Tartine-Style Asparagus & Spring Onion Croque Monsieur

asparagus and spring onion croque monsieur

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 onion croque monsieur
Asparagus and spring onions from our Olin-Fox Farms CSA:
asparagus & spring onions

asparagus & spring onions, ready to be baked

roasted asparagus & spring onions

Nancy Silverton's bechamel

olive bread, thyme, comte

asparagus & spring onion croque monsieur, ready for the broiler

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
olive oil
kosher salt

good bread, cut into thick slices
bechamel sauce (recipe below)
grated gruyère, Comté or Swiss cheese
fresh thyme

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.

Bechamel:
Source: Nancy Silverton’s Sandwich Book: The Best Sandwiches Ever–from Thursday Nights at Campanile

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)
kosher salt
4 black peppercorns, crushed (I didn’t do this)
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups whole milk
1 bayleaf

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.)

Tiropitas

tiropitas, just baked

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.

tiropitas, just baked

Red eggs for Greek Easter.
red eggs

tiropitas ingredients

mixture

making tiropitas

tiropitas, ready for the oven

Ella helps make biscotti, while I assemble tiropitas:

Graham bounces nearby:
Graham
Tiropitas
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.

tiropitas

Keftedes (lamb meatballs) & Roasted Cabbage

lamb meatballs, just broiled

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.

lamb meatballs

Keftedes
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.

Roasted Cabbage

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.

Cheese Sticks for Oscar Night

cheese sticks

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.

Foyle's War

cheese sticks

cheese stick dough

cheese stick dough

cheese stick dough

cheese sticks, unbaked

cheese sticks

Cheese Sticks
The Lee Bros. Southern Cookbook via The Garden of Eden via Smitten Kitchen

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.

cheese sticks

Cauliflower and Apple Soup with Olive Oil-Fried Bread

cauliflower and apple soup with olive oil-fried bread

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.

cauliflower and apple

cauliflower

cauliflower and apples in soup pot

olive oil-fried bread

Cauliflower and Apple Soup
Source: Sally Schneider’s The Improvisational Cook
Yield = 3 cups, 4 servings

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
Serves 4

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.

cauliflower and apple soup

Glogg + Parmesan-Rosemary Crackers = New Year’s Eve in the Making

rosemary and parmigiano crackers, stacked

My stepfather has a few tricks up his sleeve, two of which he breaks out every Christmas: cornbread stuffing and glogg. His stuffing deserves a separate post — it steals the show every year — but I imagine many of you are a little stuffinged out at the moment. Am I right?

Good, let’s focus on the glogg then. The word “glogg,” Scandinavian in origin, derives from a verb meaning “to glow” or “to warm,” which is just what this hot beverage is meant to do — warm you up, get you glowing. Coming from a land where the sun shines seldom in a long winter season, glogg is meant to work immediately, which is exactly what it does. In a sort of two-pronged attack, glogg enters the system: as vapors swirl off the hot liquid up into the nose making their way to the brain, the liquid itself — a mixture of red wine, port and brandy — pours through the blood stream. This is potent stuff. This is bone-warming, rosy-cheek inducing, party-starting stuff. It’s a beautiful thing.

In my family, it’s not Christmas without glogg. And this year, it won’t be New Year’s without glogg either. I need one more round before I start drafting my resolutions. Moreover, I need something to accompany these rosemary-parmesan crackers, my latest pre-dinner fix. I discovered these a few weeks ago when I needed to make something for a potluck hors d’oeuvres party. Never knowing what to bring to these sorts of events, I opened an old classic and soon found myself in a particularly enticing chapter: crackers.

Crackers. Why make homemade, you ask? Well, this isn’t the sort of cracker meant to be topped with cheese or pâté or any sort of party spread. This is both a cheese and a cracker in one entity meant to be enjoyed on its own. Topped with a teensy sprig of rosemary, these crackers, I worried, would be too pretty to eat. But that they were not. With both beer and wine drinkers alike, they were a hit. These salty discs beg to be washed down with a heartwarming libation, and in that sense become their own little party starters themselves. Hmmm, homemade crackers + glogg? This could be dangerous. Happy New Year everyone!

glogg and parmesan rosemary crackers

cracker dough and rosemary

rosemary and parmigiano crackers

glogg ingredients

House and Garden's Drink Guide

“Aunt Betsy’s Favorite” (Glogg)
Source: House and Garden’s Drink Guide
Serves: 6 to 8

Note: My stepfather has adjusted the original recipe over the years so feel free to adjust to your liking as well.

1 bottle dry red wine (use a bottle you like, one you would drink on its own)
2 cups Tawny or Ruby Port (Chip uses Ruby)
1 cup brandy
8 to 16 tsp. sugar*
peel of 2 oranges
13 cloves
4 cinnamon sticks

*Chip adds 16 teaspoons (which is 5 tablespoons + 1 teaspoon) but start with 8 (which is 2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons) and add more to taste.

Combine all ingredients in a heavy saucepan and heat slowly without allowing the mixture to reach simmering point. Pour into punch glasses.

Parmesan-Rosemary Crackers
Source: Martha Stewart’s Hors D’Oeuvres Handbook, also available online here
Yield = 20 crackers

**Notes: Plan Ahead! The cracker dough should chill in the fridge ideally for 24 hours — my dough basically just chilled overnight, but the recipe suggests 24 hours. If you forget to make this ahead of time, try popping the dough in the freezer for two to three hours.
Also: Bake these the day you serve them. They don’t keep well.

3/4 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon coarse salt
Pinch of white pepper (didn’t have, so didn’t use)
2 teaspoons finely chopped fresh rosemary, plus extra sprigs for garnish
3 tablespoons chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 cup finely grated (2 1/2 ounces) Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
5 tablespoons sour cream
1 large egg white, lightly beaten (optional — this is if you want to do the pretty rosemary garnish)

1. Combine flour, salt, pepper, and rosemary in the bowl of a food processor; pulse to combine. Add butter; pulse until mixture resembles coarse meal. Add cheese; pulse until combined. Add 1 tablespoon of the sour cream at a time, pulsing each time to combine. (Note: I added the sour cream in 2 batches…not patient enough to do 1 T. at a time.) Process until dough comes together and is well combined.

2. Transfer dough to a work surface. Shape dough into a 2-inch-wide log. Wrap with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 24 hours. (Note: I chilled mine for about 18 hours. If you are pinched for time, try chilling the dough in the freezer for 2 to 3 hours.)

3. Heat oven to 325 degrees. Slice chilled log into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Transfer slices to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Dip a sprig of rosemary into egg white, and place in center of a cracker slice; repeat with remaining rosemary and crackers. (Note: The rosemary garnish is optional – it’s purely for decorative purposes.) Bake immediately, rotating sheet once, until crackers are golden brown and firm in the center, 25 to 35 minutes. (My crackers took 25 minutes.) Transfer to a rack to cool.

punch glasses

Addictive Kale Caesar Salad with Brioche Croutons

kale caesar salad with brioche croutons

I have a question for all of you mortar and pestle users out there: Do you find us knife-wielding, blender-pulsing, whisk-twirling folk offensive? You probably do. I suspect Tartine’s Chad Robertson would not approve of my adaptation of his caesar dressing recipe. I used a knife first, and then a whisk. I’m not going to lie. I didn’t even reach for the mortar and pestle.

I suppose I shouldn’t be so skeptical of a technique before trying it, but the idea of using a pestle to work olive oil into a stable emulsion scared me. I’m just not that hard core. And as I read the recipe over and over again, I couldn’t help but think about who I was dealing with — did you know that Robertson doesn’t even own a toaster? It’s true. He and his wife, Liz Prueitt, toast their bread in a black steel omelet pan instead. That’s hard core. I’m just not there. I reached for an old standby: Whisk. He did not fail me. This dressing, made without mayonnaise or cheese, is lemony and lighter than most caesar dressings and is a wonderful complement to kale, an unsuspecting substitute in a classic dish.

I find this salad addictive. I’ve always loved kale wilted in soups or sautéed with garlic and tossed into pastas. And I love it in the form of chips. But I never imagined enjoying it raw until I dined at True Food Kitchen, where they serve a Tuscan kale salad made with bread crumbs, grated Pecorino and crushed red pepper flakes. It’s a delicious combination. Since discovering Robertson’s kale caesar last week, I’ve made it twice more, and I suspect it will be a mainstay on the dinner table this fall and winter. I’m already looking forward to it.

Kale from our Olin-Fox Farm CSA:
caesar dressing ingredients

kale caesar salad with brioche croutons

I finally got around to making the brioche recipe in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. It is delicious. I made several loaves of bread as well as a batch of the Sticky Pecan Caramel Rolls with the dough, and will report back on that shortly. I also used leftover brioche to make the croutons, which were delicious, but an unnecessary treat — any good bakery-style bread will suffice for these croutons.

homemade brioche

The Tartine Bread crouton recipe calls for an optional pinch of herbes de provence, which added a surprisingly nice flavor to the croutons.

brioche croutons, unbaked

brioche croutons, baked

Kale Caesar Salad
Adapted from Tartine Bread
Serves: 4 to 6

Note: The measurements below are those that are given in the book. Obviously, adjust quantities as needed. I tossed enough kale for two people with dressing to taste. I also added the croutons and Parmigiano Reggiano to taste.

2 lbs. black, Tuscan or dinosaur kale, center stems removed, and torn
croutons (recipe below)
2/3 cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Caesar dressing (recipe below)

In a large bowl, combine the kale and croutons. Pour the dressing to taste over top and toss to coat. Add the Parmesan, toss again, and serve.

Caesar Dressing

Note: I made a half-batch of this recipe. I did not use a mortar and pestle, but if you are an adept m&p user, feel free. Also, if you have a caesar dressing that you love, feel free to substitute that in. In essence, this recipe is no more than a traditional caesar salad with kale swapped in for romaine. That said, I do really like this dressing — made without mayonnaise or cheese, it’s lemony and lighter than most caesar dressings I’ve come across.

2 lemons or 1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar*
3 cloves garlic
6 olive oil-packed anchovy fillets
1 large egg yolk
kosher salt
2 cups olive oil

*Update: I have been making this dressing a lot — all winter and spring in fact — and I actually prefer making it with white balsamic vinegar than with lemon juice. It is so easy and delicious. This is what I do: Finely mince 3 cloves garlic with 3 anchovy fillets — I add a pinch of salt while I’m mincing and drag my knife across the mash to help make a paste. Whisk in the egg yolk and the 1/4 cup white balsamic. Slowly drizzle in olive oil, whisking constantly until a thick dressing forms. I never measure the olive oil, so I can’t say exactly how much, but it’s probably about a cup or less.

1. To make the dressing, grate the zest from 1 lemon. Cut both lemons in half. Place the garlic, anchovies and lemon zest in a mortar and pound with a pestle to make a thick paste. (Alternatively, mince the garlic, anchovies and zest together on a cutting board. Add a pinch of salt, and mince further. Every so often, using the side of your knife, drag the mixture against the cutting board to create a paste. Transfer to a bowl.)

2. Add the egg yolk, a pinch of salt, and a squeeze of lemon juice and stir thoroughly to combine. Continuing to stir, begin adding the oil drop by drop. (Note: If you’re not using a m&p, whisk in the oil drop by drop.) The mixture should look smooth and creamy, a sign that you are building a stable emulsion. Continuing to stir (or whisk), begin adding the oil in a slow steady stream. The dressing should thicken. Periodically, stop pouring in the oil and add a squeeze of lemon. Taste the dressing and add more salt and lemon juice to taste. Add water, a small spoonful at a time, stirring to thin dressing to the consistency of heavy cream.

Croutons

3 slices day-old bread*, each 1-inch thick, torn into 1 1/2-inch chunks
2 T. olive oil
kosher salt
1/2 tsp. herbes de provence** (optional)

1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. In a bowl, toss the torn bread with the olive oil and a pinch of salt. Add the herbes if using. Spread the bread evenly on a baking sheet and bake until golden brown and crisp, about 15 minutes. Midway through baking, redistribute the croutons if they are coloring unevenly.

Notes:
* I used day-old brioche (recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, which I have yet to post), which was totally delicious but also unnecessary — any good (non-enriched) bread will do.
** This is normally an ingredient I would just as soon leave out, but I was surprised at what a nice subtle flavor the herbes added. I did not add 1/2 tsp. — a pinch was enough.

kale caesar salad with brioche croutons

Lunch: Roasted Grapes with Thyme, Fresh Ricotta & Grilled Bread

Roasted Grapes with Fresh Ricotta on Grilled Bread

Oh, hello there. Sorry to do this again while you’re all busy working, but I feel compelled to share another lunch with you: roasted grapes with thyme over grilled bread and fresh ricotta…yum. I promise to only do this when I really mean it. This recipe comes from this month’s Real Simple magazine, and fittingly, it couldn’t be more simple or delicious.

I first made this over the weekend as a side dish, omitting the bread, just spooning the warm, thyme-infused grapes over a dollop of homemade ricotta. It was delectable. Why omit the bread, you ask? Well, because the main dish was pear and bacon panini, and serving grilled bread aside panini seemed like overkill. BTW, the pear and bacon sandwiches (another September RS recipe) were fabulous — hoping to report back on those soon.

What I love about this recipe is its versatility. It’s delicious with or without bread. It could be served with any number of cheeses. It could be served at a casual lunch as an open-faced sandwich or at a fancy dinner party as a beautiful hors d’oeuvres.

And what I can’t stop dreaming about doing is this: making an all-white pizza (perhaps with homemade ricotta, Parmigiano Reggiano, and mozzarella) and, as soon as the pie emerges from the oven, topping it with these just-bursting, sweet-salty grapes. I’ll let you know when that day arrives.

Roasted Grapes with Thmye, Fresh Ricotta & Grilled Bread
Adapted from Real Simple Magazine September 2011 (Sorry, can’t find a direct link.)
Yield = However much you would like

Note: I actually don’t even have the recipe in front of me! My aunt ran off to Alexandria with it, and I am writing this from memory. The recipe is not complicated at all, but if you want the real deal, pick up the September 2011 Real Simple.

grapes
olive oil
kosher salt
fresh thyme sprigs

good rustic bread, sliced into 1/2-inch thick pieces
olive oil

fresh ricotta, preferably homemade (recipe below)

1. Preheat oven to 450ºF. Spread grapes onto a sheet pan. Drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt. Lay thyme leaves over top. Toss all together gently with your hands. Place pan in the oven for 7 to 9 minutes or until grapes just begin to burst. I prefer the shorter roasting time — it’s nice when some of the grapes remain in tact.

2. Meanwhile, heat a grill or grill pan to medium-high. Brush the bread with olive oil. Grill until nice and toasty.

3. Assemble the open-faced sandwiches: Spread fresh ricotta over bread. Top with roasted grapes. Discard thyme sprigs. (While the thyme sprigs look pretty, it’s a little impractical to serve the sandwiches with the sprigs…they don’t taste so yummy.)

Homemade Ricotta
Source: The Barefoot Contessa via Goop
Serves: Makes about 2 cups

4 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons good white wine vinegar

1. Set a large sieve over a deep bowl. Dampen (I don’t dampen — I just line my sieve with cheesecloth) 2 layers of cheesecloth with water and line the sieve with the cheesecloth.

2. Pour the milk and cream into a stainless steel or enameled pot. Stir in the salt. Bring to a full boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar. Allow the mixture to stand for 1 minute until it curdles. It will separate into thick parts (the curds) and milky parts (the whey).

3. Pour the mixture into a cheesecloth-lined sieve and allow it to drain into the bowl at room temperature for 20 to 25 minutes, occasionally discarding the liquid that collects in the bowl. The longer you let the mixture drain, the thicker the ricotta. (I tend to like mine on the thicker side but some prefer it moister.) Transfer the ricotta to a bowl, discarding the cheesecloth. Use immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The ricotta will keep refrigerated for 4 to 5 days. Note: You can use the whey to make bread and other things — don’t chuck it.

Roasted Grapes aside Fresh Ricotta and Grilled Bread

Grapes tossed with thyme, olive oil and salt:
Grapes tossed with Thyme, Salt and Olive Oil

Grapes just removed from the oven:
Roasted Grapes with Thyme, Salt and Olive Oil

Lunch: Tomatoes, Ricotta, Grilled Bread

Tomato Salad with Homemade Ricotta and Grilled Bread

Oh, hi there. Just a quick little post here. I couldn’t resist sharing my lunch with all of you. I’m not going to lie, I’m pretty happy with it. And it took all of about 5 minutes to throw together. Of course, I did have some wonderful leftovers on hand: homemade ricotta (a little obsessed with this right now) and a loaf of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day… I had forgotten about this recipe. Yum.

Anyway, hope you’re all having a good week!

Tomato Salad with Fresh Ricotta and Grilled Bread
Serves 1

A couple of tomatoes
extra-virgin olive oil
balsamic vinegar
kosher salt
fresh basil
homemade ricotta (recipe below)
a loaf of bread suitable for grilling

1. Cut tomatoes into nice chunks and place in a bowl. Season with salt. Drizzle with olive oil and balsamic. Toss with fresh basil. Place in a bowl with a nice dollop of fresh ricotta on the side.

2. Heat a grill or grill pan. Brush with olive oil. Grill bread until nice and toasted. Serve along side your salad and cheese.

Homemade Ricotta
Source: The Barefoot Contessa via Goop
Serves: Makes about 2 cups

4 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons good white wine vinegar

1. Set a large sieve over a deep bowl. Dampen (I don’t dampen — I just line my sieve with cheesecloth) 2 layers of cheesecloth with water and line the sieve with the cheesecloth.

2. Pour the milk and cream into a stainless steel or enameled pot. Stir in the salt. Bring to a full boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar. Allow the mixture to stand for 1 minute until it curdles. It will separate into thick parts (the curds) and milky parts (the whey).

3. Pour the mixture into a cheesecloth-lined sieve and allow it to drain into the bowl at room temperature for 20 to 25 minutes, occasionally discarding the liquid that collects in the bowl. The longer you let the mixture drain, the thicker the ricotta. (I tend to like mine on the thicker side but some prefer it moister.) Transfer the ricotta to a bowl, discarding the cheesecloth. Use immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The ricotta will keep refrigerated for 4 to 5 days. Note: You can use the whey to make bread and other things — don’t chuck it.

Pizza Margherita, Homemade Tomato Sauce, Homemade Ricotta

classic pizza margherita

Oh my gosh, I have so much deliciousness to report to you all, I don’t know where to begin. I suppose it all started last week after Food 52 reminded me of Marcella Hazan’s widely adored tomato sauce recipe and the NY Times reminded me of the pleasure of eating fresh ricotta cheese, a delicacy (a nonentity, really) in my neck of the woods. And then I remembered seeing a Barefoot Contessa recipe for homemade ricotta cheese on Gwyenth Paltrow’s blog, which reminded me of a different GP entry about homemade pizza, all of which has led me to so many wonderful discoveries this week. Is your head spinning?

Let me summarize:

1. Marcella Hazan’s tomato sauce is every bit as delicious as everyone has claimed. I’ve never had success making tomato sauce. Never. I had accepted that jarred sauce tasted better than anything I could produce at home. That is until this past Tuesday, when I dipped my wooden spoon into my pot of gently simmering tomatoes, lifted it to my mouth, and tasted the freshest, lightest, most delectable flavors. And I have been smiling ever since. For all of you food bloggers, I know this is nothing revelatory. But friends, family, and any of you out there who have tomato sauce making fears, rest assured that you, too, can cook like an Italian grandmother. This sauce is gold.

2. Thanks to discovery #1, I’ve finally made a classic pizza margherita at home. One of my all-time favorite spots for thin-crust pizza is 2Amys in Washington D.C., which serves an incredible pizza margherita topped with a most memorable fresh tomato sauce. 2Amys Pizza was my first thought after tasting Hazan’s sauce. Now, I’ve accepted that until I build my wood burning oven, I’m not going to achieve a restaurant quality crust at home. But I no longer have an excuse for not making pizza margherita. This sauce is so damn good. I credit nothing other than the sauce for producing the pizza that emerged from my oven today. It was one of the best. Less is more is the key here: a thin layer of this sauce topped sparingly with fresh mozzarella cheese and a sprinkling of fresh basil out of the oven does the job. Yum yum yum.

3. Making fresh ricotta cheese at home is as easy as the Barefoot Contessa’s latest book promises. And it is SO delicious. I made myself nectarine and fresh ricotta bruschetta for lunch today. It was heaven. And then I remembered one of my all-time favorite pizza combinations — nectarine with basil and reduced balsamic — and made a variation of that for dinner. Tomorrow morning, I’m going to spread what’s left of my fresh ricotta on a toasted bagel and top it with one of my CSA tomatoes. I’m really living it up here.

The most fragrant purple basil freshly picked from my garden, a treat I have my brother-in-law to thank. Thanks Mr. T!
tomatoes and basil

Making tomato sauce:
making homemade tomato sauce

Straining homemade ricotta through cheesecloth:
homemade ricotta

Homemade tomato sauce and fresh ricotta cheese:
homemade ricotta and tomato sauce

Sauce approved by a silent and contemplative kitchen assistant:
Ella eats pasta

unbaked margherita pizza

Classic pizza margherita:
classic pizza margherita

classic pizza margherita

Nectarine and ricotta pizza with fresh basil:
nectarine and ricotta pizza

nectarine and ricotta pizza

Recipes
Marcella Hazen’s Tomato Sauce
Note: I watched the video on Food52 on blanching tomatoes, which I found to be helpful.

For the Sauce:

2 pounds fresh, ripe tomatoes, peeled (see video on Food52 for guidance)
5 tablespoons butter
1 medium onion, peeled and cut in half
Salt to taste

1. Place the prepared fresh tomatoes in a saucepan, add the butter, onion, and salt, and cook uncovered at a very slow, but steady simmer for about 45 minutes, or until it is thickened to your liking and the fat floats free from the tomato.

2. Stir from time to time, mashing up any large pieces of tomato with the back of a wooden spoon. Taste and correct for salt.

Homemade Ricotta Cheese
Source: The Barefoot Contessa via Goop
Serves: Makes about 2 cups

4 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons good white wine vinegar

1. Set a large sieve over a deep bowl. Dampen (or don’t) 2 layers of cheesecloth with water and line the sieve with the cheesecloth.

2. Pour the milk and cream into a stainless steel or enameled pot. Stir in the salt. Bring to a full boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar. Allow the mixture to stand for 1 minute until it curdles. It will separate into thick parts (the curds) and milky parts (the whey).

3. Pour the mixture into a cheesecloth-lined sieve and allow it to drain into the bowl at room temperature for 20 to 25 minutes, occasionally discarding the liquid that collects in the bowl. The longer you let the mixture drain, the thicker the ricotta. Transfer the ricotta to a bowl, discarding the cheesecloth. Save the whey — you can make bread with it. Use the ricotta immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The ricotta will keep refrigerated for 4 to 5 days.

Classic Pizza Margherita
Dough yields 4 pizzas serving 3 to 4 people total

1 recipe pizza dough (follow instructions here)
1 recipe tomato sauce
fresh mozzarella cheese
fresh basil leaves, sliced thinly after pizza is removed from oven

Nectarine and Fresh Ricotta Pizza
Dough yields 4 pizzas serving 3 to 4 people total

1 recipe pizza dough (follow instructions here)
1 recipe Homemade Ricotta Cheese (recipe below)
1-2 nectarines
olive oil
fresh basil leaves, sliced thinly after pizza is removed from oven

Homemade Ricotta
Source: The Barefoot Contessa via Goop
Serves: Makes about 2 cups

4 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons good white wine vinegar

1. Set a large sieve over a deep bowl. Dampen (I don’t dampen — I just line my sieve with cheesecloth) 2 layers of cheesecloth with water and line the sieve with the cheesecloth.

2. Pour the milk and cream into a stainless steel or enameled pot. Stir in the salt. Bring to a full boil over medium heat, stirring occasionally. Turn off the heat and stir in the vinegar. Allow the mixture to stand for 1 minute until it curdles. It will separate into thick parts (the curds) and milky parts (the whey).

3. Pour the mixture into a cheesecloth-lined sieve and allow it to drain into the bowl at room temperature for 20 to 25 minutes, occasionally discarding the liquid that collects in the bowl. The longer you let the mixture drain, the thicker the ricotta. (I tend to like mine on the thicker side but some prefer it moister.) Transfer the ricotta to a bowl, discarding the cheesecloth. Use immediately or cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. The ricotta will keep refrigerated for 4 to 5 days. Note: You can use the whey to make bread and other things — don’t chuck it.

nectarine and ricotta pizza