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What the Art World Is Cooking

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Johannes Vermeer’s iconic “Milkmaid” gets ready to massage mountains of kale leaves for Brandy Carstens’s Kale Cesar salad, included in this week’s column (edit by Valentina Di Liscia)

“For the first time in years, I have pretty much cooked or assembled everything I’ve eaten in the past two months,” Frieze editor Jennifer Higgie told Hyperallergic for the fourth edition of our ongoing cooking column. Those of us who can relate know that cooking, as comforting as it may be, is a task.

One solution: cook things you can eat for days. Brandy Carstens of Matthew Brown Gallery in Los Angeles makes a kale caesar salad out of a colossal mountain of kale and a whole can of anchovies. (“It may seem excessive, but it performs an umami bomb labor of love.”) Handily, she explains the dressing can be used on pretty much anything else: “Crudités, avocado toast, chicken salad, coleslaw…Join my daily plight to find vehicles for mayonnaise.”

Also, stock up on canned or dry chickpeas: you can make Higgie’s brilliant, mint-speckled frittata or curator Laura Raicovich’s cavatelli with broccoli and ceci, the adorable Italian word for garbanzo beans. And in a special treat, Rebecca Federman, managing research librarian at the New York Public Library and self-professed “culinary collections enthusiast,” shares a white bean soup recipe straight from the stacks. 

For those who prefer to skip straight to dessert, try flan with dulce de leche — Americas Society director and chief curator of visual arts Aimé Iglesias Lukin shows us how.

Jennifer Higgie, Editor: Chickpea, Zucchini and Mint Frittata, Sort Of

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This frittata’s “gloomy brown surface is enlivened with a scattering of bright mint.” (photo by Jennifer Higgie)

“I love cooking but, like so many people, life gets in the way. The curse and blessing of the art world is too many nights on the tiles and too many days getting takeout. Notwithstanding the terrible things the plague has wreaked upon the world, it has slowed us all down. For the first time in years, I have pretty much cooked or assembled everything I’ve eaten in the past two months. I’ve been experimenting with meals that don’t require too much fuss. My rules are one pot, a few easily sourced ingredients, delicious and quick to make.

To my mind, this recipe tastes of spring: mint, lemon, garlic, chili, and zucchini. It emerged from memories of eating chickpea fritters in Italy and seeing something similar on Instagram, I forget where. You can rustle it up in 20 minutes but be warned: sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t — alchemy plays a part in its success. If there are vegetables you like more than zucchini you can use them of course, but it they’re hard (like potatoes) best to roast them first. You could also add beans, red peppers, or anything else you like. It’s a recipe to play around with.

This serves two people, or one if you’re very peckish.

Ingredients:
One red onion
A few cloves of garlic
Fresh or dried chili
Lemon
Chickpea flour (known as Gram)
Fresh mint
Handful of Walnuts
Two zucchinis
Yeast flakes (optional)
Fresh tomatoes

Slowly fry the diced onion in olive oil. Add garlic, salt, pepper, a dash of chili and some lemon zest and, when they’re all nicely cooked, the juice of a lemon and a handful of finely chopped fresh mint. Stir in the sliced zucchini and the smashed up walnuts. If it gets a little dry while it’s cooking, add more olive oil. Reduce and stir now and then.

In the meantime, mix around half a cup or so of chickpea flour with enough water in a bowl so it’s thickish but runny enough to pour. Stir in salt, pepper and, if you want it to taste a little cheesy, a tablespoon or so of yeast flakes. (Use parmesan if you like actual cheese.) Pour it into the frying pan, mix it all up and let it settle, cook for a couple of minutes then put under the grill until it’s nice and crispy on top.

It needs to cool for a few minutes before eating; it’s also good cold the next day. Serve with fresh tomatoes or tomato salsa. Its gloomy brown surface is enlivened with a scattering of bright mint.”

Rebecca Federman, Librarian: Summer White Bean Soup with Tomato Salad Topping

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Rebecca, a research librarian at NYPL, adapted this recipe from Viana La Place’s cookbook Verdura (photo by Rebecca Federman)

“Summer soups call to mind gazpacho or chilled cucumber, but this white bean soup also falls into the summer soup category, or at least helps bridge the seasons. It comes from  Viana La Place’s cookbook Verdura. La Place has a warm and devoted following, deservedly. She co-wrote wonderful cookbooks with Evan Kleiman like Cucina Rustica and Pasta Fresca, both focused on fresh, seasonal but unpretentious cooking. Verdura, I find, gets fewer mentions, but I keep it close by in the kitchen for ideas, especially around this time of year. The book features lots of herbs, vegetables, hot pasta, cold rice, stone fruits, and simple but creative ways of putting them all together. This white bean soup is just one example. 

You combine olive oil, garlic, red pepper flakes and basil with cooked beans and their liquid. Cook for a while, add water, simmer, add small pasta (elbows, orzo, even broken up bits of spaghetti would be good) and then simmer until the pasta is cooked through. It might resemble beige gruel as this point, but then you top each bowl off with basil or pesto, raw tomatoes, plus a shaving of parmesan cheese. The cool raw tomatoes and basil mixed with the creamy white beans and pasta is wonderfully satisfying and summery. 

Ingredients
2 Roma tomatoes, cut into small dice
¼ small red onion, finely diced
10 basil leaves, divided
5 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
½ teaspoon crushed red chili pepper
2 cups Cannellini beans or white beans, with about ½ cup bean broth
3 cups water
½ cup small pasta shape
Ground pepper
Grated Parmesan cheese
Salt to taste

Combine the tomato and red onion in a small bowl. Cut 8 basil leaves into strips and add to the bowl. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon olive oil. Toss mixture and season with salt to taste.

Combine in a soup pot four tablespoons olive oil, garlic, and red chili pepper. Tear the remaining two basil leaves into large fragments and add to the pot. Cook over low heat for two to three minutes. Add the beans and the bean broth, and cook, covered, over medium-low heat. Use a wooden spoon to crush about one fourth of the beans against the side of the pot to thicken the broth. After 15 minutes, add the water and bring to a boil. Add salt to taste and stir. Add the pasta, stir well and good into a gentle boil until the pasta is al dente. 

Ladle the soups in soup bowls. Spoon some of the topping in the center of each bowl. Grind black pepper over the top and drizzle with olive oil. Serve Parmesan cheese on the side if desired.”

Aimé Iglesias Lukin, Curator: Flan Con Dulce De Leche

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Aimé, director and chief curator of visual arts at Americas Society, makes a homemade flan and homemade dulce de leche to serve on top.

“While the current pandemic forces us to stay home, for many of us migrants ‘home’ is a complex notion related more to memories and ideas than to specific geography. Taste and smell play a protagonist role in nostalgia, and during this quarantine, I’ve found myself cooking a lot of the recipes I learned while growing up in Buenos Aires. This one is from my mom, and it makes me feel closer to home, and as we all know … ‘Home is where you want to be!’

Ingredients
1 can of condensed milk
1 cup of sugar
12 eggs
1 lt. (0.25 gallons) of milk
1/2 spoon of vanilla extract

For the dulce de leche:
Remove the label in 1 can of condensed milk and boil for three full hours with water covering the whole can. Let dry, open can, let dry, mix, and transfer to a glass jar. Eat!

For the flan:
Put one cup of sugar into a tall metal pan (ideally a baking mold, like the one used for cakes) and burn the sugar on the stove so it will melt into caramel, swaying the pan with a glove and perhaps the help of a spoon so that the caramel is well distributed among all borders. Set aside and let cool.

In a bowl or blender, mix the 12 eggs, quarter gallon of milk, and 1/2 spoon of vanilla extract until the mix is a little bubbly. Place the caramelized mold into a larger pan filled with water to create a water bath. Add the mix to the mold and cook at 450 degrees or so for half an hour or 40 minutes, or until a fork comes out clean. Don’t overcook it, because it will dry (it’ll still be tasty, but it will be hard to unmold!)

Let cool for a few minutes outside the oven and then place in the fridge for 3+ hours until the flan is really cool.

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Aimé shows us exactly how to unmold a flan without breaking it.

To serve: place a dish on top of the baking mold. Holding both the top and bottom firmly (see pic above), turn upside down with a quick and determined movement. If it does not unmold on its own, repeat or carefully separate sides with the help of a knife. The caramel will fall on top of the flan. Add the dulce de leche on the center, around, on top, or wherever you want!”

Brandy Carstens, Gallerist: Kale Cesar

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The kale requires “an essential amount of massaging” before you can add the dressing to the salad. (photo by Brandy Carstens)

“Chances are, if you’ve been over for dinner I fed you some iteration of my kale caesar. This salad is savory and deeply satisfying, but also quite light and nutrient-dense. You can tailor it to your tastes (increase lemon, garlic, etc.) but trust in the whole can of anchovies: it may seem excessive, but performs an umami bomb labor of love. There is an essential amount of massaging and handling that tenderizes and dries the kale before you add dressing. Don’t skip these steps, your efforts will be well-received. And make extra, this salad gets better with time.

Dressing Ingredients
3–4 egg yolks (pasture raised bright orange, if you can find them)
1–2 garlic cloves, smashed and finely minced
Large scoop of mustard (I use whole grain)
1 can of anchovies packed in oil (reserve oil)
Juice of 1/2–1 lemon
1/4–1/2 cup olive oil (the better the oil, the tastier the dressing)
Salt and pepper to taste

Salad Ingredients
2-3 heads of Curly Kale
Nutritional Yeast

Optional toppings:
Furikake
Make quick croutons with stale bread
Avocado, poached eggs, pickled onions, radishes and carrots are also favorites.

The process of making the dressing is essentially the same as emulsifying mayonnaise. I use an emersion hand blender. (If you don’t own one you can whisk your heart out. I implore you to invest, they are cheap and life changing kitchen workhorses.)

Macerate the garlic together with anchovies until you make a paste. Mix with the mustard and lemon juice, then whisk in egg yolks. Slowly whisk (or blend) in the oil anchovies were packed in, then add additional olive oil one or two drops at a time. You really must add oil slowly. Be sure oil is completely incorporated before adding more. The mixture will begin to emulsify. You can continue adding as much oil as you like. Taste as you go and see how you enjoy the potency. I add about a 1/4 cup of olive oil for two or three heads of kale. It’s okay if it is not perfectly emulsified the first time you attempt dressing — it will still be delicious, trust me.

Dressing also plays well with crudités, avocado toast, chicken salad, coleslaw —join my daily plight to find vehicles for mayonnaise.

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Drying the kale well before adding the dressing is imperative, “otherwise you will be serving soupy salad.” (photo by Brandy Carstens)

To make the salad:
Curly kale, the most common variety, works best. It carries the Cesar dressing properly but requires an ample amount of massaging. Trim stems and soak kale leaves in cold water bath to remove all dirt. The kale will absorb water too, and become heartier. Remove kale from woody stems in handfuls. The more you work with hands the better. (Note: f you are working with limp kale bunches—before you begin to work the kale, trim the stems, put into cold water and stick in the fridge for an hour. The kale will absorb the water and perk right up.)

Drain kale, squeeze out all water thoroughly, and lay it out to dry. Lay out onto towels, rolling up and squeezing with kitchen towels that you don’t mind turning green.

The drying process is imperative. You want the kale to be as dry as possible before adding dressing, which will be absorbed much better by dry kale. Otherwise you will be serving soupy salad.

Once kale pieces are dry, move to your salad bowl and massage in dressing well, layer by layer with your hands. Sprinkle in nutritional yeast or parmesan cheese as you go.”

Laura Raicovich, Curator: Cavatelli with Broccoli and Ceci

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As you cook the sauce it gets creamy and the nuttiness of the ceci starts to blend with the brassica pungency of the broccoli.” (photo by Laura Raicovich)

“This hearty sauce is a riff on something I ate once at Cookshop, where I used to go quite regularly when I worked at Dia [Art Foundation]. It’s vegetarian and delicious and can be paired with a lot of pasta shapes, or can be served as a side dish or a stand-alone stew. I love this dish with fresh cavatelli from Borgatti’s on Arthur Avenue in the Bronx, which isn’t far from where my mother’s grandparents and great aunts and uncles lived after migrating to the US from the hills outside of Naples. I can imagine this kind of vegetable-focused pasta being served in winter in their apartment on Ellis Avenue, which was occupied by my grandmother, her four sisters and two brothers. If you don’t have cavatelli, orecchiette or cavatappi are also great.

Also, I’ve discovered during the crisis that dried beans cooked in a pressure cooker are infinitely more delicious than those from a can (although you can certainly used canned ceci too!) I pressure cook 2 1/4 cups of dried ceci (chickpeas or garbanzos) in six cups of water for 55 minutes in my Instant Pot and they are perfect and nutty-delicious every time (no salt, no garlic, no nothing!) I then use some for salads and soups (or this sauce) throughout the week. They keep in a tightly sealed container in the fridge for a week or even a few days more….

As you cook the sauce it gets creamy and the nuttiness of the ceci starts to blend with the brassica pungency of the broccoli. When you top it with grated parmigiano (always Reggiano!) and lots of black pepper as well as a stream of fresh olive oil, it makes a great dinner. Plus, leftovers make a terrific frittata ingredient or even just some extra good scrambled eggs.

Ingredients
2 cups cooked or canned ceci (chickpeas or garbanzos)
2 bunches of broccoli, cut into medium and large florets, stems peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
3-4 garlic cloves, smashed and roughly chopped
Peperoncino (dried red pepper flakes) to taste
4 Tbs. olive oil plus another bit to add at the end
2 cups of water
1 lb cavatelli
Salt and black pepper
Grated parmigiano

Put the ceci and broccoli in a heavy pot and add some salt, the peperoncino, garlic, and four tablespoons of the olive oil. Add two cups of water and cover, cooking on a very low flame for about 90 minutes, or longer. The slow, long cooking makes the broccoli and chickpeas soft and blends their flavors beautifully.

Check the pot along the way and add more water if it seems too low. If everything gets very soft more quickly and you have a lot of water left, you can turn the heat to high and stir it, cooking uncovered to evaporate the excess liquid. You can cook this sauce more or less depending on your taste. Once all the stems are soft, I like to stir the broccoli and ceci mixture vigorously with a wooden spoon which transforms the vegetables into creamy sauce, but you can also leave the ingredients more intact like in the photo.

Once the sauce is done, cook the pasta in salted water reserving a cup or so of the cooking liquid before draining. Cook the pasta a little less than you typically would and add it to the broccoli and ceci, along with the reserved pasta cooking liquid. Combine the sauce, pasta, and liquid, cooking on a medium flame until the liquid is absorbed and the pasta is al dente. Serve it right away with parmigiano grated on top and a bit of fresh olive oil.

Buon appetito!”

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