Kale & Chorizo Focaccia

Focaccia is a canvas for anything you are inspired to eat. I especially love focaccia topped with greens, finding the lengthy cooking time mellows the vegetables into sweet submission. Last week, we had a bunch of Tuscan kale in the refrigerator and a knob of Spanish chorizo; here is the delectable result. Any type of kale, or other greens such as broccoli raab, spinach, beet greens, or even cabbage will work instead. For a vegetarian version, omit the chorizo and add 1/2 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano when topping the dough.

Makes one 14-inch focaccia (serves 2 as a main course, 4 as an appetizer)

For the dough:

  • 1 and 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for the counter
  • 1/3 teaspoon instant yeast
  • 2/3 teaspoon sea salt, plus 1/8 teaspoon for sprinkling
  • 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons room temperature water, plus extra if needed
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing the bowl

For the topping:

  • 1/2 pound (2 average bunches) Tuscan kale, stems removed, washed and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon plus ½ teaspoon salt
  • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 yellow onion, thinly sliced
  • ¼ teaspoon chili flakes
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2 ounces Spanish (dried) chorizo, casings removed, cut into 1/8-inch pieces
  • cool water as needed
  • 1/4 pound fresh Mozzarella, diced (optional)

Make the dough: Place the flour, yeast, and 2/3 teaspoon of the salt in a large bowl. Mix well with a wooden spoon.

Add the water, and stir well. If the dough is too dry to gather around the spoon, add a bit more water by the teaspoon until the dough gathers into a soft mass around the spoon. If the dough is sticky, add a bit of flour by the teaspoon until it forms a cohesive, soft mass.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead vigorously for 10 minutes, or until it is very smooth and elastic. Try to add as little flour as possible to the dough as you knead it; the more flour you add, the denser the focaccia will be. It is all right if the dough sticks to your hands a little; knead it faster and it will tend to stick less. The dough is kneaded sufficiently when it is smooth and even in texture all the way through, and when it springs back when poked with a finger; it will also stretch about 6 inches without tearing when pulled apart with two hands.

Lightly oil a large bowl and place the dough in it.

Turn it to coat with the oil and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature for 1 hour, or until starting to increase in volume. Refrigerate 12 to 24 hours (a 24-hour rise yields a tastier dough). Return to room temperature when you are ready to shape the dough and bake the focaccia.

One hour before you are ready to bake the focaccia, and after it has returned to room temperature, preheat the oven with a baking stone on the bottom rack to 425 degrees (preferably set on convection bake).

Lightly oil a 14-inch shallow pizza pan. Turn the risen dough out onto the oiled pan and using your fingers, push and flatten gently so it stretches out a bit. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest 15 minutes (if you try to stretch the dough too far at this point, it will simply spring back, as the gluten needs to relax).

Uncover and flatten again so the dough extends and covers the entire base of the pan. Try to stretch it evenly so it does not tear anywhere or have thin patches. Brush with the tablespoon of olive oil and sprinkle with the remaining 1/8 teaspoon of salt. Let rest 15 minutes, uncovered.

Meanwhile, make the topping: Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Add the kale and 1 tablespoon of the salt. Boil the kale 5 minutes, or until it is bright green and tender, and drain. Cool under running water, drain again, and squeeze almost (but not completely) dry.

Chop the kale a few times.

In a nonstick 10-inch skillet over medium-high heat, place 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, the onion, chili, and garlic. Cook 5 minutes, or until the onion is soft. Stir in the chorizo and cook 2 more minutes, or until fragrant. Stir in the boiled and chopped kale. Season with the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and mix well. Cook 10 minutes, adding a bit of cool water if the kale is sticking to the skillet. Taste for salt and adjust as needed. Cool to room temperature.

focaccia-kale-raw-top1200

Top the dough with the cooled kale mixture. Spread it out evenly. Cover with plastic wrap. Let rest for 15 minutes (this allows the gluten to relax). Remove the plastic wrap.

Bake on the baking stone in the preheated oven for 15 to 20 minutes, or until golden brown all over and crispy around the edges, spraying the oven floor with ¼ cup of water 3 times during the first 10 minutes of baking. Brush with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil and cut into wedges. Serve hot, topped with the Mozzarella if desired.

focaccia-kale-topbaked1200

focaccia-kale-slice1200

Farro with Roasted Eggplant, Tomatoes, Onions, & Many Herbs

If I had to pick just one whole grain to cook with (and thank goodness I don’t have to!!), I would likely pick farro. It is so versatile: robust in salads, soothing in soups, toothsome in risotto-style dishes. It has a decidedly firm bite when cooked al dente, and can be toasted lightly in olive oil or butter before adding liquid, to intensify its nutty flavor.

Feel free to experiment with other seasonal vegetables instead of the more summery eggplants and tomatoes below; my farmer’s market still had beautiful end-of-summer produce a week ago, but butternut or acorn squash would be lovely instead, as would shiitake mushrooms, beets, or even cauliflower. Just roast the vegetables of your choice until tender while you boil the farro, then combine and enjoy.

Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as a side dish

For the vegetables:

  • 2 Japanese eggplants, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 12 grape or cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 medium yellow onion, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the farro:

  • ¾ cup farro
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ teaspoon salt, plus extra as needed
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus extra as needed
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled
  • ½ cup mixed fresh herbs (basil, oregano, Italian parsley, chives, oregano, cilantro, mint, and tarragon)

farro-raw1200

Make the vegetables: Preheat the oven to 375° (preferably set on convection bake).

Line an 11-inch x 17-inch baking sheet with parchment paper. Toss the vegetables with the olive oil, salt, and pepper.

Roast the vegetables for 30 to 35 minutes, or until just tender (the eggplants will take the longest to cook through; undercooked eggplants are spongy and bitter, so be sure to cook them all the way through). Set aside.

Meanwhile, make the farro: Bring 3 cups of water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Add the farro and cook until chewy but tender, about 30 minutes. Drain and rinse under cool water to stop the cooking, then drain thoroughly and place in a large bowl. Add the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Mix well and set aside.

Finely mince the garlic with the mixed herbs until very fine. Stir into the farro along with the roasted vegetables, taste for salt and pepper, and adjust as needed. Serve hot, warm, or at room temperature.

farro1200

Fall Salad of Pomegranate, Seckel Pears, Feta, & Roasted Beet

Salads are the most amazing food. What else allows you to play as freely with texture, color, and flavor? Desserts, I suppose; but desserts are far more contrived, the result much further from the original ingredients. A good salad just draws on the nature of each ingredient to create an amazing whole. The salad below, which has quickly become our favorite over the last few weeks, is a prime example of how you can combine contrasting elements to create a truly spectacular dish with little effort.

Start with sweet, earthy baby beets, and roast them. Slice crisp Seckel pears, skin and all. Toast nutty pumpkin and sunflower seeds. Pop ruby-hued, tart pomegranate seeds out of their sheath. Crumble salty Feta. Line a platter with refreshing leaves of lettuce. Enjoy. Crave the rest of the week, until you make it again.

A delicious variation: swap peppery arugula for the lettuce, and toasted hazelnuts for the seeds.

pomegranate-salad-set-up1200


Serves 2 as an appetizer

  • 1 large beet or 2 medium beets, about 1/2 pound total, scrubbed and trimmed
  • 1 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons Sherry vinegar
  • 1/8 teaspoon plus 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 ripe Seckel pears, cored and thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons sunflower seeds
  • 2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds
  • 1 pomegranate
  • 1 small head oak leaf or other curly, sweet lettuce, washed, dried, torn into bite-size pieces
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 ounce French Feta, crumbled

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place the beets on a sheet of aluminum foil, sprinkle with the Kosher salt, and wrap to enclose in the foil. Place on a baking sheet. Roast in the preheated for 1 hour, or until tender and easily pierced with a knife. Cool, then unwrap and remove the skins with a sharp knife or by rubbing with paper towels. Cut into thin slices and place in a small bowl. Pour on 1 tablespoon of the Sherry vinegar, and season with 1/8 teaspoon of the salt and 1/8 teaspoon of the pepper. Set aside to steep for 10 minutes or up to 2 hours at room temperature.

In a small bowl, toss the sliced pears with the lemon juice. Set aside for 10 minutes (but no longer than 30 minutes, or the pears will become mushy).

In a small, dry skillet over medium heat, toast the sunflower and pumpkin seeds until golden, stirring often, about 3 minutes; set aside.

Cut the pomegranate in half along the width (in other words, along the Equator line). Working over a bowl to catch the juices and stray seeds, remove the seeds from the pomegranate. Pick out any bits of papery skin.

pomegranate-beet-salad1200

When you are ready to serve, toss the greens with the remaining tablespoon of Sherry vinegar, the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, and the remaining 1/8 teaspoon of the pepper. Add the olive oil and toss again. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Divide among 2 plates.

Top with the beets and any of their marinade, followed by the pears and any of their juices. Scatter the sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, pomegranate seeds, and Feta over the top. Serve at once, before the greens wilt.

pomegranate-salad-finished1200

Broccoli Raab & Pecorino Bread Pudding

Bread puddings are an ingenious vehicle for stray bits of vegetables and cheese, stale bread, even excess steamed milk from your morning cappuccino. I don’t think I’ve ever made a bread pudding I didn’t like. The key is to taste the custard before adding the bread to ensure it is properly seasoned (in fact, season it more than you think is necessary, as the bread is neutral and requires additional seasoning). The vegetables should also be seasoned properly, so taste, taste, taste!

I prefer my bread puddings firm rather than wobbly, so I add plenty of eggs to bind the mixture properly. I also like lots of vegetables, and usually opt for greens like spinach, arugula, or broccoli raab. The vegetables should be cooked before being folded into the custard base, so they become a silky part of the whole rather than a distinct component.

Serve the bread pudding below with a simple green salad as a main course, and experiment with other vegetables if you’re inspired at the market. Just be sure to pair the cheese with the vegetable: Gruyere is lovely with mushrooms; Parmigiano with spinach; Scamorza with fennel… You get the idea.

Makes 1 large bread pudding (serves 8 as an appetizer, 4 as a main course)

For the broccoli raab:

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • ½ teaspoon chili flakes
  • 1 large bunch broccoli raab, tough stems removed, leaves coarsely chopped (about 1 pound prior to trimming)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ½ cup water

For the bread puddings:

  • extra-virgin olive oil for greasing the roasting pan
  • 6 large eggs
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ½ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano, plus 2 tablespoons for sprinkling
  • ¼ pound day-old white sliced bread, torn into 1/2-inch pieces
  • ¼ pound thickly sliced Pancetta, cut into 1/4-inch dice

rapini

Make the broccoli raab: Preheat the oven to 375° (preferably set on convection).

Place the olive oil, garlic, and chili in a 12-inch sauté pan. Warm gently over medium heat until aromatic, about 1 minute. Add the broccoli raab, season with the salt, and sauté 5 minutes, or until wilted. Add the water and continue to cook until the water evaporates and the raab is soft, about 5 more minutes. Cool to room temperature and adjust the seasoning as needed.

Make the bread pudding: Brush an 8-inch square roasting pan with olive oil.

Beat the eggs, milk, salt, pepper, and ½ cup of the Pecorino in a large bowl with a whisk until aerated and some bubbles have formed in the mixture. The longer you beat, the lighter the bread pudding will be. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Add the bread and the sautéed raab. Mix gently with your hands so the bread soaks up some of the liquid, but do not overmix or the bread will disintegrate and lose its texture.

Spoon the mixture in the prepared roasting pan and dust with the remaining 2 tablespoons of Pecorino. Scatter the Pancetta over the top.

Bake in the preheated oven for 30 minutes, or until set, golden-brown on top, and bubbling. Let rest 5 minutes, then cut into wedges and serve hot.

raab-bread-pudding-slice

Beet Greens & Two-Cheese Ravioli in Light Tomato Sauce

We eat a lot of beets at home. My husband loves them roasted, and he is happiest when I serve them with just a bit of olive oil, salt, and pepper as a salad. Sometimes I add walnuts, Feta cheese, a scattering of fresh herbs (dill or tarragon work best), thinly sliced onions, and a splash of sherry vinegar. Other times, I stir in grated garlic, chili flakes, cilantro, toasted sunflower seeds, toasted pumpkin seeds, and a hint of red wine vinegar.

Since we eat so many beets, that leaves us with a lot of beet greens and beet stems. They never get discarded, and serve as inspiration for many meals. I boil the greens, then serve them with olive oil, lemon juice, and slivered garlic, or top focaccia dough with them before baking under a veil of Pecorino. As for the stems, they are delicious roasted: I boil them just a few minutes, then roast them with olive oil and grated Parmigiano, covered snugly under a sheet of parchment paper, for 10 minutes at 325 degrees. And I often prepare colorful beet greens and cheese ravioli, as below, napped in a light tomato sauce.

Even though the ingredient list looks daunting, the preparation is actually quite easy, so try this the next time you have beet greens at home. And if you have spinach but no beet greens, that works too!


Serves 6

For the dough:

  • 2 and ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for the counter and trays
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 3 large eggs

For the filling:

  • ½ pound fresh beet greens (or spinach leaves), washed and finely chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • ¾ pound fresh whole-milk Ricotta
  • 1 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano

For the egg wash:

  • 1 large egg, beaten to blend

For the sauce:

  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 12 basil leaves
  • 8 large ripe plum tomatoes or 4 large beefsteak tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and diced (about 3 cups diced)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

To cook the ravioli and serve:

  • 2 tablespoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • ½ cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano
  • 1/2 cup basil leaves, cut into fine strips

Make the dough: Mix the flour and salt on a counter and shape into a mound. Make a well in the center and add the eggs to the well. Using your fingertips, work the flour into the eggs, then gather into a dough and knead by hand; add a little water if the dough is too dry or a little flour if it is too moist. Knead for 10 minutes, or until smooth, then shape into a ball, wrap in plastic, and let rest 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the filling: Bring 6 quarts of water to a boil. Add the beet greens (or spinach) and cook 5 minutes, or until soft. Remove with a slotted spoon to a bowl of cool water and drain. Squeeze dry and chop. Reserve the pot of boiling water to cook the ravioli later.

Combine all the ingredients for the filling in a bowl, stir in the chopped boiled beet greens, and adjust the salt to taste if needed. Set aside.

Assemble the ravioli: Cut the dough into 4 pieces. Working with 1 sheet at a time and keeping the others covered, roll each piece out into a thin sheet using a pasta machine; the sheets should be nearly transparent after rolling. Be sure to lightly dust the sheets of pasta with flour every time you roll them through the pasta machine or they may stick or tear.

raviolifilling

Brush 2 of the lasagna sheets lightly with the egg wash. Arrange the filling in small mounds about 1 inch apart on the 2 lasagna sheets you just brushed with the egg wash. Top with the remaining 2 lasagna sheets. Use your hands to press out any air pockets around the filling and seal the edges well. Cut into squares using a fluted pastry wheel. Spread the ravioli out on a lightly floured tray in a single layer and refrigerate until needed, covered with a clean, dry towel. (The ravioli can be shaped up to 24 hours ahead and refrigerated, covered with a clean kitchen towel, or they can be frozen for up to 1 month; if you freeze the ravioli, do not defrost them before dropping them into the boiling water, but allow 1 extra minute for cooking.)

ravioliclose

Make the sauce: Place the olive oil and basil in a 10-inch saucepan. Cook over medium heat for 1 minute, or until the basil releases its aroma, then add the tomatoes, salt, and pepper. Bring to a gentle boil. Cover and simmer 25 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning. If the suace is soupy, cook it, uncovered, for a few minutes. If it is too dry, add a bit of cool water to loosen it.

Cook the ravioli: Return the reserved beet greens cooking water to a boil. Drop in the ravioli and the 2 tablespoons of salt and cook until al dente, about 4 minutes. Remove to a heated platter with a slotted spoon (reserve 1 cup of the pasta cooking water). Gently toss the ravioli with the tomato sauce, add the olive oil, sprinkle with the Pecorino, and stir very gently since the ravioli are delicate. If needed, thin out the sauce with some of the reserved pasta cooking water.

Serve immediately, sprinkled with the basil.

beetraviolipan_