British chef Clare de Boer has won acclaim for her cooking at King, the restaurant in Manhattan she owns with Jess Shadbolt, her co-chef, and Annie Shi, where the food has the simple and gently mussed feel of the most sophisticated home cooking. And so we asked de Boer, 30, to keep a cooking diary for a week in July, a chronicle of what she actually makes at home. She and her husband, Luke Sherwin, a founder of the companies Casper and Block Renovation, live in Brooklyn, and have a upstate near Dover Plains, New York.
ednesday, July 17
I’m starting this diary where I start most of my mornings: in the King kitchen at 9 a.m., licking chickpea porridge off a wooden spoon. This mixture of chickpea flour, olive oil and water is the batter for our panisse. It’s served fried in ribbons, but it is most glorious (and treacherous) eaten from the bubbling vat, volcanic velvet with the crunch of sea salt that has just been added.
I continue to graze my way through the building blocks of the lunch menu: Yesterday’s tapenade will make a crust for today’s roast potatoes; grilled chiles will be blitzed into a salsa to go with beef. The peaches that have been ripening on the pass are ready to eat, so I tear one and toss it with salt, black pepper, olive oil and basil. This is the best way to eat a peach — or melon or fig — salt drawing sugars to the surface, olive oil thickening the juice. I use ricotta salata like bread to soak it up.
Service is a blur of tasting tagliarini, poaching trout and eating warm cake as it comes out of the oven. To no one’s surprise, I cause a mudslide by cutting a piping hot slice before its shape has set. It’s rare for a cake to make it past me unharmed.
After lunch winds down, I shop the fridge for tomatoes and pantry replenishments. With a full crate of food and an espresso for the road, I make the drive to my home upstate, from chaotic restaurant life to country refuge. I’m usually lucky to get up there for the weekend but will be staying the week for my summer holiday.
Thursday, July 18
My husband, Luke, and his brother arrive in time for a late lunch. A few years ago I made Elizabeth David’s zucchini and rice gratin and botched my ratios. The result was gummy and overcooked, with too much béchamel.
Today’s lunch version is whisper-light and fragrant: parboiled rice, drained and tossed with a huge pile of raw grated zucchini, lemon zest, a splash of cream and a grating of Parmesan. In the oven, the zucchini gave enough liquid to finish cooking the rice, and the cream was a more delicate binder than roux, which so frequently turns a gratin into stodge. We ate this with heirloom tomatoes confit with saffron and garlic.
Dinner negotiations start at lunch, and chicken baked in bread is the clear favorite. I adore this dish for its elemental simplicity and clarity of flavor (and perhaps also the cheffy halo it gives me when I present the loaf — no one knows that it’s the easiest thing I will cook all week).
The first time I made this, the dough was slightly overcooked and the chicken a tad under, so I spatchcock it this time for even cooking. It gets a few cloves of garlic and rosemary sprigs, nothing to interfere with the tarragon salsa verde I will serve with it. I crack open the crust and get a face full of steam, then the table goes quiet until just a few bits of soggy bread and bones are left.
Friday, July 19
Lazy days start with BLTs for breakfast. Luke’s are heaven, and he has two secrets. One: While the bacon is cooking he slices and marinates tomatoes with a splash of red wine vinegar, olive oil and salt. This turns the dreariest tomato into a fantasy of San Marzano. Two: After heavily toasting his bread (plain bagel or a sesame loaf are preferred in our home) he gives it a thick swipe of mayonnaise and follows with olive oil and vinegary tomato juices. Sounds preposterous? It’s perfect.
We stand around his skillet waiting for the BLTs to be assembled, a crunch of lettuce and drip of mayo out the side. He cuts each one into four, and we take a quarter as they come. Luke reminisces about a carbonara I made him last week and asks about my plans for the guanciale in the fridge.
For months I have squirreled away dregs of wine left over on Sunday nights, bagging and freezing half a glass of this or that. It’s my arsenal for deglazing a roast chicken pan or adding some acid to a ragù. This afternoon I empty the contents of the bags Sharpie-d “white wine” into my blender with a peach and a squeeze of lemon. I whiz it up, top with seltzer and we sit in the sun.
Neither the heat nor Luke’s carbonara craving subsides. I slice romano beans like spaghetti — a summery stand-in — and boil them till they’re noodle-soft, tumbling them in Parmesan and that guanciale. Somehow we still feel light enough to ride the Ferris wheel and eat funnel cake at the local carnival held by the fire department.
Saturday, July 20
When my sister-in-law calls from Grand Central and asks if she can pick anything up for us, previous plans dissolve — seven clams for each of us, please! Linguine alle vongole is one of the sexiest meals on earth. I’ll use Thursday’s leftover bread dough to seal and bake the noodles in cartoccio.
I may have made this a hundred times, but I focus like it’s my first. I’m judicious with the quantity of dried chile (mine is screaming hot) and heavy-handed with olive oil and garlic (two cloves per person). When the slivers are sweet enough to stick to my tongs but not yet brown, I add wine and clams. I transfer the linguine, half-cooked, into this and boil thunderously to force the critical exchange of brine and starch that will make each noodle drip with the flavor of the sea.
I had a plan to make pistachio biscotti for afternoon tea, but I added too many egg whites to the batter and couldn’t get it to ball. I baked the cookie dough in one flat mass and then, while it was warm and pliable, squashed it into a bowl. Plan No. 2 is to fill this dome with the vanilla ice cream I have in the freezer to make a pistachio bombe.
It takes a trip to the supermarket to buy enough pints for the cause, and I’m embarrassed by the excess this “recipe” now requires. I add stewed cherries to make the ice cream go further, and if I ever do this again, I will downsize the bowl.
We have dinner by the fire: grilled beef marinated with lemon grass and a pile of julienned vegetables, chiles and herbs from the garden, all doused in a vinaigrette of fish sauce, rice wine vinegar, brown sugar, chiles and lime. These flavors are like medicine in the heat.
Sunday, July 21
I conduct an early inspection of my biscotti bombe. I was concerned that the cherry center would go icy from the water in the fruit, but it’s sugary enough to remain creamy. Good thing, too, because I have another four friends joining us for lunch. For breakfast I eat sheep’s milk yogurt from the jar with as many walnuts and blueberries as I can squeeze in, and poke around fridge, shelves and pantry drawers.
The climax of my week begins as I plan Sunday lunch and will go on until our friends drive off, long after we have run out of clean glassware. Though I stray from the meat-and-two-veg format of British tradition, the spirit of my Sunday lunches is the same as my grandmother’s: a celebration with no cause, just unrushed food and time with the people I love.
The shortcuts to pleasure-heavy nods and urgent second bites are salt, fat and acid. But it’s the crisp pepper stuck to the side of the pan, or that bit of bread soaked in vinegary chicken fat, that makes people giddy. Eating at home is about these morsels, and chicken roasted with peppers, vinegar and focaccia will provide them in spades.
Usually the fight is for the wings, but my crew is now counting who got more red peppers and making trades for yellow. Forks are in the pan, prying the crisp bread off the bottom. I am momentarily bothered by the pool of peppery schmaltz Luke has left in the aioli, before I follow suit with a heavy dunk: crisp chicken skin, silken pepper, dripping bread.
After we’ve sat chatting with empty plates and stained tablecloth, I turn out my bombe, dust it with powdered sugar and grate pistachios on top. It’s a spectacular monster that satisfies my cravings for fruit, cream and retro-kitsch.
We find each other around the leftover chicken late in the evening, commitments to skipping dinner having waned. I swipe the oysters off the backbone and dip each in salt, Luke makes himself a chicken salad sandwich, and his sister hovers with a spoon by his mayonnaise-y bowl.
Monday, July 22
Breakfast: I approximate a frangipane (almond meal, sugar, butter, egg yolk, creamed), spread it on sourdough and top with squashed overripe stone fruit. A sprinkle of salt and sugar, into a hot oven, then under the broiler until we smell fruit brûlée. If we were more patient, the underside of the bread would have crisped, but it doesn’t matter as we drown it in cream anyway.
Lunch: As long as I don’t say it’s a soufflé, sformato overdelivers. Because no one knows what it is, I don’t let down expectations when I add too few egg whites to get a rise, or serve it the next day when all the air is gone. It’s hard for a mixture of ricotta, crème fraîche, Parmesan, eggs and lots of corn to be anything but cravable. My favorite little detail is buttering the mold and lining it with grated Parmesan and black pepper: a cacio e pepe crust.
The sformato emerges from the oven puffed up and golden, like a corn cloud, and we eat it with basil crushed in the pestle with a squeeze of lemon and some olive oil, and arugula from the garden.
Tuesday, July 23
Some of my biggest winners can be made while waiting for pasta to boil. Ten minutes is plenty of time to make something surprisingly tasty if I layer flavors with intention.
For lunch I sweat a finely chopped head of fennel with crushed fennel seed, dried red chile and garlic until sweet and soft. I add the meat of three sausages (getting rid of the casings quickly before I am put off) and a Ziploc of frozen white. I finish the radiatore in the sauce with lots of grated Parm, the zest of a few lemons, several twists of course black pepper and a glug of olive oil, emulsifying the lot into glossy unity.
It’ll take five minutes before we dig in, so I add two extra ladles of pasta water to keep everything juicy, then head to the garden with extra Parmesan under my arm.
Cravings for the numb of Sichuan peppercorns signal that it’s time to go home. I detour to Flushing on the drive back to the city. Hot pot at New World Mall, fish stew with pickled cabbage and some dumplings with peanut sauce.
Wednesday, July 24
I didn’t leave my sanctuary without a cache from the garden: blackberries, overgrown zucchinis and fistfuls of herbs. Before heading back to King, I crush the blackberries with a fork and fold this through muesli with some water and cream. I’ve still got room for a ramekin of panisse batter, and as I head to the restaurant I wonder if it’ll be a peach or cherry crostata coming out of the oven when I arrive.