Monday, June 27, 2011

Cabbage with Sweet Corn & Bacon

 I tend to think of cabbage as a fall and winter food. Most people—if they take the time to think about cabbage at all—probably think the same. With the exception of coleslaw, cabbage most often shows up in hearty winter dishes—soups, stews, warm salads and vegetable braises. I am almost always caught a bit by surprise when beautiful young tender cabbages start showing up at the farmer's market in early summer. Its arrival comes just in time to make that batch of July 4th coleslaw. But summer cabbage doesn't have to be used in slaw. Quickly cooked, garden-fresh cabbage makes a light and delicious summer side dish.

For those with a lingering childhood aversion to cooked cabbage, "delicious" is probably not the exact word that comes to mind when you think of it. Unfortunately this aversion seems to be fairly universal (at least for Americans), so even if you happen to like cooked cabbage, you might have a hard time selling it to your family and friends.

I mentioned in one of my first posts that almost everyone in my Irish Foods for St. Patrick's Day class was pretty surprised at how much they liked the Colcannon potatoes. Folded into mashed potatoes, cooked cabbage was a hit. So perhaps one way to get people to try cooked cabbage is to combine it with another food that they really like. Sweet corn and bacon seem like good candidates. A few years ago I ran across a recipe for Sweet Corn with Green Cabbage & Bacon in Suzanne Goin's Sunday Suppers at Lucques. Every time I make this dish I am amazed at how good it is.

Goin's recipe assumes that you will have access to very fresh sweet corn and cabbage. When fresh, both cabbage and corn will cook fairly quickly. The entire dish can be made in a few minutes—all in one pan. Simply render the bacon, sweat the onions in the bacon fat, add the corn to the cooked onions and then add the cabbage a minute or two after the corn. The cabbage will wilt and become tender as the corn is finishing cooking.

It could hardly be easier. As the season wears on, or if I am using grocery store cabbage, I alter the method a bit and cook the cabbage separately. When it is tender, I add it to the finished corn. This way I have complete control over the doneness of both vegetables.

If you don't know how to cook cabbage, I think the best way is found in Darina Allen's book Forgotten Skills of Cooking. She calls it simply "Buttered Cabbage". To serve 6 people you will need a pound of cabbage. Cut the cabbage into quarters and cut out the core. Cut the quarters cross-wise into very thin slices. Put 2 to 3 tablespoons of water—you don't need much, just enough to get the cabbage going—in a wide saucepan with a couple of tablespoons of butter. Bring to a boil over high heat and add the cabbage. Toss and stir constantly until the cabbage wilts and most of the water is evaporated. Reduce the heat, cover and continue to cook until tender—just a few minutes more. Cooked cabbage should still have a bit of texture—it shouldn't be mushy. Season with salt and pepper and, if you like, more butter.

I recently served this sauté of corn and cabbage accompanied by pan-seared pork chops.

In her book, Goin serves it with Salmon. It would probably be pretty good with whatever meat or fish you chose to serve it. And if you really want to make people happy, you could serve it alongside a big mound of mashed potatoes.

Sauté of Corn & Green Cabbage with Bacon

4 to 5 oz. bacon (thick or thinly sliced), cut cross-wise into 1/2-inch pieces
2 T. butter
1 c. thinly sliced spring or sweet summer onions, plus some of the green if using spring onions (reserve the green portion separately)
2 t. roughly chopped fresh thyme
1 1/2 c. freshly cut corn (from about 2 ears) plus scrapings
1/2 small green cabbage (about 1 lb.), quartered, cored and thinly sliced cross-wise
2 to 3 T. minced Italian flat-leaf parsley

Render bacon until crisp over medium to medium-low heat. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the bacon to a plate. Add a tablespoon of butter to the pan and increase the heat to medium. When the butter foams, add the onions, thyme and a good pinch of salt and some freshly ground pepper. Sweat until the onions are tender and translucent—3 to 5 minutes. Add the corn, along with the green portion of the onions (if using spring onions), and cook until the corn is sizzling, stirring occasionally—about 3 minutes. Add the remaining tablespoon of butter, increase the heat slightly and add the cabbage. Season with salt & pepper. Add a couple of tablespoons of water to the pan and cook the cabbage, tossing and stirring until the cabbage begins to wilt. Continue to cook until the cabbage is just tender. If necessary, cover the pan and lower the heat for a minute or two. The cabbage should only take a few minutes to cook. Add the parsley and taste and correct the seasoning. Add the bacon and fold in, or serve with the bacon sprinkled over the top.  Serves 4 to 6.

(Adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques by Suzanne Goin)

Friday, June 24, 2011

Shaved Zucchini Salad with Almonds, Parsley & Parmesan

We are just entering into the season of summer squash. This year the advent of the local crop coincided almost exactly with summer's official calendar start date. Last Saturday I brought home my first batch of tiny baby squash from the market (and immediately made one of my favorite pastas with it). We will now have abundant local squash for the duration of the summer and into the fall. Its season is long and, if the squash are harvested when they are small and tender, enjoyable.

Summer squash is wonderful cooked any number of ways. Grilled/broiled, roasted, sautéed, steamed, stuffed, puréed.... But of course, summer squash doesn't have to be cooked to be enjoyed. Next week I will be teaching a class that includes a recipe for a simple and refreshing summer salad featuring raw zucchini.

It is particularly important to seek out smallish (less than 4 oz. each) zucchini for this salad. To prepare the salad, the zucchini are shaved as thinly as possible into long ribbons. If large squash—which have more developed seed cavities and a more coarsely grained flesh—are used, it is difficult to produce beautifully thin, flexible ribbons. When sliced thinly, a large squash tends to want to shred. If the thickness of the ribbons is increased to produce intact lengths of squash, the ribbons won't be as flexible or as tender as they should be.

I didn't create this salad.  I am posting it almost unchanged from one of my favorite cookbooks—The Vineyard Kitchen by Maria Helm Sinskey. It is almost identical to a popular salad published last August in Bon Appetit Magazine. Besides the zucchini, Sinskey's salad includes toasted almonds, Italian Parsley and shaved Parmesan. The Bon Appetit version replaces the parsley and almonds with basil and pine nuts.

I'm sure the salad from Bon Appetit is very good, but if an internet search is any indicator, it is currently the only shaved zucchini salad that people are making. Which is too bad, because lots of different combinations of herbs, nuts and cheeses would complement the zucchini quite nicely. Walnuts or Pecans would be good choices for the nuts. Aromatic marjoram or mint would be interesting choices for the herbs.  Instead of the herbs a handful of baby arugula would be excellent. Pecorino, Aged Jack, Manchego or some other salty, aged grating cheese would be fine choices for the cheese.  Part of what makes this salad special is its simplicity, so I hesitate to recommend too many additions....but if added judiciously and sparingly, other additions might include some finely minced garlic, a bit of smashed anchovy, a few minced capers or black olives, or pinch of hot pepper flakes.

The other difference between the Sinskey salad and the Bon Appetit version is that the latter prepares a lemon vinaigrette to pour over the salad and Sinskey seasons the salad with lemon juice first and then finishes the salad with the olive oil. This is really the best way to go because without sufficient lemon, the salad is flat and bland tasting. Adding the lemon and the olive oil separately allows you to control the acidity of the salad without drowning it in vinaigrette.

This refreshing little salad makes a beautiful and light first course. It would also be very good served alongside a grilled steak and some roasted potatoes or piled on top of some grilled or sautéed fish. No matter how you choose to serve it, it's a great way to enjoy the abundance of the local summer squash crop.

Shaved Zucchini Salad with Almonds, Lemon & Parmesan

2 lbs. small zucchini (preferably weighing 3 to 4 oz. each), washed and dried, ends trimmed away
3 oz. Parmesan, shaved with a vegetable peeler
2 oz. (a generous half cup) sliced almonds, lightly toasted
2 to 4 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 to 4 T. extra virgin olive oil, divided
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/2 c. (not packed) picked Italian Parsley, very coarsely chopped (reserve several whole leaves for garnish)

Using a mandoline slicer, slice the zucchini very thinly (less than 1/16th inch, if possible) lengthwise. Place in a large bowl with 2/3 of the shaved Parmesan, the almonds and the parsley. Season with salt (generously) & freshly ground pepper.

Drizzle 2 T. of lemon juice over. Toss and add more lemon and salt as necessary. Add 2 T. of olive oil and toss again. Taste and correct the seasoning. The salad should be a bit on the tangy side.

Divide the salad among serving plates and drizzle each serving with a bit more olive oil and scatter the reserved parsley leaves over all. Serves 6 to 8.

(Recipe adapted from The Vineyard Kitchen by Maria Helm Sinskey)

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Rhubarb Streusel Pie for Father's Day

It has been many years since I prepared a meal in honor of Father's day. This year I had the unexpected pleasure of cooking for my younger brother's family. We had a simple, classic and seasonal meal of Beef Tenderloin, Garlicky Sautéed Sweet Corn, Rosemary Roasted New Potatoes and Sliced Tomatoes. Since I didn't take any pictures of the entrée, this blog post won't be about any of those items. Rather, it's about the dessert. For dessert I made a Rhubarb Pie.

For some reason I don't make pies very often. My personal taste runs more toward fruit crisps and French style tarts. And I did toy with the idea of making a crisp, or the Strawberry-Rhubarb Crostata that I posted last month. But in the end I uncharacteristically settled on a pie. 

I didn't think about it too much at the time, but pie really was the appropriate choice for our Father's day celebration. My own father loved pie. I don't know if I could claim that it was his favorite dessert, but I know that I ate a lot more pie when he was alive than I do now. His mother apparently made pretty amazing meringue pies (which he called "cream pies") when he was growing up. She had quit making pies long before I came along, so I never got to taste one. I'm not sure I could name a kind of pie my Dad didn't like...custard-style pies, fruit pies, true cream pies...he enjoyed them all. But then, he loved dessert and sweets in general—I'm certain I inherited my sweet tooth from him.

Because I had crisps and crostatas in my mind, I ended up making a streusel-topped pie—the ideal dessert for someone who can't decide if they want a pie or a crisp. The sweet streusel on the top also allows you to keep the rhubarb filling suitably tart. Rhubarb of course requires quite a bit of sugar to make it palatable, but if you add too much to the filling the distinctive tang of the rhubarb disappears. Putting extra sugar on top in the form of a streusel provides a pleasant sweet-tart effect...something I know my Dad would have appreciated. He occasionally commented when the flavors of a dish were out of balance...too sweet, not tangy enough, etc. A pie that didn't taste of what it was would not have met with his approval.

I served our pie with a choice of vanilla or strawberry ice cream. Most people love the combination of strawberries and rhubarb, so I thought plain rhubarb pie with strawberry ice cream would have lots of takers. I was wrong. I alone chose the strawberry ice cream to go with my pie...everyone else went the purist route of vanilla. I have no idea which one my Dad would have chosen...but I'm pretty sure he would have loved the pie...and I would have loved to share it with him.

Rhubarb Streusel Pie

60 g. all-purpose flour (1/2 c.)
60 g. walnuts, toasted and finely chopped (1/2 c.)
50 g. granulated sugar (1/4 c.)
50 g. packed light brown sugar (1/4 c.)
1/2 t. cinnamon
1/4 t. each cardamom, allspice, and ginger
1/4 t. salt
55 g. unsalted butter, melted (4 T.)

200 g. sugar (1 c.)
pinch of salt
10 g. Tapioca (1 T. plus 1/2 t.)
10 g. cornstarch (1 T. plus 1/2 t.)
6 cups diced rhubarb (1.5 lbs. trimmed weight)

1 recipe Basic Pie Dough, rolled out for a 9-inch single crust pie and chilled

Combine the dry ingredients for the streusel in the food processor. Drizzle in the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs; set aside.

Preheat the oven to 425°. Combine the sugar, salt, tapioca and cornstarch in a small bowl. In a large bowl, combine the rhubarb with the dry ingredients.

Let sit until the rhubarb just begins to moisten the dry ingredients, 2 or 3 minutes.

Turn the fruit into the chilled crust.

Scatter the streusel evenly over the fruit.

Transfer the pie to the lowest rack of the oven. Bake the pie at 425° for 20 minutes. Cover the edges with a foil ring and turn the temperature down to 375° and bake for 20 minutes. Turn the temperature down to 325° and bake until the streusel is golden brown, the juices are bubbling thickly in the center of the pie and the bottom crust is browned—another 25-30 minutes. If the juices every threaten to over-flow, slide a baking sheet under the baking pie.  Cool the pie to room temperature before cutting (this allows the juices to “firm up”).

If desired, re-warm the pie briefly just before cutting. Serve with strawberry or vanilla ice cream or whipped cream.

Pâte Brisée
(Basic Pie Dough)

1 1/3 c. all-purpose flour (150g)
3/8 t. salt
8 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces (115g) )—for a more American-style crust, replace 2 T. of the butter with vegetable shortening
3 to 4 T. ice water

Combine the flour and the salt in a medium-sized bowl. Rub the butter into the flour until the butter is in small pea-sized pieces. If you are using part vegetable shortening, rub the butter in first, then quickly rub in the shortening. Drizzle 3 T. ice water over the flour/butter mixture. Using your hands, fluff the mixture until it begins to clump, adding more water if necessary. If, when you squeeze some of the mixture it holds together, the dough is finished. 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. Wrap in plastic wrap and press into a thick disk. Chill for at least 30 minutes.

To roll out, let the dough warm up for a moment or two. Butter and flour a 9-inch pie plate and set it aside. Flour the work surface and the rolling pin. Begin rolling from the center of the dough outward. After each stroke, rotate the dough a quarter turn—always making sure that there is sufficient flour to keep the dough from sticking. Keep rolling and turning until you have a round of dough that is about 1/8 to 1/6 –inch in thickness. Using a lid or an upside-down bowl, trim the dough to form a 12-inch circle. Brush off the excess flour and fold the dough circle in half. Slide the outspread fingers of both hands under the dough and gently lift it and transfer it to the prepared pie plate. Unfold the dough and ease it into the pan being careful not to stretch it. Fold the extra dough under along the rim of the pan so that it is double in thickness. Crimp the edge. Chill the pie shell for at least 1/2 hour.

Printable Version

Saturday, June 18, 2011

New Potatoes Roasted with Bacon & Herbs

Due to an unusually busy Spring season...and the fact that my normal kitchen activities have been curtailed a bit in recent days (the walls are getting a fresh coat of paint...we are getting a new hood...etc.), many of our dinners for the past week or so have been what I call pantry dinners. This means I walk into the kitchen, open the fridge and the pantry and make dinner with what's there. Often these impromptu meals are so much better than those that carefully adhere to a recipe. Last night we had one of my favorites. Basically I prepared hash (sautéed or roasted potatoes, cooked bacon or sausage, and sautéed/caramelized onions and/or some other available vegetable) and served it topped with a poached egg.

Most of the time when I make this dish I cook the bacon or sausage first and then use the fat from cooking the meat to brown the potatoes before transferring them to the oven where I finish them. Because I really didn't want to fry bacon or sausage in a newly painted kitchen that doesn't yet have a working exhaust fan, I decided to alter my method a bit.

I occasionally get to work on call for a friend of mine who owns his own catering business. I mentioned in my previous post that I like to take advantage of having the opportunity to work with other chefs because it exposes me to new ideas and different ways of doing things. The roasted potatoes we had last night are a great example of this. The method I used to roast them is an adaptation of a popular potato hors d'oeuvres that my friend serves. Wedges of potato are wrapped in a sage leaf and a strip of bacon, skewered and then roasted. Surprisingly, the bacon cooks in the same amount of time as the potato. As it cooks, the potato absorbs some of the sage-infused bacon fat. The resulting potato skewers are quite tasty. For some reason it wouldn't have occurred to me to put raw bacon and potatoes into the oven at the same time. I would have thought the bacon would burn before the potatoes were cooked through. If I had read it in a book, I would have been skeptical about how well it would work. But it does work and the idea is easily adapted to roasting a pan of potatoes.

To make Potatoes Roasted with Bacon and Herbs, scrub some small potatoes—true new potatoes if you can get them (this time of year that shouldn't be too hard), but the ubiquitous baby reds will work fine—and cut them into halves or quarters or wedges, depending on their size. The goal is potatoes that are no thicker than 1/2- to 3/4-inch. It's OK if they are longer than that, but if they are too thick, they will take longer to cook than the bacon, resulting in burned bacon or crunchy potatoes.

For every 5 to 6 oz. of potatoes (one serving), use about an ounce of bacon—regular or thick sliced. Cut the bacon crosswise into 2-inch widths. Toss the potatoes and bacon with a very small amount of olive oil—just enough to barely coat the potatoes—there will be plenty of fat for the potatoes to cook in once the bacon begins to render. Season with salt and pepper and add several sage leaves or a few sprigs of rosemary or thyme. Spread the potatoes, bacon and herbs in a pan just large enough to hold the potatoes in a snug single layer.

Roast until the bacon is crisp and the potatoes are tender and beginning to brown—about 45 minutes. I used bacon sliced at a standard thickness, so I roasted the potatoes at 375°. If you have thick bacon, you can increase the temperature a bit to 400°. Stir the potatoes occasionally while they are roasting to make sure they aren't sticking and to tuck any bacon that is cooking too quickly underneath some of the potatoes. If the bacon is throwing a lot of fat, spoon some of it off. When the potatoes are done, immediately pour off any extra fat, or transfer the potatoes to a serving platter so that they won't continue to absorb fat and become soggy.

For our dinner, I added the roasted potatoes and bacon to a pan of sautéed mushrooms and sweet corn (sauté the mushrooms, reduce the heat and add a bit of butter, some minced garlic and thyme and the corn...continue to cook until the corn is tender...season to taste and toss in a bit more butter...).

Since I love to eat eggs for dinner, I served the potato-bacon-mushroom-corn hash topped with a poached egg and some chives from the garden...

but a "sunny-side up" fried egg would have been equally nice. If you prefer to have a more substantial protein, this same combination of ingredients would also be great with a sautéed chicken breast or salmon filet. In the fall, the new potatoes could be replaced with chunks of sweet potatoes. Earlier in the spring, some blanched asparagus would be nice in place of the corn. If you happen to have some onions (I didn't), some diced caramelized onions would be a traditional addition to hash.

Of course, you don't have to be making hash or even a pantry dinner to enjoy these potatoes.  They are so good that you will probably end up making them on a regular basis to serve as a side dish instead of ordinary roasted potatoes.

Thursday, June 9, 2011

New Potato & Kale Spanish Tortilla

On Friday I spent the day working with a friend. As we neared the end of the day I began to wonder aloud about what I was going to prepare for dinner when I got home. The fresh vegetables that remained in my pantry consisted of a bag of young Russian kale and some new potatoes—both from last Saturday's trip to the Farmers' market. I figured dinner was going to have to feature, in one way or another, kale and potatoes.

In terms of things to work with, potatoes and kale are not the most unlikely combination of ingredients. They go quite well together. About this time last year, I posted a recipe for Kale, Potato and Black Olive Pizza. I toyed with the idea of making pizza, but didn't really think I would have the time to make dough when I got home. I began to wonder if I had any sausage in my freezer because the salty sausage enhances the potatoes and the kale in much the same way the olives do on the pizza. My friend was thinking along the same lines and suggested a dish called Caldo Verde—a traditional Portuguese stew that features these three ingredients. But it seemed like kind of a hot day for stew (I think it was in the 90's).

Then my friend suggested a Spanish Tortilla. For those who are unfamiliar with it, a Spanish Tortilla is a flat cake of eggs and vegetables—similar to a frittata. Most typically it contains potatoes that have been poached in olive oil. Other cooked vegetables can be, and often are, added to the eggs with the potatoes. If you have never tasted a Spanish tortilla, then you should put it on a list of your "must try" foods. It is so much more than just the sum of its humble parts.

At the suggestion of the tortilla, all of a sudden, kale and potatoes didn't seem like something I "had to" eat for dinner. They sounded pretty great—as if these two ingredients had been waiting in my pantry all week for just this purpose. So much so, that when I got home, I didn't want to rush through the process of preparing my tortilla, I wanted to enjoy I decided to save the kale and potatoes for another day when I would have more time.

You may now be wondering what I actually had for dinner on Friday. Well, when I got home I discovered that my pantry was really far from bare. This is true for most Americans. Even when we say "there is nothing in the house to eat", most of us are in the embarrassing position of having enough food squirreled away in our pantries that we could survive a short siege with nothing more than what we already have. I found that I still had some of my arugula pesto left....and I always have tortillas and cheese... So for our dinner on Friday we had Quesadillas filled with poached and crushed new potatoes, Dubliner cheese and arugula pesto.

I saved the Spanish tortilla idea for Sunday when it turned out to be just the thing. Egg-based dishes somehow seem like Sunday supper fare—casual, unhurried and simple. I had time to enjoy making it as much as I enjoyed eating it.

As far as the technique of the tortilla is concerned, the recipe that I am posting is fairly detailed in terms of execution. The specifics of "how to" are all there. I would just emphasize here a couple of things. First, make sure that the potatoes cook gently in the oil—

I don't think they should be brown and crispy like fried potatoes. And they should be tender and fully cooked before they go into the eggs—it's ok if they are starting to fall apart. Although, if you are using true new potatoes, they probably won't fall apart. Yukon and Idaho russet potatoes are actually more commonly used when preparing a Spanish tortilla.

Use a non-stick pan. My preference is a French steel pan, but a non-stick coated pan is good too. If using a steel pan, after the potatoes and vegetables have been removed, make sure it has been wiped completely free of any remaining food particles before adding the egg-vegetable mixture back to the pan. The eggs will stick if the pan hasn't been wiped completely clean.

Finally, I cook my tortilla hot and fast—like a French omelet. If you get the pan very hot, add the eggs and then stir with one hand while you shake the pan with the other, the eggs will scramble almost immediately. Reducing the heat when the mixture looks like very loose scrambled eggs and allowing it to set on the heat for a minute or two will encourage the contents of the pan to set up into a cake.

The result of this faster method is a tortilla that is more evenly cooked throughout. It is also more tender since it hasn't sat on the heat for an extended period of time.

Once you learn the basic techniques involved in making a Tortilla Española you will soon think of lots of possible variations. To get you started, check out my post from last Spring for a Potato & Mushroom Tortilla.

One of the things I love about the days that I get to work with friends is the time we get to spend talking about food. Because food—certainly for serving to others, but also for my own consumption—really does occupy my thoughts a great deal of the time. When I am around others who love to cook and eat, the conversation naturally turns to food. And every time I cook with another chef I learn new things and am inspired by new ideas. This is probably the thing I miss the most about working in a restaurant kitchen—rubbing shoulders with other cooks.

So one of the benefits of working with my friend on Friday, was a wonderful Sunday evening meal of a Kale & Potato Spanish Tortilla. It was perfect for a warm late Spring evening. And, I learned about Caldo Verde. I have never had it or made it...but it sounds delicious. So I have tucked that idea away—on my list of "must try" foods—and will pull it out on some cool, early fall evening to come.

New Potato & Kale Spanish Tortilla

3/4 c. olive oil
4 spring onions, trimmed, halved and thinly sliced (include some of the green)—about 1/2 to 2/3 cup sliced onion
10 to 12 oz. new potatoes, well scrubbed and cut in 1/3-inch dice
5 oz. (trimmed weight) kale, well rinsed
1 clove garlic, minced
6 large eggs, room temperature
salt & pepper, taste

In a 10-inch non-stick skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and sweat for a couple of minutes. Add the potatoes along with 1/2 t. salt. The potatoes should be just barely covered by the oil. If necessary, add another 1 or 2 T. of oil. Maintain the heat at medium until the oil returns to a simmer—a minute or two—then reduce the heat to medium low. Gently poach the potatoes at a gentle simmer in the olive oil until tender—about 12 minutes. Be careful not to let the potatoes get brown or crisp.

While the potatoes are poaching, cook the kale in a pot of boiling salted water until tender. Drain and spread on a baking sheet to cool. When cool, squeeze it out, a handful at a time, to get rid of the excess water. Chop medium coarse.

When the potatoes are tender add the garlic and cook until fragrant. Add the kale and cook to heat through. Transfer the potatoes and kale to a colander set in a bowl and let drain.

In a large bowl, briefly whisk the eggs together with another 1/2 t. of salt and some freshly ground black pepper—the eggs don't have to be completely smooth. Add the drained potato mixture (it still be hot). Gently fold until all the ingredients are well combined

Wipe the skillet the potatoes were cooked in clean and return to medium-high heat. Add just enough of the drained oil to generously coat the bottom of the pan—about a tablespoon. When the oil is very hot (just beginning to smoke), pour the egg mixture into the skillet. Immediately begin to shake the pan vigorously and continue for 10 to 15 seconds while stirring with a heat proof spatula. The eggs should begin to scramble immediately. Then, cook for 15 to 30 seconds without shaking or stirring to allow the bottom to set. Reduce the heat to low, run the spatula around the outside of the tortilla to create a nice even edge, and continue to cook for a minute or two, gently shaking the pan occasionally (to make sure the tortilla isn't sticking). When the eggs are set around the edges (and the tortilla does not appear to be too liquid in the middle), flip the tortilla. Invert a large round plate over the skillet. Hold the plate firmly with one hand and turn the skillet over with the other. If the pan seems dry, add an additional tablespoon or so of the reserved oil to the pan; increase the heat. When the oil is hot, slide the tortilla back into the pan (cooked side up), tuck in the edges neatly (use a heat proof spatula), reduce the heat, and cook until the omelet is cooked through—another minute or two. The goal is a thick soft cake that is a pale golden color on both sides.

Transfer the omelet to a round platter, cut in wedges and serve hot or at room temperature. If you like, serve garnished with sour cream. A sliced tomato salad or a few roasted root vegetables would make good accompaniments. Serves 4 to 6 as a light entrée.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Some Sea Scallop Basics and a recipe for Prosciutto-Wrapped Scallops with Rosemary

Sometimes the best tasting foods just happen to be the easiest to prepare. I think sea scallops fall into this category. If you like scallops (I do...they're my favorite shellfish), but have never prepared them at home, you should give it a try. The trick is in the purchasing. Scallops that are fresh and good really are quite easy to cook.

For many years, finding good scallops was not such an easy task—especially for those of us living in land-locked states. Most scallops were sold frozen. And even if they were fresh, they had been packed with added water and chemicals to whiten and preserve them. Both frozen and wet-packed scallops are difficult to cook—whether you are grilling or pan-frying—because they tend to release a lot of water as they cook. Wet-packed have an additional strike against them in that the water they have been packed in dilutes their flavor.

When you shop for scallops, you should look for fresh, dry-packed scallops. In recent years these have become widely available. Dry-pack scallops have been shucked and then packed. Nothing has been added to them. Unlike the whitened wet-pack scallops, they will vary in color from cream to ivory to pale beige or coral. Instead of being wet and slippery, they truly do seem dry and they are slightly sticky to the touch. They have a characteristic odor that can be slightly off-putting the first time you smell it. But once you have purchased scallops a few times you will be able to tell the difference between the smell of a fresh scallop, one that has a little age on it and one that is bad.

I purchase scallops that are called "U-10 Scallops" in the trade. This means that there are fewer than 10 scallops to a pound ("U" for "Under"). Ideally each scallop should weigh around 2 ounces, but sometimes they are larger. The larger ones are impressive looking—a single 3 ounce (or larger) scallop makes a striking plated appetizer—but I prefer serving 3 of the 2 ounce size for an entrée portion.

Before cooking your scallops, pull off and discard the small, crescent-shaped tendon (the “foot”) from the side. Sometimes this "foot" will have fallen off on its own, but you should still examine the scallops to make sure. Once cooked, the foot is tough and rubbery—of a very different texture from the tender flesh of the scallop itself.

To pan-sear a scallop, you need a heavy, non-stick pan. Cast-iron or French Steel are best, although a non-stick coated pan will work. Set the pan over medium-high heat. When the pan is very hot, add just enough oil to barely coat the pan. The oil should shimmer. Add the scallops to the pan and let them cook on the first side until they are golden brown. Then turn them over and finish on the other side. U-10 scallops will take a couple of minutes on the first side and another minute or so on the second side.

 A scallop is "done" when it is springy to the touch (not firm or hard). If you were to insert a metal skewer into the interior of the scallop it would be barely warm. Much more than this is over-cooked. An over-cooked scallop is chewy and tough.

If you would like to serve scallops at your next dinner party, that's easy too. Shortly before your guests arrive, quickly sear the scallops on both sides in a VERY hot pan. Your goal is to quickly brown the exterior without letting the scallop cook through. When the scallops are well caramelized on both sides, remove them to a baking sheet.

At this point they should be quite rare—basically raw—in the center. When you are ready to serve the scallops, simply place them in a hot oven (400° or so) for a few minutes until they are cooked to your liking.

I served Prosciutto-Wrapped Scallops with Rosemary at a party the other evening. The salty prosciutto and fragrant rosemary are especially nice with the rich, sweet flavor of the scallops. These scallops are just as easy to prepare as plain scallops—they just require a small amount of advance work. To prepare them, lay a thin slice of prosciutto on your work surface, cut it into strips that are as wide as the scallop is tall.  Place a scallop (foot-removed) on its side on one end of a strip of prosciutto and roll it up.

It's OK if the prosciutto overlaps a bit. To secure the prosciutto, simply poke the end of a short sprig of rosemary into the scallop where the edges of the strip of prosciutto overlap (remove some of the rosemary leaves so that the sprig looks a little like one of those old-fashioned frilly "cocktail" toothpicks).

I suppose you could use a toothpick instead of the rosemary, but the rosemary adds a nice flavor. If you use a toothpick, remove it before serving the scallop. The rosemary sprig may be left in the scallop, or you please.

The original recipe for these scallops was for grilling. I prefer pan-seared scallops, but if you like to grill, U-10 scallops are very good grilled. To grill the prosciutto-wrapped scallops, prepare them as described. Then, 15 minutes before putting them on the grill, season them, drizzle some olive oil over them and give them a good squeeze of lemon. (There is no need to squeeze more lemon over them when they are finished cooking.)  In the summer, some produce departments carry long, sturdy sprigs of rosemary. These would be nice for making a sort of kebab of prosciutto-wrapped scallops. Simply load 3 prosciutto-wrapped scallop onto each rosemary skewer.

At the party I served these scallops on top of a Mushroom and English Pea Risotto, but a list of possible accompaniments is literally endless. They would be good as a first course with a fluff of arugula dressed with a lemony vinaigrette...topped with a little shaved Parmesan. Served with a medley of roasted mushrooms and asparagus...and maybe a creamy potato purée, they would make an elegant dinner. Later in the season, a sauté of corn, mushrooms and fingerling potatoes would be a nice pairing. In the fall, winter squash would be a good match. I'm sure once you taste these scallops, you will find lots of ways to serve them.

Prosciutto-Wrapped Scallops with Rosemary

1 1/2 pounds sea scallops (about 12 scallops)
2 ounces prosciutto, sliced paper thin
12 fresh rosemary sprigs (about 2 inches long and with a firm stem)
olive oil
Juice of half a lemon
Coarse salt and black pepper
minced rosemary

Pull off and discard the foot from the side of any scallop that still has one attached. Strip the bottom leaves off the rosemary sprigs. Cut each slice of prosciutto into 3 strips length-wise. The strips should be about as wide as the scallop is tall (3/4- to 1-inch) and slightly longer than the circumference of the scallop (4 to 6 inches).

Lay the strips of prosciutto out on your work surface and place a scallop on the end of each strip. Roll the scallop up in the prosciutto and secure the prosciutto with a rosemary sprig. Repeat with remaining scallops. The scallops may be done to this point several hours ahead. Chill until ready to cook.

To cook the scallops, heat a cast-iron (or other non-stick) skillet over medium-high heat. While the pan heats, pat the scallops dry and season with salt, pepper and rosemary (go easy on the salt, as the prosciutto is fairly salty). When the pan is hot, add just enough oil to lightly coat the bottom of the pan. The pan should be hot enough so that the oil disperses rapidly and “shimmers”. Add the scallops and cook until well browned—2 or 3 minutes. Turn the scallops and cook for another minute or 2. The scallop is cooked when it is springy to the touch—they should still be slightly translucent in the center. Remove the scallops to a plate and squeeze the juice of half a lemon over (hold one hand under the lemon, fingers together, to catch any seeds).

If you like, remove the rosemary "skewer" before serving. Serve at once. Serves 4 as a main course, 6 as an appetizer

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Buttermilk Tea Cakes with Fresh Fruit...perfect little cakes for summer

Some friends invited me to dinner this past Saturday evening. I enjoyed myself so much. I think I have mentioned before how much it means to a chef (at least to this chef) to be invited to dinner in someone's home. I appreciate how intimidating it can be to prepare food for a chef. Frankly, I am intimidated when I cook for my chef friends. But a home cooked meal, shared by friends, is one of the best things in life. I treasure the moments spent at the tables of my friends.

My contribution to our meal was dessert. A little over a year ago, around the time I first started blogging, I discovered a simple little buttermilk tea cake at Cannelle et Vanille. Over the past year I have made enough adjustments to the original recipe that some might not consider the cake I make to be the same recipe at all (a little more flour...a little less butter...a little less sugar...). But my cakes are very much inspired by the beautiful little cakes I found at Cannelle et Vanille, so I wanted to give credit to the source of my inspiration. In any case, it was a version of these cakes that I took with me on Saturday evening.

The original cakes posted at Cannelle et Vanille contain fresh raspberries and pistachios. But because it is rhubarb season—and I had some rhubarb from the market on hand—I made my cakes with rhubarb and pistachios. The only difficulty with making this substitution is that rhubarb releases a lot of liquid when it is cooked. This can sometimes result in a damp or heavy cake. Because there is only a small amount of fruit in the cake, there was probably not too much risk in adding the fresh diced rhubarb directly to the cake batter (the same way the fresh raspberries are added). But rather than risk the disappointment of a gummy cake, I gave the rhubarb a little pretreatment to reduce the amount of liquid released. For a detailed explanation of my method for the rhubarb, check out my post from last year on Rhubarb Streusel Coffeecake.

The cakes I served my friends were accompanied by vanilla ice cream and a few lightly sugared local strawberries:

Then, for Memorial Day, I made more of these little cakes for my family—this time with blueberries and pecans:

I didn't go on a picnic this weekend, but if I had, I might have made these cakes for that too. They of course make a lovely plated dessert, but they don't really require the addition of ice cream (or any of the other nice garnishes once could come up with—softly whipped cream, a dollop of mousse, fruit compote or sauce, etc.).  They are perfect for a picnic because they can be easily packed and are pretty nice simply eaten out of hand. Because the cakes have a slightly higher percentage of butter and sugar (even after I reduced the quantities of both these ingredients) than is typical for a butter cake, they are very moist and tender just as they are.

Given the simplicity, versatility and portability of thes cakes, they make a great impromptu dessert to make whenever you need a dessert to take to a casual party, pot luck or picnic.  They are, it seems, the perfect little cakes for summer.  I made them twice over the Memorial Day weekend—the "unofficial start of summer"—and anticipate that I will make them for more than one occasion in the months to come.  Because even though it has been many years since the "start of summer" meant having the luxury of a long holiday stretching out endlessly before me, I look forward with much anticipation to the long evenings of the summer to come, many of which I hope will be spent lingering around a table shared with my friends.

Rhubarb & Pistachio Buttermilk Tea Cakes

3/4 c. diced (1/3-inch) rhubarb (100 grams)
1 1/2 T. granulated sugar
1 3/4 c. all-purpose flour (200 grams)
1 1/2 t. baking powder
1/2 t. salt
10 T. unsalted butter, room temperature (140 grams)
1/2 c. brown sugar (100 grams)
3/4 c. granulated sugar (150 grams)
Zest of half an orange
1 t. vanilla
2 eggs
2/3 c. buttermilk (150 grams)--or, use plain whole milk yogurt
1/4 c. pistachios (or walnuts), lightly toasted and finely chopped (30 grams)

The night before you plan to make the cakes, place the rhubarb in a small bowl and toss with 1 1/2 T. sugar. Cover and refrigerate overnight. Drain the rhubarb in a fine meshed sieve set over a small sauté pan (just large enough to hold all of the rhubarb in a single layer). Press on the rhubarb to squeeze as much liquid into the pan as possible. Set the rhubarb aside on a plate.

Bring the juice to a boil over high heat and reduce to a syrup. Remove from the heat and add the rhubarb; toss to coat. Return the pan to high heat and cook without stirring until any remaining liquid exuded by the rhubarb has evaporated—the rhubarb will not be cooked at this point; it will still be crunchy. Set aside and cool to room temperature. Scoop out 1/4 cup of the rhubarb and reserve separately from the rest.

Preheat oven to 350°. Butter and flour ten 6 oz. ramekins. Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, baking powder and salt. Whisk to combine and aerate. Set aside.

Cream together the butter, brown sugar, granulated sugar, orange zest and vanilla extract until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the bowl after each addition. After adding the last egg, scrape down the bowl. While mixing in low speed, add a third of the dry ingredients to the bowl. Follow with half of the buttermilk. Add another third of the dry ingredients followed by the rest of the buttermilk. Fold in the last third of the dry ingredients by hand, adding the reserved rhubarb (about 1/2 cup) with this last addition. Mix just until well combined.

Adding  the blueberries for the Blueberry-Pecan Variation (see below).  
Adding the fruit with the final addition of flour (rather than after all 
the flour is incorporated) prevents over mixing.

Divide the batter among the 10 molds (an ice cream scoop works well for this), filling each half way with batter. Sprinkle the nuts and reserved 1/4 c. of rhubarb over the cakes.

Bake until light golden brown and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean—about 25 to 30 minutes. Cool the cakes in their molds for 10 minutes before turning out and cooling completely on a wire rack.

Blueberry-Pecan Variation: Omit the rhubarb and the 1 1/2 T. of sugar. Use 3/4 cup fresh blueberries instead (fresh blueberries can be added as is, without sugaring or cooking ahead). Replace the orange zest with the zest of one lemon. Replace the pistachios with pecans

(Recipe adapted from blog Cannelle et Vanille)

Strawberry Variation (June 2017):  The strawberry variation is best made with small, local berries that are only about 1-inch in diameter.  Omit the rhubarb and the 1 1/2 T. of sugar. Use 15 strawberries, hulled and halved lengthwise.  Do not mix them into the batter.  Instead, arrange three berries (cut side up) on top of each cake after sprinkling with the pistachios.   Bake as directed.  (I don't think it makes a difference, but I used yogurt for the strawberry version that is pictured.)

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