Thursday, April 29, 2010

Greens, Glorious Greens

Springtime at the farmers market means greens. Lush, vibrant greens. Crisp greens, tender greens. Greens of every shade and hue that make you want to get into the kitchen and cook something nourishing and delicious.

Look what one bunch of kale can inspire.

Before I get to the recipe, a newsflash about my forthcoming cookbook Seared to Perfection: The Simple Art of Sealing in Flavor: Amazon is now showing the image of the cover! Doesn’t that juicy steak just make your mouth water?

White Bean & Roasted Garlic Soup with Tuscan Kale & Italian Sausage
Printable Recipe

2 heads garlic
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
¾ pound bulk Italian sausage, crumbled
¼ cup white wine
1 quart chicken broth
2 19-ounce cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
1 12-ounce bunch Tuscan kale, stemmed and cut into 1-inch strips
Freshly ground black pepper

Preheat the oven to 350˚F. Cut the stem ends off the heads of garlic to expose the cloves within. Place the garlic in the center of a piece of aluminum foil, drizzle with 2 tablespoons of the oil, sprinkle with kosher salt, and seal the foil tightly. Roast for 40 to 45 minutes, or until meltingly tender and golden brown. Let cool to room temperature and peel.

Heat a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat until very hot but not smoking. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil and swirl to coat the bottom of the pot. Add the sausage and cook for 5 to 6 minutes, tossing about 3 times, until crusty and brown in spots.* Using a slotted spoon, remove the sausage to a plate. Add the wine to the pot and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, scraping up the brown bits from the bottom of the pan with a heat-proof spatula. Add the broth, beans, and roasted garlic along with its oil, remove from the heat, and puree with an immersion blender until smooth. Return to the heat and bring to a boil. Return the sausage to the pot, add the kale, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 10 to 12 minutes, or until the kale is tender. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls and serve immediately.

Serves 4 as a main course. Using canned instead of dried beans makes this recipe quick and easy enough for a weeknight. If you have the choice between hot and sweet Italian sausage, go for hot. Tuscan kale is also known as Italian kale, cavolo nero, lacinato kale, black kale, and dinosaur kale. If you don’t have an immersion blender, you can use a regular blender. For a hearty and satisfying dinner, serve this Italian-inspired soup with plenty of crusty bread.

*Searing the sausage in this manner adds tons of flavor to the finished dish. For everything you ever wanted to know about searing, plus dozens of fabulous searing recipes, look for my book Seared to Perfection in stores in October.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


In Russian you call someone “rediska”, which means radish, when they’re naughty and misbehaving. At least that’s what my mother does. I never could understand why, but perhaps it’s because radishes are sharp and peppery. Anyway, being called a radish doesn’t hurt my feelings any because I happen to love radishes.

In other news, I’m excited to announce that my first cookbook Seared to Perfection: The Simple Art of Sealing in Flavor is now available for preorder on Amazon! Hooray! It comes out in October, and I cannot wait to hold a copy in my hands.

Radish & Cucumber Salad
Printable Recipe

12 ounces radishes, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced
2/3 English cucumber, peeled, cut in half lengthwise, and thinly sliced
2/3 cup sliced green onions
1 tablespoon minced fresh dill, optional
½ cup sour cream
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Toss together the radishes, cucumber, green onions, dill, if desired, and sour cream in a large bowl and season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a serving bowl and serve immediately.

Serves 4 as a side dish. I grew up eating this cool and refreshing salad, and as far as I can tell, it’s a Russian classic. My mother makes it with Kirby cucumbers, but I usually use English cucumbers because they’re much easier to find. And Mom never used the dill, though it is a common addition. I can’t remember what Mom served this with, and she’s being a radish and not answering her phone right now so I can’t ask, but I think it’s great on the side with roast chicken. One large bunch of radishes is usually enough to make the recipe.

UPDATE: This post has been selected as a winner of Beet ‘n Squash YOU! Battle Radish.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Savory Custard

A custard is a preparation of milk or cream thickened with whole eggs or egg yolks. Custards can be flavored in countless ways, and they are often sweetened and served for dessert. Crème brûlée, crème caramel, flan, pot de crème, clafouti, zabaglione, ice cream, crème anglaise, pastry cream, and the classic American chocolate and vanilla puddings are all examples of custards. Other desserts, such as bread pudding and rice pudding, are also made with a custard. Many pies and tarts have custard fillings.

When I said I wanted to make a Parmesan Custard, my husband was weirded out. So was my brother. The idea that a savory custard seemed strange to both of them took me by surprise, and “You like quiche, don’t you?” popped out of my mouth. I left it at that—no need to explain when one taste would win them over. The moral of the story? Although they are less common than sweet custards, savory custards aren’t unheard of.

Parmesan Custards with Basil Oil & Balsamic Syrup
Printable Recipe

1 ½ cups balsamic vinegar
1 ¼ ounces basil leaves, blanched
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
Nonstick pan spray
1 ½ cups heavy cream
1 ½ cups milk
1 clove garlic, grated
Pinch freshly grated nutmeg
½ teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 large eggs
4 ounces finely grated Parmegiano-Reggiano

Heat the balsamic vinegar to a boil in a small saucepan and simmer for 20 to 22 minutes, or until thickened and slightly syrupy. Let cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, combine the basil and oil in a blender and blend until smooth.

Preheat the oven to 325˚F. Grease 8 ramekins with nonstick pan spray. Combine the cream, milk, garlic, nutmeg, salt, and pepper in a small saucepan and heat to a simmer. Whisk together the eggs and Parmegiano in a medium bowl. Continue whisking while adding the hot cream mixture in a thin stream. Skim off any foam from the surface. Divide the mixture among the ramekins and place them into a roasting pan. Add enough hot water to the roasting pan to come half way up the sides of the ramekins and bake for 30 to 32 minutes, or until just set. Remove from the water bath and let cool. Strain the basil oil through a fine mesh sieve. Invert each custard onto an individual plate, drizzle with the balsamic syrup and basil oil, and serve immediately.

Serves 8 as an appetizer or first course. Ventilate your kitchen well while making the balsamic syrup because the smell of reducing vinegar is quite strong. The balsamic syrup will thicken as it cools, so be careful not to reduce it too far. If it does become too thick, simply stir in a splash of water to thin it out. By the way, balsamic syrup is a sneaky stand-in for pricey aged balsamic vinegar. The Parmegiano must be finely grated, preferably with a microplane, so that it melts immediately into the hot cream mixture. If the shreds of cheese are too large, they will sink to the bottom of the ramekins and just stay there. You can tell that the custards are done when they jiggle like gelatin and the edges start to shrink away from the ramekins. Be gentle when unmolding them because they are tender and delicate, especially when warm. I like to serve these savory custards warm or at room temperature with Craveable Croutons and either Caesar Salad or a salad of ripe tomatoes, basil leaves, extra virgin olive oil, and sea salt.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Caesar Salad

I’m not going to wax poetic about the inherent beauty of a leaf of romaine lettuce or tell you a romantic story involving garlic and anchovies. But that doesn’t make Caesar Salad any less special. All I can say about it is that it’s something we in my family always crave—we could eat it every day and never tire of it.

Please try this recipe. It’s simple and delicious, and the dressing in the plastic bottle bears absolutely no resemblance to the real thing.

Caesar Salad
Printable Recipe

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
½ teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
2 cloves garlic, grated
2 anchovy fillets, minced
¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
2 hearts romaine lettuce, leaves separated
2 handfuls Craveable Croutons
1 ounce (about ¼ cup) shaved Parmegiano-Reggiano

Whisk together the lemon juice, mustard, Worcestershire, garlic, and anchovies in a small bowl. Continue whisking while adding the oil in a thin stream. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Toss together the lettuce, croutons, and dressing in a large bowl. Arrange the salad on individual plates, divide the Parmegiano among them, top with a generous grinding of pepper, and serve immediately.

Serves 4 as a first course or 2 as a main course. If you like a creamy dressing, whisk an egg yolk into the dressing before adding the olive oil. As much as I love eggs, I usually leave the egg out of my Caesar Salad dressing; I like to make a large batch of the dressing and keep it in the refrigerator for use at a moment’s notice, and it keeps better without the egg. Use good quality anchovies—the ones that come in a glass jar are preferable to the ones from a tin. Some people prefer to cut the romaine into bite-size pieces. To shave Parmegiano, use a vegetable peeler. Of course this salad is good topped with grilled chicken, shrimp, or steak, but you should really try it with Pan-Fried Razor Clams.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Homemade Croutons

Stop. If you try these, you may never buy a box of croutons again. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Craveable Croutons
Printable Recipe

½ 1 ½-pound loaf sourdough bread, cut into ¾-inch cubes
¼ cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 ¼ teaspoons granulated garlic
1 ¼ teaspoons paprika
½ teaspoon Mexican oregano
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
Kosher salt

Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Toss together the bread, oil, granulated garlic, paprika, Mexican oregano, pepper, and cayenne in a large bowl, making sure that the bread cubes are evenly coated. Season generously with salt. Arrange the croutons in a single layer on a baking tray and bake for 22 to 24 minutes, or until golden brown and crisp. Let cool.

Makes enough croutons for several large salads. These are the best croutons ever, even if I do say so myself. They are crisp and infinitely more flavorful than the ones that come in a box, and they’re equally enjoyable with or without a coating of salad dressing. I have to hide them from my husband, or he will eat them all before they ever see a leaf of lettuce. They’re perfect for Caesar salad, and they also make a fantastic soup garnish (I especially like them in tomato soup). Use artisan-style sourdough bread, the kind with a crisp crust, irregular crumb, and tangy flavor; either fresh or day-old is fine. Cut the crust off the bread if you like, but I don’t bother. Dried Mexican oregano, which has a unique floral character, can be found at some gourmet grocers and (usually for less than a dollar) at any Mexican market. If you can’t find it, you can substitute common oregano in this particular recipe. For the best browning, use a heavy baking tray, like the aluminum sheet pans used in restaurants, and be sure not to overcrowd the pan. Croutons keep well for a couple of weeks in a tightly sealed container in the pantry. For parmesan croutons, simply add a handful or two of finely grated Parmegiano-Reggiano when tossing the bread cubes with the oil and spices.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin