Orecchiette Carbonara with Asparagus — 2nd Easiest Weeknight Dinner

orecchiette carbonara with asparagus

Hello there. Just a quick midweek post here. Thought I’d share with you all how I’ve made my favorite easy weeknight dinner both more and less involved.

Let me explain. Adding asparagus to pasta carbonara adds about a minute more to your prep time but precludes the need to make any other sort of vegetable side dish — 3/4 of a pound of asparagus, for me at least, is enough roughage for one evening.

So there you have it. Fry some bacon. Sauté some onions. Cook some pasta. Blanch some asparagus. Whisk some eggs. Zest a lemon. Toss it all together, and watch how a no-cream light-on-the-cheese sauce transforms a simple pasta into a creamy-tasting, vegetable-loaded, one-dish dinner. Yum.

orecchiette and eggs

drained asparagus and orecchiette

carbonara in bowl

carbonara in pan

Pasta Carbonara
Source: Everyday Food

Coarse salt and ground pepper
6 slices bacon, cut crosswise into 1-inch pieces
4 leeks* (white and light-green parts only) or spring onions*, halved lengthwise, rinsed well, and thinly sliced
3/4 pound short pasta, such as campanelle or orecchiette
3/4 pound of asparagus, ends trimmed
2 large eggs
1/2 ounce Parmesan, grated (1/4 cup), plus more for serving (optional)
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest, plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, coarsely chopped (optional — I didn’t use them this time around)

*If you don’t have leeks or onions, any onion will do — finely chop about a half cup or more of whatever onion you have on hand.

1. Set a large pot of salted water to boil. In a large skillet, cook bacon over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp, 8 to 10 minutes. With a slotted spoon, transfer bacon to paper towels to drain. Pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from skillet. (I did not pour off any fat… it looked too good to discard.) Add leeks, season with salt and pepper, and cook, stirring often, until leeks are golden brown, about 10 minutes.

2. Add pasta to pot and cook according to package instructions. Meanwhile, cut asparagus into 1.5- to 2-inch long pieces. In the last three minutes of the pasta cooking time, drop the asparagus into the pot of water. Reserve 1/4 cup of the pasta cooking liquid.

3. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, Parmesan, and lemon zest and juice. Whisk 1/4 cup pasta water into egg mixture.

4. Drain pasta and asparagus and immediately add to egg mixture, along with bacon, leeks, and parsley. Season with salt and pepper and stir to combine. Sprinkle with more cheese if desired and serve immediately. Note: If you’re nervous about the egg not cooking, just throw the whole mixture back into a large skillet over medium heat for a minute or two.

orecchiette carbonara with asparagus

Rhubarb Buckle

rhubarb buckle

In the wonderful world of bottom-crusted crumb-topped baked-fruit desserts, buckles are new to me. And I’m a fan. I love how the crispy top melts into the stewed fruit, which all sinks into the base. And I like that I can eat it as I would a brownie, out of hand, making for easy snacking morning, noon and night.

But I think I would like a buckle even more if it were different. I know, I hate to be picky, but I’m not looking to change much. The layer of rhubarb in this buckle is perfect — not too sweet, not too tart, which in my experience is a delicate balance to achieve with rhubarb. And the crumb top, while just a touch sandy, needs nothing more than a dab of butter to give it that crumbly, pebbly texture. The addition of lemon zest, adding a wonderful fresh, bright flavor, is essential.

It’s the base of the buckle that leaves me wanting. I want something less cakey, more sturdy, not quite a pie crust but something a little more buttery and shortbread like. Thoughts? Would a shortbread crust turn this dessert into a fresh-fruit crumb bar? Removing it from the buckle category altogether? I’m not sure I want that. Or do I?

rhubarb buckle

rhubarb buckle

rhubarb

rhubarb & lemon

rhubarb & sugar

assembling the buckle

rhubarb buckle

Update 4/27: I found the perfect crust. View this post: Rhubarb Buckle, Revisited

Rhubarb Buckle
Adapted from Martha Stewart
Yield = 16 squares

Note: I made a half recipe, but if you want to make the whole recipe, find it here.

Other notes: As I noted above, I am not totally satisfied with the base of this buckle, but just know that that didn’t keep me from eating five pieces within an hour of cutting it up. I’d like to try this recipe with more of a shortbread crust, but as of now, I don’t have a recipe for one. This is a work in progress. I’ll report back when I find a base layer that I prefer. Or if you have any suggestions, I would love to hear them.

Cake Ingredients:

13 ounces rhubarb, trimmed and cut 1/2 inch thick on the bias
1 cup sugar, divided
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt (I used table salt)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
1.5 large eggs*
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup sour cream

*The doubled recipe calls for 3 eggs, so I whisked up 3, weighed them, and used half, which was about 1/3 cup or 2 7/8 ounces.

Crumb Topping:

1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons light-brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened*

*I’ve upped the amount of butter here and changed it to softened rather than melted. I think the crumb topping needed more butter, and I like using softened butter in a crumb topping.

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees, with rack in center position. Line a 9-inch square cake pan with parchment paper. Stir together rhubarb and 1/2 cup sugar; set aside to macerate.

2. Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat together butter, remaining 1/2 cup sugar, and the lemon zest until light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, a little at a time, then beat in vanilla. Beat in flour mixture in 2 additions, alternating with sour cream, beginning and ending with flour mixture.

3. Crumb topping: Stir together flour, brown sugar, and salt. Add 2 tablespoons of the butter and mix up with your fingers until clumps form. If it’s looking dry, add another tablespoon of butter and mix again until clumps form. Add remaining tablespoon of butter if necessary.

4. Spread batter into pan. Top with rhubarb mixture, and sprinkle with crumb topping. Bake until golden on top and cooked through, about 1 hour 5 minutes. Let cool completely in pan on wire rack, then lift cake from pan using parchment. Remove parchment. Before serving, cut buckle into 2-inch squares.

rhubarb buckle

Tartine-Style Asparagus & Spring Onion Croque Monsieur

asparagus and spring onion croque monsieur

Yesterday morning, a little self-intervention led to a most-delicious discovery.

This is what happened. After finding myself once again scouring the internet for Tartine’s croque monsieur recipe, clicking on fruitless links I had clicked on before, and seeing myself heading down an equally defeating path — toward my bookshelf ready to thumb through my Tartine cookbooks to ensure once again I hadn’t made a glaring oversight — I paused. What’s wrong with you? I asked myself. This isn’t rocket science. This is croque monsieur.

And right then and there I stopped wasting time and marched straight into the kitchen, making bechamel the order of the hour. And then I preheated the oven to roast some asparagus and spring onions. And then I cut two thick slices of olive bread, grated some Comté cheese and picked a few thyme leaves. And before I knew it, a bubbling, bechamel-and-roasted vegetable-tartine had emerged from my broiler. And in an instant Tartine didn’t feel 2,847 miles away, and Tartine-style croque monsieur at home, such an impossibility.

While I didn’t even miss the meat on my spring vegetable croque monsieur, I suspect that a few slices of ham would bring my favorite breakfast sandwich even closer to home. Just know that if you can make a bechamel, and if you can get your hands on some good bread, some sort of Gruyère-like cheese, and some fresh thyme, you have the foundation for a daydream-worthy croque monsieur.

Of course, the only possible way this sandwich could be made any more delicious is if it were topped with a poached egg. Yum.

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

asparagus & spring onions, ready to be baked

roasted asparagus & spring onions

Nancy Silverton's bechamel

olive bread, thyme, comte

asparagus & spring onion croque monsieur, ready for the broiler

Asparagus & Spring Onion Croque Monsieur
Serves: However many you like

Note: I’ve included a recipe for a bechamel sauce that I really like (it’s from Nancy Silverton’s sandwich book), but by all means, if you have a go-to bechamel recipe, use it. After the bechamel is made, there really isn’t a need for a recipe here. Just pick your favorite spring vegetables and cook them however you like, or if you have access to some good ham or bacon, go the more traditional route and substitute the vegetables with the meat. If you use a bakery-style loaf of bread and come Gruyère or Comté cheese, you’re good to go.

asparagus and/or spring onions, ends trimmed
olive oil
kosher salt

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

1. Preheat the oven to 400ºF. Toss the asparagus and spring onions with olive oil and kosher salt on a rimmed baking sheet. Roast the vegetables until tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Test with a knife for doneness.

2. Preheat the broiler. Place the slices of bread on a sheet pan and broil them about a minute on each side. Remove pan from the oven. Spread about a tablespoon of bechamel over each slice of bread. Top with the roasted vegetables. Top with grated cheese to taste.

3. Broil until the cheese is bubbling and starting to brown. Sprinkle with the fresh thyme and serve immediately.

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

Note: This recipe is adapted from Silverton’s recipe for Mornay sauce in her croque monsieur recipe in her Sandwich Book. To make it a Mornay sauce, as far as I can tell, stir in 1/2 cup finely grated Gruyère and 1/4 cup finely grated Parmigiano Reggiano at the very end.

Also Note: This makes enough bechamel for about 30 croque monsieurs. I haven’t tried having the recipe, but it likely would work just fine. I don’t use bechamel that often, so I’m short on ideas for using up the remaining bechamel. Thoughts? I just plan on eating croque monsieur every day until I’m out of bechamel.

2 tablespoons butter
1/2 medium white or yellow onion (about 4 tablespoons finely chopped)
kosher salt
4 black peppercorns, crushed (I didn’t do this)
2 tablespoons flour
2 cups whole milk
1 bayleaf

1. In a medium saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the onion, salt, and cracked peppercorns (if using), and cook about 10 minutes, until the onion is soft but has not begun to color. Remove from the heat and add the flour in two batches, whisking to combine it with the onion and butter. Return the pan to the stove and over low heat, cook a few minutes, until the flour is absorbed, stirring constantly so that it doesn’t brown. Remove from the heat and slowly whisk in the milk. Drop in the bay leaf.

2. Return the pan to the stove, and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent the sauce from burning on the bottom of the pan. Cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until the taste of raw flour is gone and the mixture is thick, smooth and silky. If it’s too thick and becoming difficult to stir, you’ll need to whisk in a little more milk.

3. Using a fine mesh sieve, strain the sauce. (I didn’t strain the sauce — I don’t mind those onion bits, and the bay leaf was easy enough to pull out. Now, if you did the peppercorn thing, you probably want to strain the sauce.)

Tiropitas

tiropitas, just baked

The trouble with working with fillo dough, for me at least, is that right when I’ve found my rhythm — right when the brushing-spooning-folding-sealing process becomes one fluid motion — the filling runs out. And because making dozens of tiropitas, though simple enough to prepare, calls for a special occasion, the newfound dexterity in my fingertips is almost always lost until I’m wrapping up the next batch of tiropitas called for by the next special occasion.

Alas, the process is always worth undertaking, if for nothing else the security of knowing that at least one dish will make it out as scheduled on Easter Sunday. With my freezer stocked with these cheese-and-egg filled triangles, always a party favorite, I can rest easy knowing my friends will not starve if I’m still wrapping strudels, rolling meatballs and dying eggs. At least for a short while. Yikes. I’m getting a little nervous about hosting, but it will all come together, right? I hope so. Happy Easter everyone.

tiropitas, just baked

Red eggs for Greek Easter.
red eggs

tiropitas ingredients

mixture

making tiropitas

tiropitas, ready for the oven

Ella helps make biscotti, while I assemble tiropitas:

Graham bounces nearby:
Graham
Tiropitas
Yield = 3 dozen

1/2 lb. feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 lb. cottage cheese, small curd
3 eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 lb. fillo dough*, thawed
1/2 lb. unsalted butter, melted

*Fillo comes in all shapes and sizes these days. The variety I can find, Athens brand, weighs 1 pound and contains two 8-oz bags of 20 sheets each measuring 9 x 14-inches. If your fillo comes in the larger sheets, cut it in half so that it’s roughly 9 x 14-inches. After you cut it, gently roll it up and place it in a ziploc bag.

1. Combine cheeses, eggs and salt in a bowl. Stir until blended.

2. Set up your station: you need a large cutting board, a teaspoon (a measuring teaspoon), a brush, the melted butter, a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, and the fillo dough. If you haven’t already, unwrap the fillo dough and place it in a ziploc back.

3. Lay one sheet of fillo horizontally oriented in front of you on your cutting board. Brush it with butter. Run a knife down the piece of dough every two inches or so — this should yield six to seven strips. (See photo above.)

4. Place one teaspoon of cheese mixture at the end of each strip. Fold over corner to make a triangle. Continue folding from side to side till you get to the end of the strip. (See photos above.) Place on prepared pan. Brush tops with butter. Repeat process until you’ve used up all of your filling.

5. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown. Let cool briefly before serving.

Note: If you’d like to make these ahead, place assembled (unbaked) tiropitas in the freezer. Either freeze the tiropitas in a single layer and then transfer them to a ziploc bag once they are completely frozen, or be sure to place a piece of parchment paper in between each layer of the tiropitas if you freeze them in a storage container. Bake frozen for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden. I find mine take even longer than 20 minutes before they are golden, but my oven is very old.

tiropitas

Keftedes (lamb meatballs) & Roasted Cabbage

lamb meatballs, just broiled

It had been a successful week in the kitchen. Lamb meatballs, loaded with mint and parsley, broiled and sprinkled with vinegar, tasted as yummy as ever; olive bread, a two-day labor of love, proved as it always does, a worthwhile effort; and tiropitas (cheese-stuffed fillo triangles), irresistibly delicious, burned my tongue far too many times.

My Easter menu was all but finalized. I was feeling really good. And then I called my mother.

We chatted about meatballs, a wheat berry cake she’s been eyeing, and some other Easter menu ideas, and then she asked: “Are you planning on making a salad?”

“No,” I replied, “I’ve discovered roasted cabbage. It is so delicious and so easy. We have been devouring heads of it in single sittings.”

“Mmm hmm,” my mother responded.

Now, let me explain something. “Mmm hmm,” in my family is code for, “I don’t like what I’m hearing.”

What?! I wanted to scream, but before I could, my mother explained: “Well, you never make cabbage for company. Your whole house will smell of it.”

I did not know this. Did you?

I protested. I insisted there could be no possible way a few roasted cabbage wedges could overpower the smells of olive bread baking and of layers of fillo crisping and of lamb meatballs broiling. I affirmed, cabbage it would be.

“Sounds wonderful,” she replied. We said our goodbyes.

Of course I crossed cabbage off my grocery list upon hanging up the phone. Even if my suspicions are correct — that if the smells of bread and pita and lamb do in fact mask the cabbage — how could I possibly make it? Why add another worry to the list? Why tempt my guests to whisper on their ways home, “Great party, but boy, what was she simmering on that stove? Cat food?” I couldn’t take the risk.

A Greek salad it would be. Oh, mothers. Mother! I love you.

lamb meatballs

Keftedes
Yield = 23 to 25 small or 12 to 14 large

1 lb. ground lamb*
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon oregano plus more for sprinkling
1 small red onion, finely minced (about 1/3 cup or more to taste)
2 heaping tablespoons mint, chopped
2 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoons olive oil
2 slices of white bread**, crusts removed
2 tablespoons red wine
1 eggs, lightly beaten
red wine vinegar for sprinkling (optional)

* If you can’t find ground lamb, buy a piece of lamb (shoulder is nice) and grind it yourself or have the butcher grind it for you at the market.
** We always use white sandwich bread (not Wonderbread) but you probably could use a bakery-style loaf of white bread, too.

1. Put the ground lamb in a large bowl and spread out to create a thin layer. Season all over with salt and pepper. Sprinkle the onion over the meat. Top with the herbs and the olive oil.

2. Meanwhile, toast the bread so it’s just dried out — not browned. (If you plan ahead, you can leave a few slices of bread out for a few hours. You also could dry out the bread in a 300ºF oven for 10 to 15 minutes.) Crumble bread slices into a separate bowl. Moisten with the wine, then add to the meat bowl. Add the egg to the meat bowl and then gently mix all of the ingredients together being careful not to over mix.

OK, it’s time to test your mixture. Preheat the broiler. Using a tablespoon (a measuring tablespoon), scoop out a level spoonful and roll it into a ball with your hands. If it holds together, you’re good to go. If it doesn’t hold together, toast another slice of bread, crumble it up, soak it in a tablespoon more of wine, and add it to the mixture. When the consistency is such that a ball holds together, place it on a sheetpan. Season with a pinch more salt, pepper and oregano. Broil 4 minutes. Remove from oven, let cool, then taste it. Adjust meat mixture accordingly with more salt, pepper, oregano, onion or herbs. Broil another one, taste it, etc. — repeat process until you’re happy with the flavors. Chill your meatball mixture for at least an hour. This mixture can be made up to a day in advance, too.

3. Preheat the broiler. Coat a sheetpan very lightly in olive oil. Shape your meatballs again using a tablespoon as a measure and place them on the prepared sheetpan as you go. Season with a pinch more salt, pepper and oregano. Broil 4 minutes or until done. (Note: You can make the meatballs any size you wish. Just adjust the time accordingly. My mother makes larger meatballs and broils them for 4 minutes a side.)

This might be a Greek tradition, but we sprinkle the just-broiled meatballs with a little bit of vinegar. Try it. You might like it, too.

Roasted Cabbage

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Toss cabbage wedges with olive oil and kosher salt on a sheetpan. Roast for 20 to 30 minutes. Test with a knife — they should be tender.

Spanakopita Strudels

spanakopita streudel

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.

spanakopita streudel

spanakopita ingredients

filling

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.
spanakopita assembly

streudels, unbaked

Spanakopita Strudels
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.

spanakopita assembly

Update: 7-17-2012: Full-size spanakopita for your reference. This was from this past Easter:
full-size spanakopita

full-size spanakopita

Large Spanakopita

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.

Farro Salad with Toasted Pine Nuts, Currants & Mustard Greens

farro salad

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.
Asian mix

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.
Roland farro

Farro Salad with Roasted Onion, Toasted Pine Nuts, Currants & Greens
Serves 2

1 red onion, diced
olive oil
kosher salt
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.

Farro salad, Zuni Cafe inspired

Mrs. Myers’ Banana Bread

Mrs. Myers' Banana Bread

It likely comes as no surprise that many fond memories of childhood sports center around food. From the orange slices at half time, to the post game treats, to the end-of-season celebrations, food visions rival the victories, the losses, the nail biters.

When I think of soccer season, I especially remember one thing: Valentina’s brownies and rice crispy treats. Valentina, a tall, striking Venezuelan, never missed a game and always arrived with big smiles, huge hugs and loads of treats, the perfect antidote for a colossal whopping. I would share the recipes with you all — I tried to get them about a year ago — but Valentina swears she always just “followed the recipe on the box.” Likely story, Valentina. Her brownies and rice crispy treats were legendary.

When I think of lacrosse season, again, I especially remember another surrogate mother, Mrs. Myers, and again, her treats. Mrs. Myers’ banana bread was moist, perfectly sweet, and always first to disappear from the dessert buffet — I looked forward to it before the games even started. Midseason I remember even devising a post-game-buffet plan of attack, hitting up the dessert table first, tucking slices of banana bread under a napkin, sometimes stashing them in my bag for later. What can I say? This stuff was gold.

I was lucky enough to obtain Mrs. Myers’ recipe from her daughter, a dear friend with whom I spent many hours in the kitchen, mostly baking, always some sort of biscotti, often cinnamon flavored with chocolate chips. I’ve been making this banana bread for about 10 years now, and it never fails to please, kids and adults alike.

I can’t wait to assume the role as soccer mom. With this recipe on hand, I’m destined to become a legend, too.

Mrs. Myers' Banana Bread

Mrs. Myers' Banana Bread

Mrs. Myers' Banana Bread

Mrs. Myers' Banana Bread

frozen bananas

Mrs. Myers’ Banana Bread

Yield=2 large loaves

2 cups sugar
1 cup butter, softened
3 cups sifted flour (I never sift)
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. table salt
5 eggs (I use 4)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup nuts (I never add nuts)
1/2 cup buttermilk
1 quart mashed bananas*, about 8 (ripe to overripe)

Note: I’m probably stating the obvious, but in case you don’t know, overripe bananas freeze beautifully — just peel them and place them in a ziplock back in the freezer. When you’re ready to use them, place them in a colander in the sink to drain — they’ll give up a lot of liquid and look totally repulsive, but they work beautifully.

1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Butter two loaf pans. (I butter generously.)

2. In a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy.

3. Meanwhile, in a separate bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda and salt.

4. With the mixer on low, add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Add the vanilla, buttermilk and bananas.

5. Add the flour mixture and mix until just combined. Divide batter between the two prepared pans. Bake for approximately 1 hour.

6. Remove from oven and turn loaves out onto cooling rack immediately. Let cool.

Mrs. Myers Banana Bread

Crustless Quiche, Loaded with Kale

crustless quiche, loaded with kale

I was so lazy this week. Looking to add a little more roughage to my diet, I piled a whole head of barely chopped kale into a pie dish, submerged it with custard, and threw it in the oven.

I suspected it would be good. I make crustless quiche nearly once a week, always with uncooked greens, always with fresh thyme, always with crème fraîche, always following the Tartine recipe. But I worried a bit about the quantity of greens this time. It was a little absurd.

The result, however, couldn’t have made me happier. My crustless quiche had in fact become crusty, thanks to the upper most layer of leaves poking though the custard surface, which, having cooked for 40 minutes unprotected by the custard, had essentially crisped into a layer of kale chips. Yum.

That said, I felt fortunate to have been cooking for one that evening. The quiche was impossible to cut — the knife snagged greens from right and left at every stroke — and it looked like total slop on the plate. Perfect for me — I love slop — not so perfect for company, not so perfect for sharing with all of you.

Aesthetics asides, I love the flavor of loads of raw greens in quiche. And so I made another one, this time with just a few fewer greens, which I chopped just ever so coarsely. The result? A delectable balance of roughage and custard, suitable even for company.

Without a crust in the equation (a traditional crust that is), this sort of quiche is effortless to whip up for a weeknight dinner. It still takes time, however — 40 minutes in the oven and an essential 20 minutes of resting, which allows its light and creamy texture to set. But if you’re looking to make the whole shebang, here’s Tartine’s quiche recipe in its entirety.

kale

crustless quiche loaded with kale

crustless quiche loaded with kale

Crustless Quiche, Loaded (or not) with Kale

5 large eggs
3 T. all-purpose flour
1 cup crème fraîche (see recipe below)
1 cup whole milk
1 tsp. kosher salt
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 T. fresh thyme*, finely chopped
1 to 3 cups** uncooked coarsely chopped kale or chard or mustard greens, etc

* Thyme is amazing (seriously, so good), but tarragon, chives, basil, really whatever herb you like will work.
** Aesthetically, 1 cup is perhaps the ideal amount, but if you’re looking to add some more roughage to your diet, 2.5 to 3 cups will do the trick. Definitely give it at least a rough chop.

1. Preheat the oven to 375ºF.

2. Place 1 egg and the flour in a large bowl and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the remaining 4 eggs until blended.

3. In a medium bowl, whisk the crème fraîche until smooth. Whisk in the milk. Pour the egg mixture through a fine mesh sieve held over the milk mixture. Whisk in the salt, pepper and thyme (or other herb).

4. Pile your greens into a pie plate. Pour the egg mixture over the greens, then press the greens down with a spatula so they are submerged in the custard. Place in the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 325ºF and bake until the filling is just set, about 30 minutes longer. The center of the quiche should still feel slightly firm, rather than liquidy, when touched. Let cool on a wire rack for at least 20 minutes to allow the custard to set up, so that it will slice neatly. It can be served warm or at room temperature. To serve a fully cooled quiche warm, cover it with aluminum foil and reheat it in a 325ºF for about 15 minutes.

* To make crème fraîche, place 2 cups heavy cream in bowl. Add 2 tablespoons of yogurt or 2 tablespoons of buttermilk. Stir to combine. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. Stir. Mixture will be nice and thick. Store in the fridge until ready to use.

This is how I chopped the greens second time around — the smaller pieces make for a slightly nicer eating experience.

chopped kale

Cheese Sticks for Oscar Night

cheese sticks

When it comes to hors d’ouevres, I never know what to make. Fortunately, I have friends that do. Oscar night is fixin’ to be a good one thanks to these cheese sticks brought to my attention by my friend Darcy. Oh my. Spicy, salty, crispy — these cheesy cocktail straws are addictive and will never not appear at a party I host from here on out. They take just minutes to whip up. They look beautiful. And they couldn’t be more party friendly — who doesn’t like butter, cheese, salt and a little spice?

I’m looking forward to Oscar night already. Well, that’s only partially true. I actually haven’t seen a single movie being nominated. I don’t know what happened this year. Part of the trouble is, in recent months at least, that I’ve been totally distracted by Foyle’s War — haven’t been able to watch a single other show since beginning the series. Disc one of the final season is sitting on my kitchen table, too. Hmmm. It seems the only certainty for Sunday evening is cheese straws. I can live with that.

Foyle's War

cheese sticks

cheese stick dough

cheese stick dough

cheese stick dough

cheese sticks, unbaked

cheese sticks

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

1 1/2 cups (about 6 ounces) grated extra-sharp Cheddar cheese (I love the Cabot Extra Sharp)
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and cut into 4 pieces
3/4 cup flour, plus more for dusting
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 tablespoon half and half or milk or heavy cream

1. Preheat oven to 350°F.

2. In a food processor, combine the cheese, butter, flour, salt and red pepper flakes. Pulse until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Add the half and half and process until the dough forms a ball, about 10 seconds.

3. On a lightly floured surface, using a lightly floured rolling pin, roll the dough into an 8- by 10-inch rectangle that is 1/8-inch thick. With a sharp knife, cut the dough into thin 8-inch strips, each 1/4- to 1/3-inch wide. (Note: It might be helpful to dip your knife in flour after every few cuts to ensure a clean cut — I did not have to, but Deb of Smitten Kitchen recommends doing so.). Gently transfer the strips to a parchment-lined cookie sheet, leaving at least 1/4-inch between them.

4. Bake the straws on the middle rack for 12 to 15 minutes, or until the ends are barely browned. Remove from the oven and set the cookie sheet on a rack to cool.

5. Serve at room temperature. Cheese straws will keep in the refrigerator, in a sealed container, for two days, but they taste best when freshly baked and served shortly thereafter.

cheese sticks