Easy Holiday Entertaining
Thursday, December 27, 2012
Everyone needs a quick and painless go-to dessert for entertaining, and this galette is mine, which is why I made it for Thanksgiving and again this past weekend for a holiday party. It’s lovely, elegant, and pretty much foolproof—exactly what you want during this busy and demanding season.
The very thin layer of quince jam beneath the thinly-sliced apples insulates the pastry, so it stays perfectly crisp and flaky, and it adds a nice floral note while intensifying the apples’ flavor. A very light sprinkling of fresh thyme or rosemary after the galette has been baked and glazed adds just a bit more sophistication and a lot of visual appeal.
I used Granny Smith the last time around, but you can use pretty much any kind of apple you prefer and can find at your market. If you don’t have access to quince jam and jelly (I only do because I make my own every fall, provided I can find quinces), you can substitute apple butter under the apples and use either apple jelly or apricot preserves as the glaze.
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated, All-Time Best Recipes
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cornstarch
½ teaspoon sea salt
½ teaspoon granulated sugar
1 ½ sticks (12 tablespoons) cold unsalted butter, cut into ½ inch cubes
8-10 tablespoons ice water
1 cup quince jam or thick apple butter (preferably not highly spiced)
3-4 medium firm pie or eating apples of your choice
2 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into very small dice
¼ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons quince jelly, apple jelly, or apricot preserves
1 tablespoon water
1-2 sprigs fresh thyme, stripped or 1 small sprig fresh rosemary, minced
In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, salt, and sugar. Using a pastry cutter, work the butter into the dry ingredients until the butter is evenly dispersed in pieces about the size of peas. Sprinkle 8 tablespoons of ice water over the dough and stir in with a fork, until a crumbly mix forms that holds together when pinched between your fingers. If necessary, add more water, 1-2 tablespoons at a time, to achieve that consistency.
Turn the dough out onto a large piece of parchment paper or a Silpat and gather into a rectangular mound around 4 inches wide and 12 inches long. Starting at the top and working your way down, push the dough away from you using the heel of your hand. Repeat this process 1-2 more times, until you have a dough that’s starting to cohere but still shows flat, thin layers of butter. Pat the dough into a rough rectangle about the size of your hand, wrap tightly in a zip-top back or plastic wrap, and refrigerate for 2 hours.
When ready to bake, roll the dough on a lightly floured piece of parchment into a rectangle around 1/8 inch thick and 16 x 12 inches long. Trim the edges, then roll them over twice to make a ½ inch border. Transfer the pastry on its parchment onto a rimmed baking sheet, then gently spread the bottom of the dough with the quince jam or apple butter in a thin, even layer. Refrigerate the pastry for about 10 minutes to chill it back down before filling and baking it.
Preheat the oven to 400F. Peel and core the apples, and cut into 6-8 segments (I use a corer-slicer for this). Slice the apples evenly and thinly into 1/8 inch slices, and, starting at one corner of the chilled dough, lay them in a single overlapping, diagonal layer completely covering the entire surface of the pastry.
Dot the apples with the 2 tablespoons of finely-diced butter, and sprinkle evenly with the ¼ cup of sugar. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 45-55 minutes, until the apples are caramelized and the pastry is golden brown on the edges and crisp on the bottom when you gently lift up a corner. Set on a cooling rack while preparing the glaze.
In a microwave-proof container, mix together the jelly and water, and microwave until bubbling, around 1 minute. Brush the glaze over the apples, and scatter a small sprinkling of thyme leaves or minced rosemary evenly on top. Cool the galette at least 15 more minutes before slicing into 8-10 servings. Although it’s not necessary, the galette is especially nice accompanied by a spoonful of unsweetened softly whipped cream.
Conquering the Long Island Cheese Pumpkin
Sunday, December 02, 2012
There’s been a pumpkin sitting on my backporch now for three weeks. Every time I walk into my house, it glares at me and screams, “Make me into something good!” Here’s the thing: pumpkins are intimidating. They’re big and messy and usually get made into pies or other sweet things. I’m not all that into sweets, and I have nightmares about slicing my fingers off while hacking through a rock-hard winter squash.
The pumpkin is a Long Island Cheese pumpkin, also know as a Fairytale pumpkin or Tuscan pumpkin. They differ from jack-o-lantern type pumpkins in that they are generally pale orange rather than bright orange, and they are squat with a scallop shape. This heirloom variety, one of the oldest domesticated squashes, is generally not available at grocery stores (even the ones who make an attempt to carry local produce), so look for it at your local farmer’s market or grow your own. Interestingly, Philadelphia is the first place Long Island Cheese pumpkins were made commercially available—they were introduced in 1807 by Philadelphian Bernard McMahon.
But back to my pumpkin nerves.
I finally lugged the pumpkin into the kitchen today, determined to stop the mocking. It was surprisingly easy to cut, so that was a nice surprise. It’s currently roasting in the oven at 350 degrees, having been cracked into wedges and given a light sprinkling of olive oil and salt. If you’ve got a particularly tough-to-cut pumpkin or if you’re an even bigger wuss than me, you can cook the pumpkin whole. This idea comes from Plant Whatever Brings You Joy—poke a few holes in the top of the pumpkin, place in a giant pot of water, and boil until it’s fork ready.
Since I’m not a big fan of sweet pumpkin desserts, what I would make out of the Long Island Cheese pumpkin was not immediately clear. Non-sweet pumpkin dishes generally don’t leap to mind with ease, you know? I made a list, which I now replicate here for your own pumpkin-cooking enjoyment:
Black-Eyed Pea and Pumpkin Salad
Savory Pumpkin Quiche
Curried Long Island Cheese Pumpkin Soup
Stuffed Long Island Cheese Pumpkin
Pumpkin Corn and Lemongrass Soup
Pumpkin Risotto with Sage and Cherry Tomatoes
Pumpkin Lentil Stew with Fennel and Swiss Chard
Roasted Heirloom Pumpkin Hash with Chestnuts and Mulled Sorghum Glaze
Pumpkin Fritters with Rosemary and Cheese
Tea-Scented Pumpkin Soup
Pumpkin Soup with Sage and Ham
Pumpkin Lasagna with Ricotta and Swiss Chard
Chili Pumpkin Cranberry Risotto with Spicy Toasted Pumpkin Seeds
Pumpkin and Lentil in Tomato Sauce
Pumpkin and Fried Sage Flatbread
Pumpkin Bread Pudding
Pumpkin Sage Gougeres
Pumpkin Tart with Balsamic Caramelized Onions, Kalamata Olives & Thyme
Warm Pumpkin Salad with Polenta and Candied Pumpkin Seed
Pumpkin, Chickpea, and Red Lentil Stew
Roasted Pumpkin, Walnut, and Snow Pea Salad
Snow Pea and Pumpkin Stirfry
Crispy Kale and Pumpkin Coquettes
Pumpkin and Brown Rice Salad
Pretty big list, eh? I’m sure I’ve missed some things, so if you have some great non-sweet pumpkin recipes be sure to link them in them in the comments.
So what am I making with my roasted pumpkin? The first two recipes on the list, I think. And maybe something else if I have extra pumpkin. After all, it’s a pretty big pumpkin!
*photo courtesy of Jacob Spencer
Now That It’s Wassailing Season
Sunday, November 25, 2012
I’m one of those grinchy people who get very cranky about the holiday season starting earlier and earlier each year, but since we’re past Black Friday, here is my favorite recipe for mulled cider. I make it all the way up through New Year’s, because locally-pressed cider is plentiful in the markets and a pot of this warming on the stove makes the whole house smell so lovely and festive.
If you’re mulling for a party or expecting a tidal wave of carolers, the recipe can be scaled up as much as you need, and it keeps well in the fridge for days, so it can be made ahead.
1 quart apple cider
Juice of 1 orange and ½ lemon
1 ½ sticks cinnamon
4 allspice berries
Small piece of nutmeg (the end bit that’s hard to grate)
2 tablespoons maple sugar or 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
Combine all ingredients together in a medium pot and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer 20 minutes, or longer if preferred.
Strain out the spices and pour into mugs. If desired, add a stiff shot of rum or bourbon to each mug before serving.
Wednesday, November 21, 2012
I know many of you are either trying to get that last bit of work done before the holiday begins or you may be sitting on the New Jersey Turnpike or I-95 developing various theories on how traffic could possibly be this bad. So to cheer you up, I wanted to send out a Thanksgiving story and a recipe. Because, at the risk of cliche, we really all do have much to be thankful for.
This past Sunday, it was time to put Emerald Street Urban Farm to bed. We spread the word to all of our wonderful volunteers who took part in our worker CSA program this year to come on out for one final harvest before we cleared the land to give it a rest after a great growing season. We spent the day pulling out the rest of the peppers and eggplant, salvaging what we could. We also pulled almost all of the chard out, leaving just a small section under row cover for our own consumption this winter. We harvested all of the arugula, bunching onions, root veggies and broccoli, while leaving in the brussel sprouts and lettuce. As always, I’m a huge proponent of using the entire broccoli plant. So while the crowns went to our volunteers, we packed up all of the broccoli leaves, 2 trash bags of chard, and 3 trash bags of bunching onions for donation to St. Francis Soup kitchen. When it was all said and done, almost 100 pounds of food made it to the soup kitchen and another 30 went to our volunteers. We also saved a good amount of the harvest for the meal we cooked that night for our volunteers. We wanted to celebrate around the farm table in the outdoor kitchen, but the temperature dropped a good deal. So we all crowded around our kitchen table (we fit ten people around a table the comfortably sits 4) and we enjoyed a wonderful meal, with some wonderful volunteers and friends. Although I am looking forward to seeing my family on Thursday, I could not help feel as I sat around that table that everyone there really embodied the spirit of Thanksgiving. Again, sorry for the cheesiness, but our collectively efforts that lasted for the nine months of the growing season sent thousands of pounds of food to the soup kitchen and our plates. Living in an urban environment that inherently has a lack of green space, and a city like Philly that has such high poverty, I could not be more happier with the contribution from Emerald Street. And I hope you all get to reflect this Thanksgiving on the contribution that you make to this city or your community, and I hope you are all thankful for it.
So as promised, here’s a recipe to leave you all with. As it goes, that final harvest can be a little overwhelming. Right now we have a five gallon bucket full of green tomatoes that we are going to fry for tomorrow’s meal. But I also had an abundance of peppers that I turned into a really nice pepper relish. My recipe is:
25 Red or Green Peppers
4 cups of apple cider vinegar
2 cups of sugar
2 tablespoons of coarse salt
Dice the onions and cut the peppers into strips and then run it all through a food processor, pour boiling water over the veggies and let stand in the boiling water for ten minutes
Mix the vinegar, sugar and salt in a bowl
Drain the onions and peppers and place into a pot, mixing in the vinegar, sugar, salt mix
Set on high heat until it comes to a boil, then allow to simmer for 20 minutes
Once finished, I canned my pepper relish. In the interest of time, and desire for accuracy, I won’t give canning instructions here. But I encourage you to either check out a book on this (my favorite is The Country Living Encyclopedia) or check out a good blog (my most trusted is Marissa McClellan’s Food In Jars).
And once again, have a wonderful Thanksgiving.
A Cake for All Seasons
Friday, September 28, 2012
I love a well-executed fancy cake, all buttercream and ornamentation, but sometimes you just want a simple and basic cake, something a little sturdier and less fussy, and which makes the most of the season. This upside-down cake is all of that, and is quick and easy to throw together at the last minute besides.
I made it a month ago with plums, but the recipe can be adapted for just about any fruit. I will be making it again with pears soon, and you could make it all the way through the winter with apples until the rhubarb pops up in spring.
This recipe is for a full-sized sheet cake that serves around twenty, because I bake everything in double batches so I can feed my coworkers on Monday mornings. The quantities could easily be halved to serve a much more reasonable 8, or 4 for dinner plus plenty for breakfast the next morning.
Any-Fruit Upside-Down Cake
For fruit layer:
¼ cup unsalted butter
Generous pinch of sea salt
½ cup light brown sugar
⅓ cup heavy cream
6-7 large plums, unpeeled and cut into 6 wedges each (or equivalent amount of other fruit)
3 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 cups granulated sugar (preferably raw)
¾ cup buttermilk
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 stick unsalted butter, melted and cooled
¼ cup walnut oil (or an additional ½ stick melted butter)
Preheat the oven to 350F.
Melt the ¼ cup butter, brown sugar and salt in a large skillet over medium heat, stirring until it comes together as a caramel and bubbles. Quickly stir in the cream, turn off the heat, and fold in the plums. (If using apples, pears or other sturdier fruit, do this part on the heat and cook a minute or so to start the fruit softening just a bit.) Evenly spread the fruit and its sauce in an even layer in a nonstick, 9 x 13 rectangular cake pan.
Whisk together the dry ingredients for the cake in a medium bowl. Do the same in a glass measuring cup with the buttermilk, melted butter, walnut oil and vanilla extract.
In a large bowl, beat the sugar and eggs together until frothy. Add the dry and wet mixtures in two additions each, starting with the flour, and stirring just until mixed before the next addition. Gently pour the cake batter over the fruit layer and smooth into an even layer.
Bake 45 minutes or so, until the top is resilient to the touch and a toothpick inserted in the cake portion comes out clean. Cool the cake on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then carefully invert it onto the rack and cool the rest of the way.
Ginger Zest for Melon Soup
Sunday, September 16, 2012
This summer the melons were abundant, and my favorite way to enjoy them was in a savory chilled soup. I used a single basic template: 1 small melon, cut into chunks; 1 small cucumber, peeled seeded and cut into chucks; 3/4 cup plain yogurt; 1 small bunch of fresh herbs (usually some type of mint or basil); and salt and pepper to taste. Each time, I would like to vary it as much as I could. One night, I drizzled some Morris Kitchen’s Ginger Syrup as I might drizzle olive oil over a gazpacho. The sharpness was a nice contrast to the bland sweetness of melons. In the form of drizzled oil, there was a lovely capriciousness in the spoonful: just a trace in some spoonfuls, searing in others. The Ginger Syrup can be found at Art in the Age in Old City.
More Than Just Cheesesteaks: The Philadelphia Sandwich
Monday, August 20, 2012
Even though Philly’s hot and humid summers do not exactly lend themselves to hot sandwiches, now is the time for the perfect grilled cheese. Why? Well, I would argue that it’s all about the tomatoes. I like a grilled cheese with a slice of tomato, but the tomatoes I’m getting at market right now are as close to tomato perfection as it gets. The sandwich above is honey wheat bread (made with local honey) with Doe Run Farm fontina and heirloom tomatoes (bought from their stand at the Lansdowne Farmer’s Market)—it was my lunch today, and I’m quite happy about that.
If tomatoes aren’t your thing, I still think this is the time for grilled cheese. There are so many other vegetables that go great—zucchini, mushrooms, eggplant, and more.
We’re also really lucky to have such great dairies in the vicinity. Cheese makers are plying us with great goat cheese, fresh mozzarella, and dozens of other cheeses that melt fantastically.
My question to you: What’s your favorite combo of locally made/grown bread, cheese, and vegetable to make a summertime grilled cheese?
Posted by Nicole on 08/20 at 03:39 PM
Crab and Cucumber Soup and a Fishmonger Recommendation
Sunday, August 19, 2012
The weather may have cooled considerably, and the interminable heat wave(s) may finally be behind us, but I’m not quite ready to give up on chilled soups for the summer. So, here’s one from Nigel Slater, a chilled cucumber soup topped with crab meat. The recipe is easy to follow and accurate, but one word of advice: be sure to dice the cucumber very finely, as it will determine the consistency of your soup.
More importantly, if you’ve been looking for a fishmonger in Center City or South Philly that is as concerned about sustainable seafood as you are, try Ippolito’s Seafood. You’ll know where and how the fish was caught, and just how sustainable those methods and fish stocks are. I first learned about Ippolito’s and their business practices at a demonstration by the restaurant C19 at the annual Good Food, Good Beer, and the Rest is History (hosted by Slow Food Philly and Farm to City). Since then, I’ve been there at least once a week for oysters (raked from Virginia), swordfish (hook and line from New York), and even New Jersey fluke. I can finally try all those recipes in the River Cottage Fish Book without guilt.
Popsicles for the Brave
Wednesday, August 08, 2012
This one, I know, is a tougher sell than the blueberry-nectarine pops. It takes basically no work to convince kids and adults alike to grab a fruity, juicy treat, but it takes a significantly bolder palate to take on a brazen blend of chiles, spices, fresh mint, and seriously dark chocolate. I’m a confirmed chocoholic and a big fan of mixing in some heat, but even I second-guessed my decision when I ordered ice cream with all these elements on a vacation jaunt this time last year. The first bite, though, completely obliterated all doubts, and by the time I was scraping the bottom of the cup, I knew I was going to have to recreate that perfectly intense experience in my own kitchen somehow.
This month’s challenge provided me the opportunity to do it, since my two pots of varied mints are the only part of my herb garden that managed to just laugh in the face of the neverending heat wave of the past two months. Absolutely nothing can kill those puppies, so I constantly need to find ways to use bunches at a time. This recipe used up a giant handful of my spearmint, which I could also have achieved by steeping it in some water for iced tea, but trust me, this is a much nobler end for my weedy little leaves.
If looking at this recipe has you picturing chaos, let me describe the amazing harmony you get instead: Your first impression is the coolness of the mint, then you get the deeply fudgy denseness of the cocoa and chocolate, and then you’re hit with a warm tingle of chiles and spices. The next bite combines all of these at once, in a seamless symphony of flavors and textures very much for adults, wrapped up in the sneaky fun of eating something that deceptively looks like an innocent fudgesicle. The fact that it’s a pudding rather than an custard base means you get the dense, almost chewy texture of super-premium ice cream, and that same viscosity means there’s no drip factor even when it starts defrosting.
If you like the idea of dark chocolate infused with warm spices and cool mint but don’t want to bother with frozen treat making, hang on to this recipe for the holiday season instead. Double the quantities, spoon into pretty stemware, chill, and serve topped with barely-sweetened whipped cream and some shaved chocolate, and you’ll have a New Year’s firecracker of a dessert for eight, with almost no energy required.
Mexican Chocolate Pudding Pops
A large handful of fresh spearmint (10-12 sprigs)
1 ½ cups whole milk
⅓ cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons Dutch cocoa
1 ½ tablespoons cornstarch
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ancho chile powder
⅛ teaspoon allspice
A good pinch of cayenne pepper
2 ounces excellent-quality dark chocolate, chopped
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
⅛ teaspoon almond extract
Place the mint and all but ¼ cup of the milk in a small saucepan and bring to a strong simmer. Turn off the heat and let steep for five minutes, then lift out and discard the mint.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the sugar, cocoa, cornstarch and spices. Stir in the remaining ¼ cup milk until a basically smooth paste forms, then whisk in the warm mint-infused milk. Pour the mixture back into the pan and cook over medium heat, whisking regularly, until thick, around 5 minutes.
Off the heat, whisk in the chocolate until melted through, followed by the vanilla and almond extracts. Let cool to just about room temperature, pour into popsicle molds, and insert the sticks. Freeze until solid, then unmold and offer up to your adventurous eaters.
A Popsicle for Everyone
I make ice cream at least once per summer, because I have an ice cream maker and it has to earn its place in my cabinets. I always enjoy it in the end, but the process of pre-freezing the sleeve, making the ice cream base, chilling the custard properly, churning the ice cream, and then maturing it in the freezer before getting to enjoy it is so long and involved that I pretty much only do it once per summer.
Popsicles, on the other hand, I could make just about every week from June through September. They’re so much less work and planning, and with a summer like we’re having, who wouldn’t want to have a refreshing, icy popsicle every single day? They’re also a perfect and perfectly easy way to use whatever perfectly ripe fruit catches your eye at the farmer’s market, like the blueberries and nectarines did for me last week. Just blend them with a little bit of orange juice, some simple sugar syrup to balance out the tartness, and a small shot of orange liqueur to punch things up for the grownups, pour them into molds, wait a couple of hours, and you have all the flavor of summer with a tiny fraction of the work a sorbet or granita would require.
¼ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup boiling water
3 ripe nectarines
½ pint blueberries
½ cup fresh orange juice
1 tablespoon Cointreau (optional)
Mix the sugar and water together in a one-cup heat-safe measuring cup until the sugar is dissolved. Let cool to room temperature.
Peel and roughly chop the nectarine, placing it in a 2-cup liquid measuring cup. Add the blueberries and juice, and blend with an immersion blender until mostly smooth but still speckled with blueberry bits. (You can do this in the carafe of a regular blender instead.) Add about a third of the syrup to the fruit mixture and taste, adding more as necessary until it’s as sweet as you want it, erring on the side of a little too sweet since freezing will dull the flavors a bit. Add the Cointreau if using.
Pour the mixture into popsicle molds and insert the sticks. Freeze until solid, then unmold and enjoy.
Note: You can swap out the fruit for anything other kind you prefer in this basic recipe, and you can also scale it up easily to however many popsicle molds you have.
Showcasing Local Peaches
Sunday, July 29, 2012
Yesterday morning I stopped by the Lansdowne Farmers Market. While perusing I noticed the really gorgeous-looking peaches at Schober Orchards stand. Visions of peach pie immediately danced in my head. So, of course, a quart (I think I paid $5 for a heaping high quart of yellow peaches) came home with me.
But I didn’t want to break the entire quart down for making pie. Eating a perfectly-ripe, locally grown peach is something you can’t do every month of the year, you know? So I downgraded my plans—instead of a giant peach pie, I decided to make tartlets. Peach-blueberry bourbon tartlets with crumb topping, to be exact, since I also had some Jersey blueberries on hand. I whipped up a batch of my favorite pie dough last night, and this morning I settled in to bake.
4-5 peaches, peeled and chopped
1/2 cup blueberries
1/4 c. flour
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1 tsp. bourbon
1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 cup butter, melted
1/2 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Combine all ingredients for filling in a bowl and let sit while you combine the sugar, flour, and cinnamon for the crumb topping in another bowl. Pour melted butter into crumb topping bowl and stir together until you have crumbs. Roll out pie dough to your desired thickness and press into tartlett pans (I use small fluted tart pans with a removable bottom). Add pie weights and bake for 10-15 minutes.
Remove pie weights. Heap blueberry-peach mixture into tartletts and top with crumbs. Bake for 40-45 minutes. Let tartlets cool before attempting to remove them from the pan.
Makes 4-6 tartlets, depending on the size of your pans.
Mine turned out a little on the rustic-looking side, but they still tasted great.
Peaches are definitely in season right now, so it shouldn’t be hard to find a local grower. You can even pick your own at places like Linvilla out in Delaware County. In fact, their Peach Festival is scheduled for August 4, so don’t miss out!
Saturday, July 28, 2012
New Jersey corn is legendary—whether yellow, white, or bi-color, it’s always really delicious. And, let’s face it, corn grown in Pennsylvania and Delaware is pretty darn good, too. Last weekend I picked up a few ears from one of the stands at the Lansdowne Farmers Market because I was dying for some good corn chowder. Even with the weather we’ve been having lately, it’s never too hot for a decent bowl of chowder. Admittedly, I’m pretty picky when it comes to chowder, though. Too creamy, and I feel smothered and heavy. Not creamy enough, and I’m disappointed.
Behold the perfect chowder:
All you need is about four cups of corn kernels (figure on five or six ears of corn), some bacon (the smoked bacon you can nab from the Fair Food Farmstand is phenomenal here), a couple of jalapeno peppers, a yellow onion, and some heavy cream from your favorite local producer, and a few other ingredients.
4 cups, corn kernels
3 slices, bacon (smoked if you can get it)
1.5 Tbsp., butter
3 jalapeno peppers
32 oz., chicken stock (homemade is preferred, but canned is fine)
1.5 cups, heavy cream
1 tsp. sea salt
4 Tbsp., corn meal
1/3 cup, water
Chop up the bacon into something between a dice and a chop and toss into a soup pot over medium heat. Cook the bacon for maybe three minutes and add the onion (diced). Saute in the bacon and bacon fat (my favorite phrase) for four minutes. Throw in the butter, corn kernels, and diced jalapeno, give the whole mess a stir, and cook for two minutes. Add the stock and cream, season with salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cover. Combine water and cornmeal, stir until the dry bits break up, and pour into chowder. Covered, let it cook down for about 20 minutes or so, until the texture is to your liking.
Makes 6-8 servings.
Cobb Oven Pizza
Saturday, July 14, 2012
This intensely hot dry spell we’ve been facing over the past two weeks really put a damper on my last entry about growing tomatoes. No matter how good your irrigation is, there is nothing like steady, moderate rain to keep the ground fertile and the plants happy. So in honor of the return of the rain last night, I decided to throw a party celebrating a food that lives and dies by the quality of the tomato, the pizza.
Taking the lessons of our culinary adventures in Italy, we tried to stay as true to Italian pizza as possible. If there is anything we learned from Italian pizza it’s that less is more, and that a good pizza maker knows when they’ve reached the point of enough. So we kept the dough thin, the cheese modest, and the toppings as refined as possible. It wasn’t an easy task with the bounty of the summer harvest, but we did what we could.
Although I was proud of our pizza, I was even more excited to fire up the cobb oven. Two summers ago, Elisa and a group of teens from a summer program she used to run built the oven as the first part of our future community cooking area. For two days the team built the base of the oven out of stone, and then took off their shoes, mixed a concoction of hay, clay and sand, and stomped on it until it became almost like a mortar. They then molded the cobb over a dense ball of newspaper, and let it dry into a solid form. That is an extremely abridged version of how it was done. I’m not even close to being an expert on cobb so you should explore the web and other natural building resources in the area to find out more. I’m sure our friends at the Eastern PA Permaculture guild may have a recommended book or two.
However, I am getting pretty good at using it. The oven functions by building an extremely hot wood fire inside and letting it burn for almost an hour until it is down to embers. If you let it burn any less, the temperature won’t get high enough. But it takes very little fuel since it’s in an enclosed area with limited air flow, so getting it hot is not a problem if given the right amount of time. The heat of the fire is retained in the oven and once you are ready to put the pizza in, you push the embers to the side to allow for a little crisping. Once you put the pizza in on the stone base of the oven just make sure that there is a good distance between the dough and the embers. Here’s a good picture of how it’s done.
Although I agree with the eco argument of using natural materials to cook with instead of gas or electric, the actual immediate benefit is that the cobb oven can get to a cooking temperature that a house oven just can’t get to. The downfall of pizza in the house oven is that you can never get the crust totally right. It’s always either too hard or too soft. But the cobb oven makes that well cooked, but soft crust that a pizza shop offers. And it’s delicious.
I realize that it wasn’t the most symmetric pizza. The high heat only gave me a few frantic seconds of sticking my hand in the oven to rotate the crust before my skin started to burn and I deformed it a bit. But it was worth the pain because it was darn good. And the oven retained its heat long enough for us to make six more Strombolies. I almost wanted to make bread, but by the time the last Stromboli came out, I was too hungry to keep cooking. So we set the table under the farm’s community kitchen, poured some wine, and celebrated as we listened to the rhythm of the raindrops tap the tin roof.
Garlicky Greens with Savory Herb Pancakes
Friday, June 29, 2012
With the arrival of summer, my fledgling gardens are beginning to flourish. In an attempt to keep up with my herbs (especially the basil and oregano), not to mention the overflowing containers of chard, I mixed up these gluten-free, vegan chickpea pancakes to serve with lightly sauteed greens. If I would have made the batter a little thinner, I think I could have called them crepes, but my first attempt with chickpea flour (also known as besan or gram flour) was more like a nutty-tasting pancake.
For the greens:
Simply saute a few minced gloves of garlic in olive oil over medium heat until soft, then add the greens and cook until bright and wilted. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste.
For the pancakes:
Chop up a handful or two of fresh herbs (I used a mini food processor for this step). Combine 1 cup of chickpea flour with water until the mixture has the consistency of pancake batter. Add the herbs, salt and pepper (optional), and a tablespoon or so of olive oil. Prepare however you like to make pancakes—I made them one at a time in a skillet, flipping when bubbles began to form in the middle. One cup of flour yielded three large pancakes. These are more dense than traditional pancakes, so I recommend spreading the batter thin. If you don’t have chickpea flour, I think sourdough pancakes would work well with the savory nature of this recipe as well.
Recipe and Review: Gone Native Whole Tomatoes and Pasta Sauce
Saturday, June 23, 2012
Farm to Philly was recently approached by the owners of Gone Native Foods to review some of their products, and it happily fell to me to get the box of whole tomatoes and pasta sauce delivered to my doorstep.
Gone Native’s products are organic, preservative-free, minimally processed, and best of all, made from Lancaster County tomatoes. Since I’m never going to be industrious enough to put up my own tomatoes, I do really like the idea of someone else preserving locally-grown tomato products for use year-round. So what are they like?
I have to note up front that I’m not the ideal consumer for the Organic Tomato & Basil Pasta Sauce, because I basically never buy jarred sauce. My mom made her own sauce once a week, and it was the first thing I learned how to cook completely on my own, probably somewhere around 13. If I were the type to buy pre-made pasta sauce, I think I’d go for this one. It had good fresh tomato flavor, neither too sweet nor too acidic, and none of the tomato-pasty, cooked-to-death quality most sauce in jars has. I was also pleased by the fact that the chunky bits of tomato held up very nicely when tossed with cooked spaghetti, adding some genuine texture and visual appeal.
I’d be a lot more likely to seek out the Organic Farmer’s Coop Whole Tomatoes, whole tomatoes being such a pantry staple that I start getting antsy unless I have at least three 28-ounce cans in reserve. The logical choice for testing the whole tomatoes, suspended in juice in their 32-ounce jar, would have been the family tomato sauce, but having just had the Tomato & Basil Pasta Sauce two days before, I needed an alternative that prominently featured tomatoes but was at least one step removed. I finally settled on a dish that I’d already been craving for a couple of weeks anyway: sopa de fideos, or sopa seca.
This not-quite-soup of toasted, broken thin pasta in a chile-infused broth was a major favorite of mine during my adolescent sojourn in Mexico, and makes either a great first course or a satisfying whole meal in itself. It’s vegan when garnished, as here, with a few slices of cool avocado for richness and a quick relish of local new red onion tossed with lime juice, a splash of olive oil, and cilantro from my herb garden. You could instead add a generous sprinkling of queso fresco or a spoonful of sour cream, and if you’re not vegetarian you could also throw in some cooked chicken or turkey.
I’m pleased to report that the whole tomatoes did very well in this recipe. Like those in the sauce, the tomatoes had a clean balance of sweetness and acidity, and no unpleasant graininess or mushiness. I was a little surprised that they’re not peeled, but the peels crushed right along with their attached flesh, and there certainly weren’t any throat-scratching pieces left by the time the sopa was fully cooked, so it wasn’t a problem here. I could imagine situations in which you’d want the peels completely out, though, and while Gone Native suggests on their site that you can easily pull the peels off, I’m not sure that works in practice. I found that the tomatoes started breaking up immediately into largish chunks as I pulled them out of their jar, which would make it that much more tedious to try separating out the peels. Perhaps they’ll offer peeled tomatoes in the future, for recipes requiring a smoother end result.
If you’d like to try Gone Native’s products, check out their vendor list here.
Sopa de Fideos
Serves 4-6 as a main course, 8 as a starter
1 small red onion, preferably young, halved and sliced paper-thin
Juice of one large lime
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large handful cilantro, minced
2 ripe avocados
1 each dried ancho and guajillo chiles, or 2 of either one
2 cups boiling water
¼ cup olive oil
8 ounces thin spaghetti or capellini, broken into 2-inch lengths
2 small or 1 medium white onion, minced
32 ounces whole tomatoes in juice, crushed by hand and juice reserved
2 cups vegetable stock
1 tablespoon dried oregano
Salt to taste
Split open the chiles with kitchen shears, taking out their seeds and cores. Toast them in a dry pan over medium heat until they’re pliable and starting to brown a bit, pressing down with tongs as necessary to get them to stay flat. Put the toasted chiles in a heatproof container and cover with the boiling water, setting them aside to sit for 10-15 minutes.
Mix all the garnish ingredients except the avocado in a small bowl and refrigerate while the sopa cooks.
Heat the ¼ cup of oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the broken noodles and cook, stirring frequently, until they’re dark golden brown; don’t worry if some of it gets quite close to scorching, since it will add smoky flavor. Lift the toasted noodles out of the pot with a slotted spoon, leaving most of the oil behind.
Add the onions to the oil and cook until softened. Discard the chiles and add the soaking liquid to the pot with the tomatoes, vegetable stock, oregano, and several good pinches of salt. Bring to a strong simmer, cover and cook for 10 more minutes. Taste and add more salt if necessary for the broth to be well-seasoned, then add in the pasta. Cook, uncovered, until the pasta is just tender but not mushy.
Ladle the sopa into wide shallow bowls. Peel and slice the avocado, placing several slices on top of the noodles with a good spoonful of the onion relish. Pass around additional wedges of lime in case people want a touch more brightness.