When you don’t get out to eat very often, there is nothing worse than experiencing buyers’ remorse at the dinner table. Ordering becomes a big deal. A few Saturday nights ago, Ben and I found ourselves seated at the bar at Bistro Bethem, drinks ordered, food yet to be determined. It was our first meal out in a long time — with the exception, of course, of the many lunches at 2Amy’s, our favorite post-zoo spot for wolfing down as much delicious food as possible before the two children bobbing on our laps explode — and we thought it wise to take our time. A few bad choices might ruin the evening. The pressure was on.
After placing our order for the pâté, a tomato salad, and a few wood-oven pizzas, our server delivered a basket of warm focaccia sprinkled with sea salt and a shallow dish filled with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. In an instant, all worries about the food — the evening — dissolved. It’s amazing how far a little fresh bread goes to win my belly and heart over.
But the rest of the food proved to be as wonderful as that bread basket, and one dish in particular had us taken: pickled okra. Read More
Last summer the eggplant chapter of Chez Panisse Vegetables treated me kindly, introducing me to a favorite pasta recipe as well as a most-delicious gratin with tomatoes and onions. And with this eggplant “caviar,” a mash-up of roasted eggplant, fresh parsley, and macerated shallots and garlic, the chapter just seems to keep on giving.
In each of these recipes, eggplant is roasted (as opposed to fried), which requires minimal oil, allowing the eggplant’s sweet flavor to really shine. And after a gentle mashing with a fork, the eggplant’s flesh becomes creamy, a perfect consistency to whip into a spread to spoon over grilled bread. Here, shallots and garlic that have soaked in vinegar add both sweetness and bite without taking over, but I imagine eggplant can hold its own in the presence of even stronger flavors — anchovies, olives, and roasted peppers come to mind.
With eggplant season peaking, now is the time to experiment. And for you eggplant lovers in particular — I know eggplant can be polarizing — get roasting. Read More
I couldn’t make a decision. And my attempts to organize my thoughts — adhering cute page flags to particularly tempting recipes — proved futile. In the midst of this frenzied state of drooling and tabbing, drooling and tabbing, my mother arrived at my doorstep with a bucket of feta (that’s normal, right?), a branch of oregano, and a dozen figs. And at once, my vision for our dinner became clear.
As my mother unloaded her basket of goodies into my pantry and fridge, I waved pages of The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook in front of her. Over every image we ooheh and ahhed; over every title we yummed and mmmmed. My mother soon understood my predicament: everything — from the roasted wild cod with meyer lemon and caper relish to the roasted tomato soup with cheesy toasts to the mushroom and brown rice veggie burgers — looked and sounded incredibly enticing.
But thanks to the ingredients my mother had just delivered, the decision was easy: dinner would be mediterranean baked feta with olives and roasted plum tartines with ricotta, substituting figs for the plums and my mother’s peasant bread for the wheat baguette — I never pass on my mother’s peasant bread. And having just read that Sara, the book’s author, encourages readers to “use the recipes as a starting point and to omit or add ingredients according to preferences,” I felt OK making a few changes. Figs seemed a suitable stand-in for plums, and Sara in fact recommends pears or persimmons in the fall. Yum.
We soon set to work mixing dough, slicing onions, halving tomatoes, making ricotta, mincing garlic and chopping parsley. And before we knew it, we had the makings of a beautiful spread, as colorful as Hugh’s (Sara’s husband) photos, as promising as Sara’s recipes.
The book, while not a small-plate cookbook, offers lots of wonderful ideas in this category. As I flipped through the pages, the recurring thought was: This would be fun for a party. And it makes sense as one of Sara’s goals for the book is to “share recipes that are simple enough to make after work but interesting enough to serve at a dinner party.” She certainly has achieved this. We have now eaten the baked feta with a hunk of bread twice this week for dinner — it is so good — and I have never been so eager to invite some friends over for dinner to show them my new tricks. The fig tartines, which disappeared in record time, lit up the table.
Beautifully photographed, thoughtfully written, the book is sure to inspire whoever comes across it. The Sprouted Kitchen cookbook is now available for purchase.
Note: I’ve supplied the recipe here just as it is written in the book so that you can take a look and make your own adjustments accordingly. As I noted above, I used figs in place of the plums, but roasted them exactly the same — with honey and salt for about 20 minutes. Also, I made homemade ricotta, which is so easy and delicious, and omitted the parmesan and chopped chives (was feeling a little lazy). Finally, I used fresh basil in place of the microgreens.
6 ripe plums
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
2 tablespoons honey, warmed
1 1/3 cups ricotta cheese
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
3 tablespoons chopped chives
1 whole grain baguette
1 cup microgreens for garnish
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
2. Cut the plums into quarters (if using figs, cut them in half) and remove the pits. Gently toss the plum pieces with a pinch of salt and the warm honey. Spread them on the prepared baking sheet, cut side up. Bake until the edges are crisped and caramelized, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.
3. While the plums are baking, in a bowl, stir together the ricotta, Parmesan, chives, 1/4 teaspoon salt, and a few grinds of pepper.
4. Turn the oven up to 500ºF. Slice the baguette in half lengthwise. Place the halves, cut side up, on a baking sheet and bake the bread just until toasty, 4 to 5 minutes. Spread the ricotta mixture evenly on both halves and return to the oven just until warmed through, another 1 to 2 minutes. Evenly distribute the roasted plums on top of the cheese. Finish with a few grinds of pepper and garnish with the greens. Cut each baguette half into slices on the diagonal. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Note: Once you make this once, you’ll never need a recipe again. The quantity of the olive salad is dependent on how much feta you choose to warm up. I baked my block (as opposed to grilled) and served it with warm bread. Heaven.
1 (8- to 10-ounce) block of feta
1 cup assorted baby tomatoes, halved
1/3 cup Kalmata olives, pitted (I didn’t…lazy) and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons finely-chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
Crackers, pita chips, or crostini, for dipping
1. Heat your grill to medium-high or preheat the oven to 400ºF. Set the block of feta in the middle of a piece of foil for grilling or in a small ovenproof baking dish twice the size of your block of cheese for baking.
2. In a bowl, mix the tomatoes, olives, onion, garlic, parsley, oregano, olive oil and a few grinds of pepper.
3. Pile the tomato mixture on top of the feta. For grilling, fold up the edges of the foil so that it will hold in any liquid as it cooks; put it straight on a grill; heat for 15 minutes to warm it through. For baking, put the baking dish in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. It will not melt, just get warm and soften.
4. Remove from the grill or oven and serve the dip hot with the crackers, pita chips, or crostini.
Note: This almond butter is SO good. If I wasn’t afraid that I might burn out my Cuisinart’s motor, I would start making this for gifts immediately. I used maple syrup in place of the honey because I am obsessed with this particular Justin’s Nut Butter, but now that I know how to make it, there’s no going back.
2 cups raw almonds
1 teaspoon oil, such as almond, unrefined peanut or extra-virgin coconut (I used coconut and more than a teaspoon)
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon (I omitted)
2 tablespoons honey or maple syrup
1. Place the almonds in a food processor or Vitamix and process for about 1 minute. Add the oil, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and the cinnamon. Continue to process for another 8 to 10 minutes, scraping down the sides of the food processor or Vitamix as needed. You will see a change in consistency from crumbs, to big clumps, to a large ball. Finally, as the oil is released from the almonds, the mixture will smooth itself out. If you want it even smoother, add a bit more oil.
2. When it is as smooth as you’d like it, stir in the honey or maple syrup. Add more salt to taste and transfer to a glass jar. It will keep covered in the fridge for up to 6 weeks. (I kept mine at room temperature. It disappeared in three days.)
My only goal for my week in Virginia Beach was to eat a good crabcake. Thanks to Dockside, I did. Broiled, lightly seasoned, meaty, the Dockside crabcake embodies everything I hope for in a crabcake.
Finding myself dreaming about this delicacy upon returning home, I called Dockside to find out the details, which they so graciously offered: crabmeat, mayonnaise, panko bread crumbs and Old Bay seasoning. They keep it pretty simple, which came as no surprise. Had they told me they used nothing but crabmeat, I wouldn’t have questioned them.
Recreating the Dockside crab cake was surprisingly easy. Because the cakes are broiled — as opposed to pan fried, which (and sorry for stating the obvious) involves flipping — the cakes can (and should) be delicately and loosely formed. In fact, if your cakes are almost falling apart as you’re placing them on your broiling pan, it’s probably a good sign. A nearly falling-apart crab cake will ensure that the mayonnaise and panko (or pulverized Saltines or bread crumbs or whatever you are using) are doing their job as binders but nothing more.
These cakes broiled for five minutes and disappeared in two. They were delicious.
Final note, crabmeat is expensive. Like, pit-in-your-stomach expensive. Like, oh-shit expensive. Like, how-can-I-rationalize-this-purchase expensive. But, it’s worth it. A good crab cake starts with good crab. The rest is simple.
Note: This crab cake recipe is inspired by the crab cakes served at Dockside in Virginia Beach. Dockside uses Old Bay seasoning in their crab cakes, but I could barely taste it and because I’m not a huge fan of it anyway, I just omitted it. If you like Old Bay, go for it, but don’t over do it — the crabmeat is so tasty on its own. Also, I used tarragon mayonnaise (because I had it on hand), which I feared might be overpowering, but which definitely was not. The tarragon adds a lovely flavor. If you don’t feel like making the tarragon mayonnaise, however, some freshly chopped tarragon or other herb — parsley or chives, perhaps — would be a nice addition to the crab cake mix.
1 lb. jumbo lump or backfin crabmeat
1/4 cup mayonnaise, preferably homemade with tarragon
6 tablespoons (1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons) panko bread crumbs
squeeze of lemon (less than half of a lemon, so maybe a teaspoon)
a couple of tablespoons of freshly chopped tarragon, parsley or chives (see note above), optional
melted butter, for brushing
lemon wedges, for serving
tartar sauce (recipe below), for serving, optional
1. Place crabmeat in a large mixing bowl. Being careful not to break up the lumps too much, spread out the crabmeat into a single layer in the bowl. Season lightly with salt. Add the mayonnaise, panko, lemon juice and herb (if using). Gently fold all of the ingredients together using your hands or a spatula. The mixture should barely hold together when formed into a cake.
2. Preheat the broiler. (Rack should be about 4 inches from the heat source.) Lightly grease a sheet pan with butter. (Note: Before doing this, take a look at your broiler and make a visual note about where the burning elements will line up with your pan. For instance, I have two coils in my broiler, so when I greased my sheet pan with butter, I greased only the parts where I was planning on placing the crab cakes, which would eventually line up with the two heating elements in the broiler. Hope that makes sense.) Portion your crab mixture into 8 cakes. I used my 1/4 cup measuring cup as a portioner and used my hands to gently form the cakes. Place cakes on sheet pan and chill in the refrigerator for about 15 minutes.
3. Brush each cake with melter butter. Broil five minutes. Serve with lemon wedges and tartar sauce on the side if desired.
I didn’t measure — sorry! — but you kind of can’t mess this up. Also, this can be made days in advance. It tastes better with each passing day.
1/4 cup mayonnaise, preferably homemade with tarragon
8 cornichons, minced
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 small shallot, minced
pinch kosher salt
1. Place all ingredients in a bowl. Stir. Taste. Adjust accordingly.
Yesterday morning, a little self-intervention led to a most-delicious discovery.
This is what happened. After finding myself once again scouring the internet for Tartine’s croque monsieur recipe, clicking on fruitless links I had clicked on before, and seeing myself heading down an equally defeating path — toward my bookshelf ready to thumb through my Tartine cookbooks to ensure once again I hadn’t made a glaring oversight — I paused. What’s wrong with you? I asked myself. This isn’t rocket science. This is croque monsieur.
And right then and there I stopped wasting time and marched straight into the kitchen, making bechamel the order of the hour. And then I preheated the oven to roast some asparagus and spring onions. And then I cut two thick slices of olive bread, grated some Comté cheese and picked a few thyme leaves. And before I knew it, a bubbling, bechamel-and-roasted vegetable-tartine had emerged from my broiler. And in an instant Tartine didn’t feel 2,847 miles away, and Tartine-style croque monsieur at home, such an impossibility.
While I didn’t even miss the meat on my spring vegetable croque monsieur, I suspect that a few slices of ham would bring my favorite breakfast sandwich even closer to home. Just know that if you can make a bechamel, and if you can get your hands on some good bread, some sort of Gruyère-like cheese, and some fresh thyme, you have the foundation for a daydream-worthy croque monsieur.
Of course, the only possible way this sandwich could be made any more delicious is if it were topped with a poached egg. Yum.
Asparagus and spring onions from our Olin-Fox Farms CSA:
Asparagus & Spring Onion Croque Monsieur
Serves: However many you like
Note: I’ve included a recipe for a bechamel sauce that I really like (it’s from Nancy Silverton’s sandwich book), but by all means, if you have a go-to bechamel recipe, use it. After the bechamel is made, there really isn’t a need for a recipe here. Just pick your favorite spring vegetables and cook them however you like, or if you have access to some good ham or bacon, go the more traditional route and substitute the vegetables with the meat. If you use a bakery-style loaf of bread and come Gruyère or Comté cheese, you’re good to go.
asparagus and/or spring onions, ends trimmed
good bread, cut into thick slices
bechamel sauce (recipe below)
grated gruyère, Comté or Swiss cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Toss the asparagus and spring onions with olive oil and kosher salt on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast the vegetables until tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Test with a knife for doneness.
2. Preheat the broiler. Place the slices of bread on a sheet pan and broil them about a minute on each side. Remove pan from the oven. Spread about a tablespoon of bechamel over each slice of bread. Top with the roasted vegetables. Top with grated cheese to taste.
3. Broil until the cheese is bubbling and starting to brown. Sprinkle with the fresh thyme and serve immediately.
Note: This recipe is adapted from Silverton’s recipe for Mornay sauce in her croque monsieur recipe in her Sandwich Book. To make it a Mornay sauce, as far as I can tell, stir in 1/2 cup finely grated Gruyère and 1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano at the very end.
Also Note: This makes enough bechamel for about 30 croque monsieurs. I haven’t tried having the recipe, but it likely would work just fine. I don’t use bechamel that often, so I’m short on ideas for using up the remaining bechamel. Thoughts? I just plan on eating croque monsieur every day until I’m out of bechamel.
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 medium white or yellow onion (about 4 tablespoons finely chopped)
4 black peppercorns, crushed (I didn’t do this)
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups whole milk
1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion, salt, and cracked peppercorns (if using), and cook about 10 minutes, until the onion is soft but has not begun to color. Remove from the heat and add the flour in two batches, whisking to combine it with the onion and butter. Return the pan to the stove and over low heat, cook a few minutes, until the flour is absorbed, stirring constantly so that it doesn’t brown. Remove from the heat and slowly whisk in the milk. Drop in the bay leaf.
2. Return the pan to the stove, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent the sauce from burning on the bottom of the pan. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until the taste of raw flour is gone and the mixture is thick, smooth and silky. If it’s too thick and becoming difficult to stir, you’ll need to whisk in a little more milk.
3. Using a fine mesh sieve, strain the sauce. (I didn’t strain the sauce — I don’t mind those onion bits, and the bay leaf was easy enough to pull out. Now, if you did the peppercorn thing, you probably want to strain the sauce.)
The trouble with working with fillo dough, for me at least, is that right when I’ve found my rhythm — right when the brushing-spooning-folding-sealing process becomes one fluid motion — the filling runs out. And because making dozens of tiropitas, though simple enough to prepare, calls for a special occasion, the newfound dexterity in my fingertips is almost always lost until I’m wrapping up the next batch of tiropitas called for by the next special occasion.
Alas, the process is always worth undertaking, if for nothing else the security of knowing that at least one dish will make it out as scheduled on Easter Sunday. With my freezer stocked with these cheese-and-egg filled triangles, always a party favorite, I can rest easy knowing my friends will not starve if I’m still wrapping strudels, rolling meatballs and dying eggs. At least for a short while. Yikes. I’m getting a little nervous about hosting, but it will all come together, right? I hope so. Happy Easter everyone.
Ella helps make biscotti, while I assemble tiropitas:
Graham bounces nearby:
Yield = 3 dozen
1/2 lb. feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 lb. cottage cheese, small curd
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 lb. fillo dough*, thawed
1/2 lb. unsalted butter, melted
*Fillo comes in all shapes and sizes these days. The variety I can find, Athens brand, weighs 1 pound and contains two 8-oz bags of 20 sheets each measuring 9 x 14-inches. If your fillo comes in the larger sheets, cut it in half so that it’s roughly 9 x 14-inches. After you cut it, gently roll it up and place it in a ziploc bag.
1. Combine cheeses, eggs and salt in a bowl. Stir until blended.
2. Set up your station: you need a large cutting board, a teaspoon (a measuring teaspoon), a brush, the melted butter, a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, and the fillo dough. If you haven’t already, unwrap the fillo dough and place it in a ziploc back.
3. Lay one sheet of fillo horizontally oriented in front of you on your cutting board. Brush it with butter. Run a knife down the piece of dough every two inches or so — this should yield six to seven strips. (See photo above.)
4. Place one teaspoon of cheese mixture at the end of each strip. Fold over corner to make a triangle. Continue folding from side to side till you get to the end of the strip. (See photos above.) Place on prepared pan. Brush tops with butter. Repeat process until you’ve used up all of your filling.
5. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool briefly before serving.
Note: If you’d like to make these ahead, place assembled (unbaked) tiropitas in the freezer. Either freeze the tiropitas in a single layer and then transfer them to a ziploc bag once they are completely frozen, or be sure to place a piece of parchment paper in between each layer of the tiropitas if you freeze them in a storage container. Bake frozen for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden. I find mine take even longer than 20 minutes before they are golden, but my oven is very old.
It had been a successful week in the kitchen. Lamb meatballs, loaded with mint and parsley, broiled and sprinkled with vinegar, tasted as yummy as ever; olive bread, a two-day labor of love, proved as it always does, a worthwhile effort; and tiropitas (cheese-stuffed fillo triangles), irresistibly delicious, burned my tongue far too many times.
My Easter menu was all but finalized. I was feeling really good. And then I called my mother.
We chatted about meatballs, a wheat berry cake she’s been eyeing, and some other Easter menu ideas, and then she asked: “Are you planning on making a salad?”
“No,” I replied, “I’ve discovered roasted cabbage. It is so delicious and so easy. We have been devouring heads of it in single sittings.”
“Mmm hmm,” my mother responded.
Now, let me explain something. “Mmm hmm,” in my family is code for, “I don’t like what I’m hearing.”
What?! I wanted to scream, but before I could, my mother explained: “Well, you never make cabbage for company. Your whole house will smell of it.”
I did not know this. Did you?
I protested. I insisted there could be no possible way a few roasted cabbage wedges could overpower the smells of olive bread baking and of layers of fillo crisping and of lamb meatballs broiling. I affirmed, cabbage it would be.
“Sounds wonderful,” she replied. We said our goodbyes.
Of course I crossed cabbage off my grocery list upon hanging up the phone. Even if my suspicions are correct — that if the smells of bread and pita and lamb do in fact mask the cabbage — how could I possibly make it? Why add another worry to the list? Why tempt my guests to whisper on their ways home, “Great party, but boy, what was she simmering on that stove? Cat food?” I couldn’t take the risk.
A Greek salad it would be. Oh, mothers. Mother! I love you.
Yield = 23 to 25 small or 12 to 14 large
1 lb. ground lamb*
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon oregano plus more for sprinkling
1 small red onion, finely minced (about 1/3 cup or more to taste)
2 heaping tablespoons mint, chopped
2 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoons olive oil
2 slices of white bread**, crusts removed
2 tablespoons red wine
1 eggs, lightly beaten
red wine vinegar for sprinkling (optional)
* If you can’t find ground lamb, buy a piece of lamb (shoulder is nice) and grind it yourself or have the butcher grind it for you at the market.
** We always use white sandwich bread (not Wonderbread) but you probably could use a bakery-style loaf of white bread, too.
1. Put the ground lamb in a large bowl and spread out to create a thin layer. Season all over with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the onion over the meat. Top with the herbs and the olive oil.
2. Meanwhile, toast the bread so it’s just dried out — not browned. (If you plan ahead, you can leave a few slices of bread out for a few hours. You also could dry out the bread in a 300ºF oven for 10 to 15 minutes.) Crumble bread slices into a separate bowl. Moisten with the wine, then add to the meat bowl. Add the egg to the meat bowl and then gently mix all of the ingredients together being careful not to over mix.
OK, it’s time to test your mixture. Preheat the broiler. Using a tablespoon (a measuring tablespoon), scoop out a level spoonful and roll it into a ball with your hands. If it holds together, you’re good to go. If it doesn’t hold together, toast another slice of bread, crumble it up, soak it in a tablespoon more of wine, and add it to the mixture. When the consistency is such that a ball holds together, place it on a sheetpan. Season with a pinch more salt, pepper and oregano. Broil 4 minutes. Remove from oven, let cool, then taste it. Adjust meat mixture accordingly with more salt, pepper, oregano, onion or herbs. Broil another one, taste it, etc. — repeat process until you’re happy with the flavors. Chill your meatball mixture for at least an hour. This mixture can be made up to a day in advance, too.
3. Preheat the broiler. Coat a sheetpan very lightly in olive oil. Shape your meatballs again using a tablespoon as a measure and place them on the prepared sheetpan as you go. Season with a pinch more salt, pepper and oregano. Broil 4 minutes or until done. (Note: You can make the meatballs any size you wish. Just adjust the time accordingly. My mother makes larger meatballs and broils them for 4 minutes a side.)
This might be a Greek tradition, but we sprinkle the just-broiled meatballs with a little bit of vinegar. Try it. You might like it, too.
Preheat oven to 400ºF. Toss cabbage wedges with olive oil and kosher salt on a sheetpan. Roast for 20 to 30 minutes. Test with a knife — they should be tender.
When it comes to hors d’ouevres, I never know what to make. Fortunately, I have friends that do. Oscar night is fixin’ to be a good one thanks to these cheese sticks brought to my attention by my friend Darcy. Oh my. Spicy, salty, crispy — these cheesy cocktail straws are addictive and will never not appear at a party I host from here on out. They take just minutes to whip up. They look beautiful. And they couldn’t be more party friendly — who doesn’t like butter, cheese, salt and a little spice?
I’m looking forward to Oscar night already. Well, that’s only partially true. I actually haven’t seen a single movie being nominated. I don’t know what happened this year. Part of the trouble is, in recent months at least, that I’ve been totally distracted by Foyle’s War — haven’t been able to watch a single other show since beginning the series. Disc one of the final season is sitting on my kitchen table, too. Hmmm. It seems the only certainty for Sunday evening is cheese straws. I can live with that.
1 1/2 cups (about 6 ounces) grated extra-sharp Cheddar cheese (I love the Cabot Extra Sharp)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and cut into 4 pieces
3/4 cup flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon half and half or milk or heavy cream
1. Preheat oven to 350°F.
2. In a food processor, combine the cheese, butter, flour, salt and red pepper flakes. Pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the half and half and process until the dough forms a ball, about 10 seconds.
3. On a lightly floured surface, using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough into an 8- by 10-inch rectangle that is 1/8-inch thick. With a sharp knife, cut the dough into thin 8-inch strips, each 1/4- to 1/3-inch wide. (Note: It might be helpful to dip your knife in flour after every few cuts to ensure a clean cut — I did not have to, but Deb of Smitten Kitchen recommends doing so.). Gently transfer the strips to a parchment-lined cookie sheet, leaving at least 1/4-inch between them.
4. Bake the straws on the middle rack for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the ends are barely browned. Remove from the oven and set the cookie sheet on a rack to cool.
5. Serve at room temperature. Cheese straws will keep in the refrigerator, in a sealed container, for two days, but they taste best when freshly baked and served shortly thereafter.
Cauliflower eluded my kitchen for far too long. I discovered it only about a year ago, in roasted form at high heat tossed with nothing but olive oil and kosher salt, a method which produces perfectly charred salty florets, addictive bites that lead me to eat heads of cauliflower in single sittings.
Today, while those crispy bits have lost none of their allure, I find myself most enjoying cauliflower in the form of a velvety smooth puréed soup. This recipe calls for simmering cauliflower in milk with an apple and a few strands of pasta, the milk and apple included to temper the cauliflower’s intensity, the pasta to provide just enough starch to ensure a creamy texture when the mixture is puréed. Interesting, right? Once again, I have Sally Schneider to thank for this recipe, which really is more of a method than anything, one that could be applied to a countless number of vegetables — turnips, carrots, rutabaga, celery root, to name a few.
This recipe begins as a purée — the cauliflower and apple are strained from the cooking liquid and blended until smooth — which is delicious on its own and would be a nice accompaniment to duck or roast chicken or any meat really. To make the soup, the reserved cooking liquid is simply whisked into the purée, heated, and garnished. Both the purée and the soup are silky smooth in texture, and for containing just a few teaspoons of butter, taste incredibly creamy.
While this recipe does call for milk, apparently, I am learning, the milk is optional. After reading Food52′s post about Paul Bertolli’s cauliflower soup, made with nothing but a head of cauliflower, an onion and water, I questioned the necessity of milk. My friend Darcy, too, confirmed that a creamy texture can indeed be achieved with no cream at all. But I couldn’t resist. I almost felt guilty pouring that quart of milk into the pot, PB’s recipe flashing into my mind, but I rationalized that a little 1% milk never hurt anybody and that I likely could use the calcium. That said, next up on my to-make list is PB’s soup, and for those of you looking for a vegan option for creamy cauliflower soup, know that it’s out there.
For fun, I topped the soup with some olive oil-fried bread cubes, one of Schneider’s many suggested garnishes. I took her up on another as well: a light drizzling of truffle oil. I know the economy is in the dumps, so please don’t feel this ingredient is a must, but if you happen to have a bottle on hand, perhaps on lockdown for a special occasion, maybe consider breaking it out. There’s never been a better time to open it.
For the Purée:
1 medium cauliflower (1.75 lbs – 2 lbs) (Mine actually was only 1.25 lbs and it worked just fine)
1 small apple, peeled, cored and chopped
1 quart 2% or whole milk (I used 1%)
1/2 oz. angel hair pasta (about 40 strands), broken into 2-inch pieces*
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
pinch of sugar
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon crème fraîche or heavy cream (optional — I forgot to add this)
freshly ground white pepper (I never have white pepper on hand, and black pepper works just fine, though I didn’t add any pepper at all)
* I used spaghetti, not angel hair. Schneider notes that any other dry eggless pasta, broken into pieces if necessary, will work.
Make the purée:
1. Cut the cauliflower into florets and roughly chop. You should have 7 to 8 cups. (I didn’t measure and I didn’t even chop up the florets.)
2. Transfer the cauliflower to a medium saucepan and add the apple and milk. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat and stir in the pasta, 1 teaspoon kosher salt and the sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is purée-tender, about 20 to 25 minutes.
3. Strain the mixture reserving the cooking liquid. Transfer the solids to a food processor or blender and purée until smooth, at least one minute, adding a tablespoon or two of the reserved cooking liquid if necessary. (Alternatively, return the solids to the pan and purée them with an immersion blender.) Let the motor run for a minute or two, scraping down the sides several times until you have a fine purée. Add the butter and crème fraîche and season with a bit more salt if necessary, white pepper (optional) and another pinch of sugar (optional). Save the remaining cooking liquid for the soup (recipe below).
Note: You can prepare the purée several hours ahead of time and reheat it (or keep it warm for a shorter time), stirring occasionally, in a double boiler.
Cauliflower Soup with Many Garnishes
Schneider’s Notes: This soup lends itself to an endless number of garnishes such as crisp slivered or finely diced pancetta; diced olive oil-fried bread; a dusting of fennel pollen; crispy shallots; snipped fresh chives, chervil or flat-leafed parsley; a drizzle of roasted hazelnut oil. White truffle oil, used sparingly, adds an astonishing flavor note.
1. Place cauliflower and apple purée in a medium saucepan, whisk in an equal amount of the reserved cooking liquid or chicken broth (Note: I made the soup one day with chicken stock and another with the reserved cooking liquid. Both ways are good, but I prefer the reserved cooking liquid.), and stir in a little cream. Bring to a simmer over moderate heat and adjust the seasoning. Add any of the garnishes mentioned above to each serving.