Sunday, April 21, 2013

Parmesan Souffle in Narnia

A Parmesan Souffle - it's been on my agenda all winter and since winter is still here - there's no time like the present to make it. It's official. The Winter Witch rules and we live in Narnia - waiting for Aslan to help us. The fishing opener is less than three weeks away and it doesn't look like there will be ice-out on any of the 10,000 lakes soon. Minnesotans are trying to hold on to their sense of humor - calling it the "ice fishing" opener. I foresee a whole lot of people in Bermuda shorts and snowmobile boots out on the lakes with axes trying to clear a path for their boats.  

I'm not a fussy cook and this is really a no-fuss souffle. Five ingredients (yeah ... a bunch of bowls) but a ten-minute prep time and flawless results. (Just get those souffles to the table ASAP - they do deflate - you have less than a minute of "ooh and ahh.")

The original recipe makes one huge souffle or six small ones. I made three, but will give you the recipe for six. Do bake them in 8-ounce ramekins. Making a large one could be tricky - but the smaller ones are fast and puffy! The recipe is from Food Network. Find the original recipe (with hints and tips) here.

Ingredients (for six 8 ounce Parmesan Cheese Souffles)
2 tablespoons unsalted butter - plus more for greasing ramekins
3/4 cup grated Parmesan (you can use a wee bit more) plus more for coating ramekins
2 cups whole milk
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper (I didn't use salt - the Parm has enough salt for me)
6 eggs - separated

Parmesan Souffle Preparation
Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Butter six 8-ounce ramekins and coat with Parmesan. Tap out excess. Set aside. Grate Parmesan. Separate eggs.

Heat milk over low heat in a small sauce pan. In a medium saucepan, melt butter and flour and stir for two minutes to "cook the flour." Whisk in the hot milk, bring to a boil and then to a simmer. Take pot off heat, add the grated cheese, salt and pepper to taste and then set in a bowl to cool.

In a mixer, whip egg whites until soft peaks form. Whisk egg yolks into cooled cheese-bechamel mixture. Add 1/3 of egg whites - fold in to lighten mixture. Slowly add  rest of egg whites. Divide into 6 ramekins. Bake 15 minutes until top is golden and souffles puff up. The middle may jiggle a bit.

Ironic that as I wait for spring, I concoct something fluffy and white. It's rich and while it is a winter balm - all comfort and warmth - the puffy lightness is a prelude to spring.

I may moan about the winter (because - I am good at it!) but you must also know - I thank my lucky stars that I can make a souffle, get up in the morning to work and "while away" the hours with loved ones and all of you. My heart - like everyone else's - has been in Boston all week. I am a huge fan of the city, the state and a great lover of the Boston Marathon.

Today, I minced apples to deliver to the robins. Worms are scarce and flocks of robins are in the crab-apple tree searching for last year's fruit. As I walked into the snow edging past  covered flower beds - I saw a tulip emerging in the new snow.  There are some things you can't keep down.

And then I came inside to the Jester of White Bear Lake. Who needed a purr and tummy rub. It's the "little things," you know? The "little things" that bring the good things.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Grape Focaccia, Gorgonzola Popped-Over Popovers and Snow

I've been cooking. A lot. But Saturday when I woke up to a fresh coat of snow and sleet for the 8th day in a row and realized the date in Minnesota was February 73, 2013, I went on strike. Well, I had a meltdown - because Minnesota isn't melting down any time soon.

"I'm having chocolate for dinner," I announced. And did. Of course I had something else with it. I also had Camembert.

This Grape Focaccia Bread is billed as a flatbread. It's more a combination of cracker bread on the outside and a flatbread texture in the middle. It's meant to be eaten as a snack as opposed to a side for a dinner. It's actually said to be a taste-treat made up for those who harvested the grapes for wine. I will attest - it's a fine snack for the spring-less soul.   And for those who crave a little wine with their snow.

What I did love - was the hint of sweetness without it being sweet (I'll save my sweet tooth for chocolate dinners, thank-you.) I also liked that it was easy. I have a short fuse these days and am not above throwing dough against walls if it frustrates me.

Focaccia with Grapes (Schiacciata con L'uva) - 1 large flatbread; about 24 servings
(The recipe is from Epicurious - I changed a little and will let you know along the way)

1 package active dry yeast (or 2-1/2 teaspoons)
3 tablespoons Chianti or another dry red wine
1 tablespoon honey
3/4 cup warm water (110-115 degrees F)
2-1/2 -3 cups Italian "oo" flour or a half-and-half mixture of all purpose flour with cake flour
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
3-1/2 cups Concord or champagne grapes (I used a little less of regular globe red grapes because I had them and it was snowing and I wasn't going out and the stores don't have the other grapes now anyway - yes the juice in the grapes will seep. So what? If using grapes with pits, don't pit. Warn your guests. (I'd still pit - yes, the juice would seep, etc.)
1/2 cup sugar (I used 1/4 cup)
I also sprinkled with dried thyme and if it wasn't snowing, I would have gotten fresh thyme

Stir together yeast, wine, honey and water until yeast is dissolved.*

*I stirred together the wine, honey and water and sprinkled the yeast on top - not having the yeast touch the honey until later. Let sit for ten minutes while the yeast becomes bubbly (about ten minutes). Then, stir in 1 cup of the flour and mix. Mixture will be lumpy. Cover with plastic wrap and a dish towel and let sit in a warm corner until doubled in size (about 50 minutes) and - in retrospect - I should have oiled the bowl a bit.)

Add oil, flour and salt and stir until a sticky dough forms. Put it out on a lightly-floured surface and knead for about 8-10 minutes until shiny and elastic. You can add up to an extra 1/2 cup of flour if dough is too wet. Put in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and dish towel and let sit until doubled in size - about an hour

Oil a baking pan (about 10x15x1 inch).

Turn out dough on work surface and and knead gently to reduce the air in the dough. Divide dough in half and roll out first half into a rectangle (about 10x15 inches to fit the pan - don't go nuts measuring - just stretch it as best you can. This is rustic.). Put in prepared pan.

Scatter half the grapes over the dough (gently press grapes into the dough) and then half the sugar over the grapes. (Again, I did not use 1/2 cup sugar and what I did do was mix the sugar in with grapes and then scattered them.) I then scattered some dried thyme.

Repeat. Lay the second dough over the first dough - stretching as much as possible to make the rectangles even. Scatter your grapes and sugar. Press grapes gently. Add a little thyme. Cover and let rise in a warm area until doubled in bulk - about an hour.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Bake 40-50 minutes - until the bread is well-browned and the middle is firm. Cool a bit. Slide off pan and cut into squares. Can be eaten warm or at room temperature.

The edges were more like a cracker bread and the inside was a lovely soft dough. I love the oozing of the grape juice. A little wine-spill on your bread! My two doughs did meld together for 3/4 of the bread - but in the last 1/4 - it seemed to be 2 separately cooked doughs on top of each other. But the dough had a mellow sweetness and the grapes gave bursts of wine-sugar that was most satisfying. Especially when it is sleeting.

And from Williams-Sonoma - a tiny taste treat. My sister made this during today's daily sleet. After this week, don't be surprised if you see us on street corners trying to give away baked goods.

Tiny Gorgonzola Popovers - makes 24  (they popped and went over - but everyone ate them - including Luce - don't write me letters - he's a fast, dexterous little fellow  Think of a squirrel with a nut - that's Luce with a popover.)

Vegetable oil, for brushing
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
1 tablespoon Italian parsley - minced (go for broke and use more - other herbs such as chives and thyme would also work)
1-1/4 cups milk at room temperature
2 eggs at room temperature
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
3 ounces Gorgonzola or other crumbly strong blue cheese - crumbled (use more).

Preheat oven to 450 Degrees F. Generously brush (really generously) 2 12-cup, non-stick mini muffin tins or popover tins.

In a large bowl, whisk flour, salt, white pepper and parsley. In  a large measuring pitcher, whisk together, milk, eggs and melted butter. Pour wet ingredients into dry and whisk together till just combined (may be a bit lumpy). Pour batter (or spoon it) into popover/muffin tin - leaving a 1/4 inch rim (so about 1-1/2 tablespoons of the batter in each). Put a scant teaspoon of the crumbled Gorgonzola into the middle of each of the filled tins (go for broke and use more). Bake for ten minutes (do not open door!). Lower oven temp to 350 degrees F and bake until browned, a wee bit crusty and puffed - about 8-10 minutes longer. Remove from oven, transfer popovers to a napkin lined-bowl. Serve at once or let cool on wire racks and serve at room temperature. Or - let sit on cooling racks for up to 2 hours and reheat in a 350 degree F oven for about 10 minutes.

They did deflate immediately - which we are trying to rectify - did we take them out too soon? No matter - they are a savory, creamy addition to a Sleety-Snowy-Sunday. We ate six each before anyone came home. No regrets. And no one knew exactly how many we made...

While Luce has proven himself to be an adept food thief - he does try to help with the dishes.

And then when your back is turned -

He's in the caviar.

But that's another blog post.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Tagliatelle with Black Truffles

The first time I had a truly fresh black truffle was in Perugia. Spaghetti with black truffles.

That was 19 months, 2 weeks and 2 days ago.

But who's counting?

It was our second to last meal in Italy. I hesitate to count the last one at the hotel by the airport...

If you swim in an ocean, waves of salt water filled your senses. The fresh salty air stays with you long after you've left the beach. And that's what having a fresh black truffle is like. Only, it's waves of the earth that rock you.

Musty, sensual ... downright sexy. They may be homely little creatures, but don't judge. These little black truffles flirt and charm and finally seduce.

After a snowy winter with cold temps below the usual frigid temperatures, I was not enamored of the outdoors. And so put nose-to-grindstone. And just wrote. With amazingly good results. My quirky And the Universe Didn't Blink was chosen as part of a Playwright's Tease evening in the Twin Cities - introducing Twin Cities playwrights to Twin Cities theatres (what a novel idea!). La Bella Cinderella won a playwrighting contest and will be touring the Prince George County Parks in Maryland this summer and Cap o' Rushes won another playwrighting contest and will be part of East Valley Children's Theatre season next year. (And I get to go to Arizona in the dead of the next Minnesota winter!) Heady stuff! Hence: the black truffle. I won't kid you - it's an investment.

The upside of using truffles is the recipes are just plain easy. The truffle does all the work - just by being.

Before cooking, I put Luce in jail.

Because he gets into things.

This is from Mary Ann Esposito's Ciao Italia in Umbria. Aside from changing the shape of the pasta, I kept the recipe as is. I thought the truffles would stick better to the tagliatelle than the spaghetti. When you invest in a truffle - you don't waste.

You just boil your pasta and then stick it in a skillet and you're done. My kind of recipe.

Tagliatelle with Black Truffles (Tagliatelle ai Tartufi Neri)
2 fresh black truffles (1/3-1/2 ounce); can also use canned - don't shudder
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil (I used a little less)
1 pound tagliatelle (or spaghetti or bucatini or fettuccine...)
2 garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons pasta water
Grated pecorino or Parmesan cheese for passing
*I also used some black pepper (In Perugia - they also added Italian parsley and some chili pepper flakes)

I just wanted the truffle! So I left it plain.

The night before or the morning before:
Clean truffles gently. Then: slice thin or grate or shred or peel the truffles and put them in a shallow bowl. Pour some extra-virgin olive oil over them and let them sit overnight or all day covered with plastic wrap - at room temperature.

Cook pasta according to package directions. While pasta is cooking, heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil from the truffles in a large skillet. (I didn't - I used fresh olive oil - I didn't have enough extra oil - the mushrooms soaked them up - so maybe be very generous when pouring your olive oil over the sliced truffles).

Cook the garlic very gently in the olive oil. (I warmed them for awhile and kept the heat on low heat).

Turn off heat and add the rest of the olive oil and the truffles.

Drain the spaghetti reserving 2 tablespoons of the pasta water. (I used less olive oil and more pasta water.)

Add the drained pasta and pasta water to skillet. I added some black pepper. Toss. Again and again. Serve, passing cheese separately.

I've spent 18 months pondering the life of our universe - how a young girl might be comforted by the loss of a loved one if she understood how connected we all are to each other through it's presence. The truffle may not connect me to the universe but it does give you the earth. The beauty of it - is its taste is the song of the earth. I will be investing (without taking out a second mortgage) in the Oregon truffles - they don't travel as much and may be just fine for my needs. And I will be trying the jarred ones.

My truffle came from Urbani in New York City via Italy. It was quite good - but not as perfumed as the one in Perugia. Traveling does that to a mushroom. But no regrets - it capped a Siberian winter and welcomed spring. (I think it's coming - the ducks are back - looking at the frozen lakes and no doubt quacking expletives.)

Still pondering a blog for Luce - or a picture book. Wonder at the wisdom of giving him such an elegant name.

Secretly he's a Guido.