Thursday, March 31, 2016

A Winter Pantry Pasta

Recently I was surprised to discover that I hadn't posted a new pasta recipe since last September (!).  To end the drought I thought I would share a recipe for a pasta that we had for the first time this past winter...and that we have enjoyed several times over the course of the season.  This particular dish was born of the intersection of the need to get dinner on the table quickly with the spare contents of my pantry.  To be honest, this situation isn't as rare as I would like.  Occasionally the results can be less than stellar....   But on this occasion, the results were delicious....and definitely worth repeating. 

It has been a while since I first made the dish, so my memory of the particulars of how this dish came to be is a bit fuzzy.  But even so, I'm confident I can recount the process fairly accurately.  The Brussels sprouts in my vegetable bin and the sausage in my freezer would have put me in mind of an unusual cabbage and sausage pasta that I enjoy.  I probably settled on making that dish (or something similar)...just replacing the cabbage with the sprouts...before I discovered that I didn't really have enough of the sprouts.  But having begun, I decided to forge ahead. 

I also happened to have some carrots and shallots (they are pretty standard items in my winter pantry....), so I decided to extend the sprouts with these.  This combination might sound far-fetched, but it really isn't.  The sweetness of the carrots and shallots plays very nicely with the pleasant bitterness of Brussels sprouts.  (I like this combination enough that I have posted it before in a vegetable ragout.) The final pasta dish...with its subtle interplay of bitter and sweet with the salty sausage...hits all the right notes....and has continued to do so every time I have made it.  

Of course I hope that people who read this post will try this particular pasta...   But I also hope that people will feel inspired anew to create and cook a meal on a night when they didn't think they had anything in the house to cook with.  Anyone who cooks on a regular basis can do this...particularly if you start out with a blank canvas as friendly and amenable as pasta.  The trick for preparing a good "sauce" lies in using good technique (something I strive to address with every blog post)...and in combining ingredients in a way that makes sense.  There were probably other vegetables in my produce drawer on the day when I first made this pasta...but as I describe above, I selected the ones I did in view of how they would interact with one another.  The process isn't just takes practice...and restraint.  

I suppose I should offer a bit of an apology for posting a winter dish now that spring has arrived....  I really ought to be posting something featuring asparagus...or peas...or radishes...  But there will be time enough for that in the days to come.  For now, before winter has entirely faded into distant memory, I wanted to be sure and record this pasta so that next winter...when the contents of my pantry have dwindled to a handful of Brussels sprouts, a couple of carrots and a frozen sausage...I will know exactly what to make for dinner.

Bow Ties with Brussels Sprouts, Carrots & Italian Sausage

4 oz. Italian Sausage, casing removed if necessary
1 1/2 T. olive oil
1 1/2 T. unsalted butter, divided
1 large shallot, peeled & sliced a scant 1/4-inch thick
4 oz. carrots, peeled, sliced a scant 1/4-inch thick on a short diagonal and then cut in 1/4-inch sticks
6 oz. Brussels sprouts, trimmed and thinly sliced
1 t. picked thyme, roughly chopped
1/8 t. fennel seed, crushed
8 oz. Farfalle
2 T. coarsely chopped Italian flat leaf parsley
freshly grated Parmesan

Place the olive oil in a large sauté pan. Crumble in the sausage.  Set over medium heat.  Cook the sausage, stirring occasionally, until it has lost its pinkness.  

Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a plate.  Add a half tablespoon of butter to the pan along with the shallots, carrots and a pinch of salt.  

Cook until just softened...about 5 to 6 minutes.  Add the thyme and fennel and cook until fragrant...about a minute. 

 Add the sprouts along with a pinch of salt, tossing to coat the sprouts in the fat.  Add a splash of water (2 to 4 T.), reduce the heat, cover and cook gently until the sprouts are just tender...about 5 to 7 minutes.  Toss in the sausage and set aside in a warm spot while you cook the pasta.

Drop the pasta into a pot of boiling, well-salted water and cook until al dente.  Scoop out a half cup or so of the pasta cooking water and reserve.  Drain the pasta and add to the pan with the vegetables along with the parsley and a tablespoon of butter.  Place the pan over very low heat and toss to combine...adding pasta water (and more butter, if you like) as necessary to moisten the pasta.  

Taste and correct the seasoning.  Serve, passing Parmesan separately.  Serves 2 generously.

Note:  This recipe is easily doubled.  Make sure you choose a sauté pan large enough to accommodate all of the vegetables.   If your pan is not large enough to accommodate the pasta too, simply toss the vegetables and pasta together in the pot the pasta was cooked in.  To do this, drain the pasta and return the pasta to the warm pot.  Use a rubber spatula to scrape the vegetable and sausage mixture into the pot with the pasta.  Proceed as directed in the recipe. 

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Butterscotch Pot de Crème

This week I taught one of my favorite classes:  Classic Home-Style Desserts.  The class is filled with recipes that are reminiscent of the kinds of desserts my mother made when I was growing up: Pineapple Upside-Down Cake, Spicy Gingerbread, Soft Jam-filled Sugar Cookies and Coconut  Cream Tart).  I admit that they are not exactly like what she would have made...the chef in me couldn't resist tweaking them a bit....  I use fresh pineapple in the upside-down cake...and Lyle's Golden Syrup in the gingerbread.  The coconut filling for the tart is a fluffy Bavarian cream.  But even with these changes, they all still have a very familiar feel about them.  

The fifth recipe in the class—Butterscotch Pot de Crème—is very much in keeping with this "familiar but fresh" theme.  Soft creamy puddings...and baked custards....were a staple at our house, and butterscotch was one of my mother's favorite flavors.  But for my class, instead of a simple pudding or plain baked custard, I decided I wanted to make the more grown-up pot de crème...that egg yolk- and cream-rich baked custard par excellence from France.  I have waited to post this particular recipe, even though I have been teaching this class for several years, because I have continued to tinker with the recipe each time I have taught the class.  But I think my tinkering and tweaking is done at last...I finally have it right where I want it.    

Lest anyone think I have been teaching a substandard recipe in the past, I would like to assure you that I have not.  The original recipe is from one of my all time favorite cookbooks (The Vineyard Kitchen, by Maria Helm Sinskey)...and it really is delicious just as originally written.  The small changes I have made are more about my own personal tastes.

To begin with, even though pot de crème is supposed to be rich with cream, the original recipe had a much higher proportion of heavy cream than I like.  To correct this I doubled the quantity of milk and reduced the cream by a quarter.  In so doing I was able to reduce the butterfat richness of the custards (which can sometimes produce what I consider to be an unpleasant tongue-coating texture) without altering the ratio of combined milk and cream to egg yolks.  The finished custard is still quite rich...but not overwhelmingly so. 

The old-fashioned butterscotch flavor of the custards is achieved with brown sugar and a small amount of caramelized granulated sugar. The caramelized sugar is one of the things I particularly liked about the original recipe.  It gives a sharp caramel undertone to the flavor that is missing in an ordinary brown sugar-sweetened butterscotch pudding.  But since the caramelization process reduces the perceived sweetness of sugar by about fifty percent—and I wanted my custards to be just a bit sweeter (a quarter cup of sugar per cup of milk/cream is about right)—I doubled the amount of granulated sugar called for in the original recipe.  This brought the sweetness right up to where I like it.  

Finally, I added a small amount of salt and vanilla. I think at this point almost everyone knows that salt enhances the flavor of caramel.  Adding a pinch seemed like an obvious adjustment to make...a small amount really does do the trick.  And just like the salt, vanilla does a great job of bringing out the butter-y caramel-y taste one is looking for in something called butterscotch.  Its addition too seemed like a no-brainer, too. 

If it happens that you are reading this post and you have never experienced pot de crème, this recipe would be a great place to start.  But you also might want to try the recipe for chocolate pot de crème that I posted a few years ago.  In that post, I go into more detail about the origins and basics of this exceptional baked French custard.   You also might want to check out my recipe for pumpkin pot de crème.  No matter which one you start with, I imagine you will be so enamored that you will want to make sure that pot de crème becomes a part of your regular repertoire of comforting, homemade desserts. 


Butterscotch Pot de Crème

1 1/3 c. whole milk
2 c. heavy cream
1/3 c. granulated sugar
7 large egg yolks
1 whole egg (see notes)
1 t. vanilla
2/3 c. brown sugar
Pinch of salt

Preheat the oven to 325°.  Line a roasting pan with a kitchen towel and place ramekins or custard cups in the pan (see note).  Set aside.

Place the milk and cream in a saucepan and heat until steaming.  Remove from the heat and cover to keep warm.

Place 1/3 c. sugar in a heavy, large saucepan and set over medium-high heat.  When the sugar begins to melt, stir with a wooden spoon.  Continue to stir and cook until all the lumps of sugar are dissolved and the sugar syrup is a light amber color—this will only take a minute or two.  Remove the pan from the heat and slowly stir in the hot cream-milk, stirring constantly as you do so—be careful, the hot caramel will sputter.  Set the pan back on the heat and stir until the caramel is dissolved.

In a large bowl, lightly whisk the brown sugar into the eggs and vanilla.  Return the cream to the heat and bring back to the boil.  Gradually add the hot liquid to the egg mixture, whisking constantly.  Pour the custard through a fine mesh strainer.  Allow to sit for a minute or 2.  Skim and discard the foam that has risen to the top. 

Divide the custard among the ramekins.  Pour enough boiling water into the roasting pans to come half way up the side of each ramekin.  

Cover the pan loosely with aluminum foil or a flat piece of parchment—this prevents a hard skin from forming on the custards while they bake.  Bake in the center of the preheated oven until the custards are set around the edges but still trembling in the center—30 to 40 minutes. 

Remove the ramekins from the water bath and allow them to cool to room temperature.  Cover and chill for at least 8 hours before serving.

  • Traditionally this recipe would use 8 egg yolks. But often I find that my yolks are a bit, I began adding in the white of the last egg. A bonus of this is that the custards have a slightly softer set. 
  • You may use any size ramekin/custard cup that you like. If you use 4 oz. cups you will get 10 portions. If you use 6 oz. cups, you will get 7 portions. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Marking the passage of six years...with a Pistachio Sauce...

As of today I have been keeping For Love of the Table for six years.  (Hard to believe...I know....)  On the occasion of my first anniversary I posted a cake—it seemed the obvious thing to do.  It was an unusual and delicious pistachio cake.  Over the years—for no reason other than they were the star of that first anniversary post—I have made a tradition of posting a recipe on March 16 that features pistachios.  More often than not, it has been cake (I do love cake).  Even when it has not been cake, it has always been something sweet.  But this year, I thought I would change direction a bit and share something savory:  a delicious and versatile sauce. 

The main ingredient in the sauce is of course pistachios.  Pounded in a mortar and pestle and combined with parsley, mint, citrus zest and juice, the pistachios become a rich, lively and intriguing sauce.  It makes an excellent accompaniment for fish and seafood (halibut, salmon, scallops...).  And it also goes beautifully with lamb, chicken or vegetables.  Beets are particularly fine drizzled and daubed with this are potatoes and asparagus....   Because of its beautiful green color, I particularly love serving this sauce in the spring and on into early summer.

Drizzled over roasted beets dressed with lemon

My sauce is an adaptation of one I found years ago in Moro: The CookbookMoro is a restaurant in London featuring the foods of Spain, North Africa and the Eastern Mediterranean.   The original recipe included orange blossom water...a delicious, floral and aromatic flavoring agent from that region of the world...but not something I tend to keep on hand.  My sauce includes orange juice and zest instead...and while they are not really a substitute for the orange blossom water, they add nice orange flavor.  The original sauce had only a small amount of mint, but I have increased it by quite a bit...making it a main flavor element of the sauce.  But like all herb, nut and olive oil based sauces and pestos, you should feel free to alter the flavorings and quantities of ingredients in this sauce so that it suits your palate and marries well with whatever you happen to be serving it with.  The sauce is also delicious with the addition of a small amount of toasted and ground fennel seed...and I think that a few hot pepper flakes would not be out of place.  I would only recommend that you use a light hand with the garlic.  You can always add more...and just a bit too much can overwhelm the sauce.

As my anniversary has approached this year, I have been thinking quite a bit about where my blog has been...  and where it is headed.  When I started, blogging was in the forefront of my mind most days...  Now it is more of a quiet companion—a silent partner in my working and cooking life.  I have reduced the number of posts substantially from that first year when I was posting a recipe every three days or so.  Now, I shoot for one a week...sometimes more if I'm feeling particularly inspired....sometimes less if I'm super busy.

In terms of content, I still love to do "basic technique" posts....I just don't have the time to do as many as I would like.  But I will continue to try and squeeze them in as my schedule permits.  I have posted...and will continue to that I have developed for my classes.  Many of the posts will continue to be things I love to eat on a regular basis...simple, seasonal recipes that are heavily influenced by the cuisines of France, Italy, Spain and occasionally... as with today's post...the Eastern Mediterranean.  And of course there will always be lots of pasta and cake. 

With a pan-roasted lamb loin chop, étuvéed baby potatoes, on a bed of
 wilted chard with spring onions
Over the past year I have wondered if perhaps it is time to say good-bye to For Love of the Table.  But even as I consider this, I realize that I have appreciated having a place to record the things I'm doing in the kitchen.  Although I started keeping a blog for others, a wonderful bonus has been that it has become my own personal cooking notebook.  If I can't remember why I did something a certain way....or why I added a particular ingredient....or exactly how I cut something...or how thick a batter should be...   you get the idea...    I can look here and find out.  I love that.  So...for the foreseeable future...I will probably keep it up.

Going forward, if I could change one thing about For Love of the Table, it would be something I don't really have any control over:  I would love to hear more from YOU!...those of you who read...and those of you who cook from this site.  I truly enjoy hearing back from people who have made something...and liked it...or had questions...or made changes....  The comments on For Love of the Table are set up so that I screen them first (to avoid spam, etc.)...but I usually post them within 24 hours and try to respond in that length of time.  You can of course always comment on my Facebook page too.  So, whether you are a regular...or an occasional would please me very much to hear about the ways in which For Love of the Table affects your life—in your kitchen...and at your table. 
Pistachio Sauce

4 oz. unsalted pistachios, lightly toasted
6 T. chopped Italian flat-leaf parsley
1/3 c. chopped mint
1 small clove of garlic, peeled and smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt
1 t. (packed) lemon zest
Freshly squeezed lemon juice, to taste...start with a tablespoon
zest of 1 orange
2 to 3 T. orange juice
2/3 to 3/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
Salt, to taste

Chop or crush the pistachios to the fineness you prefer with a knife, in a mortar & pestle, or in the food processor.  I like the texture achieved by chopping to small pieces and then crushing in the mortar.  This gives a range of textures—small chunks and powder fine.

Transfer to a small bowl and add the remaining ingredients.  Adjust with lemon juice, orange juice and olive oil.  If desired, thin with water.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups of sauce.  

Sunday, March 13, 2016

What's in Season?... Arugula

For the month of March, the illustration on my 2016 "Twelve Months of Fresh Food" calendar is a scattering of arugula leaves.  

And while there is no arugula growing in my part of the world (at least not in the garden) right now, it is in March that I really begin to be hungry for salad.  And arugula is almost always the green I reach for first when I want to make a salad.  From earliest late in the fall...arugula is a constant presence in my pantry.

Arugula has a friendly nuttiness and peppery bite.  The bite can be mild or quite strong...depending on the maturity of the plant and the weather (more mature plants and hotter weather produce hot, peppery arugula).  In early spring, arugula is delicious with asparagus, artichokes, peas, radishes and young root vegetables. During the summer, it is marvelous with broccoli, tomatoes, corn, summer squash, cucumbers and melons, peaches and berries as well as green and shelling beans.  Its flavorful presence is just the thing for fall fruits...especially figs, grapes and apples.   No matter the season, it is perfect with nuts of all kinds, salty and tangy cheeses, olives, cured meats, grains, lemon (and orange), avocadoes, potatoes and mushrooms.  It is a most versatile food.

And it needn't be limited to being just a salad green.  It can be used like an herb...folded into pastas...or vegetable ragouts...  It makes the best pesto imaginable (I happen to prefer it to basil pesto) and is delicious stirred into soup...tossed with pasta...or spread on a crostini, pizza, sandwich, or quesadilla.  No wonder I love it so.

Today, I am posting a new recipe for a delicious and simple salad...featuring (in addition to the arugula) blanched green beans, toasted hazelnuts and a fantastic orange vinaigrette.  The vinaigrette is particularly good with the arugula.  I posted a similar vinaigrette—with a reduced orange juice base—last spring.  If you have never reduced a liquid to a syrup before, you should check out that post.  I am posting the salad today accompanied by pan-seared salmon...but it was the hit of a recent wine-pairing class when served with sea scallops.  I also think it would be wonderful topped with a round of baked goat cheese. 

Since today's post is intended to be a celebration of arugula, I thought I would end with a picture montage of some of the recipes I have posted featuring arugula over the last six years (there have been dozens...  And yes, I have been keeping For Love of the Table for almost six years.  It is hard to believe....).  Enjoy!

Pasta with Arugula and Walnut Pesto and Summer Squash
Gemelli with Sugar Snap Peas, Mushrooms & Goat Cheese

Fettuccine with Corn Pesto, Arugula & Prosciutto
Pizza with Potatoes, Mushrooms & Arugula

Minestra Verdissima
Wild Rice Salad with Apples & Roast Chicken
Farro Salad with Broccoli and Green Olives

Quinoa with Golden Beets, Avocado & Arugula

Chicken Salad with Cantaloupe, Feta & Arugula

Asparagus & White Bean Salad with Arugula
Broccoli, Chickpeas & Arugula
Autumn Salad of Fresh Figs, Grapes, Arugula, Escarole & Mint

Spring Salad with Arugula, Mint, Beets & Asparagus

Citrus & Avocado Salad

Watermelon, Blueberries & Arugula

Corn Cakes with Roasted Corn, Cherry Tomatoes, Arugula & Bacon

Salad of Haricot Verts, Arugula, Hazelnuts & Orange
with Pan-Seared Salmon

1 orange, scrubbed
1 lb. trimmed haricot verts, cut on a slight diagonal into 2-inch lengths
1/2 c.  (60 g) Hazelnuts, toasted, husked & very coarsely chopped

Four 4- to 6-ounce portions skinless salmon filet
Salt & Pepper
Vegetable or olive oil

1 recipe Orange Vinaigrette (below)
2 handfuls arugula (2 to 2 1/2 oz.)

Using a vegetable peeler, remove 5 or 6 strips of zest from the orange, being careful to avoid the bitter white will need about half of the orange.  Cut the strips lengthwise into a very fine julienne.  Set aside.

Bring a pan of salted water to a boil.  Add the haricots verts and cook until just tender.  While the haricots cook, place the zest in a bowl sieve and dip the sieve into the pot with the haricots (just far enough to submerge the zest) for 10 to 15 seconds.  Lift the sieve out and spread the zest on a paper towel.  When the beans are tender, drain and spread on kitchen towels.  Set aside to cool.

Heat a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high to high heat.  While the pan heats, pat the salmon dry and season with salt and pepper.  Add enough oil to the pan to lightly coat the pan (the pan should be hot enough that the oil shimmers and disperses across the surface of the pan immediately).  Add the salmon to the pan, service-side down, and let cook undisturbed golden brown and crisp on the first side (about 2 minutes)—regulating the heat as necessary to maintain an active sizzle.  Carefully turn the filets over and continue to cook on the second side.  Cook the salmon a total of 7 to 10 minutes per inch of thickness.  I like mine to still be slightly translucent in the center, so I cook it for the lesser amount of time.  If you like, you may place the pan in a hot oven to finish the cooking after the salmon has been flipped to the second side.  Transfer the salmon to a plate and keep warm while you finish the salad.

While the fish cooks, place the room temperature beans, the zest and the hazelnuts in a large bowl.  Season with salt and pepper and drizzle with enough vinaigrette to coat.  Toss to combine.

When the salmon is ready, add the arugula and toss with the haricots. Taste and correct the seasoning.  Drizzle in more vinaigrette if the salad seems dry. 

Divide the salad among serving plates and top with the salmon.  Drizzle the salmon with some olive oil...or a bit of vinaigrette...if you like. 

Serves 4 as an entrée.

(Salad adapted from Ottolenghi the Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi)

Note:  This salad is also delicious with seared Sea scallops or Halibut.

Orange Vinaigrette:
2 T. Sherry vinegar
1 small shallot, finely diced (about 1 1/2 T.)
1/4 t. kosher salt
Juice of 1 Valencia Oranges (1/3 to 1/2 c.), reduced until syrupy
1/2 t. fennel seed, toasted and crushed
1/2 T. minced fresh tarragon
1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil
Freshly ground pepper

In a small bowl, combine the vinegar and shallot.  Let macerate for 10 to 15 minutes.  Add the salt, reduced orange juice, fennel seed and tarragon.  Gradually whisk in the oil, adding it in a thin stream.  Taste and correct the seasoning and balance.

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