Thursday, December 23, 2010

Brown Butter and Pine Nut Pasta

There are a variety of pasta shapes out there, and they were created with different purposes in mind...

...or the sauces were paired with the pastas because they were complimentay for one reason or another.

Large shells are meant to be stuffed with a meat or cheese, as are canneloni.
Very small pastas are good as an addition to soups (just like rice or barley might be).
Pastas with ridges "catch" bits of meat and sauce.

Personally, I totally prefer pasta shapes to pastas in a long, thin noodle form. I think I just like the textures.

This is a very nice, simple pasta, and I chose the farfalle because the folds will catch little pools of sauce and a pine nut or two.

Make sure not to overcook the pasta in the boiling water. When the pasta is added to the hot sauce, it will continue to cook a bit and soak up the sauce. In fact, for this reason I tend to undercook the pasta by a couple minutes. I want the texture to be perfectly al dente.

Brown Butter and Pine Nut Pasta
serves 6-8

1 lb. farfalle (bowtie) pasta
kosher salt
2 sticks plus 2 T butter (18 T)
1 c pine nuts
1/2 t freshly grated nutmeg, plus extra for serving
1/2 t freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch fresh parsley, stems removed and roughly chopped
fresh Parmesan cheese for serving

Heat a large pot of well-salted water to boiling.
While water heats, melt the butter in another large pot over medium heat. When the butter is melted, add the pine nuts, stirring often, until they nuts are a deep golden brown (about 10 minutes). Turn off the heat, remove the nuts from the butter with a slotted spoon or sieve and set aside.
When the pasta is "al dente," remove about 1/2 cup of the cooking water to a cup or a bowl, drain the pasta from the water and add it to the brown butter. Add the reserved water, most of the pine nuts, a sprinkling of salt, the pepper, nutmeg, and chopped parsley, and stir to combine.
Serve the pasta with fresh Parmesan cheese and a grating of fresh nutmeg. Sprinkle a few of the reserved pine nuts on top.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Saturday, December 18, 2010


Panettone is a rich, buttery and eggy bread (like brioche or challah) with raisins, vanilla, and citrus. Sometimes it has other fruits or chestnuts. It's moist, flavorful, and has a somewhat feathery crumb that reminds me of cotton candy when I pull pieces off a slice.
It's very "Christmas" to me.

It's special, and made more so since you can normally only find it this time of year.
I suppose you can find it year-round... but it probably wouldn't be "great" panettone.

If you find a really good one, imported from exotic Italy in a nice red tin, it's usually fairly expensive. Part of the expense is undoubtedly the packaging and importation, but it also takes quite a bit of time to make it! I started the process one morning and baked it late the next morning.

I found a recipe a few years ago, and I re-discovered it a couple months ago. I've kept my eye on the wayward recipe (losing it a few times, of course), and just made it the other day as a trial run for Christmas.

If you want to make it, you're going to need two days for the project. Not that it requires attention the whole time, but it does require some semblance of attention.

Another thing I have to say is that I'm not a fan of candied citron (but I won't refuse to eat something with citron). I don't quite know why people put it in "holiday" baked goods such as fruitcake. Do people really love this stuff, or do they do it because it's "tradition" or because it's just the way things are? Can we have a good reason? I mean, I like citrus flavors, and sometimes I do like candied orange peel, but this is bitter!

Occasionally, I get excited and I seem to lack (or be completely devoid of) planning skills which suddenly leaves me scrambling to try to figure something out.

Long story short, when the bread comes out of the oven it needs to cool while hanging suspended upside-down (in a large pot, between two chairs) so that it doesn't deflate. Long metal skewers would be ideal, however if you unable to find yours it seems acceptable to double up on long wooden ones so they're strong enough to hold the bread without breaking.

Paper molds can be bought for baking the bread, and are ideal if you plan on giving the bread as gifts. The original recipe calls for a 6 by 4 1/2 inch panettone mold which caused the bread to mushroom out over the top of the mold when baked. I was able to find 7 inch paper molds at Sur La Table, which turned out to be just fine... it just happened to contain the bread a bit better.

Panettone is very nice warmed or toasted, served with coffee, tea, wine, hot chocolate, cider... and it makes excellent french toast if lasts long enough to get a little stale.

The original recipe was found in a December, 2008 issue of Gourmet and came from Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery in New York. My adaptation loses the candied citron, increases the amount of lemon zest and adds orange zest.

makes 1 large loaf
active time: about 20 minutes, start to finish: 2 days

1 c raisins
2 T light rum
2 T hot water
2/3 c tepid water
3 3/4 c flour
2/3 c sugar
1/2 t salt
1/2 t active dry yeast
zests of 2 lemons
zests of 2 oranges
1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise
3 large eggs, room temperature
1 T mild honey
12 1/2 T unsalted butter (10 1/2 T cut into tablespoons and softened; 1 T melted butter; 1 T chilled)

Soak the raisins in rum and 2 T hot water at room temperature, stirring occasionally, until the raisins are plump and most of the liquid has been absorbed, 8 hours or overnight.
Mix the flour, sugar, salt, yeast, zests, and vanilla bean in a mixer on low speed until combined. Whisk together the eggs, tepid water, and honey in a bowl. With the mixer on low speed, pour the egg mixture slowly into the flour mixture. Increase the speed to medium-low and mix to combine. Add 10 1/2 T of softened butter, 1 T at a time, mixing until incorporated before adding more. Increase the speed to medium-high and mix the dough until smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes.
Drain the raisins, discarding the remaining liquid, and mix with 1 T melted butter. By hand, stir the raisins into the dough. Place the dough in a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and place in a cold oven with the door closed. Let the dough rise 12-15 hours, or until nearly tripled in volume.
Discard the vanilla bean, then sprinkle the dough lightly with flour. Scrape dough out onto a lightly floured surface and sprinkle a bit more flour onto the dough. Fold edges of the dough into the center, and place the dough, seam side down, into a 6-7 inch paper panettone mold (being careful not to tear the paper). Place on a sheet pan and cover with a damp kitchen towel (not terrycloth) and place in a draft- free, warm room temperature location until the dough is risen (it should rise above the top edge in a smaller mold), 3-5 hours.
Preheat the oven to 370 degrees F with a rack set in the lower 1/3 of the oven.
Use a sharp knife to score an "X" across the entire surface of the risen dough, about 1/2 inch deep. Place 1 T chilled butter in the center of the "X", and bake until a wooden skewer inserted near the center comes out slightly moist, but not wet, 1-1 1/4 hours (the top of the bread will be very dark).
Pierce skewers all the way through the panettone, including the paper) about 4 inches apart and 1 inch from the bottom so that skewers are parallel. Hang the panettone upside-down in a large stockpot or between two objects of equal height. Cool completely before cutting.
Panettone will keep wrapped tightly in foil and sealed in a plastic bag at room temperature for about a week.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Broccoli Cheese Soup

I have a sister who loves Broccoli Cheese Soup. However, she is particular about said soup.
I suppose she's somewhat a connoisseur of it.

She really likes the soup at Bread Co./Panera (name, of course, depending on the part of the country you're in... the lone tiny island in the middle vs. the rest of it).

Anyway, for some reason she was searching for the recipe, and she found someone's interpretation of it. It's pretty good, and I like that it has more vegetables than I expected. It's not just broccoli pureed in a cheese sauce.

A roux is what will help thicken the soup (and there's a very good chance you've done it before). It's a combination of butter and flour, the mixture being cooked so that the flour is not raw and pasty. It's actually the base for many sauces in classical French cooking.

When blending the soup, you may, of course, blend it to the consistency of your choice. However, Broccoli Cheese Soup Connoisseur and I both believe that it needs to have a little chunkiness. Not too much though! I've been told large hunks of broccoli are frowned upon.

Broccoli Cheese Soup
serves 4

5 T butter, divided
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1/4 c flour
1/2 lb. broccoli
1 c carrot, julienned
2 c chicken stock
2 c half and half
8 oz grated sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 t fresh ground nutmeg

Melt 1 T butter in a medium saucepan. Add onion and saute until translucent. Remove onion from the pan and set aside.
Melt the rest of the butter in the same saucepan over medium heat, add the flour to make a roux, and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Slowly add the half and half and the chicken stock, whisking to incorporate. Continue to cook over medium heat, simmering and stirring frequently, until it is thickened (about 20 minutes).
Add the broccoli, carrots, and onions to the simmering soup, and cook 20-25 minutes, until the vegetables are softened. Stir in 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper.
Blend the soup in batches in a food processor or blender, being careful not to overfill! Place the soup back in the pan, add grated cheese and nutmeg, and stir until the cheese it melted and incorporated into the soup. Adjust seasonings to taste and serve.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Crème Brûlée

Crème brûlée is one of those perfect desserts. Simple and elegant, and sometimes exactly what you want and need.

Nice analogy Julia, we understand what you're trying to say here, but (try as I might) I don't know if I can imagine choosing Jell-O over crème brûlée. Maybe if you were sick...

Anyway, there are many variations on the recipe for  crème brûlée. More or less egg yolk, maybe including whole eggs, all heavy cream, half and half, whole milk...

Plus the variations on flavor! Chocolate, fruits, spices, infused with tea or zest...

I like the plain old perfect original vanilla the best, but I don't want them to be huge.
They fill a need, and in my opinion they're best in a smaller, more manageable size.
The size, as well as the vanilla flavor is more quiet and unassuming, and it doesn't scream, "LOOK AT ME!"

But... it's still completely perfect (if it's made well).

I know some people aren't willing to take the time to make it, but really, it's not THAT difficult.
Once when I was working in a cooking store, a customer asked how to make crème brûlée. When I started to explain, and only got as far as mixing the ingredients and cooking the custards in a water bath, he shut me off. It was too much work, he said, and he wasn't really willing to go to the trouble. Do things really have to be immediate? Immediate gratification? Sorry pal, those instances are few and far between. You can't eat it right out of the oven anyway! They're a little wobbly and eggy tasting when they're HOT. The texture becomes silky, and the flavors come together after they're cool.

They're simple, but they do require a little effort.
Maybe he was used to just ordering it in a restaurant and having it suddenly, magically appear... ta-da!

A kitchen torch isn't completely necessary, however it does offer control while caramelizing the tops of the crème brûlées. That said, I will acknowledge that some people are terrified of wielding fire. Me? Not so much. Learning to weld is actually something on my bucket list, and this could possibly be as close as I get to it.

It's ok, you can just use the broiler in your oven. Heat it up, put the custards on a pan under the hot element, leave the oven door cracked a little so you can keep a close eye on the caramelization process. You're not going for completely charred cremes here.

One thing though, the cremes will probably not remain cool if you place them in the oven, but they will if you use a torch. After torching, give them a little time to rest so that the caramelized sugar on top hardens so it will shatter when tapped with a spoon.

Crème Brûlée
makes 6

1 c heavy cream
4 egg yolks
2 T granulated sugar, plus extra sugar for the tops of cremes
pinch of salt
2 t pure vanilla extract
1 c milk

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Place milk in a small saucepan and heat on low until hot.
Meanwhile, have a tea kettle or another saucepan filled with water heating.
Whisk together cream, egg yolks, sugar, salt, and vanilla until well combined. Slowly whisk in the hot milk. Pour the hot custard mixture through a sieve into a bowl or large measuring cup, and divide among 6, 4-6 oz ramekins or custard cups.
Place the cups into a 9 x 13 in. baking pan. Pour the hot water into the pan, around the cups to a depth that reaches about 1 inch up the sides of the cups.
Carefully place the pan into the oven.
Bake for about 30-35 minutes, or until set (remember that they will still be a little wobbly). Remove the cups from the hot water with tongs and place on a rack to cool at room temperature until you are able to handle them. Place the cups in the refrigerator and chill.
Before serving, sprinkle about 1 tsp of sugar over each creme. Torch with a kitchen torch, slowly waving the flame over the sugar, or broil in the oven with the door cracked slightly (keep an eye on them).
Let cool slightly before serving and only torch those cremes you will need.