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.
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.
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.
Meanwhile I sliced a crusty baguette, slathering each piece with creamy chevre.
Then, lifted the kettle and peeled back the plastic.
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.
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.
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! 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.
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.
Amish Paste, Red Pear, Roma
When I was planting my garden earlier this spring, I included, on a whim, one plant from each of these meaty oval-shaped tomato varieties.
I figured, if they produced, they would be good for making thick red sauces, even ketchup.
And, boy, are they producing! Each week, for the past month, I’ve been harvesting an abundance of the brilliant red orbs, turning them into sauces and salsas.
But my new favorite way is this slow roasting method, introduced to me by Joy Martin.
Joy is a master gardener, and I would extend that master descriptor to cook and baker. She is also one of our devoted Third Thursday potluckers. You’ll find several of her recipes, including the one I’m about to share with you, in my cookbook.
Slow roasted tomatoes. That may not sound exciting—don’t we roast everything these days?—and the recipe is deceptively simple. It’s the slow slow roast, coupled with a seasoning of olive oil, fresh garlic, oregano, salt, pepper, and sugar, that yields surprisingly complex, intensely savory-sweet tomatoes, with deep, rich umami taste.
A cautionary note: Don’t leave out the sugar. I resisted sprinkling it over the halves at first, but in combination with the salt, the sugar coaxes out the maximum flavor.
Look! They are glistening jewels. They taste like the sun.
You’ll find numerous uses for them: placed onto grilled bruschetta, dropped onto a rosemary cracker, tucked into a toasted BLT, tossed in a fresh pasta.
Or, do as we do: eat them out of the jar.
Around my house, we call ‘em tomato candy!
JOY’S SLOW ROASTED TOMATOES (TOMATO CANDY)
2 pounds Roma tomatoes
4 cloves garlic, minced or shaved
Olive oil (about 1/4 cup or so)
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh oregano or thyme
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 teaspoon sugar
Preheat the oven to 250 degrees.
Slice the tomatoes in half lengthwise and place into a 9 x 13-inch casserole dish, or on a baking sheet in a single layer, skin side down. Distribute garlic evenly over the tomatoes. Drizzle with olive oil and generously sprinkle with oregano, salt, pepper, and sugar. Bake for 2 to 3 hours. After cooling, place the halves into jars, and pour over herbed olive oil and juices collected in the sheet pan. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Anatomy of a Salad
The arugula and slices from a lone lemon cucumber? I grew those in my garden patch. The impossibly thin green beans were a gift from neighbor Ray. I purchased the onions and baby new potatoes from Barnes’ stand at the downtown farmer’s market. The ruffled purple basil, flat leaf parsley and garlic scapes all came from our friends at the Fresh Harvest Co-op. I picked up the grape tomatoes and a sweet bell pepper at the grocery store, blocks from my home.
Leaves and stalks, pods and seeds, tubers and fruits: All seemingly disparate parts assemble into a lively composition on this plate.
All the sets of hands that played a part in bringing them: A friend and neighbor, farmers whom I’ve met, farmers whom I’d like to meet, growers in a state not too far away, pickers and truckers and sorters and sellers,
even my own hands.
This salad, which will make a fine dinner, also tells a story about community.
All the connections surrounding this one plate.
All the connections we make at the table.
I am mindful of this, especially at this moment, poised as I am, to launch this cookbook into this world.
Today, June 17, 2014, is the day.
It’s been a long road, from pitch to proposal, contract to manuscript delivery, edits, edits, styling and photography, layout, and more edits. Whew. Here comes the Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook.
I couldn’t have done it without my community.
Here’s to Gigi Gaskins, my potluck conspirator and co-host, and all the potluckers who contributed their delectable recipes.
Here’s to my editor, Heather Skelton, who caught the vision for this book, its look and structure. She understood our story, a fluid group of people who meet on the third Thursday of each month, and bring their best efforts, with no assigned dishes, no RSVP.
Together, our recipes and stories travel the arc of the seasons.
Together we celebrate the bounty of the moment.
And, to you all, my dear friends and readers, a community that reaches far and wide.
This is the sort of salad that lends itself well to community. Take what you like, and crown it with a nice dollop of lush green garlic scape aioli.
1 pound young green beans, ends trimmed
2-3 tablespoons olive oil, divided
1 pound baby new potatoes
1-2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary
1 sweet onion, sliced
1 sweet bell pepper, cut into strips
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 lemon cucumber, sliced
1/4 pound arugula
Blanche the green beans: Fill a skillet with water and place over medium high heat. When boiling, plunge the green beans in to cook for 2- 3 minutes (longer, if they are thicker–you want them tender-crisp) Place the cooked beans into a bowl of ice water to set the color and cease the cooking. Drain well.
Pan-roast the new potatoes: Place a skillet on medium heat and add 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the potatoes. Sprinkle with salt, black pepper, and rosemary. Cover and cook for 15-18 minutes, shaking the skillet periodically, until the potatoes are browned and tender when pierced with a knife.
Caramelize the onions and red pepper strips: Place olive oil in the skillet set on medium heat. Saute the onions until browned.
Remove the onions and add the red pepper strips. Saute until tender-crisp with browned edges.
Assemble the Community Salad
Place the salad elements in sections on a large serving platter. Serves 4 generously.
Serve with Garlic Scape Aioli (recipe below)
GARLIC SCAPE AIOLI
2 or 3 loops of scapes, chopped
1 egg yolk
juice of one lemon
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
3/4 cup olive oil
Place the scapes, egg yolk, lemon juice, and mustard into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse, then process, slowly pouring in the olive oil. The mixture will thicken and emulsify, resembling a spring green mayonnaise. Taste for salt and add a pinch as needed.
Place into a small serving bowl. Cover and refrigerate. Keeps 3-4 days.
Makes 1 generous cup.
Making those grand “never” statements can get you into trouble. Things will come along in life to prove otherwise. Like when I recently told a friend, “I never fry food.” In a blink, not one but two recipes caught my attention, very different from each another, yet both requiring a plunge into a skillet of hot oil.
Stay with me–they are worth it. In fact, they can be made at the same time and served together–making the most out of the oil-filled fry pan. I’ll amend my grand “never” statement to “I don’t usually fry food, but there are times when it is just the thing.”
The first, Shrimp-Sweet Pea-Rice Croquettes, comes courtesy of Chef B J Dennis. Hailing from Charleston, South Carolina, B J is a personal chef and caterer whose focus is the food of the Gullah-Geechee people, his heritage. Descendants of enslaved West Africans who were brought to this country to work the rice plantations, they live mainly on the Sea Islands dotted along the South Carolina-Georgia coast.
In part, because of the isolation of the islands, in part, because the climate and growing conditions were similar to their coastal West African homes, the people were able to form their own communities, easily adapt their fishing and farming practices, continue their arts, rituals, and cuisine. Because the Africans came from different tribes, they formed their own language, a meld of various West African tongues and English. Over the centuries, the Gullah community evolved and endured.
But with “progress,” the communities have become threatened. Many adult children have the left the islands, seeking work elsewhere. And the islands themselves have seen the creep of gentrification, as land has been sold off for vacation places and resort homes.
B J is seeking to preserve the Gullah culture through food. I attended a six-course tasting dinner here in Nashville where he partnered with chef Sean Brock to educate minds and palates to the cuisine, and its strong connection to West African cookery. His crispy shrimp-sweet pea-rice croquettes, our first tasting, were spectacular: rustic and sophisticated, chockful of shrimp, with green onion, ginger and nuanced heat in the mix.
He happily shared his recipe, which uses Carolina Gold rice. This grain, once the main cash crop of South Carolina, almost vanished with the Great Depression. Post World War 2, rice production became industrialized, and corporately grown Uncle Ben’s took over the market. It wasn’t until the late ’90’s that Glen Roberts decided to repatriate the Southern pantry, and revive lost ingredients. Since 1998, his Anson Mills has brought back native cornmeal and grits, red peas, and the plump flavorful grains of Carolina Gold.
One of the beauties of the recipe is that it makes ideal use of leftover or overcooked rice. The combination of shrimp, onion, sweet peas, sweet bell pepper and ginger laced through the rice is fantastic. The juxtaposition of hot crisp exterior and delicate filling is very pleasing. Someone at the dinner mentioned that it reminded her of arancini, the Italian rice fritters. Yes, in a way. If you want to make the dish entirely gluten free, use a little rice flour instead of all purpose to help bind the mixture.
B J calls his approach to food “Vibration Cooking.” That term was first coined around 1970 by Vertamae Smith-Grosvenor, a food writer, culinary anthropologist, and storyteller. No strict measurements or method, but rather the magical combination of a personâ€™s intuition, attitude, energy, and the ingredients at hand are what make plate of food delicious.
Therefore, in his recipe, he gives a range of quantities. You could add more rice, use whatever kind of onion you prefer, spark it with more than salt and black pepper, serve the croquettes by themselves, or with a sauce of choice. He served his with a Geechee peanut sauce, which is inspired by Senegalese sauce of tomatoes, peanut butter, onions, and spices. He did not share his recipe, but this link to Cooking Light’s version is a close approximation.
I’ll attempt that sauce another day, as I had another sauce to try. Part 2 of my oil-frying includes this simple Fried Broccoli Florets with Vegan Mustard-Shallot Aioli–adapted from a local restaurant, Pinewood Social. The florets are not battered, but simply fried until crispy. After frying, dust the florets with sea salt and lemon zest. So good!
Even better is this vegan dipping sauce, made with ground raw almonds, golden raisins, shallot, garlic, lemon, Dijon and olive oil.
Toss the whole shebang into a food processor and let it rip! The almonds eventually puree and thicken the mixture, but some terrific texture remains. The tang of the shallot and mustard is tempered with the sweetness of golden raisins.
You’d “never” believe there’s nary a speck of egg or dairy in this creamy aioli.
B J DENNIS’ CRISPY SHRIMP-SWEET PEA-RICE CROQUETTES
2 cups overcooked rice or leftover rice,(Carolina Gold)
1 cup seasoned and cooked shrimp (wild American) coarsely chopped (about 1/2 pound shrimp or more)
Â½ cup cooked fresh sweet peas or thawed frozen peas
Â¼ cup minced spring onions (or any onion you like)
Â¼ cup minced red bell pepper
1-2 teaspoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon minced ginger
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper
2 tablespoons rice flour or all-purpose flour
cooking oil, such as canola or peanut
Pulse the cooked rice in a food processor.
Place all of the ingredients except flour into a large bowl and mix.
Add enough flour just to make sure the mixture binds together.
Roll out into little balls or cylinders, size depends on how big you like your fritter.
Place a skillet on medium heat. Add vegetable oil to 1 inch.
Shallow fry until golden brown and thoroughly cooked, rotating and turning the fritters so that they brown on all sides.
Makes approximately 20 croquettes.
VEGAN MUSTARD-SHALLOT AIOLI (adapted from Josh Habiger, Pinewood Social)
1/2 cup raw almonds
1/4 cup golden raisins
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 shallot, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup water
Place almonds, raisins, red wine vinegar, Dijon mustard, shallot, garlic, and lemon juice into the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse and then process, pouring in the olive oil followed by the water. Process until smooth. Stir in a pinch of salt, if desired. Pour into a bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve. It will continue to thicken as it sets and chills.
Makes about 1 1/2 cups.
1 head of fresh broccoli, cut into florets, cleaned and thoroughly dried
zest of one lemon
Fill a saucepan or skillet with 2 inches oil. Heat to 375 degrees.
Fry broccoli until the edges appear crispy. This should take about a minute.
Remove and drain on a paper towel.
Sprinkle with lemon zest and sea salt.
Serve with Vegan Aioli.
Isn’t it wonderful, when you find out that something
you were convinced
would be terribly difficult,
was, in fact,
a breeze, a lark,
That was my pretzel-making experience.
When Jessi brought her pretzels to potluck a few years ago, we all went crazy for them. Who makes pretzels? We rewarmed the soft salty twists in the oven. A dunk into a crock of spicy mustard, we greedily devoured them.
As I was compiling our recipes for the cookbook, I had no doubt.
The pretzels had to be represented.
Jessi readily accommodated, sending me her method, with tips.
Seeking to recreate the same distinctive taste that she and her husband had enjoyed in Bavaria, she had done extensive research and experimentation. The outcome–a straightforward, authentic, and easy-to-make recipe.
The dough is basic. It does not require lengthy rise time or punching down. If you have a stand mixer with a dough hook, you can whip it up in short order, let the machine do the 10 minute kneading process, while you do something else. Hand-rolling the dough into long strands and looping them into the pretzel shape is quite fun.
But there is one piece to the process that was news to me. What Jessi learned—call it the secret, or the trick to making perfect pretzels—-is that you dip the dough knot into a diluted lye solution before baking.
Lye? Isn’t that the stuff Paulie put into Bed-Bug Eddie’s coffee in The Pope of Greenwich Village?
The idea of working with this caustic substance, well, freaked me out, at first. But Jessi, our resident soap maker, and no stranger to the product, assured me that there was nothing to fear. “Just Be Prudent.” (I’ve listed her prudent tips below, with the recipe.)
Food-grade lye is an intrinsic component of curing olives, and making hominy, In the case of the pretzels, there is amazing science here–the interaction of sodium hydroxide with the oven heat produces that characteristic browning and taste before it vanishes.
And, it was not a problem to use. Really!
I made a batch of pretzels for one of the cookbook’s photo shoot days. I was so elated with how splendid they turned out that I made them again when visiting my bread-baking friend Maggie.
For sure, they are delicious right out of the oven. But you can rewarm them the next day with terrific results. That outer brown sheen only gets crunchier—but there is still that soft chewy pretzel interior.
Many recipes use a combination of baking soda–which is another alkali– and water. And I am happy to send you to Cooking Light for their recipe, if you are not comfortable using the food-grade lye dip. It will make a good pretzel—but not a great one.
Here’s the link to my homemade mustards, if you want to go all-out. The coarse-grain stout mustard is made for pretzel-dunking.
JESSI’S DELICIOUS GERMAN-STYLE PRETZELS
1 1/2 teaspoons dry active yeast
2 cups warm water, divided
5 cups bread flour
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 1/2 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 cup food grade lye*
10 cups water
Coarse sea salt to taste
Dissolve the yeast in 1/4 cup warm water.
Place the bread flour into the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook. Add the salt, softened butter, activated yeast, and remaining water. Mix until combined. Knead the ingredients until the dough is elastic, about 10 minutes.
Cover with a towel and let the dough rest for 5 minutes.
Cut into 12 equal pieces and form into balls. Let rest for 5 minutes.
Roll each ball into a thin rope (about 18 inches long). Make into an upside-down U, and twist the ends around each other to create the distinctive pretzel shape.
Place each one on parchment paperâ€“lined baking sheet and refrigerate uncovered for a minimum of 2 hours up to overnight.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
In a stainless-steel bowl, dissolve the lye in the water. Dip each side of the pretzels into the lye mixture for 15 seconds and remove to the baking sheet.
Sprinkle each pretzel with coarse salt.
Bake for about 17 minutes. Immediately remove the pretzels from the parchment onto wire rack to cool.
â€¢ You can find food grade lye at a number of online sources. I ordered mine from http://www.essentialdepot.com/servlet/Categories.
â€¢ Only use stainless-steel pots, bowls, and utensils when working with lye. No plastic. No wood. It is wise to wear gloves when dipping the pretzels into the diluted lye solution.
â€¢ Donâ€™t be afraid of the lye mixtureâ€”just be prudent. Itâ€™s pretty diluted and really the key to making the outside of the pretzel firm and browned evenly.
â€¢ You can also make pretzel rolls. Snip or score the top of the rolled ball after dipping in the lye solution.
White Cheddar Gougeres stuffed with Herbed Chicken Salad
Open Face Cucumber-Boursin and Tomato-Bacon-Basil Aioli Finger Sandwiches
Plum Spiced Shortbread Bars
A chunk of my adult life was spent as a caterer, and from time to time I can be coaxed to put that catering hat back on. My friend Gigi is a milliner and hatter; her amazing HATWRKS store here in Nashville offers not only an extensive selection of hats for men and women from the country’s best known hatters, but stunning custom hats that are Gigi’s own design and creation. She had an in-store event recently and asked me to prepare a few light bites and tea.
While working on it, I realized that it would be a good opportunity to share some catering tips: a few tricks of the trade that will ensure success with relative ease.
When planning to make appetizers for a party, here are some things to keep in mind:
I’ve talked about this here, but you want your guest to be able to eat the appetizer in one (or two) tidy bites, without fear of shattering crumbs allover the floor, or dripping sauce down her blouse.
Hors d’oeuvres means “outside the main work.” They are designed to spark appetite, but not sate. Remember that they are the prelude to something else. As such, here’s a good rule of thumb: You’ll want to offer 2-3 different appetizers, and figure on 2-3 pieces per person of each.
I consider the group when designing a menu and strive to offer:
Mostly savory, with something sweet. Mostly vegetarian with something meaty. I like to use seasonal produce, and have appealing colors.
4. Intriguing Element
Often what separates a mediocre hors d’oeuvres from a terrific one can be found in one defining element of the recipe. I look for that one special aspect that truly elevates—has that “wow” factor. I like for it also to possess versatility. The economy of excellence, so to speak. For instance, if a cranberry-pear chutney is astonishing in one recipe, it likely can lend the same pizzazz to others.
The three light bites highlighted in this post satisfy my criteria. For your pleasure, I’ve posted the recipes for each one’s defining element to make your own.
The recipe for gougeres, French-styled cheese puffs, is a great one to have in your catering repertoire. Originally made with Gruyere cheese and a pinch of nutmeg, they can take on other cheeses and herbs or spices with aplomb. (Check out these, made with chevre and chives.)
The white cheddar gougeres make delectable bites on their own. But you can fill them with anything you like–your favorite chicken salad recipe, or smoked salmon, or deviled ham, or roasted red pepper mousse…you get the idea. People always delight in eating them.
WHITE CHEDDAR GOUGERES
3/4 cup water
3/4 cup milk
1 1/2 sticks (12 tablespoons ) butter, cut into pieces
2 pinches salt
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups shredded sharp white cheddar
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Line baking sheets with parchment.
Place the water, milk, butter, and salt into a medium saucepan set on medium high heat. Stir and bring to a simmer, melting the butter. Pour in the flour and stir rapidly, cooking the mixture into a mass. When the mixture pulls away from the sides of the pan, remove from heat. Let the mixture sit for a minute or two.
Using a wooden spoon, beat in the eggs, one at a time—beating each egg so that it is well incorporated into the flour before adding the next one. You want to work quickly so that the eggs will not cook or curdle in the mixture. This will give you a real upper arm workout–well worth it! The mass will become smooth, golden in color.
Fold in the shredded cheese.
Place gourgere mixture into a pastry bag fitted with a star tip. Pipe little (3/4-1 inch) mounds in rows on the parchment-lined baking sheet.
Place the baking sheets in the oven and bake for 25 minutes. Check on the pans at the halfway mark, and rotate them in the oven.
When the gougeres are browned and have a hollow crisp to them, remove the pans from the oven and let the gougeres cool on a wire rack.
Makes 5 dozen gougeres.
Boursin. We’ve all seen the small packages of this soft, airy French cheese at the market. But, did you know that It is very easy to make your own? It might be more delicious. It certainly is fresher, and more cost effective.
Spread onto petite rounds of sunflower seed bread, this herbed butter-cream cheese blend is what makes the open-face cucumber sandwich exceptional. You’ll also enjoy the boursin paired with roast beef, or slathered onto tortillas lined with shredded vegetables, rolled and sliced into pretty mosaics, or simply garnished in a bowl, as a smear for bagels, flatbreads, or crackers. Salut!
8 ounces cream cheese, softened, cut into pieces
8 tablespoons (1 stick) butter, softened, cut into pieces
juice of 1 lemon
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves
1/4 teaspoon granulated garlic
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
In a medium bowl, cream the softened cream cheese and butter together with wooden spoon. Stir in the lemon juice, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper. Blend well. Cover and refrigerate to allow the flavors to develop and meld. Let the boursin stand at room temperature for at least 15 minutes so that it will be easily spreadable.
Makes 1 1/2 cups.
For the Cucumber-Boursin Finger Sandwiches
1 loaf sliced sunflower or whole grain wheat bread
1 recipe boursin
2 medium-sized cucumbers, cut into 1/4 inch thick coins
a few sprigs of fresh dill
Using a biscuit cutter, or rim of a juice glass, cut the bread slices into rounds.
Liberally spread the boursin over the rounds and arrange onto a platter.
Place cucumber coin onto each round. Sprinkle with a little coarse-ground black pepper.
Garnish each round with fresh dill.
Makes over 4 dozen
Finally, the spiced shortbread crust , with its nuance of cinnamon, ginger, and allspice, is crisp and buttery…and couldn’t be simpler to make. It makes a wonderful foundation and topping, sandwiching either your choice of preserves or fresh fruit. It cuts beautifully into bars, squares, or triangles! The recipe, adapted from The Cilantropist, was originally made with sliced fresh plums. But, it was the perfect vehicle for my plum preserves (I still have many jars from last year’s bounty.)
I think that you could make the recipe and highlight other stone fruits–peaches, apricots–or layer it with fig preserves or applesauce.
PLUM SPICED SHORTBREAD BARS (adapted from The Cilantropist)
3/4 cup turbinado sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) chilled butter, cut into pieces
12-16 ounces plum preserves (you may use fresh plums–about 8, pitted and sliced, instead)
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Coat a 9 x 13 inch baking pan with butter or pan spray.
Place both sugars, flour, baking powder, salt, spices, and chilled butter pieces into a food processor fitted with the pastry blade. Pulse quickly, processing the butter into the flour mixture. Add the egg and pulse until it is incorporated. The mixture will be crumbly.
Place 3/4 of the mixture into the bottom of the baking pan, evenly distributed. Press firmly.
Spread the plum preserves over the shortbread crust layer.
Cover the preserves with the remaining shortbread mixture.
Place the pan in the oven and bake for approximately 30 minutes. The top will become browned and the preserves will be bubbly. It will also feel set.
Cool completely on a wire rack. You can cover and refrigerate the bars overnight before cutting them into squares, if you prefer.
Makes approximately 3 dozen small bars.
Heading into the fall, with holidays soon to follow, you might like to check out Cooking Light’s creative light bites here for other recipes and inspiration. They suggest an appetizer swap party–a variation on the cookie-swap theme, which appeals more to me that all those sweets! It sounds like a fun way to share good ideas and savory bites. Wild mushroom-chevre cups, apricot-blue cheese-walnut in puff pastry….yum.
The unpredictability of harvests causes me to marvel at the steadfast dedication of farmers. One season to the next, they never know how well or poorly a crop will do, despite all care and meticulous planning. And, under the same weather conditions, one planting will thrive, while another fizzles.
In 2010, Gigi had a bumper crop of figs. In the two years that followed, her trees bore meager fruit. It had us worried—was 2010 a fluke? Last week, that notion was dispelled when Gigi called me with this report:
“We need to pick figs. Now!”
Her trees were–and still are—covered. Plump ripe knobs, some royal purple, others streaked greenish-brown, are ready to be plucked and relished. The next morning, I met Gigi at the garden. We picked a fast 100, and two days later, I returned to gather another basketful.
Joy. The figs are back, with the promise of so many more to come. Time to enjoy them now, and preserve them for the future.
My plan was two-fold. I could envision delectable figs roasted to sweetness, tucked in lettuce leaves with goat cheese, chives, and bacon for a summer meal. (almonds for my vegetarians!) What I didn’t use in the salad, I’d put up in mason jars. Roasted Figs in Syrup!
I began by halving the figs and arranging them on a baking sheet scattered with thin lemon wedges. After I dusted them with sugar and a spritz of white balsamic vinegar, I placed them into the hot oven.
I had forgotten how effective and deeply delicious this method is. Very quickly the sugar melts as the figs release their juices. The lemon and vinegar meld into the mix, enhancing the figgy taste, while balancing the sweetness. A gorgeous caramel-ruby syrup results, glazing the fruit in the pan. And that tangy syrup becomes the perfect medium to drizzle into the lettuce cups, the salad’s dressing really.
As for the rest, well, I have a few ideas. I love them baked on flatbread with prosciutto, leeks, and soft gorgonzola. The figs in syrup are sublime with mascarpone on a slice of crusty toasted baguette. Check out Cooking Light’s Guide to Figs for other tips and recipes. I am always open to new recipes with this ancient, treasured fruit, and would love to have your recommendations, too.
Of course, we fig lovers know that there is nothing quite like that one, sun-warmed and ripe right off the tree, sticky to the touch and honeyed to the bite.
ROASTED FIG-GOAT CHEESE-BUTTER LETTUCE CUPS
25 leaves butter (or Boston) lettuce, washed and spun dry
1 11 ounce log plain goat cheese
8-10 strips thick slab cut bacon cooked crisp and crumbled -OR-
1/2 cup sliced toasted almonds
1 1/2 cups roasted figs in syrup (recipe follows)
coarse ground black pepper
Arrange butter lettuce leaves on a platter. Cut the goat cheese log into small slices or pieces, placing a piece into each lettuce cup.
Sprinkle the goat cheese with chives.
Sprinkle cooked bacon or toasted almonds into the cups.
Place a fig half over the goat cheese.
Drizzle with figgy syrup and season with coarse ground black pepper.
Makes 25 appetizers or 10-12 mains.
ROASTED FIGS IN SYRUP
15 ripe figs, washed, dried and cut in half lengthwise
1 lemon, sliced into 10 wedges
1/4 cup sugar
2-3 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
Place the fig halves on a baking sheet. Scatter the lemon wedges around the figs.
Sprinkle the sugar over the figs. Sprinkle the vinegar over the sugared figs.
Place into the oven and roast for 10-12 minutes, rotating the pan after the halfway (5-6 minutes) mark.
Cook until the figs become puffed and release their juices.
The juices will meld with the melted sugar and vinegar to make a luscious syrup.
Remove from the oven and cool. Place the fig and lemon pieces into a medium bowl or 12 ounce jar. Scrape the accumulated juices-syrup from the pan over the figs.
Makes 1 1/2 cups.
Note: You may double the batch and preserve the figs and syrup in 3-8 ounce jars and process in a hot water bath for 15 minutes.
Life has been full and moving apace; and I’ve been a bit remiss here on Good Food Matters. But, exciting things are in the works—including a cookbook! I’ll share more details on that project soon, but in the meantime I thought I’d give you a look at our beautiful spread, an hors d’oeuvres buffet from last weekend. We held a shower honoring my daughter, son-in-law, and (grand!) baby to come.
No funny games or balloons, just a gathering of family and friends in the late afternoon for appetizers and sweets. We had a colorful array of foods, with a meat dish, a fish dish, and a bounty to please vegetarians and omnivores alike.
Plus, The Pie Board! My daughter Madeleine wanted not just pie, but Pies. A table filled with these assorted treats, great and petite, fruit or nut filled, chocolate cream or baked vanilla custard is a fun alternative to, say, a single cake. Easy as pies…..
While our party was a baby shower, it doesn’t matter: our menu would work for any kind of event, like a cocktail supper.
For your inspiration, with tips:
An Hors D’oeuvres Buffet
Marinated Grilled Beef Tenderloin, horseradish cream sauce, sundried tomato rolls
Orange-rubbed Smoked Alaskan Salmon Fillet
Blanched Chilled Asparagus with Greek Yogurt-Dill Dip
Roasted Butternut Squash-Yellow Bell Pepper-Honeycrisp Apple Quinoa
Black Eyed Pea “Cowboy Caviar”
Hot Baby Spoon Spinach-Artichoke Dip both served with blue and white corn chips
An overnight marinade of olive oil, red wine, balsamic vinegar, fresh thyme, and lots of fresh garlic help insure a succulent and flavorful piece of meat. Liberally salt and pepper the beef before grilling.
I rub the salmon fillet with orange zest and good olive oil before placing on my Big Green Egg to gently smoke. The fish stays moist, and is fragrant with citrus.
Simply roast diced butternut squash that you’ve first brushed with olive oil and lightly seasoned with salt and pepper. Do the same with diced yellow bell pepper. Prepare the quinoa according to package directions. Fold in roasted vegetables and diced fresh apple once the quinoa is cooked. The heat of the quinoa lightly cooks the apple, while retaining its crunch. Served warm or cool, this makes a delicious fall-inspired side or salad.
Blanched Chilled Asparagus with Greek Yogurt-Dill Sauce: Easy to make, easy to pick up and eat! It doesn’t take long to plunge the spears into boiling water, let them cook less than 2 minutes, and plunge them into an icy bath. Season plain Greek yogurt with plenty of fresh dill, scallions, fresh lemon juice and sea salt.
Like the quinoa dish, this vegan “Cowboy Caviar” is healthy, full-flavored, and universally enjoyed. I was lucky to find fresh black eyed peas at the market, which I cooked with garlic, sea salt, bay leaf and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Once the peas became tender and cooled, I added diced avocados, tomatoes, jalapenos, onions, cilantro, olive oil, and a squeeze of fresh lime juice.
This is an updated classic, made with fresh baby spoon spinach and artichoke hearts stirred into a green onion studded bechamel sauce. Always a favorite! Top the casserole with shredded pecorino romano cheese and bake until bubbly.
THE PIES: Rustic Honeycrisp Apple Galette, Chess Tarts, Plum Cream Cheese Pie, Maple Pecan Pie, Double Chocolate Cream Pie
Double Chocolate Cream Pie (the first to go!)
2 tablespoons cocoa
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1/3 cup brown sugar
2 cups lowfat milk
4 ounces semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoon creme de cassis (optional)
pinch of salt
Whisk cocoa, cornstarch, and brown sugar together in a bowl. Pour milk into a 2 qt. saucepan set on medium heat and stir in cocoa mixture. Continue stirring until dissolved. Then add chopped chocolate. Flavor with vanilla, creme de cassis, and a pinch of salt. Stir ( a wooden spoon is good for this.) steadily, as the mixture begins to simmer and thicken. It will become smooth and puddinglike. Remove from heat and pour into pre-baked pie shell. Cool before refrigerating.
Whip a cup of heavy cream with 2 (or so, depending on how sweet you want your whipped cream) tablespoons confectioners sugar and a teaspoon vanilla. Top chilled pie, and garnish with shaved chocolate.
Individual Chess Tarts: these were made by good friend Wendy. A true Southern dessert: Eggs-Butter-Sugar-Buttermilk-Vinegar. Deceptively simple, and somewhat addictive, Chess Pie deserves a post all its own. I promise, I will deliver that soon!
Guests really have a great time making up pie sampler dessert plates for themselves!
Blissful Parents to Be
Due Date is December First