The ‘70s were the decade-long equivalent of March. It came in like a lion and went out with a mirrored disco ball.
In between was a national malaise and a long, national nightmare. It was the best time for movies and the worst time for fashion. And we were more concerned about the price of oil than the fact that, for two full years, we had both a president and a vice president who had not been elected to their positions.
We got out of Vietnam, but we got into polyester.
In the culinary world, though, things were not that bad. In the ‘70s, people began to think more seriously about eating for their health; the health-food fad began in earnest and has yet to fade away. Yogurt became popular, and so did granola.
Two culinary events in the ‘70s changed forever the way we look at food.
The iconic restaurant Chez Panisse opened in Berkeley, California, in 1971, eliminating the stuffiness previously associated with fine dining and igniting a revolution of cooking with the best possible, local ingredients.
The other cuisine-altering event was the 1977 publication of “Moosewood Cookbook.” One of the best-selling American cookbooks of all time, “Moosewood Cookbook” moved vegetarian food from something of a punchline into a viable and even popular way to cook (though “Moosewood” author Mollie Katzen, who originally self-published “Moosewood” in 1974, gives more credit to Anna Thomas, who came out with “The Vegetarian Epicure” in 1972).
So for my culinary sojourn through the 1970s, I turned to my favorite recipe in “Moosewood Cookbook,” Hungarian Mushroom Soup. I had remembered liking it, but I did not recall just how staggeringly rich and filling it was.
As the book’s recipes often did, this one calls for tamari or soy sauce to create an earthy, umami flavor to make up for a lack of meat. A shot of lemon juice, too, brightens the taste.
The soup has the expected mushrooms, onion, stock and milk, plus a hefty dose of paprika and dill for that authentic Hungarian piquancy. It also has lots of butter and sour cream — health food may have come into its own in the ‘70s, but plenty was still being served that wasn’t healthy.
Like Quiche Lorraine. Quiche Lorraine was everywhere in the ‘70s; any luncheon was bound to have it. And why not? With a filling made from eggs, cream and shredded cheese, it is basically a custard set inside a tart shell — with bacon.
Sales dipped dramatically after the 1982 publication of the book “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche,” but maybe it is time to bring them back up again. It’s hard to get any better than cheesy custard, crust and bacon.
Every bit as ubiquitous as Quiche Lorraine in the ‘70s was, perhaps surprisingly, guacamole. Although it had been available in certain places for decades, when the country discovered it as a whole in the ‘70s it suddenly became a part of every summertime gathering.
Because everyone makes pretty much the same guacamole as everyone else (some use garlic powder and onion powder, some don’t), I decided to go back to the basics with mine.
I made it without lime juice. That may not be the 1970s way to do it, but apparently it is the authentically Mexican way.
And I have to say I loved it, even though I am also a huge fan of limes. With just five ingredients (avocados, serrano chiles, cilantro, chopped onion and salt), this limeless version really lets the avocado flavor shine through. With guacamole, the avocado should always be the star.
The ‘70s simply would not have been the ‘70s without crepes. Crepe restaurants sprang up all around the country, most notably the Magic Pan, a chain that was owned by Quaker Oats throughout the decade.
The great thing about crepes is you can use them for practically everything. Their popularity soared when people realized they could be used to make a fancy presentation of leftovers, but they are also great with vegetables, chicken or seafood — try any of these with a simple white sauce. Just add a little sugar to the batter for dessert, and fill them with ice cream, whipped cream or jam.
Or just eat them fresh off the pan, as I did. Well, some of them.
Finally, I made a big pot of pasta primavera, which, I was surprised to learn, was invented in the 1970s, in New York City. Its actual origin is a matter of some debate, but it is universally agreed that it came to prominence in 1976 with the opening of the famed Le Cirque restaurant in New York.
A 1977 recipe from Le Cirque in the New York Times sealed its popularity. It became the dish of the moment, the dish of the hour, the dish of the decade.
I made the version as originally printed in the Times, and it was so much better than any other version I’ve had that it was like eating a different dish. This one has the cascade of vegetables that you would expect (broccoli, zucchini, asparagus, green beans, mushrooms, tomatoes, peas and pea pods — I used sugar snap peas) plus some ingredients that you might not.
Butter, for one, and heavy cream. Plus, Parmesan cheese, lots of olive oil and toasted pine nuts.
All this time, I have thought of pasta primavera as a healthy meal, but no. It may not be good for you, but it tastes amazing.
Hungarian Mushroom Soup
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) butter, divided
2 cups chopped onion
12 ounces fresh mushrooms, sliced
1 teaspoon salt
1 to 2 teaspoons dried dill
2 cups stock or water, divided
1 tablespoon tamari or soy sauce
1 tablespoon Hungarian paprika
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup milk
2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup sour cream
1/4 cup chopped parsley
Melt 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large skillet. Add onions, and saute over medium heat for about 5 minutes. Add mushrooms, salt, dill, 1/2 cup of the stock or water, tamari and paprika. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
Meanwhile, melt the remaining 2 tablespoons butter in a large saucepan. Whisk in flour and cook, whisking constantly, for a few minutes. Add the milk and cook, stirring frequently, over medium-low heat for 10 minutes or until thick.
Stir the mushroom mixture and remaining 1 1/2 cups stock or water into the milk mixture. Cover and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.
Just before serving, add salt and pepper to taste, lemon juice, sour cream and, if desired, extra dill. Serve hot, topped with freshly minced parsley.
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, cubed and chilled
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more
3 eggs, divided
3/4 cup grated Gruyere cheese
1/2 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup milk
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
Black pepper, to taste
3 slices bacon, finely chopped
Chopped chives, to garnish
Place flour, butter and salt in a bowl; using your fingers, rub together until pea-size crumbles form. Add 1 of the eggs and 1 tablespoon ice-cold water; stir until dough forms. Briefly knead until smooth; form into a disk. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour.
Whisk together remaining 2 eggs, cheese, cream, milk, nutmeg, and salt and pepper to taste in a bowl. Cook bacon in a small skillet over medium heat to render its fat, about 12 minutes; drain on paper towels until cool. Add to egg mixture. Set filling aside.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Roll dough into a 13-inch circle; transfer to an 11-inch tart pan with a removable bottom, pressing into bottom and sides. Trim excess dough; chill for 30 minutes. Prick bottom with a fork; cover with parchment paper, fill with dried beans or pie weights, and bake until set, about 20 minutes.
Remove paper and beans; bake until light brown, about 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees; pour filling into crust. Bake until just set, about 20 minutes; garnish with chives.
Serves six to eight.
1 or 2 serrano chiles, stemmed, seeded, finely chopped
1/4 cup cilantro, finely chopped
1/4 cup white onion, finely chopped
2 large ripe Hass avocados
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
Combine chiles, cilantro and onion in a large bowl. Just before serving, halve and seed avocados, scoop out pulp and mash pulp into chile mixture with a fork until just combined. Season with salt and serve immediately.
Makes about 2 cups.
1 cup cold water
1 cup cold milk
4 large eggs
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
4 tablespoons butter, melted
Cooking oil or more butter
Whirl water, milk, eggs, salt, flour and melted butter in a blender at high speed for about 1 minute. Refrigerate at least 2 hours.
Set a small nonstick or cast-iron skillet over moderately high heat and brush lightly with oil or butter. Just when it begins to smoke, immediately remove from heat. Hold the pan with one hand and pour a scant 1/4 cup of batter into the middle of the pan with your other. Quickly tilt pan in all directions to run batter all over bottom of pan in a thin film, pouring back any batter that does not adhere to the pan.
Immediately set pan over heat and cook for about 1 minute. The crepe is ready for turning when you can shake and jerk it loose from bottom of pan; lift an edge to see that it is a nice brown underneath. Turn the crepe and cook for about 30 seconds on the other side. Slide the crepe onto a plate and continue with the rest of the batter, greasing the pan lightly each time it seems necessary.
If you make the crepes in advance, it is best to stack them between layers of waxed paper or foil to prevent them from sticking together.
Roll crepes around a filling of creamed fish, meat, vegetables or leftovers. If desired, cover with a white sauce, sprinkle with cheese and brown in the oven before serving.
Makes 16 crepes.
Le Cirque’s Spaghetti Primavera
1 bunch broccoli
2 small zucchini, unpeeled
4 asparagus spears
1 1/2 cups green beans
1/2 cup fresh or frozen peas
3/4 cup fresh or frozen pea pods
1 tablespoon peanut, vegetable or corn oil
2 cups thinly sliced mushrooms
Freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon minced hot red or green chili, or 1/2 teaspoon dried red-pepper flakes
1/4 cup finely chopped parsley
6 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 teaspoon minced garlic, divided
3 cups tomato cubes, cut into 1-inch dice
6 basil leaves, chopped
1 pound spaghetti
4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons chicken broth
1/2 cup heavy cream, or more
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts
Trim broccoli and break into florets. Trim off ends of the zucchini. Cut into quarters, then cut into 1-inch or slightly longer lengths (about 1 1/2 cups). Cut each asparagus into 2-inch pieces. Trim beans and cut into 1-inch pieces.
Cook each of the green vegetables separately in boiling salted water to cover until crisp but tender. Drain well, then run under cold water to chill, and drain again thoroughly. Combine the cooked vegetables in a bowl.
Cook the peas and pods; about 1 minute if fresh; 30 seconds if frozen. Drain, chill with cold water and drain again. Combine with the vegetables.
In a skillet over medium-high heat, heat the peanut oil and add the mushrooms. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. Cook about 2 minutes, shaking the skillet and stirring. Add the mushrooms, chili and parsley to the vegetables.
Heat 3 tablespoons of the olive oil in a saucepan and add 1/2 teaspoon of the garlic, tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cook about 4 minutes. Add the basil.
Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet and add the remaining 1/2 teaspoon of garlic and the vegetable mixture. Cook, stirring gently, until heated through.
Cook the spaghetti in boiling salted water until almost (but not quite) tender, retaining a slight resilience in the center. Drain well.
In a pot large enough to hold the spaghetti and vegetables, add the butter and melt over medium-low heat. Then add the chicken broth and half a cup each of cream and Parmesan, stirring constantly. Cook gently until smooth. Add the spaghetti and toss quickly to blend. Add half the vegetables and pour in the liquid from the tomatoes, tossing over very low heat.
Add the remaining vegetables (but not the tomatoes). If the sauce seems dry, add 3 to 4 tablespoons more cream. Add the pine nuts and give the mixture a final tossing.
Serve equal portions of the spaghetti mixture in soup or spaghetti bowls. Spoon equal amounts of the tomatoes over each serving. Serve immediately.