The Tostada: Meal in a Flash

These days a tostada is an easy go-to meal.  A satisfying and tasty plate can be whipped up in no time with a few odds and ends pulled from the fridge.  I learned about precooked crisp corn tostada shells during my last trip to Mexico, and decided if they are good enough for the fine cooks of Querétaro, they are good enough for me!  The Guerrero brand has always been reliable.Guerrero tostadas

I recently had plenty of jerk pork left from a grilling episode, but roast chicken is equally good.  Warmed refried beans are a nice touch, but I had chili spiced sorghum ready to go.  Top it with crunchy lettuce or cabbage slaw and pass the salsa.

Jerk Pork Tostada
Jerk Pork Tostada

It’s that easy.  Additional garnishes are always welcome:  avocado, chopped tomato, cilantro, or grated cheese.

Jerk Pork and Sorghum Chili Tostada

Ingredients
Tostada shell, Guerrero is good
2-3 tablespoons warmed Refried Beans or Sorghum Chili
2-3 tablespoons Jerk Pork, sliced
2-3 tablespoons Cabbage Slaw
Garnishes: sliced avocado, chopped tomato, cilantro, grated cheese, salsa of choice

Directions

  1. Heat the tostada shell in the microwave for about 1 minute.
  2. Warm the refried beans or Sorghum Chili and spread on the tostada.
  3. Add warmed or room temperature jerk pork.
  4. Top with the slaw, add sliced avocado, and garnish with tomato, cilantro, grated cheese and spoon on the salsa. Yield:  1 serving.

Jerk Pork: it’s grill time!

It’s summertime and the living is stunningly easy here on the homestead.  Especially now that I have finally located another folding grill!  What was once called the Pyromid has resurfaced under the new name of EcoQue, and I couldn’t be happier.  This unique stainless steel grill not only folds neatly into its own 2” thick tote for easy storage, it produces temperatures close to 900 degrees on its 12” surface with only 9 charcoal briquettes.

EcoQue Portable Grill
EcoQue Portable Grill

I apologize, I did not intend the post to become a sales pitch for this adorable grill, but I guess I can’t help myself. I am utterly thrilled that it hasn’t completely disappeared!  With the new grill at hand, my first order of business was to grill off a little celebratory jerk pork.

Jerk Pork
Jerk Pork

This popular Bahamian marinade makes anything taste better.  It’s wonderful hot off the grill on chicken, fish, beef, or pork and it is even better the next day. Jerk meats remain so moist and flavorful they are ideal for picnics and travel. Today, I’m cooking a thick chunk of pork but 3 to 4 pounds of chicken or beef will work just as well.

Jerk Pork, Chicken, or Beef

Ingredients
3 – 4 lb.  pork, chicken or beef ribs
Jerk Marinade
1 teaspoon allspice
1/2 teaspoon each nutmeg and cinnamon
3 tablespoons fresh thyme
1/2 cup green onions, chop
1 clove garlic, minced
4 scotch bonnet chiles, or jalapeno peppers, seed
1/2 cup white vinegar
1/4 cup soy sauce
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoons salt

Directions

  1. For marinade: place all ingredients in blender and puree for 2 minutes.
  2. Massage the meat well with the marinade and marinate several house or overnight.  Any extra marinade can be reserved for dipping if not used for brushing the meat on the grill.
  3. Preheat the grill to medium-low heat.  Drain and pat the meat dry.  Brush the grill with oil.  Grill, turning and brushing with marinade as needed until nicely browned all over and pork reaches an internal temperature of 160°, beef is between 145-160°, and chicken reaches 165°.

 

 

A Prelude to St. Paddy’s Day: Sauerkraut Stew

Every now and then I crave sauerkraut, and it doesn’t have to be an artisan-style fermented quality; good old Steinfeld’s pickled cabbage is just fine with me.  Perhaps it’s a strange and sudden precursor to St. Paddy’s Day, but I need my cabbage.  The corned beef will just have to wait.

Sauerkraut stew (640x480)
Root Vegetables with Mixed Sausage Stew with Sauerkraut

When this happened on a recent rainy day, I looked around to see what might work without a dash to the market. I always seem to have sausage odds and ends in the freezer, random unused portions from other projects.  Lucky me, I came up with a nice sized link of kielbasa and a couple of bratwursts.

While the sausage defrosted, I heated up the Le Creuset pot and quickly sautéed an onion and a clove of garlic.  In went a chopped carrot, a turnip, and some creamer potatoes, halved.  The sausages were cut into chunks and tossed into the pot to pick up a little color.  Once that happened, I added a cup or so of beef stock to deglaze the pot and create a broth.

For seasoning I dug out my jar of dried juniper berries that had shifted to an obscure corner of the spice cabinet from lack of use. There’s nothing like it, and it’s precisely for times like this that I am so happy for juniper berries.  I do a quick sniff test and grab a few and drop them into the pot—love their resin-ish smell.  A little rosemary, a bay leaf, and a few grinds of black pepper are added to the mix.

I rinsed and drained the sauerkraut.  It’s not something I do without thinking twice, because it seems such a waste.  But in this case, there’s a lot going on and it’s just as well to knock it down a notch. Into the pot it goes and it is all brought to a simmer; then it’s covered with a lid and left to simmer for 30 minutes.

Clearly this amalgamation is not totally Irish, but it is doesn’t matter.  It does the trick and incredibly, and there’s more good news.  Once the flavors blend overnight, the sauerkraut mellows a bit, and it is even better.

Root Vegetables and Mixed Sausage Stew with Sauerkraut

Ingredients
2 tsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic, smashed and in slivers
1 carrot, peeled, cut into chunks
1 turnip, peeled, cut into chunks
9 oz. creamer potatoes, cut in half if large
12 oz. kielbasa sausage, cut into chunks
8 oz. bratwurst, cut into chunks
1-2 cups beef stock, as needed
6-8 juniper berries
1 tsp. fresh rosemary
1 bay leaf
Freshly ground pepper
16 oz. sauerkraut, rinsed and drained

Directions

In a heavy pot, heat the oil over medium heat and add the onion and garlic. When aromatic, add the carrot, turnip, potatoes and toss well.  Increase heat to medium high, add the sausages and lightly brown to take on color.

Deglaze with beef stock, add the seasonings, and the drained sauerkraut.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer, and cover for 30 minutes.  Adjust seasoning and serve in bowls.  Serves 4.

 

Beyond Soup: meal in a bowl

As substantial soups go, this one happens in a hurry:  literally in the pot and on the table in well short of an hour. It’s similar to Spanish caldo gallego, a northern specialty made with white beans, collards or other greens. Traditionally, there’s a smattering of mixed pork including chorizo, ham, and unto—an uncured bacon similar to pancetta or salt pork. white bean, chorizo, greens soup

In this case, I’m content with a couple of meat items. I like to start things off with a little smoky bacon and follow up with slices of Spanish chorizo, a cured sausage flavored with Spanish pimiento, garlic, and herbs. Because we  have pockets of Basque communities in Oregon, we are fortunate to have access to excellent chorizo and other specialty products. It is far different from Mexican chorizo which is uncooked, very fatty, and derives its flavor from cumin, chile powder, and vinegar.  Because the Spanish version is also rich and highly seasoned, it doesn’t require as much as one might expect; I can often get by with one sausage.  Rendering it ahead also controls some of the greasiness it exudes.  If I have a little ham, I’ll throw that in, too.

During the cooking process the potatoes and turnips begin to breakdown and it thickens into a chowder-like substance.  Any dense greens will do; I especially like collards here for their distinct, well-rounded heartiness.  The white beans are part of the equation that make this soup work; they add a dimension that would be missed without them.  In spite of some very big flavors, for me, it is the addition of the sweet, earthy turnip that brings it all together. Pull out your favorite country bread and dive in!

White Bean Soup with Chorizo and Collard Greens 

Ingredients
3 slices bacon, sliced
1 Spanish chorizo, sliced
½ cup smoky ham, chopped (optional)
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
4 cups water, vegetable, or chicken stock
2 russet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 turnip, peeled and cubed
1 bay leaf
2 cups cooked white beans, drained and rinsed (cannellini, if you’ve got them)
4 cups collard greens, kale, or cabbage, trimmed of dense stalks and cores
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions 

  1. In a soup pot, sauté the bacon to render the fat; drain all but 1 tablespoon fat. Add the chorizo and do the same. Add the onion to the pot and cook to soften; stir in the garlic and cook until aromatic.
  2. Pour in enough liquid to cover the bottom of the pan and scrape lightly to loosen any bits adhering to bottom of pot. Stir in the potatoes, turnip, bay leaf, and toss to distribute evenly.  Pour in remainder of the liquid, bring to a boil, and simmer until potatoes are tender, 10-15 minutes.
  3. Stir in the beans and the greens, season lightly with salt and pepper, and return to a boil; simmer 10-20 minutes longer. The soup should thicken as the potatoes and turnips break down.  Adjust seasoning. Serves 4.

Small Space Cuisine: Gumbo

I’m fascinated by small spaces―especially tiny kitchens.  Nothing is more challenging than creating great food under peculiar conditions.

Maybe that’s why I loved my time cooking on the water and making the best of whatever came my way:  on sailboats, dive boats, mega yachts―even private tropical islands, where crucial resources such as power and water are often limited.

Smaller spaces tend to make for greater efficiency since everything is within arm’s reach.  However, planning ahead is key since success depends radically on optimizing all that is readily available.

In a limited setting one-pot cuisine is a natural solution for enticing,well-balanced meals.  It might be necessary to make a few concessions along the way, but it will still be amazing.  For example, depending on equipment and space constraints, you might want to re-consider when and where to include a starch.  Perhaps it will make more sense to add it directly to the pot rather than cooking it separately.

Nothing beats gumbo when it comes to meal-time flexibility. Gumbo

By its very nature, gumbo lends itself to tons of variation, too.  Here, nutritional value is easily bumped up by the addition of hearty greens, and full-flavored black-eyed peas, precooked or canned, become a handy, satisfying support component.

For an authentic gumbo flavor, be sure to include the roux process.  Although it is time consuming, this is not a step to skip, and can be done well ahead.  Begin by slowly browning the oil and flour; when you’ve developed a rich, deep mahogany color add the vegetables to the roux.  Include protein such as ham, sausage, or chicken plus some handy dried herbs like thyme and bay; you can even add rice for toasting at this point.   Dilute it all with a good chicken stock, throw in your greens if desired, and let it all simmer 20-30 minutes, until the greens are tender.

If serving rice separately, consider one of the easy microwaveable pouches of basmati― ready in less than two minutes.  Here’s a basic recipe which allows for plenty of adaptation.

Gumbo with Black-eyed Peas and Ham

Ingredients
2-3 Tbsp. oil
¼ cup flour
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
2 cups smoked ham, cubed
2 cups sausage, andouille, polish, or garlic sausage of choice, cut into bite-sized chunks
1 -2 jalapeno peppers, seeded minced
1 tsp dried thyme
½ tsp dried oregano
1 bay leaf
1 tomato, seeded and chopped, or 8 oz can diced tomatoes
1 qt chicken stock, or more
1 tsp salt
½ tsp black pepper
¼ tsp red pepper flakes or cayenne, to taste
14 oz can black-eyed peas, drained and rinsed
1-2 lbs tender greens, kale, collard or spinach cleaned, stemmed, cup up
2 tsp file powder, optional
Add-ons:
2 cups cooked basmati rice, 1/2 cup chopped green onions, hot sauce

Directions

  1. In a soup pot over medium, heat the oil; add the flour and stir occasionally for 20-30 minutes until it reaches a deep mahogany color.
  2. Add the onion and garlic to the roux, stirring until aromatic and the onion has softened.  Add the jalapeno pepper, the dried herbs, the ham and sausage, and cook briefly to combine.
  3. Add the tomato and slowly stir in the stock, season with salt, pepper and cayenne; add the black-eyed peas and the greens if using, and cook until they are tender 20-30 minutes.  Stir in spinach just before serving.
  4. To thicken gumbo further file powder can be added just before serving, allow it to briefly simmer until it thickens.  Adjust seasoning and serve hot topped with hot rice, green onions and hot sauce.  Serves 4 or more.

Hassle-free: Wintery Country Stew

There are a few vegetables that I generally have on hand.  Onions, carrots, and potatoes are some of my favorite kitchen stalwarts and it’s evident that many cuisines including the United Kingdom, much of Europe, and other countries scattered around the globe agree.

As well they should:  these and other root vegetables are easy to grow, they store well, and can be used in many different styles and fashions. There is one dish from the southwest of France that is a glorious reminder of how a few basic ingredients can be supremely elevated through thoughtful preparation.garbure

Garbure is a thick country-style stew made with root vegetables, white beans, and well-laced with assorted meats such as duck confit, smoked pork, and/or sausage.

root cellar
root cellar

As with most country cooking, much depends on what is seasonal and on hand.  Along with the above listed trio, cabbage and perhaps a parsnip would be included in the typical garbure.

Before refrigeration was readily available, these vegetables were safely over-wintered in some version of the trusty root cellar.

Fortunately, in today’s kitchen we are no longer as limited with supplies and produce as we were once, and we have plenty of choices.  Instead of grabbing some of that duck confit we handily packed away, or relying on the ends of the ham bone, or hacking off a few links from the dried sausage hanging from the rafters, we can simplify our preparations—direct from the supermarket.

For four or more servings, a couple of thick slices of smoked ham and few links of first rate sausage will suffice. The average suburbanite no longer needs the massive amount of meat once required to fuel our bodies.

Although there are days when we may want an all day project, even our garbure no longer requires that much effort.  We can begin with a good quality prepared chicken stock and throw in some of that dwindling supply of onions, carrots and potatoes, plus a parsnip or a turnip, a little cabbage, and perhaps a green pepper. Instead of soaking and simmering a huge pot of dried cannellini beans, all we need is a 14-ounce can of cooked beans.

gratineeOnce the meat permeates the stew and and it is so thick that a spoon nearly stands upright in it, we’ll finish it all off with an artisan quality country bread, nicely toasted—for the glorious cheesy gratinée that graces the top.

Yes, on a cold winter’s day, we can have a superb country stew—one with big, earthy flavors—and we can have our meal ready and waiting in less than two hours.

Vegetable Stew with Cannellini Beans and Mixed Pork

Inspired by Jacques Pepin’s White Bean and Ham Stew, Essential Pepin

Ingredients

2 qts chicken stock
1 lg carrot, peeled, medium chop
1 lg parsnip, peeled, medium chop
1 lg onion or leek, well cleaned, medium chop
1 clove garlic, peeled and crushed
1 rib celery with leaves, small chop
2 med red potatoes, scrubbed, large chop
1 poblano or green pepper, seeded, medium chop (optional)
1/2 head cabbage (savoy is good), cored, medium chop
1 bay leaf
1/2 tsp thyme, dried
salt and pepper
8 ozs thick sliced ham, large chop
12 ozs smoked sausage, kielbasa or other, sliced
14 ozs cannellini beans, cooked, drained and rinsed
1 med boule or other artisan bread
2 c Gruyere or other melting cheese, grated
Accompaniment:  1/2 c pepperoncini pepper, chopped

Directions

  1. In a large pot, heat chicken stock, add carrot through the cabbage; add the bay, thyme, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Cover lightly and simmer for about 40 minutes.
  2. Add the ham, sausage and cannellini beans and simmer another 40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until it is thick and stew-like and the vegetables are meltingly tender. Adjust seasoning.
  3. Fill oven proof bowls and top with lightly toasted 1/4″ sliced sourdough or other artisan bread, sprinkle with Gruyere or other melting cheese and broil until bubbly. Pass chopped pepperoncini. Serves 4 or more.

Sunday Brunch with Croque Madames

Sunday brunch was on my mind, something easy… and different.  Friends would be stopping by for a quick bite before it got too hot, then we would head up to the Hill Country for a hike.

First, I considered croque monsieur, a fancy grilled ham and cheese sandwich on steroids.  In France it is frequently grilled in butter, then finished off with béchamel sauce and more cheese.

Since we would still be within breakfast range, I settled on its counterpart, the croque madame, which is further embellished with a fried egg.  Certainly not your standard breakfast fare, but I rationalized we would be getting plenty of exercise and would surely walk this off.  So if not now, when?crroque mad cut

I had a delicious loaf of mild Swedish rye which would work beautifully with the ham and Gruyere cheese. I passed on the idea of buttering and grilling the sandwiches—far too rich—instead it would go directly into the oven.  I started by toasting the bread slices, since the béchamel sauce could soften the bread into a soggy mess. There was little left to do but assemble the sandwiches and place them on a baking sheet, ready to finish once guests arrived.croque sand

Before popping the croque madames in the oven, I liberally spread the tops with béchamel sauce and added a healthy dusting of grated cheese.  When they were thoroughly heated, about 5 minutes, I ran them under the broiler until they were bubbly and toasted.

Meanwhile, I quickly fried the eggs then momentarily covered them with a lid, ready and waiting to crown the croque madames when removed from the oven.  Of course, there was plenty of fresh fruit and more peach chutney (see previous post).

Croque Madamecroque mad

Ingredients

  • 8 slices sandwich bread, ½” slices, crusts trimmed if hard (I used a mild Swedish rye)
  • 2 Tbsp Dijon mustard
  • ½ lb Black Forest ham, thinly sliced
  • 12 oz grated Gruyere cheese, (3 cups), divided
  •  4 eggs
  • 1 Tbsp butter, or more

Béchamel Sauce

  • 2 Tbsp butter
  • 1 Tbsp all purpose flour
  • 1 ½ cups milk, warmed
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  2. Prepare sauce: In small saucepan melt butter, add flour, and stir for about 1 minute to cook the flour;  slowly add the milk, whisking to form a smooth thick sauce.  Add the salt, pepper and nutmeg and remove from heat.   Stir in ½ cup of the grated Gruyere until melted.
  3. Lay out the bread slices on baking sheet lined with foil and toast bread on both sides, about 5 minutes.
  4. Spread one side of the bread with a light coating of Dijon. On 4 of the slices layer on equal slices of the ham, sprinkle with cheese, and top with the second slice of bread faced with Dijon. Spoon the béchamel sauce over the top, allowing some to drizzle down the sides and then sprinkle with more cheese.
  5. Bake until heated through, 5-10 minutes, and switch to broil. Run under the broiler to toast until golden brown, about 3 minutes.
  6. Meanwhile heat medium size skillet to medium heat and add butter. When it is bubbling, drop in the eggs and fry according to preference. Remove sandwiches from broiler, top each with an egg and serve.  Serves 4.

How to Fry an Egg 

Place a skillet over medium heat. Add a teaspoon of butter per egg,  and allow it to sizzle. Crack the egg into the pan and allow the white to cook until it becomes white and set.

Basted:  Spoon some of the butter/oil over the yolk to set it and change its color to a lighter pink shade.

Sunny Side Up:  When the egg white begins to set add a teaspoon of water to the pan, cover it with a lid to create enough steam to set and change the yolk to a lighter pink color.

Over Easy/Over Hard:  For over easy, when white begins to hold its shape, turn the egg over with a spatula and cook a minute longer.  For over hard, break the yolk before turning and allow the yolk to cook until well-done.

Denver-Asian Strip Salad

A couple of posts back I shared an entertaining YouTube video from Eugenie Kitchen on How to Make Tamagoyaki, the Japanese omelette roll.  Turns out, it was the perfect intro and segue into a full-on version of an Asian salad I have been working on which incorporates the julienne omelette concept.

You could say this crazy ham-and-egg strip salad is a cross between the Denver Omelette, sans cheese, and an Asian soba noodle salad.

Soba 1 redux

I’ve taken the mighty Denver Omelette’s leading players of robust ham, pepper and onions and finessed them with exotic elements of ginger, baby bok choy, Thai basil and soba noodles, then draped them all in shimmering ginger-sesame vinaigrette.

The omelette theme is reintroduced via the tamagoyaki style egg strips studded with green onion and cilantro. Showcasing the egg strips as a stunning topper also serves to maintain their delicate integrity since excessive handling can break these beauties up unnecessarily.

 

soba salad with forkNow, that would be a crying shame.

Ham and Egg Strip Salad

Ingredients

Ham and Vegetables

  • 2 tsp vegetable oil
  • 1 small clove garlic, flattened
  • ½ tsp crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 1 cup ham, julienned (Canadian bacon is good)
  • 1 cup white onion, peeled and julienned
  • 1 cup red pepper, seeded and julienned
  • 1 cup poblano pepper, seeded and julienned (or other pepper with a bit of heat)

Noodle/Vegetables

  • 8 oz. Soba noodles or other noodle of preference
  • 2 heads baby bok choy, washed, cut into lengthwise pieces
  • 1 carrot, peeled and shaved into thin strips

Ginger-Sesame Vinaigrette

  • 2 tbsp fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 tsp sriracha sauce or dash tabasco
  • 1 tbsp soy sauce
  • 2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar or Chinkiang vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp sesame oil
  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil

Omelette Strips

  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil, total
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 tbsp water
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 tbsp cilantro, minced
  • 1 tbsp green onion, minced

2 tbsp Thai basil, minced plus garnish, 2 Tbsp sesame seeds, toasted

Directions

  1. For the Vegetables  In a medium skillet heat the oil and garlic clove over medium heat and allow to become aromatic, for extra heat crushed red pepper flakes.  Add the ham and allow it to take on some color; remove the garlic.  Add the onion and peppers cooking briefly to soften the vegetables.  Set aside until needed.
  2. For the Noodle/Vegetables   Cook noodles according to package directions.  About 1 minute before being al dente, add the carrot strips and the bok choy to pot only long enough to shock the leaves and blanch the carrots.   Drain all and rinse with cool water.  Toss with a little vegetable oil if sticky.  Set aside until needed.
  3. For Ginger-Sesame Vinaigrette  Combine the ginger, soy, sriracha and vinegar, whisk in the sesame and vegetable oil and adjust seasoning.  Make ahead at least 15 to 20 minutes to allow flavors to develop.
  4. For the Omelette Strips   Beat the eggs with water, add the salt, pepper, cilantro and green onion. Heat a 10” skillet brushed or sprayed with oil over medium-low heat.  Evenly pour about 1/3 cup of egg mixture into the pan, swirling to make a thin, even layer. When the edges begin to separate from pan, carefully lift with wide spatula and turn briefly to the other side.  Remove to flat surface, allow to cool briefly and firmly roll up.  Repeat process until all egg mixture is used up. When cool, slice the rolls into ½” or thinner spirals and unfurl into strips.  Set aside.
  5. To assemble  the Salad  In a large bowl, lightly toss the noodle mixture, and ham/vegetables with about half of the the vinaigrette and part of the minced Thai basil.  Toss with additional dressing if needed.    Arrange the salad on a large platter or individual bowls or dishes.  Top with the omelette strips, garnish with remainder of the basil leaves and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Chard-Prosciutto Terrine, aka Pounti

Bake Until Bubbly

Recently I added a new egg dish to my repertoire, when I discovered pounti in Clifford A. Wright’s book Bake Until Bubbly.

He refers to this revelation from the Auvergne region of France as a vegetable flan, which immediately caught my attention because it suggested some sort of quiche—without the crust. But that was only the beginning.

In his version, chard and onion are pureed with a little pork—such as prosciutto; it’s all bound together with eggs, milk (or cream) and flour, then it’s baked in a small casserole. More traditional versions of pounti tend to feature substantial amounts of pork and/or other meats mixed into a melange similar to a meatloaf, then interspersed with a few prunes and baked.

Although I was attracted to Wright’s lighter version, I wasn’t prepared for the mysterious alchemy that takes place. The smidgen of well-minced pork combined with the thick vegetable custard introduces a gentle pate quality that elevates this terrine into something extraordinary. It does not require garlic or an herb blend either; it stands on its own merit. I opted to add a bit more contrast by studding the mixture with garlic sautéed mushrooms— rather than the popular prunes.

pounti 1 edit

A miserly two ounce portion of prosciutto provided enough richness and flavor to meld with the chard-custard and unleash a mysterious sexiness that left me lurching for more.

I liked Wright’s suggestion to lightly sauté leftover slices in butter. When beautifully browned they are a symbiotic match with plump garlic sausage—along with a dollop of whole-grained mustard and perhaps a green salad.

This will surely give them something to talk about.

Chard and Prosciutto Terrine

Inspired by Clifford A. Wright’s pounti in Bake Until Bubbly

This is not just ‘a vegetable flan from the Auvergne region of France’, but rather a vegetable pate fortified with prosciutto and studded with mushrooms.

Ingredients

  • 1/3 lb Swiss chard, w/stems, chopped
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 1 – 2 oz. prosciutto, chopped
  • ½ cup coarsely chopped parsley
  • 1 tsp salt
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • ¼ tsp nutmeg, grated
  • 1 cup milk
  • ½ cup flour
  • 2 large eggs beaten to blend
  • Optional: one handful prunes large chop; or 8-12 small mushrooms, sautéed in garlic butter

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a small loaf pan, approximately 4 ½ x 8 ½ inches.
  2. In a food processor place chard, onion, prosciutto, and parsley and blend until very finely chopped and almost paste-like – in batches if necessary. Blend in the salt, pepper, and nutmeg, and set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk milk and flour until there are no lumps, add the eggs and whisk until well blended. Stir in the vegetable mixture. Add the prunes or mushrooms, if desired.
  4. Transfer to baking container. Bake until set and skewer comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Serve hot, room temperature or warm. To reheat, brown slices in a small amount of butter. Serves 4

Note: The terrine slices appear far more green than the photo here may suggest. When sauteed their color is muted during the browning process.

Best of Bistro Food: Pasta Carbonara

When I’m thinking quick off-the-cuff meals, one of the first that comes to mind is Pasta Carbonara.  This is the best of bistro cuisine:  simple, unpretentious and delicious.

For that particular reason, I like to stock a package of good bacon in the freezer so I can pull it out on a moment’s notice, slice a little off, and return the rest, still frozen.   If you happen to have a bit of guanciale or pancetta knocking around, this would be the time to pull that out instead.

Carbonara

This superb dish would just not be the same without the miracle of eggs and their ability to create an effortless sauce by a quick toss at the last minute with a batch of steaming hot pasta—off of the heat.

The residual heat of the pasta is just enough to bind the eggs into a glorious, creamy-cheesy, garlic-bacon infused sauce.  With too much heat, the eggs run the risk of becoming a scrambled mess.  Not pretty.

In the spirit of streamlining meals, it’s also easy to add more vegetables to your Carbonara. 

IMG_0165

Recently, I used not only spinach, but also threw in a few stray mushrooms as well as a small bunch of curly kale.  

When I do this, I need to remind myself that it will also extend the outcome substantially.  Instead of serving four, there was easily enough for six! 

Now, that is a win-win situation… since the leftovers are just as good the next day.

Pasta Carbonara Florentine

  • 10 slices bacon, cut into match stick lengths
  • 1 cup chopped onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1 bunch baby spinach, rinsed well and trimmed of stems, lightly chopped
  • 3 eggs
  • 3/4 cup fresh grated Parmesan cheese
  • ½ tsp. black pepper
  • 12 oz. linguine or fettuccine, cooked al dente
  • 3 Tbsp. parsley, chopped

In a large skillet over medium heat, cook bacon until lightly browned; set it aside on toweling to drain.  Remove all but 1 to 2 tablespoons of the bacon fat.  Return the pan and bacon fat to moderate heat, add the onion and sauté to soften; add the garlic and toss briefly.  Remove pan from heat. Place the spinach on top of the vegetables and allow it to wilt slightly while cooking the pasta.

Cook pasta according to package directions; drain and reserve 1 cup pot liquid.  Slowly whisk ½ cup of the hot liquid into the eggs to temper them, stir in the cheese and freshly ground pepper.

Over moderate heat, re-heat the vegetable bacon mixture, toss in the pasta, add the bacon and remove from heat when steaming hot.

Off the heat, stir the egg mixture into pasta and toss lightly to coat.  If dry, add a bit more of the reserved liquid.  Add sea salt if needed and more freshly ground pepper. Place in a large serving bowl, sprinkle with fresh parsley if desired and serve immediately with additional cheese.  Yield:  4 servings

Variations 
Mushroom:  Sauté 12 sliced crimini mushroom caps in 1 tsp olive oil to soften, add 1 clove crushed garlic, cook to distribute flavors and set aside.  Add to other vegetables prior to combining with pasta.

Curly kale:  Trim kale of tough core and stems; then chop the leaves lightly.  Add to pasta pot 4 to 5 minutes before pasta is al dente and stir to distribute.  When cooked, drain all and proceed.