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 cake...one 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. 


Cake:
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
salt
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. 

Notes:
  • 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...




Sunday, March 16, 2014

Pistachio Cupcakes—for St. Patrick's Day...and an Anniversary


Sometime during my high school years my mother discovered a recipe for St. Patrick's Day Pistachio Cupcakes.  They were filled with mini chocolate chips and finished with cream cheese frosting and green sprinkles.  My whole family loved them—they became our St. Patrick's Day tradition.  My mother still makes them.  They are probably the original source of my love affair with all things pistachio.  Unfortunately they include something I consider to be a rather objectionable ingredient:  Instead of utilizing real pistachios, the recipe includes a box of instant pistachio pudding mix.  (I think there may be a few real pistachios in the mix, but it also includes an assortment of additives that I would rather not eat.)  This year, I finally got around to working on a real pistachio version...just in time for St. Patrick's Day...and, just in time for my now traditional pistachio post to mark my blog anniversary. 


One of the reasons I wanted to recreate these cupcakes in a more acceptable (at least to me) form is that they are part of one of my best memories of my Dad.  I associate sports of all kinds with my Dad (he loved and played many sports).  But of all the sports he loved, I think he loved basketball the best—college basketball in particular.  Every year in March he took vacation time to go to the NAIA men's tournament.  He had two season tickets, so he always took someone with him—a friend...or a colleague...and always his kids.  Every year he reserved four of the tournament days—one for each of us.  Having the opportunity to spend a day with him, doing something he loved, is a priceless memory.  Even after my college years were over (when spring break conveniently overlapped with the tournament), I would continue to take a vacation day every year so I could go with him. 

You might be wondering what basketball and the NAIA tournament have to do with pistachio cupcakes.  Well, March Madness...and the NAIA tournament...always fall right around the same time as St. Patrick's day.  Spending outrageous amounts of money on the "food" offerings at the arena wasn't something my Dad would have been inclined to do (never mind what such a diet might do to one's health after a steady two weeks of it).  So, we always took our own—lunch...dinner...and snacks.  The pistachio cupcakes were frequently part of our stash.  Back in those days I probably would have rather had a concession stand hot dog than a homemade tuna fish sandwich, but there was nothing at the arena I liked better than those cupcakes. 


The recipe I came up with is actually not too different from the original.  I have increased the fat and sugar slightly (since that's likely what was in the mix) and of course added real pistachio flour (finely ground, lightly toasted pistachios).  The original recipe used all oil.  I have opted to use half butter since I like the flavor that butter adds.   I could have used a packaged mini chip, but chose to finely chop a nice bar of Ghirardelli semi-sweet instead. 

The cupcakes could not be easier to make.  Once you have the pistachio flour (see the notes after the recipe), they are mixed up just like a muffin—simply combine all the dry, combine all the wet and then quickly mix the two together.  You don't even need an electric mixer.  The finished cupcakes are sweet and tender with the open and porous crumb of a muffin rather than the traditional fine grain of a cupcake.  Best of all, they taste of real pistachio. 


To finish the cupcakes there are several good options.  I have chosen to make a cream cheese frosting.  It is much like the one my mother made—with just a bit less sugar.  Chocolate ganache or a citrus or vanilla buttercream would all work well too.  I did sprinkle a few of my cupcakes with green sanding sugar, but then decided I liked the more natural look of finely minced pistachios and a bit of Turbinado sugar.  Finely grated chocolate is also nice.



As I said at the start, this post marks the anniversary of my blog.  It was exactly four years ago today that I published my first blog post.  I have no desire to sound trite...but time really does go so very quickly.  It doesn't seem like four years...and yet at the same time, the blog is such an entrenched part of my life now that I think I would be a bit lost if I gave it up.  So, for the foreseeable future, I will go on.  I hope that those who visit will continue to find recipes and ideas that will enhance the time they spend in the kitchen and at the table, as well as tips and techniques that will make the whole process of cooking easier and therefore more enjoyable.  We have to eat....we ought to cook....and both should be a pleasure.

Since it is an anniversary, now seems like an appropriate moment to mention a couple of additions that I have made to For Love of the Table during the past year.  The first—made after numerous requests—was the addition of a link at the end of each post to a printable version of the recipe.  I added this feature last fall and all of the posts since have included it.  As for the earlier posts, I have been working my way backwards.  It is a bit of a slow process, but my plan is to eventually get to them all. 

The second change came just a few days ago.  I added an "about for love of the table" page.  If you haven't seen it...and you've wondered about my background and why I keep this blog, I've put it all in one place...you should check it out. 

As for my anniversary tradition of something pistachio, it came about mostly by chance.  There is nothing special...or significant...about the pistachios other than that I like them.  Furthermore, since my blog anniversary falls on the day before St. Patrick's Day, something green seemed appropriate that first year.  Twice I have marked the day with a pistachio cake...last year I made pistachio shortbread cookies.  And as with the writing of the blog itself, continuing the tradition has been an unexpected pleasure.  I will be interested to see what direction it takes for anniversary number five.  



 Pistachio Chocolate Chip Cupcakes

55 g. pistachios, lightly toasted (see notes) and very finely ground (a scant 1/2 c.—measured before grinding)
170 g. sifted cake flour (1 3/4 c.—sifted into the cup and leveled off)
225 g. sugar (1 c. plus 2 T.)
2 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. Salt
70 g. unsalted butter, at a cool room temperature (5 T.)
4 oz. finely chopped semi-sweet chocolate
2 eggs, room temperature
1 t. vanilla
72 g. vegetable oil (1/3 c.)
160 g. whole milk (2/3 c.)


Place the first five ingredients in a large bowl and whisk to combine.  Slice the butter in 1/4-inch thick slices and add to the bowl.  Rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture looks like stone ground cornmeal (you may do this by hand or in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment).


Add the chocolate and toss to combine.  Set aside.


Place the eggs and vanilla in a small bowl and whisk until smooth.  Whisk in the oil in a steady stream.  Whisk in the milk.  Add the wet to the dry and mix until well blended.  The batter will be quite thin.


Scoop the batter (I use a scant 2 oz. ice cream scoop...or a mounded 1 1/2 oz.) into muffin tins lined with paper liners—the cups should be 2/3 to 3/4 full. 


Bake in a preheated 375° oven until light golden, springy to the touch and a toothpick comes out clean—about 18 to 22 minutes.  Cool in the tins for 5 to 10 minutes.


Transfer to a wire rack and cool completely.  Frost with cream cheese frosting and garnish with minced toasted pistachios, green sanding sugar or finely grated chocolate.  Makes 16 to 18 cupcakes.

Notes:
  • To toast the pistachios, spread on a baking sheet and place in a 350° oven. Bake, stirring once or twice, until fragrant—about 5 minutes.  
  • To make pistachio nut flour, grind the cooled nuts with a rotary nut grinder. 
  • If you don't have nut grinder, place the cooled nuts in the food processor with the sugar and process until fine.  I have not tested the recipe this way, but I suspect that one could finish mixing the dry ingredients in the food processor:  After grinding the pistachios with the sugar, add the flour, baking powder and salt and process to combine.  Add the butter and process until the mixture looks like coarse meal.  Transfer the contents of the processor to a large bowl, add the chocolate and proceed with the recipe.

 (Recipe adapted from Better Homes & Gardens and  Cupcake Project)

Printable Recipe




Cream Cheese Frosting

8 T. (4 oz.) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 c. (8 oz.) powdered sugar
2 t. vanilla
8 oz. cream cheese (do not soften—see notes), cut into eight cubes

Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream the butter briefly to smooth out.   Add the sugar and vanilla and turn the mixer on low speed, mixing until the powdered sugar is absorbed and the mixture is clumpy.  Turn the machine to high and beat until light and fluffy, scraping once—a minute or two.  Scrape the bowl.   Add the cream cheese and beat at high speed for 30 to 40 seconds—just until the cream cheese has been incorporated and the frosting is smooth again (prolonged beating after the addition of the cream cheese can make the frosting too soft).   

Printable Recipe

Notes: 

  • If you don't have a stand mixer.  Soften both the butter and the cream cheese to room temperature.  When soft enough to mix by hand, place the cream cheese and butter in a bowl and beat by hand just to blend.  Beat in the vanilla.  Beat in the sugar a half cup at a time.
  • If you like, add 2 or 3 drops of green food color.
  • Depending on how much frosting you like on your cupcakes, you will probably not need all of the frosting.  If you only make 16 cupcakes, half of a recipe will be just the right amount to frost each cupcake with a moderate amount (as pictured) of frosting.




Monday, March 10, 2014

Longing for Spring....Salmon with Asparagus & Peas

I am so hungry for Spring.  Literally.  I love root vegetables....   winter squash and sweet potatoes...    hearty soups and pastas....    meltingly tender braised meats....  But I've had my fill for the season.  I'm ready to say "good-bye" 'til next year.  I'm ready for the green foods of spring.


It started a few weeks ago with the first of the artichokes.  Then just last week—in preparation for a class—I purchased my first asparagus of the year.  I would have passed it by if it hadn't been for the class.  But as it turned out, it was unexpectedly beautiful.  So beautiful that I purchased some extra so we could have it for dinner the night before my class.    

The dish I prepared was one I was teaching the next day: a simple and quick pan seared salmon with a buttery ragout of asparagus and peas.  It tasted really good.  So good I purchased more asparagus so we could have it again for dinner last night.  We enjoyed it the second time with a simple pilaf of farro with herbs...the first time I prepared it, I served it with buttered new potatoes.  It was delicious with both.  I'm sure it would be fine with just about any simply prepared starch.


And "simple" really is the point of this dish.  There are only a few ingredients—it is the techniques that make them shine.  The flavor of the ragout gets a boost from being prepared in the same pan in which the fish is seared (effectively deglazing the pan as it cooks).  The other thing that makes this ragout special is that it is bound with a quick emulsified butter sauce.  You could of course simply toss blanched asparagus and peas with some melted butter and herbs and it would be delicious, but understanding how to take these same ingredients and turn them a light, creamy ragout raises the level of this dish to elegant. 

An emulsified butter sauce is one in which the butter is held in a unified suspension with a liquid.  This suspension is not a natural state—if you simply stir melted butter into a hot liquid, the two components will immediately separate into liquid on the bottom and melted butterfat on the top.  Because this post is about what is essentially a quick and easy weeknight meal, I'm not going to go into a long explanation of emulsified sauces.  Rather, I will simply share what makes this particular preparation work:  If you boil roughly equal quantities of a liquid (water or stock) and butter together, the action of the boil will bind the butter and liquid together in an emulsified state.  You must remove the pan from the heat as soon as the emulsion comes together because prolonged boiling will cause the liquid component to evaporate...which will throw the liquid and fat out of balance.  If there is more butter than liquid (or, more liquid than butter), the action of the boil will cause the butter and liquid to separate. 


Knowing just this small piece of information will allow you to create a quick creamy butter sauce for any cooked vegetable—without a lot of fuss.  The process works whether you are reheating a vegetable you blanched ahead of time, or—as in my asparagus and pea ragout—cooking the vegetables and finishing them all in one step.  If you are interested in a more detailed explanation of emulsified sauces, I can recommend either Jacques Pépin's Complete Techniques or Madeleine Kamman's The New Making of a Cook....both are excellent resources for classic technique.
  
I love cooking and serving this particular ragout with salmon.  It would however be equally good with a boneless chicken breast...or a pork loin chop...or some other kind of fish or seafood (scallops would be especially delicious).  One of the things I love about the salmon though is the charming combination of the pink of the salmon with the green of the early spring vegetables.  It really is beautiful.  And although I think taste is the most important thing, I like my food to be beautiful too. 

The first time I made this dish I was able to use the tail end of my stash of frozen peas from last year's farmers' market.  Last night I used store-bought...which were really just fine.  But my dwindling supply of stored foods from last season is just one more indication that it's time for Spring and for the new market season to begin.  And as delicious as this was with the store-bought asparagus, I can't wait for the new local crop to come in.



Seared Salmon with Asparagus, Peas & Fresh Herbs

 
4 filets skinned salmon (4 to 6 oz. each)
Salt & Pepper
olive oil
3/4 lb. asparagus, trimmed & cut into 1-inch lengths on a sharp diagonal

Cutting the asparagus on a sharp diagonal will expose a greater
proportion of the interior--which allows it to cook more quickly
1 c. peas (thawed, if using frozen)
1/2 c. water or stock
4 T. unsalted butter, cut into cubes
2 to 3 T. minced chives or parsley...or a combination of chives, parsley and tarragon

Ingredients for two.

Heat a sauté pan (large enough to comfortably hold all of the fish and one with a tight fitting lid) over medium-high heat.  While the pan is heating, season the fish on both sides with salt & pepper.  Add a thin film of oil to the pan.  When the oil is very hot, add the fish, skinned side up.  Cook until nicely browned—about 2 to 3 minutes, regulating the heat as necessary to prevent smoking but at the same time, maintaining an active sizzle.  Turn and cook the fish, until barely opaque in the center


—another 3 minutes or so (reducing the heat further, if necessary).  Remove the fish from the pan and keep warm.

Pour off the oil from the pan and let the pan cool briefly.   Add the asparagus and peas to the pan along with the water and a generous pinch of salt.  Cover the pan and cook the vegetables at a rapid simmer until just tender—2 to 5 minutes, depending on the age of the vegetables.  Increase the heat to high, remove the lid and add the butter and the herbs.  (If the liquid appears to have reduced significantly while the vegetables cooked, add some more water to the pan.  But be careful, the total volume of liquid in the pan before adding the butter should only be slightly more than 1/4 cup.)  Boil, shaking the pan to bind the ingredients together, until the buttery sauce thickens and becomes foamy—20 to 30 seconds.  Remove from the heat. 

Transfer the fish to individual serving plates and divide the vegetables over all along with their buttery sauce.  Serve immediately.

Note:   The timing of the cooking of the fish in this recipe assumes a thin (1/2-inch thick) filet of salmon.  If you have a thicker filet, it will take longer to cook (a good rule of thumb is 10 minutes per inch of thickness)—you may finish it on the stove over a lower heat, or transfer the fish to a 375° to 400° oven to finish (either in the sauté pan, if it is oven-proof...or in a small baking dish of some kind).

(Recipe inspired by "Asparagus Stew" in Jacques Pépin's Complete Techniques)


Buttered Farro with Herbs

Olive oil
1 large shallot, diced
1 c. pearled or semi-pearled farro, rinsed
2 c. water
Salt
1 1/2 to 2 T. unsalted butter
1/3 c. minced fresh herbs—a mixture of chives, parsley and arugula (or basil) is nice

Sweat the shallot, along with a pinch of salt, in some olive oil until the onion is tender—about 5 minutes.   Add the farro and continue to cook and stir until the farro is well-coated in the fat, lightly toasted and hot through—2 or 3 minutes. Add the water, along with some salt, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover and cook, until tender but still firm in the center—about 25 minutes. Let the farro rest, covered, off of the heat for 5 minutes.

Drain the farro (if necessary), saving the cooking liquid.  Return the farro to the pan.  Add the butter and herbs and stir until the butter is melted.  If the farro seems tight or sticky, stir in some of the cooking liquid. Taste and correct the seasoning and serve. Serves 4.

Printable Recipe


Monday, March 3, 2014

End-of-Winter Vegetable Soup with Farro


I have christened the soup we had for dinner last night "End-of-Winter Soup".  Sadly, the name reflects my wishes more than the reality of the weather.  Yes, it is March...and we should be beginning to warm up, but this has been such a strange winter that I don't hold out too much hope that winter is actually done.  Certainly soup was an appropriate dinner choice in the context of yesterday's weather:  It was the coldest it has been all year. Soup...or a braise...or something similarly warming...was definitely in order.  



It was actually the contents of my vegetable drawer that caused me to think of my soup as "end of winter".  I knew that I ought to be able to come up with something for dinner without making a trip to the store...but my vegetable crisper was filled with lots of odds and ends...no one thing leapt out.  Since it was almost entirely root vegetables, it really did look to me like the culinary remains of winter.  I had singletons of parsnip and celery root...a couple of kohlrabi (from a bunch purchased to test a recipe which only called for one...)...a big bag of carrots (I always have carrots)...and--on the counter—a scrawny sweet potato.  I also had some winter squash and cauliflower, but I decided I really wanted to use up the lonely sweet potato, parsnip and celery root.  Soup was the perfect solution. 



Several years ago I taught a few classes at my local Williams-Sonoma.  The classes were a bit different than those that I normally teach in that I was given a list of topics to choose from and then asked to teach recipes that had already been developed for Williams-Sonoma. (In all of my other classes I propose my own topics and choose my own recipes—often recipes I have developed myself.)  I have kept many of these Williams-Sonoma recipes in my repertoire...tweaking them as time has gone by.  The inspiration for yesterday's soup was one of those recipes:  a simple vegetable barley soup developed by Joanne Weir.  

As I looked at the original recipe so I could credit it for this post, I noticed that I have changed it so much over the years that it is not really recognizable any more.  Even if I made it with the same list of vegetables and herbs...and used pearled barley instead of farro...it wouldn't be.  But I wanted to mention it for a couple of reasons.  First, I always want to credit inspiration.  Inspiration is elusive...and it always means so much when I hear that I have inspired someone else. I want to try and do the same for others.  But secondly, and probably of more interest to readers, is that I think the changes will be instructive for anyone wanting to make a soup with the current contents of their pantry. 

The first thing I changed was to begin the soup by sweating some onion in some melted butter. As far as I am concerned, this is pretty much the only way to begin making soup.  Cooking onions (or leeks...or shallots....) in a generous quantity of fat (butter, rendered bacon fat, olive oil, etc.) until softened infuses the fat with the sweet flavor of the onions.  The fat then carries this flavor throughout the soup, giving it a depth of flavor not found in soups made by simply simmering the onions in the liquid.  The result is completely worth the extra fifteen minutes or so that it will take.  And if you are worried about the added calories, please don't be.  Without it, the soup won't be nearly as satisfying.  And even considering that I began my soup with five tablespoons of butter, it really isn't that much when you take into account the fact that you will be making at least two quarts of soup.  

The other main difference in the soups (obvious from the pictures) is the size of the vegetables.  I cut my vegetables much smaller.  I love getting lots of different kinds of vegetables in each bite, and this is made possible by the smaller cuts.  I also wanted to mirror the size of the cooked grain more closely.  Somehow large, fat chunks of vegetables didn't seem like a harmonious combination with the comparatively diminutive grains of farro (or barley, in the case of Weir's soup).  


From left to right: kohlrabi, celeriac, sweet potato, carrot and parsnip.

If you don't want to cut the vegetables quite so small (although...this is a great way to practice your knife skills!), then consider replacing the grain with something large...like some cooked white beans or a large noodle (orrechiette, for example).  If you make the soup with beans, add them with the Brussels sprouts.  If you use canned beans, rinse them before adding.  If you have cooked your own, add them along with their delicious cooking liquid.  Pasta should be cooked separately and added only to the soup that will be served.  If it is added to all of the soup and allowed to sit, it will continue to absorb liquid and become large, soft and mushy.  Simply place a small amount in each bowl and ladle the hot soup right over it.

As far as the actual contents of my soup went, I really did just use what I had:  celeriac, parsnip, carrot, sweet potato, kohlrabi, onion, Brussels sprouts and farro.   



You should see what you could make with the contents of your pantry.  Maybe you have potatoes or winter squash on your counter instead of a sweet potato.  If you happened to have them, turnip or rutabaga (Swedish turnip) would be delicious instead of one of the other root vegetables.  I happen to think that the parsnip was a particularly important addition...too much would have been overpowering, but I would have missed its aromatic presence, so I'm glad I happened to have it.  The Brussels sprouts could be replaced by diced cabbage...or even finely chopped broccoli florets (as in Weir's original).  If you use broccoli florets, consider peeling and dicing the stems and adding them to the soup with the root vegetables.


The cored and thinly sliced Brussels sprouts could be replaced with diced 
cabbage or minced broccoli florets.

Finally, when composing your soup, I would recommend limiting your selection of root vegetables to five (or fewer) different kinds.  More than that and it seems like the flavors might be too muddied.  Finally, please don't use old, tired, wrinkled or otherwise decaying vegetables in your soup.  Since root vegetables are good keepers, if you cook with vegetables on a regular basis it would not be unusual to amass a small quantity of odds and ends appropriate for a soup like this one.  But if the vegetables in your larder look like they are beginning to compost, they would not be improved by adding them to your soup.  And worse the soup will suffer; you will have wasted your time and effort.  It is so much better to go with a lesser variety (or a smaller batch of soup).



Last night's soup...served with some cheese and whole grain bread...did make a very satisfying end to a bitterly cold day.  Happily, it also used up most of the stray items in my vegetable bin.  I do still have half of my celery root...and now I have one solitary kohlrabi...but, not to worry, I'm sure I'll come up with something.  The weather is set to warm up by the end of the week.  Maybe I'll make a batch of "end-of-winter" slaw....


End of Winter Vegetable Soup with Farro

5 T. unsalted butter
1 large or two small onions (about 10 oz.), cut in 1/4-inch dice (2 cups)
3 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
1 T. minced fresh thyme
5 c. diced (1/4- to 1/3-inch) root vegetables (see note)
6 cups chicken stock (or more, if you prefer a soup with a greater proportion of broth)
1/2 c. pearled or semi-pearled farro, rinsed
4 to 5 oz. Brussels sprouts, trimmed, cored and thinly sliced (1 1/2 cups sliced)
2 T. coarsely chopped flat leaf parsley, optional

In a large soup pot over medium heat, melt butter.  Add the onion along with a pinch of salt and sweat until very soft (about 15 minutes).  Add the garlic and thyme and cook another minute or two, or until fragrant.  Add the root vegetables and cook until hot and beginning to sizzle in the butter. 


Add the stock and bring to a boil.   Taste and season with salt.  Add the farro, return to a simmer, cover and simmer gently until the vegetables are almost tender—15 minutes.  Add the sprouts, return to a simmer and cook until the farro is tender—another 10 minutes or so.  If you would like a soup with a greater proportion of broth, simply add broth (or water) to obtain a soup that pleases you—I prefer a soup that is filled with vegetables that are snug, but moving freely in the broth.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  Serve sprinkled with minced parsley if desired. 
Makes about 2  quarts of soup.

Notes &Variations
  • As noted in my post, I simply used the root vegetables that I had on hand...1 large parsnip, 1 small (6 oz.) sweet potato, 1 medium kohlrabi, 1/2 a celeriac and 1 large carrot to round it out.  But you could also use potato, turnip, rutabaga (swede), or winter squash.  I would limit the variety of root vegetables to 3 to 5 different kinds. 
  • If you like...and you have it on hand...a couple of leeks would be a delicious substitution for the onion.
  • Cabbage would be a fine substitute for the Brussels sprouts.  Cut it small squares to mirror the other vegetable shapes.  Or, follow Joanne Weir's lead and use chopped (small) broccoli tips instead of cabbage.  If you use broccoli, peel and dice the stems and use them as part of your volume of "root vegetables"...adding them to the soup when you add the root vegetables.