Fish En Papillote

fish en papillote

fish en papillote

I have decided I sound too freaky to speak on camera.

And so, I present to you a silent film: Fish en Papillote:


(The video seems to stall a bit at 1:18. Just help it along by scrolling past that point.)

Yesterday, 2,438 miles away from me, two very good friends resolved to make fish en papillote for their Sunday night dinner. I tried to explain the process to them via a series of emailed pictures, but I have yet to hear if they were any help. I hope this video might assist them in the future.

In any case, en papillote is currently my favorite way to prepare fish. These parchment packages are magical. How so? Let me tell you:

1. When cooked en papillote, a fish fillet retains its heat to the last bite. I love fish, but it’s tricky to cook — so easily overcooked — and it cools down quickly. These packages somehow manage to keep the fish fillets hot without drying them out one bit. And by keeping the fish piping hot, the en papillote method helps you eat more slowly, allowing you to savor your dinner, which I appreciate. I tend to eat very quickly. Like its a race or something.

2. Because I like to eat cake for breakfast these days, fish en papillote makes for a very healthy finish to the day. Seriously, not even a splash of olive oil or a dab of butter is used when assembling the packages. These added fats are truly unnecessary because all of the juices from the fish and the vegetables combine to make a nice little sauce. Served with a simple salad and homemade bread, fish en papillote makes a wonderful summer meal.

3. The packets can be prepared ahead of time — perfect for entertaining. I know summer is prime barbecue season, but it’s OK to give the grill a rest every now and then. You can still eat your en papillotes outside. (Warning: Because of the lemon juice and the salt, these packets should not be assembled for more than two or three hours ahead of time — I prepared them and stored them in the fridge for two hours when I made them for my parents last weekend.)

4. This recipe is so versatile. Although I’ve only experimented with sea bass and halibut, I suspect many fish species would take well to this preparation. Please let me know if you find success with any other varieties. Here, I’ve used Mexican sea bass because I can find it fresh at my Sunday farmers’ market.

Fill the packages with whatever you like: squash, tomatoes, mushrooms, onions, scallions, herbs, etc.

The package keeps all of the juices inside, creating a steaming hot, tender, flaky package of goodness.

Ta-da! Perfectly cooked fish every time. Seriously, this recipe is foolproof.

Fish en Papillote
Serves 4

4 18×13-inch (approximately) pieces parchment paper
about 16 leaves Swiss chard, washed and dried
4 6-oz fish fillets, I buy the Mexican sea bass from my farmers’ market, but any fish will do
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 tablespoons chopped shallots
2 tablespoons caper
2 lemons, quartered
½ cup Nicoise or Kalamata olives, pitted
1 cup cherry tomatoes
1 cup sliced zucchini
sliced basil, parsley or tarragon

1. Preheat the oven to 500ºF.

2. Lay one sheet of parchment paper on the counter and fold it in half lengthwise just to make a crease. Open the parchment paper. Place about four leaves of Swiss chard in the center of the parchment paper just below the centerfold. Top with fish fillet. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Top with shallots and capers. Squeeze half a lemon on top and tuck lemon half next to fish. Sprinkle olives and tomatoes around fish.

3. Fold top half of paper over bottom half and begin folding tightly from the center to one of the sides. Go back to the center and fold tightly in the opposite direction. (See video for more assistance.)

4. Repeat with each fish. Place packages on a cookie sheet and cook about 10 minutes. (Estimate about 10 minutes per inch — if the fillets are a little bit thicker than one inch, add 1 or 2 minutes.)

Good Stock

Tinga

I’m sort of embarrassed about posting this video, but after I shot it, I couldn’t resist. I sound like such a freak. I’m pretty sure I don’t sound like that normally.

Anyway, I happened to be preparing tinga, which I’ve described before, and thought it might be a good opportunity to talk about stock. I know the thought of making stock from scratch can feel like a lot of work. But making stock really is as simple as throwing chickens in a pot, covering them with water, and letting them simmer for a few hours. Additions such as onions, carrots, celery, bay leaves, peppercorns, etc., of course, enhance the flavor of the stock, but if you don’t have them or don’t feel like adding them, it doesn’t matter. The gelatinous stock shown in the video was prepared with nothing more than chickens and water.

Let me tell you about this dish. I learned how to make it from a woman named Patricia who I worked with at Fork back in Philadelphia. Patricia often prepared tinga — chicken stewed with onions, tomatoes and chipotle in adobo sauce — for the “family meal” and served it with rice or soft tortillas. It’s incredibly delicious over crispy tortillas, too, served with a poached egg on top.

This recipe calls for one chicken, but it can be easily doubled. (Tinga freezes well — I have quarts of it ready to be thawed at a moment’s notice.) You also can make chicken stock with the carcass: After you pull off all of the meat, put the remaining bones back in the poaching liquid and let the mixture simmer for another couple of hours.

Chicken, pulled from its bones after simmering in water for about an hour.

Cilantro, soaking to remove dirt.

Chicken carcasses in water ready to be simmered.

Fat, scraped from a quart of chicken stock after sitting in the refrigerator overnight.

Stock, fat removed, ready to be frozen.

Homemade Chicken Stock

Note: As I mentioned above, making stock is as simple as throwing chickens in a pot, covering them with water, and letting them simmer for a few hours. Additions such as onions, carrots, celery, bay leaves, peppercorns, etc., of course, enhance the flavor of the stock, but if you don’t have them or don’t feel like adding them, it doesn’t matter.

These days, I simply remove the legs with their bones from a whole chicken (to be used for one meal) as well as the breasts (to be used for another meal) and throw the two wings and remaining carcass into the stock pot. (Watch the video here for help breaking down a chicken.) I cover these bones/meat with water and let simmer for about 2.5 hours without any additions (carrots, celery, etc.), and I get about 1.5 qts of really flavorful stock.

The below recipe is what my mother does, but truly, you don’t have to be so fussy.

3 lbs chicken, such as a whole chicken or wings or legs or just bones
2 stalks celery
2 carrots
1/2 tsp. whole peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1 onion, cut in half, studded with 4 cloves total (2 in each half)

1. Place chicken or chicken bones into a large pot. Add remaining ingredients. Cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat so that the water is gently simmering. Scoop off and discard any scum that bubbles up at the surface. Let simmer for about 2 hours.

2. Place a colander over a large bowl. Pour contents of stock pot through the colander. Discard all of these pieces once they have cooled. Transfer stock to storage containers and place in the fridge overnight or until completely chilled and fat has formed a solid layer at the top of the container. Scoop off this fat and discard. Freeze stock or store in fridge for at least a week.

Mexican Tinga
Serves 8

1 3-4 lb. chicken
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 white onion, sliced
1 small can chipotles
in adobo sauce
1½ cups canned crushed tomatoes
2 cups chicken stock, low-sodium or homemade
kosher salt to taste
1 bunch cilantro

1. Place chicken in a large pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat so the water just simmers, and cook for 45 minutes. Turn off heat and transfer chicken to a large bowl to cool. When chicken is completely cool, remove the meat from the skin and bones, and place in a clean bowl. (Place bones and skin in a pot, cover with water, and let simmer for several hours. Strain, and transfer the stock to plastic storage containers. Refrigerate overnight. The following day, scrape off the fat and discard. Freeze stock.)

2. In a medium-sized soup pot add the oil and place over medium heat. Sauté the onion over medium heat until slightly caramelized, about 5 minutes. Add 3 of the chipotles and 1 tablespoon of the sauce from the small can of chipotles (or, if you like spice, add the whole can as I did).

3. Stir for one minute until the onions are nicely coated in sauce, then add the tomatoes and chicken stock. Season with a pinch of salt, then add the chicken meat to the pot, breaking up the big chunks as you add the meat.

4. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce heat and simmer mixture very gently for 30 minutes. Coarsely chop the cilantro, add to the pot and stir to incorporate. Taste mixture, add more salt if necessary. Can be made a day ahead. To reheat, simmer mixture very slowly adding chicken stock if liquid becomes too thick.

Onions and chipotles cooking before the chicken, stock and tomatoes are added.

Summer Squash Tart & Happy Fourth!

SummerSquashTart

Hi everyone. Happy Fourth. Just a quick post here. I made this tart, as you may recall, once last summer. This year’s version, made with squash entirely from my garden, is far more special.

I must admit, however, this recipe could be improved, namely because it calls for puff pastry. I don’t want to diss puff pastry or anything, but i’m just not wild about its taste. In a pinch, its great — it saved me this passed Monday when I needed to whip something up for a potluck. If I had more time, however, I might have experimented with a different base. The thin pizza dough, I don’t think would have held up too well for a potluck. A thicker pizza dough might work. Or a savory galette dough. Or the buttery cornmeal crust used in the heirloom tomato tart. I definitely want to try something other than puff pastry because everything else about the tart is great, from the ricotta-parsley spread to the caramelized onions to the blanched squash rounds to the barely melted feta crumbled on top at the last moments of baking.

Also, the pictures here show a tart that has been made with one-third of one sheet of puff pastry. The box I bought came with two units of puff pastry, and I used one and two-thirds for the potluck tart. I had left over ingredients and so made a mini tart, which I ate for breakfast on Tuesday.

Happy Fouth! Oh, and here’s a festive dessert for the holiday: Patriotic Ice Cream Sandwiches

First, you must blind bake the tart shell. I have a stash of beans I use over and over again for this purpose.


Then, you whisk together ricotta, parsley, an egg, and salt and pepper, and spread it across the bottom.

Then, you top the cheese spread with a layer of caramelized onions.

Then, you top the onions with blanched squash rounds. You bake it for 15-20 minutes. Brush it with butter. Bake it again. And you sprinkle on the feta and parsley at the very end.
Summer Squash Tart with Ricotta and Feta
Serves 6

1 10” x 13” sheet frozen puff pastry, thawed
parchment paper
pie weights or dried beans wrapped in plastic
1 tablespoon of olive oil
1 small onion, thinly sliced
kosher salt and pepper to taste
2 lbs. mix of zucchini and yellow squash
½ cup fresh ricotta
1 egg, lightly beaten
1 bunch parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon butter, melted
¼ cup feta cheese

Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Place pastry on a parchment-lined rimmed baking sheet. With a paring knife, gently score (being careful not to go all the way through) the pastry about one inch from the edge on all sides. Prick bottom of pastry all over with a fork, line center area only with parchment paper and fill with pie weights or beans. Bake for 20 minutes or until the edges are golden. Remove pan from oven and place on a cooling rack. Remove weights and parchment paper.

Meanwhile, heat the oil over medium heat and add the onion. Season with salt and pepper and let sauté until slightly caramelized about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove from heat to cool.

Fill a medium saucepan with water and bring to a boil. Cut the squash crosswise into ¼ – inch thick rounds. Add to the pot of boiling water, cook for 30 – 60 seconds, drain and let dry on a paper-towel lined cookie tray.

In a small bowl, whisk together the ricotta, egg and parsley. Season with salt and pepper to taste and spread onto puff pastry. Top with the onions. Arrange squash pieces in overlapping rows until tart is filled. Bake for 15 minutes. Remove from oven, brush with butter and return to the oven for five minutes longer. Remove pan from oven, sprinkle with feta, and let cool for 10 minutes before serving.

Lastly, Ben says Happy Fourth, too!

Selling Lentil Soup In The Summer and Helping Iowan Farmers

LentilSoup

I know this isn’t the most summery of soups. Even us Southern Californians are experiencing a bit of a heat wave. So, why would anyone make lentil soup in the summer? It’s sort of a hard sell, I’ll admit, but I’m going to give it a go.

The 12oz. bag of lentils I purchased cost $3.23. I used about 9 oz. (1½ C.) or $2.42 worth of lentils in this recipe. (As far as lentils go, $3.23 for 12oz. is rather steep. You’ll likely pay much less.) Now, I don’t have all of my receipts to give an accurate estimate of what this soup costs to prepare, but the remaining ingredients, a mixture of pantry items (vinegar, bay leaf, olive oil, tomato sauce and salt) and vegetables (carrots, celery, onions and garlic) cost next to nothing, even given the crazy-high food prices we are currently facing at the market.

This soup is one of the most economical dishes you could ever prepare. It yields three quarts or eight generous servings. Even if the cost of ingredients totaled $10, which is very unlikely, the cost per serving is only $1.25. Serve it with a loaf of bread and you have a complete meal. Lentil soup and bread for dinner might seem a little Spartan, but the addition of a salad with this meal in a way would be superfluous — this soup is filled with vegetables for one, and lentils themselves are nutritional powerhouses: These little legumes are high in fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals and are an excellent source of complex carbohydrates. Also, according to the Web site, The World’s Healthiest Foods, one cup of cooked lentils contains just 230 calories.

Have I sold anyone?

I should note that this soup takes little time to prepare — you basically throw all of the ingredients in a pot and let it simmer for an hour — and that it is delicious. This is one of my mother’s favorite recipes, passed down, I believe, from her mother, and maybe even from her mother’s mother. Am I making this up, mom?

Lastly, the publisher of Edible San Diego, a wonderful magazine “celebrating local food, from coast to crest, season by season” recently informed me about Farm Aid’s Family Disaster Fund. Severe flooding in Iowa and Wisconsin is threatening the lives of family farmers and Farm Aid is providing serious help to the region. Click here to read more about Farm Aid or to help the farmers in these states.

A bowl of French green lentils. I have yet to find a source of local lentils, but I can’t say I have looked terribly hard. In Philadelphia, one of the vendors at the Sunday Headhouse market sold lentils and they were delicious. I purchased these at a shop in Philadelphia nearly a year ago and they traveled with me across country. Unless you have a local source for lentils, I highly recommend the D’Allasandro French Green Lentils.

Simple Lentil Soup
Yield=3 quarts or 8 generous servings

1½ C. French green lentils
1 8oz. can + 1/2 can of tomato sauce, such as Pomi brand
2 large onions, chopped 
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
½ C. red wine vinegar
½ C. extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. fresh thyme leaves, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and diced
3 celery stalks, peeled and diced
crushed red pepper flakes to taste

Throw all ingredients together in a pot. Add 1½ qts. plus one cup of water (seven cups total). Simmer for one hour uncovered. Stir and serve with crusty bread. Tastes even better on day two. Keeps for over a week in the refrigerator. Freezes well, too.

Tortillas & Blossoms

steaktacos

I have a vision of the perfect tortilla. It’s made of corn, from fresh masa, not masa harina. It’s thin. It’s soft. And, ideally, it’s made to order on a griddle-like surface like the ones served every weekend at the Primavera Mexican stand at the San Francisco Ferry Building Farmers’ Market. Several summers ago on a visit to San Fran for a wedding, Ben and I savored these freshly made tortillas for breakfast, filling them with scrambled eggs, salsa, avocados and cheese.

This meal inspired me to buy one of those tortilla presses and to try to replicate our experience at home. I soon learned, however, the task would be impossible — fresh corn masa was no where to be found in the Philadelphia area. Ben even called a shop in California (after reading an article online), to ask if the masa could be shipped across country. (This was before we went local). The woman refused, however, alleging that the masa would perish en route. I made a batch of tortillas anyway using the Maseca brand masa harina — the product all the local taquerías used as well — but the results proved far from satisfying. As time passed, I gave up my search for fresh masa and settled for store-bought varieties, which tasted far superior to my homemade creations. (Incidentally, if you are interested in learning more about the homemade tortilla making process, read this San Francisco Chronicle article.)

I just returned from a wedding in Baja where the yummy tortillas I ate at every meal reminded me of my bygone quest for the perfect tortilla. At the hotel restaurant, the waiters delivered a basket of warm flour and corn tortillas with every meal to be filled with eggs, fish, beef or whatever. Now, I don’t know if it’s just that no tortilla will ever measure up to the ones made at the Primavera stand, or if I’ve changed — I think I prefer flour to corn. I know, I know, corn is more authentic, but there was something about these small, thin, chewy flour tortillas that I could not resist. Alas, it seems my vision of the perfect tortilla may have changed.

How cute is this little zucchini? Each time I walk by my blossom-filled pot, however, I am tempted to rip off the flowers, stuff them with cheese and fry them up. Fortunately, my farmers’ market has a limitless supply of these blossoms, and I can resist the urge.

Now, about this non-local, grass-fed beef. I’m embarrassed to name its country of origin, but I had traveled all the way to Jimbo’s market with Aunt Vicki and her mother, Sy, and I could not pass up the opportunity to purchase a bit of grass-fed meat. Seasoned with salt and pepper, grilled for three to four minutes a side, tri-tip makes a wonderful taco filling, needing little more than salsa, chopped onion and a splash of lime.

Grass-Fed Tri-tip Tacos
Serves 2 to 3

1 lb. grass-fed tri-tip, flank or skirt steak
kosher salt and peper to taste
6 to 9 soft, corn or flour tortillas
finely diced white onion
chopped cilantro
1 avocado, thinly sliced
pico de gallo
1 limes, quartered
grated cheese (optional)
sour cream (optional)

1. Preheat a grill to high. (Alternatively, place a large frying pan over high heat and add a tablespoon of olive oil.) Season the steaks on all sides with salt and pepper to taste. Preheat the oven to 300ºF. Wrap the tortillas in foil and place in the oven.

2. Place onion, cilantro, avocados, pico de gallo, limes, cheese and sour cream in small bowls. Place in the center of the table.

3. Grill the steaks to desired doneness, then let rest for five minutes. Slice thinly against the grain and pile onto a platter. Remove tortillas from the oven, and place two on each plate. Begin assembling tacos.

Breakfast Pizza For Dinner

breakfastpizza

Oh, how I wish I could take credit for this ingenious creation. Alas, I cannot. A very good friend of mine, after observing my egg obsession, kindly directed me to this Apartment Therapy site, offering me yet another way to enjoy my beloved eggs. (Thanks, Amanda!) The eggs, cracked atop the pizza during the last few minutes of baking, retain a runny yolk, which, when cracked, ooze into the crust and toppings — sautéed Swiss chard and cheese, in this case — making each bite unbelievably tasty. This combination was particularly yummy, but I suspect these eggs would enhance various topping combinations, from sausage and peppers to tomato and basil to ricotta and spinach — oh, the possibilities are endless.

Not too long ago, I made a flatbread with brie, prosciutto and watercress — a recipe I spotted in a recently published cookbook Blue Eggs, Yellow Tomatoes. Well, I must confess that the dough recipe I have enclosed below is far superior. Adapted from Todd English’s The Figs Table, this wet dough — admittedly a little difficult to work with — yields a thin and crispy crust. I’m not sure why I bother experimenting with any other recipe — my family (my mother) has been making the Figs’ pizza dough for years with great success.

One note: Unless you have a very powerful food processor, don’t use one. I burned out the engine on mine making this recipe and had to finish the kneading by hand. Use a stand mixer if you have one or knead by hand from the beginning.

This recipe makes a very wet pizza dough. Once baked, however, the dough becomes a light, thin, crisp crust. My family has been using this recipe for years, and one of our favorite topping combinations includes caramelized onions, grapes, blue cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano and fresh basil. This dough freezes well, too: After the two-hour rise, punch it down, wrap it in plastic and throw in the freezer. When ready to use it, let the dough sit at room temperature for a few hours prior to cooking.

Pizza Dough
Adapted from Todd English’s The Figs Table
Makes 4 8- to 10-inch pizzas (Serves 1 to 2 people per pizza)

¼ cup whole wheat flour
3½ cups all-purpose flour, plus additional for rolling
2 teaspoons kosher salt
1 2/3 cups lukewarm water
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons active-dry yeast
2 teaspoons olive oil

1. Place the flours and salt in a mixer fitted with a dough hook. Combine the water, sugar and yeast in a small bowl and let sit for five minutes until the mixture bubbles slightly. Add the olive oil and stir. With the mixer on low, gradually add the oil-water mixture into the bowl. Knead until the dough is firm and smooth, about 10 minutes. The dough will be very wet and sort of difficult to work with. I liberally coat my hands with flour before attempting to remove it.

2. Divide the dough into four balls, about 7½ ounces each. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. (Be sure to oil the parchment paper.) Place two balls on a sheet. Lightly rub the balls with olive oil or lightly coat with cooking spray, then cover loosely with plastic wrap. The dough is very sticky and wet, so, be sure to coat the balls or the plastic with oil. Let the balls rise in a warm spot until they have doubled in bulk, about two hours.

3. To roll out the dough: Dab your fingers in flour and then place one ball on a generously floured work surface. Press down in the center with the tips of your fingers, spreading the dough with your hand. When the dough has doubled in width, use a floured rolling pin and roll out until it is very thin, like flatbread. The outer portion should be a little thicker than the inner portion.

Breakfast Pizza: Sorry for these undetailed instructions, but I really just threw this together.
Serves 2

cornmeal

olive oil
Swiss chard, washed, stems diced, leaves roughly chopped
garlic, minced
kosher salt
crushed red pepper flakes
Grated Parmigiano Reggiano and cheddar and crumbled goat cheese (use any grated cheese you have on hand)
4 eggs

1. Preheat the oven to 500ºF. Follow the instructions above for rolling out the dough. Sprinkle some cornmeal on a baking sheet and transfer the dough to the baking sheet.

2. Meanwhile, sauté the Swiss chard stems in the oil until slightly tender. Increase the heat to high, add the greens, season with salt, red pepper flakes and garlic. Rearrange the greens with tongs until nicely wilted. Turn off the heat and set aside.

3. Top pizza with a thin layer of greens and cover with the grated cheese. Place in the oven for about eight minutes, or until about three minutes away from being done. Remove from the oven and crack the eggs over the pizza. Return to the oven, cooking just until the whites are set and the yolks are slightly runny.

4. Serve immediately.

Delaney’s Cannelloni & Orange Coast Magazine

canneloni

Now, before I begin five days in a row of muffin posts, I must first describe my latest discovery at Delaney’s Culinary Fresh, (you know, the fresh pasta I am obsessed with.) I’m not sure how long owner Jordan Stone has been selling cannelloni, but last Sunday, after spotting them at the farmers’ market, I couldn’t resist breaking my red pepper-linguini routine. And when these spinach- and ricotta-stuffed cigars emerged from the oven bubbling beneath a layer of crispy parmesan cheese, I wasn’t sorry I had.

DCF products make dinner preparations so simple: Preheat the oven to 375ºF. Spread some tomato sauce on the bottom of a baking dish and lay the cannelloni on top. Spread a little more sauce on top of the cannelloni and place them in the oven. After 20 minutes, add a couple handfuls of freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano. A sprinkling of chopped parsley at the very end adds a nice, though uncritical, touch of freshness. Serve with bread and a little salad.

Unlike most filled pasta dishes, particularly the cheese-laden ready-made varieties, these cannelloni taste light — or as light as a cannelloni can taste. And the women at DCF have somehow accomplished this without sacrificing any flavor: From the thin, semolina dough to the subtly flavored spinach filling, these cannelloni are a real treat. Ben made a really good point, too, noting that “The cannelloni aren’t sloppy.” Filled pastas such as manicotti and lasagna — think school lunch line — so often are overly cheesy and watery and heavy. These are not.

Also, just a quick note on parsley. The trend these days, it seems, is to use Italian parsley — the flat leaf variety. I’ve gotten so used to using it, I forget to even consider curly parsley. The other day, however, I remembered some words of wisdom from my grandmother. Sometime last year, my grandmother started buying curly parsley again, preferring its flavor to Italian. And I think, (correct me if I’m wrong, Gramma), an episode of the Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network inspired her to make the switch. In any case, the other day at Trader Joe’s, all that remained was a carton of the curly variety, and so, I bought it — it was delectable. Very flavorful. I used it all week, even in a recipe for cottage cheese muffins which I cannot wait to share with you. So, I guess all I’m saying is not to overlook curly parsley if you cannot find Italian.

And lastly, if you are interested, check out this article, “Linguini Lust,” in Orange Coast Magazine. The article is not on-line, so you’ll have to click on the image at left to read it. Though you may feel you’ve heard enough from me about Delaney’s Culinary Fresh, here you’ll get a little more insight into Stone’s background. She began her fresh pasta business by making compound-butters and selling them in front of her local grocery store. As a single mother, she spent many years working two jobs to support her three daughters — it’s quite an inspiring story.

Now, while a purchased tomato sauce will work just fine for these cannelloni, a homemade sauce can be prepared with little effort: Sauté an onion in a mixture of oil and butter over medium heat until translucent, about five to 10 minutes. Add a jar of peeled, crushed tomatoes such as San Marzano or Pomi brand. Season with salt and pepper and let simmer 20 minutes over low heat. Add a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes or oregano or any seasonings you like. Taste and add a pinch of sugar if necessary.


Farro Risotto with Asparagus

farro

My mother has been telling me about this asparagus risotto for a little over a year now. She adapted the recipe from one printed in Gourmet last spring as well as from one in the New York Times submitted by Mark Bittman via Mario Batali. The recipe calls for puréeing about a pound of cooked asparagus and stirring it into the risotto in the last five minutes of cooking. The remaining pound or so of asparagus tips and stems are also added toward the end — the heat of the risotto slowly cooks them. The purée allows every bite of this risotto to burst with the taste of asparagus and the tips provide a nice crunch as well as additional flavor. Farro or barley are two healthier alternatives to the traditional Arborio rice, but many grains, as long as they are long-cooking grains, will work equally well.

This risotto is best eaten the day it is made mostly because the asparagus pieces deteriorate a little bit after a day or two. That said, Ben raved about this dish even two days later. On Friday, after being in the field for a week, Ben shoveled down two bowls, wiping his dish clean with a nice hunk of bread. Then he turned to me and said, “You should blog about this.” Sometimes he knows just what to say.

Barley Risotto with Asparagus and Hazelnuts
Yield: 3 to 4 servings
Adapted from Gourmet and Mark Bittman and The New York Times

2 lbs. asparagus, peeled, trimmed and cut into one-inch-long pieces, tips reserved
4 to 6 C. chicken or vegetable stock (homemade or low-sodium)
2 T. extra virgin olive oil
3 T. butter, room temperature
½ medium onion, diced very finely
1¼ C. semi-pearled farro* or arborio rice
½ C. dry white wine
1 heaping tsp. kosher salt
¾ C. grated Parmigiano Reggiano
½ C. toasted, coarsely crushed hazelnuts
¼ C. finely chopped parsley

*Purchase at Italian specialty shops (Hulled barley or Arborio rice can be substituted)

1. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add half the asparagus stalks (not the tips) and cook until quite soft, at least five minutes. Rinse quickly under cold water or put in ice water. Put cooked asparagus in a blender or food processor and add ¼ cup water. Purée adding more water one tablespoon at a time if necessary. Set aside.

2. Put stock in a medium saucepan over low heat. Put oil and 1 tablespoon butter in a large, deep skillet or pot over medium heat. When it is hot, add onion, stirring occasionally until it softens, 3 to 5 minutes.

3. Add farro and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is glossy, about 2 to 3 minutes. Add white wine, stir, and let liquid bubble away. Add the salt. Add warmed stock, ½ cup or so at a time, stirring occasionally. Each time stock has just about evaporated, add more.

4. After about 15 minutes, add remaining asparagus pieces and tips, continuing to add stock when necessary. After 5 minutes, begin tasting the risotto. You want the grains to be tender but with a bit of crunch; it could take as long as 30 minutes total to reach this stage. When it does, stir in ½ cup asparagus purée. Remove skillet from heat, add cheese, hazelnuts, parsley and remaining butter, and stir briskly. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary. Serve immediately.

Backyard Chickens & Thin-Crust Pizza

prosciuttopizza

A few months ago, I mentioned I was looking forward to the day when Ben and I have room in our place to fit a freestanding freezer, (one large enough to fit a half or quarter steer.) Well, I’ve added something else I’m looking forward to getting as soon as space permits: chickens. I can’t believe I never thought about this before. And, as far as I can tell from this new cookbook I’ve been reading, chickens don’t seem like that much work. I guess I’ll find out.

So, this cookbook is called Blue Eggs & Yellow Tomatoes. I’ve now tried several recipes from it including penne with asparagus, meyer lemon scones, and thin-crust pizza with brie, prosciutto and watercress. The penne was good, but way too cheesy — the recipe called for 15 ounces of ricotta and a half cup of parmesan cheese for one pound of pasta. The scones were good, too, but not as good as almond-buttermilk scones. The pizza, pictured above, however, was delectable. The dough recipe yields three eight-ounce balls and freezes well. Tonight, I thawed one of the balls at room temperature for three hours, as instructed, rolled it out and baked it topped with sautéed Swiss chard, Parmigianno Reggiano and smoked Gouda. I actually preferred this pizza to the one with brie and prosciutto. Call me crazy, but as I was eating the one topped with watercress, I kept thinking it needed something else, maybe a poached or fried egg on top.

Anyway, despite a few so-so recipes, I am still very happy to have stumbled across this book. Why? It inspired me to plant a garden. The author, Jeanne Kelley, an L.A. resident briefly describes a way of gardening — in raised beds made from plywood — that she says vegetables grow best in. I had just read an article in Acres U.S.A about a woman in Colorado doing the same sort of thing but with cinder blocks instead. I went to the Web site, The Living Farm, noted in the article  and downloaded the author’s E-book called Cinder Block Gardens. It cost $19.95. Over the weekend, I went to Lowe’s and Plant Depot and purchased everything I needed for my garden. I still need to figure out what I want to grow, but the blocks have been laid, the soil mixed and the ground watered. I cannot wait to start planting.

Once I get some seedlings in the ground, I’ll post some pics. Seriously, if you have any desire to start a vegetable garden, check out this E-Book. You don’t need a perfect patch of land — we built ours on a slightly sloped, rock-hard area measuring about seven feet by four. The author, Lynn Gillespie, has painstakingly detailed the process — the book is worth every penny.

And, once I have the space, 10 or 20 years from now, I will consult the final chapter of Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes, which describes in detail how to raise backyard hens.

I think one reason why I preferred the Swiss chard pizza to the prosciutto is that I didn’t have enough Brie to cover the surface and make it really tasty. This emerged from the oven looking a little freaky.

Brie and Prosciutto Pizza with Watercress
Adapted From Blue Eggs & Yellow Tomatoes (Running Press, 2008)
Yield = One 12-inch pizza

8 oz. Pizza Dough (recipe below)
8 oz. double-cream Brie (any type of Brie works fine, too)
Cornmeal
3 to 4 thin slices prosciutto
2 cups watercress or arugula leaves
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2 teaspoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 garlic clove, pressed
pepper

1. Prepare the pizza dough as directed in the recipe.

2. Place the Brie in the freezer until it is firm but not solid, about 15 minutes. Trim off the rind and cut the Brie into ¼-inch-thick slices. Arrange the slices on a waxed-paper-lined pan and refrigerate. (I didn’t do this. I think if you use the really good stuff, this step might be necessary, but for regular Brie, leaving it at room temperature should be fine.)

3. Position one rack in the bottom third of the oven and preheat it to 400ºF. Sprinkle a large, heavy baking sheet baking sheet lightly with cornmeal (about one tablespoon).

4. Roll the pizza dough out on a lightly floured surface to a 12-inch round. Transfer the dough to a prepared sheet. Distribute the Brie evenly on top of the dough. Bake the pizza until the Brie melts and the crust is golden brown on the bottom, about 15 minutes. Transfer the pizza to a cutting board. Distribute the prosciutto evenly on top of the pizza.

5. Toss the watercress with the lemon juice, olive oil, and garlic in a medium-sized bowl. Top the pizza with the watercress and season with pepper. Cut into wedges and serve.

Pizza Dough
Adapted From Blue Eggs & Yellow Tomatoes (Running Press, 2008)
Yield = Three 8-oz. Balls Pizza Dough

1 cup lukewarm water
1½ teaspoons active dry yeast
2¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour
½ cup white whole wheat flour (regular whole wheat flour works fine, too)
3 tablespoons vital wheat gluten
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil

1. Whisk the water and yeast together in a two-cup measuring cup and let stand for 5 minutes.

2. Combine the flours and salt in a food processor and pulse to blend. Whisk the olive oil into the yeast mixture. With the food processor running, pour the yeast mixture through the feed tube and process until the dough forms a ball, about 1 minute. (If the dough does not form a ball, add lukewarm water by the teaspoons until the dough comes together.)

3. Knead the dough briefly on a lightly floured surface for about one minute. Brush a large bowl with olive oil. Transfer the dough to a bowl and turn the dough to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with a clean towel and let the dough stand until it doubles in volume, about 1½ hours.

4. Punch the dough down. Divide the dough into three even balls, about eight-ounces each. (Refrigerate up to two days or freeze for one month. Let refrigerated dough stand for one hour and frozen dough thaw four hours at room temperature before rolling.)

Same dough as pictured above, but topped with sautéed Swiss chard, Parmigiano Reggiano and smoked Gouda:

American Tuna

AmericanTuna

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, I’ve made a new discovery: American Tuna. Now, before you start freaking out that “women of child-bearing years should not be eating tuna,” give me a minute to explain. This tuna, caught in the Pacific Northwest, is young albacore tuna and unlike most of the tuna caught today, hasn’t had time to accumulate many toxins. Older albacores, blue fins and yellow fins — the varieties most often packed into cans today — can be over 40 years old and pose the biggest risk to consumers.

Let me tell you a little about this company, too. Six families make up the American Tuna fishery, which is based out of San Diego. Every June, the American Tuna fleet (five boats) departs the Port of San Diego and heads to the Pacific Northwest. These fishermen, each equipped with little more than a fishing pole, reel in young albacore tuna one at a time. (If you have a moment, visit the American Tuna Web site and watch them in action — it is amazing!) When their boats are filled, they deliver the tuna to canneries located along the coasts of Oregon and Washington. The fleet does not return to San Diego until November.

At the canneries, the fish are hand-filleted, hand-packed, canned and sealed. The tuna is cooked in the can in its own juices. Most canned tuna today has been cooked (often two or three times) as a whole fish and mixed with soy products, vegetable broth, pyrophosphate, salt, water and/or oil before being canned. American Tuna, in contrast, contains one ingredient: albacore tuna. (In the flavored varieties, however, garlic, jalapeno and salt are added in small quantities.)

American Tuna contains more omega-3 fatty acids than conventional brands. A two-ounce serving of American Tuna provides 2.6 grams of omega-3 fatty acids whereas a two-ounce serving of Starkist tuna provides 0.36 grams of omega-3 fatty acids. What accounts for the dramatic difference? Young albacore living in the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest have more body fat and therefore a higher amount of omega-3 fatty acids. When they migrate to warmer waters, they lose their body fat along with many of these beneficial nutrients.

What else can I say about this company? Oh, they belong to the American Albacore Fishing Association (AAFA), a family-run, 21-boat association operating out of San Diego, which the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) recently certified as a sustainable fishery, making it the first and only tuna fishery in the world to bear this eco-label. MSC is an independent organization that promotes responsible fishing practices. Moreover, the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch places North Pacific troll- and pole-caught tuna (such as American Tuna) on its “best choice” list.

If you are interested in learning more, read on: Tuna, At Last, Without All The Guilt, The Bulletin

Whole Foods Markets nation wide carry American Tuna.

Oh, and this tuna melt, packed with tarragon, was amazing.

Tarragon Tuna Melt
Serves 4

2 tablespoons mayonnaise
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
juice of half a large lemon (about 1½ tablespoons)
kosher salt
freshly ground black pepper
1 6-ounce can American Tuna
¼ cup finely diced red onion
¼ cup chopped tarragon
1 loaf of bread, bakery-style French or Italian
softened butter
1 tomato, thinly sliced
1 small bunch arugula
grated cheddar cheese

1. Make the dressing: Whisk the mayonnaise with the mustard and lemon juice. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper to taste. Dressing will be thin. Taste, adjusting seasoning as necessary.

2. Place tuna in a large mixing bowl. Add the onion and tarragon. Pour dressing over top and combine mixture gently with a fork. Set aside.

3. Slice bread into eight rounds. Spread one side of each with the softened butter. Turn bread butter-side down. Begin assembling sandwiches: Place a small handful of arugula on four of the rounds. Top each with a mound of the tuna salad. Top tuna with tomato slices. Top tomato with cheese. Cover with bread.

4. Heat a large nonstick skillet or griddle over medium heat. When hot, add a small dab of butter, then place sandwiches on the cooking surface. Cook until golden brown. Carefully flip each one, and cook on other side until golden brown.

5. Remove from heat, cut in half, and serve.

Purchase American Tuna at your local Whole Foods Market.