Garniture, Random Thoughts, Science, Soup, Vegetables

Looking through a glass onion.

Sometimes dining is about pure familiarity. I think this is what people mean when they refer to “comfort food” – things we know well from long experience, possibly even childhood. “Comfort food” has always struck me as a ridiculous term – isn’t eating an inherently comforting experience? – but I have to admit that certain foods spread the warmth more than others. For me, it’s brown butter, runny yolk eggs, pretty much any potato dish, crispy sage, and puréed anything. Melted cheese, especially when it browns and crisps around the edges, roasted chicken about half an hour out of the oven, that peculiarly rich, tallowy taste of short rib, and the unctuous quality of pork belly and fresh ham … to me, these are the ultimate comfort foods. Great flavor, great texture, totally easy to eat, remind you of home.

One of the quintessential comfort tastes, in my opinion, is the caramel-sweet, savory taste of long-cooked onions. Confit onions – golden brown from slow poaching in butter or oil – are one of the great additions to flatbreads (as in pissaladière), and make a rich jam that pairs well with fruit, foie, and roasted meats alike. And they’re a component of the rustic French classic onion soup, which relies on few ingredients – deeply caramelized onions, beef stock, a little wine, and Gruyère croutons – for its complex savor. It’s a brilliant dish, because every aspect of the soup leads to that culinary ideal, umami. The so-called fifth taste, umami signifies depth of flavor, savoriness. Chemically, it represents the taste imparted by the amino acid L-glutamate and 5’-ribonucleotides such as guanosine monophosphate (GMP) and inosine monophosphate (IMP). Glutamates are present in onions, wine, cheese, and beef – when they unite for classic onion soup, they form a virtual umami bomb.

Here’s the thing about onion soup, though. No one I know eats it all that often, and you know why? Because onion soup is a pain in the ass. In practice, it’s often the opposite of comfort food. I’m not talking about the cooking process – the best “comfort foods” are not easy to turn out well unless the cook invests some care and attention to detail – but the eating. What could be more discomfiting than fighting your way through a tough raft of toasted bread crust, choking on a tough string of poorly-caramelized onion, or trying to get that long strand of Gruyère into your mouth without alienating your dining companions or getting soup all over your shirt? Bad texture equals discomfort. And that’s why no one makes it anymore, not even all those people who received those stupid handled soup bowls as wedding gifts back in the Seventies.

I modernized the old onion soup by turning its stringy onion component into a transparent, glassy onion chip and a quenelle of onion confit, and by turning the giant raft of cheese bread into crispy Gruyère croutons. Pour in a rich beef consommé and enjoy as the onion transparency – which tastes like a caramelized onion chip – and the sweet onion confit melt into the soup, and you get a cheesy, soup-soaked crouton or two in every bite. It’s kind of a labor-intensive dish, I’m not going to lie, but it’s really good onion soup, and as a bonus you won’t have to figure out how to scrape burned cheese off the edges of your wedding registry soup tureens.

Modern onion soup

If you are intimidated or otherwise put out by the idea of making consommé, skip the clarification step. Just make sure your stock is well-defatted and as clear as you can get it – strain it through a cheesecloth-lined chinois (or if you don’t have a chinois, through a strainer lined with a triple thickness of cheesecloth, or a paper towel). Season the stock well with salt and a little soy sauce (for umami). I encourage you to make the consommé, though. The simmering with the meat and vegetables in the raft imparts additional flavor even as the egg white clarifies the soup.

For the onion confit:

Four large red onions (about 4 lbs), peeled and sliced thinly pole to pole
grapeseed oil or beef tallow from making stock, above
salt
1 tsp sherry vinegar

Place a large sauté pan over medium low heat and, when hot, add about 2 tbsp oil (better yet, use beef tallow skimmed from making stock). Add the onions and about 1 tsp salt and toss well in the oil to coat. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting and let the onions cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, until deep purplish-brown, sticky, reduced, and jam-like, about 3 hours or more. About an hour before finishing, add the sherry vinegar.

You can hold this in the refrigerator for a week.

For the beef stock:

5 lbs oxtail
2 lbs beef bones, preferably knuckle
1 1/2 lb lean beef, preferably the round and the flank, diced
2 medium carrots, scraped and diced
one large onion, quartered
one celery stalk, peeled and diced
bouquet garni of leek, parsley, bay, thyme
1/2 tbsp black peppercorns
4 whole cloves
1 small star anise
2 c dry white wine
3 tbsp tomato paste
salt

Oven 400F/205C.

Roast the beef bones on a sheet pan until they begin to brown. Turn over. Add the vegetables to the pan and toss in the beef fat. Return to the oven and brown.

Remove everything to a stockpot and add the herbs, spices, tomato paste, white wine, and cold filtered water to cover. Bring to a simmer slowly, skimming to remove impurities. Simmer for about four hours. Strain through a chinois. Remove as much fat as possible by skimming (or chilling and removing the solid fat). If you are making consommé, proceed to the next step. Otherwise, scroll down past the consommé step.

To make consommé:

10 egg whites
1 lb very lean and flavorful beef (such as flank), ground – do not use a fatty cut
1 each, diced: leek (white and light green only), carrot, celery
2 tomatoes, diced (flesh only)

Beat the egg whites with a whisk until foamy (not an aerated foam, just foamy). Combine with the ground meat, vegetables, and tomato.

Stir the mixture into four quarts of the defatted stock. Bring to a simmer, stirring gently but fairly frequently. As the mixture heats, the egg white will coagulate, trapping the solids and other impurities in the stock. This happens over around 165F/74C. Once the raft begins to form, stop stirring. Let the raft collect on top of the stock. Once the mixture comes to a simmer, maintain a low simmer. Do not let it boil. Using a ladle, push a hole through the raft. Periodically ladle a small amount of stock over the raft to baste it. Otherwise, do not touch the raft, and do not stir the stock. The raft, true to its name, should remain afloat.

Even though you don’t touch the stock during this time, don’t walk away. After about an hour to 90 minutes, the raft will begin to sink slightly. This is your sign that the consommé is done – if you keep cooking, it will fall apart and ruin your beautiful clear soup.

If you have a spigot-type pot, drain the consommé from the bottom of the pot, being careful not to drain any portion of the raft. The first cup of consommé from the spigot may be sediment; drain off first and discard before proceeding. If you do not have a spigot-type pot, remove the consommé by pouring off very carefully so you do not break the raft. Strain the consommé through a chinois lined with two layers of cheesecloth.

1/4 dry sherry
salt
bay leaf (optional)
4-5 thyme branches (optional)
soy sauce (optional)

Flavor the consommé or the stock with sherry and salt. If using just stock, you may want to bring it back to a simmer with bay and thyme for 30 minutes for additional flavor, and season with a little soy sauce as well as salt, for additional umami.

For the croutons:

1 loaf pain de campagne, crust removed, cut into 1/4″ cubes (1/2″ is fine if you can’t manage smaller)
8 oz Gruyère
olive oil

Oven 375F/190C.

Toss the bread cubes very lightly in olive oil and place on a sheet pan lined with silpat. Bake until light golden.

Grate the cheese amply using a Microplane over the croutons. Return to the oven until just melted.

To assemble the soup:

Ladle consommé or soup into individual serving vessels (I use gravy boats or sake bottles, depending on the mood). Heat your soup bowls. Place cheesy croutons in the bottom of soup bowls with a quenelle of onion confit.

Gruyère frico, onion confit, crouton. Oxtail consommé on the side.

Place an onion transparency over the top and serve with consommé in a small vessel.

Onion transparency, consommé.

Tap the transparency lightly with a spoon to break it into the bowl.

Break the glass.

Pour the consommé over all.

Pour the consommé.

Onion transparency

I owe Aki Kamozawa and Alex Talbot of Ideas in Food for the glass onion idea; I read about it on their excellent blog three or four years ago and have used the method ever since to produce other fruit and vegetable transparencies. Apple, greengage plum, sweet pickle, and carrot are favorites; kimchi is swell too.

Liquid glucose is available through a baking supply (Michael’s Crafts carries it in small tubs in the cake decorating section).

750g yellow onions (about 2 extra large or four medium), peeled and sliced thinly
150g liquid glucose, about 1/3 c
75g water, about ¼ c
50g agave syrup (about 2 tbsp)
5g salt (about 1 tsp)

Combine all the ingredients in a saucepot. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring to dissolve all the sugars. The mixture will become more liquid as the onions give up water. Reduce heat to the lowest setting.

The mixture will become golden as the sugar cooks. Reduce until the liquid volume is about 1/3 of the peak volume (after onions give up their water initially). Don’t overreduce or you will have problems puréeing. Transfer to a vitaprep or blender and purée until very smooth. If you have one, push the mixture through a tamis (drum sieve) to remove any fine fibers. Cool in the refrigerator for about an hour.

Oven 200F/95C convection.

Perform this step in batches. Place a silpat on a baking sheet and spread the onion purée thinly on the silpat in the desired shape and size. Bake until the onion bubbles up from the silpat and becomes more golden, about 30 mins to 2 hours depending on the thickness of the transparency. Working quickly, remove transparencies using a fish spatula or offset spatula and place on a clean flat surface – they should lift easily from the silpat. The transparencies will be somewhat flexible while on the hot pan but should become crisp immediately on cooling. If not, or if they seem fruit-leathery, they are not completely dry; return them to the oven. If you work quickly while they are hot, you may be able to form tuile shapes.

Store tightly sealed (with a dessicant packet if you have it). Serve with meat or grilled vegetable dishes.

Short rib, beech + maitake, oxtail consommé, onion transparency.

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Brassicas, Random Thoughts, Vegetables

Romanesco.

Recently, on the way home from the office, we stopped at the market to pick up a few things and wait out the traffic. You know how it is – you walk into the store thinking you’re just going to pick up a box of pasta, and the next thing you know, you’ve been sidetracked by the golden beets. On the way out of the produce section, I spotted something irresistible.

Romanesco cauliflower.

In the checkout lane, it was inevitable that someone would ask, because the vegetable in question is a headturner. A woman in the next aisle leaned over. “What is that?” she asked, turning it over.

“Ah,” I said. “That is romanesco. People always describe it as a cross between broccoli and cauliflower because of the color, but it’s not. It’s actually an old variety of cauliflower.”

Moments later, I heard the bagger ask the cashier about the romanesco. “Oh, that’s broccoflower,” he said. “It’s a cross between broccoli and cauliflower. It tastes just like both!”

I’m not usually committed enough to being right that I need to be a total jerk, so I didn’t say anything. Some people, not so much. Years ago, in San Francisco, a casual chat with a total stranger at the Real Foods Market on Polk Street nearly came to blows when the woman in question insisted, beyond the point of obnoxiousness, that shallots were “scallions” and scallions were “leeks.” Oh, and for the record, she was the one who cocked her fist, not me. But enough about that. Actually, romanesco – a cauliflower variety sometimes described as a type of broccoli and infrequently even described as a cabbage – isn’t a cross. It’s just a variety of cauliflower which, like cauliflower and cabbage, is a type of Brassica oleracea. The conical spire pattern that characterizes the romanesco has been described as a striking natural illustration of the fractal – a recursive geometric pattern – although the romanesco’s spires don’t continue endlessly. Look closer at each the bumps on each spire – each one looks like a miniature of the larger ones. It’s one of the most beautiful vegetables.

Don’t be intimidated by the romanesco’s appearance. You can cook it just as you would any other cauliflower, although you should take into account its chartreuse cast and gothic appearance if the aesthetics of the dish are important. As with all brassicas, it shouldn’t be overcooked or it turns to mush and smells cabbage-y. Conversely, if you have no romanesco, try any of these recipes with cauliflower.

Romanesco, crispy capers, lemon

A little like the classic bagna càuda, this packs the punch of olive oil and anchovies. Unlike that Piedmontese dish, though, this features fried capers and lemon. The romanesco becomes sweet and caramel-y with its dip in the boiling oil.

one head romanesco cauliflower
1 1/2 tbsp capers, salt- or brine-packed
4 anchovies
2 c olive oil
one lemon
Salt
flat leaf parsley

Divide the romanesco head into its spires/florets. Cut the center core into chunks about the size of one of the smaller spires, if you like. Coarsely chop the anchovies.

If necessary (only if using salt-packed capers), soak the capers, rinse, and repeat to remove excess salt. You can skip this step if using brine-packed capers.

Place a saucepot filled with oil over medium heat and, when hot (350F/177C), add the romanesco florets. Don’t crowd the pot; fry in batches. Fry until golden brown. The size of the florets will reduce by about 30-40% as they lose water during frying. Drain on paper towels over a rack.

After frying all the romanesco, fry the anchovies and capers until the blossoms open; this takes only about 20-30 seconds. Toss with the romanesco. Squeeze a lemon and sprinkle parsley over all. Season lightly with salt if necessary (the capers and anchovies are pretty salty; you may not need salt).

Romanesco, crispy capers, anchovies, lemon.

Romanesco, brown butter

Tip for the haters: brown butter makes any vegetable delicious. Case in point: my husband claims to dislike cauliflower, but the other night, he went back for seconds of romanesco cooked sous vide in brown butter. That may have had something to do with the house-cured bacon, braised whole and served with a marchand de vin- style bacon sauce, but I just want to remind anyone who’s still reading that he did NOT have to have seconds of the romanesco.

What makes brown butter and romanesco even better is a bit of pungency and acid to cut the richness. Try sage leaves, capers or a small amount of diced kimchi – yes, kimchi. Brown butter and kimchi taste amazing together. Substitute capers or a little diced kimchi for the sage leaf if you want to try something different.

one head romanesco cauliflower
4 tbsp unsalted butter, divided
4-6 sage leaves
1/2 lemon
sea salt

450F/232C oven.

Divide the romanesco into its spires/florets, or, if you like, slice it into 1/2″ thick steaks. Toss with oil and spread on a sheet pan. Roast until golden brown.

Place a small saucepan over medium heat and, when hot, add the butter. Watch as it melts and foams; as it turns golden brown and smells nutty, add the sage leaves and fry until crisp. Add about 1 tbsp of lemon juice to the butter and remove from heat. Toss with the romanesco and season with salt.

Instead of roasting, if you have an immersion circulator or another sous vide apparatus, set it to 185F/85C. Season the romanesco with salt and seal in a plastic bag. Cook for 25 minutes. Remove from immersion circulator. Toss with the brown butter before serving.

House cured bacon, bacon reduction, 85C romanesco, brown butter.

Romanesco, cocoa

I see you backing away in fear, but trust me – this is a well-known taste pairing. As the Khymos folks (or whatever the singular of folks is) have noted, they go really well together (TGRWT). I don’t know why, from a scientific standpoint. It seems that the bitterness and slight acidity of the chocolate balance the sweetness of the caramelized cauliflower, while the fruitiness/nuttiness of the chocolate bring out those qualities in the cauliflower. So both contrast and synergy appear to be at work.

This is the easiest dish I could conceive to introduce the pairing. Romanesco – caramelized by frying rather than roasting, which takes babysitting to avoid burning – gets a quick dusting in chocolate shavings. If you try and like it, let me know and I’ll post some recipes for more interesting dishes, like roasted cauliflower flan and cocoa tuiles.

one head romanesco cauliflower
2 c grapeseed oil
small bar of unsweetened chocolate OR unsweetened cocoa powder
sea salt, preferably something with texture like Maldon or Halen Môn

Divide the romanesco head into its spires/florets. Cut the center core into chunks about the size of one of the smaller spires, if you like.

Place a saucepot filled with oil over medium heat and, when hot (350F/177C), add the romanesco florets. Don’t crowd the pot; fry in batches. Fry until golden brown. The size of the florets will reduce by about 30-40% as they lose water during frying. Drain on paper towels over a rack.

After frying all the romanesco, season with sea salt. Shave the unsweetened chocolate over the romanesco with a microplane (for grating hard cheese). Alternatively, sift some unsweetened cocoa through a sieve over the fried romanesco.

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Cheese, Italian, Random Thoughts, Science

It’s easy being cheesy.

One of the worst feelings from a cook’s standpoint is the realization that you’re missing an ingredient you were sure you had. It’s happened to us all – you go to prepare a mise en place and discover you left eggs off your shopping list, or could have sworn you had celery left over from making stock, but were mistaken. In our house, it’s usually lemons. My husband makes great iced tea, heavy on the lemons, and is notorious for using the last three or four lemons in the refrigerator in the process. At these times, I envy my brother and his wife, who live in Los Angeles and have a giant, ever-bearing lemon tree right outside the kitchen window. I can’t say I normally envy anyone who lives in Los Angeles, but I make exceptions.

Ricotta used to be the great missing ingredient. In June, when the courgette plants were putting out dozens of blossoms a week, we’d come home from work every day eager to stuff them with ricotta, only to remember that we had none. Summer peaches from the farmstand called for a squeeze of lemon, a shred of mint, and a spoonful of ricotta, except we almost always had to leave off the ricotta. In winter, gnocchi invariably were made with potato, not ricotta. One day, I realized that we were depriving ourselves unnecessarily. With a quart or two of milk from the 7-11 next door and a little vinegar, we could have fresh ricotta in less than half an hour.

Soft, mildly tangy, and sweet, true ricotta is one of the ultimate examples of frugal cuisine. During cheesemaking, an enzymatic or chemical coagulant such as rennet combines with casein and other milk proteins to form curds. The remaining liquid, called whey, is drained off, and the curds are pressed to make cheese or used immediately as fresh cheese. Although the curds contain most of the milk’s proteins and fats, some remain in the whey, and to extract these, Italian cheesemakers make ricotta. Ricotta means “re-cooked,” and ricotta represents the second use of the milk – a use for the whey that separates from the curds. Traditionally, the whey would be left to ferment and become acidic, and then heated. The acid and heat together cause the protein strands in the whey to unravel and link together, forming clumps or curds. Once again, the liquid is drained off, and the remaining soft white curd – ricotta – is used fresh or salted and pressed to make a firm cheese – ricotta salata – suitable for crumbling or grating.

Because whey contains relatively little milk protein, true ricotta-making is a low yield process. In the United States, most of the whey from the cheesemaking process is dehydrated and used in food processing to add certain milk proteins to baked goods and other products, in animal feed, and in dietary supplements. For this reason, consumer demand for ricotta far exceeds the amount of whey available for ricotta-making. Americans consume about 13 ounces of ricotta per capita per year, and although that might not seem like much, it’s about 250 million pounds for the United States as a whole. Production of this quantity of ricotta would require at least 2 billion gallons (about 8 billion liters) of whey. So supermarket-brand “ricotta” generally is made entirely from milk, or a combination of milk and whey, and is not as much a frugal product as it is a creamy, delicious one. Rather than acidifying the milk through fermentation, most ricotta is made with citric acid or distilled white vinegar, which – in addition to being much faster and safer than overnight fermentation – lends a clean-tasting mild sourness to the cheese. Milk plus vinegar? You can make it at home.

Ricotta offers some of the same qualities as the fresh cheeses it resembles, such as the Indian classic paneer, the Mexican queso fresco, and farmer’s cheese. Because acid-coagulated cheeses comprise firm clumps of tightly bound milk protein, they do not melt when heated but just dry out. Have you ever tried to melt paneer or ricotta? You can’t. They may shed water, leaving behind an even drier curd, but they won’t melt, so don’t try. When cooking with ricotta (as in a squash blossom filling, or a ricotta pie), keep it moist by combining the ricotta with beaten egg so the egg proteins bind with the liquid in the ricotta to form something almost akin to a custard that holds the ricotta in place. Or dollop it on top of pizza (see recipe below), and bake just long enough to warm it through. Take advantage of its mild richness in gnocchi or cavatelli (also see below). In summer, don’t bother cooking it at all – fresh ricotta makes the perfect addition to a salad of peaches, zucchini, raw beets, and other vegetables. Lemon or lime zest and a pinch of salt bring out its sweet qualities.

Summer salad of peaches, zucchini, fresh ricotta, lemon.

Ricotta

You can try making this with sheep’s milk, if you can find it. Citric acid is typical of Italian ricotta production, but can be slightly more difficult to find in the United States than vinegar. If you’d like to try the citric acid method, look in the kosher foods section of the supermarket for “sour salt.”

2 quarts (1.9 liters) milk, preferably not ultra-pasteurized
4 tbsp distilled white vinegar OR 1/2 tsp citric acid (sour salt)
½ tsp kosher salt

You also will need a thermometer accurate under 200F/93C; a colander; and butter muslin, cheesecloth, or paper towels.

Line your colander with paper towels, cheesecloth (a double or triple thickness), or butter muslin.

Combine the milk, salt, and vinegar or citric acid in a clean saucepot. Clip the thermometer on the side of the pot.

Heat slowly to at least 165F/74C but not more than 180F/82C. Don’t walk away – once milk starts to heat, it can become too hot quickly. Stir gently but often with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon to prevent milk solids from sticking to the bottom of the pan and burning.

As the temperature increases, curds will begin to form. At first these will seem just like grainy white bits, but eventually, as nearly all the protein clumps, the curds will separate from the whey, leaving behind a fairly clear, slightly greenish-yellow fluid. Don’t worry if you don’t notice curds below 165F – once it starts to curd, it curds quickly. During this time, as you wait for the milk to curdle, keep the temperature stable – don’t let it keep increasing above 180F. Reduce heat if necessary. Once the curds and whey have separated, turn off the heat, take the pan off the heat, and allow to sit for about 5-10 minutes to let the curds come together. Don’t stir too vigorously.

Using a skimmer or a slotted spoon, gently scoop off the curds. Spoon into the lined colander. Leave the whey behind. If you like, you can drink it (but it will be quite sour) – that greenish-yellow cast is the essential vitamin riboflavin. Don’t try to use it again to make true ricotta – it won’t work.

Leave the ricotta to drain. You should have about 2 cups (just under a pound). After about 20-30 minutes, the curds will be thick but soft and creamy. If you want to use the ricotta for a baked good, or in gnocchi, let it drain overnight. In such cases, I recommend changing the lining in the colander and, for the driest possible ricotta, weighting the towel- or cheesecloth-wrapped ricotta with a heavy can to press down on the solids.

Ricotta, after an hour.

Note: If you have access to true whey from cheesemaking, you can use it to make ricotta by this method. Expect a far lower yield (generally about 1/2 cup of cheese per gallon of whey).

Cavatelli or gnocchi

As with any other gnocchi, the key to light ricotta dumplings is to work in as little flour as possible. To accomplish this, the ricotta should be barely moist and a little crumbly by the time you incorporate the other ingredients, or you will wind up using a lot of flour. Eggs bind together the ricotta and flour. Precise measurements will get you in trouble here – you should rely on feel and appearance to guide you.

“00″ flour is low protein and, accordingly, develops less gluten upon kneading. If you can find it, use it. Otherwise, all-purpose flour is fine.

16 ounces ricotta (about 2 1/2 cups)
1 tbsp kosher or sea salt
1 egg and 1 egg yolk, lightly beaten
roughly 1 c “00″ flour, or all-purpose, more or less

Combine the ricotta and salt and place in a cheesecloth-lined strainer. Twist the cheesecloth to cover the ricotta. Place a weight such as a heavy can, on top and refrigerate, covered, for up to two days. Discard the liquid.

Set water to boil.

Turn the ricotta into a clean bowl and add the olive oil and eggs. Combine well. Spread the flour in an even pile on a clean wooden board and place the ricotta mixture in the center of the flour. Pile half the flour from the sides onto the top of the ricotta and, using a bench scraper, cut the flour in (as one would for biscuits), scraping from beneath the ricotta and bringing it to the top, and repeating. The dough will come together but will be sticky. Sprinkle in a little more flour and knead lightly.

When you reach the point that the dough holds together and is no longer sticky or tacky, divide it into four pieces and roll each out into a long log about 3/4″ in diameter. The more quickly you roll and the less pressure you apply, the easier this will be. Using the bench scraper, cut each roll into 1/2″ pieces.

To form cavatelli, roll each gnoccho toward you on a lightly floured cutting board with your index and middle fingertips, pressing down lightly as you roll. Alternatively, roll using the tines of a fork, pressing down slightly as you reach the tip of the tines.

Cavatelli.

Cook the gnocchi or cavatelli immediately in simmering salted water. Once they float, remove with a slotted spoon. Sauce as desired – tomato sauce with cheese, meat ragù, and sage brown butter are among the many excellent choices. To freeze uncooked excess gnocchi, spread in a single layer on a sheet pan (preferably lined with a silpat). Freeze until solid and then scoop into a plastic bag.

Ricotta cavatelli, beef short rib, veal stock reduction, Parmigiano-Reggiano

For sage brown butter:
1/2 c plus several additional tablespoons unsalted butter
24 sage leaves
juice of 1/4 lemon
sea salt
grated Parmigiano-Reggiano

Heat 1/2 c unsalted butter in a small saucepan; when foamy, add sage leaves and fry until crisp. Remove with a slotted spoon and continue cooking butter until nutty and deep golden brown; add a squeeze of lemon and pinch of sea salt. Drizzle the brown butter over the gnocchi and garnish with fried sage and grated Parmigiano-Reggiano.

Optional: To brown the gnocchi, place a skillet over medium heat and add a small knob of butter; when brown and bubbling, add gnocchi to the pan and fry, turning once when golden.

Flatbread, ricotta, red onion confit

Makes 2 14-inch flatbreads:

Basic dough for flatbread [adapted from Rose Levy Berenbaum, The Bread Bible]

1/2 lb all-purpose flour
1 tsp instant yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 tsp kosher salt
2/3 c water 90F
1 tbsp olive oil
cornmeal, as needed

Combine all the dry ingredients except the salt in a bowl, whisking well. Add the salt and whisk well. Form a well and add the water. Stir until just combined – the dough will be ragged and floury. Form a rough ball.

Place the olive oil in a larger bowl. Add the dough and coat well. Cover tightly and rise for about 90 mins in a proofing box or from 8-48 hours in the refrigerator. If refrigerated, remove the dough and rest for an hour at room temperature before proceeding.

600F oven or as close as possible. Preheat with a pizza stone or unglazed terracotta tiles.

Punch down the dough and divide into six balls. Stretch each ball into a flat disk. Allow to rest, covered, for about 30 minutes.

Sprinkle pizza peel with cornmeal and place crust on peel. Load onto baking stone or tiles. Parbake the crust in the heated oven for about 3-4 minutes until just firm but not golden. Remove and cool slightly. Top as follows.

For the topping:

1/4 lb pancetta or unsmoked bacon, thinly sliced [the photo below depicts house-made unsmoked bacon]
1/4 lb fresh ricotta
1 lb red onions (2 large), peeled and sliced thinly pole to pole
olive oil
salt and pepper
handful flat leaf parsley, coarsely chopped

Place a large saute pan over medium heat. When hot, add the pancetta or bacon slices and cook until completely cooked through but not deeply browned. Remove to a rack or paper towels to drain. Note: you can make this a vegetarian flatbread by leaving off the bacon/pancetta; just increase the amount of olive oil in the next step.

Add 1 tbsp olive oil if necessary and the onions to the pan. Season lightly with salt. Reduce the heat slightly and stir the onions to coat well with oil. Allow to cook undisturbed until onions begin to color, about 20 minutes. Stir the onions and continue cooking until onions are deep golden brown. Set aside.

Brush the parbaked crust with olive oil and season with pepper. Arrange an thin layer of onions over all. Distribute pancetta slices and dollops of ricotta cheese over onions. Bake for 5 minutes until crust is golden.

Garnish with chopped parsley and sea salt. Slice and serve.

Flatbread, ricotta, red onion confit (foreground).

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Cheese, Holidays, Soup

Erratum – FYI to Blog Subscribers

Hey y’all! This is just an erratum for subscribers.

In my last post, Packers Packers Packers, the recipe for Beer cheddar soup contains an error. The recipe calls for 2 cups of stock or water. It should call for one cup.

The correction already appears in the online edition but will not appear in the version e-mailed to subscribers. I apologize for the error.

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