This is a go-to fall and winter dessert, a ready-when-you-are, last-minute triumph that seems more complex than it is. Winter pears (I typically use bosc), even slightly hard ones, are sliced, sprinkled with brown sugar that’s been spiced with ground cinnamon, nutmeg or mace (current fave) and doused with a little heavy cream. Add walnuts and/or seasonal dried fruit (raisins or cranberries). Bake in a 350-degree oven for 20 minutes or until the fruit is tender and the sauce has almost caramelized. Magic.
Archive for October, 2011
These flavorful little bundles are perfect for a fall meal, simply served with a salad of bitter greens, pears and walnuts or as a side dish for roast chicken. I wrapped lightly blanched leaves of young chard around a risotto-like combination of roasted winter squash and brown rice, perked with little bites of dried currants and a pinch of ground mace. The bundles were baked on top of blanched slivers of freshly dug carrots and chard stems (don’t throw them away, they’re delicious!). The texture of the slightly crisp slivered vegetables complemented the soft centers of the stuffed greens, and the flavors were a great combination.
This dish was a real workaround of the weather. First, with a pending snow and ice storm (yes, in October, do you believe it?) I harvested an armful of chard from my garden and tented the remaining crop just in case. The chard was young, with delicate leaves and long leggy stems, so I was determined to use both. Second, after the hurricane that we had here a few months ago, the local crops of winter squash were compromised. Our CSA warned us not to keep the squash too long and to wipe down the outside with hydrogen peroxide or diluted bleach when we took it home. Scary idea. While I normally would have stored the squash in our cold basement until sometime in the winter, we’re eating our way through the small crop right now. I used a portion of a small dumpling squash, dicing it into ¼-inch pieces and roasting it in the oven. For the rice, I decided on short-grain brown rice since it’s stickier than other types and I thought that it would hold its shape better. I made the stuffing the day before and stored it in the refrigerator.
Chard Stuffed with Winter Squash, Brown Rice and Currants
6-8 stalks of green chard
1/3 c short grain brown rice
1 c diced (1/4–1/3 inch cubes) firm winter squash (e.g., butternut or dumpling)
1 tbsp dried currants
¼ tsp ground mace (or nutmeg or cinnamon)
Salt and pepper
1 small carrot, cut into 1½-inch long matchsticks
Slice the stems from the leaves of chard, reserving both. Cut the stems into 1½-inch matchsticks and set aside.
Make the stuffing (this can be done a day in advance and refrigerated). Add rice to boiling water and cook it, at a gentle boil, until al dente, about 30 minutes. Drain and set aside. Toss the diced squash in a little olive oil and salt and roast in the oven at 400 degrees until soft and slightly brown, about 10 minutes, turning part way through roasting. Remove to a bowl to cool. Combine the rice and squash, add the dried currants and spice of choice, and season with salt and pepper.
When ready to assemble and bake, bring a large pot of water to boil and preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Plunge the chard leaves in the boiling water and remove them quickly to an ice water bath. Drain the leaves immediately and place them on a towel to flatten and lightly dry. Add the carrots and chard stems to the boiling water to blanch them and remove them to a baking dish, sprinkling them with salt and a few drops of olive oil.
To make the chard bundles, place a spoonful of the rice mixture (amount depends on the size of the leaves) on each chard leaf, roll up from the stem end, adjusting to make sure no filling is visible and folding in the sides to make a neat package. Place on top of the carrots and chard stems. Bake for about 25 minutes.
These are the ultimate Sunday morning muffins – light but rich with a delicate crumb and a lingering spiciness. The tops are crunchy from a sprinkling of brown sugar crystals and the inside contains tiny cubes of fall apples. When I thought about making muffins for this month’s Spice Rack Challenge, I envisioned a perfect autumn breakfast in the garden, with the air crisp and clear, orange leaves slowly drifting down, and the smell of smoke from a neighbor’s chimney. Spiced muffins fresh from the oven, hot mulled apple cider, sliced pears….
Ahem, the only thing that materialized in that little dream of mine was the tray of muffins. A late-season nor’easter tore up the coast yesterday and dumped about 6 inches of snow on us. Snow and ice! This is the freakin’ day before freakin’ Halloween. This is October. Normally, we would think a storm like this was early if it came around Thanksgiving. So I spent Saturday canning tomatoes that I picked at our CSA last week. Haha. That was, after I harvested all of the peppers and other perishables from my garden as the sloppy wet flakes fell to the ground. Stores closed, games were postponed, trees and power lines were down, parking lots were 4 inches deep in slush, and everyone looked at each other and said, “This is ridiculous.”
So, I’m glad I took the time to make the muffins. I adapted them pretty liberally from a recipe in Marion Cunningham’s excellent Breakfast Book, which she called the “last word in nutmeg muffins.” I substituted mace for nutmeg (they’re related, and I actually liked the mace better than I would have nutmeg), added diced apples, sprinkled the tops with sugar and made them in several sizes. Her recipe was supposed to make 12 muffins. Mine made 12 full size and 12 minis. This is the first time I made these muffins and I have to say that they’re a keeper.
Apple-Mace Muffins adapted from Marion Cunningham
2 c all-purpose flour
¾ c granulated white sugar
1 tbsp baking powder
1½ tsp ground mace (or grate a whole nutmeg)
½ tsp salt
5 tbsp butter, melted
1 egg, room temperature
¾ c heavy cream
¾ c milk (I used nonfat)
1 apple, peeled, cored and cut into ¼-inch dice
1 tbsp turbinado or Demerara sugar (brown sugar crystals)
Butter for the muffin pans (or use paper cups)
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Prepare muffin pans (18 regular size or 12 regular size and 12 minis or 36 minis) by buttering them or inserting paper muffin cups.
Sift together the dry ingredients.
Melt the butter in a 2-cup glass measuring cup in the microwave oven, until just melted. Cool slightly and add the egg, beating the mixture with a fork. Add the cream and milk (you can measure this right into the cup to keep the number of dishes down since the butter and egg will equal ½ cup).
Pour the liquid into the dry ingredients, stirring lightly until the flour is just absorbed. Do not over mix. Fold in the diced apples. Spoon batter into the muffin cups, filling them 2/3 full. Sprinkle the sugar crystals on top.
Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the tops are golden. Let them cool for 5 minutes and remove them (gently, they’re delicate when warm) to a cooling rack. Serve warm.
Makes 18 full-sized muffins, or 12 full-sized and 12 minis, or 36 minis.
Peppers peppers peppers. The combination of so many varieties of peppers with a fall cold snap makes us long for the comfort food, even though we’re still harvesting corn and tomatoes. Stews are the epitome of comfort food in our house, whether vegetarian or containing meat, poultry or fish. Having gone to school in Vienna, I have wonderful memories of eastern European cooking, the prevalence of paprika, the spark of vinegar, the addition of certain seeds like caraway. This is my own version of goulash, probably not authentic, but featuring the fresh peppers and tomatoes of late fall and wonderful beef from local organically raised grass-fed cattle.
This is a pretty standard stew, but I have a few tricks. Paprika, with natural oils, tends to make the stew rich. I lighten it up, not with salt, which would be a normal first reaction, but with a tiny bit of cider vinegar. I also add caraway seeds, but only as a garnish since cooking them creates a bitter taste. Finally, after all of those peppers have cooked down into an unctuous sauce, I sprinkle the stew with lightly sautéed fresh peppers, providing a crunchy counterpoint. This stew tastes better the second day and freezes well.
Pepper and Beef Goulash
I lb well-marbled beef stew meat in 1-inch (or smaller) pieces
1 medium onion, cut in half horizontally and slivered vertically
1 red bell pepper, core removed, cut in half horizontally and slivered vertically
1 green bell pepper, core removed, cut in half horizontally and slivered vertically
1 tbsp sweet Hungarian paprika
Pinch of hot Hungarian paprika
8 fresh plum tomatoes, diced (or used canned)
1-2 tsp cider vinegar
½ tsp caraway seeds
½ red pepper, diced and sautéed
Optional: sour cream
Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. Trim and dry the beef, cutting it into the desired size. Brown the beef in medium hot oil and remove it to a heavy pot (I use a Le Creuset covered cast iron pot.)
Add more oil to the sauté pan if necessary and add the onions and peppers. Cook relatively slowly until wilted. Add paprika and salt, cooking over low heat to combine well. Add tomatoes and cook to break them down slightly. Transfer the pepper-tomato mixture to the pot containing the beef, stir to combine, cover and place in the oven. After 30 minutes, check to see if the stew is bubbling and if so, turn the heat down to 250 degrees and cook for another hour.
Let the stew cool, refrigerate it and remove any excess grease from the top before heating to serve.
Taste the reheated stew and adjust the seasonings, adding a little vinegar before adding salt, if salt is needed at all. Sprinkle with caraway seeds and sautéed fresh peppers.
Serve on top of noodles.
Makes 4-6 servings depending on your habits and appetite.
What? Still serving fresh corn on the cob in New Jersey in October? You bet. No killer frost yet. Our local farm stand has a crop of corn in peak condition and another waiting, though we don’t have high hopes for the last one because the nights are getting too cold for the corn to ripen. This corn sauté, similar to a Louisiana “maquechoix” served for Thanksgiving, usually finds its way onto our table late in the summer or early fall when the corn becomes ripe and dense. The farmers who run our local corn stand plant successive crops so we rarely get any corn that’s over-ripe. So if you have access to fresh corn at any time of year, this recipe’s a winner. It was inspired by Bert Greene, whose Greene on Greens cookbook is an oldie but goodie. This year, the corn sauté was a convenient way of dispensing with the last of the cherry tomatoes, stray bits of peppers and basil, but not the corn, which continues to grow. At least for now. We’re so lucky.
Sautéed Corn with Vegetables
4 ears of corn
1 slice of extra-thick bacon
4 scallions, reserving the greens (or ½ of a small onion plus chives)
1 small red bell pepper, diced
2 plum tomatoes, seeded and chopped, or a handful of cherry tomatoes, halved
½ tsp fresh thyme
1 tsp fresh basil
2 tbsp heavy cream
Salt and pepper to taste
Scallion tops or fresh chives
Fresh basil if available
Cut the kernels from the corn. Cut most of them close to the core and a few halfway, scraping into a bowl he remaining corn flesh and juice with the back of a knife.
Cook the bacon slowly in a large pan until crisp. Remove the bacon to drain.
Add the scallions or onion and the red pepper pieces to the bacon fat and cook slowly until tender. Add the tomatoes and herbs and cook until well combined, 5 minutes or so. Add the corn and cream and cook for another 5 minutes or until the corn is tender. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with scallion tops or chives and tiny basil leaves.
A savory custard envelopes seasonal vegetables to make a simple but satisfying vegetarian meal. (It would also welcome a few cubes of smoked ham if you’re so inclined.) Like quiche filling without the crust, this is a riff on one of my standbys, extended by adding corn and red pepper to the collard leaves and stems. I posted a cheesy and collards-only version of this during last winter’s Dark Days challenge.
Unlike the long-stewed collard greens common to Southern cooking, this dish cooks collard stems with onions just until tender and then adds the greens, cut into ribbons. Cooked to an al dente consistency, the collards give the custard a lot of body and spunky flavor. The addition of corn, red pepper and seasonal herbs makes this quite different – lighter and more festive – than the winter version. Since this timbale takes nearly 1½ hours to assemble and bake (1+ hour of baking and resting time) I usually make the collards in advance.
Timbale of Collard Greens, Red Pepper and Corn
1 bunch of collard greens (8+ leaves)
1 small onion, chopped
1 tbsp butter
½ red pepper, diced
Kernels cut from 1 ear of corn
Salt and pepper
½ c milk
¼ heavy cream
Herbs such as basil or parsley
Slice the stems of the collards from the leaves. Chop the stems into ½-inch pieces and the leaves cross-wise into ½-inch ribbons.
Melt the butter in a large pan and add the onions, cooking over medium heat for about 2 minutes or until they begin to look translucent. Add the collard stems and cook, covered until tender, about 10-15 minutes. (This will vary by the age of the collards. Mine were fresh and cooked in about 8 minutes.)
Add the collard greens, corn and red pepper, and continue to cook, covered for about 3-4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and set aside to cool. (May be made ahead to this point and refrigerated.)
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and put a kettle of water on to boil. Butter the inside of a 2-quart baking dish. Set out a roasting pan large enough to hold the baking dish and water to come about halfway up the sides.
Lightly beat the eggs, and add the milk, cream and herbs. Stir in the cooled collards, corn and pepper mixture and pour into the prepared baking dish. Place the dish in the roasting pan and add boiling water to come up 1-1½ inches up the side. (It’s best to do this in the oven.) Bake for 45-60 minutes or until a knife inserted into the center comes out clean. Let the mixture set for about 10 minutes before serving.
Makes 6 servings.
Now that the local growing season is winding down, I am harvesting the remaining herbs that won’t survive the winter and preserving them. Preserving herbs is an ongoing process all summer and fall, especially since the tender ones like basil are gone, and other like mint are past their most aromatic stages. In the 6 preceding posts in this series, I’ve preserved herbs in vinegar and salt (whole sage leaves), dried them, frozen them as pesto, and turned them into jellies and syrup. There are more ideas to come.
Every year, I think that I am going to overwinter my potted rosemary and sage, and every year, they don’t survive. I would bring them inside but the pots are too big and the rosemary tends to develop spider mites. This year, I decided to harvest the leaves and either use them or preserve them. The uses were easy: I canned tomato-orange sauce with rosemary and a second batch of husk cherry jam with rosemary, both amazing additions to the pantry.
To preserve rosemary and sage, I followed an excellent recipe from David Lebovitz, who learned it from a friend. (He called it Italian herb rub.) Rosemary and sage leaves are finely chopped and combined with garlic finely chopped with sea salt (my own twist on his technique). The whole mix is dried on pans for a few days in a non-drafty room or in an unlit gas oven (another twist of mine since it was too humid in my house). The heat from the pilot light creates a great environment for slow drying. This turned out to be a great combination.
Inspired by Heidi Swanson, I also made celery salt, experimenting with several variations: organic Pascal celery (supermarket variety), organic celeriac leaves (from our CSA) and Chinese celery (grown by organic methods in my in-town garden). The Pascal celery included the darker outer leaves and the pale yellow inner leaves, yielding a fine, colorful combination. I combined the robust celeriac and Chinese celery in one batch. For the celeries, I used a flaky Maldon salt, cutting down Heidi’s proportions. She calls for roasting in a 350-degree oven. I was skeptical, but it worked.
I bet these need to be stored airtight and in the dark. All versions are great. I will enjoy them all fall and winter (if they last that long) combined with olive oil as marinades for meat or roasted vegetables. At the end of our season now, I used the celery salt to embellish corn on the cob. Yum.
1½ c sage leaves (removed from stems)
1 c rosemary leaves (removed from stems)
1 tbsp salt (I used gray sea salt, slightly coarse)
3 large cloves garlic
Finely chop the sage and rosemary (by hand or pulsed in a food processor). Chop the garlic with the salt, until fine but do not turn into a paste. Combine all ingredients and spread them out on baking sheets. Either air dry them indoors away from sunlight and drafts for 2-3 days, or in a gas oven (with only the heat of the pilot light) for a day or so, until the mixture is completely dry. Store in a dark place in an airtight container.
Makes about 1 cup.
Celery Salt adapted from Heidi Swanson 101 Cookbooks
Clean and dry celery leaves (from fresh Pascal celery- inner and outer, Chinese celery, and/or celeriac), torn into small bits
Flaky salt (Maldon, for example)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the celery leaves on a baking sheet and toast for about 5 minutes, or until dry but not browned. Remove from the sheet and cool. You can slightly crumble the leaves or keep them whole. Add flaky salt, about half the amount of salt as leaves. Store in a dark place in an airtight container.
I have had a love affair with lemon verbena for months thanks to a bumper crop at our CSA. At the end of the season, just before the first frost, I harvested a few bunches and hung them upside down in a dark dry spot. When thoroughly dried (a couple of weeks), slightly crumble the leaves and store them in an airtight container in a dark place. I am also drying anise hyssop, and horehound to make tea that wards off winter colds.
To brew tea, heat a teapot with boiling water and discard the water. Add a teaspoon of dried herbs, add boiled water and let steep for a few minutes. The lemon verbena tea is beautifully yellow, aromatic and delicious. It will be interesting to see how it holds up in strength and flavor after being stored for a few months.
When I was playing around with herb syrups for Part 5 of my Preserving Herbs series, I was in the middle of preserving the last basil from my garden into little tubes of pesto for the freezer. With sugar and lemon verbena on the counter ready for syrup, I thought, why add the liquid? The herbs might preserve better in sugar alone. So I whirred some cleaned and dried leaves in a food processor with a few tablespoons of sugar and made a paste that I rolled into a little log. (I used ¼ c sugar for each cup of verbena leaves, loosely packed in a measuring cup.)
Wrapped in plastic wrap and paper to give them structure and avoid freezer burn (a trick I learned from Margaret Roach), they’re now happily stacked alongside their savory counterparts. I’m not sure what I’ll do with it, but I’m thinking about adding it to fruit poaching liquid, sorbet, scones, and maybe tea.
After a weekend of canning tomatoes, including a lovely Provençale-style tomato sauce with orange and rosemary, I had a little leftover sauce, a leftover half of an orange (precious at this time of year) and a large (3-foot-long) bulb of Florence fennel with stalks and fronds intact, courtesy of our CSA farm. I hadn’t figured out our weekday night supper, and this combo just sprung to mind. I used the delicious sauce for pasta (manicotti stuffed with ricotta seasoned with fennel frond pesto and orange zest) but in a more prosperous time, I might have used the sauce as a base for a simply baked white fish topped it with Niçoise olives.
I like braising fennel in citrus, typically using lemon. Here, orange juice and zest complemented the tomatoes and provided a kick that was tweaked by the salty and grassy fennel frond pesto.
This isn’t that complicated but there are a few independent steps if you make the dish that I did. You are first going to prepare the fennel, braising the bulb and stalks in olive oil, salt and orange juice, and turning the fronds into pesto. While the fennel is braising, you can prepare the tomato-orange sauce. If you are making manicotti, while the fennel and tomato sauce are simmering, you should boil the manicotti shells, and make a ricotta filling, which contains fennel fronds and orange zest, and fill the cooled manicotti shells. Finally, combine the tomato sauce with the braised fennel and spoon it over the top of the filled manicotti.
Baked Manicotti with Tomato-Orange-Fennel Sauce
5-6 dried manicotti shells (or use fresh pasta sheets that you can roll yourself)
1 c ricotta cheese
2 tbsp fennel frond pesto (see below)
Salt and freshly ground white pepper
Optional: grated parmesan cheese
Tomato-Orange-Fennel Sauce (see below)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Boil the manicotti shells (or fresh pasta sheets) in a large pot of water until slightly under al dente stage. Drain and cool.
Beat the ricotta cheese, fennel frond pesto, egg, salt and pepper together, adding the optional cheese at the end.
Fill the cooled manicotti shells with the ricotta cheese mixture.
Spoon a little tomato sauce on the bottom of a baking dish and place the filled manicotti on top. Spoon the tomato-orange-fennel sauce over the manicotti. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan cheese if desired.
Bake for approximately 30 minutes or until bubbling. Set aside to cool for 10 minutes before serving.
6-8 plum tomatoes
1 clove garlic, minced
Juice of ½ orange
½ tsp orange zest
Fennel braised with orange juice (see below)
1 tbsp fennel frond pesto (see below)
Core the tomatoes and roughly chop them. Lightly cook the garlic in olive oil and add the tomatoes, turning the heat up so that the tomatoes boil and exude their liquid. Turn the heat down after about 5 minutes and simmer, crushing the tomatoes with the back of a spoon, for about 10 minutes. Add the orange juice and zest, and salt to taste and simmer for at least 5 minutes.
To finish the sauce, add the braised fennel and the fennel frond pesto.
Fennel Braised with Orange Juice
I small bulb of young fennel with stalks (and leaves)
1 tbsp olive oil
Juice of ½ orange
½ tsp orange zest
Water (or chicken broth)
Trim the stalks from the bulb. Trim the base of the bulb, cut it in half vertically, remove the core, slicing it very thin, and slice the bulb vertically into slivers. Remove the fronds from the stalks and reserve them for another use. Thinly slice the stalks on the diagonal.
Warm the olive oil in a saucepan and sauté the fennel lightly, add the orange juice and zest, cover the pot and braise until crisp tender, 10 minutes or less. Check occasionally and add water as needed, continuing to braise until the vegetables are tender. Season with salt to taste. Before serving, add a little orange juice to spark the flavor.
Fennel Frond Pesto
Strip the fennel fronds from the stalks and place them in a food processor. Add chopped garlic, salt and a little olive oil, and process them to a medium-fine consistency.