Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Lemony Quinoa Salad with Shaved Vegetables

This summer is becoming the season of salads, and this one comes from April’s Food and Wine. It’s from Jeremy Fox of Ubuntu which is a restaurant and yoga studio in Napa. The restaurant’s menu focuses on vegetable-inspired meals with daily-harvested and farm-fresh produce. I hope to visit it one of these days, but until then, I have the recipes from the magazine. For this salad, I feared the ingredients might require an extended search mission, and I was ready to make substitutions as needed. Just when I was willing to relent, I easily found both red quinoa and black radishes. Little shopping successes like that give me hope for future ingredient hunts. Once all the items had been gathered, the salad was very simple to assemble.

First, red radishes, black radishes, carrots, and fennel were thinly sliced on a Benriner. Then, the slices were transferred to a bowl of ice water which was refrigerated for an hour. That is what made this salad what it was. The vegetables became incredibly crisp with a lasting, transformed texture. The red quinoa was cooked in water, allowed to cool, and then combined with a simple vinaigrette of lemon juice, lemon zest, olive oil, salt, and pepper. The shaved vegetables topped the quinoa to finish the salad.

It’s so simple, it might even sound boring, but it was light, crunchy, and lemony. The vinaigrette mixed into the quinoa brought plenty of acidity and seasoning for the entire plate. The flavor of the fennel mingled its way among the other vegetables in a nice way, and the cold crispness of the slices were the textural opposite of the cooked quinoa. I hadn’t eaten black radishes before, but the flavor was very mild. The skin was thicker than that of the red radishes, and they seemed a little firmer when being cut. The visual appeal of the contrasting colors and shapes matched the experience of eating the different textures in the salad. Simply put, this was fun to eat, and chilling shaved vegetables is a technique I’ll definitely use again.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Noodle Salad with Crisp Tofu

The thermometer on our back porch shows the current temperature is 107 F. It’s been like this at this time of afternoon for several days now, and because of that, I’ve been in the mood for salads. In fact, every dinner meal I have planned for this week involves a main course salad. The crazy thing, though, is that I’m not opposed to baking or roasting or long simmering in this weather. Once it’s this hot, the added heat from cooking is neither here nor there to me. I’ll happily bake cookies or roast chicken in the summer, but the issue is that what I want to eat in this weather is really just salads. And, ice cream, but more on that later. I issued a warning the other day about how much I’m enjoying Donna Hay’s Off the Shelf, and how I’ll be cooking from it a lot. That’s where I found this noodle salad. The ingredient list is rather short for a salad, but the key element is fried tofu.

I don’t love frying food, and it’s always at least a little messy, but frying tofu might be the messiest of all things to be fried. I started by pressing the block between plates lined with paper towels to remove moisture. Then, after cutting thin pieces, I placed them on paper towels and blotted with more paper towels to remove more moisture. Still, as soon as the tofu pieces hit the hot oil, splattering ensued. I did use a splatter guard, but just in getting the tofu into and out of the pan, there was opportunity for oil to jump its way onto every surface in my kitchen. Before sitting down to dinner, I quickly wiped down the stove and neighboring countertop because it’s so much easier to clean oil before it dries. I was proud of my fast-acting homekeeping action until after dinner when I noticed the floor. So, yes, this dish asks a little of the cook’s patience for frying and cleaning, but I have a solution. If you really don’t want to fry the tofu, you can broil it. I do this all the time to make tofu fries. Coat a baking sheet with spray oil, spread one layer of slivered tofu, then also spray the tops of the tofu with oil, and broil for about three minutes before turning. Continue broiling and turning until the tofu attains the crispness you desire.

The rest of the salad preparation was as simple as can be. Bean thread noodles were briefly cooked and then tossed with carrots, chopped peanuts, cilantro leaves, and a dressing of sesame oil, soy sauce, and lemon juice. That combination was layered onto sliced cucumber and topped with the tofu. I added some chopped hot chiles just because, and I forgot all about the frying ordeal when I tasted the salad. It’s a great mix of textures and the noodles nicely absorbed the flavor of the dressing. I really liked the delicateness of the bean thread noodles which contrasted with the crunchy vegetables and peanuts. For dinner, the salad was served at room temperature, but for lunch the next day, I found it delightful and possibly even better chilled from the refrigerator. Although, that could just be the heat wave talking.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Baked Vanilla Rice Peaches

I should probably begin by apologizing in advance for what will surely be several posts in a row from the same book. I just read another Donna Hay book, Off the Shelf: Cooking from the Pantry, and as usual I was intrigued by every dish presented. The photos grabbed my attention immediately, and the recipes are so straightforward there’s no reason not to jump right in and get cooking. In this book, Hay suggests you consider your pantry staples as the “bones” of your cooking, and the recipes focus on those basic ingredients used in all sorts of ways. Each chapter is devoted to a type of staple such as pasta, rice, grains, and pastes. At the end of each chapter, there is a section called short order which presents very quick and simple dishes or just a sauce or crust or some element with multiple uses. After reading the book, I had a seriously difficult time deciding what to try first. There are about a hundred post-it notes sticking out of it, and just about everything I plan to make in the next week will be from this book.

One of the quick and simple short order items from the rice chapter is baked vanilla rice peaches. It occurred to me that I never make rice pudding, and Texas peaches are in season right now, so it was the right time to put the two together. This may be the easiest form of rice pudding ever prepared. For four large peaches or six small ones, you will need one half cup of cooked rice. I used jasmine rice. To the rice, add one quarter cup of cream, a tablespoon of sugar, and a teaspoon of vanilla. Cut the peaches in half and remove the pits, and spoon some rice mixture into each piece. Place in a baking pan, sprinkle tops with demerara sugar, cover with foil, and bake at 350 F for 20 minutes. That’s the entire recipe. When you remove the pan from the oven and lift the foil, you will be taken aback by the vanilla-peach loveliness emanating from within. Fresh peaches have a pretty fantastic aroma by themselves, but combined with vanilla, it's taken to another level.

The demerara sugar melted into a glossy syrup in the pan, and I spooned it back over the peaches. Also, I had some local, organic blueberries which I thought might look nice on the plate, and I dusted the tops of the peaches with a tiny bit of cinnamon. This was simplicity and comfort-food and fruit and dessert and possibly breakfast all in one very simple dish. When something is this easy and this good, it’s always a little surprising. But, the best part is realizing that I can whip this up anytime with very little effort.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Tuscan Squash Pie

In my last post, I mentioned the Cooking Away my CSA group. The information shared by this group will reveal what’s offered in different areas at different points in the season, and it’s great for getting ideas about how to use the vegetables we receive. When I receive a lot of one vegetable and need ideas, I reach for Madhur Jaffrey’s World Vegetarian. I go straight to the index, look up whatever that vegetable is, and find several options influenced by different cooking styles from around the world. Here in Austin, it’s already that zucchini time of year. I’ve received zucchini and yellow squash in my last couple of CSA pick-ups, and last week, there was also a big, pretty pattypan squash. I find pattypans are a little firmer or maybe thicker-skinned than other summer squashes, but I tend to use them as I do zucchini. So, when I looked up zucchini in the World Vegetarian index, I found Tuscan zucchini pie and decided it would be just as good with pattypan squash.

In making this pie, I went rogue with a few of the details. Obviously, I made a substitution for the main ingredient. I also added some red bell pepper because I had some that needed to be used, and I thought it would look as nice as it would taste. And, even though the ingredients were supposed to have been split between two eight-inch pans, I piled them all into one 12-inch tart pan. A custard was made from eggs, flour, milk, and water. To that, minced garlic, sliced scallions, salt, pepper, and nutmeg were added. In the introduction to the recipe, there’s a suggestion about adding some grated parmigiano reggiano if you’d like. Of course, I’d like, so I most certainly added the cheese. The sliced squash and bell pepper were arranged in the tart pan in two layers, and the custard was poured over top. I reserved a little grated parmigiano to sprinkle on top, and then drizzled on olive oil before baking.

To serve, a second drizzle of olive oil was suggested for each piece, but I used leftover basil oil instead. Although this is a custard pie, it’s not heavy at all and the vegetables are the main attraction here. The custard served to just barely bind the sliced squash into a cohesive whole. The scallions and garlic added great flavor, and in my opinion, the parmigiano should have been included in the recipe rather than mentioned as an option. This was a nice dinner with salad and garlic toast on the side, but it would work well for brunch too. The amount of custard could be easily scaled up, and several other vegetable combinations come to mind that might be used here. It’s essentially a crust-less quiche, but with these particular vegetables, and just a few tablespoons of grated cheese, it was a perfectly light, summery meal.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Eggplant, Tomato, Basil, and Cheese Timbales

Thanks to Heather at Flour Girl, there’s a new group that’s all about cooking with CSA goods. Since I’m always going on about my CSA, I had to join. My most recent pick-up from Hands of the Earth Farm included eggplant, cherry tomatoes, regular tomatoes, zucchini, pattypan squash, and yellow squash along with some chiles, onions, and edamame on the stem. There were two baby-sized Japanese eggplants and one small one of the Mediterranean variety. I had an idea of how I wanted to use them, but I wasn’t sure how well it would work given their diminutive size. This dish is found in Vegetable Harvest by Particia Wells. It’s a compacted mini-terrine of sorts with eggplant, roasted cherry tomatoes, goat cheese, fresh basil leaves, and basil oil, and it screams summer from the plate.

This recipe requires that a couple of items be prepared in advance. That adds to the overall time of an otherwise very simple dish, but these steps are well worth the additional effort. One of those items is basil oil, and this is the same basil oil I posted about last October. It’s a great use of abundant homegrown basil, and the oil can be kept refrigerated and used for 10 days. The other extra step is roasting cherry tomatoes, but if you know how delicious those are then you know this step is not only justified but necessary. So, once you have the basil oil and roasted cherry tomatoes, all you have to do is broil long, thin slices of eggplant and begin layering. The cooked eggplant pieces were used to line ramekins while partially overhanging the top edges. A few roasted cherry tomatoes were set on top of the eggplant in the ramekins, then a couple of basil leaves were placed on the tomatoes, then some goat cheese was pressed on the basil, more basil went on the cheese, and then the overhanging eggplant was folded in and pressed into place. The timbales could be prepared up to this point in advance. The ramekins were then placed under the broiler for a few minutes to heat through.

Thankfully, the timbales popped right out of the ramekins without any problems and were served with basil oil and some chopped basil leaves. It’s a simple combination that could be put together a thousand other ways, but the compacted timbales had a nice, presentable look about them for the most part. Mine were somewhat short and squat and lacked complete eggplant coverage in some spots due to the size of eggplant I used. I’d like to make this again with full-sized specimens now that I know how simple it is. There are only a few ingredients used here, but they combine perfectly into tasty, little savory packages with the added boosts of flavor from the roasted tomatoes and basil oil. I always try to make good use of everything from our CSA, and I was happy with this result. Next, I’ll be searching high and low through books and files for zucchini recipes for what’s sure to be a deluge.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Pastel Vasco with Blackberry Compote

Last week at the farmers’ market, I bought some summery-perfect blackberries, and in my mind, I saw them swirled into some kind of cake. It could be argued that I have a mess of recipes that flit through my head on occasions such as this. You see, I knew that I had cut out a page from an old issue of Saveur with a blackberry cake made by Tamasin Day-Lewis, and I also knew I had read about a blackberry cornmeal cake somewhere else. When I got the blackberries home and safely stowed in the refrigerator, I started flipping through files and books, and the cake from Saveur, while tempting, was somehow more complicated than I remembered and seemed more like an end of summer treat. The cornmeal cake didn’t look quite how I remembered it either, and then like a certain bear in a fairy tale, I found a recipe that looked just right. In Sunday Suppers at Lucques, there is this rich and lovely pound cake of Basque origin with a blackberry compote baked into the center of it and served poured over it as well. That was it. Those berries were destined to become a pound cake.

The cake was made with 14 tablespoons of melted butter and four eggs. It was not lacking in richness. It also contained dark rum, vanilla, almond extract, and orange juice. It was baked in a loaf pan, and just before the pan was placed in the oven, the cake surface was brushed with an egg ash and sprinkled with a handful of sugar. Said surface puffed beautifully while baking and emerged crackled and glistening. For the compote, caramel was made with sugar, water, and scrapings from one vanilla bean, and then half of the blackberries were added to the caramel. Brandy was also to have been added, but I was out of brandy, and this is where things got interesting. I used bourbon instead and thereby made the discovery that the flavor of bourbon with that of blackberries is quite wonderful. I’m sure brandy would have been great too, but at some point consider making a blackberry compote with bourbon because I’m now thinking up excuses to mix those two items together as often as possible. So, some blackberries went into the caramel and cooked until they released their juices. Then, the caramel mixture was strained into a bowl. The liquid went back into the saucepan on the stove and was thickened with a cornstarch slurry. The thickened sauce was then combined with the strained cooked berries and the remaining uncooked berries, and half of that combination was layered into the cake batter in the loaf pan while the other half of it was used for serving.

The recipe didn’t end there. This wasn’t just a pound cake and compote. Thick slices of the pound cake were buttered and toasted on a griddle before being served. Cream was suggested for serving along with the compote, but I didn’t feel like that was even necessary. I didn’t think the buttering and toasting was necessary either because the cake looked fantastic just as it was. I went ahead with the toasting just for fun, and the result was almost french toast-like on the cut surface. It did add another dimension to the flavors and textures of the dessert, but I have to say the cake held its own quite well when I skipped that step the next day. It’s a pound cake that can be elevated to another level of dessert indulgence, or it can be enjoyed one simple slice at a time, and the blackberry bourbon compote does no wrong either way.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Gavurdagi Salatasi with Falafel

In the May issue of Saveur, Anya von Bremzen wrote about living and eating in Istanbul. The pastries, like baked rice pudding, looked wonderful, and the mezes including salt pickled vegetables and a baba-gannouj-like dip looked great too. The stuffed eggplant caught my eye, and then I noticed this tomato salad with herbs and pomegranate. I guessed that this would be brightly flavored and fresh and have a nice, tanginess. It was suggested as a garnish for falafel, and that sounded perfect. I don’t know terribly much about Turkish food, but I’ve been learning from Give Recipe and Turkish Food Passion. Every time I visit those sites, I see dishes I want to try.

This salad is a combination of several chopped, fresh tomatoes, a lot of flat-leaf parsley, mint, some onion, fresh thyme, paprika, lemon juice, scallions, banana peppers, a little garlic, and pomegranate molasses. It’s garnished with ground sumac. When I read that ingredient list, I imagined all those flavors mingled together and couldn’t wait to try it. I used a falafel recipe from Epicurious, but I’m not sure if proper Turkish falafel is prepared in a different way. At any rate, the salad and falafel made a very nice pair. I whipped up a tahini, yogurt, lemon sauce and served a mound of salad with falafel sitting on top and plopped a little sauce in the center.

Both the falafel and salad recipes make enough to serve six, so after having this for dinner, there was plenty remaining for a few lunches. To describe the salad, I keep coming back to the freshness of it. The herbs and lemon and scallions did that for it, and the pomegranate molasses, although subtle, added a nice tangy sweetness. The flavors were so right with the chickpeas, onion, cumin, and coriander in the falafel. This is a definite keeper, and some day when I’ve practiced more with Turkish cuisine, I hope to be able to prepare an entire feast.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Black Bean Soup

Black bean soup had been on my mind for quite some time. I had seen delicious versions at Noob Cook and at A Southern Grace, and I kept thinking about how I needed to buy a big bag of beans and make some soup. I finally did that and used some of those beans for tostaditas as well. This particular black bean soup is from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, and it’s very much just about the beans themselves. It’s a simple soup with no spicy edge and minimal garnishes, but it is pointed up with Madeira and enriched with cream. Sadly, it’s not a very pretty-looking soup, but I seem to have a knack for cooking up unphotogenic bowls of goodness.

To begin the soup, onion, celery, carrot, diced green bell pepper, bay leaves, chopped rosemary, and thyme were sauteed in butter. Tomato paste was added and briefly cooked before the beans were placed in the pot and covered with water. This was left to simmer until the beans were tender. Salt was added, the bay leaves were removed, and then two-thirds of the soup was pureed. The puree was added back to the pot and stirred into the remaining soup. I liked this result of varied textures with some thickness from the puree and some whole beans. At this point, a half cup of Madeira and a half cup of cream were added. I served the soup with a little crema and some chopped parsley.

I, of course, love black beans prepared in a southwestern style with lots of fresh and dried chiles, but this simpler approach was a nice change of pace. The herbs and vegetables provided a foundation for the flavor of the beans, and the Madeira brightened it up. Naturally, cream never hurts a dish, and here it made the puree seem even smoother. It sounds so basic because it’s just black bean soup, but this is surprisingly flavorful and filling and deliciously so.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Smoked Salmon-Black Bean Tostaditas

I had been thinking about black beans for weeks. I wanted to cook a big pot of them and then use them in a couple of different dishes. Mostly, I was thinking about making black bean soup. In the process of searching here and there to compare and contrast different soup recipes, I discovered this gem of a starter in Rick Bayless’ Mexico One Plate at a Time. Crisp, slender-cut tostadas smeared with pureed black beans and topped with a fresh mix of smoked salmon, tomato, green onion, serranos, and cilantro grabbed my attention, and I went right off to collect the ingredients.

To make the black bean puree, avocado leaf is suggested as an optional ingredient. If you’re lucky enough to have some, you are to crumble a leaf and add it to the food processor with the beans. I read a recent blog post on Oyster Food and Culture about avocado leaves and hoped I’d be able to locate some for this recipe. In fact, I left the house feeling sure I’d find avocado leaves. I was wrong. Once again, a hunt for a specific ingredient was unsuccessful. One day, I’m going to open my own little specialty shop for all of these ingredients that I never seem to find. At any rate, the avocado leaf was optional, so I proceeded without it. Onion and garlic were sauteed and then added to the food processor bowl with the black beans. It was processed until smooth and then returned to a saute pan. Bean cooking liquid was stirred into the puree a little at a time until a a soft consistency was achieved. That was kept warm while the salmon mixture was made and the tortillas were cut into long triangles. The instructions suggest frying the tortillas, but I brushed them with oil and baked them instead. Then, the tostaditas were assembled and topped with some crema.

The smoked salmon mixture was ceviche-ish although there was no lime. The smoky saltiness of the salmon with the crunchy green onions and chiles contrasted nicely with the smooth bean puree. These tostaditas would be great for a party as a small amount of smoked salmon was stretched to serve several portions. Also, by cutting the tortillas yourself, whether you fry or bake them, you can decide the size and shape for ease of serving. This was another winner of a dish from Bayless, and I haven’t encountered a disappointment from this book yet.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Chocolate Shortbread Cookies with Truffle Cream Filling

I’ve admitted to being somewhat chocolate-ambivalent, but I think it’s more likely a matter of schizophrenia. When given a dessert menu, I probably won’t select a chocolate option, but every once in a blue moon, I get inspired to bake with chocolate. A few years ago, I read Chocolate Obsession by Michael Recchiuti. I had no ambivalence about chocolate while reading this book. It contains one photo after the next of delectable-looking chocolate items. The second chapter is about truffles, and I was completely inspired by the infused ganaches. Earl grey, jasmine, lavender, and cardamom were some of the flavored ganaches suggested for making truffles. After reading this, I went on a truffle-tasting binge. Every time I passed a chocolate counter, I had to try various truffles and then spend some time daydreaming about making my own. Well, I never got around to switching to a career of truffle-making, but I finally did try the truffle cream filled chocolate cookies from that book.

The cookies themselves are simply chocolate shortbread made with cocoa powder. The recipe made a crumbly dough which needed to rest in the refrigerator for at least a few hours before being rolled. Once rolled into a thin sheet, the dough was cut into one and a half inch rounds. The baked rounds were then filled with a rich chocolate truffle cream made from 65 percent cacao chocolate, heavy cream, powdered sugar, butter, and vanilla. I actually went to the trouble of putting the truffle cream in a piping bag so as to swirl it onto the sandwich cookie bottoms. Ordinarily, I run screaming from piping bags, but these petite cookies just begged for the added attention to detail. The sandwich tops were to have been dusted with cocoa powder, but I used the last of mine to make the cookie dough. Instead, I dusted the tops with espresso powder.

The cookies were sturdy but yielding. Bigger versions of them would be perfect for ice cream sandwiches. They had just the right amount of chocolate flavor, and I had to remind myself that they were meant to be filled and sandwiched and not just eaten out of hand. Thankfully, I restrained myself well enough to have plenty left to fill. Now, the highlight, the truffle cream, was ridiculous. It was silky and richly chocolaty and maintained a lightness even after the finished cookies had sat in the refrigerator overnight. I’m already planning alternate flavor infusions for the ganache for the next time I make this truffle cream to fill cookies. Although, I may have to spend some time perusing the book’s chocolate drinks chapter or the ice cream chapter before I make it back to the cookies for a second time.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Pasta Primavera

After our CSA pick-up and a trip to the farmers’ market, we had a bounty of colorful vegetables which reminded me of a light and spring-like pasta primavera I ordered at an Italian restaurant in Scottsdale last year. I could still imagine the taste of the fresh and pretty green beans and zucchini in a simple, brothy sauce with shallots. So, with that in mind, I started flipping through books just to see if any specifics in various pasta primaveras could add inspiration. There’s a classic recipe by Craig Claibrone, but it includes a fair amount of butter, some cream, and a few steps of blanching, draining, and whathaveyou. I was aiming for something simpler with more of a wine and shallot sauce.

Next, I turned to The Martha Stewart Cookbook, and there I found a recipe that actually made me giggle. Martha is so great, she really is, but this particular recipe required a few ingredients that weren’t just suggestions or options. They were less than completely common things, but they seemed to be required. The list included red currant vinegar (or other fruit vinegar), pimiento oil (with a suggestion to make your own if you don’t find it at a gourmet shop), and purple basil. Why red currant vinegar? Now, I do love hunting down out-of-the-ordinary ingredients, and I’m willing to place online orders for things like fennel pollen. But, usually when such ingredients are suggested, there’s a note about what easier-to-find, common items could be substituted or a note about why the specific ingredient is used. Here, there was no explanation for why this specific vinegar was necessary or that any fresh basil would be fine. That struck me as funny given that the book was published 14 years ago when those things would have been even more difficult to locate. It just so happens that I have a purple basil plant, and I would have been willing to make some pimiento oil and shop for red currant vinegar, but this was ultimately a pasta salad and not exactly what I wanted to make. Just for fun, I looked at Whole Foods, and they had no red currant vinegar. Raspberry was the only fruit vinegar.

With nothing but a memory of a sauce with shallots, I left the books behind and whipped up my own version of a pasta primavera. I realize that the vegetables I used here are just as specific as that vinegar and basil, but I’ll explain that substitutions are fine. I had red and yellow carrots, red and yellow small, pear-shaped tomatoes, zucchini and summer squash, and green beans. Any carrots and any tomatoes will be delicious. I had overheard a farmer telling a customer that the red carrots were best when roasted, so I thought of roasting everything. By starting with the carrots and adding other vegetables in increments during the roasting time, each would spend the appropriate amount of time in the oven. That seemed simpler than several separate steps for blanching and sauteeing. I did blanch the green beans because I thought they would be crisper that way, but they could have been roasted too. For a sauce, I sauteed shallots and garlic, added wine which was reduced, finished with a little butter and lemon, and combined that with the vegetables and some linguine. Shards of parmigiano reggiano, some lemon zest, and yes, my purple basil completed the dish. It wasn’t exactly what I remembered from the restaurant last year, but it was its own lovely kind of thing. The shallot, wine, and lemon sauce provided just the flavor I wanted for this, and the vegetables couldn’t have been better. Next time, I’ll most likely find different vegetables or they’ll taste a little different or I’ll add mushrooms or forget the squash or use penne instead of linguine. This dish is never the same thing twice, but it’s always a great mix of fresh ingredients.

My Version of Pasta Primavera as I Made It This Time

1 medium zucchini, chopped into large chunks
1 medium yellow summer squash, chopped into large chunks
4 red carrots, scrubbed and hairy root fibers removed but not peeled because only the outer layer is red and if you peel them they’ll be orange, chopped
4 yellow carrots, peeled and chopped
1 c small, yellow pear tomatoes, halved
1 c red, grape tomatoes, halved
2 c green beans, cleaned and stems removed, cut into one-inch pieces
1 lb. linguine
3 T olive oil
2 shallots, finely diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
Juice and zest of one lemon
1 c dry, white wine
2 T cold butter, cut into eight or so pieces
3 T fresh, flat leaf parsley, chopped or curly parsley or leave it out if you don’t have it on hand
Fresh basil, chopped or cut into chiffonade, and do use purple basil if you have it
Parmigiano reggiano
Olive oil for roasting vegetables
Salt and pepper to taste

-pre-heat oven to 425 degrees F; place chopped carrots on a baking sheet, drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and pepper; toss to coat with olive oil; place in oven and roast for 10 minutes
-in a mixing bowl, toss zucchini and squash chunks with olive oil, salt, and pepper; remove baking sheet from oven; using a spatula, slice carrots to side of sheet while turning them; add zucchini and squash to baking sheet keeping in mind that the sheet is hot; return baking sheet to oven and roast for 10 minutes more
-in same mixing bowl, toss tomatoes with olive oil, salt, and pepper; remove baking sheet from oven; using spatula, make room for tomatoes while turning carrots, zucchini, and squash, add tomatoes to sheet; return baking sheet to oven and roast for 10 minutes more
-meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to a boil; also bring a small saucepan of salted water to a boil; in small saucepan, boil green beans for five minutes and then shock them in cold water and drain
-in a medium saute pan, heat three tablespoons olive oil over medium-high heat; add shallots and saute for three minutes; add garlic and saute until shallots are translucent; pour in one cup of wine and simmer until wine is reduced by half; whisk in one piece of butter at a time, whisking until butter is melted and incorporated before adding next piece; once all butter is incorporated into sauce, season to taste with salt and pepper, remove from heat and whisk in lemon juice
-cook pasta according to package instructions while preparing sauce
-in a large mixing bowl, could be the same one used for tossing vegetables with oil, combine roasted vegetables, drained green beans, cooked and drained pasta, shallot wine lemon sauce, lemon zest, parsley, and most but not all of the basil; taste for seasoning and add salt and pepper as needed
-serve with shards of parmigiano reggiano and sprinkle remaining basil lovingly over top of each serving

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Fennel and Parmesan Scalloped Potatoes

Deciding what to serve with a whole grilled chicken was easy. I had some potatoes from our CSA and the Potato book from Williams-Sonoma, and I put the two together. I’m really not being paid by WS this week, but I seem to keep mentioning them. I handed this book to Kurt and asked him to pick a potato dish, and his choice was fennel and parmesan scalloped potatoes. Fresh fennel bulb was thinly sliced to bake within layers of potatoes and cheese, and it became tender and mild as its anise flavor mellowed and mingled with the other ingredients. It was a simple dish to assemble, and the hour it spent in the oven gave me plenty of time to prepare the rest of the meal.

I always seem to get lazy when it comes to peeling potatoes, and I don’t mind seeing the peel anyway. So, as usual, I ignored the step about removing the peels. Slicing the potatoes and the fennel was made quick and easy with a Benriner. Once sliced, they were placed in a pot with half and half, milk, chopped chives, chopped fennel fronds, and thyme. That half and half was supposed to have been cream, but I was feeling like I just didn’t need a dose of heavy cream that day, so I used half and half instead. The pot was placed over medium-high heat, brought to a boil, and allowed to boil for a minute. Half of the mixture was transferred to a greased baking dish, it was sprinkled with shredded parmigiano reggiano, the other half was layered on top, the remaining liquid was poured into the baking dish, and more cheese was added. This baked, covered with foil, for 40 minutes, and then the foil was removed for an additional 20 minutes in the oven.

Given the combination that went into the baking dish and the amount of time the layered potatoes and fennel spent melding and becoming fetchingly golden, I don’t think it’s necessary to explain how good that was. It’s not even possible that it wouldn’t be good. The fennel had a barely noticeable sturdier texture than the potatoes, and the cheese added its lovely nutty, salty richness. This potato dish could be paired with a lot of things, but it worked very well with chicken.

I'm submitting this to the June PhD.

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