Many of you already know of this bran muffin, a Nancy Silverton creation served at the widely adored La Brea Bakery. Made with toasted wheat bran, freshly grated orange zest, and simmered and puréed raisins, it is one of the most delicious muffins — bran or otherwise — out there. This is a true bran muffin, not a brown muffin under the guise of bran muffin. Despite being nearly one hundred percent whole grain in makeup, it is perfectly sweet and super moist. This is a muffin you feel almost OK about eating by the half dozen and one you feel truly OK about packing into lunch bags and taking on road trips.
Is it a little fussy? Toasted bran, grated zest, plumped and puréed raisins? Yes, a little bit. But I would argue that the bran muffin to end all bran muffins deserves to be so. I think you’ll agree.
Notes: Because I don’t love the texture of raisins in baked goods, I puréed all of them in step 3 versus saving a half cup to fold in at the end. If you like the texture of raisins, however, by all means, save a 1/2 cup to be folded in at the end.
2 cups (125g) wheat bran
1 1/2 cups (190g total) dark raisins
1 1/2 cups (370ml total) water
1/2 cup (120g) buttermilk or plain low-fat yogurt (I used buttermilk)
zest of one orange
1/2 cup (105g) packed light brown sugar
1/2 cup (125ml) vegetable oil (I used canola)
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1/2 cup (65g) flour
1/4 cup (35g) whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1. Preheat the oven to 350F. Line a 12-cup muffin tin with paper liners or grease with butter or oil or use these free-standing paper liners, which are fun and pretty.
2. Spread the wheat bran on a baking sheet and toast in the oven for six to eight minutes, stirring a few times so it cooks evenly. Let cool.
3. While the bran is toasting, heat 1 cup of the raisins with 1/2 cup of the water. (Note: I simmered all of the raisins (1.5 cups) at once with 3/4 cups water, then added the remaining 3/4 cup water to the batter (step 4) afterwards.) Simmer for ten minutes, or until the water is all absorbed (I simmered for 10 minutes and all of the water was not absorbed, but I figured it was OK, and it was). Puree the raisins in a food processor or blender until smooth.
4. In a large bowl, mix together the toasted bran, buttermilk or yogurt, 1 cup water (or 3/4 cup water if you have simmered all of the raisins with 3/4 cup water), then mix in the raisin puree, orange zest, and brown sugar.
5. Stir in the oil, egg and egg white.
6. Mix together the flours, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and sift (or not) directly into the wet ingredients. Stir until the ingredients are just combined, then mix in the remaining 1/2 cup raisins (if you haven’t puréed all of them already).
7. Spoon the batter into the muffin tins, making sure the batter is mounded slightly in each one. Because muffin tins can very in size, if your tins are larger, make fewer muffins.
8. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the muffins feel set in the center.
Several years ago I bought a Benriner turning slicer. It is a ridiculous (but fun) tool that sits in my cupboard 364 days a year. To justify hanging on to it, I pull it out every year, just once, at the start of zucchini season, when I set out to make one of my favorite spaghetti recipes, the very dish that inspired its purchase.
I had read about the turning slicer in Michael Chiarello’s Tra Vigne Cookbook, which extolled the tool for its ability to cut vegetables into long spirals, perfect for making cucumber salads or for preparing potatoes for the deep fryer or for turning out zucchini slices for this very spaghetti recipe. That sounded like fun, I thought, and I ran out to Fante’s to see for myself.
While the gadget works beautifully and while it, unlike some of my other slicers, poses no risk to my fingers, my experimentation has extended no further than this single recipe. Truthfully, I prefer the shape of the long thin wisps created by a mandoline.
While neither tool is required to prepare this pasta recipe, having one helps. The beauty of the dish lies in the delicateness of the zucchini and summer squash strands, which cook in the final minute of the assembly process while they’re being tossed with the just-boiled spaghetti.
The sauce for this pasta is simple: extra-virgin olive oil heated briefly with minced garlic and crushed red pepper flakes. Lemon zest and lots of chopped basil and parsley add a touch of freshness. Grated Parmigiano Reggiano is a must.
I love this pasta. It’s simple and summery, and it always inspires me once again to unearth such a promising gadget. Maybe this summer will be different? Maybe we’ll take to feasting on whimsical cucumber nest salads and carrot and daikon radish slaws? Maybe we’ll grow accustomed to sliding our grilled steaks onto beds of crispy potatoes? It’s unlikely, but I’ll be sure to keep you posted.
Notes: The original recipe called for 3/4 lb. spaghettini, 3/4 lb. zucchini and 1/2 cup olive oil. I have reduced the amount of pasta and olive oil, but essentially kept the amount of squash the same. I also added lemon zest, which goes nicely with zucchini and adds a touch of brightness. Also, don’t be confused by the photo with the halved lemon and reamer — I don’t actually add any lemon juice, though I can’t imagine a squeeze would do too much damage. Your call.
1/2 lb. spaghetti
1/2 lb. or more zucchini or yellow squash (I used 11 oz. weighed after being trimmed sliced)
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil (or more or less)
2 cloves garlic, minced
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
zest of one lemon
¼ cup chopped fresh basil
¼ cup finely chopped parsley (optional — sometimes I just use basil)
½ cup grated Parmigiano Reggiano
freshly ground pepper
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add a big pinch of salt. Meanwhile, using a mandoline or Benriner turning slicer, cut the squash into long thin strips. Alternatively, cut the squash with a knife as thinly as you are able. Place the sliced squash in a colander in your sink. Cook the pasta until al dente, reserving ½ cup of the pasta cooking liquid (though you might not even need it — I never seem to with this dish).
2. Place the oil, garlic and red pepper flakes in a small skillet and turn heat to high. When the oil and garlic begin to sizzle, turn off the heat. (If you have an electric burner, as I do, remove pan from the heat source if the garlic begins to brown.)
3. Drain the pasta over the colander containing the squash, then transfer pasta and squash to a large bowl. Add the garlic-red pepper oil to the bowl. (Note: I add all of the oil at once, because I like the pasta to be nicely coated, but I could see how some people might find it too oily. If you are wary of oil, add about half of the oil to start, then add more as needed.) Add the zest and the herbs. Add the Parmigiano. Toss. Taste. Season with kosher salt (if necessary — I add a lot of salt to the pasta water so I usually don’t have to add any extra salt) and pepper to taste. If necessary, add some of the reserved cooking water (I didn’t need any), more olive oil (didn’t need it) or salt and pepper.
A series of fortuitous events in the past few months have led to a number of wonderful discoveries: an ingredient — Tipo 00 flour; a technique — minimal handling of dough; and a reward — the best pizza I have ever made at home.
Let’s start from the beginning. Five trips in three weeks to 2Amys Pizzeria in NW Washington DC (over an hour drive from my house) convinced me it was finally time to get my hands on some Tipo 00 flour, a soft-grain flour requisite in the production of D.O.C. Neapolitan pizza, an ingredient I’ve been thinking about for five years now.
I hate to admit it and in retrospect it pains me, but a $7.25 shipping charge has been the sole barrier between me and Tipo 00 flour for about a year now. Am I wrong to expect everything to ship for free and arrive the next day? (I know, so bratty! Sorry.) Anyway, to soften the blow, I ordered 10 bags, which made the total price per bag $4.22, a nominal fee especially when each bag yields six pizzas.
About the time that my flour arrived, I received a text message from a friend who had been experimenting with the Jim Lahey pizza dough. The message read: “Help!” While she had been having great success flavor-wise with the Lahey recipe, her pies were less than picturesque. (Click on the link…it will make you chuckle. I love you, Bates.)
I had to come to my friend’s rescue. She had requested video guidance, which I was certain was out there and which I was determined to find for her. My quest for her, however, may have proven to help me equally as well. A video and a note published on Serious Eats made me realize that for all these years that I have been making homemade pizza, I have been majorly overhandling my dough, at least for the sort of pizza I strive to make.
The note from Lahey read as follows:
While I’m not picky about the flour — either bread flour or all-purpose is fine — what does concern me is how the dough is handled. Treat it gently so the dough holds its character, its texture. When you get around to shaping the disk for a pie, go easy as you stretch it to allow it to retain a bit of bumpiness (I think of it as blistering), so not all of the gas is smashed out of the fermented dough.
Having just spent $42 on 10 bags of flour, I sort of wished Lahey felt more strongly about the type of flour he used, but ultimately I agree that the handling of the dough is more important than the type of flour used. As soon as I began really paying attention to how I shaped my pizza rounds — gently/minimally — I noticed a difference in the finished product. The air pockets pervading the unbaked round (video/photo below) really affect the flavor and texture of the baked pizza.
I’ve made the Lahey dough many times now, and it is always delicious, regardless if I use bread flour or Tipo 00 flour. I do feel strongly, however, that the Tipo 00 flour produces a superior product, especially in texture. The unbaked dough is softer, more delicate and easier to shape — it doesn’t resist the shaping as much as the dough made with bread flour. The crust of the baked pizza, too, is a bit more tender, and the outer edge has a bit more chew.
Again, regardless of the flour, with the Lahey method, I’ve finally been able to achieve that quintessensial Neopolitan ballooned and blistered outer edge. I think I’m ready for my wood-burning oven. Santa, I hope you’re reading.
Finally, Readers, as you might imagine, I have a few extra bags of Tipo 00 flour on hand. Since you won’t be able to find this product without paying for shipping, I’d love to share my remaining bags with a few of you. Leave a comment if you’re interested. Just tell me you’re favorite thing to eat or you’re most valued kitchen tool (one of mine is commercial-grade plastic wrap, see below) or what’s next on your to-make list. Thanks so much for reading.
2Amys Pizzeria serves D.O.C. Neapolitan pizza, which means they follow the strict requirements outlined by the Italian government for producing authentic Neapolitan pizza. The guidelines cover all the bases: the oven (wood-burning); the shaping (by hand); the final size (no larger than 11 inches); the ingredients (dough must be made with tipo 00 flour, fresh yeast, water and salt and the toppings extend to Italian plum tomatoes, mozzarella di bufala, extra-virgin olive oil, fresh basil and dried oregano).
If you’re looking for more information on Tipo 00 flour, this link on Forno Bravo is helpful.
I know it is terribly ungreen of me, but one thing I cannot live without is heavy duty plastic wrap. Nothing makes me want to tear my hair out more than a box of super market cling wrap. If you’re OK with having a hideously large shape sitting out in your kitchen for all to see, this product might just change your life.
I made this video for my friend, Bates, who was struggling with shaping her dough. I advise watching the one on Serious Eats first. My main goal with this video was to capture the air pockets that pervade the dough when it is handled minimally — the presence of these air pockets make a difference in the final product.
Fig Jam, Caramelized Onion & Blue Cheese Pizza with Jim Lahey Dough
Pizza Dough Source: Bon Appetit vis Jim Lahey’s book: My Pizza.
Note: If you buy Tipo 00 flour, this recipe comes together in seconds — each bag conveniently weighs 1000g, which is what the recipe calls for.
For this pizza you’ll need:
fig jam, thinned out with a little bit of water for easy spreading
blue cheese, any type you like
Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
Jim Lahey Pizza Dough (recipe below)
7 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (1000 grams) plus more for shaping dough
4 teaspoons fine sea salt
1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast
1. Whisk flour, salt, and yeast in a medium bowl. While stirring with a wooden spoon, gradually add 3 cups water; stir until well incorporated. Mix dough gently with your hands to bring it together and form into a rough ball. Transfer to a large clean bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let dough rise at room temperature (about 72°) in a draft-free area until surface is covered with tiny bubbles and dough has more than doubled in size, about 18 hours (time will vary depending on the temperature in the room).
2. Transfer dough to a floured work surface. Gently shape into a rough rectangle. Divide into 6 equal portions. Working with 1 portion at a time, gather 4 corners to center to create 4 folds. Turn seam side down and mold gently into a ball. Dust dough with flour; set aside on work surface or a floured baking sheet. Repeat with remaining portions.
3. Let dough rest, covered with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel, until soft and pliable, about 1 hour. DO AHEAD: Can be made 3 days ahead. Wrap each dough ball separately in plastic wrap and chill. Unwrap and let rest at room temperature on a lightly floured work surface, covered with plastic wrap, for about an hour or two before shaping.
4. To Make the Pizzas: During the last hour of dough’s resting, preheat oven to its hottest setting, 500°–550°. Working with 1 dough ball at a time, dust dough with flour and place on a floured work surface. Gently shape dough into a 10″–12″ disk handling it as minimally as possible. Arrange dough disk on parchment-lined baking sheet; top minimally with desired toppings: to make this pizza, first spoon some of the thinned out fig jam over top, then top with caramelized onions, the blue cheese, and finally the Parmigiano Reggiano. Bake pizza until bottom of crust is crisp and top is blistered, about 7 minutes. Transfer to a work surface to slice. Repeat with remaining pizzas.
Shots from our lunch at 2Amys a few weeks ago: Green tomato, ramp, Grana & egg pizza:
The margherita pizza at 2Amys is just about the ideal — pizza, food, meal, everything. It is so unbelievably delicious.
When you live in a land where your best options for ethnic food reside in the hot-food buffet line at Wegmans, you have to take matters into your own hands. Several days ago, after finding myself pedalling to Christos’ falafel cart in a daydream, I hopped off my bike, pulled out my “bean” file, and thumbed to a Bittman recipe I’ve been meaning to make for five years now: For the Best Falafel, Do it All Yourself.
And so I did. And now I’m kicking myself for having waited so long. Especially when, as it turns out, there is nothing tricky about making falafel.
A few notes: 1. Plan ahead — dried chickpeas or fava beans have to soak for 24 hours. 2. A food processor (or a good blender) is essential. 3. Deep frying is required, but don’t be scared — falafel, as Bittman says, “is perfect for novice deep-fryers.” If you’re at all wary, watch Bittman’s falafel-making video — it gave me just the boost of confidence I needed before game-time.
Falafel is delicious. Also, filling. You won’t miss the meat. With some pita or naan (store-bought naan is quite delicious these days), a few chopped tomatoes and cucumbers, and some sort of spicy sauce (recipe below), you have a meal. I made a lima bean salad but any green or chopped vegetable salad would complement the falafel nicely.
A note on this lima bean salad: Last fall, I received an incredible package in the mail. It was filled with Rancho Gordo beans. I ate those beans for months and then ordered some more, including some large white limas, the foundation for one of my favorite dishes at Amada, a fava and lima bean salad, served warm swimming in olive oil aside toasted bread. It is delicious. Elements from the Amada salad — roasted red peppers, sliced red onion, fresh fava beans (or frozen edamame in a pinch) — have inspired the lima bean salad featured here.
A note on Rancho Gordo beans: I’ve made this salad several times now and must say that while Rancho Gordo beans (or any heirloom beans) are not essential, they do make a mighty tasty salad. My dear friend’s mother, Ruth, a bean connoisseur, said it best: “I like beans when they’ve cooked enough to start creating their own sauce rather than clinking around together in the water.” We had been discussing beans over email and analyzing the differences between heirloom beans and standard super market beans. For Ruth, the biggest difference comes down to texture: the RG beans are able to maintain their integrity — their skin provides just a bit of resistance before giving into the tooth — while still creating a creamy sauce. I couldn’t agree more.
One final note: Sike. So many notes here! No more notes. I promise.
Apparently in Egypt, falafel is more often made with fava beans than with chickpeas.
Source: Mark Bittman and the New York Times
Watch Bittman prepare the recipe here.
1¾ cup dried chickpeas or fava beans (I used favas)
2 cloves garlic, lightly crushed
1 small onion, quartered
1 teaspoon ground coriander*
1 tablespoon ground cumin*
Scant teaspoon cayenne pepper (I used espelette, so crushed chili flakes will work, too)
1 cup chopped parsley or cilantro (I used a mix of both and probably triple the amount)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ teaspoon baking soda
1 tablespoon lemon juice
Neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn, for frying
*I was feeling ambitious and toasted the cumin and coriander seeds before grinding them. Just a thought if you feel like taking the extra step.
pita bread or naan bread (I used Wegman’s brand naan — delicious)
chopped tomatoes, cucumbers or lettuce (optional, especially if you’re serving a salad on the side)
spicy dipping sauce (recipe below) or Sriracha
1. Put beans in a large bowl and cover with water by 3 or 4 inches; they will triple in volume. Soak for 24 hours, adding water if needed to keep the beans submerged.
2. Drain beans well (reserve soaking water) and transfer to a food processor. Add remaining ingredients except oil; pulse until minced but not puréed, scraping sides of bowl down; add soaking water if necessary to allow machine to do its work, but no more than 1 or 2 tablespoons. (Note: I did add the 2 tablespoons of soaking water, but I might not have needed to had I been more patient. Try to be patient and scrape down the sides of the machine several times before adding the liquid. You might not need it.) Keep pulsing until mixture comes together. Taste, adding salt, pepper, cayenne or lemon juice to taste. (Note: I didn’t adjust the seasoning at all.)
3. Put oil in a large, deep saucepan to a depth of at least 2 inches; more is better. The narrower the saucepan the less oil you need, but the more oil you use the more patties you can cook at a time. Turn heat to medium-high and heat oil to about 350ºF (a pinch of batter will sizzle immediately). Note: My deep-fry thermometer (mind you, probably the least reliable kitchen gadget I own) read 300ºF when the falafel sizzled immediately signaling the oil was ready for action.
4. Scoop heaping tablespoons of batter and shape into balls or small patties. Fry in batches, without crowding, until nicely browned, turning as necessary; total cooking time will be less than 5 minutes. Serve hot or at room temperature. (Note: As Bittman notes in the video, the whole process will take less than 10 minutes — that means frying all of the falafel takes less than 10 minutes. I found that each individual ball cooked in about 1 minute total, and I felt comfortable cooking no more than five at a time.)
Lima Bean Salad
1 cup dried lima beans or any dried bean you like — you need about 2 cups cooked beans
kosher salt roasted red peppers, cut into strips (about a cup)
red onion, thinly sliced (about a 1/2 cup)
4 scallions, thinly sliced, white and light green parts
1 cup cooked shelled edamame or cooked fresh fava beans
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar
1. Cook lima beans: I did not soak my beans. I followed the “quick-soak” method on the bag, which called for boiling the beans for two minutes, then letting them sit for an hour. Then I simmered the beans until they were tender, about 40 minutes, and then let them cool completely in their cooking liquid. Once I turned the burner off, I added a big pinch of kosher salt.
2. When the beans are cooled, make the salad: Drain the beans and place in a large bowl. Season with a large pinch of kosher salt. Add the roasted red peppers, red onion, scallions and edamame to the bowl. Drizzle with the olive oil and vinegar and toss. Taste, adjusting seasoning as necessary with more salt, oil, vinegar, or pepper if desired.
Roasted Red Pepper – Yogurt – Sriracha Sauce
This is just a super simple sauce you can whip up to your liking. Finely chop 2 (or more) roasted red peppers (to yield about 1/4 cup) and place in a bowl. Add in a few heaping spoonfuls of Greek yogurt (about 1/4 cup as well). Season with kosher salt. Splash with Sriracha or the hot sauce of your liking. Stir to combine. A food processor or blender will produce a smooth sauce, but then you have to clean them. Your call.
Yesterday morning, a little self-intervention led to a most-delicious discovery.
This is what happened. After finding myself once again scouring the internet for Tartine’s croque monsieur recipe, clicking on fruitless links I had clicked on before, and seeing myself heading down an equally defeating path — toward my bookshelf ready to thumb through my Tartine cookbooks to ensure once again I hadn’t made a glaring oversight — I paused. What’s wrong with you? I asked myself. This isn’t rocket science. This is croque monsieur.
And right then and there I stopped wasting time and marched straight into the kitchen, making bechamel the order of the hour. And then I preheated the oven to roast some asparagus and spring onions. And then I cut two thick slices of olive bread, grated some Comté cheese and picked a few thyme leaves. And before I knew it, a bubbling, bechamel-and-roasted vegetable-tartine had emerged from my broiler. And in an instant Tartine didn’t feel 2,847 miles away, and Tartine-style croque monsieur at home, such an impossibility.
While I didn’t even miss the meat on my spring vegetable croque monsieur, I suspect that a few slices of ham would bring my favorite breakfast sandwich even closer to home. Just know that if you can make a bechamel, and if you can get your hands on some good bread, some sort of Gruyère-like cheese, and some fresh thyme, you have the foundation for a daydream-worthy croque monsieur.
Of course, the only possible way this sandwich could be made any more delicious is if it were topped with a poached egg. Yum.
Asparagus and spring onions from our Olin-Fox Farms CSA:
Asparagus & Spring Onion Croque Monsieur
Serves: However many you like
Note: I’ve included a recipe for a bechamel sauce that I really like (it’s from Nancy Silverton’s sandwich book), but by all means, if you have a go-to bechamel recipe, use it. After the bechamel is made, there really isn’t a need for a recipe here. Just pick your favorite spring vegetables and cook them however you like, or if you have access to some good ham or bacon, go the more traditional route and substitute the vegetables with the meat. If you use a bakery-style loaf of bread and come Gruyère or Comté cheese, you’re good to go.
asparagus and/or spring onions, ends trimmed
good bread, cut into thick slices
bechamel sauce (recipe below)
grated gruyère, Comté or Swiss cheese
1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Toss the asparagus and spring onions with olive oil and kosher salt on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast the vegetables until tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Test with a knife for doneness.
2. Preheat the broiler. Place the slices of bread on a sheet pan and broil them about a minute on each side. Remove pan from the oven. Spread about a tablespoon of bechamel over each slice of bread. Top with the roasted vegetables. Top with grated cheese to taste.
3. Broil until the cheese is bubbling and starting to brown. Sprinkle with the fresh thyme and serve immediately.
Note: This recipe is adapted from Silverton’s recipe for Mornay sauce in her croque monsieur recipe in her Sandwich Book. To make it a Mornay sauce, as far as I can tell, stir in 1/2 cup finely grated Gruyère and 1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano at the very end.
Also Note: This makes enough bechamel for about 30 croque monsieurs. I haven’t tried having the recipe, but it likely would work just fine. I don’t use bechamel that often, so I’m short on ideas for using up the remaining bechamel. Thoughts? I just plan on eating croque monsieur every day until I’m out of bechamel.
2 tablespoons butter
1/2 medium white or yellow onion (about 4 tablespoons finely chopped)
4 black peppercorns, crushed (I didn’t do this)
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups whole milk
1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion, salt, and cracked peppercorns (if using), and cook about 10 minutes, until the onion is soft but has not begun to color. Remove from the heat and add the flour in two batches, whisking to combine it with the onion and butter. Return the pan to the stove and over low heat, cook a few minutes, until the flour is absorbed, stirring constantly so that it doesn’t brown. Remove from the heat and slowly whisk in the milk. Drop in the bay leaf.
2. Return the pan to the stove, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent the sauce from burning on the bottom of the pan. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until the taste of raw flour is gone and the mixture is thick, smooth and silky. If it’s too thick and becoming difficult to stir, you’ll need to whisk in a little more milk.
3. Using a fine mesh sieve, strain the sauce. (I didn’t strain the sauce — I don’t mind those onion bits, and the bay leaf was easy enough to pull out. Now, if you did the peppercorn thing, you probably want to strain the sauce.)
I am Greek. I did not, however, grow up in a family like the one portrayed in My Big Fat Greek Wedding. My mother did not pack me “mouss-ka-ka” for lunch. My aunt never chased me around with a roasted lamb’s eyeball. And I never felt pressure to marry a nice Greek boy nor to become a Greek baby-breeding machine.
But I do have about 50 uncles named Nicky. And my aunt’s vegetarian chili does contain lamb. And many family celebrations do culminate in circular dances stepped to the rhythm of Macedonian folk music. And every woman in my family does make it her mission to feed everyone around her till the day she dies.
Greek food is comfort food for me, and yet, if you searched the recipe archive of my blog, you’d never know it. You’d never know that before my mother comes to visit, I request she make a spanakopita, and that once she’s here, keftedes (lamb meatballs), and that before she departs, kourabiedes (powdered-sugar almond cookies).
In preparation for Easter, I’ve started brushing up on a few of my favorite Greek recipes, starting with spanakopita. Here I’ve halved my family’s recipe, which fills a 10×13-inch roasting pan with enough spanakopita to feed a large family for weeks, and made 10 strudels instead — isn’t everything more delicious when baked in small packages? In strudel form, spanakopita assumes an almost breakfast croissant-like character, a perfect bundle of flaky pastry, egg, cheese, and greens. Yum.
Over the next few weeks, as my Easter menu — spanakopita, keftedes, tzatziki, and olive bread — comes together, I hope the all-but-absent Greek category on this blog starts gaining a presence. I’ll be sure to keep you posted. Happy spring everyone.
When making spanakopita, don’t be tempted to brush each layer with butter. If you spoon a few teaspoons of butter over each layer, the resulting pastry will be lighter and flakier.
Yield = 9 to 10
10oz. baby spinach
8 oz. cottage cheese (small curd)
12 oz. feta
5 eggs, beaten
1 box fillo dough,* thawed (I let mine sit out at room temperature for a few hours, but you could thaw this in the fridge overnight as well.)
1 1/2 sticks butter (gasp! melted)
*Fillo comes in all shapes and sizes these days. The variety I can find, Athens brand, weighs 1 pound and contains two 8-oz bags of 20 sheets each measuring 9 x 14-inches. This size sheet is perfect for strudels. If your fillo comes in the larger sheets, cut it in half so that it’s roughly 9 x 14-inches. (Don’t cut the fillo until you’re ready to assemble. See step 4 below.) If you’re making a large pan of spanakopita, this small size of fillo is kind of pain — use two sheets per layer.
1. In three batches, place spinach in food process and pulse until just roughly chopped. Place in a large bowl.
2. Add cottage cheese, feta cheese (break this into pieces as you add it to the bowl) and eggs. Use a spatula to stir it all up.
3. Set up your work station: A large cutting board is helpful (see picture below). I use a 1/2 cup measuring cup to measure out the filling. You need a teaspoon (like one you eat cereal with not a measuring teaspoon) to spoon butter onto the fillo dough and you need a brush to brush butter onto the assembled strudels. Line a sheetpan with parchment paper and set aside.
4. Open up the box of fillo. If your fillo is like mine — in that it comes in two sealed bags — open up one bag and unroll it. Place it next to your cutting board. Fillo dries out quickly, so if you need to step away from your assembly process, be sure to gently re-roll it or fold it up and place it in a ziplock bag. If you are working with the larger sheets, cut them in half to roughly measure 9 x 14-inches. Place half (about 20 sheets) in a ziplock bag.
5. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Place one sheet of fillo on your cutting board or work surface. Spoon three teaspoons (again, an eating spoon vs. a measuring spoon) of the melted butter over the layer of fillo (see picture above in the upper-left corner of the montage). Note: You do not have to brush it or make sure that every bit of the dough is covered with butter. The finished spanakopita is actually lighter when you don’t brush the dough with butter. Top with another layer of fillo. Spoon three more teaspoons of butter over the areas of this layer that were not covered in the previous. Top with one more layer of fillo and again spoon over three teaspoons of butter.
6. Using your 1/2-cup measuring cup, scoop out a level 1/2-cup filling and place on fillo about 2-inches from the bottom (see photo above). Pull bottom of fillo overtop of this filling. Fold sides in. Then, fold this bottom portion up and over itself and keep folding till you’ve made a little parcel. Place this parcel seam side down on your parchment-lined baking sheet. Brush top with butter. Repeat with remaining fillo and filling.
Note: I made 9 strudels, but I think I could get 10 next time around if I portion out a scant 1/2-cup versus a level 1/2-cup. Unfortunately, I had to open up my second bag of fillo and only used half of the sheets. I re-froze (not sure if this is a good idea) the remaining sheets for a future use, but if you’re feeling creative, you might be able to find a fun use for these remaining sheets. If I come up with something, I will report back.
7. Bake strudels for 30 to 45 minutes or until nice and golden brown on top. Mine baked for a little over 40 minutes but I started checking them at the 30-minute mark. Cool briefly and serve.
Update: 7-17-2012: Full-size spanakopita for your reference. This was from this past Easter:
2 10oz. pkg of baby spinach or 3 6oz pkgs (about 20 oz total)
16 oz. cottage cheese (small curd)
3 8-oz. pkgs feta (24 oz. total)
10 eggs (well beaten)
1 pkg fillo dough (20-28 layers)
3 sticks butter (gasp! melted)
1. Chop up baby spinach — you can do this very quickly in the food processor. Just do a rough chop.
2. In a large bowl, combine the spinach, cottage cheese, feta cheese (break this into pieces) and eggs. You can whisk this all together or use a spatula.
3. Butter the bottom and sides of a large roasting pan. Use about two sheets of fillo per layer — they’ll overlap a little bit, but you need about two to cover the surface of the pan. In between each layer, spoon three teaspoons (an eating spoon vs. a measuring spoon) of the butter over the layer of fillo. You don’t have to brush it or make sure that every bit of the dough is covered with butter. The finished spanakopita is actually lighter when you don’t brush the dough with butter. Depending on how many layers of dough your box of fillo has, layer half of the number of sheets in the pan to form the bottom layer of the spanakopita. Pour the filling over top. Repeat layering the fillo dough on top of the filling with butter in between each layer until you are out of dough. Brush the top layer with butter. Bake at 350ºF for 1 hour.
Toasted pine nuts, Zante currants, a handful of mustard greens — smells awfully familiar, doesn’t it? That’s likely because it’s the exact makeup of the Zuni Cafe bread salad minus the bread. If it doesn’t ring a bell, I recommend familiarizing yourself with this most adored salad first, then making your way back here where a springy variation awaits, a farro-for-bread substitution making it a touch lighter but no less delicious.
I can hear your grumbles. Without the bread (literally) and butter of the Zuni salad, flavor, you suspect, must be compromised? You’ll just have to take a leap of faith and trust that farro, surrounded by all the elements of the Zuni salad — sweet onions, crunchy nuts, spicy greens, a simple olive oil and vinegar dressing — soaks up the goodness nearly as well as bread all the while maintaining its chewy texture and nutty flavor.
And if you can get your hands on some semi-pearled farro, which cooks in 15 minutes, you’ll find yourself eating more grains than you ever imagined. At least that’s what happened to me. Since discovering semi-pearled farro just over a week ago, I’ve made this salad or some sort of variation of it four times and have consumed (with the help of my husband) nearly 2 pounds of farro.
While semi-pearled farro is not quite as nutritious as whole farro — pearling strips off part of the germ and bran — it’s still a healthy starch (high in fiber and protein) and a welcome addition to my kitchen pantry. I don’t know why the lengthy cooking time of many whole grains deters me from making them, but it does, and as a result, I don’t eat them as much as I would like. I love the idea of making grains in their whole state a staple in my diet. I hope the semi-pearled varieties are paving the way for that transition.
After several days in a row of the Zuni-inspired farro salad, I changed it up a bit and roasted some carrots alongside the onion and substituted chopped toasted hazelnuts for the pine nuts, which made for a nice variation. Just know that this salad is infinitely adaptable — currants are nice but other dried fruits will offer the same texture and flavors; nothing is tastier (to me) than pine nuts but any nut will provide that crunch; and greens provide color, a little roughage and a wonderful spiciness but are not critical.
Mix it up. I hope you find it as addictive as I do.
We received an incredible “Asian mix” of greens in our CSA this week. Mustard greens were included and the whole combo was incredibly tasty.
This is really nice farro. It’s semi-pearled, which means a portion of the outer bran has been removed, which cuts the cooking time way down — it cooks in about 15 minutes. You might be able to find some at your local supermarket, but if not, you can order it here.
Farro Salad with Roasted Onion, Toasted Pine Nuts, Currants & Greens
1 red onion, diced
1 cup of semi-pearled farro*
2 tablespoons dried currants — I use Zante currants
white balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons (or more) pine nuts or any nut you like
a handful or more of mustard greens (about 2 loosely packed cups) — If you can’t find mustard greens, arugula or spinach or any green that can stand up to some heat without completely wilting will do. Add as many greens as you want as well — I tend to go overboard on the greens
*Roland semi-pearled farro is particularly nice but any type of farro or grain — wheat berry, barley, etc. — will work nicely. You might be able to find semi-pearled farro at your local supermarket, but if not, you can order it here Of course, whole farro will work just as well.
1. Preheat the oven to 450ºF. Place a pot of water on to boil. Toss diced onion with olive oil (about a tablespoon) on a sheet pan and season with salt. Place in the oven. Roast for about 12 to 15 minutes or until the onion is just beginning to char — you don’t want the pieces to get too charred (or maybe you do… I kind of love them a little charred.)
2. Meanwhile, add farro to pot of boiling water. Add a big pinch of kosher salt. Cook for about 15 minutes — taste a few kernels after 15 minutes. For me it takes just a minute more than 15.
3. Place currants in a small bowl. Moisten with 1 tablespoon boiling water and 1 tablespoon white balsamic vinegar. Set aside. Toast pine nuts in a small dry skillet over medium heat until golden brown — watch them carefully! Set aside.
4. Place the greens in a large mixing bowl. When the onions are finished cooking, scrape them off of the pan into the bowl over the greens. Drain the farro, and add to bowl. Season with a big pinch of kosher salt. Drizzle olive oil over the farro while it’s still warm. I haven’t been measuring, but if you’re looking for some guidance, start with about 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Splash white balsamic over top — again, you don’t have to measure, but if you like to, start with about 1 tablespoon and adjust after everything has all been mixed together.
5. Drain the currants and add to the bowl. Add the pine nuts to the bowl and toss to coat. Taste. If it’s a little dry, add more oil and white balsamic. If it needs a little more seasoning, add a pinch more salt. I didn’t add pepper, but by all means, add some.
Cauliflower eluded my kitchen for far too long. I discovered it only about a year ago, in roasted form at high heat tossed with nothing but olive oil and kosher salt, a method which produces perfectly charred salty florets, addictive bites that lead me to eat heads of cauliflower in single sittings.
Today, while those crispy bits have lost none of their allure, I find myself most enjoying cauliflower in the form of a velvety smooth puréed soup. This recipe calls for simmering cauliflower in milk with an apple and a few strands of pasta, the milk and apple included to temper the cauliflower’s intensity, the pasta to provide just enough starch to ensure a creamy texture when the mixture is puréed. Interesting, right? Once again, I have Sally Schneider to thank for this recipe, which really is more of a method than anything, one that could be applied to a countless number of vegetables — turnips, carrots, rutabaga, celery root, to name a few.
This recipe begins as a purée — the cauliflower and apple are strained from the cooking liquid and blended until smooth — which is delicious on its own and would be a nice accompaniment to duck or roast chicken or any meat really. To make the soup, the reserved cooking liquid is simply whisked into the purée, heated, and garnished. Both the purée and the soup are silky smooth in texture, and for containing just a few teaspoons of butter, taste incredibly creamy.
While this recipe does call for milk, apparently, I am learning, the milk is optional. After reading Food52′s post about Paul Bertolli’s cauliflower soup, made with nothing but a head of cauliflower, an onion and water, I questioned the necessity of milk. My friend Darcy, too, confirmed that a creamy texture can indeed be achieved with no cream at all. But I couldn’t resist. I almost felt guilty pouring that quart of milk into the pot, PB’s recipe flashing into my mind, but I rationalized that a little 1% milk never hurt anybody and that I likely could use the calcium. That said, next up on my to-make list is PB’s soup, and for those of you looking for a vegan option for creamy cauliflower soup, know that it’s out there.
For fun, I topped the soup with some olive oil-fried bread cubes, one of Schneider’s many suggested garnishes. I took her up on another as well: a light drizzling of truffle oil. I know the economy is in the dumps, so please don’t feel this ingredient is a must, but if you happen to have a bottle on hand, perhaps on lockdown for a special occasion, maybe consider breaking it out. There’s never been a better time to open it.
For the Purée:
1 medium cauliflower (1.75 lbs – 2 lbs) (Mine actually was only 1.25 lbs and it worked just fine)
1 small apple, peeled, cored and chopped
1 quart 2% or whole milk (I used 1%)
1/2 oz. angel hair pasta (about 40 strands), broken into 2-inch pieces*
1 1/4 teaspoons kosher salt
pinch of sugar
2 teaspoons unsalted butter
1 tablespoon crème fraîche or heavy cream (optional — I forgot to add this)
freshly ground white pepper (I never have white pepper on hand, and black pepper works just fine, though I didn’t add any pepper at all)
* I used spaghetti, not angel hair. Schneider notes that any other dry eggless pasta, broken into pieces if necessary, will work.
Make the purée:
1. Cut the cauliflower into florets and roughly chop. You should have 7 to 8 cups. (I didn’t measure and I didn’t even chop up the florets.)
2. Transfer the cauliflower to a medium saucepan and add the apple and milk. Bring to a gentle boil over medium heat and stir in the pasta, 1 teaspoon kosher salt and the sugar. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is purée-tender, about 20 to 25 minutes.
3. Strain the mixture reserving the cooking liquid. Transfer the solids to a food processor or blender and purée until smooth, at least one minute, adding a tablespoon or two of the reserved cooking liquid if necessary. (Alternatively, return the solids to the pan and purée them with an immersion blender.) Let the motor run for a minute or two, scraping down the sides several times until you have a fine purée. Add the butter and crème fraîche and season with a bit more salt if necessary, white pepper (optional) and another pinch of sugar (optional). Save the remaining cooking liquid for the soup (recipe below).
Note: You can prepare the purée several hours ahead of time and reheat it (or keep it warm for a shorter time), stirring occasionally, in a double boiler.
Cauliflower Soup with Many Garnishes
Schneider’s Notes: This soup lends itself to an endless number of garnishes such as crisp slivered or finely diced pancetta; diced olive oil-fried bread; a dusting of fennel pollen; crispy shallots; snipped fresh chives, chervil or flat-leafed parsley; a drizzle of roasted hazelnut oil. White truffle oil, used sparingly, adds an astonishing flavor note.
1. Place cauliflower and apple purée in a medium saucepan, whisk in an equal amount of the reserved cooking liquid or chicken broth (Note: I made the soup one day with chicken stock and another with the reserved cooking liquid. Both ways are good, but I prefer the reserved cooking liquid.), and stir in a little cream. Bring to a simmer over moderate heat and adjust the seasoning. Add any of the garnishes mentioned above to each serving.
I’ve blogged about this soup once before, but when I did, it was summer, and I doubt I inspired any of you to run off and buy lentils. But this is a soup I really want you all to make, and I’m hoping with the holidays in the past, a winter chill finally in the air, and the spirit of detox ever present, you’ll feel more inspired.
It’s a good one. I promise. For me, it’s the bite of the sherry vinegar that makes this soup, but the virtues of it are truly countless: It is completely vegetarian, vegan in fact. It cooks in one hour and takes only as long to prepare as it does to chop up some carrots, celery and onions. No vegetables are sautéed; no stock is simmered. It costs next to nothing to make and couldn’t be more healthy — lentils are high in fiber, protein, vitamins and minerals, and one cup of cooked lentils contains just 230 calories. This soup is complete goodness.
Have I sold you? I hope so. Lentil soup, homemade bread, I can’t think of a better way to kick off the New Year.
1 1/4 cups French green lentils (If you can’t find French — I couldn’t — regular lentils work just as well)
1 8oz. can + 1/2 can of tomato sauce (12 oz total, about a scant 1 1/2 cups)*
2 large onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bay leaf
½ cup red wine vinegar, balsamic vinegar or sherry vinegar**
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon fresh thyme leaves, chopped
3 carrots, peeled and diced (about a heaping cup)
3 celery stalks, diced (about a cup)
crushed red pepper flakes to taste
*I like Pomi brand for tomato sauce, but if you can’t find Pomi, Hunt’s is also good. Don’t buy a tomato sauce that has any sort of flavorings — not even a basil leaf.
** Don’t use a fancy bottle of vinegar here — for one, it’s unnecessary, and two, it might create a vinegar taste that is overpowering. Also, you might want to start with 1/4 cup on vinegar or 1/4 cup + 2 tablespoons of vinegar, and then add more to taste. Some people have found the 1/2 cup of vinegar to be too overpowering.
1. Throw all ingredients together in a pot. Add 1½ qts. plus one cup of water (seven cups total) and bring to a boil. Skim off any scum that rises to the surface. Simmer for one hour uncovered. Stir and serve with crusty bread.
Note: On day two, much of the liquid will have been absorbed buy the lentils and veggies. Just add a little more water to the pot as you reheat and adjust the seasoning as necessary — a pinch more salt usually does the trick.
I’m afraid I’m going to have to report back on this bread recipe. These mini loaves were delectable and sort of a happy accident, a combination of recipes that yielded a very wet dough, one that needed the support of ramekins during the baking process. I don’t have a precise recipe at the moment, but just know that any simple bread recipe — this one contained just water, yeast, flour, sugar and salt — will likely bake off nicely in ramekins.
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!
**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.