Friday, March 31, 2017

White Bean Soup with Butternut Squash, Farro & Ham

After an unusually warm and dry winter, I was expecting more of the same for spring.  But so far, spring has been cool and wet.  And I love it.  I love the way the spring greens pop in the soft gray light...

...and I love the rain.  As always, I am looking forward to the new, fresh foods of spring.  But these cool days have put me in the mood for more substantial—and a bit unseasonal—fare. 

On one of our recent rainy days I was flipping through a favorite cookbook (One Good Dish by David Tanis)  looking for the details of a particular recipe when the book fell open to a picture of his "winter minestrone" (white bean soup with winter squash).  I have never made the soup that is pictured—rather that recipe was a springboard for a soup that has since become a favorite.  Either version would have been perfect for the chilly, drizzly day.

In addition to the white beans, the original soup included pasta, pancetta and what I thought was a rather skimpy amount of winter squash.  The first time I made the soup, I doubled the quantity of squash.  I also happened to have some chunks of the end of a Serrano ham in my freezer, so I replaced the pancetta with that.  Even though pancetta might be more common in minestrone, I love ham in a bean soup...and it was a delicious substitution.  I have since made it with ordinary American-style ham—which might not be as good as a fine air cured ham (like Serrano or Prosciutto), but was still delicious.  Finally, I got rid of the pasta altogether and added farro to the soup.  I discovered a few years ago how delicious farro can be in soup.  Moreover, it gives the soup a nice keeping quality that it doesn't have when made with pasta.  Pasta, if added to the entire batch, will become bloated and soggy as it sits (it needs to be cooked and stored separately and added to the leftovers as needed to avoid this).  Farro maintains its texture...even when the soup is kept for several days.

One of the things I like the most about this soup is the way the squash is roasted before adding it to the soup.  When diced squash is cooked in the soup, it can break up into the broth.  This is usually a desired quality, since it adds body and color to the soup.  But when roasted and added at the end it maintains a discrete presence.  The effect—both from a visual and a taste perspective—is very nice.   

For some reason I never got around to making this soup this past winter.   And since days when I'll be hungry for such a soup are dwindling, I decided to make it now.  If you happen to have a cool spring day in your future, you should make it.  I think you will find the combination of flavors and textures to be wonderfully satisfying.  And if you don’t make it now, be sure to save the recipe someplace where it will cross your line of vision next fall when winter squash begins to fill the markets once again.

White Bean Soup with Butternut Squash, Farro & Ham

3 T. olive oil, divided
3 to 3 1/2 oz. ham, cut in a 1/3-inch dice
1 medium onion (about 8 to 9 oz.), cut into small dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 t. fennel seed, crushed
1/8 t. red pepper flakes, or to taste
1/2 lb. Great Northern beans, soaked overnight in cold water, drained and rinsed
1 lb. Butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch dice
1/2 c. pearled or semi-pearled farro
1 t. minced fresh rosemary
Olive oil for drizzling

In a soup pot, heat a tablespoon of the olive oil over medium-high heat.  Add the ham and cook, stirring occasionally until browned in spots—about 3 to 5 minutes.  Add another tablespoon of olive oil, then add the onion, garlic, fennel seeds, and pepper flakes along with a pinch of salt.  Stir to coat in the fat.   Reduce the heat and gently sweat the onions until soft and tender—adding more oil if the pan seems dry—about 10 to 15 minutes. 

Add the beans and enough water to cover the beans by about an inch or so and bring to a simmer.  Maintain a simmer, stirring occasionally and adding hot water as necessary to keep the beans covered by an inch of liquid.  When the beans are about half cooked, season to taste with salt.  Continue to cook until the beans are very tender—about 45 minutes to an hour total cooking time. 

While the beans cook, prepare the squash and farro:

In a large bowl, toss the cubed squash with a tablespoon or so of olive oil.  Season with salt and pepper and spread on a baking sheet large enough to hold the squash in a snug single layer. Transfer to a 400° oven and roast, turning the squash once, until tender and caramelized in spots—about 30 minutes.  Set aside.

Cook the farro in a pot of boiling salted water until just tender—about 25 minutes.  Drain and spread on a baking sheet until needed.

When the beans are tender, add the squash, farro and rosemary, along with enough boiling water so that the soup elements are submerged and moving freely.  Continue to simmer for 5 minutes or so to allow the flavors to blend.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  Ladle in to warm soup bowls and served drizzled with olive oil. 

Makes 2 to 2 1/2 quarts.  Recipe is easily doubled.

Note:  The soup will thicken as it sits.  Be ready to add more water when reheating on subsequent days. 

(Recipe adapted from Winter Minestrone in One Good Dish by David Tanis)

Monday, March 27, 2017

Leek, Mushroom & Goat Cheese Pizza

Even though I cook for a living, just like everyone else I find it can be difficult to maintain the inspiration necessary to put an evening meal on the table day in and day out. As part of the ongoing effort, I have made a habit of purchasing vegetables I love even if I have no specific use for them in mind. Having a few versatile vegetables at the ready to combine with my pantry of staples can provide the boost I need. It also speeds up the dinner making process (no last minute trips to the store...) and adds a disincentive for giving up and just going out for dinner (I really hate wasting food). During the winter months, fresh items (as opposed to storage items like potatoes, root vegetables and squash) on this list include broccoli, Brussels sprouts, kale, chard, mushrooms and cauliflower.

I love leeks, but for some reason they have never been on this list. Up until about a month ago I usually only purchased leeks when I had a specific plan for them. When I finally managed to motivate myself to attend the winter farmers' market on the first weekend of March of this year, I decided to pick some up. As always, I was beguiled by something fresh, local and beautiful. But more than that, I wanted to support the growers who had made the effort to come to the market with their more limited winter offerings. And I was so glad I got them.  That first bunch became a simple and classic Potato Leek soup...something I haven't had in years and that turned out to be just the thing for a late winter evening. Because I enjoyed having them around so much, when I went to the next market I picked up another bunch. They went into the pizza I'm posting today.

If I hadn't had the leeks on hand, it's possible I would never have gotten around to making this particular pizza (which would have been a shame). I might have pinned it....or made a mental note to get leeks.... But like so many recipes I see—and truly want to try—it might have just slipped off of my radar entirely. On that afternoon though, when I happened across this delicious looking pizza on Twitter, I paused for a closer look because I knew I had the leeks....which gave the recipe immediate dinner potential.

As I looked with more attention at the recipe, I soon realized that I had everything I needed to make it. I always keep bacon (and pancetta...which would have been delicious, too) around...and I had just enough goat cheese (left from Darina Allen's Goat Cheese Soufflé that I made for St. Patrick's Day) to crumble over the top. Goat cheese is not what the original recipe called for...but I love the way tangy goat cheese draws out the mildly acidic tang of leeks. (I also had some thyme left from that soufflé...which was also not in the original recipe but just so happens to be fantastic with leeks, mushrooms and goat cheese...)

The pizza was delicious...and I will make it again. But more importantly, I will be adding leeks to my list of "just because" winter vegetables. Although, I don't know if there will be any at the market the next time I go..... It is now officially spring (which makes me very happy), and the market offerings will obviously be changing with the season. But next fall...when the supply of tomatoes, eggplant, peppers, summer squash and other items that make up my regular late summer stash comes to an end, I will remember the leeks...and look forward to enjoying them as part of my pantry all winter long. 

Leek, Mushroom & Goat Cheese Pizza

2 slices bacon (about 2 1/2 oz), cut cross-wise in 1/4-inch strips
2 medium or 1 large leek (see note), white and pale green portions only, halved, cut cross-wise into 1/3-inch half rings and thoroughly rinsed to remove all grit
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
1 t. minced fresh thyme
Salt & pepper
1 T. olive oil, plus more for brushing
1/2 T. butter
8 oz. crimini or button mushrooms, sliced 1/4-inch thick
1 ball of pizza dough (see below), rested
3 oz. Dubliner cheese (see note), coarsely grated
2 oz. Goat cheese (I used an aged Bûcheron, but a soft Montrachet-style is fine), crumbled

Render the bacon in a medium sauté pan set over low heat, stirring occasionally. When the bacon is crisp, transfer it to a plate using a slotted spoon.

Return the pan to medium heat and add the leeks, garlic and thyme along with a pinch of salt. When the leeks start to sizzle, reduce the heat to low and cover. Cook until the leeks are just tender—5 to 10 minutes, depending on the age and size of the leeks. It's ok if the leeks still have texture...they just shouldn't be crunchy. Uncover. If there is any liquid left in the pan, increase the heat until it has been absorbed or has evaporated. Taste and correct the seasoning with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Remove from the heat and set aside. 

While the leeks cook, warm the olive oil and butter in a large sauté pan set over medium high heat. When the butter melts and the foam subsides, add the mushrooms. Saut
é the mushrooms until browned and tender—about five minutes—regulating the heat as necessary to maintain an active sizzle without burning or scorching the mushrooms. Remove from the heat and season. Add the bacon and mushrooms to the finished leeks and toss to combine.

Build the pizza: On a lightly floured surface, roll or stretch the dough out into a 12-inch circle. Transfer the dough to a pizza pan, baking sheet or pizza peel that has been dusted with semolina (or flour...or cornmeal). Spread a thin layer of oil over the crust. Scatter with the Dubliner, followed by the topping mixture, followed by the goat cheese.

If using a pizza pan or baking sheet, place the pizza in the pan on a pre-heated pizza stone in a pre-heated 500° oven. Bake until the crust is golden brown on the bottom and the cheese is bubbling, about 12 to 15 minutes. To insure a crisp crust, slide the pizza off of the pan and directly onto the pizza stone as soon as the crust is set (after 4 or 5 minutes). 

If using a peel, slide the pizza directly onto the preheated baking stone. Bake until the crust is golden brown on the bottom and the cheese is bubbling—about 8 to 10 minutes.

When the pizza is done, transfer to a cutting board and cut into wedges and serve.


  • I used very small leeks from my farmers' market that were sold by the bunch and I used the whole bunch. You should have about 1 1/3 cup of prepared leeks for this recipe 
  • I love the nutty taste of Dubliner and I always have it on hand. It is a great snacking and melting cheese.  There are other good meltig cheeses that would work just as well. A good, sharp Cheddar...Fontina...low-moisture Mozzarella...etc. 
(Recipe adapted from Fox & Briar)
1/2 cup (115 g.) warm water (100º-110º)
1 1/8 t. instant or active dry yeast
160 to 180 grams (1 1/3 to 1 1/2 c.) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/2 t. salt
1 T. olive oil

Place the water and yeast in a small bowl and let sit until the yeast has dissolved. Place 160 grams (1 1/3 cups) of the flour and salt in the food processor fitted with the metal blade and pulse to blend. Add the oil and yeast/water mixture and pulse until the dough is homogenous. Pulse 3 or 4 times until the ingredients come together. Begin to run the mixture in long pulses (10 to 15 seconds each) until the dough is smooth and elastic—it shouldn't take more than a minute. If the dough seems wet and sticky, add flour a tablespoon at a time, pulsing after each addition. If you like, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and give it a few kneads by hand. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise until it has doubled in size—about 1 hour. Punch down the dough and turn it onto a lightly floured surface and form it into a ball. Cover with a towel (or turn the bowl it rose in upside down over the dough) and let rest for 15 to 20 minutes. The dough is now ready to be shaped, topped and cooked or frozen. (You may also make the dough 12 to 24 hours ahead. Place the bowl of dough in the refrigerator where it will have a nice long, cool rise. Roll, top and bake as usual.)

Traditional mixing method:  Place the water in a large bowl and add the yeast. Let soften for a minute or two. Add 1 ½ cups of the flour and whisk until smooth. Add the oil, salt and another cup of the flour. Stir with a wooden spoon to form a soft dough that holds its shape, adding more flour if necessary. Sprinkle some of the remaining half cup of flour on a smooth surface. Scrape the dough out of the bowl and sprinkle with a bit more flour. Knead the dough, adding just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking, until the dough is smooth and springs back when pressed lightly with a finger—about 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer the dough to a

Variation for a Whole Wheat Crust: Instead of unbleached all-purpose flour, use 3/4 c. bread flour and 1/2 to 3/4 c. whole wheat flour (any whole wheat flour will work, but I like “white” whole wheat flour).

Printable Recipe (for Dough)

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Pistachio & Strawberry Friands

I'm not sure when it was that I first saw a picture of one of the window displays at Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi's Restaurant "Ottolenghi" in London, but suffice it to say that I loved everything about what I saw:  the abundance...  the beautiful vegetables...  the variety of grains... and most of all the fantastical display of miniature desserts (cakes, tarts, meringues, cookies...).  I was...and still am...completely enamored.  Regular readers will know that I cook and bake under the influence of these two talented chefs all the time.  The little cakes I am posting today make frequent appearances in their displays, so I think it is safe to say that I first became aware of them because of my admiration for the Ottolenghi chefs.  This particular recipe is in fact adapted from one of theirs.

If you have never heard of a friand (pronounced fryʹ uhnd), let me introduce you.  Friands are little muffin-sized cakes that are popular in Australia and New Zealand.  The word Friand is actually French (pronounced freeʹ ahn) and means "tasty morsel".  The cakes themselves are almost identical to a French petit four called a financier.  Both cakes are made of roughly equal quantities of egg whites, melted butter, sugar and a blend of all purpose (plain) and nut flours. 

As far as I am able to tell, the most significant difference between them is twofold:  When making financiers, the melted butter is always browned first.  When making friands, it appears that the sugar used is always powdered (icing) sugar.  I would also add that in my experience, friands tend to have a higher percentage of sugar.  They are quite sweet.  I like to eat cake for breakfast, but I would probably not choose a friand for breakfast...they are definitely a tea time/dessert treat. 

Some will tell you that another difference is that friands usually have added fruit...sometimes bits of chocolate.  But since more and more you will see financiers made with added fruit, I'm not sure this distinction is particularly valid.  To be honest, I think the best definition is that the friand is the Down Under version of a financier.  A financier is, after all, a tasty morsel. 

Both financiers and friands are usually made with almond meal/flour.  But you can of course make them with all kinds of nut flours.  Almond flour is widely available these days...other nut flours, not so much.  Occasionally I will see hazelnut flour.  But I have never seen pistachio flour.  (Of course, that doesn't mean it isn't out there).  I use a drum-style rotary grater, fitted with the finest drum, to grind small quantities of nuts into nut flours.  You can attempt to grind nuts to a flour in your food processor, but even if you are able to do so without creating nut butter, you will find that instead of a fluffy, flour-like texture, you will have produced something that is rather oily and has the heavy texture of sand.  It might make an acceptable cake...but the texture would not be as light.   If you like to bake with nut flours, it is definitely worth seeking out a special nut grinder/grater of some kind. 

The texture of a friand is probably not what you might expect.  They are often compared to muffins, but their texture is not muffin-like at all.  They are tender and moist (like a good muffin)...but whereas a muffin is supposed to be light and airy, a friand is rich and dense (in fact, rather pound cake-like).  One of the particular qualities that I love in both financiers and friands is the browned, tender-chewy exterior crust.  If you were to try to dig in with your fork, you might decide you had encountered a tough or a hard cake.  But if you pick it up and eat it with your fingers, you will discover that it isn't in the slightest bit tough or hard.   Rather, it has a definite and pleasant chew before dissolving into sweet, nutty and buttery deliciousness in your mouth. 

The particular texture of the crust as I have described it is most pronounced on the day the friands are made.  After that, the exterior softens a bit.  It is still very good...just not the same.  Some might in fact prefer the texture on the second or third day.  Since the cakes can be iced with a powdered sugar glaze that tends to dissolve when it comes in contact with moisture—like the moisture in the fruit scattered over the top of the cake—it is best to ice the cakes on the day they will be served.  It is not the end of the world if the icing dissolves a bit, it's just not as pretty (they still taste great).  You can also forgo the icing altogether and serve the cakes with nothing more than a dusting of powdered sugar.

An iced friand on the second day...  you can see bits of strawberry
 peeking through where the icing has begun to dissolve...

Finally, for those of you who have been following my blog for a long time now, you might realize that the presence of a pistachio cake can only mean one thing.  That's anniversary.  I began keeping For Love of the Table seven years ago today.  Ever since the first anniversary I have always posted something pistachio on the day (most often a cake).  It's difficult to believe it has been so long.  I will have to sit down to a bite of cake to mark the occasion.  I hope you will vicariously join me.  And, I hope you will continue to visit For Love of the Table...where, for the foreseeable future, I will continue to share all kinds of delicious things to cook and that you will be able to share them with the people you your table.

Pistachio & Strawberry Friands

185g unsalted butter melted and cooled (170g plus 15g for brushing the pans)
75g all purpose flour
40g finely ground almonds (almond meal/flour)
85g finely ground pistachios
225g powdered sugar, sifted
1/4 t. salt
180g egg whites (from 6 eggs)
1 t. orange zest
110g strawberries, washed, dried, hulled and cut into a 1/4-inch dice
1 recipe strawberry glaze (below), optional
3 to 4 T. chopped toasted pistachios for garnish, optional
Powdered sugar for garnish, optional

Preheat the oven to 350°F

Use a tablespoon (15g) of the melted butter to generously brush the bottoms and sides of the pan(s) (see note).  This buttery coating helps create the crisp edges that are one of the special characteristics of a friand.  Chill the pan(s) to firm up the butter.

Place all of the dry ingredients in a medium bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.

Place the egg whites in a medium bowl and using a clean whisk, whip the whites until very frothy/foamy. It isn't necessary to whip them to soft peaks—you just want to loosen them up a bit. 

Spread the dry ingredients over the top of the egg whites.  Add the zest to the cooled butter and pour this mixture over the dry ingredients.  Fold all the ingredients into the egg whites, mixing just until the batter is smooth and uniform.  You may use the batter immediately or cover and chill for a day or two.

Divide the batter among the pans using an ice cream scoop.  Fill each of the pans 2/3 to 3/4 of the way up.  Scatter the strawberries over the top of each of the cakes, dividing evenly.  (If any of the berries are touching the edges of the pans, use a fork to gently pull them away from the edge.)

Place the pan(s) on a baking sheet and place in the middle of the preheated oven (if your baking sheet is very thick or heavy, place it in the oven while the oven is preheating and then just place the cake pans directly on the preheated sheet). Bake for 20 to 35 minutes (depending on the size and depth of your pan) until the friands have risen, are golden around the edges and springy to the touch.  A skewer inserted into the center of one should come out clean. 

Take the friands out of the oven and leave them to cool in the pans for 3 to 5 minutes.  Don't allow them to stay too long in the molds or they will stick.  Turn the cakes out (running a sharp knife around the edges first if they seem to want to stick).  Transfer the cakes to a wire rack to cool.

To finish:  Dredge the cooled cakes with powdered sugar or ice them with the strawberry glaze.  To glaze the cakes, place them on a wire rack set over a baking sheet.  Drop a blob of glaze on the top of each cake and spread out to the edges, allowing it to slowly drip down the sides.  Before the glaze is set, sprinkle the top of each cake with a few chopped pistachios. 

Un-iced, the friands will keep—in an airtight container—for several days.  Glazing/icing should be done on the day they will be served. 

Note on pans:  You may use any shape of small, muffin-sized cake tin that you like as long as you butter it well and don't fill it any more than 2/3 to 3/4 full.  You can use a muffin pan...or small loaf pans.  I use a couple of individual cheesecake pans.  These are similar to 6 cup muffin tins, but have straight sides and removable bottoms.  The holes in my pans are two inches deep and 2 3/4 inches in diameter.  I only fill them about half full (75g batter each) because I don't want the cakes to be too large.  The recipe makes 10 cakes of this size.  You could probably use individual porcelain/china/stoneware ramekins too.

Strawberry Glaze:
55g. strawberries, washed, dried and hulled
1 T. milk
1/2 t. lemon juice
225g. powdered sugar

Place the berries in a small bows and smash with a fork.  Pass through a fine sieve, pressing the pulp against the sides.  Measure out 25 grams of strained strawberry purée.  Place the powdered sugar in a small bowl and add the measured berry purée, the milk and the lemon juice.  Stir with a rubber spatula to make a thick, smooth glaze.  It should be just thick enough so that it will slowly drip down the sides of the cakes when spread on the top.  Adjust the consistency with milk, strawberry purée or powdered sugar.  Cover with plastic wrap until ready to use.

Recipe adapted from Ottolenghi and Waitrose

Printable Version

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Kale Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing, Currants & Sunflower Seeds

I made a trip to the farmers' market last Saturday morning.  During the summer months, this is a weekly occurrence, worthy of a mention along the lines of "I got out of bed this morning."  During the winter though, this has not been the case.  Up until this year it wasn't possible for me to go—there was no market to go to.  But this winter, the market I started going to early last summer (The Brookside Farmers' Market) started hosting a bi-monthly, indoor, winter market.  I went to the first one...and I loved it. I had every intention of faithfully going for the duration of the winter.  But since it wasn't part of my routine...  it just didn't happen.  I have no excuse.

But this past Saturday, I returned.  And I was so glad I did.  I came home with leeks, beautiful little sweet potatoes, broccoli greens (a new one for me), and Tuscan kale.  I used the sweet potatoes first...they were perfect for roasting (their size and shape made beautiful little medallions).  I am using the leeks today—in a simple potato leek soup (perfect for our late winter snow day).   The broccoli greens ended up in a garlicky braise with a handful of chickpeas.  Since I was unfamiliar with this green, I had asked the grower about it (always a good idea).  He told me they were most similar to Collard greens...although the tiny leaves were tender enough to throw in a salad.  My bag of greens was a mix of large and small, so a simple braise seemed like the thing to do ('s always a good idea to at least use a process that is familiar to you if the ingredient is not).  I thought they were delicious...and very nice served over a mound of bulgur and topped with a fried egg.

I decided to use the kale raw, in a salad.   This is unusual for me.  I know that kale salad is beyond hipster at this point...almost to the point of being passé (so I am definitely late to the party).  It just so happens that I really like cooked kale.  I have of course eaten...and made...kale salad.  It's just not the first thing that leaps to mind when I have kale on hand.  But when I got this kale home and looked at it, I knew it really belonged in a salad.  It was just so tender and beautiful. 

I don't know why, but I started thinking recently about a salad that I used to make for myself in college.  I think it's fair to say that it's no secret that I spent the early years of my life actively avoiding vegetables.  By the time I got to college I must have been aware that there was benefit in vegetables...and I occasionally made myself a salad at the salad bar.  Although, I managed to avoid all the raw vegetables that were on offer:  my salad of choice was a small amount of lettuce (probably ice's really hard to say...this was long before the day of the now ubiquitous "mixed baby lettuces"), creamy blue cheese dressing, salty roasted sunflower seeds and dark raisins.  Even back then, this salad hit all my favored flavor and textural buttons: salty...sweet...crunchy...chewy...creamy...  with the nice pungency of blue cheese thrown in for accent.  The lettuce was just the delivery system.

I'm not sure why I never recreated this salad before now, but it occurred to me as I thought about kale salad that kale would be an admirable green with which to make it.  The substance and texture of kale are sufficient to stand up to the actual physical weight of the seeds, raisins and heavy dressing.  Moreover, I thought the mineral-y tasting—slightly pungent...slightly bitter—raw kale would be enhanced by these salty, sweet and pungent additions.  And it was.

In the unlikely event that you are new to kale salad, one of the great things about it is that it can be dressed ahead.  In fact, it really should be dressed at least an hour or so before you plan on eating it.  If you dress it and eat it right away, it is just way too chewy.  Eating it becomes a lot of work...and as you chew you really do have the feeling that you are eating it "because it's good for you".  I admit that I have very little patience for that kind of eating.  Food should be enjoyable and delicious!  Dressing the kale ahead will make it so that it is as enjoyable to eat as it is delicious.  Frankly, kale is substantial enough that you can dress the salad a day ahead and it will be even softer....but still not soggy.  Depending on your textural preferences, you might even like it better on the second day.

If you have a winter market in your area, I encourage you to make a point to give it a visit.  Doing so will give you a sense of what grows...and even your area during the inhospitable months of winter.  It's also a great opportunity to support the people who work so hard to bring you beautiful local produce during the spring, summer and fall.  And in the winter, you will probably get to sample some of the things they make with what they grow...baked goods, jams (I picked up some local apple butter last week), pickles/fermented foods, addition to all the squash and root vegetables that have been kept in appropriate winter storage.

And if there is not a winter market in your area, you should definitely make a trip to the store to pick up some Tuscan kale (and any of the other ingredients that you might need) so you can make this salad.  You might even be able to get someone who doesn't like vegetables to give it a try.

Kale Salad with Roquefort, Sunflower Seeds & Currants

When I was in college, I made this salad with dark raisins.  In its reincarnated form with kale, I make it with currants—which seem a bit more refined—instead.  But if you have raisins on hand, you can obviously use them. 

1 large bunch Tuscan Kale, stems stripped and leaves cut cross-wise into scant 1/2-inch wide ribbons (you should have about 5 oz of trimmed kale)
Salt & freshly ground pepper
1/3 c. toasted and salted sunflower seeds
1/3 c. dried currants
2 T. finely minced shallot, rinsed thoroughly in cold water and pressed dry between paper towels 1/3 to 1/2 c. creamy Roquefort dressing (see below)
Roquefort crumbles for garnish

Wash the kale in several changes of water and spin dry.  If time, chill briefly (this will help it to crisp up and dry a bit more.)

At least an hour before you plan to serve the salad, place the kale in a large bowl.  Season with salt and pepper and scatter a quarter cup each of the sunflower seeds and currants over the kale along with the shallot.  

Drizzle a third cup of the dressing over the contents of the bowl, and using your hands, toss the salad, massaging the leaves a bit as you do to make sure they are well coated with the dressing.  Add more dressing if you like.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  Cover with plastic and chill for at least an hour. 

To serve, re-toss, adding more dressing if necessary.  Mound the salad on individual plates or in a serving bowl and top with a scattering of the remaining sunflower seeds and currants.  Garnish with Roquefort crumbles and serve.  Serves 4 to 5.

Creamy Roquefort Dressing:
You can of course use a purchased blue cheese dressing for this salad...but I really don't recommend it.  Homemade blue cheese dressing is simple to make and oh so delicious—particularly if you make it with a good Roquefort cheese.

1 T. red wine vinegar
a small clove of garlic (just a small amount), smashed to a purée with a pinch of salt
1/4 c. mayonnaise (60 g.)
1/4 c. sour cream (60 g.)
1 oz. Roquefort
Salt & freshly ground pepper

Place the red wine vinegar in a small bowl. Whisk in the garlic. Whisk in the mayonnaise and sour cream until smooth.  Add the cheese, placing it at the side of the bowl, and begin to mash it with the back of a spoon or a fork, gradually incorporating the mayonnaise-sour cream mixture into it.  Continue to mix until the dressing is homogenous. Your goal is to incorporate the blue cheese in such a way that the dressing is smooth and creamy.  If you make a larger batch, you could do this more efficiently in the food processor, but this small batch wouldn't work very well in a large food processor. Season to taste with salt & pepper.

Makes a generous 2/3 cup dressing.

Note:  This is the identical to a recipe I posted a few years ago except that it has more vinegar.  I found that my normal blue cheese dressing wasn't quite sharp enough for the kale.

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Sunday, March 5, 2017

Farro with Butternut Squash, Kale & Pistachios

Anyone who cooks on a regular basis will tell you they feel like they get into culinary ruts.  The very notion of a rut implies somehow being stuck...or maybe being boring.  But the fact that we gravitate toward the familiar can be a good thing.  The pull of particular foods/ingredients...  favored styles or food cultures...   certain cookbooks/food magazines or blogs...   or a group of chefs/cooks whose recipes cause you stop and take a second look, is often the source of much deliciousness.  Recently, every single one of these bells went off for me when I saw Melissa Clark's recipe for Farro with Roasted Squash on the New York Times Cooking site. 

No matter what Clark had chosen to do with this set of ingredients, I'm pretty sure I would have liked the result....  I appreciate her style and her approach to food.  And I love farro and winter squash.  All of this together made me stop and look.  What inspired me to try my own spin on her recipe was the liquid she used to cook her farro:  apple cider.  I don't know why using cider in this way has never occurred to me (it happens to be a favored winter ingredient...I pretty much always have some in the fridge during the fall and winter months...).  What a great idea.  Cider adds subtle flavor, sweetness and acidity....and compliments the squash perfectly.  I love apples with winter squash. 

As usual, I departed from the original recipe in a couple of ways.  Instead of adding sugar and spices to the squash, I just tossed it with olive oil and salt and pepper.  Then, I added a generous quantity of caramelized red onions and some chopped pistachios to the finished farro.  Both of these added the subtle sweetness I had removed—and as a bonus, the pistachios added some nice textural interest. 

I also added some wilted Tuscan kale to the finished pilaf.  I think a scattering of arugula or mint instead (as in the original recipe) would have been nice, but one of my most favored culinary ruts is wilted greens with grains.... 

Finally, I served my pilaf with a dollop of labneh.  I tried the finished dish with the Feta crumbles—and this was good (goat cheese would be good too)—but found that I preferred the tangy contrast of yogurt to the salty contrast of the cheese.  If you are in the mood for something more salty, Feta might be the way to go.

It is worth observing that while the reason I originally stopped to examine Clark's recipe might be my own well-worn culinary path, that doesn't mean the resulting dish was boring in the slightest.  I found it to be totally delicious and satisfying.  As a matter of fact, it's the kind of thing I could happily cook and eat every day....

Farro with Winter Squash, Tuscan Kale & Pistachios

1 large or 2 small bunches (8 to 10 oz. total) Tuscan kale, stemmed (discard stems) and leaves cut cross-wise into 1-inch strips
About 4 T. olive oil, divided
1 medium to large red onion (8 to 10 oz.), halved and thinly sliced cross-wise
Salt & pepper, to taste
1/8 t. hot pepper flakes, or more, to taste
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 lb. Butternut squash, peeled, seeded halved and cut into 1/2-inch thick slices (see note)
1 c. pearled or semi-pearled farro
1 c. apple cider
1 T. to 1 1/2 T. cider vinegar, to taste
1/4 c. pistachios, toasted and coarsely chopped
3 oz. Labneh, yogurt or Feta (in large chunks)
Extra virgin olive oil for drizzling

Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil.  Add the kale and cook until just tender—about 5 to 7 minutes.  Drain the kale, reserving 1 1/2 cups of the blanching liquid.  Spread the kale on a baking sheet—or just spread out in a wide colander—and let cool. 

Warm 1 1/2 T. of olive oil in a wide sauté pan set over moderate heat.  Add the onion along with a good pinch of salt and the pepper flakes.  Cook until the onions are tender and slightly caramelized. If at any time the onions seem dry, add a bit more oil.  Add garlic and cook until fragrant. Add the kale and stir to coat in the oil and onions.  Cook over low heat until any water clinging to the kale has evaporated.  Set aside and keep warm.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl, toss the squash with a couple tablespoons of olive oil and salt & pepper to taste.  Spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and transfer to a 450° oven.  Roast until tender and caramelized—about 25 to 30 minutes, flipping the squash over after about 15 to 20 minutes (wait to turn until the squash has begun to become golden on the bottom).  Keep warm until ready to assemble the pilaf.

While the squash, onions and kale cook, cook the farro.  Place the cider and reserved kale cooking liquid in a saucepan and check for salt.  Bring to a boil and add the farro.  Cover and reduce the heat to maintain a simmer.  Cook until the farro is tender (but still has texture)—about 25 to 30 minutes.  Drain the farro and transfer to a large bowl. Add the kale/caramelized onions along with a tablespoon of cider vinegar.  Taste and correct the seasoning with salt, pepper and vinegar.

To serve, spread half of the farro mixture on a large platter or individual serving plates.  Top with half of the squash and a scattering of pistachios.  Repeat this layering.  If using labneh or yogurt, serve with a dollop on the side or drizzle yogurt over the whole pilaf.  If using Feta or goat cheese, crumble the cheese over all.  Drizzle with olive oil and serve.  Serves 4. 

Note:  Cut the cavity portion of the squash into 1/2-inch wide wedges. Cut the halved "neck" portion cross-wise into 1/2-inch thick slices.  If you like, you can further cut these half circles in half—into "sticks" or you prefer.  I like this dish best made with all cavity portions as I think these 'wedges' look best in the dish.  (I save the necks for a preparation that calls for a neat dice). 

(Adapted from New York Times Cooking)

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