Food allergies are the worst.
I have countless friends who refuse to eat foods because their palates are aggregationally challenged and / or suffer from an externally imposed dearth of cultivation.
Beets and mushrooms are the most common patsies of this supremely inexcusable plague of culinary complacency.
Then I have my spattering of friends and families with various morally, ethically, religiously and / or politically motivated dietary restrictions. Pork and veal are out for at least 90% of my friends, for reasons ranging from the obvious (they’re kosher), to the head-scratchingly obscure (concerns about the quality of well water fed to humanely raised pigs in the state of New York).
Because I’m a member of the motley crew of plaintive, selective whackos (I try to consume only organically, humanely and locally raised meat and dairy products, but make exceptions when politeness or extreme logistical concerns demand it) mentioned above, I find intellectual and spiritual bars to consumption much more acceptable than priggish reticence.
Food allergies are a completely separate and terrifying bag. So many more people seem to be suffering from them — I can’t go to an event without strictly warning colleagues about at least one guest’s potentially deadly allergy to nuts/dairy/shellfish/wheat. It’s nerve-wracking to contend with restrictions in a professional kitchen — but when I make food at home, it’s even scarier.
Stephen and I love nothing more than gathering together people we love and breaking bread and popping numerous corks with them. One of his best friends from high school, Brian, and his fabulous wife, Brandee, are two of our favorites. They came over this past weekend with their gorgeous, incredibly bright two-year-old son, Graham. Among his innumerable wonderful personality quirks, he calls me the Other Uncle Pudding (long story), tells Stephen he’s a knucklehead, puts up with our crazy dog Penelope who seems to think he’s a delicious lollipop and dances on request; his sparkling, joyful presence could do nothing but inspire joie de vivre and contentment in everyone around him.
Exulting, twee, flitty glee!
Graham, dear thing, is also allergic to dairy.
Dismay, trepidation, distress!
The mutually exclusive notions of excitement at their impending arrival and horror at the idea of whipping up a butter and cream-free spread did battle in my addled little mind. Le beurre be damned, excitement won!
I ended up keeping it simple: a basic salad, shrimp cocktail, a simple loaf of bread, a few meringues for dessert. My only concern was the entree. I finally settled on a bolognese, eliminating the cream and offering cheese on the side. Wah-lah! Nothing fancy — a few easy crowd-pleasers — we were more focused on watching Graham, making sure Penny didn’t bite into her new lollipop, catching up with each other. The food was just there for the grazing.
The next day, I made a rustic pear tart and was thrilled with the results. I cut into it just as Stephen tuned into the Eagles game — I was thrilled with the results. It was relatively healthy, but buttery, flaky, tangy and sweet. (Not to mention gorgeous — when my camera is fixed I’ll start posting photos.)
I expected a fount of praise from Stephen, but he remained mum. When I questioned him, his response was highly unsatisfactory. “It doesn’t taste like anything. It’s a non-event.” Suppressing the urge to slap, kick and punch him, I stalked off to our bedroom to read “Laughter in the Dark” by Nabakov, and recline in sulking, fuming glory. Four hours later, when the Eagles won and the screams of joy in the living room subsided, he came in to see what I’d been up to. Still pouting, I informed him of my extreme displeasure. Luckily, in the four hours of reflection, napping and reading time the game had awarded me, I’d decided that the Pear Tart Defeat could be turned on its head with the addition of a few simple ingredients.
Below, check out my recipe for a Diary-Free Bolognese and His and Hers Rustic Pear Tart.
Makes 6-8 servings
- 2 TBSP olive oil
- 2 oz. pancetta, diced fine
- 1 small yellow onion, diced fine
- 1 medium-sized carrot, peeled and diced fine
- 1 large stalk celery, peeled and diced fine
- 18 oz. ground beef, pork and veal, seasoned with salt and pepper
- 10 oz. dry white wine
- 3 TBSP tomato paste
- 20 oz. homemade chicken stock
- nutmeg, to taste
- salt and pepper, to taste
- grated Parmesan cheese for sprinkling, for the lactose lovers
- 1 lb pasta, cooked according to package directions (ins lots of salted water!)
- Heat oil in large stock pan. Add pancetta and fry until golden brown over medium heat.
- Add onion, saute until translucent; add salt. Add carrots, sauté about two minutes. Add celery, salt and sauté until translucent, about 3 more minutes.
- Add ground meats, pump up heat to medium-high, brown, about 5 minutes.
- Add nutmeg, more salt and pepper.
- Add wine and bring to boil; reduce to simmer and allow almost all liquid to absorb, about 45 minutes.
- Add tomato paste and cook until its fragrant and well-incorporated, about 5 minutes.
- Add stock, bring to boil, reduce to simmer and cook uncovered until flavors have concentrated and almost all of the liquid has been absorbed.
- Adjust seasoning, taste and serve (with cheese for those who can eat it) and a heap of lovely, organic pasta.
Nutritional breakdown for Dairy-Free Bolognese: 550 calories, 16 grams of fat per serving. Oodles of protein, iron, amino acids, grandma goodness.
Cost breakdown for Dairy-Free Bolognese: $23 or $2.87 a serving (I had the veggies, stock, oil, spices and cheese on hand).
Verdict / In the future: This is a classic meat ragu. Every home cook should have one at the ready for dinner parties and down-home meals because it can be made a day ahead of time; the fact that it’s garlic-free is great for group settings (no one wants to have dragon breath at parties). Skipping the cream at the end is an option I may retain for future parties, even if I don’t have a guest with dairy allergies — the sauce is plenty rich without it. Stephen told me three times that it was “just like” his favorite sauce at our beloved Noodle Pudding, one of the few places we genuinely miss about Brooklyn. Pang!
Rustic Pear Tart, His and Hers
Adapted from Ellie Krieger
Makes 6 Servings
For the dough:
- 1C all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp granulated sugar
- dash salt
- 4 TBSP cold, unsalted butter, cut into tiny bits
- 2 TBSP buttermilk
- 3 TBSP ice water
For the topping:
- 2 medium pears, peeled and cored
- Juice of ½ a lemon
- dash salt
- 1 TBSP plus 1 tsp cornstarch
- 2 TBSP light brown sugar
- 1/8 tsp ground cinnamon
- HIS: Pancetta fried in butter (add a tsp of butter to pan and melt over medium heat, fry pancetta until golden brown), extra salt, about 1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese, more salt
For the glaze:
- 1 tsp honey
- 1 tsp boiling water
- Whisk together the dry ingredients for the crust. Dump the butter in and incorporate the chunks into the dough with your hands – rub butter into the flour, mix and fiddling with everything up until it resembles a pile of dusty pebbles.
- Mix the water and buttermilk and drizzle over the pile. Distribute the liquid with your hands until the whole pile forms into a soft, cohesive mound — like a mud cake. Knead a few times until it’s elastic and resembles the texture of a wet ear lobe, form into a disc and wrap in plastic wrap.
- Place in fridge for 30 minutes to 2 days.
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper or silpat.
- To prepare the topping, slice the pears into 1/8” slices, toss with lemon juice, salt, cornstarch, sugar and cinnamon.
- Roll out chilled dough into a 9”-12” square (don’t stress if it looks more like a blotch – it will still taste yummy), depending on how thin you like your crust.
- With your rolling pin, transfer the dough to the baking sheet.
- Top with sugary pears, leaving about 1.5” of border. I try to fan out the pears in concentric circles if I’m feeling fussy, which is almost always.
- Fold the border over the edges of the pears, crimping if you feel fancy.
- Throw in the oven for 15 minutes. Turn oven down to 325 and cook until golden brown, about 30 minutes.
- Mix honey and boiling water, drizzle over pie and serve (if you’re me).
- If you’re Stephen, add pancetta, salt and cheddar, pop back in the oven until cheesy is melty and delicious, about 5 minutes.
Nutritional breakdown for His and Hers Rustic Pear Tart: Hers: 200 calories, 8 grams of fat per serving. His: 350 calories, 14 grams of fat per serving. Full of fiber, thiamin, Vitamin C.
Cost breakdown for His and Hers Rustic Pear Tart: His and Hers: $3, or $0.50 a serving (I had the dry ingredients, butter, honey, pancetta and cheese on hand).
Verdict / In the future: I will continue to try to keep in mind the fairly well-established fact that women and men have different palates. As distasteful as that may be, and as much as it’s resisted by arbiters of taste and culture, I think it’s true. And I believe it’s due to more than social conditioning; studies continue to show (and life continues to prove, to me at least), that, on the whole, men prefer food that is saltier and fattier than women. Don’t get me wrong — I loves me a good trotter — and many men genuinely adore salad. But gram per gram and ounce per ounce, women will usually lean toward sweetness and acidity and men will lean toward, well, fat. (The origins of the differences have been linked to our cavemen days, when men hunted and required fatty protein to build muscles and women relied on the edibles they gathered, namely, fruits and veggies. The ongoing pattern has been blamed on gendered socialization.) Whatever the case may be, I have found that if Stephen, or any male I know, is dissatisfied with a meal I serve them, it can quickly be amended with the addition of sodium and some sort of fat. My hypothesis proved true yet again: “Delicious!” Stephen exclaimed, his eyes lighting up with genuine wonder and delight. “How did you do it?”