Friday, February 5, 2016

Clear Polish Borsch with Mushroom Dumplings (Uszka)...and a bonus recipe for Mushroom Tortellini in Sage Browned Butter

I have so many good memories of my days working with my friend Nancy at the Culinary Center of Kansas City, but one of the things I enjoyed doing the most was the series of "Bistro Dinners" we prepared together.  We usually cooked 2 or 3 Bistro Dinners a month.  These dinners were open to the public and were served at long family-style tables.  They were always fun and festive.  Generally, we prepared four courses...and there was always a particular theme.  We did special holiday themed dinners...regional and seasonal dinners...and ethnic dinners of all kinds.  Because we covered so much food territory during the preparation of these meals, I was exposed to a lot of foods and traditions that I might not have ever experienced otherwise...Nancy created some very fun and interesting menus.

I was reminded of all of this recently when I was bouncing ideas off of Nancy for an upcoming Valentine's Day dinner class.  Nancy suggested that I resurrect a Polish Borsch that we had served at a Christmas bistro dinner.  I remembered this particular dish because it was so elegant and beautiful....a clear, deep red broth with tiny mushroom dumplings...called uszka...floating in it.  And even though this dish is traditionally served in Poland for Christmas Eve, I agreed that it would be just the thing as a first course for Valentine's Day. 

I have not altered the broth recipe that we used at all (I think it was from Saveur Magazine...but I'm not really sure).  It is simple and delicious...and very easy to make.  Even so, I do have a few pointers to share:  First, the seemingly large amount of lemon juice is correct.  As I looked at the recipe again, I was dubious.  But the acidity of the lemon sets the deep, bright color...and, just as importantly, balances the sweet, earthiness of the beets.  I have seen recipes that use vinegar instead, but I can't personally vouch for these.  If you would like to try vinegar, use half as much. 

Secondly, keep all of the vegetables in very large chunks....or whole...and don't boil the broth hard.  Cutting the vegetables into small pieces and/or cooking at a hard boil will make for a cloudy broth.  It isn't really even necessary to boil the broth.  After it comes to an initial simmer, it should just be kept at what I would call a bare simmer.  An instant read thermometer will read somewhere between 190° and 200°.  Then, if time allows, let the broth sit and cool at room temperature for a couple of hours.  Better yet, chill the broth—before straining the solids out—over night.  When made this way, the final flavor of the broth will be full and developed. 

Finally, even if for some reason you decide not to make the amazing little mushroom dumplings that are traditionally served in this soup, don't leave out the dried porcini when making the broth.  They add a lot of flavor.  To be honest, I can't imagine making this soup without the dumplings...they add so much.  And since making the mushroom filling involves soaking and simmering dried mushrooms, I add their liquid to the soup too.... 

The mushroom filling I used in the dumplings is a mixture of cooked dried porcinis and fresh criminis.  I have seen recipes that use all fresh or all dried, but I like a mix.  Using mostly fresh saves a bit of money....and using a small amount of dried amplifies the flavor.  A lot of recipes insist on all porcini (fresh and/or dried), but I have seen more than one recipe that says the dumplings are traditionally made with whatever mushroom is available.  No matter what kind of mushroom you use, cook them until all the moisture has been released and has evaporated.  If the filling is runny or wet, the dough will become soggy as it leaches the moisture out of the filling.  The filling includes bread crumbs to help absorb any moisture that might remain.

The dough that is traditionally used to make the dumplings is very similar to fresh Italian pasta.  In fact, the dumplings are basically the same thing as tortellini.  Italian noodle dough is made of eggs and flour.  The traditional polish dough substitutes water (sometimes milk) and a little oil for some of the egg.  Because I like the all egg dough I usually make, that's what I use when I make the uszka.  If you don't want to make the dough at all, you may use purchased wonton wrappers instead.

If you have never made pasta before, check out my post on fresh spinach pasta from several years ago.  As noted at the bottom of that recipe, the method for plain pasta is the same.  The only difference is that the sheets of dough are rolled more thinly—you should be able to see shapes and patterns through the sheet of dough—and the dough is cut and filled immediately after rolling into sheets (whereas pasta sheets that will be cut into ribbons are allowed to sit out until they lose some of their moisture and begin to feel somewhat leathery).

While I was experimenting with the uszka, I decided to make a quick little lunch one day...serving the uszka Italian style.  It was so good I wanted to share it here (although you can find recipes just like this all over the web).  I simply sauced some of the cooked uszka...more appropriately called mushroom tortellini in this some browned butter with fried sage and lemon.  I topped the dish with a mix of grated Parmesan and Pecorino. It was delicious and would be worth making the uszka simply to have them like this.  Just like the Borsch, I think it would make a wonderful first course for a dinner with friends.

Barszcz z Uszkami
Borsch with Mushroom Dumplings (Uszka)

4 large beets (800g), peeled and quartered
1 large carrot (120g), peeled
1 parsnip (120g), peeled
1 medium leek, white part only
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup lemon juice
4 allspice berries
10 black peppercorns
1/4 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
2 cups chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
36 to 48 uszka

Put the beets, carrot, parsnip, leek, bay leaves, lemon juice, allspice, peppercorns, porcini, and chicken stock in a large pot, and add 8 cups of cold water. Bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat, then reduce heat to medium-low, and barely simmer for about 2 hours (the temperature should hover around 190°). Remove from heat and let sit for 2 hours.  If time, chill overnight to allow it to steep even further.  Strain, and discard the solids.  Add water to make 6 cups broth.

Return beet stock to the pot and bring back to a simmer over low heat. Correct the seasoning with salt, pepper and more lemon as necessary. Place 6 cooked uszka in each of 6 to 8 individual soup plates, and pour the hot borsch over the uszka.  Serve immediately.

(Mushroom Dumplings)

1/4 oz. dried porcini mushrooms, soaked overnight a cup of water
2 to 3 T. butter
1 small yellow onion (4 to 5 oz.), peeled and finely minced
6 oz. fresh mushrooms (crimini, white button, etc.), finely chopped in the
food processor
1/4 c. fresh white bread crumbs
2 T. minced flat leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh pasta dough or purchased Wonton wrappers

Transfer porcini to a small pot, then strain soaking liquid through a coffee filter (or damp paper towel) into the same pot. Simmer over medium-low heat, adding water as necessary, until porcini are tender, about 2 hours. Remove porcini from the pot, finely mince, and set aside.  Strain the cooking liquid into the Borsch.

Melt 2 T. butter in a medium skillet set over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until tender and golden, about 10 to 15 minutes...add the remaining tablespoon of butter if the pan seems dry.  Add the fresh mushrooms and minced porcini and continue to cook until the liquid given up by the mushrooms has evaporated and the mixture begins to sizzle—about 10 minutes. Stir in bread crumbs and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Set aside to cool.  (The filling may be made a day or two ahead.  Cover and chill.)

If using fresh pasta, roll out dough on a lightly floured surface or using your pasta machine (as described in the recipe below) until very thin (it should be thin enough to see shapes/patterns through it). Cut into 50 or so 1 3/4- to 2-inch squares, and cover with plastic wrap to prevent the squares from drying out. (If using wonton wrappers, trim so they are 2-inch squares.) 

Place a scant teaspoon of filling in the center of each square, lightly dampen the edges with water, then fold bottom corner to top corner, pressing gently from the top down the sides to remove any air pockets. At this point they should look like triangles. Fold the right and left corners over each other, and pinch them between your thumb and forefinger so they hold together. Set the uszka on a semolina dusted sheet pan, making sure they aren't touching, as you form them.

The uszka may be cooked right away, or they may be stored for up to 24 hours under refrigeration.  To store, allow them to dry slightly, uncovered, at room temperature, for about an hour.  Then, cover them loosely with a linen or paper towel and wrap the sheet pan tightly in with plastic wrap and transfer to the refrigerator. 

Cook uszka in batches in a large pot of gently boiling salted water over high heat, until the pasta is al dente...about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the pot with a slotted spoon, transferring them directly to serving bowls or placing them on a lightly oiled baking sheet where they may be kept, lightly covered with plastic wrap, until ready to serve.  Chill if not serving within an hour of cooking. 

Note:  Although not ideal, the uszka may also be frozen for up to a week.  Place the sheets with the uskza in the freezer and when they are frozen hard, transfer to ziplock freezer bags and seal.  When ready to cook, spread them on a semolina dusted sheet and let them thaw, uncovered.  This will only take about 20 minutes.  Cook as for fresh.

Fresh Pasta:
1 1/2 c. (165 to 175 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
2 large eggs (100 to 110 grams)
Semolina flour

Mound the flour on a counter top and make a well in the center.  Crack the eggs into the well and break them up with a fork.  Gradually begin incorporating flour from the walls of the well into the eggs.  When the walls start to collapse, begin using a bench scraper to cut the flour and liquid ingredients together.  At first the dough will seem an unmanageable, shaggy mass.  Begin to work the dough until you have a cohesive mass that you can knead without it sticking to your fingers.  This initial formation of the dough will take about three minutes.  If at the end of this time there is unincorporated flour remaining, sift it to remove any bits of dough.  Set this sifted flour aside to be used for the remainder of the kneading process and wash your hands to remove any caked on bits. 

Continue to knead the dough (adding flour if the dough is sticky) for 10 minutes until the dough is satiny, smooth and elastic—with no trace of stickiness.  Wrap in plastic and let rest for 30 minutes to 3 hours.

Alternatively, place the eggs and flour in a mixer fitted with a dough hook.  Begin to mix on the lowest speed.  When the dough begins to come together, increase the speed to medium and knead for 10 minutes.

To roll out the dough using a pasta machine, work with half of the dough at a time.  Flatten the dough into a thick disk and flour lightly.  Starting with the widest setting, pass the dough through the rollers six to eight times or until the dough firms up, folding it in thirds each time and turning the dough so an open end feeds into the roller.  Continue to lightly flour the dough as you work.  Set the rollers at the next, narrower setting and pass the dough through two or three times or until the dough is almost the width of the roller, folding in half each time and passing through the rollers folded edge first.  Set the rollers for the next, narrower setting and pass the dough through, but do not fold it.  Run the dough through at each successively narrower setting, until the desired thickness is achieved. 

(Pasta recipe adapted from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper)

Note:  This recipe makes almost twice as much dough as you need to make 50 uszka...I would have written the recipe for half quantities, but this leaves no wiggle room for differences in how people roll out dough.  I would prefer not to cut it so close.   

Mushroom Tortellini in Sage Browned Butter

6 to 8 T. unsalted butter
20 to 24 small sage leaves
Lemon juice to taste
Salt & pepper
1 recipe uszka/mushroom tortellini (about 50...or 250 grams)
Freshly grated Parmesan and/or Pecorino

Place butter in a small saucepan and melt over medium heat.  As the butter continues to cook it will bubble and spatter.  When the spattering begins to subside, watch the butter very carefully—the milk solids will brown very quickly at this point.  When the solids have turned a nice golden brown, remove the pan from the heat.  Add the sage leaves and let sizzle briefly until they crisp.  Cool the pan down by dipping in a shallow pan of cool water, or by adding a few drops of cool water to the butter and swirl in.  Season the butter to taste with lemon juice and salt.  It will take a fair amount of both—don’t be timid.  Set aside while you cook the tortellini.

Drop the tortellini in a large pot of gently boiling salted water.  Cook until the pasta is al dente...about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the pot with a slotted spoon, transferring them to the pan of warm browned sage butter.  Toss to coat in the butter, adding a splash of the cooking water to extend the sauce if necessary.  Divide the tortellini among 4 plates.  Scatter some freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino over and serve right away.

Sunday, January 31, 2016

Quinoa and Winter Vegetable Soup

For an upcoming class on grains, I decided I wanted to teach a quinoa soup.  I tend to use quinoa only in salads and pilafs, but soup is a very traditional use of quinoa in its native Peru...and it is becoming more common here in the states if its presence in the blogosphere is any indication.  I thought it was time that I expanded my quinoa horizons a bit.

As I looked around at the kinds of soup people were making with quinoa, I found it varied from those that contained little more than quinoa (cooked in a simple broth) to soups with loads of vegetables, beans and greens in addition to the quinoa.  Inspired by one of these latter soups and a quinoa "chili" I found, I eventually decided to make a soup with a spiced tomato-y base, black beans and a short list of winter-y vegetables.   The balance of flavors in this soup is remarkable.  Tangy tomato, sweet spices (coriander and paprika) and vegetables (carrots, sweet potatoes and squash are all quite sweet), and slightly bitter and earthy cumin and quinoa all make for a soup of astonishing complexity and depth.  I couldn't get over how much I liked it. 

I was also surprised by my reaction to the way the quinoa tends to swell even more as it continues to absorb broth during storage.  Many grains and starches tend to do this as they sit in a liquid.  Sometimes this results in unpleasantness (think about bloated pasta in minestrone)...and other times in an even better product (as in beans...which become plumper and creamier as they sit).  When I looked at my leftovers the day after I first prepared the soup, I was dismayed to see how swollen the quinoa had become.  I expected the soup to be gloppy and texture-less...and I anticipated that I would have to alter my recipe so that the quinoa was cooked separately and then added in fresh to each portion of reheated soup (which would have been a shame since cooking the quinoa in the soup adds wonderful flavor to the broth).   But I was wrong.  The soup was not at all gloppy. It still had a delightfully broth-y texture (after adding a bit of water upon reheat)...and of course, as with most soups, the flavor was even better after sitting over night.

When I first made this soup, I don't think my plan was for a soup that was almost entirely a study in oranges and reds, but that's what I ended up with.  And as I sat down to dinner on that first night...and then lunches over the next few days...I have to say that the colors made for meals that were a bright and happy spot in the midst of a spate of cold and gray winter days. 

a warm bowl of leftovers for lunch...

Quinoa & Winter Vegetable Soup

1/4 c. olive oil
1 medium onion (about 7 oz.), cut in 1/3-inch dice (to make about 1 1/3 cups)
2 to 3 carrots (about 1/2 lb.), trimmed and peeled and cut in a 1/3-inch dice (to make about 1 1/3  cups)
2 ribs celery, trimmed and cut in 1/3-inch dice (about 1/2 to 2/3 c.)
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 t. cumin
1/2 t. paprika
1/2 t. coriander
1 medium (about 8 oz.) sweet potato, peeled and cut in 1/3-inch dice (to make 1 1/2 to 1 2/3 cup)
1 8 oz. chunk of butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut in 1/3-inch dice (to make 1 1/2 to 1 2/3 cup)
1 14 oz. can (or half a 28-oz. can) peeled plum tomatoes, pulsed in the food processor to yield rough chop
1 quart chicken or vegetable stock
1 14 oz. can black beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup white quinoa, well rinsed and drained
Boiling water (or more hot stock), as necessary to achieve desired consistency

Warm the olive oil in a soup pot set over moderate heat.  Add the onion, carrot and celery along with a good pinch of salt.  Sweat until the onion is translucent and tender and the carrot and celery are just tender....about 15 minutes.

Add the garlic and spices and continue to cook until fragrant and sizzling.  Add the squash and sweet potato, along with a good pinch of salt.  Continue to cook for about five minutes, stirring regularly to make sure the vegetables are well coated with the seasonings and are not sticking to the bottom of the pan. 

Add the tomatoes, stock, beans and quinoa.  Stir well and bring to a boil.  Check the seasoning again (adding salt as necessary). Cover the pot with a lid that is slightly ajar and reduce the heat to a simmer.  Cook until the vegetables are tender and the quinoa has unfurled its germ...about 15 to 20 minutes.  Correct the consistency with boiling water...or more hot stock...if the soup is too thick.  Let the soup stand for 5 minutes off the heat.  Check the consistency and seasoning again and serve.

Makes 2 to 2 1/2 quarts soup (or about 6 servings)

  • The goal with the sweet potatoes and squash is to obtain 3 to 3 1/2 cups diced vegetables...if your sweet potato is small, use more squash...if it is large, use less squash. You could use all one or the other too...I just like the idea of the slight variation in color, texture and flavor.
  • If you prefer, you may use chickpeas instead of black beans.
  • The spices were measured with a slightly rounded spoon, rather than a level spoon.
  • The soup is delicious after the first day...but the quinoa will have absorbed more liquid. Be prepared to add a bit more water to the soup as it is reheating in order to obtain the consistency you prefer.
Printable Version

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Simple Carrot & Apple Spice Muffins

I have always loved the idea of the famous "Morning Glory" muffins. Who wouldn't like the idea of a cinnamon scented muffin...loaded with carrots, apples and well as coconut, nuts and dried fruit?  Unfortunately, my love of the idea has never translated into making them. 

Part of the beauty of muffins is that they are quick to make.  If indeed they are made using the "muffin" method, they are among the quickest to make of all the quick breads.  If you have to run out and get special ingredients...they sort of cease to be quick.  And therein, for me, lies the problem.  I just don't keep some of these items—coconut and canned pineapple, to be specific—on hand.   

For many, this issue of a trip to the store would probably not be something to even think about.  But in my world, muffins are almost always something I make on the spur of the moment.  For example... when it's ten o'clock at night....and I discover that I have allowed my supply of coffeecake, tea breads and scones in the freezer to dwindle to nothing....and I am facing a morning without cake.  This is the moment for a muffin.  And it is not the moment when I am going to run to the store.

Even so, the idea of this old favorite is so appealing that when I began to think about a muffin recipe that I could include in an upcoming breakfast breads class, it was this muffin that came to mind.  Since I still wanted a recipe that I could make with things I keep in my pantry, I decided to adapt it a bit...omitting the coconut and the pineapple....and in the end the nuts too.  I actually think it would be delicious with nuts...but I seem to put nuts in everything, so I decided to leave them out of this particular recipe.  If you want to add some, a half cup of toasted chopped pecans or walnuts would be perfect. 

Besides tweaking the amounts of the basic ingredients (flour, leaveners, spices, etc.), I only made a couple of other significant changes.  First, I substituted brown sugar for part of the granulated white sugar.  Brown sugar adds moisture and intensity of flavor and seemed like a good fit for the spices, carrots and apples.  I tried it once with all brown sugar and don't really recommend it.  The resulting muffins were so moist as to be almost damp...even though they were fully baked.

The other major change I made was to use olive oil instead of vegetable oil.  I remembered how nice it was in Gina DePalma's zucchini cake (that I made last summer) and felt like the spices, brown sugar, carrots and apples could all stand up to its naturally more robust flavor.  It worked beautifully, giving the muffins more depth of flavor and a pleasant, slightly bitter edge.

I am super happy with these muffins.  They use only staple ingredients that are part of the standard baking pantry...and fresh ingredients that most people will have during the winter months in their produce bins (carrots and apples).  Currants might be outside of the range of "standard" for some, but you can of course use dark or light raisins instead.  Best of all, these muffins are everything a good muffin is supposed to be:  a quick to make, sweet and tender, little bite of cake.  

Simple Carrot & Apple Spice Muffins

170 g. (1 1/2 c.) all-purpose flour
1/2 t. salt
1/2 t. baking soda
3/4 t. baking powder
1 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. nutmeg
1/4 t. cloves
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla
65 g. (1/3 c.) brown sugar
100 g. (1/2 c.) granulated sugar
135 g. (2/3 c.) olive oil
150 g. (1 1/3 c., lightly packed) shredded carrots (from 2 large carrots)
85 g. (1/2 c., lightly packed) shredded apple (from half of a large apple, peeled and cored)
60 g. (1/2 c.) currants

Place the dry ingredients in a small bowl and whisk to blend.  Set aside.

Place the eggs and vanilla in a large bowl and whisk to break up the eggs.  Add the sugars and whisk until smooth.  Add the oil while whisking constantly.  Whisk until the mixture is smooth, homogenous, and thickened.  

Add the dry ingredients and fold in with a rubber spatula.  When the dry ingredients are almost absorbed 

add the carrots, apples and currants.  

Continue to fold, just until blended. 

Using a 1/4 cup (2 oz.) sized ice cream scoop, divide the batter among twelve muffin cups that have been lined with foil or paper liners.  The cups will be almost full.  

Transfer to a 350° oven and bake until golden brown, springy to the touch, and a toothpick inserted in the center of one of the muffins comes out clean....about 25 to 30 minutes.  Let the muffins cool in the pan for five minutes before removing to a wire rack.

Serve warm or at room temperature.  The muffins will keep well at room temperature...(if stored air-tight) for a couple of days.  Freeze them for longer storage. 

Makes 12 muffins.

  • If you like, add 1/2 cup chopped, toasted pecans or walnuts.
  • If you don't have currants, substitute dark or golden raisins
  • Use any crisp, juicy, flavorful eating apple that you like (you will have half an apple to snack on after making the muffins).  I have made these with both a Golden Delicious and a Pink Lady.  
  • These muffins are even better the next day...moister and more flavorful.
Printable Recipe

Monday, January 11, 2016

Farro Salad with Roasted Butternut Squash & Grapes

In general, I don't make a habit of watching food TV.  If I see something on Food TV, it is most often because someone else is already watching and something particular catches my attention as I pass through the room.  Such was the case a little over a year ago when I happened to see Martha Stewart doing a show on grains.  Because I am always looking for new ways to work with grains I paused to take a look.  When she began to prepare a farro salad that featured roasted grapes, I was hooked and I stopped to watch.  It looked so good I made a mental note to make the salad...and then, as happens all too often, it slipped my mind. 

I'm not sure what it was that made me think of this salad again, but I finally got around to trying it...or I guess I should say, my adaptation of it...over the holidays.  It really was delicious.  I wanted to share the recipe then...but just ran out of time.  I admit that the best time to make this salad is in the late fall when the big, juicy, California red grapes are at their peak.  But since good quality grapes are available year round, I decided to go ahead and post it now.  If you're lucky, you can still find California grapes in the stores....  Furthermore, if you are trying to get your eating back under control after a holiday season of sugary excess, this salad, with its abundance of grains, greens, fruits and vegetables....and its appealing textures and flavors...would be a great addition to the plan.

I said I adapted the salad, but I really didn't change it too much.  The original recipe called for roasting the grapes for 45 minutes.  Since I wanted them to still have a bit of body and texture, I reduced that by quite a bit.  I also wanted my salad to be substantial enough to serve as a meatless entrée, so I added some roasted butternut squash to the mix.  This turned out to be a particularly nice addition...lending not only more substance, but also complimenting the sweet character of the grapes.  As a final touch, I topped my version with some toasted nuts...pecans on one occasion, and walnuts on another...for added richness and crunch. 

Since this is the beginning of the year, and some may have found themselves here while trying to fulfill a resolution to cook more real food, I want to take a moment to point out where you can learn more about the basic elements in this recipe.  If you have never cooked with farro before, I wrote about my introduction to the delicious world of farro a couple of years ago.  In a later post, I wrote about the most common cooking methods.  For this recipe, you will be cooking the farro just as you would boiling salted water.  If you don't think you like whole grains, farro is a perfect place to is every bit as friendly and easy to love as pasta.

If you are new to roasting vegetables...or have struggled to get your roasted vegetables just right...I wrote a detailed post several years ago on how to roast vegetables.  After reading that post, the method used in this recipe—roasting the butternut squash and red onions together first...and then adding the grapes towards the end—will make sense.  Doing it this way insures that the butternut squash and red onions (which take longer to cook than the grapes) will be tender and well-caramelized and that the grapes will still have substance and juice.  Don't worry if the red onions get a little crispy...this will add tender crunch and subtle sweetness.  If some of the onions threaten to burn though, either remove the ones that are getting too dark with a pair of tongs, or tuck them under a grape...or a chunk of squash...where they will be protected from the heat of the oven. 

I hope you enjoy this salad as much as I do.  If you like grains...or want to like will find a lot of recipes to experiment with here on my blog.  You can click on a specific grain that interests you in the sidebar at the right...or go to the recipes page and scroll down to the grains section.  I hope that you will find something that appeals to you...but if not, check back occasionally.  I love grains and towards the end of February will be teaching an all new class devoted entirely to the subject.  One or two of those recipes are certain to wind up here.    

Farro Salad with Roasted Butternut Squash & Grapes

2/3 c. pecans or walnuts
4 c. cubed (1/2-inch) butternut squash, (from a 2 lb. squash, peel and seed before dicing)
3 to 4 T. olive oil
1 T. Brown sugar
1 medium red onion (about 8 to 10 oz.), halved, cored and sliced 1/4-inch thick
3 c. large red, seedless grapes, halved (about 14 oz.)
1 c. pearled or semi-pearled farro
2 T. sherry vinegar
2 oz. baby kale, arugula, baby spinach or other young, hearty green
Salt & pepper
4 oz. goat cheese, crumbled

Spread the nuts on a small baking sheet and toast in a preheated 350° oven until golden and fragrant...about 5 minutes.  Transfer to a plate to cool.  When cool enough to handle, break the nuts into coarse pieces, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.  Set aside.  Increase the oven temperature to 425°.

In a large bowl, toss the squash with enough olive oil to coat and season with salt, pepper and brown sugar.  Spread in a snug single layer on a large rimmed baking sheet and roast until tender and caramelized, stirring once and being careful not to tear the squash—about 30 minutes (a bit more...or a bit less...depending on your oven and the size of your baking sheet).  Toss the grapes with a tablespoon of olive oil, season with salt and pepper and scatter over the caramelized squash and onions.  Return the pan to the oven and continue to roast, stirring once, until the grapes are just tender...another 10 minutes or so.  Set aside. 

While the vegetables and grapes roast, bring a pot of salted water to a boil.  Add the farro and simmer until tender (it should still have texture)...about 25 minutes.  Drain well.   Transfer to a large wide bowl.  Add the vegetables and sherry vinegar and toss to combine.  Because the salad is to be served slightly warm, or at room temperature, the farro and vegetables need to cool a bit.  This is best accomplished by spreading it out in the bowl a bit (as opposed to mounding it in the center).  You can also spread the mixture out on the baking sheet the vegetables were roasted on (return everything to the bowl to finish the salad).

When the farro has cooled to the point you want, add the baby kale and toss to combine.  Taste and correct the seasoning with vinegar, salt & pepper.  If the salad seems dry, drizzle with a bit of olive oil.  Transfer to a platter or individual plates and scatter the goat cheese and nuts over all and serve. 

Serves 4 as an entrée....6 to 8 as a side.

(Recipe adapted from Martha Stewart)

Printable Version

Monday, January 4, 2016

What's in Season?... Blood Oranges

Over the years, For Love of the Table has turned out to be a lot of things...some planned, some not.  Always food, cooking and table related...but also covering a wide ranging array of topics.  I have focused on basic techniques...and because I am always learning, I have also covered not-so-basic techniques.  I have posted complicated recipes appropriate for a formal meal (from my private dinner service) or a weekend well as things that were simply what I happened to be eating and enjoying at the moment.  There have been many posts for foods so simple they don't really require a recipe.  As for a theme...if you discount the fact that a preponderance of the posted recipes reflect my personal addictions to cake and pasta...I think it's fair to say that my blog is almost always about enjoying the abundance of each season.  So this past Christmas when my good friend Bonnie gave me a handmade calendar (created and drawn by her daughter Johanna) that celebrated a single fresh food each month, I knew I had not only a lovely calendar, I also had inspiration for at least one post a month.

For January, Johanna chose blood oranges.  What a perfect way to start the year!  Blood oranges begin to trickle into the stores in December, but they don't really hit their stride and peak until January and February...finally tapering off in March and April.  At a time of year when the bright and cheerful colors of the holidays have abruptly faded into the muted and sometimes depressing grays of winter, their brilliant red flesh is a welcome sight.  A glass of freshly squeezed blood orange juice will give the most ordinary breakfast a special feel.

Blood oranges of course taste of orange...but at the same time seem to have more depth.  They can be very sweet...but also often have a pleasantly tart edge.  I think it is this rich, sweet-tart character...combined with their ruby red coloring...that causes many to say that they have a raspberry-like flavor.  I'm not sure I would go that far...but they definitely have a "something more" about them.  They are apparently the most popular of all the orange varieties in their native Italy and once tasted seem to inspire fervent allegiance.  I was surprised when I purchased my first of the season last week to observe the holiday-weary and rather glassy-eyed clerk at the checkout suddenly perk up as she rang them through, exclaiming "I didn't know they were here!  I LOVE blood oranges"...

As noted above, blood oranges make wonderful juice.  And they are also beautiful in desserts...tarts and upside down cakes being two places where they really shine.  But I love them best in salads.   You can use them in any salad where you would normally use a navel orange:  with onions....beets....avocado...olives....arugula....all manner of endives....pomegranate.....grapefruit and tangerines....  You get the idea.  I posted a citrus, avocado and olive salad a couple of years ago that featured slices of blood orange.  If you have never cut an orange into pinwheels or filets, that particular post includes some basic instructions on how to do just that. 

Today, I wanted to share one of my very favorite salads from Suzanne Goin's book Sunday Suppers at Lucques.  Goin created this salad as a showcase for the blood orange.  This is one of those recipes that really isn't a recipe.  As she points out, it's more of a artful arrangement of delicious and beautiful foods on the plate.  Her recipe has a definite Italian feel....whereas my version is more Spanish, featuring Manchego cheese (instead of Parmesan) and Marcona almonds.  You should feel free to alter the specific ingredients to suit your tastes...and your pantry.

I was so inspired as I flipped through the beautiful drawings in Johanna's calendar.  It is my hope during the coming I occasionally share a recipe that features the ingredient she chose to represent a particular month....that you will be inspired too.  Happy New Year. 

Blood Oranges, Dates, Manchego & Marcona Almonds

15 Deglet Noor dates (see note)
4 blood oranges
4 oz. chunk Manchego (see note)
2 oz. arugula or other spicy green
Freshly squeezed lemon juice
Extra Virgin Olive oil (see note)
1/2 c. Marcona almonds (see note)
Fleur de Sel
Freshly ground black pepper

Cut the dates in half and remove the pits. If you like, cut the halves lengthwise.

Slice the stem and blossom ends from the blood oranges.  Place each fruit cut side down on the cutting board and following the contour of the fruit with your knife, remove the peel and cottony pith—working from top to bottom, and rotating the fruit as you go.  Slice each orange thinly into 8 to 10 pinwheels, discarding any seeds that you find.  Place the orange slices in a bowl and set aside.

Place the Manchego, flat side down, on a cutting board.  Using a chef’s knife, shave large thin slices of cheese from the chunk. 

Place the arugula in a bowl and give it a squeeze of lemon and a light drizzle of olive oil.  Scatter one third of the arugula on a large platter (or divide among individual plates).  Arrange one-third of the oranges, dates, cheese and nuts.  Scatter another layer of arugula, and continue layering in the same manner, letting the ingredients intertwine together.  Finish by drizzling more olive oil over the salad and seasoning lightly with fleur de sel, pepper.  If you like, drizzle some of the blood orange juice remaining in the bowl over all.  Serves 4 to 6

  • If Deglet Noor dates are unavailable, use Medjool. Medjool are larger and softer….so use 8 and cut them in quarters or sixths (lengthwise) rather than in halves or quarters. Medjool dates are easier to cut when they have been refrigerated. 
  • In the original recipe, Goin uses almond oil. If you have almond oil, use it, otherwise, a nice Extra Virgin olive oil is fine. 
  • If you don't have Marcona almonds, simply use regular almonds, roasting them yourself. Spread the almonds on a small baking sheet. Place in a preheated 350° oven and bake until slightly darkened and fragrant. Set aside to cool. 

(Recipe adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin)

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Holiday Almond Cake with Clementine Syrup and a Chocolate Glaze

Last year, right before Christmas, I happened across a recipe that looked so good I made it right away even though my baking list for the holidays was already quite long.  I served it as part of my family's Christmas Eve buffet.  I loved it so much that I made a mental note to make it again for the following Christmas (this year)...and to share the recipe here.

Besides being absolutely delicious, the cake—a clementine scented almond cake, cloaked in a dark chocolate glaze—was everything it was advertised to be:  light in texture...and an excellent keeper.  Under normal circumstances, this last quality wouldn't be a priority....this cake is pretty hard to resist...but at Christmas—when there are so many sweet things to eat—it really is nice to have a cake on hand that slices into beautiful, thin slivers...and also stays moist and flavorful for at least a week.  With its citrus and almond flavors...and its longer shelf life, it really is a perfect holiday cake.

The source of the recipe is the book Jerusalem (by Yotam Ottolenghi & Sami Tamimi)...although I ran across it in an article on Christmas "puddings" at The Guardian.  Anytime I make a cake (or any kind of baked good) from a recipe that has come to me unchanged from another country, I always examine it carefully before attempting it in my kitchen.  Ingredients vary—sometimes quite a bit—from country to country and in baking the difference in the size of an egg, the protein content of the flour, etc., can make the difference between success and failure.  As I examined this recipe, I realized that the ingredient percentages were quite similar to a couple of cakes that are already in my regular repertoire:  Amor Polenta and my pistachio cake. 

Both of these cakes use cake flour, so I used cake flour instead of the British "plain flour" called for in the recipe.  Plain flour is not quite as low protein as cake flour...and plain flour is probably not bleached...but I still felt the cake flour (since it is what I use in the two other cakes) would give a better result than a straight substitution of my normal unbleached, all-purpose flour. 

The only other change I made was to the method.  It is a bit unusual in that the nut flour is creamed into the creamed sugar and butter before adding the eggs, but it is the same way I make the Amor Polenta and the pistachio cake.  Since it works well for these cakes, I was fairly certain it would to the same for this cake too.  And it did.

I realize the holidays are for the most part over...and that many people will be starting their diets tomorrow.   In light of these things, a holiday cake recipe might not be the best post at the moment....   But even if you are starting a diet, the best kind of diet allows you a treat once in a while.  I think this cake would make a pretty satisfying special treat.  Furthermore, clementines will continue to be in season and delicious for another month or so.  During that time I feel confident that there will be many occasions for which this cake would be perfect.  And if not, there's always next Christmas.  It will be here before we know it.

Almond Cake with Clementine Syrup & Chocolate Glaze

100 g. cake flour
1/2 t. salt
200 g. unsalted butter
300 g. granulated sugar
Zest of 4 clementines
Zest of 1 lemon
280 g. fine almond meal, lightly toasted (see notes)
1 t. vanilla
5 large eggs, room temperature

Juice of 4 clementines, strained
Juice of 1 lemon, strained
80 g. sugar

90 g. unsalted butter, diced
150 g. bittersweet chocolate, broken up
1/2 T. (10 g.) honey
1/2 T. brandy

55 to 60 gr. diced candied orange peel

Preheat the oven to 325°. Butter a 9 1/2-inch springform pan and line the bottom with a piece of parchment paper. Butter the parchment. Dust the pan with flour and set aside.

Sift the cake flour and salt onto a piece of parchment and set aside.

In the bowl of the stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter until light and fluffy. Add the sugar and zests and continue to beat until fluffy and white, about 5 minutes on medium-high speed.

Turning the speed down to low, add the vanilla and almond meal. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the mixture is again fluffy—another 2 to 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating briefly again on medium-high speed after each addition until the batter returns to fluffiness and scraping down the sides before each next addition.

Fold in the sifted dry ingredients. Turn into the prepared pan and bake for 50 to 60 minutes. The cake is done when it is a deep golden brown and a toothpick comes out clean.

When the cake is almost done baking, in a small pan bring the citrus juices (you should have about 120ml...don't use any more than this) and another 80 grams of sugar to a boil.  Remove from the heat.

The moment the cake comes out of the oven, run a thin palette knife around the edge and release the sides.  Immediately brush the cake all over with the syrup, continuing until all the syrup is absorbed.  Leave the cake to cool completely. The cake may be served as is, or glazed with a chocolate icing.

To make the icing, melt the butter, chocolate and honey together in the microwave or over a pan of barely simmering water, stirring until smooth.  Stir in the brandy.  Pour the icing over the cooled cake, allowing it to dribble naturally down the may not cover the cake completely.  

Allow the icing to set.  Garnish with diced candied peel, if you like. 

Serve in thin wedges.  (Slice the cake with a thin sharp knife that has been run under hot water and wiped clean...the hot knife will then slice cleanly through the set chocolate glaze.) 

Serves 12.

Note: If you like, you may toast the almond meal.  To toast nut flour, spread in an even layer on a baking sheet and bake in a 350° oven until golden and fragrant—about five minutes. Cool before using. Watch carefully—it will darken and burn quickly.