Monday, June 27, 2016

New Potatoes Roasted with Pimentón de la Vera

I have really been enjoying the wide variety of new potatoes on offer at my new farmers' market over the past two or three weeks.   The available array is astonishing...and I have only had time so far to sample a few:  beautiful fingerlings, baby reds, and this week, some gorgeous little yellow fleshed potatoes called German Butterballs.   I love potatoes, but it has been a while since I have enjoyed them so much.

My last post featured some of the fingerling potatoes in a simple braise with baby carrots and shelling peas.  We had enjoyed the braise so much that I made it a second time within the span of a week.  Something similar happened with the roasted potatoes that I am posting today.  I served them on Thursday with a Swiss chard frittata, and they were so good I made them again on Sunday night to go with a pork chop and some green beans with almonds.  The first time a used a baby red variety...and the second time those special little German Butterballs.  I'm certain you could use just about any potato that you prefer....or that is available to you at your local market.

As far as food with which to pair your pimentón de la Vera-seasoned potatoes, I would be hard pressed to come up with a chop...or cutlet...or filet...that wouldn't be delicious.  Pimentón de la Vera—or smoked Spanish paprika—is delicious with fish and fowl...and pork and beef and lamb.  If you have never encountered the subtle smoky sweetness of pimentón de la Vera, it's time that you did.  And these simple potatoes are a perfect place to try it out. 

Occasionally I rebel at the thought of giving a hard a fast recipe for something...and this is one of those times.  These are just roasted potatoes...with some extra seasoning.  Everyone who cooks should master the technique of roasting vegetables...a recipe should not be necessary.  It is a basic..and truly easy...method.  When done properly, it produces delicious results that are appropriate for all kinds of occasions and are always greeted with much appreciation.  If you haven't learned the basics of roasting vegetables, then you should take the time to read the detailed post I wrote several years ago on the subject...and then try it out.

For these potatoes, I have altered my method described in that old post in only one respect.  I have incorporated the French technique of finishing with a bit of butter.  Butter added towards the end of the cooking process (to a pan of sautéed or roasted vegetables....or a pan-seared steak or chop...) is a great way to add flavor and moisture.  It also makes foods look great since it rounds out the golden color of whatever it is you are browning (the milk solids in the butter begin to toast and brown immediately upon contact with the hot pan and hot food...then they cling to the food, imparting a beautiful golden brown color as you baste or turn the food over in the melting butterfat).

I have said I don't want to give a recipe...this should be a "to taste" endeavor...but I will give a range on the measurements in addition to the method to get you started.  To begin, choose a roasting pan that will hold the potatoes in a snug single layer.  I like to use a shallow enameled cast iron gratin/casserole.  Scrub the potatoes.  If they are freshly dug new potatoes, the skins will probably rub off—which is fine.  Depending on the size of the potatoes, cut them in halves, quarters or wedges....or leave them whole.  You want them to be in rough 1-inch chunks...some may be slightly larger and some slightly smaller, but they should all be about the same size so they will roast evenly.  If the potatoes you happen to have are long and narrow, simply halve them lengthwise and don't worry that they are longer than an inch. 

Preheat the oven to 425°.  Toss the potatoes in olive oil, smoked paprika, salt & pepper.  For a pound of potatoes, you will need about 1 to 1 1/2 T. of oil (enough to coat the potatoes generously) and 3/4 to 1 t. of pimentón de la Vera (more...or you prefer...).  Spread the potatoes in the pan and transfer to the oven.  

After about 15 to 20 minutes...when the potatoes are sizzling and have begun to take on color, use a pancake turner-style spatula to "stir" and turn them over.  Continue to roast until almost tender...another 10 minutes or so.  Cut some butter into 1/2-inch cubes (about a tablespoon for a pound of potatoes) and add to the pan, tossing and stirring to coat the potatoes in the melting and bubbling butter.  Return the pan to the oven and continue to roast until the potatoes are beautifully browned and tender all the way through.  Stir them once or twice to make sure they aren’t sticking or burning.  When done, remove from the oven and add some chopped flat leaf parsley (roughly 2 T. for a pound of potatoes).  

Serve right away.  You will need about 1 1/4 to 1 1/3 lb of potatoes to feed four people. 

If you read the post on roasting vegetables, you will know there is a lot of wiggle room in the above method.  For example, if you cut your potatoes larger than mine, you will need to lower the oven temperature 25° to 50° (and roast them for a longer length of time).  Similarly, if your pan is more crowded, you will need to increase the temperature...  And if your pan is a bit large (and the potatoes are spread further apart), you will need to lower the temperature.  Your oven will also vary from mine in its power and capacity to brown.  My oven browns very well...  If yours does not, you might need to use a higher temperature.  As always, start with the recipe...then use your senses to adjust as you go to achieve the desired result. 

Finally, I'm certain if you make these simple potatoes that you will come up with some interesting variations.  The second time I made them I added a handful of green olives (pitted and halved...but you could add them whole and unpitted...or whole and pitted) to the pan with the butter.  The olives were deliciously browned and slightly shriveled when the potatoes were done.  I could have added them during just the last couple of minutes if I had only wanted to heat them through.  A few cloves of unpeeled garlic, added at the beginning would be delicious....  Or, you could add a clove of finely minced garlic when you add the parsley.  A little bit of Spanish chorizo, diced and added five minutes before the potatoes are done would be nice too.... There are lots of possibilities...  But really.  None of these variations are necessary.  These simple potatoes are pretty fine with just the pimentón de la Vera, butter and parsley.

Monday, June 20, 2016

A New Farmers' Market...and an Early Summer Vegetable Ragoût of New Fingerling Potatoes, Baby Carrots and the Last of the Shelling Peas

I recently decided that it was time to try a new farmers' market.  Since I tend to be a creature of habit...and I have made a habit of my old market (shopping there every Saturday during the growing season for more than fifteen years)...switching to another is kind of a big deal.   The reasons for the move are too numerous and personal to share.  I will only say here that it was time for a least for a while.  There are of course many things I will miss from my old market.  Two or three vendors in particular I will miss so much that I'll probably take the time to swing by my old market occasionally just to say hello and purchase some of my favorite items.  But for the most part I am enjoying the new one very, very much. 

My new market, the Brookside Farmers' Market, is not really new.  It has been around for more than 10 years.  I might have even visited once or twice before.  But for some reason it has never caught my fancy in quite the way it did when I wandered into the midst of the stalls a couple of weeks ago.  There is much at the Brookside Market that appeals:  It is an all local (everything comes from within 100 miles), all organic, vendor run market.  Best of all—as far as I'm concerned—is the fact that no re-sale is allowed.  The vendors are also the producers.  The consequent pride with which they display their products is evident in the beautiful, visual feast that greets you at each and every stall.  These vendors are intimately acquainted with their produce...and are pleased and proud to tell you about it. 

Since I have posted less frequently than usual in recent weeks, it would be tempting to assume that I might have been feeling a bit uninspired.  But this is not the case at all.  Rather, I have just been experiencing the normal busy-ness of June (looking back at the frequency of posting in previous Junes will bear this out).  I have actually been feeling more inspired by the beautiful things I have been bringing home with me from the Brookside Market...I just haven't had the time to write a post.  (If you follow me on Instagram, I have been trying to at least take a few pictures...).  It is my hope that my blog will reflect this newfound inspiration during the months ahead.    

In the mean time, I wanted share a simple and delicious early summer vegetable ragoût made with some of my recent market finds.  We have enjoyed it twice during the past week (it was that good!)—once with pork...and once with chicken.  Featuring true new fingerling potatoes (so new the skin can be simply rubbed off under running water), 

small and tender carrots, and sweet shelling peas (unfortunately, the last ones of the year), it is a perfect example of what I love about market cooking: There is nothing exotic...or complicated...about it.  Rather, the final dish is just a thoughtfully composed and carefully prepared combination of the best the season has to offer....   The goal is simply to allow each vegetable to shine.

I am of course including the recipe for the ragoût at the end of the post, but if you have never prepared a simple mixed vegetable ragoût, you might want to read the post I wrote a few years ago on how to build a seasonal vegetable ragoût. I think you will find it to be quite helpful—not only for preparing this particular ragoût, but also for creating your own ragoûts as the growing season progresses. 

If you would like to serve your ragoût as I did with pork or chicken, you can find instructions for cooking the pork in a post I wrote last spring (just omit the sage...  or not...  I'm sure it would be delicious....) and for cooking the chicken in a basics post from several years ago.  If you do choose to serve the ragoût with a pan-fried or roasted chop or cutlet of some kind, don't forget to deglaze the pan with a bit of white wine...or stock...or water...and then add these deglazings to the ragoût at the end.  This small step will add flavor and at the same time tie the meat to the ragoût, creating a more unified plate.

Finally, if you are looking at this post and thinking that you are just looking at a plain old dish of potatoes with the dreaded childhood combination of peas and carrots, I can assure you that this dish—when made with fresh, in-season ingredients—is a revelation of just how good these humble vegetables can be.

With a Pan-roasted Chicken Breast

Market Ragoût of New Fingerling Potatoes, Young Carrots & English Peas

1/2 T. olive oil
2 1/2 T. unsalted butter, divided
2/3 c. sliced spring or early summer onions, white and very pale green portions only (see notes)
1 fat clove garlic, peeled and thinly sliced
6 oz. young carrots (about four), trimmed, peeled and halved lengthwise (see notes)
8 oz. new fingerling potatoes, well scrubbed (the skin will rub off—see notes) and halved lengthwise
2/3 to 1 c. chicken (or vegetable) stock
3 oz. shelled peas (a generous half cup)
1 T. minced chives
1 1/2 T. minced flat leaf parsley
Deglazings from pan-roasted meats (optional)

Set a sauté pan that is wide enough to hold all the vegetables in a snug single layer over medium heat.  Add the oil and a tablespoon of butter.  When the butter is melted, add the onions, garlic and carrots along with a generous pinch of salt.  Gently sweat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are just tender—about 5 minutes.

Add the potatoes and stir to coat in the fat and onions.  

If the pan seems dry, add a bit more butter.  Season with salt.  Add stock to a depth of about 1/2 inch. 

Bring to a simmer.  Cover with a tight fitting lid, reduce the heat and simmer gently until the carrots and potatoes are just tender—about 15 minutes.  Add the peas, cover and continue to cook until the peas are tender...another 3 to 5 minutes. 

Uncover.  If you have pan deglazings from a cutlet or chop, add them now.  Taste and correct the seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper.  If the ragout is too dry for your liking (the finished stew should be a bit broth-y...but how broth-y is up to you), add more stock or water...tasting and correcting the seasoning again.  Bring to a gentle simmer, add the herbs and swirl in the remaining butter.  Serve immediately.  Serves 2 (see notes).

  • To prepare the onions, trim the root and tough green and then split the onions lengthwise. If there is a fibrous or tough shoot in the center, remove and discard it. Cut the halves lengthwise in 1/2 to 3/4-inch intervals. Slice these strips thinly (1/4-inch or so) crosswise. 
  • At this point in the season the dark green portions of the onions are becoming tough and bruised. If you are making a ragout earlier in the season and the green portions are still tender and fresh, by all means add them too...they may be added during the early stages of the cooking with the white of the onions, or tossed in at the end more like an herb. 
  • You may leave some of the green tops (a half inch or so) on the carrots if they are nice and you prefer. If the carrots are very small (1/2-inch in diameter), it is not necessary to halve them lengthwise. 
  • If your fingerlings are not "new", simply scrub them and leave the skin intact.
  • If you are not comfortable estimating how long the peas will take to cook and you don't want to risk under or over cooked carrots and potatoes, you may blanch the peas separately in boiling salted water. Shock in an ice bath or under cold running water to stop the cooking process. Add with the herbs and butter. 
  • This recipe is for two but it can obviously be increased to feed as many as you like. Simply make sure you choose a pan that will hold all of your vegetables in a snug single layer. A little overlap is OK...but if the vegetables don't have enough room to move you might end up with a mix of over and undercooked is better to use two pans...perhaps cooking the carrots in one and the potatoes in another...and combining them quickly at the end with blanched peas (see previous note), butter and herbs. 
With a Pan-Seared Pork Loin Chop

Monday, June 13, 2016

Raspberry-Rhubarb Streusel Pie...a lesson in simplicity

As much as I promote the idea of simplicity in the foods that I make (for my classes, myself and my clients), every now and then I find that I have to learn this lesson all over again.  My goal is always to make foods that taste like through the preparation process enhance the innate charms of the featured ingredients...not cover them up.  Most of the time, a lot of different additions and seasonings aren't necessary to accomplish this.  It is true that a multitude of ingredients—when combined with knowledge—can produce flavors of mysterious and delicious subtlety...but more often than not, extreme complexity masks flavor.

A few years ago I posted a rhubarb pie with an interesting streusel featuring the spices typically found in chai spice.  In this particular case, complexity was my friend and the pie was delicious.  The walnuts and spices combined with the rhubarb produced a harmonious and memorable whole.  I thought adding some raspberries to the mix would only make it better.  I was wrong.  The new pie tasted of nothing.  It was sort of sweet...sort of tart...sort of spicy...  But there was just too much going on...too much vying for dominance.    

As is often the case when something like this happens, I made the mistake of thinking I needed to add something to wake up the flavor.  Since most fruit pies benefit (particularly berry pies) from a little lemon, I added that.  But because of the other strong flavors it still didn't have the clean fruit flavor that is the hallmark of a fine fruit pie. 

I then got rid of all the spices but one (cardamom—knowing I liked this with raspberry) and changed the slightly bitter walnuts for sweeter almonds (a friend to both raspberry and cardamom).  I also increased the lemon juice in the filling.  At this point, the filling was much better (sweet-tart and fruity)...but the streusel was still out of place...calling attention to itself rather than supporting the delicious raspberry and rhubarb filling.

It was then that I realized that I needed to back up.  So I made a simple oatmeal and brown sugar streusel (with no spices)...and added lemon zest and a little vanilla in the filling.  Finally, my pie tasted like what it was...delicious fruit in a tender crust with a sweet and crunchy topping.    

I confess that the inclusion of lemon zest and vanilla bean might seem to some like a complicated addition...but to me they are not.  They fall solidly into the tried and true camp.  Lemon zest is a standard addition to pies that include lemon adds an aromatic quality to what is otherwise just the acidity of the lemon.  As for the vanilla bean, I was considering adding some vanilla extract when I ran across another raspberry and rhubarb pie that included vanilla bean instead.  Since my very favorite jam—damson plum—goes from delicious to spectacular when made with a vanilla bean, I thought including it in a pie of similarly tart ingredients was a good idea.  And I do think it's delicious...but you should feel free to leave it (and the zest) out, if you prefer.  Either way, this really is just a simple, old-fashioned fruit pie.  The combination of the raspberries and the rhubarb provides all the complexity one might need

Raspberry-Rhubarb Streusel Pie

2/3 c. all-purpose flour (80 g.)
2/3 c. oats—quick or old-fashioned (62 g.)
1/3 c. granulated sugar (66 g.)
1/3 c. packed light brown sugar (66 g.)
1/4 t. salt
1/3 c. unsalted butter, melted (75 g.)

1 c. sugar (200 g.)
Zest of 1/2 of a lemon
1 vanilla bean
pinch of salt
3 T. cornstarch (27 g.)
4 c. diced rhubarb (1 lbs. trimmed weight)
2 c. fresh raspberries (8 to 9 oz.)
Juice of half of a lemon (2 T.) 

1 recipe Pâte Brisée, rolled out for a 9-inch single crust pie and chilled

Combine the dry ingredients for the streusel in a medium bowl. Add the butter and stir with a fork or rubber spatula until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs; chill.

Preheat the oven to 425°. Split the vanilla pod and scrape the seeds into the sugar in a small bowl.  (Reserve the pod for another use, if you like.)  Add the lemon zest.  Rub the vanilla and lemon zest into the sugar with your fingers.  Add the salt and cornstarch and stir to distribute.  Place the rhubarb and lemon juice in a large bowl.  Add the dry ingredients and stir until moistened.  Add the raspberries and gently fold in. Turn the fruit into the chilled crust, scraping the bowl well. Spread the streusel evenly over the fruit. 

Transfer the pie to the lowest rack of the oven. Bake the pie at 425° for 20 minutes. Cover the edges with a foil ring and turn the temperature down to 375° and bake for 20 minutes. Turn the temperature down to 325° and bake until the streusel is golden brown, the juices are bubbling thickly in the center of the pie and the bottom crust is browned—another 25-35 minutes. If the juices ever threaten to over-flow, slide a baking sheet under the baking pie.  Cool the pie to room temperature before cutting (this allows the juices to “firm up”).  If desired, re-warm the pie briefly just before cutting. Serve with vanilla ice cream or sweetened whipped cream.

  • If fresh rhubarb is unavailable, you may use frozen. Spread on a rack set over a baking sheet and let sit at room temperature until just beginning to thaw (it should feel a bit soft)—about 30 to 40 minutes. If any of the chunks of rhubarb are very large, cut them down to an appropriate size. Mix the filling and fill the crust as for fresh. Leave the oven temperature at 425° for 25 minutes. You will have to bake the pie longer at 325° longer before you see bubbles at the center of the pie...perhaps 10 to 15 minutes longer.
  • If you prefer your rhubarb to be more heavily sweetened, you may add another 2 T. of sugar to the filling. Don't reduce the lemon juice, the pie will lose its bright flavor.
  • You may leave the vanilla bean out...or substitute a teaspoon of vanilla extract. Add with the lemon juice.

1 1/3 c. all-purpose flour (150g)
1/2 t. salt
6 T. cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces (85 g.)
2 T. vegetable shortening (28 g.)
3 to 4 T. ice water

Combine the flour and the salt in a medium-sized bowl. Rub the butter into the flour until the mixture looks like cornmeal and peas.  Add the shortening and quickly rub in.  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 in plastic wrap and press into a thick disk. Chill for at least 30 minutes.

To roll out, let the dough warm up for a moment or two. Butter and flour a 9-inch pie plate 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 about 1/8 to 1/6 –inch in thickness. Using a lid or an upside-down bowl, trim the dough to form a 13-inch circle. 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 pie plate. Unfold the dough and ease it into the pan being careful not to stretch it. Fold the extra dough under along the rim of the pan so that it is double in thickness. Crimp the edge. Chill the pie shell for at least 1/2 hour.

Note: You may replace the vegetable shortening with butter for an all butter crust.

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