Francesca Maria Gambelli was born and raised in Senigallia, a seaside city on the Adriatic coast, in the region of Le Marche. In her late teens, she moved to NYC to pursue her dreams of becoming a professional dancer. Francesca’s life reads like an 80’s dance movie of dreams finally fulfilled.
I grew up eating knafe after festive dairy meals at many friends’ houses. Some were made with mozzarella, making them delightfully chewy, some were made with a cornstarch-thickened filling which made them more like a French pastry, and some eschewed butter and dairy in favor of an abundance of nuts in order to make them parve, or non-dairy. But the best one was always the one that my mom made, which she learned from my paternal grandmother, who got the recipe from her best friend, Bertha. My grandmother, Lydia, and Bertha grew up together in Beirut, moved to Colombia during World War II, and remained best friends throughout their entire lives. I began making knafe after I graduated from college, moved into my own apartment, and wanted to make something that tasted like home. I never realized how easy it was to make, the most challenging part being finding the ingredients that the recipe called for. This knafe has a wonderful combination of crunch and creaminess, of sweetness and richness, of floral notes and a nutty finish. For me, it’s a taste not only of home but also of centuries of women who nourished their family and friends through the power of food.
About 4 Octobers ago, Angela Pinkerton and I went on a little quest to find the best apple pie in NYC. The air outside was newly crisp and we were sitting at a bar on a Monday night, as cooks often do, yapping about food. We got on the topic of Angela’s favorite dessert, Apple pie.
The simplest Middle Eastern salad that you can find would include tomato and cucumber, and sometimes onion. Eaten at almost ever meal, this staple food can have many variations. Here’s my version with lots of texture, color and bold flavor.
The intoxicating smell of brown sugar and butter and bubbling, oozy blueberries was impossible to ignore. Doubling the brown sugar topping and adding some more blueberries, the recipe was perfect.
Raw Tahini and prepared tahini are a little bit different from one another. In Middle Eastern restaurants you will often see prepared tahini, creamy, thick and beige in color, served on it’s own as a dipping sauce paired with warm, fluffy pita. Often it is drizzled over shawarma and falafel or a few spoonfuls may be served on a bed of freshly made hummus.
If you want to make a quick jam to serve with cheese or spread between layers of cake, here’s a recipe you can use to guide you. My friend Tzipi Hegedus, originally from Hungary, shared a simple method for making preserves that she remembered her own mother and grandmother using from the fruit that grew season to season.