March 31, 2015
A Taste of the Past
Been perusing old cookbooks this morning, just for the sheer pleasure of it. I came upon this recipe, that I have to try soon, before the snow melts and it's too warm for filling food. But to me Onion Custard looks like a wonderful substitute for Creamed Onions, which always drive me crazy; peeling onions is tedious work, and the result never seems quite worth.
This, on the other hand, looks easy, although I'm not sure I'd include the bacon. (If you get to it before I do, please let me know how the onions come out.)
Fanny Todd Mitchell's Onion Custard
1 pound white onions
1/2 stick butter
4 tablespoons heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 strip lean bacon.
Peel onions and let stand in cold, salted water for 1 hour. Slice them and saute in butter until soft; don't brown. Cool them and preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Beat eggs, add cream. Season with nutmeg, salt, pepper and mix with onions. Pour into buttered casserole or baking dish. Slice bacon in tiny strips and lay on top.
Bake until the custard is thick, about 20 minutes.
March 28, 2015
Nancy Silverton's Pan Cotto
This is another crazy recipe Nancy asked me to test for her. It's a vegetable dish she discovered in a restaurant in Italy, and she plans to include it in her forthcoming cookbook. Knowing Nancy, who never stops tweaking recipes, it will be considerably changed by then. But this version, which I made for friends last night, was such a hit that I feel compelled to share it.
Warning: it's a fairly time-consuming and cheffy recipe. And it has some of the strangest recipe instructions I've ever encountered. It is also unlikely to come out in the smooth pancake (think hash brown potatoes) that she intends – but hash browns rarely turn out in a perfect pancake either. Doesn't really matter; what you will end up with is something crisp, slightly salty, and utterly irresistible.
Note: Nancy says you need a 9-inch non-stick sauté pan to make this. I used a 10-inch pan, and it worked fine. The more non-stick, I'd say, the better.
1 pound broccolini (about 2 bunches; or broccoli di ciccio)
2 tablespoons plus ½ teaspoon kosher salt (I cut this in half and it was still fairly salty)
4 arbol chile pods (I didn't have these, and it was fine)
½ to 1 teaspoon red chile flakes (depending on how spicy you like your food)
6 ounces country bread without the crust; crusts cut off; weighed without the crust (It's about half a loaf of Ciabatta or a round white loaf)
¼ cup garlic cloves (10 to 12 medium cloves), thinly sliced. (I cut this in half.)
½ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Trim and discard the dry stem ends of the broccolini. Separate the florets and the stems, then slice the stems in half lengthwise and cut them into 2-inch long segments. (Basically you're cutting the broccolini into fairly small pieces.)
Combine 2 quarts of water in a medium saucepan with a tablespoon of salt and chile pods and bring the water to a boil over high heat. Add the broccolini, return the water to a boil, and cook 3 minutes. Turn off the heat. Fish the broccolini out of the water and transfer it to a large bowl, reserving the cooking water in the pot. (This is important; you're going to need that water.) Discard the chile pods. Toss in the chile flakes.
Trim the crusts off the bread and cut it into ¼-inch cubes. (This will take longer than you think.) Put the bread cubes into a medium bowl. Add the olive oil, garlic, and salt and toss to coat the bread.
Pour 1 tablespoon of olive oil into a 9 or 10-inch non-stick sauté pan. Add the bread, along with all the garlic and oil, spreading into an even layer in the pan. Turn the heat to high and cook until you hear the oil begin to sizzle, 3 to 4 minutes. Continue to cook the bread over high heat, swirling the pan often and gently stirring the bread once or twice, so the bread doesn’t stick to the pan, 3 to 4 minutes more. Add the broccolini, mixing it into the bread so that it's evenly dispersed. Reduce the heat to medium, add ¾ cups of the reserved broccolini cooking water and swirl the pan again to prevent the bread from sticking.
Here's the strange part: put the pot (with the cooking water still in it), directly on top of the broccolini and bread to weigh it down. Cook in this fashion for 4 minutes, until it's all turned into a kind of mushy pancake. Remove the pot of water and reduce the heat to medium-low. Now take a metal spatula and begin pressing on the pancake, from the center out (the edges will become higher than the center), doing this every few minutes for about 20 minutes, until you hear the oil in the pan begin to sizzle. (What you're doing is cooking the water off.)
Swirl the pan every few minutes to try and prevent the bread from sticking to the pan (although in my experience this is fruitless). After the water has cooked off and the oil is really singing, increase the heat to medium and cook the pancake, swirling the pan and pressing on the pancake, until the pancake is golden brown and crisp, another 5 minutes or so.
Now turn off the heat, slide the pancake onto a dinner plate, cover it with another one and flip it over so the crisp side is on top. Slice into 6 or 8 wedges, like a pie.
Or just cover the pan with a dinner plate and flip it out of the pan. If it resists, don't worry; even if it's a scraggly mess instead of a serenely perfect pancake, it will be extremely delicious.
I'm sorry I forgot to take a picture, but when I rushed it to the table it smelled so wonderful we had devoured it before I had a chance to get my camera out.
March 27, 2015
People have been fermenting fruit into alcohol since the beginning of civilization. It follows, then, that old alcohol – vinegar – has been a staple of our diet for at least as long. The Mesopotamians made vinegar from dates, the Romans made vinegar from grapes, and from China to Greece, nearly every other kind of fruit has been discovered in vinegar form at the bottom of some ancient barrel.
So why does it feel fresh to see drinking vinegars being produced in this country? Everything old is new again – again. Long popular in Japan and Korea, and of course important to some niches in shrub and switchel form, drinking vinegars provide a perfect counterpoint to rich meals. Just mix a tablespoon or two with a bit of sparkling water. Or if so inclined, add a jigger of vodka.
I’m besotted with the shiso offering from Genki-Su, a company that makes Japanese-style coconut vinegar-based drinking vinegars. It’s also worth checking out the Pok Pok line; theirs was the first drinking vinegar I ever tried, and I've had at least one of their bottles in my cupboard ever since.
March 25, 2015
Took a fascinating cheese class last night with Matt Rubiner, of Rubiner's Cheese in Great Barrington.
I don't think I've ever eaten so much cheese. And I learned a lot.
This class was a romp up Route 7 from Monterey, Massachussetts (Rawson Brook Farm), to Highgate, Vermont (Boucher Farm). Matt says this is now the densest cheese route in America, and who am I to disagree?
The cheeses we ate were delicious; high points, for me, were the sweet, simple Rawson Brook Farm Chevre, which is about as basic as cheese can be. I also loved the Dorset from Consider Bardwell Farm, the Crawford from Twig Farm and the rather remarkable Orb Weaver Old, from Orb Weaver Farm, which had a sweet, honest earthy quality. But we weren't just tasting cheese. Among the fascinating facts I learned last night:
Everything we thought we knew about cheese changed a few of years ago when a professor at Harvard, Rachel Dutton, sequenced the genome of cheeses. Professor Dutton is doing really interesting things; here's an article about her.
A professor at the University of Vermont, Paul Kindstedt, is changing what we know about blue-veined cheeses.
And for anyone who happens to be lactose-intolerant, you can not only eat cheese (most of the lactose in cheese is drained out with the whey), but you might be able to drink the milk of Ayrshire cows, who produce milk so different from that of other cattle that it is naturally homogenized.
I'm sure shops all over America are offering cheese classes. I can't guarantee they'll be as instructive – or as deliciously entertaining – as Matt's, but it's certainly worth exploring. When I first started writing about food there were almost no artisanal American cheeses. I will never forget my first taste of American goatcheese, when Laurie Chenel began making it in the late seventies up in the Napa Valley. But what really thrills me is that, as our cheesemakers become increasingly adept at their craft, our knowledge about the subject keeps growing. It is, to me at least, endlessly fascinating.