Two of my favorite things -- Berlin's Turkish Market and oat-y, coconut-y Australian Anzac biscuits -- were featured among 98 others in this year's Saveur 100, the magazine's annual compilation of edible, drinkable, readable and visit-able inspiration.
That's all well and good, but the two favorites that didn't make the cut are so damn special that they must be sung about, blogged about and shouted from the rooftops as Massively Excellent Things.
First: summertime butter at Fäviken, Magnus Nillson's isolated and beautiful restaurant in a historic barn in the wilds of central Sweden. The pat of richly golden dairy that waits on your table in the lofted dining room -- after a parade of snacks begins the meal downstairs (flax crackers with pureed mussels, dehydrated lichen and the like, accompanied by sherry-like fermented rhubarb juice) -- is made from the milk of six cows owned by a family a few miles down the road. The family doesn't have electricity, so often the butter sits at room temperature for a few days (until there's enough to deliver to the restaurant -- so said the server). This fermentation of such pristine dairy yields spectacular results; the butter is a savory, funky, heady thing, tasting of grass and animal and earth -- a standout in a meal where near everything was special. In the court of cultured butter, Fäviken's is king.
Next: Leila's Shop in Shoreditch, London. Its charm is in its stylish plainness, simplicity and warmth: eggs fried in a well-buttered skillet and topped with a few leaves of crisped sage; red chard with plumped raisins, pine nuts and onions caramelized with saffron; all cooked in a homey open kitchen and served with big slices of Poilâne toast.
The shop next door is packed (jumbled, even) with local cheese and charcuterie, cured Scottish salmon, a rainbow of produce from France, jams, grains, and dairy. While there, I eyed a stack of burlap bags in the corner and considered making a nest (and never leaving).
This bright, wintry salad liberates butternut squash from its most common destination: the stockpot. Unlike many winter squashes, butternut is wonderful served raw -- when shaved, its flesh is silky and lightly sweet. A shout must be given to The Bristol in Chicago: It was there that I first ate a version of this salad, with slivered Thai chiles and pomegranate lending colorful crunch.
Shaved Butternut Squash Salad with Sriracha-Citrus Dressing
Makes 2 servings
2 tablespoons sour cream or full-fat Greek yogurt
Juice of 1 orange
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
½ teaspoon Sriracha sauce
¼ cup julienned Thai basil
¼ cup roughly chopped dill
1 butternut squash, cut in half and seeded
½ cup raw walnuts or pumpkin seeds
1 bunch scallions, minced (use the white parts plus the more tender part of the green)
For the dressing: In a large bowl, whisk the sour cream, orange juice, rice wine vinegar and Sriracha until emulsified into a loose, creamy dressing. Add the Thai basil and dill, stir, and season with salt and pepper to taste.
For the salad: With a vegetable peeler, peel the skin off one half of the butternut squash (reserve the other half for another use). Use the vegetable peeler to shave ribbons off the outside of the squash, or slice off the bottom (to create a flat surface) and shave from bottom to top on a mandolin. Toss the squash with the dressing and let marinate for 10 to15 minutes before adding walnuts and scallions. Toss well, adjust seasoning if needed, and serve.
This gets filed under the header of Things I Eat With A Spoon (all day every day that it happens to be in the fridge). Onions and a generous splash of wine add lovely sweetness to the sauce, and a blast of high heat at the end concentrates the caramelized tomato flavor.
For spoon-eating purposes, leave the sauce as is, studded with nubs of caramelized garlic and sweet, soft onions. If tossing the sauce with pasta, or using as a base for shakshuka (as you should -- you really, really should), consider blitzing it in a blender first. Consider making twice as much as you think you'll need, too. It will be devoured.
My Favorite Tomato Sauce
Makes 2 cups of sauce
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced then roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, smashed with the side of a knife and peeled
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ cup wine (white or red, whichever you have lying around -- but preferably red)
1 28-ounce can whole or crushed tomatoes
¼ teaspoon salt
1 basil sprig
In a lidded pot or deep-walled sauté pan over medium heat, add the olive oil, onion and garlic cloves. Sauté, stirring only 2-3 times, until they begin to turn golden (about 6-8 minutes -- some nice golden-brown color on the garlic cloves is ideal). Add the oregano and stir, then add the wine, stir, and let it simmer and deglaze until nearly evaporated.
If using whole tomatoes, crush them with your hand (just reach on into that can and squeeze…preferably not while wearing a light-colored shirt, as these things are squirters) before adding to the pan. Add the salt, stir well, cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer for 20 minutes. Stir once or twice during that time to loosen anything that’s sticking to the bottom of the pan.
After 20 minutes, the flavors will be incorporated, but the sauce will be a bit watery. So remove the lid, crank up the heat to medium-high, and cook for another 10 minutes, stirring regularly.
Store the tomato sauce in a container in the fridge with a sprig of basil tucked inside (it perfumes the sauce quite wonderfully). Or, if you’re serving the sauce right away, thinly slice the basil leaves and stir ‘em on in.