Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Bread and Butter Pudding

I like Simon Hopkinson’s Roast Chicken and Other Stories (1994) and Second Helpings of Roast Chicken (2001) very much indeed. (See here and here.) Hopkinson penned his first Roast Chicken offering with Lindsey Bareham, a food writer with more than a few cookbooks under her belt. While Hopkinson and Bareham worked on Roast Chicken and Other Stories, they “began to reminisce about the hotel and restaurant dishes they had grown up with and always loved….” Think Chicken Kiev, Duck à l’Orange, Boeuf à la Bourguignonne, Trout with Almonds, Crêpes Suzette and Pêche Flambee. This reverie led to The Prawn Cocktail Years, a collection of winsome dishes that have fallen out of favor due to the ever-shifting sands of food trends. If you are over a certain age, you’ll recognize these dishes from a bygone era of dining. It is as you’ve picked up a vintage issue of the now defunct Gourmet Magazine.

But the thing is, these dishes can taste delicious! Yes, many an ambivalent kitchen wreaked havoc upon these foods, but that doesn’t mean the dish itself was bad in the first place. Thus, the stated purpose of The Prawn Cocktail Years: “…to redefine the Great British Meal and rescue other similarly maligned classic dishes from years of abuse, restoring them to their former status.” I dare say that when Bareham and Hopkinson wrote these words in 1997, they were ahead of the culinary curve: Deviled Eggs and Angels on Horseback are hot again.

Flipping through The Prawn Cocktail Years, I came across a number of recipes I wanted to try, including Bareham and Hopkinson’s take on Bread and Butter Pudding. Topped with orange marmalade, the dessert is easy to make and tastes outstanding. Fine ingredients will produce the best results, so go for the good stuff with this recipe.

Serves 4-6

400ml milk
1 vanilla pod
2 tbsp caster sugar
approximately 75g soft butter
125g white bread, medium sliced, crusts removed
75g sultanas
3 large eggs
freshly grated nutmeg
350g good quality marmalade
200ml whipping cream.

Pre-heat the oven to 325ºF/160ºC/gas mark 3.

Bring the milk slowly to the boil with the vanilla pod, giving it a good bashing to release the tiny seeds, and simmer gently for 5 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the sugar until it dissolves, and cover with a lid to infuse while you deal with the bread.

Butter a 1-litre shallow ovenproof dish. Spread the bread with butter, cut it in half diagonally, then into quarters. Arrange the slices in the dish and distribute the sultanas between them.

Whisk the eggs in a bowl. Remove the vanilla pod (which can be saved and re-used) and whisk in the milk and whipping cream. Pour the eggy milk over the bread, making sure that all the sultanas remain covered. Dust the surface with grated nutmeg and dot with any remaining butter. Leave the dish to stand for 20 minutes.

Heat the marmalade in a small pan until it turns liquid. Pour through a sieve to catch the peel. Using a pastry brush or spoon, smear the top of the pudding with a generous glaze of marmalade. Bake for 35-40 minutes until the custard has set and the top has billowed and turned golden with crunchy bits where the bread has poked through the custard. Allow it to settle and cool slightly. Serve the remaining strained marmalade in a jug to be spooned over each helping, along with cold, thick cream.

Note: You could, if you wish, chop the strained peel and add it to the pudding with the sultanas; alternatively the sultanas could be soaked in hot rum or whisky—or either alcohol could be added to the marmalade sauce.

Some things to consider when making this dish: If you use the sultanas (or chopped, thick-cut orange peel), do make sure that they are well tucked in and buried between the slices of bread. Otherwise you risk a dish topped with burnt and bitter bits of fruit.

If your marmalade is chock-full of heavy, thick-cut peel, you will want to liquefy more than 350 grams; you want enough liquid jam to coat the soaked bread. And speaking of bread, cut the crust off before weighting out 125 grams.

Sunday, June 22, 2014


This is the last post in my recent series on comfort food recipes. I wrote this series to memorialize, share and celebrate a handful of worthy recipes from family and friends. The first post features a simple American chicken braise (here); the second explores an Italian spinach gnocco (here). Today’s recipe makes an Armenian fermented cabbage, wheat berry and beef stew called tutoo (sometimes spelled tutu and tatoo). The recipe comes from my paternal grandmother who was the only member of my family that made this dish because, I’m guessing, the fermentation process scared away anyone else in my family interested in making it. In truth, once you get comfortable with fermenting the cabbage, the recipe is a snap. Hopefully, this post demystifies the process and encourages you to make this unique and comforting Armenian stew.

Tutoo means sour in Armenian, and the stew can live up to its name. The dish includes both fermented cabbage and the brine used to pickle the cabbage. Most Armenian cookbooks and on-line recipes call for a 10-day fermentation period. This duration might be perfectly fine depending upon one’s taste, but my family likes its tutoo really sour. My dad will sometimes squeeze lemon juice into his stew if it doesn’t meet his sour threshold. To keep the lemons at bay, I let the cabbage ferment for around 21 days.

My grandmother made her tutoo without a written recipe. My grandfather adored the stew, so she knew the recipe by heart.  In order to learn how to make it, I filmed my grandmother while she prepared the cabbage to ferment and again when she cooked the stew. During the filming, she patiently waited as I measured out all the ingredients. Since that time—over 20 years past as I write this post—I have converted the amounts of the brining ingredients from volumes to metric weights, which I think produces more consistent results.

For the Fermented Cabbage

90 grams sea salt
3 kilograms water
45 grams hard red wheat berries
5 grams sugar
55 grams champagne vinegar
3 heads small-sized cabbage, cored and cut into 1/8-inch wedges

1) In a large pot, add the salt and water and bring to a boil. Cool the brine to 120ºF.

2) While the brine cools, rinse the wheat berries and put them into a wide-mouth 1-gallon glass jar. Add the sugar and vinegar. Tightly pack the cabbage wedges into the jar. As you work your way to the top of the jar you may need to cut the wedges into smaller pieces. Don’t worry if you cannot fit all three heads of cabbage into the jar; tightly pack in as much of the cabbage as possible.

 3) Pour the brine into the jar to cover the cabbage. Insert a small plate or bowl into the jar’s mouth to help keep the cabbage submerged in the brine. Loosely cap the jar. Retain 1 cup of brine to add to the jar during fermentation to keep the cabbage covered with liquid.

4) Place the jar on a plate (in case your fermentation bubbles over) and store out of direct sunlight in your kitchen.  Ferment the cabbage for 21 days (or to taste) at room temperature. Check on the cabbage every day or so to make sure it is submerged in brine. Use the retained brine to top off the jar as necessary.

For the Stew

2 pounds bone-in beef short ribs, each rib cut into 3-inch pieces
beef bone(s) [optional]
½ cup hard red wheat berries
2 medium onions, halved and sliced
fermented cabbage, cut into 2-inch pieces
8 ounces tomato sauce
1 tablespoon dried sweet basil
⅛ teaspoon cayenne pepper

1) Remove any excess fat from the beef ribs. Place the ribs (and beef bone(s), if using) in a heavy enameled 7-quart pot. Strain the brine from the fermented cabbage into the pot. Rinse and add the ½ cup wheat berries to the pot. (Do not use the spent berries from the fermentation jar; throw these berries out). Bring the pot to a boil, reduce to a gentle simmer and cook for 1 hour. Skim off any impurities.

2) After 1 hour, remove the beef bone(s), if using. Add the sliced onions, fermented cabbage, tomato sauce, dried sweet basil and cayenne pepper. Bring pot back to a gentle simmer, cover and cook for approximately 2 hours until the beef becomes tender.

I imagine that everyone has a food that, upon taking in its smell or the first bite, magically transports one back to childhood. So it is for me with this dish. When I smell it cooking, it is like when the food critic Anton Ego in Pixar’s Ratatouille first samples Remy’s version of the film’s titular dish. I am back at my grandmother’s table, surrounded with family, sharing a special meal that, yes, takes weeks to make, but tastes so delicious and comforting. Its rarity made it all the more special. How can I let such a glorious food fade away with time and the passing of a generation of Armenian grandmothers? I cannot, so I happily share this family recipe.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Strangolapreti alla Trentina

This post is the second installment in a short series on comfort food recipes. In my first post, I shared a recipe for Vermouth-braised Chicken (here) from my wife's maternal grandmother who lived in Nashota, Wisconsin. Now we travel to Italy’s Trentino-Alto Adige region to cook Strangolapreti alla Trentina. The recipe for this delicious spinach and ricotta gnocchi comes from the Satori family, who live in the village of Levico Terme. Michele Satori, the newly elected mayor of Levico, graciously agreed to transcribe and translate his mother’s dumpling recipe into English. I want to extend a heartfelt grazie mille to Michele and his mother, Michelina, for sharing their wonderful family recipe and showing us how to make Strangolapreti alla Trentina.

Ingredients yield 4 to 5 servings

For the gnocchi:

1 kilogram of spinach
3 eggs
150 grams of ricotta cheese
approximately 100 to 150 grams of tipo 00 flour
freshly grated Parmesan cheese
nutmeg, salt and pepper

For the sauce:


Boil the spinach in a large pot filled with lightly salted water, then strain and press the spinach to eliminate any water. Finely mince the spinach and place in a large bowl.

Now add the eggs, some nutmeg powder, the ricotta cheese, 100 grams of flour, some spoons of grated Parmesan, salt and pepper into the spinach. Mix it all well.

Now, with a spoon, build a gnocco about the size of a nut, and put it in the boiling water in which you cooked the spinach. See if the gnocco holds together or if it melts in the water. If the dumpling dissolves, add some more flour to the green mixture.

When the spinach mixture is at the correct consistency, start to make the gnocchi one at a time and put them into the boiling water. When they come to surface—it should take about 4 to 5 minutes—they are ready. Now strain them and lay them in a casserole dish.

Meanwhile you have prepared the brown butter with sage (that is, a good piece of butter, melted and cooked to become a little brown with some sage leaves). Pour the melted butter over the gnocchi, sprinkle Parmesan cheese over them and BUON APPETITO !!!

These photographs show Nonna Michelina making Strangolapreti alla Trentina.

A few notes. The recipe calls for 1 kilogram of spinach, which is an untrimmed weight (i.e., the spinach’s weight with stems). Stem and clean the spinach before adding it to the boiling water. Nonna Michelina minces the cooked spinach by hand. I tried this method, but I couldn’t duplicate her fine knife skills. I default to using a food processor to purée the spinach.

If you live in the US, use large eggs; you want to find eggs that weigh about 60 grams each in shell.

The amount of flour that you need to add to the spinach mixture depends upon a number of factors (e.g., the amount of / moisture in the spinach, the size of the eggs, and moisture of the ricotta). Start with 100 grams of flour and adjust as necessary.

And speaking of ricotta, you will note from Michele’s photographs that the Italian ricotta that Nonna Michelina uses looks drier than most of the ricotta available here in the US. To address this difference, I use a fine sieve to drain the 150 grams of ricotta in the refrigerator overnight.