leave your inhibitions at the door
In every issue, Bon Appétit magazine features a Q&A with a celebrity asking about his or her quirky food habits and favorite things to eat. Until a few years ago, it had always included this question: “What three things are always in your refrigerator?” I was intrigued by that question and was bummed when they stopped asking it. The decision may have been made because celebrity refrigerators sometimes aren’t very interesting—I remember several saying the one thing that’s always in their refrigerator is a bottle of champagne. Bor-ing. (Next to the leftover smoked salmon pizza from Spago, right?)
I still think it’s a cool question, as it lends interesting insight into a person’s tastes and cooking styles. If I were to answer, I’d say things like good European cheeses, lemons, and fresh herbs including thyme, cilantro, and basil. Still, I realize those answers aren’t particularly exciting and are a little predictable. So I thought I’d take this exercise a little farther and highlight three things in my refrigerator that are slightly unique yet surely staples of The Sicilian’s diet:
Pecorino Romano Cheese. Our family absolutely loves this cheese, and it is always in my refrigerator. It has pushed aside Parmigiano-Reggiano (considered by the Italians as the king of cheeses) to become our family favorite. (And it’s less expensive than authentic Parmigiano-Reggiano, too.)
Always made from sheep’s milk (“pecora” means “sheep” in Italian), Pecorino Romano is hard, sharp, and salty with just a tiny hint of musk, yet without the heaviness of a cow’s milk cheese. It is made primarily on the island of Sardinia, just off Sicily (apparently my affinity for it is in my genes!). It was also a staple of soldiers’ diets in ancient Rome. It is absolutely wonderful grated on pasta, or on sautéed or roasted broccoli, or on freshly made kale chips. My family loves a dish I make with rigatoni, Italian chicken or turkey sausage, sliced hot peppers, and kale that I braise in a sauté of garlic, thyme, fennel seed and chicken broth, topped with grated Pecorino Romano. My favorite comfort food in the whole world is spaghetti topped with marinara sauce, toasted pine nuts, and Pecorino Romano. I’m telling you, once you go Pecorino Romano, you won’t go back.
The Redheads Hummus. A few years ago, I was with a friend (who happens to be very health conscious and fit), perusing the appetizers list at a downtown Ann Arbor restaurant. “How about we split some hummus with veggies and pita chips?,” I suggested. She flashed the mischievous grin of someone about to say something controversial. “You know, I just don’t ‘get’ hummus,” she said. Wow. Even my Dad will eat hummus.
Yet I kinda know what she means. At some point hummus replaced the Lipton’s French Onion and Frito Lay Bean dips of our parents’ generation as a “healthy alternative,” but the store-bought versions are often so bland you might as well eat spackling. So how did hummus get so ubiquitous? So we can say at least we’re not eating Frito Lay Bean Dip? If I make my own I add plenty of lemon juice and season it adequately, but I can never leave store-bought hummus alone. I find myself adding lemon juice, or capers, or chipotle hot sauce, or just about anything I can conjure up in the fridge to give it some flavor. Until I met the Redheads, which is an interesting hummus hybrid:
Produced by two cute redheads (of course) in Lake Leelanau, Michigan, The Redheads hummus is pretty addictive. “Made With Many Organic Ingredients,” it says on the label, including the typical garbanzo beans, extra virgin olive oil, lemon juice, and tahini, but it gets an extra kick of umami from “organic gluten free tamari.” The product is currently only sold in Michigan, and in Ann Arbor it can be found at Whole Foods Market, Peoples’ Food Coop, and Arbor Farms Market, and can also be ordered online and FedExed to your home. Flavors include garlic, pesto, sundried, and cherry chipotle. And admittedly, I don’t ALWAYS have it in my refrigerator, but the Redheads are good Michigan girls and deserve a shout-out.
Roasted Walnut Oil. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been making salad dressings with extra-virgin olive oil, and only extra-virgin olive oil. No matter whether the acid in the dressing was lemon juice or balsamic, cider, red wine, or sherry vinegar, the oil was always extra virgin olive. And then I was introduced to roasted walnut oil by Ann Arbor personal chef Karen Eddy, when she helped me host a dinner in my home, and a whole new world of salad possibilities opened up. And bonus—it’s a good source of Omega-3 fatty acids. Oils can vary widely in quality depending on brand, so I recommend the La Tourangelle brand:
Roasted walnut oil offers such a warm depth of flavor, you can drizzle a little on some salad greens with a few splashes of vinegar and some generous grinds of black pepper and salt, and you’ve got a quick salad for lunch. For a little more effort, make a dressing of it with a little Dijon mustard, balsamic or sherry vinegar, some finely minced shallot, salt and pepper. Toss it with greens and some crumbled blue cheese or goat cheese, add some toasted walnuts, maybe some dried cranberries. I still go through large bottles of extra virgin olive oil in no time, but roasted walnut oil is always in my refrigerator (this delicate oil would go rancid in the cupboard next to the olive oil).
So what are three interesting staples of your diet in your refrigerator? Any weird ones out there? Fess up, and leave your three things in the comments section below.
Coming this Friday (Feb 22nd) – Special Guest Post! - The Hedonist