Eating Local in Italy
Sunday, August 04, 2013
Last week, we made a return visit - and we hope the first of many return visits - to Tenuta di Spannocchia in central Tuscany. A former estate farmed under the mezzadria system, guests can stay at the main house (the castello) or former farmhouses scattered throughout the property. The estate produces organic wine (red, white, and rose), olive oil, and cured pork products from the heritage breed Cinta Senese. The estate also has an extensive garden that produces almost all of the food for the main house and its guests.
The bucolic setting is perfect for hiking, reading, etc., but it’s absolutely inspiring when it comes to cooking. When we open the door to our farmhouse to find a loaf of tuscan bread, a bottle of vino tavolo rosso, and large crate of produce (onions, garlic, potatoes, zucchini, string beans, tomatoes), it’s difficult to refrain from cooking right then - even if we did just come from a multi-course feast at the main house.
Of course, this was Italy, so we gravitated to pasta dishes that took advantage of the produce, the cured meat, or both. This carbonara did just that.
Spannocchia cures a variety of meat products - coppa, salame toscana, prosciutto, lardo, and pancetta. Using farro pasta purchased at the the Consorizio Agrario (see below), I made this carbonara with the pancetta and the zucchini flowers that the gardeners had kindly left attached to the fruit. First, I rendered the fat from the pancetta over low heat. Then, I added the onions and gently sauteed them. (I have found both a long rendering and gentle saute of the onions over low heat to be crucial to good carbonara.) When the pasta was cooked, I added it to the pan with eggs and grated cheese (an organic pecorino from a nearby farm) and tossed in the zucchini flowers that I had cut in a chiffonade.
Before Spannocchia, we spent several days in Siena. In anticipation for all of the cooking, we did our grocery shopping at the Consorzio Agrario. Akin to a boutique grocery store, it sells many prepared foods (and, apparently, excellent pizza) that showcase the farmers and producers from around Siena. We were lucky to find locally-made ragu made with the local boars, or cinghiale. For pasta, we made the traditional pici by hand, using only flour (both semolina and white “00”), water, and a little oil. The thick, chewy pici demands the big, bold flavors of something like boar ragu, and I would hesitate to pair it with anything delicate.
Many traditional Italian recipes are deliberately unspecific when it comes to quantities for ingredients; the preferred phrase is quanto basta, just enough. In this spirit, and because the farmhouse was totally lacking in measuring cups or spoons, the pici was simply two coffee cups of flour (one literal cup of each type) and just enough water to make it cohere.
Of course, between the salame toscana, risorgimento, and bistecca fiorentina, we needed a break from all of the meat at some point. So, a light dinner of several garden-grown vegetables was perfect.
My only regret here was that I didn’t think to roast the beets in the cooling ashes of the wood-fired pizza oven the night before.
The last time we were here, I was amazed at how easy the “00” flour was to work with. Both my gnocchi and hand-rolled pasta was so easy to work with. As with the pici, I poured out the flour on the table, added two eggs and one egg yolk, and incorporated just enough flour to make a dough. Not having my Kitchen Aid attachment from home, I stretched and rolled the dough by hand, stopping when the large disk was transparent enough to see the grain of the marble table beneath. This was paired with dried porcini mushrooms I picked up on a day trip to Volterra.
One of the highlights of a stay at Spannocchia is the salumi tasting class. It occurred to me at that moment that my food was never going to be more local than this - eating pork raised several hundred yards away, cured in a room several hundred feet away, washing it down with wine grown and vinted several hundred yards away.
We are very fortunate that we have quality wine, salumi, and flour here. It won’t taste like Spannochia, but that is exactly the point.
Posted by Kevin on 08/04 at 09:49 PM
Keeping Your Cool
Thursday, July 11, 2013
Gazpacho is one of my main strategies for getting through July and August. Preparing a big batch on Sunday not only makes wonderful use out of all the seasonal produce pouring into the markets, but also gives you a ready-made, colorful and refreshing dinner to look forward to when you’re slogging home through the sweltering humidity on Monday evening. It’s also perfect as a festive first course for barbecues and brunches all the way through Labor Day.
While tomato-based red gazpacho is fantastic, especially when made with a mix of heirloom varieties, white gazpacho is an equally traditional way to highlight cucumbers and the fresh garlic now making its first appearance. The base of almonds and bread creates a soup that’s creamy and silky without being overly rich or heavy. While the straining step is a bit of extra work, the soup still comes together in minutes (not counting the half hour of chilling in the fridge), and doesn’t raise the temperature of your kitchen by a single degree.
(Adapted from Jose Andres, Tapas: A Taste of Spain in America)
8 ounces blanched, slivered almonds
1-2 cloves fresh garlic
2 ounces stale French- or Italian-style bread (not whole grain)
1 medium cucumber, peeled and roughly chopped
2 1/2 cups filtered or mineral water
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
Place the almonds and garlic in a large bowl or liquid measuring cup and cover with boiling water. Let sit for a few minutes, drain, and repeat with more boiling water. Drain and place in the carafe of a blender.
While the almonds are soaking for the second time, moisten the bread in cold water just long enough to soften. Squeeze dry and add to the blender, along with the remaining ingredients. Blend until smooth.
Pour the gazpacho through a double layer of cheesecloth in a strainer set over a large bowl. Once most of the liquid has passed through the cheesecloth, gather up the ends of the cloth to completely enclose the solids, twist the top of the gathered ends tightly, and squeeze to extract the last of the soup. Discard the solids.
Pour the gazpacho into a pitcher, cover tightly, and chill at least 30 minutes. It is normal for the gazpacho to separate as it sits; just give it a quick whisk before serving.
A Local Tofu Dish
Sunday, July 07, 2013
If you try to cook locally, cooking with tofu presents two challenges. The first is finding local tofu; the second is how to make it flavorful. Thankfully, Allentown’s Fresh Tofu solves the first challenge for me. The second, however, is all mine to tackle.
Like pasta, tofu is a thrillingly blank canvas and will take to innumerable uses and flavors. In fact, I think it is better than meat in certain dishes, as it never descends to the rough, dry texture of overcooked meat. (Anyone who has eaten The Royal Tavern‘s vegan sloppy joe will know exactly what I mean.) However, such a blank canvas can also be a bit exhausting, particularly when you are not feeling creative.
This recipe from The Guardian intrigued both for its construction (a stuffed tofu) and for its batter of ginger beer. After all, when a ginger beer is only half empty, you simply have to make yourself a dark and stormy, don’t you?
Saturday, June 29, 2013
For some reason, I always associate crepes with colder weather, but the truth is that they’re accommodating all year round, as demonstrated by these vaguely Provencal-style ones filled with zucchini and mushrooms, and topped with a bright, uncooked tomato sauce. As the summer moves along, you could augment the filling with eggplant, fresh peas, pattypan squashes, etc., and you can make use of the rainbow of heirloom tomatoes that will start showing up in a couple of weeks.
These make a very satisfying dinner as-is, or if you want to serve these for brunch, you could quickly scramble a few eggs and tuck them into the crepes before the vegetable filling.
Zucchini-Mushroom Buckwheat Crepes with Raw Tomato Sauce
(Crepes adapted from Deborah Madison & Edward Espe Brown, The Greens Cookbook, 1987)
1 cup water
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons melted butter
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup buckwheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2-3 tablespoons neutral-flavored oil for cooking
2 ripe tomatoes
1 small clove garlic
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
Salt to taste
3 small zucchini, grated
8 ounces cremini mushrooms, sliced
4 tablespoons olive oil for cooking
2 small cloves garlic
Salt and pepper to taste
Place all the ingredients for the crepe batter except the oil in a tall measuring cup and blend with an immersion blender until smooth. (Alternately, you can do this in a regular blender.) Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour.
To prepare the sauce, halve the tomatoes and grate them, cut side down, on the large side of a box grater set over a bowl. Discard the skin you’re left with when the flesh has all been grated. Finely mince the garlic (I just use a microplane grater) and add it to the tomatoes, along with the olive oil and salt to taste. Let sit at room temperature while making the filling and crepes.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the garlic, sautéing briefly before adding the zucchini. Cook, stirring frequently, until the zucchini is softened and the liquid has cooked off, then remove from the pan. Increase the heat to medium-high, and add the rest of the olive oil and the mushrooms, cooking until the edges have browned. Turn off the heat, return the zucchini to the pan, and season to taste.
Heat a teaspoon of oil in a small nonstick pan or crepe pan over medium heat. Give the batter a quick whisk before ladling about 1/4 cup of batter into the heated pan and swirling the pan quickly to evenly spread the batter. Cook until the crepe has set and is beginning to crisp at the edges, then flip and cook the other side briefly. Remove the crepe to a plate and repeat the process with the remaining batter, adding more oil every three or so crepes, or whenever they show signs of sticking. Adjust the temperature as necessary to prevent excessive browning. If the batter is too thick to swirl easily in the pan, whisk in a little more water to thin back to the consistency of heavy cream.
To serve, fill the bottom half of each crepe with a few spoonfuls of filling, flip over the other half of the crepe, and fold in half to get quarters. Place two or three filled crepes on a plate per person, and top with a generous spoonful of the sauce.
Leftover unfilled crepes, filling and sauce will all keep well for at least a day in the refrigerator, although both the crepes and the sauce are best freshly-made.
Great Summer Salad: Raw Collards in Peanut Vinaigrette
Wednesday, June 12, 2013
My garden is bursting with collard greens right now. Tons of them, green and sturdy. I tend to eat a lot of collards cooked in the traditional way: cooked down with smoked bacon and lots of vinegar. Last week I went out into the garden, though, and decided I wanted to try something new.
Raw collards don’t seem right to me, probably because I eat them so often when they’re cooked down to almost a mush! I discovered that raw collards make a great salad, though—the leaves are firm and tasty, and you can’t go wrong with a peanut vinaigrette!
This salad can be thrown together really quickly, which makes it even better. Here’s what you need:
4 oz., raw collard greens (the younger, the better), cut into a medium chiffonade
1 small or medium carrot, peeled and then cut into ribbons with a sharp peeler
1 cup, black eyed peas, cooked
1 jalapeno, diced
1/4 cup, cilantro, chopped
1 egg, hard-boiled and chopped
1/2 cup roasted peanuts, chopped
1/3 cup olive oil
3 Tbsp. vinegar of your choice (I use champagne vinegar)
1 shallot, minced
1 clove garlic, minced
Combine all salad ingredients and set aside. Combine all vinaigrette ingredients in a bowl with a tight-fitting lid; shake it up well. Okay, now throw the vinaigrette over the salad and toss to coat! This recipe makes two or three servings.
The collards, garlic, and cilantro came from my garden, and the egg came from a local producer. Later in the summer when I make this, I’ll be able to add jalapenos from my garden, too, which is very exciting! All told, you can probably source most of the ingredients for this salad locally. It’s also a great way to use collards, and you don’t even have to turn on your stove (well, except to hard-boil that egg).
An Easy, Icy Summer Treat
Saturday, May 25, 2013
This sprightly pink granita is just about the perfect Memorial Day barbecue dessert, since it’s the most refreshing use of the strawberries and rhubarb that are in the market together right now, and also really easy to prepare. No ice cream makers or other special equipment needed; just a fork and a little patience and time.
I do have to confess that when I made this two weeks ago, I had to use frozen berries, because fresh ones hadn’t arrived yet. I generally find that the window when both strawberries and rhubarb are available is pretty narrow, so there’s normally only about one magic week or two to make strawberry-rhubarb pie or what have you using both fresh rhubarb and local berries. This is why I over-buy rhubarb pretty much every time I see it, clean and trim the extra portion as soon as I get home, and throw the sliced rhubarb into bags and freeze for use in July and beyond.
In fact, if you cheat with both frozen rhubarb and frozen berries, you could make this granita all the way into the fall and winter, when, served in little shot or liqueur glasses, it would make a smashing palate-cleanser between courses during your fancy holiday dinner.
Serves 4-6 as dessert, 8 or more as a palate cleanser
3 cups white wine
1 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons mild honey
1/4 teaspoon dried orange peel or 1 teaspoon fresh grated orange zest
Pinch of salt
1 12-ounce bag frozen strawberries, or 3 cups fresh, hulled and halved
2 to 2 1/2 pounds rhubarb, trimmed and sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
1 teaspoon orange extract or orange liqueur
Juice of half a lemon
Combine the wine, sugar, honey, orange peel, salt and strawberries in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the heat to a strong simmer and cook 10 minutes, then remove the strawberries with a slotted spoon. Add the rhubarb and return to a simmer, cooking until the rhubarb has softened but before it falls apart, around 5-6 minutes.
Strain the syrup through a fine mesh strainer into a large measuring cup or bowl, stirring the rhubarb frequently to remove as much of the glowing magenta liquid as possible. Stir in the orange extract and lemon and cool to room temperature, then cover and refrigerate until completely chilled. (The cooked rhubarb can be mixed with the strawberries and used as a topping for yogurt, ice cream, etc.)
When the syrup has chilled, pour it into a 8 x 8 Pyrex baking dish or other similarly sized, shallow, freezer-safe container. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and freeze until the syrup begins to form ice crystals around the edge of the dish, around 40 minutes. Using a fork, stir and scrape to break up the crystals and distribute throughout the unfrozen syrup, re-cover the dish, and return to the freezer. Repeat this process every half hour or so until all of the syrup has frozen and formed a fluffy mass of crystals.
Scoop the granita into shot or cordial glasses to serve as a palate cleanser between courses, or into larger glasses for dessert, garnishing with mint or sliced strawberries if desired.
Leftover granita should keep for a few days in the freezer, although you may need to re-scrape if the crystals have formed larger clumps. If it completely solidifies, you can either let it melt and repeat the process above, or break it up into large chunks and run it through the blender with more berries and some additional orange juice to serve as a slushie, or with rum or tequila for a frozen cocktail.
Last Year’s Jam
Wednesday, May 01, 2013
I’m not a super-preserver or anything, but by this point, I’ve established a regular seasonal pattern of jam-making: sour cherry at the beginning of summer, plum at the end of summer, and quince in the late fall. While I’ve also finally achieved a decent amount of cabinet space in my kitchen, it’s not unlimited, which means right around now I start thinking about clearing out some space to prepare for the cycle to begin again.
I used some of the plum as a cake filling a couple of weeks ago, and this week I rolled a jar of the quince into some buttery, flaky rugelach. (The sour cherry, alas, never seems to make it past a few months, because I love it too much.) You can use whichever jar is pushing its way to the front of your pantry, or whatever looks good at the market this weekend.
(Adapted from Rugelach, Alice Medrich’s Chewy Gooey Crispy Crunchy, 2010)
Makes 48 cookies
For the pastry:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 16 cubes
8 tablespoons (1 8-ounce block) cold cream cheese, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 cup jam needing to be used up, in this case quince
1 cup finely chopped walnuts
Fine sea salt for sprinkling
Combine the flour, sugar and salt for the pastry in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix briefly to blend the dry ingredients, then add the butter and mix on low until mostly broken up and the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Mix in the cream cheese just until a damp, shaggy dough forms, then turn out onto a clean countertop and knead briefly to create a mostly cohesive block. Divide into four equal parts and pat into 4-inch disks, tightly wrapping each individually. Refrigerate at least two hours and preferably overnight.
When ready to bake, line two cookie sheets with parchment paper or silicone liners and preheat the oven to 350 F.
Roll one disk of pastry between sheets of parchment paper to a diameter of 12 inches and a thickness of about a quarter inch. Spread the pastry with a quarter of the jam, and evenly coat with a quarter of the walnuts and a small pinch of salt. Using a pizza cutter or sharp chef’s knife, slice the pastry into 12 approximately equal wedges. Starting with the outside edge, roll each wedge toward the point and place, point-side down, on a lined cookie sheet. Repeat with the remaining wedges, setting the cookies 2 inches apart. Place the cookie sheet in the refrigerator to firm the cookies back up as you repeat the process with the remaining pastry disks, jam and walnuts.
Bake each sheet of cookies on the center rack for 25-28 minutes, until pale gold on top and a slightly darker golden brown at the edges, rotating the pans as necessary for even browning. Immediately transfer the baked cookies on their parchment to cooling racks and cool completely.
Cookies will keep well in airtight containers for up to 5 days.
Thursday, March 28, 2013
I really hope this is the last of the winter produce recipes until Thanksgiving, not because I don’t love hard squashes, cabbages and brassicas, but because I am really just sick of winter. My longing for asparagus and rhubarb is starting to become acute, and each of these spring snows is making me despair that tomato season is never coming.
While we’re all cursing the groundhog, this butternut squash spread is at least a bright and sunny color, and warmly spicy enough to maybe convince yourself that you’re in the Mediterranean, if you close your eyes. It’s adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s beautiful cookbook, Jerusalem, and combines caramelized roasted squash and tahini into a hummus-like dip. This version has been made vegan by replacing the original yogurt with soft cooked red lentils and a hit of lemon juice, and instead of plain cinnamon I used a Syrian spice mix. You could use za’atar, ras el hanout, berbere, or any similar blend if you prefer.
Roasted Butternut Spread
(Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, Jerusalem: A Cookbook, 2012)
For roasting the squash:
1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into roughly 1-inch cubes
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon Middle Eastern spice mix of choice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
For the spread:
1/4 cup red lentils
1/2 cup water
5 tablespoons tahini
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
Juice of 1/2 lemon
2-3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Salt to taste
Preheat oven to 400 F. Toss the butternut cubes with the oil, spice mix and salt in a roasting pan. Cover the pan with aluminum foil and roast the squash until soft all the way through and slightly caramelized on the edges, approximately 1 hour. Cool completely.
Boil the lentils and water in a small saucepan over medium heat until the lentils have completely broken down, adding just as much water as needed to prevent them from drying out until they reach that point.
Combine the roasted squash, cooked lentils, tahini, garlic and lemon in the bowl of a food processor and pulse just until chunky. Add more lemon juice and salt as needed, then add the olive oil and pulse a few more times to combine.
Serve in a shallow bowl, garnished with an additional drizzle of olive oil, and with pita chips or crudités on the side.
Winter Harvest Plug: Fresh Seafood
Saturday, March 02, 2013
Not too long ago, I would lament that fish was either sustainably raised/caught or local, but not both. It may be that I simply wasn’t aware of my options, that those options had expanded, or both. But this past year I’ve made two very happy discoveries about seafood. First, there is the peerless Ippolito’s Seafood in South Philly. I’ve already written about this fantastic fishmonger, and if you haven’t already shopped there, do so. Second, Farm to City’s Winter Harvest Buying Club, has fresh, flash-frozen seafood by Shore Catch (caught off the coast of New Jersey) available for purchase. The options include scallops, flounder, cod, tuna, monkfish, and swordfish. Though I’ve tried them all, this was the latest delivery: sushi-grade tuna. The original recipe, from Mark Bittman, called for salmon, but any fish steak should work.
Based on Mark Bittman’s Four Spice Salmon
Salt and Pepper
1 tbsp coriander seeds
1 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
4 six-ounce tuna steaks brought to room temperature
Grind the coriander and cumin seeds with a mortar and pestle until a coarse powder forms. (You don’t want too fine a rub, or you will lose the crunch.) Salt and pepper the fish steaks and rub the spice mixture onto both sides. Film a skillet (I like to use cast iron here) with oil over medium-high heat. Cook for two minutes and each side.
Note: If you wish to have the fish fully cooked, you can preheat the oven to 400 and then put the skillet directly into the oven to finish for 4-8 minutes, depending on your preference.
Sunday, February 24, 2013
Traditional spaghetti carbonara is pasta tossed with crisped pancetta and a mixture of raw eggs and parmesan, which cooks just enough from the heat of the pasta to form a silky, creamy sauce. It’s not vegetarian-friendly, obviously, which is why when I decided to use the beautifully golden-yolked eggs from the market in a carbonara-esque dish, I had to replace the meat with something sufficiently flavorful and colorful.
The answer was a combination of shredded brussels sprouts and sun-dried tomatoes in the pasta itself, and a topping of fresh breadcrumbs, crisped in olive oil and seasoned with a combination of garlic and Spanish smoked paprika. Brussels sprouts keep well, stay wonderfully green as long as they’re not overcooked, and add both brightness and a punchy contrast in flavor. The tomatoes add both a bright pop of color and a slightly chewy texture, and the crumbs add both the missing crunch and the smokiness that comes from the pancetta in the original dish. The smokiness is further enhanced by a handful of shredded smoked cheese after the pasta is sauced.
This recipe is very, very loosely adapted from one in Deborah Madison & Edward Espe Brown’s The Greens Cookbook (1987). In theory, you could further adapt it into a still-flavorful and pretty vegan dish by leaving out the eggs and cheese, although you couldn’t really call it carbonara at that point. (Then again, most people wouldn’t consider it carbonara the minute the meat is taken out.)
Spaghetti Carbonara with Brussels Sprouts, Sun-Dried Tomatoes and Smoky Breadcrumbs
3 slices multigrain bread (the heels of the loaf are fine)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, run through a microplane grater or garlic press
1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika
Salt to taste
8 ounces spaghetti
3 tablespoons olive oil
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon red chili flakes
1 dry pint brussels sprouts, shredded
1/4 cup dried tomatoes, diced
1/4 cup grated Parmesan
1/2 cup grated smoked Gouda or other semi-firm smoked cheese
Roughly tear the bread slices and pulse in a food processor long enough to form medium-sized fresh crumbs. Warm the garlic in the olive oil in a wide nonstick sauté pan over medium heat just until the garlic begins to release its aroma, then add in the breadcrumbs and toss to evenly coat in the oil. Continue cooking, tossing or stirring frequently, until the crumbs are well-toasted and crisp, stir in paprika and salt to taste, and remove from the pan.
Boil the spaghetti in well-salted water until al dente, according to the package directions. Meanwhile, heat the garlic and chili flakes in the remaining oil in the pan until the garlic begins to color lightly. Add in the brussels sprouts, sun-dried tomatoes and a generous sprinkle of salt, sautéing just until the sprouts have wilted but remain brightly green. Taste and adjust salt as necessary.
Just before draining the pasta, quickly whisk the eggs and parmesan together in a large bowl. Drain the pasta and immediately place it into the bowl containing the egg mixture, tossing quickly with tongs to completely coat the spaghetti. Add the brussels sprouts mixture and smoked cheese and continue tossing until everything is evenly distributed and lightly coated. If the egg mixture appears too raw, return the pasta to the pan and very briefly cook, tossing continuously, to desired doneness.
Serve immediately in warmed pasta bowls, sprinkling generously with the toasted breadcrumbs.
Life Hands You A Dwarf Lemon Tree
Friday, February 08, 2013
It may seem strange to see a blog on local food in and around Philadelphia, PA include a post on lemons, but I can assure you that these lemons were grown right here in Philadelphia. More specifically, I can assure you that they were grown in my house in Queen Village. We’ve had a dwarf Meyer Lemon Tree for several years, and we’ve gotten impressive (if intermittent) fruit. Nonetheless, last Sunday I picked four lemons.
Of course, I was then left with a quandary of what to do with them. These lemons were far too special (organic! Meyer Lemons! grown in my house!) to just use for their juice or zest. So, I decided to preserve them according to River Cottage Preserves. It’s a basic recipe: salt, lemon juice, bay leaves, and black peppercorns. You sterilize a wide-mouth jar, add all of the ingredients, and then wait four weeks for the rinds to soften. It is probably the easiest preserve recipe I have ever tried.
And the results? I’ll let you know in another three weeks, but I generally prefer them diced as a condiment to fish.
For the Bleak Midwinter
Friday, February 01, 2013
We’re in the time of year when things start looking a little bleak, produce-wise, and you start longing for spring to change things up again. That doesn’t mean you can’t create some wonderful things from the sturdy winter items that do hang around the markets this time of year, though.
This vegetarian version of cassoulet makes good use of the root vegetables and hearty greens that can easily be found, and is the perfect way to warm up on an icy, stormy night. Being vegan, very low-fat and high in all kinds of nutrients is an additional bonus, if you’re trying to stick with any New Year’s resolutions or just detox from the holiday excess.
White Bean, Parsnip and Kale Cassoulet
(Adapted from Eric Tucker & John Westerdahl, The Millennium Cookbook)
5 cups white beans, cooked or canned
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 large parsnips, peeled and diced
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
3 cups vegetable stock
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon dried sage
1 teaspoon dried thyme
1 teaspoon ground celery seed
1 large bay leaf
1 tablespoon sea salt
1 teaspoon ground pepper
1 bunch kale, shredded
Preheat the oven to 350 F. In a large, oven-proof pot with a lid, combine the beans and vegetables. Mix together the stock, mustard, maple syrup, herbs and spices in a large measuring cup and pour over the bean mixture. Cover with the lid and bake for 60-75 minutes, until the liquid has reduced and thickened.
Add the kale to the beans, re-cover, and bake 15-20 more minutes, until the greens are tender but not mushy. Remove the bay leaf and serve as a main course or side dish.
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.