Sunday, September 17, 2017

Provençal Vegetable Galette

For years I have been making a free form summer vegetable galette that is filled with ingredients that I associate with the South of France:  eggplant, zucchini, tomatoes and goat cheese.  Because I love this combination of flavors so much, I have continued to make this tart even though it always seemed to be just a tad bit dry.  The reason for the lack of moisture was obvious to me:  the vegetables were cooked before putting them in the unbaked crust to prevent them from releasing all of their juices into the crust as it baked.   A soggy crust seemed even less satisfactory to me than a slightly dry tart. 


Recently I was slated to teach this tart shortly after I taught a class that featured another favorite summer tart—a tart that is filled to the brim with fresh summer tomatoes.  The method I use to prevent the raw tomatoes (which are incredibly juicy) from releasing their juices into the baking crust is to salt them and let them sit for a few moments (causing them to release their liquid) and then blot them dry before layering them into the crust.  It works very well.  I was in fact doing this very thing for the tomato portion of the Provençal vegetable tart....  

I don't know why it never occurred to me to do the same thing with the eggplant and zucchini that I was doing with the tomatoes.  I even use this technique in a summer squash gratin that I posted several years ago.  It must have been something about the juxtaposition of the two classes, combined with my current reading material (Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin NosratI was reading the section on the properties of salt at the time), that dropped the idea into my head.

So a few days before I taught my Provençal Vegetable Galette, I made it for my own table...this time salting and blotting the vegetables instead of roasting them.  Not only was the resulting tart satisfactorily juicy, the crust wasn't at all soggy.  As a bonus, the tart was beautiful—much more so than in its previous incarnation.


I should add that both versions of the tart feature a smear of herbed cheese underneath the vegetables.  This layer of cheese acts as a barrier to the juices being released by the vegetables as the tart bakes (whether the vegetables go into the tart cooked or uncooked).  The tart could probably be made with cooked vegetables without the layer of cheese.  But it could not be made with the uncooked vegetables without it (or some other "barrier"—a layer of cooked onions or leeks, for example).

The origin of this tart is a recipe in Maria Helm Sinskey's book The Vineyard Kitchen.  She recommends using Japanese eggplant and plum tomatoes.  This makes it so that the eggplant, zucchini and tomatoes will all have a similar diameter and can be arranged in beautiful, even, concentric circles.   I have found that ordinary globe eggplant and vine-ripened tomatoes work fine—and can be beautiful as long as they are thoughtfully arranged. 


One of the things I love the most about cooking is that I'm constantly learning more....   Learning about technique...learning about the properties and characteristics of specific ingredients...learning how to apply my battery of techniques to an ingredient or set of ingredients in order to produce a desired result.  And when I cook thoughtfully, I learn something almost every time I step into the kitchen.  The tart was good before (I don't think anyone but me ever had a problem with it!).  It is even better now.  



Provençal Vegetable Galette

1 recipe Pâte Brisée (see below)
8 to 9 oz. eggplant
8 to 9 oz. zucchini or summer squash
8 to 9 oz. medium sized vine ripened tomatoes
Kosher salt

1/2 c. (120 g.) whole milk ricotta

2 t. olive oil
1/2 T. flour
1 t. minced rosemary or 1/2 T. minced thyme (or rosemary or winter savory)
1 clove garlic, smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 oz. goat cheese
Olive Oil for brushing
1/4 c. finely grated Pecorino (20g)


Line a baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside.  Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into a circle that is about 1/8-inch thick and is about 12 to 13 inches across.   Trim any especially uneven or ragged edges—but don't worry too much about it, this is supposed to be a rustic tart.  Brush off the excess flour.  Transfer the dough to the prepared sheet. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and chill for at least 30 minutes.

Wash and trim the eggplant and zucchini.  Wash and core the tomatoes.  If the eggplant skin seems tough, "stripe" the eggplant by using a peeler to remove lengthwise strips of skin, creating a striped effect.  Slice the eggplant into thin rounds (slightly less than 1/4-inch thick).  Slice the squash to a similar thickness on a slight diagonal.  Transfer to a bowl and toss with 3/4 t. kosher salt.  Slice the tomatoes a scant 1/4-inch thick (use a serrated knife) and spread out on a double thickness of paper towel.  Sprinkle the tomatoes evenly with salt. Let the eggplant, squash, and tomatoes sit for 10 to 15 minutes so they can give up some of their liquid. 

While the vegetables release some of their liquid, place the ricotta in a small bowl with the olive oil, flour, herbs and garlic.  Mix until well blended.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. 


When you are ready to build the tart, lift the eggplant and squash out of the bowl, leaving as much liquid behind as possible.  Spread the vegetables out on paper towels.  Blot the eggplant, squash and tomatoes with paper towels to absorb the excess liquid.  Taste a piece of squash and/or a tomato and add more salt if necessary.


Spread the ricotta in a 9-inch diameter circle in the center of the chilled pâte brisée (leaving a 1 1/2- to 2-inch border of dough).  Shingle the vegetables attractively over the cheese, distributing the different vegetables evenly and arranging in concentric circles.  


Brush the vegetables with olive oil.  Scatter the pecorino evenly over all.  Gently fold the edges of the crust up and over the filling to form a rustic edge.  Pleat the dough as necessary, pressing lightly into place.


Bake the tart in a 400° oven on the lowest rack or on a preheated baking stone set in the middle of the oven until the vegetables are bubbling, the pecorino is golden and the crust is crisp and golden brown—about 40 to 50 minutes.  Transfer the tart to a wire rack. Let the tart rest for 5 minutes (or cool until just tepid) before serving.  Tart serves 6. 

(Recipe adapted from The Vineyard Kitchen by Maria Helm Sinskey)

Pâte Brisée (Short Crust Pastry):

1 1/3 c. all-purpose flour (150g)
1/2 t. salt
8 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces (114g)
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 butter is in small pea-sized pieces. 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 disk.  Chill for at least 30 minutes.



Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Pear Upside-Down Honey-Spice Cake and the Beginning of the Pleasures of Autumn...

I'm certain that I have mentioned in previous September posts that the summer to autumn turn of the year is the one time I find myself wanting to put on the brakes and hang on to the previous season with all my might.  I actually prefer the cooler temperatures of autumn...but I dread the loss of the light.


This year feels different though.  We had an extremely cool and temperate August (I'm not sure the temperature went over 90° even once...which is sort of unprecedented in the Midwest)...so I've kind of begun to get used to the idea of autumn a bit earlier than usual.  Moreover, I began eating pears early this year.  Pears always begin showing up at the farmers' market in August.  And I resolutely resist them until mid September...or even later.  But not this year.  One of the growers at my new farmers' market grows a huge variety of pears and has kindly offered me samples of several.  They have been spectacular.  I have especially enjoyed them since the local peach harvest came to a much earlier end than usual (or so it seemed to me).



As I have been considering what to do with these beautiful pears (other than simply eating them raw as a snack or in a salad) I remembered a dessert that I haven't thought about in years: a Pear Upside-down Honey-Spice Cake that I developed for the National Honey Board.  I'm not sure why I ever stopped making this cake. It is just the kind of simple, elegant-but-with-no-frills kind of cake that I like. 


If you like gingerbread, you will love this cake.  I developed it using a favorite gingerbread cake as a starting point (albeit with a greatly reduced level of spice—the original amount would have overwhelmed the delicate perfume of the honey and the pears).  Since I have altered that favorite gingerbread cake in the intervening years since I developed the honey cake, I decided to change the honey cake when I made it this time, too.  I like the new version even better than my original.

I made my cake with local Warren pears and local honey from my farmers' market.  And I encourage you to seek out local ingredients for your cake too.  Any flavorful and fragrant honey that tastes good with the pears will be good in this cake. And any pear that is similar to the Bartletts, Boscs, and Anjous that typically populate the produce aisles of your local grocery store will be fine.  Look for medium-sized (6 to 7 oz. each) pears that are just beginning to be ripe.  They should still be slightly firm for this cake.



Typically at the end of August and during the early days of September I am scrambling to make as much of the end of the peach season as possible—peach coffee cake, peach shortcakepeach galettes....  Pears don’t begin to make their way into my baking until late September (actual autumn).   But this year, making this very autumnal pear & spice cake over the Labor Day weekend was truly a pleasure.  Having it on hand to enjoy helps me to remember that there are delights associated with every season.  So here's to autumn....and to the bounty of pleasures to be found in the season to come.    



Pear Upside-Down Honey-Spice Cake

Honey-Spice Cake:
4 oz. (8 T.) unsalted butter
425 g. (1 1/4 c.) honey
1 egg, beaten
240 g. (3/4 c). buttermilk
1 t. vanilla
230 g. (2 c.) all-purpose flour
1/2 t. salt
1 t. baking soda
1 t. ground ginger
1/2 t. ground cloves
1/4 t. cinnamon

Pear Topping:
4 firm but ripe Bartlett (or similar) pears (about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 lbs total)
200 g. (1 c.) granulated sugar
40 g. (3 T.) butter (salted or unsalted...as you prefer)



Preheat the oven to 350°.  Butter a 10x2 –inch round cake pan (do not use a shallower pan—the cake will over-flow).

Put the stick of butter and the honey in a saucepan and place over medium heat.  Gently warm until the butter is melted—do not let the honey boil.  Whisk to combine; set aside and keep warm.  In a small bowl, combine the egg, buttermilk and vanilla; set aside.  Place the dry ingredients in a large bowl and whisk to blend; set aside.

Peel the pears.  Cut into quarters lengthwise and remove the cores.  Cut each quarter in half lengthwise.  Place the sugar in a nonstick (cast iron is perfect) sauté pan and place over medium high heat.  When the sugar begins to melt, stir with a wooden spoon.  Continue to stir and cook until all the lumps of sugar are dissolved and the sugar syrup is a light amber color—this will only take a minute or two.  Remove the pan from the heat and add the 3 T. of butter—be careful, the hot caramel will sputter when the butter is added.  Stir until the butter is incorporated.



Working quickly, pour the hot caramel into the prepared cake pan—tilting the pan to completely cover the bottom.  Being careful not to burn your fingers on the hot caramel, fan the pears in a circle around the edge of the cake pan; fill in the center with the remaining 6 or 7 pear slices.  If the caramel hardens before the pears are in place, set the pan over low heat (or in the oven) to soften the caramel.  It is important that the pears are “stuck” in the caramel as it sets up as the batter is quite thin, and the pears will float if they are not “attached” to the caramel.  Set the pan aside.



Pour the honey/butter mixture over the dry ingredients and whisk until smooth.  Add the egg mixture and mix with a rubber spatula until well combined.  Pour the batter over the pears.  Bake the cake until the cake springs back when pressed very lightly and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean—about 40 minutes.   



Cool the cake for 10 minutes in the pan.  Invert the cake onto a serving platter. 



Serve slices of cake with a dollop of lightly sweetened whipped cream drizzled with a little honey.  Also, if you used unsalted butter in the pear topping, a few flakes of sea salt sprinkled over each slice really lifts the flavors.  Cake serves 12.

Notes:
  • If you don't have a 10- by 2-inch round cake pan, a 10-inch cast iron skillet is perfect. 
  • It is very important to prepare the recipe in the order written—i.e. to mix the dry ingredients, honey-butter syrup, and the egg-buttermilk-vanilla mixture first before peeling and slicing the pears and making the caramel. Not only do you have to work quickly to embed the pears into the caramel before it hardens, you must finish mixing the batter and then put it in the pan immediately after combining the pears and caramel. The reason for this is that the pears begin to cook and release their juices almost immediately upon contact with the hot caramel. When they release enough liquid, they will begin to detach from the hard caramel...and will float in the batter rather than staying stuck to the bottom of the pan. 
  • If your pears are larger than about 6 or 7 oz. each you will probably only need 3 pears. If his is the case, cut them into 10 or 12 slices each instead of 8.

Sunday, August 27, 2017

Eggplant Caponata

One of my great regrets from the years that I spent working in a professional kitchen is that I didn't very often take the time to write down exact recipes. Most of the "recipes" from my line cook days are nothing more than a list of ingredients (often with no amounts).  If I'm lucky, I will discover that I wrote down a few cursory words to indicate method and order.  I just never thought I would ever forget how to make so many things.  I made them over and over...day after day...until I could make them in my sleep.  How could I forget?  Such is the optimism of youth.



Occasionally I will get a bee in my bonnet to reproduce something I remember making.  I will spend a little time rooting through my files (to see what I actually wrote down)....and I will poke around on line...and thumb through my cookbooks.  I almost never manage to replicate a dish exactly.  But I almost always end up with something delicious...as well as a renewed appreciation for a particular preparation. 

Caponata is one of these things.  I made it regularly for a while when I was the sauté cook (I think it accompanied Swordfish...but I'm really not sure at this point).  If you are not familiar with Caponata, it is a Sicilian eggplant preparation.  I remembered the one we made at the restaurant as being very simple, containing nothing more than eggplant, onions, celery, capers and olives (and olive oil for sautéing).  I love Mediterranean eggplant dishes...and the salty and tangy aspect of this one appealed to me very much. 

In the years since, every time I have run across caponata, I have noted that it contains tomato.  This seemed "wrong" to me, but I didn't think too much about it because with all the wonderful eggplant dishes out there, I never had a particular reason to stop and sort out if my memory was faulty...or if there were 'authentic' versions of caponata that did not include tomato.

Recently, however, I needed to prepare caponata for a client, so I began to look into it.  I discovered I actually had a recipe of sorts in my files from my restaurant days.  It did not include any tomato.  And as luck would have it, it was one of those bare bones recipes I alluded to above.  So I at least had a starting point.

It was written down as follows:

Small diced onion (2 c.)
Small diced celery (1 c.)
Small diced eggplant (6 c.)
Chopped black olives (niçoise/provençal)
Capers

Sweat onion and celery 'til just translucent.  Add eggplant and cook 'til it just cooked through.  Pull off heat and toss in olives and capers.  Season to taste with Salt & pepper.  Do not overcook.

Hmmm... 

As always, I began to look around at other recipes.  And, as I did, I found that one of the essentials in caponata does happen to be tomato.  Furthermore, one of the hallmarks of the dish is its sweet/sour counterpoint (agrodolce)...which the recipe of my notes definitely lacks.  I can only assume that the remainder of the dish I made at the restaurant included the other essential elements, and that the 'caponata' I was making at the time had been deconstructed on the plate in some way.



The caponata I finally made for my clients did draw heavily on my old notes in the sense that I kept the ratios of eggplant to onion to celery.  I also included both capers and olives...not all recipes do this (most include one or the other).  Some recipes add raisins and pine nuts.  I didn't add either of these...but think they would be delicious. 

Besides my old restaurant 'recipe', I relied on David Lebovitz's version, as well as an excellent caponata basics post at Food 52.  The comments in the Food 52 post are particularly helpful when it comes to finishing the dish and getting the balance just right. The author says that the caponata should taste "very savory" and be "slightly acidic and subtly sweet."  To achieve this result, add salt, vinegar and/or honey as necessary.

I served the caponata to my clients on ricotta smeared crostini as a passed appetizer.  I loved the caponata I made so much that I made some for myself the very next day.  We enjoyed it for dinner with some sweet corn polenta and a sautéed chicken breast.  I had some of the leftovers the same way my clients did...and then the last of the leftovers on the leftover polenta (now firm...and fried until crisp).  It was delicious every way I served it....and as others have noted, the flavor improves upon sitting and as good as it is the day it is made, it is even better on the second and third days.





Eggplant Caponata

1 1/2 to 1 3/4 lbs. Eggplant, trimmed and cut in a 1/2-inch dice (about 6 to 7 cups)
2 c. diced (1/4-inch) red onion (300 g.)
1 c. diced (1/4-inch) celery (125 g.)
6 T. (plus more as needed) olive oil
15 oz. vine ripened tomatoes, peeled, seeded and juices reserved
2 fat cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1/4 t. hot pepper flakes
3 T. (30 g.) capers, rinsed
3/4 c. (85 g.) Sicilian green olives, coarsely chopped
1 T. red wine vinegar (more as needed)
1 1/2 to 2 t. honey
Salt & pepper to taste
Chopped Italian Parsley, Mint or Basil to serve



Place the eggplant in a large bowl, season with salt & pepper and drizzle with 3 T. olive oil.  Toss to coat well, adding more oil if necessary.  Spread on a rimmed baking sheet (half sheet pan) that has been sprayed with pan spray.  Make sure the eggplant is in a snug single layer.  Place in a 450° to 475° oven and roast until tender and golden—about 25 to 30 minutes.  Turn the eggplant over—using a pancake turner or other wide spatula—after it has been in the oven about 20 minutes.  Set aside.



Meanwhile, warm the remaining 3 T. of olive oil in a wide sauté pan set over moderate heat.  Add the onion and celery along with a good pinch of salt and cook until tender (the celery will still have texture, but it shouldn't be crunchy) and beginning to caramelize—about 20 to 25 minutes. 



While the vegetables cook, purée the tomatoes (along with their juices) until smooth.   

When the onion and celery are tender and caramelized, add the garlic and pepper flakes and cook until fragrant.  Add the tomato purée, increase the heat, and simmer until the tomato sauce is very thick (it should not be soupy).   Add the olives, capers, vinegar and honey and bring back to a simmer.  



Fold in the roasted eggplant.   Smooth the caponata out into an even layer and let simmer very gently for five minutes or so to allow the flavors to blend (if it seems very dry, drizzle some hot water in around the edges.  Taste, correct the seasoning with salt and the sweet/sour balance with honey and vinegar.



Let cool to room temperature.  Serve as a side...or a spread for crostini...sprinkled with parsley, basil or mint.

Serves 6 as a side dish and 8 to 12 as an appetizer.

Notes:  If you don't have vine ripened tomatoes...or don’t want to peel and seed any...simply whisk a 1 1/2 T. of double concentrated tomato paste into a cup of water and add as you would the tomato purée.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Vacation Inspiration—Potatoes, Tomatoes & Green Beans with a Caper Vinaigrette, Fresh Herbs & Slow Roasted Salmon

I always take a stack of food magazines with me when I travel.  By the time my vacation rolls around I'm almost always behind in my reading...but even if I weren't, cooking magazines provide the perfect amount of activity when I  know there will be many short—or long—moments of down time ahead of me.  If I am somewhere that offers me the opportunity to cook, they also provide instant inspiration.  Almost without fail I return home with a dog-eared and post-it note tagged stack...and loads of new ideas.



Because some of the best meals of my life have been at the table of my friend Bonnie...and her table is imbued with the food traditions of Sweden and Denmark...I always stop and take a closer look at articles about Scandinavian food.  In the June issue of Food & Wine this year there was a travel article (with recipes, of course) about Stockholm.  A recipe for a substantial salad of vegetables topped with flaked hot smoked salmon particularly caught my eye.  It popped into my mind as I was considering what to make for dinner at the end of my first full day back home.


The components of my salad were similar...but not identical... to the original.  I didn't have any hot smoked salmon...but I did have some nice canned, olive oil packed tuna (from Trader Joe's...not the bank breaking stuff from Dean &DeLuca).  I added some poached fingerling potatoes to the green beans and cherry tomatoes called for in the original.  And I used a mix of arugula and butter lettuce for my greens.  The recipe in the magazine used a mix of red and green Bibb...and also included a few shaved radishes.  I thought the peppery arugula would add the right note in place of those radishes...and it did.



The thing about the Food & Wine salad that seemed the most unusual—and made me stop longer for an even closer look—was the fried caper vinaigrette.  I love fried capers...and I loved the idea of using the oil used to fry them as part of the vinaigrette.  The vinaigrette in the recipe was a bit more acidic than the vinaigrettes I usually favor...but with the potatoes and fish and soft butter lettuce, it was just the thing. 

We liked the salad so much that I made it again a few days later....this time with slow-roasted salmon.  And it was this version that I really preferred. The tuna was good...and I would make it again...but the salmon version was outstanding.  If you have never slow roasted salmon, check out my post from a few years ago.  It is so easy.  It's a perfect method for salmon destined for a salad....and a perfect way to prepare fish in the summer when you don't want to heat up your kitchen with a super hot oven. 

I returned from my summer vacation well rested...and so inspired from my rambles through my reading material.  I'm sure I will never get around to making all the things that caught my eye.  But I hope that they will at least continue to percolate around in my mind and manifest themselves in my cooking—and here on my blog—during the months to come and until my next opportunity to get away to relax and recharge.




Potato, Tomato & Green Bean Salad with a 
Caper Vinaigrette, Dill & Slow Roasted Salmon

6 oz. Salmon filet (with or without skin)
Olive oil
Salt & Pepper
Several sprigs of dill
1/2 lb. fingerling potatoes
1/2 t. cider or sherry vinegar
1/4 of a small red onion, very thinly sliced/shaved (about 1/4 c.)
5 to 6 oz. green beans, trimmed and cut into 2- to 3-inch lengths
5 oz. mixed cherry tomatoes
2 T. coarsely chopped dill, plus extra picked dill for garnish
2 T. minced Italian flat leaf parsley
Caper vinaigrette
1 1/2 c. bite sized pieces Bibb/butter lettuce (55 grams), rinsed and spun dry
1 1/2 c. stemmed arugula (30 grams), rinsed and spun dry
Fried capers


Place the salmon in an oiled baking dish (skin side down) and season with salt and pepper.  If you like, scatter a few sprigs of dill over the salmon.  Place in a 275° oven and bake until an instant read thermometer reads 120°—about  30 to 40 minutes.  Remove and set aside until ready to serve the salad.

While the salmon roasts, scrub the potatoes and place in a saucepan.  Cover with cold water.  Salt the water and bring to a simmer.  Cover and simmer gently until tender to the tip of a knife—about 15 to 20 minutes.  Drain.  When cool enough to handle (but still warm), halve lengthwise.  If the skins are tough, pull them off (if they are tough, this will be easily accomplished).  Place the potatoes in a large bowl and drizzle with the cider or sherry vinegar and season with salt.  Set aside.

While the potatoes cook, rinse the onions under cold running water—or soak in a small bowl of ice water for five minutes and drain.  Spread on a double thickness of paper towels and blot dry.  

Blanch the beans in a pot of boiling salted water until cooked to your liking—4 to 7 minutes.  Drain and spread on towels to cool.  (You may cook the beans in a separate pot, but I found it works just as well to drain the potatoes and use the pot the potatoes were cooked in—the beans will easily cook and cool in the amount of time it takes to cool and peel the potatoes.)

Halve or quarter the cherry tomatoes (depending on their size).  Leave them cut side up on the cutting board (or transfer to a plate) and season well with salt and pepper.  Let sit while you are pulling together all of the ingredients.


When ready to serve, add the beans, red onions, cherry tomatoes and herbs to the bowl with the potatoes.  Season with salt & pepper and drizzle in about 2/3 of the vinaigrette.  Toss to coat all the vegetables well.  Add the greens, season and toss again.  If the salad seems dry, add more of the vinaigrette.

Mound the salad on a platter or individual serving plates.  Flake the salmon into large chunks and arrange over the salad (discarding the skin if the salmon was cooked on the skin). Scatter the capers and a few dill sprigs over the salad and serve. 

Serves 2 as an entrée.  The recipe for the salad and vinaigrette are both easily multiplied to serve more.

Variations:
  • Replace the salmon with a 5 oz. can of olive oil packed, solid white tuna.
  • Add a hard- or medium-cooked egg or two (halved or quartered) for a more substantial salad 

Caper Vinaigrette

3 to 4 T. olive oil
2 T. capers, rinsed and blotted dry
A scant 2 T. sherry vinegar
1/2 t. Dijon Mustard
Salt & Freshly ground pepper

Place 3 T. of olive oil in a small sauté or sauce pan and set over moderate heat.  When the oil is warm, add the capers.  They will begin to sizzle and pop as the oil continues to heat up.  Allow them to sizzle until they open and begin to darken and crisp—about 2 to 3 minutes from when they first begin to actively sizzle. 

Strain the oil into a heat proof container and let cool.  Spread the capers on some paper towels and set aside.

Place the sherry vinegar, mustard and a couple of good pinches of salt in a small bowl.  Whisk until smooth.  Measure the cooled oil and add more olive oil to make 3 T.  Add the oil to the vinegar-Dijon mixture in a thin stream while whisking constantly.  Taste and correct the seasoning and balance with salt and pepper.  Set aside.

Printable Recipe

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Summer Kale Salad with Roasted Sweet Corn, Sausage & Pecans

I have been enjoying the Tuscan Kale from the farmers' market so much this year.  For many years Tuscan kale (aka Lacinato Kale...Dinosaur Kale...Cavolo Nero....) was not being grown for any of my local markets.  I began reading about it long before I was even able to get my hands on some from the grocery store.  It was longer still before I began finding it from local sources.  Now, most of the farmers at my market are growing it....and this year I have been enjoying a steady and delicious supply since early March.


I have also finally jumped on the kale salad band wagon...at least in the sense that I occasionally make kale salad at home.  I mentioned my previous lack of enthusiasm for kale salad in a post earlier this year.  I really do like cooked kale.  It is delicious and so very versatile (in tarts, frittatas/tortillas, grain pilafs, and pastas...  on pizza....  in soup...), so I won't be giving it up in its cooked form any time soon. I choose to see my foray into the world of kale salads as an expansion of my kale horizons rather than a surrender to a food trend.....

I mentioned in that post in March that kale salads are best when dressed ahead.  This is true for most raw vegetable salads...  I have recently posted two perfect examples in my summer coleslaw and in a grated carrot salad I shared last winter.  When given a bit of time, salt and acidity...even the fat...help to soften the crunch of uncooked vegetables.  For my summer kale salad instead of dressing this salad ahead with the actual vinaigrette, I took my lead from a recipe by Marcus Samuelsson and just massaged some cider vinegar, salt and olive oil into the kale leaves (similar to the way I treat my grated carrot salad and my coleslaw).



When you finish the salad right before serving you may use any favorite, tangy vinaigrette.  I have used a couple of different dressings...both of which I often keep on hand.  One is the mustardy red wine vinaigrette I shared last December.  This one works well for this salad because it goes well with sausage (a prominent component of the salad).  The other is the vinaigrette I posted for a Spring Vegetable Salad in June.  This latter vinaigrette is a good fit because it is tangy enough to stand up to raw vegetables....and as I alluded to above, I think of kale as really being more like a shredded vegetable than a lettuce.

Besides the Italian Sausage, my summer kale salad includes a generous quantity of sweet corn.  I love corn.  From the time the early corn hits the market sometime in late June or early July until the very end of the main crop during the month of September, I always have sweet corn on hand.  Roasted, it makes a substantial and delicious addition to summer salads, sides and pastas.  It was inevitable that I would at some point pair it with kale in a salad (I have already paired it with kale in a pasta!).  Toasted pecans, finely sliced red onions and some nutty shaved Parmesan complete the assembly.


This summer kale salad is surprisingly substantial.  I think it makes a great entrée on a hot summer night.  But if you like, you can omit the sausage and serve it as a side to a big grilled steak or chop...or a nice roast chicken.


Summer Kale Salad with Sweet Corn, Italian Sausage & Pecans

1 small bunch (about 1/3 lb.)
1 t. apple cider vinegar
1 t. olive oil
1/4 t. kosher salt
1 link (4 oz.) Italian sausage (hot or sweet...as you prefer)
1 large ear sweet corn in the husk
1/4 to 1/3 c. pecans
1/2 to 3/4 oz. (1/4 to 1/3 c.) thinly shaved red onion, rinsed under cold running water and blotted dry
3/4 oz Parmesan, shaved with a vegetable peeler (about 3 T. shaved),
A couple of tablespoons of a favorite tangy vinaigrette (see below)

Strip the center ribs away from the kale.  Stack the leaves in manageable bunches and cut them crosswise into 1/2-inch strips/ribbons.  (You will have about 3 oz. trimmed kale.)  Wash thoroughly in several changes of water and spin dry.  Chill until ready to make the salad. (You can wash the greens up to a day ahead.)


When ready to make the salad, place the kale in a salad bowl.  Add the cider vinegar, oil and salt and massage well.  Cover with plastic wrap and chill for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile place the corn directly on the rack of a preheated 375° oven.  Roast for 20 minutes.  Remove from the oven and strip away the husks and silks as soon as the corn is cool enough to handle.  (I typically do this immediately.  I simply work quickly...but you can use towels to grab the husks and silks and pull them away.  The sooner you do this the better since the corn will continue to steam inside the intact husk.)  Cut the corn away from the cob.  You should have about a cup of roasted kernels.  Set aside.

While the corn roasts, cook the sausage and toast the pecans.  Brown the sausage in a small ovenproof sauté pan.  Transfer to the oven to finish (in the sauté pan) to finish the cooking process.  Set aside to rest.

Place the pecans in a small baking dish/pan in the oven alongside the corn and toast until fragrant and beginning to take on a pale golden color (about four or five minutes).  When done, drizzle with a small amount of olive oil and season with kosher salt.  When cool enough to handle, coarsely crumble.

When ready to serve the salad, slice the sausage in quarter-inch thick rounds. Add to the bowl with the kale.  Add the corn, red onion, pecans and Parmesan.  Season with salt & pepper.  Drizzle with enough of your vinaigrette to lightly coat all of the ingredients.  Toss well.  Taste and correct the seasoning...adding more of the vinaigrette if needed.  Divide between plates and serve with some crusty bread.

Serves 2 as an entrée.

Two possible vinaigrettes:


Sunday, July 16, 2017

Golden Couscous with Chicken, Carrots, Turnips & Summer Squash

I tend to think of braises and stews as being autumn and winter foods.  But recently as I looked at some of my farmers' market vegetables I realized that I had the makings of a traditional Moroccan-style couscous of chicken and vegetables.  I have always thought it was odd that these stews often feature a combination of what I think of as winter root vegetables (carrots and turnips) and summer squash (or zucchini).  But there they were...young carrots, golden turnips and yellow squash...all in my market basket at the same moment.  And I have to admit that as we sat down to our hot, fragrant and spicy bowl of stew and couscous on a recent rather sultry evening, the food seemed to be a perfect (although unusual for me) match for the day. 



I should say up front that the dish I prepared is by no means an authentic couscous.  An authentic couscous would use dried (as opposed to canned) chickpeas...and it would definitely not use our ubiquitous instant/pre-steamed couscous.  A true Moroccan...or Algerian....couscous is prepared in a special pot called a couscoussière.  The pot is constructed like a double boiler-style steamer.  The bottom portion is a typical stewing pot and the top piece has a perforated bottom so that the couscous (a dried granular, semolina pasta) can steam over the fragrant stew—taking on the perfume of the spices in the stew as it cooks.  The cooking process takes two or three hours and twice during that time the couscous is turned out onto a large pan (like a paella pan) so that it can be hand "fluffed."  I had the pleasure of participating in the making of a traditional Algerian couscous many years ago while I was working in France.  It took the better part of an afternoon, and although I enjoyed myself immensely, when I want to put dinner on the table here at home, I am grateful for our pre-steamed couscous—which only takes about 10 minutes to make (and is pretty much all that one finds at American grocery stores).

The preparation of the "stew" portion of the couscous follows all of the basic rules of braising and stewing.  I wrote a stewing basics post several years ago that goes into all the pertinent details.  If you are a novice to stewing...or aren't happy with the way your stews turn out...you might take a few moments to read that post.  A well made stew or braise is, I think, one of the finest foods around.


When I made our stew, I chose to use all chicken drumsticks.  If you don't like to eat with your hands, drumsticks aren't the best choice.  But if you don't mind, they are perfect...the one end making a convenient little handle.  Just make sure you provide plenty of napkins...or even finger bowls of water.  You can also make it with thighs—which are a bit easier to tackle with knife and fork...or are easily deboned in the kitchen so that people don't have to wrestle with bones at the table at all.  I would discourage the use of white meat for this stew.  You must pull the white meat out when it is just cooked or it will be tough and dry.  The vegetables will then have to go on cooking until they are done.  The vegetables take 50 minutes to an hour to cook.  The dark meat pieces are a perfect match since they will cook to beautiful, flavorful tenderness in just this amount of time.



Finally, the choice of vegetable varieties is up to you.  I happened to bring home some lovely Gold Ball turnips along with my carrots and yellow squash.  The result—when combined with the saffron and turmericwas what I thought was a fantastically beautiful study in yellows, oranges and golds.  But you can obviously make this dish with regular white turnips.  And even though I have lumped the carrots and turnips together in the ingredient list, I would encourage you to use roughly an equal quantity of each.  The stew will be a bit sweet and one dimensional without the turnips..and will tend towards bitterness without the balance of the carrots.  You may also use regular old zucchini instead of the yellow squash.  In the fall, you could make this dish with winter—instead of summer—squash.  Add winter squash 10 minutes after the root vegetables have been simmering for 10 minutes.




Chicken Braised with Carrots, Turnips and Summer Squash

2 1/2 to 3 lbs. chicken drumsticks, thighs or a combination
2 T. olive oil, divided
1 1/2 T. butter
1 1/4 lb. carrots and turnips—in any combination that you prefer (see notes)—trimmed and peeled
10 to 12 oz. summer squash or zucchini
1 large onion (12 oz.), diced
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
1 2-inch piece cinnamon stick
1/2 t. (slightly mounded) ground ginger
1/4 t. (slightly mounded) turmeric
2 c. chicken stock or no-salt canned chicken broth
Generous pinch of saffron, crumbled
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1/2 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice...more or less as needed
1/3 c. finely sliced flat leaf parsley
1/3 c. finely sliced cilantro
2 T. Harissa (more or less, to taste)—purchased, or make your own (recipe below)



Season the chicken generously with salt and pepper.  In a large braising pan (wide enough to hold all the chicken and deep enough to accommodate all of the chicken and vegetables) set over moderate heat melt the butter in 1 T. of the olive oil.  When the butter is melted, increase the heat.  When the butter foam subsides, add the chicken (skin side down if using thighs).  Carefully brown the chicken until the fat is rendered and the skin is crisp and golden.  Regulate the heat as necessary to maintain and active sizzle without scorching the chicken.  Drumsticks will need to be carefully rotated and will take longer—perhaps 20 to 25 minutes.  Thighs will primarily need to be browned on the skin side with only a quick surface sear on the side without skin and will take less time. 


While the chicken browns, cut the vegetables.  Cut the carrots on a short diagonal into 3/4- to 1-inch chunks.  Cut the turnips into a rough 3/4- to 1-inch dice.  Trim the ends away from the squash.  Cut into 1-inch chunks. 



Remove the browned chicken pieces to a plate.  Add the onions to the pan along with a pinch of salt (and more olive oil if the pan seems dry).  Cook the onions over moderate heat—reducing the heat if they onions start to brown too much—until quite soft...15 minutes or longer, if necessary.  Add the garlic, cinnamon stick, ginger and turmeric and cook until fragrant (about a minute).  




Add the broth and the browned chicken (along with any juices that have been released as the chicken sits) to the pan.  Bring to a simmer.  Crumble in the saffron and season with 3/4 t. kosher salt (less if you have used salted broth).  Add the carrots and turnips and bring to a simmer.  Cover with a tight fitting lid and simmer gently for 20 minutes.  Add the squash...making sure all the vegetables are submerged in the broth...return to a simmer, cover and cook another 20 minutes.  Add the chickpeas, cover and continue to simmer until the vegetables and chicken are tender—another 10 to 20 minutes.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  If the dish seems very sweet...or one dimensional...add a squeeze of lemon.  

Serve with cilantro and parsley scattered over.  Pass Harissa separately so each diner can drizzle it on to taste (or...if you prefer...and you know that everyone will enjoy the heat of Harissa, stir 2 T. of Harissa into the broth prior to serving).  Serve accompanied by Apricot & Pistachio Couscous.

Serves 4 to 6.

Apricot & Pistachio Couscous

1 c. couscous
3/4 t. kosher salt
1/2 c. sliced dried apricots (75 grams)
2 T. unsalted butter
1 1/4 c. water
1/2 c. pistachios, toasted and coarsely chopped
1/4 t. cinnamon

Place the couscous in a medium sized bowl.  Add the salt and apricots and toss to combine.  Cut the butter into chunks and scatter over the surface.  Bring the water to a boil and pour over, swirling the bowl gently to make sure the water penetrates all of the couscous.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let stand for 10 minutes.  Uncover, add the pistachios and cinnamon and fluff with a fork.  Taste and correct the seasoning.


Harissa

1 t. cumin seed
1/2 t. coriander seed
1/2 t. caraway seed
4 hot red dried chiles (I use chile de árbol)—about 2 inches in length, stemmed and seeded or
not...as you prefer...and rough chopped
2 cloves peeled garlic
3/4 t. coarse salt, or to taste
1 medium red bell pepper—roasted, peeled, and chopped coarse
1 t. tomato paste
1 T. olive oil

Toast whole spices and chiles in a dry skillet until fragrant, then cool.

With an electric spice grinder, a cleaned coffee grinder, or a mortar and pestle, grind seeds and chiles fine. Transfer ground spices to a small food processor and add garlic and salt.  Grind mixture to a paste.  Add roasted pepper, tomato paste, and oil and process until smooth.

The harissa will keep, covered in a jar in the refrigerator, for weeks. It is HOT, savory and delicious.  Serve as a condiment with couscous and tagine. Makes 1/2 cup.

Notes: 
  • I use a rounded measure for each of the spices...and I remove the seeds from half of the chiles. 
  • If using a spice or coffee grinder to grind the spices and chiles, let the grinder sit for a moment or two before opening to allow the spices to settle. If you open it right away some of the spices and more significantly some of the chiles will be airborne—which will irritate your eyes and nose. 

(Harissa recipe courtesy of my friend Chef Nancy Stark)