Rhubarb crumble

How to take a “stay-cation”:

Make a really good summer dessert.

Invite a friend to share it.

Sit under a tree on a pleasant afternoon.

Savor the sweetness without a whisper of guilt, preferably with vanilla ice cream.

Rhubarb crumble

May be humble

Yet it suits me

I won’t grumble

Give me tea

A chair outside

No need to travel

Far and wide

Rhubarb Crumble (Serves 4 to 6)

Cooking rhubarb has an unpredictable side. How will it turn out? Will it be as beautiful as a bowl of rubies, or a disappointing gingery brown? To preserve that yearned-for red color, I’ve tried the following method that works about seventy percent of the time. Darned if I can figure out why, and believe me, I’ve tried. First, cook the rhubarb very briefly in a wide pan to facilitate evaporation of the juices, which may contribute to the dilution of the color (best guess.)  Then immediately transfer it to a baking dish, top it with the crumble and bake.

TOPPING

3/4 cup whole wheat flour

2/3 cup all-purpose flour

1/3 cup lightly packed dark brown sugar

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pinch fine salt

Pinch of baking powder

6 tablespoons cold, unsalted butter, cut in thin slices

1/3 cup sliced almonds

1. Combine the all-purpose flour, whole wheat flour, brown sugar, cinnamon, salt, baking powder and butter in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade. Process with a series of short bursts until the mixture looks crumbly and is the color of cinnamon toast. It should not look at all floury. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the nuts.

(To make by hand, stir the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Add the butter and use your fingers, a pastry cutter, or a wire whisk to break up the butter into pea-size pieces. Continue to work the mixture until it looks crumbly and is the color of cinnamon toast. Stir in the nuts.)

CRUMBLE

1 cup organic cane sugar or white sugar

1 small orange

2 pounds rhubarb, cut into 1-inch lengths (to make about 6 cups)

1 teaspoon vanilla

1. Set a 10-inch by 2-inch round baking dish next to the stove. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.

2. Measure the sugar into a wide (12-inch), deep sauté pan. Finely grate the zest of the orange over the sugar. Halve the orange, extract the juice and add it to the pan. Stir the mixture over high heat until the sugar liquefies and the mixture comes to a boil.

3. Add the rhubarb to the pan and stir just until the mixture comes to a boil and the sugar dissolves. Lower the heat to maintain a steady simmer and cook the rhubarb, stirring often, for 3 minutes, or until it begins to soften but does not yet fall apart. Stir in the vanilla.

4. Immediately pour the rhubarb into the baking dish. Let cool for 10 minutes. Cover the rhubarb with the crumble topping and bake for 15 minutes, or until the top is browned. Serve warm.

Around the web, try 

Mrs. Wheelbarrow's many recipes for rhubarb

Red-wine poached rhubarb from David Lebovitz

Strawberry rhubarb cobbler from Elise Bauer at Simply Recipes

Rhubarb fool with gingersnaps from Cookin' Canuck

Posted on June 8, 2011 and filed under Fruit desserts, Summer food.

Really good oatmeal waffles

I could tell you how these waffles created a firestorm in the Boston Globe and almost gave me a nervous breakdown, but I don’t want to ruin them for you. They are light, they are delicious, they don’t sink like a stone and make you want to lie down and ask yourself why, oh why, did I do that? Why did I eat so many waffles for breakfast?

All right, since I brought it up, I’ll tell you what happened. These waffles were published as gluten-free waffles which is so, so complicated. So much more complicated than I ever could have imagined. First, you have to use certified gluten-free oats, a fact that was not specifically stated IN CAPITAL LETTERS in the recipe because yours truly (moi!) screwed up and filed the wrong version, the one that did not specifically state that. Argh. You can get certified gluten-free oats from Bob’s Red Mill.

On top of that, not all people with celiac disease can tolerate oats. And you have to have a squeaky clean kitchen with no cross contamination. See what I mean? It’s complicated. A newspaper has only so much room for a recipe, so because it wasn’t a story about gluten-free baking, like this one in the New York Times, there was no ‘splainin’. So don’t make these waffles if you have celiac disease and you’re not sure. Ask your doctor.  And if you were one of the outraged who read this recipe in the Globe, I am deeply sorry. It pains me to have upset anyone. There. Confession over. Mea culpa. Truly.

Now back to summertime when the livin’ is easy. Anyone without dietary restrictions can and should enjoy these waffles. For instance, if you happen to be in a cabin by a lake and you want to entice the troops into the kitchen with the smell of coffee and bacon and then hit them with something fantastic for breakfast that won’t lay them up for the whole afternoon, you should make some oatmeal waffles. Although being in a cabin by a lake is not such a bad place to play out that scenario, preferably in a hammock while being lulled by the sound of pine branches in the breeze.

Serve them with lots of real maple syrup and butter, or yogurt and strawberries or all of the above.

Oatmeal waffles

Makes six 7-inch, round waffles

3  cups rolled oats

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1/2 cup plain yogurt

1 1/4 cups milk, plus more if necessary

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon honey

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Vegetable oil spray (for the waffle iron)

1. Heat a waffle iron. If you plan to serve all the waffles at the same time, heat the oven to 300 degrees.

2. In a food processor, grind the oatmeal until it resembles very coarse whole-wheat flour. Add the baking powder, salt, eggs, yogurt, milk, olive oil, honey and vanilla to the bowl and process until blended.

3. Pour the batter into a bowl and let stand for 5 minutes. The mixture will thicken as it sits. Stir in more milk if necessary.

4.  Spray the waffle iron on both sides with vegetable oil cooking spray. Even non-stick surfaces need a little extra insurance. Bake the waffles using about 1/2 cup batter or the amount recommended in the manufacturer’s directions. Serve immediately, or place directly on an oven rack until all the waffles are done. 

Posted on June 3, 2011 and filed under Breakfast, Beans and Grains.

Through thick and thin: Asparagus pizza

When it comes to pizza, there are them that crave tomato sauce and cheese and them that want fancy schmancy.  I live in a house divided.

We have come close to dinner wars over this schism. Man of the House reaches for the phone to speed dial the local pizzeria if word gets out that the pie di giorno will be devoid of tomato or pepperoni. College Boy, on the other hand, demands more panache. After all, he held me hostage to five foods for two decades, and he is ready to break out. Big time.

Now twenty years is a really, really long time to cater to a picky eater. (Please, let’s not get into an argument on that subject right now.  You do what you can with finicky children, it’s best just to move on when it’s over.)

Opportunity knocked when an exploration of the refrigerator yielded little besides a few bundles of asparagus and a bit of smelly cheese leftover from the weekend’s indulgence. I usually reach a point in the afternoon where I will simply not get in the car and drive to a market, which is why I better have a dinner plan early in the day. Except that I almost never have a dinner plan early in the day. So on this particular occasion, the following asparagus pizza was born.

Frankly, on the face of it and pretty as it may be, a tangle of shaved asparagus piled high on a bit of dough did not seem like it would work. But after discovering Smitten Kitchen’s recipe online, I decided it was indeed a bonne idée, so I present you with my interpretation. College Boy was very happy and Man of the House did not have time to react until he came to the table and grudgingly admitted enjoying it quite a lot more than he anticipated.

I used thick stalks of asparagus for this, but I suspect you could also use very thin ones without shaving them. Just break off the tough bottom end of the stalk and pile the asparagus on the pizza. As for the cheese, you could use almost anything that sounds good to you: mozzarella, goat cheese and fontina are just a few suggestions. I used Morbier, a mild semi-soft cow’s milk cheese that smells stronger than it actually tastes. I have also made this pizza with a sharper Swiss Vacherin cheese. Fancy schmancy it may be, but it is a paragon of simplicity.

Asparagus pizza

Makes two 12-inch pizzas (enough for 3 to 4 people)

I have my methods for making pizza and one of them is this: Bake the pizza on a stone or a baking sheet in a very hot oven on the bottom shelf. After about 10 minutes, the dough will have baked to a degree of firmness that makes it possible to move the pizza to the top shelf. Literally. Set the pizza directly on the top rack without a pan or stone under it. This allows the bottom to become deliciously crisp and also gives you a chance to start baking the next pizza on your list. Note that I used a little more than a pound of dough for 2 pizzas. If you make a full recipe of pizza dough (below) you can make more pizzas or freeze the extra dough for another night of pizza making.

1 pound asparagus with thick stalks

1/2 pizza dough recipe (see below)

7 ounces (195 g) Morbier cheese, sliced

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Olive oil

Truffle oil if you have it

1. Heat the oven to 450 degrees. Adjust the oven racks so that one is near the bottom of the oven and one is closer to the top. If using a baking stone, place it on the bottom shelf.

2.Trim about 1-inch from the bottom of the asparagus stalks. Use a vegetable peeler to shave the stalks into ribbons: Grasp the bud and work down to the bottom of the stalk. Keep peeling until you can peel no more. You may have one thick-ish piece, but not to worry, it works out just fine. Break off the asparagus tips when you can shave no more.

3. Divide the dough in half (that means, 1/4 of the whole piece of dough if using the recipe below.)  Shape into two balls and flatten the balls by dimpling them with your fingertips. Let rest for a few minutes to allow the dough to relax which will make it easier to roll.

4. Dust a pizza peel with cornmeal. On a well-floured countertop, roll one piece of dough into a 12-inch circle and set it on the peel. Cover with half the cheese and top with half of the shaved asparagus. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and drizzle with olive oil. Slide the pizza onto the baking stone and bake for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the second pizza in the same way.

5. After the first pizza has baked for 10 minutes, use a wide spatula (or two) to transfer it to the top oven  rack. Continue to bake for another 5 minutes, or until the crust is golden. Remove from the oven and set it on a cutting board.

6. As soon as the first pizza is on the top shelf, slide the second pizza onto the stone. Bake as you did the first pizza.

7. Drizzle with a bit more olive oil, or truffle oil if you like.

Note: If you don’t have a pizza stone and peel, simply bake the pizza on a cornmeal dusted baking sheet. Read and follow the instructions above. After ten minutes, the pizza should be firm enough to transfer to the top shelf of the oven. Set it directly on the rack (without the pan) and continue baking in the same way.

Pizza Dough

Makes four 12-inch pizzas

Ever since I started making Jim Lahey’s bread, I have revised my dough-making method: Instead of kneading the dough, I discovered that you can simply mix it and let it rise for anywhere between 3 hours to a couple of days. If you are not using it within a day, refrigerate it, covered with a piece of oiled plastic wrap, until you need it. You will have to deflate the dough from time to time to keep it from spilling out of the bowl.

This dough is very sticky and requires a generous amount of flour to roll out, but it is easy to work with once you get the hang of it. If you prefer, you can add a bit more flour to the dough when you mix it, but don’t overdo it. Once you have mixed the dough, it is much easier to bump up the flour than to add water.

If you have refrigerated the dough, remove it from the fridge to warm up about an hour before you want to use the dough for pizza. To freeze it, double-wrap the dough in portion-size pieces in a heavy plastic freezer bag and store for up to a month. Defrost it at room temperature (about 3 hours) before shaping and baking it.

4 cups (500g) unbleached bread flour or all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon instant yeast (aka “rapid rise”)

1 1/4 teaspoons fine sea salt

11/2 cups (350g) water

Food processor method:  Add the flour, yeast and salt to the bowl of a food processor and pulse for a few seconds to mix the dry ingredients. With the machine on, rapidly pour the water through the feed tube (this should take no more than 6 seconds). Continue to process for a few more seconds, just until the dough comes together. Scrape the dough into a bowl and press an oiled piece of plastic wrap on top of the dough. Let rise for 3 to 8 hours at room temperature. If not using within 8 hours, refrigerate the dough.

Stand mixer method: Measure the flour, yeast and salt into the mixer bowl fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed for a few seconds to combine. Add the water all at once and mix on low speed until the dough comes together. Press an oiled piece of plastic wrap on top of the dough. Let rise for 3 to 8 hours at room temperature. If not using within 8 hours, refrigerate the dough.

By hand: Mix in the same way as above in the stand mixer method, but use a wooden spoon and some elbow grease to thoroughly mix the dough.

Spring green “barsotto” and the Magazine of Yoga

“The life you’re living is the yoga you’re doing.”

I couldn’t agree more.  These words express the focus of the Magazine of Yoga, a wonderful, and relatively new online magazine about all things yoga. {Note: the publishers of this e-zene have discontinued it]

I am also very excited to tell you I will be a part of this magazine, writing a monthly column that began today! You can find my recipe for the vegetarian barley “risotto” pictured above and some thoughts about stress. [sorry, no longer available, but recipe follows]

The magazine covers a range of yoga topics, from interviews with yoga teachers, artists, yoga practitioners, book reviews, body image, healthy eating and more. The editor-in-chief, Susan Maier-Moul, is a founding faculty member for the Healthy Living Program at Kripalu Center in Massachusetts. Susan wants to ‘promote engaged everyday life as the key principle of freedom.’ She leads workshops and lectures that highlight the everyday benefits of yoga as an approach to managing life’s challenges and joys.

Margo Maier-Moul is the person who keeps everything moving as the operations officer for the magazine while she balances her work as a stage manager with New York’s Metropolitan Opera. Hopefully Margo’s work at the magazine is not as dramatic as the operas she stages, but she always has yoga to fall back on!

The word yoga from Sanskrit means union, referring to union with the divine. So when you think about it, you understand that yoga is more than poses (asanas) or different types of physical yoga practices. It is also about an approach to life.

I love slowing down to make this barley “risotto,” even though the result is not as creamy as it would be if made with arborio rice. The barley gradually absorbs all of the wonderful flavors in the broth, so be sure to use a good quality vegetable stock, homemade if possible. You don’t need to stand over the pot and stir constantly, just keep your eye on it and give it a stir now and then while you putter or arrange a vase of spring flowers. Most of the alcohol in the wine evaporates during cooking, but if you don’t want to use it, simply skip that step. Also, I have given you two choices of finishing this dish: Parmesan gives you rich and round flavors, but if you don’t want to use cheese, brighten up the dish with a splash of lemon at the end of cooking.

Spring green “barsotto” with asparagus and peas (Serves 4)

5 cups vegetable stock

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 pound asparagus, tough ends trimmed and cut in 1-inch lengths

1 cup fresh or frozen peas

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 leek, trimmed of the tough green part, halved lengthwise and cut in thin slices

1/2 cup white wine

1 1/4 cups (9 ounces, 256g) pearled barley

1/2 cup finely chopped parsley

1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan or 1 tablespoon lemon juice

1. Bring the stock to a boil in a large saucepan. Season the stock with salt and pepper to taste. Add the asparagus and cook for 2 minutes.  Add the peas and continue to cook for 1 more minute, or until the vegetables are tender. Transfer them to a dinner plate with a slotted spoon and spread them out. Reserve the stock.

2. Heat the olive oil in a medium-sized wide pot over medium heat. Add the leeks and cook, stirring often, until they are soft but not brown, about 5 minutes. Add the barley and stir for a minute to coat it with the oil. Add the wine and cook until the barley absorbs most of it. 

3. Add 1 cup of the vegetable stock, and cook, stirring occasionally, until it is almost fully absorbed. Continue to add the stock to the barley, 1 cup at a time in the same manner, until the barley is tender but still a little firm to the bite. This will take about 25 minutes and you may have a little stock left over.

4. Stir the asparagus, peas, chopped parsley and Parmesan or lemon juice into the barley. Season to taste with more salt and pepper and if you like, adjust the consistency so that is a teeny bit soupy by adding more stock.

 

Posted on May 6, 2011 and filed under Side dishes, Vegetarian, Spring food, Beans and Grains.

Celebrate spring with a lemony ricotta tart

I have been fiddling with this ricotta tart recipe ever since I came back from Italy a few years ago. I tasted it in a restaurant in Florence and had one of those aha moments.

Yes indeed! This is my kind of dessert! It is creamy, light, not too sweet, and imbued with the delicate aroma of lemons. In other words, it is the perfect light dessert to follow a holiday meal. Or in my case, it could be a complete holiday meal. I admit, even though I no longer eat sweets with abandon, I could gobble the whole tart up all by myself. In one sitting. It is that good

Italians seem to do a superb job when it comes to commemorating holidays, so that’s where I turn for inspiration as the seasons unfold. Let’s face it, they’ve got us beat. They’ve been at it a lot longer and they haven’t been inhibited by our Puritan inclinations. So much to choose from, so little time.

Trying to replicate something from memory is challenging (especially after a vacation.)  But on a visit to my local market this week, the sight of a very high quality fresh ricotta motivated  me to have another go at this tart. The ricotta comes in a cute little white tin with a perforated bottom to allow excess liquid to drain. It is the real McCoy: clean and sweet, good enough to eat with a spoon all by itself or drizzled with a little honey. I was not disappointed, and I offer you the results of my experiment. The crust is very buttery and difficult to roll out, so I pressed it into the pan instead. I’ve given you a blow-by-blow tutorial below.  Now you have no excuse not to make it.

After a cool and often rainy week, the grass has suddenly brightened and shed its dismal winter coat of brown. The trees show us pale, green promises on their branches. We must seize the day to celebrate them—our New England spring is as tentative as the buds and will quickly turn to summer in a blink. At last the weather is catching up with the calendar. It is time to celebrate.

Ricotta lemon tart (Makes one 9-inch tart)

The crust:

6 tablespoons (3/4 stick, 85 g) cold, unsalted butter, cut in 1-inch pieces, plus a little for the pan

1 cup all-purpose flour (145 g), plus a little for the pan

3 tablespoons (38g) sugar

1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

1/8 teaspoon fine salt

1 egg, separated

1/2 teaspoon vanilla

1. Generously butter a 9 X 1-inch tart pan with a removable rim.  Sprinkle with flour to coat the bottom and sides of the pan  and tap out the excess. Set an oven rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350°F.

2. Combine the flour, sugar, lemon zest, and salt and butter in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade. Process for a few seconds until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Add the egg yolk, vanilla and 1 tablespoon cool water and process until the mixture forms small clumps but has not yet gathered into a ball. (By hand, rub the butter into the dry ingredients with your fingertips. When it is well combined, work the egg yolk, vanilla and water into the dough with your fingertips.)

3. Dump the crumbly dough into the prepared pan. Press it evenly into the sides of the pan first and then spread the remainder of the crumble evenly over the bottom. Press the dough firmly and evenly into the bottom and sides of the pan with the help of a (dry) measuring cup and some patience.

4. Set the pan on a cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Remove it from the oven and brush the bottom and sides with some of the reserved egg white (you won’t use it all). Return it to the oven for 15 to 20 minutes longer, until it is golden brown. The egg white provides a barrier for the filling and keeps the crust from getting soggy. Remove the pan from the oven. While the crust is baking, make the filling.

FILLING:

1 1/2 cups (340 g) fresh, whole milk ricotta

2 ounces (57g) cream cheese, at room temperature 

1/3 cup (67g) sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest

1/8 teaspoon salt

2 eggs

1/2 cup(119 g) heavy cream

Confectioner’s sugar for dusting the tart

1. Beat the ricotta and cream cheese together on low speed with the paddle attachment of a stand mixer until smooth and creamy. Beat in the sugar, vanilla, lemon zest and salt and when it is incorporated add the eggs. Mix on low speed until smooth and mix in the cream. (By hand, beat the ricotta and cream cheese together with a wooden spoon. Add the sugar, vanilla, lemon zest and salt, and when smooth, beat in the eggs. Finally, add the cream and mix until smooth.)

2. Pour the filling into the partially baked crust.  Bake the tart (still on the cookie sheet) for 45 to 50 minutes, until set. To test, poke a toothpick into the center of the tart; it should emerge with only a few crumbs.

3. Transfer the tart to a rack to cool. Serve at room temperature or refrigerate and serve cold. Dust with confectioners' sugar before serving.

PRESS-IN CRUST (TUTORIAL)

Generously butter and flour the pan, tapping out the excess flour.

Combine the flour, sugar, lemon zest, salt and butter in the bowl of a food processor. 

Process until the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs.

Add the egg yolk, vanilla and water.

Process until the dough looks crumbly and almost comes together.

Pour it into the prepared pan.

Use your fingers to evenly press the crumbs into the sides of the pan first;  then press them into the bottom. Firm them up evenly with the use of a measuring cup and a piece of plastic wrap to keep the cup from sticking to the dough.

Bake the dough for 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Remove it from the oven and brush it evenly with egg white (you may not need to use all of it.) Return the dough to the oven and bake again for about 15 minutes, or until it is golden brown.

Set the tart pan on a baking sheet. Pour the filling into the dough.

Bake at 350 degrees until the filling is set, 45 to 50 minutes.

Posted on April 23, 2011 and filed under Pies and Tarts, Sweets, How To.