Yes, yes, Jill take care. Good luck. Thank you.
Caller: Thanks. Bye,
CK: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
CK: Where are you calling from?
Caller: I'm calling from hot and humid Orlando, Florida.
CK: How can we help you?
Caller: So, I love to cook, especially if I have a glass of wine or like three. But I have found myself not cooking as often lately. I'm looking for one. And when I do cook, it's what the recipe and I'm stuck eating the same thing for a week or I'm stuck with all of these ingredients that I have no idea what to do with and they just go bad. I'm wondering, can you help me cook for one and help me get out of this recipe rut.
CK: Oddly enough, I do cook for one. My kids often don't like what I make. And my wife is eating yogurt for dinner or something. So, I like to think about three categories. Rice, beans, and pasta. So, on a Sunday, if you roast a chicken like I often do, or roasted pork tenderloin or whatever, some protein, you can repurpose that in different ways by changing the base. You can use beans as a base, lentils or you can use white beans or black beans. You can use rice as a base, you can use pasta as a base. So, cooking a protein on a Sunday, repurposing it with different bases is another way of looking at it. Another way to think about it is to reverse it. And I make a big pot of black beans, for example, in an instant pot on a Sunday, that can go into all sorts of things, right? You can put that on rice, you can make a burrito out of it, you can refry it. I like basic things that pair with other things that work really nicely. A pot of rice has a zillion possibilities. You can add saffron to it, you can add spices to it, you can add protein to the top of it. You can also start with a sauce you can do a classic soy sauce with some sort of vinegar acid and a little bit of sugar or fish sauce that way with lime juice and make a bunch of that and that can go over Udon noodles, soba noodles, or just over with the roast chicken. So just having a simple sauce and a simple protein and some bases. Let’s you mix and match. That's how I cook. Now Sarah was going to tell you about her soup.
SM: Yeah, you're right, you're right. But let me just say I agree with what Chris said you know, in terms of all those starches are really great backdrops for protein. Other places you could repurpose leftovers is in soup. Also, frittatas are fantastic.
CK: That’s a good one yeah
SM: You take leftover cooked vegetables and meats and even pastas and beans and just put it in a skillet add some eggs start it on top of the stove till the bottom sets and finish it in the oven. Also, burritos or just rolling things up in tortillas and warming them up. But the other thing I was going to say there's a couple of books out for cooking for two, which at least will help you sort of narrow it down so you're cooking smaller amounts. One was done by Joan Yonan and another one Chris who was Julia Child's editor. (Judith Jones), Judith Jones did a cooking for two. One final thing. Let's say you have a whole big head of broccoli, and you know you're not going to eat it all roast the whole thing or steamed the whole thing because it will freeze beautifully once it's cooked.
CK: At Milk Street we did publish a book called Cookish, which has six ingredients. Most of this stuff is half an hour or less. And what it has is big flavors. It uses fermented sauces, chilies, spices, garlic, ginger, etc. You get a ton of flavor, and it's quick.
Caller: So that's exactly what I need.
CK: All right. Thanks.
SM: All right. Thanks, Peyton.
Caller: All right. Thank you so much very much, nice talking to you.
CK: This is Milk Street Radio. Sarah and I are here to save you from culinary disaster. Please give us a call anytime. Our number is 855-429843 one more time 855-426-9843 Or just email us at questions at Mill Street Radio.com.
SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: Hi, this is Aaron.
SM: Hi, Aaron. Where are you calling from?
Caller: I'm calling from Arizona.
SM: What is your question today? How can we help you?
Caller: So, I was wondering about chicken breasts how to make chicken breasts like to cook a moist because I out cook them, and they'll be pretty dry on the grill. So, he uses a grill or oven stovetop? Any suggestions on how to make them a bit more moist for the family? Because the kids they don't seem to like dad’s famous dried chicken breasts
SM: Well, chicken is really a conundrum because you have to cook it well done or well enough done because of the issues with salmonella. And can’t be black so it's not one of those ones where we could blindly say well under cook it slightly, although there is always carry over cooking time so you can undercook it slightly but then let it sit and finish cooking. So, are you talking about thick chicken breasts than chicken breasts?
Caller: Boneless chicken breasts.
SM: Okay, what I do is I almost always coated in flour, and specifically Wondra flour, Wondra flour, okay, which is an instantized flour. It's the stuff that our grandmothers used to thicken gravies because it doesn't clump up. But what it also does is it tends to protect the quote unquote white meat, so I use it also for boneless pork chops, and you'll find that just that little bit of extra insulation seems to help. So, what I'll do is I'll coat the chicken breasts in that. And then also tie them if they're really thick, you might want to let them finish a bit in the 350 oven for a few minutes. Looking for temperature about what Chris Do you think 160? (Yeah) in the thickest part of the breast and then get them out let them rest but then I would make a sauce often I make a sauce in the pan add a little chicken broth, and when you put the chicken back in briefly, a little bit of the flour will come off and thicken the sauce. And that helps. Another thing you could do is to pre salt it, you know dry brine it and let it sit covered in the fridge, you know for an hour salted on both sides, and then pat it dry before you cook it and that will help too.
Caller: Okay, that'll help on the grill?
SM: Well, the grill is a whole different ballgame. On the grill. I think your best friend would be just under cooking it but salting it also would help there too. And making sure you pat it dry and oil it before you get it on the grill. And then let it rest before you slice it. I mean really give it time like any other meat. Anyway, Chris?
CPK: Three things. So, first of all, you are determined to grill the chicken or can we have other cooking methods.
Caller: That would be the preferable way to cook it. But I'm open to suggestions. I mean, I'm sure you guys have tons of ideas. So, I'm open
CK: if you want to grill it, which is you know walking on the wild side. I brine it skinless boneless chicken breasts, you can do in like half an hour, it's very quick. And make sure you pat them dry and then chicken should never be cooked over high heat on the grill. I use medium low heat and it'll be fine. The best way to do it is to poach it. So, get the chicken breasts put them in water that's 175 degrees. You could use chicken stock but that's going to cost you more money. I would take a quarter cup or half cup probably half a cup of soy sauce and a couple quarts of water because the soy sauce has some salt in it which is great. And then put the chicken in and keep maintain that temperature 175 until the chicken breasts come up to 161 165 and that'll give you really, it's sort of a sous vide without a sous vide machine. That works really well. The last suggestion I have if you want to grill. The best way to do chicken is spatchcocking which means you get a heavy pair of scissors or a knife and cut out the backbone and flatten it and cook that on the grill flattened. Dry it off oil salt, medium low and then you'll get perfectly cooked chicken, but you really need the bones in the skin to protect the chicken because boneless skinless chicken breasts protection is really you got to be really careful, but I would definitely brine it if you do that or poach it is the best method.
Caller: Brine or poach. Okay, very good. Yeah, I will actually probably try all of that. Great, which what I can do best. Thank you.
CK: All right.
SM: Bye bye.
CK: You're listening to Milk Street Radio. Up next chef Missy Robbins teaches us pasta one on one that's coming up after the break. This is Milk Street Radio. I'm your host Christopher Kimball. Right now, it's my interview with Missy Robbins. She's the chef owner of the restaurants Lilia and Missy in Brooklyn. She is also the author of Pasta, the Spirit and Craft of Italy's Greatest Food with Recipes. Missy, welcome to Milk Street.
Missy Robbins: Thank you so much for having me.
CK: There are three reasons I love you in this book. Let me let me do them in order. The first is that and I've been fighting this fight for 30 years. In Italy, people flavor olive oil with garlic like a smash clove. And this idea of mincing garlic and throwing it all over the place is crazy. And you agree with me, which is great. Number two Tuscany's overrated. Yes. And three, stop throwing dried oregano and your tomato sauce. Oh, so there we go. No matter what else happens in this book. I'm on your side.
MR: Thank you. Thank you.
CK: So, let's start with what is regional? I mean, it's kind of a stupid question, I guess. But is there something that underlies or is foundational about regional Italian cooking that is unique, you think to Italy?
MR: Yeah, I mean, I think you know, I grew up outside of New Haven, Connecticut and what I knew of Italian food was sort of the red sauce, southern Italian. And I didn't really understand that there was other food. And I think at the time, when I grew up, if you went to a northern Italian restaurant, usually that just kind of denoted that it was fancier. And it had a veal chop on the menu. And when I when I really started getting into Italian cooking, I didn't even understand what regional cooking was. I learned very quickly, there were 20 regions in Italy and each one has a really distinctive cuisine. And that's based on geography, culture, ingredients, you know, what you what you find in the north is very different than what you find in the South. It also has to do with sort of socio-economic differences in regions. But yeah, I think basically what you have in Italy is 20 different cuisines and I think that's what's really kept me so interested in it for so long is that there's always something new to discover.
CK: Let's start with flour. You want to explain to listeners with double zero is and yeah, because I think there's some confusion about what that means and also whether you want to soft wheat you want some Alina some durum wheat in there with the right mix.
MR: So, I do two different things. So, for my fresh egg dough, I use only double zero. And let me preface all of this by this is personal preference. This is years of making pasta and experimenting and tasting and deciding that this is my my thing, and I don't like shun anyone else for doing it another way but this is how I do it. So double zero double zero is a very finely milled very powdery soft flour in its simplest terms and it just mixed with egg yolk which is also the only way I make my egg dough. I don't use any whites in it just creates this very very tender pasta and it's what I kind of learned when I was in Italy and then what I learned when I went to work Tony Montserrado in Chicago and that was really my my real education in Italian cooking and pasta. And I think that gets ingrained in you when you're a young chef and you sort of pick up on things that seem right because more than one person is doing them in a place that you learned. And then for my extruded dough, which is basically what you make dried pasta with, I use semolina and water. And then for sort of hand shaping, Southern shapes, so that orecchiette, trofie, things like that. I actually created a dough for this book because I had never used that in the restaurants and I am so pleased with this dough, but I came up with a ratio of semolina water and a little bit of double zero, which just creates again, a little bit more tenderness, but also the semolina and the water allows it to have stretchiness, which you need for those shapes, you have to be able to like pull them in a way that you don't when you're making, you know, a fettuccine, for instance.
CK: So, let's do some do's and don'ts. Just basic pasta making. You mentioned you use egg yolks, you don't use whole eggs, why not the whites?
MR: The yolks just make a richer, less elastic dough. And for fresh pasta, I just want that like kind of I want structure in it. But I want it to be really tender and elegant and with like a little less bite than white yields.
CK: And you also said that all of the moisture in the dough is provided by the egg yolk are correct.
MR: Yes, I get a lot of DMS on my Instagram saying do you think you made a mistake in your recipe because how could you use 20 40 yolks and I'm like I'm fairly certain that after three and a half years three testers, a writer and editor that I didn't make a mistake.
CK: Never put oil in water when you're cooking pasta. Why not?
MR: Yeah, that's a big one. That's a that's a very important one. And the reason it's not just like an old wives tale, what happens is if you add oil to your water, the oil slicks the pasta and the whole idea of pasta when you take it out of the water and put it in the sauce that you want that sauce to absorb into the pasta, and the oil will prevent it from doing that. It'll just slip right off.
CK: You said something really interesting about adding the salt to the cooking water. And that's the salt for the recipe that you don't really need much additional salt.
MR: Yeah, I mean we we barely use I mean we use salt in our sauces. So, if we have a you know, our pork sausage __ or 30 Club sauce or our diavola sauce, their salt in those recipes, but when we're cooking at the restaurant or I'm cooking at home or salting the water, which gives the pasta itself flavor. If you don't salt your water, you're going to end up with a very bland dish, but I'm very rarely adding extra salt to the pan, you'll end up between and like a lot of my pasta is definitely are finished with cheese, which has salinity itself and the pasta water you don't really need it and that pasta water also ends up in the dish. So, it's not that you're just cooking the pasta in that salty water some of that water is is going into the pan with the final product.
CK: So, you reserve some of the cooking water yeah, to this end to a gentle boil versus a hard boil. When do you use each of them?
MR: Gentle boil I use for mostly filled pastas. And the reason that is is most of my fillings are pretty delicate. They're made with whipped ricotta, they break easily. And so, I've come up with sort of this method where you know I think we're all taught to boil pasta do not put it in and and by simmer, I mean our true simmer so there's a slow a slow boil, but it really prevents the pasta the insides from breaking and allows the pasta to cook at the right rate.
CK: So, you wonder cook the pasta and then marry the sauce in the pasta and let them cook together. How do you judge how much to under cook the pasta before you finish it with the sauce?
MR: Oh, wow. That's a good question. I mean, I think it's all feel like it's hard to that's the problem with writing a cookbook. I wanted to write a whole book without recipes at all. But I was I was denied that and yeah, I think I think part of it is kind of trial and error. It also depends on you know if you're buying pasta in a store, every pasta cooks at a different rate and so you have to keep taking a piece out and really testing it to feel where it where it is.
CK: Cacio e Pepe is really hard because it gets gluey or it's kind of you know, it congeals and sets up and it's a difficult dish. Do you have some advice for people who want to make you know pasta with cheese and pepper.
MR: Yeah, it's all I mean, that dish is all about balancing cheese and pasta water and the correct amount of heat or no heat. It's, it's again, one of those dishes that appears to be so simple, but really is so technique driven. And listen, I've been cooking pasta for many years now and I have screwed up cacio e pepe many times in my own home kitchen, it's just you have to get that balance of the pasta water kind of creates the creaminess. And when you put the cheese in and take it off the heat to make sure that the cheese doesn't clump. It's complicated. I commend people who put cacio e pepe on their menus.
CK: Do you have any advice for people making it at home?
MR: Patience, patience, patience, and like don't just throw everything in the pan at once. Like you really have to add the cheese at the right moment. And you really have to kind of use that cheese and pasta water as like a yin and yang to each other.
CK: Okay. What are a few pieces of equipment, you mentioned a lot in the book. But are there two or three things if you want to make your own pasta at home, you'd really recommend that things that people might not think of?
MR: Well, I mean, I think number one is a is a pasta roller, you know, a sheeter. They're very inexpensive. And, you know, they're kind of like the workhorse of a fresh pasta dough. There's a lot of cool tools we use that are sort of antiquated, Italian tools. There's something called a Guitara that literally looks like it has guitar strings, and you roll a sheet of pasta over it. And it makes this really cool. square cut spaghetti. There's something called a cordzeti, which is a stamp from LaGuaria. And then like just a metal rod, that you can make all these cool kind of southern shapes that you roll the pasta around it like a twig sort of and and I've just kind of gotten into that recently. And that's, that's really fun, too.
CK: There's a saying in music, that it's the notes you don't play that makes the music. And you quote, I guess originally Marcela Hassan who said the most important ingredient is the one you leave out. Could you talk about that?
MR: Yeah, I think I learned that from my mentor, Tony Montserrado, who was the chef and owner of Spiaggia when I worked there, and a great friend. And he used to say that all the time. And it's always just resonated with me, I think, especially when I was a young chef, and you're learning how to be creative and to create your own food. And I think any young chef has a tendency to just add and add and add and add. And this philosophy is really about subtracting and saying, how do I get the most out of each ingredient? And how do I make something shine without overdoing it. And so, if I'm going to do a mushroom dish, I want it to be about the mushrooms if I'm going to do a fennel dish, I want it to be about the fennel, and I think that's just carried on to all of my cooking. And I, I edit myself by always remembering that because often, you know, you still have a tendency to kind of say like, oh, what does that need? And often what it needs is for you to take something out of it.
CK: What about, let's just take two or three basic things that people do make, you know, the, obviously the red sauce, and I know there's infinite versions of this. Could you just give us some tips on how to do that? Well, since most people don't do it that well,
MR: You know, the biggest thing for that is picking tomatoes that you really like I suggest some of my favorites, but there's so many tomatoes out there and you have to decide whether you're you know, you like super acidic, whether you like a little more sweet, whether you like a balance, I tend to like a balance and have picked specific tomatoes for that. But so, it starts kind of with ingredients.
CK: Are you talking about fresh tomatoes, or canned tomatoes,
MR: Canned tomatoes
CK: So, can we just say for the moment that that you know more than I do, but the times I've been in Italy in someone's kitchen, they're cooking with canned tomatoes. I mean, it's very common.
MR: Yeah, I mean, the only time that I make tomato sauce with fresh tomatoes is in the height of the summer.
CK: Okay, so you know you've cooked so many different types of pasta. Is there is there a recipe you just really love that you make all the time that maybe we wouldn't expect that you you would love so much.
MR: It's pretty basic. Actually, my favorite to kind of eat and cook is the ravioli with red sauce. I'm sorry to break it to you, but that's what I crave. I don't crave like duck ragu like it's just not something I crave. I really crave ravioli with red sauce and that's nostalgia. And there's nothing wrong with that.
CK: It's your happy meal.
MR: It's my happy meal
CK: Missy. It's been a pleasure, an education and I can't wait to get back in the kitchen and make pasta. Thank you.
MR: Thank you so much. Thanks for having me.
CK: That was Missy Robbins. Her book is called Pasta. You know Missy admits that her favorite meal is ravioli with red sauce and Jacque Pepin’s ultimate meal is roast chicken with salad and boiled potatoes. James Beard was fond bacon, potato chips and hamburgers. And of course, Julia Child loved Pepperidge Farm Goldfish. So, the word ordinary is usually offered up as criticism, but great cooks are apt to find the extra ordinary in everyday pleasures. As one guru said, the ordinary man seeks freedom through enlightenment. An enlightened man expresses freedom through being ordinary. This is Milk Street Radio coming up Adam Gopnik talks about time and relativity in the kitchen. We'll be right back.
I'm Christopher Kimball you're listening to Milk Street Radio. Now we're heading into the kitchen with JM Hirsch to learn about this week's recipes zucchini and chickpea salad with tahini yogurt. JM how
J M Hirsch: I'm doing great.
CK: So chickpea salads all over the Middle East. I was in Lebanon a few years ago and had feta the you know the yogurt and chickpea salad for breakfast. But you scrolled off to London
JM: As I am want to do.
CK: You found a recipe for chickpea salad. It's a little more summery than what I had. I guess.
JM: I’ve got to tell you this is one of my favorite restaurants in London. It's Coal Office and they do kind of modern interpretations of classic Middle Eastern cuisine and their chickpea salad. I have to say it's underbuilded on the menu, they just refer to it as Kusa, which is the Arabic for zucchini, and very little other description fact I almost didn't even order it. But it turns out it is this tangle of zucchini and chickpeas and fresh herbs like dill, mint and cilantro. And then it's all tied together by this creamy tahini dressing with sumac and olives and there's just so much going on texturally and flavor wise, that's all I wanted. I just wanted this salad, and I would be happy.
CK: So, what did you do with the other 20 things you ordered, you ___ tahini chickpea salad. They must have been a little disappointed
JM: You know, they just are so inventive. The chickpeas are tossed with Z’aatar and red wine vinegar and allium strong shallot. And you know, we think of zucchini salads is kind of watery, frankly, because well, after all, it's a watery vegetable, but not at all the case in this salad, it is just so delicious and such a mix of textures and flavors. And again, that creamy yogurt tahini lemon dressing. Oh my god, I would put that on anything.
CK: So how are you prepping the zucchini? Is it just sliced or what?
JM: It’s just sliced and salted to drain off a little bit of the water. It's very simple. You know, the chickpeas that's where the magic comes in. We take the chickpeas, and we briefly microwave them along with the shallot, the za’atar and the red wine vinegar. And this is a trick we use at Milk Street all the time.
CK: Are these canned chickpeas or you started from scratch?
JM: Oh, please canned, keep it simple. And as those chickpeas cool after a brief stint in the microwave, they absorb the flavors of the dressing and the other ingredients that they're with, so you get a much more flavorful chickpea that you then toss with all these other ingredients. Oh, it's amazing. I love it.
CK: So, an underbuilt mild-mannered zucchini and chickpea salad with tahini yogurt turned out to be the best thing you had at Coal Office in London. Thank you, JM.
JM: Thank you. You can get the recipe for zucchini and chickpea salad with tahini, yogurt, at Milk Street Radio.com.
CK: I'm Christopher Kimball, you're listening to Milk Street Radio. Right now Sara and I will be taking a few more of your calls.
SM: Welcome to Milk Street who's calling
Caller: This is Andy Leaf. How are you?
SM: Good. How are you?
Caller: Good. Good.
SM: Where are you calling from?
Caller: Burlington, Vermont.
SM: Oh, nice.
CK: Excellent. Excellent
Caller: I knew Chris would approve. How can we help you today?
Caller: My grandmother used to make a dessert and she taught me about vacuum with it. And what you did, you took a glass and turned it upside down. And there were some fruit on the bottom, and some sort of biscuit or putting or something on top. And, you know, it's baked in the oven, and all of juices from the fruit went up into the glass. I can't remember the recipe. I just remember the vacuum. And I was wondering if you could help me with that.
CK: I can't visualize this.
Caller: The fruit goes on the bottom like a stone fruit, I think maybe it was plums or sour cherries.
CK: And this goes on the bottom, sorry, but a nine by 13 pan
Caller: or a loaf pan, (okay) And then a glass cup upside down is in the center, and the fruit goes around. Okay, and then on top of that, some sort of biscuit. (I got it.) When you bake it, all the juices run up and back into the cup.
SM: This is reminding me of I was looking for, you know, some sort of summer peach dessert recently. And I came across a recipe from Serious Eats. It's called a peach cobbler. And apparently it was based on some church recipe or old cookbook. And what it is is so you have the half peaches, you know, you pit them and you put them cut side down and I think it's a pie plate, but leaving a gap in the middle and then you put an inverted ramekin. And then you'd make the cobbler dough and you put the whole thing on top and bake it. This is all in a pie plate, a ceramic pie plate. When you take it out of the oven, you invert it and you end up with cooked peaches cooked dough and the ramekin is filled with sort of caramelized reduced peach syrup. So, you might I mean, it sounded I was like, wow, I have got to try. That's amazing. It's like you got everything in one, you know,
CK: To ask the question, what's the point of separating the juicers into the ramekin or the glass? You're going to pour them back into the cobbler when it's done? Right, right. It's a trick.
SM: It's a trick hey, yes, and stupid dessert tricks like stupid pet tricks. It's sort of fun.
CK: No, I meant a stupid dessert drinks but but it's not. There's no flavor reason to do it. It's just a it's a cool trick.
Caller: Yeah, right. Or you could add a little brandy to the juice.
SM: Oh, now you're talking. I like the way you think.
CK: There you go, that would work. Yeah. Yeah. That's pretty cool.
SM: Yeah, that's very cool.
CK: Have you made it?
Caller: I made it with my grandmother years ago. (Right) And I just couldn't remember what went on top
CK: You could do a biscuit like you could with a cobbler. A pandowdy was just really a pie pastry. The reason they called a pandowdy it was you would dowdy it which means that the end, you would cut the pastry into the fruit. So, it was mixed in together that's what it was dowdying, I guess that's what it was.
Caller: And the vacuum is just a trick
SM: Right, as I recall there’s some, you know, other ingredients added to the peaches, some liquid sugar and stuff like that. I mean, I don't remember what the recipe all that well, except that I thought, jeez, I'm going to make it now that I'm talking to you. I'm really going to make it.
CK: You’ve got to put that on Instagram or TikTok, though. So that's a social media recipe trick, absolutely.
Caller: From 1910, right
CK: That's when the best kitchen tricks happened. Thanks for calling
Caller: Thank you very much. All right, be well. Goodbye
CK: This is Milk Street Radio. If you're stumped in the kitchen, give us a call anytime 855-426-9843 one more time 855-426-9843 or email us at questions at Milk Street Radio.com. Welcome to Milk Street who's calling?
Caller: Hi, this is Alicia from Rochester, New York.
CK: How can we help you?
Caller: I made a chicken pot pie a couple of weeks ago. And it's just from a recipe that I found on the internet. But it was from scratch minus the pie crust because I'm not ready for that. It tasted good. But I found that the flavor was kind of lacking like it was kind of muted.
CK: Well, it's interesting because I used to make chicken pot pie all the time. And I think I loved it because it was so bland. Oh yeah. I mean, it's one of those things
SM: Gravy, gravy gravy
CK: Yeah, I kind of liked the fact that it's not balanced. But anyway, here's some things you can do. You could add a little like a tablespoon of miso to it white miso. And that's going to add depth of flavor and sort of perk things up a little bit. Secondly, you could take some white wine like maybe half a cup and reduce it down or comp reduce it down to a tablespoon or two. And you could add that you know after you've made your velouté the roux, and then you're adding chicken stock, velouté and you can whisk that into the I'll tell you if you want a little bit of extra punch to it. The other thing you could do is when you're finished with the velouté taste it a little bit, you could add a little lemon juice to that, you could add a little, I would say white balsamic vinegar, you don't want to really acidic vinegar, but something mild. I know sometimes sherry is put into this dish to which you could add, so I would just taste the velouté when you're done and adjusted.
SM: I agree with everything Chris just said, I wouldn't be surprised if your biggest problem is lack of salt. But one other thing I thought when Chris was making all the suggestions is you could add a tiny dash of sherry vinegar, because then you'd get both the acid and the sherry taste that's a high acid vinegar. But if you were circumspect with it, it might do two things give that nice sherry flavor, which goes wonderfully with chicken, and also a little bit of acid. I think what you're looking for and chicken potpie is a pointer upper. And the four pointer uppers that are most commonly used are salt, acid, sugar chilies.
CK: I think we're done. I think we've run out of ideas. So
Caller: That's a lot of different ideas to try. So, I will try that. I think I might try the sherry vinegar or the white line first and look for the white miso.
CK: Alicia, thank you.
SM: Yes, thank you.
Caller: Thank you so much. It was a delight. Take care. Thank you.
SM: Bye, bye
CK: This is milk Street Radio. Right now, it's time to check in with Adam Gopnik. Adam, how are you this week?
Adam Gopnik: I am very well, Christopher, how are you?
CK: I'm well
AG: You know, I love Shakespeare. And one of my favorite bits of Shakespeare is the one that Rosalind speaks in As You Like It, where she talks about how differently we experience time in different places and how differently different people experience time, you remember, time travels in different paces with different persons. She'll tell you who time ambles with all who time trots with all who time gallops with all and who he stands still with all and got me thinking Chris about how time moves at different paces in the kitchen. The kitchen, it seems to me is a kind of laboratory where time warps and changes depending on what we're doing. You know, that's the basic Einsteinian idea
CK: time is relative, yes
AG: Time is relative and time warps according to what we're spatially doing and how we're spatially inhabiting it. But what am I talking about? Well, what's the single slowest thing that ever happens in the kitchen? When does time moved most slowly? Well, it seems to me waiting for the pasta pot to boil waiting for the water in the pasta pot to boil always takes what feels like hours. Even if it only takes five minutes. It feels psychologically exponentially as though it's taking forever. The other slowest thing is when you're pitting sour cherries.
CK: I was not expecting that.
AG: Have you not had that experience?
CK: No you need the $8 gadget
AG: I have the $8 gadget. Nonetheless, basically what you're doing when you're pitting sour cherries is you're enumerating them, you can only experience them, one by one by one by one by one. So even if the act of pitting the quart of sour cherries only takes you 10 minutes, it feels as though it's taking you at least 20. On the other hand, chopping onions and garlic makes time go by far faster, right? Because you're engaged in the act of destruction dissolution dissolving. Of course, the fastest time of all in the kitchen is when you have two dishes two pans on side by side. And no matter how masterly you've ever been at doing these things, you still find yourself in a Charlie Chaplin like mode racing from one to another. You know, the one exception I could think of to the rule that time is always faster than you expect it to be or slower than you imagine it's going to be in the kitchen is with a souffle, a souffle has to bake for exactly the amount of time that it needs to bake usually in my oven, 15 minutes, and it can't go for 16 and it can't go for 14 it has to go to 15. That's the one place where I think physical time and psychological time match in the kitchen. But we can always escape time itself in the kitchen, which is ultimately what we seek to do. And we do it with two Einsteinian aides, one is wine, and the other is music. When we step into the kitchen, and we feel the time is going too fast or too slow. We only have to pour another small glass of red wine and put on Sinatra or Bach or whatever your temptation is. And suddenly, time is neither too fast nor too slow. It's exactly at your own tempo.
CK: Let's expand on this time in life is connected to all the things we one has to do deadlines. There are hundreds of ways of measuring time. When you step into the kitchen, all of a sudden that clockwork stops, it's just the recipe. It's just the water, it’s just the knife. It's just the pan. It's like scuba diving, right? You're just thinking about breathing. At the time, the rest of the world dissolves in with it all the ways we measure time.
AG: That's beautifully said, Christopher. I think that's true. And it's certainly one of the reasons why I love cooking. It's because it's somebody who is writing to deadline, seven days a week, when I'm cooking, I don't feel that I'm ever cooking to deadline, even if I am even if in fact, people are waiting for the food, or we have company or their guests. I think that's true. We don't feel the deadlines of cooking in the way we feel the deadlines of our other work. I do feel that the time it takes me to pick cherries, even if it's only 10 minutes is twice as long as the time it takes me to chop onions, even if that's physically only 10 minutes. But I agree with you that we cook in part to step outside time.
CK: It's always the dish in the food that is in control in the kitchen, not you. And so, it's not about how long it takes to get there. It's about the taste you're going to have when you do get there and the process. So yeah, I think I think cooking is beyond time.
AG: Ah, that's beautiful. That's a title for a book Beyond Time.
CK: I've worked on that for hours. I just want you to know
AG: I will continue with my notion that there are different pockets of time that we pass in and out of within the kitchen. But I will agree with you that whatever the time is in the kitchen, it is not the normal time of life.
CK: Adam, thank you more timeless thoughts from the master of culinary poetry. Thank you.
AG: Thank you, Chris.
CK: That was Adam Gopnik, staff writer at The New Yorker. That's it for this week's show. You can find all of our episodes on Apple podcast, Spotify, Amazon music, or wherever you get your podcasts. You can learn more about Milk Street at 177 Milk Street.com there you can become a member get full access to all of our recipes and free standard shipping from the Milk Street store. We're on Instagram and Twitter at 177 Milk Street on Facebook at Christopher Kimball's Milk Street. We'll be back next week and thanks as always for listening.
Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio is produced by milk Street in association with GBH, co-founder of Melissa Baldino, Executive Producer, Annie Sensabaugh, Senior Editor Melissa Allison, producer Sarah Clapp, Assistant Producer Caroline Davis with production help from Debby Paddock, additional editing by Sidney Lewis audio mixing by Jay Allison at Atlantic Public Media and Woods Hole Massachusetts. The music by Toubab Krewe, additional music by George Brandl Egloff. Christopher Kimball's Milk Street Radio it's distributed by PRX