Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Fusilli with Tuscan Kale, Mushrooms & Toasted Breadcrumbs

I am always on the lookout for seasonal pasta dishes that are made with ingredients that are part of my regular pantry.  If it isn't obvious, pasta is my "go to" dinner for days when I'm too busy to think about cooking for myself.  For a pasta to appear regularly on our table, it really needs to be made with stuff I tend to have on hand.

The presence of seasonal vegetables and pantry staples is what made me stop and take a second look at a pasta from the New York Times when I ran across it on my Instagram feed recently.  The pasta included Italian Sausage (something I always have in my freezer) and mushrooms and kale.  

Mushrooms and kale might not be pantry staples for everyone, but they happen to be two things I routinely purchase when I'm at the grocery store during the winter months.  Even if I have no particular use in mind, I know I will easily find a use for them.  I'm not quite sure why it never occurred to me to combine them in a pasta.

In the end, I only used the Times's recipe as a starting point.  I decided there was enough flavor in the mushrooms and kale so I didn't really need the sausage. (Sometimes more is not's just more...).  If I were to add an animal protein to the dish I would actually be more inclined to mash an anchovy or two into the red onion base along with the garlic and pepper flakes.  Both times that I have made this pasta, I almost did just that.  But on each occasion I decided I preferred the clean flavors of the vegetables by themselves.  Likewise, I felt the addition of cheese was unnecessary.  Instead, I went for some added texture in the form of a final shower of toasted bread crumbs.  It was the perfect touch. 

This dish is just the kind of pasta that I crave during the winter months—hearty, flavorful, and savory.  I will definitely be making it again, and again...

Fusilli with Tuscan Kale, Mushrooms & Toasted Breadcrumbs

2/3 c. coarse, fresh breadcrumbs (see note)
1 bunch Tuscan/Lacinato Kale (about 1/3 lb.)
3 to 4 T. olive oil, divided
1/2 of a medium red onion, finely diced (about a cup)
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 t. hot pepper flakes...more or less, to taste
8 oz. crimini mushrooms, sliced 1/4- to 1/3- inch thick
1/2 lb. fusilli (or other sturdy, short pasta)
1 T. unsalted butter

Prepare the breadcrumbs:  Spread the breadcrumbs in an even layer on a small baking sheet or in a metal pie pan.  Place in a 350­­° oven.  Bake, stirring occasionally until crumbs are uniformly golden brown—about 10 minutes, maybe a bit longer, depending on the size of the pan, the thickness of the  layer of breadcrumbs, etc.  Remove from the oven, drizzle a small amount (1 to 1 1/2 t.) of olive oil over, toss to combine, and set aside. 

Meanwhile, prepare the kale:  Pull the leaves away from the stems, tearing the leaves into large (2- to 3-inch pieces) as you do.  Discard the stems.  Wash the leaves in several changes of water.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil and season lightly.  Add the kale and cook until tender—about 7 minutes.  Lift the kale out of the pot, transferring it to a strainer or colander (set on a plate or over a bowl or in the sink) to allow most of the water to drain away.   Reserve the pot of water for cooking the pasta.

While the kale cooks, prepare the onion base and the mushrooms.  In a wide sauté pan (large enough to hold the cooked pasta comfortably), warm a tablespoon or so of olive oil over moderate heat.  Add the onions, along with a pinch of salt.  Cook (regulating the heat to maintain a low sizzle) until the onions are tender and just beginning to turn golden at the edges.  If the onions seem dry as they are cooking, drizzle in a bit more oil.

While the onions cook, sauté the mushrooms:  Depending on the size of your pan, you may need to sauté in batches—don't overcrowd the pan.  Heat a sauté pan (non-stick, if you have one) over high heat.  Add oil to coat the pan (a tablespoon or so), then add the mushrooms. Cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the mushrooms are browned, tender and any liquid that they have given off has evaporated.  If they seem dry at any time as they cook, drizzle in a bit more oil.  Transfer the mushrooms to a plate and season with salt & pepper.  Set aside.

When the onions are tender and have begun to turn golden, add the garlic and pepper flakes and continue to cook until fragrant.  Add the mushrooms and cooked kale along with a small ladleful (about a quarter cup) of the kale cooking liquid.  Reduce the heat to low and cover the pan. Let the vegetables simmer very gently, allowing the flavors to blend, while you cook the pasta.

Return the pan the kale was cooked in to high heat. Add more water if necessary.  Add more salt.  (The water needs to be more heavily salted for the pasta than for the greens, in my opinion.  For the pasta, a teaspoon to a teaspoon and a half per quart is about right.  For the kale, you will need about half of that...maybe a bit more.)  Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain, reserving a half cup of the pasta water. Add the pasta to the sauté pan with the mushrooms and kale along with the butter.  Toss and stir to coat, adding some of the pasta water if it seems dry.  Finish with a final drizzle of oil (for flavor and sheen), if you like. Taste and correct the seasoning.  Divide among two or three plates and top with toasted breadcrumbs.  Serves 2 to 3. 

  • To make coarse, fresh breadcrumbs, remove the crust from a slightly stale ("day old") baguette or country-style boule. Cut into chunks and process until the crumbs are a mixture of fine and coarse (no large than pea-sized). These "fresh" breadcrumbs may be frozen for several weeks. They can also be dried even further and then processed into "fine, dry breadcrumbs."
  • This recipe is easily doubled. Increase the size of the sauté pans you use accordingly. If you don't have a sauté pan large enough to hold a one pound batch of pasta, finish the pasta by returning the noodles to the pot they were cooked in (draining the water first) and use this pan to finish saucing and tossing the pasta.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Soup from the Late Autumn Market Pantry: Cabbage & White Bean with Root Vegetables

Last Sunday we woke up to what seemed like the umpteenth day in a row of gray skies.  I love gray days...but they had been around for so long at that point that even I was tired of them.  I just wanted to hole up in the house with a book....and put on a big pot of soup for dinner.  I didn't even want to go to the store, so whatever soup I made had to be something that could be made with things I had on hand.

Fortunately, my pantry is well-stocked with winter storage vegetables from my famers' market right now.  Cabbage, turnips, sweet potatoes, winter squash, onions, garlic, leeks...  Not to mention my regular staples of cured meats (bacon/pancetta, prosciutto/ham)....and a couple varieties of dried beans.   I even had some stock on hand.  (Although, I am not afraid to make my soups with water, so lack of stock would not have been a deal breaker...I would have just added more onion and/or leek to the soup.) Knowing I had the makings of soup on hand I decided to put some beans on to soak (using my modified quick soak method) and wait until later in the day to think about exactly what kind of soup I was going to make. 

As I considered what to make, the presence of the cabbage and dried beans in my stash put me in mind of a classic hearty soup-stew from the Southwest corner of France (the Landes, the Béarn and the Pyrénées) called Garbure.  In addition to cabbage and beans it typically includes one of the famed preserved meats of the region—duck, goose or pork confit, along with the gelatinous broth produced by the confit process (sometimes called "duck/goose jelly").  Unfortunately I don't live in the south of France so these things aren't to be found in my working pantry.  But rich meats and broths do not have to be included in a Garbure—there are many versions that are made with a simple broth or even a combination of water and broth.  The real hallmark of Garbure is the cabbage.

The remaining vegetables that are included in the soup are those that would be abundant on the farm during the winter months—leeks, onions, potatoes, turnips and carrots.  If you shop at your Farmers' market, these will be the things you will have too. 

Traditional versions of Garbure are said to be so thick that a wooden spoon or a ladle will stand erect when thrust into the center of the soup. This thick mixture is then ladled into individual bowls over slabs of brown bread (in much the same way Americans sometimes serve Ham & Bean soup ladled over a chunk of cornbread or a split biscuit). 

The soup I made for our dinner was much lighter and broth-y than these traditional Garbures.  I didn't add any starchy white potatoes, which tends to thicken a soup (and is particularly noticeable in successive reheats).  Furthermore, I added a higher proportion of liquids than is probably typical. 

The vegetables you use when you make Garbure are up to long as they are winter vegetables.  I liked the idea of an all white/cream/pale yellow/pale green soup, so I didn't include any carrots...or orange sweet potatoes or winter squash.  All of these would be at home in this soup, but I happened to have some white sweet potatoes (Bonita) from my market, so I chose to use them and forged ahead with the idea of a monochromatic soup.  Potatoes would obviously have been fine, but as mentioned above they add thickness, and I really wanted a lighter soup.  I also added leeks and turnips (some lovely Goldball turnips...but classic white, purple top turnips would be fine). I could have included celery—adding them to the soup with the leeks and onions—but just chose not to.

As you can see, this is a homey, flexible soup.  For the given quantity of cabbage and beans, four or five cups of additional vegetables is about right.  Water/stock/bean cooking liquid can then be added to achieve the body and thickness that you prefer. 

After I made my soup I realized that it would make a perfect post-Thanksgiving soup... if you happened to be the one who roasted the bird.  Chunks of dark meat...along with a dose of any of the salty pan drippings left from the roasting process...would make fantastic stand-ins for the traditional duck or goose confit and accompanying "jelly." Unfortunately, it didn't fall to me to roast the turkey this year.  But I know it would be delicious, so I will have to keep it in mind for the next time it is my turn to host the big meal.  Cold, gray days...perfect for soup...are never in short supply in late November.    

Cabbage & White Bean Soup with Root Vegetables

2/3 cup (about 4 1/2 to 5 oz.) dried great northern beans, soaked (overnight or with quick soak method)
olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled
Several sprigs thyme

1 to 2 T. olive oil
2 oz. bacon (or salt pork), cut in a 1/4-inch dice
1 large or 2 small leeks—white and pale green parts only, halved, well-rinsed and cut in a 1/3-to 1/2-inch dice (about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced cross-wise
1/2 medium onion, diced (1 cup)
2/3 lb. turnip, peeled and cut in a 1/3- to 1/2-inch dice (2 cups)
2/3 lb. sweet potato (a "white" variety, if available), peeled and cut in a 1/3- to 1/2-inch dice (2 cups)
3/4 lb. wedge of cabbage, cored and cut into a rough 1/2-inch dice (3 cups)
4 c. Chicken Stock
2 c. Water
Olive oil
Finely minced flat leaf parsley

Drain and rinse the beans.  Place them in a large saucepan and cover with fresh water by 2 inches.  Bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and skim off the foam that has risen to the surface.  Add a generous drizzle of olive oil, the garlic and thyme.  Cook the beans at a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender.  Or, place the soaked, drained beans in a shallow gratin with the garlic and thyme.  Drizzle with the olive oil.  Cover with boiling water by an inch, cover the pan with a tight fitting lid, or a piece of foil.  Transfer to a 325° oven and bake until tender.  Whether you cook the beans on the stove top or in the oven, they will take about an hour and 15 minutes to cook.  Add salt to taste when the beans are half cooked.  Beans may be cooked ahead.  Cool the beans in their cooking liquid.

In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the bacon and cook until rendered and beginning to turn golden and crisp around the edges. Add the leeks, onions, and the garlic along with a pinch of salt and continue to cook until the vegetables have begun to soften—about 10 to 15 minutes.  (If you are adding any carrots or celery, add them with the leeks and onions.)

Add the turnip, sweet potatoes and cabbage and stir to coat in the fat and cooked vegetables.  Add a good pinch of salt and continue to cook, stirring occasionally until you can hear the vegetables sizzling and see that the cabbage has begun to wilt/soften.  Add the stock and enough water to just cover the vegetables—they should be snug, but move freely and easily when stirred.  In any case, the amount of liquid is up to you.  Use less water if you want thick, hearty soup and use more if you want a lighter, broth-y soup.  Be mindful that the cabbage will collapse a bit as it cooks. 

Bring the soup to a simmer.  Taste and season the soup with salt.  Cover the pot, leaving the lid slightly ajar.  Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are just tender—about 20 to 25 minutes.  Add the cooked beans with their liquid.  Return the soup to a gentle simmer and cook briefly (5 minutes or so) to allow the flavors to blend.  Correct the seasoning, adding freshly ground black pepper, if you like.  Serve drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled generously with parsley.  Serve with a loaf of crusty bread and some cheese.

Makes 2 1/2 quarts soup (enough for 5 or 6 servings)

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A Chocolate, Caramel & Nut Tart...for Thanksgiving and the Holiday Season to come

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day.....  And as has been increasingly the case in recent days (and months... even years....), I haven't had the time to post as much as I would like.  This is especially disappointing to me as we approach my favorite holiday of the year—a day that is all about the Table.  I love it that almost everyone cooks for this particular feast. And I love it that I get to participate—even if in just a small way—in the tables of many through the foods that I teach and recipes that I post.  I console myself about the scarcity of recent posts with the thought that visitors can still find many delicious Thanksgiving recipes that I posted in previous years.  To find them, check out the old October and November posts (click the links on the right), or visit the recently updated Thanksgiving appetizers, side dishes, desserts and all-things-pumpkin photo albums on my Facebook page.

Today, I thought I would sneak in a dessert post.  I have been making this Chocolate, Caramel & Nut Tart for a little over a year.  It is rich...but not too sweet.  A small sliver would be just the thing at the end of the big meal.  It would satisfy the chocolate, caramel and/or nut lovers in the well as those that really want pecan pie, but don't know if they can manage something so rich and sweet after a meal of Turkey with All the trimmings.  I have also discovered that unlike pumpkin pie, this tart keeps very well for several days at room temperature—providing a little something sweet for everyone to nibble on in between the flurry of holiday activities. 

The tart is simple to make...and if you keep nuts and basic baking supplies on hand, you probably have everything you need to make it already.  If you have crust phobia, there is no need to fear this crust.  Like the plain sugar dough that I have posted several times, anyone who can make rolled sugar cookies, can make this chocolate crust.  

As for the caramel, just make sure you have all of the ingredients measured and ready and that you pay close attention as the sugar syrup cooks.  There is no need for a candy thermometer, simply stop the cooking by adding the cream (stand back and use a long handled spoon) when the sugar syrup has turned a deep golden amber (you will even notice a small wisp or two of smoke when it is dark enough...but don't cook it much further than that or it will be bitter).    

The choice of nuts for this tart is up to you, but I find that walnuts, pecans and cashews (alone or in some kind of combination) make the best tart.  These nuts all have a softer, more delicate crunch to them and have just the right texture when mixed with the medium soft caramel.  As much as I love almonds, they are simply too hard for this tart. They make the tart not only difficult to cut, but also difficult to eat.  Pistachios (which I used in the tart pictured in the post) fall somewhere in the middle.  Their texture is a bit more obtrusive than I would like, but most people would probably not be bothered by it...and they add nice flavor and color.   

Finally, I want to wish everyone the happiest of Thanksgivings.  If you are cooking, I hope you find pleasure in the process.  And I hope that wherever you are—surrounded by many or few...with family or friends—that you find yourself at a table where for a window of time the frenzied pace of life slows, and you revel in the gifts of the food, the fellowship, the conversation, and the moment. 

Caramel Nut Tart

Chocolate tart dough (below)
1/2 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate (3 oz.)
1/4 c. water (55 g.)
1 c. sugar (200 g.)
2 T. light corn syrup (41 g.)
2/3 c. heavy cream (155 g.)
2 T. honey (42 g.)
1 t. vanilla
1/4 t. salt
2 c. mixed nuts (see note), lightly toasted and coarsely broken

On a lightly floured surface, or between sheets of plastic wrap, roll about 3/4 of the chocolate dough out into an 11-inch round that is 3/16 inch thick.   Transfer the dough to a buttered, 9-inch removable bottomed tart pan and ease the dough into the pan, being careful not to stretch it and pressing it against the sides of the tart pan.  Use your hands to gently cut the dough flush with the upper rim of the tart pan.

To blind bake, place the shell on a cookie sheet and bake in a 350° oven until set—10 to 15 minutes.  (It is not necessary to fill this crust with pie weights.)  Remove the tart shell from the oven and immediately scatter the chocolate over the bottom of the shell.  

Let the chocolate sit for five minutes in the warm crust.  When the chocolate is soft, spread it out into a thin layer that covers the entire bottom surface of the shell.  Set aside.

To prepare the filling, place the water in a large saucepan.  Add the sugar and corn syrup and stir and cook over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved.  Increase the heat to medium-high, stop stirring, and bring the syrup to a boil.  Continue to cook, swirling the pan occasionally, until you have a deep amber caramel. Remove the pan from the heat and carefully and slowly pour in the cream (the mixture will hiss and bubble up, so stand back).  Return the pan to medium-low heat and whisk until the caramel is homogenous and any lumps have dissolved. Carefully stir in the honey, vanilla, salt and nuts. 

Using a slotted spoon, carefully transfer the nuts to the prepared shell, spreading them in an even layer.  Slowly pour the hot caramel over and around the nuts, being careful not to let it may have some caramel left over.

Transfer the tart to the oven and bake until the caramel is bubbling all over...about 15 to 20 minutes.  Let the tart cool at least 2 hours before serving (the tart is even better if made a day ahead). 

Slice with a sharp knife.  The tart is delicious served with vanilla bean ice cream and chocolate sauce.  Store the tart at room temperature.

Note:  You may use any combination of nuts that you prefer for this tart, although your tart will have a better finished texture if you avoid almonds.  Almonds are quite hard and their texture is noticeable in the finished tart.  My preferred choice is 2/3 cup each of walnuts, pecans and cashews.  Toast each variety of nut separately (different kinds of nuts will take different lengths of time to toast) in a 350° oven, spread on a baking sheet, until golden and fragrant.

(Caramel adapted from The Pie and Pastry Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum)

Chocolate Tart Dough:
1/2 c. unsalted butter (1 stick), at a cool room temperature
1/2 c. powdered sugar (55 g.)
1 large egg yolk (20 g.)
3/4 t. vanilla extract
1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour (162 g.)
1/4 c. unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder (22 g.)

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and confectioners’ sugar until just combined. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and beat until smooth. Sift in the flour and cocoa powder and beat on low speed until the dough comes together in clumps.  Press into a disk.  The dough may be used immediately or be chilled or frozen. 

(Crust recipe from The Last Course:  The Desserts Of Gramercy Tavern by Claudia Fleming)

Saturday, November 11, 2017

A Savory Winter Squash Tart with Mushrooms & Apples

Over the years I have posted a lot of recipes for savory tarts.  A tender, buttery crust makes an admirable blank canvas for the products of each passing season.   Whether a custard-based, quiche-style tart...or a free form galette...or a simple flat crust topped with cooked vegetables...I love them.   

A selection of local squash...the mottled yellow and green in the center are "Carnival" squash preferred squash for this tart.

This week I will be teaching a class on winter squash and sweet potatoes.  One of my favorite ways to use squash happens to be in a tart...and I will be including a tart in this class.  Most of the time when I put squash in a tart, I leave it in slices or chunks that are roasted (or sautéed) before they are put into the crust.  But this of course isn't the only way to present it and this time I will be turning the squash into a purée—and smearing it onto a flat rectangle of dough where it will act as an edible (and delicious) glue to hold all of the other toppings in place. 

I have posted a couple of other examples of this style of tart...using ricotta instead of squash puree as the "glue."  Both the ricotta and the squash (reinforced with an egg yolk) do a great job of holding the other components in place.  I particularly like using the squash though.  When making such a thin tart, you need to get a lot of bang for your flavor buck in the individual components...and the squash adds a lot of flavor.  It is also the perfect counterpoint to the savory mushrooms and sweet tart apples that make up the rest of the topping.   

If the combination of mushrooms and apples strikes you as odd, I encourage you to try it in this tart.  I think I first encountered this combination in a traditional chicken dish from Normandy.  The dish—Poulet Vallée d'Auge—is a classic French sauté of chicken cooked in stock, cider and cream...with mushrooms and apples.  Every time I eat it I am amazed by the subtlety and balance of this pairing.  Both the apples and the mushrooms are enhanced by it.  The dish would not be the same if it were garnished with just the apples...or just the mushrooms.  It is the same with the tart.

With a small green salad this tart makes a wonderful light dinner...or satisfying lunch.  But since we are on the verge of our annual holiday party season, I have also included instructions at the bottom of the recipe for rolling the crust and building the tart in such a way that you can cut small squares that make a perfect finger food.  Since all of the components (the crust, squash puree, sautéed apples, sautéed mushrooms and candied pepitas) can be made ahead, it would be the perfect thing with which to greet your Thanksgiving guests.  Simply make the components at your leisure in the day or two preceding the feast.  Then, on Thanksgiving morning, build the tarts and place them on a sheet pan in the fridge, baking them as oven space allows, and as close to the arrival of your guests as you can.

Let the holiday cooking and feasting begin. 

Savory Winter Squash Tart with Mushrooms & Apples

1 recipe pâte brisée (below)
1 egg, separated (yolk and white both reserved)
1 T. butter
1 medium shallot, about 1 oz., minced
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/2 t. minced fresh rosemary
3/4 c. (185 g.) Roasted Winter Squash purée (see below—I prefer Carnival Squash in these tartlets)
1/3 c. (1 oz.) finely grated Parmesan
1 large apple (7 to 8 oz.)—something that is sweet-tart and that holds its shape when a Braeburn...or a Pink Lady
1 T. butter (more as needed)
6 oz. crimini (or other favorite) mushrooms, sliced 1/4- to 1/3-inch thick
1 T. olive oil (more as needed)
1 T. minced flat leaf parsley
4 oz. goat cheese
3 to 4 T. Candied Pepitas (see below)
Salt & Pepper, to taste

On a lightly floured surface, roll the pastry out into a thin (1/8- to 3/16-inch thick) rectangle that measures at least 10- by 14-inches.  Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and chill for at least 30 minutes.  Before baking trim the pastry sheet to a 9- by 13-inch rectangle.  

Prick all over with a fork.  Beat the egg white until foamy and loose.  Brush the whole surface of the pastry with the beaten egg white and return to the refrigerator until ready to use.

In a small sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the shallots, garlic and rosemary and cook until very tender and beginning to caramelize.  Let cool.

In a medium-sized bowl, combine the squash purée, Parmesan, cooled shallot mixture and yolk.  Season to taste with salt & pepper.  Set aside.

Peel, quarter and core the apple.  Cut each quarter into 5 or 6 lengthwise slices (about 1/4- to 1/3-inch thick).  Sauté the apples in the butter until they are golden and just tender.  (Choose a sauté pan—preferably non-stick—that is just large enough to hold the apple slices in a snug single layer.  Start over medium-high heat, letting the butter melt and waiting to add the apples until the foam subsides.  Toss/turn the apples occasionally and reduce the heat if the apples are browning too much/too quickly.)  Set aside.

If the apples were sautéed in a non-stick pan, wipe out the pan and set it back over high heat.  If not, set a non-stick sauté pan (one that is just large enough to hold the mushrooms in a snug single layer) over high heat.  When the pan is hot, add a tablespoon of olive oil.  Add the mushrooms.  Sauté until the mushrooms start to brown—about 2 minutes.  Add a good pinch of salt and continue to sauté, reducing the heat if the mushrooms threaten to burn...but still maintaining an active sizzle, until the mushrooms are tender and browned...about 5 minutes total.  Remove from the heat and add the parsley.  Transfer the mushrooms to the plate with the apples.  Fold the apples and mushrooms together.  Season to taste with salt & pepper.

When ready to bake the tart, preheat the oven to 375° and adjust the rack to the lower third of the oven.  While the oven heats, build the tart.  Spread the squash mixture over the chilled crust, leaving a half inch border of crust visible all the way around.  

Scatter the apples and mushrooms evenly over the squash.  

Crumble the goat cheese over all.  (The tart may be made a few hours ahead to this point.  Cover and chill.)

Bake the tart on the lowest rack until the cheese is tipped with gold and the edges and bottom crust are golden brown—about 25 to 30 minutes.  Slide the cooked tart onto a wire rack and scatter over some of the candied pepitas, pressing lightly if necessary to help the seeds adhere to the cheese.  Cut and serve warm.  Serves 4 to 6 as an appetizer or light entrée with a salad of baby lettuces or arugula. 

Variation:  If you would like to make this tart into small passed appetizer portions, instead of cutting the sheet of dough into one large rectangle, cut it into three 5- by 9-inch rectangles.  Top the smaller rectangles exactly as you would the large, using a third of each of the components for each smaller rectangle.  Bake as for the large.  To serve, cut each rectangle in half lengthwise and then crosswise four or five times to make 8 to 10 small rectangles out of each tart.  Because each small rectangle will have been cut from the edge of the tart, each piece will be more stable and it will be easy to pick up with the fingers (you will have a total of 24 to 30 rectangles from the whole recipe).

Candied Pepitas:  Place 1/2 t. fennel seed and 1/8 t. coriander seed in a medium sauté pan and toast over medium heat.  When fragrant, transfer to a plate to cool.  Grind in a mortar and pestle.   In a small bowl, combine 1 T. sugar, the toasted fennel & coriander, 1/8 t. cinnamon, a pinch of cayenne and a generous pinch of salt.  Melt 2 teaspoons of butter in a medium sauté pan set over medium heat.  Add 1/2 c. raw pumpkin seeds and toss to coat in the butter.  Sprinkle the sugar mixture over the nuts and toss to coat.  Continue to cook, stirring and tossing until the pumpkin seeds are popping and lightly colored.  Remove the pan from the heat.  Wait 30 seconds.  Drizzle a teaspoon of honey over and toss to coat.  Spread the nuts on a plate to cool. 

(Candied Pepitas adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques, by Suzanne Goin)

To Roast a Winter Squash for a Purée: Preheat oven to 375° to 400°.  Halve the winter squash.  Scoop out the seeds and discard.  Place the squash on a baking sheet and brush with olive oil or melted butter.  Season with salt and pepper.   Place the squash in the oven and roast until fork tender and caramelized in spots—about an hour.  When the squash is cool enough to handle, scoop the flesh away from the skin with a spoon.  Purée the flesh in the food processor or pass through a food mill fitted with the fine disc.  A 2 pound squash will produce a scant 2 cups of purée, or about a pound.  Depending on the desired use of the purée, the butter or oil with which the squash is brushed prior to roasting may be augmented with any number of things—honey, molasses, maple syrup or balsamic vinegar—alone or in combination.  If you prefer that the squash not caramelize during the roasting process, either cover with foil or oil the pan, add a splash of water and roast the squash with the cut surfaces down. 

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour (6 oz.)
3/8 t. salt
9 T. cold unsalted butter, sliced 1/4-inch thick (4 1/2 oz.)
3 to 4 1/2 T. ice water

Combine the flour and the salt in a medium-sized bowl.  Rub the butter into the flour until the mixture has the look of cornmeal and peas. 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.  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.  Form the finished dough into a thick rectangle.  Wrap in plastic wrap.  Chill for at least 30 minutes.

Printable Recipe

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Dandelion Greens... In a Gratin with White Beans, Tomatoes & Garlic Sausage

All summer long I have noticed that one of the growers at my farmers' market has had dandelion greens for sale at their stall.  I have intended several times to grab a bunch, but for some reason I never did.  But a couple of weeks ago, I finally remembered to take a minute to ask about them. 

The variety they are growing is a red ribbed Italian heirloom—a member of the chicory family.  They told me that like other members of this family, the dandelion greens can be quite bitter and they have found that they are best when cooked.  Since I love some of the other chicories (endive, frisée and escarole), I bought a bunch.  When treated properly, the bitter edge of these lettuces and greens can be delicious and interesting.  It's just a matter of combining them with things that will balance and compliment the bitterness.  Judicious use of acidity (tomato, citrus, vinegar, etc.), salt (cured meats, anchovy, olives, etc.) and fat (fatty meats, olive oil, etc.) can turn something that is one dimensionally bitter into something that has delicious complexity and flavor. 

The dandelion greens that I purchased—with their ruby colored ribs—reminded me of chard and beet greens...both of which can also be slightly bitter (although not as bitter as chicory).  In the fall and winter I love pairing these kinds of greens with bland starchy things...  Things like polenta, potatoes and white beans.

Considering all this, I decided to use my dandelion greens in a French-style shell bean gratin.  Beans and greens are one of my favorite food combinations.  Whether combined in a soup...or the gratin...the greens that are used for a preparation like this are given ample cooking time to sort of "give up" their bitterness.

When I have prepared gratins like this in the past, I have occasionally included some optional tomato.  Their acidity serves to brighten the blandness of the beans and can be a nice addition.  In the case of my gratin with the dandelion greens, the acidity of the tomato seemed like an essential.

Finally, I added some salty, fatty, garlic sausages to the mix.  Not only did they provide a perfect foil for the dandelion greens, they turned what I have always considered a side dish into a satisfying entrée.   I'm certain you could omit the sausage...but since this makes a fantastic one dish meal when you include it, I'm not sure you would want to. 

One final observation about this gratin:  As you look at the image of the gratin before it goes into the oven and compare it to the image of the finished, baked gratin, you will be struck with how beautiful the unbaked one is.  You might be tempted when you make it to just serve it before baking it.  After all, all of the ingredients are cooked, so why not serve the more beautiful version?  And while I know the unbaked version would be good, it will lack the delicious intermingling of flavors that happens during the baking process.  Just like a good stew or braise that tastes even better after it has had a day to sit, so the baking process of the gratin produces a richness of flavor that can't be matched in the unbaked version.  Besides, making this simple medley of beans, greens, tomatoes and sausage into a gratin allows you to work aheadsomething that is a huge bonus for anyone who cooks.  

I couldn't believe how delicious and flavorful my gratin was.  I don't know if it was the addition of the dandelion greens...or simply the combination of a few perfect flavor partners, but I will definitely be making it again.  And I will certainly be making a point in the future to find more ways to serve dandelion greens at my table. 

Gratin of White Beans with Dandelion Greens & Garlic Sausage

1 cup Great Northern beans, soaked over-night
6 T. Olive Oil, divided
1 well-branched sprig of thyme
1/2 medium onion (red or yellow), finely diced
2 to 3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/2 T. minced Thyme
1/2 c. diced tomatoes (can use canned plum or a 6 oz. vine ripe, peeled, seeded neatly diced)
1 bunch of Dandelion greens, stems cut off where the leaves start (discard the stems—you should have a scant 2 oz. trimmed greens), leaves and remaining tender ribs cut cross-wise into 1/2-inch wide ribbons and thoroughly rinsed

6 to 8 oz. garlic sausage, browned and sliced into fat chunks on a slight diagonal
1/2 to 3/4 cup toasted breadcrumbs (see below)

Drain and rinse the beans.  Place them in a large saucepan and cover with fresh water by 2 inches.  Bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and skim off the foam that has risen to the surface.  Add 2 T. of olive oil and a sprig of thyme.  Cook the beans at a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender.  Or, place the soaked, drained beans in a shallow gratin, drizzle with the olive oil and add a sprig of thyme.  Cover with boiling water by an inch, cover the pan with a tight fitting lid, or a piece of foil.  Transfer to a 325° oven and bake until tender.  Whether you cook the beans on the stove top or in the oven, they will take about an hour and 15 minutes to cook.  Add salt to taste when the beans are half cooked.  Beans may be cooked ahead.  Cool the beans in their cooking liquid.

To prepare the gratin, warm 2 T. of olive oil in a wide sauté pan.  Add the onion, minced thyme and some salt.  Gently sweat the onions until they are tender and translucent (about 10 minutes).  Add the garlic and continue to cook until fragrant.  Add the tomatoes and cook for 5 minutes.  Add the greens along with a ladleful of the bean cooking liquid and cook until the greens are wilted and tender. Taste and salt as necessary.

Drain the beans and save the cooking liquid.  Add the beans to the onion mixture and toss to distribute all of the ingredients evenly.  Heat through.  Transfer to a 1 1/2 to 2 quart gratin (or other shallow baking dish).  If using, tuck the sausages into the beans so that they are level with the surface.  Ladle over enough bean liquid to almost cover.  Drizzle the remaining 2 T. of olive oil over the gratin.  (You may prepare the gratin to this point up to a day in advance.  Refrigerate.  Bring to room temperature before continuing.)  Cover the top of the gratin with the toasted breadcrumbs.  Bake the gratin in a 350° oven until bubbling and golden brown on top (about 45 minutes).  Check the gratin occasionally while it bakes.  If it appears to be drying out too much, add more bean liquid.  If not browned to your liking when it is bubbling and hot through, briefly run under the broiler until the crumbs are tinged with golden brown.  Serves 2 to 3 

Notes & Variations:
  • Use a precooked sausage such as Kielbasa, Linguiça or Aidells Roasted Garlic & Gruyère Chicken Sausage (my favorite) 
  • To make a simple side dish of beans and greens, simply omit the sausage. Without the sausage, the gratin will serve 4 to 6 as a side dish. 
  • You may use any kind of white bean that you prefer...Cannellini, Flageolet, etc. Just be aware that not all varieties will cook in the same amount of time as the Great Northerns. 
  • You may use greens other than dandelions. A small bunch (or half a bunch, if you prefer) of chard or kale (any kind) will work. If you use a whole bunch, you will have about twice as much trimmed weight as with the dandelions. For the both chard and kale, remove all of the ribs/stems. The chard may be added exactly as the dandelions. The kale should be blanched since it takes much longer to cook. To blanch it, drop the clean, trimmed and sliced kale in boiling, salted water and cook until tender. Drain and spread on a baking sheet to cool. Add to the onion and tomatoes and heat through. 
  • To make toasted breadcrumbs, use the food processor to process sliced/torn "day-old" bread (crusts removed if they are very hard) until bread is in uniform soft crumbs. Spread crumbs on a rimmed cookie sheet and “toast” in a 350 degree oven until golden brown and dry, stirring occasionally (about 10 minutes). Drizzle crumbs with olive oil and toss to combine. Crumbs can be used immediately or cooled and stored airtight at room temperature for a week or so...or frozen for longer.
  • Recipe is easily doubled. Use a 3 quart gratin/shallow baking dish. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

Fall Fruit Compote of Wine-Poached Pears & Dried Fruits

Occasionally I teach a class on autumn desserts.  It includes a nice variety of classics—filled with fall ingredients—that everyone loves...fruit, chocolate and nut filled tarts, a simple cake (featuring sweet potatoes!), and a light and ethereal bread pudding.  I think everyone expects to like all of these things.  But the sleeper hit of the class is always a simple dish of poached fall fruits.  I'm not sure why (perhaps it conjures images of stewed prunes?), but people are always a bit dubious when they see this recipe in their packet.  Then they taste it....

I have not posted this recipe before because I can't make it for you...thus giving you the opportunity to taste it without going to the effort of making it yourself.  I can only ask you to trust me when I say that this is a seriously elegant and delicious dessert.  It is sweet...but sophisticated—definitely a dessert for grown-ups.  I love it all by itself...with maybe a little bit of mascarpone whipped cream...and perhaps a platter of biscotti

If you have never poached fruit, you should give it a tryit is an easy technique to learn.  I wrote a basics post on how to poach pears (for a tart) a few years ago.  The recipe I'm posting today uses the exact same method to begin.  Then, after the pears are done, the dried fruits are steeped—and plumped—in the poaching liquid.  They add rich flavor and beautiful color. 

Depending on the ripeness of the pears (and thus how long you have to cook them), you may need to reduce the poaching syrup by simmering briefly after all of the fruits are finished.  But be careful not to overdo it.  The final syrup should be a light and fluid nectar—perfect for sipping from a spoon...or for dunking those biscotti

Once you try this recipe, you will want to make it for your friends and family.  If you feel the need to tempt people into sampling it, serve it with a slice of pound cake (everyone loves pound cake).  Any good pound cake will do, but I'm particularly partial to an Italian one—Amor Polenta—that I posted a few years ago.  The almond and cornmeal are a fantastic match for the pears and dried fruits.  You can tell your guests that the fruit is a garnish.  Once they taste it they will realize that in this case the cake is definitely the supporting player...and the fruit is the star of the show. 

Fall Fruit Compote of Wine-Poached Pears & Dried Fruit

1 (750 ml) bottle white wine
3 c. sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and scraped
1 cinnamon stick
3 or 4 whole cloves
3 or 4 strips (3- by 1/2-inch) of lemon zest
3 or 4 strips (3- by 1/2-inch) of orange zest
6 firm but ripe pears, peeled, halved (or quartered) and cored
1 c. dried figs, hard stems trimmed
1 c. dried apricots
3/4 c. pitted prunes
1/2 c. dried tart cherries

In a saucepan large enough to hold all of the pears, combine the wine, 3 c. water, sugar and flavorings.  Bring this to a boil and simmer for 5 minutes.  While the poaching liquid cooks, cut a round of parchment that is slightly larger than the pan and cut a hole in the center (this will act as a "lid" and help keep the fruit fully submerged in the liquid—it is called a cartouche).  

When the syrup is ready, add the pears, press the parchment round to the surface of the liquid, lower the heat and barely simmer until the tip of a knife will go in and out without resistance.  Cooking time varies greatly depending on the ripeness of the pears—start checking after 10 minutes for very ripe pears.  Using a slotted spoon, transfer the pears to a platter. 

Return the poaching liquid to a simmer and add the dried fruits.   Simmer gently until the dried fruits are tender (they will soften and some will swell slightly)—5 to 10 minutes or so. 

Depending on how ripe the pears were the liquid may need to be reduced a bit.  If you would like to reduce the poaching liquid at all, lift out the dried fruits and add them to the plate with the pears.  Return the poaching liquid to the pan and simmer until it has thickened slightly (but no thicker than maple syrup...or a dessert wine). 

Remove the pan from the heat and return the pears and dried fruits to the pan of poaching liquid.  Cool and store the pears and dried fruits in the poaching liquid. 

Serve the compote chilled.  Remove the vanilla bean, cinnamon stick, cloves and zests before serving.  I like to halve the figs lengthwise before serving to expose their lovely interior.  If the prunes and/or apricots are especially large, you might consider halving them as well.

Whether I am serving this as a stand alone dessert—or to accompany a slice of cake—I like to serve it with mascarpone whipped cream sweetened with some of the poaching liquid (see below).

(Recipe adapted from Barefoot Contessa Parties!, by Ina Garten)

Maspcarpone Whipped Cream:  Place 8 oz. of mascarpone in a mixing bowl along with a cup of heavy cream and 1/2 cup of poaching liquid.  Whisk until softly mounding. (To make a smaller—or larger amount—just remember you need 1 T. of poaching liquid for every ounce of mascarpone and ounce of cream.)