Pumpkin soup recipe: It's (almost) that time again

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Because I always want it to be summer, I am dismayed when I see rows of pumpkins lined up in front of my local supermarket. Not yet! Not yet! But then, there's always an upside if you look for it. For anyone who is ready for the shift, this will be welcome, and if you're not ready, at least there's some consolation in delicious fall food.

Roasted pumpkin simmered with onion, celery, yellow pepper and tomatoes and spiked with coconut milk makes a quintessential vegetarian fall soup. Take the work out of roasting the pumpkin by placing halves on a baking sheet, seeds, peel and all. Once it softens in the oven, scraping out the seeds and peeling is easy.

For cooking and baking, look for sugar pumpkins, also called pie pumpkins. They have dense, smooth flesh and weigh from three to five pounds. Larger “carving” pumpkins have stringy, watery flesh and little flavor, so save them for jack o’lanterns or decoration.

Roasted pumpkin soup with coconut milk
Serves 6

1 sugar pumpkin (about 3 pounds)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (or olive oil for vegan)
1 onion, diced
2 stalks celery, diced
1 yellow bell pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into large dice
2 plum (Roma) tomatoes, cut into large dice
2 teaspoons coriander seed, crushed in a mortar
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup cooked chickpeas
1 can (15 ounces) light coconut milk
4 cups water
3 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon honey
1/4 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, for garnish

1. Set the oven at 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Halve the pumpkin. Place the halves, flat side down, on the baking sheet. Roast for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the flesh is soft. Cool on the baking sheet to warm room temperature. With a sharp spoon, scoop out and discard the seeds (or save them for roasting). Scoop out the flesh and discard the peel.

3. Meanwhile, in a large pot over medium heat, melt the butter (or heat the oil.) Add the onion, celery and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 minutes, or until soft. Add the tomatoes, coriander seed, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Cook and stir for 1 minute.

4. Add the pumpkin, chickpeas, coconut milk and water. Bring to a simmer, and cook for 15 minutes. Stir in the lime juice and honey.

5. In a blender in batches, puree the soup until smooth. Taste for seasoning and add more salt, pepper and lime juice, if you like. Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with chopped cilantro.

Posted on September 21, 2017 .

Cracked wheat salad recipe: add some spice to your life

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Syrian bulgur salad (Bazergan)
Makes 2 1/2 cups

Looking for something different? This salad is unusual but  be careful, it's addictive. P.s., it's also healthy, so no guilt.

It's hard to find this salad already prepared, even in a  Middle Eastern grocery store. It's a pity. It is from Syrian Jewish cuisine, traditionally eaten with other small plates (mezze.) Assertively spiced with cumin and seasoned with tangy tamarind, bazergan makes a terrific appetizer with pita bread, or as a sandwich in a pita pocket with cucumber and sliced tomatoes. Once you’ve tasted it, you will want to keep eating it until every last grain has disappeared. 

1 cup medium-grind bulgur
1 cup water
2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon Maras or Aleppo pepper, or to taste
1/8 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 cup tomato paste1 tablespoon tamarind concentrate
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons finely chopped onion
2 tablespoons chopped parsley (for garnish)

1. In a medium bowl, stir the bulgur and water together. Let soak for 10 minutes. Set a strainer over a bowl. Pour the soaked bulgur into the strainer to drain excess water.

2. In a separate bowl, mix the cumin, sugar, salt, Maras pepper and black pepper until combined. Add the tomato paste, tamarind concentrate, lemon juice, oil and onion. Stir well to combine. Stir in the drained bulgur.

3. Set aside for at least one hour to let flavors mingle. Mound the bazergan in a shallow bowl and sprinkle with chopped parsley. Serve with pita wedges or chips. Store leftovers in the refrigerator

Posted on September 13, 2017 .

Can't go to Paris? Make a galette Bretonnne: Egg, ham, apsaragus & cheese in a buckwheat crepe

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In the United States, the popularity of the creperie—a restaurant serving only crepes in a multitude of ways—died a slow death in the 1970’s and more’s the pity. Luckily, the French are not so fickle. On the streets of Paris the creperie is very much alive and well.

The most famous crepes, made with buckwheat, come from Brittany, where buckwheat has been grown since the Middle Ages. In fact, there is no actual ‘wheat’ in buckwheat; it is not even a grain at all. Rather, the flour, both dark and light, is made from the seeds of an herb in the knotweed family that grows best in poor soil without pesticides or fertilizer. In addition to its clean cultivation formula, buckwheat is a treasure trove of nutrition. Recipe testing favored the lighter colored buckwheat over the dark gray flour for the home kitchen.

As you would expect from French traditionalists, the particulars can be, well, very particular. The preferred method is to use a bilic, a kind of heavy cast-iron griddle that can be heated to very high temperatures. A special t-shaped wooden tool is used to spread the batter evenly. Depending on locale (north versus south) wheat flour and egg may be added to the batter. Either way, the batter is earthy and nutty, and lends itself to numerous savory and sweet fillings. You could just as easily choose a strawberry, rhubarb and ice cream filling as the classic filling of ham, cheese, and egg.

Fear not. You won’t have to turn your kitchen into a creperie to enjoy this galette. All you will need are a large, non-stick skillet, a ladle, a long metal spatula, a rubber spatula, and a teensy bit of courage to make your first galette. If you don’t want to attempt spreading the egg white as described in step three, you can leave well enough alone and the egg will cook given a little more time at a lower temperature. Once you have made your first crepe there is no turning back. Bon appetit is firmly in your future.

Galette Bretonne with egg, ham, cheese, and asparagus
Serves 4

1 1/2 cups light buckwheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/3 cups water
1 egg
1/3 cup sparkling water or beer
Additional sparkling water as needed
1. In a bowl, vigorously whisk the flour, salt, plain water, and egg together until smooth and a few bubbles appear on the surface. Whisk in the sparkling water or beer until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 3 hours or overnight.

2. Remove the batter and bring to room temperature. Add more sparkling water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the batter is the consistency of heavy cream.

16 thin asparagus spears
4 tablespoons lightly salted butter, melted
4 eggs
2 cups grated Comté cheese
4 slices of ham, each cut into 2 or 3 pieces
Finely chopped chives (for garnish)
Smoked paprika (for garnish)
1. In a large skillet, bring 1 inch of salted water to a boil. Add the asparagus and cook for 3 minutes, or until tender. Drain. Cut into 3-inch pieces.

2. Over high heat, heat a 12-inch non-stick skillet until hot. Add 2 teaspoons of the melted butter, and swirl to coat the pan.  Pour in 2/3 cup of the batter, and quickly tilt the pan to thinly cover the surface. Place on the burner and decrease the heat to medium.

3. Break one egg into the middle of the galette. With the fingertips of one hand, gently hold the yolk in place while you spread the white out over the crepe with a long metal spatula. Cook for 1 minute, or until the egg white starts to set. Sprinkle one-fourth of the cheese around the yolk. Arrange one fourth of the ham pieces on top of the cheese, and distribute one-fourth of the asparagus on top. Let cook for about 3 minutes, or until the cheese melts and the egg whites are cooked. The yolk will still be soft. Sprinkle the yolk with paprika and chives.

4. With a flexible rubber spatula, loosen the edges of the galette all around the pan. Fold four edges of the galette in toward the egg to make a square but do not cover the egg. Brush the edges with melted butter and serve. Repeat with remaining batter, eggs, ham, cheese and asparagus.

Posted on September 9, 2017 .

Say goodbye to summer in style: Lobster bisque recipe

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Creamy, silky lobster bisque with a glass of wine and a salad would make a superlative celebratory dish. It is not over the top yet still feels extravagant. It's nearing the end of summer now, so in my book, it's a consolation prize. Does it really matter? You could save this for Christmas or New Year's, but why wait?

I learned to make this in the French manner from my mentor-chef Bernard. He used the  lobster shells for the broth, and saved the meat for another dish. Cooked rice or buerre manie (uncooked butter and flour) thickened the soup, and everything was blasted in blender and then strained. It made a rich soup, but not a meal.

Here I've streamlined the process and avoided the blender, since you would need a pretty powerful one to grind the shells (go for it if you have a Vitamix, but you still might need to strain it.) Adding the lobster meat to the soup at the end makes this a more substantial soup for four, or a starter for six people. Steam the lobster in one inch of water and save it for making the broth. If cooking your own live lobster makes you nervous, most lobster places will sell you a whole cooked one in the shell. If only buying the meat, you will have to supply some fish stock, clam juice, or chicken stock to bolster the broth. 

Once the lobster is cooked, remove the meat and break up the shells and body. Sautee them with a few vegetables to add extra flavor. Simmer everything in lobster cooking water and wine and strain. Buerre manie gives the soup some body and richness without making it too thick. Add cream, sherry and the lobster meat and your festive supper is ready. So, go ahead, open that one pre-Christmas present and enjoy a quiet evening.

Lobster bisque recipe
Serves 4
1 rounded teaspoon salt
1 (1 3/4- to 2-pound) live lobster
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced
1 small carrot, sliced
1 stalk celery, sliced
2 thyme sprigs
1 clove garlic, sliced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
Pinch of cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 bay leaf
1 cup dry white wine
1/4 cup cream sherry
2 tablespoons soft, unsalted butter
3 tablespoons flour
1 cup heavy cream.

1. In an 8- to 10-quart pot over high heat, bring 2 inches of water to a boil.  Add the salt and the lobster, head first, and cover the pot. Adjust the heat to gentle boil, and steam for 15 to 18 minutes, or until the shell is bright red and an antenna is easily released when you pull on it. With tongs, remove the lobster and set it on a rimmed baking sheet to cool. Reserve the cooking liquid.

2. When the lobster is cool, hold it over a bowl or a rimmed baking sheet to catch the juices, and remove the meat from the claws and tail. Coarsely chop the meat and refrigerate it until ready to use. Using kitchen shears, cut the shells and body into 2-inch pieces.

3. In a soup pot over medium heat, heat the oil. Add the lobster pieces and cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Stir in the onion, carrot, celery, thyme sprigs and garlic. Cook, stirring often, for 5 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste, cayenne pepper and bay leaf, and cook for 2 minutes longer. Add 4 cups of the lobster cooking water, lobster juices and the wine. Bring to a simmer and cook, covered, for 45 minutes.

4. Set a colander over a clean pot and strain the broth into the pot. Discard the shells. Set the pot over medium heat. Add the sherry and bring to a simmer.

5. In a small bowl, stir the butter and flour together until smooth. Whisk it into the simmering broth and gently simmer for 10 minutes. Add the cream, and bring to a simmer. Stir in the lobster meat, and cook for another 2 to 3 minutes, or until the bisque is hot all the way through.

6. Ladle into bowls and serve.

Posted on September 4, 2017 .

BLT skillet pizza

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The beloved BLT just got a lot more interesting in this pizza in a skillet. It's fun and easy to make and transforms a sandwich into a meal, with a salad on top. Just add a glass of wine for the grown-ups and supper is ready.

To make spectacular pizza at home, follow three rules: Make a long-rising dough to develop the best flavor. Use a blistering hot oven and a hot surface to achieve a crisp crust. Don’t overload the dough with toppings.

This dough comes together in a stand mixer or by hand in five minutes; all you have to do is stir and wait, the longer the better. Use instant yeast, since it can be mixed directly into the flour without proofing in water. The dough is ready after three hours, but you can store it in the refrigerator for up to four days. Deflate the dough each day, and keep it covered. It is soft, bordering on sticky, but behaves well after it rises. Dust it and the counter generously with flour while you roll it and let it relax for a few minutes if it becomes too springy.

A pizza stone is traditional because it gets so hot, but apply the same principal to a trusty, worn-in cast-iron skillet, which holds heat beautifully and is less fussy than working with a stone. Here, the skillet goes into the oven and acts like a stone. If you have (or can borrow) a second skillet, these individual pizzas are done in a flash. You’ll love how the rich bacon and cheese and sweet, baked tomatoes contrast with a topping of fresh tomatoes and peppery greens.

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BLT pizza in a skillet
Makes 4 10-inch pizzas, to serve 4

4 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons (slightly less than a full packet) instant yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 cups water
1 teaspoon olive oil

1. In an electric mixer on low speed, mix the flour, yeast, and salt to combine. Add the water all at once and mix until the dough comes together and cleans the sides of the bowl. To mix by hand, follow the same procedure using a large bowl and a wooden spoon. Form the dough into a ball and leave it in the bowl.

2. Drizzle the dough with the oil, and pat with your hands to spread it over the dough. Place a piece of plastic wrap directly on the dough. Let rise for 3 to 8 hours at room temperature, or overnight in the refrigerator (take it out of the refrigerator about 1 hour before shaping).

16 (1 1/4 pounds)  “cocktail” (golf ball-size) tomatoes, sliced
Flour (for rolling)
12 slices (slightly less than 1 pound) bacon, cut into thirds
Cornmeal (for the skillet)
8 ounces fontina, sliced
Olive oil (for drizzling)
4 handfuls of arugula
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. Arrange one oven shelf close to the bottom of the oven and one close to the top.  Set the oven at 500 degrees. Place a 10-inch cast iron skillet on the bottom shelf, and heat until very hot. Set aside half the tomato slices for garnish. Use the other half for baking the pizza.

2. On a generously floured counter, turn out the dough and cut it into 4 pieces. Working with 1 piece at a time, shape into balls and press them into 5-inch flat disks, dimpling with your fingertips as you flatten them. Cover with a clean dishtowel and let rest for 10 minutes to allow the dough to relax.

3. In a large skillet over medium heat, cook the bacon until crisp. Transfer to a paper towel lined-plate.

4. Stretch or roll each ball of dough into a 10-inch round. If the dough becomes difficult to stretch, let it relax for a few minutes and try again.

5. With oven mitts, carefully remove the hot skillet from the oven. Sprinkle with cornmeal. Transfer one dough round into the pan, and arrange it to fit (watch your fingers!) Arrange 1/4 of the fontina slices over the dough and top with 1/4 of the bacon. Distribute 1/4 of the tomatoes reserved for baking over the top. Drizzle with olive oil.

6. Bake the pizza on the bottom shelf for 8 minutes, or until the dough is firm and set and the edges are lightly browned. Transfer the pan to the top rack and bake for another 3 to 5 minutes, or until the cheese is bubbly and the crust is crisp and brown. Slide the pizza onto a cutting board, and repeat with the remaining dough and toppings.

7. Toss the arugula with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil, the vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste. Top each pizza with 1/4 of the reserved tomatoes and a handful of the arugula. With a sharp knife, cut into wedges and serve.


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Posted on September 1, 2017 .