Spring is settling herself in right now, or at least she is trying. Perhaps its the ever controversial global warming giving our girl a rough run, but she seems to be experiencing some crisis of identity as she navigates the gap between the seasons. Like an awkward tweenager she makes her way in fits and starts. One minute she is demure and sun-beaming, makeup painted on with an expert hand – smiling pretty. Seconds later she has run her stockings, throws a fit, mascara streaking down her face as tears the size of nickels come rolling down. Flurries of laughter lightly mask deep seated angst but there is rumbling still beneath the surface. Sure, it looks pretty today, but don’t be fooled by the Polaroid image – it is only a moment in time. Storms are likely a-coming, and knowing our luck, they will arrive just in time for the weekend.
With the winds a-changing we are busily reading ourselves for the onslaught of fresh fruits and veggies that comes with the start of the CSA season. I have been scouring the corners of the deep freezer for any remnants of last season’s produce and am doing my very best to clear out any stragglers hiding out in the “root cellar.” Making room for this year’s haul also entails a desperate attempt to make use of my stockpile of “freshly milled” grains from Anson Mills that have been biding their time in the deep freezer. With only a moment or two spent scanning the contents of the waist-high freezer you will find everything from Red Fife Wheat to Perfectly Milled Grits hanging out in organic looking brown satchels. Though I am embarassed to admit it, I have barely begun to make a dent in the wide array of milled products I ordered from Anson in early February.
I am all about working with great ingredients, but there is something about working with this amazingly high caliber of goods that is simultaneously exciting and intimidating. For a bit of background on just why I have this amazing respect for what the folks over at Anson Mills have accomplished, the farmers and millers at Anson Mills have toiled for years to recreate heritage milled products grown by Small Farmers (themselves growing grain on about 150 acres) in South Carolina.
In reviving centuries old growing and milling practices for grains, Anson Mills brings us back a piece of our food culture past. Many of the products in their repertoire, like their widely renown grits, likely also exist in what I hesitate to even call a weak likeness on a shelf in your local Walmart. But Anson Mills have taken these ingredients, food stuffs which, in other hands, have become ubiquitous, commonplace, and so often thoughtlessly processed and have elevated them to their former glory as cornerstones of New American cuisine.
On their site, Anson Provides copious notes on the origins of each of their products paying tribute to the grain’s history and heritage with a detailed write up on its evolution as a foodstuff and some finer notes on what makes certain varietals of a grain uniquely disposed to a specific type of milling and/or culinary use. I found the write up on corn incredibly fascinating, in addition to delving into the division between flint and dent corn, the author works to provide some fine tuned background on what makes cornmeal, polenta, and corn flour unique; a question I, myself, had wondered for quite some time. And while all of this is immensely inspiring, the grains themselves feel almost too special to put to work.
And so, dear readers, my satchels of perfectly milled flatbread flour, rye, farro, and grits have sat gathering the freezer equivalent of dust while I have fiddled about looking for the right recipes to showcase these meticulously ground gems. Armed with what I hoped would be a great recipe to show off the proud textures of Anson Mills’ polenta I set off to the freezer to pluck out a bag of their Polenta Integrale. At the same time I “unearthed” a bag of frozen kale that I knew was hiding about the bottom of the freezer and set about making dinner.
This dish was inspired by a recipe from “Whole Grains for a New Generation” by Liana Krissoff, which has become an indespensible reference for grain cooking techniques and ideas (during a recent purge of old cookbooks for a yardsale, and subsequently, sale on Amazon, I knew this was one book that I simply cound not part with.) While Liana’s recipe is lovely I, as usual, was itching to play with the quantities of the ingredients called for, adding more kale, tossing in some frozen corn, reducing the amount of cheese etc… When making this recipe we tested two different techniques for baking the “crust.” Both methods were delicious though they turned out quite different looking end products. For the first crust we allowed the polenta to cool in the pan for only a short time (5-10 minutes) before releasing the springform. The polenta, which was not yet fully set, poured out into an organic pie shape. Though it could not be flipped to allow the underside to cook as well, we tossed on the toppings, popped it in the oven and pulled out a lovely freeform pie not long thereafter. With the second crust, we poured the crust and baked through the first baking and then allowed it to cool before popping it in the refrigerator overnight for use the next day. This crust was far easier to work with as it had fully set and the polenta was well jelled. Feel free to toy with the amount of time you rest the crust, the fact that it can be so easily poured and par-baked in advance makes it a great make ahead recipe for those with little time in the evenings to get dinner from chopping board to table.
Polenta Pizza with Sweet Corn, Kale, and Cheddar
1 Large Bunch of Kale (about 450g), Washed Well (Don’t Bother to Dry), Stems Removed and Reserved for Another Use, Leaves Left Whole
OR 1 Bag Frozen Kale, Defrosted and Drained
4 Cups Water
1/2 TSP Kosher Salt
160g Polenta (All Grind Sizes are OK Though Cooking Times Will Vary)
1/2 Cup (about 56g) Cheddar Cheese, Grated*
2 Large Eggs, Lightly Beaten
1 Cup Corn Kernels (Frozen and Fresh Are Both OK – See Note Below**)
The Unexpeceted Cheddar from Trader Joes is mind-blowingly good, the flavor profile strikes a nice balance between sharp parmesean and tangy cheddar and it is on the harder side for a cheddar. If substituting another type of cheese, an aged cheddar would work well, as, I imagine, would an asiago or a mild parmesan*
*We used fresh kernels, if using frozen it may be a good idea to allow them to partially thaw and drain before use
Preheat the oven to 425 degreese.
Prepare an 8-Inch spring form pan by lightly spraying it with cooking spray. Take a piece of parchment and place it over the insert of the springform pan. Close the rim around the paper leaving long pieces sticking out of the ends. Set the pan on a silpat (or parchment) lined baking tray (preferably with a rim.)
Wash the greens REALLY 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. (You can “dump” the water in your garden or use it to water house plants!) Kale, especially the curly-leaf varieties has a way of clinging onto little pockets of dirt so as you go about washing the leaves, make sure to agitate the greens with your hands to loosen any dirt clumps that my be hiding in the curls. Drain the leaves but don’t dry them.
Prepare a large ice bath and set it next to the stove (if possible.) 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. 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.
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.
In a medium saucepan, bring the 4 Cups of water to a boil over high heat. As soon as bubbles break the surface, add the salt and corn kernels. Once the water is boiling again, add the polenta in a stead stream, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to low and allow the polenta to simmer, stirring frequently, until thickened.
Pour the polenta into the prepared baking pan and pop it into the oven to bake for about 25 minutes.
While the polenta is baking whisk the eggs together in a medium sized mixing bowl. Add the greens, a few hearty cracks of pepper, and the cheese. Mix well and then cover with plastic and pop it in the fridge until it is needed.
Once the 25 minutes have elapsed, remove the polenta and place it on a metal rack to cool for at least 30 minutes.
OK – now for the tricky part. Pop open the hinge on your springform pan. Depending on how well set the polenta is, it may ooze out a bit. This is A-OK, step back and let it do its thing, this is why we lined the spring form with a long piece of parchment. Take a second piece of parchment and place it on top of the polenta circle. On top of this place a cookie sheet clamp the sheet down tightly atop the baking tray. Now, carefully, and in one smooth motion, flip the entire unit over. Remove the baking tray, the bottom of the springform pan, and the parchment. Your polenta wheel should now be sitting pretty on a cookie sheet with what was formerly the bottom now facing up.
Place the cookie sheet in the oven for 15 mins to begin to cook the top. Remove the pan and scatter the kale topping over the base. Return the tart to the oven and bake for another 25 mins or so. I like the kale topping well crisped but take care that it doesn’t burn.
It’s hard to believe, but after scouring Whole Foods and the Internet I was unable to find a single box of graham crackers that could be considered “FODMAP friendly.” Even gluten free varieties were chock full of potential IBS trigger foods like honey, garfava flour, inulin, and agave. I cannot claim a childhood fondness for the crackers, or point to any specific source for my hankering for these old-school American classics. But as with so many of the projects I have taken on in the past, I had caught the whiff of a challenge and was determined to see it through.
For home bakers wanting to try their hand at homemade renditions of supermarket staples, the foreign sounding ingredients listed on the side of the carton may make the product seem impossible to replicate in ones own kitchen. But as with so many grocery store treats, modern graham crackers can find their roots in a simpler historical classic. Graham crackers were the brainchild of 19th century Presbyterian minister Sylvester Graham. Perhaps taking inspiration from centuries old beliefs in the power of certain foods to enliven sexual appetite, Graham felt that a diet chock-full of bland grain based biscuits and breads would relieve America’s youth of their “unhealthy” urges and enable them to be better citizens and more diligent contributors to the Great American Society. While no scientific evidence has ever surfaced that upholds Graham’s theory, his crackers certainly caught on and have become an American classic.
To me, even more interesting than the genesis of Graham’s “crackers” is the special Graham flour from which they are made. Unlike a traditional whole wheat flour, which is made by finely grinding the entire wheat kernel to form a fine flour, Graham Flour is separated into its composite parts and the endosperm is finely ground as though to produce a traditional white flour and the bran and germ are ground separately into a coarser meal. The ground bran and germ is then recombined with the white flour to form a dually textured whole wheat flour. Aside from his eponymous flour, Grahams initial recipe most likely consisted of very few ingredients and was almost assuredly less sweet than Nabisco’s famous modern spinoff. The recipe below was developed with a blend of white and whole wheat spelt flours to create the textural contrast that makes traditional grahams so interesting and irresistible. While the below listed recipe bears closer resemblance to the modern variety then Graham’s bland biscuits, they are not overly sweet, and with a decipherable list of ingredients these biscuits would hopefully be wholesome enough to entice Sylvester, himself.
Part of the beauty of making your own renditions of grocery store classics is that design and shaping of the cookies is entirely up to you. You can cut the crackers into long rectangles like the traditional variety with an indentation across the centerline so that the crackers can be broken in two halves. Alternatively, if you are planning to use the crackers for s’mores, you may want to cut the mass into ready-made 2″ squares. Smitten Kitchen provided much of the inspiration for this recipe. On her site, Deb gives great direction on the shaping of the grahams and makes a break from the “norm” by using a fluted pastry cutter to create a scalloped edge. Fluted cutters can be found on Amazon, I noted that Ateco also makes a fluted edge square cookie cutter, which would be great for making uniform crackers without the need for any careful measuring.
The more evenly you are able to cut the crackers, the better. Not only will evenly sized crackers look impressive, but they will bake at a more even pace. To make the pinpoint design in the crackers, snip the end off of a toothpick and lightly press evenly spaced indents into the dough. The cinnamon sugar topping is definitely optional, the dough itself is already a tad sweet (I think it is slightly less sweet than commercially made grahams) and the crackers make a beautiful foil for rich dark chocolate and toasted marshmallows. If you are planning to eat the crackers as cookies on their own you may want to include the topping in order to push them into the decidedly “sweet” category.
Wheat Free Graham Crackers
180g (1 1/2 C) White Spelt Flour
60g (1/2 C) Whole Spelt Flour
48g (~1/3 C) Buckwheat Flour
48g (~1/3 C) Oat Flour
1 TSP Baking Soda
1/4 TSP Kosher Salt
176g (1 C) Dark Brown Sugar (Lightly Packed)
100g (7 TBSP) Unsalted Butter, Cut Into Small Cubes and Frozen
114g (1/3 C) Maple Syrup
77g (5 TBSP) Whole Milk
27g (2 TBSP) Vanilla Extract
For The Topping
43g (3 TBSP) Granulated Sugar
5g (1 TSP) Ground Cinnamon
To make the dough, place the flours, baking soda, salt, and brown sugar in the bowl of a food processor and pulse lightly to mix.
In a separate bowl whisk together the maple syrup, milk, and vanilla. Set aside.
Open the lid of the food processor, pull the butter out of the freezer and distribute atop the flour mixture. Return the lid to its upright and locked position and pulse until it resembles a fine gravel. Add the maple mixture to the flour and butter and pulse until the dough just comes together. Gather the dough together into a rough ball, being careful not to overwork it. Place the dough on a piece of plastic film and wrap tightly. Chill the dough for at least two hours or, alternatively, overnight. While the dough chills mix together the sugar and cinnamon for the topping and set aside.
Once the dough has sufficiently chilled and you are ready to begin rolling out the grahams, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a clean work surface (either a cutting board or flat counter space) and set out a pizza cutter, rolling pin, and ruler (the longer the better.) Dust the workspace with a light coating of flour. I typically keep a shaker filled with flour on hand to dust work surfaces when working with cookie and pie doughs, it also comes in handy for lightly coating fish or chicken fillets for pan frying. I personally like to fill a shaker with gluten free flour to minimize any potential FODMAP interaction but if you are not GF feel free to use whatever (white) flour you have on hand. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and separate out 1/3 of the mixture, re-wrap the remaining 2/3 and return it to the fridge.
Lightly dust the rolling pin and roll the dough mass into an evenly shaped rectangle approximately 1/8″ thick. While rolling the dough, periodically flip or turn the rectangle to ensure it is not sticking to the work surface. When you have obtained an even thickness across the entire mass trim off any uneven edges and determine a suitable size for the crackers. (Please see the note above for more insight on determining the right size and shape for your crackers.) Once the grahams have been cut, remove them to parchment lined cookie sheets leaving about 1″ between the squares.
If you wish to decorate the graham crackers with the traditional pinpoint perforated pattern, using a blunted toothpick or wooden skewer lightly indent the cookies in a regular pattern, being careful not to puncture through the bottom of the dough. Lightly dust the tops of the crackers with the cinnamon and sugar mixture and place in the preheated oven to bake for approximately 15 minutes, or until deeply golden. While the first batch bakes, roll, slice, decorate and top the remaining dough and repeat the baking process. Allow the crackers to cool completely on drying racks before packing away in tins or Tupperware.
I recently went through a stage of Sweet Corn obsession. You see I found this little, ok, not so little, really, actually, quite big, Amish Stand in Green Hills, next to the Green Hills Y, that had (probably still has but I am trying to avoid making eye contact with this food candy for at least the next few weeks – ok days) the most amazing corn ever (to my former English teachers, yes, that is a run on sentence, and yes there are probably more commas than needed and all in the wrong places, you tried, I know, but I probably wasn’t listening.) This corn made me giddy, it was probably all of the sugary carbohydrates talking, but I wanted to do a little dance when I ate it (which I am wont to do – both the eating and the jig dancing that is.)
I am not entirely sure what the Amish Farmers that raise this corn feed their soil, but I am pretty sure it should be examined and exploited to make more delicious corn for the rest of the world. Now most of you probably do not get this excited about corn, I mean, its just CORN, Right? the crop has been around for-ever, we use it to do all sorts of things, and I agree, it has, and we do. And I realize that I am raving on and on about a crop that has gotten a good smattering of bad press in the last few years. Some of that negative image is, indeed, warranted. But, I think there is good reason that man has persisted in cultivating corn for the last 4500 years or so.
Corn is the most widely grown crop in the Americas. In the United States, 40% of the corn produced goes into our gas tanks, a frightening thought, and a topic for an entirely different debate, the other 60% is divvied up between feed for livestock, and food stuffs for the general population. Corn’s popularity in the states is nothing new, Native American populations fostered a unique growing methodology for corn growing it on the side of steep hills. The corn was planted in tandem with bean crops, the corn provided structure and support on the steep hills for the beans, which in turn provided the much needed nitrogen in the soil to fuel the corn’s growth. This method is still used today around the world where farmers typically employ a crop rotation methodology planting first a nitrogen-fixing crop like alfa alfa or soy beans, and the planting the corn in the enriched soil.
With these advancements and subsequently, the relative ease of growing corn in the Americas, we have found ourselves in a situation in which corn can be found far and wide, in or cars, in soda cans, in pretzels, breads, in feed for cattle, and as pale and meager looking ears stacked on Styrofoam and wrapped in plastic. Spread around like this, it is easy to see how corn has gotten itself a bad reputation (what a food industry floozie!) But this recipe, by the ever genius Yotam Otolenghi, takes advantage of (well raised, peak season) corn’s sweetness, its supple texture and starchy consistency, and exploits these traits to create a homey and comforting fresh corn polenta that will make even the best mashed potatoes or restaurant cooked polenta look pale and homely by comparisson.
This dish to me is the epitome of August cooking, it employs foods that are the glut of the late summer harvest and turns them into a truly comforting and elegant meal of restaurant quality. I made some significant changes to Ottolenghi’s methodology in devising this dish, First, though I am typically not a huge fan of microwave cooking, I had heard that microwaving cubed eggplant sandwiched between layers of paper towels and plates would prevent it from absorbing nearly its body weight in oil during the initial sauteing process. I placed the cubes on a single layer on a large paper towel lined dinner plate and microwaved them for three minutes to steam them. Once all of the cubes had been cooked in batches I sauteed them in a non-stick skillet with minimal oil. An addition of tomato paste during the sautee helped create a brilliant crust on the eggplant as the paste created a caramel-y sear.
Trying to be true to our “healthy cooking” identity, I significantly reduced the amount of butter and cheese in the polenta itself. To me, and to Dustin – who happily gobbled it up by the bowlful, the fat was not missed, in fact, I suspect that the nearly double dose of Feta would overpower some of the sweetness that I loved so much about the corn mash. I blended the corn in my food processor, which, with its long flat blade and smooth spinning motion, were perfect for the job. If you don’t have a processor, a food mill or stick blender will work well. Just let the mixture cool slightly before processing with these tools (especially the stick blender) to keep the mixture from hopping out of the pan (or mill) and singeing your skin. I would caution against a high power blender, like a vitamix, for this endeavor. The high velocity vortex that these contraptions create may make the corn simultaneously too aerated, and even gummy.
Sweet Corn Polenta with Eggplant (Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty)
1 Medium Eggplant Cut Into 1/2-Inch Dice
1-2 TBSP Olive Oil
2 TBSP Tomato Paste**
1/4 C. White Wine (Dry – I Used a Cheap Dry Chardonnay)
1 C. Chopped Fresh Tomatoes*** (You Can Use Canned If Fresh Aren’t Available)
1/2 C. Water
1/4 TSP Salt
1/4 TSP Sugar
1 TBSP Chopped Fresh Oregano
6 Ears Sweet Summer Corn
2 1/4 C. Water
2 TBSP Butter
3 Oz. Crumbled Feta (I Used a Strong Brined Feta)
1/4 C. Sour Cream
1/4 TSP Salt
Freshly Cracked Pepper to Taste
Notes: **Trader Joes sells tomato paste in lovely little tubes, like the ones that you buy anchovy paste in, that you can keep in the fridge to use as needed, no more opening cans each time you need paste for a recipe and wondering what to do with the leftovers.
*** The original recipe called for skinning the tomatoes, my tomatoes were nice thin skinned heirlooms (Brandywines, I believe) I didn’t bother with the peeling and the sauce was delicious. If you have something against tomato skins or are just particularly sensitive to their presence, cut an x in the bottom of the tomato and drop it into coiling water, as soon as the skins start to loosen at the bottom, drop it into a prepared ice bath. Proceed to peel and chop as normal (careful, peeled tomatoes are particularly wily and try to flop off of the cutting board and flee.)
To start off, place the eggplants on a paper towel lined (microwave safe) plate in a single layer. Place another sheet of towels on top of the eggplant cubes and a plate on top of that and microwave for 3 minutes. Repeat in batches until all of the eggplant has been steamed in this fashion.
Heat oil in a large nonstick saute pan (I used a 12 inch scanpan with nonstick coating) add eggplant and sear, stirring often for 4-5 minutes. Add the tomato paste and continue to cook until the tomato paste starts to form a crust on the eggplant. Stir often to prevent sticking. Add the wine and allow it to cook off before adding the remaining ingredients. Sautee for another 4-5 minutes and then remove from the heat and set aside until needed.
Place the corn in a large pot and fill with water until covered by about 1 inch. Add a pinch or two of salt and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and cook for about 4 minutes. Drain the corn in a colander set inside of a large bowl. Place the drained corn in a food processor along with about a cup of the reserved cooking liquid and puree. The mixture should still look a bit coarse and gritty but with no visible whole kernels remaining. Return it to the pot along with another cup or so of cooking liquid, it should look like a potato soup consistency, we want to reduce this now, over medium low heat, until it looks more like mashed potatoes.
Once you reach a consistency you like, remove it from the heat and add the feta, butter, and sour cream. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper as needed.
Serve topped with a mound of the eggplant in the center (see photos above) and enjoy!
Its crazy to think that I have been wearing contacts for over 15 years. I received my first pair as a precocious 10 year old who had just lost yet another pair of glasses. My mom, at her wits end with my quirky penchant for misplacing everything from books, to lenses, to shoes, gloves, hats, and occasionally my entire backpack, was sincerely hoping this would be the last time she would bring me to the eye doctors for a replacement pair. My ophthalmologist proposed the idea of contacts, they would be far more difficult to misplace, and since a single pair would be far less expensive than a set of frames, in the event that I did misplace a lens, it wouldn’t be quite as damaging.
And so, for as long as I can remember, I have worn contacts. I cannot recall life without them, how my morning routine may have differed, how my activities were altered. For as long as I have been cooking I have been wearing my little Acuvue 2 friends. And until recently I had never prepped an onion without my lenses in. That is, until this morning, when, while prepping mirepoix for chicken soup in my brand new glasses, I sliced into an onion and felt a sensation I had never before felt. My eyes were on FIRE! I now know how the rest of the general population fees when slicing and dicing onions, and, for once, I feel blessed to be optically challenged.
These flatbreads, which I discovered on a blog post by one of my new favorite blog writers, Sarah, at the Yellow House blog, don’t employ just any old variety of onion. These beautiful little hors d’ouvres showcase one of my all time favorite varieties of onion, the Cipollini. Like many of my ancestors, Cipollinis hail from Italy. The name Cipollini, means small onion in Italian. And what these little beauties lack in size they make up for in flavor. Like Vadalia onions, Cipollini onions are a sweet variety of onion. They have far more residual sugar, when cooked, than their traditional counterparts. The variety can range in color from white to yellow to red, and can be found at many grocery stores, including Whole Foods, where I found these little beauties, on sale, lucky me.
This dish really highlights the beautiful soft flavors of the Cippolini. Though the onion is the proud “hero” of this dish, the earthy whole wheat flat breads play an important supporting role. It forms not only the literal base of the adorable appetizer, and lends it its name, but serves as a fantastic textural and flavor counterpoint to the silky sweet onion. The goat cheese is the glue that holds it all together, again, literally, in that it helps the onion “stick” to the flat bread and not slide off, but also brings a tangy, and classy element to the party. And, speaking of parties, these would make a fantastic contribution to your next shindig. They may even be the belle of the ball. So go on and try them! Just remember to wear your contacts, or goggles.
Cipollini Onion and Rosemary Flatbreads from a post by Sarah of “The Yellow House” blog
8-10 Cipollini Onions, Bottoms Still Intact, Peeled
2 TBSP Olive Oil
Several Sprigs Rosemary
1 1/2 C. 50/50 Flour (50% White, 50% Whole Wheat)
2 TBSP Olive Oil
1 TSP Baking Powder
1/2 TSP Sea Salt
1/2 C. Warm Water
More Rosemary to Garnish
Combine the flour, baking powder and salt for the flatbreads while you preheat the oven to 400 degrees Farenheit. Add the olive oil, stirring gently. Add as much of the water as necessary until the dough comes together into a sticky ball. Once the dough is formed, let it rest while you move on to the onions.
Peel the onions (with contacts in if applicable), and toss in olive oil, roughly chopped rosemary and sea salt. Place onions in roasting pan and roast for 30-40 minutes, turning every 10 minutes until caramelized and tender.
While the onions are roasting, heat a cast iron skillet with 1 tablespoon of oil (grapeseed or vegetable) over high heat. Divide the dough ball into 8 pieces, roll each into a ball and flatten into very thin rounds on a wooden cutting board. Add the rounds to the hot skillet, 4 at a time, and flip when they begin to blister and are lightly browned on one side. The second side will cook more quickly, so keep an eye on them.
When everything is ready, spread the chèvre onto the flatbreads, top with an onion, smooshed down. Sprinkle with chopped rosemary and serve!
At times, its hard to find inspiration for a new post. Or really to get excited about cooking anything at all. Writers block seems to strike at the oddest and most inconvenient of times and I find this only compounded during the winter. Its ironic, really, that during the season when we have the most time and desire to stay in the house, the availability of fresh crops is at its lowest point. During the summer months I tend to find my culinary muse in markets, the desire to write about a dish often stems from my interaction with its grower – from seeing tomatoes piled high in barrels, or melons, still covered in dirt, sitting in an old wheel barrel. We are so fortunate that during the spring, summer, and early fall, there is a weekly farmers market held on our block, local farmers bring their just picked crops,and locals make their way down to mingle, and seek out the week’s best wares.
Buying veggies from a supermarket, however nice that market may be, just isn’t the same. So much of the personal nature of the food buying experience, which, for me, really drives a connection to quality, sustainable wares, is lost. No wonder we Americans eat so much mass produced product, its hard to get excited about local, sustainable agriculture and humanely produced meats and dairy when shopping in a florescent lit, big-chain market. And, unfortunately, many of the smaller local stores in Nashville, can’t pull in enough volume to drive the turnover rates needed to keep local veggies at peak freshness. Alas, during the winter months, I find I need to dig for inspiration elsewhere.
A lot of times, when the season deals a blank hand, and am suffering from a lack of inspiration, I turn to my much neglected pantry for ideas. Surveying my shelves and jars for items calling out to be used, I noticed that an overwhelming wealth of grains had taken over my closet and sought out a recipe. I started searching the blog-osphere for recipes and came across a site I had never seen before called “The Yellow House.” Their stories and photos are incredible, and, for me it was an immediate source of the inspiration I so sorely craved. My eye caught on a recipe for “Greens and Grains with Browned Yogurt Topping.” The authors intro, with beautiful pictures, and a compelling story on recycling leftovers won my heat and I was sold on giving this odd sounding dish a try.
And, boy, am I sure glad I took the leap. This dish is certainly one of my new winter favorites. The combination of grains and creamy topping is at once homey and comforting – almost reminiscent of a holiday casserole – and at the same time it is a reassuringly healthy one pot meal. As I started to combine the ingredients, I noticed a lot of similarities between this dish and an old Greek Diner Staple, Moussaka. Moussaka is an eggplant and ground meat based dish, with a creamy and decadent bechamel topping and spiced tomato sauce. I have always likened it to a Greek sort of lasagna, minus, of course, the noodles. This wholesome dish embodies the same textural and flavor couplings as moussaka by contrasting the taste of a creamy topping against spiced filling and the sensation of smooth sauce and toothsome grains. Musing on Moussaka, I was inspired to put my own twist on the author’s recipe by incorporating Middle Eastern spices, such as hot smoked paprika, lemon, aleppo pepper, and sumac into the dish.
I purchased ground Sumac, which I use in this recipe, from Whole Foods, but it can likely be found at many middle eastern markets as well. The spice has a distinctive citrusy flavor and a beautiful burgundy color. While, from a flavor perspective, there is no real substitute, the sumac is not integral to the success of the dish and may be omitted if not available. The sumac used for culinary purposes comes from a variety of non-poisonous sumac that grows wild in the middle east. Aleppo pepper can be purchased at many culinary stores and gourmet food shops, I have seen it both at Williams Sonoma and Whole Foods, but if neither of these are located near to you it is also available for purchase online through Penzy’s Spices. Aleppo is a ground pepper flake made from a moderately hot Turkish pepper. It is far more flavorful than it is spicy, if none is available Ancho Chili Powder makes a fine substitute.
Greens and Grains Gratin Adapted from a recipe by The Yellow House
1 Large Bunch of Winter Greens (Swiss Chard, Kale, or Mustard Greens work best), Stems Separated from Leaves, Washed
2 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
2 Shallots, Minced
1/2 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
3 Cups Cooked Grains (I used a mixture of Quinoa, Wheat Berries, and Farro)
Juice of 1/2 a Lemon, Plus 1 TSP Finely Grated Lemon Zest
1/2 TSP Hot Smoked Paprika
1/2 TSP Aleppo Pepper Flakes
1 Cup Greek Style Yogurt (I used a 2% variety)
Ground Sumac for Sprinkling on Top
Preheat the oven to 350 degreese
To prep the greens, take the washed stems and chop into 1/2 inch pieces. Stack the leaves of the greens on top of one another. Orient the leaves so that the long side faces you and roll into a long, tight bundle. Cut the bundle into 1/2 inch segments. You should be left with long ribbons. Keep these separate from the stems as they will be incorporated at different times during the cooking process.
Heat a large cast iron skillet (see note above for alternatives*) over medium high heat. Once the pan is hot add about 2 TBSP of olive oil until shimmering. Add shallots and garlic and saute until fragrant, if they start to really brown turn down the heat so that they become soft and translucent. Add the grain stems, paprika, and a pinch of salt. Saute, stirring occasionally until the stems are slightly softened- 2-3 mins. Add the leaves to the pan along with the Aleppo Pepper and sautee until the greens are just tender. Remove from the heat and place in a large bowl along with the grains.
Toss the grain and greens mixture with your hands. Add lemon juice and 1/2 of the Parmesan and mix well. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Mix in one of the eggs until well incorporated and spread into the bottom of the cast iron skillet (if the skillet is not well seasoned, oil it before adding the grains.)
In a medium sized bowl mix eggs with yogurt and remaining Parmesan. Spread on top of the grain and smooth out the top. Sprinkle a light covering of sumac on top.
Bake in the oven for approximately 30 minutes, or until the topping is set and slightly browned. Serve along side a light salad and enjoy this homey and healthy winter feast. The dish keeps well wrapped in saran wrap for 3 or so days.
I have always had a soft spot for layered dishes, its beautiful when the many elements of a dish can build on one another harmoniously. Traditional french desserts often employ a layering technique to entice the diner with perfectly executed layers of decadent fillings, providing not only flavor, but textural contrast to each bite. Rustic savory tarts and lasagnas are even better in my mind, the home-made element of this layering creates slight anomalies in the spread of ingredients and makes each bite slightly unique. Allowing the diner to experience different combinations and quantities of flavors in unison, and to quest for their perfect bite.
This sweet potato tart, inspired by a recipe found in Yatam Ottolenghi’s first cookbook titled “Ottolenghi” fits squarely into that quirky, imperfect category that I so love. There really are just so many things to love about this dish. The hominess of sweet potatoes contrasts beautifully with the refined puff pastry. I use store bought pastry from Trader Joes which is really almost as good as store bought pastry gets, it is only a hair less superb than the ultra supreme DuFour Pastry which Whole Foods carries, but costs only a third of the price. I stock up on TJ’s puff pastry so that I have it on hand when I need to pull off something impressive looking for a party in a hurry.
Now, if I am being perfectly honest, I don’t think that I could call this dish “healthy” but as far as fancy looking party appetizers are concerned, they aren’t all that bad either. The sweet potatoes themselves are actually quite good for you, they are great sources of beta carotene, vitamin A, vitamin C, and a number of B vitamins. Pumpkin seeds, often called pepitas, are also on the healthy side of the fence in this dish. The small seeds, which typically come from a pumpkin or other small gourd, are great sources of manganese, magnesium, and iron. Not too shabby for a decadently delicious appetizer.
Sweet Potato Tartelettes – Inspired by Yatam Ottolenghi
2 Nicely Proportioned Sweet Potatoes – See Note Below
1 Sheet of Frozen Puff Pastry (Or Homemade, If You Really Want to Make the Rest of Us Look Bad)
1 Egg Slightly Beaten
2 TBSP Sour Cream
1/2 A Jalapeno Pepper, Minced
2 TBSP Pumpkin Seeds
A Small Piece of Hard Goats’ or Sheeps’ Milk Cheese Such as Manchego for Grating
2-3 TBSP Chopped Cilantro
3 TBSP Olive Oil
1 TSP Freshly Squeezed Lime Juice
Salt and Freshly Cracked Pepper
For this recipe you want to select two fairly evenly shaped sweet potatoes, about 2 inches wide by 5 inches long. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. While the oven heats scrub each potato under water with a potato scrubber. Lay the potatoes flat on a cutting board. Puncture each on the side that rests facing up several times with a knife. Place in a baking dish and roast in the oven until quite soft and sweet smelling, about an hour.Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pan on a rack.
If using frozen pastry dough (highly recommended) remove the dough from the freezer and lay a single sheet out on a cutting board. Cut your pastry dough into 2 inch by 4 inch rectangles. Whisk an egg with a little bit of water and brush lightly on pastry. Allow it to dry for 2 minutes before spreading a light layer of sour cream onto each pastry, keeping a centimeter or so rim clean around the edges.
Place a few slices of sweet potato on each slice. Top with a slight sprinkling of chopped chilis, followed by a pinch or two of salt and a few grinds of pepper. On top of this layer the pumpkin seeds and a fine grating of cheese.
Bake in the oven until golden, about 20 minutes.
While the tarts bake mix together the garlic, cilantro, oil, and lime juice in a bowl, add a small pinch of salt and pepper and set aside.
Check to make sure the bottoms are cooked and crisp, not clear and soggy. Allow to cool on the pan for a few minutes before drizzling some of dressing mixture (there should be a light drizzle, be careful not to drench them.) These can be served hot or cooled slightly to just above room temp.
Its funny the way that life sometimes starts to drop hints at a specific person, place, or thing. Frequently, for me, these hints point me towards a specific recipe, restaurant, or market. Lately, all signs have been pointing towards fish chowder. Let me explain, I’m currently fully engrossed in a new book I picked up at the library this past week. So much so in fact, that I completely neglected to post several recipes I whipped up in the last seven days, but fear not, we will get all those good dishes in due time. Back to the book, the novel, by E. Annie Proulx, is called “The Shipping News.” Her writing, the pace of the plot, diction, syncopation of words, all build to create an amazing, enrapturing story. The story follows the journey of a young single father, Quoyle, as he travels with his long lost Aunt back to her homeland in Newfoundland.
The images of the desolate fishing towns that run up and down the coast of Newfoundland are described in such vivid detail you can really picture the protagonist and his children as they go about their daily lives and travel across the icy and rocky terrain. While the terrain is bleak, the characters featured are rich and warm. Quoyle’s aunt is a bright and modern woman with traditional roots, who makes a deep impact on the novels plot and assists in bringing up Quoyle’s two small girls. Quoyle, a big man with an insatiable appetite, is frequently found in one of the local eateries tucking into some northern, fist studded dish. From lobster pie, to squid burgers, to fish and chips, seafood makes its way into every menu in every restaurant along the coast, and you can sure bet that fish chowder is a frequently featured entree.
As it so happens, I already have my own memories of the Eastern Canadian Coastline, and, consequently of chowder as well. When I was 12 I had the luxury of being able to attend an amazing summer camp in Nova Scotia. The camp was based on an island situated in the bay of Fundy that runs between the mainland shores to the west and Canadian peninsula to the east. Our daily activities revolved around whale watching. We departed shore each morning on a gleaming 40 foot schooner to assist marine biologists in tracking pods of whales as they moved through the bay’s chilly summer waters.
The trip was amazing, a truly once in a life time opportunity, and I enjoyed every minute I had to sit along the railings that circled the boat from bow to stern and watch the waves and the whales as they rolled by. Our vessel’s captain reminded me of Santa Clause, old and jovial, a slightly rounded belly and a sense for goodness. But instead of present’s the old captain promised a steaming bowl of the best ever summer corn chowder I have ever tasted. And to this day I have fond memories of that soup, the creamy flavors and textures of homey and hearty cool weather chowders always seems to calm my nerves and warm me up from the inside out.
This last weekend, overwhelmed by a sudden urge to cook up a crock of my own chowder I searched the pages of my (too many) cookbooks for the perfect recipe. And low and behold I found just the one. This smokey, light, and potato studded soup is just what the doctor ordered, and perfect for the early fall. The recipe comes from a cookbook (a side note to all of you cookbook junkies out there – this book is a real snag it provides great advice on cooking seafood in a way which is simultaneously delicious and eco friendly) by Barton Seaver titled “For Cod and Country.”
The original recipe called for smoked mussels, but I adapted it to use some of the smoked salmon I get from Costco that is super spectacular. The fish is a world apart from the typical thinly sliced and slightly oily smoked salmon found at most grocery stores, it comes in fillet style slabs, skin still on, and is light and flaky – it just falls apart in a fantastic way in this chowder (kind of reminds me of the texture of crab in a crab bisque.) The broth itself provides is a lighter, gentler base to this soup and really lets the flavors of the fennel and celery shine through. But perhaps the best part of the entire dish is the way the potatoes, softened and slightly crushed, thicken the otherwise light and brothy chowder. Ad the end result is oh so good, I highly recommend giving it a go! And if you do, give me a holler, and share you thoughts. Bon Appetit.
Smoked Salmon Chowder with Potatoes and Fennel
2 TBSP Butter
4 Large Russet Potatoes, Skin On, Cut into 1 Inch Cubes
1 Large Onion Diced
2 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
3 Sprigs Thyme, Picked and Minced
1 Head of Fennel Cut into Small Dice (Roughly the Size of Your Chopped Onion, Perhaps a Hair Larger)
4 Stalks Celery Cut into Small Dice, Same Size as Fennel
1 TSP Fennel Seed, Ground
4 Cups Water
4 Ounces Smoked Salmon, Flaked into Bite Sized Pieces (Use Fillet Style Smoked Salmon if Available)
2 Cups Half and Half
Place potatoes in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil and cook for about 10 minutes, drain and set aside until needed.
While the potatoes cook, heat a large soup pot over medium high heat, add butter and allow to melt. Add onions, garlic and thyme and sautee for about 5 minutes, or until onions begin to soften, add fennel, celery, ground fennel, and a hefty pinch of salt and pepper and allow to sweat, stirring occasionally, for another 5 minutes.
Add water, potatoes, and smoked salmon and bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook about 20 minutes, or until potatoes are tender. Using a potato masher, gently mash some of the potatoes against the bottom and sides of the pot, this will help thicken the soup. Remove the pan from the heat and add half and half. Allow to sit for 20 minutes for the flavors to meld. Serve warm with slices of buttered crusty bread and enjoy the memories.