Saturday, May 22, 2010

Rhubarb Season

Rhubarb season is here, and this year I greeted it with a new recipe from 101 Cookbooks. Heidi Swanson's Strawberry Rhubarb Crumble isn't revolutionary, nor is it exciting. But man, is it good.

A big fan of multigrain flours, Swanson calls for spelt flour in this recipe, which, according to a new book I've been leafing through called Good to the Grain, is a good introduction to whole grain flours, since it is easy to bake with, and gives satisfying results. Spelt has a slightly tart aroma, and is also distinctly sweet--making it a great match for the classic sweet-tart combination of strawberries and rhubarb.

The crumble topping also includes oats, lightly toasted pine nuts, natural cane sugar, butter, sea salt, and freshly ground black pepper. You can add a splash of port wine to the fruit, if you have it, but I didn't, and it didn't seem to make this any less tasty. In fact, we ate the crumble at a picnic, along with a Sangiovese wine, and I will say it was one of the most enjoyable dessert experiences I have had in awhile. Watching the sailboats on the Hudson, sipping a delicious red wine, listening to our baby coo on the blanket alongside us, eating a strawberry rhubarb crumble: not a bad way to spend a Saturday afternoon.--S

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Springtime Lessons

Nothing against a big, hearty bolognese, but sometimes you want something a little lighter for dinner. And nothing against salads, but there are times when torn bits of lettuce just feel a tad boring.

Enter the delicious meal known as the "composed" salad. (It sounds much more elegant in French: salade composee--non?) Anyway, it's a collection of vegetables, starches, and proteins, all cooked in the simplest manner possible and then dressed in a vinaigrette. This version, from Martha Stewart's Cooking School and titled "Poached Chicken Breast and Spring Vegetable Salad," consisted of poached chicken, boiled baby new potatoes, steamed asparagus, and poached leeks--all dressed with either a lemon vinaigrette, or a buttermilk vinaigrette. Martha also likes marinated artichokes with this, and while I'm sure homemade ones are great, I went with jarred for convenience.

Making this "salad" was an education for me. The most important lesson I learned was how to poach chicken. Until now, I'd always just boiled it in water for 20 minutes. But now I know that adding a carrot, stalk of celery, peppercorns, parsley, thyme, a bay leaf, and some salt makes the chicken so much more flavorful (and leaves you with a delicious stock for future use). I found the recipe online here.

I also picked up some other tips:
  • cook baby new potatoes at a gentle simmer, not a fast boil

  • buttermilk makes a great dressing for chicken or vegetables when whisked with olive oil, white wine vinegar, salt, pepper, and herbs

  • poaching leeks brings out their sweetness; tossing a few thyme sprigs into the pot imparts a mild savoriness

There are millions of ways to vary this salad, and I'm thinking I'll explore some of them this summer.--S

Monday, May 10, 2010

The Ragu That Got Me Talking

This whole parenting + full-time job + getting back to running, friends, and life is... well, suffice it to say, I haven't figured out how to also keep up with this blog. It isn't that I haven't been in the kitchen: lately I've made some delicious blondies, awesome cupcakes, tasty zucchini pancakes, and a perfect roast chicken (if I do say so myself). It's just that I've been lazy about telling people about them.

But I'm ready to break the silence. What did it? A bolognese sauce with homemade pappardelle. Wide, chewy, eggy noodles tangled onto a plate with a rich, meaty sauce that's just the slightest bit sweet... this, I had to share. I grew up making my mom's marinara sauce, a champion workhorse in its own right. But I'd never made bolognese. I always thought it was too complicated for me. The truth is, it isn't really complicated at all. So long as you can stay home for at least four hours--which isn't so hard when you have a three-month-old baby to cuddle--it's quite simple.
You start by sauteeing some cubed pancetta, and then adding diced carrots, celery and onion. Next, you stir in ground pork and veal. Once the meats are cooked, in go tomato paste, a cup of white wine, milk, thyme, pureed tomatoes, a bay leaf, and chicken stock. Then, for the next three and a half hours, you basically let the sauce slowly simmer down to a thick and chunky consistency, like "loose chili," as the recipe says. I let the sauce cool completely and then froze it for about six days, until we ate it last night.

I'm sure the bolognese would've been great with fresh pasta from any one of our local purveyors, but since I was just bumming around on Sunday afternoon, I decided to make homemade pappardelle from Lidia's Italy. I had all the ingredients, and Lidia's pastas are usually superb. This one was no exception. Sure, the noodles were a little raggedy because I didn't make each ribbon a perfect rectangle. But I like to think their homemade look was more authentic than anything you could buy in a store.
Homemade pasta with bolognese sauce: I can't think of a better reason to get back in touch.--S
Bolognese Sauce
Makes 8 cups
For soffritto
2 T unsalted butter
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
3 oz pancetta, cut into 1/4" pieces
2/3 c minced yellow onion
2/3 c minced carrot
2/3 c minced celery
For sauce
1 lb ground veal
1 lb ground pork
3 T plus 1 t tomato paste
1 c dry white wine
1 1/4 c whole milk (I used a combination of 1% and half & half)
6-7 c chicken stock
1 can (28 oz) whole peeled tomatoes, pureed (w/juice) in blender
1 dried bay leaf
5 sprigs thyme
Coarse salt and freshly ground pepper
1. Cook soffritto: Heat butter and oil in large pot over medium-high heat until butter starts to sizzle, then reduce heat to medium. Add pancetta, and cook until golden and fat has rendered, about 2 1/2 minutes. Add onion, carrot, and celery and cook, stirring often, until just beginning to brown around edges, about 10 minutes (adjust heat if mixture is browning too quickly).
2. Brown meat: Add veal and pork and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently and separating meat with the back of a wooden spoon, until no longer pink, 8 to 10 minutes. once meat is completely browned, pour off any excess fat. Add tomato paste and cook 1 minute, stirring to intensify sweetness.
3. Deglaze pot and add liquids: Pour in wine and cook, stirring to scrape up browned bits from bottom of pot, until liquid has evaporated, 6 to 7 minutes. Add 1 cup milk and cook until reduced by half, about 3 minutes (don't worry if it appears slightly curdled, it will smooth out again). Add thyme bundle, then pour in 6 cups stock. Add tomatoes and bay leaf, and season with 1 1/2 t salt and 1/4 t pepper.
4. Simmer the sauce: Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a very low simmer and cook, partially covered, 3 to 3 1/2 hours, skimming the fat from the surface with a ladle periodically. If at any time the sauce appears too dry, add up to 1 cup more stock as necessary. The finished sauce should have the consistency of a loose chili. Stir in remaining 1/4 c milk and season with salt and pepper, as desired. If not serving immediately, let cool completely before transferring to airtight containers. Refrigerate up to 3 days or freeze up to 3 months; defrost in the refrigerator before using.
Recipe courtesy of Martha Stewart's Cooking School
Fresh Pasta for Pappardelle
Makes 1 pound
2 c all-purpose flour
1 large egg
2 egg yolks
4 T extra-virgin olive oil
Ice water as needed
1. Put the flour in the bowl of the food processor and process for a few seconds to aerate. Mix the egg, egg yolks, and olive oil in a measuring cup or other spouted container.
2. With the machine running, pour the liquids quickly through the feed tube on top of the flour. After 20 seconds, most of the dough should clump up on the blade. Process for another 15 seconds or so--no more than 40 seconds total. (If the dough does not gather on the blade and process easily, it is too wet or too dry. Feel the dough, then work in either more flour or some ice water, in small amounts, using the machine or kneading by hand.)
3. Turn the dough out on a lightly floured surface and knead it by hand for a minute, until it's smooth, soft, and stretchy. Press it into a disk, wrap well in plastic wrap, and let it rest at room temperature for 1/2 hour.
4. To roll out the dough in a pasta machine, cut the pound of dough into four equal pieces. Work with one at a time, keeping the others covered. Run the first piece of dough through the rollers at the widest setting several times, to develop strength and smoothness. Repeat with all the pieces. Reset the machine to a narrower setting, and run the first piece through, extending it into a rectangular strip. Let the rollers move the dough, and catch it in your hand as it comes out. Roll it again, to stretch and widen it. Lightly flour and cover the strip, then stretch the other pieces.
5. Roll and stretch all the pieces at progressively narrower settings, until they spread as wide as the rollers (usually about 5") and stretch to 20" or longer. Cut the four long pasta strips in half crosswise, giving you eight sheets, each about a foot long and 5" wide. Lay these flat on the trays in layers, lightly floured, separated, and covered by towels.
6. Lay out a rolled sheet on the floured board; dust the top with flour. Starting at one of the short ends, fold the sheet over on itself in thirds or quarters, creating a small rectangle with three or four layers of pasta.
7. With a sharp knife, cut cleanly through the folded dough crosswise, into 2"-wide strips. Separate and unfold the strips, shaking them into long needles. Sprinkle them liberally with flour so they don't stick together. Fold, cut, and unfurl all the rolled psata sheets this way and spread them out on a floured tray. Leave them uncovered, to air-dry at room temperature, until ready to cook.
8. Cook in salted boiling water 2-3 minutes.
Recipe courtesy of Lidia's Italy