Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Suzanne Goin's Roasted Pear Salad with Endive, Hazelnuts & St. Agur

Last spring I started a new series of classes called "Inspired Cooking by the Book."  The idea for this series came about because a small portion of my rather large cookbook collection is made up of books that are organized by the seasons.  Since I truly do cook seasonally, this particular portion of my collection is a constant source of inspiration in my kitchen.  I thought it would be fun to share recipes sourced from these books in a series of (at least) four classes.  The third class in the series (Autumn) is this week and will feature—among other things—the yellow split pea soup I posted at the end of September as well as a fantastic salad of pears with endive, arugula, hazelnuts and blue cheese...which I'm sharing today.

Both the soup and the salad are unusual in that I have not changed the recipes in any marked way from the originals.  I don't very often leave recipes unchanged, and it is testimony to how much I love these books—and respect the authors—that I don't need or want to alter some of the recipes.  It is true that an equal balance of the recipes in these classes bear only a passing resemblance to the "inspiring" recipe...but that is more a reflection of my preference or mood—and the fact that often a recipe is nothing more than a single point of inspiration—than the quality of the original.

The pear salad is from Suzanne Goin's first book Sunday Suppers at Lucques.  I turn to this cookbook all the time.  I particularly love Goin's salads...  Generally layered affairs of big pieces of cooked and/or raw fruits and vegetables, nuts, cheeses, dried fruits and interesting greens...they are exactly what I want in a salad:  a knife and fork worthy platter of interesting flavors and contrasting tastes and textures. 

Of particular note in the pear salad is the St. Agur cheese.  From the Auvergne of France, it is a double cream cow's milk blue that is firm, yet decadently creamy and spreadable...some say buttery.  It is tangy and salty...but mildly so.  It provides wonderful compliment and contrast for the soft, sweet pears, the crunchy and rich hazelnuts, and the crisp and slightly bitter endive.  If you can find it, you should try it.  If not, Goin recommends a Gorgonzola Dolce or a creamy sheep's milk cheese of some kind instead.

Now would be a great time to try this salad:  Pear season is in full swing.  But pears are available and delicious for most of the fall and winter months, so if this salad seems like too much work (sautéing the pears might seem like a bit of a project if you don't have a very large sauté pan) for an everyday dinner, it would also make an impressive salad course for a holiday dinner party.   

Roasted Pear Salad with Endive, Hazelnuts and St. Agur

3/4 c. hazelnuts
3/4 c. olive oil, plus more for the toasted hazelnuts and sautéing the pears
1 T. finely diced shallot
2 1/2 T. sherry vinegar
2 T. rice vinegar
5 Bartlett pears (2 to 2 1/2 lbs), peeled, cored and cut lengthwise into eighths
2 to 4 T. butter
2 t. fresh thyme leaves
6 heads Belgian endive, core removed and leaves separated (if you can find red endive, use 3 red and 3 white)
1 ounce stemmed arugula, rinsed and dried
2 T. thinly sliced shallots, rinsed and dried
4 to 5 oz. St. Agur, or other favorite blue, cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

Spread the hazelnuts on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in a 350° oven until the skins begin to split and the nuts (as visible beneath the skin) are golden and fragrant—10 to 15 minutes.  Wrap the nuts in a kitchen towel and set aside for a few minutes.  Rub the nuts in the towel to remove the skins.  If the skinned nuts aren't as well toasted as you would like, briefly return them to the oven.  Toss the warm, hazelnuts with a drizzle (1 t.) of olive oil and a pinch of salt.   When cool, chop coarsely and set aside.

Place the vinegars, diced shallots and 3/4 t. kosher salt in a tall narrow container (that will accommodate an immersion blender) and set aside.

Heat a large sauté pan (see note) over high heat add enough olive oil to lightly coat the surface and add as many pears as will fit in a snug single layer cut side down.  Add some butter to the pan—enough so that the pears look moist and sizzle nicely in the browning butter—along with some of the thyme and a good pinch of salt. Reduce the heat to medium high and cook till nicely caramelized on the first side—4 to 6 minutes.  Carefully turn the pears over and caramelize the second cut surface—another 3 or 4 minutes.  Regulate the heat as necessary to keep the pears from burning.

They should be nicely caramelized and tender, but not mushy, when they are finished.  Transfer the pears to a platter, wipe out the pan and repeat in as many batches as necessary with the remaining pears, oil, butter and thyme.  When ready to serve the salad, place all the pears in the pan and heat briefly in the oven or gently on the stove top.  (Alternatively, serve the pears at room temperature.)

When the pears are finished cooking, prepare the vinaigrette.  Add 6 of the cooked pear wedges to the container with the vinegar and shallots and purée using and immersion blender (see note).  With the blender running, add 3/4 cup of olive oil in a thin stream.  Taste and correct the seasoning with salt and the balance with vinegar.

To serve: Place the endive, arugula and shallots in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper.  Drizzle in enough of the vinaigrette to lightly coat the greens.  Drizzle some of the vinaigrette over the warm pears.

Arrange half of the salad on individual plates or a large platter.  Nestle half of the pears in the greens.  Depending on the texture of the cheese, use a cheese pull to make long ribbons, or a knife to cut small slender slabs.  Arrange half of the cheese in and among the greens and pears.  Scatter half of the hazelnuts over all.  Repeat the layering with all of the ingredients and serve.  Pass extra dressing on the side.  Serves 6

  • The original recipe called for cooking the pears simultaneously in 2 large sauté pans. This is impractical for most home cooks. I have given directions for working in batches. Use your largest sauté pan and add only as many pears as can be accommodated in a snug single layer. To sauté five pears you will need about 2 T. of oil, 2 t. of thyme and 2 to 4 T. of butter in total. Divide these items in equal increments to match the number of batches of pears (so, if you only need to make two batches of pears you will use about 1 T. of oil, 1 t. of thyme and 1 to 2 T. of butter per batch). 
  • If you don't have an immersion blender, place the shallots in a bowl with the vinegars and salt. Smash the cooked pears to a chunky purée with the side of a chef's knife or in a mortar and pestle. Whisk the oil into the vinegars in a thin stream. Fold in the pear purée. 
  • If you like, replace 1/4 c. of the olive oil with hazelnut oil. 

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Chef Frank Stitt's Apple Crostata

The first time I tasted a fresh fruit crostata (sometimes called a galette or a free-form tart) was when I was a cook at The American Restaurant.  A chef named Frank Stitt was there as part of a guest chef series.  His menu included an Apple Crostata.  It was nothing more than a sweet pastry crust smeared with homemade apple butter and folded casually up and around Golden Delicious apples that had been dusted with a bit of cinnamon sugar....and to me it was a revelation in simplicity:  It tasted exactly of what it was—sweet, fragrant apples enveloped in one of the most tender crusts I had ever had....  I was hooked for life.

Using Chef Stitt's crust recipe, and his method of reinforcing the flavor of a fresh seasonal fruit by lining the crust with a butter/jam/preserve made out of the same (or a complimentary) fruit, I have been making fresh fruit crostatas ever since.  While I was working in Provence I made one with the figs that grew on the property where I was staying.  The fig jam I used was made from fruit from the early season crop of figs off of the same trees.  Every year when prune plums are in season I make a crostata filled with prune plums and damson jam.  To me crostatas (along with crisps) are the ultimate seasonal desserts.  If you keep rounds of the dough in your freezer, you can make an impromptu crostata with whatever fruit is abundant and at its best any time you want.

As it turns out, the apple crostata is the easiest one of all to make.  Most fruits produce a lot of juices when they are cooked.  The Golden Delicious apples used in this crostata do not, so you don't even need to add any thickener (flour or cornstarch).  Golden Delicious apples are also sweet in their natural state...so they don't need a lot of sugar.  The sugar in the apple butter...and a generous sprinkle over the top...is all that is required.  But if you like more sweetness, you can up the ante sufficiently with the addition of a crumble topping.  (Adding sugar by tossing the apples with even a small amount would draw out the juices...and add the necessity of a small amount of thickener). 

When we made this crostata at The American we made little individual tarts (each using a small round of dough folded up and around half of an apple that had been cut into four fat wedges).  In the years since, I have always just made one large tart.  Instead of slicing the apples, I have just cut them into a large dice before piling them on top of the apple butter and then finishing the whole thing with a generous covering of the aforementioned crumble.  But recently, I decided I wanted to revisit the original style (albeit in one large tart)...without the crumble.  Since the apples aren't covered with a streusel, they need to be cut and arranged attractively.  So, instead of dicing the apples, I cut each half into 1/4- to 1/3-inch thick slices (about 8 to 9 slices per half) on a slight diagonal.  I then arranged these sliced halves compactly, each fanned ever-so-slightly, on top of the apple butter smeared crust.  As in the original version, I scattered a small amount of cinnamon sugar over all.  (Since the crust will soften rapidly at room temperature, you might want to "arrange" the apples in a round shape on your cutting board first and then just transfer them to the prepared crust so that you can work quickly when building the tart.)

I was very pleased with the way this crostata turned out.  It was fast and easy to make—perfectly in keeping with the carefree, spur-of-the-moment feel of a free-form, rustic tart.  But at the same time, I found it to be spectacularly beautiful....just the thing for whatever kind of entertaining that your fall plans might include. 

Apple Crostata

1 recipe Crostata Dough
2 T. sugar
1/8 t. cinnamon
1 1/3 to 1 1/2 lb. Golden Delicious Apples
1/3 to 1/2 c. Apple Butter
2 T. butter, melted
Milk or half & half for brushing
Sugar for sprinkling

On a lightly floured board, roll dough into a 12 to 13-inch round about 1/8” thick.  Transfer the dough to a parchment-lined cookie sheet.  Chill the crust for at least a half hour.

Combine the sugar and cinnamon and set aside.

When ready to make the crostata, peel and core the apples.  Halve lengthwise.  Lay each half cut side down on the cutting board and slice thickly (1/4- to 1/3-inch) crosswise, holding the knife at a slight angle and keeping the slices together so the apple halves are still intact.

Take the crust out of the refrigerator, leaving it on its parchment lined sheet (you will not be able to move the tart once you have assembled it).  Spread the apple butter in a thin layer in the center of the circle of dough, leaving a 2-inch border all around.  

Arrange the apples snuggly and attractively, fanning them slightly and tucking smaller slices in here and there as necessary to achieve a mosaic of tightly packed, overlapping, sliced apples. 

Brush the apples generously with the melted butter 

and sprinkle the cinnamon sugar evenly over all.

Fold the edge of the dough up onto the fruit, pleating it attractively and pressing lightly as you go.  

Brush the edges of the crust with milk and sprinkle with sugar.  Bake the tart at 450º for 20 to 25 minutes—until the crust is golden and cooked on the bottom.  Let cool at least 20 minutes.  The tart is best eaten the day that it is baked.

  • I have always used Golden Delicious apples for this tart. If these are not available to you...or you don't care for them...you may substitute any apple that holds its shape when cooked and has a naturally sweet taste (Granny Smiths, for example, would be a very poor choice since they collapse when they are cooked and they are very tart). 
  • If you have a baking stone and your oven doesn't have strong bottom heat, preheat the oven with the baking stone and place the sheet pan with the tart directly onto the stone for baking. 

Crostata Dough: 
1/2 lb. Unsalted butter, chilled and sliced 1/4-inch thick
2 1/4 c. all-purpose flour (9 oz.)
1/4 c. sugar
1/2 t. salt
1/4 c. ice water

Combine the flour, sugar and the salt in a medium-sized bowl.  Add the butter and rub into the flour mixture until some of the butter is in small pea-sized pieces and the rest of the mixture looks like cornmeal.  (If you prefer, you may rub the butter into the dry ingredients using the food processor, but I think the texture of the final crust is better when this is done by hand.  Turn the dry ingredient/butter mixture into a bowl before continuing.)  Drizzle 2 T. ice water over the flour/butter mixture.  Using your hands, fluff the mixture a time or two.  Drizzle the remaining 2 tablespoons of water over the dough and continue to fluff until the dough begins to clump—you should not need any more water.  Divide the clumps into two equal portions and turn each portion onto a piece of plastic wrap and press it into a thick disk.  Chill for 1 hour.  Makes enough for 2 free-form tarts (galette/crostata).

Variation with Streusel Crumb Topping:
1/3 c. flour
1/3 c. packed brown sugar
1/4 t. salt
3 T. unsalted butter, chilled and cut into cubes
1/4 c. oats, sliced almonds, chopped walnuts or chopped pecans

Combine flour, sugar and salt.  Add the butter.  Using your fingers, rub the butter into the dry ingredients until the mixture appears crumbly & is homogeneous.  Stir in the oats or nuts.  Use immediately, or chill. 

When building the tart, cut the apples into 8 wedges and cut the wedges crosswise into 3 chunks.  Pile the apple chunks on top of the apple butter in a jumbled, but relatively even, layer.  Cover the apples with the streusel and fold up the edges as directed in the original recipe.  Bake and cool as directed for the style without streusel.