Thursday, October 29, 2009

Seared Radicchio

This is radicchio. It's so pretty! Radicchio is a chicory, whose roots are often substituted for or mixed with coffee beans. It's related to escarole and endive, and it's a very popular vegetable in Italy. Here in the US it often makes an appearance in those bagged salad mixes, but radicchio can be so much more than just a filler green (er... purple?)


And when you cut it open, it's like purple lace! This is a vegetable fit for a princess! Or, you know, Prince. It's also fit for your supper tonight, because it is crunchy and bitter in a good way, like cabbage and kale.

Take your two small heads of radicchio, and cut them in half. Then you stop and admire the frilly-ness. Don't you just want to make a dress out of this stuff?

Then you cut them in quarters. And you stop and admire the frilly-ness, again. Then you brush them with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and set them aside for an hour or so to absorb some oil and start to soften.

Then you get your cast iron pan (or your grill or your grill pan) screaming hot. Hot is key. Not-hot-enough will make for limp lettuce which is decidedly NOT crunchy, awesome, seared radicchio. So, screaming hot cast iron: brush the pan with a little bit of olive oil, and place the radicchio cut side down on the pan. Wait two minutes for some golden brown spots to develop, then turn it onto the other cut side.


When the second side has some golden brown spots, take the wedges out of the pan, shave some parmiggiano regiano on top, and sprinkle on a little bit of parsley, if you have it. The thin shavings of cheese (as opposed to sprinklings of grated cheese) are a fun textural contrast with the radicchio, so just grab your vegetable peeler and attack your block of parm. We ate this the other night with some polenta "fries" and basic tomato sauce for a light dinner.

Do you use radicchio? What do you use it for?

Seared Radicchio
serves 2

two small heads purple radicchio
2-4 tablespoons olive oil
shaved parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley (optional)

Trim and discard any discolored outer leaves, and trim the root end of the radicchio, leaving enough that the wedges will stay intact. Slice the head in half, then each half in half again so you have quarters. If your radicchio is very squat, you may want to slice the halves into thirds - basically you don't want any wedges whose widest points are larger than two inches.

Brush wedges generously with olive oil on each cut side, and season with salt and pepper. Set aside to marinate for an hour (I just left them on the cutting board while I made tomato sauce and polenta).

Heat a cast iron pan or skillet over medium-high heat until it is very very hot. You shouln't be able to hold your hand over it for more than 10 seconds. Brush it with a thin film of olive oil, and place the radicchio wedges cut side down in the pan. They should sizzle. Don't crowd the pan, it's better to work in batches so it doesn't steam.

After 2-3 minutes the radicchio should be browning in spots. If it's not, wait another 30-60 seconds. When it's golden brown, turn it to the other cut side for an additional 2-3 minutes. Remove to plates and top with shavings of parmiggiano reggiano and sprinkle with parsley.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Apple Spice Cake

It's not unusual for October to be rainy here in Boston, and the forecast called for it, so when I left the house in the morning, I was wearing rain boots, a rain coat, and carrying an umbrella... but then I noticed the drops weren't drops. They were FLAKES. And then today it snowed again, but this time the flakes were the big downy chunks of snow that make me think of instant mashed potatoes. Nature is so cruel!

The only solace I am taking in the fact that we're getting SNOW in OCTOBER is that I have an excuse to bake cake. Well, the snow, and the seven apples, leftover from a picking trip weeks ago, taunting me from the fruit bowl. And the buttermilk going bad in the fridge.* Ok, three excuses to bake.

Apple Spice Cake
I adapted this from a recipe on The Perfect Pantry, based on the spices I like with apples and what I had in the house. It is excellent with ice cream for dessert, but I find it most suited for breakfast, toasted, with a dollop of yogurt and a sprinkling of pecans. I doubled this because I had so many apples and so much buttermilk to use; I brought the extra loaf to work and it was gone in minutes!

2 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ginger
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup tart apples, grated (3-4 large apples- I used a mix of Gala, Braeburn, and Macoun, but you can use whatever you have.)
1/2 cup buttermilk

Preheat oven to 350. Lightly grease a loaf pan with butter or baking spray.

Combine flours and spices in a medium bowl, whisk to combine (I like to whisk in the bowl rather than sift, but I guess that might be cheating, so if you want, you can sift them together instead).

In another bowl, cream the shortening and brown sugar until fluffy. Add the vanilla and eggs to the sugar and shortening, and stir to combine well.

Add 1/3 the flour dry ingredients to the sugar mixture, stir to combine. Then add 1/2 the buttermilk and half the apples, stir to combine. Then add another third of the dry ingredients, then the rest of the buttermilk and apples, then the dry ingredients, stirring to combine after each addition.

Scoop the batter into the greased loaf pan, smooth the top a little, and bake for an hour, rotating once. Let the loaf cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn it out onto a wire rack to cool completely.

*Do you always have leftover buttermilk from pancakes or ranch dressing (or apple spice cake)? Sarah at the Pink of Perfection has created THE ULTIMATE BUTTERMILK RECIPE REPOSITORY and I am so excited about it that I have to use capital letters. Go check it out.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Wild Mushroom Pasta

I'm sure by now you've all heard about the shocking shut-down of Gourmet Magazine by Conde' Nast on Monday. The New York Times broke the news Monday morning around 10
right when I was getting out of a meeting. I glanced at my google reader, and had to stifle a sob. Then I watched as Twitter reverberated with cries and sighs and "oh, no!"s, and my heart broke into little bits with each friend's discovery of and reaction to the news. So many in the food world-especially those of us here on the fringes-looked forward to each new issue for inspiration, reliable recipes and beautiful images.
(That's not to say everyone is upset about this. There are those who believe that print media is dead, and we should all move on, and whatever, Gourmet was elitist and irrelevant and too stuffy anyway. If you are one of those people, I'd like to point you to this fine obituary by Alex Van Buren of Salon, in which she points out that Gourmet was for the young and scrappy, too.)
In order to "get some positive energy flowing," Julie from A Mingling of Tastes has proposed that we cook a favorite recipe from Gourmet by next Thursday, October 15th. Since I have too many favorites from Gourmet (do you hear me, Conde Nast?), I decided to cook something new.
I also wanted to use the gorgeous hen-of-the-woods mushroom I picked up at the farmer's market on Tuesday, so last night we made this Wild Mushroom Pasta from the September 2006 issue. I thought that the recipe was spot on, as reliable as I have come to expect from Gourmet (are you LISTENING, Conde Nast?). I would never have thought to add lemon to mushrooms, but it elevates the woodsy flavors like you wouldn't believe.

Wild Mushroom Pasta
adapted from Gourmet, September 2006
You could certainly use a blend of wild mushrooms as the original recipe suggests, but I made a lot of adjustments from the based on the mushrooms I had available. I puchased a small container of fresh shitake mushrooms at the grocery store to supplement the hen-of-the-woods I got at the farmer's market, but crimini (baby bella) would be great if that's what you have. I would avoid regular old white button mushroms here, they just don't pack the necessary punch.
1/2 oz dried porcini mushrooms (could also use morel)
1 3/4 cups boiling-hot water
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
4 oz fresh shitake mushrooms, stems trimmed off, caps sliced 1/4 inch thick
1/2 lb fresh hen-of-the-woods (maitake) mushrooms, thoroughly and chopped into pieces roughly 1/4 inch thick
2 large garlic cloves, minced
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 lb spaghetti, fettucini, or other long pasta
1-3 tablespoons chopped fresh chives (use the larger amount if you like chives, I only had a tablespoon or so around and could still taste them)
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated fresh lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Boil 1 3/4 cup of water in a small pot, and add dried mushrooms. Let sit until softened, at least 20 minutes. Drain the now-softened mushrooms through a sieve lined with a coffee filter or paper towel, reserving the filtered liquid. Rinse, dry, and finely chop the reconstituted mushrooms.
(Efficiency alert! Start a pot of water boiling for the pasta. If using fresh pasta, don't cook it until the mushrooms are done and you've taken them off the heat, because it only takes a minute, but if using dried, it will take about 10 minutes and you want to get it in there sometime while the fresh mushrooms are browning)
Heat 3 tablespoons butter in a large heavy skillet over moderately high heat until foam subsides, then sauté fresh mushrooms, garlic, salt, and pepper, stirring occasionally, until liquid mushrooms give off is evaporated and mushrooms are browned, 8-10 minutes. (Original recipe says 5-7 minutes but I found it took a bit longer for the mushroom liquid to evaporate.. Stir in chopped soaked mushrooms and reserved mushroom-soaking liquid and simmer 1 minute, then remove from heat. Doesn't it smell woodsy and wonderful in your kitchen right now?
Cook pasta in boiling salted water until al dente, timing will depend on the size and shape of your pasta. Using tongs or a large slotted spoon, remove pasta from water and add it to mushrooms in skillet. Add remaining 2 tablespoons butter and cook over moderately high heat, tossing and adding some pasta-cooking liquid if necessary to lightly coat, 1 minute. Add chives, lemon zest, and juice, then toss well. Serve immediately with cheese and pepper to taste.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Sour Cherry Liqueur

So you start with a bunch of cherries from Keown Orchards, in Sutton. This is back in, say, June. Pit most of them.

You end up with a big pile of mostly pitted cherries. Tuck them away in a big jar or crock, add some sugar and a whoooole lotta vodka. Wrap it in a towel to protect it from light, and wait two months.
Ta-da! Summer, distilled. Delicious on ice cream, not quite as delicious to photograph when you're running out the door on the way to another wedding! I'll be back next week my friends.

Sour cherry liqueur, not-so-loosely adapted from Not Derby Pie.