Tag Archives: chili flakes

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

Roasted Chinese Eggplants with Olive & Tomato Salsa

I have never understood how someone could dislike eggplants. They are, to my mind, one of the most amazing vegetables (though they are technically a fruit) around: creamy when fried or slow-cooked, chewy when grilled, meaty when roasted… And the flavor itself is nothing short of miraculous in the summer, when the markets are filled with eggplants in every shade of purple and white, some plain, others streaked zebra or graffiti. I adore eggplants, and I believe anyone who says they don’t like them has never tasted a truly good specimen.

Here is one of the simplest ways to enjoy eggplant. I borrowed the flavors for the salsa from one I tasted in Liguria, but made mine bolder by adding raw onions and a touch of chili. If you favor more delicate flavors, top the eggplant with the salsa halfway through baking so it loses its direct potency, and finish with tiny dice of fresh Mozzarella when serving.

Chinese eggplants (and Japanese eggplants, which are quite similar) are slender and long, with few seeds and a sweet flavor. They have a thin skin, cook through faster than Western varieties, and are a good starter eggplant for anyone with a timid palate. Japanese eggplants are darker in hue than Chinese, and will work just as well in this recipe; use whatever variety looks good at the market.

eggplant1


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

For the eggplants:

  • 4 Chinese (or Japanese) eggplants, halved lengthwise
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt

For the salsa:

  • 1 large ripe beefsteak tomato, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 1/2 small red onion, cut into 1/4-inch dice
  • 1 small garlic clove, minced
  • 8 black olives, pitted and minced
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon chili flakes (optional)
  • 12 basil leaves, very thinly sliced

Make the eggplants: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees (preferably set on convection bake). Lay the eggplant halves, cut side up, on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. Cut a cross-hatch pattern into each eggplant half, barely scoring the flesh. Brush with the olive oil and season with the salt. Roast in the preheated oven 30 minutes, or until tender and creamy when pierced with a knife; the eggplants should still hold their shape. If using western eggplant varieties, the cooking time will be longer.

Make the salsa: In a medium bowl, mix all the ingredients and taste for salt. Adjust as needed.

To serve: Spoon the salsa over the warm eggplants and serve.

eggplant2sclose

eggplanttapenadetop

Swiss Chard & Pecorino Crespelle

Cooks in the Italian countryside often make simple crespelle (the Italian word for crepes) with flour and water only, no eggs or milk or fats added. The result is a slightly chewy, hearty wrapper that best encases sharp cheeses such as Pecorino, or a thin slice of salty Prosciutto, or, as below, a garlic-laced vegetable filling.

I serve these crespelle as a vegetarian main course when I am inspired by the greens at the market; broccoli raab, Swiss chard, spinach, beet greens, or escarole all work well. You can even combine a few different greens to obtain a more complex flavor.

The crespelle can be made up to 12 hours ahead and kept covered with plastic wrap at room temperature until needed. Leftovers can be refrigerated up to 2 days in a tightly sealed plastic bag, but my guess is, there won’t be any leftovers once you try these!

Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as an appetizer

For the crespelle:

  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 cup room-temperature water, plus extra as needed
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

For the filling:

  • 1 tablespoon plus 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 bunch Swiss chard, leaves only, thoroughly washed and chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili flakes
  • 1 garlic clove, very finely minced
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 ounce (1/4 cup) freshly grated Pecorino Romano

rainbow-chard

Make the crespelle: Sift the flour and salt into a medium bowl. Whisking all the while, beat in enough warm water (about 1 cup) to make a smooth, fluid, fairly thin batter that flows like heavy cream. Strain through a sieve into a clean bowl.

Heat an 8-inch round cast iron or nonstick skillet over high heat. Brush very lightly with some of the olive oil, and pour in about 1/4 cup or so of the batter (measure first, but use a ladle to spoon it into the pan for ease), tilting the pan immediately to spread it all the way to the edges. (If the batter does not spread easily, thin it out with additional water.) The batter should barely cover the base of the skillet, or else the crespelle will be too thick and therefore tough.

Cook 3 minutes, or until lightly crisp around the edges and spotted lightly on the bottom. Turn and cook the other side for 1 minute, or until lightly speckled with brown spots. Remove to a plate; continue with the remaining batter, making (ideally) eight crespelle in all.

Make the filling: Bring 2 quarts of water to a boil. Add 1 tablespoon of the salt and drop in the chard leaves. Cook 5 minutes, or until soft. Drain, cool under running water, and squeeze dry. Chop finely and place in a bowl. Add the remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt, the garlic, chili, olive oil, and Pecorino. Stir well and taste for seasoning; adjust as needed.

pizzacceflat

Arrange the crespelle in a single layer on a tray. Top evenly with some of the filling, fold into quarters, and enjoy.

swisschardpizzacceplated

Heirloom Tomato & Basil Focaccia with Chili-Garlic Oil

It seems lately we’ve been craving pizza and focaccia and bread daily. In the summer months, when the markets offer so many juicy, perfect tomatoes, I find myself making tomato-topped focaccia more often than not (my other great weakness is herbed focaccia, especially rosemary).

Here is last week’s very summery focaccia. We ate it with an array of fresh and aged cheeses; roasted beets with walnuts and tarragon; steamed string beans splashed with olive oil, garlic, and parsley; and a refreshing green salad with lemon and olive oil. What more can you ask for? Oh, and we had amazing nectarines and fresh figs for dessert. We’re going to miss summer!!

Remember to allow 24 hours for the dough to rise in the refrigerator for best flavor.

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:

  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for greasing the pan
  • 1 large or 2 small, juicy, ripe yellow or other heirloom tomatoes
  • 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 garlic clove, finely minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon chili flakes
  • 12 basil leaves, cut into thin strips

bowl2

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.

Make the topping: When you are ready to bake, thinly slice the tomato. Arrange decoratively on the focaccia dough, possibly without overlapping (be sure to use any of the delicious juices from the tomato; just pour any juices from the cutting board onto the dough). Season with the salt.

In a bowl, mix the olive oil, garlic, and chili. Brush 1 tablespoon of the mixture over the focaccia dough, but try to use all the garlic at this point (ideally, you will have just olive oil left; raw garlic can be a bit jarring on the focaccia after baking).

Place the pizza pan on the hot baking stone and bake 20 minutes, or until golden brown. Using a plant mister, spray the focaccia three times with water during the first 10 minutes of baking. Be sure to close the oven door quickly each time or else the oven temperature will drop.

Remove from the oven, and brush with the remaining tablespoon of olive oil. Sprinkle with the basil. Cut into wedges and enjoy hot.

yellowtomatofocaccia

Rosemary Spaetzle with Ricotta and Sausage

Spaetzle are tiny egg gnocchi made across Europe, especially Hungary, Austria, and Germany. They are typical of Trentino-Alto Adige, a region in Italy’s northwest that was under Austro-Hungarian rule. I often make spaetzle when I am short on time and still want a fresh pasta. They are easy to make, as long as you have a spaetzle machine (more on that later): just whisk an egg and some milk into flour, beat until smooth, and pour through the spaetzle machine into gently boiling water. When the spaetzle bob to the surface, they are ready to scoop up and toss with whatever you like: olive oil and grated Parmigiano; crushed poppy seeds and Ricotta Salata; melted butter, sugar, and cinnamon for a sweet treat; the herb-infused juices from a roast veal or chicken; or the savory sausage sauce below. One thing I do not suggest with spaetzle is a heavy tomato-based sauce, which would overwhelm the delicate flavor of the gnocchi itself. Spaetzle are also an excellent accompaniment to hearty stews and roasted meats.

There are many Spaetzle machines on the market, and some work better than others. Some people like to use a spaetzle press, which looks like a potato ricer. Other people opt for the machine that has a sliding box set atop what looks like a box grater; I prefer this model. Mine is all stainless steel and, as long as I wash it before the batter dries on it, takes just minutes to clean. I toss the machine into a sinkful of warm, soapy water while the spaetzle cook, then wash it easily afterwards.

When making spaetzle to serve with sweet embellishments, omit the pepper and rosemary in the batter, and add a pinch of freshly grated nutmeg instead.

Serves 2 as a main course, 4 as an appetizer

For the spaetzle:

  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ¼ teaspoon plus 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon minced fresh rosemary
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon 2% or whole milk

For the sauce and to serve:

  • 1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • ¼ teaspoon chili flakes (optional)
  • ½ pound hot Italian sausage, casings removed and crumbled
  • Salt as needed
  • Freshly ground black pepper as needed
  • ¼ pound fresh whole-milk Ricotta

Make the spaetzle: Place the flour, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt, the pepper, and rosemary in a bowl. Mix well with a whisk. Make a well in the center and add the egg to the well. Start whisking the egg into the flour while you pour in the milk little by little. The aim is to have a perfectly smooth batter, so whisk vigorously when all the milk has been added. Whisking thoroughly also activates the gluten, making the spaetzle lighter when cooked. If not using right away, cover and set aside for up to 12 hours in the refrigerator; return to room temperature before cooking.

Make the sauce: Place the olive oil, garlic, fennel seeds, and chili flakes if using in a 12-inch skillet. Set over medium heat and cook until just aromatic, about 2 minutes. Watch that the garlic does not burn. Add the crumbled sausage and cook, stirring often to break it up into small pieces, until browned all over, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat until you are ready to serve; the sauce can be made to this point up to 2 hours ahead.

Bring 4 quarts of water to a boil. Add the remaining tablespoon of salt and, using a spaetzle machine, drop the spaetzle into the boiling water. Cook until the spaetzle bob to the surface, about 1 minute, then drain, reserving 1 cup of the cooking water.

spaetzle2_DSC3980spaetzle1_DSC3982

Spoon the spaetzle into the sausage in the skillet. Add the reserved cooking water and sauté over high heat 1 minute, or until the flavors have melded.

spaetzle4_DSC3986spaetzle5_DSC3990

Taste for seasoning and adjust, adding salt and pepper as needed. Serve hot, scattering dollops of Ricotta over the spaetzle here and there so you can combine the Ricotta with the spaetzle as you eat.

spaetzle6_DSC3995