Monday, December 26, 2011

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Cream of Celery Soup

I’ve gone too long without writing about soup. Two of my favorite soup recipes—one for Asparagus and the other for Cream of Celery—come from Simon Hopkinson, a British chef and author of Roast Chicken and Other Stories [1994] and Second Helpings of Roast Chicken [2001]. Hopkinson gained international attention when a British food magazine, Waitrose Food Illustrated, voted Hopkinson’s Roast Chicken and Other Stories “The Most Useful Cookbook of All Time.”

Hyperbole aside, both Roast Chicken and Other Stories and Second Helpings of Roast Chicken warrant praise; they are outstanding cookbooks. Hopkinson organizes the books alphabetically by ingredients. Roast Chicken starts out with recipes for Anchovy, Asparagus, Aubergine and Brains; it ends with Sweetbreads, Tomatoes, Tripe and Veal. Each section and its recipes get brief introductions, which are typically more personal than technical. Hopkinson shares his own recipes and those culled from various sources such as favorite cookbooks and magazine clippings. Both Roast Chicken and Second Helpings are a magpie’s collection of treasures: in Second Helpings under Butter and Drippings he shares a recipe Roast Potatoes in Beef Dripping followed by a wonderful recipe for Arnhem Biscuits (or Arnhemse Meisjes) from Roald Dahl’s Cookbook. Hopkinson’s recipe selection exemplifies his outstanding taste.

But back to the soup. Because my local asparagus season remains months away, let’s instead focus on Hopkinson’s Cream of Celery Soup. How good is Hopkinson’s version? I bought Second Helpings of Roast Chicken just for this recipe. Hopkinson begins his section on Celery: “I am of the humble opinion that celery makes one of the finest cream soups of all.” He aimed to make “the smoothest, creamiest and most savoury bowlful in [England].” He says that he did; after tasting Hopkinson’s version I think there is a very good chance you will agree. His recipe serves 5 to 6.
  • 50 g butter
  • 350 g celery, cleaned and chopped
  • 2 small onions, peeled and chopped
  • ½ tsp celery salt
  • 1 large potato, peeled and chopped
  • 1 litre good chicken stock
  • 150 ml whipping cream
  • Freshly ground white pepper

Melt the butter in a roomy pan and gently cook the celery and onions in it for 20 minutes or so until soft but not coloured. Add the celery salt. Put in the potato and add the stock. Bring to the boil, check the seasoning to see if any further salt (plain) is needed, skim off any scum and simmer for 30-40 minutes. Now liquidize the mixture well, for at least a minute or so for each couple of ladles, as this will accentuate the eventual creamed quality of the soup. Finally, push through a fine sieve into a clean pan, stir in the cream and pepper and gently reheat without boiling. Serve with tiny, buttery croutons.

As previously advised in my Soupe à la Citrouille post, please exercise due care when blending hot liquids. Heston Blumenthal presents sound counsel in his new Heston Blumenthal at home [2011]. He describes how to liquefy soup as follows: “The contents of the pan need to be transferred to the jug of the blender while still warm, as they’ll liquidize more efficiently like that. That said, no matter how eager you are to get the soup done, resist the urge to pour it into a blender while it’s still piping hot. If you put a hot liquid in the jug and close the lid, the heat can cause the air pressure to build to such an extent that, when you hit the switch, the soup forces its way out. So let it cool for a few minutes, then fill the jug no more than two-thirds full. Put on the lid but remove the small inner section, hold a folded tea-towel over the top, then press the button. Leave it for long enough that the contents are fully and evenly liquidized.”

(I’ll admit here that I’ve never much liked blending hot soup in a canister blender; when I use them I rarely fill the jar more than a third full.  When I can get by I do most of my liquefying with a hand-held emersion blender.)

If you are looking for a comforting, rich and satisfying addition to your holiday table, Hopkinson’s Cream of Celery Soup fills the bill. I hope you enjoy this soup in good health. I wish you every happiness at Christmas and good fortune in the New Year.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Pasta Dough

I often experiment with different pasta dough recipes. When making a new dough I take quick notes that I first scribble out on a piece of paper and then enter into a journal. I record both successes and failures (the later being particularly important to avoid repeating mistakes). I keep track of:
  • The type, brand and weight of flour
  • When making an egg pasta, the amount and size of eggs and/or egg yolks
  • The type and amount of any added liquid and/or fat
  • How long I knead the dough and how much the finished dough weighs (to gauge serving portions for future reference)
  • How long the dough rests and whether it rests at room temperature or in the refrigerator
  • If rolled, the final setting that I run the dough through on my pasta machine.

When I take my scribbles and make a journal entry I add some quick notes on what worked and what I might try different in the future. Sometimes I add a drawing (or if a shape is particularly complicated, my youngest daughter takes over the drawing).

Why do I go through this process? It helps me to achieve greater consistency when I make pasta. The notes also provide reference points to consider when I want to try something new.

Over the last few months I find myself coming back to the following pasta dough recipe. It makes a firm dough; the pasta has a great bite. I cut the sheets by hand with a pastry wheel. If asked to classify the shape, I’d call it pappardelle. The recipe serves three as a main course and four as a starter.
  • 100 grams Giusto’s all-purpose flour
  • 100 grams Giusto’s Extra Fancy Durum
  • 5 medium egg yolks
  • 1 medium egg
  • Salt

When I make pasta with this dough I follow the steps described in my post on pappardelle with these changes: (1) mix the all-purpose and durum flour together before sifting the flour; (2) knead the dough for 15 minutes; (3) let the dough rest 1½ hours in the refrigerator; and (4) after rolling the dough out to the desired thickness (I like this pasta on the thicker side), cut the sheet with a knife or pastry wheel into pieces that are approximately 1-inch wide and 8-inches long.

Expect the dough to start out on the dry side. I often have to add the smallest amount of water—a single spritz from a water bottle—to incorporate all of the flour in my mixing bowl. The dough should weigh about 345 grams after kneading.

The pasta from this recipe can take a range of sauces. It tasted delicious both with a tomato sauce with sausage and with a (quasi-vegetarian) artichoke sauce.

Leading photo: Porcelain Cup by Ayumi Horie / Ayumi Horie Pottery

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Best Cookbooks of 2011

As this year comes to a close, it’s time to offer up my list of the five best cookbooks published in 2011. Frankly, complying this list was pretty easy—as cookbooks go, 2011 offered a lot to like. The only difficulty I had was deciding whether to include new editions of previously published works. I decided to leave these books out (with no slight intended to Paula Wolfert’s The Food of Morocco and Carol Field’s The Italian Baker). So I present, in alphabetical order, the five best cookbooks of 2011.

The Art of Eating Cookbook: Essential Recipes From the First 25 Years by Edward Behr. University of California Press.

Bocca Cookbook by Jacob Kenedy. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Heston Blumenthal at home by Heston Blumenthal. Bloomsbury Publishing.

Mission Street Food – Recipes and Ideas from an Improbable Restaurant by Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz. McSweeney’s Publishing.

The Mozza Cookbook by Nancy Silverton with Matt Molina and Carolynn Carreño. Alfred A. Knopf.

Why these titles?

I have subscribed to Edward Behr’s The Art of Eating, for almost its entire run. (My collection begins with Issue No. 2.) His cookbook features some of the best recipes from his excellent journal. These recipes speak to his interest in traditional food whether Italian, French, North African or American. Behr includes recipes for Caponata (Sweet-and-Sour Eggplant); Fomage de Tête (Headcheese); Asparagus Soup; Zucchini Pudding; Gâteaux de Foies de Volaille (Chicken Liver “Cakes”); and Stewed Rhubarb with Honey. The Art of Eating Cookbook is an outstanding collection of classic, time-tested dishes often overlooked in mainstream cookbooks.

Jacob Kenedy’s Bocca Cookbook captures what I love about Italian cooking: traditional, simple, ingredient-driven dishes. Although he “confesses” that the recipes in Bocca may not be completely authentic, I’m hard pressed to find any offering that doesn’t ring true. Kenedy’s pasta section shines. (This should be no surprise; he co-authored the outstanding The Geometry of Pasta.) I particularly like his lucid explanation on how to make fresh orecchiette. (Check back in 2012 for more on Kenedy’s technique.)

Heston Blumenthal’s latest cookbook further evidences his well-deserved stature as one of the top chefs and teachers of our age. Heston Blumenthal at home fits neatly between his Family Food, which features comforting home fare, and The Fat Duck Cookbook, which covers the magnificently creative and complex food served at his Michelin three star restaurant. Heston Blumenthal at home presents recipes to create sophisticated yet comforting dishes. My favorites include his Prawn Cocktail; Onion Soup; Lamb Steaks with Tapenade; and Strawberry Sundae (also with a tapenade, in this case a sweet one containing black olives and Laphroaig whiskey). And speaking of whiskey, don’t miss his Whiskey Sour recipe. Heston Blumenthal at home is destined to become a classic.

Mission Street Food probably ranks as the most enjoyable, fun yet instructive 2011 offering. Instead of repeating my praise, you can read more about Anthony Myint’s and Karen Leibowitz’s wonderful book here.

Last, and by no means least, is Silverton, Molina and Carreño’s The Mozza Cookbook. This work shares a lot of the qualities that make Kenedy’s Bocca Cookbook so appealing: fresh, direct and exciting Italian food. In its Primi section Matt Molina shares essential pasta making tips that he has acquired over time. These tips along with the book’s pasta dough recipes make The Mozza Cookbook a valuable resource for anyone interested in learning more about creating fresh pasta at home.

Let’s hope that 2012 offers as many quality cookbooks as 2011. If you decide to add any of the above books to your collection, consider buying your copy from a friendly, independent bookseller such as Omnivore Books on Food in San Francisco on Cesar Chavez Street at Church.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Masala Chai

Please welcome this site’s second guest Bunburyist. She is a scholar, world traveler and great humanitarian.

Namaste, fellow Bunburyists! I am recently returned from India, where I spent ten weeks dodging rickshaws, haggling with street vendors, and eating my way through an unimaginably rich and flavorful national menu! While traveling, food was an important way for me to connect with Indian culture, and as it has the added advantage of being incredibly delicious, I spent a good amount of my time in and about the Indian kitchen. I should add that when one is in India, exploring the food doesn’t take much effort. Rather, it kind of comes at you with incessant zeal: grilled masala corn hawked aggressively from the street corner; ripe mangos and coconuts raining down from laden trees; and sari-d Aunties pressing more and more chapattis and curries on you from their kitchens, deaf to your mild protests and blind to your bulging stomach. The Indians love their food, but what they love even more is to give it away.

And perhaps nothing is more inescapable in India than masala chai. During my first 24 hours in India, I had chai (to my best estimation) four times. It is, quite simply, everywhere. One sees chai cooked on the corner of every street, where it’s prepared in huge pots by men called chai wallahs (literally, tea guys), who ladle out small glasses of it to crowds of thirsty Indians for 3-5 rupees a glass (about $0.10). It’s also hawked by men carrying tin thermoses of it onto trains, around bus stations, and from stand to stand of vegetable and fruit vendors. For its omnipresence in the Indian lifestyle, and for the enthusiasm with which the Indians take their tea, I had assumed that chai had always been a part of that ancient Indian culture. So I was surprised to find in my recent Internet perusing that chai is, rather, a comparative newcomer to the subcontinent.

In fact, though tea plants have grown wild in India for millennia, their use in ancient times was purely medicinal; tea wasn’t widely farmed until the British East India Company took over production in the 19th century. By 1900, fifty percent of Britain’s substantial national tea intake (one pound, per person, per year) was provided by India. The colony was certainly doing its part to keep England well watered. However, tea consumption within India remained low until the early 20th century when an aggressive promotional campaign launched by the British-based Indian Tea Association introduced the Indian worker to chai. The official promotional tea served by the Tea Association was made in the British style, with milk and sugar, a quirk in the recipe that has survived the days of colonialism and now exists as the Indian tea-drinking standard.

When my Dear Uncle wrote to me asking if I might bring back a recipe for real Indian chai, I was thrilled. First, because I was excited to have a reason and a motivation to discover an authentic  recipe, so I wouldn’t have to give up chai when I got home; secondly, because I loved the thought that I could share such a central part of Indian culture with my many fellow Bunburyists; and thirdly, because chai is wonderfully simple to make, a characteristic that, if it were possible, endears the drink to me even more.

I would like to add that there are as many chai recipes as there are Indian cooks; every family has their own variation, and you should feel free to adjust the recipe below to make it your own. This particular recipe and the cooking lesson that accompanied it were the generous gifts of Ranjana, the wonderful Indian Auntie who graciously took me in during my stay in Mumbai and gave me my enduring love of Indian food.

To make two cups of chai, use the ingredients below:

4 cardamom pods
2 inches of cinnamon stick
½ tablespoon fresh gingerroot, chopped (optional)
Whole peppercorns to taste (optional)
2 cups water
2 tablespoons tea powder
2 cups whole milk
Sugar to taste

Begin by grinding the cardamom and cinnamon (along with the ginger and/or black pepper if you choose to use them) with a mortar and pestle. No need to reduce the ingredients to a powder; just crush them enough to help the spices to infuse the tea water.

Bring the water to a boil. Add the crushed spices to the water, along with the tea powder. Reduce the heat and simmer for at least five minutes.

Add the milk and bring the tea back to a boil. Reduce the heat and allow the milk to simmer and cook down for at least five minutes. You should be able to see a milk skin on the top of the tea.

Serve immediately, pouring the tea into cups or a teapot through a strainer to catch the spent tea and spices. Add sugar to taste. (The chai I had in India was typically quite sweet.)

Chai is traditionally served in small cups (about ¼ cup per serving). This recipe allows for much larger servings, as I’ve found that I’m rarely satisfied with so little chai.

Leading photo: Porcelain cup by Robert Brady / Trax Gallery, Berkeley California

Friday, November 25, 2011


In a prior post I shared a recipe for Meini o Pani de Mei (here) from Carol Field’s The Italian Baker [1985]. Field writes that these cornmeal buns are a specialty of Italy’s Lombardy region. To celebrate the recent publication of a revised version of The Italian Baker, let’s explore another corn-based offering from Field’s excellent work: a delicious, buttery cornmeal biscotti from the Piedmont called Crumiri.

Field describes Crumiri as “delicate, crumbly horseshoe-shaped cookies”. The origin of Crumiri (sometimes called Crumiri di Casale or Krumiri ) dates back to the late 1800’s when a baker named Domenico Rossi invented the cookie after a night of social drinking in the town of Casale Monferrato in the Piedmont’s Alessandria province. What inspired Signore Rossi on that eventful evening in 1870? The cookie’s own name suggests inspiration came in the form of a then popular liqueur called Krumiro.

Crumiri generally come shaped as the horseshoe described by Field or as a gentle arc that purposely resembles the remarkable mustache of Vittorio Emanuele II. Cookie lore has it that in 1878 Rossi reshaped his Krumiri into a mustachioed form to recall the whiskers of the recently deceased king. Did this new shape do justice to the exemplar? You be the judge.

Being partial to butter and corn in almost any combination, I would like Crumiri even without its colorful history. I have a number of recipes for this biscotti; Field’s version tastes more refined than most with just the right amount of cornmeal. The recipe’s parenthetical comments belong to Field.

  • 1½ sticks plus 2 tablespoons (200 grams) unsalted butter, room temperature
  • ¾ cup (150 grams) sugar
  • 2 eggs, room temperature
  • 1¾ cups (240 grams) all-purpose flour
  • Pinch salt
  • 2/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon (120 grams) fine yellow cornmeal

Cream the butter and sugar in a mixer bowl until very light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating thoroughly after each addition. Shift the flour, salt and cornmeal together and sift again over the batter; mix well.

Shaping. You can shape these cookies either with a pastry bag or by hand (I think the latter is easier). If using a pastry bag, spoon the dough into the bag fitted with a 3/8-inch star-shaped tip (the traditional cookies are ribbed.) Pipe 4-inch-long logs, ½ inch thick, about 2 inches apart on buttered and floured or parchment-lined baking sheets. Or, roll pieces of the dough, each about the size of a walnut, into long thin logs of the same dimensions. Place 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheets. Bend each piped or rolled log into a horseshoe.

Baking.  Heat the oven to 325º F. Bake until lightly golden, about 12 minutes. Cool on racks.

Field’s recipe makes two dozen cookies. I think the ridges distinguish these biscotti, so I use a pastry bag and star-shaped tip when making them. If you decide to pipe the dough, be sure to cream the butter, sugar and eggs thoroughly; otherwise the cookies will spread and flatten out during baking and you will lose the Crumiri’s traditional ridges. One approach: using a paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar in a mixer set on medium-high speed for about 3 minutes.  After reducing the speed to low to add the eggs, increase the mixer’s speed to medium-high and cream for 8 minutes. Quickly mix in the dry ingredients and you are ready to bake.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Cavatelli Revisited

In a previous post I shared a recipe for making cavatelli with a hand-cranked pasta machine called a BeeBo. This recipe used a dough made with durum flour, eggs, oil and salt. Oretta Zanini De Vita writes in her Encyclopedia of Pasta [2009] that this particular dough is used to make pincinelle, a regional version of cavatelli found around Pesaro in the Marche.

(A quick aside. The inhabitants of Colonna in the province of Rome also make a fresh pasta called pincinelle. But do not worry about confusing Colonna’s version with Pesaro’s—they look nothing alike. Colonna’s pincinelle resembles a fresh bucatini (i.e., long, thin, and hollow) while Pesaro’s pincinelle looks like a little rolled gnocchi.)

Although the cavatelli made with eggs and oil in the Marche is authentic, it does not represent cavatelli’s standard which is made with only durum flour and water. If you want to try a traditional cavatelli and, at the same time, expand your cavatelli maker’s repertoire, I offer the following recipe for a flour and water dough.
1) Weigh out the flour and sift it into a large mixing bowl.

2) Make a well in the flour. Add just enough cold water into the flour with a fork until a crumbly dough forms.

3) Clean the dough off of your fork and add this dough to the bowl.

4) Holding the bowl with one hand, reach into the bowl with your other hand and continue to mix the dough by hand. In small increments, add as much of the cold water as needed to incorporate all of the flour in the bowl into a rough dough that holds together.

5) Turn your dough onto a clean work surface. Wash your hands to remove any dough before kneading.

6) If necessary, lightly dust your work surface. Knead the dough until smooth; this can take a full 10 minutes or more.

7) Lightly flour the dough and wrap it in plastic. Let the dough rest on the counter for 20 minutes.

8) Unwrap the dough and lightly dust it with flour. With a rolling pin, roll the dough out to a 3/8-inch thickness. As best you can, square off the sides of the dough sheet to form a square. Cut the dough lengthwise into 1/2-inch to 3/4-inch wide strips.

9) Attach your cavatelli machine to a sturdy work surface. Feed the dough strips into the machine by cranking the machine’s handle. Cavatelli will fall out of the machine’s round head onto your work surface. Lightly dust the cavatelli with flour to prevent them from sticking together and spread them out on a floured board. After feeding through all of the dough, you should have approximately 1 pound of cavatelli.

Cook these cavatelli in the same way as was you would the Marche version. Heat a large pot full of salty water to a boil. Add the cavatelli. After you add the pasta, the boil may slow or disappear. Mix the pasta in the water to help prevent the pasta from sticking together. After the water has returned to a full boil for approximately 3 minutes, start testing the cavatelli. The pasta is ready when it loses its raw taste. It should be chewy but not gummy. Drain the pasta into a colander and shake the colander to remove excess water. Add the cavatelli into your ready sauce and cook the two together for a minute or so.

The BeeBo makes short work of creating fresh pasta. Of the handmade pasta makers that I currently own (a torchio da bigoli, an Imperia 220 Manual and a BeeBo), the BeeBo processes a pound of dough into a ready-to-use shape in the least amount of time. (The torchio comes in a close second depending upon the die used.)

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Braised Sausage

New cookbooks on home cooking by Ferran Adrià and Heston Blumenthal will soon hit bookstore shelves in the United States. These offerings promise to rank as the most exciting cookbooks of the year. However, I predict that these books from the internationally renowned chefs of elBulli and The Fat Duck will get a run for their money from an outstanding new cookbook by a former Bar Tartine line cook and a UC Berkeley doctoral student. Together, for only four Thursday nights, Anthony Myint and Karen Leibowitz operated a pop-up food stand out of a rented Guatemalan snack cart on San Francisco’s Mission Street. Mission Street Food [2011] chronicles this experience and its happy aftermath. Wonderfully heartfelt and idiosyncratic, Mission Street Food easily makes my shortlist of the best cookbooks of 2011. Do yourself a favor and buy this book.

Mission Street Food does not lend itself to easy categorization. It bills itself as “Recipes and Ideas from an Improbable Restaurant”, but it is much more than that. Myint and Leibowitz tell the story of how a brief street food/fine dining experiment served as the catalyst for a series of successful, unique and exciting San Francisco restaurants. The book contains three main sections: The Taco Truck, The Restaurant, and The Food. Each section employs a range of styles: traditional prose, two-person dialog and comic book/graphic novel illustrations. The book’s quirky design reflects the playful quality of Myint’s delicious food and the married couple’s restaurant projects. In the section titled “The Food”—the book’s longest—Myint and Leibowitz share the recipes and cooking techniques that underpin their book.

Why do I like Mission Street Food so much? The book both delights and educates. (I particularly enjoyed reading Myint's expert advice on how to portion a rib roast and salt, temper and cook the meat.) Mission Street Food perfectly captures the current zeitgeist among a creative community of young, talented and generous San Francisco cooks. I applaud Myint and Leibowitz for building a philanthropic component into each of their projects. (Slow Food USA gets a portion of the proceeds from the book’s sales.) At the cookbook’s outset the couple present a tongue-in-cheek business plan for Mission Street Food. Under the heading “Unprofitable Agenda” they write: “If The Restaurant earns any profit, The Management will distribute it to unrelated nonprofit organizations.”

But in the end, what is the test of a good book, cookbook or otherwise? For me, reading it brings me insight and joy. After arriving home with my copy of Mission Street Food I spent the next couple of hours reading it through cover-to-cover. I cannot remember the last time I’ve done that with a standard-issue cookbook.

The first recipe that I tried from the book remains my favorite, a simple recipe for Braised Sausage. Myint writes: “Braised sausage is a luxurious and uncomplicated dish, but is surprisingly uncommon on the West Coast.” A perfect dish for an informal gathering, you can even set it up in a slow cooker. Here’s Myint’s recipe (and asides) from Mission Street Food.

  • 8 uncooked sausages of any kind (I prefer a neutral variety, like Bratwurst)
  • 3 onions, sliced thin
  • 1 cup stock, cider, or water
  • 1 bottle of beer
  • 2 cups sauerkraut, drained over a colander (optional)

1. Brown the sausage in a pan with some animal fat or oil.

2. Place the browned sausage in a deep ovenproof pan or in a slow-cooker pot.

3. Brown the onions briefly, then add them to the pan with the browned sausages.

4. Optional: heat sauerkraut in a pan, and add on top of the onions and sausages.

5. Add a combination of stock/wine/cider/water/beer to just cover the contents.

6. Cover with a layer of parchment and two layers of foil.

7. Braise at 300°F for a few hours, until the sausage is extremely soft.

And how good are these sausages? They taste rich and satisfying. I served them to my father-in-law who grew up on the shores of Lake LaBelle in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. He knows a thing or two about bratwurst and these braised sausage suitably impressed him.

I suggest adding the sauerkraut; I wouldn’t make it any other way. I used beer as my liquid and braised the sausages for 3 hours.

Normally I buy my bratwurst from Usinger’s in Milwaukee; they are the best I’ve tasted in the United States. However, for this recipe I tried a locally made bratwurst from Taylor’s Sausage in Oakland, California; they tasted delicious. If you plan to go to Taylor’s, call ahead because bratwurst is not a regular offering in their meat case. If available, buy them and also pick up a few of Taylor’s boudin blanc sausages for another meal. You won’t be disappointed.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tomatoes Stuffed with Rice

Worldwide shipping and high-tech storage technology permit a yearlong availability of formerly seasonal fruits and vegetables. Even so, certain dishes demand a flavor that only produce that is truly in season provides. Otherwise, you risk a bland imitation of a flavorful dish. We all have a list of favorite seasonal fare. My summer collection includes a deceptively humble offering: tomatoes stuffed with rice.
Tomatoes came late this year in my corner of the US, so it is not too late to share one of my favorite summer dishes. If you tend a garden, you might already have ripe tomatoes and fresh basil and parsley at hand. (If gardenless, visit your farmer’s market or any good market for local produce.) A well-stocked pantry often holds the dish’s other ingredients (Italian risotto rice, garlic, olive oil, salt and pepper). These common ingredients come together with great produce to create something both simple and sublime.
Countless variations of stuffed tomatoes exist in Spanish, French, Italian and other Mediterranean cooking traditions. I clipped the following Italian version from Saveur over ten years ago and it continues to impress me.
  • 8 firm, ripe medium tomatoes
  • ½ cup Italian risotto rice (preferably Vialone Nano)
  • 2 tbsp. finely chopped parsley
  • 2 tbsp. finely chopped basil
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
  • ½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Position oven rack in top third of oven, then preheat oven to 400° F. Pull stems off tomato tops, then trim about ¾” from bottom of each one and set aside. Working over a medium bowl, use a small spoon to carefully scoop out inner pulp without puncturing the walls of the tomatoes. Arrange scooped-out tomatoes in a medium baking dish, and set aside.
2. Pass tomato pulp through a food mill or pulse in the bowl of a food processor to a chunky purée, then transfer back into bowl. Add rice, parsley, basil, garlic, and oil; liberally season with salt and pepper. Mix well. Spoon filing into prepared tomatoes (there may be a little filling left over), and place a reserved tomato end on top of each stuffed tomato. Drizzle a little oil over tomatoes, and bake until rice is swollen and tender and tomatoes are soft and well browned, about 50 minutes. Remove from oven and set aside to cool to room temperature.

Ayumi Horie

A few notes and thoughts. Do not forgo this dish if you do not have or cannot find Vialone Nano rice—Arborio or Carnaroli rice will also work. Why use Vialone Nano? It cooks more quickly than most risotto rice and retains its characteristically round, short shape.

I must admit that I can take or leave the garlic here. I often leave it out and substitute a shallot or a bit of red onion.

I fill the uncooked tomatoes with the rice mixture until each is about three-quarters full; I then skim liquid from the rice mixture to top off each tomato. This extra liquid helps the rice to properly cook.

This dish, although simple and comforting, can hold its own at either a family meal or a more considered party. Serving these baked tomatoes at room temperature makes this a particularly convenient dish when entertaining. After preparing, let them rest on the counter until serving. This allows you to spend more time with family, guests and those with whom you choose to Bunbury.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Hussar's Love

Cookies filled or topped with jam can be simple, like a classic thumbprint cookie, or complicated, like a layered, chocolate-glazed Austrian Ischler Törtchen. Wherever they fall on the spectrum, jam cookies are my first choice whether on a cookie plate or in a bakery case. So I was delighted to find that Jim Dodge shares a recipe for a simple yet elegant jam cookie called a Hussar’s Love in The American Baker [1987].

Dodge wrote The American Baker with Elaine Ratner when he served as the pastry chef at San Francisco’s elegant Stanford Court Hotel. His cookbook, which received a James Beard Award, is outstanding. It is precise without being dull and aloof. It presents a broad range of desserts that, to my tastes, are very appealing: a Strawberry Goat Cheese Tart; a Coconut Cream Pie; a Blackberry Cake; and cream Eclairs. In her introduction to Dodge’s cookbook, the pastry chef and cookbook author Maida Heatter writes: “[t]he first word to describe [Dodge’s] desserts is simple: pure and clean in design, and natural and undiluted in taste.”

My copy of The American Baker is full of notes proclaiming that a short dough recipe is my family’s favorite for pies, or that a butter cookie recipe is among one of the best around. I particularly like Dodge’s approach to cookies: they “should be small, perhaps an inch across, so that as you pick up each one you can’t help but look at it and pause in conversation to see how it tastes.” Dodge continues: “I almost never serve just one kind of cookie. I arrange four or five different kinds in neat rows on a small, round, silver pedestal tray and invite guests to pick and choose.”

If invited to help assemble such a tray, I most certainly would include Dodge’s Hussar’s Love: a petite, toasted hazelnut cookie dusted with sugar and topped with a dot of raspberry jam. This tender, buttery cookie is simply delicious.

½ cup toasted hazelnuts (filberts)
7 tablespoons unsalted butter (room temperature)
3 tablespoons sugar
1 ¼ cups cake flour
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
½ cup seedless red raspberry jam

Finely grind the nuts. Cut the butter into pieces. Place the filberts, butter, sugar, and flour in the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the paddle attachment, mix at medium speed until combined and then at medium-high until the dough comes together. Remove the dough from the mixer and divide it into 4 equal parts. Roll each part with your hands into a cylinder 8 inches long and ¾ inch in diameter. Put the cylinders on a tray and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 325°F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment.

Cut the cylinders into ¼-inch-thick slices. Place the slices on the cookie sheets and bake until golden brown, 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and immediately slide the parchment onto a counter or table. Cool to room temperature.

When cool, place the cookies very close together on one sheet. Put the powdered sugar in a shaker or a fine sieve; shake a thin coating of sugar over the cookies. Heat the jam gently until liquid. Pass it through a fine sieve, then spoon it into a parchment cone with a ¼-inch opening cut in the tip. Top each cookie with a dot of jam. Makes 90 cookies.

A few notes and thoughts: I add 1 of the 3 tablespoons of sugar into a food processor when grinding the nuts. This helps prevent the nuts from turning into butter. Cake flour contains less gluten giving these cookies their tender, crumbly texture. This recipe is great for small gatherings, whether your party is simple or more formal.

sandra trujillo ceramics

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Liquore latte di vecchia

This is the last post in a short series on homemade Italian liqueurs. Using Maria Pignatelli Ferrante’s Puglia - A Culinary Memoir [2008] as a springboard, we began with a recipe for Rosolio di limone, a bright-tasting, aromatic lemon liqueur. We next explored Nocino, a dark, complex liqueur made with green walnuts picked on 24 June, the Feast Day of St. John the Baptist. The last liqueur in this series is Liquore latte di vecchia or Old Lady’s Milk Liqueur. This curious yet worthwhile cordial is made with fresh milk, citrus, sugar and grain alcohol.

In the United States Liquore latte di vecchia is as obscure as lemon liqueurs are popular. I found two recipes in regional cookbooks from Italy (both recently published in the US by Oronzo Editions): Ferrante’s Puglia and Giuseppe Coria’s Sicily – Culinary Crossroads [2008] translated by Gaetano Cipolla. The great Pellegrino Artusi (Mr. Wilde’s neighbor on this site’s banner) has a recipe in The Science of Cookery and the Art of Eating Well [1891] that, in all but its name, is nearly the same as Liquore latte di vecchia. Artusi’s Rosolio Tedesco (or German Rosolio) contains a “garden lemon,” vanilla, grain alcohol, sugar and milk.

Although Ferrante’s, Coria’s and Artusi’s recipes are similar, they are not identical (not unusual for regional recipes). Ferrante’s and Artusi’s recipes call simply for milk, while Coria’s recipe calls for “goat or other milk, freshly milked”. Ferrante calls for half a lemon, diced, while Coria calls for the “zest of 1 orange or lemon, or vanilla.” Artusi’s recipe calls for both citrus and vanilla.

Artusi writes: “Don’t be taken aback by the strange composition of this rosolio, which is easy to make, delicately flavored, and as clear as water.” Yes, making Liquore latte di vecchia is easy. The only difficulty that you might encounter depends upon how fresh you want your milk. If store-bought milk is fresh enough, then making Liquore latte di vecchia is a breeze. However, if you want to use freshly milked cow or goat milk, then making Liquore latte di vecchia might prove a bit more challenging. Through a helpful lead from my editor, I located an organic dairy in California called Organic Pastures that sells one-day-old raw milk at a local farmer’s market.

Here is Ferrante’s recipe for Liquore latte di vecchia:

½ lemon, diced
5 cups sugar
1 quart milk
1 quart alcohol [pure, distilled]

Drop the lemon pieces into a wide-necked bottle. Add the sugar, the milk, and the alcohol. Seal hermetically and set aside to rest for 15 days, shaking the contents of the bottle every morning and evening. Filter the liqueur, transfer to clean, dry bottles. Hermetically seal the bottles.

A few notes. After adding all of the ingredients expect two things to happen: the lemon will begin to curdle the milk and the ingredients will separate. Be brave. Shaking the concoction over the 15-day infusion period helps dissolve the sugar and integrate the liquids, but do not be surprised if the liquids occasionally separate. Just keep shaking the bottle twice a day and all will be well.

After the 15-day infusion period I filtered the liqueur first through cheesecloth and then through a paper coffee filter. This produced a somewhat clear, slightly milky liquid. A second pass through a paper filter produced a relatively clear liquid, albeit with a slight yellow hue (presumably due to the lemon zest). Certainly compared to milk, this liqueur is, as Artusi puts it, “clear as water.”

Liquore latte di vecchia tastes like all of its ingredients; it is sweet and slightly lemony with a round, creamy flavor. But make no mistake: it packs a wallop (as would any drink using 151 proof alcohol).

As with Nocino, Liquore latte di vecchia rarely makes an appearance at local liquor stores here in the States. But its rarity alone is not a reason to make it. With its unique ingredients and delicate flavor, Liquore latte di vecchia deserves a broader audience. Enjoy it with a fellow Bunburyist of your choice.