Sunday, April 13, 2014

Spring has Sprung the Garden the Farmers' Market ...on the Table

It is suddenly that busiest time of year for the gardener.  Although we probably still have a cold snap or two to go, the trend is finally fixed toward light ....and warmth....  The garden will not wait.  Any extra time I have is spent cleaning up the winter debris that is covering the insistent new growth and laying fresh mulch in preparation for spring planting and the heat of summer.  I work until I'm too tired to move.  But it is work that is also a pleasure.  Even though the pull of all the other commitments of life demands that I move as quickly as I can through the garden, I can't help but stop...  and stare...   and revel in the beauty that is unfolding around me.

The other sure sign of spring came yesterday morning: my first trip of the year to the farmers' market.  I almost always go the first weekend of April, but last weekend it was still really cold.  I preferred the warmth of my bed.  Besides, I knew there would be little (if anything) there.  I don't grow vegetables, but if the progress of my perennial garden is any indication, we are about three weeks behind where we would normally be in the growing season.

Yesterday though, after a week of warmth and a few days of working in the garden, I had to go.  As always, I was glad I did.  A few of the growers were there; it was so nice to get to say hello and see their familiar faces, back for another year.  The market is mostly plants at this will be for some time to come...but even so, I came home with a few edibles:  local greens and a few spring onions.

In keeping with my own personal tradition, I incorporated some of these first few purchases into our dinner last night....sort of my way of celebrating the return of Spring and my return to the market.  This first meal is often just a simple salad...maybe with roasted vegetables...or a round of baked goat cheese.  And we could have had something like that.  But after a long day working in the garden, I needed something a bit more substantial.  Fortunately, one of the things I came home with was a bag of young Red Russian Kale...perfect for a quick braise with a few of the Spring onions.  To go with it, I made a stuffed chicken breast and soft polenta (food doesn't get much more substantial than polenta), into which I folded a sauté of some of my remaining frozen corn from last year's market.

I'm surprised to discover that I haven't shared this chicken recipe before....I have been making it for years.  It is from an old issue of Food & Wine. I was first introduced to the recipe by my friend Nancy when we were working at the Culinary Center together.  The recipe was originally written for pan-seared, skin-on, boneless breasts.  At The Culinary Center, we prepared it using bone-in, split breasts.  Instead of pan-searing, we would roast the stuffed breasts, removing the bone for a quick reheat before service.   In general, this is a great way to prepare a simple roast chicken breast (particularly for large volume cooking)I use this method regularly at home.  But for some reason, when I make this particular dish at home, I prefer to go back to the original recipe.  If you are unable to purchase boneless breasts that still have the skin attached, simply purchase split breasts (on the bone) and remove the bone yourself.  Since the stuffing goes under the skin, the skin must be intact in order to prepare this recipe.

Removing the breast meat from the bone is an easy operation.  It is actually easier to do than to describe.  Unfortunately, I don't have any pictures to illustrate the process.  (Removing the bone takes two hands...and since this was a bit of a spur of the moment post, I didn't have anyone around to take pictures while I worked.)  Nevertheless, I want to take a stab at describing the process so that anyone who wants to try it will have a good place to start.  The most important thing is to remember that since the tip of the knife will always be between flesh and bone, you will avoid gouging into the flesh (which would waste some of the meat) if you always concentrate on gently pressing the flat side of the blade against the bonebasically using the bone to guide your cuts.  Begin by inserting the tip of your boning knife in between the flexible breast bone (if present...sometimes when the whole breast is split, the sternum will only remain attached to one side of the breast) and the flesh.  Run the tip of the knife along the length of the bone, using shallow, long strokes (don't forget to press against the breast bone as you cut), until the tip of the knife runs into the center portion of the rib-cage.  Then, lifting the flesh up as it is cut away from the bone, continue to slide the knife out and away from the breast bone (or where it was, if it is missing), always pressing the flat of the knife against the rib-cage and following its contour, until the flesh is completely released from the carcass.  Trim away any ragged edges of skin and flesh and you are done.  I encourage you to give this a try.  But if you would rather not, simply ask the butcher to do it for you.    

When I prepared our chicken last night, I did deviate in one significant way from the original recipe...and from the way we made it at The Culinary Center.  The original recipe called for a stuffing made of mascarpone.  At The Culinary Center we used soft goat cheese.  Over the years I have used both.  The mascarpone tends to melt into the sauté pan,  whereas the goat cheese remains in place under the skin.  I don't know what made me think of this particular recipe yesterday, but when I decided that this was how I wanted to prepare the chicken breast I had pre-salted the night before, it was too late (and I was too tired) to run to the store for goat cheese or mascarpone.  I did happen to have some whole milk ricotta on hand.  Since the combination of ricotta with greens of all kinds (chard...spinach...kale) is traditional...and delicious...I thought I would give it a try.  I'm happy to report that it worked beautifully.  

Our first market meal of the season was spontaneous, satisfying and delicious...just as it should be.  And as with the new growth in my garden, I hope it is a harbinger of the good things to come in the months ahead.

 Sautéed Chicken Breasts with Prosciutto & Fresh Cheese

1/4 c. ricotta, mascarpone or soft goat cheese (about 2 oz.)
1/2 T. finely chopped fresh thyme, sage or rosemary
zest of half a lemon
salt & freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 lbs. boneless chicken breast halves, skin-on and first wing joint attached if possible
1 oz. thinly sliced prosciutto (about 2 slices), cut in such a way that it will fit under the skin of the breasts in a smooth single layer
Olive oil

Ingredients for half of a recipe--the breast pictured is very large--11 ounces
after removing the bone...plenty for two people

In a small bowl, combine the cheese, herbs, lemon zest and salt & pepper to taste.  Set aside. Gently slide your index finger under the skin of each chicken breast to loosen (but not detach) the skin and form a small pocket.  Slide a half slice of prosciutto under the skin of each breast.  Divide the cheese mixture evenly among the chicken breasts, carefully stuffing the mixture between the skin and the prosciutto.  Massage lightly to spread the cheese evenly over the entire breast.  The stuffed breasts may be refrigerated overnight.

Preheat the oven to 450°F.  Heat a large oven-proof skillet over medium-high heat.  Season the chicken breasts with salt and pepper.  Add a tablespoon or so of oil to the hot pan (it should slide easily over the surface of the pan and should be almost smoking).  Add the chicken breasts skin-side down.  Cook, regulating the heat as necessary to maintain an active sizzle, until golden brown—about 2 to 3 minutes.  Turn the breasts over and transfer the pan to the preheated oven.  Roast until the breasts are just cooked through—about 8 to 10 minutes for small breasts, 15 or more for large.  Remove the chicken to a platter and let rest for a few minutes before serving. 


Depending on the size of the breasts, you may serve each person a whole breast, or slice the breasts and fan attractively on the plates.  Serves 4.

One large breast...sliced to serve two.

  • If desired, prepare a quick pan sauce while the chicken rests. Drain off the excess fat and return the pan to the stove. Add a few tablespoons of water or some wine or stock (or a combination); over high heat, boil until the liquid has reduced to a few tablespoons, scraping with a wooden spoon to dissolve all of the browned bits. Serve as is, drizzled around the breasts, or add a squeeze of lemon juice and/or swirl in a bit of butter before serving. 
  • Even if you are not able to stuff the breasts ahead, the flavor and texture of the chicken is markedly improved by taking the time to season them with salt the night before you plan on cooking them

Monday, April 7, 2014

"Leftover" a Potato Gratin...and on a Potato & Mushroom Pizza...

In my last post I wrote about how I used up the remainder of a head of cabbage that was originally purchased to make soup.  The cabbage was only part of the story—making the soup also left me with the remains of a package of ham.  Even though the batch of soup was large, my situation is illustrative of the purchasing conundrum of small households everywhere: how to efficiently use up odds and ends of ingredients left from preparing scaled down recipes.  The progression of meals that I prepare in the process of using up these odds and ends—purchasing just one more thing to use up the end of the last thing—sometimes feels like the tale of the old lady who swallowed the fly (with the exception of the ending...of course).  Because even large households experience this kind of thing every now and then, I thought I would share this recent progression.  And since Easter is coming up, lots of households—of all sizes—will have leftover ham in their pantry that they will want to use for something besides ham sandwiches (tasty as those might be...). 

Soup is a great place to start when you are using up leftover ingredients.  If you have a ham bone from your Easter ham, there is nothing better than a simple ham and white bean soup.  But if all you have are slices (or a chunk), then the cabbage soup I made recently would be delicious.  (And you'll have cabbage left to make Gemelli with Italian Sausage...)  The cabbage soup is also good for using up the end of your winter stash of dried beans...and possibly an extra potato or two you might have on your counter.  Although, to me, potatoes are more of a staple and I always have them on hand.  In fact, they figure prominently into the two recipes I want to share today. 

Shortly after I made my cabbage soup, I received a request from a client for an Easter brunch menu.  As I considered the menu, one of the things that came to mind was some kind of potato gratin.  Potato gratins make wonderful holiday side dishes.  Whether made of just potatoes, cream and cheese, or potatoes with other vegetables and adornments, everyone loves them.  They are always a good idea.  

I must have been thinking about this menu...and gratins....around the same time I began to think about my dinner one afternoon because it occurred to me that a gratin with some ham...and maybe some sautéed onions...would make a very nice dinner that night. 

Ham and potatoes "au gratin" is a fairly common American dish.  It is typically made with layers of ham, potatoes and cheddar cheese—all bound with a thick cream sauce.  The sauce is almost always a flour-bound white sauce—either a béchamel (all milk) or a velouté (chicken stock and a little milk)—and is occasionally enriched with a little cream. 

There is nothing wrong with this style of dish, but when I made my gratin, I went back to the potato gratin's French roots.  Instead of cheddar cheese, I used Gruyère (the traditional cheese for a French potato gratin).  And instead of a velouté or a béchamel, I simply poured a mixture of heavy cream and stock over the layered components before baking.  You don't really need the flour.  The starch inherent in the potatoes will thicken the liquid a bit.  Further thickening occurs as the cream reduces during the long baking process. If you aren't familiar with potato gratins as the French make them, I describe the process in a bit more detail in a post I wrote several years ago about a Sweet Potato, Yukon & Turnip Gratin.

Because I wanted to serve my gratin as the entrée for our dinner, I made a trip to the store to pick up some asparagus and salad greens.  I thought the asparagus would be particularly nice with the components of the gratin...and it was.  

You may do as I did and make this gratin with leftover ham for a post holiday dinner, but if you happen to be serving something besides ham as your Easter entrée, this gratin would make a fabulous side dish.  Add some bread, an asparagus side dish, a big green salad and a beautiful dessert and your meal is complete.

After I made the gratin, some ham still remained. Now I had leftover asparagus too.  So... I decided to make a favorite asparagus and mushroom pasta that happens to include a little ham.  (Salty ham really is a perfect complement to asparagus.)  Until recently I had always made this pasta with prosciutto.  Then, in an effort to use up last year's Easter ham, I discovered that it is just as delicious with American-style ham.  This is one of my favorite spring pastas—with American-style ham or any delicious air-cured, European-style ham. 

The astute reader has probably already guessed that after this meal I now had a handful of mushrooms left over (I grabbed a box at the store out of habit, rather than purchasing them loose....).  And of course there was still a very small amount of ham left.... 

As I mentioned at the start, potatoes—like pasta and grains—are a staple at my house...and, it just so happens that they are delicious with both mushrooms and ham.  As I eyed the tiny amount of ham and the few mushrooms, I remembered that I had potatoes.  I also remembered that I still had a small amount of Gruyère left from the gratin.  Pizza seemed the obvious thing to make.  

I supplemented the Gruyère with some Goat Gouda I had purchased for snacking purposes (I always have snacking cheese in my fridge), but you could use any mix of delicious cheeses that you like (see my post on pizza from the remains of the cheese tray).  Not only did this pizza use up the last of the ham...and the mushrooms...and even the Gruyère, it was exceptionally good.  As with the ham and potato gratin, it is a keeper.  I will definitely be making it again.  

Now I am out of ham. Of course I couldn't resist the big beautiful bunch of asparagus I saw during my last trip to the grocery store.  So, it begins again.  I love to cook.  What else is so endlessly creative? deeply satisfying?  Asparagus is delicious with ham....   Perhaps I should purchase some more....

Ham & Potato Gratin

3 T. unsalted butter
1 large onion (10 to 12 oz.), peeled and very thinly sliced
8 oz. Ham, sliced 1/4-inch thick and cut into 1/2-inch squares
5 to 6 oz. coarsely grated Gruyère
1 c. Heavy cream
3/4  to 1 c. chicken stock
2 to 2 1/4 lb. russet potatoes
salt & freshly ground pepper, to taste

Melt the butter in a wide sauté pan set over moderate heat.  Add the onion along with a pinch of salt and toss to coat in the hot fat.  When the onion begins to sizzle, cover and cook on low until the onions are soft & tender—about 20 minutes.  Uncover and increase the heat a bit.  Cook until any liquid in the pan has evaporated and the onions are sizzling in the butter.  It's OK if they caramelize in a few spots.  Set aside.

Generously butter a 2 1/2 quart shallow gratin.  Warm the cream and 3/4 cup of stock until hot.  Season with salt and pepper.  Peel the potatoes and slice thinly (about 1/16th inch thick). 

Build the gratin:  Ladle in a quarter cup or so of the hot stock/cream mixture.  Shingle in 1/3 of the potatoes.  Season lightly with salt & pepper.  Scatter in half of the onions, half of the ham and 1 1/2 oz. of the cheese. 

Add a ladle full of cream/stock.  Repeat these layers once.  Finish with a layer of potatoes and pour the rest of the liquid over.  Season lightly with salt & pepper.  To find out if you need to add more liquid to the gratin, press down firmly on the potatoes with a wide spatula or your hands.  When you do this, the potatoes should only be partially submerged in the liquid.  If you can't see any liquid around the edges when you do this, add more of the liquid. 

Place the gratin on a baking sheet and cover tightly with foil.  Transfer to a 350° oven and bake until the cream is bubbling around the edges—about 45 minutes.  Uncover.  Scatter the remaining cheese over the top and return to the oven.  Continue to bake until the cream is bubbling thickly (the gratin should not be soupy), the top is golden brown and the potatoes are completely tender—another 35 to 45 minutes.  If time allows, let the gratin rest for 10 to 15 minutes before serving.  Serves 8 as a side, 4 to 6 as an entrée.

Potato, Mushroom & Ham Pizza

6 to 7 oz. New, small Yukon or baby Dutch potatoes, well-scrubbed
Olive oil
4 oz. mushrooms, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 clove of garlic, minced
2 oz. ham, sliced 1/4-inch thick and cut into 1-inch batonettes
a generous tablespoon of minced Italian flat-leaf parsley
pinch of red pepper flakes
5 oz. coarsely grated cheese (I used a mix of 3 oz. Gruyère and 2 oz. Goat Gouda)
Pizza dough for one pizza (see below)

Place the potatoes in a small saucepan and cover with salted water.  Bring to a simmer and cook until tender when pierced with the tip of a knife.  Drain and set aside until cool enough to handle.

While the potatoes cook, heat a medium sauté pan over moderately high heat.  Add oil to coat the pan (about a tablespoon).  When the oil is hot, add the mushrooms. Sauté, regulating the heat to maintain an active sizzle, until the mushrooms are browned and tender—about 5 minutes.  If the mushrooms seem dry, add a bit more oil.  Season with salt & pepper, reduce the heat slightly and add the ham. Cook until the ham is sizzling and any water it has released has evaporated—it will begin to turn golden in spots.  Add the garlic, parsley and pepper flakes and cook briefly—just until fragrant.  Remove from the heat. 

Peel the potatoes and slice 1/4-inch thick.  Place in a small bowl and toss with a drizzle of olive oil.  Taste and salt if necessary. 

Build the pizza:  Roll or stretch the pizza dough out into a 12- to 14-inch round and transfer to a floured baking sheet, pizza pan or peel.  Brush the dough round with 2 to 3 t. olive oil.  Scatter half of the cheese over the dough.  Scatter the potatoes over the cheese, followed by the mushroom mixture and then the remaining cheese.  

Bake the pizza: If using a pizza pan or baking sheet, place the pizza in the pan on a pre-heated pizza stone in a pre-heated 500° oven. Bake until the crust is golden brown on the bottom and the cheese is tinged with golden brown, about 12 to 15 minutes. To insure a crisp crust, slide the pizza off of the pan and onto the pizza stone as soon as the crust is set (after 4 or 5 minutes).

If using a peel, slide the pizza directly onto the preheated baking stone. Bake until the crust is golden brown on the bottom and the cheese is tinged a golden brown color—about 8 to 12 minutes.

When the pizza is done, transfer to a cutting board and cut into wedges and serve.

 Pizza Dough

1/2 cup warm water (100º-110º F)
1 1/8 t. active dry yeast
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 T. olive oil
1/2 t. salt

Place the water in a large bowl and add the yeast. Let soften for a minute or two. Add 3/4 cup of the flour and whisk until smooth. Add the oil, salt and another half cup of the flour. Stir with a wooden spoon to form a soft dough that holds its shape, adding more flour if necessary. Sprinkle some of the remaining quarter cup of flour on a smooth surface. Scrape the dough out of the bowl and sprinkle with a bit more of the flour. Knead the dough, adding just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking, until the dough is smooth and springs back when pressed lightly with a finger—about 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until it has doubled in size—about 1 hour. Punch down the dough and turn it onto a lightly floured surface and form into a ball. Cover with a towel and let rest for 15 to 20 minutes. The dough is now ready to be shaped, topped and cooked or frozen.

Food Processor Method: Place the water and yeast in a small bowl and let sit until the yeast has dissolved. Place 1 1/3 cups of the flour and salt in the food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse to blend. Add the oil and yeast/water mixture and pulse until the dough is homogenous. Begin to run the mixture in long pulses (five to 10 seconds each) until the dough is smooth and elastic—it shouldn't take more than a minute. If the dough seems wet and sticky, add some of the remaining flour a tablespoon at a time, pulsing after each addition. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and give it a few kneads by hand.

Variation for a Whole Wheat Crust: Instead of unbleached all-purpose flour, use 3/4 c. bread flour and 1/2 to 3/4 c. whole wheat flour (the new “white” whole wheat flour is a good choice).

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Gemelli with Cabbage & Italian Sausage

One of my favorite things to make with a partial head of cabbage (since my household is only two, I can't think of too many things for which I need a whole head of cabbage) is a simple pasta from Janet Fletcher's FourSeasons Pasta.  With just cabbage and pasta—adorned simply with butter, a little onion, garlic, hot pepper flakes and fennel seed—it has a quietness that is just the thing for those windy, boisterous days of March (or April...).  And since March—due to the presence of St. Patrick's Day with its traditional cabbage and potato dishes—is typically when I have a lot of cabbage on hand, those very early days of Spring are usually when I find myself turning to this pasta for dinner. 

This last time when I made it, I decided to add a bit of Italian sausage.  It was kind of an obvious addition....I'm surprised I haven't done it before.  Sausage and cabbage are natural partners.  Furthermore, the spices in this dish (fennel...pepper flakes...) echo the seasoning in the Italian sausage that I usually buy. 

The sausage version of this pasta was particularly good.  Upon sampling it, my mother said that the sausage "made it".  I say that the sausage definitely makes it a bit more lively.  Either way—with sausage, or without—it is a delightful meal for the end of a breezy and brisk early spring day.

Gemelli with Cabbage & Italian Sausage

3/8 t. fennel seed
1 T. olive oil
4 oz. Italian Sausage, casings removed
2 T. butter, divided
1 small onion (5 to 6 oz.), finely diced
salt, to taste
A pinch of hot pepper flakes
1 large or 2 small cloves garlic, finely minced
1 lb. green cabbage, cut into 1- to 2-inch wide wedges, cored and sliced thinly crosswise
1 1/2 to 2 T. minced flat-leaf parsley
1/2  lb. Gemelli, or other short sturdy pasta
1/4 c. freshly grated Pecorino (3/4 oz.), plus more for passing

Place the fennel seed in a wide sauté pan (large enough to hold the cabbage) and set over moderate heat.  Watch carefully and shake occasionally until the fennel is fragrant and tinged golden brown in spots.  Transfer to a plate to cool.  Crush in a mortar and pestle and set aside.

Return the pan to the heat and add a tablespoon of olive oil.  When the oil is hot, crumble the sausage into the pan.  Cook until browned and cooked through—about 6 to 8 minutes.  Remove the sausage to a plate and add a tablespoon of butter to the pan.  When the butter is melted, add the onion along with a pinch of salt.  Cook, stirring occasionally, until the onion is soft and beginning to take on some color.  Add the remaining tablespoon of butter to the pan along with the garlic and pepper flakes.  Cook until fragrant—less than a minute.  Add the cabbage and fennel seed along with a good pinch of salt.  Stir to coat in the butter and onions.  Cover the pan and cook, stirring occasionally, until the cabbage is tender—about 15 to 20 minutes.  Return the sausage to the pan and stir in along with the parsley.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  Keep warm while the pasta cooks.

Bring a large pot of water to the boil.  Salt well (taste should taste salty).   Add the gemelli  and cook until al dente.  Set aside a half cup or so of pasta water.  Drain.  Place the pan of cabbage over very low heat.  Add the pasta to the cabbage mixture and toss to combine.  Add the cheese and continue to toss, adding pasta water as necessary to moisten the pasta—you will probably need almost all of the reserved half cup.  If it seems dry, add a bit of reserved pasta water.  Divide among serving plates and serve immediately, topped with more cheese if you like.  Serves 2 to 3.

  • This recipe is easily doubled.  Make sure you choose a sauté pan large enough to accommodate 2 lbs. of cabbage.  For the double (or full) recipe, it is easiest to toss the cabbage and pasta together in the pot the pasta was cooked in.  To do this, drain the pasta and return the pasta to the warm pot.  Use a rubber spatula to scrape the cabbage and sausage mixture into the pot with the pasta.  Proceed as directed in the recipe. 
  • To make this without sausage, omit the olive oil and sausage.  Increase the butter to 3 T.  Cook the onion in two tablespoons of the butter.  Add the last tablespoon of butter to the pan when you combine the cooked pasta with the cabbage, stirring until the butter melts into the sauce.  (There is a picture of the sans-sausage version here.)
  • The original recipe calls for Parmesan.  I prefer the sharper, saltier edge of Pecorino.
(Recipe adapted from Four Seasons Pasta, by Janet Fletcher)

Thursday, March 27, 2014

A Fresh Take on an Old Favorite--Fresh Pineapple Upside-Down Cake

Yesterday I taught one of my favorite classes—Classic Home-style Desserts.  All of the recipes in this class satisfy my craving for the simple homemade—or classic diner-style—desserts of my childhood:  spicy gingerbread, jam-filled sugar cookies, coconut cream pie, butterscotch custard, and pineapple upside-down cake.  I have already posted most of these recipes.  Today I thought I would share my newly re-worked recipe for pineapple upside-down cake.  I have been making and teaching this cake for years.  Recently however I began to find fault with it.  It was very good...but had what I considered to be a few flaws.

The cake portion of a pineapple upside-down cake can be made with almost any simple yellow butter cake.  In its original form the cake was made with canned pineapple rings so it is not uncommon to find older recipes that incorporate some of the canned juice in the batter.   Alice Waters (in her book Chez Panisse Fruit) uses a half recipe of the classic 1-2-3-4 butter cake (1 cup butter, 2 cups sugar, 3 cups flour and 4 eggs).  For years I used a buttermilk version of this cake in my upside-down cake. It is a fine, basic butter cake.  Unfortunately it is so light and tender that it isn't always successful in an upside-down cake.  It can be a bit crumb-y...wanting to tear and fall apart under the weight of the pineapple.  Cutting neat slices can be difficult.  It also tends to dry out rapidly (this particular cake really does need to be covered with frosting), making for a cake that should be eaten within a few hours of being baked—which is impractical most of the time...and compounds its tendency to crumble.

As I thought about modifying my recipe it occurred to me that what I really wanted was a sour cream-based butter cake.  Using sour cream will retain the flavor profile of the buttermilk cake, and at the same time will produce a tender but firm that slices neatly and cleanly.  

As a bonus, the sour cream cake will be a bit richer due to the increased percentage of butterfat.  All of this makes for a perfect match for the syrup-y pineapple topping.  Rose Beranbaum in her book The Cake Bible uses a sour cream cake.  And as it turns out, my favorite sour cream cake (that I use in my pear and walnut-topped streusel coffee cake) was originally adapted from Dorie Greenspan's recipe for Rhubarb Upside-Down Cake (published in Baking with Julia).  I don't know why I haven't been using this cake all along.     

Not only is the sour cream version of this cake better when it is fresh, like all sour cream cakes, it keeps well too.  It is still delicious the day after it is made, and is moist enough to withstand a brief reheat (since pineapple upside-down cake really is best when it's warm).  If you have leftovers after that, simply freeze them.   Cut the remaining cake into individual portions, wrap them and place in a Tupperware or a Zip-lock freezer bag and freeze.  These slices are great to have on hand for a bite with afternoon tea or coffee...and I can say from personal experience that they  make a pretty fine breakfast.   

In one way—and it is significant—this cake is quite different from the upside-down cakes of my childhood.  I use fresh pineapple.  You can use canned...and your cake will still be good...but fresh pineapple makes a superior cake in every way.  Since it hasn't been subjected to the canning process, the slices of pineapple are still loaded with all of their juice and flavor.  There is no need to incorporate any juice in the batter (as in older recipes) since the juice inherent in the fresh pineapple will permeate and perfume the cake as it bakes.  Furthermore, using fresh pineapple will allow you to slice the fruit in such a way that there are no gaps in the topping (as from the holes in canned pineapple slices), necessitating the addition of traditional foreign elements like prunes, pecans or—heaven forbid—maraschino cherries (who thought of that?). 

The fresh pineapple is very easy to prepare.  Lay the pineapple on its side

and slice off the top and the bottom.  Then, stand the pineapple on end and slice away the rind (in much the same way that you would slice the rind away from a piece of citrus fruit).  If there are any especially deep "eyes", just gouge them out with the tip of a paring knife.  Cut the pineapple straight down through the core into quarters.  Slice the core away from each quarter.  

You will need two of the quarters for the cake (slice or dice the other two and put them in a Tupperware for fruit salads or snacking).  Lay the quarters down on their sides and slice cross-wise into scant 1/4-inch thick slices.  

These slices are then shingled in a circle around the perimeter of the pan and then shingled attractively to fill in the center. 

This manner of preparing the pineapple is the one thing I retained from my original cake.  I have always loved it.  Like the original cake itself, it was inspired by Alice Waters' recipe.  Moreover, it was perfect just the way it was.  I am so pleased with my new version of this old favorite.  Now, not only is the topping impressively beautiful, it is supported by a correspondingly delicious cake. 

Fresh Pineapple Upside-Down Cake 

Pineapple Topping:
4 T. unsalted butter
3/4 c. brown sugar
half of a fresh pineapple, split lengthwise, cored, peeled and sliced crosswise into scant 1/4-inch thick slices (you will need a scant pound of trimmed pineapple slices)

In a 10-inch cast iron skillet set over low heat, melt the butter.  Add the sugar, increase the heat to medium and stir until the sugar has melted into the butter.  Remove from the heat.  Arrange as many of the pineapple slices as will fit in an overlapping circle around the edge of the pan (overlap the narrow portion of each successive pineapple slice over the wider side of the previous slice).  Arrange as many of the remaining slices as will fit in an overlapping, decorative fashion in the center.  Set aside. 

1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour (200 g.)
1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. baking soda
3/4 t. salt
1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 c. sugar (200 g.)
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 1/2 t. vanilla
1 c. sour cream (242 g.)

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt.  Set aside. 

Cream the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy—this will take several 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 before each addition.  Beat in the vanilla; scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Fold in the dry ingredients in 3 additions alternately with the sour cream, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.

Spread the batter evenly over the pineapple 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 50 minutes.  Let the cake rest for 5 minutes in the pan.  

Carefully run a small, thin spatula around the edge of the pan to make sure the cake isn't stuck to the sides.  Place a cake plate upside down on top of the skillet and holding the cake plate firmly to the skillet, flip the cake over.  Carefully lift the skillet away.  If any fruit sticks to the pan, simply tuck it back onto the top of the cake.

Cool at least an hour before serving.  Cut the cake with a long, thin bladed slicing knife, using a gentle back and forth sawing motion to cut through the pineapple. 

Makes one 10-inch cake, serving 10 to 12.

(Topping from Chez Panisse Fruit by Alice Waters; Cake adapted from Baking with Julia by Dorie Greenspan)

Friday, March 21, 2014

The Evolution of a Dish....Freekeh Pilaf with Sautéed Cauliflower, Parsley, Capers & Golden Raisins

Last month I described a special evening out with friends at a favorite local restaurant.  As I mentioned in that post, everything we ordered was delicious.  I have continued to be inspired by the foods and flavor combinations I sampled that night.  Besides the salad I wrote about, a medley of couscous and cauliflower (served as an accompaniment to shrimp with Romesco) particularly captured my fancy.   Loaded with flavors I love—capers, parsley, lemon, almonds, golden raisins—I have made several variations on it in the weeks since.

A couple of times I prepared it cold in a salad (as at the restaurant)—with minimally blanched and chopped cauliflower.  

On another occasion I made it into a warm pilaf...with sautéed cauliflower.  

It is probably because I love warm grain pilafs that I liked it this last way the best. 

It then occurred to me that these flavors would be delicious in combination with the slightly smoky, slightly tangy flavor of freekeh...and they were.  (If you aren't familiar with freekeh, I wrote about my introduction to it last spring.)

At some point I started making it with pistachios instead of almonds.  Then, as I thought back over the different ways I had made it, I realized that I had always served it with a side of roasted carrots.  

With spice roasted carrots...and Cornish Hen
With roasted carrots and beef tenderloin
With honey glazed carrots and pork loin
With braised carrots and a pork chop

I decided I might as well include the carrots in the pilaf itself...and turn the pilaf into the main event (which is how I often eat them anyway).

It is this final version that I thought I would share. 

You can of course make it with almonds instead of pistachios, and couscous instead of freekeh.  You can include the carrots, or leave them out.  But I think they add great color while at the same time they echo the sweetness of the golden raisins. 

And although it might seem that I have randomly changed and added ingredients, I have not touched the central flavors that captured my attention in the first place:  the cauliflower, capers, golden raisin, parsley and lemon.  The dish would be flat and disappointing if any of these were left out—the interplay of these particular flavors is what this dish is all about. 

At this point, my pilaf is not really a recognizable adaptation of the dish I had at Extra Virgin.  But it is delicious.  I know I will be making it again and again. 

Freekeh Pilaf with Sautéed Cauliflower, 
Capers & Golden Raisins

1 T. olive oil
1/2 of a red onion, cut in a 1/4-inch dice, Or 1/2 bunch of scallions (white and several inches of green), rinsed, trimmed and thinly sliced—about 1/2 cup of onion
1/2 c. cracked freekeh, rinsed and drained
2/3 c. water

1 to 2 T. olive oil
6 oz. cauliflower florets, trimmed and cut into smaller (1/2- to 3/4-inch) florets (about 2 cups)
1 large carrot (3 to 4 oz.), trimmed and peeled, sliced into 1/4-inch thick slices on the diagonal, and slices cut again into 1/4-inch strips (they will be shaped like a quill and you will have about 1 cup)—optional
1 1/2 T. capers, rinsed and coarsely chopped
1 fat clove of garlic, minced
zest of half of a small lemon
3 to 4 T. minced Italian flat-leaf parsley, divided
1/4 c. golden raisins
2 to 4 T. toasted pistachios (or almonds), coarsely chopped
1 t. lemon juice (or to taste)
2 oz. crumbled Feta—optional

Warm a tablespoon or so of olive oil in a small saucepan with a tight fitting lid over moderate heat. Add the onions along with a pinch of salt and sweat until tender and translucent—5 to 10 minutes.  Increase the heat to medium high and add the drained freekeh along with a generous pinch of salt. Continue to cook for a minute until the grains are coated in the oil and sizzling in the hot oil. Add the water and bring to a full boil. Reduce the heat to low and cook, covered until the freekeh is tender—20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand for 5 minutes.

While the freekeh cooks, sauté the cauliflower and carrots.  Set a sauté pan just large enough to hold the vegetables in a snug single layer over moderately high heat.  When the pan is hot, add a generous tablespoon of oil to the pan.  Add the cauliflower and carrots and sauté, tossing occasionally, until golden brown in spots—about 4 or 5 minutes. If the sautéing vegetables seem dry, drizzle in a bit more of the olive oil.  Season with salt and add a splash of water (3 or 4 T.). Cover the pan and reduce the heat to very low. Cook until the cauliflower and carrots are just tender to the tip of a knife....about 5 minutes. Uncover, increase the heat and cook until any remaining water has evaporated off and the cauliflower is once again sizzling in the fat.  Add the capers, garlic, lemon zest and a tablespoon or so of the parsley.  Continue to cook until the garlic is fragrant and the capers are sizzling.  Remove from the heat and set aside.

To finish the pilaf, turn the cooked freekeh into a large bowl.  If the vegetables have cooled off too much, warm briefly.  Add to the bowl with the freekeh.  Add the remaining parsley, the raisins, the pistachios and the lemon juice.  

Toss to combine.  Taste and correct the seasoning with salt and lemon juice.  

Serve as a side for 3 or a light entrée for two.  If serving as an entrée, crumble the Feta over the finished pilaf. 

  • The recipe may be multiplied without difficultyjust use 1 1/4 c. of water (or stock) for every cup of freekeh.
  • This pilaf is excellent hot—but it is also delicious at room temperature. It would be wonderful to take to work or school for lunch.
  • If you would like to prepare the pilaf with couscous, simply replace the freekeh with couscous: Add the water before adding the couscous and bring to a boil. Add the couscous, cover and remove from the heat. Let sit for 10 minutes before fluffing and combining with the vegetables. (For an even more stream-lined preparation, omit the onion. Just bring the water, along with 1/2 T. of olive oil and 1/4 t. salt, to a boil. Add the couscous, stir to combine, cover and remove from the heat.)
Printable Version

With Feta...for lunch...