Sunday, May 30, 2010

Ricotta & Spring Onion Tart with Green Garlic & Herbs


The market was bursting with produce this week:


The first new potatoes (dug Friday!), broccoli, beets, turnips, early tomatoes, Swiss chard, baby summer squash, lettuces & herbs, strawberries, asparagus, spring onions and green garlic. It is so exciting to see the trickle of local produce become a torrent almost overnight. I bought too much...but it will be fun to see if I can use it all up.

When I went to the market, I planned on getting extra spring onions because I had seen a tart at David Lebovitz's blog that I wanted to try. The tart is a variation on a leek and goat cheese tart in Deborah Madison's Local Flavors. His variation uses spring onions and ricotta, which really appeals to me because spring onions are one of my favorite things at the farmers' market. By and large unavailable in the stores (our local Whole Foods carries something they call Spring onions, but they are nothing like the ones from the farmers' market—they actually seem more similar to leeks), spring onions are young onions with the greens still attached. Available only in the spring, they are the "thinnings" pulled from the main onion plantings to give the main crop room to grow. As the season progresses, they get larger and eventually begin to form a little round bulb—if they were left in the ground, they would eventually be a large onion. They are not the same thing as a green onion (or scallion); green onions will never form a bulb—they are bred specifically to stay straight and thin, probably to mimic the look of spring onions.

The entire spring onion—white and green—is usable. Spring onions are tender and cook quickly.  During their short season, I frequently use them in place of regular onions (in pastas, risotto, vegetable ragoûts, etc.). Not surprisingly, their mild taste is particularly well-suited to the young vegetables of spring.

I also found some green garlic at the market:


So called because it still has a green shoot or leaves, green garlic is to garlic what the spring onion is to an onion. Similarly, it is mild and tender. When it is very young, the entire white portion is edible. As it matures, the moist sheath, which will eventually become the papery skin, gets tough and must be peeled away.


I thought it would make a perfect impromptu addition to my tart (and it did), but if you can't find it, I'm sure the tart will be pretty wonderful without it.

In fact, this tart is amenable to all kinds of variations. As I mentioned, Deborah Madison uses goat cheese and leeks. In addition to the ricotta and spring onions that David Lebovitz used in his, he added some finely diced Spanish Chorizo. I think it would be good with some pine nuts sprinkled over the surface. Vegetables could be added too—maybe some wilted greens or some sautéed zucchini or summer squash—but I enjoyed it with the vegetables on the side. It made a nice, light, meatless meal for a warm spring evening. It would make a great first course with a small salad for a dinner party.



Ricotta & Spring Onion Tart
with Green Garlic & Fresh Herbs

1 T. unsalted butter
1 T. olive oil
2 large bunches spring onions, trimmed and thinly sliced (about 8 oz.)
1 head green garlic (about 1 oz.), husks removed if tough and thinly sliced
2 t. minced fresh thyme, plus more for sprinkling over the finished tart
1 t. minced winter savory
6 oz. whole milk ricotta
1 large egg (see note)
1/2 c. heavy cream
1/4 cup whole milk
salt and freshly-ground pepper
one blind-baked 9-inch Pâte Brisée tart shell (see below)

In a large sauté pan set over medium heat, melt the butter with the olive oil. Add the onions and garlic, along with a pinch of salt and cook until tender and cooked through, covering the pan if it seems dry. Remove from the heat and stir in the fresh thyme and savory. Let cool to room temperature.

Crack the egg into a large bowl and whisk to break up. Whisk in the ricotta, mixing until smooth. Add the cream and milk. Season to taste with salt & pepper. Fold in the cooked onion and garlic.

Scrape the filling into the pre-baked tart shell set on a baking sheet. Bake in a 400° until just set. The tart should be slightly browned on top and beginning to get puffy around the edges, about 20-30 minutes. If the tart is set, but not golden, run the tart under a broiler to brown it a bit.

Sprinkle some fresh thyme leaves over the tart and let it cool briefly. Serve either warm or at room temperature. Serves 6 to 8.

Note: The egg that I used was from a carton of "large" farm fresh eggs. I find that local, farm fresh eggs are not always true to standard size. This particular egg weighed 69 grams—a "true" large egg weighs only 50 grams. If I were to make this with a "true" large egg, I would probably use 1 whole egg plus 1 yolk.


Pâte Brisée (Short Crust Pastry)

1 1/3 c. all-purpose flour (150 grams)
1/2 t. salt
1 stick unsalted butter, chilled and cut into 8 pieces
3 to 4 T. ice water

Combine the flour and the salt in a medium-sized bowl. Add the butter. Rub the butter into the flour until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Drizzle 2 T. ice water over the flour/butter mixture. Using your hands, fluff the mixture until it begins to clump, adding more water, a bit at a time, 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 the disk of dough warm up for a moment or two. Butter a 9- to 10-inch removable-bottom tart pan. On a floured surface, using a floured rolling pin, roll out the dough until it is about 1/8-inch thick—you should have a circle of dough that is about 12 inches in diameter. Brush off the excess flour and transfer the dough to the prepared pan. Ease the dough into the pan being careful not to stretch it. Cut the dough off flush with the edge of the pan by pressing gently. Chill the shell for at least 1/2 hour.

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 10 to 18 minutes. When the pastry begins to color on the edges, remove the foil and weights and continue baking until the pastry dries out and turns a light golden color. Let cool before filling.

Note: The tart dough may be made ahead and frozen—raw in disk form, or rolled out in the pan (raw or baked).

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

A Busy Day, a Swiss Chard Frittata & Roasted Beets

Even though yesterday was technically a day off for me, in reality it was a busy "catch up" day.  I needed to clean out my freezer, put some fresh baked goods in the freezer (I would be lost without my morning coffeecake/scone/muffin...) and make jam with the extremely ripe strawberries that I had from my visit to the market last Saturday.


In addition, there were the ordinary chores that pile up for a day off and a garden that has become a jungle due to the abundant rain (not to mention a patio full of plants ready to be planted and waiting for the ground to dry out). I also wanted to post to my blog...  At the end of all of this there was dinner to prepare. And even though I was tired by the end of the afternoon, as always I wanted to feed myself something worth eating...something satisfying and nourishing.

When I finally did get around to cooking dinner, I had the evening news on and there was what has become the almost nightly report on how fat Americans have become—due in part to the terrible things that people are eating. The usual suspects of gargantuan portions of saturated fat-laden, chain restaurant foods were paraded across the screen (right after the obligatory camera shots of the large waistlines and behinds lumbering down our streets). It caused me to wonder, as it always does, why in the world people are consuming this junk when it is clearly so bad for us

There are of course lots of answers to this question. But the one that struck me yesterday was how easy it is at the end of an overly busy day (and most days seem to be overly busy) to go out and have someone make your dinner for you while you sit and relax. I toyed with the idea of going out for dinner last night myself. But I had food from the market in the refrigerator that will go bad if I don't use it and I don't like to waste food.


Because I do have food on my mind most of the time, by mid afternoon I was mentally arranging and rearranging the produce in my fridge with staples in my cabinet and freezer--trying to come up with dinner--while I was doing other things. I know this kind of mental activity is not something everyone enjoys, but you don't have to be a chef to come up with something that is simple to prepare from ingredients that you already have on hand. I mentioned in my previous post how during the market season, you can allow your market purchases to be your guide and inspiration when planning your dinner. If you are stumped for ideas, a quick internet search on a particular ingredient or combination of ingredients will produce several recipes—some of which are bound to be short and simple. Another good resource is Martha Stewart's Everyday Food.  This magazine is specifically designed to give you ideas for fast, healthy meals. If you don't get the magazine, the recipes can all be found at her website.

One of the many things that I hope to accomplish with this blog is to provide ideas and sometimes recipes for using the ingredients that you find at your farmers' market each week. I want to encourage people to cook and eat fresh, healthy food on a daily basis. Not diet food. Just real food made with real ingredients. If you don't know how to cook, the only way to learn is to start cooking. The more you do it, the better and faster you will get.

Last night I eventually decided to make a Swiss Chard Frittata. If you have never had or made a frittata, it is nothing more than a flat, open-faced omelet.  Frittatas are very easy to make and they are a great vehicle for cooked vegetables—this time of year cooked spring onions, wilted spinach or chard, blanched/sautéed asparagus or peas, sautéed/roasted artichokes, sautéed mushrooms, boiled or roasted potatoes, etc. They are usually topped with cheese.  They can also include cooked meats or fish, but I generally make mine with all vegetables since the eggs (and cheese) provide all the protein that I need.

If you have been following my blog, you may remember the recipe I posted for a Potato and Mushroom Tortilla Española and you may be wondering what the difference is between a Tortilla and a Frittata since both are basically flat cakes of cooked eggs mixed with other cooked ingredients. I had this very conversation recently with a chef friend (Margo). Margo said that to her a Tortilla put the emphasis on the filling ingredients with the egg acting as more of a binder and that a Frittata was more about the eggs with the other ingredients acting as the supporting players. This is probably an accurate observation. To me a Tortilla also has to include potatoes that have been poached in olive oil, but this may just be my personal bias. Another difference is that Tortillas generally don't contain cheese—I almost always put cheese in a Frittata. But I think it is actually safe to say that the biggest difference between the two is that one is Spanish and the other is Italian. In practice, they are both a flat omelet. Both are served hot or at room temperature. And they are both good cold the next day, too.

Besides bread, I always like to serve a salad of some kind with a frittata.  I had lots of salad greens from the farmers' market in my refrigerator--and a green salad would make a great accompaniment for a frittata. But I wasn't really in the mood for a green salad last night. Instead I served my frittata with some simply dressed roasted beets.

To roast beets: trim off the tops, leaving about an inch of stem, scrub them and place them in a roasting pan with about a quarter inch of water. Cover them with foil and roast at 375° to 400° until they are tender—about 40 minutes to an hour. When they are cool enough to handle, trim the top and the root and rub the skins off with a paper towel. Cut them in halves, quarters or wedges—or slice them. Dress them with lemon juice or vinegar to taste. Acidity accentuates the sweetness of the beets—keep adding lemon juice or vinegar until the beets begin to taste sweet. Then season with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil.

Roasting is the way I almost always prepare beets, so when I am really on the ball, I will roast them immediately when I return from the market. I then dress them and put them in the refrigerator to enjoy all week—in a salad or as a side dish. But even if I haven't planned ahead, they are easy to prepare while doing other things (like cleaning chard for a frittata)—especially if you don't need the oven for anything else. In addition to lemon juice and olive oil, I seasoned my beets with cumin and mint and served them chilled, drizzled with plain yogurt and sprinkled with toasted walnuts:


We ate all of the beets last night, so for my lunch today, I had the frittata with a little salad of cherry tomatoes dressed with olive oil and red wine vinegar and tossed with some arugula chiffonade. This was very good too and would be a nice option for people who don't like beets....


Swiss Chard Frittata

2 T. Olive oil
4 or 5 spring onions, minced (white and some of green)—about 1 cup
1 clove garlic, minced (optional)
5 to 6 oz. cleaned Swiss Chard, cut in a wide chiffonade
Salt & Pepper, to taste
7 to 8 eggs (room temperature), lightly beaten
2 oz. grated Gruyère, Fontina or Provolone
2 to 3 T. grated Parmesan

Heat 1 1/2 T. of oil in a 10-inch nonstick skillet. Add the onion and cook over medium heat until tender—about 5 to 10 minutes. Add some salt and the garlic and cook just until fragrant. Add the chard. Cover and cook until wilted and tender—another 10 minutes or so. Uncover and continue to cook until any liquid given off by the chard has cooked off.

When the chard is cooked stir it into the eggs. Season with salt and pepper. Wipe out the skillet and return it to the heat, increasing the heat to medium-high. Add the remaining ½ T. of oil to the skillet. When the skillet is hot, add the egg mixture. As the eggs begin to set, shake the pan back and forth and with a rubber spatula lift the edges of the coagulated eggs in order to let the uncooked egg run underneath. Continue cooking and shaking and lifting until the eggs are mostly cooked but still moist on top. This should only take a few minutes.

Place the skillet under the broiler and broil just until the surface is no longer moist—about 30 seconds. Sprinkle the cheese over the surface and broil again until the cheese melts—another 30 seconds.


Slide the finished frittata onto a platter or cutting board and let sit for a minute or two. Cut into wedges and serve. The frittata may also be served at room temperature. Serves 4.

VariationsSubstitute cleaned spinach for the Swiss chard.  For the frittata pictured, I added some whole milk ricotta, daubed over the surface of the eggs before covering with the Fontina and Parmesan.

Note: To make a frittata with any vegetable or meat filling, just remember that the method is always the same: Cook the filling. (It is easiest to sauté the filling in the pan the frittata will be cooked in, but it is not necessary. Fillings can also be roasted or blanched. Frittatas are also a great place to use up leftovers.) Stir the filling into the eggs. Cook as directed above. Top with the cheese(s) of your choice. You will need 1 to 2 cups of cooked filling for a 7 to 8 egg frittata. Possible additions include potatoes, mushrooms, squash, broccoli & cauliflower, artichokes, asparagus, bell peppers, onions, sausage, bacon, crabmeat, etc. Frittatas can be served with a salad and are frequently served as the filling for a sandwich.


Friday, May 21, 2010

Market Inspirations—Asparagus, White Top Turnips, Wild Garlic & Early Green Beans

One of my favorite methods for preparing spring vegetables is to gently stew them in a bit of butter, olive oil or bacon/pancetta fat. Boiling or blanching can literally water down the already subtle flavors of spring vegetables. Gently cooking in fat with little or no added liquid enhances and concentrates flavor. This isn't to say that I don't blanch spring vegetables. Frequently I do. But if you have never had asparagus or a baby turnip cooked in nothing but a little butter and the liquid exuded by the vegetable itself, you will be amazed at the depth of flavor this method will produce.

At least once a week during asparagus season we eat some variation on a pasta primavera of gently sizzled asparagus and spring onions:


Sometimes enhanced with bacon or lemon zest. Almost always including herbs—ever changing combinations of chives, tarragon, thyme, parsley, arugula, or even sage (which is soft and delicate this time of year). Frequently sprinkled with toasted pine nuts. Almost always finished with cheese. Generally this means pecorino or parmesan, but this year I have been taken with placing blobs of whole milk ricotta over the dressed pasta in the pan and letting it sit for a minute or two to warm up—a trick I picked up from a summer squash pasta in Deborah Madison's Local Flavors . I don't stir the ricotta in, I just scoop the pasta out and we mix the ricotta in as we eat. 


For the last couple of weeks, Thane Palmberg has had white top turnips at his stand at the market. They appear for a short while during the spring and will return for another brief spell in the fall. They are pretty special turnips—tender, sweet, almost buttery in texture when cooked. I heard one of Thane's assistants tell a customer last week that they are good raw, but I love them so much cooked, I haven't eaten them raw....maybe next week.


For dinner last night, I cooked the turnips in some butter along with some spring onions and a little wild garlic and then tossed them with some blanched green beans. The wild garlic was given to me to try by the woman working at Thane's stand. I have never cooked with it before. It smells quite strong when raw, but the effect when cooked was subtle (but I only used one bulb since I had been advised that it was strong) and pleasant.


The green beans came from the same farmer who has been providing the beautiful strawberries I have been bringing home each week. Together with some simple sautéed pork chops, they made a lovely spring dinner.


To me, this is what local, seasonal cooking is all about. It is about going to the market each week and filling my market bag with the things that I love to eat. Then dinner is often just a matter of opening the refrigerator and allowing the ingredients to be my inspiration. Complicated methods and seasonings (while occasionally fun and interesting) aren't necessary.


Turnips with Spring Onions & Green Beans

Trim and peel some white top turnips. Cut them into wedges. Clean and mince some spring onions (and some wild garlic if you can get it—but don't skip this dish if you don't have any wild garlic). Melt some butter in a sauté pan over moderate heat. Add the turnips along with a pinch of salt and toss to coat in the butter. When the turnips begin to sizzle a bit, turn down the heat, cover and gently cook until the turnips are almost tender (10 to 15 minutes, or so). Add the spring onions and wild garlic and continue to cook at a gentle sizzle until the turnips and onions are completely tender. I generally uncover the pan for the last few minutes. It's OK if the turnips begin to caramelize a bit.


While the turnips cook, top and tail the green beans (use the same weight of green beans as you used of the turnips) and cut on the diagonal into 2- or 3-inch lengths. Drop the beans into boiling salted water and cook until tender (4 to 7 minutes, depending on how you like them done). Drain and add to the finished turnips and toss until the green beans are coated with the buttery spring onions. If you like, add some parsley or chives and a generous drizzle of olive oil. Taste and correct the seasoning and serve.

(Recipe adapted from Fresh from the Farmers' Market by Janet Fletcher)



Pasta with Asparagus & Spring Onions

2 to 3 T. olive oil or butter or a combination
2 to 4 spring onions, thinly sliced
grated zest of half a lemon (optional)
2 to 3 t. minced fresh tarragon, thyme or sage
6 to 8 oz. trimmed asparagus, sliced on the diagonal into 3” pieces
6 to 8 oz. linguine, fettuccine, penne, gemelli or farfalle
2 T. toasted pine nuts (optional)
¼ c. arugula chiffonade (optional)
2 T. minced chives or Italian flat-leaf parsley (optional)
Freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino
2 chive blossoms, if available

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Meanwhile, melt the butter with the oil in a wide skillet over low heat. Add the spring onions, the zest and herbs (if using) along with some salt; cook slowly, stirring occasionally.

When the water boils, add the asparagus and cook until partially tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Scoop it out, add it to the spring onions, and continue cooking. Cook the pasta until al dente; drain, reserving some of the pasta water. Add the pasta to the vegetables along with more oil if the pan seems dry. Increase the heat and stir in the pine nuts, arugula, & chives, if using. If the pasta seems dry, moisten with a bit of the pasta cooking liquid. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide the pasta among individual plates and sprinkle with a little grated cheese and the chive blossoms.  Serves 2.

Notes:
• If available, stew a handful of peas or fava beans with the spring onions.
• If you prefer, don't blanch the asparagus. Instead, add the asparagus directly to the pan with the spring onions—it will take longer to cook, but will have a more concentrated flavor. When I do it this way, I cover the pan until the asparagus is about half to three-quarters cooked. I then finish cooking it uncovered. I generally start cooking the asparagus and drop the pasta when the asparagus is about half cooked. If the asparagus is tender and the pasta is not ready, just pull it to the side, off the heat, until the pasta is done.
• If you like, cook some minced bacon or pancetta first and use the rendered fat in place of some or all of the butter and olive oil.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Strawberry-Rhubarb Bavarian


Several years ago I had the privilege of studying for a week with Chef and cookbook author Madeleine Kamman at her home along with five other women chefs. It was an amazing week. Madeleine is a fount of knowledge and experience. To this day, I turn to my notes from that week, as well as to her cookbooks, when I am trying to better understand a cooking process or a classic method.

To cap the week off, we prepared a multi-course meal for ourselves. The dessert was a trio of miniatures. One of the items on this dessert plate was an ethereal citrus Bavarian cream, served in a delicate bone china tea cup. I'm not sure I had ever had a Bavarian cream before. I can't imagine that I made it through the Cordon Bleu pastry program without having made and tasted one. It is a classic part of the pastry repertoire. But we made (and tasted) a lot of things. Certainly if I had tasted one, it had not left an impression on me.

Even in a professional pastry kitchen, where I started my career, I had not come across one. This is most likely because Bavarian creams have fallen out of favor—due in large part I think to the large amount of gelatin that is generally used in order to make them hold their shape (inside of a Charlotte or turned out onto a plate to be served as a molded dessert cream). Since the one we made with Madeleine was not turned out of its mold for service, it had just enough gelatin to hold a soft set. When I was brainstorming ideas for a spring desserts class, I remembered that Bavarian and decided that I would include a strawberry-rhubarb Bavarian in my class.


For those who are unfamiliar with it, a Bavarian Cream is a dessert made by folding whipped cream into a base that has been stabilized with gelatin. Classically, the base is comprised of flavored crème anglaise, a fruit purée or a combination of the two. In my ideal world the resulting dessert should be somewhat like a cross between a panna cotta and a mousse.

Madeleine's formula for a Bavarian is 1 to 1 1/2 cups of base (if using a crème anglaise, make it with 1 c. milk, 3 or 4 egg yolks and 1/4 to 1/3 cup sugar and flavor it as you like—with vanilla, citrus zest, ginger, espresso...), 1 t. of gelatin and 1 cup of Heavy cream that has been whipped until it is barely mounding. If you are going to serve it inside a cake or turn it out of the mold, then you need to double the amount of gelatin (or use a whole envelope).

For my first stab at the strawberry-rhubarb Bavarian, I followed the formula—I used 1 1/2 cups of a strawberry-rhubarb purée, a one cup batch of crème anglaise, 1 envelope of gelatin (2 1/4 to 2 1/2 t.) and 2 cups heavy cream. I was a little disappointed in my result. As I told a friend later—there was nothing wrong with it. If I had been working in a restaurant, it would have been served. But I would also have continued to work on it to improve it. It was just a little bit too light and subtle for me. Actually, if it had been a part of a dessert trio (as the citrus Bavarian had been), it probably would have pleased me more.

Before I made my next one I began to look around a little to see what other chefs were doing. I happened upon a post at Eggbeater about a strawberry-rhubarb-ginger Bavarian. I was very intrigued by this one because she had modernized it by replacing the crème anglaise with non-fat yogurt. I really liked this idea. Unfortunately, she didn't include her recipe in the post. I also still needed to get rid of what I considered to be the excessive airiness of my first attempt.

For my second attempt, I used a cup of whole milk yogurt (I must confess, I don't believe in non-fat) and 1 1/2 cups of my fruit purée for the base. I used the same amount (1 envelope) of gelatin and I cut the amount of heavy cream in half (to 1 cup). This is where things got interesting. The flavor was perfect—fruity and tangy. I really liked using the yogurt as part of the base. But the texture.... I can only compare it to a delicate rubber sponge. Even though there was less whipped cream, the foaminess seemed accentuated because it was more solid. Now I know why Bavarians have fallen out of favor. I love dessert, and I didn't eat any more of this one—even though I really liked the flavor.

I knew I had to reduce the amount of gelatin, but I wasn't sure by how much. I had messed with Madeleine's ratios by halving the amount of heavy cream in her formula—and I wasn't sure if whipped cream needed as much gelatin to obtain a soft set as a straight liquid would. So I did what I always do in situations like this, I turned to several reliable pastry books and made a chart to compare the amounts of gelatin used per cup of liquid in several different Bavarian recipes. The results were all over the map, varying from 1/2 t. (Madeleine) to 1 t., with 3/4 t. being the most common. If you look at the amount I used in my second version, you'll see that I was already at about 3/4 t. gelatin per cup.

So, for the final version, I reduced the gelatin to 1/2 t. per cup of liquid, or a total of 1 3/4 t. for the full recipe. The difference between the second and third versions was astonishing--with the only change being the amount of gelatin. The texture in the final version is creamy and light. Just what I had in mind. It may be my imagination, but even the flavor is better. I have a new found respect for the power of gelatin and a renewed appreciation for the reliability of Madeleine's methods and formulas.


I am already thinking about other fruit flavored Bavarians. Now that I have a formula that I like, I can just substitute a purée of whatever fruit, or combination of fruits, happens to be in season.

Strawberry-Rhubarb Bavarian
1/4 c. sugar
1/4 c. water
2 c. diced (1/2-inch) rhubarb, (10 oz. trimmed weight)
1 c. trimmed and quartered strawberries (about 5 oz. trimmed weight)
1 T. sugar, or to taste
1 1/2 t. freshly squeezed lemon juice, or to taste
2 T. orange juice, water or Grand Marnier
1 3/4 t. gelatin (this is less than a full packet—a packet contains 2 1/4 to 2 1/2 t.)
1 c. heavy cream
1 c. plain yogurt (250g)
1/3 c. sugar (65g)

Place the sugar and water in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer. When the sugar is dissolved, add the rhubarb. Gently simmer until the rhubarb has softened and fallen apart—about 15 to 20 minutes.

While the rhubarb is cooking, place the strawberries in the food processor and process until puréed. Transfer to a medium-sized bowl. Stir in sugar and lemon juice to taste. Set aside (don't clean the food processor yet).

When the rhubarb is cooked, let cool slightly. Transfer to the food processor and purée. Pass through a fine mesh sieve to remove the fibers. When cool, add to the strawberries. There should be about 1 1/2 cups sweetened fruit purée.

Place the orange juice in a large bowl and sprinkle the gelatin over. Set aside until the gelatin has absorbed the juice. If any dry granules remain, add a few drops more juice or some water. It will take about 5 minutes for the gelatin to bloom, or soften.

Whip the cream until it is thickened and barely holding soft peaks. It should look too soft. Chill until ready to use.

Place the yogurt in another bowl. Gradually whisk in 1 cup of the fruit purée. Whisk in 1/3 cup sugar.

Gently warm the remaining 1/2 cup fruit purée (in the microwave or in a saucepan). Pour the hot purée over the bloomed gelatin and stir until the gelatin is completely melted. Whisk in the fruit and yogurt mixture. Place the bowl of fruit, yogurt and gelatin over an ice bath and stir with a rubber spatula until completely chilled and just beginning to thicken. Remove the bowl from the ice. Whip the already softly whipped cream into the fruit/yogurt base.


Pour or pipe the Bavarian cream into serving dishes. Chill until set.

Makes 8 to 9 half cup servings. Serve with sugared strawberries or a strawberry-rhubarb compote.


Notes:

  • A traditional Bavarian Cream is made with a Crème Anglaise, rather than a yogurt base. If you would like to make a more traditional Bavarian, prepare a Crème Anglaise with 1 cup milk, 3 egg yolks and 1/3 cup sugar. Strain the hot Anglaise over the bloomed gelatin and stir until the gelatin is melted. Stir the Anglaise over an ice bath until it is chilled. Add the fruit purée and continue to stir until the base is beginning to thicken. Whip in the cream as for the yogurt Bavarian.
  • This recipe can be used to make any fruit Bavarian. Simply substitute 1 1/2 cups sweetened fruit purée for the strawberry-rhubarb purée.
  • If you prefer a lighter Bavarian, you may double the amount of whipping cream. Increase the gelatin to a full packet.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

More thoughts on the Freezer & the first Broccoli of Spring

It seems strange to be writing another post in May about using my freezer. May should be about the burgeoning bounty of local produce—and it is that, as evidenced by my market purchases from yesterday:

 
But it is also a very strange year. It is cold for May. And it is very wet. Apparently May is the wettest month of the year here in Kansas City, and we already have double the total average rainfall for the month. It really feels like late September. For dinner, a light, fresh dish featuring asparagus or tender root vegetables, doesn't seem appropriate.

In addition, I have had a busy week and am headed into another few busy days. Instead of cooking today, the combination of the cool and misty weather and the lull in life's busyness brought on a long nap. It's kind of a perfect day to be able to pull something delicious out of the freezer and augment it with market produce and pantry staples:


I occasionally teach a class called "The Well-Stocked Pantry". In addition to talking about maintaining pantry staples (pasta, dried beans, spices, aged cheeses, condiments, storage vegetables like carrots, onions & potatoes, etc.), I talk about making your own "frozen dinners" that are frozen in portions that you are likely to use. Lots of home-cooked foods freeze very well—certain pasta sauces, stews, baked goods, vegetable casseroles (like Moussaka), just to name a few. If you make a habit of freezing your own prepared foods, then on nights when you don't have any time (or maybe you're just not in the mood to cook) you can still eat very well.

Tonight I decided to pull a container of chicken meatballs out of the freezer. Meatballs are time-consuming to prepare. Since they freeze well, it makes sense to make a large batch when you make them. On a day like today, to be able to sit down to a meal of homemade meatballs is truly a luxury. All I needed to round out the meal was a starch and a vegetable.

These meatballs are a favorite from an old issue of Food & Wine. They are cooked in a rich tomato sauce and I always like to serve them with a dark green vegetable like Swiss Chard, Spinach, Broccolini or Broccoli (although, they're pretty good with roasted carrots, too). I had picked up both broccoli (the first of the season!) and spinach at the market on Saturday. Spinach takes more effort to prepare (strip the leaves, wash multiple times...). The broccoli only takes a few seconds (just cut into florets and rinse). Since this was a lazy food night, I went for the broccoli. After cutting it up, I blanched it in boiling salted water. Broccoli goes from being firm to overly soft pretty quickly, so I usually start tasting it at about two minutes. It's done when it's cooked the way you like it. Drain it, shake the excess water off and dress it with a drizzle of a fragrant olive oil.

This meatball recipe makes a generous amount of sauce, so for the starch, something simple to go with all the sauce is best—mashed potatoes, buttered couscous or rice, polenta or noodles. I had some Idaho potatoes on hand, so I made mashed potatoes. From start to finish the meal took less than 45 minutes to prepare—and I had time to sit down and work on this post while the potatoes cooked.


My only problem now is I have finished off my last container of frozen chicken meatballs. If we are going to have a cold summer, I may have to make some more....


Chicken & Arugula Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for sautéing the meatballs
3 thin slices pancetta or bacon, (about 2 ounces), chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
5 oz. arugula (or spinach), stemmed and finely chopped
1 pound ground chicken (dark meat is best)
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons plain dry bread crumbs
½ cup freshly grated Pecorino-Romano cheese (about 1 ½ ounces)
2 tablespoons drained capers, chopped
1 large egg, lightly beaten
Salt and freshly ground pepper

3 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 large shallots, minced
¼ cup brandy
One 35-ounce can Italian peeled tomatoes with juice, coarsely chopped in a food processor (this is a difficult sized can to find, a 28-oz. can is fine, but you can add half of a 14-oz. can if you like a lot of sauce)
1 teaspoon finely chopped fresh thyme
Salt and freshly ground pepper

In a large non-reactive skillet, heat the 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the pancetta and cook over moderate heat until crisp, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the arugula and cook, stirring, until wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer to a plate and let cool.

In a large bowl, combine the ground chicken, bread crumbs, cheese, capers, egg, ¾ teaspoon of salt and 1/8 teaspoon of pepper. Add the arugula mixture and beat until well blended. Roll the mixture by teaspoonfuls into ¾ -inch balls.

In a large skillet, heat some more olive oil. Add half of the meatballs in a single layer and cook over moderate heat, turning, until browned all over, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the meatballs to a large plate. Repeat with the second batch of meatballs, adding more oil if necessary. Discard the fat and wipe out the skillet.

In the same skillet, melt the butter over moderate heat. Add the shallots and cook until softened, about 3 minutes. Add the brandy, raise the heat to high and cook until evaporated. Add the tomatoes and thyme and season with salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and cook until the sauce is thickened, about 8 minutes.

Add the meatballs to the sauce and simmer over low heat until hot through and very tender—15 to 20 minutes. Serves 4 to 6.

(Recipe adapted from Food & Wine, May 1997)

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Pasta with Fresh Shell Beans & Asparagus



I love my freezer. I use it for all kinds of things. From a loud proponent of "fresh, seasonal, local", this may seem like an odd confession. But to me, the ideal of eating locally and seasonally is served by preserving the local harvest. So, one of the many things I use my freezer for is to preserve some of the abundance of the farmers' market during the growing season.

In most cases, eating something at the moment of harvest feels right--sweet potatoes in October, root vegetables in January, asparagus in May and corn in July.  But there are some preparations that don't seem to be appropriate eating for the season in which the ingredients actually grow. Corn Chowder is a good example. It just doesn't feel right to eat a hearty and hot soup in the middle of July. That same bowl of soup tastes oh-so-good in the middle of January. Not only is it warming and nourishing—it's like a bright ray of sunshine on the darkest of winter days.

Many of the vegetables of summer do not freeze well—tomatoes for example. (But you can make tomato sauce that freezes beautifully.) Others, like sweet corn, freeze very well in their natural state. Fresh shell beans fall into this category. Dried shell beans cannot compare to the creamy texture and delicate taste of fresh shell beans (although, I have to admit I have never dried my own--that would be another story altogether, I am sure). The character of the fresh beans is preserved by the freezing process, so I make a special effort to take the time when they are abundant to squirrel some away for the winter.

After the beans have been shelled, they are easy to freeze. Simply drop them into boiling water for 2 minutes, scoop them out (with a sieve or mesh skimmer) and spread them on towels to dry. It is not necessary to shock them in cold water after blanching. The hot beans spread out on the towels will steam themselves dry and cool off very quickly. When they are cool and dry, spread them on sheet pans and freeze them. When they are frozen, pack them in freezer bags. They are then ready to use all winter long in soups, gratins, side dishes and pastas.

Several years ago when I had some Dixie Butter Peas (my very favorite shell bean) left in my freezer when Spring rolled around, I discovered that they made a fine substitute for English Peas—which were not available just yet—in a particular pasta dish that I like. This year I still have some Pink-Eye Purple-Hulled Peas left in the freezer. I thought they would be good in that pasta, too....


Orrechiette with Asparagus, Fresh Shell Beans & Pancetta

1 c. frozen pink-eyed peas (or other favorite shell bean)
2 to 3 T. olive oil
3 oz. pancetta, minced
1 cup thinly sliced spring onions (about 4)
¼ c. finely chopped Italian parsley or 2 T. minced fresh Thyme
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
4 oz. trimmed thin asparagus spears, cut into ¼-inch lengths on the diagonal (about 1 cup)
salt & pepper
1 lb. Orrechiette pasta
2 to 4 T. butter
1/3 c. freshly grated Parmesan

Place the peas in a sauce pan and cover with water by 1 1/2 inches. Bring to a simmer, add a tablespoon of olive oil, and cook gently until the peas are tender--about 30 to 45 minutes. Add salt to taste about half way through the cooking time. When tender, set aside until ready to use.  (I have drained them in the picture to show how they look when cooked.  Do not drain until ready to use. )


Place the pancetta in a 12-inch sauté pan set over medium heat along with a tablespoon of olive oil. When the pancetta begins to sizzle and render its fat, add the spring onions and parsley and continue to cook until the onions are tender and translucent, about 2 minutes. Add more olive oil if the pancetta is very lean and the pan seems dry. When the onions are tender, add the garlic and cook until fragrant.


Add the asparagus, season lightly with salt and pepper and toss to coat with the seasonings. Add a half cup of the bean cooking liquid and bring to a simmer.


Cover and adjust the heat to maintain a gentle simmer. Cook until the asparagus is almost tender—6 to 10 minutes. Drain the peas and add. Continue to cook for a minute or two until the asparagus is tender. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

While the sauce is cooking, bring 6 quarts of water to the boil in a large stock/pasta pot. Add 2 to 3 Tablespoons of salt. Add the pasta and cook until the pasta is al dente. Drain, reserving some of the pasta cooking liquid.

Add the pasta to the sauce, along with the butter. Stir or toss until the pasta is coated with the sauce and the butter has emulsified into the sauce. If the pasta seems dry, add some of the pasta water. Serve topped with grated cheese, if desired. Serves 4 to 6.

Notes:
  • If spring onions are unavailable, use finely diced shallots.
  • You may use fresh or frozen English peas instead of the shell beans. If using fresh, add with the asparagus. If frozen, thaw and add when the asparagus is almost done, just to heat through. If using peas, add chicken stock with the asparagus (in place of the bean cooking liquid).
  • You may also use fava beans--add them (after double peeling) as you would the frozen peas. The inspirational recipe for this dish from Janet Fletcher's Fresh from the Farmers' Market used favas.




Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sauce Gribiche

I had occasion to make potato salad this weekend. My whole family was over for dinner. Since there are still a large number of kids in my family, casual and room temperature (or cold) foods seem to work best when we are all together. Slow roasted pork, soft dinner rolls, asparagus and lemon bars rounded out the meal. Picnic food really...although it was way too cold for a picnic. But since it will eventually warm up, I thought I would share the potato salad recipe in anticipation of picnics and summer gatherings to come.

I also want to share it because this potato salad is really just an excuse to make and eat one of my favorite sauces: Sauce Gribiche. There are lots of uses for Sauce Gribiche, and I think it should be in every cook's repertoire. Sauce Gribiche is a classic French sauce—you can find it in Escoffier. It is one of the many variations of mayonnaise, which is one of the French "mother" sauces. (All classic French sauces are variations on or derivations of one of the "mother" sauces.) If you know how to make mayonnaise, you can make Sauce Gribiche. Of course, as I write this, it occurs to me that many people, maybe most, have never made or even tasted a real, freshly made mayonnaise. It is not difficult, but it does require some understanding and instruction--a future post maybe....

Sauce Gribiche differs from mayonnaise in that it uses hard cooked egg yolks, instead of raw, as its foundation. Most people, myself included, cheat and add a raw yolk—this seems to make the sauce more stable and a bit easier to make in small quantities. The sauce is augmented with some, or all, of the "fines herbes" (parsley, chives, tarragon, chervil), cornichons or gherkins, capers, shallots and the chopped hard cooked egg whites.

The first time I came across this sauce was as a cook at The American Restaurant where it was served as a garnish for a roast chicken breast (served with escarole braised with ham hocks). It is very good with chicken. It is also nice with simply prepared (blanched, braised, roasted) vegetables. You can find it in the Chez Panisse Café Cookbook as a sauce for grilled Belgian Endive . Classically, however, it is served with fish. Tartar sauce probably comes from sauce Gribiche.

I made a double batch so that I would be able to have some for dinner on Saturday. I had purchased some beautiful white-top turnips and baby green beans at the farmers' market that morning and I thought all day about just having a spread of vegetables to go with my sauce, but I saw some nice Arctic Char at the grocery store and ended up having my Gribiche with its traditional partner.


Potatoes are another great partner for the Gribiche.  Frank Stitt includes cooked potato in the sauce itself.  In her book The Vineyard Kitchen, Maria Helm Sinskey makes a new potato salad by dressing potatoes and a little minced celery with her version of Sauce Gribiche.   I don't even think you need the celery. For my potato salad, I used all-purpose potatoes.  I cooked them in their skins in boiling, salted water until they were tender. When they were cool enough to handle, I peeled them, diced them and tossed them with a little white wine vinegar while they were still warm. When they were cool, I added the Sauce Gribiche. You should add as much as you like (I think 2 to 2 1/4 pounds of potatoes is about right for one recipe of Gribiche) .


Sauce Gribiche
2 hard-boiled eggs
1 egg yolk
1 T. Dijon mustard
½ t. kosher salt
¾ to 1 c. vegetable oil
Tepid water, as needed
1 to 2 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice
pinch of cayenne
1 ½ T. capers, rinsed and coarsely chopped
1 ½ T. chopped cornichons
2 T. finely minced shallots, rinsed
1 T. minced flat-leaf parsley
2 t. minced chives
1 t. minced tarragon

Pass the hard-boiled egg yolks through a fine sieve and place in a bowl with the raw egg yolk. Finely chop the hard-boiled egg white and set aside.


Add the mustard and salt to the egg yolks and whisk until smooth. If the mixture seems too stiff, add a few drops of tepid water. Begin to add the oil drop by drop while whisking steadily. When an emulsion begins to form, begin to add the oil in larger and larger amounts until all of the oil has been absorbed. If at any time the mixture becomes unmanageably stiff, add a few drops of water.


Stir in the lemon juice, along with the remaining ingredients and the chopped egg whites. Taste and correct the seasoning with salt, cayenne and lemon juice.


Makes 2 cups sauce.