Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Strawberry-Rhubarb Crostata

Strawberry season is upon us! I am so excited that spring is here and there are so many lovely things in season. I start to feel a mild sense of panic about taking advantage of all the seasonal items (e.g. I'm kind of obsessed with English peas at the moment). It was this sense of panic that led me to buy rhubarb. As for the strawberries, basically as soon as we are within a few weeks of strawberry season I start salivating and camp outside the local farmer's markets to get the first baskets.
In a fortunate coincidence, my latest issue of Bon Appétit arrived in the mail last week and I eagerly sat down with it and a cup of tea. It was the first issue under the new editor, Adam Rapoport (former editor of GQ) - very exciting. I really enjoyed it, I was a little hesitant at first but ultimately I warmed to it. You could definitely see the GQ-influence, I think it seems more chic and more content-rich. Not to mention a nice piece on fashion famiglia, the Missoni's. 
While devouring my new mag I stumbled upon a rhubarb recipe and was immediately taken by the photo (I also really liked that they used whole wheat flour in the crust - that way I can convince myself that this qualifies as a "healthy" recipe . . . I block out the 1 1/2 sticks of butter that are involved).

I won't give you the play by play of the recipe because you can find it right here...

 . . .but I thoroughly enjoyed making it (and eating it for that matter).

My one stumbling block with the recipe came with the step where they instruct you to bring the fruit and cornstarch mixture to a boil and then turn off the heat. I think mine didn't have enough liquid to boil without burning, hence the beautiful pan artwork below.
The recipe is obviously a raspberry-rhubarb crostata but I had strawberries, so that's what I did.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Fava Beans - Spring's frustrating gift

The very first 'find' I happened upon at the Alemany farmer's market was a huge bundle of pea greens with  peas and flowers dripping off the leaves. I asked the vendor how much they were, and she quickly said, "a dollar!" I wasn't sure if the greens were to be used as decor or food, but at the bargain price of one dollar I knew that I had to have them.
I also bought fava beans. Having never actually cooked fava beans myself (I honestly think I was biased against them because of 'Silence of the Lambs' - my apologies to the favas), I decided to try it out.
I initially assumed that favas would be just like all other beans - shell, cook, eat. I was incorrect. My first step was spot on - shell the beans.
The beans have a tough outer shell so once you shell the beans you have to blanch them and then the fun really begins. Once blanched, you squeeze the bean meat out of the waxy outer shell. Finally you have an edible fava bean! (The other fun part of cooking fava beans is that, when you blanch the beans, in my opinion, they smell horrid - taste great, smell awful.)
Note the beans in their waxy outer shell
To make the sauce, I browned some hot Italian sausage in a little bit of olive oil. Once browned, I removed the sausage and caramelized a few sliced shallots in the fat (yum). Next, I de-glazed with a generous pour of white wine (making sure to scrape up all the delicious browned bits). I seasoned with a few fresh herbs (oregano, thyme, marjoram), threw in a 14-ounce can of tomatoes and two bay leaves and let cook. Once the flavors married, I removed it from the heat and stirred in a few tablespoons of shaved pecorino.
To finish my sauce, I tossed a bunch of the pea greens, peas, favas and tendrils in a hot sauce pan with a smidgen of olive oil and a sprinkling of sea salt. To plate, I spooned some of the tomato sauce over some fresh pasta and then added my spring pea mixture (I threw in a few fresh pea greens for a nice textural contrast). The pea greens were completely delicious and tasted perfectly of spring. I will say that I thoroughly enjoyed the favas, but in the future I may decide that favas are something to order out. Bon appetit.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Good Pesach

The other night we invited by friends to the most wonderful Seder (with the most spectacular food!!). Here is a petit look . .
Potatoes Anna
It took me quite a while to work out some passover friendly appetizers -  I ended up making my very first gravad lox (served on matzo crackers) and dried mission figs stuffed with herbed goat cheese.
Seder Plate

The best Spring lamb - I cannot put into words how delectable . . . It was so tender you could cut it with a fork.
Below: Spring vegetable ragout (?) with fresh asparagus tips, favas, english peas, fava leaves and flowers, spring garlic and onions and just a wee bit of butter to boot.
-Thank you Monica and Aaron-

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Alemany Farmer's Market and Candied Citrus

I have been wanting to go to the Alemany farmer's market for quite a while -- technically I have kind of already been there . . . I made a big to-do a about going a few months ago; we got on the freeway, went in circles around Bayshore drive, eventually found where it was supposed to be, sat in line for a parking space for around a half an hour, got out of the car full of excitement ANDDDDD realized that the farmer's market happens on Saturdays. It was Sunday. Flea market day. And this brings us to my first actual trip to the Alermany farmer's market.
It seems everyone compares the Alemany market to the Ferry Market , so I'll spare you the comparisons and say that I thoroughly enjoyed the Alemany market.
Among the many treasures at Alemany, I found mandarinquats - a citrus I bought simply because I had never heard of it before. I love to eat cumquats whole, but the lovely citrus man advised that I either candy the 'quats or use them in drinks.
I was feeling a bit lazy so instead of using the 'quats in some sort of suped up drink I opened a bottle of wine and decided to candy the fruit. I made a simple syrup (1 part water, 2 parts sugar) and brought it to a boil. Once boiling I threw in my thickly sliced mandarinquats, brought it to a boil and then lowered the heat and let it simmer for 20 or 30 minutes (until translucent). I poured the candied 'quats in a jar and voila! (I later used some of the citrus-infused syrup in a drink with a little gin and tonic - mmm, and you could garnish with a slice of 'quat!)
Having never heard of mandarinquats, I poked around on the internet and found that Chez Pim has chronicled her own 'quat candying adventures - to read her tale click here

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Crack Pie - thank you Christina Tosi

As I was poring over an old issue of Bon Appetit (I end up keeping each issue for months and then sporadically looking through them until finally I have had them around for almost a year and I do a final read-through and pull out anything that looks interesting) I found an article on the desserts of Christina Tosi - the pastry chef at Momofuku Milk Bar in NYC. I immediately wanted to make one of the recipes but after looking at both the steps involved and the amounts of butter and cream, I knew I had to wait until I was assured that other people would help me eat it. When we made a date to have our friends over I immediately saw my opportunity and dove in to making my very first crack pie.

For great crack pie commentary click here.
The crust was a multi-step process - I won't go into the details because you can find them here, but I will say that you basically have to make a buttery oat cookie to begin. Once you have baked the cookie, you let it cool a bit then you crumble it up, add another round of butter and sugar to re-bind it together, and shmush that into a pie tin so that it resembles a crust.

Once it is formed into a crust, set aside. Next you make the filling which consists of more buttery, sugary, creamy goodness. Pour that into the crust and pop in the oven until it browns. To finish off the pie Tosi lets it cool and then refrigerates it overnight (I gave it 6 hours and it was fine). The pie was described in the article as "rich, salty-sweet" but in the comments online I found people saying that they found it too sweet so I added a little extra salt which was definitely a good call for me.

I liked the pie but I can eat about two bites of it before feeling like I need to go into hibernation, in a good way. It was kind of like a pecan pie without the pecans. Next - Tosi's blueberries and cream cookies.