Saturday, December 30, 2017

Winter Salad

For some reason, 2017 turned out to be the year of the salad.  As I was thinking about the things I had posted over the past year, it occurred to me that I had written a lot of salad posts.   So I checked.  And I discovered that I had indeed written more about salad than anything else.  This post will be the eighth, making it so that salad will have outnumbered each of my other favorite topics ( by at least two to one.  This amazes me.  I mean really...  More salad than pasta?  or cake?....

No one should take this recent preponderance of salad posts as an indication that I will be changing the focus of my blog or the kinds of things I share here.  I will not be giving up cake (or any of my other favorites...) anytime soon.  I love cake!  But the fact is, I love salad too.  And while I have loved cake ever since I had the dexterity to get a fistful of it into my mouth, I have not always loved salad. 

This of course is no surprise to anyone who has visited my blog regularly over the years.  I have written on several occasions about my change of heart towards vegetables, but salad in particular conjures up a vivid memory from my college years.  Like most young women, I put an undue amount of mental energy into worrying about my weight.  One time a friend and I were bemoaning the fact that we just didn’t like to eat in a way that would promote slimness (in the ignorance of youth, the more important consideration of good health was not yet in the forefront of our minds).  Suddenly my friend said, "I want to be a 'salad person'—you know, one of those people who chooses to eat salad because they really like it!"  

If someone had told me then that I would not only come to like salad, but eventually truly love it, I would not have believed them.  But then I hadn't been exposed to very many good salads.  To me the word "salad" meant some sort of permutation of iceberg lettuce, shredded carrots, horse fodder-like nubbins of celery, hot house tomatoes, and stale packaged croutons...all glopped with bottled dressing.  No wonder I didn't like it.  My mother made a shredded carrot salad...and a Waldorf salad...that I liked, but in general my idea of salad was pretty limited...and not very favorable.  It was something you ate because it was "good for you"....which as far as food descriptors go is the kiss of death in my opinion.

But of course salad in its best form is the pinnacle of seasonal eating...  of fresh and raw....   Salad is also about delicious variety.  I could go on at great length about the wide array of foods that can be included in a salad...  the essential textural and flavor contrasts...  how to make a tasty homemade vinaigrette...   And of course, I have done this very thing over the course of the past year.  Whether you already love salad, or are just trying to like it, you should check out some of these old posts (you can find them by looking through the post titles in the side bar for this year, or by going to the salad section of my recipe index).

The salad I'm sharing today is one I taught this month in a class devoted to the foods my family has traditionally had for our Christmas Eve dinner.  Our menu has included a creamy and rich Wild Rice Soup since I was in grade school.  This was served alongside a lovely wreath bread my mother started making when I was in college.  There was also always a frozen cranberry "salad."  It may or may not have included jell-o....  The only thing salad-like about this concoction was the ruffled lettuce leaf upon which the "salad" was placed.  I deleted this item from the menu when I eventually took over holiday food preparation. 

I had never bothered to replace this dish because there is always so much going on Christmas Eve.  But this year, I took the opportunity of the class to come up with something that was more to my liking.  The Belgian Endive, Apple & Celery Salad I came up with is exactly what I'm craving this time of year.  It is crunchy, tangy, juicy.... In a word:  refreshing.  It is the perfect antidote the all the heavy, rich and creamy things the holiday brings.  Furthermore, the ingredients...and the beautiful monochromatic palette of colors....fairly shout "winter," making it a salad that is seasonal eating at its best.

I love this salad.  My class loved the salad.  And my mother loved the salad.  I will definitely be making it part of our Christmas Eve table from now on.  But more than that, because it is so simple...and the ingredients are so easy to keep on hand...I will be making this salad regularly during the winter months.  It really is the perfect winter salad—one that even non-salad people will probably like. 

Winter Salad

For the vinaigrette:
2 T. Champagne vinegar
1 small shallot, peeled and finely minced (1 1/2 to 2 T.)
1/4 t. salt, or to taste
1 t. Dijon mustard
6 T. extra-virgin olive oil

For the salad:
4 stalks of celery (about 7 oz. before trimming)
2 large Granny Smith apples (14 oz.)
4 heads Belgian endive (about 1 lb.)
1/2 c. (3 oz.) golden raisins
Lemon juice, optional/to taste

Make the vinaigrette:  Place the vinegar in a small bowl with the shallots and salt.  Set aside for five minutes or so to let the shallots soften a bit. Add the mustard and whisk until smooth. While whisking constantly, add the olive oil in a thin stream to form a slightly thickened, emulsified dressing.  Taste and correct the seasoning with salt.  Set aside.

To make the salad, trim the ends away from the celery stalks.  Using a vegetable peeler, remove any obtrusive strings from the outside of the ribs.  Cut the stalks into 3 or 4 lengths.  Slice each thinly to make a rough julienne of celery.

Wash the apples. Halve each lengthwise and remove the cores.  Using a mandolin slicer, slice each half thinly, lengthwise. 

Remove any bruised outer leaves of the endive and discard.  Halve the endive and remove the cores (by cutting a "v" shape around the core on each half with the tip of a paring knife).  Place each half face down on a cutting board and slice 1/3-inch thick on a long diagonal. 

Place the celery, apples, endive and raisins in a large bowl.  Drizzle with some of the vinaigrette (start with about 1/3 will probably need almost all of the vinaigrette, but it is better to start with less) and season well with salt and pepper.  Carefully toss so that all of the ingredients are lightly coated with the vinaigrette.  Add more vinaigrette as needed.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  If the salad seems well-seasoned and well-dressed, but still tastes a bit flat, give it a squeeze of lemon and toss again.  It should taste lively and juicy.  Mound the salad on a platter or divide among individual salad plates.  Serves 6 to 8 as a first course or a side salad.

Note:  The celery may be cut ahead.  The apples and endive must be cut right before serving as they will both oxidize after being cut.  

Printable Recipe

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Sunday Morning Breakfast...Cinnamon Rolls

I made cinnamon rolls this morning for breakfast.  And they were such a treat! For some reason I don't think to make them very often.  There is always coffeecake...or scones...or a muffin or my freezer, so I'm not deprived when it comes to sweet treats for breakfast.  Still, a sweet, yeasted baked good seems special somehow.  So making cinnamon rolls for Sunday breakfast...for no special reason at a nice way to pamper myself.  And a Sunday in the middle of the insanely busy month of December is a perfect time to do it.

The recipe for these rolls uses the same basic dough that I have shared twice before—the first time in my Holiday Wreath Coffeecake...and the second in my St. Augustine Braid.  Because of this I won't belabor the finer points of making and rolling out the dough again.  I will only add a couple of observations that are specific to the cinnamon rolls.

The first thing to note is the quantity of filling.  The amount might seem a bit austere to some.  I used to make them with a lot more filling, subscribing to the notion that cinnamon rolls were supposed to be super sweet and gooey.  Then one day several years ago I sampled my friend Bonnie's cardamom rolls...and it forever changed my point of view.  Her rolls were tender and moist...sweet and spicy...and refined.  They had finesse—which to me is about the highest praise one can offer when it comes to food.  My rolls felt garish and overdone by comparison—like a caricature of what a cinnamon roll should be. 

The next time I made my cinnamon rolls I reduced the filling considerably.  Not only were they not so tooth-shatteringly sweet in their new form, the delicious, slightly sweet dough wasn't overwhelmed by the gooey, oozing filling (which, if we're honest, usually ends up hardened and stuck to the pan anyway).  I love my cinnamon rolls this way.  They are sufficiently sweet and cinnamon-y...and light and delicious too.    

My second observation has to do with the way I roll the dough...and how I place the rolls into the pan for baking.  I roll the dough thinly (into a very large square) so that I will have a nice ratio of dough to filling (you can put more filling—in a nice, thin, delicate layer—over this larger surface area of dough).  It might be tempting to leave the dough thicker...but the rolls won't be quite so nice if you do. 

Then, after rolling the dough up you might be tempted to cut more than nine rolls (each roll will be almost 2-inches tall)...thinking that there is enough space in the pan for a larger number of shorter rolls.  But nine tall rolls work very well—baking up into beautiful, puffy coils.  The centers will sometimes escape, protruding alarmingly upwards, as the rolls bake.  But if this happens, don't worry—they will settle back down when the rolls come out of the oven.

I have given directions for making the dough, and then forming and baking the rolls, on the same day.  And you can of course do it this way if you like.  But I have also included instructions on how to make the dough the night before and then finish them the next morning...and it is my preference to do it this way.  If I had to get out of bed and make the dough, I would probably never have cinnamon rolls on a Sunday morning.  But even on Saturday nights when I am very tired, I don’t find it that difficult to make the dough.  I then have the time it takes for the first rise to wind down a little from the day (and the week) with some other activity.  It is then an easy thing to get up at my leisure, roll and form the rolls, and then move slowly into my Sunday while they rise and then bake.  In no time at all the house is filled with the aroma of cinnamon, sugar and freshly baked rolls....and my day (and week) is  off to a pretty fine start.

Cinnamon Rolls

2 1/4 t. active dry yeast (1 envelope)
2 T. warm water
1/2 c. milk
3 T. unsalted butter
1/4 c. sugar
3/4 t. salt
Zest of one orange
1 egg
1/4 t. cinnamon
2 1/2 to 3 c. all-purpose flour

3 T. melted butter
1/4 c. sugar
1 T. cinnamon

Place the water in a large bowl and add the yeast.  While the yeast is proofing, scald the milk.  Remove the milk from the heat and add the butter.  When the butter is melted, add the sugar, salt and orange zest.  If the milk sugar mixture is hotter than lukewarm, let it cool briefly before proceeding.  Add the warm milk/sugar mixture to the proofed yeast and whisk to combine.  Whisk in the egg.  Add 1 c. of the flour along with the cinnamon and beat until smooth.  Gradually stir in enough of the remaining flour to form a soft dough. 

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic (5 to 10 minutes).  Place the dough in a buttered bowl.  Turn the dough to coat with butter and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.  Let the dough rise until doubled in bulk (about 1 ½ to 2 hours).

When the dough is fully risen, knock it back and place it on a lightly floured surface.  (Or, after deflating the dough, cover again and place in the refrigerator overnight.  In the morning, deflate again before proceeding.)  

Roll the dough out to a large thin square (about 15- by 15-inches).  Brush the dough with the melted butter.  In a small bowl, combine the sugar and cinnamon.  Evenly scatter the cinnamon-sugar mixture over the buttered dough.  

Starting with the edge nearest you, roll the dough up jellyroll-style (don't stretch the dough as you roll...or roll too tightly).  Pinch the seam to seal.  

Using a sharp knife, slice the log into 9 rolls.  

Place the rolls in a buttered 9-inch square baking pan.  

Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in bulk (about 45 minutes to an hour).  

Bake the rolls at 375° until puffed and golden brown—about 20 minutes (an instant read thermometer will read about 180° to 190°).  Remove from the oven and let cool for a few minutes.  Remove the rolls from the pan and drizzle with powdered sugar icing (recipe below) and serve immediately.

Makes 9 rolls (recipe is easily doubled to make 18—use 2 pans)

Powdered Sugar Icing:  Mix 2/3 c. powdered sugar with enough milk (about 3 to 4 t.) to form a thick glaze—it should drizzle slowly from a spoon.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Fusilli with Tuscan Kale, Mushrooms & Toasted Breadcrumbs

I am always on the lookout for seasonal pasta dishes that are made with ingredients that are part of my regular pantry.  If it isn't obvious, pasta is my "go to" dinner for days when I'm too busy to think about cooking for myself.  For a pasta to appear regularly on our table, it really needs to be made with stuff I tend to have on hand.

The presence of seasonal vegetables and pantry staples is what made me stop and take a second look at a pasta from the New York Times when I ran across it on my Instagram feed recently.  The pasta included Italian Sausage (something I always have in my freezer) and mushrooms and kale.  

Mushrooms and kale might not be pantry staples for everyone, but they happen to be two things I routinely purchase when I'm at the grocery store during the winter months.  Even if I have no particular use in mind, I know I will easily find a use for them.  I'm not quite sure why it never occurred to me to combine them in a pasta.

In the end, I only used the Times's recipe as a starting point.  I decided there was enough flavor in the mushrooms and kale so I didn't really need the sausage. (Sometimes more is not's just more...).  If I were to add an animal protein to the dish I would actually be more inclined to mash an anchovy or two into the red onion base along with the garlic and pepper flakes.  Both times that I have made this pasta, I almost did just that.  But on each occasion I decided I preferred the clean flavors of the vegetables by themselves.  Likewise, I felt the addition of cheese was unnecessary.  Instead, I went for some added texture in the form of a final shower of toasted bread crumbs.  It was the perfect touch. 

This dish is just the kind of pasta that I crave during the winter months—hearty, flavorful, and savory.  I will definitely be making it again, and again...

Fusilli with Tuscan Kale, Mushrooms & Toasted Breadcrumbs

2/3 c. coarse, fresh breadcrumbs (see note)
1 bunch Tuscan/Lacinato Kale (about 1/3 lb.)
3 to 4 T. olive oil, divided
1/2 of a medium red onion, finely diced (about a cup)
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
1/8 t. hot pepper flakes...more or less, to taste
8 oz. crimini mushrooms, sliced 1/4- to 1/3- inch thick
1/2 lb. fusilli (or other sturdy, short pasta)
1 T. unsalted butter

Prepare the breadcrumbs:  Spread the breadcrumbs in an even layer on a small baking sheet or in a metal pie pan.  Place in a 350­­° oven.  Bake, stirring occasionally until crumbs are uniformly golden brown—about 10 minutes, maybe a bit longer, depending on the size of the pan, the thickness of the  layer of breadcrumbs, etc.  Remove from the oven, drizzle a small amount (1 to 1 1/2 t.) of olive oil over, toss to combine, and set aside. 

Meanwhile, prepare the kale:  Pull the leaves away from the stems, tearing the leaves into large (2- to 3-inch pieces) as you do.  Discard the stems.  Wash the leaves in several changes of water.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil and season lightly.  Add the kale and cook until tender—about 7 minutes.  Lift the kale out of the pot, transferring it to a strainer or colander (set on a plate or over a bowl or in the sink) to allow most of the water to drain away.   Reserve the pot of water for cooking the pasta.

While the kale cooks, prepare the onion base and the mushrooms.  In a wide sauté pan (large enough to hold the cooked pasta comfortably), warm a tablespoon or so of olive oil over moderate heat.  Add the onions, along with a pinch of salt.  Cook (regulating the heat to maintain a low sizzle) until the onions are tender and just beginning to turn golden at the edges.  If the onions seem dry as they are cooking, drizzle in a bit more oil.

While the onions cook, sauté the mushrooms:  Depending on the size of your pan, you may need to sauté in batches—don't overcrowd the pan.  Heat a sauté pan (non-stick, if you have one) over high heat.  Add oil to coat the pan (a tablespoon or so), then add the mushrooms. Cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the mushrooms are browned, tender and any liquid that they have given off has evaporated.  If they seem dry at any time as they cook, drizzle in a bit more oil.  Transfer the mushrooms to a plate and season with salt & pepper.  Set aside.

When the onions are tender and have begun to turn golden, add the garlic and pepper flakes and continue to cook until fragrant.  Add the mushrooms and cooked kale along with a small ladleful (about a quarter cup) of the kale cooking liquid.  Reduce the heat to low and cover the pan. Let the vegetables simmer very gently, allowing the flavors to blend, while you cook the pasta.

Return the pan the kale was cooked in to high heat. Add more water if necessary.  Add more salt.  (The water needs to be more heavily salted for the pasta than for the greens, in my opinion.  For the pasta, a teaspoon to a teaspoon and a half per quart is about right.  For the kale, you will need about half of that...maybe a bit more.)  Add the pasta and cook until al dente. Drain, reserving a half cup of the pasta water. Add the pasta to the sauté pan with the mushrooms and kale along with the butter.  Toss and stir to coat, adding some of the pasta water if it seems dry.  Finish with a final drizzle of oil (for flavor and sheen), if you like. Taste and correct the seasoning.  Divide among two or three plates and top with toasted breadcrumbs.  Serves 2 to 3. 

  • To make coarse, fresh breadcrumbs, remove the crust from a slightly stale ("day old") baguette or country-style boule. Cut into chunks and process until the crumbs are a mixture of fine and coarse (no large than pea-sized). These "fresh" breadcrumbs may be frozen for several weeks. They can also be dried even further and then processed into "fine, dry breadcrumbs."
  • This recipe is easily doubled. Increase the size of the sauté pans you use accordingly. If you don't have a sauté pan large enough to hold a one pound batch of pasta, finish the pasta by returning the noodles to the pot they were cooked in (draining the water first) and use this pan to finish saucing and tossing the pasta.

Sunday, November 26, 2017

Soup from the Late Autumn Market Pantry: Cabbage & White Bean with Root Vegetables

Last Sunday we woke up to what seemed like the umpteenth day in a row of gray skies.  I love gray days...but they had been around for so long at that point that even I was tired of them.  I just wanted to hole up in the house with a book....and put on a big pot of soup for dinner.  I didn't even want to go to the store, so whatever soup I made had to be something that could be made with things I had on hand.

Fortunately, my pantry is well-stocked with winter storage vegetables from my famers' market right now.  Cabbage, turnips, sweet potatoes, winter squash, onions, garlic, leeks...  Not to mention my regular staples of cured meats (bacon/pancetta, prosciutto/ham)....and a couple varieties of dried beans.   I even had some stock on hand.  (Although, I am not afraid to make my soups with water, so lack of stock would not have been a deal breaker...I would have just added more onion and/or leek to the soup.) Knowing I had the makings of soup on hand I decided to put some beans on to soak (using my modified quick soak method) and wait until later in the day to think about exactly what kind of soup I was going to make. 

As I considered what to make, the presence of the cabbage and dried beans in my stash put me in mind of a classic hearty soup-stew from the Southwest corner of France (the Landes, the Béarn and the Pyrénées) called Garbure.  In addition to cabbage and beans it typically includes one of the famed preserved meats of the region—duck, goose or pork confit, along with the gelatinous broth produced by the confit process (sometimes called "duck/goose jelly").  Unfortunately I don't live in the south of France so these things aren't to be found in my working pantry.  But rich meats and broths do not have to be included in a Garbure—there are many versions that are made with a simple broth or even a combination of water and broth.  The real hallmark of Garbure is the cabbage.

The remaining vegetables that are included in the soup are those that would be abundant on the farm during the winter months—leeks, onions, potatoes, turnips and carrots.  If you shop at your Farmers' market, these will be the things you will have too. 

Traditional versions of Garbure are said to be so thick that a wooden spoon or a ladle will stand erect when thrust into the center of the soup. This thick mixture is then ladled into individual bowls over slabs of brown bread (in much the same way Americans sometimes serve Ham & Bean soup ladled over a chunk of cornbread or a split biscuit). 

The soup I made for our dinner was much lighter and broth-y than these traditional Garbures.  I didn't add any starchy white potatoes, which tends to thicken a soup (and is particularly noticeable in successive reheats).  Furthermore, I added a higher proportion of liquids than is probably typical. 

The vegetables you use when you make Garbure are up to long as they are winter vegetables.  I liked the idea of an all white/cream/pale yellow/pale green soup, so I didn't include any carrots...or orange sweet potatoes or winter squash.  All of these would be at home in this soup, but I happened to have some white sweet potatoes (Bonita) from my market, so I chose to use them and forged ahead with the idea of a monochromatic soup.  Potatoes would obviously have been fine, but as mentioned above they add thickness, and I really wanted a lighter soup.  I also added leeks and turnips (some lovely Goldball turnips...but classic white, purple top turnips would be fine). I could have included celery—adding them to the soup with the leeks and onions—but just chose not to.

As you can see, this is a homey, flexible soup.  For the given quantity of cabbage and beans, four or five cups of additional vegetables is about right.  Water/stock/bean cooking liquid can then be added to achieve the body and thickness that you prefer. 

After I made my soup I realized that it would make a perfect post-Thanksgiving soup... if you happened to be the one who roasted the bird.  Chunks of dark meat...along with a dose of any of the salty pan drippings left from the roasting process...would make fantastic stand-ins for the traditional duck or goose confit and accompanying "jelly." Unfortunately, it didn't fall to me to roast the turkey this year.  But I know it would be delicious, so I will have to keep it in mind for the next time it is my turn to host the big meal.  Cold, gray days...perfect for soup...are never in short supply in late November.    

Cabbage & White Bean Soup with Root Vegetables

2/3 cup (about 4 1/2 to 5 oz.) dried great northern beans, soaked (overnight or with quick soak method)
olive oil
2 cloves garlic, peeled
Several sprigs thyme

1 to 2 T. olive oil
2 oz. bacon (or salt pork), cut in a 1/4-inch dice
1 large or 2 small leeks—white and pale green parts only, halved, well-rinsed and cut in a 1/3-to 1/2-inch dice (about 1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups)
2 cloves garlic, peeled and thinly sliced cross-wise
1/2 medium onion, diced (1 cup)
2/3 lb. turnip, peeled and cut in a 1/3- to 1/2-inch dice (2 cups)
2/3 lb. sweet potato (a "white" variety, if available), peeled and cut in a 1/3- to 1/2-inch dice (2 cups)
3/4 lb. wedge of cabbage, cored and cut into a rough 1/2-inch dice (3 cups)
4 c. Chicken Stock
2 c. Water
Olive oil
Finely minced flat leaf parsley

Drain and rinse the beans.  Place them in a large saucepan and cover with fresh water by 2 inches.  Bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and skim off the foam that has risen to the surface.  Add a generous drizzle of olive oil, the garlic and thyme.  Cook the beans at a gentle simmer, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender.  Or, place the soaked, drained beans in a shallow gratin with the garlic and thyme.  Drizzle with the olive oil.  Cover with boiling water by an inch, cover the pan with a tight fitting lid, or a piece of foil.  Transfer to a 325° oven and bake until tender.  Whether you cook the beans on the stove top or in the oven, they will take about an hour and 15 minutes to cook.  Add salt to taste when the beans are half cooked.  Beans may be cooked ahead.  Cool the beans in their cooking liquid.

In a large stockpot, heat the olive oil over medium heat.  Add the bacon and cook until rendered and beginning to turn golden and crisp around the edges. Add the leeks, onions, and the garlic along with a pinch of salt and continue to cook until the vegetables have begun to soften—about 10 to 15 minutes.  (If you are adding any carrots or celery, add them with the leeks and onions.)

Add the turnip, sweet potatoes and cabbage and stir to coat in the fat and cooked vegetables.  Add a good pinch of salt and continue to cook, stirring occasionally until you can hear the vegetables sizzling and see that the cabbage has begun to wilt/soften.  Add the stock and enough water to just cover the vegetables—they should be snug, but move freely and easily when stirred.  In any case, the amount of liquid is up to you.  Use less water if you want thick, hearty soup and use more if you want a lighter, broth-y soup.  Be mindful that the cabbage will collapse a bit as it cooks. 

Bring the soup to a simmer.  Taste and season the soup with salt.  Cover the pot, leaving the lid slightly ajar.  Simmer, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are just tender—about 20 to 25 minutes.  Add the cooked beans with their liquid.  Return the soup to a gentle simmer and cook briefly (5 minutes or so) to allow the flavors to blend.  Correct the seasoning, adding freshly ground black pepper, if you like.  Serve drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled generously with parsley.  Serve with a loaf of crusty bread and some cheese.

Makes 2 1/2 quarts soup (enough for 5 or 6 servings)

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

A Chocolate, Caramel & Nut Tart...for Thanksgiving and the Holiday Season to come

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day.....  And as has been increasingly the case in recent days (and months... even years....), I haven't had the time to post as much as I would like.  This is especially disappointing to me as we approach my favorite holiday of the year—a day that is all about the Table.  I love it that almost everyone cooks for this particular feast. And I love it that I get to participate—even if in just a small way—in the tables of many through the foods that I teach and recipes that I post.  I console myself about the scarcity of recent posts with the thought that visitors can still find many delicious Thanksgiving recipes that I posted in previous years.  To find them, check out the old October and November posts (click the links on the right), or visit the recently updated Thanksgiving appetizers, side dishes, desserts and all-things-pumpkin photo albums on my Facebook page.

Today, I thought I would sneak in a dessert post.  I have been making this Chocolate, Caramel & Nut Tart for a little over a year.  It is rich...but not too sweet.  A small sliver would be just the thing at the end of the big meal.  It would satisfy the chocolate, caramel and/or nut lovers in the well as those that really want pecan pie, but don't know if they can manage something so rich and sweet after a meal of Turkey with All the trimmings.  I have also discovered that unlike pumpkin pie, this tart keeps very well for several days at room temperature—providing a little something sweet for everyone to nibble on in between the flurry of holiday activities. 

The tart is simple to make...and if you keep nuts and basic baking supplies on hand, you probably have everything you need to make it already.  If you have crust phobia, there is no need to fear this crust.  Like the plain sugar dough that I have posted several times, anyone who can make rolled sugar cookies, can make this chocolate crust.  

As for the caramel, just make sure you have all of the ingredients measured and ready and that you pay close attention as the sugar syrup cooks.  There is no need for a candy thermometer, simply stop the cooking by adding the cream (stand back and use a long handled spoon) when the sugar syrup has turned a deep golden amber (you will even notice a small wisp or two of smoke when it is dark enough...but don't cook it much further than that or it will be bitter).    

The choice of nuts for this tart is up to you, but I find that walnuts, pecans and cashews (alone or in some kind of combination) make the best tart.  These nuts all have a softer, more delicate crunch to them and have just the right texture when mixed with the medium soft caramel.  As much as I love almonds, they are simply too hard for this tart. They make the tart not only difficult to cut, but also difficult to eat.  Pistachios (which I used in the tart pictured in the post) fall somewhere in the middle.  Their texture is a bit more obtrusive than I would like, but most people would probably not be bothered by it...and they add nice flavor and color.   

Finally, I want to wish everyone the happiest of Thanksgivings.  If you are cooking, I hope you find pleasure in the process.  And I hope that wherever you are—surrounded by many or few...with family or friends—that you find yourself at a table where for a window of time the frenzied pace of life slows, and you revel in the gifts of the food, the fellowship, the conversation, and the moment. 

Caramel Nut Tart

Chocolate tart dough (below)
1/2 c. semi-sweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate (3 oz.)
1/4 c. water (55 g.)
1 c. sugar (200 g.)
2 T. light corn syrup (41 g.)
2/3 c. heavy cream (155 g.)
2 T. honey (42 g.)
1 t. vanilla
1/4 t. salt
2 c. mixed nuts (see note), lightly toasted and coarsely broken

On a lightly floured surface, or between sheets of plastic wrap, roll about 3/4 of the chocolate dough out into an 11-inch round that is 3/16 inch thick.   Transfer the dough to a buttered, 9-inch removable bottomed tart pan and ease the dough into the pan, being careful not to stretch it and pressing it against the sides of the tart pan.  Use your hands to gently cut the dough flush with the upper rim of the tart pan.

To blind bake, place the shell on a cookie sheet and bake in a 350° oven until set—10 to 15 minutes.  (It is not necessary to fill this crust with pie weights.)  Remove the tart shell from the oven and immediately scatter the chocolate over the bottom of the shell.  

Let the chocolate sit for five minutes in the warm crust.  When the chocolate is soft, spread it out into a thin layer that covers the entire bottom surface of the shell.  Set aside.

To prepare the filling, place the water in a large saucepan.  Add the sugar and corn syrup and stir and cook over medium heat until the sugar has dissolved.  Increase the heat to medium-high, stop stirring, and bring the syrup to a boil.  Continue to cook, swirling the pan occasionally, until you have a deep amber caramel. Remove the pan from the heat and carefully and slowly pour in the cream (the mixture will hiss and bubble up, so stand back).  Return the pan to medium-low heat and whisk until the caramel is homogenous and any lumps have dissolved. Carefully stir in the honey, vanilla, salt and nuts. 

Using a slotted spoon, carefully transfer the nuts to the prepared shell, spreading them in an even layer.  Slowly pour the hot caramel over and around the nuts, being careful not to let it may have some caramel left over.

Transfer the tart to the oven and bake until the caramel is bubbling all over...about 15 to 20 minutes.  Let the tart cool at least 2 hours before serving (the tart is even better if made a day ahead). 

Slice with a sharp knife.  The tart is delicious served with vanilla bean ice cream and chocolate sauce.  Store the tart at room temperature.

Note:  You may use any combination of nuts that you prefer for this tart, although your tart will have a better finished texture if you avoid almonds.  Almonds are quite hard and their texture is noticeable in the finished tart.  My preferred choice is 2/3 cup each of walnuts, pecans and cashews.  Toast each variety of nut separately (different kinds of nuts will take different lengths of time to toast) in a 350° oven, spread on a baking sheet, until golden and fragrant.

(Caramel adapted from The Pie and Pastry Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum)

Chocolate Tart Dough:
1/2 c. unsalted butter (1 stick), at a cool room temperature
1/2 c. powdered sugar (55 g.)
1 large egg yolk (20 g.)
3/4 t. vanilla extract
1 1/4 c. all-purpose flour (162 g.)
1/4 c. unsweetened Dutch-processed cocoa powder (22 g.)

In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and confectioners’ sugar until just combined. Add the egg yolk and vanilla and beat until smooth. Sift in the flour and cocoa powder and beat on low speed until the dough comes together in clumps.  Press into a disk.  The dough may be used immediately or be chilled or frozen. 

(Crust recipe from The Last Course:  The Desserts Of Gramercy Tavern by Claudia Fleming)

Saturday, November 11, 2017

A Savory Winter Squash Tart with Mushrooms & Apples

Over the years I have posted a lot of recipes for savory tarts.  A tender, buttery crust makes an admirable blank canvas for the products of each passing season.   Whether a custard-based, quiche-style tart...or a free form galette...or a simple flat crust topped with cooked vegetables...I love them.   

A selection of local squash...the mottled yellow and green in the center are "Carnival" squash preferred squash for this tart.

This week I will be teaching a class on winter squash and sweet potatoes.  One of my favorite ways to use squash happens to be in a tart...and I will be including a tart in this class.  Most of the time when I put squash in a tart, I leave it in slices or chunks that are roasted (or sautéed) before they are put into the crust.  But this of course isn't the only way to present it and this time I will be turning the squash into a purée—and smearing it onto a flat rectangle of dough where it will act as an edible (and delicious) glue to hold all of the other toppings in place. 

I have posted a couple of other examples of this style of tart...using ricotta instead of squash puree as the "glue."  Both the ricotta and the squash (reinforced with an egg yolk) do a great job of holding the other components in place.  I particularly like using the squash though.  When making such a thin tart, you need to get a lot of bang for your flavor buck in the individual components...and the squash adds a lot of flavor.  It is also the perfect counterpoint to the savory mushrooms and sweet tart apples that make up the rest of the topping.   

If the combination of mushrooms and apples strikes you as odd, I encourage you to try it in this tart.  I think I first encountered this combination in a traditional chicken dish from Normandy.  The dish—Poulet Vallée d'Auge—is a classic French sauté of chicken cooked in stock, cider and cream...with mushrooms and apples.  Every time I eat it I am amazed by the subtlety and balance of this pairing.  Both the apples and the mushrooms are enhanced by it.  The dish would not be the same if it were garnished with just the apples...or just the mushrooms.  It is the same with the tart.

With a small green salad this tart makes a wonderful light dinner...or satisfying lunch.  But since we are on the verge of our annual holiday party season, I have also included instructions at the bottom of the recipe for rolling the crust and building the tart in such a way that you can cut small squares that make a perfect finger food.  Since all of the components (the crust, squash puree, sautéed apples, sautéed mushrooms and candied pepitas) can be made ahead, it would be the perfect thing with which to greet your Thanksgiving guests.  Simply make the components at your leisure in the day or two preceding the feast.  Then, on Thanksgiving morning, build the tarts and place them on a sheet pan in the fridge, baking them as oven space allows, and as close to the arrival of your guests as you can.

Let the holiday cooking and feasting begin. 

Savory Winter Squash Tart with Mushrooms & Apples

1 recipe pâte brisée (below)
1 egg, separated (yolk and white both reserved)
1 T. butter
1 medium shallot, about 1 oz., minced
1 clove of garlic, minced
1/2 t. minced fresh rosemary
3/4 c. (185 g.) Roasted Winter Squash purée (see below—I prefer Carnival Squash in these tartlets)
1/3 c. (1 oz.) finely grated Parmesan
1 large apple (7 to 8 oz.)—something that is sweet-tart and that holds its shape when a Braeburn...or a Pink Lady
1 T. butter (more as needed)
6 oz. crimini (or other favorite) mushrooms, sliced 1/4- to 1/3-inch thick
1 T. olive oil (more as needed)
1 T. minced flat leaf parsley
4 oz. goat cheese
3 to 4 T. Candied Pepitas (see below)
Salt & Pepper, to taste

On a lightly floured surface, roll the pastry out into a thin (1/8- to 3/16-inch thick) rectangle that measures at least 10- by 14-inches.  Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and chill for at least 30 minutes.  Before baking trim the pastry sheet to a 9- by 13-inch rectangle.  

Prick all over with a fork.  Beat the egg white until foamy and loose.  Brush the whole surface of the pastry with the beaten egg white and return to the refrigerator until ready to use.

In a small sauté pan, melt the butter over medium heat.  Add the shallots, garlic and rosemary and cook until very tender and beginning to caramelize.  Let cool.

In a medium-sized bowl, combine the squash purée, Parmesan, cooled shallot mixture and yolk.  Season to taste with salt & pepper.  Set aside.

Peel, quarter and core the apple.  Cut each quarter into 5 or 6 lengthwise slices (about 1/4- to 1/3-inch thick).  Sauté the apples in the butter until they are golden and just tender.  (Choose a sauté pan—preferably non-stick—that is just large enough to hold the apple slices in a snug single layer.  Start over medium-high heat, letting the butter melt and waiting to add the apples until the foam subsides.  Toss/turn the apples occasionally and reduce the heat if the apples are browning too much/too quickly.)  Set aside.

If the apples were sautéed in a non-stick pan, wipe out the pan and set it back over high heat.  If not, set a non-stick sauté pan (one that is just large enough to hold the mushrooms in a snug single layer) over high heat.  When the pan is hot, add a tablespoon of olive oil.  Add the mushrooms.  Sauté until the mushrooms start to brown—about 2 minutes.  Add a good pinch of salt and continue to sauté, reducing the heat if the mushrooms threaten to burn...but still maintaining an active sizzle, until the mushrooms are tender and browned...about 5 minutes total.  Remove from the heat and add the parsley.  Transfer the mushrooms to the plate with the apples.  Fold the apples and mushrooms together.  Season to taste with salt & pepper.

When ready to bake the tart, preheat the oven to 375° and adjust the rack to the lower third of the oven.  While the oven heats, build the tart.  Spread the squash mixture over the chilled crust, leaving a half inch border of crust visible all the way around.  

Scatter the apples and mushrooms evenly over the squash.  

Crumble the goat cheese over all.  (The tart may be made a few hours ahead to this point.  Cover and chill.)

Bake the tart on the lowest rack until the cheese is tipped with gold and the edges and bottom crust are golden brown—about 25 to 30 minutes.  Slide the cooked tart onto a wire rack and scatter over some of the candied pepitas, pressing lightly if necessary to help the seeds adhere to the cheese.  Cut and serve warm.  Serves 4 to 6 as an appetizer or light entrée with a salad of baby lettuces or arugula. 

Variation:  If you would like to make this tart into small passed appetizer portions, instead of cutting the sheet of dough into one large rectangle, cut it into three 5- by 9-inch rectangles.  Top the smaller rectangles exactly as you would the large, using a third of each of the components for each smaller rectangle.  Bake as for the large.  To serve, cut each rectangle in half lengthwise and then crosswise four or five times to make 8 to 10 small rectangles out of each tart.  Because each small rectangle will have been cut from the edge of the tart, each piece will be more stable and it will be easy to pick up with the fingers (you will have a total of 24 to 30 rectangles from the whole recipe).

Candied Pepitas:  Place 1/2 t. fennel seed and 1/8 t. coriander seed in a medium sauté pan and toast over medium heat.  When fragrant, transfer to a plate to cool.  Grind in a mortar and pestle.   In a small bowl, combine 1 T. sugar, the toasted fennel & coriander, 1/8 t. cinnamon, a pinch of cayenne and a generous pinch of salt.  Melt 2 teaspoons of butter in a medium sauté pan set over medium heat.  Add 1/2 c. raw pumpkin seeds and toss to coat in the butter.  Sprinkle the sugar mixture over the nuts and toss to coat.  Continue to cook, stirring and tossing until the pumpkin seeds are popping and lightly colored.  Remove the pan from the heat.  Wait 30 seconds.  Drizzle a teaspoon of honey over and toss to coat.  Spread the nuts on a plate to cool. 

(Candied Pepitas adapted from Sunday Suppers at Lucques, by Suzanne Goin)

To Roast a Winter Squash for a Purée: Preheat oven to 375° to 400°.  Halve the winter squash.  Scoop out the seeds and discard.  Place the squash on a baking sheet and brush with olive oil or melted butter.  Season with salt and pepper.   Place the squash in the oven and roast until fork tender and caramelized in spots—about an hour.  When the squash is cool enough to handle, scoop the flesh away from the skin with a spoon.  Purée the flesh in the food processor or pass through a food mill fitted with the fine disc.  A 2 pound squash will produce a scant 2 cups of purée, or about a pound.  Depending on the desired use of the purée, the butter or oil with which the squash is brushed prior to roasting may be augmented with any number of things—honey, molasses, maple syrup or balsamic vinegar—alone or in combination.  If you prefer that the squash not caramelize during the roasting process, either cover with foil or oil the pan, add a splash of water and roast the squash with the cut surfaces down. 

1 1/2 c. all-purpose flour (6 oz.)
3/8 t. salt
9 T. cold unsalted butter, sliced 1/4-inch thick (4 1/2 oz.)
3 to 4 1/2 T. ice water

Combine the flour and the salt in a medium-sized bowl.  Rub the butter into the flour until the mixture has the look of cornmeal and peas. 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.  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.  Form the finished dough into a thick rectangle.  Wrap in plastic wrap.  Chill for at least 30 minutes.

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