Zucchini Crepes with Mascarpone Almond Cream

food-blog-february-2017-0288There is no way I can connect this recipe with Black History Month. I’ve tried. The transition just isn’t there. But when this issue of The New Yorker showed up on our doorstep, with this beautiful new imagining of the iconic Rosie the Riveter staring confidently back at me on the front, I wanted to make sure you saw her. Clearly a response to the Women’s March, she is also a powerful image of intersectional feminism, replacing the white WWII era working woman with an African American marcher, pink pussy hat and all. And though the cover doesn’t bear Rosie’s original accompanying phrase – “We can do it” – there’s no way to divorce that message, with all its connotations, from this new version.

There is so much to do, but we can do it.

food-blog-february-2017-0260These started not as crepes but as a desire to modify my favorite zucchini spice bread recipe into a pancake (I told you there was no transition. I just wanted to show you my magazine cover and remind you about the history we should be celebrating this month). There would be nutmeg and cinnamon, there would be caramelized crisp edges, there might be golden raisins… and then I made the mistake of searching for “zucchini bread pancakes” online, and of course the first hit was Deb’s recipe, deepening, as ever, my intense love-hate relationship with her and her site. Let me be clear, before you start emailing me: I adore Smitten Kitchen (look, Deb, I’m even giving you traffic!). I have the cookbook, I went to a signing and thoroughly embarrassed myself, and I trawl through her archives all the time, because she has tried everything! But there’s the hate part (or, at least, the jealous part): she’s tried everything! I certainly wasn’t going to make zucchini bread pancakes if she already had the consummate version (which, of course, I just automatically assume she does. Being a jealous fan-girl is weird).

food-blog-february-2017-0263food-blog-february-2017-0267So I had to go with something different, and somehow something different became crepes. I wasn’t sure how they would work, given the sodden heaviness large quantities of shredded zucchini often contribute to a dish, but the zucchini were already in the fridge and the milk on the door was begging to be used, so the experiment had to move forward.

food-blog-february-2017-0255I’m calling these crepes, but they don’t share ratio or ingredient quantities with other crepe recipes. My grandfather called them Swedish pancakes, probably more because he was Swedish than due to any recipe authenticity. They are a bit moister than some crepes – a little less papery around the edges, maybe a bit heavier, and we’ve never been particularly fussy about getting them wafer thin. Here, the addition of the zucchini makes these qualities important, since the batter has to be substantial enough to hold up to the extra weight of the vegetation.

food-blog-february-2017-0268food-blog-february-2017-0272As I always yell at food competition contestants when they scrunch or tear or mangle their first crepe, the first one probably is going to be ugly. Maybe the second one too. But you have to persist. Crepes require a bit of a rhythm – you have to get a feel for how much batter goes into the pan, how steeply to tilt your pan while you swirl to get an even coating of batter, and how long it really does need to cook before you can flip that delicate, eggy circle. And ultimately, really, it’s okay when that first one rips, because now you get to eat it surreptitiously and make sure it’s good. Cook’s prerogative.

food-blog-february-2017-0277These were indeed good. The zucchini is mild, so don’t worry if it’s not your very favorite vegetable flavor, but it cooks so quickly that every bit of grassy rawness was gone. They could go in a sweet or a savory direction, but I opted for sweet, whisking mascarpone cheese with some honey, some lemon, and roughly chopped toasted almonds for a bit of crunch. Lemon and zucchini play well together, as do zucchini and almonds, and it’s nice to have some texture in with the softness of the cheese and the pliable delicacy of the pancake.

food-blog-february-2017-0280We had these for dinner as a decadent response to a rainy day, but they would make an indulgent breakfast or a superb brunch course as well. You can fold the crepes up into a triangular, handkerchief-like packet with a mound of cheese inside, or you can roll up into a cylinder, which is what my family has always done. I found I liked a few almonds sprinkled over the top, and an extra drizzle of honey as well. Any extra crepes keep fine covered in the fridge for a day or two, until you take them out, reheat them with a bit of salted butter, and smother them with cinnamon sugar, because some days require that kind of solid self care, so you can get out there and keep going.

food-blog-february-2017-0293

Zucchini Crepes with Mascarpone Almond Cream
Makes 10-12 crepes in a 10-inch skillet
30-40 minutes
For the filling:
½ cup whole raw almonds
8 ounces mascarpone cheese
1 tablespoon heavy cream
2 tablespoons honey
zest of one lemon
1-2 teaspoons lemon juice
additional honey, to drizzle
For the crepes:
2 cups shredded zucchini, from 2 medium zucchinis
2 cups milk
2 tablespoons melted butter
3 eggs
1½-1¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon sugar
⅛ teaspoon salt

 

  • First, make the filling. Preheat the oven to 350F. While it heats, roughly chop the almonds – it’s okay to have some uneven sizing. Spread them out on a baking tray and toast in the oven 10-15 minutes until they are golden brown. Start checking at 10 minutes; keep in mind they will continue to cook after you take them out of the oven.
  • In a bowl, whisk the mascarpone cheese and the heavy cream together until light and fluffy (I used the whisk attachment of my stand mixer). Add the honey, the lemon zest, and the lemon juice, whisk again and taste for seasoning – you are looking for something lightly sweet, and rich but not overwhelming. When the almonds cool, fold ¾ of the amount into the mascarpone mixture, reserving the remainder to sprinkle atop the crepes.
  • To make the crepes, shred the zucchini in a food processor or with the large holes on a box grater. Collect them on a clean kitchen towel and squeeze to remove as much liquid as possible. Let it sit for 2 minutes, then squeeze once more.
  • Warm the milk slightly in a bowl or large glass measuring cup and add the melted butter, stirring to incorporate. This ensures the butter will integrate evenly, rather than hardening back into chunks. Let cool to room temperature and whisk in the eggs, then 1½ cups of the flour, the sugar, and the salt. Finally, whisk in the zucchini shreds. You should have something like a thin cake batter, probably thinner than your average pancake batter. If it seems too liquid, add the remaining ¼ cup of flour.
  • To cook the crepes, heat about 2 teaspoons butter in a 10-inch skillet or crepe pan over medium-high heat. Pour in about ⅓ cup of batter, turning and swirling the skillet as you do so to allow for a thin layer of batter to coat the entire surface. Try to spread out the zucchini a bit – it has a tendency to clump up in the middle, which results in uneven cooking.
  • Cook 1-2 minutes per side, until golden and almost dry. Don’t be alarmed if the first crepe tears or is otherwise mangled – they are delicate, and you have to get a rhythm going. After every two crepes, add another few teaspoons of butter to the skillet.
  • As you finish cooking each crepe, remove from the skillet to a covered plate to keep them warm. They won’t stick together – there’s enough fat in them to prevent clinging.
  • To serve, spread out one crepe on a flat surface and spread a few tablespoons of the mascarpone and almond mixture in a line a bit to the left of the center. Use the tines of a fork or your fingers to lift the edge of the crepe over the mascarpone filling, then continue rolling up into a tight burrito shape. Remove to a serving plate and continue with remaining crepes and filling. Sprinkle the finished rolls with the remaining almonds, and if desired, drizzle with more honey before serving.

Carrot Soufflé

2016-food-blog-photo-december-7A few weeks ago, I got my “what to blog about” inspiration from the unlikely source that is the Trader Joe’s samples counter. They were demo-ing carrot soufflé, a bright orange spoonful of light, sweet puree that I immediately wanted to play with. I’ve done a sweet potato soufflé before, and I thought a carrot version would work equally well as a semi-sweet holiday side dish, bumped up with a few flavor partners these bright, knobbly spears play well with.

2016-food-blog-photo-december-0684I’m not usually a fan of oranges in holiday dishes (especially the aforementioned sweet potatoes: keep that orange juice out of my carbs!), but carrots and orange are too chummy to keep separated for long. Ginger seemed like another good guest to invite to this party, and a good squeeze of maple syrup to add a burnished kind of sweetness in there.

2016-food-blog-photo-december-5Soufflé carries with it a reputation of delicacy and fussy fragility, and in some ways this is true. The elegant, gravity defying puff that is its signature is in part a result of egg whites beaten just so, but also of careful handling and a patient, even leisurely attitude. And sometimes it just falls. When that happens, you just have to shrug and accept it. Maybe have another glass of eggnog.

2016-food-blog-photo-december-0697This is a (reasonably) convenient soufflé recipe in that it involves an equal number of egg whites and egg yolks. There’s a bit of fussiness with separating, ensuring you haven’t tainted the pristine whites with even a breath of yellow, or they won’t rise up into that spongy cloud you need. But scrupulous attention helps with that, and a dash of cream of tartar ensures a quicker, fluffier snowdrift of whipped whites.

2016-food-blog-photo-december-6Apart from that, it’s just a question of integration. The carrots, after a softening boil in water and orange juice, get blended with flavoring agents, yolks, and a glug or two of cream, and then it’s just a question of folding in those whites carefully and gently, trying not to deflate anything. I’ve explained my method in the step-by-step below, but here’s another excellent reference from the kitchn, if you want more detailed guidance.

2016-food-blog-photo-december-7After a careful deposit into the oven (we want all the air we can keep in this dish of orange velvet), you are rewarded with a bronzed puff, heavier than meringue or mousse, lighter than custard – that impossible, almost strange, texture only a soufflé has – and you scoop out great spoonfuls because it’s so light, and brightly carrot-y, enhanced by the orange and the ginger and luxurious from the cream. I think this would go well with a turkey or ham-based holiday menu, but we had ours with herb and butter basted salmon, and found we didn’t miss having a starch component. Besides, it left room for a dessert I’ll show you next week: another puff, but of a very different sort, equally on board for the impending holidays.

2016-food-blog-photo-december-8

Carrot Soufflé
80-90 minutes, including cooling time for the carrots
Serves 4
2½ cups peeled, 1-inch carrot chunks (6-7 medium carrots)
zest from one large orange
¼ cup fresh orange juice from one large orange
2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
¼ cup maple syrup
½ cup heavy cream
3 eggs, separated
¼ teaspoon cream of tartar, optional

 

  • In a medium pot with a lid, combine the carrots, orange juice, water, and salt. Plonk in the juiced halves of the orange too (reserve the orange zest for later). Pop on the lid and bring to a boil over medium high heat, and boil until the carrot pieces are tender but not falling apart: 10-15 minutes, depending on the size of your carrot chunks. Drain and cool to just above room temperature (we’re going to add raw egg yolks and don’t want them to scramble).
  • While the carrots are cooking and cooling, preheat your oven to 375F and prepare your baking dish: use the 2 tablespoons butter to grease a 1½ quart round baking dish with straight sides (by all means use a proper soufflé dish for this if you have one; I don’t. But hey, it is almost Christmas…). Sprinkle the brown sugar over the buttered sides of the container, then stow it in the freezer for 5-10 minutes. The sugar sanding creates texture to help the soufflé climb the walls of the container, and freezing it makes it take longer to dissolve in the heat of the oven, so you’re giving your puff a head start.
  • In the pot with the cooled carrot chunks, add the fresh ginger, the maple syrup, the heavy cream, the reserved orange zest, and the 3 egg yolks. Use an immersion blender (or transfer the whole mix to a blender or food processor) to break down into a smooth puree. Be sure no carrot hunks remain.
  • In a separate bowl, add the cream of tartar to the egg whites. Using a handheld electric mixture (or a whisk, if you need to work on your arms), beat the whites at first over medium, then high speed until medium peaks form. The whites will foam, and then become pure white, and finally begin to stiffen like a good whipped cream. To determine the stiffness of your peaks, turn off the beaters and lift them straight out of the whites. If you get little hills that collapse back into the mixture, you have soft peaks. If you get little tips that fold over just a bit when you pull the beaters away, you are looking at medium to stiff peaks, which is what we want.
  • Using a rubber spatula, scoop about ⅓ of the egg white fluff into your carrot puree base and stir until no white streaks remain. No need to be careful with this part – full integration is just fine.
  • Now, slide the other ⅔ of the whites into the sweet potato mixture and fold in gently until just combined – some white streaks may remain and that’s fine. I like to fold by drawing my spatula around the edge of the bowl in a horseshoe shape, then pulling it back toward me in a straight line.
  • Retrieve your frozen baking dish and fill with the soufflé mixture, being careful not to let it plop from too high (in case of deflation). Smooth off the top the best you can – this seems fussy, but it will aid in even rising.
  • Bake in a preheated 375F oven keeping the door closed the whole time for 35-45 minutes, until the edges are nicely browned and the soufflé has puffed up in the center as well as the sides. For maximum wow factor, transport carefully and immediately to the table, so your fellow diners can appreciate your soufflé skills before it deflates. Dig in with a large spoon and enjoy.

Brown Butter Apple Pound Cake

I’ve tried to start this post three or four times now. The first time I tried to skirt the events of the last week entirely, but that felt like lying. The second time I was overtly political, explaining exactly how I felt and why. That felt more honest, but it didn’t feel like the right move. The third time I tried to be conciliatory, citing concerns on both sides.

2016-food-blog-november-0385In the face of change, particularly because it is not the sort of change I agree with or was hoping for, I retreated to comfort. I know this is not particularly useful. I know I am reasonably safe for a number of reasons, and closing the blinds and wallowing is not helping the people who are – or soon may be – not so safe, but I did it anyway. Finally, I decided I need more time to process what I want to say, so I’ll offer this instead, as unhelpful and uninspiring as it might be: this week was rough. Let’s have cake.

2016-food-blog-november-03382016-food-blog-november-0329For me, the deepest and firmest food comfort is baking. It makes me think of being a child, it makes me think of warmth and sweetness; it makes me feel sound. In his examination of sugar and its coming to and impacts on Europe, particularly England, Sidney W. Mintz suggests that perhaps the reason we are so attracted to sugar, especially when we are young, is because human breast milk is sweet. So it makes sense that when we are troubled, or we feel that we need safety and security, we turn to sweet foods.

2016-food-blog-november2016-food-blog-november-0356The original inspiration for this cake came from Starbucks. A few years ago as part of their fall line-up of baked goods, Starbucks rolled out a brown butter pound cake spiked with Washington apples, and after sampling the dense crumb and the wet, almost too sweet apple chunks, I wanted to do my own version. For the base recipe, I went with that great baking bible Baking Illustrated, by the same cooks and recipe testers as Cooks Illustrated. Their pound cake uses cake flour for a tight but tender crumb, plenty of butter, and the richness and color and emulsifying power of extra egg yolks, rather than all whole eggs. Mine adds the extra step of browning the butter first (which then necessitates refrigerating it back into solidity before creaming it with the sugar), and a generous two cups of apple cubes – granny smith, for the tartness and minimal juice expelled during baking.

2016-food-blog-november-03462016-food-blog-november-0352Most pound cakes have a soft top that splits as it bakes, and this one did offer that classic cleaving in the center, but the rest of the top – the browned exterior on either side of that tender split, was crisp and delicate and almost wafer-like – think of the top shiny, flaky layer of an excellent pan of brownies – perhaps because I was so enthusiastic in creaming the butter and sugar and then beating in the eggs. My batter looked like a good fluffy buttercream in its initial stages.

2016-food-blog-november-0363I usually bring my baked offerings to work with me, leaving only a serving or two to enjoy at home, and this was no exception, but we were sorry about that. Especially as the week wore on, we wanted more of this comforting, moist-but sturdy, not-too-sweet confection, preferably in thick slices. But alas, it lasted only a few hours in our mailroom.

2016-food-blog-november-0368It’s funny in that uncomfortable way, but the last time I made a pound cake was also a heavy time. It’s an uncomfortable metaphor – perhaps I should start perfecting an angel-food cake recipe instead – but hindsight is what it is, and here we are. Cake.

2016-food-blog-november-0371Maybe the best way I can conclude today is with Kurt Vonnegut. In his novel God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater, one character offers the following as a baptismal statement to a pair of brand new twins: “Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. On the outside, babies, you’ve got a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies – ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’”

2016-food-blog-november-0386

Brown Butter Apple Pound Cake
Makes 1 9x5x3 inch loaf
About 90 min
16 tablespoons unsalted butter (2 sticks)
1⅓ cups sugar
3 large eggs + 3 large egg yolks, all at room temperature
1½ teaspoons vanilla
1½ teaspoons water
½ teaspoon salt
1½ cups cake flour
2 cups ½-inch cubes of granny smith apple; 1 large apple or 2 small

  • First, brown the butter. In a small saucepan, preferably with a light colored bottom so you can see what is happening, melt the butter over medium heat. As it melts, it will foam up. Keep swirling and checking the color underneath that foam; it will gradually darken from yellow to golden, and the foam will recede a bit. Watch very closely at this point, occasionally tipping the pot to see the bottom – little white solids will have collected. When these begin to turn brown, the butter will smell toasted and nutty. Take it off the stove and stow it in the refrigerator until it has solidified but is not too hard – your thumb should still press in easily.
  • While the butter cools down again, preheat the oven to 375F and prepare a loaf pan by spraying with non-stick spray and lining with parchment paper. Prep the apple by peeling it, quartering and coring it, and then slicing and cubing into ½ inch pieces.
  • In a mixing bowl (Baking Illustrated recommends using a stand mixer, but I used a glass bowl and my regular electric mixer and it was fine), combine the re-solidified butter and all of the sugar. Mix at medium speed until very light and fluffy, at least 3-4 minutes. Really. That long. It will take on a texture much like a slightly grainy buttercream frosting.
  • Beat the eggs with the egg yolks, the water, and the vanilla and, with the mixer still running, dribble in this egg mixture until all is well combined. At this point the batter will be very thick and glossy and still a bit reminiscent of frosting.
  • Now, sift in ½ cup of the flour with the salt right over the top of the batter. Once it is all snow-drifted on top there, use a rubber spatula to fold it in. Once fully combined, repeat the sifting and folding with the second ½ cup of flour.
  • Sprinkle the apple cubes over the batter, then dust with the remaining ½ cup flour. Giving the apple chunks a little flour coating helps them stay suspended in the batter during baking, rather than sinking to the bottom. Repeat the folding process one final time, being sure the flour is fully incorporated and there are no dry pockets.
  • With your rubber spatula, pour and scrape the batter carefully into the prepared loaf pan. Smooth off the top if you like, then stow in the preheated oven for 45-55 minutes, or until a toothpick insertted comes out with just a few damp crumbs.
  • Let the loaf cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then use a second wire rack placed over the top of the pan to invert. The loaf will plop right out, upside down, onto this second rack. Carefully remove the pan from the loaf and flip the loaf back over top-side-up to cool completely. Peel off the parchment paper, transfer to a cutting board, and slice up thickly to eat.

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Lemon Vanilla Pound Cake with Apricots and Whipped Ricotta

2016 Food Blog June-1030This world in the last few weeks has been a place of heartbreak and confusion and frustration and terror. I was bewildered, and angry, and I grieved, and I wrote and deleted various posts on various platforms that felt too tidy, and too ineffectual.

2016 Food Blog June-0981But amidst the heartbreak, and the anger, and the mistakes, there were these moments of strength and of recovery and of determination: one of my students, wearing a t-shirt that said “Caution: educated student of color.” I wanted to hug him. I wanted to say “great shirt.” I wanted to tell him to keep wearing it so proudly and to use that power and that dangerous-in-a-good way truth about himself to help change happen. I just smiled as he sat down at his desk. A sold-out message on every single one of the shirts bearing an excerpt from Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Tony award acceptance sonnet, which were being sold to raise funds for victims of the Orlando shooting. As a friend of a friend commented, agree with their objective or not, and whether their actions and their words were successful or not, the filibuster in the Senate and the sit-in in the House were pretty inspirational. Determination. Strength. Flashes of brightness and connection in an increasingly isolating world.

2016 Food Blog June-09832016 Food Blog June-09862016 Food Blog June-0991At first, because there was too much of the world in my brain with all of this going on, I couldn’t think of anything to make. As always, food seemed too trivial to worry about, and perhaps it is. But it is a comfort. Stumbling all unwilling into the kitchen was a chore, until I picked up a knife, and a whisk, and the familiar enfolded me. Perhaps because it was the first kind of cooking I learned to do, standing beside my mom, scooping or mixing or poking at cookies, baking seemed like the right way in. Then, inspired both by N’s recent snack preferences at a certain coffee corporation, and a gorgeous picture on King Arthur Flour’s instagram feed, I knew the answer was pound cake. In a way, it works with my tangled feelings: it’s a dense cake, weighty and substantial and thick, but shot through with lemon zest and topped with a drizzle that becomes crunchy and tart as it bakes it has those flashes of brightness I’m looking for and lifted by. KAF’s version incorporates some cream cheese along with all that butter, which I like for the barely discernible tang it promises.

2016 Food Blog June-1021You don’t need a lot to pair with pound cake; in fact, its very title suggests you need nothing, but I couldn’t resist a bit of excess. Bright, meaty, fuzz laden apricots, pitted and sliced into wedges, and a heaping dollop of barely sweetened whipped ricotta, lightened with cream, make the utilitarian slice a rich-but-not-too-heavy dessert.

2016 Food Blog June-10272016 Food Blog June-1029I wish you some comfort this week, and I hope you have something safe and solid in your life, and some flashes of brightness to turn your face toward.

2016 Food Blog June-1043Lemon vanilla pound cake with apricots and whipped ricotta
Adapted from King Arthur Flour
Makes 1 9×5 inch cake and approx. 1½ cups ricotta cream
2-2½ hours, including cooling time
For cake:
¾ cups unsalted butter, at room temperature (1½ sticks)
3 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1½ cups + 2 tablespoons sugar, divided
1 tablespoon lemon zest from 1-2 lemons
1 teaspoon baking powder
¾ teaspoons salt
5 large eggs, at room temperature
3 tablespoons milk
1¾ cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour (I know it’s a weird amount; remember “pound” cake is based on weight measurements)
2 teaspoons lemon juice
For toppings:
4-5 fresh apricots, rinsed
1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese, cold
1 cup heavy cream, cold
2-3 tablespoons granulated sugar
additional lemon zest, optional

 

  • Preheat the oven to 350F and lightly grease a 9×5 inch bread pan. KAF is very specific about the measurements of the pan; otherwise you might get batter overflow.
  • In a mixing bowl (I used the bowl of my stand mixer), beat together the butter and cream cheese until well combined with no obvious lumps. Room temperature fats here will incorporate more quickly.
  • Rub together the lemon zest and 1½ cups of the sugar with your fingertips. This evenly distributes the zest and encourages it to release its oils, which are what give it that heady, perfumed flavor. Add the zest and sugar to the butter and cream cheese mixture and cream on medium-low or medium speed for about 1 minute, or until the mixture is pale and fluffy.
  • Add the baking powder, salt, and vanilla to the creamed butter and sugar and beat briefly to combine. Then, with the mixer running on low, begin to add the eggs one at time, mixing well between each addition. When the eggs are all integrated, add the milk and beat on high speed for 2-3 minutes until the mixture is light and fluffy. KAF notes the mixture may look curdled or grainy as you add the eggs; mine didn’t, though it did look a little grainy after I mixed the milk in. Either way, it’s nothing to worry about.
  • Now, sprinkle the flour gradually over the batter with the mixer running, and mix on low speed just until combined. Pour and scrape into the prepared pan, using a spatula to smooth the top.
  • Set the cake on a baking sheet for easy handling and in case of overflow, and stow in the preheated oven for 55 minutes.
  • While the cake bakes, combine the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar and the 2 teaspoons lemon juice in a small bowl, stirring until it reluctantly comes together into a thick syrup. After the cake has cooked for 55 minutes, remove it from the oven on its pan and brush or drizzle the sugar and lemon juice mixture over the top (you may need to re-stir the lemon juice and sugar mixture just before using it). Return the cake to the oven for another 15-20 minutes, or until a toothpick or cake tester comes out clean, or an instant-read thermometer inserted deep into the center reads 200-205F (as KAF notes, there may still be a touch of gooiness to the very top crown where the cake has split; don’t worry about this).
  • Cool the cake on a rack in its pan for at least five minutes, then turn out of the pan and rest on the rack until it is completely cooled.
  • About 20 minutes before you are ready to serve the cake, place a metal bowl and beaters or whisk attachment into the freezer. This helps the cream whip up faster. While they cool, pit the apricots and cut them into thick wedges. Once the bowl and beaters are cold, add the heavy cream and ricotta to the bowl and begin to mix on low speed. Sprinkle in the sugar and, as you see the mixture thicken, raise the speed to medium. Whip at medium speed until the ricotta cream has thickened to your desired consistency; probably 2-3 minutes if you started with cold equipment.
  • To serve, cut the cake into thick slices, and serve one slice topped with a few wedges of apricot, a dollop of whipped ricotta cream, and a few strands of lemon zest, if desired.

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Spring Green Risotto with Poached Egg and Lemon Garlic Breadcrumbs

2016 Food Blog March-0614My warmest memory of risotto – and the one that probably says the most about me as a person and as the graduate student that I was – is one wintery evening in Oregon, when I was making risotto while preparing for class. This seems counterintuitive, I know. It is. One cannot truly invest in either the stirring required for risotto or the note-jotting, powerpoint slideshow constructing, or annotating usually needed for quality lesson prep. One can, however, position one’s hand just so to hold up and keep open a paperback book in one hand, while leaving the other hand free for a wooden spoon.

2016 Food Blog March-05952016 Food Blog March-0597The house was cold that night, and I was frantically reading Beowulf in preparation for a lecture the next day in a class for which I was a teaching assistant. Stir, read. Stir, read. Slow, random swipes through the pan, as I drowned myself in Beowulf’s deeds. I probably didn’t get much out of that reading session, but the combination is stuck: warm, creamy rice, and poor Beo fighting against demons of darkness, and of his own overweening.

2016 Food Blog March-06002016 Food Blog March-0602I’ve complained about risotto before, and it’s true that I often find it underwhelming. But when you combine its warm, melting heartiness against the brightness of spring vegetables, and when you declare that decadence befits a spring break that finally arrived – so you give yourself a week off from blogging because SPRING BREAK, people! – and then you layer on a poached egg and a shower of crispy crumbs shot through with garlic and lemon zest, you have a risotto that I’ll put down my book for.

2016 Food Blog March-0611This one features leeks – my favorite, and sadly so underrated, member of the onion family – as well as slim fingers of asparagus, barely wilted spinach leaves, and a rubble of peas stirred in at the last minute. There’s a generous shower of parmesan cheese at the end, and the egg yolk, still oozy but just thickened, forms its own rich, golden sauce for the risotto when you slide your fork down through it. Risotto isn’t difficult, but it is a bit co-dependent: it requires your presence in the kitchen throughout the process. Still, though, if you are organized and get all of your vegetables prepared while the broth is heating, you can have the whole thing done in less than an hour. What’s that? Two entries in a row with reasonable time spans? Happy spring, my friends.

2016 Food Blog March-0615

Spring Green Risotto with Poached Egg and Lemon Garlic Crumbs
Serves 6-8
30-45 minutes
6 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 tablespoons butter, divided
2 large leeks, sliced into thin ribbons as described below
4 finely minced garlic cloves, divided
2 cups short or medium grain rice
½ cup dry white wine
1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon freshly ground pepper, black or white
2 1-2 inch sprigs fresh thyme
1 pound slender asparagus spears, woody ends snapped off, spears cut into two inch pieces
1 cup frozen peas
4 ounces baby spinach
1 cup grated parmesan cheese
6-8 eggs (as many as people you are serving)
1 teaspoon white vinegar, for poaching
1 cup panko breadcrumbs
zest from one lemon
salt to taste

 

  • In a medium pot, heat the broth while you prep the vegetables – by the time you are ready to add it to the risotto, it should be just below a simmer.
  • Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil and 2 tablespoons of the butter in a large, high-sided skillet over medium-low heat.
  • Cut off the root end and the dark green leaves of the leek. Slice the remaining log lengthwise, leaving two long rounded planks. Run these planks under running water, flipping through the layers with your thumbs, to release dirt. Then cut each plank in half lengthwise again, and slice horizontally across into thin ribbons.
  • Add the leeks and half of the finely minced garlic (so, the equivalent of 2 cloves) to the butter and olive oil in the skillet, and turn the heat up to medium. Cook, stirring occasionally, until leeks are very tender but have not browned much, 5-10 minutes. To keep them from caramelizing, you may need to turn the heat down a bit.
  • When the leeks are translucent and quite tender, turn the heat up to medium-high and add the rice. Stir constantly for 2-3 minutes until the rice grains have become opaque and smell toasty. Pour in the white wine and continue to stir constantly until it is almost all absorbed.
  • Once the wine is almost completely absorbed by the rice, add about a cup of the heated broth, the salt, the pepper, and the thyme sprigs, and stir to combine. Continue to cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the broth has been absorbed. The more you stir at this stage, the creamier the risotto will be, as what you’re doing is releasing starch from the rice grains into the liquid, which thickens and enriches the mixture.
  • As each cup of hot broth is absorbed into the rice mixture, add another, stirring frequently while it absorbs. Each addition will take a little longer to integrate.
  • In between stirring and adding, poach the eggs and make the breadcrumbs. For the eggs, heat water in a small pot until barely simmering. Add the 1 teaspoon white vinegar, then use a spoon to stir the water in the pot in a circle to create a tiny vortex. Quickly and carefully crack the egg into the vortex (or you can crack the egg into a small dish first, and pour/dump it into the pot), and use your spoon to encourage the swirling whites to cling to the central yolk as it spins in the water. After about two minutes in the barely simmering water, use a spoon or a rubber spatula to gently detach the egg from the bottom of the pot, if it is stuck. After about three minutes, use a slotted spoon to remove the egg carefully to a bowl of warm (not hot!) water, and let it sit until you are ready to serve. Repeat for all eggs.
  • To make the breadcrumbs, heat the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small pan over medium heat. When it is shimmering, add the panko and stir to coat evenly with the oil. Toast over medium heat for 3-5 minutes, or until the panko is crisp and golden brown. Quickly add the remaining minced garlic and the lemon zest, and stir assertively to combine – these new wet ingredients may clump up together. Cook for about 30 seconds with the garlic and lemon zest incorporated, then remove from the heat, salt to taste, and set aside until you are ready to serve.
  • As soon as you add the final dose of broth, add the asparagus pieces and stir well. When the broth is almost completely absorbed, add the peas, the spinach leaves, the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter, and the 1 cup of parmesan cheese. Stir to incorporate, and cook just until the peas are warmed through and the spinach has wilted but is still bright green.
  • To serve, spoon a mound of risotto into the center of a shallow bowl. Carefully set the poached egg on top, then sprinkle with a tablespoon or two of the breadcrumbs and serve immediately.

“Parsley Pie”

2016 Food Blog February-0492Whereas last month’s blog experiment entry left me stumped for a while, not only do I know which post led this searcher to my blog; the dish I wanted to create coalesced pretty quickly in my mind. The search term “parsley pie,” with its bright green focus, seemed appropriately spring-y for this first warm week in Southern California. Though I had my own ideas already, I did a quick image search to see what other sorts of “parsley pies” turned up, and the answer is: not many. Most of what I saw were meat pies, with the addition of parsley to lighten up the filling or, in one case, add fiber. Some of these concoctions were the classic British pork pie, with high, golden sides and, sometimes, a hard boiled egg or two cunningly tucked into the filling, while some were shepherds pies, with parsley added to the ground lamb or to the mashed potato topping.

2016 Food Blog February-04372016 Food Blog February-04572016 Food Blog February-0458What I’d envisioned, quite contrary to these heavy options, was a pie where parsley dominated: something like a quiche Lorraine would be a neutral base, and allow for greater visibility for the heaping mounds of the freshly chopped herb in question. I suppose if I’m being absolutely honest I should call this a parsley quiche, but it does have a proper crust and a filling, and since that ultimate internet authority Wikipedia (hah!) classifies quiche as a “savoury pie,” I’m going to cross my fingers behind my back and declare that this counts.

2016 Food Blog February-04632016 Food Blog February-04732016 Food Blog February-0476Because there are no bulky chunks in the filling to hold it up, this must of necessity be a shallow pie. Thus it was a perfect opportunity to use the tart pan I bought myself for Christmas (though a pie pan would work fine). Along with eggs, milk, and of course the eponymous parsley, I whisked in a combination of other herbs: basil, cilantro, dill, and a few chives, to add some variety to the flavor. And because I can’t help myself, I topped the green freckled custard with crumbles of feta cheese, which admittedly adds a pleasant brininess that the pie would suffer without.

2016 Food Blog February-0500A few thoughts: if you’re going to make this, you have to like parsley. This seems a distressingly obvious revelation, but I mean it – this really, really tastes like parsley. If it’s too herbaceous for you, or you’re looking for a bit more to sink your teeth into, crumbled, crisp prosciutto, or lumps of crab, or slick slices of smoked salmon, would bulk it up nicely. Alternatively, a side salad with a thick wedge would make a perfect spring lunch. As for construction, if you use a tart pan you really have to be sure your crust forms an unbroken layer around the bottom edge of the pie. Cracks or very thin areas can lead to egg leakage in the oven. Don’t ask me how I know this.

2016 Food Blog February-0503

“Parsley Pie”
Makes a 9-inch pie
About 2 hours, including crust resting time
For crust:
6 ounces all-purpose flour (about 1¼ cups)
½ teaspoon salt
4 ounces unsalted butter (1 stick or 8 tablespoons)
2-4 ounces cold buttermilk (water would be fine too)
For filling:
4 large eggs
1 cup whole milk
1 cup chopped parsley
1 cup chopped mixed soft green herbs (such as basil, chives, tarragon, cilantro, dill, etc)
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon pepper (I used black, but white pepper would work too)
4 ounces crumbled feta cheese

 

  • To make the crust, combine the flour and ½ teaspoon salt in a food processor. Cut the stick of butter into 12-16 slices, then add these to the processor as well and pulse at 1 second intervals until the butter is mostly broken up into blueberry or cherry-sized chunks. With the processor running, dribble in the buttermilk just until the mixture starts to come together into a dry ball. You may not need all of the buttermilk. Turn the mixture out onto a large piece of plastic wrap and use the plastic wrap to help you quickly and decisively form the mixture into a flat disc about 6 inches in diameter. Wrap it up and stow it in the fridge for at least half an hour. Not only does this chill the butter, making for a flakier end result, but it allows the buttermilk to hydrate the flour.
  • While you wait for the dough to chill, preheat the oven to 350F with a rack in the middle position, oil or butter a 9-inch tart pan or pie plate, and prep the filling ingredients. Whisk the eggs with the cup of milk and add in the chopped herbs, the ½ teaspoon of salt, and the ¼ teaspoon of pepper. Note: 1 cup chopped parsley means you chop before you measure, so you do need a rather large bouquet of herbs to meet the required amount.
  • You can whisk the feta in with the herb and egg mixture, or you can crumble it over the top of the custard when it’s poured into the crust. Or, of you prefer, you can do a little of both, mixing some in and saving some to sprinkle on top. You do you.
  • After at least half an hour in the fridge, remove the dough disc and unwrap it onto a floured board. Now, this is crucial: let it sit about ten minutes to warm up just a tad before you try to roll it out. When it has had a chance to shake the chill off, sprinkle its surface with a little flour and, with a floured rolling pin, roll it out into a circle about 11 inches in diameter. I like to start in the middle of the disc and push away from me first, then bring the rolling pin back all the way towards me. Then I turn the disc of dough 90 degrees and repeat, flipping it over if needed, until I have a rough circle.
  • Use the rolling pin to help you transport the circle of dough into the prepared pan. Drape the dough gently down into the edges and, if you are using a tart pan, be sure to press it lightly into the grooves on the side of the pan, and carefully patch any thin areas or cracks along the bottom. For extra insurance, place the tart pan on a cookie sheet – this makes for easier transport to and from the oven and, if you do suffer some leakage, keeps the mess contained, not on your oven floor.
  • Whisk up your filling mixture again to ensure even distribution, then gently pour it into the crust. Sprinkle some or all of the crumbled feta over the top, if desired, and carefully transport to the oven.
  • Bake 45-60 minutes until the crust is pale gold and the filling is set and has puffed slightly in the center. Remove to a wire rack and let cool at least fifteen minutes before you carefully remove the tart pan (if using) and center the pie on a serving platter. I used a cake stand because I like to be fancy for you. Serve warm or at room temperature.