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

Corn Fritters

corn fritters

Oh, where to begin, where to begin. I saw this recipe in last weekend’s WSJ’s food section and began foaming at the mouth. Look at this picture. Do those corn cakes not look perfect to you? Golden brown, loaded with corn — I just want to reach my hand through the computer and snatch one.

The recipe, credited to London’s Yotam Ottolenghi, sounded fantastic, too. So, I set to work scraping kernels from the cob of our delectable CSA corn and finely dicing the most beautiful hot peppers I have every seen and mixing a batter of polenta and Greek yogurt and olive oil and cilantro. The mixture looked divine — colorful, fragrant and perfect in consistency. This is exactly where I should have paused.

But I didn’t. I continued on with the recipe and delicately folded in 3 whipped egg whites. And then I proceeded to fry up corn pancakes, delicious in every which way, but not what I was looking for. I wanted fritters, not pancakes, and I won’t belabor this point any further since I just went through my fritter-vs-pancake preferences with you all with these guys.

But all was not lost. In an attempt to rectify the remaining batter (I had cooked 8 pancakes at this point), I added an additional ear of corn kernels to the batter and then violently stirred, attempting to deflate the effect of the whipped egg whites.

Success. Total succcess. I mean, I definitely have a thing for fritters these days, but these corn-laden crispy cakes are simply irresistible. I served them aside broiled fish but I love the idea of making them the star of the meal, serving them with a simple salad tossed in a citrus vinaigrette, which is how Ottolenghi suggests. I should note, too, that the batter — the egg white-deflated fritter batter, that is — can be made ahead. Once I achieved the consistency I was looking for, I set my batter bowl in the fridge until dinner time. Yum yum yum.

If you think this recipe sounds yummy, check out this one, too:Watercress with Egg, Goat Cheese & Seeds. Sounds divine. These two Ottolenghi recipes are part of a four “easy-enough” recipe series. The final one will be printed this weekend. Looking forward to it!

Peppers from our Olin-Fox Farm CSA:
peppers from our CSA

The first batch of fritters I made came out looking like pancakes. You can see in this picture below how those whipped egg whites produced a puffy pancake versus a fritter. After cooking 8 pancakes, I added another whole ear of corn kernels to the batter. At this point, the batter was considerably more corny, and the effect of the whipped egg whites, minimal. Next time around, whipped egg whites will be omitted — they seem unnecessary.

corn pancakes

Corn Fritters
Adapted from: The Wall Street Journal
Note: Yotam Ottolenghi, the creater of these corn cakes, serves them with a light salad of arugula and cilantro. Find the original recipe here.

SERVES: 4

½ cup quick-cooking polenta, or fine-ground cornmeal
1¼ cups corn kernels, cut from 1-2 ears of corn*
1 small shallot, diced fine (about 3 tablespoons)
1 small jalapeño, seeds and membrane removed, diced fine (about 2 tablespoons)
½ teaspoon cumin seeds, roughly smashed (optional — I omitted)
¾ teaspoon salt, plus extra for seasoning
¼ teaspoon black pepper, plus extra for seasoning
¾ cup full-fat Greek yogurt
1½ tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for frying
1 to 4 eggs (depending on whether you want to make a fritter or a pancake… see notes in post above and in recipe)
¼ cup chopped cilantro (or more or less to taste)

¼ cup sour cream or crème fraîche

*I ended up using 3 ears of corn to make the batter the consistency I was looking for. See notes in recipe.

NOTE: Batter can be made ahead and chilled. (After I achieved the batter consistency I was looking for, which was in the middle of the day, I stopped making fritters and put the batter in the fridge. When it was time for dinner, I took out my bowl and started making fresh fritters. Yum yum yum.)

WHAT TO DO:

1. In a large bowl mix polenta with corn, shallots, jalapeño, cumin (if using), salt and pepper. Add yogurt, 1½ tablespoons olive oil, 1 egg and chopped cilantro. Mix well with fork.

2. Here is where the “recipe” gets messy: If you like the texture of a pancake, separate the remaining 3 eggs. Place the whites in a bowl and beat to soft peaks; reserve the yolks for another purpose. Carefully fold whites into corn batter in two stages. Let rest 5 minutes. (Note: This is what I did initially. See photo directly above the recipe.) If you prefer the texture of a fritter (my preference), omit adding the whipped whites**.

3. Set large nonstick frying pan over medium heat for 1-2 minutes. Pour in 1 teaspoon olive oil (or enough to just coat the bottom of the pan). Once hot, spoon 2 tablespoons of batter per cake into pan. Spread with the back your spoon to even out the batter. Make 3 to 4 fritters at a time. Season with a pinch of salt. Cook cakes 2-3 minutes, or until golden. Flip and cook 1 minute, or until golden. Season second side of fritters with a pinch of salt. Transfer to paper-lined tray. At this point, it would be wise to taste one. If you like the texture and seasoning, repeat the cooking process with the remaining batter. If you think the batter could use more corn, add more corn. If the batter needs to be bound together better, add another egg. Once you’ve achieved the right consistency, repeat the cooking process with the remaining batter or chill batter until you’re ready to start cooking.

4. Serve with sour cream or crème fraîche on the side.

Yield: about 16 cakes.

** I should note that I have not made this recipe without omitting the egg whites altogether — I simply have minimized their effect by adding an additional ear of corn to the batter and stirring aggressively to deflate their whipped texture.

This is what the batter looked like before I folded in any egg whites. I so wish I had tried making one fritter at this step.
corn fritter batter

This is what the batter looked like after I cooked 8 pancakes and then added another whole ear of corn kernels to achieve the fritter consistency I was looking for.
fritter batter

corn fritters

Zucchini Fritters with Tzatziki

zucchini fritters

I think I’m the last person on the planet to make zucchini fritters. Why it has taken me so long to give them a go I do not know. Maybe it’s that I have a general pancake-making phobia? Or that the amount of zucchini-fritter recipes I have collected over the years in addition to the blog posts I have bookmarked and the cookbook pages I have dog-eared is a wee overwhelming?

In any case, I got over it earlier this week, spurred by a revelation that helped me breeze through my zucchini-fritter recipe collection and locate a few promising recipes. My revelation, you ask? I realized I wasn’t interested in making a pancake — I wasn’t looking to make a floury, bread-crumb bound, cheese-laden pancake. I wanted something resembling a latke but composed of zucchini, which would be crisped quickly in a pan and served with something cool like sour cream or tzatziki.

The recipe here fits that description. A combination of grated zucchini and potato with a little diced onion bound by a single egg gives these fritters that lovely latke texture. But the addition of lemon zest and lots of herbs give them a freshness and lightness that’s irresistible. I served this batch with tzatziki, which accompanied them well, but which truthfully is unnecessary — they’re so good on their own. Give them a whirl! I know you’ll like them.

Batter made with zucchini from our Olin-Fox Farm CSA:
Fritter Batter

fritters in pan

cooked zucchini fritters

Zucchini Fritters with Tzatziki

Serves 2, Yield=6

2 cups coarsely grated zucchini
1/2 cup coarsely grated potato
kosher salt
pinch of flour
1 egg
1 tablespoon chopped chives (or whatever herb you like)
1 tablespoon chopped mint (or whatever herb you like)
zest of one lemon
1/4 cup diced white onion
1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Tzatziki:
1 cup Greek yogurt
2 T. finely diced red onion
1 T. chopped mint
kosher salt
squeeze of lemon juice

1. Place the grated zucchini and potato in a colander. Spread the veggies out to allow for maximum surface area exposure and sprinkle all over with kosher salt. Let sit for at least 30 minutes to drain.

2. Meanwhile, make the tzatziki, if desired: Stir together yogurt, onion, mint, salt and lemon juice. Taste. Add more salt if necessary. Chill until ready to use.

3. After the 30 minutes, squeeze veggies out and wrap in paper towels. Squeeze again. [Note: The veggies will not drain out enough liquid on their own in the collander, so squeezing them with a paper towel is a critical step to mopping up that moisture.] Open up the paper towel and spread out your veggies. Sprinkle with a pinch of flour to soak up leftover moisture.

4. In a bowl, whisk together egg, herbs and lemon zest. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add onion and grated zucchini-potato mixture. Stir well.

5. Preheat over to 200˚F. Place a foil-lined cookie sheet in the oven. Heat a large skillet over medium-high heat. Melt 1 tablespoon of butter. When foam subsides, drop a spoonful of your fritter batter in. Gently pat with a spatula to flatten out the fritters, which will help make them crispy.

6. Cook about 3 fritters at a time until golden brown on each side. Place fritters in the oven while you make additional pancakes. Serve as soon as possible with tzatziki on the side.

fritters with tzatziki

Whole Roasted Garlic

Whole Roasted Garlic

Have you ever roasted a whole head of garlic? And then squeezed the sweet, soft cloves over warm French bread? And then sprinkled the spread with a bit of sea salt? It is so delectable.

Never did I imagine eating a head of garlic in one sitting. Nor did I imagine serving a head of garlic to each guest at a dinner party. It sounds ferocious. But roasting garlic whole in foil pouches with a few fresh herbs tames its bite, mellowing and sweetening its flavor, transforming it into a butter-like purée almost as tasty as salted bone barrow… yum yum yum.

Before I go any further, I have to share with you a beautiful blog, The Garden of Eden, recently launched by my friend Darcy Eden. It’s fresh and fun and filled with yummy recipes, fashionable finds and overall fantastic style. One of her posts was already picked up by Bon Appetit. Take a look — I know you’ll have fun with it!

Whole Roasted Garlic Spread on Warm Bread

Garlic & Oregano

Whole roasted garlic is a wonderful topping for warm bread but there are other uses as well: puréed and stirred into mashed potatoes; spread onto pizza; whisked into salad dressing.

Foil Pouches

Whole Roasted Garlic

Yield = How ever many heads you would like
Note: I make one foil pouch per head of garlic, but you probably could throw a couple of heads together in one pouch and have fine results.

1 head garlic
few sprigs of thyme (I used oregano here because I had no thyme on hand, but thyme is preferable)
olive oil
kosher salt

For serving:
French bread
nice salt

1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Cut off the very top portion of the head of garlic to reveal a few cloves. Place garlic on a sheet of aluminum foil (large enough to wrap around the garlic in a little pouch). Nestle the herbs around the garlic. Drizzle garlic with a touch of olive oil. Sprinkle with a pinch of salt. Pour 2 T. of water around the head of garlic — you might want to curl up the sides of foil before doing so. Wrap the foil up into a beggar’s purse or pouch making sure the foil is sealed.

2. Place in the oven (directly on the rack or on a baking sheet) and roast for 1 hour. Remove pouches from oven and let cool briefly or tuck right in, taking care while opening the packages as steam might come pouring out.

3. Spread the garlic on warm bread; top with a pinch of salt.

Whole Roasted Garlic Spread