Sunday, January 25, 2015

Bucatini with Sautéed Cauliflower, Capers, Fresh Mozzarella and Toasted Breadcrumbs

Last fall I ran across a recipe by David Tanis for Rigatoni & Cauliflower al Forno.  Almost everything about this recipe appealed to me.  Pasta….  Caramelized and highly seasoned cauliflower…   Cheese….  Toasted breadcrumbs…    To top it all off, the recipe was created by one of my favorite chefs.  What’s not to like? 

When I finally got around to trying it out, I discovered that there was one thing about the recipe I wasn’t crazy about.  Because there isn’t really any added moisture (in the form of a béchamel or some other simple sauce), the noodles dried out a bit in the oven.  Most of the dish had what I would call a pleasantly chewy texture, but there were some bits that were downright crunchy.  There’s nothing wrong with this….  It’s just not really what I was looking for. 

On the other hand, I found the flavors of this pasta to be fantastic.  I liked them so much that I wanted to reinvent the dish in such a way that the textures would be more appealing to me.  I then forgot about it until I ran across a recipe for bucatini with sautéed cauliflower, lemon and capers in the February issue of Martha Stewart Living. The method of the Stewart recipe reminded me a bit of sautéed cauliflower pasta I posted here a couple of years ago:  The seasoned sautéed cauliflower is simply tossed with freshly cooked pasta, some of the pasta water, and a final drizzle of oil.  And this is basically how I made my adaptation of David Tanis’s original recipe.

One of the things I loved about the “al Forno” version of this pasta was the delicious bits of stretchy cheese.  To get this effect in my simple dressed and tossed pasta, I added fresh buffalo mozzarella, off the heat, just before serving.  I’m not fond of fresh mozzarella in things that spend a long time in the oven because it seems to cause the cheese to harden and separate.  (In the original baked version I used Fontina.  If I had used Mozzarella, I would have used a low-moisture style, which has excellent melting qualities.)  But tossing chunks of the fresh mozzarella (torn in pieces if soft, diced if on the firm side) in with the hot, dressed pasta provides just enough warmth to soften the cheese and bring out its wonderful stretchy quality. 

I was very pleased with my adjusted version.   It retained all of the lively flavors of the original, but had the texture that I prefer.  In the end though, both are very good….and others might prefer the crunchy-chewy effect of the original.  If you like caramelized cauliflower, you will probably like either one…which is a good reason to plan on trying both. 

Bucatini with Sautéed Cauliflower,
Capers, Fresh Mozzarella & Toasted Breadcrumbs

1/3 cup coarse fresh bread crumbs
Extra-virgin olive oil
2 T. chopped flat-leaf parsley, divided
Half of a medium cauliflower, about 3/4 lb.
1 T. capers, roughly chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/8 t.crushed red pepper flakes, or more to taste
2 T. roughly chopped sage
1/2 t. lemon zest
8 oz. Bucatini
3 to 4 oz. fresh mozzarella (see notes), torn into rough 1/2-inch pieces (or diced if the cheese is on the firm side)
1 oz. finely grated Romano cheese or other hard pecorino

Toss the bread crumbs with a couple of teaspoons of olive oil and toast in a 375° to 400° oven until golden and crisp…stirring once or twice…about 5 to 7 minutes.  Set aside to cool.  Toss with half of the parsley.

Lay the cauliflower cut side down on the cutting board. Slice in scant 1/4-inch thick slices. You will have slices of varying size cross-sections and small bits of floret when you are done.  Warm 1 1/2  T. olive oil in a large sauté pan (the pan should be large enough to hold the cauliflower in a shallow layer—if it is piled to high it will steam rather than sauté) over medium-high to high heat. Add the cauliflower to the pan…you should hear an active sizzle.  Allow it to cook undisturbed until the edges are beginning to brown—about 2 minutes.   Give the cauliflower a toss to redistribute and leave it alone again until you can see that the edges are beginning to brown.  If at any time the cauliflower looks dry, drizzle a little oil around the edges of them pan. 

When the cauliflower is nicely splotched with golden brown (it’s fine if some pieces don’t brown evenly) —after another 2 to 3 minutes—season with salt and reduce the heat, continuing to cook until the cauliflower until the cauliflower is easily pierced with a fork.  (It should be tender, but still have texture.)  This will take another 5 to 7 minutes.

Season the cauliflower generously with salt and pepper. Add capers, garlic, red pepper flakes, chopped sage, and lemon zest and stir to coat.  Let cook for a minute or two…adding another drizzle of oil if the pan seems dry…until the seasonings are sizzling and fragrant.  Set aside—off of the heat—while you cook the pasta. 

Drop the pasta into a large pot of rapidly boiling, salted water.   When the pasta is al dente, drain, reserving some of the pasta water.  Return the pan of cauliflower to medium heat and add the pasta.  Toss to combine.  Add a half cup of the past water.  Toss again.  Off the heat, add the remaining parsley, a generous drizzle of olive oil and the mozzarella and toss until the mozzarella is evenly distributed and just beginning to soften.  Taste and correct the seasoning.

Divide the pasta among 2 or 3 serving plates.  Top with the bread crumbs and the Pecorino. 


  • This recipe may obviously be doubled to serve 5 or 6.  Unless you have a very large sauté pan, you will need to sauté the cauliflower in two batches.…and will be better off tossing the finished and seasoned cauliflower with the pasta in a large bowl, or in the pot the pasta was cooked in. 
  • I used buffalo mozzarella.

Printable Version

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Boston Brown Soda Bread

Long time readers of my blog might remember that I began making my own yogurt a little over two years ago.  One of the things I discovered during my first year of yogurt making was that in order to successfully maintain a yogurt culture I had to establish a yogurt making schedule…basically, I have to make yogurt every 5 to 7 days.  One might think that this would become a hassle or a nuisance, but it never really has.  Making yogurt is so simple that I am able to make it once a week while I’m brewing my coffee and cutting up my fruit for breakfast.  The only drawback that I have encountered is occasionally I find that I have more yogurt than I can reasonably consume.

There are worse problems to have.  Since I eat coffeecake for breakfast most mornings, it has been an easy thing to use up some of the excess in a yogurt based coffeecake of some kind.  Of course it isn’t possible to have too much cake...  Nevertheless, early last winter I decided I wanted to stretch my horizons a bit, so I started poking around on line for recipes that used yogurt.  In the course of my search I found an interesting looking whole wheat, cornmeal and molasses quick bread by Mark Bittman

At this point I’m not sure why it was, but for some reason Bittman’s bread put me in mind of Irish soda bread.  Since I like Irish soda bread a lot, I reinvented his loaf in that style.  The ingredients in his original bread are not really very soda bread-like at all.  Instead, they are similar to Boston Brown Bread—a traditional New England steamed quick bread that includes whole wheat flour, cornmeal, molasses and currants.  I have given a nod to both kinds of bread by christening my bread “Boston Brown Soda Bread”. 

While probably not to everyone’s taste, I love this bread.  It has an addictive nubbly texture and a complex flavor.  It is sweeter than most soda breads—mostly from the generous quantity of molasses and currants, but also, I think, from the addition of cornmeal.  The day it is baked, it is delicious sliced and buttered.  The day after, it makes wonderful toast (buttered, of course).  Either way it makes a fine lunch with cheese and fruit. 

It is also good with a salad (lettuce, chicken/tuna, vegetable…) or a bowl of soup.  

While sweet, it isn’t as sweet as the things I normally like to have with my yogurt and fruit at breakfast, but if your morning tastes run toward things that aren’t quite so cake-like, I am sure it would make excellent breakfast toast…perhaps with orange marmalade (and butter).

The first time I made the bread I made it with some King Arthur Irish Wholemeal Flour.  It seemed the right thing to do since I was making soda bread.  I liked it so much that I wanted to post the recipe.  Since most people don’t keep this rather specialized flour on hand I decided to see how it would work with regular (American-style), stone ground whole wheat flour.  It was surprisingly inferior….a bit dense and frankly dry.  Even a nice smear of butter didn’t help much. 

Since I still wanted to post the recipe, I decided to recreate the more coarsely milled style of Irish wholemeal flour by adding miller’s bran and toasted wheat germ to unbleached all-purpose flour and a small amount of whole wheat flour.  

Clockwise from top left:  unbleached all purpose,
toasted wheat germ, wheat bran, stone ground whole wheat, and all four mixed together.

My results were good.  In the picture below, the American style of whole wheat flour is on the right.  You can see that even though it is stone ground, it is still very finely milled.  The Irish wholemeal and my mix are in the center and on the left.  

Since it has been a year since I took the pictures, I can’t remember which is which (although I would guess that the King Arthur flour is on the left).  The fact that they look nearly identical is a good thing since it was my goal to reproduce the look and texture of the Irish wholemeal with my blend.    

I share all of this mostly because these kinds of little details fascinate me.  Good results are always in the details.  But beyond that, I didn’t want someone to look at the recipe and decide to simplify it by making it with all American-style whole wheat flour.  I can pretty much guarantee that the results would be less than satisfactory.  (I was surprised at the difference a more coarsely milled flour made.)  In any case, if you like soda bread, you should give this version a try.  Even if you don't have extra yogurt hanging around....  I think this bread's worth a run to the store to get some.   

Boston Brown Soda Bread

185 g. (1 1/2 c.) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for sprinkling
36 g. (2/3 c.) wheat bran
12 g. (2 T.) toasted wheat germ
66 g. (1/2 c.) whole-wheat flour
67 g. (1/2 c.) stone-ground cornmeal
1 1/4 t. baking soda
1 t. salt
2 oz. cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch thick slices
70 g. (1/2 c.) currants
242 g. (1 c.) plain (unsweetened) whole milk yogurt
108 g. (1/3 c.) molasses

In a large bowl whisk together the first seven ingredients. Add the butter and toss to coat with flour.

With fingertips rub in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the currants and toss to combine.

In a small bowl, whisk together the yogurt and molasses.  Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the liquid.  

Using a rubber spatula, mix by scraping down the outside of the bowl and drawing the spatula into the center.  Repeat this motion, rotating the bowl after each pass until the dough is moistened evenly and has come together.  There will still be flour visible in and on the dough, but there shouldn't be any loose in the bottom of the bowl.  The dough should feel quite soft when pressed...almost too soft. 

Scrape the dough onto a floured counter and sprinkle lightly with additional flour.  

Knead briefly, adding more flour if necessary and using a bench scraper to prevent sticking (dough should remain soft and a bit sticky), just until the dough comes together into a ball.  This should take less than a minute.

Place the ball on a baking sheet that has been sprinkled with flour.  Pat the ball of dough out into a 7-inch round.  Sprinkle the dough with additional flour and with fingertips spread lightly over the round.  

With a sharp knife, cut a shallow (about 1/2-inch deep) X in the top of the loaf.

Bake the bread in the middle of a preheated 400° oven until browned, firm (but still springy) to the touch—about 30 to 40 minutes (an instant read thermometer inserted into the center should read about 195° to 200°).  Cool the loaf on a rack for at least an hour before slicing.

  • I use a cushion-air insulated baking sheet for this loaf. The strong bottom heat in my oven overbrowns the bottom of the loaf when I use a standard baking sheet. If you have the same problem with your oven, but don't have any insulated sheets, simply stack two sheets on top of each other. 
  • If you have access to it, you should use Irish-style wholemeal flour instead of my mixture of all-purpose, wheat bran, wheat germ and American whole wheat (the first four ingredients in the recipe). This style of flour produces a beautiful loaf. You can purchase this kind of flour from King Arthur. If you use Irish wholemeal flour, use 300 grams total (2 1/2 cups).

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Beans & Greens in Broth with Italian Sausage & Orecchiette

Sometimes necessity produces meals that are merely edible.  These meals might be filling and nourishing, but in the end, they are (mercifully) not terribly memorable.  On the other hand, there are those—hopefully more frequent—occasions when the odds and ends of a pantry come together in such a way that a new favorite is born.  Such was the case for me when I recently found myself with a large quantity of beet greens in my produce bin. 

These particular beet greens were especially beautiful. To me this seemed unusual for this time of year—I noticed them when I purchased the beets (which also happened to be pretty nice).  Since the greens were so lovely, I was determined to use them before they lost their freshness.  With this in mind, I gave them a prominent place in my produce drawer where they would announce their presence to me every time I opened the drawer.  I am pleased to report that it worked. 

When I finally used them, I combined them with some Cannellini beans and Italian Sausage in a simple broth-based dish.  The dish was light—but wholly satisfying—and it was entirely composed of things I happened to have on hand.  I only used a small handful of beans—mostly because that was all that was left in the bottom of the bag, but also because the dish I had in my mind was more broth-y than bean soup-like.   The Italian Sausage is something I always keep in my freezer…and it is delicious with beans and greens.  Finally—in order to create a dish with a bit more substance—to the greens, beans and sausage, I added some orecchiette pasta (just a small amount…I wasn’t trying to make a “pasta” dish). 

Instead of browning the sausage links and dicing or slicing them….or crumbling the sausage up and browning it….I decided to form the sausage meat into tiny little balls and drop these into the simmering broth at the very end of the cooking time.  The sausage remains soft, juicy and tender this way, but best of all, the little balls gave the humble bowl of beans and greens a whimsical look and an out of the ordinary air….far beyond the amount of work required to make them.  

To form them, simply dampen your hands, pinch off a small piece of the sausage meat (casings removed if you purchase links) and then with slightly damp palms, roll the bit of sausage into a ball.  Remember to keep them small…a half pound of sausage should yield about 64.  When they are this small, they will cook quickly, match the size of the cannellini beans and nestle neatly into the cup shaped orecchiette.

If you have homemade stock in your freezer, this dish would be a great place to use some.  The broth figures prominently in the flavor of the final dish, and while I am not opposed to using good canned broths, there are times when using a nice homemade stock is worth it.  I think this is one of those times.  The bean cooking liquid too adds a lot of flavor to this dish…flavor you will miss if you use canned beans.  So, if you can, plan ahead and soak the beans overnight….or quick soak them as I describe another “beans and greens” dish post.  I’m sure the final dish will taste fine if made with canned beans and canned broth….but it will most likely lack the special quality of a dish made with homemade broth and dried beans.

As I mentioned at the first, this dish came about because of the beet greens I already had on hand.  Normally, beet greens are not something I purchase….I only have them if I have had a need for some beets.  Since I am far more likely to purchase Swiss Chard, I made this dish a second time with Swiss Chard.  I am happy to report that it is delicious with the chard.  

I think it is better with the beet greens—they seem to have more substance than the chard and also a bit more flavor—but still, it was very good…definitely worth making.  In fact, I imagine you could make this dish with any green you liked, as long as you cook them in a way (and for a length of time) that is appropriate for your chosen green.  As for me though, I think I will tuck this recipe away as one of my favorite ways to use beet greens.  I may even make a point of finding a reason to purchase beets whenever I happen to see a few bunches with especially fine greens…just so I will be able to have this dish.  

Beans & Greens in Broth with Italian Sausage & Orecchiette

1/3 lb. (a scant cup) Cannellini beans), soaked overnight, or quick soaked
Olive oil
4 to 6 cloves of garlic, peeled
One or two sprigs of rosemary
1 red onion, (about 8 oz.), trimmed, peeled and finely diced
Pinch of hot pepper flakes, to taste
2/3 lb. of trimmed greens (no stems or ribs)—from about 3 bunches of beets or two bunches of Swiss Chard—cut into fat ribbons (a wide chiffonade), and rinsed in several changes of water
About 2 2/3 cups rich chicken stock—more or less, depending on how brothy you want the final dish to be
8 oz. Italian Sausage—sweet or hot, as you prefer—casings removed, if necessary and the meat formed into tiny little meatballs (you should get about 60 to 64)
8 oz. Orecchiette pasta
Freshly grated Parmesan

Ingredients for half a recipe

Drain and rinse the beans and place in a small sauce pan.  Add enough cold water to cover by a couple of inches.  Add a couple of cloves of garlic and a sprig or two of rosemary.  

Bring to a boil and skim off any foam that comes to the surface.  Add a generous drizzle of olive oil, reduce the heat.  Maintain a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally, until the beans are very tender…about an hour to an hour and a half.  When the beans are half cooked, season to taste with salt.   Add hot water to the pan as necessary to maintain enough liquid to cover the beans by a half inch to an inch.   

When the beans are cooked, remove the garlic cloves and the rosemary.  Set the beans aside (leave them in the cooking liquid) until ready to add them to the final dish.  You may cook the beans a day or so ahead if you like.  Cool and store the beans in their cooking liquid.  

Warm about 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large, wide sauté pan with straight sides or a Dutch oven set over medium heat.  Add the red onion, along with a pinch of salt, and sweat until very tender and  beginning to caramelize, reducing the heat if the onions begin to color before they are tender—about 10 to 15 minutes.  While the onions cook, mince two or three cloves of garlic.  When the onions are ready, add the garlic and pepper flakes and continue to cook until fragrant…a minute or two.  Add the greens to the pan (along with any water clinging to them) a handful at a time, turning with tongs to coat in the oil, and adding another handful as the previous one begins to collapse.  Season with salt (be careful—the sausage will be salty and the greens will continue to collapse) and continue to cook until the greens are just tender.

While the greens cook, bring a large pot of water to the boil.  Salt the water generously (about a teaspoon per quart).  Drop the orecchiette into the boiling salted water and cook until al dente.  Drain, toss with a bit of olive oil and set aside in a warm spot. 

When the greens are tender, add the chicken stock along with the beans and their cooking liquid.  Bring the broth to a simmer.  Add the meatballs to the simmering liquid. Continue to simmer until the meatballs are just cooked through…about five to seven minutes (cut one open to make sure it is cooked through).  Taste the broth and adjust the seasoning.

Divide the warm pasta among warmed shallow soup bowls.  Divide the beans, greens, sausage and broth among the bowls.  Drizzle with olive oil if you like and top with freshly grated parmesan.  Serve immediately….with crusty bread, biscuits or cornbread.

Serves 4 to 6, depending on appetites.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Winter Squash Soup to Welcome in the New Year

I love the quiet peace of New Year’s Day.  I almost never sleep in, but I did today.  When I did finally get up, I took my time moving through my morning.  The luxury of puttering, pondering and collecting myself after the race through the holidays was such a gift.   In keeping with the still, slowness of the day, I sat down to a bowl of New Year’s Eve party leftovers for my lunch…a simple roasted winter squash soup. 

Recipes for this soup abound...but there are basically just two ways to make it.  The first—and, I would venture to say, most common—is to add peeled and cut up squash to a pot of aromatic vegetables (onions, garlic…sometimes leek…possibly celery and carrot) that have been softened in some butter or olive oil.  Stock—or water—is added, and then the whole mixture is simmered to tenderness and then puréed.  The second—and, I would argue, superior—is to roast the squash prior to adding it to the soup pot.  Roasting winter squash concentrates its flavor and enhances its natural sweetness.  This second method produces a squash soup with a slightly darker color and a rich, sweet flavor. 

The recipe I’m sharing is my adaptation of Michael Chiarello’s recipe (from The Tra Vigne Cookbook).  Not only does his recipe call for roasting the squash, he accentuates the sweetness of the squash even more by giving it a generous swab of butter and honey before it goes into the oven.  His recipe directs you to halve the squash, remove the seeds and then brush the cut surfaces with the honey-butter (any extra is drizzled into the seed cavities).  I prefer to peel the squash, chunk it up and toss it in a bowl with the honey-butter before spreading it in the roasting pan (making sure to scrape out all the honey-butter left in the bowl).  

I think I get more surface caramelization of the squash this way (and thus more flavor)...

…and I also avoid the messy job of scooping the flesh of the squash out of the sticky, roasted skins.  If I’m using a difficult to peel squash (like an acorn), I return to his original method and scoop the flesh after baking. 

When you are correcting the final seasoning of the soup, don’t neglect the addition of a pinch of nutmeg.  You don’t need a lot, but it is astonishing how just a tiny amount of nutmeg will enhance and lift the natural flavor of the squash.   

Like all puréed soups, squash soup is improved by a simple garnish of some kind.  The soup may be drizzled with crème fraiche (or sour cream, thinned with a bit of milk), 

browned butter or simply a small amount of olive oil.  A sautéed vegetable (or fruit)—sliced mushrooms, a small dice of squash, apples or pears—would make a beautiful and delicious addition.  My preference is to add something with a bit of crunch…tiny garlic crouton, toasted nuts (walnuts, hazelnuts, pine nuts, etc.) or toasted pumpkin seeds.  But if you don’t want to take the time for any of these things, your soup will still be delicious. 

If you have never sampled winter squash soup, you should make a new year’s resolution to make a batch.  It is super versatile—as appropriate for a simple lunch as it is as a first course at an elegant dinner party.   And although I have never tracked such things, I feel confident in stating that, with the exception of chocolate desserts, this soup is the single most often special-requested dish for my private dinner service.  Almost everyone is familiar with it; and among those who have sampled it, it seems to be universally loved.  I think you could even say it has acquired the status of a modern-day comfort food…which is probably another reasons that it was the perfect thing for my lunch today. 

Cream of Roasted Winter Squash

3 T. unsalted butter
1 1/2 T. honey
2 1/2 to 3 lbs. Winter Squash (I prefer Butternut, but any winter squashAcorn, Kabocha, Hubbard, etc...or a mix—will be delicious)
1 head of garlic
1/4 cup olive oil or unsalted butter
2 medium onions, chopped (about 1 lb. total weight)
2 T. chopped rosemary
1 1/2 to 2 quarts chicken stock or canned low-salt broth
1 cup heavy cream (optional)
Salt, Pepper and Nutmeg

Preheat oven to 375°.  Combine the butter and the honey in a small saucepan.  Heat until the butter is melted and the mixture is homogenous.  Set aside.

If using butternut squash or other easy to peel squash, peel and seed the squash.  Cut into large chunks.  Place in a bowl and drizzle with the honey/butter mixture.  Toss to coat and season with salt & pepper.  Spread on a rimmed baking sheet. 

If using Acorn, Carnival…or other difficult to peel squash, halve the squash.  Scoop out the seeds and discard.  Place the squash on a baking sheet and season with salt and pepper and brush with the butter and honey mixture—drizzle any extra into the cavities.

Slice the top off of the head of garlic.  Place the garlic on a square of aluminum foil and drizzle the cut surface with a bit of olive oil.  Wrap the foil up and around the garlic; twist the foil to form a sealed “packet”.  Place the sheet pan of squash and the packet of garlic in the oven.  Roast until the squash is tender and the garlic is soft—about 40 minutes for the garlic and an hour or so for the squash.  (If you have peeled and cut the squash, turn the chunks occasionally to make sure they are  caramelizing evenly and aren't burning.)  

While the squash roasts, heat the butter or olive oil in a large saucepan/stock pot over medium heat.  Add the onions and herbs.  Sweat until very tender, translucent and beginning to caramelize (this will take a half hour or more).   Add 6 cups of stock.  If necessary, scoop the flesh of the squash.  If the squash was peeled before roasting, deglaze the sheet pan with a bit of water or broth.  Squeeze the garlic out of its papery skins and add it to the pot along with the roasted squash flesh and any pan deglazings.  Bring the soup to a boil and simmer gently for 10 to 15 minutes to allow the flavors to blend.  Purée the soup, adding more stock if it is too thick.   Pass through a fine meshed strainer for the most velvety texture.  If a richer soup is desired, add the heavy cream.  Season to taste with salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Serve hot.  Makes 2 1/2 to 3 quarts soup.

(Recipe adapted from The Tra Vigne Cookbook by Michael Chiarello)

  • Substitute sage for rosemary
  • Follow Suzanne Goin’s lead in Sunday Suppers at Lucques and add a chopped head of fennel to the onions, along with a tablespoon of fennel seed.  Substitute fresh thyme for the rosemary.

Topped with toasted pumpkin seeds
 and served with sliced apples and brown soda bread.