Saturday, September 29, 2007

Mussels with Chorizo, Chili, & Bay - a Recipe

Catalonia is a region of extremes. It dominates the northeastern coast of Spain, but its land juts, seemingly straight out of the Mediterranean in places, to heights of 9800 feet above sea level.

The Empordà is the comarca or county that frames the northeastern tip of Catalonia, and in legend, this land was born as the progeny of a shepherd and his siren bride. The cuisine of the area certainly reflects such a union.

Mar i muntanya
(sea and mountain) is the region’s expression for traditional local recipes that combine seafood with meat, poultry, or game. The pairing can be as subtle as fish stew with snails, or it can become as intense as a squid ink paella laced with cured pork.

It’s a tradition I happily adopt – here in an autumnal dish of spicy mussels. The shellfish’s fresh sweetness is enhanced by the smoky, paprika-redolent, dry chorizo sausage. And the whole is steamed in a garlicky bay broth – heavenly for dipping if you grill or toast some bread for the occasion. We pile the toasts high with a plump mussel, some pungent chorizo, and the savory vegetables for one decadent, all-encompassing bite.

I serve these rustic mussels though the autumn and into the winter, both as crowd-pleasing tapas, and as a cozy supper all on their own. Once scallions are out of season – usually sometime before November around here – I just substitute a thinly sliced, medium yellow onion.

Serves 8 as a tapa or 2 for supper

2 lbs fresh mussels
extra virgin olive oil
4 scallions, whites and greens sliced thinly
kosher salt
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 oz. dry chorizo, sliced thinly and then cut into slivers
1 large red chili pepper, sliced thinly (you should remove the seeds if you’re sensitive to heat)
1 bay leaf (fresh if possible)
1 cup dry white wine
freshly ground black pepper
juice of 1 lemon
handful fresh parsley leaves

Clean and debeard the mussels under cold running water. Any that don’t close when rapped with your knuckles should be discarded. Set aside.

Heat a large saucepan with a lid over medium heat. Add a glug of olive oil and then the scallion whites. Sprinkle with kosher salt and sizzle, stirring occasionally, until just transparent. Add the garlic, chorizo, and sliced chili and sauté one minute more until fragrant. Add the scallion greens, the bay leaf and the white wine, and season with black pepper. Raise the heat to high and bring to the boil.

Stir in the mussels, clamp on the lid, and cook for 2 to 5 minutes until the shells have opened. Drizzle with the lemon juice and tear in the parsley. Serve immediately – there is no substitute for a freshly opened mussel – and be sure not to eat any mussels that haven’t opened during cooking.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Cardamom Plum Torta - a Recipe

When the Mediterranean spice trade sparked into high gear during the 13th century, the prices of spices were as volatile as our financial markets are today. The Middle Ages saw spices used in Mediterranean cookery as never before – even by the Ancient Greeks and Romans. And contrary to popular belief, spices were not used to mask the taste of rotting meat or to preserve food for leaner months.

As Clifford Wright notes in his magnificent tome A Mediterranean Feast, most recipes of the day called for spices to be added at the very end of cooking, when they would enhance flavor rather than cover unpleasant tastes. After the Black Death, when some areas (including northern Italy) lost over 50% of their population, there was an abundance of fresh meat available – especially for the classes who could afford to buy spices. And there were far cheaper and more practical techniques for preserving food at the time, including air or sun-drying, salting, and smoking.

So the order of the day was flavor. Ships set out from the major port cities of Venice and Marseilles groaning with copper bars, gold and silver coins, wool, silk, coral, amber, and paper; and they returned laden with spices, sugar, sandalwood, and anything else that held the exotic allure of the East.

Cardamom came to the region from India via the markets of Damascus, and by the 1500s, the spice was wildly popular in the Piedmont region of northwestern Italy, where its intensely aromatic qualities were touted as much for pharmaceutical use (including virility enhancement) as for flavoring food.

The region still favors the spice in sweets, and I’ve paired it here with some of the season’s last plums. Though, as I peer at the hot, humid avenue below and edge ever closer to the air conditioner, I long for our autumn to begin in earnest, plums – sweet, juicy, and bursting with tart-floral flavor - are something I’m always sad to see go from the markets. This torta, touched with fragrant cardamom to bring out the fruit's earthiness and lightly caramelized on top by the time it comes out of the oven, is one way I’ve been celebrating plum season's final days until next July.

Serves 6

2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
4 oz. unsalted butter, room temperature
4 oz. sugar
2 eggs, room temperature
1 tsp good vanilla extract
4 oz. all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
½ tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp salt
4 – 5 black or red plums (depending on size), halved and pitted

Preheat the oven to 350 F

Line the bottom of a 9” springform pan with parchment paper. Brush the sides of the pan with melted butter.

Cream together the butter and the sugar in a food processor until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating to fully combine. Then add the vanilla.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, cardamom, and salt. Add to the liquid ingredients and stir until barely combined. Do not over mix.

Spread the cake batter over the base of the springform pan. Arrange the plum halves, cut side down, on top of the batter (see photo above). There is no need to press them down.

Bake in the center of the oven for 30 – 40 minutes until a wooden skewer comes out clean. Cool on a rack before loosening the sides with a knife and removing from the pan. Store in an airtight container.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Penne with Roasted Butternut Squash, Crimini Mushrooms, & Pangrattato

Pangrattato is a preparation of seasoned dry breadcrumbs that's especially popular in Calabrian and Sicilian cuisine. These breadcrumbs – sometimes known as mollica in both fresh and dried forms, or as “modica” (mo-DEE-kah) in Sicilian slang - are still a staple in many southern Italian homes.

And many home cooks consider them so fundamental for stuffings, breading, baking, and sauces, that they keep a tub of them in the fridge all the time. The oven-dried crumbs are usually pre-seasoned with some combination of salt and pepper, garlic, oregano, parsley, and pecorino or parmesan cheese.

But historically, pangrattato was true peasant food - used as a substitute for expensive grated hard cheeses. When sprinkled into a sauce as it bubbles on the stove, the crumbs add savor and work as a thickening agent. When browned in olive oil, they lend welcome flavor and crunch to finished pasta dishes. In fact, I sometimes prefer pangrattato to cheese for the harmonious way it enhances flavors without adding too singular a note of its own.

Here the crisp, garlicky breadcrumbs lend a nutty pungency to the season’s first sweet-roasted butternut squash. Layered with the earthiness of crimini mushrooms, woody herbs, and the gentle twang of lemon zest, this penne celebrates (or, in New York’s case, yearns for) autumn. Unless you’re especially sensitive, use a liberal hand with the red pepper here – the heat is lovely against the sunny citrus and the caramelized squash.

Serves 4

1 young butternut squash (about 1 ½ - 2 lbs)
extra virgin olive oil
5 stems fresh thyme
6 fresh sage leaves, torn up
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
2 cloves garlic
1 ½ cup coarse, fresh breadcrumbs (made from about 2 ½ - 3 oz fresh bread)
1 lb crimini mushrooms, brushed clean, stems removed, torn into 3 or 4 pieces each
zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 lb dry penne
crushed red pepper flakes to taste
small handful parsley leaves

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Using a “Y” or speed peeler, peel off the rind, which is quite thin – you’re done once any green veins are gone and the yellow flesh is exposed. Starting at the thinner stem end, slice the squash into rounds about ½ - ¾ inch thick. Once you reach the seeds, scoop them, out with a spoon before continuing. Slice each round in half and then into cubes roughly 1” by 2” (see photo above).

Add a couple of glugs of olive oil to a large, heavy stove-top-safe roasting pan. Add the squash cubes, the leaves of 4 of the thyme stems, the torn up sage leaves, and salt and pepper to taste. Toss to combine. Crush one of the garlic cloves, leaving the paper on, and add to the pan. Place in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes. Gently turn the squash pieces, and roast for 30 minutes more.

Meanwhile, heat a large sauté pan over low heat. Grate the other garlic clove into the breadcrumbs and add a couple of glugs of olive oil to the pan. Add the breadcrumb garlic mixture and season well with kosher salt and black pepper. Sauté, stirring constantly, until the breadcrumbs are lightly golden and fragrant – you may need to add more olive oil if they absorb it all along the way. Remove from the heat before they're completely done - the carry over will continue to brown them for a while once they're off the heat. Reserve.

Once the squash is roasted, remove to a dish and place the roasting pan on top of the stove over medium low heat. Discard the garlic clove, and wrap an oven mitt or side towel around the handle(s) of the pan to protect your hands – it’s easy to forget that the pan’s just been in a 350 F oven!

Put a large pot of well-salted water over high heat to boil.

Add some more oil to the roasting pan, and toss in the mushrooms. Season well with salt and sauté, stirring often, until much of the moisture is gone and the mushrooms are golden brown. Add the leaves of the remaining thyme stem and the lemon zest. Turn off the heat.

Add the penne to the water and boil, stirring occasionally, until par-cooked (about half-done). Before draining, add about ½ cup of the cooking liquid to the mushrooms and reserve another ½ cup for finishing. Then drain the pasta. (Note: My penne took about 5 minutes to par-cook, but timing always varies according to brand).

Turn the heat back up to medium, stir the penne and the squash into the mushrooms, and season to taste with crushed red pepper. Add some more olive oil if necessary and sauté, stirring gently but often, for about 2 minutes, or until the penne is al dente.

If the pasta seems dry, add more of the cooking water. Tear in the parsley and toss the vegetables and pasta with ¾ of the breadcrumbs. Check the seasoning with more salt and crushed red pepper. Drizzle with more olive oil and brighten with a little lemon juice if desired. Sprinkle with the remaining breadcrumbs and serve immediately.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Ionian Wedding Bread with Anise, Fennel, & Coriander Seeds

As I’ve mentioned, I just returned from the wedding of two dear friends in Maine. And in less than two months, we’ll be celebrating another marriage within our circle of friends. So it may come as no surprise that, with all these festivities around me, I’ve been feeling a yen to bake this gloriously perfumed and symbolic bread – traditionally used in Greek wedding feasts. Ionian wedding feasts to be exact.

On the Ionian islands of Kerkyra (Corfu in English), Paxi (Paxos), Lefkada (Lefkas), Ithaki (Ithaca), Kefallonia, Zakynthos (Zante), and Kythira (Cerigo), which lie off the west coast and southern tip of Greece, a traditional wedding involves not just family and friends, but the entire community. Historically, children resulting from the new union were seen as a guarantee that the bloodline would endure, and so a wedding was celebrated as a regeneration of a family, of a town, of the nation, and of life itself.

When preparing the marriage bed, the bride’s relatives still often bounce a baby on the new sheets to assure fertility. In some communities, the groom further ensures offspring by smashing a pomegranate on the entryway of his new home before carrying his bride over the threshold.

At the wedding banquet itself, the whole community feasts together to secure a lifetime of bounty for the couple, and the celebratory bread is always baked so that it can be pulled apart without having to sever the loaf with a knife. This bread is packed with seeds (more fertility symbolism) from local wild herbs, including the auspicious anise, from which a tincture is also made to ease the pains of childbirth. The dough is divided into long ropes that are twisted together and formed into one loaf – perhaps a representation of marriage as it exists within and is supported by the community.

I first had this bread baked in a plain loaf form at a friend’s house in Astoria, which is home to a thriving Greek community here in New York. Though I show the bread baked in its traditional wedding shape, I often prepare it as a simple loaf or as pull-apart rolls for dinner parties. With its golden crust and soft, sweetly fragrant interior, it's just too delicious to reserve for feast days. I recreated the recipe with a bit of help from my friend and from Aglaia Kremezi’s The Foods of the Greek Islands, in which she credits the recipe to the island of Lefkada.

This recipe makes enough starter for 2 loaves, but unused starter chills or freezes well and saves you the trouble next time you feel the urge to bake bread.

Makes 1 loaf/ 16 servings

½ cup warm water
1 packet plus 1 tsp dry active yeast (in the States, a packet of active dry yeast holds 1/4 oz or 2 1/4 tsps of yeast)
6 ½ - 7 cups all-purpose flour
3 tsp kosher salt
1 cup room temperature water
¼ cup plus more extra virgin olive oil
½ cup warm water
3 tbsp honey
1 tbsp whole fennel seed
2 tsp whole aniseed
1 tsp whole coriander seed
1 large egg, lightly whisked to combine
2/3 cup room temperature water
milk for browning the loaf

Make the starter:

In a small bowl, combine ½ cup warm water with 1 packet of yeast. Dissolve the yeast with your fingers and let bloom for 5 – 10 minutes until frothy. If no froth forms, your yeast is dead, and you must start over with a fresh packet.

Place 3 ½ cups of flour in a food processor with a paddle attachment. Add 2 tsp salt and turn on the motor. Pour in the yeast mixture and enough room temperature water to make a sticky dough. Let the dough rest for 15 minutes and then put the dough hook attachment onto the processor and process for 5 minutes.

Lightly oil a large bowl and form the dough into a ball. Turn once in the oil, cover with a damp cloth of some oiled plastic wrap, and put in a warm place to rise for 1 – 3 hours until doubled in size. Cut this dough – which is your starter - in half. The unused half can be refrigerated in an oiled bowl sealed with oiled plastic wrap for up to a week or frozen in a zip lock bag for up to 6 months. Just let it thaw and come up to room temperature for at least 4 hours before using.

Make the bread:

In a small bowl, combine ½ cup warm water with the honey and 1 tsp of yeast. Dissolve the yeast with your fingers and let bloom for 5 – 10 minutes until frothy.

Meanwhile, coarsely grind the fennel seed, aniseed, and coriander seeds in a mortar and pestle or spice grinder.

Return the starter half you are using to the food processor, along with 3 cups of flour, ¼ cup olive oil, the egg, the honey yeast mixture, the ground seeds, and 1 tsp salt. With the motor running, stream in ½ cup room temperature water to make a soft, slightly sticky dough. Add more water or flour if necessary to get the right consistency. Rest the dough for 15 minutes.

Process with the dough hook for 5 minutes more, until the dough is elastic. Lightly oil a large bowl. Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface and knead a few times to form into a ball. Tuck under the sides of the ball to create surface tension and turn once in the bowl to coat with oil before leaving in a warm place to double in size, smooth side up, under a damp towel or some oiled plastic wrap. Takes 1 ½ - 3 hours.

Punch down the dough and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide into quarters and then divide each quarter into 4 more quarters so you have 16 equal pieces altogether. Roll one piece into a thin rope about 20” long. Fold in half and twist into a spiral before placing on the oiled baking sheet. Repeat with the rest of the pieces, placing them against the previous twists and alternating thick ends and loose ends so that a rectangular loaf forms evenly. Cover with oiled plastic wrap and let prove for 30 minutes in a warm place.

Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 450 F and lightly oil a baking sheet.

Remove the plastic wrap, brush the loaf with milk, and place in the center of the oven for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to 400 F and bake for 30 – 40 minutes more until the loaf is golden and sounds hollow when rapped on the bottom with your knuckles. Transfer to a rack and cool at least 20 - 30 minutes before serving.

Wedding photo by John Ellar

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Fresh Fig Tartlets with Mascarpone & Chocolate Black Pepper Crust

Edible figs originated in Arabia and were first cultivated by the Mesopotamians. In fact figs are held by many to be one of the ancient world’s first 5 domesticated crops – along with olives, grapes, pomegranates, and dates. And that, incidentally, is how this site came by its name.

Figs were cultivated in the northern Mediterranean by 1600 B.C.E., thanks to the Phoenicians who brought them there - first on the islands of Cyprus, Rhodes, Sicily, Malta, and Corsica, and later in the mainland Phoenician colonies of Spain, Portugal, and France.

Subsequently, the fig spread to Italy and Greece, where it was incorporated into popular mythology and quickly became a staple for rich and poor alike. The Ancient Greeks and Romans both considered figs to be restorative – especially to the convalescent. They were commonly held to fortify the young and to invigorate the elderly. And whenever I bite into a juicy in-season fig, I have to agree. How could that subtly perfumed sweetness not be medicinal, after all?

Fig season is already wrapping up in this part of the world, but I wanted to share one more way we celebrate the harvest around here before they’re gone. I’m not one for ultra-fussy desserts at home, so these tartlets are essentially nothing more than chocolate cookies swirled with creamy mascarpone cheese and topped with the fresh fig slices. Here the whole is scented with Marsala wine and orange zest. And I find the earthiness of the chocolate to be a great foil for figs, especially when it’s punctuated with the subtle bite of black pepper – something I love with fruit year-round.

The chocolate and black pepper crust here is based on Julia Child’s “Chocolate Dough” in Dorie Greenspan’s Baking with Julia, because I really can’t imagine ever improving on that! And thanks so much to you all for your comments while I was gone. I must say I really missed you, and everyone’s questions and kind words have been truly wonderful to come home to! I’m looking forward immensely to visiting all of your sites and catching up on what I missed while I was in Maine.

Makes about 10 – 12 tartlets

1 ¼ cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting
¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ cup sugar
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper, or less, depending on taste
4 oz. very cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes or grated
1 large egg yolk
1 tbsp ice water
2 tbsp melted butter
8 oz. mascarpone cheese
1 vanilla bean
2 tbsp Marsala wine
1 lb fresh figs, sliced thinly from top to bottom
zest of 1 orange

Place the flour, cocoa, sugar, salt, and pepper into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse to combine. Add the cold butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse oatmeal. Add the egg yolk and ice water and pulse just until a crumbly dough starts to form – do not overwork, or your crusts will be tough.

Form the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap, and chill for at least 30 minutes or up to 3 days. The dough freezes for 1 month if wrapped well and sealed in a freezer-safe bag.

When ready to continue, preheat the oven to 350 F and brush a baking sheet with melted butter.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator and allow to sit for 10 minutes – just to come up to a workable temperature. Scatter a clean work surface with a small amount of flour and roll the dough out to about 1/8 to ¼ inch thick. Remember that the less the dough is worked and heated, the more tender it will be. So work quickly, and use your fingertips rather than the palms of your hands.

Using a 3 ½ or 4 inch round cookie cutter (fluted if possible), cut out circles of dough and transfer to the baking sheet. Roll out the dough scraps again and cut out more circles. Continue until you’ve used up the dough.

Prick the dough circles all over with a fork and bake for 8 minutes. Rotate the pan and bake for another 4 to 8 minutes until the crusts are dry and firm. Place the baking sheet on a rack to cool.

In a medium bowl, stir the mascarpone cheese until creamy. With a sharp knife, split the vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape out the seeds. Add them to the mascarpone with the Marsala wine and stir until well combined.

Just before serving, divide the mascarpone cheese between the tart crusts and swirl out with the back of a spoon. Arrange the fig slices (about 9 - 11 for each tartlet) with their tops pointing in to the center of the circle (see photo above), and sprinkle each one with a few strips of orange zest. Serve immediately.

This recipe is my submission for Sugar High Friday #35, and Ivonne of Cream Puffs in Venice is hosting the event this month. The theme is The Beautiful Fig, so I'm sure the round up will be truly sumptuous. Thanks Ivonne!

Friday, September 14, 2007

Potato Harvest Soup with Roasted Rocambole Garlic

Rocambole is the name of a group of hardneck or “ophio” garlics. Harder to grow and with a shorter shelf life than the more common, commercially grown, softneck varieties, rocambole more than makes up for these minor inconveniences with its lush, juicy, distinctive flavor – a trait that’s caused it to be immensely popular with chefs over the past fifteen years or so.

Right now the markets are full of rocambole garlic, and the potato and onion harvests are at their height too. A potato soup might sound like food better suited to Midwinter, but – and I think if you’ve ever tasted a freshly dug potato in all its mineral-rich and buttery glory, you’ll agree – the difference in flavor right now is palpable and too good to miss.

Paired with lots of lightly-caramelized shallots and some of Keith’s Farm’s rocambole, very little else is needed to let in-season potatoes shine. Just remember that whenever you prepare food this simple, the quality of each and every ingredient counts, and so I recommend homemade chicken stock for this soup. Sure I’ve got a little store-bought stock in the pantry cupboard, but here’s where the real stuff, golden and thick with gelatine, really makes a difference.

How to tell if you’ve got yourself some rocambole garlic? Softnecks’ stems are pliable and papery, while hardnecks, as you may have guessed, have firm stalks (which earlier in the season were trimmed to give us garlic scapes and to allow the bulbs themselves to grow larger) Many varieties of rocambole only have 6 cloves, but they are larger and easier to peel than softneck cloves.

To source rocambole garlic or potatoes that you know were dug in the past day or so, check Local Harvest’s Market Finder. And to tell the difference between a flour or wax potato (I call for flour or all-purpose here), you can float the tuber in saltwater. The floury varieties should sink, while waxy, low-starch potatoes float.

A quick note:
Although I will continue to post this week, I won't have much access to the internet. I'm off bridesmaid-ing on the rocky coast of Maine. I look forward to receiving and responding to all of your comments and questions - as well as to catching up on all of your fabulous sites - when I'm back online next Monday. Have a great week!

Serves 6 – 8

2 heads rocambole or hardneck garlic (you may substitute 1 head of softneck)
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
3 lbs flour (high-starch) or all-purpose (medium-starch) potatoes
1 lb shallots, peeled and chopped (use larger shallots for less peeling work)
2 medium yellow onions, peeled and chopped
3 stalks celery, chopped
freshly ground black pepper
2 bay leaves
6 cups good chicken stock
8 oz. crème fraîche
fresh chives for garnish

Preheat the oven to 300 F

Cut the top ½ inch or so off the garlic heads – just enough to expose all of the cloves – and place them on a sheet of foil. Cup the foil around them to prevent spilling, and drizzle them generously with extra virgin olive oil. Sprinkle with salt, and pinch the foil closed. Roast in the oven for 1 hour until soft and sweet.

Meanwhile, if your potatoes have thick skins, peel them. Otherwise, you may leave the skins on for extra flavor. Cut the potatoes into medium-large chunks and place immediately into a large pot of cold water to avoid discoloration. Bring to the boil over high heat and cook for 5 minutes, skimming off any froth or scum from the surface. Drain and reserve.

Heat the same large pot over medium heat and add a glug of olive oil. Add the shallots and onions but no salt, and sauté, stirring occasionally, until they are lightly golden at the edges. Add the celery and season with salt and black pepper. Sauté until the celery is softened.

Once the garlic is roasted and cool enough to handle, squeeze the cloves into the pot along with the potatoes, the bay leaves, and the chicken stock. Bring up to a simmer over medium-high heat, reduce to low, cover, and simmer gently for 20 – 30 minutes or until all the vegetables are soft.

Drain through a sieve into a large bowl. Transfer the solids to a food processor and pulse until smooth. Add back to the pot and stir in the cooking liquid slowly until the desired consistency is reached – the amount will largely depend on how starchy your potatoes were. Check the seasoning with more salt and pepper if necessary.

Just before serving, gently reheat, being careful not to let the bottom of the soup burn. Stir in the crème fraîche, check the seasoning again, and serve hot drizzled with more olive oil and sprinkled with chives. Tastes even better the next day.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Roast Globe Zucchini with Fresh Beans Gremolata

Zucchini ripieni – or stuffed zucchini – are roasted and served all over Italy, though each region has decided variations on the theme. One of Lazio's most popular recipes calls for ground veal, ham, and tomato paste, while a typical Lombardian preparation highlights the region's rice. And though Sicilians tend to favor a pecorino, garlic, and parsley seasoning for the breadcrumbs and use the squash innards themselves, sautéed with onion, as the stuffing, Tuscans boast a garlicky ground pork filling – one of my favorite trattoria lunches.

Back in the States, I often fill the squash with fresh or dried beans, depending on the time of year. Here I’ve used a mixture of fresh borlotti beans and cowpeas (also a bean) from Mountain Sweet Berry Farm. The cowpeas in their wine-red pods were simply too sumptuously autumnal to resist, as you can see in the photo below, and they lend a tender-sweet touch to the dish. For the seasoning, a simple mirepoix of onion, celery, and carrots is simple but perfect – all 3 vegetables are at their height right now, which means they are fantastically crisp and full of flavor.

And the only finishing touch that’s needed is a topping of gremolata breadcrumbs to turn toasty brown in the oven. Gremolata – the traditional Italian trio of parsley, garlic, and lemon zest – is most famously used to dress ossobuco. But it’s tremendously versatile, not to mention deliciously fragrant and savory.

These roasted squash are more filling than you’d expect, and they make a lovely autumn supper until the first frost ends the zucchini harvest. Use globe zucchini when you can, though they can be hard to find in the U.S. I’ve been bemoaning this fact all summer - most recently at Rose's 64 Sq Ft Kitchen - but the miraculous Nevia of Yuno's Farm brought some to market last Friday. Their flavor is exactly the same as normal zucchini, which are often used too. You’ll just need to sprinkle on more of the breadcrumbs to cover the filling, and this recipe allows for that. Any leftover breadcrumbs can be stored in the freezer.

A quick note:
Although I will continue to post this week, I won't have much access to the internet. I'm off bridesmaid-ing on the rocky coast of Maine. I look forward to receiving and responding to all of your comments and questions - as well as to catching up on all of your fabulous sites - when I'm back online next Monday. Have a great week!

Serves 4 – 6

Extra virgin olive oil
2 medium yellow or Spanish onions, medium dice
2 ribs celery, sliced to medium thickness
2 medium carrots, peeled if necessary and medium dice
2 cloves garlic, sliced thinly
1 lb fresh cowpeas or black-eyed peas (about 8 oz. beans once shucked, or you may use 8 oz. drained canned cow peas or black-eyed peas or 8 oz. soaked dried cow peas or black-eyed peas)
2 lbs fresh borlotti or cranberry beans (about 14 oz. beans once shucked, or you may use 14 oz. drained canned borlotti or cranberry beans or 14 oz. soaked dried borlotti or cranberry beans)
1 bay leaf
1 small sprig fresh rosemary, leaves minced
4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves minced
freshly ground black pepper
2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
½ cup white wine
8 medium zucchini, preferably globe-shaped
3 slices country bread
2 cloves garlic, minced or grated on a rasp
½ big bunch parsley, leaves chopped
zest of 1 lemon

Heat a large pot over medium heat. Add a glug of olive oil and then the diced onion. Do not add salt. Once the onion is translucent, add the celery and carrots. Sauté, stirring occasionally, for 2 or 3 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 more minute.

Stir in the beans and the bay leaf, rosemary, and thyme. Season generously with black pepper but again no salt – it can turn the bean shells tough. Pour in the stock and the wine and turn the heat up to high. Once the liquid starts to bubble, cover partially and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Cut off the top ½ inch of the squash. Using a melon baller or small spoon, gently scoop out their flesh – leave the walls about ½ an inch thick. In the food processor, pulse the bread, garlic, parsley, and lemon zest until coarsely chopped. Season the breadcrumbs with salt and pepper and pulse again briefly.

Using a spoon, fill the zucchini with the beans and vegetables to about ½ inch from the top. Arrange in a baking dish. Pile on plenty of the gremolata breadcrumbs and drizzle the breadcrumbs with extra virgin olive oil to moisten.

Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes or until the breadcrumbs are golden brown and the zucchini are soft but firm. Allow to cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Thyme Roasted Chicken & Fingerling Potatoes with Panfried Tapenade

My aunt and uncle have lived in the Bahamas for longer than I can remember – a reasonably remote and unspoiled area at that – and my family often gathers there for holidays. I spent countless spring breaks there when I was young, I’ve watched my cousins’ children grow up on the powder-soft beaches, and my husband and I were married there almost 2 years ago. It’s pretty great.

This March, nine of us swarmed my enduringly welcoming aunt and uncle’s home to celebrate my father's birthday. We feasted and lolled about; we hopped around to neighboring islands; sipped rum; sauntered sandbars for shells; and then we feasted some more. It was blissful in the easy way family trips can be when they take place in an utterly familiar, time-honored, fairly deserted paradise, but it was also blissful because of the food.

It may come as no surprise that my family likes good food (what family en masse doesn’t, after all?), and I still remember most of the long, drawn-out evening meals we shared in surprising detail considering said rum. Freshly caught grouper on the grill, conch salad from Miss Vivien, and one night, my mother’s brother – a gourmet chef - made a sublime roast chicken. Not exactly island food I hear you say? Let me explain.

This chicken was roasted to golden perfection, as roast chickens tend to be, but instead of invoking the cozy comfort I associate with the dish, this was an exaltation of warm weather and earthy refreshment. My uncle’s chicken was served forth on a bed of coarse, pungent, panfried black olive tapenade. Provence was come to the Caribbean, and we licked the platter clean.

The salinity of the anchovies and capers and the richness of the oil-cured olives pairs with the sweetly aromatic (and seasonal) peppers and thyme to create a feast fit for the light-drenched days of early autumn. If there’s a nip in the air, this dish will warm you, and if summer won’t quit, this revives. When I asked my uncle and aunt for the recipe, I learned it had been inspired by one for Poulet aux Olives in an old Robert Carrier book Feasts of Provence.

Here is my own variation – as close as I can get to the version my uncle made that night. I’ve added fingerling potatoes to roast in the fragrant chicken-y juices – the tubers are at their most fresh and flavor-rich in autumn, and so they bring a mineral savor to the meal. In colder months, I might use bacon in the tapenade as Carrier suggests, but it’s still early days for that from where I stand in the first half of September. Many thanks to my uncle and aunt for their recipe.

A quick note:
Although I will continue to post this week, I won't have much access to the internet. I'm off bridesmaid-ing on the rocky coast of Maine. I look forward to receiving and responding to all of your comments and questions - as well as to catching up on all of your fabulous sites - when I'm back online next Monday. Have a great week!

Inspired by Uncle Neil, Aunt Gladys, & Robert Carrier

Serves 4

1 lb fingerling potatoes or other waxy potatoes, rinsed but not peeled
1 3 – 4 lb chicken, rinsed and patted dry inside and out, giblets reserved
extra virgin olive oil
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
8 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves minced and stems reserved
2 lemons
1 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 oil-packed anchovy fillets, chopped
1 cup black, oil-cured olives, pits removed, meat roughly chopped
½ red bell pepper, small dice
2 tbsp capers, rinsed well
crushed red pepper flakes
1 small handful fresh parsley, chopped
½ cup white wine
1 cup chicken stock

Preheat oven to 425 F.

Halve the potatoes lengthwise (non-fingerlings may need to be quartered), and put them in a medium saucepan of cold water. Place over high heat, cover, and bring to a boil. Boil for 10 minutes and then drain. Swirls the potatoes in the colander or sieve a few times – roughening up their surface makes them go crispy in the oven. Toss them into a roasting pan with the chicken and drizzle both with olive oil. Arrange the potatoes halves so that they are skin-side down – they’re less likely to stick this way.

Season the chicken cavity, the chicken skin, and the potatoes with a generous amount of salt and pepper, and half the thyme leaves. Quarter one of the lemons and stuff the quarters into the chicken cavity along with the reserved thyme stems. Place the chicken in the oven for 1 hour. Remove and turn the potatoes – they won’t stick now. Return to the oven for another 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat a large saucepan over medium heat. Add a good glug of olive oil and then the chopped onion. Sprinkle with a little kosher salt and sauté, stirring occasionally, until translucent. Add the garlic and anchovies and sauté for 1 minute more, stirring often. Add the olives, red pepper, capers, and the remaining thyme leaves. Sauté, stirring often, for another minute or two. Season to taste with crushed red pepper and a little black pepper. You may need some more salt, depending in how saline your anchovies, olives and capers are. Remove from the heat, stir in the parsley, and set aside.

When the juices of the chicken run clear and the thigh moves loosely from the breast, set the bird aside on a carving board (preferably wood) and tent with tinfoil. Remove the potatoes to a bowl and cover to keep warm.

Place the roasting pan on the top of the stove with the heat off. Pour the white wine into the hot pan, turn the heat on to high, and reduce the liquid by half, scraping up the caramelized juices on the bottom of the pan. Reheat the tapenade over a low heat. Add the chicken stock to the roasting pan and reduce by half again. Season to taste with salt, pepper, and lemon juice. Carve or separate the chicken and plate with the potatoes over the black olive tapenade. Ladle the pan reduction sauce over the whole, and serve immediately.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Chanterelle, Pancetta, & Cherry Tomato Galette

François Pierre La Varenne (1618 – 1678) was a Dijon-born chef who ran the kitchens of the Marquis d’Uxelles. He was the author of the first logistic, methodically planned cookery books, many recipes of which are still usable today. And, in writing these books as carefully as he did, he captured a fascinating moment in culinary history when French cuisine broke away from the Italian influence it had been under for 150 years (and in which La Varenne had trained) and found its own style and voice.

One of La Varenne’s best-loved recipes is his duxelles, which were most likely named for the aforementioned Marquis. Duxelles are simply a preparation of very finely minced mushrooms, shallots, and often garlic and thyme that are sautéed together and used for stuffings, garnishes, or as a base for sauces. The sauté serves to concentrate the umami of the mushrooms, as does the sherry or white wine that is often added towards the end and reduced until nothing is left but focused, savory, unbelievably craveable flavor.

Of course I tend to avoid time-consuming prep work whenever possible – and you should take it on faith that duxelles need one heck of a lot of mincing – but the spectacular flavor profile La Varenne created is too good to miss. Here I use the same idea with whole and halved chanterelles and highlight their aromatic pungency with a little pancetta and roasted cherry tomato. The result is a free-form, rustic galette that’s fit for a feast but, frankly, heaven to come home to after a long day - I often keep 1 lb rounds of pastry dough in the freezer for this very purpose and just put them in the fridge to defrost that morning.

Our chanterelles are almost finished, and the porcini will soon take their place as the seasonal mushroom of the moment. But Honey Hollow Farm still has some beauties - ablaze like the late-summer light itself - despite the dry weather up north. And this galette is my favorite way of celebrating them. Render out the pancetta fat as I do, so your pastry crust doesn’t become too heavy, and serve your galette forth with a tangy green salad and a glass of something full-bodied and reviving.

Serves 4 – 6

2 cups all purpose flour
1 tsp salt
¼ tsp sugar
½ tsp freshly ground black pepper
8 oz. very cold unsalted butter (or 6 oz. butter and 2 oz. vegetable shortening)
6 – 9 tbsp ice water
¼ lb pancetta, sliced very thinly
½ lb chanterelles (or other seasonal mushrooms)
Extra virgin olive oil
1 lb shallots, peeled, halved lengthwise, and sliced into half moons
kosher salt
4 cloves garlic, minced
8 sprigs thyme
freshly ground black pepper
½ cup dry sherry
3 oz. cherry or grape tomatoes

In a food processor, pulse the flour, salt, sugar, and pepper to combine. Dice the butter into small cubes with a sharp knife. Add to the food processor and pulse just until the mixture looks like coarse oatmeal. Leave the processor running as you quickly add the first 6 tbsps of ice water. Stop it immediately and pulse, adding the rest if necessary, until the dough only just starts to come together.

Turn the dough out on a sheet of parchment and press into a disk. Use the tips of your fingers for this rather than the palms of your hands – the less heat and movement the dough is subjected to, the more tender it will be. Wrap the disk of dough in more parchment and refrigerate for 1 hour or up to 3 days.

Meanwhile, make the filling. Lay a single layer of pancetta slices into a large saucepan, making sure not to overlap them. Put the pan over low heat and allow the fat in the pancetta to slowly render out. Turn the slices to help them cook evenly. Once they are very crisp, remove to paper towels to drain and continue with the rest of the pancetta.

Brush the chanterelles with a brush or cloth to remove dirt. Trim the tip of the stem ends. Small mushrooms may stay whole – larger ones should be halved or quartered lengthwise.

Heat a large saucepan over medium heat and add a good glug of olive oil. Add the shallots and sprinkle with kosher salt. Once the shallots are translucent, add the chanterelles and sprinkle with more salt. You may need to add more oil if the pan looks dry. Let the chanterelles give up their liquid and allow to cook off, stirring often. Add the minced garlic and cook, stirring often, about 1 more minute.

Add the leaves from 6 thyme sprigs and season with freshly ground black pepper. Remove from the heat and pour in the sherry. Return to medium-high heat and bubble until the liquid cooks off and there is only oil left. Remove from the heat and check the seasoning with more salt and pepper.

Preheat the oven to 400 F.

Weigh out about 1 lb of the dough – the rest can be frozen for 4 – 6 months. Let it come back up to room temperature for 10 minutes. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper and roll the dough out on the paper to a circle about 15 inches across.

Toss the rounds of pancetta into the mushroom mixture. Pile the ingredients in the center of the dough. Arrange the cherry tomatoes on top of the filling. Fold the sides of the dough up over the mushrooms, working around the circle, so that each fold overlaps the last (see the photo above).

Bake the galette in the oven for 40 minutes or until the crust is golden brown. Cool on a rack for 10 -15 minutes before serving, sprinkled with the rest of the thyme leaves. The galette is also delicious at room temperature.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

The September Harvest Calendar

September is finally here, and autumn - barring our requisite Indian summer - is right around the corner. This month is perhaps the most plentiful and abundant of the whole year. We still have plenty of time to enjoy berries, stone fruit, tomatoes, and melon, but the crops we usually count on cold storage to provide are all available fresh from the field for at least the next 2 months as well. A veritable embarrassment of riches.

In September, the dry bean, brussel sprout, grape, kale, lima bean, pear, pumpkin, and watermelon harvest all get into full swing, and we also have a another chance to enjoy the 2nd harvests of peas and raspberries.

But by the end of the month, there will probably have been enough chilly nights to end the radish harvest until next April and the cucumber harvest until next July. In the coming days, we also lose turnip greens until next May, blackberries until next July, and currants until next August. My advice is to make the most of those cucumbers and radishes, along with beet greens, blueberries, cantaloupes, peaches, plums, prunes, and scallions. This is their last month in season until next year.

As always, this information is available in the sidebar harvest calendar over there on the right all month. The information comes from a guide published by the CENYC, which runs the Greenmarket & New Farmer Development Project. Of course, the best way to familiarize yourself with what's in season where you live is to visit farmer's markets in your area at least every couple of weeks. And I can’t emphasize enough how much I learn from the farmers themselves. So ask questions at the market – it’s the best way to find out which crops are not only available, but at their peak. To locate markets near you in the US, check the Zip or City Quick Search at Local Harvest.

Happy autumn, and happy September!

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