Sunday, June 20, 2010

Pizza Pugliese and Baked White Eggplant

Have you ever wondered why eggplants are named so?  Well, the first hint to ease your curiosity is that they are not always purple.  Some eggplants are pink, some striped pink and white, and others pure white.  Another thing to keep in mind is the shape.  Not all eggplants are oblong.  When you have a look at the variety pictured in this photo (courtesy of Susan at Fatfree Vegan), not much is left to the imagination.  Behold the Egg Plant!  The kind that I used in my recipe, however, was more akin to the eggplants found in this link here on the right:
White eggplant tends to be less seedy and softer than the big purple variety many of us are used to.  I can tell you quite simply that in this baked dish I prepared, they were rendered so smooth and delicate, that Lissa and I were both brought to but one descriptor: butter.  Velvety and rich, I don't know that I have ever had an eggplant dish that brought me so much enjoyment.

                    photo by Susan V.

I'll tell you what I did with the eggplant in a bit but before I get too ahead of myself, let me say a few words about the accompanying pizza.  First off, we must talk crust.  I bought my crust (made of RICE FLOUR) at the local Whole Foods Market.  Much to my chagrin, my body and gluten don't seem to get along too well-I apparently have what is known as a gluten intolerance.  I often simply play ignorant and apologize to my belly later (can't we all just get my tummy?!).  When I do choose to listen to my body, eating out is surely more of a challenge than cooking at home.  Still, certain products are difficult to replicate well.  Often I rely on the experts–bakeries and food companies who have patiently perfected combinations and ratios–rather than experimenting myself.  For example, if you want gluten-free bread, nothing beats Udi's.  I finally found a decent gluten-free pasta from Bionaturae, Arrowhead Mills makes a great GF pancake mix (see my post on yummy pancakes), and Glutino makes one hell of a cracker.  Alas, I had not found a good pizza crust, dry mix or pre-made...until, I saw this crust at Whole Foods.  I had a
feeling it was going to be good the minute I laid eyes on it and indeed it was.  I am of the opinion that pizza crust should be thin and crispy like it has always been in its birthplace, and this crust is just that.  It is more dense than wheat-based crust, but it is the best that I have tried.  So, what did I do with this fabulous rice crust?  I made Pizza Pugliese.  Puglia is the heel on the "boot" of Italy, a place I have not been but would love to visit.  I have seen different recipes for Pugliese pizza, some showcasing olives and capers, others potatoes, but this version is made with caciocavallo cheese, caramelized onions, and lots of freshly ground black pepper.  I couldn't actually find caciocavallo, so I substituted an aged provolone (a similar product) which worked beautifully.  Caramelizing onions does require some patience, but it is well worth the wait.  It is just a matter of stirring a big pot of onions until the sugars therein caramelize, which could take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour.  The resulting sweetness of the onions contrasts beautifully with the sharp tang of the cheese, and the bite of the black pepper...mmm, veramente delizioso! 

Back to the eggplant.  What I created was basically an eggplant parmigiano without the parmigiano (I figured we had enough cheese on the pizza).  I lightly fried slices of the eggplant in a little olive oil and set them aside.  I then sauteed a big pile of mushrooms (I used crimini but I'm sure wild mushrooms would be fantastic) and some minced garlic and set that aside.  The eggplant was stacked in a ceramic loaf pan with alternating layers of tomato sauce and mushrooms, eggplant, tomato, mushroom, eggplant and so on.  I had preheated my oven to 350° and placed the pan, covered with foil, inside for 15-20 minutes.  I gave it an extra 5-10 minutes sans foil then brought it out to cool slightly.  A nice slice on each plate, along with a couple slices of pizza and some arugula (lightly dressed with olive oil and salt), and you have a lovely meal.  Buon appetito!

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Mexican Sole en Papillote and Grilled Corn on the Cob

Or should I say: Lenguado en Papillote con Elote a la Plancha.  Whether you say it in French or in English or in Spanish, cooking something "en papillote" is a method in which you steam food folded in a pouch or parcel, often made of parchment paper.  In Italian it is known as cooking al cartoccio, or cooking 'ala cartridge'.  It makes sense once you find out the etymology of cartridge: alteration of earlier cartage, alteration of French cartouche, from Italian cartuccio, variant of cartoccio, roll of paper! Instead of parchment, one might also use aluminum foil, a paper bag, or banana or cassava leaves. Whatever the material, the parcel it forms holds in moisture to steam the food.  The moisture may be from the food itself or from an added moisture source like water, wine, or stock.
In this case I added a pureed tomato and red pepper sauce.  My inspiration was from a recipe in Susana Trilling's fabulous book, Seasons of My Heart: A Culinary Journey Through Oaxaca, Mexico.  In this book, Susana highlights what for me is one of my greatest joys (and deepest frustrations); the rich diversity of regional Mexican Cuisine (and the all too frequent lack of it's representation in the U.S.).  I know, I know, there are some great restaurants in this fine country of ours that collectively serve up a fantastic variety of the Cocina Mexicana.  I just long for something other than your standard taqueria that seems to plague us here in Santa Cruz (if you search for taquerias in or near Santa Cruz, CA on Yelp, by the way, you will get 87 results) .  Maybe one day Susana Trilling will open a Oaxacan restaurant here and serve dishes from her book like: Stuffed Crepes with Sweet Potato and Pineapple Sauce, Fried Plantains with Ginger Jalapeño Cream, Pork Loin Medallions with Cactus Fruit Sauce, and Herbal Tamales with Smoked Chile Salsa.  Maybe she'll even serve Pescado Empapelado al Diablo!  Trilling mentions that her recipe for this dish comes from Juana Ramírez, owner of the Los Delfines de Chacahua in the coastal region of Oaxaca.  As I mentioned before, and as is pretty common for me, I used the recipe as an inspiration, but improvised according to what I had on hand and appealed to me.  I tossed some yellow onion, tomato, roasted red pepper, garlic, Tapatío hot sauce, fresh epazote, salt and pepper in a wide-mouth jar and pureed with my hand blender.  Then I heated some butter in a saute pan and simmered the sauce for 5 minutes.  I seasoned each sole fillet and set it down on a piece parchment at least twice it's size.  I poured the sauce over the top of the sole, and folded the parchment to form a parcel (see cookthink for some tips on how to fold it).  Placed on a baking sheet and into a 400° oven, the fillets should be done in 6-10 minutes.
 On to the corn.  Elote (from the Nahuatl word elotl) is a popular street food in Mexico. Elote is prepared by steaming the corn or roasting it in the husks until the kernels are soft and charred.  The corn is then removed from the husks and grilled.  After grilling, the corn is spread with mayonnaise and sprinkled with a mild-flavored Mexican white cheese called cotija.  Finally, it is seasoned with lime juice, cayenne pepper or chile powder and salt.  SO DAMN GOOD!  I took a more simple approach.  I made a compound butter with lime juice, chipotle, lime zest, and salt. I simply charred the corn in their husks on a grill pan, then slathered on the butter and got all Mickey Mouse on it!

A simple green salad to round things out, and we have ourselves a lovely meal.  It's fun cooking things ala cartridge!

Friday, June 11, 2010

Slow-Roasted Halibut with Shaved Asparagus and Fennel Salad

This recipe hails from Bon Appetit Magazine.  It was part of a feature on exciting ways to prepare three spring vegetables: asparagus, artichokes, and peas.  Other asparagus recipes included were lasagna with asparagus, leeks and morels, and Korean rice bowl with steak, asparagus, and fried egg (yum, and yum).  Let us then talk about asparagus, shall we?

Asparagus has been used from early times as a vegetable and medicine, owing to its delicate flavour and diuretic properties. There is a recipe for cooking asparagus in the oldest surviving book of recipes, Apicius's third century AD De re coquinaria, Book III.  It was cultivated by the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, who ate it fresh when in season and dried the vegetable for use in winter  (wikipedia).  Asparagus is rich in vitamins A and C, folic acid, potassium, folate and the flavonoid rutin, plus fiber; it has no fat or cholesterol and is very low in sodium.
O.K., on to the recipe...

For the salad:
  • 4 1/2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons drained capers, chopped
  • 3/4 pound asparagus spears (about 1 bunch), trimmed
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced fennel bulb (preferably shaved with V-slicer)

For the Fish:
  • Nonstick vegetable oil spray
  • 2 1/2 cups fresh breadcrumbs made from crustless French bread
  • 3 tablespoons finely grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh Italian parsley
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh thyme
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon peel
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 6 6-ounce halibut fillets
For the salad:
Whisk lemon juice and mustard in small bowl. Gradually whisk in oil, then add capers. Season dressing to taste with salt and pepper.  Place 1 asparagus spear flat on work surface. Using vegetable peeler, shave asparagus into long thin strips. Place asparagus strips in medium bowl with shaved fennel.  Can be made 4 hours ahead. Cover and chill.
For the fish:
Coat rimmed baking sheet with nonstick spray. Mix breadcrumbs, cheese, herbs, and lemon peel in another medium bowl. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Drizzle melted butter over. Using fork, toss to incorporate evenly.  Place halibut fillets on prepared baking sheet, spacing apart. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Divide breadcrumbs among fillets to cover top (about 1/3 cup each), pressing to adhere.  Can be made 1 hour ahead. Cover and chill.  Preheat oven to 300°F. Bake halibut until opaque in center, about 20 minutes. Turn on broiler. Broil halibut just until breadcrumbs start to brown, about 1 minute.
Place 1 halibut fillet on each of 6 plates. Pour dressing over asparagus and fennel mixture; toss to coat. Season salad to taste with salt and pepper. Divide salad among plates and serve.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Garbanzo Gratin

The theme for this post is quick and easy.  It will be a quick and easy post, because this is a quick and easy dish.  Garbanzo bean gratin!  I prepared it as a side dish to go along with an oven roasted tri-tip and a green salad.  In order to keep things exciting,  I will provide some ingredient background...

Our friends Karen and Ricardo had recently returned from a stint in España; Ricardo is Spanish (Karen is Brazilian) and they had moved there in hopes of settling down to raise a family.  The reasons behind why that didn't work out as planned are many, but they ended up moving back to Santa Cruz-good news for us as we would have missed them.  Also in our favor, was their decision to gift us some culinary treats from the Iberian peninsula: jamon serrano, aceite de oliva virgen extra, y pimiento asado del Bierzo!  (Translation: dry-cured ham, extra virgin olive oil, and roasted peppers from Bierzo).  El Bierzo is a region in the northwestern Spanish province of León.  They are, as you may have guessed, well known for there roasted peppers.  Ricardo told me that the way his family eats them is simply by slicing them and drizzling extra virgin olive oil over the top.  Spanish roasted peppers are also commonly stuffed, sometimes with tuna or salt cod, or perhaps cheese (I couldn't find an Amazon link for asados del Bierzo, but you can order the equally delicious piquillo peppers from Navarra by clicking the link on the right).

I, however, chose to incorporate the peppers into a baked garbanzo gratin.  Again, this recipe really could not be more simple.  I used canned garbanzos, which I rinsed and scattered into a ceramic baking dish.  I then tossed in some sliced sweet onion and the sliced peppers, and drizzled some extra virgin olive oil over the top.  I kept the seasoning very simple so the peppers would be the star of show; salt, pepper, and some fresh thyme.  I had preheated the oven to 400° and tightly wrapped the baking dish in foil.  The beans baked for 10-15 minutes, I then removed the foil and sprinkled some grated manchego cheese on top.  The dish went back into the oven uncovered for another 5-10 minutes, until the cheese starts to brown nicely.

That's it!  A very easy dish that can be done in a number of different ways; add tomatoes, add some bacon, change up the beans, change up the cheese...    I think next time I make it I just may puree half of the beans and maybe even add some cream.  Mmmmm.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Halibut with Grapes and Red Wine Reduction

I have spoken before of this book, A Return to Cooking.  It is one of my favorite  cookbooks.  First of all, I like Eric Ripert. Not like we play racquetball every weekend, but he seems like a good guy.  He was born in Antibes, France and learned to cook from his grandmother.  She has obviously inspired him in a very special way, as Ripert begins A Return To Cooking with an homage to his grandmère:
"...She is here with us, her actual spirit.  We have spirits who look after us.  I don't know why it is Grandma Ripert who looks after me-there were other relatives I was closer to.  But it is she who is with me..."
Awwww.  Perhaps I delight in Ripert's relationship to his grandma since I too have such a loving relationship with mine.  My amazing grandma, who is thankfully still with us, will turn 95 this December! Love you grams!

Well, as sweet as Eric Ripert's homage is, he brings with him much more culinary experience than simply cooking beside his grandmother.  In addition to the two years he worked under the legendary Joël Robuchon at La Tour d'Argent, he held various positions in some of the most outstanding restaurants in France and the US.  Ripert eventually became executive chef at New York City's acclaimed Le Bernardin.  The following year, at the age of 29, the restaurant earned a four-star rating from the New York Times and in 1996 he became a part-owner. In the Michelin Guide NYC 2006, Ripert's Le Bernardin was one of four New York City restaurants to be awarded the maximum 3 Michelin stars for excellence in cuisine!

Having mastered the arts of haute cuisine, the finesse and elegance of Ripert's recipes may not surprise you.  Specifically, in this recipe he brought about what has always been to me only a joke.  Whenever someone asks too much of another, I chime in and saucily request a "bowl of peeled grapes." 

Yep, this Halibut recipe really and truly calls for "30 seedless red grapes, peeled and halved."  Needless to say, this is not a weeknight recipe.  It took quite a while to peel all of these grapes, but I happily made it my meditation for the evening.

As I often do, I changed up some of the ingredients according to what I had available.  Below I have listed the ingredients from Ripert's recipe as well as some of my deviations.
1.25 C dry red wine
1/4 C red wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, peeled
1/2 carrot, peeled
1/4 onion, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon fresh (or 1/4 tsp dried) fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon peppercorns
1 cup port (or other fortified wine)
5 tablespoons unsalted butter
30 seedless red grapes (I used muscat grapes), PEELED! and halved
Six 5-oz. thick halibut fillets (or two 5-oz. fillets if you're only cooking for you and your girlfriend)
2 tablespoons canola oil
Fine sea salt and freshly ground white pepper
1 teaspoon chopped tarragon
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
Special Equipment
Kitchen twine

For the sauce, place the red wine, vinegar, garlic, carrot, onion, fennel seeds and peppercorns in a medium pot over medium heat.  Bring to a simmer and cook until reduced by half, about 25 minutes.  Meanwhile, put the port in a saucepan and reduce by half, about 15 minutes.  Strain the red wine reduction and combine with the reduced port.  Set aside.

Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a small pot.  Add the grapes and warm over low heat.  Set aside in a warm plate.

For the halibut, wrap a 7-inch piece of kitchen twine around each fillet, pulling it tightly so the fillet forms a circle (Note: Since I was just cooking for two, I bought one fillet that was uniformly thick, and skipped the twine...from here on, I'll give directions for the 2 fillet recipe).  Heat 1 tablespoon of canola oil in a large nonstick sauté pan over high heat.  Season the halibut generously with salt and pepper on both sides.  Add the fillets to the pan and sear for 4 minutes, or until golden brown on the first side.  Turn each fillet over and cook for another 4 minutes, or until a metal skewer inserted into the center of the fillet comes out warm.  This method for cooking halibut, by the way, is fantastic, regardless of how you serve it.

Meanwhile, bring the sauce to a boil over high heat.  Add the remaining 4 tablespoons butter and, off the heat, shake the pan back and forth (do not stir or whisk) until the butter melts.  The sauce will be a little cloudy at this point: continue to shake the pan until the sauce is shiny.  Rewarm the grapes over low heat.  Add the tarragon and lemon juice.

To serve, place the fish in the center of a dinner plate.  Place grape halves on top of each fillet, spoon sauce around and serve immediately.