Monday, June 29, 2009

tuscan onion salad

This recipe makes me feel ungrateful. After all, it was only two months ago that I was extolling the virtues of Paula Wolfert's slow roasted onions, convinced that I had found the onion salad to end all onion salads. (Indeed, what kind of reasonable person needs more than one onion salad in their culinary oeuvre?)

Then I stumbled across this vintage NY Times recipe, and suddenly one onion salad seemed painfully insufficient. Sure, Wolfert's version was delicious, but why hadn't she included some kind of garlic-rubbed crouton? Where was the salty bite of Parmesan cheese? Or the brightness of fresh lemon juice? On Saturday, presented with an opportunity to grill outside, I finally succumbed to temptation.

I wish that I could say that, having strayed, I recognized the error of my ways and returned to Wolfert's reliable older model. But that's just not the case. As tasty as Paula Woflert's version was, this is better. With its layers of wilted onion florets, parsley, parmesan, and lemon juice, it's more than a salad; it's a sculpture, a beautiful homage to the onion and its many faces.

It's Onion Salad 2.0.

Vincent Scotto's Onion Salad
Adapted from the NY Times

By necessity, we used Vidalia rather than yellow onions, which as M. put it, downgraded this salad from a PG-13 to a PG rating. But they were delicious all the same.

4 large yellow onions, unpeeled
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt to taste
2 slices Tuscan bread, 3/4-inch thick
1 clove garlic, peeled, halved
1/4 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup shaved parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1. Preheat a griddle over medium-low heat until hot. Cut off the ends of each onion so that you can see the rings. Cut the onions crosswise into 3/4-inch to 1-inch slices, keeping the rings intact and the skins on as much as possible. Brush cut sides generously with oil and sprinkle with salt. Grill slices until tender and caramelized, about 20 minutes per side, and set aside. (If they burn, scrape off the charred portion.) Once cool, remove the remaining skins and separate into rings.

2. Meanwhile, grill the bread until toasted. Rub on both sides with the cut sides of the garlic and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of oil and salt. Cut into crouton-size pieces.

3. To serve, place half the onions on a plate, then sprinkle with half the parsley, half the parmesan and half the croutons. Repeat with the remaining ingredients on top. Drizzle with the lemon juice and the remaining oil.

Friday, June 26, 2009

zucchini confit with mint & almonds

What makes this a “confit,” you ask? Nothing really. Confit (from the French verb confire) implies something preserved: think duck legs poached (and stored) in rendered fat, or plump, syrupy cherries.

This Zucchini Confit, on the other hand, is merely a case of clever branding, a euphemism for “Zucchini Cooked in Generous Quantities of Olive Oil.” Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Because, even if it doesn’t bestow longevity on these zucchini, the oil certainly serves a purpose, coaxing out the vegetable’s natural sweetness and coating the thin slices in a minty, buttery glaze.

But now I’m making this out to be more decadent than it really is. Forget the “confit,” and, if you must, dial back the olive oil a tablespoon or two. The result will still be delicious.

Zucchini Confit with Mint and Almonds
Adapted from stonesoup

Serves 4

For the zucchini:
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 pounds (about 4-5 medium) zucchini, thinly sliced into rounds
2 cloves garlic, peeled & finely sliced
½ bunch mint, leaves picked
Pinch of dried chili flakes, optional

For the almonds:
¾ cup blanched almonds
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Make the almonds: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Toss the ingredients together in a small bowl. Spread almonds on a baking sheet and roast for about 8 minutes, or until light brown, tossing after 5 minutes.

Place oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add zucchini and cook, stirring occasionally, for approximately 10 minutes. Add garlic and half the mint leaves and chili. Season with salt. Cook for another 10 to 15 minutes or until zucchini are buttery and tender but still holding their shape. Season to taste and sprinkle with chopped mint.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

carrots with garlic and yogurt

This morning, I awoke with something of a garlic hangover.

No, really. Picture the boozy cloud surrounding someone after a late-night drinking binge, then substitute garlic for the booze—its pungent smell on my breath, my arms, my hands. After a quick Google search, I confirmed this was not a product of my imagination (allyl methyl sulfide, j’accuse!); I was literally seeping garlic.

On any other day, I might point fingers, might identify the offending culprit (in this case, a recipe), and expunge it from my diet.

But today—and I say this with absolute confidence, from behind my little sulfuric shroud—my unfortunate morning after was absolutely worth it.

I don’t remember when or why I bookmarked this recipe. I suspect it had something to do with its Turkish origins, or the authors’ prediction that “You’ll never feel the same way about carrots after you’ve tried this dish.” But I do know that I never expected it to deliver so completely. (To be honest, I was skeptical even during the act of cooking, discouraged by the mound of shredded carrots.)

Having now tasted this beguiling, creamy, and, yes, garlicky carrot creation, I will testify: truly, I’ll never feel the same way about carrots (or garlic) again.

Carrots with Garlic and Yogurt
Adapted from by A Taste of Turkish Cuisine, by Nur Ilkin and Sheilah Kaufman

Serves 4

It is rare that I miss an Aleppo pepper opportunity, let alone deliberately omit it from a recipe. But last night, I was so delighted by the results of this carrot-yogurt concoction, I decided to leave well enough [read: delicious] alone. Next time, I might sprinkle on some Aleppo, but still forgo the extra drizzle of olive oil—there’s quite a lot of that already. I also reduced the amount of garlic and yogurt in the recipe; make sure you taste as you go.

This is as much a dip as it is a salad, perfect in a selection of mezze. According to the authors, “Turkish zucchini can be used instead of the carrots, but a teaspoon of dried mint will need to be added to the dish.”

4-5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 pound carrots, peeled and coarsely grated
2-4 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup drained yogurt [I used Greek yogurt]
2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper or paprika, optional

1. In a 3-quart pot, heat the oil and sauté the onions, stirring over medium heat for 5 minutes. Do not let them brown or burn.

2. Add the carrots, stirring to mix well, and continue cooking for 10 minutes. [I lightly seasoned the carrots and onions as they cooked, though it was not called for.] Remove from heat and let cool.

3. Crush the garlic and salt with a mortar and pestle. Place the cooled carrots in a large bowl and add the drained yogurt and the garlic mixture to taste. [I only used about 1/3 cup of yogurt and 2 garlic cloves.] Mix well and place in a serving dish.

4. Combine 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil and the Aleppo pepper and drizzle in a design over the top of the carrots. Decorate with olives if desired. [Again, I didn’t do this, but I’m sure it would be tasty.] Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

remains of the (birth)day: za'atar chicken
and fattoush (zucchini patties to follow)

If there's a common theme to the three dishes I cooked on June 8--and a theme to this, my first post here--it's this: SALT.

The main course of the birthday meal featured Za'atar Chicken (c/o Nigella Lawson), Zucchini Patties with Feta (Bon Appetit), and Fattoush (Ms. Lawson again), plus some parsley-full tabouli (their spelling) from Sahadi's. Salting went as follows: chicken, slightly undersalted; patties, nicely salted; fattoush, seriously undersalted. I usually am not shy with the Kosher stuff, but I made two crucial errors here: I ignored my instincts to aggressively salt meat before putting it in the oven, despite the recipe's not instructing to do so (the chicken); and simply forgetting to add another big hit of salt after tasting for seasoning and before bringing the dish to the table (the fattoush). I would say all three of these dishes were quite solid, though the fattoush and the chicken could have been great instead of just pretty darn good. Snarf, snarf.

Za'atar Chicken
Adapted from Forever Summer, by Nigella Lawson

Note: I added some lemons, cut in eighths, to the roasting pan before putting it in the oven. This had the desired effect of imparting a mild lemony flavor to the chicken and creating a nice lemony liquor at the bottom of the pan; the lemons were not, however, particularly edible themselves. They would best be roasted separately, for longer.

1 chicken, cut into 8 pieces or 8 mixed chicken pieces [I used a few whole legs and a few half breasts]
1/2 cup olive oil
2 tbsp za'atar [you could easily double this and not have too much za’atar; in fact, I’d recommend sprinkling a little extra on the chicken right before it goes into the oven]
Maldon salt to taste

In large mixing bowl or resealable plastic bag, combine chicken, oil and za'atar. Rub spices and oil all over chicken pieces. Cover (or close) and refrigerate 2 hours to overnight.

Transfer chicken to baking sheet, skin side up. [THIS IS WHERE I TIMIDLY SALTED THE BIRD, DESPITE NOT BEING TOLD TO. I WISH I’D USED 1.5 TIMES AS MUCH.] Roast in preheated 425F oven 45 minutes.

Sprinkle with salt. [I'LL SAY.]

Adapted from Forever Summer, by Nigella Lawson

2 pita
3 fat scallions, halved and sliced
1 cucumber, peeled, quartered lengthwise, and chopped
3 tomatoes, diced
1 bunch of fresh flat-leafed parsley, chopped
1 bunch fresh mint, chopped
1 clove of garlic, minced
6-8 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon (extra to taste)
½ teaspoon sumac
Sea salt

1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.

2. Cut pita breads open lengthwise, so you have 4 thin halves, and lay on a baking sheet. Toast for 5 minutes.

3. In a bowl, combine scallions, cucumber, tomatoes, parsley, mint, and garlic. Cut pita into triangular pieces over the salad. Toss salad and dress with olive oil and lemon juice. Season with salt, and sprinkle over the sumac.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

romesco potatoes

Blogging about this dish is the culinary equivalent of: You and I driving in the car, and me exclaiming that I like a “new” song.

As I have contemplated my ability to contribute regularly to “Much Depends on Dinner,” one drawback is that it exposes my focused reliance on certain chefs at various stages in my cooking life. Jeremiah Towers and his blackberry duck were replaced by the smoky flavors of Ana Sortun, who has been dethroned by Suzanne Goin and all her chile d’arbols. This dish was perhaps the most reviewed recipe from “Sunday Suppers at Lucques” after its 2005 release.

While paradigmatic of her cooking style—unexpected, rich and satisfying, time consuming—also not my favorite of her dishes. Perhaps because I didn’t make the accompanying lamb, and her dishes are always best when made with their recommended pairings, the potatoes were super tasty, but only that.

Romesco Potatoes
Adapted from Suzanne Goin

1-1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes
5 whole unpeeled cloves garlic
2 bay leaves
6 sprigs thyme, plus 2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
Olive oil
Romesco recipe (from BBQ post)

1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

2. Put potatoes in a roasting pan and toss with olive oil, 5 whole cloves garlic, bay leaves, thyme sprigs, and 1 heaping teaspoon salt. Cover tightly with foil and roast until potatoes are tender, about 50-60 minutes. Personally, I like it when potatoes get all browned and crispy, and would recommend roasting until browned.

3. Flatten the potatoes with your hands. Place a large sauté pan over high heat for 2 minutes. Add the 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the potatoes and season with thyme leaves, salt, and pepper. Fry the potatoes until crispy, 6-8 minutes, then turn to brown on all sides.

4. When potatoes are browned, return them to the pan and add romesco sauce and roasted garlic cloves. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.

Monday, June 15, 2009

muhammara: red pepper and walnut puree

I am inexplicably fond of certain kinds of culinary busywork: shucking corn, grating cheese, dicing onions. I take pleasure in the monotony of the mis en place.

Of course, there are exceptions. Skinning hazelnuts, for instance. (After discovering a reliable source of blanched hazelnuts in Kalustyan's, M and I pronounced, with Scarlett O'Hara-esque conviction, that we would never go back.) Or cleaning mushrooms.

This was my first experience with roasting peppers, a task whose entertainment value remains dubious. I was charmed by the rustic approach (my well-honed marshmallow roasting technique came in handy), but turned off by the feel of exposed pepper flesh. The process was also painfully prolonged, as I did not char the peppers adequately; be sure yours are all black and blistered before you attempt to remove the skins.

Of course, if anything will make you forgive/forget these frustrations, it’s muhammara, a Middle Eastern variation on romesco sauce. Pureed with walnuts, breadcrumbs and pomegranate syrup, and flecked with Aleppo pepper, our roasted red peppers achieved spicy, smoky nirvana. A generous reward for any kitchen toils.

Adapted from Spice, by Ana Sortun

2 large red bell peppers (about 1 pound), roasted and peeled, seeds removed
4 whole scallions, trimmed and finely chopped (reserve 1 tablespoon for garnish)
1 teaspoon chopped garlic (about 1 large clove)
1/3 cup walnut halves, lightly toasted
1/2 cup finely ground toasted bread crumbs
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses
1 tablespoon Aleppo chilies, plus more for garnish
1 tablespoon Urfa chilies, plus more for garnish
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon yogurt
3/4 teaspoon salt plus more to taste

In a small mixing bowl add the peppers, scallions, garlic, walnuts, pine nuts, bread crumbs, lemon juice, pomegranate molasses, Aleppo and Urfa chilies, cumin, yogurt, and 1/4 cup olive oil. Stir to combine.

Puree the ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Season to taste with salt.

Garnish with some toasted pine nuts or walnuts, chopped scallions, a drizzle of olive oil, and a squeeze of lemon. Sprinkle with more Aleppo and/or Urfa chilies if desired. Serve with warm pita bread.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

beet tzatziki

No, you are not hallucinating. And no, that is not a liquefied 80s prom dress. It's Ana Sortun's beet tzatziki—a frequent guest star of her Sofra Bakery mezze bar and the condiment behind Oleana's celebrated spinach falafel.

It is sweet and tangy, like all good tzatziki (but better).

It is also hot pink.

Beet Tzatziki
Adapted from Spice: Flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean, by Ana Sortun

For the neon food averse, Sortun recommends Chioggia (pink) or golden beets.

2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, or to taste
1 teaspoon finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups yogurt or labneh
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
Freshly ground black pepper
1 to 1 1/2 cups cooked shredded beets

Combine the lemon juice, garlic and salt in a bowl and let stand 10 minutes. Stir in the yogurt, olive oil, dill and pepper. Fold in the beets and adjust the seasoning to taste. Serve cold or at room temperature.

birthday menu

Monday, June 8, 2009

roasted carrots with rosemary and almonds

These roasted carrots were the result of some idle menu browsing. Yes, I confess, sometimes I stroop restaurant menus online, juste pour le fun. (The Internet is a dangerous tool.) In this case, the menu in question belonged to Franny’s,** and the dish was “Wood-Roasted Carrots with Chilies and Almonds.”

Of course, I had never tasted these carrots—nor did have a wood-burning oven on hand—but I figured I could approximate the results with my own humble cooking apparatus.

In case you assumed the almonds were just an afterthought, I assure you they’re not. In fact, they further prove my theory that the right nut can elevate any vegetable to new heights. (More on this subject to come, I suspect.) If you don’t feel like carrots, add these almonds to your next salad, and be amazed...

**For the record, the Franny’s menu is particularly good for these purposes; other recent appetizers include “wood-roasted sunchokes with raisins and hazelnuts,” “stuffed zucchini with buffalo milk ricotta and herbs,” and “pea shoots with lemon and pecorino rossellino." I am adding all of these to my list.

Roasted Carrots with Rosemary and Almonds:
Carrots adapted from Craft of Cooking, by Tom Colicchio

We pan-roasted these carrots in the interest of time; next time, I'd probably opt for the oven, to enhance the crinkly skin effect.

30 baby carrots (3-4 inches long), peeled and trimmed [or 15 medium carrots, cut down to size]
2 tablespoons peanut oil
3 rosemary sprigs
1-2 tablespoons butter
salt and freshly ground pepper

For the roasted almonds:
¾ cup blanched almonds
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon sugar
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon lemon juice (or half a lemon)

Make the almonds: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Toss the ingredients together in a small bowl. Spread almonds on a baking sheet and roast for about 8 minutes, or until they begin to turn light brown. Remove from oven and set aside.

In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the carrots and season to taste. Cook, turning the carrots occasionally, until golden brown on all sides, about 15 minutes. Add the butter and rosemary, and continue cooking until the carrots are tender, about 5 minutes. Serve immediately.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

first barbecue of the season

It began with the search for the perfect grill.  Or rather, with the realization The Perfect Grill was out of reach for now.  The red ribbon went to the Weber 22 1/2-Inch One-Touch Gold Charcoal Grill.  With the accompanying chimney starter, it was a perfect match, and hopefully the beginning of a long grilling season.

For its inauguration, a menu for 4:

 - Goan Avocado Salad (aka guacamole)

 - Grilled pork burgers with arugula, romesco, and manchego

 - Coleslaw

 - Edamame salad (a crisp, lemony treat from our guests)

 - Strawberry shortcake

Goan Avocado Salad

A smoky gift from Tabla Bread Bar.  Serious Turtle says there are more guacomoles in our future, but I think this version is perfect (except that I am missing the requisite stone bowl to complete the experience).  The low heat of the cumin makes this dish – don’t even think of skimping. 

Adapted from Bread Bar at Tabla

4 ripe avocados, peeled, pitted, and cut into 1⁄2" pieces

1 small red onion, peeled and finely chopped

1 plum tomato, cored and chopped

3 tbsp. finely sliced cilantro leaves

3 tbsp. fresh lime juice

2 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil

1–2 tsp. ground cumin

1⁄2 tsp. sugar

1⁄8 tsp. cayenne

Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Put avocados, onions, tomato, cilantro, lime juice, oil, cumin, sugar, cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste into a medium bowl and stir well (but resist the urge to mash). Press plastic wrap directly onto surface of salad and refrigerate for 2–3 hours to let flavors develop.

Grilled Pork Burgers with fixins

Ground pork, spiked with fresh chorizo, and a slug of diced bacon—these burgers from Ms. Goin have long been at the top of my list. 

I assembled the pork mixture the night before, and fried a sample burger in a cast iron pan. While delicious, each component was clearly identifiable.  After a day of resting, the flavors had both intensified and melded into a rich, coherent patty.  

The final product is a memorable tower of arugula, romseco, manchego, and burger, balanced on a seasame brioche that I ventured into Cambridge to Iggy’s Bakery store to buy (any excuse for a "spontaneous" trip to Sofra for the Walnut Syrian Spiced Coffee Cake).   The pork patties are everything a burger should be, and then a little bit more. Complex without over-reaching, satisfyingly indulgent while drip-free, nancefied but manly.  

A few words on the coleslaw.   I don’t consider myself a coleslaw person, unless its KFC’s diced version, and then who isn’t.  This version was unexpectedly tasty, with ribbons of red and green cabbage and red onions, and shards of carrots.   It was even better today for lunch – the vinegar honey mixture almost pickled the onions overnight. 

Check in without your guests on their comfort with spice—the Romesco, though delicious, is a closer kin to Harissa than any version I have had before.  We’ll see how the leftovers fair with roasted gold yukons later tonight.

Grilled Pork Burgers

Adapted from Suzanne Goin

Required: Make the patties at least 6 hours before grilling.  Make the romseco the day before to save time. 

1 1/2 teaspoons cumin seed

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oile

1/2 cup diced shallots

2 small chiles de árbol, thinly sliced diagonally

1 tablespoon minced garlic

2 teaspoons thyme leaves

2 pounds ground pork

¼ pound fresh Mexican chorizo, casing removed

3 oz. finely chopped applewood smoked bacon 

2 tablespoons finely chopped parsley

Kosher sauce

Black pepper

Kosher salt

6 slices Manchego cheese (I put on the burgers once off the grill, worried that melted Manchego would be too oily)

Aioli  (disaster optional – I didn’t use, after 2 failed attempts at her recipe.  Use your own version, this one had too much oil (sour grapes, sour grapes), and ended in a soupy mess in the sink)

Romesco sauce (not optional)

2 oz. arugula

6 brioche buns or floury hamburger buns

16 arugula leaves

1. Pour cumin into a small pan, and place over medium heat. Cook, swirling, until seeds begin to toast, then pound coarsely in a mortar.

2. Cover bottom of a medium sauté pan with a thick slick of oil. Place over medium-low heat, and add shallots. When oil begins to sizzle, add the garlic, thyme, cumin, and chile.   Cook until shallots translucent.  Add salt and pepper to taste.

3. In a bowl, combine pork, chorizo and bacon. Add shallot mixture and parsley. Season with salt and pepper. Using your hands, lift and fold ingredients together until blended. Do not overmix.

4. Grill burgers until slightly pink.  Personally, I would argue for overcooking to ensure the bacon fat renders. 

5. Toast insides of buns. Spread with aioli and romesco. Lay a burger on each bun; top with arugula leaves and a triangle of manchego.


Adapted from Suzanne Goin

Grainy, deep red, spicy. As Goin warns, the oil separates from the romesco – I poured out the excess leaving more tapenade than sauce.  Double the lemon for a cooling effect.  Makes enough for burgers and then some.  

5 ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded

2 tablespoons hazelnuts, blanched and skinned

2 tablespoons raw almonds

1-1/4 cups extra-virgin olive oil

1 slice countr bread, about 1 inch thick

1/3 cup San Marzano canned tomatoes

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

½ lemon for juicing

Splash of sherry vinegar

Kosher salt

1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Soak the chilies in warm water to soften, about 15 minutes, then drain and pat dry. Meanwhile, spread the hazelnuts and almonds on a baking sheet, and bake until fragrant and browned, 8-10 minutes. 

2. Meanwhile, place a large sauté pan over high heat for 2 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons olive oil and heat 1 minute. Add bread and fry until browned on both sides. Cut into 1-inch cubes, and reserve. Return pan to high heat, and add 2 tablespoons olive oil and chiles. Sauté 1 minute and add tomatoes and 1/2 teaspoon salt, stirring until juices have evaporated. Remove from heat.

3. In a food processor, combine the nuts, chopped garlic, and bread cubes. Pulse until coarsely chopped. Add chile-tomato mixture and pulse to combine. With machine running, slowly pour in 1 cup olive oil to make a smooth puree; the mixture may separate into solids and oil. Add 1 tablespoon of the parsley and season to taste with lemon juice. Transfer to a bowl and set aside.

Rob’s Famous Coleslaw

Adapted from Suzanne Goin

Although not recommended (though also not explicitly discouraged), I would make it a day ahead. 

½ cup red wine vinegar

2 teaspoons honey

1 pound red cabbage (cored)

1 pound green cabbage (cored)

½ red onion

1 large carrot 

½ mayonnaise (preferably Helmand’s)

Cayenne pepper to taste

4 tbl. minced chives (doubled from Goin’s recommendation)

¼ cup chopped flat leaf parley

Kosher salt and ground pepper

1. Reduce red wine vinegar by half in saucepan.  Take off heat, and add honey, stirring until dissolved.

2. Meanwhile, thinly slice cabbages and red onion.  Grate carrot and combine.

3.  Pour red wine/ honey mixture over vegetables.  Let stand for 15 minutes. 

4. Using your hands (and forearms – this is a Slaw Mountain), toss in mayo, cayenne, and herbs. Add salt and pepper as needed.

Strawberry Shortcake: Check

Everything else from this menu should be considered an afterthought to the shortcake.  It’s immensely satisfying to know that you are done searching for The Best Version of any given dish.  There are few dishes I can say that for, where any attempt at improvement seems criminal: Marcey’s Pumpkin Pie, Horseradish Cranberry relish, Miso Salmon, Beet Caviar.  An elite cadre.   

And now shortbread. Orange scented, crumbly biscuits, topped with macerated strawberries and crème-fraiche whipped cream.   While you should be willing to wait on these puppies for days, and it seems belittling to add “easy” to any description of their perfection, they are shockingly simple to make.  Just be sure not to handle them too much.  I dumped the crumbled mixture out of the food processor onto a cutting board, and pat them into a circle before cutting into six wedges.  Much has been made of the hard-boiled eggs in this recipe—embrace the genius. 

Adapted from Russ Parsons, from the LA Times

2 cups flour

3 tablespoons granulated sugar

1 tablespoon baking powder (make sure it’s a new batch to get any rise)

3/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon grated orange zest (not-optional)

6 tablespoons cold butter, cut into cubes

2 hard-boiled egg yolks

3/4 cup heavy cream, plus extra for brushing

Demera sugar for sprinkling

1. Pre-heat oven to 375 degrees.

2. In a food processor bowl, pulse together the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, salt and orange zest. Add the butter and the egg yolks and pulse together just until the mixture has the texture of lightly moistened cornmeal. 

3. Pour 3/4 cup heavy cream over mixture and then pulse 4 to 6 times to moisten the dough. 

4. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface.  Pat into a rough circle 6 to 7 inches in diameter and 3/4 to 1 inch in thickness.

5. Cut the circle into 6 wedges. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Brush the tops very lightly with heavy cream and sprinkle with sugar

6. Transfer to a cookie sheet and bake until risen and golden brown, 18 to 20 minutes. Turn the pan around halfway through to ensure even deliciousness. 

Strawberries, cream, and assembly

3 pints strawberries, washed, hulled and quartered (these were Verrill Farm’s first of the season) 

2 tablespoons sugar

1 tablespoon orange juice (from the orange you use for zest)

1 cup whipping cream, beaten to soft peaks (I mixed in a full spoon of crème fraiche at the end, adding a little sour to the sweetness of the strawberries)

1. While the shortcakes are baking, toss the strawberries, sugar and orange juice together in a bowl. Let stand.

2. Split the shortcakes in half horizontally and set the tops aside. Spoon a bit of the juice from the macerated berries on to the bottom to moisten.  Add whipped cream, and top with berries.  Replace the shortcake tops. 

3.  Alienate your dinner guests by fighting over the last cake. 

Thursday, June 4, 2009

green wheat with mint

I fear that spouting too much enthusiasm over a grain will forever label me a granola-pushing flower child.

But I cannot help myself. Grains—this one in particular—are my most recent object of culinary adoration/exploration.

Behold frikeh (frik, firik, freekeh), or “green wheat.” I won't both you with its history (ancient), or its method of harvest (toasted over fires in the field!)—if you’re curious, there’s a very comprehensive post here.

In brief, it’s the grain equivalent of the green tomato (i.e. harvested in its immature stage); except, unlike green tomatoes, which have only a whisper of the tomato flavor to come, green wheat possesses a deep, smoky flavor that belies its youth. That, and it’s not often fried—although some green wheat arancini are not out of the question.

I’m not sure quite how to describe frikeh—or how to explain its mysteriously delicious burnt-hay quality. Just get thee to Kalustyan's and discover for yourself.

Green Wheat
Adapted from The New Book of Middle Eastern Food, by Claudia Roden

If you’re in New York, check out the green wheat at Back Forty. After their example, we served this with minted yogurt sauce.

1 cup frikeh
1 1/2 cups water
2 tablespoons butter

Wash the frikeh in 2 or 3 changes of water, then rinse in a colander.

Bring the water with the salt to a boil in a saucepan. Add the frikeh, bring to a boil again, and cook, covered, over low heat for about 15 minutes, or until the grain is tender (add grain if it is too dry).

Stir in the butter and leave, covered, for about 10 minutes before serving.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

grilled artichokes with lemon and mint

For years, my artichoke dogma was very rigid. Artichokes were meant to be steamed, their leaves plucked, their hearts excavated (and fought over)—every bit of edible flesh dipped in mayonnaise (or, for the haute experience, lemon aioli) and devoured.

It was the ultimate peel-and-eat treat and, to my mind, the only worthwhile showcase of the artichoke’s merits.

Since then, my horizons have expanded. I’ve attended the Castroville Artichoke Festival—experienced artichokes fried, sautéed, pickled, creamed, even life-sized. I won’t lie: I probably still enjoy them best the old-fashioned way. But every year, I grow more amenable to new preparations. (It helps that I’ve finally learned how to avoid artichoke-cleaning injuries—those perilous fuzzy chokes!)

This version, we made a few weeks ago, in honor of the aforementioned Artichoke Festival. It's not original—I basically Single White Femaled the idea from Casa Mono’s “Artichokes with Mint.” Of course, I don’t have the advantage of a plancha (an integral part of my fantasy kitchen), but a grill pan seemed to do them justice.

The artichokes are first simmered in olive oil, wine, lemon and mint (a 20-minute flavor infusion), then grilled to charry perfection.

Grilled Artichokes with Lemon and Mint
Adapted from Mario Batali Italian Grill by Mario Batali

I omitted the jalapeños this time because I am a wimp. Next time, I'd buck up.

Serves 4

6 large artichokes, preferably with stems
2 lemons, halved
1 bunch mint, chopped, stems and all, plus about 1/4 cup fresh mint leaves cut into chiffonade (thin slivers)
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 cup dry white wine
2 to 4 red jalapeños, diced or thinly sliced (optional)
Coarse sea salt

1. Fill a large bowl with about 6 cups of water and add the juice of 1 1/2 of the lemons; add the 3 lemon halves too. Snap off the tough outer leaves from one artichoke until you come to the leaves that are pale yellow toward the bottom. Cut off the top 1 inch of the leaves. As you work, rub the cut surfaces with the remaining lemon half. Trim off the bottom of the stem and, using a paring knife, trim away the tough outer layer from the stem. Trim any dark green parts from the bottom of the artichoke. Halve the artichoke lengthwise and, using a grapefruit spoon or small sharp spoon, remove the fuzzy choke. Pull out the small purple inner leaves. Put the trimmed artichoke in the bowl of lemon water, and repeat with the remaining artichokes.

2. Combine the chopped mint, garlic, olive oil, and wine in a large pot. Add the artichokes and the lemon water, along with the lemon shells, then add more water if necessary to cover the artichokes. Put a pan lid on top of the artichokes to keep them submerged and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer until just tender, 15 to 20 minutes, depending on the size of the artichokes. Drain and allow to cool.

3. Preheat a gas grill or prepare a fire in a charcoal grill.

4. Place the artichokes cut side down over the hottest part of the grill and cook, unmoved, for 3 to 5 minutes, until nicely charred. Turn and cook for 5 minutes more, or until golden brown on the second side. Place the artichokes on a platter and strew with the remaining mint and the jalapeños. Sprinkle with coarse salt.