Sunday, June 30, 2019

Kohlrabi: in a Sauce for Pasta…with Green Garlic, Pancetta & Cream

Kohlrabi must grow unusually well…with few of the typical pests and other problems encountered with other crops…in the Midwestern United States.  I say this because it is widely grown by the growers who supply CSAs and the stalls of our local farmers’ markets.  This, despite the fact that it seems to be a hard sell.  Google searches for “What can I make with kohlrabi?” probably surge during June as CSA shares begin to include this alien looking member of the Brassicas.  Shoppers at the local markets often bypass it altogether. 

But growers persist in planting kohlrabi.  And for good reason:  it is delicious.  If you have sampled kohlrabi from the grocery store you might not have been impressed.  You can get good kohlrabi at the grocery store…but often their stock is a bit old...and hence fibrous and tough.  But once you taste a freshly harvested kohlrabi, you will begin to look for it at the late spring and early summer markets.

Kohlrabi ...with its leaves trimmed away

Kohlrabi is the same species (Brassica oleracea) as cabbage, turnips (it’s sometimes called a cabbage turnip…or a German turnip), kale, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower.  It is most often compared to turnip…but I find it to be much milder than all but the mildest, white-topped salad turnips.  If I were to compare it to anything on this list of Brassicas, I would say it is most like a broccoli stem.  But if you happen to get your hands on a particularly fine kohlrabi, you will find it to be much sweeter, crisper and juicier than a broccoli stem. 

Peeled and diced...and ready for pasta...

Kohlrabi is delicious in soups and vegetable ragouts.  I posted a lovely vegetable and farro soup that included kohlrabi several years ago.  And my chef friend Nancy makes a delicious Ganth Gobi Aloo/Kohlrabi & Potato Curry with the kohlrabi that arrives in her CSA share.  Most often you will find kohlrabi shredded or julienned and included in raw vegetable salads or slaws.  It is truly delicious this way.  I have posted a couple of recipes that use it raw…and if you never do anything other than make salad and slaw with your kohlrabi, you will come up with lots of delicious ways to use and enjoy it. 

Recently as I was considering what to do with some kohlrabies I had purchased at the market I decided that I really wanted to cook it.  So I turned, as I often do, to pasta.  As I considered how to treat it, I remembered how delicious other Brassicas are with cream, garlic and bacon (or ham).   My pasta pretty much fell together from there.  If you have never tried cooked kohlrabi, you could do worse than this simple pasta.  And if pasta and carbs aren’t really your thing (you probably haven’t made it this far in the post), this manner of preparing the kohlrabi would make a fantastic side dish.  Simply cut the kohlrabi into a larger dice…or maybe thin slices...instead.

A couple of final notes about my recipe:  Green garlic season is almost over.  Please don’t skip this pasta for that reason.  Just use regular garlic…maybe one small clove, minced.  

As you read through this post you might have noticed that some of the pictures include a sprinkling of parsley over the finished pasta.  I did this to add a bit of color…and it does that.  But it also, of course, adds a flavor component.  It tastes fine with the parsley, but I actually like it better without.  So…as is almost always the case with herbs…add to taste, if you like.

Lastly, I prefer light cream sauces for my pasta—opting to extend the sauce with pasta water rather than more cream if there doesn’t seem to be enough sauce to coat the noodles in a light fluid sauce.  But if you prefer a richer/creamier sauce, by all means, add a bit more cream.  More cream is almost never a bad thing.

Fettuccine with Kohlrabi, Green Garlic & Pancetta
in a White Wine Cream Sauce

1 T. butter
1 1/2 oz. pancetta, minced
2 or 3 cloves green garlic (or half a small stalk), minced
10 to 12 oz. kohlrabi, peeled and cut in a 1/4-inch dice (to make 1 1/2 c.)
2 to 3 T. dry white wine
1/2 to 2/3 c. heavy cream
4 or 5 T. (about 1 oz.) finely grated Parmesan or Pecorino (or a mix)
180 g. (6 to 7 oz.) Fettuccine

Melt the butter in a medium sauté pan set over moderate heat.  Add the pancetta.  

When the pancetta begins to turn golden and sizzle (after 2 or 3 minutes), add the green garlic.  Cook gently until the pancetta is beginning to crisp and the garlic is fragrant.

Add the kohlrabi to the pan along with a pinch of salt and continue to cook for a minute or two—sizzling gently.  It should not be caramelizing.    

Increase the heat and add the white wine.  Reduce to a glaze.  Add enough water to barely cover the kohlrabi.  Season with salt.  Cover and simmer gently until the kohlrabi is tender.  This will generally take about 20 minutes, but kohlrabi varies greatly in tenderness, so begin checking at 10 minutes and be prepared to cook for 25 minutes or so, if necessary.  The kohlrabi should be tender, not crunchy, when cooked.  Add more water as necessary to maintain a very small amount of liquid in the pan.

When the kohlrabi is tender, drop the pasta into a large pot of rapidly boiling, salted water. Stir occasionally and cook until the pasta is al dente. Drain, reserving some of the pasta water.

While the pasta is cooking, add the cream to the kohlrabi and bring to a simmer.  When the sauce has come to a brisk simmer, remove the pan from the heat. 

Add the drained pasta to the sauce and toss to coat.  If the pasta seems dry, add some of the pasta water…you might need as much as a half cup of pasta water.  Add a couple tablespoons of the cheese and toss again, once again adjusting the consistency of the sauce with the pasta water if necessary.  Season to taste with salt & pepper.  Serve with more cheese on top.  Serves 2

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Rhubarb Upside Down Cake

I have been hungry for rhubarb upside down cake since rhubarb season began this year.  I’m not sure why....  Whatever the reason, I kept purchasing rhubarb so I could make it.  But since I love rhubarb, my purchases kept making their way into other things:  


tea cakes…. 

On Sunday I finally got around to making my upside down cake. 

The recipe is a bit unusual in that the cake portion is an old fashioned spice cake (instead of the usual yellow cake).  Years ago I ran across a spice cake version of rhubarb upside down cake in Emily Luchetti’s Four Start Desserts.  I’m not sure I ever made her exact cake....I just incorporated the spices she used (cinnamon, ginger and cloves) into the basic buttermilk spice cake I had grown up eating.  The combination of the spices with the tangy rhubarb is unusual and delicious.

In the past when I have made this cake I have made it in what I consider to be the traditional way.  I cut the rhubarb into a uniform large dice, tossed it with sugar and spread it in an even layer in a cast iron skillet (generously smeared with butter) and then topped the fruit with the batter before baking.  And this method makes a very satisfactory cake.

But in recent years when I have made upside down cakes, I have tried to consider the unique qualities and shapes of a particular fruit when I’m using it in an upside down cake.  I accentuated the fan shape of cross-sections of fresh pineapple (rather than the traditional donut-like rings) in my pineapple upside down cake.  And I capitalized on the beautiful color and shape of plums in a spiral surface for my plum upside down cake. So when I began to think about rhubarb it was obvious that in order to make the best use of the stick shape, I needed to use a square pan. 

I am not the first person to think of this (you will see lovely examples of it on other blogs), but I do have a few pointers to add to the conversation.  First, use a ruler.  This will give you neat and precise lines. Measure the exact size of your pan (just because your pan is labeled 9 x 9 doesn’t mean it will be exactly 9 inches square) and then cut the rhubarb into lengths that are exactly 1/3 of that measure.   If your stalks of rhubarb are fat, cut them in half lengthwise.  Count up your lengths of rhubarb and divide the number by 9.  This is how many stalks you will have to fill in 9 squares of a three by three grid of squares on top of the cake.  If you don’t have an even number, don’t worry, you will probably end up rearranging and moving some of the stalks around to account for the fact that some pieces will be fatter and some thinner.  Any extra can be tucked in on top of the others…they will just add more fruit flavor and a better fruit covering of the cake.

And getting a good covering of fruit over the cake is what an upside down cake should be all about.  I prefer as solid a layer of fruit as you can manage without any gaps.  Consequently, my recipe calls for a fairly large amount of rhubarb—anywhere from 1 to 1 1 /4 lb., depending on how much loss there is when you cut the lengths.  

As with any upside down cake, in order to get the most attractive covering of fruit, remember you are working in reverse, looking at the back side of the finished cake surface.  All of the stalks that have been split should be turned so the cut surface is facing up or to the side (against another stick of rhubarb)—not face down.   To get good coverage, any un-split sticks that are wider than they are thick should be placed on their narrow side.  As with most things, it sounds more complicated than it is (and is actually more difficult to describe than it is to execute).  If you remember you are working in reverse and your goal is to get as much rhubarb into the pan in a single layer as is neatly possible, you will end up with a nice looking finished cake. 

And if all you really want to do is eat a delicious spice cake topped with a sweetened layer of rhubarb, you can always make this cake with chopped rhubarb in a 10-inch round pan or cast iron skillet.  But, I admit, I was very pleased with the cross-hatch/patchwork pattern on the top of my cake.  I hope others will give it a go…or maybe try another design.  I’m sure that someone who is more artistic than I am could come up with a different—more intricate—design.  In fact, I hope someone will....   cooking and baking are ultimately about making recipes your own.

Rhubarb Upside Down Cake

1 to 1 1/4 lb. trimmed rhubarb, rinsed and wiped dry (from 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 lb. pre-trim weight
3 T. soft unsalted butter
3/4 c. sugar

1 3/4 c. sifted cake flour (6 ¼ oz.)
1 t. baking powder
1/4 t. baking soda
1/2 t. salt
3/4 t. ground cinnamon
1/2 t. ground ginger
1/8 t. ground cloves
2/3 c. whole milk yogurt
1 1/2 t. vanilla
1/2 c. (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature

Prepare the rhubarb:  Measure the bottom of the pan (it might be slightly under or slightly over 9 inches).  Divide this number in 3 and cut all of the rhubarb into this exact length.  You might have some leftover bits aren’t quite long enough.  Set them aside for now.  Cut any fat lengths (wider than 3/4-inch) in half lengthwise.  Count up the number of lengths and divide by nine.  This is the number you have for each square in your grid of nine.  (Your number will most likely not be evenly divisible by 9.  This is fine; you will just tuck in extra pieces where ever the covering of rhubarb looks a little sparse.)

Smear the softened butter over the bottom and up the sides of a 9-inch square baking pan (with sides that are at the very least 1 3/4-inches—a 2-inch depth is preferable), concentrating most of the butter on the bottom of the pan with just a light coating on the sides.  Scatter half of the sugar in an even layer over the bottom of the pan.  Starting in one corner, lay a ninth of the lengths of rhubarb in one direction, placing them with any cut surfaces facing up or to the side.  For the next square on either side of the first, lay another set of lengths running the other direction (perpendicular to the sticks in the first square).  Fill in any gaps with any extra lengths of rhubarb—cutting them to fit if necessary.  Scatter the remaining sugar evenly over the rhubarb and set the pan aside.    

Whisk together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices.  Set aside.  Combine the yogurt and vanilla and set aside.

Cream the butter with the sugars until light and fluffy—this will take 3 to 5 minutes at medium-high speed using the paddle attachment.  Stop the mixer once or twice to scrape down the sides.  Beat in the eggs one at a time, scraping down the sides and beating well after each addition.  Fold in the dry ingredients in 3 additions alternately with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.

Spread the batter evenly over the rhubarb in the prepared pan. Bake in a 350° oven until the cake is springy to the touch, has begun to pull away from the sides of the pan and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean—about 40 to 45 minutes.  Let the cake rest for 15 minutes in the pan.  Carefully run a knife around the inside edge of the pan.  Place a cake plate upside down on top of the skillet and holding the cake plate firmly to the skillet, quickly flip the cake over.

Allow the cake to set up for a while before serving.  It is best slightly warm or at room temperature.  Cut the cake with a sharp, thin knife, using a sawing motion.  Serve with whipped cream or ice cream.  Serves 9 to 12.

Alternate presentation:  Cut the rhubarb into 3/4-inch pieces.  You should have about 4 cups.  Smear a 10-inch cast iron skillet or 10- by 2-inch round cake pan with the softened butter, concentrating most of the butter on the bottom of the pan.  There should only be thin film of butter on the sides.  Toss the rhubarb with 3/4 c. of sugar.  Spread the rhubarb in an even layer over the bottom of the pan and sprinkle any sugar remaining in the bowl evenly over the rhubarb.  Proceed as directed with the recipe above. 

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Spring Salad of Arugula, Strawberries, Baked Goat Cheese & Candied Spiced Pistachios

Spring really is salad season.  I eat salads all year long.  But suddenly in the spring, when the local growers begin to bring heads of freshly harvested lettuce and bags of just cut baby greens and arugula, I begin to really relish salads.  Even the baby lettuces have substance and flavor.  They become far more than just a background for other foods; they are something I enjoy eating just for their own merit (and I often do—munching away on them as I’m cleaning them and putting them away).  So even though my last post was a salad…and I haven’t been posting as much recently because of the busyness of settling into my new home…I’m going to share another salad today.   This one features young arugula paired with the bountiful and flavorful strawberries that are filling the markets right now.

Arugula and strawberries are a fairly common salad combination.  The peppery bite of the arugula goes very well with the sweet and tangy strawberries.  And since they are abundant and at their flavor peak at right around the same time, making a salad of them is a no-brainer.  If you look around on line you will discover that many people add a salty and tangy cheese to the combination…like Feta, a blue or goat cheese…and usually a nut of some kind for added crunch.  I have not veered away from this combination at all.  Instead I have altered the manner in which I add the cheese and nuts.

For the cheese, I used goat cheese.  And instead of simply crumbling it over the salad, I form it into a round, coat it with breadcrumbs and bake it.  The cheese contributes a varied temperature element this way…and also textural variation if you serve it with toasts or crusty bread.  If you don’t want to take the time to form and bake rounds, you can of course just crumble the goat cheese over the salad.  But if you have never had a salad with baked goat cheese before, you really do need to give it a try. 

The nuts that usually appear in this salad are almonds or pecans.  Both are delicious, but I opted for pistachios.  I think their color is particularly.  And to echo the pepper and spice of the arugula…and emphasize the sweetness of the strawberries…I gave them a caramel and spice coating. They are so tasty this way that you’ll probably want to make extra just to have on hand for a snack.

When I worked at The American Restaurant many years ago, we used to put these pistachios (with just pepper for the spice—I’m also adding fennel and coriander) 

on a spinach and blue cheese salad.  It was on a banquet menu so every cook in the kitchen got to make them at one time or another.  I think every cook probably used a slightly different method when making them.  The process is admittedly a bit tricky.  I am giving two methods—one that uses the oven and another that is accomplished entirely on the stove top.  If you toast the nuts in the oven and add them to the hot caramel (my preferred method), you must work out the timing so the nuts are still hot when you combine them with the caramel.  If you don’t, you will have a hopelessly stuck mass of nuts and caramel.  If you choose to toast the nuts in a sauté pan and add the sugar after the nuts get hot (allowing it to caramelize around the nuts) you must be very careful not to scorch the nuts.  Either way, you will need a non-stick sauté pan, an oiled heat-proof spatula and an oiled baking sheet—and you will have to work quickly and be vigilant about tossing and stirring—even continuing to stir a bit after the nuts are out of the pan if you want to have perfectly separated nuts.  If you don’t mind having clumps/clusters, then you can just turn them out of the pan and leave them alone while they cool. 

My final addition to the salad is finely sliced spring onions.  I always keep masses of spring onions in my kitchen this time of year.  I use them as a base for pilafs, pastas and vegetables ragouts…and in salads.  When I cook with them I use some of the green.  For this salad I only use the white and pale green portion.  If you don’t have any spring onions, you may replace them with finely shaved shallot or red onion.  Just make sure that you soak the sliced or shaved onion (or shallot) in a bowl of ice water for five minutes or so.  This will soften the heat/bite of the onion and crisp them up at the same time. 

I hope that everyone is enjoying salads as much as I am this year.  But if not, you can still use the baked goat cheese and spiced pistachio recipes.  Both would make outstanding additions to an appetizer spread for your next summer party.   But I hope you do like salads...and I hope you will try this one.  I would love to promise that my next post will not be a salad post...but you never know.  Salad season isn't quite over yet.

Salad of Arugula, Strawberries, Baked Goat Cheese & Candied Spiced Pistachios

6 oz. soft, Montrachet-style goat cheese
Olive oil
A few sprigs of thyme or winter savory, if you like
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 to 1/3 c. fine, dry toasted breadcrumbs

3 to 4 oz. arugula, or arugula mixed with baby lettuces
1/4 to 1/3 c. very finely sliced (on a long bias) white and pale green of spring onion, soaked in ice water for 5 minutes and blotted dry
8 to 10 oz. strawberries—preferable on the smallish side (about a half ounce each), rinsed, dried, hulled & quartered
1 recipe Candied Spiced Pistachios
White Balsamic Vinaigrette

Cut the log of goat cheese into four slices.  It is likely the slices will be a bit misshapen, so use your hands to form the slices into 4 neat, 1/2- to 3/4-inch thick disks.  If time permits (or you are thinking ahead) place 1/4 c. Extra Virgin Olive Oil in a shallow pan.  Add a few herb sprigs and a few grindings of black pepper.  Place the goat cheese rounds in the seasoned oil and turn to coat.  Let marinate for an hour or so (or overnight in the fridge), turning once or twice.  If you don’t want to marinate the goat cheese, simple drizzle the rounds with just enough olive oil to coat.  Place the breadcrumbs on a small plate or in a small dish.  Coat the goat cheese with the breadcrumbs.  Place the goat cheese rounds on a lightly oiled baking sheet or dish.  When ready to serve the salad, bake the cheese in a preheated 400° oven for about 6 minutes, until the cheese is softened and lightly bubbling at the edges.

While the cheese is baking, place the lettuces, spring onions and strawberries in a large bowl.  Season the greens with salt & pepper.  Drizzle with a few spoonfuls of the vinaigrette.  Use a sparing hand, you can always add more.  Toss until everything is lightly coated.  Add more vinaigrette if necessary.  Add the pistachios and toss to distribute.  Divide the salad among four plates.  When the cheese is ready, use a small spatula to transfer it to the plates.  Nestle the soft rounds alongside the piles of greens and strawberries.  Serve immediately with crusty bread or toasts.

Serves 4

If you don't have any goat cheese on hand, the salad makes a nice side for a Quesadilla, too

Candied Spiced Pistachios

1/2 c. pistachios
2 T. sugar
1/4 t. each black peppercorns, coriander seed, & fennel seed, coarsely crushed in a mortar & pestle
Kosher salt

Spread the pistachios on a small, lightly oiled baking sheet (or in a pie tin) and toast in a 350° oven until hot through—about 5 minutes.  The goal isn’t so much to fully toast the nuts as to get the process started—they will continue to toast in the caramelized sugar.  The goal is to get them hot.  If they are not hot when they are added to the caramel, the mixture will seize into a tight blob.  The goal is separated pistachios, coated with a light crust of spiced caramelized sugar.

Two or three minutes before the nuts come out of the oven, scatter the sugar in a small non-stick sauté pan (one that will just hold the pistachios in a single layer) and set over high heat.  Shake the pan occasionally to keep the sugar distributed.  It will begin to melt and turn to caramel almost simultaneously.  When the sugar has turned to liquid caramel, 

sprinkle the spices over the caramel and then scatter in the hot nuts.  Using a lightly oiled heat proof spatula to strategically stir and turn the nuts, helping them to become coated in a thin film of caramel.  

Reduce the heat if the caramel starts to smoke.  The nuts will want to stick together, but just continue to stir, turn, and separate them with the spatula until the nuts are mostly evenly coated.  Transfer back to the oiled sheet and use the oiled spatula to spread them out, separating them as much as possible.  

Some will persist in sticking, but they should break up fairly easily once the caramel has cooled.  Let cool and then finish breaking them up.  Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Alternatively:  Combine the sugar and the spices and set aside.  Place the pistachios in a non-stick sauté pan over medium-high heat.  Toast the nuts stirring frequently, until they are fragrant.   Begin to sprinkle the sugar mixture over the nuts as you simultaneously shake the pan back and forth.  The sugar will immediately begin to caramelize and coat the nuts.  Continue to sprinkle the sugar and shake the pan until the nuts are nicely glazed with the spiced caramel.  Immediately spread the nuts on a greased cookie sheet to cool.

White Balsamic Vinaigrette

2 T. White Balsamic Vinegar
1/2 t. (slightly mounded) Dijon mustard
1/8 t. Kosher salt
1/4 c. Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Place the vinegar, mustard and salt in a small bowl.  Whisk until smooth.  Add the olive oil in a thin stream while whisking constantly.  Taste and correct the seasoning.  The vinaigrette should be tangy and slightly sweet.  Store any leftovers in the fridge.  Re-whisk before using.

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