A little dab will ‘nduja

PEOPLE EXPECT TO EAT well at my house; I’m a culinary-school grad. But I’m also a mom with a full-time job. And after a long day I can be as lazy as anyone. Which is why I’m never without ‘nduja.

The spreadable salami is my favorite cook’s cheat. In a hot pan, it melts into a piquant oil that adds oomph, complexity and a bit of fire to all kinds of savory foods, from tomato sauce to vinaigrette. At room temperature, it can be smeared on good bread and served alongside a salad as dinner, or layered on grilled cheese, even a burger. The result rarely fails to raise the pulse rate. If Joan Jett were an Italian, and a sausage, she’d be ‘nduja.

In my new story in the Wall Street Journal, we look at the history (it’s an Italian version of Andouille) and put together fantastic, fast recipes like an eye-opening breakfast sandwich and an amped up linguine with clams.

Have you tried it? Let me know what you think.

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Good news: Brooklyn still has a sense of humor

Saw these pictures at a run-down bodega this weekend. And yes, that one at the bottom does say “Upstate Farm Caught Hen Eggs.” Cracked me up.

update: Ben Grossman Cohen sent me this link with the backstory on these signs. http://t.co/cCcI8VxuTa

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Elizabeth Kolbert talks climate change

Photograph: Nicholas Whitman

If you want to understand climate change, there’s one name you need to know: Elizabeth Kolbert. A staff writer at the New Yorker, Kolbert’s three-part series on global warming, “The Climate of Man,” won the National Magazine Award for Public Interest in 2006, and later was expanded into her definitive book on the subject, Field Notes from a Catastrophe. Kolbert’s writing lacks the alarmist tone so often found in environmental coverage but is more arresting for its clear, patient explanations of how serious the situation has become. In my new column for the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, Kolbert and I discuss and farming’s role in global warming, California’s drought, and whether American exceptionalism is a stumbling block to progress.

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Historic drought. Historic opportunity?

On April 1, California Governor Jerry Brown stood in a meadow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Normally, the meadow would have been covered with five feet of snow. Normally, the governor would have needed cross-country skis to even get there. But this year, there was nothing but brown grass. The measured snowpack was the lowest in more than 60 years.

The scene was a dramatic illustration of just how bad the drought has gotten in California. (And, make no mistake, Gov. Brown capitalized on that, ordering cities and towns to slash their water use by 25 percent.) But the crisis does not affect only California residents. California produces 99 percent of almonds, 95 percent of celery, 94 percent of broccoli, 88 percent of avocados, 86 percent of cauliflower and 81 percent of carrots produced in the United States. The state’s Central Valley, just one percent of the land mass in the United States, produces 25 percent of the food we eat. As the writer Steven Johnson concludes: “California doesn’t have a water problem. We all do.”

The good news? Thanks to the drought, people have finally started talking seriously about what real change might look like. Does it make sense for Americans to depend on concentrated food production in only a couple of regions that are so vulnerable to water shortages? Should we be growing water-thirsty crops like lettuce in places like New York, where the population is dense and where we get about 40 inches of rain a year? How do we decide which crops to grow where?

In my latest column for the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, I look at how and if California’s drought could be a catalyst for regional agriculture. As Mike Hamm, a professor of sustainable agriculture at Michigan State University told me: “The key hallmark of climate change is that weather will be more uncertain and extreme weather will be more frequent,” Hamm says. “Under those circumstances, doesn’t it make sense to hedge our bets?”

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Is grass-fed beef really better?

New York Magazine asked me to dig into whether grass-fed burgers are really guilt free. The answer: Sort of.

They have more omega-3s but you get 65 times more if you eat a plate of salmon. And grass-fed cows emit at least as much methane–a poisonous greenhouse gas–as grain-fed ones, more according to some studies. At the end of the day, what the cow eats is vastly less important than whether we eat the cow. Pork burger anyone?

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Is garbage the new kale?

Chefs are going out of their way to make use of everything that comes into their kitchens—and bragging about it. And now vegetable trimmings are getting their star turn too. In my latest story in the Wall Street Journal, I chart how the hanger steak at Park Avenue Spring comes with “nose-to-tail beets”—the root, roasted and lightly pickled, served with sautéed greens and stems. At Miller Union in Atlanta, a ruby chard-stem chutney accompanies the cheese plate. Chef Andrew Wisehart, the vegetable wizard at Gardner in Austin, sautés broccoli florets and serves them with a salad of broccoli leaves and flowers and sprinkles it all with dehydrated, powdered broccoli stalks to further boost the broccoli flavor. Foxy Organic, a national produce company, just started selling broccoli leaves at grocery stores across the country.

But the point chefs want to make is this: Too much food that’s thrown away doesn’t belong in the trash. Squash skins are edible. So are kale ribs, beet greens, fennel tops, even carrot skins, which most of the time just need a good scrub. “Given the scale of hunger in this country, we need to convert what can be eaten into actual meals,” said Jonathan Bloom, author of “American Wasteland: How America Wastes Nearly Half of Its Food (And What We Can Do About It).”

What do you think? Are you going out of your way to use this stuff? I personally am a big fan of broccoli leaves! Let me know.

Posted in Sustainable Food, Trends | Leave a comment
  • About Me

    Jane BlackI am a Brooklyn-based food writer who covers food politics, trends and sustainability issues. My work appears in the Washington Post, (where I was a staff writer), the New York Times, Slate, New York magazine and other publications. On this site, you will find my blog and links to my written work and my Washington Post columns.

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