The New Convivialist

Month: April, 2013

A Simple Recipe – Roasted Pepper and Apple

convivialist recipe food blog

I recently returned from a blink-of-an-eye trip to Milan. Though my job brought me there in order to see the Salone del Mobile design exhibition, my first thought upon landing was not where to find the hottest new chair prototype by Nendo, but rather- surprise, surprise- where to eat lunch. I lucked out. I found a tiny corner locale selling fresh pasta and simple fare not at all far from our apartment rental. Usually, I do NOT luck out with such spontaneous finds, which is why if I want to eat well in an unknown city, I have learned to do at least a minimal bit of advance research. But with the Milan trip, there was simply no time.

I didn’t eat anything fancy at this place, but I must say that what ended up on my plate was a refreshing surprise. I ordered what I thought was a simple dish of roasted peppers, but as I began to indulge, I realized there was something else mixed inside… something sweet, that complimented the peppers perfectly. I grasped at all the vegetal possibilities, but finally it dawned on me: apples. Soft, roasted ones, how genius. Something I had never before seen in Italian cuisine. Not to say that it isn’t known, but just that I had to take my hat off to the Milanese for what I found to be an utterly radical breakthrough.

Maybe it means I’ve been in Germany too long, or maybe its just that I have been too intensely working in a way that glues me to a screen, but this short trip to Italy, more than any other I can remember, felt like a relief. From the moment I stepped off the airplane and into the mass of people pushing and shouting to get on the bus into the city, I could breathe easily, for the first time in a while. I could jaywalk. There was a pulse and an agenda belonging to the people in Milan that I have been missing in Berlin. The trees were blossoming and there were things to do. But not too fast, please. Don’t forget to take an hour, maybe two, for lunch. Order a glass of wine, why not. It is the simple luxuries that keep the pace of a large, bustling city manageable and even enjoyable. The opportunity to get off the iphone for a minute and just look at, wait – see – the analog sights that surround.

Last night I was reading an old issue of Harper’s, from 2009. Since I have limited, expensive access to weekly or monthly American publications, I take what I can get. And it’s not like articles from Harper’s or The New Yorker become any less relevant with two or three years’ passing. Anyway, it was an article written about the twilight and eventual demise of the American newspaper, by Richard Rodriguez. I was most struck by the following passage, towards the end of his piece:

“ Something funny I have noticed, perhaps you have noticed it too. You know what futurists and online-ists and cut-out-the-middle-man-ists and Davos-ists and deconstructionists of every stripe want for themselves? They want exactly what they tell you you no longer need, you pathetic, overweight, disembodied Kindle reader. They want white linen tablecloths, on trestle tables in the middle of vineyards on soft blowy afternoons. (You can click your bottle of wine online. Cheaper.) They want to go shopping on Saturday afternoons on the Avenue Victor Hugo; they want the pages of their New York Times all kind of greasy from croissant crumbs and butter at a café table in Aspen; they want to see their names in hard copy in the “New Establishment” issue of Vanity Fair; they want a nineteenth-century bookshop; they want to see the plays in London; they want to float down the Nile in a felucca; they want a five-star brick and mortar and DO NOT DISTURB signs and views of the park. And in order to reserve these things for themselves they will plug up your eyes and your ears and your mouth, and if they can figure out a way to pump episodes of The Simpsons through the darkening corridors of your brain as you expire (ADD TO SHOPPING CART), they will do it.”

The nice thing about Italy is that… this doesn’t quite take hold. The old way, the analogue way, the romantic way, still seems to work, to hang on by a thicker thread than it does elsewhere.

I am sad to confess that nothing else I ate on the trip quite lived up to the dish of roasted peppers and apples, but at least I can keep this tiny discovery in my arsenal of simple and healthy recipes. The recipe I ‘invented’ for what I encountered that afternoon is hardly a recipe at all. It is kind of like how a five year old would cook if he or she were given a couple of peppers, an apple and an Easy-Bake oven, but I will share it with you anyway.


Recipe – Pepper and Apple ‘Caponata’


Red and yellow bell peppers, as many as you like

Apples, probably green are best, as many as you like, but probably fewer than peppers

Sprinkling of olive oil

Sea salt


1. Wash and dry peppers and apples and place on a baking sheet or dish.

2. Cook at approx. 175°C, uncovered, for about a half hour, then rotate so that roasted side is facing down and cook for another 20 minutes or so, or until softened and skins of peppers are blackened.

3. Remove from oven and let cool.

4. Peel skin from peppers and apples. (This should be pretty easy.) Slice peppers into thin strips and apples into small wedges. It’s ok if the apples are a little mushy.

5. Place in a large bowl and sprinkle with a bit of olive oil and sea salt. Toss together gently.

6. Serve with bread as an appetizer or side dish.

recipe pepper apple caponata






A between weathers cake

easter cake

Despite Sunday’s Easter feast, the weekend in general had a decidedly un-Easter feel. One may attribute this to the hard fact that every now and then, glancing out the window, blizzard-like conditions were shockingly present. I know, I know, I know… everyone is tired of complaining about the weather. But for me, it wasn’t even the weather in itself. The winter-is-supposed-to-be-over-depression really sunk in on Saturday’s visit to Markthalle Neun to scout out something vaguely Spring-like for our Easter meal. After stand upon stand of bottom of the barrel beets and a scrum of carrots and potatoes, I headed to the supermarket and settled on a couple of small bulbs of fennel grown in Italy.

Fennel just seems like it could fit to any time of the year. Fresh, herbaceous and light, it is appropriate raw in summer salads but can also be combined with enhancers like cream or butter for a wintery meal. What about in something sweet? Fennel in desserts I had not before experimented with, but when I stumbled across a recipe for fennel buttermilk cake in an old issue of Gourmet, I thought: perfect. It deceived nothing of seasonality – it felt appropriate for a holiday that is supposed to celebrate Spring, but did not feel anything of the sort. A chameleonic cake, if you will.

The preparation of the candied fennel is a bit time-consuming, but aside from that first step, the cake comes together quite easily. It can also be decorative, depending on how beautifully you arrange the fennel in the bottom of the cake pan (mine=not so beautifully) making it impressive for dinner parties or holidays.

I hope my next recipe will be with something that betrays the first signs of spring (can you tell I am dreaming of rhubarb?!), but in the meantime be content with the temperature-defying abilities of this fennel cake.

Recipe: Fennel Lemon Buttermilk Cake

Candied Fennel:

  • 2 small bulbs fennel
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 3 strips lemon zest, thinly sliced
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds


  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest
  • 3/4 cup well-shaken buttermilk
  • crushed edible rose petals (optional)
  1. Lightly butter pan (I used springform) and line bottom and side with parchment paper. Lightly butter paper.
  2. Cut fennel bulbs lengthwise with slicer into enough 1/4-inch-thick slices to cover bottom of cake pan.
  3. Cover fennel with cold water in a medium saucepan and bring it to a boil. Drain fennel and set aside. Add sugar, water (3/4 cup), zest, and fennel seeds to saucepan and bring to a simmer, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Add fennel slices and very gently simmer until tender and translucent and liquid is syrupy, about 40 minutes. Lift fennel slices out with a fork and arrange decoratively in bottom of cake pan. Boil syrup to reduce to about 1/3 cup liquid. Cool syrup slightly, then pour over fennel, seeds and lemon strips and all.
  4. Preheat oven to 350ºF (170°C) with rack in middle
  5. Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
  6. Beat together butter and sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at high speed until light and fluffy. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in zest.
  7. At low speed, mix in flour mixture in 3 batches, alternating with buttermilk, beginning and ending with flour mixture, and mixing until just combined. Gently spoon batter over topping, spreading evenly.
  8. Bake until cake is golden-brown and a wooden pick inserted into center of cake comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool cake in pan 15 minutes, then invert onto a plate and continue to cool. Serve warm or at room temperature.
  9. Garnish with crushed rose petals, if desired.


recipe caramelized fennel

recipe buttermilk cake fennel
recipe fennel cake