Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Walnut Acorn Cookies

I feel that I should have a pumpkin recipe to post today for Halloween. Unfortunately, I have been busy with other things and didn't have any reason this year to make special Halloween treats. In any case, the day is now almost over. But if at this late hour of All Hallows' Eve you are still looking for something festive to make, there are several past posts that will fill the bill—Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Bars, Gingerbread Cupcakes with Cream Cheese frosting...or maybe a late night supper of Pumpkin Pancakes.

One of the things I have been working on for the past week or so is my upcoming Christmas cookie class. I have taught the same holiday cookie class for several years now and decided this summer that I should come up with a version 2.0. I planned to start testing cookies right away. Not surprisingly, other more pressing things kept coming up and I never got around to it. So here I am, about six weeks away from my class, testing away.

One of the cookies I will be teaching is something called a Walnut Acorn Cookie. It is a fiddly, festive looking cookie, made with nuts and chocolate—perfect for the Christmas cookie platter. But it also has a nice autumnal look to it...making it perfect for now.

I found the recipe for these cookies several years ago in a Christmas issue of Gourmet. Next to the recipe, there was a beguiling picture of a beautiful molded cookie that looked just like an acorn. I have had many years practice at mixing, forming and baking cookies and am willing to admit that I have some skill at it. So I was disappointed when mine didn't look like the picture. They spread more than I had expected and were somehow less refined than the image in the magazine. But they tasted very good. So I made some notes and decided I would return to them another year.

Several years later this particular cookie showed up in The Gourmet Cookie Book—a catalog of the single best cookie from every year Gourmet magazine was published. The Walnut Acorn Cookies made the cut for the year 2000. I felt much better when I saw that the cookie pictured in the book had spread even more than mine had. (I am mystified by the picture in the original issue.) Obviously I wasn't the only one who thought this cookie tasted pretty great.

The recipe I'm posting today is my amended version of this cookie. My changes mostly involve method: I brown the butter instead of just melting it. And I have borrowed a trick from Rose Beranbaum's Christmas Cookie Book for making a nut based cookie dough in the food processor by first grinding the nuts with the sugar and then processing in the butter (rather than creaming the sugar and butter and folding in the separately ground nuts with the flour). However, the most significant change I made was to omit the baking powder. It seemed out of place when I compared this cookie to the other molded Christmas cookies in my repertoire—and it seemed to me that it might be the source of the excessive spread.

I like my "new" version of this cookie very much. It has been so long since I made the original that I don't really know how the two compare. My version is very tender and has the added nuttiness of the browned butter, accentuated by a little extra salt. The texture is quite sandy—so much so that they could more appropriately be called Walnut Acorn Sablés. But no matter what you call them, I think they will make a beautiful and unusual addition to any cookie platter you might make during the holiday season to come.

Walnut Acorn Cookies

2 sticks (1/2 lb.) unsalted butter
1 t. vanilla
4 oz. (1 cup) walnuts, lightly toasted
1/4 c. light brown sugar (50 grams)
1/2 c. granulated sugar (100 grams)
1/2 t. salt
2 c. (8 oz.) all-purpose flour

2 oz. (1/2 cup) walnuts, toasted and very finely chopped
8 oz. semi-sweet chocolate

Melt the butter in a small, wide sauté pan set over medium heat. As the butter begins to sputter and pop, whisk occasionally. The butter solids will begin to turn brown. When the solids are golden brown and the butter has a pleasantly nutty aroma, transfer the butter to a heat proof container, or dip the bottom of the pan into a large bowl (or use the kitchen sink) of cool water to stop the cooking process. Set the butter aside and allow it to cool, stirring occasionally. When the butter has cooled, stir in the vanilla. Before proceeding with the recipe the butter should have cooled until it is opaque and thickened...but still liquid. If it solidifies, warm slightly.

In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, process the walnuts and the sugar until the walnuts are ground very finely.

Pour in the butter—scraping the pan well.  Process to combine.

Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the flour and salt. Pulse until the flour is incorporated and the dough is clumpy.

Transfer the clumps of dough onto a piece of plastic wrap and, using the plastic wrap, press into a thick disc. Wrap and refrigerate until firm—an hour or two.

Divide the dough into 6 equal portions. Working with 1 section at a time, and keeping the remainder of the dough refrigerated if the room is very warm, knead the dough between lightly floured hands until malleable. Roll the dough into a 10-inch sausage.

Cut into 10 1-inch segments.

Roll the segments into uniform balls.  To form an acorn, place a ball on a teaspoon and using your thumb and index finger, shape the dough into an oval with a rounded point at the tip of the spoon. There should be a ridge formed by your thumb and index finger down the center of the rounded triangle of dough.

Carefully remove the formed cookie from the spoon and place on a parchment lined sheet. Continue with the rest of the dough, spacing the formed cookies about an inch apart.

Bake the cookies for 14 to 16 minutes in a 325° oven until set and golden around the edges. Cool the cookies on the sheet for 10 minutes. Finish cooling on wire racks.

When the cookies are completely cool, melt the chocolate. Dip the wider end of the cookie in the chocolate and then in the finely ground walnuts. Place the decorated cookies on parchment lined sheets to allow the chocolate to set.

Store in an air tight container. Makes 5 dozen cookies.

(Recipe adapted from Gourmet Magazine, December 2000)

Printable Recipe

Friday, October 26, 2012

Butternut Squash, Tuscan Kale & Goat Cheese Quiche

A good friend recently gave me a gift from her late season garden. Her gift included a big bag of Tuscan Kale. I love Tuscan Kale. It is a relatively recent introduction to American palates and is slowly but surely becoming widely available—Whole Foods and The Community Mercantile regularly carry it. Unfortunately many national and regional grocery chains still do not. For some reason, no one at my farmers' market is growing it yet. No wonder this gift of the just harvested giant leaves was truly a treat.

As I considered what to make with my kale, I thought about a recipe that I posted last October for Butternut Squash, Kale & White Bean Soup. In recent weeks this post has surged in popularity. I must not be the only one who loves the combination of Kale and Winter Squash.

Since I happened to have a round of pastry dough on hand (left over from a class), I thought I would try this happy combination of bitter and sweet in a quiche. Kale is always good in a quiche—its slightly pungent quality goes well with the creamy custard—but this quiche surprised me. The addition of the sweet squash and caramelized onions along with the tangy goat cheese made for an exceptionally delicious...not to mention beautiful...tart.

If you have never prepared Tuscan Kale, you should know that the method I used in this recipe is fairly typical. It is first blanched, then squeezed dry and then warmed in a bit of olive oil. More often than not the olive oil is augmented with something flavorful and aromatic...garlic, hot pepper flakes, anchovy, lemon zest, etc. Tuscan Kale is a substantial green—even when subjected to a lengthy cooking process, it maintains its presence. Cooking it in boiling water before sautéing will help to reduce it to tenderness more quickly.

You could of course simply use the cooked kale without warming it in the oil, but it is greatly enhanced by this process. For my quiche, I added it to a pan of lightly caramelized onions. Taking the time to heat the kale until it sizzles in the oil infuses it with the sweet flavor of the caramelized onions. The quiche would lack some of its intriguing depth without this step.  And this quiche is so delicious, it is definitely worth the extra few minutes involved.

Butternut Squash, Tuscan Kale & Goat Cheese Quiche

1 large bunch Tuscan Kale (about 1/2 lb.), thoroughly rinsed and ribs removed

14 to 16 oz. butternut squash, peeled, seeded, quartered length-wise and sliced cross-wise 1/4-inch thick
1 to 2 T. olive oil
1 small onion (about 6 oz.), cut in a 1/-4-inch dice
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
pinch of red pepper flakes
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper to taste
1 10- to 10 1/2-inch tart shell, blind baked (Pâte Brisée recipe below)
2 oz. coarsely grated Gruyère
2 to 2 1/2 oz. soft goat cheese

Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a boil. Add the kale and cook until tender—about 7 to 10 minutes. Drain and spread on a baking sheet to cool. When cool, squeeze out the excess water and chop coarsely. Set aside.

Meanwhile, place the squash slices in a bowl and toss with just enough olive oil to coat. Season with salt & pepper. Spread the slices on a baking sheet and roast in a 425° to 450° oven until tender and beginning to brown—about 20 to 25 minutes.

While the squash roasts, heat the oil in a sauté pan set over medium heat. Sweat the onion until it is very tender and beginning to caramelize—15 minutes or so—regulating the heat as necessary to keep the onion from burning and covering the pan and lowering the heat if the onion begins to caramelize before it is tender (remove the lid once the onion is tender and allow it to begin to caramelize).

Add the garlic and pepper flakes and continue to cook until fragrant—a minute or two. Add the kale, toss with the onion-garlic mixture and cook until the kale has given up any remaining excess water and has begun to sizzle in the olive oil (add a bit more if the pan seems dry). Set aside to cool.

Place the eggs in a small bowl and whisk briefly to break up. Whisk in the cream until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper; set aside.

Build the quiche: Scatter the Gruyère over the bottom of the crust. Arrange half of the squash on top of the cheese.

Scatter the kale-onion mixture evenly over the cheese and top with the remaining squash. Crumble the goat cheese over all. Place the tart shell on a cookie sheet and pour the custard over the filling—be careful, all of the custard may not be necessary. Scatter the cheese over the top and transfer the baking pan to a preheated 375° oven.

Bake the quiche until the filling is set and the surface is a light golden color—about 25 to 30 minutes. If, when the custard is set (the tip of a knife slipped into the center should come out clean), the surface is not as golden as you would like, briefly run the quiche under the broiler until the cheese is light golden brown. Serves 8 as a first course or 6 as a light entrée.

Printable Recipe

(Savory Tart Dough)

1 2/3 c. all-purpose flour (190g)
1/2 t. salt
10 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces (142g)
3 to 5 T. ice water

Combine the flour and the salt in a medium-sized bowl. Rub the butter into the flour until the butter is in small pea-sized pieces. Drizzle 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 the dough in plastic wrap, pressing into a thick disk. Chill for at least 30 minutes.

To roll out, let the dough warm up for a moment or two. Butter a 10- to 10 1/2-inch removable-bottom tart pan 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 at least 13 inches in diameter and has a thickness of no more than 1/8–inch. 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 tart pan. Unfold the dough and ease it into the pan being careful not to stretch it. Cut the dough off flush with the edge of the pan by pressing gently against the edge. Chill the shell for at least 1/2 hour.

To blind bake: Line the pastry with aluminum foil (dull side out) or parchment paper, pressing it into the corners and edges. Add a layer of pie weights or dried beans. Bake in a 425° oven for 12 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 for a partially baked shell, and a deeper amber for a fully baked shell. Let cool before filling.

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Saturday, October 20, 2012

Spaghetti & Meatballs

I came late in life to the spaghetti and meatball party...  I don't think I ever had them growing up. If I did, they made no impression. By the time I began my career in food, classic Italian-American fare had fallen out of favor. Then, a few years ago, Gourmet published an entire issue devoted to the glories of Italian-American food. I was completely drawn in by this food tradition that I knew so little about. I read the magazine cover to cover and then, on a cold Saturday afternoon, made the recipe for Spaghetti and Meatballs. It was admittedly a lot of work. But it was more than worth it. When we finally sat down to eat, I could not believe how good they were.

Now, at least once a year, I make a batch. I enjoy some right away and then tuck the rest away in the freezer. There, they are my rainy day fund...perfect for those times at the end of a long day...or series of days... when cooking the kind of pampering, soothing meal that I really need is just out of the question. They were perfect for today. (I'm so glad I had them in my freezer.) If you have never had Spaghetti and Meatballs....or if you have, and they left a lot to be desired...I encourage you to make these. I still can't believe how good they are.

Spaghetti and Meatballs

For tomato sauce:
3 (28-oz) cans whole tomatoes in juice (preferably San Marzano)
1 medium onion (about 8 oz.), finely diced
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3 garlic cloves, finely minced

For meatballs:
1 medium onion (about 8 oz.), finely diced
2 to 4 T. extra-virgin olive oil
5 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 1/2 cups torn day-old Italian bread (about 60 grams trimmed weight)
3/4 cups whole milk
3 large eggs
2 oz. finely grated Parmigiano-Reggiano (2/3 c.)
3 T. finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/2 t. dried oregano, crumbled
grated lemon zest of 1/2 a lemon (see notes)
2 1/4 lb ground meat (see notes)
olive or vegetable oil for frying the meatballs

For pasta:
1 lb. dried spaghetti
olive oil
grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Make sauce:
Pass the tomatoes, along with their juice through a food mill fitted with the coarse disc.

Warm the olive oil in a 5 to 6-quart shallow saucepan set over medium heat. Add the onions along with a pinch of salt and sweat, stirring occasionally, until softened and golden—about 10 to 20 minutes.

Add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant—about 2 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, 1 t. kosher salt (see notes), and 1/2 t. freshly ground pepper. Simmer sauce, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until slightly thickened, 1 to 1 1/4 hour. Taste and correct the seasoning with salt.

Make meatballs while sauce simmers:
Warm 2 T. of olive oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet set over medium heat. Add the onions along with a pinch of salt and sweat, stirring occasionally, until softened and golden—about 10 to 20 minutes. Add more oil as needed if the onions seem dry. Add garlic and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant—about 2 minutes. Set aside to cool.

In a small bowl, soak the bread in the milk until soft, about 5 minutes.

Firmly squeeze bread to remove excess milk, discarding the milk. Stir together cooled onion mixture, bread, eggs, parmesan, parsley, oregano, lemon zest (if using), 2 t. kosher salt, and 1/2 t. freshly ground pepper until combined. Add meats to bread mixture, gently mixing with your hands until just combined (do not over mix).

Form meat mixture into small balls (weighing about 20 gr./3/4 oz. each) with dampened hands, arranging meatballs on large baking sheets or in shallow baking pans.

Heat some olive or vegetable oil (about 1/4-inch deep) in a 12-inch heavy cast-iron (or other nonstick) skillet over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Brown meatballs in batches (without crowding), turning frequently, about 5 minutes per batch. Return to baking sheets (This is not an insignificant step...if transferred directly to the sauce, they will make the sauce greasy. If allowed to sit on the sheets for a minute or two, some of the surface oil will drain off and be left behind on the sheet pan.)

Add the meatballs to the sauce, cover and bring to a simmer. Simmer gently, stirring occasionally, until the meatballs are cooked through and tender—about 30 to 45 minutes. (The meatballs have the best flavor and texture if they are allowed to sit in the sauce for a while before serving—up to an hour or two at room temperature—reheat to serve.)

Prepare pasta:
Cook the spaghetti in 6 quarts of rapidly boiling water seasoned with 2 to 3 T. salt. Stir occasionally and cook until the spaghetti is al dente. Drain. Return the spaghetti to the pot and toss with some of the sauce and a drizzle of olive oil. Serve with meatballs, remaining sauce, and grated cheese. Serves 8.

• Traditionally the ground meats used are a combination of 3/4 lb. ground beef, 3/4 lb. ground pork and 3/4 lb. ground veal—but you may use any combination of meats that you prefer. It is however important that the majority of the meat that you choose be from fattier cuts—beef chuck, pork shoulder, etc. The meatballs need to have fat for flavor, tenderness and moisture. If they are made with lean meats they will tend to be hard and dry. The naturally lean veal contributes collagen which acts as a binder—without it, the meatballs can be a bit meal-y. If you can't get (or choose not to eat) veal, substitute dark meat (thighs and legs) of chicken or turkey.

• The original recipe called for 2 t. salt in the sauce. You may or may not need this much salt, depending on the brand of tomatoes that you purchase—the sodium content varies widely among brands.

• You may of course brown the meatballs in the oven instead of frying them—although the result will not be quite as nice. To brown in the oven, spread the meatballs on a rimmed baking sheet and bake at 450° until browned, or alternatively, broil them.

• Traditional Italian-American style meatballs are quite large—perhaps twice as large as directed here. I prefer smaller meatballs. But you should feel free to make the meatballs as large as you like. Adjust the cooking time accordingly.

• Even if you don't need the full recipe, it's a good idea to go ahead and make the whole thing in order to make it worth the time invested. Meatballs freeze beautifully (see below). If you have the equipment, you might consider doubling the recipe. To make this size recipe it will take about 3 hours from start to finish—although you will only be actively cooking for about 2 hours of that time.

• Meatballs can be made and simmered in sauce 5 days ahead and chilled (covered once cool). They may also be frozen in the sauce in an airtight container or heavy-duty sealable bags up to 3 months (or longer if you have a freezer that holds a consistent temperature of zero).

(Recipe adapted from Gourmet Magazine January 2009)

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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Broccoli Cheddar Soup

Broccoli Cheese Soup. It's ubiquitous...practically a cliché....but when done well, delicious. I hesitated when I thought about posting my version. After all, recipes are widely available. But as I looked around at some of these recipes, I discovered that my method differs slightly from most. For this reason—and because I think mine definitely falls into the delicious category—I decided to go ahead and share it.

My recipe for this soup is different in that it includes some potato. Most versions are a straight flour-bound (roux-based) soup prepared on the béchamel (all milk/cream) or velouté (stock with milk/cream) model. Although I do begin my soup with a roux, it is based more on the "potato-leek" model (substituting onions for leeks).

Many single vegetable soups (puréed or not) are based on this classic French soup of leeks/onions, potatoes, water or stock and sometimes cream. Darina Allen in her book Forgotten Skills of Cooking teaches that almost any vegetable can be made into a soup using this model. For these vegetable soups, the potatoes provide the thickening—adding not only body and a nice velvety texture, but a fuller flavor as well.

I have been making this particular soup for almost as long as I have been cooking so unfortunately I don't really remember much about its origins.  But as I looked at other recipes and noticed the lack of potato, I began to wonder why I had included flour at all in my potato-leek-style version. As I was pondering this I remembered a conversation I had with my chef when I was a still a fairly young cook. The answer has to do with the fact that this isn't just a broccoli also includes cheese. Good quality natural cheeses often lack the stable melting qualities of artificial cheeses.  Knowing this, I had asked my chef how to make a cheese based soup (with real cheese) that wouldn't curdle and break upon heating. Her answer was simple: start with a roux...just like the mornay sauce (béchamel with cheese added) that is used to make macaroni and cheese. Apparently I added a roux to my soup to accommodate the addition of the cheddar cheese.

I could of course have done away with the potato altogether, but as I mentioned before, I like the qualities it adds. Furthermore, by using a potato, I can use less flour.  To me this is a good thing since flour-bound velouté-style soups are prone to being over-thickened and a bit gloppy.  I devote an entire paragraph to my thoughts on what constitutes a properly thickened soup in my Cream of Wild Rice Soup post. I will only say here that if the soup mounds on a spoon, it is too thick. My Broccoli Cheese soup is only lightly thickened. If you like very thick soups, this one is probably not for you.  

The only other thing I will add is that to make a truly fine Broccoli Cheese soup, you need to use a high quality, sharp cheddar.  For years my favorite sharp white cheddar has been Black Diamond. But recently I have discovered a delicious cheddar from Milton Creamery in Iowa. It's called Prairie Breeze.  It is an excellent cheese—award winning, in fact.  And it is very good in this soup. If you can't get either of these cheeses, any nice sharp cheddar—or cheddar-like cheese—will do nicely.  When made with good ingredients (and cooked with care), one taste will reveal exactly why this soup became so popular in the first place.

Broccoli Cheese Soup

1 large or 2 small heads broccoli (1 lb.), woody ends trimmed away and discarded
1 onion (about 8 to 10 oz.), cut in a 1/4-inch dice 
4 T. unsalted butter
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 t. dry mustard
3 T. flour
6 c. chicken stock or water
1 lb. russet potatoes, peeled and cut in 1/4-inch dice (about 2 1/2 cups)
1 c. heavy cream (half & half or milk may be substituted)
6 to 8 oz. grated sharp white cheddar cheese, plus more for garnish

Cut the florets off of the broccoli stems and coarsely chop; set aside. If necessary, peel the stems. Cut the stems into a small, rough dice. You will have about 3 cups chopped florets and 1 1/2 cups diced stems.

Melt the butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add the diced broccoli stems and the onion along with a pinch of salt. Cover and sweat over low heat until tender—about 15 minutes. Add the garlic and mustard and cook briefly—just until the garlic is fragrant. Add the flour and cook a minute or two, stirring occasionally. Add the stock along with the potatoes and bring to a simmer.  Simmer (uncovered) for 10 minutes.  Add the chopped broccoli florets, return to a simmer and continue to cook until the vegetables are tender—about 10 minutes. 

When the vegetables are tender, pass the soup through a food mill or purée one third to half of the soup in a blender. If you have an immersion blender, simply blend the soup until it is the texture you prefer. Add the cream to the soup and heat through. Remove from the heat and stir in the cheese. Taste and correct the seasoning with salt & pepper. Garnish each bowl with a sprinkling of cheese or pass extra cheese at the table.

Makes 2 to 2 1/2 quarts soup to serve 6.

Printable Recipe

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


I have been hungry for Moussaka for what seems like weeks now. Yesterday I finally got around to making it. You would think that if I am hungry for something, I would just make it. But unfortunately Moussaka isn't a dish that comes together have to set aside a little extra time for it (extra time has been in a bit of a short supply lately). I always try to make a big pan of it sometime during the fall so that I will have it in the freezer during the winter months ahead, when it will taste oh, so very good.

You can of course make Moussaka at pretty much any time of the year. But it is best in September and October. It is during those months that the evenings are cool enough to make such a substantial and warming dish appropriate and at the same time you can still get farm fresh eggplant (and if you're lucky, vine ripened tomatoes) with which to make it. I mentioned in a recent post that the fall tomatoes have been lovely this year, so I did have fresh tomatoes for my recent batch...but please don't let the lack of good, fresh tomatoes keep you from indulging in this dish. It is most often made with good quality canned tomatoes.

Moussaka is not a dish that I would have tolerated when I was growing up. I have already told the story of my abhorrence of eggplant (lamb would have been unthinkable) and how I learned to love it (in Ratatouille) while I was in London for cooking school. It was also in London that I fell in love with Moussaka—although not in a class setting. Rather, it was at the home of a friend.

My parents didn't do much entertaining when I was growing up. The only large "dinner parties" I ever took part in were family affairs centered around the holidays—Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter.... I have wonderful memories of those dinners. But it was at this friend's home in London, around a big pan of Moussaka, that I truly began to appreciate the pleasures of the table. The whole evening was a delight—the company....the conversation...the laughter...and the food. With the exception of the Moussaka, I don't remember any of the particulars of the evening (it has been a long time), I just remember the warm glow of fellowship...and the dawning of the idea that this place—the table—is what good food is all about.

The Moussaka we were served that night was unbelievably good. But it is most probable that the reason I remember it is because to my taste buds it was exotic. Not only was it made with lamb (!), it was spiced with cinnamon and included eggplant (which at that time was still somewhat new to my palate). Unfortunately, I didn't get the recipe (I know now there probably wasn't one, per se—I would imagine my friend learned to make it at her grandmother's elbow), but I retained the taste memory and always hoped I would run into another Moussaka like it someday.

Many years later, at another gathering at the home of a new friend and colleague, I was served a similar, delicious Moussaka. That dinner too has been several years ago, and Nancy is no longer a "new" friend....she is now a very dear friend. I have learned much about cooking and hospitality from her (having enjoyed many wonderful meals in her home) and it was not long after that first dinner at her table that she taught me how to make her version of Moussaka. It is this (mostly unchanged) recipe that I am sharing here. I encourage you to make it—whether you are making it so that you can squirrel it away in the freezer for a cold, dark night in January, or so that you can share it now with your friends. Since it is easily made ahead, it is a perfect party food—practically a one dish meal (although rice and a green salad will round it out nicely). No matter the reason, or the occasion, I love is worth the extra time. And even if I am at a table of just one or two, each time I take that first bite, I am reminded of those meals shared at tables past, surrounded by my friends.


3 c. milk
a quarter of an onion, peeled
1 bay leaf
pinch of nutmeg

1 28-oz can Italian plum tomatoes or 2 lbs. vine ripened tomatoes
3 T. olive oil
1 large onion (about 12 oz.), cut into a small dice
1 1/2 lb. ground lamb
3 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 t. cinnamon
1 1/2 t. dried oregano
1/2 t. cayenne
2 slightly rounded T. double concentrated tomato paste

3 to 3 1/4 lbs. eggplant
Olive oil for brushing—about 1/4 cup

4 T. butter
6 T. all-purpose flour

3/4 c. grated Pecorino

Ingredients for 2/3 of a recipe (for a 7- by 11-inch pan)

In a medium saucepan, bring the milk, onion, bay leaf and nutmeg to a simmer. Remove from the heat and cover. Let the milk steep for 20 to 30 minutes.

If using canned tomatoes, pulse them in the food processor to get a chunky purée, or pass them through a food mill fitted with the coarse disk. If using fresh, peel and core the tomatoes and place in a bowl. Crush the tomatoes with your hands. (If you prefer, pulse them in the food processor). Set aside.

In a large sauté pan, sweat the onion, along with a pinch of salt, in the olive oil over medium heat until the onions are tender and beginning to caramelize—about 15 to 20 minutes. Add the lamb and cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon. Continue to cook until the lamb is fully cooked (no traces of pink remain) and is sizzling a bit in its fat. If the lamb is very fatty, tilt the pan and spoon off some of the excess fat. (It is likely that the lamb will be very fatty.  It is important to take the time to do this.)  Season the lamb with salt and add the garlic, cinnamon, oregano, and cayenne and cook until fragrant (just a minute or two). Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring to distribute the paste, for another minute or two. Add the tomatoes. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, until the sauce has thickened—about 30 minutes. Taste and correct the seasoning.

While the sauce simmers, top and tail the eggplants. Slice each eggplant lengthwise into 1/4- to 1/3-inch thick slices. Spread on a baking sheet as many of the eggplant slices as will fit in a single layer and brush both sides with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Broil the eggplant until golden brown; turn and broil the other side in a similar manner. Set aside. Repeat with the remaining eggplant.

When you are ready to build the Moussaka, finish the béchamel. Bring the infused milk back to a simmer and keep hot. In a medium saucepan, melt the butter over medium heat. When the foam subsides, whisk in the flour. Cook stirring/whisking constantly for a few minutes—the roux will be bubbly and straw yellow. Remove from the heat and pour in half of the hot milk (through a strainer), whisking constantly until smooth—it will thicken immediately. Strain in the remaining milk. Return to the heat and stir constantly until the sauce returns to a simmer. Taste and season as desired with salt and pepper.

Build the Moussaka: Brush a 13- by 9-inch baking dish with olive oil. Spread one quarter of the meat sauce in the bottom of the pan. Layer one quarter of the eggplant slices over the meat sauce.

Repeat these two layers 3 more times, until all of the sauce and eggplant have been used up. Pour the béchamel over all, jiggling the dish to allow the sauce to penetrate. Scatter the Pecorino over all and place the baking dish on a sheet pan.

Bake in a preheated 350° oven until the Moussaka is bubbling and well browned on the top—about 30 to 40 minutes.

Let the Moussaka sit for 20 to 30 minutes in a warm place before serving to allow it to set up (somewhat like lasagne). Serves 8 to 10.

• The Moussaka can be made and built up through the point of making and adding the béchamel up to a day ahead. Chill the partially built Moussaka. To finish, bring to room temperature, make the béchamel and pour it over as directed in the recipe. Scatter the Pecorino over all and bake.
• When I make this in the fall, I always enjoy some right away. I then chill the rest, cut it into individual portions and freeze in containers of one or two servings. To serve, thaw it in the refrigerator overnight. It may be reheated in the oven (covered) or in the microwave

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Moussaka from the freezer--I took this picture sometime in March or April of this year when I thawed and served the end of the Moussaka that I made last fall.  As you can see, it suffered no ill effects during the freezing/thawing process.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Kale, Sweet Potato & Chorizo Soup

The weather turned chilly overnight. Suddenly it's really autumn....and soup weather. So this evening, at the end of a busy week, I came home and made a simple soup with some of the vegetables that still remained from last Saturday's visit to the farmers' market.

If your market basket—like mine—includes kale and sweet potatoes, you might give this soup a try. It is light and flavorful and on the table in about an hour. A perfect weeknight meal for a blustery evening.

Kale, Sweet Potato & Chorizo Soup

2 T. Olive oil
1 small onion (5 to 6 oz.), finely diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 oz. Spanish Chorizo, casing removed and finely diced (see notes)
1/2 t. Smoked Spanish paprika
1 bunch Kale (about 6 oz.)—I used Russian kale, but Tuscan kale would be good too
1 sweet potato (about 8 oz.)
3 to 4 cups chicken stock
3/4 to 1 c. cooked chickpeas (about half of a 14 oz. can), rinsed
Olive oil for serving

Heat the olive oil in a large soup pot set over medium heat. Add the onions and garlic along with a pinch of salt and cook until soft and beginning to caramelize—10 to 15 minutes.

While the onions cook, strip the ribs from the kale and cut the leaves cross-wise into 1/2-inch wide ribbons. Rinse thoroughly and place in a colander to drain. Peel the sweet potato and cut it into a 1/2-inch dice (to make about 1 1/2 to 2 cups).

When the onions are ready, add the chorizo and paprika and cook another minute or two. The chorizo should begin to sizzle in the olive oil.

Add the kale and sweet potatoes and cook until the kale begins to collapse—about 5 minutes.

Add 3 cups of stock and bring to a simmer. Taste and correct the seasoning. Simmer the soup (covered, with the lid set slightly ajar) until the sweet potatoes and kale are tender—about 20 minutes. Add the chickpeas and the remaining cup of stock if the vegetables seem too crowded in the broth. Return to a simmer and cook for another 3 to 5 minutes.

When the soup is finished cooking, taste and correct the seasoning with salt and pepper. Ladle into warm soup bowls and serve with a generous drizzle of olive oil.

Makes a generous 5 cups of soup, serving 2 to 3. Recipe doubles easily.

Notes & Variations:
• This soup would be delicious served with a poached egg in each bowl or with a dollop of allioli (aioli).
• Spanish chorizo is a dry, cured sausage.  It is not the same thing as Mexican chorizo, which is a fresh, ground meat.
• If you don't have chickpeas, substitute Cannellini or Great Northern white beans.

• For additional depth and color, add a teaspoon or so of double concentrated tomato paste to the pan and cook for a minute or two before adding the kale and sweet potatoes
• Use Yukon or Russet potatoes instead of sweet potatoes.
• Substitute sweet paprika for the smoked.
• Add a pinch of cayenne to the pan along with the paprika and chorizo.

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