Fresh corn polenta — oh fresh corn polenta! How could I have forgotten about you? I discovered you this time last year. I was out to eat. You were in my bowl. It was love at first bite. You were the very best polenta I had ever tasted, your sweet corn flavor discernible even through the jus of the pair of braised short ribs smothering you. How could this be, I wondered? I chalked it up to lots of butter and cheese and the sort of restaurant trickery that just can’t be duplicated at home. And so I forgot about you. For a whole year. Oh fresh corn polenta! I’m so happy you’re back in my life. In my home no less. And for good this time.
This is the sort of recipe I want to tell everyone about. I want to call all of my friends and family. I want to spark up conversation with people in checkout lines, knock on my neighbors’ doors, stop strangers in the street. It is so good and much to my surprise calls for no sort of restaurant magic — just a box grater, a little butter, and a sauté pan. It’s the kind of thing I could eat every night for dinner, and this week I basically have. I love it with sautéed greens or with a poached egg or just on its own with some cracked pepper and parmesan cheese. Before the season ends, I hope to try it with some sautéed mushrooms, too, which is how they serve it at La Toque, the source of this wonderful recipe.
You’ll discover it takes no time to whip up, just a little elbow grease during preparations — grating the ears of corn can be tiring. With that in mind, this is not a dish to make for company. It is the perfect dinner-for-1 or-2. It is simple and delicious. It is restaurant worthy certainly, but comfort food at its core. And I hope it will leave you wondering, as it has left me, where have you been all my life?
One ear’s worth of grated corn:
I found this recipe from The View from the Bay online. There’s a little video included on the website, which is sort of helpful to watch, but not critical. The original recipe hails from La Toque, where they serve it with sautéed chanterelles. Yum Yum Yum.
1. Clean the corn, removing all husks and threads. Working over a large bowl, grate the kernels off of the cob on the coarse side of a box grater. You will have a very wet coarse pulpy mixture.
2. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add the grated corn and season with a good pinch of salt. Simmer over low heat, stirring to prevent browning, for about 3 minutes. The mixture is ready when it just begins to thicken and set.
3. Top with some grated Parmigiano Reggiano and/or a poached egg or some sautéed greens.
Next time you are invited to a potluck picnic, volunteer to make sandwiches. And then make these. You will be loved forever. I promise.
Roasted red peppers, arugula and an herbed goat cheese* is a particularly nice combination at the moment but later in the summer, when the tomatoes are peaking, a classic Caprese salad on this homemade focaccia will be a huge hit.
I have been making this focaccia recipe since it was printed in Fine Cooking magazine over six years ago now. It’s credited to Peter Reinhart and, like all of his recipes, is very precise. But unlike many of his recipes, which seem to begin days in advance of baking time, this one is just an overnighter and only takes minutes to prepare. It’s particularly easy if you have a stand mixer but Reinhart provides detailed by-hand mixing instructions as well. Make it. It’s a winner for sure.
I learned something, too, about roasting peppers while preparing for this picnic: Patience pays. I roasted these peppers as I usually do — on a parchment-lined sheetpan under the broiler for about 15 to 20 minutes or until evenly blackened — and steamed them as I usually do — in an aluminum bowl covered with plastic wrap. But instead of rushing the peeling, charring my little fingers in the process, I waited to peel till the following morning. It was a breeze. From here on out, I will roast, steam and peel 24 hrs. in advance … rrrrrigghhht.
* Note: I whipped a log of honey-goat cheese from Trader Joe’s with fresh basil and about 1/4 cup of crème fraîche (for texture), which made a delicious spread. Any herb or combination of herbs would be nice but I definitely recommend whipping the goat cheese with a little bit of milk or yogurt or something of the sort to make spreading easier.
Notes: If you don’t have a mixer, follow the instructions on the Fine Cooking website for mixing by hand.
1 lb. 9 oz. (5-1/2 cups) unbleached bread flour
2-1/2 cups cold water (about 55°F)
2 Tbs. plus 1 tsp. granulated sugar (1 oz.)
2 tsp. table salt or 3-1/2 tsp. kosher salt (1/2 oz.)
1 packet (1/4 oz.) instant yeast (also called quick-rise, rapid-rise, or fast-rising yeast)
10 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
Sea salt or kosher salt for sprinkling
Mix the dough:
Coat a bowl large enough to hold the dough when it doubles in size with 1 Tbs. of the olive oil. Transfer the dough to the bowl and rotate the dough to coat it with the oil.
Hold the bowl steady with one hand. Wet the other hand in water, grasp the dough and stretch it to nearly twice its size.
Lay the stretched section back over the dough. Rotate the bowl a quarter turn and repeat this stretch-and-fold technique. Do this two more times so that you have rotated the bowl a full 360 degrees and stretched and folded the dough four times. Drizzle 1 Tbs. of the olive oil over the dough and flip it over. Wrap the bowl well with plastic and refrigerate it overnight, or for at least 8 to 10 hours.
Shape the focaccia:
Remove the bowl of dough from the refrigerator and start shaping the focaccia 3 hours before you intend to bake it (2 hours on a warm day). The dough will have nearly doubled in size. Cover a 13×18-inch rimmed baking sheet with parchment or a silicone baking mat and coat the surface with 2 Tbs. of the olive oil.
Gently slide a rubber spatula or a dough scraper under the dough and guide it out of the bowl onto the center of the pan. The dough will sink beneath its own weight, expelling some gas but retaining enough to keep an airy gluten network that will grow into nice holes.
Drizzle 2 Tbs. of the olive oil on top of the dough. (Don’t worry if some rolls off onto the pan; it will all be absorbed eventually.)
Dimple the entire dough surface, working from the center to the edges, pressing your fingertips straight down to create hollows in the dough while gently pushing the dough down and out toward the edges of the pan. At first you might only be able to spread the dough to cover about one-half to three-quarters of the pan. Don’t force the dough when it begins to resist you. Set it aside to rest for 20 minutes. The oil will prevent a crust from forming.
After letting the dough rest, drizzle another 2 Tbs. olive oil over the dough’s surface and dimple again. This time, you will be able to push the dough to fill or almost fill the entire pan. It should be about 1/4 to 1/2 inch thick. If it doesn’t stay in the corners, don’t worry; the dough will fill the corners as it rises.
Cover the dough loosely with oiled plastic wrap, put the pan on a rack to let air circulate around it, and let the dough rise at room temperature until it’s about 1-1/2 times its original size and swells to the rim of the pan. This will take 2 to 3 hours, depending on the temperature of the room. Thirty minutes before baking, heat your oven to 475°F.
Bake the focaccia:
Just before baking, gently remove the plastic wrap and sprinkle a few pinches of sea salt or kosher salt over the dough. Put the pan in the middle of the hot oven and reduce the heat to 450°F. After 15 minutes, rotate the pan to ensure even baking.
Check the dough after another 7 minutes. If it’s done, it will be golden brown on top and, if you lift a corner of the dough, the underside will be golden as well. If not, return the pan to the oven for another 1 to 2 minutes and check again.
Set a cooling rack over a sheet of aluminum foil or parchment (to catch drippings). Use a metal spatula to release the dough from the sides of the pan. Slide the spatula under one end of the focaccia and jiggle it out of the pan onto the rack. If any oil remains in the pan, pour it evenly over the focaccia’s surface. Carefully remove the parchment or silicone liner from beneath the focaccia. Let cool for 20 minutes before cutting and serving.
Roasted Red Peppers
Yield= However many you want
(Estimate about 1 pepper for every 1 to 2 people)
red bell peppers
1. Preheat the broiler. Line a sheetpan with parchment paper for easy cleaning. Alternatively, grease the sheetpan with a little bit of olive oil.
2. Cut peppers in half lengthwise. Remove stem and seeds. Place peppers cut side down on sheet pan. Broil for about 15 to 20 minutes or until evenly charred.
3. Place peppers in a large bowl. Cover with plastic wrap. Steam until completely cool — overnight is ideal. Use peppers for salads, sandwiches, pasta salads, etc.
There are many ways to make a yummy herbed goat cheese. This is what I did: I whipped a log of honey-goat cheese (delicious on its own) from Trader Joe’s with fresh basil and about 1/4 cup of crème fraîche (for texture), which made a delectable spread. Any herb or combination of herbs would be nice but I definitely recommend whipping the goat cheese with a little bit of milk or yogurt or something of the sort to make spreading easier.
Our great eating adventure 2010 began at home with champagne and oysters. Oh champagne and oysters! Is anything more celebratory? I suppose you have to like oysters. Champagne is a given. The last time Ben and I had champagne and oysters together was at Balthazar, the morning after we wed, nearly five years ago now … ahhh memories.
Anywho, last Friday, we commenced a little long weekend getaway with a dozen and a half oysters, a bottle of Piper Hiedsieck, a wedge of Tomme de Savoie, Marcona almonds, a beet salad, and grilled flatbread topped with grapes and a wee too much cheese. It was a fun little spread.
The following morning we headed north to Solvang stopping first in Los Angeles for dinner at Ganda, a Thai restaurant reviewed in the March issue of Saveur by James Oseland, the magazine’s editor-in-chief. Apparently Oseland, on a recent visit to LA, went to Ganda five days in a row for the pla duk pad ped, or crispy catfish — catfish dry-braised in galangal, Kaffir lime leaves, and an abundance of spices. He declared the dish his favorite thing to eat in LA. Strong endorsement, si or no? Well, while I can’t see myself going to Ganda five days in a row for pla duk pad ped, the dish was delicious, and Ganda didn’t disappoint. I could eat that food all night long.
Now, where I can see myself going five nights in a row is a little place called Full of Life Flatbread in Los Alamos, CA. Full of Life Flatbread is not dissimilar to my favorite restaurants, Bar, in New Haven, CT, and Pizzeria Mozza, in Los Angeles. What can I say? Ben and I basically fell in love over a thin-crust white clam pizza, and when a restautant offers this very pie, never are we happier. But FLF offered more than just a delectable white clam, bacon and leek flatbread. Our appetizer — a grilled asparagus and chanterelle salad tossed with prosciutto, wilted frisée and Parmigiano — couldn’t have been more delicious; neither could the wine, a local Grenache, nor our sausage, onion and cheese flatbread. Yum yum yum.
You’ve all seen Sideways, right? Well, if you visit these parts, you can do the whole Sideways tour if you’d like, stopping at the various vineyards, tasting rooms, restaurants, attractions, etc. The only Sideways spot we came close to experiencing was the Los Olivos Cafe — where Miles drunk dials his ex-wife Vicki — located in the heart of Los Olivos, an adorable town with a great lunch spot — Panino — and some great tasting rooms and shops.
Los Olivos, Los Alamos, Buellton — I can’t say enough about the whole Santa Ynez valley. It is a beautiful part of the country. Ben and I have visited the area three times now and discover new must-try spots every time. If you are looking for a wine country get away but can’t fit Napa into your budget, consider this area. It is a blast. Apparently there’s a dude ranch in the area as well. We’ll have to scope that out next time.
By the way, we stayed in a great hotel, Hotel Corque. A little photo tour of our long weekend continues below:
In Los Angeles, we stayed at the Buky House, a wonderful Bed and Breakfast located in the La Brea (maybe?) neighborhood of the city.
Downtown Solvang. We had fun cruising the streets. So did the bebeka.
There are a ton of bakeries in Solvang each offering many Danish specialties. We particularly enjoyed the kringle and cheese danish at Olsen’s on Mission Drive.
For lunch both days we picked up sandwiches, once at The Chef’s Touch in Solvang and once at Panino in Los Olivos. There are several nice patches of grass in Solvang as well as countless vineyards with rolling hills perfect for picnicking.
Full of Life Flatbread in Los Olivos. Amazing restaurant. Only open Friday, Saturday and Sunday. A must-try spot if you are vising this area.
Aebleskivers. Another must-try spot is Arne’s Famous Aebleskivers in Solvang. Arne’s is a dine-in restaurant but you can also purchase aebleskivers — pancake like donut holes — drizzled with raspberry jam and sprinkled with powdered sugar right from a walk-up window on the street. They are delicious.
Los Olivos. A beautiful little town with great tasting rooms, shops and restaurants.
Bridlewood Winery. Bridlewood is located in Santa Ynez. It is beautiful — a perfect spot to picnic. They only have one rule: If you picnic on their grounds, you have to drink their wine. Fair enough. We bought a bottle of Grenache to enjoy with our sandwiches from Panino. It was a beautiful afternoon.
root 246. On Monday evening, we ate at root 246. We kept it simple, splitting a caesar salad topped with a poached egg to start and sharing the burger and a Mexican flatbread as our entrées. Everything was fabulous. root 246 is a must-try spot as well.
Finally, we headed home, stopping in Los Angeles to meet a dear friend for lunch at Cafe Midi and dessert — some amazing cookies — at Milk. Isn’t Harry adorable?
I should just rename my blog “Liza’s Daughter’s Blog.” These days, it seems, I only make dishes that my mother has fed me or told me about. When I was home in CT for my sister’s wedding last month, I was welcomed with a steaming bowl of this Vermont cheddar cheese soup, a slice of spanakopita, warm homemade bread, and yogurt cake for dessert. I devoured every morsel then fell into a several-hour-long food coma. It was heaven.
It’s hard to find fault in lots of extra sharp cheddar cheese, tons of fresh thyme, and vegetables sautéed in rendered pancetta fat, but several unexpected ingredients — beer, mustard, worcestershire and Tabasco — make this soup truly special. Oh, it is just wonderful!
I find the method for making this soup interesting. Now, I have never made a cheesy soup before, so perhaps this method is standard, but in this recipe, the grated cheese is tossed with flour before being stirred into the hot milk. This mixture thickens in its own pot before being added to the pot of sautéed vegetables, beer, stock and sauces. And while I wouldn’t think to err from my mother’s detailed instructions, my auntie Marcy reported that this step cannot be omitted — if the cheese and milk (with or without the four) are added directly to the vegetable stock pot, the soup will never come together — it will just curdle and separate into a mess. So, be warned.
And while any bread would go well with this soup, I have been enjoying beer bread with it for the past week. I used to make beer bread all the time. Not sure why I stopped because it is the SIMPLEST bread to prepare. No kneading or rising is required. If ever you want homemade bread with dinner and fear you have no time, consider this recipe — it literally takes five minutes to assemble and 40 minutes to bake. Simps.
For a light but comforting meal, serve this soup with bread (perhaps beer bread) and a wintery salad of arugula, candied pecans, diced pear and blue cheese. Yum yum.
Vermont Cheddar Cheese Soup
Source: Mother Liza and Auntie Marcy
Yield= a ton (about 14 cups)
½ cup small-diced pancetta (about 4 oz.)
1 T. olive oil
1 large onion, diced
2 carrots, diced (to yield about a cup)
2 ribs celery, diced (to yield about a cup)
1 large red bell pepper, diced
2 T. fresh thyme
1 large red potato, peeled and diced
6 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade*
12 oz. beer such as Otter Creek Copper Ale or Nut Brown Ale (I used an Amber ale)
3½ cups whole milk
3 T. Dijon mustard
3 dashes Worcestershire
2 dashes (or more) hot pepper sauce, such as Tabasco
freshly ground pepper
4 cups grated sharp cheddar cheese (about a pound)
2/3 cup flour
fresh Italian parsley, optional
*only homemade if you ask Liza and Marcy
1. In a large soup pot, sauté pancetta in olive oil until crisp and brown. (Alternatively, place the pancetta in the pan without any oil, cover the pan, and turn the heat to low. Cook for about 5 minutes. This should render out some of the fat . Remove the lid, turn the heat up to medium and cook until the pancetta is crisp.) Remove pancetta with slotted spoon and drain on a paper towel.
2. In the rendered fat, sweat the onions, carrots, celery and pepper over medium heat for 15 minutes until soft.
3. Add thyme, potato and chicken broth and simmer until potato is soft, about 10 minutes. Add beer.
4. Heat the milk in a separate pot until it just barely boils. Meanwhile, grate the cheese on the large-holed side of a grater and place it in a large Ziploc bag. Shake with the 2/3 cup flour. Add this cheese-flour mixture to the hot milk and stir until the cheese has melted and the mixture has thickened slightly.
5. Add the milk mixture to the pot with veggies and stock. Add mustard, sauces and salt and pepper to taste. Whisk for a few minutes to avoid curdling.
6. When serving, sprinkle some reserved pancetta in each bowl. Add more hot sauce to taste. Serve with bread.
Note:Soup is even better the next day.
Yield = 1 standard loaf pan or 3 mini pans
butter for greasing the pan
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon baking powder
1½ teaspoon kosher salt
1 tablespoon sugar
1 beer, I like Magic Hat #9 or any amber ale or Bass or whatever
4 tablespoons butter
1. Preheat the oven to 425ºF.
2. Grease a 9X5X3-inch loaf pan (a standard loaf pan) with softened butter.
3. Whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt and sugar. Add beer, stir until combined and place in prepared pan.
4. Bake for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 375ºF and bake for 30 minutes longer (or less) or until golden brown on top. Remove from oven and place pan on a cooling rack. Let bread sit in pan.
5. Meanwhile, melt butter. Pour the butter over bread. Let sit for five minutes then turn bread out onto a cutting board and serve immediately with more softened butter.
Does it seem odd that I have to go to Costco to find local cheese? Well, I do. And I must admit, I didn’t join Costco because they sell the delicious Bubalus Bubalis mozzarella cheese. The truth is that I joined last February to buy a flat screen tv. I know, I know. You hypocrite, you say. But before you completely judge my membership to this megastore, hear my defense.
Actually, hear Bill Buford’s defense. (Or my interpretation of a Buford theory.) In Heat, Bill Buford spends a considerable amount of time in Panzano, Italy, a small village overlooking vineyards and olive groves in the “Conca d’Oro”, the “Golden Valley,” a large chianti-producing region. Towards the end of his stay, he reflects:
“My theory is one of smallness … As theories go, mine is pretty crude. Small food — good. Big food — bad. For me, the language we use to talk about modern food isn’t quite accurate or at least doesn’t account for how this Italian valley has taught me to think.
“The metaphor is usually one of speed: fast food has ruined our culture; slow food will save it … You see the metaphor’s appeal. But it obscures a fundamental problem, which has little to do with speed and everything to do with size. Fast food did not ruin our culture. The problem was already in place, systemic in fact, and began the moment food was treated like an inanimate object — like any other commodity — that could be manufactured in increasing numbers to satisfy a market.
“In effect, the two essential players in the food chain swapped roles. One moment the producer determined what was available and how it was made. The next moment it was the consumer. The Maestro blames the supermarkets, but the supermarkets are just a symptom.
“What happened in the food business has occurred in every aspect of modern life, and the change has produced many benefits: I like island holidays and flat-screen televisions and have no argument with global market economies, except in this respect — in what it has done to food.”
How does this passage help my case at all? Certainly, you say, Costco carries much of the “big food” Buford describes.
But Costco also carries those very inanimate objects which Buford notes have produced many benefits, many benefits I enjoy on a daily basis. TV watching has never been more enjoyable since we introduced a Vizio to our livingroom. Work on the computer has never been more efficient since I replaced my laptop with a desktop. Countless frustrations vanished when I purchased my Canon Rebel XT. I am so thankful these gadgets have been manufactured at a scale that affords me and so many others the opportunity to have them.
Is this so wrong? Why do I feel guilt when I shop at Costco even if I am purchasing zero food? I know why. It’s because I know that by supporting Costco’s sale of inanimate objects, I am supporting the store overall and supporting a type of food system that contrasts sharply with that I have been trying to support these past few years. It’s a quandary.
That said, it’s a quandary that has become less troublesome since I discovered one item in the dairy aisle. Costco carries Bubalus Bubalis mozzarella, a local brand of mozzarella made from water buffalo. The buffalo actually graze in northern California, but the cheese, if I understand correctly, is produced in Gardena. I first tasted this mozzarella last summer at the Santa Monica farmers’ market and became instantly smitten. It is creamy and delicious, rivaling the imported Italian mozzarella di bufala. I haven’t been able to find it anywhere near me until I stumbled upon it at Costco.
Summer wouldn’t be summer without tomato and mozzarella salads. Bubalus Bubalis mozzarella paired with Cherokee purple tomatoes is a recipe for success. I discovered Cherokee purple tomatoes last summer at the San Clemente farmers’ market and I have looked forward to eating them since last October, when they disappeared from the farmstands. In April, I had the chance to visit Valdivia Farm, the Carlsbad farm that grows these delectable heirloom tomatoes. If you’d like to hear about my trip, read this. Below, there are a few pictures from the farm in April just after the tomatoes were planted.
A man selling produce at the Valdivia Farmstand in Carlsbad.
The tomato field at Valdivia Farm in April just a few weeks after the tomatoes were planted.
My mother recently described a sandwich an old man prepared for her at a bed and breakfast in Barcelona: toasted bread, rubbed with garlic, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled with salt, moistened with a squeezed tomato and topped with jamón Iberico. In the mornings, the man tops this concoction with an egg fried in olive oil. Holy cow.
These pigs, the man told my mother, feast on acorns, which impart a nutty flavor into the meat while also making the fat composition of the meat high in monounsaturated fat, the good kind that, like olive oil, helps lower bad cholesterol. I believe it. When Ben and I visited Polyface Farm, Joel Salatin told us roughly the same thing. He described his pork as “olive oil pork” because his pigs’ diet consisted of acorns and other nuts from his forest.
I wasn’t able to find jamón Iberico at any shop near me, and depending where you live, you might have difficulty, too. Jamón Iberico made its first appearance in this country in December 2007, when the U.S. finally approved a producer in Spain to export the delicacy. LaTienda.com gives a more extensive history about jamón Iberico and jamón Iberico de Bellota, which is the acorn-fed variety. According to La Tienda, the black-hoofed Iberian hog is a prized animal whose lineage stretches back to Christopher Columbus who is said to have had a few of these hogs aboard the Santa María when he set out to discover the New World.
Oh how I long to get my hands on some of this ham. Prosciutto di Parma is a fine substitute but jamón Iberico sounds so exotic and divine. To my sandwich, I added a few slices of Mahón, a cow’s milk cheese produced in Menorca, an island off the eastern coast of Spain. Manchego would be nice in this sandwich as well.
Also, I just saw in my Gourmet magazine email newsletter, that Ruth Reichl’s “secret weapon” for a no-cook summer meal is the American version of serrano ham produced by the Edwards family of Virginia. Made from humanely raised Six-Spotted Berkshire pigs smoked slowly over hickory, this ham, according to Ruth, pairs nicely with melon or simply with some really good bread. (While this is by no means local to me, this might be a nice alternative for those east coasters looking to eat more locally.)
The Most Delicious Sandwich on the Face of the Earth, Presently
two slices of bread, bakery-style bread (French, Italian) 1 clove garlic, gently smashed and sliced in half 1 tomato extra-virgin olive oil, use a good one (Temecula Olive Oil Company Citrus Reserve) nice salt a few thin slices of jamón Iberico or prosciutto di Parma or Serrano ham a few thin slices of cheese, such as Mahon or Manchego or Zamorano
1. Toast or grill the bread. I grilled it, but that was mostly to get the pretty grill marks for the picture. Toasting would be simpler and just as effective.
2. Rub each slice of bread with the cut garlic.
3. Cut the tomato in half (or cut off one-third of it). Squeeze the tomato over each slice making them nice and juicy. Drizzle each slice with olive oil and sprinkle with salt.
4. Top with a few slices of the ham. Lay each piece down one at a time, allowing the meat to sort of form ripples so air pockets form between the layers. Top with the cheese. Close the sandwich and eat.
It’s hard to find fault in a warm round of herb-marinated, breadcrumb-encrusted goat cheese. But seriously my friends, the goat cheese was not the star of this salad. See those greens up there? The tender green leaves and the baby red romaine? These greens, gosh, I can’t even begin to tell you how delicious they are. They come from Morning Song Farm, the north San Diego County farm whose CSA I just joined.
I have been meaning to join a CSA since arriving in California over a year ago now, and when I learned that the new wine and cheese bar in town was a drop off spot for CSAs, I jumped. I signed up on a Monday via email and two days later my box of freshly harvested produce arrived at The Cellar. I can’t tell you how easy it was. Before I knew it, the above pictured greens were in my hands along with a boodle of other treats — lemons, avocados, grapefruits, Swiss Chard, beets, strawberries, herbs and the list goes on and on. (You can see almost everything that arrived in weeks one and two in the pictures below.)
When I saw these greens, I thought of Alice Waters’ recipe for baked goat cheese salad, which Cookstr recently highlighted in their Mother’s Day newsletter. It’s a wonderful recipe. I followed it mostly, substituting toasted panko bread crumbs for the freshly made ones, a shortcut I’m sure Alice Waters would look down on, but alas, it worked.
Anyway, hooray!, it’s Wednesday, which means it’s CSA pickup day. I hate to be sentimental, but one of the best parts about belonging to a CSA is actually belonging. I so look forward to walking up to The Cellar every Wednesday and saying hi to Dawn and Zoe, who have become my west coast incarnations of Sarah Cain, Emily Teel and Joanna Pernick, my friends at the Fair Food Farmstand whom I dearly miss. It is so much fun peaking inside the box each week, inspecting the goods, and sharing a strawberry or a few strands of the most fragrant and delectable mint you have ever seen. Seriously, it is a real joy.
For the goat cheese rounds:
½ pound fresh goat cheese (one 2 by 5-inch log)
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 to 4 sprigs fresh thyme, chopped
1 small sprig rosemary, chopped
½ sour baguette, preferably a day old (I used panko bread crumbs)
For the salad:
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
Salt and pepper
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil, walnut oil, or a combination
½ pound garden lettuces, washed and dried
1. Carefully slice the goat cheese into 8 disks about ½ inch thick. Pour the olive oil over the disks and sprinkle with the chopped herbs. Cover and store in a cool place for several hours or up to a week.
2. Preheat the oven to 300°F. Cut the baguette in half lengthwise and dry out in the oven for 20 minutes or so, until dry and lightly colored. Grate into fine crumbs on a box grater or in a food processor. The crumbs can be made in advance and stored until needed. (Note: Using panko makes this process much simpler)
3. Preheat the oven to 400°F. (Note: Cookstr says a toaster oven works well.) Remove the cheese disks from the marinade and roll them in the bread crumbs, coating them thoroughly. Place the cheeses on a small baking sheet and bake for about 6 minutes, until the cheese is warm.
4. Measure the vinegars into a small bowl and add a big pinch of salt. Whisk in the oil and a little freshly ground pepper. Taste for seasoning and adjust. Toss the lettuces lightly with the vinaigrette and arrange on salad plates. With a metal spatula, carefully place 2 disks of the baked cheese on each plate and serve.
This tart is really fun. And different. And delicious. I can’t promise a quick-and-easy dinner with this recipe — beets must be roasted; a tart shell must be baked — but with a little planning, assembly of this tart is quite simple. And it is so worth the effort.
Why are beets, goat cheese and walnuts so good together? And why did I never think to bake them all together in a flaky, buttery shell? Gordon Hamersley recommends serving this tart with a little mixed greens tossed with a bright vinaigrette, which is exactly what I did.
I spotted this recipe in a recent Cookstr newsletter entitled “10 Dishes Under $10.” Under $10 very likely it was — my bunch of beets cost $2 at the farmers’ market, and I still have all of the greens remaining to use for another meal.
Let’s see. I did make a few changes, only one of which is significant. I substituted buttermilk for the heavy cream. The recipe calls for 3/4 of a cup of heavy cream, which, and I hate to be so girly, amounts to 700 calories. The substitution of buttermilk brings that down to 90. Nine. Zero. I mean that is seriously significant. And while I can’t speak for the taste of the full-fat version, buttermilk does not compromise the flavor. This tart is fabulous. I ate leftovers for breakfast and dinner. Yum yum yum.
The other changes are minor and noted in the recipe.
Above: Beets purchased from the San Clemente Farmers’ Market. I like to buy my beets from Eli’s Ranch. (They park in front of the library and sell the best avocados, too.)
Below: To blind bake a tart shell, line it with plastic wrap and dried beans. Fold the plastic up and over so that the crust is exposed. Bake for about 20 minutes at 375ºF.
Be warned: If you care about your cutting board, don’t cut beets on it. I forgot to use my plastic one for this job. Oops.
Beet, Goat Cheese and Walnut Tart
Source: Gordon Hamersley via Cookstr Note: Below is a simplified version of the recipe. Find the original here.
Serves 4 to 6
1 recipe tart dough, shaped and blind baked
Yield: 12 ounces, enough for one 10-inch tart or 6 individual tarts
1½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon kosher salt
10 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small cubes and well chilled
4 to 5 tablespoons ice water
1. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour and the salt. Quickly cut the butter into the flour, using a pastry blender or the back of a fork, until the butter pieces are the size of large peas. (Alternatively, cut the butter into the flour by pulsing it 8 to 10 times in a food processor, being careful not to overheat and overmix the butter.)
2. Add the ice water. Using just your fingertips and working quickly, combine the flour mixture and the water. Work just until the water is absorbed. The dough will be ragged but should hold together when you squeeze it. If it seems dry, sprinkle on a few more drops of water. (I had to add a few more tablespoons of water.)
3. Gather the dough up into a ball — it’s fine if the dough does not come together completely at this time. Wrap the dough well in plastic wrap, flatten it a bit, and let it rest in the refrigerator for at least a half hour before rolling. The dough will keep in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. You can also freeze the dough, well wrapped; allow it to defrost for a day in the refrigerator before using it.
4. Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Roll the dough into a large circle — large enough to overlap whatever sized tart pan you are using. Press the dough into the corners and into the sides of the tart pan. Trim off any excess dough. Line the tart with plastic wrap and fill with dried beans or pie weights. Fold plastic up and over to expose the crust. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven. Remove beans from tart.
Meanwhile Prepare the Tart.
Note: This recipe has been slightly modified from the original, which can be found here.
2 to 3 small beets (Note: Since you are roasting beets, you may as well roast a few more. When assembling the tart, I used about 2 heaping cups of diced beets) Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon unsalted butter or olive oil
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons dry white wine (or Sherry or Madeira — whatever you have on hand.)
1 recipe tart dough (above)
3 large eggs
¾ cup heavy cream (I used buttermilk)
4 ounces fresh goat cheese (I used less. Add according to taste/preference.)
1 cup chopped walnuts (I used less. Add according to taste/preference.)
1 tablespoon walnut oil (Optional — I did not use.)
About 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
1. Heat the oven to 450°F. Wash the beets. Place the beets in a small ovenproof pan (like a brownie pan or a pie plate.) Add water to reach 1/8-inch up the sides. Cover the pan tightly with aluminum foil. Bake until the beets are tender when pierced with a paring knife, about 45 minutes.
2. Allow the beets to cool. (Or not). Rub the skins off of the beets with your fingers, then dice the beets into small cubes. (Be careful, as beet juice can stain counters, towels, and even your hands; you may want to wear gloves for this step.)
3. Heat the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the onion, season with a little salt, and cook, stirring every few minutes, until the onion is just tender, about 7 minutes. Add the alcohol and cook for another minute, scraping up any browned bits stuck to the bottom of the pan. (Note: I caramelized my onions a bit more — cooked them slowly for about 25 minutes.)
4. Heat the oven to 350°F. Add the beets and onions to the blind-baked tart shell. (Note: I added the walnuts at this step as well, but Hamersley adds them after the tart has already baked for 20 minutes. Your call.)
5. Whisk together the eggs and cream (or buttermilk), season with a pinch of salt and pepper, and carefully pour over the beets and onion, letting the mixture seep evenly into the beets. Dot the goat cheese all over the top of the tart. Put the tart on a baking sheet and bake it for 20 minutes. Sprinkle the chopped walnuts on top of the tart and drizzle the walnut oil over it, if using. Return the tart to the oven and bake until just set, an additional 15 to 20 minutes. Sprinkle the tart with the chopped parsley and let it rest for at least 5 minutes before serving.
Final Notes: If you can roast the beets ahead of time and prepare the tart shell (or make the tart dough) in advance, this tart can be assembled in no time.
I cut the bread too thick. And I didn’t use enough cheese — I thought four ounces of cheese per sandwich seemed a little excessive. But maybe that’s what it takes to make the ultimate grilled cheese.
Saveur says: “The Secret to making a perfect grilled cheese sandwich is cooking it over low heat, which brings out the subtle flavors of a cheese, and slathering the bread with butter, which crisps it in the pan. Comté, with its semifirm texture and nutty taste, is great for grilling.”
Saveur’s recipe for “the ultimate grilled cheese sandwich” calls for placing a cast-iron skillet over low heat and cooking the sandwich, flipping once, for 20 minutes. Twenty minutes! Who knew it took so long to make a grilled cheese sandwich? I did in fact cook my grilled cheese for 20 minutes and, thanks to a hefty slathering of butter, my sandwich crisped up nicely in my cast-iron pan. Oh, if only I had cut the bread thinner!
I think this cooking technique has the potential to produce a really great sandwich and next time around, I hope to find comté cheese, too. French comté is made from the milk of the Montbeliarde cows who graze on wild orchids, daisies and dandelions. Yum. If you can’t find comté, gruyère makes a fine substitute.