World – Zester Daily http://zesterdaily.com Zester Daily Fri, 05 Jan 2018 10:00:10 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.5.12 Toad In The Hole Is Uniquely British Comfort Food /world/toad-hole-uniquely-british-comfort-food/ /world/toad-hole-uniquely-british-comfort-food/#respond Fri, 05 Jan 2018 10:00:10 +0000 /?p=60395 Toad in the hole. Credit: Sue Style

The British like to mock what they love best. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the irreverent names they give to favorite foods — think bubble and squeak (fried cabbage and potatoes), stargazy pie (a pie with sardines poking their heads out through the pastry), bangers and mash (sausages and mashed potatoes) or even (dare we mention) spotted dick (a steamed pudding made with dried fruit).

My personal favorite is toad in the hole. This epic dish of sausages baked in batter — the same as used for Yorkshire puddings — is a kind of distant cousin of pigs in a blanket. The crucial difference is that the sausages, instead of being tightly swathed in a blanket of pastry, are reclining in a delicious duvet of batter, which billows up agreeably around them. A good toad (as it’s familiarly known) is perfect comfort food for the depths of winter.

The original from my childhood had only sausages, which from memory were a sickly pallid pink, suspiciously straight, very smoothly textured and terminally bland. For a properly tasty toad, I prefer a seriously meaty pork sausage, quite coarsely ground. I like to add bacon chunks too. You could think of it as a way to get the full English breakfast, but for brunch or supper and served with chutney and salad.

Here are a couple of hints to help you arrive at the perfect toad in the hole. First off, make the batter a little ahead — an hour is enough to allow the starch molecules in the flour to relax and absorb the milk and water, which gives a lighter result. Secondly, give the bacon and sausages a bit of a fry-up first so they take on a little color. You can do this in a skillet or in a roasting pan in the oven — the same one in which you will bake the dish. Thirdly, use a metal roasting pan, never a ceramic or glass dish, which is the surest way to a soggy toad. Finally, heat is of the essence. The oven and the roasting pan should be preheated, so that when you pour in the batter it makes a satisfying sizzle and starts to set lightly in the bottom, providing a base for the sausages and bacon to be embraced by the billowing batter.

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Sausage slices before being fried for toad in the hole. Credit: Sue Style

Toad in the Hole

Round out toad in the hole with salad and chutney for a complete brunch or supper meal. Credit: Sue Style

Round out toad in the hole with salad and chutney for a complete brunch or supper meal. Credit: Copyright 2018 Sue Style

Prep time: 15 minutes, plus 1 hour to rest the batter

Cook time: 45 minutes

Total time: 1 hour 45 minutes

Yield: Makes 8 servings

Ingredients

For the batter:

1/2 cup (125 milliliters) water

1/2 cup (125 milliliters) milk

4 ounces all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons melted butter or vegetable oil

4 eggs

A pinch of salt

For the sausages and bacon:

10 ounces (300 grams) cured or smoked slab bacon

4 coarse-cut pork sausages, about 12 ounces (350 grams)

Directions

1. Place all the batter ingredients in a blender and blend till smooth. Scrape down the sides and blend again. Refrigerate the batter for about one hour.

2. Cut rind off the slab bacon and excise any gristly bits. Slice the bacon thickly and cut each slice in squares.

3. Cut the sausages in 1-inch (2.5-centimeter) thick slices.

4. Put the bacon in a frying pan and fry gently till the fat runs and the bacon begins to take a little color, turning the slices once. Remove bacon with a slotted spoon and tip excess fat into a side dish.

5. Add the sausage slices to the pan and fry till lightly colored, turning them until evenly browned.

6. Pour about 1 tablespoon of reserved bacon fat into a roasting pan about 10 inches by 12 inches (25 centimeters by 30 centimeters).

7. Heat the oven to 425 F (220 C).

8. When the oven is good and hot, put the roasting pan inside to heat the bacon fat. Remove pan from the oven and roll the fat around to coat the bottom of the pan — adding a little more fat if necessary.

9. Pour in the batter, then add the fried bacon and sausages, distributing them evenly around the pan.

10. Return the pan to the oven and bake for about 30 minutes or until the batter is a beautifully burnished brown and nicely risen. Serve with chutney and salad.

Main image: Toad in the hole. Credit: Copyright 2018 Sue Style

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Making Cabbage Cool Again With Two Hot Recipes /cooking/making-cabbage-cool-two-hot-recipes/ /cooking/making-cabbage-cool-two-hot-recipes/#comments Thu, 04 Jan 2018 10:00:05 +0000 /?p=60091 Pirjati Zelje (braised cabbage). Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Cabbage is the Rodney Dangerfield of vegetables: It doesn’t get any respect. It gets a bad rap. Cabbage never gets mentioned as one of the hip vegetables like kale. It’s not a super-vegetable like broccoli rabe. It’s not an adorable vegetable like baby Brussels sprouts. It’s not a “cool” vegetable. It’s stodgy and old-fashioned. I mean, they make sauerkraut from it.

All those cooler vegetables just mentioned, though, owe their existence to cabbage. The big green head we associate with cabbage today was not always what cabbage was. Today there are hundreds of varieties of cabbage that have developed from the progenitor cabbage, called the wild cabbage, including the many forms of cabbage and further horticultural developments such as broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoliflower, broccoli rabe and kohlrabi.

Botanists divide the cabbage into five groups. It is the head cabbage, green, red, crinkly-leafed or Savoy cabbage, that I’m speaking of. But there are some 400 varieties of head cabbage.

The cabbage is probably native to the Mediterranean, but in Roman times the head cabbage we think of as cabbage today did not exist. The Romans had only leafy cabbage, probably kale. There are some obscure references by Roman naturalists Pliny and Columella to what has been taken by some to be head cabbage. These descriptions refer to heads of the plant being a foot in diameter, but it is not at all clear whether this refers to a compact headed cabbage that we know today or is simply an expression referring to the above ground portion of the plant.

The wealthy citizens of Rome, in the period after Cato the Elder (mid-second century BC), thought of cabbage as poor people’s food as we know from the description in Juvenal’s satire when he described the difference between the food that the patron ate, namely olives to garnish an excellent fish, and the food of the client, who finds cabbage in his “nauseous dish.”

It seems that the head cabbage we know today was developed in Germany in the 12th century. Soon it would be the single most common plant in the medieval garden.

Cabbage rolls. Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Cabbage rolls. Credit: Copyright 2018 Clifford A. Wright

It’s not a popular vegetable today, but it is a vegetable that does draw the curious cook. The most obviously intriguing thing to do with cabbage is to separate the leaves and then stuff them by rolling them up. There are many great preparations for cabbage from sauerkraut, to kimchi, to coleslaw, and every culture has a recipe for stuffed cabbage. Here are two recipes for cabbage lovers from cabbage-loving Slovenia and Croatia, next door to Italy.

Braised Cabbage

Cabbage is a very popular vegetable in the Balkans, served raw, in the form of sauerkraut and cooked in a variety of ways. In the northern part of the former Yugoslavia, today’s Slovenia and parts of Croatia, cabbage may be cooked with sour cream or tossed with noodles and smoked bacon. In Bosnia or Montenegro, it might be cooked with tomatoes. This recipe from Slovenia is typically served as a bed for a roast duckling.

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 55 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

2 bay leaves

2 tablespoons tomato paste mixed with 2 tablespoons water

1 cup dry white wine

One 2-pound green cabbage, cored and sliced as thin as vermicelli

15 peppercorns

8 juniper berries, lightly crushed

1 teaspoon dried thyme

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

1. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat, then add the bay leaves and cook until they begin to sizzle. Reduce the heat to medium and very carefully add the tomato paste and wine, which will spurt and splatter rather dramatically.

2. Continue cooking for a minute then add the cabbage, peppercorns, juniper berries and thyme. Mix so the cabbage is covered with sauce.

3. Add the lemon juice and continue to braise over medium heat until the cabbage softens, 6 to 8 minutes.

4. Reduce the heat to low, season with salt and pepper, and cook until the cabbage is completely soft, about 45 minutes. Correct the seasoning and serve hot.

Stuffed Cabbage Rolls

These cabbage rolls are a winter specialty known as arambašici in their home of Sinj, a town near the Dinaric Alps on the Dalmatian coast of Croatia. Traditionally, this casserole of stuffed cabbage leaves is made from a whole head of cabbage that has been prepared as sauerkraut. Each sauerkraut leaf, or as in this recipe cabbage leaf, is stuffed with beef, pork and bacon, and flavored with lemon zest, onion, garlic, cloves and cinnamon. Each roll-up is separated from the other with pieces of pršut (Croatian prosciutto) and smoked tongue.

Arambašici can be made with fresh cabbage leaves or grape leaves, too. My recipe uses fresh cabbage, which is the easiest to find and is what a cook from Sinj would use in the summer. Many cooks also like to make the casserole in the evening and then reheat it the next day, and you should consider doing that as it is delicious.

The casserole cooks a long time so the meats are very tender and the cabbage leaves become silky. The smoked bacon, smoked pork, smoked tongue and prosciutto can all be picked up at the deli counter of most supermarkets.

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cooking time: 4 hours

Yield: 20 to 26 rolls, or about 6 servings

Ingredients

1 large green cabbage (about 2 3/4 pounds), central core removed

1 1/4 pounds boneless beef neck meat or beef chuck, finely chopped

5 ounces smoked bacon (preferably) or lean slab bacon, finely chopped

2 ounces beef fat (suet), finely chopped

6 ounces boneless pork shoulder or neck meat, finely chopped

2 large onions, chopped

3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped

Grated zest from 1 lemon

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3/4 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon unsalted butter or beef fat for greasing

One 4-inch-long beef marrow bone (optional)

1 ounce smoked pork (any cut), finely chopped

2 ounces prosciutto, thinly sliced into strips

2 ounces smoked tongue (optional), thinly sliced into strips

1 cup water and more as needed

Directions

1. Heat the oven to 300 F.

2. Remove and discard any of the outermost leaves of the cabbage that are blemished. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, salt and plunge the whole cabbage in and cook until the leaves can be peeled away without ripping, about 10 minutes. Drain well and, when cool enough to handle, separate the leaves carefully, setting them aside.

3. In a large bowl, mix together the beef, bacon, suet and pork. Add the onions, garlic, lemon zest, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, salt and pepper and mix well with your hands.

4. Arrange a cabbage leaf in front of you with the stem end closest to you. Place 2, 3 or 4 tablespoons (depending on the size of the leaf) of filling on the end closest to you, then roll away once, fold in the sides and continue rolling away until you get a nice, neat package.

5. Continue with the remaining cabbage leaves. Arrange the cabbage rolls side by side, seam side down, in a lightly greased 13- x 9- x 2-inch casserole (you may need to use two casseroles), making sure you leave some room for the beef marrow bone. Sprinkle the chopped smoked pork over the cabbage rolls.

6. Place the prosciutto and smoked tongue slices (if using) between the cabbage rolls. Pour the water over the cabbage rolls and cover with aluminum foil. (The casserole can be refrigerated at this point to bake later.)

7. Bake until the cabbage rolls are very soft, slightly blackened on top and bubbling vigorously, about 4 hours.

8. Serve hot or let cool to room temperature and serve as an appetizer the next day.

Main photo: Pirjati Zelje (braised cabbage). Credit: Copyright 2018 Clifford A. Wright

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Which Sauce For Which Pasta? /cooking/which-sauce-for-which-pasta/ /cooking/which-sauce-for-which-pasta/#comments Wed, 03 Jan 2018 10:00:29 +0000 /?p=59368 Vintage pasta label. Credit: Courtesy of Gerardo di Nola Pastificio, Naples

We’ve come a long way since the days when Americans thought Italian cuisine meant spaghetti or ziti in rivers of “marinara” set on red-checkered tablecloths. Even if mistaken notions persist about what genuine Italian cooking really is, we’ve embraced every new pasta that has come our way (think squid-ink fettuccine or agnolotti al plin), and we’ve become more sauce savvy, too. Amatriciana and puttanesca are commonplace in restaurant and home kitchens alike, and “carbonara” is a household word from New York to Nebraska. Arrabbiata, cacio e pepe, aglio e olio — you name it, we love them all.

Nevertheless, the canon of pasta-and-sauce pairings has remained something of a mystery outside the borders of Italy. The immense number of different shapes is daunting to us foreigners; out of sheer exasperation, we find ourselves asking, “Why so many?” There are “priests’ hats,” “wolves’ eyes” and “horses’ teeth,” “church bells,” “little loves” and “kiss catchers.” It is not enough to make pasta bows (farfalle); there must also be little bows (farfallette) and much bigger bows (farfalloni). There are not only small reeds called cannelle, but also very small reeds, large smooth reeds and large grooved reeds. Some shapes have more than one name (penne lisce and mostaccioli, for example, are one and the same).

A 19th-century graphic depicting rival pasta makers. Credit: Courtesy of Julia della Croce

A 19th-century graphic depicting rival pasta makers. Credit: Courtesy of Julia della Croce

The roots of this maccheroni madness go back to the fierce rivalry among dried-pasta manufacturers in 19th century Naples, where the southern Italian pasta industry mushroomed during the Industrial Revolution. At one point about 1,500 pastifici competed for business, engaging in price wars or introducing ever-newer products to lure customers to their brand. But probably more than anything, the seemingly endless variations reflect the expansive nature of the Italian people — their imagination and love of show.

The American versus the Italian approach

Americans are characteristically laissez-faire about pairing rules. James Beard once told me that he saw no reason to be bound by tradition; he believed we ought to be inventive with pasta recipes. By contrast, the Italians are always mindful of the pairing principles derived from a long history of pasta eating. Over the centuries, tried-and-true guidelines have emerged, based primarily on the ingredients in the dough and the architecture of each resulting shape — hard wheat or soft wheat, dried pasta or fresh, long or short, smooth or ridged. Various pastas absorb and combine with sauces in different ways depending on their wall thickness, density and structure.

Meanwhile, sauces — condimenti, as the Italians call themhave inherent texture, flavor and color attributes. The foundation of most is olive oil or butter, given body with tomato purée, meat, vegetables and/or cheese. The art of pairing can probably best be explained by herding all the unruly strands and little shapes into three separate tribes, as it were — each with their own swimming pools or sauces. (Here we will concern ourselves with dried pasta alone.)

Golden rules for pairing dried pasta and sauces

Strands

Lightweight

Capelli d’angelo (“angel hair”), cappellini (“fine hair”), vermicelli (“little worms”), fedelini (“very fine noodles”): Use all in broths or broth-based soups. The latter two, being thicker, are suitable for light, sieved tomato sauces, but none of these long, lightweight pastas can support dense cream-based or meat sauces.

Medium-weight

Spaghetti, spaghettini, spaghetti alla chitarra (“guitar-string spaghetti”), mezze linguine (“half linguine”): This group is sturdy enough for olive-oil sauces such as aglio e olio as well as tomato- or brothy seafood-based sauces that easily slip along the surface.

Heavyweight

Linguine (“long tongues,” aka bavette), perciatelli, bucatini, fusilli bucati lunghi (“long hollow coils”): Because these shapes have more weight than those in the previous subcategories, they will all support a relatively unctuous sauce such as basil pesto, but they are also sprightly enough to consort with sauces suited to medium-weight long pasta. By tradition, linguine is inexplicably inseparable from fish or shellfish sauces, though fluid tomato sauces make a pleasant match, too.

Spaghetti with fresh tomato and basil, a classic pairing. Credit: Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Spaghetti with fresh tomato and basil, a classic pairing. Credit: Copyright 2018 Nathan Hoyt/Forktales

Tubes

The tubular shapes have relatively thick walls, which make them sturdy enough to support not only chunky tomato-based sauces with or without meat, as well as cheese or cream preparations. (Diagonal cuts are especially handy in this regard.) Despite the versatility of these shapes, the size of the ingredients in accompanying sauces should be kept in mind. For example, wide tubular cuts are big enough to trap meat bits and vegetable chunks (think rigatoni with broccoli and anchovies); not so in the case of petite variants such as pennette (“little quills”). Tubular shapes are also ideal for baked dishes because they hold their shape and firmness during a second cooking in the oven.

Anelli (“rings”), ditaloni (“thimbles”): Ideal for pasta e fagioli and other bean soups because the ring shape nests cannellini beans, lentils and such.

Penne (“quills”), penne rigate (“ridged quills”), penne lisce (“smooth quills”), pennette, rigatoni: These go with olive oil- or butter-based vegetable, meat and tomato sauces and also with cream-based concoctions. Olive oil-based sauces stick to ridged shapes better than to smooth ones. The slimmer pennette are best matched with light vegetable or tomato sauces containing, say, wild mushrooms or eggplant (though traditionalists wouldn’t dream of making pasta alla Norma with anything but spaghetti).

Quirky shapes

Farfalle (“butterflies”): Their delicate “wingspan” suits them to light sauces based on either olive oil or butter, as long as there are no big obstacles in their flight path.

Fusilli, fusilli corti (“short fusilli”), tortiglioni (hollow “spirals”), radiatori (“radiators”), gemelli (“twins”) and various twists: Shapes like these are designed to trap cheese and ricotta sauces or unctuous nut sauces, such as pestos. Ragù and other meat sauces love to collect in their coils, too.

Strozzapreti (“priest stranglers”): These handmade dried forms call for tomato, meat and sausage sauces.

Conchiglie (“shells”), riccioli (“curls”), ruote (“wheels”), lumache (“snails”): Short and stubby shapes such as these work well with hearty sauces featuring meat, vegetables, cheese or cream.

Main photo: Vintage pasta label. Credit: Courtesy of Gerardo di Nola Pastificio, Naples, reprinted from “Pasta Classica: The Art of Italian Pasta Cooking,” by Julia della Croce

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Lentils And Legumes For Good Luck In The New Year /world/lentils-and-legumes-for-good-luck-in-the-new-year/ /world/lentils-and-legumes-for-good-luck-in-the-new-year/#respond Sat, 30 Dec 2017 10:00:41 +0000 /?p=71649 Pasta with Spicy Sausage and Chickpeas. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

As the new year emerges, the world welcomes a fresh start, usually with hopes of a new beginning with some luck thrown into the mix. The practice of welcoming a new cycle in the calendar is probably one of the most universal holiday celebrations in the world, and it is often celebrated by eating legumes for luck. I love the idea of a new start as much as I love the seasons, and over the years I have relished the idea of welcoming the new year with simplicity and good, wholesome food.

Legumes, including beans, peas and lentils, are considered to be symbolic of money, and thus considered a harbinger of prosperity and good luck in the new year. Several of them resemble coins, and the fact that they swell up when soaked in water also extends the analogy that the prosperity grows with time.

Traditions vary in different parts of the world. In Italy there is a preference for sausages with green lentils eaten just after midnight. In a similar vein, in Germany they ring in the new year with split peas, while in Japan lucky foods eaten during the first three days of the year include sweet black beans. Closer to home in the southern United States, it’s traditional to eat black-eyed peas in a dish called Hopping John. When the dish is served with collard greens, the odds of prosperity are increased, because green symbolizes the color of money.

On an Indian table, legumes are a cornerstone ingredient, soul food actually, something that we celebrate on days good and bad, so the idea of a bowl of legumes served any which way easily translates to good luck for me.

The new year often comes with resolutions for eating healthy, and legumes are healthy and readily available during the winter months when other things are somewhat lean. The cornucopia of red, yellow, green and white lentils, along with the dozens of red, white and black beans, ensure we have plenty of options to pick from at the beginning of the year and beyond.

Legumes are rich in protein and high in fiber and are lower in calories than most meat-based sources of protein, offering a healthy and filling option for your plates and palates. While most legumes will cook down to soft and satisfying goodness, they have a whole variety of flavors, tastes and textures to ensure your palate is interesting and innovative.

Most beans and complex lentils can be cooked ahead of time in a slow cooker for four hours or for 20 minutes in a pressure cooker. Cook legumes with water and a little salt and use in your recipe as needed. Cooked beans and lentils can be stored in your refrigerator for up to five days or alternately place them in a zip-lock bag and freeze to use as needed.

The water the beans are cooked in is actually fairly tasty and good for you and can be added to soups and stews. On any given week, I have a few of these bags handy and ready to be added into flavorful dishes, assuring me full-flavored stews without the trappings of extra sodium and preservatives.

For your new year, I offer you two versions of classic dishes the way we enjoy them in my household and a recipe for collard greens to ensure we are in the green for the coming year.

Hopping John (Rice Cooked With Black-Eyed Peas)

Hoppin John. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

Hoppin John. Credit: Copyright 2017 Rinku Bhattacharya

For my recipe for this Southern dish, I have actually ditched all meat-based products to create a dish that is flavorful and delicate. If served with love and affection, it will indeed convince you that this year you shall be lucky with or without money. My secret ingredient is that I do, in fact, cook my black-eyed peas from scratch and save some of the simmering liquid to use for cooking my rice dish. The dish resembles a pilaf, which probably takes it closer to the Senegalese roots of this traditional dish.

Of course, to maximize the green, I garnish my variation of Hopping John with finely chopped green onions. New Year’s or otherwise, add this dish to your table and you are bound to feel well-nourished on a cold day. For a quick visual of how to make this dish, watch this video.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Total time: 35 minutes

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 tablespoon butter

1 medium-sized onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 or 2 ribs of celery, finely chopped

1 or 2 carrots, diced

1 cup white rice (I used basmati rice, which will give this recipe a very delicate and elegant finish.)

2 1/2 cups stock or water

1 cup cooked black-eyed peas

1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar (optional)

Chopped green onions for garnish

Directions

  1. In a pot with a tight-fitting lid, add the olive oil and butter and heat until the butter is melted.
  2. Add the onion and garlic and sauté for about 5 minutes, until the onion softens considerably and begins to turn pale golden.
  3. Add the celery and carrot and stir well.
  4. Stir in the rice and mix well. Add the stock or the water and cup of black-eyed peas.
  5. Add the salt and the pepper and bring the mixture to a simmer. Cover and cook the rice for 18 minutes. Note: This time works for basmati rice; for other rice varieties allow a few more minutes. Essentially the rice should be soft and all the water should be absorbed.
  6. Let the rice rest for about 10 minutes, then remove the lid and fluff. Sprinkle with the red wine vinegar if using and garnish with the green onions if using.

Note: If you are cooking the black-eyed peas yourself, save the cooking liquid and use it for the rice, in lieu of the stock or water.

Pasta With Spicy Sausage and Chickpeas

This southern Italian dish is often made with brown lentils and spicy Italian sausage and often enjoyed on New Year’s Day. I make this with chickpeas and add lots of fresh basil to provide a fresh touch of brightness. Since we like our flavors spicy, I use andouille chicken or turkey sausage and add in some freshly ground cumin and fennel. For a quick visual on how to make this dish, watch this video.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 25 to 30 minutes

Total time: 35 to 40 minutes

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 small red onion, very finely diced

1 1/2 cup of crushed red tomatoes or tomato sauce

1 teaspoon sugar

1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

3/4 cup of cooked chickpeas

1 cup of chopped spicy sausage (Italian or andouille)

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground fennel

1 1/2 cups pasta cooked until al dente (a small shape such as a pipette or ditalini)

2 to 3 tablespoons finely chopped basil

Freshly grated Parmesan to finish

Directions

  1. Heat the oil and add the minced garlic and cook until the garlic is pale golden. Add in the onions and sauté until soft and wilted (about 4 to 5 minutes).
  2. Add the chopped tomatoes and the sugar with about 1/2 cup of water.
  3. Stir in the salt and bring to a simmer.
  4. Add the chickpeas, sausage cumin and fennel and cook through for about 2 minutes.
  5. Add the pasta and mix well.
  6. Turn off the heat, garnish with the chopped basil and Parmesan and serve.

Collard Green and Roasted Root Vegetable Slaw

Collard Green and Roasted Root Vegetable Slaw. Credit: Copyright 2015 Rinku Bhattacharya

Collard Green and Roasted Root Vegetable Slaw. Credit: Copyright 2017 Rinku Bhattacharya

This dish is a beautiful medley of root vegetables, tossed with very finely chopped collard greens tossed in an assertive Asian-inspired marinade.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 20 minutes

Total time: 35 minutes

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

For the roasted vegetables:

2 medium-sized turnips
3 medium-sized carrots
4 small to medium parsnips
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger
2 tablespoons maple syrup (I have a strong preference for Crown Maple Syrup)
3 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce

For the greens and the remaining dressing:
1 medium-sized bunch of collard greens
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1/2 teaspoon to 1 teaspoon red cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
Sesame seeds for garnish

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 F.
  2. Peel the turnips, carrots, parsnips and julienne into thin strips.
  3. Place the vegetables in a roasting pan. In a small bowl mix the olive oil, ginger, maple syrup and the tamari, and drizzle the vegetables with the mixture.
  4. Roast the vegetables for 20 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, stack the collard leaves over each other and thinly slice the leaves, to create a chiffonade. Place in a large bowl.
  6. Add in the roasted vegetables, reserving the pan juices.
  7. Pour the pan juices into a mixing bowl, add in the sesame oil, cayenne pepper, olive oil and vinegar and mix well.
  8. Add the dressing to the collard and vegetable mixture and toss lightly. Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and serve.

Main photo: Pasta with Spicy Sausage and Chickpeas. Credit: Copyright 2017 Rinku Bhattacharya

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4 Hangover Chasers That Lift The Morning Fog /drinking/4-hangover-chasers-lift-morning-fog/ /drinking/4-hangover-chasers-lift-morning-fog/#respond Sat, 30 Dec 2017 10:00:32 +0000 /?p=59891 A hangover cure can help ease the pain next time you over imbibe. Credit: iStockPhoto

Hangover cures — they’re never there when you need ’em. Not that you (or I) ever need them — perish the thought.

Nevertheless, in the spirit of post-festive brotherly love, a recommendation or two might come in handy for those who — ahem — might have been on the wrong side of a midwinter indulgence and are looking for a simple restorative mouthful, liquid or otherwise.

The bullshot — boiling beef consommé cooled with a generous measure of vodka — comes well-recommended as the morning pick-me-up on England’s Yorkshire moors in grouse season, while Scotland’s heather bashers consider the oatmeal caudle — runny porridge with cream and whiskey — more geographically appropriate.

Which is not to overlook those who swear by yak butter and hot tea as the antidote to overindulgence in fermented mare’s milk when traversing the Khyber Pass, or those intrepid 19th-century travelers through the wilds of Africa who reported termites toasted in an earth oven as the only way to cure a hangover induced by overindulgence in fermenting baobab fruit.

To each her own.

Soupe a l’oignon

Lunch at Domecq. Credit: Elisabeth Luard

Lunch at Domecq. Credit: Copyright 2017 Elisabeth Luard

Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald cured a Parisian hangover with onion soup with the porters in Les Halles, the central produce market in the good old 1930s, when men were men and women were — let’s just not go there.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 30 to 35 minutes

Total time: 40 to 45 minutes

Yield: 2 servings (You should never hang over alone.)

Ingredients

3 large onions, finely sliced

2 tablespoons olive oil or (better yet) goose fat

1 pint beef broth

Salt and pepper to taste

For finishing:

Sliced baguette, toasted

Gruyere or cantal cheese, grated (optional)

Directions

1. Fry the onions very gently in the oil or goose fat in a soup pan until soft and golden but not brown. Stir regularly, allowing at least 20 minutes.

2. Add the beef broth and allow to bubble up. Turn down the heat and simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.

3. Taste and add salt and pepper as necessary.

4. Ladle over slices of toasted baguette in bowls. You can also place the bread on top of the soup, sprinkle with grated cheese and slip the bowls under the grill for the cheese to melt and brown.

Katzenjammer

A beef and potato salad is the hangover cure in the new wineries of Vienna. Try to remember to put the meat into its marinade the night before so it’ll be ready in the morning.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Resting time: 3 to 4 hours or overnight

Total time: 15 minutes, plus resting

Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients

For the dressing:

4 tablespoons seed or nut oil

2 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 teaspoon mild mustard

Pinch of sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

For the salad:

2 slices cold boiled beef, cut in matchstick-sized pieces

2 cold boiled potatoes, sliced

1 pickled cucumber, chopped

For finishing:

2 to 3 tablespoons beef broth (optional)

1 egg yolk

Chili powder or hot paprika

Directions

1. Whisk together all the dressing ingredients in a small bowl.

2. Dress the beef, potatoes and cucumber with half the dressing. Allow the mixture to marinate for a few hours or overnight.

3. Whisk the rest of the dressing into the egg yolk to make a thick emulsion, dilute with a little beef broth or warm water to a coating consistency and spoon over the beef mixture.

4. Finish with a generous dusting of chili powder or hot paprika. There’s nothing like the fiery capsicums to set a person’s metabolism back on track.

Aigo boullido

An oil-and-garlic broth flavored with sage and fortified with egg yolk and pasta serves not only as a remedy for overindulgence but as cure-all and stomach-settler for pregnant women and babies. L’aigo boulido sauvo la vido (Garlic broth saves lives), as they say in Provence.

Prep time: 10 minuntes

Cook time: 30 minutes

Total time: 40 minutes

Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients

4 fat fresh garlic cloves, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 sprig of sage

1 level teaspoon salt

5 teaspoons (25 grams) vermicelli or other thread pasta

1 egg yolk

Directions

1. Simmer the garlic and olive oil in 2 cups of water for a half-hour, or until the volume is reduced by half.

2. Add the sage and bubble up until the broth turns a pretty yellow.

3. Add salt and vermicelli and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes.

4. Meanwhile, fork up the egg yolk in a small bowl, then whisk in a ladleful of the hot broth. Stir the broth-yolk mixture back into the pot so the egg sets in strings. Bon appétit.

Zabaglione

Italy’s version of restorative eggnog — basically, egg and wine combined to make a spoonable fluff — was a remedy long before it became an elegant dessert. No need to cook it if you’re going to eat it right away. The usual strictures on raw eggs apply, but I guess you know that anyway.

Prep time: 20 minutes

Total time: 20 minutes

Yield: 2 servings

Ingredients

4 eggs

4 level tablespoons caster sugar

4 tablespoons sweet wine (such as Marsala, Madeira or Valencia)

2 to 3 almond macaroons (optional)

Directions

1. Whisk the egg yolks and whites together until fluffy.

2. Sprinkle in the sugar gradually until the mixture is white and light.

3. Continue whisking as you trickle in the wine.

4. Pour into two tall glasses over crumbled macaroons — or not — and eat with a long spoon without delay or the eggs and wine will separate. If this should happen, no need to panic. Simply whisk the split mixture into another egg yolk in a bowl set over simmering water and it’ll cure itself.

Main photo: A hangover cure can help ease the pain next time you over imbibe. Credit: iStockPhoto

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‘Cut Off’ The Old Year With Japanese Soba Noodles /cooking/cut-off-old-year-japanese-soba-noodles/ /cooking/cut-off-old-year-japanese-soba-noodles/#respond Wed, 27 Dec 2017 10:00:44 +0000 /?p=59436 Toshikoshi Soba With Kakiage Tempura. Credit: Hiroko Shimbo

After moving to the United States, I was fascinated and eventually hooked by the way Americans welcome the new year. There were New Year’s Eve parties peppered with all kinds of excitement: sexy dresses, endless champagne, playful party props, dancing, counting down the seconds and kissing whomever is near while listening to “Auld Lang Syne.” None of these elements — except counting down the seconds — exist in our Japanese tradition. I was brought up in a culture in which welcoming the new year is a spiritually refreshing traditional event, packed with ancient superstitions and customs, that extends from the end of the old year into the first three days of the new.

In Japan, New Year’s Eve is as important as Christmas Day in Western countries. It is a solemn moment for us to reflect on ourselves, looking back at the past year. What kinds of sins and mistakes did we commit? Did we do anything especially good? By identifying these elements, we try not to carry bad luck into the new year. We also try to complete unfinished tasks. The new year must be a fresh start, without unwanted baggage from the old year. During this period in the Shinto religion, we observe a change in the god of the year. At the end of the year, we express thanks to the departing god for protection during the past year. On the first of January, we welcome a new god and ask for his favor in the new year.

Nearly all the Japanese population eats soba (buckwheat noodles) on New Year’s Eve. This is one of the superstitions involving new year culinary traditions. When you visit Japan at this time of the year you see signs at restaurants and food stores, many of them written on handmade washi paper with bold ink brush strokes, notifying customers that they will offer Toshikoshi soba, the buckwheat noodles especially eaten on Dec. 31. Toshikoshi soba itself is really nothing special as a dish. It is actually the same soba noodles consumed during the rest of the year.

The tradition of eating soba at the end of each year goes back to the latter part of the Edo period (1600-1868). Because buckwheat flour does not have gluten, the cooked noodles break apart easily. Hence, our superstitious ancestors concluded that eating soba at the end of the year helps to cut off bad luck and bad omens that plagued us during the old year.

If you want to test this superstition or at least participate in a delicious tradition, here is one important reminder: You need soba noodles made from 100 percent buckwheat flour. Japanese and Asian stores in America, and even some American ones, carry soba noodles, but many of them are made from a combination of buckwheat and other flours. These noodles won’t break so easily, so they won’t separate you from last year’s bad luck!

Soba meets its match

Tempura is a perfect accompaniment to soba. My mother prepared a feast at the end of every year, but simple soba noodles with shrimp tempura were the highlight of the meal. The live shrimp were sent to us by one of my father’s patients as a thank-you gift on Dec. 31 for as long for as I can remember. After eating the tempura and soba, all of us were certain of a very healthy, good year.

After the meal, close to midnight, we would head to the nearby Buddhist temple, where the priests performed a special service welcoming the new year for the community. A large bonfire, created for the warmth and for burning old talismans and any unwanted documents from the past, brightened up dark, cold environment. As we watch the fire and listened to the temple bell tolling 108 times, our past sins and errors were dispelled so we could to welcome the fresh start for the new year. People quietly greeted each other with “Omedeto gozaimasu” (Happy New Year), and the voices and people soon disappeared into the dark in every direction. Each headed to enjoy brief sleep before the next morning’s pilgrimage to a Shinto shrine to make the new year offering and prayers. This was followed by the huge New Year’s Day festive feast, Osechi-ryori, a meal packed with additional symbolic and good fortune food items.

If you want to enjoy an important part of our tradition, here is the recipe for Toshikoshi soba. As I mentioned, make sure to secure 100 percent buckwheat noodles for this special occasion. The tempura accompaniment here is called kakiage tempura. Chopped shrimp and vegetables are deep-fried in the form of a delicious pancake.

Dozo Yoi Otoshio! (Please have a good end of the year!)

Toshikoshi Soba With Kakiage Tempura

Adapted from Hiroko’s American Kitchen

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 10 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients 

Canola oil or vegetable oil for deep-frying

1/2 cup frozen green peas

1/2 cup eggplant, finely diced

1/2 ounce kale, julienned

5 ounces peeled and deveined shrimp, cut into 1/2 inch pieces

1 cup plus 2 tablespoons tempura flour or a blend of 80% cake flour and 20% cornstarch

3/4 cup cold water

14 ounces dried soba noodles (preferably 100% buckwheat noodles)

5 cups hot noodle broth

1 tablespoon grated ginger

1 tablespoon scallion

Directions

1. Heat 3 inches of the canola oil in a heavy skillet to 350 F. Place a slotted spoon in the oil and allow it to heat to the temperature of the oil to prevent the batter from sticking to it.

2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil over medium heat. In a bowl, toss the green peas, eggplant, kale and shrimp with 2 tablespoons of the tempura flour. In another bowl, mix the remaining tempura flour with the cold water. Stir with a fork until smooth. Add the tempura batter to the shrimp mixture and mix with a large spoon.

3. Using the large spoon, scoop 1/4 of the shrimp mixture from the bowl and pour it into the slotted spoon that was warming in the oil. Immediately lower the slotted spoon into the heated oil and submerge the shrimp mixture. Leaving the spoon in place, cook the mixture (kakiage) for 1 1/2 minutes or until the bottom side is cooked. Using a steel spatula, remove the kakiage from the slotted spoon and let it float free in the oil. Cook the kakiage for about 4 minutes, or until lightly golden, turning it a few times during cooking. Transfer the cooked kakiage to a wire rack set over a baking sheet and let drain. Repeat the process for the remaining batter.

4. While cooking the kakiage, cook the soba noodles in a boiling water for 1 minute less than the suggested cooking time on the package. Drain the noodles in a colander and rinse them under cold tap water. Drain the noodles and keep them in the colander.

5. Prepare a kettle of boiling water. Pour the boiling water over the cooked noodles to re-warm them. Drain the noodles and divide them into bowls. Bring the noodle broth to a simmer in a medium pot over medium heat. Pour the hot broth into the bowls. Divide the kakiage tempura among the bowls. Garnish with the ginger and scallions and serve.

Main photo: Toshikoshi Soba With Kakiage Tempura. Credit: Copyright 2017 Hiroko Shimbo

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Snake-Shaped Christmas Cake An Umbrian Tradition /cooking/snake-shaped-christmas-cake-umbrian-tradition/ /cooking/snake-shaped-christmas-cake-umbrian-tradition/#respond Sat, 23 Dec 2017 10:00:24 +0000 /?p=58367 Torciglione (Holiday Almond Meringue Snake). Credit: Clifford A. Wright

Perugia is the more important of the two provinces of Umbria and in culinary terms is most famous for its chocolates. Perugina, the chocolate firm founded in 1907, makes chocolate kisses (baci) famous throughout Italy and even in the United States. It’s also the historic home of a novel Christmas cake.

A variety of sweets are made around Christmas such as pinoccate, little diamond-shaped sweets made of sugar and pine nuts, hence their name. They usually are made “black” with chocolate or “white” with vanilla. Locals say that the small cakes were made by Benedictine monks as early as the 14th century and are served to end lavish Christmas feasts.

A simple syrup is made until rather dense and then the same weight of pine nuts as the sugar is added and poured onto a marble slab to be shaped as one makes peanut brittle. The diamonds are cut and cooled, with half of each piece being chocolate and half vanilla. They are then wrapped in black and white pairs in festive and colorful Christmas paper.

Another Christmas delight from Perugia that is a bit easier to make is the symbolic eel or snake-shaped torciglione (twisted spiral) Christmas cake. The Perugina say it is shaped like an eel to represent the eels of nearby Lake Trasimeno, while others attribute a more symbolic meaning rooted in pagan times. The Greeks saw snakes as sacred and used them in healing rituals; the snake’s skin shedding was a symbol of rebirth and renewal, an appropriate symbol at the time of the birth of Christ.

Torciglione (Holiday Almond Meringue Snake)

In most of Umbria, but in particular around Lake Trasimeno in the province of Perugia, torciglione is a Christmas and New Year’s Eve sweet. It is also sometimes called a serpentone or biscione and it’s made as a symbol of luck. It is claimed that this sweet was developed in the 19th century by a master pastry cook, Romualdo Nazzani, who opened a cake shop in Reggio Emilia and created some magnificent sweets, such as biscione, which means “snake.”

This Christmas cake is made with an almond base and meringue topping decorated with candied peel to represent the eyes of the snake. In Christian iconography, the snake can represent temptation as it was in the Garden of Eden. Eating the snake is thought to bring luck.

Torciglione

Prep time: 15 to 20 minutes

Baking time: 40 minutes

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

1 pound whole blanched almonds, toasted and chopped

3/4 pound (about 1 1/2 cups) sugar

2 tablespoons rum

Zest from 1 lemon

3 large egg whites, beaten until stiff

3 tablespoons pine nuts

2 coffee beans

1 candied cherry

Directions

1. Heat the oven to 325 F.

2. In a bowl, mix the almonds, sugar, rum, lemon zest and egg whites until a dense consistency.

3. On a buttered parchment paper-lined baking tray form the mixture into the shape of a snake. Place the pine nuts over its surface. Put the coffee beans in as eyes and the cherry as a tongue. Bake until golden brown, about 40 minutes.

 Main photo: Torciglione (Holiday Almond Meringue Snake). Credit: Copyright 2017 Clifford A. Wright

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A Trio Of Italian Cookies For The Holidays /world/italian-cookies-holidays/ /world/italian-cookies-holidays/#comments Fri, 08 Dec 2017 10:00:03 +0000 /?p=56020 Three Italian cookies. Credit: "Dolci: Italy’s Sweets" (Stewart, Tabori & Chang)

Holidays often mean cookies. Here are three unusual Italian cookies that you can make ahead for the holidays, each with a special featured ingredient. You’ll find a cookie that’s just right for the red wine lover, honey fan or grappa aficionado.

Red wine cookies not only are made with red wine, but pair perfectly with it too. Italians pull them out after dinner to nibble on with the meal’s leftover red wine. Made with olive oil and not too sweet, these cookies are a guiltless pleasure. Red wine cookies, tarallucci, are ring-shaped treats that symbolize a hug and signify friendship and affection in Italy. In the past, when legal contracts were made — such as for the sale of land — villagers didn’t employ lawyers. Instead they’d simply shake hands and embrace. To celebrate they’d offer a toast of red wine and tarallucci.

Moist cornmeal cookies are a favorite in Venice, made with raisins and pine nuts and a hint of grappa. They have a wonderfully rustic texture and amazing flavor.

The Sicilian honey cookies are made with honey and flour. That’s it — just two ingredients. These absurdly addictive and amazingly chewy cookies epitomize the most fundamental, less is more, Italian culinary rule that food should be prepared with just a few top-quality ingredients allowing each to be tasted and appreciated. Honey is the star here, so be sure to pick one up to the job. Try carob honey, which is medium dark with a wine-like richness and aroma. Other good choices include buckwheat or prickly pear cactus honey.

Sicilian Honey Cookies (Mustazzoli)

From “Dolci: Italy’s Sweets” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang)

Prep time: 5 minutes

Baking time: 10 minutes

Total time: 15 minutes

Yield: 2 dozen

Ingredients

3 1/2 ounces, about 7/8 cup, all-purpose flour, plus more as needed

8 ounces, about 3/4 cup, medium to dark honey, such as carob or buckwheat

Orange zest, optional

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Put the flour, honey and a pinch of zest, if using, into a bowl, and with your fingers, mix until dough forms. The dough will be dense and sticky.

3. Lay out a piece of parchment paper onto a work surface. Divide the dough in half and put one section on the paper. Gently, using your palms, roll out the dough into a snake shape, about 13 inches long and 1 inch wide. Carefully transfer the snake onto the prepared pan. (Note: if the dough comes apart, just roll it into a ball and reconnect the parts. Then, lay it out and slowly, working from the center, start to roll it out. The heat of your hands helps to warm the honey, which acts like glue for the flour.)

4. The cookies can be made in almost any shape: round, long or as pictured here in an S-shape.

5. Bake the cookies for 10 minutes until lightly golden and no longer sticky. Put the cookies on a rack to cool and dry. Then they can be stored in a sealed container in a cool, dry place, for several months.

Red Wine Cookies (Tarallucci al Vino)

From “Dolci: Italy’s Sweets” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang)

Prep time: 15 minutes

Baking time: 15 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Yield: 7 dozen

Seven dozen cookies may sound like a lot, and you can halve the recipe if you like. But you won’t regret making them all. For one thing, they are a snap to make and will stay fresh for months. For another, when you serve them to guests, they’ll beg to take some home.

Tarallucci al vino are a wonderful holiday or hostess gift for the wine lovers in your life.

Ingredients

35 ounces, about 8 cups, all-purpose flour

1 cup red wine

1 cup granulated sugar, plus more for dipping

3/4 cup olive oil

2 eggs

1/2 teaspoon salt

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. In a bowl, combine 7 cups of the flour, wine, sugar, olive oil, eggs and salt with your fingers or a wooden spoon until combined. Add more flour, a little at a time, until firm dough forms.

3. Spread a sheet of parchment paper onto a work surface and roll a large handful of dough into a long strip, about 1/2 inch wide. Cut off a 3-inch section and form a ring, pinching the ends to seal it. Put a few tablespoons of sugar onto a small flat plate. Dip one side of each cookie into the sugar and put it, sugar side up, onto the baking sheet. Bake for about 15 minutes, until dry to the touch.

4. Once cool, you can store tarallucci in a cool dry place in an airtight container, for up to 3 months.

Venetian Cornmeal Cookies (Zaleti)

From “Dolci: Italy’s Sweets” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang)

Prep time: 5 minutes

Baking time: 12 to 14 minutes

Total time: 17 to 19 minutes

Yield: 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients

4 ounces, 1 stick, butter, softened

1/2 cup granulated sugar

3 large egg yolks

1/4 cup whole milk, blood warm

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

Zest of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon vanilla extract or 1/4 vanilla bean grated on microplane

2 tablespoons grappa

3 ounces, generous 1/2 cup, golden raisins

3 tablespoons, 1 ounce, pine nuts

1 cup, fine ground cornmeal

1 1/2 cups Italian OO flour or cake flour

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line 2 cookie sheets with parchment paper.

2. In a standing mixer with whisk attachment, or in a bowl using an electric hand mixer, beat the butter and sugar until light yellow and fluffy.

3. Beat in the yolks until well combined, then beat in the milk, baking powder, salt, zest, vanilla and grappa, if using.

4. If you are using a standing mixer, remove the bowl and stir in the raisins and pine nuts with a wooden spoon. Slowly sift in the cornmeal and flour, incorporating with each addition, until batter forms. It will be very dense.

5. Put heaping tablespoonfuls onto the prepared cookie sheet and bake, 12 to 14 minutes, until just lightly golden around the edges. Do not overbake.

Main photo: Three Italian cookies, easy to make and perfect for the holidays. Credit: “Dolci: Italy’s Sweets” (Stewart, Tabori & Chang)

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Custardy Pumpkin Flan Pays Homage To Portuguese Sweets /desserts-wrecipe/custardy-pumpkin-flan-pays-homage-to-portuguese-sweets/ /desserts-wrecipe/custardy-pumpkin-flan-pays-homage-to-portuguese-sweets/#comments Tue, 28 Nov 2017 10:00:13 +0000 /?p=75883 The finished dish: Portuguese pumpkin flan with Almonds. Credit: Copyright 2016 Michael Krondl

Enter a Portuguese pastry shop and you might think you’ve walked into a lab where a mad scientist had been imprisoned for years with nothing to experiment with but sugar and eggs. And that analogy may not be so off the mark — many of the country’s best-known desserts may have originated in convents, where intelligent, educated women were cut off from the world around them. If necessity is the mother of invention, boredom is doubly so.

The Portuguese have a mind-boggling repertoire of egg-based desserts — they make dozens of flan-like preparations, puddings and egg-filled pastries. Some bakers add almonds, others candied fruit or marmalade, and many use a form of caramelized sugar.

The national dessert — pastel de nata — is a caramelized custard tart. Recipes calling for 16 or even two dozen egg yolks are not uncommon. One classic convent recipe for ovos-moles de Aveiro (a candied pastry filled with custard) calls for a pound of sugar and 30 yolks! Why so much sugar and so many eggs?

Raw sugar + extra egg yolks = Portuguese custards

Portugal’s national dessert is pastel de nata, a custard tart. Credit: Copyright 2016 Michael Krondl

Portugal’s national dessert, called pastel de nata, is a custard tart. Credit: Copyright 2017 Michael Krondl

The little country on the edge of the Atlantic had an outsized influence on the course of history, first in opening up the spice trade routes to the east, but perhaps more important, it established sugar colonies on islands in the Atlantic and then in Brazil. While the rest of Europe was using sugar as an expensive spice, the Portuguese concocted confectionery with the sweet white gold pouring in from Brazil.

And it just so happened that the convents received tribute from the local peasantry in the form of eggs.

In the early days of the trans-Atlantic trade, sugar was raw when it arrived in Europe and required refining. This was done by boiling it with water and then stirring in some form of protein that then coagulated, carrying the impurities with it. Blood was often used for this, but a more refined approach was to use egg whites, which left hundreds of leftover of yolks.

A perfect opportunity for the nun-mad scientist. The result? Scores of egg and sugar recipes, of which perhaps the oddest is fios de ovos. For this concoction, egg yolks are cooked in syrup, which creates a texture that’s like sweet, shredded tempeh. (Thai cooks later adopted this and renamed it phoi tong.)

Given this history of egg mania, it’s hardly surprising that the Portuguese custard repertoire is especially prolific. Most Americans are familiar with the Spanish flan, a custard baked in caramel-lined pan and turned out just before serving, with the caramel sauce poured on top.

Varieties of Portuguese flan

The Portuguese call this pudim flan, and I’ve eaten versions that were as smooth as crème brulée and others that were denser than a New York cheesecake. But that’s just the beginning. In a yolk-free rendition called a Molotoff, the baker cooks a meringue in a flan dish and tops it with liquid caramel. There are pudims made with almonds, pumpkin, bread crumbs, lard, even chopped up blood pudding!

Unlike some of Portugal’s more extreme pudims, the concept of a pumpkin flan fits nicely into an American autumn repertoire. After all, a traditional pumpkin pie is no more than a pie shell filled with baked custard.

The following recipe is inspired by a holiday dessert from northern Portugal that includes two types of winter squash jam (a local staple) as well as lard and ham. In the absence of pumpkin jam, I’ve adapted the recipe to focus on the winter squash and almonds. You’ll get a far superior flavor and color if you use kabocha squash. If you want to use fresh pumpkin, make sure to buy a beige cooking pumpkin (sometimes called a “cheese” pumpkin). If you’re short on time, use canned pumpkin.

Cut the squash or pumpkin into large wedges, discard the seeds, wrap the wedges in foil and bake in a 350 F oven until very soft, about 2 hours. You’ll need about 1 1/4 pounds of the squash and double the amount of pumpkin for this recipe. If you use the kabocha squash, purée it and you’re ready to go. If you use pumpkin, drain the puréed flesh overnight in a coffee-filter-lined sieve or colander until it’s as thick as Libby’s. The Portuguese cook their flans in a ring-shaped mold, a little like an angel food cake tin, but all of a piece. You can certainly use an 8-inch cake pan instead.

Portuguese Pumpkin Flan with Almonds

Prep time: 1/2 hour

Baking: about 1 hour

Cooling: 4 to 6 hours

Total time: 7 1/2 hours

Yield: 8 servings

Ingredients

Caramel:

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons water

Butter for greasing pan, if needed

Custard:

1/3 cup water

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 slices lemon (with peel), each 1/2 inch thick

5 ounces (about 1/2 cup) almond paste

3 large eggs

3 large egg yolks

14 ounces (about 1 2/3 cups) pumpkin or squash purée

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon pure almond extract

Almonds, sliced and lightly toasted for garnish

Directions

1. Preheat oven to 350 F.

2. To make the caramel: Combine 1/2 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil over moderate heat and cook until sugar turns a golden brown. Do not stir. Handling the pan with oven mitts, pour the caramel down the sides of a 5-cup flan pan or 9-inch cake pan, and tilt the pan to cover all surfaces. Once cool, grease exposed surfaces with butter.

3. To make the custard: In a small pan, combine 1/2 cup sugar, 1/3 cup water and lemon slices. Bring to gentle simmer over moderate heat and simmer 5 minutes. Allow this syrup to cool, then discard the lemon slices.

4. In a food processor, pulse almond paste until broken up. Add one egg at a time, puréeing the mixture after each addition until smooth. Add the squash purée, egg yolks, cinnamon and almond extract and process until smooth. Finally, stir in the cooled sugar syrup.

5. Place the caramel-lined pan in a larger baking pan with at least 2-inch sides. Spoon the custard mixture into the flan pan and transfer both pans to the middle shelf of your oven. Carefully pour boiling water into the outer pan so it comes about halfway up the outside of the flan pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 45 to 60 minutes.

6. Cool to room temperature and then chill at least 2 hours. To unmold, place a large serving plate over the flan pan and invert. Spoon caramel sauce over the top and garnish with sliced almonds.

Main photo: The finished flan: Portuguese Pumpkin Flan with Almonds. Credit: Copyright 2017 Michael Krondl

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No-Fuss Indian Food You’ll Want To Cook Every Day /world/no-fuss-indian-food-youll-want-to-cook-every-day/ /world/no-fuss-indian-food-youll-want-to-cook-every-day/#respond Sat, 25 Nov 2017 10:00:35 +0000 /?p=72798 Bengali Yogurt Fish Curry (Doi Maach). Credit: Copyright 2016 Rinku Bhattacharya

Indian cooking gets a bad reputation for being daunting and almost too difficult to fit into your everyday repertoire. This misconception may be gradually changing, but not quite fast enough. But on the contrary, everyday Indian cooking is flavorful, practical and filled with all the health benefits from spices that we all want to incorporate into our lives.

A core component of the essential taste of Indian food is ensuring the flavors are fresh and bright and not bogged down by unnecessary reheating and refreshing, something often the trademark of the average restaurant fare. In addition to emphasizing the simplicity of preparation, I also am a big proponent of cooking with practical and readily found ingredients, minimizing the need for multiple visits to grocery store.

The key to Indian food is in the spices

If you are intimidated by Indian spices, a fair number of the typical seasonings are available in a well-stocked grocery store, and the rest can be kept stocked by an annual or every-six-months trip to an Indian specialty store. Shortcuts and practical cooking are not uncommon in the Indian home kitchen; after all, the Indian home cook is as time-strapped as anyone else.

Stocking a basic spice pantry can go a long way toward cooking your favorite Indian meals on short notice. The basics for me would be the essential Indian spice kit from my “Spices & Seasons: Simple, Sustainable Indian Flavors” cookbook: turmeric (sold in powdered form), red cayenne pepper, whole cumin seeds, whole coriander seeds, fresh cilantro, ginger and garlic.

To add to the basics, you can include dried fenugreek leaves, green cardamoms, cinnamon, cloves, whole black peppercorns, whole mustard seeds and fresh curry leaves. It’s nothing terribly daunting if you give the list a fighting chance and open your horizons to a world of Indian flavors.

A note of advice and caution: While we can simplify the list of ingredients, it is important to use fresh spices.They are the soul of a flavor-based cuisine and cannot be substituted using a jar of ready-made curry, something that really is a misfit in most Indian kitchens.

The next step beyond stocking the spices is learning to use them. I personally use spices to create the foods of my childhood: simple, nourishing flavors that have sustained me every day. However, through teaching people how to cook Indian food, I have learned most people rush to the kitchen to replicate the flavors that have tantalized their taste buds in the last festive meal they savored. This is sometimes their first blush with the cuisine and often what captivates their imagination and what they want to re-create in their own kitchen.

Keeping this in mind, I offer you practical versions of three classic Indian dishes and suggestions for a few others. In these dishes, I have simplified the cooking techniques and used everyday ingredients to conjure up practical variations of dishes that will take you to three diverse parts of India.

Creamy, Well-Seasoned Black Beans

Creamy Well-seasoned Black Beans. Credit: Copyright 2016 Rinku Bhattacharya

Creamy, Well-Seasoned Black Beans. Credit: Copyright 2017 Rinku Bhattacharya

This recipe for black beans is inspired by the classic Indian black lentil recipe, found in restaurants called Dal Makhani. Other than using everyday black beans, I have lightened the recipe significantly and developed it for a slow cooker, where it happily cooks into perfection. If you do not have a slow cooker, you can do this on the stove top in a heavy-bottomed pot with a tight-fitting lid.

Prep time: 2 to 3 hours (to soak the beans)

Cook time: 4 hours in a slow cooker

Total time: About 7 hours, mostly unattended.

Yield: Makes 8servings

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups dried black beans

2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon minced garlic (about 4 cloves)

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

2 red onions, finely diced

1 tablespoon freshly ground cumin

1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground coriander

1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or to taste

1 teaspoon red cayenne powder, or to taste

4 tomatoes, diced, or 1 cup canned chopped tomatoes

1 tablespoon dried fenugreek leaves (optional)

3 tablespoons sour cream

2 to 3 tablespoons chopped cilantro

Diced or sliced red onions for serving

Directions

1. Place the black beans in plenty of water and soak for 2 to 3 hours or overnight. Drain and set aside.

2. If your slow cooker has a saute function, turn it on and add the olive oil. Otherwise, you can do this in a skillet on the stove.

3. Add in the onions and cook for about 5 minutes, add in the ginger and the garlic and saute until the onions are soft and golden.

4. Add in the cumin, coriander, salt and red cayenne pepper and cook for a minute.

5. Add in the tomatoes and cook for 2 more minutes. If using a skillet, move the mixture to the slow cooker. Once the tomatoes are soft and pulpy, add this mixture to the slow cooker, add in the black beans with 3 cups of water and cook on low for 4 hours.

6. Remove the cover and stir in the fenugreek leaves, sour cream and cilantro before serving.

Note: You do want a fairly thick gravy for this dish. If your sauce is too thin, remove to the stove top and thicken for about a half hour before adding in the sour cream.

Bengali Yogurt Fish Curry (Doi Maach)

This signature fish curry is often a wedding dish, a beautiful meal reminiscent of a korma. The traditional version uses fish steaks deep-fried and immersed in a delicate yogurt sauce that is slow-cooked to perfection. My version uses salmon fillet, which offers a rich, dense flesh without the need for deep-frying. I use Greek yogurt to ensure a thick gravy without the precision and care of low and slow simmering in a heavy-bottomed copper pot, which is traditional for cooking Bengali food.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Total time: 35 minutes

Yield: Makes 6 servings

Ingredients

1 1/2 pounds salmon fillet (or any other firm-fleshed fish)

1 1/2 teaspoons salt, divided

1 teaspoon red cayenne pepper

3 green cardamoms

1-inch piece of cinnamon

6 to 8 cloves of garlic

3 tablespoons canola oil

1 large red onion, thinly sliced

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon sugar

3/4 cup Greek yogurt, beaten

1 tablespoon raisins

Whole red chilies and slivered almonds for garnish

Directions

1. Cut the salmon into 2-inch pieces and set aside.

2. Combine 1 teaspoon of the salt and the red cayenne pepper and sprinkle over the fish.

3. Combine the cardamoms, cinnamon and garlic cloves in a bowl and break a few times using a mortar.

4. Heat the oil and add in the broken spices and the onion. Cook the seasoned onion low and slow until wilted, soft and crispy. This should take about 10 minutes.

5. Add in the grated ginger, cumin and coriander and mix well. Stir in the remaining salt and sugar and mix in the yogurt with 1/2 cup of water.

6. Cook until the yogurt is well mixed and gets a pale ivory color.

7. Add in the fish pieces in a single layer and mix in the raisins.

8. Cook the mixture until the fish is cooked through (about 15 to 20 minutes).

9. Garnish with the chilies and slivered almonds and serve.

Kerala Chicken Stew

Kerala Chicken Stew. Credit: Copyright 2016 Rinku Bhattacharya

Kerala Chicken Stew. Credit: Copyright 2017 Rinku Bhattacharya

This delicate and subtly spiced stew is a signature dish on Sunday mornings, usually served with lacy and flavorful appams. The stew is usually cooked with layers of freshly made coconut milk and develops its flavor from local produce such as green plantains and taro root. In this recipe, I have used practical stewing vegetables such as fresh carrots, baby potatoes and corn to create a dish that is just as good for your cool Sunday table.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 45 minutes

Total time: 1 hour

Yield: Makes 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

2 to 3 tablespoons oil (You can use coconut oil)

1 teaspoon mustard seeds

10 to 15 curry leaves

1 red onion, diced

2 to 3 cloves of garlic

1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

1 tablespoon coarsely ground black pepper

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1 large cinnamon stick

2 to 3 pods green cardamom

2 pounds of chicken, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces

1 teaspoon salt

2 medium-sized tomatoes, diced

3 to 4 carrots, peeled and cut into small pieces

2 to 3 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and quartered

1 cup coconut milk

1/2 cup frozen green peas

1 to 2 tablespoons finely chopped cilantro

Directions

1. Heat the oil and add in the mustard seeds, then wait until the seeds begin to crackle. Add in the curry leaves and red onion and cook for about 6 to 7 minutes, until the onions are soft and beginning to turn pale golden.

2. Add in the garlic and ginger and stir well, cooking for about 1 minute.

3. Stir in the black pepper, cumin, coriander, cinnamon stick and cardamom and mix in the chicken with the salt. Stir and cook the chicken for about 10 minutes, until the liquid has evaporated and the chicken is well seared.

4. Add in the tomatoes and mix well.

5. Stir in the carrots and potatoes and the coconut milk and simmer the mixture for 25 minutes, until the chicken and vegetables are tender.

6. Add in the green peas and simmer for 2 minutes.

7. Garnish with cilantro before serving.

Main image: Bengali Yogurt Fish Curry (Doi Maach). Credit: Copyright 2017 Rinku Bhattacharya

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