Sunday, June 29, 2014

Cumin & Mint Marinated Rack of Lamb with Mint Aïoli

In my last post I mentioned that I developed the Bing Cherry & Chocolate Chip Semifreddo for a class I taught a couple of weeks ago.  The class was a dinner menu class filled with foods and flavors of the Mediterranean.  The entrée (and headlining draw) for the class was a roast rack of lamb featuring the Eastern Mediterranean flavor combination of cumin, lemon and mint.  It was particularly delicious...and easy to prepare too.  I don't have a lot of pictures of the process, but I wanted to share it here anyway since it is a perfect entrée for summer entertaining.    

The lamb itself—and the mint aïoli I served with it—were inspired by a couple of recipes from Frank Stitt that ran many years ago in a restaurant issue of Gourmet Magazine.  Instead of rack of lamb, Chef Stitt's recipe was for a leg of lamb.  I chose rack of lamb because it produces such an elegant result...especially when you consider the ease of preparation.  Rack cooks quickly and reheats easily.  Even if it has been cooked an hour or so ahead, just pop it into a hot oven until the surfaces are sizzling hot to the touch (this will take less than five minutes), slice and serve.  Lamb rack slices into beautiful little portions so that people of varied appetites can have as much or as little as they choose.  The marinade that I make is simply an adaptation of Stitt's.  The combination of the mint, cumin and lemon with the lamb is, as I noted at the first, delicious.

Stitt's mint aïoli was delicious too.  Sadly, it has always turned out an unfortunate brownish-green color.  Until now I have overlooked this color because the sauce tasted so good.  Then, as the class was approaching, I happened to run across a recipe for "minted aïoli" in Alfred Portale's  12 Seasons Cookbook.  It was nearly identical to Stitt's except Portale blanches the mint that is puréed into the sauce.  Seeing this caused me to have a bit of a "duh" moment:  Blanching is a standard trick for setting the green color of vegetables and herbs.  I'm not sure why I hadn't thought to do this before. The resulting sauce is a lovely—minty—green.  

I should probably address my use of the word "aïoli" in describing the mint sauce.  I went on at length about the correct usage of the term "aïoli" in my post on the Provençal feast called Le Grand Aïoli.  If you read that post, you will realize that the mint sauce in today's post isn't aïoli.  It is in fact just mayonnaise...flavored with fresh mint and a little garlic.  It is unfortunate, but many Americans seem to feel better about eating "aïoli" than they do about eating "mayonnaise"—even though the quantity of oil and egg yolk used to make them is pretty much the same.  Mayonnaise seems to carry with it a bad connotation....of what, I'm not sure.  Anyway, because both Frank Stitt and Alfred Portale—two chefs that I admire a great deal—call this mint sauce "aïoli," with some reluctance I have given in and called it that too. 

The recipe for the sauce makes a generous quantity, so it is possible that you will have leftovers. But this is not a problem. It is fantastic with vegetables of all kinds...roasted beets, blanched green beans, boiled potatoes, etc....making it an ideal dip for a summer vegetable platter. It would also be wonderful on a sandwich—not only a sandwich of leftover lamb, but perhaps one of thinly sliced leftover steak... or even on a hamburger, hot off the grill. Since the sauce really is just mayonnaise, if you begin to think of it as mayonnaise, all kinds of ideas for its use will occur to you. 

In the class I paired the lamb with a vinaigrette-dressed potato salad from One Good Dish by David Tanis. The potato salad as I taught it is unchanged from the book. In a previous post I sang the praises of this book, so I won't belabor it here. Suffice it to say that I think this is a book everyone who loves to cook and eat should own. Stitt paired his lamb and aïoli with a tasty cornbread version of panzanella. I think it would also be good with a summer white bean salad (spiked with roasted peppers, olives and basil)...or perhaps the potato salad with mint and arugula pesto that I shared in May. Dishes featuring eggplant, tomatoes and/or chickpeas would also be fine. To plump up the plate a bit (if you aren't serving multiple courses) you could add a fluff of arugula—dressed with lemon and olive oil—or some olive oil-dressed green beans.

Leftovers with a chickpea, roasted pepper and green olive salad
and zucchini sautéed with garlic and oregano

If you start out your meal with a simple Meze platter (with perhaps some olives....   maybe some marinated cheese....  and a nice dip/spread featuring eggplant...or chickpeas...     and some warm flatbreads, or even a crusty baguette), and finish up with a Bing Cherry & Chocolate Semifreddo, you will have a delicious menu of Mediterranean foods to share with your friends.  Add a chilled Rosé and you'll be all set to linger on the patio on a warm summer night.  

Cumin & Mint Marinated Rack of Lamb

3 "Frenched" racks of lamb—8 ribs and about 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 lb. each
1 1/2 to 2 t. cumin seed, toasted and finely ground
12 to 16 strips lemon zest, cut finely crosswise
3 cloves garlic, crushed and chopped
1/2 cup coarsely chopped mint
3 T. olive oil, plus more for searing
kosher salt (about 1/2 to 3/4 t./lb. of lamb)
freshly ground black pepper

Trim the excess fat from the lamb racks.  Combine the next 5 ingredients in a small bowl.  Season the racks with salt and pepper and smear with the marinade.  Place the racks in a non-reactive container, wrap and chill for at least 12 hours and up to 24.

An hour before cooking, take the lamb out of the refrigerator. 

Scrape the marinade off of the racks and discard.  Heat a large sauté pan over moderately high to high heat  and add enough olive oil to lightly coat.  Add the lamb and sear on all sides until beautifully browned (regulating the heat as necessary).  

Transfer the pan to a 375° oven (see note) and roast until the temperature in the center is 120° for medium rare (the temperature will continue to go up as the racks rest), about 15 minutes.  The meat will be slightly springy when pressed.  Remove from oven.  Transfer the racks to a plate or another pan and let rest for 10 to 15 minutes before carving.  Slice the lamb into individual chops.  Plan on an average of 3 per person.  Serve with a spoonful of mint aïoli. Serves 8.

  • If your sauté pan isn't ovenproof, place the lamb on a rack set in a roasting pan before placing in the oven.  You will need to add about 5 minutes to the total roasting time.
  • For larger appetites—or smaller racks of lamb—plan on 4 chops per which case the recipe will serve 6.
Mint Aïoli

1 1/2 to 2 c. loosely packed mint leaves (about 1 oz.)
1 large or 2 medium cloves of garlic, peeled
1/2 t. kosher salt
1 egg plus 1 egg yolk (best quality organic and local)
1 T. lemon juice, plus more to taste
pinch of cayenne
1 c. neutral vegetable oil
1/3 c. olive oil
2 T. (or so) warm water

Plunge 1 c. of the mint (about 1/2 oz.) into boiling water until it wilts—about 10 seconds.  Scoop out and place in ice water to stop the cooking process and set the color.  Squeeze out as much water as possible and mince finely.

Smash the garlic to a purée with a pinch of salt.  Place in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade along with the blanched mint, salt, egg and yolk and the cayenne.  Process until smooth and creamy looking.  With the machine running, add the oil in a slow stream through the feed tube.  A thick emulsion will begin to form. Add a tablespoon of lemon juice and process in.  Taste and adjust the lemon and salt. Adjust the consistency to get a light sauce with a few tablespoons of warm water.

Transfer the mint aïoli to a bowl.  Cut as much of the remaining mint as you like into a fine chiffonade and fold in.  Cover and refrigerate until ready to use.  The sauce tastes best if made a few hours ahead.

Printable Recipe

With green beans and a Mediterranean potato salad
 with roasted peppers and olives

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Bing Cherry & Chocolate Chip Semifreddo

I finally had a minute to glance through my June issue of Martha Stewart Living. Among the many summer-friendly recipes to be found there, I was interested to see recipes for "no churn" sherbet and sorbet. Touted as making homemade ice cream-like treats possible without an ice cream maker, they caught my eye because I had just finished teaching a class that included another type of frozen dessert that is often advertised as "no churn" ice cream—semifreddo.

Although semifreddo is often compared to ice cream, in its most common form, it's really just frozen mousse.  It is made by lightening a flavor base (chocolate, infused milk/cream, fruit purée/curd, etc.) with whipped cream and more often than not egg yolks and/or whites that have been foamed with sugar or a sugar syrup.  This mousse-y mixture is then spooned or poured into a loaf pan, cake pan, or individual portion-sized molds before being frozen.  Often the mousse is layered with sponge cake...or it can be poured into a crust...  The loaf style is usually sliced in thick slabs—

although, it may be scooped like ice cream.  When layered with sponge cake or poured into a crust it is cut into wedges and comes off very much like an ice cream cake.  Because it is light and airy it is soft enough to eat straight out of the freezer.  However, this same airiness makes it so that a semifreddo begins to soften and melt immediately at room temperature.  In practice this means that when you eat it your dessert will be part frozen mousse and part creamy, mousse-y sauce

...hence, its name...which means "partially frozen." 

I mentioned that semifreddo often includes eggs.  In the days before salmonella contamination of our egg supply became widespread, the eggs were simply whipped with the sugar to a billowy foam, added to the other ingredients and the whole thing was then cooking was necessary.  You will still find recipes that are made this way.  A good example can be found in Suzanne Goin's Sunday Suppers at Lucques

Nowadays though, most recipes incorporate some manner of heating the eggs beyond 160° F (the instant kill temperature for salmonella) so that you can be sure that the final mousse is safe for consumption.  Most often this is done via a sabayon:  the egg yolks are beaten with the sugar (along with any liquid flavorings) over a pan of simmering water until a temperature of 160° to 170° F is achieved.  (A Swiss meringue—where just the whites and sugar are heated over simmering water—is also sometimes used.) 

Another method that you will occasionally find makes use of a pastry component called pâte à bombe.  If you have ever made French buttercream, you have made a pâte à bombe.  To make pâte à bombe, a sugar syrup is heated to the firm ball stage (248°F).  While the sugar syrup is coming to temperature, the egg yolks (occasionally a few whites are included) are whipped until they are light, thick and foamy.  The hot sugar syrup is then poured into the whipping egg yolks.  I have no idea what the exact temperature of the egg foam is after the addition of the hot sugar syrup, but I am positive it is in excess of 160°F.  Not only are the eggs safe to consume at this point, the egg foam is extremely stable and makes a fabulous base for buttercreams, mousses...and semifreddos...  I much prefer it to the sabayon method. 

If you would like a more detailed explanation of pâte à bombe...with pictures...check out the post at Joe Pastry.  I only differ from his method in one respect:  he transfers the hot syrup to a glass measure and pours it into the egg foam in stages.  This is a common practice, but I find it cumbersome.  I simply leave the machine running and carefully and slowly drizzle the syrup (directly out of the pan it was cooked in) down the side of the mixing bowl.  If you do it this way, you must be extremely careful not to pour the hot syrup on the moving whisk.  Syrup that comes into contact with the whisk will spray all over the sides of the bowl (thus wasting it)...and, worst case scenario, it might spray out of the bowl and on to you.  This is one of those kitchen tasks that requires your full attention and care so that you will avoid serious burns to yourself and others.  

Like ice creams and mousses, semifreddos can be just about any flavor—chocolate, fruit, nut, caramel, coffee, etc.  Frequently a semifreddo is enhanced with a liqueur. Often, delicious bits—chocolate chips...chunks of fruit...chopped nuts....crumbled amaretti—are folded in....really making it much more like a modern-day Ben & Jerry's concoction than a classic frozen mousse.

Since the class I taught was all about summer foods I decided to flavor my semifreddo with Bing of my favorite early summer fruits.  And since chocolate is delicious with sweet cherries, I incorporated some shards of dark chocolate (copying the method I found in Joanne Chang's Bittersweet Chocolate & Orange Semifreddo).  To get the cherry flavor I made a lightly sweetened Bing cherry compote.  I drained most of the liquid from the compote and added it to the mousse along with half of the cherries (coarsely chopped).  The remaining cherries and liquid became a nice sauce garnish for the finished semifreddo.  

If this seems complicated, the semifreddo itself is not.  Once the compote has been made, the semifreddo goes together quickly and easily.  Simply whip the cream, make the pâte à bombe, fold these two into the chunky cherry compote and layer into the loaf pan with some drizzles of melted chocolate.  Since a semifreddo needs to have time in the freezer (at least eight hours) to set up properly, it can and should be made ahead...making this elegant dessert perfect for summer entertaining.  Although, speaking from experience, you don't have to be giving a dinner party to have a reason to make this semifreddo.  It keeps very well for at least a week...and even in my small household of two, we had no problem finishing it off in that amount of time.     

Bing Cherry & Chocolate Chip Semifreddo

Bing Cherry Compote:
1 lb. Bing Cherries (about 3 cups), halved and pitted
6 T. (75 g.) sugar
1/2 T. lemon juice
2 T. brandy or kirsch

Place the cherries in a wide sauté pan set over medium high heat.  When the cherries begin to steam and sizzle quietly, add the sugar and lemon juice and shake to distribute.  

Cook the cherries at a brisk simmer—stirring occasionally with a heat-proof spatula—until the cherries are tender and beginning to break down a bit (although they should still be holding their shape) and the juices are beginning to thicken—about 5 minutes.  Add the brandy and bring back to a simmer—cooking until the juices have thickened slightly again...perhaps a minute.  

Remove from the heat, scrape into a bowl and chill.

Place a sieve over a bowl and strain the cherries to collect the juices.  Measure out 1/3 cup of the juices (don't worry if you don't have that much).  Transfer half of the cherries from the colander (about 140 to 150 g.) to the food processor and pulse just to coarsely chop.  Add the chopped cherries to the 1/3 c. juice—you should have a scant cup of chunky cherry sauce.  Add the remaining cherries to any remaining liquid in the bowl and reserve separately.  The scant cup of chopped cherries is to be folded into the semifreddo...the other will serve as a garnish/sauce.

The Semifreddo:
2 c. chilled heavy cream
5 egg yolks plus 1 whole egg
1 c. sugar
1/2 c. water
Chunky cherry sauce from above
3 oz. semi-sweet chocolate, melted

Ingredients for a double batch...

Line a 9- by 5- by 3-inch (8 cup capacity) loaf pan with plastic wrap, leaving a generous overhang on all sides, and set aside. 

Whip the cream to soft peaks and chill.

Prepare the pâte à bombe: In bowl of stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment, begin whipping the yolks and the egg on medium-high speed.  Whip until light, lemon-colored and fluffy—about 3 to 4 minutes.

When you begin whipping the eggs, combine sugar and water in a small saucepan. Cook over high heat until it reaches the firm ball stage (248°F/121°C). As the syrup nears the proper temperature, increase the speed of the mixer to high if the eggs are not yet fluffy and light, decrease it to medium-low if they are ready before the syrup is.

When the syrup reaches the proper temperature, with the mixer running on medium speed, carefully drizzle the hot sugar syrup down the side of the bowl. When all the syrup has been added, increase the speed to high and whip until the mixture is cool, thickened and very fluffy.  This will take at least 5 to 6 minutes.

Finish the Semifreddo:  Place the cold cherry sauce in a large bowl and whisk in about a third of the pâte à bombe.  

Add the remaining pâte à bombe to the bowl, followed by the whipped cream.  Fold everything together using a rubber spatula or a whisk.

Spoon/pour about 1/4 of the cherry mixture into the prepared pan. Use a spoon to drizzle about 1/3 of the melted chocolate evenly over the cherry mixture.  

Carefully add another 1/4 of the cherry mixture into the pan. 

Drizzle with another 1/3 of the melted chocolate. Repeat another layer of cherry mixture, the last of the melted chocolate, and finish with the last of the cherry mixture.  Cover the pan with plastic and freeze for at least 8 hours or up to a week.

When ready to serve, remove the semifreddo from pan and peel off plastic.  Slice thickly using a thin, sharp knife that has been run under hot water and wiped dry.  Serve with the reserved whole cherry compote and a little whipped cream, if you like.  Serves 8 to 10.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Remembering my first taste of a simple Rhubarb Crunch

Around the time I turned 11 years old my family moved to Minnesota.  We moved in the fall and in the spring we discovered that a rhubarb plant had come with our new house.  I had heard of rhubarb, but I had never tasted it.  The reason for this could be that rhubarb doesn't tend to thrive in Missouri (I think the winters are too warm)'s really hard to guess.  But for whatever reason, I had never encountered it.  I now realize that I had been deprived.  I have spent the ensuing years making up for it.

During that first winter in Minnesota my mother had picked up a Junior League-style cookbook called Cooking in Minnesota.  It was loaded with tasty, family friendly recipes—many of which featured Minnesota ingredients (wild ricesomething else I had never tastedfor example); my mother used it so much that today it is in tatters.   Since rhubarb seemed to be a Minnesota thing (the winters being too warm is not a problem there) my Mom turned to her new cookbook to discover ways to use our rhubarb.  I think there were lots of options, but the first thing she settled on was something called Rhubarb Crunch.  It was a huge hit.  I don't remember if she ever made any of the other rhubarb recipes...we liked the Rhubarb Crunch so much that she made it again and again.

I was reminded of this old favorite as I stood in front of a huge tub of rhubarb at the market on Saturday.  It was beautiful rhubarb: deep red, slender and unblemished.

The woman at the stall told me it was from her mother's plants and that it was particularly abundant this year (it goes without saying that we had an unusually cold winter...).  She then told me she had already made herself a nice Rhubarb Crunch. 

The minute she said that, I immediately knew what I was going to make.  My Dadwho loved tangy fruit desserts (rhubarb, in particular)—had loved that Rhubarb Crunch.  And even though he is no longer with us, I thought it would make a nice tribute to him on Father's Day to prepare something I knew he would have enjoyed. 

Rhubarb Crunch is a very homey dessert...not even as upscale as a crisp.  It differs from a crisp in that the fruit in a crisp seems to have less thickener.  Also, when I think of a crisp, I think of a dessert with a higher proportion of fruit to topping.  The crunch is made up of a slender layer of fruit that has been thickened to a jam-like consistency and a layer of a sweet, buttery, crunchy, crumbled cookie-like topping.  It occurred to me as I re-examined my mother's recipe that it is actually more similar in style to my Mixed Berry Crumble Bars—without the bottom layer—than it is to a crisp.  It is sweeter than desserts I tend to make nowadays, and if it hadn't been for the fact that I had already decided to make it for Father's Day, I probably would have moved on and made something else.  I'm so glad I didn't. 

My Rhubarb Crunch turned out to be a delicious trip down memory lane, but I have to admit I will probably not be making it again anytime soon.  One of the things I remember about the Rhubarb Crunch my mother made is that it was difficult to walk by the pan without grabbing a fork and spearing off a chunk.  The crunchy, sweet caramelized topping combined with the tangy fruit was irresistible.  When I made it this time, I was dismayed to discover that it still has the same effect on me.  As I went about my work yesterday I stopped by the pan several times to grab a nibble.  I even discovered that it makes a very satisfactory mid-morning snack.  

Just over twenty four hours after making it and it is almost gone....   Unfortunately, a small piece...or a little bite...just doesn't seem to be enough.

Rhubarb Crunch

3 T. all-purpose flour (20 g)
3/4 c. sugar (150 g)
4 c. diced rhubarb (about 1 lb. trimmed weight)

3/4 c. oats (75 g)
1 c. plus 2 T. all-purpose flour (130 g)
3/4 c. packed golden brown sugar (150 g)
1/4 t. salt
9 T. unsalted butter

Preheat the oven to 350°.  In a medium-sized bowl, combine 3 T. of flour with the granulated sugar.  Add the rhubarb and toss to combine.  Transfer the rhubarb to a buttered shallow 2-quart baking dish (a 7- by 11-inch works well), making sure the flour sugar mixture is evenly distributed.  Set aside while you make the topping.

Place the oats, flour, brown sugar and salt in a medium-sized bowl and toss to combine.  Melt the butter and add, stirring until well blended and crumbly.  Alternatively, you may simply slice the cold butter, add it to the bowl and rub it in—using your fingers or a pastry blender—until the mixture is crumbly.

Spread the topping evenly over the rhubarb.  

Bake until bubbling and golden brown—about 35 to 45 minutes.  Serve warm, room temperature...or even cold.  Serves 8 to 10.

Most recipes suggest serving with whipped cream or ice cream, but I think it is just fine all by forkful at a time....

Friday, June 13, 2014

Zucchini, Ricotta & Gruyère Tartlets

Summer....  it's almost here....  the season of picnics, pot lucks and casual parties of all kinds.  I love it.  I don't know about you, but I'm always looking for ideas for food appropriate for these kinds of gatherings.  Food that features the products of the season and at the same time is uncomplicated, flavorful and easy to eat.  If in addition to all these things it is packable and portable, it is perfect summer party food. 

Today's zucchini tart meets all these criteria.  Beautifully.  Since it is loaded with the zucchini that will be flooding the markets in the next few weeks, it is perfect summer fare.  But if you don't care for summer squash, the simple base of flaky pastry and creamy, garlic spiked ricotta would also make a wonderful showcase for some of the other abundant foods of summer...Japanese eggplant (sliced and roasted or grilled)....or vine-ripened tomatoes (roasted in the oven to concentrate their flavor and rid them of some of their abundant juices).   For more variety you can change the nuts, herbs and finishing cheese to suit your whim and your vegetable of choice.     

As for the stipulation that it be uncomplicated, if you can make a pastry crust, this tart is super easy to make. If making pastry is your personal nemesis, you can use purchased puff pastry instead.  I prefer it with a homemade crust—it bakes up a bit crisper—but commercial puff pastry is an acceptable substitute.  Just make sure you buy something made with all butter. 

To build the tart, simply roll out your crust, top it with a judicious smear of the ricotta mixture,

follow this with a thin layer of your cooked vegetable, give it a final scattering of a flavorful cheese (I've used finely grated Gruyère, but Parmesan or crumbled goat cheese would also be nice) 

and bake.  To serve, simply cut into finger food-sized squares. 

Because this tart is thin and flat, it is wonderfully packable and portable too.  It is small enough to fit in a medium-sized Tupperware-style container in its uncut form...and sturdy enough to be stacked (with parchment or waxed paper in between the layers)—just make sure the tarts are cool before you pack them.  The tart can also be cut into portions before being packed.  And since it is just as delicious at room temperature as it is when it is hot, it really is great take-along fare for a picnic...pot luck...or even a road trip.

Finally, if your plans don't involve a trip in the car, this little tart is elegant enough for your next dinner party.  Hot from the oven and cut into small portions it makes a fine passed appetizer. Cut into larger portions and paired with a salad, it becomes a nice first course.  And if you have no party plans at all, it's still a pretty great little tart to make....for lunch....or even a light dinner.   

What more can you ask?  Happy summer.

Zucchini & Gruyère Tartlets

1 recipe pâte brisée (below) or 200 grams (7 oz.) thawed, all-butter puff pastry
1 lb. small zucchini (about 4 oz. each) cut on a short diagonal 1/4-inch thick
1 T. olive oil
Salt & Pepper, to taste
125 g. (1/2 cup) whole milk ricotta
1 oz. (1/3 c.) finely grated Pecorino Romano
1 t. minced fresh thyme
1 small clove garlic, smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt
1 egg, beaten with a teaspoon of water
2 T. walnuts, toasted and finely chopped
1 oz. (1/4 c.) finely grated Gruyère

On a lightly floured surface, roll the pastry out into a thin (1/8 – to 3/16-inch thick) rectangle that measures at least 10- by 9-inches.  Chill 30 minutes while you prepare the zucchini. 

Place the zucchini slices in a bowl.  Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with the olive oil. Toss to coat.  Spread the zucchini in a single layer on a baking sheet.  Roast in a hot oven (425°) until tender—about 20 to 25 minutes.  Set aside to cool.  Reduce the oven temperature to 375°. 

Take the pastry out of the refrigerator and trim to a 10- by 9-inch rectangle.  Cut in half into two 5- by 9-inch rectangles, prick each all over with a fork and arrange on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Brush with egg wash and chill while you prepare the cheese base. 

In a small bowl, combine the ricotta, Pecorino, thyme and garlic in a small bowl.  Season to taste with salt and pepper. 

Spread half of the ricotta mixture in a thin layer over each of the rectangles of pastry, leaving a quarter inch wide border of dough visible.  Scatter the walnuts over the ricotta, dividing equally between the two tarts.  Arrange the roasted zucchini slices in overlapping rows on top of the cheese.  Scatter the Gruyère over all.   (Tarts may be made a few hours ahead to this point.  Cover loosely and chill.)

Place the pan on the lowest rack in the preheated 375° oven.  Bake until the tarts are golden brown, well colored on the bottom and cooked through—about 25 to 30 minutes.  Transfer the finished tarts to a wire rack so they will remain crisp as they cool.  To serve as an appetizer, cut each rectangle into 8 (or more) small squares.  Makes 16 (or more) tartlets.

  • If using puff pastry, you may have better luck obtaining a fully cooked, crisp crust if you slide the tarts off of the baking sheet and directly onto the oven racks for their last few moments in the oven.
  • If you like, add the zest of half of a lemon to the ricotta mixture.

1 c. all-purpose flour (4 oz.)
1/4 t. salt
6 T. cold unsalted butter, sliced 1/4-inch thick (3 oz.)
2 to 3 T. ice water

Combine the flour and the salt in a medium-sized bowl.  Rub the butter into the flour until the mixture has the look of cornmeal and peas. Drizzle 2 T. ice water over the flour/butter mixture.  Using your hands, fluff the mixture until it begins to clump, adding more water if necessary.  Turn the dough out onto a counter and form into a mound.  Using the heel of your hand, gradually push all of the dough away from you in short forward strokes, flattening out the lumps.  Continue until all of the dough is flat.  Using a bench scraper, scrape the dough off the counter, forming it into a single clump as you do.  Form the finished dough into a thick rectangle.  Wrap in plastic wrap.  Chill for at least 30 minutes.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Farro with Broccoli & Green Olives

Somehow I found myself with a bit of a glut of local broccoli earlier this week.  Things like this happen during the growing season...with corn, summer squash, tomatoes, it's always nice to have a recipe or two to turn to that will use up masses of these seasonal super-producers.  I don't know about you, but I want to fully enjoy them while they are abundant, fresh and delicious.  The farro pilaf I'm posting today is a perfect way to do just that.  Even if you don't happen to have  a lot of broccoli on hand, this pilaf is so good it makes a great excuse to stock up next time you're at the store or the farmers' market. 

As the dinner hour approached on Monday, I knew I wanted to use up my broccoli.  I was leaning toward the broccoli salad that I posted last spring since I was pretty sure I had all of the ingredients on hand.  As it turned out I didn't, but even so it wasn't really what I was in the mood for.  I was feeling hungrier than usual and a salad just wasn't going to cut it.  I thought about pasta (I always think about pasta), but finally decided I wanted a big bowl of farro instead. 

I had no intention of posting this recipe—in fact, I wasn't even sure exactly what the final dish was going to look like until I finished making it.  And, as is sometimes the case, it was so tasty and satisfying I wanted to share it.  For this reason I don't have any in process pictures to share.  But I have posted enough pilaf/grain salad recipes that any questions about the process can probably be answered by taking a peek at one or two of those.

This pilaf has very few ingredients—it is in fact essentially the same list of ingredients needed to make the aforementioned broccoli salad.  In addition to the farro it includes chickpeas, broccoli, spring onions, olives, and arugula.  I mentioned that I didn't really have everything I needed to make that salad.  When I finally got around to looking at what I did have on hand, I discovered that I only had a small handful of arugula left...and very uncharacteristically for me, I was all out of black olives.  Since I often use arugula as an herb in the spring (where one might use basil in the summer), I decided to coarsely chop what I did have and add it to the pilaf.  Instead of the black olives, I used some delicious garlic-marinated green olives (probably my favorite item on the Whole Foods olive bar—unfortunately I have no idea what variety of olive they are).  At the last minute, I decided the pilaf needed a little sweetness, so I added a handful of golden raisins.  They were just the right touch—not only adding that needed sweetness but interesting texture as well. 

I expected that the pilaf would need some lemon to finish, but it didn't.  The olives were so briny and tangy, no lemon was necessary.  If your olives don't have enough punch, you should have some lemon at the ready.  If you happen to have some preserved lemon, a few pieces—cut in a fine julienne...or minced—would add the right note.  Garlic too (finely minced), would be a good addition if your olives are milder than mine were. 

The pilaf was just want I wanted—a substantial and satisfying meal that incorporated a large quantity of broccoli.  Not only did it make a delicious late spring dinner, the leftovers made a pretty fine lunch the next day.  And since it needs no reheating or final assembly, it would make a great addition to a picnic basket, a boxed lunch or a pot luck dinner.

Leftovers...for lunch, the next day...

Farro with Broccoli & Green Olives

2/3 c. pitted green olives, quartered
1/2 c. golden raisins
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
2 T. freshly squeezed lemon juice, plus more as needed 
2 T. Olive oil, plus more to finish
1 bunch spring onions—white and some of the green—trimmed and thinly sliced (about 1 cup)
1 c. pearled or semi-pearled farro, rinsed
2 c. water
3/4 to 1 lb. broccoli crowns, cut into large florets (stems split so no thicker than 1/3-inch)
a big handful arugula, stemmed and roughly chopped if the leaves are large
salt & pepper, to taste

Place the first three ingredients in a large bowl.  Unless you have very lemony or tangy olives (like I did) add the lemon juice.  Toss to combine and set aside to it a stir occasionally while the farro cooks.

Sweat the onion, along with a pinch of salt, in the 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 (start with 1/2 t.), 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.  When the farro is done, drain off the excess liquid, add to the bowl with the marinated olives and chickpeas.  Toss to combine.  Spread the on a sheet pan to cool. 

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water to the boil.  Salt generously.  Add the broccoli and cook until just tender—it's ok if it still has a bit of crunch.  Drain and spread on kitchen towels to cool.   

Return the farro mixture along with the cooled broccoli and arugula to the bowl and and toss to combine.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  If farro seems dry, drizzle in some olive oil.  If the pilaf seems dull or flat, add a generous squeeze of lemon.  Serves 4 as an entrée. 

  • To make the pilaf into a more substantial meal, serve accompanied by a spoonful of ricotta or labneh...or a wedge of cheese.  
  • To "refresh" any leftovers, toss with a bit of olive oil (to add moisture and sheen) before serving.  Also, it is always a good idea to taste and correct the seasoning (salt and lemon) before serving leftovers since the seasoning tends to become muted as time passes.
  • For an alternate presentation, increase the amount of arugula to 2 large handfuls and don't add to the pilaf.  Instead, dress the arugula separately with a squeeze of lemon juice, salt, pepper and a little olive oil.  Arrange the dressed arugula on the plate(s) and mound the farro/broccoli mixture on top.