Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Absolutely the Last Gasp of Summer: Alexandra's Tomato Galette

It's completely inappropriate to blog about a tomato and corn recipe in November. I know. However, if you're a huge summer tomato fan and a lover of fresh corn--as I am as a proud New Jersey native--you love both of these foods and you seek to celebrate them, especially when they get together, as in this wonderful end of summer soup. But when I discover a recipe this good (even in the fall when even the farmers market purveyors will tell you that the corn and tomatoes are past their prime), I have to blog!

So what can I say? I'll start by saying, "Mea culpa," and then offer profuse apologies for recommending a recipe that you really shouldn't make until next July. Second, this is late because I'm backed up in my blog postings by about three weeks (you should see all my draft posts awaiting publication!). And third, I can truthfully claim that I made this recipe from ingredients bought at my local farmers market in mid October, thus allowing me to adhere to my locavore orthodoxy.

As mentioned in my previous blog posting, I have a few new favorite blogs, among them Alexandra's Kitchen, which was mentioned in the Bitten column as (drum rolls please) "The First Featured Reader Blog." I clicked on over and was seduced by the beautiful photography and immediately wanted to make the quiche (and homemade creme fraiche) but then I realized I had on hand the corn and tomatoes to use and settled on the tomato galette with cornmeal pastry while my creme yogurt-ized itself into creme fraiche. Of course then I saw a link to the artisan bread and I thought, "Thank God it's the weekend otherwise I'd have to lose sleep to get through all these recipes that are on her first page alone!"

So Friday night a couple weeks ago was devoted to making the galette and the bread dough, which worked out fine really. Once I'd made the corn meal pastry, I switched to the bread dough while the pastry rested, and then let the bread dough do its rise while I went about sauteing the onions and corn for the galette. By the time the galette came out of the oven, the dough had completed its rise and was placed in the fridge to rest until baking the next morning. (Incidentally, you know you're more than slightly food-obsessed when you're glad to have no plans on a Friday night so that you can have an intimate evening at home with both pastry and bread dough.)

Since I'd a mind to make the quiche that Sunday, I doubled the corn meal pastry dough rather than make dough from scratch twice in the same weekend. (Unless I have dough in the freezer I usually double any pastry recipe to save time when I next want to bake something that needs a crust.) The recommended quiche pastry does not have corn meal in it all, but I had every confidence that the galette recipe would be perfectly fine for both preparations since I love corn meal biscuits and cobblers and such. Turns out my corn meal had some critters growing in it, so I had to throw it out. I don't blame the producer at all just because I haven't been making enough polenta and corn bread lately. My fault entirely! But fortunately I had some masa harina which I used in the same proportion and it provided the same corn flavor. The dough seemed a bit wet, but once it rested for an hour (or more actually as I was multitasking away), it rolled out beautifully.

I almost wasn't going to reproduce the recipe here and just direct you to Alexandra's recipe. Her writing is witty and her photos are amazing. But I feared my gentle readers might abandon me for greener pastures. So you may click over to her space if you promise to click back. (Just kidding.) So here is a recipe that I would ask you to make next summer if you can wait! It really is so delicious with heirloom tomatoes, corn, and the corn meal crust that you'll be glad you decided to wait. I promise!

Tomato and Corn Galette

Adapted from Alexandra Stafford's adaptation from Fine Cooking, August 2000

Heirloom tomato slices in place atop the corn, onion, and basil mixture

  • 1-1/4 cups (5 oz.) all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup (1-1/2 oz.) fine yellow cornmeal [I used masa harina]
  • 1 tsp. sugar
  • 1-1/4 tsp. salt
  • 6 T. (3 oz.) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch pieces and chilled
  • 3 T. olive oil
  • 1/4 cup ice water

In a medium bowl, mix together the flour, cornmeal, sugar, and salt. Cut in the chilled butter using a stand mixer, a food processor, or a pastry blender until it’s evenly distributed but still in large, visible pieces. Add the olive oil and ice water and mix until the dough begins to come together. Gather the dough with your hands and shape it into a disk. Wrap the disk in plastic and refrigerate for at least 1 hour.

  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 1 large white onion, thinly sliced
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped finely
  • 1/2 bunch basil or tarragon, washed, dried, and coarsely chopped, (to yield about 1/2 cup); plus 10 whole leaves
  • Kernels from 1 ear of corn (about 1 cup)
  • 1 recipe Cornmeal Galette Dough (see above)
  • 1 large or 2 medium ripe tomatoes (about 3/4 lb. total) cut into 1/3-inch slices, drained on paper towels
  • 3 oz. Comté or Gruyère cheese, shredded [I used manchego actually and I'd be hard pressed to think of a cheese that wouldn't work well here.]
  • 1 large egg yolk mixed with 1 tsp. milk or cream
  1. Heat the olive oil in a sauté pan, preferably nonstick, over medium heat. Add the sliced onion and cook, stirring frequently, until lightly browned, about 10 min. Season with salt and pepper. Add the garlic, chopped basil, and corn and cook for 30 seconds. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and set aside to cool.
  2. Adjust an oven rack to the center position and heat the oven to 375°F. Line a baking sheet, preferably one without sides, with kitchen parchment. (If your baking sheet has sides, flip it over and use the back.)
  3. Roll the dough on a floured surface into a 15-inch round, lifting the dough with a metal spatula as you roll to make sure it’s not sticking. If it is, dust the surface with more flour. Transfer it by rolling it around the rolling pin and unrolling it on the lined baking sheet.
  4. Spread the onion and corn mixture over the dough, leaving a 2-inch border without filling. Arrange the tomatoes in a single layer over the onions and season them with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the cheese over the tomatoes. [Here's where Alexandra's pictures don't match the recipe instructions as her beautiful heirloom tomatoes are clearly visible in the finished product. I followed her written directions and topped the tomatoes with the cheese.] Lift the edges of the dough and fold them inward over the filling, pleating as you go, to form a folded-over border. Pinch together any tears in the dough. Brush the egg yolk and milk mixture over the exposed crust.
  5. Bake until the crust has browned and the cheese has melted, 35 to 45 min. Slide the galette off the parchment and onto a cooling rack. Let cool for 10 min. Stack the remaining 10 basil leaves and use a sharp knife to cut them into a chiffonade. Cut the galette into wedges, sprinkle with the basil, and serve.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

More Blog Inspirations and Improvements

Another of my cell phone pics of great pumpkins galore!

Last week I was so proud of myself for having updated the look of my little blog from summer to fall with more seasonal colors and a picture of pumpkins taken at Jones Family Farms in Connecticut. Then this past Friday's Bitten column, which I didn't see until Monday, pointed out a blog with jaw-dropping photography and food styling. Talk about food porn to drool over! Puts my little cell phone pics like the one above that I was sooooooo proud of to shame! And dammit, don't you know this blog--Alexandra's Kitchen--is so well written that my mouth was watering as I considered how I might be able to work her quiche recipe--which is adapted from the Tartine cookbook--into my rotation as I cannot wait until Sunday brunch.

Quiche though? I thought that quiche was out in favor of fritata (no crust to make, chill and roll out, right?), but now quiche is probably back in in some sort of retro way and I missed the article in the Times that Wednesday! Well then quiche it shall be, perhaps for dinner on Friday? On top of that Alexandra's quiche uses creme fraiche which is footnoted in case you might want to make your own, and who wouldn't? The food lust is taking over! You have to check out Alexandra's photography page too BTW for a veritable centerfold of food porn! My only consolation is that, like me, Alexandra doesn't necessarily post often.

Leonor de Sousa Bastos' Flagrante Delicia is another exquisite blog, this one from a Portuguese pastry chef whose work is seductively photographed by her blog partner, himself a professional photographer. Somehow Alexandra's Kitchen led me to Flagrante Delicia (perhaps via Serious Eats?) but I don't feel like retracing my history to get the exact link. The first recipe I saw was her yogurt cake garnished with pomegranate seeds that looked luminescent! I mean, yogurt cake? With pomegranate seeds? Come on! Of course I will be preparing!

So I've updated my humble little blog with some links to some other preferred blogs and food sites, as well as a search and RSS subscription. All of which is humorous to me as this blog is most likely read by a mere handful of stalwarts, so who's going to subscribe? I like Aaron Kagan's take on the whole blog thang with this quote from his blog Tea and Food:

"I don't describe this process [making steak] because I feel that it's the best, or even because I want others to follow my technique, which isn't even "my" technique but something I once read somewhere. I share this information in the democratic and confessional spirit of food blogging: this is what I do, know that, and now go do what you do."

Most people who even respond to my blog postings do so via my Facebook/Notes links, and I'm sure as many of my friends are as pissed off at my food obsessions as other friends may be intrigued. So to anyone reading this, my sincere thanks for indulging my musings and reading my indulgences!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Good-bye to Summer's Bounty: Lynn Alley's Three Sisters Stew

These three sisters--corn, beans, and squash--really rock it when they get together! I love food names like this that tell a bit of a story, like moros y cristianos for Cuban black beans and rice. The three sisters were often grown as a trio by Native Americans in parts of North America. Corn is the eldest sister who allows the beans to climb while the broad leaves of squash shade the soil, keeping it moist and blocking weeds from seeing the sun.

It was last fall, perhaps after a visit to the Smithsonian's Museum of the American Indian, that I first heard of the three sisters. The cafeteria in this museum is probably the best--and most expensive--on the National Mall (the National Gallery of Art also has good eats IMHO) and features regional dishes inspired by the original inhabitants of the Americas. Was it a three sisters casserole that caught my eye that day? I can't quite remember, but I began bookmarking recipes last October, mindful that I would be revisiting this dish in my future.

The recipes that I found, however, seemed too hybrid Italian. One used a sage pesto with pine nuts and another was a pasta casserole for two. But a couple of days ago a co-worker and I were discussing his love of home cooked beans from scratch vs. the can. There's really no debate. Sure it's easy to open a can and no pantry should be without a few cans of beans like chickpeas, cannelinis, and/or black beans. But cooking beans oneself from dried beans is laughably simple, not to mention healthy and affordable. So he got me thinking that I too should be economizing and making beans from scratch, especially because it can all be done in the slow cooker while I'm out for the day.

Serendipitously I found a recipe in The Gourmet Slow Cooker Volume II for a three sisters stew, full of New World ingredients (i.e. Mexican) only. The other thing I liked about this recipe is that Lynn doesn't recommend soaking the beans overnight nor doing the quick soak (bring beans to a boil for a couple minutes then turn off the heat and let sit for an hour or two). While it's not a big deal to remember a day ahead that tomorrow is bean cooking day, I may not know until I've gotten up in the morning that I want beans for dinner that night so the soaking window might be closed.

There is debate among the culinary cognoscenti about the necessity of soaking anyway. Any authentic Mexican cookbook will not recommend the soak. Recipes I've seen from Europe as well as conventional wisdom usually insist on the soak. Rick Bayless scoffs at the idea and he's got the whole of Mexico to back him up. Without the soak, the beans may take longer to cook, but cooking beans isn't like cooking pasta in that the cooking time may vary widely depending on the beans themselves and how old they are anyway (older beans may take longer to come to doneness). I wasn't concerned though because I put the beans in my six quart slow cooker at 8:00 in the morning and knew that I wouldn't be home until after 6:00 so ten hours had to be long enough and it was.

Perhaps my beans were a bit overdone because some of them had given up a lot of starch and really thickened the stew beautifully IMO, but I could still see whole beans. That might also have occurred because I used both black beans and pink beans and probably different types of beans cook at different paces. If I were making a dish where most beans had to be kept whole, the super long cook might have been an issue, but that didn't matter for making a stew. In fact I was tempted to add a chopped up square of baking chocolate a la Tyler Florence to add even more silkiness, but refrained since I was interested in trying the dish as written since it was my first time preparing.

A lot of Amazon reviews for Lynn's slow cooker recipes criticize her for adding steps of grinding spices or browning meat or sauteing onions and garlic on the stove top. When slow cookers first became popular in the 1970s in the heyday of "convenience cooking" (when I was growing up incidentally), the "dump in all your ingredients in the morning and come home to your delicious dinner at the end of the day" was the selling point and this mentality has persisted to this day in some quarters. However, the slow cooker is not a magical cooking vessel. The end result depends on the quality of your ingredients and the steps taken to ensure a delicious result. This may often necessitate doing part of the preparation on top of the stove. Anyone who's made chili in a slow cooker is probably used to this idea as ground meat always has to be browned before adding. And if you're using preground spices, I'd just use the same amount as for whole. Whenever I measure whole seeds, I never level so a rounded teaspoon of whole seeds approximates closely enough a level measure of the same spice in my experience.

Now I'm going to sound like a hypocrite because I did not follow my own recommendation! I did not brown the onion at all, but just added it right in with the beans and chicken stock in the first step. The Three Sisters Stew is nearly a dish that follows the 1970s ethos of dump it all in and come home to a delicious meal. This was a move of pure laziness as I was trying to get to work and hadn't given myself enough time to saute the onion. I can't say that the dish suffered at all, but I'll attribute half of that to the quality of my spices and other ingredients from the farmers market. But browning meat? That is a step that should never be omitted.

Finally, this recipe defied other bean hegemony in addition to the no soak. I added marinara sauce to the beans from the beginning. Now I'd always heard that cooking beans in acidic liquid keeps them from reaching doneness, so I was skeptical of cooking the beans with a tomato based sauce, but no worries, mate! Perhaps ten hours was enough to overcome the situation, perhaps it was never a problem to begin with!

Three Sisters Stew
Adapted from Lynn Alley’s The Gourmet Slow Cooker Volume II: Regional Comfort-Food Classics
Makes 4 to 6 servings

  • 2 cups dried pinto, Anasazi or red beans, rinsed [I used a half pound each of black and pink beans]
  • 8 cups water or stock [I used chicken stock]
  • 1 cup tomato or marinara sauce
  • 1 tablespoon olive or corn oil
  • 1 yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon canned chili in adobo sauce, with sauce
  • 1 poblano chili, seeded and chopped [I used two poblanos]
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped [I used 5 cloves of roasted garlic that I happened to have on hand]
  • 1 pound chorizo sausage, sliced [I used 12 ounces of chicken and turkey habanero sausage, obviously not included for a vegetarian stew]
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds, crushed [next time I'll toast the spices before crushing]
  • 1 tablespoon coriander seeds, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 3 ears corn, cut into 2-inch lengths [I trimmed the kernels off the cob instead because it's easier to eat that way]
  • 2 zucchini squash, sliced [1 pound of trimmed mini patty pan squash would do nicely here as they hold their shape after prolonged cooking]
  • 1 cup beer
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • chopped cilantro, optional
  • sour cream, optional

Combine beans, water and tomato sauce in the slow cooker. Heat oil in large saute pan over medium-high. Saute onion for about 10 minutes, until lightly browned. [I’m a total hypocrite for not doing this step but I was pressed for time!] Transfer to the slow cooker; add chilis and garlic. [Next time I might just add the whole sausages at this step to let them steep in the stew, but maybe they would add too much salt and/or acidity] Cover and cook on low 6 to 8 hours, until the beans are very tender.

Brown chorizo in a saute pan over medium-high heat, 10 to 15 minutes. Drain. Add the chorizo, cumin, coriander, chili powder, corn, zucchini and beer to the cooker and continue cooking for 1 hour, until the zucchini is tender and the corn is cooked. Season to taste with salt. Serve hot, garnished with cilantro and sour cream.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Chris Kimball's Sweet and Sour Apple and Fennel Coleslaw

This past Saturday in Washington, DC was rainy and reportedly a record cold day, but that didn't stop me from getting up early and eager to hit the farmers' market after a four week hiatus. Having recently "eaten down the fridge," I had every excuse to replenish my stocks and as unseasonably cold as it was, the slow cooker would be part of the plan. I made a small list and looked up some recipes and found one that I'd made more than a year ago (Carolina pulled pork barbecue) and one that had been on my mind for over a year (three sisters stew).

The three sisters stew (corn, squash, and beans) is something that I will blog about more extensively after preparing the dish, but suffice it to say that I was very glad that so late in the season I was still able to get corn and zucchini. The pork shoulder for Carolina barbecue had to come from my favorite meat purveyor at the market who has actually spoiled me as far as pork products are concerned. Farm raised and succulent, I imagine his pork products taste the storied way pork used to taste before the pork industry decided to lean pork out and market it as "the other white meat." I know that I'll be building my pork and bacon reserves over the next four weeks because once the market finishes for the year the weekend before Thanksgiving, I won't be buying any pork again until the spring. Sniff!

Having spent the long Columbus Day weekend in Asheville, NC and enjoying some really good Carolina and Texas barbecue at Ed Boudroux's, a place in the heart of Asheville recommended by a friend, I was happy to come home and try my hand once more at a very simple slow cooker preparation. This provided an excuse to make my signature hamburger buns and my favorite coleslaw recipe using apples and fennel. Chris Kimball's coleslaw recipe always gets rave reviews because it has some ingredients that people aren't expecting like apples. He has another Asian coleslaw recipe that I also like to make that has a spicy peanut flavored dressing.

Kimball caused a bit of a stink in the food blogosphere recently regarding his take on the demise of Gourmet, which was published in the Op-Ed pages of the New York Times. Personally I've never had a problem with the man, having enjoyed his appearances on morning television and NPR on various occasions, and America's Test Kitchen is an old school PBS stalwart of a cooking show that's all about the technique and not about the glam. But he really dissed the current state of food writing and concluded his piece with a decidedly elitist tone and even had the nerve to presume the views of the deceased Mme. Child after name dropping that he was a neighbor and frequent guest at her home. Since I'm not in the big leagues with my personal little blog space, I can's say that I took offense, but others certainly did and Amateur Gourmet as well as Serious Eats had pretty good rejoinders old guard vs. the new.

Kimball's opinions on the publishing world vs. the blogosphere notwithstanding, his coleslaw recipe is pretty simple and never fails to impress. The technique of using salt to draw out the moisture and wilt the cabbage is one I first saw in Japan in a cooking class I took there. Having made this slaw so many times over the years, I have adapted certain parts of the recipe to make it my own, the most significant being the use of dill instead of tarragon, and the addition of bell pepper, carrots, and radishes, which just makes the slaw more flavorful and visually appealing.

Coleslaw with Apple, Fennel, and Dill
Adapted from Chris Kimball's Sweet and Sour Slaw with Apple and Fennel as demonstrated on Martha Stewart's old TV show

Makes about 10 cups

  • 1 pound (about half a medium head) green cabbage, finely shredded [savoy or Chinese cabbage works nicely because they hold the dressing nicely]
  • 1 medium head fennel, thinly sliced (about 2 1/2 cups)
  • 2 large carrots peeled and thinly sliced in rounds
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 small red onion, finely chopped [I used a whole onion]
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 2 tablespoons rice-wine vinegar [I used apple cider vinegar]
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon mustard
  • 1 teaspoon celery seed [my addition]
  • 1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled, cored, and cut into 1/4-inch pieces [any firm apple will do and I don't necessarily bother peeling]
  • 1 sweet bell pepper (red, orange, or yellow) cut into 1/2 inch pieces
  • 6 radishes thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons minced fresh tarragon leaves [replaced by 1/3 cup chopped dill]
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  1. Toss cabbage, with salt in a colander or large mesh strainer set over a medium bowl. [Chris just has you wilt the cabbage with the salt, but I like to also wilt the fennel and carrot at the same time] Let stand until cabbage wilts, 1 to 4 hours. Rinse under cold running water (or in large bowl of ice water if serving slaw immediately). Press, but do not squeeze, to drain; pat dry with paper towels. (Can be stored in a resealable plastic bag and refrigerated overnight.)
  2. Stir together honey, vinegar, oil, mustard, and celery seed in a medium bowl and set dressing aside.
  3. Toss the cabbage, fennel, carrot, apple, pepper, radishes, and tarragon [I prefer dill] with the dressing. Season to taste with salt and pepper. [You probably won't need much salt.] Cover, and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

New look for the blog!

The look of old

Inspired by a page over at the Smitten Kitchen and after a friend told me that some of the pumpkin pics I'd taken with my cell phone looked like magazine quality, I decided to change the look of the blog to go with the season. Summer veggies are out and the fall look is in!

Friday, October 9, 2009

Kim O'Donnell's Eating Down the Fridge Challenge

Readers of this blog might remember a couple of posts about "eating down the fridge." The idea first came to my attention via Kim O'Donnell, formerly of washingtonpost.com who used to host a weekly chat and blog about all things food related. Kim has moved on to another cyber space called True Slant where she continues her mission.

In the spring of this year Kim challenged her Post readers to eat down the fridge by foregoing the weekly shopping ritual--except for essentials--and making meals from the contents of the fridge, freezer, and pantry. "Essential" is subjectively defined: my essentials (coffee, milk, OJ, yogurt, olive oil) might not seem like a requirement to someone else, but the point is to minimize the weekly grocery haul and just consume what you already have on hand.

For the fall EDF challenge Kim invited guest bloggers to write about their EDF challenges and perspectives, and yours truly was the Friday blogger. You can read my dispatch and then think about how to incorporate the EDF ethos into your own weekly shopping and cooking habits. EDF is a money saving idea in these hard economic times, but it's also a way to clean out the kitchen clutter and start afresh. Think of it as fall cleanup as we transition from summer's dwindling abundance of corn, tomatoes, peaches, and zucchini to fall's harvest offerings of butternut squash, brussel sprouts, and apples. As you eat down your own fridge/freezer/pantry, substitutions are indeed encouraged (no fresh oregano for that sauce? try some dried thyme instead).

EDF dinner with with wine

My own experience of the latest round of EDF was to host a French inspired dinner last Saturday using mostly contents from my freezer: boeuf bourguignon using a beef sirloin tip roast, parsley buttered noodles from frozen homemade pasta dough, haricots verts using green beans bought at a Connecticut farmstand, and tarte tatin using frozen homemade pie crust and apples picked two weeks earlier. I also extended my focus to my wine cabinet and opened a special bottle of 1997 Ferrari-Carano Cabernet Sauvignon in the spirit of the WSJ wine writers' "Open that Bottle of Wine Night." Every year they challenge readers to stop saving that special bottle and open it to share with friends and loved ones. We finally got to enjoy a bottle we'd bought seven years ago and it was a sheer pleasure enjoyed with good friends over a delightful evening that cost next to nothing as we made dinner from ingredients we mostly had on hand.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Risotto with Radicchio and Red Wine

There is really no reason to be intimidated by risotto. The technique is quite simple and once you make a couple of decisions about whether to cook it over high heat vs. low--which bears on how you prefer to arrive at al dente for your risotto--you're laughing! If you like the risotto very al dente, I'd say cook it on high for a rigorous boil and near constant stirring. If you like your risotto less al dente and don't feel like constantly stirring, cook it over medium to medium low heat and let the rice do its thang.

This risotto recipe resulted from my stepping up to the Eating Down the Fridge/Freezer/Pantry challenge that took place on one of my favorite food blogs, A Mighty Appetite on washingtonpost.com. The concept is simple really. Hold off on buying most groceries beyond your essentials (milk, coffee, eggs, produce, or however you choose to define "essential") and cook with what you have on hand from your fridge, freezer, pantry, and spice rack. If you can't see the back of your fridge/pantry/freezer and haven't used your curry since the last time you made vindaloo before the millenium turned, it's time to eat down your fridge, folks! In a larger sense it's about not being wasteful in these tough economic times when we are all mindful of where our money is going and trying to get the most out of a dollar. I'd had a half head of radicchio and some leftover wine that I wanted to use and this is the perfect recipe for both.

As is my usual way, I have consulted multiple sources with the resulting recipe being a hybrid of two different recipes. The main recipe is Faith Willinger's who is one of the leading proponents of Italian cooking, especially in the style of Tuscany where her husband is from. I bought her book Red, White & Greens years ago after hearing her interviewed on NPR. After I became a devotee of my DC farmers market nearly four years ago, I perused her cookbook anew, finding many delicious preparations in which vegetables are the star, though the dish may not be vegetarian. She recommends making the recipe below with white wine and endive, but informs us that radicchio can be used instead of the endive.

The Risotto al Cabernet Michael Chiarello made in an episode of Easy Entertaining was one of those recipes that stuck with me because I knew I would want to try it sometime. I usually make risotto when I have a bit of leftover wine and since we drink more reds than whites, I tend to have more bottles of red to use up and the mind turns to ragu bolognaise and such. I especially like Chiarello's recipe because you can prepare the risotto up to a point and then finish it up by heating and thinning with the red wine. This technique makes the risotto a make ahead possibility when entertaining since it can be completed just before serving.

Risotto al Vino Rosso con Radicchio
Adapted from Faith Willinger's Red, White, & Greens: The Italian Way with Vegetables and Michael Chiarello's Risotto al Cabernet
Serves 4 to 6

4 tablespoons olive oil (and/or butter)
1 small onion, chopped [can also subsitute leeks or shallots if preferred]
1/2 head radicchio, halved, cored, and cut into strips (or 2 Belgian endive cut into strips)
2 garlic cloves, minced
salt and pepper to taste
1 cup arborio rice
3/4 cup wine [I'd suggest red wine for the radicchio and white for the endive]
5 cups or so simmering stock
1/4 to 1/2 cup of wine that you'll be having with dinner, or leftover
1/2 cup grated Parmagianno-Reggiano
2 tablespoons butter, optional
chopped herbs, such as chives or parsley, optional

  1. Bring your stock to a simmer over low heat on a back burner. If finishing with butter, set aside in a small dish and allow it to soften as you prepare the risotto.
  2. Heat the olive oil/butter over medium heat and add the chopped onion. Season with salt and pepper. Stir to coat and soften the onion without browning for about 5 minutes. Stir in the radicchio and stir until wilted, about 3 minutes.
  3. Add the rice. Stir to coat, adding oil if necessary, and cook stirring as needed until the rice turns opaque. Some grains may brown lightly which is also desirable.
  4. Deglaze with the wine, stirring to loosen any bits that have stuck to the bottom of the pan.
  5. Ladle in about 1 cup of stock. Here is where you decide if you want to give the risotto your undivided attention and cook on medium high with frequent stirring (Ms. Willinger's preference) or cook on medium low with less attention and only occasional stirring. Both methods will take about 20 minutes so it depends on YOU. If you're a multi-tasker in the kitchen like me, you may want to simmer the risotto on medium low as you go about other preparations. In either case you add enough stock--usually 1/2 to 1 cup or so--to raise the liquid level to about half an inch above the rice. As the stock is absorbed into the rice, the level of the liquid will be about the same as the rice and you will hear some sizzle from the bottom of the pot. At this point, add more stock--a 1/2 cup to 1 cup at a time--and give a stir making sure the rice does not stick. It is the repeated adding of liquid and stirring that releases the starch from the rice and makes the risotto creamy before even adding melted butter, cheese, or cream. It's really no different from cooking old-fashioned or steel cut oats which can be made deliciously creamy via a slow simmer.
  6. After the third addition of stock, season with salt and pepper, mindful that the addition of Parmesan cheese at the end will also contribute some saltiness. After 15 minutes and/or the fourth addition of stock, you may want to taste the risotto to see how close it is to doneness. Risotto should not be completely soft like cooked rice. It should be toothsome, i.e. al dente, such that there's a bit of resistance when chewed, although it should not be crunchy at all. It should also have a loose consistency, although Mario Batali likes to serve it soupy.
  7. Remove from the heat and stir in the Parmesan and butter if using. Finish with a half cup or so of wine which you can stir into the pot or add smaller amounts to each person's dish as it is served. Garnish with chopped herbs if using. Buon Apetito!

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Battle of the Cornmeal Biscuit Cobblers!

This post has been a year in the making as last year I came upon two different recipes for fruit cobblers, one in the Washington Post and the other in Gourmet. Both are delicious and simple, my two main criteria for nearly any recipe I'm willing to try. I like these recipes because they're about technique and because they are both made with a cornmeal biscuit topping, which seems especially appropriate for spring and summer desserts.

Gourmet's cobbler above, Washington Post's below

I say these recipes are about technique because once you decide which type of biscuit topping you prefer--either drop biscuits or cut biscuits--you can put any sort of fruit combination underneath and just keep the proportion of fruit and sugar the same. If cooking stone fruit, I'd recommend the cut biscuit recipe technique as the fruit cooks a bit before you add the biscuit topping. Then add the biscuit topping of your choice and 30 minutes later you're golden. If cooking very ripe fruit, berries, and/or rhubarb, I'd follow the drop biscuit recipe technique and just cook the fruit and the biscuit topping of your choice all at the same time. In either case just make sure that the fruit is cooked and tender--but not overcooked--and the biscuit topping is a nice, golden brown.

Both dishes are impressive and simple, but I must say that the cut biscuit cobbler makes a slightly more attractive presentation than the rustic presentation of the drop biscuit cobbler. So if you want to be a rock star at the next neighborhood picnic, for a marginal additional effort, I would make the Gourmet recipe--as I did last year when I first made this dessert for a family picnic and my aunt couldn't believe that I'd made it! Puh-lease! My partner's family was also impressed this past weekend when we brought out our contribution to his family's picnic (where we also brought a delicious apple and fennel coleslaw with dill, but that's for another post). However, if you want to whip up something quick for surprise dinner guests, the drop biscuit recipe will more than satisfy, even if you use frozen fruit, I promise!

Whenever I make biscuits, I always use buttermilk or yogurt as the liquid component and add a half teaspoon of baking soda to the dry ingredients. The cut biscuit recipe calls for heavy cream, which would doubtless add richness, but you can reduce the calories and still maintain flavor by using buttermilk or yogurt. Vanilla or honey yogurt would even work here. The baking soda reacts immediately with acid in the buttermilk or yogurt, and the baking powder acts in the heat of the oven to aerate the biscuit, muffin, cornbread, etc. So adding baking soda and extra acid makes the leavening "double acting," and who doesn't want their baked goods to rise nicely? Of course baking powder is actually one part baking soda, one part corn starch, and two parts cream of tartar, which acts as the acid.

So I'm going to attempt to show here the two recipes, first the toppings and then the fruit portion and then the instructions. Hopefully it won't be too confusing. Needless to say, fresh whipped cream, creme fraiche, or vanilla ice cream are obvious accompaniments to this delicious dessert!

Fruit Cobbler with Corn Bread Crust

Adapted from Corn Bread-Crusted Strawberry and Rhubarb Cobbler, by Stephanie Witt Sedgwick from The Washington Post, May 7, 2008 and Stone Fruit Cobbler, by Lillian Chou from Gourmet, June 2008.

Drop Biscuit Topping:

  • 1 cup cornmeal
  • 1 cup flour
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder [plus 1/2 teaspoon baking soda]
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup low-fat or regular buttermilk [or yogurt]
  • 1 large egg, lightly beaten
  • 4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
Cut Biscuit Topping:
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal (not stone-ground)
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder [plus 1/2 teaspoon baking soda]
  • Rounded 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 cup plus 1 tablespoon heavy cream, divided [I used 1 cup of yogurt, plus 1 tablespoon half and half]
  • 2 teaspoon sugar
If making the cut biscuit topping, especially with stone fruit that will be pre-cooked without the topping, I would make the biscuits first and refrigerate them on a plate so that the dough can rest and the butter can harden after handling. As the butter melts in the oven, steam will form small pockets that will help the biscuits rise. Otherwise for the drop biscuit recipe, I would cut up the fruit first and add the sugar to get it dissolved and the sugary syrup forming with the fruit.

For both biscuit recipes:
Whisk together the cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a medium bowl, mixing well.

For the cut biscuits:
Blend in the butter with your fingertips or a pastry blender until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add 1 cup of buttermilk [or cream] and stir just until a ball of dough forms. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface and lightly dust with flour, then roll out with a floured rolling pin into a 1/2-inch-thick round (about 10 inches in diameter). Cut out biscuits with lightly floured cutter. If necessary, gather scraps and re-roll once, then cut out more biscuits.

For the drop biscuits:
Whisk together the buttermilk, egg, and melted butter in a large measuring cup. Add to the cornmeal mixture and stir just until combined to form a thick batter.

Fruit filling for stone fruit such as plums, nectarines, peaches, or apricots [Gourmet doesn't recommend using fuzzy fruit like apricots or peaches because they should be peeled. Of course they don't have to be peeled if you don't want to]:
  • 3/4 to 1 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 pounds mixed stone fruit, pitted and cut into 1/2-inch-thick wedges (8 cups)
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • zest of 1 lemon or lime or half an orange
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 pint blueberries or blackberries [optional, but especially delicious with peaches or nectarines]
  • 1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract [optional]
Fruit filling for very ripe stone fruit, rhubarb, and/or berries (such as strawberries or raspberries):
  • 2 to 2 1/2 pounds of fruit cut into 3/4 inch pieces (about 6 to 8 cups)
  • 3/4 to 1 cup sugar, depending on how sweet the fruit is to start with
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • zest of 1 lemon or lime or half an orange
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract [optional as far as I'm concerned]
  • 1 cup to 1 pint of blueberries or blackberries, frozen if necessary [optional, but I just think that dark berries go perfectly with peaches and nectarines]

For both fruit filling recipes:
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Toss together the filling ingredients in a large bowl. Spread out in a 3 quart glass or ceramic baking dish

For the fruit filling for stone fruit such as plums, nectarines, peaches, or apricots:
Bake until just bubbling, 10 to 15 minutes and then follow either of the instructions below for either cut biscuit or drop biscuit topping.

For the rhubarb, berries, and/or very ripe stone fruit:
For the cut biscuit topping, arrange biscuits 1/2 inch apart over the filling. Brush tops with remaining half and half, then sprinkle with sugar. Bake until topping is golden and fruit is bubbling in center, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool about 30 minutes and serve warm.

For the drop biscuit topping, spoon the topping over the fruit; it should not completely cover the fruit. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the topping begins to brown and fruit juices are bubbling at the edges of the cobbler. Transfer the baking dish to a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes and serve warm.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Mark Bittman's Farfalle (or Penne) with Gorgonzola and Cherry Tomatoes

An Italian-American friend of my sister schooled me at Christmas dinner a few years ago: Italians don't eat pasta. Rather than call a dish "pasta with spring vegetables" or "pasta with lemon shrimp" the dish should be identified by the type of noodle, i.e. "farfalle with spring vegetables" or "linguine with lemon shrimp." My brother also works with someone who went off on him when my brother described some dish as "pasta with broccoli" and his co-worker shouted at him, "It's cavatappi with broccoli!" Point taken then! I gladly defer to my Italian-American fellow citizens of New Jersey (I've seen the Real Housewives of NJ)! I think most folks get this with the names of many familiar dishes like linguine with clam sauce, baked ziti, and lasagne. In each of these dishes the noodle defines the dish as much as what accompanies. And besides "pasta" is just Italian for "dough" and that is not what you are making and serving. You're serving a dish that uses a particular noodle that should be named.

Mark Bittman's Farfalle with Gorgonzola and Cherry Tomatoes is an easy dish that can be made winter or summer. Often cherry or grape tomatoes are the only acceptable choice in the winter when other fresh tomatoes are only a summer memory. At the height of summer there are so many colors and varieties of cherry tomatoes that this dish seems perfect for a quick summer supper. As with most recipes, the ingredients can be readily substituted depending on what you may have on hand (feta for the Gorgonzola, watercress or spinach for the arugula, milk for the cream and so on). There's certainly no reason to make this dish the same way twice if you don't want to!

Penne with Gorgonzola and Cherry Tomatoes
Adapted from Mark Bittman's recipe in the New York Times, January 24, 2007
TOTAL TIME 30 minutes
YIELD 6 to 8 servings [or 4 servings if using only 8 ounces of farfalle]


  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 cup half-and-half, cream or milk [I used nonfat milk and added some butter]
  • 1 cup crumbled Gorgonzola or other good blue cheese
  • 1 pound farfalle or other pasta [I used only a half pound of penne]
  • 2 cups arugula trimmed of very thick stems, washed, dried and chopped [I used a bunch of watercress, including the stems]
  • 1 cup cherry or grape tomatoes, cut in half [I used cherry tomatoes from my garden]
  • Freshly grated Parmesan to taste, optional


  1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and salt it. In a small saucepan gently warm the half-and-half and Gorgonzola just until cheese melts a bit and mixture becomes thick; chunky is O.K. [If using watercress as I did, you might want to stir it into the cheese sauce to soften the stems a bit. Or not; nothing wrong with a bit of crunch.]
  2. When water boils, cook pasta until it is just tender but not mushy. Drain and return to pot over low heat.
  3. Stir in Gorgonzola sauce along with arugula, tomatoes and a healthy dose of black pepper. Stir to combine, taste and add salt, if necessary, then serve immediately, with grated Parmesan if you like.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Happy 4th of July: Rose Levy Beranbaum's Hamburger Buns

I confess I am a frustrated bread maker with aspirations of greatness (delusions of grandeur?). With my usual kitchen confidence, I've tried to approach the making of yeast breads just as I do other kitchen endeavors: If I see someone else make homemade pasta, pie crust, or focaccia, I'm thinking, "If he/she can do it, so can I!" And yet with the yeast breads I haven't practiced enough to the point that when I start out to make pizza or something, I approach it with the confidence that comes with experience. That sort of realization that comes with, "Well, maybe I've never made borscht before, but I've cooked soup so many times, how hard can it be?"

Sure, I've made pizza with dough from scratch--both in the oven and on the grill--and I've generally been pleased with the result, but I want to become a confident bread maker, thank you very much! I so admired a friend I met while teaching English in Japan who grew up on a farm and even in her tiny Japanese kitchen regularly baked her own bread in a countertop oven. That's the kind of confidence that comes when you're at someone else's house and you move into the kitchen to "whip something up" and you amaze friends and family with your proficiency. That may sound like a high bar, but preparing food is all about sharing with friends and family (not that one shouldn't treat oneself with the same high regard as one would treat a guest) and nothing shows the love more than taking the time and effort to make something for friends that you know they'll love.

Three things occurred about two years apart that put me back on the path to moving from breadmaking apprentice to journeyman. Prior to Memorial Day in 2007, there were the usual articles about making hamburgers in the Washington Post food section and included was an article by Rose Levy Beranbaum on making hamburger buns from scratch. At the time, I scoffed at the notion! Even if you don't want to buy the wonder bread white hamburger rolls that we all grew up with, nowadays there is such an assortment of whole wheat, potato and other rolls, why bother making them from scratch?

I had fallen into the typical line of thinking held by those who are outside another's zone of passion. As anyone who pursues a hobby knows, there will always be detractors questioning the value of the effort versus the value of the result. Needlepoint may be the last hobby on earth I'd choose to pursue, but I hope we can all admire a beautifully crafted endeavor by someone else even if it's not something we would pursue ourselves. Nigella Lawson has the best refutation for such detractions you might encounter: if the process of doing something gives one pleasure, that is reason enough to do it. And because breadmaking is so tactile and of course the aroma of bread in the oven will lift anyone's mood, what could be more pleasurable?

Fast forward to Memorial Day 2009 when we were staying with our friends at Rehoboth Beach, Delaware and planned to barbecue turkey burgers one night. My friend John is the master bread baker. In fact his partner Colin has long since forgotten what a sandwich on store bought bread tastes like because they always have a bun in the oven (or in the freezer). He has a KitchenAid mac daddy stand mixer at both of his homes and makes bread as easily as other people make a bowl of cereal. Naturally there would be no store bought hamburger buns that night! And as with watching the cooking shows and thinking I can do anything just as well as any of them, the spark went off and I knew I'd be making homemade hamburger rolls myself this summer. Plus I know he swears by Ms. Beranbaum having adopted her breadmaking technique from The Bread Bible, which differs quite a bit from the simpler technique published in the paper. Having successfully pulled off these delicious buns, I know that store bought buns are just not in my future anymore.

And finally, the New York Times had its July 4th food article breaking down the elements of the perfect burger to its three primary components: the burger, the bun, and the condiments. Their conclusion about the best hamburger bun was that a brioche bun was best. Their recipe for the brioche bun called for bread flour whereas Ms. Berenbaum's uses the ubiquitous all-purpose flour. I've no doubt though that I'll be returning to the brioche recipe sometime soon.

Rose Levy Beranbaum's Best Buns
adapted from the Washington Post, May 23, 2007

There's little that I can add to Ms. Beranbaum's instructions since I'm rather a bread novice. I love how she gives such detailed and descriptive instructions. I can say that I consulted other bread recipes to see what proportion of flour would be used if I used an envelope of yeast--which is what I had on hand--instead of the instant rapid rise yeast she recommends. Some day when I really get into making the yeast breads, I may start buying different kinds of yeasts that I might measure with the spoons, but for now it's an envelope at a time.

Makes 8 hamburger buns but also makes a mean turkey sandwich as well!


  • 3 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour, plus more as necessary

  • 1/4 cup whole-wheat flour

  • 1 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast, such as rapid-rise or bread machine yeast [I used one envelope which is equivalent to 2 1/2 teaspoons, which John says is the typical amount used for most bread recipes]

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt

  • 1 1/3 cups room-temperature water

  • 1 teaspoon mild honey, such as clover [I used maple syrup]

  • 1/4 cup olive oil

  • 3/4 cup toasted mixed seeds, such as cracked flax, sesame, poppy, sunflower and pumpkin (optional, and I didn't use)

  • Milk or water, for brushing the tops of the buns (optional, I used half and half)

  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds for the topping (optional, but I used)


In the bowl of a stand mixer or in a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, whole-wheat flour and yeast, then the salt. Add the water, honey and oil. Using a mixer with a dough hook on medium speed, or by hand, knead the dough for 7 minutes (10 minutes by hand) until smooth and springy. The dough should be soft and just sticky enough to cling slightly to your fingers. If it is still very sticky, knead in a little flour [I kept checking mine and added about 1/4 cup additional whole wheat flour in three or four increments]. If it is too stiff, spray it with a little water and knead it. Allow the dough to rest, covered, for 20 minutes and then knead in the seeds, if desired.

Set the dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl and lightly spray or oil the top of the dough. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and set in a warm spot. Allow the dough to rise for about 1 hour or until it has doubled. (The indentation from a finger stuck into the center of the dough should remain.)

If you plan to bake the hamburger buns the next day, press down the dough and place it in a large, oiled resealable plastic food storage bag, leaving a tiny bit unzipped for the forming gas to escape, and refrigerate it. Take it out of the refrigerator about 1 hour before shaping.

When ready to shape the dough, set it on a very lightly floured work surface and form it into a log. With a sharp knife, divide it into 8 equal pieces. (If you prefer very large buns, you can divide the dough into 6 equal pieces.) Shape each piece into a ball by cupping your hand over the dough and rotating it. It works best if you use only as much flour as you need to keep the dough from sticking. A little resistance helps to form a round ball. Keep the balls of dough covered with damp paper towels to prevent drying; allow them to rest for 5 minutes.

Transfer the dough balls to a parchment-lined baking sheet or inverted sheet pan, leaving enough space between them to allow for a 4-inch bun. Flatten the balls to a height of about 1 inch. (If the dough is very elastic, you can flatten them again after 15 minutes of rising.) If using the sesame seeds, brush the dough lightly with milk or water and sprinkle with the seeds. Cover the balls with a large inverted plastic box or with plastic wrap lightly coated with baking spray, and allow them to rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or until almost doubled; when the dough is pressed gently with a finger, the depression should very slowly fill in.

While the dough is rising, set the oven rack toward the bottom of the oven and place a baking stone or baking sheet on it. Set a cast-iron skillet or heavy baking pan on the floor of the oven or on the lowest shelf. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees for 45 minutes or longer.

Mist the dough with water, quickly but gently set the baking sheet on the hot stone or hot baking sheet, and toss 1/2 cup of ice cubes into the pan beneath. Immediately shut the door and bake 15 minutes. Rotate the pan front to back and bake for 3 to 5 minutes or until the buns are golden brown and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. (An instant-read thermometer inserted into the center will read 200 to 210 degrees.) Transfer the buns to wire racks until they are completely cool or barely warm.

TIP - Food Processor Method:
Refer to the instruction booklet for your model to determine the maximum amount of flour allowable. Chill the water. Place the whisked flour mixture in the work bowl fitted with the steel blade. With the motor on, add the cold water and oil. If the mixture doesn't come together after 10 seconds, scrape down the sides and scrape the dry part into the moist part.

After the mixture comes together, continue processing for 1 1/2 minutes until a smooth, elastic dough is formed. If it does not clean the bowl, pulse in a little extra flour. Transfer the dough to a counter and knead it for 10 seconds to equalize the temperature. If adding the optional seeds, allow the dough to rest for 20 minutes and proceed as above.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Chicken alla Parmagiana My Way

I love chicken parmesan but I never order the gooey, overly cheesy versions found at most restaurants since coming up with this version. I made this last night with some really delicious creamy mozzarella, but I missed the smoked mozzarella that I usually favor here. My recipe uses all the typical components but instead of frying the breaded chicken breasts in oil, I crisp up the breadcrumbs by broiling the breaded chicken breasts for a few minutes, then topping with the sauce and the cheese and putting it back under the broiler. The result is a much lighter variation of the original with all of the crunch. I've grown to prefer the meaty almost bacon like flavor of smoke mozzarella in most situations that call for mozzarella since discovering a purveryor at my farmers market, but any kind of mozzarella will do, whether artisanal or pre-shredded from the bag.

This is one of those rare recipes of my own that I posted to Epicurious in my own recipe box. When I first started making this I sort of enjoyed bashing the heck out of those breasts using a frying pan. Now I just butterfly them open which is a lot less hassle.

Chicken alla Parmagiana
Serves 4

2 chicken breast halves, about 12 ounces each
salt and pepper
1 cup flour
2 eggs beaten with 1 tablespoon water or milk
1 1/2 to 2 cups bread crumbs or panko bread crumbs seasoned with 1 tablespoon dried thyme or oregano
2-3 tablespoons of olive oil, optional
2 cups of your favorite pasta sauce (homemade is ideal)
4 ounces smoked mozzarella, cut into 6 to 8 slices

grated parmesan, optional
chopped parsley, optional

First, pound out the chicken breasts to a half inch thickness. I place the chicken breasts in a zip top bag or between to sheets of plastic wrap and whack at it with a small fying pan. Pounding out chicken breasts can be enormously stress reducing but don't be too overzealous as you want to keep the breast in one piece. Alternatively carefully butterfly the breast halves by slicing them in half: place your hand on top of the breast, place the knife blade parallel to the cutting board and carefully slice into the breast but not all the way through. Open the breast like a book and you've got a butterflied breast, as demoed here on Youtube.

Place an oven rack at the second level down from your broiler element (assuming you've got an oven like mine with the broiler element in the top of the oven) and turn on the broiler. Line a large baking sheet with foil and smear with a thin film of olive oil if you feel like it. Season each chicken breast generously on both sides with salt and pepper. Set up your breading station in three large flat bowls or baking dishes: first flour, then the egg, and finally the bread or panko crumbs. Drizzle a tablespoon or so of olive oil over the bread crumbs and mix in before dredging. This will help the bread crumbs to crisp up nicely. Dredge the flattened chicken breast in flour on both sides and shake off the excess. Next, coat the same piece in the egg wash, letting the excess drip off. Finally, lay it in the bread crumbs. Use your fingers to spread bread crumbs on top of the chicken breast, pressing down to make sure the crumbs stick and that the breast is completely coated. Place on the baking sheet and repeat with the other flattened chicken breast. Drizzle the top of the chicken breast lighltly with olive oil if desired.

Broil the two breasts for five minutes, keeping an eye on them to make sure they brown but do not burn! Turn them over and broil for another three minutes on the second side. Remove from the oven.

Spoon about 1 cup of sauce all over each chicken breast and lay the slices of mozzarella on top of the sauce. Place the chicken back under the broiler for another two to three minutes until the sauce is heated and the cheese is melted and browned slightly. Remove from the oven and move the chicken to a cutting board. Cut each piece in half, garnish with grated parmesan and parsley if using and serve immediately with a side of spaghetti, sauteed broccoli rabe, and a glass of chianti! A red checkered tablecloth is also optional. Buon Appetito!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Break Out the Pasta Maker: Jamie Oliver's Pappardelle with Braised Leeks and Dried Mushroom Pangrattato

Jamie Oliver is another kitchen genius who keeps simplicity at the fore when providing cooking instruction. I have recorded and saved every episode of his Food Network show Jamie at Home. His cooking style is just fresh and innovative and completely unfussy. I can hardly believe it's been over a year since I first made his recipe for "cheat's" pappardelle with braised leeks, which is pure poetry. When I saw the Food Network episode where he made this recipe. I stopped what I was doing and stood in rapt attention as he explained what he was cooking. The ingredients are so basic, as is the technique. But the final dish is sublime.

Jamie loves his veggies especially given that his show is centered around his garden. Occasionally I fall in love with vegetables myself. There was the year that I started cooking Brussel sprouts and amassed quite a repertoire of sprouts recipes that never failed to impress my guests. I would then regale them with how much this poor vegetable has been abused if all one remembers is boiled frozen sprouts from one's youth. My sister's then boyfriend who grew up hating sprouts himself had a transformative experience when I served him roasted sprouts
with chili powder. The outer layers had become so crisp that they most reminded me of chili fried potatoes and I'm not lying. Another year after buying a 5 pound head of cauliflower at the farmers market and using it to make cauliflower soup, it was another light bulb moment as I felt as though I was tasting this typically bland white vegetable for the first time, which brings me back to my mantra: so many recipes, so little time!

And now, the leeks. They're great grilled, braised or as the base for soup. Who would have thought that something from the alium family could yield so many possiblities? But then thinking about onions themselves, they are also delicous in the same way as leeks, perhaps with just a bit more bite. Leeks don't have nearly as much of the sulfur compounds that form sulfuric acid and make you cry. In Japan, leeks are the preferred "onion," and what we think of as onions are basically called "round leeks." When combined with wine and stock as in this recipe, leeks yield a unique flavor that is so soft and subtle, no wonder the first step in the French Women Don't Get Fat regimen is a weekend of leek broth!

Readers of this blog know that I am mad about braising, the slow cooking method that tenderizes whatever is being cooked even as it maximizes and concentrates flavor. I've also adopted the technique advocated in my first ever braised ribs recipe as well as by my braising maven Molly Stevens of placing a layer of parchment just above the top of the food being cooked to trap steam and condensation closest to the food. Rather than use parchment, in this recipe Jamie Oliver uses thinly sliced prosciutto to the same effect. The prosciutto will shrink as it cooks so it won't form a completely intact layer, but needless to say, the flavor of the prosciutto will meld with the leeks. This was the part of the recipe that stopped me in my tracks with my jaw agape. It was just so simple and delicious looking! Jamie said that the Italian chef he learned the recipe from would discard the prosciutto after it had done its work, but Jamie makes it part of the dish and why the hell not?

And finally the pangrattato, which my online dictionary translates as "bread crumbs." I believe it was Mario Batali on a food network episode who once said that in lean times Italians used crisped up bread crumbs as a substitute for grated parmesan or some other hard cheese. A layer of crispy bread crumbs atop mac 'n' cheese, roasted cauliflower, or even meatloaf just adds that right bit of crunch to give a dish just the right finish. Jamie jazzes this dish up with some pulverized dried poricini which add an earthy note to the bread crumbs. And as I am taking part this week in Eating Down the Fridge/Pantry, I was happy to make use of a package of dried porcinis that had been bought on sale who knows when! My method for preparing the pangrattato differs from Jamies only in that I whiz the bread crumbs, garlic and mushrooms in the food processor with the olive oil so that the oil is evenly distributed. I then cook the whole mixture in a hot saute pan, the same one that will subsequently be used for the leek braise.

And one more thing before I get to the recipe. This recipe made me want to break out my hand crank pasta machine that I received as a gift more than 15 years ago. Jamie recommends cutting fresh lasagne sheets into pappardelle, but I've never seen fresh lasagne sheets for sale and making fresh pasta in the food processor is one of those things that I learned to do long ago that I'd put aside for a decade or so. Now it's back in the mix though I confess I want to replace my hand crank pasta maker with the Kitchen Aid version! Jamie reasons that making the dish with fresh pasta allows you to create a dish that's more personal (and of course) more impressive than using store bought pappardelle or some other noodle. But homemade pasta is one of those things you can make once and get a couple of meals out of by dividing the dough and freezing half of it. The second half of my pasta dough will be used to make fettuccine for some dinner guests who will be dining on chicken alla parmagiana when they come over later this week.

Pappardelle with Braised Leeks and Prosciutto with Crispy Porcini Pangrattato
Adapted from Jamie Oliver
Serves 4 to 6

For the Pangrattato:
1 small handful dried porcini mushrooms [I used all of a 1.4 ounce package]
1/2 ciabatta bread, preferably stale, cut into chunks [I pulled out two whole wheat hamburger buns from my freezer that I wanted to get rid of as part of Eating Down the Fridge]
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Olive oil
2 cloves garlic, crushed [I didn't crush mine as I minced them in the food processor with the bread crumbs]
1 sprig fresh rosemary [I roughly chopped the rosemary and pulverized with the bread crumbs]

For the main event:

5 big leeks, outer leaves trimmed back, cut in to half inch pieces, and washed well
Olive oil
2 good knobs butter, divided [I used 2 tablespoons olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter]
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely sliced
A few sprigs fresh thyme, leaves picked
A small wineglass white wine
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 pint good-quality vegetable or chicken stock
12 slices ham, preferably Parma
2 (8-ounce) packages fresh lasagne sheets [I made homemade pasta using 4 eggs and used half the dough as a first step; 16 oz of dried pasta is a fine alternative also]
All-purpose flour, for dusting
2 handfuls freshly grated Parmesan, plus extra for serving

  • Optional First Step: If making the pasta from scratch, in a food processor fitted with the steel blade place 400 grams of all-purpose flour and 4 large eggs. (According to Mario Batali, Italians make pasta from scratch this way using a ratio of one large egg for each 100 grams of flour. Two egg yolks can be substituted for one whole egg, which I did to replace one of the eggs) Add a half teaspoon of salt and pulse to combine until the mixture looks like coarse cornmeal. Stream in 1 to 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive until a ball of dough forms. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for a minute or two. Divide and wrap each half separately in plastic. Leave one piece to rest on the counter while you go about making the rest of the dish and refrigerate or freeze the other piece for later use.
  • To make the pangrattato: Whiz the mushrooms and bread with a pinch of salt and pepper in a food processor until the mixture looks like bread crumbs. Heat a generous glug of olive oil in a saute pan over medium heat. Add the garlic cloves and the rosemary and cook for a minute, then fry the bread crumbs in the oil until golden and crisp. Keep shaking the pan - don't let the bread crumbs catch on the bottom. Drain on paper towels, discard the rosemary and garlic and allow the bread crumbs to cool. [The only thing I did differently when making the bread crumbs was I minced the garlic in the food processor. With the machine running, I dropped the garlic cloves into the food processor until finely minced. I then scraped down the bowl and added the cubed bread and dried mushrooms to pulverize. I streamed in a tablespoon of olive oil to moisten the crumbs and then added this mixture to the saute pan, no additional oil needed.]
  • For the braised leeks: Wipe out the saute pan with a couple of paper towels and heat over medium high heat. Add the oil and butter, and when you hear a gentle sizzling add the sliced garlic, thyme leaves and leeks. Move the leeks around so every piece gets coated. Pour in the wine, season with pepper and stir in the stock. Cover the leeks with the slices of Parma ham, place a lid on the pan and simmer gently for 25 to 30 minutes. Once the leeks are tender, take the pan off the heat.
  • For the pappardelle: Bring a big pot of salted water to the boil. Lay the lasagne sheets [or the rolled out pasta] on a clean working surface and sprinkle with a little flour. Place the sheets on top of each other and slice into 1/2-inch strips. Toss through your fingers to shake out the pappardelle, then cook in the boiling water 2 minutes or until al dente. [If using dried pasta, cook al dente according to package directions.]
  • The finish: Remove the prosciutto from the saute pan, slice up and stir back into the leeks. Season to taste with salt and pepper, then stir in the Parmesan and the rest of the butter [I had a bit of crumbled gorgonzola to get rid of--Eating Down the Fridge--so I threw that in also]. Drain the pasta, reserving a little of the cooking water, and add the pasta to the leeks. Add a little of the cooking water if need be, to give you a silky, smooth sauce. [I found that I had a lot of liquid still in the pan so I mixed in some bread crumbs to absorb the liquid.] Serve quickly, sprinkled with some pangrattato, extra Parmesan and any leftover thyme tips. Serve the rest of the pangrattato in a bowl on the side.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Molly Stevens' Coq au Vin

Today was a snow day up and down most of the east coast--though the DC school's chancellor is loathe to ever call a snow day--so thoughts turned to comfort food. A half finished bottle of cabernet sauvignon meant some sort of wine braised preparation and I knew it would involve my Dutch oven and turning on the oven. I was leaning towards hunter style chicken (either the Italian cacciatore or the French chasseur), chicken stemperata, or coq au vin. Having made and enjoyed boeuf bourguignon a couple of weeks ago, Brian was eager to try chicken cooked in wine, though I was leaning towards Mario Batali's chicken stemperata, which is a delicious chicken braised in wine with all kinds of vegetables and olives that I blogged about last year.

The preparation for the French dishes boeuf Bourguignon and coq au vin couldn't have been more similar, even though for the beef I followed Julia's and Jacques' recipe from Cooking at Home and for the chicken I used a recipe from Molly Stevens' All About Braising. Once again I looked up Julia's recipe from Mastering the Art of French Cooking and chose to go with Ms. Stevens because the preparation was not only simpler, but also quite similar to Julia's revised Bourguignon technique in J & J Cooking at Home. I barely changed anything except that I cooked the mushrooms and onions together rather than separately in the same way as I did for the Bourguignon. I also did not place the aromatics and herbs into the cheesecloth as J & J describe in Cooking at Home, but in the future that will be my method going forward. Having the bits of chopped onion and carrot in the final sauce was tasty but I liked the smoothness of the Bourguignon sauce vs. the coq au vin sauce. This dish was delicious when first prepared for dinner, but was of course even better the next day for lunch, proving once again that making a braised dish is the perfect justification for serving leftovers to company!

Just a quick word about the "coq" in coq au vin. In France, the dish may be prepared using a rooster (coq = cock) or a stewing hen. American supermarkets are not likely to have either for sale. The stewing hen makes the most sense to me really in that a braise is really a slow cooked dish using a tough cut of meat. As the meat cooks collagen and connective tissue are incorporated into the sauce thickening it naturally with the gelatin that forms. Stewing hens if you find one are most useful for making stock, and as I've never cooked one, I'd just take the easy route and use a roaster, and not the stewing hen, especially if you plan to make and serve the dish in the same evening. The dish will finish quickly and the meat won't be tough. On the other hand if you feel like making the dish in a slow cooker with a stewing hen, let me know how it turns out!

Coq au Vin
Adapted from Molly Stevens' All About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking
Serves 4 to 6

4 ounces slab bacon, rind removed and cut into 1/2 inch dice [I used 5 slices of unsmoked bacon]
1 4 to 5 pound chicken cut into 8 pieces, wing tips, back, neck, and giblets (except the liver) reserved [I quartered my chicken and separated the wings from the breast. I did not reserve the other chicken pieces for cooking in the stew as directed. I always reserve those pieces in my freezer for making chicken stock at a later time, which on this day I was making during the day in my slow cooker]
salt and pepper [I used fennel spice rub]
1/2 cup all purpose flour
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
1 carrot, chopped into 1/2 inch pieces
1 tablespoon paste
1 bottle of dry, fruity red wine
2 garlic cloves smashed
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried
1 cup chicken stock

10 ounces pearl onions, about 15-25, fresh or frozen and thawed
2 tablespoons unsalted butter and/or olive oil
3/4 pound cremini mushrooms [I used 10 ounces of assorted portobello, shiitake, and oyster mushrooms]
course salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons brandy

1 tablespoon butter at room temperature
1 1/2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons chopped flat leaf parsley

  1. Prepare the bacon and chicken: In a 6 to 8 quart Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium high heat and then add the bacon, stirring occasionally until the fat is rendered and the bacon pieces have become crisp, about 5 to 7 minutes. While the bacon is cooking, salt and pepper the chicken all over and then dredge in the flour, shaking off the excess. Remove the bacon to a plate lined with paper towels and set aside. Add half the chicken in a single, uncrowded layer skin side down and let brown well on the first side without moving it, about 5 minutes. Check to see that a nice crust has formed, and then turn the pieces over to brown the other side, about another 4 minutes or so. Remove the browned chicken to a platter and repeat with the second batch.
  2. Prepare the aromatic veggies for the braise: Lower your oven rack to the bottom third of the oven and preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Pour off all but two tablespoons of the accumulated fat in the pan and return the pan to medium high heat. Add the onion, carrot, and the garlic cloves and cook until soft and slightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook with the vegetables for a minute or two. Deglaze the pan with one third of the bottle of wine, scraping up the browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the rest of the wine and bring to a boil. Add the thyme and bay leaf. [I'm lazy and just tied together 6 thyme sprigs and added to the wine and vegetable mixture. The thyme leaves will come off into the liquid.] Reduce for about 15 minutes to about a cup and a half of liquid. [I confess I started with half a bottle of wine and just skipped the wine reduction to no negative consequences.] Add the cup of stock and bring to a boil. Ladle out about 3/4 cup of the braising liquid and reserve for cooking the mushrooms.
  3. The braise: Add the bacon and chicken back to the pot, including any accumulated juices on the platter, with the legs and thighs on the bottom and breast on top. The liquid should only come up about half way or so to the level of the chicken but that's OK because braising is about the simmering and the steam that is trapped in the Dutch oven to cook the meat. Cover the meat with a piece of parchment paper larger than the diameter of the pot. Push down on the paper so that it is just above the top of the chicken and cover the pot with its lid (the edges of the paper will overhang the pot). Place this pot into the oven and bask in the aromas of this dish as it simmers away. After 15 minutes, check the pot to make sure that it's not boiling too rapidly. Adjust the oven temperature down or up to maintain a simmer. After another 30 minutes, check the chicken again and stir everything around so that the pieces on top are immersed in the liquid and the pieces immersed are now on top. The total braise should take about 60 and 75 minutes.
  4. The mushrooms and onions: While the chicken is braising in the oven, prepare the mushrooms and onions. Heat the butter and/or oil in a large saute pan over medium high heat. Add the mushrooms, stirring to coat with the oil and butter. Let cook for 5 minutes undisturbed. Check a mushroom to see if it's browning nicely, and if so stir the mushrooms around and let them cook for 4 more minutes. Meanwhile, if using fresh pearl onions (as I had to), bring a small saucepan of water to a boil. Blanch the onions in boiling water for 1 minute and remove to a bowl of ice water. Trim off the ugly part of the onion root, keeping the onion layers in tact as best as you can. Squeeze on the onion skin to pop out the onion pearl. You'll probably have to sacrifice a layer of onion, but it's not worth the frustration to try and peel just the outer layer. Trim the other end if necesary. Set the onions aside on paper towels to dry as you finish the mushrooms. Stir in the pearl onions and season the combination with salt and peppers. Let the onions caramelize and cook with the mushrooms for 8 more minutes, stirring once or twice so that the onions brown evenly. Deglaze the pan with the reserved braising liquid, scraping up all the browned bits and bringing to gentle boil. Stir in the brandy and ignite if you're feeling dramatic, otherwise just cover and reduce to a simmer for 5 more minutes. (Note: NEVER pour the brandy directly from the bottle, especially if cooking over gas as the alcohol could ignite and cause an explosion. Best to pour off the measured amount and add just the amount needed.) Remove the lid, raise the heat and reduce the liquid to a quarter cup or so. Put the mushrooms and onions aside until ready to finish the dish.
  5. The finish: Remove the coq au vin from the oven and place the chicken pieces on a plate. When cooled slightly, strain the sauce and vegetables into a fat separator, reserving the vegetables. Or alternatively, strain the vegetables and braising liquid into a bowl using a sieve and skim off some of the fat using a wide flat spoon. Return the de-fatted liquid to the Dutch oven and bring to a boil. You should have about two cups or so. Combine the softened butter with the flour and stir to combine into a beurre manie, making sure there are no flour lumps. Whisk the beurre manie into the liquid and boil for a few minutes, thickening the sauce. Add the chicken, reserved vegetables, mushrooms and onions back to the pot to reheat everything. Taste the sauce and adjust the seasonings with additional salt and pepper if necessary. Serve the chicken with the onions and mushrooms on your favorite platter, garnished with parsley and pass the sauce on the side.
This dish is perfect with a simple starch side like mashed or boiled potatoes. Haricots verts would complete the picture perfect French bistro dinner! Voila!