It’s been hard for me to take a restorative day, the kind where I drive out to my friend Maggie’s place in the country, hang out and cook. We have a tradition of selecting a recipe or technique that has piqued our interest, and embarking on a day-long kitchen adventure. A couple of weeks ago, I found the time, and we had a project: mozzarella.
Or so we thought. Mozzarella making is both easy, and not.
To begin, you must have some key ingredients that are likely not in your pantry: citric acid and vegetable rennet. Easily remedied: visit a cheesemaking shop, or order from an online source. I went to a local shop.
Critical, too, is organic milk that has NOT been ultra-pasteurized. Here’s where plans went awry. Maggie’s co-op, which sells raw milk (for pets, wink-wink) couldn’t fill her order. When Maggie texted me: “Can you bring the milk?” I didn’t pay attention to our book’s instructions that ultra-pasteurized would not work. (The curds won’t properly form and separate from the whey.) On my way to Maggies, I purchased a gallon of the “ultra” whole milk from the market.
Instead of heating milk, separating curds and stretching cheese, we sat on her front porch. We watched the territorial hummingbirds buzz one another away from the feeder. We chatted, mused and caught up. Over coffee, and toast spread with her homemade raspberry jelly, we plotted our next kitchen adventure. We would not be thwarted again.
At our following get-together, we made up for lost kitchen time. In addition to the homemade mozzarella project, we added Farinata and Onion Jam. An ambitious roster, no?
Today I am going to share with you two of the three. The mozzarella deserves its own post. And, while we were fairly successful, Maggie and I both agreed that making mozzarella is like baking bread or making pasta. They are all very basic, yet at the same time require practice. It is not so much the recipe, but the technique that makes the difference. In this case, it’s in heating the milk to the right temperature(s) straining the curds, getting the right feel for the heating and stretching the cheese. We did well–but believe we could do better.
However, the other recipes were simply done and absolutely delicious. And, I am confident in sharing them with you now.
The first is called Farinata. It is a rustic savory pancake originating from Liguria Italy, and uses 4 basic ingredients, 1 optional:
Garbanzo Bean (chickpea) Flour
I call it a deceptive recipe because of its simplicity. You cannot believe how tasty this is, from such spare and humble ingredients. There is not much of a technique either. You can whip up it in a snap, and bake in a hot-hot-hot oven–best in a cast-iron skillet.
The texture of the pancake is so pleasing–a golden toothsome crust with a custardlike interior. The chickpea flour lends a slightly sweet somewhat nutty taste. Use your best olive oil, as the farinata provides a fine canvas for it.
In places like Genoa, farinata is sold in pizzerias and bakeries, and is best eaten fresh and hot, with a generous grinding of black pepper over the top. Along the Cote d’Azur, it is known as Socca, and served as street food. The Italians will sometimes add fresh finely chopped rosemary to the farinata. The French often prefer a pinch of cumin.
Either way, it is a protein-rich dish that will please anyone, with any dietary preference. Gluten free-check. Vegan–check. Truly Delicious–check!
The second is Onion Jam. We all love the caramel sweetness of onions long simmered in a skillet. This recipe carries it just a little further, with salt, turbinado sugar, white balsamic vinegar and a petite bouquet garni of fresh thyme and chives.
It’s one of those recipes that needs little tending–saute the onions; mix in the remaining ingredients; cover and cook on low. Yes, you’ll want to check on it occasionally, give a stir—make sure nothing is sticking. You could also process the onion jam in a hot water bath, just as you would fruit preserves.
Maggie and I relished a dollop of onion jam with the farinata. I can well imagine it with steak or on a grilled burger, or spread over a round of Camembert.
And, yes, I promise to post about the mozzarella. We did enjoy eating it. And we’ll make it again, only better. Soon!
FARINATA adapted from Food Wishes
1 1/2 cups Garbanzo Bean Flour (also called chickpea flour)
2 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
5 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped fresh rosemary
fresh ground black pepper
cast-iron skillet (or any oven-safe skillet)
Place flour into a medium bowl, and whisk in the water. When the batter is smooth, cover it with a plate and set it aside for about an hour, room temperature. After an hour, skim off any accumulated foam off of the top and discard.
Place your skillet into the oven and preheat to 500 degrees.
Whisk salt, 2 tablespoons olive oil and finely chopped rosemary into the batter. Let the batter sit for about 10 minutes.
When the oven is preheated and the skillet “smokin’ hot” add 3 tablespoons olive oil to the skillet. When that hot sheen forms over the pan, pour in the batter. Carefully place the skillet onto the middle rack in the center of the oven.
Bake for 25-30 minutes. The farinata will have a beautiful browned crust, and a yellow, almost custardlike center.
Serve immediately, cutting into wedges. Grind fresh black pepper over the top.
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 large yellow or white onions (4 medium) coarsely chopped
1/4-1/2 cup turbinado sugar*
1/2 cup white balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon salt
1 bundle fresh thyme
*start with 1/4 cup if the onions are sweet. Increase to 1/2 cup if they are not.
Heat a large skillet on medium. Add the olive oil, then the chopped onions. Stir, to coat the onions. Cover and cook undisturbed for 10 minutes.
Uncover, and stir in the sugar, vinegar, and salt. Add the bundle of thyme. Cover and continue cooking for another 15 minutes.
Uncover and reduce heat to low. Continue cooking until the onions are dark caramel colored, very soft and jammy.
Makes a pint
Every element of this savory summer tart appeals to me.
The crust, made with whole wheat flour and olive oil, is rustic, free-form and forgiving.
Inside is a layer of ricotta, scented with lemon zest, nutmeg and thyme, generously spread across the base.
Coins of zucchini, (that ubiquitous summer garden veggie I am ever seeking another way to cook,) ring the top.
A drizzle of lemon agrumato imbues the squash with piquant citrus oil.
The pastry bakes beautifully, surrounding the creamy filling and vegetables with a rumpled golden crust.
And, whether sliced warm from the oven, or carved cool the next day, out of the fridge, it is delicious.
The recipe comes courtesy of Adri Barr Crocetti, whose Italian-centric blog will captivate you with its authentic preparations and stunning photography. When I first read her post about this crostata back in May, I knew that I would make it.
It was just a matter of time.
All summer, I’ve had most of the necessary ingredients in my pantry, and an abundance of those prolific squashes from my garden. The only thing I lacked was Lemon Agrumato–a special oil from Abruzzo where olives are stoneground with lemon.
Serendipity and luck–a friend gave me this bottle for my birthday.
While it is not a true agrumato–it doesn’t indicate that on the label–it does impart a pleasing citric essence to the otherwise peppery nature of the olive oil.
Adri tucks cubes of pancetta between the zucchini slices, and I can well imagine the luscious sweet-salty bites those bring to the tart.
But, I live with a vegetarian. So I strew Sun Gold cherry tomatoes–halved—over the top.
LEMONY ZUCCHINI RICOTTA CROSTATA adapted from Adri Barr Crocetti
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling
1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
¼ teaspoon baking powder
¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1/3 cup plus 2-3 tablespoons cool water
Place the flours, fine sea salt, baking powder, and nutmeg in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Pulse twice to combine. In a measuring cup combine the olive oil and cool water. Begin to pour the liquid slowly into the processor as you gently pulse then run the machine.Remove the feed tube from the processor, and with the machine running, slowly add all the liquid. Process until the ingredients are well combined, and come together into a mass.Turn the dough out onto the counter, knead and form into a disc shape.Wrap in plastic and allow the dough to rest for at least 30 minutes.
Note: You may make this up ahead of time, refrigerating the plastic-wrapped dough overnight.
15-16 ounces whole milk ricotta, drained for at least 4 hours*
Extra virgin olive oil
2 bunches green onions, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon chopped thyme (or lemon thyme) leaves, plus whole sprigs to garnish
Grated zest of 1 large lemon
¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
Fine sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2-3 medium zucchini, sliced into 1/16-inch coins
Lemon Agrumato Extra Virgin Olive Oil
* To drain the ricotta: line a strainer with cheesecloth and place over a large bowl, or set a large sieve over a bowl. Put the ricotta into the sieve, cover and refrigerate to drain for at least 4 hours, or overnight.
Pour 1 tablespoon of extra virgin olive oil into a skillet set over medium heat. Add the sliced green onions and a pinch of fine sea salt. Sauté over medium heat until soft and translucent, about 3 minutes. Transfer the onions to a small bowl.
Place the drained ricotta (discarding the separated whey) to a medium bowl. Fold in the chopped thyme, lemon zest, ½ teaspoon of fine sea salt, ½ teaspoon of black pepper, and ground nutmeg.
1 large egg
1 tablespoon water
Beat the egg and water together in a small bowl. Set aside until time to brush onto the pastry.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. If you have a baking stone, place it into the oven on the middle rack.
Dust your counter with flour. Unwrap the dough disc and roll it into a 14″-15″ circle. Slide the rolled out dough onto a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Spread the ricotta mixture over the circle of rolled dough, spreading it evenly, leaving a 1-inch border. Sprinkle the sautéed green onions over the ricotta. Arrange the sliced zucchini over the ricotta, and top with slices of cherry tomatoes. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Finish with a drizzle with Lemon Olive Oil.
Fold the border over the zucchini, crimping it to make a circle. Brush the egg wash over the pleated border. (You will not use all of the egg wash.)
Slide the crostata and parchment from the baking sheet onto the preheated baking stone. (Or simply bake on parchment lined baking sheet. Bake until the crust is lightly browned and the zucchini is cooked, about 45 minutes. Allow to cool on a rack for 15 minutes.
Cut into wedges and serve.
It wasn’t just the allure of this gluten-free, no-bake tart, coupled with the fact that local strawberries are here at our markets, ready to spill their juicy sweetness over its top.
It’s the homemade cheese that fills it: Fromage Facile. That’s French for “Easy Cheese.” Soft, slightly tangy, fresh—and ready to spread into that tart, in about thirty minutes. I was sold.
But, there’s more.
Delicate Chevre kisses laced with lavender and thyme, spiced twists of Oaxacan cheese (quesillo) to pull and melt over flatbread, rounds of burrata filled with brown butter and cream.
Chevre. Mozzarella. Burrata. All wonderful cheeses—can you imagine making them yourself in under an hour?
Claudia Lucero says absolutely! and demonstrates 16 different varieties simply, beautifully, in her new book, One-Hour Cheese.
I’m a novice in this field. I have experimented, with some success, making ricotta and mascarpone . But I want to know more. How do you hand-stretch mozzarella? Why do you use citric acid and vegetable rennet? How do you form that purse of burrata and fill it with cream? What can you do with all that leftover whey? Can you really make a smoked cheddar wheel in just 60 minutes? (You can, although its name, “smoked cheater,” tells you it is not a true smoked cheddar—-but it’s incredible, nonetheless.)
One-Hour Cheese provides the answers to these–and many other cheese making questions.
Even though I wanted to leap to the more complicated recipe, Burrata, for my first try, I decided to begin with Fromage Facile. This super-simple and delectable cheese is ideal for anyone’s initial foray into cheese-making. It provides a luscious blank canvas, ready to accept sweet or savory applications. And, you don’t need any extraordinary to make it. Likely you already have everything you need in your pantry.
The ingredient list? Whole cow’s milk, buttermilk, lemon juice and salt.
Supplies of Note? Cheesecloth and a reliable thermometer.
The process is quick: gently heat the milk to 175 degrees. Stir in the buttermilk and lemon juice. Watch the curds form before your eyes.
Strain, to separate the whey. Lightly salt. Form into a ball. Ta-Dah! Fromage Facile.
Claudia gives many enticing recipes, to accompany each of the cheeses in the book. Tapenades and dried fruit-nut pastes to flavor the farm-fresh rounds. Vibrant herb-olive oil marinades to cloak bocconcini–little bon-bons of mozzarella. Spiked and peppered melts for pizza and quesadillas.
The photographs are appealing; the steps involved are clearly illustrated; interesting tips are posted throughout. Claudia’s style is upbeat and fun. You’ll want to make these cheeses. And, you can.
This No-Bake Tartlette? You can whip it up in the time it takes for the Fromage Facile curds to drain. The crust has only 3 ingredients: toasted nuts (I used walnuts, but almonds or pecans would work well.) combined with dates and a pinch of salt. That’s it.
Press the mixture into the pans. Swirl a little honey into the Fromage Facile, and spread into each tart shell. Top with the Fruit of the Moment.
Right now, the strawberries in Nashville are out of this world. Slice a few and sprinkle a little raw sugar over these gems–it coaxes out the juices. Add some furls of basil or mint, if you like. Spoon over the tart. Serve immediately—or chill for 30 minutes. Either way, it is simply delicious.
Now, for the fun part: The Giveaway. You are going enjoy having this book as a part of your culinary library.
Post a comment below, telling about a favorite cheese, or a cheese making experience. On June 1st, I will announce the winner, chosen at random.
FROMAGE FACILE from One-Hour Cheese by Claudia Lucero
1 quart whole cow’s milk (not ultra-pasteurized)
1 cup cultured buttermilk
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon flake salt (or to taste)
Fresh Herbs (optional)
Medium colander or mesh strainer
Large heat-resistant bowl
2 quart stockpot
Large mixing spoon
Measuring cup and measuring spoons
1. Line the colander with cheesecloth. Place a bowl underneath to collect the whey.
2. Pour the quart of cow’s milk into a pot. Place over medium heat, warming the milk until it reaches 175 degrees. Stay close by to monitor the heat, stirring to prevent the skin from forming on the top or sticking to the bottom.
3. When the milk reaches 175 degrees, add the buttermilk and lemon juice. Stir well. Remove from heat and leave undisturbed for 5 minutes.
4. You will see separation of curds and whey. Stir the curds gently to check the texture. Pour into the cheesecloth-lined colander.
5. Allow the curds to drain until they resemble thick oatmeal, about 1-2 minutes. Stir in the salt.
6. Pack the cheese into a paper (or plastic) lined dish to form a wheel.
NO-BAKE STRAWBERRY-CHEESE TARTLETS adapted from One-Hour Cheese by Claudia Lucero
1/2 cup toasted walnuts
1/3 cup pitted dates
1/8 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon honey
Fresh ripe strawberries
fresh basil or mint
Place walnuts and dates into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add salt. Pulse and process together to form a crumbly crust that will stay formed when squeezed.
Press the crust into tart pans.
Fold honey into fromage facile. Spread into tart shells. Chill for one hour.
Slice strawberries and place into a small bowl. Chiffonade (finely slice) basil or mint and toss into berries.
Top the tarts with berry-mint mixture and serve.
Hail Cantharellus cibarius!
Yes, it is that time of year again, when chanterelles, those golden hued beauties of the forest make their appearance at the market. I’ve been keeping a watchful eye out for them–their beguiling apricot color and scent, curious funnel-shaped stems, and soft gill-like ridges that stretch up to frilled caps. Trumpets of delectability!
So infrequently do I cook with them, that I want make the most of the occasion. Because of their nature, their keen readiness to yield into a silken umami state when sauteed in butter–I don’t want to do too much.
In the past, I’ve paired them nicely with caramelized onions in this tart, and made them the foundation and star of this spoon-creamy risotto. Today, I’ve folded them with cubed bread, eggs, cheeses, and an herb-infused milk, baked into a sumptuous Chanterelle Bread Pudding.
A pile of chanterelles looks formidable at purchase, but reduces quickly in the skillet, so be sure to indulge in a full pound of them.
They’ll retain their meatiness and won’t get lost in the mix. Cleaning them can be a bit of a chore however most necessary; click here for Cooking Light’s foolproof guide to a proper prep. The cleaning may be the most time-consuming part of the recipe!
For the rest of the process, it moves along simply, with simple ingredients. Likely you already have them in your pantry. Stale crusts of bread, eggs, some nutlike cheeses, a little onion and carrot to chop into a mirepoix to add to the base.
What makes this pudding exceptional—besides the grand chanterelles, of course— is the warmed half-and-half, with its plunge of fresh rosemary, thyme, and sage. That trio muddles in the rich milk, infusing it with woodsy herbal notes.
I saute the chopped chanterelle stems with carrot and onion in a nob of Kerrygold butter. After a few minutes, I toss in the mushroom caps, which I prefer to tear into pieces, rather than attack with a knife. In no time, they release their essence–both peppery and fruity– and become lustrous as they simmer. You could add a splash of white wine or sherry at this point—-chanterelles like a nip of the grape—-but it is not essential.
Once they are cooked, the rest is basically a mixing thing. Add your herbed-up half-and-half, shredded cheese (a combination of parmesan and gruyere is quite nice) beaten eggs and cubed bread.
I keep a bag of leftover bread–nubs, scraps, and pieces—in my freezer. Recipes like this one make me glad that I do.
The pudding puffs as it bakes. The interior sides and rumpled top become wonderfully brown and crusty, while the interior maintains its rich creaminess. Tasting the dish–which made a great meal with a green salad—reminded me of big holiday feasts on the horizon. And I realized that this would make an elegant side dish, or dressing. Some of my friends always make Oyster Dressing for Thanksgiving. I think this Chanterelle Bread Pudding rivals that.
CHANTERELLE BREAD PUDDING
1 pound chanterelle mushrooms, carefully cleaned
2 cups half-and-half
2 sprigs rosemary
2 sprigs thyme
4-5 sage leaves
3 tablespoons butter
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
6 cups cubed sturdy stale bread
1 1/2 cups shredded cheese–combination of Parmesan and Gruyere
4 eggs, lightly beaten
1- 8 cup baking or souffle dish, coated with butter
Cut the stems from the chanterelles, setting aside the caps to work with later. Finely chop the stems.
Pour the half-and-half into a small saucepan. Add fresh herbs and place on medium low heat. When bubbles begin to form on the pan’s edge of the liquid, remove from heat. Let the mixture cool as the herbs infuse the half-and-half.
Melt the butter in a large skillet or pot placed on medium heat. Add the chopped chanterelle stems, carrots, and onions. Season with salt and black pepper. Saute for 3-4 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Chop, or tear by hand, the chanterelle caps into bite sized pieces. Add to the vegetable mixture. Stir gently as the mushroom caps soften and collapse in the saute. This should take about 4 minutes. Remove from heat.
Discard the herbs and pour the infused half-and-half into the pot with the mushrooms. Stir in the bread cubes and cheese.
Finally–and quickly—stir in the beaten eggs. When all of the ingredients are well-combined, pour the mixture into the prepared baking dish. You may place a sprig of rosemary ( or sage, or thyme) on the top.
Allow the bread pudding to sit for at least an hour (or several hours—you may cover and refrigerate this overnight and bake the following day.)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the casserole on the middle oven shelf and bake for 35 minutes.
A leftover shank of baked ham and looming potluck dinner: this was my dilemma, my quandary, my challenge last week.
Surely the two could intersect–one should be able to be used in some fashion to satisfy the need of other.
But, what to make?
Deviled Ham Salad? Big Ham Biscuits? A creamy ham and mac-cheese casserole?
None of those seemed very exciting.
What would you make? I asked a friend.
A shrug, and
What was I doing with a big leftover bone-in baked ham anyway,
was her response.
I would have to try another method.
Sometimes you have to plant the notion or request in your mind and let it go. Wait and see what might come up to inspire you.
It took about a day, but for whatever reason while on an errand driving across town, a pleasant memory from almost 10 years ago bubbled up:
I was with Bill and my daughter in Paris. We had strolled the Luxembourg Gardens early one morning and were ravenous. Our meander led us down a narrow street with a row of vendors—Look, Crepes!
We watched greedily as the creperie chef combed the batter over the special griddle, deftly flipping the great thin round when the edges became golden and crispy, then splashing it with melted citrus butter, a rapid fold and shower of powdered sugar, and Voila!
Madeleine got one with fresh bananas. Bill’s had egg and cheese. And mine….
There, it is called a complete–a buckwheat flour crepe filled with ham, gruyere, and egg. Absolutely luscious, and substantial enough to sate a powerful hunger.
My potluck plan was set in motion.
The versatility—and ease—-of crepes is what makes them so appealing. The batter can be whipped up in minutes. The impossibly thin pancakes can be swirled and flipped in a small skillet–and stacked until ready to fill. And the fillings?
All manner of savory and sweet.
With sweet crepes, I’ll put a little sugar into the batter. With savory crepes, a combination of flours–all-purpose and buckwheat is nice. I didn’t have any buckwheat flour, but today’s crepe batter uses buttermilk to give it distinctive tang.
I made the batter early in the morning. In the afternoon, I began The Cook. It didn’t take long to pour, swirl, and flip. The crepes were thin and elastic, yet golden. Filling them with ham, cheese, and spinach-artichoke was like assembly-line work–a nice rhythm or repetition.
I decided to make a mornay sauce to bake onto the crepes in the casserole dish. This would add an enriching element, while keeping the crepes moist in the oven.
For other splendid crepe ideas and recipes, check out Cooking Light’s page here:
Oh, and here’s Why I had that big leftover Ham.
The Cookbook Cover! We are now at the stage of shooting the images for the Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook.
On our first day, we (I say we, because I helped the team–photographer, food stylist, art director, editor—by making the dishes) shot the cover–a cool overhead of a potluck feast–along with 8 interiors. We have many more to go. I will keep you posted as the process unfolds—and I have something to show you.
BUTTERMILK CREPE BATTER
1 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup water
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons butter, melted
2 tablespoons melted butter combined with
1 tablespoon olive oil
You can make the batter in a blender or food processor. I have found that this is the simplest way to achieve that smooth-smooth mixture that resembles heavy cream. The batter also should be made up ahead of time and allowed to rest–at least an hour, and up to overnight, covered and refrigerated.
I used a 6″ stainless steel skillet—easy to handle. I like the small size of the crepes for filling and serving. I think you will, too.
Place the flour, eggs, buttermilk, water, and salt into the blender or processor. Mix until well-combined, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl. Pour in melted and slightly cooled butter and continue to process. The mixture will be thinner than traditional pancake batter–but will coat the back of a spoon like cream. Cover and let the mixture rest for a minimum of an hour.
Heat the skillet on medium. Brush it with the butter-oil mixture. Pour approximately 2 tablespoons of batter into the skillet, tilting and swirling the skillet to move the batter as it covers the surface. In a minute, the edges of the crepe will become golden–time to flip. The other side cooks–browns–in half the time of the first side. Remove the crepe to a plate or platter, and continue the process.
You don’t need to brush the skillet with the butter-oil mixture each time—every 2-3 times works fine.
Makes 16-20 6″ crepes
1 tablespoon soft butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 lb. fresh spinach
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 ounces quartered artichoke hearts, chopped
pinch of salt and cayenne
1 lb. thinly sliced ham
1/4 cup coarse grain mustard
1 cup shredded parmesan
1 cup shredded gruyere
Coat a baking dish or casserole with butter.
Place a large skillet on medium heat. Add the olive oil. Then, mound the spinach into the skillet. Stir, as the leaves collapse. Sprinkle in the minced garlic pieces and cook for a minute. Add the artichoke hearts and stir-fry them into the spinach mixture. Season with a pinch or two of salt and cayenne. Remove from heat.
Lay the crepe rounds out onto the work counter in rows. Cover half of the crepe with slices of ham, dab of mustard, tablespoon or 2 of spianch-artichoke mixture, and a sprinkle of the cheeses. Beginning with the ham side, roll the crepes and place them into the casserole dish(es).
When you are ready to bake and serve them, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Pour the Gruyere Mornay sauce over the crepes. Sprinkle extra cheese, if you like, or dot the surface with strips of sundried tomatoes or sage leaves.
Place in the oven and bake until bubbly–25-30 minutes. Serve
GRUYERE MORNAY SAUCE
3 tablespoons butter
1 bunch green onions, chopped
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 cups milk
2 cups shredded Gruyere
sundried tomatoes or fresh sage leaves (optional)
Place a 2 quart saucepan on medium heat. Melt the butter, then stir in the green onions, cooking to soften–about 1 minute. Stir in the flour, allowing it to coat the green onions, absorb the butter, and make a light roux. Stir constantly, and don’t let the flour brown.
Pour in the milk. Stir-stir-stir! Over the next 10 minutes, the mixture will thicken. When it comes to a simmer, stir in the cheese and remove from heat. Stir until the cheese is melted throughout and incorporated into the sauce. Season with salt and white pepper.
Food-stylist Teresa Blackburn at work on set at photographer Mark Boughton’s studio. At this time, we were working on placement of dishes to fit within the format of the book.
This does little justice to the final image that Mark captured–but gives a peek at the process.
Pimiento cheese was an unknown in my world until I moved to Nashville Tennessee. A young picky eater, and native New Yorker: there was no way that I could have ever encountered that uncanny meld of grated cheddar, mayonnaise, and pimientos. A visit to a Nashville grocery in 1965 provided my first glimpse of the product, bilious orange, in a small tub.
To its credit, it was (and still is) locally manufactured under the Mrs. Grissom’s label. Grace Grissom was a smart businesswoman who launched a time-saving product for post-WWII housewives. It was well-loved by many, especially when spread on soft Wonder style bread.
I was not one of them. Mixing cheese and mayo together with those pieces of red peppers seemed wrong. Really wrong.
It wasn’t until I was an adult–a seasoned one, in fact—that I came to appreciate the very goodness of pimiento cheese. Not the Mrs. Grissom’s way. It took my catering staff’s insistence to try our own! Hard-formed thought-patterns are hard to break. But, made by hand with extra sharp cheddar ( at times, a combo of white and yellow sharps ) a dab of good mayo, garlic, red onion, and roasted sweet red peppers, pimiento cheese can be a veritable art form.
Evidently this is catching on beyond the Mason-Dixon line, as regional Southern food is becoming embraced all over the country. We’re hot! Recently, my daughter visited Point Reyes CA based Cowgirl Creamery’s outpost in Washington DC, where she purchased a small tub of their pimiento cheese. She brought it, along with other select farmstead cheeses, to our home. My-oh-my. Spread some of this onto a cracker! Swoon-able stuff, I tell you.
So when I discovered that my garden’s alleged yellow bell pepper plant was instead a pimiento pepper plant, what else could I do? I had to roast those ripe-red beauties, dice them, and fold them into some gourmet for real pimiento cheese.
Compared to red bell peppers that you usually find at the market, pimientos have a thicker, sweeter flesh, and a tetch more piquancy. They also have a rather endearing heart-shape. Dried and ground, this is what makes Paprika. If you can’t locate one, you can use a red bell in its place. Roasting intensifies the sweetness.
If you must, you may use a jar of prepared pimientos. The result will be good, certainly, but won’t have that same soulful tang.
As with most recipes that have very few ingredients, using the best will insure the best outcome. Key is a top-notch sharp cheddar. I’ve made this with Kenny’s Farmhouse Cheddar, a locally made sharp, and I’ve made it with Cabot Vermont Cheddar. Both are excellent. Successful, tamer versions can be made combining sharp cheddar with Monterey Jack cheese–but really, Sharp is what it’s all about.
If I were a true Southerner, I’d insist that you use Duke’s Mayonnaise. But, Duke’s isn’t available everywhere–and Hellman’s, my other mayo of choice, is. Use whichever you can, and carry on.
I like grate the cheese by hand. Once you’ve roasted and peeled the pimiento, it doesn’t take long to whip up a batch. The simplest way to enjoy it is, in down-home Southern fashion, spread onto humble sandwich bread. I prefer pimiento cheese tea sandwiches, (small bites!) or served with crackers, shown here. I set out condiment bowls of honey-tomato jam and red jalapeno jam to shake things up a bit.
You can get creative, like many chefs, and slather pimiento cheese onto a burger, fold it into grits casserole, or make a very decadent grilled cheese. All are fine ways to break up an old thought pattern, and savor this taste of the South.
FOR REAL PIMIENTO CHEESE
1 large pimiento or sweet red bell pepper: (roasted, peeled, and diced to make 1/2 cup)
1/2 teaspoon cider vinegar (optional)
1 lb. sharp white cheddar (like vermont cheddar)
1 quarter of a red onion, minced (to make approx. 1/4 cup)
4 tablespoons Hellman’s or Duke’s mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
Place pepper halves onto a baking sheet and brush with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Roast in a 450 degree oven until skin is blistered-about 15 minutes. When cool enough to handle, remove peels and chop. Place pieces into a small bowl and add a 1/2 teaspoon of vinegar. Set aside.
Shred the cheddar and place into a large mixing bowl.
Add mayonnaise, minced red onion, granulated garlic, black pepper and prepared peppers.
Fold the mixture until the pimientos are laced throughout the cheese, and the mayonnaise has moistened and helped bind the cheese.
Taste for salt and adjust as needed.
Serve with crackers, on finger sandwiches, or dolloped onto a burger. DEE-LISH.
A recipe can be deceiving. We’ve all experienced a seemingly daunting one with scrolls of ingredients, only to find that we can whip it up with panache. Conversely, there’s that recipe with, say, three ingredients that you’d think would be a breeze. And yet, it’s those simple ones that can be trickiest–and require practice. Like making pillowy-light gnocchi, or fluffy biscuits. Or creamy ricotta cheese.
I’d been wanting to make ricotta for a long time. Maggie and I researched and learned that it is, essentially, Whole Milk-Salt-Acid. Sometimes the milk is enriched with cream. The acid can be lemon juice, white vinegar or buttermilk, which is added to the milk-salt mixture after it is simmered to 180 degrees.
For our first foray into cheesemaking, we chose vinegar, as it is the most neutral in taste. We purchased a gallon of whole milk at our local Hatcher Dairy Farm.
Low and slow, the milk came up to a froth at 180 degrees. We added the vinegar, and almost immediately, the curds formed in big clumps, separating from the whey. I scooped them out and let them drain in Maggie’s floursack-lined colander.
The yield: 4 cups of cheese and 3 quarts of whey! (We saved the whey, which Maggie has since used in her breadbaking–with astonishing results. The flavors are enhanced Tenfold.)
Shortly thereafter, we spread the cheese onto toast topped with slices of Maggie’s garden tomatoes. The ricotta was a bit firmer than I had expected, but delicious nonetheless. It reminded us more of Paneer, that Indian cheese.
However, it became almost rubbery in texture, as it cooled. Had we overcooked it somehow?
I decided to experiment again, this time–a smaller batch, with added cream, and lemon juice as the acidifier.
As luck would have it, I had been asked to review a cookbook scheduled for release next month, JAM ON The Craft of Canning Fruit by Laena McCarthy. McCarthy is the founder of Anarchy in a Jar, making delectable, creative, and wildly popular artisanal jams, jellies, marmalades and preserves.
It’s a beautiful book. The photographs are stunning. Moreover, it is clear in guidance for novice and seasoned canners, and replete with fruit recipes in gorgeous combinations.
Tucked among her recipes for Grapefruit and Smoked Salt Marmalade, and Rhubarb Hibiscus Jam, I found her recipe for Homemade Ricotta. It was just as I had imagined: a small batch, made with whole milk and cream, salt, lemon juice. A-Ha!
I followed her recipe, and to my surprise, the result was almost the opposite of our previous trial. Curds were slower to form, tiny in size. McCarthy writes that this can occur with organic milk that has been ultra-homogenized. (I didn’t use my local milk this time, but Organic Valley brand.)
I let my cooked-and-curdled pot sit and cool to allow the curds to better separate. Then, I poured into my cheesecloth lined strainer. It would take some time–about a half hour—for the whey to drain off.
But what remained was lush ricotta cheese.
I cannot overstate the wonder of its texture and taste–like no other ricotta I have ever had. Rich and smooth, spreadable yet scoopable, as you can see on the spiced peach salad plate.
HOMEMADE RICOTTA from JAM ON by Laena McCarthy
3 cups Whole Milk
1 cup Heavy Cream
1/2 t. Sea Salt
3 T. fresh squeezed Lemon Juice (about 1 1/2 lemons)
non-reactive pan, candy thermometer
cheesecloth or floursack cloth, strainer or colander
In your non-reactive pan set on medium heat, bring milk, cream, and salt to a slow simmer. Stir so that the milk does not scorch or cook on the bottom. The temperature reading should be about 180 degrees F. Stir in lemon juice and reduce heat. Stir for about two minutes while cooking. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
When the mixture is cooled, you’ll notice a thickening. Pour into cheesecloth-lined strainer set over a bowl to catch the whey. Let this drain for about an hour. Place ricotta into a clean container and refrigerate. Makes about one pint. Use within a few days.
There will be about 2 cups of whey, (much better ratio of cheese to whey than our first trial!) which some people discard. But it is terrific in breadbaking and soup making.
SIMPLE SPICED PEACHES
1 c. Cider Vinegar
1 c. Turbinado Sugar
1 inch length Cinnamon Stick
Strip of fresh Ginger
2-3 whole Allspice
3-4 whole Cloves
1/2 t. Kosher Salt
3 or more Fresh, Ripe but Firm Peaches–cut in half, pit removed
Bowl of Ice Water
Place all ingredients into a nonreactive saucepan set on medium heat. Stir well to dissolve sugar. Bring to a simmer.
Place peaches into mixture and allow to poach for about 4 minutes.
Remove peaches and plunge into ice water. The skins will come off very easily.
Drain peaches and refrigerate.
Continue cooking spiced vinegar solution until reduced by almost half. It will be syrupy.
Pour into a bowl and cool.
Place peach halves into syrup. Over the next several hours, refrigerated, they will absorb more of the sweet-sour taste. If you can wait, and let them soak overnight, they will taste even better!
(You could also make this in large quantities, put spiced peaches and syrup into mason jars and process in a hot water bath to preserve them.)
SPICED PEACH-RICOTTA SALAD (makes 4 individual salads)
4 oz. Fresh Arugula
4 oz. (or more!) fresh Ricotta
4 Spiced Peach Halves and syrup
handful of Marcona Almonds
Fresh Ground Black Pepper
Mound arugula on plates.
Scoop ricotta and place onto plates.
Slice each peach halve and arrange on plate, encircling the ricotta.
Drizzle syrup over the peaches, greens, and ricotta.
Scatter almonds over the salad
Season with black pepper.
Serve with a sliced of toasted crusty bread, if you like.
Paris, from Two Sides
The first time I visited Paris, I experienced it from its underbelly.
I was 18 years old, an exchange student living in Holland. My companion Jeff and I had planned to travel by train, making a two week loop through Germany and Switzerland before spending a week in the City of Lights. There, we were going to stay with a family, the Reliers, whom I had known in Nashville. At that time, they lived in Sevres, a Parisian suburb. I had mailed them a letter with details of our arrival. Impetuous youths, we embarked on our journey before getting confirmation from them.
Things went awry soon after we arrived at the Paris station, Gare de L’ Est. Immediately, we called the Reliers, but, alas, no answer. We made repeated calls–with the same empty result. It got late, and so we took a room at a youth hostel, simply called Auberge de Jeunesse. It was a cheap hotel, really. At 2 francs a night, it could be safely classified as a dump. We could stand it one night, we thought.
But, the next day proved to be more of the same: no Reliers. Where were they?
And, there was another problem. I had gotten a small burn on my index finger before we left Holland. As the trip wore on, that small burn showed signs of an infection. When I awoke that next morning in Paris, my hand looked angry and swollen. At the St. Louis General Hospital I was chided with a “Le petite boo-boo. C’est rien!” and given a prescription for antibiotics.
Days passed at the fleabag, with calls to the Reliers becoming a joke. My infection was worsening and money was getting tight. We spent our last francs at a doctor’s office, who took one look and immediately scheduled surgery. After my hand was lanced, drained, cleansed and wrapped, I was much better, but we were broke.
We wired home for extra cash. Jeff’s mom sent us a money order, via overnight air mail, to General Delivery at a Post Office near our humble quarters. In another twist, a strike by the French air controllers delayed the mail by several days.
Still, we managed during that bleak and strange week. We walked everywhere. We darted among the Notre Dame gargoyles. We sat on park benches, ate crusty baguettes and cheese. We cooked modest meals, and otherwise amused ourselves at the so-called Auberge de Jeunesse. Moreover, we discovered Travelers Aid, who lent us money until our special delivery arrived.
When I traveled to Paris over thirty years later, I was curious to experience the city from the Up side of life.
Bill, Madeleine, and I had been visiting friends in Amsterdam. From there, we planned to take the bullet train to Paris, (3 hours, 18 minutes from Amsterdam Centraal to Paris Nord!) where I had booked our room at a respectable hotel in the 6th arrondisement.
It was an unseasonably cool July in Holland, blustery with rain. But as that sleek train sped towards France, the skies began to lighten. By the time we emerged onto the streets of Paris, the sun shone brightly. The wind had calmed. The city was golden.
Before we checked into our hotel, we stopped for a bite at one of the hundreds of lovely sidewalk cafes.
I ordered a salad of mixed garden lettuces, scattered with sliced strawberries, dressed in a sharp shallot vinaigrette. Placed on top of the salad was this crisp disc of goat cheese, still hot from the skillet, beginning to collapse and melt onto the greens. The simple combination of sweet and tart, chilled and hot, creamy and crisp, left me speechless.
The sun warmed the air where we sat. Summer in Paris. A spectacular salad. Another adventure. Life’s sweet balance.
With strawberries and young lettuces aplenty at the market, it’s a perfect time to make the crispy goat cheese.
CRISPY HERBED GOAT CHEESE CROQUETTES
1 lb. Plain Goat Cheese/Chevre Log
1/2 c. All Purpose Flour
1/2 c. Panko crumbs
2 T. fresh Thyme leaves
1/4 t. Salt
1/4 t. Black Pepper
Olive Oil—for frying
Heavy duty Skillet
Cut chevre log into 16 pieces. Form each into a disc shape.
Place flour into one bowl, and egg beaten with a little water into another bowl. In a third bowl, mix panko with salt, pepper, and fresh thyme leaves.
Dust each disc in flour, then dip into egg, then dip into seasoned panko, pressing the crumbs lightly onto the goat cheese. Use the “wet hand-dry hand” technique. Use one hand to dip into flour, egg, and place in the bowl of panko—use the other hand to press the panko and remove.
Heat skillet on medium and coat bottom with olive oil. Cook goat cheese discs until brown (about 3 minutes) and turn over to brown on the other side.
Best served immediately over your assembled salad. Spoon over some Shallot-Honey Vinaigrette. Pretend that you are in Paris. On the Up side.
1/4 c. Shallots, cut into pieces
2 T. Honey
1/4 c. White Balsamic Vinegar
1/2 c. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1/2 c. Canola Oil
1/4 t. Black Pepper
1/4 t. Salt
Hand-held immersion blender
Place shallots, honey, vinegar, salt and pepper into immersion blender and pulse until smooth. Slowly drizzle in the olive and canola oils. Vinaigrette will become a smooth thick emulsion.
There’s been quite a bit of buzz in our local food community about Whispering Creek Mushroom Farm. We’ve had limited access to exotic mushrooms, locally raised. Now and then, a few farms devoted primarily to raising vegetables have inoculated logs with shiitake mushroom spores, and sold the tasty results at the market. Even rarer, friends have foraged and found chanterelles they’ve been willing to share.
Now, we have great and frequent options.
Whispering Creek is our first Mushroom Only farm, located in Gallatin Tennessee, just north of Nashville. Back in the fall, I learned about their project. Over the winter, they began selling their goods to area chefs. Now, they are ramped up enough to sell to the public.
For the past two weeks, I’ve had the good fortune to buy their gorgeous Oyster Mushrooms through our Fresh Harvest Co-op.
Don’t these look amazing? Within the oyster mushroom family, Pleutorus ostreatus, there are many members–Blue, Golden, Phoenix, Italian, Pearl…
Each cluster is like a little village, with its own personality.
The elongated scallop shape of its cap, rather than its taste, gives the oyster mushroom its name. Although, preparing in butter with a little lemon and wine, releases a sweet, subtle anise essence and silkiness that you associate with the bivalve.
Most of the mushroom is edible, and I like to tear it into pieces, rather than use a knife. The woody bits can be made into a stock.
I should note that oyster mushrooms are packed with nutrients: zinc, iron, potassium, calcium, phosphorus, folic acid, Vitamins B-1, B-2, C, and niacin.
Plus ergothioneine, a unique immune-boosting antioxidant.
There are so many good ways to showcase these beauties–in a risotto, entwined in ribbon pasta, scrambled into eggs, or sauteed and piled onto buttery toast. These mushrooms like stocks, fortified wines, and dairy. It’s an easy temptation to give over to dousing them in a pan of heavy cream.
For our Sunday brunch, I decided they’d be perfect cooked then rolled into a crepe.
I sauteed our oyster ‘shrooms in butter, with some green onions, lemon zest, Marsala, and thyme. In the end, I tossed in a few knobs of cream cheese–a small but concentrated amount of dairy. It was just enough to melt into the mass and give it more body.
I resisted the temptation to make a sauce to top them. The mushroom saute was rich enough. In fact, it was hard not to grab a fork and just eat them out of the skillet!
Instead, I braised an array of greens, as a bed or base for the filled crepe. That slight bitterness brought balance, and another healthful element.
OYSTER MUSHROOMS IN BUTTER, LEMON, AND MARSALA
1/2 lb. Oyster Mushrooms, brushed clean and torn (or sliced into chunky pieces)
3 Green Onions, sliced
3 T. Butter
1 T. Lemon Zest
Juice of one Lemon
1/2 cup Marsala wine (cooking wine or sherry is acceptable)
1 T. fresh Thyme leaves
2-3 T. Cream Cheese
Melt butter in skillet on medium heat. Add mushrooms and green onions. Saute for 5 minutes–mushrooms will soften and brown on the edges. Stir in lemon zest and juice.
Season with salt and black pepper. Pour in marsala wine and stir well. Mixture will reduce. Sprinkle in fresh thyme leaves. Add the cream cheese, in small knobs, into the mixture. Stir and fold, so that the cream cheese melts away into a creamy mushroomy mass. Add more marsala, or water, if mixture gets too thick.
Remove from heat.
SAVORY CREPE MIXTURE
3/4 cup All Purpose Flour
3 T. Unsalted Butter, melted and slightly cooled
1 c. Milk
1 t. Salt
1 T. Butter–to grease the skillet
Place all the ingredients in a mixing bowl, or immersion blender container, and blend very well, for 3-5 minutes. The mixture will seem like cream. Cover and refrigerated for at least 30 minutes–although you can make this batter a day in advance.
Heat your skillet–a 6″ sized pan is ideal. Brush with butter. Ladle a small quantity-3 Tablespoons–into the center, and tip the skillet so it spreads thinly over the surface. The crepe should be thin-thin! It will set up quickly. When the edges are browned, flip the crepe and cook for a minute more. Slide out onto a plate and repeat the process.
if the batter gets too thick, dilute it with a little water–beat well.
This recipe made 10 large crepes (I used a 9″ pan) , but would make 16 small (from 6″ pan)
BRAISED SAVORY GREENS a bed for the mushroom crepes
1 cup Kale, deribbed and chopped
1 cup Baby Spinach, chopped
1 cup Swiss Chard, coarsely chopped
3 cloves minced Garlic
3 T. Olive Oil
1 t. Sea Salt
Red Pepper Flakes–a few pinches
Place all cleaned and chopped greens into a deep pot, along with garlic, olive oil, salt and red pepper flakes. Bring up heat to just under medium. Cover and simmer until greens are collapsed and tender, about 12 minutes.
Lay out cooked crepes onto a work surface. Place a few spoonfuls of mushroom mix at one end and roll. Place into a skillet or casserole dish. Repeat until you’ve used up all the mushrooms. Gently heat crepes in the skillet or in the oven.
Serve over warm bed of braised greens. Garnish with shredded pecorino romano.
Post-holiday drab winter funk settled in my kitchen…with an unsettling inertia. I’ve had as much resistance to picking up a knife and a whisk, as my market shopping bags. It’s been an odd feeling, uncharacteristic of my general passionate-about-food ways, but December left me shopped and cooked out. I’ve tried ignoring it, hoping that the malaise would lift. Now I’ve decided just to chop through it, and play my “use what you’ve got” game.
In my refrigerator, I found a container of ricotta, still in date. Part of a can of whole plum tomatoes in juice. Eggs. A stray scallion. A small wedge of parmegiano-reggiano.
A sealed bag of all purpose flour.
Could dinner lurk in some combination of these?
Indeed it could. Ricotta Gnocchi.
And, those creamy pillow-like dumplings couldn’t be easier to make.
Unlike other versions that use potatoes (also delicious, but have an extra step–cooking the spuds) the dough can be whipped up in a manner of minutes. In their purest form, ricotta gnocchi are simply ricotta-egg-flour. That’s a plain canvas, rife with possibilities. How you want to season them–herbs, bitter greens, nutmeg, other pungent cheese—
or sauce them—smoky beurre blanc with bits of pancetta, chunky pesto, rosy red pepper puree–is up to you.
Or what you’ve got on hand.
You’ve got plenty of time to make that decision! Mixing the soft dough takes moments. Then, you hand-roll pieces of the dough into long logs, dusting with more flour, and cutting into 1/2″ lengths. Or smaller, if you like.
The shapes are imprecise, rustic; the rolling and handling of them feels like child’s play, a delightful aspect to combat any kitchen inertia.
Line them up on a pan lined with parchment and place the pillows into the freezer to get firm. (If you double this recipe, you can keep the unused gnocchi sealed and frozen for up to 6 weeks—ready to use at a given moment.)
While the gnocchi are tucked into the freezer (or fridge) you can turn your attention to the sauce.
Based on my modest assembly of on-hand ingredients, I chose to cloak mine in a brilliant winter red sauce–little more than plum tomatoes cooked with onion and garlic in olive oil, and pureed. I do like to plunge in a sprig or two of fresh rosemary and thyme, snipped from yard, where they vigorously hang on through the cold weather months. They impart just enough piney aromatics to give the sauce a little herbaceous lift, plucked out before the immersion blender descends into the pot.
While the sauce simmers, bring a big pot of salted water to boil. Drop the gnocchi in. Very quickly, they’ll rise to the surface–indicating that they are almost done. Let them cook another minute. Remove them with a slotted spoon, and place the tender bites into a pool of red.
The color–a knockout that reminds you of summer—is vibrant and full-flavored dress for the gnocchi, enough to jar the drab winter funk out the door.
1 cup whole milk Ricotta
3/4 cup All Purpose Flour (divided)
1/2 c. grated Parmegiano-Reggiano (Pecorino Romano would be terrific, too)
1 Green Onion, sliced thin (optional)
1/2 t. Kosher Salt
fresh ground Black Pepper
Place ricotta, egg, cheese, scallion, and Half of the flour into a bowl. Season with salt and pepper and mix until a soft dough forms. Dust remaining flour on your work counter, and divide dough into 4 pieces. Roll each piece into 1/2″ thick log. Cut into pillow shaped pieces, placing each gnocchi on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
Place the gnocchi in the freezer for about 15 minutes–long enough to set up and be firm.
Bring a pasta pot full of water to a boil. Season with salt. Drop in gnocchi. Cook over medium heat until they float to the surface. Cook for a about one minute more. Remove with a slotted spoon. Gently coat with sauce.
Serves 2 generous, or 4 first course plates