April 29, 2011
Yesterday I used the last bag of frozen Swiss chard. Seeing the white bottom of the freezer is like seeing the ground again after the snow has melted – an unmistakable sign that it’s spring.
The Swiss chard went into a crustless Italian Swiss chard torte Venetian style, Tegliata di Biete. I based it on Marcella Hazan’s recipe from Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking but took several shortcuts. And, more importantly, I did not use pine nuts. I don’t remember the last time I bought pine nuts that did not taste rancid. Chinese pine nuts are quite awful, and the real stuff, pine nuts from the Mediterranean (Lebanese are viewed as the best), are expensive and hard to find. I sometimes food-fantasize about the delicious fresh pine nuts that were floating in the countless glasses of sweet tea I had when I lived in Tunisia. Back then, though, I did not have a garden where I could grow my own Swiss chard. If I had to choose between the two, I would always go for the garden – even if it means using walnuts instead of pine nuts.
Swiss Chard Torte with Raisins and Walnuts
2 pounds trimmed Swiss chard (leaves and small thin stems only)
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1/3 cup golden raisins
2/3 cup unflavored bread crumbs
1/2 cup walnuts
1 cup freshly grated parmesan (4 ounces)
1 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon cold butter
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 10-inch cake pan with oil.
2. Chop the Swiss chard finely. With a bit of water clinging to it (or partially thawed), place it in a large skillet and cook, uncovered, until the chard is fully cooked through and wilted, about 10 minutes, stirring often. Remove to a bowl.
3. Heat the olive oil and cook the onion until golden. Add the chard and cook for another 2 minutes. Remove both to the bowl.
4. Place the raisins in a small heatproof bowl and pour hot water over them to soak.
5. Lightly toast the breadcrumbs in a pan on the stove. Distribute half of them in the prepared cake pan.
6. Lightly toast the walnuts in the pan in which you toasted the breadcrumbs. Cool and chop coarsely. Drain the raisins and squeeze dry in a paper towel. Add walnuts and raisins to the bowl with the Swiss chard.
7. Lightly beat the eggs and add them to the mix together with the parmesan. Add salt and pepper and mix well. Spread the mixture over the breadcrumbs and even it out with a spatula.
8. Spread the remaining bread crumbs evenly on top. Dot with butter (I use a lemon zester to produce tiny strands). Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes. Serve hot or warm.
April 24, 2011
It’s true, I just recently made the resolution not to buy any more kitchen tools. Easier said than done – when I was in an overstuffed kitchen supply store in New York this week, I succumbed to the temptation. No matter how much my friend teased me, saying I did not need this ludicrous “beginner’s tool”, I bought an egg separator ($1.91 including tax, so money-wise it was a modest impulse purchase). And, I must say it came very handy for the eight eggs that went into the almond-orange cake for a Passover Seder.
I started out with Claudia Roden’s recipe for Almond Cake in Orange Syrup from The Book of Jewish Food but ended up combining and tweaking several of her recipes. Because the cake had to travel several hours to its destination, I assembled it on site. Next time I will definitely use a springform pan, which is higher than the cake pan I used. My cake baked over the rim and crumbled, but since it is sitting in syrup anyway, the imperfection could be disguised by flipping the “ugly” side to the bottom.
Almond Cake with Oranges
Oranges in syrup:
4 large oranges, at least two of them organic
3 cups sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
7 ounces unpeeled raw almonds
8 eggs, separated
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
2 cups orange juice (can be store-bought, but use a good quality)
2 tablespoons orange liqueur (Cointreau)
1. For the oranges in syrup, scrub the two organic oranges with a brush under running water. Dry and zest them thinly. Peel the other two oranges. Thoroughly remove the white pith from all the oranges.
2. Cut the oranges into even 1-inch slices and remove any seeds and pith from the middle.
3. Bring 4 cups water, the sugar and lemon juice to a boil in a large skillet. Stir until the sugar has dissolved.
4. Carefully place the orange slices in the skillet, if possible in a single layer. Put an inverted dinner place on top to fully immerse the slices in the liquid. Cover and simmer for 1 hour.
5. Remove the oranges from the liquid with a slotted spoon. Spread them in one layer on a large plate.
6. Boil down the syrup at high heat to about half. Let cool.
7. Place the almonds in a heatproof bowl and cover with boiling water. Let stand for 5 minutes, then drain and fill the bowl with cold water. Slip the almonds out of their skins and spread them on paper towels to dry.
8. Grind half of the almonds finely in the food processor. Chop the other half of the almonds to a coarser but not chunky consistency, using the pulse function.
9. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 10-inch springform pan.
Chop the orange zest very finely.
10. Separate the eggs. Beat the egg yolks with the sugar, cinnamon, and almonds. Beat the egg whites until stiff and fold them into the batter.
11. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake in a preheated oven for 1 hour, or until a toothpick comes out clean. If the cake browns too much but is not done yet, cover it loosely with aluminum foil.
12. Let cool slightly, then carefully remove from the pan and cool completely on a cake rack.
13. Boil the orange juice down to about half. Let cool and stir in the Cointreau.
14. A couple of hours before serving, place the cake on a deep cake plate. Pierce the cake several times with a fork. Drizzle with half of the reduced orange juice. Arrange the orange slices on top and brush them with a bit of the syrup for a glaze. Pour the rest of the reduced orange juice all around the cake and chill until serving.
April 18, 2011
I am antsy because I have not seeded anything in the garden yet. It was too cold, too wet, too windy, or all of the above, and during the few suitable days, I was away. Having 75 strawberry plants in the refrigerator waiting to be planted in the new strawberry patch is no relaxing perspective neither. My records of previous years show me that by mid-April I would already have the second crop of lettuce, spinach, peas, and radishes in the ground.
Frankly, a few days won’t matter now, as there is still plenty of stuff in the freezer. Also, the herb seedlings are doing well, so that’s a start. To stop myself from pacing up and down and looking at the weather forecast every hour, I made my Zucchini Quiche for dinner on Saturday, albeit with two variations – yeasted crust and regular feta.
I used Deborah Madison’s recipe for Yeasted Tart Dough with Olive Oil from Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone but only with half of the amount. For ½ egg, beat 1 egg and divide it in half, using the rest for another purpose. Reheat leftovers in the oven (a few minutes under the broiler set on low will do), not in the microwave, where the crust will become soggy.
Zucchini Quiche with Yeasted Crust
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
¼ teaspoon sugar
¼ cup lukewarm water
1½ tablespoons light olive oil
½ beaten egg
Pinch of salt
1 cup flour
1. Stir the yeast with the sugar and the water until the yeast is dissolved. Let stand for 10 minutes until it foams.
2. Mix the olive oil with the egg and the salt. Stir in the yeast mixture.
3. Add the flour, starting with ¾ cup and knead to a smooth dough that detaches from the bowl. The dough should be slightly tacky.
4. Place the dough in an oiled bowl and cover. Let rise for 45 minutes.
5. Prepare the filling as described here.
6. Preheat the oven to 375 C.
7. On a floured surface roll out the dough in a circle large enough to fit a 9-inch pie dish (not a deep dish) with a ½-inch edge. Pat the edge all around to even out the height and trim as necessary. You can use the trimmings to patch other places, it won’t show in the baked quiche.
7. Spread the filling over the dough and even it out with a spatula. Bake the quiche in the preheated oven for 35 minutes.
April 13, 2011
For the longest time I found Minestrone rather bland. That is, until almost ten years ago I tasted Marge’s, my late and beloved sister-in-law’s. Hers was wonderfully tasty. Of course I came home with the recipe. I have made it often ever since, always the whole recipe, although it yields a huge amount. The soup is great when you have people trickling in, as it is very good reheated. It also freezes well.
I wish I could ask my sister-in-law for the origin of the recipe. She used to mail me a large Manila envelope once in a while with copies of recipes. A post-it said something like “I have been cooking lately”, and many recipes carried her handwritten comments such as “outstanding”, “superb” or “try this”. Sometimes she added her substitutes and the date when she made it. All very neat, always citing the source, always the librarian, even after she retired. The Minestrone recipe is the only one that I jotted down myself. Shortly after she died in the summer of 2006, I started the Master Gardener program at Penn State University. It was a welcome new focus and distraction in those days, and it put together my haphazard knowledge about gardening.
This week it was time for Marge’s Minestrone again. For the tomatoes, spinach, string beans, garlic and basil I used last year’s from my garden. When it comes to chickpeas, I am a purist – I cannot get myself to use canned ones. Since I forgot to soak them last night, I quick-soaked them this morning, boiling them in plenty of water for 1 minute and then letting them sit for 1 hour – exactly the time it took me to line up all the ingredients, which is most of the work. Cooking the soup is a cinch.
¾ cup dried chickpeas (or 1½ cups canned)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 pound ground beef
1 very large onion (¾ pound,), chopped
8 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1½ tablespoons salt
¾ cup finely chopped boiled ham
3 stalks celery including leaves, finely chopped
½ cup finely chopped Italian parsley
1 small can (16 ounces) canned tomatoes, cut up with their juice
1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste
2 large carrots, peeled and sliced
4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh or frozen basil
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dried oregano
½ cup dry red wine
10 ounces chopped fresh spinach
2 medium potatoes (¾ pound), peeled and cubed
1 cup fresh or frozen string or filet beans
1½ cups elbow macaroni
1. If using dried chickpeas, soak them in cold water to cover for 8 hours or overnight.
2. Heat the oil in a large pot (stockpot). Add the ground beef and brown, stirring.
3. Add the onion and cook until soft and translucent.
4. Add the garlic and all the ingredients up to the wine plus 4 quarts water.
5. If using fresh chickpeas, add the drained soaked chickpeas now. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer for 1 hour, covered.
6. Add the potatoes, the spinach and the beans. If using canned chickpeas, add them now. Cook over low-medium heat for 20 minutes.
7. Add the pasta and cook until just tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Add salt to taste.
Serve with plenty of freshly grated Parmesan and fresh country bread or baguette.
Makes 16 servings