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Making the Best of It – Spinach and Swiss Chard Gratin

I wont lie, this low FODMAPs diet is hard. In order to stave off tummy trouble I have had to write off some of my favorite fruits and veggies. And since, as you all know, I have a bit of a soft spot for produce, a stroll through the grocery store at this time of the year tends to stir up my yearnings for the peak season crops that are on the “NO” list for low FODMAP dieters like myself. Rather than meandering about the produce section in search of the prettiest produce, I make a bee-line for the produce on my list and avoid making eye-contact with fairytale-like stalks of brussels sprouts and crisp ripe apples.

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But truly, its not all bad. In some ways, having less variety of fruits and veggies to choose from has demanded that I dig deep and dust off old food memories to develop exciting flavor profiles. Without the flash and bang of go-to ingredients like garlic, mushrooms, and onion, without that final sprinkling of breadcrumbs, without the inexplicable umami characteristics of Worcestershire or the exotic intrigue of dried fruit, I have noticed new subtleties in the fruits, vegetables, dairy, and even dried goods that are now staples in our home.

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And for those of you following the FODMAP diet, whose ears may have pricked up at my mention of dairy products, I will let you in on some exciting news: I have passed my dairy trial with flying colors. While dairy might not have topped my wish list for foods to reintegrate into my daily meal plans, it is a relief to have such a diverse category of foods back in my arsenal of ingredients.

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In other good news, Monash University has recently put forth a phenomenal application which provides detailed information on ingredients containing FODMAPs. Not only does the app name which foods may pose trouble for individuals prone to carbohydrate-driven bowel irritation but it even delves deeper than most other lists in analyzing which types of FODMAPs may be present in which foods. Better yet, the app provides guidelines around what serving sizes may be OK to try and what quantities of a food might initiate tummy troubles.

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Perhaps one of the most exciting bits of research published in the new app pertains to Spelt. Spelt is a close relative of wheat and, until recently, I was advised to avoid it along with other gluten-containing flours like Rye and Wheat. The avoidance of these had little to do with the gluten compound itself but the correlation between the two is quite remarkable. Based on recent research from Monash University, which is truly driving the field of FODMAP research, most IBS sufferers are able to tolerate Spelt in reasonable quantities. Breads made from a spelt sourdough culture are even more likely to be tolerated by Low-FODMAPers.

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For those of you currently on a Gluten Free diet, either by dietary necessity or because you are simply creeped out at the mere thought of stringy sticky gluten compounds, please, by all means, continue to avoid all sources of gluten in your diet. But for those of you who long for the airy structure and delectable crust that only gluten can provide, spelt might just be your manna. In upcoming posts I plan to devote more writing space to a more thorough discussion of spelt and gluten. I have been experimenting with a spelt sourdough starter and am working to devise some techniques around creating rustic breads and other baked goods that tame the occasionally bitter spelt flavor and show off the starter’s ability to make magic from little more than flour and water.

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In the recipe below I have provided guidelines for making homemade bread crumbs that can be used to top a variety of gratin or casserole type dishes. Both gluten free and spelt based breads would work well. For those of you with no intolerances to wheats or glutens you can substitute any bread ends or stale bits and pieces you have around. Alternatively, panko works well as an easy substitute for those with no dietary sensitivities. I typically keep a bag of these home made crumbs in the freezer to add crunch and texture to a wide array of foods. Depending on the desired outcome, the bread crumbs can be pulled from the freezer and added directly to the dish or alternatively you can up the ante and toss the frozen crumbs in hot oil or butter along with herbs for a more luxurious topping (this option is great on pasta – if this thought is intriguing seek out recipes for pasta with gremolata.)

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While texture is certainly one of the most important parts of cooking, and is one that I have struggled to re-learn, so to speak, since taking on a Low FODMAP lifestlye, one of the most difficult challenges for me has centered around finding suitable replacements for the unctuous characteristics of garlic and onions. The garlic issue is perhaps a bit easier to remedy. As garlic carbohydrates are not oil soluble, garlic cloves can be lightly crushed and briefly fried in oil to create a garlic oil that carries a great deal of garlic flavor. Simply strain out the garlic for a good deal of garlicky punch with out any of the ill effects that can be contributed to the fructans it contains.

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In the end it all comes back to this theme of discovery. In a process where seemingly so many things are taken away, I have uncovered this amazing opportunity to find new properties in the beautiful bounty that remains. In this dish I actually leverage the chard stems to create a sautee reminiscent of onions. The stems are cooked in garlic oil until soft and ever so slightly caramelized to provide textural variance as well as a lovely savory flavor.  Stems that might otherwise have provided little more than compost fodder are used here to bring an unctuous savory flavor to this gratin. In the end what was unearthed was this amazing potential and distinct flavor that onion could not provide and this gratin shows the amazingly dynamic properties vegetables have to be used in different manners to produce distinctively different but yet harmonious components to a dish.

So my challenge to you is to open your eyes and your mind to the many wondrous possibilities at your fingertips. You may be surprised at what secrets you discover and what amazing qualities you can unlock with a little imagination and a small leap of faith.

Spinach and Swiss Chard Gratin – Serves 8 (as a Side Dish)

To Make the Bread Crumbs – Like other elements in this dish, the homemade breadcrumbs have the ability to turn odds and ends that would otherwise be considered refuse into an amazing component. I typically save bread ends in a bag in the freezer for this exact intent. Especially in the case of costly gluten free breads this helps get the most use out of the full loaf. Additionally any stale bread ends can be sliced or cubed and then frozen. Sliced is perhaps easiest as the slices can be popped out of the freezer and then into the toaster and transitioned to a food processor for pulsing. In the event that you don’t have a food processor don’t fret! The toasted bread pieces can be cooled completely and then sealed within a plastic bag and crushed with a rolling pin. If any large pieces remain you can rub them between your fingers or smash them with the back of a spoon to break them into smaller bits. The bread crumbs can be frozen in a (labeled) airtight freezer bag for a few months.

1 Large Bunch of “Adult” Spinach (about 450g), Washed Well (Don’t Bother to Dry – Same Goes for the Swiss Chard)
2 Bunches of Swiss Chard (about 900g), Washed Well, Stems Separated and Chopped Finely (1/4″ Segments – See Photo Above), Leaves Left Whole
2 TBSP Home Made Garlic Oil or Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 Cup Milk
4 TBSP Flour (Most Gluten Free Blends are OK – I Used King Arthur’s Gluten Free Multi-Purpose Blend)
1/2 Cup Home Made or Store Bought Bread Crumbs
1/2 Cup (about 56g) Aged Gruyere Cheese, Grated
Small Sprinkling of Aleppo or other Pepper Flakes (If Desired)

Preheat the oven to 375º. Spray a 12″ × 12″ gratin dish with olive oil spray (or if you are feeling indulgent you can grease it with butter) and set aside.

Wash the greens well, I typically run this procedure in a salad spinner by filling the spinner with water and dunking the greens in and out of the water, if the water starts to look murky dump it and refill it. Both Chard and Spinach have a way of clinging onto little pockets of dirt so make sure to agitate the greens as you dunk them in and out of the water. Drain them but don’t dry them.

Prepare a large ice bath and set it next to the stove (if possible.) Starting with 1/2 of the chard, place the greens in a large pot over high heat. Cook, covered, with just the water clinging to leaves, tossing occasionally with rubberized tongs, until wilted, about 4 to 6 minutes for the chard leaves. When the greens are just done cooking transition them immediately to your prepared ice bath to shock them – the shocking process will not only stop the cooking process but will brighten the greens color and prevent the greens from looking stodgy and muted. Repeat the process with the  spinach.

Once the greens have thoroughly cooled in the ice bath dump them into a large colander. Grab a fist sized bunch and squeeze it between your palms to extract as much water as possible. Place the well drained balls of greens on a cutting board and chop them coarsely.

Heat the oil in a large skillet or sautee pan. Add the chopped chard stems and sautee them over medium heat until soft. Add the greens and sautee or 2-3 minutes to remove any remaining moisture. The minute the spinach starts to stick to the pan add the milk 1/4 Cup at a time stirring until each addition is absorbed. Once all of the milk has been absorbed sprinkle the flour evenly over the greens and stir. Season with pepper and a bit of salt (the cheese will add additional saltiness as will the breadcrumbs so don’t go overboard.) You can also add a tiny pinch of nutmeg for a classic french “Je Ne Sais Quoi.” A tiny bit of Ras El Hanout would also lend some intrigue though you will need to be sure it meets your dietary requirements before adding it.

Transfer the mixture to the prepared baking dish and top with the bread crumbs, followed by the cheese. Top with a smattering of pepper flakes if using (if using Aleppo you can add about 1/2-1 tsp depending on how dominant you want for that flavor to be, other flakes may be stronger and you should use sparingly.) Place the dish in the center of the preheated oven and bake it until the spinach is steaming and the cheese and crumbs have browned slightly (this should take about 30 minutes.) Serve immediately.

The Greatest White Loaf – Pan de Mie

I fear I may have been keeping one of my favorite recipes from you all and I feel somewhat badly that I have not shared this with you sooner. I swear I have not been holding this card close to my vest with malicious intentions, I would never begrudge you the recipe for such a delicious concoction. Actually, I have been planning to share this with you for some time now but my subject has been somewhat of a shy model, receding and even deflating each time she came face to face with Dustin’s lens. So after weeks of baking this and many attempts to get the right images we managed to accumulate a selection of shots that show off the loaf’s full potential for deliciousness.

Like so many of my favorite foods that I have featured here (e.g. my first post on the best cabbage ever) the inspiration for this recipe and the root of my undying obsession with the pan de mie the recipe produces comes courtesy of my good friend Julie Zlogar. Julie perennially serves this up at the supremely amazing “house parties” she graciously hosts at her home. I put that in quotes because these parties, which I rave about every chance I get, are unlike any party you have ever been to. A caterer by trade, Julie has a knack for making dish that are amazingly refined and somehow still rustic, special, and soulful. Unsurprisingly, this truly is the best white bread I have ever eaten and Dustin and I bake a loaf almost every weekend.

The loaf is a simple yeast bread. It can be made in a single day – unlike many high quality bread recipes there is no need for creating a biga or poolish or for aging the dough overnight in the fridge. We bought a special pullmans loaf pan to make this – you can find them on amazon, but there is no real need to buy any special equipment for this recipe. Rather than the pullman’s, which measures 4x4x24 a you can substitute two standard size loaf pans (approx 4x4x9.) The half loaves won’t be as grand looking as the original pictured here, but if you are slicing it to serve for sandwiches or toast as we do the grandiose loaf is really not necessary, and won’t improve the flavor of the already scrumptious slices once single iota. I suspect that the loaves reduced size will affect the cooking time, make sure to check on them periodically, when they are nicely golden and sound slightly hollow when (gently) tapped, they’re done.

The original recipe was for a plain loaf, but as of late Dustin and I have been experimenting with adding herbs to the dough before baking it off. There are endless possibilities for what herbs can be added here. We particularly like rosemary. But there is no reason why you could not substitute thyme, or parsley, for the herbs included in the recipe below. The flour here is measured in ounces, I highly recommend buying a kitchen scale for baking. It will make your baked confections turn out with much greater exactness. Inexpensive scales can be purchased from Target or Walmart. I recommend a digital scale as they are easier to read and leave little margin for error. We personally use a model made by Soehnle – it is flat, easy to clean, and fairly exact. Amazon contains user reviews for most of the kitchen scales widely available on the market, I recommend reading these to search for a scale that will best fit your needs.

Pan de Mie

1 1/3 Cup 2% Milk
3/4 Cup Water
2 1/3 TBSP Sugar
2 Packets Dry Active Yeast
27 ounces of flour
1 1/2 TBSP Coarse Sea Salt
6 TBSP Softened Butter
1 1/5- 2 TBSP Fresh Chopped Rosemary

Add the milk and water together in a medium saucepan and bring up to 100 degrees farenheiht over low/medium heat. Remove from heat and stir in sugar until dissolved. Add the yeast, stirring to mix, then stand back while the yeast does its thing for about 10 minutes.

Preferably using a standing mixer, add the flour and salt and mix on low speed to combine. Add the yeast mixture when it is good and bubbly and mix on low to combine. Add in half of the rosemary, then the butter a couple tablespoons at a time. Increase the speed to medium for ten minutes of solid kneading. Add in the remaining rosemary about 30 seconds before culminating the kneading.

Once the dough is kneaded-it will be soft and smooth- place it in a large plastic bowl and cover with plastic wrap. After about an hour the dough should have risen to approximately double its size, at which point gently punch down the dough. Elongate the dough to fit a buttered pullman’s loaf pan (traditionally 4″ x 4″ x 9″ although we use a 4″ x 4″ x 24″), and allow to rise another 30-45 minutes in the pan. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Place the loaf in the oven for about 45 minutes, then remove and allow to cool on a wire rack.

Categories: Bread Tags: ,

Old Spices, New Traditions – Flatbreads with Za’atar

Lately Dustin and I have been really getting into making bread at home. As we are young, childless, and new to this city, we have a lot of time on our hands during the weekends. Baking bread is a great way to constructively (and inexpensively) fill up our Sunday mornings. But there is more too it than that, making bread by hand is a truly soul satisfying endeavor. Perhaps it is the smell of yeasty bread rising or the feel of elasticy dough but we cannot seem to get enough of it! We have posted a couple of bread recipes on this site before, but these rolls are by far our new favorite – I caution that they may be habit forming!

The breads are based off of a flat bread (as in not so risen – not to be confused with pizza style flat bread) recipe from one of my most recent cookbook purchases, “Bake!”by Nick Malgieri. The dough was one of the oddest and stickiest I have ever worked with but the petite loaves were very simple to make and the relatively short rising time makes this bread easier to pull off in a time crunch than traditional breads which often take 2 (or more) days to create at home.

We topped these little gems with Za’atar –  a savory middle eastern spice blend that typically includes Sumac, Thyme, Sesame Seeds, and Salt. It is commonly used in the Middle East as a topping for breads but also makes a great seasoning for hummus and can be used as a rub for poultry. But as the bread does not have an overpowering flavor of its own it would make a great palate for experimentation! Feel free to create a topping of your own. These would taste great with a simple sprinkling of salt, sesame, or poppy seeds and, I imagine, would be fantastic topped with garlic and rosemary as well! Just don’t expect them to stick around too long – these guys have a tendency to disappear quickly!

Flatbreads with Za’atar

3 Cups Unbleached All-Purpose Flour

2 TSP Salt

2 ¼ TSP Active Dry Yeast

1 1/3 Cup Warm Water

2 TBSP Olive Oil

3 TBSP Za’atar

2 TBSP Sesame Seeds

Add the yeast to the water in a large bowl, or the bowl of an electric mixer, and stir to dissolve yeast.  Stir in the olive oil.

Mix the flour and salt together.  Slowly add to the water mixture while stirring until smooth.  Mix for 3 additional minutes to form the gluten in the dough.  Let it rest for about 10 minutes.

Stir another 3 minutes, adding a touch more flour if needed.   Dough should be able to form a smooth, elastic, if somewhat sticky ball.  Move the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, making sure to coat both the top and bottom of the dough.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 15 minutes.

Remove the dough onto a lightly floured work surface.  Stretch the dough into a wide rectangle, then fold in the left and right third in on top of each other.  Rotate 90 degrees and repeat stretching and folding.  Return to oiled bowl, coating both sides of dough.  Let rest for about 30 minutes, until dough has doubled in size.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper, or sprinkle with cornmeal.  Divide the dough into four equal pieces and round them out by pulling the edges up and pressing them down into the center. Flip the rounds over and rest on cookie sheet covered for 5-10 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.  Shape the rounds into 6-inch circles or ovals; allow to puff for 5-10 minutes.

Mix Za’atar and sesame seeds together.  Using your finger, gently dimple the loaves at 1-inch intervals.  Spray with olive oil or water and dust each loaf with toppings.

Place the loaves in the oven, adding ice cubes to a tray in the bottom for steam if desired.  After 5 minutes reduce the heat to 400 degrees.  Turn the loaves 180 degrees for even baking after another 5 minutes.  Continue baking for another 10 minutes or until the bread is risen and a light golden brown.  Place flat breads on a cooling rack and enjoy!

Categories: Bread Tags: , ,
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