On one episode of his BBC America television show, No Kitchen Required, Chef Michael Psilakis can be seen repeatedly (and, mostly, unsuccessfully) throwing a trident into the swampy Everglades to spear a gar for dinner. Back in the Irvington kitchen of his new Westchester venture, MP Taverna, things get more high tech. Chef Psilakis is a fan of his Robot Coupe—a high-powered professional version of the home-scaled Cuisinart food processor.
Of his introduction to the multitasking workhorse, Psilakis laughs. “No, my mother wasn’t really a gadget chef when I was growing up.” (He was raised in a Greek American household on suburban Long Island.) “I really began working with the Robot Coupe when I started in pro kitchens. We use it for everything. We call it the ‘dinosaur’ because it’s so big.”
Psilakis’s kitchen career is the stuff of culinary school legends. In a single year, 2008 (when he was still in his late 30s), Psilakis won both Food & Wine magazine’s Best New Chef and Bon Appétit’s Chef of the Year awards. While he was at it, Psilakis’s Greek-chic restaurant, Anthos, was nominated for a James Beard Award for Best New Restaurant and also received a Michelin star. Besides Anthos (which is now closed), Psilakis has opened several other high-profile Manhattan restaurants, including Kefi and Fishtag. The Irvington branch of MP Taverna, which is the second after a Roslyn, New York, original, debuted in June 2012.
While Psilakis prefers a knife for many professional ap- plications (“the Robot Coupe blade can bruise herbs”), his processor is the secret weapon behind pizza dough, homemade pastas, farcemeat, grated cheese, breadcrumbs, and all of his popular chickpea and eggplant purées. Why doesn’t he use a Vita-Prep, the new super-charged blender currently the trend du jour? “Basically, I like the Robot Coupe because it’s not a one-dimensional item. The Vita-Prep is really only used for emulsified purées. The Robot Coupe—it just offers more.”
While the Robot Coupe is slightly more brawny than the domestic Cuisinart food processors, the recipes Chef Psilakis offers below work equally well with both machines.
Tomato-Braised Cauliflower Soup
â– 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
â– 1 medium head cauliflower,
broken into florets
â– Kosher salt, cracked black pepper,
â– ½ large Spanish or sweet onion,
â– 1 fresh bay leaf or 2 dried leaves
â– 2 cinnamon sticks
â– 1 Tbsp tomato paste
â– 2 Tbsp red wine vinegar
â– 1½ cups water
â– 2 whole sprigs thyme
â– 2 tsp Dijon mustard
In a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat, warm the oil until it is very hot. Add the cauliflower florets. Season with salt and pepper, and dust with the cinnamon. Shake the pan for two to three minutes, until the cauliflower is lightly golden brown. Add the onion, bay leaves, and cinnamon sticks. Stir in the tomato paste and cook for one minute. Deglaze the pan with the vinegar. Add the water, thyme sprigs, and mustard. Partially cover the pan and braise over low heat until the cauliflower is tender. Remove from heat and discard the bay leaves and cinnamon sticks. Transfer to food processor and pulse into a purée. This may be prepared ahead and re-warmed before serving.
Makes 1 Quart
“This is a Greek version of hummus that captures the soul of the Mediterranean,” Chef Psilakis says. For this recipe, he advises that you “use premium-quality imported sun-dried tomatoes; they should be plump and soft with a red hue.”
â– ½ Spanish or sweet onion, sliced thick
â– Extra-virgin olive oil for brushing onions
â– Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
â– 40 large, plump sun-dried tomatoes (about 2 cups)
â– 6 cloves garlic, smashed
â– 2 large shallots, sliced thick
â– 8 leaves basil
â– 1 tsp ground cumin
â– 1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
â– 3 tsp fresh lemon juice
â– 3 cups chickpea confit (recipe follows)
Brush the onion slices with a little olive oil and season with kosher salt and pepper to taste. On a hot griddle pan or in a cast-iron skillet, grill until tender and lightly striped with char.
In a food processor, combine the grilled onion, sun-dried tomatoes, garlic, shallots, basil, and cumin. Pulse into a chunky purée. With the motor running, slowly drizzle in 1 cup of olive oil, then the lemon juice. The mixture should be quite smooth.
Transfer to a large bowl and add the chickpea confit (recipe follows). Fold together to blend. Return to the food processor in batches, and purée until the mixture is smooth and thick. Season to taste with pepper and salt—but, Chef Psilakis advises tasting the mixture before adding salt. “If the sun-dried tomatoes are very salty, you may not need to add much.” The final texture is a matter of taste; if it is very thick, add a little more olive oil to yield a creamier result. For two different textures, purée half the spread until it’s very smooth and pale, and leave the other half chunky. If you refrigerate the spread overnight, “you can return it to a nice creamy texture by rewhipping in the food processor,” Chef Psilakis says. “Pulse on and off for one minute.” Well covered, the spread will last for at least a week in the refrigerator.
Makes about 3 cups
â– Cloves from 1 head of garlic, separated and peeled
â– 1 tsp cumin seeds
â– 1 tsp mustard seeds
â– 2½ cups chickpeas, cooked in water until tender, or one 28-ounce can best-quality chickpeas (such as Goya), well-rinsed and drained
â– Kosher salt and whole black peppercorns
â– Blended oil (50 percent each, canola and extra-virgin olive),
Preheat oven to 325°F. In a Dutch oven or a heavy pot, combine the garlic, cumin, mustard seeds, and chickpeas. Season liberally with kosher salt and pepper, and barely cover with the blended oil. Cover the pot and bake until aromatic but not browned, about 45 minutes. Allow to cool. Transfer it, with all the oil, to a sterilized glass container and use as you like. If the chickpeas are covered with oil, the confit will last for at least three weeks in the refrigerator. Always save the oil for another use, for example, in cumin vinaigrette or for sautéing.
Note: For one of Psilakis’s serving suggestions he dubs “The Wedge,” cut a small triangle of pita and smear with chickpea spread. Top with a pinch of crumbled feta and some sliced scallions, picked sprigs of parsley or dill, and a few slivers of olive.
Tomato and String Bean Salad
â– ¼ pound green beans, ends trimmed
â– ¼ pound yellow wax beans, ends trimmed
â– 13 to ½ cup red wine and feta vinaigrette (recipe below)
â– 2 Tbsp crumbled feta cheese
â– 4 vine-ripe tomatoes, preferably heirloom, cut into rough wedges
â– 1 tsp dry Greek oregano
â– ½ small red onion, thinly sliced and separated into rings
â– 6 small, picked sprigs parsley, torn
â– 6 small, picked sprigs dill, torn
â– 16 leaves fresh mint, torn
â– Kosher salt and coarsely cracked black pepper
Prepare an ice-water bath and bring a pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch the beans until tender but still snappy, about three minutes, then shock them in the ice water bath and swish around. Drain well and dry on a clean towel.
In a bowl, combine the beans, vinaigrette, feta, tomatoes, oregano, red onion, and torn herbs. Toss well with clean hands. Taste and adjust the seasoning with kosher salt and pepper.
Note: If you wish, add toasted chunks of day-old bread, brushed with extra-virgin olive oil and seasoned with sea salt and pepper, or try adding half a grilled Spanish or sweet onion, separated into rings
Red Wine and Feta Vinaigrette
Makes 1¼ Cups
â– ½ cup red wine vinegar
â– 1 small onion, sliced and grilled (for method,
see tomato-braised cauliflower soup, page 30)
â– 6 basil leaves
â– 1 tsp pickled thyme
â– ¼ cup crumbled feta cheese
â– 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
â– 6 cloves garlic, smashed
â– 2 shallots, sliced thick
â– 2 Tbsp dry Greek oregano
â– ¾ cup extra-virgin olive oil
â– 1 Tbsp kosher salt
â– 1 Tbsp coarsely cracked black pepper
In a food processor, combine the vinegar, onion, basil, thyme, feta, mustard, garlic, shallots, oregano, salt, and pepper. With the motor running, drizzle in the olive oil until smooth. Season with salt and pepper, and use to dress tomato and string bean salad (on previous page).
â– 4 branzinos, about 1-2 lbs. each, scaled and gutted
â– 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
â– Salt and pepper
â– 3 cloves of garlic, sliced thin
â– 24 cherry tomatoes, halved
â– 10 fingerling potatoes, par-cooked and reserved
â– 24 kalamata olives, pitted
â– 24 green olives, pitted
â– 2 sweet onions, sliced into rings, grilled (for method, see tomato-braised cauliflower soup recipe, page 30)
â– 1 Tbsp dry oregano
â– ½ cup feta cheese
â– ladolemono (recipe follows)
â– 2 lemons
â– 1 Tbsp each of fresh chopped parsley, basil, and dill
Preheat a grill to medium-high. Paint fish with extra-virgin olive oil, season with salt and pepper, and place on the grill. Char on each side for approximately 8 minutes.
In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, heat 2 Tbsp extra-virgin olive oil. Lightly brown garlic and potatoes in oil. Add tomatoes, olives, onion rings, dry oregano, and feta cheese and toss well. Dress with ladolemono. Transfer to a serving platter and place the fish on top of the warm salad. Squeeze fresh lemon juice on top, then drizzle with more ladolemono. Sprinkle with fresh herbs and serve.
Makes about ¾ cup
â– ¼ cup fresh lemon juice
â– 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
â– 1 tablespoon dry Greek oregano
â– Kosher salt and cracked black pepper
â– ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
In a bowl, combine the lemon juice, mustard, oregano, ½ teaspoon kosher salt, and a generous grinding of pepper. Put the mixture in a food processor for 5 to 10 seconds to mix completely while you drizzle in the olive oil. This sauce will separate—whisk, pour back in the food processor or shake in a jar before using.