Jude's culinary journey

Cooking in a crisis

By JUDE WATERSTON
Posted 5/26/20

I despise wagon wheel pasta and have no idea why children are drawn to it. Ziti, as opposed to penne, isn’t for me, either—no ridges to hold the sauce. And traditional elbow macaroni …

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Jude's culinary journey

Cooking in a crisis

Posted

I despise wagon wheel pasta and have no idea why children are drawn to it. Ziti, as opposed to penne, isn’t for me, either—no ridges to hold the sauce. And traditional elbow macaroni brings to mind deli macaroni salad, something I wouldn’t touch with a 10-foot fork. Where is cavatappi when you most want it?

When food supplies in the house get low, Janet and I go to Peck’s Market, moving quickly with masks donned. I seem to be just shy of bumping into other people’s carts at every turn—muffled excuse-me’s all around. When did shopping carts become so unwieldy? Still, I wouldn’t want my food delivered, as many people we know do. I am comforted by the (half-concealed) faces of the women cashiers we’ve known for years, and I prefer choosing my own produce. Each time I walk into Peck’s, I am baffled by the stock (or lack thereof) on the shelves. Callicoon has the best Peck’s as far as I’m concerned, but it’s hard to understand if the totally bare freezer section is barren because of an inability to find or receive products, or is everyone in the neighborhood suddenly craving fish fillets, pizza, chicken tenders and miniature beef pot pies?

The only frozen foods I buy, besides Dove’s dark chocolate-covered raspberry sorbet pops and coffee-flavored Haagen-Dazs ice cream, is frozen chopped spinach and the occasional bag of sweet peas. Chopped spinach can always be found in my freezer. Drained in a colander overnight, then squeezed completely dry of any moisture, it is indispensable for making a quiche, strata (savory bread pudding), or puff pastry triangles filled with a mixture of spinach, feta cheese, dill, parsley, onion and a pinch of cumin, were guests (who are now verboten) to stop by.

It appears that people have taken to cooking and baking more during the COVID-19 pandemic. Perhaps they find it cathartic in times of turmoil, or they’re afraid to eat the food prepared by anyone but their own dry, red, much-scrubbed hands. I only know I cannot find a bag of flour anywhere, the selection of extra-virgin olive oils is disappointedly limited and whole-wheat flour tortillas have disappeared from the face of the earth.

On Sunday, May 3, we went to the farmers’ market. It was only the second time I’d gone since returning home from Mexico in late March. It was a brilliant day with blue skies and temps in the mid-70s. Though the new safety procedures at the market take some getting used to and a fair amount of patience, I felt a cloud had lifted, and more than literally. Stress has settled around all of us; even if we think we’re not feeling it, we are.

Shoppers waited in line at a respectful six-foot distance from each other, nodding hello, and helpful market staff guided us along. I enjoyed looking at the different colorful and innovative masks. The vendors wore masks as well, but you could still discern a smiling face beneath the stretched fabric and eyes brightening in recognition. Janet bought apples, ground lamb and eggs. I picked up dark, leafy greens, white and sweet potatoes, scallions and shallots. We dropped everything in the car and drove down to River Road where we parked and got out to take a long walk, our jackets left behind.

As we sauntered down the country road, we saw many other people walking. We all stayed at a distance, but there wasn’t a person who didn’t call out, “Hello!” or wave a hand. Even the drivers in cars passing us raised a hand out the window. Again, I felt lighter. It was a gorgeous spring day and the future felt a little less threatening. When we returned home, I decided to make us the puff-pastry-filled spinach and feta cheese triangles usually reserved for company. For the moment, my spirits were high.

Spinach and Feta Puff Pastry Triangles

Makes 12

1 sheet frozen puff pastry sheet, thawed at room temperature for 40 minutes
2 eggs, beaten and separated
1/2 - 3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese
1 (10-ounce) box chopped spinach, thawed and squeezed dry of any excess moisture
1 medium shallot or onion, minced
2 - 3 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 - 3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill
Freshly ground black pepper and salt to taste
A large pinch Aleppo pepper or cumin

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Lightly grease a large jelly roll or baking sheet. In a small bowl, whisk together one egg with a tablespoon of water. Set aside. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk the other egg and add the feta cheese, spinach, shallot or onion, parsley, dill and black pepper. Taste for salt and add if necessary. Even though feta cheese can be salty, this should be aggressively seasoned. Unfold the pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface. Roll into a large, thin rectangle. Using a sharp knife, cut the sheet into four lines the lengthwise, then three lines the widthwise. You should have 12 squares in total. If the squares are not perfectly square, you can use your rolling pin to roll them out a bit. Lay out one square at a time and place about one tablespoon of filling in the middle of the square. Brush the edges with the egg and water mixture. Carefully fold over the filling to make a triangle. With a fork, crimp the edges to seal. Place on the baking sheet until you have used up all the filling and pastry squares. Using the tines of a fork, poke through the top of each pastry twice to make eight little holes in the crust. Brush the tops with the remaining egg and water mixture. Bake for about 20 minutes until golden. Serve with tzatziki, Greek cucumber yogurt sauce, or simply put a cup of Greek yogurt into a bowl and season with salt, pepper, fresh lemon juice, minced garlic and lots of chopped fresh mint or dill.

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