Wednesday, September 23, 2009

sliced summer tomatoes with basil and walnut tabouleh

Yes, I realize that autumn has officially arrived, but psychologically, I haven't caught up yet. While drugstores across the nation are rolling out their Halloween supplies, I am still clinging to the trappings of summer.

For anyone who shares my seasonal dissociative disorder, I can think of no better remedy than this salad, with its delicious strata of tomatoes, sweet corn, and basil-walnut tabouleh.

That's right: basil-walnut tabouleh. And, no offense to parsley, but now that I've tried this variation, I'm not sure I will ever go back. By itself, the stuff is intense—a bit like consuming pesto in grain form (which is to say, quite tasty, but probably best in moderation). But it forms the perfect bedrock for the dish.

Tomatoes, sweet corn, basil—even if, approaching October, these flavors seem like old news, this salad will make you appreciate their synergy in a whole new way.

Sliced Summer Tomatoes with Basil and Walnut Tabouleh

Adapted from Spice, by Ana Sortun

1/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup finely minced red onion

2 teaspoons finely minced garlic

1/2 cup fine bulgur

2 bunches sweet basil, clean leaves only (about 40 leaves)

2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley

1 cup walnuts, lightly toasted, plus more for garnish

3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Salt and freshly ground pepper

2-3 heirloom tomatoes, thinly sliced

1 cup heirloom cherry tomatoes, halved
2 ears grilled corn, kernels removed

In a medium bowl, combine lemon juice, onion, garlic and a pinch of salt. Let sit about 5 minutes to soften the onion. (It should turn pink.)
Stir in the bulgur with 2 tablespoons of hot water. Let stand for 15 minutes, or until the bulgur swells and is tender.

In a food processor, pulse together the basil, parsley, walnuts and olive oil until a paste forms. (You may not need all the oil.) Season with salt and pepper. Add the paste to the bulgur mixture and stir to blend. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, add the tomatoes. Season with salt and pepper, and let sit for 5 minutes.

Spread the tabouleh in a thin layer on the bottom of a platter and top with sliced tomatoes, corn, and crushed reserved walnuts. (Make sure to add any juice left over from that tomatoes.) Adjust seasoning to taste.

Monday, September 21, 2009

lemon crème fraîche chicken

So, Amanda Hesser. I've struggled with my feelings on this subject for some time.

Yes, I cringe at the name “Mr. Latte,” and experienced a few pricks of envy while watching this tour of her kitchen. (Really, Amanda Hesser? Is the “bane of your existence” the fact that the door of your dishwasher barely collides with your pull-out garbage bin? Really?)

But in other moments, she is the source of great joy. Take, for instance, the “Tripe Lady” photograph hanging over her kitchen table. Or her Recipe Redux column in the Times Magazine. Or the fact that every recipe of hers I’ve tried is an unequivocal success: a simple couscous salad with celery and red wine vinegar; Apician spiced dates (technically a Lupa invention, but she deserves credit for acknowledging its genius, and for printing the recipe); her famous Almond Cake (which, despite its inevitable deflated center, unites marzipan lovers everywhere).

Any one of these things would have endeared her to me forever. And then this chicken came along.

Don’t be deceived by the three-ingredient shopping list. This is an elegant dish—a testament to the transformative powers of lemon zest and crème fraîche. Swirled together with the requisite pan juices and crispy bits, they produce a rich, tangy gravy for the chicken—and a delicious sauce for bread-sopping.

Ms. Hesser, I am sorry for my inconstancy—and for that dishwasher door / garbage bin nuisance. You deserve better.

Lemon Crème Fraîche Chicken
Adapted from Amanda Hesser via The Wednesday Chef

Serves 4

1 1/2 tablespoons butter
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
4 whole chicken legs (thighs attached)
Course sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1/2 cup crème fraiche

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Heat a large ovenproof skillet over medium-high heat. After 3 minutes, add the butter and oil. Season the chicken generously with salt and very generously with pepper. Place the chicken, skin side down, in the skillet and brown well on both sides, turning once.

Transfer the skillet to the oven. Bake for 15 minutes, or until the juices run clear when the chicken is pierced with a knife.

Return the skillet to the stovetop. Transfer the chicken to a platter and keep warm. Remove all but 1 tablespoon of fat from the skillet. Place over medium heat, add the lemon juice, and stir to scrape up any pan drippings. Simmer for 1 minute, then add the crème fraiche and stir until melted and bubbling. Pour the sauce over the chicken and sprinkle with lemon zest and additional pepper. Serve hot.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

zucchini with garlic and yogurt

Consumed as I was by the unsavory side effects of these Carrots with Garlic and Yogurt, I'm not sure that I communicated how completely I fell in love with them—how, in retrospect, I believe them to be worth weeks of garlic-perfumed purgatory.

Having experienced repeated success with the recipe since then, and seeking to capitalize on the current glut of summer squash, I recently decided to experiment with zucchini—a variation recommended by the authors.

The instructions are the same, save the addition of dried mint. And, amazingly, they manage to tease out the same unexpected, smoky flavors from sauteed zucchini. Forced to choose, I would have to stick with the carrots—perhaps only because they came first, and thus raised my expectations unfairly. But I will continue to experiment with both versions, and invent others too. Could you substitute any vegetable here, I wonder, with the same rewards? Parsnips? Sweet potatoes? Rutabaga? We shall see.

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

Seasoning the shredded zucchini mid-saute meant that it released a great deal of liquid. To avoid a watery dip, I would drain the cooked zucchini-onion mixture in a colander and wait until it is completely cool before adding the yogurt.

Serves 4

4-5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 pound zucchini, coarsely grated
2-4 garlic cloves
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup Greek yogurt
2 teaspoons Aleppo pepper or paprika, optional

In a large skillet, heat the oil and sauté the onions, stirring over medium heat for 5 minutes. Do not let them brown or burn.

Add the zucchini, stirring to mix well, and continue cooking for 10 minutes. Season to taste. Remove from heat and let cool. If liquid has accumulated in the bottom of the pan, drain it in a colander.

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 2/3 cup of yogurt and 2 garlic cloves.] Mix well and place in a serving dish. Add the dried mint.

If desired, combine 1-2 tablespoons of olive oil, and the Aleppo pepper and drizzle in a design over the top of the carrots. [I just added the Aleppo.] Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

fennel with orange and sambuca

The idea of an “ultimate” recipe seems very shortsighted. Too often, convinced that I have discovered the best possible version of a thing, another recipe quickly surfaces to prove me wrong. It’s why, when it comes to food, I try not to abuse superlatives, and only rarely indulge in old favorites. (It’s also why I have little patience for Tyler Florence.)

But since I first tasted this fennel, it’s been hard to summon the energy—even the curiosity—for other fennel recipes. Indeed, each time I spot a fennel bulb, with it’s forest of green fronds, my thoughts immediately boomerang to Andrew Carmellini and his orange-sumbuca wizardry.

I know there are other fennel recipes out there. And one day I’ll get around to trying them—perhaps even stumble across a new favorite. But right now I am quite content believing that this is the best fennel I have ever tasted.

Fennel with Orange and Sambuca
Adapted from Urban Italian, by Andrew Carmellini

Serves 4

3 fennel bulbs
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 onion, peeled, halved, and sliced
1 garlic clove, peeled and crushed
1 teaspoon fennel seeds, crushed with the flat of a knife
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup Sambuca, plus 1 tablespoon for finishing [I don't use the latter]
1/4 cup golden raisins, soaked to rehydrate for 20 minutes and soaking water reserved
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 cup low-sodium chicken broth
Zest of one orange
2 tablespoons toasted and seasoned breadcrumbs [see Carmellini's recipe for "Crumb's Yo!"]

Cut the tops off the fennel where the green stalks meet the white bulb. Trim the ends off the bulbs and cut the bulbs in half lengthwise. Remove the outer layers and anything that’s browned, and trim away any excess stem. Cut each half into eighths. Chop the fronds and reserve.

In a large saucepan, heat the olive oil and butter over medium heat. Add the onion slices and sweat them, stirring, until they start to soften—but don’t let them brown.

Add the fennel, garlic, fennel seeds, and red pepper flakes, and season with salt and pepper. Deglaze the pan with the Sambuca, and cook until the liquid in the pan has evaporated, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Add the raisins and the raisin-soaking water, orange juice, and chicken broth. Cook, periodically turning the fennel and glazing it with liquid from the pan, until the liquid is reduced by three quarters. (It should be a thin layer on the bottom of the pan.) The liquid will thicken and the fennel will be well glazed, shiny, fattened, and softened.

Remove the pan from the heat, pick out the garlic clove, and mix in the chopped fronds and 1 tablespoon of the Sambuca (if desired). Transfer the fennel to a serving platter and sprinkle with breadcrumbs and orange zest.

Friday, September 11, 2009

sweet corn crema with cornmeal zeppole

Another day, another Batali recipe, this one with more ominous implications.

Forgive me Father, for I have fried.

Yes, I watched as the better part of two cartons of vegetable oil glugged their way into a pot. I lowered in the balls of raw dough with a bamboo skimmer. (Had there been a Snickers Bar handy, I confess I would have tossed that in as well; it’s the spirit of the thing.) And I cooed as they puffed and bronzed in the burning hot oil.

Do I regret it? Not even a little bit. I don’t even regret that first slightly raw batch, whose centers were more like wet cement and were consumed, despite this fact.

In my defense, this was not just frying for frying’s sake. This was frying for the sake of dream fulfillment—a long-prophesied return to the Babbo dessert I tried nearly four years ago.

It’s a delicious homage to corn, two ways: sweet corn pudding topped with blackberry crème de cassis compote and cornmeal zeppole. Together, they offer a near-overwhelming taste experience—and a perfect alternative to the corn ice cream that’s become so ubiquitous of late.

For those of you who feel reluctant to fry, please don’t dismiss the dish entirely. Because, while I heartily endorse the recipe in its complete form, there is something pure and beautiful to the corn crema-blackberry pairing, that easily stands alone. (You could even toss in some of Claudia Flemming’s candied corn kernels, for added texture.)

Sweet Corn Crema with Cornmeal Zeppole
Adapted from The Babbo Cookbook, by Mario Batali

For the crema:
2 ears fresh sweet corn
1 cup milk
2 cups heavy cream
⅔ cup sugar
½ vanilla bean, split lengthwise
8 egg yolks
Pinch of salt

For the zeppole:
5 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
2⅓ cups sugar
4 eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla
1⅔ cups all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons whole milk
½ cup plus 2 tablespoons instant polenta
2 tablespoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon salt
6 cups vegetable oil, for frying

For the blackberry compote (makes 2 cups):
2 pints blackberries
2 tablespoons crème de cassis
¼ cup sugar

Make the dough:

In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and ⅓ cup sugar until very light. Add the eggs and continue to beat; the mixture will appear broken. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the vanilla and milk.

In a small bowl, stir together the flour, polenta, baking powder, and salt. Add the dry ingredients to the creamed mixture and beat until completely incorporated. You will have a very soft, sticky dough. Sprinkle dough liberally with flour and wrap tightly in plastic. Chill until somewhat firm, at least 8 hours.

Make the crema:

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Arrange eight 4-ounce ramekins or custard cups in a flat-bottomed roasting pan large enough to accommodate them with ¾ inch of space in between the cups.

Using a sharp knife, slice the corn kernels off the cobs. Cut the cobs in half and place in a medium saucepan with the kernels, milk, cream, and ⅓ cup of sugar. With the tip of a knife, scrape the vanilla bean into the pan. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally, then remove from the heat and steep until cool.

Discard the corncobs, then use an immersion blender to puree the mixture until somewhat smooth. (This step may also be done in a regular blender in small batches.) Bring the mixture back to a boil, stirring constantly, then set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk the egg yolks with the remaining ⅓ cup sugar until completely blended. Gradually whisk half of the hot corn custard into the yolks, then pour the tempered yolk mixture back into the remaining custard and mix well. Strain through a fine sieve, pressing the corn kernels to extract as much liquid as possible. Stir in the salt.

Divide the custard evenly among the ramekins. Carefully add enough hot tap water to the roasting pan to come a third of the way up sides of the ramekins. Cover the entire roasting pan with aluminum foil and bake for about 40 minutes. The custards will be done when they are no longer liquid in the center and are completely set.

Remove the pan from the oven and discard the foil. Allow the custards to cool in the water bath for 20 minutes, then refrigerate at least 4 hours, until thoroughly chilled.

Make the compote:

Place the berries in a medium saucepan and toss with the crème de cassis and sugar. Place the pan over low heat and cook slowly, shaking it occasionally to cook the berries evenly. When the berries have softened and released their juices, remove from the heat and allow to cool.

Make the zeppole:

When the dough is completely chilled and firm, flour a board liberally and unwrap the dough. Roll to ¾-inch thickness. Using a small doughnut cutter, cut out as many zeppole as possible, re-roling the scraps as necessary. As you cut the zeppole, place them on a baking sheet sprinkled lightly with flour. Return the zeppole to the refrigerator and chill for 30 minutes.

In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, heat the vegetable oil to 340 degrees. Place the remaining 2 cups of sugar in a shallow bowl. Line several baking sheets with two layers of paper towels.

Fry the zeppole a few at a time in the oil, until golden brown on both sides and cooked through. [You may want to do a test batch to tweak the timing.] Drain on the paper towels, and, while they are still hot, roll them in sugar.

Spoon some of the compote over each serving of crema and serve with a warm zeppole.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

grilled corn

For Otto regulars, this dish will look familiar; each summer, it makes an appearance on the restaurant’s rotating list of antipasti.

The formula is always the same, with the same tasty results: Sweet corn is charred on the grill and tossed with fregola—plump, pea-sized balls of semolina pasta (think Israeli couscous, but better). So with every bite, you have bursts of sweetness, and a slow, wheaty chew.

The recipe, I discovered, was dead simple; it’s been in my summer repertoire for three years.

But, more importantly, it radically changed the way I think about corn. Forget the microwave, the sauté pan, and the big pot of boiling water: these days the first thing I want to do with a naked ear of corn is plunk it on the grill.

It may sound primitive, but the technique is foolproof. As the kernels blacken, the corn acquires a delicious smoky-sweet flavor, the perfect keystone for a summer salad.

Voila, my signature go-to summer dish. The recipe is forever in flux, a delicious choose your own adventure. The pleasure is in the extemporization, adapting it to any meal or craving.

Charred Sweet Corn Fregola
Adapted from The Babbo Cookbook, by Mario Batali

1½ cups fregola pasta
2 ears corn, shucked
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
¾ cup chicken stock
¼ cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
¼ cup thinly sliced scallions
Freshly chopped parsley and chives, for garnish

1. Bring 3 quarts of water to a boil and add 1 tablespoon of salt. Set up a small ice bath nearby. Cook the fregola in the boiling water until somewhat tender but no cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes. Drain the fregola, refresh it in the ice bath and spread it on a tray lined with paper towels to dry.

2. Preheat the grill

3. Brush the ears of corn with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and place on the grill, turning every 2 minutes until nicely charred. Remove the corn from the grill and set aside. When the ears are cool enough to handle, cut the kernels off the cob with a sharp knife. [Do this in a large bowl, to prevent flying kernels.] Discard the cobs.

4. Combine the blanched fregola, the sweet corn and the chicken stock in a 12 to 14 inch sauté pan and cook over high heat until the stock boils and is mostly absorbed into the grain, about 5 minutes. Add the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, scallions and salt and pepper and toss over high heat for 1 minute more.

Grilled Corn Salad
You can take this salad in any direction you like; I’ve only listed the essentials below. Popular additions include sliced scallions or finely chopped red onion; avocado (pitted and cut into ½-inch cubes); spices (cumin, cayenne, etc.); dried herbs (oregano and mint work well); feta or cotija cheese (for a Mexican iteration—you can even add a little mayonnaise); sliced cherry tomatoes. While a 2:1 cob-to-diner ratio may sound like a lot, I promise this stuff goes quickly. And the prospect of too little corn is simply untenable.

Serves 4

8 ears of corn, shucked and cleaned
1-2 tablespoons melted butter or olive oil (or more, if you like)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1/4 cup fresh chopped herbs (basil, tarragon, cilantro, parsley, chives, or thyme)
Fresh lime juice, to taste (optional)

1. Preheat the grill.

2. Brush the ears of corn with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and place on the grill, turning every 2 minutes until nicely charred. Remove the corn from the grill and set aside. When the ears are cool enough to handle, cut the kernels off the cob with a sharp knife. [Do this in a large bowl, to prevent flying kernels.] Discard the cobs.

3. Season to taste and toss with fresh herbs, butter, lime juice (if using), and additional ingredients. [The salad pictured here contains avocado, cilantro, lime, cumin and cayenne.]

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

two salads, with lemon and parmesan

These salads are so simple and so intuitive, they hardly merit a recipe, let alone their own post. But the results, I think, are worth documenting. Both dishes ride on the same humble coattails: lemon, parmesan, extra-virgin olive oil. Combined, they’re the dress(ing) that makes everyone looks good, showing the star ingredient—be it chickpea or arugula—to its best advantage.

Arugula Salad with Lemon-Parmesan Dressing
Adapted from Bon Appétit

1/3 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
4 cups (packed) baby arugula
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Blend first 4 ingredients in processor. Season dressing with salt and pepper. Transfer to bowl. Combine arugula and tomatoes in large bowl. Toss with enough dressing to coat. Adjust seasoning to taste.

Chickpea Salad with Lemon and Parmesan
Adapted from Orangette

1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 tsp. fresh lemon juice
1 ½ tsp. olive oil
¼ cup loosely packed shredded Parmigiano Reggiano
Finely grated lemon zest, optional
Salt and freshly ground pepper

Combine all ingredients in a bowl, and stir gently to mix. Adjust seasoning to taste.