Sneaking in for lunch, to serve up a soupish risotto that we had on Saturday, when my parents and nephew came for a visit. I see now I could have, and probably should have, scooted another bowl into frame, or the pile of spoons to my right, as this recipe makes a big ol' potful, and feeds a gang with abundance. But I was distracted, because of a rousing game of Battleship, because of a convoluted plan to secure my older brother's birthday gift, and because I was hungry.  So a lonely, single serving it is, with a timid-seeming slouch of green and bronze and black. Still, it gives a good idea of everything you need to know.

BRAISED KALE WITH BLACK QUINOA + A BIT OF RISOTTO by Tara O'Brady

The soup is maybe more of a stew, but either way, it is resolutely savoury, with a base of onion and anchovy upon which a risotto is started. Atop that goes handful after handful of the thinnest slivers of kale you can manage. It cooks some more, to tender acquiescence, until the greens and grain are languid in a saline slip of broth. But then, oh then, we loosen the business with more stock, then stir in bouncy quinoa, and walnuts that have been toasted and so strike an aromatic note that verges on sharp. The effect is taken to full-throated cheer by an exuberant amount of lemon zest and oil-packed chilies. It's the last few minutes there, the last few ingredients that change the soup's character entirely.

Now it comes across loud and clear; it is a soup that exclaims. The effect is ebullient, energy-enhancing, and bracing, simultaneously substantial and soothing while clearing the head and nostrils, and setting shoulders straight. The soup requires taking breath around each spoonful, the extra air needed for balance. It is mostly vegetables, granting a sense of piety and wholesomeness, toothsome without excessive weight. After the roasts, braises, gravies, marshmallows and custards of our lately, it was the jostling we needed.

BRAISED KALE WITH BLACK QUINOA + A BIT OF RISOTTO by Tara O'Brady

Though I've not tried her recipe, this reminds of the cabbage and rice soup from Molly, via Luisa, that came from Marcella Hazan. I like how that version is all softness, harmonious with butter and a generous amount of cheese, and is closer to the recipe upon which this is based. I'll be making that one soon, when the momentum of this one wanes.

Hope your days have been happy and merry, and here's to the brightness ahead. Cheers, all.

 

BRAISED KALE WITH BLACK QUINOA + A BIT OF RISOTTO

A soupier, brasher, even more kale-packed adaptation of a recipe by Martha Rose Shulman via the New York Times.

Enough for 6.

INGREDIENTS

  • 7-8 cups good-quality vegetable or chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, minced
  • 2 anchovy fillets or about 1 teaspoon anchovy paste
  • Salt, as needed
  • 2/3 cup Arborio rice
  • 2 to 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine
  • 1 exceedingly large (approximately 16 ounces / 454 g) bunch of kale, well washed, stemmed and cut into slivers 
  • 3 cups cooked black quinoa
  • 1/2 cup walnuts, toasted and chopped
  • 1/2 cup (57 g) grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
  • Zest of half a lemon
  • Freshly-ground black pepper
  • Peperoncinio in oil or dried red pepper flakes

METHOD

In a saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer. 

Heat the olive oil in a wide, heavy saucepan over medium heat (I used a 5-qt Dutch oven). Cook the onion with a generous pinch of salt until tender but without colour, around 3 to 5 minutes. When you think the onion is about a minute away from being ready, add the anchovies, stirring them into the onions and breaking them up with the back of the spoon. 

Tip the rice and garlic into the pot, and stir until the grains separate and start crackling, around 3 to 5 minutes. Add the wine while still stirring, and continue until it evaporates. Pour in about 1/2 cup of stock, and cook, stirring regularly, until the liquid is just about absorbed. Add another couple ladlefuls of stock, and continue in this fashion, stirring in the stock then adding more once the rice is almost dry. After 10 minutes, start adding the kale, in batches as necessary. Cook as before, with regular additions of stock, then stirring in between, until both the rice and kale are tender. 

Stir in the black quinoa, most of the walnuts, the Parmesan and lemon zest. Pour in enough stock to wet everything to your liking, giving it all a few good turns in the pan to give the broth a chance to thicken. It should be lush and creamy.  Check for seasoning, then serve straight away with more cheese, the reserved walnuts and the peperoncino. 

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My parents gave us our kitchen table. Or maybe it's a loan. We've never worked out the details.

Either way, it is a table that's been around since I was a kid. The seat of one of the chairs bears scratches from the dog we had when I was in university. It's been in the home of my parents, my brother, and now my own.

Our table shows its age. The finish is waxy here, worn down there. When the humidity is high, the surface feels tacky. Over the summer, the boys and I were making a birthday card, and there was glitter. Since then, in spite of the newspaper we'd laid out in protection, the tabletop has boasted a random patina of tiny sparkles. I've scrubbed, but the shining scatter remains, a glimmering finish of silver and gold, shot through with turquoise. Subtle at times, and a flashing metallic at the right angle. 

Around here, peanut butter toast is presented with a disco ball backdrop. Granola gets sequins.

Short Rib Minestrone by Tara O'Brady

A week-and-a-half ago, when I shared the news of my book, I was sitting at that table. And, dear readers, you shone with such light. Your response outshone everything. You were the shiniest part of my day. 

That evening, I made my mother's minestrone.  

I should say, traditional or not, Mum's is the version against which I judge all minestrones. Hers has a tomato base, and a bit of beef, then it's bulky with vegetables. When I was growing up, she'd use what was around, maybe corn and peas, always beans and carrots, and different shapes of pasta. What tied it together was oregano. The combination of oregano and tomato, the sweetness of the vegetables and the underlying savoriness of the beef, made it one of my favourite suppers. I'd blanket my bowl with a heap of grated Parmesan and enough black pepper to make me sneeze, and go to town. 

I still love how the cheese slumps into the soup, both creamy and salty, turning into chewy strands.

Short Rib Minestrone by Tara O'Brady

We had it again for dinner on Sunday. I'd craved it since there were no leftovers from that last batch. 

The butcher had short ribs on Saturday. Those became the foundation of my minestrone. Braised simply in a tomato and vegetable broth, the meat goes tender, the fat melting into the cooking liquid. The ribs were left overnight, then turned to soup the next afternoon. A quick base of onions, celery and zucchini was cooked with olive oil, dried oregano and garlic, then in went the braising liquid, broth and carrots. The vegetables were given time, cooked to the point they lost some colour but gained all the richness of the broth; the squash especially, as I wanted nothing of the woolliness often found and its centre. The short ribs followed into that mix, accompanied by two types of beans. After another simmer, everything was done, meeting up with bowls of pasta and greens at the table, vinegar for dripping, deeply green splotches of oregano oil, and the aforementioned cheese. 

Think of that oregano oil as a rough-and-ready cheat's take on an Italian salsa verde. It takes seconds to make, yet the almost aggressive hit of fresh herbs, garlic and chili is what lends moxie to the mellowed, stewy goodness of the soup. It is enthusiastically edgy. And on the topic of the pasta, I like a short, fat variety, think tubetti or macaroni, a kind that has a comforting chew, a sense of substance against the yield of the meat, beans and vegetables. 

Short Rib Minestrone by Tara O'Brady

I like this soup for many reasons, for how it feeds a crowd, and for how it can be stretched even further to feed more; for its changeability and adaptability dependant upon season and circumstance;  how it can use up leftovers, or made from scratch without fuss. I like that it is a soup I've known for as long as I can remember, for as long as we've had our kitchen table, and for the fact I get to introduce it to you.

Thanks again for that. 

SHORT RIB MINESTRONE

While there’s quite a list of ingredients here, and the preparation starts the day ahead, the active time is modest and the effort is blessedly easy on the cook. It’s a case of a lot of things stirred into a pot, twice over. Neither the braising ribs or the simmering soup require babysitting, which is to say, for its length, this recipe fits suits a lazy mood surprisingly well. 

 It is hard to pin down an exact measurement on the vegetable stock, but if you have 1 1/2 quarts to use between the ribs and the soup, that should be enough. Keeping both the pasta and greens separate from the minestrone means that with leftovers the noodles won't get mushy and the greens won't overpower or discolour the broth. Speaking of which, I use vegetable broth instead of beef because Mum's minestrone was very much a vegetable soup with beef, rather than the other way around. 

FOR THE SHORT RIBS

  • 2 1/2 pounds bone-in short ribs
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 red onion, peeled and quartered through the root end
  • 1 carrot, cut into chunks
  • 1 celery stalk, cut into chunks
  • 3 garlic cloves, bruised but left whole
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar or a slosh of red wine
  • 1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes
  • Vegetable broth or water, as needed
  • 1 bay leaf, fresh or dried

FOR THE SOUP

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 red onion, medium dice
  • 1 celery stalk, small dice
  • 2 small zucchini, medium dice
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • Vegetable broth or water, as needed
  • 2  carrots, medium dice, or left larger if skinny 
  • 2 cups cooked borlotti or cannellini beans
  • Approximately 6 ounces, a few handfuls, yellow wax or green beans, finely sliced

TO FINISH

  • 4 ounces tubetti, cooked al dente (check package instruction), then tossed with a glug of olive oil while hot
  • Baby spinach, Tuscan kale or Swiss chard leaves, in shreds
  • Parmesan cheese
  • Red wine vinegar
  • Oregano oil (see note)

 

 

METHOD

The day before serving, season the short ribs generously with salt and pepper. Cover and refrigerate for 2 hours, then remove ribs from the fridge and bring to room temperature. Preheat an oven to 350°F / 175°C. 

Heat the olive oil in a 5-quart Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Brown the short ribs well on all sides. Transfer to a rimmed plate, then pour off all but 2 tablespoons fat from the pot. Reduce the heat to medium.

Add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic to the pot, and cook, stirring often, until properly golden and starting to catch in places, around 6 to 8 minutes. Clear the vegetables to the sides of the pot. Add the tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, until the paste is caramelized, maybe 2 minutes. Stir vegetables into paste and cook for 1 minute more. Splash in the vinegar to deglaze, scraping and stirring up any sticky bits. Add the short ribs back to the pot, along with any accumulated juices, then the tomatoes and their liquid. Tamp down the tomatoes, giving them a bit of a prod and squish. Pour in enough vegetable broth or water so that the ribs are halfway submerged. Tuck in the bay leaf. Bring the pot to the boil, cover, and pop into the oven.

Cook until the ribs are tender, approximately 2 1/2 hours. Skim the liquid of any impurities, then move ribs to a large bowl. Strain liquid over the meat through a fine-meshed sieve, pushing the vegetables through. Let cool completely to room temperature. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

About 2 hours before you want to eat, spoon any fat from the surface of the short ribs and cooking liquid. Leave the the pot at room temperature to lose its chill, say around an hour, then remove the short ribs on a rimmed plate. Set aside the liquid.

To make the soup, heat olive oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onions, celery and zucchini. Season with salt, pepper and oregano, then cook, stirring often, until the vegetables begin to take on colour, maybe 8 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute, stirring the entire time. Strain the short rib liquid into 8-cup measure, add enough stock to bring to 8 cups. Add the liquid and the carrots to the pot. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer. Let the soup bubble for 30 minutes, stirring regularly. Remove the bones from the short ribs, shred and/or chop the meat into irregularly bite-sized pieces and add to the pot, as well as all the beans. Cook until vegetables tender, 15 minutes or thereabouts. Check for seasoning, and add more broth or water if the soup has become too thick.

To serve, spoon a mound of pasta into each bowl, then greens. Ladle on the hot soup. Place the cheese, vinegar and herb oil on the table, letting folks help themselves.

Enough for 6 to 8.   

Note:

  • To make the oregano oil, use a food processor to pulse together 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil with 3 tablespoons fresh oregano leaves, 1 tablespoon flat-leafed parsley, a few pinches dried chili flakes, salt and freshly-ground black pepper, until finely chopped.
  • The ribs can be doubled, though you're going to need a bigger pot. Store those extra for another day, with the all braising veg and some of the cooking liquid. Serve over soft polenta.
  • This can be made leftover meat instead. Simply skip the braising steps and go straight to the soup section, adding tomatoes and a bay leaf to the broth. It can also be vegetarian by following a similar tactic, and doubling the beans (chickpeas are particularly good) instead.  

 

 

 

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There is often a solitude to writing. It's the delicate scratch of pen on paper, or the glowing hum of a computer screen, against all the noise and words rattling around my brain.  

Before I get to that stage of quiet chaos however, I talk out my ideas. Sometimes to others but also to myself, in the car, driving around alone on errands and whatnot. When I used to commute to work daily, the 45-minutes-each-direction trip was often when I did my best thinking. The length of the journey gave me enough time to work around the stumbling blocks in the way of what I was trying to say. Hearing the words somehow made them come across differently  — they were clearer, the thoughts fully realized. The only trouble with those drives is that 45 minutes worth of chatter was a lot to remember until I could get home record it all. What's more, is that I don't have those drives anymore. 

Now I reply on the former option as my preference, working through ideas in collaboration. Speaking thoughts out loud when there's actually someone to hear them makes you seem less eccentric, true, but also makes the process that much more enjoyable, and more fruitful. There's the opportunity to learn from another's perspective, and that usually leads to something better. That better happens most often when I shut up and listen. In some cases, it can lead to soup.

My friend Aran, currently nominated for both a James Beard Award and Saveur Best Food Blog Award, is a stylist, photographer and writer, and the creator of the site Canelle et Vanille . You've surely heard of her work, and probably her book as well, since Small Plates and Sweets was released late last year with much-deserved accolades. 

Aran is as giving as she is talented. And it is her generosity regarding not only her skill, but also her viewpoint, that sets her apart. Raised in the Basque Country, she grew up in her grandfather's pastry shop, and trained in culinary school. Later she moved to the United States, working in professional kitchens, and marrying. She now has two children, a boy and a girl. It was only relatively recently that Aran and her family began a gluten-free lifestyle, which inspired a new definition for her home cooking that she shared with her readers.

What that dietary change has brought is not a cold, prescriptive view on eating, and while the book is gluten free, it is not presented as a defining characteristic per se; rather her cooking style is rooted in a passionate desire to feed herself and others  soulful, satisfying food, food that happens to be without wheat. Many of her dishes are naturally or classically gluten free, like macarons or her beef stew, and those that aren't use the same, fairly common, alternative flours repeatedly, so that it isn't difficult to source the ingredients or slowly build up a gluten-free pantry. It all amounts to a gentle introduction to Aran's way of living, one absolutely in the realm of doable for day-to-day meals.

What's more, her recipes are drop-dead gorgeous, full of colour and texture. They are refined and feminine, just like her, yet with a welcoming charm. Her heritage informs many of her tastes; there is a marmitako (a Basque fish stew) flavoured heavily with paprika, a couple of Spanish tortillas, her grandmother's robust garlic soup, and a classic arroz con leche perked up with lemon zest. As you'd imagine with her upbringing and schooling, she excels at desserts, but her savoury dishes have are often scene stealers. 

The pea shoot pesto from her book is a particular example of that. It is straightforward, simple and lip-smackingly-good. Blended with almonds, and thick with Parmesan and olive oil, the pesto is intensely fresh; we've had it on soup, in an adapted take on her bocadillos, which my four-year-old declared "awesome" (page 111), and I had some on my eggs this morning alongside dollops of fresh ricotta. I honestly believe it could make cardboard taste good.

The soup into which we swirled that pesto was actually from the Winter chapter, even though the pesto was from Spring. (The book is divided into seasons, with sweet treats following the savoury small plates in each.) The soup was written with a different pesto, one spiky and sharp with dandelion greens. Our spring is dallying; there are blossoms, but still a need for cardigans and I'm drinking more hot tea than usual. It was because of these cold days that I found myself flipping between the two sections, vacillating between the wintry soup, a roasted leek and cauliflower one, and a creamy fennel and spinach from spring. I chose the former for my husband, and chose the pea pesto to acknowledge that it is, in fact, April. 

I am hoping that Aran won't mind me taking that liberty, as it was her that made me think of it in the first place. Throughout Small Plates and Sweet Treats  she mentions substitutions, and links recipes to others, in a chatty way that shows how her recipes are not meant to stand alone. As you spend time any time with the book, Aran's overarching skill with flavour combinations is obvious, and what's more is that it is harmonious. The chapters and dishes flow together seamlessly, making it easy to pick and choose based on whim, or interest, or fickle weather.

 Small Plates and Sweet Treats  is a gem. It inspires me to look at recipes in a new way, to cook outside my usual, and it is her brilliant use of a variety of grains and cereals that I've found myself incorporating into our routine, time and again. Aran imbues all her cooking with vibrancy, suggests pairings that had never occurred to me, and has particular opinions on something as simple as red beans, which makes me wonder if I have one too.

Hers is an inspiring voice, and one that I'm happy to have for company. 

Thanks for all the conversations, friend.  xo

 

ROASTED CAULIFLOWER + LEEK SOUP WITH PEA SHOOT + ALMOND PESTO

From the book Small Plates and Sweet Treats: My family's journey to gluten-free cooking (Little Brown and Company, 2012) by Aran Goyaga

This soup is aromatic, supple, and mild in a way that is soothing — not at all bland. It  has presence without demanding attention. Pea tendrils are the basis of the pesto, which is more than a garnish, rather an integral component as well. The raw, grassy shoots offset the mellow roasted vegetables, and the aroma of the fresh garlic in the sauce is brought out by the warmth of the soup. It makes for a bang up combination. As noted, this soup was originally served with a dandelion green and hazelnut pesto, and the pea shoot pesto was to dress ricotta gnocchi; for reference, the recipes appear on pages 99 and 156, respectively. 

The recipe here is as written in the book, with my notes following after. 

Serves 4 to 6

For the pea shoot and almond pesto

  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1/3 cup (40 g) slivered almonds
  • 2 cups (60 g) pea shoots, tough stalks removed and chopped
  • 1 ounce (30 g) Parmesan cheese, finely grated
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) olive oil

For the roasted cauliflower and leek soup

  • 1 medium cauliflower (1 pound or 450 g), cut into small florets
  • 1/2 medium leek, cut into large rings
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 medium russet potato, peeled and diced
  • 3 cups (750 ml)  chicken stock
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) unsweetened coconut milk
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

 

METHOD

Make the pesto. Place the garlic and almonds in the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the almonds are finely chopped. Add the pea shoots and process into a paste. Add the Parmesan, salt, and pepper. Pulse one more time. Add the olive oil in a slight stream while the processor is on and process until a smooth paste forms. Scrape down the sides and mix well. 

TIP: If pea shoots are not available, watercress or spinach would be a great substitute. The pesto can be made in advance. It will keep in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or frozen for up to 1 month.

Make the soup.  

  1. Preheat the oven to 375ºF (190ºC). Toss together the cauliflower, leek, onion, garlic, olive oil, and 1/2 teaspoon of the salt. Transfer to a baking sheet and roast for 25 minutes or until golden.
  2. Transfer the roasted vegetables to a large pot. Add the diced potato, chicken stock, coconut milk, thyme leaves, and remaining 1 teaspoon salt. Bring the liquid to a boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat to medium, cover, and simmer for 10 minutes or until all the vegetables are tender. 
  3. Purée the soup in a blender. Adjust the seasoning and serve with the pesto. 

 Notes:

A few small things that I'm divulging out of honesty, not out of any conceit that you must follow suit —

  • I used goat's milk instead of the coconut milk because we had some in the fridge. Its sharpness was lovely. 
  • The bunch of thyme I thought I had went missing, and so was left out. The pea shoot pesto packs such flavour, that the soup was still a knockout.
  • I garnished the soup with chili oil. 

 

 

 

 

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I'm well aware that many of you are counting down the hours (minutes?) until Thanksgiving. To that end, I'll cut to the big tah-da: a spectacular savoury galette, one with caramelized onions, Fontina cheese, and roasted butternut squash.

For all of us not celebrating a holiday tomorrow, consider that lack of turkey, stuffing and pie an unexpected boon, as your oven is now free and clear to make said galette — which, if you don't mind the suggestion, is something I think you should do.

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It is a recipe from Deb, found on page 99 of her bestseller, The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook (Appetite by Random House, 2012).

Deb is a superstar already, hardly needing any explanation or introduction as to why her recipes are crowd-pleasing and craveworthy, or how her writing gives only a glimpse of vivacious personality behind those words. All the things you've come to expect from her site have been seamlessly translated to her book; it is chock full of photographs, detailed procedures and helpful notes. She is right there with you for every step of the recipe.

A particular and attentive cook, Deb is one that considers details. She’s like America’s Test Kitchen with less suspenders and more fun, with the added bonus of an adorable toddler. She tests recipes thoroughly; she talks about what worked and what didn’t, she explains her thought process of why she tried this and not that, why she recommends a certain technique — she does her best to consider every angle, every possibility, every variation she can, to get to the best possible result.

So when she presents you with a golden-crusted, filled-with-goodness galette, it will, indeed, be as delicious as it looks. And oh, that crust. Made by hand, it comes together quickly, gorgeously pliable and forgiving to work with. Where lesser crusts might put up some resistance or even crack, this one feels like cool, weighty fabric and smoothly falls into neat pleats. When it bakes, it puffs into layers, opening up those folds and rounding out. The edge shatters into large flakes, and where it is thicker, it goes pillowy with air.

I can see this pastry as means of conveyance for all sorts of deliciousness, kale and feta maybe, or sliced tomatoes with roasted shallots. There's endless possibilities there; keep it bookmarked.

The filling is hardly a slouch either, lush with sweet onions and cubes of succulent squash, bound with cheese and set off with thyme. It is elegant and rustic, decadent and comforting, and absolutely autumnal.

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In one of her earliest posts, Deb writes:

“I think that the basic instinct that gets us in the kitchen 'after all those messy sustenance issues have been attended to' is a deep-seated desire to make something taste a little better than the way we’ve come to accept it.”

That sums up why we keep turning to Deb, and her boundless generosity when it comes to her time, recipes and advice. She sincerely wants our meals to be better, and does her darndest to guarantee they are.

I'm thankful for her efforts, and her friendship.

Last week, I was honoured to host The Cookbook Store's author event with Deb in Toronto. Cheers to Alison and all the staff for organizing the night, to the chef school at George Brown Collegeand Chef Scott for the welcome and the best signs I've ever seen. To everyone who attended, y'all were amazing. Your enthusiasm got me through some nerves.

And, congratulations Debbie on the book. It deserves all the success it’s getting, and more. Here's to another visit soon, French 75s all around. Tiramisu too.

BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND CARMELIZED ONION GALETTE

Excerpted from The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook (Knopf Publishing Group, 2012). Deb suggests this as an appetizer, or as a main. The recipe can also be divided to make two 9-inch galettes.

For the pastry

  • 2½ cups (320 g) all-purpose flour, including 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour if you like, plus more for work surface
  • 1/2 teaspoon (2 g) table salt
  • 16 tablespoons (227 g) or 2 sticks, unsalted butter
  • 1/2 cup (64 g) sour cream or full-fat Greek yogurt, strained
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) white wine vinegar
  • 1/3 cup (79 mL) ice water

For the filling

  • 2 small or 1 large butternut squash, about 21/2 pounds (1134 g)
  • 3 tablespoons (45 mL) oil
  • 1½ teaspoons (5 g) tsp table salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon (14 g) butter
  • 2 large sweet onions, such as Spanish or Vidalia, halved, thinly sliced in half-moons
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1 g) sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon (1 g) cayenne pepper, or to taste (optional
  • 2 cups (180 g) grated Italian Fontina cheese
  • 1 teaspoon (4 g) chopped fresh thyme, or 2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
  • 1 egg beaten with 1 tsp (4 g) water, for glaze (optional, but makes for a croissant-looking finish)

 

METHOD

To make pastry: In a bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add the whole sticks of butter and, using a pastry blender, break up the bits of butter until the texture is like cornmeal, with the biggest pieces the size of pebbles. In a small bowl, whisk together the sour cream, vinegar and water, and pour this over the butter-flour mixture. Stir with a spoon or a rubber spatula until a dough forms, kneading it once or twice on the counter if needed to bring it together. Pat the dough into a ball, wrap it in plastic and chill it in the refrigerator for an hour or up to two days.

To prepare squash: Peel the squash, then halve and scoop out seeds. Cut into ½-inch to ¾-inch chunks. Pour 2 tablespoons (30 mL) of the olive oil into one or two smaller baking sheets, spreading it to an even slick. Lay the squash chunks on the baking sheet in one layer, sprinkle with ½ teaspoon (2 g) of the salt, and freshly ground black pepper, and roast in a 400 F oven for 30 minutes, or until squash is tender, turning the pieces occasionally so that they brown evenly. Set aside to cool slightly. Leave the oven on.

While the squash is roasting, melt the butter and remaining tablespoon of olive oil in a heavy frying pan, and cook the onions over medium-low heat with the sugar and remaining teaspoon of salt, stirring occasionally, until soft and tender, about 25 minutes. Stir in the cayenne pepper, if using.

Mix the squash, caramelized onions, cheese and herbs together in a bowl.

To assemble the galette: On a floured work surface, roll the dough out into a 16- to 17-inch round. Transfer to a parchment-lined baking sheet. Spread the squash-and-cheese mixture over the dough, leaving a 2 to 2½-inch border. Fold the border over the squash and cheese, pleating the edge to make it fit. The centre will be open. Brush the outside of the crust with the egg-yolk wash, if using.

Bake until golden brown, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the galette from the oven, let stand for five minutes, then slide onto a serving plate. Cut into wedges and serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Makes 1 hearty 12-inch galette, serving 8

Tara's Notes:

  • One day I used a mix of Fontina and Gruyère for the cheeses as I happened to have both in the fridge, but not enough of either to make up the full amount called for in the recipe; it was a nice combination.
  • In another incarnation, I added a diced Empire apple to the filling.
  • Dried red pepper flakes make a good substitution to the cayenne. 
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I came to know Luisa Weiss as you may have, through her site, The Wednesday Chef. I wish I could say what post was the first I devoured, or the recipe that was our introduction, but I can't. She's one of those people who seems as though they were always around. I do remember thinking her perspective was unique; born in Berlin to Italian and American parents, she was a woman who had studied in Europe and the United States, who loved food and now worked in cookbook publishing. She lived in New York. She seemed as sharp as she was kind, with a cracking streak of sarcasm and a real vulnerability. I thought her a little glamorous.

What sold me though was Luisa's impressive talent; she's got a knack for both words and recipes. She can line up a phrase in such a way that it comes across as both succinct and artful. She's a genius at sussing out good recipes, and specific and honest when it comes to analyzing the bad ones.

As Luisa continued to write, her circumstances changed and her skill evolved; the recipes were the way she talked about everything else in her world. Her highs and lows were shared over baked beans and Greek salads and pommes de terre boulangère.

Now, she has a book that covers all that more. And it is a Los Angeles Times bestseller.

When Sean and I packed up the boys for a late August jaunt to Montréal, Luisa's was the only book I tucked in my bag. It made for perfect travel reading, especially as we were going back to the city where I was born, and where Sean and I have spent so much time, starting from when we were dating. As Luisa recounted the journey she's had thus far, one divided into countries and continents, it made me consider my own.

I'll not spoil where her words leave off, but she sets us in an idyllic point of beginning and end. It is a moment filled with an appreciation for how we are in the constant collection of layers to our lives, how we are always building up these stories, memories, of people and places, adding and taking away from the patina of experience. She considers the complex, messy choices we make in the pursuit of growth and happiness, and shows a heartening faith in forward progress.

I thought a lot about my parents on that trip, how it must have been for them, as they started out in a new country. I conjured younger versions of Mum and Dad in shops and restaurants, I tried to find places that felt familiar from my childhood, and I wanted to stand on the steps of the church where they married. I wondered what it must have been like to make the choices they did.

One evening after dinner, Sean and I walked with our sons through Parc La Fontaine. The light was gold and gleaming, and the shadows long on the grass. We ambled along the winding paths and listened to someone playing violin. I held Benjamin's hand, and Sean carried William on his shoulders until we reached Sherbrooke street. At that point, facing south, you're at the edge of the plateau, with its width to your back and the mountain rising from there. The road falls away at your feet, rolling down towards the port and waters at the city's southern border. There was something in that moment that felt like potential. I imagined us living there. If I squinted hard enough, I thought I could see the boys running up the stairs of one of the skinny Victorian houses that line the park, I could hear the jingle of keys in my pocket, and I felt for a moment we could be home.

(Dear friends and family: we're not moving anytime soon.)

Luisa's meatballs

I just finished My Berlin Kitchen for the second time, proving that the book doesn't require travel. I read it one afternoon, as I sat securely tucked on our couch, and Luisa's sentiments still rang pure and true. The next day, I made these meatballs for the third (fourth?) time, with her conjured company in the kitchen.

These meatballs aren't in the book, — there is however, a recipe she includes for meatballs in chipotle sauce that should be mentioned, and one for a classic ragù that is the closest I've ever come to the Platonic ideal. Luisa actually wrote about these meatballs right before My Berlin Kitchen was published, as mother to a newborn son.

They serve as a poignant epilogue to Luisa's story. She's already on her next chapter, and it's nothing short of wonderful to see her on her way.

LUISA'S MEATBALLS FOR NEW MOTHERS

Recipe rewritten from Luisa Weiss. I find it as easy to make a large batch as it is a small one, so I often double the recipe, which guarantees that I'll have some to stash away in the freezer. See below for notes on that.

What do I like to eat meatballs with? Luisa says she likes hers with polenta or rice, and I'm in complete agreement with both of those recommendations. To add one of my own, I suggest you toast a slice of really crusty bread, then rub the cut side of a garlic clove over its surface. Tear a nice, milky ball of buffalo mozzarella and smush that into the bread. Ladle on some meatballs and sauce, snip over some fresh basil and a few chili flakes.

Toss together an escarole salad, and nestle a handful of leaves beside the meatballs on the plate.

Then grab a knife and fork and go at it. This deconstructed meatball sandwich makes for a rustic bit of business; with the bread both soft and crunchy, and then the mozzarella will be cool in some bites and melted in others, and the sharpness of the escarole stands out against the richness of the meat. Most likely at some point there will be sauce dribbling down your chin, which I consider undeniable proof of a good meal.

  • For the meatballs
  • 2 slices of white bread, crusts cut off
  • 1/3 cup milk
  • 1/2 pound ground beef
  • 1/2 pound ground pork
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 eggs
  • Fresh nutmeg
  • 1 bunch of parsley, minced

For the sauce

  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 28-ounce can tomatoes, whole, chopped or crushed
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Tear the bread into a bowl and soak the pieces with the milk. Allow to sit for a few minutes. Using your hands, squeeze out the bread and add it to a large bowl, along with the ground beef, ground pork, eggs, salt and pepper, maybe 30 grates of nutmeg, and the minced parsley.

Again using your hands, gently mix the all the ingredients together until they're a smooth, uniform mass. Cover the bowl and chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour.

An hour or so before you want to eat, make the sauce. In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, brown the garlic in the olive oil over medium heat. Pour in your tomatoes, give everything a stir and a good pinch of salt. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer the sauce for 25 minutes, stirring occasionally. Once the sauce is cooked, taste and adjust the seasoning.

To cook the meatballs, gently roll the meat mixture into smallish balls and line them up on a plate or baking sheet. (Luisa likes her meatballs about 2-inches in diameter, I like mine a bit smaller — see note below.) When all your meatballs are ready, carefully drop them in the warm sauce.

Cover the pot with a lid and leave it to simmer. Resist any compulsions to stir the pot; but, as Luisa says, if you're concerned you can shake the pot a little. After 25 minutes, the meatballs will be ready to eat, or you can allow the pot to cool completely then freeze everything for another day.

Notes on doubling the recipe:

  • Before forming the meatballs, pinch off a small amount and quickly fry up a little patty to check seasoning. It's an especially good thing to do when making large batches.
  • When the butcher has some on hand, I'll often add some ground veal to the mix.
  • If there are too many meatballs to fit into your pot of sauce, you cook the remaining meatballs seperately. I preheat the broiler to high, then pop in a baking sheet of meatballs about 3-4 inches from the heat. My smaller meatballs (1 heaped tablespoon of mix per ball) take around 8 minutes to get well-browned on the outside and cooked through. I allow the meatballs to cool, then freeze them on the sheet, transferring them to a sealable container for storage once frozen.
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I have a cardigan that's unmistakably ugly; the colour is drab and makes me look like I'm either coming down with a cold or getting over one. It was made for a tall man, which I am not, so the shoulders droop. On the left side, at my hip, above the pocket, there's a small hole, round and neat like you pushed a sharpened pencil through the wool. I've rolled the cuffs so many times that they're stretched out, and are beginning to ruffle at the edge. Still, the sweater is in my closet, because it is warm and comfy, and I like it. No matter its looks.

I feel very much the same way about panade. I'm a sucker for substance.

panade

A panade is like a savoury bread pudding, or the best parts of French onion soup and a gratin packed together in a casserole. There's bread and cheese and vegetables stacked up on top of each other, baked until the bottom goes lush and the top is crusted golden. A collection of humble ingredients — a fine use of those past their prime, actually — and one that lands up at an end far more auspicious then its start. It's made with stock rather than a custard to bind the layers, so even though rich and filling, the flavour of is clearer. There's acidity from the wine and tomatoes, the sharpness of sturdy greens, the pronounced, aromatic nuttiness of Gruyère; all together, yet each on their own. 

You may be familiar with the recipe for chard and onion panade from the Zuni Café cookbook; if not, you'll find it has a deservedly faithful following. This version adds tomatoes, and their inclusion made it perfect for our start to October, as the trees are starting their turn to technicolour but the days are warm enough that there are (crazy) folks wearing shorts and no coats. This panade is what we had one night when, if not for dinner, I was ready for the blanket we keep tucked by the couch. Hot and bubbling from the oven, we spooned our meal sloppily onto plates — though the crust shattered with an impressive shower of crumbs, underneath there were puddles of broth, and the oozing slip of melted cheese. The vegetables were supple but retained a messy integrity, if not their colour. We had fried eggs on top.

season's ending.
Untitled

It seems a counterintuitive to take vibrant tomatoes, minutes away from the end of their season, pile them with bouncily green bunches of rainbow chard and lacinato kale, and cook the lot of it to a muted sog, and yet, it makes absolute sense. The result is pretty much exactly what's going on outside right now, a season that blazes but feels cozy; one that's equal parts shining sky and colours turned up to eleven, as it is grey clouds and dim evenings, with the lights turned on early. 

Floppy sweaters and panades, both fit me fine.

TOMATO, GREENS AND GRUYÈRE PANADE

Adapted from Food and Wine. With two children at the table, I didn't let the panade bake too long uncovered, since when the crust goes terminally crunchy it can be difficult for small mouths to manage. If that's not a concern, feel free to fully blitz the top until crispy all over. 

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided, plus more for the pan
  • 5 pounds mixed sturdy greens, such as chards and kales, stemmed
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 large onions, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 cups chicken stock, preferably homemade
  • One 1-pound, day-old peasant loaf, sliced 1/2-inch thick
  • 3 pounds beefsteak tomatoes, sliced 1/2-inch thick, see note
  • 8 ounces Gruyère cheese, grated, plus extra for garnish

Butter a 10x15-inch baking dish and set aside. Preheat an oven to 400°F (200°C), with a rack in the upper third.

In a large, wide pot of boiling water, cook the greens for 2 minutes, then drain into a colander and run under cold water. Once cool enough to handle, squeeze out the excess water. Chop coarsely and set aside.

In the same pot, melt 2 tablespoons butter with the olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the onions and thyme and cook, stirring occasionally until the onions have softened, around 12 minutes. Stir in the garlic and cook for 2 minutes more. Raise the head to medium-high and pour in the wine; simmer until the wine has reduced to 1/4 cup, around 5 minutes. Stir in the greens and season with salt and pepper. 

In a small saucepan, bring the stock to a simmer. Line the bottom of the prepared baking dish with one-third of the bread slices, overlapping and trimming the bread to fit. Layer half the tomatoes on top, and season with salt and pepper. Spread half the greens mixture on next, then half of the cheese. Repeat layers with the remaining ingredients, gently pressing down as you build, ending with the bread. Carefully pour the stock over the casserole and press down again, this time using a spatula. Melt the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and brush over all. 

Cover the dish with foil and bake in the preheated oven for 1 hour. Remove the foil and bake for 10-15 minutes more, until the top is browned and crisp. Remove from the oven and allow the casserole to rest for 10 minutes before serving. At the table, sprinkle some reserved cheese on top, if desired.

Serves 8, nicely with a salad and/or a fried egg alongside.

Note:

  • I used a mix of tomatoes we had hanging about; if you don't have beefsteaks, semi-roasted Romas would be particularly fine, as done here
  • Fontina is a good switch for the Gruyère. 

*******

UPPERCASE 15!

From UPPERCASE magazine, issue #15: cooking science and a recipe for roasted carrots with rough dukkah, and one for harissa mayonnaise.

I am especially proud to be a contributor to UPPERCASE magazine, and I'm heartily thankful for support shown for my stories over there. To show that appreciation, I'd like to give away two copies of the latest, jaw-droppingly gorgeous issue! It even has a super-nifty embossed cover — you'll want to see this one in person. Simply leave a comment here if you'd like to be considered. (Please provide a way to contact you, either through your own website or email address. If concerned about privacy on the latter, the information is only visible to me when entered in the contact email field of the comment form. It will not be made public.)

Entries will be accepted until at 11:59 p.m. on Friday, October 12, 2012.

My continued thanks and best of luck! xo. 

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Excuse the announcement but, as there were some kind requests for one, I've added an email subscription feature to this site. You can click "subscribe" up there on the top bar, or right here.

corn with scapes, chilies and cilantro

If you skip ahead and read down below, you'll see I'm offering up some stuffed poblanos for lunch. Though if we're being frank, and I think we should be, the stuffing is really the take away today. That corn, and its countless variations, is something I've been making for ages, and I find myself tucking it into all manner of meals.

It started with this soufflé I think — hi there, terrible old point and shoot camera photo — that summer was a good one for corn and our now six-year-old, then less than two, was a major fan. I'd cook it until just barely tender, in butter with salt and pepper, fresh off the cobs we'd buy at the farmstand. Then I started adding onion, then garlic, then lime and herbs, and sometimes peppers, served hot and warm and at room temperature. As long as there was corn to start, there was a clean plate to finish.

And so ever since, sautéed corn has been in our rotation. As the base to corn puddings; cooked in olive oil and stirred through with torn basil, for a side along with a chicken that was spatchcocked and roasted over flames; or with fresh oregano in a salad, offering sweet against the aggressive salt of feta; or with slices of young chèvre in skinny omelets.

Like I said, it's useful... 

 

To read the rest, and get the recipe for poblano chiles stuffed with corn, please visit Seven Spoons.
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