Nosh: Potato Tatin

Lest I run the risk of sounding like I am a corporate shill for a publishing house or for a high-end celebrity chef, I’m only going to say this once: if you want to find new ways to fall in love with vegetables, buy anything ever written by Yotam Ottolenghi. He’s not a vegetarian but he cooks veggies like a superstar, and should I ever find myself in front of him I would fall to the ground and kiss the hem of his robe. Chef’s apron (so long as it was the beginning of his shift). Whatever. He is that good.

This recipe is taken from his book Plentywhich is easily one of the best cookbooks I’ve ever bought and is sort of a gateway drug. After buying it (family, please do take note), his other books have ended up on my Amazon wish list and you all know how I feel about the items on my Amazon wish list: Shop early, shop often. All contributions to my cookery appreciated.

So. Here is a beautiful potato tatin recipe, adapted from Plenty. Ottolenghi calls it a “surprise” tatin, I suppose because tatins are usually desserty and sweet, and this one’s surprise is its savory goodness. Nevertheless, it works. I’ve made this for us, and for guests, and it hasn’t disappointed yet. Be forewarned: this tatin does take a while, but it’s all easy work–the hardest part comes right at the end. It’s a great recipe for kitchen puttering on those long, slow Sundays. You’ll need:

  • 1 pint grape tomatoes
  • 1 1/2 lb unpeeled potatoes, cut in 1-inch cubes
  • 1 medium-to-large onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tsp butter
  • oregano sprigs/thyme sprigs/rosemary, all to taste and to flavor preference
  • 1 4-oz package of goat cheese, sliced
  • 1 puff pastry sheet, thawed
  • salt/pepper/olive oil, as necessary

Preheat your oven to 275°. Take a sheet of puff pastry out of the freezer and put it in the fridge to thaw. Wash the pint of grape tomatoes and cut them all in half. The tomatoes are going into the oven to slow-roast for 45 minutes, so toss them with some oil, salt and pepper, and arrange them on a baking sheet. Face down, face up, it doesn’t matter, since you need to stir everything about half-way through the roasting time and really, we needn’t be so fussy. Put them in, let the oven do the work for you. You can, if you’re pressed for time, use store-bought sundried tomatoes, but, two things: 1) If you’re pressed for time, don’t make this recipe and 2) When you can work with this…

Who needs the sun when you've got steady, dry oven heat?

Who needs the sun to dry tomatoes when you’ve got steady, dry oven heat?

…why settle for anything less?  Side note: should you discover, when you assemble the tatin, that you have more tomatoes than you want or need, then the worst thing that happens is you have leftover slow-roasted tomatoes. You’ll thank me when you eat them in your salad tomorrow.

Moving on.

While the tomatoes roast, prepare your potatoes and onions. Give the potatoes a good scrub, then cut them and put them in a pot of water so you can boil them. You do want them to be roughly uniform one-inch cubes (but don’t make yourself crazy when some chunks aren’t exactly an inch; it will be fine), and yes, cook them thoroughly, but not to the point of mushiness. Drain them and set aside. Slice the onion in thin slices and toss in a big saute pan with some oil and let them get beautifully soft and golden, stirring as necessary so they don’t stick and overly brown. Set aside.

As far as the timing of this recipe goes, it’s very important that all your ingredients are fully prepped before you move on to the next step. You can park this recipe here for several hours or overnight, if you’re not planning to move forward. If you are, then make sure your potatoes are boiled and drained, the tomatoes are roasted, the onions are golden. If you’re using fresh herbs, make sure they’re washed and dried. If you’re using dried herbs, have them at the ready. Because next you’ll be making the caramel, and it will not wait for you.

Take a 9-inch cake pan and brush the sides and bottom with oil, then cut a piece of baker’s parchment to fit the cake pan. Brush the top of the parchment with oil, too.

Seriously. Have this ready.

Seriously. Have this ready.

Take a small pan and add in the butter and sugar. Let both things start to soften in the heat.

I swear, I did NOT arrange my pan this way.

I swear, I did NOT arrange my pan this way.

And then stir stir stir and keep stirring until you get a beautiful, rich brown caramel, which we will NOT stick our fingers in and taste because we never mess with hot sugar and we want to avoid second-degree burns as much as possible.

Look! But no touch.

Look! But no touch.

Then pour this into your prepared cake pan. Get it to smooth out as evenly as possible, but bear in mind that it won’t be smooth because the caramel will start to seize as soon as it leaves the heat.

Smooth! Meh. We do what we can.

Smooth! Meh. We do what we can.

Top with herbs, then start to arrange potatoes so they sit, relatively neatly, in a tight but not necessarily super-tight formation

Fairly even sizes. See why?

Fairly even sizes. See why?

Then layer with the gorgeous roasted tomatoes, kind of sticking them in the crevasses between potatoes.

Like so!

Like so!

And then layer with onions, doing much the same thing.

Laying things out and then jamming them into corners is *kind of* like how I clean.

Laying things out and then jamming them into corners is *kind of* like how I clean. Only this yields happier results.

Add on the layer of goat cheese and then top everything with the puff pastry, rolling it long enough so it’s an even thickness that you can trim and tuck into the sides of the pan.

Nothing that a good pair of kitchen shears can't fix.

If it’s slightly long, that’s nothing that a good pair of kitchen shears can’t fix.

A word about puff pastry: to dock, or not to dock? It’s a good question. If you dock it (i.e., poke the dough a bunch of times with a fork so the steam that makes the pastry rise escapes instead), it won’t puff as dramatically, but will still be delicious. If you don’t dock it, you’ll get a super-puffy crust that can be intimidating when you have to finish the tatin. It’s up to you. I’ve made it both ways, and they’re equally beneficial…though docked dough is probably easier, in the end, to work with. It’s your call.

Once the dough is placed and tucked, you can once again park this recipe in the fridge overnight; just take it out about an hour before you’re ready to cook it, so it can warm up to room temperature before it goes in the oven. If you’re ready to finish the tatin, then raise the oven temp to 400° and put it in the oven for 25 minutes. After 25 minutes, rotate it in the oven (if yours cooks unevenly, like mine does), then drop the temp to 350° and let it bake for another 10 minutes. The puff pastry should be beautifully golden and (if undocked) quite puffy.

Behold, le pouf!

Behold, le pouf!

Let this settle for a few minutes, then (this is the hardest part) place a large serving plate over the top of the crust and flip the whole thing, inverting the tatin onto the serving place like it’s a great big savory upside-down cake. Pie. Tatin.

Which is really what it is.

Et voila!

Et voila!

We had friends over for dinner, and served this with parmesan roasted acorn squash, a fattoush salad and chocolate panna cotta with pepita brittle (recipe coming soon). For real. It was almost too good.

So you see, nothing in this recipe is hard, though it does take time. The hardest part is the inversion to the serving plate at the end. Work out with some wrist weights if that makes you anxious. Otherwise…enjoy!

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Nosh: Sauteed Eggplant, Peppers and Potatoes

I’ve discovered I really enjoy Spanish food.  Usually when we think of Spanish food here in the US…well, first we think of Mexican food until someone else reminds us that no, Spain is on a different continent and they’re really not the same.  Fair enough.  Then we think of things like paella and sangria, which are of course notable–indeed, even mighty–dishes in their own right (though me + paella = death by allergy), but Spain is more than two dishes and some romanticized, gauzy image of bullfights and naps popularized by Ernest Hemingway.   Spanish food is as diverse at the many regions of Spain.  But there are common tendencies in Spanish cooking and if you want to give me a dish that involves smoked paprika and sherry vinegar and peppers and tons and tons of garlic and call it Spanish, I won’t complain.

Thanks to an afternoon spent in a Baltimore tapas restaurant, that’s exactly what I did.

Their eggplant was just. Too. Good.  So even though I was home and cooking not even 24 hours after eating tapas and you might think enough is enough and how many potato and eggplant dishes can one girl dine on in two days’ time, I was busy trying to reverse engineer what I ate.  With delicious results.  Here’s what I used:

  • 1 medium eggplant
  • 1 medium onion
  • tons and tons of garlic (I think I used 6 or 7 cloves for this)
  • 2 peppers, you can decide how hot you want the dish to be
  • 1 pound of potatoes, either very small so they can be thrown in whole or cut into bite-sized chunks
  • 1/2 tsp smoked paprika, and it can be smoked hot paprika if you’re feeling unstoppable
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric
  • 1/2 tsp thyme
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
  • 1 can diced tomatoes
  • water or broth to achieve desired consistency
  • salt & pepper to taste

Chop the eggplant into manageable chunks.  Put it into a nice hot pan and start it cooking right away.  Eggplant has that…I’m not quite sure if quality is the right word…where it can become a luscious piece of silken deliciousness wrapped in a dream if it’s cooked thoroughly.  BUT!  If it’s not well cooked then it’s like nature’s chewing gum made out of chalk, vegetable gristle and woe.  So get it going first and let it cook and cook and cook.  If it starts to kind of break down and become a sauce (but it won’t because you won’t be cooking it THAT long but even so, if it does), so what?  At least you’ll know it’s cooked through, and it will wrap the rest of the dish in love.  Anyway.  Eggplant.  Some olive oil.  In the pan.  GO!

If you never believe another thing I write, at least believe me when I tell you not to undercook your eggplant.

If you never believe another thing I write, at least believe me when I tell you not to undercook your eggplant.

Let this cook for a few minutes to start getting nice and brown and then?  Things go in.  Add onions, peppers (I went semi-spicy; the cubanelle I used was, of course, totally mild but the Hungarian wax pepper had quite a lovely kick. Use whatever kind of pepper you’d like), and garlic, and let them saute together for a few minutes.  Then add thyme, bay leaves, paprika and turmeric, give them a good stir and let them cook in for another minute or two.

Mmm hmmm, it's looking quite yellow at the moment.

Mmm hmmm, it’s looking quite yellow at the moment.

If you decide you want to add some kind of crushed red pepper flakes or cayenne to the mix (because hot food is your friend) you can add it here too.  Or not, it’s your decision. Once it all starts to cook together for a few minutes at medium heat, you’ll probably start to notice crusty brown bits of caramelized food and spices (a/k/a the “fond“) adhering to the bottom of your pan.  This is a good thing, but in order for that goodness to become reality you need to deglaze.  This, is a foodie (and concise) way of saying, “you want to pull all that yummy stuff off the bottom of your pan and re-incorporate it into your food before it all burns”.  Which is precisely what you’ll do, by pushing the contents of the pan slightly off to one corner, thereby exposing the fond, and pouring your sherry vinegar onto it.  It will steam and make a hideous hissing sound, but give it a stir and get whatever’s stuck on the pan back in your food where it belongs.  It won’t take more than a minute.  Then add the can of diced tomatoes, the potatoes, and enough broth and/or water to bring the liquid level high enough to make you feel confident it will cook your potatoes.  (Of course, you can always parboil or steam the potatoes prior to adding them to the pan, but that just adds an extra dish when it’s not really necessary so…why bother?)

I love the smell of a one-pot meal in the...uh...well, that line just falls apart out of context, doesn't it?

I love the smell of a one-pot meal in the…uh…well, that line just falls apart out of context, doesn’t it?

Cover for twenty minutes or a half-hour or so and cook at a medium-high heat, until the potatoes are cooked through and the sauce has thickened to the consistency you’d like.  Once everything is cooked through, it’s ready to eat.  Yes, it really is that simple.

When eaten on the back porch, it's EVEN BETTER.

When eaten on the back porch, it’s EVEN BETTER.

We ate this with roasted beets and goat cheese, sauteed beet greens and kale (recipe coming) and a crisp green salad.  It?  Rocked.

Lemony Asparagus Soup

Ahh, the spring growing season is upon us, and I have already feasted on several forms of asparagus.  Roasted.  Grilled.  Grilled again.  And so on.  When I was a kid I discovered that I really liked fresh asparagus, which was unusual because I was the insanely picky child.  The next time we had asparagus, my mother pulled the worst bait-and-switch in history and served canned instead of fresh, and it was grossly inferior, with the accent on gross.  I cried.  And I didn’t touch asparagus again until I was an adult.

Sorry, Mom.  But it’s true.

Childhood trauma notwithstanding, I have come to love the mighty asparagus spear.  Using the entirety of my food and creating as little waste as possible gives me a sense of virtue that I don’t often have in my daily life.  When we can combine the two?  Bliss.  Eating asparagus involves inherent waste because there’s that tough, woody end that you have to cut off, which gives me a sad.  But never fear!  Put those babies in the freezer until you’re ready to make stock, and then?

IMG_0033

OK, five bags is a little excessive, but still…

Homemade asparagus stock leads to homemade asparagus soup.  Yes!

Making asparagus stock is super-super simple.  Gather up your asparagus butts and put them in a stock pot.  Toss whatever else you want in there; I used an onion, a celery stalk, two carrots, five cloves of garlic, six or eight bay leaves and maybe two teaspoons of black pepper.  Do you want to throw in some parsley?  Go ahead.  Mushrooms?  Sure!  Another celery?  Go for it.  Do bear in mind that asparagus is a more delicate flavor and can be overwhelmed, so you might not want to put in a whole head of garlic…or maybe you do, so go for it!  The only thing I held back on was the salt.  I didn’t put much in at this stage of the stock-making, maybe only a teaspoon or two.  I wanted to be able to toss some in at the end to bring out the flavor once the stock had come together.  Anyway.

How much more simple could it get?  You don't even have to peel stuff.

How much more simple could it get? You don’t even have to peel stuff.

So you use twice as much “per height” water as there are veggies in your pot.  Meaning, if you have three inches of stock vegetables loaded into the bottom of your stock pot, then you would put in about six inches of water.  Did it make a ton of stock?  Yes.  Did I care?  Not even a little.

Bring your stock veggies to a boil, and let it rip for about five minutes.

Rocking out.

Rocking out.

And then turn it down to a simmer and let it cook for an hour.  That’s it!  Once it’s cooked you can taste the broth and adjust it for seasonings, then strain it into another large pot, through a mesh colander lined with cheesecloth.  You should have a beautiful, clear brown stock that looks something like this:

My house smelled really cozy that day.

My house smelled really comforting that day.

So, you could leave this alone, let it cool, divide it up into usable portions and put it in your freezer for future use.  Or, you can let your stock start working for you and use it towards that night’s dinner.

Or both, which had been my intention all along.

Assemble ingredients for soup.  I used:

  • 1 medium yellow onion
  • 2 carrots
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 3 or 4 cloves of garlic
  • 1 bunch of asparagus
  • 1 lemon
  • 1-2 tablespoons of your herb(s) of choice; I used marjoram and some sage here, but it easily could have been thyme or oregano or fennel
  • 2-3 bay leaves
  • Asparagus stock
  • Salt & pepper to taste
This won't take long to come together.

This won’t take long to come together.

FYI, I wanted some kind of starch to go in the soup  so I made orzo.  This soup would also be nice with diced boiled potatoes or sweet potatoes or maybe brown rice.  If you’re going to make something like that to go with your soup, now is a good time to start thinking about when you need to get that water started.

Get some oil heating in another large pot, then start by sauteing the onions for a minute or two.  Then add in the celery and carrots and let them cook together for three or five minutes; let everything start to get soft and mingley.  Add the garlic and let that saute for another minute, then zest your lemon right into the pot.  Cut the lemon into wedges and reserve as a garnish for your dinner.

So far, so good, right?

So far, so good, right?

Once that’s done add your bay leaves and herbs, and some salt and pepper (but go easy on the S&P so you can tinker with it some more at the end).  Let these all saute together another couple of minutes, until the veggies are starting to brown onto the bottom of the pot and everything smells summery and fragrant.  Add your asparagus stock.  I used about eight cups, but you can use more or less depending on how chunky you want your soup.  Actually, here’s what I did.  I put six cups in with the veggies for soup, then I measured out various sizes of asparagus stock to freeze for future soups and risottos (labeling what it is, how much is there and when it was made, of course).

We shall meet again.

We shall meet again.

Then whatever broth was left?  Also went in the soup.  There’s only so much measuring I can do before I start to make myself nuts.

Let that come to a boil for a few minutes, then reduce it to a simmer.  Chop the asparagus into bite size-ish chunks and cook it lightly.  I have a grill pan so I used that, but if you don’t then just saute it for a few minutes and all will be well.

Asparagus, orzo and soup, all happily doing their cooking thing.

Asparagus, orzo and soup, all happily doing their cooking thing.

When the orzo is ready, drain it and put it in a serving bowl.  When the asparagus are grilled or sauteed, put them in a serving bowl.  This soup doesn’t take long at all to cook so by the time orzo and grilled asparagus are ready the soup should be too, so just taste it again and add more salt or pepper as you see fit.  BUT!  Don’t add the asparagus or the orzo directly into the pot of soup.

Why, you ask?

I’m here to tell you.   The asparagus will get soggy and unappetizing and the orzo will continue to soak in soup and will swell to a gooey and unpalatable mass.  This is a soup that is greater than the sum of its parts, so long as those parts are maintained separately until they’re ready to be eaten.  And then?  All bets are off.

You’ve already got those lemon wedges waiting to be used, and I have certainly never complained about tossing a little parmesan cheese into my soup.  Chop a little fresh mint as a bonus garnish, and drizzle with olive oil.

It's like a bowl full of summer.

It’s like a bowl full of summer.

And if you’ve got a swanky back porch to eat it on, even better.

*Bliss*

*Swoon*

Happy cooking, everyone!  See you ’round the farmer’s market!

Nosh: Homemade Orecchiette with Broccoli Rabe Sauce

Just writing the words “orecchiette with broccoli rabe sauce” makes me happy.  I’m kind of a simple creature, really.  That’s all I need.  Well, that and having a plate of the actual food in front of me, because I am a hungry girl with a love for the delicious.

This brings me to orecchiette, which I love for many reasons.  Let me count the ways.  First, I love it for its name, which means “little ears” in Italian.  They are round, disc-like things that have depressions in the middle, kind of like ears do.  Adorbs!  Next, I love them because they are dense.  You don’t need to completely load them down with cheeses and fats to give orecchiette some heft because they’re made with semolina.  That’s a serious, no-nonsense flour, so they’re hearty and kind of chewy and you really know you’re digging in and eating something.  Finally, I love orecchiette because people are seemingly compelled to pair it with broccoli rabe, and I am down with anything that puts rapini in my trough.  And yes, broccoli rabe = rapini = these words are interchangeable.  I didn’t necessarily know that at first, and I’m still trying to figure out where broccolini fits into the broccoli family, but I digress.

Unfortunately, I’ve yet to see a store in Lewisburg and its environs that sells orecchiette, so my feasting upon it has largely been confined to restaurants and/or bags brought back from forays into shops in nearby metro areas.  But who needs that?  I have thumbs, I can cook.  I’ll make my own!  Do note, please: if you’re interested in making a pasta with broccoli rabe sauce but have no interest in making orecchiette, I understand.  Skip this part, scroll down to where I talk about the super-easy sauce which comes together in about twenty minutes, and feel free to use a store-bought pasta.  Just make sure you choose something hearty, like whole-wheat rotini.  If you are interested in making the orecchiette as well, then read on!

First, mix your dry ingredients.  Orecchiette seems to favor a 2:1 ratio for its flour.  I used a cup of semolina flour and subsequently, I used a half-cup of AP flour.  Mix the flours together with some salt (for this recipe, no more than a quarter-teaspoon) and have a half-cup of warm-ish water handy, though you may not use all of it.  Also, keep a baking tray dusted with semolina flour nearby to serve as a landing pad for your shaped pasta.

Ready to roll.

Ready to roll.

Put in about half the water and start kneading, and add more water in small increments until you get a ball of dough that is cohesive and elastic.  You can put it in a stand mixer if you have one with a good dough hook, but I don’t.  I just did it by hand.  It only took about five minutes of work to get it from a gnarly pile of mess…

Trust me, it gets better.

Trust me, it gets better.  Though I really want to put googly eyes on this.

To beautiful elastic ball of dough.

OMG, I can't hardly believe it.

OMG, I can’t hardly believe it.

When researching orecchiette, I read a bunch of food blogs offering conflicting advice about how to proceed.  Let it rest, don’t let it rest.  Wrap it in plastic, don’t wrap it.  There doesn’t seem to be a consensus on what to do, but here’s the thing: it’s never really a bad idea to let your dough rest, though it doesn’t seem that it would be criminal if you didn’t rest it.  I wanted to tend to some onions I had cooking on the stove so I took the opportunity to let it rest, and covered it with the bowl I originally measured out the flour in so my dough didn’t dry out in the open air.  If you need to park your dough for a little while, this is a perfect time to do so though if you’re going to let sit for more than a half an hour I’d at least lay down some plastic under it.  When you’re ready, cut your dough into eight pieces and roll those eight pieces out into doughy dowels about 18 inches long.  Ish.

That moment of perfect potential, when things can go great or really, really poorly.

That perfect moment of total potential, when things can go great or really, really poorly.

Cut them into pieces about an inch long and then?  Squish them into shape.  Again, in my research I read blogs that advised wrapping your dough around a spoon, or allowing the friction from the back of a dull knife to cause the pasta to curl, but then I thought, if I were some traditional Puglian nonna trying to make dinner, would I worry about ever-so-carefully fussing with the back of a knife?  Or would I use the most basic tools available to me and have at them with my thumbs?

Thumbs won.  I stuck my thumb in the middle of one piece of dough and shaped it with the other hand.  Voila, little indented pastas.  And they’re supposed to be rustic, so if they don’t look perfect, that’s fine.

Orecchiette!

Orecchiette!

Again, there are different schools of thought regarding what to do with your pasta now.  I’ve seen sites that advise you to let the shaped pasta sit at least one hour before cooking, I’ve seen sites that say you can use it right away.  I let mine sit–in the open, uncovered, just as you see it here–for the twenty minutes or so that it took me to prepare the sauce, and they didn’t dry out much and cooked super-super fast once I got them in boiling water.  So.  Once they’re at this point you can walk away and take care of other business.

For us, that other business is sauce.  This is pretty straightforward, and adapted from Mario Batali.  First, cut onions and garlic.  I used a TON of garlic because (regular readers, you know this) I am a junkie for garlic and am even more so when it comes to bitter greens, but of course you don’t have to use five cloves of garlic if you think that’s excessive.  This would also be a good time to get your pasta water started, so it’s boiling and ready by the time you want it.  If you’re using dried pasta, start the water before you cut a single bit of onion since you need to let the water boil and then let the pasta cook for eight or ten minutes before it’s ready to use.

What?  No, it's good for you!

What? No, garlic is good for you!

Let the onions and garlic saute in a very large pan at a medium heat with a dose of crushed red pepper to taste (I like the spicy) for five or six minutes, until they’re nice and soft and taking on that beautiful oniony-golden hue.  Add in your broccoli rabe, which has been rinsed, had the tough bottom ends of the stems removed, and roughly chopped.

So. Close. To done.

So. Close. To done.

Once that’s in the pan, grate a little fresh nutmeg over it (yes, really, it just makes it warm and homey) and toss in some salt and pepper.  This should saute for about five minutes before you add the tomatoes.

Come on, it even LOOKS festive.

Come on, it even LOOKS festive.

p.s. Is your water boiling yet?

Allow the tomatoes to cook in with the rapini for two or three minutes and put your fresh orecchiette in to boil.  Give it a stir and then watch it; within a minute or so it should start to float and when that happens, it’s ready to drain.  Reserve a ladle full of pasta water and drain your noodles.  Check the sauce.  If it seems kind of watery and needs to tighten up, add in some of your ladle of starchy pasta water, give it a stir, and then add your drained noodles to your pan.  Let them cook together for a minute or two.  Check for seasonings and adjust salt and pepper–I hit mine with a pretty sizeable amount of fresh-ground black pepper.  Make a chiffonade from ten or so fresh mint leaves, stir this in and remove from heat.  Give it a little kiss from some pecorino-romano and serve.  We ate ours with Parmesan-roasted acorn squash and bread with Fiery Onion Relish.

Fact: I can't wait to eat the leftovers, either.

Score!

Fact: I can’t wait to eat the leftovers, either.

Roasted Beet Galette

On a recent trip to the Boston area, we stopped at Russo’s in Watertown, a farmstand-turned-HOLY MOTHER OF GOD WHAT DON’T THEY HAVE that I try to make a point of visiting whenever possible.  I like that they’ve got a lot of interesting things in non-perishable containers, like vinegars and jellies and groovy crackers.  But they also have a huge selection of vegetables, some of which aren’t immediately perishable, and it was there that I first feasted my eyes upon a box of beautiful golden beets.

Oh hell yes.

Oh hell yes.

It makes no sense to me why golden beets are significantly less common than your basic red beet; they pretty much taste the same (they’re actually a little milder) and have almost the same nutritional value, they cook exactly the same, and they don’t stain your hands…and your cutting board…and your countertops.  But!  Despite the fact that I live in the middle of farm country, belong to a CSA and have been a foodie for a long time, it’s been years for me between golden beet sightings.

I have a hard time believing it’s because they’re reclusive creatures adept at hiding in the wild.

Anyway.  So I got my reclusive beets from the One of Everything Store annnnnd…then what?  Because they’re kind of special, hard-to-get beets I wanted to make something beautiful, and because my spring CSA is going to start up again fairly soon, I have a gigantic pile of pickled beets looming in my very near future.  So.  I thought and I thought, and ended up borrowing heavily from one recipe and substituting what I wanted instead of what the recipe called for and in the process, I made an amazing beet galette.

A galette is, basically, a tart with a pastry crust that isn’t molded into a pan.  The term is broad and can be interpreted in many ways, from a particular kind of large buckwheat crepe to a fruit-and-pastry dessert to a savory dinner tart.  Most of the recipes I found online used a CA-RAZY amount of butter in the crust and frankly, I don’t really like to cook like that if I can avoid it.   Or, they would chop the beets into a dice and I wanted to make pretty flat rounds.  Then I remembered this recipe and thought…wait a second…why don’t I use this as my template?  I’ll make this crust, put in my own fillings?

This?  Is what we call a plan, and here’s a reconstruction of the cobbled-together recipe and how I put it all together.  So.  Onward!  But forewarned is forearmed: this is not a dinner that you can just toss together in 20 minutes.  Save this for a cold, snug Sunday when you want to be productive but don’t feel like leaving the house.

Bear in mind: you can certainly make this recipe using the readily available red beets, if you can’t find golden like I almost always can’t.

First, make the crust.

Pulse your walnuts in a food processor until they’re ground fine.  If you don’t have a food processor, then try a blender, maybe.  Or put them in a bag and crush the daylights out of them with the bottom of a heavy frying pan.  Or go out to the store and buy a food processor, I’ll wait.  Mix the ground walnuts with the flours, salt and pepper, and chopped fresh herbs.  Use whatever herbs you prefer; in this batch I used parsley and thyme because I had them handy.  If you don’t have fresh herbs you can use dried, but use about half the amount as the recipe calls for because their flavor is concentrated and therefore a little stronger.  When your dry ingredients are mixed make a well so you can add the wet ingredients.  What does that mean?

What's that, Lassie?  Billy fell in the well?

What’s that, Lassie? Billy fell in the well?

It means you dig a hole in your dry ingredients and put your wet ingredients in said hole.  It helps you incorporate the ingredients quickly and thoroughly.  That’s important for this crust because it’s really hearty and you don’t want to overwork it and develop the glutens; that will just make it tough.  Who needs a tough crust?  Not this girl.

So knead the dough just until it comes together, then wrap it in plastic and put it in the fridge for at least 15 minutes or until you’re ready to roll it out.  Preheat your oven to  425° and get going on your beets and onions.  Thinly slice them both, toss with some oil, salt and pepper and put them on baking sheets and into the oven.  You’ll get nicely wilted beets and onions that are ready for the next stage of usefulness.  Drop the oven temp to 375°.

All hail the discs f golden deliciousness!

All hail the discs of golden deliciousness!

While these are cooking, toss your goat cheese and feta (if you’re using it) in the freezer (I’ll get to this in a moment, hang on) and chop your garlic.  Since you’re not going to cook the garlic any other way than baking it in with the galette, make sure you chop it fairly small or slice it super-thin.  I went for super-thin.

See?  Thin.

See? Thin.

But really, it’s whatever you think is easiest, so long as you remember that your objective here is to not bite into a hunk of par-baked garlic, because no.

Now, this thing about the frozen cheese.  If you’ve ever tried to cut goat cheese you surely know that it crumbles and sticks to the knife and doesn’t cut evenly and is generally a pain in the ass to manhandle.  Much the same can be said for feta.  But if you put the cheeses in the freezer for a little while–it doesn’t have to be long, fifteen minutes or so should to the trick–they become easier to cut in even, non-sticky slices.  Or grate like Parmesan.  So. Before you start slicing and dicing your cheese, take your  dough out of the fridge, unwrap it and place it on baker’s parchment or a non-stick baking mat that has been lightly dusted with flour.  Roll out the dough into a rustic, 15-inch or so circle, then take the cheese out of the freezer and cut the goat cheese into even, easy-to-disperse slices.

Goat cheese is so much easier to manage this way.

Goat cheese is so much easier to manage this way.

Starting about two inches in from the outer edge, put half the goat cheese on your rolled out dough.  Sprinkle on the garlic and grate some feta over it on a nice, fine grater.  Like it was Parmesan.  (I know I’ve said this before but I do believe it’s the best analogy I can think of.)

See, it's all about building a solid base.

See, it’s all about building a solid base.

Then start layering in the veggies.  Put in a layer of beets, then onions, then beets again.

I don't know if I want to eat this or put it in a vase.Who am I kidding?  I want to eat this.

I don’t know if I want to eat this or put it in a vase.
Who am I kidding? I want to eat this.

Add the rest of the goat cheese, and another shredding or two of feta if you’d like.  Remember, feta is salty, so if you intend to use it in this dish watch your salt content elsewhere and plan accordingly!  Carefully fold the edges inward and remember–they won’t reach the middle of the galette.  If the crust breaks at all where you fold it, just crimp it back together and move on.  It’s supposed to be rustic.

It's not "perfect" by any stretch of the imagination.  And that's just fine.

It’s not “perfect” by any stretch of the imagination. And that’s just fine.

Take hold of the parchment or baking mat and slide it, galette and all, onto a baking sheet.  Put it in the oven and let it cook for 50 minutes, and then let it sit for ten.  I served it with a gorgeous salad with lemon vinaigrette and some roasted potatoes.  And it was as good as I’d hoped.

Voila!  Dinner, is served.

Voila! Dinner, it is served.

Nosh: Roasted Turnips and Pasta

I came home from a visit with my family with a giant bag full of turnips.

Turnips.

There are few things that are less sexy than a turnip.  The word is unsexy.   The raw root in its un-manhandled state is unsexy.  And most people, when they think of how they’ve eaten turnips, think of them mashed.

Image from food.com

Image from food.com

which looks like baby food.  By definition…unsexy.  Delicious, maybe.  But unsexy.

Not that I always need my food to bring the sexy at all times but it’s nice to think of other things to do with it an ingredient that…well…doesn’t remind you of baby food.  And turnips are good!  They’re bright and peppery, but their flesh can be a little watery and thus marginally difficult (marginally; let’s not make this seem more bleak than it really is) to manage in the cooking process.  This is where roasting comes in.

I have come to the conclusion that roasting makes everything better.  Kale?  Sure!  Tomatoes?  Roast ’em slow for a few hours and then just try to contain yourself.  Parsnips?  Brussels sprouts?  Yes and yes!  I just roasted grapes and shallots to stuff into some crêpes.  I even roast lemons when I make lemon risotto, because it deepens and mellows the lemon flavor so you don’t bite into a tart lemonade-flavored pile of hot rice.  Because roasting is a (relatively) dry heat it can help eliminate the water in the turnip and temper its peppery bite, especially if it’s a larger, older turnip.

Anyway.  I had these turnips and…what else?  Since I saw this as a great opportunity to clear out some stuff in my fridge it became a little bit of a kitchen sink dinner (as in, “everything but the…”).  I wrote out a rough draft of the recipe, but it’s written to accommodate how I think (and I always plan for leftovers) so it’s probably best if you read along in the blog first.

Heat your oven to 350°.  Prepare your garlic first.  Why?  Because you can start it roasting while you prep the veggies and said garlic will be ready earlier.  This means you can let the garlic get cool enough to handle, squeeze out the cloves while everything else finishes in the oven, and mix them in with the ricotta cheese without missing a beat.  Cut an entire bulb straight across the top, exposing the cross-sectioned cloves.  Drizzle with oil and season with salt and pepper.

IMG_0036-001

Mmm…roasted garlic…

There are two things to bear in mind regarding roasted garlic.  One: if it’s too much for you, or you don’t like or can’t eat garlic, don’t worry.  Skip this step entirely and mix something like pesto or maybe roasted red peppers in with the cheese.  Be creative.  It’s your dinner.  And two: if you don’t have a fancy clay garlic roaster, don’t sweat it.  Neither do I.  Or rather, I think I do but I have no idea where it is.  Notice that the garlic is on a big piece of aluminum foil?  That’s there for a reason.  Fold the foil up around your garlic, crimp the edges together and voila!  Instant garlic roaster.

Peel your turnips and onions, and cut them and the zucchini into roasting-friendly chunks.  Put them all in pans and toss them with salt-pepper-oil, and let them roast for a half an hour, maybe forty-five minutes, checking on them and giving them a stir after the first twenty.  Do you want to sprinkle the veggies with thyme?  All right.  Or, do you want to toss them with some balsamic vinegar?  Go for it!  I just wanted the pure vegetable/garlic combo the day I made this but you know, try what you think will make you happy.  It’s all good.  I do admit, I had way more turnips to start with than this recipe needs, but in the interests of making my life easier I roasted all of them at once.  Whatever’s left over the next day can be topped with breadcrumbs and reheated as a side dish…or stuffed into peppers…or loaded into a quesadilla…the possibilities are endless.

Loads of veggies ready to roast!

Loads of veggies ready to roast!

If you haven’t figured it out by now, I tend to cook in “one”s.  One onion, one zucchini, one bulging bag of turnips, and if I cut too much or cook too much, I incorporate what’s left into something else.  Who wants to measure things?  Not this girl.  Anyway.

I had about a half a cup of ricotta cheese left in my fridge and it was at the “use it or lose it” point…you know when you buy something to make one, specific thing, and then you’ve got that pathetic, almost-but-not-quite useless amount lurking on your shelves until you finally, months later, give up and throw it away?  Yeah.  It makes me crazy; I hate to waste food.  So why not use it here?  I also had a reasonable chunk of Swiss cheese that was approaching “use it or lose it” so I ask again: why not?  You could also use that lonesome piece of mozzarella you have left over from pizza night, or that chunk of muenster your kids won’t eat because they think it’s “monster cheese”.  Creative use of straggler food is what makes for a great kitchen sink dinner; you are virtuously not wasting either food or the money you spent to buy it while in the process making a healthy meal for you and your loved ones, and who doesn’t feel good about that?

Ricotta, garlic, Swiss, and some hot pasta water.  Dinner is mere moments away.

Ricotta, garlic, Swiss, and some hot pasta water. Dinner is mere moments away.

If your veggies are approaching doneness then your pasta should be boiling by now.  Mash howevermuch garlic you want into the ricotta (or, see above for non-garlic suggestions), reserve one cup of your pasta water, drain your pasta and then prepare for major assemblage.

Put a few handfuls of cleaned spinach into a bowl.  Shake some red pepper flakes on it and toss it with some of the hot, starchy pasta water so it begins to wilt.

Step one: Complete!

Step one: Complete!

Then: add the ricotta and garlic mixture and the rest of the water, and give that a good stir.  Pour the steaming pasta on top of that, and then top with your veggies.  If you think you roasted more turnips or zucchini or onions than you want in the pasta, that’s fine, only add as much as you think is right.  Mix in the Swiss cheese and, if you want, more fresh-ground pepper or some fresh herbs like parsley or chives.  Stir to combine, and let the Swiss cheese get all ooey-gooey-melty.  Have some Parmesan on the side for grating and serve with a green salad, and you’ve got one heck of a lovely turnip dinner.

Yes.

Yes.

For the record, my sister–who only ever associates turnips with mashing and of which she is not a fan–stopped by the night we made this.  I asked her if she wanted to try a little; she stayed for a whole plate.  It has the power to convert.  Don’t be afraid.  Just take the leap.

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