Earthy flavors of Mediterranean Book: Author Paula Wolfert travels to various places in search of grass-roots cooking. Her newest effort is "Mediterranean Grains and Greens."


NEW YORK - Paula Wolfert's newest book, "Mediterranean Grains and Greens," bristles with bookmarks that flag recipes I want to try: Turkish griddle bread stuffed with green garlic; Cretan "scarf" pies with wild greens; sauteed black Tuscan kale with garlicky white beans, and an Egyptian "Alexandria Quartet" of rice, brown lentils, pan-crisped pasta and browned onions.

Years ago, when I wanted to learn how to make Moroccan food, with its deep, exotic flavors, I became a disciple of Wolfert's book "Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco." Nobody has written with more authority and passion about that kind of food, though the book was published 25 years ago.

In the latest book ($27.50, HarperCollins), Wolfert said, "I put in everything that was full of wonderment to me." Because this book covers the Mediterranean, not just one country, "I can pick and choose" recipes, she said over breakfast in Manhattan. Her approach in the book "can be quirky."

Wolfert, who travels from her home in California to remote places in search of grass-roots cooking, said there are some recipes in the book that "nobody has ever explained," such as how to roll your own couscous out of semolina grain. If Wolfert had not documented the custom of "apron greens," gathered in apron pockets that have three compartments, would we know of it? The pockets are for "sweet" greens, "bitter" greens and, perhaps, wild mushrooms.

Realistically, commonly available greens such as watercress, Swiss chard and mesclun mix may be substituted if you can't find, say, mallow. (The book includes an excellent glossary on unusual greens and many mail-order sources.)

Her research does not always pan out, and she writes about that, too. In an open-air restaurant along the Turkish Black Sea coast in the town of Giresun, Wolfert discovered "a corn bread unlike any I'd ever eaten in my life." To make it, very milky corn is toasted and dried for eight hours, to ready the grain to accept enough water for dough. Wolfert tried making the bread with farmers' market corn, then with toasted dried corn, and finally with Mexican dried corn called "chacales" or "chicos." "I feel bad," she writes, "for failing to reproduce the best corn bread I ever ate."

The recipes on the right are from Paula Wolfert's new book, "Mediterranean Grains and Greens" ($27.50, HarperCollins).

In Morocco, the Wild Greens Salad With Preserved Lemons and Olives is usually made with mallow leaves that grow wild, Wolfert writes. You could start with a mix of greens from the supermarket, possibly adding chard or winter purslane. This "should melt on your tongue." If it isn't creamy enough, beat in extra olive oil.

Savvy cooks are growing their own garlic shoots these days. Just stick cloves of garlic in a pot, give them water and sun, and you'll have a tangy green in midwinter for the Spanish "tortilla" recipe.

The risotto in the Broccoli Rabe Risotto With Pork, Wolfert writes, "tames the slightly bitter and often aggressive flavor of broccoli rabe."

Moroccan Mixed Wild Greens Salad With Preserved Lemons and Olives

Serves 4

1 pound (6 cups) mallow or mixed leafy, mild-flavored greens

4 ounces (1 cup) stemmed flat-leaf parsley, chopped

3 cloves garlic, unpeeled

1 ounce (1/2 cup) cilantro leaves, roughly chopped

1/4 teaspoon salt plus more to taste

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil plus more for finishing

1/4 teaspoon sweet paprika

pinch of hot red pepper

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin or more to taste

juice of 1/2 lemon or more to taste

1/4 preserved lemon (see below)

12 Moroccan oil-cured olives, pitted and soaked in several batches of water to remove salt

Wash greens until water runs clear. Drain, stem and chop roughly. Steam greens, parsley and garlic until tender, about 15 minutes. Cool greens, then squeeze out moisture and chop finely. Peel garlic; place in a mortar with cilantro and 1/4 teaspoon salt and crush to a paste.

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in 10-inch skillet, add garlic paste and chopped greens. Cook over medium-low heat until liquid has evaporated, turning mixture often to avoid burning, about 10 minutes. Add paprika, hot pepper, cumin and lemon juice. Cool slightly. Beat in enough oil to make texture similar to whipped potatoes. Cover and refrigerate at least 1 hour.

Correct seasoning with more salt, cumin and lemon juice if necessary; whip once more to lighten mixture. Rinse preserved lemon and remove pulp, then slice peel into slivers. Shape greens mixture into a smooth hemisphere and decorate with slivered lemon peel and olives.

Paula Wolfert's Quick 7-Day Preserved Lemons

2 ripe lemons

1/3 cup coarse sea salt

1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

Scrub lemons and dry well. Cut each into 8 wedges. Toss with sea salt and place in a half-pint glass jar with a glass or plastic-coated lid. Add fresh lemon juice. Close jar tightly; let lemons ripen at room temperature for 7 days, shaking jar each NTC day to distribute salt and juice. To store longer, add olive oil to cover and refrigerate.

Alicante-Style Tortilla With Green Garlic

Serves 2

24 green garlic shoots (or mixture of minced garlic and lightly blanched scallions)

1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil


4 to 5 large farm-fresh eggs

freshly ground black pepper

To clean green garlic: Cut away root ends and tough green tops. Use the white part as well as pale green stalk. Cut into 1-inch pieces. Put in nonstick skillet with 1 teaspoon of olive oil, 1/4 cup water and pinch of salt, and cook, covered, over low heat until tender, about 5 minutes. Boil off any liquid.

Beat eggs until well blended and season with salt and pepper. Shake skillet so green garlic spreads evenly. Add remaining oil to skillet. Add eggs; set over medium-low heat, cover and cook 2 to 3 minutes, or until top is just set. Turn out onto a warm 12-inch serving plate. (Eggs will continue to cook.) Serve hot or warm, cut into wedges.

Broccoli Rabe Risotto With Pork

Serves 8

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 medium shallots, peeled and finely diced

2 cups risotto rice, preferably carnaroli

5 tablespoons dry white wine

2 garlic cloves, chopped

pinch red pepper flakes

5 ounces trimmed tenderloin of pork, finely diced

1/2 cup chopped Roma tomatoes

3 1/2 cups simmering vegetable broth

3 cups washed and shredded broccoli rabe


freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

2 to 3 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano plus shards for garnish

Heat olive oil in heavy, wide saucepan. Add shallots. Saute over medium heat 1 to 2 minutes or until transparent but not brown.

Add rice, stir, cook over moderate heat 2 minutes or until lightly toasted.

Add wine and allow it to evaporate. Then add garlic and red pepper and saute for 1 minute. Stir in pork and let it brown lightly.

Add tomatoes and enough of the simmering broth to cover rice by 1/2 inch. Cook, stirring often, until all liquid is absorbed, about 7 minutes. Stir in broccoli rabe and remaining broth and cook over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, until rice, pork and greens are cooked, about 8 minutes. Rice should be a little firm to the bite. Remove from heat and correct seasoning. Immediately stir in butter and grated cheese and swirl pan to coat rice. Let rest 2 minutes before serving. Decorate each serving with a few shards of cheese.

Pub Date: 11/11/98

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