December 15th, 2014

Great GREENS

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My friend Heather had overbought produce for an event, and found her fridge bursting with 12 bunches of assorted winter greens–curly kale, lacinato kale, and great fronds of Swiss chard. She called me, wondering, what could she do? They were becoming limp, and it would be a shame for them to be fodder for the compost.

We talked about some ideas—making kale pesto and kale chips, blanching and freezing chard, when I said, “I’ll take some off your hands. I’ll make some dishes with them. Then, come to dinner.”

Later that day, she arrived at my door, arms laden with grocery bags, a jumble of green leaves, bright and dark, veined and rumpled, some sturdy and sweeping, some starting to look a bit weary.

Great greens, girl. Gotta get to work.

Before I could figure out their destiny, I had to assess their condition. I trimmed their stems, and plunged them in tubs of fresh water to rehydrate. Within an hour, most of the greens had perked up. The chard plumped and straightened, out of the tub. The rumpled kale regained its bounce.

Now, what to make?

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The thing with greens—any sort really—is that what starts out as monumental quickly cooks down to manageable. Nonetheless, I had enough chard to make a great pot of stewy-soup, and plenty of lacinato kale to make this beguiling recipe I’d just discovered on Food 52.

Both are simple wintertime recipes, hearty and delicious. Most of work is in prepping the greens–cleaning, deribbing, tearing, chopping.

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You begin this soup the way you do most soups: You build a foundation. Saute hunks of portabello mushrooms with diced onions and carrots to get a meaty base before adding vegetable broth and tomato paste. The mushrooms and tomato are the powerhouse duo, making the sienna-colored broth in which the chard simmers a veritable umami-bomb of flavor.

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And this kale gratin? Ridiculously easy. Only 6 ingredients, 3 of them being salt, pepper, and nutmeg. Everything gets tossed into a baking dish and then placed into the oven. That’s it!

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I made two modifications.

The original recipe calls for 3 cups of Cream. I know. So rich, so luxurious, so over-the-top—but I couldn’t bring myself to go there. And, I already had a quart of half-and-half in the fridge. I dialed it back a bit–and substituted the half and half for cream. Instead of placing slabs of sharp cheddar over the top of the casserole, I shredded the cheese–4 ounces each of New York yellow and Vermont white—to generously sprinkle over the mass, the pieces nestling in and around the greens.

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Don’t worry about the tower of kale in your baking dish–it cooks down in that hot oven. Some of the leaves get dry and crispy on the top—and boy, is that ever a boon. (Kale chips!) The cheese, as it bubbles and melts, forms a savory caramel crust too. Scoop through that layer of crunch into this compelling press of green, cooked to tenderness, the kale absorbing the nutmeg-scented dairy in the process–a perfect balance of bitter and sweet.

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I cannot overstate the absolute wonder and earthy delectability of this dish. If it’s this marvelous with half-and-half, the cream version must be Heaven. I just want to be a little mindful of my heart, and not get there too soon.

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SWISS CHARD-PORTABELLO MUSHROOM SOUP
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, diced
4 carrots, peeled and diced
1 pound portabello mushrooms, chopped
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 quart vegetable stock
1 small can tomato paste
2-3 bunches Swiss chard, stemmed, leaves cut into ribbons

Place a 6 quart pot over medium heat. When warm, add the olive oil. Then add the onions, sauteing them until translucent, about 3 minutes. Add the carrots and continue to stir and saute for another three minutes. Increase the heat to medium high, and add the mushrooms.
Season with salt, black pepper, and thyme. Stir. The mushrooms may stick to the bottom, but don’t worry–that will add to the flavor of the base.

Pour in the vegetable stock. Add the tomato paste and a cup of water. Stir well.
Add the Swiss chard, folding into the broth. It will collapse as it cooks. Cover and reduce the heat to low. Simmer for 20 minutes. Taste for seasonings.

Serve over hot cooked rice.
Makes 10-12 servings

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LACINATO KALE GRATIN adapted from Food 52 and Renee Erickson/A Boat, A Whale, and a Walrus
2-3 bunches lacinato kale (a.k.a. black Tuscan or dinosaur kale)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg
3 cups Half-and-Half
1/2 pound shredded sharp cheddar (can be a combination of yellow and white sharps)

Preheat oven to 350 convection or 375 conventional.

Remove the kale ribs and tear the leaves into pieces. Place into a large bowl. Sprinkle the leaves with salt, black pepper and nutmeg and toss. Heap the seasoned kale into a 9 inch by 13 inch baking dish. Pour the half-and-half over the kale, taking care that it doesn’t spill over the sides. Top with shredded cheddar, tucking some of the shreds underneath some leaves.

Place into the oven, middle rack, and bake for 45 minutes (convection) or an hour (conventional)

Let cool for 5 minutes and serve.

Makes 8 servings

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Posted in Casseroles, Gluten Free, Recipes, Soups/Stews, Vegan, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 13 Comments »




December 11th, 2014

Rugelach! candied ginger-apricot-almond and garam masala-chocolate-cherry twirls

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I first encountered these engaging little confections in a now long-extinct bakery in Nashville called Bokay’s. Its owners were Hungarian, and they specialized in towering, elaborately decorated wedding cakes, the sort that made children stop at the display window and gape with longing.

It was a bakery of celebrations. In the springtime, I can remember finding braided egg bread challahs, and coffeecakes in a cunning Easter Bunny shape. In December, Black Forest cakes and stollen took the fore. And these twisted cream cheese pastries, Rugelach, filled variously with cinnamon sugar and walnuts, chocolate, apricot or raspberry jam.

Something betwixt a cookie and a pastry, they were delicious-bite sized treats.

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The origin of the word is interesting: It is Yiddish for “twists” and resembles (and likely influenced) the Polish word for “horn.” In either case, these little crescents are rich, yet light and flaky, its dough layered with equal parts of butter and cream cheese.

The dough is easy to make, and not dissimiliar from these crescents that I made a few Decembers ago. What is especially appealing about them—-outside of their delicate size and their flaky, not-too-sweet taste—-is that they lend themselves to a spectacular array of fillings.

That dough makes one terrific pastry canvas.

Rummaging through my pantry, I found candied ginger, dried apricots, a handful of dried cherries, some dark cocoa, a small bag of chocolate chips, almonds. Ideas began taking shape.

Ginger-apricot-almond came together readily. I plumped the ginger and fruit in a simple syrup bath, and ground the toasted almonds.

Chocolate and cherry make ideal partners too. I wanted to add a little something different to that canvas. Rather than use the more traditional cinnamon, I thought it would be fun—and flavorful—to sprinkle Garam Masala spice blend.

Enjoy them this holiday season with a cup of coffee or pot of hot tea, shared with friends or family.

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BASIC RUGELACH DOUGH
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound cream cheese, cut into pieces
1/2 pound chilled butter, cut into pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 egg yolk
1 cup powdered sugar—for dusting and rolling pastry

Place the flour and salt into the bowl of a food processor. Briefly pulse.
Then add the cream cheese, butter, vanilla, and egg yolk.
Pulse and process until the ingredients are well incorporated and the dough comes together as a mass.
Remove the dough and form into 2 separate discs. Wrap tightly in plastic and refrigerate until well-chilled—at least one hour, although overnight is better! The dough will keep refrigerated for 3 days, or may be frozen for up to 2 months. Thaw any frozen dough in the refrigerator before using.

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CANDIED GINGER-APRICOT-ALMOND FILLING
1/4-1/3 cup candied ginger, cut into slivers
1 cup dried apricots, chopped
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup almonds

Place all of the ingredients into a medium saucepan set on low heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Increase the heat to medium, cover and allow the mixture to soften, thicken and simmer.
Cool and process to spreading consistency (using either an immersion blender or a food processor.)

Meanwhile, spread the almonds onto a baking sheet. Place into a preheated 375 degree oven and toast for 10-12 minutes. Cool and finely chop (or pulse in the processor to fine)

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To assemble:
Sprinkle the work counter with powdered sugar. Remove one disc of dough from the refrigerator, unwrap, and roll out to a 15 inch circle. If the dough gets sticky, sprinkle more powdered sugar.

Place 1/2 cup glob of ginger-apricot mixture in the center of the dough circle. Using a spatula, spread the mixture evenly across the surface to the edges of the circle. Add more fruit mixture as needed.

Sprinkle the top of the fruit mixture with the finely chopped almonds.
Cut the dough into quarters, then eighths, then sixteenths, then thirty-seconds.
Roll each piece up from the exterior to the inner point and place onto a parchment-lined (or sil-pat lined baking sheet) Keep the pieces about an inch apart.

Bake for approximately 15 minutes in a pre-heated 375 degree oven, until the rugelaches are puffed and golden brown.

Allow to cool on a rack for 10 minutes before removing.

Makes 32 pieces.

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GARAM-MASALA-CHOCOLATE-CHERRY FILLING
1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa
1-2 teaspoons garam masala spice blend
4 ounces semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1/2 cup dried dark sweet cherries
2 tablespoons turbinado sugar

Have all of these ingredients assembled separately for your mise-en-place.

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To Assemble
Sprinkle the work counter with powdered sugar.
Unwrap one disc of dough and roll it out on the dusted surface into a 15″ circle.
Cover the top with cocoa, followed by
Cut into quarters, then eighths, then sixteenths, then thirty-seconds.
Roll each elongated triangle from the outside to the point and place on a parchment-lined baking sheet.

Bake for approximately 15 minutes in a preheated 375 degree oven.

Makes 32 pieces

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Posted in Breakfast, Chocolate, Desserts, Fruit, Recipes | 8 Comments »




November 30th, 2014

Holiday Trio: winter jewel salad with roasted shallot dressing, “stamppot,” balsamic vinegar pot roast

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It is the Sunday after Thanksgiving, and the last day of November. It’s overcast this afternoon, and oddly quiet in my neighborhood–perhaps the clouds have muffled the usual sounds of busy-ness. Perhaps everyone is just laying low, passing a restful time, post-feasting.

Poised as we are on the brink of December, I call this little respite the calm before the fury: Holidays, families, friends, parties and travels; trees and wreaths and lights, cooking and baking, shopping and wrapping…

Maybe it doesn’t have to be a mad dash, a stress-filled careen through the remaining 31 days of 2014. What if it’s simply fun? I’m looking for that. Fun, with an accent on simple.

In that spirit, I’ve assembled a trio of delicious dishes, for your pleasure. They fall into that simple category, to be sure, but they each share qualities that make them seem more complex, like you’d spent overwrought time on them.

But we don’t want to do that. We want to have fun.

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Start with this Winter Jewel Salad, so-called because of its scatter of pomegranate seeds,that glisten like little rubies on this composed salad of mixed greens, citrus fruits, avocados and gorgonzola. As delectable as it is pretty on the holiday dinner table! I serve it with a whip of honey-roasted shallot vinaigrette on the side. Yes, there are flecks of green–fresh thyme leaves–in it. Savory-sweet.

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When I lived in The Netherlands many years ago, I ate potatoes every day—like most Dutch. One of my favorite preparations was Stamppot–a boiled potato-vegetable mash. Sometimes it’s made with carrots and onions that are mashed and mixed with the “apples of the earth.” Other times, spinach or endive are folded into the puree. I could count on stamppot, in either root vegetables or bitter green version, to be hearty, tasty, and satisfying.

Recently, I made a Down-South variation of this rustic Dutch mainstay. I used Yukon gold potatoes, carrots, and onions—which follow tradition. But, I changed things up by adding parsnips–of which I’ve become very fond–and buttermilk.

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I have found my favorite, a whole buttermilk from JD Country Farms in Russellville Kentucky. It is thick and luscious. It reminds me more of kefir or yogurt. I could drink it! It adds wonderful body and tang to the dish.

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Last, but not least is this Beef Roast, braised to tenderness in balsamic vinegar. Back in my catering days, when I would make pot roast dinners for 50, 100, 250 people, and therefore would wield great rounds of beef, I made my “balsamic vinegar discovery.” I didn’t have any red wine on hand to flavor the meat, so I tried using the vinegar instead. I was really happy with the result. Marinated and braised into the meat, it imbued a caramel-wine sweetness, while insuring fork-tender bites. (I have since discovered the marinating power of balsamic in other dishes, such as this Grilled Balsamic Skirt Steak from Cooking Light.)

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WINTER JEWEL SALAD WITH HONEY-ROASTED SHALLOT VINAIGRETTE
1/4 pound Arugula
1/4 pound Baby Spinach
Citrus Fruits: 1 grapefruit, 3 tangerines, peeled and cut into slices
Avocado, sliced
1/2 pound sugar snap peas, (or asparagus spears) blanched and chilled
2 ounces gorgonzola cheese, crumbled
1 cup pomegranate seeds

After you gather your salad ingredients, assemble them in a large shallow (rather than deep) bowl–it is easier to compose the salad. Start with a foundation of greens, and then arrange the citrus, avocado, sugar snaps (or asparagus, cut into thirds) Add the gorgonzola crumbles.
Finish with a generous spray of pomegranate seeds, which look like pretty jewels on the salad.

Cover and chill until ready to serve. Make the vinaigrette to serve alongside.

Makes 8 servings

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HONEY-ROASTED SHALLOT VINAIGRETTE
1 large shallot, roasted
3 tablespoons champagne vinegar
1 tablespoon honey
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
12 tablespoons olive oil

Halve or quarter the roasted shallot and place into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Add the remaining ingredients EXCEPT for the olive oil. Pulse until rough chopped and somewhat combined.

Process, adding the olive oil, one tablespoon at a time.

Makes one cup.

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“DOWN-SOUTH” STAMPPOT
3 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed, peeled and cut into 2″ chunks
1/2 pound carrots, scrubbed and cut into 2″ lengths
1/2 pound parsnips, scrubbed and cut into 2″ lengths
2 medium onions, peeled and cut into eighths
1 stick butter
salt to taste
black pepper to taste
1 cup buttermilk

Place all of the vegetables into a large pot. Fill with cool water to cover.
Sprinkle in a teaspoon of salt. Cover with the lid and place on medium high heat. Bring to a boil and cook until the vegetables are tender—18-20 minutes.

Drain the vegetables and return them to the pot, set on low heat. Shake the pot so that any excess water will cook off. Cut up a stick of butter into the mixture. Sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Coarsely mash the vegetables together.

Pour in the buttermilk and continue to mash. Taste for seasonings, adjust and serve.

Makes 8-10 servings

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BEEF ROAST BRAISED IN BALSAMIC
1 cup balsamic vinegar, divided
1/4 cup red wine (optional)
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
1/2 red onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
4 pounds boneless beef chuck roast
2 bay leaves
1 bunch fresh thyme
1/4 cup all purpose flour

Make an overnight marinade for the beef:
Mix 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar with red wine, 1/4 cup olive oil, Worcestershire sauce. Stir in chopped onion and minced garlic, salt and black pepper. Place the beef into a non-reactive container and pour over the marinade. Turn the beef a few times to make sure it is well covered. Cover and refrigerate.

To braise:
Heat a Dutch oven on medium. Add remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Remove the beef from the marinade and begin browning the meat on all sides. It will take about 5 minutes a side.

Add water, about 1 1/2 cups, just enough to cover the meat. Add bay leaves and fresh thyme.
Cover and reduce the heat to low. Braise the beef for 2 hours. Uncover, flip, and continue braising for another hour.

In a small bowl, mix the remaining 3/4 balsamic vinegar with the flour to make a smooth paste.

When the beef is fork tender, remove from the Dutch oven. Discard bay lleaves and thyme. Stir in the balsamic-flour paste to the juices in the pot. Cook on low to make a thin rich gravy.

Carve the roast into thin slices, trimming any fat. Return the slices to the gravy.
Simmer. Taste for seasonings and adjust as needed.

Serves 10

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Posted in Meats/Poultry, Recipes, Salads, Vegetables | 15 Comments »




November 12th, 2014

Pear-Almond Clafoutis (with almond milk) and an invitation

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We’ve all passed that bin or cart at the grocery store filled with discontinued or out-of-season products. I’ll stop and cast a cursory glance over the array, before moving on. Typically a bust, the cart brims with items that I would never use: cans of cartoon-shaped Spaghetti-O’s, infant formula, or leftover bags of Halloween candy.

But this time, I was surprised to find real treasure, a baker’s bonanza: blocks of white and dark chocolate, bags of semi-sweet chips, brown sugar, and cartons of almond milk. I didn’t need any of them, but at half-price, I’d snap up the bargains–certain that I would use the sugar and chocolate during the holidays.

The almond milk was another matter. I’d never tasted it, nor cooked with it, but at half-off, it was a good opportunity to experiment with it. I bought one quart, stashed it in my pantry, and would wait for the right inspiration.

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With pear season upon us, I didn’t wait long.

Baked into cakes and tarts, pears and almonds make happy companions, but that wouldn’t put the almond milk to much use. A clafoutis, that curious French confection that relies on a blend of eggs, milk, sugar and flour for its thin batter, could be an ideal candidate.

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A rustic fruit dessert originally made with cherries, it affords some variables that you can play on. Pears? Of course. Sliced thinly, firm but ripe Red Anjous and Barletts would be delicious baked into the clafoutis.

How about using brown sugar instead of white granulated? Yes.

I did a little research and found that almond milk and cow’s milk could be interchangeable; the same holds true with almond flour and all-purpose. So, those of you desiring to be dairy and/or gluten-free, this dessert is for you.

The rest of us are going to be mighty pleased with it as well.

Wanting to accentuate the almond theme, I coarsely ground a cup of whole almonds to cover the bottom and sides of my buttered baking dish. I thought that they might add a crunchy crustlike element to the clafoutis.

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I also grated some fresh nutmeg over the surface. Be sure to take in the aromatics before you stir it into the foamy mixture.

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The clafoutis is ready for the oven. I really packed it with pears, tucking in a few unpeeled Red Anjou slices around the top.

It baked beautifully, with a smooth custard, soft, luscious pears, and nice almond crunch. I don’t think you’d know what sort of milk went into its baking.

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I’m in agreement with Molly of Orangette : Fresh out of the oven, it is fragrant and delicious. But, tomorrow it will taste even better. Overnight in the fridge, the flavors will settle in, and a chilled slice with cup of coffee sounds like a fine way to start a fall morning.

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PEAR ALMOND CLAFOUTIS
1 tablespoon butter, softened
1/2 cup ground almonds
2-3 firm but ripe pears
3/4 cup brown sugar
4 eggs
1/2 cup almond flour (or all-purpose, if you like)
1 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk (you may use whole milk)
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon fresh grated nutmeg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Coat a baking dish, bottom and sides, with butter. Sprinkle the ground almonds evenly to cover, reserving a couple of tablespoons, and set aside.

Peel, halve lengthwise, and core the pears. Cutting across the body of the pear, slice into thin pieces.

Using an electric beater (or immersion blender or food processor,) blend the brown sugar and eggs together. Then, add the flour, beating until smooth, followed by the almond milk, followed by the vanilla. The mixture will be frothy.

Grate the nutmeg over the mixture and stir. Ladle it into the baking dish to cover the bottom.
Arrange the sliced pears on top. Pour the remaining mixture over the pears. Sprinkle the rest of the ground almonds around the perimeter of the dish.

Place onto the middle rack and bake for 65-70 minutes–until the top becomes golden brown and custardy batter is set. Allow to cool on a rack.

Makes 8-10 servings

Want to make your own almond milk? Cooking Light offers an easy-peasy recipe right here.

INVITATION

To my Good Food Matters friends in the Washington DC area!

book signing evite(2)

I will presenting my cookbook at Vigilante Coffee Roastery and Cafe on Sunday November 23rd. Check out the invite for details.

Of course, I’ll be serving some goodies of the season from the book, and barista-extraordinaire Chris Vigilante will be making some luscious coffees to pair with them.

I’m thrilled to be trekking out of Tennessee with Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbooks in tow, and would love it if you could come by.

Posted in Desserts, Egg/Cheese Dishes, Fruit, Gluten Free, Recipes | 23 Comments »




October 29th, 2014

Beautiful Inside

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A few years ago, farmer and friend Tallahassee May introduced me to this vibrant root vegetable, the Watermelon Radish. An apt name, I thought, for this member of the daikon family. It grows rather large–its size and heft ranging from golf ball to soft ball. A slice through the outer mottled green peel reveals a shock of magenta ringed in white.

I later learned that this heirloom is a native of China, and the Chinese have given it a better name: Xin Li Mei, which means Beautiful Inside.

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Sometimes our challenges in the kitchen mirror those in the world: how to uncover that inner beauty so often hidden?

Unlike other radishes—such as cherry bombs, white icicles and French Breakfasts, which have a bright snap and crunch—the slower-growing watermelon radish can be a bit on the tough side.

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I discovered this the first time I made a snack with them. Prepared in the French manner, it was a simple tartine: salted radish slice over soft butter on toasted bread. The big brilliant coins curled up on the open face sandwich, their earthy taste buffeted by leathery texture.

This time, I thought that the radishes might benefit from some “down time,” relaxing in a light vinaigrette before I’d place them on the rounds of bread.

I used avocado oil–clear, clean, slightly nutty in taste–to cloak them, (although a favored olive oil would work well too.) followed by a generous frill of grapefruit zest, a squeeze of the tart juice for acidic counterbalance, and scatter of coarse sea salt.

I covered the gleaming coins in plastic wrap. An afterthought (after I’d set aside the camera too), I placed a tea kettle, as a weight, on top, and left them alone for about an hour at room temperature.

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Meanwhile I sliced a crusty baguette, slathering each piece with creamy chevre.
Then, lifted the kettle and peeled back the plastic.

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Fragrant.

Time in the marinade, under the kettle’s weight infused a delightful citrus essence into the radish slices. Salting tenderized. Avocado oil made them glossy.

One by one, I placed the watermelon jewels onto the smeared bread rounds. Then took a bite.

Hmmm. Beautiful, inside and out.

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Call them Watermelon Radishes or Chinese Red-Meat …they are delicious marinated like a crudo in this recipe, or oven roasted in lemon and brown butter.

MACERATED WATERMELON RADISH-CHEVRE CROSTINI

1 pound watermelon radishes
coarse sea salt
4 tablespoons avocado oil
zest from one grapefruit
1-2 tablespoons grapefruit juice
12 ounces chevre, softened
1 crusty baguette, sliced 1/4 inch thick, toasted if desired
small bundle fresh chives, optional for garnish

Wash, peel and slice the watermelon radishes into thin rounds. Arrange the rounds on a plate or platter and sprinkle coarse sea salt over them. Drizzle avocado oil over the radishes, followed by sprinkles of grapefruit zest. Squeeze some grapefruit juice over the radishes too.
(Eat the grapefruit–or keep to slice on a salad!)

Cover with plastic wrap. Place a weight (like a tea kettle!) on top and allow the liquids to macerate the radishes, for about an hour.

Spread the softened chevre over the baguette slices. Uncover the platter of radishes, and place a macerated round on top of each slice. Garnish with chives.

Makes 3-4 dozen.

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Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Recipes, Sandwiches, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 13 Comments »




October 14th, 2014

Dark and Light: Two Apple Cakes

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What would you like with a cup of coffee right now? How about a slice of roasted apple walnut cake napped in apple caramel?

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Or perhaps a wedge of this fragrant apple-blueberry-cardamom cake?

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With bushels of apples in myriad varieties at the market, and bushels of luscious apple dessert recipes circulating the ‘net, I’ve been lured into making simple one layer fruit-rich cakes, in dark and light. Mood food.

Rain, fog, and autumn gray have pervaded this month, thus far. That’s nudged me into the kitchen to bake. Cooking for comfort,

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And color. When Joyti at Darjeeling Dreams posted her heirloom apple cake, sparked with cardamom, it reminded me of how good these kinds of one-layer cakes are, and how readily they lend themselves to fruits of the season.

Inspired, I made Cake 1, using Braeburn and Gingergold apples. At the last moment, I added blueberries from my stash of preserves. (Last summer, I had canned blueberries in syrup—now, more than a year later, it’s time to use them up!)

Tart apples coupled with juicy bursts of berries and the perfumed undercurrent of spice make this one memorable.

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Recently, my friend Teresa took a road trip to Arkansas. Her destination was Crystal Bridges, the Walton’s museum extraordinaire of American Art in Bentonville. Along the way, though, she came across the famous Arkansas Black apples. And, bought her own bushel.

Share the wealth–everyone visiting Teresa post-road trip leaves with a sack of Arkansas Blacks.

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Firm and crunchy with dark red peels that deepen to burgundy as they ripen, they are sometimes called the “Snow White Apple.” Teresa had made a deep-dish pie with them, and noted that the slices maintained their firmness and crunch in the baking.

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I liked that, but wondered if they wouldn’t benefit from an oven roast, before you folded the pieces into the batter.

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I also thought I’d take the cores and peels (as I’d done in this recipe here) and make an apple caramel sauce to ladle over the cake while it was still warm.

And so began the second apple cake.

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Opposites. Just as the first is defined by a light cream-colored batter, Cake 2 has dark earthy tones imparted by raw sugar, vanilla and a trinity of spices.

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The pieces of apples and walnuts amplify those tones in baking, the cake emerging dark and toasty, the apples melting into the crumb in places, affording pockets of sweet fruit throughout. Although, it is not too sweet–a characteristic shared by both cakes. The caramel sauce soaks into the cake, which improves in flavor, the next day.

I love how we can take an idea, a fruit, a basic recipe and let it go light or dark, depending on tastes, mood, and what embellishments we have at hand. Next time, my apple cake may go light and rich—Cooking Light’s Cinnamon-Apple–one of their most popular since 1997—uses cream cheese in the batter. Doesn’t that sound just ever-so?

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Roasted Apple Walnut Cake, with apple caramel sauce

Butter–for greasing skillet or cake pan (9 inch round)
4-5 firm apples, (such as Black Arkansas) peeled and cored (reserve peels and cores!)
1 tablespoon (or so) vegetable oil
1 cup walnut pieces
1/2 cup sugar
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons) butter, softened
1 cup turbinado sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup buttermilk plus 1/4 cup (divided)

Place peels and cores into a saucepan. Add sugar and cover with water—about a cup of so. Bring to just under a boil, then cook on low heat for 20-30 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Cut the apples into 1/2″ thick slices. Lightly coat in vegetable oil and arrange on a baking sheet. Roast for 15 minutes. Add walnut pieces and roast for 5 more minutes. Remove from oven to cool and reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees.

Place eggs, softened butter and turbinado sugar into a mixing bowl and cream together.
In a separate bowl, whisk the dry ingredients together: spices, baking powder, soda, salt, and flour. Beat in dry mixture a little at a time, alternating with buttermilk.

Fold the cooled roasted apples and walnuts into the batter. Put batter into a prepared cast-iron skillet or cake pan and bake on the middle rack for 35-40 minutes.

While the cake is cooling on the rack, finish the apple caramel sauce.

Strain the peels and cores from the mixture, pressing on them to extract more apple juice.
Stir in 1/4 cup buttermilk (you may use cream if you prefer) and gently reheat, stirring constantly. Mixture will thicken slightly.

Spoon the apple caramel sauce over the cake. Cut and serve.

Serves 8-10

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Apple Blueberry Cardamom Cake (adapted from Darjeeling Dreams)

Butter, for greasing skillet
2 large eggs
1/2 cup sugar + 1 tablespoon sugar
1/3 cup milk
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3 Gala or Gingergold apples (about 1 1/2 pounds)
1 cup blueberry preserves or plain blueberries

Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a 9 inch cast-iron skillet (or cake pan) with butter.
Cream the eggs and sugar in a mixing bowl, until light and fluffy. Beat milk and olive oil. Beat in cardamom, flour, baking powder. Pour batter into the skillet (or cake pan)
Core the apples and thinly slice them. Arrange the apple slices in a circular pattern, making the apple slices overlap slightly.Spoon preserves (or blueberries in syrup, or plain blueberries) over the apples.
Bake on the middle rack, testing for doneness with a toothpick at 35 minutes.
Cool for 10-15 minutes before serving.

Serves 8-10.

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Posted in Desserts, Fruit, Recipes | 19 Comments »




September 30th, 2014

Beer-Braised Chicken with apples and pears

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Even though the days have been heating up, nights have ushered in a welcome cool here in Nashville. Not quite sweater or jacket weather—but soon. Autumn officially began last week, and you can sense the shift. Clear dry air, different quality of light, and just yesterday I noticed the tinge of orange and yellow on the maple trees. I’m ready.

With the onset of fall, I’ve been prompted to clean and declutter. Part of my “As above, So below” philosophy: straightening out a crammed closet, getting rid of unused stuff, doing that “deep cleaning” and organizing. When I bring order externally, it brings order within. It also sheds what I call “psychic dead weight.” Those two bundles of clothes I took to Goodwill? Ah, already I feel lighter.

You gotta keep the path clear for creativity’s flow!

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And in the kitchen, I’ve been embracing the braise. Beef brisket for potluck. Cider pork shoulder for a cooking class. And today, chicken breasts in beer with apples, pears, and shallots.

The style of cooking suits not only the season, but also my temperament these busy workdays. Take a meat and brown it, building a foundation of flavor in a heavy duty Dutch oven. Cover it, and let it simmer, undisturbed, into succulence, while you go about the affairs of the day.

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The beauty of this chicken dish is that, unlike big roasts, it doesn’t take hours to braise. Less than one hour, really. Inspired by a recipe on Cooking Light, I used beer as the braising liquid. I don’t drink beer, but I always seem to have a random bottle or two in my fridge, leftover from one of our potluck gatherings.

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Add in shallots, coarse grain Dijon mustard, sliced apples and pears, and you have a luscious dish that makes me think of Belgian farmhouse cooking. As the beer simmers and reduces, it tenderizes the chicken. It melds with the fruit and mustard, transforming into a sauce imbued with the ale’s malt and hops.

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There are a number of sides that would be excellent with this. Roasted root vegetables. Creamy polenta. Wild rice. You want an accompaniment that will capture all the savory juices.

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I chose to make pearl couscous folded with chopped arugula. It is fast and easy—ten minutes of cooking—something you can throw together right before dinner. I relish the bitter edge imparted by the arugula. Use any type of green that you happen to enjoy, or have on hand.

Here’s to a new season of cooking, eating and sharing.

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BEER BRAISED CHICKEN WITH APPLES AND PEARS adapted from Cooking Light
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 Chicken Breasts
Salt
Black Pepper
3 tablespoons Coarse Grain Dijon Mustard, divided
1/2 cup sliced shallots
1 Gala apple, sliced
1 Red pear, sliced
6 ounces beer
1 tablespoon honey

Place a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add olive oil. Liberally coat the chicken breasts with coarse grain mustard, then sprinkle with salt and black pepper. Place into the Dutch oven, skin side down first, and allow the chicken to brown on one side–about 5 minutes.

Flip the chicken. Add the shallots and cook for 1 minute. Add the apples and pears. Stir.
Mix the honey into the beer and pour over the chicken.

Cover and braise for 15-20 minutes. Check for doneness. Stir and scrape up any browned bits.
Place chicken on bed of couscous. Spoon over apples and pears and drench the chicken in the savory juices.

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TRI-COLOR PEARL COUSCOUS with BITTER GREENS

1 cup tri-color pearl (Israeli) couscous
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup chopped arugula, or kale, or mustards
1 tablespoon olive oil

Fill a saucepan with 1 quart water. Season with salt. Bring to a boil over high heat.
Pour in couscous and cook according to package directions–about 10 minutes.
Drain and set aside.
Put chopped greens into the saucepan. Pour cooked couscous over the greens.
Add olive oil and stir over very low heat, stirring until the green collapse and wilt in the couscous.

Divide between 2 bowls. Top with chicken, fruits, and braising juices.
Serves 2

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Posted in Gluten Free, Meats/Poultry, Pastas, Recipes, Soups/Stews | 15 Comments »




September 15th, 2014

Farinata with Onion Jam and Homemade Mozzarella, part one

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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.

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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.

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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
Olive Oil
Salt
Water
Rosemary (optional)

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.

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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! And, you can add other vegetables, and make it a one-dish meal. Check out this example Asparagus, Tomato, and Onion Farinata on Cooking Light. Creative. Seasonal. Gorgeous.

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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.

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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!

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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.

Serves 6-8

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ONION JAM
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

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Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Breakfast, Egg/Cheese Dishes, Gluten Free, Recipes, Rice/Other Grains/Legumes | 18 Comments »




August 31st, 2014

Warm Eggplant-Tomato Salad with Fried Tomato Skins

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It’s the last day of August, and my summer garden is looking ragged. The ongoing battle with Johnson grass is over and I’ve surrendered: a thick border now entrenched along the fence row, and tall clumps reside undisturbed among the tomatoes and wax beans.

Arugula, long since bolted, has reseeded, trying to bully its way up through the weeds. One by one flourishing squashes have collapsed, victims of those dreaded borers. Two large tomato plants yellowed and died, seemingly overnight, the reason unknown.

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Nonetheless, my visits remain fruitful and full of wonder. My stand of Mexican sunflowers continues to put out astonishing blooms in copper, bronze, and blazing yellow, even when their primary heads are bare, petals dropped, seeds picked clean by feasting goldfinches.

The slow-growing Italian roasting peppers are showing streaks of bright red, their fiery signal for harvest.

A few heavy rains have inspired the tomatoes to produce again, although not in the gargantuan sizes of July, and their skins are a bit tougher.

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And my lone eggplant, which weathered an early onslaught of flea beetles, is forming plump white and purple streaked fruit. Sweaty, dusty, but excited, I return home with my pouch filled with just-picked things for dinner.

What to make?

Today’s recipe comes from my cookbook: Caroline’s Warm Eggplant Salad. It uses my garden spoils so well! I’ve embellished only slightly–having found a genius idea in the Farmer’s Market issue of Cooking Light (June 2014).

Chef Deborah Madison shared a simple beefsteak tomato salad with fried tomato skins. It’s those fried skins that caught my attention. They are easy to prepare, and add a welcome bite as a garnish-a clever use for these late summer-tough skinned “maters.”

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After you plunge your tomatoes in boiling water, quickly cooling them in an icy bath, you slip off the skins. Your tomatoes are ready to cube for the salad. Dab the skins dry and pan fry them in a small amount of oil. They’ll become like thin glassy pieces of cellophane, crisp–and when drained and salted–almost “bacony.”

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Even without the fried skins, the salad is simply delicious. A splash of sherry vinegar (a nice change-up from balsamic or red wine,) minced garlic and salt coax out the sumptuous tomato juices. Chunks of roasted eggplant gain a rich brown crisp, and soft sweet flesh.

If you’d prefer this to be vegan, omit the fresh mozzarella. I like the extra meatiness the cheese brings. It turns the salad into a one-dish meal, especially if you serve it with crusty bread to mop up all those lush juices.

I haven’t tired of the tomatoes—not yet. In fact, knowing that their time is waning makes me savor them all the more. The seasonal shift is soon to come.

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WARM EGGPLANT-TOMATO SALAD WITH FRIED TOMATO SKINS
adapted from Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook

1 large eggplant, unpeeled, cut into 1-inch cubes
3 tablespoons olive oil
Coarse kosher salt and black pepper to season eggplant
5 ripe heirloom tomatoes, skins removed* and cubed
2 to 3 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 cup fresh basil leaves, chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 cup fresh mozzarella, diced

*Recipe to follow

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

In a large bowl combine the cubed eggplant with the olive oil in a large bowl and toss well to coat. Spread the eggplant out on a baking sheet. Sprinkle with kosher salt and pepper. Bake for 12 minutes. Turn the eggplant over and bake until soft, with browned edges, about 12 minutes longer.

While the eggplant is cooking, toss the cubed tomatoes, minced garlic, and chopped basil together in a large salad bowl. Add the extra-virgin olive oil and sherry vinegar along with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Toss gently to blend.

Allow the eggplant to cool slightly, about 5 minutes. Add warm eggplant to the tomato mixture and toss. Let this sit at room temperature for about an hour before serving to allow the flavors to marry.

Right before serving, fold in the diced fresh mozzarella. Garnish with fried tomato skins and serve.

Serves 6

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FRIED TOMATO SKINS
from Deborah Madison for Cooking Light

5 heirloom tomatoes
1/4 cup vegetable oil
kosher or sea salt

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Core tomatoes; discard cores. Place tomatoes in boiling water for 15 seconds. Plunge tomatoes into ice water; drain. Peel; arrange skins flat on a jelly-roll pan. Cut peeled tomatoes into 1/2-inch-thick slices; arrange on a platter.

Heat 1/4 cup oil in a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add half of skins to oil; cook 2 minutes or until crisp, turning occasionally. Drain on a paper towel; repeat procedure with remaining skins. Discard oil in pan. Sprinkle skins with 1/8 teaspoon salt.

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Posted in Recipes, Salads, Vegan, Vegetables, Vegetarian Dishes | 21 Comments »




August 20th, 2014

Lemony Zucchini Ricotta Crostata

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Every element of this savory summer tart appeals to me.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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THE CRUST
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.

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THE FILLING
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.

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Egg Wash
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.

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ASSEMBLY

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.

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Posted in Appetizers/Hors D'oeuvres, Breakfast, Egg/Cheese Dishes, Recipes, Vegetarian Dishes | 24 Comments »