Wednesday, February 20, 2013


Do you know about pupusas?  The adorable, chubby, filled cousin of the corn tortilla?  The doppelganger of the arepa?

There used to be a Salvadoran restaurant down the street from us, appropriately named Pupusa (RIP, why did you leave us??).  They had all kinds of Salvadoran foods, but of course as you might guess they specialized in pupusas and boy were they great.  Boy do I miss them.  Boy do I wish another dumb pizza joint hadn't moved in there instead.

Back to pupusas.  Essentially, you take corn masa (like you would use to make corn tortillas) and instead of pressing it thin in a tortilla press, you stuff it with a little cheese or beans or meat (or a combo of some or all of these), wrap the masa around the filling, flatten it out by hand and cook it on a griddle or skillet.

But masa dough can be hard to work with, especially if (like me) you don't have access to freshly ground masa, which is much more moist than the kind you make with masa harina (sometimes called corn flour, but essentially dried masa you have to reconstitute with hot water).

I recently was given this beautiful cookbook by the amazing cookbook writing duo of Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid (they of Hot Sour Salty Sweet), called Home Baking: The Artful Mix of Flour and Tradition Around the World (a title which alone chokes me up, and I have literally cried a little reading some of these wonderful recipes... bread traditions of all kinds really speak to me).

Anyway, I was thrilled to find that they have a recipe in there for an easier version of pupusas (they call them Easy Cheese and Bean Rounds).  It's easier because their recipe incorporates cooked beans into the masa dough, giving it better moisture and flexibility (not to mention adding a little protein!) and I had to try it.  It's fantastic - so easy (it's pretty much like playing with play-dough), and leftovers of the bean masa (which I didn't cook up all at once) kept very well for a whole week in the fridge.  I also made a gorgeous Salsa Roja (aka Toasty Guajillo Chile Salsa, recipe from Rick Bayless) to go with them.

Alford & Duguid's Bean Pupusas

1/2 cup drained cooked white beans (like navy beans)
1/2 cup lukewarm water
1 tablespoon oil (they called for corn, I only had canola), plus more for cooking and shaping
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups masa harina

1/2 cup grated or crumbled cheese (I used crumbled queso blanco, they suggest Oaxacan string cheese, jack or mild cheddar)
1 tablespoon minced chives or scallion greens (or more to taste)
optional - crumbled bits of crispy pork skin (i.e. chicharron - this was my addition to the Alford/Duguid recipe, because I just happened to have some around, but it's pretty traditional in regular pupusas)

In a food processor, process the beans, water and oil until smooth.  Add the salt and the masa, pulsing until a cohesive dough forms.

 Form it into a ball and wrap in plastic.  Let it rest for at least 30 minutes, though it can go longer.

Combine all the filling ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

Heat a heavy skillet (I used my cast iron griddle which was perfect for this) over medium heat.  Pour some oil in a small bowl and have it and the bowl of filling near your work surface.

Coat your hands with a little of the oil from the bowl and scoop up about 1/8 cup (2 tbsp) of dough.  Flatten it into a 3 inch disk, making it a little thinner on the edges than in the middle.

Put a small pinch of the cheese mixture into the middle, and fold the edges up all around and over the filling, pinching it shut so it's pretty much a little ball again.

Using more oil if necessary, flatten the ball back out into a disk, slightly larger this time (about 4 inches across).  Don't worry if it cracks, just pinch it shut again and flatten it, or patch it with extra dough if things get really bad.

As I formed them I set them aside on a waxed-paper-lined cookie sheet while I made more, covering them with plastic so they wouldn't dry out while I made more.

Rub a little bit of oil over the surface of your skillet, and place a couple pupusas (as many as will fit flat and comfortably) seam side down in the heated pan.

Make sure you're no hotter than medium, or the outside will burn before the cheese starts to melt.  When the bottom side of the pupusas are flecked with dark brown spots, about 3 minutes.

 Then flip them over to get fully firm and golden brown on the other side, about 2 more minutes.

Serve with Salsa Roja (see below).  Continue to shape and cook as many pupusas as you want (this recipe should make at least 15), re-oiling the pan now and then if it needs it.  Extra dough keeps very well, if you wrap it snugly in plastic wrap.

Rick Bayless' Salsa Roja
from Mexican Everyday

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 oz dried guajillo chiles (about 2), stemmed
3 garlic cloves, peeled
4 medium tomatillos (about 8 oz), husked, rinsed and cut in half

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat.  Tear open the chiles and get out as many seeds as you can.  Lay the chiles in the hot oil, and fry, turning them often, until you can smell an amazing toasty warm chile smell.  They should brighten in color.  This will only take about 30 seconds.

Throw the chiles into your blender jar.  Discard all but a tablespoon of oil.  Add the garlic and the tomatillos to the oil in the pan, and let them brown, 3-4 minutes.  Turn off the heat and add 1/2 cup water to the pan, to scrape up any good things that might be sticking to the bottom, and pour it all into the blender with the chiles.  Blend it up very smooth, season to taste with salt (about 1/2 teaspoon).  Thin with water if necessary to get a nice spoonable sauce-like consistency.  Let cool before serving.

This salsa is (first of all) TOTALLY DYNAMITE, and keeps extremely well in a jar in the fridge.  It is good on all sorts of things - these pupusas, scrambled eggs, tacos, dipped into with tortilla chips, on a burger... endlessly useful, ridiculously easy, so deeply flavorful and completely delicious.

Monday, February 11, 2013

"Chopped This" - Wedding Shower Recipe #1

Among the many lovely ideas Jenean had for the wedding shower she threw me (back in 2010) was the especially wonderful one of sending blank recipe cards to everyone who was invited, asking them to send it back with a family favorite recipe to share with me.  At the shower Jenean had them all collected into a little book, and it was such a great idea that my mother-in-law to be, Kathy, did the same when she threw me another shower (I am so spoiled) down where she lives, and she gave me a pretty box (the little book was now filled to overflowing, so I transferred everything into the box).  I ended up with 31 recipes all together, and surprisingly, and by luck only I think, the recipes are well distributed among the major categories - appetizers, salads, main dishes (some meat based, some vegetarian), side dishes, baked goods and desserts (and one recipe for party punch!  i.e. with plenty of alcohol in it).  People seemed to put a lot of thought into deciding what to send, and I got several recipes that were clearly handed down over generations, which really gives me a thrill.

However (terrible confession time, here): I've pretty much not made any of the recipes.  It's February 2013, most of these were given to me the summer of 2010.  Horrible.  So - as of January 2013, I decided that at least once a month I will make something for the blog from the Wedding Shower Recipe File.  I'll make something from each category, and then circle back around to the front and start again.

First in the box, filed under appetizer, is a recipe from my friend Samantha (whose husband blogs over at Home Cook Locavore!), a recipe which she got from her mother.  It's called Chopped This, and not only is the name incredibly charming, it is a really delicious snacking food, with almost no ingredients (my favorite kind of recipe!), very easy to make, and it makes a great base for variations, if you want to get complicated (see the end of the recipe).

My guess at explaining the adorable name is that it's a mock pate or poor man's chopped liver - and honestly I would choose Chopped This over Chopped Liver any day (which will come as no surprise to those of you who know my abject loathing of liver...)!  This recipe makes enough to put out for a party, in the category of dips and cheeses and crackers.  The ingredients probably cost me under $5, and we had enough for two rounds of snacking plus a panful of fish cakes I used the last of it to make (see the end of the recipe).  I will post the recipe as Sam wrote it to me, with my additions and comments in [brackets].

"Chopped This"
recipe "from Samantha's mom (and her Jewish family)"
[makes about 4 cups]

3 extra large eggs
3 large potatoes [I used russets, but I think any kind would be fine]
1/2 large Spanish or Vidalia onion (or more - to taste) [I recommend more! The onion flavor was great]
salt [and pepper] to taste
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Boil potatoes and eggs separately [my favorite egg method is cover cold eggs with cold water by an inch; bring to a boil, and boil for exactly one minute; turn off the heat and let sit exactly 8 minutes] [the potatoes boil in water to cover (unpeeled) until a knife slides right out when you jab it in, around 20-30 minutes depending on the size of your potatoes].  Cool eggs under cold running water; peel eggs and potatoes.

Chop all ingredients except oil in wooden chopping bowl with steel chopper until it reaches paste consistency [I don't have a chopping bowl, and tried this in Jenean's food processor, which I should have realized wasn't big enough to accommodate all the ingredients; I decided at the end of the process that I should have chopped it all by hand - some parts became very much like overly-mashed potatoes and some I ended up hand chopping anyway because they never made it to the bottom of the processor bowl.  SO - next time I will chop it all by hand on a large cutting board, and I think you should too.  I also think I will chop the onion up a bit before combining them all to chop together, since the potatoes and eggs are so much softer and easier to break up small than the raw onion].

Add oil, which functions as mortar [season with salt and pepper to taste, at least a teaspoon of salt, and I also added probably more like 2 Tbsp of olive oil].  Chill; serve with matzoh or crackers [I had water crackers, which are the most matzoh-like of crackers, I think].

Ideas for variations:
- I think some capers would be delicious in this, and we sprinkled on some thinly sliced green onion we had around for another recipe, which was delicious.
- Chopped herbs would be fun - anything fresh (and on the soft side) you like and have around - parsley, tarragon, dill, chives.
- Served with a plate of smoked fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines) alongside would make it a great lunch
- This keeps very well (kept cold in the fridge), the flavor gets better and better over a few days to a week; any leftovers at that point can be combined with some leftover cooked fish (I used a drained can of tuna, you could also do canned salmon), and then you can drop about 1/3 cup at a time into a plate of seasoned flour, form into a 4 inch wide/inch tall patty with plenty of flour dusting the outside, and fry them in butter for some very delicious fish cakes for dinner!

Monday, February 4, 2013


Pasticcio is similar to lasagna with a bechamel sauce in place of most of the cheese. (Don't worry, there is also cheese). This particular version uses spinach pasta and a bolognese. I saw Lidia Bastianich make it on her PBS show many years ago and instantly knew I wanted to try it. I think what held me back for so long was a) it's complicated, to the point where while making this I declared "I'm only making this once a year, so don't even ask for it!" and b) it's SO decadent! It seems almost wrong.  But it's not!! It's SO right! I'm still only making it once a year though.

To make this dish you need to accept the undertaking of three large projects: 1) make spinach pasta, 2) make bolognese and 3) make béchamel. 

Spinach Pasta
4 oz frozen spinach, thawed and drained with all the liquid squeezed out of it
4 eggs
1 Tbs olive oil
3 1/2 to 4 cups of all purpose flour

Place spinach in a food processor and whir it up until it's a finely chopped paste. Side note, you should have 4 oz. of spinach AFTER you've thawed and drained it, so it will likely be more than 4 oz while still frozen. Combine the spinach with the eggs and oil in a bowl.

Place 3 cups of flour in a mound on either a cutting board or just on your countertop. Create a well in the middle of the flour and pour your spinach egg mixture into the well. Using a fork, slowly mix in flour from the inside of the well, using your hand to continue to fortify the outside of the well. When most of the flour is incorporated and you are able to pull everything together into a mass, move any excess flour to the side (except enough to ensure the dough doesn't stick to your surface) and begin to knead the dough. Knead for 8-10 minutes or until the dough is smooth and springs back almost immediately when you poke it. 8-10 minutes is roughly how long it should take, but don't be afraid to continue kneading for longer if your dough isn't yet as described above. Wrap the dough loosely in plastic wrap and allow it to sit for at least a half an hour.

I very luckily had the use of Elaine's Kitchen Aid mixer and pasta roller attachments. Using the mixer, I rolled the pasta out into long strips until it was very thin - I went up to the #6 setting on the roller.

Cook pasta strips (in batches) in salted, boiling water. Rinse with cool water if not using right away so that they don't stick together and set aside.

Bolognese (half recipe, which was exactly enough for this dish)
1 lb ground pork
1 lb ground beef
1 cup red wine
6 oz. pancetta*
5 garlic cloves*
2 Tbs olive oil
1 medium onion, minced in the food processor
1 celery stalk, minced in the food processor
1 carrot, minced in the food processor
salt and pepper to taste
3 Tbs tomato paste
1-2 cups milk, heated**
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1 bay leaf
1-2 cups chicken  broth, heated (you can also use beef or veggie stock)**

*These are the amounts called for in the full recipe. Sometimes dividing in half is math that is beyond my skill set.

**The full recipe calls for 2 cups of each of these liquids - but I wasn't  getting the textural results called for by only using half.  So, start with half, but know that you may need to add more.

In a bowl, combine the ground pork and beef with the red wine. Blend the wine in with your fingers to make sure all the meat is getting some vino.

In a food processor, blend together the pancetta and the garlic cloves until you have a paste. In Italian, this is called a pestata! (This blog is educational too!)

In a large saucepan or pot, heat the olive oil and add in the pestata. Over medium high heat, break up the paste. Once sizzling and you are smelling its intensely wonderful smell, add in your onions. Sweat them for a few minutes and then add the carrots and celery (which I blended together in the food processor to make it easier).  Cook until the veggies are soft, about 5 minutes.

Turn up the heat to high, push veggies to the side and add the meat mixture. Don't touch it for a few minutes, just so it can get a nice golden color on the bottom. Then mix it in with the veggies and cook on high heat, stirring frequently, for about 35-40 minutes until the liquid from the meats and veggies has evaporated.

Begin to heat the milk and broth in separate pans.

Push your meat and veggies to the side of the pan again, and add the tomato paste, once again letting it cook for a few minutes.

Add the hot milk (1 cup) and stir into the meat mixture, getting up an of the fond on the bottom of the pan. Add nutmeg and bay leaf and lower heat to medium low. Bring the sauce to a slow simmer. Cover and let cook for about 3 hours, checking and stirring about every 20 minutes. Use the hot broth to keep the liquid level consistent throughout cooking.

After about 3 hours, your sauce should be a thick pudding-like consistency. Add salt and freshly ground pepper to taste and discard the bay leaf. You can also spoon off any excess fat at this point, if you are using it right away. If you make it in advance, definitely leave it until the sauce cools, as it will be a lot easier to remove at that point.


This is probably the easiest part of this whole process, so Congratulations! 

4 Tbs butter
1/2 cup flour
4 cups milk
3/4 tsp salt (or more to taste)

Melt butter in a large saucepan. Add flour and whisk to remove any lumps. Add milk and whisk to combine. Cook, whisking constantly for about 10 minutes until the sauce starts to bubble and thicken, about the thickness of a creamy soup. Add salt to taste.


One additional ingredient for assembly: 1 1/2 cups grated fontina!


Butter a 9 x 13 pan and spread about 1/3 of a cup of bolognese in the bottom. Lay strips of pasta to cover the bottom of the pan, allowing a few inches of pasta to overlap the short sides of the pan. I had 3 strips on the bottom of my pan. Spread a cup of bolognese and a cup of béchamel over the pasta. Place another layer of pasta strips on top of the sauces, this time leaving the over hang over the long sides of the pan. Spread another layer of sauces, this time adding your grated fontina and continue to layer pasta and sauce and cheese until you reach the top. I had 4 total layers. Finish with a layer of sauces and the fold the overlapping pasta from the first layer over the top, making sure that everything is covered by a layer of pasta. Finish with a layer of béchamel and the remainder of your cheese. I also dusted the top with a coating of parmesan.

Tent the pasticcio with foil and place in a 375 degree oven for 45 minutes. Remove the foil and return to the oven for another 20 minutes so that the top gets golden and crisp.

Once out of the oven, let it sit for (at least) 20 minutes before serving. Seriously, just leave it alone. It will run all over the place if you don't and you'll be sorry.

BUT, when you dig into this, you won't be sorry - and you'll most likely be very proud of yourself!