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Holiday hits

After living in what must have seemed like every neighborhood in three boroughs of New York City – Coney Island, the South Bronx, East Flatbush, Spanish Harlem (as it was then called), the Lower East Side – my mother’s parents, in their oldish age, settled in Astoria.

My grandmother’s kitchen was steamy. She roasted, she sautéed, she fried, she boiled and she kvetched. She produced, almost solo, the traditionally ridiculous abundance of food, including my favorite, the potato nik, a huge latke fried in chicken fat until really brown, and as crisp as perfectly done shoestring fries. I still make this, and so can you.

You can also make this lovely variety of dishes from some of my favorite chefs, including Claudia Fleming and André Soltner. Thanksgiving is past, but these dishes would be just as welcome around any holiday table.

Potato Nik

About 2 pounds baking potatoes, like Idaho or russet, peeled

1 medium onion, peeled

2 eggs

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

2 tablespoons plain bread crumbs or matzo meal

Neutral oil, like corn or grapeseed

Grate potatoes and onion by hand or with grating disk of a food processor; drain in colander or strainer. Combine potatoes and onions in a large bowl with eggs, salt, pepper and bread crumbs or matzo meal.

Put about 1/8 inch oil in a large, deep skillet, (nonstick or seasoned cast iron); turn heat to medium-high. When oil is hot (it will shimmer) put all the batter in pan, and smooth the top. Cook, shaking pan occasionally; adjust heat so mixture sizzles but does not burn. Continue until bottom is nicely browned, at least 15 minutes.

To turn, slide cake out onto a large plate, cover with another large plate and invert. Add a little more oil to pan if necessary and slide pancake back in, cooked side up. Cook 15 minutes or so longer, until nicely browned. Serve hot or warm.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Pumpkin Soup Served in a Pumpkin (Potage Au Potiron)

1 pumpkin, 8 to 10 inches in diameter

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter

1 medium onion, sliced

2/3 cup dry white wine

2 small white turnips, peeled and sliced

1 large carrot, peeled and sliced

1 large potato, peeled and sliced

5 cups chicken stock (or water), or as needed

1 10-inch French-style baguette or 2 small rolls, crusts removed, thinly sliced

½ cup heavy cream

Salt and ground white pepper

Cut off top of pumpkin at least 5 inches across, so that it can serve as a lid. Scoop out and discard all seeds and stringy material. Using a large sturdy spoon, scrape out 6 cups of pumpkin meat, taking care not to break through the shell. Set aside the pumpkin and its lid in a warm place.

In a large soup pot over medium-low heat, melt 2 tablespoons butter. Add onion and sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add wine and simmer for 1 minute. Add turnips, carrot, potato, pumpkin meat and enough chicken stock or water to barely cover.

Cover and bring to a boil. Meanwhile, in a large skillet, heat remaining 6 tablespoons butter, and add bread slices, turning until lightly browned on both sides. Set aside half for garnish, and when soup has come to a boil, add remaining half to the soup.

Gently simmer soup for 1 hour, stirring once or twice. The soup will be very thick; if it seems in danger of burning, reduce heat and stir in a small amount of broth or water.

Add cream, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Using an immersion blender, purée the hot soup in the pot until very smooth. Alternatively, remove soup from heat and allow to cool until no longer steaming, then purée in a food processor or blender. Return soup to a clean pot and reheat gently.

Pour hot soup into pumpkin. Serve from pumpkin, garnishing each serving with one or two reserved toasts.

Makes 6 to 8 servings (about 2 quarts).

– Adapted from André Soltner

Apple Crumb Crostata

For the crust:

1¼ cups all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon sugar

½ teaspoon salt

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into small pieces

1/3 cup ice-cold water, more as needed

1 egg, beaten

Raw sugar, for garnish

For the filling:

6 to 8 Granny Smith or other tart apples, peeled and cut into 16 slices each (about 6 cups total)

¼ cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon cornstarch

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon lemon zest

¼ teaspoon vanilla extract

For the crumble:

¼ cup granulated sugar

1½ cups all-purpose flour

¼ cup brown sugar

¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled to room temperature

Make the crust: Combine flour, sugar and salt in a food processor and blend for 5 seconds. Add butter, pulsing, until mixture resembles small peas. Add ice water and pulse until mixture comes together in moist clumps; if mixture is too dry add a bit more water a tablespoon at a time. Gather dough into a ball, flatten into a disk, wrap in plastic and chill for at least 1 hour or freeze for up to a month.

Make the filling: In a large bowl toss together sliced apples, brown sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon, zest and vanilla. Set aside.

Make the crumble: In a medium bowl, mix together granulated sugar, flour, brown sugar and cinnamon. Drizzle in melted butter and, using a fork, stir until mixture is crumbly and all the flour is incorporated; the crumbs should be smaller than 1 inch.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove dough from fridge; let sit at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes. On a lightly floured surface, roll dough into a 14-inch circle. Transfer to baking sheet and chill until firm, about 15 minutes.

Remove baking sheet from fridge and let dough soften for 1 to 2 minutes. Arrange filling evenly in center of dough, leaving a 4-inch border all around; reserve the juices. Brush exposed border with beaten egg and fold edge in up over fruit, making pleats every 2 inches; 6 inches of fruit should remain uncovered. Pour remaining juices over fruit, brush folded outer edge with beaten egg, and sprinkle with raw sugar. Cover exposed fruit with 1 cup crumble.

Bake crostata until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbling, about 40 to 50 minutes. Remove and let cool before serving. Serve with bacon toffee sauce, if desired (see recipe below).

Makes 8 to 12 servings.

– Adapted from Claudia Fleming

Bacon Toffee

1½ cups heavy cream

1 (1-pound) box dark brown sugar

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 teaspoon salt

5 ounces (10 tablespoons) unsalted butter, cut into small pieces

2 ounces rendered bacon fat (from about 4 slices thick-cut bacon)

In a heavy medium saucepan, combine cream, sugar, vanilla and salt. Bring to a boil, reduce to a low simmer, and allow to cook for 3 to 5 minutes, being careful not to let it get too hot and bubble over.

Remove from heat and whisk in butter followed by bacon fat; stir until thoroughly combined. Serve sauce warm. Can be stored in an airtight container, chilled, up to 10 days.

Makes about 3 cups.

– Adapted from Claudia Fleming

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