Tuesday, October 27, 2009

rigatoni with five lilies and ricotta salata

I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that, what Mozart did for the string quintet, Mario Batali does for onions in this “Rigatoni with Five Lilies.” Vidalias, red onions, leeks, scallions, chives—they’re all culinary instruments in the same family, and here they come together to form something rich and sonorous, each lily offering a subtle variation on the same caramelized flavor.

By the end of cooking, you have a delicious purple-golden mash—its sweetness tempered by salty shavings of ricotta salata and peppery herbs—the rigaoni nested happily below.

Rigatoni with Five Lilies and Ricotta Salata
Adapted from The Babbo Cookbook, by Mario Batali

Yield: 4 servings

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 pound Vidalia onions, halved then cut into ¼-inch slices
2-4 tablespoons butter
5 medium garlic cloves, minced
½ pound leeks, cut into 1/8-inch rings and washed
½ pound red onions, cut into 1/2-inch chunks
1 bunch scallions, trimmed and cut into 2-inch lengths
½ cup water
Salt and freshly ground pepper
1 pound rigatoni
4 ounces ricotta salata, coarsely grated
¼ cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 small bunch chives, chopped
Lemon wedges, optional

In a large saute pan, warm the olive oil over medium heat until hot but not smoking. Add the Vidalia onions, and reduce the heat. Cook over medium-low, stirring occasionally, until softened and translucent; then raise the heat to medium and cook, stirring often, until deeply golden and caramelized. Remove the pan from the heat, and transfer the onions to a bowl. Set aside.

In the same skillet, heat the butter over medium heat until the foam subsides. Add the garlic, leeks, red onion, and scallions, and cook, stirring regularly, until very soft and golden. Add the water, and cook until the liquid evaporates. Season lightly with salt. Remove from the heat, and stir in the sweet onions.

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, and cook the rigatoni until tender but al dente. In the last minute of cooking, return the onion mixture to medium-high heat. Drain the pasta and add it to the onion mixture, tossing over medium-high heat for 1 minute. Remove from the heat and toss more, if necessary, to thoroughly disperse the onions amidst the pasta. Serve immediately in warmed bowls, topped with plenty of ricotta salata and sprinklings of parsley and chives. Season to taste and add lemon juice if desired.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

sweet-and-spicy bacon

I'll admit, it's not my pork product of choice. Blame the breakfast sausage links that seduced me at a young age—or, better yet, the recent proliferation of pork belly in restaurants across the nation. (If, as they say in When Harry Met Sally, "pesto is the quiche of the 80s," then pork belly is certainly the pesto of the new millennium.)

That being said, I still respect a good piece of bacon. For instance, this thick-cut, dry cured, applewood smoked bacon from Niman Ranch. It has the pedigree to stand alone, but, looking to gild the lily, I sprinkled on a mixture of brown sugar, cayenne and black pepper, which melted and caramelized into a sweet-spicy glaze. It was boutique bacon of the best sort.

Sweet-and-Spicy Bacon
Adapted from Gourmet

1 1/2 tablespoons light brown sugar
Rounded 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
Rounded 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 pound thick-cut bacon (about 12 slices)

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Stir together brown sugar, cayenne, and black pepper in a small bowl.

Arrange bacon slices in 1 layer on rack of a large broiler pan. Bake 20 minutes. Turn slices over and sprinkle evenly with spiced sugar. Continue baking until bacon is crisp and deep golden, 20 to 35 minutes more (check bacon every 5 minutes). Transfer to paper towels to drain.

Friday, October 23, 2009

potatoes girarrosto-style

Okay, I confess, these aren't real skillet potatoes—the skillet was subbed in at the last minute for aesthetic purposes. Even with the skillet, these potatoes aren't much to look at. But breakfast potatoes have never scored points for good looks. In fact, when it comes to breakfast potatoes, I think appearance is often inversely proportional to taste. (Unless they look like this, in which case, awesome.)

You should assume then, from their homely presentation, that these Potatoes Girarrosto-Style, courtesy of Andrew Carmellini, were totally delicious. Carmellini's method requires that you alternate between oven and stovetop to achieve the perfect crispy results. First the potatoes, then the caramelized onions (almost in 1:1 ratio with the potatoes), then—in the skillet phase—a final flourish of garlic, rosemary, thyme and red pepper flakes, which magically infuses the whole dish. Don't ask questions. The man knows what he's doing.

Potatoes Girarrosto-Style
Adapted from Urban Italian, by Andrew Carmellini

4 Idaho potatoes
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, cut in half and sliced
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons butter
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon fresh rosemary leaves, chopped
1 heaping tablespoon fresh thyme leave
sea salt and coarse-ground black pepper
1/4 cup chopped parsley

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Prick the potatoes with a fork, place them on a baking tray, and bake them on the middle rack until a fork goes in easily, about 1 hour. Remove the potatoes from the oven and set aside. When the potatoes are cool, roughly cut them into large chunks.

Pour the olive oil into the bottom of a large roasting pan. (Pick one that’s safe to use on the stovetop too.) Scatter the onions in the pan and layer the potato chunks on top. Bake uncovered on the middle rack for about 15 minutes, turning the contents every 5 minutes, until the onions begin to soften and caramelize.

Remove the pan from the oven and cook over high heat on the stovetop for 2 minutes to caramelize the potatoes and onions, being sure to stir the contents every 30 seconds or so to avoid burning.

Return the pan to the oven and continue baking for another 5 to 10 minutes, pulling the pan out periodically to shake the potatoes around with a spoon. Bits of potato on the bottom of the pan will brown up so they look almost like hash browns. Scrape these little flavor-and-crispiness bombs off the bottom and mix them in with the rest of the potatoes. When the potatoes are finished baking, they will be golden and crispy, with lots of brown bits.

Remove the pan from the oven and return it to the stove over medium-high heat. [This is where I transferred the potatoes to a heated skillet.] Add the garlic, butter, red pepper flakes, rosemary, and thyme. Stir, and season with salt and pepper. Cook for a few more minutes so the flavors meld. Remove the pan from the heat and add the chopped parsley. Serve immediately.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

tall and fluffy buttermilk biscuits

Some people are particular about their biscuits. I have never been one of those people. Growing up, I contented myself with the KFC and Pillsbury iterations, unconcerned with Southern authenticity. (I stand by KFC's ingenious melted butter packets, though I suspect butter has nothing to do with it.)

Since then, my biscuit horizons have expanded somewhat. I've sought out the best biscuits in New York (Clinton St. Baking Company and Hundred Acres come to mind), and M. and I completed a biscuit tour of duty in the Low Country (hellooo, Hominy Grill). So I hope you'll allow me some glimmer of credibility when I tell you that these are among the best biscuits I've ever had.

It's a unique breed of biscuit—lighter and more pillowy than the drop persuasion, less peel-and-eat than Pillsbury. (This, I glean, is a result of the steam produced by the tight baking quarters.) Even better, they're very low maintenance, and require about as much effort as a trip to the market. Alas, you won't have the satisfaction of popping the Pillsbury can, but I think they're worth it all the same.

Tall and Fluffy Buttermilk Biscuits
From Cook’s Illustrated

If you’ve never heard of double-acting baking powder, don’t be concerned; these days, most conventional baking powders are double-acting.

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon double-acting baking powder
1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1 teaspoon table salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
4 tablespoons unsalted butter (cold), cut into 1/4-inch cubes
1½ cups buttermilk cold, preferably low-fat

To form and finish biscuits:
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, distributed in rimmed baking sheet
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 500 degrees. Spray 9-inch round cake pan with nonstick cooking spray; set aside. Generously spray inside and outside of 1/4 cup dry measure with nonstick cooking spray.

For the dough: In food processor, pulse 2 cups flour, baking powder, sugar, salt, and baking soda to combine. Scatter butter cubes evenly over dry ingredients; pulse until mixture resembles pebbly, coarse cornmeal, eight to ten pulses. Transfer mixture to medium bowl. Add buttermilk to dry ingredients and stir with rubber spatula until just incorporated (dough will be very wet and slightly lumpy).

To form and bake biscuits: Using 1/4 cup dry measure and working quickly, scoop level amount of dough; drop dough from measuring cup into flour on baking sheet (if dough sticks to cup, use spoon to pull it free). Repeat with remaining dough, forming 12 evenly sized mounds. [I only made 10.]

Dust tops of each piece of dough with flour from baking sheet. With floured hands, gently pick up piece of dough and coat with flour; gently shape dough into rough ball, shake off excess flour, and place in prepared cake pan. Repeat with remaining dough, arranging 9 rounds around perimeter of cake pan and 3 in center. Brush rounds with hot melted butter, taking care not to flatten them.

Bake 5 minutes, then reduce oven temperature to 450 degrees; continue to bake until biscuits are deep golden brown, about 15 minutes longer. Cool in pan 2 minutes, then invert biscuits from pan onto clean kitchen towel; turn biscuits right-side up and break apart to serve. [Store leftover biscuits in an airtight zipper-lock bag. To reheat, place them on a baking sheet in a 475-degree oven for 5 to 7 minutes.]

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

brown butter spoon cookies

Some people plan for the future by brainstorming baby names, or investing in 401(k)s. I collect cookie recipes. From sugar to snickerdoodle, I’ve been studiously filing away my favorite recipes, preparing for an imaginary life of afternoon tea parties, elaborate holiday gift baskets, and kitchen cookie jars.

Certain quotas and cookie archetypes have already been filled:

Bon Appétit’s Ginger Spice Cookies, for instance, are chewy and crystallized in perfect proportion:

Photo by Bon Appétit. What is that cheese doing there?

Then there are these Crispy Salted Oatmeal White Chocolate Cookies, which I first spotted on Smitten Kitchen:

Photo by Picky Baker

Claudia Fleming’s Chocolate Brownie Cookies have a comfortable lead in the chocolate department:

And, for nostalgia’s sake, there are the Lime Zingers that my family decorates every Christmas.

Now, to unveil the newest member of my pantheon of cookie greats: Celia Barbour’s Spoon Cookies. Credit (and deep gratitude) goes to my friend Mollie for making this batch—another outtake from the Gourmet wake—and for having the generosity/discipline to share them.

These are tender, cherubic little cookies flecked with nibs of brown butter and haloed with berry preserves. (Everything a linzer cookie wants to be, but better.) They're exactly the kind of cookie you’d want to build a fantasy life around.

While I'm on the subject, what are your go-to cookies?

Spoon Cookies
Adapted from Gourmet

Barbour recommends making these cookies in advance: “After a couple of days, the cookies' texture becomes lovely and melting. Earlier, they are good, but later, they're transcendent. Honest.” Good luck with that.

Yield: 30 sandwich cookies

2 sticks (1 cup) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt, slightly rounded
1/3 cup fruit preserves [Barbour uses half strawberry and half cherry]

Make dough:

Fill kitchen sink with about 2 inches of cold water. Melt butter in a 2- to 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderate heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until butter turns golden with a nutlike fragrance and flecks on bottom of pan turn a rich caramel brown, 10 to 12 minutes. (Butter will initially foam, then dissipate. A thicker foam will appear and cover the surface just before butter begins to brown; stir more frequently toward end of cooking.) Place pan in sink to stop cooking, then cool, stirring frequently, until butter starts to look opaque, about 4 minutes. Remove pan from sink and stir in sugar and vanilla.

Whisk together flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl and stir into butter mixture until a dough forms. Shape into a ball, wrap with plastic wrap, and let stand at cool room temperature 1 to 2 hours, to allow flavors to develop. [Dough can be made 12 hours before baking and chilled, covered. Bring to room temperature to soften slightly before forming cookies, about 30 minutes.]

Form and bake cookies:

Put oven rack in middle position and preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Press a piece of dough into bowl of a deep-bowled teaspoon (not a measuring spoon), flattening top, then slide out and place, flat side down, on an ungreased baking sheet. (Dough will feel crumbly, but will become cohesive when pressed.) Continue forming cookies and arranging on sheet. Bake cookies until just pale golden, 8 to 15 minutes. Cool cookies on sheet on a rack 5 minutes, then transfer cookies to rack and cool completely, about 30 minutes.

Assemble cookies:

While cookies cool, heat preserves in a small saucepan over low heat until just runny, then pour through a sieve into a small bowl, pressing hard on solids, and cool completely.

Spread the flat side of a cookie with a thin layer of preserves. Sandwich with flat side of another cookie. Continue with remaining cookies and preserves, then let stand until set, about 45 minutes. Transfer cookies to an airtight container and wait 2 days before eating. [If you can.] Cookies keep in an airtight container at room temperature 2 weeks.

Monday, October 12, 2009

double chocolate layer cake

Gourmet was not a fixture of my childhood the way it was for some. But it was there, providing vicarious culinary pleasures, back when my cooking extended only to chocolate chip cookies and cinnamon toast. Later, the magazine became a highly anticipated monthly ritual of reading, re-reading and archiving. For me, as for many others, the announcement of its folding was unexpected and incredibly sad.

So it was that last night I attended a farewell wake for the magazine, hosted by two friends and fellow Gourmet-enthusiasts. The premise was simple: a Gourmet potluck—an occasion to share our favorite recipes from years past, or discover new ones. Offerings ranged from the retro—a caviar tart and Moroccan-spiced shepherd’s pie (with lovely mashed potato florets)—to the contemporary—a candied-fennel lemon cake that had the stained-glass-window effect enjoyed by all great upside down cakes.

In many ways, my Double Chocolate Layer Cake was the most obvious selection. This cake has a reputation known to most Gourmet readers and Epicurious bookmarkers. Ten years after its original publication, it’s the most popular recipe on website, with accolades from over 1300 reviewers. And it felt like an appropriate way to mark the occasion.

The cake was (predictably) excellent, an exercise in pure, dense, chocolate oblivion. (I kept hoping for more ganache frosting, if only to cut through the richness of the cake itself.) As I learned this morning, when I tasted one of the cupcakes sired from leftover batter, it’s a cake the benefits from a day’s rest, so the flavors have time to marry. (Last night, the coffee notes were more pronounced, almost out of sync with the chocolate.)

It’s a Gourmet recipe—one of many—that I know I’ll reach for again, a promise of the magazine's delicious legacy.

Double Chocolate Layer Cake
Adapted from Gourmet

As one, unfortunately, has few occasions for this kind of cake, I think it will become my go-to cupcake batter recipe, a canvas on which I’ll experiment with other frostings (though there's certainly no need to diverge from the ganache). The recipe yielded two 8-inch cake layers and 10 cupcakes. If you can, make the cake layers a day in advance.

For cake layers:
3 ounces fine-quality semisweet chocolate such as Callebaut
1 1/2 cups hot brewed coffee
3 cups sugar
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
2 teaspoons baking soda
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
3 large eggs
3/4 cup vegetable oil
1 1/2 cups well-shaken buttermilk
3/4 teaspoon vanilla

For ganache frosting:
1 pound fine-quality semisweet chocolate such as Callebaut
1 cup heavy cream
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons light corn syrup
1/2 stick (1/4 cup) unsalted butter

Make cake layers:Preheat oven to 300 degrees, and grease two 10- by 2-inch round cake pans. Line bottoms with rounds of wax paper and grease paper.

Finely chop chocolate and in a bowl combine with hot coffee. Let mixture stand, stirring occasionally, until chocolate is melted and mixture is smooth.

Into a large bowl sift together sugar, flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In another large bowl with an electric mixer beat eggs until thickened slightly and lemon colored (about 3 minutes with a standing mixer or 5 minutes with a hand-held mixer). Slowly add oil, buttermilk, vanilla, and melted chocolate mixture to eggs, beating until combined well. Add sugar mixture and beat on medium speed until just combined well.

Divide batter between pans and bake in middle of oven until a tester inserted in center comes out clean, 1 hour to 1 hour and 10 minutes. [For 8-inch layers, begin checking after 45 minutes. For cupcakes, reduce the baking time to 20 to 25 minutes.]

Cool layers completely in pans on racks. Run a thin knife around edges of pans and invert layers onto racks. Carefully remove wax paper and cool layers completely. Cake layers may be made 1 day ahead and kept, wrapped well in plastic wrap, at room temperature.

Make frosting: Finely chop chocolate. In a 1 1/2- to 2-quart saucepan bring cream, sugar, and corn syrup to a boil over moderately low heat, whisking until sugar is dissolved. Remove pan from heat and add chocolate, whisking until chocolate is melted. Cut butter into pieces and add to frosting, whisking until smooth.

Transfer frosting to a bowl and cool, stirring occasionally, until spreadable. [Depending on chocolate used, it may be necessary to chill frosting to spreadable consistency; I chilled mine in the refrigerator for 2 hours.]

Spread frosting between cake layers and over top and sides. Cake keeps, covered and chilled, 3 days. Bring cake to room temperature before serving.

Monday, October 5, 2009

chocolate brownie cookies

Possible culprits behind my weekend fit of insomnia:

• A Claritin-D 24 hour extended release tablet (Pseudoephedrine, I thought I knew you)
• Late-night Turkish take-out
• These brownie cookies, which, between the high-percentage chocolate, and the half-tablespoon of espresso, accounted for approximately triple my weekly caffeine intake

Most likely, it is some combination of the three that precipitated my restlessness; however, I think it wise (if extremely prejudiced) to deflect all blame from the cookies, so as to (a) rationalize our consumption of the remaining cookies and (b) sanction future experiments with this recipe.

Brownie cookies—an invention of Claudia Fleming—represent my second attempt to recreate the devastating “earthquake cookie” at Ana Sortun’s Sofra Bakery. What is an “earthquake cookie”? It is, for one thing, a beautiful feat of engineering, with a crackly, almost meringue-like surface that crumbles and dissolves into a dense chocolate center. The whole thing is liberally coated in confectioner's sugar, save the dark fault lines that splinter down the middle (hence the name, I suspect). As chocolate cookies go, it’s a good’un.

Claudia Fleming’s brownie cookies, conceived at Gramercy Tavern, promised similar textural pleasures—the crackly surface, the rich chocolate interior—which is what drew me to them in the first place. But our taste test revealed important distinctions, too. The addition of semi-sweet chocolate chips, it seems, results in a fudgier, tar-pit interior, and a less delicate (though still crisp) surface. [Full disclosure: I used regular chocolate chips, rather than the miniature chips she recommends, which certainly had something to do with this.] There is also the obvious omission of confectioner's sugar, which I honored mostly because powdered sugar seemed incompatible with my ice cream-cookie pairing.

As Con Queso (who is better versed in Sofra’s offerings than I) will attest, these were no “earthquake cookies,” but they may have been something better. To know for sure, I’d have to do a side-by-side comparison, which—trust me—is not unlikely.

Finally, while I’m on the subject, I should probably mention my first Sofra copycat attempt, which you can see below (but which I never wrote up). They may, in fact, make a better approximation of the earthquake cookie, in terms of overall structure, though I would not recommend them over Claudia Fleming’s version. But heck, they were pretty good too.

Chocolate Brownie Cookies
Adapted from The Last Course, by Claudia Fleming

1/4 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 tablespoon brewed espresso
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 ounces extra-bittersweet chocolate [I used 70%], chopped
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, chopped
3/4 cup mini chocolate chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a small bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, briefly whip the eggs to break them up. Add the sugar, espresso, and vanilla and beat on high speed for 15 minutes, until thick. [As someone who used a hand-held immersion blender with whisk attachment can attest, this is where a standing mixer would really come in handy.]

Meanwhile, place the butter in the top of a double boiler, or in a small metal bowl suspended over a pot of simmering (not boiling) water, and scatter the extra-bittersweet and unsweetened chocolate on top. Heat until the butter and chocolate melt. Remove the boiler top from over the water and stir the chocolate and butter until smooth.

Gently fold the chocolate mixture into the egg mixture until partially combined (there should still be some streaks). Add the flour mixture to the batter and carefully fold it in. Fold in the chocolate chips. If the batter is very runny, let it rest until it thickens slightly, about 5 minutes.

Drop the batter by heaping teaspoonfuls onto the prepared baking sheets and bake until puffed and cracked, 8 to 9 minutes. Cool on a wire rack before removing from the baking sheets.

Chocolate Cloud Cookies
Adapted from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer

4 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 ounces semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup granulated white sugar
2 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 cup confectioner's sugar, sifted

In a stainless steel bowl over a saucepan of simmering water, melt the chocolate and butter. Remove from heat and set aside.

In the bowl of your electric mixer (or with a hand mixer), beat the eggs and sugar until thick, pale and fluffy. (When you slowly raise the beaters the batter will fall back into the bowl in slow ribbons.) At this point beat in the vanilla extract and then stir in the melted chocolate mixture.

In a separate bowl whisk together the flour, salt and baking powder. Add dry ingredients to the chocolate mixture, stirring just until incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm enough to shape into balls, at least 1 hour (preferably several hours or even overnight).

Preheat oven to 325 degrees and place rack in center of oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper and set aside.

Place the confectioner's sugar in a shallow bowl. With lightly greased hands, roll a small amount of chilled dough to form a 1-inch ball. Place the ball of dough into the confectioner's sugar and roll the ball in the sugar until it is completely coated and no chocolate shows through. Gently lift the sugar-covered ball, tapping off excess sugar, and place on the prepared baking sheet. Continue forming cookies, spacing about 2 inches apart on the baking sheets. If you find the dough getting too soft for rolling into balls, return to the refrigerator and let chill until firm.

Bake cookies 10-13 minutes or just until the edges are slightly firm but the centers still soft. For moist, chewy cookies do not overbake. Remove from oven and place on a wire rack to cool.