Thursday, March 16, 2017

Pistachio & Strawberry Friands

I'm not sure when it was that I first saw a picture of one of the window displays at Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's Restaurant "Ottolenghi" in London, but suffice it to say that I loved everything about what I saw:  the abundance...  the beautiful vegetables...  the variety of grains... and most of all the fantastical display of miniature desserts (cakes, tarts, meringues, cookies...).  I was...and still am...completely enamored.  Regular readers will know that I cook and bake under the influence of these two talented chefs all the time.  The little cakes I am posting today make frequent appearances in their displays, so I think it is safe to say that I first became aware of them because of my admiration for the Ottolenghi chefs.  This particular recipe is in fact adapted from one of theirs.

If you have never heard of a friand (pronounced fryʹ uhnd), let me introduce you.  Friands are little muffin-sized cakes that are popular in Australia and New Zealand.  The word Friand is actually French (pronounced freeʹ ahn) and means "tasty morsel".  The cakes themselves are almost identical to a French petit four called a financier.  Both cakes are made of roughly equal quantities of egg whites, melted butter, sugar and a blend of all purpose (plain) and nut flours. 

As far as I am able to tell, the most significant difference between them is twofold:  When making financiers, the melted butter is always browned first.  When making friands, it appears that the sugar used is always powdered (icing) sugar.  I would also add that in my experience, friands tend to have a higher percentage of sugar.  They are quite sweet.  I like to eat cake for breakfast, but I would probably not choose a friand for breakfast...they are definitely a tea time/dessert treat. 

Some will tell you that another difference is that friands usually have added fruit...sometimes bits of chocolate.  But since more and more you will see financiers made with added fruit, I'm not sure this distinction is particularly valid.  To be honest, I think the best definition is that the friand is the Down Under version of a financier.  A financier is, after all, a tasty morsel. 

Both financiers and friands are usually made with almond meal/flour.  But you can of course make them with all kinds of nut flours.  Almond flour is widely available these days...other nut flours, not so much.  Occasionally I will see hazelnut flour.  But I have never seen pistachio flour.  (Of course, that doesn't mean it isn't out there).  I use a drum-style rotary grater, fitted with the finest drum, to grind small quantities of nuts into nut flours.  You can attempt to grind nuts to a flour in your food processor, but even if you are able to do so without creating nut butter, you will find that instead of a fluffy, flour-like texture, you will have produced something that is rather oily and has the heavy texture of sand.  It might make an acceptable cake...but the texture would not be as light.   If you like to bake with nut flours, it is definitely worth seeking out a special nut grinder/grater of some kind. 

The texture of a friand is probably not what you might expect.  They are often compared to muffins, but their texture is not muffin-like at all.  They are tender and moist (like a good muffin)...but whereas a muffin is supposed to be light and airy, a friand is rich and dense (in fact, rather pound cake-like).  One of the particular qualities that I love in both financiers and friands is the browned, tender-chewy exterior crust.  If you were to try to dig in with your fork, you might decide you had encountered a tough or a hard cake.  But if you pick it up and eat it with your fingers, you will discover that it isn't in the slightest bit tough or hard.   Rather, it has a definite and pleasant chew before dissolving into sweet, nutty and buttery deliciousness in your mouth. 

The particular texture of the crust as I have described it is most pronounced on the day the friands are made.  After that, the exterior softens a bit.  It is still very good...just not the same.  Some might in fact prefer the texture on the second or third day.  Since the cakes can be iced with a powdered sugar glaze that tends to dissolve when it comes in contact with moisture—like the moisture in the fruit scattered over the top of the cake—it is best to ice the cakes on the day they will be served.  It is not the end of the world if the icing dissolves a bit, it's just not as pretty (they still taste great).  You can also forgo the icing altogether and serve the cakes with nothing more than a dusting of powdered sugar.

An iced friand on the second day...  you can see bits of strawberry
 peeking through where the icing has begun to dissolve...

Finally, for those of you who have been following my blog for a long time now, you might realize that the presence of a pistachio cake can only mean one thing.  That's anniversary.  I began keeping For Love of the Table seven years ago today.  Ever since the first anniversary I have always posted something pistachio on the day (most often a cake).  It's difficult to believe it has been so long.  I will have to sit down to a bite of cake to mark the occasion.  I hope you will vicariously join me.  And, I hope you will continue to visit For Love of the Table...where, for the foreseeable future, I will continue to share all kinds of delicious things to cook and that you will be able to share them with the people you your table.

Pistachio & Strawberry Friands

185g unsalted butter melted and cooled (170g plus 15g for brushing the pans)
75g all purpose flour
40g finely ground almonds (almond meal/flour)
85g finely ground pistachios
225g powdered sugar, sifted
1/4 t. salt
180g egg whites (from 6 eggs)
1 t. orange zest
110g strawberries, washed, dried, hulled and cut into a 1/4-inch dice
1 recipe strawberry glaze (below), optional
3 to 4 T. chopped toasted pistachios for garnish, optional
Powdered sugar for garnish, optional

Preheat the oven to 350°F

Use a tablespoon (15g) of the melted butter to generously brush the bottoms and sides of the pan(s) (see note).  This buttery coating helps create the crisp edges that are one of the special characteristics of a friand.  Chill the pan(s) to firm up the butter.

Place all of the dry ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.

Place the egg whites in a medium bowl and using a clean whisk, whip the whites until very frothy/foamy. It isn't necessary to whip them to soft peaks—you just want to loosen them up a bit. 

Spread the dry ingredients over the top of the egg whites.  Add the zest to the cooled butter and pour this mixture over the dry ingredients.  Fold all the ingredients into the egg whites, mixing just until the batter is smooth and uniform.  You may use the batter immediately or cover and chill for a day or two.

Divide the batter among the pans using an ice cream scoop.  Fill each of the pans 2/3 to 3/4 of the way up.  Scatter the strawberries over the top of each of the cakes, dividing evenly.  (If any of the berries are touching the edges of the pans, use a fork to gently pull them away from the edge.)

Place the pan(s) on a baking sheet and place in the middle of the preheated oven (if your baking sheet is very thick or heavy, place it in the oven while the oven is preheating and then just place the cake pans directly on the preheated sheet). Bake for 20 to 35 minutes (depending on the size and depth of your pan) until the friands have risen, are golden around the edges and springy to the touch.  A skewer inserted into the center of one should come out clean. 

Take the friands out of the oven and leave them to cool in the pans for 3 to 5 minutes.  Don't allow them to stay too long in the molds or they will stick.  Turn the cakes out (running a sharp knife around the edges first if they seem to want to stick).  Transfer the cakes to a wire rack to cool.

To finish:  Dredge the cooled cakes with powdered sugar or ice them with the strawberry glaze.  To glaze the cakes, place them on a wire rack set over a baking sheet.  Drop a blob of glaze on the top of each cake and spread out to the edges, allowing it to slowly drip down the sides.  Before the glaze is set, sprinkle the top of each cake with a few chopped pistachios. 

Un-iced, the friands will keep—in an airtight container—for several days.  Glazing/icing should be done on the day they will be served. 

Note on pans:  You may use any shape of small, muffin-sized cake tin that you like as long as you butter it well and don't fill it any more than 2/3 to 3/4 full.  You can use a muffin pan...or small loaf pans.  I use a couple of individual cheesecake pans.  These are similar to 6 cup muffin tins, but have straight sides and removable bottoms.  The holes in my pans are two inches deep and 2 3/4 inches in diameter.  I only fill them about half full (75g batter each) because I don't want the cakes to be too large.  The recipe makes 10 cakes of this size.  You could probably use individual porcelain/china/stoneware ramekins too.

Strawberry Glaze:
55g. strawberries, washed, dried and hulled
1 T. milk
1/2 t. lemon juice
225g. powdered sugar

Place the berries in a small bows and smash with a fork.  Pass through a fine sieve, pressing the pulp against the sides.  Measure out 25 grams of strained strawberry purée.  Place the powdered sugar in a small bowl and add the measured berry purée, the milk and the lemon juice.  Stir with a rubber spatula to make a thick, smooth glaze.  It should be just thick enough so that it will slowly drip down the sides of the cakes when spread on the top.  Adjust the consistency with milk, strawberry purée or powdered sugar.  Cover with plastic wrap until ready to use.

Recipe adapted from Ottolenghi and Waitrose

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Saturday, March 11, 2017

Kale Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing, Currants & Sunflower Seeds

I made a trip to the farmers' market last Saturday morning.  During the summer months, this is a weekly occurrence, worthy of a mention along the lines of "I got out of bed this morning."  During the winter though, this has not been the case.  Up until this year it wasn't possible for me to go—there was no market to go to.  But this winter, the market I started going to early last summer (The Brookside Farmers' Market) started hosting a bi-monthly, indoor, winter market.  I went to the first one...and I loved it. I had every intention of faithfully going for the duration of the winter.  But since it wasn't part of my routine...  it just didn't happen.  I have no excuse.

But this past Saturday, I returned.  And I was so glad I did.  I came home with leeks, beautiful little sweet potatoes, broccoli greens (a new one for me), and Tuscan kale.  I used the sweet potatoes first...they were perfect for roasting (their size and shape made beautiful little medallions).  I am using the leeks today—in a simple potato leek soup (perfect for our late winter snow day).   The broccoli greens ended up in a garlicky braise with a handful of chickpeas.  Since I was unfamiliar with this green, I had asked the grower about it (always a good idea).  He told me they were most similar to Collard greens...although the tiny leaves were tender enough to throw in a salad.  My bag of greens was a mix of large and small, so a simple braise seemed like the thing to do ('s always a good idea to at least use a process that is familiar to you if the ingredient is not).  I thought they were delicious...and very nice served over a mound of bulgur and topped with a fried egg.

I decided to use the kale raw, in a salad.   This is unusual for me.  I know that kale salad is beyond hipster at this point...almost to the point of being passé (so I am definitely late to the party).  It just so happens that I really like cooked kale.  I have of course eaten...and made...kale salad.  It's just not the first thing that leaps to mind when I have kale on hand.  But when I got this kale home and looked at it, I knew it really belonged in a salad.  It was just so tender and beautiful. 

I don't know why, but I started thinking recently about a salad that I used to make for myself in college.  I think it's fair to say that it's no secret that I spent the early years of my life actively avoiding vegetables.  By the time I got to college I must have been aware that there was benefit in vegetables...and I occasionally made myself a salad at the salad bar.  Although, I managed to avoid all the raw vegetables that were on offer:  my salad of choice was a small amount of lettuce (probably ice's really hard to say...this was long before the day of the now ubiquitous "mixed baby lettuces"), creamy blue cheese dressing, salty roasted sunflower seeds and dark raisins.  Even back then, this salad hit all my favored flavor and textural buttons: salty...sweet...crunchy...chewy...creamy...  with the nice pungency of blue cheese thrown in for accent.  The lettuce was just the delivery system.

I'm not sure why I never recreated this salad before now, but it occurred to me as I thought about kale salad that kale would be an admirable green with which to make it.  The substance and texture of kale are sufficient to stand up to the actual physical weight of the seeds, raisins and heavy dressing.  Moreover, I thought the mineral-y tasting—slightly pungent...slightly bitter—raw kale would be enhanced by these salty, sweet and pungent additions.  And it was.

In the unlikely event that you are new to kale salad, one of the great things about it is that it can be dressed ahead.  In fact, it really should be dressed at least an hour or so before you plan on eating it.  If you dress it and eat it right away, it is just way too chewy.  Eating it becomes a lot of work...and as you chew you really do have the feeling that you are eating it "because it's good for you".  I admit that I have very little patience for that kind of eating.  Food should be enjoyable and delicious!  Dressing the kale ahead will make it so that it is as enjoyable to eat as it is delicious.  Frankly, kale is substantial enough that you can dress the salad a day ahead and it will be even softer....but still not soggy.  Depending on your textural preferences, you might even like it better on the second day.

If you have a winter market in your area, I encourage you to make a point to give it a visit.  Doing so will give you a sense of what grows...and even your area during the inhospitable months of winter.  It's also a great opportunity to support the people who work so hard to bring you beautiful local produce during the spring, summer and fall.  And in the winter, you will probably get to sample some of the things they make with what they grow...baked goods, jams (I picked up some local apple butter last week), pickles/fermented foods, addition to all the squash and root vegetables that have been kept in appropriate winter storage.

And if there is not a winter market in your area, you should definitely make a trip to the store to pick up some Tuscan kale (and any of the other ingredients that you might need) so you can make this salad.  You might even be able to get someone who doesn't like vegetables to give it a try.

Kale Salad with Roquefort, Sunflower Seeds & Currants

When I was in college, I made this salad with dark raisins.  In its reincarnated form with kale, I make it with currants—which seem a bit more refined—instead.  But if you have raisins on hand, you can obviously use them. 

1 large bunch Tuscan Kale, stems stripped and leaves cut cross-wise into scant 1/2-inch wide ribbons (you should have about 5 oz of trimmed kale)
Salt & freshly ground pepper
1/3 c. toasted and salted sunflower seeds
1/3 c. dried currants
2 T. finely minced shallot, rinsed thoroughly in cold water and pressed dry between paper towels 1/3 to 1/2 c. creamy Roquefort dressing (see below)
Roquefort crumbles for garnish

Wash the kale in several changes of water and spin dry.  If time, chill briefly (this will help it to crisp up and dry a bit more.)

At least an hour before you plan to serve the salad, place the kale in a large bowl.  Season with salt and pepper and scatter a quarter cup each of the sunflower seeds and currants over the kale along with the shallot.  

Drizzle a third cup of the dressing over the contents of the bowl, and using your hands, toss the salad, massaging the leaves a bit as you do to make sure they are well coated with the dressing.  Add more dressing if you like.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  Cover with plastic and chill for at least an hour. 

To serve, re-toss, adding more dressing if necessary.  Mound the salad on individual plates or in a serving bowl and top with a scattering of the remaining sunflower seeds and currants.  Garnish with Roquefort crumbles and serve.  Serves 4 to 5.

Creamy Roquefort Dressing:
You can of course use a purchased blue cheese dressing for this salad...but I really don't recommend it.  Homemade blue cheese dressing is simple to make and oh so delicious—particularly if you make it with a good Roquefort cheese.

1 T. red wine vinegar
a small clove of garlic (just a small amount), smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt
1/4 c. mayonnaise (60 g.)
1/4 c. sour cream (60 g.)
1 oz. Roquefort
Salt & freshly ground pepper

Place the red wine vinegar in a small bowl. Whisk in the garlic. Whisk in the mayonnaise and sour cream until smooth.  Add the cheese, placing it at the side of the bowl, and begin to mash it with the back of a spoon or a fork, gradually incorporating the mayonnaise-sour cream mixture into it.  Continue to mix until the dressing is homogenous. Your goal is to incorporate the blue cheese in such a way that the dressing is smooth and creamy.  If you make a larger batch, you could do this more efficiently in the food processor, but this small batch wouldn't work very well in a large food processor. Season to taste with salt & pepper.

Makes a generous 2/3 cup dressing.

Note:  This is the identical to a recipe I posted a few years ago except that it has more vinegar.  I found that my normal blue cheese dressing wasn't quite sharp enough for the kale.

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Sunday, March 5, 2017

Farro with Butternut Squash, Kale & Pistachios

Anyone who cooks on a regular basis will tell you they feel like they get into culinary ruts.  The very notion of a rut implies somehow being stuck...or maybe being boring.  But the fact that we gravitate toward the familiar can be a good thing.  The pull of particular foods/ingredients...  favored styles or food cultures...   certain cookbooks/food magazines or blogs...   or a group of chefs/cooks whose recipes cause you stop and take a second look, is often the source of much deliciousness.  Recently, every single one of these bells went off for me when I saw Melissa Clark's recipe for Farro with Roasted Squash on the New York Times Cooking site. 

No matter what Clark had chosen to do with this set of ingredients, I'm pretty sure I would have liked the result....  I appreciate her style and her approach to food.  And I love farro and winter squash.  All of this together made me stop and look.  What inspired me to try my own spin on her recipe was the liquid she used to cook her farro:  apple cider.  I don't know why using cider in this way has never occurred to me (it happens to be a favored winter ingredient...I pretty much always have some in the fridge during the fall and winter months...).  What a great idea.  Cider adds subtle flavor, sweetness and acidity....and compliments the squash perfectly.  I love apples with winter squash. 

As usual, I departed from the original recipe in a couple of ways.  Instead of adding sugar and spices to the squash, I just tossed it with olive oil and salt and pepper.  Then, I added a generous quantity of caramelized red onions and some chopped pistachios to the finished farro.  Both of these added the subtle sweetness I had removed—and as a bonus, the pistachios added some nice textural interest. 

I also added some wilted Tuscan kale to the finished pilaf.  I think a scattering of arugula or mint instead (as in the original recipe) would have been nice, but one of my most favored culinary ruts is wilted greens with grains.... 

Finally, I served my pilaf with a dollop of labneh.  I tried the finished dish with the Feta crumbles—and this was good (goat cheese would be good too)—but found that I preferred the tangy contrast of yogurt to the salty contrast of the cheese.  If you are in the mood for something more salty, Feta might be the way to go.

It is worth observing that while the reason I originally stopped to examine Clark's recipe might be my own well-worn culinary path, that doesn't mean the resulting dish was boring in the slightest.  I found it to be totally delicious and satisfying.  As a matter of fact, it's the kind of thing I could happily cook and eat every day....

Farro with Winter Squash, Tuscan Kale & Pistachios

1 large or 2 small bunches (8 to 10 oz. total) Tuscan kale, stemmed (discard stems) and leaves cut cross-wise into 1-inch strips
About 4 T. olive oil, divided
1 medium to large red onion (8 to 10 oz.), halved and thinly sliced cross-wise
Salt & pepper, to taste
1/8 t. hot pepper flakes, or more, to taste
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 lb. Butternut squash, peeled, seeded halved and cut into 1/2-inch thick slices (see note)
1 c. pearled or semi-pearled farro
1 c. apple cider
1 T. to 1 1/2 T. cider vinegar, to taste
1/4 c. pistachios, toasted and coarsely chopped
3 oz. Labneh, yogurt or Feta (in large chunks)
Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.  Add the kale and cook until just tender—about 5 to 7 minutes.  Drain the kale, reserving 1 1/2 cups of the blanching liquid.  Spread the kale on a baking sheet—or just spread out in a wide colander—and let cool. 

Warm 1 1/2 T. of olive oil in a wide sauté pan set over moderate heat.  Add the onion along with a good pinch of salt and the pepper flakes.  Cook until the onions are tender and slightly caramelized. If at any time the onions seem dry, add a bit more oil.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant. Add the kale and stir to coat in the oil and onions.  Cook over low heat until any water clinging to the kale has evaporated.  Set aside and keep warm.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, toss the squash with a couple tablespoons of olive oil and salt & pepper to taste.  Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and transfer to a 450° oven.  Roast until tender and caramelized—about 25 to 30 minutes, flipping the squash over after about 15 to 20 minutes (wait to turn until the squash has begun to become golden on the bottom).  Keep warm until ready to assemble the pilaf.

While the squash, onions and kale cook, cook the farro.  Place the cider and reserved kale cooking liquid in a saucepan and check for salt.  Bring to a boil and add the farro.  Cover and reduce the heat to maintain a simmer.  Cook until the farro is tender (but still has texture)—about 25 to 30 minutes.  Drain the farro and transfer to a large bowl. Add the kale/caramelized onions along with a tablespoon of cider vinegar.  Taste and correct the seasoning with salt, pepper and vinegar.

To serve, spread half of the farro mixture on a large platter or individual serving plates.  Top with half of the squash and a scattering of pistachios.  Repeat this layering.  If using labneh or yogurt, serve with a dollop on the side or drizzle yogurt over the whole pilaf.  If using Feta or goat cheese, crumble the cheese over all.  Drizzle with olive oil and serve.  Serves 4. 

Note:  Cut the cavity portion of the squash into 1/2-inch wide wedges. Cut the halved "neck" portion cross-wise into 1/2-inch thick slices.  If you like, you can further cut these half circles in half—into "sticks" or you prefer.  I like this dish best made with all cavity portions as I think these 'wedges' look best in the dish.  (I save the necks for a preparation that calls for a neat dice). 

(Adapted from New York Times Cooking)

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Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Winter Lasagne...with Spinach, Butternut Squash & Mushrooms

Last July I published a recipe for Summer Lasagne.  "Summer" because the main ingredient was corn—made into a pesto and also folded into some beautiful market chard.  This unusual and tasty lasagne was the serendipitous result of the intersection of an impulse purchase at the grocery store (no-boil noodles) and the bountiful produce of the summer market. 

I haven't been to the farmers' market in a while (for a lot of reasons...but the main one is that the winter market is new and I'm not in the habit of it yet), but the unforeseen contents of my pantry—an extra pound of baby spinach (!), a chunk of winter squash...and an unusual and continuous supply of ricotta (I'm not sure why I keep buying it other than I love it and it is so versatile)—once again provided the inspiration for lasagne. This time I purchased the no-boil lasagne noodles...along with some mushrooms and Fontina cheese...with the definite purpose in mind of a Winter Lasagne—with spinach, butternut squash and mushrooms.  

Although it is not always the case, some of the most delicious meals are the ones I make without a specific "recipe" or a real plan....  the ones where I just walk into the kitchen with an idea and start cooking.  Such was the case with this lasagne.  I had a general idea in mind, but hadn't bothered to plan too much. When you consider that making lasagne is always a project, this probably wasn't the wisest course to take....but in retrospect, I'm glad I did it that way.

I am almost never in my kitchen anymore without a camera.  This makes it so I can write a post if I particularly like something I have made.  Or, it gives me a way of revisiting something I have made if I have forgotten details.  On this particular occasion, about the time I started to build my lasagne, I quit taking pictures.  I was tired.  It was getting dark(er).  And most significantly, I was not happy with the way my lasagne was going together:  the ricotta/spinach mixture seemed a bit stiff....   I felt like I had underestimated the amount of each of the components (especially the béchamel)....  In any case, I was pretty sure I would be going completely back to the drawing board if I ever wanted to make this particular lasagne again. 

Then, a couple of things happened.  First, I got a break from it.  A lasagne takes 40 minutes to an hour to bake and as I cleaned and righted the kitchen, I began to think less about the work and more about dinner.  Then, I cut into it...and it sliced beautifully and evenly.  Then....  I tasted it.  I was astonished by how delicious and flavorful it was.  I even commented about it out loud as I simultaneously felt a bit disgruntled that I had stopped taking pictures.  The next day at lunch, it tasted even better.   Of course, I had to make another...

The second time around was a much better experience.  I knew what to expect, so it went together much more easily.  I'm happy to share that if you organize the succession of your vegetable, cheese and sauce preparation in a thoughtful way, you will probably be sitting down to dinner within two hours of the time you start cooking.  (And since you will be able to use part of that time—while the lasagne bakes—to clean up, it really doesn't seem like an unreasonable amount of time for a lasagne.)

To make your lasagne preparation experience as stream-lined as possible, start by cutting and roasting your squash.  While the squash roasts, collapse/cook the spinach and spread it out too cool.  Slice the mushrooms and dice the shallots and sauté while the spinach cools.  Squeeze out the spinach and mince.  At this point your vegetables should be done.  You can start grating the cheeses while all of this is happening...or wait until the vegetables are all done and then move on to the cheeses.  (Since you will have your microplane grater/zester out to grate the Parmesan, use it to grate the clove of garlic directly into the bowl of ricotta too.)  Finally, since this lasagne uses no-boil noodles (really, a much better product than traditional dried lasagna), all that is left is to make the béchamel and build the lasagne.

Like the summer lasagne, this one is pretty rich and will serve four to six.  I'm certain it could be doubled to serve more.  If you want to make sure that you can serve six with just one, you can make a tossed salad—or a simple blanched green vegetable (like green beans or broccoli)—to serve with it.  I was perfectly content with just the lasagne—not only is it filling, but the flavor is very satisfying.  I found that I preferred to enjoy some fruit afterwards (the Mandarins have been incredible this year).  

And if fruit isn't your favorite thing...or you would really prefer something a bit more decadent—then a little something chocolate would I think provide just the right note to round out your meal. 

Spinach Lasagne with Butternut Squash & Mushrooms

1 to 1 1/4 lb. Butternut squash, peeled, halved lengthwise, seeded and cut cross-wise into 1/4-inch thick slabs
2 T. olive oil, divided
Salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste
3 1/2 T. butter, divided
8 oz. crimini or white mushrooms, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 medium shallot (about 1 1/2 oz.), peeled and minced
1/4 c. dry white wine
1 lb. baby spinach, washed
1 c. (240 g) whole milk ricotta
1 oz. (1/3 c) finely grated Parmesan
1 clove garlic, finely grated with a microplaner or smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt
Pinch nutmeg 
1 1/3 c. whole milk
2 T. flour 
1 1/3 c. whole milk
2 T. flour 
6 oz. Fontina or Fontal, coarsely grated
8 "no-boil" lasagna (half of an 8 oz. box)

In a large bowl, toss the squash with a tablespoon or so of olive oil (enough to lightly coat all the squash) and season with salt and pepper.  Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet

and roast in a 450° oven until tender and caramelized—about 25 to 30 minutes.  (Flip the squash over about 2/3 of the way through for more even browning.)  Set aside when done.

While the squash roasts, place the spinach in a large stock pot with just the water clinging to the leaves from washing (or—if you have purchased a container of triple washed, add about a quarter inch of water to the pan before adding the spinach). Cover the pot and set over high heat.  When you hear the water begin to boil and steam, uncover and turn the spinach over and over in the pot (using tongs) until it has all collapsed.  This whole process should only take a minute or two.  Dump the contents of the pot into a strainer of colander to get rid of most of the water.  Spread the spinach on a sheet pan and let cool.  When cool, squeeze out the excess water a handful at a time. 

Chop the spinach medium fine.  

You should have 1 1/4 to 1 1/3 cups loosely packed chopped spinach.  Set aside.

While the squash roasts and the spinach cools, melt a tablespoon of butter with a tablespoon of olive oil in a wide sauté pan set over moderately high to high heat.  When the butter stops sputtering and the foam subsides a bit, add the mushrooms.  Sauté the mushrooms (tossing or stirring occasionally) until tender and golden and any liquid released has evaporated. (Season the mushrooms with salt when they have begun to take on some color.)  Reduce the heat under the mushrooms to medium/medium-low.  Push the mushrooms out towards the perimeter of the pan and add another tablespoon of butter to the center of the pan.  When the butter has melted, add the shallots and a pinch of salt and cook until tender and fragrant...this will just take a few minutes.  Add the wine to the pan, increase the heat slightly.  Allow the wine to reduce completely to a buttery glaze, scraping the bottom of the pan occasionally get all of the caramelized mushroom juices.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  Set aside.

Place the ricotta, parmesan, garlic, spinach and a pinch of nutmeg in a medium-sized bowl.  Mix until well combined, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper.

Prepare the béchamel: In a small saucepan, bring the milk to a simmer; keep hot.  (Alternatively, heat the milk in a microwave proof container of some kind.)  In another medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat.  When the foam subsides, whisk in the flour.  Cook stirring constantly for a minute or so—the roux will be bubbly and straw yellow.  Remove from the heat and pour in half of the hot milk, whisking constantly until smooth—it will thicken immediately.  Add the remaining milk.  Return to the heat and stir constantly until the sauce returns to a simmer.  Taste and season as desired with salt and pepper.

When you are ready to build the lasagne, oil a square 2-quart baking dish (an 8 1/2- by 8 1/2-inch Pyrex is perfect) and bring a shallow pan of water just to the boil and remove from the heat.  Arrange these two items...along with all the other components—on your workspace so that you have easy access to everything.   

Add two of the noodles to the pan of hot water.  Spread a couple of tablespoons of béchamel in the bottom of the oiled dish.  You are now ready to build the lasagne:

Lift the noodles out of the pan. (They should not be soft or flexible at this're just giving them a head start by soaking them briefly—less than a minute.)  Let the excess water drip back in to the pan and arrange them in a single layer in the prepared baking dish.  Add a couple more noodles to the pan of hot water (to soak while you build the first layer).  Scatter a third of the mushrooms and a third of the squash over the noodles.  

Daub a third of the ricotta mixture over the vegetables, spreading it out a bit using two forks.  

Drizzle a fourth of the remaining béchamel (about 1/3 cup) over the ricotta-spinach mixture (spreading if a big glob goes all in one place).  Scatter a quarter of the Fontina (1 1/2 oz.) over all.  Beginning with the noodles, repeat this layering two more times.  

Finish with two more (soaked) noodles, the remainder of the béchamel (spreading evenly) and a scattering of the remaining Fontina (1 1/2 oz.).

Cover the pan with a piece of aluminum foil that has been brushed on the underside with olive oil (or sprayed with pan spray), tenting the foil slightly if possible so that it isn't touching the top of the lasagne.  Bake in a 350° oven until the mozzarella on top has just melted—about 25 to 30 minutes.  Uncover and continue to bake until the lasagne is bubbling around the edges and the top is beginning to brown around the edges...another 10 to 15 minutes.  Let the lasagne rest for 5 to 10.  Cut with a sharp knife and serve.  Serves 4 to 6.

  • The amounts of mushrooms and squash will seem very skimpy as you are building the lasagne. This is as it should be. 
  • The ricotta-spinach mixture may seem very stiff (depending on the moisture in your ricotta). Don't worry if it won't spread into an even layer—it is in fact very likely that it will not. Just daub it evenly over the vegetables and flatten it a bit with a fork. It will spread out—or at least give the impression of having spread out—as it bakes. 
  • I have never made this with frozen spinach, but I imagine that frozen chopped spinach—thawed and squeezed dry and measured to make 1 to 1 1/3 cup would be fine. 
  • Substitute Low-moisture Mozzarella for the Fontina/Fontal if you like. 
  • This makes a tall if you double the lasagne, it would be best to go with a 15- by 11-inch pan rather than a 13- by 9-inch.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Grated Carrot Salad with Coriander & Pistachios

Monique Jamet Hooker in her book Cooking with the Seasons makes the observation that "The French eat carrot salad the same way Americans eat carrot sticks." Leave it to the French to turn the humble, raw carrot into something special.  I'll eat that plain, ubiquitous carrot stick when it shows up in a picnic basket or on a party relish tray...but only because it is less dubious than some of the other things that might be on offer.  The difference between noshing on a horse fodder-like carrot stick and a chic little dish of grated carrots dressed with a tangy and garlicky or herbaceous vinaigrette pretty well sums up the chasm between the French and the American manner of dining.  David Lebovitz tells us that the ability to produce this simple little salad is "in your DNA" if you're French.  Fortunately for the rest of us, Carottes Râpées is an easy thing to learn to make.

In its most basic form, a grated carrot salad is nothing more than grated (or julienned) carrots dressed in a simple vinaigrette.  I like it best if the vinaigrette is a lemony one...but a red wine vinaigrette will work fine too.  The vinaigrette should be on the tangy side.  It should not be overly sweet.  The sweetness in this salad should come primarily from the carrots themselves...not an abundance of added sugar or honey.  It is fine to correct carrots that are not as naturally sweet as you would like with a pinch of sugar or a drizzle of honey.  But the overall effect of the salad should be lively, tangy and zippy. 

Other additions to this basic salad are minimal and vary from cook to cook.  When starting out without a vinaigrette (just dressing the carrots directly with lemon juice or red wine vinegar and olive oil) it is usual to include garlic or shallot.  Some cooks add a bit of Dijon mustard.  Freshly toasted and ground spices like coriander, cumin and fennel are also common.  And the salad is almost always finished with fresh herbs...flat leaf parsley, cilantro, tarragon, chervil or chives.  Every recipe I have ever seen or made includes a bit of cayenne or hot pepper flakes.  David Tanis makes a fantastic Moroccan version that is finished with lime and a scattering of green olives

When I make a grated carrot salad I add a couple of steps that I think improve its taste, texture and shelf life.  The first is something you won't have to worry about if you are making your salad with a vinaigrette you already have on hand, and that is to allow the minced/smashed garlic and/or minced shallots to macerate briefly in the lemon juice or vinegar before adding them to the carrots.  This brief soak is how I always begin when I make a vinaigrette and its purpose is to soften the harshness of these two ingredients.  Not only will the flavor of garlic or shallot be stronger and harsher if you don't do this, their presence will become more and more prominent as the salad sits...making for a salad that tastes overwhelmingly of garlic or shallot on subsequent days.  Since one of the things I like about grated carrot salad is the fact that it keeps really well for several days, it would be a shame if it became inedible because the garlic or shallot had become too strong.

The second thing I do is something I picked up in David Tanis's Moroccan version.  Instead of making a vinaigrette and pouring it over the carrots...or simply throwing all the ingredients into a bowl and combining them, Tanis adds the ingredients in stages, adding the olive oil last.  The reason for this is that if allowed to sit on the carrots for a short length of time, the salt and the acidity of the lemon or vinegar will begin to soften the carrots by drawing out some of their liquid.  If you wait to add the oil until after the carrots have started to soften, you will use less oil and you won't end up with a pile of grated carrots sitting in a pool of oil.  The other benefit of waiting to add the oil is that the seasonings will be absorbed by the carrots better if there is no oil coating them and acting as a barrier.   

Obviously recipes for Carottes Râpées are easy to find...and I do hope you will look for one to try.  The one I am sharing today would be a good place to start.  It is from Jody Williams' book Buvette and it is a bit unusual.  Like the basic versions I have described, it is simple and streamlined.  But, it contains the surprise of chopped, toasted pistachios.  The pistachios add color... subtle crunch... and sweetness.  They are, I think, a genius touch...and make this salad my new favorite version of the grated carrot salad.    

Grated Carrot Salad with Coriander & Pistachios

2 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice...or more, to taste
1 small clove garlic, grated with a microplaner or smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt
1 lb. carrots, trimmed and peeled
1/2 t. kosher salt, plus more to taste as needed
1 t. coriander seeds, toasted and crushed in a mortar and pestle
pinch cayenne, or to taste
1/4 c. pistachios, toasted and coarsely chopped
3 to 4 T. cilantro chiffonade
about 3 T. olive oil

Place the lemon juice in a small bowl and add the garlic.  Stir to distribute the garlic and set aside.  (This is an important step, whether you are using garlic...or making another carrot salad with minced shallot.  Allowing the smashed/minced garlic—or shallot—to macerate for a bit in the acid will soften its harshness considerably.)

Coarsely grate the carrots using the large holes of a box grater or the grating disc of your food processer (see note). Put the carrots in a large bowl, sprinkle with the salt, and toss. Add the coriander and cayenne and toss.  Pour the lemon-garlic mixture over all.  Toss well and let soften a bit (20 to 30 minutes).

Add enough olive oil to coat and fold in the pistachios and cilantro.  Taste and adjust the seasoning with lemon juice, salt, black pepper and cayenne.  If the carrots are not as sweet as you would like, add a pinch of sugar or drizzle of honey.  Cover and set aside at cool room temperature for up to several hours, or refrigerate and then return to room temperature to serve.  The salad keeps, well covered and in the refrigerator for several days. 

(Recipe adapted from Buvette, by Jody Williams)

Note:  I recently read an article in the premier issue of Christopher Kimball's Milk Street that explained how grating actually enhances the sweetness of the carrots.  Since grating ruptures more of the carrot's cells, more natural sugars are released into the salad.  You will find French Carrot Salads that feature julienned carrots...and these are delicious too...but if you want to enhance the sweetness of the carrot, grating is the way to go.  Just make sure you grate them coarsely or you will have soggy carrot pulp instead of nice strands of crisp carrot.