Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Polenta Almond Cake

This is a cake I've been sort of thinking in the back of my mind I wanted to make for a very long time, but hadn't gotten around to it. It's sort of like the recipe I didn't make with those boiled and accidentally burned clementines, the smitten kitchen/Nigella/Orangette type of cake. Only it's also like this one of Jamie Oliver's which I almost requested from the lady who Axel F and I almost hired to made our wedding cake, before we decide that we don't need to have one.

In any case, I went on the hunt for a recipe again, because I wanted the kind made with almonds (because we had some in the pantry that needed to get used up), corn meal (i.e. polenta) (again because we had some that needed to get used up, and we only had a little bit), and olive oil (Dad had just picked us up a nice big bottle, so we could spare it). Thanks to the power of google, I found exactly what I was looking for, plus more! A version of the recipe which uses preserved lemons! Of which we happen to have a large jar in the fridge courtesy of our dear friends Elena and Matthew, whose house we all happened to be going to that night for dinner! The very coolest part about this is that the cake is gluten free by its very nature, and Matthew is a gluten free kind of guy most of the time! It seemed like fate that I should make this cake.

Preserved Lemon Almond Polenta Cake
adapted from a Boston Globe recipe from 2003 which uses a whole raw lemon!

one whole raw or preserved lemon
1/2 cup cornmeal
2 tsp baking powder
1 1/4 cups blanched toasted whole almonds (almond skins are no good here, but toasting nuts is always good)
1 1/4 cups sugar
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup either milk, evaporated milk, or a half/half mixture of milk and plain yogurt (option #3 is what I did)
2 large eggs
1/2 tsp almond extract
1 cup good quality whole milk ricotta (beaten with 1 tbsp sugar and 1 tsp vanilla extract) for serving, some fresh berries are nice too, we had blueberries

Preheat your oven to 350. Grease a 9 inch cake pan* (my only 9 incher is my springform pan. I wrapped the bottom with foil to avoid leaks, and it worked great). You might want to line the bottom with parchment**.

If your lemon is raw, wash it thoroughly. You have two options from here -the Globe has you use it raw, or you could do like Jamie Oliver and Nigella Lawson and boil it in plenty of water until soft, about 30 minutes. (You could definitely substitute an orange or a couple clementines, if you wanted. I'm going to have to test kitchen it with limes before I recommend that to anyone).

Raw, boiled or preserved, cut your lemon (or other citrus fruit) into smaller pieces, removing all the pits. If it's preserved, give it a gentle rinse to get rid of some of the salt.

In a small bowl, mix the cornmeal and baking powder, and if you're using a boiled or raw citrus, 1/2 tsp salt (skip this if you're using a preserved lemon, as it is plenty salty on its own).

In your food processor, grind up the almonds with 1 cup of the sugar, until it's coarse but fairly uniform. Add in the lemon pieces, and continue to puree until it's a smooth paste. taste it, and if it seems a little too tangy, add the remaining 1/4 cup of sugar (to taste).

Add in the oil, milk (or milk/yogurt), eggs and almond extract and let it puree 1 to 2 minutes more, until very smooth. Add the cornmeal/baking powder mix and pulse to combine.

Pour the batter into the greased pan, and bake for 50-60 minutes depending on your oven, turning the pan once midway through baking to brown it evenly. Let it cool slightly in the pan, then turn it out onto a cooling rack to cool down completely (I just ran a knife around the outside and popped the springform pan sides off, and left it on the bottom to cool - worked fine and very easy).

I did the Boston Globe's recommended garnish - the sweetened ricotta (you can add vanilla, cinnamon, citrus zest, orange liqueur...) and I have to highly recommend that you spend a little extra and buy top shelf ricotta from Whole Foods or a specialty cheese shop - it's a totally different product - soft, smooth and creamy. Regular grocery store ricotta is a little too mealy/gritty to be really enjoyable in this situation. You could substitute lightly sweetened plain yogurt, or even mascarpone or sour cream thinned with a little orange juice! Or heck, you could top it with whipped cream, why not?

*To grease your pan, I can't recommend highly enough that you go buy yourself a bottle of Wilton Cake Release - it's oil and flour mixed in a shelf stable bottle, you use a pastry brush and squeeze out about a teaspoon of the stuff and paint it evenly all around the inside of the pan, the cake comes out perfectly, it has yet to fail me, even in a complicated Octopus cake mold, for use in which the Cake Release was originally purchased.

** you won't have to do that if you get the Cake Release. Seriously. Wilton paid me nothing to make this enthusiastic recommendation. It seemed like a gimmick product when you look at it in the cake decorating aisle in Michaels, but it really seriously works, and saves so much time and mess and annoyance (greasing, flouring, cutting parchment into circles, blech).

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sourdough Starter Pizza dough, CSA toppings!

I hope you're all growing sourdough starters by now! I have something resembling an actual recipe to offer you for making a really nice, loose pizza dough (it's a modified version of a sourdough english muffin recipe I tried recently, which I found in a really old bread cookbook I accidentally stole from my co-op senior year in college a hundred million years ago). The only trouble is that it is so ridiculously hot these days that making pizza seems sort of... ill-advised. However, last week we got a big gorgeous tomato from our CSA and a big bunch of basil, and the first thing Jenean said when she saw it was "margarita pizza!" and that seemed 100% right, so we just went ahead and did it. Frankly, it turned the kitchen into a burning inferno, and we probably should have resisted the urge to bake... but boy was it delicious, and we had so much pizza leftover for lunches, I don't regret a thing.

For the Dough:
1 cup water (or half water half milk, if you want)
2 cups flour, plus another 1-2+ cups later on
2 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

In a big bowl, combine the starter, the water (or water/milk), 2 cups of the flour, the sugar, the salt and the oil, using a wooden spoon (it will be pretty wet and sticky). Leave it, covered with plastic wrap, at warm-ish room temperature for an hour.

Put a cup of flour out on a large clean work surface, and turn the dough out onto it. Knead it till it absorbs all that flour, and continue adding more flour till you get a dough that, though it's still pretty sticky, holds its own.

Oil the bowl and put the dough in, flipping it over so all of it gets coated with a little oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap again, and leave for at least an hour, more if you can (you could park it in the fridge and use it the next day, even; when you take it out of the fridge, knead briefly then let it come to room temp again before trying to roll it out). This will make enough dough to fill the bottom of two well oiled half sheet pans (the 13x18 type cookie sheet). I think it might be too wet to try on a peel/stone, though maybe given enough flour and cornmeal, it could be done. I don't have a pizza stone, or I might have tried it out.

Anyway, it's lovely and soft, so you just have to sort of gently stretch and prod it out (it rips easily, so really, be gentle) into an even thickness (or rather, thinness) in the sheet pan.
After I got both sheet pans all filled out, I let them rest another 20 minutes or so.

I already mentioned our margarita pizza - I bought some fresh mozzarella just for the purpose, sliced it up and laid it on the dough (left an inch or so between pieces), topped it with nice thin slices of the tomato, drizzled with olive oil, sprinkled on salt and pepper and parmigiano, and that's how I baked it (Jenean added the thin sliced basil after it came out of the oven).

To top the other pizza, I had (a day or two before) cooked up a bunch of spinach (the previous week's csa spinach looking too sad not to just cook up), with onions, garlic and some chopped up zucchini - all sauteed down till it was practically a uniform green color and nice and thick (I think I meant to make a quiche or fritatta with it, but this use came up sooner). I treated that like my sauce (green sauce!) and spread it all out on the dough evenly, sprinkled on the last little bit of mozzarella left, and then dolloped on spoonfuls of ricotta, spread that all around, and then grated on some parmigiano.

I had the oven as hot as I dared (475 F) and put them both in at once, one of the racks up high and the other down low, and rotated and swapped them several times.
I think next time I'll only swap them once halfway through baking, and have the strength of will to leave them in longer, because though the edges were gorgeously crisp and yummy, the very bottom wasn't nearly as brown as I wanted it - so I think each of those pizzas deserved a while longer near the bottom of the oven (where our heat source happens to be). Probably it would be better to end up with a couple corners burned and the whole thing crispy, right? Anyway, it was still good - I got no complaints from anybody.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Veggie Curries - easy cheap and yummy!

This is a great way to cook up basically any vegetable (or any combination of vegetables) into a really filling, satisfying dinner (also a good way to use up CSA vegetables that you don't know what to do with). I'm going to give my general method (learned from this old Time/Life Indian food cookbook from the 70s somebody gave us, it sounds dumb but it's really pretty authentic and well researched), and then I'll show you a couple of combinations I've done recently.

What You Need for a Basic Curry:

Lots of onions (2-3 large or more if they're small), chopped
Lots of garlic (4-8 cloves), minced
Lots of fresh ginger (1-2 inch piece),peeled then minced
Some green chiles (jalapenos, serranos), minced (with or without seeds depending on how hot you want it)
A large (32 oz?) can diced tomatoes
a tablespoon of tomato paste (if you have it*)
water or stock
cilantro (optional)
yogurt (optional)
lemon or lime (just a squeeze at the end, optional)

and either an already-mixed curry powder, or a combination of any/all of the following:
ground coriander seed
toasted ground cumin**
cayenne pepper
ground allspice (a bit)
ground cardamom (just a little)

Then you need veggies! Cauliflower, potatoes (parboiled or microwaved a few minutes, peeled and cubed), peas, zucchini, summer squash, chopped kale, broccoli, anything. As far as amounts go... go with your gut. As much as will fill your frying pan, really.

you can also add some cooked/canned chickpeas, or lentils, or what I did the last time was boil up some whole dried green peas (with chunks of ginger and a couple whole cloves of garlic).

What To DO:

Use a big, wide bottomed pan, the largest frying pan/skillet you have, the more frying surface the better. If you have ghee, you should totally use it, it is so delicious. I usually don't have any, so I use a couple tablespoons of oil and a couple tablespoons of butter (buttery flavor, but the oil helps keep the butter from burning at high temps). Heat it up nice and hot, and if you're using veggies like cauliflower, potatoes or squash, start by browning these (cut up into chunks). When they have some golden brown color, remove them to a bowl.

Make sure the pan has a generous amount of oil/butter still in it (add a little more if not), and make sure the pan is nice and hot, then add in your tons of onions. Let them cook down (give them a nice sprinkle of salt) and begin to turn golden (at least 10 minutes on medium-low heat). You can move on at that point, or you can continue till they get really brown, depending on the flavor you want. When the onions are how you like them, add the minced garlic, ginger and green chile. Fry until it starts to smell wonderful!

Now you add your spices - I tend to add 2 heaping teaspoons turmeric, probably almost a tablespoon toasted ground cumin, 2 teaspoon ground coriander, maybe a little cayenne pepper if you like it spicy, a little cardamom if you like, some allspice, and definitely black pepper. Throw the spices in the with onions, and fry it for a while, at least 5 minutes, on high heat, this really brings out the flavor of the spices. If you have tomato paste, add a tablespoon now, and let it fry a couple minutes, even turn a bit caramelized and brown (I don't add tomato paste very often, only because I don't always have it - it's great but not necessary).

Now add in your previously fried veggies, if you opted for them, and your chopped greens (you can include the stems), if you want them (kale, chard, spinach, beet greens, turnip greens, mustard greens, collards) (yummy yummy yummy greens!!!!!!), and cooked (drained, rinsed off if canned) beans if you want them. If you're going to add frozen peas (a lovely addition), you can wait till almost the end to add those. Fry everything together for a few minutes, and then add your can of tomatoes, and some water or stock to cover everything. Stir it around and taste it - season if necessary with salt and pepper.

Bring to a simmer, turn it down to fairly low heat, cover and let it go, for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, stirring occasionally. Now would be a good time to make some rice*** if you want. When the curry is done, you can stir in (off the heat) some fresh chopped cilantro, a 1/2 to 1 cup of plain yogurt (to taste), and a squeeze of lemon or lime juice (if you want).

Here's one I did with cauliflower and peas (to serve with some little lamb chops we got from our meat CSA). This picture is from before it simmered for an hour.

And here's one I made with those dried whole green peas (the drying made them act more like beans than peas), along with chopped kale and beet greens.

That's it! Have fun, because with onions, garlic, ginger, spices tomatoes and a mess of veggies, how can it go wrong?

*my dad has a tomato paste saving method that I used to think was bananas, and now know is completely brilliant. No one ever needs an entire can of tomato paste, right? So he cuts out little squares of plastic wrap, and makes these little tiny plastic wrapped packets of one tablespoon each and freezes them. I'm thinking of doing this with my recently opened can of chipotle, after pureeing it all up (adobo sauce and all).

**I learned this from my friend Emily's wonderful mama Alice (who in turn I think maybe got it from Madhur Jaffrey) - you should really take the time to toast your cumin seeds, it makes the most amazing difference to the flavor. I bought a big bottle and toasted the whole bottle at once, and then I grind it up in a mortar and pestle when I need it. I can't recommend this highly enough. Use a heavy bottomed frying pan over medium high heat, and be sure to stir or toss it around a lot. Keep it up till it starts to smell amazing - watch the color, it should be almost coffee brown. Get them out of the pan right away - they keep getting darker even after they're off the heat.

***This worked great for me:
1 cup basmati rice
1 1/2 cups water
1 tbsp butter
2 big pinches of salt
Rinse the rice thoroughly in cold water till the water runs clear. Bring the water to a boil in a saucepan, add the butter and salt and rice, shake it around to get the rice evenly distributed. Bring the water back up to a boil, cover the pan and turn the heat down to lowest, and set your timer for 17 minutes. When it's done, take the cover off, fluff with a fork, re-cover and let it rest about 5 minutes.

P.S. I made a quick cucumber salad to eat with the curry - quartered and sliced cucumber, thin sliced red onion, toasted ground cumin, salt, pepper and yogurt. If I'd had lime juice I might have added some.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Basil and Kale Pesto, on pasta with crisp fried linguica and summer squash

I will add my apology to Jenean's apology, for our failure to blog recently. We've had a really busy last couple of months around here.

But now! It's still busy, but there's a lot of cooking to talk about! Because it's finally CSA time! Our fridge has been constantly stocked since June 12th with plenty of lettuce, several kinds of greens, zucchini and summer squash, a modest amount of berries (lovely little strawberries for about 3 weeks, and now blueberries), beets, and sugar snap peas which make an awesome crispy snack.

Our wonderful CSA farmer lady Genevieve Stillman always includes a newsletter in the weekly box with funny things about the farm, info about the CSA, and some recipe suggestions. She has branched out into a blog now: and it's great. In this week's newsletter there was a Kale Pesto recipe. I didn't follow it exactly but I really liked the idea (as we were about 2 weeks behind on our kale usage). I also have a modest crop of basil out on the deck (with big leaves hogging growing power from the smaller ones), so I wanted to bring the two together.

for the pesto:
1 bunch of kale, chopped (stems and all)
2 handfuls (a cup?) of basil leaves)
4 cloves of garlic
1/4 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/4 cup or so olive oil
1/2 cup grated parmesan

a pound of rotini or other piece-type pasta
2 (in my case decrepit looking) summer squash that needed using, (trimmed of bad parts and) cubed small
1 6-inch link linguica (smoky paprika-y portuguese pork sausage, perfect with kale, and a little goes a long way so it's a really cheap way to get some richness from meat without actually using very much), peeled of its casing, cut in half lengthwise and then in thin slices

I started by sauteeing the chopped kale in a little olive oil, with salt and pepper over high heat, stirring frequently.
Once it started to wilt I added about 2 tbsp water and covered it, and let it go for about 5 minutes.
Then I put the basil in the food processor, drained the kale and added it, along with the garlic and the pine nuts, and ground it up, drizzling the oil in through the top of the food processor (you could do all this in a blender too - in fact you'd get a smoother pesto that way). Once it was a pretty uniform paste, I transferred it to a bowl, and stirred in the cheese. Then I tasted it for salt (it needed some, but I didn't want to add it before the cheese, which is salty itself) and ground in some black pepper.
Then in the same pan I fried the kale in (dried out) I heated some more olive oil (2 tbsp?) really super hot, and added the cubed summer squash. I left it without touching (same as you do with mushrooms, which are also watery) for as long as I could stand it, letting the one side get super brown. Then I tossed the pan around, and let it fry a while longer, seasoned with salt and pepper, and removed to a bowl.
I put the pan back on the heat and added the linguica, which started to render out its fat, and become crispy pretty quickly.
Once it all looked browned and lovely, I added back the squash, tossed it all around together for another minute, and then turned off the heat.

Meanwhile, the pasta was cooking in generously salted water - I drained it, put about a cup of the pesto into a large bowl, added the pasta, squash and linguica, tossed it all around, and done!
Vegetarians could of course skip the linguica. If you wanted to make it vegan from that point, the pesto actually tasted great pre-cheese - you could just up the nuts to a cup, if you wanted (also, other types of nuts are worth trying - walnuts, almonds, pistachios - toast em first).