Sunday, October 28, 2007
Quinces are drastically underused in this country. Sure we think of them once in a while for preserves, occasionally for membrillo, and even more seldom to enhance the flavors of our apple pies, but it’s very rare indeed that I see a desert featuring them as a main player, or a savory dish that takes advantage of their fragrant twang.
The problem is, I suppose, that quinces grown outside of western Asia and the tropics have to be cooked for long hours before they can be eaten. Only in warmer climes do they ripen to honeyed sweetness that can be enjoyed straight off the tree. But the rewards are too good to be missed.
A fresh quince should be golden in color, and much of its fuzz, slightly thicker than a peach’s, should have fallen away before the fruit is harvested. The scent is heavenly – I think it can be most accurately described as that of a garden after the rain. There’s a decided floral element, yes, but under that there’s the sweetness of wet leaves, and the pungency of bark and soil. Once cooked, the color changes miraculously into a jewel-toned blush, and the fragrance mellows out to a tart-sweet floral twang.
Quinces have long been used to freshen the scent of Mediterranean homes – it’s lovely to keep a bowl of them about this time of year. And they’ve long been considered a powerful fertility symbol in that part of the world. Aphrodite, Greek goddess of love, held them sacred, and couples in Ancient Greece shared a quince on their wedding night.
Perhaps my favorite tradition involving quinces is the ancient Athenians' practice of hurling them at the nuptial chariot as the bride and groom made their way to their new home after the wedding. A raw quince is remarkably hard, and I imagine lobbing one at the right person could be immensely satisfying.
Further east, in Turkey for example, quince tarts are often flavored with dried rose petals and coriander. But here I've spiced mine the way I've enjoyed them in Greece - with a faintly sweet mixture of cinnamon and cardamom. Feel free to play around with the flavors and drizzle a little rosewater into the whipped cream if you'd like. This tart is best for the first 3 - 4 hours it's out of the oven. After that it tastes just as heady and fragrant, but the syrupy juice from the quinces soaks into the crisp phyllo and takes away its crunch.
Serves 8 – 10
juice of 2 lemons
½ cup granulated sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
4 tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp kosher salt
4 sheets phyllo dough, thawed if necessary
5 oz. unsalted butter, melted
3 tbsp fresh pistachio nuts
2 cups heavy cream (optional)
Peel a quince – I find a pairing knife works best here, but you can also use a speed peeler – and cut in half from top to bottom. Using a melon baller, remove the core and seeds. Trim any stem and place the halves in a heavy pot. Pour over the lemon juice, and fill with water until the quince halves are just covered. Repeat with the rest of the quinces, putting them into the acidulated water as quickly as possible to prevent discoloration.
Put the pot over medium heat, add the cinnamon sticks and ½ cup of sugar. Bring the liquid to a simmer, stirring often until the sugar is dissolved, Reduce the heat to very low, cover, and bubble very slowly for 2 – 3 hours just until the quinces turn pink – remember you need these quince halves intact. Gently remove the halves from the liquid and chill (they’re easier to work with once they firm up in the fridge). Reserve the liquid for a delicious tea, or reduce for drizzling into mixed drinks.
Preheat the oven to 400 F.
In a small bowl, mix the remaining 4 tbsp of sugar with the cinnamon, cardamom, and salt. Open the phyllo sheets out on a clean stretch of counter, and cover completely with a damp dishtowel.
Using a pastry brush, coat a flat baking sheet with melted butter. Lay a sheet of phyllo on the sheet and immediately replace the damp dishtowel over the remaining phyllo. Brush the phyllo with melted butter and sprinkle evenly with 1 tsp of the sugar mixture. Repeat with the remaining 3 sheets of phyllo. Using the tip of a very sharp knife to prevent tearing, trim the sugared phyllo stack to a rectangle approximately 11” x 14” and discard the trimmed dough. Bake the phyllo in the center of the oven for 8 – 10 minutes until golden.
Working from top to bottom – rather than across the equator of the fruit - gently slice one of the quince halves into thin half-moons. You need to go quite thin here – shoot for about 12 slices per quince half. Gently arrange the slices, curved side out, along a shorter edge of the phyllo shell. Overlap a second row over the first, trying to stagger the spacing, and use end pieces or half-slices to fill in the edges. Continue until the entire phyllo shell is covered. Sprinkle over another 1 ½ tbsp of the sugar mixture and bake for 15 more minutes. You may discard the extra sugar mixture.
Meanwhile, toast the pistachios in a small, dry saucepan over low heat until fragrant, stirring constantly to avoid burning. Remove to cool and chop coarsely.
Remove the tart from the oven and sprinkle with the toasted pistachios. Cool for 15 – 20 minutes before serving – or you may serve at room temperature. Just before serving, whip the cream (if using) to soft peaks. Cut the tart into rectangular wedges and serve with a dollop of the cream.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Some of you may remember my post from June for an Early Summer Tian. A tian (pronounced as one syllable: tyahnn) is a Provençal vegetable casserole named for the earthenware dish in which it is baked. Tians can be remarkably beautiful – especially, I think, when the ingredients are arranged on their sides in multi-colored rows – and this makes them a fantastic way to celebrate whatever’s in season at that particular moment. It’s easy to imagine their originating as a way to use up the glut in home gardens, harvest by harvest, across the south of France.
Right now, our greenmarkets here in New York are brimming with heaps of anise-redolent fennel and stunningly bright orange pumpkins. It feels festive – even though it’s still unseasonably warm – and I was thrilled when Charlotte of The Great Big Vegetable Challenge suggested we come up with some pumpkin recipes for her son Freddie’s P is for Pumpkin tasting.
For those of you not familiar with Charlotte’s work, her fantastic blog – an alphabetical exploration and adventure through the perils and pleasures of vegetable eating – was launched when Freddie’s abject horror of peas reached epic proportions. He and his sister Alex have risen to each challenge admirably, and both now have exceptionally adventurous palates. Freddie even learned to like peas earlier this month!
This time, Charlotte’s made an irresistible Pumpkin and Smoky Bacon Risotto, David Hall at Book the Cook offers a sumptuous Spiced Pumpkin, Bacon and Mussel Conchiglie, Hannah of Hannah’s Country Kitchen’s offering Freddie her delicious Pumpkin Cheesecake Muffins, and Alanna of A Veggie Venture has made a beautiful Whole Roasted Pumpkin. And Freddie, my friend, I would also like to point you in the direction of my Pumpkin Hazelnut Gelato from earlier this month.
Fortunately, Freddie feels fairly indulgent towards pumpkins – these recipes are so tantalizing, and Halloween is right around the corner, after all – so I thought that roasting them in a tian to caramelize them into earthy sweetness would be a great way to savor the flavors of October.
I’ve tossed the pumpkin and fennel slices with thyme, parsley, and the fennel bulb’s fronds, as well as with some lemon zest for brightness. And for this tian, I’ve used streaky bacon and oil-cured Provençal black olives as the topping - both of which go slightly crisp, which I love. I think you may be surprised by how satisfying a supper the dish can make – it’s true home food: easy, rustic, and infinitely adaptable.
1 2 ½ - 3 lb pumpkin
1 bulb fennel, stalks removed and fronds reserved and chopped
extra virgin olive oil
6 stems of thyme, leaves chopped
1 handful fresh parsley leaves, chopped, plus a little more for serving
zest and juice of one lemon
freshly ground black pepper
3 – 4 slices streaky bacon, snipped into half-lengths
small handful oil-cured black olives
Preheat the oven to 425 F
Using a sharp knife, slice the top and base off of the pumpkin. Set it on its now flat base and, working from top to bottom, carefully, slice off the rind in strips, cutting off as little flesh as possible. Cut the peeled pumpkin in half from top to bottom. Using a sturdy metal spoon, scoop out the web of fibers and seeds. Cut each half into narrow half-moon wedges.
Trim the base of the fennel bulb and the cut in half from top to bottom. Cut each half into thin wedges, being careful to include a little of the core in each wedge to keep it intact.
Toss the pumpkin and fennel slices in a bowl with a good glug of olive oil, the fennel fronds, thyme, parsley, lemon zest, and plenty of salt and pepper.
In a large earthenware or cast iron dish, arrange the vegetable slices vertically with narrow sides pointing up – you want the tips to roast brown and sweet in the oven. Pack them in tightly in a single layer (see photo below), and them sprinkle with any herb and lemon mixture left over in the bowl.
Lay over the bacon strips and scatter over the black olives – be sure to warn guests if your olives still have their pits. Bake the tian for 1 hour or until the vegetables are brown, the pumpkin is soft, and the bacon and olives are slightly crunchy.
Check the seasoning and serve either hot or room temperature, sprinkled with a little more parsley and some lemon juice if desired.
Friday, October 19, 2007
Game season. Are there any 2 words in the English language as simultaneously invigorating and cozy? Not in my book, and the food of northern Italy is a glorious way to celebrate.
Piedmont – a region in the northwest corner of Italy – is famous for its pheasant, hare, quail, and wild duck. All of which are in season at the same time as the area’s renowned white truffles, wild mushrooms, and red grapes. As you might imagine, October’s a wonderful time to visit.
I love this traditional Piedmontese recipe for its rustic simplicity and bold flavors – the herbal bay and smoky chestnuts meld with the wine into a rich, heady sauce that’s just what I want on a rainy evening.
Traditionally, the sauce from the duck might be served first over pasta, but I like to heap it, along with the meat, vegetables, and chestnuts, over polenta that’s seasoned with plenty of butter and parmesan cheese. Piedmont’s game birds have long been paired with golden polenta, and here I’ve used a coarse, stone-round version from Wild Hive Farm. If you prefer set polenta (customarily it’s favored in the region), make it at least 2 hours ahead, omit the butter, cut it into thin slices once set, and grill or broil just before serving.
Lia Huber of Swirling Notions is getting a braising chain going, and you can check it out here.
Serves 4 – 6
6 duck legs
extra virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, large dice
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
3 ribs celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
freshly ground black pepper
4 bay leaves
½ bottle red wine
4 oz. roasted chestnuts (jarred is fine if you prefer)
2 cups coarse-ground yellow polenta
4 oz. unsalted butter
1 ½ cups (loosely packed) finely grated parmesan cheese
Remove the skin and fat from the duck legs – this usually takes some combination of brute force and a sharp boning knife. I urge you to reserve the skin and render out its fat over low heat – this freezes well and makes an excellent seasoning throughout the year.
Heat a large pot over medium heat. Add a glug of olive oil and then the diced onion. Season with kosher salt and sweat, stirring often, until slightly translucent. Add the carrots and celery and cook, stirring occasionally, until slightly softened. Add the garlic and stir for one minute more.
Season the vegetables with plenty of black pepper and add 3 of the bay leaves and teh chestnuts (unless they are jarred - in which case wait until the duck has 30 minutes left to cook). Arrange the duck legs, fleshy side down, over the vegetables. Add the wine and raise the heat to medium high. Bring the liquid to a bubble, cover partially, reduce the heat to very low, and simmer gently, stirring occasionally, for 1 hour or until tender.
Meanwhile, place a large pot with 6 cups of water on the stove. Season the water with 1 tbsp kosher salt and the remaining bay leaf. Place a smaller pot on the stove with 4 cups of water. Bring both to the boil and reduce the smaller pot to a gentle simmer. Cover the smaller pot.
Whisking constantly, sprinkle the polenta into the seasoned water, being sure to sift it in through your fingers so clumps don’t form. As soon as the polenta and water are combined, reduce the heat as low as it will go – you’re looking for a lazy bubble here. Continue to stir the polenta with a wooden spoon.
Stirring constantly with a wooden spoon, add a ladle or 2 full of simmering water from the smaller pot each time the polenta starts to thicken – about every 5 minutes. After about 45 minutes, the polenta will be creamy and pull away from the side of the pot. Remove from the heat, discard the bay leaf, and stir in the butter until completely melted and combined. Next stir in the grated parmesan cheese. Correct the seasoning with black pepper and more salt if necessary. Serve the duck and vegetables over the polenta with plenty of the cooking juices.
Finished soft polenta keeps, covered over very low heat, up to 1 hour.
Wednesday, October 17, 2007
Bresaola is a specialty of the Valtellina valley, which lies on the Swiss border in the northern Italian region of Lombardy. It’s made by salting and air-drying raw beef tenderloin for about 3 months, and the finished product is traditionally sliced paper-thin and served with olive oil, lemon juice, and plenty of black pepper as an antipasto.
The texture, as you might imagine, is reminiscent of prosciutto – though most bresaola is drier than typical Italian cured ham, and the flavor is subtly earthy and sharp. Whether served plain or dressed with Lombardy’s heavenly citrus and olive oil, bresaola is one of my all-time favorite salumi, and it plays an important role in this time-honored salad from the region.
Migliorelli Farm is still harvesting their peppery wild arugula, and, along with some nutty splinters of good parmesan cheese, the leaves form a glorious base for a few deep ruby slivers of bresaola and plenty of juicy olive oil and lemon. It’s a match made in heaven, truly greater than the sum of its parts, and the dish makes a magnificent lunch for one or a savory part of any cool weather dinner. Bresaola is available at most gourmet deli counters here in New York, but a quick google search shows the salumi's available online too.
½ lb fresh arugula, rinsed well and dried
extra virgin olive oil
juice of 2 lemons
freshly ground black pepper
1 – 2 oz. good parmesan cheese
3 oz (roughly 20 very thin slices) bresaola
Trim the arugula stems and put the leaves in a large bowl. Drizzle with plenty of the olive oil, shower over the lemon juice, season generously with salt and pepper, and toss well to combine. Taste to see if you need to add more salt or pepper.
Just before serving, use a vegetable peeler to shave off some long slivers of parmesan cheese. Toss half of them into the arugula and divide the leaves between 4 plates. Lay 5 bresaola slices amongst the leaves on each plate (if you add them to the dressing too long before serving, the lemon juice can discolor them), and scatter over the rest of the parmesan shards. Finish with another good grind of black pepper, and serve immediately.
Monday, October 15, 2007
The fragrance of savory porchetta – slowly roasting on the spit, is one that permeates the markets of Tuscany, from the seaside villages of the Maremma all the way to Florence’s maginificent Mercato Centrale.
Porchetta (por-KET-tah) – usually a whole piglet that’s heavily salted, stuffed with fennel seed, rosemary, and garlic, and turned slowly over a wood fire – is traditionally sliced at market and served sandwiched in a roll (see the photo below). But the incredibly moist dish also makes an appearance on the region’s holiday tables as a uniquely Tuscan take on roast suckling pig.
It’s possible to buy porchetta, some made in-house, at States-side deli counters these days – a fact I delight in once the weather turns crisp. Which it finally has! We spent most of the weekend outdoors in sweaters and jackets, and by evening it’s been positively brisk.
I’ll probably write about how to make your own porchetta soon, but in the meantime, these pizzas make use of the store-bought variety. And if you can’t find any, don’t let that stop you from preparing the dish. With its long-simmered tomato sauce and caramelized radicchio, this is a fantastically aromatic recipe for celebrating the shorter days and longer light of autumn. Leftover roast pork, pepperoni, and even prosciutto all make great substitutions for the porchetta, though if you use prosciutto, wait until the pizzas come out of the oven to lay on the paper-thin slices. The tomato sauce tastes even richer the next day, freezes well, and is also lovely on pasta.
Makes 4 individual pizzas
extra virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, diced very small or even pulsed to a coarse paste in the food processor
2 garlic cloves, crushed and peeled
3 cups canned chopped or crushed tomatoes
½ cup red wine
2 bay leaves
freshly ground black pepper
½ tsp granulated sugar
½ small head radicchio
1 portion pizza dough (about 20 oz. Click on the link for a recipe)
2 – 3 slices of porchetta (be sure to ask for a leaner cut if that's what you prefer, though I enjoy the smoky flavor that comes from the pork fat)
1 tsp minced fresh rosemary
scant 1 oz. pecorino romano cheese for grating
Heat a medium pot over medium heat. Add a glug of olive oil and then the onion. Sprinkle with salt and sweat, stirring often, until softened and translucent. Add the garlic cloves and stir for 2 minutes more. Then add the tomatoes, the wine, and the bay leaves. Season well with pepper and a little more salt. Stir in the sugar and raise the heat to medium high. Bring to a bubble, reduce the heat to low, cover partially, and simmer for 1½ hours, stirring to the bottom often to prevent burning.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 350 F.
Cut the radiccio into 4 wedges, being sure to keep a portion of the core intact on each quarter so a little section of it holds each wedge together. Cover a baking sheet in foil and drizzle with olive oil. Arrange the wedges on the foil, drizzle with more olive oil, and season with salt. Roast for 15 minutes, turn each wedge over, and roast for 30 minutes more.
When the tomato sauce is finished, correct the seasoning with more salt and pepper if necessary – tomatoes often need quite a bit of salt to bring out their savor. When ready to continue, discard the garlic cloves and bay leaves.
Put a pizza stone (if you decide to use one – it’s not imperative) in the center of the oven and preheat to 400 F.
Sprinkle a flat cookie sheet (no sides) with cornmeal. Using a sharp knife, divide the pizza dough into 4 portions and roll or stretch each one out to a circle about 6 inches in diameter.
Arrange the 4 dough circles on the cornmeal, brush with olive oil, and season with a little salt.
Ladle on no more than 2 tbsp of the tomato sauce per pizza and spread out with the back of the spoon, leaving a thin border bare around the edge of the dough. Tear over a few small pieces of porchetta. Grate over a very fine dusting of pecorino romano (see photo above). The cheese is more of a seasoning agent than a feature in the dish here – I prefer using a microplane for the task. Sprinkle over the minced rosemary, and finally, arrange a wedge of radicchio in the center of each pizza.
If you’re using a pizza stone, sprinkle it liberally with cornmeal and slide the pizzas onto the stone. Otherwise just put your cookie tray into the center of the oven. Bake for 20 - 25 minutes until the crusts are lightly golden. Serve immediately.
Friday, October 12, 2007
Eid al-Fitr, the Muslim “Festival of the Breaking of the Fast” that comes at the end of Ramadan, begins tonight. In Egypt, the Eid al-Fitr celebrations traditionally last for 3 days, and Muslims throughout the country exchange gifts and don new clothing. And, as you might expect after a month of fasting, they feast.
No Egyptian Eid al-Fitr feast is complete without kahk, the headily spiced yeast cookies that are often rolled in sesame seeds or stuffed with dates or nuts before being baked and blanketed with copious amounts of powdered sugar.
It seems there are as many traditional preparations of kahk as there are villages on the Nile, and authenticity is hotly debated – much as with cassoulet in Languedoc-Rousillon Some areas hold that pleated, ring-shaped cookies, coated in sesame seeds, are the “real” kahk, while other regions insist the patterned imprint made by a specific metal stamp is the mark of legitimacy. Stuffings range from honeyed sesame seeds to ground nuts, but the sliver of anise-redolent date paste I’ve used here is my favorite version.
Rihat el Kahk is a spice mixture or essence used as part of the cookies’ seasoning in Egypt. It contains aniseed, fennel seed, mahlab, and bay leaf. Mahlab is made from ground sour cherry stones, and it lends a bitter almond fragrance to the dish. I love these cookies because they’re rich without being painfully sweet. They have a crumbly texture, and they’re intensely aromatic with cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, fennel, anise, almond, and bay. I’ve adapted my recipe to make up for my sad lack of Rihat el Kahk, so not to worry if you don’t have access to North African ingredients. Happy Eid al-Fitr!
Makes approximately 40 cookies
1 cup whole milk
3 bay leaves, fresh if possible
16 oz. unsalted butter
4 ½ cups all purpose flour
3 tsp ground aniseed
3 tsp ground fennel seed
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp ground cloves
2 tbsp baking powder
1 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp active dry yeast
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 tsp almond extract
2 cups (about 10 oz.) pitted dates
powdered sugar for dusting
Twist or crush the bay leaves to bruise them and heat with the milk in a small saucepan until very warm – do not allow to bubble or boil. Remove from the heat, cover, and let steep for 20 minutes.
Meanwhile, place the butter in a medium pot and heat over medium-high heat until it foams and bubbles. Continue to cook until the solids have separated to the bottom of the pan and the butter is lightly golden in color.
As the butter is cooking, whisk together the flour, 1 ½ tsps of the aniseed, 1 ½ tsps of the fennel seed, the cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, cloves, baking powder, and salt in a large bowl. Once the butter is clarified and golden, pour the liquid into the flour and spice mixture and mix thoroughly – I use a stand mixer with a paddle attachment.
Remove the bay leaves from the milk, and, once the mixture has cooled enough that it’s just warm to the touch, dissolve in the yeast and the sugar. Allow to bloom for 10 minutes and then add to the flour and butter mixture along with the almond extract. Knead or process until the mixture comes together, and then cover with plastic wrap and let rest in a warm place for 1 hour.
While the dough is resting, place the dates and the remaining aniseed and fennel seed into the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until the mixture comes together in a thick paste.
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Form a ball of dough and flatten it to a disk about 3 inches across. Form a 1-inch disk of date paste and place in the center of the dough. Fold up all 4 sides and pinch together to seal (see photo above). Allow the formed cookies to rest for 15 - 20 minutes, and then bake for 25 minutes or until golden and cooked through. While they're still hot, transfer the cookies to a rack and shake over confectioner’s sugar through a sieve until they're completely covered. Cool completely before storing in an airtight container.
Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Ok fine. If autumn won’t come to New York, I’ll bring New York to autumn! I hope, hope that the thunderstorm we had last night means the 80-degree weather is finally over – I so desperately want to pull on a cozy sweater and braise lamb shanks or something. But as summer’s refusal to end this year has shown, nothing is certain.
In the past weeks – the growing mounds of pears and pumpkins at the market ever more a mockery in this heat – I’ve had to find new, cooling ways to enjoy autumn’s flavors. And this gelato has become our gold standard. The fresh sweetness of the pumpkin and the heady fragrance and earthiness of in-season hazelnuts revive us after dinner as we wait for the temperatures to drop so we can slip out for a furtive nighttime walk up and down Manhattan.
I love gelato because it tends to be less sweet than other frozen desserts, which I think helps the flavors of fresh produce and seasonings shine through. Gelato’s often thickened with agents other than eggs – rice is popular, and here the puréed pumpkin lends the egg yolks a hand. And it’s usually served slightly warmer than ice cream. In fact in Italy, gelato is sort of spackled into cones and dishes with a spatula rather than a rounded scoop. I tell you this so you don’t feel quite so guilty if you find yourself munching straight out of the ice cream maker before your gelato has had time to prove in the freezer. Just tell yourself you’re being authentic – it’s not stricty true, but it works for me!
Makes approximately 1 quart
1 2 ½ - 3 lb pumpkin
1 ½ cups hazelnuts
2 cups heavy cream
½ cup granulated sugar
¼ cup brown sugar
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp freshly ground nutmeg
½ tsp kosher salt
5 egg yolks
Preheat the oven to 350 F
Cut the pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds, and discard. Place the pumpkin halves, cut side up, in a roasting pan and cover with foil. Bake for 1 hour, or until the flesh is tender when pierced with a sharp knife. Set aside to cool.
Scoop out the flesh with a spoon and puree in a food processor until smooth. Line a sieve with cheesecloth and place over a bowl. Put the pumpkin puree into the sieve and let excess water drain off for at least an hour. (You can also cover with plastic wrap and drain in the fridge overnight).
When ready to continue, reheat the oven to 350 F. Put the hazelnuts on a baking sheet and bake for 5 minutes. Stir them and then bake for 5 minutes more. Set aside to cool. Rub them between your hands to remove as many of the skins as possible. Pulse in a food processor until chopped fine.
In a medium saucepan, warm the cream, sugars, ginger, nutmeg, and salt over low heat, stirring occasionally to help the sugar dissolve. Do not allow to bubble or boil. Once warm, turn off the heat and stir in the hazelnuts. Cover and let steep for 1 hour.
Pour the cream through a sieve into a medium saucepan and press down on the hazelnuts to extract as much liquid as possible. Warm the flavored cream again over low heat and meanwhile whisk together the egg yolks in a medium bowl.
Once the cream is warm, pour a little into the egg yolk and whisk well. Add a little more at a time, whisking continuously, until the two are combined. Pour back into the saucepan and place over medium-low heat.
Cook, stirring continuously with a heat-proof spatula and scraping the bottom and sides of the pan. Once the mixture thickens and coats the spatula, pour through the sieve back into the bowl. Whisk in 1 cup of the drained pumpkin purée until well combined – be careful not to whisk in too much air here.
Cover the mixture with plastic wrap, pressing down the plastic until it just touches the surface of the custard – to avoid letting a skin form - and chill thoroughly in the fridge. Freeze in your ice cream maker, following the manufacturers instructions. Store in an air-tight, freezer-safe container, and let sit out for 5 - 10 minutes before serving.
Monday, October 8, 2007
October isn’t often billed as such, but it’s actually a fantastic month for greens. Right now market stands are bursting with fresh dandelion greens, collard greens, kale, lettuce (including wintery favorites like chicory, radicchio, and escarole), mesclun, mustard greens, spinach, and swiss chard. And once the weather turns chilly, both fava and pea greens are harvested as well.
One of my favorite ways to enjoy the stronger flavors and more durable textures of autumn’s greens is in a hearty minestrone soup based on the culinary tradition from northern Italy. There minestroni, or thick, slow-cooked vegetable soups, tend to be far heavier than the soups of warmer central and southern Italy.
There are 2 types of minestrone: a crudo and col soffritto. In minestrone a crudo the raw vegetables are placed directly into stock or water and seasoned with olive oil towards the end of cooking, but traditional minestrone col soffritto starts with vegetables sautéed in olive oil, lard, or pork fat before the cooking liquid is introduced, and rice or small pasta is often added at the end. This seasonal minestrone col soffritto is drawn from a Venetian preparation that uses pancetta for a flavor base. I love the faint resonance of the cured pork and heel of parmesan against the nutty-sweet peas and pea greens. And I must say that raising these peas to their very height is the point.
I was honored when lovely Charlotte Hume of The Great Big Vegetable Challenge asked if I’d join her, the fabulous David Hall of Book the Cook, and the talented Hannah of Hannah's Country Kitchen in a Monday pea extravaganza in honor of her son Freddie. Charlotte started her fantastic blog – an alphabetical exploration and adventure through the perils and pleasures of vegetable eating – when Freddie’s abject horror of peas reached epic proportions.
He’s since become one of the most audacious eaters I know – that statement includes adults, by the way – and I’m mightily impressed. But the project’s just wrapped up “P is for Pak Choi,” and there’s no way to put off the inevitable “P is for Peas” any longer. Today the 3 of us are posting pea recipes as a sign of solidarity with Freddie. I have the utmost faith that he can do this!
The thing about peas is that they need only scant contact with heat before they’re ready to eat, and they must be fresh, or they go to mealy starch all too soon. I keep my peas and pea greens out of this soup until I’m about to serve it. That way they never loose their sweetness, texture, or color from reheating.
I brought home the month's first bundle of Gorzynski Farm pea greens last week (on the left in the photo above). I love to sauté them, but I often toss them raw into salads as well. They’re lovely when paired with the last good peas of the season, and I hope Freddie will approve of the sweetness they lend to the white beans, leeks, and escarole in my autumn minestrone. Feel free to substitute fava greens, spinach, or swiss chard if you can’t find pea greens.
Update: Hail the conquering heroes!
Serves 6 – 8
6 thin slices pancetta
extra virgin olive oil
1 large yellow onion, medium dice
2 leeks, white and light green portion halved and sliced into thin half moons
2 ribs celery, sliced
4 cloves garlic, minced
¾ lb borlotti or cranberry beans, fresh if possible
2 tbsp fresh minced rosemary
3 bay leaves, fresh if possible
freshly ground black pepper
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
1 cup white wine
1 heel parmesan cheese (if you have one on hand – I save mine in the freezer for soups and stews)
2 cups thinly sliced escarole (well-packed)
1 cup fresh peas, blanched in boiling water for 60 seconds and shocked in ice water
2 cups chopped pea greens or fava greens, spinach leaves, or swiss chard (well-packed)
handful fresh parsley, roughly chopped
good parmesan cheese for grating
Arrange the pancetta slices on the bottom of a heavy, cold soup pot. Drizzle with a little olive oil and place over medium heat. Cook, turning when necessary, until the pancetta is crisp. Remove to a plate.
Add the onion to the pancetta fat, sprinkle with a little kosher salt (too much can make the beans tough later on), and sauté, stirring occasionally, until softened. Add the leeks and the celery and sauté, stirring occasionally, until slightly translucent. Add the garlic and stir for 1 minute longer.
Stir in the beans, rosemary, and bay leaves. Crumble in the pancetta – I prefer it crumbled as finely as possible. Season well with black pepper. Add the stock, the wine, and the heel of parmesan if using. Raise the heat to high and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and simmer gently for 30 minutes. Stir in the escarole and simmer covered for 15 minutes more. Check the seasoning with salt (depending on the salinity of your stock, you may need quite a bit, as almost none’s been added up to this point), and more black pepper if desired. Discard the bay leaves and parmesan heel.
When you’re ready to serve the minestrone, heat only the portion of the soup you intend to serve, stir in the appropriate portion of peas, pea greens, and parsley (amounts allotted in the ingredients list are for a full pot of soup), and simmer gently for a few moments until they’re heated through and bright green. Serve immediately so the peas and pea greens don’t overcook, and sprinkle with some grated parmesan cheese.
Friday, October 5, 2007
There is a bacchanalian moment each autumn when I enter the greenmarket and am instantly swathed in the rich, punchy scent of grapes. Their perfume is overwhelming – especially remarkable considering New York City’s markets are open air – and comes not just from the heaps of jade Niagaras, rusty Larchmonts, and violet Concords, but also from the vats of fresh grape juice many farmers keep at their stands.
This is one of my favorite seasonal experiences, utterly sensory and decadent, and it happened here just the other day - the grape harvest is finally at its height. I love to cook with the fruit, and I think they’re just as sumptuous in savory dishes as they are in desserts.
Here I’ve roasted some extravagantly fragrant Concords with plenty of olive oil, sea salt, and black pepper before topping them with sweet, milky shavings of ricotta salata cheese and some earthy thyme. The traditional rubbing of garlic and drizzle of olive oil – which is what technically transforms grilled or toasted bread into bruschetta – really underlines the heady aromas and flavors. Served with a refreshing glass of wine at day’s end, these make a wonderful way to welcome a crisp autumn evening.
Makes 16 bruschetta
1 lb red or purple seedless grapes, preferably Concord
extra virgin olive oil
freshly ground black pepper
8 slices good white country bread
1 clove garlic, peeled and halved
approximately 1 oz ricotta salata
5 fresh thyme sprigs
Preheat the oven to 350 F
Remove the stems from the grapes and arrange on a small baking sheet lined with foil. Toss with plenty of olive oil, sea salt, and black pepper. Roast for 20 – 30 minutes until just softened and juicy.
When you’re almost ready to serve, grill or toast the bread on both sides. Cut each slice of bread in half. Immediately rub one side with the cut garlic, drizzle with olive oil, and season with sea salt and pepper.
Divide the roasted grapes between the toasts, shave over a few small slivers of ricotta salata cheese with a “y” or speed peeler, and sprinkle over the thyme leaves. Serve immediately.
Monday, October 1, 2007
September’s gone and with it, I hope, the oppressive heat. In spite of the promise October brings of that first, soul-quenching nip in the air, this month’s a little more bittersweet for me than the last. These are the final weeks that so many of our crops are harvested for the year, and though the abundance I’ve been longing for since January is at its peak, it’ll soon start to wane. Sure in the cold months we’ll still have plenty of produce from the greenhouse and cold storage. But crops just taste better freshly harvested from an open field – the elements lend our food so much character and nuance, much as real living does us.
So October isn’t really a time of new harvests - we only add fennel and parsnips to the roster this month. But I take solace in the fact that these are two of my all time favorite winter vegetables.
And I also offer comfort by pointing out that there’s still an overwhelming profusion to enjoy - the vast majority of last month’s crops are still in season for the duration of October. The only September harvests that are now officially over for the year are beet greens, blueberries, cantaloupes, cucumbers, peaches, plums, prunes, radishes, and scallions.
By the end of the month, temperatures will have dipped low enough to end the lettuce harvest until next May, the pea and summer squash harvests until next June, the snap bean, corn, pepper, and raspberry harvests until next July, and the eggplant harvest until next August. So take advantage of those more cold-sensitive crops along with celery, grapes, fresh herbs, kale, spinach, swiss chard, tomatoes, and watermelon. October is their last month in season this year.
And though they’ll be available from cold storage during the winter, this is also the last month that apples, carrots, leeks, onions, pears, potatoes, pumpkins, and winter squash are available fresh from the field. The distinction can’t be replicated, so don’t forget to make the most of these crops too.
These crop facts are 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. To familiarize yourself with what's in season where you live, I advise a visit to your own farmer's markets at least every couple of weeks. And ask lots of questions – no one knows which crops are at their peak quite like the people who grow them. To locate markets near you in the US, check the Zip or City Quick Search at Local Harvest.
It’s still a fantastically abundant month, so happy autumn, and happy October!