Saturday, August 31, 2013

Swiss Chard and Arugula Ravioli Nudi in Simple Tomato Sauce

Two of my favorite things in the world of food are vegetables and Italian cuisine, and they’re highlighted together in The Glorious Vegetables of Italy, which is the latest book from Domenica Marchetti. I recently received a review copy. It’s not a strictly vegetarian book, but almost every dish presented could easily be made without meat. The chapters are ordered from antipasti to dolci with recipes for every course in between. It was delightful to see vegetables in starring roles in each dish and to read about how the recipes came to be. In the Garlicky Lentil Soup, there are carrots, fennel, potato, and turnip, and Domenica explains how she adds crunchy croutons to each serving just as her mother always has. The Crepe Cannelloni with Mushrooms and Zucchini topped with balsamella sauce and baked until browned, looks like ultimate comfort food. We learn that crespelle, or Italian crepes, are traditional in Abruzzo which is the author’s family’s native region. The Smashed Green Beans and Potatoes with Pancetta is something I will definitely be trying even though I’ll leave out the pancetta. The green beans are cooked with the potatoes until completely tender, and then they’re mashed together with olive oil. I already imagine this dish making several appearances in meals this fall. Then, there’s the Pumpkin Gelato made with chestnut honey that I can’t wait to try as well. In the Pasta chapter, a certain recipe reminded me of something I used to make frequently. I have no idea why it fell off my radar, but it had been ages since I last made ravioli nudi. I used to form the pasta-less dumplings and bake them in a tomato sauce. I used to make a ricotta and parmesan version, one version with added spinach and herbs, and even one with a mix of ricotta and silken tofu. When I saw the page in the book with the plate of little nudi dumplings speckled with greens and topped with tomato sauce and shavings of parmesan, I couldn’t wait to try this version. 

This recipe is a little different from how I’ve made nudi in the past since these are formed into balls about the size of a chestnut. I remember making slightly larger dumplings. Also, here, they’re boiled rather than being baked in a sauce. The smaller size meant it was easier for them to cook through without spending too much time being jostled about in the boiling water. And, they’re daintier looking on the plate. The recipe in the book suggests using a mix of Swiss chard and spinach, but I went with what I could find at the farmers’ market which was chard and arugula. The tomato sauce on top could have been made from fresh tomatoes or canned. I didn’t have quite enough fresh tomatoes on hand, so I went the canned route. You could use canned diced tomatoes or canned whole tomatoes as I did. I think I saw Ina Garten chop canned whole tomatoes by snipping them, in the can, with kitchen shears. That’s what I did, and then the chopped tomatoes went into the saucepan with olive oil and garlic. The sauce simmered away while the nudi were rolled and cooked. The garnish is just a quick shaving of a block of good parmigiano reggiano with a vegetable peeler. 

Making nudi is simpler than filling ravioli, but you still get all the great flavors of the mix of cheeses and greens. The little dumplings plump up as they cook and end up fluffy and delicious with the simple tomato sauce. I’m glad to have been reminded about this dish and to learn about several new ones too. 

Swiss Chard and Arugula Ravioli Nudi in Simple Tomato Sauce 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from The Glorious Vegetables of Italy.

Tender and delicate, these nudi—essentially, ravioli without the pasta covering—make an elegant first course for an early spring or fall dinner, dressed with a simple tomato sauce. They are also delicious served in soup; just boil the nudi as directed, then ladle hot vegetable or chicken broth over them and sprinkle with freshly grated Parmigiano cheese. For some reason, maybe because of their fluffy texture and gentle flavor, these nudi are a hit with children—no cajoling or bribing necessary. 

Makes 4 to 6 servings 


Rinse the shredded chard leaves in cold water. Place the leaves, with the water still clinging to them, into a large saucepan, cover, and set the pan over medium heat. Cook the chard, tossing it from time to time, for 12 to 15 minutes, until tender and most of the water has evaporated. Turn off the heat, and using tongs, transfer the chard to a colander and let it cool. Rinse out the saucepan and return it to the stove. 

Rinse the spinach leaves in cold water. Place the leaves, with the water still clinging to them, into the saucepan, cover, and set the pan over medium heat. Cook the spinach, tossing it from time to time with tongs, for 5 minutes, until tender. Remove from the heat and transfer to the colander with the chard to cool. 

When the greens are cool enough to handle, squeeze as much excess water from them as you can. Transfer them to a cutting board and chop finely. You should end up with about 1 packed cup of freshly chopped greens weighing between 7 and 8 oz/200 and 225 g. 

Place the greens in a large bowl and add the ricotta, 1⁄2 tsp salt, a generous grinding of pepper, the nutmeg, the Parmigiano, and the egg yolks. Mix together gently but thoroughly. Sprinkle in the flour, and gently fold it into the mixture. 

Pour some flour into a small shallow bowl. Have ready a large rimmed baking sheet lined with waxed paper or dusted with flour. With your hands, pinch off a piece of the greens mixture, form it into a ball about the size of a chestnut, roll it in the flour, and set it on the baking sheet. Continue to form the nudi until you have used all of the greens mixture. 

Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat and salt generously. Carefully drop in 8 to 10 nudi. Within 1 or 2 minutes, they will begin to float to the surface. Continue to cook the nudi for another 5 to 6 minutes, until they have floated to the surface and are puffed up. With a large skimmer, remove the nudi and transfer them to a warmed serving bowl. Spoon about 1 cup of the tomato sauce over the nudi and mix very gently. Continue to cook the nudi until you have cooked them all. When they have all been added to the serving bowl, spoon additional sauce over the top and sprinkle with Parmigiano. Serve immediately. 

COOK’S NOTE: I love chard stems, so if the chard I purchase has tough stems, rather than discard them I slice them crosswise, sauté the pieces in a little olive oil until they are softened, and then stir them into the tomato sauce. 

Simple Tomato Sauce 

Makes about 5 cups / 1.2 L 

Even though I preserve batches of tomato sauce to use through winter, I still rely on sauce made from good canned tomatoes from time to time. Using excellent-quality canned tomatoes and good olive oil is important to the integrity of this simple, everyday sauce. Look for canned diced tomatoes packed in their natural juice rather than in heavy, pasty puree. 


Warm the garlic in the olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Use a wooden spoon to press down on the garlic to release its flavor. Cook for about 2 minutes, or until the garlic begins to sizzle. Don’t let it brown. Carefully pour in the tomatoes and their juice (the oil will spatter) and stir to coat with the oil. Season with 1 tsp salt and raise the heat to medium-high. Bring the sauce to a simmer, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer gently, stirring from time to time, for 30 to 35 minutes, or until the sauce has thickened and the oil is pooling on the surface. 

Remove from the heat and stir in the basil. Taste and add more salt if you like. If not using immediately, transfer the sauce to a container with a tight-fitting lid and refrigerate for up to 3 days or freeze for up to 3 months. 

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Homemade S’mores

Last year, I attended a chocolate tasting event where I learned about chocolate production from growing the beans to making bars. The event was hosted by Slow Food Austin, and the presentation was about farmer-owned, organic Kallari chocolate. Because Kallari is a cooperative of owners in Ecuador, they’re able to pay themselves a living wage. They are “committed to community viability and economic growth, through knowledge sharing, the preservation of Kichwa cultural traditions and natural resource conservation.” They make the highest quality chocolate by choosing the heirloom cacao domesticated by their ancestors. “Our unique cocoa varietals permit Kallari to make a world-class chocolate with less than half the sugar, a shorter roasting time, and minimal refining compared to standard chocolate.” It’s been a year and a half since I attended that event, but I remembered how delicious the chocolate was. It has a smooth, fruity flavor and lacks the bitterness common in other high cacao percentage chocolates. So, when Kallari contacted me recently about receiving some samples, I was thrilled to accept. I was also thrilled to learn that they are now planning to make chocolate chips. They just completed a successful Kickstarter campaign to begin this new part of their business, and I can’t wait to find the bags of their chocolate chips on store shelves. The chocolate I received was 70%, 75%, and 85% cacao, and those are the types of chocolates they’ll use in the chips. Next, I had the tough job of deciding how to use those lovely chocolate bars. I turned to my copy of Chocolate Obsession by Michael Recchiuti for inspiration which has page after beautiful page of decadent, gourmet chocolate confections. And, what did I pick? I skipped over all those stunning, fancy treats when I saw the Homemade S’mores. 

The graham crackers are made with a mix of all-purpose flour and whole wheat flour, and I had some graham flour on hand and used that. The dough was rolled and cut into squares, and the squares were dusted with cinnamon sugar to which a pinch of cloves and a little salt were added. I made the marshmallows vegetarian, as I’ve done before, by using xanthan gum rather than gelatin. The first time I tried that, I thought the marshmallows were a little softer than ones made with gelatin. So this time, I added a tiny bit more xanthan gum, and they did set up a little firmer. Another difference I’ve found with marshmallows made with xanthan gum is that they don’t keep quite as well. They seem to get softer each day. You’ll want to use them within a few days whereas marshmallows with gelatin will last well for about a week depending on the humidity. I cut the marshmallows just smaller than the graham cracker squares and broke the chocolate into similar-sized squares. Although they’re just s’mores, they are kind of dressed-up s’mores since they’re assembled in the kitchen. You could stack the chocolate and marshmallow on one cracker, place it under the broiler to toast, and then top with another cracker. But, I pulled out my trusty kitchen torch. I waved the flame over the chocolate to warm it before setting the marshmallow square on it. Then, I toasted the marshmallow and sandwiched it with the second cracker. 

Over the course of a few days, we rigorously tasted (another tough job) all three chocolates in the s’mores. They were all fabulous. We couldn’t pick a favorite. And, I’m not even a huge chocoholic. My preference is usually for a medium-level of cacao percentage in a chocolate, but the Kallari 85% bar is delightfully smooth with hints of vanilla. When their chocolate chips become available, the cookies I make will be on a whole new level. 

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Texican Martini

Can we talk about tequila? I think I finally acquired a taste for tequila right about the time I stopped drinking bad tequila. I remember my first Tequila Sunrise cocktail handed to me in a college bar in Illinois while celebrating my 21st birthday. I wasn’t a fan. I had a preference for rum at the time. A few years later as a graduate student in Austin, I discovered the Mexican Martini (also called the Texican Martini). I remember sitting in the tiny space of the Cedar Door, way back when it was just the original little, red building right off Lamar Boulevard, and being served the shaken tequila and lime cocktail poured into a coupe glass and garnished with jalapeno-stuffed olives. I used to take visiting friends and family there because everyone needed to know about the Mexican Martini. So, yes, I came around to tequila. These days, I love tequila poured over icy lime granita, tequila cocktails with everything from coffee to ginger ale, and even sipping good tequila straight. I know the differences among blanco, reposado, and anejo tequilas, but there’s always more to learn. I was delighted to read about how tequila is made and how the process has changed over the years in the new edition of Viva Tequila! by Lucinda Hutson. I received a review copy of the book. Lucinda has been visiting Mexico for years, and she transports the reader there with stories about agave fields, cantinas, and distilleries. With the huge growth in the tequila industry in recent years, the traditional, artisanal process of making it is no longer always the norm, but standards are in place to ensure quality. There is an Appellation of Origin with a defined territory for the production of tequila, and the Consejo Regulador del Tequila enforces regulations such as proper labeling of aging. Lucinda recommends, as do I, avoiding all mixto tequilas which are blends and sticking with true 100% blue agave tequila. 

The book covers the uses of different types of agave plants which are used for three primary fermented beverages in Mexico: pulque, mezcal, and tequila. While pulque and mezcal are made from a variety of agave plants, also called maguey, tequila is only made from blue agave. An interesting comparison was given for lowland versus highland tequila in the state of Jalisco where most tequila is made. Lowland varieties tend to be “bold, dry, spicy, peppery, assertive, herbaceous, and earthy” while highland options from an altitude of 6,000 to 7,300 feet above sea level are “round, sweet, fruity, floral, herbaceous, and aromatic.” I’d like to spend more time tasting and comparing bottles from each region. In the recipes section, there are suggestions for fresh fruit juices, hot sauces, and homemade syrups to use for mixing cocktails. And, there are styles of imbibing and drinks to sample from both sides of the border. There are traditional margaritas; less traditional ones; frozen options; a recipe for a pitcher of margaritas; ideas for infusing tequila with chiles, fruit, or herbs and cocktails for using it; punches for parties; and after dinner drinks. The recipes continue into the kitchen with tequila flambeed queso, Smoky Chipotle Tequila Marinade, gazpachos with tequila, a citrus flan with tequila, some margarita cookie bars I want to try, and more. 

I had to start by mixing up some Texican Martinis which are inspired by the very ones I mentioned from the Cedar Door. Here, Lucinda offers a recipe for a Spicy Mexican Seasoned Salt to coat the rims of the glasses, and she includes a recipe for a homemade Sweet and Sour syrup if desired. I like my tequila cocktails on the tart side, so I opted to use just a small amount of agave syrup rather than the sweet and sour syrup. I went with a lowlands, reposado tequila this time. My garnish was, of course, jalapeno-stuffed olives in addition to some okra pickles I had just made. Since I definitely am a fan of tequila now, it’s going to be fun to spend more time getting to know it even better. 

Texican Martini
Excerpt from Viva Tequila! Cocktails, Cooking, and Other Agave Adventures by Lucinda Hutson (Copyright 1995 and 2013 by Lucinda Hutson) used by permission of the University of Texas Press. For more information visit

I first tasted a Mexican martini at Austin's Cedar Door Bar and Grill. Since then, the bar has changed locations four times, but they still serve their famous drink in shakers for patrons to pour at the table. Today, many venues offer a version of this martini on their menu, but often loaded with sweet and sour made from a mix. Here's mine: it's sophisticated, spicy, and sexy! Rim a chilled glass with salt, garnish with skewered jalapeño-stuffed green olives, and start grilling the steaks! 

Cantina Classic Spicy Mexican Seasoned Salt or commercial brand, for rim 
2 ounces tequila reposado 
1 ounce fresh lime juice 
3/4 ounce orange juice 
1/2–3/4 ounce Cointreau 
1/2–3/4 ounce Cantina Classic Sweet and Sour, or agave syrup to taste 
1 tablespoon chilled brine from best quality jalapeño-stuffed green olives 
Garnish: skewered olives, pinch of Spicy Mexican Seasoned Salt 

Rim chilled glass with seasoned salt. Pour ingredients in shaker tin, add ice cubes, and shake until frosty. Strain into prepared glass, with or without ice. It's fun to serve from mini-shakers for guests to shake and pour at the table. 

Serves 1. 

Cantina Classic Seasoned Salts 
Avoid purchasing gimmicky commercial "margarita" salts. Make your own instead; you can create several variations from one master recipe. Add a pinch of these flavorful salts to fruity or savory drinks and spritzers, or use them to rim glasses. Lightly rimming a glass with diluted agave syrup helps homemade salts adhere to the glass, as they have more texture than commercial salts. Experiment with different kinds of exotic salts, sugars, citrus, spices, dried chiles, and citric acid, which adds a lime-like tartness. Try a combination of dried red chiles for color and flavor, such as arbol, cayenne, ancho, puya, or guajillo. Add a pinch of fiery, dried habanero, if you dare. Of course, these seasoned salts are also useful for flavoring foods---I especially like them with homemade chunky salsas frescas. 

Cantina Classic Seasoned Salts: 
Master Recipe and Variations From this master recipe, you can make several versions of seasoned salts. Let it inspire your own creations. In small increments, add more sugar, citric acid, chiles, spices, and other ingredients to suit your own taste. 

4 tablespoons kosher salt 
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated lime zest 
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly grated orange zest 
1 tablespoon granulated or turbinado sugar 
1/4 teaspoon citric acid 

Gently grind ingredients in a small bowl, using a bar muddler or mortar and pestle. The citrus zest will make the salt rather moist, so spread on a large plate to dry for several hours, stirring occasionally; add other flavorings. Store tightly sealed. 

Makes about 8 tablespoons. 

Note: If salt does not dry sufficiently, place in a 200-degree warmed oven; turn off heat and allow to dry, then grind gently again before storing. 

Spicy Mexican Seasoned Salt with Chile and Lime 
Though commercial brands of spicy seasoned salt exist, make your own! While these salts are great with drinks, they are also good on popcorn, fresh fruit, salads, and grilled meats. 

Add to 4 tablespoons master recipe: 
1–2 teaspoons sugar 
1/4 teaspoon citric acid 
1 teaspoon fine quality paprika 
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground chile de arbol or cayenne 
1 1/2 teaspoons pure ground chile ancho 

Follow master recipe instructions. 

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Corn Farrotto

When fresh corn is in season, I usually do nothing more with it than pull off the husks and silks and boil the ears. Simple corn on the cob is hard to beat. But, I had this little number waiting patiently on my Recipes to Try board on Pinterest. It’s from last September’s issue of Bon Appetit, and the recipe is online. It’s like a risotto except that it’s made with farro instead of rice. The fresh corn is used in two ways in the dish. First, corn kernels are cooked with onion in a vegetable broth and then pureed. The puree is stirred into the cooked farro to give it the lovely texture of a risotto. Second, more corn kernels are cooked with chopped bell pepper and tomatoes for a pretty topping for each serving. Adding to that risotto-like texture is grated parmigiano cheese that melts into the tender farro. I can’t believe I’m going to suggest this because when do I ever turn down cheese especially parmigiano, but the corn puree is so flavorful all on its own, you could easily skip the cheese and make this a vegan dish. It was light and more clearly about the corn with just the puree, but with the cheese there was added umami, of course, and richness. Either way, you can’t go wrong. 

The first step is to cut all the corn from three or four ears. Chopped onion was cooked in olive oil in a saucepan until translucent, and then one and a half cups of the corn kernels was added with some salt. When softened, vegetable broth was added and left to simmer for about 20 minutes. After the broth had reduced, the mixture was allowed to cool before being pureed and strained through a sieve. Meanwhile, the farro was cooked in vegetable broth and water until tender and then drained. Next, finely minced onion, and I added minced garlic as well, was sauteed in olive oil in a large skillet. Diced bell pepper and the remaining corn kernels were added. Going back to the cooked farro which was returned to a large saucepan, the corn puree was added while stirring. Grated parmigiano cheese was then stirred into the farro, and if it seems dry at all, more vegetable broth should be stirred in as well. Last, chopped tomatoes and basil were added to the corn and bell pepper saute, and that mixture was spooned on top of servings of farro. More parmigiano and basil were used as garnish. 

This is a deceptively healthy dish given the hearty nature of risotto or farroto. The chewy whole grains of farro and all of those summer vegetables don’t come off as so prudishly good for you in this format. It was well worth taking an extra step or two in prepping that fabulous, fresh, summer corn. 

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Cayenne Cantaloupe Sorbet with Honey-Cornmeal Cones

I somehow got it into my head that I should try making ice cream cones. It wasn’t just the idea of making a frozen dessert and scooping it onto a cone that was fascinating me. It was actually making the cones themselves that I had to do. I wasn’t so concerned with the waffle texture and using a proper pizelle maker, but I did want to form cone shapes not just drape tuille circles over little bowls for crunchy cups. I ordered a cone roller, and was ready to experiment. There are recipes for ice cream cones in The Perfect Scoop, and I opted for the Honey-Cornmeal variation with added chopped rosemary. I’d already decided on the Cayenne Cantaloupe Sorbet from the Humphry Slocombe Ice Cream Book, and honey and cornmeal in a cone seemed like a good match for it. Now, I enjoy a good kitchen challenge as much as the next obsessed home cook, but I will say that making the cones was one of the trickier things I’ve attempted lately. David Lebovitz offers some great tips for baking the batter in the oven and rolling the cones, but there are a lot of variables at play here. I drew six-inch circles on the back of parchment paper which lined the baking sheets. Then, I was able to spread the batter thinly, as instructed, to fill the circles. A baking time of ten to fifteen minutes was suggested, but that produced edges that were far too crispy to roll. You need to catch the baked batter at just the right moment when it’s set and cooked through but still pliable enough to roll into a cone. Oh, and you have to do this while it’s hot, which burns your fingers a bit. After one or two ugly results from trial and error, I pulled on some plastic gloves and got determined about this. Finally, a few cones seemed worth keeping, and the dessert plan was able to happen. 

There are a couple of other sorbets in the Humphry Slocombe book I also want to try which involve Hibiscus Beet and Thai Chile Lime, but I had a cantaloupe on hand so this one came about first. It’s a simple puree of a whole chopped cantaloupe, sugar, a pinch of salt, a couple of tablespoons of rice vinegar, a couple of tablespoons of vodka, some lime juice, and some cayenne. I usually always say that I add more of any hot chile ingredient in a recipe, but here, the one-half teaspoon called for was actually more than enough. I’d use a little less next time. All of the ingredients were pureed in a blender and then poured through a sieve before being chilled and then churned in an ice cream maker. While it spent some time in the freezer to firm, I set about the project that was making ice cream cones. The batter was made with an egg, an egg white, honey, melted butter, sugar, flour, cornmeal, and a little chopped rosemary. Two tablespoons of batter was used for each cone, and it was spread into a six-inch circle on a parchment-lined baking sheet. The batter baked for about six to eight minutes until set and golden at the edges. Once removed from the oven, the baked circles were flipped over with a metal spatula and immediately rolled into a cone on a wood form. The edges should be golden but not so crispy that they break when rolled on the form. Plan to test the first two to gauge the needed baking time. Also, wearing plastic gloves helps with touching the hot cones while rolling. When slightly cooled and firm, the cone was removed from the form, and then next cone was shaped. Since there is a small hole in the bottom of each cone, I melted chocolate for dipping. When the chocolate set on the tips of the cones, the holes were sealed. 

I don’t think I’d want to make homemade cones for a large party, but they were a fun treat for just a few desserts. And, the chile-spiked, fruity sorbet was a great flavor for the cornmeal cones with a hint of rosemary. If you’re going to burn your fingers for a kitchen project, it should be one with a result at least as delightful and tasty as this one. 

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Friday, August 9, 2013

Fried Eggplant with Parmigiano-Reggiano, Tomato, and Basil

I had heard great things about Franny’s restaurant in Brooklyn and about the new book Franny's: Simple Seasonal Italian. So, my curiosity was piqued when I heard the founders were coming to Central Market Cooking School to teach a class a few weeks ago. I attended the class with a media pass and received a copy of the book. I have to admit, I wondered if there would be anything new to learn here. I do cook a lot of Italian food and already have a quite a few books that cover that topic. What I discovered was that although the dishes were familiar, the approach and attention to detail were the real focus here. First and foremost, the recipes are all about the in-season ingredients. At the restaurant, the menu changes throughout the year to make use of what’s fresh and at its best. Peppers are pickled and fruit is frozen to extend the seasons, but the vegetables in the starring roles are just-harvested. Then, those ingredients are allowed to shine with straightforward, uncomplicated uses of them. As I read the book, I found page after page of food that I want to eat every day. There’s a chapter full of ideas for crostini like Ricotta with Olives and Pistachios and Hard-Boiled Eggs with Bottarga di Muggine with suggestions for the best kind of olive oil to pair with different toppings. Next comes the chapter of Fritti with tempting, crispy, fried things like various, savory zeppole and Fried Zucchini with Parmigiano-Reggiano and Lemon which I tried and found delightful with its tempura-like coating. I’m going to have to cook my way through the Pasta chapter so I can taste every single dish. And, although the recipes aren’t difficult, there are good reminders about choosing really well-made pasta for the best texture and cooking it to the proper doneness so it can finish in the sauce. Taking a moment to consider those little details makes all the difference. There are also Salads, Soups, Franny’s famous Pizzas of course, and Fish. Just when I thought I couldn’t possibly think about dessert after all of the other fabulous food, the Desserts chapter got me. The Chocolate Sorbetto and Pistachio Cake are on my shortlist of things to try. 

At the class, Francine and Andrew started by demonstrating Whipped Eggplant and Anchovy Crostini which was a smooth and light puree of grilled eggplant drizzled with olive oil and topped with an anchovy fillet. The next course was a fresh mix of cherry tomatoes, cucumbers, and corn in a red rice salad, and I learned that a type of red rice grows in Italy. The Sauteed Squid with Salsa Verde dish is usually made with lovage, parsley, and mint. Since lovage wasn’t available here, celery leaves were used as a substitute. The pasta dish of the evening was light and herby with chopped parsley, basil, and mint stirred into the melted ricotta than sauced the strands of spaghetti. Dessert was a rich and fragrant Vanilla Panna Cotta. Photos from the class are posted on my Facebook page

With a nice, plump eggplant that had just arrived from my CSA, I decided my first stop in the book would be at the Fried Eggplant with Parmigiano-Reggiano, Tomato, and Basil dish. Yes, it’s fried, but with the oil at the proper temperature and the breading properly applied, the eggplant slices become crispy and golden without absorbing the oil. And, unlike a mozzarella-filled, traditional eggplant parmesan dish, this is light by comparison. The eggplant slices were sprinkled with salt and left to drain in a colander for an hour before being patted dry, dusted with flour, dipped in egg, and coated with breadcrumbs. They were fried in 375 degree F oil for a few minutes and then drained on paper towels and seasoned with salt. I took a small liberty with the sauce. Rather than peeling and dicing large tomatoes, I used pretty, little cherry tomatoes which were cooked in olive oil with garlic. I pulsed the cooked tomatoes in the food processor to make a slightly chunky sauce. The sauce was spooned onto plates and sprinkled with torn basil and shaved parmigiano. It was topped with slices of fried eggplant and more basil and parmigiano. It was a dish of simplicity at its very best like everything else in the book promises to be. 

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Saturday, August 3, 2013

Blackberry Bread Pudding

I have a freezer confession. I don’t use it very well most of the time. The ice-maker comes in handy, of course, and I couldn’t live without the freezer for the short time ice cream spends in it until it’s gone. But, when I actually store things away for a later date, I always leave them to frost over in the dark, forgotten depths. At some point, I’ll reorganize the contents only to find parts and pieces of things I thought I’d use and never did. Those quail wings intended for a stock, the extra pasta dough that I might have rolled into ravioli, and the lima beans I didn’t have time to cook last fall but was sure I’d turn into a gratin some day, were never used. I may have finally turned a corner though. During our far too short blackberry season, I popped some berries in the freezer knowing I couldn’t possibly forget those little gems. Then, when I baked those brioche pastries and used the extra dough for a brioche loaf, the bread when into the freezer. I had a vision of blackberry bread pudding happening when the time was right, and I really did it this time. There’s an Apple-Apple Bread Pudding in Baking: From My Home to Yours made with caramelized apples and apple butter. In the side-note, Dorie suggests trying the same technique with other fruits and jam. My frozen blackberries were thawed and macerated with sugar, and my brioche loaf was sliced and spread with Confituras blackberry jam for this summery bread pudding version. 

At a cooking class I attended a few years ago, I learned something about bread pudding that completely changed my thinking about it. In that class, the bread pudding was made with corners of the bread intentionally sticking up out of the custard. That way, lots of edges became crispy while the lower parts of the bread absorbed the custard. It was the good mix of textures that I really liked, and now I always keep that in mind in making bread pudding. Here, the brioche loaf was sliced and the pieces were slightly toasted in the oven to dry them. Each piece was cut in half and then spread with blackberry jam. One layer of jam-coated bread slices was placed in the baking dish, and the sugar-macerated blackberries and juice were poured over the bread. The remaining bread was arranged on top, and a rich custard made with milk, cream, eggs, egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla was poured over all the bread. It was left to sit so the bread could soak in the custard for about half an hour before it was baked. For baking, the dish was placed in a roasting pan and both went into a 325 degree F oven. Boiling water was poured into the roasting pan to come half-way up the side of the baking dish, and the bread pudding baked for an hour and 25 minutes. 

After it cooled for a bit, the pudding was easy to cut into wedges of custard-filled bread layered with jam and fruit. I served it with bourbon whipped cream and sliced peaches, and the crunchy tops and tender lower layers were delightful. Maybe I should start leaving notes for myself about what’s been shoved into the freezer. Or, maybe I just always need a really good plan like this one for what gets stored, and then I’ll surely make good on it. 

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