We left the warmth and sunshine of a much needed vacation visiting dear friends in south Florida to return to the frigid temperatures and snow of Bucks County. It’s hard to believe that we are experiencing our third snowfall and winter is still about a week away. Cold temperatures call for warming dishes so chili is always a good choice. I wanted to try something a little different and watching television with mom gave me my inspiration. Guy Fieri, of Food Network and Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives was preparing a pork chili with tomatillos. I froze quite a few bags of tomatillos from our fall harvest and wanted to see what they would add to the flavor of a warm bowl of chili.
Pork shoulder is the meat of choice in this recipe. It is a well marbled cut that benefits from slow cooking and because of it’s higher fat content is less likely to dry out. Be sure to cook the pork in a single layer and don’t crowd the pan which will yield nicely browned cubes of meat. A crowded pan will result in steamed, not browned pork. Don’t be tempted to turn the pieces too quickly, if they stick, they are not ready to turn yet.A combination of fresh and dried chiles adds to the depth of flavor in the finished dish.
I used both fresh and dried poblano peppers . Fresh poblano peppers are very dark green in color and bring flavor more than overwhelming heat to the dish. Ancho chile is the dried version of the poblano. The heat of the ancho is mild to medium with a sweet smoky flavor reminiscent of raisins or figs. Fresh jalapeno peppers brings just enough heat to the dish. Since every pepper can be a little different, It’s wise to taste just a little bit of your fresh chili peppers before adding them to the dish. It’s always easier to add heat than try to tone it down.
Roasting tomatillos gives the chili a little smokiness along with citrusy kick. The chili is thickened with masa harina, a dry powder made from corn and used to make corn tortillas. I made this a day before serving it, giving time for the flavors to blend. Leftovers? It would be a delicious filling for a pork taco.
Pork Chili Verde
Thanksgiving evening, the turkeys and the side dishes were out and we were ready to serve dinner buffet style from the kitchen. Then I noticed it, the double steamer basket and a small container next to it. I forgot, also read, “got too busy” to make the green bean dish I had prepped ahead. Not that we would miss it. After slurping down Chesapeake Bay oysters, butternut squash soup with cider cream, homemade breads, a salad of baby greens and spinach from Joe’s greenhouse, we were ready for the main event. Turkeys, roasted, grilled and smoked, roasted vegetables, yam casserole, stuffing, zucchini, no one would starve for certain. The green beans could wait for another day.
We grow both pole and bush style beans. Green beans, yellow or wax beans and purple beans are in abundance courtesy of the garden from July to early September. Green beans are not in season now so I bought the skinny “haricot verts” that would cook quickly in the steamer basket. Always looking for a new twist on the beans, a recipe from Food and Wine magazine would fit the bill. Green beans with parsley lemon pesto sounded like a great way to feature the beautiful flat leafed parsley still thriving in the greenhouse. Like most people, when you say pesto I immediately think basil. This is a recipe for winter months without basil and combines toasted pine nuts with parsley, garlic, lemon and olive oil. The dish comes together fairly easy, the pesto can be made a day ahead and then tossed with the steamed beans.
Pine nuts are the edible seed of a pine cone. Every pine tree produces seeds but less than a third of the varieties produce seeds that are large and flavorful enough to eat. To say pine nuts are expensive would be an understatement. I read that Italian pine nuts have been going for as much as 60 to 120 dollars a pound due to bug infestations and weather conditions. The small container of Italian pine nuts I purchased was weighed by the quarter pound, by the pound I estimated them to cost about thirty eight dollars. Even Chinese pine nuts have gone up in price. If you decide to purchase Italian pine nuts for any dish just be sure they are out of harm’s way so they don’t become someone’s late night snack. Walnuts or almonds would be a more reasonably priced alternative and just as flavorful. The amount of pesto is enough for four pounds of green beans, I only cooked a pound of beans because we had quite a few side dishes. Leftover pesto could be tossed with pasta or used as a spread on a turkey sandwich.
Green Beans with Parsley Pesto
Serves 6-8 as part of a buffet
- 1/2 cup pine nuts
- 2 cups flat-leaf parsley leaves
- 1 garlic clove, crushed
- 1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- Kosher salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- 1 lb. green beans (I prefer using the thinner haricot verts)
- Lemon wedges, for serving
- In a small skillet, toast the pine nuts over moderate heat, tossing, until golden, about 5 minutes; transfer to a food processor and let cool completely.
- Add the parsley, garlic, lemon zest and lemon juice to the food processor and pulse until the parsley is very finely chopped. With the machine on, gradually add the olive oil and process until the pesto is nearly smooth. Season with salt and pepper and scrape into a large bowl.
- Put a steamer basket in the bottom of a pot. Fill the pot with 1 inch of water, add salt and bring to a boil. Add the green beans, cover and steam until bright green and crisp-tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Drain the beans and transfer to the large bowl. Toss with enough pesto to coat and season with salt and pepper; serve with lemon wedges.
Move over kale there’s a new vegetable star in town, cauliflower. Well, at least according to Bon Appetit’s trend alert in the November issue. Top chefs are now embracing the once lowly vegetable, in everything from a “ragu” atop pizza to roasted and topped with tahini dressing.
We’ve been enjoying cauliflower in new ways in the last couple of years. I like to separate it into florets, put it in a big bowl and toss it with olive oil, kosher salt and Aleppo pepper. Then I roast it on a baking sheet in a hot oven, tossing it occasionally, so that all the pieces get sweet and toasty brown. If the cauliflower gets done before the main course, I keep it warm under a heat lamp and inevitably most of it gets eaten before we sit down to dinner. I refer to it as veggie popcorn. The other method of cooking is to cook the florets in boiling water until soft. Then I put the cauliflower in the food processor with a little half and half, salt, pepper and my seasoning of choice and puree it. This time cauliflower morphs into “mashed potatoes” for a low carb treat.
Last Saturday was the last local outdoor farmers market, some of the vendors will return once a month now for an indoor market. While loading up on vegetables for Thanksgiving, I noticed one farm was offering along side the usual white variety, purple and a yellow-orange cauliflower. The young woman behind the counter referred to the orange one as “cheddar”. The shopper next to me turned up her nose and made a “yuk” face. She said the color reminded her of packaged macaroni and cheese.
If she knew the story behind this variety I think she would have changed her mind. Cauliflower belongs to the genus Brassica which includes broccoli, cabbage and yes, kale. The “cheddar” or orange variety of cauliflower was first discovered in Canada in the 1970′s. Scientists at Cornell University crossed it with the standard white cauliflower to create a vitamin rich variety, popular with farmers markets and specialty grocers. What my fellow shopper didn’t know was that the hue is from extra beta carotene. It is naturally stored in edible portion of the plant, the head of the flower buds, also known as the curd. That means it has 25% more vitamin A than it’s white cousin and second only to carrots.
Purple cauliflower had it’s origins in either Italy or South Africa. Anthocyanin pigments, also found in red cabbage and red wine gives purple cauliflower it’s color and the added benefits of promoting eye and heart health. Milder in flavor than the white variety, most varieties will retain most of their purple color when cooked.
This recipe is courtesy of Andrew Carmellini, a Food and Wine best new chef 2000. He is best known for his modern Italian dishes and his recipe combines some of fall’s favorite ingredients. The nutty flavor of roasted cauliflower is enhanced with brown butter and hazelnuts and combined with sweet pears and fragrant sage. It is a great addition to any holiday table and easy enough for a weeknight. It gains points with busy holiday cooks in two ways; one, it is a stovetop dish, freeing up valuable oven space and two, it’s delicious both warm and at room temperature, perfect for a buffet and leaving time for last minute prep for other dishes. Purple and yellow cauliflower will certainly brighten up any holiday table, but it would be just as delicious with the standard white variety.
Cauliflower with Brown Butter, Pears, Sage and Hazelnuts
From Fine Cooking magazine
- 6T unsalted butter
- 1 medium head white cauliflower or 2 small heads yellow and purple cauliflower cut into small florets about 3/4 inch wide
- 1/2 cup toasted, skinned, chopped hazelnuts (see tip right)
- 8 fresh sage leaves, thinly sliced crosswise
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 large ripe pears, cored and thinly sliced
- 2 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
To toast hazelnuts, spread them in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake in a 350°F oven for 14 to 18 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes, until lightly browned. While still warm, rub them against each other in a clean dishtowel to remove the papery skins.
- In a 12-inch skillet over medium-high heat, melt the butter until light brown and bubbly. Add the cauliflower, hazelnuts, and sage.
- Cook for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Season with 1 tsp. salt and 1/2 tsp. pepper and continue cooking, stirring occasionally, until the cauliflower is browned and crisp-tender, 7-8 minutes more.
- Remove the pan from the heat. Add the pear slices and parsley. Gently toss to combine and warm the pears. Season to taste with more salt. Serve hot or at room temperature.
Make Ahead Tips
You can prep all the ingredients several hours ahead except for the pears, which will brown if cut too far in advance.
As previously confessed, when we first grew tomatillos I wasn’t only unfamiliar with how to cook with them, but more importantly how the fruit develops and matures in the garden. The first year we grew them by about the beginning of July I was certain our crop was a bust.
The sprawling bushy plants grew to about three foot tall and were quite healthy. The vines produced little yellow flowers that eventually turned into small bright green papery looking Chinese lanterns. When I examined the fruit, it felt like only a small pea was inside the husk. So I would either forget about them or months later gather up the few that would finally burst out of their now light brown husks.
Since then I have learned quite a bit about this member of the nightshade family. Tomatillos are more closely related to cape gooseberries than they are to eggplants and tomatoes. I learned that as the fruit matures it fills out the husk. Tomatillos are about the size of a large cherry tomato, low in calories, a good source of iron and magnesium and vitamins C and K. Though they look like green tomatoes, they are much firmer in texture when ripe. The thin papery coating will turn light brown as the fruit matures. They can be stored in the fridge for a couple of weeks or frozen whole. Leave the husks on the fruit until ready to use. To prepare tomatillos, remove the husk and stem and rinse off the remaining sticky residue that coats the fruit.
I am enjoying tomatillos more each season. We grow both green and purple tomatillos. The purple variety is supposed to be sweeter, I can’t say that for certain, but they certainly make an attractive addition to the garden. My tomatillo recipe repertoire to this point was limited to accompaniments. Roasting tomatillos for salsa verde was initially a good way to use them but now I wanted to branch out This year I did something I never did before, I ate one raw. I was surprised and delighted with the bright, not too tart citrusy flavor. Prior to this I thought that biting down on a tomatillo would be the same as eating a green tomato, not necessarily a pleasant experience.
This time I used them in an easy to put together soup. Bright lemony flavored tomatillos are combined with tomatoes, smoky cumin and green chilies. Homemade chicken stock is always a good base for a soup but low sodium chicken broth is fine also. I prefer using chicken thighs in soup recipes because they will hold up better if the soup is reheated.
Chicken and Tomatillo Soup
- Olive oil
- 1lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut into 1″ pieces
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 2 t chile powder
- 1T cumin
- 1 t dried oregano (for this recipe I prefer Penzey’s Mexican oregano)
- 1 clove garlic finely chopped
- 2T diced canned roasted mild green chiles
- 8 cups chicken stock or substitute low sodium chicken broth
- 2c diced tomatoes, I use my roasted tomatoes, substitute your brand of choice
- 3c finely chopped tomatillos
- 1 can Great Northern beans
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Heat 1T olive oil over medium-high heat in a 5- to 6-quart Dutch oven. Add the chicken pieces and brown on all sides, about 5-6 minutes. Remove to a plate and keep warm.
- Add onion and cook, stirring, until tender, 4 to 5 minutes. Add the chili powder cumin, oregano, and garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute longer.
- Stir in the chicken and chiles and then add the broth, chopped tomatoes and tomatillos and a can of beans. Bring to a simmer. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, partially covered and stirring occasionally, until the flavors blend, about 30-40 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Joe’s not so little greenhouse set out in the garden extended our growing season for some vegetables to the latest date ever. When he brought in the last of the peppers and eggplants on Sunday I knew I needed to find a special way to use them to commemorate the end of their growing season. The peppers, for the most part were transformed into one of his favorites, stuffed peppers and for the eggplant I turned to a recipe from Julia Child.
In her 1975 cookbook, From Julia Child’s Kitchen, among personal anecdotes and recipes for Caesar Salad (yes, Mr. Caesar Cardini actually made this tableside for a young Julia and her family), consommés, stews and apple charlotte is this gem. Tranches d’aubergine a l’italienne might put off the average cook, but eggplant pizzas, now that’s something we can all relate to. The recipe made a second appearance as miniature eggplant pizzas in her 1989 work and one of my favorite go-to cookbooks, The Way to Cook.
The classic pear shaped variety of eggplant like Black Beauty works best here. I began by cutting the eggplants crosswise into 3/4 inch planks, the skin was relatively thin so I left it on.Then I salted the slices on both sides to extract excess liquid. This is a step I would skip in the summer when the eggplants are at their freshest and not very seedy. I let the eggplants sit for about a half hour and started my sauce.
The day before I defrosted two quart bags of my roasted tomatoes, a 28 ounce can of plum tomatoes or a store bought sauce can substitute here. Step one for me is to pour off the liquid that accumulates in the bag, a little lagniappe for the chef. It’s definitely not the prettiest, but it is the best tasting tomato juice you will ever try. I sautéed one finely chopped onion and two chopped cloves of garlic until softened but not brown, about five minutes. Then the tomatoes and the rest of the liquid are added to the pan, breaking up the larger chunks of tomatoes with the back of a wooden spoon. When the tomatoes have cooked down sufficiently, I put them through a food mill to strain out most of the seeds. This results in a smoother sauce.
The eggplant slices are patted dry and lightly brushed with olive oil. I baked the eggplant slices on a wire rack over a baking sheet so that both sides would cook evenly. As Julia says “not so long that the slices become mushy and lose their shape”. After twenty five minutes I removed the baking sheet from the oven and now set the oven to broil. I covered the slices with a generous coating of tomato sauce and sprinkled a combination of mozzarella and grated Parmesan. The “pizzas” are now returned to the oven until the cheese is melted and slightly browned. Julia suggests these as part of a vegetarian combination or arranged around a main event, be it an omelet, a steak or a roast lamb.
Eggplant pizzas would make a good snack or a light lunch with a salad. A recipe that’s vegetarian, low carb and gluten free, as always “Our Lady of the Ladle“, Julia was ahead of her time.
Julia Child’s Eggplant Pizzas
- 2 large eggplants (about 1 lb. each)
- 1T salt, for drawing water out of eggplant
- 2T olive oil for brushing eggplant before roasting
- 2 t Italian seasoning, for sprinkling on eggplant before roasting
- 1/3 c freshly grated Parmesan
- 1/3 c finely grated low-fat mozzarella
- 1T olive oil
- 1 small onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)
- 2 large garlic cloves, very finely chopped
- 1 28 oz. can of plum tomatoes (or use 3 cups peeled and diced fresh tomatoes)
- 1/2 t Italian seasoning
- 1/4 t dried oregano
- Cut eggplant into 3/4 inch thick slices. Place eggplant pieces on a double layer of paper towels and sprinkle both sides generously with salt. Let the eggplant sit with the salt on it for about 30 minutes to draw out the liquid. (After the eggplant sits for 15 minutes, turn on the oven to 375°F.
- Make the tomato sauce while the eggplant sits. Heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sauté the onion and garlic just until it becomes softened and fragrant. Add the diced tomatoes, Italian seasoning and oregano.
- Then let the sauce simmer on low until it’s thickened. Break up tomatoes with a fork while the sauce cooks. (You can add water as needed. Let sauce simmer until ready to put on eggplant slices.)
- After 30 minutes, pat the eggplant dry with paper towels. Brush both sides of the eggplant slices lightly with olive oil and sprinkle tops with Italian seasoning. Place eggplant slices on a wire rack over a baking sheet. Roast the eggplant about 25 minutes, but “not so long that the slices become mushy and lose their shape” as Julia says.
- While the eggplant roasts, combine Parmesan with mozzarella. After 25 minutes or when eggplant pieces are done, remove eggplant from the oven and turn oven setting to broil. Spread a few tablespoons of sauce on the top of each eggplant slice, sprinkle with thin basil slices and top with cheese blend. Put pizzas under the broiler until the cheese is melted and slightly browned.
It’s the beginning of November and the garden is still providing inspiration and produce for our menus. The spinach and chard have been harvested but the kale is now at it’s peak. The first kiss of frost sweetens the taste of this vitamin and mineral rich member of the cabbage family. We are currently growing two varieties in the garden. Lacinato kale, which also goes under the names of dinosaur kale, Tuscan kale, black kale or Cavolo Nero and the very distinctive Red Russian. Lacinato, the current “rock star” of the vegetable world has deep green oblong leaves with a pebbly texture. The Red Russian variety has sage green leaves with reddish purple veins. Red Russian has flat fringed leaves that resemble oversized oak leaves.
This soup is very loosely based on the national soup of Portugal, caldo verde which translates “green soup”. In it’s simplest form caldo verde is broth or water, onion, thin strips of kale or collard greens and potatoes for thickening. Since this was considered peasant food, small slices of linguica, a Portuguese pork sausage would be added before serving. This soup takes on many variations for us. The base this time was homemade chicken stock but we have made it with a combination of low sodium chicken broth and bottled clam juice. How much kale is up to you, about eight cups of shredded leaves is a good starting point. The leaves need to be separated from the hard kale stems and then cut into thin strips. This will allow the kale to cook quicker. I added littleneck clams and mussels adding another depth of flavor. I wanted a lighter soup this time, so I did not add the traditional potatoes. Chopped tomatoes or cannelini beans would also be flavorful additions to this soup. Sausage like linguica or chorizo would bring another layer of flavor, my sausage was from our local pork producer, Purely Farms. I chose their very delicious cervallata which features broccoli rabe, aged provolone, fennel and freshly ground black pepper along with the Purely Pork sausage. Joe added a few hot peppers, remove them after cooking or they will permeate the dish.
Is this a soup or a stew? Definitions of both terms abound, I turned to The Food Lovers Companion written by Sharon Tyler Herbst as my final authority. Ms Herbst defines a soup as any combination of vegetables, meat or fish cooked in a liquid. Soup can be thick or thin, smooth or chunky, cold or hot. A stew is a dish of meat, vegetables and a thick broth resulting from the combination of the stewing liquid and the natural juices of the food being stewed. She also states that the food in a stew is cooked slowly for a long period of time. So a kale, shellfish and sausage soup it is.
Kale, Shellfish and Sausage Soup Serves 4-6 Ingredients
- 1T olive oil
- 1 lb. linguica, chorizo, or other spicy sausage, split along the length and sliced 1/2-inch thick
- 1 onion, diced
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 8 c (about 1 lb.) kale, preferably Tuscan, stems removed and chopped into thin ribbons
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 1 small hot pepper (optional)
- 2 dozen littleneck clams
- 2 dozen mussels
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- Set a dutch oven or large soup pot over medium-high heat and add the oil. When the oil is hot, add the sausage and sauté until the sausage is golden brown on all sides. Remove the sausage and drain on a paper towel.
- Reduce heat to medium and add the onion. Sauté until the onion is translucent then add the garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
- Add the chicken broth, pepper if using and the kale to the pot. Stir to coat everything with chicken broth and then cover the pot with a lid. Stir the kale every three minutes until it is barely tender.
- Add the clams and mussels to the pot. Add the sausage and cook until the mussels and clams have opened and the kale is tender. Taste for seasonings and salt.
- Serve this soup in individual bowls with a crusty slice of bread to sop up the broth at the bottom of the bowl.
“Use us!” they seemed to call out, well not literally, I haven’t lost my mind yet. But every time I passed the small basket of the “last gasp” tomatoes that hung in there until late October I knew I should use them to commemorate the end of the season. Granted these survivors were not salad worthy, though red and ripe looking on the outside, inside they were a bit pale, even white in some sections. Several weeks ago I had torn out a recipe from the food section of the local newspaper that could fill the bill, Barnegat Light Scallops with Butternut Squash Puree and Tomato Jam. I knew I had the four cups of diced tomatoes needed so that’s where they would go.
Barnegat Light, the distinction of the scallops called for in this recipe, is located at the northern end of Long Beach Island, New Jersey. It’s home to “Old Barney” the second tallest lighthouse in the United States. Barnegat Light is one of the top fishing ports in the United States and home to a fleet of scallopers that bring in over 2 milllion pounds a year. This makes New Jersey the country’s second largest producer of scallops a year, just behind Masschusetts.
Whether your scallops have the Barnegat Light distinction or not, always cook with dry scallops. Dry scallops originate from boats that go out, shuck and ice their haul on board and return to shore the same day, hence the name “day boat”. Wet scallops come from boats that are out to sea for many days at a time. To preserve their catch, fishermen have to soak their scallops in a solution of sodium tripolyphosphate (aka STP) before they are frozen. STP causes scallops to soak up water before the freezing process. This plumps up the scallop by as much as 30% and increases the before sale weight and also the price you pay. Wet pack scallops will appear plumper and whiter when placed next to their dry counterparts. When cooked, they will exude all the excess slightly soapy tasting water when cooked and will become shrunken and rubbery before they even get to the carmelization stage.
To achieve perfectly caramelized scallops, first pat the scallops dry with paper towels, excess moisture will impede the browning process. Detach the tough abductor muscle from the side of the scallop with your fingers. Season the scallops lightly with salt and pepper. Heat a heavy bottomed pan over high heat for a minute or two. Add a thin film of flavorless oil (canola is my preference) and place the scallops in the hot pan, making sure not to crowd them. If the scallops are too close they will steam, not sear. Leave the scallops to sear undisturbed for two minutes. With tongs, gently lift one up to see if the desired caramelization has been achieved. Flip the scallops and allow them to cook for another 2 to 3 minutes.
Tis the season for winter squash and they are appearing in abundance at my local farmers market. I just simply cut the squash in half, baked it at 375°F for a half hour. I pureed the squash with a little half and half, a little fresh nutmeg and a sprinkling of sage. Acorn or kabocha squash could easily fill in for the butternut. Cooking them slow and long, I coaxed as much flavor as possible out of my tomatoes. I was quite pleased with the results. Tomato jam would be a good accompaniment to a burger or a grilled cheese sandwich also. The mellow sweetness of the butternut squash complimented the nutty brown crust of the scallops. Inside the scallops were still tender and creamy and the tomato jam added a nice piquancy to the finished dish.
Barnegat Light Scallops with Butternut Squash Puree and Tomato Jam
- 12 medium sized dry pack scallops
- 1 medium butternut squash
- 1/2 to 1 c heavy cream or half and half
- 1/4t rubbed sage
- 1/4t freshly ground nutmeg
- 4c fresh tomatoes, finely diced
- 1 small sweet onion, finely diced
- 1c rice wine vinegar
- 1/2c water
- 1/2c sugar
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- Canola Oil
For the squash
- Preheat oven to 375°F. Cut squash in half lengthwise. Place cut side down on a baking sheet.
- Bake squash for about a half hour or until squash is easily pierced with a knife
- Allow the squash to cool slightly. Scoop squash flesh into the bowl of a food processor. Add sage, nutmeg and just enough cream or half and half to make a smooth puree. Transfer puree to a small saucepan and keep warm over low heat, or store until ready to use.
For the tomato jam
- Combine the tomatoes, onion, vinegar, water and sugar in a nonreactive saucepan, this is when I pull out the Le Creuset. Bring to a boil and reduce to a simmer.
- Allow to cook down until thickened, this may vary depending on the water content of the tomatoes. Remove from heat and cool. Season with salt and pepper.
For the scallops
- Remove the small abductor muscle from the side of the scallop. Pat dry with paper towels and season lightly with salt and pepper.
- Heat enough oil to film the bottom of a pan large enough to hold the scallops. If you don’t have one pan large enough, cook the scallops in two batches.
- When the oil just begins to smoke, carefully place the scallops in the pan, being careful not to crowd them. Sear on each side until golden brown. Time will vary based on your stovetop, but the hotter and quicker the better.
- Place some puree on the bottom of a plate or bowl. Arrange three scallops on top of the puree and garnish with the tomato jam.
Fall is a season of transition. We still grill outside but our chilly evenings have moved our dining permanently indoors. It’s time to return to the comfort foods of fall. Since lobsters were on sale this week at a local supermarket I wanted to incorporate them into our Sunday dinner. After browsing through some recipes on the Fine Cooking website, I thought the recipe for Lobster Mac and Cheese seemed like a great choice. Who doesn’t love creamy macaroni and cheese and the addition of lobster would take it over the top.
Lobster is a splurge even when it’s on sale. It’s hard to believe that lobsters were considered peasant food and the fare of slaves and prisoners in the nineteenth century. If you are squeamish about cooking your own lobster, I have found that most markets will steam the lobsters for you at no additional charge. Joe steamed the lobsters for me. He cooked them for a minute less than if we were eating the lobsters on their own, just steamed. The lobster will cook a little more when the mac and cheese bakes and overcooked lobster would defeat the purpose of adding it to the dish in the first place.
I removed the lobster meat from the tails and the claws with assistance from my lobster cracker, trusty Cutco scissors and seafood pick. I kept the pieces on the large side, about 2 inches so that everyone would get good chunks of lobster. The shells went into freezer bags for a future lobster stock.
The sauce for the mac and cheese begins with a roux. A roux is made with equal parts flour and fat, in this case, unsalted butter. Melt the butter over medium heat, when the butter is melted and starts to bubble, add the flour and start whisking. The roux will eventually liquefy in about 3-4 minutes, continue to cook the roux over low heat to eliminate any floury taste. Still whisking, now slowly add the milk to the roux until it comes to a simmer. Now is the time to add the cheeses, nutty Gruyere, Emmenthaler and a sharp Cheddar, spices and salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. I chose smoky Spanish paprika, dry mustard and just a pinch of saffron to compliment the lobster.
My pasta of choice was the traditional elbow macaroni but any small shape that has a lot of nooks and crannies would work well. I made my dish in one large casserole but individual gratin dishes would also be an excellent choice. A crunchy breadcrumb topping gives a nice contrast to the creamy filling underneath. If you have leftovers, the good news is, as with any good mac and cheese dish, it’s even better the next day.
Lobster Mac and Cheese
Adapted from Fine Cooking
- 7T unsalted butter, a little more for the baking dish
- 1c breadcrumbs, or 2 slices stale white bread
- Kosher salt and fresh ground pepper
- 1/3c all purpose flour
- 4c whole milk
- 1 1/2c each Gruyere, Emmenthaler and Cheddar cheese
- 1t dry mustard
- 1/4 to 1/2t saffron threads
- 1t Spanish smoked paprika
- 1lb pasta-I used elbow, choose something small to medium with lots of nooks and crannies
- 4-1 1/4lb lobsters, steamed, shelled, meat cut into 2-inch pieces
- 2t finely chopped flat leaf parsley, for garnish
- Heat the oven to 425°F. Lightly butter a 3-quart ovenproof dish and set aside.
- If using bread, tear it into 1-inch pieces and pulse them in a food processor until smooth. Melt 2T of the butter in a skillet over medium heat, add the breadcrumbs and swirl to coat with butter. Cook the breadcrumbs until browned, about 2-3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Set the crumbs aside.
- In a large saucepan, melt the remaining 5T butter over medium heat. When the butter begins to bubble, whisk in the flour and cook, until the mixture begins to liquefy, 3 to 4 minutes. Continue to cook the roux over low heat until it has a toasty smell. Whisk in the milk in a slow steady stream, whisking constantly for 3 minutes. When the sauce comes to a simmer, stir in the cheeses, saffron, dry mustard and smoked paprika; season with salt and pepper to taste. Remove from the heat and cover.
- Boil a large pot of water, season with salt, and cook pasta according to package directions. Drain the pasta well and pour it into a very large bowl.
- Add the cheese sauce and lobster chunks to the pasta; mix well. Transfer to the prepared dish. Sprinkle the breadcrumb topping evenly over the macaroni mix. Bake uncovered for 20 to 30 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool for 5 minutes before serving. Garnish with parsley and serve.
Most Saturday mornings from early May to Thanksgiving you will find me shopping at the Wrightstown Farmers Market. Local residents and their well behaved pooches browse the stalls and purchase goods from twenty five vendors. The offerings range from locally grown produce, farm fresh eggs, meats and poultry, to dog treats, homemade soaps and pottery. I go to supplement the produce in our own garden, stock up on dog treats and on this week, I stopped by the stand for Purely Farms to pick up some pork chops for a future dinner.
Since 2004, Marc and Johanna Michini have been farming 117 acres they have named Purely Farm in Pipersville, Bucks County. Their mission statement is “to provide the local community with quality and wholesome, naturally pasture raised meats”. Their meats are hormone and antibiotic free.They not only raise pigs, but chicken and lamb also. We have enjoyed their artisanal sausages, bacon and pork chops for several years now.
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with the chops until Joe reminded me of a preparation that we had enjoyed before, Crunchy Baked Pork Chops. The recipe from Cook’s Illustrated magazine originally called for boneless chops cut 3/4 to an inch thick, a cut that is readily available in most supermarkets. The chops from Purely Pork were bone-in and cut 1 1/4 inch thick. The original recipe called for a half hour of brining. Lacking the time, I skipped that step though I am not opposed to brining. Brining changes the cell structure of the meat and results in a juicier pork. But I also knew the quality of the product from Purely Pork was far superior to what I would have purchased in a supermarket.
The crunchy in this recipe is the crumb coating. Homemade bread crumbs are tossed with shallots, garlic, oil, salt and pepper and baked to a deep golden brown. The cooled crumbs are combined with Parmesan, and lemon thyme and parsley from the garden. Next the chops are coated in a three step process. First, they are lightly dredged in flour, then coated with a slurry of egg white, Dijon mustard and flour. The last step is the bread crumb coating that is lightly pressed onto the chop. The chops are placed on a wire rack over a baking sheet to allow air to circulate around the chop while baking, avoiding the dreaded soggy bottom. Since pork chops are easy to overcook, an instant read thermometer is a must. An internal temperature of 150°F provided us with delicious chops. They were crunchy and golden on the outside and tender and juicy in the middle.
Crunchy Baked Pork Chops
Slightly adapted from Cooks Illustrated
- 4 1″ thick bone in, 6-8 ounces pork chops
- 4 slices white sandwich bread
- 2T minced shallot
- 1T minced garlic
- 2T vegetable oil
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2T grated Parmesan cheese
- 1t minced fresh thyme leaves
- 2T minced fresh parsley leaves
- 1/4c unbleached all-purpose flour plus 6 tablespoons
- 3 large egg whites
- 3T Dijon mustard
- Place chops on a plate and salt on both sides. Let chops come to room temperature for an hour before cooking.
- Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350°F, 325°F if you have a convection oven.
- Tear bread into 1″ pieces and pulse in a food processor (I used a mini) until coarsely ground. You should have about 3 1/2c of crumbs.
- Transfer crumbs to a bowl. Add shallot, garlic, oil, 1/4t salt and 1/4t pepper. Toss until the crumbs are evenly coated with oil. Place crumb mixture on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake crumbs until golden brown and dry, about 10 minutes. Stir crumbs occasionally to insure even browning. Cool crumbs to room temperature. Toss crumbs with Parmesan, thyme and parsley. Leave oven on.
- Place 1/4c flour in a pie plate. In a second pie plate, whisk whites and mustard until combined; add remaining 6 tablespoons flour and whisk until almost smooth, small lumps will still remain.
- Increase oven temperature to 425°F, 400°F if using convection mode. Spray wire rack with nonstick cooking spray and place on top of a rimmed baking sheet. This will allow greater air circulation and prevent chops with a soggy bottom! Season chops with pepper. Dredge one chop in flour, shake off excess. Using tongs, coat with egg mixture; let excess drip off. Coat all sides of chop with bread crumb mixture, pressing gently so that the crumbs adhere to the chop. Transfer breaded chop to wire rack. Repeat with remaining chops.
- Bake until instant-read thermometer inserted into center of chop registers 150°F, 17-25 minutes. Let rest on rack for 5 minutes before serving.
October brings more changes to the garden. The last of the tomatoes, peppers and eggplants have been harvested. A new planting of lettuces and greens are ready for salads. Root vegetables: beets, carrots and turnips are large enough to pull from the ground. Both varieties of kale we grow, Cavolo Nero, also known as Lacinato, and Red Russian will provide us with greens for months to come. Another selection from the Giardini (“gardens”) section of the menu from Ava Gene’s restaurant in Portland inspired me from the September issue of Bon Appetit, Fried Farro with Pickled Carrots and Runny Eggs.
In this dish, toasted farro is combined with spicy quick-pickled carrots, exotic mushrooms and earthy kale and topped with a runny egg. Farro is an ancient grain that I wrote in greater detail in a post last year. The recipe calls for browning the farro grains before cooking, enhancing the nutty flavor. The grain in this dish is semi-pearled farro, I was only able to find pearled farro. Pearling removes the inedible hull that surrounds the grain, but it also removes the nutritious germ and bran. Pearled farro will cook a bit quicker than the semi pearled. If you can’t find farro in your store, I think barley or cracked wheat could substitute. Just remember that farro is often translated from Italian into English as “spelt”. Spelt is not farro and will take more than twice as long to cook.
We have been growing kale long before it became a fad and on the menu at every trendy restaurant. In fact the other night it became an ingredient in the Quick fire Challenge on Top Chef. Dana Cowin, editor in chief at Food and Wine magazine included kale, along with bacon, smoked items and runny eggs in a list of “trends that are done”. Sorry Dana, kale is more than a trend for us. We were enjoying it before the masses discovered it and will continue to enjoy it for years to come. In fact it won’t be in it’s prime until after the first frost.
Maitake or hen of the woods mushrooms add a meaty dimension to the dish. Though I have used them many times before, I was not able to source maitakes in our local supermarkets. Maitakes are often called hens in the wood mushrooms because they grow in clusters that resemble the feathers of a chicken. I substituted the similar and less expensive, shiitake mushrooms. I harvested carrots from our garden for the pickle with a fresh Serrano chili. The pickled carrots are very good, don’t forget to add the pickling liquid to the final dish, it adds yet another layer of flavor.
One ingredient was new to me, colatura. At first glance the word looks like coloratura, a soprano with a very nimble and high vocal range. My Google search thought I was looking for coloratura too. However, colatura, like it’s Asian counterparts, nam pla and nuoc man, is a sauce made from anchovies. In this case, anchovies are layered with sea salt in wooden barrels or plastic tubs. The fish are pressed down with a weighted lid. Over time the fish lose their liquid and mix with the salt. The liquid drips through a hole in the tub and collects in another container. The word colatura is from the Italian “colare“, to drip. It is said to be milder and more complex than the Asian anchovy based sauces. Since colatura is $16 for a 100ml bottle and currently out of stock at Amazon, I think my first taste of colatura can wait.
I did see maitakes at my local farmers market this weekend. They were five dollars a quarter pound, shiitakes, a little cheaper at four dollars a quarter pound. The finished dish, even with all my substitutions, was very good. It was a great side dish with chicken, minus the egg it would be a great picnic dish and a great vegetarian entrée. Toasted Farro with Pickled Carrots and Runny Eggs
Bon Appetit Sept 2013 -recipe from Ava Gene’s restaurant
Makes 6 servings
- 2 medium carrots, peeled, chopped
- 1 Serrano chile, seeded and coarsely chopped
- 1/2c white wine vinegar
- 1t sugar
- 1t kosher salt (plus some more)
- 5T olive oil, divided, you will be using it to separately cook the farro, kale, mushroom and the runny egg
- 1 cup farro (pearled or semi pearled)
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped, one is cooked with the farro, the other with the kale
- 6oz shiitake mushrooms, torn into 1″ pieces
- 1/2 bunch Tuscan kale, center ribs removed, torn into 1″ pieces
- 1T anchovy sauce ( I used nam pla) nuoc nam or colatura are accepted choices
- 1/2c fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
- 2 large eggs
- 2 scallions, thinly sliced
- Crushed red pepper flakes
- Place carrots and chile in a small heatproof bowl. Bring vinegar, sugar, 1t salt and 1/2 cup water to a boil in a small saucepan. Stir to dissolve the sugar and salt. Pour over the carrots and chiles, let sit for at least 30 minutes. When ready to use, drain carrots and reserve the pickling liquid.
- While carrots are pickling, heat 1T oil in a medium saucepan over medium high heat. Add farro and half of the garlic and cook, stirring constantly until the farro is dark brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Add 4 cups water and bring to a boil. Gently boil farro for 20-25 minutes for semi pearled, slightly less time if pearled. It should be tender but still firm to the bite. Drain well and let cool.
- Heat 1T oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add mushrooms and cook, tossing often, until soft and just starting to brown, 5-7 minutes. Transfer mushrooms to a plate.
- Add 2T oil to the same pan, cook remaining garlic and kale until the kale is wilted, about 4 minutes. Add the fish sauce, farro, mushrooms and pickled carrots to the pan. Cook, tossing often until everything is warmed through. Season to taste with salt, fresh ground pepper and pickling liquid. Top with parsley.
- Heat remaining 1T oil in a small nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Crack eggs into skillet and fry until egg whites are set but yolks are still soft and runny, about 3 minutes.
- Top salad with eggs and scallions, season with red pepper flakes. Just before serving, break up eggs and mix into farro.