Friday, February 26, 2016

What's in Season?... Turnips

When I flipped to the February drawing for my 2016 "Twelve Months of Fresh Food" calendar I was surprised to see turnips.  

It is not that turnips are not in season right now...they are in fact in season in their capacity as a winter storage vegetable.  My surprise was mostly because in recent years I have come to think of them more often as a young, tender root from the farmers' market during the cooler early and waning days of the growing season.  In that capacity, they are delicious raw (in a salad)......or lightly braised in butter (as a vegetable side). 
But it was nice to be reminded of them as one of the wonderful root vegetables that make up the winter pantry.  In that role, their pleasantly bitter edge can add depth and complexity to winter soups and stews as well as vegetable purées, gratins and side dishes.   I was glad to have a reason to purchase some this month (we all get into our own little culinary ruts sometimes...). 

Like most storage vegetables, you have to be careful when you purchase them to make sure you don't get a hold of a specimen that has been improperly stored...or stored too long.  Storage turnips will almost always look a bit scuffed or marred...but they shouldn't be deeply scratched or gouged (they will decay rapidly where the skin has been broken).  They should be firm and heavy for their size as well.  If they feel light they will be dry and pithy or spongy.  Alice Waters in her book Chez Panisse Vegetables mentions that you should avoid storage turnips that have begun to re-sprout as they will have become woody.  I would imagine that they would also be excessively bitter at this stage. When you get them home, store them in an open plastic bag in the vegetable drawer of your refrigerator. 

For my winter turnip recipe I'm sharing a Spicy Moroccan Roasted Chicken dish.  The recipe is an adaptation of a Cornish Hen recipe that I have been making (and teaching) for years.  

I had a couple of reasons for changing it.  For one thing, I like Cornish Hens...but I love chicken thighs.  But more importantly, the chicken thigh version is a bit more streamlined...and my goal in posting this recipe is to encourage people to try turnips.  Having to truss, baste, carve, etc. might put people off.  I am including the adjustments for the Cornish Hen version in the notes at the bottom of the recipe though, for those who want to try it. 

In addition to chicken thighs, turnips and a lively blend of Moroccan spices (cumin, coriander, caraway, paprika and cayenne), this dish includes sweet winter squash and cipollini onions—both of which temper the heat of the spices...and any bitterness in the turnips...nicely.  I add more sweetness by serving it with a cinnamon scented couscous studded with golden raisins.  If you are in the mood for a lighter meal, a fluff of arugula dressed with lemon and olive oil would make a great side too.  If you have never liked...or never tried...turnips, you should give them a chance in this recipe.  They add great flavor...without being overpowering.

Once you've tried the turnips in this dish, you will probably want to try them in other ways.  You might sample them in a hearty and traditional Guinness stew...perfect for St. Patrick's Day (which is just around the corner)...or in a rich and creamy gratin with sweet potatoes and Yukon Gold potatoes.   Whether you try these...or some, I think you will soon find that there are many ways to prepare this oft neglected vegetable of the winter months.

Moroccan-Spiced Chicken with Butternut Squash & Turnips

1 1/2 lbs. chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat (or use legs...or a mixture of thighs and legs)
About 2 t. kosher salt, divided
1 t. coriander seed
1 t. cumin seed
1/2 t. caraway seed
1 1/2 t. paprika
1/4 t. cayenne pepper
3 T. olive oil
Zest of one lemon
1 1/4 lb. butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1-inch chunks
3 medium turnips (about 10 to 12 oz.), peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
6 oz. cipollini onions (8 to 12, depending on their size...look for 1 to 1 1/2 inch), peeled
Freshly ground black pepper
Coarsely chopped cilantro
1 lemon, cut into wedges
Plain yogurt to serve, optional

If time permits, salt the chicken 12 to 24 hours ahead.  Use up to 3/4 t. of kosher salt per pound of chicken...I find a teaspoon of kosher salt for 1 1/2 lbs of chicken to be about right.  Cover and refrigerate.

Preheat the oven to 450°. 

Place the spices in a dry sauté pan over medium-high heat, shaking occasionally, until fragrant.  Transfer to a plate to cool.  Grind in a spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle.  (If whole spices are not available, just use ground spices.)  Combine the toasted spices with the paprika and cayenne in a small bowl with the olive oil and lemon zest; set aside. 

In a large bowl, toss the vegetables with a teaspoon of kosher salt and pepper to taste.  Pepper the chicken and add it to the bowl.  Drizzle the spicy oil over all and toss until everything is well coated.  A wide rubber spatula or your hands work great for this.  Spread the vegetables and chicken (skin side up) on a lightly oiled rimmed sheet pan, distributing everything evenly.   

Place the pan in the oven and roast, stirring the vegetables and basting the chicken with the pan juices two or three times as they roast.  Because all ovens are different, you will have to watch carefully to make sure that 450° is the right temperature for your oven.  You want everything to be cooking at an active sizzle.  If after 20 minutes nothing is happening, increase the temperature by 25°...if things are snapping and popping aggressively...or smoking, reduce the oven temperature by 25°.  Continue to roast until the thighs are cooked through (juices should run clear) and the vegetables are tender and golden brown—about 45 minutes.

Transfer the chicken and vegetables to a platter or individual serving plates and scatter the cilantro over all.  Serve with lemon wedges and a dollop of yogurt on the side, if desired.  Accompany with cinnamon and raisin couscous...or steamed basmati rice...or, for a lighter meal, serve with arugula dressed with lemon and olive oil.  Serves 4

Variation for Cornish Hens:  Replace the chicken thighs with two 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 lb. Cornish Hens.  Reduce the oil in the spice mixture by a tablespoon and add a tablespoon of honey and a tablespoon of lemon juice to the mixture.  Season the hens (12 to 24 hours ahead, if time).  Stuff a quarter of a lemon in each of the cavities and tie the legs together with cotton twine.  Toss the vegetables with salt and pepper, add the Cornish hens to the bowl and pour the spice mixture over all, tossing to coat everything thoroughly.  Place the hens and vegetables in a shallow baking dish just large enough to hold the hens and vegetables in a snug single layer.  Start the birds in a 475° oven.  Roast, basting the birds occasionally with the pan juices.  After 20 minutes or so (when the birds have begun to take on a deep color), reduce the oven temperature to 400° and add 1/2 cup of water to the roasting pan.  Continue to roast until the birds are fully cooked (juices should run clear) and the vegetables are tender and golden—another 20 to 30 minutes.  (If at any time the pan juices become dry, add more water.)  Keep the vegetables warm while you rest the birds (at least 10 minutes).  Cut the birds in half and serve one half per person.

Printable Version

Cornish Hen variation...

Cinnamon Couscous with Golden Raisins

1 c. quick-cooking couscous
1/2 t. kosher salt
1/4 t. cinnamon
2 T. unsalted butter
1 1/4 c. boiling water
1/2 c. golden raisins, plumped in boiling water and drained well

Place the couscous in a medium sized bowl and toss with the salt and cinnamon.  Add the butter.  Pour the boiling water over, give it a stir and cover with plastic wrap.  Let stand for 10 minutes.  Remove the plastic, add the raisins and fluff with a fork. Serve immediately.   Serves 4

(Couscous recipe adapted from One Good Dish by David Tanis)

Leftovers for lunch....

Friday, February 19, 2016

Classic Quiche Lorraine

I love quiche. From the first time my mother made it, I've been hooked. There's just something about it...with its creamy custard encased in a flaky crust...studded with salty and savory morsels... It manages to hit most of my favorite taste and texture buttons.

For some reason my mother never varied from Quiche Lorraine...that classic with nothing but egg custard, bacon and, more often than not, cheese. I, on the other hand, have branched way out from this original....adding to the custard fillings varying from just caramelized asparagus and Gruyè kale and ham....and beyond.... Quiche is one of my favorite blank canvases (right up there with pasta and pizza crust) upon which to improvise with the bounty of each season. 

The variety of possibility is probably why it has been years since I made that original favorite of my childhood. But recently, it came to mind when I was putting together some food to take to a friend. It struck me as just the thing for a "make ahead" weekend breakfast dish: bacon & eggs... bread... Perfect. All I needed to add was a fruit salad....and maybe some muffins or a quick bread (I think you should always have something sweet with your breakfast...). And as I was making it, suddenly I wanted to make another for myself. So I did. We had it for dinner...and then enjoyed the leftovers for lunch. It was even better than I remembered it.

The recipe I use is still the same one my mother used. It is from her 1955 copy of The Good Housekeeping Cookbook and is dubbed "Superb Swiss Cheese Pie". Quiche Lorraine is included as a subheading...but at the time, I imagine Quiche Lorraine was not widely enough known to warrant a stand-alone title. But, title aside, classic Quiche Lorraine it is. It even uses the classic French custard ratio of 2 eggs for every cup of cream. 

During my lifetime quiche has become standard American fare. It had become so popular and ubiquitous by the early eighties that when a satire about what constituted American manhood was published, it was called Real Men Don't Eat Quiche. (It would be interesting to consider what food would be substituted for quiche in the title of a similar book published in our current food climate....) Fortunately, we have come to the place today that—barring a dietary restriction of some kind—I think just about everyone enjoys quiche. And if it happens that you have never had this simple classic version of custard, bacon and cheese from the Lorraine, you should definitely give it a try. It makes a perfect breakfast... or lunch... or dinner.... 

Quiche Lorraine

1/2 lb. bacon, cut crosswise in 1/4-inch strips
4 oz. coarsely grated Emmental or Gruyère
4 large eggs
2 c. heavy cream (or 1 c. milk and 1 c. heavy cream)
3/4 t. salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Pinch of nutmeg

1 10- to 10 1/2-inch tart shell, blind baked (Pâte Brisée recipe below)

Place the bacon in a heavy sauté pan or skillet and render over medium-low heat until crisp...stirring regularly.  Remove to a plate lined with several layers of paper towels using a slotted spoon. 

Place the eggs in a medium-sized bowl and whisk briefly to break up. Whisk in the cream until smooth.  Season with salt, pepper and a pinch of nutmeg; set aside.

Build the quiche:  Place the baked tart shell on a baking sheet and scatter the bacon and cheese over the bottom of the crust.  Slowly pour the custard in. 

Be careful, all of the custard may not be necessary...any that overflows will burn when the quiche bakes.  Transfer the baking pan to a preheated 375° oven.

Bake the quiche until the filling is set (the tip of a knife slipped into the center should come out clean), slightly puffed and the surface is a light golden color—about 30 to 35 minutes.  Serves 8.

Printable Version

(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 400° oven for 25 to 30 minutes, pressing down on the weights occasionally with an oven mitt if it begins to puff up. When the pastry colors on the edges and is baked through, remove the foil and weights and continue baking until the pastry turns a golden brown...another 3 to 5 minutes.  Let cool before filling.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Homemade Pop-Tarts

For many years I have wanted to include homemade "Pop-Tarts" in a baking class.  This didn't seem like it would be a difficult thing to do, recipes for a homemade version of this processed American breakfast treat abound.  Furthermore, although they were not the sort of thing my mother allowed in the house on a regular basis when I was growing up, I loved them and maintained a taste for them far into my early adult years.  I'm not quite sure when they disappeared from my cupboard, but even so they have continued to hold a fond spot in my taste memory.  Last winter I finally decided to add them to an updated version of my breakfast breads class.

After committing to teach them, I went out and purchased a refresh my memory....  I hadn't had a "real" Pop-Tart in years and I figured if I was going to be making them I should at least have the "original" in mind.  I admit I was astonished by how much I disliked them.  All I can say is that tastes change.  (I don't really think the Pop-Tart has changed).  I found them to be bland and flavorless...  But, I had already pledged to make them in a class, so I decided to make the Pop-Tart of my memory...a sweet, cookie-like pastry enveloping a fruity filling—more of a jam filled giant cookie really, than a pastry—basically what a Pop-Tart was meant to be.

I mentioned at the first that recipes for Pop-Tarts seemed to the cookbooks...    But when I actually got down to the task of looking at the recipes that were available, I found that there was really only one recipe.  Everyone was using pie dough (pâte brisée).  In fact, most were using the exact same recipe for pie dough.  This, in my opinion, is all wrong.  If you have ever tasted a Pop-Tart, you will know that the "pastry" is not a flaky pastry at is much more similar to what the French call sablé and what Americans call a sugar cookie crust.   It should be tender and crumbly...not flaky.

So, I set about to find a recipe for a tender and crumbly, cookie-like crust for my Pop-Tarts.  I finally settled on a variation of a classic Eastern European sweet dough that is often dubbed 3-2-1 dough—so called because it is made up of 300 g. flour, 200 g. butter and 100 g. sugar.  The liquid is usually simply 1 whole egg, with the possible addition of a small amount of cold water to help bring the dough together.   In testing the recipe for Pop-Tarts, I tried this original version, but was unhappy with the way the dough puffed when made with a whole egg.  I used egg yolks and heavy cream instead.  (My recipe is adapted from Kaffeehaus by Rick Rodgers.)

In my final version of the crust, I used half cake flour and half all purpose flour.  The purpose of this is to recreate the lower protein percentage of pastry flour—which is about 9%.  I would not recommend using all all-purpose flour to make this dough.  The resulting tarts are a bit hard and heavy.  I would also not recommend using all cake flour as the tarts are too fragile.  If you keep pastry flour on hand (I do not), by all means, feel free to use it.

My insistence on the types of flour you should use might lead you to believe that these tarts are a bit persnickety.  And the fact of the matter is, they are.  In the course of making many batches of them I discovered that they had a disconcerting tendency to spring a leak in the oven.  When made with the oft-used pie crust-style crust, the jam leaks out the sides (at the seams).  If you look around at some of the bloggers who have made jam filled Pop-Tarts, you will see that there is almost always jam all over the baking sheets.

Small pop-tarts tend to crack and ooze in the oven...

...but it's nothing that a little frosting won't fix.
While my 3-2-1 dough tarts didn't leak out the sides, they occasionally did split on top.  If you are going to frost the Pop-Tarts, this is not an issue at all.  But if you are not, then you don't want them to burst.  In the end, I discovered a list of conditions under which they will not split...and conditions under which they almost always will.  I have listed these in the recipe and the notes at the bottom of the recipe.  It is worth noting that one of the reasons for my preference for an all purpose and cake flour blend was that all of one or the other seemed to create conditions under which the tarts wanted to split open.

There are of course fillings for Pop-Tarts other than jam.  The most popular seems to be brown sugar-cinnamon...probably because it never splits or oozes.  Brown sugar-cinnamon was my favorite flavor of the commercial varieties, but I was never able to get the homemade filling adjusted to my liking.  One of my favorite fillings is Nutella....and I have a suspicion that frangipane or ganache would be delicious too (although I never tried either of these).  Nutella, by the way, never oozes in the oven....

You may be wondering if my homemade Pop-Tarts will stand up to the toaster.  I'll be honest and admit that I never bothered to toast the commercial ones...I always ate them straight out of the little silver bag...but I did test my homemade ones in the toaster.  I found that if they have not cracked...and have not been frosted...they are just sturdy enough to take a quick warm up in the toaster.   They should not be toasted if they have been frosted since the powdered sugar frosting will melt (and most likely drip) in the toaster.   

Because I was testing my Pop-Tarts around Valentine's Day I decided to make a few Pop-Tarts in the shape of a heart.  As it turns out, this has become my favorite way to make them.  These days, Pop-Tarts seem a bit too sweet for breakfast.  They are far more suited to an afternoon snack with a cup of coffee...or tea....and for this purpose the traditional size seems a bit large.  Moreover, the hearts make an extra special treat to give in honor of the day.  Individually wrapped with a festive bow, they can be given to a friend...or tucked in a briefcase or lunch box.  They are a simple and sweet way to tell someone you love that they are special to you. 


150 g. all-purpose flour (1 1/4 c.)
150 g. cake flour (1 1/2 c., sifted)
100 g. sugar (1/2 c.)
1/2 t. salt
200 g. unsalted butter (14 T.), at a cool room temperature—should be malleable but not super soft
2 egg yolks
30 g. heavy cream (2 T.)
1 egg white, beaten until broken up and frothy
3/4  to 1 c. well-chilled jam (choose a good quality all fruit jam—jams made with sugar tend to cause the Pop-Tart to rupture during baking)
1 or 2 recipes of powdered sugar glaze, optional

Ingredients for half of a recipe...
Combine the first four ingredients and whisk to blend.  Cut the butter into 1/4-inch slices and add, tossing with the dry ingredients to coat.  Rub the butter (preferably using a stand mixer, but you may also use your hands) into the dry ingredients until the mixture looks like coarse meal 

and holds together when squeezed tightly

(the “clump” produced will immediately fall apart into “meal” if lightly pressed).  

Combine the yolks and cream and drizzle over the butter-flour mixture.  If working by hand, fluff with your fingers until clumps form, then turn out onto a lightly floured counter and knead just until the dough comes together.  If using the stand mixer, run on low/med-low until the mixture comes together into clumps.  

Turn out of the mixer bowl and knead once or twice to bring it together.  If the room is cool, the dough will be firm, but malleable and may be used right away.  If the room is warm, chill until cool and firm….but not rock hard.  If the dough has been made ahead and chilled and is rock hard, let it sit at room temperature until it is malleable.

Working with a third of the dough, roll out the dough into a large, thin (scant 1/8-inch) 

rectangle that is at least 8-inches by 12-inches.  It will probably be larger than this….it is important that it not be too thick.  Brush off the excess flour and using a pastry wheel, trim the dough to the aforementioned 8-inches by 12-inches.  Cut this large rectangle into eight 4- by 3-inch rectangles.  Take half of the remaining dough and press the scraps into this fresh piece.  Roll the resulting chunk of dough out as for the first third.  Repeat with the remaining piece of dough combined with the scraps from the second rolling.  If you have a lot of dough left, roll it out and cut as many 3- by 4-inch rectangles as possible.  You will have anywhere from 24 to 28 rectangles, depending on how thin you rolled the dough.

Half of the rectangles will be “bottoms” and half will be “tops”.  Spread the bottoms on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  Prick the tops in a decorative fashion with a fork.  Brush the bottoms with the egg white.  

Place a level tablespoonful of jam on each bottom and use a small spatula (or your fingers) to spread the jam out to within a scant half inch of the edges.  

One at a time, carefully lay the tops over the jam-covered bottoms and press evenly to seal. 

If you like, use a chef’s knife or pastry wheel to trim the pastries so that they are uniform and even. 

Transfer the sheet pan of sealed and trimmed pastries to the freezer and freeze until hard all the way through—at least an hour.

When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350°.  Place 4 to 6 pastries at a time on room temperature, parchment-lined baking sheets, spacing evenly (you don’t want to crowd the sheets).   Bake until the pastries are just beginning to turn golden brown on the edges and the tops are set—about 20 minutes, rotating the pan from front to back, half way through the baking time. Briefly cool on the baking sheets before transferring to wire racks to cool completely. 

If you like, when the Pop-Tarts are cool, frost or drizzle with powdered sugar glaze.  Makes 12 to 14 Pop-Tarts.

Powdered sugar glaze:  Place 1 cup (115 g.) powdered sugar in a small bowl.  Add 4 t. of milk and 1/2 t. of lemon juice and mix until smooth.  You may replace the lemon with vanilla…but I found this too be a bit too sweet for my taste.

Notes & Variations:
  • The pastry is easy to work with if your room is cool. If you are working in a warm room, you will have to keep any portion of dough that you aren’t working with in the refrigerator to keep it cool. 
  • Occasionally the tarts will crack on top when baking. If this happens, once they are cool, simply frost with the powdered sugar glaze to cover up the fissure. While not perfect, they still taste great. It was my experience that red fruits like strawberries and plums tended to cause the tarts to crack most often. Blueberry on the other hand didn’t tend to act this way. Nutella and other paste like fillings will not crack or ooze at all. Baking the tarts from frozen discourages cracking. 
  • You can of course make Pop-Tarts in any shape or size you like.  A good size for a "mini" Pop-Tart is 2 1/2- by 3-inches.  You will need a level half tablespoon of jam for this size. For my heart shaped Pop-Tarts, I used a cutter that measures 3 1/2-inches across.  This holds 1 1/2 to 2 level teaspoons of jam. These smaller tarts only need to bake for about 15 to 16 minutes. Be warned that the mini Pop-Tart (when made with jam) will split and ooze about 75% of the time. The heart almost always oozes a bit. But in both cases, frosting covers the fissure so that no one but you will be the wiser. One recipe makes about 18 to 20 hearts or mini Pop-Tarts.
Mini Pop-Tarts
3 1/2-inch heart cutter

  • The recipe halves very make just 6 or 7 regular Pop-Tarts or 8 to 10 mini Pop-Tarts or hearts. 
  • My oven has unusually strong bottom heat, so when I bake these I use insulated baking sheets. If you have a similar problem and don’t have insulated sheets, simply stack one baking sheet on top of another to create an insulated-style sheet.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Clear Polish Borsch with Mushroom Dumplings (Uszka)...and a bonus recipe for Mushroom Tortellini in Sage Browned Butter

I have so many good memories of my days working with my friend Nancy at the Culinary Center of Kansas City, but one of the things I enjoyed doing the most was the series of "Bistro Dinners" we prepared together.  We usually cooked 2 or 3 Bistro Dinners a month.  These dinners were open to the public and were served at long family-style tables.  They were always fun and festive.  Generally, we prepared four courses...and there was always a particular theme.  We did special holiday themed dinners...regional and seasonal dinners...and ethnic dinners of all kinds.  Because we covered so much food territory during the preparation of these meals, I was exposed to a lot of foods and traditions that I might not have ever experienced otherwise...Nancy created some very fun and interesting menus.

I was reminded of all of this recently when I was bouncing ideas off of Nancy for an upcoming Valentine's Day dinner class.  Nancy suggested that I resurrect a Polish Borsch that we had served at a Christmas bistro dinner.  I remembered this particular dish because it was so elegant and beautiful....a clear, deep red broth with tiny mushroom dumplings...called uszka...floating in it.  And even though this dish is traditionally served in Poland for Christmas Eve, I agreed that it would be just the thing as a first course for Valentine's Day. 

I have not altered the broth recipe that we used at all (I think it was from Saveur Magazine...but I'm not really sure).  It is simple and delicious...and very easy to make.  Even so, I do have a few pointers to share:  First, the seemingly large amount of lemon juice is correct.  As I looked at the recipe again, I was dubious.  But the acidity of the lemon sets the deep, bright color...and, just as importantly, balances the sweet, earthiness of the beets.  I have seen recipes that use vinegar instead, but I can't personally vouch for these.  If you would like to try vinegar, use half as much. 

Secondly, keep all of the vegetables in very large chunks....or whole...and don't boil the broth hard.  Cutting the vegetables into small pieces and/or cooking at a hard boil will make for a cloudy broth.  It isn't really even necessary to boil the broth.  After it comes to an initial simmer, it should just be kept at what I would call a bare simmer.  An instant read thermometer will read somewhere between 190° and 200°.  Then, if time allows, let the broth sit and cool at room temperature for a couple of hours.  Better yet, chill the broth—before straining the solids out—over night.  When made this way, the final flavor of the broth will be full and developed. 

Finally, even if for some reason you decide not to make the amazing little mushroom dumplings that are traditionally served in this soup, don't leave out the dried porcini when making the broth.  They add a lot of flavor.  To be honest, I can't imagine making this soup without the dumplings...they add so much.  And since making the mushroom filling involves soaking and simmering dried mushrooms, I add their liquid to the soup too.... 

The mushroom filling I used in the dumplings is a mixture of cooked dried porcinis and fresh criminis.  I have seen recipes that use all fresh or all dried, but I like a mix.  Using mostly fresh saves a bit of money....and using a small amount of dried amplifies the flavor.  A lot of recipes insist on all porcini (fresh and/or dried), but I have seen more than one recipe that says the dumplings are traditionally made with whatever mushroom is available.  No matter what kind of mushroom you use, cook them until all the moisture has been released and has evaporated.  If the filling is runny or wet, the dough will become soggy as it leaches the moisture out of the filling.  The filling includes bread crumbs to help absorb any moisture that might remain.

The dough that is traditionally used to make the dumplings is very similar to fresh Italian pasta.  In fact, the dumplings are basically the same thing as tortellini.  Italian noodle dough is made of eggs and flour.  The traditional polish dough substitutes water (sometimes milk) and a little oil for some of the egg.  Because I like the all egg dough I usually make, that's what I use when I make the uszka.  If you don't want to make the dough at all, you may use purchased wonton wrappers instead.

If you have never made pasta before, check out my post on fresh spinach pasta from several years ago.  As noted at the bottom of that recipe, the method for plain pasta is the same.  The only difference is that the sheets of dough are rolled more thinly—you should be able to see shapes and patterns through the sheet of dough—and the dough is cut and filled immediately after rolling into sheets (whereas pasta sheets that will be cut into ribbons are allowed to sit out until they lose some of their moisture and begin to feel somewhat leathery).

While I was experimenting with the uszka, I decided to make a quick little lunch one day...serving the uszka Italian style.  It was so good I wanted to share it here (although you can find recipes just like this all over the web).  I simply sauced some of the cooked uszka...more appropriately called mushroom tortellini in this some browned butter with fried sage and lemon.  I topped the dish with a mix of grated Parmesan and Pecorino. It was delicious and would be worth making the uszka simply to have them like this.  Just like the Borsch, I think it would make a wonderful first course for a dinner with friends.

Barszcz z Uszkami
Borsch with Mushroom Dumplings (Uszka)

4 large beets (800g), peeled and quartered
1 large carrot (120g), peeled
1 parsnip (120g), peeled
1 medium leek, white part only
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup lemon juice
4 allspice berries
10 black peppercorns
1/4 oz. dried porcini mushrooms
2 cups chicken stock
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
36 to 48 uszka

Put the beets, carrot, parsnip, leek, bay leaves, lemon juice, allspice, peppercorns, porcini, and chicken stock in a large pot, and add 8 cups of cold water. Bring to a gentle simmer over medium heat, then reduce heat to medium-low, and barely simmer for about 2 hours (the temperature should hover around 190°). Remove from heat and let sit for 2 hours.  If time, chill overnight to allow it to steep even further.  Strain, and discard the solids.  Add water to make 6 cups broth.

Return beet stock to the pot and bring back to a simmer over low heat. Correct the seasoning with salt, pepper and more lemon as necessary. Place 6 cooked uszka in each of 6 to 8 individual soup plates, and pour the hot borsch over the uszka.  Serve immediately.

(Mushroom Dumplings)

1/4 oz. dried porcini mushrooms, soaked overnight a cup of water
2 to 3 T. butter
1 small yellow onion (4 to 5 oz.), peeled and finely minced
6 oz. fresh mushrooms (crimini, white button, etc.), finely chopped in the
food processor
1/4 c. fresh white bread crumbs
2 T. minced flat leaf parsley
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
Fresh pasta dough or purchased Wonton wrappers

Transfer porcini to a small pot, then strain soaking liquid through a coffee filter (or damp paper towel) into the same pot. Simmer over medium-low heat, adding water as necessary, until porcini are tender, about 2 hours. Remove porcini from the pot, finely mince, and set aside.  Strain the cooking liquid into the Borsch.

Melt 2 T. butter in a medium skillet set over medium heat. Add onions and sauté until tender and golden, about 10 to 15 minutes...add the remaining tablespoon of butter if the pan seems dry.  Add the fresh mushrooms and minced porcini and continue to cook until the liquid given up by the mushrooms has evaporated and the mixture begins to sizzle—about 10 minutes. Stir in bread crumbs and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Set aside to cool.  (The filling may be made a day or two ahead.  Cover and chill.)

If using fresh pasta, roll out dough on a lightly floured surface or using your pasta machine (as described in the recipe below) until very thin (it should be thin enough to see shapes/patterns through it). Cut into 50 or so 1 3/4- to 2-inch squares, and cover with plastic wrap to prevent the squares from drying out. (If using wonton wrappers, trim so they are 2-inch squares.) 

Place a scant teaspoon of filling in the center of each square, lightly dampen the edges with water, then fold bottom corner to top corner, pressing gently from the top down the sides to remove any air pockets. At this point they should look like triangles. Fold the right and left corners over each other, and pinch them between your thumb and forefinger so they hold together. Set the uszka on a semolina dusted sheet pan, making sure they aren't touching, as you form them.

The uszka may be cooked right away, or they may be stored for up to 24 hours under refrigeration.  To store, allow them to dry slightly, uncovered, at room temperature, for about an hour.  Then, cover them loosely with a linen or paper towel and wrap the sheet pan tightly in with plastic wrap and transfer to the refrigerator. 

Cook uszka in batches in a large pot of gently boiling salted water over high heat, until the pasta is al dente...about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the pot with a slotted spoon, transferring them directly to serving bowls or placing them on a lightly oiled baking sheet where they may be kept, lightly covered with plastic wrap, until ready to serve.  Chill if not serving within an hour of cooking. 

Note:  Although not ideal, the uszka may also be frozen for up to a week.  Place the sheets with the uskza in the freezer and when they are frozen hard, transfer to ziplock freezer bags and seal.  When ready to cook, spread them on a semolina dusted sheet and let them thaw, uncovered.  This will only take about 20 minutes.  Cook as for fresh.

Fresh Pasta:
1 1/2 c. (165 to 175 grams) all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
2 large eggs (100 to 110 grams)
Semolina flour

Mound the flour on a counter top and make a well in the center.  Crack the eggs into the well and break them up with a fork.  Gradually begin incorporating flour from the walls of the well into the eggs.  When the walls start to collapse, begin using a bench scraper to cut the flour and liquid ingredients together.  At first the dough will seem an unmanageable, shaggy mass.  Begin to work the dough until you have a cohesive mass that you can knead without it sticking to your fingers.  This initial formation of the dough will take about three minutes.  If at the end of this time there is unincorporated flour remaining, sift it to remove any bits of dough.  Set this sifted flour aside to be used for the remainder of the kneading process and wash your hands to remove any caked on bits. 

Continue to knead the dough (adding flour if the dough is sticky) for 10 minutes until the dough is satiny, smooth and elastic—with no trace of stickiness.  Wrap in plastic and let rest for 30 minutes to 3 hours.

Alternatively, place the eggs and flour in a mixer fitted with a dough hook.  Begin to mix on the lowest speed.  When the dough begins to come together, increase the speed to medium and knead for 10 minutes.

To roll out the dough using a pasta machine, work with half of the dough at a time.  Flatten the dough into a thick disk and flour lightly.  Starting with the widest setting, pass the dough through the rollers six to eight times or until the dough firms up, folding it in thirds each time and turning the dough so an open end feeds into the roller.  Continue to lightly flour the dough as you work.  Set the rollers at the next, narrower setting and pass the dough through two or three times or until the dough is almost the width of the roller, folding in half each time and passing through the rollers folded edge first.  Set the rollers for the next, narrower setting and pass the dough through, but do not fold it.  Run the dough through at each successively narrower setting, until the desired thickness is achieved. 

(Pasta recipe adapted from The Splendid Table by Lynne Rossetto Kasper)

Note:  This recipe makes almost twice as much dough as you need to make 50 uszka...I would have written the recipe for half quantities, but this leaves no wiggle room for differences in how people roll out dough.  I would prefer not to cut it so close.   

Mushroom Tortellini in Sage Browned Butter

6 to 8 T. unsalted butter
20 to 24 small sage leaves
Lemon juice to taste
Salt & pepper
1 recipe uszka/mushroom tortellini (about 50...or 250 grams)
Freshly grated Parmesan and/or Pecorino

Place butter in a small saucepan and melt over medium heat.  As the butter continues to cook it will bubble and spatter.  When the spattering begins to subside, watch the butter very carefully—the milk solids will brown very quickly at this point.  When the solids have turned a nice golden brown, remove the pan from the heat.  Add the sage leaves and let sizzle briefly until they crisp.  Cool the pan down by dipping in a shallow pan of cool water, or by adding a few drops of cool water to the butter and swirl in.  Season the butter to taste with lemon juice and salt.  It will take a fair amount of both—don’t be timid.  Set aside while you cook the tortellini.

Drop the tortellini in a large pot of gently boiling salted water.  Cook until the pasta is al dente...about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove from the pot with a slotted spoon, transferring them to the pan of warm browned sage butter.  Toss to coat in the butter, adding a splash of the cooking water to extend the sauce if necessary.  Divide the tortellini among 4 plates.  Scatter some freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino over and serve right away.