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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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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It was Tuesday's dusk; the sun was on its way but hadn't quite left, and the night was at the door. That's when the rain arrived. Those last few glimmers of day hung in the wet air, and turned the raindrops to prisms and set our backyard aglow.

March rain is like the gentle hand of a parent on the shoulder of an eager child. It keeps us closer to home than we might like. It reminds us to please wait, only for a moment, to slow down and tread lightly as the world outside isn't ready just yet for our boisterous play.

Spring may be awake, but she still bears the imprint of her pillowcase upon her cheek. Soon she'll join us, in her finest dress in shades of sunbeam yellow.

In no time she will arrive, and our world will change. Spring is the most rambunctious of seasons, skipping across the landscape, with cascades of cherry blossoms tumbling from her hair and leaving trails of mossy green footprints.

In the blink of her eye, the Firsts of the season will be upon us. The first crocuses, drowsy headed and darling; the first evening walk when the breeze is mild and sweet; the first dinner eaten outdoors, preferably with strings of lights overhead.

And as we anticipate Spring's approach, we also mark the celebration of the Lasts of Winter. The last day to wear those woolen socks you loved in December but resent four months later; the last fire to crackle in the fireplace; the last of the Sunday roast suppers. Well maybe not the last, but at least the less frequent for those.

A habit of a meal for us, and for many; in our kitchen it is most usually the Zuni Café version, complete with the necessary bread salad.

It was during the stay of Mr. Winter that I ran into trouble, wanting rice not bread on a particular Sunday night. With that classic recipe as my inspiration, I served a brown rice salad rocky with almonds and tangy currants, with the spice of arugula there to light up everything. And while its bready predecessor has my lifelong devotion, I was pretty fond of how it turned out.

Now back to that night of that rain I mentioned to start. There was to be roast chicken for dinner. Without currants or arugula, I did have cranberries and parsley, and chose to build upon my previous improvisation. I included a pinch of ground coriander for good measure, bringing the subtle suggestion of grass and citrus beneath the direct flavours of clementine and fresh herbs. We were well fed.

In the end, the rain lasted the night, today we're again beneath its watery cloak, and tomorrow looks to be cold. But we have a date with warmer days penciled in our calendar.

It'll be soon enough, and we'll be ready.

BROWN RICE SALAD FOR A MARCH EVENING

You'll note that there aren't quantities for many ingredients, and there is a reason for that. I treated our dish much like a salad, dressed with a deconstructed vinaigrette. But, you can easily consider this more like a pilaf, seasoning it instead with a subtle hand and omitting the vinegar, leaving the flavours more mellow and round.

You might think that there is a lot of parsley, and it is. It is an ingredient here, not a garnish or an accent. I like the effect of the whole leaves for their juicy crunch, but chop them roughly if you prefer.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1/4 minced shallot
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • A good pinch of ground coriander seed
  • 1 cup brown rice, rinsed
  • 1/2 cup raw nuts, I like a mixture of flaked almonds and whole cashews
  • 1/4 cup dried currants or 1/3 cup dried sweetened cranberries
  • One clementine
  • Champagne vinegar, optional
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2-3/4 cup parsley leaves
  • Salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste

METHOD

In a medium, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat, melt the butter. Add the shallots and cook, stirring, until soft but without colour, around 3 minutes. Add the garlic, season with salt and ground coriander, and cook for 30 seconds more.

Add the rice, stirring to coat each grain with the butter. Toast for around 30 seconds, then add water and cook according to your rice's package instructions.

Meanwhile, toast the mixed nuts in a dry pan over medium heat, tossing often. When well-toasted and bronzed in places, remove from the pan to a bowl to cool. Set aside.

When the rice is done, pour into a serving bowl and fluff with a fork. Add the dried fruit to the bowl and grate over some of the zest from the clementine (do this when the rice is still quite hot, the heat of the rice plump the fruit and will diffuse the oils from the rind). Squeeze over some of the juice from the clementine, a splash of Champagne vinegar, if using, and a drizzle of olive oil. Fork through again. Season with salt and freshly-ground black pepper to taste.

Can be served immediately, warm or at room temperature. Stir in most of the nuts and parsley right before serving, saving some for garnish.

Serves 4.

Notes:

• I think this is especially good with a brown and wild rice blend; the wild rice adds an extra chewiness I like.

Heidi has a wild rice salad that is served with goat's cheese, an idea I'll be borrowing in the future.

I was granted the gift of a decent ability to remember things. My capacity for recall has served me well enough; through years of English Lit exams, countless passwords and PINs, phone numbers and postal codes, and all the other scraps of information deemed vital these days.

For the longest time, I had my brother's Social Insurance Number memorized. I was without specific reason to do so, I just did.

Mysterious how the mind works. Doubly mysterious how it sometimes chooses to abandon you completely. In my case? That memory of mine has one specific failing, and a funny one at that. Pakoras.

It's not that I've forgotten them, that would be impossible. Those vegetable fritters were one of the reasons that ours was the most popular house for after-school snacks on our street.

My grandmother and mother made them with onions or with sliced potatoes most often, sometimes with cauliflower too. Crisp and tender, touched by spice, they were like onion rings and potato chips and french fries all rolled together, made that much better by the combination.

Sitting at the table, I'd concoct an accompaniment to the pakoras as we waited for them to be cooked. The glass bottle of ketchup and a plastic bottle of chili sauce was all it took. You'd pour some ketchup into a little bowl, then stir in a swirl of firey-hot chili sauce, being as miserly or as generous as you'd like. That's it, that's all, you were ready to go. (This sauce is not at all authentic, but the thing to a six-year-old palate.)

My preferred pakoras were onion ones. They would emerge from the oil open-weaved, with rings of onion coiling around each other. In those few spots where the batter collected, the pakora was soft and fluffy; where the batter was thin, it shattered with a delicate crunch.

Trouble is that Grandma, the maker of superlative pakoras, firmly disavows these lacy versions of my childhood memory as her intended result. For a split second I foolhardily considered a defense of my recollection, but you don't argue with Grandma.

Of course the mistake was mine.

As I examined this lapse in my reminiscence, I had two epiphanies. First, my well-documented greed is probably at the root of this. I wouldn't be surprised if my childhood self (or my adult self for that matter) saw it fit to only select the thinnest, snappiest, pakoras of the bunch; only those ideal specimens would have been squirreled onto my plate.

Second, I shouldn't expect myself to be a faithful narrator to this story. It is inherent to the nature of our most treasured childhood memories that they be viewed through the blurred lens of nostalgia. Of course it would be that in my recollection every pakora was my exact favourite.

Lucky for me, pakoras are not only in my memory. And now that I'm the one at the stove, I can indulge my fancy and make sure that every pakora out of the oil is, in fact, my exact favourite kind. Yes, I know, greedy of me. Again.

But I'll sit with spine straight and head high. To me, these are memory brought to life, or to our plates to be specific, with the bias of sentiment fully, marvelously intact.

INDIAN ONION FRITTERS

Pakoras are often made with a batter that includes a variety of spices and a leavening agent. This is my Grandmother's recipe, who believes that simplicity is best when appreciating the qualities of each ingredient. As I said, you don't want to contest her opinion; I'm smart enough to be a good little granddaughter and report it faithfully.

Since I do deviate from tradition in the way they are shaped, I've called these fritters to avoid any confusion. Ramshackle and rustic, the messier your clumps of onion, the more texture there will be in the finished fritter.

For the full pakora experience of my childhood, the ketchup chili sauce combination is a must.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/2 cup gram (chickpea) flour
  • 1 small red chili, seeded and minced
  • 2 teaspoons minced cilantro
  • A generous 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • Water
  • Oil for deep frying (peanut, vegetable or canola)
  • 2 medium onions, trimmed, peeled and sliced into thin rings horizontally
  • Salt and fresh lime wedges for serving
  • Ketchup and chili sauce for serving (optional, see above)

METHOD

In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, chili, cilantro and salt. Slowly stir in enough water until the mixture reaches the consistency of whipping (heavy) cream. Beat the batter well, so it is lightened and foamy at the edges. Set aside.

In a heavy-bottomed pot on the stove or in a deep fryer, heat oil to 350°F (175°C). When that's reached temperature, separate the onion layers into individual rings and drop them into the batter, stirring gently to coat. Using a fork, pick up a clump of onion rings and allow the excess batter to drip off.

Carefully drop the tangle of onions into the oil and fry until lightly golden on one side, around 30-40 seconds. Flip the fritter and cook until crisp on the other side. Remove from the oil and drain on a cooling rack set up over newspaper or on some folded paper towels.

Repeat, frying a few at a time, until all the onion and batter is used.

Enjoy immediately, with additional salt sprinkled over and a squeeze of lime juice. Offer a condiment of ketchup blended with chili sauce for dipping.

Serves 2-4, depending on appetite. To be safe, let's say 2.

Notes:

• A small amount of crushed dried red chili can be used in place of the fresh.

• Pakoras can be made with a variety of vegetables. Melissa has some phenomenal versions to offer.

In the woods I can see from my window, the ground looks patchwork brown and white; an Appaloosa's coat imposed onto the landscape. Much of the snow remains, but in those places where it has gone, it's revealed the rock and earth beneath.

I am enough of a realist to accept that this most likely won't be the last of the snow, that the earth might soon again be covered, and that spring is still a ways away for us. For today, that glimpse is enough.

Right now I'm content to think of sweaters and wool blankets. But soon, quite soon I think, I'll be longing for the day the snow melts for good. Anxious and fidgety for a trod through that wood in the time of almost spring. Before the shoots begin, when all is brown and filled with possibility.

A walk where each step of rubber-clad foot is followed by the echoed squelch of the mud beneath.

In my mind's eye I see broad-checked flannel and tins of pretty cookies for later. But first, a thermos full of soup to bring warmth to the enjoyable dampness that surrounds. And as of this moment, if I had to decide, it would be mushroom soup that we'd sip and spoon.

I made some yesterday, so even though that picnic upon the forest floor is weeks away, you can still get the general idea of the way I'm thinking.

It has an aroma dense with notes of growth and loam. (Loam is such a good word, stretched out and rounded like a yawn.) Both fresh and dried mushrooms are cooked in a pan with olive oil, butter, onion and garlic. After 20 minutes of cooking, the mushrooms have gone through stages of transformation; first pale and spongy, then wet and a soggy, then as that moisture evaporates the mushrooms turn deeply golden and their texture goes satisfyingly chewy.

A pour of Sherry to deglaze, it sputters and bubbles into a winey syrup that coats the vegetables in gloss. In goes the stock, and all's left to simmer for 20 minutes more. Whirred to a foaming, ethereal purée, the soup is done save for the indulgent dollop of mascarpone right at the end.

And with that, into the woods we go.

One last thing, I'd like to thank Stephanie Levy for asking me to be a part of her Artists Who Blog series. If you'd like to take a look at what we talked about, she's posted my interview on her site.

THE REAL MUSHROOM SOUP
 

From Jamie Oliver, the title's his, too.

Now mushroom soup depends greatly on the mushrooms itself; not only for flavour of course, but also for colour.

The bulk of the fresh mushrooms I used were the bark and black beauties, crimini and shiitakes, with only a handful each of ochre chanterelles and ivory oysters to counter that darkness. A mix favouring the paler varieties would result in a soup with looks more fawn than mouse.

That business on top there, there is purpose to that prettiness. A bit of herbs, croutons torn into buttery crumble, some sautéed mushrooms, together create the ideal counterpoint to the mellow earthiness of the soup; a freshness to the musky depth of its flavour and essential weight against the lightness of the emulsion. Mr. Oliver suggests a tranche of grilled bread instead of croutons, use whichever you like.

The only change I made to the recipe was the addition of Sherry when cooking the mushrooms, leaving out the lemon juice to finish.

Recipe

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I've stopped in with some chickpeas today, along with a recipe that has me acting like a crazy person.

How so? Well, let's read the ingredients. You will surely recognize the usual suspects, robust olive oil, our old friend garlic, aromatic leeks and of course the chickpeas. Then there's twangy lemon and woodsy rosemary, adding height and depth to the mix. Last, the salt. Can't forget that, the universal leveler, the thing that amplifies individual flavours while miraculously creating overall harmony.

But no pepper.

Who have I become? It's unlike me to bring Salt along without it's bosom buddy Pepper. And often I go one step further, with dried chili flakes, cayenne or Kashmiri chili thrown in for kicks. But in this case, (deep breath) I have decided I don't want pepper anywhere near this meal.

Let me give you some sense of this tumble of stewy leeks and chickpeas; they cook up in a way that is gratifyingly substantial, as is our need in these January days. But they are just cooked, without a trace of sludginess, still firm and springy-centered. Silken leeks curl around their goldeness, the pale jadeite strands are floral and sweet. The rosemary and lemon are noticed to be sure, but their forms are blurred at the edges, melting into and carrying forth the flavours of the others in equal measure.

The full effect is something akin to what it would be like to read the collected poems of e.e. cummings by spoon rather than by eye. While there is a variation in tone from bite to bite, there are no full stops or pesky uppercase letters to interrupt the rhythm we've got going here. Pepper would break up that essential mellowness, its wham! bang! personality, although a virtue elsewhere, would be too much for the delicate structure of this dish to bear.

We can't have that. So, I've banished the pepper. Scandalous behaviour, on my part.

Secondly, I'm mad for this stuff. Straight out of the pan it is terribly good, with some wilted bitter greens or steamed broccoli rabe nearby to swirl into the herby, lemony, garlic-infused olive oil left behind. Or, pour in few glugs of stock (chicken or vegetable, please) and suddenly there's soup. It can be eaten as is, with perhaps some Parmesan, or blitzed into a purée (but take the rosemary sprigs out before bringing out the heavy machinery).

Whatever way, in mine at least, hold the pepper.

CHICKPEAS WITH LEEKS AND LEMON

I was heavy-handed with the olive oil, as I knew I wanted that excess to dress the greens served alongside. For a lighter dish, or if your intended result is soup, reduce the oil to 2 tablespoons. Adding the rosemary back to the pan at the end gives a final hit of herbal steam. The twig, and the clove of garlic, can be removed before serving if desired.

INGREDIENTS

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 large garlic clove, bruised but whole
  • 1 6-inch branch fresh rosemary, broken in two
  • 4 leeks, cleaned, trimmed and with the white and light green parts sliced in 1/4-inch rounds
  • Kosher salt
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas (garbanzo beans)
  • 1/2 lemon

METHOD

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil, garlic and rosemary over medium heat. Once the garlic turns fragrant and the rosemary begins to sizzle, remove the rosemary but reserve for later.

 

Add the leeks to the pan, along with a good pinch of salt. Cook, stirring often, until the leeks are soft and sweet but still brightly green, around 5 minutes. Tip in the chickpeas, and continue to cook for a 5 minutes more, at which point the chickpeas should have darkened slightly in colour.

Using a microplane or zester, add a few scrapes of lemon zest to the pan, along with a squeeze of lemon juice. Stir gently to combine. Check for seasoning, adding more juice, zest or salt as needed. Return the reserved rosemary sprigs to the pan, and enjoy warm or at room temperature.

Serves 4.