Thursday, April 30, 2015

Figgy Mostarda

I have such an affection for canning, for my grandmother was a champion canner (which I have detailed here). Thus, it has been with great pleasure that this year I have entered into the sweaty world of canning myself. (My lord, canning is hot work!) Such an entrance is a new challenge that I have set for myself and I have loved it. My first batch of goodies came from Food in Jars (from which I made this little chocolate cake for my mom and an unposted round of Cara Cara Orange and Ginger Marmalade).

Ever willing to try new things, I snapped up this cookbook (yes, yet another from the used bookstore mere blocks from my house--I think they know me by name there), excited to can under the gentle yet firm tutelage of Pam Corbin, also known as Pam the Jam, and River Cottage. (Further, Corbin penned this cookbook and then swiftly followed it up with another volume, making for a handy encyclopedia of jams and preserves.)

This recipe, firmly in the grips of page 215, for mostarda di frutta was a hit at this month's book club. Once again, the members of this book club never fail to astonish me, both with their fabulous food (did someone say Jose's Oatmeal and Chocolate Chip Cookie?) and our discussion of Dissident Gardens. While none of use particularly loved the book (I thought it needed an editor, another of us thought the book needed to be twice as long), it is lovely to sit in my little living room with these three other people (and we missed our fourth (regular) member dearly and heartily wished our other members to return right away). We have been doing this book club for some time now (at least five years, but we couldn't put a finger on just how long), and these are people who are close readers, thoughtful friends, and couriers of really good food.

Literary discussions aside, let's admit that the River Cottage got the name for this lovely sweet and sour and strong chutney wrong.  Their recipe is for Figgy Mostardo (which would make a great 1920s gangster name, right?) but it should be Mostarda.  I am updating the record here and now.

I wasn't familiar with mostarda, so I had to do little digging to learn more. One website had this to say: "According to Italian food scholar Antonio Piccinardi, the word mostarda derives from the French moustarde, which in turn derives from ... ardent, fiery must, which was made by adding powdered mustard seed to unfermented grape must and cooking it down to produce an invigorating condiment."

Ooh, a condiment with a tradition, sounds promising.

Apparently, this northern Italian relish of fruit and a mustard syrup traditionally serves as an accompaniment to assorted boiled meats (known as bollito misto); however, it has become a popular accompaniment to sharp cheeses that can stand up to this broad-shouldered relish.  While I wasn't up to making a plate of boiled meats, here and here are two good-looking recipes if you're in for the challenge. Instead, I served it as part of an elaborate spread of other wonderful treats and goodies.

Of course, I had been saving the mostarda in the larder (which is my fancy way of describing my cupboard in the kitchen) for more than a month so that the mustard flavor had a chance to permeate the vinegar and sugar and the sweet figs.  Keep it mind, the mostarda needs a hot, spicy mustard powder more reminiscent of the hot mustard found in Chinese cooking--not that American standby found in the squeeze bottle.  That said, even with the Colman's powder, I didn't find this recipe spicy enough. I made a note below.

While this mostarda was nothing like what my grandmother would have made (she canned only what she could gather from her garden), I am enjoying my foray into this new (for me) canning world. I foresee a wonderful summer in front of me, once all those fruits and veggies come into full flush.


Figgy Mostarda 

Adapted from The River Cottage Preserves Handbook
The cookbook calls it Figgy Mostardo, but in Italian, it should be Mostarda, so I am making the change here....

Makes four 8-ounce jars

4 cups dried figs
Finely grated zest and juice of 2 large grapefruit
1 heaping Tbsp yellow mustard seeds
1 cup granulated sugar, or 2/3 cup honey
1/4 cup English mustard powder*
7 Tbsp cider vinegar or white wine vinegar

*Even more (perhaps 1/2 cup?). Use a liberal hand. I found this to be not spicy enough.

1.  Cut each fig into 4-6 pieces--it's easiest to do this using scissors. Place the figs in a bowl and add the grapefruit zest and mustard seeds. Measure the grapefruit juice and add water if needed to reach 2 cups and 2 tablespoons of liquid. Pour over the figs. Cover and let stand overnight.

2.  Put the figs and juice into a heavy saucepan. Heat gently until simmering, then add the sugar or honey. Stir until dissolved.

3.  Meanwhile, blend the mustard powder with the vinegar, add to the simmering figs, and stir well. Simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally, to reduce and thicken.

4.  Remove the pan from the heat. Spoon the mostarda into warm, sterilized jars (see instructions below) and seal with vinegar-proof lids (see instructions below). Store for 1 month before opening. Use within 1 year.

To sterilize the jars:
1.  If you're starting with brand new jars, remove the lids and rings; if you're using older jars, check the rims to ensure there are no chips or cracks.

2.  Put the lids in a small saucepan, cover with water, and bring them to a simmer on the back of the stove.

3.  Using a canning rack, lower the jars into a large pot filled with enough water to cover the jars generously. Bring the water to a boil.

4.  While the water in the canning pot comes to a boil, prepare the figgy mostarda (or whatever product you are making).

5.  When the recipe is complete, remove the jars from the canning pot (pouring the water back into the pot as you remove the jars).  Set them on a clean towel on the counter.  Remove the lids and set them on the clean towel.

To seal the jars:
1.  Carefully fill the jars with the mostarda (or any other product). Leave about 1/2 inch headspace (the room between the surface of the product and the top of the jar).

2.  Wipe the rims of the jar with a clean, damp paper towel.

3.  Apply the lids and screw the bands on the jars to hold the lids down during processing. Tighten the bands with the tips of  your fingers so that they are not overly tight.

4.  Carefully lower the filled jars into the canning pot and return the water to a boil.

5.  Once the water is at a rolling boil, start your timer. The length of processing time varies for each recipe; for the mostarda, cook for 10 minutes at a rolling boil.

6.  When the timer goes off, remove the jars from the water. Place them back on the towel-lined counter top, and allow them to cool. The jar lids should "ping" soon after they've been removed from the pot (the pinging is the sound of the vacuum seals forming by sucking the lid down).

7.  After the jars have cooled for 24 hours, you can remove the bands and check the seals by grasping the edges of the jar and lifting the jar about an inch or two off the countertop. The lid should hold in place.

8. Store the jars with good seals in a cool, dark place. And jars with bad seals can still be sued, ust do so within two weeks and with refrigeration.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Spring Pea and Cilantro Soup

I have long celebrated the culinary chops of Yotom Ottolenghi on this here website, and Ottolenghi has gotten oodles of international attention for his amazing cookbook Plenty (which I'll admit I have crowed about time and again on this website). However, fellow British chef Diana Henry has her own cookbook Plenty that can stand sentinel on its own. I am delighted to crow about her as well.

Certainly, in England, Henry is well known and well beloved; however, stateside, she doesn't (yet) seem to have the same following. Which is a shame, for her cooking is downright pleasurable in that wonderfully, simply satisfying way.

Diana Henry, who originally hails from Northern Ireland, is a transplant to London, where she writes for The Telegraph and maintains her own luscious website. Additionally, she has penned eight cookbooks (!) and has a brand spanking new one out that I am dying for someone to drop into my hands at just the right moment.

This particular cookbook (Plenty) came out in 2010, and it shares the same spirit as one of my favorite pieces of food writing ever, The Everlasting Meal. Committed to ensuring we know where our food comes from and how it is produced, this cookbook encourages us to use better food, but not necessarily more expensive food. In other words, how to get the best use and full use out of all of our food in a wholesome and sustainable way. I can get right behind that!

Further, Henry encourages that we should use all of the food that we purchase, using bones for stocks and leftovers for a meal transformation (in fact, she has a whole chapter devoted to Les restes) and cooking larger quantities on the weekends (whenever that may fall for you) so that we have easy, healthy, high-quality food to reach for rather than convenient, often bad-for-us food when we grow so stressed we cannot cook.

This recipe is Henry's take on that English staple, Pea Soup. The British take their pea soup--split or spring--seriously, and I delighted in reading this lovely article from The Guardian on pea soup.  However, this is not the split pea soup of foggy London fame; instead, this spring soup boasts a bright green hue that smacks of warming days and fruiting trees. However, Henry uses frozen peas, in part so we can stave off that heady and oft-too-early anticipation of the abundance of those beautiful English spring peas but also so that it becomes one of those easy meals you can make any day of the week and practically any day of the year.

The kicker for this soup is twofold: both the addition of the bright cilantro (which if you find soapy, you could easy leave out of this soup) and the red chile cream. The cream not only adds a little heat, but it is such a pretty color contrast to the soup. Further, the use of potatoes makes this soup heavy enough for a full meal (but the absence of meat makes it light enough for a springtime supper).

I am delighted as all get out to have two Diana Henry cookbooks in my library (a duck salad from her cookbook A Change of Appetite will be making an appearance on this blog in the future). It's wonderful to welcome Henry to my kitchen, for her recipes have not failed me (and I have been doing my best to cook a variety of her dishes).

For now, it's time to settle in for a bowlful of quite simply a plentiful, simple, and relatively quick bowl of pea soup. What springtime joy.

Pea and Cilantro Soup
Adapted from  Diana Henry's Plenty

Serves 6-8

For the Soup
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp butter
1 onion, coarsely chopped
1 potato, chopped
1 1/2 tsp ground cumin
large bunch of cilantro
2 lbs frozen peas
4 cups chicken stock
lemon juice, to taste

For the cream
1 1/2 tsp olive oil
2 fresh red chiles, seeded and sliced
1/2 cup cream or yogurt
juice of 1/2 lemon
salt and pepper
pinch of superfine sugar (optional)

1.  Heat the oil in a heavy pan. Add the onion and potato and stir. Add the cumin and stir for a minute to release the aroma. Chop the cilantro stems (reserve the leaves to add to the peas) and add them, stir, add a splash of water, and cover. Sweat for about 20 minutes, adding a bit of water from time to time to prevent the mixture from sticking on the bottom of the pan.

2. Add the peas, stock, cilantro leaves, and seasonings, and bring to a boil. Simmer for 3 minutes, then leave to cool. When at room temperature, puree in a blender or food processor, and add lemon juice to taste.

3.  To make the cream, heat the olive oil and saute the chiles until soft. Put into a blender and add the cream, lemon juice, and a pinch of salt. Blend briefly until broken down. Add a little water to thin it out (it should be able to float on the soup but not be in thick blobs).  Check the seasoning, and add the tiniest pinch of sugar (to taste)

4.  Reheat the soup before serving or chill and serve cold. Garnish with the cream.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Ottolenghi's Fried Lima Beans with Feta, Sorrel and Sumac

Shall I tell you all the plans I had for this past weekend?  They included a run with my dear friend last Friday, a fabulous fortieth birthday party for a pair of dear friends on Saturday (which would have included baby holding), and many hours watching Giants baseball on all three days (thankfully, they seem to have gotten out of their slump with this Dodgers series!).  Instead, my weekend was spent in bed, beneath a mountain of blankets and beside an equally high mountain of kleenex. After almost two years of avoiding one, I got a cold. And not just any cold. A spring cold.  The only thing worse than a spring cold is a summer cold.

Remember that fortieth birthday party I was scheduled to attend? Well, it was an outdoor one in a park complete with potluck dishes. There were to be babies that I could hold and nuzzle. Instead, I opted out of it, because I didn't want to hold and nuzzle babies and subsequently pass on this cold. Further, this fabulous lima bean dish is what I had planned to bring. Feel my pain now. Given that I had already begun to soak the beans before I convalesced, I felt obligated to make to cajole the husband to make the rest of the dish. Thank goodness he did, for then he coaxed me out from beneath the covers to have a bite. While my nose was stuffed up, I could certainly tell this tangy bean dish was one worth savoring. Which the husband most certainly did.  (I ate my bowl and then promptly fell asleep on the couch.)

Lima beans, you wonder. As a child I loathed the lima bean. Perhaps because the bean was so large, perhaps because it always seemed so mushy, I am not sure, but I most certainly dreaded eating it. However (and luckily) my palette has improved, and now I can appreciate these healthy legumes, even when I have a cold. A fiber all-star, this bean (also known as butter bean) helps manage blood sugar, purportedly can help prevent heart attacks, and contains almost 25% of your iron needs in one serving. The lesson here? Eat more lima beans. You actually like them (now) and they are good for you.

However, beyond the bean, there are a couple of other star ingredients: sorrel and sumac.

Sorrel is an arrow-leaf shaped herb that is apparently experiencing a resurgence. According to Food Lovers Companion, its tart, lemony flavor is the byproduct of oxalic acid (which is also highly present in Spinach and leads to that feeling of "Spinach Teeth"*). However, unlike spinach, sorrel has a characteristic sour taste that is often celebrated in spring soups. Should you not be able to find sorrel, you can easily substitute spinach with double the lemon or even arugula (which would be more bitter and much less sour).

*The link here leads to some of the worst pictures I have ever taken for this blog. Whoo boy!

Sumac is also enjoying a new heyday in America and Great Britain. The red berries from the sumac bush, which grows throughout the Middle East and Italy, are dried and ground in order to make a fruity, tart accompaniment to many a meat or vegetable, or in this case legume. Plus, it adds a pretty red accent to the dish. While certainly enjoying a newfound star status, sumac can  be tricky to find. Substitute smoked paprika in a bind.

Ottolenghi then combines all of these into one fabulous dish filled with the smooth, buttery quality of the lima bean, the sourness of both sorrel and sumac, and the tangy creaminess of feta. The husband reports this was more than delightful. I think it was, too, even though my tastebuds could pick up only a smidgeon of distinctiveness. Next time, I am making this dish when I am not nursing a spring cold and chasing my dinner with a shot of NyQuil.

Fried Lima Beans with Feta, Sorrel and Sumac
Adapted from  Ottolenghi's Plenty

4 servings

1 pound dried lima beans
2 tablespoons baking soda
1 1/2 tablespoons butter
4 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra to finish
8 green onions, sliced lengthwise into long strips
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 fresh red chilies, thinly sliced
5 cups sorrel, cut into 3/4-inch strips, plus extra, very thinly sliced to finish
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons lemon juice
5 ounces feta, crumbled
2 teaspoons sumac
handful of chopped soft herbs, such as dill or chervil

1.  Place the lima beans in a large bowl and add twice their volume of cold water and the baking soda.  Leave to soak overnight.

2.  The following day, drain the beans, place in a large pan, and cover with plenty of water.  Bring to a boil and boil for at least 30 minutes, or until the beans are soft to the bite but are not disintegrating.  They could take over an hour to cook, depending on size and freshness.  Add more water during cooking if necessary.  When ready, drain the beans.

3.  To fry the beans:  You may need to do this in 3-4 batches, depending on the size of your pan.  Take some of the butter and oil and heat both up well.  Add enough beans to cover the bottom of the pan and fry on medium-high heat for 1-2 minutes on each side, or until the skin is golden brown and blistered.  Remove to a large bowl and continue with another batch of butter, oil and beans.

4.  When cooking the final batch, as soon as the beans are almost done, add the green onions, garlic, chilies, and sorrel.  Saute for about 1 minute.  Then add the rest of the beans to the pan, remove from the heart and season with the salt.  Allow the beans to cool down completely or until just warmish.

5.  Taste the beans for seasoning, drizzle some lemon juice on top, then scatter with feta, a sprinkling of sumac, chopped herbs, and the thinly sliced sorrel.  Finish with a drizzle of olive oil. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Orange Liqueur

Time to get your hooch on.

I am over the moon about the arrival of this book for so many reasons.

First and foremost, the husband has taken it upon himself to learn how to brew beer. Provided that his first batch does not turn out to be swill, I will be sipping his beer while reclining in a wooden lounger in the backyard this summer.

Second, I vowed to add more booze to this blog. Lucky for me, John Wright (via River Cottage) is here to guide me with his amusing tone and knowledgeable hand. Welcome to the blog, Mr. Wright.

This cookbook highlights the four mainstays one might brew at home: infusions, wine, beer, and cider. Distillation of alcohol remains illegal, so no making any moonshine out there, my friends. (However, I have stories from the Prohibition Era that such illegal activities may have been prevalent in my family, on both sides.  People, that's probably the only commonality that both sides of my family share!) Infusions are the easiest to do (which is why I am highlighting one of them here) in part because equipment requirements are minimal, sterilization not required (although good hygiene is always encouraged), and the time commitment is sometimes as little as overnight and other times up to only about a month. Beer turns out to be the most complicated, and the recipe found on page 215 in this book is for Aleister Crowley's AK bitter. I am going to wait until the husband has mastered a few batches before I foist this recipe for a low-hopped and mild beer upon him. I have patience; I have all summer in front of me.

My friends, there are recipes in this book for Nettle Beer, Heather and Honey Ale, Black Pearl Porter, Stout (huzzah!), Sparkling Elder Flower Wine, Blackberry Wine, Sparkling Cider, and Cherry Brandy, among so many others. This book meets all your brewing needs, particularly if they feel British inspired. However, more importantly, I think, Wright walks you through the science and the process of whipping up your own batches of booze. He holds your hand in the cider section, explaining how to make a gallon or two with your usual kitchen equipment but then prodding you to expand into specialized equipment if you take to cider making. He explains specific gravity in beer making, encourages recycling of used wine and beer bottles, includes helpful drawings for each step in the beer-making process, and explains how to make a sweet wine a dry wine. This book is accessible for the novice (me!) but detailed enough for the expert (hopefully the husband by the end of the summer!).

To start my foray into the book, I chose the easiest recipe here, Orange Liqueur. Call it by (brand) name--Triple sec, curaçao, Cointreau, and Grand Marnier--this infusion is a must for any well-stocked bar, for it is a necessity for your high end margarita, your tropical mai tai,  your jazzy cosmopolitan. Beyond the cocktail, however, orange liqueur is grand for whipping into cream to top a citrus-flavored dessert, for mixing in with brownies for a zesty surprise, or for drizzling atop semolina cake. Further, it's quite simple to make and gives almost immediate results--that is if you can wait a full day. Similar in smoothness to Cointreau, this infusion does depend on the quality of your vodka. No need to drop a mint on the bottle, but do avoid rotgut.

Finally a note about River Cottage and its series of cookbooks (of which this one numbers 12). River Cottage is a garden, farmhouse, and cooking school on the Devon/Dorset border founded by Hugh Fearnly-Whittingstall, an originally London-based chef and a veritable food celebrity in England but a relative unknown stateside.  Committed to cooking without "slaughterhouses, packaging plants, or grocery stores," River Cottage came about because Fearnly-Whittingstall decided to look the fantasy of living off the fat of the land straight in the eyes, even as he was about to kill it for dinner. River Cottage faces nature nail, tooth and claw as well as by tenderloin, brisket, and ham. Should one wish to visit this bucolic getaway, one can take classes on beekeeping, hedgerow foraging, meat curing, as well as the more traditional bread baking and pastry making. For those of you with a few acres to spare, you, too, can live a more River Cottage-like existence. Sadly, for me, I live with a cramped and pint-sized backyard with plenty of fog and not a lot of sun (thus tomatoes are often a failure, but lettuces and arugula are hits). (Here's a great link for even more information about River Cottage.)

Okay, enough talk.  Let's tipple a little, my friends. And cheers to you, John Wright and River Cottage. I see a wonderful summer in my future.

Orange Liqueur

Makes about 1 1/2 cups

1 orange, unwaxed and as shiny and as fresh as possible
1 Tbsp sugar
1 1/2 cups vodka

1.  Use a potato peeler to carve off the zest of the orange. Put the zest into a 3/4 pint Kilner jar (or other jar--I used an old olive jar, properly washed, of course). Sprinkle with sugar and top with vodka. Close the lid and shake until all of the sugar has dissolved. Place in a dark cupboard and shake once a day.

2.  Remove the zest after no more than a week, as the liqueur can become cloudy otherwise. The liqueur is ready between 1 and 7 days, depending on the strength you prefer.

3.  Store in a cool, dry space for up to a year, but best used within three months.

Further, Wright suggests an equally appealing variation: kumquat vodka infusion, which needs twice as much sugar.  

Another variation would be to replace the orange zest with lemon zest. Combined with soda water, lemon juice, and crushed ice, this infusion makes a snappy alcoholic lemonade.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Spring Tart with Asparagus and Red Onions

April in the Bay Area can be tricky. Just in the past week alone, it has rained, fogged over, and shot up to 80 degrees (luckily, not all on the same day). Thus, when planning a wedding in Golden Gate Park, you must call in all of your favors from the gods in order to get an appropriately sun-drenched meadow surrounded by a bower of leafy, bright green trees and bushes. Lucky for my dear friend, the gods owed her some favors, and her little patch of grass practically glowed for her wedding.

Converging the top three things I love about spring weddings (good love, good friends, and good food), this San Francisco wedding ended with a reception at one of my favorite places in the world (as detailed here, here, and here, yes here, even here, and finally here), Greens Restaurant in the city.* There, the sunlight kept pouring into this beautiful room overlooking the Bay and affording a spectacular sunset view. Even more wonderful, the light seemed to follow my friend around the room, and I have many a picture where she, in her gorgeous art deco dress, is flooded in glamorous light. Like I said, the gods owed her some favors.

*I wasn't kidding when I say Greens (and its subsequent cookbooks) is one of my favorite places. Oh, love.

Dinner was rightfully spectacular, where executive chef Annie Somerville and staff served a choice of either a gorgeous butternut squash and sweet potato gratin with an ancho-fromage blanc custard or an equally appealing wild mushroom and caramelized onion tartlet. And my darling friend finalized the food portion of the evening with a proper competition, results of which most certainly determined who gets bragging rights for the rest of the marriage: Team Cake or Team Pie. (I admit, I betrayed my friend and went with Team Cake, but it's because I am so delightfully happy to welcome and support her new husband. Alright, alright, my motives were more base than that. The cakes were from Susie Cakes.  I am a sucker for Susie Cakes).

Anyway, I absolutely knew at the beginning of 2015, when it came time to cook from Field of Greens, Annie Somerville's cookbook, I wanted to do so in honor of love and weddings and spring and my dear friend, who inspires and surprises me in wonderful ways. I wanted to pay a little tribute to her. Thus, I present to you a simple tart, whose shell proudly is printed on page 215 of the cookbook from the restaurant she and her husband will always hold dear.

Somerville suggests many different fillings ranging from Southwestern Corn (corn with chiles, cilantro, and onion) to Eggplant and Roasted Garlic (which is filled with exactly what it sounds like). However, I chose the most spring filling of all: Asparagus and Red Onions. The tart dough itself is quite easy. You stir in, rather than knead or cut or fold, a dallop of soft butter, and after you let the whole dough rise for about three quarters of an hour, you simply press its sticky form into the bottom of a tart pan (preferably one with a removable bottom for easy presentation). Then, without prebaking the dough, you fill it with a vegetable goodies and a custard of eggs and half and half (I have it in my stars to try this with whole milk rather than half and half, just to see if I can make it a tad healthier. I'll keep you posted on how it goes...). Pop that in the oven. Serve with a salad. A simple but satisfying dinner is on the table.

The dough becomes this spongy light vessel for whatever you can imagine, whatever the season. From this bright, highly celebratory of spring filling to something autumnal and warm (maybe butternut squash and porcinis?), the tart dough almost beckons with possibility. The husband and I even have plans for a roasted red pepper, red onion, and goat cheese filling either later this week or early next.

In all, I am so happy for my friend and her husband. I am honored I got to share in their celebration of their love both for each other and for this beautiful city. With their kindness and conviction and with their humor and generosity, they are so well suited to one another and so deserving of every favor the gods bestow upon them.

One Year Ago: Ottolenghi's Semolina, Coconut and Marmalade Cake
Two Years Ago: Paparot--Spinach and Polenta Soup

(I had hoped to post this entry last week, but I misplaced my camera cord and had to wait to find it or for the replacement to arrive. Ah, well. I have been exceptionally under the weather, so any movement has been a challenge. Patience and waiting have become my forte.)


Spring Tart with Asparagus and Red Onions

Adapted from Fields of Greens

One 9-inch tart, serves 6

Yeasted Tart Dough
1 teaspoon active dry yeast (1/2 package)
Pinch of sugar
1/4 cup warm (110 degree) water
1 cup unbleached white flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon minced lemon zest
1 large egg, room temperature
3 tablespoons soft unsalted butter (room temperature, not melted)
Unbleached flour for shaping

Tart Filling
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 red onion, thinly sliced
salt and pepper
1/2 pound of asparagus, tough ends discarded, sliced into 1-inch lengths on a diagonal, about 1 1/2 cups
1 tablespoon chopped fresh chervil or Italian parsley
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups half-and-half
Zest of 1 orange, minced
2 ounces Gruyere cheese, grated, about 1 scant cup

Yeasted Tart Dough
1.  Dissolve the yeast and sugar in the water set in a warm place while you gather the other ingredients. Combine 1 cup flour, the salt, and lemon zest in a bowl and make a well. 

2.   Break the egg into the middle of the well; add the butter and pour in the yeast mixture. Mix with a wooden spoon to form a soft, smooth dough. Dust it with flour and gather into a ball; set it in a clean bowl and cover with a kitchen towel in a warm place.

3.  Let the dough rise in a warm place until it is doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes. If you are not ready to use the dough at this time, knead it down and let it rise again.

4.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and prepare a 9-inch tart pan with a removable bottom (simply spray it with cooking spray).

5.  Flatten the dough, place it in the center of the prepared pan and press it out to the edge using either your knuckles or the heel of your hand. Add only enough flour to keep the dough from sticking. If the dough shrinks back while you’re shaping it, cover with a towel and let it relax for 20 minutes before you finish pressing it out. (This is a wonderful method to get the dough into the pan with little muss; however, if you're finding this frustrating, you may also find it easier to roll the dough out with a rolling pin.)  The crust should be thin on the bottom and thicker at the sides, about 1/4 inch higher than the rim of the pan. It can be filled immediately or refrigerated until needed. (Do not pre-bake the dough.)

6.  While the dough is rising, heat the olive oil in a large saute pan; add onions, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a few pinches of pepper.  Saute over medium heat until the onions are soft, 7-8 minutes.  Add the asparagus, another 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a few more pinches of pepper, and cook until the asparagus is tender, about 7-8 minutes.  Transfer the vegetables to a bowl and toss them with the herbs (chervil or Italian parsley), and season to taste with additional salt and pepper.  Set aside to cool.

7.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Beat the eggs in a bowl and add the half-and-half, orange zest, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a few pinches of pepper.  [I did this step just before shaping the dough into the tart pan, thus giving the oven enough time to heat up.]

8.  Sprinkle the cheese on the bottom of the dough (in the tart pan) and spread the asparagus and onions over it.  Pour the custard over the vegetables and cheese and bake for about 40 minutes, until the custard is golden and set.  Serve with a salad (Sommerville recommends one of romaine, oranges, and nicoise olives) for a light meal.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Herbed Falafel Bowl

I am a fan of Sara Forte and Hugh Forte and their beautifully presented blog, The Sprouted Kitchen. Even more so, I am a fan of my friend who gifted me with the Forte's first cookbook, simply entitled The Sprouted Kitchen. Thus, I was looking forward to this sophomore cookbook from Sara Forte. It meant good food, beautiful pictures, and a nostalgic return to her first.

This new cookbook combines the pragmatism of the first book (healthy, whole foods) with the charm of a single dish. While the book reads almost like a vegetarian cookbook, Forte tucks in recipes for turkey meatballs, seared tuna, jerk-seasoned white fish, roasted salmon, and seared scallops. Forte is no simpleton when it comes to healthy food, for such a qualifying moniker doesn't always mean food without poultry or seafood. Further, Forte admits that one must not get too literal with the bowl and spoon, even encouraging you to branch out to the fork and plate as needed. However, there is something wonderfully comforting about nestling foods of appealing and assorted textures, flavors, colors, and temperatures into one serving vessel and, if need be, settling onto the couch to watch a favorite movie. While these dishes are not always as portable as a lunchbox entree (although some of the salads and side dishes are), they are portable from kitchen to living room in a deep bowl. So, branch out, move away from the table, and still have a good dinner even if it's while sitting at your desk while you grade papers, sitting around the coffee table instead of at the dinner table, or curling up in a favorite chair to flip through a good book (with requisite bowl perched on your thigh).

I was delighted to make the Herbed Falafel Bowl (on page 115, for this slim book doesn't go all the way to 215). Back in the mid-nineties, I was a culinary novice, interested in good food but utterly baffled by it. I went to visit my Oregon-living friend, and she introduced me to what have become necessities in my life, chai and falafel (not necessarily taken together). On that trip, we also hiked, went to a fancy dinner, played basketball by streetlamp-light as we waited for those dinner reservations, and took a trip to the coast. However, I remember these two culinary and quite well-spiced introductions found at Portland street vendors far more than I do the fancy dinner at a restaurant whose name I cannot even recall.

Falafels were a boon for me as a then-vegetarian. While many disagree on the precise history of the falafel, some say that the dish originated in Egypt with the Coptic Christians, who ate the deep-fried chickpea fritters as a replacement for meat during Lent*--a perfect vegetarian food. Further, with all those beans (recipes debate as to whether one should use chickpeas or fava beans or a combination of both), the falafel balls were a great source of (an incomplete) protein. I have made many a falafel (sometimes even of the boxed variety but often of the homemade assortment).

*Others suggest that the falafel originates in Israel for the country claims the falafel as its national food, and even others claim that Palestine is the origin of the humble spiced bean ball.  The New York Times has a great article on the contentious origin of this mushed legume, and I shall leave the final word to food historians and journalists. However, thus far, no one has yet tried to contend with this fun fact: the world's largest falafel was recorded in July of 2012 and weighed in at 164.4 pounds.

Ever focused on health, Sara Forte updates this falafel recipe for the gluten free who wish to avoid deep frying their food. Even if you do not count yourself in either category, I recommend making this scrumptious dish.

These falafels are also exceptionally portable, as evidenced by the fact that I brought them with me on my trip to Stinson Beach.  I love this beach--I have walked along it with my sister, my mother, my niece and my nephew. The husband and I have spent time here with many friends, including one whom I miss immensely. And today, I spent the day there by myself, with a bowl of falafels, a blanket, a book, and my journal. Despite all my sunblock, I did end up with a little bit of a burn on the tops of my feet, and I made friends with a stray dog, who unfortunately did not have tags. I can see the end of spring break on the horizon, unfortunately. So I am savoring every beach- and falafel-filled moment.


Herbed Falafel Bowl

Serves 4

For the falafel
3 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp sea salt
1/2 tsp ground pepper
1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 Medjool dates, pitted
1/2 yellow onion
2 cups cooked and well-drained chickpeas
1/2 cup toasted pistachios
1 small bunch, chopped cilantro (about 1 cup)
1/3 cup coarsely chopped flat leaf parsley
1/4 cup coarsely chopped mint leaves
 2 Tbsp flax seed meal
1/2 tsp baking soda

For the Tahini Citrus Miso Dressing
1/2 cup tahini
2 Tbsp white or yellow miso
2 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
2 tsp hot sauce
1 Tbsp rice wine vinegar
Juice of 1 large orange (about 1/3 cup)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Lemon juice, to taste   
For the bowl
1 head romaine, finely shredded
1 English cucumber, sliced thin
1 pound tomatoes, sliced in wedges
3 cups cooked brown rice              

For the falafel:
1.  In the bowl of a food processor, add the garlic, pepper flakes, cumin, sea salt, pepper, olive oil, lemon zest and juice, dates, and onion. Process until well mixed. Add the chickpeas and pistachios and give it a few pulses until chunky; do not puree. Add the cilantro, parsley, mint, flax seed meal, and baking soda and pulse until the herbs are just incorporated. You want a coarse mixture, not too smooth. (This can be done up to 2 days in advance and kept in the refrigerator.)

2.  Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Rub a little oil on your hands, form 2-inch balls with the batter, and arrange them on the baking sheet; you'll have about 20. Brush a thin layer of olive oil on top. Bake 25-30 minutes, until the tops are browned.

For the dressing
3.  In a mixing bowl, whisk together the tahini, miso, honey, sesame oil, and hot sauce to combine. Whisk in the vinegar, orange juice, salt and pepper to taste. Thin with water or lemon juice, 1 Tbsp at a time, if needed. Taste and adjust seasoning.

For the bowl:
4.  Toss the romaine, cucumber, and tomatoes with the dressing. Arrange the bowl with the rice, the vegetables, and the falafel.