Sunday, August 18, 2019

Zucchini Quiche with Feta, Walnuts & Lemon

Because my work involves so many different cooking outlets (teaching—at more than one place, private dinners—in many different homes, working in a pastry shop, testing recipes for all of the above…not to mention for my blog…) I occasionally purchase way too much of an ingredient.  Most of the time I am able to absorb the extra into my own cooking…or one of the many outlets…without too much thought.  Recently however, I found myself in possession of an extra quart and a half of cream that I didn’t “need” for any of my work.  I love cream.  But a quart and a half is a lot of cream for a household of one!

I began to look for ways to use lots of cream.  I made my mother a batch of scones….  I made myself a batch of scones….  And I still had almost a quart.  At the same time, I also had an abundance of beautiful eggs (gifts from good friends who keep chickens).  So, I thought ice cream would be the solution.  But I didn’t have any milk…and I didn’t feel like adding to my stash of dairy…

Then I went to the farmers’ market.  Actually, I went to three in one morning—because I really do love going to farmers’ markets.  When I got home I discovered that in shopping at three locations without a list I had purchased way too much zucchini and summer squash (it was just so beautiful—I think it has been a good year for squash). 

As I looked at my abundance of squash, wondering how I was going to consume it before it started to go bad, I thought about my stash of cream and eggs….  Then I thought of quiche.  A standard size quiche would use up at least a cup of cream…plus a couple of eggs and a good portion of my squash.  As luck would have it, I also had a round of pate brisée in my freezer (always a good thing to have on hand!).  Clearly a zucchini quiche was meant to be.

Now I just had to decide how I wanted to cook the summer squash (Vegetables should always be cooked before adding them to a quiche. To learn why, check out my “quiche basics” post from a few years ago.)  …and what other flavors I wanted to add to compliment the squash.  For the cooking of the squash I decided to go with a method I described in a pasta salad post several years ago.  The squash is cooked in a sauté pan with a small amount of olive oil and a minimal amount of water.  As the squash cooks the water evaporates.  Tom Colicchio (the source of the method) calls the result ‘the essence of zucchini’:  tender zucchini that isn’t water-logged (as it would be if boiled) or caramelized (as it would be if sautéed or roasted).  I thought it would be a perfect way to prepare it for a quiche.

My inspiration for the remaining flavors began with the zucchini tart in Anna Thomas’s The Vegetarian Epicure (which was the first recipe that popped into my mind when I began to think about a zucchini quiche).   Her tart is so tightly packed with zucchini slices that a cross-section looks like a mosaic.  It is the look I was striving for in my quiche.  She tops her tart with toasted breadcrumbs.  I loved the idea of a bit of crunch—and I love quiche topped with breadcrumbs—but I decided instead to get my crunch from some finely minced walnuts. 

Walnuts are one of my favorite companions for zucchini. The addition of lemon and garlic to this combination raises the flavor to one of those “greater than the sum of its parts” food experiences.  I don’t remember now where I first encountered this combination.  I wish I did, so I could give credit.  Zucchini can seem a bit bland and one dimensional—slightly bitter…with finer specimens exhibiting a nutty flavor profile.  The walnuts accentuate both of these things.  Garlic adds depth.  Lemon turns on the lights, allowing all the flavors to shine.  If you have never tried this combination of flavors, you should try making a side of simply sautéed zucchini, finished with garlic, lemon zest, a shower of chopped walnuts and a judicious amount of salt (and some parsley or thyme if you’re feeling fancy).  You will probably have a new favorite summer side dish.

All of these flavors were easily incorporated into the tart.  I added thyme to the zucchini as it cooked…and slipped the lemon and garlic into the custard.   And to get that little extra bit of salt that all of this requires, I added Feta.  Not only does Feta provide a nice tangy/salty accent, it can be cut into cubes (like the squash) and adds to the lovely mosaic look of the slices of quiche.  All in all, I found this tart to be unusually delicious—and a great way to use up some of that late summer abundance of zucchini (not to mention my own personal surplus of cream and eggs!).

Zucchini Quiche with Feta, Walnuts & Lemon

400 g./14 oz. small zucchini and/or summer squash, trimmed and cut into a 1/4- to 1/3-inch dice (see note)—a generous 3 cups
several sprigs of thyme, picked
1 1/2 t. olive oil
1/4 c. water (plus more as needed)
Salt & pepper, to taste
2 eggs
1 c. heavy cream
Zest of one medium or half of a large lemon
1 small clove of garlic
1 10-inch blind baked tart shell (see below)
1 1/2 oz. grated Parmesan or Pecorino (or a mix of the two—which is my preference)
4 oz. Feta (block in brine), cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1/4 c. walnuts (finely chopped)

In a very large skillet, warm the olive oil over medium to medium high heat. Add the zucchini, the picked thyme, a generous pinch of salt and 1/4 cup of water and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until the zucchini is tender and the water has evaporated.  This will take 5 to 10 minutes, depending on the size and age of the zucchini.  Add more water if the zucchini starts to brown. Transfer the zucchini to a baking sheet to cool.  If the zucchini is tender and the water hasn’t evaporated, spread the zucchini on paper towels to absorb the excess moisture. 

Crack the eggs into a medium bowl and whisk until smooth.  Add the cream and lemon zest.  Using a microplane zester (the same one you used for the lemon zest), grate the garlic clove into the bowl (if you don’t have a microplaner, smash the garlic to a purée with a pinch of salt and add).  Whisk until smooth.  Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Place the baked crust on a baking sheet.  Scatter half of the Parmesan/Pecorino over the crust. 

Next, add the squash and spread into an even layer.  Scatter the Feta evenly over the squash and use your fingers to nudge it into an even layer with the cooked squash. 

Slowly pour the custard over the squash and Feta, jiggling the pan a bit so the custard will be evenly distributed and will penetrate any pockets created by the squash and cheese. Be careful not to let the custard flow over the edge. If there are any low places in the edge of your crust, you will not be able to use it all. Scatter the remaining Parmesan/Pecorino over the tart, followed by the walnuts.

Bake the tart until the custard is set—about 25 to 30 minutes (a knife inserted in the center will come out clean). Slide the tart under the broiler to brown slightly if you like. Serves 6 as an entrée (with a salad or vegetable side), 8 to 10 as a light first course with a fluff of lightly dressed greens.


  • The tart is very fragile if served right away.  If you don’t mind the zucchini slipping apart from the custard a bit as you eat, this isn’t a huge problem.  But if this bothers you, simply make the tart ahead—it slices beautifully if it has time to rest and set up.  And, it actually tastes better on subsequent days—the flavors having had time to develop and blend.
  • I have made this tart with both diced and sliced (scant 1/4-inch) zucchini.  When sliced, the “slipping” of the squash (previous note) is even more pronounced.  But slicing the zucchini is obviously faster than dicing…and as mentioned above, isn’t a problem after the tart has had a few hours to set up.
  • Parmesan is nutty—accenting the nuttiness of the squash and the walnuts.  Pecorino contributes a salty tang (like the Feta).  I like the inclusion of both—but one or the other would be fine too.

Pâte Brisée
(Short Crust Pastry)

1 1/3 c. all-purpose flour (150g)
3/8 t. salt
8 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces (113g)
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 the smaller measure of 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.

To roll out, let dough warm up for a moment or two.  Butter/spray a 10-inch removable bottom tart pan and set it aside.  Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface into a circle that is about 1/8- to 1/6–inch thick and with a diameter 2 to 3 inches larger than that of the pan.  Trim any ragged edges.  Brush off the excess flour and fold the dough circle in half.  Transfer it to the prepared pan.  Unfold the dough and ease it into the pan being careful not to stretch it.  Press the dough against the sides of the pan (being sure not to stretch the dough) and cut the dough off flush with the edge of the tart pan.  Chill for at least 30 minutes.

To blind bake, line the pastry with aluminum foil or parchment paper, pressing it into the corners and edges.  Add a layer of pie weights or dried beans.  Bake in a 400° to 425° oven for 20 to 25 minutes.  When the pastry begins to color on the edges and is cooked through, remove the foil and weights and continue baking until the pastry dries out and turns a golden brown (another 5 minutes or so).

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Monday, July 29, 2019

Homemade Fresh Cheese (“Ricotta”)

I’m not sure when I first discovered that making fresh, ricotta-like cheese at home was not only possible—but actually doable for anyone with a stove, some milk, a coagulant (lemon juice, vinegar or buttermilk) and a cheesecloth-lined sieve.  It was Michael Chiarello’s recipe in his aptly named Casual Cooking that tipped me off to the fact that making a fresh cheese was a simple—even quick—process.  Once I discovered his recipe I immediately began making—and teaching—fresh cheese.

Unfortunately my results weren’t always very consistent.  Sometimes my cheese was light and spreadable.  And then on other occasions it was stiff and a bit sticky.  It always tasted good…but I was unhappy about the unevenness of the results from a textural standpoint.  As a professional cook, consistency is something I always strive for. Whenever I visited one of my favorite restaurants (for Kansas City Locals: Extra Virgin), I nibbled their fresh ricotta and grilled bread platter with a mixture of pleasure and envy.  What were they doing to get such a consistently light and spreadable result?

As I stated at the beginning, the basic method for making fresh cheese is very straight forward and simple.  Place the milk in a saucepan.  If using buttermilk as your coagulant, add that with the milk.  Heat the milk.  If using an acid (lemon juice or vinegar) for your coagulant, add it to the heated milk.  Stir and watch the curds form.  Let the mixture sit (off the heat) for a few minutes to allow the curds to firm up.  Drain through a cheese cloth.  That’s it.  But clearly I was missing something.

If you take the time to look around, you will discover that the method truly doesn’t vary too much from site to site and cook to cook.  Some cooks add a bit of cream to the milk (for added richness and a slightly higher yield).  The recipe from Chiarello that I had started out with used buttermilk to set the curds.  I found that most recipes use lemon juice or distilled white vinegar.  Since I always have lemons on hand…and rarely keep buttermilk around…I switched to lemon juice.  My results were about the same.

There seems to be a bit of disagreement about the temperature to which the milk should be heated before adding the acid.  Most recipes take it to at least 180°.  Many go a bit higher than this.  Some even tell you to bring the milk to the boil.  My impression is that somewhere in the range of 180° to 190° is optimal.

The greatest amount of variation among the recipes that I looked at centered around the draining process—how it was accomplished and how long the curds should be allowed to drain.  And in the end, this seems to have been the source of my difficulty.  I think I had been allowing too much of the whey to drain away.  No one tells you this, but the cheese when it is at the correct, soft consistency for serving as a light and fluffy spread, will still look like it is way too wet.  But if you can scoop some of the curd up with a fork or spoon and you are rewarded with a substance that sits on your utensil in a soft, delicate, trembly mound, you are done.  Depending on how you transfer the curd into the cheesecloth, the time it takes to reach this point could be anywhere from 2 or 3 minutes to about 15 minutes. 

At 15 minutes.  If you scrape a bit a the edge with a rubber spatula--or even just lift
 the cheesecloth around the edges--you can see that the cheese is holding a shape.
Most recipes recommend 15 minutes as the minimum draining time…and suggest draining anywhere from an hour and up to overnight.  The only reason to do allow it to drain for this length of time is if your goal is super firm cheese (to be used in gnocchi, for example).   If this is the case, you may let the cheese continue to drain for up to an hour.  I have never found the need to drain it for longer than this.  No matter how long you drain it, the cheese becomes much firmer as it sits…and even firmer still under refrigeration.  Cheese drained for an hour will, after chilling, be as firm as cream cheese.  (If you beat the chilled cheese with a wooden spoon or rubber spatula, you will smooth out the curd to the point that you really will have something that is very much like cream cheese.)

There are several methods that I have seen for draining the curd.  Michael Chiarello tells you to gently push the raft of curds aside and to ladle the whey (which is underneath the curds) into your cheesecloth lined sieve, getting rid of as much of the whey as possible before spooning the curds themselves into the sieve along with any remaining whey.  Patricia Wells in The Provence Cookbook directs you to prepare two cheesecloth lined sieves…and to spoon the majority of the curds into the first sieve—and then pour the whey and remaining solids into the second.  The few curds from the second sieve can be moved to the first.  Almost every other method I have ever seen tells you to just ladle or pour everything into the cheesecloth lined sieve and let it drain. 

The above cheese after lifting the cheesecloth all the way around.  It is still very soft.

Obviously getting rid of most of the whey (using either Chiarello’s or Wells’s methods) will shorten the amount of time the curds need to drain.  But even if you unceremoniously dump the whole mixture into the sieve, you should still not have to drain the curds for longer than about 15 minutes (unless—as already mentioned—you are specifically going for a dryer, firmer cheese).  Because I learned how to make fresh cheese with Chiarello’s recipe, I am in the habit of a sort of hybrid method: I ladle off as much of the whey as I have the patience for before I pour the curds and whey that remains into the sieve.  You should use whatever method works best for you.

I should mention that not everyone adds salt to the milk along with the acid.  I suspect that adding the salt at this point has an effect of some kind on the formation of the curds.  I don’t know if adding it at this point is detrimental or not.  What I do know is that adding salt to taste to the finished cheese requires some stirring of the curd—which I think can have a detrimental effect.  I have noticed that stirring the finished curds can give them a sticky quality that I find unpleasant.

When the cheese has drained to your liking, you may eat it right away.  And frankly, I dare you not to. It is at this point that it is at its most sublime…mounded onto a toast and topped with something tasty (marinated roasted peppers…balsamic roasted fresh figs…).  Or all by itself with nothing but a drizzle of good olive oil, some flaky salt and freshly ground pepper.  It also makes a fantastic addition to a meze platter.  Anything that might be left can be placed in the fridge and should last for about a week.

With crusty bread and melon for lunch....

With Zaalouk and olives as part of a Meze spread....

On bruschetta and topped with Marinated Roasted Sweet Peppers....

Homemade Fresh Cheese—"Ricotta"

This cheese is similar to—and can be used as you would—ricotta.  Most recipes that you will find for "Homemade Ricotta" look pretty much like this recipe—the type and amount of acid will vary from recipe to recipe...and methods will vary slightly...but the process (and end product) is pretty much the same.  But none of these are really ricotta.  Ricotta is traditionally not made from milk.  It is made instead with whey and is therefore a byproduct of the cheese making process (most often the Pecorino making process).  If I understand the process correctly, you could make fresh ricotta at home.  You just have to have access to a large quantity of whey.

1 quart whole milk
1/2 c. heavy cream
A scant teaspoon of kosher salt
3 to 4 T. fresh lemon juice

Pour the milk and cream (if using) into a non-reactive saucepan.  Place over high heat and bring to just under a simmer (180° to 190°F), stirring the mixture frequently with a rubber spatula and making sure to scrape the whole pan bottom to prevent scorching.  Remove from the heat.  Add  the salt and 3 T. of lemon juice and stir—you should almost immediately observe curds forming and separating from the translucent whey.   If this isn't happening, gradually add more lemon juice until it does.  Let the mixture sit undisturbed in a warm place for 10 to 20 minutes.

While the mixture sits, line a wide sieve or colander with several layers of cheesecloth and place over a deep bowl, or directly over the sink.

Working from the side of the pan, push aside some of the curd and gently ladle the whey into the prepared cheesecloth.  Try not to break up the curds too much as you work.  When you have removed as much of the whey as you can without pulverizing the curd, pour the remaining contents of the pan into the sieve.  Lift the sides of the cloth once or twice to help the liquid drain.  Don’t press on the curds.  Let the curds drain for 15 to 60 minutes, depending on how dry you want your cheese to be.  (I like to drain for 15 minutes and serve the cheese right away while it is still soft and warm. Draining it longer will produced something with a texture like cream cheese.  No matter how long you drain it, it will firm up considerably upon chilling. For this reason, I always save some of the whey to add back in if the chilled cheese is too firm.)  Taste and correct the salt.  The cheese will keep for several days in the refrigerator.  Makes 1 1/2 cups.  Less if it drains longer than 15 minutes.
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On crostini and topped with Slow-Cooked Zucchini....

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Bulgur topped with a Medley of Marinated Cherry Tomatoes, Chickpeas, Fennel & Feta

Last Sunday I finally got around to looking through some of my summer food magazines.  I don’t get to them as often as I like, but they always provide inspiration when I do. This time, among other things, I noticed a pasta salad in the July/August issue of Martha Stewart Living, filled with things I love:  Cherry Tomatoes, Fresh Fennel, Chickpeas & Capers.  Since I had fresh fennel and cherry tomatoes on hand…and I’m always in the mood for pasta…I decided I would try it this week.

I finally got to it on Friday evening.  I had every intention of making the pasta exactly as written, but when dinner time rolled around, I wasn’t really in the mood for pasta (shocking… I know…).   I decided that what I really wanted was a grain salad…and that bulgur would be delicious with all the flavors of the “sauce” from the original recipe.

Then, as I was preparing the medley of marinated vegetables, I decided that they were so beautiful…and so tasty on their own…that I really didn’t want to fold them into the bulgur.  Instead, I decided to use the bulgur as a bed for a big pile of the marinated vegetables…sort of like a streamlined grain bowl.  It was delicious.  And just what I was hungry for.

Bulgur with a Medley of Marinated Cherry Tomatoes,
 Chickpeas, Fennel & Feta

2 T. olive oil
1 small red onion (4 to 5 oz.), finely diced (you will have about 1 c. diced onion)
kosher salt
1 fat clove garlic, minced
1 t. fennel seed, crushed with a mortar & pestle
2 t. dried oregano
1 c. (6 oz.) medium bulgur, rinsed and drained
1 1/4 c. boiling water

Marinated Vegetables:
1 pint (2/3 lb.) cherry tomatoes, quartered (halved, if small)
3 T. capers
1/2 c. pitted Kalamata olives (about 24), halved
2 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 c. olive oil
1/2 c. flat leaf parsley leaves, coarsely chopped
1 can (15 oz.) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 medium fennel bulb, trimmed, halved, cored & thinly sliced/shaved crosswise using a mandolin
4 oz. Feta, drained and cut into scant 1/2-inch cubes

Warm 2 T. olive oil in a medium saucepan with a tight fitting lid over moderate heat.  Add the onions along with a pinch of salt and sweat until tender and translucent.  Add the garlic, fennel & oregano and cook until fragrant—about a minute.  Increase the heat to medium high and add the drained bulgur along with a generous pinch of salt.  Continue to cook for a minute.  Add the water and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to low and cook, covered until the bulgur is tender—12 to 15 minutes.  Remove from the heat and let stand (covered) for 5 minutes.  Scrape the finished bulgur onto a baking sheet and let cool to room temperature.

While the bulgur cooks and cools, make the medley of marinated vegetables.  Place all the ingredients in a bowl and fold together.  Season to taste with salt & pepper. 

To serve, spoon the room temperature bulgur onto a platter or individual plates, spreading out a bit and making a small divot in the center to hold the vegetables.  Mount the vegetables on top of the bulgur, making sure to get all of the liquid.  Drizzle with more olive oil, if you like.  Serves 4 as a light entrée.   

Notes & Suggestions:
  • If you like, you may of course just combine the vegetables and bulgur and serve as a bulgur salad. The bulgur will absorb the juices, making a delicious grain salad.
  • Even though I wasn’t in the mood for pasta when I made this, I’m sure that the vegetable mixture would be delicious on pasta for a pasta salad. Use 1 pound of gemelli, fusilli or cavatappi, cooked al dente and spread on a sheet pan to cool (rather than rinsing).

For those who might be preparing this for a household of one or two…and who only want to make half of a recipe (which is what I did), let me suggest a fantastic use for your remaining half can of chickpeas from Ottolenghi’s Simple: Chickpeas and Swiss Chard with Yogurt. If you like Mediterranean food and you shop at the farmer’s market or are a member of a CSA, it is likely you already have everything you need. I served it with Basmati Rice and warm flatbread. It was delicious. If you have the book, it’s on page 100. If not, the Guardian posted the recipe last year.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Kohlrabi: in a Sauce for Pasta…with Green Garlic, Pancetta & Cream

Kohlrabi must grow unusually well…with few of the typical pests and other problems encountered with other crops…in the Midwestern United States.  I say this because it is widely grown by the growers who supply CSAs and the stalls of our local farmers’ markets.  This, despite the fact that it seems to be a hard sell.  Google searches for “What can I make with kohlrabi?” probably surge during June as CSA shares begin to include this alien looking member of the Brassicas.  Shoppers at the local markets often bypass it altogether. 

But growers persist in planting kohlrabi.  And for good reason:  it is delicious.  If you have sampled kohlrabi from the grocery store you might not have been impressed.  You can get good kohlrabi at the grocery store…but often their stock is a bit old...and hence fibrous and tough.  But once you taste a freshly harvested kohlrabi, you will begin to look for it at the late spring and early summer markets.

Kohlrabi ...with its leaves trimmed away

Kohlrabi is the same species (Brassica oleracea) as cabbage, turnips (it’s sometimes called a cabbage turnip…or a German turnip), kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower.  It is most often compared to turnip…but I find it to be much milder than all but the mildest, white-topped salad turnips.  If I were to compare it to anything on this list of Brassicas, I would say it is most like a broccoli stem.  But if you happen to get your hands on a particularly fine kohlrabi, you will find it to be much sweeter, crisper and juicier than a broccoli stem. 

Peeled and diced...and ready for pasta...

Kohlrabi is delicious in soups and vegetable ragouts.  I posted a lovely vegetable and farro soup that included kohlrabi several years ago.  And my chef friend Nancy makes a delicious Ganth Gobi Aloo/Kohlrabi & Potato Curry with the kohlrabi that arrives in her CSA share.  Most often you will find kohlrabi shredded or julienned and included in raw vegetable salads or slaws.  It is truly delicious this way.  I have posted a couple of recipes that use it raw…and if you never do anything other than make salad and slaw with your kohlrabi, you will come up with lots of delicious ways to use and enjoy it. 

Recently as I was considering what to do with some kohlrabies I had purchased at the market I decided that I really wanted to cook it.  So I turned, as I often do, to pasta.  As I considered how to treat it, I remembered how delicious other Brassicas are with cream, garlic and bacon (or ham).   My pasta pretty much fell together from there.  If you have never tried cooked kohlrabi, you could do worse than this simple pasta.  And if pasta and carbs aren’t really your thing (you probably haven’t made it this far in the post), this manner of preparing the kohlrabi would make a fantastic side dish.  Simply cut the kohlrabi into a larger dice…or maybe thin slices...instead.

A couple of final notes about my recipe:  Green garlic season is almost over.  Please don’t skip this pasta for that reason.  Just use regular garlic…maybe one small clove, minced.  

As you read through this post you might have noticed that some of the pictures include a sprinkling of parsley over the finished pasta.  I did this to add a bit of color…and it does that.  But it also, of course, adds a flavor component.  It tastes fine with the parsley, but I actually like it better without.  So…as is almost always the case with herbs…add to taste, if you like.

Lastly, I prefer light cream sauces for my pasta—opting to extend the sauce with pasta water rather than more cream if there doesn’t seem to be enough sauce to coat the noodles in a light fluid sauce.  But if you prefer a richer/creamier sauce, by all means, add a bit more cream.  More cream is almost never a bad thing.

Fettuccine with Kohlrabi, Green Garlic & Pancetta
in a White Wine Cream Sauce

1 T. butter
1 1/2 oz. pancetta, minced
2 or 3 cloves green garlic (or half a small stalk), minced
10 to 12 oz. kohlrabi, peeled and cut in a 1/4-inch dice (to make 1 1/2 c.)
2 to 3 T. dry white wine
1/2 to 2/3 c. heavy cream
4 or 5 T. (about 1 oz.) finely grated Parmesan or Pecorino (or a mix)
180 g. (6 to 7 oz.) Fettuccine

Melt the butter in a medium sauté pan set over moderate heat.  Add the pancetta.  

When the pancetta begins to turn golden and sizzle (after 2 or 3 minutes), add the green garlic.  Cook gently until the pancetta is beginning to crisp and the garlic is fragrant.

Add the kohlrabi to the pan along with a pinch of salt and continue to cook for a minute or two—sizzling gently.  It should not be caramelizing.    

Increase the heat and add the white wine.  Reduce to a glaze.  Add enough water to barely cover the kohlrabi.  Season with salt.  Cover and simmer gently until the kohlrabi is tender.  This will generally take about 20 minutes, but kohlrabi varies greatly in tenderness, so begin checking at 10 minutes and be prepared to cook for 25 minutes or so, if necessary.  The kohlrabi should be tender, not crunchy, when cooked.  Add more water as necessary to maintain a very small amount of liquid in the pan.

When the kohlrabi is tender, drop the pasta into a large pot of rapidly boiling, salted water. Stir occasionally and cook until the pasta is al dente. Drain, reserving some of the pasta water.

While the pasta is cooking, add the cream to the kohlrabi and bring to a simmer.  When the sauce has come to a brisk simmer, remove the pan from the heat. 

Add the drained pasta to the sauce and toss to coat.  If the pasta seems dry, add some of the pasta water…you might need as much as a half cup of pasta water.  Add a couple tablespoons of the cheese and toss again, once again adjusting the consistency of the sauce with the pasta water if necessary.  Season to taste with salt & pepper.  Serve with more cheese on top.  Serves 2

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Rhubarb Upside Down Cake

I have been hungry for rhubarb upside down cake since rhubarb season began this year.  I’m not sure why....  Whatever the reason, I kept purchasing rhubarb so I could make it.  But since I love rhubarb, my purchases kept making their way into other things:  


tea cakes…. 

On Sunday I finally got around to making my upside down cake. 

The recipe is a bit unusual in that the cake portion is an old fashioned spice cake (instead of the usual yellow cake).  Years ago I ran across a spice cake version of rhubarb upside down cake in Emily Luchetti’s Four Start Desserts.  I’m not sure I ever made her exact cake....I just incorporated the spices she used (cinnamon, ginger and cloves) into the basic buttermilk spice cake I had grown up eating.  The combination of the spices with the tangy rhubarb is unusual and delicious.

In the past when I have made this cake I have made it in what I consider to be the traditional way.  I cut the rhubarb into a uniform large dice, tossed it with sugar and spread it in an even layer in a cast iron skillet (generously smeared with butter) and then topped the fruit with the batter before baking.  And this method makes a very satisfactory cake.

But in recent years when I have made upside down cakes, I have tried to consider the unique qualities and shapes of a particular fruit when I’m using it in an upside down cake.  I accentuated the fan shape of cross-sections of fresh pineapple (rather than the traditional donut-like rings) in my pineapple upside down cake.  And I capitalized on the beautiful color and shape of plums in a spiral surface for my plum upside down cake. So when I began to think about rhubarb it was obvious that in order to make the best use of the stick shape, I needed to use a square pan. 

I am not the first person to think of this (you will see lovely examples of it on other blogs), but I do have a few pointers to add to the conversation.  First, use a ruler.  This will give you neat and precise lines. Measure the exact size of your pan (just because your pan is labeled 9 x 9 doesn’t mean it will be exactly 9 inches square) and then cut the rhubarb into lengths that are exactly 1/3 of that measure.   If your stalks of rhubarb are fat, cut them in half lengthwise.  Count up your lengths of rhubarb and divide the number by 9.  This is how many stalks you will have to fill in 9 squares of a three by three grid of squares on top of the cake.  If you don’t have an even number, don’t worry, you will probably end up rearranging and moving some of the stalks around to account for the fact that some pieces will be fatter and some thinner.  Any extra can be tucked in on top of the others…they will just add more fruit flavor and a better fruit covering of the cake.

And getting a good covering of fruit over the cake is what an upside down cake should be all about.  I prefer as solid a layer of fruit as you can manage without any gaps.  Consequently, my recipe calls for a fairly large amount of rhubarb—anywhere from 1 to 1 1 /4 lb., depending on how much loss there is when you cut the lengths.  

As with any upside down cake, in order to get the most attractive covering of fruit, remember you are working in reverse, looking at the back side of the finished cake surface.  All of the stalks that have been split should be turned so the cut surface is facing up or to the side (against another stick of rhubarb)—not face down.   To get good coverage, any un-split sticks that are wider than they are thick should be placed on their narrow side.  As with most things, it sounds more complicated than it is (and is actually more difficult to describe than it is to execute).  If you remember you are working in reverse and your goal is to get as much rhubarb into the pan in a single layer as is neatly possible, you will end up with a nice looking finished cake. 

And if all you really want to do is eat a delicious spice cake topped with a sweetened layer of rhubarb, you can always make this cake with chopped rhubarb in a 10-inch round pan or cast iron skillet.  But, I admit, I was very pleased with the cross-hatch/patchwork pattern on the top of my cake.  I hope others will give it a go…or maybe try another design.  I’m sure that someone who is more artistic than I am could come up with a different—more intricate—design.  In fact, I hope someone will....   cooking and baking are ultimately about making recipes your own.

Rhubarb Upside Down Cake

1 to 1 1/4 lb. trimmed rhubarb, rinsed and wiped dry (from 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 lb. pre-trim weight
3 T. soft unsalted butter
3/4 c. sugar

1 3/4 c. sifted cake flour (6 ¼ oz.)
1 t. baking powder
1/4 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
3/4 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground ginger
1/8 t. ground cloves
2/3 c. whole milk yogurt
1 1/2 t. vanilla
1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature

Prepare the rhubarb:  Measure the bottom of the pan (it might be slightly under or slightly over 9 inches).  Divide this number in 3 and cut all of the rhubarb into this exact length.  You might have some leftover bits aren’t quite long enough.  Set them aside for now.  Cut any fat lengths (wider than 3/4-inch) in half lengthwise.  Count up the number of lengths and divide by nine.  This is the number you have for each square in your grid of nine.  (Your number will most likely not be evenly divisible by 9.  This is fine; you will just tuck in extra pieces where ever the covering of rhubarb looks a little sparse.)

Smear the softened butter over the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch square baking pan (with sides that are at the very least 1 3/4-inches—a 2-inch depth is preferable), concentrating most of the butter on the bottom of the pan with just a light coating on the sides.  Scatter half of the sugar in an even layer over the bottom of the pan.  Starting in one corner, lay a ninth of the lengths of rhubarb in one direction, placing them with any cut surfaces facing up or to the side.  For the next square on either side of the first, lay another set of lengths running the other direction (perpendicular to the sticks in the first square).  Fill in any gaps with any extra lengths of rhubarb—cutting them to fit if necessary.  Scatter the remaining sugar evenly over the rhubarb and set the pan aside.    

Whisk together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices.  Set aside.  Combine the yogurt and vanilla and set aside.

Cream the butter with the sugars until light and fluffy—this will take 3 to 5 minutes at medium-high speed using the paddle attachment.  Stop the mixer once or twice to scrape down the sides.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides and beating well after each addition.  Fold in the dry ingredients in 3 additions alternately with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.

Spread the batter evenly over the rhubarb in the prepared pan. Bake in a 350° oven until the cake is springy to the touch, has begun to pull away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean—about 40 to 45 minutes.  Let the cake rest for 15 minutes in the pan.  Carefully run a knife around the inside edge of the pan.  Place a cake plate upside down on top of the skillet and holding the cake plate firmly to the skillet, quickly flip the cake over.

Allow the cake to set up for a while before serving.  It is best slightly warm or at room temperature.  Cut the cake with a sharp, thin knife, using a sawing motion.  Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.  Serves 9 to 12.

Alternate presentation:  Cut the rhubarb into 3/4-inch pieces.  You should have about 4 cups.  Smear a 10-inch cast iron skillet or 10- by 2-inch round cake pan with the softened butter, concentrating most of the butter on the bottom of the pan.  There should only be thin film of butter on the sides.  Toss the rhubarb with 3/4 c. of sugar.  Spread the rhubarb in an even layer over the bottom of the pan and sprinkle any sugar remaining in the bowl evenly over the rhubarb.  Proceed as directed with the recipe above.