Ok, so technically our first dinner married (not counting the actual reception) was some carryout from Thang Long. But our first home-cooked meal- cooked as a joint effort, no less- was a simple but satisfying meal of grilled rib-eye steak, a green salad, some sliced heirloom tomatoes (left over from the wedding), and roasted cauliflower with garlic, parsley and lemon. (Oh, and a bottle of Zinfandel, also left over from the wedding, if you can believe it.)
It’s an understatement to say I’ve never been drawn to cauliflower. I wouldn’t go so far as to say I hate it, but it’s certainly not a favorite, especially when steamed or raw (allow me to insert an immature “blech“). So it was pretty uncharacteristic of me to pick up a head of it while we were shopping for dinner. But leave it to New York Times food writer and cookbook author Melissa Clark to make something as unsexy as cauliflower sound appealing. I’ve been making my way through her book In the Kitchen with A Good Appetite as bedtime reading, and came across a section where she talks about roasting vegetables- when in doubt, crank the oven to 425°, give the vegetable(s) a sheen of olive oil and a generous sprinkling of salt, and in 40 minutes or so, you’ll have roasty caramelized goodness. I’m no novice when it comes to roasted vegetables, but sometimes it takes someone else’s enthusiasm to reignite interest in a tried-and-true method.
Coincidentally, that morning I had come across an article in this month’s issue of Saveur by Lesley Porcelli entitled “The Soft Approach”, about cooking vegetables past what common kitchen wisdom would deem done. As someone who has never appreciated, say, the overly vegetal, grassy taste of a near-raw green bean, I recognized a kindred spirit. Porcelli talks about cooking vegetables as her Italian grandmother did, to the point where their sweetness develops; a stage many would call overcooked. This is exactly what I planned to do with my cauliflower: heat-blast it into submission. Continue reading
Everywhere I turn- on Facebook and Twitter and even *gasp* real-life conversations (remember those?)- people are, to put it gently, lamenting spring’s tardy appearance this year. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to ditch the scarf and gloves, and temps in the 60s would feel balmy right about now, but I try not to dwell on that which I cannot change. Instead, I’m trying to transition as best I can, by cooking foods which satisfy both the craving for something warm and hearty, and the desperate longing for something green.
When I prepared my prosciutto leg in January, I had a fair amount of meat (and bone; see above) left over from the trimmings. I took some out of the freezer a couple weeks ago to make a Oaxacan pork stew. I’m sure the very word “stew” conjures rib-sticking, squarely winter food, but bear with me. The dish incorporates plenty of green things like tomatillos and squash and an herb purée that gives it a lively perk and, when stirred in, turns the color from olive-drab to a brilliant emerald. The stew’s heat (both temperature and spice-wise) will fend off these last bouts of winter chill, while the vegetables and herbs will prime your palate for green things to come.
I served this one night to my friend Amanda, wh0 has visited Oaxaca with her Mexican beau, and she said it was very similar to something she had tried there. I wouldn’t expect anything less of a Rick Bayless recipe- this one comes from his book Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen. The only change I made was to use zucchini in place of the chayote because the market was out of it that day, but I think it’s a fine (if less authentic) substitution. I also used frozen green beans because I prefer them over the somewhat large, tough specimens that are found in stores this time of year.
If you still think that stew is too much of a winter dish, I would humbly remind you that in Mexico it is MUCH warmer than it is in most parts of North America, and they eat stews like this all the time! I won’t preach to you about not being deterred by the long ingredients list or prep time; this is unapologetically a recipe for those who may actually enjoy spending an afternoon in the kitchen. Might as well, since it’s still too cold to go outdoors.
2 lbs boneless pork shoulder, cut into 1 ½-inch pieces
1 lb pork bones, cut into 2-inch pieces
2/3 cup dried navy beans
4 garlic cloves, whole and unpeeled
4 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 medium white onion, diced
1 lb medium tomatillos. husked and rinsed
fresh green chiles to taste- about 2 jalapeños or 3 serranos
½ tsp cumin, preferably toasted and freshly ground
½ tsp black pepper, preferably fresh ground
pinch of ground cloves
1 ½ Tbx lard or vegetable oil
2 medium (1 lb total) chayotes, peeled, seeded and cut into ¾-inch chunks, or substitute 1 lb zucchini (do not peel)
1 ½ cups (about 6 oz) tender young green beans, trimmed and cut in half, or substitute frozen if no good fresh beans are available
2/3 cup fresh masa, or generous ½ cup masa harina mixed with 6 Tbs hot water
about 2 tsp salt
4 large sprigs flat-leaf parsley, plus additional for garnish
2 small sprigs epazote (or 5-6 sprigs of cilantro if unavailable)
2 leaves hoja santa (or 1 cup roughly chopped fennel fronds)
Place the meat and bones in a large Dutch oven or cazuela and cover with 3 quarts water. Bring to a boil, skimming the gray foam that rises to the surface. When no more foam surfaces, add the beans, minced garlic and onion. Partially cover and cook at a gentle simmer until the beans are cooked and the meat is tender, 1 ½- 2 hours. Add any water as needed during cooking to keep the beans and meat covered.
Meanwhile, roast the tomatillos on a baking sheet 4 inches below a very hot broiler until soft and blackened on one side, about 3-5 minutes; turn them over and blacken the other side. Transfer tomatillos along with any juices to a blender or food processor. Heat a cast iron skillet or heavy griddle over medium heat. Roast the chiles and unpeeled garlic in the dry skillet, turning frequently, until soft and blackened in spots. (Note: I found it helpful to keep the garlic on the outer edge of the pan to avoid burning.) Peel the garlic and roughly chop it with the chiles. Add to blender along with the cumin, cloves and pepper, and purée until smooth.
When the meat and beans are tender, pour them into a colander set over a large bowl or stockpot. Remove the bones, picking them clean of any remaining meat and adding it back to the colander. Set colander aside. Skim the fat from the top of the broth. Wash and dry your Dutch oven or cazuela, set over medium heat, and add the lard or oil. When hot, add the tomatillo purée- it should sizzle sharply (test a drop first). Stir constantly for about 5 minutes to thicken. Add 4 cups of the pork broth, partially cover, and simmer over medium-low heat for 15 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the chayote or zucchini and green beans and cook 5 minutes longer.
In a small bowl, whisk 2/3 cup broth with the masa mixture, mixing well to remove lumps, then whisk into the stew base until thickened. Return the meat and beans to the stew pot. Season with salt to taste, usually about 2 teaspoons. Let the stew simmer gently while you prepare the herb mixture.
Purée the herbs with 1/3 cup broth in a blender until smooth. (If you are short of broth, you can use water.) Stir the puréed herbs into the stew. Add broth or water as needed to achieve a medium-thick consistency. Ladle into wide soup bowls, garnish with additional parsley, and serve immediately with warm corn tortillas. If not eating all of the stew immediately, stir a spoonful of herb mixture into each individual serving rather than the whole pot, reserving the remaining mixture to add to the stew when reheating it.
Things are crazy lately and I haven’t been able to post full-on recipes as regularly as I would like, so I had the idea to do some shorter posts focusing on single ingredients that you may or may not be familiar with. First up: freekeh- also spelled farik, frik, freka, and probably a handful of other ways depending on who you ask. The reason this ingredient doesn’t have an established anglicized spelling is because it is fairly uncommon in the U.S. (although a pre-cooked version has recently made an appearance on the shelves at Trader Joe’s).
So what exactly is freekeh? According to May S. Bsisu in her book The Arab Table, it is “…the roasted grains of green wheat stalks. There are two types: whole green kernels and shelled kernels. Whole green freka can be purchased in Middle Eastern stores… As with bulgur, freka should be soaked in cold water for 10 minutes before cooking…” The Wikipedia entry on freekeh gives more detailed information as to how it’s produced. (Personally though, I love the succinct description on the package I bought: “Roasted Baby Wheat”- sounds a bit diabolical!) The freekeh I purchased was the cracked or “shelled” variety, and it cooked up very quickly. I think if you were using whole freekeh it would take 2-3 x as long.
Roasting gives freekeh a delightfully smoky flavor, which makes it really stand out in comparison to its cousin, bulghur. If you enjoy smoked foods, you’ll really like freekeh- its scent reminds me of campfires and fall. You can use it in soup, or cook it on its own as a side dish. According to Bsisu, the finished texture should have a slight crunch or “pop” to it, like when you bite into sweet corn. As you can see in the photo below, since it is not fully mature, freekeh has a slight greenish tint to it.
I first heard about this grain a few months ago from Warda of 64 Sq Ft Kitchen. It’s a pretty obscure item, at least around here- I’ve shopped at several grocery stores specializing in Mid-East foods and had never seen or heard of it. I finally came across some when the band took a trip out to Grand Rapids and we stopped to get sandwiches in a small Middle Eastern deli/grocery (The Pita House). (Update: I have since found packaged whole freekeh at Gabriel Imports in the Eastern Market.) Once I found the freekeh, though, I still had trouble finding recipes- I looked in several Middle Eastern cookbooks and found only two or three mentions.* I’m guessing this is because it’s more common in Palestine, Jordan and Syria, whereas many Middle Eastern cookbooks published for Westerners tend to focus on foods from Lebanon, Turkey, or Morocco. I did find a recipe for Beef & Freekeh Soup (Shorbat Freka) in The Arab Table, which I will post about very soon posted about here!
*Note: I have since come across this website, which offers off-the-beaten-track recipes such as “Freekeh Yogurt and Zucchini Loaf” and “Crisp Freekeh Crab Cakes with Aioli”. If anyone is brave, you can try them and let me know how they turn out.
All of my food friends have been all atwitter the last couple weeks about pumpkins, apples and other fruits of fall, but I’ve been having a harder time letting go of summer flavors. It occurred to me a couple weeks ago that the whole summer had gone by and I hadn’t made any ratatouille- how did that happen?! Luckily the folks at the farmers’ market still had tomatoes, peppers and eggplant [NB: this was 2 weeks ago, on Oct. 3]- I just had to go to the store for squash, but happily it was locally grown too.
I realize this recipe isn’t very timely*, but it takes me a while to get a blog post up these days. I bought the vegetables and didn’t get to make the ratatouille until the following weekend. (That’s one of the perks of the farmers’ market though- it’s so fresh that even if it sits around for a week, it’s still probably fresher than what’s at the store.) Tack another week on there to edit photos and write up a post and before you know it, it’s already mid-October! I’m trying to be Zenlike about the fact that I have almost no free time these days, and just make sure to fully take advantage of any little scrap that I do have, but it’s hard not to be a little bummed out. For example, I really wanted to make the pho recipe for this month’s Daring Cooks, and the date rushed up on me before I could plan it out. (Sadly, all of my cooking has to be planned with near-military precision these days, or it just can’t fit in…)
But on to our ratatouille! I’ve made ratatouille lots of times and had pretty good results, but this time I was after something specific: I wanted the vegetables to have that melting quality, but to keep their shape and flavor rather than be cooked down into an indistinguishable mush. The solution? Roasting. Not only does roasting help them retain their “integrity”, but you get the additional element of caramelization that you wouldn’t get from cooking them all together on the stove. Plus, you remove moisture and concentrate the flavor. My guinea pigs, aka Marvin & Amanda, said they could definitely taste the difference. I think this one’s a keeper! I served it with creamy polenta with Parmigiano and some kale that I’d sautéed with olive oil, garlic and pepper flakes. Along with a green salad, some bread and cheeses, and a couple bottles of red, it was the perfect goodbye-to-summer vegetarian feast.
*I know this is borderline heretical, but if you’re in need of a summer food fix in the middle of winter, all of the ingredients for this can be found year-round at the grocery store, and I am hard-pressed to tell the difference between squash & eggplant from a greenhouse or from a garden once they’re cooked. The tomatoes won’t be quite as good, but Romas are fairly dependable, and roasting definitely goes a long way towards improving them. Or you could always substitute a can of good-quality San Marzanos.
Roasted Vegetable Ratatouille
This is a very loose ”recipe” because ultimately I think this is a dish that has a lot of flexibility, and however you prepare it, it’s unlikely to be bad as long as you have good ingredients. But here’s what I used and how I went about it; use it as a guideline and go for it!
2 pints Roma tomatoes
3 bell peppers- red, yellow or orange
2 yellow summer squash
3-4 cloves garlic
fresh herbs- I grabbed some marjoram, thyme, and a little rosemary from my garden, although basil is good too
Wash and pat dry the peppers, and place them in the broiler, turning occasionally and checking on them often, until they’re blackened on all sides. Place in a paper grocery bag and roll the top shut; set aside. Reduce oven to 300°.
While the peppers are roasting, cut the squash and eggplant into large-ish chunks (see photos; they’ll shrink a bit as they roast). Generously salt the eggplant and place in a strainer while you prep everything else. Cut the tomatoes in half lengthwise and remove the little stemmy bit; put cut side up on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with a little salt and brush or drizzle with olive oil. Cut the onions- I like to do wedge-shaped slices rather than rings. Mince any herbs you’ll be using.
Place the squash & zucchini in a large bowl, salt lightly, and drizzle with olive oil. Shake the bowl around so the oil gets distributed all over, then dump it onto a baking sheet. Put the eggplant on some paper towel and press lightly to remove excess moisture and salt, then toss with olive oil, putting it on a separate baking sheet. Place all three baking sheets in the oven.
When the peppers are cool enough to handle, remove the skins, stems and seeds, and cut into approx 1″ squares; set aside in a bowl.
In a dutch oven or other large heavy pot, heat a generous amount of olive oil (a few Tbs) over medium heat. Sauté the onions and garlic until the onions begin to soften. Add any minced herbs you’re using (except basil- add that at the end) and hold, covered, over low heat.
Check on the vegetables in the oven periodically- they’ll be ready at slightly different times. I kept the tomatoes in about 10 minutes longer than the squash. Ultimately your cooking time will depend on how big you cut everything. As the eggplant and squash are ready, add them to the pot with the onions and keep warm over low heat. Add the peppers and any juices that have collected. When the tomatoes are ready, let them cool enough to handle, and cut each half into quarters, adding to the pot. Make sure to scrape any of the juice that collects on the cutting board into the pot as well!
Raise the heat slightly (to medium low) and cook the vegetables just until the flavors combine- remember, we’re going for distinguishable pieces rather than stew. Taste for salt (although you shouldn’t need any, since the vegetables were already salted). If you’re using basil, cut it into a chiffonade and stir it in at the end. Serve with polenta or couscous for a vegetarian meal, or as a side dish to roasted chicken or lamb. Leftovers can be used as filling for an omelette or put it in a baguette with some goat cheese… lots of possibilities with this one!
I’m just going to say this: there’s something downright sexy about roasted tomatoes. I think it’s a combination of their concentrated intensity; their meatiness; their blood-red color; their dripping juices. Whatever it is, they just feel somehow decadent and lusty. So does the fact that I bound them into these neat little tarts make me a prude?
Lest you get the wrong impression, I would generally concur that the ideal way to eat roasted tomatoes is warm from the oven, with some good crusty bread and maybe a little cheese alongside. But if you have some left over, these tarts rank a close second. If you’ve never had slow-roasted tomatoes, I beg you to try them. They couldn’t be easier to make, and if you’re really feeling lazy you can even buy them at some fancy grocery stores (sold at the olive bar). I’m later than I wanted to be in getting this post up, and I know tomato season is quickly coming to a close, but in a pinch you can get decent results using grocery-store Roma tomatoes year round.
However or whenever you get your hands on some roasted tomatoes, this is a wonderful way to showcase them. I made a cornmeal-rosemary crust, filled it with these gems, poured a simple custard over top and finished it with a little microplaned Grana Padano. Rien de plus simple. Pair with something green (a simple green salad, or some garlicky sautéed spinach) for a light supper, or some crispy bacon and a little fruit salad for brunch.
Have I convinced you yet? If only a photo could convey aroma, texture, and of course, flavor, we’d be all set. But while we’re waiting for Apple to pioneer the iSmell, you’ll just have to take my word that these little tarts are one of the best things to come out of my kitchen in a long time.
Little Roasted Tomato Tarts with Cornmeal-Rosemary Crust
You can, of course, make one large tart, but for some reason I was compelled to put these in individual tart pans. Yes, there is a “cute factor”, but also I wanted to be able to bake a couple at a time so as not to have soggy leftovers.
1/2 recipe Cornmeal-Rosemary crust (recipe follows)
about 1 1/2-2 cups roasted Roma tomatoes (recipe follows)
herbes de Provence or other herbs of your choice, if tomatoes are plain
3-4 eggs (see notes)
3/8-1/2 cup light cream (see notes)
salt & freshly gound black pepper
Grana Padano or Parmesan for grating
6 small (5-inch)tart pans or 1 10-inch tart pan
Notes: I am using the custard ratio from the book Once Upon a Tart- 1 egg to 1/8 cup cream- so if you don’t have enough, you can make more based on this formula. The book calls for light cream, which I approximate by cutting heavy cream with a little milk. If you make your tart in a single tart pan, or if you don’t pack the tomatoes in, you may find you need a little extra. If your tomatoes have been kept in oil, blot them well with paper towel so you don’t end up with a greasy tart.
Directions: Preheat the oven to 400º. Roll out your dough and press it into the tart pan(s), putting them in the fridge as you go. Let rest in the refrigerator for 20-30 minutes. Prick the crust with a fork. Set the tart shells on a cookie sheet, line them with foil and dried beans or pie weights and bake for 10 minutes. Remove the foil and weights and bake until golden brown all over, about 10 more minutes. (If you’re using a single tart shell, you may want to take it out when it’s about 75% cooked. For the small tarts, they cook pretty quickly, so it’s better to have the crust fully cooked first.)
Reduce the oven temp to 375º. Fill the tart(s) with the roasted tomatoes, cut side facing up. If your tomatoes are plain, you can sprinkle a pinch of herbes de Provence or other herbs of your choice over the top. Whisk together the eggs, milk and cream, adding a couple dashes of salt and pepper. I like to do this in a Pyrex measuring cup for easy pourability. Drizzle the tarts with the custard mixture, making sure to fill the gaps in between the tomatoes. The upturned tomato halves will serve as little “cups” that will catch the custard as well. You’ll want to stop a little shy of the crust’s rim, so your custard doesn’t overflow when baked. Grate some cheese over the tops.
Place tarts in the oven and bake until puffed and golden, about 15-20 minutes (but peek in on them after 10). If you’re doing a full-sized tart, it’ll probably take closer to 30 minutes. When done, place on a cooling rack, removing from the pan as soon as they are cool enough to handle. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Roasted Roma Tomatoes printer-friendly version
Perhaps you’ll recall that I had mentioned a few weeks ago that I was going to try these? They didn’t disappoint. All I can say is that if I’d realized that 1 large box (1/2 a bushel, I think) would shrink down to a mere few cups, I would have bought at least twice as many. Live and learn, I suppose. I made three different “flavors”- one with thyme, rosemary and marjoram from my backyard (herbes de Ferndale?), one with coriander (as per Molly’s recipe) and one with smoked paprika. I put the latter two in some olive oil and into the freezer to enjoy later when the weather turns unfriendly and I need a reminder of the sun on my face (yes, tomatoes can do that). The tomatoes with the herb mixture went into the aforementioned tarts.
In reading up on the tomato-roasting method, many people recommended a much longer, slower roasting time (10-12 hours as opposed to the 6 suggested by Molly & Luisa). I decided to try this so I could do it overnight rather than heating up the house during the day. It would have been fine except my oven didn’t get down to 200º, it was more like 250º, so a few of the tomatoes around the edges of the pan had to be pitched. However, I do think there is something to be said for the slower roast. Judging by the photos, I think my tomatoes were a bit more concentrated than the 6-hour version; their flavor approached that of a sun-dried tomato but retained a little juiciness. I would say, start taste-testing them after 6 hours and see what suits you. If you’re using them in a sauce, you may choose to leave them a little juicier since they would be cooking down further in the sauce.
Roma tomatoes, the more the better, as they cook down quite a bit, and you can freeze leftovers (you’ll need about one tightly-packed cookie sheet’s worth to make the tarts)
herb(s) or spice(s) of your choice
Slice the tomatoes in half lengthwise, removing the little stem end, and place on a rimmed cookie sheet. Brush or lightly drizzle with olive oil. Using your fingers, sprinkle with a little sea salt and any herbs or seasoning you wish to use. Remember that the flavors will become very concentrated, so less is better than too much. Place in a 200º oven for 6-10 hours according to your preferences. To store, you can keep them in the fridge for a couple weeks covered in olive oil, or freeze until hard on the cookie sheet and then transfer to a sealable freezer bag (this will keep them from clumping together).
Makes enough for two 9″ or 10″ tart shells. Half a recipe will make 6 individual 4″ tarts.
2 1/2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
3 Tbs semolina flour (cornmeal)
1 tsp salt
12 Tbs (1 1/2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4″ cubes (I stick it in the freezer for a few minutes after I cut it up)
3 Tbs cold solid vegetable shortening
1 Tbs chopped fresh rosemary
glass of ice water
When I made my last batch of this, I didn’t have any shortening on hand so I used all butter, to no ill effect.
Directions: Place the flour, cornmeal and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and shortening and pulse the processor in brief bursts until the mixture is sandy and there are no more visible chunks of butter. DO NOT overprocess or your crust will be tough!
Dump the crumbly mixture into a bowl and stir in the chopped rosemary. Sprinkle with ice water, one Tbs. at a time, coaxing the dough with a wooden spoon until it begins to come together. You want to add just enough water to allow this to happen; you don’t want it to be so wet that it becomes sticky or has white spots. If you’re not sure, go slow.
When the dough starts to come together, use your hands to gather it up and form it into two balls, taking care not to over-handle it. Wrap each half in plastic and flatten them into disks with the palm of your hand. Refrigerate at least 30 minutes before rolling out.