Monday, December 2, 2019

Savory Braided Loaf…Filled with Spinach, Mushrooms & Cambozola

One of the things I enjoy the most about my cooking classes is the fact that people feel free to ask questions.  Good questions make me think more carefully about almost every aspect of cooking (methods, flavors, ingredients, culture, etc.).  This serves to make me a better cook…and a better teacher…and often it gives me great ideas for new recipes.

During my last class—Cooking for Holiday House Guests—I demonstrated the recipe for a Jam and Cheese-filled Yeasted Coffee Braid.  Because I love sweet breakfast breads—for breakfast, brunch, coffee or a late night snack (basically all the time)—that’s what was filling my mind as I discussed the recipe.  Suddenly someone asked if they could use the dough and method for a savory filled braid.  My initial reaction was: of course not…this is a sweet dough.  But then it immediately dawned on me that of course you could make a savory bread…as long as you reduced the sugar in the dough just a bit (although, not too much…the dough actually isn’t that sweet).

Over the next few days I continued to think about all the possibilities of a savory braid.  Then the following week I decided to make one to serve as a snack for a gathering of friends.  I filled that first attempt with a garlic and herb flavored ricotta (in place of the sweetened cream cheese in the sweet version), prosciutto, sundried tomatoes, sautéed mushrooms and goat cheese  It tasted good, but I didn’t use nearly enough of the filling ingredients. 

My mistake was that I still had the requirements of the sweet braid in my head.  One of these requirements is to not use too much jam.  Besides the fact that too much jam filling oozes out all over the baking sheet, a generous amount of bread is what I expect in a breakfast pastry.  This isn’t the case with the savory version. I wouldn’t want to go on record as saying that you can’t have too much filling in the savory braid….but in this version, the filling is the star.  The bread is just a convenient and beautiful vehicle.

Since the recipe makes enough dough for two braids, I had the opportunity to make a second pass at getting the quantity of filling right.  Of course it would have made sense (from a recipe-testing, compare and contrast perspective) to just increase the quantity of all the filling ingredients that I had used the first time. But when I finally got around to making the second braid (one of the nice things about this dough is that it will keep for 3 or 4 days in the refrigerator) I was more interested in making dinner than testing a recipe.  In any case, I had some other ingredients in my pantry that I wanted to use and that I thought would make a nice filling…so I used those instead.  The second braid was delicious.  And the balance of dough to filling was perfect.

When I made the second braid, I still had half of the herbed ricotta left from when I made the first braid, so I went ahead and used it.  Not only does this cheese mixture taste good, it provides a nice base for the other fillings.  But I’m certain that you could use seasoned cream cheese or goat cheese…or maybe Boursin…or even a simple herbed sour cream.  I still had mushrooms, so I repeated the sautéed mushrooms too.  But for the second version I doubled the quantity. 

The biggest change I made for the second braid was that I added some cooked spinach.  And I think the spinach was the key to the success of the second braid.  Even when cooked to the point where the excess liquid has evaporated (which you must do to keep the loaf from being soggy and damp), greens are still inherently moist.  So not only do they add nice flavor, they keep the filling from seeming dry.  Other greens (kale, chard, beet greens, etc) would work too…as long as you cook them in the manner appropriate for your chosen green.  Kale, for example, will need to be blanched and squeezed dry before it is added to the pan of mushrooms.  And while it isn’t a leafy green, it occurred to me that cooked leeks would behave in a similar manner (and would be delicious!). 

I replaced the crumbled goat cheese with some sliced Cambozola (a German, Brie-style, triple cream blue cheese).  I’m very partial to the Cambozola…but it isn’t something I typically keep on hand.  I wouldn’t hesitate to substitute another flavorful melting cheese.  (But if you are shopping for the other ingredients, you should definitely pick up the Cambozola!)

Finally, if you decide to improvise with your savory fillings, I think it’s important to include ingredients that are strongly flavored.  In my braid, mushrooms and blue cheese fill the bill in this regard.  Cured meats (ham/prosciutto, cooked sausage and bacon) would be good.  Brined/salt preserved foods like olives or capers…or anchovies…would pack a nice flavorful punch.   Other strongly flavored items include pesto, tapenade, and sundried tomatoes.  I’m sure I’m forgetting some obvious possibilities…but you get the idea.    

I don’t know if the person who asked if the jam braid could be turned into a savory filled bread will see this post, but if he does, I would love to hear if he took a stab at it.  And of course I would also like to thank him for asking the question in the first place.  It was obviously a great source of inspiration.  I even think it’s possible that this version might make its way into a class someday….

Spinach, Mushroom & Cambozola Filled Braided Bread

1/4 c. (56 g.) lukewarm (105 to 115 degrees) water
2 1/4 t. active dry or instant yeast
1/2 c. (121 g.) sour cream
4 T. (56 g.) unsalted butter, sliced 1/4-inch thick and softened
1 large egg
3 c. (360 g.) unbleached all-purpose flour, divided
1 T. (12 g.) sugar
1 t. salt

1 c. (250g) whole milk ricotta
1/3 c. (30g) finely grated pecorino
1 fat clove garlic, smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt (or grated on a microplaner)
1 t. minced fresh rosemary
1 egg yolk (save the white for the egg wash)

2 to 4 T. olive oil
14 to 16 oz. crimini or white mushrooms, sliced
10 oz. baby spinach, large stems trimmed if necessary, leaves coarsely chopped
7 to 8 oz. Cambozola, sliced a scant 1/4-inch thick and torn into 1-inch pieces 

1 large egg white beaten until frothy with 1 T. cold water
3 to 4 T. sesame seeds

Place the water in a mixing bowl and scatter in the yeast.  Whisk or stir to dissolve.  Add the remaining ingredients in the order listed, adding only 340 grams of the flour and making sure the salt doesn’t touch the yeast-water mixture directly.  Mix and knead (by hand or mixer fitted with a dough hook) until you have a smooth, velvety dough.  The dough will be very dry at first; resist the urge to add more liquid. It'll come together and smooth out as you knead.  Once the dry ingredients are absorbed (and this only takes a minute or two) the dough may begin to stick.  Use small increments of the extra 20 grams of flour…and the help of your bench scraper…to keep the dough from sticking.  It is unlikely that you will need all of the reserved flour.

Place the dough in a lightly buttered bowl or other container, cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in bulk (about an hour).  Deflate the dough, cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight (and up to three or four days).  It may or may not look risen when you pull it out to use it.  That's OK.

When you are ready to bake, make the filling: Combine the ricotta, pecorino, garlic, rosemary, and egg yolk.  Set aside.  

Prepare the mushrooms and spinach: Depending on the size of your pan, you may need to sauté the mushrooms in batches—don't overcrowd the pan. Heat a sauté pan (non-stick, if you have one) over high heat. Add oil to coat the pan.  When the oil shimmers, add the mushrooms. Cook, shaking the pan and tossing the mushrooms occasionally, until the mushrooms are browned, tender and any liquid that they have given off has evaporated. If they seem dry at any time as they cook, drizzle in a bit more oil. If sautéing in batches, transfer the finished mushrooms to a plate and season with salt & pepper.  Return the pan to the heat, add more oil and repeat with the remaining mushrooms.  When all the mushrooms are cooked, return them all to the pan and heat through.  

Begin adding the spinach to the pan a handful at a time, turning with tongs to coat the greens in the oil and mushrooms and adding successive handfuls of spinach as the previous one collapses.  Continue to cook until the spinach is tender and any liquid given off has evaporated.  Season well with salt and pepper and set aside to cool. 

Divide the chilled dough into two pieces. Working with one piece at a time (and keeping the other chilled), flatten/pat the dough into a rectangle.  

Flour the surface and dough very lightly and roll the dough out into a 10" x 15" rectangle.  Transfer the rectangle to a piece of parchment paper.

Spread half of the ricotta mixture down the center third of the rectangle.  Leave 1/4-inch of dough bare at each end.  

Spread half of the mushroom spinach mixture over the ricotta.  

Arrange half of the Cambozola over all. 

Using a pizza cutter (or a sharp knife), cut 12 to 13 slightly slanting lines down each side—angling the cuts from the edge of the filling to the outside edge of the dough.  The cuts should be a generous one inch apart and should start about 1/4-inch away from the edge of the ricotta.   Being careful not to stretch the dough, fold the strips of dough over the filling, criss-crossing the strips by alternating a strip from the left with a strip from the right.  

Lightly press/pinch at the two ends of the loaf to seal. 

Transfer the braid (using the parchment to lift it) to a sheet pan and cover loosely with greased/sprayed plastic wrap.  Repeat with the remaining dough and filling ingredients. 

Let the braids rest at room temperature for 30 to 40 minutes.  (Alternatively, transfer the formed covered loaves to the refrigerator for 8 to 10 hours or overnight.)

Whether you choose a traditional rise at room temperature or an overnight cold rise, the loaves will not “double in bulk.”   They might look a bit puffed, but that is all.  This is how it should be.

To finish and bake: Brush the egg white/water mixture over the loaves. Sprinkle generously with sesame seeds. 

Bake the braids in a preheated 375°F oven for 20 to 25 minutes, until they're puffed and golden brown.  The cheese might be bubbling or oozing a bit.  This is fine.   Remove the loaves from the oven and place them on a rack to cool slightly (10 minutes or so). Serve warm.  One loaf will serve 4 to 6 as an accompaniment to soup or salad as a light entrée.  Or, each loaf may be cut into 12 slices and served as part of an appetizer spread.

Store any leftovers, well-wrapped, for several days in the refrigerator or for longer in the freezer. To serve, thaw if frozen, and then reheat in a 350°F oven, wrapped in foil, for about 20 minutes.
Note:  Although you can put both of the loaves on one sheet pan, I find that they bake best on two sheets.  When one is done, just slide the second one into the oven…or bake on separate racks, rotating half way through the baking time.
Printable Version

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

French Lentil Soup...and the power of taste memory...

Someone recently pointed out that I didn’t have any recipes on my blog that use lentils. This had surprised them. I guess it surprised me too. I have nothing against lentils. I love them when someone serves them to me. But I didn’t grow up eating them…and the truth is I never got into the habit of cooking with them. For some reason I just don’t think of them. Since I enjoy them anytime I do eat them, I will need to make an effort to add them to my rotation. 

There is one recipe that I make occasionally that uses French lentils (Lentils du Puy—prized for their firmer texture and peppery, mineral-y flavor). It is a classic French dish from The Balthazar Cookbook by Keith McNally, Riad Nasr & Lee Hanson): Mustard Crusted Salmon with Lentils. I love this dish. Like so many of the recipes I love, it is a study in deceptive simplicity. If you have good ingredients…and use good technique…the result is greater than the sum of its parts. 

I like this recipe so much that when I decided I wanted to make a lentil soup during our recent early dip into the deep freeze, I used their flavorings in that recipe as my inspiration. In the end, I’m sure it’s not too different from many French lentil soup recipes…bacon, the mirepoix triad of carrot, celery and onion, lots of garlic, fresh thyme and tomatoes. It was warming…hearty, yet a bit refined…and delicious. 

It is great with just a sprinkling of parsley…and maybe a drizzle of olive oil.  But I discovered that some crumbled goat cheese was a nice garnish too—definitely worth adding if you happen to have some on hand. 

There were no tomatoes in the Balthazar recipe from which I took most of my inspiration. I had had a delicious soup recently at the table of a friend that included lentils and tomatoes, so that may have been what put the thought of the tomatoes in mind. There is also the fact that tomatoes are often paired with lentils.  And I'm sure that all of this played a part in my final recipe.  But there is another possibility. 

As I was enjoying my soup I had a flash of a food memory from my childhood: the very first (and possibly only) time I had lentils. My entire family had been invited to dinner at the home of one of my father’s business colleagues. My siblings and I had never been included in an invitation like this before, so my memory of it is fairly clear.  Our hostess served a simple meal of lentil stew, crusty bread and a fruit salad. I remember the stew because it was totally outside of my normal eating habits. Being the picky child that I was, if my mother had served it, I would have begrudgingly limited myself to the one bite we were required to take of something we thought we didn’t like. But since we were out, I was on my best behavior.  And I remember truly enjoying that lentil stew…probably asked my mother to get the recipe (although, I don’t remember her ever making it). I’m certain it was just a simple brown lentil soup…but I remember it included the tang of tomatoes. So now that I think about it, I can’t rule out the possibility that my addition of the tomatoes to my Balthazar inspired soup was a subliminal nod to that long ago first taste. 

French Lentil Soup

3 or 4 slices thick bacon (100g), diced small (this is most easily done if the bacon is frozen) 
3 T. unsalted butter 
1 large or 2 medium onions (12 oz.), diced small (2 c.) 
2 medium carrots (1/3 lb), peeled and diced small (1 c.) 
2 celery stalks (4 oz), trimmed and diced small (3/4 c.) 
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced 
2 or 3 well-branched sprigs of thyme 
Salt & freshly ground pepper 
1 lb. peeled & chopped tomatoes or a 14.5 oz. can diced tomatoes (see notes) 
1 1/4 c. (250g) French green lentils (Le Puy lentils—see notes), rinsed and drained 
1 quart chicken stock or low-salt broth 
Minced flat leaf parsley, optional 
Olive oil for drizzling, optional 
Goat cheese crumbles, optional 

Place the bacon in a large soup pot set over medium heat. When some of the fat has rendered from the bacon, after about 5 minutes, 

add the butter. When the butter has melted, add the onion, carrot, celery, garlic and thyme along with a good pinch of salt. 

Cover and sweat over low heat until the vegetables are just tender—about 10 to 15 minutes.

Add the tomatoes, lentils and stock and bring to a simmer. 

Partially cover the pan and cook, maintaining a gentle simmer until the lentils are tender and cooked to your liking—anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes.

Transfer 1 1/2 to 2 cups of the soup (mostly solids) to a blender (or the cup of an immersion blender). Purée until smooth and return to the soup. If the soup is too thick add water or stock in small increments to achieve a texture and thickness that you like. Taste and correct the seasoning with salt and freshly ground pepper. Serve hot with a sprinkle of parsley and drizzle of olive oil, if you like. 

Makes about 1 3/4 quarts of soup, serving 5 to 6.
  • I used tomatoes that I froze last summer. If you have never frozen whole summer tomatoes to use during the winter months you should give it a try. I describe the process in this post.
  • Any green French lentil will work in this recipe. I use the Le Puy lentils because this is what I keep on hand for the salmon dish. These will hold their texture better and take a bit longer to cook than other green French lentils, so if you don’t use lentils labeled “Le Puy” then begin checking on the tenderness of the lentils after about 20 minutes.
Printable Version

Monday, October 28, 2019

Soft Pumpkin Spice Cookies with Browned Butter Frosting

I love pumpkin baked goods.  My files include loads of tried and true recipes for cakes, bars, breads, pancakes and muffins…even cheesecake and brownies….  But for some reason, when I found myself in possession of some extra pumpkin purée a couple of weeks ago, what I really wanted to do was make something new. 

Actually, I really wanted cake.  I just didn’t want a big cake.  One would have thought I would have made cupcakes…or muffins…   But no, what I found myself thinking about was a soft cookie…with frosting.  Something in the same family as the Italian Ricotta Cookies I posted a couple of years ago.

So I took a look at that recipe…thinking maybe I could tweak the recipe a bit and swap out the ricotta for pumpkin.  And that’s pretty much what I did.  Because pumpkin is essentially fat free (and whole milk ricotta is not) I increased the butter.  I also decided to use brown sugar instead of white, which I thought would give a slightly denser texture and richer flavor. And of course, I added pumpkin spice.  The resulting cookies were just what I had been imagining:  a soft, spicy, pumpkin cookie (a mini-cake!). 

For the frosting I could have just used the same one I used on the ricotta cookies.  But I thought browned butter would be more interesting than plain melted butter...and would pair better with the stronger flavors of the pumpkin and pumpkin spice.  It turned out to be a very nice touch.

I think it is worth noting that this recipe uses 3/4 cup of pumpkin purée.  This might not seem significant. But the fact is I find myself with 3/4 cup of pumpkin on my hands almost every time I open a can of pumpkin.  If a recipe doesn’t call for the entire can, more often than not, it calls for a cup.  Since someone somewhere, inexplicably decided that a can of pumpkin should be 15 ounces…which is 1 3/4 cups….there is often 3/4 cup left.  Since canned pumpkin doesn’t freeze well, you have to use it within a week…or lose it.  Recipes that use 3/4 of a cup are quite handy.

But even if it didn’t use such a convenient amount of pumpkin, this recipe would still make a great addition to your files.  It’s perfect for those times when you want a soft, spicy, cake-y pumpkin treat...but don't want to commit to a big cake.  

Soft Pumpkin Spice Cookies with Browned Butter Frosting

250 g./a scant 2 1/4 c. all purpose flour
1 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
1 T. pumpkin pie spice
5 oz./143g./10 T. unsalted butter, softened to room temperature
200 g./1 c. light brown sugar
1 egg
1 t. vanilla extract
185 g./3/4 c. solid pack pumpkin or fresh pumpkin purée

4 T. (56 g.) unsalted butter
1 1/2 plus 2 T. (185 g.) powdered sugar
2 T. (30 g.) whole milk
1 t. vanilla extract

In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, pumpkin pie spice and salt.  Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, briefly cream together butter and sugar until smooth and lightened in color.  Add the egg and vanilla; beat until fully incorporated.  Scrape down the sides.  

Add the pumpkin and mix until fully incorporated (the mixture will look curdled…this is ok).

Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed until the ingredients come together to make a soft dough.  Using a 1 1/2 T. cookie scoop, drop level scoops of the dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet leaving 1 1/2 to  2 inches between the mounds of dough.  

Bake in a preheated 350° oven for 10 to 13 minutes—or until the cookies have lost their wet sheen and are puffed (they will begin to crack).  If you press them lightly they will feel tender, but they will spring back.  Be careful not to over bake—you want them to remain soft and cake-y.

Slide the parchment off the baking sheet and onto a rack. Repeat with the remaining dough. 

While the cookies are cooling, make the frosting.  Brown the butter:  Place the butter in a small sauté pan set over medium heat. As the butter begins to sputter and pop, whisk occasionally. The butter solids will begin to turn brown. When the solids are a deep golden brown and the butter has a pleasantly nutty aroma, immediately transfer to a heat-proof container (making sure to get all the brown bits) to stop the cooking.  Sift the powdered sugar into a small bowl.  Add the milk, vanilla and browned butter. Mix until smooth and no lumps remain. The frosting should be fluid enough to spread and drip a bit.  Let cool briefly before using.  The frosting will firm up as it cools.  If it becomes too firm to spread smoothly, simply warm it over a hot water bath or in the microwave. 

When the cookies are completely cool, frost them by dropping a blob of frosting on the center of each cookie and then swirling the frosting with a small palette knife.  When all the cookies have been frosted, sprinkle sparingly with cinnamon.   

Allow the glaze to set before storing air tight (separate the layers of cookies with parchment or waxed paper). 

Makes 40 cookies
Printable Version

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Chickpea Salad with Roasted Red Peppers

An unfortunate fact of a long career in foods is that you forget a lot. Not just things you thought you would never forget…like the exact method you used to use every single day to execute a certain preparation.  Sometimes you forget about the existence of entire recipes.  The recipe I’m sharing today is one of those recipes. 

I’m not quite sure now how it came up in conversation, but a friend was telling me how much she loved my Chickpea salad…that it was so versatile…that she makes it frequently.  I was gratified that she was enjoying a recipe I had shared so much.  But I finally told her that I was drawing a complete blank regarding the salad. 

She was surprised I had forgotten it…but she obliged me by describing it in more detail:  roasted bell peppers…  green olives…  celery…  a spicy vinaigrette….  Slowly I began to remember the salad.  To make it even more embarrassing, it wasn’t just a recipe I had only made a time or two.  I had actually taught it in a class on salads. After her reminder, I decided I needed to make it again soon.

I admit I didn’t follow through.  I actually have no idea how long ago it was that this conversation took place.  But sometime this summer I remembered the recipe and the conversation (all on my own).  It is likely that the recipe popped into my head due to the fact that my eating habits have changed slightly as I have morphed from a household of two into a household of one.  Things that keep well and are versatile regarding the manner in which the can be served hold great appeal.  This salad is a winner in both categories.  It keeps for several days (the flavor, in fact, improves).  It functions well as a side dish—to lamb…or chicken…or fish (it was accompanied by olive oil poached tuna in that long ago class).  And it is excellent as a part of a salad platter or meze spread (recently it made a particularly fine workday lunch with a grated carrot salad, soft cooked egg, and flatbread).  It would be great on a picnic or as part of a boxed lunch.

Since I rediscovered this recipe I have made it several times.  It was originally part of a summer salad class because of the roasted red peppers—but it doesn’t have to be a summer salad.  Beautiful ripe peppers are available well into fall.  And good quality hot house peppers (while not as delicious as the local specimens) are available year round.  I can definitely see this salad becoming part of my regular rotation of “go-to” recipes.  I’m so glad I shared it with a friend…or it might have been lost forever. 

Chickpea Salad with Roasted Red Peppers
& Moroccan Vinaigrette

For the vinaigrette:
2 T. freshly squeezed & strained lemon juice
1/2 t. ground cumin
1/8 t. cayenne pepper (or more, to taste)
Salt & freshly ground pepper
1/4 c. olive oil

For the salad:
1 can (14-oz) chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed (1 1/2 c.)
2 large red bell peppers (about 14 oz.), roasted, peeled, seeded & cut in a 1/2-inch dice
1/4 to 1/3 c. finely diced red onion, rinsed under cold running water and blotted dry
A generous 1/3 c. very thinly sliced heart of celery, including some of the leaves
1/4 cup finely sliced cilantro (or flat leaf parsley, if you prefer)
10 pitted large green olives
Salt & Pepper, to taste

To make the vinaigrette, in a small bowl whisk together the lemon juice, garlic, and spices.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Gradually whisk in the olive oil in a thin stream to form an emulsion. Set aside.   

To make the salad, drain and rinse the chickpeas and place in a large bowl.  Add the peppers, onions, celery, cilantro and enough vinaigrette to generously coat the ingredients.  Toss to coat.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  At this point, the salad can be left at room temperature to marinate for up to 30 minutes, or it may be covered and refrigerated (it keeps well for several days—check the seasoning before serving).  If refrigerated, bring to room temperature to serve. 

Serves 3 to 4

  • The recipe multiplies well for larger appetites, or a crowd
  • If you have harissa on hand, it is delicious served on the side
Printable Version 

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Bing Cherry Ice Cream

The end of sweet cherry season always creeps up on me.  Sweet cherries have a long summer run.  They begin to show up in my grocery store sometime in June.  During most years I can expect to be able to find them through the end of August (and if we’re lucky, into early September).  But it is never wise to count on being able to get any kind of fresh produce at the very beginning or tail end of their normal season.  (Produce like this should be treated as an enjoyable surprise!)  Several years ago I told a mildly harrowing story about promising rhubarb on the early end of its season.  I almost got into some difficulty this year because I promised Bing cherry ice cream to a client at the tail end of the cherry season.

I was aware I was cutting it close, but I had seen cherries in the stores and the dinner was coming up soon, so I went ahead and suggested Profiteroles with Sweet Cherry Ice Cream as the finish to a French-inspired menu.  As insurance I purchased them the minute I saw some in the store, knowing I could make the compote to flavor the ice cream ahead. 

I was so glad I did!  Overnight the cherries seemed to disappear from the stores.  I have never been so keenly aware of something being available in abundance one day…and gone the next.  Even though I had my cherries—and had made the compote—I kept looking (weirdly fascinated by my close call). 

As it turned out, even if I hadn’t been thinking ahead, I would have been ok (well maybe not ok…I would have shortened my lifespan a little from stress…).  The last store I shopped at for my dinner had a handful of bags (literally four or five) of plump, beautiful cherries.  I purchased some just because I could.

Consequently I got my own enjoyable surprise with those end-of-season cherries because I used those extra cherries to make some ice cream for myself over the Labor Day weekend.  I even had enough cherries to make more of the compote to use as a sauce.  But even without the extra compote, this ice cream is a delicious cherry treat.  Good all by itself…or maybe with a little chocolate sauce…

I do hope there are still a few cherries left out there so that anyone reading this who wants to make cherry ice cream can.  But if not, there’s always next year.  And if you happen to see some cherries, but don’t have time to make ice cream, you can always make the compote ahead and refrigerate it (up to a week) or freeze it (you can have fresh cherry ice cream in January!) until you are ready to use it. 

Bing Cherry Ice Cream

1 lb. Bing Cherries (about 3 cups), halved and pitted
6 T. (75 g.) sugar
1/2 T. lemon juice
2 T. brandy or kirsch

2 c. cold heavy cream
1 c. whole milk
8 egg yolks
1/3 c. sugar
a pinch of salt
1/8 t. almond extract (optional)
1/4 c. honey (3 oz.)—see note

Prepare the cherries:  Place the cherries in a wide sauté pan set over medium high heat.  When the cherries begin to steam and sizzle quietly, add the sugar and lemon juice and shake to distribute.  Cook the cherries at a brisk simmer—stirring occasionally with a heat-proof spatula—until the cherries are tender and beginning to break down a bit and the juices are beginning to thicken—about 5 minutes.  Add the brandy and bring back to a simmer—cooking until the juices have thickened again...perhaps a minute or two.  Remove from the heat, and let cool briefly.  Transfer the compote to a food processor and process to the desired texture (I like mine chopped fairly fine.)  You should have a generous cup of compote.  Chill.

Prepare the custard: Place one cup of cold cream and the cold cherry compote in a medium-sized bowl and place in the refrigerator to keep it cold. 

Place the milk and remaining cup of cream in a medium-sized, non-reactive saucepan and bring to a boil.  While the milk mixture is heating, whisk the egg yolks with the 1/3 c. of sugar and the salt until thick.  When the milk boils, temper the egg yolks.  Stir the tempered egg mixture back into the saucepan and place the pan over medium heat.  Cook, stirring constantly, until the custard begins to thicken and a path forms when you draw your finger across the custard-coated back side of the spoon—an instant-read thermometer will read about 175°.  Immediately strain the custard into the bowl of cold cream and compote. Stir in the honey…and extract, if using.  Refrigerate (or place in an ice bath) until cold, stirring occasionally.  Cover and chill deeply (this will take several hours).

Finish the ice cream:  Freeze the cold custard in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  Transfer to a freezer container and freeze for at least an hour or two (and preferably overnight) before serving.  Makes 5 cups cherry ice cream.

  • If you prefer, you may replace the honey with sugar. I like the texture the honey gives to an ice cream…but if you don’t like the flavor, or don’t have any, you don’t have to use it. Instead, use a total weight of 150 grams (3/4 c.) sugar in the custard. Put half of it in the yolks (as directed in the recipe) and add the remaining half to the 1 cup heavy cream and 1 cup milk while they are heating.
  • For an extravagant cherry dessert, make a double batch of compote. Process half of it for the ice cream and use the unprocessed portion that remains as a sauce for your ice cream.
  • If you have never made custard style ice cream, take a minute to read my basics post so you will have good success.
Printable Version

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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