Imagine a trip to the local market. Out of the corner of your eye, you spot amazingly fresh, bright colored vegetables, a great price, only problem; you are not sure how to prepare them. Ask Aliza Green, Chef, Cookbook Author, Consultant, and Teacher, she will tell you “the fundamental essential in preparing excellent meals at home or in a restaurant is to learn and know about the ingredients.”
Starting With Ingredients, Quintessential Recipes For The Way We Really Cook, is one of twelve cookbooks this James Beard Award Winning Author has written. A one hundred-chapter compendium from A for Almonds to Z for Zucchini Green shares interesting stories about how food is used in different cultures, ethnic specialties and ingredient preparation throughout history while providing recipes drawing from both traditional and modern techniques.
Each ingredient Chapter transitions toward the full cycle of food in everyday meal preparation and the use of fresh products from what is seasonally available. “If you know your ingredients you can maximize the use of foods at the farmers market and be able to work with them and understand the many different forms of usage in preparations.” says Green
The easy reference cookbook unfolds multiple ways to use individual ingredients simply on their own, letting a single ingredient speak for itself, combining the ingredient with other complementary ingredients, or dividing ingredient portions for another meal. One ingredient idea Aliza shared is with Swiss chard found in the cookbook Chapter: Greens. “Did you know that the Swiss chard has two separate uses?’ she asks ” The Greens can be used in soups or dishes” (such as the Greek Mixed Greens Pie with Poppy Seed Topping in the recipe below) “The center ribs of the chard are then like getting a free vegetable that have a flavor somewhere between artichoke and celery and can be made into a creamy gratin.” Green encourages the effective purposing of ingredients without waste throughout the entire food cycle and she shares easy tips on how readers can easily save and use ingredient trimmings for making stocks for soups or sauces.
A recent visit with Aliza provided the opportunity to look back on this early pioneer of female chefs in Philadelphia, whose history also includes being the Philadelphia Inquirer Hall of Fame top ten most influential people in the city’s food industry and her inspiration for writing a cookbook on ingredients. “I have always been interested in recognizing superior quality in foods, what they should look like, how products could be combined, their fragrances, their feel, seasonal changes, and how foods are transformed by different cooking methods and coming up with clear imaginative recipes.” she said
Aliza was even more inspired to using the finest and freshest ingredients after studying in Italy under cookbook author, Marcella Hazan prior to the DiLullo restaurant opening, a four star restaurant in Philadelphia where Aliza served as Executive Chef. “When we focus on letting the ingredients speak for themselves and in their simplicity, not too complicated, not a spotlight that puts way too much attention on what is going on, it helps to instill a greater respect for a dish.” Green said
Long before the food to table movement achieved the notoriety of today Green was working daily with local farmers regularly focused on providing dishes with ingredients picked from the field and served to restaurant diners the same day. She also encouraged area farmers to try planting and growing specialty produce as the yellow pepper and zucchini blossoms. Greens approach was one she then continued as Executive Chef at Philadelphia restaurants: Apropos and the White Dog Cafe, where she was also a restaurant Partner.
A lifelong traveler, Aliza possesses a deep understanding for “well rooted” cultural foods from throughout the world sharing “workable” recipes in the Ingredients cookbook. “Home cooks do not need elaborate equipment to transform food into exceptional dishes, they only need to have an understanding about the ingredient and how to prepare it.” she said. Greens philosophy on recipes today is that although there are many talented chefs doing unique and interesting preparations with food, still, there is no inventing, believing that recipes are based on foundations of cultures and times past. Fundamentally, Green has some reservations about fusion foods cautioning random combinations of ingredients mixed together “there is a reason that foods go together.” she says “Some fusion foods do not always make culinary sense or have too many ingredients which makes dishes both tiring to the palate and to the digestive system.”
Aliza Green currently returns to Italy annually where she also serves as a Group Tour Leader, this fall in the Tuscan Maremma & Umbria regions in the exploration of autumn culinary delights. (I am providing the web link from her site for anyone who might be interested!)
Taking another liberty off of Alizas’ site I thought it might be informative to share a how-to program featured on ABC of Aliza instructing how to make fresh pasta. Watch it here. The set provides a good initiation to another of her cookbooks that I very much enjoy: Making Artisan Pasta, How To Make A World Of Handmade Noodles, Stuffed Pasta, Dumplings And More.
From a chef’s perspective, Italy is a place one can observe how Aliza values the importance of food simplicity and fresh ingredients. Her enthusiasm shines forth as she speaks of fresh picked wild asparagus simmered and served on its own, the concept of making a dish using just four ingredients, each one ingredient balanced and perfect with the other, a bowl of fresh made poppy leaf pasta with exceptional local olive oil all teaching an appreciation for each food ingredient.
For this writer, as I post my first article of Spiced Peach Blog, Starting With Ingredients, its content and focus is apropos, written by an author who generously provided an exciting chapter and life learning experience for me once before many years ago, and, I always know about my ingredients!
- 1 pound fresh spinach, trimmed of stems
- 1 pound swiss chard, stalks removed
- 1 bunch watercress or arugula, stems trimmed off
- 1 bunch dill, leaves roughly chopped
- 2 cups roughly cut fennel stalks
- 2 bunches scallions, sliced
- 2 tablespoons + 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
- 1/2 pound (2 cups) crumbled feta cheese
- Freshly ground black pepper to taste
- 1 pound phyllo dough, defrosted if frozen, and at room temperature
- 2 tablespoons poppy seeds
- Combine the spinach, chard, watercress, and dill in a large bowl of lukewarm water. Swish around vigorously to dislodge any sand. Scoop the greens from the bowl. If there is more than a tiny bit of sand left in the bowl, repeat the process.
- Transfer the cleaned greens to a large pot. Cover and heat until the greens are just barely wilted, turning them around once or twice so the greens on top cook also. Drain and rinse under cold water. Squeeze out the excess water, slice the greens into 1-inch-wide strips, and reserve.
- Preheat the oven to 375 F. Chop the fennel stalks in the food processor (or by hand) into small bits. In a large heavy skillet, cook the scallions and fennel in 2 tablespoons olive oil until crisp -tender, about 5 minutes and reserve.
- Combine the cooked greens with the fennel mixture. Add most of the eggs (reserving about 2 tablespoons for the egg wash), the feta, and plenty of fresh ground pepper to taste. The feta is salty, so salt isn't necessary.
- Layer 8 sheets of phyllo, folded to fit, on the bottom of a buttered 9x13-inch metal baking pan or a large, rectangular, shallow decorative ceramic baking dish, brushing every other sheet lightly with oil. Spread half the filling evenly over the phyllo. Cover with eight more sheets of phyllo, brushing with oil in between every other sheet. Spread the remaining half of the filling over top. Finally, layer with 8 sheets of phyllo, folded to fit, brushing those pairs with olive oil too.
- Mix the remaining 2 tablespoons of beaten egg with 1 tablespoon of water. Brush the top of the pie with the egg wash and sprinkle evenly with the poppy seeds. Gently score the pie on the diagonal into serving pieces.
- Bake 45 minutes, or until the phyllo is crisp and golden. Cool somewhat before cutting into serving pieces, and serve.