Pumpkin Risotto

Pumpkin is pretty naturally sweet, so don’t be bashful with the salt and cheese.

4-5 c/1-1.25 L vegetable broth
2 T olive oil
2 shallots, minced
3 cloves garlic, minced
500 g arborio or carnaroli rice
0.5 c/100 mL dry white wine
1 c/225 mL pumpkin purée
1 t dried thyme
1 t ground black pepper
salt to taste
2 T butter
1 c/225 g grated Parmesan, divided

Heat oil in large deep skillet to medium and bring broth to a low simmer. Sauté shallots and garlic until tender and fragrant. Add rice and stir until coated with oil and starting to smell toasty. Add wine and stir until mostly evaporated. Start adding broth by ladleful, stirring constantly. When the pan starts to look dry, add another ladle of broth. After adding about half of the broth, add the pumpkin, thyme and pepper. Taste and add salt, if needed. Keep adding broth until it’s gone. Once all broth is in, remove skillet from heat, stir in butter and half of cheese thoroughly, cover skillet and let stand for 5 minutes. Serve with cheese for sprinkling.

Pasteis de Nata

While in Porto on vacation this month, we took a class on baking Pasteis de Nata, a custard tart we fell in love with in Lisbon a few years ago. This recipe is originally from our course instructor as part of the class, with our own notes and adaptations added.

Equipment

  • stand mixer with kneading hook, or a hand mixer with beaters (be prepared to knead by hand in that case)
  • rolling pin you can use to whomp on the butter through the dough
  • 2 sauce pans
  • whisk

Dough Ingredients

Makes a double batch of puff pastry, about 20-24 cupcake-sized pasteis shells in total.
* 500 g flour
* 250 ml water
* 250 g unsalted butter, chilled
* salt

Notes on Dough Ingredients

  • In the class we actually used margarine. Our instructor, Joana, explained that it works better than butter under less-than-optimal conditions, like at normal room temperature, or when you’re not rolling the dough out on a marble countertop. I’m thinking about making this dough outside on the patio next time.
  • Joana didn’t specify the amount of salt. Our first batch at home was with a half-teaspoon, and it didn’t seem like enough.

Dough Instructions

  1. Combine flour, water, and salt in a stand mixer with a kneading attachment and knead for 4-5 minutes. Alternatively, combine and then knead by hand for 10 minutes. You want a soft, not-very-sticky dough, that springs back at you when you poke it. Let it rest for at least 5 minutes after kneading.
  2. Roll out the dough on a large floured surface in as cool a place as possible. We opened our doors and windows (in November!) to drop the room temperature down to about 15,5 °C and that seemed to help. You want a rectangular shape, about 45 cm in the long dimension, with the dough a half-centimeter thick. Put the block of chilled butter (perhaps cut it into two skinny squares) in the middle of your rolled-out dough and fold the edges of the dough over it, like you’re wrapping up a present (and you are — the butter is the present to yourself).
  3. Beat the heck out of that butter-wrapped-in-dough package with your rolling pin. You want to flatten the butter inside its doughy sleeping bag. Try to maintain the rectangle shape; rotate the dough 90° every few whomps with the rolling pin. Sprinkle flour to cover up any spots where the butter might be leaching through. If the butter has warmed up during this process, stop and refrigerate your dough and don’t proceed until the butter is cold again.
  4. Fold it again, this time in thirds, like you’re mailing a letter of confession to your cardiologist. Let it rest for at least 10 minutes. Roll it out again to the rectangular shape. Do this at least two more times. On the last roll-out, sprinkle a little water onto the surface of the dough and then smooth it around with your hands.
  5. Starting on the long side of your rectangle, roll up the dough like it’s a treasure map (it is) you’re going to stuff into a bottle and set adrift on the open sea. Stop rolling when you get about half way and cut the roll away from the remaining flat dough. Put that roll aside in your freezer for another batch of natas. Roll up the remaining half of the dough in the same way.
  6. Cut the dough roll into about 1-inch segments. Each segment will become one pastel. Take a segment of the roll, rotate it onto its side (so the the layers inside the roll are visible to you), and with wet thumbs and fingers, squish the segment into the cupcake pan, drawing the dough up the sides of the cupcake mold from the center of the segment with your thumbs. It’s OK to have thinner pastry coverage at the bottom; you want it to be thicker around the edge at the top.

Custard Ingredients

200 g Sugar
175 ml water
1 lemon peel
1 cinnamon stick
17-20g corn starch (more starch = stiffer custard)
25 g Flour
250 ml Milk
5 egg yolks, lightly beaten

Instructions

  1. In a small saucepan, combine sugar, water, lemon zest and cinnamon stick. Let it come to boil in at medium heat. You don’t have to stir (much). Just let it come to a healthy boil.
  2. When it starts boiling, count 1 minute and remove from heat. Set it aside.
  3. In another pan, first combine flour and corn starch and then add the milk. Whisk it before putting it onto the stove. Cook the milk, flour and starch on low heat, always whisking.
  4. When the texture thickens, take it off the stove. Remove the lemon peel and cinnamon stick from the infused syrup you made and discard them. Gently, add the syrup to the milk, whisking it until it’s fully combined. Let it rest a little while before adding the egg yolks, tempering first.
  5. Whisk everything together, pass it through a strainer (if you didn’t temper the eggs effectively and have scrambled bits) and pour it into the dough cups, about 3/4 of the way full.

Baking Instructions

You want it as hot as your (home) oven can go. We get ours up to over 250 °C. Make sure it has plenty of time to preheat — at least 30 minutes. We turned the convection fan on for the bake. Ours were done after about 12 minutes of bake time. Don’t touch them while they’re baking, and try to let them cool a little before you put them in your mouth. They should pop out of your cupcake pan quite easily (thank you butter!) once they’ve cooled a bit. You can sprinkle them with sugar, cinnamon, both, or nothing.

Creamy Chicken Noodle Soup

The soup place I used to work at had a couple of varieties that they offered every day. Chicken Pot Pie Soup was one of them and it was outstanding! Thick and rib-sticky, with a topping of pie-crust crumbles to really make it feel indulgent. This is an approximation of that soup with a few more vegetables thrown in for good measure. Leave out noodles and add 2-3 diced potatoes and this could work as pot-pie filling.

2 T olive oil
5 T butter, divided
1 medium onion, diced
2 medium carrots, diced
3 celery stalks, diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
75 g all-purpose flour
1.5 L chicken stock
300-400 g shredded cooked chicken
1 t Brathähnchengewürz (rotisserie chicken seasoning; poultry seasoning should work here)
1/2 t thyme
1/2 t tarragon
200 mL boiling water
250 g (1/2 lb) short noodles
200 g frozen peas
50-75 mL cream
salt and pepper to taste

In a deep pot over medium-high heat, warm oil. Add 2 T butter, heat until starting to foam, then add onion, carrot, celery and garlic. Cook, stirring frequently, until tender and fragrant. Add 2-3 more T butter and cook until butter is deep golden and nutty smelling, then sprinkle flour over vegetable mixture. Lower heat to medium, stir until all flour is incorporated and roux turns dark blonde and nutty-bready smelling. Whisk in chicken broth in gradual additions to avoid lumps (3-4 additions will do). Add chicken, poultry seasoning, thyme and tarragon and bring to a boil, then lower heat to simmer for 6-8 minutes.

Turn heat back up and add boiling water. When boil is steady, add noodles and cook until about 2 minutes short of done. Add peas for final 2 minutes of noodle cook time. Remove from heat and stir in cream. Adjust seasonings and allow to sit covered for 5 minutes before serving.

Tiramisu

Sounds fancy, but it’s an icebox cake. Raw eggs are in there, so if that’s a dealbreaker, best skip this one.

500 g / 16 oz. Mascarpone cheese
157 g / 3/4 c sugar
2 eggs, separated (I use XL; if you use smaller eggs, you might need 3)
250 mL / 1 cup strong, cold coffee
3 T Marsala wine, DiSaronno almond liqueur, Frangelico hazelnut liqueur, whatever sweet booze you enjoy
1 large package ladyfinger cookies (min. 24 pieces)
grated chocolate or cocoa powder

  1. In a large mixing bowl, combine Mascarpone, sugar and egg yolks. Mix until well combined.

  2. Whip the separated egg whites until stiff peaks form. Fold whites into cheese until mixture becomes smooth and light – don’t overmix!

  3. Have a deep 9×13 ready! Pour coffee and liqueur into large shallow bowl or deep plate. Dip (but don’t soak) unsugared half of cookie into coffee mixture and place wet side down on bottom of 9×13. Repeat until dipped cookies cover the bottom of your pan, breaking up cookies as needed. Spread a thick layer of your cream mixture over the cookie layer. Dip and place another layer of cookies over the cream, then top with more cream. Keep going if you have enough cookies and cream left, just make sure you end with cream.

  4. Sprinkle grated chocolate or dust cocoa over the top. Refrigerate for at least 6 hours before serving.

Morbiflette (French Mountain Potato Gratin)

A couple of years ago, on a trip to France, we ended up poking around a Christmas market in Dijon. It was lunchtime and we were staring at a giant skillet (a poêle, linguistically related to paella) with potatoes and onions and bacon and cheese, all being stirred by strapping French country men. It was love at first sight. Chunks of Morbier cheese with its signature dark vein running through the center were on display, being tossed in as the cooks saw fit. We got a portion and split it. That was dumb; should’ve each gotten our own. After cross referencing multiple recipes, we FINALLY hit on a good reproduction.

The method is based on that of tartiflette, a potato dish developed in the 80s to promote Reblochon cheese. Reblochon is a much softer, brie-like cheese, as opposed Morbier, which you can slice. The firmer texture of Morbier is why I’ve upped the crème fraîche; runnier Reblochon made for a creamier finished product.

A note: you guys, it is SO EASY to mess up a gratin. Believe it or not, a pile of cheese and starch will be sad and bland if you don’t do the detail work. Think “eh, I don’t need to boil the potatoes, they’re going in the oven,” or “ew, I don’t want to cook the onions in bacon grease! I’ll use olive oil instead,” and you will ruin all your hard work. The potatoes need to be boiled in salted water or they’ll be gummy and bland. The onions need the bacon grease because of the smoky saltiness it imparts. The salt levels need to be checked and adjusted throughout the process to keep the flavors balanced. If you’re worried about this not being healthy, make something else. Cutting corners on this dish will render it inedible. A salad with a tart vinaigrette is the perfect accompaniment.

1 k or 2.2 lbs large waxy potatoes, peeled and cut into halves or thirds
2/3 t salt
200 g or 1/2 lb bacon
2 large onions, sliced into ribbons
2 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
100 mL or 1/2 c white wine (we forgot this, so we drank it with)
1/2 t dried thyme
75 g or 1/3 c crème fraîche
3 T heavy cream (forgot this too, but the texture would benefit)
300 g or 2/3 lb Morbier cheese, rind trimmed and sliced thickly (1/2 cm or 1/4 in)

In a large pot, cover the potatoes with cold water. Bring to a boil over high heat, add salt, stir and lower heat to a steady simmer. Cook potatoes for 15-20 minutes, or until easily pierced with a sharp knife. Drain potatoes and set aside to cool. Do not rinse potatoes!

Heat a large skillet to medium high and cook the bacon until browned and crispy. Set on paper-towel lined plate to cool. Turn heat down to medium and add onions to the skillet to cook in the bacon drippings (if there are a lot of drippings, remove all but 2 T and set aside to add in case pan starts to look dry). Cook until softened and starting to caramelize, stirring only occasionally. Add a pinch or two of salt if needed (onions shouldn’t taste salty, just very oniony) and chopped garlic for last 2-3 minutes of cooking. Remove onions to deep bowl.

Preheat oven to 220° C or 425° F. Lightly but thoroughly butter a medium to medium-large baking dish (several individual deep crocks would also be great for a crowd). Chop cooled bacon into bits and add to onions. Add thyme, crème fraîche and cream to onion mixture and stir until well distributed. Slice cooled potatoes into generous 1/2 cm or 1/4 in pieces.

Assembly
Layer half of potatoes on bottom of buttered dish, using broken bits to fill in gaps. Top with half of onion mixture, spread evenly. Top onions with half of Morbier slices (try to leave small margin around sides of pan). Repeat sequence until all ingredients used up.

Put pan in oven and lower heat to 200° C or 400° F. Bake for 30-40 minutes or until top is browned and bubbly. Let sit for 5-10 minutes before slicing.

One-Pot Spicy Rigatoni

I’m not a full convert, but I do dig this whole one-pot recipe craze. Especially with pastas, I find the noodles are particularly infused with flavor. We were inspired by this recipe, but made a few changes. I imagine it’s great with the chicken, but we’ve only ever had it without and it has never disappointed.

2 T olive oil
2 shallots, finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
2 roasted red bell peppers, roughly chopped
2 T tomato paste
1/2 c dry sherry
1 28 oz can stewed tomatoes
2 c water
2 T fresh oregano, finely chopped (or 2 t dried)
2 pinches dried red pepper flakes (3 if you like it spicy)
1/2 t salt
500 g Rigatoni (or other short pasta, tubes would be best)
1 T butter
10-15 basil leaves, torn
1/2 c Grana Padano, grated
3 T cream

In a deep pot, heat oil over medium-high heat. Sauté shallots and garlic until tender, then add peppers and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in tomato paste and cook until it begins to smell caramelized, then deglaze pot with sherry. Add tomatoes and break them up with a spatula. Add the water, oregano, pepper flakes and salt and bring to a boil.

Add the pasta and cook, stirring frequently, for 10-15 minutes or until almost tender. Turn heat down to low, add butter and basil. When butter is completely melted, add cheese and cream, stirring until integrated. Simmer for 5 minutes more, stirring all the time, then remove from heat. Let stand for a couple of minutes, then serve.

Orzo Asparagus Salad

Spargelsaison is fun, but it can be a little one-note if you don’t have a variety of preparations for the stuff. If you’re lucky enough to have grilling weather while the asparagus is as its peak, this is a fantastic way to serve it alongside burgers or sausages. I found the original here and have posted my version below.

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 shallots, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
250 g orzo pasta
at least 500 g green asparagus, cut into bite-sized pieces
about 300 g artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
1-1/2 cups sun-dried tomatoes in olive oil, julienned
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1/4 cup sherry vinegar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
1/3 cup olive oil

In a small skillet, heat olive oil to medium. Add shallot and garlic and cook until tender and fragrant. Set aside.

Cook orzo in salted water for 1 minute less than package directs. Add asparagus to orzo for last 2 minutes of cook time but no more! You want the asparagus to be bright green and still a little crispy when you drain the pasta. After draining the orzo and asparagus, run cold water over it immediately, agitating it frequently to make sure there are no pockets of heat. After draining and cooling, pour orzo and asparagus into a large salad bowl. Add artichokes and tomatoes to orzo bowl.

Remove shallot & garlic to a small deep bowl. Add lemon zest and juice, vinegar, salt and pepper to bowl. While whisking, drizzle in olive oil. Pour dressing over salad, stir thoroughly, cover and refrigerate for at least two hours. Stir again before serving.

Pasta e Fagioli (Pasta and Beans)

It is possible to eat too much pizza. For me, at any rate.

On our last jaunt through Italy, I kept meaning to order something that wasn’t pizza and failing spectacularly. Every region has different specialty toppings! I might miss out on something!! But when my body finally said NO MORE, I went for Pasta e Fagioli (pasta and beans) instead. And my goodness, was it ever rewarding. Borlotti beans are the creamiest, most flavor-absorbing beans I’ve ever come across. I plan to try making it sometime with dried beans, but this canned version comes together in a flash.

100 g diced pancetta or bacon
2 T olive oil
1 large or 2 small yellow onions, diced
3-4 cloves garlic, pressed
1/2 c/100 ml white wine
1/4 t red chili flakes
1 large sprig fresh rosemary leaves
4-6 sprigs fresh thyme leaves
2 bay leaves
1/2 t ground black pepper
4-5 c/1-1.25 L weak chicken broth
3 15 oz/400 g cans borlotti (cranberry) beans, drained and rinsed
1 generous c/250 g short pasta
1 c/200 mL boiling water (optional)
1/2 c/100 g grated Pecorino Romano or Parmesan cheese
1/4 c/50 g chopped parsley

Heat deep soup pot to medium heat. Add pancetta or bacon and cook, stirring frequently, until a little fat renders, then add olive oil. Turn heat to medium-low and add onions and garlic, stirring frequently until tender and translucent, but not browned. Add white wine, chili flakes, rosemary, thyme, bay leaves and black pepper, stirring until wine is mostly evaporated. Add chicken broth and beans and allow mixture to simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally and turning down heat if necessary.

After 10 minutes, remove bay leaves and strip rosemary and thyme leaves from sprigs, returning the leaves to the pot. Either mash some of the beans with the back of a spoon or briefly use a stick blender, making sure to leave about half of the beans intact. Add the pasta (if there’s not enough liquid to cook the pasta or the soup is already too thick, add the extra water) and cook until almost done. Remove from heat and cover for 5 minutes. Serve with grated Pecorino or Parmesan and chopped parsley.

Garlic Lemon Cream Pasta

I’ve been on the hunt for a creamy lemon sauce for years and have tried a few that just didn’t do it. They either weren’t lemony enough or had way too much cream (Cliff has no gall bladder – too much cream or butter does him in). This one finally has the right balance of flavor and creaminess. Here’s the original, with my version below.

1 T butter
1 T olive oil
3 large garlic cloves, minced
1 shallot, chopped
Zest of 1 lemon
2 c chicken or vegetable broth
1/4 cup capers
Juice of 1 lemon
1 c artichoke hearts
1/4 cup cream
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
1/2 t herbes des Provence
1 lb broccoli florets (optional)
1 lb pasta

Heat butter and oil to medium in a deep skillet. Sauté garlic, shallots and lemon zest until tender and fragrant. Add broth and simmer until reduced by half and syrupy*. Add capers, lemon juice and artichoke hearts and stir until heated through. Remove from heat and stir in cream and add salt, pepper and herbes. Set aside sauce. Cook pasta and broccoli to desired doneness, drain and toss with sauce.

*I wasn’t happy with the ‘syrupy’ texture and wanted the sauce to be a little thicker, so I added a cornstarch slurry (1 T cornstarch and 1 T water whisked until smooth). Pour the slurry into the simmering sauce and stir well until thickened, then proceed as above.

Cilantro Citrus Rice

Originally taken from here, but it wasn’t limey enough for my tastes. Also, if I crack open an orange or lemon, I’m going to use all its juice.

This is great as a side or as burrito filling.

3 cups jasmine rice
appropriate amount of water for 3 cups of rice in your rice cooker
2 bay leaves
3 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons canola oil
juice of 4 limes
juice of 1 lemon
juice of 1 orange
all the cilantro, fresh and chopped

Do the rice in your rice cooker with the bay leaves and salt. Remove the bay leaves when the rice cooker thinks it’s done. Don’t worry if the rice is still a little chewy at this point; it’ll soften up some more if you keep it hot in the rice cooker (the warming setting, or just don’t break the seal). Fluff up the rice and stir in the juices and oil. Add in the cilantro just before serving.