Monday, June 20, 2016

A New Farmers' Market...and an Early Summer Vegetable Ragoût of New Fingerling Potatoes, Baby Carrots and the Last of the Shelling Peas

I recently decided that it was time to try a new farmers' market.  Since I tend to be a creature of habit...and I have made a habit of my old market (shopping there every Saturday during the growing season for more than fifteen years)...switching to another is kind of a big deal.   The reasons for the move are too numerous and personal to share.  I will only say here that it was time for a least for a while.  There are of course many things I will miss from my old market.  Two or three vendors in particular I will miss so much that I'll probably take the time to swing by my old market occasionally just to say hello and purchase some of my favorite items.  But for the most part I am enjoying the new one very, very much. 

My new market, the Brookside Farmers' Market, is not really new.  It has been around for more than 10 years.  I might have even visited once or twice before.  But for some reason it has never caught my fancy in quite the way it did when I wandered into the midst of the stalls a couple of weeks ago.  There is much at the Brookside Market that appeals:  It is an all local (everything comes from within 100 miles), all organic, vendor run market.  Best of all—as far as I'm concerned—is the fact that no re-sale is allowed.  The vendors are also the producers.  The consequent pride with which they display their products is evident in the beautiful, visual feast that greets you at each and every stall.  These vendors are intimately acquainted with their produce...and are pleased and proud to tell you about it. 

Since I have posted less frequently than usual in recent weeks, it would be tempting to assume that I might have been feeling a bit uninspired.  But this is not the case at all.  Rather, I have just been experiencing the normal busy-ness of June (looking back at the frequency of posting in previous Junes will bear this out).  I have actually been feeling more inspired by the beautiful things I have been bringing home with me from the Brookside Market...I just haven't had the time to write a post.  (If you follow me on Instagram, I have been trying to at least take a few pictures...).  It is my hope that my blog will reflect this newfound inspiration during the months ahead.    

In the mean time, I wanted share a simple and delicious early summer vegetable ragoût made with some of my recent market finds.  We have enjoyed it twice during the past week (it was that good!)—once with pork...and once with chicken.  Featuring true new fingerling potatoes (so new the skin can be simply rubbed off under running water), 

small and tender carrots, and sweet shelling peas (unfortunately, the last ones of the year), it is a perfect example of what I love about market cooking: There is nothing exotic...or complicated...about it.  Rather, the final dish is just a thoughtfully composed and carefully prepared combination of the best the season has to offer....   The goal is simply to allow each vegetable to shine.

I am of course including the recipe for the ragoût at the end of the post, but if you have never prepared a simple mixed vegetable ragoût, you might want to read the post I wrote a few years ago on how to build a seasonal vegetable ragoût. I think you will find it to be quite helpful—not only for preparing this particular ragoût, but also for creating your own ragoûts as the growing season progresses. 

If you would like to serve your ragoût as I did with pork or chicken, you can find instructions for cooking the pork in a post I wrote last spring (just omit the sage...  or not...  I'm sure it would be delicious....) and for cooking the chicken in a basics post from several years ago.  If you do choose to serve the ragoût with a pan-fried or roasted chop or cutlet of some kind, don't forget to deglaze the pan with a bit of white wine...or stock...or water...and then add these deglazings to the ragoût at the end.  This small step will add flavor and at the same time tie the meat to the ragoût, creating a more unified plate.

Finally, if you are looking at this post and thinking that you are just looking at a plain old dish of potatoes with the dreaded childhood combination of peas and carrots, I can assure you that this dish—when made with fresh, in-season ingredients—is a revelation of just how good these humble vegetables can be.

With a Pan-roasted Chicken Breast

Market Ragoût of New Fingerling Potatoes, Young Carrots & English Peas

1/2 T. olive oil
2 1/2 T. unsalted butter, divided
2/3 c. sliced spring or early summer onions, white and very pale green portions only (see notes)
1 fat clove garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
6 oz. young carrots (about four), trimmed, peeled and halved lengthwise (see notes)
8 oz. new fingerling potatoes, well scrubbed (the skin will rub off—see notes) and halved lengthwise
2/3 to 1 c. chicken (or vegetable) stock
3 oz. shelled peas (a generous half cup)
1 T. minced chives
1 1/2 T. minced flat leaf parsley
Deglazings from pan-roasted meats (optional)

Set a sauté pan that is wide enough to hold all the vegetables in a snug single layer over medium heat.  Add the oil and a tablespoon of butter.  When the butter is melted, add the onions, garlic and carrots along with a generous pinch of salt.  Gently sweat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are just tender—about 5 minutes.

Add the potatoes and stir to coat in the fat and onions.  

If the pan seems dry, add a bit more butter.  Season with salt.  Add stock to a depth of about 1/2 inch. 

Bring to a simmer.  Cover with a tight fitting lid, reduce the heat and simmer gently until the carrots and potatoes are just tender—about 15 minutes.  Add the peas, cover and continue to cook until the peas are tender...another 3 to 5 minutes. 

Uncover.  If you have pan deglazings from a cutlet or chop, add them now.  Taste and correct the seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  If the ragout is too dry for your liking (the finished stew should be a bit broth-y...but how broth-y is up to you), add more stock or water...tasting and correcting the seasoning again.  Bring to a gentle simmer, add the herbs and swirl in the remaining butter.  Serve immediately.  Serves 2 (see notes).

  • To prepare the onions, trim the root and tough green and then split the onions lengthwise. If there is a fibrous or tough shoot in the center, remove and discard it. Cut the halves lengthwise in 1/2 to 3/4-inch intervals. Slice these strips thinly (1/4-inch or so) crosswise. 
  • At this point in the season the dark green portions of the onions are becoming tough and bruised. If you are making a ragout earlier in the season and the green portions are still tender and fresh, by all means add them too...they may be added during the early stages of the cooking with the white of the onions, or tossed in at the end more like an herb. 
  • You may leave some of the green tops (a half inch or so) on the carrots if they are nice and you prefer. If the carrots are very small (1/2-inch in diameter), it is not necessary to halve them lengthwise. 
  • If your fingerlings are not "new", simply scrub them and leave the skin intact.
  • If you are not comfortable estimating how long the peas will take to cook and you don't want to risk under or over cooked carrots and potatoes, you may blanch the peas separately in boiling salted water. Shock in an ice bath or under cold running water to stop the cooking process. Add with the herbs and butter. 
  • This recipe is for two but it can obviously be increased to feed as many as you like. Simply make sure you choose a pan that will hold all of your vegetables in a snug single layer. A little overlap is OK...but if the vegetables don't have enough room to move you might end up with a mix of over and undercooked is better to use two pans...perhaps cooking the carrots in one and the potatoes in another...and combining them quickly at the end with blanched peas (see previous note), butter and herbs. 
With a Pan-Seared Pork Loin Chop

Monday, June 13, 2016

Raspberry-Rhubarb Streusel Pie...a lesson in simplicity

As much as I promote the idea of simplicity in the foods that I make (for my classes, myself and my clients), every now and then I find that I have to learn this lesson all over again.  My goal is always to make foods that taste like through the preparation process enhance the innate charms of the featured ingredients...not cover them up.  Most of the time, a lot of different additions and seasonings aren't necessary to accomplish this.  It is true that a multitude of ingredients—when combined with knowledge—can produce flavors of mysterious and delicious subtlety...but more often than not, extreme complexity masks flavor.

A few years ago I posted a rhubarb pie with an interesting streusel featuring the spices typically found in chai spice.  In this particular case, complexity was my friend and the pie was delicious.  The walnuts and spices combined with the rhubarb produced a harmonious and memorable whole.  I thought adding some raspberries to the mix would only make it better.  I was wrong.  The new pie tasted of nothing.  It was sort of sweet...sort of tart...sort of spicy...  But there was just too much going on...too much vying for dominance.    

As is often the case when something like this happens, I made the mistake of thinking I needed to add something to wake up the flavor.  Since most fruit pies benefit (particularly berry pies) from a little lemon, I added that.  But because of the other strong flavors it still didn't have the clean fruit flavor that is the hallmark of a fine fruit pie. 

I then got rid of all the spices but one (cardamom—knowing I liked this with raspberry) and changed the slightly bitter walnuts for sweeter almonds (a friend to both raspberry and cardamom).  I also increased the lemon juice in the filling.  At this point, the filling was much better (sweet-tart and fruity)...but the streusel was still out of place...calling attention to itself rather than supporting the delicious raspberry and rhubarb filling.

It was then that I realized that I needed to back up.  So I made a simple oatmeal and brown sugar streusel (with no spices)...and added lemon zest and a little vanilla in the filling.  Finally, my pie tasted like what it was...delicious fruit in a tender crust with a sweet and crunchy topping.    

I confess that the inclusion of lemon zest and vanilla bean might seem to some like a complicated addition...but to me they are not.  They fall solidly into the tried and true camp.  Lemon zest is a standard addition to pies that include lemon adds an aromatic quality to what is otherwise just the acidity of the lemon.  As for the vanilla bean, I was considering adding some vanilla extract when I ran across another raspberry and rhubarb pie that included vanilla bean instead.  Since my very favorite jam—damson plum—goes from delicious to spectacular when made with a vanilla bean, I thought including it in a pie of similarly tart ingredients was a good idea.  And I do think it's delicious...but you should feel free to leave it (and the zest) out, if you prefer.  Either way, this really is just a simple, old-fashioned fruit pie.  The combination of the raspberries and the rhubarb provides all the complexity one might need

Raspberry-Rhubarb Streusel Pie

2/3 c. all-purpose flour (80 g.)
2/3 c. oats—quick or old-fashioned (62 g.)
1/3 c. granulated sugar (66 g.)
1/3 c. packed light brown sugar (66 g.)
1/4 t. salt
1/3 c. unsalted butter, melted (75 g.)

1 c. sugar (200 g.)
Zest of 1/2 of a lemon
1 vanilla bean
pinch of salt
3 T. cornstarch (27 g.)
4 c. diced rhubarb (1 lbs. trimmed weight)
2 c. fresh raspberries (8 to 9 oz.)
Juice of half of a lemon (2 T.) 

1 recipe Pâte Brisée, rolled out for a 9-inch single crust pie and chilled

Combine the dry ingredients for the streusel in a medium bowl. Add the butter and stir with a fork or rubber spatula until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs; chill.

Preheat the oven to 425°. Split the vanilla pod and scrape the seeds into the sugar in a small bowl.  (Reserve the pod for another use, if you like.)  Add the lemon zest.  Rub the vanilla and lemon zest into the sugar with your fingers.  Add the salt and cornstarch and stir to distribute.  Place the rhubarb and lemon juice in a large bowl.  Add the dry ingredients and stir until moistened.  Add the raspberries and gently fold in. Turn the fruit into the chilled crust, scraping the bowl well. Spread the streusel evenly over the fruit. 

Transfer the pie to the lowest rack of the oven. Bake the pie at 425° for 20 minutes. Cover the edges with a foil ring and turn the temperature down to 375° and bake for 20 minutes. Turn the temperature down to 325° and bake until the streusel is golden brown, the juices are bubbling thickly in the center of the pie and the bottom crust is browned—another 25-35 minutes. If the juices ever threaten to over-flow, slide a baking sheet under the baking pie.  Cool the pie to room temperature before cutting (this allows the juices to “firm up”).  If desired, re-warm the pie briefly just before cutting. Serve with vanilla ice cream or sweetened whipped cream.

  • If fresh rhubarb is unavailable, you may use frozen. Spread on a rack set over a baking sheet and let sit at room temperature until just beginning to thaw (it should feel a bit soft)—about 30 to 40 minutes. If any of the chunks of rhubarb are very large, cut them down to an appropriate size. Mix the filling and fill the crust as for fresh. Leave the oven temperature at 425° for 25 minutes. You will have to bake the pie longer at 325° longer before you see bubbles at the center of the pie...perhaps 10 to 15 minutes longer.
  • If you prefer your rhubarb to be more heavily sweetened, you may add another 2 T. of sugar to the filling. Don't reduce the lemon juice, the pie will lose its bright flavor.
  • You may leave the vanilla bean out...or substitute a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Add with the lemon juice.

1 1/3 c. all-purpose flour (150g)
1/2 t. salt
6 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces (85 g.)
2 T. vegetable shortening (28 g.)
3 to 4 T. ice water

Combine the flour and the salt in a medium-sized bowl. Rub the butter into the flour until the mixture looks like cornmeal and peas.  Add the shortening and quickly rub in.  Drizzle 3 T. ice water over the flour/butter mixture. Using your hands, fluff the mixture until it begins to clump, adding more water if necessary. If, when you squeeze some of the mixture it holds together, the dough is finished. Turn the dough out onto a counter and form into a mound. Using the heel of your hand, gradually push all of the dough away from you in short forward strokes, flattening out the lumps. Continue until all of the dough is flat. Using a bench scraper, scrape the dough off the counter, forming it into a single clump as you do. Wrap in plastic wrap and press into a thick disk. Chill for at least 30 minutes.

To roll out, let the dough warm up for a moment or two. Butter and flour a 9-inch pie plate and set it aside. Flour the work surface and the rolling pin. Begin rolling from the center of the dough outward. After each stroke, rotate the dough a quarter turn—always making sure that there is sufficient flour to keep the dough from sticking. Keep rolling and turning until you have a round of dough that is about 1/8 to 1/6 –inch in thickness. Using a lid or an upside-down bowl, trim the dough to form a 13-inch circle. Brush off the excess flour and fold the dough circle in half. Slide the outspread fingers of both hands under the dough and gently lift it and transfer it to the prepared pie plate. Unfold the dough and ease it into the pan being careful not to stretch it. Fold the extra dough under along the rim of the pan so that it is double in thickness. Crimp the edge. Chill the pie shell for at least 1/2 hour.

Note: You may replace the vegetable shortening with butter for an all butter crust.

Printable Recipe

Monday, May 30, 2016

Shaved Cauliflower Salad with Green Olives, Pistachios, Golden Raisins & Mint

As I was paying for my strawberries at my local U-pick patch this spring I noticed a display of beautiful cauliflower by the register.  It wasn't ordinary white cauliflower.  Rather, it was a mix of beautiful lavender heads and pale orange heads.  When I asked about them, I was told it had been picked that morning.  I chose one of the orange ones (a variety called Cheddar) to take home with me.

When I got it home I broke off a floret and tasted it.  I couldn't believe how tender and mild it was.  I knew that whatever I decided to do with it, I would have to serve it in its raw form.  Boiling/steaming it...or roasting it... somehow seemed unappreciative of its pristine freshness. 

As I thought about what to do, I envisioned a crunchy and tangy vinegar and oil based salad with a lively interplay of salty (Capers? Anchovies? Olives? Feta?...) and sweet (Golden raisins? Currants? Honey? Mint?) flavors.  I ended up making a salad that is a very loose adaptation of a delicious looking cauliflower slaw that I ran across on Smitten Kitchen.  

The "recipe" I'm posting is truly meant to be mostly a template or a starting off point.  To begin with, you should add all of the salty and sweet components to suit your tastes.  As I was making my salad, I set my salad bowl on my scale and just wrote down the weights of the different ingredients as I added them so I could pass them on here...but it's just meant to be a guideline.  On another day...with another head of cauliflower...I might add more or less of each.  Neither should you feel particularly married to the specific ingredients that I chose as long as you maintain a balance of salty and sweet.  I used a favorite marinated Greek green olive (from the olive bar at Whole Foods)...but you could impart a salty and tangy component with another kind of tangy olive...or capers (I would only use about half as many capers as I did olives)...or crumbled Feta cheese. 

Since I wanted my salad to be a study in greens and golds, I chose golden raisins for my dried fruit addition...but currants or dark raisins would be fine too.  Continuing with my color theme, I chose to add pistachios.  But sliced almonds or chopped walnuts would work well too. 

As for the vinegar, I happen to like the clean acidity of champagne vinegar...but any number of other pale vinegars would work well.  White or Golden Balsamic, with its pronounced sweetness would be great.  Plain white wine...or cider...or rice wine vinegars would all be good.  I find cider vinegar to be more acidic, so would probably use less of that.  Rice wine vinegar on the other hand is quite mild and I would probably use more.  In any case, you should always adjust the acidity of a salad to suit your palate.

Finally, I want to put in a plug for the mint.  When I tasted what I thought was my finished salad I felt that there was something missing.  As I considered this, I thought about adding honey and rejected this as too sweet.  I also had some beautiful arugula that I thought might be nice...but didn't think its peppery nuttiness was what I was missing.  Then I remembered my overflowing mint patch and knew that mint would add just the right sweet and aromatic note.  And it did.  If you don't happen to like mint, flat leaf parsley would probably be a fine substitution.   

I had thought that I would post some kind of dessert recipe over this Memorial Day weekend, but I think this salad was a good choice instead.  Traditionally this weekend serves as the official kick off of summer and the season of backyard parties....and picnics...and barbecues.  And of course these are all perfect places for serving this lively slaw-like salad.  I am certain that you will find many occasions during the warm months to come where this salad...or one like it...will be just the thing.

 Shaved Cauliflower Salad with Green Olives, Pistachios, Golden Raisins & Mint

2 to 3 spring onions, including some of the green—trimmed and rinsed
2 T. Champagne vinegar
1 small to medium head cauliflower (about 10 to 12 oz. trimmed and cored weight)
1/3 c. (40 g.) pitted green Olives, cut lengthwise into strips
1/3 c. (55 g) Golden Raisins, roughly chopped
1/3 c. (45 g.) toasted Pistachios (lightly toasted and coarsely chopped)
1/2 t. kosher salt, more or less to taste
1/8 t. hot pepper flakes, or to taste
1/4 c. olive oil
2 to 3 T. finely shredded (chiffonade) mint (or flat leaf parsley, if you prefer)

Depending on the maturity of your spring onions, halve or quarter the white and pale green parts lengthwise.  Thinly slice crosswise.  You should have about 1/3 cup white and pale green.  Place in a small bowl with the vinegar and set aside.  Thinly slice about 2 T. of the dark green.  Set aside.

Break the cauliflower down into large florets or simply quarter it.  Using a large chef's knife, thinly slice the florets/quarters (1/8- to 1/4-inch's ok if the slices are not all uniformly the same thickness as long as they are thin).  Place the florets in a large bowl with the all of the remaining ingredients, as well as the prepared onions and vinegar.  Toss until everything is well combined.  Taste and correct the seasoning and balance.  Can be served right away, or chilled before serving.    Serves 4 to 6.

Note: This most best the day it is made.  However, you can make it the day before and it will hold up surprisingly well....just be sure to taste it and correct the seasoning before serving.  After sitting overnight it will most likely need more salt and possibly more vinegar.  Finally, if you are making it ahead, use a sparing hand with the mint which can become quite strong after sitting on the other ingredients overnight.  

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Parmesan Pudding (Sformato)

I'm not sure if I first bumped into Parmesan Pudding in Joyce Goldstein's wonderful little book Solo Suppers or in Suzanne Goin's Sunday Suppers at Lucques.  It could have been either one...both books are favorites.  I turn to Goin's book for professional inspiration on a regular basis.  I use Goldstein's as more of a treasure trove for the kinds of things I like to eat when I'm cooking at home. 

Parmesan Pudding, as it happens, is useful in both situations.  I have served it to clients as part of an elegant entrée (with chicken and a medley of spring vegetables, for example)...and we enjoy it at my house as the centerpiece of a light dinner...with a seasonal vegetable ragoût...or a simple salad.  It is a delicious little preparation to have in your repertoire.

You might have encountered Parmesan Pudding under its Italian name: sformato.  It is sometimes described as a savory flan or custard.  In texture however, because it contains flour, it is a bit more substantial than what you might expect from a plain baked custard...making this designation somewhat confusing.  (For a frame of reference, think about the difference between the consistency of a crème anglaise and a pastry cream.  These two have basically the same list of ingredients save one: flour.  The pastry cream contains flour (or cornstarch) and is consequently much more thick and substantial.)   A sformato is also sometimes described as a "less airy" soufflé.  This description makes sense mostly if you think about how a soufflé is constructed:  with a béchamel (white sauce) base, egg yolks and beaten egg whites.  A sformato has the béchamel base...and also includes yolks and whites...but the whites are not whipped—hence a soufflé, but with less air...

With a Salad of Arugula, Sugar Snap Peas, Black Olives & Walnuts.
No matter how you choose to think about it...or what familiar preparation you choose to compare it to...I think you will find it to be delicious.  It is rich, creamy and very savory.  I love it in this plain cheese form, but Goldstein writes that in Italy it is most often made with an addition of a vegetable purée of some kind.  Goin suggests the additions of sliced prosciutto or cooked asparagus or sautéed mushrooms...all of which sound delicious. I can imagine all kinds of possible vegetable additions.

However, I prefer to make it in its plain form...choosing to add other flavor elements as a sauce or garnish.  The medley of mushrooms, peas and spring onions that I am posting is a perfect go-with.  In late summer ratatouille would be good...or a sauté of peppers and prosciutto.  In the fall and winter months a sauté of wild mushrooms (with some white wine...fresh herbs...and maybe some prosciutto) would be just the thing.  And I have to admit that since I love mushrooms combined with winter squash that this would be a great time to make your sformato with the addition of some winter squash purée.  If you want to go with a lighter garnish, sformato is delicious accompanied by some crusty bread and a simple salad (just greens...or greens with a few vegetables and maybe some toasted nuts...and olives...).

With a Salad of Arugula, Roasted Beets, Shaved Asparagus,
Green Olives & Pistachios.
The recipe that I am posting today is Joyce Goldstein's version.  It is for individual-sized puddings...but you can bake the mixture in almost any container you like.  It can be baked in a loaf pan...and then turned out and sliced....or in a shallow gratin, in which case you could turn it out and cut it into wedges, or do as Goin does and simply set the gratin on the table and let everyone help themselves to a big spoonful.  Once you try it, you will definitely want to make it again...and you will, I am certain, come up with lots of delicious ways in which to serve it.   

Parmesan Pudding

2 whole eggs
2 egg yolks
1 c. whole milk
1/2 c. heavy cream
1 1/2 T. unsalted butter
2 T. all-purpose flour
2 1/2 oz. finely grated parmesan (about 1 c.)
Salt, pepper & nutmeg, to taste

Butter individual soufflé molds and line with a round of parchment paper.  Butter the parchment paper.  Set aside.

Place the whole eggs and yolks in a medium sized bowl and whisk until smooth; set aside. 

Prepare a béchamel:  In a medium saucepan, bring the milk and cream to a simmer; keep hot.  In another saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  When the foam subsides, whisk in the flour.  Cook stirring constantly for a minute or two—the roux will be bubbly and straw yellow.  Remove from the heat and pour in half of the hot milk/cream, whisking constantly until smooth—it will thicken immediately.  Add the remaining milk/cream.  Return to the heat and stir constantly until the sauce returns to a simmer. 

Whisk the hot béchamel in a thin stream into the eggs.  Whisk in the parmesan.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  If you like, add a pinch of fresh nutmeg. 

Divide the pudding mixture among the prepared molds and place in a baking pan.  Add hot water to the pan to reach half way up the sides of the molds.  

Cover the pan with foil and bake in a 350° oven until a knife inserted in the center of a pudding comes out clean--about 20 to 30 minutes.  Let the puddings rest for 5 minutes.

The puddings may be served immediately or made up to a day ahead.  If making ahead, cool and refrigerate.  Reheat by placing the puddings in a 350° to 375° oven for 15 minutes or so.  To unmold, run a small knife carefully around the sides of each pudding.  Invert the puddings directly onto a serving plate (make sure that the round of parchment is not attached to the pudding).  Serve surrounded by medley of spring vegetables, or other sauce/vegetable medley/salad of your choice.

Serves 4 to 6—depending on the size soufflé mold chosen

(Parmesan Pudding from Solo Suppers by Joyce Goldstein)

  • You may also bake the pudding in one large casserole and either turn it out or serve it from the casserole. If you are not planning on turning it out, it is not necessary to line the mold with parchment. 
  • Joyce Goldstein suggests adding 2/3 cup of a vegetable purée of your choice in with the cheese for a vegetable flavored sformato. 

Spring Medley of Mushrooms & Peas

4 oz. sugar snap peas, string pulled & halved on the diagonal
1 cup (4 oz.) shelling peas
2 T. unsalted butter
3/4 c. thinly sliced spring onion—1/2 c. white and pale green portions plus 1/4 c. dark green
8 oz. white mushrooms, sliced 1/4-inch thick
2 t. minced fresh thyme
1/4 to 1/2 c. water or chicken stock
a handful (half an ounce) stemmed arugula, cut in wide ribbons
1 to 2 T. unsalted butter

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.  Add the sugar snap peas and cooked until tender-crisp—1 to 2 minutes.  Scoop the peas out and refresh under cold running water or in an ice bath.  Spread on a kitchen towel.  Bring the water back to a boil.  Add the shelling peas and cook until just tender.  Refresh as for the sugar snaps and spread on the towel with them. 

Melt butter in a wide sauté pan set over moderate heat.  Add the spring onions, mushrooms and thyme along with a generous pinch of salt.  Cover and stew gently until the liquid is released from the mushrooms and the mushrooms and spring onions are tender and simmering in a buttery liquid—about 5 to 7 minutes.  Set aside until you are ready to serve.

Return the pan of mushrooms to moderately high heat.  Add a quarter cup of water (you can use the blanching liquid, if you like) or stock.  When the liquid comes to a simmer add the green of the spring onions, the peas and sugar snaps and a tablespoon or so of butter.  Heat through.  If the vegetables seem dry, add a bit more water and butter.  When the vegetables are hot, add the arugula.  Toss to combine. Season to taste with salt & pepper.  Serve immediately.  Serves 4 to 5.

  • If serving the ragout with a roast chicken or roast pork, add the pan drippings to the ragout. 
  • You may use any mix of green spring vegetable you like in place of the peas and sugar snaps. You will need 8 oz. of trimmed/shelled vegetables. Other good options include fava beans, snow peas and asparagus. You may also use artichokes. Slice them so they roughly the same thickness and size as the cooked mushrooms. Add them to the pan with the mushrooms. After everything has been cooking for 5 minutes, add enough liquid to just cover the mushrooms and artichokes and continue to gently simmer until the artichokes are tender—about 20 minutes. 
  • Ragout is also nice with the addition of lemon zest and/or a squeeze of lemon juice.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Revisiting an old Share the Original: Orecchiette with Asparagus, Peas & Pancetta

Recently I have begun to share "on this day" posts on my Facebook page.  I have found that I really enjoy going back to revisit old posts.  Sometimes I have forgotten that I posted something...or I am reminded of how much I love a particular dish...   Seeing it first thing in the morning often inspires me to cook it for dinner that night.

This morning I ran across a post from my first year.  It was for a variation on a spring pasta that has been in my repertoire for years (and is one of our favorites):  Orecchiette with Asparagus, Peas & Pancetta.  In this particular post though, I didn't make it with peas.  Instead, I made it with shell beans that I had frozen the previous summer.  The pasta is delicious this way...and I'm glad I shared it...but as I looked at the post today, I thought it was a shame that I had never shared it the way I make it most of the time...with English peas. 

Furthermore, I realized as I looked at the recipe that over the years I have altered the way I make it.  This has happened so gradually that I didn't think too much about it and I have never even bothered to record the way I make it now...I just do it.  It is of course delicious in its original form, but I discovered that I always wanted more of all the delicious ingredients: more asparagus and peas...more spring onions...more pancetta....   

While I was looking at the recipe this morning, I realized that I had everything in the house that I needed to make it.  Obviously it had to be dinner.  And since it is quick to make, it was just the thing for the end of a long, busy week.  It also provided me with a perfect opportunity to share it in its original form (with peas)...and at the same time record the dish the way that I am making it now. 

Orecchiette with Asparagus, Peas & Pancetta

2 T. olive oil
3 to 4 oz. pancetta, minced
1 to 1 1/4 c. thinly sliced spring onions (all of the white plus some of the green)
1/4 c. finely chopped Italian parsley or 2 T. minced fresh Thyme, optional
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
6 oz. trimmed thin asparagus spears, cut into ¼-inch lengths on the diagonal (about 1 1/2 cup)
1 1/2 c. shelled fresh peas
salt & pepper
1/2 to 2/3 c. chicken stock
1 lb. Orecchiette pasta
2 to 3 T. unsalted butter
1/3 to 1/2 c. freshly grated Parmesan

Place the pancetta in a 12-inch sauté pan set over medium heat along with a tablespoon of olive oil.  Stir and scrape to make sure it cooks evenly.  When the pancetta has rendered its fat and is just beginning to crisp and sizzle actively, add the spring onions, parsley/thyme and garlic and continue to cook until the spring onions are softened and tender, about 3 minutes.  Add more olive oil if the pancetta is very lean and the pan seems dry.  Add the asparagus and the peas, season lightly with salt and pepper and toss to coat with the seasonings.  

Add the broth and bring to a simmer.  Cover and adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer.  Check occasionally to make sure the pan is not dry, adding more water or stock, if necessary—the vegetables shouldn't be soupy—but neither should the pan be devoid of liquid.  Continue to cook until the asparagus and peas are tender—about 6 to 10 minutes total.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.

While the sauce is cooking, bring 6 quarts of water to the boil in a large stock/pasta pot.  Add 2 to 3 Tablespoons of salt.  Add the pasta and cook until the pasta is al dente.  Drain, reserving some of the pasta cooking liquid.

Add the pasta to the sauce, along with the butter.  Stir or toss until the pasta is coated with the sauce and the butter has emulsified into the sauce. 

If the pasta seems dry, add some of the pasta water.  Serve topped with grated cheese, if desired.  Serves 4 to 6.

Printable Recipe

(Recipe inspired by one in Janet Fletcher's Fresh from the Farmers' Market)

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Asparagus Risotto with Prosciutto & Lemon

Earlier this year I taught a class on grains.  I included a recipe for barley "risotto".  Besides the fact that I happen to like this particular dish, I decided to teach it because I thought that traditional risotto (made with Arborio or Carnaroli rice) had become "old hat" to American cooks and I wanted to offer something a little bit different.  But while I was teaching the barley risotto, it became apparent from some of the questions that quite a few people didn't feel comfortable or confident about cooking regular risotto.  I decided after that class that I should teach a traditional risotto in my next new class.

As it happened, my next new class was all about ways to use early spring ingredients....asparagus, radishes, all kinds of peas, spring onions, etc.  To some, this might not seem like the ideal place to tuck in a risotto recipe.  Risotto is, after all, rich...filling....creamy....   basically all the things we want in our food during the fall and winter months.  Risotto is not typically associated with the words light or fresh...which are the kinds of things we tend to crave in the spring.  But I love spring risottos—other than butternut squash or wild mushroom risotto, risottos that feature the tender herbs and green vegetables of early spring are typically what come to my mind when I think of risotto.  The delicate flavor of the rice is a perfect backdrop for these ingredients...and the creamy texture is somehow just the thing at the end of a cool....perhaps rainy....spring day. 

Since I have already fleshed out the basics of how to make risotto in an earlier post, I won't belabor them here.  No matter what ingredients you add, the basics of a properly cooked risotto won't change.  The biggest variation will be in whether you choose to add pre-cooked vegetable additions near the end of the cooking time...or whether you will use raw vegetables, adding them at an appropriate moment during the cooking process so that they will cook with the rice.  The former method produces a risotto with distinct punctuation marks of the vegetable flavors and textures, the latter a risotto that presents itself as a unified and blended whole...rice and vegetable flavors melding together.  The asparagus risotto I'm posting today falls into this latter category, but you could morph it into the former by adding blanched asparagus at the end.  (If you choose to do this, use some of the blanching liquid in place of some of the stock in the risotto itself.)

You can alter this recipe to include all kinds of spring vegetables...alone or in combination.  Cooked artichokes could be added near the end.  Fresh peas...or fava beans...could be added five to ten minutes before the risotto is done.  The lemon and prosciutto will compliment any of these spring vegetables nicely.

In my class I found that the greatest difficulty concerning the preparation of risotto seemed to center around understanding exactly what the final texture and consistency should be.  To answer that question here (since you don't get to taste one that I have made for you) I will quote Paul Bertolli on how to finish a risotto. (As I mentioned in my first post on risotto, his description of the process and the result in the book Chez Panisse Cooking is the best I have ever come across.)
Finishing the rice involves gauging the proper consistency (it should be slightly chewy, never hard in the center), enriching the risotto with butter, correcting the seasoning, and allowing the liquid to reduce until rice and sauce are unified.  The goal is to bring about a marriage of rice and broth.  The rice should be coated and in proportion to the sauce so that it is nearly pourable; the sauce should be reduced to the point that it doesn't separate from the rice.  The challenge in cooking risotto lies in simultaneously bringing about these final refinements—a little more broth, a bit more butter, raising the heat to hasten the reduction, adding a dash of vinegar.  The adjustments can be numerous or few, depending on the state of the risotto near the end. 
There is one point at which risotto is done:  when all elements conspire in a union of flavor, texture, and consistency, a timeless moment in cooking, one that can be shared if you serve the dish immediately. (Chez Panisse Cooking, pp. 156-7)
One of the things I love about his description of making risotto is that it is a beautiful rendering of what it means to truly cook:  to engage your senses and interact with the food and the process in such a way that you are able to achieve your desired result.  Observe....   Touch....  Taste....  Adjust.  Making this asparagus risotto for your table some evening soon would be a great way to practice.

Asparagus Risotto with Prosciutto & Lemon

3 T. unsalted butter
1 medium onion (about 6 oz.), finely diced
1 clove of garlic, minced
1 1/2 c. Arborio or Carnaroli rice
1/2 c. white wine
About 6 c. hot chicken stock
9 oz. (trimmed weight—you will need to start with a 16 to 18 oz. bunch) asparagus, sliced on the diagonal 1/4-inch thick
2 t. minced thyme
1 1/2 oz. thinly sliced prosciutto (3 slices), cut crosswise in 1/4-inch strips
2 to 3 T. butter
2/3 to 3/4 c. grated Parmesan
Juice & zest of half a lemon (you should have about 2 T. juice and 1 1/2 to 2 t. zest)
3 T. minced flat-leaf parsley
Salt & Pepper, to taste
Shaved Parmesan to garnish

Heat the butter in a heavy medium saucepan over medium heat.  Add the onion and garlic and sweat until soft, but not brown—5 to 10 minutes.  Add the rice and continue to cook for a minute or two—or until the rice is hot and the grains look pearly white.  Add the wine and cook until the pan is nearly dry.  Begin to add the stock.  Add enough so that the stock is at the same level as the rice in the pan.  Adjust the heat so that the rice cooks at a slow simmer.  When the pan is nearly dry, add more stock and season lightly with salt & pepper.  Continue to stir and cook the rice, adding more stock as each addition is absorbed. 

When the rice is about half cooked (after about 10 minutes of cooking), stir in the asparagus, thyme and prosciutto.  Continue to cook, stir and add stock until the asparagus is tender and the rice is al dente—another 8 to 10 minutes (a total of 18 to 20 minutes from the time of the first addition of liquid).  Remove from the heat and stir in the butter, cheese, parsley, and lemon zest (stirring until the risotto is very creamy).  Add as much lemon juice as you would like (a small amount—1 or 2 t.—will subtly "lift" the flavor...up to 2 T. will put the acidic lemon front and center).  Balance the seasoning and serve immediately.  Serves 4 to 6.