Monday, November 30, 2009

Pomegranate Manhattan

Whether the holidays drive you to drink or the drinks are just part of the fun of celebrating, this is a good cocktail recipe to have on hand. I received a sample of PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur and was interested in several ideas from the accompanying recipe booklet. A PAMA margarita or martini would have been nice, but the thought of pomegranate flavor with bourbon in a Manhattan was something I had to try. First I tasted a sip of the PAMA liqueur on its own, and it was very much like pomegranate juice. This is not a sweet or syrupy liqueur. The flavor is very well-balanced, and it adds nice color to a finished cocktail.

A classic Manhattan includes bourbon, sweet vermouth, and bitters and is garnished with lemon peel and a maraschino cherry. The recipe in the PAMA booklet, replaced the vermouth with PAMA, omitted the bitters, and added a splash of soda water. I decided to create a sort of hybrid mix of that recipe and the classic. A cocktail pitcher was filled with ice, bourbon, PAMA, and bitters were added, the mixture was stirred until chilled, it was poured over ice in two small glasses, and it was topped with sparkling water and garnished.

I’ve always been a bourbon fan, and I was very happy with the way its flavor mingled with that of pomegranate. I used angostura bitters, and just a couple of dashes added a distinctive note. I can imagine a lot of delicious uses of PAMA liqueur, and I’ll definitely try the margarita eventually, but for a sophisticated twist on a classic cocktail this pomegranate Manhattan would be hard to beat.

Pomegranate Manhattan
2 ounces bourbon
1 1/2 ounces PAMA Pomegranate Liqueur
2 dashes angostura bitters
Sparkling water
Lemon peel and maraschino cherries such as Silver Palate brand

-Fill a cocktail pitcher with ice. Pour bourbon, PAMA, and bitters over ice, and add dashes of bitters. Stir until chilled. Strain cocktail into two small glasses with ice and top with sparkling water. Garnish each with lemon peel and a cherry.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Roasted Vegetables with a Maple Balsamic Glaze

I’m not planning a Thanksgiving menu this year, and coming to think of it, it’s been a few years since I did. We hosted friends and family for the big meal for several years in row, but then got into the habit of traveling for the last few Thanksgivings. I actually really like putting together a menu for such a feast, so I may have to plan on being at home next year. When I do plan the menu, I like to include at least one dish that is completely simple and that highlights the quality of some fresh vegetables. This roasted vegetable dish fits that description. I used perfectly fresh carrots, turnips, and beets from my CSA, and roasting them alone gives them incredible flavor. I upped that flavor just a bit with a quick, tangy, sweet glaze.

The carrots were cleaned and peeled, the turnips were chopped into large chunks, and the beets were left whole with skin intact for roasting. I kept each vegetable in its own area of a baking sheet so the color of the beets wouldn’t find its way onto the other items. The vegetables were drizzled with olive and seasoned with salt and pepper, and into a hot oven they went. The roasting time, of course, depends on the size of each vegetable, so start testing for tenderness after 20 minutes or so. The carrots were done first, so I removed them to a platter while the turnips and beets continued roasting. When the turnips were golden and a knife poked into them easily, I added those chunks to the platter with the carrots. I allowed the beets to cool enough to handle and then rubbed off the skins before slicing them. The glaze, for two to four servings, was made with two tablespoons of butter, two tablespoons of pure maple syrup, and one tablespoon of balsamic vinegar. Those three items were placed in a saucepan and stirred until the butter melted. I let it continue to cook for five minutes or so to slightly thicken. Then, it was spooned over the vegetables on the platter.

I like the look of separate piles of each vegetable, so the colors were grouped on the platter. Some butternut squash chunks would have been good here too, and the mix could be as diverse or as simple as you choose. You could even roast the vegetables in advance and then just warm them in the oven before serving. The glaze goes so well with the caramelized roasted vegetables, and it’s so easy to make and worry-free, it’s one of my favorites.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Polenta and Vegetable Terrine

I saw a pretty and summery meal involving a polenta terrine in the August/September issue of Donna Hay magazine and got inspired to make something similar. The terrine in the magazine was made with chorizo and spinach and was served with fresh mozzarella and cherry tomatoes, but my goal was to use some eggplant, summer squash, bell peppers, and greens from my CSA and make it a little more autumnal with a cooked tomato sauce. Polenta is great for a terrine because it sets up solidly and holds its shape very well. This couldn’t have been simpler to prepare, and once it has chilled for a few hours or overnight, it’s sliced and quickly warmed in the oven. I served the warmed slices with a spicy tomato sauce sprinkled with some chopped parsley.

A basic polenta was made with broth, and when thick, grated parmesan and butter were added. I chopped eggplant, summer squash, and bell peppers and sauteed them until tender and added some baby mustard greens. Next time, I’ll chop the vegetables into a little smaller dice so they squish into the terrine more snuggly. But, moving right along, a parchment-lined loaf pan was layered with polenta, then some shredded mozzarella, the sauteed vegetables, and more mozzarella, and then it was topped with the remaining polenta. The pan was covered and refrigerated overnight. The next day, the polenta came out of the pan easily and was cut into thick slices. The slices were placed on a baking sheet and drizzled with olive oil. They went into the oven for a few minutes to warm through. In hindsight, I should have pulled them from the oven a little sooner than I did because the mozzarella melted a bit too much and ran out from the sides of the cut pieces. The slices were prettier when the cheese is in place.

Even though I would change a couple of details next time around, I was still very happy with this dish. The parmesan-flavored polenta sandwiching the vegetables and mozzarella was everything simple comfort food should be, even though it was smartly dressed in layers of a terrine. I had never before thought of using polenta in a terrine, but it works so well and the possibilities of what to layer with it are endless.

Polenta and Vegetable Terrine
adapted from Aug/Sept issue Donna Hay Magazine
3 T extra virgin olive oil + extra for drizzling
1 eggplant, diced
1 summer squash, diced
2 green bell peppers, diced
1 red bell pepper, diced
2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
1 c baby greens for braising such as mustard greens
6 c vegetable broth
2 c polenta
2 T butter
1/2 c grated parmesan
2 c shredded mozzarella

salt and pepper to taste
Tomato sauce or fresh tomatoes for serving

-Heat 3 T oil in a large saute pan. Add diced vegetables and garlic slices and cook until tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper. When vegetables are tender and cooked through, add greens and stir to wilt. Remove from heat and set aside.
-Place vegetable broth in a large saucepan, and bring to a boil. Slowly add polenta while whisking. Switch to a wooden spoon, turn heat down to medium, and stir until polenta is thick. This will be a few minutes for instant polenta. Add butter, parmesan, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir to incorporate.
-Line a loaf pan with parchment paper allowing paper to overhang long sides. Place half the polenta in bottom of loaf pan. Top polenta with half the mozzarella. Top mozzarella with the vegetables, and then add the remaining mozzarella and polenta. Smooth the top, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least two hours.

-Once chilled and set, remove polenta from loaf pan and cut into thick slices while oven pre-heats to 400 degrees F. Place slices on a baking sheet and drizzle with olive oil. Bake just to warm through, about five minutes. Serve with a warm tomato sauce or fresh cherry tomatoes.
-You can get as creative as you like with the layers, but I kept my simple with just one layer of vegetables.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Apple and Cream Cheese Cake

Of course I didn’t send Kurt off to his potluck lunch with just bread sticks. How could I pass up the opportunity to bake something sweet that would be taken away, shared with others, and not left in the house to tempt me? This gave me the opportunity to bake from The Golden Book of Baking which I received as a review copy from Barron’s. This pretty book, with gold, gilded page edges and a gold dust jacket, covers every area of baking with cookies, bars, small cakes, layer cakes, pies, tarts, yeast cakes, and a few savories items as well. It’s full of classics, some twists on favorites, and a few items that were new to me. There’s a photo of each and every recipe, and the recipes have been graded for degree of difficulty. Most are either a one or a two, but there are a few level three recipes. As I read through the book, I marked pages that immediately caught my attention. The chocolate caramel squares look like homemade Twix bars. The Irish cream cake sounds delicious with the coffee frosting. The Portuguese meringue cake, which was new to me, is a rich cake that’s sliced into layers and soaked with caramel syrup, then topped with meringue, and baked until brown. And, there’s a pumpkin pie with a top crust. I’d never before seen a pumpkin pie with a top crust, and I have to try that too. But first, the apple and cream cheese cake could not be denied. I could tell by looking at the photo in the book that this cake would travel well, and I guessed that with the butter and cream cheese in the batter, it would be even better the day after it was baked.

Cream cheese, butter, sugar, and almond extract were mixed until fluffy, and then eggs were added. Flour, baking powder, cinnamon, baking soda, and salt were sifted together and then added to the butter mixture in alternating turns with some milk. Regarding that cinnamon, I had just read an article in Saveur about different types of cinnamon so I looked around at the grocery store to see what my options were. I bought some Vietnamese high oil ground cinnamon, and it was like a wonderful, super-cinnamon compared to what I usually use. I highly recommend it for this kind of cake or any baked item in which cinnamon is the focus. So, the mixed batter went into a thirteen-inch by nine-inch baking pan that I had lined with parchment paper since I wanted to remove the finished cake from the pan. Two granny smith apples were peeled, yes I actually peeled the apples, and they were sliced and then tossed with sugar, flour, and more of that super-cinnamon. The apple slices were layered on top of the cake batter, and then the cake baked for about 50 minutes.

The serving suggestion in the book was to add a dollop of whipped cream to each piece of cake, and that would have been perfectly delicious. However, since a bowl of whipped cream that would have to be refrigerated would have over-complicated the matter, I instead glazed the cake with melted apricot jam. I cut the cake into pieces and sneakily kept a couple of them at home. My guess about the cake getting better the next day was correct. The butter and cream cheese gave it a very tender crumb, and the tart apples and warm cinnamon flavor combined to make this simple cake a delight.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Sourdough Bread Sticks with Parmesan and Poppy Seeds

I’ve been baking from the Breads from the La Brea Bakery book since earlier this year, and at this point, I’ve made a few of the dough recipes more than once. For instance, I’ve practically memorized the bagel recipe I’ve made that one so many times. But, now that I’ve worked with the rustic bread dough a second time, I think it might be my favorite so far. It’s a very wet and sticky dough, and it seems like it’s going to be nothing but a mess until it comes out of the oven with a crisp crust and chewy, open interior full of fresh-baked, sourdough flavor. In the book, Silverton describes what the dough should feel like after it has proofed for two hours: ‘it should feel soft and alive.’ It did feel alive in that the dough was so tender, you could tell it was going to get bubbly, and it seemed full of energy. There are a few recipes in the book that use this dough, and these bread sticks are one of them. Kurt was in need of some kind of bread to take to a company potluck lunch, and I thought that bread sticks might be more fun than dinner rolls. I was also inspired by some parmesan and poppy seed bread twists I saw in Gourmet magazine a few months ago, so I added those toppings to these.

This particular dough is possibly the quickest one to make in the La Brea book. Water, sourdough starter, half of a fresh yeast cake, and bread flour were mixed with a dough hook in a stand mixer and then left to sit for 20 minutes. Then, salt was added and mixed into the dough. Some milk, olive oil, and a little more water were stirred together in a bowl before being slowly added to the dough while the mixer was running on low speed. The dough was very wet and sloshy at this point, and it was necessary to continue mixing slowly until it came together a bit. Finally, it was mixed at higher speed until all the liquid was fully incorporated. At that point, the dough was left in the bowl of the mixer, was covered with plastic wrap, and fermented for two hours. After fermenting, the dough was quickly turned out onto a very well-floured surface, and by quickly turned out, I mean plopped because there really is no shaping to be done with this dough. It just is what it is. I sort of pulled it into a rectangular-ish shape. The dough was sprinkled with more flour, covered with a towel, and was left to proof until it felt ‘alive’ which was an additional two hours. Some bubbles were forming, and the dough was otherwise smooth and lovely. I chose to brush the top with olive oil and then distribute grated parmesan and poppy seeds. Now, the goal was to cut approximately one-inch wide pieces and then stretch them as they were dropped onto a semolina-dusted, parchment-lined baking sheet. Well, this dough being what it was, I cut more or less around an inch-or-so-wide pieces, tried to pick them up and place them on the sheet without turning them into jump ropes, and then dropped them while attempting to twist the dough a little as it fell. They were rustic but no less delicious for it.

The bread sticks baked at 450 F with some water spritzing of the oven during the first five minutes and were golden and crisp after a total of 25 minutes. Kurt was happy to take these for his potluck lunch, and he was even happier that I set a few aside to keep at home. All of the other breads from this book have been great too, but there’s something about this dough that makes it special. I have a feeling I’ll eventually memorize this recipe.

I’m submitting this to
Yeastspotting where you’ll find some seriously well-made bread.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Cabbage and Mushroom Galette with Horseradish Sauce

I had a big, lovely head of green cabbage from my CSA, and I wanted to use it for something other than slaw. At first, I considered this Hungarian cabbage strudel, and I still may try that eventually. But, then I saw the recipe for cabbage and mushroom galette in Vegetarian Cooking for Everone, and that was how this cabbage was meant to be used. This savory galette is made with a yeasted tart dough, filled with sauteed cabbage and mushrooms, and given a little kick with the horseradish sour cream sauce. I have to tell you about the dough first. It’s a lot like a pizza dough except that an egg is added. The dough was mixed and left to rise for about an hour, and that one, little egg made the dough very tender. It was less elastic than pizza dough when being shaped, and it was flakier than pizza crust once baked. This was a tart dough I’ll definitely use again.

For the filling, minced onion and sliced shitakes were sauteed in butter with thyme and dill. Then, the sliced cabbage was added with a little water, and the saute pan was covered while the cabbage cooked for about 15 minutes. The cover was removed, and the heat was raised to evaporate remaining moisture from the pan. Last, parsley, a chopped hard-boiled egg, and some sour cream were stirred into the vegetables. At this point, I transferred this mixture to a bowl and left it in the refrigerator for a few hours. I had also rolled out the dough into an oblong, rectangular-ish shape, placed it on a baking sheet, covered it with a kitchen towel, and placed that in the refrigerator as well. At dinner time, I assembled the tart while the oven warmed. The filling was placed on the tart dough leaving a border of a few inches. The border was folded up and over the filling and was brushed with melted butter. For a savory tart, I like to spinkle the top edges with sea salt. The tart baked for about 30 minutes while I made the horseradish sauce.

The recipe in the book suggests peeling and chopping fresh horseradish root and then partially pureeing it in a food processor with water. Then, it was to be drained and combined with the other ingredients in the sauce. I took a lazier approach and simply peeled the horseradish and grated it on a microplane into a bowl of sour cream. Then, I added chopped chives, salt and pepper, and white wine vinegar. You could also just use prepared horseradish and skip the added vinegar in the sauce, but I do like the bite of just-grated, fresh horseradish. The sauce was perfect with the cabbage and mushroom filling, and this hearty galette was perfect for fall.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Green Bean Casserole

Last week, there was an article in the NY Times about green bean casserole. Of course, this is a popular dish around holiday time, but it’s also a dish with which I’m very familiar given that I grew up in the land of can of soup casseroles. When I first moved to Texas many years ago, I was asked by a friend about my home state. As soon as I mentioned Illinois, she said ‘oh, that’s where every recipe has a can of soup in it.’ I almost fell over giggling because that was pretty accurate, at that time anyway. For the first Thanksgiving dinner that I prepared myself, I was determined to include a homemade green bean casserole sans cans of soup. I chopped mushrooms and sauteed them, made a bechamel sauce, cooked fresh green beans, and it all worked fine. That first time, I left the crunchy onion component out of the equation, but it was otherwise a fine made-from-scratch rendition. So, when I read this article about Joaquin Baca who created a homemade green bean casserole for his restaurant, I had to try his version.

First, lots of mushrooms were sliced, and half of them were pureed with red onions to form a paste. The other half was sauteed in butter. Once browned, garlic, thyme, and then the mushroom onion paste were added to the sauteed mushrooms. Then, cream and stock were added, and that mixture was set aside. That part of the recipe could be made in advance and refrigerated until needed. Green beans were cooked in boiling water and then shocked in ice water. When drained, they were added to the mushroom mixture with sliced almonds and breadcrumbs. That was then transferred to a baking dish, and I took inspiration from the article for my pan choice. At the restaurant, Baca serves his individual casseroles in small cast iron skillets, so I baked mine in a larger cast iron skillet. It was topped with more breadcrumbs before being placed in the oven. While it baked, I fried some sliced shallots, rather than the suggested pearl onions, to sprinkle on right before serving. My shallots got a little too brown, but they were crispy and delicious just the same.

We both liked this casserole a lot. It’s an inspired way to eat vegetables, that’s for certain. The crunchy sliced almonds are a nice addition that I didn’t include in my green bean casseroles in the past. However, the one thing that Kurt and I both noticed was that the breadcrumbs mixed into the casserole left it grainy when we would have preferred it smoother. The breadcrumbs on top were fine, but next time I would skip adding them to the mixture with the green beans. Other than that, this was an amazing, rich but fresh-tasting casserole that far surpassed anything with a can of soup in it.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Apple Cranberry Crumble

The fall meal from the ‘What’s for Dinner’ recipe cards concluded with apple cranberry crumble for dessert. While making the crumble, I realized this might be the most forgiving dessert there is. You place fruit in a baking dish and top it with a crumbly, buttery mixture. You can use a combination of fruits as was done here or you can use all of one kind. You can use a little more or a little less, and you can peel or not peel, slice or chop, mix and match as you wish. Then, the topping quantity is really just a suggestion. If you like a lot of crumble topping, you can increase the total amount and mound it over the fruit. If you prefer the dessert to be more fruit-focused, cut back on the crumble quantity for little bits of buttery crunch. It’s really all up to you, and I like that about a crumble.

For this one, I used three gala apples, I left the peels on, and I sliced them. One half cup of fresh cranberries was suggested, but I used a little more than that. The fruit was tossed with sugar, cinnamon, and a pinch of salt and was placed in a buttered baking dish. The crumble topping was made with butter, flour, oats, chopped pecans, and light-brown sugar. I went with the suggest quantities but added just a few extra pecans. The topping was sprinkled over the fruit, and the dish baked until golden for about 30 minutes. Not only is this dessert forgiving, baking this is one of the easiest ways to make your house smell amazing.

I like that the apple slices have a little more texture when the peel is left intact. And, I really like the tartness of the cranberries studded throughout the dessert. Of course, the crumble topping is what makes it what it is, and the mix of oats and chopped pecans with the cinnamon-spiced fruit is always a natural fit. Next time I might use a colorful combination of red apples and granny smiths, and I might increase the amount of cranberries even more. It’s so easy and foolproof, it makes a perfect, quick dessert for a fall meal.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Roasted Pumpkin Soup, Cheese Flautas with Cilantro Pesto and Salsa Verde, and Black-eyed Pea Salad with Baby Greens

I’ve been reading Living magazine for years. Before I started subscribing, I was watching Martha’s tv show. The first apple pie I ever made was from her recipe. The first time I ever made chicken stock, I followed her instructions. Yes, I’ve been a long-time fan, but for some reason, I had never before made a 'What’s for Dinner' meal in its entirety. Do you know that article that appears every month? It’s always at the back of the magazine, and I usually have to flip there first just to see what’s for dinner this month. There are always four recipe cards that are perforated, and three cards make up the main part of the meal, and one card is dessert. The look of those removable, perforated recipe cards has been repeated many times by advertisers, but in 'What’s for Dinner,' the two pages on either side of the cards show more photos of the meal and a prep schedule. I almost always remove the cards and store them in a file unless it’s a rare meal that doesn’t interest me. So, I have dozens of these meal plans and have tried single recipes from them here and there, but not until last weekend had I actually prepared one of these complete meals. The meal I prepared is from the October issue, and as soon as I saw it, I knew I'd be making all four items. Three of those are shown here today, and I’ll post dessert soon.

The first dish was roasted pumpkin soup, and I found the cutest, little, bright orange pumpkin at the farmers’ market. Unfortunately, it wasn’t as bright in color on the inside, but it was still delicious. Pumpkin slices were roasted with onion wedges, a clove of garlic, and two shitake mushroom caps. Once roasted and cooled, the skin was removed from the pumpkin, and everything was pureed with some stock. The puree was then brought to a simmer as more stock was whisked into the mixture, and then it was kept warm while cheese flautas were prepared. For the flautas, a cilantro pesto was made from sauteed garlic and pepitas, cilantro, lime juice, and olive oil. The pesto was spread on corn tortillas and was topped with shredded monterey jack cheese. The tortillas were rolled up and then fried until golden. Earlier in the day, I made a roasted salsa verde to serve with the flautas. The third item on the menu was the black-eyed pea salad with baby greens. Black-eyed peas were tossed with a vinaigrette made from tomato, onion, garlic, cilantro, red-wine vinegar, dijon mustard, and olive oil. The peas were then spooned over a platter lined with spinach and baby greens.

The pumpkin soup was not a sweet kind of soup at all, and too much sweetness is my usual complaint about pumpkin or squash soups. The onion, garlic, and those two mushrooms gave it good, savory flavor. The black-eyed pea salad was varied in taste and texture, and the peppery baby mustard greens matched nicely with the peas and vinaigrette. And, those cheese flautas with cilantro pesto? Those crispy, cheesy, rolled tortillas were, of course, a hit. Pulling the whole meal together was simple because the soup and salad could both be left aside without worry as the flautas were prepared. It was a well-planned meal, and every part of it was suited to the season.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Curry of Tofu, Mushrooms, and Eggplant

As I was sorting last week’s CSA vegetables and making plans for them, I came upon a couple of eggplants that left me stumped. Although they were eggplants of the Mediterranean variety, I just wasn’t in the mood for ratatouille or eggplant parm. What I really wanted from those eggplants was a Thai kind of curry, and then I found this dish in The Vegetarian Table Thailand. When big chunks of eggplant get to simmer in a coconut milk-based sauce, they become tender and enriched with flavors from the spices and herbs. They become silky-textured, almost buttery chunks that absorb all the flavors around them, and this is possibly my favorite way to eat eggplant. The recipe has a very long ingredient list but it’s actually very simple to prepare.

First, the eggplants were chopped and salted and left in a colander for 10 minutes before being rinsed and dried in a towel. Then, coriander and cumin seeds were toasted and ground to a powder. Coconut milk was warmed with red curry paste and the ground spices. Meanwhile, tofu chunks were fried, and then the dried eggplant chunks were fried. Once the fried items were all draining on paper towels, some chopped shitake mushrooms were stir fried with peanuts, and then the tofu and eggplant were added to the pan. The coconut milk mixture was poured over the vegtablesa and tofu and that was all left to simmer for a few minutes. Thinly sliced kaffir lime leaves, basil, sliced chiles, and a little soy sauce were added while it simmered.

You really can’t go wrong with the combination of coconut milk, lime, and chiles. The tofu and eggplant acquired that mix of flavors and the mushrooms and peanuts added dimension. The curry just got better as the leftovers sat in the refrigerator overnight, and it was even more delicious for lunch the next day.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Linguine with Frenched Green Beans and Pesto

This fall, my CSA has switched from having a pick-up every other week to a pick-up every week. I collect my share at our Wednesday farmers’ market, and I’m always tempted by the goods I see at all the other tables at the market too. What this means is that each week I bring home a big supply of fresh, beautiful vegetables and get to think up ways to use them all within the next seven days. Last week, my haul included incredibly fresh and crisp green beans and a bunch of basil, and I remembered this pasta dish from On Top of Spaghetti. I’ve mentioned this book a few times before, and it’s one of my favorites. Once again, it delivered a great meal. Now, the interesting thing about this dish is the cut of the green beans. By frenching them, or cutting them into long, slender strips, the pieces become very tender when cooked and can be twirled on your fork with the pasta. This was the second time in my life that I french-cut some green beans by hand, and for this quantity it’s not such a daunting task. However, if I were preparing this for a crowd, or if I should decide that I need to french beans for every meal, I’m going to have to get a tool to speed up the process.

So, begin by carefully slicing green beans lengthwise into thin pieces. Then, cook them in boiling water until tender enough to twirl on a fork, and drain them, rinse with cool water, and leave them in the colander. While you bring a large pot of water to a boil for the linguine, you can make a pesto from parsley leaves, basil leaves, a garlic clove, a pinch of cayenne, and olive oil. Once the pesto is pureed, add some grated pecorino romano. Cook the linguine, and then drain it into the colander with the beans so as to re-warm the beans. Place the pasta and beans in a large serving bowl, toss with the pesto, and serve with extra grated pecorino.

This pasta dish is all about the fresh flavors of the green beans and the herbs in the pesto while the cayenne perks things up without being assertive, and the pecorino adds richness. I loved that the beans curled into the pasta on the plate and their texture was just barely firmer than the linguine. It’s a simple pasta dish and a delicious way to use fresh green beans.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Tapas, Part 2

I have two more tapas to continue the story from The New Spanish Table that I started other day. I would have loved to try the bacalao hash, but I haven’t found salt cod locally and will have to place an order online. The tuna-stuffed tomatoes and scallops with pistachio vinaigrette both sounded great too, but they’ll have to wait until our next tapas party. This time, I was determined to stuff some piquillo peppers, and try the black olive, anchovy, and caper spread. I was certain I had purchased piquillo peppers at my usual location of Central Market before, but of course, when I needed them this time they weren’t there. I called around and found they did have the lovelies at the south location of Central Market, so they were mine in the end. In the book, piquillos are described as “the caviar of capsicums.” The roasted, flat-packed peppers are mostly sweet with a little earthiness, and their small size makes them perfect for stuffing just a bite or two.

The stuffed piquillo recipe in the book is found under the title veal-stuffed piquillo peppers. In the intro to that recipe, von Bremzen explains that the classic version usually involves a stuffing of seafood with bechamel sauce, and she suggests alternate ideas instead of veal. I went the seafood route and made a shrimp stuffing. I chopped some shrimp, sauteed them in olive oil with a little chopped garlic, and then added a bechamel. Once cool, that mixture was stuffed into the piquillos, and the peppers were chilled in the refrigerator to set. Meanwhile, a sauce was made by sauteing finely chopped onion and garlic in olive oil, and to that, chopped piquillos and grated tomato were added. I’d never grated a tomato before, but you simply cut it in half, grate it on a box grater, and discard the skin. After the sauce with the tomato added had reduced, sweet and hot paprika and white wine were added. Last, a little cream enriched the sauce. Some of this sauce went into the bottom of a baking dish, the stuffed peppers were placed on top, and the remaining sauce was poured over the peppers. I should explain, an optional step in this recipe is to bread and fry the stuffed piquillos just before placing them in the baking dish with the sauce. I skipped that option and baked the naked, stuffed peppers in the sauce until warm. These little guys were delightful with chunks of shrimp in the smooth bechamel and the paprika and cream in the sauce. This was a plate and fork kind of tapa, and it was hands-down our favorite if we had to pick only one.

The olive spread was next. I already have a favorite black olive tapenade, but I wanted to try this one just to see how it compared. I was intrigued by the use of anchovy and a hard-cooked egg yolk here. The entire mixture included black olives, anchovies, capers, garlic, one cooked egg yolk, rum, yes rum, mustard, and olive oil. This was a rich and flavorful olive spread and the anchovies and rum gave it spunk. I like a good bit of parsley in an olive spread, so I sprinkled some on top. I already declared the stuffed piquillos our favorite item of the night, but there were no disappointments here. I’ll be making all of these again, and from now on whether I’m making this olive spread or my old stand-by, it will have some rum in it.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Tapas, Part 1

I’ve finally started reading The New Spanish Table after it sat in my stack of unread cookbooks for almost a year. I’m only about 50 pages into it, but I can tell that it’s going to be a delight to read. Already, I’ve learned about the different regions of Spain, regional cuisine specialties, and a little history of each area. The first chapter of recipes is Tapas, and each item is introduced with some information about where it originated and variations on how it might be prepared. As usual, I wanted to make each and every item as I began this chapter, and this time I almost did. I chose several dishes including the first two in a row and spent an evening imagining I was in Seville on a tapeo that happened to take place entirely in one establishment (my house) rather than several. For today, I’m showing the first three tapas I prepared, and I’ll continue the story in a second post. Tangerine-marinated olives, Sevillian marinated carrots, and smoky fried almonds are up first.

I wasn’t able to locate a tangerine for the olives, so I used an orange instead. Cracked green olives were marinated with orange zest and juice, lots of crushed garlic, lemon slices, sherry vinegar, olive oil, bay leaves, a crumbled dried chile, and a pinch of ground cumin. To prepare the carrots, they were peeled but left whole and cooked in boiling water in a large pot just until crisp-tender. The marinade was made by combining garlic, cumin seeds, dried oregano, red pepper flakes, fresh parsley, salt, and olive oil in a food processor and pulsing to a fine paste. Lemon juice was then added to the mixture. The carrots were cut into quarter inch or half inch pieces, tossed with the marinade, and left in the refrigerator overnight. The almonds were very simple to prepare. Marcona almonds were suggested, and that’s what I used, but blanched almonds would have been fine too. The almonds were fried in olive oil until golden and then were transferred to a paper towel lined tray to drain before being placed in a paper bag. Salt and smoked Spanish paprika were placed in the bag with the almonds, and the bag was shaken to distribute the seasonings.

The great thing about a tapas party is that a lot of the preparation can be done a day or more in advance. However, the almonds are at their best served warm, but they could be re-heated in the oven right before serving. These were three very simple items, but the flavors were addictive. I know I have a good snack in front of me when I'm incapable of controlling my hand repeatedly reaching for the serving dish. The citrus and garlic combination in the olives was a winner, and the marinated carrots will make you wonder why bars ever offered pretzels as snacks. And, warm, smoky, paprika-scented Marcona almonds don’t even require a flavor description. Pour me another glass of Garnacha, and let me continue to pretend I’m in Spain.

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