Wednesday, April 28th, 2010
Saturday Brian and I went on a rare childless date trying a restaurant that specializes in local and seasonal fare. Later we found ourselves, rather unintentionally, spending the rest of our precious free time perusing Williams-Sonoma, with the sales associate bringing out all of their stock of a particular cutting board I kept eyeing, and lining them up on the sales counter for us to compare.
“Well, I have this food blog I started, and now I’m always checking out interesting cutting boards, imagining how they will look in photos.” I explained to the affably amused sales associate.
I also made this rhubarb galette, which as it turned out, was no minor occurrence.
I’ve been wanting to make something with rhubarb for over a month now, knowing it is in season and seeing it pop up here and there on other blogs, but the farmer’s market down the street is sans rhubarb, and the standard grocers I frequent were completely out two weeks in a row.
“What we had went bad because it wasn’t selling, and we haven’t gotten another shipment in,” I was told by a man in the produce section at my first store, with my second grocer echoing the same.
I feel sad thinking about that, yet I think I understand it. I believe there are many fruits and vegetables that are commonly overlooked simply because people are not familiar with how to cook them or what the end result will taste like. It’s natural to cook with the familiar.
I can be included in this bunch at times. Yes, I’ve had strawberry rhubarb preserves, and I’ve seen and heard about rhubarb many times. But somehow, this was my first time cooking with rhubarb.
“I recognize you,” the produce manager at the second store I’ve been stalking said, “You were here last week looking for rhubarb. We finally got some on the last truck!”
I fumbled through the stack of fresh rhubarb picking out the best looking stalks, – yes, I am like that – bought three pounds, even though I only knew what I was going to do with two, and went to work.
I adapted my rhubarb recipe from a cookbook by the editor’s of Cook’s Illustrated Brian gave me several years ago from which I had not yet tried a single recipe. Judging from my first bite of this galette, if the other recipes turn out anything like this galette turned out, I have been sorely missing out.
Cook’s Illustrated did their own adaptation of the recipe from an apparently well known Portland, Oregon restaurant by the name of Bluehour. When I am in Portland someday, as I am determined I will be, this recipe has certainly earned my patronage at their swanky little outfit.
You start out making the galette dough by combining flour, fine grain corn meal, a bit of confectioner’s sugar and a dash of sea salt with plenty of cold butter, two large egg yolks, and a nice pour of cold buttermilk.
Next you dice the rhubarb and sauté it with raw sugar, lemon zest, and the seeds and pod of one long slender fragrant vanilla bean, just until the rhubarb releases it’s cherry red juices. The sweet vanilla bean speckled juice is saved and simmered down to serve later alongside the galette.
The partially cooked rhubarb is then cooled and tossed with just enough cornstarch for thickening, along with petite cubes of diced butter just for decadence sake.
The galette dough is sprinkled with raw sugar and the ruby filling is placed evenly in the center. The dough edges are then pleated in rose petal like fashion around the filling and whole milk is brushed on the exposed dough folds and finished with final sprinklings of raw sugar.
“I really didn’t know what to expect,” Brian said after taking his first bite, “But the ‘rubber’ pie is GOOOD! I guess we will have to grow our own ‘rubber’ in the garden next year.”
Apparently Brian thinks the word “rhubarb” sounds a bit like “rubber” so he has taken to calling it such, but please do not let this deter you – there is absolutely zero other resemblance between the two, I assure you.
The crust was buttery flaky, edgy from the buttermilk, yet softened by the sweetness of the confectioner’s sugar – and with just a little crunch from the corn meal – this was a crust to come back to.
And the rhubarb. The rhubarb! Sweet tart, rich from the vanilla and butter, accented by hints of lemon playing off the buttermilk tang in the crust. Not too sweet – just right.
You could serve all this artistry with freshly whipped cream or vanilla ice cream, but we happily devoured it with vanilla Greek yogurt and splashes of the vanilla dotted magenta sauce.
Now that rhubarb and I have been properly introduced in my own kitchen, I want to make rhubarb everything! Like this, and this, and this – and many others I am sure I am overlooking in my present state of rhubarb haze – thank goodness I bought extra.
1/4 cup cold buttermilk
2 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon water
1 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/2 cup white whole wheat flour *
3 tablespoons confectioners’ sugar
1/2 cup fine-grind corn meal
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
16 tablespoons (2 sticks) very cold butter, cut into 1/4 inch dice
2 pounds rhubarb, washed, tops and bottoms trimmed, cut into 1/2 inch dice (about 6 cups)
3/4 cup (5 1/4 ounces) raw cane sugar *
1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest from 1 lemon
1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise, seeds removed, seeds and bean pod reserved
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch dice
4 tablespoons raw cane sugar
2 tablespoons whole milk
vanilla Greek yogurt, whipped cream, or vanilla ice cream, for serving
Make the crust by whisking buttermilk, egg yolks, and 1 tablespoon water in a medium bowl. In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, in a food processor, or in a medium bowl using pastry knives or a fork, combine the flours, confectioners’ sugar and salt. Add the butter to the flour mixture and combine on a low speed just until mixture resembles coarse crumbs, with some pea size bits of butter remaining, about 1 minute. With the mixer or food processor running, or while stirring, add the buttermilk mixture slowly until dough comes together, about 20 seconds (do not overmix). Remove dough from mixing bowl and shape into an 8 inch disk, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate till firm, about 1 hour.
Make the filling by cooking the rhubarb, sugar, salt, lemon zest, vanilla seeds and pod in a 12-inch skillet over high heat until the rhubarb releases its juices, about 3 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, carefully transfer and spread rhubarb out on a rimmed baking pan and allow to cool to room temperature, about 30 minutes. Then stir in cornstarch and butter and set aside.
Simmer the juices left in the pan down to about 1/2 cup, 3-5 minutes, allow to cool, and reserve to serve as a syrup alongside the finished galette.
Heat oven to 350 degrees and adjust and oven rack to the middle position. Roll the galette dough out on a lightly floured surface to a 16 inch circle about 1/4 inch thick. Transfer the dough to a piece of parchment paper set on top of a rimless baking sheet. Sprinkle the dough with 2 tablespoons of sugar and then lay rhubarb filling in the middle of the dough, leaving a 3 inch rim uncovered by filling around the edge. Fold the edges of the dough up around the filling, overlapping and pleating at equal intervals. Brush the top of the crust with milk and sprinkle with the remaining 2 tablespoons of sugar. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until crust is golden and filling is bubbling. Cool for 30 minutes and then cut in 8 wedges and serve with cooled rhubarb syrup, vanilla Greek yogurt, whipped cream, or vanilla ice cream.
*may use all white flour or substitute standard whole wheat flour for the white whole wheat flour
*may use standard granulated sugar
Tags: America's Test Kitchen, bluehour restaurant, cook's illustrated, free form tart, galette, galette dough, pie crust, pie dough, rhubarb, rhubarb pie, seasonal, williams sonoma
Posted in Dessert | 35 Comments »
Wednesday, March 24th, 2010
“I would like to have a garden,” my husband said to me shortly after we were first married.
“Whatever for?” I thought to myself; “There is a grocery and a farmer’s market less than a mile down the road where I can easily buy anything we need, and I have little interest in tilling the ground in my spare time.”
So, like the congenial newlywed I was attempting to be, I said little, and figured this too would pass, as well intended ideas often do.
However, come early spring of that first matrimonial year, lo and behold, Brian went out and bought stacks upon stacks of seed starting trays, a pile of organic starter soil bags, and a whole host of seeds – many of which I had never heard nor seen the likes of in all my days.
Yellow pear tomatoes, purple okra, champagne bell peppers, and the most delectable yellow cucumbers, were just a few introductions made.
He pulled out old, dusty card tables and set up camp in the basement, since he was duly cautioned against “starting seeds” in the proper living spaces of my our new nest, with large florescent lights clipped to the innards of our floor joists, lit to nurture and grow the nascent seedlings.
“What is it that makes you want to start the plants from seed?” I asked, all the while thinking to myself, “The nursery down the street is full of perfectly happy little plants already weeks ahead of these babies, ready and waiting for someone to give them a loving home in the fertile soil of their garden.”
“It’s fun to watch things grow,” Brian replied, “Isn’t it amazing that we put the tiniest little seeds in the soil, gave them light and water, and now they are already seedlings? Look at how they lean towards the light. Don’t you just love them?”
Before long, the weather was warming and the seedlings were growing impatient for a new, roomier home in the great outdoors. I still have vivid memories of standing out in our yard that first spring, virgin soil beneath my feet, shovel in hand, fighting back tears as I painstakingly tried to “turn” the dirt beneath.
“It is important to know how to grow your own food,” I could hear Brian saying.
Since that time, we have grown wiser, and now Brian rents an actual tiller each spring to help with the hard labor. He calls the garden “Laura’s garden,” but really it is his, and always has been.
Sure, I make trips to the nursery with him, pick the heirloom seeds I want, and the ten new varieties of tomatoes I am compelled to try each summer, I pick some produce, but mainly, I eat the garden – which is why Brian says it is mine.
The garden expands each year, last year covering a good 750 square feet with radishes, turnips, corn, tomatoes, eggplant, okra, oodles of hot peppers, mustard greens, lettuces, onions, potatoes, carrots, squash, green beans, bell peppers, sunflowers, all the herbs you could dream of, butter beans, kale, Swiss chard, honeydew, strawberries, watermelon, peas, broccoli, spinach, cucumbers, zucchini…even luffa.
We still have plants growing from the seedlings of that first garden – Greek oregano, sage, cayenne peppers, yellow and orange pear tomatoes.
It’s taken time and perspective to grow on me, but our garden is something I now cherish and eagerly anticipate each year as the last frost of winter gives way to warm sunny spring days. This year we were surprised with forgotten carrots, broccoli, and cabbage emerging from beneath the winter leaves. I have never tasted such sweet carrots, such tender, mild broccoli.
Brian is right, there is nothing like the taste of food from your own garden.
With so many spring vegetables coming into season, and planning to take a meal to a friend who just had a baby, I decided to make a pasta with homemade tomato sauce and spring vegetables.
The sauce is a simple saute of onion and one lone carrot in a good glug of olive oil, followed by a gentle simmer with satiny smooth textured San Marzano tomatoes. You could stop here and have yourself one beautiful homemade tomato sauce. But since it is spring, and spring’s bounty is at hand, why not add fresh artichokes, asparagus, spinach, fava beans, and young English peas, simmer another quick spell, and toss it all with a favorite pasta and gratings of fresh parmesan? It just seems like the “fitting” way to do tomato sauce this time of year, as my grandma Ruth would have said.
This sauce tastes bright from the carrot, tomatoes and vegetables, but still maintains a full bodied flavor due to the infusion of olive oil into the onions. I loved it, and I hope you do as well.
Tomato sauce with olive oil, onion, and carrot
1 28 oz. can whole Itailian Roma style, plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzanos*
1 medium onion finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
sea or kosher salt to taste
Saute onion and carrot in the olive oil till soft and onion is translucent, about 5-7 minutes. Add Tomatoes and simmer for at least 20 minutes, or until sauce is thickened to desired consistency, breaking tomatoes apart with a wooden spoon. Serve over warm pasta with freshly grated pecorino romano cheese
Pasta with spring vegetables
Adapted liberally from Williams Sonoma’s Savoring Tuscany
1 lb. pasta, preferably rigatoni*, cooked according to package directions to al dente, adding 1-2 tablespoons coarse or rock salt to boiling water, pasta water reserved
1 recipe for Tomato sauce with olive oil, onion, and carrot
1 or 2 large fresh artichokes, tough outer leaves pulled off and cut down, hair removed, and heart cut into slices (optional)*
1/2 cup of shelled English peas
1/2 cup young, tender shelled fava (broad) beans or lima beans
1 1/2 cups stemmed spinach leaves, coarsely chopped
12 asparagus spears, tough ends removed, cut into 1 inch pieces
Sea or kosher salt to taste
freshly ground Parmesan cheese
Prepare the tomato sauce according to the above recipe, adding the artichoke pieces (if using) into the simmering sauce at the same time you add the tomatoes. Begin cooking the pasta, taking care to salt the water and reserve at least half a cup of pasta water once pasta has finished cooking.
Once artichoke slices are tender (10-15 minutes), add the other vegetables and cook in the sauce another five to ten minutes, or until vegetables are cooked and tender.
Toss the sauce with the warm pasta, using small additions of the reserved pasta water to loosen the sauce and achieve desired consistency. Wait to season with salt and pepper (I prefer this sauce without pepper, as the vegetable flavors seem to stand out more this way) until finished adding desired amount of pasta water, as the water should be somewhat salty itself. Serve with the cheese sprinkled on top.
Notes: You may use any pasta for this recipe, though rigatoni or other “forkable” pasta is preferable to the spagetti you see in my pictures. I made it with rigatoni the first time, but was too rushed to take pictures, and only had spaghetti noodles in the house the second go round.
Look for Italian San Marzano tomatoes in the specialty Italian section of your grocery store. I have tried many Italian Roma tomatoes, and none break down and create a smooth, satiny sauce as well as the San Marzanos.
The fresh artichokes are nice in this dish, though they take a bit of work, so you may omit them if desired. I would not substitute canned, since canned artichokes are preserved in vinegar and would alter the entire flavor profile of the sauce. I did add some mushrooms in at the same time as the artichokes the first time around, and they were very good. Really, you could add just about any vegetables you like – or chicken (I added lemon rosemary chicken in the first batch) or shrimp, for that matter.
Tags: artichoke, garden, italian, marinara sauce, pasta, Rigatoni with spring vegetables, Savoring Tuscany, simple, tomato sauce, vegetarian, williams sonoma
Posted in Main Courses - Vegetarian | 26 Comments »
Monday, February 1st, 2010
I made these meatballs just for you. Really, I did. They are one of my go to comfort foods in the dead of winter, which we’ve been experiencing around here in Virginia this week, and I really wanted to share them with you. I discovered this recipe rather haphazardly in a Williams-Sonoma magazine a few years ago, and I dare say these are the best meatballs I’ve eaten, whether by my own hand, or at a restaurant. Now I can’t speak for the future, since I believe it is a terrible shame to ever close one’s mind to change and improvement – or in this case – new and future recipes, but what I can tell you is: these meatballs are GOOD.
They may not be neat. Or pretty. They are not fancy, or uber-organic lowfat - though you could make them quite organic, if you chose. But they are good.
I make them for company. I make them for B. I make them for me. I just make them. Sometimes I get a meatball craving and nothing else will satisfy – not bolognese, not lasagna, not marina – just meatballs. And spaghetti.
I like to make my own bread crumbs – so simple really, but not strictly necessary. If you decide to give it a whirl, all you have to do is grab some bread on hand, any bread, and give it a buzz in a food processor or mini chopper. But I started making these with regular plain store bought bread crumbs long before I picked up many of my current fancy tips and habits, and I have nothing but feelings of warm nostalgia towards those lovelies.
I haven’t told you much about my little boy, J. He is wonderful – a love story that caught me off guard and delights me each day. He loves to watch mommy cook, and chop. He wishes he could hold the knife. We got him a play kitchen for Christmas, complete with adorable petite wooden pots and pans, but he still prefers our huge and heavy stainless steel. clang. Clang. CLANG. love.
I did not eat meatballs as a child. My beloved mother, ever conscience of her family’s fat intake, was not likely to whip up weekday meals with any kind of ground beef pork mixture involved. And it was the 90s, when lowfat was the current low carb. But I am a bit less particular, as is she, these days. Now it’s about balance and moderation.
Did I mention that these are stuffed? Guess not. That’s because I only recently started doing this, even though the recipe has always called for it. I always thought, oh fuss – extra work. But once I tried it, it really is hardly any extra work at all, and it makes for quite an impressive meatball – if you decide to have company over, or just want to wow your sweetheart.
There is something so soothing about a good spaghetti and meatballs. I hope you try these, and that they warm you and those you love from the inside out.
Favorite meatballs with spaghetti
adapted from Williams-Sonoma
serves 10-12, may be reduced in increments of 1/3
1/3 cup milk
1 cup fresh bread crumbs (I have used both fresh and plain store bought bread crumbs successfully)
1 lb each ground pork, veal and beef (this is often labeled as “meatloaf mixture” at the store – I often use 2/3 beef, 1/3 pork)
1/3 cup minced fresh parsley, plus more for garnish
3 eggs, lightly beaten
3 garlic cloves, minced
1 3/4 tsp. kosher or sea salt
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1/3 lb. mozzarella, provolone, or fontina cheese cut into 1/2″ cubes (optional)
About 6 cups tomato sauce (I promise a post on a home made sauce recipe in the future, till then, I have tried and recommend this one, or use 2-3 jars of your favorite store brand)
2 lb spaghetti, cooked al dente and drained
Grated Parmigiano-Reggiano for serving
In a large bowl, combine milk and bread crumbs. Add meats, 1/3 cup parsley, eggs, garlic, salt and pepper. Mix briefly with hands. Form into 2″ balls. If using cheese, seal a cube into center of each ball. In a large skillet (biggest you have) set on medium high heat, heat 1/2″ (I use about 1/4″) oil until shimmering and almost smoking. Brown meatballs 1 minute per side (I end up doing about three turns) taking care not to crowd the meatballs in the pan. If you are making the full recipe, you will need either two pans or to do this in two rotations. Transfer to paper towel-lined tray.
Discard oil in pan. Pour tomato sauce into pan; bring to simmer over medium-high heat. Add meatballs, reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer until cooked through, 25-30 minutes (recipe says 30, but often mine are done after 20 minutes and they are best not overcooked, so slip a knife into one early and check for doneness). Uncover; cook 10 minutes more (again, I sometimes cut this back to about 5 minutes once meatballs are cooked through). Serve over pasta with cheese and extra chopped parsley.
Note: Since this makes such a large amount, I often reduce the recipe by 2/3 which ends up yielding about 8 meatballs. Other times I reduce it by 1/3 or make the full amount and freeze a portion of the meatballs after they are fried in the oil, but before simmering in the sauce. They cook and reheat beautifully right out of the freezer when placed in sauce and finished according to the recipe (increase cooking time and check for doneness).